By Alice Austin
Another example of pure unprecedented bullshit from my Dad and brother was when we would play games of Monopoly. We began playing when I was about 3 years old, always at my Grandma’s bungalow in West Sussex. I wasn’t allowed to be on anyone else’s team. “Every man for himself,” my Dad would say. If you had a pulse, you were capable of playing a hard, fast game of Monopoly.
I would always be the Scottie Dog. My Dad would graciously let me, knowing full well that over the next hour I would be in for a world of pain that my tiny, barely-developed 3-year-old brain couldn’t possibly handle.
It would start off fine. Max would be the race car, Dad would be the iron. I’m not sure why he chose the iron; maybe he liked the idea of using such an every-day object to cause absolute mayhem. Just a harmless iron making its way around the Monopoly board and then BAM.
I’d sit there cross-legged patiently waiting my turn. Max would land on blue. He’d buy it up from my Dad who was the banker (an appointment so obvious it was never even discussed). My Dad would diligently count the money and hand over the property. It was serious business, Monopoly. Dog eat dog.
I was clued up enough to know that I needed to buy as much property as humanly possible. It was a merciless frenzy to snap up the yellows, the greens, the reds and the Holy Grail: The Purples. I was barely able to walk but I knew that if I landed on a purple, I needed to buy it up sharpish. Inevitably I would land on Mayfair and I would scrape up my multi-coloured bank notes and hand them to my Dad. His eye would glint as he would hand over the purple prize. My feeling of achievement would quickly be replaced by what can best be described as fear.
By this time, we had all done a lap of the board. A lot of the property had been bought up. The game was beginning to take form; the sharks beginning to circle. I could see the two of them out the corner of my eye as I neatly stacked my properties so I could view my empire more clearly. We would look around at each other, smiling smugly. Squaring up each other’s piles. Calculating. Waiting. Safe; for now.
In real life, at this time, my Dad had around 3 properties and was the CEO of a global media agency called MEC. To be clear, I wasn’t playing just any Dad at Monopoly. I was up against a very successful (multi-award-winning, globally recognised) businessman who was ready, willing, jubilant to use every ounce of his highly sophisticated skillset to wipe the absolute floor with his three-year-old daughter without a moment of regret.
The second lap had been completed. Tensions were rising. All of the property had been bought. The last train station, Farringdon, I believe, had exchanged hands. It was time. There would be a pause before someone put their first negotiations on the table. “Ali.” My brother would start. They’d always start with me. “Ali. I’ll give you Regent Street and Oxford Street for Mayfair.” I would shake my head firmly. No way. No way was I giving up Mayfair.
“Ali, sweetheart, listen.” Dad’s turn. I would be done by that point, absolutely done. But I would squeeze my eyes shut, ball up my tiny fists and try to block out the impeccably well-argued reasons as to why I should turn Mayfair over to him. A torrent of wonderful offers, reasoning that truly could not be argued with, accompanied with kind, supportive words and sympathetic nods. All from a man who was regularly in negotiation rooms with Sir Martin Sorrell and the world’s most cut-throat auditors. Me – I couldn’t spell my own name and did not know how to use a toilet.
My brother would protest loudly, “Don’t listen to him Ali!!!” But I was under. My vocal chords were so barely grown that even my sigh of defeat was high-pitched, like helium. I’d hand over Mayfair, to (admittedly, still) a pretty reasonable exchange of a full set of reds and trains stations, and a feeling of being utterly overwhelmed, emotional and exhausted. We’d been playing for 10 minutes.
Houses and then hotels sprung up from the ground. The game would become a blur of cackles and hoots as my Scottie Dog trotted its way around the table, taking bashing after bashing from the hotels my Dad and brother had planted like minefields around the board. My bank balance dropped. Minor victories from the houses I’d scraped on the reds and oranges did little to help my situation. Around this time my Grandma would post herself close by, ready and waiting for the inevitable.
Then it would happen. There I’d be. Me and the Scottie Dog, perched on Water Works. Right on the brink of the Danger Zone. Ahead of me lay a metropolis of hotels. My brother had planted 3 each on Oxford, Regent and Bond Street. Somehow he’d managed to negotiate them away from me earlier in the game, probably in exchange for a Get Out of Jail Free card. Beyond that lay Dad’s Empire. The purple of Park Lane and Mayfair no longer visible under the four hotels that my Dad had systematically placed on each.
As I picked up the dice I mentally counted the numbers I needed to land on Community Chest or Chance. My Dad and brother would watch, probably thinking they looked solemn but the glee was there, dancing behind their eyes.
I’d shut my eyes and throw. 9. Mayfair.
Silence. Then chaos.
All at the same time my Dad would joyfully shout “Oh SWEETHEART,” my brother would guffaw with laughter, and every ounce of tension, fear and anger that had been building up in me over the last 30 minutes would erupt into an earth-shattering, rattling howl of grief and confusion. Ready and waiting, like clockwork, my Grandma would swoop over to the table, scoop me up and say “Time for your nap.”
She’d carry my wretched remains to my bunk bed, and as I drifted off to sleep I could hear them dividing up my remaining property, cackling gleefully.