AS you may know, I regularly swim in Swansea’s Olympic-size pool (we got it in compensation for Cardiff being chosen ahead of Swansea to be the home of the Welsh Assembly administration. I think we got the better deal, as I prefer water to hot air.)
I’m joined by about a dozen other men who have left behind the variable joys of employment. I fancifully call us The Retired Blokes Morning Swimming Club.
Extensive fence-painting duties meant I hadn’t donned the swim shorts and goggles for a couple of weeks. When I returned poolside this week, it was to be greeted with bad news.
One of our number, Pete, had died in his sleep last week. Pete was one of the more quietly-spoken members of TRBMSC (catchy, what?). Tall, gently-mannered, and with the sort of moustache that was favoured by kindly uncles in the books of my childhood.
Apparently, he had suffered a previous heart attack two years ago. On that occasion, he had left his wife asleep in bed, and driven himself to the hospital for treatment.
I’d like to think that says something about the Retired Blokes. What our American cousins refer to as The Right Stuff, I believe.
He was 71. News of his death gave me a jolt. I went home and told The Current Mrs Feeney that we shouldn’t plan for the future but live for today, and spend our money while we can.
She gave me the kind of look that indicated that I really didn’t need to give her encouragement, let alone permission (as if I’d dare), in the spending department.
That evening, we attempted a barbecue. I choose my words wisely. We’d had our first bbq of this soggy and overcast summer the night before. I used one of those ‘easy light’ bags of charcoal. You know the thing; it comes with the coals contained in a paper bag that has been impregnated with some sort of fire accelerant. Guaranteed to have the charcoal white-hot and ready in just 20 minutes.
So, one hour later, it was ready to cook the chicken fillets. TCMrsF had by then already cooked the sausages and burgers indoors and in frustration. She voiced some decidedly pointed views on the barbecueing competence of men in general, and Retired Blokes in particular.
To prove her wrong, I returned to the scene of battle 24 hours later. The problem, I patiently explained, was that the bag of coals was probably slightly damp on account of spending the last ten months in the shed. I overcame this problem by wrapping it in a nest of newspaper.
I struck a confident match, stood back, and opened a bottle of muscadet. “That,” I declared, “will make all the difference.” It did. Damn thing didn’t light at all.
I retreated indoors. “There may be a slight problem.”
“Really?” said TCMrsF understandingly. “The fish is cooked,” she added, removing two sea bass from the oven where she had placed them about five minutes after yours truly had disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
“Let’s not barbecue any more,” I said.
“Let’s not,” she agreed.
I raised a glass to Pete’s memory.