Over the stable door: Silent success for Middleham hostel

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to be invited to a charity dinner at York racecourse in aid of The Jessica Bethell Foundation. Jessica, a trainer's daughter from Middleham, sadly died of meningitis at the age of 24 in 2012. The event was held by her parents Sally and James Bethell who have worked tirelessly fundraising over the last two years, supporting local community projects and funding research into the disease.

Country Week columnist Jo Foster. Picture by Tony Johnson.

Tris and I sat on the Injured Jockeys table (quite appropriate he said). There were some fabulous prizes in the silent auction and the evening raised a healthy amount towards building a community hostel in Middleham for young people working in racing for the first time. I was delighted to win the raffle, a bottle of vintage champagne, which I decided to auction off at my party in July - a decision met with cries of dismay on our table.

“Keep it for a special occasion,” one said.

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“Those bottles are already starting to mount up in my house,” I laughed.

I only recently learnt champagne, unlike wine, goes off after a few years. I pulled out a bottle recently, given to me in 2001 by M.W. Easterby which he’d won in a big race. It was to celebrate a friend’s birthday but they saw it and groaned, saying it would surely be flat by now and would probably taste like cat wee. We didn’t open it to find out. Instead it was returned to the drinks cabinet where it will remain, a souvenir of a previous life.

I’ve been offered some super prizes to auction on July 8, including a cricket bat signed by the 2017 Yorkshire cricket team. I’ll publish a list of donated lots two weeks before the party and anyone interested can leave bids.

Last week I got to enjoy my Christmas present from Tris. Having dropped many unsubtle hints about him organising a night away (it’s always me) I felt suitably guilty when he booked a four-night stay in a converted monastery deep in the Italian countryside. After a long winter of muck, building sites and aching bones I needed recuperation time. We flew out when things quietened on the yard and Tris finished the single farm payment rush at work. It was just what we needed.

If I shut my eyes I can still imagine being sat on a veranda overlooking miles of Umbrian farmland, the horizon broken only by the turret of a distant monastery. The gentle scent of jasmine and freshly cut grass lingering in the air under a warm cloudless sky. A tractor humming like a bumblebee among the olive trees. It trundles along, mowing carefree stems beneath the weathered branches at a casual pace. A few days of sleep, peace and the sun’s warmth. Heaven.