Roy sat on the edge of his bed, heard church bells and thought back to a dream he’d had a year before. It was a dream in which he was adolescent again and waking from a different dream, one in which he’d been eight years old and in a field, carefree. The adolescent Roy had mourned his infant self, and the middle-aged Roy had done the same.
He got the car out and headed for Croydon. The road to Mitcham was called Mitcham Road. Roy followed it using satnav, just to be sure.
Mitcham Common unrolled to left and right giving an impression of driving through countryside. After that there came a roundabout, a sequence of lefts and rights through a maze of dark brick semis to Betsworth Road, number 32.
Roy halted, idled, crawled forward, squinted and moved on. He parked and strolled back, stole sideways glances, kept walking. It was a nondescript house, but there were vivid tales about it: Don buying the first television set on the street and having neighbours in to watch the coronation; Don buying a new fridge from Whiteleys and showing every visitor how ice cream wouldn’t melt in it for days.
The Mitcham house was Roy’s first home but he’d been only three when the family, yet to be augmented by his sister Nerys, had moved to Crawley, achieving the then commonplace ambition of leaving the smoke behind. Roy had no certain recollections of the house. His brother Brian, though, claimed to remember the Humber Hawk parked outside. “A step up from dear old Lambeth,” he liked to say of Don and Gwen’s upward stride, ironic stress on the “dear old”. Had Brian been born before Don and Gwen left Lambeth? Was he the reason for the move? Roy realised that he didn’t know.
He had a bag over his shoulder with his camera inside, but didn’t dare stop to use it. He returned to the car, crawled back past the house again, snatched two drive-by shots and fled.
The road to Croydon was called Croydon Road. Roy followed it by satnav, just to be sure.
There was no Wimbledon today, it was the sacred middle Sunday, a reminder to Roy of a childhood time when big sport never happened on the Sabbath. The loss of those times made him unexpectedly regretful, even though the Paines had never attended church except for weddings, christenings and funerals.
Back home, e discovered that Bradley Wiggins lay second in the Tour de France and that his photos of the Mitcham house were blurred. He looked, randomly, for older ones – he had vague memories of greying square snapshots. He couldn’t find any, though, and his mind switched inexplicably to his last look at Don, waxy and cold in the hospital morgue.
It was a heart attack, short and sharp. The miracle, Nerys later observed, was that stress hadn’t taken out his ticker earlier: “You know, too much ‘agitato’.” This was one of Don’s signature words – a word that strongly signified Don. Navratilova got him agitato. So did El Tel. Sunday afternoon drives were diverted to building sites because Don was worried that someone might have pinched a bag of plaster. Agitato all the way.
Roy put his feet up and surveyed the mess of memories strewn across the living room. He surveyed it for quite some time. Then he switched the Euro final on. Spain took an early lead and doubled it before half time. They were brilliant, but their brilliance left Roy less awed than comforted as the prospect of a stalemate draw followed by a penalty shoot-out he wouldn’t care about but couldn’t tear himself away from receded.
Roy now thought some more about that dream within a dream, wondering if it had marked the start of a new stage, the long, slow, irreversible downward slope into an old age he already couldn’t face, patronised in some squeaky wheelchair, tubes connected to his bladder, treated now and then to a trundle among autumn leaves with Leila or Lucy pushing, and him not knowing who they were.
Six minutes from time Torres completed his relief. A fourth goal followed before the end. Italy deserved better, but Spain deserved to win. Roy switched off before the trophy’s presentation. He sat in the silence, darkness everywhere.
All previous instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport are HERE.
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