Tools of the Trade

In July 1975 my dad took me to the dogs at Wembley Stadium, he was a bookmaker and I was going to work for him. I was seventeen and in my last year at school.

We lived in Wanstead, East London, so it was quite a trek through Walthamstow, Tottenham and Hendon while the North Circular was being enlarged to accommodate more and more traffic.

On my first journey, we were joined by Peanuts the clerk and Llama the tic-tac. I was going to be on the hod*. My dad drove while Peanuts and Llama conversed in racing vernacular. “Monkey”, “cock and hen”, “grand”, “down the card” and “pony” were some of the terms which peppered the knowing and confidential chit chat, … I had joined a secret and intoxicating world with its own subtle nuances.

The ‘joint’ was stored at Wembley. It was a sturdy tripod to which the hod, silver tray and large board for displaying the odds, could be attached.

bookies-tools

The team was made up of five. The bookie, my dad, the decision maker who chalked up the odds, called the bets and controlled the show. Standing to his left side, the clerk, in this case, Peanuts, would record the bets and ticket numbers in a huge ledger, and by using prodigious mental arithmetic skills, would keep my dad up to date with current aggregate bets and liabilities.

Llama the tic-tac would relate a constant stream of information by watching the other tic-tacs who were showing odds from different enclosures in the stadium. From time to time, Llama would be told to place a hedging bet or perhaps even to take a bet….all this was effected by a well practiced sign language wearing the uniform white gloves.

My position as the bagman on the hod was to listen well…to make sure that there were no misunderstandings, check that the staked money was correct, give change, keep the hod tidy, provide plenty of chalk and a damp rag to wipe down the board, and to keep watch for ‘faces’.

If it was busy, the fifth member of the team would be the ‘floorman’ whose job it was to keep my dad informed verbally of the state of the market in our own enclosure, see what the shrewd nuts were betting on….providing another source of information.

All this activity took place in about three minutes before the start of each race. It was a frenetic and incredibly skillful exercise.

To summarise the tools:

Joint. Hod*..very large bag. Board. Chalk. Rag. Ledger. Pens and pencils. Numbered and named betting tickets (receipts). White gloves. Stools. Silver tray and float… and in those days, a suit or jacket and tie.

 

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