There are 118 days between the 2015 Super League Grand Final and the start of the 2016 Super League season. That’s around 17 weeks. Almost as if they knew that 17 consecutive weekends without rugby league was a prospect that I could not countenance, the powers that be organised a three-test international series between England and New Zealand to take place in November. Just to tide us leagueaholics over that little bit. We’re still going to have to cope for 14 weekends without our game, but every little helps.
To this end, Emma and I decided to attend the second of these three tests at London’s Olympic Stadium. Or the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Stadium to give it its regal, full title. The first test was in Hull and although I have nothing against Hull, London seemed like a more suitable place to be able to spend a few days while taking in the game somewhere along the line. We did attend an international game in Hull once, but only stayed the one night. My abiding memory of that night is of two lads coming in to the pub looking all cool and gangster (gangsta?), not saying a word even to each other, until a Black Eyed Peas track came on and caused them to lose their minds and their credibility as they started busting the sort of moves that would make Fergie blush. So we didn’t go to Hull this time….
The game took place on the Saturday so we drove down there on the Thursday morning. We had chosen to stay in Greenwich, which is close to Stratford which houses the Olympic Park, but which is also home to an accessible part of the erratic London Underground system. That would allow us to get around to a few other parts of the city and take in some other sites. After all, even a leagueaholic doesn’t drive 220 miles just to get to the game. If it was just about the game there would be a coach involved, and an open bottle of whiskey at 5.45 in the morning. But those days are very probably behind me now, so the whiskey money went on the Ibis Hotel in Greenwich.
The journey south was perfectly Hellish. We left at around 10.45am and did not arrive in Greenwich until around 4.30pm. We did not stop, except when the volume of traffic dictated it which was often. But more than that, the principal reason for a 3 and a half hour journey managing to last well over five hours was the berserk antics of the satnav in the new car. We’ve had that car for about six weeks and it has already caused us problems. Well, I caused a problem with it when I tried to get through a space not big enough for a child’s tricycle in the university car park the other week, but the car has also had its moments. It steadfastly refuses to play anything on my MP3 player which was downloaded on a Tuesday, for example. I remember one Monday after buying my new MP3 player painstakingly loading all of my favourite music on to my equally erratic laptop and MP3 player and then driving to work on the Tuesday with the pleasure of an alternative to bloody Joel and Lorna on Heart North West. I then downloaded some more on the Tuesday evening and every single one of those tracks still refuses to play. They don’t even register. It’s like they’re not there. Except they are because when I use the MP3 player outside of the car they all play perfectly well. Now either the car has decided that it doesn’t like my taste in music, or the people at Ford have seen me coming and it is in fact a heap of shit. I suspect the latter but considering I only paid £95 for it I don’t think I can complain too much. Alright it is not quite £95 because they take the £200+ mobility allowance I receive to cover the rest of it but given that I also get free insurance and am exempt from road tax I am still getting a brand new car for only just north of about £7000. It probably thinks it is entitled to have a shit music system.
Anyway, back to the satnav. Naively, we had muted the voice instructions. We had done this because it rudely turns the radio down when it wants to tell you something. You don’t do that, do you? If you want to speak to someone in a car you don’t turn the radio down, do you? You shout above the music. The satnav is not for shouting so we took it to the other extreme and muted it. Which was a mistake in hindsight because what we didn’t know is that every time the visual instructions guided us away from the motorway on to some deserted outpost of an A-road, it was only doing so to try to avoid heavy traffic. At one point, we were stopped dead on the M6 and noticed that all of the traffic on the slip road for the A14 was moving reasonably well. The satnav was flashing up all sorts of visual prompts to get off the motorway and take the A14. Which we did, at which point the traffic on the A14 stopped dead and the queue on the M6 that we had just left magically disappeared. You couldn’t make this shit up. It reminded me of the bank robbery scene in the last episode of The Young Ones, when they get stuck in the queue behind the man from the penny arcade across the road who has just turned up to have all his pennies changed into banknotes.
I’m not one for worrying about immigration. I don’t care how many foreign people live here as long as they’re making a contribution like everyone else. There are huge swathes of English people living here who aren’t making a contribution in any case, so for me it is not an issue. But still, it would have been somehow comforting if even one of the staff at the Ibis Hotel in Greenwich had English as their first language. It’s amazing how long it can take to check in to a hotel when there is a language barrier between you and the staff. It didn’t help that we couldn’t remember the registration number of the car and Emma had to go back outside to get it. That bloody car, again. When we got to the room we had to phone down to reception to report the complete absence of an accessible shower, which they responded to by bringing a chair to our room. A chair with holes in probably designed for use in the shower, but a portable chair nonetheless. I had this terribly antiquated idea that an accessible shower should have a seat bolted to the wall. With a bath also conspicuous by its absence, it would have to do.
The plan for Thursday evening was to pay a visit to Hard Rock Cafe. At the risk of again veering dangerously off topic I have to give you a little bit of background to that. Otherwise you will rightly wonder who in their right mind would choose to go to Hard Rock Cafe in London for an evening out? You need to have a second mortgage just to get through the door. But we had vouchers as a result of an unfortunate incident in New York last summer. You can go and check out that full story elsewhere on these pages I’m sure, but I would prefer you to stay here so I will summarise it thus. We went in there looking to just having a drink only to find that the only accessible low seating was reserved for people who were dining. No food, no seat. Emma, who is the person in charge of written complaints to charlatan corporate giants, wrote a long and dissatisfied email about this, the net result of which was the acquisition of $50 worth of vouchers for any Hard Rock Cafe we wished to frequent. That we have left it this long to use them is mostly down to the fact that there aren’t many Hard Rock Cafes knocking about the north west of England, and we are not in London very often. So it just seemed like an opportune moment to score a free meal, even if we ran the very real risk of racking up a gargantuan drinks bill.
We needn’t have worried about that. After the short stroll down from the hotel to the Cutty Sark DLR (Docklands Light Railway) station we were informed rather rudely that we would not be gaining access to it that night. There was a note on one door asking customers to use the door opposite, and just as we were about to do so a voice from behind us just bellowed out ‘NO LIFT!’. We turned to see a burly man in a high viz jacket who just repeated this two word utterance as if it were the only morsel of English he knew. That would have been no surprise given the language issues at the hotel, but it turned out he was just being incredibly rude. We know this because we asked him for directions to an alternative station at Greenwich and his English was impeccable. He told us that the station at Greenwich was 10 or 15 minutes away, which didn’t seem like a big deal except that it was raining pretty hard. After a long hard slog of a journey it was all too tempting to sneak into the Wetherspoons just next door to the Cutty Sark DLR station.
“Shall we just go in here and get lashed?” I said. So we did.
It was busy downstairs so we took the lift upstairs and found a seat. The girl working behind the bar looked remarkably like a girl I used to work with only younger. Maybe she has a younger sister working in the Clock Gate, Greenwich’s branch of Wetherspoons. Stranger things have happened. Or maybe she just looked a bit like her and it was a perfectly reasonable coincidence. You get free Wi-Fi in Wetherspoons so I remember feeling uplifted to see the news that Sam Burgess had returned to rugby league from the dark forces of Toryball. Other leagueacholics are terribly worried that he has not made an impression in that game and that he will be deemed a failure by them at their poxy cocktail gatherings. I personally couldn’t give a flying fuck. He took their money so he should be prepared to cop the consequences. In any case, he is back in the only game that matters now, the game that he says is in his heart, which is a triumph for our sport and a poke in the eye of the public school pig-porkers who enjoy line-outs and contested scrums.
Then I had a phone failure that will no doubt come back to haunt me at some point. I texted a friend of mine to see if she was alright after having some surgery a day or two before. She replied that she was and so I just told her to take it easy, but tried to add some vomworthy smiley face emoticon with it. I meant well, but on my sent items the smiley face was a little green man. He looked quite ill as it happens. This may seem insignificant but where I work it will no doubt be used as a stick with which to beat me at some point in the future. Which is why it is better that you all find out about it here, before it becomes the most twisted and contorted Chinese whisper of a story in the history of modern civilisation. I don’t even know how that happens. That’ll teach me to use emoticons. They’re just not for men, are they?
The rest of the night was an astonishing blur, but then that is what seven or eight Budweisers will do for you. I can remember how angry Emma got when she realised that she had left a bag of Boost Bites in the car. I’ve never seen her so angry over chocolate. She’d had quite a bit to drink to be fair and I am myself hardly averse to getting a little tetchy over trivial matters when my blood turns to alcohol. But still it was surprising, but mercifully short as sleep took over us both ahead of what was going to be a busy Friday in The Smoke.