Good Friday, and Europe is awash with Fiestas and Fetes celebrating Holy Week. It’s a time of year when I might reasonably consider that the seasons were changing and that I needn’t be in-country a moment longer. It’s a much-hackneyed phrase, but this year I really do get the feeling that “spring is in the air”. There is some sense of freedom, so much so, that since the beginning of the week, Madame and I have launched ourselves into a challenging round of evening drinks with neighbours and chums, (for the avoidance of doubt, often the same!) to get our soggy, untoned, pandemic-blunted livers into fighting shape for the summer.
Before the year is out, my solid intention is to spend an entire night in some European harbour-side bar, playing backgammon, drinking Raki, Ouzo, Ricard, or even a Sambuca Collins (Sambuca, lemon juice, Gin, Soda), until three in the morning. It would be a fitting end to an evening that had warmed up elsewhere; a Tapas bar perhaps, or a Venetian Bacari, or even some cool Niçoise bar that could find some Bayonne slices with cornichons. A few nibbles to get digestive juices ready, some Aperol to cleanse the palette, maybe chilled Fino to tone up the tonsils, then away for three hours of warm chat, cooled by a slowly-lowering temperature where, after several bottles, the four of you must move on. You’d had some grilled something, with salad and frites, washed down with the local Rose and a Crème quelq’un that had been lighter than gossamer, but carried the weight of Madagascar’s entire vanilla output for a year. I can reach out and touch that place now and smell the sea, and cigarettes, and bars and fishing boats and stone dust from the harbour wall.
I hope and pray that one will always be able to do this in Europe, and I think we will – but only because the people of Europe have an attitude to almost all regulation which is best described as fous-toi.
In the UK, that understated vignette of a quiet night out would be greeted on so many levels with horror. Irresponsible, somehow a threat to everyone’s health, a threat to the NHS, a threat to democracy, a threat to… a threat to… (You can complete this by randomly picking twenty negative adjectives from any Huffington Post article and twenty nouns from any Guardian article. It’s a fun game on a long journey to hell.)
This level of strident self-righteousness is only made possible by a vacillating PM, who confuses medical advice with words from The Almighty, and under the constant imprimaturs of a terrifying breed of aggressively ambitious and unelected SPADs, has had his eyeline adjusted and set on Eating, Gambling and Drinking. The simple argument is that by destroying them, the NHS can save over £70bn a year. (7½% of which they spend on negligence claims and legal costs). As a result of the honeyed words of the High Priests of Asclepius, the hospitality industry is under sustained, direct attack on the subject of alcohol and food content. They have already chosen a path for the cure-all, which is massive over-regulation which will also involve enormous personal intrusion. You can scream until your blue in the face that hospitality creates £130bn in economic activity and generates £39bn of Exchequer taxation. It represents 10% of UK employment, 6% of businesses and 5% of GDP. Hospitality is the 3rd largest private-sector employer in the UK; it is double the size of financial services and more significant than automotive, pharmaceuticals and aerospace combined. No, Dr Dull says it’s bad, so it must die!
In Blighty, we are metaphorically minutes away from having to declare to the Barman that  we are not an alcoholic and  we have permission from the doctor to have three alcohol units a week. This is not the case for Darren, whose body scan suggests he had a Burger and Chips washed down with two pints of Guinness for lunch and is therefore High-Risk. He is taken away by the retraining police. Darren’s wife Sharon would have joined us, but she was given a three-month house curfew for trying to play 50p stake Bingo while looking at Raceweb, suggesting to the bookies that she had a problem. On the other hand, when I swiped my track and trace Sex, Gambling and Drinking app (SGD – do it at home and save the NHS), I was given a drink on the house and told I could have what I liked, whenever.
That’s what a good hacker and twenty-seven bookies accounts can do for you, I suppose. As you will need to be drunk to back any of these, I should give you the tips now. You will then have time to prepare your defence when questioned by the Betting Police.
I kid you not.
As an aside, can I just ask you to consider that on a Good Friday, this televised raceday – as in showcasing-the-sport-as-interesting – is averaging 7.4 runners per race with two races having just four runners; that the first-place prize fund alone, is over £285k.
2:00 LINGFIELD Betway All-Weather Marathon Championships Conditions Stakes Cl2 (4yo+) 2m 7 runners
RANCH HAND Win
2:15 NEWCASTLE Bombardier Handicap Cl4 (4yo+ 0-80) 7f 6 runners
GOBI SUNSET Win
2:35 LINGFIELD Ladbrokes All-Weather Fillies’ And Mares’ Championships Conditions Stakes Cl2 (4yo+) 7f 6 runners
SHIMMERING DAWN Win
2:50 NEWCASTLE Betway Handicap Cl4 (4yo+ 0-85) 6f ITV4 9 runners
DEVILS ANGEL Win – SPRING ROMANCE e/w
3:10 LINGFIELD Betway All-Weather Sprint Championships Conditions Stakes Cl2 (4yo+) 6f 12 runners
LAMPANG Win – LORD RIDDIFORD e/w
3:25 NEWCASTLE Ladbrokes Burradon Stakes (Listed Race) Cl1 (3yo) 1m 4 runners
LEGION OF HONOUR Win
3:45 LINGFIELD Ladbrokes 3-Year-Old All-Weather Championships Conditions Stakes (Plus 10 Race) Cl2 (3yo) 6f 10 runners
Dutch Win the pair MIGHTY GHURKA – APOLLO ONE
4:00 NEWCASTLE Ladbrokes “Play 1-2-Free” On Football Handicap Cl4 (3yo 0-85) 1m4½f 4 runners
4:15 LINGFIELD Betway Easter Classic All-Weather Middle Distance Championships Conditions Stakes Cl2 (4yo+) 1m2f 6 runners
FOREST OF DEAN Win
4:45 LINGFIELD Bombardier All-Weather Mile Championships Conditions Stakes Cl2 (4yo+) 1m 10 runners
MUMS TIPPLE Win – SILVER QUARTZ e/w