Models of Individuality

Posted: September 16, 2010 in Half Man Half Biscuit

I’m walking for a few days up the Offa’s Dyke long distance footpath in the beautiful countryside of the Welsh borders. The kind of walking trip where you never quite know where you’ll end up camping each night.  Just hopefully somewhere with a decent pub.

So it’s a pure chance that I camped last night in the border town of Knighton, and  even more chance that while I was looking for a pint and a bite to eat, I happened to pass one of the most amazing and unique sights I’ve ever seen  in a shop window, anywhere. Wow – look at this!

A sign on the shop door tells me the opening hours – if I delay my departure tomorrow morning I’ll be able to have a look inside this veritable cave of treasures … and hopefully I’ll get to speak to its owner and find out how such a specialist little business manages to keep going as a shop at all.

A man who supports his local team & the oppressed of far-off lands: this is a shop I have to visit

Tom Taylor with his travelling army of synthetic superstars

Sure enough, when I drop in introduce myself to shopkeeper Tom Taylor the next day,  not only does he confirm to me that his are the only shop premises in the country entirely dedicated to table football, but after I ask about some of the amazing figurines on display, that he is also the country’s premier producer of  bespoke subbuteo  figures.

He shows me figures he has produced depicting, amongst others, an injured Wayne Rooney, folically-challenged referee Pierluigi Collina, various famous goal celebrations including Fernando Torres, and even a Thierry Henry figure handling the ball in that famous incident from Paris last year – faithful in all details, right down to his white boots. Well, you can tell who it’s meant to be anyway…

The hand of a subbuteo god

Tom even makes and sells subbuteo streakers, including sets depicting some of the most famous  incidents from the golden era of streaking , such as Michael O’Brien and Erica Roe of Twickenham fame – the accompanying arresting officers are also copied faithfully from contemporary press photographs. When Tom realises how genuinely impressed I am about all this, he shows me the printed rules that are enclosed with each streaker or set of streakers, telling subbuteo players exactly how they can be deployed to disrupt a match at key strategic moments. “The streaker and the police officer must always be positioned behind the goal line. At any time during the match, a player can shout `Streaker!` and place his or her streaker in the penalty area…”

Great to meet you, Tom. You’re a nutter. The kind of nutter we need more of.

What makes this chance encounter even more remarkable is that I just happened to see this shop the day before my trip was due to end, and that from there I’m heading on to Bilston (Wolverhampton)  for a Half Man Half Biscuit gig.  One of HMHB’s best known tunes, of course,  is that nostalgic paean to Subbuteo & Scalextric – their classic anthem “All I want for Xmas is a Dukla Prague Away kit”.  So I can’t resist purchasing one of Tom’s streaker-and-copper sets for the gig, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to fling him (I mean the streaker, not Tom) on stage during their rendition of that song, which just might be on the setlist this evening – if I’m lucky, ‘cos they don’t always play it.

As it turned out, they did play it and I did get to fling the streaker, hotly pursued by the plod.  Fortunately, the box cushioned the impact, keeping all the streaker’s vital bits intact, and the band did seem quite intrigued by their unexpected stage invader.  Even the sticker on the box was perfect: “Warning – contains small parts.”  The whole episode was just meant to happen.

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