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EPDS Racing had organised stable visits for its member commencing in September and continuing into October – Graeme Mcpherson near Stow-on-the-Wold, Jamie Snowden in Lambourn, Rebecca Menzies near York, Noel Williams in Blewbury, Robin Dickin in Warwickshire and Ali and Sam Stronge also in Lambourn.  Although Robin’s was later postponed due to the EPDS syndicate horses being slightly below par due to niggling injuries, although I recall super-sub Galactic Power picked up a more serious tendon injury. 

And the good thing is that members of any of the syndicates can visit any of the yards, not just the yard of their own trainer, provided they booked a place through EPDS a few days prior to the event! 

Anyway, Noel’s visit was scheduled for Saturday 10 October, with a start time of 10:30am. Just one of the three EPDS horses in Noel’s charge would be seen on the gallops, namely Daliance, having been transferred from another yard – that of Simon Earle; Kincora Fort was currently sidelined due to a tendon injury, probably incurred at Kempton Park when he won in May, and Menace was not scheduled to be working having run two days previously when finishing third in a Novices’ Hurdle event at Exeter.  

The day arrived and, having set my alarm to sound at around 06:20, I was awake prior to that and raring to go.  I showered and washed and dried my hair, applied my make-up and ate a breakfast of two croissants; having already drunk a cup of tea prior to my shower, I didn’t have another one or a cup of coffee either just in case it made me want to spend a penny whilst out!

My outfit today was black snow-boots, burgundy jeggings, burgundy thermal vest, black tie-front M & S sweater, purple fleece, white pebble necklace and earrings, black with white horses cowl, burgundy jacket with brown cord shoulders, brown ASOS handbag too.  Although I had experienced additional problems with my right eye in recent weeks – upper eyelid problems to be more precise - I wore contact lenses today, as I needed to trial a new type prior to returning to see the optician the following Thursday. 

The benefits of writing a diary mean that I can look back and find out exactly how long it took to reach Blewbury from home on my previous mission back in February – one hour and 25 minutes evidently.  I planned to allow an additional 15 minutes on this occasion, to ensure I wasn’t almost last again in arriving ... but, in the event, I procrastinated and had just an additional 7 or 8 minutes in hand ... and was just about last again!!!  What a numpty!  Strange really, when I always seem to arrive at a racecourse prior to opening time! 

Upon leaving home at 08:53 or thereabouts, I headed around the ring-road and down to the London Colney roundabout.  I then drove down the dual carriageway to join the M25 at junction 22.  I travelled anti-clockwise to reach the M4, before heading westwards to Junction 12.  I saw one magpie, near the Langley turning I believe and, fortunately, another a little further on; I hate it when I see just one.  The motorway was no longer affected by road-works near Reading, although the hard-shoulder was cordoned off to protect workmen who were constructing supports for a new bridge just east of Junction 11. 

Having left the motorway, I travelled along two sections of the A4, before turning right to head to Pangbourne.  The road is very straight until it reaches the village of Tidmarsh; passing over the M4 in the process. There’s a 20 mph speed limit within Pangbourne and, having negotiated a mini-roundabout in the centre thereof, I drove through a railway arch and along beside the River Thames.  Having exited a 30 mph section of the road, I obviously wasn’t driving fast enough for the vehicle behind me, as the driver overtook me. 

Shortly after Beale Park, there are traffic lights controlling a single file road-bridge over the railway line; two cars in front of me had to stop, including the one which overtook me but, by the time I reached it, the lights were on green.  I then drove past the entrance to Basildon Park on my left, through the village of Lower Basildon and onwards to Streatley, where I continued straight ahead having negotiated the traffic lights therein. 

Shortly afterwards, I left the A329 to head out across the Oxfordshire Downs along the A417.  It’s a pleasant drive to Blewbury from here, along the winding and undulating road, a 50 mph limit being in place; although it took a little longer than I recalled from the previous occasion. Upon reaching Blewbury, I took the first road on the left, and headed up the hill to Noel’s yard; I passed two racehorses, their riders pulling their mounts onto the right-hand verge to allow me to pass; I thanked them both. 

I was able to park in one of the passing places, behind another vehicle.  A number of the attendees had parked on the left-hand verge, despite EPDS passing on the message from Noel that everyone should park on the road.  My particular parking spot suited me just fine, as I’d washed my car the previous Sunday and didn’t wish to get it muddy if I could avoid it!   

Having changed into my snow-boots, and put on my jacket, I walked up the road and turned down the slope to reach the yard.  I appeared to be one of the last to arrive; it was 10:25.  I know I wasn’t the last, as the ‘Basingstoke Camper Van’ lady, who I’d met at Worcester in July, would later park behind me.  I said hello to everyone, including John Powell and his baby son Alfie; his partner Ellie was there too.      

Whilst three of Noel’s horses were being prepared for third lot, namely Primo Blue, Daliance and Mrs Prowting’s Midnight Jitterbug, everyone took a look around the main barn to see the other horses, including Menace of course.  Some of the other horses had moved boxes since my last visit, and there was no sign of my favourite mare, Chance Taken.   Menace continued to occupy the far box, on the right-hand side.  In the box next to him was a mare named Quantum Of Solace, opposite was Pattara (who Noel has referred to previously as a ‘witch’), and next to her Briery Queen – he’s surrounded by girls!  Bingo D’Olivate was stabled next to Briery Queen, and he lets his tongue hang out of his mouth and is keen to lick your hand to get the salt thereon!

Whilst I was standing outside Menace’s box, Noel arrived to see him.  He put a head-collar on our little pony and tied him to a ring fixed to the wall at the rear of his box.  Noel then removed a massage rug from its large holdall and put it on Menace; the product is described as providing Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) and Massage Therapy.  The purpose was to offer relief from any aches and pains he might be suffering following his race two days earlier, Menace having been reported to be a little stiff after his exertions.  I did ask if they made similar rugs for humans; Noel thought they might, and said he often thought of trying it out himself!

Once the horses were saddled and warmed-up, they headed up the lane to the gallops, and we all followed.  Whilst walking up the lane, we encountered a string of racehorses heading in the opposite direction – presumably Eve Johnson-Houghton’s string from the neighbouring Woodway yard; I understand she’s Noel landlord too.  Many polite ‘good mornings’ were exchanged with the riders. 

Having reached grassland, we headed along a muddy rutted track before turning right and heading across to the all-weather gallop.  By this time, the three horses had almost reached the far end of the aforementioned gallop and they were soon heading our way at speed; the track started quite flat and then climbed up towards us, they swept past before pulling up near a stand of trees.  Primo Blue led, from Daliance and Midnight Jitterbug.  Whilst standing on the wet grass, I began to have the suspicion that my left boot may leak, but only slightly!  I shall have to keep an eye on it ...

The first two did three gallops, three-year-old Jitterbug just two before returning to the yard.  Daliance goes nowhere fast in his slower paces; he needs a lot of kicking to keep him going but, at the gallop, it’s a different kettle of fish. He was ridden by David, who joined Noel around three months’ ago from the Henrietta Knight yard; the latter having wound down her operation and retired from racehorse training.  David was with Henrietta when she trained her star horses, such as Best Mate.  He just came knocking at Noel’s door, asking if he could have a job!  Jan, from eastern Europe, rode Primo Blue, and a young lady rode Jitterbug.

Noel said that Midnight Jitterbug was more forward than his stable companion, but his stable companion Midnight Merlot, also owned by Mrs Prowting, would probably have more potential in the long run.  Being out of Peel Me A Grape, he is half-brother to Letsby Avenue and full brother to Coyaba!  Midnight Jitterbug is out of Heebie Jeebie, hence the name.

Gallops over, we headed back towards the yard; David and Jan were cooling down their mounts by riding them around on the grassland close to Eve’s yard.  Once ready, they rode back towards the yard along a tree lined gravel driveway; at the far end, they had to open a gate to gain access to the lane.  David jumped off his mount and Noel joked that he wouldn’t be able to jump back aboard.  He did, but it did help that there was a raised verge close by.  The trainer had also pointed out a group of mares and foals in the field opposite; he said the flashy white-faced foal stood out on a dark evening due to his colouring.

When we got back to the yard, Jitterbug was wearing a head-collar and held by his ‘jockey’ whilst standing on the bank close to the main barn; he was having a pick of grass.  We all headed back into the barn, to see the horses once more; there was also tea or coffee and croissants on offer.  I decided to forego the former, just in case I couldn’t last out until I reached Den’s house, but I did have another croissant; a plain crescent-shaped one.  I love croissants! 

There were more photo opportunities with the horses, including a number of photos of Jitterbug who was now in his stable once more.  Also, of course, of Menace, whose massage rug had been removed and he was now free to roam his stable and look out over his door.  Noel revealed that Menace is not a ‘trencher’, unlike Kincora Fort who is eating him out of house and home despite currently being on the sidelines due to a tendon injury.  Menace prefers to eat his food later in the day, when the stables are quiet.  But, he did like the polos fed to him, don’t all horses, and a carrot too.  Besides, it must be so boring to eat just ‘horse’ feed all the time.     

I took a couple of photos for a blonde Irish lady, of her with Menace, and she returned the favour.  I think her name is Paula.  Bingo D’Olivate was still keen to lick people’s hands and, at one point, he slobbered on my sleeve!   We also chatted to Clare, and she explained how Menace got his name; when they were seeking ideas, she spoke to a friend who is in the hunt service and asked for examples of names given to naughty and cheeky hounds, and Menace was one of those suggestions.  She said that, during the initial stages of his training career, our little pony would behave like, well, a pony!  She also measured herself against his withers; the top of her head was more or less level with them ... the only trouble was she didn’t divulge how tall she was!!!

Soon it was time to leave, but not before we’d been to check briefly on the occupants of the small hay barn – so that’s where Midnight Merlot lives!  Also Theatre Goer and AN Other as yet unnamed, a very dark grey.  Noel had earlier revealed that he would be moving yards soon, presumably because he’s running out of space for horses.  But, fortunately, he will still be in Blewbury, at Churn Stables which is around a mile away from his present location.  Also, Eve has been doing well this summer and has purchased a number of animals at the sales so, perhaps, she may wish to use the boxes currently occupied by Noel’s horses. 

A number of attendees had already left and the car parking areas were now more sparsely populated.  I said my goodbyes and returned to my car, changing from my muddy snow-boats into my navy blue mocassins.  The Basingstoke Camper Van lady was parked behind me but was having difficulty in starting her vehicle; someone offered help as they drove down the lane towards Blewbury but she said it was a common occurrence and turned it down. 


My car was facing uphill, so I did a three point turn in order to head back in the other direction; I waved goodbye to the camper van lady and set off down the hill to the village.  I stopped briefly before reaching the main road in order to reply to a text message from  Den; she said they’d wait for me before buying lunch in Wetherspoons. I reached the T-junction, turned right and headed back towards Streatley.  I soon caught up with vehicles ahead of me, led by a white van, which were travelling at less than the 50 mph speed limit.  The others took a left-hand turn along the route, so I then followed solely the van into the village beside the Thames.  The junction with the A329 is easy to negotiate because there is a very clear view of the road in both directions.


In hindsight, it would have been sensible to turn left at the traffic lights within Streatley, head over the Thames into Goring and then continue upon the B4526 to reach the A4074 Oxford to Reading Road!  Had I done that, I would have entered Caversham not far from the Wetherspoons where Den was waiting ahead of ordering lunch.  But, instead, I headed back through Pangbourne, again deciding not to continue upon the A329 but, instead, return to the M4 via my outwards route. 


Once on the M4 I headed eastwards to Reading East, Junction 10.  This meant I headed into Reading on the A329(M)/A329 in the opposite direction to previously!  My aim was to cross the Thames via the ancient bridge at Sonning so, having reached the A4, I headed eastwards and took the third turning into the Thamesside village.  Big mistake!!!  My usual experience of this route takes place either early morning or late evening, not at 13:45 in the afternoon.  So, having reached the first of the 20mph speed humps I soon ground to a halt behind a queue of stationary traffic.


It then took me at least 15 minutes to reach the Henley Road.  This was because at least half of the vehicles heading in from the Henley Road direction turned right at the mini-roundabout, thus preventing cars on my section of the road from blocking off traffic heading in from the left.  Then, further down, even more vehicles joined the queue, again from another left-hand turning.  The bridge over the Thames is single-file, and traffic light controlled, which causes queueing in the first place.


I finally arrived at Denise’s house, apologied to her husband Terry for being very late, and then popped to the loo before we drove down to Caversham to meet up with my friend who had already reserved a table within Wetherspoons.  She’d spent the morning at her ‘knit and natter’ class!  Having ordered lunch, I chose a Californian chicken burger, plus an apple and mango J2O; we caught up on news and gossip.  In fact we didn’t leave the pub until 15:40!!!


Having not expected to be running quite so late today, I had intended to pop into Reading town centre to visit Bravissimo; we don’t have an outlet in St Albans, and the nearest one of convenience is probably in Milton Keynes.  I was intent on having a proper bra fitting, as I cannot recall having one before. 


Anyway, Den and Terry dropped me off on the Caversham side of the Reading bridge and I headed into town on foot.  I have visited the town centre on a number of previous occasions, but never alone.  However, as I have a very good sense of direction, and a good memory evidently, I soon found my way to the town centre via Forbury Road and the Town Hall Square.


My route took me through M & S, out onto the main concourse, I turned right and headed past John Lewis until I reached a narrow thoroughfare named Chain Street on the left-hand side; the Bravissimo shop is located here, on the right-hand side.  Their Pepperberry clothes outlet is situated on the ground floor, the lingerie and swimwear outlet on the first floor.


Having arrived upstairs, I took a quick glance around the rails, and one of the shop assistants approached to ask if she could help me.  I asked if it would be possible to have a fitting today, as I wasn’t from the area and she said, yes, the wait would be around 25 minutes.  So I took another look around the rails, and then sat down on one of the three couches located in a small recess beside the fitting rooms to await my turn.     


To cut a long story short, it transpired I was already wearing the correct size of bra, and the first two the fitting assistant brought me were the two styles I purchased!  I chose a flower-patterned one with a black background, balcony style, and a plain black moulded plunge one.  The assistant said it made a change to find someone who liked colourful bras, rather than boring skin-tone ones! 


I returned to Den’s house after my shopping trip, on foot.  My route took me back the way I had come, with a brief look around M & S ... you know me ... I resisted the temptation to purchase two more v-neck ribbed sweaters – I have a redcurrant version and a dark purple version – having decided the suntan brown and the neon orange were just not for me!


Having reached Gosbrook Road once more, where I’d been dropped off, I turned right and headed eastwards.  I probably should have turned left at the mini-roundabout to head up Briants Avenue; instead I continued to a T-junction and walked up Star Road instead.  A right turn at the top took me up the hill to join the Henley Road and I arrived back at Den and Terry’s house not long afterwards.  


As I was well wrapped up following my morning’s visit to the stables, I’d got rather overheated on my walk back; fortunately a glass on cold Coke was soon on hand, followed by a refreshing cup of tea and a couple of M & S chocolate chip cookies; the latter I’d brought along with me for my hosts.  I remained at my friend’s house until 20:50 before setting off for home. 


At this point I have to recount a funny story about what happened whilst we were watching Strictly Come Dancing.  Our viewing was disturbed by a loud knocking at the front door – Terry went to answer and found a couple of firemen on the doorstep.  Evidently there had been a fire at a house down the road earlier in the week and they were visiting neighbours to ensure every householder had smoke alarms fitted; they were giving out two free alarms to those who had not – that included Terry, because he’d not replaced them after decorating around 10 years ago!  This included the fire brigade members fitting the alarms too.


Anyway, as we couldn’t see into the hallway, Den asked her husband to check if they had any identification on them; he told them it was because they get all kind of weirdo’s in the area!  No, they didn’t have any identification but pointed out that their fire-engine was parked outside!!!  We burst out laughing when we heard this, and they probably heard us too.  Terry later told us they were also dressed in uniform, bar their helmets.  To cut a long story short, they handed over the alarms for Terry to fit himself, saying they were short of time ... or, I wonder, was it because they thought they had just encountered one of those aforementioned Caversham weirdo’s!!!


My route home took me via a very quiet Sonning, before I travelled eastwards along the A4 prior to turning right to head down the A404(M) to join the M4 eastbound carriageway at Junction 8/9.  Once I’d reached the M25, I joined the clockwise carriageway to journey around to Junction 22 at London Colney.  I then drove home along the very dark dual carriageway and ring-road to return home.


I don’t recall exactly what time I arrived home, but it must have been around 22:00. 



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