The primroses are lining the Craddoxtown Road, there's a buzz about Naas town and the recent weather has changed from balmy days to blustery showers, all of which can only mean one thing - Punchestown is upon us again!
Living in a house situated a bare ten minute walk from the winning post, Punchestown week is something we prepare for weeks in advance. Apart from both taking time off our 'proper' jobs to work up at the track, we also open the house to visiting English stable staff ; a virtual B&B pop up!
I'm sure our friends think we're mad, and in the weeks before hand, when we're knee-deep in bed linen and general spare-room-clearing mayhem, we come pretty close to thinking they're right. As early as Sunday, the first lorry can trundle down our driveway towards our un-usually spotless house and there's always an anxious moment just prior to meeting our 'visitors' for the first time. But every year so far, within minutes of this meeting, I can feel my shoulders relax and I know that yet again, everything is going to be just fine.
For the last five festivals, we've been blessed with our guests. They're pleasant, chatty, and respectful of our home. To be honest, its quite a relief to have visitors that don't mind the Jack Russell under the table, the cat on the couch and the muddy wellies inside the back door. Having said that, this year we did borrow a large crate to put our new amazing door-opening cat in at night time as almost 15lbs of fat white purring fur landing on even an animal lover's chest at night time can be a step too far...
But we've a nice system going, to repay them for the odd animal jumping onto their lap and the occasional child crying in the night, we push the boat out on the hospitality. A lift into the pub at night time, The Racing Post every day and of course, the good old full Irish in the morning!
Sizzling sausages, crispy rashers, hash browns (or Birdseye Potato Waffles!) eggs & mushrooms are all standard on the menu - we've yet to meet an English visitor who liked black or white pudding though we did have a request from an ex-pat for marmalade one year... Heaps of toast, freshly ground tea or coffee and the occasional side order of baked beans, we've been told our breakfast generally negates any need for lunch. Luckily our guests are rarely 'real' jockeys though we did have one poor chap two years ago who was riding in an amateur race on the second last day and so had to sit and watch his colleagues munch away while he was restricted to toast and coffee. But boy did he make up for it on the final morning...
And last but not least is the celebratory bottle of champagne should their horse win its race. This tradition started in 2008 when Air Force One leapt to victory in the Champion Novice Chase to become the first of several of our 'residents' to come home with a prize that year. Of course we didn't anticipate being such a lucky house as we cracked open the first bottle, but it was worth it for the buzz that surrounded the house for the week. Several weeks after the festival had finished we got a surprise present of a picture of Air Force One (shown below in pride of place on the downstairs loo wall) and a really nice letter of thanks from Ben his minder.