Bookies stand by for shock Booker result," yelled a headline this week. Eyebrows were raised in August about the rush of bets that were placed on Hilary Mantel's Tudor bodice-ripper, Wolf Hall, when the Booker longlist was revealed. One turf accountant stopped taking bets after Mantel reached 2/1. Now, as Tuesday's prize dinner approaches, the judges are being asked to start early – as if anticipating trouble, heavy going, unspecified horse-trading.
How much betting actually goes on at Booker time? I went to investigate. On the MyBetting website ("the UK bookmaker directory,") I read that "Booker Prize 2009... Ian McEwan with Saturday is currently the hottest ever favourite to win." Saturday was published in 2005. OLBG Sports (4/5 on Wolf Hall, 9/2 on Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger) offers helpful, if prosaic, tips to busy punters unfamiliar with the year's fictional outlet. Waters' book, they say, "looks the main danger to the favourite, this book about social observations could easily land the Booker Prize."
I tried Paddy Power, where the Booker Prize heads the list of "Novelty Bets," ahead of "How Many Will Attend Pope's Mass?" and "What Will Colin Farrell's Baby Be Called?" (you can get 6/1 on Eamon if you're quick.) They had Mantel to win at 4/5.
I tried William Hill online. It was hard to locate any mention of the Booker at all, amid the contact sports, from American Football to Virtual Cricket. But finally I found a teensy list offering the top three at: Mantel 4/5, Waters 4/1, Coetzee 6/1.
Desperate for human contact, I went to my High Street Ladbrokes, expecting the place to pullulate with Booker punters shouting, "A monkey on Coetzee!" or "Gimme a pony on The Little Stranger, the masterpiece of social observations!" It was weirdly quiet, apart from some beepings from the virtual poker-players.
I asked the woman behind the glass for current odds on the Booker Shortlist. "Is that horses, dear?" she asked. Madam, I replied coldly, it is the nation's leading award for fictional excellence. Horses indeed.
"You'd better see Darren," she said. Darren scanned a list, checked a ledger, searched online and drew a blank in all three. "Book of Prize, is that what you're looking for?" No no, I said, Booker, the novel award. "Once again," I said, "it has pitched the British reading community into a deranged frenzy of ill-advised gambling."
"Never heard of it," said Darren.
"But it's been going for over 20 years," I wailed.
"So have I," said Darren. Eventually he found the shortlist, and gave me 5/1 on Summertime. It'll wipe that smirk off his face when I collect £55 off him on Wednesday.
Why eBay's taking the wind out of car boot sales
Not only is the web killing off book stores and music shops, it now threatens to drive the dear old car boot sale from our national life. Attendance at car boots has fallen 65 per cent in three years, with internet bartering growing to the point where one in five people have sold online in the last year.
It's almost three decades since the first-ever car boot sale was held in Kent, a sign at that time of our increasing dependence on the car and perhaps a growing awareness o f the value of the junk lying around our homes. In the earlier age of the rummage sale at the church hall and the bring-and-buy event, people scarcely cared what they gave away; picking up a nice old piece of Dresden for 20p, a rare mint Dinky toy for 9p or The Beatles' entire oeuvre (on vinyl) for £1 was the stuff of rummagers' dreams: and they sometimes came true.
Now, in our supposedly more throwaway age, every Transformer with an arm missing or cracked Ikea pepperpot is a potential "modern antique", to be put on eBay in the hope that someone will be enough of a mug to bid for it – and the car boot sale seems set to become as rare as the rummage sale (where sharp elbows and a supply of small change were the winning factors). We can no longer be bothered to hang around on disused airfields and leisure centre car parks with our domestic detritus hanging out of the back of a Nissan Sunny – we're obviously too busy watching Cash in the Attic while surfing the net for buried treasure.
A brighter shade of nail
Nail varnish trends are big news in the beauty world, where colours compete like X-Factor contestants to be one-season wonders. This autumn, however, the shade the fashion pack want isn't seductive scarlet or vampish vermillion. Oh no folks, it's green. Not just any green though; the must-have polish is Jade by Chanel, which has racked up a 150-strong waiting list in Selfridges ahead of its 9 October launch. It's not the most obviously glamorous shade for such an elegant brand, but nail colours have been getting more unlikely, with trends for midnight blue, acid yellow, dark brown and even grey. It's not easy being green, but it could be the new black.