Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Saturday  5th February 2011

A woman of medium height, my friend Madame Charvet wore grey hair in a bun above a narrow mouth and always had on a tobacco-coloured headscarf and (except when there were evenings demanding her presence as a cloakroom attendant at the old Hacienda) a black pinafore with bright blue flowers. She watched over the cleanliness of her building and the patch of tarmac in front with as much care as Carlos Tevez preparing himself to take a penalty kick in the middle of a tempestuous downpour.

She had married a delivery man working for the Menton Wine Company, who used to travel around the Place d'Etoile on his sky blue tricycle, his cap slanted jauntily over his brow, a Gitanes stuck out the side of his narrow mouth and who was sometimes to be seen - at the tail end of the day - swapping his beige leather jerkin for a Manchester City top, always worn under a quilted jacket left to him by Capitaine Dreyfus of the Vendome Brigades. He would years later -when they had swapped the primroses of the Jardins des Tuileries for the red brick toilet facilities at the Heaton Social Club - parade around Piccadilly Gardens crunching on a pear or a tomato, reciting the bits he could remember of Raymond Queneau and Simone de Beauvoire, whilst Madame Charvet stayed at home knitting him ever-longer blue and white scarves to take to the match.

The big ornate mirror in the entrance hall revealed robust good health in the pair of them. This was to be a good day. The streets were thick with people, all walking hither and thither, hats askew, streaks of tomato and mustard on their chins. "Ahoy!" shouted Signor Barterelli, from behind a small kiosk. "Is today to be another Day of Three Sergeants Syndrome?". We ate avidly of pots of fresh redcurrants, cold fresh cream, soda bread with goat's cheese and a robust Bulgarian wine, squeezed lemons over each other for luck and entered the shrine by way of a curling staircase.

The thin boys from Bromwich, smaller and less comely in their obscure blue-black stripes, were no match for our unarmed men. No need for a knife, fork, spoon for this facile feast as Carlos dispatched a ball to the right and a ball to the left, one to the post and yet another one for the slathering crowing crowd. I wished to throw him a beautiful wide-brimmed sombrero and a cloak, but he was too quickly away, light in his treading of the sodden turf, the scampering prince Silva by his side.

Someone made a joke about a party out west, a May celebration, some anniversary, cock robin and his troop, whilst others claimed to be holding tickets to the only party in town, a farewell to Monsieur Young. A celebration of a band of brothers for one of their own. Even amongst tribes, there are those who behave with aplomb and dignity, others who provoke blushes.

Afterwards, soaked by the rain and exhausted by the excitement we stood and watched a pack of acrobats, no bigger than racoons, performing somersaults around a round-faced dwarf wearing crinoline and a banana-motif on his trilby. He flipped his hat and produced a tiny radio set. A voice was shouting from within "United have fallen, United have fallen" in shrill falcetto. Someone at the back, with a voice like a cement mixer, shouted "And The Arsenal lost a four goal lead!" It had been a beautiful day.

A ball for your birthday

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