I hate this country, you know. When I think of all the places I could be. Sure, Palestine ain’t so nice at the moment, but Barcelona, perhaps? Genoa? Even fucking Moscow would do, frankly. Well, maybe not Moscow. I like a bit of warmth, after all. But you get my drift. England is not where I want to be right now.
So why am I stuck here in this godforsaken rainy, over-priced, underwhelming shit-hole of a country, populated by a bunch of ungrateful, uncultured, whingeing hypocrites? I’ll tell you why. It’s all because of the bloody footie. I’m here because your – my – pathetic excuse for a national team failed to qualify for Euro 2008. And what’s that got to do with me? Especially now that it’s all over and done with. You might well ask.
It was Welsh Dave who put me onto it. To be honest, I don’t hear a lot from old Dave. We don’t get on. It’s the dragon thing, of course. Can’t say I really blame him, but you’d think he’d be over it by now. (After all, if the truth were told, it was only a little one. But keep that under your hat.) Fair do’s, though, he did go to the trouble of telling me what was going on, which is more than Paddy or Andy could be arsed to do. Bloody comedy duo, they are. Nice guys, but frankly, they’re about as much use as Little and Large when it comes to carrying out their workload.
Take Paddy for instance. Snake-charmer Paddy. You just can’t take that seriously, can you? Well, not when you’ve brought a dragon down, anyway. Even if it was, as I say, a small one. Not exactly surprising that when the territories were handed out, he only got a handful to manage. Oh, and he got engineers as well, which I think says it all.
And bloody Andy never has the time to speak to me. Claims he’s always busy, but frankly he’s got much less to deal with than I have. I reckon it’s more to do with the fact that he’s got singers and performers on his list, and he likes hanging out with them backstage. Sometimes I reckon he’s just a glorified groupie. Mind you, a fair few of performers come under my jurisdiction, too, y’know. Well, that’s what happens when you’re responsible for herpes and syphilis. It’s a shitty job, but someone’s got to do it.
So anyway, I get this call from Welsh Dave, saying that there’s a problem with the London office. It’s all about the Flag. And I’m thinking, not the fucking Flag again. Anything but the flag. But, yes, says Dave. It’s the Flag.
Y’see, time was when we didn’t make a lot of use of the Flag in England. It got incorporated into the Union one, and that was all well and good. Bit of a shame from my point of view, ’cos it’s always nice seeing your colours on display. But then again, if I want to do that, I can always go to Barcelona for the weekend. Or Prague. Or a whole load of different places.And strictly speaking, we’re not supposed to flaunt our colours anyway. So we closed down all the flag stores in England and moved the stuff to the other sites. And that was it, so we thought.
But then all of a sudden, towards the end of the twentieth century, all these little Englanders start getting the idea that they want their Flag back again. Especially when there’s a bit of footie on. So we set up a small operation to distribute the things. But soon we run out, and we’re going to have to shell out a small fortune to get some more made. And this is the point at which I make my first big mistake. I don’t know why I do it, but it seems to be the right thing to do at the time. I hire a consultant. Yes, you heard right. I hire a fucking consultant. And the first thing this consultant says to me is, you’ve got intellectual property there. You could be making a fortune out of this. And I say, we’re not supposed to be making a fortune, and he says, well you can spend all your profits on good works, then, if it’s such a problem.
So we set up this merchandising operation. Licence fee for the use of the Flag, and a team of lawyers to put the heat on anyone who rips us off. Want the cross on that patriotic beer label? That’ll be 10p a bottle, please. Small flags? 20p a throw. Large ones? A quid. By the time Euro 2004 comes along, we are making a mint. We are rolling in it. We have a staff of a hundred or more. We have some of the highest paid directors with the biggest executive coke habits in the business. Looking back on it, somewhere along the line, we may also have lost track of the good works. Hey, it happens.
You know what goes down next. November 21st, 2007, Croatia, at home, mind, at bloody Wembley. An awe-inspiringly crap demonstration of football as you’re ever likely to see, and our national team of second-rate tossers are dumped out of Euro 2008. I’m watching it in a bar in Ljubljana, but at the time it fails to dawn on me that our entire business plan has just gone down the proverbial toilet.
Then a couple of weeks ago I get this call from Welsh Dave. Listen up, boyo, he says. You’ve got a bit of a problem with those wide boys of yours, he says. They’ve been looking around for new business to make up for the loss of the soccer trade. So what, I say? Well, says Dave, the problem is that some of the lads who’d like to be using your Flag ain’t exactly kosher. There’s this up and coming political party for one, he says, and I can see exactly what’s coming.
So that’s why I get on the first plane out of Slovenia and make an unscheduled visit to my least favourite territory. And first thing, Monday morning, I turn up unannounced at HQ. Matthew, our licensing director, is a little too pleased to see me, and I can’t help feeling he’s over-compensating. We exchange pleasantries and talk about how the business is going, and he says that, well, we’ve taken a bit of a hammering with the loss of the footie and such like, but we didn’t too badly out of the rugby so it’s not a complete disaster, all things considered, and …
What about the other bunch, I say? Which other bunch, says Matthew? The English Front, I say, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week. Ah, that bunch, he says. Oh, they’re quite small beer. Well, I know that he ain’t telling the truth at this point, because Welsh Dave has given me all the figures and they’re pretty astounding. I’d love to know who’s bankrolling them, because they’ve got long pockets. But I keep my mouth shut.
Can I meet these guys, I say? If they’re a new progressive force in UK politics, then maybe it’s the kick up the arse that this country needs. Matthew looks a little uneasy, but he can’t really say no. And, as luck would have it, their head of PR is coming in that very morning to sign the final contract. So it’s agreed that I should sit in on the meeting.
The English Front’s PR guy is a slimy little turd called Damien. Matthew introduces me as “George”, but the bastard refuses to shake my hand. Damien makes a big show of re-reading through the contract before he signs. Then he seems to come to a decision and makes some comment about feeling uncomfortable with Osama over there watching him. Matthew looks embarrassed. It turns out that Damien is referring to yours truly, but before I have a chance to interject, Damien goes on to say that he finds it surprising that we employ “ethnics” in this organisation, of all places. Matthew is now wishing that the floor would open up underneath him.
I’ve had enough by now, so I say to Damien that if he has a problem with me, then maybe we shouldn’t conclude this deal after all. Matthew looks horrified, but Damien is confused. He turns to Matthew as if to say, who the fuck is this guy? But all that Matthew can say is, well, he’s the boss. Damien is scandalised at this and he tears up the contract on the spot, before going off on a long and incoherent bigoted rant with lots of finger-jabbing, most of it in my direction. He ends up with a warning to watch my back, and then storms out of the room.
Well, that went well, I say to Matthew, who is looking a lot paler than he did when he came in the room.We have a full and frank exchange of views at this point, following which I decide that I have had enough of the place for one day, and I head off back to the company flat. On my way there, I get this feeling that I’m being watched, but I tell myself not to be so paranoid. It’s been a bad day, after all.
Anyway, at around five o’clock the next morning, the front door is broken down by a bunch of armed policemen. They haul me out of my bed and pin me up against the wall, telling me that they’ve had reports of a man of middle-eastern appearance who’s been behaving suspiciously, and by the way where are my papers? Now this is difficult. Being the kind of person I am, I have a number of different passports, depending on which country I happen to be representing at the time. Of course, this makes me look even more suspicious.
Who are you then, they say? Who are you really? And I’m tired, fed up and out of sorts, so I do something really stupid. I tell them who I really am. For some reason, they find my answer hilarious. Slain any dragons recently, they say? And I answer, only the dragons of intolerance and bigotry. Which in retrospect is another fucking stupid thing to say, because it earns me a punch in the ribs for being a cheeky towelheaded bastard. And how do I fancy getting measured up for an orange jumpsuit, eh? Eh?
So here I am, banged up for the next 42 days, in a cell next to some nutter with a beard who thinks he’s Jesus, whilst they search the flat for something to pin on me. Sometimes you need the patience of a saint.
© Jonathan Pinnock, 2008
The Patience of a Saint by Jonathan Pinnock was read by Paul Clarke at the Liars' League Saints & Sinners event on 8 July 2008