You sometimes get the feeling that everything has a price. Every little joy in life has to be balanced with a comparable disappointment. And vice versa. You acquire Parkinson's for instance but are compensated for this by the amazing new friends you meet. You pass your GCSEs with stellar grades only to get home and find the dog has died. You miss your train home only to meet a childhood sweetheart in the taxi queue. That sort of thing. Checks and balances. It's as though the Almighty won't let you be miserable without some compensation. And nor will He want you to get too uppity.
Take today as a case in point.
Evidently Anton has offended the motoring gods. His first real outing in The Shark, to see Manchester United play Arsenal at Old Trafford has been, at best, only a qualified success but nonetheless fits this pattern. The central part of the day, the game itself, has pretty much gone as well as could have been hoped from a Mancunian perspective. One nil to United with the goal scored by Arsenal old boy Robin Van Persie. The words 'salt' and 'wounds' spring to mind.
Taken in isolation, the game and the result would normally equate to a fine day trip bracketed by a 200 mile snarl in The Shark. One can almost hear Lou Reed's 'Perfect Day' playing in the soundtrack of life. Unfortunately, as already explained, that's not how life works. A famous victory calls for redress of similar magnitude. You can almost imagine God reaching for his pocket calculator. "Let me see ..... good seats at Old Trafford .... Man United victory .... goal by Robin Van Persie .... perfect weather". He sucks the air through his teeth "Oooh, that's going to cost".
Inevitably therefore, according to my hypothesis, the hours running up to the game are rather less Lou Reed and rather more Elvis Costello. Specifically his 1979 single 'Accidents Will Happen' as The Shark finds itself part of a pile up, rear-ended on the motorway. Anton and his son Tom are thankfully fine but The Shark is not. Although the least damaged of the cars involved, the back of the car is still going to take more than a smear of T cut and a few minutes polishing. The boot has visible dents and one of the exhausts is bent back on itself. It's lucky the fuel tank was not punctured. A hat-trick by Rooney and who knows!
To me, a car crash would be sufficient cue to forget the match, head home and curl up in a bundle on the sofa with comfort food and a glass of whisky. And if Anton ever at any stage entertains this notion, it is swiftly scotched by Tom, whose determination to see the match is undiminished by something so trivial as a mere motorway car crash. After all, what's a little whiplash between friends? Anton correctly demonstrates that, unlike his football crazed son, he is still in possession of his faculties and insists on at least subjecting the car to the scrutiny of the AA. Tom meanwhile, frothing at the mouth with every minute lost, spends his time productively updating Facebook with the latest roadside bulletin.
I stumble upon this situation inadvertently. As my wife shops in Marks & Spencer, I check my Facebook, in half expectation of a briefing document from a US colleague. No sign of any spreadsheet but plenty of pictures of mangled metal and car parts on the hard shoulder. Only when I see the number plate do I realise that this is Anton's car. Despite initial panic, I soon realise that he and Tom must be unhurt. Even Tom would presumably not update Facebook if his father was in mortal danger. Well, maybe discreetly.
Nevertheless, as the principal proponent of the successful 'Jag for Anton' campaign, I feel it my duty to try and instil a little common sense in the dynamic due. I leave largely unheeded messages on Facebook until the phone rings. It is Freia, maker of the best biscotti north of Turin and in all respects a great friend apart from her abject failure to understand the male need for Jaguar ownership. She is surprisingly calm. Apparently the AA man has bent the exhaust back into approximately the right shape with a length of metal piping before giving The Shark a clean bill of health -- well, clean enough to get to Manchester and back.
They arrive in time for the game. Anton finds a parking place a short walk from the ground and off they troop. Two hours later, the Reds have beaten the yellow peril (Arsenal are playing in their away strip) and all seems much better with the world. But inevitably the triumph of red over yellow calls for a price.
As they approach the car, Anton notices something yellow in a plastic envelope on the windscreen. He peels it off. In the distance he can hear the maniacal laugh of a traffic warden.