Sunday 25 March 2018

Billy Keane: Cheltenham – no place for addicts, those with corns or claustrophobics

LADS will put on their best suits and head for town. Pretend for a while they really are at Cheltenham. It's a ritual. A few beers. Watch the racing in the pubs. Dart across to the betting shop, as they dodge the mad driving of boys with spots, in a hurry for the 2.30. The story is replicated all over Ireland. Cheltenham starts tomorrow and most punters will go to the festival, at home. Thousands take holiday time or half-days or dodge.

I like the betting shop. Soft seats. Warm. Pretty girls behind the counter. Free tea and biscuits. Debates on the racing. Ten screens showing every sport. The Chinese chattering away. Speaking even more quickly than the locals. An eastern Gaeltacht. All-day company for the racing lovers, the broke, the lonely, the bored, the talkers and the buzz-seekers. There would be a revolution in this country, if it were not for the betting shops.

There are laughs too. A portly man was asked by the shop stirrer how it was he was able to "even walk around with that big huge belly". Well, replied the large man, "Sure, I could hardly leave it at home." You have to be thick-skinned and clever to survive the raw, quick-draw repartee.

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