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Independent.ie

Friday 9 December 2016

Fake tans and electric blues at Punchestown

Ann Fitzgerald

Published 13/05/2015 | 02:30

Ros Purcell (judge) Kay O'Connor from Tipperary, winner of Day 3 Gold Fever Best Dressed Andrea Roche and Caitriona Hanley (Judges) at the Third day of the Punchestown Festival
Ros Purcell (judge) Kay O'Connor from Tipperary, winner of Day 3 Gold Fever Best Dressed Andrea Roche and Caitriona Hanley (Judges) at the Third day of the Punchestown Festival

On our visit to Punchestown races, the grand finale of the National Hunt season, after a gap of a few years, I was shocked, then amused and finally softened.

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We usually go midweek but this time it was the Friday. A cold wind was forecast which obviously meant getting well wrapped up. However, the first thing Ruth said as we landed, looking at those disembarking around us, "is there a wedding on?"

It got better, or maybe worse.

Just inside the entrance, there was a stilt walker. Everywhere we turned there were females whose footwear wasn't much lower. It reminded me of a painting I once saw by Jean Louis Gintrac of shepherds in the Landes region of southern France (1850) wearing stilts to extend their range of vision when looking after their flocks.

One girl in stilettos with a Cinderella complex and a streaky faux glow was so bent at the knees that her body zig-zagged while others in platforms were shuffling about.

After a time, many had taken off their shoes and were either carrying them or had delegated the job to an attendant male. Some were trying to pick their steps around the gravelly tarmac in their bare feet, a most unpleasant prospect, while others had swopped them for flats, a sudden drop of maybe six inches.

Pardon me if I sound trite here but couldn't they just have brought one pair of medium height shoes/sandals?

While the best dressed lady competition has become a ubiquitous attraction at today's race-meetings and no doubt bolsters attendances, on this occasion there would have been far more contenders for the most inappropriately or most uncomfortably dressed lady.

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One astounding sight was that of three goose bumped girls, standing abreast, looking at a race, wearing dresses that wouldn't have looked out of place at a nightclub or at auditions for Tallifornia, as the bum of the girl in the middle visibly shivered, like wobbly jelly.

Admittedly, temperatures were rather lower than might have been expected for the time of year but they weren't out of the blue. Speaking of blue, the electric version of this colour was a very popular colour for men's suits, which seemed to have become the norm among males aged 13-35.

The fortune spent on fake tan was probably matched by a similar investment afterwards on foot balms and cold remedies.

It all made me wonder what planet all these young people had come from because it isn't one that I know. But once I got over the shock, I enjoyed the free entertainment on show.

Then, when I stopped laughing, I realised something else; that these were just young adults having a bit of fun; we were all young once and extravagant behaviour goes with the territory. For the most part they were travelling in large groups and, whether they ended up shoeless or legless, I just hope everyone made it home safely.

On the track, there were few surprises, with Willie Mullins, who has a depth of quality in his yard that has never before been seen in this country, rubber-stamping his ninth trainer's title, winning 15 races, 10 of them Grade 1s.

At this time of year, over the course of a few weeks, there is a shift in the calendar from what could broadly be termed as winter activities to summer ones.

This happens irrespective of the weather because these events are long scheduled and are usually the same from year to year. . . so the GAA championship takes over from the league, flat racing from the jumps.

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The fatstock shows have ended and the agricultural shows are starting - Balmoral is the first of the big ones this week.

It's a bit different on the farm, where activities are more closely tied to the weather. April was a pretty good month weather-wise, with little wind, lots of sunshine, and average or above temperatures. However, the nights were cold, and it was extremely dry in southern coastal counties.

The net result is that the recent rains were welcome. At first, that is. Not least because we expected they would take away the cold. That hasn't happened - yet. During the first week of May, rainfall levels ranged from 1.5 to almost six times normal. Still, temperatures were almost 2C lower than usual.

Different farmers are being affected in different ways. The spring corn was sown in ideal conditions but it's hard now to get a opportunity to spray. The sooner this happens after the weeds appear, the less spray is needed.

For many livestock people, the date for taking first-cut silage has already been pushed back. Utilisation of grass has decreased and there is a certain amount of poaching, while the dairy men are concerned about grass re-growths.

Of course, writing about the weather is a precarious business because things can change so fast. It is far too early to be saying, as I heard someone joke (I hope) last week, "maybe it will be a good back-end". There is still time for an explosion of growth.

I'm going to depart with some words from two simple yet beautiful Church of Ireland services I attended recently, in Killermogh Church for the 200th anniversary of its consecration and Abbeyleix for its 150th, which were addressed by Bishop Michael Burrows, a gifted orator.

One theme was that "we live in remarkably happy times" so "don't let anyone tell you things were better in the past". He demonstrated this with examples of what was happening in the country at the time of previous significant anniversaries of the church. A century ago, for example, the world was at war.

It made me feel that my last opinion on Punchestown was the right one.

The older we get the more likely we are to say that the future is doomed and the past was glorious. Maybe the past really wasn't all that good and the future will be OK.

afitzgerald@ independent.ie

Indo Farming



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