Jeremy Clarke

Low Life | 7 February 2009

Best laid plans

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Apart from going to the nearest town one afternoon to have teeth out, I hadn’t been out of the village for six weeks. I might have been depressed about this normally, but a jolly outing I had entered and underlined in my diary for the end of January kept my spirits up. I was popping up to the metropolis to watch a football match — an evening game, under floodlights.

Our new manager, whom the critics were, to start with, eager to write off as an ingénue, a loser, a chancer, even a chimpanzee, was proving to be a man of honour, wisdom, good humour and sanity. Under him, the team was playing attractive, thoughtful football again. And winning. We’ve become bitterly disillusioned with our football club in the past few years. Beginning with the spivs in the boardroom, it appeared that the rot had spread down through every level, even as far as the outsourced disc-jockey. But since Christmas, on the pitch, a miracle has been unfolding before our very eyes. The team just gets better and better and some of us are starting to believe. I couldn’t wait to get up there and see them play again.

The journey to the stadium involves a half-hour drive to the station, a three-hour train ride to Paddington, then an hour by Tube. I’d pre-booked the trains and match tickets. All I had to do was show up on time at the station and enjoy the day. But things didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped.

Just before I left the house I put in a new pair of contact lenses. I change them once a month. Each lens has a different strength: one is for reading and close work, the other for distance. Getting them in and settled can be a fiddly job, and somehow I got them mixed up and put them in the wrong eyes. As I was already cutting it a bit fine for the station, I left them in and decided to do the switch on the train.

With the contact lenses in the wrong eyes, I could see things close to, such as newsprint, with startling clearness. The countryside beyond the railway line and embankment was a blur, however. A mirror was essential, so once aboard the train I went along to the lavatory at the end of the carriage and locked myself in. Then I pinched the right lens out of my eye and placed it in the upturned cap of my bottle of water, which I placed beside the sink and filled with water. As I plucked out the left lens, the train rocked violently from side to side and the tiny, transparent plastic circle dropped off the end of my forefinger and fell on the floor somewhere between the lavatory bowl and the wall. Exactly where it fell, I couldn’t see. I hoped not in the puddle in the corner. As I knelt and bent my head close to the floor, my mobile phone slid out of my breast pocket and fell into the lavatory with a splash. Without thinking twice, I thrust my hand into the water and grabbed it before it went round the S-bend.

Now I had to wash my hands. I gave my hands a squirt of Great Western pink

liquid soap and shoved them under the tap. No water. The roller towel had run out of towel and locked itself. So I made my way myopically down the aisle of the next carriage, holding my wet hand up as if it was injured in some way, to find a lavatory with running hot water and a bit of roller towel left. On the way the ticket collector blocked my path and asked to see my ticket, which I gave up to him with my wet hand.

Returning with clean, soap-scented hands to resume the search for my dropped lens, I found the cubicle now engaged, and had to wait outside the door for about 20 miles until the door finally opened and the occupant, an elderly woman, came tottering out. Disastrously I failed to find the lens. While I was on all fours, covering every inch of the cubicle floor, the door was slammed hard against my nut by a passenger who was under the impression that the lavatory was unoccupied.

I returned to my seat and looked out of the window. Beyond the glass England was a blur. When I got to Paddington, I bought a can of strong lager to raise my sagging spirits, and on the platform at Baker Street I opened it and raised it to my lips. It was my first taste of beer since the week before Christmas. But as the can touched my lips, a passing policeman, one of a pair, with perfect timing deftly removed it from my grip, and reminded me, in a strong Polish accent, that drinking alcohol on the Underground was no longer permitted. It was just after that that I first realised I’d left my match ticket at home.