Putrid Modern Hell #16

by HST UK on September 11, 2011

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Gone to the Dogs

The urge to gamble is so universal and its practice is so pleasurable, that I assume it must be evil.
– Heywood Broun

I’ve never been a betting man. You’ve only got to luck at the predictable nature of my life to understand this. Safe options are picked, the easiest route travelled. Caution has been a friend of mine, in the sense that I feel less anxious when the options are taken out of the envelope and underlined for me as hassle free.

A few weeks back I went over Yarmouth Stadium for a night at the Dogs. I had never been to neither the Stadium itself (which also stages Stock Car Racing and Go Karting), nor any form of animal racing – horse, dog or….. snail. In the lead up to attending a night of Dog Racing I wondered about the size of the track, the number, and type of people that would attend such an event and how long each race lasted.

I drove up there with three brothers – Ash, Smart Arse and Herbert Manchild. I was told we were leaving at seven o’clock, so I arrived promptly at the brothers abode. A humble red brick home on the outskirts of the city. As I arrived Manchild was on the sofa watching Wimbledon on TV eating crisps, two women were playing on centre court. The Russian blonde wearing a white baseball cap was screaming orgasmically. Had I walked in blind I would have sworn he was watching something a whole lot more indecent.

The brothers had been acquaintances of mine for over a decade. I used to attend college with Ash, and through this met Smart Arse and Herbert Manchild. We would often go out drinking in the city. Smart Arse is perhaps the most normal of the three, he is going out with a sensible girl, and doing reasonably well career wise. Manchild is thicker than treacle, and suffers from a weak bladder.

Ash was panicking. He was looking at his watch, shaking his head. He said aloud “Where the hell is Smart Arse?” Ash was like Hannibal from the A-Team, a meticulous planner. On this occasion his plan was not coming together. Smart Arse it turns out was stuck at work doing a stock take for a building supplier. I watched Manchild emptying the remaining crisps from the packet with the same derisory eye of an anthropologist studying a primitive tribal savage that is picking their nose.

We waited until seven thirty when Ash received a text from Smart Arse saying he was on his way back. He arrived home at ten to eight and we left the brothers abode five minutes later. Ash tapped in the postcode of the stadium into his Sat Nav and we headed out onto the open road. Already the brothers began to bicker with Ash chastising Smart Arse for being late. He then put on the Foo Fighters debut self-titled album and we drove most of the way in silence until Herbert Manchild farted in the back seat and we simultaneously wound down or windows. In the aftermath of the stench the silence ended and we laughed like immature hyenas about one man’s flatulence.

Yarmouth Stadium is next door to a Heliport. The Heliport is home to the helicopters that take workers out to the oil rigs in the North Sea. A helicopter hovered overheard as we pulled in to the car park. I was shocked as to how many cars were crammed in to the parking area. We found a space next door to a battered baby blue mini bus. We got out of the car and strolled over to the stadium, which as we got closer seemed rather dilapidated. The stench of an outdoor toilet and the odd site of a solitary Ice Cream van greeted us as we rounded the corner to the turnstiles. We made our way through the turnstile, paying the seven pound entrance fee. As we passed through each of us received a hand stamp and a pamphlet that detailed the running order and betting form.

Loud cheers greeted us as we worked our way trackside, the fifth race of the night was in progress. We met with Ash’s friends Crackhead Lil and The Roadie. I’ve never got on with Lil, there is something odd about her. She looks like a witch from a Disney film and is the most painful conversationalist. The Roadie is a burly lad, who worked the gig scene in the early nineties for a struggling Britpop band called Tench, he would ferry them about attempting to bottom feed on the traces of cocaine that fell from the nostrils of the Gallagher brothers.

We got there just in time to catch the 8.30 race. The Greyhounds were paraded by their owners, who wore strange blue overalls, almost like something a car mechanic would wear. The men and women in the overalls looked like they had led hard lives, with bags under their eyes, drooping shoulders and a lifeless look in their eyes. The hounds pissed and shat on the grass verge, and then they were pushed into the starting cages. After this the lure began to circuit around the track, the starter got his place, and as the lure passed him he waved his flag, the cage doors opened and the hounds chased the lure around the track. It was over before it began, and the first impression I had was – is this it?

Around me several hundred people were going berserk. I looked up at the Grandstand, and noticed families, lonely looking middle aged men and pockets of love-struck teenagers joyously checking their betting slips to see if they had won. I looked out across the track. Things seemed to be in disrepair, in need of a good lick of paint.

I followed the brothers in to the betting area; I studied the form on one of the flat screen televisions for the 8.45 race. Having never made a bet before I was a little unsure about what to do, the screen flashed the odds for a Trifecta at 25/1; ‘Broadacres Elsa’ to finish first, ‘Glenske Rambo’ to finish second’ and ‘Steam Machine’ third. I liked those long odds so I put down the minimum bet of one pound at the counter. The grey haired man behind the counter knew I had never done this before and printed out my betting slip with a sympathetic smile.

Watching the race was far more thrilling when there is a little money riding on the outcome. I joined the masses in cheering as the hounds bolted from the starting cage. My dogs battled hard, but were never in contention. I needed to bet sensibly; even placing so little cash down; betting on a triple was a dumb move.

I sped back to the counter and placed a bet on the 9.00 race. I put a pound on ‘Moaning Millie’ to win. Again I stood trackside and waited with anticipation. As the men and women in overalls paraded the dogs in front of the Grandstand I took a good look at ‘Moaning Millie’, she looked lean, hungry and calmer than her competition. I fancied my chances.

The race began and ‘Moaning Millie’ trailed at the first bend. She was stuck on the outside, and at the halfway mark was in third. Then as the dogs rounded the final corner ‘Moaning Millie’ emerged charging forwards after the lure like she was rocked propelled. ‘Moaning Millie’ won by a dog length; I checked the final race result confirmation on the screen and then made my way to the counter and collected my winnings – Two pounds seventy.

More bets were placed on Greyhounds with ridiculous names, ‘Safepac Vampire’, ‘Burcastle Pope’, ‘Marians Class’ and ‘Dunmurry Snagger’. I didn’t win any further, but I came to understand the addictive quality of the race, and how betting takes you away from the rigmarole of a lifestyle of predictability. The difference between spectator and active participant is marginal. For as the 10.30 race began, I looked at the brothers, at Lil and The Roadie and wondered about the need to gamble in our lives, these people were comfortable, and this life was stale, and yet here we were stuck in the middle of this race, still pointlessly chasing the lure.

-RJW

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