Extract from the Memoirs of Johnny Crockett aged 87 ¾

 

As I look out over my, admittedly modest, smallholding of land in a small corner of south-west France, I say to my wife sat beside me, ‘go and gather the grandchildren. It’s time I told them about the best day of my life.’ She gets up, mutters something under the her breath, (‘I love you and I’ll never tire of this story’ perhaps) and wearily trudges off. In this rare moment of peace, I allow my mind to drift back to a time when the hue was always golden, the anecdotes were never worth it and the bagels were fresh, lightly toasted, smothered in cream cheese and topped with smoked salmon, a squeeze of lemon, a twist of black pepper and light sprinkling of dill.

 

‘Do we have to do this again?’

‘Indulge him, he’s old, he’ll probably die soon’

 

I am aroused from my daze by the excited murmurs of my family as they eagerly assemble to hear this tale.

 

‘Gather round, gather round. Now some of you may be surprised to hear this but I wasn’t always a clumsy, frail, gangly, old man. I was once a clumsy, frail, gangly, young man and I used to play rugby with some other young men and Ben Chamberlain. They were my friends. They were my brothers. And on one glorious afternoon on a field in Hertfordshire we forged a bond that would last a lifetime. A bond built on some ill-judged sentimentalism on my part and the merciless abuse I continue to receive for it to this day.

 

‘For thirty minutes we put our bodies, and specifically our throats, on the line to thwart the attacks of Datchworth before a polite, well-mannered and well brought-up Scottish chap by the name of Dunlop bundled his way into and then under the posts for the opening score. This was quickly followed by a try by the finest team-mate I ever had, Mr A. Maul. Old ‘Mauly’ never let the lads down. And he’d always buy a jug at the very first time of asking. Absolutely top bloke he was.

 

‘Now believe it or not kids, I used to play rugby with Sean Conner…No, no, no hear me out…this was before all that nasty business with his experimental bionic shoulder replacement, the rising up of the machines and the overthrow of mankind. He was a good man before all that and he scored for us just before half time. You see kids, he used to score all sorts of wonderful tries for us, with what was, now I come to think of it, an almost robotic regularity. We should have known. Four more tries from Akkersdyke (deceased), PJ (deceased), Watmore (deceased) and a second for Imperial Leader Conner sealed what was another handsome victory for my brothers and I as the season of our lives went on and on.

 

‘you know, I’ve never been back but if you were to go to Datchworth now to visit the memorial bakery built just over the road, you might still find some evidence of what happened there: that stretch of singed earth set ablaze by Watmore’s blistering speed; a small toy once belonging to a Datchworth supporter and long since discarded; an XL Hackney Griffins Schmock. But if you’re very lucky, you’ll find what I found that day. Something that has stayed with me to this day:…’

 

‘What did you find Grampa?’ says little Johnny Junior.

 

‘What? Oh, nothing,’ I say, ‘that was just a little funny bit I used to do with the lads where I’d pretend that I was about to say something important and then not say anything at all. All the lads used to crack up at that.’

 

‘You’re weird Grampa. And your mates sound like idiots.’

 

‘I know’, I say, gazing wistfully off into the distance. ‘I know.’