Doing something for the first time

We Christians occasionally wonder how best to welcome visitors, in an age when many adults almost never enter a church. The weirdness of the experience for the newcomer is sometimes compared with that of a respectable middle-class person entering a betting shop for the first time. What would such a one expect, what kind of assistance might they need?

CS Lewis said I think that one of the two sins he had never been tempted to commit was gambling. I also do not regard myself as a gambler, although I have been known to draw a horse in an office sweepstake, without much success. I have never bought a lottery card.

But recently we were preparing a trip to Ireland, due to commence on Easter Monday, when we were to drive to Birkenhead to take the overnight ferry. The Irish Grand National (I happened to learn) takes place on Easter Monday at a racecourse delightfully called Fairyhouse.

So I decided to take the moral and financial risk.

First of all of course I studied the form. This means that I looked quickly at the names of the more fancied horses running, decided on principle not to back the favourite (Nick Rockett) selected what I thought was the cutest name – and thus armed walked into our local Ladbrokes on Easter Saturday.

(My knowledge of the world of horse-racing is largely confined to the rather good thrillers written by Dick Francis, but although his work covers many aspects of the sport and its culture, there’s not a great deal about the betting.)

Beeston Ladbrokes is open surprisingly long hours – 13 hours most days, and 10 hours even on Sundays. It was a long room with slot machines and a row of tables, and a booth for staff with presumably protective glass at the far end. Newspaper lists of races/sporting events (for that day only) were pinned to the walls, and there were one or two TVs. I think there was one other customer, sitting on a stool.

I walked up to the booth and asked if I could place a bet on the horse Intense Raffles, £3 each way, at 7 to 1, total payment £6. “Each way,” which I had looked up, means £3 on the horse to win, and £3 for it to be placed first, second or third.

The two female staff were placed high up, making the Blogger, who is not tall, feel very minute; but they were helpful and unpatronising. They took my money, handed me a carbon copy of a betting slip, and assured me I could cash my winnings (if any) in a Ladbrokes in Ireland.

My bet was so small, by the way, because I’d already bought a substantial number of euros that morning, and the Bank had decided I shouldn’t be allowed to withdraw any more cash. Possibly it knew what I was planning to do? (No.)

So we drove and sailed to Ireland, a very smooth crossing. The next day we walked into a small supermarket after breakfast in Bangor in Ulster, and bought a paper. Imagine my feelings when I saw the sporting headlines!


Intense Raffles is the horse, JJ Slevin the jockey, the (English) owners are Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, and the trainer Thomas Gibney. Curiously, Slevin was a replacement, the expected jockey Daryl Jacob having broken his collarbone 10 days ago.

Second place was Any Second Now; third was Minella Cocooner; Nick Rockett the favourite was seventh.

We duly walked into a Ladbrokes. Bangor is a seaside holiday town, currently looking rather past its best. We weren’t hugely surprised that the woman there was reluctant to pay out, saying she’d have to phone the shop in Beeston (“where on earth’s that?” she didn’t quite say) which might take 45 minutes, and these English might be closed for Easter Tuesday anyway…

“Anyway, I’ve got a subject for my next blog post,” I said smugly to my husband.

At the end of the holiday I went back to my home Ladbrokes to triumphantly claim my money, £30+.  I still haven’t quite worked out how it was calculated, although definitely £24 was for the win itself – £3 x (7+1) = £24.

You and I will have to wait to see if I’ve now started on the slippery slope to addiction.

(Headline and photo from the Irish Times. Photo credit Niall Carson/PA.)

Love from the PPI Blogger


  • Stephen Hall

    22nd April 2024 at 2:42 pm Reply

    Ha ha. Well done Penny. An occasional flutter does no harm and can accentuate the excitement of sporting events. You should have made an effort to at least watch on telly. For a £3 7/1 each way bet I think you should have received £34 – £24 for the bet on the winner (your stake plus 7 times your stake), plus £10 for the best on the place (your stake plus 7/3 of your stake).

    What are you going to enter next? – a pool hall? a flower competition? a jazz club?

  • Penelope Wallace

    23rd April 2024 at 10:16 am Reply

    In my defence Stephen I was crossing England in a car during the race.

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