Dinner parties have always been something I’ve enjoyed since becoming middle class.
The ones we attend generally involve a close circle of old friends. So it was great to set out on Saturday night to see Jacko and Nurse Lynn’s new house for the first time. This is a bungalow, which Lynn describes as their ‘retirement home’. A little premature, I think, but then, when we all get together, you suddenly realise how much time has passed us by.
These gatherings have been going on since the 1980s with the same couples. Well, when I say the same couples, two of them have been divorced and remarried, but the dinner party dates are so traditional that their new partners have settled in to the role seamlessly. This doesn’t mean to say that their predecessors aren’t discussed or that occasionally they are referred to by the former partner’s name.
In addition to Jacko and Nurse Lynn, Lady Barton St Mary and I would be in the company of Mad Kev and Suzanne, Brummy Lawrence and Jo; The Sexton and Pen would be getting a lift with us.
These dinner parties follow a fairly regular pattern. After initial greetings, drinks are taken and general talk about work and families ensue in comfy chairs, before being summoned to the dining table, where everybody does their best to seat themselves in a ‘boy-girl’ arrangement. As the evening progresses and more drink is imbibed, the seating arrangement changes. The women leave the table to return to the comfy chairs, whilst the men continue to sit at the dining table, take more drink and tell stories. These tend to be the same stories. All of us with the exception of Brummy Lawrence played rugby together. Therefore, all the stories are about our playing days, told from different perspectives. So much so, that it can’t be long before we could just catalogue them into titles and save a lot of time. Examples of these titles would be: The Sexton and the Goat, Parisian Prostitutes, Monty’s Willy, Jacko’s Stag Do and The Big Chinese Restaurant Fight. In fact, some of these stories are so long that as we get older we’ll have to use the titles because we’ll all have to get home earlier to go to bed.
Then the men join the women in the lounge, where talk usually turns to old school days. Of course, Brummy Lawrence, Mad Kev and I never went to the same school as the rest of them, but we’ve heard these stories so often that now we actually think we did. After a coffee and at least two of us dozing off, we all say our goodbyes and head home.
But this evening was going to be different. We arrived at the allotted time and made our way to the front door, carrying the usual paraphernalia (wine, beer, chocolate and flowers). The Sexton was about to ring the doorbell when the door suddenly opened. Standing in front of us was a grey haired man wearing steel rimmed spectacles. He looked oddly familiar, but it wasn’t until he opened his mouth that we realised who this character was.
“Right, what do you lot want? You can fuck off now!” he said cheerfully in his very thick Welsh Valleys accent.
It was Gary, erstwhile friend of Mad Kev and Jacko, but more importantly, another member of our old team from 25 years ago. Gary was, like me, a winger, but that was where the similarities ended. Gary was a proud Welshman, but one of a certain kind. In his day, Gary sported long, very dark hair, which he carefully styled before taking to the field of play. He also affected the habit of turning up the collar of his shirt, in order to look cool. As most of us know, it does the opposite and makes you look like a prat.
Gary would always insist that he could only play on the left wing, which meant that when he was playing I had no choice but to stick to the right wing. What’s more, Gary was the only player I know who could play on a filthy, muddy pitch in late January and leave the field at the end of the game in perfectly clean kit. In fact, when he was tired of running would sacrifice his clean kit, lie down and feign an injury. He was the only player I’ve known who was in danger of being punched by his own team mates.
Gary was very good at setting himself up for a fall. One particular incident that sticks in my mind happened during the 1991 Rugby World Cup, when Wales played Western Samoa in a pool match. Gary took it upon himself to stand in front of the television screen and announce to all his team mates, through a cacophony of jeers and thrown crisp packets, of how Wales were going to annihilate the Samoans, who were ‘just tribesman’ who would fold under the pressure of a ‘great rugby nation, whose destiny it was to win the World Cup’.
Gary then had to sit through an enthralling match that ended with a Samoan victory by 16 points to 13, one of the most embarrassing defeats ever inflicted on Wales, dumping them out of the competition.
So, you can see what we were in for.
We all made our way towards the kitchen to deposit said drinks and sweets, when Gary suddenly grabbed me by the lapels. By this time, I’d realised that Gary had drunk more than his share, which, in older days, would have been about four pints of very cold lager.
“Ay! Why’re you wearing a jacket?” he asked, “And a bloody – shirt? How is it you gone all smart?”
I looked at The Sexton and Gary followed my gaze.
“Ay!” Gary exclaimed, letting go of one of my lapels and pointing at him, “You’re wearing a jacket and a – bloody – shirt an’ all!”
The Sexton sighed and surveyed Gary through hooded eyelids.
“Yes, Gary. I’m over 50. It’s not 1990. Look,” The Sexton said, nodding in my direction, “he hasn’t got a mullet or a moustache anymore.”
Gary blinked, trying to gather his thoughts.
“Very metrosexual of you to take an interest in our dress, though, Gary, thanks,” I said.
Gary nodded briefly then frowned.
“Ay! I’m not a fucking poof!” he blurted.
At that moment, Jacko popped his head round the door.
“Come on! Come and sit down in the lounge. Bring Pete Waterman with you,” he giggled.
The Sexton and I both regarded Gary before bursting out laughing. He was the spitting image of the renowned pop producer.
“Shaddup,” was all Gary could muster.
We all gathered in the lounge, reclining on sofas and armchairs, but Gary managed to find a rather large pouffee to sit on in the middle of the room in order to control the topic of conversation. This particular guest seemed not to understand we weren’t the crowd for a political debate. In fact, Gary was a particularly annoying combination for this particular group: drunk, loud and opinionated. He tried his best to elicit a reaction to a series of thoughts that were gleaned straight off the front page of The Daily Express, concerning asylum seekers, benefit fraudsters, Eastern Europeans, Asians, Africans and generally any culture or nation that Gary found an affront to his view of society in general. Fortunately, nobody mentioned that he was technically a foreigner living in England for fear of being churlish.
Eventually, Nurse Lynn invited us to the dining table, where there was a polite skirmish as we all tried to sit boy, girl, boy, girl as far from Gary as possible. The Sexton, taking a peculiar liking to the challenge, sat opposite him, alongside Jacko and Nurse Lynn, who must have invited him.
Turns out they hadn’t. He’d arrived in town to watch our old team in an important cup match and had discovered it was Jacko’s birthday, so obviously had kindly been invited by the rest of the rugby club committee to attend Jacko’s birthday meal. Or, as they probably said, to ‘get that boring git to piss off.’
The Sexton poured Gary a large glass of red wine, which he drank with gusto, before telling us all about his successful business life.
“Of course, I’m one of three operational directors in my own company,” he announced, “so all in all I’m doing rather well,” he continued.
“Really? Then why are you living in Lincolnshire? I’d have thought you’d have some fancy place up London way,” Greg observed.
Gary’s eyes swivelled in his head.
“Yes, well, eventually,” he replied.
At which point, Gary spilled red wine all over the table and carpet. Nurse Lynn rushed to the kitchen and returned with damp cloths and towels, mopping the offending stains.
Gary looked down as she worked.
“No, you should do it in a dabbing motion, not like that,” he said.
Nurse Lynn’s head rose up above the table and she glared at Gary.
“Shut. Up,” she said, threateningly. Gary had once dated her best friend Jayne at the same time she started dating Jacko. Gary had dumped Jayne and Lynn finally had a reason to dislike him officially.
Gary turned his attention to Suzanne, who was sitting to his right, Jo having fled the scene to sit in a comfy chair. Brummy Lawrence regarded Gary with a look of bewilderment and wonder.
“Ay! Suzanne!” he shouted in her ear, making her flinch.
“AY! SUZANNE!” he yelled at the top of his voice, inches from the side of her head. Her mood darkened. More ominously, Mad Kev’s mood darkened. That special look swept over his face and his eyes became shark like. Gary was within seconds of being anaesthetised by one of his oldest chums. Fortunately, Lady BSM stepped in.
“What exactly is it that your company does?” she asked.
“Oh it’s quite complex, it involves investing in product that we then sell on to a customer for a higher price,” he explained.
“Oh, you’re in arbitrage,” Lady BSM said.
“Julie’s a financial director of a multinational company, Gary,” Pen chipped in, “she knows all about that sort of stuff.”
Gary swallowed hard.
“Erm. Yes. But don’t do business with the Polish. They’re fucking thieves.”
I looked at Kevin, shielded from Gary’s view by Suzanne. He was shaking with laughter and holding his stomach. Crisis averted.
Gary was topped up once again by the wily Sexton. This was followed by a round of Port, then ouzo. Gary’s pontificating began to die down as he gripped the side of the table with both hands.
Conversation continued around him as he started to make strange guttural noises.
The women retired to the sofas and armchairs, whilst Gary tried his best to talk rugby, which of course, was all complete bullshit. The guttural noises made more sense. Eventually, tiring of listening to Gary’s growling and rugby twaddle, the menfolk joined the women.
Lady Barton St Mary was sitting comfortably on the sofa. That was until Gary, sitting behind her on a dining chair, suddenly took an interest and started to run his fingers through her hair. Or, rather, pull her hair. Quite hard.
“Ouch! Gary – that hurts!” she said firmly. He continued. I considered. Another few seconds and I was duty bound to take action and punch a drunk, obnoxious, Pete Waterman lookalike former team mate squarely on the nose.
Fortunately, Gary sensed the imminent violence and wandered off to the toilet.
“Where’s he gone?” whispered Jo.
“Who cares,” said Mad Kev, still laughing.
After 15 minutes, Gary appeared wearing his coat.
We all looked at him.
“You going, Gary?” asked Jacko, unnecessarily.
“Gaaaaaaaaaaahhhh….,” said Gary, before staggering out of the room, followed by the sound of the front door opening and closing.
The room was silent for a few seconds, before being broken by The Sexton.
Having downed a considerable amount of wine, beer, port and ouzo in order to nullify Gary, he took time to form his words.
“Funny, innit,” he mused. “Gary hasn’t changed. He was a twat twenty five years ago and he’s still a twat now.”
The Sexton stared into the middle distance for a short while.
“The thing I don’t get,” he said, “is how do twats like that get such well-paid jobs?”
We all shook our heads, equally mystified, but all in agreement. There do seem to be a lot of very well- paid people who are complete twats.
By the way, the story of Monty’s Willy did get an airing. And once more, Jo had to remind Brummy Lawrence that Lynn wears a nurse’s uniform, not an outfit…