With the non-league football season over and the entire future of Newton Hills F.C hanging in the balance after the unfortunate incident at Smidwick, the summer weekends yawned ahead of me like a suspended prison sentence. I spent a great deal of time in the garden shed, under the guise of potting-up the geraniums, dreaming that I could be ‘plotting-up’ instead. Her indoors didn’t ever question me though. I think she sensed that need in me to have some proper, honest-to-goodness ‘me’ time. She didn’t even eye a bat-lid when I took to chanting some of the old Newton Hills songs at her from behind the rose bush. Nevertheless, the missus and me were growing apart like uncoordinated linesmen. We had nothing in common any more; hell, we weren’t even at the same ball-game. She got all sulky when I wouldn’t take her down the garden centre of a Saturday morning – 'ooh but they do a lovely scone there' - and she damn near had the neighbours round complaining when I refused to creosote the fence before Sunday lunch at the carvery.
And yet, despite putting off the endless list of tasks she set me, I couldn’t find the energy to do anything useful instead. Even setting up mock battles on the Subbuteo terraces left me feeling unfulfilled and restless like a teenager. In truth, and loathe as I was to admit it, I missed having Gerald around. It was a kind of unspoken rule that there was to be no contact
between any of the Newton Hills firm throughout the summer months. Summer, as Gerald said, tapping
his nose, winking and grinning all at the same time like it was the best secret in the world, was the time
for ‘laying low’ and perhaps ‘having a mooch around the continent’ whatever that meant. So that’s why it
came as a surprise when the man himself turned up that Wednesday morning.
I could barely contain myself when I opened the door, barking out observations about the tennis and the cricket and how superb the summer had been so far. (Basically I was lying.) Gerald cut me short with a savage karate chop to the throat.
‘Fahkin’ puff’s games,’ he said, throwing himself down onto our comfy sofa, then noticing the cat and giving it a sly kick for good measure.
‘What’s the matter, Ger?’ I asked, seeing that something had gone truly wrong in him. It was as though lack of football hooliganism had made him suicidal.
‘You not seen the fahkin’ news this morning?’
‘No,’ I gasped. ‘No point watching the news if there’s no Newton Hills tear-ups on!’
Gerald shook his head and looked sad. Part of me wanted to reach out to him and stroke his smooth, bald pate. Part of me wanted to take him into my arms and make everything okay again for him. Whatever had happened was clearly ‘It’s like the day the music died,’ he said softly, to the cat or the cushion, or both. ‘Things will never be the same ‘What is it?’ I asked, wondering if this was a moment that called for whisky. The wife always hides the whisky. Where the hell was the whisky when we men needed it? ‘She’s dead,’ he sniffed. ‘Gone…’
And suddenly, his big, beautiful face collapsed into tears. I’d not seen such a display of raw emotion in a man since the Cliff Richard concert a few years back. It was truly impressive; mind-shatteringly masculine. I could only imagine that his wife or mother had passed away. But then, why would news of Gerald’s wife or mother’s death have been broadcast on the breakfast news? I had to get to the bottom of this…
‘It’s stupid: stupid,’ he sobbed. ‘What an awful way to go… Just so… pointless…’
I could see Gerald trying to pull himself together now, slapping his own face to get rid of the tears.
‘Tell me; from the beginning,’ I said.
Gerald’s jaw jutted out, he placed a meaty fist over his heart: ‘The Iron Lady is dead,’ he said, bravely, ever so
bravely. ‘Margaret Thatcher is no more…’
‘How?’ I gasped.
‘Oh, your left-leaning rags are having a field day about all that,’ sneered Gerald. ‘Turns out she was visiting a coal mine and the tunnel it just… it just collapsed on her.’
‘How awful,’ I said.
Gerald looked at me thoughtfully. Then he summed everything up in that inimitable way of his, like he was Clive Tyldsley at the end of a European Cup Final: ‘Wearing my small businessman’s hat, the Doris was a god-send, but with my football firm hat on, she were the devil incarnate… all that stuff about ID cards and the like. She had a proper bee in her bonnet about footy thugs. So all in all, I don’t really know what to think. Apart from that we should both go out and get absolutely twatted.’
The words were like music to my ears, like a lovely Shakespearean sonnet. Without even asking the wife if I could go out, I reached into the closet, pulled out my coat and hat and then put them back exactly where they were. Today was not a day for hats and coats, today was a day for letting it all hang out like only real men could. Today was a day for throwing caution to the
wind, and as Gerald said, getting ‘absolutely twatted’.
Unfortunately, the first two pubs we tried were closed ‘out of respect’. Gerald told me that the first of these
pubs was always shutting down when some celebrity or ‘respected national figure’ died. Took it too far
sometimes though; it had refused to open when Deirdrie Barlow (or Rachid) got banged up in Corrie.
By the time we reached the third pub, a student pub, we’d worked up what Gerald called ‘a real thirst’. I had to
order Gerald a pre-round pint he could sup in one while we both waited patiently for the other drinks to be pulled. But that was what was so impressive about the man; his sheer unwillingness to be pigeon-holed in any way. So what if that meant he had two drinks in
the time that other people had one? So what if his eyes were still red-rimmed from his earlier crying jag? So what if he felt things… After a good few drinks, Gerald started to become more and more lively. He attempted to stare-out the jukebox for a while before forcing the landlord to bring out the Karaoke, on which he sang the most heart warming version of ‘Candle in the Wind’ ever, which he of course dedicated to Maggie Thatcher. Endlessly, I had to empty my pockets into the fruit machine because he claimed it was what ‘she would have wanted.’ Time and again, we toasted her and her ‘bottle.’
It was shaping-up to be one of the best, most emotional nights of my life when more students came in and ruined it all for everyone. It was Gerald that first heard them laughing and joking at the bar, and of course, as any man of feeling would have done, he took offence. One of them, he later told me, kept talking about ‘dancing on Maggie’s grave.’ Another said he was happy she was dead.
Soon, Gerald started to sing a new tune:
‘Tories’ Clap-clap-clap. ‘Tories’ Clap-clap-clap. Or: ‘Blue Army!’ And: ‘You can stick your fahkin’ Labour up your arse…’ And as Gerald waded in, fists flying everywhere, scattering students like skittles, I realised that sometimes you don’t even need the football to have a right proper Newton Hills tear-up about nearly anything. You just need to make sure you’ve plotted-up correctly. Next time, the students would think twice before laughing at the drunken, bald man on the Karaoke. And I’d think twice about ever wasting my time in the goddamn garden On the way home, in a pause from pissing against a war memorial, Gerald suggested that we should go down the Houses of Parliament at the weekend for the next instalment of our new hooligan-game: political hooliganism. Now that’s where the real ultra-violence is…
END OF PART THREE