Friday, 3 September 2010

Twickenham Triple Trip (Part 2) - £1.80 The Return

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.

Fletcher meets his match!

          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 quarter to five 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 Bernie Inn, where we competed with each other to tell the remaining drunks of some of our adventures.
          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.

Twickenham Triple Trip

Paddington – The Exodus

          It was the first ever Red Nose Day, the inaugural Comic Relief Day. Feeling listless, I staggered to the toilet, having to sit down for fear of fusing the lights. Few thoughts occupied my fog filled head. It had been a good party. The number of empty cider flagons and beer cans paid testimony to that fact. Of course I’d failed to pull. Even John Meyrick would have winced at the sight of me as I still carried the scars of the previous week’s Dollars fight night.
          I finished what had seemed to be an interminably long leak, splashed my face with the icy cold winter wake up water, and surveyed my battered face. I would never be one of the beautiful people, but today it looked like my features had been meted out by the ugly stick.
          I put the kettle on; a fast caffeine fix was needed, filled two chipped mugs which were in vastly superior condition to my own, with a plentiful supply of instant and slouched back into the bedroom. Jimmy was stirring, and then woke with a shriek as I stumbled over his prostrate body. I guessed that he wouldn’t make it to work again, but I didn’t have to be Einstein to solve that little puzzle. Was it two months or three since he started bunking off? His P45 would arrive soon, a damning indictment of a lager lout.

          “Fancy a coffee? You drunken bum.” A gruff “aye,” was the not unexpected response. I finished the fix and returned to the boudoir.

“Jim, this London thing doesn’t seem such a good idea. It’s wet, it’s cold and I’m f**king knackered!”

Jimmy sat up, staring up from the floor that had been his bed for the night. My tiny bed-sit was a tad small for two, but it seemed simply huge without Fletcher’s presence. Indeed I had lost my bed for the past few nights as three p*ss-heads had been embroiled in a drunken struggle for the comfort of my single bed. I had relinquished easily.
          When Fletch first arrived following the fire, he’d had the floor and I’d had a good nights’ sleep. I didn’t mind him having my bed when I worked nightshift. I was only mildly upset that he’d shared passionate moments with the frighteningly stacked Lois, even though I was amazed that the rickety bed stood up to the challenge. I was moderately upset that they had polished off my Austrian Duty Frees. What had thoroughly p*ssed me off was that I had been unable to rest my battered head on my own soft bed since the Monday session. I had settled down for the night leaving Fletcher and Jimmy with the dregs in my kitchen. However, my short lived slumber was suddenly shattered as first Fletch and then Jim squeezed in beside me. We battled for the duvet, the pillow and two and a half foot of width. I gave up, taking a pillow and the duvet and settled on the floor leaving the lovers to wrestle away over the remaining pillow and sheet.
          “Yeah,” he agreed. Jim still wasn’t fully in the land of the living, more like the land of the Living Dead. I calculated conversation was impossible for the next fifteen minutes and went to find something to eat. Alas old Mother Hubbard was in residence, so I just sipped slowly on my cooling coffee.
          As we sat in shared solitude, pondering life’s brutal fact that the more you enjoy yourself, the more you pay, a loud bang on the door shattered my fragile eardrums. It was Fletcher back from his latest conquest of Mount Lois. He had climbed her twin summits, plumbed the depths of her valley and lived to tell the tale. Jimmy’s bruised chin and cheek showed the sucking power of her limpet mouth.

          “Right, let’s go then boys; you’re still going aren’t you?”

“I’ve only got a tenner!” said Jim.

“Well I’ve got the cheque off the social to furnish my new flat and Richie’s got his Barclaycard. You can sub off us. What do you say Rich?”

“What the f*ck, let’s go!”

Great,” said Fletch, “But let’s have some grub first, I’m f**king starving!”

“There’s f*ck all to eat,” said I.

“I’ll sort something out,” said Jim as he wandered toward the kitchen.

The look of amazement in Fletcher’s eyes must have been mirrored in mine. Jimmy must have been 18 or 19 and was absolutely useless in the catering department.

He returned twenty minutes later with three plates, handing one to each of us.

“What the f**k is this?” enquired Fletch incredulously.

“Tangerine sandwiches; that’s all I could find, bread and tangerines, not even any f**king butter!” replied Jim.

“There was plenty of food here before you two greedy b*st*rds took up squatters rights!” I moaned. Jimmy bit into his, spraying us with juice as he did so.

          “Do you know what day it is?” asked Jim.

“Friday!” Fletch replied.

“No, it’s red nose day.”

“What the f**k is that?

“It’s something to do with charity. Some comedians are trying to raise money for good causes and you have to wear a red nose, a bit like a circus clown’s. Why don’t we get some?”

“I’ve got some triangular red things that were attached to the corners of the new shelf I’ve just put up, they’ll do.” I said.

We tried them on, but mine fell off quite easily, as did Jimmy’s. Fletch’s, however clung firmly to his misaligned nose. He seemed quite pleased with the effect, then took ours and squeezed and twisted them before plonking them firmly on Jimmy and my noses once again.

 “That f**king suits you, now let’s go shall we?”
We left the flat looking like it was in a state of emergency and set off. I was not exactly full of enthusiasm; nervous trepidation more adequately described my innermost feelings, as we embarked on an unscripted adventure. So we did have an outline plan: hitch-hike to London, find cheap digs, drink lots of beer, somehow find a way into the game, pull a few women, and cadge a lift home afterwards. We had Fletcher’s cheque, my Barclaycard and Jimmy’s tenner. That was it.

          The first thing we had to do was cash the cheque and wait for Fletch to pay off a couple of debts. Then we bought a few supplies for the journey, some sandwiches, sausage rolls, et cetera, and added them to a previously whisky filled hip-flask. That done, we had an uneventful pint and a game of pool in the Penydarren Social club. We walked into town, calling in at the Scala for a couple more pints, explaining our scheme to Richie, the morose proprietor, and an odd assortment of regulars. The consensus was that we had ‘no f**king chance of getting beyond Cardiff, let alone reach London, three men hitch-hiking together.’

          We set off at 2 pm, walked to the roundabout near The Fountain Shop and stuck out our thumbs. It was a beautiful, crisp January afternoon, with clear blue skies, but precious little warmth from the glowing sun. We couldn’t believe our luck when Billy Rudge and Buncey stopped almost immediately and asked us where we were going. We explained our quest, and they told us to jump in. They were on their way to Cardiff and said they could drop us off at the M4. Billy and Buncey were two hustlers, working on and selling cars. Buncey had survived an IRA bomb in Belfast on a tour of duty, which fortunately, following several operations and a long recuperation had not left him with any severe physical problems. He was fairly deaf in one ear, but didn’t allow that to handicap him. They drove us the twenty miles or so to the M4 and wished us luck.

          We emptied our bursting bladders behind the large blue motorway sign, indicating London as the end of the road. We took a shot of scotch each from the hip-flask, to ward off the chilling breeze and took turns to hold out our thumbs as the traffic raced by. Jimmy complained of the cold and refused to take his turn, but I loaned him my fingerless gloves. As our mood, buoyed by our initial success, began to wane our luck once again came good. A car stopped and we clambered in, both relieved to be out of the now freezing winter afternoon and on our way once again.

          A pleasant young man was on his way to Bristol. He asked us where we were going, and we again explained our adventure. He said that he could drop us at the Severn Services as that should be a good place to get a lift. The second leg of our journey took about half an hour and we thanked our chauffeur as he dropped us off. Our first action was to take a lengthy leak, which we did in the comfort of the service station. Not wanting to delay our journey any more than necessary, we preceded to the slip road back onto the M4, a slightly confusing junction, seeming to be comprised of two lanes, one to the M4 and the other to who knows where.
          We took our place, sitting on a crash barrier, eating a sandwich and warming ourselves with the fiery whisky. We could clearly see the east bound carriageway of the motorway from our vantage point. Every other vehicle carried the Red Dragon. We had donned our heads in red and white bobble hats; the only clue to our destination, but coach loads of fellow pilgrims spotted and saluted us as they sped past. We even thought that we had spotted Vas, a good mate of Jimmy’s and well known to us all, on one of the coaches. We hadn’t waited long when a car pulled up; its occupant was an elderly gentleman who told us to get in. As he pulled off he asked us where we were going. He immediately stopped the car once more on hearing our reply.

“You’re on the wrong road,” he exclaimed. “The slip road to the motorway is that lane there.” He pointed to the other lane. We disembarked sheepishly, thanked him for his help and then crossed the road to the correct place.
          As our mood again began to wane, lift number three arrived. Ironically, the occupant explained that he had been in Merthyr and was on his way home to Swindon. He had enjoyed the morning hang-gliding at Pentrebach, a hotbed of activity for thrill seekers thanks to the shape of the valley, which benefits from the ideal thermal conditions essential when risking breaking your neck.
          We were making good time as we again took up position on yet another M4 slip road. There was however some competition. Two hitchers had claimed the best spot at the very beginning of the slip road, where the traffic had not managed to reach velocities which would prohibit a pick-up. We were walking to a position some hundred yards or so further along, cursing our misfortune, when we were amazed to see a car stop just ahead of us, to the obvious mortification of our rivals. As we approached we were even more surprised to see that the occupant was a gorgeous young girl. She wound down the window and before we could say anything she asked if we were from Bath University. This question came out of the blue. We answered that we were not, but that we were on our way to London for the match. She apologised that she couldn’t then give us a lift and roared off.
          It’s a sad reflection on our students if three scruffy, ridiculous looking Welshmen could be mistaken for some of their kind, but how we all wished that we had lied. We probably would have been rumbled by the simplest reference to Bath University, but we would have been in the car with a beautiful lady, heading in the right direction and with the chance to win her heart before she ejected us at the next junction.

          We now had to wait, dreaming of the sexy student, whilst our rivals seemed to laugh and take satisfaction from our rejection. The sun had gone down on us quicker than a Gurnos single mother pursuing a potential step-dad and it was getting much colder. It must have been about twenty minutes before we were picked up, by which time the remnants of our supplies had been consumed. This lift was a business man on his way home to Reading. Our disgruntled rivals were left to wait in the cold, and I felt a little guilty, but only until the car pulled away.

          Another wait at Reading and then white van man arrived. There was room for two up front, Fletch next to the driver and I sat by the window, but Jimmy had to share the back with various building tools and materials. He perched himself on a wheel arch and clung to the side as Sterling Moss went about winning the Drivers Championship, dodging in and out of the rush hour traffic, overtaking and undertaking in whichever lane was clear. My eyes dashed back and forth between the road in front and the dial on the speedometer. Fletch had gone a little pale. He turned to me and he whispered “Is that speedo in miles or kilometres?” He went a whiter shade of pale when I whispered back “Miles.” We reached top speeds of about 130mph and we did not find out whether the van had brakes until we left the M4 at Chiswick.

          It was five to six, as he dropped off the three most relieved Welshmen alive. It had taken less than four hours to get here. “There’s a pub across the road, it will be open in five minutes. There’s a Chinese restaurant opposite and the tube is just down the road,” and he left to a symphony of screeching tyres, amid clouds of acrid diesel fumes, as quickly as we had came. Luckily there was also a cash machine nearby, from which I withdrew a good wad.
          We all needed a pint following our white knuckle ride and so we decided to go to the pub first, which was just opening. Although to be honest if we had been driven all the way from Merthyr by Miss Daisy, the same decision would have been reached.

Once inside we discussed the next step of our plan over the most costly beer this man had ever bought; to find cheap digs in the most expensive city in Britain. Fletch had been up for the match when he was still a pup and his first suggestion was Paddington.

“Is there lots of nightlife and plenty of talent?” was our only concern. Fletch said that that is where it all happens. We had another pint, Fletch still complaining about the price and then went to get some food.

          The tube station was almost deserted by the time we got there. The rush hour long past. We somehow navigated ourselves to Paddington and quickly found a few candidates for the Doss House of the Year. We rang the bell of the least dirty looking place. A few moments later we heard a strange buzzing sound, but no-one came to the door. We waited a short while then rang again. The same strange buzzing sound ensued, but this time for a longer period of time. Fletch was getting impatient so he banged firmly on the door, which opened slightly. “The f**king thing’s not locked,” he said pushing the door open wide. We went in, the place was a mess having peeling wall paper, with stains of an unknown origin which might have been there since the First World War.
          There was a small hatch in the wall and an Asian gentleman asked what we wanted. Fletch could have bartered for Wales and he cheekily asked how much a room for three would be for two nights. We were told that it would be £10 each per night. By the time Fletch had finished it was £17 each for the two nights. By the look on his face, you would have thought that Fletch had simultaneously out-negotiated Richard Branson and Alan Sugar. We had already decided that all we needed was somewhere to crash out and so we had accomplished the second part of our plan.
          It was only when we went to our room that we realised that we had left home so hurriedly that we had forgotten to pack any luggage at all. No change of clothing and no washing paraphernalia. The room seemed fairly clean; there were three single beds, and a utility area in the corner, otherwise known as a sink. The toilet was up or down a flight of stairs; hence I use the term utility area for the sink.

          We were in London, the night was still young, and so we set off to explore the area. This didn’t appear to be ‘where it all happens’ at all, but we did see four pubs. We went into the first where the bar was almost deserted, no talent in sight, ordered a round, again staggered by the price, and then migrated to the quiz machine in the corner. We tried our luck, having a good run before giving up on the pound we had each staked.

          Then four burly men politely asked, in what I think was a brummie accent, if we would mind moving whilst they ‘cleaned out the machine.’ Their attitude didn’t come across as being a know-it-all type of arrogance, but of complete confidence. We moved aside to allow the men to try their luck. Three of them obscured the machine from any prying eyes behind the bar, whilst the forth fed a long white plastic strip with a hooked end into the coin slot. He then proceeded to push a large number of pound coins into the same slot, tugging sharply on the plastic strip as each coin went in. Each coin was immediately rejected by the machine, but had been registered as a pound credit. When the man had put his last coin into the machine, he pressed the collect button and an equivalent number of pound coins were paid out. This process took about two minutes and was repeated until the machine was empty. The men casually stood around finishing their beer. They were obviously professionals.

Fletcher started chatting to them. He had to ask them, but they didn’t have a spare strip. As they were leaving he asked if they would leave a couple of pound in credit in the machine, “So that we can win back our losses.” He didn’t understand at first why we all p*ssed ourselves laughing.
          We investigated the next bar, which seemed a little livelier than the first, although not exactly bursting with talent. We were getting used to the extravagant bar prices by now, and so there were no expletives this time. After a few more pints we were feeling hungry. We had noticed a Kebab shop next to the pub, and decided to give it a try. Jimmy and I had never had a kebab before, but Fletcher guaranteed us that they were ‘tidy, just order what I order and be careful with the chilli!’ So reassured, we joined the queue.
          When it came to our turn, we let the experienced Fletch order first. He asked for a large doner kebab. The assistant hacked away at the meat, as Jim and I discussed what kind of strange beast had been slain to provide this feast. The assistant asked if he would like salad, Fletch asked for a lot of salad. The assistant asked if he would like chilli sauce, Fletch said he’d only like a little chilli sauce please. The assistant used a large ladle to scoop out the homemade chilli sauce, which had an ample supply of whole chilli beans floating within, like the deadly World War Two sea mines I recalled from old black and white war films, from a large glass bowl. “That’s enough!” cried Fletch, stopping the assistant from emptying the full contents of the ladle. Now it was my turn and I asked for the same as Fletch.
          When it came to Jimmy’s turn he asked for a doner kebab with no salad. The assistant asked if he’d like any sauce and to our astonishment we heard Jimmy say “Plenty of chilli sauce please!” Not only did Jimmy not stop the assistant from emptying the whole ladle-full onto his kebab, he then said “More please!”

“You must be f**king mad, Jim. That stuff is like fire!” Fletch said in astonishment. As the assistant poured another serving of the molten sauce over the kebab, a very slight smirk appeared on his face; as we briefly made eye contact and in that moment we shared a silent laugh.
          We all leaned against the pub wall and I took a small bite. “By f**k, Fletch, you weren’t lying about this chilli sauce,” I said as I mopped the sweat from my head.

We looked at Jimmy to see how he was doing. His face was reddening and sweat was streaming from his head, but he wouldn’t give in. I had just about managed to finish mine when I heard Jimmy scream as if he’d been scalded. “Water, get me some f**king water now!” he wailed.
          As it was my round, I went into the bar and as water wasn’t much cheaper than beer, I thought that beer would cool down Jimmy’s burning gullet every bit as well as water could. So I returned outside with three pints of beer. Jimmy immediately threw about half of his beer into his face. Through the beer I could see that his eyes were swelling up and deeply bloodshot. The first dousing had given only partial relief, and so after a few moments Jimmy hurled the rest of the pint into his face. Luckily this seemed to have done the trick as Jimmy said, “Right, I’m empty, whose round is it?”
          Once he had calmed down a little, Jimmy explained that the chilli had been so hot that the sweat had been burning his eyes.

“That’s no f**king reason to waste good beer!” said Fletch. “Especially at these f**king prices!”

“No that’s not why I chucked the beer in my eyes. I chucked the beer in my eyes because I wiped the sweat away with the back of my hand, which I soon realised was covered in that f**king chilli sauce!”

          Jimmy moaned for a while as Fletch wouldn’t buy his round until he’d finished his pint. “That’s your problem,” he said and Jimmy had to wait. We found that the next pub was quite full. A good sign we hoped as we struggled to the bar. Before long the room was filled with song. At first traditional Welsh songs, but inevitably came renditions of the Blue Brother favourites including; ‘I’ll F**k Anyone Including You!’ ‘When I’m Sixty-Four,’ ‘I Don’t Mind,’ ‘I’m an Alki,’ ‘Favourite Things,’ and ‘So Are the Rest of the Boys.’ Jimmy and I sat down following our session and Fletcher disappeared for a while.

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          He reappeared in quite a hurry. “Boys, have you got any pound coins on you, quick!” he said very excitedly.

“What for?” we enquired.

“I’ve pulled this smart bird, we were just leaving, going back to her place, like. Anyway, she asks me if I’ve got any contraceptives. So I tell her not to go anywhere and I’ll be right back, right. Well I get to the bogs but the machine only takes f**king pound coins and I ain’t got none.

So we gave him a couple of quid and called him a lucky b*st*rd as he left. The place was really buzzing, but kicking out time was approaching like a thief in the night. We were wondering what to do when Fletch reappeared once again.

“She’s f**king gone. I got back as soon as I f**king could and she wasn’t f**king there.” He almost wept. “So I looked outside, in case she’d gone out for a bit of fresh air, cos she was looking a bit queasy,” he went on. “And there she was, walking up the f**king street in a lovely black mini-skirt, her tight arse wiggling as she walked a-f**king-way from me, with some other lucky f**king b*st*rds hand on f**king it.”
Me and Jimmy nearly p*ssed ourselves on the spot.

Ready for a night out in London

          We managed to get another round in, but were still wondering where to go when some guy from Swansea, but living and working in London, pointed us in the direction of a Kebab House with a disco downstairs. He said that you pay £2 to go in and you get a free Kebab on the way out. It sounded good to us so off we went.
          It was just like the guy said. We paid our two quid, had the backs of our hands stamped and went downstairs. We were all well pissed by now, but we were running on adrenaline. I chatted to the Aussie Bouncers for a while, telling them about my sister down under. I can vaguely remember dancing. Then the room started spinning and the next thing I know was waking up in the doss house with a king-size headache.

Twickenham – The Match

          Fletch and Jimmy were sleeping noisily, moaning as if in pain. Their bodies slumped grotesquely, almost like they had been shot in the back and sent sprawling across their beds, as I arose from my slumber. It was still early so I used the utility area, having great difficulty in getting Percy back to the horizontal, and climbed back into bed. I suddenly became aware of a throbbing pain in my left eye, and a persistent banging across my forehead. It didn’t feel like a typical hangover, but I guessed that that was all it was.
          Gradually new life breathed into the pair. Fletcher lit a fag without getting up. Jimmy was next up at the utility area; he glanced across at me in the semi-light, and then p*ssed over his foot in surprise.

“What the f**k happened to you?” he exclaimed

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve got a f**king beauty by there. Fletch, take a look at this!”

“Take a look at f**king what?” I asked anxiously.

Then Fletch sat up on his bed, “I can’t see f**k all from here without my glasses.” He fumbled for his specs, found them and took a look. “Who the f**k have you been fighting with, you’ve got a right f**king shiner all right?”

“I haven’t been fighting anyone, at least I can’t remember if I did?” And the answer to that question would have to wait for another sixteen hours.

          There was no chance of getting any more sleep, so we swilled ourselves as best we could with water and carbolic soap, before putting on our well worn clothes. Fletcher decided to put his underpants on in-side-out saying that he didn’t want skid marks on the skid marks. He looked like Jack Nicholson in The Shining as he washed. His already thinning hair, which was still moderately long, sprang out in all directions and his unshaven face was more than a little foreboding. A gap-toothed grin did little to undermine the ominous menace portrayed. While his twisted nose added the coupe de grace to this portrait of insanity.

The morning after a night out in London

          Having dragged ourselves back together, we set out in search of breakfast. The outside world was bustling, the swarm of ants obliviously performing the monotonous routine of their inane collective existence. It was a bright, crisp morning, with only a slight threat of rain. The kebab house was now serving breakfast. Through the window we could see last nights’ assistant wiping clean one of only four tables in the empty eatery. We entered and sat in the corner, away from the widow, and away from the prying eyes of passers-by.
          We examined the small leaflet that impersonated a menu, and placed an order within our measly budget. Our coffees were swiftly served, as was a quantity of toast that we had not ordered. The pungent aroma of frying bacon instantly awoke our tender taste buds from their stupor. We tucked in while we waited for our Full English Breakfast, which was taking appreciably longer than we expected. The assistant was on his own, taking orders, cooking and cleaning. He headed our way, but with another pot of coffee and some more toast. We again tucked in, wondering how much extra the extras would cost. At last the feast arrived, and was despatched in a tenth of the time it took to prepare. We were surprised to have yet more servings of fresh coffee and toast, which were despatched with relish.
          We were filled with trepidation as we went to settle our bill, but somehow we were charged less than the amount that we had calculated from our original order. We would breakfast here tomorrow as well. We returned to our digs, laden with meagre supplies: three tooth brushes, tooth paste and some multi-purpose deodorant, wherein we discussed the next stage of our plan. How would we get into the game? We began to formulate a strategy as we cleaned our teeth. Cardiff was playing London Welsh at Old Deer Park this morning, maybe there would be a few tickets going spare. We decided that that is where we would go. Before we left, we sprayed our clothes with copious amounts of deodorant, which only partially covered the mixed odours of sweat, fuel fumes, kebab and stale cigarettes and beer.

          We headed for the tube station, via the cash machine, replenishing our funds for the day. I withdrew a wad which should last until we were home. We had decided that should we lose each other, we would meet up after the match, in the last pub that we were in the previous night. The copious quantity of coffee had sharpened our senses, and we managed to figure out our route to Richmond, which involved travelling on different underground lines, before finally getting the district line to our final destination.
          We bought our tickets, the helpful sales assistant advised us that an all day travel card for all zones would be our best option, and found our way to the correct platform. We were warned to ‘mind the gap’ and our journey proceeded as most tube journeys do. Nobody made eye contact and nobody spoke. People got on and people got off, but nothing changed in this sub-existence. We changed lines a few times until at last we were on the district line and emerged into the real world of doom and gloom. Richmond was about seven or eight stops down the line. A discarded Times lay on the seat and Fletch and I attempted the crossword. I wouldn’t describe us as crossword addicts, but we had been known to buy two copies of a paper and play for a pound, or a pint, or even for the glory. As we trundled in and out of stations, we squabbled about who should hold the paper while the other read the clues. We passed the paper to and fro and wrangled over some of the solutions.
          The train had stopped in yet another suburban station and the usual incomprehensible announcement informed passengers of the route to be taken. Suddenly Jimmy leapt to his feet and said we had to get off. Fletch and I continued with our crossword.

“This goes all the way to Richmond,” I assured him.

“No it f**king doesn’t. He said 'change here for f**king Richmond!'” Jimmy was getting agitated and started jumping up and down as we persisted in ignoring him, and then got off. We peered at him standing on the platform, but noticed several people in both white and red rugby shirts.

“If we don’t get off, we’ll lose him,” I said.

“If we get off, and find out that we should have stayed on, I’ll give the little f**ker a clip!” replied Fletch as we just beat the automatic door.
          The train rumbled off into the distance as Fletch and I eyeballed Jimmy. “He said change here for f**king Richmond!” Jimmy insisted, “Ask somebody, go on!”

I asked a middle aged man clad in the Three Feathers, who corroborated Jimmy’s report. “You're f**king lucky that you were right, or you’d have had a f**king clip!” Fletch unfairly admonished Jimmy. “How the f**k did you understand what the f**ker said?”

Jimmy shrugged his shoulders in reply.

          We sat on a bench, the excitement rising in our full bellies. There was a lot of rugby talked, but Fletch and I resumed our mental callisthenics. By the time our train arrived we had managed to complete one clue, but even that we decided, was not a hundred percent. The rest of the journey passed uneventfully. We disembarked into a very busy Richmond station, which was full of fans and touts in equal numbers, all asking for ‘any spares’. We headed out of the station and asked for directions to London Welsh.
          En route we found an Off Licence, and continued on our way. I had a supply of Tennents Super, whilst Jimmy and Fletch were loaded with Bow. It was barely eleven, and we were back on the pop. We found Old Deer Park, paid to go in after realising there was little prospect of sneaking in and walked around the pitch to the nearly full grandstand. We were not pleased to find out that there was an additional charge for admission to the grandstand, and so wandered over to an empty temporary stand, held together by dodgy looking scaffolding, that must have seen better days. There was a notice taped across the steps leading to this erection warning that the stand is not safe, do not enter. We entered figuring the combined weight of the three of us (less than forty stones) would not pose a significant danger to the rickety stand. We broke into our beer supply and awaited the start of the match.
          The ground was quickly filling up, with thousands of vibrant fans lining the touchline opposite in a sea of red. We were not unduly concerned when a few more joined us in the ‘Welsh End,’ but as the game kicked off more and more clambered onto the unsteady construction, which groaned under its onerous responsibility. The crowd had swelled to many times more than London Welsh would be expecting for a typical home game, and the match got underway with a carnival atmosphere pervading.
          As we swigged our beer, we realised that it would be futile searching for tickets for the main event. The match passed uneventfully, as we replenished our cardiovascular system with an endless infusion of alcohol.
          We left the ground promptly at the end of an instantly forgettable match and set off to walk the couple of miles to Twickenham. My four cans of Super long gone, I had cadged a bottle of Bow off each of my compatriots, and we all swigged as we swaggered down the street, in a Celtic cavalcade. We had a couple of extortionate pints, even by London standards, in one of only a few dreary pubs, whilst we discussed the virtues of sneaking in. With the kick off fast approaching we decided to try our luck at bribing the turnstile operator, and marched on the Home of English Rugby. There was little security outside the arena and we found it easy to reach the outer boundaries of the stadium, which was poorly protected in comparison to the almost impregnable Citadel of the old Cardiff Arms Park.
          I led the way as we advanced on the turnstiles feeling like there was a butterfly collector clambering around inside my colon. There was a surprisingly short queue and I boldly stormed in, slapping a carefully concealed fiver down on the counter, covered by my open hand. The operator, not realising what was going on fell for my sucker punch. He automatically released the pressure on his foot peddle and I felt a surge of euphoria pulse through my body as the turnstile clanked almost melodiously as I set it in motion.
          I was in, my scheme had worked perfectly. I had breached the English fortifications without having to fire a shot in anger. I felt like I had planned the perfect incursion strategy. Napoleon and his huge army had failed, the enormity of the Spanish Armada had failed, and Adolf Hitler and His f**king Third Reich had failed where Richie Phillips from Merthyr had single-handedly succeeded.
          As I walked away from the turnstile my head swimming with my success, I heard a shrill cry from behind. “He hasn’t got a ticket!” as I cast a backward glance the operator repeated his cry in an unrelenting voice and managed to attract the attention of a member of the Met. I marched on, a little bit of the swagger missing from my stride, and I was approached by the Old Bill. I had no ticket stub with which to repudiate the sustained allegation, “Yes, that one,” pointed the malodorous f**king operator.
          “where's your ticket?” was the not unexpected question, to which I replied that I had paid five pound to get in. “You can’t get in without a ticket. Come on let’s go,” and he began to frogmarch me back out of the stadium. “But he’s got my fiver!” I was allowed to retrieve the cash before rejoining the boys. My moment of triumph and the taste of victory had vanished before I’d had the chance to savour and cherish it, and had instead been substituted by the bitter sting of defeat.
          I was really p*ssed off as I joined the boys, whose advance had been halted at the turnstile. We walked away from the stadium, our soaring spirits crushed; my confidence had taken a massive setback. “Let’s watch it in the f**king pub!” and the others agreed. The pubs had all filled to bursting point with survivors from both camps crammed inside, as the kick off rapidly approached. We managed to gain access to one, and had a fifteen minute battle to reach the bar. It was Fletchers round, and Jimmy and I stood back as he vied with the other thirsty combatants at the bar. Fletch vanished amid the bustling throng for several minutes before reappearing empty handed. “They are taken the p*ss, I’m not paying that f**king much!” he said angrily.  “The cheapest drink that they’ve got is half pint bottles of Toby f**cking Light for two f**king quid!” (this was the 1980’s don’t forget!). “I’m going down the off licence for some cans. I won’t be long.”

          Fletcher departed, leaving us drunk and thirsty in the bar. The match kicked off without the return off our supplier and we jostled for a view off the small screen. Jimmy disappeared shortly after kick off and I assumed that he’d gone for a piss. When neither he nor Fletcher had returned with half time approaching fast, I became a little concerned. I scanned the room, but could see neither hide nor hair of either. Had the bastards deserted me I thought nervously?
          I watched the tight encounter unfold on the screen as good humoured banter was exchanged among the rival followers. When half time arrived I went for a piss. The sign for the toilet directed me into a quieter back room where a couple of piss-heads were desperately trying to play pool. And there, sitting alone with a huge bowl of soup was Jimmy.

“Where the f**k have you been?” I enquired. “You left me on my Todd.”

“I was f**king starving,” was his uncomplicated retort.

“There’s no sign of Fletch. I’ll have to get a round in, whatever the cost, what are you having.

“Whatever,” he continued dipping large slabs of bread into his soup.

          By the time that I had fought my way to the bar and bought two pints of lager, Jimmy had finished his repast, and we squeezed into a viewing position as the second half got underway. It was a joyous occasion as Adrian Hadley cut rapier-like through the English defence, scoring two wonderful tries which set Wales on their way to their last Triple Crown of the twentieth century, and ignited Welsh hearts and souls. The blissful celebrations involved the hugging of anyone and everyone in a Welsh shirt, and the sound of Sospan Fach filled the pub.

To Be Continued