21/3/98 Blues v Nottingham Forest, Setting Mini Me On The Path To Indoctrination.

Since Francis’s first season, I’d gone ballistic on the jobs front. I’d gone from working at the same factory for 4 years, to working at 5 different ones in the space of 12 months. I suffer from itchy feet. By that, I don’t mean I don’t dry between my toes properly and end up with Athlete’s Foot. I mean that once I feel I’ve mastered a job, I get bored ridiculously quickly and start to metaphorically climb the walls. I’d got to that stage where I was working, and I was so desperate to get out, that I would take anything. If you’re thinking it can’t have been that bad, then how else can you explain why I jumped at the opportunity of a job at the same factory as Trelayne? It certainly wasn’t because I wanted to see more of her. We were working on opposite shifts so actually only really saw each other at a weekend, and believe me, that was too much. The job was less pay, was 4 miles away from where we lived and I didn’t drive. Hindsight is a useless possession. Foresight is much more useful and thus, so much more rarer. It only ever visits me fleetingly, only on the odd occasion and it definitely feels odd when I get it. Little did I realise that I’d be dropped in the deep end of what was essentially, a sewage farm in terms of training. Basically, there wasn’t any. Well not much anyway. I was left to my own devices. I lasted just under 3 months before they sacked me. After the initial shock and humiliation of being dismissed, I felt a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I’d been losing sleep due to worrying about the job. Even when I wasn’t at work, all I used to think about was the machines I was trying to learn. Not being able to relax is never a good thing regardless of what you do for a living. I quickly picked myself up, dusted myself down and managed to get a temporary job at another factory. It was closer to where I lived, and I found the work quite interesting and varied, but the place was decrepit and devoid of any adherence to health and safety awareness. I worked out that the management used psychological warfare to keep its workforce against itself. You were ‘advised’ to keep your rate of pay to yourself as not to upset anyone because you were tricked into believing you were on more money than the next person, when in reality, you weren’t. I lasted a couple of weeks before I found out about a job that was double the hourly rate I was on. I went for the interview and was virtually given the job even before the interview had even started. I couldn’t believe my luck. What I didn’t realise, was that it was just another dollop of bad luck. It was working on an autoclave in a French owned car component factory. It was a horrible job hence the wages. I lasted 5 days. The autoclaves themselves were set at 300 degrees and they were huge. The training was good, but the job wasn’t. You had to work at lightning speed and it was all about technique. You had sets of gloves for each process and the heat ripped your hands to shreds. Because of the health implications (repetitive strain injury), I discovered that you were only allowed to work on this particular job for three years. Regular visits to the hospital for cortisone injections in between your fingers were the norm. Because of the heat and high intensity of the work in terms of speed, I was drinking 3 litres of squash a shift, yet it was early February and there was heavy frosts. The ground was hard and white. What finally made my mind up to get the Hell out of the place, was looking at a lad who had just come back to work after time off due to having to need the cortisone injections. This bloke was pure muscle and I mean muscle. He was huge. Made Ade Akinfenwa look decidedly tiny in comparison. How he squeezed into it in the first place, I have no idea, but his mini had broken down on a motorway somewhere. He’d decided to push it off the motorway at the nearest slip road. It was a slip road that went up to an island that went over the motorway. Even sat here writing this now after so many years, I’m still shaking my head in disbelief and admiration. You could’ve easily have played football on this blokes chest and 1, you wouldn’t have made a mark, and 2, he wouldn’t have even noticed anyway. I knew there and then, that it wasn’t a job for me. So it was back to the drawing board. The next job was quite promising. A German owned factory that made fuse boxes. It was on the same industrial estate as the factory that Trelayne was now off sick from, due to an accident she’d had there. She’d basically pulled a pallet down from the top of a pile of them, but hadn’t got the nouse or had the training to do it properly, and it had dropped on her leg. It could only happen to Trelayne. It was a perfect ‘Trelayne’ type accident. That’s not a criticism, it’s just an observation. Certain individuals in life have an unerring ability to attract a certain kind of mishap. There’s no true explanation, it just happens and it happens on a regular basis. They certainly don’t do it on purpose, but it can appear that they do. Chaos follows them like a moth is attracted to a flame. The fuse box place was the first time I was given a job where you had a chair. It was Heaven. I knew there were jobs you sat down to do, but never expected to get one. I was part of a team of two. Not only did I get a chair, but I had someone to talk to and could talk all day. It really was Heaven. I was working with a girl who turned out to be the goalkeeper of the Bridgnorth hockey team. She was also gay. Not only that, but she felt she had to be careful who she revealed it to. After initially testing the water, she found enough courage to admit to her sexuality to me. A big step for her I suppose, but to me, it wasn’t and never will be. A person’s sexuality is their business, and shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of. It certainly shouldn’t be discriminated against. It is, just what it is, move on. There was a woman who dealt with Quality assurance there, who was really cute. She was obviously happily married and wasn’t ‘on the market’ so to speak. The hours were split shifts, 6 till 2, 2 to 10. She worked office hours. I caught myself watching the clock for when she arrived in the morning. I glanced over the one morning to notice that the girl I worked with, was doing the same as me. Turned out we both fancied her. It was a unique situation. We both knew what the score was in terms of the woman in QA being unavailable, and also that this friendly QA woman was blissfully unaware of our attention. What added to the unavailability was that me and the girl I was working with, both lived with a significant other. Life was starting to feel a bit more bearable. Plans were in place for all the temporary staff to be taken on by the company. As long as you carried on turning up on time every day, did what was asked and didn’t cause any problems, you’d got a job. Disaster struck, the company not only did a complete U turn with taking the temps on, but they decided to shut the building down, as the automated production line that they’d put in place there, had too many mechanical problems on it, and they were losing far too much money. So not only were the temps losing their jobs, but so were the permanent staff. The news was tempered by a tumultuous event in politics. After 18 years of Conservative government, Labour won the election with a landslide victory. I don’t mind admitting that I bawled my eyes out. I was so happy. I’d longed for Labour to get back into power for so long and I looked forward to a bright future for the likes of me. Had I known that the smiles belonging to Tony Blair were the facade of a shallow egotist, who effectively, went on to sell the working class down the river, those tears I shed, would’ve been tears of despair. So once again, it was on to pastures new, and I traipsed back down to the employment agency I was with. I had the choice of two, both were a huge drop in wages. I’d been on £4.40, I  could either take a seasonal job at an ice cream factory at £3.75, or a temp to perm job at £3.60. 80 pence doesn’t sound a lot, but get your calculator out and work out the percentage of how much of a drop in wages it was. Before I finally start to talk about mini me, I’ll just mention the factory I was going to stay at for the next 11 years. Few people will have heard of the name of the place, but the company is huge and it’s global. I needed a permanent job but only ever really saw it as a stop gap. As my personal life changed dramatically, it came to be an anchor. Something solid in my life. It’s run on military lines due to being commandeered by the Japanese army during the second world war. We often speculated whether it made planes for kamikaze pilots. The factory in Telford was tiny in comparison to its sister factories in Japan, but is still the biggest factory and company I’ve ever worked for. The workforce was around 900 strong and growing when I joined. They actually had factories in Japan that had workforces in excess of 10,000, one 20,000. Before I carry on sounding like an advertisement brochure I’ll mention that I actually hated working there but like I’ve said, it was a constant and what I needed in a life of upheaval. It was four miles away from where we lived and initially, I walked there and back. With the amount of walking I’ve done over the years, I should be a foot shorter, my feet worn away long ago. I was still struggling with my depression and I was very much stuck in a rut with Trelayne. I was just trudging along but subconsciously I was on the lookout. The thing with temps and permanent staff is that the relationship between them is forever strained. Hidden agendas and distrust are abound on both sides. A minefield to be warely picked through. Overseen and often ignored by the management who just want and need the job done. At break times, you end up with separate groups that don’t mix. I became friendly with a fellow temp who ticked every single box on things that I found physically unattractive about a woman. For some unknown reason, the amalgamation clicked something. Walking to work one Monday morning, I felt ridiculously happy and I couldn’t work out why. Then it suddenly dawned on me, I’d fallen in love with her. If you’re anticipating the start of a sordid affair, you’ll be disappointed, she didn’t turn up that day, and never turned up again. I’d only just discovered I’d got a crush on her, so unless she was incredibly self aware and observant, traits she didn’t have and was something else I found attractive about her, she will be blissfully unaware about that crush and it wouldn’t have been the reason for her non-appearance that day or from then on. Right, back to mini me. My son John was a good little lad but that fact was lost on me. I didn’t just want a perfect kid, I wanted a robot I could take the batteries out of. He’d been, what my Mom would class as, a sickly baby. He was prolific with projectile vomit after having his bottle. It didn’t seem to do him any harm because by the time he’d got on to ‘solids’ his appetite had become ferocious and we’d slipped into a cycle of feed followed by constant movement until he was empty and needed feeding again. He was forever hungry, you couldn’t fill him up. It was as impossible and as fruitless as standing in the middle of the Sahara desert counting grains of sand in a sandstorm. He should by rights, be the size of a small detached house. Actually, scrub that, think medium sized detached house complete with a large conservatory attached. The fact that he’s not and never was, is testimony to his over working metabolism. I’ve stated before I was a rubbish Dad. When they were giving out paternal instinct, I didn’t just find myself at the back of the queue, I didn’t even join the queue due to lack of interest. I’m sure a psychiatrist would pinpoint my Dad dying when I was 5, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s not a  reason, it’s a lame excuse. All kids see their parents at that age as superheroes. John saw me as Superman, only my kryptonite were the words “Can you play with me Dad?” Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adored him, he was my own flesh and blood, but connecting with him was something I wouldn’t accomplish until he reached puberty. Most parents will tell you that they hated the puberty thing. I thrived. I loved it. It’s when I came into my own as a parent. Enough of that, I’m getting ahead of myself, way ahead of myself. John was almost four and a half when this game came along, it had always been my intention to take him to watch Blues. As parents, especially fathers, we want our kids (Male or female, but traditionally sons) to follow us in our loyalty and devotion to our particular favourite pastime. Mine was obviously Blues. John wasn’t only a good kid, but he was perceptive enough to realise that about me. He saw me go off to watch Blues, heard me talk about them, saw how Saturday afternoon was taken over by the club. He knew enough to want to share the experience with me and asked if he could come. I was pleased, I was proud. Though I was a tad jealous. Yeah yeah, I know what you’re thinking, as you read that in disbelief. How on earth could you possibly be jealous of your 4 year old son? It’s pathetic I know, but I didn’t manage to get to a game until I was 9. My brother had it worse than me, he was 14 before he got to see a game, but here was John, 4 years of age, and he was going to get to go to a game. Well I did say it was pathetic. However, it came to the day before the game, and John had done something naughty at his childminders. Looking back, he would’ve been coerced by the kids with him. Don’t roll your eyes, John follows me in having an inbuilt desire to please people he’s with. He was 4, and at that age, much easier to manipulate by older kids. Me being a rubbish Dad and wanting a perfect kid, instead of seeing what was underneath my nose, I went off at the deep end. As punishment, I wasn’t going to take him to Blues. Trelayne over ruled me. I ended up having to take him, but it was under sufferance and it tainted the first bit of the day. Partly because, like I’ve said, I was a rubbish Dad, partly because I had this warped idea of wanting him to have a proper match experience and partly because I was too selfish as a person, we did pretty much exactly what I would’ve done normally for a game. We got the train to Brum, and a bus up the Coventry Road to The Brighton. The usual bunch came in. Only one of which, I actually see on a regular basis at Blues games anymore. Not because I fell out with any of them, but because life evolves. I of course, was more engrossed with the conversation with them than I was in making sure John was happy. I kept no more than a cursory glance after him. At one point, so absorbed with my friends, I forgot about him, it was only when Karen, half of a couple from Leamington, enquired about his whereabouts, that I fleetingly panicked. To my relief, one of my other mates was keeping him occupied, or more like, he was entertaining my mate. Either way, he was just being his usual good little self. Like I’ve said, I didn’t deserve him. He certainly didn’t deserve to have a muppet like me for a father.

I bought him a programme and handed him his match ticket, telling him what to do at the turnstile. It’s amazing how fellow supporters become party to indoctrination. I don’t mind admitting (Mainly because i was sad like that) that seeing his wide eyed expression when the ground sang ‘Keep Right On’ just before the kickoff, brought a lump to my  throat. Blues had been chugging along within touching distance of the playoffs, Forest were on the rebound back up to the Premier League. They also had Piere Van Hooijdonk who was a class above the rest of the division. A wise move would’ve been to kidnap him as he disembarked the Forest coach, before bundling him into a white van (There’s that many of them that it would’ve been near impossible for the motorway CCTV system to try and follow him) and depositing him somewhere in the Scottish Highlands. Being from Holland, if the terrain hadn’t have confused Pierre, the accent would have. (I think that’s enough national stereotyping to just about stay on the right side of tasteful humour) Remarkably, he didn’t appear to be having that good a game. We even got a penalty. In all fairness, it was the nearest we were going to get to scoring. Not because we were overly inept, but because Forest were defending with the clinical precision that teams at the top of the league can display until the nerves kick in. Peter Ndlovu dispatched it, I grabbed John, picked him up and hugged him, we were 1:0 up. All we needed to do was keep kicking the ball out of the ground and off towards Chelmsley Wood. If that had of been the plan, then it wasn’t executed properly, the ball kept coming back into play. Forest got a free kick around 25 yards out. That Dutch bloke took it. I was really hoping he still hadn’t got his range, 1:1 A point was still a good point though. Well it would have been. Van Hooijdonk got a chance for the winner and from being 1:0 up and looking like we could possibly win, we went to being just the latest victims of the Pierre steam roller. The Forest fans had this thing they did when he scored, they bounced up and down shouting his first name. it was both impressive and gut wrenchingly sickening at the same time.

We walked back into town, got the train home. On the train was a lad that was friends with my eldest nephew, he was with another lad who I didn’t know. We got chatting. Stuart Bradshaw was Blues, but he hadn’t been to the game. They were both drinking bottles of beer, Bradshaw was drinking Guinness. For amusement and to see his reaction, he gave his beer to John for a drink. I was expecting him to screw his face up like he used to when we gave him gripe water as a baby. I was expecting the same face that I found so funny. (See, not paternal in the slightest) but instead, he gulped it down like it was pop. Although I’m sure if he was to take a sip of Guinness now as an adult, we’d get that cute and highly amusing gripe water baby face again. Taken aback in collective surprise, Bradshaw tried again a little later. Same result, I took the bottle off John and handed it back to Bradshaw, probably not because of any moral reasons for not giving alcohol to a four year old, but more because of having to explain why John was drunk. We got off at Telford. Not only had John broken his duck, but there was some kind of twisted perfect symmetry to the occasion. My first Blues game had been against Nottingham Forest at home, and we’d lost that one too.

FOOTNOTE:-  Forest did indeed go up as champions. Blues missed out on the  playoffs on the last day of the season to Sheffield United, who needed to play 4 games in 8 days. it proved to be almost too much for them and led to a straight fight to secure that last place. If we beat Charlton, who’d already made sure of the playoffs, and Sheffield United didn’t win, we were in the playoffs for the first time. We drew 0:0, Sheffield United lost. The EFL were forever changing the league rules even then. League positions weren’t based on goal difference if the points total was equal that season, but on goals scored. We hadn’t scored enough but bizarrely, had the better goal difference. It was changed back to goal difference the season after. Too late for us.

The rest of my life quietly settled back down into its rut.

 

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