Sunday, 9 June 2013

A Toddler Could Do England

This is me trying to do something a bit clever-clever and falling a bit short. I'm trying to write something based around all of these characters now, something a bit longer. Credit where it's due, my good friend @stephenmonk1970 (twitter fans) came up with flagwiches at Italia 90.

A Toddler Could Do England

It was all Japan´s fault. Japan was the easiest.
            Once you´d done Japan, then you were duty bound to try Poland. Piece of piss, Poland. England was easy too. A toddler could do England. Once you´d mastered them three, you could move on to other countries. Russia and China were tricky, but possible, providing you had mustard or piccalilli.
            Actually, now he thought about it, it was all his Dad´s fault. Picture the scene, the summer of 1980. Ten-year-old Martin Monkhouse is watching the Olympics on telly with his Dad, Fat Tony. Everyone knew Fat Tony. Fat Tony the postman. Fat Tony who on Saturday afternoons got the train up to South London to watch his beloved Crystal Palace. Fat Tony, who would have 8 or 9 pints in the Selhurst Arms before the match and take his t-shirt off and do his famous war dance in the pub, shaking his big flabby torso all over the place whilst being serenaded with ´You Fat Bastard´ by all the other mums and dads. Not Fat Tony who ran the taxi rank out Selsdon way, not that fat bastard.
            Where was his Dad now, eh, thought Little Martin as he stood behind a huge screen waiting to do a press conference. The nation demanded answers.
            Anyway, summer 1980. Little Martin and Fat Tony are on the sofa watching sport on telly. This is what they do every Saturday night when there isn´t a home Palace match. Tonight they are watching the Moscow Olympics. Fat Tony wants Little Martin to love sport as much as he does. Since they were little, they´ve played in the garden together or the shed, recreating what they´ve just seen on the telly. Fat Tony as Big Daddy and Little Martin as Rollerball Rocco after the wrestling´s been on. Look at them coming in, Little Martin covered in grass stains and his dad bleeding from the nose and laughing like a madman. Fat Tony is Pat Jennings in goal and Little Martin is Vince Hilaire. Goal! 1-0 to the Palace.
            The previous evening, Little Martin had been Seb Coe in the 1500 metres. And Fat Tony was Steve Ovett. Tonight though, it´s raining and the Olympics are on cos Fat Tony´s wife, Denise, is out with the girls watching a romantic comedy starring Dudley Moore at the local Odeon. It´s the weightlifting on the telly. There´s no British athlete involved so Fat Tony is weighing up the competitors to see who he´s going to get behind. There´s only three left, two Russians and a Japanese bloke. The Russians well, they might have been on our side in the War but they aren´t now so that´s them out. This is how Fat Tony thinks. If you´re not with him, you´re against him. On this basis, and the fact that Tony has recently bought a brand new video recorder made by Toshiba, it is the short, fat little Japanese fellow that they plump for.
            Hidetoshi Yakamoto. The commentator tells the viewers back home that Mr. Yakamoto is a maths teacher from Nagoya.
            ‘Blimey. You wouldn´t be late with his homework, would ya, eh? Fat Tony ruffles his son´s mousey brown hair with his fat fingers.
            ´No way Dad. He´s massive.´
            ´Course, the other two are bigger still. Russians, see. Probably got all mad KGB steroids in them to make them bigger than most blokes. Probably going to get shot if they don´t win.´
            ´I don´t want anyone to get shot, Dad.´
            ´Nah, I´m only joking. Shall we cheer on that little Jap fella, though, eh? He´s on his own. Them Russian blokes can at least cheer each other up. Who´s that Japanese fella got eh? No-one. He´s on his own.´
            Fat Tony paused to belch, putting down the can of lager on the arm of the sofa.
            ´He´s on his own,´ he continued. ´He´s our man.´
            Twenty minutes later, seemingly inspired by the Monkhouse support, the maths teacher from Nagoya was victorious over the Russians. This was cause for celebrations in Maidstone and Moscow.
            Fat Tony loved to eat. A champion eater, the kitchen was his arena.
            ´Fancy some bacon sarnies, Martin?´
            ´Yeah. Go on then.´
            ´Do you want sauce?´
            ´Yeah, I´ll do it.´
            When it came to putting ketchup on the sarnies, both Fat Tony and his son were traditionalists. Slam it all over. But that was before the sight of the Japanese flag stirred something in both father and son.
            The Land of the Rising Sun was triumphant and the Japanese flag stood proud above the austere Soviet gymnasium. Fat Tony stared at the four slices of white bread beneath him on the breadboard - his ketchup bottle poised above them.
            With love and care, Fat Tony positioned the bottle and gave its bottom a firm tap. An almost perfect red circle hit the centre of the bread.
            ´Hey, look son. Japanese flag bacon sandwich!´
            At this, they both started to laugh. Martin took the ketchup from his father and made a similar flag on his bread. They ate noisily and happily, and for the rest of the Olympics, used a variety of sauces and accompaniments to make flag sandwiches to celebrate any Olympic victory.
            On the Monday, Fat Tony came home very excitedly with a poster depicting all the countries of the world and their respective flags. Up it went on the kitchen wall, ready for condiment based reference needs. These were the golden memories of Martin´s childhood.
            Throughout his teens, Martin looked forward to World Cups and Olympics as much for the flag sandwiches as the sport itself. His dad too, loved these shared moments, and thought of his own strained relationship with his father as a boy. The only flags being waved in Fat Tony´s childhood were white ones.
            Some years pass. Martin left school for a stint at a local catering college. Fat Tony got sacked by the Post Office for not being small enough to fit into a post office approved shirt. He stuck his last pay packet into the purchase of a fully equipped burger van. He bought a load of meat from Billy Banks who´d just come out of Brixton nick for biting off the nose of a bookmaker at Catford dog track. The van is painted with the legend ´Fat Tony´s Meat Wagon´. Monkhouse and son are in business.
            June 1996. London. The European Football Championships are in town. The burger van is parked close to Wembley Stadium. England are playing Switzerland in 3 hours time. Ninety thousand football supporters and half of them coming past Fat Tony´s Meat Wagon twice in the next few hours. Business is going to be booming.
            The next bit of the story writes itself really. There´s plenty of competition and business isn´t as good as it could be until in the hours leading to England´s crucial game with the Netherlands, little Martin, inspired by all the St. George´s flags being dragged towards the stadium, resurrects the flag sandwich. Big slices of white bread quartered with the red cross of St Heinz. Flagwiches. Two quid. Although neither of them know quite what this means, it becomes clear to many that Fat Tony and Little Martin have tapped into what some pretentious media type would call the zeitgeist.
            Zeitgeist tapped or not, the demand for flagwiches becomes phenomenal and just as the England team suddenly find themselves playing to their full potential and looking like world beaters, Monkhouse and sons find themselves making thousands of pounds a day more than they could have hoped for. One night, they´re the jokey cheer you up at the end of all the bad news item at the end of the news at ten. Suddenly Monkhouse and sons are talking media rights and licensing money over a mobile phone they´ve seemingly acquired from nowhere.
            By the time England lose to Germany in the semi-finals, Fat Tony´s Meat Wagon is a household name. Richard Branson´s invited them over to his island for drinks and Robert De Niro wants to buy the rights to the film of their life story.
            From then on, every England football campaign was the cue for another launch of everyone´s favourite fan-snack. People could make them at home of course with just a bit of ketchup and bread but it didn´t taste like the ones you could buy during the World Cup from any participating store. What´s more, it felt like sacrilege. England´s astonishing win over the Dutch was a direct result of Little Martin artfully quartering a slice of cheap white bread with two lines of red ketchup.
            ´I mean, they really tapped into the zeitgeist didn´t they? They were like, the 12th player in the team´ said David Bowie´s nephew on a television show called 1996 Was Ace.
            ´For me, there was a definite synergy between the smooth symmetrical nature of the ketchup on the white bread and the movement of the white shirts. It was, dare one say it, a piece of post-modern psychic bonding which acted as a kind of dress rehearsal for the post-Diana displays of public grief,’ said a previously highly respected professor of poetry on the South Bank Show.
            Eleven years later and Martin Monkhouse stood on the balcony of his expensive Thameside apartment looking out over the rainy evening. His dad paced anxiously inside as England failed to respond to the carefully timed launch of their latest business venture, Fat Tony´s Beckham Cross Buns.
            ´I´m going for a walk,´ said Fat Tony as England let in yet another rubbish goal.
            ´Where you going? It´s pissing down, it’s only a game. It´ll be alright,´ said Little Martin.
            It wasn´t alright though and Little Martin knew it.
            All across England, the final whistle prompted swearing at television sets, kicking of dogs and half-hearted suicide attempts. A property developer in Devizes decided that the agonising nature of England´s defeat was just typical of his own life, so close to getting what you want and then blowing it right at the end. This idiot, an unfortunate, fat little man called Trevor Ferris decided to drink a bottle of black sambuca and swallow a load of painkillers to say goodbye to a life he considered wretched. However, Trevor forgot to take the painkillers along with the sambuca and got blind drunk, woke up feeling unwell and tripped over his cat and fell through his kitchen window and ended up paralysed from the neck down. Had he not decided to save a few quid on the windows, he wouldn´t even have smashed them. Still, funny old game eh.
            Back in London, the England manager, Mickey Sweet decided to forego the post match press conference and ducked out of the stadium through a fire exit. He was fucked, he knew that much. You didn´t lose a game like that and expect to keep your job. The papers were going to crucify him. The last manager but one, blimey. His team drew against Rwanda in the World Cup. Now admittedly Rwanda weren´t a bad side but you know, England were expected to win. Anyway, the erstwhile manager woke to find the headline ´Rwanka´ over the front of the Sun with his photo. Mickey wondered what he was going to wake up to, what terrible pun they were going to wrench out of the word Montenegro. Walking fast with his head down, he suddenly realised he was amongst thousands of wet and pissed off football fans.
            ´Fucking useless. Montenegro? Where´s that? Jesus.´
            ´Well at least that twat´s sacked now.´
            ´Hundred grand a week to be fucking useless. Bastards.´
            Slipping down a side street, Mickey pulled his mobile out of an inside pocket. Ignoring the missed calls message on the screen, he phoned for a minicab. There wasn´t one available for at least an hour so he decided to keep walking down various alleyways until he spotted a sign indicating a basement bar called Monty´s. Checking he had his wallet he decided that a few stiff drinks was the answer and casually descended the steel staircase beneath the city. There was a big screen in the corner of the bar showing various ex-footballer pundits trying to be analytical and neutral whilst capturing the mood of the nation at the same time by offering their opinion as to who should be the next England manager. One of the pundits, a charismatic player widely derided in his time as being a luxury player was sticking the boot in, conveniently forgetting that the current man for the job was the same bloke he´d backed the last time round. As well as being his own brother.
            ´Family loyalties aside, he´s let the nation down and he has to go,´ said Luxury Player.
          Mickey struggled through a crowd to the bar as no one seemed to be watching the television. Everyone was getting drunk, it seemed.
            ´A large scotch please,´ he said to the barman.
            The barman brought the scotch, thanked him in an accent Mickey couldn´t quite place and turned his attention back to the big screen.
            By now, the news was on the telly and everyone turned to watch. Little Martin was on the telly giving some sort of press conference. He looked devastated.
            ´Do you think you got the ingredients wrong, Martin?´ said one reporter.
            ´Why didn´t you stick with the flagwiches before such a crucial game?´ asked another.
            ´Where´s Tony?´
            ´I´m not sure. It´s been a very difficult evening for everyone,´ offered Little Martin by means of explanation.

            At this point, Fat Tony walked into the bar. Spotting Mickey Sweet sat alone on a leather armchair; he rubbed his eyes in disbelief before grabbing a pint of lager and taking a seat next to him.
            ´Well, I´ve had better nights, ´ offered Fat Tony by means of introducing himself.
´I don´t suppose ours can get much worse, though.´
            ´Might as well stay here and get pissed up, eh?´
            And so the soon-to-be sacked England manager and the managing director of the only flag-based snacks company in the world swapped autobiographies and anecdotes over a long night´s worth of short drinks and tall stories. Had they been paying more attention they would have noticed that they were drinking in the only bar in the whole of England aimed at the burgeoning Montenegrin community. Slowly the place filled with celebrating, disbelieving Montenegro fans waving their flags and drinking heroic quantities of plum brandy. But they weren´t paying any attention to that nor the telly that showed their faces in alternating close ups throughout the night´s news bulletins. Nor to the fact the crisps they were eating weren´t just any old snack but traditionally baked bacon grizpoc, specially designed in the same colours as the proud Montenegro flags that danced around them.

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