BOWLS AND THE BLONDE
The Oxhill Comrades Institute had come a long way since it was first
conceived and built by a group of working men as a venue to meet and
discuss common interests. From those early, innocent beginnings it had
evolved into a front for money laundering.
Far from being workers, most of the present clientele were on state
benefits - pensions of one sort or another, or "Job Seekers Allowance".
The recipients of the latter appeared to qualify on the grounds that
they were prepared to take any job that didn't interfere with their
drinking habits. The laundering worked like this: all these illegally
extorted benefits would go into the till of the Oxy (as it was known
colloquially) and would then be paid into legitimate bank accounts.
This scam was common knowledge to everyone in the district. And, I
suspect, was probably no secret to the authorities. I would speculate
that an institutionalised blind eye was being turned, as it was a way,
through V.A.T. and duty, of retrieving most of the revenue dolled out
in benefits to the undeserving. It made sense, for had the equivalent
monies been squandered on children's clothing and food, it would have
to be written off as a loss. Being invested wisely in booze and fags
meant it wasn't really being spent - just recycled. There was one great
attraction for me at the Oxy - the beer - it was cheap. It wasn't
particularly palatable but it was exceptionally cheap!
Being anti-social, I had specifically chosen that evening to visit the
Oxy because it was mid-week, the day before 'Gyro Day', and there was
no bingo planned. Therefore, I knew customers would be pretty thin on
the ground. Just to make certain, I entered the bar before 'East
Enders' was screened (no one ever came out 'til they'd drooled over
Pauline in that cardie). As I made my way across the shadowy, stale
smoke scented room I could feel the grip of the tacky carpet as it
stuck to the soles of my shoes. I ordered and collected a pint of John
Smith's to carry over to a seat against the far wall, facing the
television. The glimmer of the evening sun seeping through the brown
nicotine stained blinds and reflecting off the T.V. screen, all but
rendering it impossible to watch. So, to stave off the tedium, I sat
alone tearing beer mats into strips until the bowls team made an
unexpected entrance by slinking in by the door to my rear. Having
suffered another humiliating home defeat, this time at the hands of The
Upper Gornal Arthritics Association, the general demeanour of the
players was far from good.
The average age of the home side must have been somewhere around
seventy-two and three-quarters. Belonging to a generation that had
witnessed victories over the Germans in 1945 and 1966, they did not
take defeat lightly. (Some of the less lucid amongst the gathering,
failing to recognise the Upper Gornal accent as Black Country, actually
believed they had been playing a German team.)
The shortage of bar staff only added to their frustration. Mick, the
steward, was doing his best but it wasn't good enough. There had
already been unkind exchanges between various members of the team with
accusations of incompetence, impotence, insolence, senility, lack of
commitment and treachery being some of the less insulting. I looked on
and watched the situation deteriorate as a three-minute wait for
service began to test the patience of even the most tolerant team
I know I should have intervened when the nudging and jostling degraded
into ramming each other's legs with their ball bags. If I could have
made out anything recognisable on the T.V., I would have made an
effort. But the loss of more civilised entertainment made these bowling
boys too good an act to miss. Now I'm no gentleman when it comes to a
row but some of the crafty backbiting I was witnessing, in my objective
opinion, was well below the belt.
The only respite in this ungentlemanly behaviour came when a [not so]
young blonde female unexpectedly appeared through the doors, which led
to the 'Family Room'. Immediately a hush fell on the gathering. The old
campaigners sat innocently in their seats like school children when the
teacher enters the classroom. There they sat, beer glasses held in
front of their wrinkled faces, craftily gawking at the young woman over
pints of Banks' Mild.
The woman, I knew as a regular in the family room. She apparently liked
to keep well away from the rough-arsed clientele of the bar. I had once
been shown an article from as women's magazine, which had featured her
being interviewed about her career as a model. As the article seemed to
skirt around any detail of exactly what sort of modelling she was
involved in, the way she almost wore her clothes fuelled speculation.
Other speculation had centred on whether or not there had been any
silicone enhancement of her oversized breasts. To be fair to the lady,
she did appear to do her best on a regular basis, to help viewers make
an informed decision by exposing as much of them as she possibly could
without risking arrest or pneumonia.
The dress she was wearing this particular evening was no exception. Not
being an expert on clothing, the best comparison I can make is to an
apron: It had no back above the waistline and what there was of the
bulging front was held in place by a couple of frail bootlace straps.
And it didn't take much of a calculation to work out that it was a far
shorter distance from the hemline to her bleached blonde head than it
was to her white stiletto heeled sandals.
As she had now appeared carrying a tray of assorted empty glasses for
refilling, I can only assume that she had been hidden away with friends
when I had arrived. It must have been the delay in service, caused by
the antics of the antiquated athletes that had lured her into the bar,
where she stood pushing her ample upholstery against the counter, while
she exchanged pleasantries with the steward.
The drinks were served and everything was as it should be until she
delved into the depths of her purse in search of payment. Whether it
was the realisation that she had an audience or what, I have no idea
but for some reason her fingers suddenly became all thumbs and the
fumbling sent the purse tumbling, spilling the cash it contained all
over the carpet. There was an immediate clanking of glasses on tables
and a rustling of shuffling of arses on seats. The blonde had not got
as far as bending over fully to retrieve the spilt spondula than the
bowling boys were on the ball. More like woods after a jack than
Tomahawks from a silo, they were crawling all over the carpet catching
some of the currency before it had even finished rolling. There was
snorting, snarling, growling, gasping, grappling, grizzling, dribbling
and drivelling, as the primed pensioners wriggled, wrangled and
wrestled over each other to recover whatever they could.
Now this heaving hump of humanity was made up of good, honest,
honourable men. It was not for their own selfish gains that they had
risked life and limb and humiliated themselves. No, it was to assist a
damsel in distress. One by one, as they slowly dragged themselves
painfully into the vertical, they formed into an orderly queue to hand
over their individual findings to the blonde (although I did notice one
or two of the less able amongst them having to pause for breath just as
they reached about knee-level with the young lady).
The blonde rewarded each of her gallant heroes with a grateful smile as
she accepted their individual offerings. Then, when the exercise was
completed, she turned towards the steward. He immediately spotted her
bewilderment. "Still some short?" he asked in a concerned tone.
"No," she shook her head and frowned, "But look at this." She emptied
the contents of her hands onto the bar for him to count.
He quickly thumbed through the scattering of notes and coins.
"Twenty-six pounds, sixty-three," he declared. And then as an
afterthought added, "Oh and a set of dentures."
"Yeah, that's what I made it." The blonde shook her head again.
"So?" he asked.
"I only came out with a twenty quid. I've already bought a drink," she
mused, "and I'm pretty sure the false teeth aren't mine!"