In the mid eighties, I was the proud owner of a Mark 4 Cortina. I’d bought it off my mate George who used it for countless trips between Wallasey and Bourneville. It had spent most of its life cruising on the M6. Naturally it became a great car for away matches. Of the many brave sojourns undertaken in this dashing knight of roman bronze and tanned vinyl roof, two were particularly memorable.
At some early hour on a Saturday morning, I picked my good friend Peter up from Safeways. For him It was straight from the night shift. Ten hours of opening cardboard boxes and stacking shelves had left him in a semi-conscious state capable of nothing but collapsing on the back seat.
Somewhere just past Stoke this moustachioed cavalier emerged, crusty eyed from a fitful slumber. We were on our way to Oxford. Yes, Oxford had a brief spell in the first division. It was a new away ground; another box to tick.
While there was nothing remarkable about the journey itself, I was surprised by how easy it was to get to. We were planning to meet up with our friend Ian and a few others to have a drink before the game. We were just bumbling along the M42 when guess who turned up alongside us, hot foot from Leicester? It was Ian and another university friend. Peter started quoting that inane drivel we knew as “Convoy.”
Just after midday, we parked up in a terraced street in Headington not far from the Manor Ground. So far so normal. Then we noticed a shark. A few years before some mad fool had made national headlines by sticking an inverted shark into his roof. And there it was in all its glory; The Headington Shark. Say pish to the dreaming spires and beautiful Italianate architecture we associate with Oxford, the shark wins hands down.
Even more remarkable was the pub we found down a couple of entries at the bottom of another row of terraces. The Butcher’s Arms was empty when we entered. “Four pints of your finest foaming ale please landlord,” Peter famously demanded. I can’t remember what beer it was but as quaffing bitters go it was a splendid example of session ale.
The good thing about football matches is having the chance for any affects of mind altering liquids to dwindle away before the trip home. I didn’t go mad but it was a jolly good couple of hours.
The eighties was a time of meticulous frisking at the turnstiles. But shock horror; Peter was still in possession of his unpacking knife. What a to do. “Yes, I’m going to attack all the Everton fans,” Pete said. The sarcasm swung it. They took the knife and let us in. The game itself was dull; 1-1. It was getting cold and dark, tedium had set in and we wanted to get back. I’ve never been so determined.
It took two and three quarter hours to get back to Wallasey. Stanley’s Cask to be exact. It was eight fifty. The car was staying put. It was only when I sat down did I realise my hands were shaking.
Sometimes I did scream along the motorway but not usually on a busy one in the pitch black. I didn’t play music. Getting back for some beers was far more important.
The second great journey that season was the long road to Norwich. we’re talking thirty years ago here; almost to the day. Or at least the weekend. The game was on the first bank holiday in May. We needed to win to clinch the championship. On Sunday evening we set off to Leicester. It was a good half way point and we had a student floor to sleep on.
It was a wild night in the city. There was a street party. Now this was a student street party. The bonfire was fuelled by bits of old furniture squirrelled out of lino floored basement flats by drunken young souls, hell bent on beginning the end of term celebrations with a bang.
I didn’t really know anyone. It was a heaving sea of intoxication. A young girl turned up next to me. In the dark of a windswept night, I could discern the dribbles of stale vomit down her chin before she dropped gently to the beer sodden floor. She slept. In the top floor student flat; our temporary dormitory, I produced a half bottle of whisky.
We made an early start in the morning. The spring sun blazed brilliantly over the fields of Middle England. Feelings were good. Now what road trip in the eighties would be complete without a stop at a Little Chef for one of their legendary plastic breakfasts?
It also gave me an opportunity to nurse the Old Queen. She had a weeping water pump. There was no panic, I just needed to keep the girl topped up with water.
We had a rendezvous in Norwich. The Rosary Tavern stood on the crown of a gentle hill. Even at mid day it was lively with the banter of old friends. This was a big day. All our fellow Evertonian friends were there. A small chunk of Wallasey was now sitting in Norwich.
We won the game and the old first division championship. The roads out the city boomed with the old songs. Our celebration route was planned. After leaving the ancient kingdom of the east angles, we charioted forth up the A17 to a little backwater called Heckington.
We stopped at the first pub. It was real Hicksville. In the sparseness of the carpark, two boys were showing off in their steed of steel. There was an extended aerial and silver plastic alloy covers on the wheels. It all looked a bit out of place on a chocolate Austin Allegro.
They stopped and stared at the royal blue flagships piling onto their patch. For about an hour, we filled the old barn of a place with song and laughter. There was no beer spilt. Some of us even took all the glasses back to the bar before they waved us on our cheery way.
Remember I was driving. I’d heard too many horror stories of beer filled drivers facing two hundred mile journeys. But at the next pub I was going to have a pint. Eventually we joined the M62 to head west for a brief stop at The Rams Head on Saddleworth Moor. It was so black it could have been anywhere. It felt like “The Slaughtered Lamb”! I checked the car. The pump was holding out.
The dark journey home involved a drop off at Ormskirk and a return to Wallasey in the wee small hours. What an adventure. I went back to the car in the morning to see a pool of ruddy water, sitting tired and stagnant under the front. The water pump had finally given itself to the strain of seven hundred miles. I didn’t care. I fixed it.
Within two years, things were beginning to change. Everton stopped winning things and lives were taking different directions. It wasn’t the end of the away days. But people were moving and arrangements were not so simple. The mid eighties was an amazing time.
I didn’t like shouting above loud music. I could dance but preferred sitting. I like drinking and chatting with friends. I’ve often had too much to drink. I like a drink every day. In the eighties there were many “parties” which involved sitting in a room, chatting and getting past the point of civilised sobriety. I was very good at it. The practice was sometimes difficult but if you “work on it…” (See previous blog.)
Working in a school led to a little more temperance from the nineties onwards. But weekends were for heightened deference to the demon drink. It went well. But Mondays could be tricky.
I’ve just had five nights up north where I reverted to party animal (my version) status.
They have involved late nights (ooooohhhhh), lots of wine (oooooooohhhhhh) and fantastic food. (What? No kebabs?) You could say it was almost middle class.
Then on Monday, I went to the pub with old friends. It had to be Wetherspoon’s because of the proper disabled facilities. Now this pub was already full of familiar faces when I arrived. It was almost like ghosts from the past; the people you always saw but never went beyond a brief acknowledgement of familiarity. A bit like the stoic “Morning!” on the daily commute.
So here is a run down of events as they unfolded: Thursday.
Flawless journey to Liverpool via trains and cars. On the crowded Liverpool train, I chatted to a highly intelligent and pleasant man-hating lesbian. As she began an almost bestial guzzling of a semi-cold burger king monstrosity, I coolly whipped out my ramekin of home-made chicken liver pate and large piece of equally smug-making home-made focaccia. I also had some Andalusian green olives and a 250cl bottle of claret.
There was only one glimmer of darkness on my familiar trek. My chair wasn’t fully charged because whilst multi tasking the previous day (moving on the chair and speaking on the phone), I ran over the charger and snapped the connector.
It took some serious internet activity to ensure there was a replacement waiting for me in Wallasey. There was; panic over. Then my brother popped in with a bottle of Talisker. How could I refuse?
Later, I fell asleep in the chair and retired at about four o’clock. Now does that count for partying hard?
Friday was a day of quiet until my friends Julie and Colin picked me up. Not from the floor, I hasten to add. We were to create a wonderful Middle Eastern mezze. I had to borrow a jumper so I looked like a bargee.
It was a very late night and after returning home I fell asleep in my wheelchair. It was five thirty when I retired.
My daughter and ex-wife arrived. They stayed a short time as the Sunday was to be the main visit. I had a bet on the Grand National and won. I even shouted “come on my son”. I drank more whisky.
At six fifteen AM, I actually made it up the stairs.
The main visit of Rose to see her granddad. I had the impression they were pleased to see each other.
Then they went off to see a Smurfs film. I ended up having a thoroughly brilliant time at my mates Pete and Jean’s house. They were the finest roast potatoes I have ever eaten. We did a team selfie but I didn’t pout.
Pete and Jeanie are my oldest friends. You know when you are real friends when you can meet up after years and just carry on.
Another late night; no idea of the time.
Pub day. I was flagging but rallied late afternoon. It was an absolute joy to be with everyone.
When I returned I had the onerous task of finishing the whisky. I was brave.
Now come on, that was partying.
The journey back was equally smooth. At Euston I eschewed the white knuckle ride of the taxi ramp and rolled down to Charing Cross under my own steam power.
It was a strange experience. It alternated between roaring traffic and quiet long sunny streets. I went past a few of the capital’s icons which I’ve grown to like. There was the British Museum of course, sitting proudly in the afternoon sunshine, adorned with a buzzing throng of excited tourists, academics and students tucking into their M&S sandwiches and the statutory Costa style latte in a cardboard cup.
A large part of Gower Street is UCL territory. Large august doorways lead into the jungles of dark polished wood and echoing footsteps. They look grand and knowing.
Running through theatre land the sun disappeared under the darkness of the awnings and covers. With open front doors there was a minimal buzz of activity. Outside every stage door was a character smoking. I wondered if they rued their status. Did they want to just be close to the action? Were they ex-actors? Silently they returned into the darkness of their prison, with a smoking stub left seething on the floor.
In St Martin’s Lane the sun returned. I sauntered past the Coliseum with its aging dull globe punching upwards to the glorious blue. Trafalgar Square shimmered in the soft warmth of spring.
Charing Cross was humming in pre-rush hour quiet. The Tunbridge Wells train was empty. This was a rare moment. A long way from the vomit comet of post theatre land riot. Time to rest from the whisky.
“I’m working on it!” How often do we use that phrase? It could be code for any of the following:
Yes I am genuinely working on it but it takes time.
No I’m not working on it but it’s still at the forefront of my mind.
Don’t be so impatient.
I have lots of other things to do.
Leave me alone and go and pester someone else with your trivial affairs.
There are plenty of things I promise myself to work on but some tend to get shoved to the end of the queue.
Anything involving phone calls for instance; I’m not very good at that.
Tidying up cupboards; why bother if the bedlam is hidden behind a nice pretty Danish polished door? It’s the same with under the bed but I have a genuine excuse there! Oh, and anything involving paperwork. What gets me however, some people’s total acceptance of a fault or weakness.
Take dietary weakness. “But it’s chocolate.” How many people do we know who possess a self-proclaimed deference to the delicious comforting experience of chocolate? Oh just to luxuriate in the sensual sweet velvet of an artisan hand made lump of dark delight. Curse Hotel Chocolat.
They have set my goals higher. No more do I crave the cheap sugary taste of youth. I want high end chocolate. I demand the bitter sweet essence of a glistening salted caramel. I want the purity of the dark side; rich in bitter cocoa solids. Surely it cannot be bad for me? Surely a small taste won’t destroy my diet? How can that multi-textured delight we call rocky road affect my waistline? Yes, we can get very reverential about chocolate.
But if you look at yourself in the mirror and witness its cruelty, what may you think? A baggy top to hide away my sins? Or will losing some weight help you in so many ways? Are you going to work on it?
When I was a little boy, I had difficulty saying words. I stammered. It wasn’t horrendous but it was enough to make me feel different.
All through my junior school years and beyond it was a nagging impediment just waiting to trip me up when it mattered. It seemed impossible to avoid. I had to work on it.
Moving area helped. What’s the last thing some people may advise you should do if you have any type of stammer? Become a teacher? I became a teacher.
“Just purirrinthecorner willyer.” It received a blank look. I’d been teaching down south for twenty years and I was under a bit of pressure. There was a lot to do and a group of children were wondering what to do with the maypole. They didn’t understand me. For all those years, I had to watch how I said things. My scouse was not too bad but I still needed to speak clearly. The stammer went. I’d worked on it. Even now when I feel about to be tripped up, I can adjust my speech to avoid the hesitation.
So when someone moans to me that they can’t do anything about one of their perceived faults, I feel a little bit of contempt rising.
“Why don’t you work on it?” Can you imagine the level of venom in the reply?
There have been other things I’ve needed to work on. When I was fourteen I was mocked for wanting a career in music. I didn’t talk posh and my jeans had holes in them.
“How can you expect to succeed?” was the question. Erm, I worked at it. I’ve done very well out of music thank you very much. LTCL on the piano and grade eight cello indicates a bit of success I think.
Oh and there’s my music degree, running a junior choir and writing songs and musicals.
When I was 29, I sat on the edge of a swimming pool in Spain wishing I could swim. The next year I was doing sixty lengths a day. Someone once said I was too fat to be a cyclist. At one stage I was doing over a hundred miles a week.
I was sent down from college without a degree. The argument was twofold. I wasn’t up to it and I wasn’t teacher material.
Well I got my degree and when I wanted a PGCE, it took me another five years to get on a course; but I did it. (Yes, I worked on it!)
Teaching became my chosen career. Despite the onset of MS, I did it for twenty two years. There is no way I would accept this life changing condition. Barricades are challenges. I look at a wall and wonder how I can get over it. There is no point just counting the bricks.
More recently, the barriers have become more immediate and personal. After thirteen years of marriage I’m back on my own again. What do I do? I’ve worked on being useful. Independence is precious and I’m going to hang on to it. I’m no longer the useless lump on the sofa. And what is the latest thing to work on?
Well there are a few but the most important is the brain fog. Brain fog and fatigue has the potential to constantly trip me up. Fatigue involves knowing. There is no point in fighting it. I sit down unmoved by the piles of crap in the kitchen I relax and recharge my batteries. A good crossword helps. And there is another point. My father always did cryptic crosswords. I found them impossible. When I started teaching I decided to try one a day. It was tantalisingly difficult. Now I do The Times.
It’s also interesting that my oldest friends are people who “work on it”. All of us may have been written off in one way or another. How did we rise Phoenix-like through the ashes?
Oh yes, the brain fog. Sequencing is my real bugbear. Hello notebook. Do I avoid sequencing? Not on your life, I cook and clear up. I’ll think of an ingredient and turn to the fridge. Then, staring at the great white tower, I go blank. There’s no point in raging. A little bit of methodology comes into play.
I try to be creative every day. Today’s prawn fishcakes were delicious. It involved a few stages but I’ve promised myself to cook more fishy stuff. Okay, I knocked over a bowl of sweet potato curry as the fatigue kicked in. Don’t fight the fatigue.