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Sankey, Sankey, What’s The Time?

August 29, 2010

It’s not a good sign in a relationship when a row can be sparked off by the clock above the North Stand at Field Mill. When I say ‘relationship’ I don’t actually mean the full-on, heavy-duty thing. No, we’d been through the whole Relationship Cycle and were now in the winding-down phase, the other side of the emotional hill. We’d Got Together, we’d Been A Couple, had Split Up, Got Over It and were now Really Good Friends. The visit to Mansfield Town’s home match against Barnet was a symbol of our new-found maturity, a token of adulthood – the expedition mimicking the kind of things People Still In Relationships do, things like getting involved in some of your partner’s favourite activities.

I’ll call the other character ‘the Ex’. Not that I like to define someone’s existence purely in terms of the role they used to occupy in relation to me. But it’s marginally better than ‘The Artist Formerly Known As My Girlfriend’, shorter too – and after all she never possessed the brand-changing clout of Prince. Then of course there’s data protection to consider. So I’ll go with ‘the Ex’.

Things started promisingly when, in the pre-match warm-up, she expressed admiration for striker Lee Peacock’s legs. I wondered briefly whether, at another time, I might have considered my own legs to be in competition with Peacock’s, but Iet that thought drop where I had picked it up.

The North Stand in those days was crowned by a clock which, sadly, was its most impressive feature. Ostensibly a timekeeper, the clock was in reality an advertising vehicle promoting the merits of John Sankey, self-styled as ‘Mansfield’s leading estate agent’. For that small subset of the Stags fanbase with a love of words and language it was a source of pride and wonder. Not because of any beauty in its design or precision in its measurement of the hours, but for the slogan that adorned its edges. This alone conferred a sense of character and uniqueness on the stadium. Boldly justifying the business’ pre-eminence was the intriguing claim: More people use Sankey than for any other reason.

I marvelled at the idea that some copywriter might actually have been paid to coin this phrase – doubtless also trying to dignify it with the term ‘strapline’. More likely, though, it was the product of some impromptu across-the-desks brainstorming session at Sankey Towers, in response to a tight deadline and non-existent budget. Some youth might have shouted “What about this?” and reeled it off in a rare moment of inspiration. And someone else would have punched the air and whooped “Yes! Brilliant!” Or, more likely, muttered “Yeah, that’ll do”. Over the years I had many opportunities to stare at and ponder this gem of tortured reasoning, both before and during games when often, for various reasons, I was praying for the final whistle. The clock even appeared on Fantasy Football League on television, when David Baddiel allowed himself a considered “hmmmm” and several seconds of silence, before delivering the verdict: “that’s deep”. On the face of it perfectly plausible, the boast isn’t so much profound as literally meaningless. Or is it?

During a particularly tedious passage of play, when Lee Peacock’s legs, for all their charm, weren’t doing the job they were being paid to do, I pointed to the clock, and asked the Ex to consider its sheer existential daftness. More people use Sankey than for any other reason, my arse. She gazed at it for a couple of minutes, as if divining the very essence of time itself in tandem with the meaning of the catchphrase, before coming back with “what d’you mean?”

One detail I haven’t already revealed to the court is that the Ex was a linguistics student. Correction, your honour, a postgraduate linguistics student – a status that had unaccountably always put me on the back foot in the whole arena of verbal communication. In fact, any kind of communication.

I smiled a kind of ‘are you joking?’ smile and tried again. But no, apparently it did mean something. Cheerfully embarking down the route of logic, I proposed that you can’t talk about ‘any other reason’ without giving a reason in the first place. ‘Other’ implies some kind of existing reason, one that’s already been stated. So it might work if it read: ‘More people use Sankey because they’re shit-hot than for any other reason’. That would make logical (if not commercial) sense. Or substitute ‘shit-hot’ with ‘local’, ‘dirt cheap’, ‘long-established’ – you get my drift. Don’t you?

No. The thing is, I learned, that more people use Sankey because more people already use it. That’s the reason. The sentence contains within it its own consequence; it possesses an ingenious circular logic. The reason is there, implied mind you, but present nevertheless, and I merely needed to alter my angle of perception to grasp it too. I could just about see this argument, but only through a thick, soggy, grey sheet of conceptual gauze. I could even understand that the advertising concept might be some kind of ‘follow-the-herd’ viral marketing approach, where customers would base their choice solely on how countless others already rated John bloody Sankey. But then shouldn’t it be: ‘More people use Sankey because a lot of different people already use it than for any other reason’?

Inevitably, the conversation descended from here into the pit we thought we had long since escaped. Sentences beginning with “you always”, “yes, but you never”, and “this is just”. Statements ending with “if you say so” and “whatever you like”. Declarations simultaneously beginning and ending with “I give up”. Eventually I resorted to intellectual abuse and suggested that the Ex’s rationale would be described by her own linguistics professor, in the specialist terminology of that discipline, as ‘complete bollocks’. We watched the rest of the match in uncomfortable silence. I think it was 1-0, but I can’t remember who won. Not goodwill and tolerance, anyway.

I still don’t know if I’m right, or indeed if there is any ‘right’. I feel somehow that there must be, but have never received the judge’s ruling. I suppose I walked free on a technicality. I have tried this out on other people since the event, telling the story as impartially as I could, but they generally didn’t want to get involved – either in the logic bit, or the right-and-wrong bit. Probably felt that taking sides would somehow compromise their professional standing or credit rating.

Over the years I’ve nurtured a growing sense of resentment against Sankey for the havoc wreaked by his few ill-chosen words. But still he seems to be thriving, oblivious to the damage he inflicted on our fragile accord with his loathsome timepiece.

The clock is long gone; it disappeared when the North Stand was demolished and rebuilt, giving new hope to other ex-couples as they try to forge their own embryonic friendships at Field Mill.

I’ve haven’t had any contact with the Ex for over seven years. I left a voicemail message in summer 2005, but received no reply. And I didn’t even mention Sankey. Ah well. I can only conclude that more people don’t return calls than for any other reason.

From → Stagsville

3 Comments
  1. Daniel permalink

    Me and my work colleagues have debated this for years, it just doesn’t make sense!! Brilliantly written my friend, very entertaining.

  2. Refreshing reminder that there is such a thing as an articulate Stags supporter

  3. Occasional tiger permalink

    I spotted this watching MTFC against Hull City one baking hot summer’s day at the start of a season. We were all a little worse for wear, and laughed at the time. I’ve been trying for years to find out whether I really did see it, or whether it was just the result of too many beers and a hot afternoon.

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