I just noticed the name Harold badger who was a jockey in the 30s and 40's in Melbourne, in your story.
I've got a funny one to tell you. Well it's sort of funny. My old man told me how he went to visit an old bloke back in the late 30's. My old mans mate was dying so dad went to pay his last respects.
When he walked into the old blokes bedroom, his family were standing around the bed. The old bloke spotted my dad and weakly motioned to him to come closer. My father did and bent down to his old mate who was trying to tell my dad something.
My dads mate said, can you do something for me mate. My dad said, anything at all . My dads mate said, can you tell what Badger is riding today. And with that, breathed his last.
Now THAT'S a punter.
SPOONEY, I just noticed the name Harold badger who was a jockey in the 30s and 40's in Melbourne, in your story. I've got a funny one to tell you. Well it's sort of funny. My old man told me how he went to visit an old bloke back in the late 30's. My
Nice LTF, if it was me it'd probably be "what's Lisa Cropp riding today"
AS FOR THIS.............
I haven't read War and Peace yet. And judging by the size of the book, and my advanced years, I'll never live long enough to sit down and read it. HOWEVER, I am usually on Betfair most days at one time or another.
I have news for you..........It may not be bound in leather but from what I can see....
...............you're reading it already! :cool:]
Hi Chante, no, fence sitting by then but always good to see a good one recapture some glory. And for
the faithful such as yourself [;)] Hope you are punting well.
And to the roller of logs, get back in here, it's a jungle out there!
shrewdly enough, the Roberts home itself.
Next afternoon, the treasurer of the football club of which Jim was secretary called with the club’s books and cheque book. The treasurer explained that he was leaving the district in the course of his employment; there was seven pounds in the bank to meet a few small outstanding accounts. Like most small sporting clubs in Australia, its affairs were conducted in a free-and-easy, informal manner. So Jim accepted the arrangement and agreed to hand in the treasurer’s resignation at the annual general meeting. Jim and the treasurer had been empowered to sign cheques; the treasurer signed a few blanks. When he had gone, Jim stood gazing at the cheque book in his hand. If Pittson called the next Friday and didn’t get paid, there would be a scene. Mum and Dad would learn of his predicament.
They mustn’t find out!
Next morning, Jim withdrew four pounds from the football club’s bank account. He felt nervous and fearful, like a forger committing his first offence.
Later that day, he found Pittson at the hotel. Pittson accepted the money with a mixture of surprise and cringing affability.
The full implication of what he had done soon struck Jim; again came the sense of guilt and the trance-like feeling of living apart, of being addicted to strange habits that sealed him off from other men. The split in his personality became stronger and hacked at his character; his only interest was his inner worry, yet he tried to hide it behind a feigned interest in the affairs of other people.
Occasionally he tried to draw, but could not put his mind to it. At the billiard-room, he yarned and skylarked the more because he did so to hide his anguish. At home he tried to act normally, recalling that melancholy moping had previously aroused his mother’s suspicions. He succeeded only in getting on people’s nerves with thoughtless remarks and excessive jesting.
He lost all sense of time until the arrival of the football club’s accounts reminded him it was the end of the month. Almost seven pounds’ worth of accounts, and only three pounds to pay some of them with. He could use the three quid to pay some of them, but what was the use of that? As bad to have stolen four quid as seven.
Of course, like all men who misappropriate money with which to gamble – and that is the purpose of the great majority of cases in Australia – Jim did not view his actions as stealing. He had borrowed the money with every intention of paying it back; indeed, his action was largely involuntary, he had little control over it.
If he paid only three pounds of the accounts, a discrepancy would remain. If he were found out, his whole life would be ruined; he would lose his friends at the football club, he would lose his mother’s respect and Kathie’s love.
So, on Friday evening, as he studied the racing form for his coupons, he told himself that the only logical next step was to draw out the remaining three pounds and bet with them, turn them into seven. That shouldn’t be hard to do – only slightly better than doubling your money! This way he could fix everything up. He did not plan to spend the money on himself. But he did obtain the personal advantage of the gambler’s elated expectancy as he strolled up to the hotel, fingering three new pound notes in his pocket and carrying the form guides.
He decided to bet cautiously. He put fifteen shillings on a horse in the first race at odds of four to one. Standing near the radio waiting for the race to start, he told himself he should have invested more, at least enough to win the needed four pounds in one throw. No, he must wait. If he bet too heavily early in the day he would perhaps go broke before he selected a winner. The horse won. He regretted his prudence but soon put regret behind him in the excitement of the struggle to select further winners.
But luck deserted him, and he had only five shillings left after the second last race. He studied the form guide, looking for a long shot with a chance; no use to back anything else but a twenty to one pop now. His decisiveness had deserted him. He could not make up his mind. Finally, he bet on an outsider, but he was not hopeful, not even desperate. It couldn’t win, he told himself, he was too unlucky. However, hope revived when the announcer called the horse out in front after the field had traversed two furlongs of the mile journey. It still led approaching the straight entrance; the next call would indicate his fate.
“The leader has stopped to a walk,” the commentator shouted. “Several horses have swept past.”
That evening Jim returned to the Royal Oak and sat in the billiard-room. A mixed crew of local men and strangers were playing snooker. He noticed the stakes were higher than usual. The strangers were well dressed and seemed well heeled with money. If he had even a few bob, he could join the school and maybe win good money – perhaps even the seven quid he needed so badly.
Suddenly, he needed more than anything else in the whole world, to feel in his hands the smooth stem of a billiard cue. If only he had even two bob for a stake.
Jim approached Harry Walton: “Have you got a coupla bob?”
“If I had two bob, I’d go for a trip round the world,” Harry answered ruefully.
Jim steeled himself to ask the marker, a big man formerly a champion footballer, for a loan. The marker declined politely. He’d long ago stopped lending money to unemployed customers. Jim felt ashamed, was sure all had noticed the soft-spoken rebuff. All he wanted was a couple of lousy shillings!
Suddenly, for no reason he could fathom, he recalled the night his father had taken the money from the jar on the kitchen dresser. His father had won that night!
Without deciding to do so, he was on his way home. Gerald was working, he told himself, a good job in the metal trades. And Gerry was paying in nearly all his wages. There might be money in the jar. He could play with it, win and return it – like his father had done years before. Jim told me afterwards that he was in a kind of trance. He walked softly down the side path and tiptoed on to the back verandah. The kitchen was in darkness. A strip of light showed under the living-room door. Reaching the kitchen dresser, he struck a match. The sound seemed to be magnified. They would hear him inside…………………
He picked up the jar. It contained a few coins. He fumbled, trying to unscrew yhe lid. The match burned his fingers and he flung it aside. He opened the jar and poured the coins into the palm of his left hand.
At that moment, the living-room door opened and Gerald Roberts came through.
“Who’s there?” he called
“It’s me, Jim.”
Gerald was on his way to get some wood from the box under the table on the back verandah. He needed the kitchen light to see what he was doing. Completely unsuspicious, he threw the switch.
Jim stood immobile, the jar in one hand, the coins in the other.
Comprehending, Gerald gazed in unbelief.
Nice LTF, if it was me it'd probably be "what's Lisa Cropp riding today" AS FOR THIS.............I haven't read War and Peace yet. And judging by the size of the book, and my advanced years, I'll never live long enough to sit down and read it.HOWEVER
well done here spoon ... ive heard of but never read the book ... i missed the thread last year when it started ... but i picked it up this time in ... and have caught up on the chapters now ... a tragic but interesting read ... well done again
well done here spoon ... ive heard of but never read the book ... i missed the thread last year when it started ... but i picked it up this time in ... and have caught up on the chapters now ... a tragic but interesting read ... well done again
Firstly,LTF, apologies for the misunderstanding.... now that I see...Isablackmantoo .
How do I gitsme one a dem personal avatars?
And how do I put a fancy pitcher on here?
Tx to TBas
nice to see Loggy
and the miserable old Mopey aka calimero , still stalking the halls aside the forum loooon, DA.
a good day to you too
Comprehending, Gerald gazed in unbelief.
“What are you doing?” he asked, not in anger but in shocked amazement.
“Just going to have a game of snooker,” was all Jim could think to say.
“With Mum’s money?” Gerald said. An anguished frown crossed his face.
“Hell, Jim, what are you thinking about!”
Jim replaced the coins in the jar and screwed the lid on. He was so ashamed he couldn’t speak. Gerald seemed unable to believe the evidence of his own eyes. He had always looked up to his brother. Jim had always been good to him, had always led him. Jim couldn’t do a thing like this…… “I’m workin’ and I can’t afford to play snooker,” Gerald found himself saying. Suddenly, he understood what had happened to Jim, and felt sorry for him. He took two shillings from his pocket, his last, and offered it to Jim. “Here. Here’s two bob. I know what it’s like to be out of work and broke all the time.”
Jim took the coin and walked across the verandah. He turned and looked at Gerald. He wanted to beg Gerry not to tell his mother.
Impulsively, Gerald stepped to Jim’s side and pressed his arm in the half light.
“I’ll never tell a soul, Jim. But you’ve got to wake up to yourself.”
Without replying, Jim turned and disappeared into the black night.
Back at the billiard-room he joined a two-shilling snooker pool. I can eat these mugs, he tried to tell himself as the marbles were being distributed, but his hands were trembling. He missed several easy shots. His superior skill kept him near the top of the pool until the red balls were disposed of, but shame plagued his mind and he could not concentrate. He managed to get on the pink and black with two other players. He needed both balls to win. Momentarily, the tense atmosphere of the game gripped him. He strove to concentrate on a long pot. The pink ball moved slowly into the jaw of the open pocket. It jammed, but fell in. But he had mulled the positioning of the white ball, leaving himself a difficult shot on the black. He cued carefully. The black ball went straight as an arrow into a centre pocket – but the white ball went just as straight in – off into a corner pocket. His money and his chances of winning several pools gone, he went home. That night, shame kept him wakeful. In the days that followed, Gerald made no reference to the incident. Jim soon buried his self-contempt deep inside himself.
And worry about the discrepancy in the football club funds again seized his mind…………..
Ten days in the jail hospital. X-rays of my stomach. The diagnosis supports the view of my own doctor years ago. I haven’t an ulcer but a recurrence of the former acidity and a tendency towards ulceration.
The spell at the hospital would have been restful and pleasant enough but for two drawbacks. I dared not work on the book in hospital for fear of detection, and was impatient to return to my cell where I could write in relative safety. And the hospital was “full of cats”, as the crims say; a large percentage of its staff were flaunting homosexuals. The prisoners call the head orderly” Mother Superior “. Several members of the staff appeared to object not at all to being called female names. One of the most sordid and scandalous features of life here is the frightening incidence of homosexuality, real and incipient. As one prisoner (a safe cracker but quite an intelligent chap who sometimes helps me in the library) put it, the prisoners can be divided roughly into three categories. First offenders and “knockabout men” (semi-criminals who come here at infrequent intervals); hardened criminals; and, thirdly, “poofters” homosexuals. My own observations indicate that this is more over-simplification than mis-statement. The third category, my informant claimed, the poofters’ are of three varieties. Men imprisoned for sexual offences; hardened criminals and, less often, “knock-about men” who are sexually normal outside but turn homosexual inside when serving long sentences; and thirdly, effeminate types here for various crimes not resulting from sexual abnormality.
If decent citizens knew the revolting sexual abnormality practised in the jail they would tear down the jails and reform the prison system. When you add this vile nauseating feature of our prison life to the other excesses, you have a situation which could not be toleratedin any society claiming to be civilized.
Each cat has her female name: Amber, Maude, Rosie, The Alabama girl, Lana Turner and so on. Each has her favourite boy friends, who compete for her favours. They colour their hair with peroxide stolen from the hospital or with dye stolen from the mill where blankets are made. They borrow books from the library and use the colour off the covers for rouge and lipstick. They tend to congregate at one side of the exercise yard which has become known as “tailboard alley”.
Much has been written in recent years, especially in England, tending to condone homosexuality. I reject such reasoning; perhaps such people are more to be pitied than blamed, but they are mentally crooked and a symptom of the decay of a society. My reading indicates that rampant homosexuality was one sign presaging the fall of powerful states like the Roman Empire and Nazi Germany. Let proud England ponder on history. Let our own Australia beware that sexual abnormality is beginning to flourish.
Fortunately, cats are rare in “A” Division, among the first offenders.
I am glad to be back in my clean cell with Jim and the book.
Firstly,LTF, apologies for the misunderstanding.... now that I see...Isablackmantoo . How do I gitsme one a dem personal avatars?And how do I put a fancy pitcher on here? Tx to TBasnice to see Loggyand the miserable old Mopey aka calimero , still sta
I am glad to be back in my clean cell with Jim and the book.
In the days and long nights that followed, Jim’s worries developed into a fixation on two buildings – the Roman Catholic Church and a chemist’s shop in High Street. He was attracted yet repelled by the church, and repelled yet attracted by the chemist’s shop.
He was attracted to the idea of seeking relief in the confessional. On the following Saturday evening he walked through the slum streets to the grand brick church which rose above the squalid suburb as if in mockery, but he could not bring himself to enter. Standing there in the shadows of the porch he pondered. If he confessed, his soul might be at rest, but still the terrible dread must remain, and the danger of detection. He could not accept confession of his sin as saving his soul; one so young does not consider the prospect of death. He decided to walk up to the billiard-room and, if the church lights were still alight as he passed coming home, indicating that confessions were still being heard, he would go in then. He must have time to think, if indeed that faculty remained to him. He stayed late at the billiard-room, and to his relief, the church lights had gone out meanwhile. He repeated this strange performance the next Saturday evening and on the third Saturday again – except that this time the church lights were alight upon his return; but still he could not drag himself into the holy place.
It was the opposite with the chemist’s shop: he dreaded the thought of passing it, yet found his steps straying there as if he were under some mysterious compulsion, like a murderer returning to the scene of his crime.
The chemist’s shop was owned by Mr. John Martin – and Mr. Martin was president of the football club. Jim Roberts knew that Mr Martin had given the club’s order for sporting goods to firms in which his friends worked in high positions. Consequently, Jim feared that Mr. Martin would soon learn about the non-payment of accounts. Sometimes Jim would cross the street, even walk around the block, to avoid passing the shop door. At other times, he would find himself passing it as if attracted there by some unknown power.
At home, he continued to wear an unconvincing mask of unconcern. His father was now in work, as well as Gerald, but Jim could not share the relief and renewed contentment of the family, he could only try to feign it. At the billiard-room, he tried to forget the anguish that had made his heart sick but it nagged at him even there. Only with Kathleen could he purge it from his soul. Their romance was flourishing in spite of Jim’s lack of financial prospects, for young love can flourish under any conditions. Kathie’s mother favoured the match. She liked Jim and he was a fellow Catholic. But she had two reservations; one conscious, the other subconscious. Consciously she was concerned about Jim’s impecunious circumstances, and could not herself afford to help the lovers financially. She had held high hopes for a marriage befitting Kathie’s beauty and charm, but so long as Kathie was happy…. Subconsciously, she was loath to part with her only daughter. She held a possessive love for Kathie and developed a strange jealousy towards Jim. Nevertheless, she and Jim got along well enough. She had met Cissie and Tom Roberts on a few occasions, and it was agreed that the wedding would take place when Kathie turned twenty-one and Jim found regular employment.
When Kathie came to the Roberts’s home on a Sunday evening everyone made a fuss of her. Hers was a charming personality, quite effervescent at times; she was beautiful, wore little make up and didn’t put on airs.
Cissie Roberts and Kathie’s mother had decided independently to allow the lovers to be alone as rarely as possible, but Jim and Kathie went for occasional walks to the Botanical Gardens now that Jim could not afford the cinema.
All but the most prudish will understand the dilemma of young lovers. Jim loved Kathie with all the romantic feelings of youth and, grown to full virility, could scarce conquer his desire for her. Kathleen worshipped the very name of Jim Roberts, loved him with that single-minded devotion of which only women are capable and, when alone with him in the park, wished to give herself to him but dared not.
One Saturday night, as they lay in the park making love, Kathie well wrapped up in Jim’s old overcoat, and Jim with his love to keep him warm Kathie felt herself losing control, and Jim, finding forgetfulness in her arms, was gripped by an irresistible desire to consummate their love. While they kissed, he unbuttoned her dress and cupped a soft, round breast in his hand. She made no attempt to prevent him, as she usually did, but writhed her warm, vital body harder against him. Soon, his right hand rested on her thigh while still they kissed in the ecstasy of passion that only the young can know.
“I love you Kathie.”
“Oh, I love you, Jim; I will love you forever.”
“I want you, Kathie.”
She made no reply and again they kissed. Jim touched her. She melted around him. He was aware only of the passion, of the immensity of his emotions.
And there amid the unseen beauty of the lovely garden they knew each other and cared not what the world might say. Who shall be the first to accuse or blame them?
At last, they arose and walked with the gait of lovers, Jim’s arm around Kathie, her head nestling in his arm-pit, her hair brushing against his cheek.
Reaching High Street, they were content to stroll slowly hand in hand without speaking. Suddenly, as they reached a tram stop, Jim stood still and clutched Kathie’s hand more tightly.
Mr. Martin, the chemist, had stepped off a tram with his wife at his arm.
Martin was well rugged up against the cold; he wore a long grey overcoat, leather gloves and a homburg hat. At first, he did not see Jim. Martin was president or patron of a number of sporting and fraternal clubs in the district- mainly for business reasons. He cheered Jim on the football field, but, under other circumstances, kept their relationship strictly formal, with Jim on the patronized end of it.
Martin steered his wife to the kerb. He was a tall man of about fifty years, with clear-cut features and a sharp, grey moustache; his wife was about the same age, an attractive woman but showing the years more than her husband.
Jim Roberts moved back towards the corner of the street. Kathie followed, puzzled at his behaviour. At that moment Martin saw Jim. “Oh, Jim,” he called. “I want to see you. Call into the shop tomorrow.”
“Er. Yes. Righto, Mr Martin,” Jim managed to stammer. When the Martins passed out of earshot, Kathie said; “Anyone would think Mr. Martin was going to bite you,” And she bit Jim gently on the lobe of his right ear. . Next afternoon, as Jim entered Martin’s chemist shop, he looked back over his shoulder, up the street and then down. He couldn’t have said why he did so.
Inside the shop, he could see his reflection in several places from several angles, in mirrors and the mirror-backs of show cases. His face held a haunted expression. There were three customers waiting before him. This brought him a little relief at first, then a fear that Martin might mention the football club funds in their presence.
Martin, neat and white-coated, came from behind the back showcase, which divided the shop from the small dispensary beyond. He tore a strip of brown paper from a roll on the counter and began to wrap a bottle of medicine in it. Noticing Jim he said: “I won’t be long, Jim. I just have a couple of prescriptions to wrap.”
When at last the customers had left, Martin said: “Come round, Jim. Through that door there.” Jim did as he was bid. The door clattered against his heels as it came back suddenly on its small round spring. He stood near a sinkful of dirty medicine bottles, mortars and pestles, between the two counters which made up the dispensary. He was aware of medicine bottles of various shapes and sizes along each wall. Of a sickening smell like ether – and of Mr Martin, crouched over a huge book, writing briskly.
Presently Martin looked up. “Are you still out of work, Jim?”
What’s he want to know that for? Jim asked himself.
He was leaning with a hand on each counter, panting for breath but managed to say: “Yes, Mr Martin. I got a day’s gardening next week, but, er………”
“Well, I think I can get you some temporary work at good remuneration…….”
Jim was aware of a great surge of relief which enabled him to straighten up and stand naturally. His mind took in the meaning of Martin’s words: a German firm in Melbourne was buying elm leaves at so much per chaff bag. They had permission from the local council to gather leaves. There was a long grove of elm trees down by the river. Jim could see the firm and gather the leaves; perhaps he knew someone who would help him. Martin concluded by giving the firm’s address.
“Righto, Mr. Martin,” Jim said, more relieved than excited. “Thanks very much. I’ll get my mate, Harry Walton, to help me………We’ll start tomorrow morning.”
He turned and grabbed the handle of the door. He had an urge to flee from the place.
“Just before you go, Jim.”
Jim stopped in his tracks. “Yes, Mr. Martin.”
“How are the football club’s accounts?”
So he did want to see me about them after all!
“It’s not my fault, Mr Martin. You see, the treasurer just brought the books and left the district………..”
“Surely there’s not a discrepancy?”
“Oh, no. Not that. The money’s there, but I just haven’t had time to send the cheques out. Just a few small accounts…… about seven quid.”
“It’s just that a friend of mine from the Melbourne Sports Depot says there has been an amount of four pounds outstanding for some months. You’d better pay it, Jim.”
“Yes, Mr Martin, right away. I’ll pay every account, right away.”
I am glad to be back in my clean cell with Jim and the book. 18In the days and long nights that followed, Jim’s worries developed into a fixation on two buildings – the Roman Catholic Church and a chem
“Yes, Mr Martin, right away. I’ll pay every account, right away.”
We had an exciting diversion today. A prisoner climbed up the inside of a newly built chimney in the boiler shop. He stood precariously on the chimney top and attracted the attention of passers-by. Soon he was addressing a large crowd. Newspaper reporters and photographers were on the scene. The story goes that he had been refused permission to see his lawyer. From his high vantage point, he shouted to the warders that he would not come down until his legal adviser was summoned.
While about it, he harangued the crowd outside about the prisoners’ manifold grievances. Apparently of a poetic turn of mind, he broke into rhyme at times to inform the people that “Rook, the cook, is a crook” and so on.
He remained on the chimney from early morning until darkness approached, in turn singing and waving to the people in the street below, abusing the warders, demanding to see his lawyer and detailing the many and varied short-comings of the jail.
At last, his lawyer came and persuaded him to come down. He is quite a hero here tonight but he will be punished severely.
An afternoon newspaper has been smuggled into the jail. It carries the story with photographs – but no reference to the grievances which the crim repeated all day.
Jim Roberts and Harry Walton went to work with a will, gathering up elm leaves at piece rates. The firm who wanted the leaves supplied them with chaff bags. Jim told me he could not remember years afterwards how much per bag they were paid but they each earned five pounds in the first three days. Soon he’d have enough to pay the football club accounts and money to spare. Indeed, he and Harry hoped to make twenty pounds each before supplies of leaves ran out. To postpone that fatal day, they occasionally stuffed grass and limbs of hedges into the bottom of a bag under the elm leaves. They didn’t know what the firm wanted the elm leaves for- and they didn’t care.
When they met at the tram stop on the fourth morning, a Friday, Harry Walton handed Jim a newspaper. “Have you seen this?” he asked glumly.
The newspaper announced that the government was investigating a German firm which was buying elm leaves. The article hinted that the government was considering ending the firm’s operations. On the tram, Jim and Harry discussed the press announcement. Arriving at their source of supply, they decided to gather no more leaves until the position was clarified. And they must take the bags of leaves to the city, and get their money before it was too late! They succeeded in borrowing a truck which they loaded high with full chaff bags. Harry Walton drove to the city while Jim sat on the back to watch that the load didn’t slip.
They entered a Flinders Lane warehouse. After some delay, they were granted an interview. The firm had temporarily ceased operation, they were told, but the position would be cleared up in a few days. Meanwhile they should continue to gather leaves.
“But what guarantee have we got that we’ll get paid if you go out of business?” Jim demanded frankly.
They would get paid they were assured.
“Well, we’ve got a truckload outside; pay us for that now.”
With some reluctance the accountant paid them five pounds each.
When the truck was unloaded they returned home debating the wisdom of continuing work. No use working their guts out on the off-chance of getting paid, they decided.
Within a week, the press announced that the firm had been close down. Either the leaves had been intended for manufacturing in Germany some valuable war material, Jim told me, or some ersatz product to compete with British goods on the world market. *
*This story seemed incredible to me but, after my release, I checked the newspaper files of the day and found that such a firm had existed.
Jim had five pounds. He insisted on giving Cissie one pound. With the balance he intended to pay the Melbourne Sports Depot account.
Lying awake that Friday night, he found his worry about the football club funds receding from his consciousness. He could pay only the most pressing accounts. Then he would be back where he started from, with some accounts still unpaid. Prospects for next day’s Flemington race meeting came into his mind.
In the frosty early hours, he crept from bed and lit the candle which stood on the window-sill. The candle was held in its improvised bottle-candlestick by newspaper by newspaper and hardened stalactites of wax. Shielding the candle with his left hand, he went to the living-room. There he found the racing papers where his father had left them on the old cane chair near the fireplace. Returning to bed he studied the fields, marking two horses in each race. Daylight was near before his labours were completed. He returned the papers, all but the one he had marked, to his father’s chair and went back to bed.
His heart beat pleasantly fast and a melody tinkled in the pit of his stomach. He would go to the Royal Oak again and win enough to pay all the football club accounts with money to spare. If he couldn’t get work, then he’d make money without working. If the world was against him, he’d fight the world on his own. If the world sought to prevent him getting an art course, he would win enough money to pay for one – and he’d win enough to get married, into the bargain.
He fell into a feverish sleep in which he dreamed that a bookmaker was giving him handfuls of money; afterwards someone asked him what he had won it on, and he answered in his dream “Ticino”.
When he awoke the late sun was peeping into the room. In its light he studied the form guide again. He hadn’t noticed Ticino’s name among the bottom weights in the first race – but there it was. The first horse he had ever backed. He looked up its recent performances and, though now an aged horse and contesting hurdle races, it had raced well in two starts since a spell.
“Yes, Mr Martin, right away. I’ll pay every account, right away.” *We had an exciting diversion today. A prisoner climbed up the inside of a newly buil
horse and contesting hurdle races, it had raced well in two starts since a spell.
Punters have often dreamed the winner of an important race, have actually seen in their dream the horses passing the post, the colours and saddle cloth number of the winner clearly visible.
Psychiatrists readily explain this phenomena. If a person fills his mind with the names, colours and numbers of horses and gives over his being to the gambling habit, an occasional dream about horse-racing is a most natural result. Experience shows, however, that the punter usually dreams about a horse which he would have backed anyway, and that a dream horse rarely wins in a real-life race. A punter who dreams a loser tells no-one; a punter who dreams a winner tells everyone who will listen to him.
The clock dawdled for Jim that Saturday morning. He would not eat the stew his mother served for lunch, not only because he was tired of stew but because excitement had quite robbed him of his appetite. And he was excited because the decision to gamble the four pounds had crept on him unawares during the night. His dream about Ticino made the decision acceptable, confirmed it. Half an hour before the first race, he was on his way to the Royal Oak Hotel, clutching four one pound notes in his trouser pocket.
Why did he do it? Was it because he could not pay all the accounts, replace all the money, and so might still get into trouble? Because the urge to gamble was uncontrollable? Or because the fascination of gambling becomes uncontrollable when the consequences of failure are most dreadful? Jim told me that these were all part of his decision, but he reached it, he assured me, on the basis of the fantastic optimism of the gambler.
His mind was clear and his judgement cool as he walked into the billiard-room. Pittson, his usual nervous, predatory self, handed Jim the market for the first race, the list of prices which all SP bookmakers received from an illegal agency. In those days only the overnight prices were obtainable but, in more recent times a phone service is supplied twice between each race to every bookmaker who is prepared to pay for it.
Ticino was fifteen to one. I’ll back it each way and have a saver on the favourite, Jim reasoned,. Fifteen bob each way Ticino, and a quid on the favourite at two to one. If the favourite won and Ticino was unplaced he’d win ten shillings…. And if Ticino won……….. or even got a place …… He didn’t estimate the result and consequences if both ran unplaced.
He handed three pounds and nominated his bets. Pittson wrote the tickets with a trembling hand, gave Jim ten shillings change, and promptly reduced the price of Ticino to five to one. Jim met Harry Walton in the billiard-room and told him about his dream.
“Ticino and a saver on the favourite,” he concluded. “Go with me; I feel lucky.”
Harry Walton expressed his lack of confidence in dream horses, and backed the favourite only. Race time approached and, in a small back room where a new radio had been installed, the announcer described the line-up at the barrier.
“They’re off, now!”
Ticino was away well, lying fifth in the big field and the favourite was in front, out to lead all the way in the gruelling Flemington two mile hurdle course. Passing the judge’s box the first time, with one circuit to travel, the favourite had increased its lead to ten lengths from the second horse and Ticino was a length back third.
“It looks like the favourite,” Jim said to Harry. “But old Ticino might get a place.” Around the abattoirs side with five furlongs to go, Ticino moved into second place but the favourite was out fifteen lengths in front.
“With less than three furlongs to go and only one more hurdle to jump,” the announcer said
horse and contesting hurdle races, it had raced well in two starts since a spell. Punters have often dreamed the winner of an important race, have actually seen in their dream the horses passing the post, the colours and saddle cloth number of the w
Around the abattoirs side with five furlongs to go, Ticino moved into second place but the favourite was out fifteen lengths in front.
“With less than three furlongs to go and only one more hurdle to jump,” the announcer said “the favourite seems to have the race all sewn up. But now old Ticino is closing on him a little….. They are approaching the last. The favourite lands safely over, two lengths clear…. But Ticino is not to be denied………”
“Neck and neck, stride by stride they go……….”
Excitement gripped Jim, excitement and a feeling of swaggering confidence. He had fined it down to two and they were fighting it out. He’d show them! “They’ve got it between ‘em,” he shouted in Harry Walton’s ear, but Harry was too busy riding the favourite to reply.
Ticino, the dream horse, got up and won by a neck. Jim grabbed his friend round the shoulder violently. “What’d I tell yer. Ticino and a saver on the favourite!”
“I’ve got as much luck as a bastard on Father’s Day,” Harry Walton moaned. He was a desperate gambler and a bad loser – that is to say, he showed his feelings when he lost; all gamblers are bad losers, but some hide their feelings. “If I’d backed Ticino they’d have finished the other way round.”
Jim was too excited to offer consolation.
Pittson’s hands shook even more than usual as he paid Jim just a fraction less than sixteen pounds ten shillings. Jim’s hands shook for a different reason. Complex feelings flooded his soul: relief, exaltation, self-confidence, and then the gambler’s premonition that a winning run was near, filled him with unparalleled expectancy. Nothing could compare with this expectancy, not the confidence that a woman can be successfully wooed, not the pleasant hunger before a well cooked meal, not the addict’s craving, nothing.
He would adhere to this method on each race: the favourite straight out, an outsider each way. He studied the paper with a calculated air as though confident that to select a winner, he merely had to analyse the form. He decided to double his stake and so invested two pounds on the favourite and thirty shillings each way on his chosen outsider.
The favourites won the next two races: and one of his each way bets ran third. Jim collected his bets. Pittson complained he was “having a fwightful day.” Jim threatened that he would “win that fousand” before the day was out.
Jim locked himself in one of the cubicles of the hotel lavatory and counted his money like a miser, smoothing out the crumpled notes, stacking the silver on the seat of the sewer. He checked the total three times: thirty five pounds. He thrust the money into his pocket and sat on the seat studying the form guide. Like all punters in the middle of what is known as a good trot, his mind was decisive. After studying the barrier position, weights and jockeys, he decided that Shadow King was a certainty. He returned to the billiard-room.
Harry Walton gave a mournful recital of his ill-luck and then asked for a loan of five pounds. Jim gave it to him without enthusiasm. Now Jim had more than once shared his last shilling with Harry Walton, and, indeed, Harry had often done the same with Jim. Jim loaned him the money as a matter of course – but he didn’t like lending money when he was in the middle of a run of luck. Most habitual gamblers follow that line of thought: if you lend a fellow punter who has gone broke some of your winnings, he borrows your good luck and you borrow his bad luck, or at least you run the risk of borrowing it.
Left with thirty pounds, Jim invested five pounds on the favourite at five to two and five pounds each way Shadow King at eight to one. Sitting near the billiard-room fire, caution came to him; he began to calculate the consequences of giving back his winnings. He felt that Harry had borrowed his confidence with the fiver. He could not explain away his caution. He must take home the money belonging to the football club before it was too late.
He arose and said to his friend: “I’m goin’ home for a minute. If the race comes on, ride Shadow King for me.”
“Don’t worry,” Harry Walton replied. “I’ll ride it home, all right. I’ve just put a quid each way on it.”
A bad sign that, Jim thought: Harry couldn’t get out of it on borrowed money. Shadow King can’t win. At home, Jim hid seven pound notes under the mattress of his bed, sat by the fire in the living-room where his father and Gerald were spending their Saturday afternoon following the fortunes of their coupons.
He discussed the race results with them, and Gerald told him the quarter-time scores at the football. Jim discussed the football games with feigned enthusiasm, resisting all the time a compelling urge to tell them about his run of luck. Time enough to tell them and his mother if he finished well in front at the end of the day.
Presently, Tom Roberts, white-haired now and showing his age, said: “Well, I’d better get the crystal right. The next race’ll be on in three or four minutes.”
On his way back to the hotel, Jim felt hungry. He went into a shop and bought that staple luxury of the Australian worker, a hot meat pie and tomato sauce. Unless Harry had broken his luck, he thought, Shadow King would win – and then Pittson had better look out for his “fousand”. His confidence flagged and he loitered; let the race be over when he got back, and let someone tell him the result. Turning the corner, he saw Harry Walton standing outside the billiard-room. He approached to within thirty yards, then Harry saw him.
“Did it win?” Jim called out.
“No,” Harry answered and added as Jim came to his side, “No, it didn’t win, it mucked in by five lengths.”
They leapt with gamblers’ delight and hugged each other. When they backed horses together, especially when they each backed the same winner, their friendship became even more staunch. Soon Jim Roberts collected his winnings of fifty pounds. Never in his wildest dreams had he really believed it possible. Fifty lovely bloody quid in one bet. Now the gambling mania gripped him like a steel clamp. He would show them! He’d play up his winnings and solve all his problems.
Two more races remained and he and Harry Walton began to study the second last race. Jim remained decisive; he remained steadfast in the choice he had made the night before. Harry Walton, an indecisive gambler, as usual, fined the field down to about six and, in lat minute confusion, backed two on sudden impulse. That was why he could truthfully say after nearly every race: “I intended backing that winner and went off it at the last minute.”
The favourite won the second last race and Jim had his saver on it, winning ten pounds on the event. He began to study the last race. He had marked the favourite as his only choice. Should he stick to it, have a lick at it, and not bother about any other horse in the race? He cogitated, seeking the inevitable result of the race.
Presently, Pittson approached him : “I’m losing a fortune,” he whined.
“Don’t cry. I haven’t got a handkerchief to lend yer,” Jim replied, and he couldn’t remember ever having spoken to anyone like that before. The money in his pocket and the feeling of power born of his success as a punter had given him a self-confidence bordering on arrogance.
“Well, anyhow,” Pittson answered, too worried to resent the insult, “give us your bets for the last now. You’re bettin’ too big for me. I’ll unload some of it with the bookie at the other pub.”
There were onlookers, all now aware of Jim’s phenomenal performance in backing five winners in a row. “All right,” Jim said, rising to his feet with a sway of his shoulders that was to become a characteristic of his manner in later years. “I’ll have fifty quid on Beau Geste. A hundred and fifty to fifty.”
Around the abattoirs side with five furlongs to go, Ticino moved into second place but the favourite was out fifteen lengths in front.“With less than three furlongs to go and only one more hurdle to jump,” the announcer said “the favourite seem
I will second your appointment as Head of D ickhead Detection Department LOGGY, I like you're instincts. HUMANS CAN"T KEEP SECRETS = GOLD
“I’ll have fifty quid on Beau Geste. A hundred and fifty to fifty.”
He counted fifty pounds off his roll of notes with a disdainful air.
As the race approached, punters and drinkers assembled in the backroom. Most of them came because they had heard of Jim’s large bet. Jim was well liked, Pittson despised. They had come to ride Beau Geste home for Jim. Soon the room was packed tight with men, a few sitting on the couch, the rest standing and holding glasses of beer. All ears were on it; and all eyes were on Jim and Pittson. There wasn’t a man in the room who hadn’t lost more than he could afford to Jack Pittson, and now most of them broke and unable to bet themselves, they wanted to see Jim Roberts back the card. Pittson and Jim were favoured with a seat on the briquette boxes either side of the fire. Jim sat nearest the door, leaning forward, legs apart, elbows on knees, hands firmly interlocked with strong fingers, in a pose that remained typical of him in later years. His big eyes looked round the room challengingly; his hair was a mop of black curls in spite of his comb and the oil and water. Pittson fidgeted about, throwing away a half-smoked cigarette and lighting another one immediately.
A minute remained before the race. All was silent save the music on the radio, and no one was listening to that. Presently, Pittson, unable to stand the strain, said with a poor effort at unconcern: “Well, Jim, no one has ever backed the card with me before.”
“There’s always a first time,” replied Jim and a few people laughed at Pittson’s excuse. The music ceased and the announcer said: “We are now crossing to the Flemington racecourse where Jim Carroll will describe the last race, the Welter Handicap….”
The horses were already at the post and were soon dispatched on their mile journey. Jim Carroll began his concise, colourful description. Beau Geste was soon in the box seat, lying fourth on the rails. Three furlongs out, the favourite remained in the same position, his jockey obviously waiting for the straight entrance before making his run.
Tension pervaded the room. Jack Pittson’s little eyes were dilated; he sucked a cigarette as if he might swallow it, and quivered with excited fear. Jim Roberts retained his poise and appeared calm; indeed he told me that a strange calm actually did come to him, a certainty that Beau Geste would win.
The field negotiated the wide Flemington turn. “…. And Beau Geste has obtained a luxury run on the rails and dashed clear……”
Harry Walton, who himself had invested five pounds on Beau Geste, shouted from the other side of the room: “It’s home, Jim!”
“but the favourite is.........
I will second your appointment as Head of D ickhead Detection Department LOGGY, I like you're instincts. HUMANS CAN"T KEEP SECRETS = GOLD “I’ll have fifty quid on Beau Geste. A hundred and fifty to fifty.”He counted fifty pounds off his roll o
“but the favourite is going further ahead,” Jim Carroll called excitedly. “Harold Badger has had a dream ride. He hasn’t moved on him.
The favourite by a number of lengths…..”
A great shout went up and men crowded round Jim offering excited, heartfelt congratulations. Pittson departed without a word to collect that part of the bet he had laid off.
Jim said: “The drinks are on me.”
All repaired to the bar and Jim shouted drinks for every man present, more than fifty in all. In the excitement, he ordered one for himself, and had his first taste of beer.
Soon, Pittson returned and payed Jim Two hundred pounds, as the envious but happy punters looked on. A tremendous wave of egotism swept over Jim Roberts. Now he would show them! He would pay for his art course in cash and become an artist! He would pay his mother’s bills and give her a nest egg! He would marry Kathleen Morris, the most beautiful woman in the world! And he would marry her in style, too, with the organ playing “Oh, promise me.” Ah, Kathleen Mavoureen, we can leave the uncertainty and sorrow behind us and be happy.
Lights out is near. I am well pleased with myself. Writing comes easier. Tonight, I completed a whole chapter – and today, I purchased with tobacco a new pair of woollen socks.
I sit now holding the socks in my hands as if they were a precious gift. We are only issued with two pairs of socks per year. Mine were worn out from wear and washing. I had darned the foot of each with wool of varying colours until the old pair looked like a patchwork quilt. A man’s ambition is conditioned by his circumstances. Apart from the book, I have all I want in the world: a new pair of socks.
I have been here more than ten months. The book is, I estimate, almost two-thirds complete. Even allowing for good behaviour remissions, I should be here long enough to finish it. Strangely enough, the book has become so much associated with life here that I sometimes wonder if I could work on it outside.
The warder is coming. I can hear his boots squeaking in the distance. All the warders have squeaking boots since a new, long-term prisoner took over the repairs recently. He resoles the warders’ boots so that they squeak and give warning of danger at all times and places in the jail.
“but the favourite is going further ahead,” Jim Carroll called excitedly. “Harold Badger has had a dream ride. He hasn’t moved on him. The favourite by a number of lengths…..”A great shout went up and men crowded round Jim offering excite
so that they squeak and give warning of danger at all times and places in the jail.
At the tea table that night, Jim Roberts announced his amazing win of approaching two hundred pounds. Cissie Roberts arose from her chair and went to his side. “God Bless you, Jim. Now you can have your course and be happy with little Kathleen.” And under her breath she added: “Holy Mother of God, why could he not have had those things without’ gamblers money?”
Gerald Roberts, undemonstrative as brothers usually are, merely said: “Good luck to you, Jim.”
Meg said: “Oh, that’s grand Jim!”
And Tom Roberts said: “Well, I’ll be damned! We’ve got an Eric Connelly in the house!”
On the Monday morning Jim went to the city and enrolled as an art student after paying seventy-five pounds in cash for a correspondence course in commercial art. He said afterwards that he would have been better to have joined a personal tuition class at the Melbourne Technical College. At the time, however, he felt on the eve of a great adventure, taking up a scholarship to become an artist.
He paid the family bills, amounting to about fifteen pounds, and opened a bank account with twenty pounds for his mother. Cissie protested that he should keep the money but he was adamant and she loved him for it. Also, he bought her a box of expensive chocolates. Cissie loved chocolates and many long years had passed since she had a box; she handed them round with feigned reluctance, exaggerating her determination to “make them last”.
Jim bought a small electric radio and ceremoniously threw the old crystal set on the rubbish heap behind the lavatory. Meg said: “Well, now Dad won’t be telling me to stop gathering up when he wants to listen to the races.” Tom Roberts said: “And I’ll be able to hear properly the day I pick a hundred quid coupon.”
Jim bought Margaret a brooch and she gushed over it with genuine pleasure.
Gerald said: “Brothers are an unhappy lot. No present for me.”
“Yes, there is, Gerry.” Jim contradicted him. “I didn’t know what to get so, , when I passed that red ragger bookshop in Exhibition Street I bought a book. Here it is, ‘Why you should be a Socialist’ by John Strachey. That’ll be a poser for Jack O’Donnell: a capitalist buying his brother a socialist book.” They all laughed and Gerald had not the heart to reveal that he had read the book twice, having borrowed it from Jack O’Donnell. Anyway, Jim had another present for him: a pair of grey trousers with fashionable wide legs.
In the meantime, on the evening before, when he was taking Kathie home from her weekly visit to the Roberts’s house, Jim kissed her in the street and pressed an envelope into her hand.
“There, darling, that’s for you, for us, for our wedding. There’s a hundred quid there. I want you to bank it and later we’ll buy some furniture, find a house and get married. And I’ve got a tenner left for an engagement ring – we’ll buy it tomorrow.”
He went on his knees in exaggerated jesting, pleading for her hand: “Mademoiselle, I love you. I am only a poor, unemployed artist, and you are a beautiful princess; but I love you. Will you be mine?” “Yes, you crazy fool, I do love you,” she said laughing deep in her throat as he liked her to do. “Although I am a princess of royal blood I will marry you – if you’ll get off the muddy ground in your good trousers and kiss me.”
And he kissed her there in the slum street and they were happy.
That very night, they told Mrs. Morris the good news and said they wanted to marry on the very day of Kathie’s twenty-first birthday, seven months ahead.
A month later, Kathie told Jim as they strolled to the gardens: “Darling, I think I’m pregnant.” Jim, who had been secretly ashamed of possessing Kathie before their marriage, held Kathie tight but could not speak.
Kathie continued: “But I don’t care, Jim. Really I don’t. Our baby will be a child of love.”
In the gardens, they discussed the problem. We could go away, away to Sydney, Jim suggested. But Kathie would not agree. They decided to tell their parents and seek agreement for an immediate marriage; first they would wait a week or two and see if their fears were groundless.
Three weeks later they talked to Cissie and Tom Roberts. Tom Roberts made no comment; such a problem was too big for him even to consider. Cissie embraced Kathie: “Oh, Kathie darling,” she exclaimed. “You poor child. Everything will be alright. You mustn’t worry about anything.” That night, Cissie and Tom Roberts discussed the problem in bed until a late hour. Cissie fought against her religious view that Jim and Kathleen had sinned and deserved to be punished; her mother love and her instinct to protect her kind was too strong for prejudice.
“They’ll just have to marry right away,” she concluded.”It doesn’t matter what her mother says.” And Tom Roberts agreed- just so long as he didn’t have to make a decision independently.
Meanwhile the lovers faced the ordeal of telling Kathie’s mother. She cried but soon pulled herself together and, as Jim told me years later, acted like a “real brick.”
And so it came to pass that Jim Roberts and Kathleen Morris were married in St. Joseph’s church, Richmond, in the spring of 1938. Kathie was a radiant bride; but she had to suppress a vague regret that her pregnancy was spoiling everything. Why hadn’t she resisted Jim and kept her wedding night pure and undefiled? Jim was a handsome bridegroom, although a nervous one. Cissie Roberts was almost as radiant as her daughter- in- law and business-like too, prompting Tom during the speeches afterwards. “Nearly as bad as getting married again meself,” Tom said. Gerald Roberts plated best man with nervous efficiency and carried out his brother’s jesting order not to “let me forget the bloody ring”. Kathie’s uncle gave the bride away and was the jocular life of the wedding breakfast. Jim gave Father Ryan his last five pound note.
After a short honeymoon, they settled in a small but neat house just around the corner from Mrs. Morris’ shop.
Jim obtained a job at a rival grocer shop opposite the one he had previously worked in, and jested that he would send the place over the road broke within a year.
He settled down to his drawing every night and at weekends. He made spectacular progress and the manager of the Institute sensing that he had a pupil out of the ordinary, paid individual attention to Jim’s work. After nine months of intense study and practice, the manager obtained for Jim a position in an advertising agency. Jim worked keenly, pleased everybody with his work and personality, and was soon earning eight pounds a week, a fine salary in those days.
When Kathie went to hospital to have her baby, Jim was as nervous and fussy as a cat. But his mother reassured him “They haven’t lost a father yet.” And so it proved. Jim survived the ordeal and Kathie delivered an eight-pound baby boy, young Jim Roberts, the image of his father, black curls and all. And so, by the autumn of 1939, in his twenty-second year Jim Roberts was a happy man. He had a good job in his chosen profession; he had a beautiful and devoted wife, and he had a son.
Ah, God that our book could end here. Ah, that its contents were mine to command, so I could decide the future of its characters.
so that they squeak and give warning of danger at all times and places in the jail. 20At the tea table that night, Jim Roberts announced his amazing win of approaching two hundred pounds.Cissie Roberts aros
I choose to believe that this is a calculated pissstake on your part and not a faux pas.
An oxymoron? a textbook irony? I'll leave it to cleverer minds than mine for the correct definition.
Anyhoo, glad to see you are enjoying the story. Your consistent support is what keeps me going.
I imagine a childlike smile, full of anticipation and wonder when you see I have added a little more
of the story.
sigh.........just makes it allllllllll worthwhile
Ah, God that our book could end here. Ah, that its contents were mine to command, so I could decide the future of its characters.
THE LOTTERY FILLS AND THE PRIZES ARE DISTRIBUTED
In five weeks, I have written nothing.
“And then what?”
To that eternal question facing the writer I had no answer. Then, this morning, the answer came. My first meeting with Jim Roberts must now be recorded in the book!
And before he is introduced to you – in the flesh, as it were – I must briefly outline my own life before I met him.
As I have written, my name is Paul Whittaker. By profession I was a bank clerk. My ambition in life, mundane though it sounds, was to be a bank manager or executive officer. By the time I left Grammar School, I had lost all desire to follow in my father’s footsteps. I was tentative and unsure. A bank career would be stable and respectable, I decided, and my mother thoroughly concurred. My father, had, by that time, ceased to be much interested in my welfare.
My father was a partner in a small but lucrative stockbroking business.
How I admired him in my youth. How I admire his pleasant, cultivated speech, his impeccable dress, his good taste, his dignified greying temples, his ability to appear a successful man without ostentation, his thoughtfulness towards my mother, his stress on Christian principles. Yes, I admired him, but our relationship lacked warmth; I rarely felt any deeper emotion than admiration. And how disillusioned I became when, during the deepest years of the depression, he began to indulge in dubious business practices. Business was extremely quiet and uncertain and he had used up much of his reserve finance. Previously, he had made money by legitimate means; to make it now he had to resort to jobbery and questionable company deals. And he didn’t hesitate. He had a reasonable income and owned valuable property, but he wasn’t satisfied. And he began to hate the poor. He believed – and it was a comforting thought in those years – that the poor were poor by choice, had lost their jobs through laziness and caused the depression.
I remember seeing one evening in 1931 a queue of shabby men outside a soup kitchen, some of them accompanied by little rickety children whose bare feet were blue with cold. It shocked me and my pity went out to them. I told my mother and father.
Father said: “They are on the dole. They don’t want work!”
Mother said: “It is a terrible tragedy; but if they gambled and drank less, they would not be poor. It is the children I feel sorry for. For their sake, the dole should be increased.” Father replied: “Give them a high dole and no one will work!”
He became obsessed with a contempt for the poor. When the unemployed complained or marched in the streets, his contempt would turn to fear. “A red conspiracy,” he would say. And, if men in work went on strike, he would advocate starving them into submission.
And Mother and I, against our better nature, would agree with him. Such were the views I grew up with. In later years, my better self refused to endorse those views. I retreated behind the belief that a bank officer should not interest himself in politics. But my father’s lack of compassion rankled inside me, adding to my half-understood disillusionment.
Finally, his infidelity to my mother taught me to hate him!
My mother was deeply religious. She was kind-hearted, too, after her own fashion. True, she was narrow-minded and inhibited. She viewed sex as a necessary evil. Once I overheard her talking of it with revulsion and horror. Years later I overheard my mother and father quarrelling. My father had taken a mistress! And he was ashamed, not of his sin, but of being caught out in it.
My mother was angry and hurt because of jealousy and the sense of inadequacy that often follows the infidelity of one’s love partner. She was also worried about what the neighbours would think if they parted. She became determined that her home, and the routine of her life would not be broken up. If she could not have love, she wanted respectability and she was prepared to humiliate herself to keep it. Years later, when my father died, I remember the Reverend Osborne-Jones saying at the graveside that my mother and father were a model for all young couples to emulate.
Yes, I had learned to hate my own father, because he hurt my mother, because he starved me of affection, and because he was a snob and a parasite. But now all that hatred has passed away. I seem no longer capable of hatred or any subjective emotion, except reverence for the memory of Jim Roberts and deep feeling for the events described in this book. My father is dead now, God rest his soul, and I bear no ill-will to his memory for he was what life made him and no man is less or more than that.
My mother is also dead. My father’s death left me unmoved, but the passing of my mother shocked and grieved me. Yes, pathetic she may have been when my father betrayed her, and pathetic, too, in her hide-bound provincial, middle-class respectability, but she had a kind heart and a pure soul. Thank God, death saved her from the sorrow and shame of my disgrace.
If you had known me at the age of twenty-six, fifteen years ago, then you would have expected me to marry a woman like Julia. I was a parochial, insular snob; unspectacular years at Grammar school; content with the mundane respectable routine of a bank teller’s life; conservative in politics and all things; a living guarantee that the status quo would be maintained, that all was well in the best of all worlds.
Julia was of similar background to myself; family in commerce; educated at an expensive Presbyterian girls’ school; brought up, as I was, to look down on those of lower station, and always aspiring to emulate, and rise to equality with, the silver tails, as Jim Roberts called the upper classes. I thought she was beautiful, and so she was in a cold and brittle fashion. She presented a façade of daring, a disdain for convention, but she was, in fact, hide-bound with every convention of middle-class respectability. She judged people by the real or pretended size of their bank balance and the brand and model of their car. She was incapable of passion. Yes, though she dressed in the manner of modern fashion, exposing her ample breasts these late years almost to the nipples, she was incapable of passion. I had pitied her for her incapability of sexual response until she had said to me: “Perhaps it is your fault, Paul.”
Garbled, potted impressions from the past of things I want to remember or cannot forget………
But enough of that now………….
My life eventually assumed a pattern, uninterrupted by the war (the bank secured my exemption from military service). Steady ambition, loyalty to the bank, and dependence on routine were still my strongest traits. But the disillusionment with my father and the passionless marriage to Julia had already created a restlessness within me.
And, looking back now, I am convinced that I was already in revolt against my environment before I met Jim Roberts…………………
Twelve years after his marriage, I met Jim Roberts for the first time. That was in 1950 when I was thirty-seven and Jim five years younger. Until the day I die, I shall remember the occasion vividly. I was employed in the Caulfield branch of my bank. The name of the bank doesn’t matter to our story. It was my habit to drink two glasses of beer after work with the manager of the bank, whom I will call Mr. Trembath. I was abstemious in all things. A developing side of my personality enjoyed the companionship of the hotel bar, but my old self set a time and consumption limit. Besides, my pocket money was limited because Julia and I were living above our means. I spent little because Julia aimed her life at appearing to live better than her friends and neighbours.
Trembath spent more time in the hotel than was good for any bank manager. Indeed he was a fool and a drunkard who leaned heavily upon me in conducting the bank. I did not mind, for I was training myself to become a manager.
The hotel at which we drank was not far from the Caulfield racecourse. We “talked shop” mainly. I had no great variety of interests to discuss; and Trembath was a secret drinker, never sober, never drunk, whose only real interests were drinking and the problems and procedures of the bank, head office directives, good accounts, bad accounts.
One Friday afternoon, Trembath and I were standing in the saloon bar. I was in the middle of my second beer, Trembath in the middle of his second double-whisky chaser. The bar was crowded, nearly as crowded as the public bar, as it was only on Friday afternoons. An old derelict, hopelessly drunk, was making a nuisance of himself, something you rarely strike in the saloon bar – which is one of the reasons I preferred drinking there. He was in turns friendly and offensive, as such characters usually are, and he turned his aggressive attentions to us. He asked Trembath for a shilling for a beer. Trembath refused with a manner that mixed pompous contempt and fear. Sensing the fear, as will an aggressive drunk and a savage dog, the derelict said: “And who d’yer think you’re talkin’ too, sourpuss?”
Trembath cowered away. I felt uncomfortable. I abhor fuss and quarrels and violence and can never quite cope with such situations.
At that moment a man came in the door hurriedly and bumped lightly against our tormentor.
“I’m sorry,” he said and then, apparently recognizing the derelict, added: “Now, what are you up to, Sam?”
“Nothin’, Jim,” the derelict replied lamely. “Have you got a bob for an old digger.”
“The only digging you do is your own grave, Sam,” replied Jim Roberts, for he it proved to be. He pressed two shillings into the drunk’s filthy hand. “And you’d better get off home before you get into trouble.”
With that Jim Roberts, without as much as a glance at Trembath and myself, wove through the crowd with easy grace, murmuring “excuse me” and “sorry mate” until he joined a group at the other end of the bar. I learned later that he was drinking, as usual, in the public bar, but had come in here to see a racehorse trainer seeking information about a horse to run at Moonee Valley races next day.
"pure literary genious at work" eh? LITERARY GENIOUS Mopey, Mopey, Mopey.I choose to believe that this is a calculated pissstake on your part and not a faux pas. An oxymoron? a textbook irony? I'll leave it to cleverer minds than mine for the corr
loving it more spoon ... and nothing to do with the fact that me ol mum was brought up in burnley and we follow the tiges with a passion ... and nothing to do with the fact we moved out towards caulfield soon after i was born lol
and i'm liking the writing more and more as it goes on ... and even though the following can be pulled apart by scholars i guess i relate to it in some format ...
... and I bear no ill-will to his memory for he was what life made him and no man is less or more than that.
The hotel at which we drank was not far from the Caulfield racecourse.
no mention of a pub name ... and not being in melb for near 30 years now i can't think of a pub that is close to the track other than the old Railway ... unless anyone can refresh my memory
anyway ... a most enjoyabe read continues cheers
loving it more spoon ... and nothing to do with the fact that me ol mum was brought up in burnley and we follow the tiges with a passion ... and nothing to do with the fact we moved out towards caulfield soon after i was born loland i'm liking the wr
Glad you're appreciative Mopey, just bear in mind, it seems I have only two followers
keep a lid on it brother [;)]
here to see a racehorse trainer seeking information about a horse to run at Moonee Valley races next day.
I was struck with his appearance and personality. The jet black curly hair, still disobeying years of combing and oiling, flecked now with grey; the neat, well- cut sports coat accentuating the broad shoulders; the marked yet somehow inoffensive swagger of bearing; and above all the big blue eyes full of kindness, friendliness and pity – and of suffering too, as I came to know later. Slightly jarring notes were the bright yellow jumper, and the red bow tie which decorated the collar of his silk shirt, yet he wore them well, had the personality to subdue them.
Reinforced with Jim Roberts’s two shillings, the derelict breasted the bar and ordered a pot of beer.
“No more for you, Sam,” the barman said, not unkindly.
That was the signal for Sam really to perform as Jim would have put it. After announcing that he had paid for the rotten joint but hadn’t got delivery of it, he gave the barman the alternative of pulling him a drink or fighting him. In a matter of seconds and apparently out of the very wall, there appeared by the derelict’s side a huge black-coated man, replete with the flat nose and the slight roll on to the heels that characterize the punch-drunk ex-fighter.
“Come on!” he said, “You’ve had your last.” And with that, the drunk was grasped brutally, his arm driven up his back with quite unnecessary force.
Sam, the derelict, spun himself free, and shaped up helplessly. The chucker-out slapped Sam violently across the face with the back of his great hand. I was distressed and felt like intervening, but was afraid to. The drunk began waving his fists ineffectually and the chucker-out raised his hand to strike again.
At that precise moment, Jim Roberts, on his way back to the public bar, stepped between them.
“Hey!” he called out. “Fair go!”
The hotel employee, dangerously violent in the heat of the moment, turned savagely on Jim. Jim was five feet and ten inches, but the chucker-out was taller and much more powerfully built. Jim stood his ground, his hands clenched by his sides while his adversary weaved about in front of him, shaping to fight with instinctive, convulsive movements.
Every eye was on them and deep silence replaced the babble of talk.
“There’s no need to knock the old fellow about,” Jim said, gazing firmly at the man in front of him.
The ex-boxer relaxed a little, partly from caution born of Jim’s fearlessness and partly from knowledge that his employer would not support unnecessary violence in the bar.
“I got a job to do,” he said lamely.
“The old fella’s harmless,” Jim rejoined and turned to the derelict, taking him gently by the arm. “Come on, Sam, it’s past your bedtime the way you are.”
The bar relaxed as Jim led the old chap out the door. Acting on impulse, perhaps for the first time in my life, I excused myself to Trembath and followed them on to the footpath. I found Jim remonstrating with Sam on the street corner.
“Here’s half a quid – and see that you give it to your missus. I’ll ask her about it,” I heard him saying.
As Jim stepped back across the gutter and made to enter the public bar, I approached him and said: “Excuse me, but I want to thank you for preventing unnecessary violence.” He looked at me quizzically as if surprised that I thought anything of the incident: “Old Sam’s a bit of a nuisance. A victim of the first war; but quite harmless if you handle him quietly. That chucker-out is too keen on throwing punches."
Embarrassed now and beginning to regret my impetuousness, I stood there feeling abject. Jim stepped briskly up the steps of the bar door. He hesitated and turned again to me, motivated, I believe now, more by some telepathic affinity between us than by sympathy for my embarrassment.
“Would you care for a drink?” he asked, simply.
“Well, yes,” I replied. “I’m with a friend but I could have one, yes………”
And in that simple manner began a friendship which was to prove fateful to both of us.
Glad you're appreciative Mopey, just bear in mind, it seems I have only two followers keep a lid on it brother here to see a racehorse trainer seeking information about a horse to run at Moonee Valley races next day. I was struck with his appear
And in that simple manner began a friendship which was to prove fateful to both of us.
Today some State politicians inspected the jail. Everything was stage-managed for them. Walls and floors were hosed, yards tidied up, and a coat of paint judiciously applied here and there. They were shown some of the work shops and a few cells in “A”Division, including my own. If I say it myself, my cell is the cleanest and neatest in the jail. It was chosen for that reason. I stood by the door as the Governor showed them the cell. They inspected it closely with feigned interest. Fortunately, they did not look under the mattress where pages of the manuscript were hidden.
One of the politicians asked foolishly: “And how do you like it here?”
“I am happy here,” I replied truthfully enough. Afterwards I felt I should have put forward some complaints, but a fellow prisoner told me that no benefit would have ensued. These inspections are “put-up jobs”, he contended, to bemuse the public.
Lights out draws near and I have written nothing about Jim.
All evening I have pondered over my notes dealing with the years between 1938 and our meeting in 1950. Events of those years must be dealt with briefly; and to write briefly is much more difficult than to write at length….
For some weeks after his marriage, Jim did not gamble. But soon, deluding himself that his sensational desperate coup could be repeated, he began to bet again. His winning days were few and far between. He was still serving his apprenticeship in the difficult art of gambling. For some months, Kathie, deeply and blindly in love, pretended not to notice that almost half of Jim’s wages was finding it’s way to the bookmaker. But while she was in hospital having her baby, Jim lost all his wages, including her house-keeping money. Arriving home to be confronted with unpaid bills, she became querulous and petulant. Jim had been in the habit of giving Kathie only four pounds ten shillings, half of his wages, with which she kept house and paid the rent. Kathie was an excellent manager and was quite satisfied with this seemingly one-sided arrangement. Jim paid his fares and had an occasional drink with his share but most of it went to Jack Pittson.
Kathie’s mother lived with them for a few weeks after the baby arrived. She joined in the arguments, although Kathie, in the final analysis, always defended Jim. Jim alleged that his mother-in-law was motivated by the strange jealousy sometimes found in the mother’s of only children. Instead of interfering, she should have left him and Kathie to their quarrels and passionate makings-up.
Poor Kathie. Her hands were full with a new baby, a burden of debts, an impecunious husband and a domineering mother. Jim was in turn deceitful and apologetic; the creditors pressed her; and her mother persistently reminded her that Jim had let her down badly.
But Kathie had courage and resource, and still retained a blind admiration for Jim. She continued to defend him. And gradually, shilling by shilling, week by week, she set the family finances in order again.
Jim had separate debts of his own, gambling debts. Pittson had adopted the current method of starting price betting by telephone - with fatal results for Jim. Losing his wages each week while Kathie was in hospital, Jim bet beyond his means on the phone in an effort to recover his losses. After weeks of anguish, harassed by Pittson, he pawned a gold watch his mother-in-law had given him for his birthday and told Kathie he had lost it. This gave temporary respite but before the baby was three months old he had accumulated a further debt with Pittson which he had to pay off at two pounds a week.
His mind thus taken up with gambling and its consequences his work suffered. Years afterwards I saw th scrapbook Jim had kept of his published work right from the first caricature in the Richmond newspaper to the advertisement illustrations he did for the agency. He was not an outstanding artist. He was quite competent to do the routine jobs in an art department, but lacked the true creative spark. His black and white work was passable but he lacked a sense of colour and design. Under Gerald’s influence he drew political cartoons, in the early days of war, for trade union and other obscure radical journals. These revealed definite promise when indignation against war and injustice lent his brush power and sweep, but his work remained uneven and largely uninspired. No doubt these flaws were aggravated by his lack of intellectual and cultural background and his inadequate training. Jim laid more stress, however, on the conflict within him between the attraction of gambling and the attraction of drawing. Rarely did his art consume him; his personality had been given over long ago to an all-consuming love of gambling. Gambling stood between him and his art and soon came between him and Kathie, when her fierce mother love led her to protect her child and its welfare from Jim’s excesses.
Being in an unessential industry, Jim was called up in 1941. He did not volunteer. He was something of a pacifist. In this he was influenced by his mother’s mildly “Sinn Fein” sentiments and by his childhood experience of the radical scepticism that Australian workers have for militarism. Because of his ability as an artist, he served as a draughtsman in what he described as a base-wallah’s job at Victoria Barracks, Melbourne. He received about fifteen shillings a day, made up of a private’s “Six-bob”, a margin for skill, his living-out allowance and allotments for Kathie and the baby.
Jim resented his new environment-the Army routine and the discipline, the reduced earnings. Then a quirk in his character responded to it; he decided to make a virtue of necessity. So his life was disrupted. Well, he would turn that to his advantage. He gave Kathie all but ten shillings of his total earnings-and he pledged himself to give up gambling. For nearly a year, he didn’t lay a bet.
Jim described that year as the happiest in all his life.
This one's for you MaxAnd in that simple manner began a friendship which was to prove fateful to both of us.Today some State politicians inspected the jail. Everything was stage-managed for them. Walls and floors were hosed, yards tidied up, and a co
Pentridge was split into many divisions, named using letters of the alphabet.
our boys were in A ... A - Short and long-term prisoners of good behavior
B - Long-term prisoners with behavior problems C - Vagabonds and short term prisoners, where Ned Kelly was imprisoned (Demolished in 1976) D - Remand prisoners E - A dormitory division housing short term prisoners F - Remand and short-term G - Psychiatric problems H - High security, discipline and protection J - Young Offenders Group- Later for long-term with record of good behavior Jika Jika - maximum security risk and for protection, later renamed K Division
Pentridge was split into many divisions, named using letters of the alphabet.our boys were in A ...A - Short and long-term prisoners of good behaviorB - Long-term prisoners with behavior problemsC - Vagabonds and short term prisoners, where Ned Kelly
Jim described that year as the happiest in all his life.
He earned extra money by selling cartoons, joke illustrations and advertisement illustrations. He signed these drawings with a pseudonym to circumvent an army regulation forbidding soldiers to earn outside money or to contribute to the press. They built up a small bank account. They bought things previously beyond their reach. Toys and good clothes for the little boy; a new dress and an expensive handbag for Kathie; extras for the house, a low coffee table, ornaments for the lounge mantel-piece, an ice chest. And they began to purchase, on time payments, a radio gramophone.
They bought many records – no jazz, no current “pop tunes”, but classics, sentimental ballads, and operatic arias in the Italian and tenor voice.
Once a week in that year of contentment, Jim and Kathie went to the pictures; Kathie’s mother or, as often, Gerald Roberts, would mind the baby.
Gerald was working in a munitions factory. His nights were often taken up with union and political meetings. On off nights, he liked to visit Jim and Kathie to mind the baby or to listen to records. He never came empty handed; if he didn’t bring a toy for the baby, he brought a bottle of beer or a gramophone record. Unmarried, he was, in spite of his activity, a remote and lonely man by nature. The break up of the old Roberts household in Richmond him more than Meg or Jim. Soon after the outbreak of war, Tom Roberts had obtained a good job in a factory at Geelong. Cissie went with him. She was leaving half of herself behind in the old home, she told Tom, but she belonged at his side.
Meg Roberts had since married and was engrossed in her own life. Gerald rarely visited her and her husband, preferring the company of Jim and Kathie.
Jim and Kathie’s greatest joy was to sit in the lounge listening to their favourite records. To Gigli singing “Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen” and to Tauber singing “when Moonbeams Softly Fall”, to Chopin Waltzes and Tschaikovsky’s ballets, to the Nuns Chorus, to Joseph Schmidt singing “A Star fell from Heaven”. And sometimes afterwards, perhaps by the winter fire, they would make love there in the front room, with the dial of the radio the only light. Kathie nymph-like in her vital nudity. Their love was fresh and new and there was fierce passion in it. Kathie had not made the mistake of many new mothers of turning all her love and affection to the child. She still reserved for Jim the full warmth of her nature. She loved his strong body lithe body and his generous nature. She saw him as the most handsome man in all the world. And Jim loved her for her generous passion, for her devotion and unselfishness.
Their happiest year ended in 1942 when Jim was transferred to the Northern Territory. He found himself on the Caulfield racecourse once again, but not to attend a race meeting; the course had been adapted as an Army Staging Camp for the duration. As they parted, Kathie said: “We’ll write to each other every day” and Jim, temperamentally incapable of regular or frequent correspondence with anyone, impetuously agreed. Kathie kept her promise through the weary months of loneliness, but Jim’s letters, daily during his journey north and the first weeks in Darwin, became less frequent, briefer and less intimate, as the months passed. Eventually, Kathie counted herself lucky to get a brief letter once or twice a month. Their attitude to correspondence reflected their temperament. Kathie sentimental, intimate, living for Jim, feeling him dearer to her in absence; Jim sentimental, too, and intimate, but gregarious, adapting himself to Kathie’s absence and his new surroundings. The boredom of camp life and the isolation of Australia’s north were relieved only by an occasional air raid. Jim reacted by turning again to gambling.
Wherever there are Australians, even a few hundred of them in the wilderness, there gambling will flourish. Ample facilities existed in war-time Darwin; a two-up school each night and on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, frequent poker schools; and even there, a thousand miles from the nearest race track, the inevitable SP bookmaker operating with a powerful radio specially built to obtain race results and prices.
Jim was a non-smoker and a moderate drinker. The army supplied his basic needs, so he was able to back horses with his pocket money. He managed to keep out of trouble for some months until, getting more out of touch with the form of horses in Melbourne; he began to lose and to borrow from friends he had made in the camp. At first, shillings, then pounds. Before leaving Melbourne, he had arranged with the editors of two magazines to submit drawings to them from Darwin. He had posted a few illustrated jokes to Kathie. Money so earned, it had been agreed, she should use for housekeeping or for young Jim’s needs, banking any that remained.
In debt, Jim wrote and asked her to send money. This she did, but not without registering a gentle complaint. They must save for after the war, she told Jim. Jarring notes punctuated their correspondence. Jim’s letters became briefer and more irregular. Kathie interpreted this as a sign of waning affection. In truth, Jim thought of her often, kept beside his bed a photo of her and the baby for which he had made a frame from a shaving mirror stand.
Eventually, Gerald, now himself married, wrote to Jim, hinting that Kathie was a little unhappy and needed more frequent letters. Jim responded for a time but he soon slipped back again.
Jim began to play two-up. A ring had been erected on the outskirts of the camp. The authorities frowned on the game, but a minority of other ranks played for relatively high stakes. Betting on horses at such a distance was unsatisfactory to punter and bookmaker alike, so the “national game” came into its own.
Jim soon became an adept at spinning the coins. Between his own spins he backed the tail. He had a run of luck and won one hundred and twenty-five pounds in a week. He sent fifty pounds to Kathie telling her quite frankly where he had got it. A month later, he sent a hundred pounds. Then his luck departed, and, having lost what remained of his accumulated bank, he wrote to Kathie requesting her to send back a hundred pounds. She did so without protest. His return to gambling had displeased her; she didn’t want that kind of money. Soon he wrote asking for the return of the remaining fifty pounds, then for a loan of twenty pounds. Kathie responded with a tart letter informing him that, since he had abandoned drawing for two-up, she had no money to send him. She asked whether he thought she could save out of her allotment. By the next mail he received news from Kathie that she had taken part-time work in a city office.
In the months that followed, she wrote to Jim only in reply to letters from him. Jim had hurt her and, in her loneliness, she began to lose her love for him.
Jim began to write frantic letters. He couldn’t draw up here, he was too cut off, couldn’t get any ideas. He would obtain leave soon, then everything would be all right. But Kathie’s letters remained as his had been until the crisis came, matter-of-fact and lacking in intimacy.
Jim came home on leave, en route to the battlefields in the islands north of Australia. Their passion was rekindled but it was not accompanied by their former affinity. They quarrelled over money. Jim junior did not know his father, in spite of the efforts Kathie had made to keep the memory alive. Jim began to worry that his marriage might go on the rocks; he knew that he should not leave Kathie again. In the last days of his leave he canvassed the army establishments seeking a vacancy as an artist or draughtsman. His efforts failed and soon he was on his way, this time accompanied by a dread that Kathie’s heart was slowly hardening against him.
Even in the remand yard Jim said little of his sojourn in the Islands, but I gleaned enough to know that his letters were frequent and intimate, Kathie’s irregular and casual. Jim saw some active service, but said little about it. He spent much of his time at some forward base where gambling entangled him again. Eventually, he drifted into running a two-up game. In a year, he accumulated a thousand pounds. He dared not tell Kathie or send her the money, knowing how she felt about his gambling.
Soon after the war ended, Jim Roberts came south with a full pocket and an empty heart. His reunion with Kathie was short, turbulent and tragic. Their conversation was like that of new acquaintances. From the moment of his arrival when they kissed without passion, he knew that their marriage was doomed. Young Jim had forgotten him again. Kathie held back from him, the embers of her passion had lain too long neglected and had grown cold. Suspicion and jealousy gripped Jim’s soul and he began to accuse Kathie by cruel innuendo.
At last, Kathie was provoked and told him that there had been someone else, a man from work to whom she had turned in her loneliness. He loved her, or said he did, but she had told him she wanted to stay with her husband, and he had agreed to stand aside. Having decided to stay with Jim, Kathie should have said nothing of her affair, as he or any man would have done under similar circumstances. As it was, Jim exploded in a paroxysm of jealous rage, shook Kathie in his powerful hands, called her ugly names, and threatened to strike her. Then he wept and suffered morbid remorse. Soon he became self-pitying, then this boiled over into further jealous rages.
As I write, I am filled with great sorrow. I can record no more about this tragic, foolish parting. Jim virtually drove Kathie back into her lover’s arms…………
Jim described that year as the happiest in all his life. He earned extra money by selling cartoons, joke illustrations and advertisement illustrations. He signed these drawings with a pseudonym to circumvent an army regulation forbidding soldiers to
virtually drove Kathie back into her lover’s arms…………
A vision of Jim Roberts seated on his haunches against the high wall of the remand yard oblivious of the other prisoners; oblivious of his fate: talking about the failure of his marriage.
The reasons he gave for losing Kathie.
He had cheapened their love when he had taken her before marriage.
“But Jim,” I remember replying. “I have heard that about one in four Australian marriages are, well, compulsory; yet most of these couples survive with their love intact. And many marriages have failed, in spite of restrained pre-marital relations.”
But he was adamant. A mixture of reasons. He got married on gamblers’ money.
Pointing an urgent finger; his blue eyes blazed. “Listen, Paul, gamblers’ money is contaminated. A gambler wins his friend’s money. The only thing more contaminated than punters’ money is bookmakers’ money. Bookies money is blood money. It is useless even to the racing game; even to the bagboys and their families it brings only upstartism and empty, useless lives. No good ever came from money won from gambling.”
The war was another reason, he asserted: “They’ll tell you war is heroic and patriotic. What was ever won in a war that replaced the losses in human misery and there’s more misery in war than blood and guts and dead men. What about broken marriages, the love destroyed…..
“I’ll give no excuses, only reasons. And gambling was the main one; make that clear. If I hadn’t been a mad gambler, Paul, Kathie would still be with me and we wouldn’t be here in the peter.” It is down on paper now, Jim, in your own words……..
When I first met Jim Roberts, he and Kathie had been living apart for five years. They were not divorced because Kathie could not face the condemnation of the Church. Jim had abandoned the Catholic religion under the influence of his father’s indifference and Gerald’s conversion to a rationalist outlook. Kathie clung to some of its tenets and prohibitions.
As soon as he was discharged from the Army, Jim abandoned himself to gambling completely. Gambling had cost him Kathleen yet, having lost her, only in gambling could he hope to find forgetfulness. He lost all interest in drawing. He became a professional punter, well known on the racecourse for placing hundreds of pounds on his fancy without turning a hair and, if it lost, often recouping with a smaller bet on a winner at an outside price. He sometimes bet on dogs and trotters as well as gallopers; he even visited illegal two-up and baccarat schools.
After my impulsive action in complementing him on his kindness to the old derelict in the hotel, I had not expected to see him again. Bear in mind, I had not seen him before, nor did I know that he lived in the hotel where the incident occurred, as proved to be the case.
As fate would have it, Jim Roberts walked into the bank on Monday morning about eleven ‘o’clock, a few days after our first meeting.
As chief teller, I was standing in my box counting money when he entered briskly. He took from his inside coat pocket a large bundle of ten pound notes held together with a thick rubber band. “I want to open an account,” he began without appearing to recognize me.
I suspected he had recognized me; that, indeed, he knew I worked there but was pretending not to know. Years later in the jail, I quite forgot to question him about this.
I obtained the necessary form from the accountant. Jim filled it in with his own expensive fountain pen. He wrote a bold, neat hand with a flourish and signed himself James P. Morris.
Then he looked at me and said: “Well, so this is where you toil.”
He banked three thousand pounds in ten pound notes – a most unusual occurrence. But, of course, it is not the prerogative of a bank teller to question a client unless his account is overdrawn or drawn beyond the overdraft limit.
Indeed, my first reaction was one of pleasure; this was an important new account. The branch was prospering, though Trembath was getting the credit instead of myself, to whom it truly belonged. My second reaction was one of renewed curiosity about Roberts. He had told me his name in the hotel; why did he bank under another name?
He turned at the door, hesitated, then returned to the counter. Leaning forwards, he asked softly if I were going to the hotel after work.
“Yes,” I replied.
“I’d like to have a chat to you, if you don’t mind,” he said.
“I drink at the back of the public bar, over in the corner.”
“I usually drink in the saloon bar but I could see you in the public bar.”
“Righto, I’ll be there anytime between har-past four and six,” he said and was gone.
My curiosity was really aroused now. As Trembath and I strolled towards the hotel, I told him about the new account and my appointment. But I didn’t tell him about the discrepancy between the name and the signature. He went to the saloon, and I sought Jim Roberts.
virtually drove Kathie back into her lover’s arms………… *A vision of Jim Roberts seated on his haunches against the high wall of the remand yard oblivious of the other prisoners; oblivious of his fa
I saw him from far off in the huge public bar, standing with his back to me, with a small group of drinkers. As I approached, I had a feeling that this meeting held some strange promise of impending excitement. Then I noticed a man standing beside Jim who looked like his twin brother but was, of course, Gerald Roberts. I was struck by that likeness yet contrast between them which I have endeavoured to describe in an earlier chapter. I do not denigrate Gerald Roberts, for I was to see much of him for two years and learned to like and respect him.
Once I mentioned this contrast to Jim and he said: “If they could have made one man of us he’d have been a bloody genius – is that your theory, eh?” And threw back his head and laughed. He had a wonderful, hearty laugh.
I approached and when Jim became aware of my presence, he turned, shook hands then introduced me all round, first to Gerald, then to the other three men. When a drink had been obtained for me, Jim called me aside.
“Won’t be a minute,” he told the others. “Just want to have a chat to Mr. Whittaker here.”
“I think you’re a fella I can trust,” he said to me. “It’s this way about that bank account of mine…”
He went on to inform me with the utmost frankness that he hadn’t practised commercial art since the war and was now a professional gambler. He paid no tax and had kept his money, until today, in a safe deposit box in the city which, as he lived in Caulfield, was inconvenient.
“As a matter of fact,” he concluded, “I haven’t had a banking account since I was a kid. Why I tell you all this is because I want my transactions kept between ourselves. My real name is Jim Roberts, as I told you the other day. I don’t want Artie Fadden taking an interest in my welfare, if you get what I mean.”
I assured him we respected our clients’ confidences, and then advised him not to leave such a large sum in the bank but to invest some of it.
“No,” he replied. “I’m like the old swaggie; no man’s master and no man’s slave. I don’t want to become an investor. The only shares I buy are bookies’ tickets. And, besides, I never know the day or hour when I am going to need every penny I’m worth, at short notice.”
We rejoined the others. I had four drinks that night. As a consequence, so strictly was my expenditure budgeted, I had to dispense with my drink with Trembath next afternoon. The acceptance of an account which I knew to be under a false name worried me for a few days, but I found myself able to ignore the bank’s interests for the first time in my life. Before a month had passed I had my drinks as often with Jim and his friends as with Trembath. Trembath didn’t mind. He preferred the company of heavier drinkers than me. I, myself, drank more beer in Jim’s school and was forced to draw ten shillings extra each week from my small personal banking account.
I was greatly attracted by the friendly unconventional atmosphere and by the fact that I, Paul Whittaker, not a good mixer, was made most welcome. It was Jim’s nature to take people as he found them, quickly to make a friend of a new acquaintance. He had a lot of friendliness to share and shared it generously, if too widely and indiscriminately for his own good. He seemed to know people wherever he went. The drinking school revolved around him and his personality, and lost its sparkle if he was not present. There was always plenty of good talk about boxing and football, sometimes politics if Gerald Roberts was present. Sometimes yarns were spun – often bawdy – but I never heard Jim Roberts, himself, tell a vulgar story. He preferred to tell stories based on actual happenings, and at this he was a master. But mainly the talk was of horses and gambling. Jim always took the lead, discussing prospects for coming race meetings, betting systems, champion horses and jockeys of the past and present. He liked to relate stories of famous gamblers such as Eric Connelly, and the sensational coups they carried off. The others treated Jim’s views with great respect, for after all he lived on the game and often put them in the way of backing winners.
At some stage, this latter factor attracted me, too. I had never backed a racehorse in my life and was opposed to gambling on principle, yet a certain vague greed stirred in me.
He went to the saloon, and I sought Jim Roberts.I saw him from far off in the huge public bar, standing with his back to me, with a small group of drinkers. As I approached, I had a feeling that this meeting held some strange promise of impending exc
opposed to gambling on principle, yet a certain vague greed stirred in me.
A few modest bets on Jim’s tips and I could relieve the pinch-penny state of my finances – and satisfy Julia’s demands for more money. His “good things” often won. Had he not banked another thousand pounds since opening his account?
On Friday afternoons, the talk was all of racing, even Gerald Roberts, a modest but regular punter, joining in with enthusiasm.
One Friday, Jim Roberts had information from a trainer about a horse which he described variously as a “no risk job”, a “please take me job” and a “bird”. I had my week’s expenses in my pocket – a pound note and some odd silver. Just before the hotel closed I asked Jim if he would mind placing a bet on the horse for me. He agreed to do so and I gave him the pound; I wanted to invest less but was ashamed to offer a smaller amount.
Next afternoon, I contrived to listen to the race without arousing Julia’s suspicions. To my disappointment and, I must admit, utter surprise the horse ran unplaced. Having spent my beer money, I kept away from the hotel until the following Friday. As I entered, Jim spied me coming and shouted: “We thought you’d gone for a trip round the world on your winnings.”
“What went wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing, really. That’s the racing game for you. We all thought it would win except the horse; he took it into his head not to do his best. I lost a lot of money.”
His matter- of- fact manner surprised me, for I had been prey to remorse all the week and I had lost only a pound.
“But surely the trainer who gave you the tip offered some explanation?” I ventured. Jim threw his head back and roared with laughter. “Oh, yes, he wrote me a long letter of apology – and that’s for sure.”
This comment of mine, made in all innocence of the ethics of the racing game, was the subject of much merriment and good-natured banter for weeks afterwards. I took it all in good part, for to be ragged by Jim and his mates meant that they liked you.
Inevitably, Jim had information for the next day’s races at Caulfield. He seemed to do best at Caulfield; his contacts, as I learned afterwards, were mainly Caulfield trainers, jockeys and strappers.
Just before closing time I asked Jim to place a bet for me. He hesitated, then said: “Look Paul, you’re not a gambler. It’s a hard game and costs a lot to learn; a lot more than you could ever know. Keep your money. You’ve got a good job; leave horse-racing to the mugs.” But I could not be denied. When Jim saw that I was quite determined, he accepted the ten shillings I offered. He had two good things, he said. I should back one, half up the other, and go for a good win. To this I readily agreed.
Both horses won, the first at odds of six to one, the second at ten to one, and I received more than twenty pounds for an investment of only ten shillings. After collecting the winnings from Jim, I resolved to go to the races the very next Saturday. ( AS I COULDN’T GET A GOOD VIEW OF ALL RUNNERS ON TVN ….sorry............ couldn't resist )
opposed to gambling on principle, yet a certain vague greed stirred in me.A few modest bets on Jim’s tips and I could relieve the pinch-penny state of my finances – and satisfy Julia’s demands for more money. His “good things” often won. Ha
resolved to go to the races the very next Saturday.
Why did I so resolve? Was greed the cause? Or my limited finances? Or the influence of my new-found friends? Or an unconscious revolt against my environment? To this day I cannot be sure.
To tell Julia was out of the question. I had never deceived her before about anything, but now I determined to do so. To deceive her was quite simple, really. My week-end routine was time honoured. On Saturday, I would arrive home at about 12.45, have lunch and small talk with Julia, and help her with the dishes. Then I’d change into old clothes, cut the lawns back and front, and potter about the garden. I neither liked nor disliked gardening; it was an established part of my routine, that was all. Our garden was large and needed a lot of attention. On Saturday nights we went to the pictures at the local theatre, whether the programme appealed to us or not. On Sundays we went to church. We found time to go for a drive in the afternoon if Julia was in the humour. I quite enjoyed driving; I used the car only at week-ends, being unable to afford to drive it to work. We were paying heavy instalments on the house and car and “keeping up with the Joneses”. My father had left me a little money but the deposit on the house and the car and our mode of living soon ate it up. Julia had nothing. Her father had lost heavily during the depression years and had only sufficient money at the time of his death to leave Julia’s mother a house and a small annuity which had decreased in value with inflation.
If we didn’t go for a Sunday drive, I played golf with neighbours, a lawyer and an architect. Golf is not a game I much enjoy but it was the done thing to play golf so I played it.
On a few occasions since our marriage, I had worked back at the bank on a Saturday afternoon so, when I told Julia I must do so again, she raised no protest.
On the Friday afternoon, Jim came into the bank to draw a thousand pounds. At the hotel, I asked him if I could accompany him to the races next day. He seemed to hesitate as though concerned about my interest in gambling, but finally agreed.
Next morning for the first time in my life, but by no means for the last, I experienced the joyous expectancy of the gambler. As I have recorded earlier, in relation to Jim, nothing can compare with it. I awoke on the Saturday morning with a pleasant sensation in the stomach and a tingle in the nerves of my fingers and toes. The all-consuming expectancy, like that of a child on the eve of Christmas, gripped me all morning at work, destroying my concentration.
The lagging clock on the wall moved to closing time but bank employees do not finish work when the doors close – there was still much to be done. At last, I was away and running towards the hotel. The fact that I ran was a further symptom of my revolt. Previously, my time-table was so organized that I moved always calmly, and at a steady gait. Now I was running excitedly, as if fleeing from my past. I found Jim Roberts and the others in the bar waiting impatiently.
“We were going to give you another five minutes, Paul,” Jim said. “We don’t want to keep the bookmakers waiting. They’re all down to their last hundred thousand and need our money to feed their starving children.”
Soon we were getting into a sleek black hire car outside the hotel. There were six of us. The driver was, I learnt, Eric Johnson; he treated his Saturday visit to the races as a mixture of business and pleasure. Johnson looked like a detective: big, ruggedly handsome, but colourless, taciturn and of shallow mentality. He owned the vehicle and plied with it as a hire car. Jim Roberts was his best customer. Johnson drove him almost everywhere he went. These Saturday trips to the races were most profitable; Eric Johnson charged us each one pound for the afternoon. Jim seemed to think this reasonable and, as often as not, paid for everyone. “Cheaper than owning a car,” he would say. Johnson was not a gambler by instinct or inclination; but he bet with his fares, cautiously but unskilfully. Not the kind of man who gets into trouble through gambling……….
Jim Roberts sat next to Johnson, dressed in neat sports clothes and bow tie, hatless as usual. I sat next to Jim, as I was to do often as the months passed. The others in the party varied from Saturday to Saturday; on this particular day, in the back seat sat three men.
Harry Walton, Jim’s life-long friend, was behind the driver. Sandy- haired and freckled, he wore a brown suit, slightly frayed at the cuffs. Still a single man and employed now in the building trade, Walton lived for horse-racing and his friendship with Jim Roberts.
Next to Harry Walton was an elderly man known for some unaccountable reason as Dapper Dan. The word to describe his dress would have been the reverse of dapper; an old coat and trousers, unpressed as if slept in, a none-too-clean tartan print shirt; a greasy old tie; and, incongruously, a new hat. The hat, I was told later, had been bought by Jim Roberts, who often gave Dan a present in money or kind after a winning day. Old Dan worked in the stables of a well-known horse- trainer. He had been apprenticed to a Caulfield trainer as a lad. Becoming too heavy for riding, he stayed in the game, working in this stable and that. Jim Roberts used to say to him: “You’re getting to look more like a bloody horse every day, Dan,” and old Dan would chuckle, shaking his shoulders up and down. Dan spent as much time ferreting for tips as he did tending the horses. He came to the hotel each Saturday morning with a long list of tips, sometimes as many as three in the same race. Jim would listen to his information, then sort the grain from the chaff. He had twice given Dan the price of a suit of clothes, but the old chap hadn’t got around to buying one: he didn’t like “dressing up flash”, and he needed every penny he could get for gambling, at which he lost in the long run. “A man gets too many bloody tips,” he told me one day.
The other occupant of the car was a man named Tom Sparks, a semi-professional punter. Sparks was a typical Australian battler, tall and angular, a sardonic wit, a kindly cynic who favoured the under-dog, but had, as Gerald Roberts put it, “emancipated himself”. Sometimes, when Gerald Roberts talked politics, Sparks would say: “I’ll expropriate the capitalists, Gerry; starting with the book-makers!” Tom Sparks had tried every way known to man of making a “more or less honest quid”, from gold prospecting to inventing gadgets. Now, he eked out a living punting horses and, during a bad trot, “turned over a quid” as a salesman. He was in constant conflict with his wife over gambling, but she was slowly becoming resigned to her fate.
Presently, Tom Sparks said: “We’ll have a job to catch the first.”
“What’s the right time?”
“Almost a quarter- past,” I replied.
“You won’t have that watch long, Paul,” Jim jested. “You rarely see a punter with a watch. Can’t afford one. They need the money for betting and there’s plenty of clocks on the racecourse. Anyway, you can always ask a bookie the time – they’ve all got gold watches.”
Soon they fell to discussing horses and form, exchanging ideas and information which, at that time, I couldn’t understand.
Up St.Kilda Road sped the car in the bright sunshine, the Shrine of Remembrance in the distance ahead of us, framed by the avenue of trees and the cloudless sky. Soon the Shrine was behind us and we drove up Swanston Street.
“It’s bloody marvellous,” Harry Walton complained. “If you miss one set of lights you miss the lot.” “Stop laughing,” Jim Roberts said. “My horoscope is good today. We’ll kill ‘em.” He often joked about astrology, trying to hide the superstitions he had about gambling.
Through the slums of North Melbourne and soon, by taxi drivers’ short cuts, we came out within sight of Flemington racecourse. I’d passed it in the train more than once. But now, swathed in sunlight, the crowds streaming into it from all points, the double- tiered stands flag-bedecked and the bookmakers’ umbrellas up, it assumed a new vital aspect. Life had been infused into it, adding new beauty to the green lawns, the picturesque gardens, the symmetrical sweep of the rails. Our car nosed its way slowly with the line of traffic, then swept clear down the long drive parallel with the Straight Six section of the track towards the Paddock and Hill entrances. My heart was singing – this was the life!
OH YEAH BABY, SOUNDS GOOD TO ME TOO
resolved to go to the races the very next Saturday. Why did I so resolve? Was greed the cause? Or my limited finances? Or the influence of my new-found friends? Or an unconscious revolt against my environment? To this day I cannot be sure.To tell J
Yes TB, the sheer number of people, bookies, the rabbit warrens that were the old grandstands, tic tac dude signalling prices from the rails to the hill,etc, etc,the atmosphere was definately exciting, those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end......
My heart was singing – this was the life!
As we alighted from the car, Jim Roberts said to me: “We go on the Hill at Flemington, Paul. My brother, Gerry, will meet us inside with his wife. It costs too much for them to go inside. They usually only come to Flemington meetings, so we always go on the Hill here. Still, you can see just the same on the Hill – and do your money just as easily.”
While Eric Johnson parked the car we rushed to catch the first race, while newsboys shouted “Guide or Circle; get your form guide.” Up the wooden steps and down again to the turnstiles, impatient yet chattering light-heartedly in the queue, racing headlong up the bitumen path to the Hill enclosure….. Jim Roberts joined a queue to the boxes where racebooks are sold and returned with a book for each of us. A race crowd is easily exploited: first the railways and the taxi drivers, then the entrance fee, then the racebook, then two shillings and sixpence for a pie and tea or seven shillings for a cold lunch, then the bookmakers and tote and, of course, the Government’s Tax on both. On leaving the course, however, they cannot be exploited, for the majority of them have little or no money left. I discovered that they had a pre-arranged meeting- place. We met at the small bar at the back of the tote, ten minutes before and just after each race. I went out on to the banked steps of the open stand to watch the first race; and, although I did not bet, I was captivated by the atmosphere of risk, of excitement, of strange good fellowship.
What a spectacle! The animals and their jockeys striving over the gruelling strewn track – and the people now hushed, now shouting excitedly. The favourite and an outsider jumped the last fence together and the crowd alternated between shouting and straining their ears to hear the course announcer above their own voices. The favourite was beaten by a neck.
Back at the meeting- place I found my companions gathered. Jim came back from the bar with his fists full of beer glasses. They held a post-mortem.
“I had that favourite going for a hatful,” Jim Roberts said. “If it had jumped the last well it would have won. But that’s racing…. Did you have a bet, Paul? ” “No, Jim, I’m a new chum.”
Gerald Roberts introduced me to his wife, a simply dressed, attractive little woman. They all had their form guides out, studying the next race.
“Don’t bet on the next race,” Jim advised them. “It’s a bad race.” Turning to me he added. “Are you going to have a bet, Paul?”
“Well, I’d like to, but I don’t understand the game…”
“Well, leave this alone, and I’ll mark your book for a few later races. This is a novice race. Bad horses. Your money is good, so don’t put it on bad horses or bad jockeys – that’s what I always say.” As the afternoon progressed I became more and more enchanted with my new friends and with horse-racing. After each race we would have a drink then separate to place our bets. On three occasions during the afternoon when they wanted to have a big bet, Jim, Tom Sparks and Dapper Dan departed for the paddock ring and the Bird Cage where they sought information. This was a costly and, no doubt inconvenient business, but Jim went through it in order to have the company of Gerald and his wife and the others followed him as in all things. But they always returned, soon after each race, to rejoin us.
“Well, Paul,” Jim said to me before the third race. “I think you should have a bet on this. On the favourite. It’ll be short but looks a class above the others.”
Walking towards the betting ring, I was gripped by mixed feelings. I took a five pound note from my wallet. My hands were trembling, my heart pounding. The act of plunging into gambling attracted me strongly, but my disciplined habits revolted at the prospect. The price of the favourite was two to one. Should I bet the whole five pounds? No, one pound would be enough. I mustn’t let this game get me in too much. I approached a bookmaker.
Then, as if someone else had spoken, I said: “Give me five pounds on Comic Court.”
Yes TB, the sheer number of people, bookies, the rabbit warrens that were the old grandstands, tic tac dude signalling prices from the rails to the hill,etc, etc,the atmosphere was definately exciting, those were the days my friend, we thought they'd
Then, as if someone else had spoken, I said: “Give me five pounds on Comic Court.”
When Jack Purtell brought the big horse around the leaders at the turn and rode it hands and heels to an easy win, I shall never forget the overwhelming satisfaction I experienced.
I backed five more horses without winning, but three of them ran a place and the one in the last race was beaten in a photo finish.
We all lost on the day.
Dapper Dan seemed to back about four horses in every race; among them were three winners but, of course, he lost too. Harry Walton bet skilfully but with a tinge of desperation and complained after every race but one that he “went off that winner at the last moment.”
Ton Sparks lost, but he had a lot of fun, laughing and joking much of the time, enjoying the gamble and the friendship. Eric Johnson lost, too; he did so meanly and without enjoyment; a five shilling tote ticket here, a four shilling double there until he’d spent our fares.
Gerald Roberts lost his limit of thirty shillings, as if he expected no other result and treated this as his form of relaxation. His wife lost her five shillings, which I learned she bet in single shillings, sharing Gerald’s modest investments. She bet, it seemed to me, only because Gerald liked his day at the races and harmed her not at all thereby. Jim Roberts lost, too, but as we walked towards the exit, he said: “I lost a few hundred, but I had five terrific results going. That last one that got beat in the photo, for instance, if he’d had a longer nose I’d have won two thousand. That’s racing…..”
We piled into the car and were silent for a while, pondering the consequences of our losses.
Then Jim began to sing:
People who wager on horses See their castles go up in smoke But horses don’t bet on people – And that’s why they never go broke.
How often in the months ahead I was to hear him sing that song. “Horses don’t bet on people….” It was his theme song at a party and, as an encore, he would sing interminable verses of a song that quite intrigued me, “Paddy MacGinty’s Goat.” We returned to the Caulfield Hotel and had drinks. How warm and friendly, open and genuine they all were compared to my usual friends, or rather acquaintances.
I had lost eight pounds but I was still ahead of the game. And I had won friends and a new vitality, a new warmth.
And I had bought a ticket in the four-legged lottery…………
Parts of the manuscript are in danger of falling into the hands of the authorities. A prisoner here, a former seaman serving a life sentence for murder, recently smuggled out a series of biographical articles which appeared in a newspaper. Security in the jail has been tightened up.
The warder who did the smuggling retired from the service in a hurry. That same man had been taking out a copy of my manuscript, piece by piece. The warder who replaced him seemed more than usually trustworthy because he was more than usually corrupt, but the Bush Lawyer was hesitant.
“I’m trying him out on little jobs,” he told me. “Meantime, you’d better give me all the writings you’ve got in your cell.
There might be a search.”
They call the new warder Little Sport because of his resemblance to that cartoon character. The Bush Lawyer has given him several jobs to do. He has done them without hesitation – but he asks a lot of questions.
Meanwhile my copy of the manuscript and three copies of the most recent chapter are hidden somewhere in the jail, and I hesitate to work further on the novel until the problem is solved.
After my first visit to the racecourse, the old and new fought out a battle within me. A sense of guilt soon began to afflict me. Fancy me, Paul Whittaker, squandering eight pounds on horses! What would Julia say? What would the bank authorities say? And fancy me leading a deceitful double life!
I resolved never to bet again! I didn’t for many weeks. I continued to drink with Jim and his friends though. And I listened with growing interest to their racing talk, their forecasts on Fridays, their résumés on Mondays. They were having a winning run, they said, and Jim’s bank account rose to four thousand five hundred pounds in proof of this.
One Monday, tom Sparks fingered the lapels of a smart overcoat he wore and said: “Well, the bookies bought me a new coat. Thirty Quid’s worth. Nice bitta stuff. It’s a budy!” Turning to me he contended: “You know, Paul, I always buy something solid when I have a win: a lot of furniture in my house is labelled. The big radiogram has a tag on it, won on such and such a horse from such and such a bookie, and so on.”
His remark exercised my mind that evening, while I sat by our gas fire with Julia listening to her serials and quiz sessions on the radio.
Then Julia said: “Paul, we really should buy a radiogram. The Conways have just got a lovely one, with a cocktail cabinet and a three speed motor.”
I felt inclined to say we rarely used the old one we had. But I was seeing visions of prosperity from gambling. There were a few things needed around our home. Julia would never be content until our finances improved. She needed new clothes and so did I. We needed a new car – and to be able to run it every day. The rates and mortgage payments were due. And we needed a higher income and more money in the bank.
The next Saturday, I lied to Julia again, and went to Moonee Valley racecourse with Jim and his friends. My tremendous excitement was not unmixed with secret shame.
I bet very cautiously. I backed the first three winners but resisted the temptation to raise my stake above one pound. On the day, I wagered on six winners, four in Melbourne and two in Sydney (by then special bookmakers were operating on Sydney races on all Melbourne racetracks). I won twenty pounds. Leaving the course, my main feeling was one of self reproach – not because I had gambled but because I had failed to bet more heavily. I should have won a hundred, I told myself.
For some months, I went to the races as often as I could find an excuse to make to Julia. Yet I suffered pangs of conscience. My personality seemed to become wrenched. The revolt against my background, against the monotony of my work and life and against the essential failure of my marriage, seemed to crystallize. That revolt had lain dormant for some years, now it began to erupt in my growing friendship with Jim Roberts – and in the gambling habit. The change was slow. After almost every trip to the racecourse, I swore never to bet again. Once I was so remorseful that I went back to drinking with Trembath for a few days….
My visits to the races remain vivid in my memory, but jumbled as in a kaleidoscope. Scraps of scenes I witnessed, of people I met, of remarks I heard, of facts I learned. A phantasmagoria of that strange, corrupt, fascinating world – Australian horse-racing….
Then, as if someone else had spoken, I said: “Give me five pounds on Comic Court.”When Jack Purtell brought the big horse around the leaders at the turn and rode it hands and heels to an easy win, I shall never forget the overwhelming satisfactio
Phantasmagoria ... was a form of theatre which used a modified magic lantern to project frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens, frequently using rear projection. The projector was mobile, allowing the projected image to move and change size on the screen, and multiple projecting devices allowed for quick switching of different images. Invented in France in the late 18th century, it gained popularity through most of Europe (especially England) throughout the 19th century.
my main feeling was one of self reproach – not because I had gambled but because I had failed to bet more heavily. I should have won a hundred, I told myself.
a classic sentence of the 'sadness of winning' lol ... paul needed our Forum in his day ... to straighten out his mess
and it was the ... Caulfield Hotel ... over on the Malvern side of the track ... that the boys were drinking at ...
a very enjoyable read spoon ... well done again
Phantasmagoria ... was a form of theatre which used a modified magic lantern to project frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens, frequently using rear projection. The projector was mobi
Pleased u seem to be relating to and enjoying the story.
Mopey, I must warn you, ure "Number 1" reader status is at risk........ LIFT !!
A phantasmagoria of that strange, corrupt, fascinating world – Australian horse-racing….
Gerald Roberts saying: “The game is run to make money for big-business interests. The racing clubs and horses should be nationalized.”
Rich owners and breeders of thoroughbred horses dominate the Australian racing clubs. The game is run for them. Next come the leading trainers and jockeys, the bookmakers who nearly always win, the government that always gets its totalisator percentages and taxes, the caterers, and the few professional punters. The poor rank-and-file punter runs a bad last; he almost always loses; the game is conducted expressly to exploit him.
Of course, I soon accepted these self-evident facts, yet I continued betting. I was influenced by my belief in the infallibility of Jim Roberts – and I seemed to be mesmerized by the glamour, by the shouting of the bookmakers, by the afternoon of friendship, by the appeal of the gambler’s leap into the dark, by the hope of quick profits………
Jim Roberts saying, as we left the course after a losing day: “At least I know that most of the horses we backed were goers. The majority of horses backed by other punters either weren’t trying to win or couldn’t have won even if they were.”
I learned to know what lay behind that remark.
Owners, trainers and jockeys often pull up horses in collusion or independently. They are in the game to make money. Sometimes they wait for a better price, or for an easier race. Or they just decide to back another horse. Also, they have a habit of running a horse into form and out of form. After a horse is spelled, it comes back above itself in condition. It is then raced into condition. It runs two or three times unfancied, dead because it couldn’t win even if it tried, and the jockey is instructed not to knock it about. It reaches the peak of condition and perhaps wins a race or two, then it begins to lose condition again, it trains off. Before being spelled, it races out of condition.
“They do that to get weight off a hose’s back,” Jim explained. “They have to do it. The handicapper raises a horse’s weight when it wins, and weight will beat the best of them, eventually. Even the few honest owners and trainers have to stop the handicapper from getting a horse’s measure.”
Dapper Dan coming back from the Bird Cage and calling Jim aside furtively: “So and so, Jim,. Be a moral. Been given every assistance.” Dapper Dan narrowed his eyes and touched his upper lip with the tip of his tongue – an expression he adopted only when he really knew something.
Jim laughing and saying: “Been sniffing round the stalls again, have yer, you old bloodhound?” Then he became serious: “A jigger job, eh?”
He told me. A jigger is a battery. It is not used in the actual race. A horse is “hit with it” on the training tracks.
“But what did you mean about sniffing round the stalls?”
Again Jim was quite frank. He knew I could be trusted. I only reveal this sordid story now because he told me to do so during our remand yard talks.
“Well, Paul, horse-racing is not a kindergarten. A horse is hit with the battery on the track, usually on the morning of the actual race. They rub a mixture called Penetaine on the horse’ sides. This acts as a conductor. In the actual race, the jockey hits the horse with the spurs or the whip at the same point of the track, and the sensation is like that that of the battery. You can smell the mixture a mile off, but it doesn’t show in a swab.”
That horse won by three lengths. And I think I saw the point at which it received the spurs, the imitation of the battery. After turning into the straight, the horse bounded as if struck by lightning.
Jim told me afterwards that the use of the battery is rare. A horse is soon worn out by the frantic exertion and develops some immunity to the treatment.
Not so rare, commonplace, in fact is the use of dope.
One day at Caulfield, Jim introduced me to the foreman of a well-known training stable. A strong, clean-cut fellow and an expert horse-breaker, he appealed to me as a good type of man. A non-bettor himself (he was engaged to be married and his fiancée would not permit him to gamble), he often gave Jim inside information.
As we left the stall, I said to Jim: “He seems a nice fellow.”
“One of the best,” Jim replied.
Tom Sparks endorsed this opinion with a characteristically crude expression. At first his bawdy slang had offended my susceptibilities – but I was getting used to it.
“He really is a good bloke,” Jim reiterated, “as racing men go. But he dopes horses. Look now. See that fellow talking to him; the bloke in the homburg hat?”
“Well, that’s the mad doctor. Used to be a Collins Street surgeon. Took to punting. Lost all his money. Now he prepares dope for horse trainers. He makes more money this way than cutting out appendixes – but he loses it all punting horses. Bet on two flies crawling up a wall, he would. He dopes the horses and can’t win – what hope have we got…”
Jim insisted then, and later here inside the jail walls, that the majority of race winners are doped. So prevalent is doping, that the most honest trainer in Australia dare not risk a horse in an important race without “assistance”. Jim said all the champion horses of the Australian turf in the past twenty-five years have been treated with dope.
Jim Roberts saying: “Dope can’t make a horse fast, but it can make a fast horse faster, make a good horse do better than its best.”
Jim explained to me in the yard that a horse must be absolutely fit and up to the class of his opponents before dope can be used effectively.
“What about the stewards?”
Jim replied that the stewards act against dope rings (usually operated by bookmakers) which dope horses to make them lose.
“What about the two horses that lost those races in Sydney,” I persisted, quite unable to believe that this sordid aspect of racing really existed.
“They were Victoria horses,” Jim said. “Their trainers used the old-fashioned Melbourne stings. In Sydney the stewards take swabs of every placed horse.”
“So they can’t dope horses in Sydney,” I replied somewhat triumphant.
My feeling of triumph was short lived. Jim convinced me that doping remained just as prevalent in Sydney as Melbourne. Swabbing of horses was introduced in an attempt to restore public confidence in racing, but the “smarties” soon found stings that didn’t show on a swab.
The old-fashioned stings included nicotine acid to accentuate the horse’s heart beat; strychnine to make the horse’s muscles contract better; caffeine and heroin to dull the nerve centres of fatigue in the horse’s brain, these being a safety valve which lets a horse know when it has had enough. All of these drugs can be detected in saliva or urinal tests. In Sydney, their use has been supplanted by hormone drugs which cannot be detected in any test. Cortisone, for instance, is already in the horse’s system; additional doses improve the horse’s performance without producing a positive swab. There are other drugs which normally produce a positive swab, but this can be prevented if an antidote is fed to the horse. Tranquiliser drugs are used on horses that are highly strung and shy of crowds. Many trainers have come to view the use of drugs as a natural extension of scientific feeding.
Jim Roberts saying: “Bookmakers can’t get along without horse-racing, but horse-racing can get along without bookmakers.”
Infamous instances of nobbling horses were often discussed. Cheery Jack, the great nimble-footed steeplechaser discovered blinded with dope on the way to the post for the Melbourne Grand National. Bookmakers could not have met their commitments had he won the race, as he assuredly would have done, ridden by the one-and-only Laurie Meenan.
And the attempt to shoot the mighty Phar-Lap…..
Tom Sparks advising: “Don’t back that horse, Paul. It’s been bagged.”
This can be done by the owner or the jockey, but more often it’s done by the trainer, sometimes without the knowledge of either the owner or the jockey. A trainer gets a horse “in the market”. He approaches a bookmaker or a group of bookmakers through an intermediary. The horse will not win if they pay up; he is prepared to “bag it”, to run it for the bookmakers. This horse drifts in the market. Those bookmakers in the know and eventually their shrewd confreres are anxious to lay it. Its price gradually increases. It gets the “Joe Blows” as the punters put it. Of course, a dead horse which has not been bagged will also drift in the market but in that case the bookmakers are lengthening its price just because there is no money for it. Occasionally, a horse might drift and still win. An SP job (a horse backed away from the course); or a horse from a non-betting stable that drifts in the market because of pressure of money for other horses.
“But what about the stewards? Surely they know this goes on!”
Occasionally, the stewards enquire into inconsistent running. The trainer asserts that he has backed the horse – and produces betting tickets to prove it. Bookmakers in the know have supplied the trainer with fictitious betting tickets to prove the horse has been backed. Usually, the explanation is accepted. Occasionally, a jockey might be disqualified for rough riding but inconsistent running is more difficult to prove, so action against it is rare.
Jim Roberts standing in front of the stand of a rails bookmaker, explaining how a book is made to collect a percentage whichever horse wins. This percentage varies from, say, 12 and a half per cent if a well-backed horse wins to 100 per cent if a rank outsider gives a “skinner”. A bookmaker applies the “over-round” method as it is called in England, or the “round-robbin”, as it is called in Australia. A hypothetical case; if a bookmaker, in a four horse race, bets odds of five to two about each horse, he would win 12 and a half per cent of his turnover whichever horse won, provided he held the same amount for each horse. Of course, the extent to which the over-round can be operated varies from race to race and there are occasions when weight of money for a winner leaves a book-making losing on a race. But, in the long run, the over-round makes it a mathematical impossibility for a bookmaker to lose.
Jim Roberts and Tom Sparks revealing to me the flotsam and jetsam of the racecourses.
A man accosting me at Flemington saying: “I’ve got the winner of this next race. So-and-so. Don’t tell a soul.”
Tom Sparks intervening: “Don’t listen to him, Paul. That’s old ‘Don’t tell a soul’, the urger. He gives you a tip and then persuades you to put a few quid on it for him. Gives a different horse to every victim. Must pick a winner occasionally.”
The mail-order tipsters.
Jim Roberts pointing out a gaudily dressed man in the Caulfield Hotel: “That’s ‘please find enclosed’. He sends out tips to people on a mug’s list. Sends a different horse to every customer. Got his nickname because he reckons he only reads letters that begin with the words ‘please find enclosed’.”
The punch-drunk jockeys.
Me laughing aloud at a humorous remark of Tom Sparks or a bitter Australian slang term of Harry Walton’s. A man nearby interjecting: “Don’t laugh at me. I’ll get a good ride one of these days and win a big race.”
Jim Roberts explaining: “That fella’s what we call a punch drunk jockey. A good apprentice years ago, got too heavy, dreams of the day he’ll stage a come back.”
The phoney “nod-bettors”.
A man rushing headlong, scattering people, to make a large bet “on the nod”.
Jim Roberts warning: “Don’t follow his lead, Paul. He’s employed by the bookies to start a rush on a dead horse. Used to be a big professional punter, went broke, now works for the bookies to get the mugs in.”
Tom Sparks commenting: “Look at ‘em. Here, out on the Flat, on the Hill, even in the members’ enclosure. Pie and tomato sauce. Gravy running down one side of the sleeve, sauce sown the other. Leaning forward away from the wind…Hoo. Hoo. A nation of bloody pie-eaters.”
The talking jockeys.
Jim Roberts taking me back of the course in the Flat enclosure to hear the boys debate during a race. Experienced riders shouting angry words to intimidate apprentice boys. Top jockeys buying a run: “Let me through for twenty quid.” Collusion: “Where’s the favourite? I’m supposed to finish behind it.”
The incredible skill of Australian horsemen:
Darby Munro stealing a weight for age race on a moke. Snozzle Purtell timing his run, getting up in a punishing photo finish. Nevvie Selwood, a great judge of pace, clocking the horses in his mind, during a race. George Moore, a better business man than he is a rider – and that’s saying something. “Professor Thompson never beaten in a photo finish, nudging the favourite over the line to win by a hair on its chin. Billy Williamson coldly planning his race, riding mean and winning. Ronnie Hutchison, a specialist in long distance races, getting the wrap up from his mates, Des Hoysted and Frank O’Brien – “ridden in copy-book style by Hutchie”. “Scobie” Breasley going the shortest way home. “Digger” McGrowdie has won more cups than a champion golfer.
The battling trainers.
Jim Roberts telling me: “That bloke just tipped me one of his horse. It couldn’t win if it started now. A battler. Got a few scrubbers. Picks up a race in the bush occasionally. Likes to run his horses in the city. Dreams of the day he’ll buy a horse for twenty quid and win a Derby. But those days are gone. If one of his mokes is sick he sleeps in the stall with it and gets the best vet in Melbourne. If his missus got sick he’d give her a couple of Aspros.”
The system punters
Phantastic response, TB Pleased u seem to be relating to and enjoying the story.Mopey, I must warn you, ure "Number 1" reader status is at risk........ LIFT !! A phantasmagoria of that strange, corrupt, fascinating world – Australian horse-racing
Tom Sparks nodding his head towards a mild-looking man: “Get a gander at the little bloke with the black exercise book. A system punter with his records. Spends more time at the library than a university professor.”
The women punters.
Jim Roberts saying: “Have an eyeful of those two old sheilas beside the five quid tote queue. They stand there and note every bet made before making their selections. Manage to lose their housekeeping money every week, just the same. And look there at that young woman with the little boy, slapping the kid round the legs because it’s tired and crying. Fancy bringing a kid that age to the racecourse.”
And Jim Roberts observing: “Take a look round at the ages of people on the course. The majority between thirty-five and forty-five. The depression-bred generation. The younger generation brought up during the war and after don’t gamble as much as we do – society has found other ways of demoralizing them, like the bodgie cult, for instance.”
Jim Roberts and Tom sparks, their hands full of form guides analysing a race, seeking the winner. An education in misplaced shrewdness, and in Australian humour.
Comparing the weights with those carried in previous races, handicapping one horse against the other. “Purtell’s mount is in well; the handicapper has said ‘yes’.” The jockeys: “ A change of rider here; he’d be dead last start with the apprentice on top.” The state of the track: “That filly is a definite mud-runner.” Barrier position: “That favourite is drawn wide. They have to draw in close at this barrier.” The breeding” “That favourite is bred for stamina.” The betting habits of trainers. “They generally bet about every third run when the price is right.” Horses for courses. “They usually send this one off at the Valley” or So-and-so is a straight six specialist”. And watching the market. “There’s money for this one” or “The favourite’s got the Joe Blows.” Tom Sparks rolling his head on one side, pursing his lips: “Hoo! Hoo! It’ll be a massacre!” And Jim Roberts saying with mock gravity: “Well, now, we’d better be careful. If the bag boys see us looking shrewd, they’ll smell a rat. P’raps we’d better get Paul to put the money on.”
Jim Roberts saying to me, when I told him I intended, as a man of mathematical turn of mind, to bet on a system: “That’s a sure way to go broke.”
“But there are systems advertised in the paper. One guarantees you will win five thousand a year. All a matter of mathematics, it says.”
Jim laughing scornfully: “If you had a system as good as that, would you advertise it in the papers?”
Jim advising: “Avoid systems like a plague.”
Winners cannot be profitably selected on the basis of mathematics, or by backing favourites, or second favourites, or the mounts of a leading jockey or the selections of a given newspaper. Making selections by any predetermined method cannot succeed. For example, over a period, a certain newspaper tipster might select the winner of one race in every four. To use these selections as the basis of a system, a punter would have to increase the number of units invested on each horse selected until one of them won, then revert to his original unit. All manner of permutations of the one in four are possible. The tipster sooner or later will have a run of twenty or thirty losing tips in succession. If the punter is determined to follow the system to the bitter end he will lose his money, his house and motor car, and perhaps his employer’s money as well. The law of averages will destroy all systems and staking plans.
Jim Roberts explaining in all seriousness that punters must replace the law of averages, with what he called the law of probability. The example of a method of betting at two-up. In an honestly conducted two-up school, an equal number of heads and tails will be thrown over a long period; both head and tail bettors must lose because the man conducting the school takes a percentage, just as the bookmakers and the tote do at the races. But this law can be overcome in various ways. For instance, a tail better can back the tail on every spin -only for two throws, doubling his stake on the second throw if the spinner heads them first time. In this way he defeats the law of averages. He wins a unit every time a spinner throws a flat tail or one head and one tail. His only losing bets are made when a spinner throws two or more heads.
And me asking Jim: “Can that be done on the horses?”
These days its called "hothousing"........oh dear,..hothousing a desperate
The system punters.Tom Sparks nodding his head towards a mild-looking man: “Get a gander at the little bloke with the black exercise book. A system punter with his records. Spends more time at the library than a university professor.”The women pu
considering this is over 50 years ago ... it is beutiful to read the methodologies have changed so little ... was there no Mounting Yard Assessments in the good old days
don’t gamble as much as we do – society has found other ways of demoralizing them, like the bodgie cult, for instance.”
i used to like the widgies a bit
considering this is over 50 years ago ... it is beutiful to read the methodologies have changed so little ... was there no Mounting Yard Assessments in the good old days don’t gamble as much as we do – society has found other ways of demoralizin
And me asking Jim: “Can that be done on the horses?”
Something like it.
A punter must first minimize the average number of losing bets. This can only be achieved by not betting on every race or, more precisely, by not betting on difficult races. And there are harder and easier races. Hard races can be recognized in various ways: by the number of horses under ten to one in the market, by large variations in the selections of newspapers, by the size of the field or by the class of the horse engaged. Some successful punters take all these factors into account. Others only take the last two. They don’t bet on maiden, novice or welter handicaps because the fields are usually large and the market wide, and they don’t bet on weight-for-age races because these are usually won by odds-on favourites or bolters.
Having deleted the races in which he is least likely to select the winner, the punter has taken a step towards defeating the law of averages.
But, in the final analysis, successful forecasting is the only way a punter can win at horse-racing. And to select winners with any degree of consistency takes years of fanatical study and costs much in money and heartaches.
Jim Roberts reciting his formula: “Only back a horse that is fit, that is racing in his own class, that is favourably handicapped, that has a good barrier position, that is ridden by a good jockey, that is suited by the track, that is firm in the market! And even then, remember! Horses don’t bet on people, that’s why they never go broke.”
And Tom Sparks commenting: “And never back a dead’un! A man should only bet when he’s got inside information – and if it’s information from a stable with a jigger or a good sting, all the better.” Genuine tips are hard to come by. Most trainers and jockeys are tight-lipped. Harry Walton saying: “Wouldn’t tell their blind grandmother the way to the lavatory.”
In return for information, they often want “the odds to a tenner” if the horse wins. In any case the majority of trainers think their horse is a goose that will lay a golden egg when it is, in fact, often only an ugly duckling. And always check an owner’s tip - the owner isn’t always told when his horse is trying.
Having made a deliberate, intelligent selection or selections, the punter should then seek what Jim called value. Some favourites are value, others are not. This is an imponderable factor, but some punters develop an instinct for it. They won’t back a favourite at even mone which appears to have only a two to one chance. Again, they might consider a horse at eight to one better value “each-way” than the favourite at six to four straight out. Yet again, they will sometimes back two or even three horses straight out to show a profit, rather than back one horse each way. This they call “making a book against the bookmaker”. Such punters rarely bet on a race in which the favourite is odds-on. They argue that it is unprofitable either to back odds-on favourites, or bet against them. “Odds-on – look on,” they say.
Having reduced the number of races on which he bets and sought value, a punter should then stake intelligently, putting his largest bets on horses which his gambling intelligence tells him are most likely to win. The race tracks are strewn with the corpses of gamblers who back many winners but still lose because they have not staked intelligently.
Tom Sparks telling me: “There was once a way of betting so you couldn’t lose. Trust an Australian to invent it. A punter approached a bookmaker and backed say, Hairy Legs, in the first race provided that, say, Goldilocks won the last race. Then approached another bookmaker and backed Goldilocks in the last race, provided Hairy Legs won the first race. Get it? It was a ‘budy’! But the bookies soon saw through the ruse and introduced a no betting backwards rule to meet the situation.”
In the yard, Jim Roberts often echoed or amplified remarks I heard his brother make. He told me the commercial racket of horse-racing could not survive long without press and radio publicity. “But, “I replied, “they cater for a public need.” “Which came first?” Jim asked by way of reply. “The chicken or the egg?”
He and Gerald claimed that the press and radio debased public taste in this and other fields. Near the end, I asked Jim: “As Australians love to gamble, how can the game be cleaned up?” “Well,” he replied, “the first thing to do is to wipe out all bookmaking, on and off the course. A crooked jockey or trainer can’t do business with the tote machine; the tote can’t rig a race. The second thing is that stewards must be forced to act against the practice of racing horses dead. Then at least, the punter would have some chance.”
“Do you think that’s ever likely to happen?”
“Not until the whole social system is changed. Then horse-racing could really be cleaned up, and become a true sport again. There would be less gambling; people would feel secure and be encouraged to do better things with their time and money.”
“And meantime, the game can’t be beaten,” I said.
“Well, I s’pose it can be beaten. After all, I beat it for a few years and I’ve met a few punters who beat it for longer. What beat me and will beat them all is the psychology of the true gambler. Even when he learns all the rules, he can’t resist gambling for gambling’s sake; he breaks his own rules and often bets against his own better judgement.”
After some thought, he added: “I’ve advised many punters to give it up, but not one took the advice. They were all convinced they would beat the game one day.”
Only one punter in tens of thousands ever becomes a professional or semi-professional, or even gets ahead of the game, Jim asserted more than once. To do so, that punter must spend half a lifetime losing his money and living often in a state of dread and remorse.
Even assuming a punter continued winning indefinitely, where would he end up? As a fanatic who has given his soul over to the devil of gambling. He would lose the taste for the fine things in life. He would be dehumanized by his very success.
He would have bought a ticket in the four-legged lottery, running the risk of winning a major prize……….
And me asking Jim: “Can that be done on the horses?”Something like it.A punter must first minimize the average number of losing bets. This can only be achieved by not betting on every race or, more precisely, by not betting on difficult races. An
During that first year, Jim and I became firm friends. Because of the wide difference in our personalities, the friendship ripened slowly. For Jim, I believe it began because I helped him open a bank account under a false name, and because I learned to admire his personality and unfulfilled talent. However, it soon began to mean more than that. He seemed to respect my educational qualifications. Gradually, he began to confide to me some of the details of his broken life….. He was having mixed luck at the races. His bank account had fallen to two thousand five hundred pounds. I had succeeded only in breaking even with my betting, but I was becoming convinced I could beat the game. I had begun to go to the races nearly every Saturday until Julia complained vaguely. She could neither believe I was deceiving her nor understand why I should work back so often. I just had to cease attending the races but had reached the stage where I couldn’t resist gambling.
I asked Jim for a bookmaker’s phone number. He gave me the number of Jack Pittson.
Pittson had long ago won his “fousand” pounds but hadn’t abandoned making a book. On the contrary, he had risen on the ladder of illegal gambling. He had a sleeping partner who helped finance a large SP phone connection. As a blind, Pittson assisted his wife in a haberdashery store, but absented himself on all race days.
“He’s a miserable bastard, Paul,” Jim Roberts told me. “Not all bookies are miserable; some of them are happy-go-lucky, generous blokes. They make money easily and spend it freely, give to charity and so forth. Pittson is miserable, but he’s a cautious, shrewd bookmaker. And he pays – which is the main thing.”
Jim went on to tell me that with many small SP’s it is only a question of who would go broke first – the punters or the bookie.
“But Pittson won’t go broke – he’s too mean and cunning.” Jim spoke with spleen; I learned why – only later…
Telephone betting is dangerous to punters. On the phone, you don’t have to pass over the notes and silver. On the phone, you can bet with money you haven’t got. On the phone, unless you are protected like the Koala bears, as Jim would have expressed it, you can get into trouble far more easily than when you bet in cash on the course……
Though I ceased going to the races with Jim, we still took beer together every week day. He had been losing for a few weeks. That he couldn’t hide from me. I was the only person he told how much he won or lost.
My first inkling of his inner unhappiness came one day in the hotel. While Jim was at the counter buying a round, I remarked to Gerald that Jim had a happy personality.
“Jim is a very unhappy, mixed up man,” Gerald replied, not unkindly, but regretfully. “His life has collapsed round his ears. He has lost happiness and he can’t win it back on the racecourse.”
“But you gamble yourself,” I replied, somewhat nonplussed.
“True enough, most Australians do,” he said and went on to make, I thought, an excuse for his own gambling habits, mild as they were.
I had gathered by then that Gerald was a trade union official.
I felt like defending Jim: “I saw in the paper yesterday where a trade union official stole funds to bet on horses.”
The moment I formulated the words, I would have liked to withdraw them.
Gerald smiled: “But, remember, Paul, he was a right winger,” he said.
I knew just enough of politics to realize that a right-winger was something like the opposite of a communist. I was anxious to let the matter drop. Jim’s return would have rendered a reply unnecessary, except that Gerald said light-heartedly to him: “Paul just took me to task for gambling. He quoted the case of so-and-so (Gerald actually mentioned the name but I have since forgotten it) to prove that gambling is bad for trade union officials. I pointed out that so-and-so was a right winger.”
“Now, just a minute,” Jim replied. He referred to a recent case where a left wing trade union official had, to use his term, “tickled the peter” for gambling, to a Labour Party official and a treasurer of a Liberal Party branch who had done likewise.
“Gambling is no respecter of politics,” he concluded with a mirthless laugh.
“Well, the left wing offends less than the right,” Gerald averred, lapsing heatedly, as he was prone to do, into special pleading.
“Righto, then,” Jim persisted. “What about in Russia?” What do they do about gambling there? Do they encourage it. You’ve told me yourself that they don’t. Very little betting; only on the Quinella Tote….”
“Anyway,” Gerald argued stubbornly. “Gambling is an Australian characteristic; and I’m an Australian.”
“That’s a lovely argument, that is!” Jim came back.
Gerald lost his temper; “If you’re so much against gambling and believe that socialism will end it, why don’t you fight for socialism?”
“I’ll be there when the whips are cracking,” Jim asserted. “The workers are doing too well on overtime to fight at the moment. When the next depression comes they’ll wake up and I’ll be there….” “If everyone said that…..” Gerald Roberts began but was interrupted by the arrival of Tom Sparks who said boisterously. “Hello, a family argument. Hoo.Hoo, this’ll be a massacre. I get enough of them at home. It’s a dry argument. Have a drink.”
This was the first sign I noticed that Jim was in a state of conflict about politics. His attitude seemed inconsistent. Gerald, who gambled circumspectly, defended gambling in moderation; Jim who lived by gambling, attacked it on principle.
I noticed another sign of this inconsistency in Jim. One day, he and I came from the races to the hotel at Caulfield with Tom sparks and Harry Walton. Gerald had been to the football. He and his wife went to the football more often than to the races, in the winter months. He was a one-eyed Richmond barracker. Traditionally, Jim was too; he always said he’d go to the football to support Richmond- if they’d play games on Sunday. Richmond had won. Gerald told us about the game, then conversation turned to racing. Jim said he’d had a winning day.
“What about a few quid for the party?” Gerald challenged. He never made a secret of his political views. He managed to strike a balance. He acknowledged his politics without constantly trying to press his views on to other people.
“All right you tub-thumping old b astard,” Jim said. “You’re worse than the Salvos.” But he spoke lightly and gave Gerald two five pound notes.
When Gerald had gone, Jim said aside to me: “That’s conscience money. Me and Gerry were brought up in Richmond together. I know he’s right. The workers have got to organize and fight. But I’m too lazy to help – so I put in money.”
Well,readers (or, reader ) , we've passed Chiquita lodge and swept down the side toward
the home turn.... grab some mane and hold on..... as we approach .....
the hommmmmmme straight
25During that first year, Jim and I became firm friends. Because of the wide difference in our personalities, the friendship ripened slowly. For Jim, I believe it began because I helped him open a bank account under a false name, and because I learne
Only one Saturday during the time I knew him did Jim fail to go to the races. This was towards the end of 1950. On the Monday evening, I asked him why: had he been ill.
The others were busy arguing about a prize fight and weren’t listening. Jim said to me: “Well, strictly between ourselves, Paul, the Red Bill will become law in a few days. Gerry is expecting trouble. A raid on his house and office, at least. I helped him get rid of a bit of stuff.” I had been reading about the Communist Party Dissolution Act. It certainly did appear that Communists would soon be “declared”, as the newspapers were terming it. I was strangely proud of Jim’s action, prouder of the fact that he confided in me about such a compromising thing. Jim must have noticed some odd expression on my face, for he hastened to say: “Oh, there’s nothing subversive about the stuff. Gerry’s books – they took his books when the Party was banned in 1940 and he never got them back – and some lists of names.”
“Oh, I understand,” I replied. And, responding to Jim’s confidence, I asked him to visit me and Julia.
I’d told Julia a little about him and she had developed an advance dislike for him.
He came the next Friday night. At the gate, I said to him, “Remember, not a word to Julia about my gambling.”
“Don’t worry, mate, I’m no Provo.” That was the first time he ever called me mate, a word he seemed to reserve for Harry Walton.
Jim was accompanied by a woman, an attractive “hard case” whom Julia instantly disliked, also. He seemed to keep company with a different woman every month. He told me afterwards he could not take any of them seriously because he was still in love with Kathleen. I must admit that I had a brief affair with one of his dubious women acquaintances later; it was a sordid part of my revolt, yet I still can’t say I regret it.
Women were greatly attracted to Jim. And he liked women. During the evening I noticed him looking most frankly at Julia, attracted by her apparent sensuality. You’re wasting your time, old boy, I remember thinking.
A week later Jim returned the invitation and I had dinner with him in the city. We went afterwards to drink beer in his hotel room. He was a little tight and in a communicative mood.
On the wall hung three pictures, his parents’ wedding photo, his own wedding photo and a photographic print of the drawings he had done of the members of the R.S.L. Club so long before. He began to tell me about the pictures. He referred to the beauty and kindness of his mother. She had died two years before, he told me sadly, and his father was dying slowly of cancer. He spoke of Kathie tenderly and with helpless regret. The wedding photo conjured up memories, and he spoke sentimentally about them.
“She’s the most beautiful woman I ever met….. “ he concluded with tears in his eyes. Then he picked up a coloured portrait of Kathie and his son, Jim, which stood on the table beside the bed. He passed the picture to me.
“My word, he’s like you! He is his father’s son, Jim.”
“He was Paul. He was knocked down by a car. Perhaps, if I had been a better husband and father, if Kathie and I hadn’t parted, he would still be alive.”
He went on to speak of the boy; he talked quickly, his voice husky with emotion. I was at first deeply touched, then embarrassed by his sadness and self-pity.
“Last time I saw him I took him to see ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. We had a great day. He was such a lovable little fella. He had the kindest nature I ever came in contact with……..”
lazy to help – so I put in money.”Only one Saturday during the time I knew him did Jim fail to go to the races. This was towards the end of 1950. On the Monday evening, I asked him why: had he been ill. The others were busy arguing about a prize
was such a lovable little fella. He had the kindest nature I ever came in contact with……..”
Seeking to change the subject, I interrupted to ask him about the drawings. This diverted his mind and he began to tell me how the caricatures came to be executed. They were, indeed, quite clever, I observed. Encouraged, he gave me animated word pictures of some of the characters portrayed. “That’s old ‘Duck’ Rudkin there, that’s why I’ve got the web feet on him. And that’s ‘Flukor’ Smithers – see all the snooker balls going into the pockets – he had more arse than a married cow playing snooker, I can tell yer. And that’s Curly Condon. See him laughing; never stopped laughing, old Curly…”
Finally, he said: “I’m going to take up drawing again. Haven’t done any for five years, but I’ll soon get my hand in again.” He pulled a drawing board from under the bed. It was ink-stained, and pock-marked with drawing-pin holes. “This is the old board. Dad made it for me when I ws a kid. I’ll press it into service again. I’m sick of the life I’m leading.”
His garrulous emotion had exhausted him. “Here, we’ll have another drink,” he said. “I s’pose you’ve got troubles of your own without listening to mine.”
And for the first time in my life I confided in someone. I told Jim Roberts about the vague dissatisfaction with life that troubled me.
I left him soon afterwards. I travelled home somewhat stunned at the unexpected tragedy in Jim’s life. From that time our friendship deepened, and we were swept headlong towards disgrace and disaster. I do not blame Jim for my downfall; but, to this night, I am prey to dread nightmares in sleep, and haunting fears in waking, that I led him to the gallows more surely than his executioner. I can only repulse such anguish by remembering Jim’s own assertion that the final tragedy came as a relief to a life which had lost meaning.
I was happy in those months. They ended with me disgraced before all men. Yet, given my time over, I would live through it again – except the death of Jim Roberts.
That night when I reached home, the hour was late. Julia was sitting up in bed reading a magazine. “You smell like a wine shop,” she complained. “You’re drinking far too much, Paul, and spending too much money. It’s the company you’re keeping.”
“Oh, shut up,” I found myself saying. I’d never spoken to her so brutally before. An hysterical argument followed. Poor Julia, I treated her badly towards the end, yet I can feel little sorrow, little pity……
Jim Roberts visited his father frequently. Sometimes he went with Gerald and Gerald’s wife after having had dinner with them. More often he went alone. I accompanied him one Friday evening. Tom Roberts was dying a painful, lingering death of stomach cancer in a private hospital and, I gathered, Jim was paying the heavy fees. As we entered his sick-room the old man, his hair snow-white, his face lined with pain, his hands skeleton-like on top of the bed-clothes, looked up. His eyes heavy with pain and drugs, brightened a little.
“Hello, Jim,” he said, weakly.
“And how do you feel tonight, Dad?”
“Oh, much the same, Jim. I’ve just had an injection. They ease the pain but make me sleepy.
Jim introduced me to his father. We shook hands and his fingers had the feel of death. On top of the little chest of drawers beside the bed I noticed a copy of the same wedding photo of Tom and Cissie Roberts as was in Jim’s room. Jim placed beside it a bag of fruit he had brought.
With an effort that was apparent to me, Jim assumed a breezy air; “Well, how’s the old punter? Have you sorted out a winner for me?”
“Well, I studied them this morning and sorted out a few roughies, as usual. The paper’s here somewhere; in the cupboard, I think.”
Jim found the paper. He and I sat either side of the bed. They fell to discussing the race form, ignoring me. The old chap had brightened up; gambling came now as an angel of mercy to soothe the pain and sorrow which were destroying him.
“You’d better have a final study,” Jim said, after a while. “I’ve got the lot here: The Guide The Judge The Circle and tonight’s Herald…”
Tom Roberts, apparently thinking they were treating me with discourtesy said: “Jim’s told me about you, Mr. Whittaker. You work in a bank. It’s a good steady job. That’s what my wife, God rest her soul, used to say to Jim and his brother; ‘If only you could get a steady job’….”
“Yes, Mr. Roberts, working at the bank has its compensations,” I said.
They fell again to talking horses, the old man glancing through the papers.
“You know, Jim, I think Swordsman might be the bet of the day tomorrow, in the Welter. Des Judd has got Crevasse in, too, but I think Swordsman might be the pea.”
“Righto, now,” Jim said. “I’ll tell yer, I’ve got the tip about it. Old Dapper Dan earwigged at the track. Swordsman is the pea.”
“I’ll make it my main bet in that case, Jim,” the old man said.
After more race talk, it was time to go.
“You’d better give me your bets, Dad,” Jim said.
“Righto, son, if you can manage it.”
“Manage it! The bookies are keeping me in the lap of luxury.”
Tom Roberts recited a list of small bets, which Jim wrote down with exaggerated care, and soon we took our farewells.
Outside, Jim said: “I put a quid’s worth of bets on for the old fella every Saturday. I’ve bought him the little wireless there. It’s his only pleasure.”
Swordsman won the next day and Jim had a much needed win. I won fifty pounds. But rashness born of phone betting had led me into debt with Pittson; my winnings only enabled me to pay my debt and replace money I had drawn from my banking account. I had strayed far into the quicksands of gambling. The excuse of working back had worn thin with Julia. I hadn’t been able to go to the races. I was betting above my means with Pittson. I’d lay my bets out each Saturday morning and listen to as many races as possible without alerting Julia.
was such a lovable little fella. He had the kindest nature I ever came in contact with……..”Seeking to change the subject, I interrupted to ask him about the drawings. This diverted his mind and he began to tell me how the caricatures came to be
I had begun with a ten shilling bet. My stakes had slowly crept up until my smallest bet was five pounds, my largest twenty-five straight out, or fifteen each way. So infected was I with the disease that I backed at least one horse in each race, more often two or even three horses. Jim’s information helped me, but it was not an uncommon thing for me to back three winners and still lose on the day.
Within a few months I had no money in the bank and owed Pittson more than a hundred pounds. He began to press me in a relentless, insulting manner. There is an unwritten law between bookmaker and client thet the punter’s transactions are confidential – so long as the punter pays. I lived in dread that Jim would find out that I was betting so heavily and rashly.
I was forced to default, or rather ask for time to pay. Pittson threatened over the phone to approach Jim. Roberts had recommended me; Roberts would just have to pay my bill.
Next afternoon at the hotel, Jim called me aside. “Here’s a hundred and twenty-five quid, Paul,” he said. “Pay the bastard, Paul, and then cut down your stakes. If you must gamble, always remember: don’t gamble unless you can afford to lose! Enough said?”
He pressed my arm.
“Thanks, Jim. I’m ashamed of myself.”
“No need to be. Don’t think I haven’t been through all this, more than once. Don’t let the game get you in. Just have a few bets for a hobby. You’ve got a good job and a nice home. You’re a mug to back horses.” He seemed to sense that I could not stop gambling. “Well, don’t bet on every race, Paul – that’s the road to bankruptcy. Enough said?”
After that I cut my stakes and selected races to bet on. I began to win until I had paid Jim back, had restored my bank account and had a little surplus money. Julia, whose suspicions had ripened, began to probe. Flushed with success, I told her I was gambling – and winning. Her reaction was most interesting: gambling was anathema to her, but money wasn’t, so she actually approved. But how was I doing it, being home most Saturday afternoons? On the phone, I told her. She permitted me to bet. She would not come to the races with me, but she approved of my going occasionally. I bet on the phone at home and incredible as it sounds now, Julia listened in to the races with me, provided I cut the lawns as scheduled. Strangely enough, these weeks were the happiest of our lives. We shared a deep interest. I was interested in gambling, Julia was interested in money.
But soon Dame Fortune deserted me again. Jim’s tips resulted in near misses or outright losses, and my own selections fared no better. Julia, aware that our money was gone, reverted to type and created some torrid scenes. I began to deceive her again, laying out my bets for the whole Saturday afternoon before leaving for Caulfield.
I bet like a man demented. I raised my stakes to the previous high level. Then, if I was losing, I contrived to ring through a bet on the last race from the phone box on the corner. On Saturday’s the racing and the telephone held a frightening fascination for me. All the time, I sensed that Pittson and his staff were discussing me: Whittaker the pen pusher is a fool; bets above his means; we’ll have to stand over him to get our money.
Their doubts were justified. Soon I owed Pittson one hundred and seventy-five pounds. I evaded the settling; Pittson rang the bank and I, to apply the appropriate term, stalled for time. On the following Saturday, I left the bank alone before noon haunted by a nagging fear. I felt like a leper, cut off from all decent people. I noticed a man standing at the corner of the street, a big man, well dressed but sinister looking. As I approached, he stepped towards me.
“So you bet above your means, Mr Whittaker,” he said in a menacing tone.
as many races as possible without alerting Julia.I had begun with a ten shilling bet. My stakes had slowly crept up until my smallest bet was five pounds, my largest twenty-five straight out, or fifteen each way. So infected was I with the disease th
“So you bet above your means, Mr Whittaker,” he said in a menacing tone.
“Who are you?”
“John Mills is the name,” he replied. “I work for Jack Pittson. I thought you might like to settle your account, Mister Whittaker.”
I was shaking with embarrassment and fright. He was not a man to be temporized with. A desperate solution came to me.
“Certainly,” I said huskily. I’ll give you a cheque right now. I’ve been very busy and quite overlooked the matter.”
With trembling hands, I drew out my cheque book and wrote a cheque. I took care to mark it “not negotiable” and to cross out the words “or bearer”. At least I had until Tuesday before the cheque could reach my bank…
His manner changed. “Thanks, Mr Whittaker. You can understand we must get our money in. We lay off quite a lot and have to settle ourselves.”
“That’s quite all right,” I said, my voice firming. “But there is one thing I want to tell Mr. Pittson: He must not discuss our transactions with anyone outside his own staff. I have a responsible position”.
“I follow, Mr Whittaker. You can trust me and Jack. We’re oyster. Would you care for a drink?”
“No, thank you.”
I had been worried that Jim Roberts might have learned of my predicament, so I went to the hotel hoping to catch him before he left for the races. Better to know sooner than later. I found him there and in a most cheerful mood (my most vivid memories are of his infectious cheerfulness). “I’m back in the game,” he called, as I entered. He handed me the current issue of a popular magazine, opened at a page where a drawing of his appeared. The drawing portrayed a radio announcer questioning an astonished contestant in a quiz session. The caption read “For ten pounds and a cake of Smeltex soap, can you tell us what will win the next Melbourne Cup?”
Jim showed the cartoon to several men in the bar. There was an air of pride about him that I hadn’t seen before.
Tom Sparks broke the spell: “How much did you get for it?”
“Ten guineas? Struth, that won’t pay your betting tax today at the course.”
Soon the subject turned to racing and I made a mental note of all tips. Before they left for the races I was convinced that Jim knew nothing of my debt to Pittson. Now I must gamble again – and win. My dread was replaced by gambler’s expectancy. Going home in the train I studied the fields, sorted out the tips and achieved optimism.
I would win today, I told myself. But I didn’t. I got one hundred pounds in front after the second race, which a tip of Jim’s won, but I needed another seventy-five pounds to meet the cheque. In trying to get it, I gave back my winnings and another hundred and twenty five pounds with it. While the races were on, gambler’s desperation crowded worry out of my mind. But, after the last, a fearful worry came and stayed with me all the week-end.
A shocking incident occurred last Sunday. In the jail is a disproportionate number of New Australians. They feel the isolation of the foreigner even here amid the mateship of the damned. One of them, a German who has always given me the impression of being half-crazy, was in the barber’s shop that morning with other prisoners when I went for my daily shave.
We are permitted to shave each day. (A shower per week, the regulations say, but I manage one more often.) On Sunday, I showered then went to the barber’s shop which, like the library, is a converted prison cell. The jail barber is known as “Sticking Plaster” because of his endearing habit of cutting every customer so we prefer to shave ourselves. We queue up to lather our faces, then to borrow his spare razor in return.
I stood beside this crazy German and pitying his loneliness, tried to make conversation. Making allowance for his limited English, I asked: “When do you go?” meaning when was his turn to shave. “I go now,” he replied and, with lunatic intensity, snatched the razor from another prisoner’s hand. With savage hacking motions, he cut his own throat from ear to ear and fell dead at our feet, bleeding like a stuck pig.
And the vision of his horrifying death has diverted my mind from the book again and again, these past few days…..
As I travelled to the bank on the following Monday, the worry had become an actual physical sickness. My tense stomach nerves had set up a nausea of dry retching which filled my mouth with evil-tasting saliva. Arriving at the bank I found myself departing from my usual aloof attitude towards other members of the staff. In keeping with my ambition to be a bank manager, I had made a rule never to indulge in small talk with them, or to join in their chatter over morning and afternoon tea. Now I found myself talking affably to all of them. I knew I should be acting normally in order to hide my dread secret, but I found myself seeking to aggrandise myself with the staff, as if this would prevent them accusing me. I knew they could scarcely have any suspicions, but….
lol TB “So you bet above your means, Mr Whittaker,” he said in a menacing tone.“Who are you?” “John Mills is the name,” he replied. “I work for Jack Pittson. I thought you might like to settle your account, Mister Whittaker.”I was sh
prevent them accusing me. I knew they could scarcely have any suspicions, but….
When Trembath arrived, late as usual, I began a conversation with him about the weather, the football results and a train accident reported in the morning papers. I had never before greeted him with any more than a formal “good morning” for, even in the period when we took regular afternoon beer together, our relationship was properly confined to bank matters.
Trembath welcomed the conversation as though he, too, talked to hide an inner fear, a fear that I and the staff would discover he was a secret alcoholic. As if we hadn’t perceived that already. Soon the bank doors were opened and each went to his allotted task. A steady flow of customers kept me busy. My whole being was focused on the worry within me. Pittson will bank that cheque today; it will arrive here tomorrow.
I could not help smiling at the irony of my having issued a valueless cheque to a bookmaker. For some years, Trembath and I had taken a professional interest in cheques issued to bookmakers by some of our clients. Indeed, we had gone so far as to keep a recent racebook in the office to check if clients with dubious overdrafts were paying large amounts to legal bookmakers whose names were listed. We could not object to our clients betting, but we did object to them betting with money advanced by the bank for other purposes. What would Trembath say if he knew I had issued a large cheque to a bookmaker? My bookmaker was not listed in the racebook, but my case was more serious; there was no money even on overdraft to meet the cheque.
Soon after morning tea, I developed a mental aberration; the money I was handling became real, it was money with value and I needed money badly.
Previously I had taken the typical bank teller’s attitude to the money I handled; an impersonal attitude as a grocer takes to a bottle of sauce; the money had no existence except as a commodity in which the bank traded. But now it was money – money that could meet my cheque. As the notes passed to and fro under the grille and I flick-counted them, they began to fascinate me. To the coins my attitude was still impersonal but to the notes….
Soon, I was shocked to find myself coldly calculating how to steal money from the bank. Theft is a subject often discussed among bank officials, for theft by bank employees is not as rare as is often supposed. Banks take elaborate precautions against being defrauded by their employees, perfecting their accounting systems and procedures over the decades to frustrate the would-be thief, to remove the temptation of theft.
There is a legendary story of a Bank of England teller in the last century, who defrauded the bank of a huge sum over a period of years. He was very conscientious, so conscientious indeed that he refused to take holidays. Eventually he became seriously ill and his malpractice was discovered. From then on, the Bank of England insisted that all employees take annual holidays, and other banks followed suit. To this day, relieving managers and relieving tellers are looked upon as an antidote to theft, as well as a means of enabling employees to take their annual holidays according to law. In large city banks, no teller is allowed access to the ledgers for fear familiarity with individual accounts would enable him to defraud the bank by suppressing credits. As some humorist once said: “It’s not that they don’t trust the tellers, they just want to stop them stealing money, that’s all.”
In spite of all precautions, banks are often defrauded by employees, for no accounting system can eliminate the human factor. The press frequently features news of bank employees being imprisoned for theft, and not all cases reach the courts.
The human factor! I was virtually manager of this bank; I knew the state of every account. In a kind of dream, a treacherous voice whispered: “You could suppress a credit, or several credits, without fear of immediate detection.” I was shocked at the very thought. But if I didn’t suppress a credit, the valueless cheque I had uttered would be dishonoured tomorrow and I would still owe Pittson a further hundred and twenty-five pounds. While I served my customers, I juggled with the dilemma. Perhaps I could get my hands on the mail before Trembath, as I sometimes did in the normal course, mark the cheque “refer to drawer”, and return it. But it would be just like Trembath to stumble into detecting my valueless cheque.
I resolved to ring Pittson at lunch time. Tell him to hold the cheque. Tell him I can’t meet it. Tell him I can’t pay him and will not pay him. He had no legal call on me – except the cheque! Why should I wreck my life for a sniffing bookmaker and his arrogant assistant? What if he had banked the cheque already?
Suppress a credit today!
I grappled with the thought. Imagine my name and Julia’s dragged in the mud over a worthless cheque. Julia would die of shame! I’d just have to tell him he wasn’t going to get paid…. But then Jim would find out I had defaulted! And the bookmaker had that cheque; issuing a valueless cheque is a criminal offence these days!
Even if I could suppress a credit big enough to meet my commitments, such a process was likely to take several days, for I would have to find a suitable deposit in a suitable account…. At that moment I noticed a certain Mr. Page enter the bank and join the short queue waiting in front of me. When his turn came we exchanged greetings. He pushed a cash bag towards me containing a deposit book, cheques and money, the banking for a second-hand car sales company of which he was proprietor.
Mr. Page is a member of the new rich who have prospered in Australia in the post war boom years. He is a pleasant enough fellow in a garish insensitive way, sporting a diamond ring and American style clothes. Page banked cheques and money in his firn’s account. My hands were trembling as I stamped his deposit book, made up the parcels of change he had listed and pushed the bag across the counter to him.
Suddenly, a relaxed air of fatalism came over me. There was no way out….. I’d have to face the music… Just then Page pulled a bundle of notes from his inside coat pocket and handed it to me with a loose deposit slip.
“Five hundred in my own private account,” he said with the smugness of a man who values money and makes it easily.
Suppress a credit!
I stamped the deposit slip, slid the butt back across the counter.
“I’d better have a statement of both accounts,” Page said. I went to the ledger and made them out. A brisk farewell and he left hurriedly with that bustling air of the self-confident man of business. Suppress a credit!
Scarcely knowing what I was doing, acting involuntarily, as it were, I cast a quick glance around me and pocketed the deposit slip and the five hundred pounds.
prevent them accusing me. I knew they could scarcely have any suspicions, but….When Trembath arrived, late as usual, I began a conversation with him about the weather, the football results and a train accident reported in the morning papers. I had
and pocketed the deposit slip and the five hundred pounds.
No one observed me. If anyone had seen Page in the bank, I had the proof that he had banked in his firm’s account. He had been in the habit of getting a statement of his own private account less often than the firm’s account, no more than once a month at the most. He had ample funds in his private account, never allowing it to fall below two thousand pounds in credit.
I could meet my commitments with little or no risk of detection for at least a month! Now, I must ring Pittson. At lunch time I left the bank alone and went to the phone box on the corner. With trembling finger I dialled the number of his wife’s shop and his familiar voice answered. After strained preliminaries, I asked: “Have you banked that cheque. I’d prefer to pay you in cash – today.”
After a pause, his voice taking on a sugary tone: “As a matter of fact, I haven’t, Paul. I’ve been busy. I was going to the bank this afternoon.”
“Well,” I replied with an air which bordered on the triumphant “if you come down to the Caulfield pub now I’ll pay you in cash – and bring that cheque with you.”
“All right, bruvver,” he replied. “I can’t come but I’ll send John Mills down. He’ll be there in ten minutes.”
I walked briskly to the hotel and ordered a beer. There were only a few drinkers in the bar. Jim Roberts was not present. He did not drink before late afternoon except on Saturdays. He played two-up occasionally on week-days and spent much of his time at the Melbourne City Baths where he swam all year round. Nor did I observe anyone else known to me.
Soon Mills arrived and came to my side with a manner that was apologetically affable, apparently regretting his attitude towards me in recent days. Surreptitiously, I handed him three hundred pounds. “There,” I said firmly. “Three hundred quid. A hundred and seventy-five to cover the cheque and a hundred and twenty-five I lost on Saturday. Is that right?”
“Correct weight, Mr. Whittaker,” he replied. “You’ve been having a bad trot but your luck will change.”
“My turn will come,” I said.
He offered to buy a drink but I refused, endeavouring to reassert my dignity, and to remind him that I viewed him as a social inferior.
“I’m very busy today,” I said and took my leave.
Walking back to the bank I found myself treading airily, gripped by elation, the gambling urge again warming my spirit. I’d paid in full and had two hundred pounds in cash left over. I would turn that back into five hundred again and replace Page’s credit.
And I’d win hundreds more for myself! I was getting the hang of the racing game!
The men playing two-up behind the boiler shop. Stakes of money, butter and tobacco. The urge to gamble sneaking up on me again.
Standing on the outskirts of the ring of men, telling myself: “Have a game. You’ve accumulated plenty of tobacco currency. Have a spin!”
Walking furtively to my cell. Returning with several packets of tobacco.
The urge to gamble remains strong even after all I have experienced and written. Could I have rejected it that day if my lack of knowledge of two-up had not made me shy?
Back in the cell, I remonstrated with myself for my weakness. Yet next day, I found myself requesting repairs to the radio head-phones in my cell. I wanted to listen to the races again. Each cell is equipped with earphone radio connected with a master set somewhere in the jail. The headphones are not unlike those used by Tom Roberts so long ago, still in use here in this age of high fidelity and television.
When I first arrived, I found my earphones out of order. I left them so, fearing the remorse and sorrow that connection with the outside world would bring. Now my headphones are working again. And today I listened to race broadcasts for the first time since my imprisonment nearly fifteen months ago.
Joe Brown’s familiar voice from Moonee Valley….
Arriving home that Monday evening I felt light-hearted with relief and wanted to share my good spirits with Julia.
So I said to her: “I had a good win on Saturday. Two hundred pounds. Here’s a hundred pounds; you bank it. I’ll use the rest to bet with. I’ll win the money, and you can go banker.” She accepted the money, gazing at me searchingly, seemed on the verge of protesting, but said nothing.
My behaviour during this period seems incredible now: I who had been upright and honest in all my dealings with Julia, my employers and in all things, had become deceitful and dishonest, as if I had developed a split personality.
On the following Saturday, I went to the races with Jim and his friends. I was in high spirits; my financial predicament was forgotten amid the friendliness and the gambler’s excitement.
When time for the last race approached, we hadn’t backed a winner. Everything went wrong. Horses we backed straight out ran second – beaten by a short half head in a photo-finish, in one case. Horses we backed each way ran fourth. I had only twenty pounds left to bet on the last race. Jim had a tip for a horse called Rio Janeiro. We got ten to one and I invested my all – on the nose.
Everyone of us backed Rio Janeiro, even Gerald Roberts and his wife, who were present although the races were not at Flemington, Gerald having had a small win the week before. Gerald invested a pound, his wife five shillings for the place, Harry Walton five pounds, Tom Sparks twenty-five and Jim Roberts a hundred. Eric Johnson was not present as the races were at Caulfield and we did not require his taxi; without our fares to bet with he had stayed at work.
Heavy rain began to fall as we climbed the stand to watch the race.
Tom Sparks said: “Rio Janeiro, you little budy. Hoo! Hoo! It’ll be a massacre.
and pocketed the deposit slip and the five hundred pounds. No one observed me. If anyone had seen Page in the bank, I had the proof that he had banked in his firm’s account. He had been in the habit of getting a statement of his own private accoun
Tom Sparks said: “Rio Janeiro, you little budy. Hoo! Hoo! It’ll be a massacre.
They were off. The course announcer was having difficulty in picking out the colours in the driving rain, but Jim Roberts, who always carried a powerful pair of field-glasses and knew by rote the colours of every horse, was able to say emphatically: “Rio Janeiro is lying fifth on the fence and going well.”
As the horses turned for home, Jim said: “He’s leaving the fence to make his run. He’ll shake the life out of it.”
Rio Janeiro and another horse broke clear of the field and raced head and head towards the post in front of us. I became desperately excited and began to shout: “Rio Janeiro! Rio Janeiro!” This habit of mine sometimes embarrassed Jim, who remained apparently calm when watching even in the tightest finish. But this time Gerald’s wife was as excited and vocal as I.
Rio Janeiro won by a clear head in a desperate finish.
I leapt on Tom Sparks’ back. He shook me clear and remonstrated “Hey. Break it down. Paul! No need to get the whip out. Reggie Heather got it home without you. You’ll end up with heart disease, the way you go on. Hoo! Hoo! It’ll be a massacre.” But he was smiling all the time.
“There’s a photo,” Harry Walton said.
“No risk,” Jim replied. “He won it by a clear head. But they bumped; he hung in a bit.”
“We’ll have a drink on the strength of it,” Tom Sparks said.
The course amplifiers blared: “Hello! Hello! There’s a protest!”
While we went to the bar, Jim dashed into the betting ring. Later he joined us. “I don’t like the look of it. They’re betting only six to four the other thing. I’ve laid off.”
Tom Sparks and Harry Walton laid off too, by backing the other horse in the protest. I said I’d stand the risk. I couldn’t lay off; I hadn’t the money.
“They only uphold about one protest in twenty, but it’d be just my luck for them to uphold this one,” Harry Walton declared.
And it was! The protest was upheld!
We left the course in silence and walked to the hotel.
Horses don’t bet on people, Horses have too much sense, Horses have no remorses, They pull wagons without recompense…
Gerald Roberts and his wife took their leave.
“I’m going to the trots,” Jim announced. When things went badly at the gallops, Jim often sought a recovery at the trots, the baccarat or the two-up.
Tom Sparks and Harry Walton asked Jim for a loan and he gave them ten pounds each.
“We’ll all go to the trots. Hoo! Hoo! It’ll be a massacre!” Tom Sparks said. “What about you Paul? Going to get off the old ball and chain?”
I hesitated. Jim said doubtfully: “You can have a tenner, if you want it, Paul. But what about Julia?”
“I’ll ring her,” I said and I did. She put on a tantrum and hung up in my ear.
I liked the trots. The weather cleared and, there in the warm night with the half light of the betting rings, the floodlit tracks and the horses so close all the way around, I was happy. We all won. Jim turned a hundred pounds into three hundred: I won forty and paid Jim back what I had borrowed.
In the taxi returning to the city, Tom Sparks exclaimed; “I feel lucky. What about the old baccarat?” They decided to go to the baccarat and, for a complex of reasons, not the least that I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts and Julia, I decided to join them.
“Turn it up, Paul,” Jim said. The baccarat’s no place for you.”
But I was determined: “Just feel like a night out. Julia has gone to her mother’s for the week-end.” I was at the same time attracted and repulsed by the atmosphere of the baccarat school. The air was tense with desperation, for here only the most confirmed addicts gambled. The sudden results on the turn of the card; the hard-faced women and grim-faced men; the forced jollity; the hangers-on seeking crumbs from the table; the thugs hovering round to prevent trouble; the flavour of reprehensibility.
We followed Jim, who seemed to bet on some kind of system, but luck was not with us. “I seem to bring you bad luck,” I said to Jim. “Don’t be silly,” he replied. “I can get that on my own.” Dawn was breaking when we left. We were tired and glum – and broke.
Another scene with Julia ensued.
Page came to the bank during the week. I spoke to him in the manner of an old friend, as I believed this would present him from asking for a statement of his private account. Anyway, he didn’t ask for it.
The next Saturday, I bet on the phone. I stayed at the hotel all the afternoon without even ringing Julia – and bet on the phone. Mills, not Pittson, answered each time and treated me with due respect, obviously Impressed that I had paid the debt. Under the influence of liquor, I bet even more rashly than my desperate financial alone would have led me to do – and I lost one hundred and ninety pounds. I went home to Julia drunk and distraught. Even now, looking back over the months which seem to have grown into years, I cannot quite fathom my state of mind. I was happy in a perverted way, in a desperate haunted way. I was living in another world..
I managed to evade paying Pittson and bet again the next Saturday. I lost five hundred pounds! My largest bet became my smallest bet; I raised my stakes until I put one hundred on the favourite in the last which got left at the post and took no part in the race.
Tom Sparks said: “Rio Janeiro, you little budy. Hoo! Hoo! It’ll be a massacre. They were off. The course announcer was having difficulty in picking out the colours in the driving rain, but Jim Roberts, who always carried a powerful pair of field-
the last which got left at the post and took no part in the race.
Standing in the hotel, only one thought came to me; Jim mustn’t know! I dialled Pittson’s bookmaking phone number again. Mills answered. “Listen John,” I said. “I’ll settle on Friday. But remember, the whole matter is confidential, you must tell nobody.”
I could smell his contempt in the telephone’s mouthpiece: “That’s all right, Paul, we understand.” I lived the next days in a dream. On the Wednesday afternoon I saw Page in the queue. When his turn came he banked for his firm, then said: “You’d better give me a statement of both accounts, Mr. Whittaker.”
My heart stopped beating, but my mind had found some heightened alertness: “Well, yes, but we’re rather busy. Could I put the statement in the mail?”
“Sure, sure,” he replied.
When he had gone, a renewed desperation came to me. I began to visualize the report of my arrest and trial in the newspapers. “The accused admitted he had lost the money gambling on horses…”
When Thursday dawned, I told myself: “I must get the money. I must steal from the bank again, from silly old Trembath!”
Next afternoon, Mrs. Amanda Lawrence, the wealthy widow, entered the bank. She had once told Trembath: “Mr. Whittaker is such a nice man, such a Christian gentleman.”
She wanted to lodge two thousand pounds worth of one pound bonds. My mind wandered to a conversation I had with Trembath about precautions against theft in banks. “There are only two ways in which an employee can defraud the bank,” Trembath had said. “By suppressing a credit and suppressing a bond receipt.”
Well, Mr. Trembath, I thought, how right you are: I’ve suppressed a credit and now I’m going to suppress a bond receipt.
I issued a receipt for Mrs. Lawrence and found myself secretly mocking her. You old coupon-clipping parasite, I am going to steal your bonds! I was not nervous or afraid, I was positively arrogant. I fawned on her with exaggerated politeness, mocking her genteel manners. Mr. Whittaker is a Christian gentleman? Mr. Whittaker is a thief!
I put the butt of her receipt and bonds into my pocket with a complacent certainty that I had not been observed.
Next day at lunch-time, I visited a city broker and asked him to cash the bonds. He seemed unsuspicious. I approached him with absolute confidence that I was a kind of superman who could not be exposed.
But he shook me when he said: “You understand, Mr. Whittaker, I’ll have to check. Just the usual routine. I’ll post you a cheque.”
My confidence was momentarily shaken and I found myself saying: “Well, I rather need the money today. A chance of a good investment…”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Whittaker, but if you will call tomorrow morning…”
I agreed to do so. That afternoon I rang Pittson and told him to see me at the hotel at 12.30 on Saturday (I knew Jim would have left by then). He agreed, but his doubts were clearly rising.
I lay awake all that night: was the broker suspicious, had he perhaps bought the bonds for Mrs. Lawrence and recognized the numbers? No, I reassured myself, he is just going to check the banks’ lists of stolen bonds. These bonds are not stolen – not yet, I said to myself, as Julia stirred beside me…
At ten o’clock next morning, I complained to Trembath of being ill and got away. At the broker’s office, my cheque was waiting – but it was a closed cheque. I requested an open cheque. “I must pay for my new investments,” I said.
They gave me an open cheque. I rushed to the appropriate bank and cashed it. Back at the hotel, I settled with Mills – in cash.
I went straight home and, during lunch, handed Julia a roll of notes: “Here darling, another hundred for your bank account.”
She accepted it. She was a bewildered woman, as if she had suddenly found herself with a different husband.
That day, I bet on the phone with Julia’s tacit agreement. I bet like a man possessed, striving to restore solvency and avoid exposure. Again I lost five hundred pounds.
On the Monday, I paid in Page’s five hundred pounds and altered the date on his original deposit butt. I rang Pittson and paid him five hundred.
I had four hundred pounds left and felt I was safe from exposure, barring accidents, provided I paid the interest on the bonds into Mrs. Lawrence’s account every six months.
After listening to the first race that day on the cell headphones, I felt a strong compulsion to have a bet. Oh Yes, there is an SP bookmaker in the jail. He bets straight-out and doubles, and runs a football pool as well. He has never approached me to bet, probably because it is known that gambling was my downfall. I strolled around, seeking the bookmaker, telling myself I would bet only to refresh my mind in the atmosphere of gambling – for the book.
the last which got left at the post and took no part in the race.Standing in the hotel, only one thought came to me; Jim mustn’t know! I dialled Pittson’s bookmaking phone number again. Mills answered. “Listen John,” I said. “I’ll settle
I'll take "the Fifth" on that one DA. Hate to spawn another poltical issue thread
to refresh my mind in the atmosphere of gambling – for the book.
On my way, I thought of the book – and of Jim.
I returned to my cell and flung the headphones against the stone wall, smashing them to smithereens.
On the following Friday morning, Mrs. Lawrence appeared in front of me at the counter, as if she had risen from beneath the floor. She wanted to cash her bonds; she had a grand opportunity to invest the money in oil shares – “really marvellous inside information.”
Casting a hurried glance around me I said: “Certainly, Mrs. Lawrence. Could you possibly come back on Monday? There are certain formalities….”
She demurred – rather noisily, I thought. I walked round the counter and led her to the door with a gentle hand and honeyed words.
When she had gone, Trembath asked: “What’s the trouble, Paul?”
“Oh, nothing, you know what she is…”
Saturday dawned to find me desperate. I must turn my four hundred pounds into at least two thousand or I was doomed! Again I went to the races, this time to Moonee Valley, with Jim and his friends. I knew that Jim’s bad trot was continuing. Indeed he had drawn the last four hundred out of his own account that very morning.
He was rather apologetic about it; at the hotel, he said aside to me: “Well, Paul, today I must win or it’s back to the drawing- board.”
Little did he know with what unprecedented urgency I needed to win, and win well…
Bad luck dogged Jim and me right up to the second last race, Jim excused himself to the others: he had to get away early. I knew why but the others didn’t; Jim Roberts was broke, stony broke. I, too, excused myself.
Tom Sparks said: “Do you want a few quid, Jim? I can let you have a tenner.”
“No thanks, Tommy boy,” Jim replied and we left.
As we walked disconsolately away, Jim said: “No use borrowing a tenner. I’ve got a quiet tip for an outsider in the last. And I’ve got to label it with Pittson. I owe him two hundred from the dogs last night but my credit’s good and so it bloody well ought to be. You’d better go with me. Wayside, the country horse. A small commission SP is all that’s going on it. Could start at fifty to one; be no less than twenty-fives.”
Jim halted the cab and entered a phone box. I followed him. He dialled Pittson’s number. “Jim Roberts here. Listen I want thirty by twenty Wayside. Eh? Yeh, thirty quid by twenty! How long since I put thirty bob on a horse… Of course, it’s a long pop… No, I haven’t got a tip – but unload it. This’ll be a sweet price and I want to get paid.”
I nudged Jim.
“Oh, just a minute, Paul wants to back it. How much, Paul?”
“Thirty by twenty; same as you,” I said.
Jim frowned and put his hand over the receiver. “Hey, just a minute! That’s a big bet. Are you fair dinkum?”
“Yes, Jim. I’ve been winning,” I lied, “and I’ve got a hunch.”
He shrugged and put my bet on. Apparently, Pittson or Mills whichever it was, complained. Jim took on a commanding tone: “Listen, that’s the bet: thirty by twenty each – and I’ll guarantee it.
Righto? Good, and take a mug’s advice and unload it.”
“Bookmakers,” he said to me after he had hung up. “What a mob of bastards.”
I dared not even hope that the horse would win – and even if it did, the price must be at least sixty-six to one, I calculated.
“Is there any price limit?” I found myself asking as we stepped back into the taxi.
“No,” Jim replied with a grin. “No limit. You’re a bloody optimist, you are. This is as rough as bags.”
The race was due before we reached the city. The taxi had a car radio. We listened. No miracle will save you, I told myself. To my utter amazement, Wayside led all the way and won. Outside the Caulfield Hotel we sat in the cab and listened to the prices. Wayside started at sixty-six to one. I was saved and my confidence returned. “Come and have a drink, Jim,” I said.
“Listen, mate, I haven’t got the price of the cab,” Jim replied.
He went into to the bar and returned with a five pound note, paid the driver and divided the change equally between us.
In the bar, he told me all about the noble animal, Wayside, and about how he contrived to get the tip. His confidence in the racing game and his ability as a punter was restored and he talked animatedly.
My own reaction was a pleasant calmness. I reverted to type. I felt like a man who was suddenly cured of a serious disease. I could live safely and never risk infection again. I would never bet heavily again; just an occasional small bet for an interest. On the way home I made an estimate: I had won well over two thousand pounds, I could replace Mrs. Lawrence’s bonds and have a little bit over. Least I could do was give Julia another hundred pounds when I got the money.
Then the terrifying realization came: Mrs. Lawrence would call at the bank on Monday, and Pittson didn’t settle until Friday!
Over the week-end, I lived in a state of dreadful trepidation. On the Monday morning, I left home half an hour early and called at Jim’s hotel. He came downstairs in pyjamas and dressing-gown.
“When does Pittson settle?” I asked.
“Friday, as usual, Paul. Why? What’s the hurry?”
“I just wondered,” I said lamely.
... we head up the straight...I can almost see the finish line...
I'll take "the Fifth" on that one DA. Hate to spawn another poltical issue thread to refresh my mind in the atmosphere of gambling – for the book. On my way, I thought of the book – and of Jim.I returned to my cell and flung the headphones agains
20 Aug 10 17:45 Joined: Date Joined: 14 May 09 | Topic/replies: 518 | Blogger: THERE....IS....NO....SPOOOOON's blog Kye Joined: 17 Nov 04 Replies: 3922 20 Aug 10 06:08
'Four-legged lottery' great book.
Essential reading for all compulsive gamblers
Yes Kye, read it years ago, loved it. Thought it deserved an audience rather than sitting, out of print, in a drawer. Think I found it amongst my heavenly-bound grandads bits and pieces. Paperback, text extremely small, pages yellow...... make that brown, falling from cover in sections.Cover is the old "Dick Tracey style graphics" and a guy in a hat suckin the life out of a lungbuster , with a printed price on the cover of "3/9". Character plus!! Tried to get a couple of young uns to read it but the slow start, regularly required rounding up of the pages, combined with the apparent "smell of old people" apparently made it all too hard.
Where should I look that I may find some of those "compulsives" you speak of?
and as I prepare to strike the final blow in recounting "the story", I think of my dear Granda.
A proud Scotsman who fought for his country ( captured by the Germans on April Fools Day, "hands
in the air..... April Fool!!" ) , who loved to share a drink, a laugh and his money, would "sneak"
me a dollar note whenever I dropped round. God bless
Hope you have enjoyed the read.... phewwwwww it's been a journey!!
20 Aug 10 17:45 Joined: Date Joined: 14 May 09 | Topic/replies: 518 | Blogger: THERE....IS....NO....SPOOOOON's blog Kye Joined: 17 Nov 04Replies: 3922 20 Aug 10 06:08 'Four-legged lottery' great book.Essential reading for all compulsive gamblers Y
“Well, if you’re in a hurry, so am I. I’ll ring the sniffling bastard – with pleasure.”
He went upstairs again and returned a few minutes later. He seemed to be leaning on the banisters as he came down the stairs, as if some great shock had smitten him.
“What’s the matter?” I found myself asking.
“He’s taken the knock! The dirty bastard has welched on us.”
I walked to the bank in a daze. This was the end. A comfortable mood of resignation came over me. It was all over. There was nothing left for me to do, but tell Trembath.
In a trance of cultivated deliberateness, I waited for Trembath to arrive. When at last he did, I joined him in his office, sat down opposite him and said: “There is something I want to tell you.”
“Yes, Paul.” His speech was that of the alcoholic, slurred yet clipped.
“’Yes, Paul’,” I repeated under my breath, “You contemptible drunk. ‘Yes, Paul’…”
“I’ve stolen two thousand pounds from the bank,” I said aloud and brutally. Such was my mental state that I felt no shame or humiliation.
To record all the details of our conversation would be a waste of paper, expensive paper that costs me three ounces of tobacco per ream…
Trembath, once he recovered from the shock, became worried, not about me, not about the bank’s money, but about his job. He was on his way down in the bank. This was the last straw! A large theft in a small bank under his control…
The rest of my disgrace doesn’t matter. Trembath wanted to avoid publicity: if I could replace the money, he’d forget the incident. Replace the money? I could sell the car but we hadn’t much equity in that. I could sell the house but we hadn’t much equity in that either. Julia couldn’t make good the discrepancy; her mother could, perhaps, if she sold her property, but that was unthinkable. I was overcome by a masochistic desire for punishment. Before nightfall; I was in the yard of the Melbourne City Watchhouse, charged with theft. Bail was fixed at two hundred and fifty pounds but I didn’t even bother to ring Julia to try to raise it.
I only had one worry: what would Jim Roberts think? I hadn’t long to wait before I knew: at eight o’clock that night he came to the Watchhouse. I confronted him across the corridor through the bars. He stood in the interview cubicle ten yards away, his handsome face besmirched with sorrow, sympathy and bewilderment.
“What’s happened to you, Paul? I saw it in the paper. It can’t be true.”
At the end, he offered to raise the bail, but I refused. He persisted, but he seemed to realize that I had no fight left in me. My life was ended; I had no wish to defend myself; I had no wish for freedom.
“Why did you do it, Paul? You should never have gambled. I’m to blame.”
“No, Jim. I’ve been happy.”
“If you get the money from Pittson, you can still get out of your trouble. I’ll get it, if I have to take it out of his hide.”
Soon the warder came and Jim was gone.
Yesterday morning a warder announced a visitor. A visitor for me? Who could it be? Julia? The thought struck me as a stinging open-hand blow in the face.
In a few seconds, I felt beads of sweat on my forehead and my hands became clammy. Julia,no? But who else? I followed the warder into an interview cubicle. Julia? She must have returned to Australia. I entered the cubicle, I imagined I saw Jim Roberts. Or the ghost of Jim Roberts? No, not a ghost? Surely that was him sitting in the cubicle opposite, smiling as of old? I began to tremble from head to foot.
“Jim,” I muttered in a half whisper. My thoughts swam from me in a spiral and I had a feeling of sinking into the earth.
The ghost spoke to me? “Hello, Paul.” A **** mixture of relief and disappointment restored my normality.
“How are you, Paul.”
“Oh, all right. Good.”
“I am sorry I took so long to come and to see you.” “Why should you come to see me? It doesn’t matter.”
“It does matter. You are a friend. We Communists become so busy helping the people that we sometimes forget individual people.”
“Some people are better forgotten,” I said.
“No, Paul… I’ve come to ask when you are coming out.”
“Coming out?” The very idea had long ago left my mind. “Yes, coming out. That’s right, I’ll come out. I’ve been more than sixteen months, I think. With remission, I’ll be out within five months.”
“We must find you a job. A job as an accountant and auditor, perhaps in a union office.”
“Me an accountant? Paul Whittaker, the thief?”
Gerald Roberts did not reply immediately but, at last, he said: “Anyway, the wife and I had a talk about you. We want to help you get a job and re-establish yourself…”
I found myself saying: “But I murdered your brother.”
“You must never think such a thing! Jim told me himself.. He thought of you as a dear friend, right to the end….
We fell silent amid the muted voices of the other couples.
“Did he tell you about the book?” I found myself asking, forgetting the need for caution.
“Yes, he told me. Did you write it?”
“It’s nearly finished… Jim wanted it written… I’ve done my best… “
“You’ve been fair to him?”
“He was a good lad. Everyone loved him. He was good to his mother and father, to his brother and his sister, loyal to his friends… Yet none of us could save him… Society destroyed him… I tried to begin a campaign for his reprieve but he told the Government he wanted to die…”
Gerald seemed to ponder for a while, then he said (and the word seems incongruous): “I have never backed a horse since…”
“Neither have I,” I replied foolishly.
Gerald seemed embarrassed and fell back upon dogma, as I had noticed him do often before in the old days. “Not horse-racing but capitalism destroyed him…”
The intensity of our conversation now left us exhausted and we each fell awkwardly silent. Time was up before we spoke again. Gerald said: “I’ll come again before your release. Then I’ll meet you at the gate…”
As I left the cubicle, Gerald Roberts turned and called after me : “Jim saw you as his mate, right to the end…”
His mate! Right to the end!
“I just wondered,” I said lamely.“Well, if you’re in a hurry, so am I. I’ll ring the sniffling bastard – with pleasure.”He went upstairs again and returned a few minutes later. He seemed to be leaning on the banisters as he came down th
After Jim left me, I expected Julia might call, but she didn’t. The preliminary hearing of my case took place next morning. I looked round the court for Julia but she was not there. The hearing was short. I pleaded guilty and was remanded for trial.
When the magistrate asked if I wanted legal assistance, I replied: “Not at this stage.”
That same afternoon I was taken in a prison van from the Watchhouse to the Metropolitan Section of Pentridge jail.
The shock of finding myself amongst criminals first at the Watchhouse and then here, seemed to shake the apathy out of me and shame came to replace it. A great loneliness followed the shame, until Jim Roberts joined me in the remand yard forty-eight hours later.
I have reconstructed what happened from press reports of Jim’s trial and from what he himself told me. In all truth, he told me little about these last incidents, not, I think, because he wished to hide anything but because he had only a vague memory of them.
When Jim left me at the Watchhouse, he went by taxi to Pittson’s house. Mrs. Pittson answered his knock. She was a handsome woman, but her figure was bulging with middle age and her face was besmirched with greed and ambition. She was disappointed in her husband and his dubious profession: the only interest she had in his bookmaking was the money forthcoming. Certainly, Jim told me afterwards, she did not know at that stage that her husband had welshed. Jack would be home at about half-past ten, she told Jim.
Jim determined to return even at that late hour. I have been trying to capture Jim’s state of mind. Probably, his thoughts were complex. He was much distressed by my predicament, felt that he must get the money from Pittson and so extricate me from jail and from trial. As well, he himself was out of money and in debt. Pittson, who had often hounded him for money, now owed him more than two thousand pounds. Deep- buried hatred of Pittson welled up in him like an atomic cloud. Pittson had hounded the poor of Richmond, including Jim’s father. Now it was Pittson’s turn to be hounded and humiliated. Pittson who had once forced Jim to pay by instalments, now Pittson would pay by instalments: or, better still, he would force the Pittson’s to sell their shop.
Leaving Mrs. Pittson, Jim went to his hotel. He gathered some cronies around him, including Harry Walton, and they went to his room to drink beer. Jim related the story in detail. “Pittson will pay if I have to take it out of his hide,” he told them.
Over the years, Jim had developed a swaggering manner as a compensation for his earlier shyness and timidity. He was fond, in the years I knew him, of showing physical fearlessness, of talking fight, of taking the side of the weak if violence threatened. Now he was talking violence and working himself up to it.
He returned to Pittson’s house at eleven o’clock and, even though he saw the lights in the bedroom, he rapped the door-knocker commandingly. After some whispering and shuffling from the bedroom, Pittson called out, his voice shrill like that of a nervous woman: “Who’s there?”
“Jim Roberts! Open up!”
Eventually the door opened and Jim saw Pittson in front of him, a frightened man in a tartan dressing-gown. The years had turned Pittson’s hair grey, his expression more predatory and sly. “I was in bed,” Pittson said and added, for no apparent reason, “The wife’s favver is sick.” “Not as sick as you’ll be if you don’t pay up,” Jim replied, stepping uninvited across the threshold and closing the door behind him. His manner was threatening and Pittson cowered away from him.
“I’ll pay, Jim… so much a week.”
“So much a week,” Jim mocked him. “What about your shop?”
“It’s mortgaged, Jim. Not worf a zac. We lost ten thousand. A bad trot for six weeks. We paid all the little debts but all our money’s gone…”
“What about your sleeping partner?”
“He’s broke, too, Jim. Gods honour he is.”
“God’s honour? There’s a joke!” Jim replied bitterly and grabbed Pittson by the lapels of his dressing gown. “Listen, there’s a good man in jail tonight because you’re a welsher…”
“Whittaker was a fool, Jim,” Pittson whined. “He bet above his means, you know that.” Jim tightened his grip and shook Pittson.
“Don’t hit me, Jim. I’ll pay! I’ll do my best…”
At that moment, Mrs. Pittson rushed from the bedroom and grasped Jim by the shoulder. He shook her off violently.
“Just what I’d expect from you. The Robertses were never any good,” she screamed. “Rushing into people’s houses in the middle of the night. I’ll ring the police.”
She made to step past him into the lounge-room. He restrained her, firmly holding her shoulders in his hands.
“You’ll ring no-one, Mrs. Pittson! You and your airs and graces. Your husband owes me and paul Whittaker two thousand each and he’s going to pay every penny, even if you have to sell your shop and the roof over your head. Do you hear me?
She stared at him in unbelief for a moment, then replied: “you have no legal claim.”
“No legal claim,” Jim said scornfully. “Did your husband have any legal claim on the poor people of Richmond when he hounded them for money? They paid and he’s going to pay.” Jim turned to Pittson, his manner more calm but scarcely less threatening. “Why didn’t you lay the bets off?”
“We had used our credit with the lay-off man,” Pittson said.
“Well, sell your car. You drive a Customline, sell it!”
“I’ve sold it, Jim. It’s gone. As God’s me judge. I sold it.”
Suddenly, Jim grabbed Pittson again. “Well, I don’t care where you get the money. You’re going to pay. And I want an instalment tonight!”
Pittson looked at his wife, they were two terror-stricken people. Slowly, with a mixture of fear and reluctance, Pittson went to the bedroom and returned with a bundle of ten pound notes. “Here’s two hundred quid…all I’ve got in the world.”
Jim took the money and said brutally: “This is only a deposit. You’ll pay me and Whittaker every penny if your wife has to take in washing.” With that he opened the door and faded into the night. When he had gone, Pittson locked the door and rang his assistant John Mills.
Next morning, Jim Roberts went to Tom Sparks’ house. He found his friend in bed.
“I want a loan of fifty quid, Tom, if you’ve got it.” Jim went on to relate how Pittson had paid two hundred pounds deposit. He wanted the fifty pounds to make up my bail money, he told Sparks. I think I can manage, Jim, if I can talk the missus round. As a matter of fact, I was coming to see you about pittson. I’ve been doing some detective work. Hoo! Hoo! It’ll be a massacre. Mills has been going round Pittson’s clients giving them a new phone number. Him and Pittson are going to set themselves up in business again – with your money and Paul’s!”
They fell into earnest discussion. Finally, Jim said: “The little bastard knows we’ve got no legal claim. He won’t pay. I had to shake the two hundred quid out of him. What about his sleeping partner? I wonder can we find him. Maybe we can force him to pay.”
They left the house together to do, as Tom Sparks described it, a Sherlock Holmes job. By late afternoon they had found pittson’s backer. He had given Pittson the money to pay everyone, including Roberts and Whittaker, he declared, and Jim believed he was telling the truth.
Jim and Tom Sparks retired to a hotel bar and drank beer until six o’clock, Jim uttering threats about what he would do to Pittson. From there they went to the hotel dining-room to have a meal and drink more beer. At eight o’clock Jim told Tom that he intended to call again on Pittson to demand full payment.
“I’ll come with you, if you like,” Tom Sparks said.
“No, Pittson is my meat. I’ll call at your place in the morning to get that fifty quid, if Pittson doesn’t come clean.”
Fearing that Pittson would not admit him to the house again, Jim went to the back door, found it unlocked and let himself in quietly. Seeing a light ahead, he went to it. In the lounge-room he found Pittson, his wife and the formidable John Mills, present as was revealed in court, as a bodyguard after Jim’s threatening manner of the night before. Mills and Mrs. Pittson described vividly the savage events that followed.
Jim stood at the door, fists on hips, pushing back his opened sports coat.
“A happy family gathering,” he sneered. “I’ve come about a small matter of four thousand quid. Your backer gave it to you to pay me and Whittaker, and I want it. I want it tonight, in full!” Mills arose and confronted him. “You’re barking up the wrong tree, Jim. We haven’ got the money, so you can’t take blood from a stone. And tonight, if you want trouble pick someone your own size – like me, for instance.”
“Mister Mills, the stand over man,” Jim answered contemptuously.
“Yes,” Mills replied, “just the man to put you out!”
He closed on Jim, towering over him. Like a flash, Jim’s left fist jabbed out and struck Mills on the jaw. As Mills staggered under the impact, Jim struck again, this time with his right hand to Mills’ stomach. Mills slumped and Jim hit him with the left on the jaw again. Mills fell heavily to the floor, striking his head on the hearth of the fireplace. He lay inert, like a dead man. Mrs. Pittson screamed and ran towards the telephone table. Jim intercepted, and rushed her violently across the passage into the bathroom, and locked the door behind her. When Jim returned to the lounge, Mills had regained his feet. Groggy but defiant he shaped up to fight. He was a helpless target and Jim hit him. Mills again fell to the floor. He rolled over on his back, the whites of his eyes shining in the electric light, hideous like those of a corpse.
Jim turned to Pittson who cringed in a corner of the room quivering with pitiable fear.
“Listen, Pittson, you’ve got the money and I want it!”
“I haven’t got it at all, Jim, but I might get some of it tomorrow. Don’t hit me…’
“I want the lot. How much will you pay tomorrow?”
“Five hundred, maybe. That’s all I can get, Jim.”
“All you can get…”
At that precise moment, something clicked in Jim’s mind and Pittson became a symbol of all the frustrations and disappointments of his life. Instead of an adversary weak and full of fear, he imagined himself confronted with a powerful evil enemy. He must destroy that enemy or be destroyed.
“I’ll pay, Jim. Don’t hit me!”
Mills lay still and Mrs. Pittson screamed in the bathroom.
For Jim, they did not exist; only Pittson existed as a symbol of dreadful memories. Cissie and Tom Roberts quarrelled in Jim’s mind; Kathleen took a lover; he wanted to be an artist and could not; a woman lay on a dirty bed and Kathie wept; his dead son came to life and kissed him; hostile adults surrounded an adolescent boy and mocked his love and ambition; leering mouths shouted at him “you are unemployed, a susso!” A hostile society crowded in on him to frustrate his pursuit of happiness – and he struck out at it.
He hit Pittson’s cheek savagely with the back of his right hand. Pittson shook violently with craven fear. “You’ve gone mad, Jim,” he whimpered.
In Jim’s crazed mind, Pittson’s body grew to giant proportions and Pittson’s face mocked him. Jim crashed his left fist viciously into Pittson’s face and Pittson hurtled to the wall, fell and lay still. Jim rushed to his prostrate body, picked it up and again struck the face savagely. Pittson fell again. This time he did not move – because he was dead!
Berserk now, Jim picked him up again and punched his head brutally. Pittson fell again and Jim kicked his face and head until blood and brain cells spattered the wall.
Mrs. Pittson eventually realized that all was silent in the lounge-room. Frenzied, she broke the glass of the bathroom door with a hairbrush, opened the door and went to the violence-ridden lounge. At the door she stood petrified. Mills was inert. Her husband’s mutilated body lay in a pool of blood in the corner near the sofa. Jim Roberts sat on the sofa like a man in a dream, elbows on knees, chin on chest. Mrs. Pittson ran into the room and knelt by her husband’s side. When the police came, they found Jim Roberts still slumped on the sofa. He went with them silently and without a struggle.
For three evenings I have sat, pen in hand, gazing at a blank sheet, endeavouring to write the last chapter of this book. The details are clear, burned on my brain as with a soldering iron – yet I have not been able to put them into words.
Tonight I will try to set down what happened in the remand yard and after, leading up to the last terrible event in the chapter.
When they led Jim Roberts into the remand yard where the prisoners sit all day without shelter from sun or rain, I could scarce believe my eyes. He seemed to be in a trance, but eventually he told me what had happened. I was smitten with a savage, gnawing sense of guilt.
The Metropolitan is a circular structure composed of several wedge-shaped yards; a yard for those prisoners on remand without bail waiting trial: a yard for prisoners who suffer from venereal disease known as the “pox” yard; a yard for prisoners on trial called the trial yard; a yard for juveniles and so on.
Jim and I talked all day. And soon this book was the main topic.
After my conviction, I was transferred to “A” Division of nearby Pentridge Jail. Soon Jim’s trial came on and, after sentence of death was passed, he went to the condemned yard, then to one of the condemned cells below the gallows.
At his trial he had refused legal aid and had offered no defence. When the judge passed sentence, Jim electrified the court by saying in a firm voice: “I have a last request, Your Honour. I want you to tell the Government not to consider a reprieve. I wish the death sentence to be carried out!” After Jim went to the condemned cell, I strove desperately to make contact with him but, isolated and heavily guarded day and night as he was, I experienced great difficulty. The Bush Lawyer again came to the rescue. Through the jail barber he transmitted a note from me to Jim. The note was a promise that I would write the book. That Jim received it, I am certain for next day came his reply written on jail toilet paper: “Thanks, Paul, the book is all I have got to live for” – and the word “live” was crossed out and replaced with “die”.
I have honoured my vow: that is all that protects me from an insanity of remorse.
I received three further notes from Jim. One said: “Horses don’t bet on people; that’s why they never get hung.”
Another note reported: “Kathie is coming today!” Oh, that some mysterious power could relate to me their conversation! Please let it be that the embers of their love flamed anew, and that they kissed with the passion of old!
And then I saw poor Jim for the last time. I had learned that he sometimes came with the chaplain to the Roman Catholic service, to get away from the condemned cell for a while. So I contrived to go to Mass the Sunday before Jim died.
And there I saw him sitting apart between two armed warders. His face was pale and drawn, he had lost weight, but he smiled and waved his hand. Then I noticed him writing on a piece of paper, the warders pretending not to see and, after the service, a prisoner handing me Jim’s last note. “ ‘ Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once’ – been reading Shakespeare!”
I have kept those four notes from Jim Roberts hidden in a crevice between the wall and floor in a corner of the cell behind my bed.
Tonight, I have taken them from their hiding-place and sit holding them in trembling hands like sacred parchments.
Would a man have chosen to be born at all if he knew he must live through this night and morning? Such a thought came to me as I lay on my bed the night before Jim Roberts was hanged.
My answer was: “No, better not to have lived at all!”
And what of Jim? What thoughts came to torture him in the cell below the gallows? For they came that night above him – yes they did it! – they came above his head and tested the gallows, using a bag of sand for his body!
But I like to think, I feel positively certain, he was too strong and courageous for them…
“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once!
But, Jim, what thoughts came to you that night? The “crims” told me that the authorities dope the doomed man so that he will find forgetfulness in his sleep. Did you sleep? Or being wakeful, what were your thoughts?
What were your thoughts? Of Kathie? What did she say to you, Jim, when she came to the jail last week? Did she say: “I love you?” That is what I like to believe; that your love was reborn in the shadow of the gallows.
Did you think of Cissie Roberts, of Tom Roberts?...
This last scene I cannot describe because your guiding hand has been withdrawn.
Did you think of Paul Whittaker? And did you blame him?...
Is there some mysterious telepathy between the dead and the living? Can I attune myself to its wave- length to know your last thoughts?
Through the long weary months I have tried, but it cannot be…
Let novelists be humble when they set themselves the task to know the thoughts of other men!
It is for me only to record my own thoughts and reactions during that night and that horrible dawn. They are hanging Jim Roberts in the morning, in the morning at ten o’clock. Who is hanging Jim Roberts? A man, a man without a name? Or a man with a name?
None slept in the jail, Jim, none slept! The men admired you and your cheerful courage; the authorities were alarmed by your quiet fearlessness. They could hang you, yes! But they could not bring fear to you; they like to bring fear to the damned, but they could not bring it to Jim Roberts. “… the valiant never taste of death but once!”
The sun rose that morning, neutral in the affairs of men, indifferent to revenge. And the criminals were restive and tense as they ate breakfast. Meat – meat, Jim! – meat for breakfast! They were afraid of this day, Jim, and they gave us meat for breakfast! They were afraid of your power over us, and they gave us cigarettes, cigarettes not tobacco!
And they locked every man in his cell as though they feared we would storm the gallows as the old Bastille…
And now I must write – the tale of how Jim Roberts died. I can reconstruct it. I found a disused book in the library which described a previous hanging; I questioned the jail doctor; I heard all the jail rumours.
During this last hour, the Roman Catholic Chaplain and two warders are in the cell with Jim. The jail governor comes to the cell door and demands that the body of Jim Roberts be handed over according to law.
The door opens slowly. The hangman enters and pinions the condemned man’s arms.
Jim Roberts says; “No need to tie me up.”
They strap his hands behind his back.
They lead him out. He brushes against the warders and the chaplain: “I need no screws or priests. I have chosen to die because I have nothing to live for. I have chosen death, let me face it alone. I am a better man than you will ever be!”
Jim Roberts’s last walk. Steadily to the trapdoor.
Swiftly, the hangman’s assistant straps the condemned man’s legs together.
“Have you anything to say, Roberts?” the sheriff calls shakily.
“I’ll have my say one of these days…” How can a dead man speak?
Swiftly, the hangman places a visor-like hood over the condemned man’s face. And swiftly again the noose around the neck, the washer and knot in position under the left jaw. That way the spinal cord snaps and death is swift.
This moment has been well planned. The hangman has secretly observed the condemned man, his weight, the strength of his neck muscles. They have a chart to calculate the drop.
“Take the weight in stones and look down the column…”
He is young and strong…, Add a couple of feet to the drop..
All is ready.
A murmuring begins amongst prisoners in the nearest cells. The official witnesses and the press men watch tight-chested and breathless.
A white sheet has been strung across under the gallows to hide the body from view after it falls.
Swiftly, the hangman pulls the lever…
Did you hear it?
Did you hear the thud of the strong body falling?
Yes we heard it!
It may have been an illusion, but at ten o’clock to the second, every prisoner, even those in the remotest corners of the jail, heard a thud and knew that life had gone from Jim Roberts.
For two minutes the body writhed, the knees bending up and down. The eyes, once serene with the light of kindness, stared now fit to leap from their sockets. And blood poured from the nose and ears, turning the white hood the colour of crushed raspberries.
I can see the body writhing now. And hear the thud of its fall again and again at my temples. Did you hear it? Did you hear the thud of Jim Roberts’ body falling into the trap, the trap devised by man to murder his own kind?
Yes, I heard it!
Did you hear it, you proud rich? Did you hear it, you self-righteous priest and parson? Did you hear it, you bookmaker? Did you hear it, Cissie Roberts, somewhere in the telepathy land? Tom Roberts, did you hear it? Oh, Kathie Morris, did you hear it?
Did you hear it, little babe at mother’s breast? Did you hear it south wind from the sea? Did you hear it, football player? Did you hear it, artist, and feel it quiver on your on your palette? All the men of the earth, did you hear the thud of the body of Jim Roberts as it crashed into the savage vacuum of the trap-door gallows?
You heard it?
Then may that thud form some strange symphony to be played in all the tongues of men, that all me shall know the tragedy of it all – the dreadful Australian tragedy of it all!
THE FOUR-LEGGED LOTTERY FRANK HARDY Author of POWER WITHOUT GLORY
His mate! Right to the end! 29After Jim left me, I expected Julia might call, but she didn’t. The preliminary hearing of my case took place next morning. I looked round the court for Julia but she was