Britain's Lad Culture - Booze, Babes & Betting
In Episode 3 of The Invisible Addiction Podcast, I spoke to Shaniqua, a young woman whose partner suffered with gambling problems. At times it was difficult to ask such probing and personal questions. It's not easy prodding into someone else's private life, especially when situation is still so raw. But Shaniqua was open and honest so I can't thank her enough for taking part and sharing her story. As with all the podcast episodes, the guests and I have both agreed if it helps one listener reach for help, or to know they’re not alone, then it will be worthwhile. In this blog post I’ve summarised my thoughts and reflections from the interview. Let’s get stuck in...
Shaniqua’s partners vice was horse racing. I can resonate to that, being brought up in the market town of Newbury in Berkshire. For the unversed, Newbury is home to Vodaphone HQ, Highclere Castle (where they film Downton Abbey) and the horse racing track. The surrounding areas are littered with famous racing stables. Lambourn, Kingsclere and Highclere spring to mind – the latter is where the Queen keeps her horses. Maybe because of this, it seems a rite-of-passage for young people in Newbury to have a day out at the races. It’s how a lot of us got introduced to betting. Dressing up for the occasion, mixing with the higher echelons of society, having a punt on the horses and getting drunk all day; it’s an appealing catch for a 16 year old.
The thing with horse racing is that it doesn’t discriminate between men and women. It’s acceptable for us to bet alongside each other. Gambling is accepted in this situation. And I’ll admit, it feels good to introduce a girl to betting on the horses. You feel a sense of duty, taking them with you down to the bookmakers near the front. Men barking betting odds and gesticulating with their hands, people queuing hurriedly and bundles of cash being exchanged; there's a certain excitement holding that betting slip in your hand.
Placing a fiver on the Two Headed Beast at 5 to 1 felt great. This could be the winner! My bet loses and the girl invariably ends up winning because they bet on the colour of the jockey’s silks. FFS.
A day out at the races with my mates would involve drinking a shit tonne of beer, snorting the odd line and betting big. I used to bet a maximum stake of £20 on a horse. (Horse racing had never been part of my gambling addiction - land-based casinos were my worst enemy). But some of my mates would bet much bigger sums. It’s not unheard of for them to bet a few hundred on a horse. When the bet comes in, the champagne flows, the cigars appear and the stripper bar awaits. What a day.
But what about the losses?
It’s not uncommon for my mates to come out losing a lot of money too. Back in the day it was easy to track, seeing their cash. However, these days it’s mostly done online, on a mobile betting app. I haven’t the foggiest how much they’re placing, how much they’re winning or losing. It’s easy to hide. For all I know, they could be browsing on Instagram. ‘But what’s the harm in losing money anyway?’ is often asked rhetorically to each other. ‘You only live once mate’ is another repeated mantra. It’s all too easy to excuse yourself from the humiliation of a bad day out at the races. But what's the real cost to a problem gambler?
And so, back to Shaniqua’s partner.
Being with a group of mates, he was betting more than he could afford. You don’t want to look out of place, you don’t want to look cheap and tight with your money. You want your mates to know you’re enjoying yourself, part of the group. But this becomes a problem because all of a sudden, you’re left with no money. Talk about keeping up with the Jones’, this is peer-pressure on steroids. 'That's all you're betting mate?' is often remarked. Tongue in cheek I know, but for a fragile mind laced with lager, you're soon found upper your betting stakes.
The social pressure felt from WhatsApp groups doesn't help the situation either. You know the types, the ‘booze, babes and betting’ lads chat. Video of a terrorist being beheaded? Check. Latest celebrity nudes? Yep. Today’s horse racing tip? Got it covered. This is the WhatsApp group that has it all. It's also got to the stage where I’ve seen so many big black penis memes I could open an art gallery.
It's also fair to say my friends have betting accounts with nearly every company going. You should see the number of betting apps on their phones. They’ll know where to find the best betting odds and when there’s been a glitch in the market. ‘You want to get on this bet ASAP boys’ is a common notification on my phone. Honestly, it’s frightening the speed in which you can bet these days. Click, swipe, tap. Done.
As a group of lads, we’ll only physically meet-up 3-4 times per year. The times we see each other are always centred around sport. Often it's a day out at the races or the pub watching football. My group of friends love chatting about booze, babes and betting. It’s just part of our culture, right? Talk about feelings and relationship break-ups? Nah mate. Best avoid that. Don’t want to seem weak. Don’t want to seem vulnerable. Got to stay strong. Stiff upper lip and all that. ‘Keep calm and banter on’.
Welcome to the 21st century modern man.
Shaniqua’s partner is self-employed – another thing I can relate to – and this means infrequent cash flow. Self-employed income is often paid in big lump sums. Easy to fritter away, armed with the psychology of ‘having loads of money in the bank’. That was consistently my line of thinking, having being paid 6-weeks in advance for teaching drum lessons. I was stuck in this perpetual cycle. I was doing the Hokey Pokey with my finances. 2 steps forward, 3 steps back, rah rah rah.
I’m still too ashamed to work out how much I’ve lost because of my gambling addiction, but I know it’s enough money to afford a deposit on a house. This was the exact situation with Shaniqua’s partner. It was a revelation when she found out he hadn’t put money aside for the house they’d been saving for. I can’t imagine what that would have felt like for him. The shame, the guilt and embarrassment. It’s easy to see why problem gamblers face relationship problems. Trust me, I’ve been there.
And that was the interesting point to hear from Shaniqua. Her partner finally told her about his gambling problems. She knew something was up. She was glad he told her. She listened. She supported him. And that’s the thing – by talking to someone, it will feel like a weight off your shoulders. (A much-used cliché, but one that couldn’t be truer from my own experience). All of a sudden, the secret is out. That in itself feels good. ‘At last, I don’t have to be so quiet and secretive, trying to hide and cover things up’ I'd say to myself. Your partner wants the best for you. Yes, it will come as a shock and surprise, but they will be supportive of you. They want the best for you. They love you. They'll stand by you.
Recognising you have a problem is one thing, but wanting to change is another. Gambling is such a hard cycle to get out of. It’s like a bottomless pit, where you’re unable to see the walls to climb out. Often you can go a few months without betting. But then – bang – you’re back in the mix. Maybe you feel tired, you feel vulnerable and have a lack of money (or have money to burn); gambling is an easy option to take your mind away from the burden of everyday life. ‘Today could be my lucky day, don’t forget the big win I had that time’ was a common thought process. It’s funny how the brain plays tricks on you, referring back to a positive experience. But what about the majority of the time, when you felt like utter shite?
Gambling and drugs also seem to go hand in hand. All so often, I’d smoke a shit-tonne of marijuana which usually helped numb the pain of a big loss. At least I could still ‘enjoy’ myself and escape my problems. Maybe it’s the connotations in gangster films and the underworld that help encourage this behaviour. In the Gambling Commission’s 2019 Report, 43% of respondents thought gambling was associated with crime. I can resonate with this. I got into drugs during my mid-twenties at the height of my addiction. It felt like a rite-of-passage. ‘Been there, got the t-shirt’ was my mindset. I liked living life in the fast lane. I was living life on the edge, always around the corner from danger. It added excitement to my life. It sounded like Shaniqua’s partner was in a similar boat.
Lot’s to ponder and I’m incredibly grateful to Shaniqua for giving up her time and letting us find out what it’s like being on the other side of an addiction. Since recording the Podcast, I've since learned that she and her partner are back together. Happy days.
You can listen again to Episode 3 of The Invisible Addiction on YouTube. It's also available on Spotify and now on Apple Podcasts. I'd be super grateful if you could subscribe and leave a quick review on iTunes. This will help spread the message about The Invisible Addiction, which aims to raise awareness in the community for problem gambling and to highlight the effects of addiction to younger people.
Recently a few of you have got in touch asking what help is available for people suffering from problem gambling.
I've tried my best to point you in the right direction but as I'm not a trained professional I thought it would be good to hear from someone who can help you.
In Episode 4 of The Invisible Addiction, I speak to Becky, a Registered and Trained Mental Health Nurse. It will treat you to an in-depth conversation with advice and tips for better mental health, guidance on where to get help and who to turn to in a time of need.
It's a really good conversation that I know will help some of you that are suffering right now.
Look out for it this Sunday 7pm.