Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Dressage Fans

Mervin and Maureen Belcher were the ultimate dressage aficionados. Where others admired David Beckham and Tiger Woods, the Belcher's pantheon of sporting greatness was occupied by Anky, Isabelle and our own dear Carl.

For many years they had dedicated themselves to the promotion of the dressage career of their only daughter Minerva.

Sadly, however, she had wasted a promising future to run off with Ken Braylee, an older divorcee with his own gents clothing outlet in Shipston Vaysey.

Minerva’s defection had been particularly hurtful since she was just on the brink of international selection.

Maureen had been so looking forward to sharing a joke over the canapes with the current Chairman at the traditional and exclusive young international riders' parents' pre-training camp cocktail soiree.

Maureen, who always admired luxury brands, found these occasions so chic - with the reception sponsored by the likes of Cartier and Rolex and never Fray Bentos or Lidl.

Tragically, her taste of la dolce vita had now been snatched away.

Careers in human resources at the Vale of Vaysey Electricity Board - itself a seething cauldron of bitter political conflict and self-promotion – had however equipped Mervin and Maureen to fight on after such a setback.

Although their Minerva had deserted the cause of British Dressage, they would ensure that this should never be said of her more committed parents.

Over coffee and hobnobs on the kitchen table at Donner Cottage on the outskirts of Pammy-under-Snood, the Belchers would plan each season’s campaign as precisely as a Kyra half-pass.

Last year, funds had stretched to a holiday in
Las Vegas to coincide with the Worlds, where the Belchers were thrilled to witness live performances by their goddesses Anky van Grunsven and Celine Dion.

This year their
UK itinerary would take in the Hartpury, Stoneleigh and Summerhouse. Abroad, they would have to make do with one of the Costas and a few days of the Sunshine Tour.

Apart from seeing their heroes compete, the Belchers hoped to rub shoulders with them and “be accepted on the circuit”.

On most mornings the Maureen and Mervin would pack their flask and sandwiches and bundle labradors Bonnie and Sally, named in tribute to Bonfire and Salinero, into the Freelander. The fact that this was a dressage fan's vehicle was signalled the bumper sticker: “Dressage riders enter at A and proceed without halting”.

The Belchers enjoyed the affiliated days at venues such as Addington, which they preferred because of its convenient parking and superior catering. “You get a nicer class of spectator there”, sniffed Maureen. “Very select” agreed Mervin.

At the Winter Championships, they would be in the front row insulated from head to toe in Musto and Pikeur with unused Newmarkets over their knees, making loud comments on technique with a smattering of German terms.

As Mervin and Maureen enjoyed the latest young international’s new piece for the kur, to a clever Pet Shop Boys medley, they marvelled at how the sport had progressed in such a short time. They were so pleased that Scottish reels on the accordion had all-but disappeared.
Secretly, however, each grieved that their Minerva hadn’t just competed.

Both sighed inside that they weren’t now going to congratulate her and laugh with Laura and Pammy over drinks in the sponsor’s marquee. "All for the sake of a middle-aged, natty outfitter from Shipston Vaysey: sometimes life was just too cruel".

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