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Thank you, Nellie

When I was a lad, there was a popular saying in our house: ‘He/she’s made more comebacks than Nellie Melba.’

As anyone who knows me knows, for the last 30+ years I have amused myself, and abused others, every Thursday evening as part of a band of brothers engaging in the fruitless pursuit of a football around North Berwick Sports centre. A few years ago this group was immortalised in the title of a Skinner novel, Thursday Legends, and that’s how it’s traded ever since.  When I returned from Spain ten days ago, I found that I had become the most senior of the crew, by an even greater margin, thanks to the withdrawal of my buddy Hugh, who had been at it for even longer than me. Having myself reached a certain age, I mused upon this and as a result, advised my much younger colleagues that last Thursday would be my last official game. I would, I declared, no longer put my name forward for selection, and would only turn out in extremis, in the event of a last minute withdrawal by one of the ten selected.

So guess what? Yesterday evening, I was settled into my armchair at home, eating the winnings from the St Aidan’s Church quiz, having been to the gym earlier (since I wasn’t playing football) and run 5km on the treadmill in a decent time for a **-year-old, when an email popped up on my Blackberry. That crisis had arisen; the group was down to nine. Being a man of my word, I turned out. My team won. Comfortably. Despite the handicap of my advancing years. So? No question, I have to plan my Thursdays better than that; if Dave Cameron is raising the retirement age, then so am I.

Now, this is where it gets surreal. The player who dropped out is named Neil, but is universally known as Nellie, and, in common with the great Australian operatic Dame, he has a variety of toast named after him. (You have heard of Brown Toast, yes?)

Unlike the old diva, I plan to make only one come-back, but this is it, boys, this is it.

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