How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 41

Once again, the summer sun streamed through the curtains into their suite, waking them up at some ungodly hour. It was Sunday; a day for a lie-in, a relaxing breakfast then an easy day doing very little. That wouldn’t do for Bradley, he wanted to see more of London before they headed back to Spain. It wasn’t as if they had a hangover to sleep off; Bradley hadn’t drunk anything alcoholic last night and although Jessie had a few glasses of wine, she hadn’t gone as mad as some of her family.

‘Morning gorgeous!’ Bradley whispered while shielding the sun from his eyes and marvelling at his beautiful fiancée lying next to him all sleepy and tousled. ‘What are we going to do today then?’

‘Oh you’re like a bloody kid!’ Jessie laughed. ‘Let’s just take it easy for once. Let’s have a quiet Sunday like the rest of the population.’

‘If that’s what you want. Maybe a stroll in the parks after breakfast? Go and feed ducks or something? Is that okay with you?’

Bradley’s suggestion worked for Jessie. Nothing too strenuous like trudging around the Tower of London, although she did love it there. Maybe a long walk would be a good idea. Down to the South Bank and the walk along the river, which was a popular thing to do on a Sunday as there were a lot of things going on down there.

They showered and dressed before heading down to the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast. Bradley was tempted with the Full English which he used to enjoy when he was a kid and his mum cooked it for him and his brother occasionally, but nowadays it was strictly taboo if the club’s nutritionist found out. There were of course healthier ways to prepare a Full English, poached eggs instead of fried, grilled bacon and sausage, and wholemeal toast, but he went for the yoghurt and fruit option in the end leaving Jessie to make him drool over her loaded plate of all things unhealthy. He wondered how she managed to eat all that bad stuff without putting on weight. He knew it would be disastrous for him and would take him days in the gym to shift it.

The restaurant wasn’t particularly busy at that time of the morning aside from a handful of American tourists who had finished their breakfast and were waiting for a coach to take them to Bath and Stonehenge for the day. Like a lot of Brits, he never saw the point of a four hour round trip just to see a pile of rocks. He appreciated that Stonehenge was a remarkable piece of history, but once you’d seen it in ten minutes, it was time to head back. Oh well, at least the tourists loved it. Maybe he just took it all for granted. He was never that good at history when he was at school.

He thought the Tower was cool, as was the remains of the Roman Wall which encircled the City of London, which Alan had pointed out the day before. Jessie loved history and tried her hardest to get Bradley interested, without much success. She thought he would prefer something like the South Bank much more so she planned out a route in her head as they exited the hotel on to Buckingham Palace Road and bright sunshine. It promised to be another lovely day with temperatures hitting the mid-twenties without a cloud in the sky. This was almost like Mijas, she thought.

Turning right as they left the hotel, they came to Buckingham Palace and crossed The Mall into St. James’ Park where they fed the ducks along with a few families out enjoying the sunshine and tranquillity. It was hard to imagine that from Monday to Friday, London was a heaving mass of people but on a Sunday, they could be surrounded by peace and quiet which suited Bradley.

After they had run out of bread, they strolled through the park adjacent to The Mall until they came to the back of 10 Downing Street and into Whitehall where they turned right and headed for Parliament Square. As they approached the square, Bradley showed some interest in the view of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben which he confessed he had never seen before that weekend. Jessie was acting as a tour guide and told him all about Big Ben actually being the name of the bell that chimed, rather than the clock itself which had been known as St. Stephen’s Tower prior to 2012 when it was renamed Elizabeth Tower to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.

He seemed to be taking all this knowledge in so far, so Jessie thought she would push her luck and move on to a history lesson on the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. This proved to be a lesson too far and when Bradley got distracted by an Arsenal supporter asking for a photo, she gave up. There’s only so much you can tell someone about something you are passionate about. She wondered if might be different if Bradley was showing her around Edinburgh, or even Dunfermline. She thought probably not as they carried on across Parliament Square to Westminster Bridge which was awash with tourists taking loads of photos with the Elizabeth Tower in the background.

Bradley decided to don a bit of a disguise, so he put his Ray-Bans on and bought a cheap baseball cap with London emblazoned on it in the hope that he wouldn’t get recognised too much. It didn’t work, he was accosted every few minutes by fans wanting a photo or an autograph, which he didn’t mind, but it made their walk much slower than intended.

Once over the bridge, they descended the steps by the old County Hall on to the South Bank which was alive with artists, entertainers and pop-up food stands, creating a vibrant and exciting atmosphere which Bradley loved. Jessie told him about how the South Bank had been transformed back in the 1980s and how her dad and many other taxi drivers would refuse to cross the bridge and go south of the river after ten at night as it wasn’t particularly safe. Thanks to the millions pumped into the area to regenerate it, it was now a mecca for tourists and locals alike, and some of the apartments that had sprung up over the last twenty years or so would set him back more than his house in Mijas.

As they approached the London Eye, they noticed that there wasn’t much of a queue so they decided that it would be a good idea to try it out. Ten minutes later and they were boarding their pod ready for the forty-five minute trip which would give them fantastic views of London on such a sunny clear day like this. At the top of the Eye, they could see seven counties surrounding London and Jessie pointed out where Loughton was some thirteen miles or so to the north east.

They were sharing their pod with a half a dozen Spanish tourists who recognised Bradley straight away and started whispering to themselves and glancing at him. Bradley noticed one of them had a Real Madrid shirt on which might have caused a problem, but they were really friendly as they said hello to them and reminded him of the one game he missed last season where Barcelona lost to Real Madrid. They bantered in Spanish for the entire journey before lining up with him for a photo which Jessie took on their camera, big smiles all around, and no bad feelings. They even wished him luck for the new season, except for when they played Real Madrid of course.

They said goodbye to their new best friends and continued walking along South Bank passed the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre to the OXO restaurant which Bradley had heard good stories about from his ex-colleagues at Arsenal. It was lunchtime so he asked Jessie if she fancied a bit of lunch, which she did, so they took the lift up to the restaurant to see if they could bag a table.

Seeing that the place was full and a queue was starting to build up, Bradley thought they might not get a table until one of the waiters recognised him and as a big Barcelona fan insisted to the Maître D that he find a good table for them. Fame has its price, but it also has its perks, he thought as they were led to a small table right on the balcony where they could admire the London skyline across the river Thames shimmering in the heat of the day.

The waiter who had got them a table was also assigned to wait on them which he was delighted about. Of course, he didn’t want to bother them too much as they enjoyed their lunch, but he couldn’t help mentioning that he was a big fan of Bradley and how honoured he was to serve them. His friends back home would never believe him, he blushed as he fussed around them.

It had been a good spur-of-the-moment idea to lunch at the OXO; the food was superb and the service exemplary which wasn’t surprising. As Bradley was settling the bill, the waiter asked if he could take a photo of the three of them, which as usual, Bradley agreed to. They had spoken at length about Barcelona’s chances of winning everything again next season, they spoke about the city itself and how much they all loved it, and the waiter told them about how he came to be living in London in the first place. As he was extremely busy, he was getting the evil eye from his boss when he took too long talking to his guests, and when he took the photo he came over to their table and gently pulled the waiter away for a quiet word.

Bradley spoke to the Maître D on the way out to apologise for taking his waiter away from his other guests and shook hands before taking the lift down to street level to continue their stroll along the river.

The next stretch of the footpath took them under Blackfriars Bridge, where they came across the Founders Arms, a large pub with outside seating and spectacular views of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the City behind it. As it wasn’t too busy, they decided to stop for a drink to cool down and people-watch for an hour.

Most of the passing crowds were tourists with the odd local out walking their dog on such a lovely day. A few of them glanced over at Bradley and did a double-take when they thought they recognised him, but his Ray-Bans and baseball cap did the trick for the most part.

Continuing on past the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, they carried on walking until they arrived at the Golden Hinde, a replica of an old tea clipper berthed permanently in a dry dock in the shadow of the impressive Southwark Cathedral, passing the Clink Museum and entering Borough Market which was a magnet for all foodies and where local restaurants got their more exotic food supplies.

By now, it was getting late and they needed to get back to the hotel to freshen up in time for their car to Bistro Lucia for dinner with dad so they hailed a taxi to take them back to the hotel. Bradley was relaxing more now and the thought of seeing his dad and Lucy again wasn’t filling him with dread any more. After showering and changing, they headed downstairs to meet their driver who would take them back to New North Road for a nice evening.

Twenty minutes later, they pulled up outside Bistro Lucia and noticed that it was busy already. Brian was waiting on the pavement outside ready to greet them.

‘Welcome to Bistro Lucia! How are you son?’ Brian hugged Bradley warmly. ‘And lovely to see you again, Jessie. Hope he’s been looking after you.’ He laughed.

Brian led them inside to a quiet table near the back of the restaurant and Delroy introduced himself to the couple. Lucy also came over to see them and was pleased to see Bradley didn’t hold any grudges against her for dumping his dad in Los Angeles. Delroy showed them the menu and advised them on what their specials were. Bradley was impressed by the menu, it obviously wasn’t written by his dad so they must have a proper chef on board. Within minutes, they were introduced to Diego the chef and his staff.

In between serving the other guests, Lucy, Brian, Diego and Delroy would pop over to their table to chat and ask what they thought of the meal. Bradley and Jessie were very impressed and could see why the place was so popular and made a point of letting Diego know.

They would also talk about football, obviously, and made other small talk as they worked their way through the menu towards dessert, by which time they were actually full up and couldn’t manage one of Diego’s speciality puddings.

Gradually, the restaurant became quieter as diners were settling up and heading for the clubs nearby in Hoxton, leaving Brian and Lucy to spend more time just drinking and chatting with Bradley and Jessie.

‘So, what do you think? Bet you never expected this.’ Brian smiled.

‘I’m really impressed, dad. Who would have thought you could run a successful restaurant? You wasted all those years in IT sales when you could have become the next Marco Pierre White.’ Bradley laughed.

They got onto the story about how Brian got expelled from the US and found himself homeless and jobless at Old Street station and how he and Lucy got back together again. Now, after a few successful months, they had managed to repay the bank in full and had enough surplus funds to open another restaurant somewhere nicer than the current one.

Bradley was just pleased that he had turned a big corner in his life and was getting his act together at last. All was going well until they heard a loud crashing of glass followed by screams from the diners inside. Brian and Delroy rushed outside and spotted two familiar characters legging it down New North Road and disappearing into one of the side alleys. Delroy knew immediately who had been responsible and told Brian he would deal with it. However, Brian had had enough of Buster and Duke and said he was calling the Police. Delroy wasn’t going to stop him as they went back inside and made sure the customers were okay. Diego brought out a bottle of brandy and poured a generous measure in the glass of every customer offering apologies for what had happened and trying to calm them down.

Bradley just looked at Jessie with a resigned expression.

‘Just when I thought he was leaving all this calamitous shit behind him, this happens and just makes me wonder if he is jinxed.’

Jessie just stared at the chaos that ensued after the window was caved in and told Bradley she wanted to go back to the hotel, and fast. He had to admit, that was what he wanted to do as well, so they got their coats and asked Delroy for the bill.

‘Please, there’s no need to go. I know who did it and it won’t happen again. Your dad is on the phone to the Police as we speak. Please, just sit down and I’ll get you a drink of something. Anything. On the house, of course.’ Delroy pleaded.

Brian finished speaking to the Police and joined them at their table looking very annoyed and down-hearted. He could see Jessie was upset and Bradley was just glaring at him. He explained who the perpetrators were and how they were trying to extort protection money from them, and how they had been known to Delroy since they were kids.

‘They were just a couple of chancers out for easy money, Bradley. It happens a lot around here, it’s just that I wasn’t going to play ball with them, especially after Delroy’s mum looked after them when they were little. Delroy sorted them out the other night and I guess they thought I needed reminding. I’m sorry, of all the nights to happen, it would be when you’re here.’ Brian apologised. ‘Anyway, the Police know who they are and they’ll be back in prison before you know it.’

‘If you don’t mind, I would like to go back to the hotel now, please. Could you call us a taxi?’ Jessie sniffed.

‘No, please don’t go yet, we were having such a good time. I want to make it up with you two, please.’ Brian pleaded to no avail.

Bradley offered to pay the bill, but Brian insisted it was on him and promised to let Bradley know when they opened the new restaurant which would be in a much better part of town.

‘Please keep in touch, son. I’ve missed you and I just wanted to show you I could make a go of things. Don’t let the evening end like this.’ Brian said as the taxi arrived outside.

The bistro was almost empty by the time Jessie and Bradley climbed in the taxi and sped off without a goodbye. Bradley hadn’t said a word since the incident happened, preferring to keep quiet for fear of saying what he thought. When they had got a couple of hundred yards down the road, Bradley apologised to Jessie for his father’s latest debacle.

‘I can’t believe he can still cause trouble without doing anything. He’s a liability; I shouldn’t have given him another chance. That’s it with him as far as I’m concerned.’ Bradley said bitterly.

Jessie couldn’t disagree with him, but felt she ought to try and smooth things over by telling Bradley that it wasn’t exactly his fault and he was only trying to be honest by not paying insurance money to those two thugs. It wouldn’t work though, and the rest of the journey was in complete silence. She could sense Bradley was fuming and couldn’t help thinking that he was being a bit selfish. Things don’t always go your way, she thought as they approached the front of Hotel 41.

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