bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog 

One Hundred And Thirty Six Thousand Pounds

Dear Rachel

I found myself discussing the subject of gambling recently at the Duke of Wellington public house, London E1, with Vinny the landlord and a Petticoat Lane fabric wholesaler of my acquaintance, who shall remain nameless. Vinny’s method of gambling – which I call ‘Cab Out, Bus Home’ – involves going to a casino up West in a black taxi, losing all his money as quickly as possible, then coming back on the N11 from Stamford Brook with the clubbers, homeless and mentally ill. The nameless fabric wholesaler has a more successful approach, which he puts down to nothing more than being born an optimist in Watford. As he explained his theory, I offered to sell Vinny my bike to cut his travelling costs.

Like anyone who has never cycled in London, Vinny dismissed this as dangerous. I hurtle around town every day on my gallant folding bicycle, and you’re safe enough if you concentrate on what you’re doing. Last Saturday week while riding from Camden to Tooting I was concentrating so much that I failed to realise that what was taking place around me as I charged along Euston Road was bona fide football hooliganism, related to that afternoon’s play off final between Bradford City and Northamption Town, which Bradford won 3-0. This consisted of forty or fifty enthusiastic participants doing battle among the stationary traffic and across the pavements on either side and was quite exciting, although what with discretion being better part of valour I decided to discretely wait for the lights to change and continue towards Holborn rather than wade in for the glory of West Ham. It’s worth pointing out that while Bradford were certainly involved, I later learned they had been jumped at King’s Cross by Chelsea, although in any case both sides gave a good account of themselves as a solitary and irate policeman shouted ‘Can you at least get out of the bloody road?’ at them. I should also mention that if you’re unfamiliar, the ‘play offs’ are a series of games at the end of the season between four teams in the same division for one promotion place. Bradford and Northampton were contesting the League Two play off, and a couple of divisions above them, Watford played Crystal Palace for the Championship equivalent on Monday. If you arranged those four places in order of where you wanted to live, they would appear like this: a) Crystal Palace, b) Northampton, c) Watford and d) Bradford.

Although Watford only manages a modest third place in this list, it should not be overlooked. It has the un-chicness typical of London satellite towns, all of whom seem to be runt of a litter consisting entirely of other runts, and it’s appeal comes from the fact that it is so unappealing. I am fond of it, solely on this basis. Watford simply gets on with the business of being Watford, without needing to draw attention to itself, or point out that if you want to see something really grim, pop down the road and have a look at Luton. That said, I only know one person who considers themselves lucky by virtue of having been born there, and that of course is our nameless fabric wholesaler, a staunch fan of their generally awful football club. Such is his devotion that shortly before the opening day of the season, he placed a £1,000 bet that they would accrue seventy points or more over the forthcoming campaign. I understand that the crux of that last sentence will mean nothing to non-football people, whom I will ask to indulge me yet further as mention that it was considered unlikely – so unlikely, in fact, that he negotiated odds of 17-1 against it happening.

Calculating odds must be tough. On the one hand, the odds of anything happening at all are so remote as to make anything that subsequently does seem like a catastrophic error. Dragging this theory to its logical conclusion would, however, mean that we should all kill ourselves on the basis that our existence is a mistake, which seems a bit much. It’s probably best to approach the issue philosophically, from a cause and effect perspective. For example, if Napoleon hadn’t imposed an embargo on the linen trade with Britain, it’s unlikely that the thriving textile industry around Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane markets would’ve collapsed at the turn of the nineteenth century. If this hadn’t happened, the maze of streets between and around the two wouldn’t have descended into poverty and seen all the linen merchants’ workshops turned into vile tenements. If it wasn’t for subsequent overcrowding caused by various and incessant migrations into the East End – odd, considering how horrible it was by this time – an extra row of particularly vile tenements wouldn’t have been squeezed onto the strip of land between Toynbee Street and Commercial Road. Although the tenements have long since vanished and been replaced by garages, a large neon sign with the word ‘Pub’ was placed on the corner of Toynbee Street and Brune Street by Vinny, to make the place more visible to passing trade from the Commercial Road side. I would never have set foot in the Duke had it not been for this sign, as it was deemed by Joe and Gary, waiting to meet me there one Sunday evening in 2006, that not even my notoriously bad eyesight would fail to spot it. Thus it was that the Duke became a regular rendezvous point of various ex-Camden ne’er do wells as we expanded across London, and one of the useful contacts made in the many markets thereabouts – relics of pre-Napoleonic prosperity – was the nameless textile wholesaler. Had I not unexpectedly diversified into kitchenware, I would have no reason to favour him with my business on account of his ability to supply rough Mexican oilcloth, a useful commodity in a new kitchenware-related sideline of mine. From all this, we can see that everything eventually worked out nicely for all concerned, if we overlook a couple of centuries of hopeless poverty and Ripper murders for almost everyone within a three mile radius of the table where myself, Vinny and the nameless fabric wholesaler discussed the performance of Watford FC over the 2012-13 football season.

The only fly in this somewhat convoluted ointment is the Mexican oilcloth. The more you buy, the cheaper the price, in accordance with standard business practice. I’ve always been reluctant to invest heavily, and so have never been able to make the finished product line pay out enough to make it worthwhile, nice as it is. Come to think of it, this is a cause and effect and a catch 22. Watford did, obviously, accrue the magic seventy points, and £17,000 was duly paid out to the nameless fabric wholesaler – another cause and effect, but still not the one which will shortly see an entire range of suddenly profitable Mexican oilcloth-based products among my doubtless delighted Greenwich Market clientele. This came about due to the nature of the bet itself. It turned out that for every point over seventy that Watford accrued, a further £17,000 was paid. They eventually finished the season on seventy seven points, meaning total winnings of £136,000 from a £1,000 wager. This particular cause effected the nameless but canny fabric wholesaler’s retirement from Petticoat Lane and prompted him to sell his entire stock off at bargain prices to, among others, me. Had he not been born in Watford, he wouldn’t be a loyal fan of Watford FC, and had I done anything of any note whatsoever with my life, I wouldn’t be supplying Mexican oilcloth-based products to Greenwich Market kitchenware enthusiasts. Not only that, but I can ride to Greenwich on my folding bicycle in all the rain and traffic and litter and sell it to them while the nameless fabric wholesaler runs the scuba diving school in Floria Keys that he’s buying with his brother. I suppose we’re both winners, really.

Twitter: I pop in now and again to make sure everyone’s still got a headache, feeling tired, or generally a bit poorly. They always are.

Facebook: Our Facebook Group. No, I can’t remember a time when it was a good idea, either.

Kindle: I was the first person to subscribe to this blog via Kindle, and that’s something that can never be taken away from me.

Photards: This weeks’ rummage around in the box of holiday slides has given us:

Top: A book I bought from the Amiable Book Seller at Greenwich Market upon discovering that everyone had run out of ideas as to how we’re going to get out of this mess. Suitably inspired, Keith, Cartoon Ben and Fruity Eddie are going to tunnel to Cutty Sark DLR station while Danny and I build a glider in the roof.

Middle: The aforementioned sign at the Duke. The red splashes in the background are Petticoat Lane market. As I think we’ve discussed before, the ‘Beer Garden’ was a concrete square with a discarded wardrobe and a pink scooter in it. This has all changed though, as the wardrobe disappeared over Christmas.

Lower: Childbrain and Fat Les by the pie, mash and eels shop at Greenwich Market. I usually regale them with theme tune to Laurel and Hardy at moments like this, and by way of thanks they tell me to fuck off.


  1. Sam

    Dec 14th, 2013
    10:49 pm

    It was Vinny’s wake yesterday.

  2. by Paul Smith

    Dec 14th, 2013
    11:08 pm

    Yes – if that’s not the end of an era, I don’t know what is.

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