Grand National special: writing into (and out of) the Jeremy Vine Show…

I will never be asked on to the BBC (UK) radio programme, “The Jeremy Vine Show,” again.

Grand National article on How To Write Better 2019

My kind of Grand National … where the fences are a little smaller. And so are the “horses…”

Note to non-Brits: Jeremy Vine is a perfectly nice guy who does a great radio show here in the UK. He is also one of the patrons of a local charity I support here in my home town of Milton Keynes, England, called Ride High. So he’s an extra-nice guy.

Once upon a time Jeremy’s researchers thought they’d found the perfect cannon fodder: me

This was because I had written an article on the Grand National Horse race (the 2019 version of which takes place today near Liverpool, England) about the high number of equine casualties arising during the race where horses were maimed and sometimes killed. In 2011, in particular, there was really high casualty rate and coming up to the 2012 race, I let rip. (See below for the actual article I wrote.)

Ring… ring…how to terrify an interviewee so creating some real radio entertainment!!!

BBC employee on the phone to me: “My name’s (female name) and I work on the Jeremy Vine show. Loved your article on those poor horses that get injured and die during the Grand National. Would you like to come on to the programme (day before the race that year) to talk about it?!

Me: “Sure, why not. Would love to.” (Never turn down an opportunity for some publicity!)

“Need to warn you though, you’ll be exchanging views with John McCririck – you know, that feisty, rather rude horse racing commentator from the TV?”

“No worries.”

John McCririck

The “fierce and ferocious” John McCririck…

“He’s really not quite as fierce as everyone says. Don’t worry too much if he starts shouting at you about your lovely, soft views about the horses.”

“OK, I won’t.”

“No, seriously. They tell me he really isn’t all that bad. You should be OK, but be prepared for him to, er, shout you down. You know, say how writers like you don’t understand the real story and stir up unrealistic emotions.”

“Fine.”

“Great, we’ll call you about ten minutes before the programme starts so you can get ready. And promise me something?”

“What’s that?”

“You mustn’t get too nervous or frightened about this discussion. I know it may seem very daunting, but please don’t get too wound up.”

“OK, no worries. I won’t.”

What this silly cow didn’t realise is that I know one end of a horse from the other

And being the good old researcher/writer that I am, I even did a little up-to-date homework before The Jeremy Vine Show.

I checked out the way the fences (jumps) on the Aintree racecourse were constructed at the time. I then compared that with my (first-hand) knowledge of jump construction, having been quite a keen showjumper in my youth as well as a course builder on a very small scale, and compiled a few questions about this to ask the terrifying (not) John McCririck.

I also worked out a few suggestions, based on my own knowledge, of how these huge Aintree fences might be made safer. Scribbled those down on a piece of paper, got in my truck, drove to my nearest BBC local radio station to do the show “down the line” and prepared to be totally destroyed, humiliated into floods of tears and otherwise crucified by McCririck in order to provide some real entertainment for the listeners.

Hmmm … what a lovely man McCririck was, and is

The discussion started and no sooner had John McCririck realised that I knew a little about course building and the technical dynamics of horse jumping, of course he was utterly delightful.

We had a jolly, pleasant and constructive conversation talking about ways in which the Aintree course could be made safer and amusingly after that, the owners of Aintree actually did make changes many of which were based around issues McCririck and I talked about. Coincidental no doubt.

Success! Result! Gotchya! …. oh, no.

I could almost hear Jeremy Vine’s people face-planting onto their laptops in disgust.

“What a total fail! This old b*tch is about as entertaining as a large piece of dog poop stuck to the bottom of my shoe.”

My chances of another moment of fame on there are not good, unless I bump into Jeremy Vine at a Ride High event and tell him the story…maybe!

Punchline: if you want fame and fortune in the mainstream media, lie. Be what the producers want you to be, not who you really are. My take? Not possible to write it in full on this family website, but f**k ’em should give you a hint.

And FYI, here is the original article I wrote…

Why I hate the Grand National
With most of the UK fishing the last few pounds out of their pockets to have a “flutter” on this year’s Grand National horse race, I use the time the race is on to do some gardening or go shopping. Why?
Because to me it’s the ultimate hypocrisy in the horse world: the cruel, cynical use of brave, loyal horses in an almost impossibly dangerous race with the only outcome of providing winners with a lot of money via being placed and/or on their bets.
I can’t stand to see so many of these poor horses fall at those gruelling fences, often sustaining bad injuries and even having to be destroyed on the spot. (Thank Heavens for quick euthanasia, at least.) In the past when I have watched it, not only does it make me weep, but also it makes me nauseous.
I can’t stop the Grand National. But at least I can choose not to watch beloved horses be exploited.
But these horses have a wonderful, spoiled life?
So said someone I know who was a horse breeder and supposedly loved animals. When I asked her about the danger these horses are put through, she said, “oh, they love it. They’ll gallop along with the others even if the jockey has fallen off, and they’re so well looked after!”
Of course they will gallop on; they are herd animals and so follow the herd. No brainer. They don’t understand that they are being exploited. And the fact that they live in pristine stable accommodation enjoying expensive feed, bedding, supplements, equine physiotherapy, specialised farriery etc., plus highly controlled training, exercise, rest, etc., doesn’t mean squat to a horse. What matters to a horse is survival, tranquillity and a natural life of honest, achievable work, not necessarily in that order.
And what of the poor jockeys that fall off?
Those poor jockeys are paid substantial amounts of money and, unlike the horses, have a choice whether to enter into this cruel activity or not. They elect to ride a horse at full gallop over a long course of enormous fences with the substantial risk of an accident; the horse has no such options.
Much as I feel sorry for jockeys who are injured in this process because those broken bones hurt, my sympathies lie with the horses who trust the humans who control them and do what they’re told … and whose only reward for managing to survive this butchery is some expensive tack and stabling and maybe a few weeks a year out grazing peacefully after months of rigorous training.
Public cruelty?
What upsets me most of all is the public’s sudden snow blindness about animal cruelty. The same people who would stand around cold, muddy fields in the recent past protesting about the cruelty of fox hunting, forget everything other than gambling-induced greed when the Grand National comes along and swear and curse when the horse they’ve bet on falls and even dies at Becher’s Brook, because they’ve lost their stake.
One thing is for sure: come the 2012 Grand National my TV will be very firmly switched off and I will use the opportunity to do some gardening or my weekly grocery shopping in comparative peace while millions of Brits watch the race with unfeeling enthusiasm.
How do you feel about the Grand National? Do you enjoy the gamble and shut your eyes to the reality about the horses? Or do you wonder – as I do – why the horse racing industry manages to get away with exploiting these beautiful animals for the sake of big bucks?

Out of interest, what do you think about these jump-based horse races?

Are they justified in the danger that still exists for horses and riders?
Or do the risks justify the high stakes involved?
Please share your views!

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