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  • Writer's pictureMark Howitt

Wrote for Luck

When the Fun Stops, Stop #1

On the day of the 1990 Grand National I was in London town to see Happy Mondays play at Wembley Arena. I was staying with a friend of friends who we all called Caspar. It's only as I write this - and I do first write this stuff with pen on paper - that the possibility dawns on me that the reason we called him Caspar was because that was actually his name.

Anyway, Caspar was keen to have a wager on the big race and - this being before the days of online gambling or online anything - we wandered down to the local William Hills betting shop. The deal in those days was that you wrote the name of your horse on a two-part betting slip, handed it over to the cashier with your money (most likely never to be seen again) in exchange for which you were given one copy of the slip as a receipt for the slim chance that you had to return to the shop to claim your winnings.

It was by no means the first time I had been in a betting shop so I had a fair idea of what to do but I was surprised when Caspar advised me that "you're allowed to make spelling mistakes". I was even more surprised when he wrote in capital letters on a betting slip BIG UNS, before leering at the woman behind the cash desk as he handed over his £2 stake.

We didn't watch the race, choosing instead to take a walk around leafy Dulwich where we looked at some ducks and the house that Margaret and Denis Thatcher - perhaps inspired by Mr Pickwick - had purchased for their retirement. How I remember any of this but nothing of the main purpose of my visit to London ie the Happy Mondays gig I know not. I do recall it being a 'mare getting back from Wembley afterwards; thirty years on, no change on that score I understand.

Bigsun, ridden by three-time Champion Jockey Richard Dunwoody was one of the favourites to win that year's Grand National but finished sixth so the question of what the betting industry considers to be a genuine spelling mistake was never tested. My feeling is that the Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS) would have sided with William Hills.

When the Fun Stops, Stop #2

By several furlongs my favourite TV advert at the moment is for an online gambling company. The advertising agency must be pleased: other than just generic online gambling I have no idea what company is being advertised but I both love and hate the advert in equal measure.

It starts off with a bloke who looks like a hedge fund manager (or how I imagine a hedge fund manager to look) bursting through a door on the top of a building, kicking shit out of half a dozen people (investors presumably), before somersaulting to the ground several floors below where - handily - there is a bouncy castle to break his fall.

He then steps into a chauffer driven golf cart which starts to head out of town. It quickly becomes apparent that that's him finished work for the week, "the sweet, sweet downtime", words no one said ever, "work's done, load off", ditto.

So, what does he do with his precious sweet, sweet downtime? Er ... plays online poker on his phone. This is less than 30 seconds after stiffing the investors on the roof of his office while still being driven home in the golf cart. And all the while he has a disturbing inner monologue "I've found the thrill in chill, I've struck gold between the moments between the moments", the sort of meaningless nonsense he no doubt spouts in quarterly investment reviews. But then, as he says, his downtime - and, I'd like to think, his professional life too - is epic.

The advert then takes a real Wizard of Oz turn. We might expect a Master of the Universe such as Alfonso (for that is his name) to live in the lap of luxury but when the golf cart pulls up at his house it is revealed to be a caravan in the middle of a wasteland. What went wrong for Alfonso? He claimed moments earlier that while he may look like he was doing nothing he was in a world of everything, but perhaps he really was doing nothing? We - together with the FCA - shall never know.

If all of this wasn't enough, with a mere two seconds to go, as Alfonso turns his back to the camera and walks towards his caravan, another layer of complexity is added to what is already a perplexing advert. The soundtrack changes to A Fifth of Beethoven by Walter Murphy, used to great effect when John Travolta struts into the disco in Saturday Night Fever. Less so here.

As Shaun Ryder said, you're twistin' my melon man.

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