London – The Celebrations
We spilled out onto the pavement. There were thousands already thronging the street and we decided to get straight back to Paddington and rendezvous at the designated pub. We wondered what had happened to Fletch, but weren’t too concerned as we knew he could look after himself. We flowed in the direction of the tube station, carried along by the babbling tide, when we heard a loud shout above the hubbub.
“Boys! Richie! Jimmy!” Somehow, amid the clamour, Fletch had spotted us from the other side of the road.
“Where the f**k have you been?” We asked.
Fletch paused for a few seconds for dramatic effect, keeping us waiting for the answer. “In the f**king match!” The Cheshire Cat’s grin would have paled into insignificance next to that blissful smirk.
“How the f**k did you manage that?”
“Well I was looking for the off licence, right. I asked this English supporter, who wondered why I wanted the Offie. I explained the situation about the cost of the beer to him. He asked why I wasn’t going to the match and I said that I didn’t have a ticket, right. He asked if I wanted to get in and said that it would be easy. He told me to wait outside the gate next to the turnstile and he went in. Once inside, he passed me the detached stub and left it to me to get in, right.”
Fletch continued to use dramatic pauses, stopping to observe our understanding of what he was saying. He could clearly see that we were in a right f**cking state.
“When I got to the turnstile I gave the operator the stub, but he asked where the rest of the ticket was? I said in a pitiful voice that since I had left home this morning, I had been on a coach, the tube, in a taxi and on a bus. I had been in and out of my wallet all day and the stub must have become detached. And he let me f**king in! What a f**king match too. I had a great view.”
“You jammy f**king b*st*rd!” we said as we headed for the train station.
As we neared the station, we could see a mass of people jostling to get in. There must have been hundreds if not thousands trying to force their way through the extraordinarily inadequate entrance. It was obvious to us all that we would have to wait for hours to gain entry. “Let’s jump the wall!” Fletch suggested straight away, pointing to a high wall to the side of the station.
“It’s too f**king high!” I objected, but Fletch insisted that we could do it. After all, he had had time to sober up a little, whereas Jimmy and I had continued our session whilst Fletcher was at the match.
The wall was at least eighteen inches above our heads, a little more for Fletcher. “I’ll give you both a bunk up, and then you can pull me up too,” he instructed making it sound quite undemanding.
We did as we were ordered, Jimmy was hoisted up with great difficulty and not a little swearing as his flailing foot caught Fletch a direct blow to his already misshapen nose. Then it was my turn, but when I sat astride the summit and surveyed the other side I was instantly frozen by terror.
“It’s f**king twice as f**king far down the other f**king side!” I exclaimed, the lilt in my voice unable to conceal the panic in my heart.
I was not good with heights, as both Jimmy and Fletch were well aware. Nevertheless, Fletch commanded us to haul him up. When he too had perched on top of the wall, he quickly sized up the situation.
“It’s not that high, maybe fifteen feet, but there’s a ledge about half way down, look,” he said pointing straight downwards.
Until now I had been unable to look in a southerly direction, choosing instead to cast my wide eyes in the direction of the ominously darkening evening sky.
“We can hang down and drop onto the ledge, and then do the same thing again to reach the ground. Then we can shoot across the line and climb up onto the f**king platform, simple init!” Fletch continued.
I forced myself to search for the alleged ledge, and was not overly encouraged to discover that it was no more than eighteen inches wide. Fletch could see the seeds of doubt in my still gaping eyes.
“By the time you hang down, you’ll only have to drop a foot or f*king two, you shit house!” he assured me. “I’ll go first.”
With that, he swung his legs over the side, easing himself slowly over the edge until only his head was above the top of wall. He then hung down until his arms were fully extended and let go. He landed softly on the ledge, “No fucking problem!” and then he repeated the feat with similar aplomb.
Jimmy accomplished the deed, with far less dexterity, nevertheless emerging unscathed at the bottom. They both crossed the line and quickly mounted the platform. Apprehensively I considered what I was about to do, but dithered as I approached the point of no return. “Come on for f**k sake!” shouted Fletch, “Get a f**king move on, the train will be here soon.”
It was now or never. I didn’t much fancy now, but never meant making my own way back to Paddington, and hoping to rendezvous at the pub. I struggled to summon the courage as I slowly manoeuvred into position, lowering my weight gradually over the precipice, whilst grasping the top of the wall in a vice-like grip. When I was hanging at full stretch, I realised that there was no going back. My grip was weakening and I decided that the moment had arrived. I released my grasp and plummeted for what seemed like an age, bracing my legs for the impact, which came with a suddenness that I should have expected. My landing was too hard, my heels were too near to the edge, and my momentum was pulling me backwards, ably assisted by Mister Gravity. My arms began too thrash wildly like an epileptic octopus, in a futile attempt to prove Sir Isaac Newton wrong. I toppled backwards, now more reminiscent of one of the bizarre pioneers of aviation, who would throw themselves off bridges with a couple of home-made flimsy wicker wings strapped to their arms. At least their spectacular falls were broken by water. I somehow managed to twist in mid-air and crashed to earth with an almighty thud and a huge grunt as the air exited my lungs at the speed of sound.
I was stunned for a few seconds, but slowly ascertained that I wasn’t seriously injured. Shaken but not stirred. As my mind cleared I realised that I was prostrate across the track, with the top of my head pointing towards the platform. I rose slowly, firstly into a bent position and then used my hands to push against my knees as I endeavoured to straighten up. My head now emerged above the platform floor, and I put my forearms flat on the platform and started to raise my aching body. I was starring at countless lower limbs, when I became aware of two pairs of black shoes about six feet away. As I craned my neck in order to look for Jimmy and Fletch, the black shoes stepped toward me. I gazed up to find that the feet belonged to two very unimpressed beat Bobbies, who hauled me vigorously onto the platform. They quizzed me about my entry and I hastily hatched the best excuse that my shocked and sozzled brain could muster. Namely, that I couldn’t find the entrance and was worried that I would miss my train. So obviously I scaled a high wall, negotiated a perilous descent and crossed a busy railway track.
I was escorted from the station, fortunate not to be charged with being drunk and disorderly. Jimmy came too, but Fletch refused to leave with us and so we were separated for the second time that afternoon.
Following our embarrassing ejection, Jimmy and I were faced with the dilemma of finding an alternative route back to Paddington. We wandered aimlessly for a few minutes, discussing our options. A taxi would be far too expensive for our measly budget; and walking, even if we knew the way was out of the question in our current drunken state. We decided to find a bus stop and take the bus to anywhere with a tube station, which would surely be easily accessible by more orthodox means. Our all day travel cards allowed us to use either form of public transport, the Tube or the Bus, and hence we wouldn’t have to pay.
We headed in the direction in which we had come, when we spotted a Welsh coach in the distance. The Dragon filling the rear window a testimony to it’s origin. Maybe we could cadge a lift to anywhere in the general direction of Paddington. As we drew near to the bus, we thought our luck was in. A large sign in the window proclaimed this bus to be the transportation of the Dowlais Male Voice Choir. ‘Uncle’ Michael Houlahan was a member of the choir and a keen rugby follower. ‘Uncle’ was a title used as a term of respect for an elder as he wasn’t a real uncle. Michael was a good friend of our parents and was also Jimmy’s Godfather. We asked if he was on the bus, but alas we were told that he was not. We pleaded for a lift, but were turned away, as if we were lepers not drunks.
We continued our search for a bus stop and then waited a few minutes until one arrived. We were soon in a tube station, the name of which slips my mind, as many of the more mundane details of this day would. We managed to plot a course back to Paddington, which would involve several changes of line, and waited no more than a couple of minutes for the next train. On board we were only able to stand as the train was by now full of rugby supporters mostly of an older generation, many of whom were already in full voice in joyous celebration of a Welsh victory. We joined in, even if we didn’t know all the words of the traditional songs, adding weight to the chorus by making up noises which went unnoticed amid the cacophony. We were saddened when we had to change trains whilst the concert was still in full flow.
The next train was also swinging, but the traditional theme had been replaced by the bawdier songs synonymous with many rugby clubs of the time. I have to admit that we were both more familiar with this genre of music, so once again we joined in with gusto, and even gave a duet when a momentary lull in the proceedings allowed us an opening.
We had to change once more and found a third concert in progress. The underground had become The National Theatre of Wales for the day, and this theatre was playing a concert of the sixties and seventies. The Beetles, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beach Boys and The Drifters all had their songs on the play list. A scruffy young man boarded at the next station, took out his guitar and at first began accompanying the choir. Before long he was leading us in song, and the carriage was resonating to a hundred Welsh voices.
|Plenty of Chilli for Jimmy please!|
We finally reached Paddington, with a mixture of emotions, and set off to rendezvous with Fletcher. The pub was packed and so we had a good look around to see if Fletch had arrived. We couldn’t spot him and so decided to try another pub in case he had gone there first. As we approached the door, someone asked if we were looking for our mate. We said that we were and they pointed toward the corner of the pub. “I think he’s over there,” he pointed. We pushed through to the corner to find Fletch slumped in a chair, in a drunken stupor. We gave him a gentle shake, but he wasn’t roused. A sharp slap to the cheek did the trick and he sprang up, almost knocking over a table full of drinks in the process.
More singing and partying ensued, Fletch now woken from his slumber, was once again full of beans. Before long he had muscled in on an arm wrestling challenge, and as usual he was beating all-comers; however, he did eventually meet his match. Much of the night remains a blur, a mixture of singing and dancing interspersed between the frequent visits to the bog.
As closing time approached, we set off for the club that we had visited the previous night. We again paid our two quid, had the backs of our hands stamped and went downstairs. I was greeted by the Aussie Bouncers. “How the f**k are you mate?” they asked. “You took a mighty fall last night!”
“Is that how I got this black eye?” I asked.
One of the bouncers began to recount what had happened the precious night. “It was getting on a bit, and you were ready to leave. You were as p*ssed as a fart, but stopped to talk to us on the way out. You started up the stairs, but after about five or six steps, suddenly you just keeled over, tumbled back down taking a couple of bar stools with you.”
“So that’s how I got this shiner?”
“No, we picked you up and dusted you down. You didn’t have a f**king scratch on you. We asked if you needed a hand to get out, but you insisted that you were all right and that we could let you go. So we did and you fell straight f**king over again, this time hitting you f**king head on the way down. We helped you upstairs, where you scoffed your kebab before heading off.”
I thanked them for their kindness and offered to buy them a drink, which luckily for my Barclaycard they declined. We set about enjoying ourselves but the rest of the night whizzed by and we were soon back in the doss house, having failed dismally in the pulling stakes.
Paddington – The Homecoming
The next morning was another bright and dry day. Fletcher’s underpants were put on-inside-out and back-to-front and we gathered all our things together. That took about five seconds and we were off. I must admit that I was feeling mighty frail inside, and hoped that we would have an easy passage home, and hopefully be in my own bed by teatime. We had a déjà vu experience over breakfast, as we discussed the final stage of our plan, how would we get home? It was decided that we should just take a stroll around and look for any Welsh supporters, and just ask for a lift, as simple as that.
The Sunday morning streets were not noticeably different from any other day. We thought that our luck was in when we bumped into two Merthyr Girls called Gail and Helen, both of whom I knew vaguely from the hospital. I think that they were medical secretaries. But they refused to give us a lift as they only had a Fiesta, and there simply was not enough room for us all, they said. Nothing to do with the three day old smelly clothes we were wearing of course!
Fletcher bought a paper and leaned against a wall, whilst I again went to withdraw a little money. When I returned I noticed that there was a very posh looking coach, resplendently bedecked in red and white, outside an equally posh looking hotel. “Have you asked them for a lift?”
Jimmy shook his head. “I think they may be a bit too posh for us,” he said.
“Fletch, go and ask them for a lift,” I ordered. “F**k off, ask them your-f**king-self!” he replied.
So I walked slowly up to the front of the coach, to where a tall gentleman in blue jeans, a Welsh rugby shirt and an oversized Welsh top hat stood. He reminded me a little of the worst Welsh number eight and captain that I could remember, and the now the worst ever sports commentator, that’s right, the pompous prat Eddie Butler. Luckily this guy was nothing like Mr. Butler as he stood there supervising the loading of crates of beer onto the coach.
“Any chance of a lift please mate,” I asked politely.
“Where are you going?”
“No problem, we are going to Porth and can drop you off on the A470 at Ponty, as long as you don’t mind a stop off in Slough. We’re going to a Working Men’s Club for a few beers on the way home.”
“That’s alright; can you squeeze my two mates in as well?” I pointed to Jimmy and Fletch who were still leaning against the wall.
“Sure, there’s plenty of room, jump on.”
“I’ve just got to get some cash and we’ll be with you,” I said, realising that the little cash that I had withdrawn would not last long if we were stopping at a club. I went back to the boys and told them that we were sorted. At first they thought that I was pulling their legs, and only believed me when we actually boarded.
We took a seat, there were many as the coach was about half empty, although the beer supply took up all of the back seat. The coach got underway and we introduced ourselves to some of our new companions. They were all players or members of Porth Rugby Club, who are fierce rivals of Dowlais. I had already sampled their warm welcome in a blood bath in the mud, during my first season of First XV rugby. Ron Fealey, our first-aider, had to excise an egg-sized haematoma from Robert Bow’s right eyebrow following some let’s say ‘Creative use of the boot’ and several other walking wounded exited long before the solace of the final whistle.
The game was played in atrocious conditions, on a freezing winter’s afternoon and following the hostilities we were subjected to a ritual of water torture. The showers were not working and so we all had to line up, naked except for numerous layers of good Welsh mud. Then we were hosed down with icy cold water by a malicious sadist, in a scene reminiscent of one of those World War II Prisoner of War films I had watched as a youngster. However, such on field shenanigans were always forgotten over a pint, as the afternoons exploits were analysed by the bruised gladiators.
We were quickly made to feel welcome as our hosts offered us the hospitality of their lavish liquor supply. We regaled our captivated cohorts with the tale of the previous two incident packed days since we had walked out of my flat and headed for the City. The journey was of a two can duration, but when we reached
Slough we were unable to find the proposed club. After a fruitless half hour search ‘Eddie Butler’ made the popular decision to stop in the next available drinking establishment.
We all piled in and were soon enjoying a game of snooker and a cold pint of lager. We were on our second pint when I went off for a sh*t. The combination of poor diet and a lack of even a morsel of hygiene in any of the toilets I had visited this weekend, meant that I hadn’t emptied my bowels for two days. I had just settled in, when there was a sharp bang on the door.
“Richie are you in there?” shouted Jimmy.
“Aye, what the f**k do you want?”
“The bus is f**king leaving! They are going to another pub. Hurry up!”
“Alright, tell them to f**king hang on a minute!” I pleaded. I heard the door squeak open and Jimmy was gone.
Now as everyone knows, once the tortoise has poked his head out, there is no going back. In this case there was a small family of reptiles trying to escape their incarceration, and it was a full five minutes before I was able to leave my seat and even then I hadn’t fully finished the job. My belly ached with the effort of having to hold back the advancing contents of my colon as I rushed outside and there was Jimmy, on his way back in to get me. I boarded the bus, my face unable to conceal my embarrassment, as I was greeted by a chorus of ‘Have a good sh*t, then!’
The bus stopped again shortly and everyone adjourned to the bar except me. The exertions of the weekend had finally caught up with me, and despite the protestations and then the ridicule administered by the boys, I decided to stay on board and have a kip.
“Well you’ll have to give us some f**king money then!” said Fletch.
“I’ve only got a tenner left!”
“That’ll do,” he said as he took the cash and he alighted the coach. I think that I dozed off for a while, but was woken by Jimmy urging me to join them as they were having the craic. But I stayed put, and dozed off again. When I next woke up I felt quite refreshed and decided to join the boys. I entered the pub and found Jimmy and Fletch and asked if they wanted a pint.
“We’re off in a minute, it’s stop tap,” said Fletch, and so we got back on the bus.
The long journey down the M4 passed slowly, with many of the travellers sleeping off their afternoon session. At one point some of the Porth boys sat at the back of the coach, started cheering at a red Fiesta, with two girls in the front seat that was overtaking us. “Get your tits out” was the common call, and one young lad did a moony. We crossed the aisle to have a look and were surprised to see that the two girls were the same Gail and Helen who had earlier refused us a lift. We briefly made eye contact with them then returned to our seats, a little embarrassed at the antics of some of our companions. Encouraged by the popular majority, the coach driver toyed with the girls, increasing his speed slowly so that it took the exhausted Fiesta a full five minutes to execute the manoeuvre. And it only succeeded then because the coach driver decelerated and gave way to its tiny competitor.
Once the Fiesta had pulled back into the inside lane the coach picked up speed, and tried an overtaking manoeuvre of its own, managing to pull along side the Fiesta for a while, enabling those on the other side of the coach who were either too pissed or indifferent, to join in the sport. Thankfully the driver soon gave up the race and stopped pushing his machine to the limit.
Eventually we crossed over the Severn Bridge, and I felt the familiar surge of excitement that I always get when I see ‘Croeso I Gymru’ when returning from any ‘foreign excursion,’ course through my veins. The stretch of the M4 between the bridge and the A470 always seems interminably long and today was no different, but at long last we saw the exit sign for Merthyr Tydfil and we knew that home was not far away. It would take about fifteen minutes to get to Ponty, from where we could get a train and be home in less than an hour. It was about a and the sun had already set, giving way to the depression of the dark winter night.
We were now nearing Ponty when ‘Eddie’ came up to talk to us. “Look boys, we are going back to the Rugby Club, the steward is opening up for us. You’re welcome to join us, or we can drop you off. It’s up to you?”
In those archaic days of afternoon closing this was a glorious invitation. We held a brief conference, and quickly decided that we would be pleased to accept, but could they stop at a cashpoint in Ponty.
With my wallet replenished we reached Porth Rugby Club. ‘Eddie’ told us that they still had some money in their kitty and that there was a free bar until it ran out. We got a round in and adjourned to the pool room where Fletcher put down a marker and waited his turn. The unspoken rule of the pool room is ‘winner stays on.’
Fletch studied the players carefully, analysing each shot. “These boys aren’t up to much,” he remarked. “Fancy taking some money off them?”
Jimmy and I declined, saying that we weren’t in the mood. “Lend us a fiver then Rich, it’ll be easy f**king money!” I had to agree that the players weren’t up to Fletcher’s standard of pool and I gave him the fiver.
Fletch doesn’t play any worse when he’s drunk than when he’s sober, and sure enough, he made mince meat out of all comers. He won four games at a fiver a go before retiring from the action with a satisfied grin spread across his face. The evening raced by, and it was soon approaching nine o’ clock. We thanked our hosts and said our good-byes, asking for directions to the train station.
When we left the club, a light but persistent rain had begun to fall. We were extremely intoxicated by now and we staggered down the steep hill following the directions we had been given. In our drunken state, it didn’t take us long to forget the directions and we took a couple of haphazard turns down narrow terraced streets. We didn’t locate the station, but we did find a small ‘spit-and-sawdust’ pub. We went in and ordered three halves before asking the bar tender to point us in the direction of the station. We knocked back our drinks in one gulp and departed as quickly as we had come.
A couple of streets away and we had found the station, which was completely deserted. We spotted a guard in the signal hut and I climbed the steps to ask of the time of the next train to Ponty. “It’s due in fifteen minutes,” was his reply. The rain was becoming heavier and we could see no shelter on the desolate station. There was another pub just up the road from the station that we had passed by and we decided to have a swift one there while we waited, thus keeping us out of the rain.
It was a modern pub, with a good supply of local talent, which almost persuaded us to change plans, but the next train was the last and we didn’t want to be left stranded. And realistically we had no chance of pulling as we were drunk and in three day old clothes, not to mention my battered face. We dashed back to the station having managed to guzzle another pint and didn’t have to wait long for the train.
We had come so far without paying that we decided to get a free ride to Ponty in the toilet, so once on board we quickly took up residence. The train jerked into motion and we were underway. Soon we heard a knock on the door and the dreaded call of “Tickets please!” I whispered to the others to hide behind the door and that I would just pay for one single to Ponty and hope that the conductor didn’t realise that they were there. I would then give the boys a knock when the coast was clear. So I flushed the toilet, turned on the tap and washed my hands saying aloud, “Just coming!”
The guard was a tall young gentleman and I asked him for the required ticket. He tapped away at the keys on his ticket machine and asked for sixty pence. I gave him the money and he presented me with my ticket. As I started to make my way to a seat he said loud enough for everyone in the carriage to hear, “And what about the other two, are they going to Ponty too?” We were rumbled and I had to stump up for two more tickets. We sat disconsolately, not upset at having to fork out a total of £1.80, but that we had not been able to complete the return journey for nothing.
We soon arrived at Ponty station, which too was quite deserted. Fletch asked if I knew where the bog was, and I said that I did. I also needed a piss so I said that I would show him. The toilet was at the southernmost point of the long platform. Jimmy came too, but when we reached it we were dismayed to find it padlocked shut. I had noticed, however, that the bolt had not been drawn properly and that it wouldn’t be too difficult to prise it open. I didn’t let on that I had spotted this as I told the boys that I thought that I could pick the lock. They had started to walk away while I prised the lock away from the bolt which sure enough slid back easily. “There, I’ve done it!” I triumphantly exclaimed and they were both so amazed to see that the door was wide open that neither inspected the padlock, which was still clasped in the locked position.
The inside of the convenience was in complete darkness and after spending about half a minute patting the walls in search of a switch, we decided to proceed nevertheless. I stood close to a wall, feeling a little guilty as I was unable to tell if it was just a wall, or if indeed it was a urinal. Hoping that I hadn’t left a puddle for the cleaner to mop up, not a nice job first thing on a Monday morning, I went outside to wait for the boys. I became a little impatient when they failed to appear after a couple of minutes. I stood by the doorway and called to them to get a move on.
“We’re having a sh*t, but can’t find any f**king paper! Fletch replied pleadingly, “See if you can find something, Rich!”
I said that I would have a look and walked back up the platform. I felt sure that I would find a discarded newspaper, or a Sunday Supplement magazine. I did a tour of the waste bins in the station, visiting each in turn, but couldn’t find a single item that could even vaguely be construed as arse wiping material.
I walked back towards the toilet to break the bad news, but was surprised to see the boys emerge before I got there.
“Did you find the paper then?” I asked.
“No,” was Fletchers simple reply.
“Then what did you use?”
Jimmy spoke first. “Do you remember the fingerless gloves you loaned me when my hands were cold when we were hitching?” He continued without waiting for my response. “I used those.”
“And I used the pack of cards I brought in case we got bored!” said Fletch. “Anyway, I’ve got skid marks on the skid marks already!”
“You dirty pair of f**king b*st*rds!” was all that I could say to that.
We had enough time to dash to the nearest pub for another swift beer before setting off on the last leg of our adventure. This time we successfully pulled off the same toilet tactic that had failed miserably on the previous train, and we disembarked at Merthyr at 10:28 p.m. A hundred yard dash saw us beat the call for last orders at the nearby
, where we competed with each other to tell the remaining drunks of some of our adventures. Bernie Inn
We tried to flag down a taxi to take us back to my flat, no longer bothered about having to pay as we had already splashed out £1.80, but were picked up by one of my nurse colleagues from the residences who helped us complete our journey. Jimmy and Fletch fought over the little single bed as I settled on the floor with a pillow and my duvet and I slept for Wales.