Last Saturday morning I got up at six thirty and headed straight into the Caribbean for a long swim, watching the sea and the sky and the palm trees waking up. Then I had breakfast on the beach. The Calabash hotel in Grenada, where I was staying, does breakfast and lunch, tables and chairs and table cloths, set up on the sand.
But all the time I was thinking, would it work? Would my cunning plan come to fruition?
Just before 8.30am local time – 12.30pm in the UK – I rushed across the lush lawns to the hotel gym. But I couldn’t get in. The door I tried was locked. Oh no! After all my scheming.
The night before, I had caused maximum fuss by asking at the reception if there was any way I could watch the Arsenal–Spurs game. I knew there was no satellite connection in the rooms, but surely someone could access it in this most luxurious and efficient of Caribbean hotels.
The owner’s daughter Adele had said she would do her best, but I wasn’t sure she would manage. Signals do not always come through.
It was sad – pathetic – to have gone all that way to a tropical paradise and to want to go inside and crouch in front of a TV. My wife used to moan like hell when I did it on holiday. For the past eight World Cups we were always up in Lakeland. For three weeks I would sit in my little den glued to every game – ignoring the lovely scenery and, yes, the lovely weather. “How can you bear to be inside on a day like this? I’m turning it off.”
“Don’t you dare,” I would say, shushing her out.
I found the right door into the gym just a minute before kick off, and there was the owner of the hotel, Leo Garbutt, waiting for me.
Leo comes originally from Norwich, has been in Grenada for 30 years, and is a Liverpool fan. When someone anywhere in the world tells you they follow Liverpool or Man United yet have no connection with either place, you can always tell their age. Liverpool fans must have grown up in the Seventies and Eighties when the club was at its height. Man United fans are younger, becoming devoted in the Nineties when Fergie was in charge.
Leo said he didn’t care who won, he just wanted a good game. In that case, I said, don’t talk, unless it is directly about what we are watching. That is my house rule when I am with my son. OK, it was Leo’s house not mine – but being a good hotelier, willing to please his guests, he went along with my rule.
Then my attention was distracted by a young woman in very short shorts and a T- shirt who suddenly appeared and stepped onto one of those stupid treadmill things. I don’t know why people who want exercise can’t just walk in the open air instead of getting astride a piece of spaceship apparatus and pounding away, getting nowhere. The hum of the treadmill and the sound of her feet was perfectly in tune with my own heartbeat. Except when Arsenal went two goals up and my heart began beating faster in fury.
At half time, my other house rule is never to watch the studio guests and their boring views. I have enough of my own. So I left the gym. At home, I usually go into my garden and talk to the tortoise, a much better class of conversation than Alan Shearer telling us what we can all see.
I had forgotten I was still in the Caribbean. Outside, I had to shield my eyes, shelter from the glaring sun, after the air conditioning of the gym. I ran into the sea and had another swim.
In the second half, Spurs still did not get into the game – not that Arsenal were much better, but they won 2-0. All that fuss, just to make myself miserable.
But when it was over, and I dragged myself out into the real world, the real world was a tropical paradise. In London, walking round the block after that game, there would have been clever-clog neighbours asking sarkily: “How did Tot-ing-ham get on then?” In Grenada, I could wipe the result from my mind. Well worth going all that way.
This article appears in the 22 Nov 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Europe: the new disorder