From time to time, you begin to consider questions. Am I where I want to be? Will it ever stop raining? Why am I always crap at escaping from hostage situations in my dreams? Why is it you strive to have options in life, only to strive to make decisions on those options? But then, you have to disregard the meaningless thoughts and focus on what really is important in life. It’s time to concentrate on matters closer to home? How could you consider leaving when there are hard hitting issues on your door step.
It could probably only happen in Bournemouth. A local woman rang the Town Hall to protest about what she had just seen. I’m surprised she went to the local Town Hall, I would have taken straight to the European Parliament. Apparently, and rather shockingly, this woman witnessed a taxi driver taking a piss against the wheel of his taxi. Shocking. Okay, well maybe not the best thing to do in public. We have all done it, intoxicated, but I guess, a sober, or hopefully sober taxi driver may have had a bit more discretion. Maybe he was just washing his wheels. Who knows?
So, we have a slightly inconsiderate or an extremely intelligent, well read cabbie. That’s because, according to the “The Town Police Clauses Act of 1847” a hackney carriage driver could urinate against the rear offside wheel. So, he was perfectly in the clear. The Public Order Act which he could have been charged for, became void.
Just as I was getting paranoid about other old style laws that might be out there, like not being able to wear a coat on a rainy day or having to walk across cobble streets in bear feet, the next piece of news flashed up on Sky News. Apparently, a woman has been banned from a major supermarket for stealing a sweet in the pick and mix section. Yes, this woman who had spent thousands of pounds on her weekly shops, had been told never to return after she chewed on a cola bottle. Now, we have all thought about. Just like I have though paying for a small coke at Burger King at a cheaper price because I know you get free refills (surely, refilling a small coke costs less than a bigger one?), but then feeling guilty and pulling out at the last minute.
Those that say we life in a more stressful society than ever, I would have to agree.
A nine thirty start on a Saturday morning, surely, and normally, an obstacle to any weekend. But, unlike getting up because your parents were coming and wanted to make a ‘full day out of it’ or, and more frustrating, answering the door to the postman at eight thirty (knowing full well that surely most people are at work in bed so why even bother knocking!) this was a waking of an unforced nature.
Going to Brighton normally meant one thing (Okay two things, I used to go there with work as we had a office there but it doesn’t sound as good as one thing), beer, football, betting, drunken dancing and banter. Apart from the little details of accommodating eight, rather smelly and low maintenance men on a floor space and the implications of those eight, rather smelly, low maintenance and incredibly drunk men cause fourteen hours after arrival, the process, is quite easy. There is no debate, there is deviation, it’s simple, proven and incredibly effective formula.
The Ladbrokes bookmakers in Hove, made no attempt to be different from the Ladbrokes in Southend or the Ladbrokes in Bournemouth. They felt the same, they smelt the same, they looked the same. The smell of old cigarette smoke, inflicted by stressed old and should know better gamblers, looking for the fix to break up their day. The men, standing and staring at screens, showed their subtle acknowledgement for each other, after losing together, is better than losing alone. Unlike the regulars that actively reveled in spending long periods of time in their second home, there was always a sense of purpose on our behalf. Five minutes was too rushed, fifteen minutes too long. Ten minutes for us to back our football knowledge against the bookmakers, often ending in failure, but always providing a glimmer of hope. It was always going to be that week that we got one over Ladbrokes. That’s a lot weeks by the way.
Then onto the pub. There was always a sense of surprise why our regular spot was not taken. It was perfect. Large television screen for watching the football. More than ample seating for the masses. Table delivered, good food. Nice service. And, above all, a tab system. A marvel in the modern age. Then, with further analysis, it became apparent. It was twelve thirty. Most, and arguably, normal, people were not due to be out drinking for another seven hours. But this was enjoyable queuing. This was better than spending twenty minutes in a post office wating to send a card to Canada overhearing gossip about Mrs Hargreaves down the road at number thirty two.
With the beer came a warped sense reality. We really were not that good at predicting football results, the Ladbrokes bookmakers would indeed still be open for business the next day, we had not closed them down. This was true not only of our betting ability but our pool playing ability. After seven hours of drinking, suddenly hitting a white ball against another ball and making it go down a hole with a piece of wood seemed all that more difficult. It was if a driving instructor was asking you to do a reverse park with a cup of over filled tea in one hand. And with a missing left wing mirror. And a deflating right tyre. Just like the driving test, you fail miserably. But of course just like the driving test, it must have been the instructor.
It’s official. The Hoggs Head pub in Hove has officially been kept open by our three visits a year. Our latest contribution to the profit column in the annual accounts said “₤179.90”. Fantastic. For a the price of a week package holiday to Spain, we had consumed this much alcohol. Who needs Sun and Sangria anyway? The flight would have probably been delayed anyway. It’s far easier to get a Saturday off than seven whole days.
Being in large group of men required planning, thought, and consideration. It’s not like we were going to storm Basra, but, things do conspire against you in large groups. Pub and clubs think you are trouble. So, it’s time to get smart. Split into groups. The only problem is your senses are not the best at that time in the day. Walking past the bouncers at your intended destination and discussing your tactics in a non secretive way is hardly going to score you any marks in the SAS ‘How to avoid detection’ handbook. Despite the chances of our cunning plan being already unmasked, it was decided we would go ahead with the mission anyway, with the subtlety of George Bush reacting to the New Orleans disaster, we split into three smaller groups and made our way towards the target, scientifically spacing ourselves out by ‘a couple of minutes’ (which in reality was more like twelve seconds’). The first group seemed to be going in, maybe our cover wasn’t blown after all. The planning and coordination had worked, a relief. “By the way, there are eight of us coming in”. Maybe ‘The Beach’ nightclub wasn’t meant for us after all. Neither was a career in the SAS, however intoxicated.
It was amazing. Despite our intake of nearly ten pints of beer and multiple vodka and Redbulls, you just didn’t feel drunk. Or maybe that’s what you thought. I can talk. I can give the right change when paying for food. I can make decisions. Yet, the bouncer at the Walkabout pub came up with the classic “How much have you guys had to drink?”. It was almost as if someone was asking if we liked football. Insulted. Maybe it was the swagger, the sauce from the chicken kebab on the shirt or the sense of trying to over act sober when you have too many, but don’t like to admit it. The response was well drilled “Only had three pints at Weatherspoons, been out since eight” came the seemingly well polished answer from Nick. The day pubs install alcohol and lie detector tests will be a sad day for society.
So, after being presented with some tough tasks, the last, and most challenging was making the way home together, well, sort of. It was interesting to see Mr Long use his chat up time for the eighth time, even more challenging when you use it on a Policewoman. “Are you from Tennessee?”. The reply, as usual would be, “What?” or a simple “No”. Their look after hearing the response would be amusing. “It’s just your are the only ten I see”. Constantly amusing.
And that was it. We left with the same questions. We always knew the answers. Why did we continue to bet on Football, despite always losing? Why did we always buy that last Kebab, despite it always tasting bad and never really feeling that hungry? Where did all that money go, despite knowing full well where it went. Then, well, there was the next question. When are we doing this next?
So, England have qualified for the World Cup Soccer finals. It’s just, without meaning to sound ungrateful, who cares? This is not the thought of a frustrated, football punished, girlfriend or wife, or even, let it be said, a country loving, cider drinking, rugby fan. This is from someone who, only last year, defined the anger of sleeping hostel strangers to sneak out at three am to catch the games.
“You mean, you are going to wake yourself at two thirty in the morning, just to watch a game of football?” would come the response, on more than one occasion, from James, the farmer on my travels who thought sticking his hand up a cows arse at that time in the morning was more acceptable. If I admit, the need to watch England play in the European championships whilst on the other side of the world, was bordering on obsessive.
“So, you have got a room for the night, great, and a pool table, even better. Right near town, fantastic. But you are not showing the football at three thirty in the morning? No, I’m sorry. Thanks anyway”. Just why, an Australian, love to dig the pommies, establishment, would ever wish to show football at that time in the morning at peril to their guests, was, with hindsight, rather obvious.
But, despite all the obstacles, I managed to make all the games. However badly we played. There were highs, the silencing of the abusive Swiss supporter in Cairns when Rooney scored. The lows, conceding two goals in the last two minutes to lose to the French. The Absurd. Getting of the plane in Melbourne, walking two hours to find our hostel, then, walking two hours to find a pub showing the football at three am. Two hours later, losing on penalties and out of the competition, walking out of the pub in daylight and heavy rain, feeling an incredible low walking past the morning commuters, who were oblivious to my plight. Of course, there was some comfort. An hours sleep before checkout at 10am. Probably my most wasted twenty dollars of accommodation, ever.
And there it was. We had won. We had made it to the World Cup Finals. I had missed the first ten minutes, choosing a visit to the shop on the way, ignoring the build up. And why? Maybe its because I have been brought up with an England team that is passionate, that fights against all the odds, that shows character, that has characters. Players that cry when they get sent off, players that have head wounds, yet treat them as a mere inconvenience, a stain on their shirt. Maybe a manager that shows some emotion, not a Swede who that get ruffled when the Sunday Roast is being prepared, sitting alongside the carrots and beans.
Maybe I should start watching the World Conker championships instead.
To celebrate my impulsive, yet long delayed, decision to leave work, we chose to visit the local cinema. As with all things ‘local’, it had been bugging me for a while. Why, if it had been so local, I always chose to drive four miles to go to my ‘not so local’ cinema. I guess my justification was the old saying “You don’t always appreciate things that are on your own doorstep”. Well that was true, after all. I hated answering the door to the gas man knowing full well I didn’t have a clue where my gas meter was. And I hated those flyers that offered affordable plumbing and friendly service.
Then I started to realise why I hadn’t been to my local cinema before. The Regents centre actively prided itself on its latest cinema showing. Their latest offering was ‘The Wedding Crashers’, premiering three months late. Not only was there only one cinema, it turned out that it was a multipurpose, bingo, cum cinema, cum theatre all in one. It was just fortunate that this week, before I complained too much about the out of date films, that I had got the cinema week, not Andrea Duffell, and her Watercolours, oils & paintings on velvet show.
The cinema looked like some retro bingo hall, décor and style to match the old lady upstairs living room. There was that smell of old people. What that ‘old people’ smell was I don’t actually know, but a mixture of cheap perfume, fur balls and that stale clothing smell that hits you when you walk into your local branch of Oxfam. If it looked like some old Bingo Hall, it’s probably because it was….. an old Bingo Hall. Opening in 1931, it was the hub of social activity at the time. Couples would go there to watch films, have a hundred dates then get married. As I walked down the lobby, I could hardly contain myself with the news on the poster to my right - “On 20th February, we will re-open with a new coffee bar, new box office and a new colour scheme!” . I couldn’t help but think it was some sophisticated cunning psychological marketing plan, who could resist not seeing the new sherry flavoured wall colour?
We purchased out tickets, not via bar-coded computer technology, but a sophisticated roll system, which involved an eighty three year old part time volunteer behind the wooden counter carefully separating the tickets. She did it as if her life depended on it, with so much precision. There was no queue. There were no huge stands tempting you with super size cartons of so much ice it tastes like water anyway coke. The probably too salty but better than the too sweet popcorn was noticeable by its absence. All that remained was a tuck shop like counter with a selection of tuck shop like sweets and a little freezer holding little tubs of ice cream. It reminded me of camp when I was younger, the times when, from out of nowhere, a mobile tuck shop would appear. Thankfully, unlike then, I no longer had the dilemma of whether to spend my last twenty pence in the whole wide world on a Mr Freeze or two Curly Wurlies. And they say you don’t have important decisions to make when you are younger.
“You can sit anywhere you like” came the voice from the third over eighties member of volunteer staff. The worry was not about finding your seat. It was about finding what seat you wanted. They were all empty. The attendants were smartly dressed in a maroon uniform, complete with matching gold name badge for assistance (as if you needed help, all the seats were empty). Just as I was taking my seat I was wondering how they would deal with popcorn throwing behaviour, teenage swearing, mobile phones going off and mis-behaviour. As I nestled down on my wooden chair I answered my own question. Not only were the staff all over the age of eighty, but most of the sparse crowd were over eighty. Somehow, I didn’t think trouble would be on the cards. Only a little overexcited gossip about who was doing afternoon tea that week and why Mavis wasn’t at church the previous Sunday.
Watching a certificate fifteen film in a cinema like this made me feel slightly uneasy. It was like watching a programme after the nine o’clock watershed with you parents. There would always be a risk, however small, of the odd naked bottom, use the word ‘Fuck’ or reference to anything controversial that you knew would make people uncomfortable. For a minute, there was lingering thought. Why were there so many old people here to watch this comedy? Had they got it confused with some romantic black and white wedding film? Would they walk on the first ‘fuck’ or the second ‘fuck’. Or would they just tut?
The wooden chairs reminded me of sitting at church for thirty minutes, creating a numbing pain that was temporarily lifted by a few shifts around the wood. There was no popcorn throwing, just the expected old person comment. I guessed that’s what I loved about old people, the ability to say things to try and avoid an embarrassing situation. The scene involved some extensive ‘trouser rubbing’, some groans. In true old people fashion, instead of focusing on the rather sexual act for their eighty year old eyes, one woman behind me turned to the other and said “Joyce, isn’t that lovely timber in that house, reminds me of Mary’s at number forty two.
The lights came on. The end of a shift for the volunteers. Maybe I would come back in three weeks. Not out of choice. That was when the next film was showing.