Cool and Angry

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote:

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. Travel for travel’s sake. And to write about it afterwards, if only the public will be so condescending as to read.”

I’m no Stevenson, but it’s true that escaping from daily routines into unfamiliar territory does create writing opportunities. I mean, if I were to write repeatedly along the lines of, “Today I vacuumed upstairs, and then cleaned the loo” – well, I know what it would do to my readership figures. If, on the other hand, I told people about a tearaway Tenby pensioner on a souped up mobility scooter, or a man chasing a chihuahua in Chichester – well, people might want to read more.

My earliest recollection of travel, from the 50s and 60s, is family holidays in the West Country. We often stayed in a Tintagel B&B – dear old Mrs Hooper, she made lovely jam tarts. I remember as much about the seven-hour journeys on minor roads, five of us hot and bothered in an Austin A40, as I do about the places we went.

At 17, self-determined escapism took over as I became cool and angry. I no longer wanted to be at school, and grabbed every opportunity not to be. In the space of a year I went from something of a ‘golden boy’ destined for Oxbridge to a pupil who “constantly refused to be roused, led or driven”.

For me, but not many others, this was great. Instead of attending 8.45 register, which I likened to a prisoner of war roll call, I’d be on my way to the Dyke Road Café to enjoy much-deserved thick tea and a Wills Woodbine fag (unfiltered) which the be-slippered Gladys sold singly at a penny a time. My accomplice, Pete Blanch, and I could be cool and angry together, and only repair to school when we felt ready.

The teacher taking the register was Mr Pratt. Today that name would make him a sitting duck, but the word prat as a put-down was not as commonly used then as it is now. Instead, he was known as Nolly, a play on the alcoholic beverage called Noilly Prat. This was intellectual grammar school humour at its finest. Bring back grammar schools, I say, so that more of us can be intellectually humorous. Yes – follow the lead of ex-grammar school Theresa May. She’s a bundle of laughs.

“… cocktails have exotic names like Shag on the Beach …”

Noilly Prat was one of those drinks like Martini and Dubonnet in vogue at the time. Nowadays it’s shots or cocktails. Shots come in tiny glasses I’d happily buy as egg cups in my local kitchen shop. The suspiciously-coloured contents, with names like Raspberry Ripple or Choc Mint, presumably taste like medicine, going by the speed at which young people knock them back and their screwed-up faces afterwards.

Cocktails are much more sophisticated. They come with exotic names like Three Times a Night, A Good Shag and Shag on the Beach. Or at least that’s what I heard young people offering each other when I inadvertently stumbled into a music bar the last time I was in Torremolinos, believing from the giant neon sign THROB and the rhythmic pulse from within that’d I’d finally found the heart clinic I’d been reading about in a magazine on the flight over.

About the same time as the Tintagel trips I’d had my first drinking encounter. One Saturday night when my parents were ensconced in the living room with Grandma and Grandpa watching the Billy Cotton Band Show (“Wakey Wakey!” for the initiated) I conducted an experiment in the dining room next door, taking great swigs from each bottle in the sideboard to see what this drinking thing was all about. After all, they were always at it and seemed very happy in consequence.

I remember becoming very flu-like and unable to stand properly, and braved interrupting Billy Cotton to tell mum I felt poorly. She soon spotted the cause, and like any good mum helped me through a dreadful few hours.

Another favourite escape from the tedium of education was nearby Seven Dials, a busy roundabout with seven exits. To me this exuded life in a way that school didn’t. Where exactly was the Corona Drinks truck going? What number bus would arrive next, where would it stop and what was its destination?

One of the seven roads led to Brighton Railway Station, a place of great bustle and excitement where, with steam hanging on alongside electric trains, I’d once spent many an hour with my Ian Allan book of Southern Locomotives.

A second road led past the wonderful but now-defunct Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital, where I’d had a kidney operation as a young boy. My consultant, Mr Laust, was a household name for years, such had been my parents’ understandable concern for me at the time.

“Mr Laust – what a wonderful man. We owe him so much.”

This was true, though I suppose that ten years later, as a cool and angry young man, it didn’t cut quite the same ice rolled out time after time in front of visiting uncles and aunts.

Another road led to the intellectual school for girls, Brighton and Hove High School. Swapping my Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School scarf for Pauline Dove’s High School one was to prove one of many factors that in themselves didn’t amount to much but strung together made a watertight case for my expulsion – in the school’s eyes anyway.

“… Blanch never got caught, the little shit …”

Here’s the thing – Blanch never got caught. It was always me. Blanch boxed clever, sometimes registering with Nolly Pratt before joining me for a cuppa, and sometimes getting his amenable mum to phone him in sick before handing him the cash for a bus direct to the café. He wanted to tag along all right, and reap the kudos. And don’t get me wrong, he was okay as an accomplice. But apart from one memorable bike ride he never really initiated anything. And never got caught, the little shit.

Late one evening Blanch pointed at a dirty old motorbike and said:

“Look – it’s a Triumph Bonneville! Let’s ’ave it!”

After glancing round furtively, we hopped on and headed away from his dark and dead Rottingdean estate towards the bright lights. Whenever Blanch accelerated I hurtled backwards on pillion, trying to hang on to something, anything.  A cool and angry young man would never grasp the boy in front, and there was no frame to grab at the rear, so my poor legs were left to do all the gripping. We roared along the seafront road, and before reaching Brighton, reckoning that word of the bike’s disappearance might soon get round, parked it neatly kerbside in Marine Drive before sauntering into the town centre for a late coffee. That was the only time I’ve ridden pillion; somehow it held no further appeal.

The summer after I was given permanent school leave, Blanch and I hitch-hiked to Malmö in Sweden. Hitching was popular in those days, and relatively safe. I thumbed lifts for almost a decade, and apart from a cleric in West Germany whose conversation turned quickly to small boys, and a dapper old man in a Jag near Reigate who wasn’t entirely sure where to find the gear lever, I was never troubled. You’d see queues of young people at every roundabout and slip-road, and though there’d be long periods of waiting you’d eventually get to your destination. It might not be the place you first planned – but that’s the unpredictability of travelling!

“… philately wasn’t cool and angry … losing virginity was…”

Ostensibly Blanch and I were in pursuit of two Swedish birds we’d befriended at the Starlight Rooms, a pleasantly gloomy basement club in a charmingly grubby Brighton back street. Still looking to lose my virginity, the only thing I actually lost was my stamp collection, which I’d taken Ingrid’s dad as a present after she told me he was a keen collector. I suppose I thought if I took him the stamps then I could take Ingrid. A small price, since philately was not for the cool and angry, whereas losing virginity was. It was of course a matter of days before Ingrid and I lost touch, leaving me feeling a little foolish.

When Blanch and I started arguing I hitched home separately, never to see him again. Some time afterwards I heard he’d got heavily into drugs. Serves him right, the little shit. I suppose I should be grateful he helped point me to the school exit, but it would’ve been nice if just once it had been him, not me, being hauled into the headmaster’s office.

After three terms of misdemeanour, on a day when I’d not only been spotted hanging around the Seven Dials again but was wearing an alien scarf, I received my ultimate summons. On this occasion, instead of heading for the cane rack Mr Brogden simply said:

“Costello, I don’t want you here any more. Goodbye.”

Understandably, my parents weren’t impressed, although they’d no doubt been kept informed of my wrongdoings and had witnessed their own share of ‘cool and angry’ at home.

“Look at it this way,” I said. “I can now go to the Dyke Road Café or the Seven Dials all day, and no-one will mind.”

Which for some considerable time I’m sure I did.


Copyright © Paul Costello October 2016



Spraying Your Territory – a cautionary note for soccer fans

Why do sportsmen spit?

Or soccer players to be precise; because it does seem confined to that sport. You don’t see Kevin Pietersen letting go as he disputes an lbw decision, nor rugby players when the ref disallows a try. Bradley Wiggins didn’t flob his way round the Tour de France, and it’s not saliva being mopped up by large brooms as they change ends at badminton.

No, it’s only soccer players. But not all of them; let’s not implicate Bobby Charlton or Gary Lineker, David Beckham or Michael Owen, or the entire Brighton and Hove Albion team – I’ve never seen them gob. And make that male soccer players. I don’t recall Rachel Yankey or Laura Bassett executing a suck and thud on the Wembley pitch. It simply wouldn’t be ladylike.

What’s more, they only spit when they’ve done something wrong – like missing an open goal or handling the ball in their penalty area. They don’t do it after they’ve scored a fantastic goal, which is frankly a good thing, since with ten other spitters jumping on top of them like a frog orgy, the resulting spawn could mean playing the rest of the half glued together, posing problems with substitutions and sendings-off.

I’d like to think there was an innocent explanation for this gooey behaviour, like self-loathing because it was their gran’s birthday and, damn, they’d forgotten to send her a card. They’re a sensitive lot. But I suspect the message is, ‘Pah, I spit in the face of failure!’ – a brave gesture but one that only draws attention to them. Macho, but actually – pratcho. Because they’re not spitting at failure, they’re fearing it. Sportsmen of true quality rise above this showmanship and let their ability speak for itself. When things don’t go right they swallow their pride, and saliva. And to acknowledge success, an old-fashioned handshake or pat on the back will do nicely.

That’s not to say that sputum doesn’t have practical value. I’m thinking of the corner-flag slide. You need plenty of moisture to execute an attractive yet painless full frontal or double kneed ten foot slide after scoring your first goal in eighteen games. On a dry pitch, the ‘Look at me!’ slide would really hurt.

And I realise what coaches are up to on the touchline with computers and notepads. It’s a sophisticated game, is soccer. When the pitch flob stat reaches a certain level, they can switch from a diamond formation to, say clubs or hearts, or to a rhombus or equilateral triangle. If your full back is a slide-tackle specialist, he can use the extra moisture to his advantage, while on the other hand, wetting the corners of the pitch puts opposition wingers and overlapping fullbacks at a slippery disadvantage.

Sadly, it’s the quality players that have to tolerate the oral excreta of the flobbing ones. Which raises another important point. In an era when sportsmen are swiftly carted off to the ‘blood bin’ the moment a pimple bursts on their backside (because Health and Safety say so), what’s the situation with gob-spread diseases? No surprise that with all that lying spittle, many players choose safer forms of celebration when they score. A shirt pulled up over the face is a dryer bet, though it does pose the problem of not being able to dodge mates who are about to bury you on the sodden ground. Perhaps this tactic is best when you’ve missed a sitter in front of goal; at least the shirt hides your blushes, though best not to spit at the same time.

Circling the corner flag like Kanu, with dainty steps like you were firming down soil before laying a gravel path, is popular; or executing a Viennese Waltz round the pole – a trustworthy dance partner, good backwards bend, ideal for Strictly.

Peering into the camera like Rooney or Suarez, or tapping the lens in a pratcho kind of way happens a lot, some players also using it to check their hair is okay – and of course, making a photo shape with your hands to encourage the crowd to take a picture. Then there’s the tried and tested running the perimeter of the pitch, cupping a hand to one ear and pointing forcefully to the name on the back of your shirt, or proudly smacking the anti-wage limit logo on the front.

Some players leap over the advertising hoarding and hold out their arms like a Messiah, little realising they too will be crucified ten minutes later for trying to score from a narrow angle when tapping the ball to a team mate would have meant an easy  goal. I even saw a Juventus player slap his mate’s face in admiration after scoring. There really are no bounds. Inventiveness is the secret; make up anything you like, and call it trending. It comes natural to pratchoes.

And there’s a whole industry waiting out there. Whilst most working people settle for courses on, say First Aid or Manual Handling, soccer clubs could offer drama classes. Pratchoes could learn corner flag dancing or finger gesturing. The spitting brigade could take trajectory lessons, perfecting the angle of flight like in archery or shot-put, and with advanced technology the results could be played back in HD slo-mo for training those who haven’t quite got it right – the dribblers.

An entire team could be professionally choreographed for group charades after scoring – like digging, or baking a cake. The crowd may not know what the moves mean; for all they know it could be cleaning out a toilet or putting on socks, or watching a partial eclipse of the sun. It doesn’t matter; their team has scored! Join in, for heaven’s sake!

Yet it’s the crowd participation that’s most worrying. There are thirty thousand watching the pratchoes at work, and they all copy their heroes. It only takes one dodgy refereeing decision, or one player to remember his gran’s birthday, for thousands of tapioca globules to start flying round the stands. If the whole crowd released at the same time, the pureé on the smooth concrete floors – two hundred litres of spilt Bovril, half a ton of Pukka Pie droppings and thirty thousand phlegm balls – would be a Health and Safety nightmare. And if they all pulled shirts over their faces too, the surge of disorientated spectators down the slimy terracing doesn’t bear thinking about.

Fortunately this will never happen at the Amex Stadium.

Paul Costello © November 2012

Utterly Undiscovered – delightful Bed and Breakfast memoir.  Spring2013.  

Publisher: Fineleaf Editions.

ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2