Even before we had passed through the less-than-stringent security checks at the gate, I had a feeling our day out was not going to be as expected up until that moment. I don’t know if it was in the stumbling walks of those patrons ahead of us (at 2pm) or the general air that it could either rain or kick off at any second, but Musselburgh was a different beast.
Morally, I’m against horse racing. I’m against anything barbaric in that sense; capital punishment, bullfighting, the impact the Kardashian family have had on modern society.
That’s the thing about stag dos. It’s not about what you want to do. It’s unlikely it’s really about what anyone wants to do but you buy into this shared idea to get as fucked up as quickly as possible before standing around with your dicks in your hand until something incomprehensible happens.
We had been drinking since 8am so everything about the sorry sight of the track and the Year 11 Leavers assembly we were surrounded by had a sense of permanence. Finding the first bar we could, it became clear that the only beer on draught was Fosters, the only beer in cans, Heineken. Some were disturbed by this development but the fear would only grow.
I see no issue with drinking most lagers although as a teen, a homeless man told me that Carling makes your dick fall off. I’ve held that little conspiracy theory close to my heart since. That being said, I stuck to cider for much of the day.
The odd thing about the racetrack was the people we were surrounded by. You can choose any races in the world and a level of the experience will be the same. There are horses, forced to race, as the gout-ridden feet of bloated bankers laugh cigar smoke, waiting for their horse to not be the one to fall, not be the one made into lasagne. Beside them, a trophy wife, pissed already on something claiming to be champagne, or worse still, claiming to be prosecco. It’s a jolly old jaunt for all concerned. An experience of fois gras pomp, stuffed down throats to ironically make us poorer.
The difference with our choice of venue was that it seemed we were the unwilling substitute teachers at a particularly raucous school disco. Boys in Boohoo Man too-tight check trousers and matching waistcoats, buttons struggling as we struggled with the concept of their ensembles, sauntered around in their collective, completely unaware of how cloned they had become. They say that repeating the same steps and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. There wasn’t a marble to be found in that god forsaken place.
Girls with bronzer thicker than their dates struggled on the boggy ground in heels secreted in the bottom of a wardrobe for the last eighteen months, incredible fascinators and even more incredible capacities for booze making this the Ladies Day to end all Ladies Days.
The others placed bets. Some won. Most lost. I kept my eyes on the names, my theory from my days at Romford Dogs being that you bet on the name that holds a meaning to you. As if any name has any meanings, as if they aren’t simply a collection of letters strung together so you could get someone’s attention and ask if they wanted another pint.
I did not bet on a horse straight away but did have my green visor down low when it came to the vote for Queen of the Races, crunching numbers on an old fashioned calculator, cigarette holder bitten down between my crooked teeth.
For those who are unfamiliar, Queen of the Races is a competition with no winners, a best dressed contest. Worse still were the challengers for King of the Races. Four boys clad in plaid so tight it may have prevented further generations of kings ever being produced.
The kings are dead. Long live the kings.
What did this escalated process look like? How had these titans of ASOS industry, found their way onto the podium and my sartorial elegance had once again been overlooked? If it wasn’t for the notorious dick-swinging on stage then it would have been difficult to miss the jaw-swinging taking place across the scene. Boys doing ket in the portaloos. A drug that should have been reserved for the condemned horse in the 15:25.
In the converted car park where this event went down, I stood, amazed, Dark Fruits in hand, entranced by the vision of a woman repeatedly doing box splits onto the gravel until people noticed her, undoubtedly leaving a rash that she would be questioning the following morning.
By the time a winner was announced, all the stags had gathered, unable to turn from the scene. The equivalent of a television series rapidly going downhill but watched by a populace having already committed too much time to it.
Our king was a ‘90s curtained, King Krule in man-from-Del-Monte creme, not only taking the crown in good faith, but then playing the giant cheque he was awarded like a guitar, his three friends cheering him on. The losers, left to lick their wounds, if only they could get purchase on them through the confines of their costume.
Recognising that the scene was getting dangerous, we left the car park and found a quiet bar room where we should have been the entire day. From there, it was possible to watch the horses on a TV, my preferred distance from the likely tragedy.
Then, I spotted it.
This One’s For Fred.
I thought of my grandfather, Friedrich Wilhelm Schiernecker.
Was this one for him?
At three to one odds, and the favourite, it seemed likely.
I put a tenner on it that I would never see again. Fred was beaten over the line by the horse that should have caught my eye, Smart Lass. I’ve always had a thing for a smart lass.
As booze-soaked arguments were separated by security, and more than one person was spotted collapsed in the stands, a run of sick from their lips to the seating like a pre-Raphaelite painting, it was time for us to make like a horse vet and shoot.
Rushing for the exit, everyone around us so “pished” it felt like the last orgy of Rome, I wondered if there would ever come a time when I could be as carefree and wonderful as them.