Clean myself: 0
Monkey see, monkey do: 0
Believe in God? N
It’s Christmas and I am only the Sound of Music short of having watched the canon of British Musicals 1960-70. As my father finally gets us out of the door and off to the rugby club I feel a pang at the loss which I know my mother shares, (SoM, surely the apotheosis of that period of unsurpassed output?) and find myself wishing for it to be playing in the background on the high-up TV screens that are dotted about the bar at the club. We enter the air lock between the outside door and the one which gives access to the main bar, and that familiar smell of grass and mud mixed with beer fumes hits me for the first time in ages, bringing back all sorts of odd memories, and suddenly I realise that if there is to be a TV programme running in the background the children and kidults will have banded together to make sure that it’s Doctor Who.
We go in and my father dispenses his final piece of advice, ‘stand up straight for once.’ He adds that it’ll help my cause, as my mother brushes the mince pie crumbs from my new three-quarter length Crombie (wool and cashmere mix). I am just home having finished a stint as an intern at Ogilvie, Windsor and Clive, the crack advertising agency, and I am being presented back to the local market as a young buck going places, that the leaders of the community may wish to help on his way. Here, for the moment at least, I am still considered a gifted child with a golden future. Any number of local businessmen – and they all hang out here, it being a bit of a rugby club, rotary and masons all mixed into one according to my father, would bite my hand off to take me on, but I am not to sell myself so cheaply. I am to use their networks to gain a leg up into the world of high commerce.
‘The world of business is a very interconnected place,’ my father, owner of a wholesale carpet store, has told me maybe about a dozen times now since he first ventured the observation on the phone a week or so ago as the internship came to an end. I do not circulate and ‘chat them up’ as he advises. Mainly because I don’t understand what that means, and instead I find a perch where I can pretend to do that, away from him, with one eye on the tele.
When did the TV companies give up on Christmas? ITV seems to have entirely abdicated the responsibility to put on a festive treat and the BBC just raid the archive. These children, tearing around here with their super-hero costumes, and futuristic toys beeping and flashing no better than ours used to, will never know the joy of looking forward to the TV premiere of a blockbuster. If we can have anything whenever we want it, including TV programmes, why don’t we be done with the whole lot of it, and call off Christmas? Why not recognise that Christmas comes every day of the week now and that the joy of this season should be about having a day without it; where downloading is banned, and you’re only allowed to eat what you can carry back from the shops? That way we might have something to look forward to every now and again.
As if to make the point the children who have been rushing around the open spaces of the bar as one cartoonish rabble of noise and arms and legs, stop next to me to look up to the largest screen. Their self-appointed leader, a boy possessing all the accoutrements of a child but with some adolescent, young adult themes emerging, bids them sit down while he asks a question of the steward. He is told that they don’t have the Disney Channel and so he raises his charges again and with an authoritative ‘quick, to the kitchen,’ leads them away to continue their adventure.
As they leave, a small neat man dressed as a golfer arrives. He’s got this at-home feeling about him that makes me think he’s one of those club-men types. He’s not that much older than me, but I’d have recognised him from my playing days if he’d ever played here. I think of him as someone who’s triumphed over a lack of natural charm and empathy to make himself acceptable as a loner and an off-comer. ‘He loves Christmas my lad,’ he says nodding to the troupe that have just disappeared, exhaling as he does, as if he’s been part of their high octane revelry. There’s a little pride in it too, betraying, I guess, a connection with the abnormally grown leader of the gang, which if true probably puts him a few years ahead of me. I don’t say anything in case there’s something wrong with him and I’m being set up for a PC trap by a professional victim.
Mini-clubman settles on the bar stool next to mine and threatens a conversation. At least it looks to my father that I’m making an effort as he keeps me in his gaze, he thinks discretely, from the far side of the bar, ‘first timer?’ he says, and it sounds practised, like he’s heard other more experienced members talk to new faces in the same way. I tell him that it’s quite the opposite actually, and then of my playing days here as a boy when I was still at school. Immediately the school reference makes Mini-clubman realise that I was one of them, not one of what he is.
He swivels to order a glass of coke, no ice, and a packet of cheese and onion, then turns back once the transaction is complete and the goodies, not for Orville as it turns out, but him, are safely settled side by side on the bar. ‘You’ll be Johnny Carver’s generation then,’ he said and as he does he nods in the direction of the bank of fruit machines where most people have gathered.
Johnny ‘county lock now actually’ Carver. The talentless but massive, good speaking, hero of the club who scraped into Oxford on the back of a rugby CV, and once there, scraped into the second XV once in a three year career devoted to nothing but rugby; he probably says, ‘half-blue now actually.’ Johnny Carver, whose brilliant mind and fabulous wit came up with Dick-Shit for me as a nickname, it being a diminutive of Dickie Shite – the single most, in fact only, creative moment of his entire school life. There he was, sat on a bar stool, alone amongst a sea of admiring faces, yawing and yahing, looking like a boiled egg balanced on a cocktail stick.
I think about renewing my list of targets to be serially killed, should life turn in that direction.
Then I think better of it, and decide to get out and home to the Sound of Music before I draw attention to myself and talk turns to job-seeking.