Sometimes when I want to get away from it all, relax, forget my troubles, I go to the bookies. For the uninitiated amongst you bookies is short for bookmaker. The betting shop. Somewhere you can go and wager money on whether a horse will win or finish somewhere between 1st and 4th. Or if you’d prefer; a dog. You can even bet on whether Kazakhstan U21s are going to beat Moldova U21s.
For many they are seen as high street backwaters of misery and despair where poverty and gambling addictions are fermented. But for me they are a solace from the relentlessness of modern life.
There is something reassuring about the daily papers pinned up on the walls displaying all the cards from the day’s meetings. You can spend a few minutes getting lost in the hundreds of words and numbers that on first glance may as well be a different language. The cartoon like jockey silks jumping out of the pages like fridge magnets. Strangely exotic and intriguing names catch the eye, Punchestown, Musselburgh, Ffos Las and Market Rasen.
Not to mention the horses themselves. Scanning the pages for a name that means something to you. Vaguely cross referencing your pick with the form before completely ignoring it and putting £10 each way on “Hernando Torres.”
The bank of screens against the wall digitise all this like an unglamorous control room. The flight deck of dreams on the world’s most down to earth spaceship.
The quiet is beautiful. Vague mutterings emit from the screens, announcing the next race or that they are “going down at Ayr.”
A bloke gently nods off in a faux leather chair that looks like it would be at home in the reception of a Days Inn. He’s more than likely homeless. No one disturbs him.
There’s no shit music blaring out of tinny speakers. Any talk of “big meetings” is done on screen by male who pundits who look like they have a couple of divorces in them.
It’s rare that anyone speaks to you and if they do more often than not it is incomprehensible and you can simply reply with a “yeah mate” before directing your gaze back to the screens of hope.
The staff sit in their (presumably bulletproof) glass booth, like in on an old Pier arcade. They accept your slip happily, tapping inanely at a screen before feeding it into the machine that churns out a printed one. Passing it to you dismissively before returning to their conversation. The whole process is built for speed. The efficiency of selling people’s tiny dreams.
But stay in there long enough and you might be welcomed into the inner circle of regulars and offered a free hot drink. One such soul is permanently plugged into a roulette “terminal” like a life support machine. Slowly eroding away at his with every pound coin.
Hernando trots in about 7th. Screw up the slip and throw it in the bullet shaped bin from a few yards away. Then stroll outside into the glaring sunshine. Back to the big bad world of bollocks.