For anyone hoping for hot tips, or race news – sorry, I have been nowhere near the racecourse, and have nothing useful for you! This is a commentary on life in Cheltenham during the Festival Week!
It’s Hell in the ‘Nam – Chelte-nham…
Gold Cup week is here! It’s the week when Cheltenham residents get a glimpse of what the citizens of Las Vegas experience every day – everyone has their attention focussed on a tiny part of town, and the curious and colourful visitors, and the locals just ignored, to the point where many people probably can’t imagine the town without the National Hunt Festival.
A Festive Town!
And Cheltenham is a town of Festivals, the Science Festival (though Edinburgh has one now – see Science of Ghosts in Fun Forthcoming Events category), the Jazz Festival, the Literature Festival (doubtless the most famous of them all), the Greenbelt Christian Festival (never been, no idea – it was in the Greenbelt of London in my youth, but tickets even for residents are very costly and not my thing – I’m a Christian more likely to be found at the Science Festival, in case you had not guessed, or at an SPR conference!) and this year Ross is trying to put together a Ghosthunting Festival. I playfully suggested the Cheltenham Festival of Erotica, which I thought might erode the town’s reputation as posh, upper middle, sanctimonious and prissy – which she is, but she is a game old gal too!
Invent Your Own Festival!
We had a bit of a discussion down the pub once, when we found ourselves there with a chap from Economic Development at the council – hi Graham – and I think my favourite proposed festivals were the Cheltenham Festival of Spacehoppers - race down The Promenade? and the Cheltenham Festival of Cravat Wearing. Anyway, if you are reading my nonsense, please, do invent a new Festival! I’ll try and promote the best suggestions to the council.
The Irish Invasion
Anyway every year we have an Irish Invasion – north and south – and they are generally good humoured and great folks. The Irish pubs are packed to the rafters – well they usually are anyway, we have a year round Irish population here, not like Kilburn, but sizable – and i’m happy to report most are the genuine article, not the faux Irish theme pubs you get in London – though there are a couple of them here, “chain Irish”. I won’t name names – anyone who goes to the Festival has their favourites, and I would find it hard to choose, and I’m certainly not revealing the names of the tiny hidden pubs I like lest they become popular. If you need to know email me or comment!
And Other Visitors
As well as the Irish we get a lot of Londoners (usually with blondes who look like shop mannequins, probably because of the plasticized faces that overdoing foundation gives , and East End accents) and a few elegant Sloanes with a bunch of cheerful Hooray Henry’s (both genders attractive and well dressed, but poisonous one assumes – dunno they don’t talk to peasants like me!). Large gangs of Northern lads trung out across roads engaging in macho horseplay, and pretty bored girls with robotic features thrusting flyers for clubs at five times the price you’d pay at you. Actually I’d like to meet some visitors to the Festival, chat about what brings them here, have a drink and get to show them the better bits of town – but one never does really get to know any, unless you are one of the hundreds of resident renting out a bed or floorspace.
The Dark Side of the City
For some reason people always ask me about the underbelly of all this, the dark side. What dark side? There may be prostitution, in fact from the small ads one knows there is, but this is Cheltenham. I never get approached, and never notice. Hardly surprising, as I’m not very observant - I lived next to a brothel/massage parlour before I moved, for three years, and never knew till the police kicked in the door. Nice neighbours actually – I mean that, they were. Anyway, nope – you don’t see much of that sort of thing – unless you look for it, and to be honest, why would you?
Street violence seems rare, well worse than the Festival of Science I guess – but nope, it’s a good natured kind of event I think you are more likely to be hugged than mugged, and random drunk girls kiss you as you pass as their even more drunk boyfriends sing at you, and crowds of good natured idiots mill around you asking questions in some obscure heavily accented version of Coptic or Early Minoan for all I know. Not a great time to work in a chippy though “Ullllo moight, Ide luck a fhgfhjfghjg and gugjkhbjkh pluzzz”. Luckily I don’t, but for those who work in shops here this week – I feel your pain!
Love of the Gee Gees
Now of course the influx of visitors, which probably doubles the town population (dunno – it’s normally about 100,000 I think resident, not sure how many attend the races) does impact negatively on the locals – some places raise their prices (though not to regulars in some instances) and most locals lock themselves in and just avoid the shops and streets till the madness has passed. But even Chris my lovely ninety year old neighbour who certainly won’t be venturing out for a week, what with her arthritis, she has the TV on and the racing blaring out. If I had a few quid I’d put a bet on the gee gee’s but then my parents are daily punters, every racing day of the year down the bookies back home in East Anglia – mum had a 12 to 1 winner in the very first race, but it was only a ten pence stake – if she has had an accumulator come up though you won’t be hearing from me for a while, I’ll go be a dutiful son to my suddenly rich mum. Mum and Dad would love the Festival! Every year I talk of them coming down, but it’s hard to travel at their age and it never happens.
We love to hate it?
So on the whole, yes it’s a pain, yes it is noisy crowded and drunken, and yes we moan about it. Secretly though, I think most Cheltonians love their racegoers, adore the atmosphere and while they bitterly complain they smile at the winners and commiserate with the losers. I’m not sure how much of the money spent goes straight out of the town – most of the clubs seem to be owned by companies based up north etc, but hell, everyone has a good time, and some locals make a few bob – which given the polarization of wealth, the stark contrast between rich and poor in Cheltenham – it has to be a good thing.
Anyway, to any racegoers in Cheltenham this week – may you win loads, and have a great time, and do comment!