September 3, 2012
— Betting Story, Big Win, Bookies, Gee-gees, Horse Racing, Northern Ireland Trouble, Premier League Prima Donnas, short story, sportsbet, Three Pints Of Guinness, Yankee Accumulator
By Stephen Cooper
“Come on you fucking donkey! Hit the bastard! Come on! COME ON YOU USELESS CUNT!”
I gather things aren’t going too well for Fergie. His eyes are glued to the TV sets, all twelve of them, two rows of six, half obscured by the punters’ cigarette smoke here in Jock’s Bookies.
I watch two horses battle out a finish in the mud at Ludlow. Poor things look fucked. Must have been a long race in those conditions, pissing down as it is. Even the jockeys are covered in shite and muck, so much so that when they pull down their goggles it looks like they’ve been sunbathing with glasses on, or off on one of those posh ski holidays that the rich take, coming back smug as fuck with goggle outlines on their stupid mugs.
This is our stock market. It better start performing, cos I’m skint as fuck and it’s Friday before payday.
The floor goes quiet. “Photograph! Photograph!’ bellows the commentator.
Fergie catches my eye and saunters over, still splattered in paint from his job on the old tech around the corner. “Bout ye, Ralphie, hows’ it goin’?”
“Not bad mate, take it you’re on a sweat here?” I nod at the screen. Photo between numbers six and nine, it reads.
“I think I’m up, it’s always a good sign when you’re number’s listed first in the photograph,” he explains with an anxious grin. “If it said nine and six, I’d be expecting another bastard loser.”
Jock’s Bookies is a sort of meeting place for most of the workers in our area. A tiled floor is covered in beaten dockets, cigarette butts, ash, and dirty footprints from various building sites throughout the county. Coarse language is prevalent and expected, unless you’re trying to be nice and borrow money off some lucky fucker who’s up a few quid. It’s the only place left where we can smoke in peace and talk bollocks about whatever we want, without women (who never come here except for the Grand National), those bloody whingeing nags. Mind you, there are plenty of other nags on the TVs at the moment who aren’t exactly performing the way we want them to, either.
I’ve known Fergie since school. We served in the army together and now we’re both struggling to find decent work, due to the fact we’ve not got enough other experience to fill even one side of a CV. Not many employers want two ex-squaddies with skills in activities not normally associated with legal employment — unless, of course, you’re prepared to go to Iraq or Afghanistan, like many of our other mates, to work as ‘security consultants’.
Fuck that. Instead, I’m labouring on a site with a bunch of builders who have no idea who I am, or what I was. That’s the way I like it. Then, if any of them get too close, I can just move on to somewhere else and work where I can get it.
The speakers come alive again. “Result at Ludlow, 2.20. First, number nine, Barney’s Rose. Second, number six, Fool’s Pardon.”
“Fuckin’ oul bastard. Bastard, bastard, fuck,” Fergie growls through gritted teeth and pulsating temples. In his usual losing drill he throws his yellow docket at the TV in disgust.
A few edgy glances are sent in our direction. Fergie’s late thirties like me, crew cut (still), and an imposing six foot two frame. Despite the semblance of a beer gut, he’s still someone you wouldn’t want a punch in the gob from.
“That’s another tenner down, for fuck’s sake. Just cant get a winner here. It’s bad enough getting beat, but a fuckin’ photo finish?” Sighing, and with a shake of the head, he reaches for a ciggy. “You fancy anything today?”
One of the builders I’m working with, Sean, is from down south. Not the sort I’d usually have much to do with, but due to my dire financial circumstances I’ve been forced to accept work from types I’d previously only have been facing whilst in uniform. The boss of the site he is. Has previous. I used to be very careful around this man, but gradually, as the weeks went by, I found myself quite comfortable around him and enjoyed his banter. The turning point was one day when we got talking about sport, and whilst cleverly avoiding the normal sectarian inferences of Celtic and Rangers (a dead giveaway if talking to the wrong person in Northern Ireland), it turned out he was into the gee-gees big time, and had a few mates involved in training and what have you.
So, yes, I do have a tip for today.
I motion to Fergie to move to the back wall, where copies of The Racing Post are sprawled out with the many races detailed on their broad pages.
Dundalk, third race, 3.25, horse called Aiming Low. I point at my winner and whisper, “That Sean from Newry direction, he knows the owner and the trainer, and says if it stands up it’ll fuckin’ piss it.”
“It fuckin’ better, I’m down sixty already,” Fergie rasps as he sucks on his Marlboro. With narrow eyes and a furrowed brow, he leans closer. “Are those boys alright to work with? I mean, are you safe with that lot?”
“Aye, so far they’ve been dead on, pay me on time, good banter and a bit of craic about the site, and not at all unpleasant. That foreman, Sean, he looks like a bad bastard. I have my opinions about his past, and vice versa, but he has been fair enough with me.”
“You’d be as well to get away to fuck from about those cunts, I tell you, they ain’t to be trusted. And it’s just as well they don’t know your past,” Fergie laughs.
“Aye, you’re one to talk like, as if the council really believe you’re a time-served painter. Only thing I remember you painting is that kiddie fiddler’s house, spraying ‘child molester’ on his wall.”
This incident is still a mystery to the local authorities, they’ve no idea who found out about this vile creature who’d moved to our neighbourhood. Fergie had heard from an ex-girlfriend, who had came home early from work one day to catch the bastard with her six-year-old son. That’s how Fergie knew, and that’s why he did something about it.
“Fuck him, the public had a right to know. Bastards like that should be castrated, though I admit it was an awful shame the house burnt down.” We both burst out laughing.
It was, of course, inevitable that after drawing attention to this character’s behaviour, that the local hoods would take things into their hands — hands carrying containers of petrol, in this case.
Anyway, back on task. It gets so smoky in here that sometimes it’s a relief to have someone walk in — so the door opening this very moment brings a welcome glimpse of life outside, as well as some relatively fresh air to clear the haze for a second or two.
I take a look around. There are always some characters in here, and today we’ve got the whole mix.
Fred, a police detective, incessant smoker and very polite.
Vincent, alcoholic — when he has money. Autistic and able to recite the bible backwards, I kid you not.
Eddie, joiner, sells dog kennels and loses most of his profits on greyhounds, which he claims to understand.
Stan, bin man and drinker extraordinaire. Holds the record of twenty-seven pints of Guinness in twenty-four hours. Imagine the toilet.
Albert, window cleaner and into anything he can get his hands on, including any bugger’s wife. Has had four of his own so far.
Then we have Ronnie, he only bets on grey horses, ‘cause in his words, “If it was good enough for King Billy, then it’ll fuckin do me,” which is obviously not the most scientific of reasons, but each to their own.
We also have a whole family of Chinese. Dunno how many of them there are, must be about twenty, cooks and potato peelers and fuck knows what else, but boy do they like a bet. I’m friends (in the loosest sense) with two of them, Stephen and Peter. Perfectly pleasant men who, rather endearingly, speak with thick Norn Iron accents, and when I pass on the odd winning tip they give me VIP treatment when the lads and I stumble into their restaurant after closing time.
All these characters have peculiar habits, which are amusing to observe. Some are pigeon fanciers; there are those who only bet on golf; factory workers on the night shift with shadows under the eyes to prove it; football supporters, insatiable debaters, gossipers and opinion-spillers, all obsessed with the game across the water.
Of this last trait, I, Fergie, and Denis, who has just breezed in, in his usual brisk manner, are definitely guilty.
Denis is the third of us three amigos. Skinny bastard, bespectacled, and despite eating and drinking anything he can, is still about eight stone two. He’s a real statto, if ever there was one. Works in the local bank and hates his boss. No, let me rephrase that. Wants to kill his boss.
“Bout ye, specs, hows tricks? You’re looking fresh mate, finished work then?”
“Aye, and next week that cunt’s off on holidays, so happy days.”
I have to laugh every time ‘Deano’, as we call him, refers to his boss as ‘that cunt’. It’s the only time he curses, and it’s so funny to see this wee specky lad in a suit get so worked up.
“Ah, magic, so we can rob the bank then, just give us the codes.” Fergie winks at both of us.
I click on straight away, and join in. “Don’t worry mate, we were thinking of the week after, so your friend gets the rap, not you.”
I look straight faced at them both. Deano doesn’t know whether to laugh or get seriously worried. In the end it’s Fergie who cracks first. “Ha, look at his wee face! You silly cunt, we fuckin’ had you.”
We all laugh at each other, but after our messing around it’s time to get serious. Besides, as my old boss used to say, we’re on our own time now.
“Right, bets on, let’s get to fuck and get a few pints, I’m parched.”
“Dead on,” they agree, and after a brief flurry of activity and arguing, we place the usual Yankee accumulator and prepare to walk the enormous distance of sixty-four steps to the Castle Inn across the road.
On the way out, old Ronnie stops me. He taps his head and winks. “Remember, Ralphie, son. Grey horses. If it was good enough for King Billy — THEN IT’LL FUCKIN’ DO ME!” we all chorus together, falling out the door.
Deano, I must point out, is a bit of a wizard with the horses. He knows about ground and weights and breeding and all sorts of shite that anyone normal wouldn’t be arsed even hearing about. Still, all that said, he does deliver the goods in his picks for our Yankee, which we do every Friday for our weekend booze money.
Tomorrow we’ll do another one on the football, with three decent teams in a treble, one each, which we’ll now argue about over a few pints. Anally retentive as he is, Deono’s never far off with his predictions for that, either.
The Castle has a snug, and after the usual greetings to the other punters we settle down with the fixed odds coupon and start the debate. Three fine pints of Guinness sit in front of us. In anticipation, Deano loosens his tie, Fergie cracks his knuckles. I’m already into mine, that cold malty taste sliding down my throat.
Fuckin’ spot on.
Now this is what the working week is all about. A bit of graft, a few quid in my pocket, a few pints with the mates and a bit of banter, then off home to the wife.
This is my life. This is me.
I have sixty-seven quid to my name, and it has got to last until next Friday. Unless our bets come in, I am on a sticky wicket. This week I’m going to really concentrate on the football punt and argue carefully. I need the money. Time for focused, intense concentration.
“Right, Fergie, who are you goin’ for this week?” opens Deano.
“Well, I fancied a few this week. Was thinking of Man U at home to Fulham, but they’re one to three, so fuck that. Then I thought Arsenal against West Ham might be decent odds, but they’re still only two to five.”
“You know the rules, gotta be even money or better”.
“I know, Deano, and that’s why I will side for…” Fergie, takes a long gulp of stout just to keep us waiting. “Chelsea away to Liverpool at seven to four.”
“You are fuckin’ joking me, aren’t you?” I put my pint down for effect. “Away at Anfield, Stevie G playing like a demon, and no Drogba?”
Fergie looks defensive. “Oh, here we go. Why do you think Chelsea have spent two billion or whatnot on players, players from all over the world? And not like some of the pretentious cunts swanning around from these parts, pretending to be world class. Strength in depth mate, strength in depth.”
“Strength in depth they may have, but not much balls, and no spirit, just mercenaries. That’s why they are seven to four. The bookies aren’t stupid. What do you think, Deano?”
We both turn to look at our friend who’s stayed out of it this far. He pauses, pushes his specs up onto his nose and starts, and at that precise instant, I can’t help but think of a mole in a cartoon from some time ago.
“Look, let’s look at both teams. Liverpool are a good side, but nothing special. Chelsea have the players on their day to hurt you, really hurt you. If any three of them play to eighty percent of their potential, then they are a very, very good team. The price of seven to four is only reflective of the general public, who believe that teams playing away from home are going to play worse than at home. This isn’t always statistically correct. For a home team like Liverpool there’s a lot of pressure, as the fans get on their backs quicker. The opposition can take advantage. Also, foreign is better.”
I cant let this one go. “The fuck it is. Remember Marcelino? Winston Bogarde? Shevchenko? And what about that other fat prick, the one who went to Leeds, looked like Miss Piggy?”
I turn to Fergie for support. “Thomas Brolin,” he says. Smirking and wiping his Guinness frothed mouth with his sleeve, he starts off into one.
“You know, my old man was right. These players nowadays wouldn’t count against the old players. British meant something then, it meant pride, and fight, and a bit of respect for the club you were playing for, and the local area. Nowadays, its all about fuckin’ money. Look at our society. It’s a fuckin’ charade. Big Brother my fuckin’ arse. Jade Goody compared to Judy Dench. Soaps are evidence that our country is fucked, and all the shit written about the Premier League and England is complete bollocks. If it wasn’t for the foreign players and the mega bucks, it would be shite.”
“I can’t blame them.” Deano looks at us both. “Look at Steve Bull. Remember him? Wouldn’t leave Wolves, got capped at international level, and could have went on to bigger and better things and a good salary. He deserves respect, and its all nice and loyal, but if I was his da, I’d have kicked his arse and sent him on his way to somewhere else, for a proper fuckin’ Brucie Bonus.”
At this, we all laugh.
“Seriously,” I interject, “we aren’t ever going to see another like Beardsley or Shearer in our lifetime, a world class act, take a drop in salary to play for his home team in the case of Beardsley, and turn down probably trophies galore in the case of Shearer.”
Deano frowns. “It’s only because Keegan was the manager who wanted them, and their home team just happened to be able to provide a proper potential platform. If they were from Hartlepool do you think they would have done the same? Would they fuck.”
“Fair point, Deano, but I still think British is best. You’re just too posh and New Labour to admit it.”
“I am not posh. Had fish and chips from the chippy last week, and I didn’t even sit in.”
With that, I guffaw with my head back, and Fergie stands up. “Ah for fuck’s sake,” he laughs, “I’m off for a pish. I’ll get the beers in on my way.”
Its times like this when you can dream. Dream about a day when all your bets come in.
And by fuck, today might just be it.
Fergie arrives back with three beers and in a state of high excitement, the cause of which I am suspicious about, but equally eager to discover.
“We’re fuckin’ up lads, we’re fuckin up!” His eyes are wide open, feet nervously twitching, fingers tapping a bit of paper. Yellow paper.
“Fuck you on about?” I probe.
Then the light inside my mind comes on and his voice drowns out. I look from the betting docket to the Teletext on the TV screen behind the bar.
Scarlet Prince, six to four favourite, winner. Dark Velvet, seven to two, winner. Karlston, six to one, winner. Just one to go.
Fuck me. Three out of four, and we are waiting for the last horse, which happens to be the tip from Sean the builder at Dundalk.
“Hey, Geordie, put up that next race, we’re waiting on the second fav, Aiming Low.”
Our congenial barman turns up the volume, and we can hear the commentator in a thick Irish brogue previewing the race, and the horses circling the start tape.
Our horse is eleven to two. If it wins we get around six hundred each. Already we have over a hundred each in profit, so I am as happy as a pig in shit, but still I want that last one. If it doesn’t come in, it’s down to me and my over-reliance on Sean from work.
Everything happens for a reason. Today I’m hoping that fate has played me a decent hand, for not just my sake.
I want this horse to win for many reasons.
I want it to win so I can get pissed tonight with these two. I want them to get pissed too, with me.
I want to vindicate my decision to work for people from the opposite viewpoint in Northern Ireland, and possibly even our former combatants, and most of all, I want to go home to my dear wife with a wallet full of money, and not have to worry about Chelsea and Liverpool tomorrow, and their pretend stupid fucked up league full of money, floating around like confetti, whilst the supporters struggle to pay for a pie to watch the cunts.
Our horse is sitting comfortably behind the two leaders, and Ruby Walsh, the lovely, fantastic man that he is, like a sleek, well-oiled machine, steers it into the lead and over the fences, and with his goggles covered in shite and muck, crosses the line with condensation billowing out from his mouth and the horse.
The three of us are jumping around, and I can see Ronnie through the window over the road, he’s waving frantically at me with a docket and doing some sort of crazy jig around the bar.
It’s a grey horse.
Funny, that. I wonder if King Billy would have been proud of us today?
As if we give a fuck.
Stephen Cooper left his native County Down many years ago, but still travels back from time to time. He has been published in numerous short story collections, dabbled in poetry, and on occasion even engaged in serious political dissemination. He aims to provide writing which is different from the rest, something either dark, or reflective, and sometimes amusing, to leave the reader with a unique memory to savour. Read more of his work at Reflective darkness, according to Stephen Cooper.