Friday, 4 November 2016

Diana at the Bar - Cupid's Pursuit Original Outtake

The following was an original scene, when Matthew Malarkey met Diana Twist for the first time in Cupid's Pursuit, that got cut from the final book and replaced. N.B. I am re-drafting that whole book at present.

I was nervous. The taxi ride hadn’t done much to help matters. I slipped the black raincoat over my jacket and fumbled in a pocket for the false beard and moustache. My fingers alighted on its soft texture and I pulled it out. A quick glance around, but the only activity was passing traffic. I ducked into a shop doorway. Using what little reflection I could make out in the window, I positioned the beard and moustache on my face. Next I pulled out the cheap glasses from my inside jacket pocket and put them on. The whole thing felt weird but I was taking no chances with this date. If she looked nothing like the bombshell on her profile I could make a fast exit without being recognised. A quick reconnaissance mission would put my mind at ease. I just had to hope my disguise would do the trick. For reassurance I pulled my mobile out and hit the camera app. I tapped the icon in the top right corner and watched as the image swivelled around to reveal my face. I looked a bit like a cross between Johnny Depp and a serial killer but I was confident the end result would fool even Cecil, had I run into him. My date would be expecting the clean shaven image portrayed in my online profile so, if she caught a glimpse of me, I felt confident I could carry it off.
I took a deep breath and headed for the restaurant. A waiter greeted me.  
Good evening, Sir. Can I take your coat?”
In the bright lights, my confidence diminished. “Err, no... no thank you. I’m not... stay... I mean, not cold. Not hot, I meant. Err, cold... I’ll keep it on for now.”
The waiter nodded. “As you wish, Sir. Do you have a reservation?”
“A reservation?”
“Yes. Have you a table booked?”
“Uh... yes, I mean... no, I’m meeting someone.” I peered over his shoulder hoping to catch a glimpse of my date.
“Very good, Sir. I’ll show you to the bar.”
“No... no. It's fine.” I needed to lose the waiter. “I just need to... to use your, erm... facilities... first. Freshen up, you know.”
“Of course. This way, Sir.”
He was not for losing, but I realised that if I stuck close to him, it would aid my cover. He walked ahead between rows of tables filled with animated Saturday night diners. I tried to stay focussed. 
And then I saw her. She was sitting at the bar, legs crossed, one elbow lightly perched on the bar surface with what appeared to be a Martini held delicately between her slender fingers. Tall, elegant, immaculately dressed in a simple black evening dress that stopped just above the knee, her legs, toned like a dancer’s, sheathed in black stockings. The whole image, professional, cool yet extremely sexy. A city lawyer and a stylish lady.
She looked round as we approached. She was stunning. Her profile pictures had not done her justice at all. And in that first fleeting glimpse my concerns evaporated. I hesitated, a wave of relief washing over me, a surge of euphoria following swiftly in its wake. I took a step towards her just as she glanced down at her watch.
“Hello,” I said.
She looked up. A flicker of a smile but no recognition.
“Sir, the lavatories are this way.”
I heard the waiter’s voice but I was mesmerised by the stunningly good looking vision to my left. I looked at him and said, “It’s okay. I’m meet... ” And then I remembered my disguise. “I am me. Yes... uh, I’m... look, sorry, I don’t want to go now. Thank you. It’s fine.”
Diana looked round at the waiter and then back at me. I realised I had to get out of the restaurant and ditch the disguise. I was already forty-five minutes late due to Real Libel Cars sending me the world’s most incompetent taxi driver. This was one date I could not afford to mess up. 
I swivelled round and took a pace forward to leave. As I did, my trailing foot caught up in something and I pitched forward flat on my face onto the floor.
“Oh my goodness.”
I heard the sharp intake of breath. And then Diana was crouched next to me.
“Are you alright? I am so sorry. A stupid place to put a bag. Are you okay?”
“A bag?” I mumbled, as I rose to a sitting position.
“Yes, my bag. I put it on the floor with the strap hooked around the stool. You caught your foot.”
“Uh, yes. I’m... ” Up close she was mesmerising, sparkling blue eyes and a concerned frown creasing her brow, giving her an air of vulnerability. But it was the heady rush of her perfume that overwhelmed me and rendered me unable to complete my sentence.
“You look dazed. Did you hit your head?”
I was dazed but not through injury. Err, no, I caught my ankle, that’s all. I’m... I’m good. Sorry about your bag. I didn’t see –”
“Goodness. Don’t apologise. Entirely my fault. Let me check your ankle.” She leant forward and reached for my foot. I pulled it away. “It’s fine... it’s nothing, honest.” I got to my feet, the waiter applying some half-hearted assistance. 
“Let me get you a drink at least,” Diana said. “You look like you could use one.”
She was almost right. I could use several. And then I remembered I was supposed to be meeting her.
“It's okay. I... I’m supposed to be...” I hesitated. I could hardly mention a date, a subject too close for comfort given the circumstances. “... you know, to be… err... and I’m sure you have to be... as well and –”
“You sound confused. Are you sure you’re okay?” She stretched out a hand and placed her red tipped fingers lightly on my arm. “I won’t take no for an answer. A good stiff drink will do you the world of good.” She glanced at her watch. “And anyway, it looks like I’ve been stood up. I had a date but he’s now nearly fifty minutes late. So join me for one at least. I hate to drink alone. What will it be?”
At the mention of her date my senses slipped into stall mode and I had a sudden overwhelming need for pure oxygen. I actually felt my face change colour. Diana’s voice arrested my freefall into catatonia.
“Look, are you sure you’re okay? You look a little dazed. Perhaps I should call an ambulance?”
“An ambulance? No, no. A drink will be fine... err, whiskey.” I didn’t really care what drink I had. My focus was now on rescuing the date, especially now Diana thought she had been stood up, and to do that I had to ditch the disguise. “Look, Di... err... ” And then I realised that I shouldn’t know her name. “... I digress. I mean... look, I think… I… err, need the gents. I won’t be long.”
She smiled. “Okay. Whiskey you say? Any particular one?”
“No... just, you know... malt.”
I headed for the lavatories.
Once inside I pulled off the false beard and stuffed it into the coat pocket along with the glasses. Then I took off the coat, scrunched it into a ball and placed it on top of the cistern in one of the cubicles. Next, I checked my look in the mirror. All seemed okay. I took a deep breath and decided to go for it.
I opened the lavatory door and took a surreptitious peek into the restaurant. Diana was engrossed in conversation with what looked like a very officious staff member who sported incredibly bushy eyebrows and a Hitleresque moustache. A good time to make a discreet entrance. 
I swallowed hard, nerves jangling, and headed towards the bar.
“Hello. Diana? Is it you? I’m Matthew. I’m really sorry I’m late...” She turned suddenly and it threw me. “Err, delays on the... the... mini cab, taxi thing.”
“Matthew. You made it. I’d given you up as a lost cause. I’m not used to being made to wait so long I have to say.”
“I’m so sorry. The tube... I mean, the taxi... it was, you know...”
She smiled, her whole persona cool and unruffled. “Well, never mind. Glad you made it.” She glanced at the barman and then looked back at me. “Would you like a drink? I have a tab going.”
As she said it the barman placed a glass of whiskey on the bar. “Your Dalmore for the gentleman, Madam,” he said.
I needed a drink. I reached out, grabbed the glass and necked the contents in one. Diana’s reaction was almost as instant as the whiskey blaze that hit the back of my throat.
“Matthew! Excuse me. That was for my friend.”
“Your friend. Err... I am... he is... ” I took a deep breath as I realised my error. “I’m really sorry.” I pointed at the barman. “Uh... he said it was for the gentleman. I assumed –”
Diana raised an eyebrow. “A gentleman never assumes, Matthew. My friend has gone to freshen up. He won’t be long. I’m just making sure he's alright. He had a minor accident. Anyway, lovely to meet you. I’m delighted to say that you look exactly like your profile pictures. So refreshing. So many men on these dating sites are extremely false.”
I gulped but tried to style it out. “Err, and you look very like... well, like you too.” I was saved from further bumbling when Hitler moustache intervened.
“Are you ready for your table, Ms Twist?” he asked.
“No, not yet, James. I think I should like to make sure that that young man who tripped on my bag gets his drink and is okay first. Speaking of which, can I get another Martini.”
“I’m sure he'll be fine,” I blurted out, anxious to dismiss the thought from Diana’s mind.
“With respect Matthew, you can’t say that. The poor chap took a tumble and may have hurt himself. Men are so silly, putting on a brave face. All very well until you have concussion. I need to know that he’s well.”
I bit my lip and wished I had another whiskey at hand. But I knew there was no option other than to sort my alter ego if I was going to have a successful date with Diana.
“Excuse me a moment,” I said. “Just need the... the, err, lads’ room.”  
Diana smiled and turned back to the bar. 
I reached the toilets and headed for the cubicle where I’d stashed my disguise. I pulled out the raincoat and slipped it on. Next I took out the false beard and moustache and placed it on my face. Then I put the glasses on. I buttoned up the coat and checked the mirror. The image that stared back at me blew any modicum of confidence I had into tiny pieces. Diana wasn’t stupid. She was too cool and too... too... legal. I looked like a pantomime villain. But I knew I had to sort out the ‘friend.’ If he didn’t come out of the toilets, Diana would fret. I needed her attention. I took a deep breath, stared at the bizarre image and decided to style it out. 
I strode back into the restaurant determined to sort the issue I had created. I approached Diana, my intention to thank her for her concern and take my leave. But she beat me to it. 
“Ah, there you are,” she said. “Are you okay?”
“Err, yes. Fine. Look, I have to go. I need to –”
“Have your drink first.” She picked up the replacement whiskey from the bar and handed it to me. I necked it in one, the sensation causing my eyes to squint involuntarily.
Diana smiled. “Well, nice to meet you. You be careful now. Watch your step and I’ll make sure I place my bag somewhere sensible in future.” As she said it she glanced at my feet. “Nice shoes by the way.”
I was pleasantly surprised by the compliment and for a split second forgot myself. “Thank you, Diana. I bought them especially for –”
“You know my name?”
My face flushed beneath the beard. “Uh... No... I mean, no... Not exactly... I –”
“But you just said it. That’s precisely my name. Diana. You could not have been more exact.”
I faltered for a moment, my instinct to run. There was no point in arguing with a lawyer. And then I said, “Someone told me it.”
“Someone? Who?”
“Err... yes. It was... it was the man in the gents... the toilets. We got talking. He said he had a date. I told him that I’d been offered a drink by a... a very nice blonde lady at the bar. And he said that it might be you and asked if the name was Diana. I said I didn’t know but that you had a black dress on and he said that it sounded like his date, Diana.”
Diana smiled. “I see. Well, speaking of my date, I wonder why he’s taking so long. He was late in the first place. Would you take a look, make sure he’s okay?”
A wave of panic shot through me. “Uh... I’m sure he is. I mean what can go wrong in a toilet?”
She placed a hand on my arm. “If you wouldn’t mind. You never know. I’ve been looking forward to this evening and it has got off to a strange start.”
I nodded. The sooner I solved the problem the sooner I could enjoy my evening. I headed towards the lavatories and then I noticed a short corridor to one side with double doors at the end. Each door had a glass panel at the top. I went along the corridor and stared through the glass. The restaurant kitchens. And an idea popped into my head.
I pushed one of the doors open and was immediately confronted by one of the chefs.
“You can’t come in here, Sir,” he said.
“Sorry. I... are you the Head Chef?”
“No. If you’ve got a problem with your order you need to speak with the Maître d’.”    
“No, no. Nothing like that. Can I speak with the Head Chef? It’s urgent.”
The guy was not of a mind to co-operate but we were interrupted by one of the other staff members.
“What’s the problem here? I’m Head Chef. It’s my kitchen,” he said.
“Of course. Sorry to barge in but I’m a customer who’s trying to surprise my friend... a special occasion. Have you got a back door? Out to a yard or something? I have another friend... the lady’s brother. He’s come a long way... err, from Australia. I’m trying to smuggle him in to surprise her.”
“You should see the Maître d’ for that,” the Head Chef said.
“Who’s that?”
“The guy with the moustache, out front.”
There was no way I’d get Hitler moustache to co-operate. “No... no, he’s busy. If you could just leave the back door open so he can come in through the kitchen. It will be a huge surprise as she won’t see him coming.”
The Head Chef frowned. “We have a back door, sure, but it’s for deliveries.”
I pulled out my wallet. “There’s a drink in it for you.”
“A drink? How much?”
“Err... twenty quid.”
He laughed. “There’s four of us here. A hundred and I’ll open the door for you.”
“A hundred?” I gulped. “But that’s more than twenty each?”
“You want it opened or not?”
I did. “Okay. Here.” I pulled out five twenties and handed them over. “My friend is about my height, dark suit, white shirt. Looks a bit like me. Oh, and shoes very like mine too. His name is Matthew. He’ll be five, ten minutes. Okay?”
“Okay.” He rolled up the notes and stuffed them in a back pocket. “He got a beard too?”
“You said he looks a bit like you. He got a beard?”
I kept forgetting about my disguise. “Err, no… no, clean shaven. I meant that if he did have a beard… which he hasn’t, he’d look a bit… a bit, you know… like me.”
I turned around and went back out to the corridor and emerged into the restaurant from the direction of the lavatories. Diana saw me coming.
“Everything okay?” she asked.
“Yes. All good. Your date will be out soon. He’s, you know, just sprucing up. Difficult journey he said. Anyway, I have to run. Nice to meet you. Thanks for the drink.”
I didn’t wait for a response. I headed straight for the front exit.
Once outside I pulled off the beard, glasses and the coat. I wrapped them into a tight bundle and walked to the corner of the street. I figured that if I went around the block I would end up at the back of the restaurant. I turned right. Midway along the street there was an alley lined with green wheelie bins. I turned right into the alley and realised I was behind the main block where the restaurant was. I followed it until I was somewhere in the vicinity of the restaurant. I opened one of the wheelie bins and found it was filled with flat packed cardboard. The top two or three pieces had the names of catering suppliers printed on them. I lobbed my rolled coat into the bin and walked towards the back of the building through a small fence-lined courtyard that had two cars parked in it. At the end of the courtyard, partially hidden by the fencing, there was a large white door set off to one side of the building. I pulled it open and found a wide corridor stacked with empty produce boxes on one side. At the end, a see-through plastic curtain filled the door frame. I walked through and found myself in the kitchen but this time at the far end. Immediately the Head Chef spotted me.
“And you are?”
I searched rapidly for an Australian twang, hoping something of Neighbours or even Skippy had rubbed off.
“Err... g’day cobber... erm, sport. Ahm Matthew, from Oz. Ma mate said it’d be fair dinkum to come through yer... err, uh... billabong... kitchen. Good onya. Come to surprise the Sheila out front there. My mate cut ya some... err, some buckeroos I hear so we’re... uh, bonzer?”
The Head Chef shot me a strange look but said nothing. I strolled through the kitchen trying to give it as much swagger as I could. Just as I reached the door that led out to the restaurant, I heard the Head Chef call out.
“Hey, Matthew. Where’d you and your mate get them shoes?”
I stopped as the word ‘shoes’, linked with ‘mate’ in the same sentence, sank in.
“Yeah, you both got the same shoes. I like them. Where’d you buy them?”
I turned, unable to say anything meaningful, my mind focussed on the implications of ‘same shoes.’ “Err... same shop,” I blurted out and headed through the door. 
Back in the corridor that led to the restaurant I stopped to collect my thoughts. If the chef had noticed my shoes were the same as the other guy’s, then Diana must have done. She would have noticed them on my disguised persona too. I had fallen over right in front of her. I remembered that she'd tried to look at my ankle. So she would have seen my socks - black, with a thin blue stripe. Not distinctive, but noticeable. She was a lawyer. She spotted things.  
I turned and headed for the lavatories. Once inside I stared for a moment at my mirrored reflection. I needed this date to go well. How likely was it that two guys in the same restaurant had identical shoes... and socks? I couldn’t risk it. I had no choice but to ditch the shoes. I pulled them off and stuck them on top of the cistern in one of the cubicles. I hesitated for a moment, a storm of wild thoughts blowing through my head. Should the socks go too? No, barefoot was a step too far. I could come up with some rational explanation for no shoes but no socks was a tricky one. Shoes were being left on the road all the time. Nobody had a clue how they got there. So it wasn’t unusual to lose your shoes. The same socks could just be co-incidence. My decision had been made, helped by the two large whiskeys. Time to style it out and get to know Diana.
I went back to the restaurant. Diana was still at the bar.
“Matthew. Goodness you were ages. I thought you’d got cold feet and escaped.”
At the mention of feet I decided to go for it.Oh, no. Nothing like that. I’m looking forward to our date. I... I, err... lost my shoes.”
Diana giggled and stared at my feet. “Lost your shoes? How funny. How did you do that?” 
I asked myself the same question. “Well... I... it’s a long story. Err... tarmac... look, I don't want to bother you with the details. Can we get another drink?”
“Of course we can get another drink. Whiskey?” She nodded to the barman. “And then you can tell me about your shoes. It would be a lovely ice breaker rather than all that dating small talk. And they were very smart, classy shoes I have to say.”
I gulped. “You... you saw them?”
“Of course I did. I’m a woman. We always make a point of looking at a man’s shoes. And his watch. They say things about a man. Shoes are detail.” She raised her glass and winked. “And, of course, they are a good indicator of the size of his feet.” She sipped her drink and then said, “They can’t be far away, Matthew. You had them on when you came in.”
The barman placed a glass of whiskey on the bar.
“Err, yes... yes, I did. But I... well... ” I grabbed the glass and necked the contents in one. 
Diana smiled, a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Tarmac.”
“Tarmac?” I repeated.
“Yes, you said something about tarmac.”
“Tarmac. Err... yes. Well... I... on the way here, I stood in some wet tarmac. Accidentally. Road works near the restaurant... I didn’t see it. I stepped out of the taxi... dreadful journey. Wasn’t thinking... and my shoe went in it. So I decided to try and clean it off in the lavatory but it was really tough and... I needed more... err, loo paper, and as I was getting some I accidently dropped the shoe into the actual toilet.”
“Really? Why didn’t you just pull it back out?”
“I was going to but the floor was wet and I slipped as I went to get it out. As I fell forward my hand hit the flush lever and it... it got flushed away.”
Diana laughed out loud. “Must be a very big lavatory to flush away your shoe. So what happened to the other one?”
“The other one?”
“Yes, your other shoe.”
“Oh, I left it there. No sense in walking around with one shoe.”
“Well, what a disaster. I hope you haven’t left sticky footprints on the carpet.”
“Uh... no, I don’t think so. I was careful.”
Diana turned away and picked up her drink. I felt a sense of relief. My story had rambled on. It was off the cuff but I considered that it may just have been plausible. 
I picked up a bar menu and browsed for some Champagne. Diana interrupted my thoughts.
“I do hope that young man that tripped up earlier watches his step. He had identical shoes to yours. A shame if he stepped in that wet tarmac too.”

Monday, 13 June 2016

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali is transported quickly through the clouds, fast tracking it past the queue right to the Pearly Gates. They open automatically and he walks forward through a long white corridor that is lined with towering columns clad with gold leaf and ornate lapis lazuli strands. At the end of the corridor, the area opens out into a large wide space, wisps of cloud playing around what appears to be a transparent ceiling. Ali stops for a moment to get his bearings and slowly becomes aware of the soft notes of an orchestra. It grows a little louder as he walks forward and there ahead of him he sees a choir of angels, each one holding a lyre, all of them plucking the strings in unison. From the left of the group, the ringing, echoing notes of a harpsichord float across the melody. And then an angel steps forward and begins to sing, her voice beautiful and mesmerising as her tone blends with the harmonies. Ali is captivated and fascinated all at once. A touch on his shoulder snaps him back into focus and he whirls round, hands lifting and bouncing as he instinctively shifts into a defensive motion. In front of him stands a tall angel in a long flowing robe.
“Where’d you come from man?” Ali says, his eyes wide with surprise. “I didn’t see you creep up on me. Ah must be gettin slow!”
The angel smiles. “I am Gabriel. I have come to take you to the Boss.”
“The boss? There ain’t no boss but me, sucka. Don’tcha know that? I told y’all didn’t I."
Gabriel smiles again but says nothing. He beckons to Ali to follow him. Ali does so and says, “Hey, where'd you get them wings man?”
Gabriel makes no reply and continues ahead. As they walk through the room Ali sees his reflection in a silver framed mirror. It causes him to stop in his tracks. Staring back at him is the Muhammed Ali of his peak, a tall, upright, sleek specimen of athletic power and grace. He looks down at his hands and sees that they are steady as rock; gone is the shaking that afflicted him as he fought with his illness. He looks back at his reflection, smooths his hair and says, “Ain’t ah pretty?” 
Gabriel smiles and beckons him forward. Ali follows and they enter another room, a room that seems to have no confines - no walls, no ceilings and no floors. Yet they are able to walk forward into its depths. Gabriel stops and stretches out an arm, indicating a figure that appears to be sitting on an old wooden barrel.
Ali’s gaze follows Gabriel’s outstretched hand. 
“Who’s that dude, man?”
“Meet the Boss,” Gabriel replies.
Ali takes a pace forward and stares at the image ahead of him. And in that moment he experiences surprise, awe, confusion and intrigue. The figure seems to have no form yet is a man; he is neither old nor young; he has no colour yet is black, white and many other shades. But his eyes are the most striking feature, ablaze with kindness, humour and understanding. A smile plays on his lips but he says nothing.
Ali’s curiosity gets the better of him. “You’re the... boss? Who are you man?”
The figure stands up and now portrays an image, tall and young. “Who am I? I am him you seek. I am who you call God. But I am no Muslim god, no Christian god, no Jewish god, no Hindu god, no Druid god, no Roman god, no Greek god, no Egyptian god, no Norse god. I am the God of all people.”
“You God?” Ali says. “Maaaan, you are somethin else. But if you’re God why you sittin on a barrel? Why you got no throne?”
God’s eyes twinkle. “Thrones are for those who would elevate themselves above the people. Thrones are for those who would make religions, religions I didn’t ask for, and seek to divide one another. Thrones are for those who wish to control my people. Somebody once said that you should not look down on people who look up to you.”
“Hey, man, I said that,” Ali says, his eyes wide.
God smiles. “I know you did. You were a good man Muhammad, and that is why you are here. But now, I have somebody who has been waiting a while to meet with you. Gabriel will take you to see him and when you are done I want to talk with you some more.”
Ali frowns. “What do you want to talk about?”
God sits back down on his barrel. “Well Muhammad, there is the matter of you telling everybody that you are the Greatest. Something we need to discuss.” 
Before Ali has time to open his mouth to respond, God winks at him and then beckons to Gabriel. Gabriel takes Ali from the room, along a short walkway that straddles the clouds and stops by a door. He steps back and looks at Ali.
“You go in by yourself. I will be back.” In an eye blink Gabriel disappears. Ali hesitates, a moment’s apprehension furrowing his brow and then he opens the door.
“Hey ma man. You made it.”
A familiar voice and then recognition.
“Joe Frazier! Joe Frazier! What you doin here?”
Joe grabs Ali in a bear hug. “Good to see ya, pretty boy. You lookin good.”
Ali hugs Joe and then stands back. “Yeah, but I always looked good Joe. Why you surprised? And, anyway how come you in this place?"
"Man, they let me in, just like you. No reason why I cain’t be here. I was a good man too you know. I ain’t never done nuthin wrong. I got a right to be here.”
Ali smiles and gives Joe a wide eyed stare. “I know that. You a warrior and a good man Joe, I know it. But I’m still wondrin. With all them good singers out there, how come they let YOU in? You cain’t have passed no audition.”
Joe grins. “Don’t you worry about that ma man. I’m teachin them dudes out there some kick ass blues. They gonna be gettin rid of them fancy harps and gettin down and dirty real soon.”
“You still agitatin, Joe? You cain’t do no agitatin up here. You get your behind kicked, you do that.”
“Ain’t nobody gonna kick Joe Frazier’s behind. Ah bin workin out up here for five years. Bin hitting the heavy bag three times a week, know what I’m sayin?"
“Five years? Five years! Man, you give me six weeks and I’ll whup your ass like I’m your daddy. I’m back and I’m comin to get ma titles."
“Bring it on pretty boy. I’m smokin.”
“And, I'll be pourin water on your smokin.” Ali does a lightening quick shuffle and throws two playful left jabs that fly past Joe’s head. Joe drops into a crouch hands high and bobs and weaves towards Ali. The two of them then burst into a fit of giggles.
“We sure had some wars, ma man,” Joe says.
“Yeah, hardest fights I ever had. That fight with big bad George was a walk in the park compared to you. You one baaaaad man.” Ali grins, his eyes dancing at the memories. Then he looks serious. “Hey, Joe... is that big ugly bear, Sonny Liston, up here too?”
“Sure he is. Yeah, Sonny’s here but he layin low a while when he heard you were comin.”
“Layin low?”
“Yeah, he ain’t got no beef with you but he thinks you one crazy kid.”
“Yeah, man. I remember that. I sure got that chump worried back in the day. He didn’t know what was comin for him.”.
“Well when he knew you was on your way he said he was gonna give you some space, ya know. He said he’d let you get settled. He done want none of your crazy poems the minute you get here. He don’t even wanna hear me singin.”
Ali laughs. “That sucka ain’t as dumb as he looks.”
“Hey kid. How you doin?” A voice from behind makes Ali swivel round.
“Angie! Angie. Hey man good to see you.” Ali embraces Angelo Dundee. “I got you back in my corner Angie?” 
“Sure thing kid. Don’t you doubt it.”
Ali points at Joe Frazier. “Hey Angie, Joe here’s agitatin again. Thinks he can whup me.” He turns to Joe. “You know what Joe. You think you can whup me? You gonna need to get some of them wings that these angel dudes are all wearin if you gonna get even close to me. Ah got all my speed back, all ma reflexes, ma fast hands. Ah cain’t be beat. And I don't need no wings. I already float like a butterfly. I cain’t possibly be beat. And you know somethin Joe, even you do get them wings, you only gonna get close to ma shadow and then you out sucka... in seven rounds. And talkin of poems, I got a new one just for you.”

'Joe Frazier talks the fight and sometimes he even sings
But to get close to Ali, he gonna need some wings. 
Ali throws a jab and then he throws a right
And Joe starts a wondrin, why he picked this fight. 
The Garden and Manila and now they fight in Heaven
But Ali takes the title and ends it in round seven.'”

Joe grins. “Keep dreamin pretty boy. Sonny was right layin low. Don’t you ever stop talkin?”
Ali laughs and slaps Joe on the shoulder. “You know I’m only teasin. Just hype man. Just selling the fight.”
“You won’t need to sell no fight up here, kid,” Angelo says. “You don’t need that baloney. All them angels will show up no problem. They need a break from that fancy harp playin all day. And they’ll come see you two get it on. Like I always told you. Styles make fights …an you two got the style."
Ali stares at Angelo. “Talkin of angels Angelo, why are all these angels white? Don’t they have no black angels, no brown angels up here?”
“Sure they do kid. Everybody... all races, all religions. Everybody’s here. It’s  just that the white angels like playing them harp things so they get put on welcome dooties. God’s a bit of a traditionalist. Yeah, but you find your way around and everybody’s here, And, let me tell you, there’s a whole bunch of Viet Cong angels lining up a big party in your honour next week.”
Ali grins and nods at Joe Frazier. “Hey Joe. You hear Angelo? We got a party to go to next week man. Tell that Sonny Liston to get his best threads ready cos I want him there too. We got some making up to do.”
Angelo grabs Ali by the arm. “Kid, come with me. I got some people wanna see you. They wanna welcome the Greatest of All Times.”
“Yeah, Dempsey, Johnson, the Rock, Louis, Sugar Ray, Tunney, Willard, Primo........”

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Football Fan

You have no control over who you may end up sitting next to when you buy a ticket for a sports event. Last night I bought a ticket to watch a match in the Vanarama National League and ended up sitting next to a football fan. Since it was a football match in that league, you would be forgiven for asking, "Who did you expect to be sitting next to? Kate Middleton? Sharon Stone? Vladimir Putin?" Well, no, not unless somehow I managed a corporate box at a Premier League game and then I guess, the nearest I might achieve to any of the aforementioned persons, should they deign to attend a football match, is the same stand. But, as I said, this is the Vanarama National League. This particular league is a highly respectable football division but, in football terms, it is rather humble, being the lowest of the five nationwide football divisions in England and in a different universe from the stratospheric heights of the Premier League. The footballers down here are 'normal' blokes unlike the self-important superstars of the Premier League who have someone available to tie their shoelaces and agents who help them decide whether or not to blow their own noses. However, this contrast is also reflected in the skill level too. For example, last night a nippy little winger showed ample guts and determination but, on receiving the ball, he had a tendency to stick his head down and run with it, full pelt, in a dead straight line, oblivious to what was going on around him. A drawback since the sport is a team game. Had it not been for the intervention of a number of industrial tackles, he may well have run out of the stadium and continued running down the local high street and possibly along the motorway, until his energy reserves failed him.

But, I digress from my football fan seating 'companion' although I think it is important to have a little scene setting to allow the reader to understand context here. The football fan was large and loud, probably a description that comes as no blinding surprise. His continued, highly vocal, 'encouragement' to the home team would give the impression to someone who doesn't understand 'soccer' (an American for example) that he had been in the football industry for many years, possibly having managed Barcelona, Bayern Munich and even some teams that did not begin with B. However, a more discerning connoisseur of the game, amongst whom I like to think I am one, would have quickly arrived at the conclusion that this particular fan knew 'bugger all' about the sport. His initial first utterances seemed harmless enough, being simple, encouraging support as his team walked onto the pitch. "C'mon lads, you can do it." Given that, despite their occupancy of the lower echelons of the football hierarchy, the 'lads' were athletes, I felt confident that they would be able to walk onto the pitch without need of any vocal support.

His next utterance, after two or three minutes of play, was directed to the referee following an innocuous trip by an opposition player on a home player. “Card him. Card him.” I was a little alarmed at first thinking perhaps that this was local vernacular for some throat slitting exercise with a sharp instrument, but then realised that the fan was strongly ‘suggesting’ that the ref should show a yellow card to the opposition player for the transgression. The referee ignored the exhortation mostly because he could not possibly have heard it, given that he was in the centre of the pitch, but also because such action was not warranted. His failure to follow the direction appeared to prickle the fan so that he then, in addition to direction to the team, began a personal vendetta against the official. After another harmless coming together in which a home player fell theatrically onto the grass but regained his feet almost as quickly when no whistle was blown, the fan berated the ref again. “C’mon ref. You’re letting ’em away with effing murder.” Alarmed again, I counted the number of players left on the pitch and found that exactly the same complement that had started the game, were still in situ. Not a hint of homicide or even the suggestion of involuntary manslaughter.

The fan’s face was now beginning to resemble a Spanish sunset but with none of the warmth that such an event creates. He decided to fire some tactical advice at the team manager who was on the opposite touchline some seventy to eighty metres away. I use the phrase ‘tactical advice’ although I am quite certain that, “sort it out, mate… sort it out,” is not part of any current coaching manuals. If it is, then, given that the person to whom the ‘advice’ was directed was in the position of Professional Football Club Manager, I feel sure that he would have been exposed to such learning, perhaps on day one of his FA badge course.

The next passage of play in which the home team continually gave the ball away to the opposition, even though they were wearing a distinctly different colour kit, led to even more enlightened coaching from the now increasingly tense and stressed out fan. “Help him. What’s wrong with you? Help him,” he screamed at the home full back when one of his teammates found himself boxed in by three opposition players. Possibly the full back heard this advice or had an uncanny ability to connect mentally with apoplectic fans, as he decided that the best form of help was to clatter into one of the opposition players. The referee immediately blew his whistle to signal a foul and brandished a yellow card at the offending home player. This sent the fan into a paroxysm of unbridled fury and, in a flurry of spittle and undisguised venom, he hurled a volley of abuse at the ref, culminating in, “You’re a wanker, ref. He fell over.” Well, yes, the statement that the player fell over was entirely accurate but then this is often the end result when you are assaulted from behind by a knee in the small of the back and a simultaneous elbow to the head. The referee’s concern was not the player’s final position on the ground but more the act which caused it to occur. It may well be an instantly recognizable form of ungentlemanly conduct in a sport such as golf, tennis or cricket but even in a full contact sport like rugby, such an attack from behind is considered foul play. However, our football fan did not seem to recognise it as such since it was perpetrated by a home player, a member of his team. By contrast, when an opposition player exacted a small degree of retribution some minutes later with a fairly harmless trip on the offending player, the football fan almost burst a blood vessel in urging the referee to have that player disembowelled.

With no score to separate the two teams and the clock ticking down, it was clear that the game was descending into a turgid draw. This lack of a score for the home team seemed to fuel the football fan’s sense of urgency. When the referee stopped the game for another incident that resulted in a home team free kick and delayed the restart until the opposition players were ten yards from the ball, the fan’s sense of injustice again caused him to rise from his seat, yelling sarcastically, “In yer own time ref. In yer own time.” I considered this remark unhelpful and an example of the ‘bleedin obvious’ given that the referee is in possession of a stopwatch to monitor the duration of a game, add on extra playing time where required and is also charged with conducting the match in accordance with the timings laid down by FA rules.

As the game drew to a close and the home team’s failure to achieve a positive result became a likely outcome, the fan’s behaviour became more erratic and his demeanour more agitated. A near miss for the home team caused him to declare, “If it ain’t one thing, it’s another,” (in a sport that involves several action packed incidences, this might be considered another example of the ‘bleedin obvious’) and then he came out with a corker. As one of the officials raised the LED display board to indicate an additional five minutes playing time, another foul on a home player brought a screaming instruction to the referee, “They’re animals ref. Another foul. Nip it in the bud.” Now given that we had played almost ninety minutes and there were just five extra minutes remaining, nipping it in the bud did seem a tad belated as advice. Given the extraordinary reaction that the fan had been displaying to every perceived misdemeanour that the opposition had carried out, this particular bud was, by now, a full grown Triffid.

The final whistle was eventually blown accompanied by a generous ripple of applause from around the ground. In view of the miserable sporting spectacle that the fans had endured it seemed that this applause was for the sound of the whistle rather than any appreciation of the on field performance.  I was particularly grateful as it put an end to the running commentary that I had had to endure all evening. I suspect that the football fan was grateful too as any further extension of play would have undoubtedly resulted in him experiencing a disastrous seizure.

And then my final surprise.

The fan unzipped his jacket to put his match programme into his inside pocket and I saw it – the dog collar. A man of the cloth! I sat for a moment dumbfounded. God help his parishioners at the Sunday sermon.