A love you can bet on

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
No more special deliveries from my milkman friend. Shame, really. Anyway, another February, another imminent Valentine's Day. The P7s get as high as kites, as the card shops go into overdrive. Every verse under the sun is composed. It's the best creative writing exercise of the year, especially for first-time bards.

The secretary has left the mail for me. Usual stuff. But what's this? A red envelope addressed to me. Not Mr Gold Top, please! Has anyone seen it?

I hide it away in my handbag. On to school bank statement. Looks good - too good. Deposit of pound;50,000 in the school fund?

I check and double-check. Deposit made on January 31: pound;50,000. I phone the bank and have to press buttons 100 times before I get a real human. It's raining in Mumbai, so I'm informed.

No one knows who it is. The day passes and I must have started to open my red envelope about 20 times. Interruptions ensure a quick return to the handbag. Concentrate, Bridget.

I get through the day, but I have been distracted. In the sanctuary of the office loo, I cough to disguise the sound of envelope-shredding.

It is a Valentine card. The verse is moving: "I'm giving you fifty grand for a special dayAnd sending this from quite far awayFor Mrs Mac's grand wee schoolAnd the bairns who make her lose her cool."

The identity of our benefactor is a mystery. I rummage in the bin. No postmark. Hand-delivered? No one knows. What should I do?

Despite every effort, no one can identify the mysterious donor. My conscience is bothering me. I decide to go round to the church and seek advice.

Mrs McReadie answers the door, sobbing uncontrollably. All sorts of nasty thoughts go through my mind, as she dabs her eyes.

"Not him, not him," she sighs. Another tissue bites the dust. I fear the worst. I ask to see Father McGregor. She breaks down again, crossing herself vigorously and looking skywards.

"He's gone - for good," and again she obliterates the Kleenex. I start to cry, too. Poor Father McGregor. He could only have been about 50, if that.

Was it sudden? Did he suffer? Mrs McReadie took a deep breath.

She tried to compose herself, wiped her eyes and blew her nose.

I was so sad to hear that Father McGregor had passed away. I comforted Mrs McReadie, who had been his housekeeper for more than 20 years.

Surprisingly, she rejected my comforting, brushed me away and launched into a foul-mouthed tirade which would have shamed a Tourette's Anonymous meeting. Her words were lost in a crescendo of abuse.

What on earth had happened?

Mrs McReadie accepted my offer of "or something stronger" from a very generously-filled drinks cabinet, which I had seen the good Father open in my presence.

Mrs McReadie was raging. She was livid. She was on her fourth "something stronger" before she managed to tell me the full story. Father McGregor had gone. He was no more. Not to the Great Chapel in the Sky, but to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

The good father had a penchant for a flutter, and was a regular at Perth, Kelso, Ayr and Musselburgh races. He was a regular lottery investor and also had accounts with Ladbrokes, William Hill and online. All with his own money, I hasten to add.

He had apparently pulled off the greatest roll-up of this, or any other century. He had bet on Chelsea to win the English Premiership, the next Pope to be non-Italian, London to get the 2012 Olympics, Prince Charles to marry Camilla, Rolf Harris to paint the Queen and - sacrilege of sacrileges - Rangers to win the SPL.

He had amassed a fortune, having also taken doubles, trebles and singles as well.

I told Mrs McReadie that this explained the donation to the school. Rather than please her, this led her to renew her rantings.

"The ***** promised he'd take me with him!" she spluttered. "The ungrateful, selfish *******." There goes another box of tissues.

"Will he be back?" I asked foolishly.

"He has committed a great sin, and deserves to be punished. He can't come back, ever," said the housekeeper. Hell hath no fury and all that.

I thought of all the special treats we could have. All the enjoyment his money would bring to poor, underprivileged kids. Was he not kind to share his good fortune?

"How could he, Mrs McElroy, how could he?" asked Mrs McReadie.

"What was wrong with what he did?" I asked innocently, expecting compassion and forgiveness from this most Christian of women.

"How could he bet on the Rangers? How could he? And why could he not have taken me with him?"

G'day, Father McGregor. Here's to you.

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