The Eater of Hearts


Hand by hand, they search for each advantage, large or small
Weigh each judgement keenly, be it to fold, or raise, or call
A Poker player’s life is one of disciplined ambition
And by the light of day, they’d each deny all superstition

But often, what a player says won’t mirror what they feel
And what their reason marks as false their gut will mark as real
If I claimed a Royal Flush could lose, they’d call me Liar
But in their darkest hearts, they know that Satan’s Flush is higher

Upon the curve of Ten, Jack, Queen and King should sit an Ace
But higher still’s the hand that ends with yet another face
Its open jaws a monstrous sight which fall in just one suit
And in my gambler’s tale, this cursed card sits at the root

I’ve been for quite some time, you see, a player of renown
I’ve cast chips on the grandest stage and toured from town to town
My play precise; my tells concealed; my gaze steady and cold
The game’s made me a wealthy and respected man, all told

But even strident Poker stars can face a darkest hour
And learn, for all their hubris, there’s always a greater power
So it was that, cameras gone and lights dimmed for the day
I left the venue of the tour in search of games to play

A friend, also professional, had spoken of a table
Where players, mostly amateur, were all wealthy and able
He’d furnished me discreetly with a scribbled, smudged address
Then grinning, bade me go there and put my skill to the test

As the taxi pulled away, I brooded that he knew
My deeper motivation in the game and called it true
For money does not move me, greed has never been my sin
I’m doomed by pride: my every living breath is breathed to win

Now for a secret poker game, I picture cramp and gloom
A venue less appealing than the average boiler room
Selected more for privacy than comfort or location
So I felt shock when I beheld our lavish destination

A grandiose apartment block did tower o’er the street
Inside, an elevator bore me to the penthouse suite
A butler met me, took my coat, then steered me to a chair
Where I bought in, aligned my chips and studied who was there

Under the lights, I noted men who moved in world finance
Sportsmen, gathered for a different game of skill and chance
A woman, clad in fur and diamond, fresh from silver screen
A politician, eyes suspicious, face pulled tight and mean

The dealer’s gloves began to flash, beneath the lamps, so bright
And at each seat position, two fresh cards did then alight
Blinds were posted, button passed, the betting then began
Cards were turned, curses thrown and I commenced my plan

Although my chip-stack ebbed and flowed, I felt upon a roll
Observing their behaviours, I began to take control
Playing into their conceits, or scenting at their fear
I tricked those players, one by one until my lead was clear

But then my overconfidence began to show its teeth
For I believed my skill the other gamblers were beneath
So when the player opposite raised up and voiced his doubt
I pushed my chips toward him; and in short, he blew me out

At once, my peacock’s ego felt a sharp and lasting sting
I’d thought myself this table’s undisputed, silent king
For all my seasoned training, then, I felt my temper tilt
Inside I vowed to crush this man, outplay him to the hilt

My foolishness is plain now, when I cast a backward gaze
For all my judgement, I sank deep into a scarlet haze
As the hands proceeded, I risked too much of my wealth
In efforts to entrap this man with goading, bluff or stealth

I studied him anew, noted his hungry, hunter’s eye
I picked my moments, pushed – but somehow, triumph passed me by
Enthralled by my obsession, I was led a merry dance
All my winnings drifted off upon the winds of chance

For every ‘winner’s’ hand the white gloves dealt unto my seat
My nemesis would calmly show his cards and have me beat
Even when probability marked him out as ‘the dope’
He’d luck me out egregiously; I never had a hope

My mood was right at fever pitch, I’d burned through my bankroll
But the dealer, in that moment, chose to call an interval
The players all dispersed to drink, to eat, ‘powder their nose’
I marched to the window, with a temper to compose

Beneath my pale reflection, lay a sparkling urban sprawl
So captivating that I almost failed to hear his call
But a second repetition roused me and I turned to him
’twas the dealer: gloves still pristine white, expression grim

He told me in a low voice that he knew me from the tour
Admired my play; considered it methodical and pure
But that it was so obvious that I hated to lose
He had a mind to offer me a boon I’d not refuse

I quickly moved to halt him, as I’d no desire to cheat
A player bested fairly is the kind I want to beat
But he hushed my objections by inflaming my suspicion
My nemesis had used a fraud to reach his strong position

My anger thundered back and I demanded he explain
And he told how all of my guile had truly been in vain
This man, this hungry enemy, my stake had planned to steal
To set things in his favour, years ago he’d made a deal

As I heard that form of words, a chill ran down my spine
Had the supernatural helped to take what was mine?
I questioned; he confirmed it; my heart then hammered hard
As he recounted there the tale of an accursed card

He described a game won by a hand most strange and rare
Crowned with a card we may deny but know, to our despair
Is as ultimate a weapon as it’s ultimate a price
And which we hide in the Id, lest we’re tempted by its vice

My Nemesis had played this card, to win a vital hand
And every player witnessing had come to understand
That he had made a pact which doomed him with a deadly sin
But to my ears, it seemed he’d found the perfect way to win

I asked the dealer straight, if he could deal the card to me
He looked surprised, replied he’d simply wanted me to see
That it was futile to oppose the bearer of the curse
But hearing this only enhanced my glory-seeking thirst

The dealer strove to warn me off, before my soul was lost
He spoke it seemed, quite earnestly of the infernal cost
But all counsel was wasted: I knew just the path I’d choose
As long as beats my heart I know I’ll never opt to lose

We stood in silence, ’til I saw him nod his head at last
Now I had crossed a Rubicon; the die was truly cast
He turned from me and moments later I heard him proclaim
That players should retake their seats: ’twas once more time to game

I ante’d up, by trading in my Rolex for a stake
With chips in hand, my confidence returned too strong to shake
I played the hands with razor skill and doubled up my stack
Each inch he’d taken, I swore blind, by hell I’d take it back

In early clashes he assumed I’d come once more unstuck
I caught him unawares with both improved play and good luck
I saw the rage in his eyes as he realised he’d been burned
And as the game progressed, decisively the tables turned

He tried each trick, but with my game he could not get to grips
My appetite grew monstrous; bite by bite I claimed his chips
The other players sensed it, drifted off in ones and twos
As the tension climbed, the empty seats around us grew

Eventually it was too much and hence his temper broke
His face flushed red; a sweat broke out; his throat pulsed, fit to choke
I’d outdrawn him outrageously and won upon the river
And he burst from his seat with fists both clenched and lips a-quiver

Of funds, he now had none for I had stripped his reserves bare
But so unused to losing, he had one more stake to dare
As he spoke, one could have cut the atmosphere by knife
He challenged me, this time to play him purely for his life

With little hesitation, calm, I nodded my assent
All other stragglers simply stood, cashed in their chips and went
The dealer talked us through the rules, we’d take new chips and play
Only the man who took the other out would see the day

Our eyes lock’d with each other as those white gloves dealt the hand
Until you’ve risked it all, there’s no way you could understand
The skills we’d honed to make us rich would be put to the test
Everything we’d ever been, upon one card might rest

We traded wagers cagily, with little progress made
Only in the closest hand might I hope to get paid
For no man risks his life unless he’s sure that he will win
Only when we both had strength would the endgame begin

The blinds, though, had no sympathy and pressured us to play
We faced a rising penalty for the urge to delay
Eventually, our margin for such skirmishing was slight
And we approached the pivotal engagement of the night

Having checked my cards, I felt a thrill but hid it well
I matched the bigger blind, then watched the flop cards as they fell
The dealer deftly drew them forth, laid each one on its back
That triplet bore the suit of Hearts: the Ten, the Queen, The Jack

My Nemesis had hope, it seemed, for his raise was aggressive
Though I did not believe his chances in the least impressive
I matched him; saw the turn was blank – a low Club, I recall
But the river brought the card that saw him risk it all

The King of Hearts laid on the felt and my opponent struck
He pushed all-in; I matched him; he barked I was ‘out of luck’
He turned his cards, showed me the Ace; no vict’ry could be sweeter
I savoured it as I revealed that I’d been dealt the Eater

Of other cards, it bore the most resemblance to the Jack
But teeth stained scarlet, jaws agape and eyes of purest black
Upon the Heart of its suit, it appeared just poised to feast
That blood-red ‘E’ glowed like the eye of some satanic beast

My nemesis was shocked and quickly, gone was all his valour
The triumph in his face was fast replaced with deathly palour
Once more our eyes locked and my heart began to burn with hate
And hunger most unnatural to send him to his fate

A feeling then consumed me like no other, all my days
And I leapt o’er the table as I fixed him with my gaze
I confess, I stained my person scarlet in my haste
To prise his ribs like fingers, back and take his heart to taste

Eventually, my movements slowed, when I’d eaten my fill
My newly sober eyes stared at the carcass of my kill
The knowledge of what I’d become swept o’er me in a rush
I glanced round at the only witness to my Satan’s Flush

The dealer’s smile was subtle – eyes sadistic, diamond hard
I recognised him then, for only one could deal that card
And so reached a conclusion, which was both wordless and grim
From that day, ’til he tired of me, my soul belonged to him

He bid me go and wash the filth and ichor from my chest
And from the penthouse wardrobe, I was suitably re-dressed
When I emerged, the scene was gone: no clue remained, not one
And so he sent me, blinking, out into the risen sun

I reached the venue of the tour event with time to spare
Though I’d not slept a wink, I felt strong as I took my chair
I saw the players ’round me as a wolf might see its prey
I ran the tables handily and triumphed on the day

Since then, my life has been a whirlwind of Poker success
A record so abnormal that I play now less and less
For there are whispers every time a scoreboard bears my name
And players know: if you face me, you risk more than a game

Sometimes at night, I lie awake, with thoughts I cannot still
Sometimes I hear his call: then I must hunt and eat my fill
I walk a tightrope and I know, I must retain his favour
Or he will give some new young buck a victory to savour

When we’re found at the poker table and your luck’s run hot
When your pride’s consuming and it seems that you know not
Where decency ends and the lust for winning starts
May those white gloves deal unto you the Eater of Hearts


Fatherhood is filled with fun noises: the night-time scream which heralds a day of falling asleep at one’s desk, or the wet, convulsive sound of a full-bottle milk vomit spring to mind.

But if you’re in the market for unironic, grin-inducing noises, it’s hard to beat a child’s interpretation of a roaring combustion engine.

Chicken or Egg

The truth is that I’m not sure which came first: a prompt from me, in the shape of a half baked engine noise made whilst playing with his toy cars, or an honest-to-goodness-impersonation-of-the-vehicles-passing-the-house from David. But I do know that he ‘got’ the connection between his tiny toys and the great metal beasts rolling around on the road almost instantaneously.

The process began on David’s first birthday, when both sets of grandparents presented him with automotive gifts.

A gaggle of wooden vehicles

A gaggle of wooden vehicles

A thumping great dumper truck

A thumping great dumper truck

I’m sure they were working on the basis that boys get cars, girls get dolls or something similarly traditional; sentiments I would disagree with in principle, but which I think are relatively harmless and commonplace. What none of us could have predicted was how strongly David would respond to this particular kind of toy.

Within a few weeks, wooden cars were the preferred source of amusement in the house. This quickly escalated to a love of the wooden truck, closely followed by anything else with wheels.

Note the subtle pursing of lips which indicates engine noise emission.

Note the subtle pursing of lips which indicates engine noise emission.

All the time, as his passion grew, David’s play was punctuated with that signature sound: BrrrrrRRRRMMMM!

The Next Level (or ‘How I learned to stop worrying and love the Reversing Alarm’)

I have a much clearer recollection of the young man’s next milestone. It started with me trying to be a smart-arse and ended in almost intolerable cuteness.

Ordinarily, our play would work like this:

  1. David would pick up a car, then drive it back and forward exclaiming: BrrrrrRRRRMMMM!
  2. In 50% of cases, I would take one of the other cars and join in, to his delight.
  3. If I didn’t immediately join in, David would pick up another car of his own accord and present it to me with an urgent grunt.
  4. I would then consider myself ‘told’ and join in, making engine noises of my own.

Sitting on the rug, playing with his wooden truck, I decided to mix it up a little. I drove the truck forward in the customary manner then, after a few seconds, stopped and began slowly reversing it whilst projecting a steady beeping in my best sing-song voice.

If I’d known just how quickly David would seize on this new and enthralling detail, I might have paused for a moment before introducing it… but probably not.

Beep... beep...beep

Beep… beep…beep

Within minutes, he was alternating enthusiastically between growling acceleration and the high-pitched metronome of the reversing alarm. This habit has not left him since; endearingly he makes no distinction between forward and backward motion when deploying either sound.

Why stop at Trucks?

At some point during an unsettled phase, I hit upon the idea of streaming videos of vehicles on my phone to entertain a very tired and ratty David. The ploy was an instant hit.

Searching for new videos to show him, I happened upon a cache of clips featuring plant machinery: from the official promo videos produced by JCB, to the shaky, hand filmed footage of an earth mover which someone had recorded in their own street. David’s reaction was incredibly enthusiastic, particularly when one of the diggers so depicted began to emit a reversing alarm.

“Beep! Beep! Beep!” he responded, as if he had finally encountered something with which he could have a sensible conversation.

Over the following weeks, toy diggers rose to the top of his playtime food-chain. His favourite, from the Early Learning Centre, even makes its own (oft-copied) engine sound at the push of a button.

These guys are particularly noisy.

Reaching the Pinnacle

A few weeks ago, my partner emailed me a picture which represents perhaps the high point of David’s life so far – at least in his opinion.

"This is what I was BORN TO DO," proclaims the stunned expression.

“This is what I was BORN TO DO,” proclaims the stunned expression.

After months of admiring and coveting the vehicles of others from afar, David finally found himself behind the wheel. Admittedly, this particular model had all the technical sophistication of Fred Flintstone’s favourite drive, but that mattered little: a landmark had been reached.

Reports suggest that David, for once in his life, made very little noise whilst in the car. He simply beamed, rolled it around and beamed some more.

So he likes cars. What’s your point?

My point is this: I have no special affection for motor vehicles or plant equipment – but I have, for the first time, been able to appreciate what it is like to encourage my child in an interest I don’t share.

Often, I’ve wondered if I would be disappointed should David fail to share my love of say, Science Fiction, or tabletop gaming. What I’ve realised is that it’s completely lopsided to think about his interests in those terms.

It’s not my job to notice and react to the ‘gaps’ in David’s spectrum of enthusiasm, because as human beings our passions aren’t concerned with what we don’t care about. They’re affirmative statements about the things that seize our attention, that grab hold of us and stake a claim to territory in the landscape of our brains.

I won’t have time to worry about the places where our interests as Father and Son don’t overlap, because I’ll be too busy marveling at the things which do excite him and thinking about how to help him milk the most enjoyment from them. David’s happy, roaring engine sounds make it irrelevant whether, in the future, he cares about Star Wars or not: right here and now, his eyes shine at the sight of Haulage yards and Fire Engines, Tractors and Fiat Puntos.

I’m going to focus on eliciting more and more of those happy reactions… and I already know where I’m heading next.

Truckfest Scotland