Tuesday, 5 March 2013

My Father the Gambler...

I am somewhat allergic to writing competitions. I tend not to enter many and when I do I go for competitions where I know the money is contributing to something important. Most of them are. Call it poetry tax. The problem is though that I cannot see how anyone goes about winning anything, it seems so random and so subjective. Obviously someone does. I recently judged a poetry competition for Leicester Writer's Club and it was a real challenge settling on the winning and commended poems. I really enjoyed that experience and wanted to be a fair and considerate judge. I took the role very seriously indeed. It made me realise that being a judge is actually not straightforward at all, especially when you're giving feedback and dealing with dozens (or hundreds, or thousands) of hopeful entries. As an entrant are you competing or gambling?

My dad is about to turn 76 this year, he has gambling running through his veins. I swear that when his ship to England from Cyprus docked in '61 he must have headed straight for the betting shop. Growing up I watched my dad alternate from feelings of elation and frustration. He never watched the horse racing on TV quietly, there'd be a lot of high speed 'cmon, c'mon' and then a barrage of swear words when the wrong horse won. He always backed the wrong horse most of the time. When he did win he seemed generally very surprised, as if losing where in fact the expected outcome and winning was something alien. Me and my dad spent a lot of 'daddy-daughter' time engaged in gambling pursuits. I spent a lot of time outside William Hill waiting for him to place his bets, they were smoky, male places. Children weren't allowed. At home he'd read out the names of horses for me to pick and him to bet on. The 1989 Grand National was a lucky one. He read out the names and 'Little Polveir' stood out. 'Yes,' I said, Little Polvier!' He grunted a comment about it only being good for dog meat and put the bet on. I didn't like the Grand National much because I knew a horse was likely to die. Still, I insisted on Little Polveir. It won. I received £20 and my dad took out a commission fee. I was in Primary School by the way.

Spot the Ball
Spot the Ball was another family favourite. It seemed more artistic than the other games, you actually had to guess where the ball might be in the picture. It was like finishing off a painting for a great master.
I'm not sure if it was my father's favourite, but I loved that one. Then of course there was the Pools, everyone played the Pools until the lottery came about. You had to guess which football teams would achieve a score draw. My dad was convinced this was a science and not random. You could guess which teams could achieve a score draw. So when I was 8 or 9 I was brought a copy of Football 87, a sticker album which featured all the teams in the top divisions. You had to buy the stickers of all the players and teams. The album also featured lots of statistics and info about the teams as well. Somehow understanding football from the inside would help. The boys in my class were very impressed and we'd swap stickers and things. I think my dad really wanted to join in as well.

Fond Memories...

One Saturday I got several score draws and my dad was happy with the promise of £11 until he realised that one more and we would have been in the thousands. Or something like that, we were always one draw, horse, or ball away from a fortune. He would scowl, bemoan his lot, vanish into the kitchen.One more draw/ball/speedy horse and we'd be millionaires. Alack! Alas! Back to work on Monday then.

Then 1994 - the lottery. No more £3 or £10 there, it was £18 million here £7 million there. The good people of Acton were quivering with expectation and my dad was among them.

'Give me 6 numbers, Maria!' That would be on  a Friday.

I'd give him six numbers. Saturday night the lottery was on TV. Six little balls and a bonus ball would levitate on air and be chosen by an unseen force. We wouldn't win. It was of course my fault.

So the years went by, as they do. There was the odd win here and the odd win there. My dad aged in front of the TV. When he comes over from Cyprus he still sneaks into William Hill. What has this got to do with the more genteel world of poetry competitions? Surely there's more skill and delicacy involved. I suppose there is, but that feeling is just the same. I grew up with my dad experiencing that feeling. I'd see him waver between joy and scowling. He once won £800 on the horses, you should have seen the smile on his face. Bless him.

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