The Odds (Part 2)


It was a funny old day. A very sad day; sat watching the best man lose. During his concession speech I felt my eyes on the edge of being wet. John Kerry is a good man. Intrinsically a decent human, but there I must stop, and examine.

When we’re younger, we’re all shades of rebel.. well, at least, I was. I revelled in everything just the other side of the line, because I could. Now I don’t define what ‘the other side of the line’ really is, or where it is. Any more.. I don’t have to. In any case, it’s different for everyone. You’re maybe taking Johnny’s marbles from him, burning down the local sports pavilion or having sex with a brontosaur. I only did one of those three, but whatever, everyone’s idea of where the other side of the line is at is different.

But in later life I seem to have retired from full-time mayhem. I guess that I didn’t want to die any earlier than I had to. I’m not afraid of dying. Luckily, that happens to everyone; it’s just that I’ve been forever interested in what’s going to happen next.. and I don’t want to miss it. Then of course there’s the responsibility to the rest of family and friends to live as long and as happily as possible etc.. set the kids a happy example.. something good to remember.. and so there comes a time at which you have to give a little. It’s not that you didn’t always give.. in my own mind I’ve tried to be as generous as possible. I always know where and when I haven’t been as generous as I could have been, and I have feelings when I think about some of my friends.. that I could have given them more, and I always apologise when I think I’ve been too demanding.

The point in this preamble is to try to inform you about some of the maxims and tenets in the formation and development of my character. From having no respect at all, for anything at all, as a child, I’ve developed into a human who has empathy for much he sees around him. My quest has been to develop respect. From a position of having none at all, when I was nine or ten years old.. From not being able to trust anyone about anything.. from being completely out of control.. to being able to recognise that SOME people were genuinely good people. Perhaps they’d come through trials of their own. Perhaps they’d come from places that were very sad, but they shone for me, like beacons in seas of apathy and fear, lies and violence, anathema and war.

You can laugh if you like. You can laugh at the latter day conversions of an old stoner. The seemingly geriatric admissions of a terminal meanderer. But in the ‘race’ for the election of the 2004 US President, I thought that the Americans had finally found a man who could talk to the world for them. A man who could do ‘business’. An articulate brother in the mould of many of the founding fathers who would have taken America onto the world stage as a friend and neighbour, as a participant, as an equal. But the majority of Americans were blind to him. There he stood, the man who had come through the same questions and pitfalls we all faced in our youth, as a real alternative to the usual stuff turned out by politics..a man who really did want to make a difference.

But this particular story didn’t start there. This story started when the Boston Red Sox were 3 games to 1 down to the New York Yankees just before game 5 in the semi final of the ‘World Series’ baseball. (The ALCS, which is the American League Championship Series. The other virtual semi-final is the NLCS, the National League Championship Series). I thought, ‘This team are at least as good as the Yankees, what the hell were they doing 3-0 down in a 7 game championship?’ So I had a look at the odds.. for the ‘World Series’ outright. What I saw amused me. The New York Yankees were at 4/7, (see previous article for explanation of ‘odds’), the St. Louis Cardinals were at 3/1, the Houston Astros were at 4/1, and the Boston Red Sox were at 14/1. I did a double take. I re-loaded the page. It was true. They were at 14/1.. that is, you put £1 pound on them to win £14 if they win the ‘World Series’. So I know the team, as well as most part-time fans can ever know a team, and one of my favourite all time players is on the team.

Manny Ramirez has entertained me for years. He used to be a clean cut boy back in 1997, but now he sports neck-length dreadlocks underneath a very battered helmet and smears home runs from anywhere on the plate to anywhere over the fence, and many of them over the famous Boston right field wall known as ‘The Big Green Monster’. He’s not huge, he’s just 6 feet, and he waddles. He’s from the Dominican Republic. He comes to the plate about number four in the line-up, which is known as ‘the clean-up spot’, and sometimes he ‘cleans up’. I’m not going to go further into technicalities explaining that, you’ll just have to imagine what cleaning up entails.

So, anyway, I’m sat there thinking that these odds are too good to refuse. Then I have a bright idea.. one of the billion or two on hand every day. ‘Why don’t I have a New England double?.. yes.. the Red Sox for the World Series and Kerry for The White House. Just a loose little fancy.. spur of the moment lottery item. A bet of £20 will net me just short of £600 with the Sox at 14/1 and Kerry at 6/5. So I’m on the blower to Paddy Power. A woman answers the phone and I say to her that I fancy ‘a New England double’, John Kerry and the Red Sox. She puts me on hold to check the odds. After a minute she comes back to me saying that there’s no more betting on the presidency. “Oh really,” I say to her, “So who’s President then?” This is way back in the depths of October. “Just a minute”, she says, and disappears again.

She then comes back saying that the book on the presidency is closed.. and that’s it. I tell her that the bet is on my computer screen.. that it’s right there in front of me.. in virtual print. She disappears again.. and comes back apologising. “That’s no good”, I tell her, “..that it’s available in one place but not another”. In the end I relent. It’s not as though my life depended on it, it’s not as though I’ve got the odd 20 grand burning a hole in my pocket, that I need an extra large dose of depressing adrenalin as the bet comes unstuck, it’s just a simple spur of the moment wager. “OK” I say, “I’ll just have a tenner on the Red Sox then”.

So the Red Sox made history as the first team to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a championship series. I had another look at the odds at that stage. The Sox were 4/6 for the World Series against the winner of the other ‘semi’ the St Louis Cardinals, who were priced at even money. In other words, from being rank outsiders at 14/1, they were now odds-on favourites to win the whole caboodle. I had a nice little bet. You bet… The house wasn’t riding on it, it was just a nice little interest keeper. I could have put a tenner on the Cardinals at even money and come out winning £130 whatever happened. The rest is history. Manny and the boys won the next four games.

Instead, I decided to put my money where my heart was. I don’t often bet. I have about 3 bets a year. Usually on things that take my fancy. It’s like a test for your abilities, your intuition and your knowledge. About ten bets ago, I put £100 on Al Gore for the presidency. Not only was I robbed but I was horrified as well. I felt as if I’d been mugged. And it was real. In the famous ‘The Stiffneck versus The Redneck’ battle, The Redneck won. Of couse he did.. all his peers came out to vote for him, and there are many more of them than Gore peers. I should have learnt my lesson. I did.. what am I talking about!? It became really obvious that the Americans en masse didn’t want anyone who could read any more than the bible and ‘readers wives’.

But I fell for it again. I put my wallet where only my heart should have been. I became a slave to my emotions yet again. I thought, OK, I’m up £140, if I put £200 on Kerry, I only lose £60 whatever happens. So I kept in touch with the odds, bided my time. On election day I sat flicking between the BBC, Sky, Fox, CBS, and ITV. I had the studio switched on.. I’m looking at the feasability of all of the stuff we recorded for the potential dvd.. but I just wasn’t getting there. I became glued. I knew all the time that Kerry wasn’t the best possible candidate, that he wasn’t the kind of Jack the Lad that Kennedy and Clinton had managed to pull out of the bag to convince enough of Mid-West and southern ‘god fearing’ hunters to vote for him. He’s obviously a better man than both of those two put together. Which must be very scary if you have republican running in your blood. As I heard one of them say when he was being interviewed in a bar by a BBC tea boy, “Ah din’ trust ‘m”. But that was later.

It was at about 5pm that I decided I’d look to have a bet.. if it felt right. So I kept myself in touch with the odds, just to see whether there was anything going to happen. If you’re on a racecourse, you can sometimes smell a bet going down. Odds will rapidly change over a couple of minutes, and then suddenly you’ll see all the bookies wipe the price off the board. The odds are always written up in chalk, and the bookie has a cloth in his hand to respond to money coming into him by chalking up new odds as the market changes. If he gets a big bet on something, he’ll wipe it off the board for a minute and give you better odds for the rest of the field. To cover his arse.

But there are sometimes moments which sweep a line of bookies like a bomb’s hit them, when a seeming outsider is backed simultaneously along the line, and suddenly the ordinary punters become aware of something shortening drastically in the odds and try to get on it as well. It used to be almost as obvious in the betting offices when I worked in one. (I was 16, and I was on the board chalking the odds up). A lot of times it would be a second favourite that became a hot favourite over a period of minutes.. but quite often it would be a 20/1 shot that ended up at 9/1. The ammount of 9/1 winners was uncanny when compared with 9/1 starters, of which there used to be rarely any. It was like there was some kind of code to be read in it. 9/1, (pronounced 9 to 1). Anyway, before I tangent off and pebble dash the entire last frontier with Kirk, I’ll get to the point…

You have to be able to feel the market, and you have to try to make sure you have all the tools available to you to understand the market with. These days, it’s just a matter of being online and refreshing the page every few minutes… and then every few seconds. At about 6pm GMT, I began to detect a slight movement in the market. Kerry had been static, in fact just mildly drifting at 6/5 all day. Then he went to 5/4. He came back a couple of times on other windows to 6/5, but I was waiting for 5/4 to firm up around the virtual block…. and it did. This collated with the first real news from the exit polls which Fox News were not happy about. The tone of their shrill republicanism was beginning to be toned down to ‘what if?’

That’s all I needed. I jumped in… with my £200 on the nose. The Kerry nose. So now I was a virtual jockey, like everyone else who bets. And I was in there to ride my horse to the most famous victory in western history. So I continued to be glued to the race. I was pleased with myself as Kerry went to 11/10, and then to even money, (1/1), and almost ecstatic as he went odds on, to 10/11. At 4/5 I almost knew he was going to win. Then suddenly, he was at 1/2 and I thought it was all over, done and dusted. There would be a great return for democracy world wide, led by an intelligent articulate man who would doubtless fight for humanity. Brilliant! Brilliant! Fantastic! Mickey Mouse will turn in his grave! Towards 9pm. (4pm in Pennsylvania), Kerry went to 2/5 and the Paddy Power site suddenly said ‘There are no selections available for this event’. Whoops!, I thought, where am I? What did I just refuse to take?.. Just before there were ‘no selections’? Bush was at 7/4! Wow! After he’d been 4/7 or worse, all day.

‘Fuck it’, I thought, ‘I’m not going to do it’… but I kept restoring the page. after about 20 minutes it said, ‘There are no events available’. ‘Mmm’, I thought, ‘pretty definitive’, and I walked away from it. I went out into the fresh night air and thought about the momentous events happening around the planet. I looked up at the milky way, always a source of amusement, and went back inside. I was detached. I looked at the unreality of it coming at me from the screen, and suddenly I too thought, ‘what if?’ I got back online and refreshed the page. What I saw amazed me. Bush was at 5/2! Somehow someone at Paddy Power had calculated that they’d taken too much money on Kerry, and, in the middle of the night, there they were, trying to fish for money for Bush. What was I going to do? I already had Kerry at good odds, now I had the opportunity of backing Bush at even better odds. For those of you who have never had a bet, here’s what I could have done….

I had £200 on Kerry at 5/4, which means that every £4 I’d put down stood to win me £5. So the bet was worth £250, plus my £200 back. A total of £450 for a £200 stake. NOW… Right now, I was being offered Bush at 5/2, which meant that for a £200 stake I could win £500, plus my £200 back. So for a grand total outlay of £200 X 2= £400, I could be assured of getting back either £450, for a Kerry win, or £700 for a Bush win. I couldn’t lose. Obviously, I would lose one of the two stakes, I would lose one of the £200, but whichever candidate won, I’d pick up winnings. If Kerry won, I’d win £50. If Bush won I’d win £300. But then the shredded remnants of some ancient moral code kicked in. I couldn’t back George Bush to earn money. I could do many other questionable things, like back Manchester United to win a game, a very difficult thing to do as a Man City supporter, but I could never go as far as to back George Bush to win anything. George is one of very few humans I would prefer to see dead. WHAM!! BAM! Why is it that he’s always completely surrounded by so much steel, concrete and military? O why O why?

I sat and stared at the screen for a minute or two. Then I thought that I could save my bet on him. I could forgive myself for that. After all, counting the Red Sox bet, I could even it all up by having £20 on Bush at 5/2…. bet total worth £70. That way I could only win on a Kerry victory, but I wouldn’t lose anything.. I would have had a free bet on John Kerry. I decided to do it.

I stayed awake until about 5am, by which time it was plainly obvious that the western world was going to be in the same schtuk it had been in the previous morning. I finally pulled myself off to bed when I finally knew that there wasn’t a hope in hell of seeing anything but a giant pariah across the pond. What a day it had been though.. a wonderful day.. a day full of hope. Will I live to see another?… Regardless, I’ll always be the other side of the line. It’s hard to avoid your birthrite if you’re true to yourself. You can maybe ‘progress’ to a place where you can forget about it for periods of time.. but that’s all.

Thanks for all the input these last couple of days, I guess we’ve all needed to be re-assuring for each other. With regard to the US, it seems to me and many others that there are now 2, if not 3 countries there now. There’s the north east, the west coast, and the middle. And the middle might as well be the middle of Russia or even China. They have about the same mentality. It’s so true, as some of you have said, that ‘liberal’ America appears elitist to blue collar man, and that the Republican Party has used “culturally powerful but content-free issues” to connect to ordinary voters. But there has to be more to it in the age of mass communication. You can’t tell me that the USA can be run on a mandate of ‘content-free’ issues. That’s a virtual admission that knowledge is unnecessary and intelligence is unwanted. That ignorance is to be prized. That the yobs finally win out.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that what you’ve told me is right.. I just find it hard to believe. Very hard. So I’m a loose member of an elite gang of 54 million people who were brushed aside by a bigger ordinary gang of 57 million. Their views entirely discounted. Their hopes entirely prostrated. Winner takes all. Death and ignominy to the loser. There must surely be some licence for a little civil disobedience this time round. 54 million people have been disenfranchised. Entirely disenfranchised. The total population of the average big european country has been disenfranchised. Left out in the cold. Like they didn’t exist. Like they have as much say as they would if they were in a Russian jail. They can’t even think about proportional representation yet because they haven’t even heard of it. There are no shades of grey. There is only black.. and white. How backward. On behalf of everyone, how unimaginative!

But hang on a minute, isn’t this what we’ve got in Rule Britannia? Likely.. in fact more than than likely. In actual fact, it’s virtually the same. And, verily verily, I say unto you, they are related. The one begat the other. They were both alive and well as primitive forms of government in 1776. Practically the only the thing that has developed since is that the enfranchisement has been slightly expanded to include more people. But the systems remain the same. And they’re archaic. ‘First past the post’ is an archaic form of government. It leaves discontent in its wake. It only leaves wounds. And in the act of licking them are born thoughts of a reckoning, and fires that are hard to put out. Such is human progress: when the most progressive giant state disenfranchises 48% of its people. There is nothing to look forward to. You are not part of what’s happening. You have no emotional or practical involvement. You’re chaff in the wind. The reverse wind of NO CHANGE. And you’re angry. There must surely present some opportunities for disruptive civil disobedience. And if they’re not immediately obvious, then surely it’s your duty to go out and find them. That much you have now almost been required to do, just by the sheer size of the insult.

Yours is not to sit on your backside and take it on the chin; surely it’s to get up and give them what for. Short of physical violence, there’s nothing you can’t do. It’ll energise you. Put you back where you were when you were 20. Not that you wanted to be there, but since you ARE there now, you might as well make yourself felt. After all, you’ve been waiting for the opportunity to be this insulted all your life, so go to it. Make those 54 million felt. Like they never were before. Like the whole world is disenfranchised in the same way, because, make no bones about it, it is.

Alaska will be nibbled at, and then secretly thrust into. Fallujah will be slowly flattened. Torture will prevail. The Kyoto Treaty will gather dust. Religious superstition will creep around the earth. Starvation will become a way of life. Execution and assassination will become more widespread. Diseases will be nurtured in test tubes. Invasions will be of the heart and mind. A creeping disease ridden mentality is already assured. A real disenfranchisement of the soul.. of the purpose of community. Joe Stalin will be exonerated, an epitome. Blue collar will rule, and finally see us onto the horns of the prevailing WARMING. The storms of mind and planet. Inter-related. Unbelievable in Ohio, but gathering in Antarctica, and completely at home in Dafur. The prevailing warming. Like the westerly, it’ll ravage.

The London Times today has Blair spouting that Europe “Should not be in denial” and that Europe had better accept that Bush is President for another four years. I totally disagree. That’s exactly what we shouldn’t do. The best thing that Europe as a whole can do is to take anything that comes out of the USA on merit. If it’s for general human benefit, then fair enough. If it isn’t then Europe must be absolutely hard line with it. Otherwise we sink back into pessimism, violence and superstition, and we’re dominated by material power. But I wouldn’t dream of trying to speak for Europe. At least 70% of Europe doesn’t speak my language. Except when I smile or grimace.

So how can we show the Americans what civil disobedience means? As if they didn’t know. First off, by kicking out our own liars. Not that I’ve never lied. It’s just that my lies haven’t killed anyone. As Brits, even those of us living abroad, it’s our duty to get rid of Blair. This is maybe too much to ask in a ‘first past the post’ system such as exists in Britain, but it’s worth a try. It’s much more than worth a try. Apart from a rebellious departure when I was fifteen, when I painted St. Annes On Sea Town Hall with swaztikas and hammers and sickles, I’ve been left of centre all my life. (I was fined £60. A lot of cash in those days)(which made centre page in the Daily Mirror, my first taste of tabloid death). During all of those years I’ve maintained two things. An interest in having a sporting intake of wine, women, song, prose and drugs, and a complete dedication to bringing humans together in concert.

What is it that we want? What is it that we need? How can I faithfully portray humanity in word and deed? Does anything else matter to me? No. That’s it. And I’m still doing everything I always wanted to do. How can I improve my community? Even if it’s now only a virtual community. So many questions, and that’s the biggest. A responsibility even. Only by contributing to passing down direction. Just hints of direction. In my own way. So here’s one.. and it’s out on a limb. Like I say, I’ve been left for as long as I’ve lived, BUT I THINK THAT PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION IS THE ONLY WAY FORWARD.

I realise that at this moment in time, the only opportunity to forward this conclusion is to support the Liberal Democrat Party in GB. I realise that the Lib Dems are a party of a certain elite in their own right, but at least if we contribute to getting them more power, then they, and we, have to live and die by that sword. The sword of proportional representation. What we don’t like, we vote down the list. My head tells me that it’s worth at least one try. As a constitutional progressives, the Labour Party are going nowhere. It’s a virtual dictatorship, as with Bush. And Blair is a pile of puke. At least the LIb Dems are saying ‘You can have more choice than this’. It absolutely cannot be against our religions to go for that. To get further down the road with that. To try to partake. On the positive side, the LIb Dems have been against the current war in Iraq from day one.

I never thought that I could bring myself to espousing this in public, but I think that the whole world is going to be better with proportional representation in place, and the Lib Dems represent the only opportunity to bring this about in the UK for the foreseeable future. The best lesson that Blair can be taught is not one of not voting for him, or for that style of autonomous government, but for actually voting against him. Public service has to be a calling, not a sinecure. It’s only at that point, with that properly understood, that the world will be able to hear everyone, that everyones views will be taken into consideration. That you can communicate a view without it being discarded out of hand, with no response needed.

Blair is obviously a dishonourable man, in the same mould as Alistair Cambell. More so than George Bush. Bush couldn’t possibly be as unintelligent as he appears to be, but in his own mind his honour probably appears to be fairly intact. He’s a man who passionately believes in Father Christmas and that he has been selected to command a mission on behalf of Tony Soprano.. against Alladin, and so naturally, his honour is intact. Blair, on the other hand, is a man who abetted in the fabrication of lies which enabled war between cultures to be declared. A very uncool move. A most dishonourable act. Getting Saladin to reappear in his own worst nightmare. (Saladin was born in Tikrit in 1138). To my brother Arab, I can only apologise. The only mitigating fact I can offer him is to say that we don’t have full democracy yet; that it’s a lie, that, as a ‘civilisation’, we are still steeped in deceptions that are criminal. And that christianity, as a way of life, is deeply mired in contention, ignorance, arrogance and injustice.

I have held these views, and communicated them, for all of my life, and nothing that’s happened in the most recent past has ameliorated them in any way. In fact, I have been further confirmed in them. That I will almost certainly die with these views even further advanced is a sombre reflection upon the world I live in. It’s been a good life, full of fun and games, but a life full of veiled criticism from the establishment, or from anyone and everyone who sees themselves now or in the future as wanting to belong to an establishment that shies away from confronting beliefs which are at best doubtful, and at worst, absolutely loaded with deception.

All my life I’ve had to listen to politicians, with very few exceptions, who spouted a continuum of platitudes and falsehoods. It was easy for me to forgive John Kerry his catholic religion, because he’s American, and an American politician who doesn’t profess god is a non-starter. But he WAS the fitter man. Most of the world outside America could see that. IT WAS GLARING.

As Proposed above, the USA is now 3 countries. The two coasts and the middle; and to all intents and purposes, except in times of real threat, they should come apart, and become three different federations. The coasts should taylor their laws to fit modern life, and try to cut out the middle man. The middle man has them in deep shit. The populations on the coasts can refuse to send men to war on flimsy excuses. They can become international people. They can refuse to use the death penalty. They can block moves by Washington to overpower their legislatures. They can put the ‘Supreme Court’ on hold for the rest of time. …Get real roy.. The Terminator is in the wings…

So what do we have to do as people, as voters, as humans? What can we do? Outside of becoming suicide bombers???? In Europe, the French and German governments have nothing to fear on this issue. They have always been on the right side. Whether by default or by design, it makes no difference. The Spanish had the opportunity to change their goverment. THEY DID JUST THAT. The Hungarians are now pulling their contingent out. The Poles are on the brink. It’s time for the Italians, AND THE BRITISH, TO CHANGE THEIR GOVERNMENTS, AT THE BALLOT BOX, AT THE SOONEST OPPORTUNITY. George Bush has to be isolated. The ignorant portion of his electorate has to be informed that they are part of a global community. A community that now has the US government, and by association, the ‘American People’, on probation. In full view.

You can call me an elitist if you like, but my dying wish would be to be armed with a sabre, and put into a room with Cheney, Wolvovitz, Rumsfelt, Ashcroft, Rice, and half the Fox News staff, and see how many of them I could take out before they did for me. As a dream, that’s pretty far fetched. It’s out there on drugs, and absolutely bound to win me a knighthood, but given the chance… I’d be over that particular line.

I’m angry. I’m fucking angry that our rights can be stripped from us so effortlessly. And purely for money we never had. We no longer have any rights either. We’re careering forward at someone elses whim. My resolution not to write any more of these things lasted for a day. A whole day. But I was kicked and beaten about the world.. and I came to my senses. I guess that I could make one small concession. I could maybe make these essays more brief. Here goes then…


Copyright 2004 Roy Harper