In my well-documented meanderings around York, I purchased a “press out and glue” cardboard model of a Viking Ship for the son and heir, marketed by no less an august institution than the British Museum. Needless to say I misjudged the product and once opened, it was obvious that the complexity was too much for a six year-old.
Now, I don’t know about you, but it is many years since I last wrestled with an Airfix kit. Hours of frustrating endeavour would produce a glue-encrusted mess of plastic and broken transfers. Why did they always split and wrinkle when you removed the paper from the saucer of warm water and gently attempted to slide them onto the fuselage or hull?
Imagine our brave boys having to take to the air in my poorly assembled Spitfire, to say nothing of the paintjob.
You may have built a life size representation of the Titanic from balsa wood or St Paul’s Cathedral in cocktail sticks; I had neither the skills, nor patience for model making.
But in the spirit of fatherhood I could not leave the boy disappointed and with not a little relish, set about the construction of this noble vessel on the Sunday after we had beaten Blackburn.
I didn’t do too badly but progress was slow and time was short and so the majestic craft was laid aside until another opportunity for peaceful assemblage presented itself.
By three o’clock on Sunday last, the Bayou household had settled to late afternoon quietude and so to calm the nerves before the game I settled once again to completing the, by now eagerly anticipated, vessel.
Very apt indeed I hear you say, given that we were playing a team from one of Britain’s great maritime cities and an area once settled by the Vikings.
It was very soothing.
I found myself floating in a bubble of calm as I bent to the task of scoring (unlike my team), glueing and fixing the mast, the sail, the tiller, sundry crew members and lots of other fiddly bits of stuff. With the headphones on, listening to the build up, I was transported back in time to the shores of the fjords circa 950 AD. Standing on the prow as we return from scaring the bejaysus out of some hapless monks on Holy Island, I wave to my beloved Norse maiden, while my tousle haired children play on the foreshore. Or maybe I embrace my ageing parents one last time before I set sail for Greenland and onto the New World, to Canada. It is many years before I see the fjords again, returning only when the settlement fails after being rejected for yet another NHL expansion franchise, which always seem to go to the southern sunbelt. Disillusioned with hockey, I turn to football and wait out the years in anticipation of Egil Olsen and his wellies, propelling Norway to a place in football’s elite.
Ah the beauty of the fjords, by God (or Odin) I very soon wished wish I’d stayed there.
Having not yet sorted out Sopcats, Topcats, P2P or whatever it’s called, I woke from my reverie to find myself without a feed to watch the game. I was stuck with 5 Live. Colin Campbell, Alan Green and Lawro; “Mickey” lovers to a man. Only Mike Ingham (Chief Football Correspondent) on hand to perhaps give a modicum of perspective.
And as with the Vikings, the rest is history.
Storm tossed on the heavy seas of defeat, I was torn between feeling like Kenneth More in “A Night to Remember”, or good ol’ (Sir) Dickie Attenborough in “The Ship that Died of Shame”.
And yet it was nowhere near the tortures we have suffered in recent years.
For we’ve been through some deep hurt and disappointment. And it is a certainty that there will be more. We are adrift on the ocean of fate.
As Jack Hawkins puts it in the eponymous film “The Cruel Sea”:
“The men are the heroes; the heroines the ships. The only villain is the sea, the cruel sea that man has made more cruel.”
And yet on Sunday I was rescued by the lifeboat of a Double winning year (cue gratuitous bluegrass link).
In years gone by, I have always been irritated at the way fans of the “big” clubs could shake off defeat, how they didn’t seem overly bothered when we beat them. Some of them were of course just plain arrogant. But I’m now beginning to wonder if a long run of success doesn’t somehow give you a certain perspective, a degree of insouciance in the face of reversal.
When you are winning nothing and have no great expectation of it ever changing, you somehow take it in your stride and cherish the big moments. You know the ultimate prize is out of reach. Like getting three numbers in the Lottery but never winning the jackpot.
It is far worse to be constantly on the brink of success. Reaching out for the lifebelt of achievement, only to have it endlessly washed from your grasp.
I think I’ve reached that point where I feel we have proved ourselves. It’s not complacency, it’s not arrogance, it’s just a sense that “if it doesn’t happen today, then on to next day”. We have struggled aboard and are sitting, teeth chattering, wrapped in the warm blanket of success.
We have won the Double and in some style. We know how to do it: three titles in six years. It was no fluke.
Of course I want more. Sunday’s defeat hurts, but it hasn’t ruined my week. We have time and plenty of chances to put things right.
Yes, a Double can help with a sense of perspective.
But does it help as much as the detailed, vexing, precision-work of building a model Viking ship? I wouldn’t claim that all is perfection. Too long has passed since I attempted to work a material, bend it to my will. I don’t instinctively feel how it fits together. The instructions assume too much knowledge. Too much is inferred, nothing is explicit. I lose myself in finer detail.
Glue pancaked here, the foredeck skewed there. Strips of tape to help secure a recalcitrant spar too obvious to the naked eye. But I progress. A recognisable craft is taking shape. For every step backward, I solve the problem and edge closer to my goal.
Was it this calming balm of intense concentration that soothed the raw soul-blisters inflicted by Alan Green (though not, it must be said, Mike Ingham who is always more measured)? Did the demands of small detail and manual dexterity help carry me through the anguish as the boys ran out of time, those last dreadful minutes when you know the game is up.
Have I found a way to take me through the tension of game time and the pain of defeat? It may be so.
I didn’t get it finished. It is a work in progress. Some rigging and minor elements of nautical fit-out remain. But I have to believe it will sail; it will be seaworthy.
I cannot get to the Bridge on Sunday, when we play Sunderland. A game you all no doubt feel we should win. And I feel that too.
But nothing is for sure and there are 90 minutes of tension to be endured. So, appropriately given the identity of our visitors, and to paraphrase Elvis Costello:
“I may well be shipbuilding.”
(Let’s have the Robert Wyatt version though.)