As I typed the original title of this post, ‘2-0 up’, Antonio Valencia scored.
It’s a midweek Tuesday and I’m watching Manchester United beat Wolves on a not-in-any-way-illegal-I-swear online broadcast, having just read Declan Lynch’s excellent book Free Money , a tome I’d highly recommend and one I’d been (he wrote an extended preview for it in the otherwise meritless Sunday Independent in May, definitely worth a read if you’re not the book-buying type ).
Declan is a sportswriter for the aforementioned Sindo, and is – by his own admission, though he makes a compelling case for not using the term itself – an alcoholic. Free Money is about a nine-month project of turning €100 into… well, whatever his instinct and sporting acumen will allow him. As someone with a more-than-everyday familiarity of the worlds of journalism and addiction – worlds that one fears might be a little bit less distant than one would first suspect – and writes with particular eloquence about the addiction industry and its craft with words.
A therapist would reply that in taking the positives I’m ‘rationalising’ it, that I am using mere words to give myself a false impression, and to keep betting.
Words, words, words, the therapist would say disdainfully. Words are nothing, it is all about feelings.
I take it personally when I hear these people denigrating about words, words, words because I know something about words. I make my living out of words, and I can assure these people that words are not mere objects that the mind produces in the absence of feelings, they are not ‘mere’ in any way.
I set up this blog – or, at least, this edition of my blogging life – in the second-last week of December 2008. My intention was to post one blog per day, trying to work myself into the habit of writing at reasonable length on topics that I may not necessarily be particularly interested in, or motivated by. It was to fall between every stool going; one day it’d be about Stephen Jones missing a last-minute penalty to seal a Grand Slam for Ireland, the next it’d be about staying motivated to work in journalism, on a student newspaper that offers infinite reward but horrific wages.
To an extent – and I guess I’ve done okay in this regard – it has been that; Thinking Out Loud is a blog about nothing in particular. The only problem is that between the day where it’s been about Ireland winning at rugby and the Sunday Tribune being abject failures at covering gaelic games, there’s been ballooning voids of silence where Thinking Out Loud wasn’t a blog about ‘nothing in particular’ but rather ‘nothing at all’.
I might surmise that a lot of the problem with trying to write a blog about ‘nothing in particular’ is that the writer is so easily distracted and captivated by such a broad spectrum of topics that inevitably the devotion to any one subject – including the very act of blogging itself – is lost amongst everything else. But alas.
Which is why a book like Free Money works so very well. It’s a real journalistic endeavour, trying to gain genuine insight into the act of gambling, figuring out what its real function is, offering commentary on how the gambling industry tries to package and present itself as being the modern equivalent of sitting around with a board game… and yet, it flirts with the darkest nether regions of the habit and of the soul itself, contemplating the horrors of addiction from the part of someone who has genuinely been there.
I’d be lying if I said I was watching this United and Wolves game (still 3-0, into injury time) and not wondering what it might be like to have a punt on it, pitting my wits against the probability of the universe and earing financial gain for it. It’s a strange impulse and thankfully, for me personally, it’s one that comes and goes. I started into the habit of putting small-stakes accumulators on weekend cycles of Premiership games last April – as a part-time amusement to get me through the tedium of my finals – and by the end of the season I was impatient that I’d lose three months before I had the chance to place any more. And yet, I don’t think I’ve placed any more than three this season, maybe because given the day job I don’t get the chance.
It’s a strange impulse though. There’s always that fleeting moment where, drunk on the lethal cocktail of arrogant self-belief and the acute desire to make financial gain, one could casually log onto a sports exchange website or an online casino and risk it all on the flip of a coin, the width of a goalpost, or the fall of a ball on a 21st century roulette table where every number is a 1 or a 0.
Such are the small margins between immense wealth and chronic destitution – the flip of a switch between a 0 and a 1.
Tomorrow, as a result of a string of 1s involving my getting a placement in the first place, and subsequently the nature of the workplace and the circumstances of the breaking ball, I’ll be seeing a printed copy of my first front-page story for a reasonably major regional newspaper. Later this week I’ll be getting a headshot done. This weekend I’ll be going to a birthday party, and having good food with friends, and spending time with my nearest and dearest.
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss,
…you’ll be a man, my son.
You’ll be a bonehead.
2009 might have been, on my scorecard, largely comprised of 1s, but I refuse to concede that the laws of probability have 0s in store. Better golfers get luckier more often, they say. I prefer to think of it as people making their own luck. If I don’t blog again before 2010, I’ll regret it, but I’ll be doing my best to make sure that it’s because I’ve been coming up tails and rolling sixes.
By the end of Free Money‘s nine-month narrative, Declan Lynch had turned his €100 into… almost precisely €100. 2009 has been pretty good to me thus far (touch wood), and with any luck 2010 will treat me the same way: 3-0 up.
With any luck.