Clean myself: 0
Monkey see, monkey do: 1
Believe in God? Y
It is after Christmas now I suppose, unless this is still it, this shiftless, hospice-assimilation type of experience; unless this is what everyone’s been looking forward to: carpets, heat, nursery food, closed doors, twenty-four hour television.
This is how they perpetuate the myth of Christmas you know – that there is nothing to define it, and so nothing to call off. Everything is leading up to Christmas, then suddenly everything is after. The actual it in the middle doesn’t actually exist, and this fourth day of Christmas is no more it than was the party two weeks ago during which the twelve year old executives with whom I work spent the whole night shouting that it was in fact Christmas already. I’ll forgive them and join in if four birds call round this afternoon. Especially if one of them is Mrs Lindsay from the rugby club, or looks like Julia Louis Dreyfus off the tele.
With my mother I accept the nothingness of this period by watching an out of season tennis tournament from somewhere where it is not Christmas. Well she watches; I am drafting a note to Rafael Nadel to apologise for my role in his early exit from the competition. He seemed really determined to win, and with the usual big hitters absent he looked a steal at 6/4. But he has just been eliminated by a seven foot goofball with a big swinging serve who’s just had his only day in the limelight.
I made him lose: a) I counted my money; and b) I was thinking about Mrs Lindsay and, well, they were very rude thoughts, and they took place quite early this morning. I quite literally knocked one out. So I am writing to Rafa so that he knows that it was me, not him, though I’d be better off writing it to myself to remind me not to stray when there is a live bet in hand.
It’s not so much his request as his presence that takes me away from my father and back to the rugby club. Today, on this interim Saturday there is a fixture, so all those who did not turn up for the convivials on Boxing Day will be there – a better crowd for my current predicament it is said. It remains moot, for the moment, that I did not make the most of the opportunity on Thursday.
An hour’s solitude watching the lunchtime match in the bar is spoilt only by my procrastination over taking an even five hundred on the Everton win, to cancel the earlier error on Rafa, which still persists as Tim Wilson hobbles into the bar. He leans his crutches against the bar to shake my hand, telling me that he thought he might never see me again, despite the fact that he keeps up contact with all our old friends, most of whom are in London, like me. He is wedded to the home town through marriage, and so this is him now, he tells me. He asks about me, and I do that thing where I don’t quite render my recently surrendered position in the past tense. To mark the lie, at the moment I consciously deliver it, Everton score the first of their three goals. Or perhaps the curse of the monkey business will not lift until the new day dawns and the slate is wiped clean?
They often stay at Johnny Carver’s apartment when they go up to town with the gang. Johnny, he tells me, has secured a fantastic position in a top investment bank, and on hearing the news I take a standing count of eight, which is just as well because it stops me from saying the discourteous things I’d like to say about him. I content myself with the image of Johnny as a Dickensian clerk assigned to the job of copying papers, sitting at his high up lectern-desk, looking more than ever like an egg on a stick.
Kick-off looms and the passing trade inside the bar increases as the crowd outside begins to gather and grow. The odd one gets drawn into the match on the tele and stays for a while, some of them speak to us. I haven’t been away long enough yet to be welcomed back as a prodigal, and instead their fáiltes feel more like schadenfreude motivated curiosity. I hope that I sound as begrudging in my replies, confident for now that there are far fewer captains of industry here than my father would have us believe.
One of them, a gangly loose limbed giant, like the man who vanquished Rafa, sticks with us at the bar. Obviously a friend of Tim’s they say nothing, happy to watch the end of the match while Tim and I finish our conversation. Slowly though, little high pitched grunting noises begin to emerge from behind Tim and before long they build into a running commentary. I acknowledge the presence of God and thank Him that he kept the Nordic beanpole away until now. ‘Look at that Tim,’ and it’s rendered in this high pitched whistling voice, which makes me wonder whether it’s planned – you know, to have deliberately delayed that joke where you suck the helium out of balloons before speaking, but Tim doesn’t laugh, ‘Newcastle are such good tacklers but they can’t play it with any pace into the feet of the attacking line.’ Tim turns to look at me, smiling kindly, and says, ‘did you ever meet Dessie?’
I tell him I didn’t, and as I do Dessie leans over to shake hands, smiling too, and reveals one particularly large front tooth that suddenly puts all of the other big features into perspective.
‘You know Dessie’s old man though?’ asks Tim, as Roger Hunter arrives at the bar, and I do, but would have never made the connection. I didn’t know that Roger had children anywhere close to me in age. Perhaps they came from another marriage, or unnoticed children changed into adults while I was away thinking about doing the same.
Roger is one of those men with whom my father wants me to form a relationship, and in his case I don’t object. He’s a car dealing tycoon, a multi–multi-millionaire, to use the local term, but I like him. He’s thick but in a good way; he has no guile, and I suppose he’s always liked me back.
‘This boy, Dessie,’ he says, putting his arm round my shoulders, squeezing me closer, ‘this boy could be Prime Minister if he wanted.’
He’s wrong actually, but if minister of state for international development was to come up, that would do.