I am not, as a rule, a gambling man. It has never particularly interested to throw my money to the breezes and hope for a lucky windfall. I prefer to waste my cash on artisanal coffees and charity shops - I figure that I'll at least have something to show with my flippancy that way, even if it is until I reach the bottom of a thimble-sized espresso cup. However, the old cliche of rule-breaking has to apply every once in a while.
Friends of mine have sworn not to get hammered by cheap spirits, and then go an do precisely that. Some of them even go for a double-whammy of rule breaking and stuff a doner kebab on the way home from whatever club they finally get kicked out of, despite being 'committed' vegetarians. Others are as prim and proper as governesses, but even they have their moments, hurling torrents of abuse at
unwitting frying pans and whatever unfortunate food is carbonated to the insides. I, on the other hand, plan the destruction of my oath. Once a year at around mid-April I walk myself down to the betting shop and put £100 on a horse in the Grand National. Sometimes my horse finishes, but more often than not I happily watch my wages trip over a large hedge. I have never won anything from my yearly
tradition, but that does not really matter. What matters is that I uphold my granny's hobby once a year, and follow all that she taught me - pick the horse with the best name. Today was my annual bet. Sunny but not too hot, with the ground just firm enough for a decent landing, it was a good day for the race. Four miles and 30 fences, it really is the ultimate test of 37 horses and riders.
All I wanted was for my horse to finish. Then I could face the rest of my family with at least some of my pride intact. This year I had plumped for Gas Line Boy and Robbie Dunne. Normally I choose the horse with the euphemism for a name, but I fancied something different this year, and the jockey had a stylish purple kit, which was well worth the £100 I was about to put on him.
The odds were fair too - with an experienced rider and team behind the horse. Not a likely winner, but a reliable beast and worth a punt. I could not put it off any longer, at ten o'clock the time had come for me to march myself down to the betting shop. The marching only went so far, however. I know very little about betting, but just enough to know that I do not belong in
that poorly lit shop, handing over a small wad of cash to a sullen looking lady in return for a name and a receipt. Everyone else knew it too, so I decided to make a joke about it, 'Bet fifty percent of the people in here today are just as clueless as me' I said to the sullen looking lady and laughed awkwardly. She did not look up from her
keyboard (infuriatingly, she used one finger to type with). 'It's more like ninety,' she replied after a while. I wondered whether she had actually calculated the odds or not, but either way, I did not want to make another awkward joke, so I remained silent. 'Horse?' she asked. I scrabbled around in my pockets to find
my torn out copy of the listings. 'Er, Gas Line Boy,' I said, 'Please.' She chewed her gum thoughtfully as she typed out the bet. 'Decent horse that'she ruminated, mainly to the keyboard. 'Twenty-five to one, yeah?' 'Er, yes' I said uncertainly. My newspaper listings had said
thirty-three to one, but I supposed that it was a good thing that the odds had decreased. The public had confidence in the horse (even if ninety percent of the public had no clue what they were doing). ''ow much?' 'Sorry?' I said, snapping out of my reverie of actually winning a twenty-five to one bet.
The bookie sighed, another inexperienced pleb, she thought, no doubt. 'How much you want to back on the horse?' she said, enunciating each word clearly. 'Oh, begging your pardon. Um, one hundred pounds, please.' She raised her drawn-on eyebrows. 'You sure, love?' she asked.
I tried and failed to laugh nonchalantly. 'Well, its a once a year type thing, why not.' 'All right then.' She lowered her unnatural eyebrows to their natural position. I leaned on the side of the counter and looked around at the other customers. Most were old men in flat caps and blazers with elbow patches. And they were all looking back at me. I smiled awkwardly.
'He's gone and put 100 quid on Gas Line Boy.' I could hear them whispering. ''e never.' 'Aye, we aint seen that one yet.' At least, it was an attempt at whispering, being so old and deaf they were practically yelling at each other. ''ad a lot of Total Recalls, 'aven't we?'
'Few Tiger Rolls too.' 'Bertie went for that one, good-looking horse that.' 'But why that Gas Line Boy?' 'Dunno, but I ain't seen it yet.' 'Shush, let Jo bring it out. Don't wanna scare it.' I turned back to the bookie who was apparently called Jo. 'What
do they mean they haven't seen it yet? Thought they planned their year around Aintreeoh-' I stopped mid-sentence and stared at the desk. Walking about was a tiny horse with purple socks on. I gulped and felt my eyes pop, 'Is... is that...' was all that I could manage. 'Compliments of the house,' smiled Jo. 'Look after it like a normal horse, jus' smaller.'
'But...how? Why? How?' ''cause you put a hundred down. Yous get a horse. Hundred Horse - didn't you see the promo on telly?' she said, amused at my expression. 'Well, er, yes, but,' I was at a complete loss, 'but that's... that's a real actual horse.' 'Yes sir, now if you don't mind, I got other customers.' She
gently placed the horse in my left hand and the slip in my right. Not knowing what else to do, I put Gas Line Boy in my breast pocket and walked out. As I closed the door behind me, the realisation that I had a caterpillar-sized stallion to take care of sunk in. I decided that the first thing to do was to make friends with it, so I headed to the nearest coffee shop. There, I grabbed a sachet
of white sugar and carefully tipped a single grain onto my finger. Then, I slowly lowered it into my breast pocket and waited for it to be accepted. I heard a happy and very tiny snort of pleasure and felt a light nibble on the end of my nail. With amicability accomplished, Gas Line Boy and I headed to the pet shop. 'Hello, erm could I have a gerbil tank, please?' I asked the spotty
teenage boy at the counter. 'For an actual gerbil, or for a very small horse?' 'A very small horse.' 'Oh, brilliant!' he said happily, and then shyly, 'Can I see it?' 'Sure, I'll put him in the tank now if you've got all the, um, horsey materials.' I said, fishing
the tiny horse out. I stroked him absent-mindedly as the boy dashed about fetching all the horsey materials (hay, newspaper lining, fresh water, and horse treat dust) and setting up the tank. When it was ready, I lowered Gas Line Boy onto the top level and let him stretch his legs. Granny would be proud, he was a beauty with a lovely coat and ears pricked forward. As he inspected his new lodgings, the
boy and I sat quietly watching him. At length, he said, 'Horses are sociable creatures.' 'Really? I did not know that.' He nodded emphatically. I sighed, 'I suppose there's a lot about horses I'll have to read up on now.' 'Oh yes, and he'll be picky.'
He looked at my confused expression, 'Thoroughbred,' he explained. 'Ah.' 'Mhm.' We watched Gas Line Boy trot about some more and I let the boy give him another grain of sugar. 'Do you have a bigger tank?' I
asked. 'Yes, do you want it?' 'Please, could you set it up for me?' --- For the second time that day I walked into the betting shop. Jo was still there, the old men were still there (although they may have switched places), and
the race had not yet been run. 'Er, hello again.' I said to the ever-sullen Jo. 'Hiya, what can I do for you?' she asked. I took a deep breath, 'Can I put a bet on each horse please? A hundred pounds each.' The bookie's eyebrows rose so far up her forehead I do not
think that they'll ever come down. ‘That’ll be three-thousand and six ‘undred pounds.’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ignoring the old men who had turned to discuss this between them (‘’e never!’) ‘But they are very small horses.’