Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Against the Odds: The Nation Has Gone Betting Mad, Writes Hunter Davies, and He Wants None of It

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Against the Odds: The Nation Has Gone Betting Mad, Writes Hunter Davies, and He Wants None of It

Article excerpt

Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it's a barrage balloon. Or am I dreaming of wartime, I thought, remembering when, as little boy, I was sent to stay with my grandparents in Glasgow, where I spent many a happy evening in the shelter at the bottom of the garden watching the skies light up as the Jerries dropped their bombs, the anti-aircraft guns boomed and the barrage balloons floated menacingly across the sky.

I wonder now why my parents sent me, aged four, from the peace and quiet of wartime Carlisle to the Glasgow Blitz. Life, what a mystery it is.

Then I looked up and saw that, on the side of the barrage balloon floating above White Hart Lane, it read: "Sky Bet". Bastards. I hate all betting. Shouldn't be allowed. This government has no morals or principles. If it works, if they can get away with it, if they can tax it, that's all that matters. I've never placed a bet; don't know how. The only time I bought a Lottery ticket was on 19 November 1994--day one of the National Lottery draw. I wanted it as memorabilia. Not to win money, certainly not. I was brought up Scottish Presbyterian.

The nation is now betting mad. All classes, all incomes are throwing their money away. Even the Guardian has been carrying an ad offering a free [pounds sterling]25 bet to all readers. (To new customers staking [pounds sterling]10. There's always a catch.)

I shout at the TV when messages flash across the screen giving you the odds on the next goal being scored by whoever. And I scream at those words: "Sky Bet--it matters more when there's money on it." Of course it bloody does. So does putting money on two raindrops running down a window pane.

Obviously, if you or your family were to win a lot of money, then you would be all for it. Last week, in the pool at LA Fitness, I was talking to the Times columnist and novelist Giles Coren. …

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