The Oldest of Old Flames

The sky is blue, the Black Dog is in his kennel and this week I spent a precious day with the Oldest of Old Flames, aka OOOF.

I’m not a bloke usually found whistling first thing in the morning, being more of a night howl.

But at circa 7am this week as I stood there watching the kettle not boil, I began whistling away like Roger bloody Whittaker calling after his dogs.

If you must know, it was Hotel California by The Eagles (1977).

I nearly dropped a scalding kettle over my toes at the sudden shock of it all.

I don’t know why I was whistling and I can’t remember the last time I heard that song.

More importantly of all, I can’t really remember whistling in the morning for years, not having had a great deal to whistle about.

So in that idle moment this week, it really felt like something had changed.

That, perhaps, the world looked a few shades brighter for the first time in years.

The sky is blue, the Black Dog is in his kennel, and all I can blame this outbreak of howling on is that this week I spent a day with the Oldest of Old Flames, aka OOOF.

And an OOOF day it turned out to be too.

Regular unlikers of this column will know that I finally tracked her down in April.

We hadn’t seen each other this century and I think we last spoke on the phone around the turn of the Millennium, circa 1998.

We first got together at 14 which is 36 years ago, and were last a fully-fledged item back in 1994 when we were both 22.

We went our separate ways that summer as we wanted very different things from life. I basically wanted her to be more fully in mine and she didn’t.

I had the career tied to one place, and as an international jet-setter from Spain, she understandably had other places to go.

Yet here we are again in 2022, both aged 50, both single, both in Cumbria.

And as I got off the train on Wednesday afternoon and threw my arms around her, all the old fireworks started to go off.

It was like being reunited with a missing piece of myself. Like in Terminator 2 where that fella’s limbs grow back.

Except for me it was a bit of old broken heart.

Being a cool, independent lone wolf, I decided against an on-the-spot proposal of marriage until after lunch.

Sitting there in a distant pub with warm sun streaking through the windows and OOOF chattering away and stroking every pet in the place, the decades melted away.

It could have been 1993 all over again.

I’d forgotten quite how dark brown her eyes are and how much I enjoy looking in them.

Even one of the late mother’s favourite songs randomly chunked on to the old jukebox like a karmic ghost was playing DJ.

Paul Simon’s Graceland (1986) – which I last heard at her funeral.

OOOF’s cats curled endlessly around my legs and purred, and her pet parrot wasn’t sick all over me.

I can’t put my finger on what it all means. Is it chemistry, coincidence, kismet, or lager carbohydrates?

We have both stood on our own two feet but it was very special to roll back the years and be a couple again. Me agreeing with everything I disagree with!

The train had barely left the station before I got a text telling me the day was PRECIOUS! (Her capitals).

If you and a significant ex ever find yourself in the position to mend burned bridges, I would recommend you try it.

It does wonders for the state of mind and you might find yourself whistling Hotel California near a hot kettle in an open dressing gown.

As for OOOF and I, there are large, personal, hurdles.

And typically, on my long and contemplative train journey home, I saw that blasted single Magpie who seems to follow me around all the time.

I saluted it with both fingers and started to whistle the tune to Graceland.

The (Not So) Grand National

Well I picked the runner-up in this weekend’s Grand National with Any Second Now which would usually be a cause for a rare outbreak of Asti Spumante – had I not backed it to win

Well I picked the runner-up in this weekend’s Grand National with Any Second Now (10-1) which would usually be a cause for a rare outbreak of Asti Spumante – had I not backed it to win.

With a name like Any Second Now staring me in the face, I will be left to rue the day why I didn’t have it each way when its name was such a giveaway.

My other runner, Eclair Surf at 14-1, fell at the third and was the third horse to fall. Not easy to say without your teeth in.

I heard the commentator say it had crashed out at The Ditch, which is about right, given that I’ve always feared I might be heading for one when this writing game runs out.

Sadly, I read today that the eight-year-old Eclair Surf has died overnight having sustained a massive head injury.

It certainly puts any monetary loss of mine into focus, and the story gets sadder.

Eclair Surf was a third reserve to run in the National and would not have been taking part had it not been for the withdrawal of Battleoverdoyen and Court Maid.

The ultimate kiss of death of course was for Butcher – the ultimate harbinger of impending doom – to roll up late in the day and lay out a fiver on it to finish in the top six – each way naturally.

It has all left me in a mood to jack in this horse racing malarkey.

Every passing national finds me further and further at the back of the field from those glory days where I only had to glance at a horse in The Racing Post to win.

The one that stands out most is a £250 triumph on Amberleigh House (2004).

I was somewhat ‘over refreshed’ when I scribbled out the slip at Chas Kendall in Ulverston.

I contrived to both back it to win and finish each way – so double booty – as John McCririck might say, if he wasn’t dead.

2012 was also a good year with Neptune Collognes when the then five-year-old daughter sweetly picked its colours out of the paper and it went on to win, with me hoisting her high onto my shoulders and galloping her round and round the back garden like a crazy horse.

And then there was that year that I lost all my bets but then recovered my losses having won the office sweepstake on One For Arthur (2017).

The Oldest of Old Flames (OOOF) – who I have been frantically corresponding with this week for the first time in circa 15 years- confirmed my memory that her granddad used to enjoy a flutter on the gee gees.

In fact, the Bee Gee Gees would be a good name for a race horse, as would be Stayin Alive if you could guarantee it did, or Tragedy if it didn’t.

If I owned a race horse I would be inclined to call it Neigh Chance and I’d back it at ten to one and it would come in at quarter to four, as Tommy Cooper used to say.

Anyway, ‘OOOF‘ was always devastatingly right on and painfully unconventional long before it became a badge of honour.

But I always respected her opinions and our arguments three long decades ago were rare but of spectacularly high quality.

Now living on a houseboat with a clutter of cats and a murder of crows, she texted to tell me that she regards horse racing as, and I quote, ‘horrendous animal abuse,’ – accompanied by three exclamation marks.

I better not then tell her about switching hobbies to seal clubbing.

I don’t have the energy or the inclination here to get into the whys and the wherefores of horse racing.

The Ell and Back blog doesn’t seek to become a polarising force in the world in order to rack up fake internet likes – there’s far too much of that, thank you.

Suffice to say that a horse bred from a long line of animals trained to run and jump over things which then doesn’t like it, is a bit like finding a fish that doesn’t like water. Or swimming.