football first

“If it’s going well, do you think you might sack off the football match?”

A friend asked this before a date and I blanched.  No!  Of course not you idiot, I replied in my head.  The football match was the main reason for my being in London.

It was a fair question, I suppose.  Although I never entertained it as a realistic possibility – because I wanted to go to the game, I’d paid a substantial amount of money, was looking forward to the game and don’t go to matches much – it was indeed possible.  I could have sacked it off.  And who knows?

“Actually, you know what?  Hell, it’s cold, my back hurts.  Let’s just stay here in the warm.”

It would have enabled a longer time together, more conversation, a shared experience of something – a gallery or film – perhaps the added relaxant of an alcoholic drink or two, which could help boozy goggles; more stuff.  And who knows?  Probably not, of course..

But no.  I went to the football, which was half-ruined as a result of the previous two hours.

You ideally want to arrive a while before the match, get into the zone for a game, find out the team news, absorb the atmosphere, grow nervously excited.

You don’t want to travel up painfully overanalysing a date, be irritated that she’d done that defensive girl thing of shoving a cheek in your face at the end.  *Kiss Me Nowhere Except Here On My Cheek Then Fuck Off*.  You don’t want to be very cold and overchew a piece of gum as you walk to the stadium and only find your seat as the players exit the tunnel onto the pitch, and have half a mind on your mobile as the game kicks-off and barely be able to stop shivering and have serious back-pain each time you stand up to watch an attack over a few thousand heads.  You don’t want to feel disappointingly little as your team plays remarkably well and race into a commanding 4-0 lead, professionally strangling the life and drama out of a game.

Even far back in the distant midst of a serious relationship I instinctively put Tottenham first.  A Sunday afternoon in bed was curtailed by a text from a friend reminding me about a televised cup tie against Chelsea which I’d forgotten was kicking off in 15 minutes.  Virtually mid-coitus, I had unapologetically leapt from the bed, collected strewn items of clothing, got dressed and headed to the pub.

We lost 4-0.  Eidur Gudjohnsen scored a hat-trick.

I guess my long term relationship with football and Tottenham, while often rife with angst and heartbreak, has been longer, more constant and more reliable than any relationship with a woman.  Barring one or two horrible summer months, football is always there.  Football always makes me feel something, it always gives, even if it gives shit, even if gives Jason bloody Dozzell.

In trying to explain football to non-football fans I say it’s a story which you’re part of.  It could be a dull story or an exciting story, but it will be a story of some kind, and each match is an isolated narrative of its own, part of something broader and longer: a competition, a season, a career.  You invest in the characters of players, or your perception of their characters.

It helps if there’s some instinctive appreciation of the artistry of ball-play, team movement, the skill involved, the ballet of a beautiful diving header or a perfectly executed bicycle kick.  That makes a story memorable.

This is heightened when you’re playing the game, when you’re living the story, even if there are no spectators at all, even if you’re being embarrassed by the skill of an adolescent half your age or intimidated by the aggression of a maniac more intent on doing harm than playing fotball; it’s enlivening if not always enjoyable.  It makes you feel.

Above anything sport can give out outlet for displaced emotions which you might like to express in other parts of your life but can’t, because right here right now there’s nothing as important as winning.

I like to think I’d be capable of prioritising a woman above football, in the right circumstances, but it would demand a reciprocal certainty I’ve rarely experienced.  Maybe if she could pull off a slick Cruyff turn..

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empty nests

One consequence of living an alternative loner lifestyle is the struggle to empathise with Normal People Issues.  The ‘being busy’ and need to broadcast ‘being busy’ is a frequent bugbear which I might have mentioned once or twice here.  The truth could quite possibly be that many people are substantially busier than me.  I have always been time-rich.  But the compulsion to broadcast the fact every which way, thereby justifying existence at every turn, is a separate issue.

Also brought home to me recently by my mother, in what developed to be a disconcerting series of ‘open conversations’, was the impact of children leaving home.  My Dad often emits a sense of apathy towards children generally, and certainly has seemed to, towards me.  He’ll usually help if asked to do something, if it doesn’t conflict with other plans, but he will need asking and will seldom volunteer support unbidden.  This is teamed with a sporadic, general fumbling awkwardness.  He also battles with depressive demons which can have a distressing impact upon my mother, as well as upon himself.  (I privately, perversely enjoy this fact.  Yay!  I don’t think I’m *quite* as much of a mental fuckup as him!)  He’ll whine and growl and hit things (never his wife) and verbally abuse himself in the most crazy untamed fashion.  It’s little short of a fit.  While this has been far from easy over the years, Mum has grown stronger in dealing with him and forcing him to seek help – medical or otherwise.

In telling me of his latest trauma, and responding to my gentle probing about his medication and whether he’s ever spoken freely about a dysfunctional relationship with his long dead father, that my Mum told me about how he’d responded when my brother and I left home.

On both occasions of returning from dropping us and leaving us at university for the first time, he apparently took longer than necessary to find his way home.  Of course the cynic could say this might be cover for any reason: but he told mum he needed time out, that he stopped the car in a layby and wept.

Wept for what?  She said she was loathe to use the word ‘jealousy’ – if you can be jealous of your kids, but she did.  Jealous of having the education and opportunities that he never had.  For seeing us grow up and leave the house.  I wasn’t sure if jealous was the right word.

My greatest experience of physical loss and grief is the impact of the first family dog dying, the gaping hole of one less figurative and literal heartbeat lumbering around the place.  Multiply that to the noise and impact of children.  I never really had before.  Particularly the effect of my louder, boisterous brother, was and is still, now when he enters or leaves the house with his entourage of family, profound.  Extracting that first, and then me, to leave just my parents and a dog.  It must throb for a while, take some getting used to.

Living alone for so long makes these things difficult to appreciate.  Having nobody actually physically there for so long – whether housemates or even a pet – means although you’re lonely you don’t actually miss anyone or anything either.  You pine for the idea of something, which is quite different.

Mum telling me that about my Dad, the stolid, emotionally illiterate fool, unexpectedly moved me as I sat in my lounge chatting to her on the phone.  Briefly I found myself leaking.  Partly through disbelief.  Really?!  Dad gives a fuck?!  Fuck off..  But I didn’t let on.

I was doing nothing, as usual that Sunday.  And it was Mothers’ Day.  So I decided to buy a bunch of flowers and drive home.

Over a short visit, in part bonded over the shared experience of being a Samaritan – something she had done in the past which I was now doing, I spoke more openly with her about myself.  She never asks questions so I volunteered information and she appeared to listen and engage, which isn’t a common occurrence, as I’ve bemoaned here before.  It has happened before, (Nov 2010 post); it’s just rare.  I spoke a little of loneliness, general rejection, shit first dates, unrealistic ambitions, an aimless career – because if I had a career which occupied me and which I cared about, that would squeeze other things away.  While I knew my brother would have scorned such openness to our mother, the fragile character of his conception who would merely worry and be too childish to cope, and although it wasn’t a comfortable experience – I’m dreadful with eye contact when it comes to speaking about such things – it wasn’t one I regretted either.

“You’re in a bit of a pickle, aren’t you?” she pityingly deduced from her armchair that evening.

“Yes.  But I have been for years, Mum.  It’s not exactly new.  Just never seems to change or get easier.” I shrugged from the floor, semi-distracting myself by antagonising the dog.

keeping sane

Leaning on the gate of an unused field which probably homes livestock a few months of the year, I felt unseasonably warm sun on my face, stared out across some Welsh mountains and listened.  Birdsong, the occasional dog bark, mostly nothing at all.  I was inflated with a rare inner peace that was embarrassing at first, you “hippy” wanker, but sank in undeniably.  Fuck it, whatever.. 

I tend to idealise being part of a couple, over-romanticise what it could be like.  Plenty of people in relationships are in shit relationships.  They can be lonely too.  It might be pushing it to say they’re as lonely or more lonely than someone who is literally very alone for much of their existence.  Although maybe some of them are.  Young mums in a mess.  Senior females who have lived out whole lives feeling little, in an empty shell, mainly because they were asked and it seemed like the right thing to do back then.  Senior males who feel similarly hollow, the subject of a cultural puppeteer.

Perhaps it’s a different kind of loneliness, a loneliness which also comes with the frustration of being trapped, straitjacketed, imprisoned: something I should be grateful to have never suffered.

While I bemoan and angst and warble over my perennial singledom,
While I tire of dating and all the plastic artifice which comes with it,
While I get sick of the necessary enforced optimism before every first date,
While I grow frustrated at rejection from females I wasn’t sure about either,
While I become painfully bored of being alone, seemingly all the fucking time:
At least I have my freedom, independence.

Plus the inclination to go and do and see stuff, alone if necessary – which it is.  It’s easy to have freedom and not use it.  You can sit on your arse in your lounge and watch crap television and sink deeper.

To get in the car on a nice Sunday and just drive
To fumble my way up the steep side of a mountain after several U-turns,
To seek solace in mournful tunes which fill the shell of my car,
To absorb the beautiful diagonal slanting light, how it illuminates giant slabs of Springtime land:
To take a zigzaggy unplanned walk:
The ability to do this probably keeps me just about sane.

There are worse places to be.

If this sounds like a self-congratulatory back slap, it sort of is.  It’s also a pragmatic mental defence against Hollywood tinted notions of love and romance.  (Although I know it can be good, great, incredible too, for some people – which is why I still hope, why I still put myself through the dating bullshit).  The shining landscape winked back its well-done appreciation at me and I accepted.

what you can hope to achieve

Stuff in this next post or two is backdated from, like, ages ago, so if any of it was remotely true it wouldn’t  even slightly chafe anymore.

The score was level at two all, one minute into stoppage time at the end of the match.  Manchester City’s hapless centre-back lost the ball in midfield and Gareth Bale was released to attack down the left wing.  Spurs had men over on them.  We could win it here.  As Bale collected the ball and ran, you edged forward on your armchair, alone in your flat.

Could we win it?!  It could change everything.  Turn us into real title contenders.  If we beat Manchester City there could be a great chance of winning the league.  This season Spurs looked so strong but it all felt so transient too; a team at their pinnacle, a good blend of experience and youth, a manager who might easily not be there next season if offered the England job, a sense of now or never about everything.

Bale galloped around the defender and whipped the ball across goal towards Jermain Defoe, who charged hungrily into the middle of the penalty area.

“FINISH!” you wailed at the television screen, sinking theatrically to your knees.  Defoe lunged towards the ball, only managing weak contact with the studs of his boot.  The ball drifted impotently wide of the goal.  Your hands covered your face.

In their next attack Manchester City won a penalty through a player who should have been sent from the pitch for kicking one of our men in the head, twice – for which he was retrospectively punished the following week.  He calmly slotted in the penalty kick.  Manchester City 3, Tottenham Hotspur 2.

Title aspirations all but over.

That afternoon in a crushed beery haze, you exchanged messages with her for the first time.  She looked stunning, well out of your league, as much of a fantasy as Tottenham winning the Premiership.  But the messages snowballed.

Over the course of the following week, correspondence turned to emails, a telephone call and text messages.  This was ridiculous.  She was exceptionally attractive, arrestingly smart, laugh-out-loud funny, beautifully written.  She ruled your thoughts.

She’d seen one image of your face but still continued chatting.  Why?  The attention on her words?  She MUST have had loads of better looking, more successful blokes vying for her attention.  Maybe there was a wealthy, unpleasant married businessman who gave her functional sex and nice shiny things and put her up in hotels but wasn’t all that interested in her.  Maybe she had loads of blokes she played off against each other.

Who knew?

– Stop thinking about her anyway.  Don’t do this again.  She’s just one female, remember.  Nothing to get all sappy over.. Just one female.

..who is, you know, actually a really fucking incredible female.

STOP IT, BRAIN!

[It always pales in hindsight, how besotted you become for a period: a few weeks, a few months.  You look back several months to a year or so down the line and ask: can I really have been that fussed? It feels sort of distant now, like I couldn’t have possibly been that headfucked.  Well know this, Future Self: said female properly dominated your brain for a good number of weeks.]

STOP THINKING ABOUT HER!  Think about football instead.

Yes.  Come on, don’t get ahead of yourself.  Rein it in.  Be cool and casual.  Even if you did meet she’d quickly notice that you’re ordinary looking, forgettable, that you have a gaping harrowing bald spot; you’d inevitably leak weird stuff about your perpetual lonerdom and dreary void of ambition; her interest would understandably dwindle.  Then you’d get all moody and depressive for allowing yourself to hope.  You know that’s what happens.  While there’s the mystique of not quite knowing, you’re little more than an idly amusing Tamagotchi.

Whatever you do, try not to hope and try not to care.  Caring is, like.. SO uncool dude.  Nowadays everyone is flippant and casual and frivolous and throws their hands in the air like they just don’t care.  Caring too quickly makes you look desperate and needy and like you’re not still the 26 or 27 year old you hope to appear and imagine you are in your head.  So no, you mustn’t care or be impatient or honest or want everything immediately.

You knew how this worked.  It had all happened before, sort of.  You were building yourself up to fall.  And yet still, STILL you audaciously dared to hope..   You gigantic anus.

Gareth Bale had galloped beyond the defender once more, his left foot primed to whip the ball across the penalty area, as tantalisingly close to exhilarating glory as to agonising defeat.  You were both on the edge of your armchair and Jermain Defoe, charging into the penalty area; about to lunge for the ball in a stadium full of fifty thousand people, ready to sink to your knees alone in your flat, dagger to the heart.

*

Empty glumness is hard to shake off when hope fades, despite self-talking-tos. You told yourself not to do this and you’ve no right to miss something you never had. This is precisely why investing hope is so dangerous, you mug.  It’s possible to grieve for hope, although it feels considerably less respectable, more lame, this undignified permanent sense of embattled disappointment you haul around with you.

It’s involuntary though, which almost makes it excusable. Consciously choosing to invest hope is impossible.  “Yes, I will choose to hope about this thing”.  No.  Hope is more subtle, gradually sliding into you before you find you’re freakishly possessed.

It was worse after meeting and seeing that holy fucking shit yes, she IS that attractive.  Extremely attractive.  GOD you wanted to sleep with her so badly.  So what if you thought with your dick a bit.  What man in that position wouldn’t?  Your admiration extended further than that.

Pangs of bitter regret recurred long after you realised there was nothing doing, her interest had died, the frequency of messages had dwindled, her replies grown shorter, questions apparently outlawed – inquisitive ‘did you’s clipped to rhetorical ‘hope you’s.  After pinning your colours to the mast, brave and unambiguous and punchdrunk, her gently subverted response of I’m Not Really Into You So Leave Me Alone Now appeared clear enough.  Perhaps there was different, newer attention.  Perhaps not.

What had previously been a busy junction of two-way traffic – meaty email marathons, semi-regular texts, quickfire instant message chats – was no longer.  It was a transient confection rapidly scaled down to a one-way street; little returning besides token tumbleweed acknowledgements. With it came a slow dawning realisation that now she sincerely gave not even the faintest of shits.

It was fine.  You got over it then lapsed into gloom, then got over it again and then lapsed again.

You angrily reprimanded yourself: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING OF ANYWAY!?  Someone like her: sure, some layer of pretence but still ostensibly an intimidating preening glamour-puss with expensive tastes and talent and drive. And you, who usually goes to work wearing slippers, doing something just about tolerable, albeit unchallenging and boring?  To entertain the notion of any kind of ‘match’ was tantamount to self-harm.  Although it demonstrated a level of perverse ambition too.

At least you could take comfort in its brevity, the small mercy that it wasn’t a protracted period.  Usually it’s only ever a short matter of time between discovering that Yes, oh no, oh shit, you suddenly hope – Bale galloping; and learning that you are of course once again doomed to fail – Defoe missing.  Hope then slips away once more, like a tidal swell dictated by a sadistic god.