It’s a cold evening.

“Laydeeees and Gentulllmen!!!” hollers the man through the microphone. The field descends into hush.

I am in a crowd of about three grillion people, which is most definitely not my natural habitat. I have also been persuaded to drive here so that other people can get very drunk, which is also not my natural habitat. I am less a fish out of water than a fish that has been signed up to undertake a charity bike ride across the Sahara. I shift my weight from foot to foot, which is the sort of thing that one does in these circumstances.

“Welcome to these wonderful stately home surroundings!!!”

In aid of Distressed Anglers.

It is weird; the whole thing is weird.

A while back, I wrote a book. I never meant to, but people started asking me, and then I sort of thought ‘why not’, and then I worked out that this little Private Secret Diary would never really work in book form anyway, and then more people asked, and I got drawn in. And in the meantime, the thing that my old friends would always ask – invariably, every time, without fail – after they’d done all the ‘how are you’s’ and ‘are you well’s’ was: ‘So how’s the bowls going, then?’

“By kind permission of your host, Viscount Coke!!!”

And I began to realise this: that the whole theme of my life today could be encapsulated in one simple concept: just how bloody, bloody disappointed my eighteen year-old self would have been at how things turned out. I mean, I enjoy my life immensely. There is nothing better than living in Norfolk and keeping chickens and playing bowls.

“On this stage tonight!!!”

But my eighteen year-old self would be appalled. And it struck me that here was the entire basis about what I should write about. So I did. The rural life. The insularity. The chickens.

“Laydeeees and gentulllmen – please welcome…”

But of course there would be nothing that my eighteen year-old self would have been more disappointed about than the fact I played bowls. Nothing. It would be the bit underneath the barrel; the depths of horror and naffness to my aspirational would-be-cool teenage self.

“STAYYYYTUUSSSSS QU-OOOOOOO!!!”

Thank you, and goodnight.

11 a.m. There is a knock at the door!!!

It is Big A. He is going away for a long weekend and would like me to look after his chicken. I am pleased to look after his chicken. It is no trouble, as he just lives round the corner, and as chickens go, his is no trouble. I know where the chicken food is kept, but he goes through it again, and I promise to treat the chicken well. To be honest, it is quite nice. Once I was a newcomer to chickens, fumbling around with my ‘keeping chickens for beginners’ book. Now I am the go-to man for looking after peoples’ chickens whilst they go off on long weekends. I bid my friend goodbye and wish him a pleasant break.

2 p.m. The chicken dies.

“There you go,” I tell the LTLP.

We have spent all morning tidying our bedroom. It has been a good joint effort, with me sorting things out that should be moved, whilst she lifts them up and carries them down the stairs.

“One room,” she insists. “One room. That’s all I want. One room in this house that isn’t some form of clutter dumping ground Pig Sty.” She surveys the newly pristine boudoir with satisfaction. There is a scrunch of gravel outside.

My parents have arrived!!! I greet them with enthusiasm.

“I have brought the stuff you asked for,” says my father. “It took me ages to get it out of the loft.”

He presses a button on his key and the car boot bursts open. Crates of computer hardware! Bulging chests of software cassettes! Binders upon binders of Sinclair User magazines, and Crash!, and Micro Adventurer, and Your Spectrum!!! I gaze, agog.

“There is rather a lot of it,” he says.

“Don’t worry,” I reply. “We have cleared some space.”

I haul the first box past the LTLP. She is bearing the expression that went down so well during her keynote address to the Institute of the Thunderstruck. Luckily there is some space upstairs in our bedroom, so I lug it up here and return to the car for some more.

Her features are alternating between cyan and magenta as I walk through with the next batch. “There isn’t as much as there looks,” I reassure her, waving a Currah Microspeech in her face. Meanwhile, my father backs up the forklift truck to start on the magazines.

“All done!” I say when we have finally emptied the car and the man has finished reinforcing the floor joists. “It must be good to get that lot out of your attic.”

“Yes,” says my father, looking warily between us.

 

 

A quick aside of a promotional nature – the ebook version of Sex and Bowls and Rock and Roll is available free of charge now for a limited period (probably just ’til the end of next week). Thank you to HarperCollins for arranging that.

So if you want something to read on your hols, or know somebody who might want something to read on their hols, or are just one of these people that likes something for nothing then your best bet is:

Kindle version (via Amazon)

Version for your iPad/iPod/iThing via iTunes

I’m told that people overseas still have to pay full whack – booooooooooo.

“Go on,” I urge her. “You will enjoy it.”

It is Child #1’s first day at brownies. I have been encouraging her to go, as it will make her community spirited, being selfless and a good citizen and all that. I am quite into that at the moment, ever-striving to be a better person.

“I will be just next door,” I reassure her. “In the pub.”

“You just need to sign her in on thi…” Says Brown Owl.

“Yeah, yeah.” I make a scribble on the bit of paper and zip next door to the pub.

The pub is not busy at this early hour, so I am able to strive to be a better person in relative peace. It is good that my daughter and I are both able to do our duty to god and to the Queen etc. together as a family like this. It is a bonding experience.

The Brownies seems to have progressed in the days since my sister, RonnieB, was a keen attendee. The uniform is now all trendy, and they appear to offer activities that are not exclusively interesting to children from a South Lincolnshire family of Methodist farmers in Victorian times. Plus there is a residential camp thing which sounds very encouraging, although sadly lasts for a mere three days.

I return to pick her up an hour and a half later.

“Did you enjoy that, then?” I ask Child #1, whilst attempting not to breathe on Brown Owl.

“Excellent, I knew you would,” I continue, before she has a chance to reply.

“Where’s Short Tony?!?” demands the Chipper Barman.

I sigh. “He has had to drop out,” I explain. “Due to some unpleasantness.”

There is a brief conversation whilst I go over Short Tony’s situation. The atmosphere in the car becomes subdued.

We are on our way to the final snooker fixture of the year. It is a vital game, as it will decide how many points we finish below the second-from-bottom team in the league. We are grimly determined as we park up and enter the club. It is a cold night, but we have warm coats to insulate us from the chill Norfolk air; we lob these in a pile in the corner.

Big A, famous for dropping pints of lager, goes to the bar.

Shaun has not arrived. I am cross. Even though we are not very competent at the actual playing bit, we are well-known for our professionalism as a team. I chide him as he walks in.

“You are late,” I say. “This is not the sort of professional approach that we are known for. Anyway, Short Tony isn’t here, so you will have to play twice; once pretending to be him. They have not met him, so I have told them that you are twin brothers.”

“Eh?”

“Just get your cue.”

Shaun gets his cue, ready to play.

“What happened to Short Tony?” he asks as an afterthought.

“There was some unpleasantness.”

Shaun starts playing his frame, pretending to be Short Tony. There is some discussion on the sidelines about Rule 1.1. This is the only rule in the snooker club, and is to do with what our wives are expected to do on our return, should we win our frame. It is not a rule that crops up very often and, to be honest, we have had difficulty enforcing it in the past.

The evening passes without incident, although at one point Shaun has to move his car to allow access for the ambulance. The final result confirms us once more in an honourable last place for the season, although we have bowls to look forward to the following week, which should lift morale a little. I text John Twonil with the match report. Big A drops his pint of lager on the pile of warm coats.

The snooker reached its nadir when Marky shat himself at the Crucible.

“The thing was,” he told us some time later, “they don’t let you out of your seat until the frame has finished. So I’m sitting there in real distress, like. And I’m waiting, desperate to bomb it out of there, like. And…”

We digest the scene as Eddie pots his white.

“It must be your worst nightmare,” chips in Short Tony. “You’re in that state, and you hear the announcer boom out: ‘now, ladies and gentlemen – please welcome Peter Ebdon!'” It is a sobering thought. But tonight we are players, not spectators.

Eddie pots his white again as Marky sips his lager reflectively. This was shortly before he retired from the team, disconsolate at his transformation – solely through his association with us – from being one of the top amateur players on the tough, hard-as-nails Midlands club circuit to a man incapable of constructing a break of more than five points or, indeed, completing a frame without requiring a visit to the toilet.

“We are probably the worst snooker team in the whole of Great Britain,” I think to myself with pride, as Eddie misses the object ball completely. But I do not voice my thoughts out loud for reasons of team morale. You always have to focus on the positives in a team sport situation like this, and Short Tony has gone to the bar, and there is only one more frame before there will be some sandwiches.

Eddie now requires three snookers, yet soldiers on unfazed, despite there being only the pink and black left on the table. It would be good to see an unexpected comeback, but unexpected comebacks are few and far between in our world.

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