In the latest issue:

Short Cuts

Jonathan Parry

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close

Sometimes, walking in the woods on a Saturday afternoon, my mother and I came across the local racecourse. She would put the dog on its lead and I would approach the white rails where the horses – with their mad eyes, soft telescopic nostrils, bulging veins and bony legs – were being restrained in front of the nooses stretched across the track by tense, hunched dwarfs in brilliant silks who abused each other with words I had never heard before. It was a close-up view from below and in colour of what was surveyed on black and white television with an Olympian commentary by Clive Graham and Peter O’Sullevan. ‘Under starter’s orders,’ the public address system boomed. A hush fell over the distant stands. ‘They’re off.’ As the thunder of the hoofs receded, the roar of the punters rose. The Red Cross van lumbered slowly in pursuit.

I began to follow the sport, and the white-coated gatekeepers often let me in without a ticket once the first race was underway. Ancient names such as Lord Howard de Walden, exotic ones such as the Aga Khan, captured my imagination, which had previously been engrossed by Sir Reginald de Cobham, whose effigy, with its helm and Saracen’s head, scarred with venerable graffiti, lay in Lingfield parish church and whose name could be found in Froissart’s Chronicles. When this was replaced as my favourite book by Pickwick Papers I sensed that Sam Weller and Mr Jingle lived on at the races – together of course with Sir Mulberry Hawk. Towering above the jolly mugs and threatening spivs and smooth crooks was Prince Monolulu in his feathered headdress (a tipster who also haunted Victoria Station, where he once congratulated my father, a commuting barrister, on his new bowler). And then there were the mauve-faced bookies in loud waistcoats, standing on their boxes, bellowing odds and then deleting them from the blackboard with a fat, wet thumb, while their wizened associates in flat caps and white gloves relayed mathematical messages to other enclosures.

The cricket page of the Daily Telegraph was pinned up on the noticeboard at my prep school. On most days of the week I could study the form by consulting the other side of this sheet. More could be gleaned from the papers which, on cold Sunday afternoon walks, we stole from the newsagent’s in order to follow the Profumo affair and other scandals. By the time I went to public school I frequented the betting shops or those newsagents nearby which would place our bets and sell us cigarettes. ‘Our’ bets because other boys were involved in gambling, although none, I think, shared my infatuation with the mysteries of the turf. One might suppose that racing would enjoy a large following among the young, since a special language is so important an ingredient of children’s fiction. ‘Going’, ‘short head’, ‘scratched’ – even ‘furlong’ – were expressions by then not used anywhere else. ‘By’ and ‘out of’ (bluntly economical rather than euphemistic, but slightly mysterious) are not terms applied to parentage of other kinds. The punter’s language was still riddled with rhyming slang as well as fancy names for complicated bets, such as the ‘each-way permutating accumulator’ – fantasies about which interrupted my schoolwork.

Although the school matron and other sober adults were not averse to a ‘flutter’ on the Grand National, and there were boys whose parents attended point-to-points and kept shooting sticks in the boot of the Jag, racing was considered morally dangerous, which should have given it an added appeal. But there are no local teams in racing to attract collective loyalty and although everyone had heard of Lester Piggott he didn’t have fans in the way that the stars of football or tennis did. At the age of eight or so I collected rejected betting tickets but I could not swap them or compare my collection as the other boys could with the pictures of footballers they dug out of packets of cereal.

I had no real knowledge of horses such as my mother had (she sometimes discouraged me from putting money on those whose foaming mouths or odd shapes worried her), and knew little about the history of racing beyond the fact that thoroughbreds were all descended from three imported Arab stallions. But I was aware that the reckless extravagance associated with the sport reflected aristocratic attitudes which had once been reputable, that the bookies (whose patches were in those days ancestral) were as Victorian as their battered satchels and the fat numerals on their tickets. By contrast, French racing seemed modern. Longchamp on Sundays was attended by respectable and elegant families. There were no bookies, there was less beer and much less litter than at Lingfield, and there were also television screens – colour ones, I think – beside the Tote windows. The French had also introduced lightweight mobile starting-gates in place of nooses. Indeed, they were transforming other recreational activities, too. On camping holidays, my family discovered that, instead of crawling into mud-coloured military tents, the French sat at enamelled folding tables in brilliant blue and orange pavilions supported by aluminium frames. At my request and to my amazement, my parents once allowed a visit to Longchamp and let me heap half my savings on Polyfoto, a two-year-old I had seen start badly but finish fast at Lingfield. I worked out that he (or she?) had been sent to France because of the gates. My winnings did much to confirm my addiction.

By the time I went to university my imagination had been reclaimed by art, literature and history – by the parish church, its brass and alabaster effigies, baroque cartouches, 18th-century epitaphs and Victorian glass. A few years ago a friend took me to visit her mare and foals at a stud near Newmarket, and on another occasion the loan of Whistlejacket by the National Gallery gave me the chance to have a look at one of Newmarket’s equine swimming-pools and to marvel at the silver-mounted hooves that serve as ashtrays and reliquaries in the Jockey Club headquarters there; but I’ve resisted both the racecourse and the betting shop. I think about them, though, especially on business trips to visit dealers and view sales, where I learn what may ‘b.i.’ (that is, be bought in), what was ‘burned’ (put up for sale and not bought, thereby having its reputation tarnished), what rumour has been started by a vendor’s restorer, what the decorators will bid up, what a runner has found, and the recent history of a lot that the vaunted provenance conceals. The auction houses represent a world of complexity and diversity similar to that of the racecourse – and with similarly protracted foreplay before the few minutes of swift action.

The Sport of Kings,* Rebecca Cassidy’s account of life as a ‘lad’ (the term is preferred by the many women who do the job) working for a Newmarket trainer and as a hand on a stud-farm is sometimes hair-raising though neither sensational nor sentimental. Unfortunately, she too often remembers that she is writing an academic book: ‘As Hoffman states, “dress communication is always a mirror of social condition.”’ But she describes very vividly the typical tall trainer, striding in his yellow V-neck pullover from his Mercedes to the bank, briskly cordial with encountered acquaintances, or the standard performance of a bloodstock agent examining a yearling, staring at its legs, his own ‘slightly apart, catalogue hugged to the chest . . . chin pushed back . . . eyes narrowed’.

Cassidy is not a historian and we are left with an incomplete picture of the constantly changing character of this ostensibly conservative world and the ever-shifting economic structure of the industry. Glorious Goodwood, a volume published to celebrate the bicentenary of that most beautiful of racecourses, reminds us of the numerous innovations associated with racing, many of them first made at Goodwood (often instigated by Lord George Bentinck). Starting-gates are not mentioned but the introduction of the public address system in the 1950s is, and I was delighted to find a photograph of Prince Monolulu together with his real name (Peter) and the date of his death (1965).

Cassidy describes what it’s like to gallop on a racehorse but not what it’s like to race one, which is outside her experience. At the racecourse she observes the rituals of saddling and mounting; and the way the jockey touches the peak of his cap as he approaches trainer and owner, who stand shoulder to shoulder in the paddock. The jockey then ‘rests one foot and then the other’ and ‘keeps his hands behind his back’, addressing them as ‘sir’, ‘boss’ or ‘guv’nor’. This must be one of the last places where ‘guv’nor’ is used (guineas similarly survive only as a unit of currency in bloodstock sales). Cassidy is right to stress such deferential rituals in a context where the rapid circulation of cash might give the impression of social mobility. But what is fascinating about racing historically is that it did involve some relaxation of the social hierarchy, or at least saturnalian relief from it. Jockeys once meant owners, and even noble owners – as Glorious Goodwood reminds us – on occasion rode their own racehorses. That, however, was before the ‘sport of kings’ was so ingeniously subsidised by its development as a popular recreation and later by a massive levy on the gambling that was thus encouraged.

It would have been difficult for any researcher to glide from mucking out stables into the entourage of Sheikh Mohammed or the house party of the Duke of Richmond, and it isn’t surprising that Cassidy tells us so little about the motives, or even the expenses and rewards, of racehorse owners. She provides some startling facts, though: for example that a top stallion can earn £20 million a year in stud fees. She observes the way an owner typically walks slowly with a trainer into the paddock, both of them carrying binoculars and racecards, and ‘looking down at the ground, talking under their breath, as if discussing a life-threatening secret’. There is a hint here of the trainer as a priest endowing a mundane transaction with mystery, and it transpires that Cassidy is not a believer. She is convinced that the cult of the thoroughbred on which the sport – and the industry – depends, and to which the lads as well as the owners adhere, is based on spurious science. The bloodstock agent’s conduct and language are designed to conceal the fact that there is no way to pick a great winner from among a group of yearlings. I am not qualified to have an opinion about this, but note that her colleagues tend to be more respectful of witch doctors.

The businessman, after years of shrewd and prudent calculation in a familiar field, is lured by a partner or rival into racing – into a theatre of ritualised extravagance and risks where he does, however, belong to an exclusive and ancient club and may well soon enjoy the envy of other novices. He must depend on specialist knowledge and skills, and no doubt much pseudo-science. Hence the modesty of his demeanour when he talks to his trainer. Art collecting is often taken up for similar reasons and it is not over-optimistic to suppose that, like the amazing power and beauty of the horse, an animal which it is just beyond human power to control completely or to predict reliably, great works of art can break the circle of self-love which is often exceptionally tough in people of this type. The urge to possess begins to get out of hand, and the collector or owner is himself possessed.

The paintings of racehorses by Stubbs, informed by an almost clinical aesthetic that reflects faith in the science of breeding as well as in the practice of anatomy, have been the most obvious meeting points between racing and art. But it should be noted that art collecting, which is conducted under some of the same conditions as horse-racing, once appealed almost as strongly to the wealthiest people in Britain. In my experience, many of the collectors today who are most excited by direct contact with art, and are most eager to discover more about it, are dealers, or at least collectors who are prepared to sell as well as buy, and whose interest in market value does not preclude acknowledgment of the mysterious power of great art. For them, the excitement of competitive pursuit and the taking of risks stimulates as well as contaminates aesthetic pleasure.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.