I’m so pleased with this. Don’t need books, alcohol, or even sunshine to feel satisfied and happy here. Cup of tea, feet up. Mesmerised by colour, contrast and my wife’s imagination.
The demise of NewsBase in early May has suddenly thrown up spare time. So I get myself outdoors whenever possible.
One overcast Thursday, a few weeks back, rain was predicted, following buckets of the stuff several days earlier. I didn’t fancy a drenching out on the bike, but had been climbing the walls at home. I felt called by my favourite walk, along the Essex Way footpath.
Heading northeast from Great Waltham to Great Leighs, about 4 miles away. Under an ominous sky.
The trek started with a surprise.
For over four years, I have talked quietly, gently and lovingly to the local cow herd, trying to cajole them to the fence for meaningful intercourse. I have whispered promises of lush grass and their partner of choice, under the watchful eye of the bull.
They never showed much interest until now.
The route over the next couple of miles enchants and soothes me.
Then comes the small, picturesque hamlet of Chatham Green. Its structures and sights give as much pleasure now as they first did four years ago.
Walking is a no-brainer. Great exercise. And these rural routes are easy on the eye, even more so in June. The workout is also a way to liberate new thought, and perhaps find inspiration. I’ve been dwelling on work matters, inevitably.
The NewsBase collapse has cut away one of my two main sources of revenue. Replacing the lost work requires somehow finding a part-time job that pays £1300/month yet still allows me to get on with remaining tasks.
One initiative has been to try and create jobs tailored to my strengths. I’ve written to a number of export credit agencies in Europe, offering my services as an English writer. Not heard anything yet. Have also applied for a couple of advertised writing jobs, to no avail.
Always see the upside. For the last 26 years, my working weeks have stolen most of my precious time. So I am enjoying the easier life, but paying deep attention to conversations, messages and every other potential smoke signal that tickles my radar.
The Essex Way (no relation to TOWIE) strays off road again. Over the next section I work up a sweat, as it gets warmer. I’m carrying a waterproof coat, purely because heavy rain looks likely.
Then I arrive at my favourite stopping point on the walk: Little Leighs Church.
I leg it out here four or five times a year, often when moods are darker. And sit quietly on the bench, letting the sun and wind blast away all thought. Nowhere locally offers such solace. No religious inclinations are involved, just the need to unpack myself from cramped mental boxes. I love the untamed way in which the graveyard and adjacent fields merge, no fence.
Not far past the church, a bridge crosses a small stream. By gorgeous cottages and gardens.
Logic and instinct both say this place is perceived by others as magical. I have seen offerings left down by the water on previous walks. Flowers and food. And, sure enough, here is a red heart placed upon a log. Who could M be? Or W?
Great Leighs is nearing. My stomach rumbling. A hundred yards from the path, sculpted figures stand oddly above reeds, weeds and water.
They remind me that my dream last night ended with the actual smell on my real pillow of the swamp that I had visited while asleep. And that much in our world cannot be accounted for empirically. Consciousness, near-death experiences and the behaviour of sub-atomic particles, to name just three puzzles.
The Castle pub looms. I need to ‘chuck up my trotters’, as Danny Dyer says in Eastenders.
This pub is claimed to be England’s oldest. Formerly called the St Annes Castle.
It was taken into new management, revamped and overhauled several years back. The manager and staff are friendly enough. The car park slowly fills as I sit outside. Lots of older people arriving for lunch. There is also good business to be had from the crowd at Chelmsford racecourse, just down the road. The premises are clean. Everything works efficiently.
None of which changes my take. If you have something unique, then display and use it. But the opportunity to leverage the building’s history, as England’s oldest boozer, is all but buried, confined to little more than a small sign outside.
Swallowed by the ‘Pie and Pint Inns’ franchise. Choking and smothering the past. Interrupting these thoughts, the barman brings my scran. It’s decent enough.
It has started to rain. On goes the coat. I feel good, body robustly used over the past couple of hours. Starting back to Little Leighs, I reflect on something that I have been smiling quietly about for the past week.
On May 28, I wrote the universe a letter.
I did. Really. Honest guv. In my own handwriting, in blue ink. “Dear universe”, it began.
Then a few paragraphs, to say a heartfelt thanks for the pleasures and treasures of my first 62 years, and would it be possible to help out a bit more? Just for a while? I put it in an envelope, bought a stamp, (to show the universe I was serious), and surreptitiously slid it into my local postbox. Addressed to ‘The Universe’. Yes indeed.
The next day, round at my brother Neil’s watching football, he handed me a cheque. “Should help you out for a bit,” he said. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, joy and the beginnings of wonder.
The real twist came a week later. Neil rang to say that Dad had just days ago been contacted by an insurance company. Mum (lost to us in 2006, bless her) had quietly taken out an insurance policy on her own life back in 1953. 13 years after her death, the underwriters decided to check out whether she was still alive, and discovered that she had long gone. Would he care to claim the money? Neil told how he had persuaded Dad to send the proceeds my way. Which he has. Neil knows nothing of my vague occult proclivities, or of letters to universes.
If you want to argue that all this would have happened in any case, knock yourself out. Fill your boots. How can magic exist, you ask? How might it work? By what laws?
I have no idea. But more than once I have encountered the notion of asking the universe for help when in dire need. And to show a little gratitude.
One theme stands out from a bit of reading about magic: that you should strive to capture the attention of whoever runs the show (the Gods? the creator? a universal consciousness?), given the hefty volume of human prayers and requests flying their way.
Maybe it was the unbridled laughter of the postmen in Chelmsford sorting office, as they collapsed weeping, in heaps. Might that have nudged the hidden gears in our favour?
It’s not just money – which will help to tide us over a little longer – that has manifested. Our son Rory returned from university on June 1, with changed habits and routines. He has entered a Cheltenham half-marathon in September. He runs around the local lanes in preparation, as well as playing 6-a-side soccer for the first time. He is organising himself, unlike ever before. His sleeping patterns, once Dracula-like, now resemble those of his parents. Result.
I’m halfway back to Chatham Green, thinking about this stuff. The rain is heavier. I’m sweating inside my coat. Not for the first time, the growing scientific theory that we exist in a massively sophisticated computer simulation, controlled from without, slithers across my grey matter. If so, the idea of fate makes more sense than free will. And a letter to the universe? Might that be a simple ‘cheat’ to leap ahead in the game?
I have trotted six miles or so by the time Chatham Green hoves into view. A coffee would work wonders, but the pub is closed. Many rural pubs are trimming their opening hours, as expenses rise and the drinking clientele of old has to drive home soberly.
The picture below – of a footpath that I nickname ‘Moses’ – was the last that I took on the walk, as my mobile ran out of juice.
With a couple of miles still to go, physicality kicks right in. Essence of physicality. Still mainly dry in the hardening rain, albeit sopping with sweat, I realise that my bowels are beginning to niggle for evacuation. Minor requests, for now. But no toilets available until home.
It’s like being a kid again. Caught short and having to hang on. As a boy I would seek release in fields or woods. No hesitation in repeating that, 50 years later, but the downpour would add unwelcome complexity. I decide to lean into this problem, by talking to my lower intestinal movements. “OK Peri, just hold your horses a bit longer,” I suggest. “Mr Stalsis, could you possibly delay gratification?” I ask, politely.
I chant Buddhist mantras from 2012. The Medicine Buddha and Great Compassion Mantra. Buddhism was designed to tackle all kinds of suffering. Then the Lotus Sutra, first used in 1993, shortly before my old mate Jon Marks offered me an apprenticeship in journalism. Killing time. Distracting me.
I reach Howe Street, one mile to go. Each step seems to add infinitesimal momentum to the inner urges. It is helpful, and drier, to sit awhile at a bus stop.
Off again, five minutes later. I remember that Rory has asked me how many Arsenal players I would bring into West Ham’s first team, given the option. That keenly occupies the mind, as Peri throbs and thrums within me. Back at the outskirts of Great Waltham, tight-anused, I have assessed the Hammers as potentially so good that only three swaps are necessary. Monreal in at left-back; Torreira to replace Mark Noble; and Aubameyang somewhere up front.
Mr Stalsis will not be, cannot be, denied for much longer. A downhill stretch now, with each footfall triggering minor new pressures. A couple of hundred yards to go, and I dip into my last resort, to fend off these inexorable knocks at my back door.
I will try and augment my happiest list: memorable sexual moments. Could there be a relatively recent addition or two, despite our relationship of over 37 years? This captures the imagination magnificently, nurturing and beguiling me through almost all of the final stretch. There is a possible qualifier, I reckon.
And then I stop. Outside the house. Deliberately. Calling his bluff. “Who’s the Daddy then Peri?” I whisper, teasingly. He suffers that for a second or two.
Then unleashes a twisting gut tsunami that sends me sprinting for the front door, whipping out the key, and then diving inside, nearly there. I start to undress rapidly as I stumble through the kitchen and fall into the downstairs loo.
No need to describe the ensuing moment. Except to say that it was pure, magical, and rooted utterly in the now. Physicality incarnate.
As the summer solstice nears, the colder, wetter weather has buggered my hopes of cycling most evenings. It’s not just warmth I crave. On a fine evening, after an hour or so in the saddle, the play of strong light and shadow across the hedgerows and fields is mesmeric.
Two recent rides have ticked my boxes. The first westwards, out through the mid-Essex village of Pleshey, where the castle motte and bailey dates back past Magna Carta, and the Leather Bottle pub was once run by Keith Flint of the Prodigy.
Roses sprawl over cottage walls to each side of the road. Once you have reached the house of retreat and old church at the top of the hill, shown below, the legs and lungs are aching from three steep climbs, and the ride has started in earnest.
The endorphins are kicking in, trickles of joy flushing around the system.
My bike is a hybrid, and so chunkier, heavier and harder on the legs than a racing model. I bought it for just those reasons. So that each ride burns calories and builds stamina. If I’m out with brother Neil, ascending a tough hill together, it is not unknown for him to come cruising past me on his racing bike, feet resting, suppressing a grin, while I work up a sweat.
After Pleshey, the road runs mainly flat for about 4 miles, through High Easter, and then down to Aythorpe Roding, through fields recently bedecked with rape.
Unless you’re riding into wind, it’s the sole part of the outbound ride where the body can take a breather. That relaxation mode is helped by the distinct lack of cars on these roads. Urban Essex – with its growing road rage and inner town traffic bottlenecks – is somewhere else, some other removed dimension.
Thoughts inevitably intrude. It’s difficult not to think about my dad, and his worsening short-term memory. And our domestic cash situation. My decision has been not to panic and cast around immediately for new work after the NewsBase shock (Blog 188). But to work out exactly what I’m good at, and like doing. And to slowly pitch for that, confidently.
With the body and bike generally in sync, another set of climbs are required to reach White Roding, through tight country lanes where traffic is almost unknown. Then a short stretch on the A1060, marking the sole stretch of highway where cars are suddenly a palpable danger. Such a relief, after 5 minutes, to turn left onto another sleepy road, heading south-west towards my destination, Matching Green.
My favourite section. Much of its steadily uphill, but with a gradual fading of the hedges, dwellings and trees until the last mile or so is open in all directions, with remnants of the former Matching airfield still visible. The facilities were used in WW2 by the RAF and US air force.
I never cease to be surprised at a dark Tata International lorry parked idly out on an old runway. If the sun is out, it is impossible not to feel happy, with my oasis drawing ever nearer. The Chequers pub, where sacrament awaits.
It has taken 75 minutes to get here, over about 16 miles. Average of nearly 13 mph speed, which isn’t bad, given the weight of my bike and the numerous uphill stretches. I like playing around with these numbers. Typical bloke?
I park the bike at an outside bench, and ask the young barmaid for a pint of Noble English Craft Lager. My Eucharist. Always exquisitely good, so cold, and exceptionally flavoursome, as it should be for £4.90. One pint only. Enough to slake the thirst, and trigger minor raptures, yet insufficient to make me a danger to other road users.
The sun beams down its rays. Cricketers in their whites are playing on the green opposite the pub. A live English summer cliché, with crows hopping about in the foreground. Zen moments. I sit by my bike. Chilled sips.
There is hardly anybody here. Two couples in their sixties, laughing and enjoying the evening. Leaning right into life. On a busier night at the Chequers, the deepest ethos of Essex can be heard. Aspirational philosophies. Money, always money peppering the conversations, loudly, tacitly, comfortably unchallenged. Males spraying it about. Females tuned into pleasing ways of receipt. Money and sex. On the warmest evenings, it pleases me to imagine the physical fun of this tribe, back at their Essex ranches, lights out.
I eke out my pint. Thoughts occasionally fly in, including the apt thought that thoughts come to us. We don’t generate them, or somehow grind them out. All you do is wait. Like my work life, where chances have tended to present themselves.
A cyclist arrives. His apparel shouts how he takes this lark seriously. Expensive, body-hugging kit, and a simple, streamlined bike that wouldn’t look out of place on the Tour de France. His legs are about four feet long. He says hello from the next table. I raise my glass to his health.
He pulls a water bottle from his bike, strolls to a tap used mainly to fill dog bowls, and tops it up. Drains it slowly and returns to fill it again. Clips it to the bike, stands up, and prepares to take his leave. Didn’t spend a penny.
But I do, metaphorically. A nice long piss in a clean toilet, with scented soap.
As I strap my (cycling) helmet back on, I grin from ear to ear. A slow bowler ambles up to the wicket, a hundred yards away, arm coiled, like a scene from a bucolic 19th century painting. Behind his arm, at the very back of the canvas, flies the sleek, long-legged cyclist, swift as a falcon, propelling his machine to somewhere. Past and present, in a surreal juxtaposition.
The interim ends. No regrets. Neil and I tend to stretch the adventure further, setting off south-east towards another pub at Highwood, through the villages of Moreton, Willingale and Newney Green. North-east for me though, homeward bound, but I’ve decided to tweak the route. More stimulating.
Back through the airfield zone. My windows of perception are wide open. A constant downhill slope lets the bike cruise along in top gear, in a cooling breeze. The sky screams for my attention, alive and communicating, shape-shifting. Animism testifying, out in full view. Clouds flowing, pointing and arcing. Scrunched together and then coming apart. Ecstatic to witness. Noble is an excellent beer.
I whoop several times, heard only by more crows.
What the hell am I? Are we? What is the plot?
I often ask myself that, at these moments. It’s stating the obvious to say that we experience a continual explosion of sensory impressions, thoughts, memories and feelings that appear in our field of consciousness. But why? For what purpose? (To purchase and own things, some denizens of Matching Green might reply).
Life is suffused with meaning, much of which seems to be self-generated. I reckon that consciousness, not Essex-style Darwinism, holds all the clues in this greatest of detective mysteries. The one that attracted the sharpest gumshoes, such as Buddha and Jesus.
Back on the A1060, I stay on the main road for an extra mile, to get to Leaden Roding. Rush hour traffic has happily dissipated, and the bike shoots up the final hill to the village, my leg muscles trebled by the magic Noble potion. Now out onto a quiet country road, once cycled with my old Welsh mate Tony. I had tucked snugly in behind as he braved a headwind. Wonder how he is now? He is one of a group of friends dropped over the years.
Tonight the bike rockets down the road, into Good Easter, where two massive climbs await. In a nice gear, they pass quickly. Insects have infiltrated my crash helmet. I can feel them crawling around on my bonce. I am approaching a house in the middle of nowhere (Mashbury) that was once a pub, The Fox. An old sign has been removed. Tony and I arrived there on our bikes one evening well over a decade ago, ready to slake our thirst. Only to witness another country pub that had bitten the dust.
I’m the easiest person to get on with, if you want to talk. Nothing is off limits. I won’t judge. But you have to be kind, with the playground and crab bucket in your past. Intimacy and trust, or what’s the point?
Lost in thoughts of old friends, my phone makes sounds. In my shorts. The tone is of me dialling somebody, somehow. A strange voice responds. I’ve arse-called him. Could be anyone. A Scottish accent, slightly official? My contact lenses and evening sun make it hard to see the screen.
“I’m sorry. I think I’ve called you by mistake,” I say.
Muffled sounds from the recipient. Then laughter, which puzzles the hell out of me. Still can’t make out more than a few words, but the chuckles are ringing bells.
“Is that you Chris?”
Chris McFadzean is finally audible. “It’s such an honour Kevin, to be called by your backside, after you haven’t been in touch for two or three years!”
Is it that long? Chris (above) is a friend of friends, who I have hooked up with for a few beers now and again. Good company. “It was definitely a mistake Chris. I’m in the middle of nowhere, seeking no company.”
We provisionally arrange to meet when he’s back in Essex. Setting off again, I chuckle at the way the universe orders things. The last 3-4 miles is all downhill, and I get home with the clock saying exactly 60 minutes. I am fortunate: Maureen has a meal ready. I never take that for granted, always thank her.
A cracking evening. A glorious, warm bath in physicality. Please may it not end soon.
I’ve been sleeping deeply recently, chiefly as a result of working my 62-year old carcass past its normal limits. Waking up slowly, drifting through hynagogia like a leaf on a quiet lake. And then gradually becoming aware of aches and pains brought on by the previous day’s efforts.
There is something so delicious about using your upper torso muscles. Back, shoulders, arms and stomach. 26 years of looking at a keyboard for much of the day makes strenuous physicality an alluring contrast.
We are slowly transforming our ex-fish pond into some kind of patio feature. The final profile still depends on Maureen’s eye and imagination. She’s the artist, I’m the happy donkey. The pictures below show the progression so far.
Those wooden sleepers are heavy bastards. So weighty that Rory and I cannot move them more than a few feet at a time. There were 20 originally, reduced to five in the new structure. To make them shiftable, many have had to be sawn in half. That’s a physical task and a half, using my trusty saw of some 20 years. The half-sleepers have their uses in new places.
I get them there by standing them on end, grabbing the top, and ‘walking’ them slowly. If there are steps to negotiate, I ‘hug’ the half-sleeper, then straighten my back, and plonk it down in the new position.
It is slow work, but we’re in the home straight. Very satisfying. Brilliant for my mental health.
My best achievement has been to marry and bring up children. No contest. So many life lessons packed into that process. And four bedrock relationships here in the present day.
Outside that, I especially love that I wrote and published ‘Out of Essex’ during the years from 2013 to 2015. Sometimes I look at its orange spine up on the shelf and think: “That’s yours, you persevering, semi-talented bastard!”
It came out of nowhere, then geminated at a surprising pace. It is not boasting to claim the book as unique.
Is it any good? That may depend on your political stance.
Like most wannabe writers, I had droned on for decades about being an author. I started a novel over a decade earlier, writing about 90 pages. Here’s how that one commenced:
East London, October 1999. Neil Finnegan streamed with the crowd up the stairs of the tube station, stomach knotted at the prospect of meeting Vince Bull in the flesh. Selling him the deal was another matter.
In late 2002, I wrote a mini-autobiography, six months before Maureen and I had our financial crash. After that, I had to work my nuts off to stay financially liquid.
Was still working like a dog in April 2013, when Margaret Thatcher died. I hadn’t thought about her for years. To my mind, she had one positive to her name: the first female to become British prime minister. You cannot knock that stunning achievement, given the deep patriarchy of her time in office. Credit where it’s due.
But that’s it. Britain won the Falklands War under Maggie, but the technology and strategic capability of its army and navy was such that only one winner was ever on the cards. After that, when you examine her record in office, it is a litany of moves that divided the country. Sending the UK’s mining industry into terminal decline, decimating workers’ rights, cutting benefits, kicking the mentally ill onto the streets. And, more than anything, privatising institutions that worked well in state hands, and opening the gates to private debt. Look where that led. In short, she was not benevolent. That’s me being very polite.
When a series of accolades began to pour out of the media, anger began to swell in me. A state funeral, for God’s sake, with dignitaries flying in from around the world. WTF? I was witnessing madness and delusion.
Knowing her religious convictions, I imagined the passage of her soul. And began to write a vicious short story detailing her arrival at ‘The Place’, met by angels. But then steered onwards.
Maggie was ushered on, past two black cats sniffing her feet. The temperature had risen. The corridor was narrowing, sloping downwards. Images on each wall terrified the root of her soul. British and Argentinean sailors flailing and screaming in the Falklands waters, and then Pinochet’s torture rooms beneath the Chilean football stadium. Blood on the ceiling. Detached limbs and eyes on the floor.
This was fun, as she began to intuit her inevitable destination.
Well over seven foot, blackly-clad, he looked as formidable as she had often fantasised. For a fleeting second, fighting down fear, Maggie wondered whether he might be “somebody I can do business with”.
Satan provides her with the memorial tribute that half the country may have been thinking but none of the mainstream British press had the guts to print.
“You devolved British thinking back to grocers’ epithets and crude sums involving the value of their houses. It was – still is – medieval, you moron, and now it’s your legacy.”
When finished, with Maggie looking aghast at a torture rack, I sent it to some friends, some of whom seemed to enjoy it. The pleasure throb was irresistible. I needed to write more.
What soon became evident, the more I read about Maggie, was the fruits of her campaigns to privatise major UK industries, and open the City of London to global banking. A widening chasm of nationwide poverty, umbilically linked to the further enrichment of the richest. By 2013, all of Britain’s major cities and towns were experiencing growing levels of homelessness, the welfare state was being hacked back, and debt had become the foundation of the British economy. Banks were untouchable, despite their catalytic role in the 2007-08 financial crisis.
Ever asked yourself why there are no longer enough council houses, or affordable renting stock? How did that start? Thanks Maggie.
The most eye-opening factor, which I had never found reason to look into, was the interest attached to the money created by commercial banks (which seems to over 85% of all money). Looking into this, it became clear that ordinary, bog-standard debt that almost everybody resorts to gradually pulls wealth away from the bottom rungs of society. In short, that debt systems stealthily and slowly impoverish those at the foot of the pile. At this stage in Western history, there are no other financial systems.
So what would God do, to challenge Maggie’s legacy, and the egregious, underpinning financial systems? As my first few chapters fell into place, it dawned that She (oh yes) might send down a ‘benevolent ninja squad’ to sort things out. Spiritual super-heroes. How about dusting down the souls of Gandhi and Buddha. Satan could be their minder, as they adjusted from life without bodies to the corporeal 21st century.
But where to send them? I had recently rekindled friendships with old school friends from Southend-on-Sea, and decided that the Essex town could be the home for a breakaway society that made an effort to live without money. Growing its own food, using barter. And creating the seeds of a new consciousness that might overcome the material illnesses afflicting most of the modern world. God decided, in her cups, that Maggie could be reincarnated to act as a kind of PR voice for the ideals of the community, located in Southchurch Park, at the eastern end of the town.
And so it went. The joy of creating a River Thames tsunami engendered by Jesus was not to be under-estimated. Nor that of sending Satan on a fast, night-time motorbike ride along the A127 to confront and dine with the Puppet Master (the PM), who controls one of the main banking families. Also Maggie learning martial arts, from Satan’s sons Beelzebub and Belial. Buddha’s love of Arsenal football club. And the spiritual growth of Mike Burper, based on a bully remembered from schooldays.
Each morning, during the hypnagogic state that precedes full wakefulness, future chapters would begin to write themselves. Or I would be out on the bike, and the ideas would flow in. Cheers Universe.
I wrote things that made me crease with laughter (particularly Satan’s love of single malt whisky), and welded them to chunks of polemic explaining how the money system grips, manipulates and totally fucks over our world. And how paying more than a passing attention to newspapers and TV is an arterial route to self-induced lobotomy.
A lot of real conspiracy facts were thrown in, with enough detail to separate them from the theories that are casually chucked around. God was sick of the lies, and the warmongering and greed, and beginning to realise that Her only son might need a second visit to trigger a global transformation.
The climax had Maggie murdering a death squad sent by the PM to the park. God calls her back upstairs, frustrated at another collapsed experiment. Then my favourite section, where Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi and Dawn (a car windscreen cleaner, representing the true soul of the book) walk from Southend to Canary Wharf in a day. Instead of loaves and fish, Jesus distributes Gold Bars, the type made by McVities, to the suited hordes. And then it all kicks off. ‘Yesh consciousness’ gradually permeates. The world gets rocked.
It took about 18 months to write. Standing back, I was so chuffed.
‘Well done Kev, that is an audacious achievement,’ I told myself. Of course there were so many areas for improvement, all over the book. Most notably the over-loading of detail about the sheer crookedness of our world. And the need for more finely-developed characters, and a more complex plot. ‘But – even if next to nobody ever reads it – you have surpassed yourself in terms of the book’s ambition,’ I would whisper to myself, grinning softly.
Taking the standard route, I tried various agents and publishers with a few chapters, but none wanted to know. So I re-edited it, and tried again, with similar results. So be it. Fittingly, I used some PPI money from a few banks to print 50 copies, for friends and family.
Should I e-publish ‘Out of Essex’? It seems like a lot of trouble for little reward.
I would like to write another book, and await the muse rushing in again. That feels like the way forward.
My very good and trusted friend Al Campbell messaged me last night, suggesting that the subject of Blog 190 could be a no-brainer after a week of soccer that will live long in the memory. He had a point.
Above all, the unparalleled achievement of four English clubs winning their semi-finals in the two major European tournaments, the Champions League and the Europa League, to provide two all-English finals.
The standout games were Liverpool vs Barcelona and Ajax vs Tottenham Hotspur. In both Champions League matches, the odds were that the English side would lose again, after defeat in the first leg. So to watch Liverpool win 4-0 on Tuesday against Lionel Messi’s team, reversing the 3-0 defeat in Spain, was incredible. The unremitting efforts and physical commitment of the Liverpool players, and the sheer noise of the Merseyside crowd, clearly unhinged Barcelona. 1-0 to Liverpool at half-time. In the second half, without three of their stars (Salah, Robertson and Firmino), Liverpool tapped into a blend of perspiration and self-belief to score three against a team that could arguably win a World Cup.
For my money though, the Spurs effort in Amsterdam on Wednesday eclipsed Liverpool. Tottenham were also without their star striker, Harry Kane, and his co-striker Son was out of form. Ajax’s youthful team pinged the ball around delightfully in the first half and took a two-goal lead, increasing their advantage over the two legs to 3-0 by half-time. At times they started to showboat their skills, which may have been an unwise tease.
Whatever the Spurs manager said at half-time, his team came out for the second half with a new attitude. ‘We can still do this. Let’s not go home without half-killing ourselves to try and salvage this.’
Without a home crowd behind them, Tottenham somehow started to win all of the 50:50 challenges they had been losing in the first half, and to retain possession. Lucas Moura nicked a delightful goal. I’m a lifelong Hammer, but was cheering on our arch-rivals due to the desire on display. Don’t think I have ever seen such a will to win in a Spurs team. Danny Rose was playing as if his life depended on it. Then Moura scored another in a goalmouth scramble.
Ajax had lost their composure, but time was running out. Still 3-2 overall to the home side. But another Spurs goal would win it, as goals scored away count double in the event of a tie over the two legs.
Tottenham defender Jan Verthonhen (wearing a plastic face mask to protect a damaged nose) then headed what looked like Spurs’ last chance against the crossbar. There were five minutes of extra time, and Tottenham kept going. In the last few seconds Moura latched onto a flick-on into the penalty box and steered the ball into the corner of the net. I shouted with joy, like a lifelong supporter.
What with Arsenal and Chelsea winning their Europa League semi-finals last night, and a spectacular goal by Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany on Monday to keep his team at the head of the Premiership, it’s fair to say that I have never known such a week of gripping soccer entertainment.
In truth though, it’s all a distraction. A welcome one, but still something to make the evenings pass.
It is just over a week since the demise of NewsBase was announced (Blog 188). The shock has gone, to be replaced by a sense of being financially adrift, heading for a metaphorical Niagara Falls. Were money no object, it would have been a perfect route to semi-retirement. In the real world, if the income (around £1300/month) is not replaced, all of the options are traumatic, and set my stomach spinning with anxiety.
Rather than dwell there, I have tried to focus on what can be done. Here in Great Waltham, I have placed a message on our local ‘Next Door’ e-mail service advertising my writing skills, for any purpose, professional or otherwise.
Meanwhile an Essex jobs agency has my details and is pinging me potential openings every morning. So far, mainly as a security guard – my brother Neil’s occupation! 60 hour weeks at £10 an hour, but travelling to London. That would wipe out the time required to carry on with my remaining jobs.
A London agency has my CV and has started sending through jobs for journalists, editors, proof-readers etc. For example, the Daily Express lacks a features writer at its Canary Wharf offices.
Of course I could apply. I would have to reverse all of my political views and loathing of commuting, and be prepared to write lies and slander. Better to be destitute? I really feel too old and jaded to re-engage in the cub reporter stuff, even for topics of journalistic interest.
Out on the bike on Tuesday, on my standard 25-mile countryside course, a voice in my head recommended that I try a different route. Was that a metaphor for the work challenge?
I have certainly wondered if proof-reading or copy writing might be a way to claw back the NewsBase earnings, after Maureen suggested those yesterday morning. She has often been able to look beyond my trees and see the wood.
In contemplating any new employment, one limitation, filter or maybe line not to be crossed is that I enjoy working remotely. I crave it. My hours to suit me. Pyjamas often the work clothes of choice. Cats littered around the room.
Garden to stroll around or sit in when boredom sets in. Bike to climb on, wife to chat to. Music as background, perhaps via headphones.
And I adore the rural living situation. The growing appreciation of nature has changed my attitude to the business which I write about. The cows below graze on the rich grass at the country estate a few hundred yards away. I love standing quietly and watching them.
I am very disinclined to give up any of these central pleasures. Given the salient role of business in our planet’s fragility, I am also increasingly uncertain whether I could churn out too much more of the PR which constitutes most business writing. Unfortunately, I have become too good at this over the years.
This is all thinking aloud. The most attractive but tenuous idea of all came from old friend Shaun Wilson, who suggested that Rory and I might combine to write a new British gangster movie script.
My memories of my dad’s scrap metal business are there to be dipped into. Rory’s interest in film dialogue and his insights from the Film Studies course down in Gloucestershire could be invaluable.
So it’s all up in the air. But I’m sleeping well.