Arkle, my hero

For the dverse prompt. Sport was never my thing, except for one…


Arkle, I loved you, with the fierce love of a small child. Grandad talked about you as if you were a person, and I grew up thinking of ‘Himself’ as the greatest sporting hero that ever lived. My dad had his boxers and I knew all their names though what the feck they looked like I had no idea: Sugar Ray Robinson, Floyd Patterson, Sunny Lister, Rocky Marciano, names that thudded into my memory and made my dad smile. But Arkle was my hero and the only jockey who counted was Pat Taaffe. I remember when he died. We wept buckets, Grandma and me. The others seemed to think it was just a horse. But I knew better, and when Grandma listened to Peter O’Sullevan she heard Grandad, and his beer and cigarette smell filled the room again.

Love sweeps a far shore,

mist shrouded, lives forever,

so bright my childhood.



Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

45 thoughts on “Arkle, my hero”

  1. My dad and I used to watch Friday night fights sponsored by Gillette on a 12 inch black and white TV, and I learned all those names too. Now the thought of watching a prize fight sort of sickens me. Funny how your attitudes change as you age.

    1. I never actually saw them fight, but my dad talked about them so much and had boxing magazines, that I felt I knew them, even though, to be honest, they all looked the same to me—men, usually black in boxing shorts and their faces mostly obscured by boxing gloves.

  2. I’ve only spent one afternoon at a horse race because of a company event, but I can see how people can find it exciting and memorable. I suspect it is both the jockey and the horse who win the race.

    1. When there’s an empathy between the horse and rider, they form a team. It isn’t always there though, and a lot of jockeys use the whip to get the horse to run faster when they decide it’s time for a spurt. Not pleasant to watch.

    1. I can’t hear Peter O’Sulllevan’s voice (and it is such a distinctive one) withouth being carried back to Saturday afternoons at my gran’s house near Batley park and all that represented. Thank goodness for memories 🙂

    1. The racing was in integral part of my life. We were glued to it all Saturday afternoon. I knew the names of all the horses and their ‘form’. Arkle was special though because he was like part of the family.

    1. Thank you! I have one cousin who has inherited the entire sporting genes of the family—she plays practically everything and even does it for a living. None of the next generation are even remotely interested in any kind of sport, either to participate or watch. Watching the racing at my gran’s and listening to my dad talk about the exploits of Sonny Liston were such an integral part of my childhood though, it doesn’t count as sport, more ancestral wisdom 🙂

  3. Wow, I didn’t realise we had so much in common, Jane! My dad was into boxing in a big way – he boxed when he was in the army – and my grandpa was into horse racing! I love the haiku!

    1. My dad tried to teach me to box when I was eight and was beaten up by a gang of ‘Proddies’ from the housing estate on my way home from school. There wasn’t Krav Maga then, so he thought I ought to be able to defend myself using his very hazy boxing tactics. All I remember is the warning to make sure my thumb was outside my fist before throwing a punch. My dad broke his thumb once like that. I’m pleased to say I never had the occasion to use my boxing skills.

  4. My Granny was brought up on The Wirral, loved racing, went to Aintree for the National most years and wore extraordinary hats. Her maiden name was Arkel. No prizes for guessing her favourite ‘nag’ despite the difference in spelling. She too adored Pat Taaffe as did I for exactly the same reasons as you so beautifully frame in your poem. Love does indeed sweep a far shore …. quite lovely this is

    1. That link really pleases me. And to be an Arkel too! Some memories are iconic, and the horses is one of mine. It links to memories of grandparents and their parents—a whole family line that I never met but who have left such a strong imprint it’s as though I knew them intimately. My dad’s boxing heroes were from another age and another continent. Exotic but unreal.

      1. There is no doubt at all that my grandmothers and indeed the grandfathers I never knew have left deep footprints … I am a huge believer in skipped generations. Our Grandparents, therefore are an essential not just in linkage but in helping us understand who we are, I think. I was fortunate in having both Grannies and through them both I understand slightly better why I tick in a less than traditional way ….

  5. Loved Arkle, too, what a horse. Strangely, you’re granda didn’t favour Muhammed Ali or ‘Cassius Clay’ as he was known when he beat Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston

    1. He did. But everybody knew about Cassius Clay. It was the other fellas with their unreal sounding names that got to me. Boxing wasn’t big where I came from and apart me, I don’t remember anybody else being remotely interested in it. The horses though, they had us glued to the telly.

      1. You mention Sugar Ray Leonard and Rocky Marziano. Another American middleweight world champion, Rocky Graziano’s story took on epic proportions when his three bouts against Tony Zale captured the world’s imagination. Rocky was defeated by Sugar Ray in 1952 and went on to write his own biography, Somebody Up There Likes Me which was later made into a movie starring Paul Newman.

      2. Another Rocky. They all seemed to be either Black or Italian Americans, because in those days they still were. It was another world, associated with the old films on the TV. I don’t remember much about them now except their names. I think my interest in it faded when I was ten or so. It wasn’t considered very suitable for a girl.

      3. Haha, I get you. That film helped to launch Paul Newman’s career. It’s worth a watch if you ever get a chance. Graziano had a rough time but he was quite a person.

  6. I think of Ali when you mention boxers. And although I hate that sport, I was drawn to tears to see him light the Olympic flame with his shaking hands — and the world held their breath to see if this once magnificent body, could do the task.
    This is a wonderful piece of memory — what’s wrapped up in childhood memories.

    1. It’s hard to watch people diminish physically. Boxing is hazardous enough without having to contend with the other illnesses of aging. He’ll always float like a butterfly in my memories 🙂

  7. Oh, you weave wonderfully! I read this through thrice, and am still certain that each of my understandings is the right one! Feckin’ brilliant!

  8. I wept, too, when a horse that was going for the Triple Crown went down and eventually had to be euthanized. There is something about horse that touches me down deep. They are indeed special.

    1. There is a lot of cruelty in horse racing and those awful events that make horses do stupid dance steps. The Grand National has a bad reputation for casualties because there are so many (far too many probably) horses take part. Pat Taaffe was a sensitive jockey and he never used the whip on Arkle. Said the horse knew exactly what was needed to win.

    1. Thank you 🙂 I never watched it either, just listened to my dad describing boxing matches he’d seen or read about. It was fascinating, but probably only because I caught my dad’s enthusiasm.

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