The Diary

13 December 2008: No Yuletide Cheer From The Stadium Of Light, Is My Prediction

If you?re reading this with the smug sort of look that implies: ?I did all my Christmas shopping back in early November, so now I?m going to spend the whole of next week having a bloody good laugh at all the disorganised sods madly dashing around town trying to catch up?, then you?ll get short shrift from this column. Up yours, and all that jazz. But if you?re on the same disorganised, procrastinating wavelength as this column ? er, welcome to my chaos-ridden world!

But not this year; au contraire, I shocked even myself by doing some furtive trundling over to Merry Hill a couple of times, in late November. At least I THINK everything?s sorted, now; no doubt, during the course of the week before The Big Day, I?ll be getting either a card or a phone call from some poor waif and stray of our family who has elected to come in from the cold, nicely in time for the Yuletide festivities. So it could be panic stations all over again before too long.

Mind you, whatever the circumstances, nothing on this entire planet could be as frenetic as the last seven days have been for me ? and for reasons totally removed from celebrating the birth of a little sprog born of some (well, this is how most politicians see things, these days) feckless teenager from a classic ?sink estate?, who had her oats in quantity, then expected Bethlehem Council to house her, baby, boyfriend, and all. And then she had the sheer nerve to tell the DWP that the father wasn?t boyfriend Joseph, like, you know, but the Angel Gabriel, knowwhaddimean? Well, I ask you, who?s going to believe THAT? Bloody benefit scroungers, sponging off the State. Disgraceful!

Seriously, though, it has been quite busy, of late. Twin factors conspired to get me into a state of chassis: 1) It was ?Im Indoors?s week off, and we had a previously-agreed ?agenda?, and: 2) I had an OU assignment to finish for the Thursday just gone. Now, let me see?.. Sunday we all know about, and wish we?d never bothered! Monday? Ah, that was pleasant: in Brum, right now, they?ve set up an authentic German Market, right down to the stallholders actually being fully-paid-up citizens looking to make a few bob over here, and as we?d visited the same attraction in the run-up to last Christmas, we decided to make a repeat visit.

If you?re reading this, live close to the city, and have never been, then all I can say is ?what the hell?s kept you back?? With every stall made tempting by a vast array of glittery, twinkly lights, it?s a fairyland for both adults and children; being an absolute sucker for their stollen-bread (a deliciously different bread-like, rum-laden confection, packed with marzipan and dried fruit) myself, that was my first port of call. Closely followed by a visit to another stall specialising in feline figurines, you?ll not be too surprised to hear!

What with multitudes of adults working up to a distinctly Santa-like rosy glow, courtesy the gluwein (that?s mulled wine to we Brits) on offer, and a brass band playing all the usual seasonal stuff, it made for a bijou oasis of fleeting sanity in an increasingly troubled world. And yes ? I?d dearly love to jump on a plane to Germany, and see the real thing for myself. 4p Come Tuesday, we were off to Manchester, and the Imperial War Museum North, where there was a World War One exhibition in progress. Being only a mile or so from Old Trafford ? you?ll find it lurking in what used to be the Ship Canal docks ? it?s dead easy to find. As for the exhibition, ?tis true that much of what was on offer was aimed towards kids, but that?s precisely what made it interesting. I have to confess to a little bit of juvenile behaviour of my own, here; by some miracle of electronics, the staff had rigged up a simulation of the bottom of a WW1 trench, complete with a goodly number of rats, and all of ?em trying frantically to swim their way out of it.

The brilliantly simple idea was for the kids to stomp upon ?em; success was indicated by a bright red ?SPLAT? that instantaneously appeared beneath your feet, which gave many a school party a giggle or three, of course. And me! When I tried it (with potential embarrassment, in the form of kids, well out of the way, of course!) I even managed to ?splat? two in one go. Yes, I know, ?simple things please simple?.? etc. etc?. And in their shop, I even managed to find some WW1 publications I?d never read before. Now that?s what I call a ?result?.

Wednesday evening saw us in Wylde Green, where former Albion midfielder Richard Sneekes has his Italian restaurant, temporarily taken over by Sutton Branch, holding their usual festive munch-up there, that night. If there?s one task of three incumbent upon you as a true Baggie professing your love for the side (getting 1,000 Albion games under your belt, and visiting Willie Johnson?s pub in Kirkcaldy constitute the other two), then an evening in Richard?s restaurant sure has to be one of ?em.

The menu? Italian stuff, mainly, but with a distinctly Christmassy flavour, plus lots of alternatives for those wanting their innards to stay anglicised: for nostalgia?s sake, I went for the prawn cocktail starters, followed by salmon in a cheesy, well garlicked, sauce, and three different lots of Italian ice-cream. Bellisimo! His Nibs? Being allergic to seafood of any description, poor mite, he went for the soup and spag. bol instead, with the same massive ice-cream ?hit? to follow.

And, while we were noshing, I also managed to solve a ?present crisis? for my other half; not yer usual ?what can I get my maiden aunt?? type dilemma, this one, but one that certainly needed a goodly bit of lateral thinking to help it along a little. The task? To come up with a ?secret Santa? gift, to be drawn this coming Monday, the only stipulation being that the chosen gift had to be ?cheap, and totally useless?. A bit like former Dingle Freddie Eastwood, really. My solution? Easy, when you thought about it for a bit. Pile Ointment, what else? Cheap, most assuredly, AND useless ? unless the recipient genuinely does have piles, of course! (Now you know why there were ghastly sounds of strangled laughter emanating from our table, Mandy: that was the precise moment I passed on my unique solution to his pressing pressie problem!)

Piles apart, it was a great night, as per usual, and one helped along considerably by ?yer man? providing a goodly quantity of crackers, complete with ghastly jokes (Norm Bartlam would have loved it, in a ?bad taste? sort of way!), and helped along considerably by lots of merriment from everyone present, including Doc Rimmer, who doesn?t half seem to get an awful lot of interesting emails in his in-box, these days! Top marks to branch secretary Mandy, who organised the whole thing; without her hard work behind the scenes, the ?do? wouldn?t have been nearly as much fun as it was.

Thursday saw me come about as close to ?meltdown? as I?m ever likely to get, and all because of this wretched assignment I had to complete. All to do with neurology, appropriately enough, given the frequency of my angst-ridden expostulations, that day. I?m not normally given to snarling at everyone in a distinctly Dingle kind of way, but with the heat very much on, the native savagery showed through, at times. Mostly concerning something called ?gate theory?, it was ? and before you ask, no, it?s got nothing whatsoever to do with Jeremy Peace?s two-weekly look at attendances for home games.

More to do with the science behind the all-too familiar brat-soothing phenomenon known to harassed mums everywhere as: ?There, there, Mummy (Mogga?) will kiss it better?.? In other words, why it is that whenever you vigorously rub (or kiss!) an injured knee, or whatever, the pain always seems to diminish within a matter of minutes. All in the mind? According to this theory, nope.

I?d already agreed with my tutor to chuck my graphs, diagrams etc. in the post, then send the rest electronically, so that?s what I did. Boy, was I glad to see all that written stuff head in the direction of her PC, at long last. Must have given the electronic void the equivalent of indigestion, that little lot. Appropriately enough, given the time of year, my next module is all about alcohol, and what naughty things it can do to your innards. That one starts next week; just as well my little painkilling pills prevent me from indulging in ? erm ? ?practical sessions?, isn?t it?

Yesterday evening saw me over my stepmother?s house, as per usual, with my two sisters for company. Along with the usual Yuletide presents for both, we were also exceedingly happy to pass on a couple of Disney DVD?s we?d managed to find for middle sibling Josie, Tenerife-bound next Wednesday, courtesy a Yuletide visit to doting daughter Dawn, and grandchild Rhianna, who by now must surely be one of the few children in this world fluent in both Spanish AND ?Black Country?!

But last night was particularly special because we had a last-minute addition to our normal Friday night gathering, in the form of niece Michelle, and her young sprog, Ethan. The little shaver?s mad about The Incredible Hulk (funny, that ? I?d never realised he?d seen Fabian De Freitas in first team action for the Baggies before!), and insisted upon holding an impromptu ?performance? in his Nanny Gladys? living-room, roping in both ?Im Indoors and Josie?s other half as ?extras?, too.

While all that was going on, a quick conversation with his mum brought forth the statement that the lad was also Albion-barmy, and to the point where he?d already completed a coaching course for kids run by the club, too. Only to be expected in our family, of course; the real trouble starts whenever some idiot-boy Dingle or other tries to infiltrate our Baggie-crazy gene pool. But the upshot of all this is that Ethan is now more keen than ever to watch his heroes in the flesh, so to speak.

Oh ? and he also wants some bright yellow football boots for his combined birthday/Chrissie present (that?s what happens when you get ejected from your mum?s womb just as Santa?s getting togged up for his annual Yuletide marathon, of course!). Some like the ones Ish Miller has, is the specification to give poor Santa, apparently. Can?t wait to see him in ?em, me.

One other bit of good news; his mum didn?t think she?d be able to afford taking him to a Premier League game, this Christmas. Horribly expensive for non-season ticket holders, even allowing for concessions, but my other half, in one of his ?serendipity? moments ? he does have ?em, occasionally - hit upon the perfect way around the dilemma, viz: why not take the little shaver to the Peterborough Cup tie in January? So, that?s what Mum?s going to do; a shame the lad can?t go more often, but with full-blown Prem games at 40 quid a pop for adults, and 20 for kids, as the Yanks would say, ?Go figure?.? Oh, well ? at least next season?s Championship football won?t blow a megaton-sized hole in her purse.

Now for the moment we?ve all been waiting for; today?s game versus Sunderland. The very fact I?m penning these notes right now will provide strong indications indeed I?m playing the ?refusenik? card, i.e.: preferring the creature comforts of home to a near-cert abortive trip to The Stadium Of Light. The Fart?s sallied forth, though ? and given the truly awful state of the rainstorm that?s lashing and splashing an erratic course around our conservatory, right now, mine surely has to be the better choice.

The news about Ish Miller came as a complete bolt out of the blue, last Monday. Quite a turnaround from what I?d thought to be just cramp, on the day; one minute Albion are saying ?six weeks?, then it?s: ?sorry, it?s a cruciate ligament, so Miller will be out for the rest of the season?. The bright spot in all this? Sorry ? there?s isn?t one, really, but if you insist, the lad Beattie has been recalled from his loan spell with Palace. OK? Yeah, right.

Mind you, The Black Cats, now manager-less, following Roy Keane?s recent throwing in of the towel, have problems of their own. But not half as many as we do, I would wager. I suppose that most people would regard a sharing of the points as a result ? or, at least, the nearest to one we can hope for, given the circumstances.

I must say I do admire Mogga for all the oil-poured-upon-troubled-waters-type noises he makes during press conferences; reminds me a little of that Iraqi general who kept insisting that their army were keeping their best until last, even when the most myopic of viewers could clearly see the approach of American GI?s elsewhere in the capital, Baghdad, with their own eyes!

But even the Iraqis didn?t have to contend with their missiles sustaining a cruciate ligament injury to their explosive payload midway through the invasion. Meanwhile ? well, according to the Albion website ? the search for a striker (no, better make that TWO strikers!) goes on apace. Not that it makes a rat?s bum?s worth of difference to the final outcome, but you have to go through the motions, don?t you? Could there be another Great Escape in the offing, even, as per journalistic suggestions, of late? More chance of the Second Coming, I reckon, but hope still springs eternal.

Unsurprisingly enough, the portrait sited above the aforementioned piece is one depicting Mogga exceedingly grim, poor sod. Until we do make progress with what has now developed into a right shambolic season, it would appear that Jonathan Greening, bless his beard and lanky locks, is to be The Chosen One Up Front. Or Luke Moore, even? Teamtalk, seemingly right out of the loop concerning current events on Planet Albion, speak brightly of the lad ?vying for a place with Roman Bednar and Craig Beattie?. Yeah, right.

They also quote Mogga?s admission that a January signing might not get a guaranteed place should any current striking personnel finally get with the flow. So there you are, all you budding strikers wanting to make it big at The Hawthorns: with all that talented competition for first team places on offer, right now, you?ll have an uphill battle on your hands. Not.

And just to prove (once more!) that there?s always someone worse off than yourself, remember the Hereford keeper I told you about post-Colchester? The fifth loan keeper signing The Bulls have had thus far, this term, and seemingly just the ticket for them at The U?s new place.

But guess what? Yup ? the Edgar Street Curse has struck yet again, so he?s out for today?s game ? and probably, that will be the last Hererfordians will ever see of him, as the lad will be looking to return to his ?proper? side for treatment. As for The Bulls, while the search for yet another sacrificial custodian continues, they?ll just have to make do with their Megson-lookalike second-stringer, and hope like hell nothing happens to him! Cotton wool manufacturers everywhere, now is your best chance to cash in! Rejoice, rejoice!

 - Glynis Wright

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