was a tool of my grandfather's trade. Any guesses?
My childish impression of my grandfather was of a man who knew lots of people, most of them with funny names, and that he sometimes had rolls of banknotes in the inside pocket of his commodious coat. I had no idea he was a criminal.
Between 1853 and 1961 the only legal way to bet on a horse race was at the track, and that was no use to the working man, stuck at his factory bench for fifty weeks of the year. Necessity being the mother of invention, the bookmaker's runner was born.
I can see that my grandfather had all the qualities required in a bookie's runner: sociable, reliable, discreet. His betting slips were written on scraps of envelope or the back of a cigarette packet and the punters' names were disguised. That's why he knew all those men with names like Nobby and Bandy and Half-Pint. He also - how clear it becomes now - was very friendly with the local policeman, who I suppose should have been nicknamed Blind-Eye, and had a slightly more formal relationship with the only man in the neighbourhood who owned a car. Mr Taylor. He was the bookmaker and Grandad was his runner, earning a nice but illegal little commission.
The bets went into a leather bag which was secured with a time-lock before the race started. That little gadget ensured there could be no betting after the Off. Some bookie's runners worked on street corners. My grandfather was more of a Lounge Bar man, but he also did business in the kitchen while my grandmother pretended to polish the front door knocker and, I now realise, kept an eye out for snoops or zealous new bobbies. Sunday morning was pay-out time for those who had winnings and I recall one week when the kitchen floor was carpeted with enormous white £5 notes. A bad day for Mr Taylor, but my Grandad seemed to have done all right. The following week I accompanied him into the big city where he bought me a knickerbocker glory and a fountain pen and treated himself, ever the Dapper Dan, to a very expensive Crombie overcoat.
He died in 1959 and so didn't live to see his role disappear when off-course betting was legalised in 1961. I wonder what he'd have done with himself after betting shops appeared on every High Street. And I would dearly love to know what became of his clock bag.