LAST week at a Gold Coast Surf Club with my wife, we were passing the pokie room on our way out when one of the machines exploded with sound and lights.
Feeling in a jovial mood, I happened to comment to the seemingly cheery little old lady playing it.
“Look it’s talking to you,” I jokingly said to her.
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Her response rocked me.
“At least someone does.”
Already emotional about the Gold Coast Titans’ decision to let Albert Kelly go to Hull next season (fools!), it was all I could do to fumble my sunnies over my eyes and walk out without crying on the spot.
The whole drive home, I just could not get her sad, gravelly voice out of my head.
To have so little in her life that she looked to the lights and sirens of a poker machine not for entertainment but to replace actual human contact – it just really got to me.
Initially I was angry at her family for neglecting this sweet, albeit slightly bitter, old lady.
But my anger quickly shifted to guilt as I tried to recall the last time I spent time with my Nan in Tugun, or my Pop on the Northern Rivers.
So I called them both that very day.
Fast forward a week and it turns out that while Pop may be too old for Saturday golf, he is still more than a challenge on the chess board.
And Nan, well my visit actually caused her to miss her weekly canasta game (not done since the Great Radiator Failing of ’95), so happy was she that I had asked if I could come over to visit.
I even offered to learn how to play.
In between listening to her explain the finer points behind the ‘crossing the pack’ rule, I asked Nan whether she played the poker machines when she went to clubs for cards.
“I have a little flutter,” she said.
“I put $20 in and that’s that.”
My Nan is lucky, because she has a big family who live relatively close by so she is still really busy.
But it got me thinking – What happens when we stop visiting?
Does that $20 become $200? Does one morning of cards become pokies every weekday at 9am?
Do old people really enjoy ‘playing the pokies’?
What if their morning migration up the escalators of our Gold Coast clubs is not for enjoyment but rather is all they can do to find someone (or some THING) to have contact with.
We Gold Coasters are a very busy bunch – but we surely are not so busy as to have no time for a phone call, a few Tim Tams and/or Sao biscuits or maybe even a game of cards and a story or three.