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Sober Life
by Sinclair Newton



Sober Life

So the Americans invaded. Both of them descended on me like a pair of B42s.

They wanted, let’s see, ice in their drinks (and - for all I know - in their bathtub, too).

They wanted to see anything older than about twenty years, especially buildings. And they just had to take a picture of the butcher on the tripe stall in the market.

Actually I agreed with them wanting that photograph. It is a remarkable sight, cows’ innards on open sale like that. And I agreed with them objecting to the hotel wanting to see their passports and then demanding to know where they were going after their stay. Peggy said “Edale,” which was true enough as they were heading off to Derbyshire for a week’s serious hiking. None of us said a word when the receptionist wrote “India” in the space provided.

They had pretty forthright views about the imminent attack on Iraq. “What’s the point of killing innocent people?” David asked, which is I guess a rhetorical question.

They liked the tea and particularly the roughly hewn sugar lumps we were served in one café.

Peggy likes her wine, but I was delighted to see David was on the wagon and I spent three days feverishly trying to gauge if he was just being polite. It never struck me before that you could meet people with a problem who just don’t talk about it.

I was telling them all about Ibiza for an hour before I realised they thought I meant somewhere in New Mexico.

Anyway they’ve gone now and I’ll never know whether or not he had a hipflask in his rucksack, but I really don’t think so and you’d think I would know. You never know, though. I once saw a Priest shaking so much you’d think he’d been at Communion for a week.

Meanwhile I’m plotting next week’s itinerary.

The more I look at the train timetables, the more anxious I get.

Did you know there’s something different about the train tracks between France and Spain? They’re not the same width and apparently they have to wake you up so you can change trains at the border. I seem to remember a toy train set I had when I was a little boy with a similar problem, but that was because I’d trodden on a section of the track and it was bent as well.

Getting to Ibiza is OK because it’s more or less due South of Meadow Lane and you just go to London and then Paris and Barcelona and pop across the Med on that oh-so-high ferry, assuming you can climb the ladder with your suitcase.

In an extravagant moment I suddenly said to Rick: “Let’s go to Madrid on the way back,” which is a bit like saying “Let’s go back up to the top again” when you reach Kathmandu.

It’s at least fourteen hours from there to Paris and I don’t know what it’s like spending that long on a train without the cushioning effect of the railway buffet, but I suggested it and I’ve no doubt I’ll be reminded of that many times in the weeks to come.

Still, we might get to see the second greatest football team in the world and at least there’s always the opportunity for a drink and I won’t have to traipse all over Derbyshire in wet socks first.

Sinclair Newton