On Tuesday, Liverpool, who my best friend Llŷr had literally supported all of his life, performed a miracle, and managed to beat red-hot favourites Barcelona 4-0 to reach the final of the Champions League for the second year running.
At full time, I found myself more emotional than I’d ever been at the end of a football match – certainly not at one that didn’t involve my team, Tottenham Hotspur – shedding a tear in joy and sorrow that my old mate wasn’t around to have seen it.
The only thing that could possibly top that would be if my lot managed to overturn a first leg deficit on Wednesday and join them in the final.
I’d been at the first (home) leg, where we had been terrible for much of the first half, and marginally better in the second, fortuitous not to have been out of it by the final whistle.
But there was hope. Just a 0-1 away goal deficit to over-turn in the second leg. It seemed do-able. To Dream is To Do.
But after ten minutes, and another goal down, it seemed much more unlikely.
And by half-time, and at 3-0 down on aggregate, I almost turned the TV off.
But then….the unthinkable happened:
I’ve watched the highlights each night since, and still I can’t quite believe it.
When Tottenham and Liverpool reached the semi-finals, Hel – also a life-long Red – and I pledged that if both teams made the final, we would watch it together. Not just because of our own fandom, but for Llŷr; he can’t be here to witness it, so we were going to make damn sure we were together. Because whatever the result, he’d be happy: gutted if Liverpool lost, of course, but happy because he’d know how much it would mean to me.
And obviously, the same applies in reverse from my point of view.
Within minutes of the final whistle on Wednesday, my eyes still full with tears, we’d made concrete plans.
Other than the obvious health issues, the thing which has annoyed me most about my current condition is the amount of nights out that I’ve missed.
It was my office Christmas night out this week, and despite assurances from Kay that senior management had said it was okay for me to go, I didn’t think it appropriate for someone who hasn’t been to work since late October and who’s been signed off work until early January to attend it.
More than that, my group of best buddies here in London traditionally have a night out every year, where we drink, sing and occsionally dance. This annual event used to be held in The Dublin Castle in Cardiff (ooops!) Camden, but over the past couple of years has moved to The Effra in Brixton. Despite the appearance I may have given by writing lots of posts on here in the past couple of weeks, I’m by no means fully recovered yet (I’ll explain in one of my hospital-related posts shortly) and just not up to it (note: as opposed to up for it, which I definitely am), and so I’ll sadly be missing out this year. Guys, girls: I love you all, and hope you have a blast without me, implausible as that may seem.
But much as I love my friends, even worse than that is missing a load of gigs I had tickets for.
For a start, a few months ago, before I was taken ill, my longest serving (30+ years and still going strong) friend Richie got in touch to see if I fancied going to see Johnny Marr at The Roundhouse. I’d seen Johnny a few years ago at Brixton Academy and loved every minute of it, so I of course agreed. Richie bought tickets, but around a week before the gig, reality kicked in and, extremely reluctantly,I had to let him know my attendance was not going to be possible.
This, lifted from a 6Music performace back in 2014, seems appropriate to post:
When Richie bought the tickets for Johnny, rather than paying him for them, I suggested a gig which I’d pay for. That gig happens tonight in Islington’s O2 Academy, and is long-time beloved of us both The Wedding Present, performing their 1988 album Tommy. Again, I had to let Richie know at the weekend that I couldn’t go, but, nice guy that I am, I insisted that was no reason for him and +1 not to go, so I forwarded the tickets on to him this week. Richie: Merry Christmas – I hope they get to you in time, and if so, that you have ruddy swell old time.
Tommy, according to Wikipedia, is a compilation album “gathering the band’s first four singles, their B-sides and selected tracks from two early radio sessions.”
Galling as it is is missing out on those two gigs, they pale into comparison with my not being able to go a three-night stand at Camden’s Electric Ballroom by Teenage Fanclub.
The gigs had been arranged in support of the release of the remastered versions of the albums they released…well, this explains it nicely:
To make matter worse, it turned out that the gigs woud also mark the end of original member and significant song-writer Gerard Love’s involvement with the band. So, here’s a Love-penned tune from each of those remastered albums:
If you’d like to read a review of the Glasgow gigs from this tour, I’d thoroughly recommend visiting the ever-wonderful Plain or Pan. It made me sick, not just about what I’d missed out on, but how well written it is, neither of which should have surprised me in the slightest.
In case you hadn’t guessed, the album both of those are lifted from – Free Again: The “1970” Sessions – is a must own: twenty golden greats, the majority of which, believe it or not, have titles other than Free Again.
As with many records that Chilton either wrote or performed on (or usually both), his was not the first version of that song that I ever heard. You will probably not be too surprised to learn that it was in fact a cover by this bunch of Scottish scallywags, who give it more 70s-glam-stomp Big Star-esque sound (again, no surprise there):
But even that’s not the first version I ever heard of that song. (You will tell me if this gets too tedious, won’t you?) That honour goes to this a live version which featured on a cassette given away with the not-actually-missed-that-much-at-all NME:
On Thursday I got the bus home from work, and found myself sitting just in front of a bunch of schoolboys. They were probably aged around 10 or 11, were very boisterous and loud in that way that boys around 10 or 11 generally are, particularly when they’re in a group. And naturally, they really pissed me off, not because of the volume or the boisterousness (not at first anyway) but because I envied the young little sods, riding buses without a care in the world.
I decided to ignore them, turned my iPod up a couple of notches to block out the noise, and focussed my attention onto Twitter on my phone.
And then they started chucking stuff around.
And one of the things they were chucking around – an empty fries box, I think, I didn’t really examine it – landed on my lap.
I sensed a silence fall upon them. I turned and gave them all my best disapproving look. The one teachers used to give me just before reciting the “You’ve let yourself down…” mantra. I picked up the fries box, thought about throwing it into the nearest one’s face, decided against it, and placed it on the seat next to me.
Shortly afterwards, they all began to leave the bus, so I could unclench my teeth and relax a little.
On Friday, I walked to the usual bus stop, which is on the High Street of the not-so-sleepy little North London market town where I work. Being Friday it was quite busy, and I felt my shoulders sag as I saw how many people were congregated at the bus stop, especially when I noticed that many of them were school kids.
My heart sank even further when I spotted the schoolboys from the previous night’s journey home. They were, of course, completely oblivious to me; one of them was too busy doing keepy-uppies with a tennis ball to notice me anyway.
And then, as I got closer to them, intending to pass, something happened. One of those moments that men of a certain age – ok, men of my age – dream of.
The lad lost control of the tennis ball, and it was heading towards me.
Without breaking stride, I chested it – ok, stomached it – down onto my left knee, knocked it back up again, before volleying it with my right foot back to the boy, who caught it, his mouth agape at the awesome skills that he had just witnessed.
Part of me wanted to run the rest of the way to the bus stop with my shirt pulled up over my head, Shearer-hand raised to the crowd, but I decided the world wasn’t ready for that vision just yet.
The bus arrived, I got on, the same group of schoolboys followed shortly afterwards, and of course sat behind me. The boy with the tennis ball stared at me as he walked past. I knew then that the journey home would be less eventful and stressful than the one the previous night: I had earned his respect.
And then an empty box of fried chicken, empty, that is, apart from some bones and a tomato sauce sachet, flew past my ear, and struck the seat in front of me, showering its semi-gnawed contents all over me.
Last weekend, I kicked off a new series here (“Ba Ba Ba Ba-Ba Ba Ba Ba“) with a post which included these words what I wrote:
“I don’t think there’s anything more joyous in pop records [than a record which includes a load of “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba’s”] except…possibly the key change in any record by either Westlife or Boyzone, because when that happens you know it’s nearly over. And I think this might just edge it.”
Which reminded me that just over a year ago, I went to see Teenage Fanclub with my old mates Gary and Meg.
I see Gary fairly regularly, we go to gigs together (especially ones by The Wedding Present), but this was the first time his wife, Meg, had joined us. It was also the first time I’d seen Meg in quite a few years.
Anyway, Teenage Fanclub were, as they have been every time I saw them, wonderful. And at a certain point during this song, I leaned over to Meg and said: “Here comes the Westlife key-change”, which was happily received by guffaws from Meg and a few people I didn’t know around us.
See if you can spot the “Get off your stool” moment that would make Louis Walsh proud: