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Columnist John Bone takes a look back at Newmarket's year

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“Would you like to write a review of the year?” asked the editor. “No,” I replied. “Why?” he asked.

“Because I’d much rather forget the year,” I told him.

But then he mumbled something about my pension so here, through gritted teeth, is what I remember of this anus horribilis, this perfect pig of a year when our lives were put in prison by an invisible, shape-shifting germ. A year when friends and family fell ill or died too soon, scandal struck. But amid the pain, the dread, the loneliness and loss, triumph came from turmoil.

Triumph? Yes we all saw it. In the dark days when business went bust and jobs vanished, our current crop of teenagers and younger kids led us. I’m proud of the way the Journal seeks out and features stories of how the younger generations are aware of their own good fortune and look for ways to help the less lucky. The idea that all teenagers sit in their bedrooms playing daft games on costly kit is far from true. In fact, I believe social media, which are widely and rightly cursed for eroding youth, have had a singular positive effect on a wider awareness of the community. Young people know about the plight of people they have never met and the same media enable them to do something about it.

John Bone, the columnist who gets Newmarket talking.
John Bone, the columnist who gets Newmarket talking.

The Journal has been part of that social media since long before our electronic colleagues were invented and we’re still at it very effectively.

Right, having said some nice things about those youngsters who redeemed a dismal year, let’s get down to other aspects of local life.

Sports are a vital part of life in all our towns and villages and mostly survived being hamstrung by pandemic rules. But for me the big Newmarket sports news was a successful season for our back-from-the-dead Newmarket Cricket Club. A great achievement for players and officials alike. We could only wish things looked half as bright in Australia.

By far the saddest and most shocking event in our sporting year was the death after five terrible years of Simon Dobbin, the Mildenhall football fan whose dreadful injuries after a Cambridge United match at Southend appalled us all. Since this is now associated with a murder inquiry it is not a topic to pursue here except to say that this is a side of sport that is fortunately rare but totally intolerable.

Simon Dobbin sadly died more than five years after being attacked
Simon Dobbin sadly died more than five years after being attacked

We had the great jigsaw puzzle tourney and the soap-box derby. True, the derby was not a financial success but never mind the money, it is the silliness we want.

How about a local contest for amateur stand-up comics next year? It would be laughable as well as laughterful but stand-up is a national industry needing new talent.

I cannot put off any longer mentioning the great local scandal of the year – Matt Hancock’s humiliating fall from grace and power. He became, let’s be honest, a national laughing stock for some and a two-faced hypocrite for others. I’ve ended up thinking he‘s just a bloke, a product of our age, who went a bit barmy and lost everything. He may well survive as a Suffolk MP but will he ever shrug off what happened this year? Never. The worst you can say of Matt Hancock is that he was an early contributor to the present dangerous scorn for politics and politicians. The best you can say is that he keeps his head up and strives to serve.

Newmarket, perhaps because of its racy racing background and far-flung national and international connections, has always had a drugs problem but evil pedlars are initiating our school children, making them victims of vice in a wave of wickedness we call county lines. Praise heaven, our police have made headway here through an enlightened strategy and good planning to make use of their limited resources. People who complain that the police have failed to respond to their complaint would do well to ask themselves whether they would prefer a copper to be collaring some unspeakable drug dealer or looking for a pesky graffiti artist.

Fall from grace . . . Matt Hancock
Fall from grace . . . Matt Hancock

Local government has been remarkable. It has been a year in which Newmarket Town Council had no notable scandals. The attempt to have fewer meetings with more power for committees was worrying but not outrageous. What’s more, we have a good town mayor who turns up and does his job with charm and dignity.

Several shadows have fallen over the racing scene during the year. Worst was when we worried whether Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum might simply sweep out of town as his family troubles multiplied. Mercifully things seem to have quietened down on that front and, whatever you may think of this great potentate’s policies, he holds much of Newmarket’s fortunes in the palms of his generous hands.

Elsewhere in racing we have the ghostly race meeting attended only by TV viewers and the worrying legal spat over the way racing treats female jockeys.

I am not sure how far the excesses reported from the National Hunt extend to the Flat but I do know racing still needs to be dragged out of the 20th century if not the 19th century. Today’s women will not settle for a patronising pat on the head from a pompous bigwig. They want and will get what they rightly demand.

Cricket made a successful return to the town
Cricket made a successful return to the town

Another shadow over racing came with shocking stories about the abuse of horses dead or alive. The loss of trust in the industry was anxiety inducing.

Back to the cultural life of our towns and villages, a subject which won’t take very long because it is a somewhat threadbare scene and not just because of the pandemic

Smaller towns than Newmarket with less wealth and resources have livelier cultural lives. Thank heavens for Nomads, but Soham probably has a strong rival in the theatre scene although the virus has probably harmed Mildenhall’s tradition.

And in this context let’s look at what planners might call the physical social infrastructure. Big changes here. Soham has got its new railway station. Mildenhall has its new Hub and Newmarket . . . um . . . well. Newmarket has high hopes of getting a cinema some time this century.

And may I extend consideration of infrastructure to mention bus services in our far-flung villages? At least the importance of buses is recognised and sensible solutions are convincingly set out, but we must wait to see if commercial and social lives of ordinary country people actually benefit.

And, just as I complete this tour of the horizon, news comes of a chink in the cloud that has hovered over our otherwise contented relationship with our American friends at Alconbury and Mildenhall. Many of us have been apprehensive since an American woman fled home after being accused of killing a boy outside a base in Northamptonshire. It seemed a shameful episode but some sort of legal clarity and reassurance is now likely. It would have been a pity to rock a mutually happy boat.

Well, I can’t think of anything else to moan about at the moment so I’ll end as I began by recognising the vital role of our young people and hailing the way Newmarket Academy has hauled itself back from a tricky time.

As for looking ahead, if in the next twelvemonth you feel tempted to pour scorn on your home territory, just reflect on those wretched illegal immigrants we glimpse fleetingly as they pass through our area hoping to find salvation in this place they see as the promised land. You could always try living where they come from.