Making ends meet as a teenager.
Five Irishmen and a dart board.
When I was a teenager I discovered that I was fairly good at darts. No, that’s just false modesty. I was really good at darts. I was good enough to be professional. That’s if I could have bothered to put in the required hours. The truth is, that I had no passion for the game, and didn’t want to waste hours of my life throwing darts at a board in the slight hope that one day something may have come of it. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the game, I still managed to put my sharp shooters eye to good use.
I worked in the Catholic club behind the bar. And it hadn’t escaped my notice that there was quite a culture of gambling in the place. There was always a card school on the go. A group of five or six men gambling their week's wages away just a few feet above god's own house.
There was also a group of five Irishmen who spent their evenings playing darts for cash. When the bar closed, in those days the last bell never signalled the end. To them it was like the beginning of a new session. So, by eleven they had sunk enough guinness and whiskey chasers to be well past their best. But their belief in their abilities had grown exponentially. I noted this and decided that some of those five pound notes they so casually passed about belonged in my back pocket, not theirs.
Once everybody who was going was gone, I would quickly clear up. I would pour the Irishmen a round of whiskey and take it over to them on a tray. One of them would put his hand in his pocket and pull out a roll of notes and peel one off, handing it to me.
“Get yourself one son and come and join us”
“Cheers, I’ll have a pint.” I’d go pay for the whiskey, pour my beer and go back, clutching my pint in one hand and the change in the other.
As I sat, I offered the change, holding my hand out, knowing full well that they would let me keep it.
Ignoring my out stretched hand, “ keep that son we’ll be taking more than that off you soon enough”.
I’d sit at the table watching two of them throwing and a third just about able to chalk the game while leaning against the wall holding his glass in one hand, while the other two sat goading me.
“Hey boy, so you think you can take on the men? Have you got any bottle son? I knew what I was doing, but I couldn’t make it too obvious.
“No I don’t want to play darts, thanks. I can’t afford to play with you lot anyway.”
“Yer, ‘course you can”. Mike, the one sitting opposite me, thrust his darts in my direction. I knew that if I even so much as touched one of those darts then I’d have to play. The thing is, I wasn’t bothered about playing darts with the Irishmen. But that the match would involve money and whilst I had no idea at the time how they made theirs, I had seen the rolls of cash they pulled from their back pockets every time they refurbished their glasses. My take home pay was a touch over twenty pounds and with the money I got in drink tips I probably still didn’t make thirty pounds a week.
So the first time the Irishman said you're playing me as soon as this one is done. It did cross my mind to get up and leave them to it. But the thought of the possibility of extra cash and a real belief in my own ability kept me in my seat.
The game finished and the Irishman grabbed his darts and rose to his feet slightly wobbly but still in control.
“Come on son, It’s only a fiver”, he said, urging me on, like it was absolutely nothing.
I picked up the darts, put my hand in my pocket and pulled out the handful of change that I had collected throughout the evening. As nonchalantly as I could I placed it on the table.
“What’s that then son? It’s five pounds a game, not a load of shrapnel.”
“ Oh, that’s all I’ve got, I’ll go and change it at the bar,” I replied, as I started to scoop the pile of money backup.
“No, don’t bother, we’ll be here all night, just pick up the darts and get on with it.”
That was it, game on. Whilst I knew I could beat anyone of them, they had been playing all night and were warmed up. And although they were all a bit drunk, they were probably used to it. I was stone cold, but the thought of losing all that money soon got the adrenalin pumping.
The game passed in the blink of an eye. All I can remember is that I needed 121 to finish and he needed double top. I was one dart away from losing. In my mind I was going through the combinations of 121 as I stepped up to the line. Treble seventeen, treble ten, double top. It was all over, I’d won. The Irishmen were cheering and slapping me on the back. “Great darts son, great darts.”
I picked up the change from the table but left the five pound note the Irishman had thrown on top of the pile five minutes earlier. I really wanted to pick it up and leave but I Knew that I couldn’t. You can't take a man’s money and just walk away, it’s not the done thing. I would have to carry on until I lost. That first time Mike the guy I’d just beaten, must have sensed my lack of enthusiasm to continue. He walked round the half glazed partition that separated the throwing area from the tables. Picked the five pound note up and stuck it in my back pocket.
“Great game son, he said, now piss off and get us a drink.”
I didn't need telling twice. I went straight to the bar poured them all another scotch and took it back. By the time I had returned to their table they had begun another game. They didn’t expect me to play on. I put the tray down and left them to it. I didn’t hang around for the money for the drinks. I think they thought that buying a round for them was the least I could do.
My mission was accomplished, after that night most Thursday’s ended up with me taking them on for money and me usually coming off best. I would take my turn at chalking then put my fiver in the pot and play them one at a time. I normally won two or three in a row. As soon as I lost I’d give up.
“You’re too good for me I’m going to finish clearing up.” I would say as I strolled back behind the bar feeling the five pounds notes rustling in my pocket.