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The Warky Report: Bolton Wanderers (H)
at 12:53 31 Jul 2022

"'Ope iss gonna be werf all this" muttered Tel ominously as we negotiated the traffic on the Whersted Road. Mrs Tel at the wheel, now fully recovered and as anxious to decant us into the town centre as we were to get out and in the pub. It was 11.30am. The traffic, rail-less and therefore slightly heavier than on normal match days, loomed silvery and glinting in what little opaque sun filtered down. God, it was warm though.

Tel, dressed in cargo shorts and a YSL blue short-sleeved check shirt, his knees and lower legs a hairy mass, was coming to his first opening day fixture since we lost to Preston in the Championship. That day, it rained, a drizzly soul-sapping rain that we both got soaked by. He'd sat in the Sir Alf back then. Today, he sat in the old Pioneer (Magnus? "Could bleedin' do with a Magnum right now" he joked as he unfurled his online ticket from his pocket, another 'quick check' to ensure it was still part of his ensemble). We alighted at the traffic lights near the Willis building. Mrs Tel, thanked only by me although Tel muttered something that sounded like 'Cheers love', but may have been an obscenity (He'd asked her to drop us in St Nicholas Street so we could walk to the Thomas Wolsey. In the end, we went to Three Wise Monkeys), sped away, like the eponymous cover of Bat out of Hell by Meatloaf, only in a car.

The walk to the pub, via a diversion to Barclays for financial sustenance, was warm and I deigned sweat on the Terry brow despite him being a lot thinner than me. "Could murder a pint of East Coast" he breathed as we mounted the steps in the Cornhill. Those around us who weren't shopping (and there seemed very few of these - perhaps the closures and the general tattiness has finally caught up with Ipswich town centre?) were clad in new blue home shirts, walking with mates or family members, clutching bags and sporting shorts. I wore my jeans. I regretted it. But no-one rates my legs. Even Paula says I look bloody awful in shorts.

Drinks were ordered and sunk quick, to be replaced by new drinks. Tel eyed the menu. We luxuriated in the a/c. It wasn't that busy and we sat at a table meant for four. The staff looked at us hopefully, knowing that two thirsty blokes will probably consume more beer and nachos than that family who order cokes.

We left as it got busy at 1.30pm. Tel called in Corals for a horse bet result. I nipped in the tobacconists down near Lloyds Bank for a cigar. It's a ritual on a match day, although I'm not sure why. In the 1980's, when my dad accompanied me to games and smoked a pipe, he'd always use the tobacconist for pipe baccy and a cigar, just one, usually a Corona, which he'd smoke in the car on the way home, elbow out the window to let the cigar smoke drift. My mum never came with us to football. Indeed, she views sport in much the same way that I do knitting, or gardening, or collecting teapots. He never smoked a cigar otherwise, even at Christmas. But whenever I'm up that part of town, I always remember and do the same. Cost me £15 but boy, was it nice.

We walked to Mannings for a couple of pints and then, at 2.35 prompt, left for the ground. I didn't have my cigar. I kept it for later, a post-match celebration of what I hoped would be a win. Tel sniffed the burger vans with their alluring oniony and meaty fumes filling the senses. He had a hot dog. I had a cigarette. He dumped the bun after three bites but ate the sausage (with fingers smeared in ketchup) and the onions that hadn't adhered to the bun. We parted at my turnstile in the SBR. He made for the Magnus. Sorry, Pioneer stand. I'm old-school. Rebranding doesn't cut it for me.

The teams were coming out as I walked the steps. Flags waved and the start of Hey Jude rumbled down Section 5. Familiar faces were back in my row and in front and behind. We greeted each other as I'd imagine Mallory's Everest conquerors did back at base camp. Newish songs about having Wolf at the back and Ladapo in attack and how we were going up started, simmered for a bit then died. I wished I'd bought a bottle of water. My throat was untrained after months of disuse. The songs made it dry.

We huddled on the pitch and then we were away. Bolton looked sharp. A lot of the play seemed focussed at our end as they attacked. We looked to hit on the break. It was all a bit cagey. Then one of their blokes went down following intervention by Davis, and the ref pointed at the spot. Balls. Memories of that 5-2 defeat to these resurfaced. They scored the penalty. Walton looked like he might have saved it for a brief moment but then the ball swished into the corner.

We equalised just as my neighbour was telling me a convoluted story about his journey from Bildeston. A shot corner. Chaplin looked like he'd mis-hit it and the first groans were stifled as Evans pounced and belted it in. We cheered and embraced and then he carried on with the tale. Something about being stuck behind a combine for four miles. He'd parked in Norwich Road. The walk back was warm. I nodded, dumbly. You don't get conversations like that in Lawford.

We should have won it after that. Half-time was spent chatting to Luke and his girlfriend Chloe about stuff they and I had done since we last saw each other in April. Everyone else took advantage of the break to have a slash or buy a pie. I didn't need water. My throat was finally opening again.

I stayed to the final whistle, hoping for a late winner, disappointed a bit that it never came. We'd played well enough to warrant it. I met Tel by the Beattie statue. He was ambivalent about the performance though he said we'd deserved a winner as well. We walked back to the Three Wise Monkeys. The town filled with throaty roars of 'Blue Army'. The Bolton fans were conspicuous by their absence.

We stayed in the pub til 7pm and then walked to Trongs. I was a bit half-cut. He slurred on about "bleedin' Leaf Davis was crap, weren't he? A millyun for that? They need a striker n'all. Someone 'oo can finish a chance".

We ate in Trongs. Starters, mains, duck, white wine and beer. It came to £80 each. It was well worth it. Tel rang for the taxi back to collect at 11pm. He'd dropped hoi sin sauce down his shirt. We ended on double brandies with ice.

The cab home was warm and the cabbie, a North African from Algeria, was chatty and supported Liverpool. He was pleased they'd won the charridee shield. We'd forgotten it was on. "Could'a found a pub an' watched that" moaned Tel. Still, the Three Wise Monkeys did a job.

We pulled up at my place first, the driver eyeing this strange part of North Essex like he'd followed the Yellow Brick Road to Oz. No flying monkeys, but a few twitching neighbours' curtains. Tel and I embraced as he moved to the front seat from the back. He still had globs of hoi sin on his YSL. He sat back and accepted the £30 I thrust at him. "Meet up nex' Fridee for a curry" he said as we stood outside the cab. "Ah'll tex' yer". We'd thought about meeting today for the England women's game, but Tel is proud of the fact he hasn't watched a second of the Women's Euro's, and he eyed my plaintive suggestion with the look he'd have given me had I suggested an all night Love Island-athon, perhaps dressed in Mankinis.

The cab went, barrelling away, a bare forearm waving from the window as it rounded the corner. I couldn't get the key in the front door lock. I managed it on the fourth attempt. Paula had gone to bed. Working today. Up at 7am. I thought about waking her for a bit of the old beast with the two backs, but then heard her snoring and thought "nah". It's cruel for one thing. She's never in the mood when you do it, for another.

So that was that. A fair old opening day match. Are we good enough to go up? Probably. Just need a goalscorer. Dare I say it, midfield looks better as well, although the defence still gives the odd heart flutter. We need another striker though. And for players to get accustomed. Tel said of Marcus Harness "'E woz all 'air and no end product, wern 'e" and I found myself agreeing. But it'll come.

Final word to the Bankster. Tel wondered if he'd managed the walk. "Ow'dya know 'im then?" he asked casually as we sat rolling pancakes into brief resemblances of cigars and getting cucumber shards ripping through them. I said I'd known him for years. He snickered and said 'Yev never menshunned 'im before, is 'e a mate of anyone I know?" And I made something up about him being the ex-boyfriend of my ex-wife and Tel said "oh" disappointedly and then wanted his tenner back. So I said, no, he was alright, knowing how Tel hates any context with my ex-wife and, appeased and knowing it was for Macmillan, he relented. So, if you and Tel ever meet, Jules, remember this as your story, eh? She was a rubbish shag, so feel free to embellish from there. Identity on here saved for another day. Phew!
The Last Warky Summer Report: Cos Boogie Nights are always the best in Town (H)
at 10:39 24 Jul 2022

A bit of Heatwave. Houses catch fire in unknown bits of East London and heaths smoulder. The air conditioning in the car made the trip to work a joy on Monday and Tuesday. Stepping out to pay for petrol or even winding down a window to accept the bottle of cool water and iced cup drink from the drive-thru in McDonalds at Kettering, flashing my debit card at the hand-held reader and politely thanking the pretty girl who wished me a safe journey, even that was like swimming in a bowl of soup.

Work was a never-ending promenade of sweat patches on shirt underarms and that smell made by vacuum cleaners. Still, we did it. I'm off for all of next week, a holiday I sort of pencilled in when we were asked to give annual leave requests back in dreary, dank November of last year. I dunno why I chose a week when the kids are off school though. I didn't even know we'd be back playing at the end of it. Wishful thinking?

Tel treated the heat like he was a cast member in "It Aint 'Alf Hot Mum". He'd have been called Nobby or something. We met on the Tuesday when I managed to cock something up at work and, rather than spend a few hours redoing it, left at three and thought I'd try again the next day. I was home by six, opening all our doors and windows and switching on all the fans. Paula had promised her mum she'd nip round after work. It was just as I was contemplating salad for dinner that my mobile went off. "Alrar mate" said a huskily familiar voice. "The wife's wotchin Eastenders in a tic an' we've jus' 'ad dinner, well, salad an' a bit of meat, like" (here the voice ranged to contempt briefly) "'few can call that dinner, anyways, I've got a froat like a bleedin' nun's minge so I wondered if'yer fancid a quick couple darn the local?"

I must have breathed quietly for a few seconds as I contemplated closing and switching off everything that I'd spent twenty minutes opening and switching on, and he jumped into the breach by saying, conciliatorily "S'alright, i'm takin' the car so won't be more'n'two, bit of proper grub maybe" I grunted assent and the voice at the other end brightened "Grate, be rarnd ter pick yer up in ten minits". Then he rang off.

I switched off and closed everything again and wrote a note for P, just in case she wondered where I was if she came home within the next hour, which was likely. She loves her mum dearly, but even she finds spending more than a couple of hours in her company after a day at work a bit too much. It only occurred to me that I could have just sent a text later, when we were sat in the boozer. I'm old-school. I never even thought about it.

We're doing grand, P and I. We've had a pregnancy scare, although 'scare' is the wrong word and we were both genuinely disappointed when the test showed negative, especially after she'd complained of sore nipples. I've even succumbed to 'tests' myself, just a quick 'sample' in a sterile pot and then take it to the now-open-as-if-nothing-covid-ever-happened GP surgery. I worried that the contents could be seen, and potentially laughed at, by the female reception staff, so wrapped it in a bit of kitchen roll. As it turned out, they just added it into a funny looking polystyrene package without comment. I was left holding the bit of kitchen roll. Paula 'helped' me do the sample. It was her fingers and wrist which provided it and captured it in the bottle before it wobbled off down the bathroom cupboard front. It was the first sample I'd ever provided which was fun.

Tel was dressed like Gunner "La-di-dah" Graham when he collected me. Tailored cream shorts, sockless Converse and a khaki-coloured t-shirt from YSL. "Keeps yer cooler" he muttered as I cast an asperse eye. I hadn't bothered changing from work. Had he not have called, I'd have probably worn shorts and my work shirt or, better still, greeted Paula in my boxers and work shirt. But hey-ho. The pub was a quarter-full but the beer garden was rammed with people in singlets and shorts, the women hitching back bra straps as they came into the relative cool of the bar to order shots or JD'n'Cokes.

We sat at the back, out of the way. Tel bought the first round. I ordered and paid for the grub. He had the boneless chicken tenders with chips and barbecue sauces. I had gammon steak with pineapple, coleslaw and chips. And a fried egg as they asked if I fancied one. I'd not had any lunch before you start thinking "Fat bastard!". When it came, I wondered if they'd started employing J2 as the short-order cook. The fried egg was crustier than Tel's chicken. Still, the pineapple slices helped wash it down a bit.

"The wife's geddin better anyways" said Tel without prompting from me. "She's back wiv Sandy in Braintree termorra, shoppin' probly, they're gonna 'ave lunch in Freeport". He sniffed and resumed the assault on the loose bits of batter that had fallen from his tenders. "Ah'm not goin', no point, Tone's workin' in Brentwood and me nephew's in Jockland wiv 'is mate from college". He looked momentarily put out. "I'll be doin' some 'ousework, might revarnish the deckin' in the garden cos it'll dry quicker in this". He took a long, reflective sip of beer and polished off the last of his chips. "Its your rarnd by the way, another San Miguel 'ere".

I told him about Paula and he snorted. "Don' go geddin' 'er up the duff before yer go to San Fran in September" he cautioned. "That'll be a nightmare, travel insurance fer that". He then remembered the old days, back in the shop with Paula helping him/running the place. "She woz a good girl in them days. Yer could rely on 'er for everyfing, geddin' the place open early, cash-ups. Iss funny 'ow fings pan out. Oo'd have fought you an' 'er'd end up marrid?" I reminded him that we weren't yet, that marriage was next year's big event, that we were "living in sin" as it were, enjoying the sort of relationship that we both wanted, free of all that stupid non-commitment on my part and her longing for a child. The difference now is that we'd both like one. Even a holiday of a lifetime won't matter if it happens. We're not that shallow.

He smiled and patted me on the shoulder, the closest he gets to male-to-male fellowship. "Yer right 'o' course. I did worry abart yer bofe fer a while. The missus did especially. She fought you weren't in love'n'that. It was all too quick, like. Still, we gave yer some room an' yer came froo, din'yer?". Here he smiled like a benevolent parent and then we clinked glasses and finished pints and were off back out into the milder heat of the night.

So the first game of the new season. Seems too early. They're only just finishing the Tour de France for christ's sake. But we'll both be there next Saturday, ready for the crowds dressed in shorts and the glare from the pitch and the few before and after. Tel's actually looking forward to an Ipswich game for the first time in ages. We're restarting the official footy bet. Tel showed me the app on his phone - £13876.49 in his account, which, split between the two of us when we finally leave these shores in September, should mean a decent £7k spending money, or a less good £3K spending money if we decide to put £4k in the wedding pot, as Paula would like to. My current account is looking better and better; a result of the lack of Friday night dinners and drinks and the general 'cutting back' on our weekly shop, which is now done in Morrisons rather than Waitrose as she gets 25% off the bill.

Yep, things are definitely looking up. But as ever, there's always something that throws a spanner. Or at least, there's the feeling of it. I've not had my test results back yet. Perhaps I'm a jaffa? Or that home game with Bolton, having spent the summer convinced we're finally promotion material. What if we lose 5-2 again? Such is the life of a Town fan, a committed worrier and a potentially thwarted father. Neurotic as ever.

See you all on Saturday. I'll probably be drunk. Nothing new.
The Warky Summer Report: Leader of Men Get back in your cage (H)
at 11:54 10 Jul 2022

The sky above was a smear of Capri Blue, interspersed with dots of cloud and the trails of aircraft. The sun prickled and mottled my arms and neck. The sweat clamoured on my brow until loose beads dripped, salty, into the wells of eyes and nose.

Yep, another walk. Summer reports (this is the penultimate before the heat shimmer over very green grass and new blue home shirts that will be Portman Road come 3ish on the 30th) are always sweeter than winter. The long days, the persistence of flies, the Amber Solaire and the display of tattoos and white calves and bra straps are mere interludes in the heat. Our local Currys has sold out of mechanised fans. In these days of open doors and windows, of cooling sea breezes and influxes of Dagenham pipers parking badly and enunciating loudly in estuary English, the football season seems like a world apart. But here it comes.

My walks are once more conducted in solitude. Paula works. Then she works some more. Then she comes home and all is sweetly, disposed domesticity. No further worries about arse sizing or that thin flub of blubber she carries around her middle. This isn't the pages of Vogue. We don't pretend to live.

So I walk, and enjoy the odd sighting of egrets and cormorants drying in the sun, and the rustle of hedgerow which could be the May Queen or, more likely, a rabbit. The paths are drier than a Ustinov soliloquy, the dust blows great swathes of brownish mist and the grass is as filled with straw as Worzel's thinking head. I kid myself that it keeps me fit, but where this happens, or when, is anyone's guess.

Tel emerged from the shadows of pretending to care for his missus this week, head poking out the parapet, a silver-tongued cavalier under siege from the local roundheads. Mrs Tel is back driving. She even wore shorts last week. There were no anticipated tell-tale signs of uterine interference on display; no goitres or padded bandages or thin trickles of watery plasma. She drove back into the heat like that motorcyclist on the cover of a Meat Loaf album by spending "a few days'n'Braintree wiv Tone'n'Sandy'n'the neffew". Tel didn't bother joining her, so we spent a few evenings down the boozer, reminiscing and joshing and drinking too much.

There's been an unfortunate event this week. My ex-wife, stymied thus far in trying to extract money from me to pay for her and 'a friend' to travel to Thailand in October ("I only need £3k now because my mum has paid the flights and my dad is giving me £1k for the hotel and you're the only 1 (sic) I know with the money") has resorted to casual/urgent emails (I've changed my mobile number since the divorce so she can't text or ring me) to try and extort her spending lolly. One beeped into my inbox on Thursday; like a Nigerian princess with £200million but no money to access it. In it, she rambled on about 'need for a holiday, work has cut my hours to 25 a week, can't afford to pay off my credit cards, can't keep approaching my parents, come on! You're loaded and we used to shag' type stuff. I haven't replied. I don't think I can or need to. I'm certainly not 'loaded' if that's the inference. But the overwhelming desire to tell her where to go with a handy map of directions has escaped me. Too soft in my old age. Or perhaps I always have been?

I haven't told Paula. She'd be far more decisive in her tone. She'd probably answer it for me in my absence. This would kill proceedings for a bit, but then again it may instigate legalities. My ex-wife got a nice payout courtesy of the remortgage on my current home from our divorce, but it wasn't nice enough to prevent her moaning about it at the time. Regardless of the fact that I paid the original mortgage off in ten years. Blake hasn't given Paula a penny, despite their decree absolute coming through back in March. She didn't ask for anything. He's now living in Spain with his new partner. He's a fully-fledged builder. It doesn't matter. It's all in the past, dimly remembered, lit in sepia through the aspic.

Tel too is certain, but then he never liked my ex anyway. His pithy retort when I (stupidly) told him on Friday was blunt and cursory and not very nice. I expect a lot of folk react like that. I just wonder why I don't. Perhaps there's something wrong with me?

So we discussed this in a sort of roundabout drunk way, becoming a bit too serious as the topic and the alcohol kicked in and became all encompassing. But he's happier. He mentioned the holiday a bit more and he spoke about Mrs Tel great powers of recovery with something akin to pride and respect, and we went back into the saloon when the wind started blowing a bit breezier and gave us goosebumps and, there, we ordered ribs and more pints and sat gnawing and getting sauce plastered on chins and had to ask for more serviettes and then they took the dishes of bones and bits of tooth-marked gristle away and we exhaled and started on the brandy.

And I thought, yes, he is my superhero. Asked to name my favourite, he'd rank above the Incredible Hulk, Superman and Wonder Woman. He wouldn't beat Batman or Spiderman, but then as a kid I had T-Shirts with them on it. I've never had a T-Shirt with Tel's gurning gob. Perhaps I should? He's more pertinent to my adult self than Batman or Spiderman were to me as a kid. Trouble is, he knows it as well.

Reflective, these off-seasons. Always leaves you wanting more when it gets cold and wet, yet living in it, you can't help but wish for just a little bit of a grey sky and a nice following breeze, perhaps a bit of rain. Only a bit, mind. I've never been a sun worshipper. Too fair.
The Warky Summer Report: I play out my role. Why, I've even been out walking (H)
at 14:09 3 Jul 2022

It's been a while. I thought I'd better add another chapter before we're back into the new season in four weeks and we resume the usual weekly tales of drunkenness and dissatisfaction.

Mrs Tel is out of hospital. June was a funny month. Tel went from proselytising pub critic to a carer overnight. No more coveted drinking afternoons on a Saturday, or meals in local Indian restaurants on the preceding Friday. Just a series of mis-spelt texts, a few phone calls where he pretended indifference and stoicism and the longing in his voice became as painful as it was amusing. This levee broke on Friday gone when he relented and joined me for "a few beers, like, jus' a quick few, she wants me ter take 'er swimmin' termorra" and we met at six and stayed til 1am.

So she's on the mend. Good news. Her consultant, whom Tel described as "Lookin' a bit nutty, if yer get me meanin', sorter cross between 'im off Eastenders an' that bloke 'oo used ter present gardenin'" (the mind still boggles - he doesn't know names) had breezily prescribed swimming as a good form of pelvic strengthener and (possibly said with a vainglorious little smirk) mentioned the fact that they had one of the biggest swimming pools in the world right on their doorstep, and it had the additional benefits of being salt-water, to help with the healing processes.

Tel was still staggered when we met. "Ah mean, geddin' 'er ter swim off bleeding Dovercourt? Wot, an' avoidin' the tommy loggers an' used french letters an' that?". He became more sarcastic as he drank. "S'pose she's meant ter keep out the bleedin' shippin' lanes inter Felixstowe'n'all? P'raps that brarn seaweed's got 'eeling qualities? An' get this" here he nudged me with a sideswipe of his elbow which caught me neatly in the upper rib just as I was raising glass to lips, "'E only sed I could bleedin' join 'er! Me, dressed in me speedos wiv one b*llock 'anging out the leg and a wedgie up me arse. I aint swum since I was ten. I've certainly never swum in that cesspit off 'Arwich. One mouthful o'that and I'd be in the nex' bed to 'er on bleedin' life s'port".

So he's taking her to the local pool, and sits in the public gallery amongst the local pervs and the competitive parents watching small kids and dreaming their selfish dreams of having sired a new Adam Peaty. Or that's what he tells her he does. In reality, he's drinking coffee from the little cafeteria and idly watching his phone.

I hadn't seen Mrs Tel in hospital, so our first joint visit to her home, bearing flowers and boxes of Thorntons and cloyingly crap 'Get Well Soon' cards beloved by the sort of people who still like Pam Ayres and wear matching cardigans, was welcomed. Tel let us in, a sort of cockney Carson in Downton Abbey, directing us into their front room past the endless bottles of Lucozade and half-eaten lunches on wheeled trays. She lay on their sofa bed, her head at the same height as my genitals, propped up on pillows and dressed in a smart black and grey bed coat and plum-coloured moccasins. "She can't wear jeans or nuffink" Tel had warned me before we arrived. It was said in the same manner as a young man proudly describing the aftermath of his first proper sexual activity. It seemed an odd adjoiner.

We didn't stay long but the reasons we gave (don't want to tire her out) were redundant when she got up and walked out to the garden perfectly normally to have one of my fags. It was a bit embarrassing given Tel had led me to believe she was "up on bricks' for a while following the unknown surgical procedure. Tel led me to their kitchen for a beer while Paula did the women's thing of asking her how everything was. Women are better with things like that. I merely smiled a lot and said the obvious. Still, she was looking better, to be fair.

Aside from that little drama, we've carried on much the same as before. Paula, unsettled by her mum telling her that her arse was getting a bit bigger, has started joining me on the early morning walks. Except she takes it more seriously and does it almost in a sort of jog, head down, ignoring the straggling dog-walkers that I usually greet. We did a circuitous route and then returned, sweat prickling the back of my neck. It's not a pleasure stroll any more. I might have to get up even earlier to do that.

I had a few days off last week when she was working, so I went off in the warm summery mornings for a walk on my own, idly kicking up the dust on the paths and watching the local birds skitter at my approach. No sweat, no aching shins, just me, my knapsack filled with a thermos of coffee and a bar of something in case I fall in a ditch and need sustenance while the dog-walkers ignore my throaty cries. It's not happening, but it's nice to have a walk and then a breather in a dappled glade munching on a fruit'n'nut with your coffee.

We're in the midst of saving for San Francisco in September. So the end of the Friday night meals is something of a relief to my bank balance. Tel is paying out our joint winnings earlier this year, so we've both got funds for our respective holidays rather than the usual Christmas splurge and new year parties. We've had a bit of a blank just lately. Royal Ascot was a disaster. We're down to just over £12K having been up to £14,000 in May. Tel blamed his tipsters for their folly. I just smiled and said "Never mind". He still has little rumbles on unknown races. It's his escape from the 'carin' stuff I 'ave ter do'. In reality, this looks minimal, seeing as she can walk and get around pretty much as she likes.

He's coming to the Bolton opener on the 30th. We've planned pubs, meeting times, after-match pubs and Trongs for a chinese. He even planned the train times and ordered the cab back. If that's not a sign of his boredom, I don't know what is. Still, be nice to see him at a game again. He's certainly mellowed in his assertions about the club and its chances of promotion. He is convinced it'll be this season. I've allowed myself to be swept up by it as well. Just as the Scum hit their 'blue' period, we come growling over the hill. It's a nice dream. The actual football season of course rarely works like that, but who knows?

As for P and I, well. Things are gently running as they should. We're now seriously discussing children again. It's like two adults having a relationship, instead of one adult and one seriously perturbed old man, worrying and over-thinking and finding trouble committing. My ex-wife even contacted me on Facebook recently, asking if I could lend her money for her jaunt to Thailand and I smiled and deleted my account. Some things never change, eh? Still, there's always the 'off' switch.

See some of you on the 30th. You know who you are. I know who you are too. There's no escape. We're in this together....
Coming tomorrow
at 18:08 2 Jul 2022

New Warky Report - sorry it's been a while, hope you all enjoy xxx
The Warky Off-Season Report: Never liked Elvis (H)
at 21:52 13 Jun 2022

The early, still-wet days of summer. Fat folks in shorts and baggy sleeveless vests sit at pub garden tables imbibing from glass chalices filled with weakly amber nourishment. Beer the colour of straw and that first piss to break the seal during a session, glugging it down like fish swimming open-mouthed near the sewerage pipes.

From some crackly jukebox, Roy Orbison, all dulcet yank, sings about candy-coloured clowns called the sandman. The bloke whose pound coin regaled us comes out, self-conscious then not self-conscious, to take the pissed congrats from a table of like-minded old blokes. Roy sings about dreams in falsetto country style. When he fades away, on comes something by Slade. Or is it Golden Earring? That gives way to Mungo Jerry's only known hit "In the Summertime"; the blokes blow into their empty Bud bottles, playing along. It was a waste of a quid for me. Tel quite liked it.

It rained for a bit. Sort of light, drizzling, mithering rain that stays a moment and then goes off to torment someone's fete or Jubilee tea. We retired to the smoking shelter, until one of the blokes at the table who'd counted their jukebox-loving mate among their number, sparked up a Dunhill. Tel was out like a scalded cat. He hates cigarette smoke. He'd rather have the rain.

Mrs Tel is in hospital by the way. Not sure I told you before. She had a routine check-up but was then referred back for tests. These showed something called 'adhesions' in her women's bits, so she's been admitted for surgery as they were creating a sort of hernia. She's had the operation (last Wednesday to be exact) and is now recovering. She's not allowed visitors other than Tel. At least, that's what he reckons. I haven't pressed him because I hate visiting people in hospital. The combination of the smell of boiled cabbage, the various instruments of torture and the lack of conversation (once you've done the 'And how are you?" bit, it becomes tricky) and my unfailing ability to sit on what I think is a chair only to realise from the smell that it's actually the commode, all these things add up to make my hospital visiting miserable for me and the patient.

People who say I'm such a wag and how great I'd be as a hospital visitor don't get it. I was told by a bemused parent that my maternal grandfather needed 'cheering up' so I tried it and made him laugh mildly enough to pop sutures. I knocked my Nan's beloved flower vase off her bedside thing whilst trying to make her comfortable, and smashed it. I gave my then recently womb-less aunt a wheelchair ride out the back of Broomfield for a fag and got told off by some holier-than-thou nurse for it. I once interrupted a surgeon on his house rounds, seeing my uncle who'd just had his bum grapes shrunk or whatever, with a joyous cry of "Did they shove 'em in a pot for you to take home?".

My mate once asked for some magazines when he had his appendix out. I took him a selection of all the top shelf grumble Tel had. It included a magazine called "Barely legal and foaming". The look on his face when the nurses saw it....mind, he's never forgotten or, worse, forgiven.

So I've not been in to see Mrs Tel. Paula and I sent flowers to her ward, but Tel had to bring them home, because they 'don't allow 'em do they? Bleedin' Covid or whatever. Still, she sed fanks. She'd like some magazines (my ears pricked up) but I'll sorttem. People's Friend and 'Allo and summink called Soaps or whatever. She's payin' four quid a day for her telly. Costin' a fortune, wot wiv that an' me nipping to Marks for sarnies for her cos she dun't like the food". He broke off to swallow his beer. He's enjoying it on his own. We've eaten out every night last week, takeaways round his when Paula was seeing her mum or working, the odd pub lunch which became a pub afternoon and then a pub night. So much for saving for our holidays in September. We'll be living on cereal in San Francisco at this rate.

Paula's looking forward to the holiday. Our calendar looks like an Alcatraz cell wall with all the five-bar gates. She's bought her holiday clothes already (or I have, on my newly £0 balance credit card, which took me two years to pay off). We've also had a happy discovery recently. Her mum took an ISA out for her when she turned 18 and it's recently matured. £12k. So we're now both solvent, which is nice. Her overdraft was starting to worry me a bit. She couldn't see what I was concerned about.

Time slides by slowly. Consumed mainly with walks, pints with Tel, the odd bit of sex with Paula, working and eating. I've lost a bit more weight. Paula didn't notice. It hurt briefly, until I went clothes shopping for me on Saturday and found I've decreased to a 38inch waist trouser. I've not sprouted up though sadly. Still a 29inch leg.......

We're seeing the new Elvis biopic in a few weeks in London, on a day trip/weekend city break/dirty weekend (delete as appropriate, although if you need a clue, Paula says we 'won't be staying in the hotel room too much"). She loves Elvis. I don't. Oh well. You have to compromise. When questioned on her 'love' for Elvis, she cites "A Little Less Conversation" as a fave as it reminds her of starting work in Tel's newsagent. She didn't know any other songs. Apart from 'Wooden Heart". But then she thought that was Cliff Richard.

Still, we're bobbing along. My walks have become more interesting as the trees foliate and the grass stops being mud, just before it parches and turns brown. No dog walkers any more. They're as rare as rocking-horse sh*t these days. Perhaps I'm too early, or too late? I came home in the rain last week, jeans soaked from the knee down, rustling cagoule and three day's worth of five 'o'clock shadow on my chin. I looked like an East German Stasi informant. Maybe it was a trick of the light? Perhaps I'm putting the dog-walkers off?

I'll let you know about Mrs Tel. She's due out this week, but as ever, Tel keeps persuading her to make sure she's well enough before they let her come home. We discussed this down the pub one night, but we'd both drunk a lot by then and I don't recall what conclusions we made, other than the brandy seemed to slip down very easily and he could still taste that steak when he burped. I hope he looks after her well. I think he will. He'll probably become a skivvy for her. Despite his Trump-like bravado and bluster, he loves her deeply. He's hidden his worry behind a laissez-faire attitude of "well wot can I do abart it?". But he forgets I know him too well. I can see through that bombastic bull like a laser-eyed Superman.

Roll on another transfer or something. Getting bored now. The cricket's not absorbing enough and the Nations League may as well be played on the local rec given the lack of atmosphere. Summer's a right pain sometimes.
The Warky Report: Going to see the Riverman (H)
at 22:38 29 May 2022

Sorry it's late. I've got good Cognac, Nick Drake playing in the background and Paula snuggling close.

We've tested negative. This morning. The merest shadow still remains, a cough so slight that it may as well be fags, a lassitude so stretching it could still be with me next week and I might tell Birmingham a porky and say I'm still positive. For Monday at least. And possibly Tuesday. It's a three-day week for gawd's sake!

We're both cagey about re-entering this magical world of endless showers and sun. Paula hasn't seen her mum for a week and a bit. I think that's penance, frankly. We've been stuck at home (fnarr, fnarr as Finbarr Saunders would doubtless say, although opportunities for hiding the old purple ferret have been relatively small, thankfully, as we've also coincided with her menstrual cycle) for a week, generally making each other laugh with anecdotal bits and a slew of all the alcohol we found in those dark recesses that were tasted once and then never saw daylight again. Drambuie, Squid rum and the like. Plus a friend kindly dropped a half of hashish last Tuesday and we found a bong in my spare bedroom. It's been like the sixties all over. At least what I'd imagine the sixties were. Free love (if you don't mind the blood) and crap ready meals interspersed with highs so good, we now look vaguely chinese all the time. That 'new age shop' in Manningtree looks more attractive as we smoke. I fancy a vicuna smoking jacket and a tie-dyed kaftan.

Tel is absent from all this. One mention of a positive test and our relations were strictly conducted via phone, text and the occasional email. He actually took a video in the Indian on Friday, just to show how he and Mrs Tel were enjoying a nice meal without me. I sent him the sh*t emoji thing and said I'd be back soon enough. He's since complained the food had given Mrs Tel heartburn all weekend, so it looks like my place as his dining companion is safe for now.

No footy news. I watched the Forest play-off game as the Grand Prix looked a dead loss. Congrats but they'll come straight back down without significant (and here we're talking in the hundred millions) investment. Still, there's hope for us to finally climb away from League One. I've not heard any rumours about possible transfers and, to be frank, it doesn't seem to matter as much. We'll probably do good business. Just leave it in the capable hands of Ashton and McKenna. It's for the best.

My first walk since the positive test is planned for tomorrow. A walk down the river, possibly with dog walkers and their charges. Paula wants to come with me, which is nice. See the Riverman, going to tell him all I can, about the plan for feeling free. Sorry, that's a Nick Drake quote. I can't claim that as my own. Still. I can claim a nice companion and a decent breath of good local air. We might even admire the reeds and skim stones at Cattawade. Simple pleasures. Nice to do them anyway.

Speak soon. It's late and Paula thinks I'm replying to Terry. Can't let her in on this as well as everything else in my life. No, this is still sacrosanct. I only share this with you lot.

Take care and hopefully be back soon
Warky xxxx

The Warky Report: Live from Lawford (H)
at 14:30 21 May 2022

That parvenu of the North East Essex prairies chose the pub we ended up watching the Cup Final in last weekend. Welcome back to this world of the moribund and the mundane.

I'd said previously that I didn't fancy writing one of these in what we sadly have to call 'the close season'. Ho hum. With the World Cup still months away and the new fixture list not even a glint in the FA's eye, we take our pleasures where we can. This means pretending to get excited about Everton's demise and the FA Cup Final. To be fair, Terry was a bit excited, despite the common factors being absent. Neither of us like Chelsea or Liverpool. Dr Johnson's theorem that when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life rang true. Even the old boys watching the horse racing were censorious of the football.

So the pub, bathed in sunlight, wasn't the local. No ne'er do wells displaying crap tattoos. No dogs**t in the euphemistically named 'Children's Play Paradise', a patch of scrubby lawn with a weedy sandpit and the sort of climbing frame you see on videos of Chernobyl twenty years after the nuclear disaster. This wasn't a local. We needed a cab to get there and back. Mrs Tel, our normal go-to designated driver, spent last Saturday shopping in Freeport with Sandy and her niece. I envied her a bit. Paula was at work. I envied her as well.

Mrs Tel is 'a lot beddah' by the way. I asked Tel as we sat at a picnic table with a faded Cinzano parasol and admired the capability of small children to simultaneously run, play and take occasional parent-enforced sips of their apple juices or J20's. We ordered food for 12.00 and it arrived at 12.45; good ribs, a burger the length of a forearm, constructed jenga-style with onion rings and other brown, cheese-covered goodies that reminded me of an issuing abscess. Tel was pleased with it though. He ate it. He also ate three of my ribs. My capacity has headed south for the summer. I've become a picker.

He enlarged upon Mrs Tel as the wind caught our paper napkins and wafted them haltingly along the ground for a good yard until we rescued them. The bones and scraps were cleared by a pleasingly attractive young lady in a pub-themed t-shirt and black jeans, who asked us if we 'fancid a pud?' and then disappeared for 30 minutes before remembering us and coming back with a Bic and a reporter's notepad. I demurred. Tel had the banana split with extra fudge sauce and a cherry. When it came, it lay obscenely off the edge of the plate.

We eventually watched the game in the bit they hacienda'd off from the main pub, a room that smelt of spills and BO and that scent hoovers make when they're new. The telly was huge. We were joined by a bloke in a 1980's Liverpool shirt, the old Crown Paints Admiral. Then four blue-shirted Chelsea supporters appeared just as the scousers were booing the national anthem. Tel snickered at this. One of the Chelsea blokes got a bit of the old red mist at the "lefties an' the farking militants". Then the game started and we all settled down.

120 minutes later, Tel and I were wondering why we'd bothered. No-one came in to collect the empties so we were all enjoying a game of 'pint-glass tower' until Tel ruined it by trying to fit his San Miguel thing in and it swayed dangerously. So we took it down again. Then, as penalties loomed, the Chelsea lads tempted us to have a few quid on who'd be the first and last penalty-takers for both sides. And no-one picked Liverpool's so we just pulled our pounds back and left for the bar and to ring the taxi company.

We ended up back at the local. It was empty. Jamie the landlord said something about it being full with Chelsea fans before but they'd gone, disappointed. A few stragglers were in the garden nursing amber pints and looking woebegone.

I got home at 2am. Pissed. Very pissed. I walked it from the local. The hedges tried obstructing me and the footpaths were poorly lit and trip-hazards. By the time I'd managed to unlock the front door, I had various grazes and sore spots. I could hear Paula snoring. I had a last drink in the kitchen, then a long, never-ending wee and went to join her. She'd nicked all the duvet so I lay and tried to refocus my eyes to the gloom. She woke me at 6.30am with a kiss on the forehead and a soft, whispered 'Bye, off to work'. Then the door went and her car started and she'd gone. So'd my head. Completely.

The week at work was banal and familiar, but then P came home early on Thursday complaining of a headache and a slightly sore throat. I came home at seven and found her fiddling with lateral flow kit and trying to squeeze a tiny clear plastic water holder into a plastic vial. Then she wadded a long thin cotton bud around her tonsils, gagging, and then up her nose. Then she squeezed it into the vial and applied it to the plastic reader and bingo, two red lines.

I should have done the same but felt fine. Besides, Friday was looking hectic. Birmingham always is. The rain that started yesterday morning was a bit of a dampener on the journey but, fuelled by a double sausage McMuffin and a coffee from the drive-thru at Kettering, and a shot of Ventura Highway by America as I skirted the metropolis and the sun appeared, I made it.

I felt vaguely poorly by 3pm. Not ill. No, just vaguely unwell. Headache, slight snotty feel in the throat. So I came home at 4pm, much to the bemusement of colleagues who muttered "'eese got that Covid, the bastad, bet oi ketch it next'" or seemingly looked like they said it when I was gone.

Home. Sneezing a bit, but then I often do. McDonalds drive thru again for a coffee and an apple pie. The apple pie tasted like sweet snot. I left half of it uneaten and managed to post the brown bag in one of their bins as I drove away. Home proper by six. Felt OK. Didn't do a test. Paula was in bed, a box of Kleenex and a half-empty bottle of Lucozade on her bedside drawer. Left her to it. Ordered a Chinese via Just Eat (our local has finally caught on and does delivery now). Waited for it. I wasn't meant to meet Tel until today for the play-off final. Sadly, circumstances have cancelled that. When I told him, he made it sound like I'd done it deliberately.

Positive test after a night spent snoring and all blocked up in one nostril. I awoke at 6am and did it. Two very fat red lines. Must have it badly, I thought. Paula blames herself, but I don't hold it against her, oh no. I do hold something else against her, or have today though. We're both not to ill to not enjoy a bit of R&R. It made me sweat a bit more than usual, which can't be bad.

A week off work sounds great in theory but it's not in practice. I had a few major meetings to attend next week. Looks like I'll be doing them via Zoom. I may also have infected half the office. I do feel sort of guilty for this. Then I don't. If I have, I'm sure we'll all laugh about it one day.
Stay classy, good folk of TWTD. Just off to blow me nose again.....
New Warky Report incoming
at 06:54 21 May 2022

I've just tested positive for Covid. So has Paula. Mind, I reckon isolation will be fun........
A Midastouch mix
at 21:16 4 May 2022

Just downloaded it - sorry can't do the link. Get him to PM you. Genius. Like Dubs. How they mix these tracks......
The Warky Report: Charlton Athletic (H) Farewell, Adieu to you and you and you
at 13:50 1 May 2022

This could be the last time.

Terry is worried. Mrs Tel had her 'women's fings' appointment last Thursday. He remembered this as we sat at the table watching a waiter carve a whole tandoori roast chicken and he eyed the giblet end.

Truth is, Mrs Tel hasn't been feeling very well recently. "Ah've noticed a lot of bog roll in the pan jus' lately, sorta wadded like. Like she's nestin' or summink" he said, deadpan. She seemed quiet when she drove us to the Indian. No 80's music, hair resorting to its natural bushy state. No retro-punk t-shirt or leather bomber jacket, just black pumps and a plain skirt and a tightly zipped brown fleece. Her kiss hello was perfunctory. Her smile a ghost in their 4x4. No make-up. She shocked me by actually looking as if she was nearly sixty. It used to be an old age, sixty, when I was a kid. Thoughts of grandparents with lavender draw liners and sepia clothes.

Now, two years off it, she made it seem plausible. Her movements were limited. She looked as washed-out as a pair of old Y fronts. "She's jus' a bit tired" said Tel as she drove away, carefully, no elan little skid or screech of tyres. I wished we'd had a taxi. I felt like an arsehole, blithely accepting of a lift from a lady who looked like she'd rather have been sitting quietly watching Eastenders.

Tel was his usual bonhomie. He doesn't tend to notice things like this. If he does, he masks his feelings too well. The lagers had arrived with the poppadoms before he admitted he was a bit worried about her check-up. He'd offered to go with her, a sign of concern as he normally steers a wide berth from surgeries or hospitals. "They sed summink abart an eemia" he supplemented when I asked how it went. He made iron deficiency sound like something Bernie Clifton would have ridden around a stage at an end-of-pier show in Blackpool in 1976.

We had a break from the usual chicken jalfrezi and ordered a whole tandoori chicken. The waiter said "We carve at table" proudly, as though presenting diamonds. His accompanying smirk suggested this was something new and unknown and exciting. Then, when it came, sizzling skin encrusted with what looked like a dirty protest but tasted delicious, he became business-like and carved. I half-expected him to sharpen the carving knives before, perhaps do a quick juggle with them like in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a crowd of oohing kitchen staff watching wide-eyed behind him. But no. He carved into breast portions, legs, and then rolled the still-steaming carcass away on the trolley. The remainder oozed oily on the plates. We dug in. Tel even stopped worrying the bombay potato accompaniment.

We'd ordered pilaff rice with it. They bought this last. We were hoping for a sort of upmarket biryani but we'd just got a few scraps of breast and the legs left by the time it hit the table. It was very nice though. Rice cooked with spices and served with a steaming pile of deep-fried onions and some sultanas in it. And almonds. They'd left the silver tray of chutneys with us so Tel piled into the hot one. He then said "why aint we done this before?" through a machine-gun spit of rice flecks, all of which hit my face and front.

The brandies afterwards tasted reassuringly crap but the ice helped. We waited for the cab set to take us back to the local for a few. I ordered the cab. Tel said Mrs Tel didn't mind picking us up but I felt bad enough that she'd taken us. He nodded eventually and called her to say we'd be late and not to worry about picking us up. When he finished the call, he nodded at me as if to say thanks. Or that's what I thought. He didn't actually say anything.

The pub, minus the scents of cooking and the sitar music background, was better. We found a quiet corner. "Shame yer workin' termorra, could'a gone to see the Town's last game" he said, but without conviction. He's slowly becoming a lost fan. He'll always check the scores and moan and that, but that's as far as it'll go, unless we suddenly look like we're going up, in which case doubtless he'll clamour for a ticket.

"I jus' dunno" he sighed as the third round of brandies hit and the ice finished rattling in the smeary glasses. We'd been talking about the future. He was reassured that Paula and I were now back on an even keel. "For a while back there, I fought you were on the verge" he smiled. No. Not now. I've got over those inner doubts. Life's grand. Although, perhaps tinged with a bit of unease, a feeling that personal happiness means someone else has to suffer, someone close. I've been like that for ages though. Ignore me.

We laughed at the absurdity of worry. But we both subscribe to it, so the laughs had an edge, a veneer of truth behind the stoicism. Tel's in danger of succumbing. He said he was looking around to see the "nex' big fing, summink ah can fill the ole void up wiv, summink I wanna do and enjoy". Travel may be that summink. He's looking forward to Nassau in late summer.

He's still the same newsagent I've always known and loved. Ever since I first went in his shop for a pinta and a Times and a black Bic ballpoint and he had to look for the ballpoint and upset a load of boxes of red and green Bic stock and moaned aloud at how his staff "din't know their ballpoints from their arses" I've been smitten. It came as a shock recently to realise that I've known them all since 2007. Fifteen years in June. I only went in originally because he sold milk and the then-wife had asked me to get some as we'd run out and the queue to park outside Tesco was massive.

Paula was a mere slip back then. 13 going on 30. She was in the background, a sprite dressed in a scuffed pink tracksuit, braces on her teeth, her hair a lank, long tumble in a black scrunchie. A shy smile. Eyes that pondered and wondered and were coy. Now we're getting married. And looking to move away from the area, perhaps to Halstead or Hadleigh. We've decided. The house I bought, it's no longer practical for our plans. So we're looking. It's half-arsed at the moment, just Estate Agencies online and cooing over the pics they post. But it'll happen. And then, just maybe, this world I've lived in for the last 20-odd years will hang itself on a hook somewhere and wait, ready for another bash in old age when our kids have flown and we're grey.

So I missed a good win yesterday. The goals bleeped on my phone, along with the texted updates from Tel. We won a few bets as well. His texts became gradually less comprehensible as the afternoon dragged on, until eventually, knowing there was not much more to complete and anxious to avoid the road-full of scummers travelling back forlorn from Villa Park on MY roads, I left at 3.30pm. Text to Paula, final hands-free call to Tel to congratulate and to say I'd make the local by 7pm and that P was coming with me and we were done. Another season. Shame we didn't make the play-offs, still......

I got home and Paula kissed me as I dismounted the drivers seat and then remounted....well, you don't want all those details, do you? Life is good. Perhaps that's all anyone ever needs to know. And if life continuing to be good means that something else suffers, like a promotion party this time next year, then it's a personal price worth paying to be honest. I'll always be a fan though. I'll always hope the two aren't intertwined. And my luck's in.

Enjoy the summer. We'll probably meet again. Don't know when. I do know where though.

Warky xxx
The Warky Report: York, birthday, ennui, Tel (in that order)
at 23:12 25 Apr 2022

We've just got back from York. A long, chilly weekend in Mid Yorkshire, staying at The Churchill, a modern-gutted Georgian Manor House, put back together using Sanderson drapes and wallpaper and fussy-looking chandeliers, and strange four-poster beds in our room.

Window-shopping, second-hand books down the Shambles, tired feet on the cobbles and oohing at the Minster. P bought a shirt and a pair of smart blue women's chinos in a shop where the price tags made the eyes water worse than their recent floods. I didn't say it, but her boobs looked wonderful in the shirt. You know when some clothes just accentuate a woman's body? Or perhaps you don't? Never mind. Some do, and this did. The valley in the top of her cleavage really deepened against the cotton. I wish we'd gone back so I could buy her another one.

So long drive up, quick walk around the grounds to reaffirm the old blood supply, a few Martini's at the bar, then the room was ready so we unpacked and hung all the stuff that usually looks like you've spent a night sleeping in it if you don't. Then down for dinner, then back to the bar for nightcaps, all smiles and little touches; the sort of stuff that couples did when I was single and which used to make me roll my eyes in cynical exasperation and then briefly wonder what positions they'd do it in when they retired to their room and whether I'd hear it when I got back to mine. Luckily, P's not a roarer. She's a crier and a moaner-like-a-small-kitten-stuck-on-a-kitchen-cupboard type.

So it's my birthday today. Thanks for the mental kind wishes. I spent it driving Paula's car back from York this afternoon. She's gone to bed already. Probably up there now, waiting for me, although more likely watching the latest instalment of some tosh on the telly. Anyway, she can wait. I've had enough sex these last few days. That sounds a bit boastful, and I can only apologise, but you reach an age two years shy of fifty and you feel it, and just fancy a quiet one, frankly.

So yes, another year added to the bewildering phalanx of the rest. A life of memories which flashed before me as I sat here just now, whisky in hand (present from my parents - 18 year old Glenlivet) of pop songs and what they reminded me of (One of Paula's presents was a compilation of 'Now..." CD's stretching back to 1984. We played them in the car on the way home. 1986 was a crap year. So was 1989.

'Through the Barricades' was a first kiss at a school disco. "The Wild Boys' was hill-climbing in North Wales. "Looking for Linda" was a detention at school, looking out of the window and idly watching a blackbird build a nest when I should have been learning french verbs. 'Ebenezer Goode' was a first look at my prospective University. "Country House" was a post-all-night rave in London, mouth tacky from the ecstasy tablet, future wife entering the grey dawn from the club, our clothes smelling of the night and the fags, that strange black sleep in the corners of her eyes, her hand fumbling in mine as we both admitted we still couldn't hear anything properly and then we went back to mine and I hoped my flatmates had washed up or made the house look vaguely presentable.

And then we came to "She's the One" and I had to switch off, much to P's chagrin as she likes Robbie Williams, but then so did my ex, and it brought back the painful and the long-forgotten, fervently despised memories that only time can rid from the mind. And I felt a prat. And she muttered and then cooed and switched back on and, as though in retribution, we had 'Reach for the Stars' just as I traversed the A1 back to civilisation in Huntingdon.

And Tel didn't understand the reference when I told him earlier, in the pub, where we arranged for a birthday drink. No, he just said "But thass a good'un that Robbie Williams" and, coming from a self-professed Wham fan, that was praise of sorts. So I didn't bother explaining further and he cut me off anyway. "The bets all came in Sat'dee" he said, proudly. He sat back like a dog waiting for a petting. I indulged him briefly (although I didn't actually pet the bastard, no, no-one expects that and it makes you both look a bit odd in a busy pub). So we've won another couple of grand or so. Great news. With San Francisco to save for and a wedding next year, it's expensive these long weekends away.

Tel was halfway through telling me a dirty joke, when Mrs Tel arrived at 7 to collect him and me as arranged. He didn't want to but I requested. I fancied a quiet night with a chinese takeaway and P. He was strangely agreeable and, as we're meeting properly tomorrow lunch-time, he was ambivalent. Mrs Tel wished me a happy birthday and gave me a card and a little wrapped gift as I departed their vehicle. It was a funny card, something about syphilis in a nunnery if I can remember it. The present was a hip flask, engraved with my initials. Might come in handy on my walks if I fancy a nip of something to ward off the chill.

So that was my weekend. Must go. Paula's just asked if I'm coming up to bed, from the top of the stairs. 'What ARE you typing at this time of night?' said in slightly irritable tones. Nothing darling. Just my memoirs. "Oh..." said much like she didn't believe me. Then 'we need some more condoms tomorrow, there's only three left'. Oh no. If I don't post the season finale on Sunday, it's probably because she's killed me.

Night all.
The Warky Report: Rotherham United (A)
at 12:52 17 Apr 2022

"Live on Sky" is now my new term for a defeat. Our football bet was Live on Sky this weekend. Tel thought Man City and Spurs and Watford. He did slightly better at Newmarket. But then that's why he keeps in contact with the nicotine-stained, moustache-with-permanently-brown-tips old mugs from his shop, the ones who always slouched rather than walked and could talk a good race. A copy of the Racing Post and the Mirror, a pack of slim panetellas and the sort of broken veins in their cheeks which belied a life spent grizzling over shorts of Teachers and pint of mild. The sort who wear dirty blue bomber jackets even in the summer and put spare roll-ups behind their ears and talk in a mix of cockernee slang and Harry Flashman propriety, and cast weary watery eyes at you and think West 'Am should be good for a cup competition 'but yer can't trust'em' and whose coughs sound optimistically productive, like an old Ford starting on a cold winter's morn.

I know the type well. In my youth, I too had a paper-round. Mine covered the ne'er do well areas; the older, cheekier lads got the riches, the Laburnum Drives and the Laurel Avenues and the Goldings. People who drove strange-looking Saabs and called their children Felicity and Johanna and Miles and had heated garden pools and who tipped lavishly. Mine were the Pearls and the Freds and the Normans, council-house estates, the smell of soot, Ford Cortinas, back doors which opened straight onto the living room, three generations therein, the kids, the parents with their bonhomie and insistence on putting their News of the World on the stairs, some old grannie stuck in a dingy corner knitting.

I digress. That was the 1980's. The truest, sharpest line between the haves and have nots I can remember. Now all the world owns a Playstation 5 and a 60 inch telly and a Monster 4x4 and only in their speech can you hear the class in a classless society. The poor are richer and the rich poorer, and the middle classes in between stretch like a barren plain in a Western, some lower, some upper and some smug.

I went to Rotherham once. Not for the footy. This was a Uni friend's marriage ceremony, late 1990's (I only know this because they played a lot of Oasis and Spice Girls at the evening thing). Armed with my own wife, who'd also been invited. She went to Williams and Griffin for a dress for it. We had an idea she was pregnant. I say 'we'. I meant her of course. I was none the wiser, let's face it. So she was a cheap date. She drank Britvic orange'n'lemonade all night and shout-chatted a lot and 'massaged' her belly in front of folk to get them asking and generally made herself disagreeable to me. And I, in my best Coes suit and tie, DM's burnished to a mirror shine, sat with a few Uni chums imbibing beer and shots and trying to make the best of it, was ignored by her when all her old friends gathered round. We left late. We were staying at a Premier Inn on the outskirts of the town. It looked tired, a bit dated. She accused me of cheapness and lay like an island in the Lakes on our double bed, unreachable, uninhabited. And she wasn't pregnant after all. 'Just pre-menstrual bloating' our GP told her a few days later. And that was my fault as well.

I say all this because it nearly happened again, earlier this year, only with a partner not as disagreeable or 'wrong' as my ex-wife. Paula and I had a bad spell. It's now behind us. Long. long behind us, like remembering something from the mists. Life is happy at the moment. We've finally booked San Francisco as our holiday destination in September. That's most of the wedding money gone, but I'll have Tel's bet winnings (currently nearing £14k) if we decide to pay ourselves early (which he's keen on as he's doing Jamaica around the same time).

It wasn't South Africa, then. Thanks to all for your PM'd advice and long, thorough messages on hotels and wildlife and the like. She just fancied SF. I was ambivalent. But, secretly, I fancied SF as well. Never been. I have been to LA, unfortunately.

Tel's fine. He and Mrs Tel have spent the past week doing their garden. He came out with me on Friday for a few drinks. We decided not to bother with a restaurant and ended up having a meal in the pub. I had the ribs. He had sirloin with chips and salad. Good Friday of course so their desserts were all Baileys-in-an-Easter-Egg topped with squirted cream or hot-cross-bun-bread-pud. So we didn't bother.

He's had a bit of a row with the in-law's. Apparently, it's all to do with the holiday. Something about staying an extra night in Miami with them for $60 more each at their four-star hotel. Anyway, I never got the gist of it. Tel was in puritanical 'rightness' mode. "Ah've pointed outta them six bleedin' times now, we gotta get the flight from Miami at eleven-fifteen that night so there's nah point, jus' means we change to one at two-firty next arternoon an' miss a night in J'maica we've paid for. Even the wife sees that an' yer knar wot she's like wiv Tone, 'e can't do anyfing wrong for 'er". He went on about it all evening. When Mrs Tel arrived to collect us at twelve, he even manipulated the conversation in the car so I could hear her say it as well. She said it in the pinched hushed tones of someone who would probably be happy spending an extra night in Miami with her brother and sister-in-law. I felt for her.

So that's been my week. A nice long Easter weekend. We're off to my parents for lunch at one, so I'll call it a day. I'll do the last report of the season the day after Charlton, despite that being it for me in the football for this season. I can't make Wigan on Tuesday. Birmingham until 6pm for a meeting. I also can't make Charlton on the 30th. Working. I turn older on the 25th, one year precisely. I've got a week off, so's P. We're going to York for a long weekend next Saturday so no report, sadly.

They say next season will be the one. I've signed up again. By not doing anything (I pay my ST by DD). I hope the team's better by then. If yesterday was anything to go by, it was another 'Nil by Sky'. I'm not into change for changes sake but I'd be loath to keep a good few of that squad here next season if I was KMac. Sure, pretty passing and a few nice touches but no end product and a bit of a wet fart in front of millions watching on the telly. That second half was awful. It reminded me of live games shown when Hurst and Lambo were here. Flat, uninspiring, laboured. Still, there's always hope. And a good wedge of dosh and a decent manager for once.

Let's hope the opener isn't Live on Sky.....
The Warky Report: Shrewsbury (A) I say Shrows, she says Shrews
at 09:19 10 Apr 2022

'The Greatest Sporting Weekend' (c) Sky. Well, I watched the Grand Prix just now, hence why I'm up and reporting at some silly hour am on a Sunday. Paula's gone to work. She woke me up at 6am. She fidgets in her sleep. And she farts. Hopefully, thirty more years of this. My nose may have rotted by then.

I'll have a walk and get a paper in a mo. We need milk, bread and bacon as well. I've had the last of the two-pinter I bought last weekend in my tea. Bacon sarnie with HP beckons like a temptress. The lawn needs a cut. The washing has mysteriously piled up so that's on for the shirts and assorted underwear now. I'll do the bed later.

Hungover. We went out last night, saw the sh*te film Morbius in Colchester, had a spot of supper in Bella Pais after. She drove. She's on mineral water and Diet Coke at the moment, although not for the reason you might think. No, not pregnant. Just abstemious. Plus she works on Sundays. Retail innit? They all work on a Sunday.

It's been a funny old week. Work was full of drear meetings, odd moments of reflection on annual performance reviews for staff and a Grand National sweepstake that saw me draw Fiddler on the Roof and thus earn my stake money back. I got two. Paula's horse, Mount Ida, went at the first, the jockey 'doing a Thelwell' as he amusingly shot into space over the first fence. She did pick Any Second Now in her work sweepstake so has won a tenner, something she couldn't help but rub in last night. She beat Tel and I. He fancied Minella Times. But then he also fancied Snow Leopardess, so we had fifty quid each of our bloated betting balance on these two beauties, both of whom never troubled the judge.

Tel is otherwise cheerful. We lost on the footy bet as well yesterday. "Bleedin' Watford an' bleedin' Man Yoo" he bleated into the phone yesterday evening. So a blank weekend betting-wise. He came out with me on Friday for a Thai in Harwich. The restaurant was fairly quiet and we had a four-seater table to ourselves. Thai prawn crackers and something deep-fried met us with the Singha's. He ruminated on his best ever GN win; Lord Gyllene in 1997. "Won a grand on it!" he filtered through a mouthful of cracker, showering me liberally with wet scraps. That and Tiger Roll, apparently. We could have been eating Tiger Rolls just then. The sauce they came with made us reach for the beer.

Tel has booked he and Mrs Tel on a holiday in Nassau in September. They fancied a trip further afield. "Gotta treat 'er this year 'cos Tone and Sandy are doing the US" he muttered. They're going to Miami so Tel and Mrs Tel will accompany them there, spend a night in the same hotel and then get a connector to the Bahamas. "Cost a few bob, like but she's well werf the 'assle" he said, seeing the surprise on my face. Given he hates flights, it's a long old time on a plane. He shrugged. "Needs doin' if yer gonna try somewhere more exo'ic. An' Tone an' Sandy'll be there. She'll prob'ly spend the 'ole trip geddin' drunk wiv Sandy, knowin' them".

Paula and I are umming and aahing over South Africa. I'd like a decent holiday somewhere I've never been. She'd like a beach, decent hotel and somewhere where the local food can be trusted, and you don't order the special only to find yourselves eating brains or guts while the locals smirk and try not to be absorbed in your repast. She fancies the States. California. I might need to re-mortgage.....

We finished the food with something fiery over transparent noodles, a few chopped peanuts drizzled on top so it resembled the Mr Whippy I used to buy from our local van as a kid in the early '80's. Thin strawberry sauce and crushed nuts. Sounds like my sex life.

We sat, red-faced, the hot towels wrapped obscenely like your willy post-coitus still adorned by the johnny. Tel spread his over his face like an octogenarian asleep on a deckchair in the sun on Frinton greensward. He lifted one corner to sip his brandy. "Blimey, thass 'otter than a phall from the local" he gasped. "Termorra mornin'll be a laugh. She'll moan if I don't use a bottle of Febreze".

We were collected at eleven-thirty, from the pub on the corner, having followed up our brandies with stiff iced Baileys apiece in lieu of coffee in the restaurant. Tel's convinced that Baileys has some sort of soothing effect on his bowels. Like Milk of Magnesia, only alcoholic so it's better. For someone brought up to firmly believe that only aged aunts and grandmothers drank Baileys, and previously dismissing it as in the same class as port'n'lemon, snowballs and Cinzano, he seems to have adopted it as a sort of last-minute go-to drink when you fancy neither beer or harder spirits.

Mrs Tel looked nice. Gun-metal coloured leather jacket, blue Levi's, old black Gap sweatshirt and Tel's old black Converse boots, her hair a riot of cherry and peach, like a chocolate sundae. She smelt bewitchingly of Thierry Mugler and Sure underarm deodorant. She kissed me from the driver's seat as I jumped in the back of their 4x4. Tel muttered "'ere less o' that, 'es nearly marrid for gawd's sake an' you def'nitely are, yer hussey" and settled himself into the passenger seat where he fiddled with the car stereo for a bit and then "Boogie Nights" by Heatwave erupted, about a minute in, from the speakers near my seat. Mrs Tel made him turn it down a notch or five. The bass stopped thudding me to deafness. We sang along, although I'm not keen on 70's disco. That and Country and Western. And really heavy metal. And Stock, Aitken and Waterman. And most rap.

I was dropped at home just as Chic were finishing and the familiar bass of Car Wash was starting. I waved at the back of their car as it weaved past the parked vehicles on my road and then took the corner at speed, roaring off into the night, the strains of Rose Royce still discernible even as they reached the junction. Tel has invited us for a night out with them in Colchester next Saturday, meal and a visit to some 80's nightclub. We've accepted. Think the club's called Rubix or something. If you've been, let me know what to expect. I'm brushing up my Adam Ant dancing as we speak.

Yesterday was good. Paula had a day off so we drove to Orford and Woodbridge for the afternoon, gazing in niche and kooky shop windows and bracing against the breeze. She laughed as I tried lighting a cigarette for us both and couldn't get my lighter to spark. We huddled under my greatcoat and admired houses and looked in Estate Agents windows and recoiled in shock at the prices.

We had a drink in one of the locals before heading back to the car; she had a diet coke, I had a pint of Adnams. They had Sky Sports on silent in the back bar. I noticed we were 1-0 up. Norwood (6). I smiled. Last Saturday was still fresh in the memory. How the hell we lost to Cambridge...well....

We were home and getting ready to go to the cinema when I checked my phone again. 1-1. For a moment, I was semi-satisfied. They'd been on a good run, Shrewsbury. It only became disappointing this morning, reading the report. Sounds like we need a bit more stubborn commitment in the side.

And that was that. I'm off for my walk. Bit later than planned, still, it's a nice morning here. Hope it is wherever you're reading this. I told Paula we'd drawn at home to Shrowsbury and she said "who?" and then, after I'd repeated it and then spelt it for her, she said "Isn't it pronounced Shrews Bury then?". And looked at me with something akin to Eliza Doolittle looking to Professor Higgins for confirmation. So I nodded and said, yeah, it's either I think. And thought, better that than an argument over something so trivial. But I'm convinced I'm right. Still am. Ho hum.

The Warky Report: Cambridge United (H) I guess that's why they call it the blues
at 12:56 3 Apr 2022

I mean, what wasn't there to like? A nice, bright day. Foaming pints, good(ish) company, a home game where we needed a win to keep up the pressure for that final play-off berth. Home life improving. Tel's football bets all seemingly coming off for another Saturday. Yet the feeling in the Chinese after was all Scooby-Doo villain. If it wasn't for those pesky kids....

Yep, welcome back. A week off spent relaxing, walking in the blizzards of polystyrene and slush, nose redder then Rudolph. The promising spring warmth gave way to chill, winds, overcast skies, the novel image of snow pinging off the roof and landing somehow in the bird baths where it accumulated like small marshmallows in a mug of hot choccy. I had P with me on Thursday and Friday and We Did Something. Went for lunch and shopping in London, I mean. Not THAT something. Oh no. She's no more pregnant than I am. Although people do wonder if I am, sometimes.

Hampstead was nice in the sun. A bit chilly though. I took her for lunch in my favourite pub, The Spaniards. We had steak and chips, artfully plated with roast tomatoes on the vine and green stuff gently wilted and a béarnaise sauce so rich it could've bought Chelsea. Then, £150 lighter in the wallet and infinitely lighter in the head from two pints of Guinness and a shared bottle of £40 red, we strolled down to Hampstead tube and went to Covent Garden, where she bought things. Clothes mainly. Some Neals Yard smellies (not cheese, no, this was some botanic hair stuff and skin stuff). Then home on the 8.01pm. All smiles and repeated homilies about the last time she went to London (for an interview and training event) and how she'd never been to Hampstead before, but liked it.

My reward came that evening. It was a good reward as well. I should stop calling sex a reward. Sex with additional blow-job though? Is that a reward? Considering Tesco have a rewards card which gets you about two quid off your shopping, I thought it did. Their offer doesn't include oral sex. I'd end up queuing for the old girl with a face like Rosa Klebb chewing a nettle, knowing my luck. And she'd only swipe it.

No Friday night curry then. We were meeting, Tel and I for the football the next day so it didn't seem appropriate. So we had a day in London which probably cost me a lot more than a Chicken Dopiaza and rice, but was infinitely better. We look like a couple. We even walked snuggled, like those endless pap shots of C list slebs you get in the Mail, so-and-so with his/her other half on the streets of Hampstead. She claims she saw Jude Law in a pub we nipped in so she could ostensibly have a wee and me a glass of something warming and strongly alcoholic. She came back all excited. I had a look. F**k me. If it was the darling of Swiss Cottage, he's an ugly b*stard in real life. Which made me think it wasn't him. Just some weasel-faced early-fifties bloke in a crumpled suit sipping a quiet G&T. And wondering why that bird who went for a piss was eyeing him all agog. We left before he could venture over to whisper "How Much?" in Paula's ear.

Saturday. Yesterday. Well she was back at work so I was unjustly woken from exotic dreams about foursomes with Jude Law and Sienna Miller at 6.30am to find the other side of the bed gaping and the sound of shower water. I thought about joining her, but she was out before the thought fomented and, towel-wrapped, began choosing the tights and the blouse she'd wear for work. It was stock taking day so it meant organising a rabble of students and old fogies doing a part-time job into action. She dressed in front of me, un-self-consciously. I still struggle with that in front of her. No-one wants to see me stepping into my undies and tucking the old chap and his two purple hairy mates into the front.

I love the way women adopt tights. These were rolled into a ball, then feet in and slowly unravelled up legs like a condom. Her bum clenched as she bent over to pull them straight round her ankles. I got a bit of a tumescence but fought it back savagely by thinking of the old girl in Tesco, taking her false teeth out and puckering up. I've tried that type of thing before (not the old girl) and, whilst nice, she always jokily moans that it delays her.

She kissed me, open mouthed, tongues, goodbye and then breathlessly left, lightly stepping down the stairs. She was seeing her mum after work ended so I'd see her again much later. I watched out of the front window in my dressing gown as she reversed and drove off, waving and blowing kisses at each other. And I've got problems in the relationship? You're probably thinking that. No I haven't any more. It's stabilised.

Tel met me at eleven, driven by Mrs Tel who dropped us at Manningtree rail and then sped off, Tel wincing as she narrowly rushed two cars parking. "Bleedin' accident jus' waitin' ter 'appen, she is sometimes" he muttered. We went for a pint at the Station Cafe. We both went for a Guinness. We sat next to a small knot of established Town fans supping pints and eating bacon baps. Everyone remarked on how we owed Cambridge one for the 2-2 at their place. Some thought it'd be a walkover for us. I'd heard that before.

The train came. We jumped on. Tel exclaimed how nice the Stour looked and how bad the remnants of the ICI factory behind it were. We discussed Trongs, our chinese restaurant post-match which he'd booked for 7pm. We arrived in Ipswich, through the tunnel that Tel always calls the time-tunnel, since he thinks it transports us back thirty years when the train finally comes to a halt at the platform. He's not very complimentary about Ipswich. On the walk into the town, he kept pointing out litter and building work as though these issues were unheard of in North Essex. "Town looks scruffy" he said. I pointed out it looked better than Colchester, which really has fallen on hard times if the litter and general lack of care were anything to go by. He smiled. He knows I don't like Colchester.

We sat in the bar supping pints of amber foam and munching dry-roast peanuts. The town was semi-busy, mostly with people in blue home shirts and hoodies. The pub was warm and the beer acceptable. We had a light lunch; chicken wings with barbecue sauce and fries. Tel asked for coleslaw and they brought out a small pot of what looked like yoghurt. They'd overdone the mayonnaise. Still, the carrots and cabbage and onion were nice when you found them.

We left at 2.40pm, walking with the stragglers as they attempted to put one foot in front of the other, dazed and slurry from the beer and the other alcoholic "treats" Tel chided me to try, which never happens normally on a pub night. These included Drambuie, Grey Goose Vodka and Lime cordial and Grand Marnier. He quantified this behaviour by explaining he didn't trust the brandy in these places.

We separated at the car park, him to walk to the Sir Alf, me to have a fag outside the SBR. He raised a clenched fist in farewell and said "'F'we're losing heavy like at 'arf time, see yer back in the boozer at four". He smiled at his own wit. Even he didn't think we'd lose to Cambridge United at home....

In the end, I met him in the pub at five-thirty. I was surprised I didn't see him walking up into Town on the way and wondered how long he'd been in there, comfortably ensconced with a pint of San Miguel in an angular glass and another bag of dry-roasted from which he nipped the odd handful. "Rubbish wernit?" he said, dismissively. "Bleedin' Carroll couldn't find his own arse with bofe 'ands". He sniffed and then reached for a hanky. I ordered a pint and left him, fishing in his pockets and then bringing out a bit of rolled up kitchen roll for the purpose.

He warmed to his theme. "Burns was right off it. So was that Donut bloke at right back. Morsy was decent, but that Chaplin, bleeding' ell, Charlie could've played better". He checked his phone and then let out a gruff cry of joy which made the people round us look at him. "Geddin!! Liverpool won, so did Derby an' Swansea an' Fulham an' Mansfield. Five outta five, 'ave a look". He passed the phone. I had a look. £1229.63 we'd won. He withdraws our winnings into a bank account he created for the purpose last year ("Need the int'rest on our winnin's don' we?") and, at my bequest, he checked the account. "Wiv terday's thass twelve fousand six 'undered odd" he said, smiling. "Nice Xmas that'll be this year". Mine's going on the wedding.

We had the chinese. Very very good. Trongs is one of the best in the area. Nice Peking roast duck (we had a whole one as he loves this the most), good starters platter, great fried pork belly with greens and rice. We left, burping lightly and picking bits of rice out of our teeth with a fingernail, inebriated, and got in the taxi home. It dropped me at ten. He carried on to his place in Dovercourt. I needed a slash. I got the keys in the lock first time. The house was in darkness. Paula was due in at eleven. She'd taken her mum and sister for dinner at The Pier in Harwich.

I had a decent brandy and watched MOTD, slumped in my chair, my belly gurgling from the chinese and the assault of alcohol. I must have dozed off, because then I heard the door key again and in came P, looking glamorous in her new Coven Garden jeans and her leather jacket. She came over for a kiss and I asked her how work went and about her mum. She fixed herself a Bacardi and Coke and sat on the sofa next to me, easing off her heels and then her jeans to perch her bum on me as we spoke. Suddenly, Brighton v Norwich got switched off and I felt myself sink into a kissing sesh. Well, you can guess how that ended.....

Only two more home games, one of which I can't make as I'm bloody working that Saturday. I know. Didn't check when I agreed and all that. Still, with the season done and nothing much to occupy me over the summer (apart from South Africa and that looks like it'll be September if at all), I'm settling into a whole new world. It feels great as well. No play-off dramas, no nerves about winning at Wemberlee, just sunlight, warmth and fun to come. Bring it on.

The Warky Report: Plymouth (H) Hit the ground running
at 12:50 27 Mar 2022

Another week, another Big Game. This time the sun shone and the boozers were packed. Folks wore their faux Ray Bans and shorts. Yes, in March, that month of recent Beasts from the East and rain. The clocks went forward last night. It caught out more than a few dog-walkers this morning.

Last night was also our postponed trip to Chez Tel. More anon. Now back a week from Marbella, he is slowly stretching into a life of quiet pleasure; as bohemian as the Bloomsbury Set back in the early part of the last century, only without the endless dull discourse with E.M Forster on Italian manners and the beauty of the Arno. His is more suited to Brendan Behan and Dylan Thomas, raging against the fading of the light in drab pubs, a pint of viscous amber on a cracked Stella beer mat.

I've made a decision. Whether it's the right one, only time will tell. Suffice to say, the words escape my lips at the moment. Which is another way of saying I've not told anyone. I can't imagine they will understand, even you, who doesn't know me but knows my circumstances. My mum always said I was an enigma. I think too much. Therefore I am.

I can't be bothered relating anything about Paula this week. It was as though life was determined to return to a brittle normality. We got on with it. That's about all that needs saying.

A week blindly working in Birmingham, now a week of leisure courtesy of the start of my annual leave year in April and a need to get rid of the extra days I accumulated since the lockdowns necessitated home working. Allowed to carry over 10 days and having fifteen to account for, I took the five off next week. It appears I'll be doing it on my own; my fiance grumbled at the short notice and then spoke to her manager who agreed she could have Thursday and Friday in lieu of a working weekend. I'll be watching us against Cambridge United next Saturday. Suits me. Terry is coming as well. We've booked Trongs for our evening repast.

So no Friday night shenanigans. This also suited as I was late returning from Birmingham on Friday anyway. I came home at one a.m. I didn't (obviously) have a drink. Another enigma.

Saturday was bright. You know this. But early morning was bright as well, especially the lanes I walked in Lawford. I left P asleep. She was working yesterday so set my little radio alarm for eight. She's tuned it to Radio One, so we're often awakened by some godawful dirge or tinny modern pop sh*t. I've tried to reset to the lesser horrors of Classic FM or Radio Two, but it seems hell-bent on reverting back to witless DJ's playing modern crap. It's as if my clock radio is determined not to join the middle-aged spread creeping over its owner. I'm thinking of calling it Tim Westwood.

The walk at seven was lovely. Crisp, bright, the sea glinting like an eddy in a glass of champagne, the sheep in the fields nuzzling their lambs and soaking up the gold. A buzzard soared and drifted on the currents far above, wings like fingers reaching for creation. I stopped for a cigarette and admired the yachts bobbing on the Stour and the birds wading at low(wish) tide pecking at nothing. It felt like escape. Don't know why.

Back home, armed with supermarket bacon and bread and milk for tea. Paula dressed, fumbling for car keys and smoothing her supermarket uniform, her name badge in green and yellow, proclaiming her name and managerial rank. Green and yellow. My least favourite colours.

She kissed me perfunctorily and I reminded her of the Terries and she raised an eyebrow and nodded and then looked in her handbag to check for something and then, reassured, kissed me again and said 'Bye, be back at six' and she was gone, her car firing first time and reversing away in a growl. I thought of something, someone far-away and was briefly sad. But hey. Home to Plymouth later.

The train from Manningtree was one of the new ones they've started. Long carriages. Uncomfortably new seats. The views rushed by, all greenery and heat haze. We arrived to a busy Ipswich railway, the murmurs of people off for a day in London, late-risers who wheeled small carbon cases and looked harassed. The sound of a brief 'Blue Army' shouted as if someone didn't believe it themselves. A long walk into the Town, past the Ginsters-shirted Plymothians, seeking a beer and perhaps a bite in one of the hostelries.

It's Mothers Day today. I'd sorted mine last Wednesday. Birmingham has a decent Selfridges in the Bull Ring. Jo Malone candles and cards which read light-heartedly in the shop but then looked naff when I got them home; jokey messages about 'the ironing is still there tomorrow, have today off' and the like. My mother doesn't do any other type of humour. She still laughs at the story my dad used to tell about splitting the arse on his velvet bell-bottoms in 1968 on their first date. For anyone else, that'd long since have been one consigned to the bins in the old memory bank.

We met, we drank. The queue for drink grew long. The table service app didn't work; drinks ordered at 12pm didn't appear until one. We sat on a table outside along with countless others and made our voices heard above the hubbub. We ate chicken wings and fries and hot sauces. We laughed at cynical asides and the prospect of play-offs. It was the most fun I'd had all week.

The game, well, you all know, This isn't a match report, despite the title. It was warm. We sang a lot. We were all over Plymouth. This was the Armada doing what it ought against Drake. We missed a few decent balls in. We squinted as Janoi and Wes turned away in frustration, no-one on the end. We need a striker. We've got three but none seem up to the purposes of the job. Norwood twisted and turned like a number 10, but he's not even a speck on Paul Mariner back in the day. The Celebration of our late and much loved former forward just seemed to sharpen the comparison with today's pretenders.

We scored. Then we should've scored again and again but didn't. Plymouth's danger men went off injured. They looked a bit of a mis-matched side and I wondered if they'd make it to Wembley should they manage the play-offs. Still, they had a good run.

The journey home was past the usual half-witted bravado from knots of jingoistic home fans. Too much sherbet on a warm day. The train eventually arrived and I hopped off at Manningtree to walk back home; no stopping on the way for a quick half today. Came in, forgot England were playing (or just didn't care; Tel said it was a great result when we met later and I thought he meant the Town and started saying Burns should've wrapped it up in added time at the end and he looked at me puzzled).

Showered, smelling sweet (Penhaligon's cologne and that Fahrenheit deodorant someone bought me for Christmas and I forgot about) and dressed casually in blue chinos, light blue checked Ben Sherman and a grey waistcoat so I resembled Gareth Southgate, we got a cab to The Terries. We took a bottle of red I hadn't fancied, a bottle of Oyster Bay sauvignon I did, and a Morrisons Best profiterole tower she'd purloined from her store.

Tel opened the door, all sweetness and chinky menus. We ordered enough for the street. Whole peking ducks and crispy chilli beefs and chow mein and rices with every known combination except mushroom.

Mrs Tel greeted us both with a kiss, the waft of heavy Anais Anais bringing brief tears to the eyes, like when I was a child at the local swimming baths and accidentally fell in the foot dip near the changing rooms. She looked nice again; black Givenchy jeans, Lou Reed 'Transformer' t-shirt, light blue lambswool open cardigan thingy (it wasn't a knitted cardigan but I'm no fashionista so gawd knows what you'd have called it). We went for a cigarette in their garden, admiring the new plants she'd added under the arbor in their patio. She seemed to want to talk to me alone; she looked a bit disconcerted when Paula and Tel joined us as well. Paula took one of my cigarettes (she's trying to quit) and looked a bit Lauren Bacall-ish as she exhaled the smoke. Tel made us drinks. Bacardi'n Coke for the girls, a bottle of Estrella Galacien for us lads. We talked the usual homilies.

The Chinese was ordered via Just Eat. It arrived precisely forty-five minutes later, clad in white plastic bags and a cardboard box. Tel paid on his card. The bloke delivering accepted a tenner tip as nothing more than his due. He and Tel were laughing at a joke.

The plates were taken from a very low warm oven and we opened the dishes and bags and decanted pancakes and spring onions'n'cucumber and hoisin sauce and a myriad of prawn toasts and spring rolls and bits of what looked like roadkill onto them. Tel took Paula into the dining room, leaving me alone with Mrs Tel. She gave me the bag of prawn crackers with an expression of friendly concern on her face. I looked at them, suspecting they had black bits or something. But no. She whispered to me. "You 'int 'appy are yer love?". I gawped, or must've looked surprised at this, as she shook her head quickly and then said "Tell 'er. Iss not fair. She's not the one is she?". And, stupidly, for I don't know what came over me, I felt the tears prickle and my throat close, and then Tel came in saying he'd forgotten the 'duck sorce' and it left me quick and she pretended she'd just shown me her new Smeg kettle, saying "Undred and fortee quid though - lot of dosh for a kettle" and he smiled and said "She loves that kettle. duncher love?".

We ate, we had a laugh, we danced to 80's music like we always do. We left at twelve when the cab arrived, waved off by the Terries, she holding me tighter than anticipated when we kissed goodbye. And yet, this wasn't the decision I'd made. I'd be scared to make that decision now. No this was a decision to book South Africa for a holiday this year, a chance to see if we can find ourselves again away from the familiar old haunts and scenery. I can afford it now she's traded in the expensive engagement ring I foolishly bought her. She'd like South Africa. Beaches, sun, lots to do and go to.

It might heal us again. Make us a couple. Despite the sex and the intimacy shared, we feel a bit far from that at the moment.

The Warky Report: Oxford United (A) and Tel (H)
at 11:15 20 Mar 2022

Back in Blighty at last. Not a moment too soon, either, given that he moaned about people on the flight back not wearing face masks and the paucity of booze provided by Jet2. "Darlin' 'old me 'and, they say on their adverts. Just don' bovver wiv a drop of the old dutch fer those of us 'oo need it".

Even his moaning was sweet on Friday night. Yes, despite Marbella being an hour and a half by jet propulsion, and leaving Mrs Tel to unpack and do the washing, he was out on Friday night with me again. We curried. He'd missed curry. Decent, gut-wrenching British curry with no 'funny bits like yellow stuff yer can't identify" in it.

That's coming up. Before Friday, life carried on verbatim. We won a few at Cheltenham, including A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup, which he'd watched on his phone on the plane, worrying about roaming fees. Paula and I sort of snuggled, a limbo state between us (not that sort of limbo. If I ever get my arse that low, they'd have to bury me in that position), her taking two days off work so we could 'chat' on Monday and Tuesday, me doing the same and clocking it as 'flexi', then we went back to the jewellers and 'traded in' her engagement ring for something antique and less costly and less concerning to wear. I got six thousand pounds back. It slightly replugged the hole in my savings. Mind, that's another six thousand towards the wedding.

The wedding. Another bone of contention. We're now left looking at 2023 if we fancy a summer one. We could have an autumnal do in October or an early Christmas one in late November, but she wants a summer so it's been provisionally booked for July 2023. The vicar, a man I've never particularly taken to since he outed himself as a Norwich fan (comes from Reepham apparently. That's early-Saxon Reepham, as he told us proudly when we went to see him on Tuesday, over lukewarm milky tea and stale digestives. Lovely views of the Wensum Valley, apparently. And of course, his beloved City. Going down, aren't they, asked Paula in wide-eyed naivety. His smile became a bit thin-lipped and he said "ah" as though she'd mentioned Satan) said he had a Saturday free in July so we pounced. Well, I say pounced. She pounced. I just sat considering. It was quite nice, just sitting there considering....

Back to Tel. They arrived at Stansted at three pm. I was just deciding to make my excuses and leave work in Birmingham so Tony drew the short straw and picked them up. He lives nearer. They got home by four-thirty; Tone making a detour to check on a new estate he's working at near Notley. I arrived home at six to find three texts awaiting, all of which mentioned curry. Paula was at her mum's (Friday nights are now devoted thus) so couldn't join us. She's not a curry fan anyway.

He arrived at six thirty, driven by the indefatigable Mrs Tel, who looked ruddy-cheeked and new haired. She wore a Stranglers T-shirt, black with red lettering and her beloved Levi denim jacket, jeans and black suede loafers without socks. She looked like she'd just po-goed to "No More Heroes". She gave me a kiss, more chaste than ever. She asked after Paula. I swallowed and said some old bollox and she gave me a concerned smile. I noticed her staring absently at me as we drove, in the back mirror, as though expecting me to suddenly perform a magic trick or spontaneously combust. She probably suspects something's been up. Women usually know.

Tel, blindingly oblivious to such intricacies of manner, prattled on about Marbella, how it "aint bin as 'ot as normal but we enjoyed it din't we luv?", saving all the juiciest bits for when we were seated at a starched cloth table munching poppadoms. Mrs Tel dropped us and said she'd be back for Tel at twelve, sharp and gave him the look that said "I mean twelve on the dot" and then softened her face and kissed me bye, and then looked at me in her rear view mirror again as she departed, as though not believing me. Or perhaps just checking she'd reversed Ok? Perhaps I read too much into things?

We dined. The lagers flowed, the talk (mainly Tel) was of Spindle, Marbella, good fortune with the bets and, briefly, Paula. I told him we'd set a date and he guffawed and slapped me on the back and wondered if it was a good time to contact Moss Bros for his best man's suit. "Don' wanna put bleedin' weight on between now an' nex' year do I?" he said as if in statement. Then he decided against ordering rice and a naan and settled for the naan on its own.

It seems Spindle was as dull in Spain as he was in Harwich and Tel admitted he'd missed me, which was nice. He mentioned that he'd come to an agreement with Mrs Tel that they should travel more abroad and experience some new places. So he's looking at Cuba or Mexico for the summer. He left a vague invitation for us dangling, saying it might be nice to 'partner' up with us for a blast abroad, seeing how our wedding wouldn't happen until next year. I said I'd ask Paula, although I already knew she'd say no. She wants to go abroad on our own. I can see a far-flung jaunt with the Terries not being her cup of tea. Still, I haven't mentioned it yet.

We were supposed to be going over there last night, but then Tel rang me at five to postpone for next Saturday, citing tiredness and Mrs Tel wanting fish'n'chips from the local chippy. So we cancelled. It was a relief to be honest. I didn't like Mrs Tel's x-ray eyes on the Friday. I had a strange feeling we'd have faced the third degree. Better to be forewarned and fore-armed if you're marching into that, I reckon.

We were winning when I switched off the telly and went for a walk. Glorious afternoon, all the housework done, Paula due in at six, takeaway to be ordered (Chinese; she likes their crispy chilli beef and their pineapple fried rice) so no real pressures or expectations on me for dinner. I walked past the church, admiring the spring crocuses and the daffs, waving at a few dog-walkers I knew on sight, ending up in the local with the Chelsea supporters as the shadows lengthened, surprised to hear we'd conceded in the 95th minute to draw 1-1. Left at six, walked home, Paula's car in the drive, knocked on my own front door and she let me in, hesitantly as she was just out of the shower. A wetly-patched towel hung tight around her upper torso and cascaded to her feet. She let it drop as she walked back up the stairs, her bum a pert rhythm of bouncy flesh. I went up following her as she turned and looked at me coquettishly on the middle stair. I caught her up as she squealed in glee on the landing. Held her. Felt her nipples harden on my chest. She fingered my belt loose and undid my jeans and I sort of 'Frankenstein-walked' her over to our bed. My clothing came off easily. The rest, well, you can imagine it.

We collected the Chinese together, like a pair of giggling teens. The drive back was interesting. I've never had my willy mistaken for the gear stick before, not even in idle boasts when I was younger. There's a little way to go yet but the nice weather might have made a difference. Druids who worshipped the sun always said that it had healing powers. They might just have been onto something....
The Warky Report: Pompey and Circumstance (H)
at 11:58 13 Mar 2022

A lovely day it was yesterday. The sun peeked and was warm in the bits where the wind didn't blow. Waiting at Manningtree railway for the 11.55 into Ipswich with the multitudes dressed for the cold, I watched a lone Kestrel flit and hover over the fields near the station, wheeling ever higher and then stop dead in the air, head bent to mouse or vole scurrying. I felt for the mouse or vole. I was that fatalistic creature on Friday.

But more anon. Yesterday was freedom, a train journey past the glinting Stour and the woods and fields, past Jimmy's Farm where the young cows gambolled and ran and the horses munched on nosebags, and the announcer on the train said in bucolic tones "Noo approochen Ipswitch, change 'ere fer lions ter Cambridge'n'Bury Sin Edmunds'n Felixstoow" in that inbred Norfolk dialect that brings to mind medieval village idiots and singing postmen.

The pub was packed but the beers flowed in a fashion. The queue went round the bar. I got mortal. The first few didn't touch the sides. After that, my bowels relaxed and then expanded. The toilets were comfortingly Narnia-esque to reach and smelt when you entered. Nothing had changed. Yet a great deal had at home.

If you weren't there, take no heed. A game of one team trying and succeeding to stifle the other, brief forays into dangerous positions but then the crosses and final passes weren't quite good enough, a frustrating 0-0 with KMac applauding the North at the end. I coughed back my hoarseness and lit my umpteenth ciggie outside Planet Blue as the wind stirred the scraps of hot dog and burger into brief animation. The Pompey fans were twots on the way home. Still, you've read all that already.

The train back home dropped me at Manningtree at five-thirty and the Station Bar was still accepting drinkers, so I had a last pint and a scotch chaser and thought, rather with the air of one preparing to enter the dock of the Old Bailey, that it might be an idea to head home rather than detour to the hostelries in Manningtree. Tel would've insisted on the detour; Man United v Tottenham on the telly, drink, possibly a bowl of chips to enliven the soused palate before dinner. I sighed. He was probably doing that this very moment in Marbella. I walked home via the country route, past Lawford Church, the shadows lengthening and the birds twittering in their night roosts.

Paula was coming home at six-thirty. Yes, she came home eventually. Her mum had a chat with her and convinced her to. She arrived at mine at three on Friday afternoon, just as I'd finished my 'working from home', which had been half-hearted. I'd convinced my employer that I had what I described as 'probably just a head cold, but...". I did this by the simple expedient of looking as rough as I could and speaking through my nose. Bingo. WFH as they put on the Zoom message they sent at 7.30am that morning. In truth, there wasn't much I could do at home anyway, so it was nearly a day off.

I heard the key in the lock and sat back from the laptop expectantly. She breezed in, Morrisons management uniform creased at the back of the knees and the midriff. She dropped her (expensive; I know 'cos I bought it) Coach handbag and keys and rushed towards me. I stiffened, expecting blows to the head. She kissed me, passionately. She'd been crying. I stood and kissed her in return.

Just as the kisses were leading me to bedroom antics, the familiar small cold hand in mine somehow leading me upstairs, she stopped and looked at me with cool eyes. "Need ter talk" she whispered. I nodded. We sat in the kitchen to do this. The lounge was too comfortable.

She said her bit. I won't bore you with details. I said mine. Again, details aren't necessary. We groped for common ground. We found it, littered like no-man's land in the Great War, covered with barbs and long-dead bodies and the odd shell fragments. She wanted to have our child. She wanted a new home to live in, one which didn't share memories of ex-wives or mothers living twenty-minute drives away. She wanted to nest. I wanted to wait, to enjoy the here and now. She agreed (sort of) on this point. She wanted to get married to me, was prepared to wait until after then. But only until after then. She wanted us to keep trying for the baby, but was taking the pill again "for now". "I can't wait for you to make up yer mind for ever" she said. I didn't answer this. It hung in the air like a bad fart and then dissipated to god knows where. Probably to re-introduce itself in the weeks and months to come.

It was in this semblance of a cease-fire that we retired to bed at ten, carrying a bottle of champagne I'd saved for better moods and two glasses. We hardly ate the sausage and mash I'd prepared. It didn't seem right for the sensations in the house. It was a passionate night, tinged with the anti-climax of a big row which never happened.

She woke me at six for a morning bout, sleep rubbed from eyes and slight stale smell eradicated from nostrils. She showered after with me. I marvelled at the generous teardrop-shapes of her breasts and her firm buttocks. Again. Then she dressed and was gone. I donned my dressing gown when I heard her reverse out and the car noise receded. Unlocked the patio doors and stood, smoking, in bare feet, conscious that the dressing gown gaped very indecently at the upper leg and groin. Still, any neighbours up would've needed magnifying glasses by then.

And through it all? Well. It's certainly a ceasefire. There's still something that troubles me, something indefinable and easily placated, but something which doesn't leave, is persistent and gnawing. I looked forward to my day of freedom. I wished Tel was back. Then I didn't. Then I checked my phone and was astonished to find it blank. Forgot to charge it. Charging it bought insistent beeps and whistles. He'd tried to call me last night, three times. Two texts, one which just said "Hi mate need2 talkeyer" and another which, more irritated, just said "ansa yer foneffs". A voice message, garbled and strangely distant, received at 11.30pm. He sounded drunk. "Orlright son, ovvious yer shaggin', jus' wanted ter say 'ave yer done the bets yet? Liverpool, Brennford, Forest, Sunlan, Colch'ster an' Swindon all ter win. 'Ave a twenty on the lot. I'll speak yer tomorra, need to sort our Cheltnum bets fer nex' week". It stopped as quickly as it started, I followed orders. We won £1600.

As with most ceasefires, it's the uncertainty which vibrates. She's back at work until five today. She was humming "Wonderful Day" this morning. She looked happier than I've seen her in a while. Perhaps her mum said all the home truths I should've said? And where the hell did she hear 'Wonderful Day'? It's from Seven Brides and she normally hates musicals. Another mystery. Add it to the pile. Things might be getting a bit better.
Pompey fans on the way home on the train
at 17:55 12 Mar 2022

The Warky Report: Midweek, fall-out and Lincoln (H)
at 21:05 10 Mar 2022

Midweek. Several 'pings' from my phone. Blow-by-blow-by-blow accounts of Marbella, as texted by a one-fingered dyslexic. Whilst simultaneously wiping his arse. Judith Chalmers may have tanned to a deep mahogany on the 'Golden Mile' in the 80's but I bet she never spelled 'Calamari' to sound more like an aged and slightly exotic Aunt than an edible sweetmeat of the sea.

Given that his usual text skills are self-absorbed, it was no surprise to find 'beers, bit stake & sorce' were writ large amongst the various titbits that were viewed, read aloud in the manner of Bill Sykes in Oliver! and then deleted. He appears to be spending his two weeks gorging. He did ask how I was and, sadly, my reply must have appeared a tad wan, because then he rang me at 9.30pm, just as we were sat watching a replay of Great British Menu on Sky. I say 'watching'; she was talking to her sister on her phone. Their conversation pattered around, and then her sister said something and Paula looked at me and laughed riotously and then went red.

"'Ow's everyfing?" came a strangely distant cockernee voice. I got up from the settee (Paula and her sister were onto the merits of new housing versus old and I heard her say 'nice villages near West Bergholt' as I nestled the phone in the kitchen, and cringed inwardly. Tel spoke again. "Yer still there mate?", uncertainly as though I'd vaporised. I could hear the sound of far-away music behind him, something by Jamiroquai. 'Canned Heat?' I asked. "Nah, last night was bleedin' cold bein' 'onest. Still, the wife's spent a pile on cloves, like. Need to leave a bleedin' suitcase'o' stuff 'ere when we go or we'll be payin' out our backsides on excess".

I tried sounding positive and succeeded in being convincing, not that he was listening anyway. The texts came back from the dead as he repeated everything he'd already told me in them. He ended the call with a cheery "See yer nex' Sat'dee, we'll 'ave a curry, can't get that out 'ere. See ya". The line went dead. On the whole, I was pleased it did.

Paula's call was in its final throes as I came back into the living room. Andi Oliver was gap-toothed ecstasy on legs about someone's pudding on the telly. Paula made kissing noises to her sister as she said goodbye. She'd never done that before. They sounded like the noises she used to make when she gave me oral sex, and I remembered her face, pinched and eyes half-closed as she concentrated on that "Copdock roundabout" bit and I wondered if I'd make the tissue in time before I came in her mouth. Bit too much information, I know. Sorry.

"Sister alright then?" I asked as she clicked her phone off. She smiled at the screen and then focused on me. 'Yeah' she said, and then she snuggled her legs up against me and shifted her bum until she was practically in my lap. I stroked her hair. 'Where we goin' wrong?" she said suddenly, plaintively, tears wet in her eyes. And I said "I just think we're going ahead too quickly with a lot of changes. We should be just enjoying the moment" and she blinked at me and then jumped off me and went out to have a cigarette. And when she returned, she was distant, and she rebuffed my bedtime kiss with an "I'm tired" petulance and she lay on her side away from me. And then this morning, she was awake, showered and gone in a thrice, a muttered 'bye' and a long-dried tear-streaked pillow all that was left of her presence.

She's not come home yet. I had a text at five to say "Round Mum's, might stay there 2nite". No 'love' no 'xxxx'. So I've SAID THE WRONG THING. But, what else could I have said? More half-truths? No. They're not even half-truths.

I didn't make Lincoln. This in itself is nothing unusual; working in Birmingham makes reaching PR in time for a 7.45 kick-off with no drink inside me a trial. The fact we won again was mere balm for the briefest of moments. Yet I think I know what I want now. It may or may not involve her. It depends on whether what I want and what she wants align like the stars or the mechanism of some grand clock. I want to be happy. I want to enjoy my fiancee a bit more; intellectually as well as physically. We're like a misfiring engine at the moment. Something grates against something else.

I need to be clear. I need a level-headed, sensible approach. The trouble is, we're nearing that point tomorrow. If she ever comes home from her mum's. I'm thinking of taking tomorrow off to prepare. But then she'll be going to work anyway, I guess.

Sorry for the late midweek report. Just needed to get that off my chest. See you for (hopefully) a brighter one post-Pompey.
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