The best of Jeffrey Bernard: In the dog and duck house
First published on January 3, 1985
The run-up to Christmas was really rather silly but it's a silly time of year, what with things like last-minute shopping and a deep sense of foreboding for the likes of me who just want the days to tick by as usual without the dreadful fuss.
On the Friday before Christmas I managed to get barred from my local in Soho and it's particularly inconvenient at this time of year to have to change one's headquarters, bank, message-leaving service and all the other things a local is, apart from being one's watering-hole.
What happened was I squirted the contents of a soda syphon over a member of the staff who for some strange reason refused to serve me ice and soda with my vodka. Normally I would have been merely irritated but it was inevitable I suppose that someone had to crack under the pressure of countless office parties and the boredom of having been surrounded by amateur drinkers for the past ten days.
People who only drink in December should be shot. Anyway, I did my nut and gave the staff a soaking and was asked in no uncertain terms not to darken the doors again.
The following day was the last punting day before Christmas and I set up shop in a pub called the Dog and Duck, where I decided to take a few bets – stick them anyway. An old friend who had followed me from the pub I'd been barred from started betting with me quite heavily by his standards and he kicked off with a tenner on one of the favourites.
When he saw that I obviously had no intention of taking his money to the betting shop he somewhat naively asked me: "But what the hell have you backed?" I replied: "The other 14 runners, of course."
I should have thought that it was a reasonably simple sum and fairly obvious that it was a good risk on my part especially with going that was nearly heavy in my favour. Oh to be a bookmaker on Boxing Day, but these people never learn.
Gino, the Italian waiter, has also been barred from another pub in Soho for boring the customers with his whining post-mortems after his consistent losses. When a man loses day after day after day like Gino I reckon he should be barred from betting shops, never mind pubs.
If he can't grasp the rudiments of the English language after 15 years in this country what hope or chance has he got to grasp the rudiments of the Turf? None whatsoever.
The business of collecting his daily dose of injustice is akin to a sickness.
Anyway, came closing time and I scooted up the street to a rather dodgy afternoon drinking club I frequent on rainy days.
It was there that I had one of the strangest gambles I've ever experienced. I got talking to a man at the bar who invited me to play spoof with him. We started playing sudden death for drinks and then we started playing for a pound a hand.
It was between games and drinks it transpired that he was a poulterer from south London. He asked me what my favourite game bird was and I told him woodcock. Okay, he said, sudden death for a woodcock. I've played spoof for some strange things but never woodcock at £7 a brace.
After 20 or so minutes of this lunacy I ended up the proud possessor of four woodcock and one pheasant, all plucked into the bargain. Who knows, perhaps next year we might play for a partridge in a pear tree.
Meanwhile, at the time of writing, there's only one more shopping day left and I haven't bought a single thing, being led, as I am, astray by new pubs, clubs and poulterers. Tomorrow, though, I'm going to buy my ex-wife a witch's broom in the hope that she'll get the message.
My daughter wants a fortune and seems to think that money grows on trees. It seems that one of her school friends asked her what I did for a living some time ago and she said: "He goes into pubs, cashes cheques and gives mummy the change."
I think she is at last old enough to realise just how dangerous my chosen profession of 'going into pubs', as she calls it, can really be.
If I can scratch together the £50 she wants I shall spoof her for it double or quits and teach her a salutary lesson.
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