When Reggie Cullen invites his old schoolfriend Alex to mastermind the building of a football stadium on his country estate, Alex is only too happy to accept; currently in the worst of odours with those in charge at his architectural practice, he’ll clutch at any straw, however flimsy, to win rehabilitation. However, as he sets about trying to establish exactly what kind of stadium Reggie envisions, Alex comes to realise that keeping the client’s mind on-topic may prove his greatest challenge...
Heading back to Hertfordshire the following week, I resolved to get straight down to business with Reggie. Soon as he bounded forth from the house, dog pack doubtless in tow, I’d confront him with my sketches and demand at once to know his thoughts.
Reality was less heroically satisfying.
For sure, the canine greeting was every bit as fulsome as expected; when I arose, however, from gathering up my fallen sketches, it was Shelley, not Reggie, attempting to bring the reception committee to heel.
“I’m afraid it’s not the ideal day,” she said. “His drama coach is here.”
I laughed. “Drama coach?”
“Oh, yes, he’s very excited. It’s his first lesson today. You see, he’s going to be in a film – I mean, that’s to say he’s been in a film; they shot it a while back, it’s about to be released, so, well, y’know...”
“Not sure I do.”
“The offers – y’know: Hollywood, all that.”
By now we’re in the hallway. From beyond the ballroom doors, Reggie could be heard, grappling, in the dim echo, with what sounded strangely like poetry. Hard to tell, though, with the dogs sniffing and whining for admittance.
Their master’s voice rang forth – “Fuck off!” – before shifting clunkily back into lyrical mode. “Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, Happily I think on thee—”
“...Happily I think on thee—”
I looked to Shelley.
“How’s that gonna help him in Hollywood?”
“Serve up the antitheses!”
“That’s Carla,” said Shelley. “She used to be with the RSC.”
“The antitheses! Serve up the antitheses!”
“Is that what he wants to do, then – the RSC?”
“Oh, well, I mean, the Shakespeare, that’s really about building confidence – but he did say he’d like to do a bit of theatre once he’s—”
A door flew open.
“Fuck’s sake, will you people...? Aaaaal! Al, mate, good to see ya! But all the same, look, no offence, but we are working in here, so...”
“Absolutely. When’re we gonna talk?”
“About the stadium.”
“Dunno. Talk? Ask Shelley.”
“I’m asking you.”
He shook his head. “Not today, mate. Up to my eyes.”
“Right. So why’d you ask me to come? You specifically asked me to come today.”
“That’s true,” said Shelley, “you did.”
Reggie sighed, much as he might (or so I imagined) in the presence of an over-zealous autograph hound. “Look,” he said, “I don’t have time for this. We’re right in the middle of—”
“No hurry, darling!” A tutorly voice from beyond.
“At the very least,” I said, “I need to show you these sketches.”
“Come on, then.” He pulled wide the door. “Come on – show us – quick!”
“Oh. I... I thought we could go in the lounge.”
“No, come on, you’re among friends – come on in.”
I wandered through, more than a little self-conscious beneath the inquiring eye of the frizzily grey-haired form standing centre-parquet. A mass of scarves and ponchos bulked out what, to judge from her face, must have been a perilously meagre frame. Clutched at her side, between saffron fingers, a cigarette was busily supplementing the already formidable banks of smoke hanging in the air.
“This is Carla,” said Reggie – then, as the lady swapped fag hands in order to shake, he added, “Look at her – cancer! Nearly died of cancer, but still she’s puffing away!”
“That’s very personal,” I sputtered.
“First thing she told me, mate – soon’s she got in the door.”
“Not quite true,” said Carla, “but in any case, it was only the ol’ breasties – not me lungs.” Thus clarified, she let forth a chain of rasping coughs.
As I extracted my drawings, the master’s eyes widened with excitement.
“C’mon, hurry up, let’s have a look... ”
I spread out the sketches on a table by the fireplace.
“What d’you mean what’s this?”
“Exactly what I say: what’s—"
Carla barged in between us. “The Globe! It’s the Bankside Globe! How wonderful!”
“No,” I stammered, “it’s – it’s a football stadium.”
“A football stadium? A Tudor football stadium?”
“Well, come to think of it, they did have football in Shakespeare’s time – ‘thou base football player!’”
“Aha!” she crowed. “The man knows his Lear! Jolly good!”
I smiled, triumphant. Maybe those nights at the Terriss had been good for something after all.
“Even so,” she said, glancing again at the sketches, “this is ridiculous, is’t not?”
“Not what I had in mind, for sure,” murmured Reggie. “I mean, they’re really nice and everything, but to be honest, I was hoping for something a bit more like the Emirates.”
“The Emirates? Since when is the Emirates mock Tudor?”
“What d’you mean?”
“You said you wanted a mock Tudor football stadium.”
“Yes, you did. You insisted on it. I said no, it’s a bad idea, but—”
“There you go, then, you was right.”
“What? Yeah, but... I mean, yeah, but...”
“Look, mate, what you gonna do – you gonna whine, or you gonna move on? Just ask Carla, she’ll tell you: these things can’t be set in stone—”
“But they will be; something, eventually, will be set in stone.”
“Not yet; not yet, mate. Meantime, you’ve gotta be willing to adapt, try new ideas – i’n’t that right, Carla?”
“Absolutely, my darling.”
“Fine,” I said. “Fine.” I collated the papers, scrunching them just as sulkily and noisily and passive-aggressively as I could. The gesture, of course, was in vain; for all its lack of subtlety, it was still too subtle for Reggie – way, way over it went, just like the Wembley arch.
He walked me to the door, friendly paw on my shoulder.
“You’re doing good, mate. You’ve just got to open your mind, let the creative juices flow. Now you’re here, just relax – make the place your own, come up with a few new ideas.”
New ideas. My God, how profoundly I longed to strike out and “re-imagine” that big jolly face.
“New ideas? OK. OK. So, how many new ideas would you like?”
“Dunno,” he said, now propelling me gently through the door. “Five? Ten? Whatever! Just new ideas; we’ll meet up later, talk ’em over. No more of that Tudor shit, though!”