My piece today reflects upon a totally unexpected – and therefore shocking – national news story that occurred yesterday morning, albeit coming to my personal attention only at about 10.40am.
Unusually, I had spent my breakfast-time listening to neither the radio nor television because I had been preparing for a session at the Imperial War Museum reading room in London.
[Warning to those who might be interested: the Museum proper is currently closed because it is undergoing refurbishment in advance of a reopening in honour of WW1 in July, attended by a Royal. However, the reading/research facility remains open, subject to booking an appointment in advance.]
To reach the Imperial War Museum, I first travelled to Waterloo by train. Ordinarily I would then have walked the remainder of the journey but, in deference to my current hip problem – I would strenuously deny it has anything to do with my seniority – this time instead I chose to join the queue waiting for a taxi.
When it was my turn to take a cab, I leaned in at the window and asked to be taken to my destination. The taxi driver motioned me in. As he pulled away from the rank, he was just finishing a call upon his mobile phone. I couldn’t help overhearing him mention that Bob Crowe, the RMT union leader, was dead.
“Excuse me …” I leaned forward, “… But did I hear you say that Bob Crow has died?”
The taxi driver confirmed it.
He wasn’t joking, or a fantasist either – he’d just found himself in a pub quite near to York Hall that evening – on his way to a boxing bill – and noticed the union leader drinking in the corner. Somehow they’d begun chatting. It turned out that Crow was also big boxing fan and, over a period of about ten minutes, they had discussed both that evening’s bill and the forthcoming Carl Froch/George Groves rematch scheduled for the end of May.
I ‘connected’ with this information. Way back in prehistory, for a period my pals and I used to publish an occasional privately-circulated boxing magazine and regularly attended boxing bills at York Hall, the Royal Albert Hall and the Wembley Arena.
This taxi driver and I had more than just boxing in common.
He noticed I was wearing a 2015 Rugby World Cup-badged anorak – a Christmas present from my son – and presumed that I was a rugby fan (I pleaded guilty).
So, it seemed, was he, albeit a fairly new one. He now attended Blackheath’s matches and, a fortnight ago, had visited Twickenham Stadium for the first time, seeing England’s 13-10 victory over Ireland. He said he had really enjoyed the experience – the build-up, the anthems, the crowd noise and the game itself.
In response I kept quiet about the fact that I hate Twickenham Stadium and all it stands for, far preferring to watch internationals on the box.
I then mentioned the subject I was researching, and why – a rugger match that took place behind British lines in the spring of 1915. I’d previously written a book about one of the players in the game and was currently on the trail of another. The taxi driver expressed interest, especially after I mentioned that, in Victorian and Edwardian times, Blackheath was such a famous team in Britain that it was habitually referred to simply as ‘the Club’.
Suddenly I found myself handing over a business card and promising that, if he forwarded me his address, I’d sent him a copy of my book. Five minutes later, outside the Imperial War Museum, we parted on cordial terms. He initially refused to take a fare off me, but I insisted.
… And, if he does send me his address, I’m definitely going to keep my side of the bargain.