Enough lolly to buy half a soccer team

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In the pub there was a big man and a little man and a woman who didn't seem to be with one more than the other, and they were talking about - what else - the National Lottery.

"Fourteen million pounds. What would you do if you won pounds 14m?" said the little man to the big man.

"He'd buy us all a round," said the woman. "First one he'd ever bought."

They all laughed. This is what we call English humour. Then they got serious again.

"No, seriously," said the little man, "what would you do with pounds 14m? After all, it could solve all your problems."

"No, it couldn't," said the big man. "Some people it wouldn't even begin to help. Imagine if you gave it all to the Royal Opera House. It would only tide them over for a little bit. Imagine if you gave it to Tottenham Hotspur. They could buy a few more players, but never enough."

"Imagine if you gave it to Kenneth Branagh," said the woman. "He could film half a Shakespeare play for that money."

"Which half?"

"The half that didn't have Emma Thompson in it."

They all laughed. More English humour - you can't beat it.

"The trouble with pounds 14m," said the big man, "is that it's too big to imagine and too small to be really valuable. It could set us all up for life. But it wouldn't build a bypass."

"What bypass ?"

"Any bypass. Everywhere thinks they need a bypass. Imagine if you won pounds 14m and decided to give your village the bypass it wanted. They'd love you."

"And you'd be hated by all the other villages that didn't get a bypass," said the woman. "But what I can't understand is why the winning ticket- holder hasn't come forward to claim his millions of pounds."

"Maybe he can't find the ticket."

"Maybe he is too busy discussing with his family what to do with the money."

"Maybe he's a she," said the woman.

"Maybe he lives in a household that strongly disapproves of gambling and he daren't own up."

"Maybe he's dead."

"How do you mean, dead?" said the small man.

"It's a condition where you stop breathing and don't start again," said the big man.

"I know that," said the little man testily. "But how can a dead man buy a lottery ticket?"

"He wouldn't have been dead when he bought it. He buys it, he wins and he's so excited he snuffs it.

"Haven't people always said that you were more likely, statistically, to die at the weekend than to win the jackpot? What never occurred to the statisticians was that you might do both at the same time! And then that would explain why the bloke hasn't claimed his winnings.

"He's gone to another place and he can't take it with him ..."

All this time, behind the three of them, a small man in an anorak was drinking a pint of beer and listening to their conversation. He made no move to join them, just seemed content with listening. There's one like that in every pub. Nobody ever speaks to them except to ask the way to the gents.

"I don't know why everyone always asks what you do with the money," said the woman. "Just because you have money doesn't mean you have to DO anything with it. I've got several hundred pounds in the bank. Nobody ever asks me what I'm going to do with it."

"What are you going to do with it?" said the big man.

"Mind your own bloody business," said the woman, and they all laughed. Where would English humour be without insults?

"Maybe Virginia Bottomley won it," said the big man.

"She was asked once if she bought lottery tickets, and she said she always had a flutter. Well, maybe she was telling the truth. And imagine if she won the jackpot.

"There'd be a huge stink. People would shout 'Fix!' Tony Blair would promise to put a windfall tax on her. So, if she won, she couldn't afford to admit it, could she?"

All this time the lone man with the beer listened to them chatting as if it were his last chance to listen to a conversation on earth, which it was in a way, as he had the winning lottery ticket in his pocket and he wanted to savour a last moment of normality before he went and changed his life for ever.