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Pools Win: Pocket-Money for Nottingham Couple

The extract below is taken from Alan Sillitoe's story The Magic Box, from the collection of short stories which came out in 1963 under the title The Ragman's Daughter. The story is set in post-war Nottingham and concerns a young married couple from the working class. With great warmth and understanding the author tells of the discord between the two young people brought about by their inability to share their grief after the tragic death of their little son and describes how eventually they manage to find each other again.

The chosen extract casts some light on the gambling competition, the Football Pools, in which money prizes are offered Tor forecasting correctly the results of League football matches in Great Britain.

... Bad luck and good luck: it's like a swing on a kids' playground, always one thing or the other. We've had more than our share of the bad though, by bloody Christ we have, too much to think about, and the last bit of good luck was almost more trouble than it was worth. He thought back on it, how a year ago, at the start of the football season, a cheque had come one morning for two hundred and fifty quid, and a few hours later his mug (and Nan's) was grinning all over the front of the newspapers. She enjoyed it so much that it certainly didn't occur to him to remind her of all the times she had threatened to burn the daft football coupons on which he had wasted so much time and money. No, they got in a dozen quarts of beer and a platter of black puddings, and handed manna around to anyone with the grace or avarice to drop in. The man from the Post* had asked: "What are you going to do with the money?" Fred was surprised at so much bother when all he felt was disappointment at not hitting the treble chance and raking in a hundred thousand. Two hundred and fifty nicker** seemed so little that before Nan could spin some tale or intent to the reporter Fred butted in: "Oh, I expect we'll just split it and use it as pocket-money." Which was duly noted in heavy type for the day's editions (POOLS WIN: POCKET-MONEY FOR NOTTINGHAM COUPLE) so prominently displayed that though Nan had the spirit left to tell Fred he should have kept his trap*** shut she hadn't the nerve to make him do anything else with the money but what he'd said he would for fear of being known to defy the bold public print of a newspaper that, as far as Nan knew, everyone had read.

* (the Post-a common name for a provincial paper, e. g. the Yorkshire Post, the Liverpool Daily Post, the Nottingham Evening Post.)

** (nicker - (si.) a pound sterling (cf. quid).)

*** (trap - (si.) mouth.)

To spend a hundred quid in one fell bout of shopping demanded bravery, and Fred was the sort in which, if bravery existed, it was anything but spontaneous. Still, he had seen things worth buying which, so far, was more than could be said for Nan. Walking around town Fred had come across an all-wave ex-army wireless receiver staring him out from behind plate glass.

He walked through the main gate, towards the radio shop in the middle thoroughfare of the driving city, his football winnings took on value at last, a lumpsum of over a hundred pounds to be handed in for a high-class radio set that would put him in touch with the short-wave world, give something to do and maybe stop him being such a bastard to Nan. If he ordered it now the shop van would deliver it tomorrow. And after the dinner-hour he'd go back to work, otherwise, with it being Friday, he would get no wages.

(Magic Box by Alan Sillitoe)

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