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John Bone's irreverent look at Newmarket's week

I cannot claim to have been a happy boy at any of the several schools I reluctantly attended and often claim my education really began as soon as I left the classroom.

But at least my schools were predictable places where patterns of behaviour, study and sport were followed term by term. There was no uncertainty. The good stayed good and the bad stayed bad. I found this reassuring even when it was absurd.

This is one of the main reasons my heart goes out to our young people at this start of a new school year. Not since the war, with all its uncertainties, separations and evacuees, can the scene have seemed so shaky for young eyes.

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

Talk of changed exams, vaccinations, social distancing would have shaken me as a teenager. Yet those I meet seem remarkably resilient and cool about the weird world they are setting foot in. I say ‘seem’ because I suspect the long-term effect may be less encouraging. All we boring adults can do is give them time and patience.


Inquest evidence suggests casual racist remarks may have a bearing on events leading up to a young local man’s death. We must await the jury’s findings but it is not too soon to say that words can kill or grievously harm even the toughest.

Anyone who saw TV coverage of the World Cup qualifier between England and Hungary must surely have been appalled by the Budapest crowd’s vicious jeers when Sterling scored. You could see it hurt and exasperated him as it did his white team mates.

That was an example of gross national nastiness demanding serious punishment.

But so often this sort of casual cruelty just slips into conversation with untold consequences that can blight lives and last for years. We should all watch our words even more now that our population becomes such a magnificent mix.


When people lament the catastrophic cultural consequences of a Covid lockdown they tend to talk about the effects on London’s West End theatres, orchestral concerts and even Premier Division football. But what I call culture is not only much bigger than all these obvious things, it is also much, much smaller.

Our culture is an infinitely complex network of little things happening in little places. Which is why I wish to draw to your particular attention that after 18 idle months Dullingham flower club is up and running again. Arrangements have been rearranged. Beauty is back. May their gladioli never wilt.

Newmarket Soap Box Derby was a fantastic success
Newmarket Soap Box Derby was a fantastic success

Newmarket sometimes seems to take itself too seriously but under our serious faces lies a streak of sheer silliness few towns could match.

If you doubt me, consider the fantastic success of the soap box derby.

In a couple of years it has captured the imagination and unleashed that sheer silliness. This is not entirely surprising. Think about the town’s growing fame for competitive jigsaw puzzle solving. This is a town where silliness is serious. And I tactfully make no mention of the hats worn on ladies’ day at the July Course.


I admit I have poked fun at our hapless MP, Matt Hancock, a couple of times but, in the light of the latest jibes on social media, I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t. He is in danger of becoming a national figure of fun. What’s he to do? Tough it out or change trade?

My advice, for what it’s worth, is to tough it out and wait for time to do its healing job. Any conspicuous attempt to redeem his reputation or image could be fatal.


Those who share my profound admiration for our armed services will also share my admiration for Lt Col Jamie Lawrence, who has spent some of his home leave tidying up public places around Rowley Drive in Newmarket.

He is an example to whining civilians who moan about the state of things but never do a hand’s turn themselves. “Why don’t they do something about it?” they demand, never letting it cross their minds that ‘they’ are they.


As a lifelong lover of estate agents’ lingo I was delighted to see a step towards linguistic simplification on our property pages last week. A house was described as having, not a conservatory, not an orangery, not even a garden room but a plain, unpretentious old-fashioned lean-to. Long live lean-to’s (or should that be leans-to?)


The present desperate shortage of HGV drivers is scarcely the time to crack down on them with new punitive laws. On the other hand, it is scarcely surprising that the nationally notorious Ely railway underpass is being quoted as a good reason for extra punishment for lorry drivers who smash tall wagons into low arches.

True, the Ely bridge has been bashed about more than most. Scores of times over the years. But the new rules would be a bit late since the new wonder bypass built at the cost of millions over the soggy fen has made the underpass easily avoidable. Or has it? Shush! Listen! What’s that crashing and banging I hear out Ely way? There’s always someone who thinks a camel can get through the eye of a needle.

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