Hurrah! I'm back in the wonderful world of virtual friendships, after yet another protracted stay at the computer hospital for this rickety old collection of wires and microwhatsits. I'm also out the other side of Januaryitis, being instead afflicted by extreme busyness and behaving in a similar fashion to a hamster on his wheel (though without the tendency to stuff my breakfast cereal into my cheeks and save it till later). ANYWAY...
Like much of the country, including the Archbish and most of the population of Manchester itself, I was somewhat surprised to hear that Manchester had been successful in its bid to build the first Supercasino in the UK. Though in hindsight, it was never really going to be Blackpool. Poor old Blackpool just isn't shiny enough, happy enough, or convinced of its own grooviness enough to impress. Still, I'm finding this whole concept of a Supercasino in Britain difficult to envisage. The talk is of a 'Las Vegas' style affair...but really? We couldn't do it, we're too self-conscious as a race. Putting it in Blackpool would have softened the whole thing round the edges, would have made it UK-palatable; we like our leisure with a bit of cheesiness, a bit of knowing irony or failing that with a bit of adversity. Make it difficult to get to, to engage with, to endure. Make the environment uncomfortable, the food terrible, the staff rude, the queues unending, the clientele unbearable. That's why we love Disneyland Paris so much.
Someone on 'Mock the Week' quipped that as a nation we are addicted to eBay; so how will we cope when tempted by the large sums of money offered by a Supercasino? How can we control our gambling impulses in such a situation when we get excited at the prospect of bidding for a second-hand pair of pyjamas? Of course there are many for whom the gambling impulse will quickly spiral into an out-of-control habit, faced with such a candy-store. But surely most of us, in our typical British fashion, are more likely to be thrilled by those second-hand pyjamas? eBay offers us so much of what we as a nation crave: nostalgia (I was excited to an unseemly extent by the discovery that one of my favourite games of my 70s childhood, 'Haunted House', is freely available on eBay. I don't need to buy it; it's enough to know it's there); cheapness (there are things on eBay we never knew we wanted until we saw that only £1.99 is being asked. Plus £50 P&P); goofiness (a vintage tupperware cracker box? a taxidermied grey squirrel? Excellent!); and - there it is again - a certain amount of adversity. We like to catch that deadline, chase down that bargain, watch those bids however much it interrupts our lives. An eBay that fitted in entirely with our schedule just wouldn't be the same. And a Supercasino that just sits there, waiting for us to turn up and play at our convenience, all shiny and happy and groovy...well, it's not really very British, is it?
In his book 'Beyond Words' (another grumpy old man tirade), John Humphrys points out the absurdity of an advertisement for a 'National Lottery Subscription'. According to the leaflet, a subscription means 'You'll never have to worry about forgetting to buy a Lottery ticket!' From what I can see (never having bought a ticket myself) it's the 'worrying' that's the whole point. Whether it's holding up an entire checkout queue while you scratch your card, or going round the office collecting the weekly syndicate dosh, the worry seems to make the whole thing that little bit more onerous and hence that little bit more British. We embrace awkwardness, uncertainty and disappointment. It's bred into us as a natural consequence of living with the British weather. The most popular gamble for citizens of this country seems to be: shall I leave the house without an umbrella? Or, if I take a jumper...(whisper it now)...will I be too hot?