Sorry for the long absence. Not only have Roo and I switched hemispheres again, I’ve been crazy busy trying to get my latest sci-fi book finished. I know, I know! But don’t worry, I’ve still got plans outside the realm of exploding spaceships and genetically-engineered assassins.
Here, for example, is another of the fabled ‘Missing Chapters’ – the ones that didn’t make it into the final versions of my travel books. Today we have another example from ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ For a while, Toby and I were the only volunteers at Santa Martha, and we started to go a bit stir-crazy. The big boss Johnny’s solution was to take us to see a football match…
Needless to say, it wasn’t quite what we expected. I wrote this chapter about it, and loved it – but it didn’t add to the overall narrative, and when I needed to cut almost a third of the book out, this story wasn’t strong enough to stay. Still, a bit of fun. I hope you enjoy it 😉
The Beautiful Game
Facing a fairly lonely Saturday afternoon, Toby and I jumped at the chance for a bit of entertainment. Brenda’s sister’s boyfriend was apparently a famous footballer, and we had the rare opportunity to watch him demonstrate his talent live. I personally couldn’t give a stuff about football, but it wasn’t nearly as painful as most of the other things to do around here. And Johnny promised to buy us a beer. So Toby rounded up a pretty blonde girl called Alice, now tentatively identified as his girlfriend, and Johnny drove the three of us plus Brenda through the outlying suburbs of Quito to witness the spectacle.
From the outside the stadium looked abandoned. It was in a fairly poor district of town, and Quito wasn’t the best looking place even in the more affluent areas. It was a huge grey breeze-block structure with a multitude of concrete reinforcing rods protruding from the top. I’d recently received an insight into this strange phenomenon from one of the staff at my favourite backpackers’ hostel, the Centro Del Mundo. Apparently housing tax, or building tax, was only applied to completed structures. So a common evasion was to plan for twice the size you wanted and only build half of it, leaving at least one more storey to be added at an unspecified future date. To prove the point you had to leave tools and building materials on the roof. I guess the trade off was worthwhile – ugly-up the top of your house and splash out on an extra stack of blocks to save yourself the next twenty five years of council tax. It was such a successful scheme that almost every house in the country was doing it. As were most of the shops. But surely not…
“You’ve got to be shitting me!” I proclaimed loudly. “They can’t be scamming the tax on that. Not the stadium?”
“It’s a strange, strange country,” Toby supplied.
“But… What are they planning to add? Another pitch on the first floor?”
We consumed the promised beers in a pokey little café opposite the car park. The place didn’t look like it saw much custom, but then neither did the stadium. I was starting to wonder if we’d got the wrong day.
By the time we approached the entrance though, there seemed to be a bit of a crowd gathering. At least we wouldn’t be lonely. We bought tickets and strolled in to sit on the wide empty terraces. Almost immediately someone appeared to sell us food. For more beer we had to trek all the way to the back of the terrace – at least until the beer vendor noticed that the five of us were responsible for half his profits. After that he came by regularly to check our hands weren’t empty. And between the beers and the different guys scurrying about with burgers, sausage rolls and fried chicken, they seldom were. It had been slim pickings at the refuge lately, with Toby threatening to make his patented omelettes almost daily – so I ate everything I could get my mitts on.
When the last few die-hard fans had trickled in through the gate the game got underway. Did I say we were watching football? Allegedly so, though to my way of thinking it was closer to watching twenty legless wood lice trying to mate. No-one seemed to have a clue what was going on, least of all the players. To call it dire would be an insult to other things which are often called dire, but which can occasionally be quite good, like country music.
Even the local crowd was finding it hard to summon up much enthusiasm. Every so often a shaky song would start up, only to die a few seconds later when no-one joined in.
It wasn’t long before Toby and I found a way to amuse ourselves. Since it was fairly certain that no-one else in the crowd spoke English, we took to shouting random insults at opportune moments. I opened the batting.
“Come on! I’ve got poo stains on my jeans with better defence than you!”
“You kick like a spice girl!” Toby shouted.
“Don’t bother getting up!” I yelled at a particularly dramatic casualty. “You’re more use lying on the pitch. Someone might trip over you!”
Alice’s unexpected contribution nearly killed me. I inhaled three quarters of a hot-dog when she yelled “You’re supposed to kick the big round thing. And I don’t mean the goalie!”
Johnny had a few sniggers at our antics – it can’t have been hard to guess that we weren’t fired up with honest fervour.
Now, it is a truth universally acknowledged that no matter where you go in the world, the footballers will have silly hair. It seems to act as a substitute for personality. I can just see the scenario at the try-outs:
Trainer: “We got a problem boss. This kid, he can play like a God, but he looks like a dogs arse in a pair of shorts. He’s fat, drunk, illiterate, and he beats his wife.
Manager: “Hm. This calls for extreme measures. Get him down to the barber’s and have them shave the national anthem into his head.”
Trainer: “Wow, boss, that’s pure genius! I’m on my way!”
Manager: “And Joey? Better make it orange.”
Quito’s star player was having more trouble fighting his perm than the opposing team – a shoulder-length cascade of golden blond curls. Very elegant on a leggy English beauty in a slinky black dress, I thought. Rather less so on a stocky, sweating striker.
To his credit he spent less time rolling round the floor in abject agony than the rest of his team mates, though he was probably just afraid of messing up his hair-do. Every few minutes a member of one team or the other would drop like a pair of wet pants and clutch a limb in sudden pain. The nearest member of the opposing team could be half a pitch away, it didn’t seem to matter at all. To cause so many casualties from such impressive distances the midfielders must have been carrying nail guns.
Half-time gave us a fascinating insight into local sporting culture, when a handful of officials dragged a huge inflatable tunnel onto the pitch for the players to leave by. Fans loved to celebrate their favourite players by throwing things at them, Johnny explained, and more players were typically injured by the rain of food, papers and the odd glass beer bottle than by playing the game! It was a custom I was happy to endorse. Half a cold sausage roll bounced off the bright yellow inflatable shield. “Ten points…!”
After all it was only harmless fun. Given the excruciating injuries the players seemed to suffer on the pitch, all cured in moments by the tender application of the medic’s magic sponge (leaving them free to jog triumphantly round the field waving to the crowd), it seemed unlikely that any of these hardy veterans would be laid low by a flying sausage roll.
Eventually, and with much drama, the game ground to a close. Quito had inflicted a crushing nil-nil draw on whoever the hell they were playing.
“That showed ‘em!” said Toby.
“It’s down to the advantage of playing at home,” I pointed out. “See, they know which bits of the pitch aren’t finished.”
All in all, it was a great trip out. It took us away from the stresses of the centre and allowed us to let off some steam. It also allowed us to scream obscenities, throw food, and drink more tepid beer than was probably advisable for the princely sum of 80c per bottle. Perhaps football isn’t so bad after all…
Right! That’s it for now. What did you think? Let me know in the comments 😉 Who knows, if I edit together enough of these chapters, I could make a book just of the spare parts…? Hm. Something to think about. If you missed any of the others – they are called ‘Missing Chapters’, after all – here’s a link where you can find what I’ve posted so far.
Thank-you! Hope you enjoyed this!