We all have a rivalry? The person we like to beat above all others. Whether it's at school, work, the army, corporate, and I dare say it, a residential home.
A guest runner this morning. If 'Mavis' were a cartoon character, he'd be the German version of Andy Capp, who is Willi Wakker. If he were a movie character he'd be one of The Wet Season Bandits, from 'Home Alone'.
The race 'begins' in an Italian restaurant off Baker Street. London. Fine food, fine wine and bravado aplenty. Mavis, the two-trick pony, has become three drinks clever. Somehow, we end up talking tennis. Mavis thinks he can beat me. We've never played.
Anyway, Mavis has one arm (his right) significantly shorter than the other. The side where he carries his wallet. He tells the table he'll win in straight sets. For my part, I'm planning to use a non-stick frying pan.
Mavis is throwing out challenges with all the randomness of a Freetown baggage handler - touch all the black ones, pick out the red one.
As the clock ticks towards midnight and the cocktails taste superb, we've switched to sprinting. This race could take place on the streets of London. In the words of Fat Boy Slim... 'right here, right now'. 100 yards? 200 yards? Perhaps from the restaurant to Baker Street Tube Station.
To have the last word, Mavis is happy for me to have a head start. For my part, I'm offering to carry a Corby Trouser Press as a handicap and win. I think Mavis has all the athletic abilities of the much-loved pressing device from the 80s; in fact, he resembles one.
How can he win? He has one leg shorter than the other, his left.
Common sense prevails. We'll race in a few weeks’ time, back in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The 'Leicester Peak Challenge'. We’ll run at 0600 hrs from the gates of the Country Lodge Hotel. First to the top of Hill Station. A 6.5 km climb to the summit. We clink glasses.
Mavis is confident. He has one key advantage. He's around 35 years old and at his peak. I'm giving him at least 20 years.
He's going to win by ten mins and doesn't need to train. I'm more worried about the Corby rubbing on my shoulders, and I'm doubly not training. So there... we touch glasses.
A race director is appointed, Launny. A WhatsApp group established...
One week later.
Bum, how could this happen, I have a rash. Bum, it's all over my bum and crown jewels. Agony. I can hardly walk, not alone secretly train. The only prep possible has been checking Amazon for said trouser press and frying pan.
I'm heading to Africa in four days, the rash is blistering and seeping and spreading. Still, good news, Mavis isn't training, he's too busy. Told me so himself.
I'm going to have to do something I never do. Yep, it's serious. Cancel the race? Delay my trip? Admit the trouser press was a foolish idea? Ask for a postponement? Never in a million years.
Even Baldrick would admire this plan. I know, I'll go to the docs. Though, not before I've consulted Dr Internet for three days... I take a selfie of my bum... I study it and think of Mavis...
The doc looks at my red, blistered rear end, prodding it with a green biro. The diagnosis takes 10 seconds. An old person ailment? I can't divulge, too embarrassing. However, rhymes with a well-known brand of crisps typically packaged in large cylindrical tubes with a plastic lid.
Ten days of intense antibiotics. Marvellous...
I fly to Monrovia feeling pathetic. The race is in two weeks’ time. Word around the campfire is Mavis will dream up a face-saving excuse, I'll have the prize. The best trophy one can have, bragging rights.
Mavis is playing it cool. He's seemingly going ahead. At last, the rash eases, I can begin to move.
One week to get fit.
Race day. 0600 hrs. He's a no-show. Ha, knew it. A white land cruiser bobs down the hill. Out pops Mavis, he looks and sounds over-caffeinated, as always. His hair in a neat bun with an off colour red scrunchy. We shake hands. The handshake is as limp as, well, a soft Frenchman's handshake. We pose for a photo.
Hill Station is shrouded in a cold mist. Launny brings us to the start line. Gentlemen. Ready. 3. 2. 1. Go.
Let slip the dogs of war...
Mavis is from Toronto. His countryman Neil Young once sang, "It's better to burn out than to fade away." I live for days like this, win or lose. The banter, the build-up, the physical element.
So, what happened? Well, you didn't have to be a latter-day Nostradamus to see this one coming. The greatest certainty since you last wandered past your local council football pitch on a Sunday morning and the Dog and Duck were leading the Red Lion 12-0 with five mins to go.
Er... hello, who's this?
It's like watching a young army officer with an unfolded map, unfolding a deckchair at the same time, on a windy day.
Where have you been? The rugged fellow in the black and red shirt on the right completed the course nearly nine mins quicker than the shirtless fellow, the chap on the left, who incidentally needs work on his abby dabby dos.
In the words of Kipling and hanging above the changing rooms at Wimbledon;
"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same"
Forget such nonsense, let's go and celebrate big time at the Hub Hotel. Kool and the Gang. Beer and Pringles. And, you should have seen the crease in my chinos.
Ah, yes tennis. Back to 1977. Guillermo Vilas had lost to Jimmy Conners 16 times straight and was the complete underdog in the US Open final. Guillermo was an Argentinian rock and roll tennis player of the era. Hair like yours Dave. He beat Conners in the final, against all the odds. At the press conference, he delivered this memorable line, as he touched his heart, "no-one beats Guillermo Vilas 17 times in a row." Mavis, be inspired.
Of course, there'll come a time when the baton is passed. Let's fast forward those 25+ years?
... a drafty residential home in Dorset, southern England. I'm boring the other elderly folk with my past exploits. There's a story of whipping Maureen's arse up Gloucester Peak in Guinea over 25 years ago. I apparently beat him by more than half an hour. No-one's listening. I tell them the last time Mavis beat me at anything Burger King was still a prince. They're distracted. They're playing dominoes. The nurse is tucking the blanket tight around my knees; I'm taking my medication. She closes the window; there's a breeze.
Mavis appears he's around my age now in 2017. He's come to gloat. I mean visit. Carol, the hottie, who's 83, bless her, loves his Canadian accent. He does look good. Plenty of grey hair, but seriously should a man of his age be sporting a bun? A yellow cashmere draped across those serpent-like shoulders. Deck shoes, no socks, still needs calf implants I see. I pretend to be asleep. Great to see him again...
Doug is in his pomp; he only has ten mins to spare, his open-top sports car is double parked in front of my blue mobility scooter. Why can't it rain?
Mavis, it'll never happen! In any event, you'd better spare me more than ten minutes. Now then, where's my Neil Young LP...
See you in Amsterdam for the Christmas special.