AS A child, kicking a tennis ball interminably against a wall on the back street because I’d read that this was how Bobby Charlton honed his soccer skills, I used to dream that one day I would hear football supporters chanting my name. It happened, but not in a way I would have wished for.
As regular readers will recall, I was an avid supporter of Nelson Football Club in the league known as the Lancashire Combination (nothing to do with underwear), and never missed a match home or away for several years. One Saturday, when I must have been about 12, we were playing at Wigan Rovers and I boarded the team coach (there were few enough supporters to make this possible) carrying a holdall which I used to take my games kit to school. On this occasion the bag, clearly marked with my name on the side, contained sandwiches, drinks and a book for the journey.
After the players had left the vehicle I and a couple more youngsters emerged to a volley of abuse and a hail of small rocks from a gang of Wigan toughs. Vastly outnumbered, we hastened to join the club directors and other adults in the party so we were safe from further attack. However, my name had been noted.
A few minutes after kick-off came the chant, to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down.
‘Alan Ashworth is a bum; is a bum; is a bum. Alan Ashworth is a bum – he likes Nelson.’
Fame at last.
Plumbing the depths
THE following is a horror story, so readers of a sensitive disposition might be advised to give it a miss. It concerns a lavatory in a beach taverna on the Greek isle of Andros, in the Northern Cyclades.
As you probably are aware, it was the Greeks who invented indoor plumbing, using it for baths and fountains in the fifth century BC. Sadly, they have learned little since. Throughout the mainland and islands, most lavatories have such narrow waste pipes that they cannot tolerate toilet paper, which after use must be placed in an adjacent bin. This is not always emptied regularly so, in the height of summer, you can imagine the pong.
One September day in 1980, when I was 25 and single, I was sunbathing on the beach at the resort of Batsi with a toothsome totty from Essex whom I had met on the ferry from Piraeus. The relationship was still at an early stage and we had yet to enter Ugandan discussions, as Private Eye used to put it. I was wearing only a pair of white bathing shorts.
Suddenly I was seized by griping pains and my stomach began to bubble like the witches’ cauldron in Macbeth. Last night’s dodgy moussaka was coming back to haunt me. Noting my distress, my companion asked: ‘Are you OK?’ ‘Yes, fine,’ I gasped. ‘Just a bit thirsty. I’ll get us some drinks.’
Grabbing some money from my wallet, which I left in her safe keeping, I raced into the nearest taverna, slapped a couple of notes on the bar and gabbled: ‘Abeerandalemonadepleaseand where’sthetoilet?’ The owner pointed me to a dark corner. No time to waste, I hotfooted it into the loo and was immediately assailed by a terrible stench. No matter, I had to go.
Post-evacuation I was feeling a lot better and looked around for the bog paper. Reader, there was none. Here I was in white shorts with nothing in the pockets, not even a handkerchief. I would have wiped my rear end on drachmas had I kept hold of my wallet, but it was out there on the beach. What to do?
After agonising for a while I concluded there was only one option. (Sound of Jaws-style menacing music). THE BIN.
Yes, I had to sort through the vile receptacle tearing off clean bits of paper to use. Disgusting. One of the most embarrassing moments of my life, mitigated only by the fact that there were no witnesses.
When I emerged from the taverna with the drinks, my girlfriend observed: ‘You were a long time.’ ‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘I was having a chat with the barman about Greek plumbing. By the way, I’d give the bog a miss if I were you.’
Moral of the story being: When in Andros, don’t forget to take some Andrex with you.
Meat Feast revisited
LAST week’s column about fry-ups, and in particular black pudding, launched a high-cholesterol frenzy of debate, a particular highlight of which was Simon Platt’s comment: ‘Black Puddings Matter’. Where is the best of this blood-based delicacy to be found – is it the West Country, the Hebrides, Ireland, France, or my personal choice, Bury Market in Lancashire? One thing I know, if they have a ‘best black pudding’ contest, I’d like to be one of the judges.
This response came from our friend Tom, born and bred in Birkenhead (at this point I suggest any vegan readers skip to the end). In an echo of Patrick McCabe’s brilliant 1992 novel The Butcher Boy, he wrote: ‘Your big breakfast story reminded me of an outing when I was about ten. The lad a few doors away had left school at 15 (his name was Davey something and he wasn’t the brightest spark) and found a job as a ‘blood boy’ in one of the many local slaughterhouses – Birkenhead was then Britain’s major livestock port.
‘One day during the summer holidays, he invited us kids to come along and see what he did at work. We all duly trudged down to the abattoir on the banks of the Mersey and just walked in – no one took a blind bit of notice of us.
‘We watched as the cattle and sheep were killed (I won’t go into further details). Then Davey proudly got down to his job . . . collecting the blood in big buckets. He had to keep stirring it with his hands to stop it coagulating while carrying it to a hopper and pouring it in, where it started its journey to being turned into black puddings.
‘That didn’t particularly put me off black puds – I’ve just never liked the look of them and have never eaten one. But my elder brother John and my Dad were enthusiasts – they also ate pig’s trotters (which you could get from the chippy in those days), cockles (like lumps of snot) and tripe (unspeakable).’
I have to disagree with Tom about his last three ingredients. Cockles (in vinegar) go down well with a pint, while trotters or tripe chucked into a beef stew make it unctuous beyond compare. I’ll talk tripe again in a future column. ‘Don’t you always?’ I hear you chorus.
A PS from PG
It was one of those cases where you approve the broad, general principle of an idea but can’t help being in a bit of a twitter at the prospect of putting it into practical effect. I explained this to Jeeves, and he said much the same thing had bothered Hamlet.
P G Wodehouse: Joy in the Morning (probably my favourite of his 90-odd novels).