27 July 2012

A Day At The Races

"Copyright Owen Jones 2012 (c)"

By: Owen Jones

A Day At The RacesHe had been out for a few drinks with friends and went to bed after a quick shower, almost as soon as he had gotten home. It had been a long day, but then it seemed that they were all long days these days and they were getting longer too. Life was becoming a drudge. Something had to change, he thought, but he thought that almost every night as he sat half-drunk on a bar stool or lay in bed afterwards.

He had been abroad for the last few years and living back home was just not the same any more. He was not the same man as before he had left and his friends and family had changed in the meantime too. It was the way of life - change.

Being half-cut was the only way he could get to sleep these days and it was the only way he could deal with life after work. Sleep came fairly quickly this evening and he was soon dreaming, which was something he had done all his life - all fifty years of it. He could usually remember his dreams too, at least for a few hours. He liked dreaming, because his dreams were usually of a comical nature. Stories; funny stories, in which he sometimes played a role, but usually did not.

This was diametrically opposed to his day dreams which were more like day nightmares. He could not see a good future in front of him in his day dreams. He much preferred his real dreams, his night dreams, but the irony was that he had difficulty getting to sleep and just as many problems staying asleep. Four or five hours a night seemed to be enough for him, although he had read that this was a bad sign. Doctors and psychiatrists were sure that people needed their sleep and about eight hours of it.

During his dream about a village in India, he heard a mobile phone ring. He recognized the tone, but being Nokia's standard tone, he hoped it was someone else's. He knew it wasn't though. It was his. He woke up, glanced at the clock - it was one o'clock - and answered the call.

"Hello, Mike here", said the voice. "Are you going to the races tomorrow? Did you remember about them? No? I knew that because I asked down the club last night, so I booked you in. Just be there by 8 am. See you there. Good night, sorry if I disturbed you, but it'll be great to meet up again and have a flutter on the gee-gees".

He set the alarm clock and went back to sleep, happy to have heard from his old friend Mike again.

Mike was a friend from school. They had shared a flat and gone on holiday together and they had been to dozens of concerts and festivals too over the last thirty years. It was just that they had gone their separate ways; drifted apart, he felt over the last few years.

They had been to the races with the club once a year at least a dozen times, so he knew the procedure, but he hadn't been himself for a couple of years because it had become boring. It would be nice to go to the races with Mike again. It would make a nice change. Mike was a happy sort of bloke and more of a brother to him than a friend.

Mike was the sort of guy who drank too much, but no-one noticed until he went over the top and fell asleep. He loved the horses or gee-gees as he called them. In fact, the last few times that he had seen Mike he was drinking less but spending all his money on the gee-gees. He had also switched from drinking beer to carrying a half-bottle of Scotch in his inside jacket pocket, which he nipped from time to time during conversations.

He got up in a good mood, showered, made a few sandwiches and called a taxi. He was outside the club ten minutes later. Three tour buses stood waiting outside and people were making their way into the club. However, it was only eight o' clock and they wouldn't set off until nine. He also needed some more money. A hundred should do it. He always lost at the races, so he budgeted for a fiver a race. At six races a meeting, that meant thirty quid and a bit for off-course betting, so he would be left with fifty quid to drink.

After going to the ATM, he entered the club. He went straight to the bar and got talking with various friends and acquaintances, all of whom were excited to be going on the annual trip. He wondered why he had missed the last two years, because he was already getting caught up in the atmosphere and loving it. He had to buy another pint before he could leave the bar and look for Mike, who would be sitting somewhere with a warm pint of beer, a cigarette, a newspaper turned to the racing pages and a biro in his hand, studying form.

Yes, true to form himself, Mike was at the back of the club, sitting alone with all his afore-mentioned gear watching him walking towards him. Mike had obviously spotted him first.

"Hello, Mike! How are you doing, mate? I'm really glad you thought of me and got me a seat on the bus".

Mike smiled and nodded hello, "We haven't seen each other for a chat for so long. I have seen you about, but could not make you hear me. You are keeping well though, eh? All things considered, eh? I know that things have been a bit rough over the last two or three years, but don't let it get you down, eh? You have friends and two years is nothing in eternity, is it?"

"Yes, nor is the two minutes it takes you to drown, but it's still not nice. Let me get you a half to refresh your pint".

"No, it's OK, mate, drinking does not seem so important to me any more. I just get on with life now and wanted to know that you are doing the same. I'll have a few drinks on the bus and at the races though for old times' sake".

They spent the next hour talking about the form of the horses that would be racing at the meeting they were going to at Hereford later on. He knew about form, because Mike had been teaching him about it off and on for years, but he never got tired of listening to his friend holding forth enthusiastically about it. He knew that at the end of the day though, he would lose money and that Mike would win.

This was due to his own stubbornness and the fact that Mike betted frequently off-course, because he could not wait the thirty minutes between races. He was a real, truly hooked, gambler on the gee-gees. It was Mike's life though and he just liked to see him happy?

When they were called to board the bus, they finished their beers, grabbed their gear and went outside to be allotted seats. Mike and he always tried, and were nearly always successful at, getting seats either on the rear bench seat or on the next two smaller seats. If you sat there it was possible to play cards during the three hour drive to Hereford.

It was a great club, because if you were a member 'in good standing', you had the cost of the trip reimbursed to you. Otherwise, you just got free sandwiches and a free six-pack of your choice: lager or beer.

Mike had even had an 'I'-shaped table made many years ago that they still used on trips now. It fitted over the laps of those sitting in the middle of the back seat and the laps of those sitting in the aisle seats in front. They couldn't both get a seat at the table, but Mike let him go first, saying that they would swap over later.

He was winning fifty-five pounds during the first half of the trip, so Mike said that he did not have the heart to take his turn. In fact, he always won at cards going to the races - three-card brag, normally - but he always lost it on the horses. There was no card-playing on the way back as most people were either too drunk, singing or sleeping.

Mike seemed to be asleep already or staring out of the window. He left his friend to his reverie, happy to be playing the game that he had missed so much over the last couple of years.

He was a reasonably clever man, but he cared too much what other people thought of him. He was too sensitive, his friends had told him many, many times over the years. It was also Mike's opinion. "Sod, 'em", Mike used to say, "We are as good as they are, so who cares what they say".

The problem was that he did care what they said, even though no-one could say anything very bad about him. He knew that he was too sensitive to criticism, but he was that way and didn't know how to get out of the rut. His life had become miserable and if not exactly sinking, he was certainly taking on water from time to time.

When they arrived at Hereford, the same thing happened as happened every year: put the last can in your pocket, finish the sandwiches quickly to stave off the inevitable drunkenness by an hour or two, wish everyone good luck and get down to the track as soon as possible. He and Mike did the same, but were the first inside the course.

Mike had already made his preliminary selections for each race, but needed to check the prices constantly, so they walked up and down to see which bookie was giving the best odds and whether the odds were rising or falling. This is how the next three hours would go - he knew that and he also knew that he could only put up with it for an hour or so. Then he would retire to the bar and wait for his friend.

The day passed and he got drunk, as did most people. Mike stayed fairly sober by the look of him, which was out of character and he won, which was in character, at least at live races. When they were called to the bus, most people went gladly, hoping to get home before the club shut.

That was the first of the two things that everyone who went on the club outing was 'honour-bound' to do: keep drinking until the pubs closed and go down to the club the next day, hangover or not.

When they got back to the club, there was an hour to spare before closing time and everyone rejoiced, commiserated or said that they had had such a good day that losing a few quid did not matter. And that was the truth. Very few people blew more than they could afford to lose; most people had a lovely day.

At midnight, Mike took him outside and called him a taxi: "You probably won't see me tomorrow, the state you're in", Mike said, "but I'll be around. Call me whenever you want. Good night".

The following day, he woke up with only a slight hangover, but that was how it always went with him. It would get worse as the day progressed unless he did something about it, so he made some toast, took a shower, brushed his teeth and called a taxi for the club.

He walked in, went straight to the bar and ordered a pint. The so-called hair of the dog that bit you.

"Wow", said one friend, "I'm surprised you made it today. You must have had help. You were totally gone yesterday. D'you have a good time at the races?"

"Yeah, sure", he muttered, thinking that he wasn't the only one who had been drunk the day before.

He left the bar and looked around for Mike.

One of his friends, Steve, came up and said: "I have never seen you like that before. Honest to God! You were really out of it. Are you all right today?"

"Sure, have you seen Mike? The guy I was sitting with yesterday at the races and here?"

"You were alone all day. Everyone was too scared to talk to you because you were muttering to yourself all day like some crazy guy. Some of us were really worried, but we didn't know what to do. I'm glad you're out today and OK".

He could not understand: "Mike! I was with Mike all day except an hour or so when I sat at the bar alone. Have you seen him? Is he in yet? He wasn't too bad yesterday, because he put me in a taxi".

"You were alone all day, talking to yourself. Honest. Which Mike do you mean? You were not with a Mike or anyone else for that matter. You looked like a complete nutter. Sorry to tell you".

"Mike! My friend Mike from school! You know him! You plonker!"

Steve's expression changed: "Mike died two years ago. Sorry, I thought you knew. I know that you were away, but ... Didn't anyone tell you? Sorry, but you couldn't have been with Mike".

by Owen Jones

Source: http://behind-the-smile.org/wordpress/
Owen Jones is a writer and self-publisher of a novel ('Behind The Smile ~ The Story of Lek, A Bar Girl In Pattaya'), 100+ ebooks, 150 web sites and well over 1,000 articles.

This story may not be copied in any way without the written permission of it's author, Owen Jones, but you may link to it, if you so desire.