I do not often re-read books. I almost never do so. There are so many books I haven’t read that employing any time in re-reading those I already know seem criminal, especially when my knowledge still lacks some of the building blocks of literature (War and Peace for one, but also In Cold Blood). In those occurrences when new books are practically coming out of my ears, as is the case this week, with six all jostling for space on my bedside table and time in my schedule, I go back to a few of pages that make laugh. And the more pressed I am, the more I want to laugh. Last year I typed up an extract from A Cat Called Birmingham. Last night I picked it up again to re-read what is probably the most hilarious passage I have ever read. This is from the chapter very aptly titled ‘Incompetence’, where the author compares his friend Andy to his clumsy cat Brum. Best enjoyed read out loud. Try it.
If there could ever be a parallel of Brum in the human world, it is quite definitely you, Andrew Bond.
We’d all gone down to the coast to watch the early afternoon England opener against Tunisia in a huge football orientated pub. There were flags and large screens everywhere, and incredibly tight security. We’d all been damn near strip-searched on the way in and warned in no uncertain terms, by the huge and unsmiling doorman, of the consequences of swearing, aggressive behaviour, breathing and most especially narcotic abuse. He seemed pretty angry even when mentioning the word ‘narcotic’, as if he’s had enough problems with that issue already and he would take not one more bit of it.
I don’t know what the matter with Andy was that day, but he was slurring after one drink. As the queues at the bar were massive, it suddenly occurred to Andy that the big four-pint jugs that sports bar often do (so you can get a whole game’s worth in at once) would be a better idea than keep struggling to the bar. Leaning over a low balcony beside out seats, he attracted the door-monster’s attention by tapping him on the top of his shaven head.
The monster jumped, slightly startled, and did not look at all amused. I thought he was going to clump Andy one there and then, but instead he stared morosely and waited to hear what he had to say.
Andy, very pleasantly, asked him if they did jugs in the pub. Only he didn’t say that at all. We all heard his slurry voice mispronounce the crucial word. Consequently he asked the already rattled bouncer, ‘Do you do drugs in this pub mate?’
The monster blinked, unsure he could have heard correctly. So did we. Unaware of a problem, Andy continued, ‘Only what with the queues, I thought it would be easier if I got some drugs... It’d save keep going to the bar.’
I’d never seen anybody lifted by the throat and dragged over a balcony before. The monster took quite a bit of calming down, but eventually he put Andy down and we watched the game.
Unbelievably, a few minutes before half time, Andy, who was now barely coherent and with a pint sloshing in his hand, lent over and tapped the doorman on the head again, wanting to know where the gents were.
As the doorman looked up, he was greeted by a face full of lager from somebody appearing to call him a ‘toilet’. Protests of innocence no longer withstanding, we very quickly found ourselves outside on the pavement and looking for another pub. By the time we found one that wasn’t heaving full, England had won 2-0 and another game had started, Colombia vs. Romania. Both teams normally play in yellow, so Romania were in a second kit. The following exchange of words is worth noting simply to demonstrate exactly how drunk Andy was by this time:
Andy: Wash game ish thish?
Barman: Romania and Colombia.
Andy: Ish thish?
Barman: Yeah, still 0-0 at the moment.
Andy: (squinting at the the TV screen) I had no idea thersh wash so many black people in Romania.
Barman: er... no, no mate. That’s Colombia in the yellow.
Andy: Oh, sorry yesh. When are the Romanians playing then?
And so on. He wisely stopped drinking at this point, but the rot had set in, and the sequence of events as we left the pub ensured that the story of his day would be told whenever his friends gathered, from that day forward and forever.
A huge group of girls in England warpaint and shirts was on the opposite side of the read as we exited the pub door. Andy, still half drunk and beer-bold, shouted some inane greeting to them and was cheered for his efforts. Raising a hand in the air and heading towards them, he failed to appreciated that he was at the top of a flight of concrete steps.
He stepped into thin air and tumbled rapidly downwards, stylishly completing a double somersault before landing heavily on his back on the pavement.
His new friends howled with laughter as he clambered back to his feet, making light of it all, laughing and joking, somehow believing that he was still in with a chance. He staggered across the pavement towards the road, limping and clearly in great discomfort.
Stepping off the high curb, he promptly yelled in pain as his ankle buckled beneath him and he fell into the gutter. The girls opposite were helpless with laughter. A small crowd has now gathered to see what all the fuss was about.
Now deeply embarrassed, Andy was still trying to make a joke of it all as he staggered up and walked straight in front of a taxi in the middle of the road. The taxi mercifully dealt him a heavy blow, and we desperately hoped that this would deter him from pressing further forward but, spinning on his feet, he amazingly still attempted to make it to the opposite side of the road.
It was like an heroic charge in a war movie, a fatally wounded Steve McQueen stumbling on towards the enemy bunker, bullet after bullet finding its mark but failing to stop him. I’m quite sure a few bullets wouldn’t have stopped Andy either. He’d have sunk to his knees in a pool of blood in front of the first girl he reached, and with his dying breath asked her if she came to this stretch of pavement often and fancied showing him the local nightlife or something.
But it wasn’t to be. Andy’s charge, as it has come to be known, was humiliatingly halted by an enraged taxi driver screaming abuse at him and many people rushing up to see if he needed an ambulance. With all this going on over his shoulder, he still attempted to chat to the now rapidly retreating girls.
I have often read that doomed charges like those of the Light Brigade and by the Confederate Army at Gettysburg are amongst the most tragically moving and stunningly beautiful sights that it is possible to see.
I now know that to be true.