It had to happen eventually. Having spent three-and-a-half years getting paid to research nineteenth-century history, and having spent last summer with CricketEurope, I finally found myself in a proper, nine-to-six, desk-and-office, honest-to-God job. The fact that I cannot disclose the details of what I do will tell you that it is truly a real job in the real world.
The job is also in London, which is – of course – one of the great cities. There is more history and culture in London than maybe anywhere else (Paris? Rome? Jerusalem?) and it is unarguably the economic and financial centre of the world.
That does not, however, mean that I have to like it. The radical campaigner William Cobbett, who cherished rural communities and decried industrial rapacity, called the city ‘The Great Wen’. More recently an LSE professor of economics called London ‘the dark star’ of the United Kingdom, sucking in the wealth, people, and energy of the nation. I would not disagree. I hate it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s a wonderful place to visit, but many of the ‘great’ aspects of London do nothing for me. I don’t care about seeing the Houses of Parliament every day, because I know what they look like. I know that I don’t care about the museums and the galleries, because, if I did, I would have visited them already. Moreover, you couldn’t pay me to go to a West End musical.
For what it’s worth, I have found that trying to survive in London is actually a lot like trying to survive in the NCU Premier League.
First, there is the exponentially increasing cost. For the question ‘Do I want to pay half my players to finish mid-table, maybe win a cup, but receive less than 5% of my outlay in prize money?’ read ‘Do I want to spend £900 per month to live in a small, three-bed flat with strangers, and therefore have a worse standard of accommodation than I could afford as a student?’ My answer to both questions is ‘No’.
Then there are the dreaded journeys. The annual trips to Waringstown and Comber always took longer than we thought, part of them was always spent behind a tractor, and the almost inevitably heavy defeats made us wish we had not bothered. Is this any different from spending half an hour each way on the Central Line, jammed into someone’s armpit, breathing only fumes and body odour, and paying £5.80 daily for the privilege?
Third, there is the soulless aggression of the quotidian grind. Nobody talks, nobody says hello, nobody goes for a sociable drink at the end of the day, and everybody regards everyone else as a threat or a rival. Is that the Premier League, or London, or both?
Anyway, life is too short to live in a place that I don’t like, and even after a few months I am tired of London. According to Samuel Johnson, that means that I am tired of life itself. Maybe, but I think things were different for immensely wealthy gentlemen in the eighteenth century
The regime has begun. With baby steps, perhaps, but Ballymena’s fitness campaign for the 2016 season lurched into gear last week as we gathered in the dilapidated, unheated, asbestos-lined crypt that serves as the club gym. As McKinley and my brother lifted heavy things, I endured a circuit. After two laps, I wanted to cry.
We are, on the whole, looking forward to the new season. It will not be easy, but we will be competitive. We will visit grounds and play against people we have not seen in years. And as ever we will stick together, which is the only reason we survived even one year in the Premier League.
At least two of our squad have turned down offers from a Belfast club, and a third might well do the same. More importantly, when we renewed Glassy’s contract in September we inserted a £3.4m release clause, so nobody has even tried to go there.
On Saturday, we are descending upon Lisburn’s annual quiz. Given that I have lost every match I have played there, this may be my only chance of winning anything at Wallace Park.