Saturday, 20 August 2016

You sap.

   ​It was raining. Not heavily, just that light rain that can fall on an English summer, that makes everything glisten and the air smell of cut grass. I was looking out of my bedroom window at the little cul-de-sac that we lived in. It was a weekday, early summer, 1977 and I had a lieu-day off work. It was 10am, and a day off stretched out before me. And it was raining. Which was perfect. It matched my mood, bringing it's grey clouds into my world and, potentially, turning them black. And it was own fault, which just added to the heap of misery. Of all the things I could be doing on my day off, I had agreed to drive two people to Hampton Court for a day out, and then pick them up later. 'What a nice thing to do,' you might be thinking. Wrong. The two people were a bloke I had never met and his new girlfriend, the same girlfriend who had dumped me just ten days earlier. After two and a half years together. 


"What the fuck are you doing, agreeing to drive her about?" My brother knew exactly how to get right to the point but, as we co-owned the car, I had to tell him why I needed it on Thursday.

"Oh, I don't know. She asked me," was my weak, stupid reply.

"You sap." Kev knew how to end a conversation. At least he was grinning. I'm just not sure if it was in sympathy or enjoyment at my tortured plight.


So, here I was, gazing out of my bedroom windowat the rain, and wishing I was dead.


A few minutes before 10.30am I could see Herfamiliar shape turning the corner from Epsom Road, and starting up the hill. She was under an umbrella, held aloft by a tall bloke, flared jeans, black leather bomber jacket. I couldn't see either of their faces, but I could hear Her laughter. They turned into the driveway and I bolted down the stairs, desperate to reach the front door before my mother, desperate to avoid the raised eyebrow and the disappointed voice.

The doorbell rang.

"Got it," I shouted, counting to three before opening the door. She was facing me, glowing, radiant, smiling. He had his back to me, shaking the rain drops off the umbrella. He had blonde hair, same as hers. I didn't. I stood back and She stepped into the hallway, just as she had done a hundred times before. He turned, propping the umbrella in the porch, and stepped inside. Into my house. He glanced at me.

"Alright, mate?" he said. 




I closed the door. Mum came out of the kitchen, spotted Her and looked at me, eyebrow raised, atop a face of thunder. Only a mother could convey so much in that one look, so much unsaid but I understood every word. I nodded at her, smiled my weak, stupid smile, and she turned and went back into the kitchen, banging saucepans into the cupboard with a noise like Keith Moon demolishing a particularly troublesome drum kit.


"How are you?" She asked.

"How the fuck do you think I am? I'm the most miserable I have ever been in my short, sad life, since you ask." Except, none of that came out of my mouth. I just shrugged. She turned to Blondie.

"This is ....." Do you know what? I really cannot remember his name, I really can't. I've tried, but it just won't come. Which is surprising seeing as, for about six months, he was almost all I thought about.


I looked at him. He was younger than me, but then so was She. He smiled at me, nodded, and said,

"Thanks for doing this." I shrugged again. 

She started talking about what they had planned for the day but I was looking at the album that Blondie had under his left arm. The cover was mostly white but, as he moved his arm and turned to look at Her, I could see two black and white figures on the front.The white cover had a slight shine to it. He caught me looking.

"You got this?" He held it out. The two figures were clearer now. One was a black guy, wearing a fantastic black hat, leather trousers and playing a saxophone. Behind him, leaning on his shoulder, was a white guy with scruffy, curly hair and a torn vest, beneath a black leather jacket. He was smiling at the black guy, and was wearing a guitar, his left hand around the neck. A Tele. At least that was my uneducated guess, back in the early summer of 1977, when I could identify about 8 guitars, when I was 20 years old, living in middle class Guildford, just six months short of meeting the 30 year old woman with two kids who I would be married to for 15 years, a marriage ended only when I tried to kill myself over her infidelity.


I shook my head. I knew what it was. I had heard the title track on the radio, all through the previous year's hot summerI had read all of the hype in the NME and Melody Maker, especially about the Hammersmith gig, eighteen months earlierThe song sounded like a freight train, a cacophony of noise, a huge row. But it also sounded like I was listening through mud. It sounded terrible on a cheap car radio. I couldn't make out the words, I couldn't make out what all the fuss was about. So it had passed me by.


"Wanna play it?" He asked.

"It's our favourite album." I was suddenly aware that She had stopped talking about Hampton Bloody Court and had referred to the album in front of me as 'our favourite.'  My head screamed 'What? In ten days, you've got a favourite album together? Or perhaps, as all my friends keep telling me, it's been a tad longer than ten days, eh?'

"No time. We need to get going." I picked up my jacket.

In this whole sorry, dreadful, turgid encounter, they were the first words I had spoken.


I remember nothing about the day, other than feeling utterly miserable. She sat in the front seat, Blondie in the back. He had the album propped up on the back seat next to him. I could see it every time I looked in the rear view mirror. She chatted and laughed with him, the peels of her gorgeous laughter pouring over me like the most refreshing waterfall. I wanted to die.


I had to wait the six months until She dumped Him for a new model before I could buy the album. Once I had come to my senses, it just didn't seem right to have Their favourite album in the house. Over the next year, the album became my favourite and started me on a voyage of discovery, of live gigs, of books and magazines, of heroes and heroines, of parking lots and screen doors, of love and honour. It is my Desert Island Disc album, the one I would save from the raging sea. As I write this, I am sitting beneath a huge lithograph of the album cover, that I paid a small fortune to have shipped over from the States.


So I suppose I have something to thank Him for.



Thursday, 18 February 2016

The stuff of legend....

David Ortiz plays baseball.

He plays baseball for the Boston Red Sox, at their historic stadium, Fenway Park, which is 104 years old this year.
David Ortiz is 40 years old. Not an exceptional age, in the long history of the game but, in the modern era, much more of a rarity.
At the end of the 2016 season, either on 2nd October, or a few days or weeks later, if the Red Sox get to the Post Season, the Play Offs, if you will, David Ortiz will retire.

And a small part of me will die.

David Ortiz signed for the Red Sox in January 2003, as a free agent. He had been released from his contract with the Minnesota Twins, at the end of the 2002 season. This decision has been compared since, with the benefit of hindsight, to Decca Records turning down The Beatles. To be fair to the Twins, Ortiz had suffered lots of injuries in his 5 years with them and, when he did play, had been largely ineffective. The Twins let it be known that he was available for trade (baseball players are effectively swapped, rather than sold) but not one team came in for him. So his contract expired and, at the age of 27, David Ortiz could have easily been an ex-baseball player.

The Boston Red Sox now signed him as a free agent, meaning that they didn't have to give up a player to The Twins in return.
And so started a 13 year adventure.

The Boston Red Sox had not won the World Series for 85 years, having won it 5 times in the first 15 years of organised baseball. This became known as The Curse. The Curse Of The Bambino.

The Bambino, Babe Ruth, the most famous player in the history of baseball, played for the Red Sox. He had carried the team to 3 World Series wins by 1918 when, to help fund a Broadway musical, he was traded, for players plus cash, to the Red Sox biggest rivals, the New York Yankees. So began The Curse. By the time Ortiz arrived, it hadn't lifted for 85 years.

The first draft of this story now had lots of facts and figures about David Ortiz's career. However, since the majority of you will not be baseball fans, they will take a lot of explanation. So I will give you just two. David Ortiz is 6ft 3" tall. He weighs between 230 and 250 pounds (16 1/2 to 17 1/2 stone), depending on which season in the last 12 you measure. He is, officially, a Big Unit. So, when he became a father, fans gave him the name by which he has become known, throughout America. 

Big Papi.

In 2004, David Ortiz lifted the Boston Red Sox up, placed the club on his back, and carried it, all the way to the World Series. The series before it, the semi-final, they were 3-0 down, in a best of 7 series, against the Yankees. They been crushed in Game 3, in front of their own fans, 19-8. What happened next has gone down in baseball folklore as, inning by inning, game by game, this rag-bag team of misfits, kids and veterans clawed, crawled and crafted their way back.
Did they win? Of course they won!

After that, the World Series itself seemed like destiny. They steamrollered the St Louis Cardinals 4-0. St. Louis did not lead in any game. It was about as one sided as it can get. After 86 years, the 2004 Boston Red Sox had finally lifted The Curse.

So why does David Ortiz move me? Why does this this giant, gentle, bear of a man get me more excited than almost anything else in sport? That's easy. It's because, when the chips are down, when the game is on the line, when lesser players would crumble under the pressure, this slow, loping figure walks to Home Plate, spits on his gloves, claps them together, shuffles his feet in the dirt, points his bat at the Pitcher...and relaxes. I have stood at Fenway Park when this happens. When the crowd are loud, on their feet and yelling. And he delivers. So, so many times, he delivers. When he hits a Home Run, one of those huge ones, into right-field (he's left handed) and it sails over the Red Sox bullpen, into the's the sound. Not the roar of the crowd. No, the split second before that roar, comes the sound of the ball, off his bat. It's a crack, a beautiful, wonderful, CRACK! A sound that echoes back, through the years, back to Ted Williams in the fifties, all the way back to the Babe himself.

On 2nd October 2016, on what could well be the last time Big Papi ever pulls on the Red Sox uniform, my wife and I will be standing at Fenway, once more. I will give thanks that I am there again, in my favourite sporting venue, to witness my beloved Red Sox. I will give thanks that, in the past 13 years, David Ortiz has carried them to not one, not two but three World Series wins. And I will give thanks that I got to witness Big Papi wield a baseball bat, one last time. My voice will roar, my heart will race and my spirit will lift up to the heavens.

And a small part of me will die.