Kris followed my gaze down the list and tapped my name with his finger.
"October and November," he pronounced without surprise. "Don't tell me! You'll waste half of that leave on your grandmother again."
"I expect so."
He protested, "But you see her every week."
Where Kris had parents, brothers and a coven of cousins, I had a grandmother. She had literally plucked me as an infant out of the ruins of a gas-exploded house, and had dried her grief for my dead parents in order to bring me up. Where batches of my meteorological colleagues had wives, husbands, live-ins and one-nighters, I had-sometimes-my grandmother's nurses. I wasn't unmarried by design: more by lack of urgency or the advent of Cinderella.
AS AUTUMN APPROACHED the Ironside manic-depressive gloom intensified downwards. Kris's latest girlfriend left him, and the Norwegian pessimism he'd inherited from his mother, along with his pale skin, lengthy jaw and ectomorph physique, was leading him to predict cyclones more often than usual at the drop of a single millibar.
Small groups of the great wide public with special needs tended to gravitate to particular forecasters. One associate, Beryl Yates, had cornered weddings, for instance, and Sonny Rae spent his spare time advising builders and house painters, and pompous old George told local councils when they might dryly dig up their water mains.
Landowners, great and small, felt comfortable with Kris, and would cut their hay to the half hour on his say-so.
As Kris's main compulsive personal hobby was flying his own light aircraft, he spent many of his free days lunching with far-flung but welcoming farmers. They cleared their sheep out of fields to give him landing room and had been known to pollard a row of willows to provide a safe low-trajectory takeoff. I had flown with him three times on these farming jaunts, though my own bunch of followers, apart from children with garden birthday parties, had proved to be involved with horses. I seemed particularly to be consulted by racehorse trainers seeking perfect underfoot conditions for their speedy hopefuls, even though we did run forecasts dedicated to particular events.
By voice transfer on a message machine a trainer might say, "I've a fancied runner at Windsor on Wednesday evening, what are the chances of firm ground?" or "I'm not declaring my three-mile 'chaser to run tomorrow unless you swear it'll rain overnight." They might be pony club camp organizers or horse show promoters, or even polo entrepreneurs, begging for the promise of sunshine. They might be shippers of brood mares to Ireland anxious for a calm sea crossing, and they might above all be racecourse managers wanting advice on whether or not to water their turf for good going in the days ahead. The prospect of good going encouraged trainers to send their horses. The prospect of many runners encouraged spectators to arrive in crowds. "Good going" was gold dust to the racing industry; and woe betide the forecaster who misread the clouds.
But no weatherman, however profound his knowledge or intuition, could guess the skies right all the time, and, as over the British Isles especially the fickle winds could change direction without giving notice, to be accurate eighty-five percent of the time was miraculous.
Kris's early autumnal depression intensified day by day and it was from some vague impulse to cheer him up that I agreed to his suggestion of a Sunday lunch flight to Newmarket. Our host, Kris assured me, would be catering for at least twenty guests, so my presence would hardly overload the arrangements. "And besides," Kris added with mild routine sarcasm, "your face is your fortune, you can't get away from it. Caspar will slobber all over you."
"Caspar Harvey, it's his lunch."
Caspar Harvey might be one of Kris's wealthiest farming cronies, but he also owned three or four racehorses whose trainer twittered in nervous sound bites in my ears from Monday to Sunday. Oliver Quigley, the trainer, temperamentally unsuited to any stressful way of life, let alone the nerve-breaking day-to-day of the thoroughbred circuit, was, on his messages system, audibly in awe of Caspar Harvey, which was hardly the best basis for an owner-trainer relationship.
From Second Wind by Dick Francis. Uused by permission of the publisher - Putnam.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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