The undisputed highlight of the Miller Family Social Calendar, is undoubtedly the Portman Hunt Point To Point at Badbury Rings on Easter Saturday.
It is the nonpareil of social functions, rural camaraderie at its very best, attracting hordes of people from both town and country. One is always guaranteed to catch up with friends from far and wide, many of whom make an annual pilgrimage from London to join in the fun.
The beer tent is the hub of social activity. Numerous would -be race goers have succumbed to the siren call of its rustic make shift bar, merry atmosphere, and the smell of warm spiced cider. Extrication from its cosy, canvassed interior has proved impossible for many, including Jasper and I. Apart from a brief foray into training Pointers ourselves (and therefore necessitating equestrian interaction), there have been many occasions pre-Lily’s arrival when we haven’t clapped eyes on a horse or jockey all day, eschewing the rounds of parade ring, bookie and race-watching for a hoolie in the beer tent with a crowd of friends.
Parenthood brings responsibility however. On the dawn of the 2012 Point to Point, I was bustling around the kitchen making things for a picnic. How civilized and grown up I felt as I prepared Smoked salmon sandwiches, roasted pepper tart, carrot cake and shortbread, before carefully packing them into my smart new hamper.
Jasper came in to breakfast as I was loading up the car. He looked mildly panicked when he caught sight of the picnic.
Evidently, the cognitive dissonance induced by the concept of sobriety at the Point to Point is still firmly entrenched.
“Don’t worry dear, we don’t have to sit on a blanket by the car. You can still go to the beer tent to see your friends. I am going to put the hamper in the pram and people can help themselves.”
“Thank god for that. I’m not quite ready to join the Red Corduroy Brigade.” He said in a relieved voice.
An hour later we were at Badbury Rings, queueing on the road through the avenue of trees. It had been raining hard all morning, and we were feeling gloomy at the prospect of being cold and wet all day. Suddenly the sun burst through the pewter clouds, bathing the rings in golden light, dazzling off the windscreens of the cars parked on the hill.
At Lily’s insistence, we had bought Frog The Dog with us, a decision we quickly regretted shortly after our arrival, whereupon she made a dash for liberty through the open window, launched through the open door of the Volvo parked next to us, and started thrusting energetically at the elderly Bichon Frise which had been enjoying a sedentary snooze on the back seat.
The old tweed clad gentleman reading a race card on a camping chair at the front of the car didn’t turn a hair. It became evident that his hearing aid was switched off, or broken, because he remained oblivious to the blood curdling yelps and howls from just behind him. He gazed serenely at the parade ring through a pair of binoculars, as Jasper dived in to his car to retrieve Frog. After a brief struggle, culminating in a vicious nip to the arm, he emerged looking shaken. The rheumy old Bichon Frise sat slumped on the back seat, pop eyed and gasping for breath as Frog was dragged away grinning delightedly.
“Good start to the day.” Jasper said grimly. Frog strained eagerly at the leash as we set off across the car park towards the entrance.
Lily squealed with glee at the sight of the towering pink bouncy castle on the sky line. Her squeals redoubled at the sight of our friends Tom and Libby, both of whom she idolizes.
Seconds later Libby had unstrapped a babbling Lily and whisked her off for a turn on the bouncy castle. Jasper, James and I wandered up to the beer tent which was already brimming with people.
More friends arrived, including our neighbours Amber and Jamie. Jasper and Jamie greeted each other with school boy enthusiasm and shot off to the bar. I was left with the pram and Frog, who by now was quite demented with excitement and circling around me trussing my legs together with her lead. I had just managed to disentangle myself, when Libby appeared through a throng of people.
With a sickening jolt, I realised that Lily wasn’t with her.
I felt light headed with terror, as I croaked “Where is she?”
“Slight problem. She’s climbed to the top of the highest slide on the bouncy castle and she’s too scared come down. There are a lot of older children on it and she looks a bit freaked out.”
“Oh God!” I gasped, thrusting Frogs lead and the pram at Jasper and Jamie, before pummelling my way through the surge of people to her rescue.
I pushed my way through the crowd at the foot of the bouncy castle. Lily was at the highest turret, clinging onto a phallic pink pillar, wearing an expression of abject terror. She wobbled and swayed at the top of the almost vertical drop, as strapping teenage boys charged past her screaming like hooligans.
On catching sight of me, her little face dissolved into tears, her anguished wails were drowned out by the collective din of the other children.
I had kicked off my wellies and was just about to charge up to rescue her, when a pugnacious little man wearing a grease stained t shirt stood in my way and pointed at a sign.
“Under 14’s only.”
“Don’t be so ridiculous! Those boys are at least 18! ” I hissed in outrage as a Mike Tindall lookalike dived head first down the chute, scattering toddlers like nine pins.
“Strike!” boomed his mate from the top of the slide, and careered after him.
Lily was hysterical. Growling with fury, I ducked under the mans arm and charged up the inflatable steps as fast as I could. This proved harder than it looked. It is impossible to get anywhere at speed when the slippery pink plastic underfoot bobs, sags and undulates with every step. By the time I reached the top I was sweating profusely. I gathered Lily into my arms, sat down and manoeuvred myself to the top of the slide, whereupon I became aware of Jasper and our group of friends gathered at the bottom, howling with mirth. I tried to look nonchalant as I shuffled forward on my bottom and prepared to descend.
I was unprepared for the little boy who used the collar of my wax jacket to steady himself. Yanked roughly forwards, Lily and I parted company and plunged backwards and sideways, bouncing and somersaulting like contestants in a Cheese Rolling Competition. Something in my neck clicked loudly as I shot off the safety pad and landed face down in the grass.
Feigning a lofty indifference to the howls of mirth from my darling husband and comrades, I spat out the mud, picked up a cackling Lily (“Please Mummy, can we go again?”) and set off towards the beer tent with my nose in the air.
I found a bilious looking Frog tied to a tent peg alongside the pram and picnic hamper, whose contents had been disgorged all over the floor outside the beer tent. A few pastry morsels of my red pepper tart lay alongside some crumbs of carrot cake and a half finger of shortbread. Her nose and muzzle was smeared with icing sugar, her eyes glazed gluttinously. The grossly distended stomach growled ominously. Lily giggled.
I have all but given up smoking, only keeping a packet about my person for an emergency. I lit one with a trembling hand and was puffing away mutinously when Mother In Law hove into view.
“HELLO DEAR!” she boomed.
“Oh no! You’re SMOKING again dear! Frightfully common to do it in public dear!” she bellowed as she swept past me rolling her eyes.
Everyone turned to stare.
Just then Jasper and Jamie appeared around the corner clutching pint glasses and swaying gently.
“Hi darling!” he said, giving me a beery kiss. “I’m starving. Let’s get the picnic out.”