When the children were little, we used to go north on holiday. My wife came from Preston and she used to get nostalgia for the rain. A14, A1 – that was the route. We used to stop around Yorkshire, in a historical site. One holiday (I think it was Berwick-upon-Tweed because it was early and we still had far to go) we made the detour to see Pontefract Castle. There was no-one around as we climbed the hill and entered through the 13th-century walls, ‘slighted’ by the Roundheads… only to find we had strayed into the world of Kes. A big, flat area opened up in front of us where the local falconry club was having a get-together. Falcons (or they could’ve been kestrels or hawks) flew off in widening gyres, coming back to gauntleted hands… We marvelled. Our eldest child would have been 8.
Pontefract also has a racecourse. For a long time it was my father’s ambition to visit every course in Britain, but Pontefract was one of 4 he never got to. I went up and down the A1 so many times at the beginnings and ends of holidays, past its plethora of Yorkshire courses: (going north) Doncaster, Pontefract, Wetherby, York (a little way off), Ripon, Thirsk, Catterick… I even wrote notes, in the wake of Sideways, for an odd-couple road-movie idea about a father who reunites with his estranged son to polish off the racecourses he hasn’t been to. It might have been good.
Chalking up racecourses was a factor in my early life: Great Yarmouth, Fakenham, Huntingdon – all from our base in northeast Suffolk. Of Towcester, which I went to about 8 or 9, I remember only the barrier – a bit like a seaside windbreak – which went up around an injured horse. Curtains, more or less. And the hard-boiled egg that Charlotte double-barrelled, the daughter of a ‘friend of the family’ (whom I never saw again), peeled and ate in the back of our Vauxhall Viva, which had brushed-nylon seats… That put me and my sister off hard-boiled eggs for life.