810

No risk please, we're British

A 'saver return' journey through Matthew Reeves' take on risk. Stopping at: the National Lottery, X-Factor and Casablanca.
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"This ticket is meant to be for last night, but the station staff said I could use it this morning, you know, because of the snow," I explained to the bulging sack of organs and skin.

"Yeah but this is a hyper-mega-super-saver day return travel card, it's not valid on the 0645...and it's out of date," the human impersonator garbled with all the eloquence of an electronic ticket barrier. It wasn't his fault that the UK is unable to operate outside a temperature range of 2-8 degrees Celsius. Nor was it the fault of National Rail, Virgin, Southwest Trains, Rail Track, British Rail, the Chunnel or whichever company kept this particular idiot. Rail operators have been struggling since the day they realised that under ancient UK byelaw, you can't run a customer-facing business staffed entirely by jungle animals.

"I know, but last night I was here in time to get a valid hyper-mega-super-saver day train, but we were snowed in so one of your colleagues said we could use this ticket today."

He could have simply let me through at this point but he really didn't want to risk it. I might be lying. Hell, I might be the next Ronnie Biggs for all he knew. He wasn't going to let me through, at least, not without contacting his supervisor, which he duly did using his walkie-talkie. Unfortunately, his supervisor appeared to have gone sledging, leaving his shift to be covered by a particularly taciturn snowman. There followed five minutes of radio silence, during which I pondered the nature of risk.

It struck me that Britain has a gambling problem: too many people are afraid of it. Sure, people play the lottery in their hordes, but that's only because they feel safe in the knowledge that they are wasting their money. You've got more chance of being hit by lightening or being killed by a donkey, or so they say. Well why don't you bet on being killed by a donkey then? Alright, so you can't collect the winnings, fair point. Bet on a few friends then.

We all have our personal stories of Great British risk aversion. Whilst studying for my A-levels I worked at a popular cinema chain. Every Saturday we'd have to go through a fire training drill - what to do if the multiplex was suddenly struck by lightning. As you might expect the main thing was to evacuate the cinema (invalidating your earlier placed betting slips). During the evacuation if you saw that someone elderly or frail needed assistance, you were under no circumstances to help them out of their seat in case you injured them. Better to leave them toasting through the Monday classic matinee showing of Casablanca, safe in the knowledge they would depart this world without putting their hip out.

We need to take more risks. We all like to laugh at the contestants humiliating themselves on X Factor but perhaps they're on to something. What, after all, are they risking? How much is your dignity really worth? More than a one million pound record contract? I think not.

If singing in front of a few million viewers is a bit too rich for your blood, how about starting your own business? Unless your billion pound idea involves the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the absolute worst that can happen is that you go bankrupt. That's it. You might not be able to get a mortgage or a credit card for a while (good luck getting one now). You'll have to resort to paying by direct debit instead - the shame! I don't know how I'd cope, paying for things with money I actually have.

If investment bankers, hedge funds managers and entrepreneurs have taught us anything, it's that big risks lead to big rewards. Sure there'll be bumps along the road, the odd financial crisis here and there when you get things wrong - but in the meantime, at least you'd be able to afford a first class train fare.

"Just this once," the ticket man said, finally letting me through the barrier, as if he could tell from the glint in my eye, I was already busy planning my next city break. I suppose I should have thanked him for finally taking a risk. It was only a small lie, after all.


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