|My arch-nemesis: We meet again, only this time I am prepared for your lies|
I still remember where I was when I realised I was a gambling addict. It wasn't - as members of my family suspect - at the age of 11 when I spunked my entire two-week holiday savings in an amusement arcade on the end on Cromer Pier. I was addicted then for sure, but I didn't know it then.
Cromer Pier, you see, is just about the most boring place on the planet, and combine it watching my dad fishing off the end of said pier, a hobby which I have only ever shown the most grudging of enthusiasm - an eleven year old realises very quickly there are only so many times he can tour the lifeboat station in one day. Turn that one day into an entire week, and you might realise why the flashing lights and the cunka-chunka-chunka of coins coming out of fruit machines lured me in.
My gambling was not a reaction to the needless death of fish. It was a reaction to having money and an illogical need to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
When I'm at my meetings, I sometimes tell the rest of the group the story of my worst ever bet, and the realisation that I might have something going on that was out of the ordinary. I was fifteen, and on my first ever holiday that didn't involve parents or siblings - two weeks playing golf with my grandparents in Northern Ireland. I had somehow failed to appreciate the measures that people had taken to get me there in the first place - I was flown out there, on my own, via the special don't-be-a-terrorist lounge at Heathrow Airport, and given special golf club membership at the local links for the duration of my stay.
The thing is, I had money. Lots of it. Okay, twenty pounds, which was a bloody fortune to a teenager with his bed and board paid. I went straight out and made - simultaneously - my best and worst ever record purchases from a shop in Bangor. New Life by Depeche Mode, along with Wunderbar by Tenpole Tudor. The shopkeep must have thought me mental. But that marked just the start of my self destructive attempts to spend as much as I could in one go.
|Tenpole Tudor: What the hell was I thinking?|
Down on the sea-front was an amusement arcade. For some reason or another (but being Northern Ireland, a furious unforgiving God was probably not far away from the decision-making process), gambling for money was not allowed, but fruit machines were, as long as they were fixed so they would never pay out. You could put money in, but all you could win was more credit, which would sooner or later become exhausted. And play I did, gambling on a game which was biased toward the house by exactly 100%. It was as I repeatedly stabbed the "Spin" button, that I glanced across at the woman at the next machine along, doing exactly the same thing, with a wild look in her eyes. I assume I looked much the same, only fifteen years old, a terrible haircut (95p at Maurice the Mangler of Henley-on-Thames), and with no fashion sense.
Spending all your money on gambling in one sitting is known in the fellowship as "Doing your bollocks", and I done my bollocks that day, and on many occasions since. Doing my bollocks was not just confined to gambling, as I had a bollocks-doing habit that extended to shopping, not least to music and books, which were often never listened to, or never read.
I might point out that as far as I know, nobody else in my family exhibits this self-destructive behaviour. I'm the only person among us who liked to give all their money to fruit machines, Amazon and eBay, and when I didn't have any money, I'd get my ammo from credit cards with impressive-looking credit limits.
Ah. The credit cards. Wish I hadn't done that. You haven't experienced stress until you've tried to balance four maxed-out credit cards, and learning when and where to intercept the postman so that statements never arrived at the house. And working 110 miles from home, that was a feat of organisation of which any sane person would have been proud. Shame I was utterly bonkers, then.
Normal people know when to stop. Normal people know that when you run out of money, that's the end of your money. People with addictions don't have this switch, and you plough straight on through without regard for the damage you're doing, or how you're going to pay for it. You don't just pull yourself together like normal people pull themselves together. You think you're the greatest liar in the world. In fact, you're about as good a liar as you are a gambler.
It took me until 30th August 2007 to stop. It took me five figures of debt and a threat to go to the police. It took irreparable damage to my marriage. Gamblers Anonymous, then, came as a bit of an education.
I had never been one to make friends, or even make contact with other people. All of a sudden, I learned that blokes shook hands with other blokes, and showed them respect in what can only be called a blokey manner. GA involves a lot of shaking of hands and a lot of respect. The average GA meeting might mean you shaking hands at least 30 times, more than the Queen on an average day. Brought up in a not-blokey culture, it taught me a lot about things, the most important of these being the right time and place to unleash the Cockney accent.
Actually, there's a lot of good that comes from our GA meeting. First, there's free tea and biscuits and sometimes cake. Second, it's held in a church, so there's a never-ending supply of hilarious leaflets from obscure religious groups ("Bringing God's word to Britain's motorway service stations") to keep the atheists amused. And third, everybody else in the room has spent as long as you have - if not longer - royally messing up their lives, so you get some sort of camaraderie from being amongst fellow bell-ends. Between us, we have centuries of experience in being the most awful liars and shits. Having been brave enough to admit this, we should be running the country.
Also, it stops you gambling. It stops you being a dick and turns you into a normal people who can carry cash in their wallet without wanting to spend it on no-win fruit machines. And what they call "therapies" I call ten minutes of decent stand-up and a captive audience. The only trouble is everything you say stays in the room, so my reviews are terrible.
I never thought I was any good at gambling, and the compulsive spending never seemed to offer me any sort of fulfilment. It was, in the end, just something I did, and just something I couldn't stop myself from doing.
It has, to be honest, been a right old shitty waste of time. My advice to anybody who is considering a lifetime as a compulsive gambler, is not to be a compulsive gambler.
(If you've been affected by any of the issues in this post, dial 0800 I AM A TWAT)