I'm backing Venables to win the Booker Prize

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This week Margaret Atwood emerged as 2-1 favourite, with Kazuo Ishiguro narrowly trailing at 5-2. I refer not to the next England football manager but to the likely winner of the Booker Prize. Although if many more candidates decline to be considered as England manager, then Atwood and Ishiguro might find themselves in the running. Who better to write that desperately awaited glorious new chapter in the history of English football?

This week Margaret Atwood emerged as 2-1 favourite, with Kazuo Ishiguro narrowly trailing at 5-2. I refer not to the next England football manager but to the likely winner of the Booker Prize. Although if many more candidates decline to be considered as England manager, then Atwood and Ishiguro might find themselves in the running. Who better to write that desperately awaited glorious new chapter in the history of English football?

Moreover Ladbrokes have taken me up on my suggestion, already aired in these pages, that Alan Titchmarsh and Charlie Dimmock could be the dream ticket to manage the national team. If nothing else, the pitch would look gorgeous. But Ladbrokes think it an unlikely eventuality, offering me odds of 10,000-1. Although I find myself asking, why not 1,000,000-1?

As the son of a bookmaker - albeit a notably unsuccessful one, who single-handedly demolished the old canard about nobody ever seeing a poor bookie - I rather enjoy the way that life unfolds in Britain accompanied by a series of odds. It is a phenomenon unique to these shores. The Australians enjoy a flutter, but not like we do. There is no culture of odds-making in America. The French do not offer spread bets on the number of truffles dug up in the Périgord. Yet here the bookmakers spring into action at the least provocation, perhaps because they know there are plenty of punters daft enough to hand over their hard-earned readies. In other words, which came first, the chicken or the egg? Evens the chicken, 11-4 the egg.

There is no over-estimating the lunacy of the British public when it comes to gambling. For instance, on 1 January this year, bookmakers were able to pocket substantial bets placed on the following things happening during 1999: that the world would end (a no-lose bet for the bookies, considering how tricky it would have been to collect the winnings); that the Archbishop of Canterbury would confirm the Second Coming; that Michael and LaToya Jackson would turn out to be one and the same; that a man would give birth; and, my personal favourite, that weather forecaster Michael Fish would lose his job to cricketer Shane Warne.

At the same time, however, Ladbrokes shelled out £194,000 to a chap who bet £30 in December 1989 that by the end of the next decade, Cliff Richard would be knighted, both EastEnders and Home and Away would still be going strong on television, and rock group U2 would still be together. Heaven knows why he felt so strongly about that particular turn of events.

It is easier to admire the similarly lucrative prescience of one David Threlfall, who entered a William Hill betting shop in the early 1960s and asked for the odds against an astronaut walking on the moon by 1 January 1970. The William Hill man, who has sensibly remained anonymous, offered him 1,000-1. Mr Threlfall bet a tenner.

The list of daft bets placed, and daft prices offered, is a long one, getting longer by the day. Meanwhile, there are odds on everything, from sport to politics to literature to fashion to industry to Elvis landing a UFO on top of the Millennium Dome. It is all, you might say, very odd. So what does it tell us about the British psyche?

Actually, I think it reflects a fundamental schizophrenia. We are eternal optimists, handing over our precious dosh in the hope of it multiplying, yet eternal pessimists, knowing that there is no other blinking way to get rich quick. The same applies in spades to the National Lottery.

But now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to back Terry Venables. I reckon he has a decent outside chance of winning the Booker Prize.

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