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July 8, 2012

‘What have you done today to make you feel proud?’

So Heather Small asked me this morning. And what is my answer? Well, Heather, today I won £53, having bet on Roger Federer (£100 at 8/15) to win Wimbledon. I know nothing about tennis and care even less, and no trace of patriotism rose in me to object to betting against Our Boy. I just had the idea that the foreigner I had heard of would beat the British hopeful, and who really believed otherwise?

So a successful gambler then. Well, not really. A hundred spat out on a dead cert – and part of me is still nagging that I should have bet more, like a thousand or something – and half that back on top might seem like good financial sense, but with me any earnings fall under the heading of Damage Limitation. I got into gambling big time with the Euros. Well, big time… I bet about £250 overall, getting £160 back, resulting in a net loss of a mere £90. This, you will see, is part of a pattern.

Now let’s do the mathematics behind this weekend. To the good – £53. And on the darker side, well. I had to be in London at 9.30 this morning. It only occurred to me a couple of days ago – long after I’d made the commitment to be there – that I could not rely on public transport for this fantastic feat of matter displacement. No matter how early I arose it was impossible for me to get to my destination in time. Wearily, with bitter laugh in throat, I looked into hotels for Saturday night. The Easyhotel in Old Street presented itself, a not too painful £40 for the night. It was a wheelchair-accessible room, as all other rooms were booked, and I decided this would be okay. As long as I wasn’t taking it away from someone truly in need then it would be a kind of quirky adventure. I booked. Total expenditure thus far: £40.

Saturday night I was preparing to leave and, as I was about to switch off the laptop, thought I’d have a look at the booking details again.  So, what’s that, small print? Only genuinely disabled people are entitled to book disabled rooms, and pretend wheelchair users may be refused? Oh-kay. I’ll just cancel then. Too late to cancel. Here comes another bitter laugh. Wearily, in the twenty minutes before the train leaves, I look for another hotel. Another Easyhotel, this time in Kensington. How much this time? £99. Yep, this is the cheapest option within accessible distance. Those fingers, by now waaay too familiar with card numbers, get to work and the room is booked.

Total expenditure: £140.05 (inc £1.05 booking fee).

But what’s going on in London at the unholy hour of 9.30 anyway? Well, it’s the London 10k, six and a quarter miles running through the centre of the city, with 35 000 other people. This will be my fourth race this year, following on from one twenty-miler, one marathon and one 5k. It’s all about the medals with me. I’m not at the height of fitness and today is a bit cold and rainy, so why here and now? Because someone I’ve never met asked on Twitter  for people willing to take part on behalf of a charity I’d never heard of. What could make more sense? Just the thought of another running event sold it for me. I love them – love the getting undressed in public and shoving my clothes into a rucksack, love the real risk of the portaloos, the weaving in and out of the slower runners (losers!) and the gasping towards the end, thinking it’ll all be over soon and I’ll never have to do this again.

And so I ran on behalf of Canterbury Oast Trust. You should look them up. And donate. They’re a fantastic little charity based in the South-East, who help to increase the life opportunities of adults with learning disabilities (http://www.c-o-t.org.uk/). When events are full charities always have places available. They usually ask for a minimum sponsorship to be raised, and I’ve always wondered how they police this. If you say, ‘yes, I will try to raise at least £3000’ and manage about fifty, what do they do then? Do they take you to court for wasting their time and abusing their good will, or do they just look at you with a world-weary, disappointed face, implying that no one has ever hurt them the way you have just done? To be fair, that would be enough for me. As it is it doesn’t take much for me to feel guilty. £100 was the minimum requested. A gentle-to-moderate Facebook begging campaign was set in action, linking regularly to my justgiving page, yielding… well. I started things off myself, and then interjected occasional anonymous donations to make it look like things were going more impressively than they actually were. Though things have picked up since, the day before the race I made up the balance myself, in the process donating a grand total of £80.

Total expenditure: £220.05

Oh, and travel costs, too, and food bought at Waitrose in Gloucester Road, bringing the amount expended on this weekend up to (call it my incompetence) £252.30.

And was it worth it, after all? Not having been in the best of health over recent weeks, and not having done all that much in the way of training, I wasn’t expecting a personal best. In the end I limped home with a time of 51 minutes. (In perspective, my best is 43). It was another medal, and another free t-shirt, always welcome, but did it merit the effort of getting there at all? Instead of bothering with all this, surely it would have made more sense just to give that money to charity. Then I could have missed out on all the hassle, the rain, the self-imposed abstinence from alcohol, missing out also on the race-time camaraderie and, yes, the sight of Heather Small atop a London bus, serenading us all with the devastating question ‘what have you done today to make you feel proud?’

So, Roger Federer, that drop of £53 seems like nothing very much amid the ocean of profligacy.

Welcome to the finances of a Dick.

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