In the laminate section of CarpetRight I idly stroked a plank of Balterio Vitality Deluxe 4V Wood. To my mind the plank had a somewhat nautical look and I imagined how the living room thus bedecked might resemble a frigate from the golden age of British sea power, myself as Captain Jack Aubrey barking out orders to my wife in the galley and commanding the children to climb the rigging.
I was politely interrupted in this reverie by a salesman called Jerry. He was a big, soft-spoken man with a thick South African accent. Jerry explained that the laminate we were looking at came in two kinds: a single groove kind and a double groove kind. He pronounced it ‘debble grrreuv’. A soft-spoken South African makes a strange noise because the accent requires a harsh stress on virtually every word in a sentence – it takes them ages to say anything. As he spoke it became apparent from his build, smashed nose and cauliflower ears that Jerry was an ex-professional rugby player, probably immigrating to play for Bristol or Bath and now, retired in his early fifties, having to spend Sunday afternoons selling carpets in a ring-road superstore. It occurred to me that there must be thousands upon thousands of ex-sportsmen in such mundane places. Rugby players, cricketers and lower-league footballers: driving mini-cabs, pulling pints…Peak long since climbed and descended, glory days gone…Perhaps a former flying winger now explaining the benefits of double-glazing to uninterested customers who don’t even remember that they once cheered him as he drove over the line with seconds on the clock to win the local derby. But is it worse to be a forgotten hero or a never-was, one of the innumerable journeymen who never even cemented a place in the first team or scored a century, and every year a fresh batch of them is ejected from the ruthless machine of professional sport into dull reality….
During this second reverie Jerry again interrupted me. Something about which kind of grrreuv we would prefer. “Ummm….You’d better ask my wife,” I said, motioning towards her. “She’s the captain.”
Talking of accents, back here Gaw remarked on the fact that American ones can’t seem to process the words ‘squirrel’ or ‘warrior’, these coming out as ‘squorw’ and ‘worwyu’ respectively. Two more problem ‘r’ words featured on an episode I saw the other day of Tina Fey’s comedy 30 Rock. The loopy actress Jenna has made a movie called The Rural Juror (‘from the novel by Kevin Grisham, brother of John’) and the gag is that her tortured pronunciation - ‘The Rwrrr Jwrrr’ – means that none of the friends she excitedly tells about it can work out the title (‘Could it be “Roar her Gem her?”’; ‘No that doesn’t make any sense. It’s got to be “Oral Germ Whore”’). So r-word mangling seems to be a problem that Americans are fully aware of (though doubtless George will be along in a minute to note that they all daily recite ‘The Rural Squirrel Hurriedly Worried the Warrior’ as clear as a bell in Texas (wherever that is)).
Further to Susan’s post about Christmassy consumables that outstay their welcome, we have in the fridge a giant jar of mincemeat which remains half full despite epic mince pie-manufacturing by Mrs Brit.
2012 was a good year for mince pies around here. As well as the homemade ones I sampled most of the supermarket efforts and my brother-in-law then furnished us with Fortnum & Mason posh ones and even some by Heston Blumenthal (which, following the instructions carefully, we blended and injected into our arms with a syringe while slapping each other in the face with holly branches). Mrs B has valiantly created a huge batch of very tasty mincemeat muffins, but the jar remains stubbornly full. Can anyone recommend any post-Christmas uses for a half a ton of mincemeat?
A lot of hate from the Twitterati towards the Harris + Hoole coffee chain, which looks independent and Guardian reader-friendly but is ‘secretly’ part-owned by Tesco (who have a 49% stake). So what if it is? The shop’s founders worked hard to build up their business and then managed to raise some finance from a big corporation. Good on them.
But I won’t be going into their shop because having now read some informed (i.e. non-mainstream media) reporting on the Starbucks fiasco, I’m eager to start a one-man anti-boycott, in which I’ll be boycotting all coffee outlets except Starbucks (I don’t actually like Starbucks much, but with boycotting you have to remember that it’s the sense of self-satisfaction that counts). This man explains why Starbucks have done nothing much wrong by taking the unusual step of actually reading the accounts. He concludes, sadly: “A New Years resolution…never rely on information from a newspaper again.”
This is the problem with newspaper journalism. It can seem plausible, even impressive, right up to the point when they cover a subject that you happen to understand better than the ‘specialist’ reporter. At which point, one’s faith in the news crumbles.
I was watching Fulham play football on the telly and noted that their team currently contains that wily old Greek midfielder Georgios Karagounis, a stocky, hairy man who seems to have been around forever and is the epitome of the ‘grizzled pro’. The commentators were making much of his vast experience and admirable workrate ‘considering his age’. This ancient man was, it turned out, ‘now approaching his 36th birthday’. I mentioned this to my fellow Sunday morning footballers and a grim hush descended. The fact that even the youngest of us is now older than the oldest, gnarliest Premiership footballer probably means, if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, that the chance of playing in the FA Cup final is officially gone.
During the game my friend Phil wrecked his ankle, potentially disastrous as he’s a self-employed driver. Such injuries are mounting up. Dave, who runs things, is out for months with cartilage damage in his knee. Matt, who did his knee last year, has been told he will never play again though he may be able to run eventually, and he’s only the same age as Georgios Karagounis.
What’s interesting about playing football over the years is that players never really change their style: if you’re a dribbler at 14 you’ll still be a dribbler employing the same repertoire of tricks at 41; and if you’re a bruising centre-half as a schoolboy you’ll still be kicking lumps out of strikers in the veteran’s six-a-side competition.
When I was 11 I played for a team called Gianni 88 (sponsored by a local men’s clothing shop) in the Portsmouth Boys League. We were successful but frankly it was mostly kick and rush and if we strung three consecutive passes together it was a rarity. So I was quite astonished to see this video of a goal scored by our near namesakes, AO Giannina, in which virtually every boy in the team, including the goalkeeper, displays preternatural coolness, movement and passing ability.
No doubt these Greek mini-maestros idolise Georgios Karagounis, but the chances are that for the great majority of them this goal will be the peak of their footballing careers.
Professional sport loves youthful promise and nostalgia. Once you’ve lost the former the machine will eject you without sentiment, but at least you’ll have the latter to keep you company as you wait for a customer to choose his groove in some ring-road laminate superstore.