It’s one of those nondescript community buildings, a once proud edifice now run at minimal cost by the council, decorated in cheerless shades of grey and beige, a feint whiff of floor cleaner mixed with cheap coffee gives it that spooky, public building smell, overly jolly day-glo posters for the W.I add the only dash of colour.
Upstairs in a random room a group is meeting. The hastily handwritten sign on the door has the simple inscription: G.A. 7.00 p.m. Free Coffee.
The collective, sat in a loose circle on cheap schoolroom style chairs, spans the generations, teens to OAPs. They are nibbling and dipping biscuits in the regulation plastic coffee cups, the coffee is freshly brewed, not the instant machine muck suffered by the other groups. The beard, the leader of the group stands and starts business.
‘Welcome, one and all, members old and new. We are here to help each other, we are here to share, you have taken the hardest step already; just by being here you have acknowledged the fact that you have a problem. Together we can beat it.’
There’s a muffled chorus of agreement. The beard continues, ‘So, as every week, any new members need to introduce themselves to the group. You do not have to use your real name. You choose a name you are comfortable with. Remember, you are amongst friends, we are here to support not judge,’ he gestures to a fit-looking youth, sporting a good tan, sun-flecked hair and suspiciously red eyes. ‘Please, new guy, if you would get us going.’
The youth scrapes a lock of hair away from his face, stands and nervously begins, ‘Errrm, hi, yeah, right. Best get on eh? Well, my name is Moondoggie and I … I am a gambler.’ A warm ripple of applause spreads through the group, the beard moves over and gives the youth a reaffirming hug. ‘Please, Moondoggie, share your unfortunate addiction with the group, we are listening.’
The youth takes a big hit of coffee, coughs and elaborates, ‘Well, dudes, it all started a few years ago. You dabble to start with. I guess you all know how it goes, a little bit here, a little bit there. Nothing serious. But once you’ve had your first score then it works into your soul. You didn’t set out to get addicted, but without you knowing, you’re hooked. From then on it consumes your life and ruins your bank balance. The odds always look good, well, you convince yourself they do.’
Various group members nod sagely, the beard, listening with his eyes closed, picks a stray lentil from his facial bush, pops it into his mouth, swallows and speaks, ‘So, Moondoggie, what’s your fix? What floats your boat? Is it the horses? The fruit machines?’
‘Errm, none of the above. I am a committed gambler though. If you think about it, what is gambling? It’s just financial maths, probability, nothing more; you wager money on a certain outcome, whether that’s the first horse past the post, your footy team winning, scooping the lottery or scoring on the stock exchange. Probability, the one in whatever chance, one in fourteen million of winning the lottery, one in two chance on the footy, and so on, you arm yourself with information and make informed bets.’
The beard interrupts, ‘Sorry to butt in, but what is your particular vice?’
The youth wanders over to the coffee percolator, grabs the jug, refills the extra-large travel mug he brought with him, tops up with milk and sugar, takes a massive chug and continues, ‘It’s hard to explain, but believe me its costing me dearly. You see with most of you guys you work the odds, there’s a certain risk and you accept that, you know the odds, you know the form. On the fruity its 60/40, you will win sometimes but in the long term the house always wins. You get the occasional big pay out and that makes you forget the losing spells. There is a big difference between your gambling and mine, you guys are always winning some money and losing some. I lose money non-stop, I haemorrhage the stuff out of my pockets I never get money back from my gambling.’
The beard, visibly perplexed now, ‘Gambling on what?’
The youth smiles, takes another big gulp of java, ‘The weather.’
Quizzical glances are exchanged around the ring.
‘Sorry Moondoggie, the group and I are lost here, how can you gamble on the weather?’
Looking a little bit jazzed from all the caffeine the youth smirks, ‘I’m a surfer. I gamble on the weather all the time. Like you guys, I try and learn as much as I can, about the form of the horses and so on, to make informed bets. Except rather than sticking down a ton on a horse in the 3:50 at Chepstow I lay out a ton on a flight to the Canaries. You want the horse you bet on to come in first, I want the weather charts I am betting on to produce a good swell.’
‘Swell?’ the beard is confused.
‘Yeah, swell, you know, waves, ocean-going-rollers, I ride them. That’s my fix, that’s my payout. I wager money on flights, rental cars, boards and accommodation and my pay out is getting good waves. Same as you guys you can win, lose or you can win big. Three cherries on the fruity is getting a good clean head-high day with only a few guys out, a lose is no waves and five sevens is the perfect, eight-foot, offshore day of the year with you and your mates,’ the youth is grinning, he drains the dregs from the massive mug. ‘A lot of the time you don’t score, and curse chucking money down the drain, but when you do, well, it’s the best high ever.’
The group, smiling now, nod in agreement, they understand. One pipes up, ‘I think you are a gambler, but we can’t really help you here dude.’
The surfer grabs his coat, makes for the door, ‘Yeah, I kinda knew that, I’m here for an adult ed course at eight, I thought I’d drop in cos you guys have the good coffee.’