The annual visit of the boys to HQ for a rugger match has been forced down a virtual route. In order to recreate the experience with everyone staying at home, Bob had done some planning.
The match is just part of the overall experience and so it will take extra effort this year to ensure all parts of the jolly are recreated in the closest possible way to reality. In many ways the match experience will be the easiest part.
Crewe railway station is recreated by standing on the patio at the back of the house freezing cold. Of course they could go indoors to the waiting room but no, they will stay here. Phone on Zoom, Billy is connected but on mute and off screen, he had something to finish up, so we’re just waiting for David and of course Roger will meet us later, boarding the train at Stafford.
“Ah here he is. Hi David, she let you out then?”
“Twat, you ask the same question every year you daft bastard Bob. How are you?”
“I know – I’m going for the full authentic recreation of the experience.” Bob leaned over to one side to show the A4 sheet of paper on which he had printed a picture of the Crewe sign from platform 5. It was blue tacked to the patio window. He had been to the station specially to take the photograph yesterday.
“Well yes she has let me out, onto the patio – and it’s bloody freezing – what’s the point of this?”
“To get the experience right; stop moaning. You’ll get a reputation.”
Both men laughed at the thought of the reputation for being a moaning bastard that David won on the very first of Bob’s tours. Neither of them could remember why!
Billy came back on screen and off mute – “Alright Billy, how’s your Dad?”
Also the same question every year and David delivered it with some trepidation, worried in recent years that Billy’s Dad won’t be ‘not bad for an old miserable bastard’ who sends his regards.
“Not bad” said Billy leaving off the miserable bastard part and not sending his Dad’s regards. Instead he enquired about the alcohol plan. “Ok so where is the four pack of stella or whatever shite beer you have decided we need to take on the train despite it having a perfectly good bar on board.”
“Funny you should say that “ said Bob – “ok lads time to open bag one”
The bags had been delivered the day before in a large cardboard box and were marked with numbers and strict instructions not to be opened until given the go ahead by the tour leader. That’s Bob. Project Manager and all round control freak. ‘Bob’s tours’ are unimaginatively named every year. Bob’s tour 2020 The road to nowhere.
They each reached in and opened bag one. Bob had decided to get equality of experience; he would bag his own drinks up the same way. Meticulous Bob.
A bottle of Corona Mexican beer and a slice of lime, wrapped in clingfilm for ‘hygiene reasons’ and a plastic bottle opener.
The opener was branded with some long vanished internet start up company name. Bob’s business in the late nineties was merchandise for corporates and he still had a garage full of this and other equally useless stuff he can’t throw away because it might be useful one day.
Bob scanned the screen for their reaction as David and Billy simultaneously picked up a pencil and leaned out of view of the camera. Tick.
“CORONA! Bloody Hell Bob that’s the worst joke going about this plague. Supermarkets were sold out of this stuff in the first wave and now we’re in the second wave I thought it would have been forgotten about. We can rely on Bob for the very latest satirical wit” said David, “he will soon be telling us his Jimmy Savile jokes.”
“Fucking paedo” they all said together and Bob added “can’t see how no one spotted it, the fucking nonce. I always said he was a wrong’un.”
David and Billy reached for the pencils again. Tick.
“Right get it down you,” said Bob “the train will be here in a minute”. He looked at his watch with the grand gesture of prince charming on the opening night of the village pantomime.
“I’ll drink it”, David said, “but I’m not putting fruit in my beer. What the hell is that all about?” Bob responded with a tale about mexican bottles being unhygienic and so the Mexican peasants wiped the bottle neck with lime in order that the citric acid sanitised the glass. Billy moved out of the view of the camera. Tick.
David noticed Billy reach for the pen and realised he nearly missed that one. Tick.
“BUFFALO” shouted Bob pointing at his screen.
“Fuck off” said David nearly spitting out the swig he was swigging, “we’re not 16” and he finished the beer he was holding in his right hand.
They all laughed, enjoying the repetition of old jokes and thought this was what it was all about!
Bob broke silence, “I thought you were growing a beard David – a lock down bush? What happened to it?”
“Well it didn’t turn out quite as I had imagined. I pictured myself with one of those salt and pepper designer stubble chins like Clooney or someone – elegant, classy, sophisticated.
Well unfortunately my natural colouring came through and I didn’t so much get salt and pepper but ginger and snow. When I put my glasses on it looked like someone had drawn a face on a dirty bog brush!” More guffaws and swigs of mexican beer. “I thought you were just acting the goat,” said Bob, leading to groans and swearing in equal proportion.
The Corona bottles were emptied and Bob announced that they were now on the train so everyone had to go indoors and sit down. Phones and laptops were adjusted accordingly. Bob had taken one of his grandson’s Thomas the Tank Engine books and replaced the Crewe sign with it. Best I could think of, he told them, as he sent Roger a text to say they were now on the train so he should join the zoom call.
Ping. Roger entered and the windows readjusted for the four of them to fit nicely on the screen like they would around the table in the first class carriage of the West coast express. The lads always went first class to the match. Making use of the cheap upgrade facility at the weekend. David always moaned about the price even though he was the one who could most easily afford it.
“Fucking hilarious that Corona beer in bag one” Roger said rolling his eyes,“and I remember that company on the bottle opener. You played with golf balls with that logo on for years. There must be hundreds of those balls in the lake on the short third hole. Has Bob mentioned Jimmy Savile yet? Have I missed it? Still, there’ll be another one along soon.”
“Piss off” said Bob and they all laughed the laugh of long time friends drawing on years of shared experiences.
Bob held up his second bag to the camera. “Bag two lads come on open up.”
Each non travelling traveller reached into the box and retrieved bag two.
“Nice” said David as he pulled out the miniature Gordon’s gin bottle and small slimline tonic can that had been separated from its friends in a multipack. “Good work Bob.”
“Well thanks David but to be honest I wanted Bombay but couldn’t find miniatures anywhere” David, Roger and Billy reached for their pens in anticipation and were not disappointed. “Bombay Sapphire is the world’s best gin by a country mile” Tick Tick Tick
“Well anywhere is a bit of a lie. I couldn’t find miniatures anywhere in Sainsbury’s to be honest” said Bob, “I was in a bit of a rush last week getting all this sorted out ready to be boxed up and delivered.”
Gin and Tonic were mixed in silence. Billy said he was going for ice and mixed his drink off camera. He left the miniature gin bottle unopened and poured the tonic.
“How’s Big Don Billy?” asked Roger just as Billy came back in shot but also just as his screen froze. “Oh he’s gone”. David interjected, “I already asked him earlier and he’s not bad.” Billy’s face came back to life and he moved on to ask about the match.
“So what time is the kick off? We are not really going to pretend to be on a train for two hours are we?”
“What’s up with you Billy?” asked Bob, “this is part of the craic. It is usually David who is the miserable moaning bastard. The match is usually the least memorable part of our trips. Ok open bag three.” David started to protest then realised it was true.
Time passed and glasses emptied. Then the command came from Bob and they all reached into the box and found bag three.
“You beauty” said David “can’t beat a Ginsters pastie”
“Soakage” they all four said at once. “Get some ballast in yer lads” said David.
“I’m just nipping off the train to warm this in the micro” said Billy and as he stood up the others noticed he was still wearing his pyjama bottoms. They all decided individually that this shouldn’t be mentioned. Of the four of them Billy was the least able to cope with the harshest banter and so over the years he was never the target.
“I’m happy with it cold to be honest” said David, “and it is more authentically train like.” He took a large bite of the pastie. Bag three also contained a can of Strongbow cider. Each of them opened the can to help the pastie down, David chose to swig from the can but Roger and Bob used a glass. Ding, Billy’s microwave could be heard in the background and a few seconds later Billy sat down and scalded his tongue with the first bite. Much to the amusement of the other three. “Get the cider open Billy, put that fire out”
Two more bags, Bag four, bottle of IPA with a lager for David, and the last train bag, another g&t. Apparently the train pulled in on time.
Bob commanded the lads to get up and walk around. Come on you have to go outside with your laptops and phones – let’s cross london in the most efficient manner we can. Taxi. He froze as his wifi struggled to reach outside until he moved closer to the house on the patio. “Right back in – we’re in the taxi now. Let’s hope this isn’t that same driver that ended up taking us to Wimbledon, bloody idiot.”
“I know David said – pain in the arse that was except for the fact that he didn’t charge us and it gave us 45 minutes sobering up time. Do you remember all rushing into the pub though, to get to the toilet before going to the bar.”
Roger shot straight back “Do you remember carrying three pints in triangle formation back from the bar after the Wales game, and that short arse Taff punching you straight on the nose.”
“Never spilled a drop” David proudly boasted.
“Little Welsh shit” Roger mused – “no one likes a hit and run. It was funny though!”
After a pause for a Swig of his beer Roger continued the memories “and what about that mad fella who went to school with you David who insisted on bar diving in that club. I think he jumped off a balcony or something? No he climbed a telephone box, don’t ask me why the club had an old fashioned red telephone box inside it but it did. Bouncers marched him straight outside and left him on his arse on the pavement!”
“Ah we’ve seen some good times lads.” Billy said with an unnoticed tear in the corner of his eye.
The match was dull and England won narrowly. It was a common theme in recent years that had Billy wondering why they bothered and gave David something else to moan about.
This might be a much more sensible way to do it. Perhaps not at home alone but in a pub saving the cost and time effort about going to London. They’d see, after this covid thing is all cleared up, what happens next year.
After the match it was time for the last bag. Billy had filled bags to cover the pre match pub drinks, the west car park Guinness and the half time spillage run. In earlier days at Twickenham they would have taken turns to go to the bar making four runs throughout the match but Billy had insisted that they need to get more civilised on the basis that the bladder wouldn’t hold that much anymore and he was starting to get annoyed by all the fellas in the ground constantly getting up and down during the game. Every now and again the rugby became interesting enough to actually want to watch it.
“Bag fifteen chaps – this is the final bag – after this you will have to raid your own drinks cupboards”.
The bag contained a miniature jagermeister and a small can of Red Bull. As usual Roger was only drinking half of the drink put in front of him and it was so much easier for him on this “trip” because all he had to do was tip the drink out of camera shot into the bowl he had strategically prepared previously. They all knew he was doing it, but experience had shown that it was better not to force him to keep up the drinking pace because it would mean dragging him back to the hotel early or dealing with some very messy toilet situations.
“Right lad’s time to go”. Roger said standing up, “The best bit about this trip is no greasy spoon breakfast in a dodgy cheap hotel and no stupid rush for the train. My own bed and a long Sunday lie in”
“David replied “Yeah it’s been fun lads thanks a mil again Bob, that was great work with the bags”.
“Lads lads lads, before you go one more thing” said Billy as he sat up straight and looked directly into the camera on his laptop. “Can you find something , anything to put in a glass, One last drink. A toast.”
“Fuck off Billy” said Roger, partly through not wanting another drink and partly because it seemed overly sentimental. Roger wasn’t good with emotional partings.
“No seriously, lads, I need this, please.” The sincerity came through and each of the four found a glass and charged it.
“I wasn’t going to mention this, but you’re all such good pals to me, and I know you’ll understand. I wasn’t one hundred percent truthful earlier, when you asked me about Dad.”
“Oh shit what’s happened?” said David guessing what had happened.
“Dad passed away last night,” said Billy. “I was with him. He went peacefully into the night with Mum beside him and his last words to me were ‘you enjoy the day with your mates tomorrow son’. Right to the end he was wanting us to have a good time. So I had to carry on with it didn’t I? I couldn’t tell you this morning, that would have ruined it.”
“Bloody hell Billy mate, you’ve been carrying that all day while we’ve been joking around like kids” Roger whispered.
“Yeah I am glad I’m here on my own really because I could walk away and have a sob unnoticed. Anyway I’ve told you now.”
“To Big Don” Roger said, raising his glass. “To Big Don” they all said “May he rest in peace”.