Gerry Farrell: National littery is bane of our lives

National Lottery or National Littery?
National Lottery or National Littery?
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Okay, it’s time for you to make a confession. Have you ever bought a National Lottery scratchcard, taken it out of the newsagents, scratched the panels to reveal you’ve won nothing and torn the useless piece of cardboard to pieces and dropped them on the ground?

You haven’t? Well thousands of people have, judging by the amount of discarded Lottery cards we pick up every week. We’re not the only ones. We had a chat with the local cleansing department worker. They’re the bane of his life. “National Lottery scratchcards are the most common item of litter I pick up when I’m doing the rounds with my dustcart. I call it The National Littery. You can see how it happens. Folk part with their two quid, they get that wee tingle as they start scratching at the panels then the big anticlimax as they realise that once again they’ve wasted another couple of pounds and won nothing. So they throw the card away in disgust.”

Now there’s no doubt it’s wrong for folk to drop litter. It’s the easiest thing in the world to take it home with you and stick it in your own bin or put it in one of the many public bins on our streets. Having said that, I think Camelot have a lot to answer for. This is an organisation that has been set up to do good things for society with the money it raises. Youth clubs, leisure centres, libraries, theatres, playgrounds and allotments have all benefited from lottery funding, as well they should. It gets the government off the hook and it makes it seem like there is a “Big Society” after all. But when you control such vast amounts of money, raised by encouraging people to gamble with their own dreams of a better life, you need to demonstrate real social responsibility in everything you do.

Sadly, Camelot aren’t taking their social responsibilities at all seriously if they do nothing at all to help minimise the tons of their rubbish being deposited on our pavements every day of the week. On the back of every Lottery card there is a tiny “recycle” logo about 1 centimetre square. That’s it. That is the sum total of Camelot’s efforts to discourage people from throwing their losing scratchcards into the gutter.

We’re so fed up with it that we’ve collected dozens of them and started sending them back where they came from. Along with this, we sent a very polite letter to Sally Cowdry, Camelot’s Marketing Director, pointing out that her brand which is supposed to be helping to solve social problems is actually helping to create one. In a world where we already store tickets and boarding passes on our mobiles, it would be the easiest thing in the world for Camelot to stop printing scratchcards on paper. They already exist in electronic formats for other lotteries around the world. It’s time Camelot caught up. At the very least, they could give newsagents branded litter bins to put outside their shops. Or print messages on them like “If You Didn’t Win It, Bin It”.

So far we haven’t had the courtesy of a reply from Sally Cowdry. All that means is that she’ll be getting another batch of dirty, soggy scratchcards in the post from us every month until she finally gets the message and offers to help us put a stop to The National Littery which is fast becoming a national disgrace.

Is it cheating if everyone’s doing it?

I’m not telling you the worst thing I’ve ever done. But I will tell you the second worst thing. I cheated in an exam.

Not a school exam, a university exam. And it wasn’t even my exam. I cheated to help somebody else. I was twenty years old and in the last month of my year as a teacher in Rome. I was so broke I couldn’t afford the air fare home, I couldn’t even afford to pay a week’s more rent on the flat I was in. I was desperate. So when an Italian girl offered to pay me £100 if I would do her English essay for her I jumped at the chance. But how would I be able to sit in the hall instead of her? “Don’t worry” she said, “we fix everything.”

So I turned up at the university on the morning of the exam. The exam had already started. There was chaos in the hall. People were asking to leave the hall to go to the toilet. Others were copying the work of the student next to them. The girl I was to write the essay for snuck out of the exam hall for two minutes. She said “It’s good. The janitor has stolen the exam paper and written down the question. Now you must go.” Two shady, hostile men hustled me into a waiting car and I was driven at breakneck speed to a flat ten minutes away. They made me sit down and then put the question in front of me. “Write 600 words in English on the following subject: It’s A Mad World.” I was all done in ten minutes. They grabbed my work and drove off. Ten minutes later they were back and they were furious. “No good, no good! Start again!” “What’s wrong?” I said. “Question is wrong.” They slapped a new essay title in front of me. “ Write 600 words in English on the following subject: It’s A Man’s World.”

I burst out laughing. My minders weren’t quite so amused. One of them gripped my shoulder really hard. “You write. And write fast.” Ten minutes later I’d bashed out another essay. With the clock ticking down, they drove back to an exam hall full of cheating students and smuggled my answer in for the girl to copy. I met her afterwards and took her money. Two days later I flew home feeling like a hardened criminal. Phew! I’m glad I’ve finally got that off my chest. Now it’s your turn. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? There’s a bottle of Famous Grouse for the best true story.

Hungarian learnt the easy way

My wife is from Budapest and we spent Christmas with her family out in the Hungarian countryside. Obviously she can’t translate every word that’s spoken in the house so a lot of conversation passes me by.

Hungarian is one of the trickiest languages to learn. A new word goes in one ear, lingers for a second, then flies out the other ear. But this year I finally began to have conversations – with my two year-old nephew Davidka.

“I am the captain of the boat!” he would shout at me. “No, I am the captain of the boat!” I would shout back. Two-year-olds don’t get bored with this kind of conversation. So by the end of the stay I finally began to feel just a little bit Hungarian. Köszönöm, Davidka. Thank you.