The other day I was reading about Scottish football (I know, there’s not much
going on in my life) when I was struck by a phrase that was simultaneously
familiar and strange. A 19-year-old defender had been called up to the
Scotland squad, and a teammate, who was 29, was quoted as saying: “It’s like
something out of Roy of the Rovers.”
Modern football is a repository of antiquated cultural references. Only
last week, I heard one commentator describe some achievement or other as
“real Boys’ Own stuff”. The Boys’ Own Paper was published from 1879 to 1967.
No doubt viewers aged between about 55 and 140 will have nodded fondly,
but what actual boys will have made of the reference, I don’t know.
(“Boyzone? What’s scoring a goal got to do with Ronan Keating? Come to think
of it, I’m barely old enough to know who he is.”)
Roy of the Rovers, though. The Roy of the Rovers comic folded in 1995, when
the 29-year-old teammate was 10, so I suppose he might have read it. But the
19-year-old defender was about to turn one. So unless he was an exceptionally
advanced reader, he probably has no idea what his colleague was babbling
That thought made me a bit sad. I grew up on comics. Dandy, Beano, Topper,
Beezer, Whizzer & Chips, Big Comic, and indeed Roy. When I’d finished
reading, I’d go round to my friends’ houses, where their mothers would tell
me off, because instead of playing with their poor offspring, I’d lie on the
floor, reading their comics.
Recently, on my way to visit some friends who have a four-year-old son, I
popped into WH Smith to buy him a comic. The few that remain are hardly
comics at all.
What you get, for your £2.99, is a bag stuffed with toys, pens and
miscellaneous trinkets, and then, as if as an afterthought, a glossy booklet
about 20 pages long. For all the reading you get out of it, it might as well
be a flyer for a pizza place.
Perhaps children nowadays are so gifted that they don’t need comics, and just
skip straight to novels. That’ll be my life soon enough: come home after a
hard day’s work to find my son’s room crammed with six-year-old boys
fighting over Flaubert.
A rite of passage on Twitter
I’m sure I need hardly tell you this, because the nation has been talking
about little else since, but the other evening I made my first appearance on
the Six O’Clock News. As an interviewee in a report about John Bercow and
Prime Minister’s Questions, I mean. I’m not wanted for murder or anything.
As you can imagine, the minute my face flashed up on screen, I was inundated
with praise and admiration from the public on Twitter. Here are the first
three messages of congratulation I received.
1. “Who punched you in the eye? It looks very closed up.”
2. “You look knackered.”
3. “Are you from Slough?”
The first two, I’m prepared to take on the chin. But as for the third, I’m
talking to my lawyers.
My wife auditions for an art house film
My wife has stopped wearing her wedding ring because, just weeks from giving
birth, she finds it uncomfortably tight. That’s her story, anyway. I suppose
I’ll buy it. To be honest, I think she’s feeling a bit too knackered to go
out on the pull, so if any aspiring suitors do have designs on her, they’ll
have to come to our house, ideally with a packet of chocolate Hobnobs. Or a
bag of those fizzy sweets, Tangfastics. She likes those.
Anyway, last Sunday afternoon we were sitting in a quiet local bar overlooking
the river when she pointed out how odd we might look to anyone with an
observant eye and a fertile imagination. As I was wearing a wedding ring and
she wasn’t, such a person might think I was a married man cheating on his
wife with a heavily pregnant woman. It was the finest premise for a European
art house film I’d ever heard.