‘You don’t stop laughing because you grow older. You grow older because you stop laughing.’
Not my quote, but that of Maurice Chevalier. And I can’t imagine I’ll ever write a sentence quoting that particular French icon ever again, but nonetheless, Monsieur Chevalier made a very good point.
I’m not sure exactly when it was during last year’s lockdown that I stopped laughing, but at some point I did. It might have been when my job as a visiting author to schools basically ended overnight, putting a temporary halt on my earning potential. And when I say temporary, it’s still temporarily ended ten months later. Or it could have been when the new children’s book – ‘Chasing a Rugby Dream’ – that I’d written with rugby legend, James Hook, was delayed twice due to Covid. When it was then eventually released, James and I were unable to make any personal appearances to help promote it, again due to lockdown restrictions, which robbed the book of the crucial momentum that’s so important to any book’s success. Or maybe it was when I realised that I wouldn’t be seeing my eldest daughter, Georgia, studying for her Masters in Speech and Language Therapy in Edinburgh for over six months, again due to lockdowns or maybe it was learning that my youngest daughter, Olivia, had her graduation ceremony cancelled after all her had work in getting a First at Swansea University. But whatever the reason, eventually, lockdown took its toll and I seemed to forget to do the one thing I’d always done, how to laugh. I can’t pinpoint a certain day or date when I stopped, I just know that I did.
However, I do remember when I began laughing again. It was mid August 2020 when a random tweet on Twitter alerted me to a podcast called ‘The Socially Distant Sports Bar’, featuring Mike Bubbins, Elis James and Steffan Garrero. And when I say laughing, I mean, laughing. Proper laughing. Hard, hooting, screeching, tear inducing, bladder tightening laughing. In fact, as someone who prides himself as a bit of comedy connoisseur in my 50 plus years on this planet, I don’t remember ever connecting so much with three people doing their best to raise our spirits before. And I’m talking as someone who, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, thought that Eric Morcambe, Tommy Cooper, Arthur Daley and Derek Trotter were true friends I’d simply not yet met in real life. The boys at Distant Pod send out the exact same feelings. They make you feel like they are your friends, somehow talking not to anyone else, but just to you.
Not that the three of them were complete ‘strangers’. I’d been aware – and fans of all three – for many years. Bubbins, a self proclaimed 1970’s retrosexual, not just an excellent stand up comedian, but in my view a hugely underrated comic actor, with the potential to become one of Wales’s finest. James, comedian, actor, presenter and – like me – a life-long devotee of both Swansea City and the Vetch Field. Garrero a sports journalist and presenter of some renown in Welsh sporting circles, and – speaking as someone who earns a living writing about sport in the form of biographies and children’s books – someone I admire and respect greatly.
On paper, they might seem an odd mix. Bubbins, forthright, opinionated, confrontational and comedically aggressive. A sort of Welsh, MMA version of Jack Dee. James, calm, thoughtful, emotionally intelligent, well read, caring and wonderfully Welsh. And Garrero, the sensible one, the referee, the organiser, the voice of sanity. Sometimes anyway. An odd mix on paper, but in a similar way to how totally different personalities like Keane, Scholes and Giggs combined to make one of the greatest midfields of all time, similarly the Bubbins/James/Garrero mix is the stuff of comedy Premier League Champions. In fact, once I’d tuned in back last August, I was instantly hooked and I’ve not missed a weekly episode since. And boy has it helped during the many lows provided by our current pandemic-gripped world.
There’s been lots of talk about mental health in recent years, and much more so during the pandemic. I’m not going to try and claim I’ve battled the depths of depression since March last year, because that simply wouldn’t be true, but worries about my ongoing self-employed livelihood ending, the constant adherence to lockdown rules and concerns of the health of my family and friends, have ensured that I’ve had plenty of low moments. However, the person who once said, ‘laughter is the best medicine’, was clearly a Patreon member of the ‘Socially Distant Sports Bar’. Distant Pod has undoubtedly been the most positive aspect of my lockdown experience since I stumbled across it.
The thought that I’ve never been more than seven days away from the next episode of the Sports Bar, has never failed to lift my spirits when needed. That notification that flashes onto my phone every Tuesday morning, gives me that same feeling of instant gratification I used to feel when I woke up on the morning of FA Cup Final day as a kid, knowing that ‘FA Cup It’s A Knockout’ at 9.00am would herald a day of nine or ten hours of constant football related TV. The thought of a new episode of the pod just makes me smile with anticipation in a similar way.
When it became clear that Boris’s promise of a normal Christmas, was, like many of his proclamations, built on the shiftiest of sand, it hit me that my daughter wasn’t going to be able to make it home for Christmas from Edinburgh. That was a very low moment. I remember that day feeling extremely down and disappointed. I decided to go out for a walk to try and cheer myself up, but had already listened to that week’s Pod, so couldn’t put that on to lift my mood. But then, the lightbulb moment. Catch up!
I went back to the very start, Episode One, and caught up on the ones I’d initially missed. It was a revelation, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before.
Since that moment, I realised once a week of the collective sport related (sometimes!) musings of Bubbins/James/Garrero wasn’t going to be enough to keep me cheered, so I’ve incorporated my hour long daily walk around the mean streets of Loughor, (well, the estuary coastal path really), with an hour of Distant Pod. I ration just that hour, so that every single day, I can get my fix without running out. That’s been my regime every day since Christmas, and boy is it worth it. The number of times I’ve been striding across Loughor Bridge and I’ve been laughing my head off, whilst noticing the strange glances of drivers witnessing a six foot four inch, middle aged man in hysterics, are many. Initially, I tried to suppress my laughter, but now I don’t care. It’s part of the joy of it all.
I know I’m a little older than the three, but as Mike is very much stuck in the 70’s, Elis shares a similar knowledge of the Swans and Welsh sport as me and Steffan loves exploring the depth of sporting stories in the way I also do, means that I can’t imagine a podcast that I could be more attuned to. And I listen to many excellent ones. Then of course, there’s the swearing. Now I hope Mike isn’t offended by this, but I kind of expect it from him. And that’s no bad thing. He uses it expressively, not gratuitously and to incredibly funny, comic effect, but it’s when Elis unexpectedly jumps into one of his Swansea/Liverpool/West Walian/Yorkshire accented tirades, with a proliferation of invective, well, it’s just hysterical. His story of a woman clasping her hands over his ten-year-old ears at a Rugby match, and him recounting her incredibly aggressive industrial language was one of the funniest things I’d ever heard. But I suppose, this is the health warning. The podcast can very much be described as a bit of a throwback, especially in its attitude to recounting tales, that were tales of their time. No sugar coating, no dialling down of the colourful language, the stories are told as they happened. As a result, not everyone of a 2021 audience would become devotees of the unabashed realism of the tales and opinions offered by the boys, but in a way, that’s what gives the podcast its unique strength. It’s uncompromising, it’s authentic, it’s unapologetic. Not for a moment do I think it’s gratuitous, but I’ve no doubt some people would. But for me, a person who played organised team sport from aged eight until forty, it whisks me straight back into the uncensored and unadulterated joy of the sporting dressing room. That, in my mind, is priceless.
So why this blog today? Why not three months ago? Well, firstly, I just wanted to say a genuine thank you to all three for constantly lifting my spirits and not deviating from their original formula. Well, apart from sometimes forgetting the pod is supposed to be about sport for the odd half an hour or so! The combination of genuine, laugh out loud moments with considered, intelligent sporting debate and the promotion of informative and hugely entertaining clips, documentaries and books that I otherwise would never have been aware of, has simply been fantastic, and for all that, added to the personal tonic it’s given me when needed, I just wanted to say, thanks.
But there is another reason. A very ticklish one that I must address with some trepidation. The Patreon. Mike Bubbins has a very unique way of promoting the fact that there are paid versions of the pod. The approach might be one adopted by Saatchi and Saatchi if, in fact, they had been the Kray brothers, not the Saatchi brothers. Or if Himmler and Goebells had been consulting for them (Sports Bar running joke reference there). He has little time for ‘round dodgers’, his sobriquet for those non Patreon members and has short shrift for anyone who hasn’t signed up. Including me, because I haven’t..and I feel bad. But – cue the sounds of violins – as one whose livelihood has, at best, been put on hold since last March – I’ve had to cut my cloth for obvious reasons. However, that doesn’t remove my guilt when I tune in, especially when I’ve spent the length of this blog explaining how much I’ve listened to it and how much it’s benefited me.
So here is the real reason for the timing of this blog. In lieu of me being a Patreon member, I want to at least do my bit and promote an upcoming event of a show that’s meant so much to me, as I hope I’ve demonstrated. On Sunday 21st February, at 8.00pm, the Socially Distant Sports Bar goes ‘Live’. A two hour show completely uncut, unedited and unscripted. I believe the correct term in Entertainment circles is ‘Raw’. I don’t know whose idea it was – I suspect it was Steffan’s – but my word, it’s a brave one. The reason it’s brave? Two words: Mike Bubbins. If you’ve listened to previous pods, you will be familiar with Mike’s hair trigger responses to some of the discussions. Always fun, often controversial, sometimes, well, truly unbelievable in their candour. The boys have often admitted that for a combination of libel/slander/decency/controversy avoiding reasons, some of Mike’s more colourful contributions have been edited from the record. This time, on the 21st, there’s no edit button. And I, for one, can’t wait. I don’t actually for a minute think that Mike will really disgrace himself, but I’m so looking forward to hearing him attempt to police himself. As he said the other day, he almost has a form of Tourette’s that is not linked to swearing as such, but more to knowing that what he’s about to say is controversial, but instead of holding back, says it anyway just to see the shock it causes. As I say earlier, that approach is not for everyone, I completely understand that, but I just find it liberating, refreshing and very regularly, hilarious.
This one-off live event costs £8.00* to access and I’ve already paid. I know it’s not exactly the commitment of signing up as a Patreon, but – and don’t tell Mike – I’d have happily paid double. So, if you’re not yet a devotee of the Sports Bar, I urge you to search for ‘The Socially Distant Sports Bar’ on your usual podcast provider and check it out.
2021 hasn’t had many highlights yet, nor do there appear to be many on the horizon for obvious reasons, so I can do nothing more than seriously urge you to follow this link to the live podcast, ( https://dice.fm/event/albgq-the-socially-distant-sports-bar-live-and-online-21st-feb-stream-via-london-london-tickets ) pay your £8.00* and support the boys on what I know will be a fantastically entertaining, informative and no doubt at times, riotously funny couple of hours.
One thing is certain, it will make you laugh. Which brings me back to my introduction of this piece and the impact age has on laughter, or maybe the impact that laughter has on our age.
It’s sadly true, that every day, my bathroom mirror confirms that I am, indeed, getting older on the outside, but as Monsieur Chevalier correctly pointed out, my laughter insures I’m not getting older on the inside. Far from it. And as long as I have my weekly dose of Bubbins, James and Garrero – not to mention the upcoming live show – I think that I might actually end up giving Benjamin Button a run for his money in the non-ageing stakes.
So, thank you, guys, for all you’ve done and the laughs you’ve given. You’ve certainly sprinkled a pile of glitter on this turd that has been the pandemic and I look forward to many more podcasts of joyous hilarity and meaningful sports discussion. When you can fit the sport in, of course!
Oh, and good luck for the live show.
* a pound of this fee goes straight to Doddie Weir’s MND foundation, My Name’5 Doddie