Besides cleaning the toilets, one of the hardest things I had to do when I used to work in the local bookies, was taking bets from Dads of some of the lads I knew; especially Dads who had too much to drink. Coming over from the pub after three o’clock closing, they would empty their pockets on the horses before trailing off home to sleep it off and face the consequences. This was a time when there were far fewer races to bet on and no Fixed Odd Betting Terminals (like the old one arm bandit).
Lies, damn lies, and statistics, damn the betting industry over problem gambling. On the one hand, it is claimed that problem gambling hasn’t risen at all over the past fifteen or more years, since FOBTs were introduced. Yet, there are questions about the relevance of the methodology to today’s market. Putting that to one side, there is undoubtedly an increase in advertising in gambling and it also makes me wonder the correlation with the increase in payday loans. There is far too little regulation in this market. Although gambling and betting are synonymous, I think there is a difference between someone studying the form and placing a bet on a particular nag, dog, or football team, and someone coming into a betting shop and dropping their money in a machine of luck.
Today’s poems by Jake Hawkey, takes on the juxtaposition of a loving husband and problem gambling and drinking. They remind me a little of Simon Armitage’s ‘Poem’ in the duality of a man’s personality: ‘And every week he tipped up half his wage./ And what he didn’t spend each week he saved./ And praised his wife for every meal she made./ And once, for laughing, punched her in the face.’ Jake’s poems are split neatly into ‘happy’ and ‘sad’: in ‘happy’ our narrator tells of his boss who had a drinking problem, but ‘she gave him a chance./ she stuck by him./ it’ll be seven years soon without a drink/ and they’re off to Spain next week.’ However, as you can guess from the title, in ‘sad’ it doesn’t turn out so well. ‘George has just been escorted by the police from/ the premises./ £900 went missing and George took it from the safe/ and spunked it in a local bookmakers.’
It was the mothers of my friends (as well as my friends) who were the collateral damage of problem gambling and drinking done by the ‘head-of-the-household’ – although I do have to emphasise they were a minority. There are multiple reasons why someone becomes addicted to some form of stimulant; but what doesn’t help is when the ‘free market’ whether through advertising or deregulation is allowed to feed on the vulnerable. It’s like giving a drunk driver a bottle of whisky on the motorway, it is a car crash waiting to happen, with the family sitting in the back.
Jake Hawkey was born in south London in 1990, studied Fine Art at the University of Westminster and released his debut chapbook ‘all the flowers at the petrol station’ in 2016. He is currently teaching and listening for his next poem. You can get Jake’s debut chapbook here – Twitter: @jake_hawkey
my boss George
said his wife hated him when he used to drink.
she used to pray for him to go to sleep;
staring up to the ceiling.
she still flinches to the sound of a can opening.
he had no control.
now, he tells me,
they travel the world.
they’ve been to Singapore,
Italia and many more.
he’s lighter on his feet.
ocean liners, one-liners,
making love in big hotel beds.
Sunday dinners joking with the in-laws.
now she adores him.
she calls the desk at work and I put her through
and even I can feel the warmth through the phone.
she gave him a chance.
she stuck by him.
it’ll be seven years soon without a drink
and they’re off to Spain next week.
this is a happy poem
and George you guys just might be
my hero and heroine.
in a previous poem
I wrote about my boss George finding some balance.
George has just been escorted by the police from
£900 went missing and George took it from the safe
and spunked it in a local bookmakers.
this man with a family, a beautiful wife and a mortgage
won’t be trusted around money again.
betting on Charlton to win when he doesn’t even know
who’s in the team.
maybe this is how he affords holidays.
maybe he just wanted to take his wife away again,
to make up for lost time.
I hope George figures out what’s driving him.
I hope George finds some balance.
I hope George slays his demons.
his wife phones in to ask what’s happening –
her loving voice down the phone –
I don’t know what to tell her.