IT was my birthday last week and out of ideas about what present to ask for (once past the age of 16 there is very little you actually need other than hard cash and perhaps a beard trimmer; same for men too), I told Mrs Canavan to book an activity day.
“Go for something outdoors and exciting,” I suggested, imagining parachuting, abseiling or perhaps quad biking through the countryside.
When I woke on my birthday she revealed the surprise. “We’re going,” she said, pausing for dramatic effect - a bit like before they announce the winner on X-Factor, though thankfully Dermot O’Leary wasn’t sat in my lounge - “for a spa day”.
“A what?” I stuttered.
“A spa day,” she replied, beaming.
‘I know, I heard,’ I stumbled. ‘It’s just that, well, I’m a man.’
She waved aside my concerns. “Don’t be silly,” she chirped. “It will be great. I’ve booked us an Aquathermal Journey”.
It was at this point I wondered if she’d sprinkled an illegal substance on her morning porridge. But no, she wasn’t joking. She had indeed booked us an Aquathermal Journey –whatever that was – in a local spa and beauty centre.
As we drove there, the thought did cross my mind that Mrs Canavan – who was graciously joining me on my aquathermal adventure – may have chosen this gift more with herself in mind than me.
She denied it flatly. “This is your special day, I’m just tagging along,” she said, while checking her hair in the wing mirror and holding her favourite green swimsuit.
We spent the next two hours sitting in pools, hot-tubs and saunas.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm – and my concerns that this was all a bit pretentious for a working class lad from Manchester who used to think a spa was where you went to buy milk and bread – I must confess to rather enjoying it. By the end of the two hours I felt relaxed and in good spirits.
Then right at the end, something spoiled it.
There were about a dozen people in there, of all shapes and sizes.
But just as we were about to leave a bloke walked in. Or should I say an Adonis.
He was wearing a pair of tiny white Speedo trunks and had a body in such good shape it looked as if he’d never allowed himself to have so much as half a rasher of bacon in his life. He had a six-pack and was not dissimilar in looks to David Beckham.
You could sense every male shift uncomfortably, while every woman was trying desperately hard not to make it obvious to their partner that they had clocked this Beckham-like stud and were thinking ‘my god, who’s he? He’s gorgeous’ (I know Mrs Canavan was thinking exactly this because she later told me so – her honesty is an admirable, if, at moments like this, annoying trait).
As I walked back to the changing room I had to pass the Beckham-lookalike.
It was a crushing moment, the sort of feeling you get when you meet an airline pilot and he tells you what wage he’s earning.
I shuffled on, head down, and into the changing room, where they’d kindly put up about 44 mirrors so I wherever I stood I could see just how puny, muscle-free and generally un-Beckham like my little white body is.
And so there we go, that is the over-riding memory of this year’s birthday. Still, on the flipside Mrs Canavan has had a smile on her face ever since so at least one of us is happy.
Farewell to Tony Gubba, a Blackpool Grammar boy
DURING a lengthy trawl of the internet I could find only one example of a Tony Gubba blooper.
“The ageless Teddy Sheringham, 37 now….” Gubba once remarked.
Now compare that to his BBC colleague John Motson. His list of things ‘I wish I hadn‘t said’ is endless.
Here‘s just a few: “The World Cup is a truly International event”; “And what a time to score, 22 minutes gone”; or perhaps “Brazil - they’re so good it’s like they are running round the pitch playing with themselves”.
Of course, we love Motty for his slight ditziness.
Gubba, on the other hand, was more admired than loved by the public, but among broadcasters he was hugely respected.
Solid and dependable, he will be remembered as one of the best.
This was his 41st season as a commentator, having overtaken Barry Davies to become the third-longest serving football commentator of all time on British television after Motson and Gerald Sinstadt.
Gubba passed away at the start of this week, aged 69. Sad news, and odd because just a few days before I had been sent a photograph by Gazette reader David Benson.
It showed Gubba as a young lad at Blackpool Grammar School (which was on Raikes Parade, in the building that is now the headquarters of the Salvation Army), just as he and his classmates were about to depart for a trip to Paris in August 1956.
Gubba – born in Manchester but educated in Blackpool – is in the centre of the front row, with the blond hair.
The interesting thing, as Mr Benson, who is on the same photo, points out, is that Gubba isn’t the only member of that class to go on to achieve notable things.
The young lad on the far left of the front row, David Atherton has become a great in the world of music.
The son of Robert Atherton – a conductor of a Blackpool orchestra – David was a naturally gifted musician at school and by the age of 24 had become the youngest person ever to conduct at a promenade concert.
That was just the beginning. He was co-founder the famous London Sinfonietta in the 60s, and has since conducted orchestras all over the world, including at the famous La Scala Opera House in Milan.
“The school photo was taken before we headed to Paris on a trip,“ recalls Mr Benson.
“And the funny thing is that I shared a room with Tony and David in student accommodation at the Sorbonne.
“From memory Tony lived with his family – including his brother Ron, also a journalist – in a boarding house in Tyldesley Road across from the old Coliseum bus station.
“Both he and David went on to become famous and achieve great things.
“You might ask what did I, the third person in the room on that trip, achieve? Well two out of three isn’t bad is it?”
There must have been something in the water at that school.
A young Alistair Cooke was a pupil before going on to enjoy a hugely successful broadcasting career (including the long-running Letter From America programme on BBC Radio 4) and later, in the 1960s, so was Ian Anderson, who formed Jethro Tull, a band which has sold 60 million albums worldwide.
As for Blackpool Grammar School, it relocated to Blackpool Old Road in 1961 and was renamed Collegiate High School in the 70s.
The pupils there now have quite something to live up to.