Brighton Racecourse

Brighton Racecourse
Photo by Brian Dungate

Visits from a distant relative

One of our distant relatives from London would come to visit us in August, more interested in going to the races 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; they were always dangling from his neck and resting on his paunch.

Ras Prince Monolulu

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, who was wearing one of his colourful costumes. I loved the thunder of the horses’  hooves and the excited cries from the spectators.

The mathematics of betting

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.

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