When I was 19 I lived with my family in, County Cork, just above Verolme Dockyard. It was a busy and noisy place then, and sometimes pile-driving would go on through the night.
So I was a bit groggy when I answered the door to the milkman one Saturday morning. I paid the weekly bill, we exchanged pleasantries, and as he was turning to leave he called over his shoulder “any tips for the National?”
I hadn’t even realised it was Grand National Day, but as he asked the question, for some bizarre reason the name Highland Wedding popped into my head.
“Oh yes,” says I, “I have it on the best authority.and Highland Wedding.”
Off he went, and I thought no more about it — although I realised with a start when the race came on the television that I had placed no bet myself.
Halfway through I remember feeling a bit guilty when the great Michael O’Hehir announced that Highland Wedding was a faller.
But that was nothing to my chagrin when it emerged later in the commentary that O’Hehir had made what was for him a very rare mistake, and the horse I had tipped galloped home at 10-1.
I discovered a month after, that my conviction and certainty (despite talking through my backside) had impressed our milkman so much that he had plonked half his week’s wages on Highland Wedding to win. And had taken his family on a two-week Spanish holiday on the proceeds. I was too embarrassed to tell him I’d won nothing.
That’s been the pattern of my gambling life ever since — and the reason I very seldom place a bet on anything. I’m useless at it.
I used to show people the betting slip I carried around that proved I had won money by backing Pádraig Harrington at 25-I to win the British Open in 2007. But I never boasted about the fact that I had also backed him in every previous (unsuccessful) attempt. Harrington was my golfing hero, and the only golfing bets I ever placed were on him. So of course I stopped after Carnoustie, because I decided no Irish golfer would ever win more than one 'major'.
I did place one political bet that I’ve always been proud of. Back in 1989, a certain
Mary Robinson was contesting the Presidential election against the seemingly unbeatable Brian Lenihan.
The only uncertainty in the race was whether Fine Gael would also nominate a candidate. At first, there was some expectation that one of the party’s two “greats”, Garret Fitzgerald or Peter Barry, might run for them.
But in the end, and after endless dithering, they nominated Austin Currie, a decent man with little or no political experience outside Northern Ireland.
The minute he was nominated I knew, with absolute certainty, that Mary Robinson would beat him. That would guarantee that she would be the leading non-Fianna Fáil candidate — and that’s a really strong position to be in during an Irish election.
So I rang Stewart Kenny of Paddy Power, and he accepted a bet of £100 at 10-1. It was the biggest bet I’ve ever placed by far, and my only political bet.
Incidentally, when Mary Robinson won, Stewart and Paddy Power sent me a cheque for £1,100, a bottle of pink champagne, and a note.
The note said that they had lost a few thousand on Mary Robinson. But they had won quite a few thousand more on Brian Lenihan!
I said earlier that was my only political bet — certainly the only one I can remember (there are probably a couple I’d prefer to forget).
And believe it or not, you can celebrate the 30th anniversary of Mary Robinson’s election next Saturday, November 7 (or if you prefer November 9, because it took two days to count the votes).
Maybe in honour of the anniversary, I’ve just placed my second bet. On Joe Biden.
The odds on the Paddy Power website over the last weekend — and they know their stuff — are fascinating. You will not get your money back by simply backing Joe Biden to win, but you’ll get 2-1 on Donald Trump. It’s even money that Trump will get less than 200 electoral college votes.
They offered me 7-1 if I predicted that Joe Biden would get between 300 and 330 electoral college votes, and that’s what I went for. There are other combinations you could pick, but that would require a level of sophistication I don’t possess.
I’m guessing that my second political wager in 30 years will also be my last (although perhaps I shouldn’t bet on it!).
Of course, in a way, the two bets reflect entirely different realities. Mary Robinson’s achievement 30 years ago changed her country immeasurably for the better. Donald Trump’s victory had precisely the opposite effect.
He built on racism and misogyny by fuelling hatred of anything that could be called elite or establishment.
A rich and cossetted man managed to portray himself as an outsider on the side of people who felt downtrodden and dispossessed.
Just as Johnson had done in the Brexit campaign in the, he managed to convey the impression that the only way for “ordinary people” to take back control of their lives was to put him in the White House. He never meant a word of it of course, and many of them (though not all) know that now.
But America is now so bitterly divided, as a result of Trump’s philosophy and tactics, that millions of votes being cast today and in the weeks leading up to today are fuelled by hate.
The polarisation has even affected the media.
It has become an anti-Trump propaganda organ. Once CNN’s news values were an important counterpoint to’ naked partisanship — now it’s just the polar opposite to .
But, again like many of us, I’ll still be glued toall through the night tonight.
It’s crucial for America that Trump is replaced by someone who wants to bind up the country’s wounds.
And it’s crucial for the rest of the world that Trump is replaced by someone who is open to dialogue about subjects as important as global warming and human rights.
It’s important too that the defeat of Trump is clean and decisive. That would enable America to start all over again, and boy do they need too.
I know the wiser thing is not to offer a hostage to fortune. Much better for the likes of me to be able to say “didn’t I tell you?” no matter what the outcome.
But I honestly believe Trump fooled a majority once, and has been found out as the worst American president in history. I’m absolutely certain.
The reckoning comes tonight.