Jim Vanderpump returns with the latest instalment of This is Norwich '98. This month sees Darel Russell and Peter Grant learning German.*
*May be entirely fictional.
In the latest of Jim VanderPump's fictional 'This is Norwich '98' series, its Daryl Sutch who comes under the spotlight, and this time the TV cameras are present. What is Mr Chips doing?
Jim Vanderpump returns to revisit the lives of the 1998 Norwich squad. This month the boys bond over a Murder Mystery evening...*
Jim Vanderpump returns with his eye opening series on the fantastical* goings on behind closed doors at Colney and Carrow Road back in 1998.
*by fantatastical we mean completely made up...
I’ve never been one for superstitions. Apart from that if I score against a team who play in white, then I only eat mashed potato, until I score again. Or if I score with my left foot, then I give it time off, as a treat, which means I have to hop and drive everywhere using only my right. Adhering to both rules can be tricky to follow for a whole summer, so I try and avoid scoring with my left foot against a team who play in white on the final day of the season.
As soon as I stepped into my hallway that Tuesday afternoon, I could sense that someone else was in the house. I called out, “Ni Hao,” the Chinese for ‘Hello’, hoping to discombobulate the intruder or maybe trick them into thinking that I knew Kung Fu. The living room door was slightly ajar, a crack of light shone through from the other side, and with it came a shuffling sound.
Slowly, I pushed open the door, my heart pumping like I was about to take a 90th minute penalty. The room was how I’d left it that morning, except for one thing. Over in the corner, sitting in my favourite armchair, the dim light from the lamp above reflecting off his silver mullet, was Kevin Piper, from Anglia News.
“Iwan,” he exclaimed, enthusiastically, turning around from his ‘bit to camera’ that he’d been softly muttering. “Come in, sit down. Take the weight off your feet.”
I let out a sigh; a mixture of relief and annoyance. I didn’t mind the fact that he was wearing my slippers, I didn’t even mind that he had been helping himself to my Wagon Wheels (the jam ones I might add), but I was beginning to get a bit irritated with the fact that he’d let himself into my house.
“Kevin,” I said, putting my keys down on the nearest side-table. “The interview finished 3 days ago.”
“Uh-ho, Iwan, don’t be like that,” he chuckled uncomfortably. “We’ve just got a couple more questions to ask you, then we’ll be out of your hair.”
‘We,’ I thought, looking around at the empty room. The cameraman and sound guy were long-gone, they’d left after the actual interview had ended. I thought Kevin had too, but I was later to discover that he’d just been hiding among a load of cardboard boxes in the garage, waiting for an opportunity get back in.
“OK, then, Kevin,” I exhaled, lowering myself onto the arm of the sofa. “You can ask me one more question, then you have to leave.”
Spurred on by a fresh excitement Kevin leant forward, bloodshot, sleepless eyes now wide in anticipation.
"So, Iwan Roberts, can you tell the viewers how you rediscovered your goals-coring form for Norwich City Football Club.”
Not this again, I thought, contemplating whether to call his producer, his wife, or the police. “OK,” I said firmly. “But I’m telling you for the last time.”
It had been the new gaffer, Bruce Rioch, who’d suggested I try a different approach. In fact, his actual words were, “have you ever considered a change of career,” but I knew exactly what he meant.
It was true, I was in a bit of a rut and I needed something to get me out of it (or more into it- I’m not exactly sure what a ‘rut’ is). Keith O’Neill recommended ball-room dancing, Shaun Carey suggested something to do with laundry, but a quick check on both of their goal-scoring records persuaded me to ignore them.
“Graffiti and littering’s how I stay sharp,” revealed Bellars before bedtime one night during pre-season, but that sounded a bit on the illegal side for me.
I wanted something wholesome and fun, to help take my mind off football but also keep me trim for matchdays. So, naturally I decided to join the circus.
The ring-master was a grumpy but flamboyant bloke with a curly, Poirot-like moustache, called Brian. I mean the bloke was called Brian, not his moustache. I don’t know what his moustache was called, he never introduced us. Like I said, he was grumpy.
“What can you do?” he asked, reluctantly, after I’d handed him my CV and delivered a well-rehearsed sales-pitch.
“I see myself as an allrounder,” I said, trying hard to maintain good eye-contact. “I’ve got good balance, so I’d be a natural on the tightrope, but I’m also a big guy so could probably take a cannonball in the stomach. Furthermore, I’ve already got a red coat and whip, so I was thinking lion tamer…”
He held up his hand to stop me and made a sort of throaty whimper. “Alright,” he sighed, his top-hat sliding to one side of his head. “There aren’t any openings right now, but if something crops up I’ll give you a call.”
I left feeling dejected, but 2 weeks later, in the early evening, the home phone rang. It was Brian.
“Iwan, we need you to come in tonight.”
“Excellent. Shall I bring my red coat and whip?”
“No, the bearded lady’s had to drop out,” he said, the tension rife in his voice. “Silly cow went to the barbers and fell asleep. They gave her a wet shave. When she woke up she was absolutely gorgeous. She’s only been here 20 minutes and already she’s had proposals from the strongman and one of the trapeze artists. And there’s an elephant sniffing around her ‘n’ all.”
“I’ll be there in 10!” I said, slamming down the phone and hopping as fast as I could to my car. Thank you Bernadetta, thank you, I repeated to myself as I got in and adjusted the driver’s seat to ‘righty mode’. (I should probably have stopped applying my superstitions to 5-a-side games.)
Once on the A47 I grabbed the oestrogen pills I’d been keeping in my glove compartment for just such an occasion and downed the lot, all the while getting into character by trying to remember the plot of that new TV series, Sex and the City, that the wife had made me watch.
I arrived at the big top with 10 minutes to spare, threw on the dress and tried to fluff up my 3-day-stubble as best as I could. I was as much of a woman as I was going to get at short notice.
That first shift was a baptism of fire-eating, but thanks to the help of my colleagues and the naivety of the paying public, I got through it. And guess what? That weekend I went and scored my first goal of the season away at Huddersfield.
After that, Brian seemed to call me up every week.
“Iwan, I need you again tonight. The contortionist’s stuck at work. Says he’s up to his neck in it.”
“Iwan, get here by 7. Tony’s car’s broken down again. Bloody Clown!”
I became the understudy to everyone and I loved every second. From the highs of standing on a bear’s shoulders, juggling knives, to the lows of having custard pies hurled in my face from point blank range. It was all fun and I’d had much worse at Carrow Road during the previous season. Plus, the harder I worked in the circus, the more it paid off at the weekends.
“Iwan, get over here ASAP,” shouted Brian down the phone at 6:45pm one Thursday. “The Commies have got to them, they’re all on strike! We’ll have to do the whole show on our own, you and me!”
While I sympathised with the union and its desire for equal rights for all workers, regardless of height, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to fulfill a life-long ambition and be… the lion tamer.
There were some hairy moments that night, especially when I almost mistook the umbrella for the trampoline from the top of the high-wire, or when I confused the cup of petrol for water and nearly breathed fire on a monkey, but me and Brian pulled it off and everyone went home happy. Apart from the elephant that got eaten, but you can’t interfere with nature and that lion was in a cranky mood.
Anyway, that Saturday I bagged a brace against Bristol City to keep us in the mix for promotion, so it all worked out. It’s what ‘Little Nelly’ would’ve wanted.
“So there you have it, Kevin,” I said, rising back to my feet and opening the door to the living room as a not-so-subtle hint for him to get out. “That’s how I rediscovered my goal-scoring form.” He wasn’t moving. “Kevin? Kevin!”
The weirdo had fallen asleep in the chair. He was slumped forward over the arm, making a soft whistling noise through his nose.
Wearily, I turned around to the door. “Alright then, Kevin, you can stay for tea,” I said, like a defeated illusionist outwitted by the innocence of a child. “I hope you like mashed potato.”
What we all need after the weekend is something completely different. So here's Jim VanderPump with his random tales of Norwich City's Class of 1998. This time it's Andy Marshall sharing his tale.*
*This tale is almost certainly not true.......or is it?
This year’s been the worst. It all started when I discovered that my mum had lied to me about the ingredients for crème brulee. When I was a kid and she couldn’t be bothered to make a proper dessert, she would serve us up plain yoghurt with burnt porridge oats on top. Consequently, for the following 25 years I’ve been dismissing the dish and missing out on potentially delicious puddings.
Now things have gone from bad to worse; here I am, in the middle of nowhere, sitting around a camp-fire in the freezing cold with the rest of the Norwich lads, save for the ones who were quick enough to think of an excuse.
It was Eadie’s idea to make the outing fancy dress. Any excuse to wear his Han Solo costume, although how that’s Halloween related I have no idea. Everyone went along with it, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. I’m a half-hearted Beetlejuice; I already had a black and white striped dressing gown so I chucked a load of flour in my hair and borrowed a bit of Keith O’Neill’s eye-liner. It’s OK, though, you can always rely on someone else to make less effort than yourself; Peter Grant’s just got his shirt off.
“Bodhi,” he’d told us all defiantly when questioned. “Off-a Point Break.”
We’d all looked back at him blankly.
“Patrick Swayze, ken? He’s a deed-ringer fae me.”
Nobody argued. None of us could remember whether Swayze also had ginger chest hair and a tattoo of the Celtic cross, so we gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Now we’re sitting in silence, avoiding eye-contact and listening to the sound of kindling crackling in the fire. Viktor Segura, dressed in an all-in-one, red PVC jumpsuit, lightly strums a chord on his Spanish guitar (I guess he just calls it a guitar). Somebody needs to say something quickly, before he starts playing it properly again. I hate Flamenco, especially from a guy dressed up as the Anne Summers Devil.
“I guess we should tell horror stories,” says a Papa Shango Iwan Roberts.
“I’ll go first,” says Eadie, far too eagerly, and starts recounting the time he and Daryl Sutch stayed in a cottage in Thorpeness and a rocking chair started moving, of its own accord. “Then there was this smell, like someone had done a disgusting fart, but it wasn’t me and Daryl said it wasn’t him either, so the only feasible explanation is… a ghost.”
There’s an uncomfortable shifting to my right and an almost imperceptible clearing of the throat from the Chewbacca costume that’s housing Daryl Sutch.
“I can do better than that,” somebody says in the darkness.
Everyone turns and looks at me and I realise I’ve spoken without thinking again.
“Go on then Marshall,” jibes Malky in his SS Uniform, which is a bit too close to the mark to be called a costume. “Tell us your scary story.”
I’d always sworn that I’d never tell a soul. It’s supposed to be my secret; something that I’d take to the grave. But for some reason, whether it’s the hypnotic pull of the fire, or being out in the wild, or maybe the fear of being brutally assaulted by savage footballers, something is making me want talk about what happened to me that fateful night…
It was one of those long, hot summer evenings and I was stuck in traffic on Newmarket Road, sucking my way through a packet of Polos. The fans in the car could only blow hot air in my face, the lights ahead seemed to be permanently stuck on red and I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever make home in time for ‘Ally McBeal’.
Suddenly, up ahead in the dusky sky, I saw a flickering light. It was coming my way, getting closer and closer until eventually I could see the huge, oval dish it was emanating from. Seeing a rounded shape heading in my direction, I did what came naturally to me as a goalkeeper: threw up my hands to cover my eyes and dived out of the way and into the passenger seat.
There was a blinding flash of light and the next thing I knew I was out of the car, standing in a field, the silver dish hovering 20 feet above my head, apparently waiting for me, with a low hum. I’ve often wondered how I’ll die, whether it’s a long, drawn out illness which gradually debilitates me, or a sudden mangling in a combine harvester, but I’d always assumed it would be painful. I guessed I was soon to find out.
When I came to I was back on solid ground, on-board the space-craft. A bright-white, endless corridor covered with sparkling panels of buttons and gadgets lay before me. Two figures appeared in my path. They were short, shorter even than Bellars, and their skin was grey, from oversized head to elongated third toe. Their faces were a blank oval canvass containing only a pair of large, prune-like, pupil-less eyes. The lack of humanness made me feel at ease and I began to think that maybe we would get on.
“Greetings Earthling,” said the slightly shorter of the two, extending a spindly hand in my direction. “Welcome aboard our space-ship. May I furnish you with a refreshment, a liquid beverage perhaps?”
“Got any Kia-ora?” I asked and he nodded in a polite sort of bow, before looking to his compatriot in a slightly judgemental way, which made me think I should have played it safe and gone for Ribena. I hoped I hadn’t blown my chance of escaping planet Boring with them.
Without speaking the second figure communicated that I was to follow him and the two of us walked side-by-side down the main walkway of the ship, between the many grey figures going about their business.
“What am I doing here?” I asked, but when I turned around my companion was gone and I was in the corridor on my own.
Then, on my right, I saw it. Chained up, hands and feet manacled to individual steel posts so that they looked like a starfish, was another human being. His naked, pink bottom was hoisted up in the air like some sort of jelly on a dessert-trolley in an old people’s home and I couldn’t help but think of my mum and the cruel trick she’d played with the crème brulee.
“Andy, over here!” It was Chris Llewellyn. He was craning his head around to try and look at me.
I rushed over, but there was no freeing him from the chains. Even if I’d bothered to try.
“Chris, what have they done to you?” I said, my voice as worried as I could make it.
“They stripped me completely naked, shaved off all of my hair, stuck pins in every part of my body, then they started with the anal probe.”
“My God, that’s terrible!”
“No, it’s been alright actually,” he said contentedly. “Plus, I get to wear this funky hat. I feel like Jamiroquai or something.”
As I looked at him, trussed up like a chicken and wearing a ridiculously fluffy alien mind-probe, I couldn’t help but feel a mixture of sorrow and contempt: he was one of those idiots who confused the name of the band with the name of the lead singer. Infuriating.
“Is this your first time here?” he asked.
“Erm, yeah…” I began to answer but as I did I became aware of my mind losing its power and functionality, just like when I’m taking a goal-kick. There was a sharp pain in the back of my neck and in my last moments of consciousness I was able to glance around and see the needle going deep into my skin. The mouthless face of my grey captor seemed to be smiling somehow. Then I passed out.
Next thing I knew I was back in my car, turning onto Unthank Road. My head ached with unfathomable questions: what had they done to me? Why had I been rejected as an unworthy subject? Who had eaten all of my Polos?
I knew I would never find out, but I hoped that one day I would be given another chance.
There’s a stunned silence around the camp-fire. My revelation has clearly left my colleagues speechless.
“Aye, tell us something we don’t know, Marshall, you dick,” says Malky.
I’m taken aback. Here I am revealing a personal experience about extra-terrestrial life-forms and they’re not even bothered.
“Chris tells that story all the time,” says Neil Adams, removing the wig of his Ginger Spice costume. “Never shuts up about it.”
“Hang on a minute,” says Iwan, looking around the wood with a frown on his face-paint. “Where is Chris?”
We all look up and down but he’s nowhere to be seen. Those that care begin calling his name, but it’s no good. He’s been taken again.
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People come to me with their problems. However small or bizarre, you got a mystery that needs solving, I’m your man.
I was the first to discover that punk who calls himself ‘Captain Canary’ and stands around the pitch on match days, high-fiving and hugging everybody, is not even a real canary. He’s just some middle-aged phoney in a costume. The other fellas didn’t believe me when I told them, said I had to get some hard proof for a wild accusation like that. So, the next chance I got, when I was warming-up by the corner flag and he was shaking hands with some lady in a wheelchair, I rugby-tackled the charlatan and pulled off his head. Well, my friends, there were a lot of red faces that day, especially on the kids in the City Stand. They looked at me like I was some sort of superhero. I’m no superhero, kids, I’m just a regular guy with a penchant for solving crime.
Since then I’ve unearthed many a mystery, like why Keith O’Neill never lets anyone borrow his hair products, but I couldn’t possibly reveal that kind of classified information. Nope, all that sensitive data is locked away in a safe place, fastened securely in a file that’s marked: ‘Top Secret- Keith O’Neill’s wig shame and other solved mysteries.’
So when I got the call from the big cheese himself, Michael Wynn-Jones, asking me to report to his office, I was only marginally surprised, and more because I didn’t know he had his own office.
“Adrian, come in,” he said standing up and stubbing out the remains of a cigar in the 1985 Milk Cup trophy on his desk.
I closed the door behind me and watched as he turned his back and walked over to the little fridge in the corner of the room. He returned carrying two bottles of Panda Pop. He unscrewed the lids and held one out to me. I declined, telling him that I never drank on the job, but really it’s because the bubbles go up my nose and make my eyes water. Besides they were both cherry flavour. Who did this guy think he was dealing with?
“Adrian, I’ll come straight to the point,” he said, downing both bottles and tossing the empty carcasses over his shoulder with a tumultuous belch. “I’m concerned about Delia. I think she may be having an affair.”
“A what?” I replied.
“Seeing somebody else, behind my back. You’re shocked I can tell.”
“It’s not that, I just never knew that that’s what ‘affair’ meant,” I said. “I don’t speak French.”
“Me neither,” he said, a wry smile creeping across his mouth like a dying mollusc.
So the old she-devil had been sending herself out on loan, eh? I thought to myself with a shudder. Wait till the newshounds down at the Norwich Fleet Street get a whiff of this.
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that, sir,” I said coolly. “But I’m not sure I can help-”
“Oh, come come, Mr Forbes, don’t be so modest. I hear you’re quite the P.I. around Colney.” He licked his lips and looked me up and down like I was a 25 litre bottle of soda. “Don’t worry, no-one need know about any agreement you and I come to, and everything will be quid pro quo.”
“I don’t understand.”
“All I’m asking is that you follow her a bit.”
“No, I don’t understand, what does ‘quid pro quo’ mean?”
“Ah,” he said, taking off his fake beard and blowing on it, before returning it to his primary chin. “I’m not entirely sure myself, but they say it in the movies.”
Damn French, I thought to myself.
“Let’s talk about money,” I said, crossing my arms like it told me to in that book.
“Very well, it’s an item used in exchange for goods and services, often coming in the form of notes and coins...”
“I’ll need some,” I said, uncrossing my arms, like it told me to in that different book. “Lots of it. For a job this big.”
“How much are we talking?” he asked, a bead of sweat creeping across his brow and preparing to bob-sleigh all the way to his neck.
“Fifty,” I said, seizing the upper-hand. “Maybe even a hundred pounds.”
“A hundred pounds,” he choked, sending streams of red Panda Pop squirting from his nostrils. “Adrian, that’s nearly double your weekly wage.”
“It’s 3 times as much and you know it!” Arms crossed.
He cleared his throat, withdrew a grubby handkerchief from his blazer pocket and proceeded to dab at his fizzing philtrum. I could almost hear the cogs in his head ticking like the second-hand on the clock directly behind him.
“It’s not that big a job,” he said, all of a sudden as casual as if he had just sold Chris Llewellyn for 3 bags of grain. “I’ve done all the hard work already. She’s meeting someone at the Bell Hotel, at 1pm today. All you have to do is join them on their little rendezvous.”
“Listen in, see what it’s about, report back.”
“No, what does ‘rendezvous’ mean?” I asked.
“Oh,” he said, unscrewing the lid off another Panda Pop and sniffing in the sugary contents exultantly. “It’s another word for meeting or engagement.”
“I thought you said you didn’t speak French,” I said pointedly, fixing him in an unwavering stare. Checkmate.
He paused, the bottle halfway to his lips, his eyes locked onto mine. A butterfly of respect flitted from his iris and dived into the white pool of his pupil.
“You’re a clever man, Mr Forbes,” he said, before exhaling the fluid from the bottle in one glug. “Alright, you’ll get your hundred pounds. Just find out what she’s up to.”
The bar at the Bell Hotel was a cesspit for all of the sewage-al detritus of the city. Murderers, hoodlums, drug-ravaged hobos, estate agents; yeah, this place attracted scumbags like my butt-cheeks attracted Gary Pennington’s compass point in secondary school. That said, on the day in question they had a surprisingly good deal on lasagnes and dry white wines, so I arrived early and helped myself to lunch. I kept the receipt.
It wasn’t long before the lady in question materialised, dressed in her trademark gingham dungarees and fedora hat. I couldn’t fault her style.
The cat she was with, however, was unfamiliar. Scruffy, young, blonde, and short, real short; the kinda guy you’d expect to see outside a drugstore accosting adults and asking them to go in and buy him some booze. He ordered the drinks in a thick accent that I couldn’t place but knew I didn’t care for, then they took their seats a few tables from mine.
Being a PI means that I am a master of disguise and an expert at blending in with crowds to avoid detection. The moment they had entered, I cut off two squares of lasagne and, using a toothpick, pricked an eye-hole in each. To the casual observer I was just a normal man in a raincoat giving myself the first step of a facial with luke-warm pasta-goggles, but in reality I was watching their every move like a hawk. A hawk with pasta on it’s face.
The two of them chatted cordially for a short while, before an agreement seemed to be reached and they shook hands across the table. Then, an announcement came over the loudspeakers, informing the bar that Karaoke had commenced and, to my surprise, the two of them got up from their seats and walked to the designated area. 5 minutes and one awkward rendition of ‘Islands in the Stream’ later and they were on their way back to their table, when:
I lifted a newspaper up to my lasagne-covered visage, but it did no good.
“Adrian,” Delia said again, less of a question and more of an order this time. “What are you doing here?”
36 minutes later I was back in Mike WJ’s office, my feet swamped by mountains of empty bottles of Panda Pop, which now covered the entire floor’s surface.
“So you see, sir, she’s not been having an...” I hesitated.
“-An affair,” he finished, wading through the sea of plastic in the direction of the fridge.
“Right. She’s been meeting this guy, trying to convince him to join the club on loan.”
He let out an amused squawk, then returned to his desk with a fresh beverage. “Cedric Anselin, you say? A midfielder?” he said and began chuckling to himself.
“That’s right, sir,” I said, then coughed to clear the nasty taste from my mouth. “French.”
That set him off; the laughter exploded from his belly like carbonated gas. “So here I was worrying that she was going to replace me,” he panted, wiping away a tear from beneath a slug eye-brows. “When all along she was planning on replacing you!”
*Disclaimer. This is probably in no way true.
Jim Vanderpump takes a comedic look into the Norwich City squad from 1998. We'll let you decide if there's any truth to the tales. (hint - there definitely isn't)
“How comes you’re wearing a Rasta hat with fake dreadlocks coming out the sides?” asks Darren Eadie.
“It’s a disguise int it,” I tell the dim-witted tyke. “I’m a famous footballer; Alex Ferguson once described me as the best man-marker in England. I can’t just walk the streets of Norwich looking like meself, it’d cause a riot.”
“So why is your stage-name DJ Flem-boyant?” chips-in Keith O’Neil, the cheeky beggar.
“Listen, I’m not going to discuss the nuances of my whole performance paradigm wi’ the likes-a you. Now gimme a hand setting up me decks, will yer, and watch the Wailers vinyls, they’re worth a Bob or two.”
These two numpties are s’posed to be ’elping us set up the stage, ready for the show, but they’re about as much use as a flamin’ library in Great Yarmouth.
Ey-up, let me explain what’s occurring. About three week back I wor up at Colney having a shower on me todd (well, on all the parts of me body actually). We ant had training, I just always use the showers there to save money ont lecky at home. I was washing the last of Iwan Roberts’ conditioner out me eyes (I’ve tried ’em all but his is the best) when I heard a commotion coming from t’ changing room. It wor someone speaking, but not in the conventional sense. They wor speaking dead quick-like, and the last word of each sentence rhymed with the last word of the sentence before. Some of you may recognise this pattern of speech as ‘rapping’. I just knew it as talking like a soft beggar, but there we are.
Gently, I turned off the tap, picked up Darryl Sutch’s towel (I’ve tried ’em all but his is the softest) and tiptoed around t’ wall, to take a peek at this siren who had disturbed me free shower. Well, when I saw who it wor I wor reet flummoxed. Standing in front of mirror, a baseball cap on his head, all wonky-like, big gold chain around his neck, wor Adrian Coote. Aye, that’s right, the shy kid who wunt say boo to a goose. Well, the words were flowin’ from him now alright, he wor coming out wi’ all sorts-a tripe:
“They call me MC Rain cos I like to soak bitches,
Any fools from Ipswich gonna end up getting stiches.”
And so on.
Fook me, I thought, this kid’s onto summat ’ere.
I’m a proud Yorkshireman, see, born and bred, but my spiritual homeland has always been ont other side of t’ Atlantic, on a little island called Jamaica. I’d been doing my Reggae DJ-ing around town ever since I moved down from t’up North, but I had to admit that there wern’t much of an appetite for the genre down here. Slow-paced, jarring, occasionally misogynistic and homophobic; no, the people of Norwich weren’t really forward thinking enough for Reggae. But Reggae fused with rap? Now that had potential.
“Adrian,” I interrupted.
The lad spun around from t’ mirror, a look of horror that someone had caught him int act etched across his face, in black smudges. No, he just had black smudges on his face, and all over his polo shirt too. The oversized chain around his neck must-a been off of his BMX and the oil had made a reet mess of ’im.
“Mr Fleming,” he stammered. Bit of respect, see- I like that. The kid wor perfect.
Long story short, I convinced him that wi’ my help he could make it all the way to t’ top of t’it parade. After some mild flattery, medium bribery and heavily implied threats of violence against members of his family, he agreed and DJ Flem-Boyant became official partners with MC Rain, forming the best double-act since curry met goat.
I had to set him straight on a few things first, mind. His lyrics for one thing.
“Adrian,” I said. “Nobody wants to hear about driving fast cars and having sex wi’ beautiful women, it’s just not realistic. As for spending a shed-load-a money- eeee, it makes me shudder just thinking about it.”
He took it on-board and from then on started focusing on what ordinary Norfolk folk could relate to: how difficult it wor finding a decent parking spot at Pleasurewood Hills, how long it takes to walk to t’ sea at Holkham beach, hole bleedin’ 7 at Eaton Park pitch ‘n’ putt, the usual sort-a stuff.
We used Neil Adams’ garage as a rehearsal studio, to save money ont lecky. Neil din’t know owt about it, but I’d borrowed his car so the garage was just lying there empty, any-road. We’d freestyle to start wi’, I’d put on an instrumental of Junior Murvin, or summat, speed it up until Adrian- soz, MC Rain- found ’is rhythm, then he’d ‘drop it like it wor a hotcake’ (start rappin’ n that).
Our first 3 gigs were intimate dos but went down a storm non-the-less. That’s not to say we din’t encounter some resistance. People are bound to be scared of change (I know I am, apart from loose change; got jars-a the stuff), especially when you’re creating an ’ole new genre of music. I call it ‘Rap-Gae’, but Adrian’s not so sure.
“It sounds like ‘Rap’s Gay’,” he said, his mouth smiling, but in that upside-down way that he does.
“Well, Rap is gay,” I told him triumphantly. “Doesn’t it make you feel happy and gay inside?”
“I prefer ‘Reg-Rap’,” he said quickly before I could talk again.
Well, we’ll let the music moguls down at… Funky FM, or whatever it might be called, decide.
Any road, whatever its name the kids down at the bandstand in Heigham Park loved it. Even the crying ones were smiling before the sweary bit in the uptempo ‘See You in Hellesdon’.
Notcutts Garden Centre was a challenge, I’ll admit, security’s tight over there nowadays, but we got a good track and a half in before I was dragged off-stage (two upturned wheelbarrows) by the fake dreads. Ruddy fascists, dunno what their problem was, the patrons were loving it. The old lady with the hydrangeas couldn’t get enough of Adrian’s verse about mekking cups of tea in ‘Plantain at the Post Office’ (set to Barrington Levy’s ‘Wedding Ring Aside’:
“Leave the tea-bag in for 30 seconds, mother-f*cker,
Don’t be a damn fool, add the milk after the zucker, (‘Zucker’ is German for ‘sugar’. You see, educational as well this ‘rapping’ lark.)
Don’t offer me no earl grey, Mamma didn’t raise me that way…
This is DJ Flem-boyant and MC Rain introducing you to ‘Reg-Rap’.”
“Rap-Gae!” I corrected him, from beneath the armpit of a security guard.
So now here we are, our biggest show to date, in front of t’ other Norwich lads, int pool room at Colney. MC Rain’s int zone, pacing up and down on the stage that Michael Watt’s made out of old book cases for us. We’ve lined out rows and rows of chairs, invited all the staff, including the gaffer and his coaching team. I’m bouncing around behind the decks, itching for the thumbs-up from Jacko, who’s doing the lights from the main door. I’ve got the vinyl (‘Sweet and Dandy’, Toots and the Maytals) all cued up and ready to rock!
Adrian’s nervous, of course he is, but he soon gets into it and really comes into his own during the second verse of ‘Megazone Playa’. Then when I drop the needle on ‘Pass the Dutchie’ there’s no stoppin’ ’im:
“They call me MC Rain and I’m about to get torrential,
Norwich City council need to build more residential,
Housing, for the growing migrant population,
And while you’re at it build another platform at the station.”
We finish big, me fading up to full blast then cutting the music altogether, allowing him to deliver his knockout couplet about unloading the dishwasher in an order based upon which cupboards you’re going to put the contents away in, acapella-style. The room falls into an awestruck silence, and someone coughing over by the dart-board.
After a few seconds, once the lads have pieced their blown minds back together, they smother us wi’ praise.
“Yeah, it’s alright that,” says little Che Wilson from t’ front row.
“I like the bike chain around his neck,” beams baby Darren Kenton.
“Have you been using my conditioner?” asks Iwan Roberts.
Aye, it’s all very positive feedback. Even Neil Adams doesn’t mention the flat battery on ’is car.
“Fleming,” yells the gaffer as he’s filing past us on his way out. “You’re dropped for Saturday.” His glasses’ve all steamed up and the vein in his temple has popped out, like a caterpillar doing sit-ups. “And Coote,” he says, turning to Adrian. “You weren’t gonna be playing anyway, but you’re dropped as well.” He exits, shaking his head and muttering under his breath.
“Don’t worry, lad,” I tell Adrian. “He only listens to UK Garage.”
Astronomy changed my life.
I like to think of it as fishing in the sky. Your telescope is the rod, the stars and planets, they’re the fish, and your eyes… well, they’re still your eyes but you use them to see the stars and planets.
You don’t catch anything, but that’s like fishing as well, in my experience.
The only time I’ve been fishing was with Bellars and all we caught in 6 hours was an old boot, a Tamagotchi and a packet of dip-dab. Bellars reckoned that as the Tamagotchi was still alive, it counted as a successful trip, but we did the decent thing and chucked everything back in the canal anyway.
I’ve got a bit of a bad-boy reputation amongst my team-mates, mainly because I once stayed for a half of lager after a show at the Maddermarket when preseason training started the following week.
However, the truth is I’d prefer to be out on Mousehold Heath, peering up through Pamela (my pet name for my telescope) at a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse than doing shots of tequila through my eyeballs with Delia and Michael.
When I’m alone, looking up at the stars, my mind races with the possibilities of what might be out there.
Andy Marshall reckons there’s no other forms of intelligent life, says that this planet is all there is and when we blow it up with our diesel cars and burning of fossil fuels, that’ll be that and we’ll all rot in hell for eternity. I probably shouldn’t have asked his opinion during a game; I forgot he’d let the third goal in through his legs. But when we got back to the changing room at full-time, he carried on, saying that it’s much more likely that every single planet in the Universe is just an endless stretch of barren wasteland, housing nothing more than piles of grey rubble and mindless bacterium.
“Just like Ipswich,” shouted Peter Grant, jumping to his feet and laughing aggressively in everyone’s faces until they were intimidated enough to join in. At least he still had his y-fronts on for a change.
I could never tell the other lads about my hobby.
I saw how they ridiculed Sutchy when he tried explaining his idea for a new daytime quiz show. The tears welled up in his eyes like dust clouds around the moons of Jupiter. Poor fella, I thought it was a good idea, even if elephants are an endangered species.
And it’s not like the rest of them don’t have other interests outside of work; Darel Russell’s got his miniature train set, Craig Fleming’s got his reggae DJ-ing, Malky’s got his… ‘views’, Viktor Segura’s got… actually, nobody knows what that guy’s into, although big Iwan reckons he’s in the Spanish Mafia (The Spafia, he calls it).
Anyway, I was fed up having no-one to share the excitement of witnessing Saturn at opposition or the Delta Aquarids meteor shower with, so I decided to place an ad in the local paper:
“SWM (I don’t know what that stands for but all the other ads started that way) seeks LMI (Like Minded Individuals) to enjoy view of the stars. Mshld Hth (Mousehold Heath), Tues (Tuesday) 9pm”.
Unsure whether anyone would even read it, I settled myself down in my usual spot at the highest point of the heath and began setting up my telescope on its stand. However, no sooner had I finished tightening the final screw into Pamela’s R.A. lock knob than I heard a rustling sound behind me.
I turned and watched as a shadowy figure slowly emerged from a bush. It shuffled its way up the slope towards me, the moonlight illuminating it as it got closer.
It was a small man, grubby and unshaven, his hair a thinning mop of dirty-blonde, spaghetti strands, his eye-balls rolling upwards, revealing red tridents of broken blood vessels. Oh yeah, and he had no trousers on. Or pants. Friendly bloke though.
“Hello,” I said, holding out a hand, higher than was necessary. “Are you here for the stargazing?”
He grunted and kept approaching, but refused to shake (my hand - he was shaking his though). “I saw your advert,” he drawled lustily, clearly overexcited by a fervent love of astronomy.
“Good,” I said, feeling slightly uneasy about his exposed... ‘dwarf planet’. “I tell you what, why don’t you put your trousers on and come and help me look at Jupiter.”
He shook his head. “Why don’t you take your trousers off and let me have a look at Uranus,” he said, putting the emphasis on the U and the R.
With that I realised he must have been a novice. “It’s nearly impossible to see Uranus,” I told him.
He stopped, craned his neck around and began trying to look down the length of his own back. “You’re right,” he said. “We’re gonna need a mirror.”
“Anyway, we can both have trousers on and look at Jupiter, maybe even Mars if we’re lucky,” I said firmly and then felt a pang of guilt for chastising him. He was my guest after all. “Would you like a go on my telescope?”
That did the trick: he lurched towards me, a smile lighting up his face. I flinched and turned away, his pointy asteroid was heading straight for me, but, as with a solar eclipse, I refused to look directly at it.
“Henry, get back here right now,” shouted a woman’s voice from down the slope. “You haven’t finished with me yet”
The man gasped and halted in his tracks. With a groan of disappointment, he released me from his grip, swung around and slouched back towards the rustling bush from which he had emerged a minute earlier.
“I thought we agreed the rules,” said the shuddering bush in a reprimand as he disappeared back inside.
I breathed a sigh of relief, but my respite was to be short-lived.
The peace and quiet of the night began shattering around me, the chirp of crickets replaced by the low mutterings of my fellow astronomers. I looked around at the horizon of trembling shrubbery before me; the vegetation seemingly communicating with each other in male and female Norfolk accents.
Nude men and women, apparent strangers, began pairing up, then disappearing back into the sanctuary of the scrubland, presumably to get a better look at Orion’s belt.
I was glad my advert had touched people, but now people were touching people. And there wasn’t a telescope in sight.
I’d heard that astronomy enthusiasts were a bit ‘out there’, but this was off the chart. I vowed to go back to stargazing alone from then on and began to pack away my things.
Tiptoeing quietly down the pathway, I found my options of where to tread limited by the thicket of amorous couples enjoying the view of the stars (although I was sure some of them wouldn’t have even been able to see the stars from the positions they were in). I closed my eyes when possible but their hedonistic groans echoed painfully around my ears. Some people must have really been enjoying the full moon.
“Lee,” called a familiar voice, just as I had reached the foot of the hill.
Reluctantly I turned back. At the bough of an old maple tree, an upside-down man was beaming with joy, from beneath the raised skirt of a large, topless woman. It was Viktor Segura.
“Hi Viktor,” I said, forcing a smile and focusing intently on his eyes. “I didn’t know you were into astronomy, too.”
“Oh yeah,” he grinned, his face coming towards then away from me, in accordance with the thrusts of his pelvis. “If you calla thees astronomy, then I’ma into eet!”
So much for the ‘Spafia’, Iwan, I thought, deciding at once to give fishing another chance.