Monday, April 25, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #11



Written: December 2, 2004

Over the years Fr David Carson became the closest friend our family made while living in Ireland. I suppose it could be argued that my grandparents’ interest in him could have come from his being parish priest at the local church, but considering he must have experienced sycophants on a regular basis, his continued attention to our humble selves must demonstrate an awareness that our friendship was genuine. Once a week he would arrive at the house to give communion; my grandmother would construct a quasi-altar on the dinner table so he could make his proclamation in Latin before doling out the host.

Being the pre-teen boy I was, my continued participation in this weekly service was based on my sniggering at the part of his recital where he said the word “fuctum”, which suggested a combination of the words “fuck” and “rectum” which no school going child could possibly ignore. Apart from this, although I was present for each ceremony I would invariably be relieved when it was over.

One particular day, however, Fr Carson happened to mention football in an attempt to include me in the post-ritual banter. With that my grandfather proceeded to go upstairs, and to this day I can still remember my horror at what he brought down. He had gone into my room and retrieved my folder containing all the results and fixtures from what I called The Subbuteo Football League.

Being an only child two generations removed from his guardians and living in a foreign country, I was never one to make friends easily. All my time growing up I think what I needed was a kick up the arse from my grandparents, but this never came, and of course being a kid you’re seldom aware of what you really need; you just go after what you think you really want. And so in my desire to utilize my imagination and resigned to playing on my own, I devised the aforementioned league.

Subbuteo was a table-top game which attempted to simulate football but actually more resembled billiards. The “players” comprised individual plastic figures on curved bases which stood still until “flicked” in the direction of a ball, which was actually larger than the figure itself! The purpose of the game was for two people to manipulate their team of players to re-create a game of soccer on a piece of baize cloth which had the appropriate markings.

Every Saturday morning, I would partake in something of a ritual of my own as I would set up a wooden bed-board on the dinner table to play my “Game of the Week”. This would involve my playing a game against myself; it was pretty easy to do, just imagine playing pool where you go for spots until you miss, then go for stripes; it’s the same idea.

My interest, however, was not so much in the game itself; it was more in the organization of tournaments. I had worked out how the English Football League was structured, and wanted to have a scaled down version of my own. I had various divisions, cup competitions, pretty much everything the big league had, only with fewer teams. The Saturday morning game was the only one I would actually “play”; the results of the other “fixtures” would derive from my blindly sticking my pen on a page containing all the results from a previous year’s matches in a Rothmans Football Yearbook or some such publication.

I now realize that the Subbuteo and all the accessories that went with it were just a cover for the game I really wanted to play. Once the results were accumulated, out would come my folder. There would be endless copybooks and pages filled with every conceivable statistic you could imagine, and being the amazing geek I was, I would sit and stare at the results of my work for hours on end, anticipating how the following week’s “matches” would affect them. I even learned to type around this time in my desire to make my presentation more appealing to the (my?) eye.

Up to that day, this was a world in which I lived and I was very happy to exist there as I found it comforting. Up to that day, I guess I worked on the assumption that my grandparents were either indifferent to my actions or just too busy to take notice. Up to that day, they had never so much as spoken to me about my little game.

When my grandfather showed Fr Carson my fixture list for the upcoming SFL season, it gave me something of a jolt, momentarily prising me from my imaginary world. In actual fact, he was displaying my work to show off how neat and comprehensive it was, but of course I did not see this. All I could think about was how embarrassed I was, and how I could possibly conceal the folder in the future. Naturally there are far worse things that parents can find in their children’s bedrooms, but I very much doubt they would be put on display to the parish priest!!!

As for other fictional partners in crime I had, I seem to recall the name Peter Mack. I guess he was the nearest to a more conventional “imaginary friend”, though I can tell you precious little about him, apart from his being a citizen of the curiously named St Maiza. I had various maps and phone books done for this pseudo-country until the SFL came along.

I remember giving out to my grandfather after Fr Carson left that day, a rebuke which prompted a reply as aloof as no doubt his violation of my personal property had been before. I can only assume it was my grandmother who subsequently set him straight, as the incident was never repeated. The moral of the story – when you rifle through your kids’ stuff to try and understand them, whatever you do don’t let them find out!

© JL Pagano 2004


1 comment:

Michèle said...

While I was reading this I kept thinking "What good friends we would have been had we been neighbors growing up." Then the thought occurred to me that "My parents and Jeff's grandparents would have been good friends too. They LIVE to embarrass us kids!" I shudder to think of the terror they would have inflicted if they had had reinforcements!