Book Review: Twelve Grand by Jonathan Rendall

I bought this book because I’d seen a documentary inspired by it, where Rendall was given £12k by Channel 4 and had to gamble it all away. It was quite interesting, and I liked Rendall’s sarcastic, louche presence.

This book sees him get a similar offer from a publishing company, but instead of being a true story this is a work of fiction, albeit with the bets and amount being true.

The hero is a fictionalised version of Rendall, an alcoholic writer who at the start receives bad news from the doctor. He then gets the offer, and while he debates not doing the job, he realises that if he doesn’t win the £12k back he’ll have to write the book he isn’t fussed on.

Rendall jumps between his gambling efforts and his past, stories of school and lost love, which intertwines with the present. He meets his teenage love in a New Orleans strip club as a young journalist, and then at the end tracks her down in Vegas.

It’s a dark, sordid book in some ways. The narrator drinks and smokes throughout, planning to con his publishers and make off with the money. He visists depressing casinos, dive bars and strip clubs, accompanied by unscrupulous friends and shattered strangers.

It’s extremely well written though and I liked that the narrator frequently uses abbreviations and acronyms, and that the more out of it gets the more these slip in. Some sequences are made of short, almost incomprehensible abbreviations, as though based on a drunk’s scrappy notes.

I also liked that given that the book takes place in 1997 there are references to a pre-fall Gary Glitter, and that Princess Diana’s death influences our writer. The national mourning gives the cynical, closed off narrator a chance to weep, a release valve for all the darkness that lurks within.

There’s dark comedy throughout, and through it all there’s something engaging about our narrator, who despite his at times selfish, bleak view of life is likeable enough. Swinging from defeatist gloom to optimistic daydreaming, he is an accurate representation of an addict and gambler. Sure he is in control, and has got the balance, unaware of how close to the brink he teeters.

I really loved it, the sort of dark, enthralling read that makes the underbelly of gambling life both bleak and oddly enticing.

Verdict: Might be too dark and grim for some, but I liked the down and dirty vibe, the striking writing and the narrator. A good read, and a glimpse into addiction, loneliness and regret. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Life is a lemon

I’ve been to two different Costa Coffee’s this week and in both I saw the same challenge set forward- “Balance a 20p on a lemon, get a free coffee”. It was for charity and I thought it made a nice change from just having a little pot for donations. You should give to charity anyway, but it’s always a bit more appealing when you get something out of it too.

Next to the sign was a lemon floating in a large mug of water, a couple of 20p pieces at the bottom. I had a few in my pocket and figuring I’d do a good deed and maybe win a free coffee I decided to have a few goes, it might be a bit tricky but with a steady hand and some logic, how hard could it be?

lemon

My first attempt was a disaster. I dropped it from a little too high and this meant that the whole lemon bounced in the water and it went right in the drink.

For the second attempt I waited for it to stop bobbing about and decided to softly lie it down on the fruit. No dice, it slid off.

The third went the same way.

I was about to dig into my pocket for more change, but luckily I was snapped out of it by having to order.

A couple of days later at a different Costa in a different town they too had a lemon floating in water.

I only had one single twenty pence left, but I slowly tried to slide it onto the surface of the peel.

SPLOOSH!

Right into the water.

I knew the chances of doing it were slim but I’d had to try. It’s the old gambler’s folly- “I know I probably won’t win, but what if?”.

I began to wonder if it was even possible, apparently it is.

lemon2

The fact is despite knowing that it’s really hard if I was to see a lemon in water on my next visit I’d have another pop.

I could probably find that some kid’s show or internet nerd has done a video showing how to do it, but that would be cheating. And defeat what is the major draw of this challenge.

It’s not the free coffee, although that would be nice.

It’s the fact that I really want to prove I can balance a 20p on a stupid lemon. I know I shouldn’t care, I know I should accept that most people would fail, but I want to be one of the few who succeeds. If I’d managed it I’d have walked out with a smug grin on my face and that little victory would have carried me through the day.

That’s the genius of this kind of fundraiser, first it capitalizes on people’s desire to get something in return and then it hits that gambler zone of making you want to just keep playing, because you’re bound to win sooner or later, aren’t you? But the third stage is the real killer. You’re about to walk away when you feel a slight sting. That’s pride messing with you.

You feel you should be able to do it. You’re a smart guy, you can figure this out. And splash, there’s another 20p at the bottom of the mug.

Those charity guys are sneaky, but we’ll see who has the last laugh when I finally get that free coffee.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Know when to walk away

After yesterday’s discussion of the New Zealand man who wanted to go to prison, I’m staying in the Southern Hemisphere with another bizarre legal story, this time however, we’re in Australia.

An Australian man has attempted to sue a casino for “taking advantage” of what he calls a “pathological gambling problem”. The guy, Henry Kakavas, apparently dropped 20 million Australian dollars (around £13m) in a little over a year, and filed a suit against the Crown Casino.

The Crown Casino, looks kinda cool

The Crown Casino, looks kinda cool

However, reason prevailed and the judge found against Kakavas, saying that the casino “did not act unconscionably” and basically stating that the responsibility lies with Mr Kakavas to heed the words of Kenny Rogers and that he has to live with his decisions.

I’ve got to say that I’m rather glad of this outcome, because it chimes with my whole idea towards personal responsibility. Kakavas lost a lot of money, but the onus was on him to stop. If he knew he couldn’t afford to lose those amounts he shouldn’t have wagered them. Simple.

Gambling addiction is a serious problem. I’ve dabbled in gambling in the past (and still do the lottery most weeks) and can appreciate that there is definitely a buzz you get from putting your money down on a game or a race. When you win you get a massive high and when you lose, it is tempting to think that you can win back your losses.

It can suck people in, and for many, people can cling to it as a means to escape financial problems. This is a mistake. One of my major gambling rules is- never gamble what you can’t afford to lose. And set a limit. I’ve been to the races and bet on football, but I’ve always set myself a spending limit and, surprisingly for me, stuck to it.

The fact is, if Mr Kakavas has an addiction then he needs to combat it himself. He needs to tell the casino to refuse to let him play, maybe give them a photo of himself or something. If he has been trying to stop and has relapsed, it is not on them. In the same way, if an alcoholic falls off the wagon you can’t blame the off licence where he gets the booze.

Mr Kakavas is responsible for his decisions, and their consequences, if he genuinely has a problem, then it is on him to sort it. I hope that he gets the help he needs to avoid ending up in this sort of mess again, but I’m glad that he has been held accountable for his mistakes and not shifted the blame elsewhere.

Story here.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Tweet ain’t cheap

This week there were two news stories about people not thinking something through enough and getting themselves into a bit of financial trouble.

First up, is ex-England player and turbo-douche Austin Healey, who tweeted the following (spelling corrected):

Happy to bet a pound with every person in Wales that ENGLAND take the 6 nations next sat…I always knew it would come to this.

2013champs

Of course, England did not win and Healey found himself being pestered to cough up the 3 million he owed us Welsh folks.

moneyhealey

Now, in his defence, Healey responded rather well to the gloating claims for the cash, but his argument for why he wouldn’t be paying up was a little shaky. Healey stated that he’d already withdrawn the bet because he found out Steve Walsh was the ref for the match, and he felt that this meant England were at a disadvantage.

Why? Is Walsh biased against the English?

No, his reason was that Walsh refs with a Southern Hemisphere attitude and some nonsense about how this would mean he’d insist on things being even in the break down or something (I can’t find the actual Healey quote but it was along those lines) so basically, the problem was that the ref would insist on things being balanced and fair. Which seems to imply that England would only win if the ref was less intent on enforcing the rules of the game.

Healey had posted a retraction on twitter after he found that Walsh was going to be officiating, but has said he will pay out to the “300-odd” who took him up on the offer before the second tweet.

Which, is fair enough, but at the same time it makes Healey look even worse. Bad enough that he made the arrogant claim in public, he’s then tried to get out of it and blame the referee for the loss, not the fact that for 80 minutes Wales played them off the park and romped to a convincing win.

Personally, I think Healey’s best bet would be to just donate the 3 mil to Comic Relief or something, or agree that any Welsh person who approaches him before next year’s championship or the end of 2013, will be given a pound, but this is the only way to claim the cash. Yes, it’d hit him in the wallet, but at least he’d have some shred of integrity left. Plus, it’ll teach him not to be so arrogant before a sporting event.

The second person who made a foolhardy and costly error in judgement was the Labour MP for Slough, Fiona MacTaggart, who pledged to give a pound to Comic Relief for every time her message was retweeted before 9PM.

moneyfiona

The response was retweeted an impressive 14,268 times and to her credit, MacTaggart paid the cash to the charity, contributing to the £75 million+ that was raised.

moneyred

MacTaggart made the statement that charity should “hurt a little” and I had a lot of respect for her. Until I found out that her father, who was a Sir, had left her 6.5 million in his will. So maybe it won’t hurt that much after all, but let’s chose to look at the positive. So, well done, Fiona MacTaggart, you’re alright.

So, be careful before you make a bet or a massive “if this happens I’ll…” statement, because you might end up in a bit of trouble. And I speak as someone who said in November of last year that if NASA had launched a mission to Mars within four years that I’d cut off my hand.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.