The village high street’s heaving and the wine bar’s been full a good while now.
But it’s not yet ten o’clock.
In the morning.
A pudgy coach rolls its girth down the road, huffs and puffs into a parking place outside the packed venue – and waits.
The chill, dankness of morning has not yet evaporated, but the sun is there, somewhere. You can feel it struggling to break through the mist. And the air is tinted a little more lemon, now, than ash.
The rival bookies’ doors are winking at the world. Inviting, alluring – tempting.
‘Come in, come in! Take a punt, it won’t take long. You know you want to…’
A man steps out of his car and hesitates.
Crosses the threshold.
Takes a free pen. Opens his wallet.
Leaves before he can spend any more.
Midget blue biros lie in the gutter, symbols of dashed hopes – or dreams come true.
Not many of those yet, I’d guess, the dreams come true.
Any time now be-suited men in shiny shoes will straggle out from the wine bar and onto the street.
Standing in a gaggle they’ll twitch their shoulders, trussed up as they are in their grey or black straitjackets. Shifting from foot to foot like toddlers who needs the potty. Having a last smoke before they’re stuck in yet another public place where they can’t.
Women on heels like instruments of torture, hair in up-dos under frothy fascinators, will teeter off to climb on the bus. Bare, girly arms prickling with goosebumps, shoestring straps slipping off cold shoulders under ineffectual shrugs and shawls.
And loving it. Despite the weather that promised so much earlier in the week and delivered this damp coastal blanket.
Round here anyone with an eye on the world and an ounce of sense is leaving the car at home for the next few days. Let the train take the strain, it’s Aintree time again.
But the rest of the world awaits the one big day, the Grand National. Then the doors of the bookies stand open, unaccustomed gamblers clogging the surfaces as they try to work out how to place a bet. Incongruous as women in the Freemasons – or some antediluvian golf clubs.
It’s not comfortable, in there, if you’re an outsider. It has a language of its own, betting on the gee-gees. I can’t even understand the odds. Just about grasped the concept of each way. But trifectas, boxed bets and Burlington Bertie? The bizarre silence of the mad, arm-waving tic-tac? Too much. Though I can see the appeal.
There are those who decry the cruelty of the big race, the whips, the broken ankles, humane shots in the head despatching ruined horses. There are those who sneer at the Scousers having fun. And those who simply ignore it. But round here you can’t. And why would you?
I’m jealous, really. I’d like to be in a party, heading for that wonderful belt of green. That throng of excited people, those pretty dresses and crisp white shirts. The tang of a pint of bitter, the tingle of a glass of fizz. The aroma of chips and grass and horse sweat – and spring in the air.
But I’m back in my little office, watching the robin darting in and out of the garden, the wood pigeon waddling around after the seeds dropped from the fat ball, the chaffinches and coal tits – and bumble bees pollinating our new pear trees.
And there are bright yellow daffodils making up for the absent sun, trees bursting with buds gradually greening the outside world.
Besides, I don’t have a fascinator – or a shoestring-strapped dress.
And you know, it really is quite cold out there.