Everyone's betting on the Grand National and nobody knows what they're doing.
That's how Saturday 9th played out amongst my friends.
Our friend Libby had an amazingly fluky win a few years ago- betting a meagre amount on a horse that was 100/1 that actually, somehow, managed to win- resulting in her hitting Bedford town like it was the last days of Rome and throwing money around like Rockefeller, until she spent it all and had to ask other people to chip in. That makes complete sense to me as someone who has only bet £1 at Romford Dogs before and isn't known for having multiple savings accounts.
Betting is one of those things some people appear to have grown up doing ritualistically, once a year perhaps, on a special event like the Grand National; the whole family walking to the betting shop with a warm five-pound note clutched in each innocent and hopeful fist, ready to pick a horse at random or based on some spurious advice from Uncle Liam. There's a sense of occasion and joie de vivre. And an underlying message of 'we all know when to stop' (not, when we have to re-mortgage Granddad). On the other hand, I know of those who place bets with regularity on various sports, but with a large degree of research and consideration. Then there are the people that look like their skin is made out of the chair covers in William Hill, can only jibber in numbers and have tiny pencils for fingers.
This isn't a critique on the vast world of gambling. Like in Dante's Inferno, I imagine that the complex layers of it- real and philosophical- go far beyond what I'm prepared to bore you with* (*research) today.
Saturday began with Libby announcing that she had already "got some bigguns on" and five people asking what that meant. Our friend Tom messaged to inform us all that he had gone out to buy dinner on Friday night and instead 'gambled dinner away'. His wife was less impressed. The point was, however, that this was an unskilled, guesswork-bet on the Grand National and we should all follow suit. IT WAS FUN! Even the Queen likes horseracing, so it must be acceptable. It's got more build up than setting fire to money after all.
Phrases were being bandied around by midday that no one understood, such as 'Shaping well...bags of ability.... veteran chaser...just a tickler.... not disgraced...'. Every friend had their own theory on the winner- largely based on ridiculous names. Those friends with true knowledge we ignored.
By 1pm practically everyone I knew had sent photos of themselves at betting shops, or declared themselves 'armchair gamblers', placing £5 bets from the secrecy of their own homes. My housemate Ellie and I felt so left out and intrigued that we got into fitness gear and 'went for a run' to a local high street Bank-Of-Delusion. We were giddy by the time we walked in; I commented on the comfortable-looking seats and she became drawn to the large pencil pots. I imagine this was how the Greeks felt when they finally burst out of their wooden steed into Troy.
We asked for last minute advice from our friends and Tom delivered:
1. Choose horse
2. Place bet
3. Dance to hard techno
Hattie's suggestion of 'Go for Horse McHorseface' was eclipsed by us asking what 'each way' meant.
A lovely young man called Will helped us as we neared the counter, did we not want to tick the box for 'stick at the odds when you place your bet'? Did we? Our odds were so shocking (ergo AMAZING if we won) that I couldn't imagine it getting much worse. Unless the horse got better in the next three hours? But then the odds would go down right, and we'd win less? Oh god, we had traversed all nine layers of Hell, including Greed, Lust, and with our horse-racing and betting ignorance potentially Fraud) and come out into a new level: Confusion. It was time to leave. Past a queue of chefs in actual whites and some grown men with balloons. It was like a village fete: all walks of life had come to join in and everyone knew it would end in sadness and a damp hotdog.
We took a photo outside the Wealth Sponge and felt a simultaneous sense of entitlement and ennui. Our run was fast-paced, short and full of the wild dreams of the deluded.
Pete messaged to say that he and our friend Jim once tried to ask for odds on Tony Blair's resignation and were laughed out of the bookies. That's the kind of bet I'd expect my friends to really make.
At the time of writing we all lurk back in the first layer of Hades: Limbo. Presume I'm reclining on a gold sun lounger on a Mexican beach by the time you're reading this.