Toast to the London Irish Bs

Toast to the Bs – ‘Bees on Toast’ Bs dinner 9thMay 2014 – last call for Sunbury. The invitation to speak at the diner looked innocent enough at first of course but then all first approaches from the shadowy Bs organisation are unusually cloaked with benign intent, while under that surface dark energies ripple. This latest approach came from Bryan Murphy, asking if I would toast the Bs at the dinner in May.  I sighed inwardly,  rehearsing excuses but knowing in my heart that there was in truth no escape.

I realized that my best course of action would be simply to resign myself to my fate, knowing that resistance would be futile.  As an exercise in damage limitation I asked Kitty Murphy how long he would require me to endure this trial, how long would I have to be facing the derision of the assembled mob.  He was typically evasive on this subject, taking the usual Bs get out that he would need to consult ‘the others.’  

Well. we all know that there is no recognizable governance within the Bs, There are only these ‘ others’, picked or more likely imagined to suit the occasion, where the wishes of the individual are crushed in the name of supposed consensus.   He refused to specify the duration so I was left alone to ponder the possible solutions to the question ‘how long is a Bs dinner speech?’

Even in the Zen state gained through watching the semi finals of the Eurovision song contest in George’s old pub while waiting for the ordeal that was the dinner to commence this question defied an answer. As easy to ask the question ‘How long is a Bs anecdote?’ or ‘how long is the career of a B?’ These are the imponderables of the ages.   A Bs speech could not be the aggregation of all of the Bs anecdotes ever told, that would represent infinity.  

It might attempt to be a highlights passage, one story from each tour maybe, but the attempt to balance ancient and freshly minted contemporary tales would never be achieved to the satisfaction of both the ancients and the moderns.  The main peril would be in deciding who to mention and who to leave out.  The peril lies in the knowledge that while those mentioned would bask in momentary glow of recognition, those ignored would gain longer lasting satisfaction from parading this slight and the associated mortification over pint after pint to any B who would be prepared to listen.  Which would be everyone as all Bs worth their salt bask in vicarious scandal and personal injury, while feigning to be above such gossip.   

The bald truth is that deep down not only did I never want to have to make this speech: deep down I never wanted to become a B.  Back in the early eighties I was happy enough poddling along in the lower reaches of the As enjoying a quiet enough life in Sunbury, having quiet pints in the Hansom Cab with the lads after, until an innocuous invite to join the Bs on a trip to Paris in 1982 resulted in the subsequent wreckage of my life as I knew it. Now I know there are those sat here even now playing for other LIRFC teams who are seduced by the Bs craic and are perhaps thinking of making what looks like the easy and probably reversible transit to the Bs. Be warned from my story –  do not do it!  There is no way back. Your career rugby and otherwise will soon be over. 

Stop listening to that wreck of a man on your left whispering sweet stories in your cauliflowered ear of the easy life: playing powder-puff opposition and slipping into long languorous evenings of bonhomous chatter and enlivening song. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I try to hack out this speech I am forced into an awful revisiting of archaic hurts and damage that I thought well buried as I pressed ahead with my new life in foreign lands, trying to rebuild the pieces far far away from Sunbury. I have no recent memory of the Bs since my Bs time largely encompassed the life defining eighties and what memory that remains is blurred by the awful damage inflicted by those endless sessions in brown bars far from home and from sanctuary of any kind. 

Most of you here would not recognise the names I would like to mention from those times, decent lads, the unknown soldiers whose sterling deeds are long forgotten; while the  recognizable names I could recite to you would be those of the crusty survivors many of whom are here tonight still running things behind the scenes.  They say that history is written by the victors and this was never more true than in the case of the Bs. 

Take the case of that first tour of mine to Paris in 1982. It was not only my first time, it was Bootsies also, both Bs virgins and in awe of what was unfolding before us.  As we found our way from a brown bar in the Place de Vosges to the airport, rumours flew that one of our number had collapsed and died on the travellator, none other than my local landlord from the Hansom Cab.  In the ensuing melee of conjecture and rehearsal of tragedy I retreated for a review of the tour with Bootsie over a beer at the airport.

It was then that he confided in me that he saw the Bs as a way to meet his ambition to become President of LIRFC in thirty years time. It was chilling to witness naked ambition at such close quarters, never mind to see it so fully realized as we now know it to be.  Every step of the way he has been lifted and maneuvered by Gerry the duvet dancer and Murphy himself not to mention Bart. These are dangerous men to know, make no bones about it. 

What is frightening for me looking back at my bizarre  existence within this covert cult mascarading as healthy improving sport in the spirit of Thomas Arnold was the ease with which the Bs normalized into the fabric of my life, only by degrees to take it over.  At that time I was a student oif the mysruic William Blake himself a London man – who would surely have joined the Bs had they been formed at the time – who wrote in songs of experience ‘What is the price of experience? Is it bought for song or a dance in the street? No is bought with the price of all that a man hath – his house his wife his children. ‘ And so it felt for me this passage with the Bs with its requirement for complete self-abasement. 

It was during one of the endless Bs power struggles in the ealry nineties amid a major blood letting that I managed to escape, where my absence went unnoticed. I forged a new life far far away from Sunbury, left only with an tattered honours tie, a pair of socks and a long bar bill at the Antelope.  As I gradually rebuilt my broken existence I discovered in that far away places and at world cup venues I would accidentlybump into a few fellow Bs exiles. Thereafter we would meet from time to time, thinking of times gone by, recounting some of the horrors that were inflicted upon us, and gaining strength from each other to resist the temptation to relapse back into Bs hell. We resolved to beat this Bs thing one day at a time, vigilant ever in the face of our powerlessness.   

We knew from our time in the eighties that the Bs had within itself the seeds of its own destruction – O’Hara – drawing on the work of Chomsky, and supported by selected dirges –  helpfully pointing out to the ever belligerent Newberry  that the Bs suffered from the same internal contradictions as late stage capitalism. All the talk was of the aging population with no new talent coming through; of the likelihood of selling the ground; the impending onset of professionalism – we knew the Bs were even then in a late maturity crisis. And then when news filtered through of the sad death of Des Egan then we knew that that was pretty much that for the Bs.  

We relaxed in our various lairs thinking the fatwa was now over; like Rushdie at the same time but with shorter beards, we could come out now knowing the threat had gone – we could even relax in nostalgic glow For twenty two years then my heroic campaign of Bs resistance and withdrawal had paid dividends, I was clean I was safe .. or so I thought …  that is until until one auspicious day at the 2012 Olympics I felt compelled to follow two titanic Czech pole vaulters with endless legs into a pub just outside of the stadium, wishing to know more of their technique and of their national culture.

It was in this unguarded moment that I fell into a deep deep trap for there at the TV screen was none other than the remains of Bootsie, agog at the sight of the innocent Tom Daley wearing only budgie smugglers while throwing himself into the pool.  Despite myself I found myself saying to him ‘I did not know you liked young boys Bootsie!” and in that moment of weakness I had taken my first step back into that toxic culture known as the Bs.  He told me of his inevitable rise to a position of highest power, and invited me to a number of games that were to be played in the West Country, near my exiled hideaway.  Then he explained that not only was the amateur side going strong but the Bs along with it were still in existence. This was the worst news I had heard in many a year.   

The Brixham game proved a real delight but a personal dissever as I met you new Bs and realized how seductive the Bs culture remains. It equally amazed me how easily I collapsed back into it again, as a gazed with some envy upon the pitch at that glistening pile of man flesh before me. Listening to the banter in the bar after seemed unsettlingly familiar. Asking myself if it really had been the same for us too, I decided to dig out the last movie my video company made, the one that broke the company , namely the Bees on Toast.

This movie was shot over the course of 1986, including the tour to Madrid when Dublin Jim set the bulls loose from the corrida on the Matto Grosso (which Joy thought was a local Rose.) Impressed by the fact that there was indeed a remarkable correspondence between our experience then and what was being enacted now on playing fields throughout Europe,  I felt impulsed to send this this movie out intact by way of warning to those who were now joining but not too far into the indoctrination process; just to let them know how far this could go, and to help them seek a way out. I also knew from those I had met that some of them were too far gone for any kind of help. 

The specters that were Dean and Brian in particular sprung to mind: it was clear that they had supped too far and too deep even to want to be rescued. One early passage of this movie stuck me as particularly prescience. It was that of Des Egan the self-styled founder of the Bs reflecting on his initial inspiration for the team. LIRFC historians an researchers of course have since long debated Des’s version of events, while tracing the influence of others who have mysteriously disappeared without trace, despite the best efforts of the RUC and the Met to trace them.  (We should not be surprised at this as Gerry and George were both serving officers at the time in the Met, in the hayday of its lawlessness, when it was institutionally anti – institutions – you can see the Bs influence here.)  

The passage I refer to was Egan saying ‘When i first thought of forming the B’s i was not thinking about creating a rugby side. i was more interested in forming a circus… I wanted performers, singers, dancers … that is what makes it go … I did not purposefully sit down to write a list of names … it was just that over the years – we attracted the right kinds of heads in that sense – and it growed i suppose ..’  It is chilling in retrospect to allow the full resonance of this to sink in, in the light of what we now know.  Note the dissembling around never writing down a list of names when in fact the names of the future power brokers were already well known. I invite you also to review in a fresh light the search for ‘singers and dancers’ when Egan as a self confessed scholar of the mystical Blake knew full well that experience was not bought ‘for a song or a dance alone but will all that man hath ..” 

This was clearly a Da Vinci code type cryptic message to let us all know that the means by which he would seduce, ensnare then slowly ruin us all.  Perhaps he knew that only beyond the grave would we ever truly comprehend his intent. The release of the video did trigger quite a flow of reminiscence as well as recognition of the fate of Bs victims. We were now better enlightened as to what was truly going on.  Unlike the Boston College research, our video was withheld until the main witnesses and former captains Des, Tommy and Brendan were sadly dead I was also to grow to learn that the power of the Bs moves in mysterious ways its wonders to perform.

I thought once the movie was up on Youtube then that would be it; those had wanted to would go looking and that no one else would go looking.  But how wrong  I was.  A few weeks ago out of the blue I received an email from a Declan Joy, a name unknown to me saying he was Tommy’s son, that he had come across the movie and could he have a copy. I had no idea Tommy had a son and ensuing correspondence revealed that he had only been with his father towards the end, and that he was so pleased to see this film of him in his all his extravagant pomp.  Now the spooky part is that when I asked him how he came across the movie he let me know it was a complete coincidence .

A friend came across it casually and suddenly there on the screen was his dad.  Einstein once said that “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” True or not what I do know is that I was deeply moved by this. I said to Declan that I too had a lost son – or lost for now – and I could not imagine how it might be for him for to trip across such a record, randomly, of his dad in his prime, after he was dead. And I speculate that I might not be the only B or the son of the same facing this predicament, the puzzle this pain beyond the merriment that carries us all along.  Ollie once taught me in a quiet moment in Amsterdam about remorse and  the pain of it. It is a long way down he said, and he was right. No B worthy of his salt would have truly lived without having touched deep remorse at some point. The Bs do have ways of finding us and our families, lost and found well beyond the grave.  That knowledge is both consolation and burden to know that what goes on tour might one day be on indelible public record. 

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