Apologies for the picture quality;

I forgot about the perils of movement, especially when indoors ...

but, regardless, it is the lovely Choc!



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Having spent the day at Cheltenham races for the Festival Trials fixture it was now time to head to Newbury Racecourse for Pogo Pandemonium, raising money on behalf of the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation.It had very much been a last minute arrangement, with my booking not finalised until the afternoon of the previous day!

I was so looking forward to seeing Choc again, having not seen him since Grand National Day 2014; heíd been on the sidelines due to a back and neck injury sustained at Chepstow on 25 April last year.

Anyway, having retrieved my change of clothes from the boot of my vehicle when parked in the top field at Cheltenhan, I sat on the back seat to change.My outfit was my favourite crossover top from Wallis Ė shades of blue and beige flowers on a black background, bright blue Wallis cardigan, Next skirt, black tights, and I changed my jewellery too, I now wore a dichroic pendant with a fused Ďowl in a treeí design upon it.I popped my purple fleece back on, as transforming from a race-goer wearing four thermal layers plus cardigan, fleece and gillet was not pleasant when temperatures were due to drop to around zero degrees by late evening!I also transferred a number of items from my large black handbag to my bright pink Per Una handbag.

I was then ready to begin by journey to Newbury; it was approximately 17:15. Having started my car and driven across the field to reach the driveway, I drove back down through the bottom field and exited left to reach the roundabout outside the main entrance to the racecourse.I turned right here to head down the Evesham Road towards the town centre.There was a bit of a tailback from the traffic lights, but eventually I was able to turn left onto Wellington Road; although I think I could probably have turned left one junction sooner to skirt around Pittville Lawn and rejoin my intended route.

Having reached the next roundabout, I went straight ahead, crossing the Prestbury Road, around Pittville Circus, into Pittville Circus Road, bearing left at the mini-roundabout to continue on the aforementioned thoroughfare.Now, during Festival week, this part of my journey has always been deserted but, today, it was jammed.I couldnít believe it.It took me absolutely ages to reach to Hewlett Road which, of course, was also choc-a-bloc with traffic and the cause of the hold-up.If everyone has discovered my wonderful Cheltenham Festival escape route, I will be in trouble from now on.Damn.

Anyway, I eventually reached the longabout, turned left, then right, to head up Harp Hill.Having reached the top, the lane descends slightly; I took a right turn into Greenway Lane, headed through the traffic calming chicanes to reach the residential area beyond.It came as no surprise that there was also a longer tailback than usual from the traffic lights at the Sixways junction.It had taken me 30 minutes from racecourse departure to reach this point.†††

There was an option to head straight across and find my way to the A435 to Cirencester but my plan was head back along my usual route, before turning right upon reaching the A429 Stow-on-the-Wold to Cirencester Road.A familiar route is so much easier, even in the dark, because you know what to expect.This being the case, I turned left at Sixways, headed through Charlton Kings, past the Dowdeswell Reservoir to my left, up the lower part of the escarpment, and around the Andoversford bypass.I had to slow down prior to the traffic lights thereon, as an ambulance wished to pass.He turned left at the junction to head up the A436.

I continued to the next set of traffic lights and then headed up the dual-carriageway to the very top of the escarpment.My journey then took me past the Puesdown Inn, gradually descending to the roundabout where the A40 crosses the A429; I turned right.This was where the real adventure began.It was dark, I had no satnav, and no idea of the contours of the route; just a map held in my memory!Although I did have a map book in the car too, just in case.

I soon discovered that the road was of a switch-back nature, and there were traffic lights at one point; I believe at Northleach.Fortunately I soon caught up with a bus, so could follow his tail-lights, although he was stepping on it!Eventually I arrived at a further set of traffic lights, and I had to read the road signage at this point.The bus turned right, and so did I.A short distance further on, on the outskirts of Cirencester, I turned left onto the slip-road to join the A417; the Cirencester bypass.

I wasnít keen on the surface of the initial stretch of this road; it was concrete in nature and made a strange noise beneath the tyres.It always makes me think there is something wrong with my car!The A417 soon metamorphs into the A419 and continues towards Swindon.I presume that Choc would use this road when travelling to Alan Kingís yard.It seemed like a long time before I reached the M4, and I was counting down the miles with every road-sign.††

Finally I reached the motorway, and took the eastbound carriageway towards Newbury.For some reason I was thinking it was just one junction away but, no, it was two.I had joined at Junction 15; Junction 14 is Lambourn, and Junction 13 is Newbury.I left the motorway, and headed around the roundabout; a cyclist took his life into his own hands when slowly riding his bike across the entrance to the dual carriageway leading to Newbury in order to reach what appeared to be a cycle track across the central reservation.The driver ahead of me had to slow down, as did I whilst he crossed our path.

The road clear once more, I headed down the dual carriageway towards the ĎVodafoneí roundabout; where I almost turned left, because I recalled I needed to turn in that direction somewhere along this road!Anyway, I found my turning onto the A4 at the following roundabout; signposted Thatcham.I have been to Newbury from Junction 13 on a couple of previous occasions, and vaguely remembered that the next roundabout serves a retail park; I headed straight on and arrived shortly afterwards at the familiar traffic-lit crossroads at the junction with the Hambridge Road.I know where I am now ... or so I thought!

I turned right, headed over the River Kennet bridge to arrive at the new roundabout which will soon mark the entrance to Newbury racecourse.As itís not been constructed yet, I turned right to head past the railway station in order to reach the main Newbury racecourse entrance.I pulled into the driveway, only to discover a road closed sign.Great.I know the route in via the industrial estate but I had no idea how to reach the third entrance, the one I believe is used by the horseboxes, etc.It was now 19:00, the time the event was due to begin.

I backed out onto the Hambridge Road once more and set off in a westerly direction.There was a road off to the left, which I didnít think to use, then a retail park entrance, then a superstore entrance, and then a large roundabout.I managed to navigate my way back to the A4 and the familiar traffic lights therein; take two!†† This time I thought Iíd take a look at the entrance at the far end of the industrial estate.No joy, the roadway under the railway bridge was flooded!

I drove back to the Hambridge Road and set off back to the closed main entrance once more.However, as I approached it, I saw another vehicle turning in from the opposite direction; they hadnít realised the road was closed either.With quick thinking on my part, I gave way to allow the driver to pull out in front of me, and I followed him.

He took the first left turning, as did I; I think it is called Boundary Road.It led to another narrow railway bridge, after which I lost him due to the necessity of giving way to oncoming vehicles on the narrow road ahead.However, I kept a lookout to my left and soon found the racecourse turning, which also serves as an access road to the new racecourse-based housing developments.In fact itís a really nice entrance to the racecourse complex!I drove around the perimeter road and turned right through gates as signposted.

There were a couple of stewards directing vehicles to parking spaces outside the main premier entrance.There didnít appear to be too many vehicles parked up as yet.Anyway, I changed into my black Hotter shoes and my mauve jacket and set off through a small gate to the side of the main turnstiles area, crossing the rubberised horse-walk in the process.

I hadnít actually been in a rush to leave Cheltenham, because I had an hour and fifty minutes to get to Newbury by 19:00.In the event, due to the problems in Cheltenham and getting lost in Newbury, I didnít arrive until approximately 19:20!However, I still had time in hand before the food was served ... and Choc hadnít arrived yet either.

The venue was the Hennessy suite on the top floor of the Hampshire Stand, so I took the stairs, along with another couple, to reach it.Iíd never been inside the Hampshire Stand before, although I have been inside the Berkshire Stand when taking part in one of those racecourse behind-the-scenes tours and, of course, I enter the Dubai Dutyfree Stand regularly; every time I visit the racecourse in fact, in order spend a penny!

It was a little confusing because the stairs go to the first floor but then itís not obvious where the next flight of stairs are located.In fact you have to go through a pair of doors leading off the stairs and lift area, walk along a corridor at the rear of the viewing platform before climbing a few more steps to the next level, then a few more to reach the doors to the Hennessy suite.

Just inside the door was the cloakroom, where I left my jacket; there was an information board listing the names of the attendees and their respective tables.I had been seated on table 13; Choc was scheduled to sit at table 16, just a stoneís throw away.Mick Fitzgerald, Sam Thomas, Jimmy Derham and Dominic Elsworth would join him; Mick arrived first, the others arrived a little later.There were two spare seats at my table, so I could have sat on the other side, with a view directly across to Chocís table ... but thought that a little too obvious!

There were two groups of people at my table Ė a mum and her teenage daughter, plus two ladies in their twenties who they seemed to know too.Also the girlfriend of one of the flat jockeys, Liam Keniry, together with her friend; they were having a girlsí night out.It was nice to have people to chat to.

Early in the evening, pre-meal, there were a number of people testing their skills on a pogo stick.Claire Lomas, who had organised the fund raising evening, introduced herself and spoke about the NSIF.Claire was injured in a riding accident during a horse trials event in 2007 and, as a result, is a paraplegic.More

The meal served was chicken with vegetables, and the dessert was a cheesecake, then coffee or tea.It took a long time for the waiting staff to serve us on table 13, having started at the far end with table 1.I think Choc arrived whilst the meal was being served and was accompanied by his friend and ex-jockey Jimmy Derham.Jimmy was forced to retire from race riding having suffered a severe neck injury in 2011.

Since last October, Jimmy has worked at Car Shop in Swindon as a sales person; Choc having been instrumental in recommending his friend for the job.Choc is also friends with the owner of Car Shop UK.And how do I know this?There was an article about Jimmy on the JETS (Jockeys Employment and Training Scheme) website!†† http://www.jets-uk.org/jimmy-derham/

Prior to the pogo racing commencing, the members of the jockeysí team took a number of sticks down to the corridor on the floor below to practice; they hadnít practised prior to the event, and maybe none of them had ridden a pogo stick as a child.This insider information was brought back by Liam Keniryís girlfriend and her friend following a cigarette break; they had caught them in the act!Itís a sad fact that I miss out on so many opportunities because I donít smoke ... but my health is more important I guess.

In addition to the jockeys and the event riders, there were three volunteer competitors chosen from those who put their names forward into a draw.I recall two of them were vets and all three were men (Theo, Spike and Henry), despite a number of ladies volunteering too.

Choc was the third competitor of the evening; his time was 33.87.It hadnít crossed my mind that it would be impossible to photograph someone bouncing on a pogo-stick, followed by bouncing on a space-hopper, so my photos are very poor.It reminded me of a dark and rainy day at the races!I have coveted a new camera, an upgraded one, for a while now ... but with Choc absent there is no point buying one at present.

The fastest four during the heats took part in the semi-finals.These were a little different, with pogo-sticks ridden one way, followed by the competitors using Claireís wheelchair on the way back.The semi-finalists were Craig Barr, Dominic Elsworth, ĎHenryí and Sam Thomas.Choc finished 11th out of the 14 so didnít get a second chance to shine; but he was carrying a little bit of overweight having been on the sidelines for so long!

Sam and Henry made it to the final, with the former being crowned Champion.Here are the results, with everyoneís time recorded:


Choc hadnít noticed me until I brought myself to his attention as he was walking past my table a little latter in the evening.He invited me to give him a kiss on both cheeks this time, not just one as usual.I noticed this is his standard greeting for female friends. I asked him how he was, and heís okay.Anyway, although still seated, I gave him a little hug around the shoulders at the end, along with a third peck on the cheek, saying that I hoped to see him again soon.He was very stubbly ...later that week, on Facebook, his valet Phil Taylor joked that it had taken Choc 6 months to grow his stubble!Bless him.

Later in the evening Choc and Jimmy loitered quite close to my table, as he knew Liamís girlfriend.They also took a group selfie; I wish.There was dancing too, with Table 16 being moved away from the area; in fact it was now just across the way from table 13 ... but, unfortunately, Choc was no longer sitting there.

Choc and Jimmy left at around 23:30.So it was now time for me to leave too.I collected my jacket and headed downstairs to the ground floor and out across the horse-walk to reach my car.Due to the short walk back I didnít put my jacket on, and it was cold!There was a large vehicle manoeuvring around the car park before departing.

I drove out of the car park area and turned left onto the perimeter road, following it round past the new residential apartments located at the top end of the racecourse.I followed the vehicle in front of me, but must have missed Boundary Road, because I ended up at a roundabout.However, I decided to turn right and, somehow, I managed to find my way back via what must have been Queens Road.I turned left and headed back over the narrow railway bridge; a right turn at the next junction took me back onto Hambridge Road.

I drove back past the closed racecourse entrance, past the railway station, and eventually arrived back at the A4.It had never been my intention to return to Junction 13 of the M4, so I headed back through Thatcham; a route I know so well!As it was before midnight, the street lighting on the A4 was still in operation between there and Junction 12 of the M4; I gather it is turned off at midnight to save costs.The same happens in my home city, apart from on major routes and at road junctions, making it rather eerie when travelling very late or very early.

Anyway, it was extremely quiet on this stretch of my journey; I recall seeing just one vehicle travelling in an easterly direction, as was I, and that overtook me at speed just prior to Woolhampton.Having reached the M4, I took the eastbound carriageway towards London.There were road-works signs just prior to Junction 10, which seemed to indicate that not all the lanes were in use ... but nothing materialised!

I actually enjoy driving on the motorway when itís quiet.My journey took me back to the M25 and I headed around the clockwise carriageway to Junction 20 before heading up the London Colney bypass and into St Albans.I decided to return via the ring-road, and I presume that the local street lighting had been turned off ... although I didnít really notice at the end of my long and fruitful day!

I arrived home at 00:45.

The following day was a busy catch-up day, which I spent uploading a number of photographs onto twitter and facebook, and conversing on the former too.I also wrote up a detailed blog, and began my Cheltenham and Pogo Pandemonium diary drafts.

I also had a noticeable headache for much of the day; I believe more due to my cervical spondylosis than dehydration.In fact it took me around 10 days before I didnít get a headache at some point during a day.I am dreading driving four days straight, around 200 miles a day, when I attend the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.Sadly painkillers are not the answer for me; I have been advised by my doctor to keep my neck moving at every opportunity ... so we shall see.††

Here is the video of the Pogo stick final on youtube.As you can see, Sam Thomas brought down his opponent!


Organiser Claire Lomas also uploaded a video of the Pogo Challenge Ė Choc is included (the second competitor) and can also be seen in the background having sat at Table 16 at the far end of the pogo Ďcourseí:


Also, click here if you wish to read my Cheltenham Trials Day diary.





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