FOR weeks now the old hands on the Screws, particularly boss Macca, have been harping on about a Christmas tradition. It goes like this... Any new arrivals that calendar year are required to give some kind of performance at the end of the sports desk Xmas lunch. It's called singing for your supper, though why we should have to do this when we have already paid almost £50 for the privilege is completely beyond me.
Anyway, the tale we have had drummed into us is that last year our north east correspondent Martin Hardy performed a passable version of Bladon Races, a bit of a shock really seeing he's from the Newcastle area.
Anyway, as one of five new arrivals I thought I had better prepare properly for the big event and wracked my brain to come up with something to do. At first I was thinking of a football theme, like the Anfield Rap, but then it dawned on me that as a representative of Wales perhaps I should look closer to the principality for my inspiration. Finally, after 10 minutes of hard work, I came up with my version of the old Goldie Lookin' Chain classic Guns don't kill People... the twist was that I was to sing Subs Don't Kill Stories, Lawyers Do.
It dawned on me that to carry out such a desperate task I would at least needs some props to hide behind. Well, more regular readers of this neverending story may recall that I am the proud owner of a couple of Do Rags, which were purchased a few years back during an England cricket tour of the West Indies. That would solve one problem, and a baseball hat might also come in handy to hide behind and cover my head when pelted with dangerous flying objects.
I decided the verses should, perhaps, be about characters in the office and I wanted to sing the praises of one individual in particular, the hard-working Critch.
Now Critch has a rather noticeable stubble which, when he hasn't gone near the rasor for a while, can turn into the beginnings of a beard. He is also the oldest member of our happy clan so I thought it only right that said beard should be grey.
Finding one, though, was presenting a bit of a problem.
On Monday Mrs R and I visited Cribbs Causeway, the vast shopping centre on the outskirts of Bristol. Yet despite managing to sort a fair deal of the Xmas shopping, the grey beard eluded me. Then, taking an experimental route home through Patchway, we spotted a Xmas party store and did a quick about-turn to study all the fancy dress costumes etc. Finally, my lady wife discovered a long grey beard which we decided, with a fair bit of work, could be reformed into the desired facial appendage.
That night we got out the scissors and scythed away at the tough, grey stuff until it looked vaguely acceptable. We also, during our trip, found one of those giant, echoey kids imitation microphones which I thought would only add to the theme.
Suitably equipped, I set off for London early on Tuesday morning for the Bash of the Day.
Booking into the Holiday Inn down the road from Fortress Wapping was easily enough but getting from Limehouse into the city was a mare which reminded me why I had quit the smoke in the first place. A catalogue of closed stations and tube trains breaking down meant I didn't reach the meeting place - the Bell around the corner from Canon Street Station, until half an hour later than intended.
The place was already heaving with the great and the good from the Screws and I soon linked up for a beer with Bobby Bowden, the man who takes sole responsibility for my return to London. After a couple of lubricating Fosters we started talking about the forthcoming events, and I must admit the alarm bells suddenly went off in my head when he said he recalled Martin Hardy singing "Fog on the Tyne" at the previous dinner. "I thought it was Bladon Races?" I said, watching his eyes carefully to see if the whole thing was a wind-up. He just shrugged it aside - "What's the difference? It was all in Geordie anyway."
Once the great and the good were all gathered together it was on to a restaurant called the Don, an Italian in the heart of the city, where we were invited into a dining room exclusively for our use. I must say the service was excellent and the food - though hardly the kind of large Xmas dinner that I will be tucking into on the day in question - was tasty and, in the case of the pudding, very rich and filling.
Then, after a speech from Macca came the obligatory raffle in which, somehow, the world's two biggest gamblers and close cohorts Lethal and Adders, managed to carry off the first two prizes. There were cries of "fix, fix" but they just laughed it off and pocketed the cash, totally oblivious to the accusations of scandal going on around them.
And then it came. Macca announced that the new boys had to sing for their supper in "time-honoured News of the World tradition". He then revealed that, in fact, the tradition had only begun this year and this would be the first time. He then took up his post as Simon Cowell on the top table and invited his secretary and one of the other girls to take up the roles as Cheryl Cole and Danni Minogue from the X-factor. To complete the line up came one of the old skool Screws writers David Harrison, as Louis Walsh.
First up was Ash, our chief soccer writer, who passed out free lighters to the 35 guests then requested the lights be turned low before launching himself into what can only be described as Robbie Williams' Angels, as sung by Bob Dylan. The high notes were certainly a test too much but he deserved top marks for bravery and at least he got the audience singing along.
Critch followed with a 20-minute speech on why he had chosen to sing a certain song which wasn't funny but made his dad laugh. It turned out to be Laurel and Hardy's Trail of the Lonesome Pine.
And following swiftly on we had young soccer writer Greg and Internet Editor Adam in a duet, complete with dreadlock wigs containing coloured beads, revisiting the back catalogue of the little known Millie Vanilli (and I probably haven't spelt that right).
Finally, after a nervous wait brought on by the fact it was decided in alphabetical order, I was on "stage" or, rather, standing alone in the corner of the room with all eyes turned on me. I quickly hid behind a corner and opened my props bag. God knows how someone like David Bowie managed 20 costume changes a performance because I was struggling to get the Do Rag on straight and nervously trying to get the baseball hat out without spilling everything else onto the floor from the bag.
The chatter going on in the room suggested they thought I might have done a runner but finally... finally... I appeared, fully dressed for the occasion, to perform the first verse of my rap.
Then another costume break. And this time I could not for the life of me find the Critch beard. Now this, you understand, was my moment of comedy gold, the thing that would make the whole show work... and it had either fallen out of my bag on the way to the pub or was still back home in Bristol.
I scrambled around for ages, I could hear the natives getting restless, my heart was beating ten to the dozen and I was breaking out in a sweat. Oh Lordy. Then, finally, I put my hands on the beard, strapped it on and rejoined my audience.
Glad to say the reception was worth waiting for as I sang my verse about the great Critch.
To end on a make or break note I opted for a verse about the boss Macca. When I say make or break I mean it was either going to make him see the funny side or he was going to break my ankles. Thankfully it was the former.
After that we all moved on to a pub called the Vintry, then ended up in a bar called Revolution by which time I was so twatted I could feel my legs giving way so made my exit, jumping into a waiting taxi to be swiftly taken back to my hotel. A very enjoyable day, though, and I will put the contents of my rap up on my next posting.
Fortunately, and wisely, I have taken the week off.