The long grey dawn split the night open. A night spent kneeling in my bathroom, the cold tiles warming from the heat of my body. A rumble of bowels and I heaved again, the bile trapped somewhere near the entrance to my throat. Spasmodic heavings, that old familiar tune, the same noise I used to make in the throes of sexual ecstasy, believe it or not. This was nothing sexual. This was vomitus.
So that was the Tranmere game. I was going with Tel, only he caught a bad cold which turned into gastric flu, which he then kindly gave to me. I was still going, right up to 12.45pm on the Saturday when I suddenly (and rather inconveniently) lost control of my bowels, having spent the aforementioned night kneeling in plaintive prayer to the God of Bad Guts in my bathroom. His altar, my white Armitage Shanks, had more bleach on it than Courtney Love's hair. Discretion being the better part of turning up to my seat in Block 5 walking like John Wayne and trailing a funny nasty smell and probably several flies, I missed the 4-1 demolition of the Scouse wannabes. Still, it sounded good on the radio. And Mick Mills' voice is the perfect accompaniment to wet farts and urgent, skittery splashing.
Tel's cold, which wasn't, came kindly from Tony's son, who'd been off school and at home in bed with a bucket and a chamber pot nearby. Tel spent a day with Tony shopping for a new dressing gown for his lad in Freeport. I didn't get the full story but understood it involved an urgent change of bedclothes and a chucked dressing gown. By Wednesday night, Tel was complaining of feeling 'bleedin' odd, like, sorta gut rot an' all blocked up'. He still managed to make an appearance in the pub on Thursday, but I noted the unease at eating the food he ordered and his reluctant sips of his pint with alarm. By Friday, he'd backed out of the Tranmere game and I was feeling distinctly funny. The rest is history.
We both recovered last Thursday. I took the week off work, buoyed by the sick note from my GP, who wrote it in his mean little shorthand and said I'd be fine by Friday if I took gloop and ate nothing more taxing than toast and drank plenty of fluids. So I spent the early part of last week in bed watching old episodes of The Sweeney and Minder and that box set of Breaking Bad I ordered last week. It's hard to drink hot tea in bed, isn't it? The mug kept missing my mouth and wetting my upper torso.
We met again last Friday, chastened, ignoring the pull of the boozer and the curry house. Tel told tales of being sick on their duvet and the wife seeing it and being sick on it as well. "Ole 'ouse smelt of sick" he sniffed. "Ah got the Jeyes out and splashed it abart a bit, that killed it". We met at the coffee shop which was his former shop. Yes, he's had a change of heart and has got to know the new owner fairly well. They do a lovely latte. It settled my troubled guts like nectar. Also, they 'lend' laptops with free wifi access. I say 'lend' 'cos they're security chained to the table. Anyone attempting theft would have a hell of a job carrying that away quick.
Tel told me that Tony and his ex are 'geddin' on well at the mo, looks lark 'e might be goin' back for anuvver try soon". Mrs Tel was 'fine'. We talked about my job, a sure sign we had nothing much else to talk about, us both being metaphorically 'up on bricks' for the last two weeks. He feels lost and bored, he started to tell me, but then he smiled and changed the subject to his illness, and the moment went. He needs another job. Life for him is too easy, too steady, too peaceful. He showed me an application form for the Tollgate Sainsburys and said he'd contacted Paula, who'd provided the application and said she'd come over to help him complete it. It was a depressing moment, seeing him embarrassed to discuss applying for a job as a lowly Retail Assistant. But he wants to do something and doesn't want the hassle of running his own business again, and this was all he could think of.
Saturday woke me with blustery rain and cloud-scattered skies. I went for a walk along the towpath into Flatford, my hip flask banging against my ribs as I traversed stiles and leapt puddles. Lunch in Dedham was a pate ploughmans, consumed with a pint of Oscar Wilde mild, as my walking boots steamed by the open log fire and the tourists from London sipped their boutique gins and Fever Trees and loudly scolded children called Max and Arabella for talking over them. I got back by two and went to my local for a pint in more congenial surroundings, ones where the locals wear their Hammers home shirts with pride and you get the piss taken if you're called Arabella.
It's surprisingly nervy watching us on Soccer Saturday, but we won, and no-one seemed to care (not even a reporter at the ground!). Terry joined me for the West Ham game after, sliding in to the chair opposite me and lobbing the food menu onto one of the neighbouring tables with a look of disdain. He ordered more pints, and we sat chewing the cud, back to long. distracted draughts from our glasses and laughing about our ailments. West Ham lost 2-1 in the last minute, which cheered us both immeasurably, especially as the claret shirted home fans sloped off, their pool games ceased for the evening as Ayew kissed the camera.
"S'alrite, ah've chucked the application fer Sainsbrys" said Tel to me as we eased back the brandies. "'Int told Paula yet though. Gawd knars what she''ll fink", He smiled and relaxed. "Mart try summink else, dunno what yet, plenty'a'time" and he held up his glass to show it was empty and I smiled and lifted myself from the chair and went to the bar for another pair of doubles. And we sat and sipped and revolved ideas around like bubbles in a glass of Babycham. And the Town were seven points clear of third, and it was soon the international break, and tomorrow was Sunday. All good enough reasons to raise a glass. So we did. And then we ordered scampi and chips.