Living Between the Lines

“Very Good Day”

The way it was meant to be...

The horse fails to live up to the promise of its name. It comes fifth or sixth or maybe seventh, not first, second or third at any rate.

It seems to be running well when they set off – from my stance on the crowded Pavillion steps, I can just make out the tiny specks in the distance as they ride round the upper field. The riders bunch together for a time before the leaders are determined. The crowd goes a little mad and “Very Good Day” canters in at the back of the field.

I placed a small bet on “Very Good Day” to be ironic. A very good day it is not.

“Glorious Goodwood” is also a misnomer for me.

Here is what the website says about Glorious Goodwood:


The highlight of the summer sporting and social calendar. Bursting with fabulous fashions, succulent strawberries, chilled Champagne and top racing stars, as well as music and dancing.

More than 100,000 people flocked through the gates of Glorious Goodwood to enjoy the chic, relaxed and incredibly stylish atmosphere.”

Oh really? Did I miss something? Did I come on the wrong day? Did the 100,000 people all decide to come on the same day as me?

Let me enlighten you by taking you through my experience of Glorious Goodwood.

The invitation to participate in a Grand day out at Glorious Goodwood Races last Saturday, is accepted and looked forward to with, if not eagerness then with a certain naïve, anticipation. Posh frocks and recently ‘wardrobed’, high -heeled shoes are resurrected.

Organised by my daughter’s friend, it promises to be an entertaining Saturday. It is the last day of Glorious Goodwood. (Is that like the last Night of the Proms?) We are sent an agenda. Pre-race canapés at the house of the friend’s parents to start, followed by transportation to the racecourse via a minibus. There are twelve of us.

The canapés are delicious it must be said and our hosts delightful. Alas, the minibus driver is stopped and stripped of his vehicle by police for using his mobile phone while driving, before he can reach us. Not to worry, two ‘people carriers’ are to be sent to collect us instead.

There appears to be a male/female divide as we head for the taxis, so my friend and I climb into the tiny, cramped seats at the very back of the first vehicle, to be polite. You may recall my tendency towards claustrophobia being mentioned in previous posts. This is possibly, not a good move for either of us. I experience an urge to get out almost as soon as I have sat down. I am quite proud of the fact that I quash this urge before it can take a proper hold.

“Would you mind if I open a window?” enquires our hostess, sitting in the middle row.

“Oh, please do!” we in the back chorus.

We put up with the wind that gusts in, and we set our teeth. We will survive this trip.

The journey is to take no more than half an hour. An hour later, we sit in a traffic jam, the cause of which only becomes clear when we are able to crawl past a broken-down bus blocking one lane of the narrow road.

We finally arrive in one piece, if more than a little crushed.

Dusting ourselves down and trying to ignore the threatening sky, we clutch our umbrellas and look around us. As to be expected, the main grounds are filled with a motley crowd. Never fear, we have tickets for a private enclosure and the sun seems to be winning the battle up there.

I imagine neat little tables laid with white cloths, strawberries and cream in the centre perhaps, champagne bucket to the side. I envisage sipping sparkling water (maybe a little champagne too) and leaving my seat to stroll to the fence to watch the races, clapping politely when my horse romps home.

I will stroll from the pavilion admiring my fellow race goers’ elegant tea dresses and linen suits. There might even be a few panamas. It all seems very civilized in my mind, the epitomy of an English Afternoon at the races.

We shuffle towards the promised “Gordon Enclosure” gate. A gaggle of scantily clad girls giggle and teeter their way in front of us, skirts barely covering their modesty, cleavages bulging, midriffs occasionally exposed and eyelashes practically sweeping the floor. Sporting orange spray-tans, barely dry, carried aloft by their eight-inch stiletto heels, they waft past us in a sea of sickly perfume.

Surely they are not heading for our private enclosure? I dismiss that thought. Visions of sitting in the sunshine or relaxing inside enjoying a view across the course, leap to mind and stay there.

As we cross the threshold, the noise is deafening. My daughter’s boyfriend apparently whispers to her,

“This must be your mum’s worse nightmare!”

He is right.

Of course, at first we think there must be a mistake, the building we find ourselves in, a free-for-all motorway service station-like place, with its alcohol-fuelled crowd, cannot be the place we have bought tickets for? Our hosts are less perturbed though agree they have never seen it this crowded before.

What part of “Glorious Goodwood” is this?

Keeping up tradition, we ladies head straight for the loos. The queue we think we are in turns out to be nothing more than a tributary. The real queue goes out from the cubicles, through the foyer and out on to the steps of the building.

By the time we make it into the cubicle area, the place is full of women re-doing their make-up. I rather uncharitably wonder why they feel the need to bother. What do they hope to achieve? The biggest improvement they could make is to wipe it all off. I am aware, that even in my thoughts, I am sounding uncomfortably like my mother. Is it my age?

Time to put on a bet! After all, this is what we have come to do. An afternoon of gambling and a chance to see how the other half live. Well, I am not sure which half I am witnessing but I can do without seeing how they live thank you.

My family watch me carefully. Am I going to crack? I am determined to stick it out for as long as I can. I gamely asked for a glass of orange juice and Dave hands me the list of horses entering the next race.

I look around me at the sea of orange faces and am almost blinded by the “bling” that seems common to them all. In this chav-like crowd, I spot a mad-eyed woman, short and stout with an iron-grey bob, marching purposefully, through the throng. She is wearing a knitted, bouclé suit, unbuttoned to the waist, and her feet are encased in Jesus sandals. She provides an odd contrast to the bevy of bodies squeezed into their impossibly tight, and ridiculously short, dresses but seems oblivious to all as she marches onward, clutching her programme.

We cannot find a seat. We are reduced to standing at the top of the stairs from where we can see precisely nothing, save for one of the screens showing each race. It appears we need to claim this space as our own so handbags are planted and the men stand square with their drinks. Three drunken, pot-bellied Mitchell-brother-wannabes, shunt us all to the left.

Dave waves the programme in my face and I scan the list of names for inspiration.

“Very Good Day” it has to be. I am being ironic of course and Dave knows it. No wonder the horse loses.

I resolve to make the best of the situation. We walk out to watch the race. We stand on the pavilion steps and wait for our horses to be ridden out. The sun has deigned to shine and it is really quite pleasant for a moment, in the warmth. The steps fill with people. I am jostled by those determined to climb higher for a better view, but I ignore this for the time being. The horses run, the race is lost. Very Good Day did his best.

My feet are beginning to protest in their high heels. We wind our way through the crowds to the refreshment stalls. Queues stretch for miles. There is no queue around the Pizza Hut. A pizza would be quite nice.

“We have no pizzas for half an hour,” apologizes the waitress.

We look around for a table and chairs. There are none free. The grass looks inviting, if a little damp, but in my posh frock? Maybe not. We wander back into the building.

A shelf fish stall provides sandwiches. They are not bad, actually. We find one of those high tables that should have bar stools round them. These don’t. These you just stand at. A girl stands by the table, one elbow planted on it, a drink by her side. She takes little notice of us. Five of us take up the remaining table and eat our sandwiches.

After a minute or two, a group of men and women descend on the table and on us. Glasses are plonked down, plates thrown into the middle. We are in danger of being elbowed away from the table. We stand our ground. The girls screech at one another and the boys laugh uproariously. At least they are enjoying themselves.

The afternoon drags on. A cacophony of noise echoes through the hall. Lisa, Dave and I venture onto the lawn where a circular building houses a bar. Dave stands at the bar for an eternity while we try to keep our circulation going (a brisk breeze and our own lightweight clothing are a poor match). Eventually, I wander up to Dave to see how he is doing. At this point he is approached by the barman, he opens his mouth to give his order.

“Oy! You’re ‘avin a laugh mate aren’t ya?” booms the bloke next to him.

It appears he is disgruntled because he believes he was at the bar first. I watch in amazement as he waves his arms about and makes threatening gestures, swearing and yelling at the top of his lungs. He is dressed in a shiny navy suit, his hair slicked back, breath wreaking of beer already – classy. His mates grab hold of him and tell him to calm down. Dave says nothing. He gauges it best. The man is at least a foot taller than he and looks ready for a fight.

We take our drinks and make a quick exit. Shiny-suited, wide-boy snarls.

The afternoon progresses and I do my best to stay the pace. Alas, my daughter’s boyfriend is right. This is my worse nightmare. My feet, unused to standing for hours in high heels, burn. My head throbs with all the noise. All around me, young ladies slip their shoes off and pad around the beer stained floor, barefoot. I am not tempted to do the same.

“Do you think we dare get a taxi home now?” I ask of my friend who is of like mind. We gaze at the throng of fake tans and high-rise skirts staggering around us, squealing with delight and evidently having a very good day.

We decide to call it quits and leaving Dave to soldier on for another couple of hours, we thank our hosts and make our way through the gate to the taxi rank.

As we are driven away, I can only lean back, smile and sigh with relief.

A “Very Good Day” indeed!

NB: It should be said that my son and many other people have told me that my experience does not resemble their own at all. However, I found an article in The Telegraph which I thought shed a little light on things…maybe I did simply go on the wrong day. Maybe next year I will try it again…

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • Andrea Carlisle

    Too bad there wasn’t a horse named Misery you could have chosen, Deborah. Sounds to me like the only very good thing that happened was that Dave avoided a pounding. If you’re seriously thinking of going next year, hats off (and shoes off) to you.

  • patricia60

    My only horse racing experience sounds very similar and I did not like the throng of people pushing and shoving and then – I could not see. I felt great that I did not make a bet at all

    I don’t seem to like these crowded kinds of affairs. I went to a Baseball game 3 years ago and all the drunks were hard to take too. I just sat on the concrete bench and waited to move until the stadium was nearly empty. And the bathrooms – the lines were overwhelming….we had a 90 minute drive to head home…I think I demonstrated remarkable control 🙂

    I do not care much for the current definition of public fun – maybe it is getting old? Where as I went to a very fun dinner party and we had great conversation and good old fashioned discussion and it did not polarize….Good food , good conversation and everyone enjoyed the evening – it was hard to leave.
    Good storytelling found here Thank you for sharing

  • Hilary

    Hi Debbie .. that’s not something I’d like to be a part of – thankfully I went to one or two events in those dinosaur days of the 60s – when genteel was relatively genteel – and I’m not p.o.s.h. – and don’t do high heels, or posh frocks … but crowds and queues – not my idea of fun ….

    Just glad to hear you survived for as long as you did and that there was a taxi to grab and get into … I’ve been to point to points – but not Ascot, or Goodwood etc … Henley – yes … I certainly wouldn’t stand the pace now … if I ever did then!!

    Loved the post and your Goodwood tale …

    Cheers Hilary

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: