And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain. Yes, my Lyon lectureship is in its death throes. The last rites are being read, people are clamouring to say a sad, final farewell, and soon, I will be on that long journey, that traversal of boundaries fixed as it were from eternity, that tremendous passage that we must all face sooner or later … back to England. The tickets are booked and all that remains for me to do is to get to Lyon Part Dieu in time for one of those fast, smart, comfortable TGVs to whisk me away from this God-forsaken ...er... from what has been a warm and tender, albeit temporary, home away from gome among the latter-day Gauls. What else is there to say? It’s galling.
And yet to no place of rest go I just yet. The doctoral thesis having been handed in during April, the summons has now arrived for the viva voce examination in mid-June. It is my firm belief that even as I write, my examiners, Professors Richard Griffiths and Nick Atkin, are sharpening their academic knives, priming their pedants’ pistols, and generally preparing as unpleasant a couple of hours as I am likely to spend on God’s earth. Hmm. And that’s galling too.
And then, no regular visitors to this blog — so neither of you — will have missed my recent reflections on Manchester United’s reconquest of the Premiership. Sad events have since unfolded with their elimination from the European Cup semi-final at the hands of the mighty AC Milan in a display that made Manchester look like a poor pub team in a low-level, Sunday-league cup tie. A similar fate awaited them last weekend at the new Wembley stadium as they lost the FA Cup final to Chelsea, a game which induced a near-fatal state of catatonic boredom in at least two thirds of the 25 million TV viewers. Could things get any more galling than this? I’m afraid they can …
For this evening, in the filthy air of Athens, in an atmosphere thick with Olympian expectations and grimy chlorofluorocarbons, the mighty Milan will take to the field in the European cup final against none other than Liverpool.
"The horror! The horror!"
What is a Man U man to do? Insofar as I am Man U, I would naturally no more support the Scousers than offer an elderly relative in sacrifice to Zeus. And yet as an Englishman, it’s my bounden duty (cue stirring Elgar-like music) to keep a stiff upper lip, hoist the flag and wish Liverpool well against what is after all no more than a team of glorified ice-cream men and professional tumblers.
Still, the horror, the horror. But as I meditate on this dilemma, I learn the sorry news that my one and only Liverpudlian friend is even now, as his team prepare to do battle against the Milanese menace, stranded on Madeira off the coast of Africa, ministering to the needs of some political bigwigs on a spring jolly, and probably unable to watch his team stuff it up the Italians like they did two years ago in Istanbul. Poor fellow. How can one remain indifferent?
Well, I think that decides it: I will watch the match tonight, cheer deliriously for the men in red, and raise a glass in a vaguely Madeiran direction for a poor chap ministering to hearts of darkness instead of watching football like the rest of the civilized world.
Your reward will be great in heaven, as I dare to hope will mine!