If there’s one thing Deserter is good at, it’s having a good time in unpromising circumstances. And these Corona days are unpromising with a capital Fucking.
Pubs are shut, there’s no live football to attend, and you can’t get together with a bunch of mates by some bins with a bag o’cans and play flick-the-fllter-betwen-the-tinnies.
And did I mention the pubs are shut?
Concentrate on what you can do, not what you can’t, the saying goes. And what you can do is fuck all, so we should be well positioned there.
However, doing fuck all is more complex than it sounds, as we explore in depth in our next book, Shirk, Rest and Play.
And it certainly should lead to the next level; messing about, which is sadly an unlawful act in 2021, on a par with arson, bestiality and posting a letter with the stamp upside down.
Consequently even Deserters are itching for a little action. So when boozy pal, the Sheriff of Mottingham got in touch to ask if there were any good vantage points above The Valley offering a glimpse of the pitch for the Charlton-Portsmouth game, I have to admit my heart skipped a beat.
I knew a spot on Lansdowne Lane where you could peer between two stands and see about a third of the pitch. Light drizzle was forecast. Really, what could be better?
Well, the Sheriff then spotted a tweet of Sunderland fans in the stairwell of a block of flats on Sam Bartram Close. I became jealous of someone on a 550-mile round trip to watch half of a nil-nil.
‘Fancy exercising with a beer around 3pm in SE7?’ he asked.
I did, but then there are those pesky rules which meant, essentially, stay at home unless you’re exercising, buying food, or going to or from work. It would be exercise getting there, no doubt. A good cycle for the Sheriff and a walk for me. Could one of us do stretches (don’t laugh!) while our ‘trainer’ caught a glimpse of the game and rehydrated with a fine ale, before swapping roles?
The answer, of course, is no. It would not be legal and after a long hard look at ourselves, over the phone, we decided it couldn’t be done.
Also, the match was abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch.
It was rearranged for Tuesday evening, in what was to be a balmy 10 degrees, but we couldn’t, in good conscience, attend. Anyway, I had other plans. Remember plans?
I’d noticed Lady South has been flagging of late. Not that I’m a gifted diviner of mood.
‘I’m flagging,’ she’d said. ‘Of late.’
Normally she’s a force of nature, full of enthusiasm, energy and ideas. Yes, opposites attract.
But the deprivations of Lockdown 3 are definitely taking their toll, along with the strain of keeping her business going, working on a public art project, helping our son with homeschooling and volunteering at a vaccination centre. (Actually the latter she finds a pleasure, mostly, due to the luxury of being able to chat to smart old West Indian gents with a glint in their eye; to see people again, to help.)
So she’s doing all of that, without, like all of us, the simple things that give life colour, meaning and fuel, such as friends and pubs. Her energy was draining. And not even third tier footy could give her a boost.
Given that our first date was a walk through an industrial estate on the Greenwich Peninsula, I knew a horse-drawn carriage and caviar at the Ritz would not provide that lift either, even if it were possible.
But I wanted to break the monotony, change the mood, offer a surprise. So I met Lady S off the train on her way back from work and we picked up a large bag of chips and walked to the pub. Yes, the pub.
One of our local boozers still has a few tables outside, with a jumbrella to keep the benches dry and a view of the heath and a pond. I brought a bottle of wine, candles and her favourite hot saucefor the chips. The few people that did pass us, smiled. It was both normal and ridiculous.
Bending the rules? Probably. But we live together and one of us has been vaccinated and is tested three times a week. We had walked to pick up food, but had decided to eat it on the way back. At a table. With candlelight. It was barely even naughty, but it did put a smile on her face and allow us to make a memory and maybe not go mad.
It wasn’t heroic either, but nonetheless Bowie’s classic came to mind, of the couple kissing by the Berlin Wall, in defiance of their circumstances. To paraphrase South London’s favourite son: We can be Heroes, for about 40 minutes, if you’re careful.
A version of this article was published by Sabotage Times in December, 2013.