I can think of no flimsier object that inspires sadness in me than a lottery ticket: a lust for money, a fast train out of here, the material evidence that its owner hopes there is a better life to be lived.
And although I too would squat in the centre of this venn diagram, I rarely play for the excellent reason that, fundamentally, I do not believe in my chance of winning.
Far more preferable, surely, to align oneself with uncalculated luck. How much sweeter to large it up on an inflatable swimming pool armchair on the proceeds of a packet of cash that fell from the sky labelled, ‘This is for you because God wills it’ than the freak result of whoring yourself weekly at the local newsagent?
Scratchcards are different altogether. Back-pocket sums dug away with your own grubby twopenny piece- my God, you practically earn them.
I did once write a drama series based on the changing fortunes of a hairdresser who does/does not win the biggie- Sliding Doors styley. I started to doubt it when the characters appeared in dreams as cardboard cut-outs, leading me to conclude that they were not as fully-rounded as they should be. Then realising the pitch would almost certainly involve the word ‘bittersweet’ I tucked it back into the filing cabinet, where it has spent 9 years snoozing.
But for a little while it did allow me to dream: the holidays, the clothes, the grateful charities. The glorious fissures in my already normally dysfunctional functioning family if the winning ticket was one of my mother’s Christmas lunch table gifts.
My parents, on the other hand, act as people over whom the large, foamy hand is permanently itching to point.
In the heady days of 1994 when Camelot first realised its Eureka! moment to stimulate the greed impulses of a nation, my parents instinctively sorted themselves into the 2 now-familiar major lottery player netball teams.
My mother represented the horoscope-reading-cosmic-ordering school-of-thinking, with numbers meaningfully reflecting the birthdays of her loved ones.
My father captained the abstract-logical-thinking-man’s set of meaningless numbers.
And yet, while not trailing the snuggly blanket of sentiment, his were not entirely plucked from the ether. As misguided friends dumbly snatched at the numbers repeatedly proving their willingness to get sucked up the tube my father sniggered, carefully selecting the lifeless balls on the premise that it was they who were due their moment in the sun.
Not a statistician by profession, he kept a well-thumbed list of 1-49 with the weekly strikes marked alongside, like a man crossing off his days in prison.
A year or so down the line he could be found periodically at the kitchen table (still in his kitchen and not as yet in the pantry of a country mansion) gnarled paper in hand, vexed.
My mother, meanwhile, was struggling with first principles: ‘What peculiar numbers. No one’s going to win this week’.
Now, hardened to the disappointment of serial losing, they’re buggered if they’re going to stop, not least because my mother could not endure the horror of watching the celebratory days of her family popping up on Primetime without clutching the deserving counterpart in her sweaty palm.
Last week-end I was privileged enough to enjoy a window on the secret rituals that surround their persistent gaming.
On Saturday night they assemble in the living room for their rare session of television-watching, meal condiments placed on nesting tables at their sides.
My father (who enjoys exclusive remote control privileges) then steers the channels towards Dale Winton and his dazzling quiz show, ‘In It To Win It’. (This show still has a shouty man delivering urgent C.Vs of the contestants in the time it takes them to skip to their posts: ‘Laura’s-26-and-has-two-children-and-works-as-a-dentist’s-receptionist’.)
My father is in it to do impersonations of Dale; my mother is in it to add her own voice over: ‘If you look closely, he’s had a lot of work done’; ‘Oh, I can’t bear it, that chap has to go home without anything’; ‘The answer’s B, you ignoramous’.
I thought that this was the evening- that we were in the moment. But, no, this was just warm-up.
Suddenly there’s a flurry of activity and they’re running in and out of the kitchen with little pieces of pink paper and the next thing that happens is Dale’s off and the Lotto programme’s on and my parents are spewing vitriol at Jenni Falconer, like the W.I characters on Little Britain.
Jenni, a woman my parents believe was placed on this earth with the express mission of annoying the arse off them. Standing between them and their dreams, probably knowing their numbers and weighting the balls against their favour. Reassuring them before they lose that the money’s being spent on the infrastructure for London to host the Olympic Games in the year 9 million:
‘Oh, piss off, woman, what are the numbers?’
And tonight’s winning numbers are: 2 8 4 23 49 3 bonus ball 1
Silence. Checking (Lucky Dips having since been introduced to join the old favourites).
Father: Nothing, Old Bird. You?
Mother: One sodding number. 49, always 49. One number out of the whole row. Lucky Dip? I don’t think so!
And then consoling and picking up and dusting off and the excitement is over for one more week.
Real Life resumes. Rainy and yacht-less but still full of maybe.
Only next week they know that if they do win please could they possibly buy their youngest daughter a …