Friday 11th November

Doubtful as to Gus Poyet but fundamentally generous   (12)


RIP Leonard Cohen, that gravel-voiced troubadour and patron saint of the bedsit blues. But back to my own crónica de una muerte anunciada. What would it be like to drown? I try to imagine the circumstances in which it could happen to me and draw a blank. I can swim. I will steer clear of beaches and municipal swimming pools on December 30th.

But I’m at a vulnerable sort of age. Shelley was twenty-nine when he drowned, Brian Jones just twenty-seven. I am twenty-eight, twenty-nine on the 2nd of February, if, by some miracle, I live that long. Ho hum …

I have been reading Bill Clinton’s autobiography, My Life. And why am I poring over the old rogue’s sketchy reminiscences? Because I want his money! A million? That’ll do nicely, Mr ex-President.

It’s not as unlikely as it sounds. My job title is University College Alumni Development Fund Manager. It sounds grand but I’ll be straight with you – I’m not the only Fund Manager. There’s a team of us dreaming up new ways to twist the arms of anyone who has ever set foot in University College, Oxford. My patch includes the USA and right at the top of my hit-list sits the great man, a Rhodes Scholar at Univ (1968-70). Due to some oversight, we do not yet have a WJ Clinton Fellowship in International Relations or even a Chair in International Law. My job is to make it happen. But how?

Clinton’s number is not in the phone book or even in Yellow Pages. He has a praetorian guard, shields aloft, fifteen men thick, specifically employed to stop chancers like me getting near his wallet or even speaking to the former Saviour of the Free World.

So I’m reading his autobiography, looking for chinks in his armour. I’ll let you know when I find one.

But how has it come to this, begging for crumbs from the great man’s table? Why have I made nothing of my own life? Why am I still here, in Oxford, amongst the throng of performance poets, Readers in Sanskrit, Inklings tour-guides and literary festival minders? I should be out in the real world by now, not still dossing down in my father’s end-of-terrace box-plot. My contemporaries are hedge-fund managers, SEO specialists, online poker players, even captains of actual industry. They escaped from the arms of Morpheus, from the suckling security of their alma mater. But I was too conservative, too risk-averse, too English!

And now look at me. My hair has receded faster than a polar glacier. I have the precise combination of genes that makes you resemble a gauche 15-year-old virgin at 25 but a paunchy 52-year-old librarian at 26, omitting 37 years of masculine nubility in the blink of an eye. If only I had thought to take a selfie in my evanescent prime, I could have propped up my eHarmony profile for a year or two but, as it is, my mugshot is only of interest to short-sighted divorcees aged 45-51 and I’m not quite that desperate yet.

Or am I? I did snag a date with a steatopygous hottie back in August, amazed that such a vision of 27-year-old loveliness could think it worth the effort of contacting me. I arranged to meet Megan for lunch on the verandah at the Trout, amongst the peacocks and the Chinese Morse groupies and there she was, a barely-recognisable wrinkly version of the photo over which I had salivated. 27? She looked 54. She may have been hot in 1990 but even 30 seconds in the microwave would not have been enough to warm her up now.

“So here I am once more,” she said as I brought the drinks and some teeth-jarring kettle crisps, “in the playground of the broken hearts …”

I almost dropped her white wine spritzer.

Marillion! Script for a Jester’s Tear!”

“Looks like we’ve got something in common,” she smiled. And so we had. We dissected ‘Grendel’, the 18-minute B-side of Marillion’s first single, a version of the Old English epic Beowulf from the monster’s point of view. In an unguarded moment, Megan admitted buying the original single and seeing Fish & co play as market square heroes in Aylesbury.

“So you’re not actually 27?” I mumbled, as if surprised.

“No. I’m 49. Is that a problem?”

I was beginning to feel that it wasn’t. Women my own age have rarely heard of Marillion, let alone the prog rock titans that dominate my own playlists. Megan’s knowledge of prog’s heyday in the early 70s was rather sketchy so I regaled her at length with tales of Egg playing Bach’s Fugue in D-minor as the warm-up for Black Sabbath and the uneasy mix of Lewis and Tolkien mythologies on Olias of Sunhillow. It was the best date I’d had all summer and I was beginning to warm to the idea of being Megan’s toyboy, if she’d have me.

“If Fish and Egg had ever teamed up,” I quipped, “they would have called themselves Kedgeree.”

We swapped piscatorial puns while the peacocks went for their siesta and the date drew to its natural conclusion.

“What if I got some tickets for the Greenslade tour?” I dared to suggest.

“A nice idea, but no, Alex.”

“No to Greenslade, or no to …”

“I’m sorry, Alex. You’re not quite what I was looking for.”

“But …”

The lines round her eyes cracked a little wider as she tried to break it to me gently.

“Don’t take it the wrong way,” she whispered at last. “But I guess I was looking for someone, well, a little more young at heart.”


It will not surprise you to hear that there is no romantic tryst for me tonight. Instead, Dad and I spend Friday evening trying to get interested in the England-Scotland game, despite the complete absence of any Black Cats on the pitch. But why should there be?  Sunderland are yet again bottom of the Premier League and in complete disarray. We reminisce on the Gus Poyet days when by some fluke we reached the League Cup Final and even won at Stamford Bridge. But Poyet was sacked and now the club is sinking almost as fast as I am.


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