Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Gambles in Life

Do you ever call it a day and say you’ve had enough, you’ve travelled and gone far enough? Taken as much as you stand?

Well, when it comes to TV programmes I’m definitely a yes-man to all the above questions!

When it comes to Quiz programmes, they are an immediate channel changer for me.

Not all of them however.

One of my favourites is the BBC’s programme with Stephen Fry and now Sandy Toksvig called “QI” and again the BBC with “Would I lie to you” hosted by Rob Brydon and with David Mitchel and Lee Mack captaining the opposing teams.

Both shows are examples of top-notch British comedy at its peak with fantastic guest artists, comprised of comedians, musicians, actors and even a priest or two.

However, down at the bottom and immediate channel-changers are “Deal or No Deal” with Noel Edmunds as the host, and “Tipping Point” presented by Ben Shephard. I have to admit that “Pointless” hosted by Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman  has me in a quandary that falls into no-mans-land, sometimes I can watch and other times I switch channels.

It is, I believe, an aversion that stems from my youth, when I worked for some time as a small-change boy on Blackpool’s Golden Mile amusement arcade.

 It is an aversion to gambling,  caused by the number of fights, crying children in prams and battered mothers lying in the gutter, that I saw whilst I did the job.

It was a simple job, I would wander around the arcade carrying a leather shoulder bag with several compartments filled with small change. In the late fifties when I had the job, it was filled with pennies, threepences, sixpences, shillings, and half-a-crowns, the latter being worth two shillings and sixpence. I had special secret zipped compartment where I placed the paper notes that I had exchanged for small change.

Once I had more than ten pound in paper notes I had to return it to the office, as mugging of small-change-boys was a common occurrence.

Most of the visitors to Blackpool were at that time from the working class manual labouring towns of the industrial North of England, Scotland and Wales. Miners, cotton and wool factory workers, steel foundry workers, furnace feeders, bricklayers and construction labourers. It was their annual summer holiday and they came with hard earned wages stuffed in their back pockets and secretly hoped they would win a fortune at the slot machines on the Golden Mile.

Obviously, that was not what happened.

Gambling like another pet-hate, insurance companies; they both feed off hope, desperation and fear; these are basic human emotions. The faces I see today on the TV quiz shows remind me of those faces I saw as I exchanged a last Pound note to a losing holiday-maker.

Family violence has always been an enormous problem in communities throughout the world. In fact, a recent survey found that in Australia one in three Australian women have experienced physical violence from a current or former partner, and one in four have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.

The survey also showed that there is a clear link between problem gambling and intimate partner violence, children, parents and grandparents are also the victims of violence perpetrated by those with significant gambling problems.

A memory that stays with me goes way back to nineteen fifty-five which resulted in the calling of the local constabulary, the ambulance service and the local social services, which at the time were almost non-existent.

It was a Saturday lunch time when a Glaswegain labourer Ken, his young wife, Monica and six-month-old baby in his pram arrived at the arcade. The baby had a small teddy-bear with him and he squeezed it with delight while he sucked on a full bottle of milk.

“I’ll change my last Tenner,” said Ken, “Sixpences, threepences, and pennies” he said to me, while he looked at his wife as though asking for approval. Monica shrugged in a non-committed way.

“And that’s it?” she added.

“Aye, gotta be, I ain’t got more!” he said in a subdued semi-belligerent tone,

“But y’ still got the ‘oliday-flat money?”

“Aye, I left it there!” he added, “as y’ told mi to!”


I could already sense that the two of them had had a serious conversation on the money situation before they came down to the Golden Mile.

It was about two thirty in the afternoon when the rumpus started, the sound of screaming brought myself and Stan, the arcade manger, to the front of the arcade. A small area of pavement that allowed the passing pedestrians to walk by our arcade and allow them to move on to find another venue that conned them into thinking that they might find their fortune.

When we arrived, the pram was on its side with the baby crying, trying to reach his teddy bear and finished bottle lying in the gutter. Ken had his hands around Monica’s throat and was shaking her violently. Stan made his way to Ken screaming at me, “Call the fucking cops lad!”

I turned to go to the back office, seeing Stan receive a flying right arm jab to the face, sending him crashing to the ground.

I called the cops explaining what happened and told them to come quickly before darting back to the concussed Stan.

“We’ve gotta get ‘em apart!” said Stan as I helped him up.

Stan leapt on Ken’s back and I attempted my best rugby tackle on his thighs. Our joint assault on Ken gave Monica a chance to free herself and went straight to the upturned baby.

By the Grace of God and to our luck the Black-Mariah filled with six policemen pulled up and sprang into action pulling myself and Stan off a slightly subdued Ken.

By now a watching crowd had surrounded us, and while four of the coppers tried to hold them back, the other two dealt with Ken, who by now had found his second-wind and was struggling with them as they tried to get him handcuffed. A third copper finally came over and got the cuffs on him.

Meanwhile Monica was sobbing uncontrollably while clutching her baby. After a short collection of statements by the senior officer, Constable Hardgeaves, Stan escorted Monica back to his office and ordered me to get on with my job.

The fracas had brought in many more customers and the arcade was almost at bursting point. I had to squeeze myself through the throng and be constantly aware of that other villainy that had befallen me before; pick-pockets delving into my shoulder bag.

At about four o’clock in the afternoon we received another visit from the police, this time they were detectives and a single uniformed constable. Luckily Monica was still with Stan in his office. She had chosen to stay there as returning to their accommodation would have reminded her of her time in there with Ken.

She retold her story she had told Stan. She had said that everyday Ken had physically attacked her and forced her to hand over their holiday savings so that he could play the slot-machines. About an hour later the detective asked me to make a full statement. I had to recall every detail as to what I saw the couple doing, the time and their position in the arcade, what machine Ken was playing, and what time he was at each machine. All the time I was praying that they would not search me and find my hidden “Toddie” in my trousers’ back pocket.

I knew that a Yate’s Wine Lodge sipping minor would not be a good witness for the prosecution.

It felt worse than a school test and by six o’clock I was exhausted, they said I could go home after I’d signed the statement that had been written down by the constable. They also warned me that I must tell my mother about the whole incident and that I would be asked to attend the trial in court, probably in about two weeks’ time.

Just as I was about to board a tram to take me home another official vehicle arrived carrying a driver and two meticulously dressed middle-aged ladies.

The last sight I saw was of Monica screaming on the pavement as one of the ladies carried the baby to their car whist the other wheeled the pram and placed it in the boot of the car.

To this day, seventy odd years later, that vision of Monica resurfaces as I watch the faces of losing contestants on TV quiz-shows.

Yep, an aversion to TV quiz shows and a loathing even a hatred of gambling!

1 comment:

Rino Eliassen said...

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