13 MARCH 1993, Page 49

High life

A gambling man


Back in the good old days when my father was alive and a blonde lived in Downing Street, gambling was a sin-or- swim situation. When I lost I was not only miserable, I also had to sell things in order to pay for Aspinall's tigers. Like a freehold house. No longer. Now I don't have to sell anything in order to pay, but feel ten times the fool for having gambled. The reason for this is obvious: for the dedicated gam- bler, there is no merit in moderation; there's only merit in the kamikaze princi- ple.

The rich Arabs, showing off nowadays in various London casinos and those of the Riviera, are no kamikazes; they are simple poseurs because they risk very, very little. The late unlamented Robert Maxwell was another poseur. He gambled in order to impress people, which is probably the worst reason for feeding the tigers.

Although the gambling principle is a marvellous one, in order for it to be thrilling it must entail the possibility of ruinous consequences — something just short of Russian roulette. Men are far, far bigger gamblers than women, and the rea- sons are obvious: very few women will risk the money for the baby's milk, but many Men will. The money is one reason. But beyond the material consideration lies the identification by gamblers of Lady Luck with — their mother. This is the theory of my guru, Professor Ernest van den Haag, a man who gambles only on young women, I might add. (The prof is 79.) His knowledge is obviously not empirical, Yet it makes sense. The gambler is con- stantly asking, 'Do you love me more than the others?' When he wins, his euphoria is total. He is both richer and loved. When he loses, he continues to gamble because he has convinced himself this cannot be.

The theory makes a lot of sense. I feel chosen and preferred by fortune when I win, as if I deserved it for past good behaviour. The opposite holds true when I'm losing. My mind races to try to remem- ber what past sin I'm paying for, or it rages at the unfairness of it all.

This is where superstition comes in. No gambler I know admits his system is irra- tional, yet all systems are. Totally. When I'm gambling I try to repeat every move, gesture, and thought I made when I had a winning hand. At one time someone accused me of giving signals because I was trying to touch every part of my face in rather a hurry. What I'm most superstitious about is showing pleasure when I win. Or displeasure when I lose.

All this, of course, is now academic. I only gamble when I'm bored, without a woman that interests me, or dead drunk. The results are obvious: I have had the biggest losses ever because I preferred los- ing than going home on my own and read- ing a good book. So the tigers are now extremely well fed with some of the most expensive filets ever, and I feel a jerk. I could have given the moolah to, say, the Leonora Childrens' Cancer Fund, for which the head of the Vacani School of Dancing, Elfrida Eden, gave such a grand childrens' party at the Savoy last Tuesday (The Queen of the Hellenes was present).

Or I could have invested it with my old friend Michael White who produced the most successful play in years, Crazy for You. I would have made a bomb. (The play gave me more pleasure than gambling ever did, and I strongly suggest anyone who has recently dropped a bundle to go immedi- ately to the new Prince Edward theatre and get tickets.) Or I could just stop making a fool of myself and stop gambling. Of all the arguments made against gambling, the most preposterous is that money could be better spent. Money devoted to any form of pleasure could always be better spent as long as there is poverty, disease and hunger in the world. But cathedrals, symphonies, novels, universities and all the panoply of civilised life would not exist if we subordi- nated everything to the relief of distress. I guess I will just go on gambling.

Jeffrey Bernard has broken his hip again.