Peter O’Sullevan died yesterday. For many, many years he was the voice of horseracing and because when I grew up all there was on the television on Saturday was football, or racing, or wrestling, he was part of my childhood albeit in a background, subliminal way.
I’ve checked the many, many years timespan and he commentated for the BBC for 50 years. 50 years! But of course O’Sullevan himself would have probaly said the former: 50 years, minus the exclamation mark because he was that kind of a man and exclamation points were probably only worth breaking out for the likes of Red Rum in the National who he called home on three separate occasions.
Or Desert Orchid.
I met Peter O’Sullevan once. He was under an open-fronted tent at Cheltenham, sitting down, perhaps signing books. There wasn’t a queue especially. I don’t remember which occasion it was at Cheltenham – I have only been twice and neither were to the Festival. It was either November, a mid-week meeting where I had a small racing club interest in a horse called Saucy Night, or it was some years later at the meeting held every year at the end of January. This is the first of my memory glitches. The second is who put whose hand on whose. I stopped to say something to him and he seemed old, frail even. It was a cold day. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember his response was warm and my hand went over his hand, or vice versa.
It seems an odd thing to have happened, even now. I am not inclined to touch people I know, let alone those I don’t, and yet my memory is that the moment I shared with Peter O’Sullevan was genuine and heartfelt.
Hands tell their own story. It’s a shame I can’t quite articulate this one in words. Or maybe it’s not – memories are made up of more than that, after all.