Book Extract: On the Horses by Dulwich Raider

Below is an excerpt from the new book Today South London, Tomorrow South London. It is written by the enigmatic lounger-around-town Dulwich Raider. 

Today South London, Tomorrow South London is published by Unbound and out now on Kindle. The print version is out on November 1. Buy here.

 

"Like all the best traditions, no one can remember for sure how or when it started. It’s not like any of us are particularly drawn to horse racing as a sport. We’re more drawn, I suspect, to the idea of a day spent gambling and guzzling in the company of like-minded skivers. No one can accuse us of not chasing the party. Anyway, every year we earmark a day of the Cheltenham Festival on which to abscond from mere existence, get the train going the other way, and spend an afternoon in a seaside town getting rich and soaked in Guinness.

This year, though, we had other considerations.

‘What about the book?’ I said to Dirty South, when he floated the idea of a day on the Kent Riviera.

‘What book?’ 

‘The book we’re supposed to be writing.’

‘We can’t let it interfere with our instincts,’ he said, ‘Our beliefs.’

Nevertheless, in order to safeguard the future of literature we elected to spend the day in London instead of overnighting in the provinces. Also, we figured if we did it in London, we could include it in the book – this very tome that you are reading now, instead of doing something useful. It would double as research. Such are the mind processes of the profoundly lazy.

We picked Nunhead for the day, led there by its clutch of Irish pubs, a safe bet for Cheltenham Festival action. And in order to ensure we started with a decent pint, we were to assemble at the Old Nun’s Head. But first, I took the opportunity to drop into my barber in East Dulwich, on the other side of the Rye.

‘Alright, Raider?’ he said. ‘Do you want a beer?’

‘I might as well, Pudsy,’ I said. ‘It’s not going to make much difference, the amount I’m going to drink today.’ Pudsy’s real name is Sean. Really, if you’re a barber, why not keep the name Sean?

‘What do you want done?’ he asked, as I climbed into the chair.

‘Oh, take the lot off,’ I said. ‘Turn me into one of your magazine men.’

A chap put his head round the door.

‘Do you take cards?’ he asked.

‘Christmas cards and birthday cards only,’ said Pudsy.

‘OK, never mind, thanks anyway,’ said the man, and left. I asked Pudsy why he’d not mentioned the nearby cashpoint.

‘I can’t be bothered, Raider,’ he said. ‘I’m only here to get out of the house. I’m trying to read a book at the moment and people keep coming in wanting a fucking haircut.’ I love my barber.

‘Got any tips?’ I asked him. 

‘Any names to do with drink,’ he said. ‘I once won a monkey on a horse called Another Rum. A guy was taking bets and I thought he was asking what I want to drink.’

 

Old Nun’s Head

 

Dirty South was already installed when I arrived at the Old Nun’s Head, the Racing Postspread out before him.

‘New barnet?’ he said as I sat down. ‘What do they call that, lesbian seagull?’ 

‘You’ve got to keep people on their toes,’ I said. ‘Keep switching it up, yeah? Keep moving forward, like a Bowie or a Gaga.’

‘I’m pretty sure David Bowie had more than two haircuts a year,’ he said.

At the bar, a helpful and knowledgeable young woman talked me through the beer offerings before recommending a delicious pint from the last barrel of a seasonal Truman ale. Then she put the racing on. All round top quality service.

This year Roxy had taken the afternoon off work to join us and she arrived, breathless and excited.

‘I’ve put five pounds on Saxo Jack!’ she declared. ‘When it wins I get a thousand pounds! What’s happened to your hair?’

‘He’s being David Bowie,’ said Dirty South.

‘Fat white duke?’ said Roxy. ‘Put that in your book, innit? Have you finished it yet? Am I in it?’

‘Not any more,’ I said.

‘I suppose Half-pint is in it?’ she said with a curl of her lip. This was Roxy’s pet name for Half-life, after he once made the egregious error of getting her a half pint on a rare round. She wasn’t impressed. ‘Where is he, anyway?’ 

‘On his way. Allegedly.’

The first race began, with Roxy cross because the horses hadn’t started in a straight line. But she soon got into the spirit of it, providing her own running commentary: ‘I can’t understand a word he’s saying.’ ‘What colour is my guy?’ ‘I’ve forgotten his name!’ ‘It looks like horses with tiny men on their backs, in a mad sort of way.’ ‘Bloody hell, how long is it going to go on for? I’m dying for a pee.’ ‘Did I win?’

Roxy didn’t win, but Dirty South landed a 9-1 winner and our day was off to a flyer.

 

Man of Kent

 

We bade farewell to our lovely barmaid and headed over to the Man of Kent for race two, only to be disappointed. There was no big screen, as in previous years, and hardly any punters. Pudsy had told me that landlords Vinny and Sandra were selling up, so perhaps that explained it.

I told the guys about Pudsy’s betting strategy and Roxy and I duly put money on Saint Calvados. But Dirty South liked the look of the favourite in the paddock and ploughed his own furrow.

Ploughing a furrow might have been a more useful endeavour for Saint Calvados, who finished fourth in a five-horse race, while the favourite, Footpad, romped home to give the Dirty One two out of two.

 

Pyrotechnists Arms

At first I was disappointed at our next stop, the Pyrotechnists Arms, too, as there was no sign of the free rolls I’d experienced during Cheltenhams gone by. For me, Cheltenham is all about free rolls. But what the Pyro did have was a fine collection of regulars. And by fine, I mean pissed. Completely canned at 2pm, just like you should be on a Cheltenham day.

Dirty South got stuck with Jokeman, pleased to have someone new to regale with old jokes. I avoided eye contact and went to the bar. Roxy got sandwiched between a wild-eyed octogenarian and a white patois-speaking dude in a dressing gown. Meanwhile, I was warmly welcomed by a swaying man with rheumy eyes and the softest hands I’ve ever shaken.

‘Thank you so much for coming,’ he said, quite sincerely. ‘It means so much to all of us. Can I give you a hug?’

My betting strategy in the third race was quite straightforward: ask Dirty what he was on, and then bet on the same.

‘Coo Star Sivola in this one,’ he said.

‘She sounds hot.’ 

‘A HILF,’ he agreed.

We were all on our feet as Coo Star Sivola just held on to come in at 5-1.

‘Lunch is on you!’ said Roxy to Dirty South, and I couldn’t have agreed more.

‘It will be my pleasure,’ said Dirty.

Outside, on Nunhead Green, the sun was trying to come out. 

‘How did you get on with Pontoon Eyes?’ I asked Roxy, as she fashioned a three-skinner.

‘Pontoon Eyes?’

‘One twists, the other sticks.’

‘Don’t be mean,’ she said. My huggy chum from the Pyro ambled over to join us but the offer of spliff was declined.

‘No, no. That stuff kills your brain cells,’ he said. ‘Not like getting drunk, that just hurts your liver. And you’ve got two of them.’

Ordinarily, Nunhead’s brilliant micropub, the Beer Shop, would have been high on our list of priorities, but it didn’t open until later in the day. I was gazing over longingly at it when I spotted a horse was being ridden down the road, like it was the 1920s.

‘There’s yours in the next race, Rox,’ I said.

‘Erm… Is that who I think it is?’ said Dirty South.

‘O. M. Fucking. G.’ I said, as I made out the telltale figure of Half-life bestride the beast. And was that a cowboy hat?

‘This book of yours is writing itself,’ said Roxy, as Half-life rode over to greet us.

‘What the absolute fuck?’ said Dirty South.

‘Anyone got an apple?’ said Half-life. ‘I’m starving.’"

 

Today South London, Tomorrow South London is published by Unbound and out now on Kindle. The print version is out on November 1. Buy here.

Read Deserter here.

 

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