Musings of a Magpie Mind: Winning that lottery and the big fat cheque.

I’m sure we‘ve all read that many, just like some Klondike gold miners who struck it rich years ago, embarked on wild spending sprees

The dream we all enjoy.

My last column generated some interesting conversations with Citizen readers by phone, around dinner tables and on the sidewalk, plus one brief discussion in the Chemainus thrift store, where I occasionally find a good book, a piece of garden whimsy or an expensive picture frame…all for a pittance. The management and volunteers in that thriving little place are such a fun bunch. No wonder they’re so successful — they sure deserve to be.

So I ruminated in these pages about the perils of get-rich-quick investment schemes and how our use of the Internet made us all vulnerable to so many other scams. Everybody seemed to agree, but our conversations occasionally shifted to the question as to what happens to the lucky few who win the mammoth millions, particularly on the lotteries?

I’m sure we‘ve all read that many of them, just like some Klondike gold miners who struck it rich years ago, embarked on wild spending sprees, treating family, friends and even strangers with unbridled generosity and ended up completely broke, their winnings gone. “Well,” we say, ”such is the folly of human nature”. But we wonder perhaps how we would have handled such a windfall if it had come our way. So, do we have any sympathy for the squanderers? Probably. More than for those in the big leagues of high finance and fat portfolios, the wealthy who are greedy for more? When we hear of those high rollers getting caught short in a scam, when the swindlers’ promises are proved empty and those involved suffer expensive comeuppances, it seems almost like rough justice, at least to me, and possibly to you too.

All this made me ponder the many ways we spend our mad money these days. There are lottery tickets in almost every store, plus slot machines in abundant casinos, even in pubs and airports, and of course there’s Internet gambling — just a few of the tempting carrots that are dangled in front of us every day. But it wasn’t at all like that for the various levels of society umpteen years ago.

Long before the lottery ticket became so ubiquitous and the Irish sweepstakes were the main means of indulging in that sort of flutter, the favourite way to part with our spare shillings back in the U.K. was to wager it on soccer games, the gee-gees and the dogs. Perhaps it still is. I haven’t been back for a while. Like most of my male relatives though, my father was a gambling man. He loved horse racing. For him it was a hobby, the only one he ever had. It helped him soften the demands of making a hard living.

He ignored the neon excitement of the city dog track, where the cloth-capped punters leaned on the rails and cheered a bunch of half-starved greyhounds chasing the electric hare. Instead, he favoured the ancient “sport of kings” — and queens too, because the royal stables have always fielded expensive thoroughbreds at the big events to challenge the entries from the moneyed syndicates. Her Majesty has always been a fine judge of horse flesh. And she loves to see her horses win.

But for my old man it was the whole panoply of the racing scene that was the real attraction. Sure, he expected to lose a few quid to the bookies, but if he broke even on the day, he was happy. As we didn’t at that time own a car, he travelled the miles by public transport to enjoy an afternoon at his favourite tracks. The nearest one, on the outskirts of our northern city, offered all the elements so special to horse racing: a big decorated grandstand dominating the green countryside, a large beer tent to complement the sandwiches he’d brought along, plus a chance to scrutinize the horses with their mounted miniature jockeys, decked out in the silks of their owners’ colours. Dotted around the paddock of course, were the pitched patches of territory allocated to each of the noisy book makers and their gesticulating touts.

Sometimes if I wasn’t committed to a Saturday game at school, I’d be invited to join him. On the journeys by bus or train we’d discuss the all-important subject of form, always comparing expert reviews on how the favourites for the afternoon’s races had been performing. And when we arrived, it was such fun for me, jostling with the crowds, enjoying the bustle and excitement, sharing the expectation of seeing those lovely animals perform, because our money would soon be riding on one of them in each gallop. But I was only allowed to bet on one race, and to put half a crown on whichever horse I fancied. And the wager had to come from my allowance, though my travelling expenses were paid for. I never backed to win, but was happy with the occasional second or third place payout. The Scot’s blood I inherited from my grandmother made me a parsimonious punter. I’ve been a rather reluctant gambler ever since.

At home, as a family, we shared the dream of winning on the Littlewood’s football pools which we religiously filled in each week. We opted to choose the four teams that might win away from their home towns and we also predicted the three games that were likely to end in a tie.

The odds against being right were mostly enormous. Some brave souls habitually forecasted the results of thirteen selected games.

The odds on pulling that one off were probably higher than in most lotteries. Then on Saturday evenings after the soccer matches, one of us kids would be delegated to sit by the radio and check off the results. Our muted cuss words were the norm.

So in those days, our little forays in the pursuit of a blessed windfall provided us with a lot more entertainment than payoffs. They still do. But now, if we have the means to become a little bolder and put a few dollars into the market, we usually have the comfort of knowing that our investments are in good hands, because fortunately, here in Canada, we aren’t so vulnerable to the extremes of unbridled capitalism that are still prevalent below the 49th Parallel.

Our government regulations give us ample protection in our banking and other financial affairs. This benefit was very evident not so long ago, during the global market meltdown fomented by Wall Street’s avarice. Nowadays we can rely on the excellent network of investment counsellors provided by our banks or the professional guidance of independent wealth managers. Such advice is so worthwhile, because just as in our old punting days, when we would never have backed a horse without first checking its pedigree and performance with the experts, the same priority should apply where our savings are concerned. But most of us still enjoy a little extra flutter, and occasionally we’ll put our money and our faith on a lucky number. Then we sit back and idly ponder the rosy question: “What if?”

That dreamy dose of fantasy is all part of the fun, particularly when it’s shared with the family or a little syndicate of friends. Who knows? One of these days we might get lucky!

(Bill Greenwell prospered in the ad agency arena for 40 years in the U.K. and Canada. He retains a passion for medieval history, marine paintings and piscatorial pursuits. His wife Patricia indulges him in these interests, but being a seasoned writer from a similar background, she has always deplored his weakness for alliteration. This has sadly had no effect on his writing style, whatsoever.)

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