The Day I Met Jeff Stelling

jeff

I love my Saturdays, especially in football season.  I buy the Guardian, I get me some nibbles and settle to watch Gillette Soccer Saturday and get drunk.  Once I got so drunk I fell asleep and nearly burnt down an entire apartment block in Salford Quays.  But that’s a diary entry for another once upon a time.

Jeff Stelling is my hero.  Part of me was uncomfortable with buying into Murdoch’s empire but the other part was addicted to Sky Sports’ hyperbole and garish colour.  The addiction to the show, and to the booze for that matter, wasn’t always conducive to relationships but selfishly I indulged knowing that with Jeff the black dog was locked in its kennel at least for the day.  But what will I do now I’m off-grid with no Sky dish or often no TV signal at all?  Nothing for it but to find a pub that’ll show it.

Gillette Soccer Saturday isn’t everyone’s bag (neither is football itself of course) but I can find myself transfixed.  Stelling is a brilliant wit, an intelligent brain and flawless anchorman.  Merse is hilariously malapropistic, Tommo is unfortunately Scouse, Champagne Charlie is cool as fuck and Tiss thinks he’s a saint, but all four are kept in line by the consummate Jeff.

About five years ago I was lucky enough to meet him.  I was working on Coronation Street at Granada (I miss that Quay Street oasis in the heart of Manchester – I had many happy days there) and the bosses offered staff a chance to cross-fertilise ie see what other TV practitioners got up to day-to-day.  I chose to spend a day on Countdown, shadowing a runner.  It was great fun; I got to sit in a contestant’s seat for a rehearsal, I got to play a game (but could only manage a five-letter word, much to my embarrassment and dismay).  And I finally got to meet my hero.  Jeff’s immediately likeable, affable, smart and handsome – he could play Bond… if he were a little taller maybe.  I told him I’d always been a fan and had written requesting a shout on Gillette Soccer Saturday for a throng of avid Stoke City fans – myself, Dom, Charlie and my muckers.  Apologetic, Jeff confessed he can’t always find time to give shouts but promised he’d try that coming weekend.

To my dying day I’ll regret that for some reason (must’ve been something dull and unavoidable like a wedding) I missed the show, so will never know if Jeff was true to his word.  I of course like to think he was.  But in some ways it doesn’t matter – I’d got to press the flesh of a “football legend”.

Talking of making good on promises, my welder showed up!

welder

The best result this Saturday!  Thank God for Steven and Yorkshire Mobile Welding Services!  Here’s a welder I must respect and here’s to getting back on the road to Scotland.  The Otter will soon be mobile again so lock up your rich Scottish widows!

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“Stay Young” – can van-life keep you youthful?

Dashingly-handsome picture courtesy of Gail Fisher.

Life ages you.  Your mistakes age you.  Van-life can certainly age you.  So what’s the secret of staying young on the road?

Well one of the joys of retracing my footsteps has been reuniting with family and old friends, some of whom I’m happy to say have been back in touch after reading this thing.  As I’ve earlier recounted, my school days weren’t the happiest but I was at least lucky enough to befriend some amazing people…

On “squatting” in Nantwich I met up again with Tiddle-Eye-Po, one of the most amazing and true friends I’ll ever have; amazing because like me he’s been through fifteen miles of shit and come up smiling, and true because he’s just honest, kind, generous and funny.  We’ve had so many fun-filled, dangerous and drunkenly-debauched times together and I hope he won’t mind my sharing (an abridged) anecdote.  We’d been to a Stoke match and afterwards went for a few beers and a game of pool (and let me tell you I was invincible on the green baize that day).  A few beers turned into a good many and I left him plaiting his legs…  that night, very late, I got a call from his sister to say he was in Manchester Royal Infirmary having sliced off a couple of his fingers with a kitchen knife.

To my dying day I’ll regret my part in that, just as I’ll regret (well sort of) selling his story to The Sun for fifty quid.  This was because despite his agony and the nurses telling him to stay put, he signed himself out of hospital to meet me in Bradford for the next game.  The story was also read out on Radio One, meaning the man was a legend, and always will be in my eyes.  I should point out that we’ve both grown up a lot since those “hedonistic” days.

I met up too with another important “Dabber” in my life.  Mandy lit up many a dull class at the Grammar School, we were always sweet on each other and never did anything about it.  Now, 39 years on, I found her looking great and full of joie de vivre having graduated with honours.  We reminisced, we drank wine and visited another schoolmate called Kay, who showed us a black and white photo of the whole year, 1979.  Sadly I could remember only twenty or so of the 150 faces, even more sadly I heard some of them were no longer with us.  Most sad of all is that I wasn’t even on the picture, having played truant that day (in fact on many days).

It was great to catch up with Mandy and talk about old times, and about her brother Martin who went to college with me and is one of the most musically-talented people I’ve known.  We vowed to stay in touch and talked about a school reunion.  I hope that happens and I hope this time I make it to any picture that’s submitted to posterity.  It’s true that the years have been kinder to Mandy than they have to me and I’m glad to report that she’s happy with two grown-up kids, some love in her life and her own career to look forward to.

The night of the day I met my wonderful grandchildren we’d arranged a brothers’ reunion.  Podge, Gary, Terry and me, plus Podge’s son Lee, his wife Sara, my two lads Dom and Charlie and Tiddle-Eye-Po.

When my family gets together it’s always a damn good laugh – banter, piss-taking, joke-cracking and happy reminiscences.  This was all in aid of giving Podge a bit of respite, to look at old photos and documents to help him build the family tree, and for me to fill them in on my travels… and obviously to charge 50p a head for a sit on the Ottermobile!  It was such a great laugh, and so good again to see my fantastic sons.  We ended up playing killer-pool and I’m pleased to say that Tiddle’s remaining eight fingers stayed attached to his hands.  Then, till the streets were aired, we played guitar and drank Irish coffee at Lee and Sara’s place.

So it was a brilliant night and I felt rejuvenated.  But where did all the years go?  Why did all the years go?  I’ve posted before about my checkered life, wishing I’d done things differently and feeling old and undesirable.  Well although I don’t worry about going grey in the clapped-out van because I’m in a happy place right now, I do sometimes wish I were dashingly-handsome!