As a child, I hated watching ‘Last of the Summer’s Wine’, the BBC sitcom about old men with nothing much to do with their lives but fool around. Now, I’m living it.
Once upon a time, I pitied Compo, the clownish one of the trio. Wrapped in tweed and a cloth cap, his relentless joie de vivre was as tedious as a recurring hernia.
Now, I wish Compo was here with me on this pub balcony overlooking the Thames, with the other old toads who pass for friends, musing away this sunny afternoon.
The party is flagging
This party needs pumping and Compo might have provided the spark to get it going. We’ve been sitting around for half an hour and barely a word has passed between us, let alone anything jovial or stimulating. It’s like an induction meeting for Trappist monks. Everyone’s left their gags in a locker outside.
‘Too old to rock and roll, too young to die,’ one of my mates whispers into the froth of his pint glass.
‘Chin up,’ I say.
He lifts his eyes, smiles and says nothing.
‘Anyone got any good jokes,’ I ask.
‘Yes. Coventry’s the new capital of culture,’ says someone.
It’s five years since Mischief Club launched
This august body of ancient mariners and Compo look-a-likes is what my children would call ‘a friendship group.’
We call ourselves ‘Mischief Club’.
The name is a self-conscious, ironic joke, of course. The most mischievous thing we’ve done in the five years since we incorporated was to return a corked bottle of wine to a snotty sommelier.
If we were valued accuracy, we would rename ourselves ‘The Dull Men’s Club’. Or disband. We’re so wet we could extinguish the flame of fun at the Hell Fire Club’s Christmas bash.
‘Got stuck next to two Covid-Idiots on the train here. They spent the entire journey without a mask sitting next to a sign saying: ‘Wear a mask.’ Moaned on and on and on out loud about their human rights being infringed,’ says one of the group.
‘Millennials,’ he replies.
Dr Frankenstein comes to our rescue
A fizz of energy passes through the assembled members of Mischief Club as if Doctor Frankenstein had plugged us directly into the mains. Nothing is guaranteed to reanimate the lifeless conversation of a group of bored Boomers faster than the chance to whinge about Millennials or the young, generally. Mischief Club is no exception.
‘Wouldn’t know their Human Rights if they bit them in the arse,’ says someone.
‘Exactly,’ says another, with the triumphant air of a barrister concluding a case which he thinks is a slam dunk guilty verdict.
Excited by the positive reaction to his train story, our storyteller puffs on.
‘One was a dead-eyed, man child of about 18 with a scar on his cheek. The other a girl in a fake tan and furs. About the same age. Thick. Entitled. Ghastly.’
‘Just wanted to provoke you. Age Baiters.’
‘Did you report them to the ticket inspector?’
‘There wasn’t one,’ says our storyteller.
‘Typical,’ sighs everyone simultaneously. It’s like the sound of a thousand shawls being wrapped around a thousand old shoulders.
‘My father didn’t fight in the War so the young could travel on trains in fake tans and furs,’ I say.
The conversation halts. A few heads shake.
‘Is that your idea of a joke?’ asks someone.
‘We’d just got up a head of steam,’ says another. ‘Now you’ve ruined it.’
‘Sorry,’ I say.
The river flows past
A man in a motorboat with a megaphone shouts at a rowing eight who have fluffed their stroke. I feel their pain.
At the beginning, we had high aspirations for Mischief Club. It wasn’t just an excuse to meet pals for a boozy lunch. Oh, no. It was going to be a place to foster fellowship among a band of friends as they trekked into the Third Age. We modelled ourselves on the USS Enterprise. Our aim was to boldly go where old men had never gone before. To seek out new civilisations, culture and cuisine (as long as it was inside the Circle Line and we could be home before Rush Hour).
In the early days, we travelled to faraway places like Shoreditch to marvel at Hipsters sipping macchiatos faultlessly through their perfectly trimmed beards and drank ourselves politely cock eyed with gin and tonics on the early morning Uber boat to Greenwich. We were like the Fellowship of the Rings only armed with Museum cards not swords.
‘We used to go to a gallery before we drinking,’ says one Mischief Club member. ‘Now we barely even drink.’
‘We used to have £300 in the club kitty. But he blew it all on a duff tip at Newmarket,’ says another pointing at the club’s self-appointed Treasurer and Chief Investment Officer.
Mischief Club is in danger of turning into a Salem Witch trial.
Silence descends as beer is tilts slowly down flaccid necks.
One of us is escaping to the country
‘Have I told you I’m going to be on ‘Escape to the Country’,’ says one of the group.
‘The TV series?’ I ask.
‘Where are you escaping to?’ I ask.
‘I don’t advise that. Don’t like the English. Worse diet in Europe.’
‘Nonsense,’ says the putative escapee. ‘Friendly people. Beautiful countryside. Not like this.’
He points at the brown sludge passing for a river below the pub balcony and the overbuilt riverside next to us. Car horns bleat in the street.
Escape to the country?
Escape to the country. Four words which summarise the desire nestling in the collective unconscious of so many Londoners. So many, in their night sweats, longing to become Sarah Beeny or Jeremy Clarkson. So many, who have nothing left in their lives but to dream of striding around a newly acquired country estate shouting at their newly acquired estate manager: ‘Buy more owls for the barns’ and ‘Rewild everything before the weekend.’
Is Scotland a good place to retire to?
Escape to the Cotswolds or Cornwall. That makes sense. But escape to a country called Scotland? That’s a different country (even if the Government wants to stop us saying so). This member of Mischief Club has been a Londoner all his life. Will he understand a word they say to him? What happens if Scottish independence happens? Will he start wearing kilts? This is a lot of questions to take on so late in life. Compo would never be so radical.
‘Tired of London, tired of life,’ says someone.
‘Nonsense. I’ve got my eyes on a trout farm with 10 acres and still have money over to pickle my liver.’
Ten acres and trout. Plus money over for pickling your entrails. Hmm. The cogs inside the greying minds of Mischief Club’s membership turn this over silently.
A young waitress hovers at the edge of our table with menus. She’s hesitant to interrupt. Perhaps she’s shy? Or, perhaps, she’s never seen so many dinosaurs together outside of the Natural History Museum and is worried we might bite.
A version of this blog appeared in the Chiswick Calendar.