I have always believed in this simple concept. If you’re feeling lonely, or a relationship has just ended, you will never get anywhere if you sit moping in the house. Ten years ago this weekend I’d just come out of a long-term relationship and had arranged to meet a friend of a friend for a drink in Newcastle. It was on the back of a tiring early shift and I really couldn’t be bothered to go. The friend of the friend and I, had enjoyed sporadic email contact, but we’d never met face to face, so both finding ourselves newly single we arranged to get together in a city centre pub, each of us tipping up with a male chaperone in tow. It wasn’t the best of starts, Heather thought I was snooty with no sense of humour, and I thought she was downright rough. Pretty good first judgments all round then. We remember the date, because that afternoon there had taken place an ill-fated penalty kick in the Arsenal v Manchester City Premier League game. Robert Pires and Thierry Henry were aiming to re-create an infamous penalty taken by Dutch master Johan Cruyff in 1982. Back then, Cruyff passed to on-running Ajax team-mate Jesper Olsen, who drew the goalkeeper before tapping back to Cruyff to score. Pires and Henry got it all hopelessly wrong, and with me being an Arsenal fan it was pretty much all I could drone on about on our first date. I’m deviating slightly, but what I mean is, that though I didn’t want to go out that evening, if I had not done so I would probably still be single. I knew there was a flaw in this prose somewhere.
Leaving the house is crucial when it comes to making friends and building relationships, which is why, since retiring, I feel it’s important to go out and meet people. Nevertheless, neither Heather nor I expected to find new friends simply by walking up to the paper shop and back a few Sundays ago. We fail to resist anything with four legs and fur, and this led us to lean over a garden wall to pet two dogs enjoying the morning air. Their human parents, Jen and Sue, came out to see who they were chatting to, and a friendship has developed which we’re hoping is going to last for a long time.
Jen and Sue are lovely people, so lovely in fact, that Heather is magnanimously prepared to overlook the drawback that they’re Sunderland season ticket holders. This does of course, work two ways, but Jen and Sue seem happy to forgive Heather her NUFC leanings. I don’t support Newcastle United, and therefore I had no qualms about texting Jen and asking her if I could borrow a Sunderland scarf for the derby game on Sunday afternoon. On the pretext of needing a walk because of my bad back, I called up for the scarf, and managed to surreptitiously get it back into our house without Heather noticing. Not usually superstitious, Heather’s behaviour does get a bit odd before a game of football. For example, if we actually attend a match, we have to enter through a particular turnstile. Our good friends Janet and Debbie arrived shortly before derby day kick off. Heather made them sit in the same places they’d arranged themselves into last week when they came over for the Norwich game. Chuntering on about portends and omens, Heather scooped up an annoyed black and white cat, Elsie (called after Lady Elsie Robson) and put her on to the arm of the same chair where she’d peacefully dozed all through Newcastle 6 Norwich 2. I was ordered to go upstairs precisely one minute before kick off and put on my Gateshead shirt, because this too would replicate the pre-match process of seven days ago. A fleeting flicker of suspicion crossed Heather’s countenance when I didn’t argue about this, but simply got up and did as instructed. I returned to the room having changed into the Gateshead shirt, but wearing the Sunderland scarf as well, which was definitely not part of Heather’s plan – indeed several comments of admonishment and reproof sprung from her lips. Don’t blame Fabricio Coloccini, the 3-0 defeat inflicted on his team by Sunderland lies squarely on my toes, and mine alone. It’s a very fortunate thing for me that my niece is a solicitor, because I’m going to need a good divorce lawyer.
By the way, to my young geordie friend Cahl, now living in Australia, if you’re reading this Heather says that you’re never to have anything to do with me ever again. I’ve suggested that possessing the quality of a sense of humour, the very thing she accused me of not having when first we met, should surely help with what is for her, a thoroughly disenchanting situation (six successive derby defeats). As for her replies? Probably the less said the better.