Friday, 3 September 2010

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

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