Birthdays (more…), babies and not winning big at Cartmel Races

Ah! Another half-term, another Lancaster-bound train with reservations for AP and Marvellous Dave – though this time with the distinction of First Class treatment, owing to an unfortunate fluffing at the online-booking stage.

After an initial, passionate invective against a certain internet-based ticketing company (I wouldn’t stoop so low as to name names, but the gold-lamé-costumed extras, the conga theme and two megaphone-toting twerps [a heinously under-used insult, in my view] do nothing to assuage my irritation – in fact, the exact opposite), I conceded that it was, in fact, largely my oft-remarked-upon indecisiveness that had resulted in the error. Besides, we found we rather liked the extra leg-room, cup and silly saucer-that’s-also-trying-to-be-a-plate-and-tea-tray crockery, complimentary Wi-Fi, and barely-concealed disdain for the roiling tide of standard-class ticket bearers that occasionally encroached upon the calm of the First Class carriages (mainly because, on every other occasion, we have been of that slightly sweaty, seething horde – wedged between ludicrously over-sized suitcases and squalling infants, aurally assaulted by an infernal orchestra of ipod/mp3-device/laptop/ipad sound ‘seepage’, and at the mercy of an unpredictable air-conditioning system – and felt that, by now, we have surely earned one journey’s worth of comfortable travel…?). I digress.

The trip was, principally, organised around my mother having been gifted corporate hospitality tickets for the opening day of Cartmel (horse) races – too rare and intriguing a free-food-and-wine event to pass up – and my 10-year-old niece’s post-birthday Birthday Barbecue. The 28th also saw the marking of a very good friend’s 30th year, about which she seemed not so much sanguine as positively relieved – and I think I’m rather inclined to share her outlook (on reflection…). It seems there’s a certain comfortableness that comes with exiting the frenetic striving of one’s 20’s and inhabiting an age at which you cease to care whether any knows that you have eschewed a night of underground comedy, diabolical cocktails and midnight-til-dawn raving at a pop-up nightclub in favour of spag-bol, Midsomer Murders and idling through the Review section of the paper before dozing off as the sun sets. I may have given a little too much away there… My niece, however, is most definitely concerned with precisely how old she is and what this augurs for her immediate future: prospective secondary school open evenings, whether she’s allowed to see Pirates of the Caribbean, what to wish for as she inflates her lungs one candle’s worth more than last year before spattering the cake and everyone leaning too close with hot molten wax… The cards I prepared for each of these birthdays, I think, reflect the recipients’ respective feelings towards attaining a new age: the bear, for Annie, looks somewhat disbelieving, but this is supposed to prelude the excitement of learning what it means to be 10 and what new happenings there are for her to look forward to:

The caption read:

‘How old…?! 10?!’ Bear could hardly believe his fuzzy little ears…

The card for Sarah features a signature mouse, contented in – even pleased by – his advancing years. I had contrived to work the number 30 into the design, subtley, in order to render it age-specific and distinguishable from the (very) many other mouse-based illustrations I have created over the last couple of years. Can you identify it? I may have been too subtle…

Alas, it seems Annie’s card never reached her and remains languishing somewhere in the bowels of the Royal Mail sorting system, perhaps never to resurface – thus, illustrating the critical importance of scanning (at print resolution) everything that I might wish to reference again at some future time. *Sigh*.

As for the other two subjects the post purports to cover, there were indeed babies (plural) in attendance at the weekend, although I will concede that one was (and remains, unless something rather alarming and horribly amiss has occurred in the interim) in utero and, as such, not available for comment or portrait-making. My 7-week-old nephew, however, was very much present at Annie’s birthday revels, although he was not so much participatory – with the exception of a few grizzles, huffs and an entertaining episode of baby hiccups – as just there while said niece and an assortment of Haribo-fuelled children of indeterminate age(s) cavorted around him squealing and firing very small water pistols at each other and anyone else unfortunate enough to cross their collective path (which seemed to cover every inch of house and garden). I appreciate that baby photos frequently inspire little but the most desultory mouth-twitch of an interested smile when the featured infant is no/only a distant relation, but I hope you’ll indulge me and permit one:


And the racing? I have no recollection of ever having been to the races at Cartmel previously (although I may, of course be wrong – I’m sure my diet isn’t nearly oily-fish-inclusive enough for that sort of memory-raking feat), so Saturday was an all-new experience but, despite the not-entirely-clement weather and heels vs increasingly-muddy paddock dilemma, really quite fun. I was, naturally, crashingly inept at the whole odds-calculating, ‘going’-pondering, wager-hazarding malarkey, but starting with a ‘free’ £2.00 bet – thoughtfully supplied inside the 47p North West Post, along with a biro – and the facility to dispatch Marvellous Dave to the tote booth at half-hour intervals, we managed to stay ahead. Right until the end, when we blew our (very) modest winnings on Famous Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding…

Having arrived outrageously far in advance of any actually racing, though, we found ourselves with an opportunity to explore Cartmel village a little and, after a rather dubious cappuccino in a local cafe, had a brief but fascinating wander around the 12th century priory before venturing into a temporary exhibition of local arts and crafts people’s work (more free wine…). One exhibitor there, in particular, caught my eye with her incredibly intricate embroidered scenes, each comprised of several layers of fabric (mainly silks, as far as I could identify) worked over beautifully with glittery, machine-stitched threads to evoke sunlight playing on typical Lake District views (Mary Taylor: Her work is displayed on a more permanent basis, alongside that of a selection of other talented local artists, at Farfield Mill in Sedbergh – unfortunately, we didn’t have an opportunity to venture out that far at the weekend (being much occupied with other activities, such as balloon-inflating, party-game marshaling and burger flipping…), but definitely intend to during our next visit to the north – which, by dint of another spectacular ticket-purchasing error, will be rather sooner than I might ordinarily have planned…

Until next week, then, I hope you all have a marvellous and sunny (she added, tentatively…) rest-of-week and a truly glorious weekend!

AP x.

About illustratedbyamanda

Illustrator and time-fritterer extraordinaire
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