I despise the gambling industry. It exploits the desperate and vulnerable by supplying them with an addictive product that keeps them hooked. Unlike the drug trade, it's all perfectly legal, which means it also supplies people like me with an easy job, albeit one that is slowly killing my brain as I daydream about moving to London and becoming a writer.
9AM: Alarm goes off. I lie in bed for a couple more minutes, flicking through what I missed last night on my social media feeds.
9:15AM: I go for a shower and put on my godawful uniform. The polo shirt is cheap and baggy. I use the excuse that my jacket is too small so I can wear my Patagonia fleece over it. Really, it’s because I feel ashamed that I'm wearing the uniform of a gambling company. The job itself is easy enough, but you have to cope with witnessing the destruction of working people's lives, day in, day out.
9:42AM: Make my three-minute walk to work. This is one of the few upsides of my job – getting to work is free, on my breaks I can go home and I never have to put up with a rush-hour commute. It nearly makes up for the soul crushing awfulness of watching people throw their money away.
9:45AM: I open up, turn on the TV screens and the SSBT and FOBT machines. The SSBT is a self-serving betting terminal, which allows customers to insert cash or their card and place a bet without having to go up to the counter and interact with a human being. FOBT machines are fixed odds betting terminals and gamblers used to lose £1.8 billion per year on them, according to the Gambling Commission. Thankfully, maximum stakes on the FOBTs were slashed from £100 to £2, which has inevitably resulted in bookmakers shutting down hundreds of shops that are proving unprofitable.
9:50AM: I untidily put the Racing Post papers up on the boards. They display the runners and times for each of the day's horse and dog meetings. I open up the safe to pay out to customers and log into the tablet to notify the business performance manager that I've arrived on time.
10AM: "Buddy call" – I have to phone another shop within the area every hour to make sure they haven't been robbed or held hostage, and then submit it to the shop's tablet. I'm still unsure why they are called buddy calls – I’m not their "buddy", I’ve never met any of the people I’m speaking to. My other colleagues have a conversation about how tedious this job is, but I try to keep it short and sweet. I pick up the phone, lubricated in grease and germs, and say, "Hi, buddy call." Roughly 99.9 percent of the time they’ll respond saying, "Yep, all good here." I put the phone down until it hits the next hour.
10:09AM: The same old faces begin to gather in the shop, ready for another day of losing money hand over fist. They are some of the only company I will enjoy today, and indeed all week. A month before I started my freshers year at university, my parents upped sticks and moved here, to this shitty seaside town. This meant that during university term time I usually returned "home" twice per year, at Christmas and for summer. Since graduating 18 months ago, I've had to endure living in a county with the oldest average age in the UK, an hour away from the closest city. With people of my age a rarity in this remote town, and maintaining friendships from college and university becoming increasingly difficult, I've had to adjust to large periods of isolation.
10:26AM: Michael arrives. He's middle-aged and owns a shop down the road. Unfortunately, this means he's in every day and night, to the point where I've even considered getting the shop keys cut for him.
10:35AM: Take and translate Michael's £60 Lucky 15 bet that never, ever wins.
11:04AM: "Buddy call" takes roughly six seconds.
11:26AM: Steve comes in. One of my former colleagues told me he's a drug dealer, has a dodgy past and has been inside for various offences. One thing is for sure: he's a massive arsehole. Rude, intimidating and, of course, a racist. He’s in every single day and reeks of weed. He has a thick cockney accent and wears a flat cap to disguise his balding head.
11:29AM: "Can you turn it up?" are usually the first words he utters. The background racing commentary is never loud enough for him. He rushes over to the day's meetings to decide which horse he's losing money on first. He’s demanding, entitled and speaks to me like shit, so I do whatever he says very, very slowly, whether that’s checking to see which horse won the 2:40 at Kempton, or taking bets for him.
12:05PM: My charmless colleague Greg turns up. He's 50 and has worked in bookies for much of his life. When he's not choking on a mixture of his own phlegm and tobacco, we discuss his one love, alcohol, and when and where he can get his next drink – immediately after a shift; a social club 100 yards away.
12:07PM: BO-ridden Greg takes off his coat to find his shirt inside out, so takes it off and washes himself with a few sprays of Right Guard, "I didn't have time for a shower," he chuckles. I leave the shop-counter immediately.
12:20PM: A group of Asian men congregate inside. "Fuck me, it's like they've all come off a fuckin' boat," Steve says to Greg, sniggering next to me. The town is nearly 99 percent white British and voted strongly to leave the EU. This kind of casual racism is a common occurrence and not surprising, but that doesn’t make it any less aggravating to put up with on a shift.
12:45PM: "It's fuckin' fixed," Steve bellows, before giving the gaming machine a kicking. There seems to be some sort of karmic justice being meted out to this racist prick.
1PM: Buddy call. Greg knows the exact second to phone the other shop, so they answer the moment it hits each hour. I'm starting to understand why he spends every available moment smoking or drinking his life away.
1:06PM: Greg and I are actually talking. Conversation is usually sparse, but when it does occur it's likely to be about either booze or football. On this occasion it’s his favourite topic: his hatred of Liverpool Football Club.
1:15PM: Roger and his wife make an appearance. They are some of the few regulars I actually like. He bellows, "You'll never walk alone" as he enters the shop, despite being a Coventry fan, his sole intention to wind Greg up.
1:40PM: Michael, the shop keeper, is losing money on the FOBT machines. According to Greg, Michael doesn't have an addiction – he just enjoys playing the machines. I mean, who doesn't enjoy casually losing a couple of hundred pounds in the space of an hour?
1:55PM: Michael departs. Overall, I reckon he must have lost about £500 today – and he’ll be back tomorrow. You'd think I would feel sympathy for someone like that, but like Steve, Michael is a massive racist, referring to black people with a number of dated and offensive epithets. I hope Michael continues to lose his money.
1:57PM: I wonder if my cynicism towards some of the clientele is a sort of defence mechanism. This isn't a job that's particularly demanding in terms of workload. It takes its toll on you in a different way: mentally and emotionally, particularly when surrounded by addiction, loss and hopelessness every single working day.
When you witness a disabled woman and her grandad physically trade blows over FOBT machine losses; when you plead with a man to stop loading debit card transactions onto the gaming machines, equating to over £1,500; when customers leave the shop having thrown their weekly wage away in the space of an hour – it’s hard not to share their despair. The fact that this is a minimum wage job makes the empathy all the more real.
2:17PM: Greg's wife calls the shop to find out when he’ll be home. He lies about when he finishes work and moans to me about having to sleep on the couch because his marriage is loveless and sexless.
2:37PM: Go home for my break. I make myself a cup of tea, a cheese toastie and lie down on the sofa.
3:42PM: Return to work. Greg leaves for his break.
4PM: Roger tells me I need to quit this depressing, minimum-wage job or I’ll become the next Greg. He's right. I've lived in various places. What I have really noticed about this one is how it seems to suck the dreams, energy and imagination out of every person who lives here.
4:30PM: Only 30 minutes to go. I waste a few more minutes playing demos on the FOBT machine.
4:45PM: Greg returns from his break smelling of lager rather than BO, and fully stocked up on baccy for the night ahead.
4:55PM: Log off and leave. I’m home before 5PM. Compared to everyone commuting back and forth every day on public transport, I'm time rich. However, my friends are four hours away on a train and there is fuck all to do in my town, so this time is effectively useless. I spend the evenings thinking thoughts, watching football, going for long walks along the beach or listening to music in my bedroom.
12AM: Bed. I check my timetable to see which hours I'm working tomorrow. I'm closing, fantastic. I’m living a bookies version of Groundhog Day. Tomorrow I will wake up, sit in my small box, take Michael's £60 morning bet, watch him lose large amounts of money, finish my shift and go to bed. Rinse and repeat.
Names have been altered in this piece to protect the writer's identity.