The last time I saw you was at the retirement home in Stafford. We had gone up stairs to your room to prepare to go out for what you used to call ‘a swift pint’ – although the concepts of ‘swift’ and ‘pint’ were often awkward companions in your sentences and never sat happily together.
You had the TV on and we sat and watched “Deal or No Deal” for a bit, the programme in which a hapless contestant is plucked out of obscurity from a group of hopeful contestants and is given 1 of 22 red boxes in which a sum of money is hidden.
He tries to guess what might be in his own box by opening the other contestants boxes, one by one, revealing the money they contain. By a process of elimination he starts to figure out what prize might be left in his box. As the game continues however, he is subjected to the temptations of an off screen ‘banker’ who offers him various ‘deals’ which may be less of more than his potential prize. The contestant’s dilemma is whether to cut his potential losses, accept the deal or reject it with a polite ‘thank you, Mr. Banker, but no deal…’ – and continue his progress in the game, with the hope that he is going to land a bigger prize and beat the banker into the bargain.
You and I sat and watched this for a few minutes and chuckled over the hapless contestant. He’d look at some-one else’s box and then look at his own and we could see him thinking…. Does he have some thing better in his box than I have in mine….? Is the grass greener over there or here in front of me….? On this occasion, he plumps for someone’s else box – and has his hopes dashed when the other player reveals the biggest treasure, a whopping £250,000. This steady drip drip drip of continual disappointment continues through the game until the potentially glorious destiny the contestant was confident about early on in the game is dashed into a thousand pieces. The only box left in the end is his own, complete with an apologetic 10p prize. The other contestants swarm around our 10p victor, all commiserating in what might have been.
What might have been is an epithet for many of this games contestants: what might have been, had this not happened, had that not happened… If only…. If only not…. hindsight, as the contestants on this show will readily tell you, is the ultimate prize in the game of Deal or No Deal.
The prize of hindsight lets us revisit the past and put all the wrongs right and the rights even better. The losses turn into gains and the gains metamorphose into triumphs. Hindsight gifts us 2020 vision, complete knowledge of the state of the turf, the weight of the jockeys and the mood of the horses. Hindsight instils in us the wisdom of knowing where the finishing line is and how far it is from the starting line: hindsight give us magical predictive powers to guarantee the name, colours and pedigree of the 3.45 at Aintree on a wet Saturday April afternoon.
Which is what we set out to do a few years ago at the Grand National, perhaps the time when I saw you at your happiest. Out in the Tattersall Stands, stamping in unison on the wooden floors with the massed ranks of the Irish, French and Scouse bookies who had met up for their annual pilgrimage. Your winnings of perhaps £100 for the day were spent by 10 that evening on Guinness and Chinese takeaways which replenished the predictive powers of your stock of hindsight and which led to the identification of some more dead certs for the following week out on the race courses across the country.
Watching your travels as we grew up meant that places like Aintree, Chepstow, New Market, Haydock and Uttoxeter became mysterious, hallowed lands – part of a cultural landscape through which money seemed to flow freely – albeit too frequently in the wrong direction. Elvis Presley was making a name for himself in that far off country and the land there offered you escape, freedom and the opportunities to open innumerable boxes, all of which were marked with the really big prizes, all of which were too alluring for you to turn down.
Your journeys through that landscape provided us with some puzzling and yet delightful memories: the trips to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – 15 times; skating around Brighton ice rink in circles for whole weekends at a stretch: your work as a chef in a Jersey hotel kitchen whilst fending off the mysterious interest in you by Frankie Howard. Treasure hunts on holiday in which prizes of multicolour biros, cross word puzzle books, wind up dogs and Barbie dolls delighted everyone. Your easy, generous desire to entertain all of us led you to organise shows and pantos for many people of all sizes, shapes and ages; your charm and tolerance of others helped bring the best out of them; and your willingness to assist in developing other people’s potential sometimes perhaps dampened your need to fulfil your own.
In recent years the cultural landscape you visited took more diverse and startling turns. Watching your journeys from Stafford to Redditch, Usk, Cheltenham, Bristol, Bath, Sutton Coldfield and Leeds forced us all to look at the places we thought we were familiar with, in new, harsh, uncomfortable lights. Your return to Stafford earlier this year however provided all of us with a sense of relief that you were coming close to something you would call home. We know these were not easy times for you too: but know too that your positive and optimistic outlook carried you through.
In the end, your optimism happily outshone your hindsight: and that was a deal worth winning. In your game of Deal or No Deal, you beat the banker with the best deal of the lot.
Testimonial for Richard York Owen, 30 July 2007