Grand National Day. Always enjoyably frenetic. Bets whistle in from Julie & Callum, and from Granny and her carer, Nadia (or Nadine as Granny insists on calling her).
“Dave, she said two pounds on Twirling Magnet but it I don’t think it’s got much chance. So I think she means £1 each-way”
Wow! Granny is coming along nicely.
“There don’t seem to be many Irish runners this year though. Don’t they usually wear green?”
Ah, maybe not then.
The girls have a couple of horses each and Mrs A does her usual on the nose outsiders. Just the sweepstake to sort out for the assembling guests and we’ll be ready.
The race is a success this year. There are as many thrills and spills as ever, including the obligatory false start, but no serious jockey injuries and no horse deaths. Progress. Even more remarkably, Mrs A finds the winner. Pineau De Re – a French wine vintage of course – digs deep after the last and bounds home at 25-1.
Pineau is an old mate of mine and I’ve collected on him a couple of times, including the Ulster National last Spring when in the charge of Philip Fenton. Since his switch to Dr Newland I thought he was in decline. Stick to the meaningful names, then. That’s my advice.
Rocky Creek thieves me some place money from Bet 365 who offered five; and after a short delay, we realise Julie’s Chance Du Roy finished 6th at 33-1 to squeeze some wedge out of the very generous Victor Chandler who went six. This reduced her losses after various bets and sweepstake entries for her and her boy to a mere 84p.
I had earlier put my mate Justin onto Rocky Creek so I hope he went with an internet bookie. For some reason I offered up Double Seven – a competitive third – to the formidable Nicky in the cafe at work. Thankfully, most people have realised the pointlessness of asking me for Grand National tips by now.
It’s Julie’s birthday today. It’s Mrs A’s on Monday. Appropriate that they should win. Even if in Julie’s case it’s really a loss. So we all go out to The Old Mill in celebration. These joint birthday recognition events have become a thing over the years. You can never have enough pleasant things. Especially at their age…
I cry enough just after midnight, secretly fearing the eruption of sing-a-long-a Carpenters downstairs into the early hours, but either it never happens or I nod off.
Julie’s birthday weekend rolled on to her Mum’s out east and Mrs A’s did the same up MK way. Granny was in fine form, though it got rough trying to extract from her the stakes for yesterday’s losing Grand National bets. She doesn’t like losing. In the end I offered to cut the lawn, not touched since last Autumn, and spent a couple of hours knee-deep in damp, lush, moss-pocked rye grass. The mower whined like a moped up Telegraph Hill and I made more trips to the green bin than Eddie Yates. And I got my stakes. She was only joking.
Sharon and Cousin Joe arrived mid afternoon. Sharon gave Mrs A her card and looked a bit sheepish. Joe was in grinning manically and urged her to open it straight away. “Hap-Pea Anniversary!” declared the banner slogan above a couple of smug looking humanised garden peas, holding hands if you will.
“An Anniversary card? Thanks Sharon!”
“Yeah, sorry. I just saw the hap-pea thing and it made me laugh. I only twigged when I was half way down the road. I thought I’d give it ya anyway!”
Joe was still shaking his head with mirth.
Back home, we do the card and present thing that night. The girls are on holiday tomorrow and I’m out the door to work early with no chance of a birthday breakfast. So birthday supper it is. The girls take top prizes with their smelly candle ensembles. I feel the need to keep dropping Iceland into the conversation to remind Mrs A - and myself - that I did actually get her a pressie.
Happy Birthday Mrs A!
Walk through the café at work straight into a ribcage-cracking hug from Nicky. She’s collected a few quid on Double Seven in the National and is letting me know her pleasure. I’d rather have had one of her syrupy flapjacks.
Have a few very pleasant beers with Bex & GC tonight who pop over to wish Mrs A a bonne anniversaire. GC is looking sharp in a well-cut suit. He’s been to a funeral.
“Yeah, really good thanks. The chap who died would have absolutely loved it!”
Meet Nick in the Somers Town Coffee House for a couple of jars before the gig in Camden. Tell him this is my work manor now and we go to check out some of the other, more earthy locals. The Cock is all sticky carpet, chipped brown veneer and gassy lager. We stand at the bar a few minutes looking at reruns of this afternoon’s card from Kempton. We then look at each other and make for the door. Nick shakes his head.
“I didn’t think places like that still existed.”
The Lyttleton Arms is a much better pub but I make a mistake with an Adnams’ seasonal brew. May Day it’s called. I think they left the blossom in the barrel. It’s a fruity, perfumed offering that tastes like Old Spice. No thanks.
We grab a doner and then hit the venue. The Black Heart is an alternative pub down one of Camden’s back alleys. Low lighting, gothic wall hangings and inked-up clientele. And more of that May Day muck on draft.
The gig is upstairs. Intimate, atmospheric and lively. Superb sets follow from three punk-pop-glam-blues mash-up meisters who slam out three-minute gems and don’t mess about. Wonderful. Here’s the review.
5:2. I’m fasting. This is new. I do need to lose weight and eat a lot better. Five days eating normally and two days purging down to 600 calories might be a framework I can live with. I quite like the idea of a serious effort, but only twice a week.
Lunch is a bowl of green, red and orange rabbit food. I eschew the little portion of mayonnaise. Stay strong.
By 3.30pm I resign to hop all the way home having chewed off my right leg through withering hunger. The theory is that by stripping down to only 600 calories one day, there is no chance of putting all the calories back on the next day. I resolve to give that claim a bloody good test.
Spend all the working day in a synagogue with an old gay Jew writing funding proposals. He’s a lovely chap, impeccably connected to a string of celebrity performers and has a fantastic plan for an innovative project working with young people. We are from different worlds though. I’m keen to rattle on and grind out the bids in quick succession. My colleague is more considered. At one point he says,
“You can only work when the muse is with you. And you never know when she will arrive…”
He’s clearly not being paid by the hour.
I’m ready for a pint after that. Luckily it’s our fantasy cricket beer and curry night. We have a full-ish house – only two or three no-shows from a league of 15 this year - and there is booze and bullshit aplenty. Goes with the territory on nights like these. I’m not impressed with my team though. It was rushed and poorly thought through. To cap it all I’m already two players down with broken digits.
“Poppadum fingers”, said Bacchy, reminding us of the old allegation thrown at Nasser Hussain.
My crap team didn’t stop me wagering at least one curry side-bet with Si on the coming season’s performance. Beer talking. I have no chance.
I’m home and Clare is here, celebrating the birthday that keeps on giving with Mrs A. Great to see her. But I’m plum tuckered and after just the swiftest glass of red with them, I hit the hay at before 1am. Busy day tomorrow.
Sleep comes fitfully until something jolts me bolt upright and wide awake. “Jammin’” comes the refrain from the floor below, accompanied by a deep bass line. “Jammin’ Jammin’ Jammin’ Jammin’” I squint at the LED clock. It’s 3.15am. Perfect time to air a bit of Bob Marley.
“FOR GOD”S SAKE!” I plead.
But no-one can hear me.
Scowl round the house, scraping furniture on the wooden floors before hitting the commuter run, cursing the sleeping beauties upstairs. They can sleep in ‘til the middle of the day if it pleases them. Then, unexpectedly, Clare bounds down the stairs all perfectly coiffed sweetness and light. I don’t say a word.
She’s up early to unhook her new BMW i3 electric car from where it is charging over by the tennis courts. Sounds like she had a scary journey down nursing the last few volts out of the battery after a few recharging station issues.
I’m getting a chance to catch up properly with Clare tonight as she, Mrs A and I are meeting up with a few of the old EMI crowd. Two of whom, Sam and Mike, are over from Belfast. Cookie’s there as well and Clare’s son, currently living in Victoria, briefly joins us too. I haven’t seen him for about 10 years and once we realise we drink in some of the same pubs we quickly agree a pact of silence.
It is a night of catching up, favourite stories and new plans. Sides ache from the impact of howling laughter. Clare’s feet ache from impact of falling off her heels on the way to the curry house. Yes, another curry beckons. I’m giving the 5 of the 5:2 diet a real, proper crack.
I’m with Mike in the front of our people-snake. The others don’t know where the restaurant is.
“This way” I shout.
At the back I hear Clare reply at the top of her falsetto,
“Who IS that man?!
Mrs A looks at her and says,
“That’s my husband! You’ve only known him 30 years!”
Clare squints at me and shrugs her shoulders.
Mike is an irrepressible and enthusiastic bloke. Last time he was over, Daughter No 2’s was palpably shaken to realise that someone could exist who talked more and faster than both her Mother and her Granny.
In the curry house, we establish that Mike – a drummer by trade before moving upstairs to the BBC – played session drums on one of my top ten albums of all time. Hard rockers Waysted were recording Vices in the same studio as Mike’s band and, finding themselves short of an errant tub-thumper, asked Mike to step in and crash a few cymbals. Uncredited of course. Legend. Absolute legend.
We see Clare off the premises in her fully charged BMW (she forgets the boots that caused her downfall last night).
And that’s me for the day. I’m fasting, I’m betting and unless there’s anyone coming to help celebrate Mrs A’s birthday just a smidge longer, I’m sleeping.