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Ever met a celebrity you didn't like?
at 15:55 30 Mar 2020

Mine was Geoff Capes. Fat, obnoxious w*nker.
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The Warky League One Report: Club Tropicana drinks are free (H)
at 09:02 30 Mar 2020

The Manningtree and Lawford area is well acquainted with net-twitchers. This used to be the domain of a quick bit of witch burning on spare greens in the 17th century; it didn't pay to be unpopular with your neighbours in those days. More so if you were a woman on her own with facial disfigurements and a penchant for black cats. Had this coronavirus happened three hundred and sixty-odd years ago, I don't doubt that someone round my way would have grassed up the lady at number 15 by now. They'd probably have even lobbed a few bits of kindling towards the bonfire.

The one great beauty of the virus is that it spares me from nosey neighbours. I don't doubt I've been just as much the subject of previous fevered speculation. For instance, when my ex-wife left, a neighbour told me they'd heard she'd thought I was secretly gay. God knows what they make of Tel's Saturday night visits. The nets twitch when he parks his van on my drive. 'And he's only there for about an hour, Gerald, and that's plenty of time for them to enjoy a bit of the other'.

Tel, oblivious to all these undertones, did indeed park his van and exited it dressed like an early '90's rave participant, his white boiler suit and face mask reminiscent of the time I attended a Halloween fancy dress party as one of the droogs from 'A Clockwork Orange'. He just needed the bowler hat and the mascara'd eyelash. And the cricket box tied round his nethers.

We meet at mine as I'm no longer allowed round his for a takeaway or, indeed, much else. Mrs Tel is taking the isolation bit seriously. "Not that she's accusin', like, she jus' don't wanna take the risk. Even our neighbours aint allowed in the 'ouse". He is my remaining social link to the outside world, if you don't count the checkouts and tobacco counter in Tesco's, and the servers in there don't bother with chat these days. They're more concerned with the two metre distancing. I do shopping for Mrs Leggate at number 15 as well; she's eighty-three and can't drive and is banned from catching the bus with her trolley-on-wheels. Her daughter, Carole, lives in Reading so I've become a sort of surrogate grandson. I have a cuppa with her when I come back, which isn't strictly part of Boris' rules, but is nice nonetheless. She likes little choccy treats, so I always treat her to a few even when she doesn't ask for them on her list.

"Bleedin' job's geddin' me darn now" said Tel as he accepted the bottle of beer and the Indian snacks I'd just heated in the oven. This is our Friday night takeaway. The Indian closed last week. Our local chinese still hangs on grimly for takeaway only. "Everywhere's gone mental. I'm deliverin' enuff bog rolls and disinfectant to clean the bogs between 'ere and Norfuk". He sniffed and took a swig from the bottle. "Ah'm still determinned ter retire in 2021, leave orl this be'ind. Which reminds me..." He reached into the Head sports bag he'd brought with him and took out four glossy brochures for holidays in the USA. "Bit'o'light readin' for ya" he said with a grin.

Mrs Tel has had to cancel her regular hair appointment at home. "'Er roots'er cummin' froo like Leylandi's. She says she don't need it fer anuvver few weeks, jus' 'er an' me at 'ome, still I reckon she'll be 'opin' this fing'll be past by Eastah. Fat bleedin' chance".

We discussed Paula, who Tel has spoken to last week. "She's workin' all 'ours. I keep 'opin' I'll get a delivery to 'er store. But she's fine. Not pregnant yet" he added quickly. "They probly aint 'ad the time. Blake's workin' fer 'is bruvver's firm". He took another swig and a chicken pakora. "Reckon 'e mus' be coinin' it in; 'is bruvver owns a Porsche". Then, suddenly "'Ere! I din't tell yer. Callum's leavin' us. Got a girlfriend, 'e 'as! She's gottim a job in Waitrose in Colchester where she works. Ah've met 'er an all. She came ter pick 'im up after a shift. She's eigh'een, Becky 'er name is". He lowered his voice, lavisciously and cupped his hands expansively at his midriff. "Nice woods" he winked. "Bleedin' acne though. Face lark a crib board. No pers'nality. Ah made a few ligh'earted comments, little funnies wiv 'er. Not even a titter. Miserable cow". I asked him if these witticisms included jokes about spots. "Nah". Then he thought for a moment "Well, not all of 'em".

He drank up and ate the last samosa. I offered him a brandy but he looked as though I'd offered a quick BJ upstairs. "Still gotter drive 'ome yer knar? Can't leave the van on yer drive an' I aint payin' their prices fer a cab 'ome". He gathered his stuff together, remembering the face mask, which he'd hung neatly on my bannister rail, so it looked like it too was taking self-isolation seriously. "Ah'll probly be back nex' week, see yer then. I'll tex' yer. I'm workin' six til four nex' week, not all drivin', we're 'avin' a stock take nex' Wensdy". He re-masked casually so it hung round his neck like a big bow tie. "Keep safe" he said, unnecessarily. Then he exited Planet Dust. Although, I must admit, self-isolation means I get a load more housework done these days.

The nets twitched as he left. Had I have thought, I'd've told him to walk a bit gingerly back to the van, perhaps holding his arse with an expression of suffering on his face. That'd have given them something to talk about.
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The Warky Isolation Tank - a few Tel tales Number 2
at 12:06 26 Mar 2020

The Bushtucker challenge

"So me'n'the missus, probably Tone told us 'cos 'e used ter go abroad a lot when 'is firm started making' a bit o' dough, fought we'd try Greece one year, must've been 1990 'cos I remember we got back just before the World Cup in Italy started, 'cos I was worried, like, bein' stuck out there an' not bein' able to watch it. So ah reckon it was May we went. Anyway, we went wiv The Co-op 'cos they 'ad a deal on. Zantee it was"

"So we're at Gatwick, waitin' for the plane, Tone's driven us darn, shut the shop for 2 weeks 'cos it was me an' the missus back then, Paula weren't even born, din't 'ave any ovver 'elp so yer just took the 'it an' 'oped yer'd make enough for the rest of the year. It was a nice 'otel, big pool, yer own balcony overlooking' the sea, looked lovely in the brosha they gave us. Expensive back then, o'course. So we get on the plane, an' we're sat in the middle row with this couple from Redhill next to us, we get chattin' an' they were really nice. Mick and Shirl. She 'ad a hairdressing business in Croydon an' 'e was a spark".

Turns out they're stayin' at the same 'otel, two floors up from us an' on the corner, wiv a bigger balcony an' that an' a bigger double room. Like a suite it was, almost. So we met up a lot, weren't all inclusif back then so we paid fer breakfast an' decided we'd eat out in Zakynfos in the evenin', lovely tavernas they 'ad, loads'o' fish, good steaks, lamb kebabs an' all that. We all had good tans 'cos it was bleedin' 'ot an' we're out a lot, in the bars 'avin a beer or on the beach".

"So it gets ter the end of the first week an' Mick sez to me "Ah fancy a really local Greek meal ternite, summink a bit diff'rent, are you both up fer that?" So I say yeah, but the wife don't eat anyfing she don't know, she's got a delicate stomach an' that. An' 'e goes 'don't worry, bin 'ere before an' I can speak a bit of the lingo, we'll try this Taverna in Kipoi 'cos they serve the freshest seafood an' fish, leave it ter me'. So we get a cab darn there".

"Well we get in this Taverna an' iss eighty in the shade so we sit outside, right near the 'arbour, a few beers ter start an' then a bottle of Retsina, a good one fer a change. Waiter comes out, speaks very limited English so Mick does the orderin' but even 'e's avin a few problems making' 'em unnerstand. Luckily, there's picktures on the menu o' the food, so we end up pointin' at stuff we recognise. I fink I'm 'avin' these prawns in sauce for a starter so I'm 'appy enuff, the wife's 'avin' the Greek Salad an' we bofe order this beef dish as a main, sorta looks like crispy chilli beef from the chinky at 'ome. Shirl 'as the same an' says she recommends it".

"So the starters come out. We start eatin'. Well, these are the funniest bleedin' prawns I'd ever 'ad. They're like all slimy an' cut up small. Sauce was alright though, so I fink 'Blow it, I'm eatin' it'. Well, I manage to clean me plate, but they were chewy prawns, really rubbery, and quite salty. I'm finkin' 'Ope the beef's better'. The missus enjoys her salad but she partic'ly loves the little flaky fish bits they've tossed into it an' wants Mick to ask the waiter what they were. Trouble is, the waiter don't unnerstand so 'e says 'e'll ask his brother, 'oo's away in the town at the moment, to translate.

The beef comes out and Shirl's right, it was lovely, sizzling' 'ot an' wiv 'erbs all over it. So we all eat away 'appily, even the missus. We finish an' decide we're too full for afters, an' we ask fer the bill. This ovver bloke comes in and obviously knars the waiter well, and after 'e's dropped some stuff off in the kitchen, the waiter brings 'im over. He says 'ello an' speaks the Queens well, so we say what a lovely meal it was, an' he smiles and asks us what we tried, askin' if we 'ad the doner an' the fresh seabass 'cos they were the restaurant specialities. So we say no an' we point to the menu an' tell 'im wot we ordered.

So 'is smile sorta drops a bit an' 'e says 'You are brave people to eat the local specials, no English order them normally because they are so special to Kipoi'. So we're sat there, all smug'n'that, an' then he says, pointin' to the wife, 'You enjoy the raw calamaris salad?' and the wife says Yeah lovely, an' 'e goes 'is good'. So the wife asks 'im about the fishy stuff on it an' 'e goes 'Is raw squid, in own ink, shaved small an' wiv conch shaved with it". So the missus goes a bit green and asks what conch is, and he brings one out from the kitchen and whips it out the shell, and blow me, it looks jus' like a big snail. An' its wrigglin' on 'is fork an' 'e says "It is alive when we shave it". So the missus looks ready to chuck by now.

My prawns were ackchully sea cucumber, which is like a big slug. An' the beef was the best bit. It was bull's gonads, deep fried.

We've never been tempted by Greece since. An' we never 'eard from Shirl and Mick again. Fink they felt a bit embarrassed. Especially when the wife hughed up all over the table. We got our own cab back.....
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The Warky Isolation Tank - a few Tel tales
at 21:19 25 Mar 2020

Hi folks

Seeing as we're pretty much in the same boat (I've been sent home with full pay for 12 weeks and it's day 3 and I'm, frankly, losing a bit of patience with the telly) and a few people seem to like my reports (thank you sincerely), I wondered if you'd fancy some of the stories Tel has told me in the past but, for reasons of space/sloth, I've never actually committed to these pages?

I'll do the first one tonight and might make this a bit more regular than the reports. Let me know if you don't like them (they'll be shorter than the reports but they are peculiarly Tel).

George's Last Stand

"I 'ad this bloke, George, 'e woz a regular in the shop when we first opened in '85, late sixties, always wore a shirt, tie and jacket, really smart 'e looked. I used to sell sweets in jars, right palaver it woz, yer needed scales'n'that to weigh 'em and white paper bags to shove the sweets in, used ter be poxy wiv bleedin' school kids all buying eighths" (here I looked a bit shocked and he said, after frowning at my surprise, "nah, not those sort of eightfs yer berk!"). "Anyway, George came in evry day fer 'is Daily Mirror an'is slim panatellas an' e'd 'ave a quart'a of summink, normally winter mixes or them lickrish fings they used ter do, yer know, like submarines? 'Allsorts?' I said. "Nah, bleedin' 'ell, these were long and fin, coloured like".

"Comferts!" he suddenly exclaimed as we trawled the whole pantheon of liquorice-based confection. "Anyway" (looking pleased with himself), "George'n' me used ter chat lark we do now, mainly abart the footy, sometimes 'e'd give me a few racin' tips, sometimes a few dog tips'n'all. Well, we'd been chattin' for abart free munfs when I ask 'im abart 'is life'n stuff. Turns out 'e was a Sergeant Major in the Second World War; 'e'd seen service in Norf Africa an' Malta, 'e woz telling' me abart 'ow 'ot is was in Africa an' 'ow the locals all seemed a bit surly, like, they din't like the English much".

"Well, George was put in charge of supplies an' 'e noticed stuff got 'arf-inched by the locals regular, like. They'd nick 'ole red cross boxes an' tins an' ovver bits an' no-one could stop 'em. So George got a bit cheesed off one day; fink they'd bin left wiv tinned pilchards an' custard to feed the troops or summink like that, summink grim that din't go togevver anyway, so 'e sez to 'imself, cos they din't want the Tommies takin' liberties wiv the locals just in case they got the 'ump an' started 'elpin' the Germans, 'e sez 'next time I ketch one o'them sods nickin', I'll befriend 'em and get 'em to tell me 'ow they do it, fore warned is fore armed an' all that. So one of 'is troops nicks some local abdul 'oo's on the camp wivout permishun an' instead o' given' 'im a clip rand the ear, George asks 'im how 'e manages ter smuggle the stuff out wivout gettin' caught".

"So 'e tells George, an' George sez ter me 'it weren't a bad idea'. Basically, they wore an apron wiv a big pouch cut into it and then jus' shoved stuff in the pouch so it hung over their nuts. Anyone pattin' 'em down ter check 'em wouldn't touch their wedding tackle, an' they noo this so they 'ad an advantage like".

"George sez to me 'Clever innit? I learned a lot from my service in Africa, stuff I kept wiv me later in life'. Anyway, we 'ad a laugh abart it an' 'e kept comin' in fer 'is paper an' is quarters an' that was 'im for a while. Abart a year later, I saw 'im in a local soopermarkit an', cos 'e ain't been in for a while, asked if 'e woz ok. 'E said 'e was sorry but e'd ad a bit'o' trouble wiv his legs an' couldn't walk too far these days so got 'is daughter to drop 'im at the local shop an' 'e did 'is shoppin' an' she bought him 'is paper. I wished 'im well an' all that, and noticed 'e was walkin' very game, like, almost bent double, poor ole boy".

"E died a few munfs after this, at 'ome, 'eart they reckoned. The funny fing was, when they broke into 'is sheltered flat, they found all these random fings like 'air dryers an' loads'o'tins of fruit pie fillin' an' stuff. Fing is, the local soopermarkit 'ad been complainin' in the local rag abart heavy shopliftin' 'appening in their store for a while, but yer know wot the kids'er like rand 'ere? No-one suspected a retired ex-sergeant major wearin' a sorta apron under 'is jacket wiv a big pouch sewn on it.

Funniest fing was 'e'd managed to nick a heavy plaster stachoo o' some fairy sat on a toadstool. No wonder 'e was walkin' all bent over. I bet his fore'ead dragged on the bleedin' floor that day...."

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The Warky League One Report: Lockdown and hanging around (H)
at 09:06 24 Mar 2020

"Nun'o' the bleedin' pubs'er open" said Tel, the bitterness in his voice betraying an undertone of fear. I tried to reason with it; tried to say that home drinking was the way forward. "Try findin' a soopermarkit that in't full'a' wallies buyin' everyfing they can lay their 'ands on" he said. "Impossible, it is. Always the fat ones n'all. Like they fink they're gonna run out of crisps and pies an' the panic sets in, so they stock up every day. Turnin' into the modern spivs, thass wot they're doin'. Arf expect ter be offered two Ginsters an' a pack of bog roll fer fifty notes outside a Tesco".

I'm officially on furlough from work, a long-standing health problem meaning that my presence, as of yesterday lunchtime, was entirely superfluous for 12 weeks. I still get paid, natch. I just can't travel anywhere or do much, apart from write and send daft emails to my company to keep me involved with the few who are still toiling at the coalface. I hasten to add I don't yet show any of the symptoms they keep mentioning in the media. But a slight cough in the morning, a bit of a headache from the booze, a quick hot flush and you're thinking "b*llocks".

Tel's still delivering, albeit to stores and small shops, no more garden goods as the market went tits up, but the company he works for soon found it was more profitable to outsource their services for the local cause. Tel and his driver's mate Callum are working at 5am, loading up goods from a depot, driving them to stores and then sitting in the cab as face-masked supermarket workers they never speak to, unload and store and then it's back to the depot and "the 'ole fing starts agin". He's happy-ish. They had to cancel Marbella in May but he's working to fill the void. "Finkin' o' retirin' nex' year" he ruminated to me on Saturday night, round mine, a cold beer in hand and his feet up on my coffee table. "Then we'll 'ave a look at a two munf trip in the US".

We've stopped meeting socially. Forced to, really, like many others. I would say 'everyone' but that's not true; Manningtree was awash with people walking and soaking up the spring sun on Saturday. I went to my local Tesco at eleven and was amazed at the amount of walkers, dressed in their cagoules and their socks over their moleskin trouser-bottoms. All within mere feet of each other, some within inches. As though this pandemic is just a 'London' thing and they don't need to worry; the fresh air'll kill it anyway.

They come from London as well, hence my worry that this little corner of a misbegotten country will soon be savaged by death and self-isolation like the Italians are facing. Londoners, especially middle-class ones, don't get it. They work in professions that require them to be clever, yet they threaten the rest of us oiks and country bumpkins with their 'preferred activities'. I said this to Tel on Saturday and he nodded. "No'iced the same fing" he said. "Bleedin' posh Londoners treatin' us like their lavvy, comin' out for a jolly near the sea an' be'avin' like its their own to do wit wot they like".

Tel started telling me a rambling and often funny story about someone attempting to break into his van. "Darn at Basildon, deliverin' cleanin' stuff to a cash'n'carry, some 'oody comes over'n' sez 'wotchoo got in there mate?" so I tell 'im ter clear off outer it 'n' he starts tryin' ter open the back. So I 'ad Ray, the ex-SAS bloke wiv me and 'e gets out and let's jus' say ah nevver 'eard wot 'e sed, but this bloke leaves a brarn cloud behind 'im as 'e goes. An' Ray comes back'n ses 'e woz polite'n that".

Tel works a six-day week 5am to 2pm then he's home. "Drivin' the missus mental, me" he said smiling. "Can't go out an' do anyfing so iss jus' me'n'er the rest of the day". He became confessional and lowered his voice, even though it was just the two of us in my house. "Ah've started plannin' our yank trip fer nex' year. First clarse flight ter Noo York, week in a five star, then 'ire a motor an' off ter the 'amptons an' Marfa's Vinyard, always fancied seein' where they made Jaws, then on ter Vegas an' a week in a nice 'otel, then Frisco an' LA, then a trip to the Rockies, then 'ome". I said it sounded expensive and he smiled. "Savin' in'I? Five 'undred a munf in an account I set up last year. Got nearly four grand in there already. Should 'ave more'n' ten by the end o' this year, this virus keeps up an' I keep workin'. Also, ah got this policy due to machure in November. Ten grand. That should be enuff".

We chatted on, then he drank his last bottle and wiped his mouth carefully with a silk hanky and left. "Come wiv us" he said. I can't, I replied. We're not supposed to be meeting in groups. "Nah, not NOW!" he said, irritably. "Come wiv us to the US nex' year. You won' be spendin' much an' you earn a good wedge from them trips to Bermin'am, yer should do anyway, gawd knows why yer do 'em. Save up. I'll pay yer 'otel costs. We'll 'ave a laugh, you'n'me". He looked at me in anticipatory relish. Then he choked up a bit. "You're, lark, the nearest fing I got to fambly these days. Ah miss yer. Come on 'oliday wiv us. The wife'd love it; she asked me ter ask yer, she don' want two munfs're me on 'er lonesum". He left the offer dangling, like a worm on a hook. And though I laughed and asked if he was alright to drive home, a part of me did think. Why not?

And to be honest, in these uncertain days, we've all got to have something to look forward to. Don't we?
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Apologies
at 06:34 23 Mar 2020

The report is nearly done - it was Mother's Day yesterday so I went home for roast beef and ended up staying the night. I've been working in Colchester from last week and everything's been a bit odd to say the least. Should be up tonight.
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I refuse to cancel my DD for my Season Ticket
at 10:49 21 Mar 2020

The club needs us now more than ever. I did (very briefly) think about cancelling April's payment but it just seems heartless. Anyone else had similar feelings?
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The Warky League One Report: Panic on the streets of Lawford (h)
at 10:16 15 Mar 2020

The skies weren't virulent red and the only sound of coughing came from the old boy at the bar. This wasn't anything new given that he's smoked for the majority of his eighty-odd years on this earth and no-one tends to go within a metre of him anyway, lest they be bored to death by his inconsequentials. Hardly a 'Brave New World'.

There's no pandemic down our neck of the woods. As usual, folk watched the telly and read the Daily Express and drank pints out of scratched, fugged glasses and wondered, as ever, why Londoners have a tendency to panic. "Nevver 'ad this in the war" said the old boy at the bar, aloud, mainly to himself. "Mind'yoo I was only a nipper back then an' the ole mem'ry aint what it woz". A couple of heads nodded sagely. The rest of us wondered if we'd staggered into some sort of Am Dram production rehearsal and he'd suddenly burst into a few verses of "Fings aint wot they used ter be". Once our beer was frothy. Now it's our heads.

Tel arrived, match-ready for a Lamb Tandoori chop and a Chicken Balti, no surgeon's mask sporting his visage, his five 'o'clock shadow creeping into greyish stubble at the neck. He exchanged polite hello's with the barmaids and ordered a pint. He spoke briefly with the old boy at the bar, something that sounded like conciliation but was probably a half-hearted agreement so he could get away quick before the old boy press-ganged him into conversation.

"'Ow's fings wiv yoo den?" he asked me as he sat, carefully mounting his sipped pint on a beer mat. We'd had a collectively indifferent week at work. "Orders aint cummin' froo lark they were" said Tel. "Five jobs larse week, free of 'em in Norfuk, weren't 'ardly werf the 'assle. Bits'o' fence panel an' sheds an' that ter people 'oo 'ave as many toes as I've got lumps in me crotch". He took a long draught from his pint and eyed two women up at the bar with a standard appreciation.

We'd had the Cheltenham Festival, a feast of hard-to-pick winners and big fields. We won on two races from five. A horse called "Al bum pho'ter" had apparently won the Gold Cup that afternoon, and in doing so, we'd won £300. "Jus' fancid it ter be 'onest" said Tel when I asked how he'd picked it. He'd dropped £100 on Tiger Roll on Wednesday. "Bleedin' ran lark a tank" he said dismissively when I asked what happened. We'd also lost on Tuesday, but won again on Wednesday when a horse called Champ won. So, I concluded, how much did we win in the week? Tel looked at me as though I were a small fly landing on the rim of his pint glass. "Dunno" he said. "But we 'ad over a grand in the accarnt an' we still got over a grand in there, so....." Job done, his face said.

The lack of football for a few weeks disgruntled him more. "Bleedin' soft they are terday. Blokes like that kraut 'oo played fer Man City in the cup final wiv a broken neck, thass yer olden days player. They was 'ard, them blokes. None of yer namby-pambyin' rollin' round when yer fouled, nar, them boys would 'ave 'ad ter 'ave broken their bleedin' legs ter do that". It was a favourite hobby-horse. I could imagine him joining in the chorus with the old boy at the bar, perhaps as a prelude to them both going on to sing 'Underneath the Arches', Tel in a fur coat and straw boater.

The curry house was empty at seven, save for a couple waiting for a takeaway and filling the time by perusing the menu and having a half each. To be fair, the menu would have been preferable to reading the two-day old copy of The Sun that was the alternative. We were seated at our favourite table, the one with the cushioned church pew on the wall which faces out into the restaurant and is far enough away from the toilets to make even an urgent visit an inward reflection about whether you can hold it for a bit longer, just in case your food arrives as you set out and you return to find it congealed.

Tel was dismissive about COVID-19. "F'ya gonna ketch it, geddit over wiv. It's only a bleedin' cold annyway. I sed ter the wife...(here he bent in close so I could smell the lager on his breath)..yew waint gunner catch tha'. If anyfin', it'll be muggins 'ere 'oo gets it, probly from one o' them yokels in Norfuk". He sat back, and winked at me. "Fink abart it. Where'd it start? China, one o'them markets they 'ave where they eat annyfin' that moves. An' 'oo else is dirty lark that? Yer Norfuks. All farms an' interbreedin' an' cat-eatin' an' that. It'll be spreadin' lark the plague up there in a few weeks, you watch".

Our starters arrived, the waiter rolling the trolly topped with sizzling and steaming metal skillets. He placed the plate heaters on our table and then unloaded the pans, warning us 'dorn touch der deeshes sir' as Tel inadvisedly went to pull one nearer to him. His job done, he coughed as he walked away. Tel watched his back with an expression of outrage. "Thass 'ow yer geddit, that, cummin' out fer a bit of a feed an' catching' it off the waita. Better get ourselves inter quarantine later".

We were happily munching the Keema Naan and our curries when another Corona-thought struck Tel. "Why are people panic-buying' bog rolls? Does it give yer the squits?". No I said. But I wasn't convincing. "S'pose if yer gonna dump yourself ter deaf, yer might as well go out all guns blazin'" and he ordered two more keema naans and a Lamb Vindaloo.

We finished, belching lightly and ordering the bill, the table cloth liberally spattered with cloying lumps of brown which were busy building small moats of lighter brown around them, like miniature medieval castles. Tel wanted a coffee and a "few brandies, jus' a few, aint workin' termorra so we'll be fine". We were going back down the pub for these; the coffee in the Indian was like dishwater and they knew how to charge for brandy. He paid the bill on his card, as is our custom. I pay the cab home.

We went back to the pub. The old boy at the bar was gone. No musical numbers. It was a bit of a shame. There were a dozen or so in, all enjoying a cosy drink and a game of pool, none less than a metre from the next. The coffees took a bit of time so we sipped the brandies at the bar, the ice tinkling in the glasses as we raised them to our lips. "S'pose yer gonna miss the old footy in the nex' few weeks?" said Tel. "Still, wiv the way the Town are goin', it won' be much of a miss. Ipswich should 'ave 'ad the Corona all season". He smiled at his own wit, and desisted long enough from openly eyeing the barmaid's bosom for me to guide him to a table in the corner.

The coffee's arrived, eventually. Jamie the landlord apologised for the delay ("ran out'o' filters so 'ad ter nip upstairs fer me own ones"). Tel made the facetious remark that he'd nipped to Colombia to get the beans as well. Jamie smiled tightly, as was his cue. He's worried by the lack of Premiership games on the telly; he told us most of his trade during the week came from watching the football. "So ah'm finkin' of doin' anuvver quiz night next Wen'sdy. Fiver a head and the winner gets a ton an' a nice bottle 'o'wine". We checked our diaries. Tel was off on Thursday. We said yes and paid our tenner. "Might bring the wife" said Tel. "Tho' gawd knars what use she'd be. Yer'd be better off wiv tha' beer mat".

The cab arrived at twelve, just as we were draining our fifth brandy of the evening. I asked him about Paula earlier, and he creased his face in a grimace. "She couldn't make it the ovver week, said she 'ad ter work a late shift or summink. Still, ah'm seen' her nex' Saturdy so if yer want me to pass on yer regards, ah'll 'appily do that". She's coming back for Mothering Sunday next week so Tel took the opportunity to take her and Blake for a meal on the Saturday night. I'll keep you informed when he tells me about developments. We're not due to meet next week. He's working Friday so we agreed not to bother. Our next meeting will be on the 28th.

The cab dropped him at home. I nervously awaited the 'quick slash in me 'edge' but it never came. He wished me all the best for the week ahead and swayed up his drive. He was having a quiet night in last night. I doubt he knows the meaning.

Yesterday, well, if I hadn't been self-isolating, I may as well have done. I was due to meet friends but they cancelled due to illness. I went for a walk on Shotley, breathing in the glorious ozone and watching the sea roll ceaselessly against the small boats. I came home and had a nice piece of Sirloin from my local butcher, with my own béarnaise sauce and some chips and roasted veg. I missed the footy results, naturally, but I was surprised by how little I missed them. I've not been reduced to watching kids in the park, like some paedo, but all the local non-league games were postponed as well, so it's really a matter of which virus I succumb to first, the Corona or the footy one. I suspect it'll be the footy that ultimately gets me.
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The Warky Report is ON
at 11:43 13 Mar 2020

I'm pleased to announce that, due to the coronavirus and the suspension of all footy until April, The Warky Report will be doing its best to fill the void. For one time only tomorrow, the report will be uploaded at 3pm to (hopefully) take the place of the non-existent footy and update you on just why Tel thought having £100 on Tiger Roll at Cheltenham on Wednesday was "a bleedin' no brainer" when it finished second.

It's curry night tonight. I've prepared my bowels at work. Bring it on!
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The Warky League One Report: Coventry (h)
at 12:34 8 Mar 2020

Horsey Road, seven a.m. The cars queue in impatient lines and the exhaust fumes splutter and disperse, like ghosts on the wind. It's just getting light. The scudding clouds threaten rain and the breeze animates the trees. There's something dead by the side of the road; or is it just an old bit of sacking? The washed-out crisp bags flutter like butterflies in the thorny hedges. Plastic bottles filled with funny yellow liquid lay abandoned by the verges, occasionally being rolled briefly by the breeze, as though some great bored energy grew quickly tired of playing and went off to see if there was more fun to be had riffling the grass in the fields.

It's Thursday. My last day of the week. Tomorrow, it'll be Friday, and I'll be at home, in bed, hopefully asleep. My day-dreams are rudely interrupted by the flash of the display screen in my car. It's Tel. I pick up the call on loudspeaker. "Orlrite?" says a disembodied voice, the sound of a motor engine backing him up as surely as the Blockheads with Ian Dury. "OK ter talk?" says the voice when I say 'yes'. "Ah've jus' passed Needem on the A-four'een" it continues, as though an in-depth inventory of his journey is a vital prologue to conversation. "Fought ah might've seen yer 'cos you gotta come this way an'all for Brum, like, intcher?". No. I'm working from Colchester today. "Oh". A pause. "Well, thass good 'cos the road's murder rarnd Ipswich. I 'ad ter wait at least ten minits ter get on the A-four'een". Oh, I reply. Sounds busy. "Yeh, well, ah'm off ter the A140 ter Scumville. Deliverin' two noo lawnmowers an' a load of fence panels. Some bloke in Thorpe Sent Andrew. Dunno where that is. Me tomtom's annoying' me so ah switched it off. Callum don' know eiver. Blind leading' the blind, we are terday".

He actually rang to say he fancied going to Trongs on Friday night. "Bit'o'a change. Nice chinky, ravver than the local muck". He'd already booked it, so the call was just a cursory one to make sure I'd be coming. "We'll get the wife ter drive us in an' get a cab 'ome, she's out shoppin' at Westfield wiv Sandy and the niece on Sat'dee so she owes me one". He couldn't make Saturday night. He's working 'til five and then meeting Mrs Tel and Tony and Sandy and the kids and they're dining in Braintree.

He rang off, wishing me a good day at work, which I reciprocated. The week had been a long, dull one, punctuated by Tuesday night's result v Fleetwood, for which I took a hammering from the gleeful Cov fans at work, anticipating their statutory three points when they left the concrete confines of their home city to travel by coaches and trains to the rural tranquility of East Anglia on Saturday. They harangued me in breathless huddles, anxious about the availability of public houses and, probably, electricity in Ipswich. They viewed it much as one would view a trip to the remote foothills of Siberia. The good news was that we were obviously crap, so it would be a joyous journey home.

It was a relief to only have to put up with this for one day. The opportunity for a flexi-day on Friday was too great to resist and I jumped at it, using the old excuse of 'working from home' if anyone asked. Which they didn't. So, naturally, I didn't pretend to. I planned to work from Colchester on Thursday, citing 'Coronavirus', 'tiredness' and 'hospital appointment locally' as excuses. None were strictly true. Although I did nip to Boots for hand wipes.

Tel worked in Maldon on Friday, so was home by three, and he rang me to ask if I fancied nipping down the pub for a late afternoon snifter before Trongs. We met at five, him showered and smelling sharply of Polo and Old Spice deodorant, dressed in his YSL blue shirt and denims. The pub was empty save for two old boys at the bar sipping their IPA's and hoping one of the barmaids had to bend forward so they got a flash of boob. "Ah prefer it lark this" said Tel as we sat at the table near the back, our pints resting awkwardly on the beer mats. He found Thorpe St Andrew in the end. "Bleedin' palaver it was though. The traffic woz murder an' we passed a Maccy D drive froo so Callum 'ad ter stop for a McMuffin an' a coffee an' that. The bloke was funny. Not funny ha-ha. He 'ad this wart on 'is fore'ead. Looked lark Stavros out Doctor 'oo". That's Davros isn't it?, I questioned. "Nah. You're finkin' of Greece. We went on 'olidee to Davros once, me'n'themissus. I got the trots".

Mrs Tel arrived in the car at six thirty. She honked the horn to let us know she was there. Tel, halfway through a pint, shot a look of irritation at the door and said "She can wait a minit. Told 'er six forty an' iss barely gone half six". He sipped the remainder of his pint leisurely as though proving a point. The horn sounded again. This time more insistent. Tel muttered "Bleedin' 'ell, wass she playing' at?" and set the remains of his pint on the table with a bang, getting up and going outside to remonstrate. He came back quite quickly. "Ready then?" he asked me, draining his glass in one and grabbing his jacket hurriedly. Yes. More than ready.

The journey in was untroubled. Mrs Tel had different coloured hair, cut into a sort of loose bob. It was golden honey coloured. It suited her better than the usual chestnut. I complimented her on it and she said "Thank you" shyly, as though pleased someone had noticed. Tel said "She 'ad it done larse night. Sadie, her usual 'airdresser. Cost eighty notes though" he added, as though this was unfathomable for a hair cut. She glanced at him sideways and he shut up.

She dropped us and turned round in Silent Street, heading back for what Tel described as "a nite of Eastenders catch up an' Call the bleedin' Midwife, stuff lark that she wotches. Drives me nuts. Can't stand all them wimmin' screechin' on or 'avin' babies wiv all blood an' that over 'em". I gave her my remaining four fags, out of sight of Tel, as she left. She gave me a conspiratorial smile of thanks. We walked to the restaurant and were seated, ordering Tsang Tao's and starters, Tel's grasp of pronunciation as stringent as the sweet and sour sauce he wanted on his dumplings.

""ome to Coven'ry tomorro' then" said Tel, his eyes hooded as he tried blowing on his won-ton soup to cool it. "Should be free points easy, that. They ain't got a pot ter piddle in, 'ave they? Playing' their 'ome games at Birminam's ground". I pointed out that they were the current league leaders. "Nah" said Tel, as though addressing a simpleton. "They aint top". He still wasn't entirely convinced when I showed him the league table on my phone. "Bleedin' old that is" he said dismissively. "Still..." he reached for his mobile phone and tapped up the Ladbrokes site. "Not done the bet yet. Better not pick the Town, just in case". He did six teams to win, Liverpool, Leeds, Brentford, Stoke, Reading and then paused on the last one. "Do yer really fink Town'll lose tamorro?" Yep. "Right then, well on your 'ead be it" and he did Coventry to win. Don't know how much we won, but I'm seeing him later tonight for a drink so, hopefully, it was a good day. Despite my being proved right.

We got home at twelve-thirty. We didn't drink that much so there were no 'pissing in the hedges' shenanigans as Tel left the cab. He paid for the meal. I paid the cab back. And the drinks. He wished me a good night, and hoped we'd beat the Midlands lot, despite the bet. His porch was in darkness as he walked to the door. Mrs Tel had clearly had enough for the night.

Saturday, well. It came. Toast and marmalade and a quick scan of the paper, fed the birds, showered, dressed properly, walk to the station in the warmish sun, got the train, met mates in the pub, drank and watched Liverpool jammily beat Bournemouth. We had hot dogs for lunch. They were lukewarm. Still, smothered in mustard and ketchup and bits of chilli, they weren't bad.

The walk to the ground was shared with two-tone Cov fans in their white away shirts, all drunk from the beers and the joy of being top. I didn't enjoy the game. I spent much of it in a sort of internal rage at just how slow and lethargic and spineless we looked. I ground my teeth and spat obscenities at the useless referee and the even worse lino on the Cobbold side. They scored a well-worked goal and we never looked capable of getting one back. The highlights of the game were secondary but heart-warming, watching the disabled folks taking penalties at half-time, the keeper a whirlwind of raised arms as he exhorted the SBRL to their biggest cheers of the afternoon.

It all seemed so pointless at the end. Sad, the last actions of a disappointing campaign where we'd looked to be going up for a while. Fans on the train home limped between bile at Lambert and his foibles and vapid, impotent grumbling at Evans and his negligence. It all seemed rather secondary, as though we all knew that the season had ended here, on a train trundling back from the ground, the late afternoon sun and the pastoral scenery lulling us into inertia. Friends said goodbye to each other and "see you for Portsmouth" and they briefly hoped that we'd come good again.

But I'm afraid, like hoping you won't succumb to coronavirus, it's all out of our hands.
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Absolutely sh*te
at 20:13 7 Mar 2020

Sorry, but if that's what we have to look forward to, balls to it. We're weak, we can't finish, we look ropey at the back, midfield is all pointless little passes and flicks that don't come off, we switch off at the back, the keeper can't kick for love nor money, we look f*cked.

So, so disappointing. And at the end, they have the gall to clap us? Frauds. Watching the special needs folk take penalties at half-time was more fulfilling than the 90 minutes between it.
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Can't be arsed writing my reports any more
at 19:47 5 Mar 2020

Anyone fancy meeting me in the zone thing on Saturday and I'll tell you the next instalment before the game?
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The Warky League One Report: Blackpool (a)
at 11:48 1 Mar 2020

Et in Arcadia Ego.

Trouble is, Arcadia looks more and more like Kwik-Save every day. The useless bargains stacked high and cheap, the tawdry last knockings of a football club clearly drowning in the effluvial output spilling forth into the sea of neglect. Supermarkets entice their customers to buy bakery products by wafting the delicious smells of baking around the store. My football club must have got hold of a job lot of toilet rolls.

Tel and I discussed the plight of our beloved team yesterday. It was interspersed with Oxford-shirted curry house staff bringing forth sizzling dishes from the tandoor, or the microwave, whichever got the food hot quickest. Tel is in a quandary; he's been offered the opportunity to train to do his HGV2 licence, and hence take on more work. His current job is the employment equivalent to those goldfish in plastic bags you used to win at local fairs; as likely to go tits up suddenly and float with staring protuberant eyes as it is to swim merrily on for years.

"Its two grand for the 'ole fing" said Tel, spitting flecks of stuffed paratha. "It'll be wiv Jerry'n'that lot darn at the test centre in Ipswich". He paused to breathe, and took the opportunity to swill the unleavened bread down with his beer. "Fing is, iss an ideal oppatoonity. I get trained up, drivin' trucks'n that, they get me more work an' ah'm self employed, so ah can work whenevver ah fancy it. No more little trips drivin' rand Norfuk, lookin' out for little bung'lows an' 'avin ter talk to six-toed frobacks who moan about me bein' five minits late an' 'ave big Norridge city stickers in the back of their cars".

This launched him onto one of his pet subjects; the stinginess and general curiousness of the native Norfolker. "Went ter this place in Dere'am, straight forward delivery of fence panels and posts, bloke answers the door, place looked like Norman Bates' motel, piddling wiv rain an' the wind cut yer knackers off. Annyway, 'e sais, in that farmer accent they got, 'I've 'ad ter wait in all day for this, ah was meant ter be goin' shoppin' later, ah fought yew was gonna be 'ere at nine' all accusin' like. So me'n'Callum gets the stuff out the back an' 'e goes 'take it to the shed and stack in in there'. We gets to the shed an' iss full of junk. 'E's got stuff rustin' in there that probly aint seen daylight since 1940. So we 'ad ter move a load of it, takes us about an 'our. An' no word of fanks after from ole Norman. Nah" he continued, bitterness advancing, "'e expects us ter stack it all neat. Din't even offer us a cuppa after". He broke off and angrily swilled the last of his pint down, trying to catch the waiter's eye for another.

"An' then, this is the best bit, 'e argues abart the bill wiv me. Wants a tenner off 'cos 'e reckons we were late. Well, I nearly chinned 'im. Would'a done too if Callum aint of been there". So the job is rapidly losing its lustre, hence the clamour for something else, something less customer based, preferably where he doesn't need to speak to people at all.

He sees Paula next week. She's coming back to the area to see her mum. He didn't mention Blake. I assumed he'd be joining her. Tel had a text from her last Wednesday so texted back and somehow arranged a spot of lunch next Thursday as he's off Thursday and Friday. He worked all week last week, plus a job yesterday morning in Chatteris. He was looking forward to seeing Paula. "Wonder if she's changed much" he mused, faraway look, as the remnants of his chicken tikka were cleared along with the red-stained napkin which looked like he'd slaughtered it himself at the table prior to consuming it.

We weren't surprised at the defeat at Blackpool. We've become hardened to disappointments lately with our team. Even the last minute winner evinced nothing more than a brief exclamation of despair, half-hearted, like a minor disappointment, such as a small increase in a car parking charge or your chicken tikka being more sparrow than spatchcock. Tel summed it up by saying "I did Blackpool in the bet this week. Fought we might sneak a draw though" as though this was all the encouragement one could expect.

We debated the Ipswich malaise later, in the restaurant, between the second order of beer and the rudimentary dusting of poppadom crumbs from the starched tablecloth. Tel thinks it's fate. "Never bin a lucky club, they aint" he prophesied over the mango chutney. "Course, don' 'elp when the owner's a tightwad and knows sweet FA about football". He enlarged on the theme. "Mate'o'mine at work knows one of the ground staff an' 'e reckons Evans'll be gone this time next year. I sed 'that aint soon enuff'. But 'e's gotta DO summink first. No good jus' walkin'".

We concluded the meal down the pub, with brandies and the sort of weekly news dissection that is much missed on mainstream broadcasting. "Gretter Funbags darn in Bristol" muttered Tel. "Bleedin' school kids takin' a day off just to lissen to some yumourless little kid preachin' abart the wevver. I can get that at work, from people years older an' 'oove lived a bit. Least they 'ave funny stories relatin' to it. Eunice at work, 'er old man got blown into their soakaway last week. 'Ad ter use a 'ole bottle of Jeyes on 'is wellies".

He was forthright on the coronavirus outbreak ("wouldn't stop me 'avin' oliday. Wunt be wearing a bleedin' face mask eivver"), Prince Harry ("'e's nutty. They 'ave a 'istory of that in that family. Goes froo 'em lark a stick'o'rock") and Priti Patel ("talks sense she does. Iss rare yer can say that abart a politico").

We parted at just after midnight, me to walk home, Tel to ring the wife for a lift and have "One for the road in the pub near me". It was a long, wettish walk but the local taxi service didn't have a car for an hour and I didn't mind. It gave me a chance to reflect on the disparity of our league position and the likelihood of our continued participation in League One. It all seemed superfluous. A problem I can't solve, like many of them. Even Gretter Funbags would struggle getting us a solution. Unless she knows a good carbon-neutral idiotic multi-billionaire.

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The Warky League One Report: Oxford United (h)
at 14:38 23 Feb 2020

There I sat, in pusillanimous solitude, watching old episodes of 'Minder' on some catch-up channel with an emptying bottle of half-decent Merlot and a lip-stained wine glass, my dark red moustache deepening with each sip like a small kid with a beaker of Ribena. As Friday's go, it wasn't perhaps the greatest night.

Tel stood me up. We'd agreed a Friday meet back when he had doubts about his job. Ironically, for a bloke who specialises in good predictions on a football bet slip, he'd failed to foresee the likelihood of a working Saturday. It meant, although he was available for the usual curry'n'chat, he couldn't have a beer with it. Lest he lose his licence. True, zero alcohol beers were available, but the disdain in his voice when I mentioned this on Friday evening when he called me back was the very match of your average SBR Lower fan on Will Keane. He didn't quite swear, but the sentiments were the same.

He couldn't make Saturday either, or today. "Wife wants ter go'n'see Tone and Sandy on Sundy so we're 'avin' a night in on Sat'dy, bit'o' fish'n'chips from the chippie in Mann'tree an' probly summink rubbish on the telly, few beers'n'tha'". He paused, and coughed down the line, making me go temporarily deaf. "Fink ah'm geddin' a cold" he said, dubiously. "Still, we'll 'ave summink nex' weekend ter make up ferrit. Ah'll ring yer in the week". With that he rang off, his footy bet added to mine on his account via his Samsung mobile.

The week had started so propitiously. He had two days off, so we went down the pub on Monday night when I drove home. I've had a few 'issues' at work this week which meant time spent with my manager in what he likes to call his 'meeting room' and what the staff all call the 'B*llock Parlour' on account of it being the sort of room he favours to impart his constructive criticism. It's not a nice room. The blinds have been broken for a while now and the Canaletto print on the right wall has faded like our promotion run. The rubber plant in the far corner now gathers dust as its main duty. I've cocked up a bit recently. Nothing bad, but more than once, on stuff I should know and do almost like an automaton. He wondered if 'everything was alright?' in tones I'd expect a psychiatrist breaks the ice with once you're settled on the leather couch.

Truth is, I'm bored. But I'm also lazy. This is a bad combination. It means I keep rotating in the same rut, like my dad's old vinyl LP of "Astral Weeks" used to on our record player when I was a kid. Madam George went on and on, into infinity, until you realised you'd heard the same bit about fifteen times in a row. Then you jogged the stylus and it skipped to the middle of Slim Slow Slider with the sort of screech The Dukes of Hazzard used to make in the General Lee, and you got shouted at by a short-fused parent. Then the vinyl was recovered, tenderly, and slipped back into the paper sleeve with a reverence he rarely showed to any other inanimate object, me included.

So 'everything wasn't alright'. But I lied and said it was, too drained to be bothered scrutinising why. I'd just had a bad week. It was 'one of those things'. I was tired after the long commute and days spent refereeing the deep grudges and personal spats between staff and junior managers. I didn't say that, of course. I made up some rubbish that I now cringe at. He believed me. We parted on good terms and he mentioned, casually, that he and the wife were having a dinner party in a few weeks, at their new home in Solihull, and would I like to come as a guest? I mentally pictured wife swapping orgies and cheese and pineapple on sticks with Black Tower wine. I must have smiled, because before the mental image of me being led by his wife, in her best Victoria's Secrets bra and knickers to their bedroom by my tie had faded, he said "Good. I'll be in touch" and was gone.

So, treated with the sort of kindness that staff and managers treat their underperforming embarrassments to, I left early on Friday. I rang Tel to meet up, and he rang me back, sounding as though he were simultaneously calling me whilst riding shotgun on the wall of death. "Speakt'yer later" he screamed through the background noise. "Ah'm jus' leavin' Wroxham wiv 'alf'a'load'o'trellisin'" Then he was gone.

He called back in an hour. "Ah'm at some Maccy D's near Thetford. Callum fancid a Big Mac, though 'e's bin in there abart fifteen minits so I reckon 'e's 'avin' a dump'n'all. Wotcher want anyway?" I wondered if he was free to meet up at the pub. "Nah, working' termorra, can't drink like an' I gotta drop these at some place near Noomarkit by six ternite". We chatted, as above. I wendered home, stopping at the local Tesco for wine and the makings of a single supper, half-heartedly sticking it on my credit card as my bank balance looked a bit thin.

Saturday dawned, with a bracing wind and Constable sky. I did some cleaning and hoovering and washing and fed the birds, all in a sort of haze of stale alcohol hangover and the smell of nicotine.

The time for footy dawned quickly and I walked in a stiff breeze to the station, my coat flapping like Craig Forrest at a deep cross. I met with my mates in the pub at 12pm. We had rather a lot to drink. By 2.45, I was rolling out, more than three sheets to the wind, teeth numb, alcohol slopping in my guts like my clothes in my washer. The ground was thronged with people. It could've been three quarters ablaze, frankly. I fumbled for my season card from my wallet and gave it to the girl on the gates. I went through sideways (I'm too fat for face first these days sadly) and up the flight marked 'Seats 92-106' to my perch just higher than the goal in SBRL.

The police had been noticeably more present in the town and I wondered if Oxford had a bit of a reputation. The thought was easily dismissed. It was Oxford, the town of Brideshead, Morse, quaint colleges and DM'd students. It wasn't Millwall. Even accepting that this was their big day out, they'd hardly have come reinforced by local louts. A pint of best and a few murders solved by old and young coppers, that was their trademark.

We started well. Then the fact we hadn't scored began to grate. I settled for drunken amusements, trying to hit Dolly's bald bonce with the packet of fluff-ridden extra-strong mints I found in my coat pocket. Then they scored, and the sudden, drunken, realisation that we were 1-0 down to this lot began to sober me.

I left on 88 minutes. It was obvious we wouldn't be troubling their goalie. Several others had the same idea. I floated back to the railway station, very red-faced and cold. I missed Tel. He'd have said something crass and angry, no doubt, and he'd have annoyed me, no doubt at all. But it would have been good to have seen him.

I went down the pub instead, watching the late game (Leicester?) with half an eye, slurping another beer and wincing at the incipient headache. The blokes playing pool jeered at our loss. They became matey when they saw my face. I eventually left at half eight, drunk again. I stopped for a takeaway curry and walked it home, reheating it in my oven. I plopped open another bottle of wine and carried on with 'Minder'.

Back to the regime tomorrow. Must think up an excuse why I can't make Solihull. But mustn't make it one of the ones I've used for skiving a sick day. It's a tricky feat. Trickier than making the League One Play-Off's when you should really be winning the bloody league. Still. Can't win 'em all.

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The Warky League One Report: Burton Albion (H)
at 20:23 16 Feb 2020

"I din't get anyfing from the missus yesterdy" said Tel, flicking a stray dry roasted peanut from our table into the void of the pub bar, where it hit something hard and rolled, like a fouled Counago, somewhere unseen. "I took the missus shoppin' an'all, ter Bury St Edmun's, bought 'er flars an' a bottle of 'er Anay Anay stuff, yer knar, perfume. Nuffing, not even last night in bed". Welcome back.

So, his Valentine's Day a washout and the lack of any driving work for the intermittent period (his firm have temporarily closed down operations due to the inclement weather so he had Friday, the weekend and he's also got Monday and Tuesday off) keeping him in mournful predictions of its demise and his redundancy, he was a cheery soul last night. There I was, buoyed by a (frankly) unexpected win over Burton and there he was, a wet blanket.

We met after a week of heavy rain, gales and aquaplaning cars surfing down the A14 as I attempted Birmingham. I gave up on my Smiths CD and started playing The Beach Boys. Surfin' USA suited my mood more than double decker buses or ten ton trucks crashing into me. To die by the side of the road near Huntingdon wasn't my idea of pleasure or privilege.

Given the weather warnings on Friday, I did the POETS day at work and got home at 6.30pm, trailing clouds of glory and a few extra splashes of mud on my bumper. Tel had texted me earlier to say he and the wife were in Bury, and did I fancy meeting for lunch? Geography's not his strongest point.

I stopped at one of those petrol stations with an M&S attached and bought a load of expensive bits I could eat quick. Hunkered in my dressing gown with a nice bottle of Shiraz and watching old episodes of The Professionals, it was nearly the perfect Friday night in. True, it could have done with a bit of female company, perhaps a comfy cuddle on the settee. But then I remembered; relationships always seem better when you're single, yet when you're in one, you rarely have a nice cuddle on the settee in front of 'The Professionals' because she doesn't like it, and wants to watch Eastenders or something that sets your teeth on edge and rots, literally rots, your eyeballs in your head. In fact, I can remember being in one and wishing I was single again, just for one night, so I could do exactly what I did that evening. Grass isn't always greener.

I said this to Tel on Saturday night. He's been in touch with Paula. "She aint pregnant yet" he said when I asked how she was. I must have looked confused, because he validated this with "well, they bin marrid nine munfs so yer'd've fought, by now....". Clearly not. Tel then asked me if I'd ever "fancied kids". I spluttered into my pint and shot him an injured look, the accusation of noncing hanging heavily in the air. He caught my look and laughed and said "Nah, yer knar what I meant? Did yer ever want kids yourself?" I said yes, once, when my wife and I were first married, but things just didn't work out. "Same 'ere" said Tel, lowering his voice so only half the pub could hear him. "Me'n'the missus, we wanted kids. Tried our 'earts out for 'em, we did. At it day and night for the first year. Wore out our matt'ress. My john thomas looked like ET's finger for munfs".

"But then we reelised it weren't gonna 'appen. She 'ad all the tests, stuff put up her like Paul Daniel's sleeve an' that an' I remember finkin' I dunno if I really want kids after all. Ah picktured it in me mind, like, cummin' 'ome, kid cryin', terry nappies 'angin' ter dry in the barfroom. Well, that weren't me. So it woz a sorta blessin'.

It was probably just as well we won 4-1. I'm not sure my mental health could've taken Tel in this mood had we lost again, or worse, been all over them and drawn. Saturday dawned bright and fresh despite the warnings and I found I didn't need my wellies to feed the birds after all. Breakfast was a fruit salad with yoghurt. I gave up on porridge, despite trying again. No wonder the jocks love it. The humourless pasty-faced independence-wailing troglodytes.

The journey from Manningtree was easy and quiet at eleven am. It reminded me of the start of that film 24 Days Later. Clearly town fans would be cutting it fine from this part of Essex. Or perhaps, like this board in the last week, they'd simply had enough?

Drunk and bloated from the beer, barely mopped up by the chicken and chips, I staggered to the ground at 2.55pm and stood inhaling the last fag for 120 odd minutes as the rain splattered and the Sir Bobby started another quick hymn. I made it in just as Burton scored, their player seemingly wandering through our defence like a small lost kid in a women's underwear section. The faces, tense with anger around me, belied the feeling that a game of footy on such an afternoon had been the perfect tonic for frayed nerves. The ref looked like Steve Strange. Burton's yellow kit made my head ache. Their fans could've comfortably fitted in my garden shed. Bastards.

As usual we huffed and puffed. And then I looked up, ready to berate someone for shooting wide at the Sir Alf end when the net bulged and all around me erupted. We even got a second before half-time. Judge as well. Someone's unlikely prayers that morning were well and truly being answered.

I left the ground on 88 minutes, dazed and confused, the walk to the station filled with similarly disbelieving supporters. Had we just been subject to mass LSD dosing or had it really happened? Where was Norwood? We should have won 9-1, such was the dominance and control. Why didn't we play Burton earlier? Why couldn't every team in this league be that bad?

Home via the pub, lips smacking in anticipation of seeing the scum trashed like our women were today. Except they weren't. Klopp and that creepy, greasy looking f*cker that manages the scum must've been bosom buddies in whichever German club they worked at. Sick of hearing tales of 'plucky little Norwich and their brilliant passing game, they're too good to go down really' and all that b*llocks, I went on the fruity and waited for Tel to arrive. Which he did at 7pm, mobile in hand as he's just downloaded 'Just Eat' and our local Indian belongs to it.

In a fit of pique, the pub have stopped serving hot food on a Saturday night. Jamie the landlord said something about not justifying the cost of keeping his kitchen staff on, only for them to get a few meals and a load of orders for chips. Tel, who was just about to order chips when he said it, hastily changed them for a bag of dry roasted. "But" added Jamie, "if yer can get Just Eat on yer phone, yew can order from the curry house darn the road an' eat it in 'ere. I'll even chuck in plates and cutlery an' stuff". So we did that instead. Tel suspiciously because he isn't all that tech yet. He still thinks it's wired to the Russians.

So we had curry and decent beer and a laugh, and we got drunk, and then we went home, in a shared cab, Tel telling me he never liked my ex-wife anyway. We were still on about regrets when the cab pulled up at his place. He got out and waved a fond farewell. The cab driver muttered something as we drove off and I asked him to repeat it. "Look lark yer mate's 'avin a slash in them 'edges" he said. I looked round, but the night was dark and all I saw were the street lights.

He's not coming to Oxford either. I did ask. But now he's the jonah. "Mind you" he said graciously, "I'll come ter Wemberley to watch 'em if they make it that far".
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The Warky League One Report: Toss (a)
at 23:02 11 Feb 2020

So that was that. Two vaguely winnable league games, one point and we're doing a "Sam Parkin" with a striker who scored 30 odd league goals last season.

Tel's well. We went to our local golf club for a carvery on Sunday. Neither of us play the poxy game; Tel was invited as he used to be on the committee of the local tradesperson's guild. This was in the eighties and early nineties. He quit because he had a disagreement with the then chairman and told him to "drop dead". Which, sadly, two weeks later the poor bloke did. "'Eart they reckoned" said Tel. "Farnd'im in bed". He sniffed the air and looked pensively at his pint. "Yeah" he said thoughtfully, "not me finest 'our that. Ah liked old Frank. 'E reminded me of me dad a bit. Sorta pompous, always right, but he used to buy 'is slim panatellas from me an' 'e liked a drink".

We sat in silence, Tel in memorandum for someone he had exchanged a thoughtless cross word with over something trivial and no longer even memorable. It's been like that this week. The Posh game killed off more than our stuttering promotion push. Tel's working this Saturday, but he's off for the Oxford home game the following week. I asked him tentatively if he fancied it and he made a face a bit like I'd imagine he'd make if I propositioned him for furtive sexual acts. "Nah, you're welcome to tha'" he said, swigging his pint with a nonchalance he probably didn't feel.

So we lost to Sunderland away, following a hectic week filled with training days and trips to London to some soulless office where the men wore more make-up than the women and the cost of a takeaway cuppa meant a second mortgage. At least work paid for my travel. The Birmingham lot reacted like I'd been halfway across the universe. "Bloordy Lundon eh?" said one young Brummie. "Nevvah been meself. Seen pickchures on the tellleee loike". They think I live in some sort of Stiletto world because I'm from Essex. Half of them were secretly disappointed by the lack of furry dice in my car. Apparently, I spend my evenings on a sun bed being shagged by some bird with blonde extensions and plastic tits. Little Britain. It's bigger than we think.

We went for lunch on Sunday. To the golf club, parking amongst the Jags and the Audis and the spotless 4x4's. We were met by the club secretary, a bloke clad in blazer with a club crest sewn on the pocket and grey flannel trousers. "'Ello Graham" said Tel, shaking his hand. I proffered mine and he shook it. "Wife couldn't make it then, Terry?" he said. I nearly made some joke about transitioning and this was the third stage of the hormone treatment, but then we were off, on a guided tour of the men's changing rooms. They smelt vaguely of sweaty socks and Badedas.

The tour concluded in the boardroom cum trophy room, filled with pictures of moustachioed men in Farah's and Fred Perry polo shirts and wearing one white glove, holding crap-looking trophies and smiling insincerely. Said trophies dotted a wooden cabinet in the far corner, gleaming dully, gilt golfers badly sculpted preparing to make expansive drives. "Do you play?" asked Graham, eyeing me with speculation, in case I had a spare two grand and a proclivity for wasting a bit of time batting small balls at non-existent holes over five hundred acres. "Nah" said Tel. "Neiver of us do. Me bruvver-in-lor used to, quite good 'e woz, til 'e discovered the wimmin an' the ole booze". Graham took us back to the bar fairly sharpish after that little pronouncement.

We had the carvery, which was overcooked meat and soft veg, and a few drinks, and then we left. It was quite depressing in a way. Rich old men, dressed like Sandy Lyle, their clubs and their bags top of range, wheeled past us on their way for a windy and wet round. We got the hell out. Tel drank zero alcohol lager. He drove. He wanted a proper drink. We parked the car at his and went down the local.

Then tonight and we drew away at Wimbledon, and another part of me died, a part that insisted we'd still be OK, a part that found optimism even when the results meant the head refuted it. And so it's on to Burton on Saturday, a heavy heart and an overwhelming feeling that this is Ipswich Town, my Ipswich Town, a club in flux and stagnation, a club owned by a rich man who cares nothing for it. And the history retreats a little further into the murky past, remembered only with longing.

It's gone beyond fury and blame and frustration. This is it. This stuttering, weak, characterless, wan club is it. Founded in good intentions, run by good people, now the shrivelled corpse of all it once valued and served. Destined for another season of faux toil with a squad of bottle-jobs, past-it's and never-were's. It's not even about the lack of money any more. Leeds, Pompey, Coventry, they've had it worse. I don't see them putting up with third best. Yet we still go, in hope, to be let down yet again.

See you at PR on Saturday. I hope I'm still there after 60 minutes this time.......
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The Warky League One Report: Peterborough (h)
at 15:47 2 Feb 2020

"I'll be well 'appy when Callum goes ter Cro-a-sher next week" said Tel, reflectively, the suds clinging to the side of his three-quarter empty pint glass of lager sparkling like crystals in the light from the bar. It was Friday. We'd both had torturous weeks at work, me dealing with the nuances of management to a backdrop of eunuch-willed, emancipated banter between Brummies and Covs, the 0-0 cup draw satisfying neither clans and the build-up to the replay not yet gathering momentum. Tel, driving in a confined space with a bloke who lived on fast food, moaning about the sour smell of wrappers and boxes, his last resort constant pearls of sarcasm which were largely ignored by the youth he transported.

The knowledge that said youth would soon be cavorting on two long bits of plastic down ('opefully) murderous slopes appeased him only slightly. "'E'll prob'ly 'ave a bleedin' ball wivout breaking a fingernail". He added, later, when the third pint was within an inch of consumption "'Oo goes skiin' anyway? Apart from toffs an' frillseekers? Woss 'e wanna waste 'is money on slidin' darn a bit o'snow for?". I started to explain about the apres-ski, the nightlife and the women. He snorted. "'E can't get any 'ere. 'E looks like wot 'e is, a bleedin' student on a budget. 'Ardly James Bond, is it? Carnt imagine the likes o' Daniella Bianchi openin' 'er legs at will for a spotty teenager in a Nike tracksuit".

We didn't bother eating. Tel was off Chinese, having discovered, and greaty enjoyed Trongs the previous weekend. "Nuffin' comes close anymore, specially not rarnd'ere". He's already planning his next visit, next Saturday night with the wife. "She loved it" he said with a fatuous grin. The Indian was full of takeawayers so we settled for a few pints and some brandies and a bowl of chips apiece. We were going to the Thai on the Quay in Harwich after the footy. So it was no great loss.

Callum leaves Tel for two weeks next Friday. His replacement, a bloke called Ray, in his fifties and already on good terms with Tel ('ope 'e stays wiv me, right good bloke Ray is. 'Ard as nails an' good sense o'humour. He used to be a para in Colch'ster). has been readied to start.

Tel has also booked the usual five-star hotel in Marbella for two weeks in May. He and the wife are already going to the US in October for three weeks, to Florida, a trip that Mrs Tel had set her heart on. He moaned that it meant he'd go unpaid for five weeks, but his wages are, in truth. a mere piddle in the Olympic pool of his finances. The fact he paid £10k for both holidays and it barely made a dent in his savings account speaks volumes. He was looking forward to October. Spain was a known quantity so his ambivalence was tempered by the need for heat and a bottle of beer by the pool.

So Britain slipped gently out of the EU, like a leisurely Sunday morning sh*t, to a cacophony of ragged cheers in the pub and a drink "on the 'ouse" from Jamie the landlord, an expansively generous offer to the eight or so of us still there at eleven. He wore the sort of Union Jack hat they wear at crap music festivals. He looked like a cross between John Bull and the cat from Dr Seuss.

Saturday dawned bright and breezy. I awoke with muzzy head and made a start on a few jobs, namely washing and ironing shirts and pants (I didn't iron the pants) for next week, clearing up and hoovering. The Terry's were due at eleven for the drive to Ipswich, Mrs Tel doing the actual driving. I cooked porridge at 8.30am, having read in one of those women's mags at work that are brought in periodically and clutter our staff area that porridge is good for low glycaemic diets. I went to all that trouble and then didn't fancy it when it was ready. I ate it half-heartedly with a bit of honey and then struggled to get the remains down the plughole of the sink.

We got to Ipswich. Tel moaning at the traffic and the amount of police on show ("Bleedin' 'ell are they expectin' Norwich?) and were dropped, after some debate, at Jewson's entrance. The Wolsey was shut so we went to Degeneros and had a bottle of Corona each, the lime in mine browner than the leaves on the road outside. I gave Tel his printed ticket for the game. He was housed in SAR upper. We went to the Wolsey; Tel moaning that Degeneros hurt his ears. It was still shut. We went to Isaacs, Tel moaning that he was dying of thirst. We joined the throng in there, sipping Moretti's, and ordered food. Tel likes Isaacs. He admired the yachts on the quay, making fatuous remarks about learning to drive one so he and the wife "can do the back warters an' that". Captain Birdseye without the beard, or the fish fingers.

We left for the game at 2.30. Tel enjoyed the walk. We separated at the SAR and he exchanged a few bits of banter with the orange-jacketted steward on the gate. My last pre-match view of him was giving me a joyous clenched fist salute of victory as I left. I raised my arm in farewell. We'd arranged to meet outside at the final whistle.

We met outside at four-fifteen. Tel rang me after the third. "Carnt stand it no more" he said, sounding like a Cockney Droopy the Dog. He rang Mrs Tel to come and collect us as we stood on the corner of PR and Princes Street. We went to Frankie and Bennies for a drink as we waited, the restaurant crammed with partying kids. We sat at the bar and drank brandy on ice. "Well...." began Tel. Then he relapsed into a sour, gloomy silence.

Mrs Tel arrived. "Wot 'appened? Wos it called off or summink?". "Nah" replied Tel, but he refrained from further comment. I told her the score. Just as I did, Tel's phone pinged. 4-1. "Bleedin four...." he said dispiritedly.

He cheered up at the restaurant. The food was lovely for one thing, and for another, he'd won on the footy bet. He showed me it and I noticed he'd picked Peterborough to win amongst others. My congratulations stuck in my throat a bit.

We got gloriously, deliriously pissed after the meal. We had a bottle of wine each with the food, and then went down The Alma, where we drank another bottle between us and then started on the brandy and, when we fancied a change, the armagnac. We forgot about the football, about Will Norris and his stupid, carelessness, about the schoolkids being cheated out of a penalty at half-time, about leaving the game with half an hour left, about the fact that Peterborough looked by far the better team, by far the better promotion prospect, by far the better bet. It hurt, and it will go on hurting, like many of the rest of you, I suspect. I heard people around me muttering darkly about "me last season ticket if we don't go up" and "five more years of this w*nker" and I suddenly wanted to be away, be far away, from the club.

And it's easy to walk away. But like 'Hotel California', you can check out any time you like. But you can never leave.
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The Warky League One Report: Lincoln City (h)
at 15:28 26 Jan 2020

The trouble with work is that it finds any old excuse for social interaction. The past week is a case in point; the daily Monday commute was studded with small pockets of informality, the girl behind the petrol station counter who said "Yer not frem rarnd 'ere, are ye?" and who gleefully pointed out the confliction involved with the general northern (and I count The Midlands as 'northern' despite the geographical truth) conception that Southerners exist solely on diets of exotic pulses, fruit and veg and 'posh' bottled water. My Ginsters steak slice and my bottle of diet cola and twenty fags were an anachronism, proof to one who spoke like Benny out of Crossroads that we were becoming more integral. I nodded and spoke in my rural Essex accent to confirm it. Even the accent wasn't TOWIE. I didn't fit her preconceptions. Mind you, she had nice tits.

Welcome back to another report. This one is Terry-lite, I'm sorry to say. For the simple but unavoidable truth that we never laid eyes on each other all week. He was out driving, like Postman Pat around Greendale, delivering garden furniture and possibly drugs for all I knew, to people he would later describe in the same tones as one who studies a Bosch painting in detail.

I had the one phone call from him, interspersed with what sounded like someone engaged in active cunnilingus but actually was the noise he made when he sipped his 0% lager from the bottle. "Bleedin' 'orrible but needs must when ah'm workin'" he rasped following the strange wet sucking noises. I hasten to add he hadn't told me he was having a beer before he said this, so my mind did boggle a bit.

He was ringing to cancel our planned Saturday night out. "Takin' the missus ter see that 1917 fing at the flicks" he said. "Bit'o'dinner in Ipswich, then the pickchures, then a drink an' she's drivin' us back". He rang to ask my opinion on a decent restaurant in town. "She won' eat curry, or burgers, an' she don' like spicy or too much meat, or vegan". I suggested Trongs. She likes Chinese. And it wasn't too far to walk to the cinema after. He said he'd book a table. I reminded him that the mighty Lincoln City were visiting for the home game and he laughed and said they'd be in at 7pm so hopefully the "ten thousan' or so 'oo bovver wiv that'll be long gone by the time we get there". It was a bit soul-destroying, that comment, but I let it pass.

So the working week advanced. I bought Tel a ticket for the Peterborough game next Saturday as he wasn't working and would be paid on the Friday immediately preceding it, so we both thought a little pre-match lunch and a few might be in order to welcome in February. He's in the SAR upper. He'll be the bloke in the black bomber jacket and YSL jeans on his lonesome. Don't approach him. He might be dangerously in need of a brandy.

I met friends for a drink on Friday.It was just a drink or two. Funds were a bit tight and I don't get paid until next week. Much like my friends. So we resisted the urge to splash and instead contented ourselves with beer in scratched glasses and curry chips after. Home at eleven, driven by a female friend who managed to resist the offer to come in for a coffee and stuff (my easy, informal invite probably made me look suspiciously needy. I blame bloody Harvey Weinstein).

Saturday dawned therefore companionless, but with the added bonus of not waking to find strange noises emanating from the other side of the bed, or having one of those "so when are we announcing the wedding?" types of conversation over the toast and tea. And you're never alone when you have feathered birds eyeing you with gimlet longing from your french doors. They were pleased with their soft digestives and odd bits of green bread. They're a cheaper date than most.

The station was busy with groups of blokes dressed like Dennis the Menace in their red stripey shirts. Then I remembered we were playing Lincoln. The pub was packed, the Brentford v Leicester cup game vying for attention with the inconsequential chatter and the occasional foray to the bar for replenishments. More beer in scratched glasses (must be a dishwasher thing that all low-brow public houses suffer, like cheap food'n'drink promotions and the odd old man nursing his IPA for three hours).

The game was efficient, tidy and a bit dull for large parts. The Wolf scored his first league goal just as folk around me went for their half-time piss and grumble. The staggered celebrations at the top of the stairs testimony to a weak bladder and a need for overpriced beer and pies. Then we came back from a break punctuated by little kids from Sudbury taking expansively indulgent penalties, and although we got into promising positions, that second goal (or transversely, the first at our end) never came. The relief at the final whistle was palpable; top of the league once again and it didnt really take much to achieve it.

I didn't hang around to meet Tel and Mrs Tel after. That would've looked needy as well.Tel mentioned it during the call earlier in the week, but I'd already said I was going back early as I was out at 7.30. It was a lie. I went home on the train and went in the local to watch the Chelsea cup game for a bit and then nipped to the Indian with my credit card for a takeaway Vindaloo with keema naan and bombay potatoes and poppadoms. They're reassuringly old school. It came in a brown paper bag with greasemarks on it and the cartons smelt bewitchingly of spice and heat. I even bought a butterfly prawn, a massive saucer-shaped thing of breadcrumbed beauty, the tail still left on.

Home came the hero, paper bag in hand, vindaloo slopped onto plate and bottle of ice cold Cobra cracked open in anticipatory joy. Tel and I would have had chinese again. I knew it. And though the conversation was all the worse for his absence, a secret greedy part of me was glad. Still, for those of you who miss his presence in the reports, fear not. He'll be more than back next week.

[Post edited 26 Jan 15:30]
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The Warky League One Report: Oxford (a) and Tranmere (a)
at 12:27 19 Jan 2020

A fortnight into the new year and wet, windy and cold down our way. My log burner has seen the first fires at home; the central heating proving a feeble match for the seeping, numbing chill. Country walks mean wellies and a sturdy coat, returning with mud splashes on jeans and numb digits. All I need is a flat cap and an excitable Golden Retriever.

I didn't go to Oxford. I could have. It's not a huge trek from Birmingham. But it is a trek, and I left early on Tuesday as the sky threatened to fall in and the wind blew me back down the A14. Pepys was once quoted, at watching two circus dogs perform, that the true miracle wasn't that they did it well, but that they did it at all. That was my take on the Oxford game. Birmingham was saturated at 4pm. They did well to lay on a game of any sorts in those circumstances.

The working week wasn't punctuated by Terry, who was busy driving across the wastelands of the East to pick up and deliver goods. I got a text on Wednesday ("been in Attenboro' al day) which I took to mean Attleborough, lest he's found Sir David filming three-toed throwbacks somewhere in deepest Norfolk. It was a big miss, especially the curry house and the pub on Friday eve, but then he sent another text on Thursday to invite me for a chinese and a drink on Saturday ("If your not do anyting betta") which I was, but it was easily cancelled.

So the 0-0 v Oxford, though uninspiring by all accounts, at least saved us from another defeat at the hands of an (increasingly) eager promotion rival. The Coventry fans at work weren't impressed, but then they rarely are. It must be demeaning to have no home and yet a chequered and more satisfying history than some clubs currently populating the Premier League. There is an affinity there, between us, the type that can bemoan the modern game and yet punctuate conversations with 'When we won the cup' and 'when we were regulars in the old First Division and beat Man U'. They were busy gearing up for next weekend's big game, the cup fourth round against their landlords Birmingham. The banter started at 8.30am sharp last Monday, and has grown increasingly juvenile and, by turns, funnier as the week went on. The Birmingham City fans treat it with condescension. They are the Norwich to our blue heaven. If things get too near the knuckle, they resort to "Wivout oos yer woul'nt 'ave a team to s'port, loike". Saturday could be interesting....

So I got through the week and Saturday came, bright skied and cold, the perfect day for a brisk walk and a pub stop, possibly a pate ploughmans in front of the fire, knocking six layers of mud on their parquetted floor and trying to rub the streaks off my trousers. So I caught the bus into Mistley and wandered a bit of the Essex Way, admiring the estuary views of the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook in the winter sun, leaving the pub when the sky turned pink on the horizon, going home on the bus to have a quick shower and change to meet Tel at 7pm.

The Chinese was deserted apart from two blokes in leather jackets in the takeaway bit, perusing the dog-eared menu and asking the inscrutable woman behind the bar what the difference was between chow mein and chop suey. Tel hadn't arrived so I took the proferred table at the back and ordered a Tsing Tao and a bowl of their Szechuan ribs to while away the wait.

I'd eaten all but three when he arrived, a bit breathlessly, having difficulty getting his right arm out of his coat sleeve as the waitress held it for him. "Traffic's murder on the Ramsey road" he muttered, taking his seat opposite. "Wife nearly din't bovver". He eyed the dwindling dish of ribs and then piled in, sucking meat and sauce from bone, talking with half a mouthful. His lager arrived, served on a tray and set before him much like the three kings bestowed their gifts to the infant Jesus. "Ta" he said to the waitress' back as she went to fetch our prawn crackers.

We discussed work. "Tha' Callum's a funny one" he said, talking about his co-pilot for the deliveries. "S'posed ter be savin' fer University in Se'tember, now 'e announces 'e's off ter 'is mate's skiin' 'oliday in Croatia in Febry". He shattered a prawn cracker into snow with his mouth and munched noisily. We ordered the usual plethora of starters. "Kids these days" he filtered through a prawn cracker. "Dunno the meanin' of savin' a bit when they geddit. Take 'is lunch.." (here he pointed a knife at me, handle first, proving his point). "Now me, ah take a packed lunch, bit'o' cheese, few grapes, wife does me a 'am sarnie or a beef one wiv pickle, depends wot we got in. An' I'm well 'appy. Don' need much me at lunch, always 'ave a good brekkie before I go, coupler bits 'o' toast wiv marmite, cup'o'tea an' a glass of OJ, might 'ave an om'lette if we got a few eggs the wife wants usin' up". He winked at me to show he was still on the ball when it came to breakfast.

"Now 'im, 'e don' bovver wiv brekkie. Goes 'ungry all mornin'. Then on the journey, 'e sees a McDonalds or a Subway or summink and it's 'Can we stop 'ere Terry? I need summink ter eat'. If 'e org'nised hisself betta, 'e wouldn't need ter waste 'is money on that palaver".

He relapsed into brooding gloom, lightening momentarily as our starters arrived, opening the bamboo steamer that held the pancakes and taking two, spreading them lavishly with duck and cucumber and then drizzling the hoi sin sauce on (and over the tablecloth) before rolling them into rough cylinders and taking a bite. Most of the meat and sauce chose this moment to evacuate through the over side and he mopped them up with his fingers.

I asked where he'd been this week and he told me. It sounded like a cockney version of the Proclaimers hit 'Letter from America'. "Mondy Wellin'borough, then Norfampton, stoppin' in Dunstable for a pick up, Tuesdy Purfleet, Wensdy Attlebro', that woz a funny place, pub was shut at 12.00 lunchtime and we 'ad to deliver a stachoo ter some bung'low an' the bloke looked like Lurch, Fursdy was Boston, Fridy Saxmundum an' Beccles. Terday woz Buntin'field, then on ter Braintree an' then Halstead". You worked today? I said, shocked. "Oh yeah. I 'ave ter work two saterdys in a monf now. Today and next Saterdy is mine". He looked unconcerned about this, but I thought 'Blimey, six days a week, he must be coining it in'. Then I wondered how Mrs Tel was taking it.

We left the Chinese and headed for the pub. Tel ordered the brandies and stood laughing with the barmaid as I took the table nearest and dumped our coats. "Used ter know 'er, she woz a mate of Paula's, fink her name's Lauren" he said as he came back, the ice rattling in the glasses. 'Whatever happened to Paula?' I asked him. I hadn't heard of her for ages. "Runnin' 'er own store, fink iss in Loughton" said Tel, dismissively. "I aint seen or 'eard from 'er or Blake since October larse year. Bit 'urt to be 'onest. You'd've fought they'd've been in touch, jus' ter let me knar they're all right". He took a draught of his brandy and started playing with his beer mat, distractedly.

We drank a fair bit but not too much, enough to make the cold seem irrelevant, not enough to make the whole world seem so. I got home at twelve, thanks to Mrs Tel giving me a lift. She looked happy to see me. She's also changed her hair; she's now got a sort of purpley-pink tint in it. She drove in her carpet slippers.

I had a quick spliff before bed, sat on my freezing cold metal patio chair, the stars twinkling above and my breath steaming around me like mist in a dip. My muddy wellies had frozen to the spot on my outside mat. I felt the peace of one whose side won 2-1 away and nearly crawled back into the automatic promotion places. 'Life's not bad' I surmised, getting sleepy on a mix of content and grass. Indeed it's not. It carries on regardless.
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The Warky League One Report: Accrington Stanley (who are they? Exactly) (h)
at 21:05 12 Jan 2020

Post-Christmas depression continues, unabated, checked by minor victories off the pitch and a rather big one on it. The absence of festive lights on dark mornings and evenings (though, apparently, Sandringham keep theirs up until middle February, so Her Majesty can see all the people who'd hoped to have an audience with her on December 10th but were shoe-horned in for the 13th of Feb instead, which I think suits a house in three-toe country, frankly) made everything feel chilly and absent.

The binmen have finally rid me of the remnants of Christmas; the empty bottles (I get these recurring images of two scruffy fat blokes in greasy reflective tabards thinking I'm an alkie) and the cardboard, and the remains of new year food in me green bucket. It's been back-to-work, early starts and dark drives home, texts from colleagues who seem to have been absent for months.

It was a return to work for Tel last Monday. He spent Sunday evening round mine, ostensibly to return the fish kettle I lent Tony and Sandy for their New Year's Day side of salmon, but mainly to tell me in resigned tones about his working week. "Elt'am on Mondy, wiv a call at Dartford on the way 'ome, Wizbeech on Chewsdy, Luton on Wensdy, Ware in 'ertfordshire Thursdy and then Fridy I'm in love". Actually, I think it was Fakenham on Friday. I dunno. I'd stopped paying attention.

He drank his beer out of the bottle. He doesn't trust my standards of cleanliness and has accused me (unjustly) of giving him a glass with lipstick on it once before when he drank at mine. I don't wear lipstick, so it must have been a rogue from my dating days. He made a bit of a thing about Tony cleaning the fish kettle forensically before and after use, so I guess my name has been sullied in his social circles. I wondered how many of his customers were told this tale when he had the shop. No wonder a lot of them spoke to me like I was a bit mentally deficient.

He didn't stay for dinner. He eyed the beef stew I was cooking with the look of a man who might be asked to eat cat, and muttered something hastily about "me'n'the wife's 'avin' sausage'n'mash later". He strictly wasn't supposed to be drinking beer, given his driving work the next day, but I'd got three bottles of Estrella left from New Year so he couldn't resist. We arranged to meet on Friday evening in the Chinese, as he's 'off' curry at the moment.

So the week poured like custard from a jug, messy, turgid, same-old flavours and sights. Awake at 5.30am, gone by 6.45am, at work by 8.50am, there until 5pm, home by 7.30pm, dinner, two wee glasses of scotch, a coffee, watch something crap on the telly, bed, repeat. One of my friends gave me a thoughtful present of some hashish, to help me sleep. I thought I'd wait until this weekend.

Friday finally lumbered up like a Mark Fish warm-up run. I got work out the way, and met up with Tel, who was already in the Chinese imbibing bottled Peroni from a glass and idly munching on prawn crackers. The table cloth in front of him looked like he'd had bad dandruff. "Fine'ly" he said with a touch of irritation. I wasn't late.

We did the football bet on his phone as we waited for the starters. He held the phone up so I could see, as his impatient fingers clicked off passwords and football slips. We did Man U, Liverpool, Everton, and Bristol City. "Need five" said Tel and he dropped to League One, his finger hovering over a home win for the Town. "Jers' dunno, do yer?" he said to himself. Then he saw Portsmouth and the finger went down. We won £215 for a tenner bet, but lost our trust in our team. "Nah value" said Tel, shamefacedly. But we both knew.

We ate and had a few beers and then went to a non-regular pub down the road and had brandies. We got a cab home; Tel paid because he lives further away from the restaurant so he dropped me first. He tried a half-hearted kiss on the lips as I leant in at his window to say bye, but the cab driver thought it was all larks and laughed at my grimace. The cab drove off through the early morning gloom to his bungalow.

I wasn't meeting anyone on Saturday night. January. People need to save a bit of dosh. So I prepared a curry for Saturday evening and set my slow cooker to cook it. A half-leg of lamb in Vindaloo sauce, with a few new potatoes and a handful of birds-eye chillies cut up. I'd do the rice and that when I returned. I nipped to Tesco for the papers early on Saturday morning, and got some plain yoghurt and some poppadoms and a four pack of lager and a bottle of Merlot for later. Plus, and I felt guilty about this, two large packs of Rizla. My hand-rolling skills have long been defunct (and weren't up to much when they were in use as a student) but I fancied trying the weed. Win or lose today, there'd be one cheery town fan that night. Or a very sleepy one, resisting the urge to nip to the all-night garage for a Twix and three Picnics.

First shock was the rail replacement buses at Manningtree. I didn't bother buying a ticket (illegal act #2) and just got on the creaky old double decker bound for Ipswich via a prolonged country journey through Tattingstone and Wherstead. Fellow town fans were thin on the ground, scarfed and coated, Marcus Stewart gloves, blue bobble-hats. We arrived at 11.50 and walked to the pub. Palace v Arsenal and a few pints and some chicken pie and chips. We sat and laughed and everything seemed rosy. A few even predicted big wins for the mighty blues. We laughed harder.

The game, well, you probably saw it as well. Great first half, could've been five up, strange second half, could've played better. We only saw one goal at our end, and that was a Will Keane scuffer the keeper should've saved. Still, 4 goals and a return to the pressing, competent, passionate play we've missed these last couple of months. Keep it up lads.

Came home on the bus replacement and walked back to mine, croaky from the singing and freezing. Forgot about the rice, so ate my curry with poppadoms and splodges of mango chutney and the yoghurt/mint mix I've perfected. I drank the lager and then settled in front of the telly with an occasional table in front with two opened ciggies and the little plastic packet containing what looked like pot-pourri. For one moment I thought it was pot-pourri, and mates were having a good jape at my expense. I rolled one, inexpertly (it looked a bit like a mini curly-wurly) and then, chastened by the crap on the box, retired to my garden patio furtively to partake.

An hour later, I was laughing fit to bust at Casualty. The wine slipped down so well, I don't even recall opening it. 'Match of the Day' took on the deep profundity of a Dostoevsky six-parter; the football just seemed to go on and on, stretching into infinity, punctuated by old jug ears and Danny Murphy talking b*llocks. The room suddenly decided to start spinning at about twelve, when I went for a wee. Gently at first, then some gremlin got hold of the controls and I walked back to my chair clinging to the walls. It was endemic throughout the house. When I went to bed at one, I had to cling to the bannisters like Hillary ascending Everest. It stopped momentarily when I lay in bed, which I was thankful for. It meant I could sleep.

Awoke at eight this morning, taste like something of the night had used my mouth as a latrine and then its' mausoleum. The crick in my neck ached insistently and my eyes refused to focus, so everything came out of a faint mist. It got better. I made it for the papers at twelve. The staff looked at me like I'd spent the night sleeping in someone's shed. Still....we won a game at long last.

Roll on Oxford on Tuesday.

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Warkystache


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