Thursday, 20 December 2012

An Amusing Scene in the Library

A few days ago I was at the main library in the nearest city to where I lived; I didn’t have the internet at home so I was planning to use the web for an hour.  The library was busy so I had to pre-book – I got given my computer number and the time allocated for me to use it which was around forty minutes away at 4.15pm.  To kill time I perused the bookshelves then sat and read a newspaper; when the time got near I climbed the stairs to the first floor where the computers were.

    I made my way over to my terminal and the monitor read: ‘Time left: 2 minutes, 7 seconds’ in large white figures and it was counting down each second.  I would just have to wait another couple of minutes.  Sitting right in front of the computer, side-on to it and facing each other, were a couple, probably in their late-sixties.  They were extremely grim and dirty-looking.  The man was wearing a thick grey jumper and warm-looking green coat even though we were indoors and it was a sunny and warm day.  The few hairs he had clinging to the top of his head were dark and extremely greasy-looking; they were swept back to the top of the back of his head into a kind of knot but then the hair spread out again to the lower part of his head – but instead of naturally flowing down to a stop or being neatly trimmed, it stopped in a sharp square well short of his neck.  He looked utterly ridiculous.  The woman, who was sitting directly in front of my monitor, was extremely fat and ugly-looking with thick, tape-repaired glasses.  She had a few warts on her face and single grey hairs sprouting out from under her nose and on her chin.  They clearly weren’t using the computer but I wasn’t going to move them out of the way until the time ran out; but then, as it got to under a minute to my turn the woman delved into a Tesco carrier bag and pulled out some sandwiches wrapped in cling-film.  She passed one to her partner, opened one herself and started taking big hungry mouthfuls.

    When the countdown on the monitor got to zero it was exactly 4.15 and ‘RESERVED’ appeared on the screen.  I approached the couple and told the woman that I needed to use the computer; she just grunted, barely appearing to register me, and pointed at the screen with a mouthful of sandwich – bringing my attention to the word ‘RESERVED’.

    ‘Yes, reserved for me!’ I exclaimed.

    She grunted again and then in no particular hurry, they gathered their stuff together and disgruntledly and very slowly left the spot – her face seemed to say: “what a pain in the arse you are, could you not use a different computer?” 
    I pulled a chair to the screen and sat down to start my session, greeted by a sharp smell of dirt and body odour.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012


I awoke to people murmuring and fidgeting about; one or two people were sitting up bleary-eyed with straggly “bed-hair”. The thing that struck me straight away was how cold it was in the room. It was probably as close to freezing as it could possibly be, indoors. I pulled my meagre bedcover and blanket around myself and curled up in a futile effort to get warm.
   As more and more people got up I felt as though I really ought to make a move to get up soon, but I felt so lethargic and so cold; I really wasn’t cut out for early mornings. I then noticed the Irish lad, Richard in the top bunk across the room, sitting up mumbling under his breath. We looked at each other and said our good mornings.
   ‘I really need to get up at some point,’ I said, still wrapped in my covers, my teeth chattering.
   ‘I tell you one thing we need’, said Richard in his strong Irish accent, not moving from his sitting up position; ‘a fecking heater!’

   I think I may have been the last of the twenty into the shower that morning. As I made my way there, Richard was coming back the other way, his hair soaking wet and looking white in the face; he was visibly shaking and tight from the cold.
‘Nice shower?’ I enquired.
‘Jesus…you wouldn’t get this for fecking murder,’ he said, ‘I’ve never been so fecking cold in all me life,’ before his walk quickened back to the room.
   I then endured less than five minutes of freezing cold water that supposedly went under the guise of a shower.

Monday, 12 March 2012

FOOTBALL AS BEAUTY - Milan vs Barcelona '94

It's injury time at the end of the first half in the 1994 European Cup Final and Milan are one-nil up against Barcelona.  Rossi throws it out to Panucci, the left back.  Panucci rolls it inside to Maldini who plays it up the left wing to Massaro; Massaro tries a little dart up the left, but finds there’s no room so, shielding the ball carefully, comes back, rolls it back to Panucci.  It’s played across the defence, Maldini to Galli; Galli plays a lovely high ball out to the right, ten yards inside the Barcelona half to Savicevic, who skilfully touches it back to Boban…Boban, first time, just opens his foot up, gives it back…Savicevic, delighted, checks inside with beautiful quick feet and runs towards the edge of the Barca penalty area then plays a back-heel that’s so subtle you don’t know he’s done it until it’s at Boban’s feet.  Boban rolls it coolly out right to Tassotti supporting from the back, Tassotti shapes to cross but just rolls it back inside to Boban.  Boban looks up and drifts it out to the left to Donadoni – and this is where the move comes alive – Donadoni, with absolutely classic and precision wing play, teases the defender, waits for him to commit, then just pushes it past in a split second, so beautifully: the ball holding up in the turf as if by divine providence of what is to come.
    He runs towards goal about two yards from the by-line, takes two touches, looks up, and then with the outside of his right foot, rolls it behind the farthest two forward – both marked – but invitingly back to Massaro, who only has to stand on his right foot and swing his leg at it from fifteen yards out, and it flies into the opposite corner beating Zubizaretta who is left flailing. Absolutely beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful football.
    Fifteen passes from the goalkeeper to a beautiful goal – and Barcelona never had a sniff of the ball. This is a world-class team that destroyed a Manchester United side that won the double, four-nil, and Milan – in turn – have destroyed them.

     Less than two minutes into the second half, and the game is over.  The ball gets floated up by Albertini…the Barcelona defender loiters on the ball; Savicevic just nicks it carefully but cleverly off the defender’s toe, then launches the most beautiful left foot volley over Zubizaretta’s head and into the net.  It is just fantastic: a moment of pure opportunistic genius.

     When Romario heads thin air five minutes from the end with the score at 4-0, Barcelona’s misery is truly complete.

Monday, 5 March 2012


‘Man, I haven’t told you about Cowboy Mike…did I tell you about Cowboy Mike?  No I didn’t…man!

    ‘We were in this Bar in San Francisco - a few of us from the hostel - and it’s like, this Sports Bar…so we go in, have a couple of drinks or whatever, then we fancy a game of darts; we get some arrows from the bar and we start playing but then straight away, these two couples come up…they’re like, these two middle-aged American guys and their Japanesy looking girlfriends, or wives or whatever. 

    ‘Anyway, they’re really boring, you can tell straight away.  One of them is this guy called Mike and the other is this, I can’t remember his name but he kind of had a Michael Bolton mullet going on, you know…receding at the top and sort of curly and long at the back, but it wasn’t cool I’ll tell you that much.  Anyway, they’re giving it the big one, saying they play for the State at darts or something and they beat everyone in the bar regularly, so we challenge them to a game – and we’re terrible by the way – so me and my mate are playing this Mike and the Michael Bolton guy at doubles. 

    ‘So I’m chalking the names up, and I put ‘Mike’ down, then I’m asking the other guy for his name…so he tells me it and I’m chalking it up, when Mike says, ‘Actually, my friends call me “Cowboy Mike”’ and I just turn and look at him…I stare at him and I’m trying to get it into my head that he was telling me I’d made a mistake – that I shouldn’t have just written ‘Mike’ on the board but “Cowboy Mike”.  I tried to contain myself, tried to hold it in, but I’ve started to laugh because my mate is looking at me with this hilarious, “eyebrows up” expression on his face; I turn around back to the board quickly, then methodically rub out “Mike” and put “C.M.” in inverted commas.

    ‘Then we’ve started playing and me and my mate are struggling to keep straight faces; and they were shite at darts!  They were slightly better than us, but you could tell they were no good; their throwing styles were crap, especially Cowboy Mike.  Throughout the whole game we were saying things like: ‘Your turn Mike…I mean ‘Cowboy,’ and laughing and he didn’t even get the joke…didn’t get that we were taking the piss…he just kept playing and smiling, and his wife didn’t get it either, she just stood there like a lemon and laughed and smiled when they got anything over like, about thirty, as if she was really impressed with her man’s darts prowess, unaware that her husband was full of shit and had told us that he was an All-California Pro or whatever; and his buddy - the whole time we were playing - never once called him ‘Cowboy Mike’.

    ‘Afterwards we were like, “Yes, you have lots of friends…and they all call you ‘Cowboy Mike.”

    ‘What an idiot.’

Wednesday, 22 February 2012


Here are some of my favourite quotes by, or about the late American comedian Bill Hicks.

These would all obviously be better delivered by the man himself, but enjoy!

'I've been with the same girl for five years now, so I finally popped the question: "Why are we still seeing each other?"'

'They lie about marijuana.  Tell you pot-smoking makes you unmotivated.  Liiie.  When you're high, you can do everything you normally do, just as well, you just realise it's not worth the f---ing effort.  There is a difference.'

'No one has handguns in England, not even the cops.  Now!  In England last year they had fourteen deaths from handguns.  Fourteen.  Now!  United States, I think you know how we feel about handguns.  Whoo!  I'm getting a warm, tingly feeling just saying the f---ing word to be honest with you.  23,000 deaths from handguns.  But there's no connection...and you'd be a fool and a communist to make one.  There's no connection between having a gun and shooting someone with it, and not having a gun and not shooting someone.  There've been studies made, and there is no connection at all there.  Yes.  It's absolute truth.  You know, fourteen deaths from handguns - probably American tourists, too...'

'A lot of things are changing, and they all seem to be stemming from the return of a gentleman named Bill Hicks.  A man who I can't figure out if he is near enlightenment or a black beast.  I don't know.  He's a genius and a putz and a child and a master all in one.  And with the return of him on Wednesday, my life has been shaken like thunder.  I have experienced every emotion and every shade of feeling since he's been back.  Elation, joy, bliss, anger, depression, awe, love, hate, wonder, laughter, disappointment, fear, pain, have all passed through me.  And generally all at the same time.'
Dwight Slade's journal, American Scream, The Bill Hicks Story (by Cynthia True).

'It's not a war on drugs, it's a war on personal freedom.  Keep that in mind at all times.'

'He screamed into the microphone.  His vision of a machine-gun-toting Jesus was positively malevolent.  He acted out violent, bloody fantasies toward his former girlfriend, an assortment of politicians - even the Reagans' dog.  he unearthed new, unimagined lows in bad taste...This is not a warm person.  But is he funny?  Oh yes.'
News and Observer reporter Michael Hetzer on Bill Hicks

Friday, 17 February 2012

The (nearly) golden tickets - as featured in '606 stories' on BBC Sport website

It’s 1996 and in the last game of the season we faced Martin O’Neill’s play-off chasing Leicester City at Vicarage Road.  We needed a win and other results to go our way to stay up.  I went to the game with my best friend Nick, (a Fulham supporter).  We learnt on arrival, however, that the match was strictly an all-ticket affair, so ticket-less, we were turned away.  How could it be?  I couldn’t miss this game!  We walked despondently away from the ground, back through town.

    Nick had arranged for his mum to pick us up after the game so he now rang her up, informing her that we were, unhappily, ready to be picked up now, before the game.

    And then something quite remarkable happened.  A middle-aged man who neither of us had ever seen before, approached us and said something like, ‘Do you want to go to the game lads?’ to which we both moaned that we would be, but for the fact it was all-ticket.  He then pulled out two match tickets and said that he’d got given them through some charity he works for and would we like them?

    I could have kissed him.  Despite us trying to throw money into his hands, he wouldn’t take any of it, then after thanking him for about the millionth time, we legged it back to the ground.  Before we got there, my friend phoned his mum saying, ‘We don’t need picking up now – we just met god!’

    How could we really stay up after that?  I just knew I never had that much luck; I was a Watford supporter after all!  The game itself was an anti-climax and we lost 1-0.


    But wherever you are my friend, thank you.  Thank you for giving your tickets to us.

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Quiet Traveller

Well, look who it is,’ said Margaret before immediately turning her back on me to face the bar. One of the lads raised his chin a little in acknowledgement of me but without a smile, as the other lad whispered something in his ear. Neither of the young men seemed happy or relaxed but I didn’t get the impression they were talking about me.
    I looked at Margaret in her designer jeans, designer top, designer trainers, designer jewellery and designer hair, half perusing the bottles of various spirits lining the shelves behind the bar and half glancing at herself in the mirror, always careful not to catch my eye. If I hadn’t got the vibe earlier on then I sure as hell was getting it now.
    ‘Thought you’d join us after all then, eh?’
    It was Barry, the dark-haired, shorter lad. I turned to him and mumbled “yeah”, wishing I’d stayed at the hostel now, feeling ridiculous and alone even though they had asked me earlier if I had wanted to join them. Margaret continued to deliberately ignore me and the other lad was still talking quietly into his mate’s ear. Barry laughed this time.
    ‘Yea, better than sitting in the room innit,’ said Barry again, laughing to himself and the blonde lad, Gavin, had turned his back on us and now stood at the bar, smirking. He glanced across at Margaret but she didn’t notice him; she was still sulking.
    I looked at Margaret again, determined to get some sort of recognition from her. What had I done? I kept myself to myself and so did she; what was with the animosity? And…well, look who it is; what the hell was that supposed to mean?
    I offered the lads a drink but they already had one. I didn’t offer Margaret one. She clearly didn’t want anything to do with me. Fuck her, I thought; she’s probably just upset about having such an old woman’s name.

* * * * * * * * * * *
Back in the room lying on my bunk I wasn’t tired yet so I read a book for a while trying to make myself tired. I didn’t want to be awake when they all got back.
    I read for about an hour and it was nearly half-past eleven. I was just about to finish my last chapter for the night when I heard them; I groaned inside. They entered noisily, Barry and Gavin laughing, Margaret talking to them without humour and then they would laugh again.
    ‘Look who it is,’ said Margaret.
    Yes you said that earlier, I thought to myself. I continued to read, determined not to show any sign that they were bothering me. The truth was I was happy relaxing and I was happy that I was me. Let Margaret be Margaret, I didn’t care.
    ‘What are you reading?’ asked Gavin.
    ‘A book,’ I huffed.
    ‘Right…right,’ said Gavin sarcastically, like I’d said something fascinating.
    ‘Leave him alone,’ said Barry.
    ‘I only asked what he was reading.’
    Margaret was fiddling around a lot in her handbag. I tried to continue reading but I’d just read the same sentence four times. I threw my book off to the side, closed my eyes and pretended to sleep.

Friday, 10 February 2012


'How a man can wander about all day on an empty belly, and even get an erection once in a while, is one of those mysteries which are too easily explained by the 'anatomists of the soul.' ' - Henry Miller

'When each day is the same as the next, it's because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.' - Paulo Coelho

'She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season.' - P.G. Wodehouse

"We're freaks, that's all.  Those two bastards got us nice and early and made us into freaks with freakish standards, that's all.  We're the Tattooed lady, and we're never going to have a minute's peace, the rest of our lives, till everybody else is tattooed, too." - J.D. Salinger (from 'Zooey')

'No one I met at this time failed to assure me that a man who is hit through the neck and survives it is the luckiest creature alive.  I could not help thinking that it would be even luckier not to be hit at all.' - George Orwell

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


'Even if teenage children aren't making a sound, it's quieter when they're gone.' - John Steinbeck

'When the gods frown, the wise man learns to surf on their furrows.' - Luke Rhinehart

'If someone has a wart on their nose or their forehead, it really does seem that the only thing anyone in the world wants to do is to look at your wart, laugh at it and condemn you for it, even though you may have discovered America in the meanwhile.' - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

'If money isn't so great, then why do rich people keep it all to themselves?' - Douglas Coupland

'I'll never say I'm No. 1, but i'll never admit to being No. 2.' - Bruce Lee

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Road of Life

    We said we’d keep in touch with each other, but of course, we never did.  I figured she’d be at university and was probably loving it.  I took a few weeks off when I got back, then helped a friend out with a bit of casual work for a while.  Soon after my return I was determined to go travelling again once I could afford it, or maybe I’d get a loan or something.  It was all I could think of for a few weeks and it seemed unthinkable to me that I would do anything else.  I had loved it and my memories of it all were wonderful, filling me with happiness.

    Three months after I returned I met Anna, who I started to date.  I wasn’t sure if it would get serious, or if I wanted it to, but before long my whole life was being shaped by our relationship.  We were soon buying a house together and, caught up in many emotions and a wave of happiness and sudden contentment we were married a few months later.  I was happy, I mean, I loved Anna, and it felt right.  It wasn’t until I went back to more serious full-time work and started to pay-off the mortgage and go round the supermarket on a busy Saturday with Anna that I remembered my previous plans to travel again, and thought back to my adventures and of Fran and our week together.  I never told Anna about Francesca, but I guess I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about her from time to time.