Everyone on the US East Coast.
Love and best wishes, and see you all, safe and well, on the other side.
Everyone on the US East Coast.
Love and best wishes, and see you all, safe and well, on the other side.
For those of you desperately awaiting the latest match reports on our beloved football team the Stratton Harriers, our sports correspondent Horace Wimp will be with us very shortly to bring us back up to date with all of the latest goings on – unfortunately, the last couple of games have been postponed due to carnivorous cows invading the pitch and gravely assaulting the referee for a dodgy handball decision just before half-time. In the meanwhile, and just in time for children up and down the land to be going back to school – hurray!!!! – here is a short recap of Horace’s very own school days…
“My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.” A fanfare of ceremonial trumpets and the moving roll of accompanying drums… People, excited, scrambling hurriedly to their feet, clapping and cheering, homemade banners waving. The more creative ones amongst this horde, doing that whistling thing with their fingers: a few jolly, excitable and loud, “Hurrahs!”
“May I introduce…” Not a question, but a bold, brash statement of intent, the lavish Director of Ceremonies, resplendent in sparkling jacket and ludicrously ill-fitting wig, standing to one side, bowing ever so slightly as I make my gracious entrance, saluting the ever-growing cheers…
That was the type of introduction I was expecting. Instead, I was left to merely amble up that long drive. To push and squeeze my way through stiff double doors and along a drab corridor, the blue paint beginning to bubble and flake from walls bedecked with black and white photographs. Alone to follow the handwritten signs and the multicoloured arrows that led towards the noise of raised voices, and finally through creaking doors that swung back viciously, into a bright, white hall, dazzling just for that moment. Now, as I tried to catch my breath, heart pounding, I stood there, in the doorway… a doorway to a new and exciting future, so I’d been led to believe.
“The first day of the rest of your life,” they had said, smiling as they had tightened my tie and straightened my collar. “You have to look your best… First impressions count.” But I was crap at impressions. Anyway, they were obviously lying. Bastards!
I stood there alone, silently having convulsions, fighting the urge to stuff my head down the nearest available toilet. Alone, watching the melee around me, the mad scramble.
“Oh God. Oh God, oh God, oh God.”
“Don’t look to me. I can’t help you now, four eyes.”
A great hall, brightly lit. Loud footsteps echoing from the wooden floor: a wooden acoustic floor that shook violently under the weight of countless feet. Someone, I assumed a teacher judging by the awful combination of tweed and staid, tried to open the high windows with a long pole, twisting and pulling at small latches, cursing their stubbornness, children close-by stunned by these words.
Standing there silently, nervously, looking for any hint of a friendly face. I had this unmistakeable feeling that I looked a complete and utter twat, albeit a complete and utter twat in a smartly pressed blazer.
Shit! I’d almost forgotten about the bloody blazer, neatly pressed and sparkling under the strip lighting. First impressions?
Boys rushed about, pushing and pulling, pockets bulging with hidden sweets, even after all these years the main currency in any playground, for purchasing and bribing new best friends and fending off any unwanted advances from the prowling, would-be bullies intent on dishing out dead arms and perfectly symmetrical Chinese burns to the poor and unsuspecting. I was hyperventilating. And girls, that foreign and scary subspecies from another planet, far, far away, standing about and giggling from behind already perfectly manicured hands. Jesus, they were only eleven going on eighteen. They looked smart though, and ever-so-eager-to-please on this, the very first day. Flashing long eyelashes at every male teacher that dared to wander innocently through those double doors, most beating a hasty retreat back to the safety of a smoky staffroom while they were still attached to their fading corduroys, careers still vaguely intact. The girls’ blazers were immaculate, crisply starched, their red and black striped ties with their precise knots pulled tight, their hair freshly washed and brushed and shaped, tied in symmetrical pony-tails or held back by luminous head bands discreetly bearing the misspelt name of a fashion guru’s long lost, lesser known, slightly alcoholic brother. I was absolutely petrified. There were, seemingly, hundreds of them, all with identical pleated grey skirts and shiny braces fixed with huge dollops of cement to freshly whitened teeth. I was having an asthma attack… Well, either that or a stroke.
Back to those boys, still rushing about, trying to trip each other up and pulling at already loose buttons on once white shirts, now ruined. They reeked of puberty. Ties at half-mast, the bigger the knot the better from what I could see, from my vantage point in that busy doorway, children barging by as they strode to the middle of the floor in groups, following friends and shouting loudly at particular girls.
Boys were beaten about the head with sports bags bearing the name Manchester United or Liverpool FC in big letters. Girls poked out aniseed-stained tongues or flashed ever-so-polite V-signs at those whose attention they desperately wanted to attract, afterwards turning shyly towards their friends and blushing brightly.
“Well? Is he looking then, or what? Is he bloody looking?”
Shrieking, jumping up and down, the sound of their excited but dainty size twelve feet reverberating like thunder. Oh the joys of a State education. And this was a state.
I had died and gone to hell. Me? The bright kid from a small village primary school. The funny looking four-eyed kid currently having a heart attack while hiding behind that strange machine in the girl’s changing room – the machine that nobody mentioned in polite company without blushing.
“It’s… You know? A girl thing.” Boys would then make strange signs and giggle inanely to mask complete ignorance.
Apart from the girl from “Cheers”, who seems to have eaten at least 3 other contestants while no one was looking, a failed footballer who still thinks he’s God’s gift to the local tattooist, and some bloke from a once popular TV soap, who the hell are they?
And spare a thought for poor Emma Willis: looking as gorgeous as usual and trying her hardest to garner some interest from a heavily sedated audience of loons on loan from the local asylum. But talk about flogging a dead horse… And this one’s been dead for a good long while now.
I wonder what’s on the other side? “Australian Love Island”…
Oh, for the love of God! Good job I don’t have access to a gun…
As the transfer window slammed shut yesterday afternoon, our local football club, the absolutely atrocious Stratton Harriers, confirmed the signing of another new striker, Filupa Cortina, for what is believed to be a club record fee of £8.75, a packet of Walkers’ Barbecue Beef flavoured crisps and a half-eaten Mars bar found hidden away at the back of the changing room after Tuesday night’s hard fought 13-0 defeat against Charlton Puddleduck’s under 7s Netball team – a match report to follow, but suffice to say they were crap!
In an exclusive interview with our sports correspondent, Horace Wimp, Filupa, who scores once every 6 months somewhere along Union Street in Plymouth, spoke of his absolute delight in thinking that he had initially signed for Torquay United… And then of his confusion and utter dismay at having actually, accidentally and indeed rather stupidly, signed for the Harriers; see, that’s what happens kids if you don’t stay in school… And say no to drugs, blah, blah, and blah; unless you can get them at a reasonable discount of course.
“It’s a travesty,” Cortina told this bespectacled sports correspondent before starting his first shift at the new McDonalds somewhere just outside Bideford. “On the boat over here [a rubber inflatable that drifted across the busy Bristol estuary creating absolute havoc] I was promised the world and all the gold I could eat, just like Dick Whittington’s cat, but now…” and then he tutted, shook his sad little head and shrugged his weary little shoulders in that typical Latin way the passionate Welsh have now adapted. “Mind you,” Cortina admitted, between sweeping the floor and taking out the discarded burger cartons, “it could have been a lot bloody worse. I could have signed for Queens Park Rangers. Jeez…” He then crossed himself frantically and gave thanks to all seventeen of his valley gods… And two sheep whose names he had long since forgotten.
The Harriers’ new manager, Jose Alladyce, said of his new capture: “It’s fantastic. I can’t thank the board enough. £8.75 is a huge fee for a club like the Harriers to find, but that the board actually believed in me enough to then dish out a further packet of Walkers’ Barbecue Beef flavoured crisps as well as the half-eaten Mars bar I was saving for the next game against Holsworthy Community College… The bloody cheek of ‘em!” The bloody cheek of ‘em, indeed.
The club have since confirmed on their website, that the £8.75 is actually a deposit on Cortina’s left leg and right ankle, with the rest of his body currently owned by a third party, which, as we know, is against all FA rules. Cortina though, is expected to make his debut for the club in this Saturday’s gritty derby against promotion favourites, Bude Buggerers – full report to follow, but suffice to say they’ll be crap.
In further news from the Harriers training ground, and the lay-by opposite Brooks’ Garden Centre, it has been confirmed that defender Wayne Hasslebaink will be out of action for at least two weeks after a scan in Lidls finally revealed the true extent of his troublesome knee injury. It was originally believed that Hasslebaink had been killed in the initial tackle by a young 6 year-old Puddleduck’s winger but then, having removed the defender from the local NHS hospital and inadvertently sending him to the local veterinary clinic – Tamar Vets, (where no corgi is too small) and definitely not Penbodes, (where all Labradors are too big) – the initial diagnosis was quickly replaced by a rather less serious one, all for £78.99 and a complementary week long course of drugs to improve the shine of his coat, should he ever turn out to be a golden retriever.
And now, back to the studio…
..and so, accordingly, our Sports Correspondent, Horace Wimp has sent us this report on our local team:
Stratton Harriers, who play in black and white while the rest of the teams around them play in full colour, or sepia at the very least, kicked off their first home game of the season half an hour early, attacking the goal away to their left, while the other team, the Tamerton Tossers XI were still getting changed. This highly original if somewhat devious tactic from new manager Jorge Cortinaho didn’t pay off though, with the game somehow still goalless as the Tossers finally took to the field in something akin to what might be called, loosely, as a somewhat “bad mood”. Due to awful finishing from the Harrier’s new striker, record signing Benito Martinovic, and to the continual removing of the jumpers being used as makeshift goalposts, the Harriers then proceeded to collapse at the mere sight of their emerging opponents and, within minutes, were 7 goals behind, with goalkeeper “Blind Bill Cuthbert”, having yet to finish his prematch cigarette.
“I didn’t realise we’d started,” he told gathered reporters afterwards.
In his press conference after the game, Jorge explained his tactics at some length and also gave his thoughts on this, the Harrier’s latest disappointing defeat in a long line of heavy, disappointing defeats. Unfortunately his press conference was given in what some reporters claimed was Portuguese whilst others swore blind was the font, “WingDings”, which nobody present understood or really gave a damn about.
Next up for Stratton is the local derby against the Bude Buggerers XI.
I am sitting here, in my very best underwear because I stick to my clothes, melting rapidly to my sofa.
If I wanted to be this uncomfortable I’d move to a country that was known for its ridiculously warm and unbearable conditions and where they employ the small children of the poor to endlessly fan you. But I don’t and I can’t because I am English. I am of a very pale and very white complexion. Therefore, I burn easily.
I am not made to sit in the sun, go out in the sun, walk in the sun, to even contemplate the sun. I can’t read The Sun newspaper without getting heatstroke, especially now the football’s over and they’ve done away with Page 3!
“Please God*, give me back my precious grey clouds and the soft reassuring touch of rain upon pale white skin! Even a light drizzle would be better than nothing. Thank you in expectation. Lots of love and all that soppy stuff, Simon. XX
“P.S. Please say hello to my Nan for me.”
I didn’t like their attitude. The way they just slammed that bloody bergen down at my feet; the now bulging bergen, the all-too-looming bergen.
It was frighteningly big! And bewilderingly wide!
And now, as it just sat there, it was openly mocking me, with its array of arrogant zips and all-too-cocky velcro tabs: “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough, four-eyes!” But at least it was now the right weight according to the training staff, all forty-five bloody pounds of it, and so I was suddenly reminded of that old, overused adage.
“What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”.
Yeah, right: or will break your sodding back!
It took me exactly twenty-seven minutes to put it on, and twenty-three of those minutes were hard, they were minutes of continual effort, of loud grunting and pain-filled groaning, of tugging and pulling, of yanking and cajoling, of pleading with it to please show some pity. And it was exactly twenty-seven minutes of being barracked, of being bellowed at and sworn at, in an encouraging way of course, to finally, somehow, get it off of the ground, into the air and, almost, very nearly, up, around and onto my back… To get the straps in place, almost, very nearly, over my shoulders, instead of about my neck where they had all the politeness and finesse of a unfriendly boa constrictor…
It then took me another thirteen minutes to persuade my new found, so-called friends to stop bloody laughing and wetting themselves for just long enough to help me back up, trapped helplessly as I suddenly was beneath a 45lb backpack, limbs protruding star-like and with my desperate pleas for immediate assistance muffled beneath fabric and because of mud…
It then took me another eight minutes to persuade them to help get me upright again, as I had lost my balance almost immediately and toppled backwards, this time under the force of gravity, so that I now resembled an overturned tortoise flailing helplessly.
This was utterly hopeless! Why hadn’t I joined the R.A.F. Regiment like all the other lazy bastards?
But, I was standing up again now, just. Somewhat doubled over perhaps, desperately trying to catch my breath and realign my spine whilst using my faithful old rifle for capable support, and without shooting myself in the foot, all-the-while, and very much to, the angered machinations of a burly, unsympathetic sergeant who really didn’t know what the army was coming to nowadays!
“The world’s finest uniform,” he had hollered into my right ear that very morning, “and you still, somehow, manage to look like a sack of shit!” He was puzzled. If the Queen could see me now, “Gawd bless her!” He had then promptly thrown this sack of shit out of a window, such was the extent of this puzzlement. But I was lucky, I was to find out later, because, apparently, he rather liked me. I was his favourite. Perhaps that explained why he kept jailing me so much? ‘Cos he liked me!
“That, you sorry excuse for a bunch of wankers, is the hill,” he now gleefully informed us, pointing upwards, into the low-lying, threatening clouds.
Just the Hill, or The Hill? I wondered. But, unfortunately, at that very moment, I had something slightly more pressing at the forefront of my mind.
“Excuse me?” I didn’t want or mean to interrupt him mid-rant, such was his poetic use of the most proudest of obscenities, but I deemed it rather important, as I now seemed to be sinking.
“Oh, for God’s sake. Someone help four-eyes up again.” No, really! What was the army coming to? he demanded to know. “Someone remind me to jail him the moment we get back to camp!”
Well, this hill, The Hill, didn’t look too daunting from where we were now standing, all grouped together in something resembling a line. It was even, in some optimistic quarters, going to be a doddle, nothing more daunting than a quick “up and at ‘em” type of hill. What’s the worst that could happen?
What we didn’t realise, due to the rapidly darkening cloud, was that this hill wasn’t exactly a hill as such. To be honest, I’ve seen smaller mountains. And you would have thought that the team of exhausted Sherpas making base camp before the bad weather really set in, would have served as some sort of a portent to us? But, alas.
“Stop your bloody whinging and start climbing!’
We had forty-five minutes to climb it. But, we were assured, when we were done there’d be a truck at the very top, somewhere, where we could have a nice cup of tea before being driven home for dinner and medals.
“Easy,” the burly sergeant promised, toying with his rather splendid moustache. “Not like in my day,” he reminded us. Because, in his day, “the good old days”, when “men were men” and the sheep “could be bayonetted in the joyful name of training”, they had to build the bloody thing first before running up it, so we should count ourselves bloody lucky! He was being good to us because, apparently, he liked us.
“I’m so good to you, you bunch of lily-livered, work-shy wankers!” See.
“What you doing now, Gale? Oh, for the love of God, someone help him up.”
“Sorry, Sarge.” I’d be getting mud out of weird orifices for a month.
“Lean into it!” It was playfully suggested to me, as I lost my footing again, fell forward onto my face and slid all of the two foot back to the very beginning. Would I mind “awfully” hurrying up, as they didn’t have all, “fucking day!”
The sergeant, judging by the songs he was singing and the way in which he was fingering his moustache that seemed to be growing before our very eyes and eating any small birds that deigned to pass, was desperate to get home and give his “old lady” a good, old fashioned “seeing-to”, before his corporal did! “The frisky little bugger!”
“Lean into it!” it was suggested again as the real climb began. “Open your legs!” For better balance, apparently.
Oh, the joys of a bergen breaking your back and quickly gaining weight with the rain, the rough webbing belt rubbing through the skin on hips and a rifle cradled lovingly in non-muscular arms the size of pipe cleaners. A sodden beret misshaped and sliding down to helpfully cover eyes that couldn’t see through raindrop splattered lenses anyway, and, what with me being scared of heights and all… Why hadn’t I joined the R.A.F. Regiment?
“Oh why, Lord?” I moaned, painfully pushing forever upwards, one agonising step at a time for what seemed like an eternity, my legs buckling, the bones in my back breaking in rhythm and with my lungs imploding, exploding, imploding, exploding. And all the while mountain goats gazed at us with something akin to amazement, while gently chewing the cud and keeping an eye out for that crafty snow leopard.
“How did they ever manage to become top of the food chain?” they wondered. “Especially that funny little four-eyed one being slowly crushed to death by his obviously too large bergen?”
“Excuse me, Sarge. But exactly what use is this lung busting work if I plan on sitting in a nice tank all day?” Well, it had been bothering me for some time now.
“Look at that view,” someone muttered in awe as we finally broke cloud cover.
“Oh my God…” Would you look at the size of that! And it was going on and on, stretching forever upwards, steeper and steeper, the path narrower and narrower, passing signs that warned of ultimate doom: “Your death this way lies”, with triple exclamation marks.
I wanted to fall to my knees and sob. “Kill me now,” I beseeched, for I was never going to make it!
“You’ve walked ten foot, you lazy…”
“Leave me, Sarge. I’ll just slow you down. Leave me. Save yourselves.” Well, it had worked in all those bloody films
Did the army still shoot shirkers? I really should have paid attention in that law class thing.
Onwards. Upwards. One foot planted in front of the other, scrambling for grip. Leaning forward, or rather doubled forward under the shifting weight. Trying anything, just to keep my balance. Trying to stay upright-ish.
“Don’t look up,” I chanted to myself. “Don’t look up.” I looked up…
Oh, fuck! Would you look at that. We had to get all the way up there? “Bollocks!”
They were starting to drag stragglers up now, drag them over the shale, the training staff grabbing the lucky ones by the straps, all the while barking encouragement and obscenities in equal measure. One step at a time, careful of where you placed your boots on the disintegrating trail.
“Hello chaps,” a chirpy family of four uttered as they bounced on by, overtaking wherever the trail widened sufficiently, a lovely whicker picnic hamper in hand. “Lovely day for a stroll, isn’t it?”
“Come on, Gale! You’re being beaten by a woman pushing a kid in a bloody pushchair!” What was the bloody army coming to? the sergeant asked again under his breath… She had a cute arse though.
Onwards. Forever onwards. And upwards, forever bloody upwards, the air continually thinning to leave poor lungs gasping, gasping for air, precious cold refreshing air. Would this torture ever end?
Onwards and upwards. And then to hell with the onwards, we just settled on the upwards. It was endless. Endless, I tell you! My legs were on fire. My neck seemed to be below my pelvis… But, all of a sudden, was that it? Just there?
We were there! We’d done it. We’d climbed Everest’s bigger brother and survived to tell the tale.
I had a sudden upturn in morale. We had succeeded, and it felt so good. We had survived, and it felt bloody wonderful. Intake “88/01” had climbed this God-forsaken mountain and had lived to recount it over and over again in countless books revelling in this triumph. We were all superhuman, we were all…
“Oh for fu…”
I had found an extra breath of energy from somewhere very deep and victoriously straddled the lip with a skip… Only to find that this God-awful bloody mountain continued still forever bloody upwards. I wanted to cry. To cry aloud like a big girl. I couldn’t take it anymore. Someone, anyone, just kill me now! For the love of all things holy, please kill me now!
“Oh, hello again,” the family of four greeted us with sickening smiles. “Would anyone care for a glass of homemade lemonade? It looks as though you could all do with one!”
We certainly would not, the sergeant wilfully informed them on our behalf, with his very best of disgusted looks and hands thrust onto muscular hips, for we, madam, were vicious killing machines. All right, we may not look like it but we were all vicious and unrelenting killing machines… Just as soon as we got to the top of this fucking hill!
“No, really? Even the funny looking four-eyed one apparently being crushed to death under an obviously too large bergen?” What was the army coming to?
“Come on,” the sergeant barked in our general direction again. Only a little further, he promised, quite willing to kick us all the way there if necessary. We had shown him up quite enough for one day, thank you very much.
“And don’t worry madam, that little four-eyed git’s being jailed as soon as we get back to camp!”
With the careful use of oxygen, and with the help of a passing lama farmer, we all made it to the crescent. The last stragglers encouraged with threats of ritualistic maiming that echoed down into the valley now far below. All of us were counted in; well near enough, what’s the odd missing one or two? All of us out of breath. All of us almost three inches shorter than when we had begun this expedition. All of us looking forward to the promised hot mug of refreshing lubricating tea that was in the back of the four tonne truck patiently waiting to take us all back to camp.
“What do you mean it’s not here?” It had to be here. Sarge had quite clearly promised that it would be here. Right here, he had said.
“What do you mean they must have been talking about that hill?” That hill in the neighbouring valley.
And precisely what the fuck did he mean when he said that we had to go back down and climb that hill? That hill in the neighbouring valley.
But the sergeant simply shrugged his shoulders, lovingly fingered his now ice covered moustache again, for it was growing lonely, and simply suggested, “Well, if you can’t take a joke you really shouldn’t have joined!” And would we stop exaggerating. It was only Bulford after all. Not exactly the Himalayas!