Feeling oddly confident, clairvoyant even, I entered a bar to place a bet on Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. I had researched the internet for advice on how to place a bet in France and I knew I wanted to bet on a couplé gagnant, that is to say make a prediction of the first two horses past the post. Feeling almost supernaturally confident, I thought I would follow up with a wilder bet called a trio ordre, adding a third horse from among the outsiders. Because my desire to bet large on a classic horse race was overwhelming, and my conviction that I would win grandiose, I think I was a bit off my head. Was this grandiosity perhaps a small manifestation of the vast irrational impulse that has apparently gripped the world?
As I passed through the door, I didn’t know whether I would be faced with a betting machine or a dedicated person sitting behind a betting counter. In either case I was banking on being guided through the process by a friendly face. There was neither. And unfortunately the flea market was on and the bar was noisy and crowded. Nobody was wearing a mask.
Judging by her air of surrender, the woman serving behind the bar’s first 40 years on earth had been characterised by unremitting servitude and toil and she was holding out little hope for an improvement. ‘Love! Enable!’ ‘Couplé gagnant,’ I shouted, trying to make myself heard above the hubbub. ‘Stradivarius! Love! Enable! Trio ordre!’ I mimed a child riding a rocking horse.
Recognition dawned across her tragic face. She pointed to the TV screen above her head showing horse racing. I screwed up my face trying to fathom her meaning.