Monday, 1 April 2013

One mug punter and the Numbers of Fate!

People talk of the past as if it were always better, but sometimes the present is pretty ring-a-ding-ding. On Monday, I was absentmindedly rifling through my wallet, half-heartedly hoping to find an old winning scratch-card or, even though the chances of finding green folding were negligible, a lost crumpled fiver. 
Neither were there, yet even better, there were my betting slips from the Cheltenham Festival. Much like yer average bloke, I back horses in big races at famous meetings, so that when we’re all sitting around the tele watching the race, I’ve a real reason to cheer and scream and go a bit mental. Having a flutter also allows me to suddenly sound altogether knowledgeable, offer titbits of advice and talk as if I was reared on horse milk and grass instead of Cow and Gate.
Nobody falls for my temporary glut of equine wisdom, because they know that when I made my bets I used what many might consider a less than wholly scientific method.
Given enough time and the empty walls of a bookies, I might make an effort to check out if the horse has run the distance before, and if so did he struggle or thrive, pull up or unseat his rider?
More often though I attempt to find what I call the Number of Fate. Standing in front of the newspaper sheet showing the runners and riders on the bookies wall, my eyes drift towards the numbers on the far left, showing where each horse has been placed in their recent races. A favourite might look a bit 1143-221, while your outsider maybe more 6435FP-4.
Summoning the spirits of Bacchus, Arthur Daley and Del Boy, I drift into a trance, my vision blurring as I scan my eyes up and down and along those little lists of each horse’s numbers, imagining which sequence will continue with a 1.
Eat your heart out Einstein. Put that where the Wonders of the Universe don’t shine, Dr. Brian Cox.
I’m what in betting circles is generally referred to as a ‘Mug Punter’ or ‘Bookies Friend’. By investing only 5 quid each way, I feel free to flutter on the 20/1 shots. I’m paying to play; buying a thrill; so I want the chance of a big return, and the fact that my horse is considered unlikely to win makes those rare victories taste so sweet.
Mug Punter. The Bookies Friend. That’s me all over.
There were three betting slips hiding in the lonely folds of my wallet, with returns on two, so I threw away the losing one and headed down to Paddy Power.
Five minutes after my arrival at the bookies I cannot believe my stupidity. I’ve searched my wallet ten times, my coat pocket, my jeans pockets and the vacant car park that was once my brain, but all I can find is the lesser of the two winning slips and the losing slip. I must have thrown away the most lucrative one and kept the worthless little scrap of paper idiot idiot can’t believe you’ve done that Adley you idiot idiot bloody idiot.
When I’ve told this story to younger or more frequent gamblers than myself, they fail to understand why I thought it was a problem, but I’m still partly informed by the world in which I grew up. In 70s and 80s London, if I walked into a bookies and said
“You’ll never guess what! I’ve been really silly! I’ve only gone and bloomin’ thrown away my winning betting slip!”
they’d turf me out of the shop on my legs yelling
“Yeh, and so ‘ave all those other blokes standing over there by that bus stop, so go and join the bloody queue!”
Or something a lot less polite and printable.
But this is the 21st Century and I live in the West of Ireland, so I approached the counter feeling like a complete chancer, expecting no positive outcome as I related my wee tale of woe to Alan behind the counter.
“You have the other slip?”
“I do, and all the bets were made in this place at the same time, if that helps.”
“Sure, so we can do a search!” said my newly-christened ‘Employee of the Millennium’.
After a few seconds of fiddling with his computer, Alan magically produced a printed copy of my missing winning slip. He asked me to sign it and fill out a duplicate slip, which I did as I thanked him profusely, not merely for finding my money, which was exceedingly welcome, but also for giving a damn, for being human and sensing I wasn’t trying it on.
I suppose if I had been scamming, I’d have aimed a little higher with the payoff. 
“I reckon it’s only about 15 quid.” I said.
“More than that!” said Alan, counting out over 25 euros and handing them to me.
I swear, sometimes it helps to be a little on the slow side. I’d made my estimate on the winning odds alone, forgetting completely the winning portion of the each way bet, so I was even happier, and if not substantially richer, slightly less poor than I’d been expecting.
Back in the 80s when I’d frequent a well-dodgy bookies just off London’s Portobello Road, the chances of getting any money back on a lost slip on the Cheltenham Gold Cup would’ve been 10,000/1. It would have entailed someone physically going through hundreds if not thousands of betting slips, in the hope of finding mine. More, it would also have taken a shift in the mindset of the urban Englishman akin to the coast of California turning up in Japan.
Thankfully, today we have the technology that enables such trifling matters to be resolved happily, and people in Galway who still share that humanity so special to the West of Ireland.
As I thanked Alan one more time, a customer behind me muttered
“Better in your pocket than Paddy’s!”  
“Now that's the truth!” said I, at which we all grunted, smiled and went our separate ways.

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