The Last Days of the Bath – Part 03
DAY 06: Too tired, even after the weekend. All this burning the candle at both ends like Freddie Mercury has taken its toll. I cut out all the malarkey, walked to the library to get some work done, and noticed on the way two men at a car showroom were trying to coax someone in a Mini up two thin ramps onto a display. Apparently it’s not as easy as Michael Caine made it look in The Italian Job, even without a boot full of gold bullion.
In town some musicians were tuning up: their case already containing five – shiny – pound coins. I guess different psychological techniques have evolved for surviving on the street with buskers wanting to shame donors into thinking they’re appearing miserly, whilst I’ve seen the tramps and their deft fingers squirreling away any silver or gold lest the next passer-by should think they’re doing alright.
In the bathroom my parents have blocked out the window with a mixture of cardboard and towels. As we still don’t have a shower I asked why the hell they’d bothered. Apparently they didn’t want the neighbour peering in whilst they’re on the toilet. This is what I have to contend with. Personally if someone could get a kick out of seeing my rough silhouette, through frosted glass, projecting forth a golden arc of steaming micturate… Well, they’re welcome to it. It’d just be nice to be popular for once.
A number of years ago he came around and pointed out exactly what he could see. My parents put up a blind. Times have changed: I see him propped up against the toilet every night, through frosted glass, and don’t bat an eyelid. Oh the things I could tell him about his daughter, though… That was one hot summer I haven’t forgotten. And that’s one girl who doesn’t believe in frosted glass.
DAY 07: Like a zombie I clambered onto an early Manchester-bound bus and purchased another weekly ticket. I’d decided that there was somewhere else I should visit as I’d walked past it a million times and cocked a snoop on every occasion. First, to keep myself going, I hit a chain sandwich shop – bemoaned the Manchester prices – and was too out of it to think straight when the girl asked me if I wanted my baguette heating. I don’t know what they nuked it with out back, leaving me a handful of steam trapped in a solid medium, but it melted the cheese so all was good. What with that, the free cakes the Co-op were handing out, and jacking up on coffee, I became almost human in time for my date with an item of national sporting history.
I have no interest in football. None. In July 2012 the national football museum was uprooted from its humble location in Preston and reopened amongst the glamour of Manchester city centre in a building that resembles a ski slope made of frosted glass with an internal lift that climbs up the hypotenuse to the peak of the glass mountain. There was one item I went looking for, something I thought I should see, and I assumed the place would be dead. After all who’s going to go to a football museum on a Tuesday morning?
It. Was. Packed. There were elderly gents reminiscing about the ticket stubs they’d discarded, hyperactive schoolchildren tearing about all over, and pencil-sketching hipster girls at every turn sitting cross-legged on the floor capturing the world around them in the only medium they knew how, whilst I did the same by scribbling notes of painting’s names and Action Man’s claims of “realistic” hair.
They have a real football-themed Lowry as well as a Turner, even if the latter was by Charles who’s very much the White Power Ranger of the Turner painting dynasty. The memorabilia highlights were Willie Cunningham’s knee cartilage, whoever he is; the Action Man figure, flocked hair, no eagle eyes, of George Best – part womaniser, part alcoholic, footballer in his spare time – and for some reason the Mini he bought in 2001. Why they’ve got his car I do not know, but the Hat Museum had one too, so I guess someone local must have a speciality in dismantling and reassembling them in hard-to-fit places.
The artefact I came to visit would, I imagined, be on a velvet-cushioned plinth only visible once you’d climbed all the way to the summit thirty-five meters above the streets of Manchester. As it turned out they only gave special treatment to the Premier League trophy in the foyer which they protected with a Post Office queue barrier and demanded five pounds to take a photo. In contrast the famous 1966 World Cup orange football was just bunged in a cabinet and left for any old sod to gawp at.
Even if you don’t watch football in this country you can’t help but have seen black and white footage of the end of that game with Geoff Hurst scoring the final goal against West Germany and dispelling any doubts of World Cup victory to accompany the famous BBC commentary: “Some people are on the pitch… They think it’s all over… It is now!” The museum’s full of aged footballs, looking like rows of withered pumpkins, but this one has more of a tale to tell seeing that as the English players celebrated climbing their mountain one of the disgruntled Germans, Helmut Haller, shoved the match ball up his shirt and ran off with it. He only returned it in thirty years later.A wandering guide who I flagged down told me, when I pushed for the inside story, how the ball had suffered further ignominy under the reign of England manager Terry Venables when, approaching the 1996 Euro Championship, he forwent any idea of practicing penalties and instead attempted to harness dark magics to ensure further English success and brought in exhibitionist spoon bender Uri Geller to fix the result. Geller used the talisman of the 1966 World Cup ball to focus the psychic energies – or some such guff – and then when the black arts were done, for good measure, Geller thought it would be a good idea if he signed the 1966 ball with a felt tip pen. I can only assume, after all that, that we surely went on to win.
The guide told me that they’d positioned the ball to try and obscure this horrific blemish, although if you craned your neck at the right angle you could just about see it. She passed by again five minutes later to find me still obscenely craning against the glass cabinet and told me they’d possibly adjusted it again. I tried to push her on the ridiculous notion as to whether this incident had devalued the item, but she was having none of it. The manager who followed Venables, Glenn Hoddle, forwent any idea of practicing penalties for the 1998 World Cup… attempted to harness dark magics… ensure English success… and brought in his own personal faith healer called Eileen as part of the official staff instead. Yeah, he never won anything either.
As the museum is interactive and modern I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised, when I entered a dark room, to be confronted by the wraith-like hologramatic figure of mid-life crisis TV presenter Gary Lineker. He didn’t call upon his new young wife but the flickering form of Geoff Hurst – less sixties Michael Caine look-alike now, more seventies pensioner – making the scene resemble a twisted version of the end of Return of the Jedi as if a decrepit George Lucas had re-edited it again on a whim. What surprised me more was when Lineker, the public face of childhood obesity as he’s been trying to shove Walkers crisps down children’s throats for years now, started wittering on about the museum having the original World Cup trophy too.
I went and tracked this trophy down, undeserving of its own Post Office queue barrier, and found it near an interactive display for Pickles the dog who recovered it after its theft in 1966; a discovery which brought him fame, and fortune, and there the story ends… according to the Football Museum anyway. I flagged down the girl again and got her to admit that it wasn’t the real World Cup but the period replica used as a backup and that after Pickles recovered the original it was stolen again in 1983 and probably melted down as cash-for-gold. I mentioned Pickles’ similar unfortunate end how, after interfering in the goings-on of organised crime, he was found hanging from his own lead. I may not like football, but I am well-informed. She said that this was a story they didn’t tell the schoolchildren.
Left with more time to kill before I could go home I realised the weather was actually unsurprisingly hot and I found myself stopping in the crowded Piccadilly Gardens to sit in the sun as if I was one of the hipster student crowd that do such things. Some bloke started singing Hallelujah in the centre, attracting momentary attention. A minute later a man with a copper saxophone started up. They weren’t related. Idiots started dancing in the water fountain and pigeons began to invade. It was like a happening summer party was going on as young people lounging on the grass stripped off their coats and admired their soggy bottoms. The singer started preaching, shouting at a girl dressed all in black. She just ignored him, ensconced in her book, like the crazy person I took him to be whilst the saxophonist continued with the worst kind of carry-on – freeform jazz – as tourists came up and had their pictures taken with him. And I just sat there drinking coffee and absorbing the ambience of everything that transpires on the ceiling of our secret nuclear bunker. I guess this is just what gives for Manchester in the autumn these days.