Emma's niece Elizabeth celebrates her first birthday this week. It's a doubly special week in her young life as this was also the weekend of her christening.
Now my religious views (or lack thereof) have been made abundantly clear elsewhere on these pages so I'm not going to bore you with them now. Suffice it to say that my feelings on this have only been enhanced and strengthened by the steaming turdiness of how I have been feeling since the early part of last week. Yet family is family and so it was one's duty to drag oneself off the metaphorical canvas and go down to Bristol for a few days and bloody well enjoy it! Even the churchy bit.
Surprisingly I did. Well maybe not so much the churchy bit. To my mind the female vicar ranted on for far too long about things which seemed to me to have little to do with Elizabeth's christening. In parts she was like a humourless version of Dawn French's Geraldine Grainger from The Vicar of Dibley. As Godmother Emma had had to get to the church early and so by the time we left, it was all I could do not to rip my eyeballs out. Of paticular irritation to me was the lady who came around at the end with a small velvet bag in which, so I am led to believe, we were expected to drop any spare change. Actual hard-earned English currency. To the church. To a God that, if he does exist, is ritually torturing me. I'm sorry, I said I wouldn't witter on about the church but I really do feel THAT bad right now.
So back to the good stuff then. We arrived Friday afternoon following an uneventful journey save for the two or so hours that I refused to speak to Emma because she wouldn't let me play my Joss Stone album in the car. I'm not sure if she actually noticed that I wasn't speaking to her, you would have to ask her. Anyway, the point is that it takes 40 minutes to listen to that album and 40 minutes is not a large sacrifice if it's going to make me feel better. Sadly I am in too much of a savagely desperate state of mind to believe that arguing points like this does any good. So I left it, and we listened to Journey or whatever it was instead. And my blood boiled and my head ached. Over an album. I'm really not all that well. Did I say this was the good stuff?
It's not, but I promise there is some. We met up with Emma's parents Roland and Susan for a few drinks on Friday night. We went to a Wetherspoons known as The Commerical Rooms in which every seat was taken, and which had taken about 20 minutes to get to thanks to some interesting navigation on Roland's part. When we did find a table and settle down with our drinks it was all very agreeable and nice, even the bit where I announced to everyone that I was going to quit drinking next week because it's killing me. With simply perfect timing, it was in the midst of this conversation (nobody thought it a bad idea, by the way) that a man dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel came over and offered us free glasses of sparkiing white wine. Even in the last throes of my life as a stupid, retarded heavy drinker I can not bring myself to consume white wine, but I took a glass anyway safe in the knowledge that one of my companions would find it a good home. I was not wrong. Amusingly, Isambard offered me a glass but then had to go back to the bar to fetch another one as the only one remaining on his tray was his. Drinking on the job Isambard? Brunel achieved many great things in his lifetime, so maybe alcohol doesn't ruin everything for everyone. But I'm still quitting, so fuck you.
We moved on to the Harbour and took in a couple of bars overlooking the River Avon. This was a place we hadn't managed to reach on any of our previous visits to Bristol to see Elizabeth and the family but I'm glad we did on this occasion. It's very picturesque and the bars we went in were populated and atmospheric without ever taking on the heaving horror of say.......that one bar that used to sit at the end of Wembley Way.......on Challenge Cup Final day when the only other place you could get a beer was Tesco. We talked about all the usual things, the fortunes of Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham United being particularly prominent, aswell as plans for the following night and how we were all looking forward to everyone getting together. We moved on to Las Iguanas where I wolfed down some extremely spicy chicken wings and then sat back and felt the burn. Well, it was better than some of the other things I'd been feeling that's for sure.
Saturday morning we pursued our dogged interest in experiencing as many city bus tours as one lifetime will allow. After a quick bacon buttie for breakfast we enjoyed a small victory when we found the bus to be accessible and more or less on time. Our driver was Bob, and he almost drove past us, lamely explaining that he couldn't get the bus near to the kerb because there were too many other buses in the area. It transpires that they have moved the bus stops and Bob thinks it's a nightmare. Either Bob is fond of overstatement, or he really does have a wonderful life in which the inability to park a bus by a kerb can be considered nightmarish. His beautiful assistant was Pam, the tour guide who took us through the points of interest or otherwise on our journey through Bristol and in partiucular, Clifton. We enjoyed several views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge without ever actually using it, while Pam regaled us with stories of the city's great history and introduced us to it's fantastical architecture. Unfortunately time was short as we had agreed to meet Roland and Susan, and Emma's brother Andrew in time to see Liverpool play Manchester United.
We did so in a harbourside bar but the view was, shall we say, restricted. There were only two small screens, one of which was partly obstructed by a pillar in the style of a traditionally old-fashioned football stadium. Our seat was also some distance from the screens, so concentration on the match was difficult. What's more, the others left at half-time, instructing us to meet them at somewhere called the V-Shed, further up the Harbour at 7.00. We just about managed to stay until the end of the 1-1 draw, then sneaked in a cheeky kip before re-emerging at the agreed meeting point.
Everyone else was late, naturally, but soon enough friends and relatives started to arrive. Emma's uncle Chris is a particularly engaging fellow, and I managed to take my mind off my melancholy as we moved on to Bella Italia and what can only be described as a 'shit-load' of red wine. Chris is a straight-talking sort of guy, the kind of character with which Yorkshiremen are routinely saddled. But in his case it is true. He was telling it like it is the whole night and I couldn't help but enjoy his forthrightness and no-bullshit approach. We ended up having a drunken, decidely low-brow debate about the wonder and majesty of the Grand Canyon which we had both been lucky enough to experience recently. Chris's daughter Louise is getting married next September and Emma said something to me later about her asking if I would sing at the wedding. I couldn't tell whether Emma was joking or not, or whether Louise had been joking. It was all very confusing, but either way I'm quite sure nobody wants Uncle Kracker turning up on their big day. Besides, it's 11 months away and I can't guarantee my safety for the next 11 minutes, frankly.
After Sunday's elongated ceremony I spent more time righting the wrongs of the world with my friend Chris, and also trying to explain to Emma's sports-mad uncle Ray how Saints managed to lose last week's Grand Final. It really wasn't something I wanted to relive but I battled on gamely, offering excuses about a young team in need of more experience, and how they managed to have the misfortune to run into a rejuvenated Rob Burrow. That might not mean much to some of you but Ray understood every word. He's a very quiet, nice fellow but if there is one thing that can enthuse him it is sport and anything related to it. He's a regular at Rotherham United, which makes me feel somewhat ashamed of whinging about my suffering with St.Helens and anyway I can assure you that things have got much worse since then. So I'll stop. We lost, that's it.
And so the last word on the weekend should go to the star of the show, Elizabeth. Blissfully unaware of the reason for all of this fuss she spent Sunday afternoon entertaining the crowd doing 'Things That Babies Do'. Crawling around towards places she probably shouldn't go with a total lack of regard for any possible danger. Climbing up on the first thing available to show everyone how close she is to standing and walking on her own. Pulling funny faces, staring at stupid adults who have no idea what to say to a child. You know the sort of thing, all done looking resplendent in red.
Happy Birthday Elizabeth.