[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s previously mentioned in my blogs I spent a lot of time in my formative years in the bookies. It really was a community back in those days, and by those days I mean the 1980’s. It was weird though, even though we only really had one betting shop in our town. That is, at least near enough the White Horse, whatever betting shop you went in in any town there were often the same characters.
There was ‘The Professor’ this guy would come in with reams of betting slips each filled with permutations – all interconnected looking like hieroglyphics. The manager would sigh as he saw him come in the door, at least he would if he was also the settler. After what seemed like an age for all the bets to be tendered almost certainly less than a tenner would change hands. Then to the pay-out where often around the same sort of money would be returned from the previous day’s myriad. Nobody ever got in conversation with the professor, he no doubt had no time, he had study to do.
Then there was the chap who regardless of where you sat or indeed what paper you were looking at, he’d always want to look at the one you were reading or positioned in front of. He actually was probably the culprit of punter type three too. He’d insist on ticking or circling all his fancies on the paper on the wall for each and every race. There’d probably be a few in each race, really heavy circles for his naps. He’d then lead you back to them in the unlikely event of any of the beasts winning (even a stopped clock is right!) bemoaning that he’d circled them but of course not backed them.
Then there was the guy who liked to disagree with whatever you had to say but would insist on asking you what you fancied in the first place. At this point you’d be minding your own business or talking to someone else with no intention of getting into that type of conversation, especially if the only reason you’d backed the horse you had was because Warren Hill had tipped it up. I never could work out why poor old Warren didn’t have his own column but rather languished at the bottom of the tipping box, so I often used to back his selection. My cobblers were of course duly done.
One of the most annoying characters was the type that on watching your reaction when your odds-on shot got chinned on the line after sounding all over the winner on Extel would look over and shake his head with a patronising look on his face and say, ‘you should never back odds on’.
He, or at least the one in our betting shop, was also the fella that used to walk around the shop with a wad of betting slips in his hand. He’d only actually write on any of them after a race, quickly scribbling the winner with a ‘I was going to back that one’ to anyone who’d listen. Needless to say, his sole wealth of a well-thumbed 50p coin never invested all afternoon let alone left his pocket. Did he circle the papers too? Probably.
By far the most infuriating punter was the one that roared whatever was about to beat yours home, you could never be sure, but were pretty certain that he hadn’t actually backed any of them, such was the frequency. Funnily enough he never did it to the drunken builder mentioned in previous blogs.
Then of course you had those not quite so annoying or funny. These people were nervous wrecks. The most frequently seen was the one that would show pens no mercy (with no thought on who’d been previously sucking either) as they stared wild eyed at the speaker as the audio of the race unfolded. By the time his horse or dog was beaten the pen could have been chewed beyond recognition as it was hurled trailing spittle and phlegm across the betting shop in fury. Talking of dogs, there was always a dog punter who’d scribble down the Trap in front if it was his, willing it to stay there, ‘6, 6, 6, 6, 6, they go past together, 5’ with that the tickets he had been clutching were scattered in a flurry all over the floor, those on which his sweat worked as adhesive in groups of twos and threes. Happily, they sometimes won too, but a lot of betting slips were lost without ever having seen bet action.
The worst I ever saw was a little skinny fella with bottle-bottom glasses. He came in to the shop and said he used to work for Jenny Pitman whom he wasn’t very complimentary about. He then had £200 in tenners on one of hers at 2/5. Nobody had ever seen him before. As soon as he had placed his bet he went to the toilets. The thing was he didn’t come back. We thought that a bit weird, as the race was off. Then as it seemed his fancy was going to win, he poked his head around the door, tortoise-like, only for disaster to strike and the beast to part company with its jockey at the very next flight. The fraught-faced head withdrew, and the door slammed shut, he was never seen again. In fact, I don’t think any of us actually saw him leave the toilet that day, the betting shop is still there, I’ll make a return visit soon and see if any of those characters still exist.
Let’s just hope he’s not still in the loo.
Simon Nott is author of Skint Mob!: Tales from the Betting Ring