Mandy Godfrey

CLAIRE HAMILTON — CREATIVE WRITINGThe pen is mightier than the sword

Lucky Winners
by Mandy Godfrey

We’d never been to London before. I suppose I must have led a very little life. A big trip to me was going to the nearest hypermarket off the motorway. Mostly I went into town shopping or met the girls from work once a month for bingo then on to a club. John didn’t like that – as I can’t drive he’d have to come and meet me, which broke up his Friday night TV viewing. Otherwise, we visited our families or they would visit us. We made ends meet and we were happy but who could resist the chance to win £1 million on a quiz show?
     That’s how we came to be in London. I saw the phone number for ‘Win a Million’ on TV one Friday night (when I hadn’t gone to bingo). It was a quiz for couples - answer ten questions to win £1 million. You know the sort of thing. The first few questions are easy and then it gets more difficult as the prize money increases.
    ‘We could answer all those questions between us!’ shouted John, ‘I know most of them and you know the silly trivia type answers that I can’t be bothered with.’
    ‘Glad to know I’m useful for something’ I muttered. I couldn’t hurt John’s pride too much. He knew lots of things and read books all the time. He’d wanted to be a doctor but couldn’t make the academic grade so he’d taken up nursing instead. He’d been a Charge Nurse with his own ward for years but every time he’d applied for promotion to higher management someone younger, someone trendier, I have to say it, someone more personable had been selected over him. John wasn’t the easiest of people to get on with. He had an awkward, abrasive manner. He always thought he was right. I’d got used to him by now and of course, he usually was right.
    And so we found ourselves in the studios of CouchPotato TV. Mike Smugly, the quizmaster, greeted us warmly. There were ten couples who had the chance of being selected to answer the ten big questions which could ‘Win a Million’. We’d all had a rehearsal to familiarize us with the format of the quiz. Most of the questions were simple to put us at our ease. We were getting used to the studio atmosphere. The time seemed to fly by –
    Then suddenly we were here! The studio was dark – then in an instant it was awash with frenzied, swirling lights, the booming theme music and Mike Smugly walking on to the set waving. The music came to its final crescendo as Mike Smugly shouted ‘Welcome to Win a Million!’
    I was barely listening to the preamble. My ears were ringing. My tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. John was prodding me with his elbow. Mike Smugly was asking us the starter question – the question that allowed one lucky couple to continue to play for a million.
    ‘Put these events in chronological order with the earliest first –
A Signing of the Magna Carta
B World War Two
C The Wars of the Roses
D The dissolution of the monasteries.’
    I was considering in which order to put C and D when John punched in our answer – ACDB.
‘Now let’s see who got it right – only half of you so it was a tough one. Let’s see who got it in the shortest time – it’s John and Pauline from Buckhamptonshire!’
    Everything went into slow motion. John turned to me – I could see him mouthing something. Then I realized he was saying ‘It’s us!’. But I couldn’t hear anything. He grabbed my hand and dragged me to the podium to join Mike Smugly. I felt as if I was walking through treacle.
Suddenly there was a huge rush of noise like the skidding wheels of a juggernaut. Then I realized it was the audience clapping and cheering – for us!
    ‘Welcome John and Pauline from Buckhamptonshire’ smarmed Mike Smugly, ‘And who’ll be making the final decisions tonight? Who wears the trousers in your house?’
‘I do, most definitely, Mike’ answered John in that voice that he sometimes used if he thought I was getting a bit out of my depth.
‘So you won’t be answering any questions, Pauline?’ the set of teeth that was Mike Smugly asked me.
‘She often has a hunch about the trivia type questions’ piped in John. The thought occurred to me that I’d said that without moving my lips.
    The quiz began. ‘For £1000’ began Mike ‘By what nick-name might a mechanic be known –
A Grease monkey
B Grease kangaroo
C Grease goose
D Grease ferret?’
    We looked at each other. Of course, it was A. John took over. ‘We think it’s A, Mike’.
The rest of the initial questions were equally simple, insultingly so. Nevertheless, I didn’t mind being insulted on this occasion as we had soon accumulated £25,000 – more than John earned in a year. More than we had ever seen altogether at one time.
Then came question five for £50,000. Oh no! It was sport – I didn’t have a clue. I wasn’t interested in sport of any kind but then I remembered John’s many evenings watching football on TV might pay off.
    ‘Who holds the record for scoring the most goals for England –
A Geoff Hurst
B Bobby Charlton
C Gary Lineker
D Stanley Matthews?’
I could tell by John’s face that he knew this. He didn’t even look at me.
‘It’s B, Bobby Charlton, Mike.’
‘Are you sure?’ wheedled Mike Smugly, ‘Absolutely, completely sure?’
‘Absolutely, completely sure, Mike’ John was beginning to sound slightly annoyed.
‘Well, now it’s time for a break!’ said the set of teeth to the camera. The theme music boomed out again and we were told we were off the air for two minutes.
    I’m sure that two minutes lasted thirty. Mike was very jovial with the audience but John and I did not speak. The music boomed back and Mike reminded the nation that here we were with John and Pauline from the back end of nowhere trying for £50,000 and repeated the question for what seemed like the twentieth time.
‘The answer is B, Bobby Charlton’ said John without hesitation.
‘Hmmm’ Mike Smugly covered his face then peeped out from behind his fingers. ‘It’s the right answer! You’ve won £50,000!’
There came that skidding juggernaut again – applause for us.
‘And let me just remind you, that £50,000 is safe now. You’ll definitely go home with it!’ grinned Mike to the camera.
    ‘Now for £100,000 – which type of Italian rice is used to make the dish risotto –
A Arborio
B Prosciutto
C Formaggio
D Topolino?’
    Cookery, I thought, I should know this. I was sure I knew it. But I was getting confused in the studio with all the lights and music.
‘I think it’s Arborio,’ I whispered to John, ‘but I’m not sure what prosciutto is – I know it’s something edible’.
‘Go with your first instinct’ he urged me.
‘I don’t know. Can we go half in half?’ This was a ruling to help contestants which could only be used once. Two answers would be eliminated to make your choice easier.
‘We’ll do half in half, Mike’ John rapidly took charge of the situation.
The quiz computer eliminated two answers and we were left with A Arborio and C Formaggio. I was definitely sure now.
‘It’s A, Arborio’ I said in a voice I barely recognized.
‘Are you absolutely, completely sure?’ smiled Mike Smugly. He reminded me of a crocodile.
‘Absolutely, completely, Mike!’
‘It’s the right answer – you’ve won £100,000!’
For the first time I began to really enjoy myself. It was addictive. £100,000 – I couldn’t imagine that amount of money. What would I spend it on? I felt John prodding me in the ribs again – he obviously thought I’d gone into a trance.
    ‘Next question for £250,000 – where would you find the Islets of Langerhans –
A The Norwegian Fjords
B The Mediterranean Sea
C The human body
D The Outer Hebrides?’
    John immediately answered without giving it a second thought. ‘It’s C, Mike, the human body.’
    Of course, it was a trick medical question – he would know that. What a stroke of luck!
‘Actually, it’s in the pancreas, Mike!’ He always had to show off, go over the top just a little. I saw Mike Smugly glaze over.
    ‘That’s a bit more information than we need, John’ he gave a fixed grin, ‘So what’s your answer?’
    ‘It’s C, Mike’ I could see John looking a little crestfallen, the wind taken out of his sails as it had been so many times before.
    Mike could obviously tell John was sure and knew there was no point in prolonging the agony.
    ‘It’s the right answer – you’ve won £250,000! Let’s take a break!’
    We went off the air again. £250,000! I could hardly believe our luck. Perhaps we really could go on and win a million. These huge figures had lost their meaning now – I was feeling overwhelmed. At the beginning of the evening £1000 was a fortune to me and look at what we had won now.
    The music boomed back again. The juggernaut roared.
    Mike Smugly grinned to the camera. ‘Here we are on Win a Million with John and Pauline from Buckhamptonshire. They’ve already won £250,000 and now they’re going to try for £500,000! John and Pauline, are you ready?’
    ‘Yes, Mike’ we croaked.
    ‘Here’s your next question – which of these is NOT part of a horse’s tack –
    A Crupper
    B Cherry roller
    C Poll guard
    D Farthingale?’
    ‘No idea, Mike, I think we’ll take the money’ John responded immediately.
    ‘Wait a minute’ I said ‘I think I know this or at least I’m willing to take an educated guess.’
    ‘Don’t forget, if you give the wrong answer you go back to £50,000’ Mike reminded us seriously.
    ‘It’s too much to lose on an educated guess’ John hissed. ‘We’ll take the money’ he said out loud to Mike.
    Mike turned to me. ‘Pauline, what would you answer if John gave you the chance?’
    ‘Well, I don’t know anything about horses really but I’m sure that a farthingale was a large petticoat in Elizabethan times so I’d go for D’.
    ‘But she doesn’t really know so we’ll take the money, Mike’.
    ‘John, let’s have a gamble. I’m sure D is right and anyway we came with nothing. If I’m wrong we’ll still have £50,000 and if I’m right we’ll have half a million and we could carry on further’.
    ‘Now you’re just being greedy’ he whispered ‘£250,000 is more than we can ever hope for in our lives – let’s just take it!’
    ‘You’re no fun’ I said, trying to lighten the mood.
    ‘And you won’t be told!’ His eyes have turned cold. I’m going to pay for this, I thought.
    ‘We’ll take the money!’ John was almost shouting now.
‘What about you, Pauline?’ Mike Smugly turned to me.
‘Take the money’ I managed to squeeze out of my rapidly closing throat.
    ‘OK, John and Pauline from Buckhamptonshire, you’ve been great contestants’ simpered Mike. ‘Just in case you’re interested, if you’d said to me that the answer was A you’d have lost £150,000. If you’d said B, you’d have lost £150,000.  If you’d said C….. you’d have lost £150,000’.
    I began to feel nauseous. I’d worked out the right answer.
‘But if you’d said D, you’d have won £500,000! But never mind – that’s how the game goes. Give them a big hand – they’ve won £250,000!’
    I heard the roar of that juggernaut again. I thought it was going to crush me. Many months later, when I could finally bear to watch a videotape my mother had made of the show, I could see how our faces told the story. We should have been thrilled to win a quarter of a million pounds – yet we looked as if we were being taken to the gallows.
    John dragged me off the podium. I don’t remember much else. Someone gave us a cheque, in John’s name, of course. I recall the drive home was in total silence. We arrived home and as I put the key in the door I found that it wasn’t locked. Oh God! We haven’t been burgled have we?
    The light flashed on and there was my mother and various other family members and friends raising their glasses to us and cheering congratulations. It was so kind of them, they must have quickly organized it after watching the show. Of course, it was something to celebrate, winning quarter of a million.
    ‘You must be so happy, Pauline!’ said my mother, hugging me.
‘Yes, yes, we are…..’ I stuttered looking over at John. That Elizabethan ladies’ petticoat had turned into a cold shroud and wrapped itself around him.
    Happy? I thought. We’ll never be happy again …

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