One of our distant relatives from London would come to visit us in August, more interested in going to the races rather than strengthening family ties. Jack, a corpulent chap with a Jimmy Edwards moustache, wore a very light brown, almost Rupert-the-Bear checked suit, with a battered leather case containing the largest pair of Zeiss binoculars I have ever seen, always dangling from his neck and resting on his paunch.
The excitement was almost intoxicating
It was he whom I have to thank for taking me to the races. The general excitement of twenty thousand or so people intent on enjoying themselves was almost intoxicating. Inevitably, I saw and was even greeted personally by Ras Prince Monolulu, wearing one of his colourful costumes. I loved the thunder of the horses’ hooves and the excited cries from the spectators.
What was to make the greatest impression on me, however, was meeting the bookies, most of whom Jack appeared to know personally. They warmed to what appeared to them to be an unlikely interest in the mathematics of betting odds and their arcane tic-tac sign language on the part of a young boy and gave me a basic grounding. I suspect, though, that the large white fiver (over half my father’s weekly wage) that Jack placed with them before each race also contributed to their friendliness towards me.
I was never to place a bet or visit a racecourse as an adult but the visit led to a lifelong interest in cryptography, languages and mathematics and ultimately shaped my career.