Winning is all relative

Writers Block

I read this morning that a lucky lady from Shipley has just won £14.5 million pounds on the National Lottery and after a luxury weekend in Harrogate paid for with money she had to borrow pending the pay-out, her first action was to pack a few bits and bobs and move out of her council house.  Most of her belongings appear to have been dumped outside to be picked over by neighbours.

Assuming the press reports are not alternative facts, Beverley Doran has cancelled her state benefits and moved into an hotel pending the purchase of a “posh” house.

The story had some resonance in our household because Mrs P and I have just “come up” on the Premium Bonds.   Her win was £25 which caused much excitement and from me much grumbling because in the all the years I have had bonds, I haven’t won a bean.  And this was her second windfall.

I admit I should have been pleased for her, but instead retired to the spare bedroom which doubles as my study and fumbled through the many drawers in search of my premium bond holder number.    I’ve already set up automatic e-mail notification of any wins, so it was a slightly pointless exercise to type the number into the unclaimed prizes box on the National Savings website, but I did it anyway.

What?  I’ve got unclaimed prizes?   Not prize, prizes!  Not one, but TWO £25 prizes.  With inappropriate smugness I publicised the news in my usual style by yelling down the stairs.

Further investigation, which because of the necessary, but seemingly over the top security measures, took two days, revealed that when we moved house over five years ago I hadn’t bothered to tell NS&I and as a result they send my dosh to my old house.

I’m in the process of collecting, but first I have to create an online account, and then write to explain the change of address so I won’t be in the money anytime soon.

This morning’s Lottery news made me think though; it wasn’t many years ago when our joint win (yes I will share it) would have been a really big deal.  I don’t want to sound ancient, so a comparison with the year 2000: in that year you could have used the £75 to buy 120 tins of baked beans (more if you opted for an own label brand).   If I nip to the shops tomorrow, I will only get 60 tins!*

However the point of my story requires me to go back much further in time to the late 1960s when I was working as a reporter on the weekly newspaper in Whitby, in North Yorkshire.  The office took a call from the Yorkshire Evening Post asking if someone could nip round to see a lady who lived in the town and tell her she had won their Spot the Ball competition.

As I was the junior I was despatched to do what I imagined would be a rather nice job. On the walk I mulled over how best to do it.   The £1,000 prize was a lot of money – in those days if you earned £1,000 a year you were considered to be rather successful.   A tradesman at that time was doing well to earn £12 a week.  Should I simply blurt out the news on the doorstep, or be subtler and get myself inside so that the lucky lady could be sitting down when I broke the good tidings.

I rang the doorbell, a lady answered it and as she didn’t look particularly cheerful I choose the doorstep option.

“Hello, I’m from the Yorkshire Evening Post'” I said assuming she would twig that it must be to do with the competition she had entered (and pleased with the exalted status I had awarded myself).    “Yes,” she said, still expressionless and with a tone that required me to continue.    “I’ve been sent round to tell you, you have won the ‘Spot the ball’ competition and a prize of £1,000.”

At that the lady burst into tears, not ordinary tears, but uncontrolled sobbing.  I was only in my late teens and not used to dealing with such situations so all I could think of was suggesting I go in and make her some tea.

It turned out that the lady’s husband had died quite recently and her tears were more about that than the joy of winning the cash.   She chatted for ages about him explaining that life had been tough and this cash would have made all the difference to their lives had he still been around.

Maybe there’s a message here for the Lottery people; even taking inflation into account, it doesn’t take £14.5 million to change people’s lives.

* Updated by me to 2017 product price.