Good evening from the Major who writes from a crisp cold late winter night in Worcestershire where the sky fought to the end to hold its light from the stars relentless rising. Clean distinct clouds hang in the cold breathless air as the light blue blends to dark and washes away the pinks and peaches of dusk.
The Major is exhausted and will be to bed for deep slumber. The week had me up North for business, a dinner that may prove important in the path of life, more in the months to come when I can. A shoddy hotel which was doing it’s best to be top class but fell some way short.
Come Sunday, I am in flight to Germany for studies. I do like Germany. The people are so obedient and pleasant, the place so clean and the language attainable. My last Germanic trip was for the Berlin marathon, three years and three stone ago. That was an incredible trip. Some memories remain with me, as they will.
Berlin is a place I would highly recommend. It has all of the sophistication of a worlds leading city but none of the pretension. Play ping-pong in an old East Berlin bar at 3am amid the smoke and the smell of beer, tis good.
The memory that really stays with me of Berlin is of its dark history which edges all elements of the city. To walk through the exhibition named ‘The Topography of Terror’ is a life experience. It is set in the basement of the former Gestapo building where the foundations and wall structures of cells are clearly made out. The rest of the building is gone so that you walk in the open air but below ground level.
In each cell were several display units, heavily text laden standing perhaps ten feet tall. There were perhaps thirty cells and to peruse the entire display would take three hours, that is how long it took myself anyway.
The exhibition charts the rise, the impact and the fall of Nazism. Through any medium of education, word of mouth, culture or entertainment, I never really grasped just quite how Nazism came into the popular mainstream. I have an inherent belief that as humans we are all born broadly equal. It always bemused me to encounter football fans causing some other clan of being different as though certain clubs attract certain people. Not for me.
How then do you explain the resources of a nation being efficiently and effectively applied to the demonic eradication of another race?
This exhibition takes so long because it covers it in detail. I came away having shed that lifetime confusion. I got it. Layer by layer it tells a story that I cannot do justice to here but suffice to say this. If it happened there, it can happen again and that surely is the best reason to visit.
In Berlin you will find holocaust memorials which befuddle your mind with scale. Some of the horror is lost in the enormity. The barbarism so vast, it escapes application of emotion.
The Topography of Terror varies between this and more personal moments. I came away troubled by one particular piece. The Nazi machine, were killing their own where it met the desires of the leaders. One such group were the disabled. Children…. Think about this. Children were taken from their homes and their parents told that because of the war effort and their childs needs, they were to be housed by the government in specially dedicated hospitals. Parents often never knew of the true evil intent.
A letter, a father writing to the administrator of a death processing plant masquerading as a hospital; he spoke of sweet treats he had enclosed which he hoped might be passed to his daughter (her favourites to remind her of him) and a longing request, through in his tone carried a sense of desperation, could he see his daughter at Christmas as he missed her dreadfully. The sense of foreboding revealed a suppressed terror, he knows something darker and more awful to be true. His undying love for a daughter he longs to be safe cannot let him admit the awfulness in. She had been gone for two years….. A father missing his daughter at Christmas…
She was processed and killed weeks after she had been taken.
I have said it before but at what point, at what price of morality will the most depraved human acts be prevented? What would sober such a twisted existence? How do you straighten such a perversion of the decent. The only way is for Private Johnston and Private Mills, gritted teeth and a pair of Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles and a handful of mills bombs between them.
I don’t wish to project onto Berlin a morbidity it does not deserve. The city is one of the finest there is, speak to those nice folk at Lufthansa and get yourself over there.
In the morning I am in the best company heading for a stable tour of the Robin Dickin operation. @frankelslowbro (worth a follow if not already) and I won tickets at an early seasonal preview night. His partner is coming and their gorgeous daughter Fran. My company will be an old colleague and acquaintance, Kelly, fine company, an english pallor framed in an angular face, an elegant frame which has a statuesque quality, moving at lengthy angles like some great cat, blazing oily dark eyes and curt of lip, just the sort to keep the Major in good order. Son number two come along too, all part of my long term plan to induce him into being a top class jockey.
To all of you grouches who dislike the enthusiastic childlike countdowns of us that are excited by the events just 11 days hence, well let you wish that we might change. I accept the immature accusation but as Kant suggested, it is best that we remain childlike to get the most from our short spin. As the Major oft decries, we float by the once, grab onto whatever flotsam you may come across. Or as the Chinese proclaimed… Lick up the honey strangers, ask no questions.
11 days to build a warchest. We need a good one. Mullins Tuesday presents an opportunity to rout the enemy. First we need to warm up. I draw on history and our expedition to China in the second Opium War. We landed near Tianjin, a river-mouth protected by the Taku Forts, hard rock defences thought impenetrable in the region but they had never seen the Victorian Military Modern Warfare tactics and technology that our forces wrought. Martini-Henry rifles, self-loading. Armstrong Rockets, Congreve Rockets fired by experienced Navy Gunners, we settled the forts and moved on.
We met the main action at the spectacular site of Eight Mile Bridge, a marble bridgehead above a large plain upon which Grant and Montauban, the main actors bought their troops. Heavy and lights riding boot to boot, French infantry skirmishing ahead and those rockets concentrated and terrifying. It was an unfair fight, we bought 3,000 to the field, the Imperial army perhaps 25,000, they had the high ground. Numerical and ground supremacy were poor advantages. They bought their ancient huge bronze guns to bear and were met with a reply they could not compute.
The Imperial Chinese Army lost perhaps a thousand souls, the Allied force, lost 5.
Today we set the ground out, let us not grant the enemy a foothold from which they might resist our irresistible pressing.
To the sports.
Saturday Racing Tips – Doncaster
Good ground at Doncaster, spring is here my good friends, beware. How many a devilishly good National Hunt horse has suffered form reversals at the festival, Punchestown and all of the other big spring meetings as they finally get their desired ground.
In the opener, two potentially decent novices face off in Cardinal Walter (representing Henderson) and Fort Worth (O’Neill). The former carries favouritism after losing out tot he highly useful Dewy last time out.
Such form assumptions bother me somewhat, it can be dangerous to assume the proximity to the victor represents the class difference between the two. Consider, if the beaten horse had run ten lengths better, would he have won or would his competitor have raised the game too?
Anyway, there are other reasons to back Fort Worth. He is proven on good ground, he is out of Presenting, he cost a small fortune and I said so. 6/4. If you are more a Cardinal sort of person then I would say that I was tempted by Nicky and his formidable Doncaster record (19 from 46 in previous two years).
In the 3.10pm, Batavir has shown himself a typical sort that Pipe has improved since joining his yard, winning a couple of handicaps and arriving up the weights again but full of promise. I am against him though because I am not sure conditions suit, does he want it rattling?
Seldom Inn is of some interest but I am swayed by the case of Call the Cops who is a Henderson runner that might well improve greatly now stepped up to staying hurdles. 3/1.
I will have a tentative pop at the Grimthorpe and I am opting for 12/1 shot Samingarry. The horse at least likes the better ground and on a form line with Annacotty might have more to offer yet. Well weighted and I think a strong pace will suit and am hoping the race pans out that way.
One of the more interesting runners of the day is Golantilla. Although his halcyon bumper days (placed in a champion bumper) seem some way behind him, there still remains hope he might reproduce the form over hurdles. Tony Martin is one of my favourite trainers. Not because of sheer ability, no. Rather he knows how to prepare a gambled horse and he can do OK with these quirky sorts too.
Yet surely Felix Younger will hold a more reliable chance and a better form prospect too? His placed form in the Neptune is stronger and having not quite reached the level of form desired by his trainers high standards over fences, he reverts to the lesser obstacles in an attempt to revive top table form. Well worth backing at 11/10. Strong bet.
Sizing Granite won a very useful race last time out, the form of which has been franked. 4/5 is very fair despite the weight he has to give away.
A short price double raid on Ireland.
Having looked through the Newbury card, I see nothing but pain. Yet, since there is a Grade 3 I feel I have to comment on the Greatwood.
I am choosing to back the most intriguing horse in the race, Westward Point, representing the hugely impressive Greater operation. He has been missing in action for over a year but previously was a lightly raced progressive sort. He has shown plenty of good ground form and since I trust the stable to have the beast prepared, I have to imagine that 10/1 (Paddy Power) is the price to take.
The jury is out on Ballybolley who was an excellent bumper horse but has been a bit disappointing so far over timber. Yes, he might spring back but I’d prefer the McCain horse, especially as this is a race he has done well with. No bet though, I just don’t want to oppose quality in this way.
Redemption for another of the owners horses is in the 3pm where Bristol de Mai lines up after chasing home Jollyallan and Garde la Victoria last time out.
Funnily enough, since the team decided that Peace and Co was the principle horse and that Bristol de Mai was only a back up for Cheltenham, I have been out to get this one. I think it may have flattered to deceive and so my attentions are firmly upon Intense Tango and Glingerburn who carry better pilots too.
Those pilots are the best in the north, along with Mr Maguire, both Harding and Hughes are solid sorts. In my view, Hughes looks the better balanced but Harding has a touch of the McCoy about him, he gets stuck in and horses respond.
The two horses I am focussed on are very different profiles, Intense Tango is a flat bred sort out of Mastercraftsmen, a sire whose stud value will be on the up. Particularly as he seems capable of siring national hunt sorts as well as blue blood flat machines. Intense Tango has shown promise in his juvenile hurdle races.
In the other corner, Glingerburn. From the national hunt sire of sires, Kings Theatre. He has gone from strength to strength this year winning three hurdles, since making little impression in his two bumper starts. I particularly liked his last run, staying on well to defeat Hawk High, a decent sort.
I think this is my bet of the day. Glingerburn 11/4. Set your watch by it.
In the football…..
I am not at all convinced by the appointment of Sherwood at Aston Villa. I am going to back Newcastle and I hope Villa get relegated.
Oh Major, I hear you cry, particularly the Villa fans who may wring their hands and think me some sort of West Brom partisan sort that just wishes ill on the neighbour. Surely you know me better than small-minded?
It is not that. Growing up, I knew lots of Villa fans at school. In the inaugural Premier League season, the team finished runner-up. Expectations have always been high and while I followed my team up to the old Springfield Park, to stand in the cold rain, on a grass bank, to see Albion defeat Wigan one-nil in the worst game of football you can imagine (Shakespeare penalty), Villa held their visions of grandeur. Bob Taylor was my hero, they went through a series of more expensive heroes.
I am not bitter, I promise. I just feel the experience of lower league football makes you more thankful. I think Villa fans resent Albion fans cheering them down not so much because it is bad form (which it is, you should never wish ill luck) but because the sensibilities hurt with the thought. The impenetrable visage, already the parapets bought asunder, seems ready to crumble,
I have this to say for any Villa fans reading. Should Sherwood not muster the requisite fighting spirit of the 21 Sikhs who fought off thousands of Afghan Pashtun fighters in the North West Frontiers of Saragarhi in 1897; then rest assured that defeat shall bring a sweet drink. Even if you stay relegated for a season or two or four. You will emerge better for the experience, more thankful more circumspect of life in general.
I do not wish for you to think me a hypocrite. Was I not early in the sermon extolling a paragon that we are all equal in the end. Well yes, I think Villa fans no different to any other, apart from one crucial respect, experience.
The Martin Hill: Call the Cops, Newcastle and Glingerburn. Trixie or Treble? Trixie. Now is not the time for foolishness.
May your dinner be fine and taken in great state, good wines of vintage years and fine company, sharply dressed and with that wanton glint.
Courage friends, roll the dice.