by Andrew Foote
Throughout this story real organisations and real people are mentioned by name. Their place in the tale is in the author's imagination. No thoughts, words or deeds attributed to those people or organisations are real, nor have they ever happened. This is a story! It's fiction. The people and organisations, even when they interact with the characters, are presented in an entirely imagined and fictitious manner, and no discourtesy is intended to them by the author nor by the web site.
"You? Drinking?? What's with you Benny?"
"I'm in shock I think. From the first term at Ashmead my life has been like a roller coaster ride. Some of those early things that happened like being an eleven year old yet accepted as an equal in your, well okay our study group were important to me but looking back, I now realise the significance of it all. Andy mentioning to Tony about how I could get involved in sports, those early training sessions at Christchurch which bloody nearly killed me to the point I actually contemplated pulling out but do you know why I stuck with it? You guys were my heroes and I would've been letting you down. I found I had an aptitude for gymnastics, I competed at club level then regional to international even the Olympics. If you'd told me that day I peed my pants from being up on stage talking to the school about our oldie project that I'd be where I am now, I'd have had you sectioned under the Mental Health Act but I am here and not only that, Alec tells me that I'm improving and I've still got much more to give. Damn it, now I'm being told that I have a personal fortune in excess of two million quid? I'm still a kid for heaven's sake!"
Jo reached over and gave him a hug.
"Yes it must seem a bit surreal, I know that Andy and Lucas have moments like the one you're having right now but you mustn't let it take your eye off the ball. A series of random events have led to where all of you are. Had it not been for Andy meeting up with Lucas who subsequently persuaded him to try a formation dive which caught the eye of one of their swimming instructors, we none of us would be here having this conversation. It's your sporting achievements that have got you to this point and so long as you carry on with training and competing, you'll be here for a while yet. Don't allow money and all its benefits to cloud your mind, let me, together with your accountants and solicitors take care of that area of your lives. This is the main reason why it was right that you only pay yourselves the minimum wage. Money enough to buy the essentials but not so much that you attract a tax bill but more importantly, not enough to distract you from the very things that brought you to this point.
The other thing that got me home early and I might as well tell you now while Benny is still in shock, is that Adidas have expressed an interest in buying a large plot in order to build a Superstore for all thing sport and by that I mean everything from skis to trainers, weight lifting apparatus to ping-pong balls.
If we can agree terms and I stress, if we agree terms then they might be an added bonus. Both they and Nike are retailers, pure and simple but to push their brand, Adidas might be looking on building an outdoor track and field arena. This is all very hush-hush and so nothing gets said about it as negotiating a deal is going to be tricky enough without wrecking our chances by leaking it. This deal is being handled by my boss by way of being the last thing he will be directly involved in for your company."
"That isn't going to leave much to offload is it?"
"No Andy, it isn't where the bigger plots are concerned but you still have plenty of the smaller ones left. I'm hoping that enthusiasm will breed enthusiasm and once people see all these facilities under construction, others will want to jump on the bandwagon."
"Point taken. Had it not been for the Rugby Club relocating here, we mightn't have had any takers. I know you don't want us to be totally focused on money but have you any idea how much Adidas are looking at?"
"Nope. It's very complicated. We may have to give ground on the Superstore if we succeed on getting a cast iron guarantee that they build the track and field thing so there are too many unknowns at the moment but starting as of tomorrow morning I will be working from home. Mum and Dad have offered me the use of the larger of the two spare bedrooms as my office. UPS Secure will be delivering all the files and admin junk in the morning and as all I need is my laptop and phone, I'm good to go and able to keep all of you fully informed.
Now where's that Champagne?"
Summer 2017 was one of the driest on record, bad for farmers and gardeners but great for the construction industry and our scruffy piece of land was starting to take shape. The Rugby Club were that far in advance of their own predictions that the main stadium was all but complete externally and internally but they held back on laying the turf until such time that significant rain was forecast. Going for broke, they began work on their own indoor training facility and conference suit, laid out the two practice pitches and once the area was clear of heavy construction equipment, the carpark was tarmacked and small touches such as shrubbery boarders and trees were planted.
As for the swimming pool? The Council had taken on board our comments and dug the three other pools first then after a delay, possibly still making up their minds which way to go, Jo received a letter telling us that they had decided to go for a thirty-five foot diving pool and a fifteen metre table leaving open the option of installing a twenty metre. This table would cost an extra fifty thousand quid and because it wasn't going to be used much if at all, they thought it a step too far but in the end, Lucas and I stumped up the money out of our sponsorship funds thus making Gloucester the proud owners of one of only two twenty metre tables in the world. The finished article was simply fantastic and when we were asked to open the facility, we jumped at the chance however that was still months away.
I'd never heard of it happening before but the Council held like a mini referendum asking the residents of Gloucester whether or not it was a good use of public funds to go ahead with plans for the gymnasium and indoor arena.
Out of the 90% of those who voted, 80% were in favour so work on that began in earnest in late August.
A deal was reached with Adidas whereby our company retained ownership of the plot that the Superstore was constructed on but they owned the building. They bought the two large plots which would facilitate the building of the track and field arena. Work on that started in September that year.
Many of the smaller plots were taken. The two Japanese restaurants opened together with the pub which was aptly called The Athlete's Rest. In the other small units we had a real mix of businesses ranging from a florist, an in-house bakery, a double plot was taken by a Maserati Car dealership (I want, I want but I reckon I'll stick with my Landrover Defender as I'm not a confident driver!) Then we have an Italian Restaurant, a wine bar, a tourist information centre and wait for it……..Speedo opened an outlet although they did sell a comprehensive range of sub-aqua stuff as well as swimming gear for perves like Lucas! (Remember his crush on Benny????)
Talking about driving? Paul, Lucas and Benny passed their tests at the first attempt, Lor on her second and me on my fourth? Yeah……..okay. Take the piss if you like, I care not!
Benny gained sponsorship from the Mini arm of BMW and now drives a Mini Cooper S in which he will undoubtedly kill himself, Lor and Paul have a deal with Audi so she drives an Audi A3, Paul an A4 Quattro. Lucas and I are sponsored by Jaguar-Landrover so he has a flashy Rangerover 4.6 turbo whatever and I drive my tractor-like, diesel engine Defender working on the principle that if I hit something, I'll bounce off it.
That leaves Millie.
Millie dropped out of competition. She came to the realisation that she probably wouldn't get further than regional competitions and her time was better spent being a support to Benny although she still trains with us. Lucas asked her one evening how she saw her future.
"I want to be a full-time Mum!" was her reply. Lucas' only comment was a predicable "Told you so!"
Tokyo 2020 was hurtling towards us at a frightening rate. We went back to Guam a month before the start of competition so we could practice our routine where Benny and Millie joined us. Unfortunately Lor and Paul had their teams go to Mexico for pre-competition preparation so the party atmosphere was lacking……..probably no bad thing as this definitely wasn't an R and R visit!
Two days before the opening ceremony, we were on a flight to Narita, happy with our preparation, slightly nervous of the games themselves but very excited to meet up with our families who were flying out to be with us.
Jo had told us that instead of going home directly after the competition had ended, we would be staying in Nagano Prefecture up in the central mountains. I assumed this was just a holiday but when all the other guys told us that they were also going to be there, my interest and curiosity took over. It didn't do me much good as I kept being told that it was only because Lucas and I loved the country, it was an opportunity to wind down and also it was a chance for them to see what we'd been constantly banging on about but I knew something was going on.
We managed to get tickets to watch Paul's Basketball team lift silver, Lor's lift a bronze and Benny a personal gold before it was out turn.
Competition was fierce, without doubt the toughest we'd ever faced. Loren was magnificent in her approach, managing to keep us focused and honing our mental preparation right up to the final dive.
We lifted gold but only by the narrowest of margins, one point separating the Chinese boys from ourselves.
Following the closing ceremony we hired a luxury bus to take us all to Nagano. Jo had, through our company, rented a massive traditional Japanese farm house complete with staff for the duration and for the first couple of days we just relaxed and came back down to earth but then one morning as we all returned having been out for an early run, Lucas and I went through to have a shower where on the bed was a note.
"Please can you be ready by eleven dressed in the suits you'll find hung up in the wardrobe then meet us in the main living room. All will become clear then! Dad."
"What the fuck?"
Lucas just smiled for which I could've decked him!
"C'mon Andy. Just do it huh?"
"Something's going down isn't it and what's more, you bloody well know what it is don't you!"
"Yes. Okay there is and I did……..I mean I do……..know what's going down. Just shut the hell up and get changed will you? Damn it, it's been difficult enough me trying to hide this from you without you throwing your toys out of the pram right now!"
"No need to apologise. Just get changed. You can grovel later when we're alone!"
"Okay, you win……..again……..fuck you!"
Light grey silk suit. White silk shirt, white silk tie and the most comfortable pair of black leather shoes that had ever, ever graced my little size fives! I don't think either of us had ever looked so smart!
Down in the main room we were met by my Mum, Mrs Ifield, Mr and Mrs Radcliffe, Benny, Gregg and Julie, Simon's folk plus one of his friends together with a very nervous-looking Simon and Paul who were both immaculately dressed in white suits, ties and shoes and it was only then that the penny dropped.
"A wedding? Oh wow!"
Paul sort of laughed nervously.
"Two actually. Lor and I, Simon and Jo. You have no idea how difficult it's been keeping it from you when all the time everyone else was in the loop."
"But why wasn't I told? I mean if everyone including Lucas knew, why not me?"
Lucas put his arm around me.
"Actually it was Lauren's idea. Everyone knew we were going to be facing tough opposition at the games, well we knew that too but anyway, knowing you as well as she does, she thought it best if you just concentrated on competition without having anything else on your mind. Jo's your sister and although I love her to bits it isn't like I'm a blood relative or anything so it was easier for me to remain focused whereas you would've been like a cat on a hot tin roof."
"Yeah. Quite possibly."
"Anyway, I think Paul has something to ask you."
Paul cleared his throat.
"Well yes I do. I've already asked Lucas but now I want to ask you. Will you be one of my two best men Andy? It just seems so very right being as it was you who bullied me in to asking Lor out in the first place so will you?"
"Oh my God that only seems like five minutes ago!"
"Five years give or take so……..?"
"Of course I will! I'd be delighted and congratulations!"
"We haven't done the evil deed yet so save your congratulations until after she's said yes!"
"Well she's hardly likely to go pissing on your bonfire and say no is she!"
"I sincerely hope not!"
Gregg brought us back to the here and now.
"The cars are here so we better make tracks."
The church didn't look very churchy, instead it looked very much like the house we'd been staying in if rather bigger and the thought passed through my head that we'd be rattling around inside it like so many spare parts but as we walked in, the place was almost full to capacity including family and friends of both brides and grooms, Lor and Pauls team mates and our entire coaching teams but as if that wasn't enough, we were greeted by none other than the Reverend Judy who later told us that she had been petitioned by both Jo and Simon together with Lor and Paul in an effort to persuade her to officiate. This hadn't been easy as she'd had to obtain permission not only from her Bishop but also that of the Archbishop of Japan.
The service was nice and didn't drag on for an eternity like some tend to. Judy's address was beautiful but totally eclipsed by the two beautiful brides. I managed to not cry as rings were exchanged which came as something of a relief although had I attempted to sing the hymns rather than mouthing the words, I'm positive that would've changed.
Jo's bridesmaids were two of her friends and Lor had asked Millie and one of her friends from school to be hers but then came the endless photos but an opportunity to mix with aunts, uncles and cousins I hadn't seen in an age. I got the impression that some of them weren't best impressed when I introduced Lucas as my 'partner' though. Dive partner yes but the implication of my words must have been fairly obvious as we were holding hands! Screw them anyway. I hardly ever saw them so I could handle today.
Finally the cars whisked the two brides and grooms off to God only knows where and our cars turned up shortly after. Luxury busses had been organised to ferry the remaining assembled back to the reception which was being held in a traditional Japanese restaurant in central Nagano City.
I wondered how this would go down with some of the older guests as it's a common misconception that Japanese cuisine comprises of raw fish and yet more raw fish which of course is absolute bollocks. I did clock a McDonald's two streets away from the restaurant so if there was anyone who didn't take to the idea of munching away on God knows what, well I could point them in that direction couldn't I?
Actually the meal was awesome and aside from a few puzzled faces of people trying to work out if what they were looking at was actually edible rather than being a piece of table decoration, I wasn't aware of any complaints, well except for one which wasn't directed towards this meal but rather to do with a hotel breakfast.
One of my aunts, on noticing that their hotel advertised the fact that they served a full English breakfast, promptly ordered it. A plate of sausages, bacon, fried eggs, mushrooms and fried bread duly arrived but……..it had been prepped up the night before and refrigerated!!!!
Ice cold traditional English breakfast!
Mind you, we had to laugh at a notice in our room at the Olympic village.
In Big, bold capital letters, this notice read and I quote, 'IN THE EVENT OF A SERIOUS EARTHQUAKE, FIRE OR OTHER UNFORTUNATE HAPPENINGS, THE FOLLOWING INSTRUCTIONS MUST BE FOLLOWED.'
Okay? So far so good but as the rest of this notice was in Japanese, where was the point in that? Lucas reckoned it was their way to get back at us for inflicting such a humiliating defeat on them at the end of the Second World War although I thought it was something far more sinister but I couldn't out quite what.
After the tables had been cleared, one of my little cousins, Brandon by name, came up to me. Brandon is cute but why he always calls me Uncle Andy remains a mystery but anyway.
"Uncle Andy? I'm still hungry. Do you think that McDonald's takes English money?"
"I doubt it Bran but I can give you some Japanese cash if you like but first you better go and find out how much you'll need."
He scooted off then a few minutes later he returned looking a trifle sad.
"They're very expensive so I think I'll just have to starve to death."
"How expensive is very expensive?"
"Five hundred pounds expensive."
"No, no Bran! Five hundred Yen like about two quid not expensive!"
I fished out a one thousand Yen note and handed it to him.
"What did you want to get?"
"A Big Mac and fries."
"Okay this is what you say to them. You listening? You say 'Big Mac and fries o-ku desi. Got it?"
He nodded his head then disappeared.
I saw him some ten minutes later sitting at a table eating Chicken McNuggets and a flapjack.
Don't give up the day job Andy. Teaching eight year old boys Japanese is definitely not your calling!
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