Our circle of friends has an understanding that if you are in need on money, as one of us always is, they just have to ask and we’ll sort it out between us. It’s a what’s mine is yours sort of attitude, and it’s helped me out on numerous occasions. One of my mates, however, is very proud, and finds it difficult to as for help, financial or otherwise. The other night, however, he asked if he could borrow some cash. Not a problem. I reached into my wallet and pulled out a crisp twenty, and asked if this was alright. It was all I had on me, but it was enough for a few pints and something to eat, I figured.
My mate coughed an embarrassed cough and said to me, in hushed tones I believe they call it, that he needed £300. Jesus. He knows I haven’t got that sort of money any more, and more importantly, that I have no access to more than about £50 at any time. This meant one of two things. 1. This wasn’t actually my mate, but some stranger who looked a bit like him, or b. He was in real need of money. You don’t go from being embarrassed to ask for a couple of quid, to then asking if you could borrow a few hundred pounds.
Naturally, before I could tell him I had no money, I had to get the story out of him, there had to be a story behind it, right? You don’t just decide to ask to borrow that sort of money for no reason. “Yeah, Chris, it’s for a new pair of jeans and some trainers.” Or “There’s a few CDs I wouldn’t mind buying.” That sort of thing would be ridiculous and not worth writing about at all.
The reason, as it always is, was gambling. My mate had bet large amounts of money and had lost, and now owed someone in town. This is dangerous. I told him that he had to go and speak to him, and after taking advice from Dr Miriam’s case book in the Mirror, I told him that I would go with him for support, expecting to end up at the Billiards Club, or that ropey pub on Harrowby Lane, where all the hardcore gamblers hang out. Where we eventually turned up was a bit of a surprise.
My mate took me to Lucky’s Chinese takeaway. While not in the class of Mr. Pangs, which I suppose is more of a restaurant than a takeaway, it is certainly one of the better takeaways in town. The sizzling beef in ginger is f*cking sublime. And they always give me free prawn crackers, for some reason. My mate led me into the shop, had a word with the guy behind the counter, and was let in through the back. We were led through the kitchen and into a courtyard out the back. At this point I was shitting myself. Damn you Dr Miriam. Damn you and your free tabloid advice. All sorts of images were flying through my head. Images of Samurai swords and throwing stars. My mate owes money to the triads. He will die for sure, and as a witness, I will be a marked man. Not even Nash Bridges would be able to save me.
Needless to say my mate didn’t owe money to the triads. But he did lead me into a garage at the back of the courtyard. It was a right shack, bits of old kitchen stacked everywhere. Rolls of carpet, old cookers, cabinets, polystyrene, everything. But in the middle of the room was a table football table. And it was a beauty. Open top with hand carved wooden players. It didn’t have a coin slot, and the balls were kept not in a ball slide, but in the back of the goals.Playing table football as much as I do round town, in (what used to be called) Jaspers, Dr Thirsty’s, The Castlegate, and the Croc Rock, you meet the same people all the time. The rumours were that there was a table in the upstairs part of the Playhouse that no one was allowed in. A guy called Mike who works in Padleys, the chicken factory in town (they produce for KFC, Sun Valley, things like that) said he would have a word with a guy called Alan to see if my mates were allowed to play on it, but he was pissed and full of shit. What I had found, however, was much better. This was the Lost City of Gold of table football. The fountain of youth even. The Lord f*cking Lucan riding on the back of Shergar through the streets of Atlantis of Table football. It wasn’t fight club, but it was pretty damn close. An underground, unknown table football gambling syndicate. I was wetting my pants with excitement.
In the corner, sitting on part of an old washing machine, was a guy I know from the pool hall, who owns a jewellery and pawn shop. He’s a big bastard, with a gold tooth, lots of gold rings, and a huge gold chain with a boxing glove pendant hanging off it. He nodded at me, as if to say “Who’s the geek?”, clearly didn’t recognise me then, and my mate said that I was just a friend of his. I introduced myself and said I was an undercover reporter for the Cook report, the second time I’d tried such a gag in this sort of situation (the first being in that sandwich factory in the fens, that was full of illegal immigrants). I didn’t think it possible, but it went down even less well this time. My mate stuttered an apology, and told him he couldn’t pay the money yet. I winced and braced myself for the physical violence that was sure to follow, but the guy was quite reasonable about it and told him he’d have to pay it next time he got paid, or he’d break his arms, or something. Which really was a let off, when you think about it.
I couldn’t leave without a couple of games first, and so we took on the jewellery shop owner and the owner of Jaspers at a game of doubles. I suggested that in the current situation, it was probably best we only played for fun, as in no money will change hands. “Smart kid” the jewellery shop owner replied. I hate getting called kid. There’s a chap from the bowl who calls me kid every time I serve him. I hand him his pint of Carlsberg and he says “Cheers, kid”. I hate it anyway, but what really takes the piss is that he’s younger than me. What right does he have to call me kid? He’s only 19. I hate kid even more than being called mush. After a while we moved on to pound a man. A couple of quid couldn’t hurt, could it? And we might even win. We’ve beaten them plenty of times before. Pound a man soon turns to pound a goal, and after that, who knows where we go. But not his time. Oh no. I wouldn’t fall for the same stupid tricks as my mate.
I got back from town a couple of hours ago. I had to go to the bank, and then to a pawn shop in town, where I had to pay the owner fifty quid. Sometimes I am such a stupid bastard.