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The Beautiful Game

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Football, frankly, has never been my thing. From the early beginnings of my football experience, cold and shivering on a rock-hard football pitch at school with many other more naturally-talented football schoolfriends weaving their barely-formed skills around my big feet, I have never been a football fanatic. As far as I see it, a ball gets kicked around a pitch for 90 minutes, and it *might* go in a goal once or twice. Meanwhile, the sideshow involves who can fake injuries the best to get undeserved penalties. Where’s the fun in that?
My good friend Jac was always raving about it, and that only cemented my stance even more. Michelle is also a big fan – imagine her bad luck at landing one of the few men in the world that is anti-football. In some strange role-reversal, I sometimes end up being the football widow…
It turns out, however, that I’m not the only one. David Mitchell wrote an awesome article in The Guardian this weekend, expressing his bafflement at football’s enthusiasts. “I want a long rest from a game that never sleeps” expresses my feelings about the Beautiful Game in a way that only he can. Footballers, in my view, should down tools and take up a more worthwhile sport.
Like rugby.

The Long, Dark Stag Night Of The Soul

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“The husband who wants a happy marriage should learn to keep his mouth shut and his checkbook open.”
Groucho Marx
Saturday was the Six Nations rugby cup final. Although, not least because the shower of fools managed to lose against the French, I won’t be talking about it. No, an event that eclipsed all others also took place that night – Matt’s stag do. Get a cup of tea – it’s a long story.
It was a cool, clear morning. The promise of copious drinking and a strip club brought to mind my mother’s advice – “Line your stomach, darling, and you won’t go far wrong.” This turned out to mean bananas and milk all round, and as I left home for Guildford that morning to meet Matt (Michelle’s brother), James and Paul, my lonely banana skin served as a foreboding reminder that things were about to get messy.
In fact, messy seemed an understatement. Take for instance our opening salvo, a few swift halves in Edwards bar in Guildford town centre. A quiet place, you’d think, at 2pm on a Saturday. Three scousers, who looked barely out of their nappies, decided that now was a good time to show how very hard they were, with the victim being some poor, misguided fool who had objected to them. Cue a minute of fighting, four on one, involving chairs and all sorts. It was a severe pasting, but the victim won no points for yelling after every break in pummelling “Come on then!”. They already had – and they did again five minutes later, finally finished with a blood-curdling sound of head against door frame. A good start, we thought, and swiftly left through the blood-spattered door to board a train for the Big Smoke.
Leicester Square was the obvious starting point and we made for the Sussex Arms, mindful of the need to pace ourselves to last the night. A few drinks and an Aftershock later, the plan was in ruins. We bounded merrily along, past the Nags Head, past Covent Garden with its wide, intricate arches and on to the Boks Bar. Rugby-watching was the plan, with a view to celebrating England’s victorious win, and the Boks Bar served us splendidly. A Female Tequila Dispenser was installed in this bar, and she had a particularly wiley way of getting a drink out of us. Togged up in Lara Croft garb, the shot glasses were arranged at conveniently racy points down her torso, which she proudly offered with minimal embarrassment. The picture of her kissing Matt was a great shot, and made us thankful we’d brought the camera. The tequila, however, was disappointing – at ?3.80 a shot, it was watered down, and Matt confronted her with the revelation that while we thought she was downing the shots with us, she was in fact swigging from another water-filled bottle on her left hip. To top it all, she walked off without giving change from ?16. By then, of course, alcohol had taken hold, and we couldn’t have cared less.
We watched the rugby. We cheered. We groaned. We threw things. We bloody lost. By then, Matt was suffering. He’d had his head in his hands for around 20 minutes, and we thought it was high time he got some air if he was going to last the night. It worked, in a way we’d never envisaged – within 2 minutes, he’d emptied his stomach. We pressed on.
Two more had joined us – Mo and his friend, who for completeness I’ll call Gunter. I have no idea of his actual name, but he was German, and a cheery bod. Eager to reach the climax of our night, we grabbed the fifth taxi we could find – the first four were either full or ignored us, rightly guessing we might be a bit of a handful – and sped away to Spearmint Rhino, the Gentleman’s Club.
We made it. More to the point, Matt made it. He was disasterously unwell, and his poor preparation (distinct lack of beer tolerance build-up, 3 hours sleep the previous night) was clearly telling. Once in, he headed straight for the great porcelain bowl, while we sped on to the main room.
And, frankly, what a place. I’ve waxed lyrical about the Caf? de Paris nightclub in my time. This was Caf? de Paris with strippers. If you’re going to go to a strip club, this is plainly the place to be. Mo got a round of drinks to shove in our gaping mouths, and we settled down on a plush red sofa. Topless women danced around, and homed in on us like flies. To save my mother’s blushes, I shall merely say that fun was had, especially by our german friend, who ended up ?120 lighter. After a brief geeky moment wondering if any of the young ladies was the “mysterious literary sensation” Belle De Jour, we left, noting that Matt the stag clearly wasn’t having the time of his life thanks to his unpredictable stomach.
We staggered home, amusing ourselves with the astonishingly near retail store of the company I work for, marvelling at the 130-step circular stairway down to Goodge Street tube station (possibly the most challenging drunken moment of my life), and bumping into my old friend Kate and her sister at Waterloo station. I cannot for the life of me remember what she said, but she’d just been to the party I was due to go to before Matt’s stag night reared its head. I think I said “small world” several hundred times. We eventually surfaced in Guildford early on Sunday morning, considerably worse for wear.
A fantastic night, so thanks to James the best man, who conceived the whole sordid idea, and to Paul, whose witty banter had my cheek muscles aching with pleasure. And to Gunter and Mo, whose dad owns my local Indian restaurant the Madhuban (which happens to be the best I’ve ever been to). And to Matt, who provided endless hours of amusement looking like death warmed up. For all I know he’s probably still recovering.
Now all that remains is to get the long-forgotten camera back from the strip club…

Cafe de Paris… AGAIN

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In what’s becoming a weekly thing at the moment, I visited Caf? de Paris in Leicester Square with Nick last Friday. It was my friend Tony’s 25th birthday, and he’d booked the place for his frankly debauched party. We popped up at 8pm for a few drinks in Leicester Square, and mindful of the impending Rugby World Cup final the following morning, we attempted to moderate our drinks.
We failed. After 4 rounds in under 30 mins, we met Tony outside Caf? at 10pm, and entered the wonderful place.
For those whose lives haven’t been blessed with a visit to Caf? de Paris, save up and go. It’s a VERY cool place, which is a restaurant/meeting place during the day, and a nightclub at night. But the word “nightclub” conjures up sweaty teenagers bouncing away, drunken fools leering and throwing up in corners, and loud, loud music – not a bad thing for a standard night, you may think, but a trip to Cafe de Paris is not a standard night. Caf? has none of these nightclubish things, and is aiding my transition from Drunken Fool to Mature Man About Town considerably.
So anyway, back to the fun. We entered the nightclub, sat down on the “left mezzanine” (I don’t get that down my local club…) in the leather sofas, overlooking the dancefloor below. After Tony glad-handed seemingly the entire staff, we were swiftly furnished with 1 bottle of vodka, 6 red bulls, several jugs of coca-cola, cranberry juice and orange juice, an ice bucket and 6 glasses. We tucked in. And when the vodka had finished, another appeared. My wallet was similarly untouched for the rest of the night. Nick was wide-eyed in astonishment…
At this point, I’d like to thank Tony for a night of fun and frolics. He’s plainly a consummate party host, and everything was perfect. Thanks Tony!
Soon, a brief boogie on the dancefloor beckoned, and then back for more free drinks. Several old school friends were there, and we swopped stories endlessly until the early hours. It was, as you can imagine, a very good night, and Nick and I finally left at around 2.30am, worried that any more punishment would render ourselves unable to fully support England on their inevitable victory. We were astonished to find an open Burger King, and rushed in to find a Big Mac. After being approached by a man claiming to have been stabbed in the groin, we decided enough was enough. We spied a large black man standing next to an enormous Mercedes, and ordered a ride to Woking. “?50, very reasonable price, no better anywhere” he repeated over and over again, and, agreeing, we boarded the vast car.
We arrived at Woking at around 3.30am, walking the last half a mile after an argument with the disgruntled, tax- and authority-avoiding driver, and then slept. And slept.
But only for 4 hours; rugby beckoned.

England vs Italy – A Visit to Twickenham

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England vs Italy. Bound to be a triumphant rugby victory in England’s quest for the Grand Slam. And, fortunately, 8 of us were there to cheer them on from the north stand at Twickenham!
A chance email from an old school contact led to eight superbly placed tickets at Twickenham on Sunday. Elli, Ed, Mel, Jac, Nick, Tim, Michelle and I met at Clapham Junction at 11am. Well, that was the plan – in reality, Nick and Tim decided that few drinks were in order the previous night, and barely managed to arrive before we’d left the Slug And Lettuce pub at 1.30pm. Still, spirits were high – we had flags and rugby shirts on, and Mel had painted St George flags on everybody’s cheeks, and amusingly the word “prick” on Jac’s forehead. Nick went the whole hog and had his entire face painted with a the flag – sadly, he looked less like a flag, more like a hot cross bun. We were such a sight that a camerawoman working for the Metro newspaper took pictures of some of us, rightly judging that the rest of the group’s facial features might have cracked the lens.
After I had bought the obligatory stupid hat, we arrived at the stadium at 2.45, and at 3pm England kicked off. The first 20 minutes went to form – England scored 33 points in 22 minutes. But then they obviously thought it wasn’t really worth it – for another hour not a single point was scored. To cheer up the deflated group, Jac suggested a betting game. It went roughly like this:
Wibbler: “I bet one English pound that the next penalty with go to England.”
Jac: “Ok.”
Next penalty kick goes to England.
Wibbler: “That’ll be one round pound please.”
It was a suggestion that Jac was soon to regret. After 30 minutes, he was six pounds down, and with nothing left but a couple of guitar picks, he gave in.
All in all, a very good day, and a great experience. The game wasn’t the best, but the male streaker certainly warmed the hearts for the girls present. Thanks to everyone who came – even Simon B turned up on the East stand. Which was nice.