Only 135 Starbucks Days til Christmas

Tis the season to be jolly, apparently. Pop down to Bluewater shopping centre and see how you feel afterwards. On the face of it, it seemed like a good idea. Since my aftershock a couple of weeks ago I’d not been out much, and not at all if you don’t count trips to the hospital or the GPs. I feel like I’m basically just one dizzy spell away from another stroke, so why encourage the old grey cells to knock buggery out of each other by me overdoing it, certainly when there’s Flog it and Countdown to watch on tv ? I have a week to wait until the promised all-revealing MRI scan and a week plonked on the couch won’t harm anyone, and may even do me some good.

But a chat I had with my father the other day changed my way of thinking. According to him, I’m likely to “pop my clogs” anyway, so I might as well enjoy myself while I can. It is, as they say, good to talk, and a chat with the old man really gives you that warm glow inside. The Season for Giving had clearly arrived, with the old fella at the front of the queue for giving out advice. So in that spirit, and being told by my dad that there was little hope of still being around when the fat bloke came down the chimney (nice trick if you can do it) I decided to go down to the shopping mall from hell, buy and give the incumbent her Christmas present early. Yes I know it’s still November, but she needed it and there’s no point her hunting around in the back of wardrobes for my gift when I’m pushing up the daisies.

There’s a knack to Bluewater. If, like me, you go there infrequently enough to be unfamiliar with it, you’ll find plenty of other like-minded individuals (mostly men) shuffling around like polar bears in Regents Park, unsure of where they are, who they are or why they are here. You can spend days down there. I’ve never been to Westworld, or whatever those malls in Shepherd’s Bush or Stratford are called, but if you have, you’ll understand what I mean. It’s enormous. Exiting Marks&Spencer alone requires the navigational skills of Ranulph Fiennes. Last week a Japanese soldier emerged from the kitchenware dept of John Lewis asking if the war was still on. There are approximately twelve branches of Starbucks, all looking identical, with identical Boys from Brazil serving (very slowly) therein. On every corner there is an extensive map showing each and every shop (sorry “outlet”) in the complex. I stopped at one and noticed a large red dot on one corner, with the words on it YOU ARE HERE written reassuringly. Except some  poor sod, presumably someone who’d been walking around lost since V.E. night had scratched out the word HERE and written FUCKED over the top. I couldn’t have agreed more.

I saw one bloke simply give up hope of ever leaving the place and start writing his will on the back of a brochure given to him by the “nail bar” (they serve neither nails nor four candles. I know, I asked) next to Past Times. If I ran Past Times the shelves would be full of photos from before shopping centres, of when your local street was full of shops other than bookies and charity shops. When you could walk down the high street experiencing the warm satisfied feeling of community, not the cold stroll of terror down a desperate, desolate, derelict street, gingerly bypassing the bored, threatening hoodies and the even boreder (yes, it could be a word) chuggers on every street corner.

Anyway…After what could have only been four hours, I eventually escaped ( I was parked in Brown Squirrel G, Level 3, NOT Blue Stoat F, Level 2, as I had at first thought) and lived to tell the tale, Christmas gift in hand.

Now I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t wrap it (neither nicely nor at all) that, having opened her brand spanking new, all bells-and-whistles, all woofers-and-tweeters steam iron that she didn’t rush over to me, throwing her arms around my neck and pledging her undying love for me. I’d even go so far as to say that her reaction was rather muted. Funny creatures, women. It’s made me think twice about even buying the new kitchen apron which, in my opinion, she so desperately needs. She’ll miss me when I’m gone. About as much as my dad will, I reckon.

Age will not weary them

I had followed the same training schedule as the previous 20 years—I’d done nothing, and I’d been out for a curry and a few pints the night before. I’d packed as many surgical supports as I could fit in my kit-bag, I’d shunned a sandwich for lunch and opted for just-the-one pint (pre-hydration) before the game. But still, as I arrived at the ground for our first cricket match of the season it was clear it was going to be a long, hard day.


My first worry was that our influential skipper was not, as is usual, inspecting the wicket or warming-up on the boundary, but was in fact on assignment in the Hindu Kush. Bugger. But good news came when someone mentioned a young-ish, fast-ish, swing bowler had been selected and was on his way. Excellent! someone to do most of the donkey-work. Then more bad news: another one of our member was stuck in traffic somewhere somewhere between the South Circular and the Guilford bypass and was gonna be late. If at all. Christ.
When we gathered in the visitors’ changing room the full horror struck me: I was 44 years old, overweight and overhung, short on muscle and hair, but long on girth and ralgex, and I calculated that at least six of my team-mates were older than me!. Admittedly a couple of them looked a good deal fitter than I did, but it was clear that I was part of the youth policy. Someone had blundered. My mood didn’t improve when the young fast bowler showed up with his leg in plaster, having gotten injured playing soccer last weekend. Oh poo.



We took the field having dragged a mate out of the pub to make up the XI. Ten of us were resplendent in albeit rather snug-fitting cricket whites, the eleventh (he who was enjoying a quiet half-gallon in the boozer til press-ganged into playing) in my spare cricket shirt, a pair of cargo pants and brown hiking boots. Less WG Grace, more WC Fields.

We bowled. I bowled. It hurt. The batsmen tucked into our bowling like Ranulph Fiennes in a Katmandu Curry House. The opening attack (myself and an Aussie called Jeff) had a combined age of 94. My eyes bled, my calves seized up, my lungs screamed and my head thumped. Between overs I stood in the outfield gasping for breath, my big fat red head sweating audibly. I looked like a fat Swan Vesta.

Catches were taken, many more were dropped. Play was occasionally punctuated by a clatter of stumps, but more often the ‘ping’ of a lump of leather coming of a plank of wood and hurtling over the boundary. One of their young guns scored a hundred as the runs flowed, lbw appeals were turned down and the fielders’ good-humoured chat, banter and yelps of HOWZAT ?? turned into coughs, moans, and yelps of pain.

At the end of their innings it was clear they’d scored approximately 100 more runs than we were happy with. But no matter. TEA! Sandwiches, pork pies (like we needed more) doughnuts (ditto) and lashings of hot tea had been provided in the pavilion. We devoured. A condemned XI’s last meal.

Our Turn To Bat

Cricket - SS Box

Cargo-pant guy (50-odd), now having borrowed the bottom half to his kit, took to the crease with his batting partner (who just might be under 30) and our innings began. Whack, ping, wheeze, clunk. The pair got off to a flier. If the elder of the two hadn’t pulled a muscle in his arse who knows how many more runs they could have run? But it was a great start. All the way up until it wasn’t. The young lad was bowled out when we’d scored 89.

But that was ok. Happy with that. A much better start than usual. In walked our no.3 batsman (more than 50-odd) who really did look the part. He looked comfortable at the crease (both his arse muscles were still working) and started to knock a few balls around to all parts of the field. Very much the man in form. But no sooner had we in the Pavilion got comfortable and ordered more tea when he was hit smack-bang in the face by the ball. Lots of blood. Lots. Quite put me off my fifth sarnie. Our number 11 batsman took him to hospital and we were down to 9 men again.

Our batsmen nudged and nurdled and smacked and smote the ball into gaps in the field as we crept towards the total required. Our ill-clad, aged opener scored 93— ON HIS OWN!. Gradually, two things dawned on me: a) we could win this; b) I might have to bat. Oh fuck. Oh fuck fuck fuck! Then it happened: the bloke in front of me was, disaterously, given out LBW (by the then-umpiring Cargo Man) and I was in. I protected my stumps, head and goolies and we sneaked a sharp single. My partner at the other end was caught out. Then I ran-out my next partner. Bugger. The last man in (he’d returned from delivering our man to hospital) joined me in the middle and we needed 14 to win with 2 overs left. Then 13 needed. Then 11. It was tortuous. It was pathetic. Two men who hated batting (combined age 99), swishing and swatting and limping up and down the wicket. One ball left. One run to win. SWISH, PING. The ball shot between two fielders and we ran like buggery (if buggery is very, very, slow and painful, which I suspect it is.) and we’d won. Stone me!

2 Pints

I left the field very gingerly, very sweatily and very happily. Every bone and organ ached like hell. We went to the pub. I had to sit down. Our hospitalized mate was having an x-ray and I was having a pint. Every cloud. This report was typed with the two digits I possess that can actually still move. Silly old sod.