Wensum, October 27, 2015

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Flowers on the steps where Karl used to sit

And to kick things off this October we’re treated to two fixtures rather than just the one.

The first meeting attracted a big crowd to the track with on-course bookies in double figures and lots of stalls selling everything from sweets to fashion items and cakes. What particularly impressed me were the new facilities which have been built over the past five months. As you walk into the main entrance you immediately spot three attractive timber frontages making up a row of structures which enhance the whole appearance of the place. There’s the Reinhold Jockeys’ Medical Room, named in honour of course doctor Piers Reinhold whose association with Fakenham goes back as long as I can remember – and I’ve been attending since the late 1980s. He continues to be on duty every race day. Then there’s the smart Weighing Room for the jockeys, a much-improved space which is sure to be welcomed by them all. And finally the appropriately-named Cool Roxy Bar for owners and trainers. Appropriate because the horse Cool Roxy was a standing dish at the course over many years, winning some ten times here and adored by thousands of racegoers. In between these improvements, a covered area has been set aside for the various small businesses who sell stuff on race days. Lisa Smerdon, who’s been a regular for the past couple of seasons, greeted the facility with great enthusiasm. She runs the Sweets ‘N Things shop on Oak Street.

All these innovations speak volumes about the success of the racing game in Fakenham and the desire to maintain and improve standards. Once struggling under the threat of closure, along with other small tracks around the country, it has not only weathered the storm but also emerged as a highly popular sporting venue. It’s a pleasure to have been associated with all this, even if only as a bit-part player. Tomorrow’s second meeting of the season, should you be available, gets under way at 1.30pm.

n I passed him most days when I cycled into the shops, sitting on the steps beside the town sign. He was often alone and invariably holding a can of beer. Occasionally his solitary vigil attracted company, with passers-by pausing for a chat and sometimes buying him a snack. He was also befriended by patrons of the Conservative Club across the road and now and again I saw him with a few of them in the seating area outside. He was clearly a drifter with no particular place to go, an outsider down on his luck. Day followed day until one morning earlier this month he was no longer in his customary spot and the steps where he normally perched were covered with bunches of flowers. Surely this could only mean one thing. I didn’t know it at the time but Karl, for that was his name, had died the previous night. Along with the floral tributes were cards of sympathy and notes of condolence. One from someone who had obviously got to know him fairly well concluded with the words: ‘Rest in peace Karl, with your heart of gold.’ The main thought I drew from this sad scenario was that at least a stranger was treated with some kindness and compassion here in what turned out to be his final days. And despite dying alone, he would not be forgotten.