For We Are Young and Free


It’s been a rather enjoyable summer, all things being considered. If you happen to be a Pom, (which I am) and enjoy your sport (which I do) you find yourself in one of those periods in your life on which you will look back in years to come and wonder how the hell it all happened.

Of the three main sports worth talking about, The British Lions won the Rugby, GB & Europe hold the Ryder Cup, and England won the ashes before Alastair Cook had time to dust off his lucky Bobby Tambling jockstrap. In other fields, a Scotsman holds the Wimbledon Title for the first time since the Reformation, our naturalised Brits keep running, jumping and cycling faster than other counties’ naturalised citizens and, as yet, seem more adept at avoiding awkward questions about pills and blood transfusions than their fellow competitors.

This is all very odd indeed.

I am of an era where the word British was always preceded by “Plucky”, “Gallant” or “Useless”. There was a clear world order of things : 1) The British invented a sport. 2) The British got bored of playing amongst themselves, so took the game to the colonies. 3) The colonies (and anyone else who happened to be passing) beat the British.

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A small boy asks for the autograph of the winner of the 1908 Reculver to Penge Bicycle Race.

And this was how it was since sport was invented. Americans held all the golf and the tennis titles (very occasionally helped by a German, Swede or Strine). The Aussies and W Indies were the best at cricket, New Zealanders won the Rugby. West German men dominated the football (mainly), East German Women triumphed at the swimming (manly) and everyone else won Olympic Gold at our expense (the exception being Moscow 1980 when no-one else turned up). 

Oh yes, of course, there were always exceptions which proved the rule. Occasionally you’d get a Daley Thompson or an Ian Botham who’d become world-beaters, but on the whole we were useless. Our coaches were useless, our stadia crap and all our sportsmen and athletes went to college in Florida because over there they had real grass and something called sunshine.

Leaving us with Torvill & Dean.

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Mr & Mrs Jagger of Dartford, Kent, thoroughly enjoying themselves at a cricket match at The Oval, London 1972. Australia won by 5 wickets. Again.

Somehow this all changed. Somewhere between Shane Gould and Rebecca Adlington, between Mal Meninga and Johnny Wilkinson, since Rod Laver and just before Jock McSour, the British began to win things. Some genius in Westminster had the brain wave of giving money to each individual sporting organisations in the country for coaches, equipment and facilities. Invest in the country’s youth and watch it flourish.

Bugger me it works !

Of course, not all sporting bodies in the country got with the program. Some, like the FA and Football Premiership, reasoned that if we could attract enough mercenary and racist show ponies to our leagues, pay them so much money that, at the first flash of an agent’s instep, they’d drop you for another club. Only by playing against and alongside these players will our own boys improve and therefore, so the argument goes, will the National side improve and become World Cup Winners.

How’s that working out for you ?

But putting soccer to one side (putting it to sleep would be more humane) it does seem like something has worked. Our South Africans bat longer, run faster and cycle further between ‘comfort breaks’ than their South Africans; Our golfers (men and women) regularly pop across the pond to nick their silverwear; the Spirit of Seb Coe is still in the ascendency (in all parts of the land apart from my house) as young men and women who have benefited from our own little version of the GDR approach, run jump and swim faster, higher and longer than anyone else (well more than they used to anyway).

Most gratifying, of course is that this:

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has become this:

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It’s not just money that has caused this turnaround in fortunes, it is of course the attitudes of the Powers at Be. It’s the sudden (!) realisation that sport is great for the young, the soul of youth, and the heart of a nation. Winning is not everything, but is great for the spirit, and allows people like Cameron and Blair to use words like Feel Good Factor, and to jump on that bandwagon, drenching themselves and their political parties in the sweat and toil of others. (The reader will please note that during an Ashes Series, of course, winning is everything— but you get my drift). If school headmasters since Tom Brown’s days realised the importance of sport, why did it take until 1990 for any British Government ?

So as a finale to my summer there could have been no better received call last night than that from an old pal of mine who announced that unfortunately he’d had some people let him down, and he was stuck with two seats for the first day of the Fifth Test at The Oval today. “Would you and the missus like to go?” he asked, hopefully.  Being a good friend, I couldn’t see the poor man left with extra seats to fill. I threw my spirally cap and monocle into the ring.

Therefore this morning like Mick and Bianca before us (though hopefully slightly better-attired) The Incumbent and I shall take our places in the OCS stand for the first day of what promises to be a five-day-long party. Being 3-0 up already it will seem very odd that there is nothing to play for. CORRECTION:  there often used to be nothing to play for by the time we reached the Oval, but because the Aussies had already won the series. The boot with the big toe poking through the hole is definitely on the other foot this morning.

I don’t expect it to be a packed house. I’m looking forward to many a Strine Whine of “Oh look, anyone want 8 spare tickets ?” as I emerge from the Oval tube this morning. Memories of the vast expanses of empty seats at the MCG and SGC from 2009 tell us that your Aussie doesn’t turn up to see a losing side. He’ll have to get use to it. We did for years.

The English have included in their squad 2 relative unknowns — presumably to give them experience of carrying drinks out to the middle. The Aussie, bless them, have included 8 unknowns in their side — although 7 of these have already played 4 tests this summer. The ACB are busy trawling the practice nets and academies of Papua New Guinea, searching for more leg spinners and opening bats before their government pours them back into the sea. Let’s all hope that works out for them (the ACB, that is, not the government: The Government can go fvck itself).

World cricket is poorer for a weak Australian team.

Albeit funnier.

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And Not a Drop to Drink (again)


It’s quiet here now. Through the open window of the potting shed I can hear the chirping of the Marsh Warblers, the Chaffinches and the distant scrap metal dealers going about their business. There is the gentle hum of rural England, the faintest of drones from a combine harvester over the meadow as it positions itself outside the local council offices in readiness for todays rally against diesel tax; and the unmistakable giggling and hubbub from local village children as they play on the nearby rope swing down near the beautiful little babbling brook, exchanging football cards, crack cocaine and used needles. The village hall is holding a “Bring and Sell Your England Cricket Tickets’ Fete this afternoon, and the verger is nailing up an effigy of Stuart Broad. Yes, sadly only an effigy.  The sun is out. Tis a tranquil scene. I’d put some Mozart on, if I thought it would still fit me.  Yes, it’s all very quiet here now. But that hasn’t always been the case….

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For the past few weeks the air has been thick with a whiff of emulsion, the rasping of sandpaper and the clatter of ladders. Our door has been darkened by carpenters, plumbers, plasterers and pipe fitters. Also, The Incumbent has been decorating the boys’ bedrooms in preparation for their return from college next week. All this coincided with a huge spike in business for what the Local Paper is calling “One of the slightly more promising home t-shirt businesses in the West Dartford area”.

Yes, finally business could be described as booming as, following a huge demand for Medium, Slimfit Bonnie Tyler t-shirts recently (go figure), and a call from several companies to kit-out their workers, the new line in British Lions and Festival Tees has been keeping me nicely thankyouverymuch in bourbons biscuits and doner kebabs. In between Medium Ladyfits, I’ve been popping upstairs to lend help, advice and elbow grease to the Boss as she undercoats, fills, sands, top-coats and glosses her way around the house.

It wasn’t all fun and games from the get-go. She didn’t take to it at all at first. As the air became bluer and bluer I had to step in to point a few hints and time-saving tips I’d learned over the years, stuff which while not ridding The Incumbent of her hatred for decorating, would help her reach her goal of completing two rooms in two weeks. I taped the roller to a broomstick and did a few walls there, a ceiling here. I visited the DIY store more times than I went to the pub. All the T-shirt profits were spent on Brilliant white Gloss, Sandpaper, Insulating tape and roller trays. I even semi-believably feigned interest when we picked out new carpet, which was to be delivered and fitted tomorrow, Thursday. So we even had a real deadline. And I’ve really missed deadlines. (!)

So come Monday afternoon, nearing the end of the fortnight (look it up) we were carrying out what I believe those in the trade called ‘snagging’: Seeing to all the little knocks, blemishes and missed bits in each room which needed to be put right before the carpet fitters came in 72 hours time.

(We chose a lovely beige cable carpet with a slight brown fleck in it, seeing as you asked. Oh, you didn’t)

A few scrapes and holes were smoothed over, a little dab of emulsion once or twice and the room looked spiffing. I thought my partner and guvnor should be really pleased with herself, and I told her as much.

“You’ve done really well here, you should be proud” I offered.

“well….” she said, not wanting to boast.

“no, really, you’ve done a top job. AND…”  and this was where things started to go wrong for me “….AND you’ve learnt a few things along the way from me, haven’t you ?”  Even as I was saying it I knew I was sounding far too smug for my own good.

Why do I do these things to myself ?

As we attempted to get the back bedroom straight, she asked me to take a look at the floorboards on the far side of the bed. Lifting up the underlay, it was clear that some had splits in them, some were not laying right and there were several screws that were standing proud of the floor.

“Yup, no worries, I’ll go fetch the screwdriver and some screws. You find some hardboard for me.” I was like a young Tim Allen. I was MR Home Improvement. Skipping back up the stairs like a someone in a Check-a-Trade advert, electric screwdriver in one hand, a fist full of self-tappers in the other, I zapped down a few offending items back into the holes whence they came, and added a few more for good measure. The Incumbent had found a yard or two of hardboard laying around which we placed over the area of split floorboards, (promising to come up with a more permanent answer later on), and replaced the underlay. The missus, walked up and down the previously selected spot and pronounced it to be “Bloody Marvellous”.We had finished for the day. I suggested we celebrate in one of two ways. We went down the pub.

A couple of hours later we returned with our bellies full of cider, and a carrier bag full of curry. There was good Korma.  Although I had a madras.

I sat down at the keyboard for a quick check on emails, looking forward to the impending feast. The Incumbent was in the kitchen dishing up. I waited excitedly to hear the words “Dinner’s Ready !”

I have to tell you now, that no such undertaking was received.

Behind me, between the curtains and the patio door, came a disconcerting sound. It sounded as if there was water dripping through the ceiling, running down the wall, door and glass, down to the floor, making a huge puddle. I pulled back the curtain. There was water dripping through the ceiling, running down the wall, door and glass, and onto the floor, making a huge puddle.

The next 15 minutes was a bit of a blur. Dashing up the stair as fast as my three-inch long legs would carry me, I ripped up the underlay on the floor where I’d earlier been working and, sure enough, I could hear a faint hiss of water escaping the pipe. I took the screwdriver and undid one of the screws which I’d previously inserted. Then came the flood. Where once had been a tiny little jet of water, squirting out of the hole the screw had made, but being partially blocked by the screw itself, unscrewing it had opened up the hole sending a torrent up into the air. Looking remarkably like the moment when Dambusters breached the Möhne Dam, I thought momentarily of taking a photo to be used later in this blog, but the cries of “Oh For Fuck’s Sake!” coming from downstairs alerted me to the fact that I should try to remember how to turn the water off.

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“TURN THE WATER OFF !” I shouted, and I heard her emptying out some cupboard or other where presumably the mains stopcock is housed (I didn’t know where it was then, and I don’t know where it is now). The water still kept coming. Gushing up like a big gushy-up thing, or like a scene from one of those films I don’t watch any more. The step ladders used to get up to the loft (I never knew my real ladders) carry a weight limit warning of 15 stone, but I didn’t care, I needed to get to the water tank.  With one giant leap and several little uncomfortable ones, I climbed into the attic and made my way carefully along a beam, ensuring I didn’t put my foot through the ceiling (well, we didn’t want to have any accidents, did we ?)

I turned off each and every valve I could see, and some I couldn’t. With the missus keeping watch at the hole in the floor in the bedroom, she eventually hollered that the waters had receded. I slumped over the tank exhausted. I was sweating like a 70’s comedian in a police line-up. I knew I’d have to go back down and face both The Incumbent and the music. And I had to use the step ladders again. They surely wouldn’t take my weight a second time.

She called the insurance company who ordered out an emergency plumber. That was 6.30 on Monday evening. It’s 10.30 am on Wednesday now. The plumber still hasn’t arrived. In the end we would spend 23 hours without water—unless you count all the water which had saturated the lounge wall, the coving and the wooden floor, lifting and swelling everything, stinking out the house. 23 hours without water,  22 of which I used the words “I’m sorry” in every other sentence. No shower, no toilet and, most drastically, no cups of tea.  Taking advantage of a mate who happens to know his pipework, and who happens to drink in The Shovel we eventually got our pipes fixed and our water back on. I thanked him profusely and gave him a large drink for his trouble. The Incumbent called the “Emergency Plumbers” and gave them some directions on Self Intercourse.

The whole pub knows what I did and find it rather amusing. All our friends know and are ceaselessly mocking me. And now you know.

It’s quiet here now. The Incumbent has decided to go out for the day. Gone to Canterbury  to visit her boys at College.

She’s taken the screwdriver.

STOP PRESS+++STOP PRESS+++STOP PRESS+++

The Dambuster theme continues:  The insurance company has sent along professional dryers, complete with huge turbo turbine machines which look like they were once strapped to the wings of a Lancaster Bomber. So my tranquility has ended, interrupted by the sweet sound of two Merlin engines. One in the bedroom, one in the lounge.

Oh joy.

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