Ha ha. Gotcha. Dickhead.
Right, first of all let’s clear something up. It has been suggested by my two and a half readers that the reason my car won’t play my MP3 player is because of my taste in music. It was also suggested that I own an album by the long-forgotten teen screecher JoJo. I don’t even know if JoJo has an album for me to own. I own a single by JoJo, and I own it because the person accusing me of owning the album bought it for me. By the same rationale, he owns a single by David Hassellhoff. I suspect that this person is the only person who, before yesterday, remembered that JoJo ever existed.
As for my poor taste in music well…..I would describe it as different. You lot stick to your Ben Haenow singles and your Arctic Monkeys dirges about smoking on street corners in Sheffield, I’ll stick to my contemporary but perfectly authentic soul. Though I would add that Joss Stone should probably not do another reggae album. She is to reggae what I am to ice hockey.
You’ll be pleased to know since you are not even reading any more that I am going to spare you most of Friday in London. We went to the Museum Of London which is somewhere close to St Paul’s Cathedral. We had to get there by bus due to the small problem with the DLR at Cutty Sark. It turned out that their lift isn’t just out of order, but that the whole thing is being renovated if not replaced. It will be closed for some time, then. That’s access in your capital city at its finest, right there. Before we headed out I had to go back to the car to retrieve Emma’s make-up bag which she had left there when we arrived the previous night. As I came back into the hotel lobby I was accosted by an unshaven man who moved his wheelchair towards me, pointed at mine and repeated ‘buenos, buenos’. He then said something else in Spanish before reverting to ‘buenos, buenos’. I think that meant he liked my chair, which was not surprising since he was sat in the most unsightly rust bucket imaginable. We might complain about wheelchair services in this country but on this evidence we are some way ahead of the Spanish equivalent.
When I say we had to get a bus I mean we had to get two buses. The first of these, the 188, left handily from a stop just around the corner from the Wetherspoons at which we had by now taken up residency. Or at least the staff probably thought we had since we were back for breakfast that morning only a few hours after staggering out of there half cut. It was again bitching down with rain in Greenwich and we spent a sodden few minutes waiting while the bus driver pleaded with his customers to ‘make room for the wheelchair’. This doesn’t happen on the 10A. On the 10A most drivers just let you on and let you worry about the fact that you have got 26 toddlers under your armpit and their mothers’ arses in your face. If that sounds appealing you have never been to Thatto Heath. Strictly speaking people are obliged to ‘make room for the wheelchair’ in any case, which they did but which as we all know is one of the many and varied reasons why young women with children hate the disabled. The other reasons can almost certainly be attributed to the poor behaviour of me and my friends. We are representative of the disabled population after all, especially since nobody seems to be able to tell any of us apart.
The first bus journey was long and arduous and took in such sights as Bermondsey, although it did also offer stunning views of the Houses Of Parliament and the London Eye. When we arrived we met up with Emma’s mum for a trip round the museum. Before we did that I had the worst cup of tea it has ever been my displeasure to consume in the museum cafe, which takes some doing as I have had tea in Los Angeles. I have no idea how a London museum gets tea wrong, but if I were to spend any time trying to decipher this conundrum this piece would run well past 5,000 words and your attention span hasn’t even got you this far. Your idea of literature is the album notes on your Metallica CD so let’s crack on, shall we?
The museum was brilliantly informative and entertaining but it would be entirely lost on you so we’ll gloss over it. I read everything but never remember any of it anyway. It’s free, though, which might interest you. Afterwards we headed to a nearby pub called The Lord Raglan and waited there for Emma’s dad to finish work. The plan was to move on to the Red Lion in Westminster but we decided against it. It was Friday afternoon just after work had finished for the weekend and the pubs were bound to be packed. We had a table here, and there was a disabled toilet. Albeit a disabled toilet that was currently blocked by people sitting at a table next to it, but a disabled toilet nonetheless. They would just have to move. The people in the Lord Raglan were all very well dressed, the kind of people who wear suits for work, but some of their barnets were a little less grand. One man had a hairstyle that could eventually see him face legal action from Paul Calf and he was not untypical. Despite this minor distraction a good night was had by all as we ate, drank and speculated on the promotion prospects of Sheffield Wednesday.
Saturday was what this whole visit was all about. Game day. The second test between England and New Zealand, with England 1-0 up in the series having won the first game 26-12 at Hull last week. Kick-off was 2.30pm, which just left us time to spend those Hard Rock Cafe vouchers that we never got to spend on Thursday night. We took the tube from Greenwich to Green Park, and walked (pushed?) down the side of the park behind which you will find Buckingham Palace, passing Park Lane Hotel on our way. It was like Monopoly but wetter, and without a top hat or a dog. Happily we were the first people to get in to Hard Rock Cafe that lunchtime, so there would be none of the problems we experienced in New York. We were seated and introduced to our ‘server’ Joanna (pronounced Yo-anna) who brought us excellent but massively over-priced burgers. The $50 (about £32) vouchers did not cover the cost of two burgers with fries and two large soft drinks. It still left us with around £1.30 to pay ourselves, plus a few quid extra for a tip for Yo-anna. She’d had the temerity to work out for us what an acceptable tip might be, just like they do in America, and whacked it on the bill as if it were part of the actual price. She came up 59p short of what she thought was acceptable, but I feel no shame over the matter. They were excellent burgers, however.
Fulfilling its duty as an access guide Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard is bound to report that getting to the disabled toilet was a challenge, as it had been at the Lord Raglan. This is because it is tucked away in a corner of the small dining area, and with a family of 72 seated at the table opposite by the time I needed to use the facilities, it was necessary to disturb them and others so I could get through to them. It would seem sensible if they are going to have the thing right in the corner of the room to seat disabled customers on the table nearest to it. None of us really thought it through, to be honest. But you will if you go there now. Possibly.
Next it was back on the tube at Green Park to head for Stratford and the Olympic Stadium. That journey takes about 40 minutes before the long walk from the tube station to the stadium itself. It’s all very well signposted and with 45,000 others heading in the same direction you are unlikely to get lost on the way, but I’m sceptical of Google’s claim that it is only 0.4 miles from the station to the stadium. You have to work your way through an entire shopping centre first, very reminiscent of Liverpool One in the way it is laid out, with parts of it outdoors and so offering little protection from the damp conditions. We had to ask for directions at one point after getting out of a lift, and were told to go ‘up Jamie’s passage’.
‘Wouldn’t want to be Jamie.’ I said, to the haunting sound of tumbleweed floating across the concrete.
When the stadium comes into view you are still some way from it. I think maybe they are trying to recreate the anticipation that you used to feel when going up Wembley Way towards the twin towers. It doesn’t have the same effect for me since the towers were replaced by that unsightly arch, and it doesn’t quite work here either somehow. Perhaps it was the wind and the rain, but all I felt on approaching the stadium was the need to get to a bar and to my seat. It helped that we were in Block H, which was fairly central to where we had approached from. The first thing you see as you enter the stadium is people selling beer out of cooler bags. There’s also a small kiosk selling beer (and food) just by the entrance so it couldn’t really be any easier. It could be cheaper, however. One man with a heavy Yorkshire accent began bellowing his disapproval at being charged £4.90 for a bottle of Heineken, and while it is hard to disagree with him that this is some kind of grand larceny, you have to wonder how much expected to pay at an Olympic Stadium in London. His observation that he could get a full crate for that price at ASDA rather ignored the fact that he could not witness an international rugby league test match at ASDA. They’re not even doing Black Friday for fuck’s sake.
Beer bought, we found our way to our seats after conferring with a couple of quite useless stewards on the matter. It turns out that our seats were at that point being used as a standing area for some suspiciously non-disabled fans. The stewards eventually twigged this and turfed them out, allowing us to get a first taste of our view. I have to say it was fairly spectacular. If you’re quibbling you would say it was slightly too far towards the corner but you are far enough away and high enough to be able to see the whole field at all times. And this stadium, it has something about it, an aura that I wasn’t expecting to find. So many of today’s new stadia are soulless places but here you really get a sense of great things having taken place just yards from where you are. Like Jess Ennis’ Olympic heptathlon triumph in 2012 which happened here on the same day, the so-called Super Saturday, that Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford also won golds in the 10,000 metres and long jump respectively. The sound system is utter garbage, however, as we found out when the Queens Guards tried to ‘entertain’ us with their rendition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. That’s a trivial matter, comparatively speaking, but when their attempts to play ‘The Last Post’ in respect of those who fought and died in world wars are an equally muffled mess you start to realise just how important a decent sound system is within a stadium.
Much has already been said of the game, which was one of the dullest spectacles perhaps in the history of test match rugby league. No wonder the usual piss-hats tried to start a Mexican wave at one point during the second half. Neither side were willing to play any open rugby league it seemed, and in selecting John Bateman at left centre England coach Steve McNamara blundered pretty badly. Ryan Hall isn’t my favourite player, but even he can be absolved of any blame for his ineffectiveness playing outside of Wigan’s third choice centre. How does Wigan’s third choice centre get selected ahead of the first choice centres of any other Super League club? It’s baffling and if it does not change on Saturday when the teams meet at Wigan we are likely to get the same result as we had here, which was a thoroughly underwhelming 9-2 win for New Zealand.
There was only one try in the game, a tally which would embarrass rugby union, as both teams stuck it up the jumper and slugged it out in the wet conditions. There was some excellent defence on display from both sides but anyone viewing our sport for the first time would not have left the ground with the impression that rugby league is an exciting, enthralling sport full of thrills and spills. They might have actually left thinking that it is not too different from rugby union, in fact. The game turned on the disallowing of a James Graham ‘try’ by the video referees (both of whom have been stood down for this week’s series decider). The former Saints prop managed somehow to avoid getting downward pressure on a loose ball behind the Kiwi try line, clamping it instead with his not inconsiderable torso. This was not considered to be controlled downward pressure by the officials in the booth (probably correctly), and the game was gone.
With Cafe Football and others full to bursting point on the way back through the shopping centre we settled for a post-match brew at the cafe at Marks & Spencers. By the lift, a random girl questioned me about why I was no longer involved in disability sport because a friend of hers was involved in fencing and I was not too old and blah blah blah. Believe me love, if I’m old enough to breathe heavily after a gentle push up towards the Olympic Stadium, then I’m too old to get back on a basketball court. We rounded the night off by taking in the Red Lion at Westminster where we had met Sky Sports’ Stevo last year. He wasn’t there this night, but we did meet another Michael, one from Manchester who talked and talked and talked, about how his wife didn’t want to move down here but now she is here she won’t leave and how he supports United but everyone else in his family supports City. With a lack of facilities here we took the decision to get the tube back to Greenwich to a pub near the hotel. The Mitre was too packed which was a shame as there was some decent live music on (not Arctic Monkeys or Metallica) so we ended up where it had all began, the Gate Clock Wetherspoons.
They don’t play any music in there.