Try as you might. But if a thing’s truly ubiquitous, it will eventually break through your highly developed ignoring force field. Over the last few months I’ve wafted through numerous conversations like this:
Sweary Mary (or Cycle Girl): ‘Off to the blinkin’ Pan on Saturday. You going?’
And like this:
Pells Boy (or Hoxton Mum): ‘Oh go on it’s great. The kids play, we have chips, occasionally look at the game, you’ll love it.’
They don’t realise they’re inviting me to do something quite bizarre.
Them: ‘Let’s go naked bungee jumping!’
Them: ‘Let’s pretend to be mice!’
Them: ‘Let’s go to the football!’
It’s like that test for dementia invented by the writer Linda Grant: alarm bells ring when you suddenly suggest something completely out of character. For her it would be, ‘I fancy a long muddy hike.’ For Aging Lad it would be, ‘Let’s just hold hands and talk.’ For me it would be, ‘I need to see some footie now.’ It’s weird really because I loved playing football as a child (my dad was a trained referee who taught me the basics). But back then, when I was young and ice covered the planet, girls at my school weren’t allowed on the playing field: blatant discrimination that would nowadays result in prosecutions but back then resulted in, well, girls not playing football I guess. So my interest waned, and I put away childish things such as my collection of Kellogg’s cards featuring Johan Cruyff (for some reason he was on all the cards).
As an adult, football’s just not in my purview, innit? And so I floated on, past all talk of FA cups and league form and Patrick Marber. Finally though, my force field was dented by those Kitchener pictures all over town. I always read posters (and planning notices, and lost cat signs, and graffiti).
‘You seen that poster of Ibbo?’ I asked Man of the House.
‘Who’s Ibbo?’ he replied. See, it’s not just me.
‘Ibbo! Steve Ibbitson! He’s, er, something to do with the football.’
Man looked impressed I knew so much. I reminded him that I have actually met Ibbo. He was really nice. We talked about our kids. He didn’t mention football.
‘Everyone’s very excited,’ Man said, suddenly finding his inner bloke, ‘because only nine matches stand between Lewes and the FA Cup. Admittedly, nine matches that probably take in Man United and Chelsea.’
‘Could Lewes win then?’ I asked, my interest suddenly piqued, though lord knows why: I wouldn’t know the FA Cup if I found it in my knicker drawer.
Man started droning on about minnows and giant-killers and Yeovil, and my interest un-piqued. I pointed at him, Kitchener style and said, ‘I need you to stop.’
‘Why don’t we go to the next game,’ he said, ‘and see what all the fuss is about?’
And as if from far away, in some alternative universe of lost marbles, I heard myself say, ‘All righty.’
Beth Miller, 19th October 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com. Author's note: shortly after writing this, Lewes FC were knocked out of the FA Cup.