Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A Day At The Races

I tend to look forward to the Easter school holidays more than most of the others because they fall at the beginning of spring. After months of cold and darkness, suddenly the weather is getting better again (in theory), the days are longer and there's suddenly lots of places we can go and things to do.

Since New Year, I've been more or less sat at my desk 24/7 writing my latest novel which came out in March. The kids have been at school every week except the half-term break in February and there's not a lot going on at that time of year. So, here we are in the Easter holidays and I'm determined to shake off the chains of winter hibernation and get out there and do things.

The children are getting older now which increases the range of things we can do. There are all sorts of days out we can now have, however, like most families there are budgetary limitations. Much as I'd love to spend all our days out at theme parks, all of those things cost money. There are plenty of family days out where you'll be lucky to see change from £100. Fortunately there are many others that are not so expensive. In the past I've championed the joys of museums and trips to local parks, but today we did something different. We went out for the day to a race meeting.

Now this might not immediately strike you as an obvious cheap or even child friendly day out, but in our case it definitely was. We are lucky enough to live less than half an hour's drive away from Towcester Racecourse. Not only is this the nearest track to us, it is also the only one in the UK that offers free admission to most of its fixtures. By taking along all of our food and drink with us (in true Austerity Dad tradition), we were effectively able to enjoy a free day out - if I didn't place any bets, obviously - more on that later.

Whatever your views on horse racing or betting, there's no denying that a day out in the fresh air somewhere like Towcester has got to be better for you than sitting around the house. Towcester is on a hill and it always seems to me that no matter what time of year you go there for the races, the weather is always bracing. Up there today we truly had four seasons in one day - from bright sunshine to gales, to hail and torrential rain. Anticipating this I wrapped the children up in four layers of thick clothing - and they certainly needed it.

Towcester is only a small course - it's no Cheltenham or Ascot but it has its own unique charm. Unlike many of the other racecourses I've been to, you can get up really close and personal to the action. For most of the races, we walked up to the final fence, just after the furlong pole, where you can stand right next to the fence as the horses jump over - almost close enough to reach out and touch if you were daft enough to do so. It's quite breathtaking watching them soar over the fence, which I'm pleased to say all of them did. We had a good chat with some of the guys down there whose job it is to fix any odd bits of birch that might get knocked out of the fence when the horses jump, but they didn't have too much to do today, just a few odd twigs to hammer back in. They were very friendly and enjoyed chatting with the kids, telling them about their job. Later on we bumped into Matt Chapman, a TV presenter I used to correspond with years ago. He was presenting the day's proceedings but still found time for a quick chat - he always comes across as a thoroughly nice bloke.

Wrapped up against the cold by the final fence.

So, no money spent thus far other than on petrol, but how did we do with our bets? Well, I placed modest bets on five horses over the course of the afternoon, one of which won at odds of 10/1. We managed to get 12/1 with the bookie we placed it with - it would have been 14/1 had Jamie not decided he needed to go to the toilet about ten minutes before the race, but these things happen when you have kids.

After an enjoyable afternoon in the fresh air we headed off to McDonalds to spend some of our winnings and it seemed my luck was still holding. I had some of those little Monopoly stickers on my meal, and when I peeled them off, lo and behold I'd won both a milkshake and an apple pie! Happy days!

Every one's a winner!

Jason Ayres is the author of six books, including his brand new novel, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here:

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