A Christmas Waiting Story: the Mole’s tale.

I am a mole and I live in a hole with the voles of despondency. Cheer up I say, it may never happen but the voles continue to fret in their usual way, whiskers a-quiverling, noses a-twitching, feet a-tingling. You just don’t understand they squeak, we’re doomed, we’re all doomed and you mole are first in line when the revolution unfolds.

First in line for what I ask them but they give me no answer other than to continue their frantic racing through the burrows along the river bank and out into the estuary. They’re preparing for Armageddon and nothing and no-one, not even a mole in a hole is going to stop them.

This morning one of them stopped her twitching and her quivering, sat up straight and looked me straight in my blind eyes and asked in a voice several octaves higher than was comfortable ‘And where do you think you’re going? Heaven or hell? Come the day of reckoning, what side will your bread be buttered Mr Mole?

I couldn’t answer her rhetorical question but continued to dig away at the tunnel I was creating in front of me. She took my silence as a sign of assent for further interrogation. And do you think digging the same old way is going to get you anywhere at all, mole? Do you really think you are on a path to redemption? Do you not see that your path is the path of the damned? No, I see you see nothing at all and that is the way it should be. God moves in mysterious ways and you, mole, are the most mysterious creature of them all.

Coming from a vole who lives in a hole of despondency struck me as being a bit rich but I was saying nothing. Hear no evil, speak no evil, dig no evil is my motto and as a mole’s mantra goes this is better than most.

What are you waiting for mole? She continued. You cannot wait much longer before the rains come, the river is flooded and we will all be washed away in a flood of hell fire water a-fizzing and a-popping. I’ll take my chance I said to her and continued to paw away at the tunnel that was forming ahead of me. That’s the good thing about being a mole. You make your tunnels, you don’t rely on the voles of despondency to do it for you.

A Waiting Story: Man Bites Ref, Ref Bites Back.

I’ve been running the touch line for nearly 25 years now, sometimes romantically casting myself as the Witchita Linesman in the Glenn Campbell tradition: always searching, never finding, always hankering after a golden past when football was simpler, purer and more respectful.

Refereeing the beautiful game has to me always been an honest and honorable reputation: shedding doubt, creating certainty, judging fairly and squarely, undeterred by the bigger commercial pressures on the game and the braggadocio of the noisier neighbours whose hourly take home pay far surpasses what my father could only dream of when he was a strapping 25 year old running the lines in the old days of Franco and the Generals. In his day, the referee was simply an integral part of the game: no ref, no game it was simple as that. You could have the players, the kit, the changing rooms, the crowds, the songs and the banter: but without the man in middle, replete with black shirt, shorts and shiny whistle, there was no game. It was started by him, it was ended by him. End of.

But these days it is nowhere near as simple and my father would been dismayed to see the extent that the games arbitrators have been ridiculed by those who should know better. Neither the players (no-one expects anything from them in terms of a balanced assessment of what has or hasn’t occurred in the last 30 seconds on the pitch) nor the managers (who patrol the pitches with the monkeys of their owners on their back constantly picking the fleas and the shit out of their mohair suits) and certainly not the agents (whose pension and future families inheritance depends parasitically on their entourage’s abilities to score, fake scoring or just faking it full stop).

Tonight though was different and I like to think that had he been still alive, he would have nodded approvingly, fully appreciating the pressure I was under.

I was running the line at the second leg of the Supercup tie between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid. The Atletico player Tiago was booked by my colleague, Señor Borbalan and subsequently shown the yellow card. This prompts the Atletico manager, Señor Simeone to castigate everyone in sight, pulling his hair out, shouting, screaming, gesticulating, exhorting the crowds to get behind him and his team. Señor Borbalan promptly shows him the red card and sends him to the stands.

He of course is appalled and remonstrates with anyone who cares to listen. Nothing new there. His temper rises to the occasion and in orchestrating the crowd to turn into a baying, illiterate mob behind him, he faces up to me, eyes agog, invective pouring out of his collective mouths like I had just shagged his mothers, and I then turn away from him and he hits me on the back of the head with a couple of slaps. Not fully fledged swipes or punches, just a couple of slaps. Quick fire, one after the other.

I’ve looked back at that moment on the media replay many many times. Sitting in this cell waiting for the ultimate judgement from the authorities makes me wonder what on earth came over me at that point.

I see the surprise look in my eyes, I see his sneering face. I see his glossy moustache glistening in the stadium lights; but I don’t see the hatred that arises through my guts, my heart, my liver; I don’t see the punch I throw straight at his face and the surprised look bloodily spreading down his face; I don’t hear the temporary stunned silence of the crowd as they realise that this Man in Black has had enough and in one mad moment, retaliates with enough venom to sink a whole battalion of intergalacticos. I slap him back: not once, not twice but countless times, a generation of pent up resentment and silence finding a voice.  I, my father and my colleagues have waited long enough. This was the moment when the dam broke.

After that, all is blackness. I see myself on the TV monitor kicking him several times in the stomach at the side of the pitch, but I don’t remember doing it. I see on the screen some officials dragging me off him and pinning me to the ground, but I don’t remember seeing them there. I see myself on the CCTV footage being bundled out of the stadium in the back of a police car; but I don’t remember hearing the wailing sirens or screeching tyres.

The first thing I become conscious of is the newspaper headline the next day: Man Bites Ref: Ref Bites Back. It’s an allusion to the journalistic truism that whilst dog bites man is not news, man bites dog is; and the suggestion that we men in black are nothing more than dogs in the public eye is not surprising although it is tiresome in its predictability.

The next thing I hear is Glenn Campbell’s sweet soulful voice wafting through my prison cell window and I’m reminded of my father and his constant running the lines through thick and thin, through rain and snow and through Franco and all his generals, none of whom had the audacity to slap him around the back of the head when he sent off a manager for misconduct.

And I need you more than want you,
And I want you for all time,
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.

A Waiting Story: Michael Bublé and me

I’d suspected that Michael Bublé was a robot for a long time. There’s no human being on the planet who could move his hips with such consummate ease; who could smile with such consummate sleaze and who could breeze through a contemporary smooch song with so little effort.

Not that I had any strong feelings for him one way or another: he did what he did, I did what I did. I made no disparaging remarks about his android personality and he made no remarks about mine. But I knew we were both waiting for the day when we would.

I was about to tick off the next customer in the unusually long queue I’d managed to generate when all of a sudden there’s Bublé wafting over from the deep freezer going through his usual supermarket gyrations. Before you know it the whole queue has joined in with the shimmering and the shaking, the swooning and the faking and they’re joined by staff from the delicatessen and the baking departments. I even found myself humming a brief snatch of ‘Sway’ or ‘Swoon’ or ‘Cringe’ or whatever it was he was warbling about this time.

I was livid. How was I meant to tot up, sort out loyalty cards, offer discounts, petrol tokens, vouchers for schools, green shield stamps, sell insurance, sell holidays, sell postage stamps, eat gum, look sullen and ask customers if they want a hand with their packing if the whole bloody queue was slinkily divesting itself of all its decency against the soundtrack of Michael Bublé’s untouchable tones?

By the time he was urging the crowd to sway and dissolve back into the aisles, I’d had enough and reached over the till for the Kraftwerk. “I am the operator of my pocket calculator,” I retorted to my supervisor as she tried forcing me back to my seat. And Bublé’s my number one target.

With that, I leapt over the till, skiddaddled over to the green grocers whilst Bublé continued to pine after his long lost love in the background. He may well have all the appearances of a super smooth crooner from Seattle but he hadn’t reckoned with my terminator determination to rid the planet of artificial intelligence modules with groins the size of lunchboxes but the brains the size of peas.

I banished Bublé to his home planet in the time it took to say five a day and the supermarket readjusted rapidly, continuing to sell its trinkets which contributed to the destruction of the human race without a murmur. Every Little Helps, I thought cheerfully as I mislaid conveyor belt items, dropped coins and watched the supermarket queue lengthen as the afternoon got darker and the shadows of the checkouts stretched out over the forecourt.

A Waiting Story: the border guard, coach driver and me

I’m in a brief queue which has decanted from the decrepit coach we’re travelling in from Niš to Sofia. The coach has seen better days and an eerie green luminiscent light which won’t be switched off has accompanied us for the past 2 hours all the way up to the border.

The penultimate guy in the queue – a Japanese backpacker – is called forward by the burley Balkan guard. He looks hard at him, hard at the passport and then back to the backpacker. ‘Is this you?’ he sneers and the traveller confirms it is. There’s a pause. He’s waved through and he calls me upto the desk.

He takes a lot of interest in my passport. He opens it, looks at the photo, flicks through the pages, looks at me, at the photo, at the text above it. He gets up and goes off to find a friend. A few minutes later he returns with friend who goes through the same routine; looks at me, at picture, flick through the passport, look at me, look at the photo. They now bend the passport back and look at the stitching of the paperwork.

I feel pretty relaxed through all this. They’re doing this because this is their job. They do it all the time. There is nothing untoward about my passport. I’ve had it in my possession all week long. Hang on – that’s not true. It was in the desk of the concierge all week. Maybe… Maybe someone had taken it out and done something to it. Photocopied it? Graffitied all over it? Replaced the picture? I start momentarily to get slightly nervous. And this probably shows.

‘Is this yours?‘ The friend stares hard at me.
Yes‘, I reply. ‘It is.’
Ok.’ Pause.
You can go.’ Just like that. That’s a bit more unnerving. No further examination or questioning. Just go. Now.

The problem is now that I’m last out of the shack and I can’t see my coach anywhere. I walk over to another border guard in a cabin and ask where the coach is and he just says go go go and I have no idea where he means. There’s someone next to him who looks like my driver. ‘Are you my driver?’ I ask him and he has no idea what I’ve said and so shrugs, mutters something and walks off.

I walk back to the pathway which leads out of the border control and through some passengers from what I think is another bus and up a slope to where I think my bus might have gone. But there’s nothing at the top of the slope apart from a garage and a couple of long distance German trucks. It’s gotten foggy. There’s no cafe nearby which might have been a site for a coach to have stopped in. There’s nothing now anywhere – apart from an impending sense that the coach has left the border station complete with my baggage, laptop, credit cards and eerie green light. All I have is a mobile phone with a dwindling battery. And a growing sense of impending panic.

There’s a brief foghorn call at the bottom of the slope. It sounds like it could have been a coach horn. But I’m not sure so walk towards what looks like a coach, but it’s nothing like the coach I was travelling in. I walk up to its front and check its destination: Sofia. This is my coach, but it can’t be. Where has it been all this time? I get on and see the same passengers that I left Niš with. Where did they get to? How did I miss them? Why are they looking so irritated?

One of them says ‘chauffeur’ and I repeat back at him ‘chauffeur’? And straight away stumbling up the steps comes the driver – the same one who drove us all here, in that eerie green light, the same one who muttered at me at the border cabin only this time he’s not muttering but shouting loudly, abusively with ‘ingleski‘ somewhere in the mix accompanied by other words which probably resemble words such as ‘tosser‘ or worse. I speak loudly back at him in my best restrained Englishman aboard mode but he just says something which resembles a verbal spit. One of the passengers says something to him but I can’t figure out whether he’s on my side or not.

Either way, the driver starts the coach, we drive off at pace and I slouch back in my seat. It is at least my bus, eerie green light and all.