I have never been one to waste my money and that has had real benefits for my wife and me over the years. This was probably the Scottish side of me coming out, but I’ve worked hard to earn what I have so I’ve never been tempted to throw it away. I suppose my parents both had the same attitude and when you are raising a family every penny counts. It has never appeared strange to me, though young people would probably find it so, but my mother handled all the finances of the family and my Dad would come home in the early days with cash in his pay packet and he would hand it over to Mum. She would check it and then hand back my father’s allowance. It was Mum who paid the bills, saved for clothes, holidays and Christmas and my Dad had his pocket money to pay for his cigarettes, petrol and anything else he wanted. Even when Mum worked, which was most of her life with short breaks for the three births, she kept her money for the household expenses, mortgage and car purchases.
My father had some vices later in life and golf was a major one, but luckily gambling was never one and I don’t know if that was an influence or not on me and my brothers. He did do the Football Pools on a Saturday though and as a child I can remember him or my mother sitting listening to the Pools and marking off the results. I can’t say that I ever understood it at all, but they hoped for a win. As we got older my Mum got interested in the Yorkshire Post’s ‘Spot the Ball’ competition. This was a very simple game where you cut out a photograph of a Leeds United game and the soccer ball had been removed. You had to put a cross where you estimated the centre of the ball would be and if you were correct you won a lot of money. You could have multiple crosses, but you paid more for the more you entered. I think you could drop off your entries at the newsagents! I remember both Mum and Dad thought that ‘Pick the Spot’ was a bit of a scam as no one seemed to win for weeks upon weeks and the jackpot just built up. Unlike the Pools, there was no way of telling. It was said that each entry was blown up in size and that the very centre of the cross had to match the very centre of the greatly enlarged photo. In hindsight, I can’t see how this would have been done economically or fairly and suspect it was more a random draw, but of course no one will know.
The Pools were collected each week before Saturday and Vernons and Littlewoods were the big ones, I seem to remember. When it wasn’t the English Soccer season they used the results from Australian soccer. Now living in Australia I realise that soccer was in its infancy and these were small amateur teams. My Mum was a Pools collector for a while and she had a round and had to collect the entries, bank the money and make sure that entries were entered and everything tallied. I know that there were some scandals when people believed they had won, to discover that the pools collector had not entered their pools and just pocketed the money. As a result they didn’t get their winnings. One famous Yorkshire winner was Viv Nicholson. Born in Castleford she was working making Pontefract Cakes when she and her husband won £152,319, (£3,362,478.00 equivalent nowadays). When asked what she would do with the winnings she famously said, ’Spend, spend, spend!’ It seems that the win brought nothing but problems for her.
Looking back, my Mum had some quite dangerous jobs collecting money from the Harehills and Gipton areas. She also collected insurance money and a single woman walking these streets at night would seem foolhardy nowadays, but she never had any incidents. She also used to collect the wages for Wragg’s Motorcycles from the bank and carry it as she shopped in Leeds Market before returning to Wraggs and sorting the salaries. If anyone had known, she would have been easy prey as she carried several thousand pounds, which was a lot of money in the 1960s.
As I remember my Mum, it has come back to me that she did have a love of competitions. She was always cutting out and sending off entries. She was good at writing the required slogans and seemed to have a knack for winning. Most of the prizes were fairly insignificant, but I do remember she won a year’s free drycleaning for Martin’s at Harehills. She received a book of coupons for each month and I don’t think our clothes ever looked so clean as they did that year. She carried this hobby on throughout her life and it was a real interest for her and she did keep on winning small prizes.
My first gambling experience was playing ‘Pump the Well Dry’ card game with my grandma. We had three pence each and the winner in the end won all the coins. It wasn’t much, but it was a bit of a thrill. The next experience I hadn’t thought of as gambling until just now, and that was the amusement arcades at the seaside. Every resort had numerous arcades and these were particularly popular when it was raining, which was quite often. The whole family would go in and the places were alive with sounds, colour and flashing lights. I now realise that everything was geared for you to lose all your money but it was just so exciting. You couldn’t look at the penny drop where coins were perched on the edge ready to drop and not put your coins in, only to find that they failed to make the cascade of coins fall. Of course you did occasionally win, but I can’t ever remember leaving with any money left. What it did teach me was that I didn’t like losing the money I had. One-armed bandits also had the same effect. It was just too easy to see lots of money disappear as you just had to add another coin to see if you could win it back. I remember having a Friday evening drink after work at the nearest pub to Wallace Arnold’s on Hunslet Road and watching a pensioner, who didn’t appear to have enough money to throw away, sitting at the machine with a large pile of fifty pence pieces. She just fed the coins in one after another until they were all gone. It was sad to watch.
Looking back on my memories I am surprised at how much gambling we experienced that I hadn’t recognised as gambling. I would say my parents never bet on horses, but then I seem to remember the Grand National being an exception, but it was never very much. We would watch the race and were amazed at the height of the jumps and the number of horses that fell. When I was little I don’t think I understood the cruelty of beautiful horses being crippled and having to be put down and just saw it as exciting. At the time, horses were brought down by trip wires in cowboy films, but times change and what was acceptable then is not today. I did have a brief flutter with horses and that was whilst I was at Roundhay School. I think we were about Fifth Form age when one or two of the boys started. They began to place small wagers on the betting office near the Oakwood Pub. These were mysterious places to me as I had never been in one, but they seemed to know what to do. They talked about bets ‘each way’ and a whole range of things such as ‘accumulators’ that I had no experience or understanding of. It was small change and despite needing to be eighteen to bet, the shop didn’t seem bothered. The business took place at lunchtimes and someone would go and place the bets and we would wait for the results and sometimes collect our winnings. I only did it a couple of times and I am glad that I never got into it.
What my circle of friends did do was to play cards. I have spoken about card games of Brag and Pontoon in the common room at Roundhay when I was in the Upper Sixth. It was a new freedom and the first year of co-ed and we would gather in card schools and play for coins. It was never large amounts and as we played the same people the winners would tend to change, so everyone sometimes won. This always struck me as fair and it wasn’t the same as seeing casinos or bookmakers make vast amounts off those who could least afford to lose it. Here in Perth it is one of the few states that don’t allow Poker Machines, as they are called here, anywhere but in the one casino, whereas they are everywhere in other states and have become a real problem.
Cards were fair and fun and I remember the many times my circle of friends would arrange all-night card sessions. These were normally when someone’s parents were away and half a dozen or so of us would gather at Dave B’s, Dave G’s, John’s or some other house and play brag all night. I am not sure why we did it and the total winnings might be seven shillings in the morning, but we did. We would see the dawn rise with bleary, smoke filled eyes and question our decision before walking home and getting into bed to sleep most of the next day. We did listen to music whilst we played and Dark Side of The Moon was constantly played at the time, particularly at Dave B’s house. His father was a professional musician and he also home-brewed beer and wine, and the house was full of demijohns of various concoctions. Dark Side was the only Pink Floyd album I have never really liked, apart from the last Roger Waters one, The Final Cut. This was probably due to hearing it too much and Cat Stevens, Tea For The Tiller Man suffered the same fate after a charity 24 hour table tennis session where it was played almost constantly.
We would start the evening going to a pub and then getting a takeaway curry before descending on whichever home was hosting the event. We never did anything untoward and just played cards. The winning player would change over the night and in the end it was probably the one with the most stamina that proved successful. I don’t ever remember any falling out and it was an intense, good natured way to spend an evening, but I wouldn’t want to play all night nowadays.
The only gambling that I have indulged in, since having a family, has been the Lotto and that has all been here in Australia. It was mainly my wife who did it and we had one major win twenty-odd years ago where we won second division. We had a young family of four boys and the eleven thousand winnings helped at the time. It allowed us to bring both of our mothers out to visit and has paid for us to play Lotto most weeks since then. We were one number off winning 2.7 million dollars and people would say, ‘Doesn’t that upset you?’ and the answer is ‘No!’ We were quite satisfied with what we got and as we didn’t have it before we were very pleased to win the bit we did.
Australia is a country of gamblers and the biggest event is the Melbourne Cup. It is the ‘Race that Stops the Nation’ and I couldn’t believe it when I first came out and was teaching when school lunch would be brought forward and extended, classes would organise their own sweepstakes for the children and they would watch the races. It is a much bigger event than the Grand National and when I lived in Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea, in the mid 1980s, the local Banz Club would organise an auction for the horses for the club’s sweepstake. Hundreds of dollars were bid to buy a horse and competition from the very wealthy plantation managers and business people was a matter of pride and status. This took place before the race and, on the day, the school was closed and everyone went to the club, dressed in their finest, drank too much and watched the actual race that lasts about two minutes. The money raised was sizeable and the winner would tend to put the money back over the bar for everyone to drink. The ladies had ‘Brought a Plate’ of food and it was one of the highlights of the year.