Updated: Jan 9
Part One can be found here
Stepping out onto the paddock, the perpetual grey sky of July threatening once again to rain on the parade. If it wasn’t for the temperature, you would never really know what time of year it is England, the palette of grey dreariness looms year-round, save for a month or so. We make our way to the track and the white picket fences separate us from the real action; the 500kg beasts tearing up the ground barely a stone’s throw away. There doesn’t appear to be anyone sober in my immediate surroundings, and it’s barely 10am.
Squinting at the starting line, straining to identify what pony I have carefully selected, the program in one hand and another pint of overpriced and watered-down beer in the other. The stag at this point can no longer string sentences together, and we lose him in the crowd every 20 minutes or so. Always emerging when another round of drinks is bought at least. The betting booths, lining the track, alive with the sound of aggressive last-minute bets and changing odds. For the first race of the day being children on ponies, the buzz and excitement only extends to us.
Looking around and the strangeness of the situation only amplifies. The serious gamblers, the ones that care not for appearances or status, adorned in well-worn tees with badly fitting jeans, scuffing against the turf, these are the guys you want to follow, to eke out any sort of tips, not that they would willingly give up anything. The contrast to that of those without money who like to appear that they have a lot. The matching navy suits and brown suede shoes, short back and sides is the staple, the uniform of the pretender. Then you have those with real money, where a botched bet of £2000 is barely a drop in the ocean for them. Well-tailored suits, colourful ties, immaculate.
Despite the exhibition of decadence and wealth both false and real, it isn’t hard to tell the difference. That is until the program progresses and we’re 10 races deep into the day, the solid lines of class division slowly erode and give way to depravity and broken inhibitions, it is when Ascot finally becomes bearable. The moment I had been waiting for. The start of this exercise of human observation, it is quite apparent how much I didn’t fit in, where the smartest shoes I owned were a pair of boots. The dismissive looks and general disdain shown towards myself, and the rest of my cohort soon dissipated when the alcohol flowed freely enough to lower everyone to an acceptable level.
Ascot race day is the day before England are due to play Italy in the Euro 2020 final, an occasion that the socialites and the racegoers will not admit being interested in one bit. This is race country after all, football is strictly the sport of the low. Every now and then, a rogue group failed to keep their veneer of decorum and break into a Football’s Coming Home chant, swiftly dismissed amongst a chorus of tuts and eye rolls. By 3pm however, every single proud and not so proud English man and woman belt out a moving rendition, echoing around the paddocks, unashamedly myself included, everyone is now the same, the decadence and depravity as one, shared amongst us all.