21 MARCH 1992, Page 49

Low life

A breath of fresh air

Jeffrey Bernard

By the time this column appears I will have had the operation to remove the lipo- mas on the back of my head. The prospect doesn't frighten me but I am apprehensive. The head is closer to home than a foot or even a stomach. And I could do without waking up to rfneumonia.

At least I can while away the hours with my memories of last weekend. I went down to the Marlborough vicinity at the invita- tion of Guy Hart, the man who commis- sioned Michael Corkrey to paint my portrait, to watch Richard Hannon's horses work on the gallops. What a sight. It must be five years now since I watched horses working and they were Peter Walwyn's up on the Lambourn Downs. I had almost for- gotten what a buzz it gives me. Not just the sight of them coming into view in the dis- tance and galloping at you but the noise as they thunder past snorting for air and pushing on the bit.

It is also a wonderful change to pass the time of day with jockeys, trainers and pun- ters with nerve after sitting among advertis- ing yuppies and pop music pundits day after day, month after month. Between the gallops and pub opening time Richard opened seven bottles of champagne between five of us and I wasn't even drink- ing the stuff, being as usual on vodka. That was what I call a good work-out. And if that is the low life you can keep the high.

Hannon has now got about 200 horses in his care and that is half the Light Brigade. How on earth he recognises them mystifies me. He pointed out a horse to me that cost 120,000 guineas and, as far as I could see, it was brown and had a leg in each corner.

'How soon can she begin tennis, Doctor?' Since breeding is not an exact science you could say that it is a hell of a gamble to pay that much for a yearling. The entire busi- ness of seeing whether one horse can go faster than another does at times seem faintly preposterous, but for that matter so is writing poetry.

I saw Knight of Mercy, the Wokingham and Steward's Cup winner, on the gallops and it was like meeting an old friend. He once paid my rent. I was in good company last Sunday. The jockey, Bruce Raymond, is a charming man and he somewhat sur- prised me by telling me that he gets The Spectator. With so many jockeys if you shake hands with them you have to count your fingers after. Not B. Raymond. There was also an extremely nice racing aficiona- do there called Sir Peter Moon. He has recently got divorced and when his wife claimed half of their house he got the builders in and had them build a brick wall slap bang through the middle of it. I think it goes on through the garden too. Sadly for him she has the half with the kitchen but at least he has the cellar. Guy feeds him from time to time and he is very good at that.

When I arrived he made a lunch of poached wild salmon and on Sunday the roast beef was preceded by a first course of Yorkshire pudding and superb gravy, which is how it should be served. Gay Kindersley was in evidence too in the pub and he is a lot of fun. Wouldn't you be too if you were a member of the Guinness family? When I sometimes stayed with him some 20-odd years ago he behaved more like a member of the Dewar family and if I remember cor- rectly he then trained a white horse which one day threw my then wife. On Monday I had hoped to go over to Lambourn to visit the great and good Fred Winter and also see Pete Walwyn, but a man can get into trouble in the Lambourn valley so I reluc- tantly dragged myself back to Soho. As Captain Scott said of the Antarctic, God, what an awful place this is.