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Playing the horses or playing the game? EIGHTY+ Another week older and deeper in debt Sir Clement Freud.

LAST week I took part in two broadcasts from Stratford-on-Avon, made an after-dinner speech in Guildford and sat on a panel to select the most switched-on expectant mother in Milton Keynes.

In the course of those six days, I did not have a bet. Partly this was because no-one rang me with inside information; nor did any of the horses I had vowed to back next time they ran feature among the entries.

Mostly the reason for my abstinence was a reluctance to end a day by comparing professional earnings with gambling losses - and discover a deficit. Betting is fun when you empty your pockets prior to going to bed and find a great wodge of high-denomination notes that had previously belonged to Messrs Hill or Ladbroke; nor do I greatly mind pockets that are emptier than they were because of injudicious investment.

What is no fun at all is when you are on a late-night train back home and, upon considering the income from a carefully constructed speech which began with a nearly original joke, encompassed much wellresearched homework, involved intricate stories fashioned for the delectation of a specific audience, and ended with a show-stopping limerick . . .

There was a young lady called Puck Who had the most terrible luck She stood in a punt And was bitten in front By a goose and a swan and a duck . . . you find you have blown your entire fee plus Value Added Tax and agent's commission backing a horse that acted on the going, over the distance, under that jockey, and at that racecourse, but did not happen to be off.

What to do with the money that would normally have found its way into bookmakers' satchels? Splurge, say I. Look at the tipsters' table and you never seem to see alternatives to recommendations to back horses. Wrong, say I.

It is mid-September, in my view the absolutely best time to eat grouse, so this week, swerve the betting shop and buy grouse. Ensure they are young, have been hung for a week or so and exude the irresistibly gamey smell obtained from hanging around their decaying innards. It is worth ensuring this by buying from a top shop.

In the way of cooking, do nothing clever: fill the cavity with well-seasoned butter, cover the breast with streaky bacon and roast in a hottish oven for 35 minutes, when the bird will be pink; it needs about ten minutes rest before serving. Even greater joy comes your way via impeccable bread sauce, toasted buttered breadcrumbs and gravy made by adding to the deposits in the pan a dash of Worcestershire Sauce, dry white wine and redcurrant jelly.

More and more television programming is now based on our interest in food, which is increasing.

We are shown gastro-crap that is oriental, occidental, Scandinavian and Mediterranean; we sit and watch men on ego trips into humiliation, hell-bent on encouraging the opening and closing of restaurants and doing their 'thing' in dining rooms, kitchens and barbecues. Stay up long enough and there is half an hour about preparing food on bicycles, in boats, down caves, up hills, with charisma, without charisma, quickly, cheaply and in Albania.

Nowt about grouse.

There was a time when you watched a cookery programme as a result of which you learnt how to cook something; those days are long past. And there was a time when what you watched had something to do with the time of year the programme was shown, which would inhibit the dates of repeats, so there aren't. Anyway, there is practically nothing that cannot be produced somewhere in the world at any time you care to mention, except grouse. The season began on August 12. By late October, they have flown themselves into toughness. Now is the optimum time to buy and eat.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 15, 2007
Words:638
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