Streaking for £300

Our annual pilgrimage to the Mecca of snooker begins tomorrow. We are heading north to Sheffield for our sophomore visit to the Steel City to watch the World Championships. Our previous excursion was a brilliant occasion – my favourite memory came in the renowned Crucible theatre after Ali Carter (a fellow with a face which looks permanently at odds with life) played a shocking shot against Graeme Dott. As Carter threw a look of pure contempt into the crowd, three of our group stood up and unfurled banners provided by the venue which say “Great shot”, a move which did not impress the player known as “The Captain”. Over a pair of sessions, we grew a passionate dislike for Carter. He comes across as an entirely humourless bloke; he could be confronted by the Seven Wonders of the World and still find time to complain about a refereeing decision at the Malta Open six years ago.
   
Incidentally, while checking Carter’s nickname on Wikipedia, the entry for Liang Wenbo, a promising young Chinese player, states that one of his nicknames is “Should he stay or should he go?” which makes it sound like he’s at an immigration tribunal rather than earning his keep on the green baize. Perhaps more impressive are the nicknames of the two Thai players on the circuit, known as “The Thai-phoon” and “Thai-namite” respectively. Thank heavens snooker isn’t more popular in Thailand or the next professional will be lumbered with a moniker like “Typhoid” or, perhaps if the player is extremely fortunate to qualify, “Typo”. Andy Hicks is known as “The Toast of Tavistock”, which makes you wonder who the second most famous son of the Devon town might be, when you consider that as a lifelong fan of the game, he barely registers on my radar. A three-legged cow? The landlord of The Swan’s Neck?
   
Being excitable young idiots, we have been discussing the trip for a few months now, taking every opportunity to speculate how messy it might get. We are staying in a Travelodge on the edge of the city, which at £12 a night is much nicer than it has any right to be. Although at £7.99, the buffet breakfast available in the foyer is nearly the same price as a decent night’s kip.
   
Harry asked a question a few days ago which got us thinking. “How much would you pay me to streak during a match?” he enquired, completely deadpan. This boy isn’t the brightest. Only the other day he said he wanted a new bike to cycle to work as it is downhill there and flat on the way back. He once took a ten pounds bet to drink six cans of super-strength cider in three hours – having demolished all six in half that time, he managed to spend his winnings on a single losing hand of poker, launch a tureen of butter across the room and defecate down himself while asleep. He awoke the next morning to ask who put shit on his leg. As I say, he couldn’t power a 1-watt light bulb.
   
So I was forced to consider how much I would personally fork out so that a good friend could whip out his tackle live on Eurosport, thereby giving the regular commentary box mutter of “He may need his extension here” a whole new meaning.  I didn’t know what to think. On the one hand, a hearty dose of national humiliation and a stint in a police cell may do the boy some good. On the other, he wanted at least thirty quid per man, giving him nearly three hundred smackers, presumably to cover his legal fees. I wonder if the government’s cuts to legal aid are extended to acts of gross stupidity by silly young men. For Harry’s sake let’s hope it hasn’t.
   
Unlike many people who might consider such a foolhardy act, I can confidently say that he wouldn’t be doing it for publicity or a wish for fleeting fame, mainly because he is too stupid to want such things. He broke his hand a few months back because his girlfriend “annoyed” him, in a reverse version of domestic abuse. “Arrghh, you’re such a bitch… I hate you so much I’m going to punch this wall”. I suppose I can see him becoming one of those acts on Britain’s Got Talent who thinks the Queen needs to witness him sticking an entire Subbuteo team up his nose but Harry is motivated by money, plain and simple.
  
I can see him now, shivering in custody, wrapped in a foil blanket they give marathon runners once they cross the finish line. When a brutish officer asks why he did it, he would say “My mates gave me three hundred quid”.
   
“So it’s not to protest against elitism or inequality or the Bahrain Grand Prix or ageism at the BBC or climate change or Jeremy Clarkson’s underwear like most of the nutters we get in here” the officer would tartly reply. “Nah, I needed drinking money” he would say.
   
So if you’re settling in front of the television for a night of balls being bashed around a table, you may get a little more than you bargained for.

Near death on a replacement bus

Lucky is not the word. To be sitting here in relative comfort, telling this thrilling story of derring-do, I feel privileged. It all started when I arrived at the station to board my train home. Unfortunately, due to a “signalling fault” there was to be no trains running between Lewes and Eastbourne. I would have to catch a rail replacement bus service back home. It was extremely late. I was tired. What could go wrong?

Exiting the ticket barriers at Lewes, I was greeted by an astonishing sight. A rounded, old-fashioned, bumbling bus was waiting expectantly for its passengers. One thought immediately sprung to mind – and as if by telepathy, a bloke in front of me said exactly what I was thinking: “They’re making us get on a bus like the one from the Only Fools and Horses Jolly Boys’ Outing”. It was seriously old. Layers of dirt surrounded the chassis, almost completely obscuring the logo on the side – a clever tactic, as I wouldn’t know who to sue when I inevitably sustain whiplash.

As I clambered aboard, the driver greeted me with a toothless smile. “Polegate, Hampden Park and Eastbourne” he chirpily said, obviously thinking I had somehow missed the umpteen announcements made on the train of what I needed to do and where I needed to go. Perhaps he was making sure that no-one was anticipating a guided tour of the South Downs, complete with optional audio commentary and a stop-off at the local orchard to go scrumping. “It’s just like a school bus” said a young woman addressing her boyfriend, taking the seats in front of me with the air of someone rather enjoying their mini-adventure.

“It smells like one too” he wearily replied. And it did. It smelt like sandwiches of suspicious origin and quality, with a great deal of dust thrown in. You daren’t stick your hand between the seats in case you touch something disgusting that has been left to rot for years, like a mint imperial, or maybe a bullied schoolchild.

The bus filled up and despite an endless stream of people requiring a seat, a large gathering outside the steamy windows deemed it best to wait for the next one. When the driver informed the waiting minions that there were two last seats available, it was with extraordinary reluctance that an elderly couple joined us. I looked at the dozens of people standing outside in the freezing weather, with the pitter-patter of rain moodily announcing itself and I thought, “I’d rather be with them”.

The driver was rather short and wore a bobble hat, which gave him the look of a man who has just finished filming his cameo in The Hobbit. He wasn’t the first person I would put in charge of a clapped out coach, charged with the task of transporting fifty people a great distance in the velvety darkness of midnight. In fact, I would have had greater confidence in David Blunkett’s guide dog. I knew I wasn’t the only one to have such thoughts. Looking around, all I could see was worried faces, many wondering if you could call Norwich Union for a life insurance quote before the engine started revving up.

Our worries were not alleviated when he took six at-tempts to manoeuvre the coach out of the station’s car park. He had the turning circle of the HMS Belfast. As the bus gathered pace, it started making a rather ominous gurgling sound, something I would normally associate with a bowel disease. Once let loose on the A27, the clatter became worse. It was a droning, monotonous grind – it was the Ann Widdecombe of transportation.

Less appealing than the frankly rude-sounding engine was the decor. Finished in resplendent mahogany imitation, it looked like a caravan from the 1970s, only less mechanically reliable. The seats were all faded and had almost ceased to be seats; you leant back and you were cradled in the crotch of the person behind you. Seat belts were miraculously provided, although mine didn’t work. Milk floats probably have a better safety specification.

At speed, the smallest bump in the road was magnified a thousand-fold. Sitting at the back, I was bearing the brunt of the attacks. When we hit a pothole, I needed to employ precision balance and awareness to avoid leaping into the arms of the stranger beside me. After surviving a full thirty minutes of rapacious bumps and bruises, I felt like I had all the skills necessary to become a member of the Red Devils.

Pulling in to Eastbourne station, I could almost kiss the tarmac with relief. By now the engine was rattling more ferociously and even the oblivious driver was having second thoughts about a return journey. It’s a miracle I have lived to tell the tale.

Archetypal office bods

Peering over my computer screen at a busy office workplace, I try not to be distracted by luminescent post-it notes which say things like “DON’T FORGET THIS VERY IMPORTANT THING”, even though, on too many occasions, said note is stuck underneath an overflowing basket of paperwork and could only be found with a SatNav or a sniffer dog.

Due to my wonderfully friendly personality (and astronomical good fortune) I am working at yet  another job, doing something so phenomenally boring that I ought to be careful describing it, lest you tumble from the perch of whatever furniture you happen to be sitting on. It’s data input in no uncertain terms and only about one millionth as interesting as that sounds. I have spreadsheets. I have a stupid pernickety database which throws a hissy fit every time I put a capital letter in the WrONg soDDIng place. I have an array of seasoned office workers stalking past me every few minutes with purpose on their face and batches of photocopied documents in their arms.

Phones are going off every couple of seconds, with the inter-weaving twinkle-twinkles sounding like the clarion call for Hell’s “Getting Bummed By the Devil” workshop. Colleagues are often taking calls from people with poor English, conversations which often end in a sticky checkmate when both sides lose the will to keep fighting the language barrier. If I had a pound for every time I heard harassed bods shouting down the line “G for gorilla, B for Betty, P for please put the phone down so I can get some frigging lunch”, I would be able to stop working in the office from which I made my millions.

Lunch is a glorious thing at the best of times. In an office, it is treated like the sunny uplands in a poster for some Communist Party advert. By 12.30, you can hear the tapping of fingers and the shuffling of feet underneath desks. Brain power that should be devoted to filling out forms is thinking longingly of the subsidised cafeteria just half an hour away. I have to stay in through lunch because I’m not working a full day, as it would be a bit cheeky to start at 12am and then leave for a bacon sarnie just sixty minutes later.

It’s tough because some people stay in the office, microwaving their previous night’s dinner or choosing the smelliest food they could find at the supermarket, enticing the angry growls of my starved stomach. I take one deep breath between 1pm and 2pm, and I am compelled to walk to the shop and purchase something pathetically over-priced from the Co-Op, like a seasoned addict returning for another bite of spicy chicken pasta.

There are cliques, too. Not nasty cliques like you find in school. It’s not like there’s a load of Goths in the corner wearing long leather jackets or a bunch of girly girls huddling around the inkjet printer to share gossip about the fit new builder who has just started working upstairs. Yet there is an easily identifiable cool group, a bosses group and a youngsters group. Some people don’t belong to any particular group, so during lunch they just sit at their desks watching ‘Waterloo Road’ and eating chocolate chip cookies

Take the woman sitting opposite me, not more than five metres away, peering at her screen and cross-checking notes like the archetypal office worker she is. Aside from the occasional glib “Hi” at the start of the day I know nothing about her because she works for a slightly different department. I got on a bus the other day and a drunk started telling me about his life story. I leapt from my seat and charged downstairs almost immediately, yet I still know more about the Special Brew glugger on the top deck of the 26 than a woman who I see at least twice a week and is just a few folders and desks away from me. I honestly don’t know her name and because it’s presumed that we all socialise, no-one thinks to offer name badges.

I am at the bottom of the food chain here, not that I’m complaining. My work is so menial that I can put my headphones in and listen to some hardcore punk without even raising an eyebrow. I think I would leave if I was asked to stop listening to my music as there is only so much alphabetising of application forms that you can do without wanting to listen to a bunch of screaming, wayward adolescents molesting a guitar.

To be brutally honest I do not know how the people here get up every morning. I only need to stare at a computer screen for two hours and my eyes glaze over like icing on a hot cross bun. Furthermore, working in an office is a nightmare if you’re watching your weight; it makes you feel sluggish and makes you want to eat more – a perfect storm for obesity.

Perhaps I’ll send that intern to fetch my lunch.