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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Hung Like A Pun

I, like so many people this afternoon, have just returned to my desk with a plastic cup half-full of champagne (I'm obviously an optimist), after crowding around an office telly screen to watch the Melbourne Cup. Despite pulling the name of the hot favourite out of the sweep-bowl, my horsie lost. I think if I ever become a horse trainer, I'll call my prize nag Anticlimax, or perhaps Jatzencheese, after the traditional office race-day spread.

Whenever I watch a horsie race (which is once a year, in early November, probably obvious due to my reference to the Melbourne Cup as a "horsie race"), I'm reminded of an excellent waste-of-time game invented at the pub whilst I was at university. Lots of things happened at the pub whilst I was at university – in fact, thanks to eight years at art school, I'm now so well versed in the social arts I find it impossible to separate postmodern theory from the phrase "Schooner of VB", and even years later it's hard to smell a beer-soaked pub carpet without thinking of Manet's Olympia.

But I digress. The game, called "Pauper's Punting", was invented at the Rose Shamrock & Thistle in Paddington, at a table populated by scruffy art students with nothing in their pockets but small change and broken up bits of charcoal. The RST was blessed at the time with a generous horsie and doggie betting station, adorned on all sides with numerous televisions, hung from the ceiling like electronic, life-sapping bunches of grapes, each showing a different race. This is the perfect set-up for Pauper's Punting, as one barely has time to divvy up the spoils after one race before another begins, ensuring a cracking pace and plentiful excitement where perhaps very little is otherwise warranted.

Generally speaking, Pauper's Punting should not involve more than six or seven people, as the number of players must not exceed the number of quadrupeds hurling themselves down the racetrack. Each player assigns themselves a number which corresponds to the number of the doggie or horsie in each race. Every player then coughs up a whopping five cents into the kitty (or twenty, or fifty, depending on the number of days since payday, and subject to employment status and inflation). ABSOLUTELY no consideration is given to the animal's bloodline, the condition of the track, or the hilarious puns which can be made from their name. The point of the game, pure and simple, is blind competition. As each race finishes, the player who has assigned themselves the number of the winning beastie takes the kitty.

Deceptively simple, right? Right. Just like the absurd yet undeniable excitement generated from the "pageantry" of the Melbourne Cup each year, this is the best way known to enjoy your time in a racing-obsessed pub, without ever having to understand what a trifecta is or having to line up to pass your card to the bored, heavily-permed sheila at the little betting window. I've seen normally sedate, bespectacled companions reduced to whooping Eliza Doolittles in the blink of an eye, and if you play long enough and with enough conviction, you can take home a good thirteen or fourteen dollars. It's highly (and surprisingly) addictive, without there ever being a chance that you'll lose your shirt or your house. Dignity, sobriety and nice manners are the only things at risk, and who gives a crap about dignity?

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