Falling off the wagon

So, at the end of February 1998 I stopped smoking. I survived my birthday, that of JTO and an impromptu holiday in Nice – where it still seemed compulsory to smoke in many of the cafes we visited! The first time I fell off the wagon and smoked was on 30th June 1998. I remember the date and the venue very well.  At the time JTO was an MP and I worked for her in Reading but on the day I had to visit her in The Houses of Parliament. It was normal after finishing work, at the end of the day around 10 o’clock, to go down to the Stranger’s Bar for a quick drink before the last vote and then go home. But this day we had gone there more like 19:30 to reserve a place. I say down because, although it is level with the terrace outside, which looks out over the river, it is actually one floor down from the Chambers of the Houses of Commons and Lords. It also had a dark small cave like feeling. Much like the bar under Nottingham Castle, hacked into the rock, which is supposed to have a tunnel up to the castle and where crusaders were alleged to have had a last drink before departing the country.

Around the House of Commons you see green TV sets, actually called annunciators, and when the house is sitting they display the subject of debate in the Chamber and the name and then in large capitals the constituency of the MP speaking, something which was rather
unfortunate for her and always gave me a giggle when it was Margaret Hodge who represented Barking. The picture at the top is of an annunciator in the House of Lords, which is why it’s red. A secret about these is that you can change the channel on them and you can see a live feed of the debate in the Chamber. You can also get terrestrial TV channels and certain satellite channels, including Sky Sports. We had gone in early to reserve a seat for the England vs Argentina match in the last 16 in the World Cup, taking place that evening at Saint-Etienne in France.

England had qualified for the last 16 coming second in their group after beating Tunisia and Colombia but being beaten by Romania. Then England Manager, Glen Hoddle,(Who interestingly reappeared yesterday saying he wants the job again.) had received a lot of stick for not playing David Beckham and, then 18-year-old, Michael Owen. Both started this game. Six minutes into the game and Argentina get and score a penalty. Four minutes later Michael Owen goes down and England get and Alan Shearer scores a penalty. Then came a bit of Michael Owen magic:

Just before half-time Argentina equalised with a well-worked free-kick. Then, two minutes into the second half David Beckham is fouled and goes down. He does this:

 So a match which had been tense just got a whole lot more tense. England down to ten men. They held out for the second half. Extra time. England hold out for the two periods of extra time, Penalties. Alan Shearer scored the first for England then Berti equalised for Argentina. Paul Ince stepped up and missed. The tension was too much I had to have a cigarette. I took one from JTO’s packet. Crespo then stepped up for Argentina and missed. Relief, or was it the cigarette? The next penalties were taken by Merson then Verón, Owen then Gallardo and all were scored. It was the last penalty before sudden death and it had become sudden death. Any penalty missed now, with the others scoring and it is elimination from the World Cup. David Batty, who had never taken a penalty before, stepped up, shot to his left and the Argentinian goalkeeper guessed correctly and dived to save it. Ayala scored for Argentina. England were out. If you can bear it there is a great Four Four Two recreation of the match in quotes here.

I had done it, I had smoked. I had not enjoyed it much. And I thought, it was a penalty shoot-out in the World Cup. It would be four years before it came round again. Just keep up the stopping smoking. Funnily enough the debate in the Chamber on the Finance (No. 2) Bill did not see a vote between the start of the match and the end of extra time.

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