Monday, April 08, 2013


When sorrows come, they come not single spies.  But in battalions.  Shakespeare noted that truism a few centuries ago, and mankind has received all too many reminders since then.  We had another reminder today when the racing world lost another good man too early. Today, of course, will be remembered as the day on which Baroness Thatcher, the greatest and most influential British
politician of my lifetime, died; and thus today is the end of an era - even though, of course, a great figure dying of old age is a momentous rather than a tragic event.  Tragedy, of course, is when death comes earlier and for any other reason.

Sadly, news also reached us today of another death, one considerably closer to home and one which genuinely is a tragedy.  Anyone lucky enough to have known Michael Quinlan will have happy memories of him.  My principal memory is of him riding his bicycle between the family stable in Hamilton Road and his house up by the station, pedalling across the High Street with a cheery wave and with his terrier looking keenly ahead from his position in front of the handle-bars in the basket.  That, and of him on a horse on Racecourse Side, although he stopped riding out a few years ago when he was getting too lame, the legacy of a very badly broken leg at some point in the past.

Michael looked older than his 55 years and often not very well, was always very thin, had a few health problems and didn't take very good care of himself.  However, he cared hugely for everyone else, as Emma found out when she went to interview him for a feature for the Racing Post after he and his brother Noel had trained Langs Lash to win the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot, which I think was the same year that they had had a Cheltenham Festival winner, in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle if I remember correctly.

When she was about to leave, the conversation changed tack suddenly.  "How's John?  I worry that you're not looking after him well enough because he's always so thin.  Here, I've been cooking, so take a plate of food home for him" - at which point he filled a plate with meat, potatoes and vegetables, and covered it in tin foil - "and I've been baking, so take this loaf of soda bread too."  And thus she came home armed with food from the table of one of the nicest men I've ever known, and whose premature passing is just heart-breakingly sad.

It is particularly sad to think of Michael dying on Grand National weekend, because he was an out-and-out National Hunt man, and it seems even more wrong that he should have died on National Hunt racing's best weekend of the year.  Michael had very little interest in Flat racing and didn't even go to Royal Ascot when Langs Lash won, but National Hunt racing and point-to-pointing were his true loves, along with life, people and all animals.  As such, I hope that he won't mind that this chapter not only mourns his passing, but celebrates the fact that we have now had Gus two years.

Two years ago, the Sunday after the Grand National saw Anthony come to visit us for a few days and us head up the Bury Road to collect what turned out to be the best birthday present I have ever received, a 9-week-old Dalmatian puppy.  I'd been mulling over names, but he already had a nickname 'Gus' - and when we got him home, it struck me that in one day we'd taken away his home and taken away his mum, so it would be just wrong to take away his name too.  So Gus he has remained.  During that first day he started to find his feet around the property - and now two years on he is truly its lord and master.

I've illustrated this chapter with a few photographs taken over the past couple of years - not, of course, that regular readers of this blog need any reminding of what Gus looks like.  But there's no harm in putting them up - they, like their subject, never fail to bring a smile to my face.  With sadness all around, it can sometimes be hard to remember that, in the great words of Max Ehrmann, with all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.  We can honour the dead by continuing to remember the contributions which they made in their lifetimes to helping others to appreciate life - and life's blessings are, of course, always easier to appreciate when there's a dog around.

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