Saturday, December 31, 2005

These are a few of my favourite things...

... of 2005, that is...
Enough with the long-windedness, here are some 'gimme five' lists...

Favourite albums:
Gorillaz, Demon Days
Josh Rouse, Nashville
Laura Cantrell, Humming By The Flowered Vine
Paul McCartney, Chaos And Creation In The Backyard
Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous

Nearly-favourite albums:
Aimee Mann, The Forgotten Arm
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Cold Roses
Martha Wainwright, Martha Wainwright
The Rakes, Capture/Release
Luke Haines/The Auteurs/Baader Meinhof, Luke Haines Is Dead

Favourite reads:
Anna Funder, Stasiland
Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Untold Story
John Dickie, Cosa Nostra
Tom Shone, Blockbuster
Tom Perrotta, Little Children

Favourite films:
Crash
Silver City
The Producers
Batman Begins
Million Dollar Baby

Favourite first-time discoveries, years late:
P G Wodehouse
Amy Allison
Derek and Clive
Shameless
The 'Rat Pack'

Favourite moments:
Jacques Rogge saying that magic syllable 'Lon-' on July 6
Going to York for a ten-year anniversary sentimentalifest with university friends
That catch by Geraint Jones, off Steve Harmison, on the Sunday morning at Edgbaston
Going from pure despair, to pure fear, to pure ecstasy as Pietersen pulled us through on the final day at Lord's
My brother's weird and wonderful Chinese wedding

Unfavourite disappointments:
Rufus Wainwright, Want Two
Jonathan Coe, The Closed Circle
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The West End production of High Society
The second half of the North London derby in November

Favourite things to look forward to in 2006:
New series of The Sopranos
A UK tour by Sir Macca... hopefully
The Johnny Cash biopic
The home leg of Lyndon and Jessie's wedding
The Ashes in Australia

Thursday, December 29, 2005

I thought: 'Funny'...

Haven't watched very much television this Christmas - except for the inevitable Simpsons-a-thons, which will no doubt send me out onto the streets a pie-eyed, carnage-causing drink-driver - but I did see the repeat of last year's Not Only But Always, the drama-doc about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
Rhys Ifans and Aidan McArdle were excellent in the lead roles, it's true - Ifans looked uncannily like Cook, especially the glassy-eyed, superior stare and the all-conquering drawl.
But I was a little disappointed, even more so on second viewing, by how unconvincing - and, indeed, pointless - the brief reconstructions of sketches were. And especially how, for two such brilliantly hilarious people, Terry Johnson's screenplay paid very little attention to their humour, much more on angsty soap operatics: oh-so-predictable crackerjack cliches about Cook the bitter'n'twisted, wasted talent; Moore the safe, soft, sell-out 'straight man'. All entirely unworthy of them both.
Frankly, the film got off to a bad start with the scene showing a drunken Cook, in his final years, calling an early-hours LBC phone-in show as 'Sven from Swiss Cottage', and sounding not witty and satirical but dull, embarrassing and sad - and the radio host awkwardly treating him as such.
Not true at all. 'Sven from Swiss Cottage' was a superbly sharp creation and improvisation, expertly played and downplayed by Cook, with his despairing references to his lost wife Yuta, his attempts to woo Ingeborg from the dry cleaner's, and how big-screen footage about fishing helps curb football hooliganism in Norway.
So the film, beautifully-shot and acted though it is, played a more helpful role by sending me back to my Pete'n'Dud recordings.
'Cos they give me the 'orn...

And so that was Christmas...


… and what have I done?

Well, much the same as most times, I suppose. With the odd little tweak and twist here and there to mark the passing of the years. Which is how I like it. Times change, but much still stays the comforting same, the ghost of Christmas past keeping a light touch on his Christmas present colleague, thanks to age-old family rituals.
For example: ever since I was a baby, we have been going to Finchley Memorial Hospital first thing on Christmas Day morning to sing carols to the patients, with the ‘Friends’ of the hospital. My mum and dad actually started doing this the first Christmas they were in London, which was seven months before I was born, so this year was their 30th visit. As a kid, with much shorter legs than now, I remember feeling the tour of the wards and corridors lasted FOR EVER. But now it seems over almost before it’s even begun, finding ourselves strolling into the canteen at the end of the journey, for mince pies and cans of Fanta, at an alarmingly early moment. Comparatively so, anyway. ‘What, no more wards?’
Of course, this no doubt has much to do with my longer legs and sturdier sense of patience these days – and greater enjoyment, especially as I now take my guitar along to accompany the straggling carollers, to bolster my dad’s playing – my youngest brother Christy also joined the musicians this time, eyebrow-furrowedly peering at each change of chord grasped at by myself.
Also, the hospital is sadly shrinking. The Father Christmas leading our way this time explained this would be our last visit to the Dickens rehabilitation wards, which are due to close this year – apparently because they are just too dilapidated to renovate properly, though shutting them entirely instead appears a rather offhand option.
For all the beauty and joy of the Christmas anthems, and the bright beams of momentary appreciation on the odd patient’s face, it does also feel a little demoralising touring the hospital – full of ancient, incapacitated skeletons, most in what seem to be catatonic trances and fated only to have us few strangers as Christmas Day visitors. The staff are always unfailingly cheery, despite their own arduous Christmas responsibilities, but I can never come away, an hour or so later, without feeling both downbeat, and relieved to be so much happier off at this time of year.
Our Santa guide also thanked the dozen or so of us there for continuing to come along – apparently now the only hospital in the area where people visit on Christmas morning to sing and hand out gifts. Another sad sign.
At least this time there seemed to be more family visitors accompanying some of the patients than usual – in fact, it was the first year in ages I can recall struggling to find enough spaces in the unusually-packed car park.
Until next year, then, when it seems even fewer patients will be there…
To be honest, the rest of the day then becomes a ‘shut-the-door-on-the-world’ type of insular affair. We had entertained a steady stream of visitors on the Christmas Eve, which had been predictably hectic before, during and after, before the annual ritual of reading a page each – in alphabetical order – of a Nativity story pop-up book my parents bought for me as a baby. And the equally-repetitive ritual of laughing at how I had broken every pop-up feature in the book through overuse. Then the hanging-up of stockings – including an additional, frankly-gargantuan new one for Lyndon’s new wife Jessie – then off to Midnight Mass.
Christmas Day followed similar alphabetical patterns – the order in which we would take turns to open a present, the line in which we queued to enter the front room for Christmas evening tea. But I wouldn’t have it any other way… The usual patterns were covered overall – the pre-lunch walk with newly-shorn dog Frannie (wearing one of Christy’s old woolly jumpers for effect); the singing down the phone to relatives in the Midlands.
And yet with some new features. The excitement and novelty of Jessie’s first Christmas here. Next brother down, Noel, and his girlfriend Vicky becoming engaged, sealed with his present to her of a ring (she got him a PSP…) And instead of someone hauling out old videos of us brothers as kids, we instead watched a beautifully-put-together DVD of Lyndon and Jessie’s recent wedding. Then the Coronation Street Christmas special (old habits, etc etc etc…)
Boxing Day was similarly laidback, though I did get out of the house for longer, for the important ritual of Spurs v Birmingham. If the performance was pretty woeful, luckily the result went our way – 2-0, though with hefty thanks to two ‘penalty’ decisions going our way: one, when Robbie Keane went down and won a penalty, the second at the other end when Muzzy Izzet’s fall earned not a spot-kick but a second yellow card for diving. At the match, I suspected neither should have been a penalty. Watching the TV highlights, I decided both probably should have been, but ah well – as the Mirror report suggested, perhaps we really were finally showing our top-four credentials by winning games without playing well: Though I also thought, maybe we were also showing we were top four by actually getting refereeing decisions going for us instead of us being the undeserving victims – three home matches in a row with penalties our way, unheard-of! I can’t remember the last time we won three penalties in a season, at least not since the 1993-94 season, when we managed to miss three in four days against Chelsea and Aston Villa…
But anyway… Spurs then went and put a ‘bah humbug’ dampener on the week by losing 2-0 at West Brom last night – I suppose our below-par performances were bound to end in a deserved defeat eventually.

Hopefully onwards and upwards from here…

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Festive felicitations...



"I trust Christmas brings to you its traditional mix of good food and violent stomach cramp..."

No, no, no...

May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be Lilywhite...

(To be continued.....)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Waddle I do, when you are far away...?

Oh dear, it's not looking promising for stolen Toga the penguin, despite the nationwide appeals and £9,000 reward issued for his recovery...
That is, I assume he was stolen, and didn't simply had various distressing issues of his own which all became too much and made him make a break for it, to look for his 'own space' away from the prying zoo-visitors' eyes for a while... (much like the animals in the film Madagascar, in which the crack troupe of penguins were by far the most entertaining attractions...)
Anyway, hope you're still hanging on in there somewhere, Toga, little buddy - and that this particular penguin gets p-p-p-p-picked up very soon (sorry, all predictable tabloid instincts just had to kick in eventually...)
Penguins are lovely-looking creatures - though I was surprised to be told today they 'bray like donkeys'. I'd never thought of that. Nor considered whether donkeys, indeed, bray like penguins.
I think I just about prefer puffins, mind. Though, as my dad never ceases to infuriatingly remind all and sundry whenever one gets mentioned:
One thing about the puffin
Almost tickles me to death,
He always is a puffin -
Yet he's never out of breath...
By dint of nigh-on 28 years of incessant repetition, it now seems that, despite myself, I do the same...
I believe this must have been the kind of thing to which Philip Larkin was referring...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

'Well, so could anyone...'


I was sorry not to see a documentary the other night about the making of 'Fairytale Of New York', by The Pogues and the much-missed Kirsty MacColl - despite an alarming and surely-unnecessary intervention by Katie Melua in a new version. I hope the rereleased single enters highly in next Sunday's chart - in the week commemorating five years since Kirsty died, and raising money for the Justice for Kirsty campaign highlighting the lunatic leniency her killer received.
Yet ‘Fairytale’ is very far from my favourite festive song. Yes, it’s a good singalong tune and the spiky lyrics are a tasty contrast to the sugary sentimentalism of so many other Christmas songs. Yet perhaps the impact has just been dulled by over-exposure - both of the song itself, and people gushing about its status as the finest of all. For me, anyway. Clearly not viewers of VH1, who last week voted it Britain's most popular Christmas anthem. I prefer Kirsty’s other work, though - notably There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvisâ and England 2, Colombia 0 (˜He lied about his status, he lied about his life - he forgot he had three children, he forgot he had a wife - now it's England two, Colombia nil, and I know just how those Colombians feel")
Ah, it seems at least a few fellow heretics agree about this most sacred of cows in the Christmas scene, at this Drowned In Sound discussion - but how quickly one idiot goes to an utterly ill-judged and pathetic extreme. Hmm...
I would actually like to hear more, each Christmas, of one-hit-wonder Jona Lewie's ˜Stop The Cavalry" - that first annual refrain of ˜Dub-a-dub-a-dum-dum, dub-a-dub-a-dum" always sounds so strangely reassuring...
Apparently the song was not originally meant to be marketed as an all-out festive release at all - originally scheduled to come out in November, with an arrangement not quite so Salvation Army'd-up until a canny record producer pricked up his ears at the cursory Christmas mention in the middle-eight and suggested making a little more out of it.
Can't really imagine it any other way, now...
I think "Stop The Cavalry" was the opening track on a Christmas CD I compiled for our family festive lunch a few years ago. I hope I can find it when I return home in a couple of days' time, though I suppose I could and should really put together a fresh one.
Featuring all the traditional fillers, obviously - yer Wizzard, yer Slade, yer Lennon, yer Phil Spector Christmas album tracks ("Winter Wonderland" above "Frosty The Snowman", I think) and yes, yer Kirsty&Shane...
Hmm, what else, though...? Well, Elvis's version of "Blue Christmas" is a lovely little lament, and Glen Campbell's "Little Toy Trains", while rather more over-wrought, is another heart-tugger.
The wonderful Loretta Lynn came up with "Country Christmas", not quite up to her finest songwriting standards, but fun enough and, well, different at least.

This would all sound a little too cosy for Christmas, though - worth tossing in a few dhoosras to stop Champagne-sniftering mum, dad, and Grandma dozing off into into their plum puddings...
Slightly crunchier and quirkier would be two to prompt approving nods from my indie-kid brothers: "I Want An Alien For Christmas" by Fountains Of Wayne, which remains marginally the right side from wackiness), and "Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmasâ" by Eels. I mean, how could anyone reasonably resist a song featuring the joyous exclamation, "Baby Jesus - born to rock"...?
In fact, I may well just recommend it to our local vicar for this year's Midnight Mass service.
Then there's any track from Conor 'Bright Eyes' Oberst's Christmas album, probably favouring his feedback-swaddled, rather industrial assault on
'Little Drummer Boy', which has each 'Pa-ra-pa-pum-pum' almost drowned out by what sound like furious bursts of artillery fire.
Calming the mood back down a little could be the glacial yet pretty 'Just Like Christmas' by Low, who can tend to be much harder work to listen to away from their December outings.
'The Christmas Song' by The Raveonettes is also chilly but charming, while 'Christmas Time's A Coming' by Emmylou Harris, and 'The Angels Cried' by Alan Jackson and Alison Krauss, are perfectly palatable country finger-plucking twitters.
Veering a little off the wall again are the frankly un-singalong-able 'December Will Be Magic Again' by dear old swooning Kate Bush, and 'Children Go Where I Send Thee' by Natalie Merchant, whose voice I love but who startles me with this song by seeming just so, well, funky.
And yes, that is a word I use only sparingly and reluctantly, but this souped-up hymnal really is - by my standards, anyway. And often-prissy Nat's, too...
Other delectable December-namechecking tracks would include Thea Gilmore's 'December In New York', and Merle Haggard's heartaching 'If We Make It Through December'. As with the full Christmas albums recorded by Johnny Cash, I find I prefer Merle's regular recordings to his seasonal stuff - he and the Man In Black can't help but sound a little too stern on such carols as Hark The Herald Angels Sing and Silent Night, as worshipworthy as both singers are generally...
Rufus Wainwright's 'Spotlight On Christmas' is as melodic and delicate as his desperately-disappointing and dirge-like Want Two album wasn't this year, while 'Christmas With Jesus' by Josh Rouse is not so superb as his 2005 album Nashville but is a grower nevertheless.
Slightly more sour would be Tom Lehrer's anti-commercialism send-up, "A Christmas Carol", as chilly and bracing as a freshly-flung snowballs, and administering such admonitory lyrics as "On Christmas Day you can’t be sore, your fellow man you must adore - there's time to rob him all the more, the other three-hundred-and-sixty-a-four" and "Hark the Herald Tribune sings, advertising wondrous things - God rest ye merry merchants, may you make the Yuletide pay"...
Hmm, the words "bah" and "humbug" spring somehow to mind, yet the wise-cracking maths professor - a satirist-ician, anyone? - does indeed have a jolly way with a tune, and an impressive line in glittery glissandos from one end of the piano to the other.
Coldplay's Chris Martin is not quite so expressive with his fingertips as he accompanies himself solo on a Radio One session version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" - in fact, so sombre is the arrangement he himself seems to have having anything but, yet I find it affecting nonetheless.
More surreally self-accompanying is the Peter Doherty-prototype Peter Perrett, of The Only Ones, bashing out wayward chords on an acoustic guitar while slurring "Silent Night" - the entire vocal sounding constantly on the verge of falling apart into several hundred shattered fragments. As appeared the vocalist himself, I imagine. But it is lovely stuff to behold.
Honourable mentions should also go, I suppose, to "2,000 Miles" by The Pretenders; "Gabriel's Message" by Sting (I know, I know...); the salvage job done by one of my favourite bands, The Manic Street Preachers, on one of my least favourite festive tunes, 'Last Christmas'; and ˜It's Christmas All Over Again" by Tom Petty, which seems typically twee but is redeemed by the fade-out as Tom goofily ponders aloud his wishlist for Father Christmas: "Hmm, let's see - I want a new Rickenbacker guitar... A Chuck Berry songbook..."
I’m not quite so keen on Chuck Berry's own "Merry Xmas Everybody", which is serviceable enough but a little humdrum.
More tangential, cold-snap-related gems include "Snow" by Harry Nilsson, The Bangles' shimmery, urgent take on Simon and Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade Of Winter", and the Wonderwall-baiting "Writing To Reach You" by Travis.
Amusing enough to merit one listen per year - just the one, mind - are the droning, contractual-obligation-like "Christmas Time Is Here Again" from one of The Beatles' mid-1960s fan club Christmas discs; "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses; "Once In Royal David's City" by, believe it or not, Chas and Dave ("Mary woz vat muvvah mild..."); and Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)", only by an oh-so-very-earnest Glenn Hoddle and Tottenham's 1981-82 FA Cup Final squad.

Providing I have knocked back enough sherry, Champagne, mulled wine and eggnog - and yet not quite too much Stollen and Pannetonne - I can just about stomach, say, 'My Only Wish' by Britney Spears, and two separate songs called 'Christmas Day', by Dido and by the slightly-below-par Squeeze.
Prize turkeys I simply won't allow in the house, let alone the stereo, include those abominations by The Darkness, Mariah Carey and Jon Bon Jovi (although his very young and callow vocal solo on the 1980 Star Wars tie-in, 'R2D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas' provides more enjoyment than the rest of his grown-up career could conjure in total), as well as - sad to say - the hideous "Wonderful Christmastime" by Sir Macca, a true McCartney nadir which simply reeks of desperation for a seasonal standard of his own, yet sounds just so cheap, tinny and tacky.
And I'm someone perfectly happy to defend him over the Frog Song...
Speaking of frogs, the Christmas album I would like to locate again is my much-beloved-during-childhood Muppet Show Christmas album, featuring guest star John Denver.
Apparently my parents finally confiscated the record from the much younger me after one too many - or, in fact, several dozen too many - repeat plays deep into summertime.
But surely enough years have now passed for me to be trusted with it again...
We shall see. Roll on Sunday...

Saturday, December 17, 2005

"D'oh!" and woe in Wolverhampton...


Home, so sweet, sweet home. How glad I am to be here, writing those words, at this time tonight, rather than sitting, shivering, in a West Midlands industrial yard overnight. Then again, throughout tomorrow. Then again, overnight.
What a terrible prospect seemed to be in store for me, just a few hours ago.
I drove up to Wolverhampton this morning, to report on Wolves versus Leeds for the Sunday Express - my second football assignment for them, and, as it happens, my second Wolves home game for them.
I parked in the same place as last time, a £3-stay goods yard-cum-match day-car-park just ten minutes’ walk from the ground, where I met my cousin Dan for a strategic exchange of Christmas gifts from our respective branches of the family.
He had parked up on the narrow lane you reached upon first entering the car park. I, on the other hand, was pointed through the steel silver gates into a more expansive depot space, just beyond, but which the chubby youngster seemingly placed temporarily in charge seemed to assure me would remain open for the duration.
After a pre-match drink in a nearby pub, we entered the ground for what turned out to be a fairly dire and dull match. I did find myself a little glad, though, that the second half proved quite as drab as it was, for it meant I could keep my freezing hands buried deep inside my coat pockets for most of the time, and only have to make very-occasional notes in a scrawl which came to resemble a two-year-old’s.
I phoned in my copy reasonably swiftly after the game, at least the 400 words they wanted and probably more, and felt pleased with myself - for overcoming the stutters and confusion that usually overcome me when obliged to phone in semi-improvised copy, and for having what seemed to be the newspaper’s most prominent of tomorrow’s Championship write-ups.
Then I got to listen to respective managers Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Blackwell give their brief Press conferences, before phoning in some of their more interesting quotes - all with Dan on hand, after I’d panic-strickenly texted him midway through the second half to ask if he wouldn’t mind sticking around for a little while with his mobile phone ready to act as an emergency substitute if need be. This was because, despite charging mine last night, it started emitting alarming sounds shortly after the second half kicked off, and warning me with large exclamation marks that the battery was low.
Luckily, it lived long enough for me to phone all my copy through, and I thought I’d got away with it.
Dan and I strolled back to our cars, relieved with the 1-0 win for Wolves and to finally approach some warmth. He drove off happily, and I strolled through the open gates and into my car, pausing only to plug in my iPod, put on my seatbelt, and fire off a very quick, cursory text to a work contact who had texted me about a story I’d be working on tomorrow.
That brief gesture appeared to seal my fate, however.
Two minutes, maximum, was surely all that intervened between me walking through the open gates, then turning my car around only to find them hammered and locked shut in front of me. I was aghast and unbelieving, frantically fiddling with the bolts, then hollering towards the headlights of the last car ahead of me, the other side, only to see it roll away regardless.
So then it started to sink in. I was locked inside a goods yard, on a Saturday night, with no idea who to contact, when it would reopen - frankly, what the hell I was going to do.
Silence.
And then a bleep, and another, as my mobile phone, on the passenger seat beside me, illuminated one last time to warn of imminent battery failure, before abruptly keeping its promise.
Wonderful. Now what…?
Not that I knew who to phone, anyway, but it seemed to blast the last nail into the coffin.
Hopelessly, in both major meanings of the word, I drove a couple of times around the yard, desperately scanning for some secret exit, but of course, there weren’t any. Just rows and rows of trucks, lorries and coaches. I scribbled down all the phone numbers on each one, more out of instinct than positive planning, before ever-optimistically driving back up to the locked gates. Still locked.
Well, suddenly I could see myself stuck here tonight… and tomorrow… and until 9am Monday. Yet without the ability to even call my family, or the office to explain why I wouldn’t be in work tomorrow.
The only option seemed to be to leave the car here, clamber over the gate and at least look for a payphone, explain myself to my family and see whether I could kip overnight in the Midlands with family here, or get myself back to London tonight and worry about the car later.
First I had to get out. No choice but to hoik myself up and over the metal-spike-topped gates. Getting up was easy enough, but that’s when I abruptly had to pause. 15ft down seemed a long, daunting drop. I strapped my bag over both shoulders and in front of my stomach, brought my feet together on the same side of the gate, and clustered my long coat-tails tightly around me, but still had awful visions of the bag or coat catching one of those spikes and leaving me messily hanged for the workers to find greeting them on Monday morning.
Then, suddenly, down, and I’d made it - landing a little heavily on the palms of both hands, leaving both grazed and pained, but it could have been a lot, lot worse. And I was out.
Now to find a payphone.
Hmm, a payphone. What a quaint concept, in this digital era of always-ready-to-hand personal mobiles. Finally I found a botth, started pouring in coins and dialling each of the numbers I’d noted down - starting with the security firm whose notice was posted on the gate - but all kept ringing out, obviously office numbers.
A woman waiting for the phone finally tapped on the window and asked if I would be long. I gave an apologetic shrug and said I had to make a few calls, which she seemed to accept, before disappearing.
Unfortunately, a few minutes later, more violent bangs on the door interrupted my latest fruitless phone call, before the man responsible yanked open the door and began bellowing me about what was I doing, why wouldn’t I let his wife use the phone or tell her how long I’d be. My anxious instincts kicked in in the face of this almost-incomprehensible onslaught, and I tottered out of the booth, tried to explain I was in a little trouble and just needed a little longer, but to no avail as he pitched himself into an intenser fury, demanding to know who I thought I was and what he was thinking of doing to me, etc etc. I was expecting the steam to start issuing out of his ears. Actually, I was expecting him to draw a knife and put me out of this evening’s developing misery - either that, or spontaneously self-combust, which I’d happily accept as a technical knock-out in my favour.
I stammered out that he could have the phone if he really wanted, and with an indignant ‘I’m going to!’, he took a step that way as I more quickly ventured the other, before firing off furious cries of ‘Fuckin’ white prick’, ‘You’re in the Reans now, man’ (referring the notorious local estate, I gathered) and ‘I’ll raaaaise ya’ (reminding me later of Dudley Moore exclaiming ‘I’ll raaaze them to the ground with my knob’ when discussing the BBC in one of the Derek and Clive tapes, though I wasn’t paying this much attention at the time). I beat a hasty retreat, considering it wise not to point out I had 30p of credit he was about to rudely seize for himself.
Honestly, though. Fancy me having the AUDACITY to use a phone booth I’d reached before anyone else. Shocking behaviour, and thankfully not to be tolerated at such a LOCAL phone box, for LOCAL people…
Sure enough, the next booth I found was already in use, but instead of adopting my recent friend’s tactics, I headed to the Asda supermarket opposite the football ground to try third time lucky.
I knew my dad had the Walsall game that day, and was hoping he wouldn’t yet be too far towards home and could come to collect me.
My latest thinking was to at least get back to London that night, travel by train to and from work tomorrow, then somehow prevail upon dad or brother to drive me back up to Wolverhampton in time for 9am opening on Monday. I could then retrieve my car and drive back in time for my 4pm start at the office that day.
Of course, my dad’s phone went straight to voicemail.
Phoning home was more successful, as my mum revealed he was still at my great auntie Ivy’s in Walsall. She phoned the landline, told him to switch his mobile on, and a few minutes later I was spluttering out my plight.
He agreed to meet me outside Molineux, by the Billy Wright statue within 20 minutes or so.
Of course, it was more ‘or so’, about 45 minutes I spent shivering and watching endless taxis stop by and drop off scantily-clad boys and girls entering the ground for some kind of Christmas special disco.
Eventually, dad arrived = ready, so I thought, to head onto the motorway and home as quickly, relief-fillingly, as possible.
Instead, he asked for directions to the yard where my car was pathetically parked. I couldn’t quite see the point of going and taking a look through the bars to where it inaccessibly lay, but pointed the way anyway.
At first, I thought I had got the final turning wrong. This one looked wrong - ie. There were no hefty gates blocking the distant way at the end of the alley, and what seemed to be an in-action white van had its headlights twinkling.
But, wait a minute - as we pulled slowly closer, there indeed was my car, plonked where I had left it, and within physical grasp.
Someone had returned to the yard, opened it up for some purpose or other, and I was back in business. A miracle! Well, it certainly seemed so, anyway.
I beamingly urged dad to turn around as soon as possible, and we’d hare our way out before the gate-keeping jokers pulled a similar stunt. But he leisurely-ly asked for the Christmas gifts from the boot of my car, before finally we could pull away and begone.
If I’ve ever felt so delightedly relieved by an unexpected development, then I can’t remember it now.
But then again, I am still feeling a little odd, disoriented but overall delirious at how it all turned out nice again in the end.
Somehow.
It really was a terrible match, though…

Monday, December 12, 2005

Rock family trees - Autopilot, part one...


"Good evening, Birmingham! Are you ready to rock???!!!"
No doubt the city which gave the world the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Move and, er, UB40, has reverberated to such words or similar many, many times.
Sadly, the live debut of Nineties supergroup Autopilot, in England's second city, was not kicked off by such rousing sentiments, but a less memorable mumble or two.
In fact, neither Nick nor Aidan can quite remember how they introduced themselves to the swarming, capacity crowd of, ooh, at least a dozen largely-indifferent observers at the Birmingham Midland Institute.
Though, unconfirmed reminiscences do dimly recall the sentence 'Quick, let me just have the one more drink, I can knock it back in no time before we have to go on-stage...'
Dutch Courage-mainlining precautions aside, this was the night Autopilot came of age.
The night to relish for those fortunate few who took the inspired decision, while pacing the frisson-filled Friday night streets of Birmingham, to plunge into the BMI basement for the advertised 'Folk evening'...
Well, frankly who could refuse...?
Suffice to say, each and every one was rewarded with a concert they would all remember for the rest of their weekends.
Okay, so the Victorian, Grade II-listed building, hidden off Birmingham's business district, was hardly a glamorous, awe-inspiring rock venue to rival the Shea Stadium or New York's CBGBs.
But it was a start.
And what a start.
Actually, the less said about the start, the probably better.
Since it featured the tipsy twosome who would soon become known to all and sundry (mostly sundry) as Autopilot, but for the time being had to accept their session band status accompanying the evening's organiser - Nancy.
Oh, Nancy.
Quite the character.
She had turned up to the first ambitious 'Autopilot' rehearsal at the imposing, intimidating, frankly dismaying ugly Chamberlain Hall a few weeks earlier.
She had responded to an optimistic scrap of paper pinned on the musicians' board at Birmingham Central Library, looking for unspecific instrumentalists interested in the likes of The Beatles, The Byrds, Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan, 'etc'.
Yes, that's right, the ad mentioned those dread words 'Folk' and 'Rock', albeit with an ambigious stroke ('/' for the unititiated, or the predictably perverted).
But that's still no excuse.
Nancy turned up, once so had Nick - then the resident Chamberlainer, albeit in the posh Tennis Court amenities rather than the 15th floor cubbyhole Aidan had previously endured ('Still... nice view, eh? ... ?')
Nancy wasn't the only one, mind.
A girl called Caroline - well, I say girl, at about 30 she was years and years and YEARS ahead of our intrepid whippersnapper delinquents at this stage.
And, yes, she was a bit dull.
Very talented, obviously, and had studied music and scales and harmonies and cadences and all that, well, not 'jazz', I suppose, but all the rest... and was still trying to apply them to the scrappily-scrawled attempts at songwriting suddenly thrust in front of her.
She tried to play along, manfully enough, on the Chamberlain piano, which looked respectable-ish but proved to be flatter than Gwen Stefani.
But as her brows furrowed and her polite smile shifted into an entirely-flummoxed frown, it was just a matter of time before we - or she - had to end her misery.
And it was the question 'But what does it actually mean?' that suddenly killed off an admittedly-fragmentary rendition of 'Every Day, Every Dawn'.
The song may have been a miserablist stoooodent cliche from intro to ending, sure.
But there were a couple of half-decent images buried in there somewhere, schurely - 'But my words pour down like confetti, / Toppling over the kerb, / Then rainbow-rolling together / Each individual word, each individyal colour', or the, ahem, uplifting chorus, 'But I don't feel pain anymore, / I know that's easy, so easy to say, / But I only recall what I no longer feel, / Though I remember every day / Every dawn...'
Hmm, so maybe she had a point.
But that was still no excuse to challenge such inspired musicality as expressed in the instruction: "Yes, so it's from C chord to, well, it looks like a D, but with the top string lopped off and the little finger hiding round the back like this... Can you somehow make that come off on the piano....... Hello?..... Hello?'
Needless to say, that historic first session, bringing together the full line-up of Nick, Aidan, Nancy and Caroline was also the last sighting of that quartet in the same room together, making not-at-all-sweet music...
Historic days, historic, er, day...
But it did yield some benefit.
Because Nancy, dear Nancy, 40-something polite high-pitched Nancy, with her Purdey pudding-bowl hair helmet tinged a disturbing shade of purple, was obviously so overwhelmed by the two thrusting examples of tomorrow's-generation-fresh manhood who'd invited her into their undergraduate domain, she offered them a headlining spot at the next folk music gig she had on the cards at, yes, you're well, well ahead of me, the BMI.
Needless to say, our daring duo had to think long and hard... not to decide whether to accept, they did that in a second, but then came the tricky question of whether to invite friends in numbers - to ensure a strong, hopefully-supportive audience - or to keep it secret from everyone, yes, everyone, because it would just be too, too embarrassing otherwise...
As it happened, Autopilot would perform two BMI-storming gigs, the first in front of a contingent of Aidan's allies, the second in front of Nick's people.
Doing it in shifts, you see.
Minimising pain all-round.
Both groups of whom applauded in (most of) the right places and offered the sort of moral support which can only be truly offered by friends sacrificing their Friday night on the promise of mates making fools of themselves, and finding themselves not at all disappointed...
So, anyway, back to that debut BMI performance, and, reluctantly, Nancy.
That Beatles standard, 'With A Little Help From My Friends', has been covered by many great artists, most notably Joe Cocker, who took his radical refurbishment of the song to number one in 1968.
Sadly, our Nancy's rendition will only go down in rock history if someone secretly had a tape recorder running to capture this most calamitous of covers.
T'would make the infamous, covert tape of Linda McCartney's disastrous backing vocals on 'Hey Jude', during Wings' tours of the early-1970s sound like a 'Dusty In Memphis' by comparison...
Your intrepid historian could gift her the benefit of the doubt and report merely how she 'uniquely' delivered the song's lyrics, but sadly, to ignore the melody that accompanied them would be a dereliction of duty.
Eight years on, no-one is yet sure quite what melody it was, but it's safe to say it was nowhere near anything The Beatles intended.
The same went for her encore of 'Imagine', of which the kindest thing that can be said is that at least only John Lennon was insulted by this rendition, and not both Lennon and McCartney.
Then again, she did take her place alongside Mark David Chapman as a fellow ruthless murderer of the man himself...
Only the eagle-eyed - or perhaps the appearance-addicted, boy-band-worshipping teenyboppers who sadly weren't actually there - would have paid attention to the pained faces of Nick and Aidan as they manfully struggled and strummed along.
But they did hold some consolation - they knew that playing along to such a ridiculous performance was the only thing guaranteeing them their own spot, mere minutes away.
And, though it seemed at the time that 'Imagine' might just go on for ever - 'Imagine this song never finishes'... - and in increasingly discordant keys, at that - finally the abashed students managed to shuffle their hostess off the stage and suddenly...
And suddenly... and suddenly...
Yep, it was just the two of them.
Oh.... no....
'Er... Evenin' folks,' Aidan 'quipped'.
'Nice to see you. Here's a song.'
What a showman indeed.
And then, panic-stricken, he launched into the playful D-chord intricacies of 'Autopilot', the singalong song which had fortuitously appeared to him between Nancy's offer of a gig and the gig itself.
Because 'Every Day, Every Dawn', while being the first real fully-formed original song to have emerged since Nick and Aidan began jamming over Christmas 1997, was a bit of a depressing dirge.
And a co-composition called Rat Race, comprising Nick's lyrics and Aidan's tune, still needed fine-tuning.
And as for 'Tell Me', an epic romantic ballad penned by Nick for, well, history doesn't quite seem to record who at this point, please bear with us - well, it was a lovely, simple song, embellished by an superficially-flashy, basically-basic middle-eight from Aidan based around a F# diminished 7th (what the pros - well, these 'pros' anyway - call a squiggly chord, on the 2nd fret).
But somehow he didn't quite seem confident enough to sing it, either to the subject or a staring set of gimlet eyes.
As it turned out, though...
Well, he almost had to.
Because once Autopilot had the stage, they seemed indulgently, impeccably at home.
They whisked through that song 'Autopilot', written almost in one at 25 Holly Road, Edgbaston, quickly shuttled down the Hagley Road to Chamberlain Hail's Tennis Courts, where Nick quickly picked up the pace.
(Aidan, so set on committing this burst of inspiration to memory and finely-tuned practice, turned his eyes away from the Del Amitri lyrics Sellotaped to Nick's door, trying to convince himself they were just a mirage...)
So, anyway.
They performed 'Autopilot'.
And, lo, it was good.
Ish.
For those few saddoes who have a) got this far and b) have some vague, weird interest in stooodent lyrics, here are those historic words...
Hundreds of miles she travels
Flown on a tide of two tired eyes
To glide on clouds of crimson
Bought a ticket waving her goodbyes
Oh but she turns her face now
Mascara running a safety alibi
And it's fast down a corridor
An airport lounge, sending two tired eyes
Staring down, down, down
Switch me off, or turn me on
Spin me round and around
On autopilot wheels
Flick the switch, flick the switch...
Hundreds of times he tails her
Tailspun, a tornado, in the sky
Hands jammed over his ears
But his eyes stay open
Boys don't cry
Oh but he turns his face now
An airline meal in pieces lying there
And he's breathing in pressure now
Inhaling deeply, and falling through the air
Down, down, down
Switch me off, or turn me on
Spin me round and around
On autopilot wheels
Flick the switch, flick the switch
We're going too high now
We're going too fast, he whispers
We're going too far, she says
We're going too high...
Hundreds of miles over oceans
Two worlds losing distance, losing time
Two heads but hundreds of futures
Thinking, smiling and dreaming's
Just wasting time
I lay my head in their hands now
An easy dream, it's someone's easy lie
And I land on the runway's evening blue
Lie on my bed, and watch the clouds roll by
Down, down, down
Switch my off, or turn me on
Spin my round and around
On autopilot wings
I'm autopilot happy
On autopilot wings
Flick the switch
Flick the switch...
Hmm, looking back, I still don't have a clue what it's about.
Other than hints of my fear of flying, but it's hardly worth deep analysis.
But anyway, back to our narrative...
Aidan and Nick got through their epic Autopilot, to a surprising flurry of cheers and claps (mostly from the pre-prepped party of supposed 'groupies' in the corner).
Infused with a little more confidence, Aidan dared to speak to the audience and introduced the next number as 'a song from a movie', before sticky-fingeredly plucking out the opening chords to Kermit The Frog's 'The Rainbow Connection' - a beautiful song, even more so when performed without the gulping comedy vocal of Jim Henson, emerging out of a bulging-eyed green thing. . .
Not that Autopilot would claim to resemble a pair of cloned Brad Pitts, but still...
The song seemed to go over well, beautifully in fact (well, sort of), but no moment was as entrancing as the second the last chord rung out its last, and the pair of them hurled down their guitars, gave peremptory bows and raced towards the cheap seats at the back with not-very-well-disguised-at-all relief...
And still they kept clapping.
Then again, the acts that followed were no 'Saturday Night At The Palladium' contenders.
In fact, the sheer surreal fantasia of watching a ballroom-dancing couple who had forgotten their music, so had to pirhouette in silence, was well worth the entrance fee (free).
As was the wrinkled old geezer declaiming the words (and words only) of hoary old sea shanties (and managing to make them last for what seemed like a year on the ocean waves...)
Well, it was certainly a different Friday night out, that's for sure.
Having done their bit (and done it well, though they did say so themselves), Autopilot suddenly found their Southern Comfort and Cokes rudely interrupted by a request to rustle up a few more songs and open the second half.
Well, now, this was a different matter entirely...
Of course, they had rehearsed songs - not just the aforementioned 'Tell Me', 'Rat Race' and 'Every Day, Every Dawn', but also contemporary covers such as 'The Drugs Don't Work', 'Say What You Want' and the obligatory 'Wonderwall' (it was the law in dem days).
But none seemed quite fitting... and suddenly Nick's face was turning green, leading him to resemble somewhat of an upturned carrot, freshly plucked from the allotment...
Aidan, meanwhile, seemed to be knocking back enough spirits to send him striding, only half-fitfully, to the front of the room to open the second half with aplomb.
Sorry, not 'aplomb', but, 'a sinking feeling in his stomach', as he suddenly began to inwardly curse his erstwhile musical partner for sticking to his seat (if Autopilot could be described - albeit fancifully - as 'Simon-and-Garfunkel-sing-Britpop', then Aidan suddenly felt himself to be nothing more than the 'and' in that equation...)
Scanning the ancient folky fruits filling (well, sort of) the venue, apart from the girls in the corner and their newly-arrived boyfriends who seemed to have been at some birthday drinking session beforehand and were maybe not in quite the musical conossieurship mood a nervous first-time performer would really desire, it seemed best just to aim for a solid, straight-down-the-line C-chord and take it from there...
Aidan performed an old Byrds ballad 'John Riley' (about a sailor lost at, well, sea, only to be eventually reunited with his ever-loyal love - ahhh...) and 'She Loved A Portuguese', a Cockney-accented comic song about such cheery subjects as spurned love, cheating women and double murder...
Well, I thought it was funny, anyway...
And it did seem to go down well.
The night was a success.
Nick and Aidan were the heroes.
Birmingham was their's.
Next stop, Hollywood...
Or, at least, Cricklewood...
Well, they shuffled away pretty happily, anyway, shrouded in surprised compliments from 'ver girls', overly-friendly congratulations from the folk cronies who were no doubt already envisaging these young bucks sprucing up their dinner parties from now on...
But most important seemed the shared relief, and delight in a job well done - or, at least, got away with - as Nick and Aidan packed away their guitars, stepped into the chilly streets beyond the BMI, and... started pummelling their companions with possible bandnames...
Sadly, the hundreds of possibilities have been lost to (bad) memory by now, other than the inspired 'The Wood-Bees' ("because we play acoustic - ie. wood -- guitars, and come from Barnet, whose football team is nicknamed 'The Bees'... No? ... Really? ... You sure, because we really like it.... ? And it's so clever...?')
Or, well, 'Autopilot' - ruled out because it was the name of our (so-far) best song, but simultaneously still ruled in because... well, it was the name of our (so-far) best song.
And so it stayed, the default name for a default band, even in the dark days ahead when a difficult-to-shake-off interloper would try to re-label the group the humiliating-sounding 'Jolly Herrings'.
Yes, you've guessed it...
You haven't heard the last of Nancy...
But that's a tale for another time...
Well, perhaps. Don't all clamour at once...

As long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset...

Forwarded and appropriately amended survey... Apparently (so I've been sent...):
'Right, you gotta answer all the questions using the song titles of just one artist...'
Ah, okay then...
Pick an Artist: The Kinks
1.) are you a male or female?: - Some Mother's Son
2.) describe yourself: - Mr Reporter
3.) how do you feel about yourself?: - I'm Not Like Everybody Else
4.) describe your ex boyfriend / girlfriend: - Easy Come, There You Went
5.) describe your current boyfriend /girlfriend: - Tired Of Waiting For You
6.) describe your current location: - Muswell Hillbilly
7.) describe where you want to be: - Holiday
8.) describe your best friend : - She's Got Everything
9.) living without him/her is like: - When I Turn Off The Living Room Light
10.) you know that: - There's No Life Without Love
11.) what's the weather like?: - Big Black Smoke
12.) if your life was a television show, what would it be called?:- Too Much On My Mind
13.) what is life to you?: - State Of Confusion
14.) what is the best advice you have to give?: - Look A Little On The Sunnyside
15.) if you could change your name, what would you change it to?: - Arthur
16) How would you hate to feel?: - Summer's Gone
17) What do you never want to have to say about life?: - You Can't Win
18) What scares you?: - Rats
19) How do some see you?: - Mr Pleasant 20) While others see you as?: - A Well Respected Man 21) What should you never go to a party without?: - - Alcohol
22) Describe your thoughts: - Where Have All The Good Times Gone
23) You can't wait until: - When I See That Girl Of Mine
24) You can't live without: - Just Friends
25) You feel that you're: - Scattered
26) The best feeling in the world is:- Waterloo Sunset / Sitting By The Riverside

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

China, part four...



Tuesday, November 29.
Reigate-brought-up, Croydon-educated Katie Melua seems to have attracted a fair degree of snotty media scorn lately for her hit which gauchely claims there are ‘nine million bicycles in China’. Frankly, I was more irked by her earlier lyric, insisting she was ‘feeling 22 … acting 17’ as if this was some madcap and daring defiance of some vast and inappropriate age gap…
But if she truly has over-estimated the number of bikes it didn’t seem she was far off during our time in Shanghai, where apparently-endless formations of furiously-pedalling cyclists would regularly swing and swerve into each highway. Couple these with even more - and more wayward - cars, and a little excursion into less crowded territory seemed a welcome idea.
So it was that on the Tuesday, a bus and a boat took us to and around Zhouzhuang, one of China’s most famous river towns, about an hour’s drive from Shanghai. Christy, Dan and Uncle Dave remained behind, but the rest of us set off shortly after 11am to visit a place Mum and Dad had seen with Lyndon a year earlier, and found to be more obviously interesting and alluring than the city centre.
Such is the scale of recent building development, it seems, with plenty of residential and office works-in-progress dotted alongside each motorway, Mum and Dad had some suspicions when he arrived that the old village had already been concreted over. Our hired minibus driver dropped us off in the general area, but we were only confronted by very modern-looking and barren squares, convenience stores and car park. Following a few ambiguous signs, and Dad’s vaguely-remembered instincts, we finally found the entrance to the historic district and after paying the entrance fee, found ourselves in much more promising surroundings.
I suppose the most obvious comparison would be Venice, since Zhouzhuang is noted for its 14 stone bridges, ancient houses - many dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties, from 1369 onwards - as well as narrow footpaths and waterways and elegant curving gondola-style boats. The gondoliers themselves were at least distinctive - unlike the Italians, these were herded and handled by elderly women in batik jackets and singing ancient Chinese folk songs. When we took a trip later in the afternoon, ours sang in a rather shrill and shaky whine, hardly very easy on the ear but certainly atmospheric as we glided back and forth. Perhaps she was just China’s musical vengeance on me for the previous night’s disharmonious revels.
Instantly upon turning from entrance alleyway to main ‘street’, the market-traders descended. Stalls stood packed alongside every straight, each trader muttering the obligatory ‘Hello, looka-looka?’ or ‘Hello, just looking’ as you passed, optimistically tempting you to at least glance over their silk duvets, robes, painted tiles, ties, postcards or grains of rice upon which you could somehow have your name inscribed. Some traders would seem only half-hearted in their salesmanship techniques, others would call after you if rebuffed, or even follow quickly behind you, but unlike in Shanghai they very rarely actually tugged and became too pesky. Saving the shopping until after lunch, this time us veggies were the clear winners at an upstairs restaurant - again, remembered by Mum and Dad from their previous visit - where we misjudged quite how many different platters of vegetables we ordered, but making a very, very decent go of gobbling them all anyway. Auntie Win amused all by almost drifting into a reverie at the suddenly-recovered memory a ‘wonderful beer’ she enjoyed in China 35 years ago, so was the only one supping - and again enjoying - a bottle this lunchtime as the rest of us went for water and Diet Coke.
As well as the gentle boat ride, we also wandered around some of the expertly-preserved old homes which showcased some of the equally-well-tended paintings, furniture and shrapnel of ancient relics. I was amused by the mid-15th-century Zhang House which has the Ruojing River running through the middle of it. Much as I loved playing Poohsticks in the nearby woods while growing up in Finchley, I’m glad the murky Dollis Brook never actually reached our garden, let alone trickled through living room…
I finally broke into my first Mao-(who else?)-decorated Chinese notes as we all started piling into the patinas (Christmasgiftsforgirls-tastic), albeit with some soon-to-be-rampant haggling - Dad taking the lead, as Mum and myself scampered away embarrassed. I also felt bad struggling to shake off a persistent, poor man, tiny and high-pitched and bones in his face deformed, but who latched onto us after he alighted from our boat and kept emerging at every turn, trying to offer us packs of postcards. He wasn’t at all intimidating - how could he be - but did become a little irritating, guilty though I still felt. Dad later revealed sheepishly he had turned on him a little too harshly, only for the little man to leap back in the air, startled and horror-struck - obviously not what Dad meant for him to feel at all, but it got me thinking about just how physically feeble many people here were. Trudging along the riverside pathways were skeletal old men and women barely bigger than Western world toddlers, in a country where hundreds of millions have starved during the past 100 years yet keep on going, trying to subsist somehow, turn a profit thanks to us complacent tourists, all in a lifestyle, language and manners so eye-openingly different to anything I had experienced.
Not that I entirely approved of all the cuisine, meagre or mouthfuls, on offer here in Zhouzhuang’s streets. Every few paces you could pick up an extremely unappetising scent, savoury yet smoky, and really insidiously sticking around in your nostrils. I never did find out for sure what was the food responsible, though my mind’s eye now associates it with small squares of either flesh or nut textures, speared with thin wooden sticks and sizzling on street corner oven blocks. I don’t quite know why I took against the smell so much, it wasn’t fetid or nauseating, just so strangely acrid.
But still… Zhouzhuang was an entirely enchanting place otherwise, especially as the sun began to set, the long thins streets seemed to crackle with a little more pace and panache, and our weary walkers negotiated their last, sort-of-urgent transactions.
We left for the hotel at about 5.30pm, having slowly stumbled through a very dark and bumpy passageway, though Auntie Win was again resisting invitations to settle back into her wheelchair.
The evening was a little more awkward, as the hotel reception desk recommended us to a restaurant offering a wider selection of Eastern and Western-style food on the Bund, only for our taxi drivers to deposit us somewhere else entirely. On half-walking, half-taxi-ing to the intended destination, we discovered we did not have a reservation after all - despite the hotel insisting they had rung ahead for us. And on our return, the indifference on the desk was a little frustrating, but we enjoyed a succulent enough meal in the hotel’s own restaurant - why they hadn’t recommended their own food to us in the first place was a baffling poser for another day…
Ros and Auntie Win were due to fly home the following day, but were full of enthusiasm for their final full day - as promised by my parents, Zhouzhuang really had provided something different, a well-worthwhile adventure in an area we could easily have missed.
The Bund’s sleek continental restaurants, full of high-spending foreign businessmen, had looked a little soulless and everyplace. Zhouzhuang, in contrast, had felt to us tourists like a more satisfyingly authentic and important China.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

China, part three...



Monday continued…
Perhaps predictably, despite such larks, a little heavy-legged impatience did start to set in, and while Lyndon and Jessie continued to stroll around - trailed by two arms-flailing and aggressive official photographers - most of us stopped for coffee and biscuits at, where else?, but a handily-placed Starbucks... While taking turns to nip into the historic Yuyuan teahouse, that is, to follow in the footsteps of previous visitors such as Queen Elizabeth II, the Clintons and, er, Peter Mandelson - only whereas these distinguished guests were there for the tea, and the Queen for the ‘exquisite dumplings’ as a photo caption proudly informed us, for the time being we were restricting ourselves to the toilets. Happily, a few of us would return for proper refreshment later that week.
After finally reuniting with the returning soon-to-be-weds, it was felt we had fallen a little behind schedule - it was now well past 3pm - so a second picturesque and historic site visit which had been planned was abandoned, and we returned to the hotel. About half-an-hour was granted before the actual rooftop ceremony, but instead of heading for rooms, most of us continued rising in the rickety lifts to the top of the hotel to await the actual exchanging of vows. Or tea. Whichever it was to be first.
As hotel officials finalised their feng-shui touches to furniture and decorations, on the windswept verges, I took a few pictures from the top, before stepping into the warmth to admire the proud list of former guests who had shared this “view across the whole of China�. They included kings, queens, presidents - and, somewhat oddly, Mr McDonnell from McDonnell Douglas Arms Company. Well, of course, HE'D have been there...
Gradually, enough of us had gathered, pink buttonholes in place, badges conjoining the Chinese and Union flags speared into our lapels, to pick up and pass on the feverish Chinese whisper that the happy couple were indeed about to leave the building... and join us outside.
I hadn't quite imagined such an entrance, mind. Gone were Lyndon’s sober Beatletogs, replaced by a dazzling yellow and red suit, topped off by a velvet red beanie-esque hat with two blue feathers plonked on the peak and a pair of little helicopter rotors attached to the back. Jessie’s get-up was even more eye-catching - though for the time being we were denied a glimpse of her own eyes. For her face was entirely covered by a crimson red veil, while Lyndon gently tugged her into our midst at the end of a cord. Apparently this was to encapsulate the guidance he would provide as husband - but the ritual of keeping her face shrouded at first was undermined by the wind which kept whipping the veil away. One of Jessie’s bridesmaids had to rush forward and painstakingly attach the shroud a little more authoratatively, before our wedding compere introduced himself to the proceedings for the first time, to finally get this latest phase under way.
Of course, I understood not a single word of what he was saying, but he seemed to be enjoying himself - or so was suggested by his sporadic crowd-pleasing ‘jokes’, handily signposted for us imponderables by his oh-so-sincere 'hahahahaha....hahaha' guffaws... But the gestures were easy enough to comprehend. The bridesmaids and best men helped Lyndon and Jessie escort both sets of parents to seats in front, before bride and groom offered stately bows to their elders and then to each other.
Then here came the tea. Lyndon carefully carried an intricately-designed pot to Mr and Mrs Jessie, inviting them each to sup in turn while making what I presumed to be the appropriate promises to care for Jessie, and requests for their assent. Which they duly granted by tucking in. Sup, sup.
Jessie - by now de-veiled, and showing off a frankly-spectacular hat which seemed a cross between a peacock's plumage and whatever box any self-respecting ping-pong national association will store their balls tightly-packed inside - then did the same for Dad and Mum in turn, before Lyndon and Jessie resumed their places and - well, that seemed to be it for now. I had been expecting the ceremony to last longer, and include some equivalent of vows being uttered, rings exchanged, etc, but it seemed these were to be saved for later. I was unsure whether they were now officially man and wife yet, or not, but of course we were all too busy taking photos from every which way, and new poses were quickly being set up alongside all key family members and friends, it looked like the hard work had been done for now. Well, on our immediate part, anyway... And it was very endearing, to be brought up in this lofty setting, goggle at the latest costumes and customs, and feel some part of an ancient and enchanting tradition. And, for all his wryness and sarkydom, I at least felt a little uncoolly atingled, to get a sense of just how engaged and in love Lyndon was now, not just with Jessie but with the very different way of life he had so embellishingly embraced out here.
I must confess to finally now returning to my room and grabbing almost an hour’s worth of dozy kip, having tried but failed to keep my eyes upon for a few more pages of Mao (perhaps a few tales of torture from his bloody Cultural Revolution purges of the 1960s were not quite suitable for today anyway), before rousing myself just in time to head back up to the 16th floor at 6.30pm for the evening meal and reception.
Our family were seated on a table right next to where Lyndon and Jessie would soon come, as given away now by the tower of Champagne glasses just waiting to be filled tricklingly, George Best-style, and the five-tiered wedding cake - just as you’d find back home, I satisfied myself to quickly think...
Again, a dramatic entrance was to come. This time Lyndon was back in Beatlegear, but outdone in star-style by Jessie’s elegent red, floor-length wrap jacket - reminiscent of actress icons from Hollywood’s golden era. This time she was not being pulled along, but clutched and clutching arm-and-arm with Lyndon, as they beamingly lapped up the rapturous applause, awe-struck gasps and flash photography, and a scatter of red petals.
Jessie unfolded herself from her ballgown jacket and its headhigh collars to reveal the latest and last in today’s selection of skirts, another shimmering red - yet shorter and sleeker - creation, before our MC again took the mike. This time, it quickly emerged, we were to have rings exchanged, and vows swapped, and that first lingering Mr-and-Mrs kiss. No doubt about it this time, they were and are married, setting up the speeches as parents and bridesmaids joined them up-front. First came Chinese-language versions from the bride’s parents, haltingly translated into English by one of the bridesmaids, and full of warm affection for Lyndon. Then it was Dad’s turn, a speech he had claimed on the flight to have done veryverylittle so far to prepare, but which came across as effortlessly heartfelt, witty and loving. He had been given two lines of Chinese to prepare, to the effect that ‘We love China - but we love Jessie even more’, and also spoke of the initial trepidation he and Mum had experienced when Lyndon first decided to venture to China, only to see him blossom and grow so happily and life-enchantingly.
But my favourite part was the pay-off: “We already have four sons. Now we finally have a daughter.� Okay, okay, so somehow I have got to know and spoken to Jessie much, much less than everyone else in the family, it seems, having not visited China a year ago as Mum, Dad and Noel had done, nor seen indulged either myself or her too much in talks when she and Lyndon came over to England last Spring. But having heard so much of what the others have had to enrapturedly say about her fun, friendly, effervescent nature, and the overwhelming effect she clearly has on Lyndon, I do hope I can, soon as, get to know better this new member of the family, in the many years ahead. And it suddenly struck me at the moment, like never before, just how significant a new addition this was - a new sister, eh? A new anyone, really - bring 'em on, this should be interesting at least...
Lyndon himself also made a charming speech, proving himself startlingly fluent in Chinese, and translating himself as he went along. And he got the most raucous reaction of the night, “Many people have described me as a miserable so-and-so, but now I have all the happiness I’ll ever need� - though judging by the initial response, especially Jessie’s open-mouthed unhumoured laugh and sharply-hooked eyebrows, he might have used a slightly stronger idiomatic Chinese expression than “so-and-so�. Fairy nuff...
If we hadn’t got the message about just how linguistically limber he is by now, mind, he swept away any remaining dusts of doubt later on in the evening by picking up his guitar and crooning a rather lovely little Chinese ballad to Jessie, before covering The Beatles’ “I Will� and perhaps risking my wrath - or so he said - by finishing with Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection�. That is, he self-consciously apologised to me and the audience - but no, actually, more me - for “stealing it again, but Jessie loves it so much�, so how could I possibly begrudge him the signature song I had actually-only-instinctively introduced to family occasions many years ago now…? Of course not! Especially to hear him singing it so truly, carrying beautifully across the room and deftly inflecting every swoop and cadence with both passion and purity.
I would later take my revenge on the musical gods - of the Far East, at least - by launching into slightly less than impeccable renditions of a few Beatles songs, but not until plenty of firewater had already passed under the bridge, or, more precisely, down my throat. That is, a spirit we on our table dubbed ‘firewater’, having been unable to make head nor tail of the Chinese labelling, save to realise that the 53.5 per cent proof inscription made this a rather toxic concoction. Unfortunately the piles of platters which kept on coming offered very little too appetising for the vegetarians amongst us - the turtle soup, complete with bulky shell nestling in a huge bowl of sickly green stew, looked especially off-putting - so in between mouthfuls of mushroom, broccoli and beans, it seemed only right and proper to knock back the Great Wall wine and firewater provided complimentarily on our table.
Well, everyone else seemed to be indulging. Mum had made the inspired decision to bring over two huge barrels of Celebrations and Heroes chocolates, having seen how popular they proved with Jessie in the past. She and Dad took them around to each table, providing another source of amusement for the rest of the week. Whereas your English, stereotypically stuffy, may spend half of Christmas Day gingerly fingering individual chocolates and their wrappers, taking an age to decide which one to choose, the Chinese guests here showed no such hesitation. “Ah, sheyshi!�, they would gleefully, eyes-lightingly exclaim, before plunging in and scooping out a hefty handful - rather reminiscent of those mechanical claw machines at fairgrounds, only this time everyone was guaranteed a prize - or several dozen.
By the time the tins returned to our table, they were almost empty - gratifying proof of what a happily successful gesture it had been.
Mum and Dad had also brought Lyndon and Jessie a pair of matching, engraved bracelets, after the design of their own wedding jewellery from 1976 - and some lucky horseshoes, which they presented to their pair before us all. Lyndon also paid tribute to his longest-standing friends and guides from his tentative early days in China, and also gave hints of how he and Jessie first got together, in a special quiz they had put together. The questions ranged from where the pair met - outside a bank, apparently - to naming ten Chinese cities, ten British counterparts, famous historic sites, and so on. As he compered some fairly chaotic scenes with great aplomb, Mum approvingly noted the lingering legacy of his One World Players training, from the drama group she ran during our childhoods.
I was unable to speak much with the Chinese contingent - there were between 100 and 150 people attending, in all - but did chat with some of Lyndon’s English colleagues from the Chinese school where he worked. They also joined in when I inevitably picked up the guitar and indulged in a few Beatles covers of my own - Hey Jude went down especially well, perhaps not surprisingly, and the ‘Na na na’ chorus became steadily more raucous.
Not that anyone was complainingly, thankfully, even when we took our impromptu gig into the hotel bar - having smuggled in the last drops of firewater and dripped them into glasses of Sprite, ordered by myself, Dan, Uncle Dave and Christy - and added the cocktail bar piano to the accompaniment.
After which, I’m afraid things now become a little bit of a blur… I remember knocking out I’ve Just Seen A Face, Things We Said Today, Hey Jude a few more times, along with several others, before crawling off to the bathroom and ending up somehow in the bedroom, sprawled on my bed after bringing a long, lovely, memorable, magical day to an exhausted ending.
So that was how the Chinese did weddings, eh?
Everyone should enjoy a spectacle like this.

Monday, December 05, 2005

China, part two...


Monday, November 27.
Well, this was just a strange day. A wedding day for a brother. I could get overly sentimental here and start hearkening back to the playground sandpit days, the paddling pool in the garden, the makeshift tennis court made up of strategically-placed garden chairs and artful dodges around the rhubarb bushes.
And, well, why not…
Because such schoolboyish images did cross my mind, I must confess, when I saw my little bro’ hugging and a-kissing his new wife (wife!), expertly controlling his audience both in English and Chinese, then sashaying off into the sunset, so confidently, so composedly, so suddenly enviably…
But I’m getting ahead of myself… ‘Twas the end of the day.
And as for the beginning… Well, it did begin early. I woke up at 4am, in fact, and for all my efforts to segue back into sleep, nothing was doing in these hard hotel beds and I only restrained myself from rising until about 8am, because Christy was snoring peacefully in the neighbouring bed.
Missing out breakfast, though (well, 98 RMB - almost seven quid - for a couple of slices of toast, I’d rather have stuck in the room and snaffled up a few Mao pages), the aim was to hit the lobby for 11am. Which we all, just about, seemed to do, to be greeted by a very harassed-looking Lyndon (no surprise there, then), albeit modelling a very natty, fetching Beatle-style collarless jacket - eliciting the instinctive welcome from fellow-Beatlenut Uncle Dave, “Shea Stadium…? …. !�
No sign of Jessie, I suppose understandably (for want of the odd British wedding ritual to go along so many Chinese marriage superstitions, even more than you’d find, say, in a Tottenham crowd on North London derby day…)
Then we suddenly caught a glimpse of a red-bouquet-bedecked white minibus flashing past the hotel entrance, and ingeniously guessed it might be related to our collective purpose. Thankfully it had been preceded by two sleek black cars, into which Lyndon, the bridesmaids, the best men and Mum and Dad quickly poured, albeit with a few hesitant shimmies and even more stops for photos of the cars and especially the red-and-green bouquets spelling out ‘L O V E’ on the back bonnet.
Myself, Noel, Christian, Uncle Dave, Dan, Ros and Auntie Win piled into the white minibus, eventually crawling its way out of the taxi-strewn alleyway towards the home of Jessie’s parents, where we were greeted by a surge of villagers, presided over by a red and yellow celebratory banner (perhaps related to wedding, perhaps not - it was in Chinese, so I had to apply the more selfishly-personal interpretation) and people either cramming around the cars, peeking (arf) over their precarious balconies or just lining the path between road and upstairs apartment where Mr and Mrs Jessie lived and were about to welcome us into. First off, though, came a barrage of explosions - us in the bus were still struggling to get out when they first starting firing, encouraging us all to speculate on what the hell was going on before anyone actually showed the chutzpah to struggle against the driver who ostentatiously slammed the door shut, and explore outdoors… Strangely enough, that was myself, but I only got out quickly enough to see the last of the actually-disappointing little spurts of orange fire from what were ultimately mere firecrackers, having then to break the explanatory news to those following me out…
But it was strangely exhilarating nevertheless, both for the ear-cracking sound (like venturing suddenly, somehow, into, Idunno, Apocalypse Now), and the fact these local kids had deliberately lined up this kind of a welcome where back home you’d probably expect them to be sulking under an Asbo safely, dully indoors…
Well, we all poured up the narrow staircases, only to abruptly bump into a halt to find Lyndon knocking on the front door, barking out demands to be let in, only to hear squeals from inside about, well, why he should be let in so, what he could offer, why he wanted Jessie and so on. I was expecting a slightly more structured script to enfold, but his incredulous muggings did eventually win him entrance - I think he had to slip in a note or several, but couldn’t quite make out - before he was let in, and we all snaked in behind. The flat was very cramped, and even the family Chihuahua Beybeh had to be content with a cage just outside the window - actually, s/he didn’t seem very content at all, judging by the constant yapping for the next three-quarters-of-an-hour - but as we all dived in, we could appreciate Jessie’s sleek shiny red suit, and lacquer-ed-down hair, as the happy couple set eyes upon each other for the first time that day and proceeded to… pose for photographs. Many of them, in fact. Seated together on the sofa. Standing up in front of the sofa. Sipping the special glasses of green tea offered around. Offering each those selfsame glasses. Supping the bowls of, well, I think I must use the word ‘soup’, but I’m sort of at a loss as to how best to describe the passed-round dishes comprising a slaver of fried egg, floating in murky water alongside a few pockets of fruit. I politely accepted one, as a dubious-looking Dan took my cue to take his own, but one abortive attempt to spear the egg and numb out the too-sweet surroundings led me to finally accept the carping calls to take photos with the family camera, place down my dish as a pre-emptive, freeing-my-hands manouevre, and, er, look on happily as Lyndon scooped it up and away himself…
It was satisfying, though, to see the local faces dizzying into the door’s crevice, peering in to see just how their local girl (so I imagine) was enjoying this day of days, being celebrated by a load of strangers, and more familiar family, and, just, taking part in a Monday which was just a little out of the ordinary…
We finally were herded back out and downstairs, to be greeted by another blast of firecrackers before strolling towards the waiting motors and rolling away again… This time Christy and I were granted places in the front car alongside Lyndon and Jessie, after a call-out which apparently barred anyone who had previously been married from intervening in the official wedding front-leading car.
Unfortunately, our driver seemed a little Knowledge-less, and had to sit for several minutes in a too-narrow alleyway, ardently hoping a decorators’ van would either let him squeeze through or at least back out, front forward, and just get out of the damn way, but sadly no doing, and he had to put up with the workmen’s stares and quizzical grins, before eventually backing his way out and veering an alternative route.
Eventually we parked up towards what I later discovered was the Yu Garden area (from the very handy hotel-gifted cards, which said “Please take me to…� then listed various most popular tourist locations, to be handed to taxi drivers… Not that that always guaranteed your reliable destination, but still…)
We piled out, to go for a photogenic stroll around the little town area which seemed initially dominated by Bull Ring-style stalls and shops, but eventually opened up towards the picturesque inlets of a little stream, overlooked by a couple of terracotta teahouses, and just simply crowded by groups of shoppers, yes, but soon transformed into adoring masses, entranced by the brightly-arrayed bride and groom suddenly in their midst and us guests trailing behind, cameras in hand and up in the air…
We got probably every permutation of pose, from Lyndon and Jessie themselves and themselves alone, but also with each and every family member, bridesmaid, and sudden intervening hangers-on, ie. a gang of rowdy lads who jumped into the frame and insisted on sharing the glory. In fact, I would look up from my double duties with the official family camera and my own shoddy little mobile phone, to find several strangers framing shots, just for the irresistible sake of it, I can only imagine…
Well, the spectacle was fairly interesting, I must admit. In fact, the feeling was such that this was the British royal family on a privileged visit to this district of Shanghai, and the crowd was latching swiftly onto the fact, and those who weren’t aware were thinking they couldn’t very well pass away this apparent bandwagon event either…

Sunday, December 04, 2005

China, part one...



Saturday, November 25/Sunday, November 26.
China. Most populous country in the world, dominant global economy of the future it may supposedly be. But ahead of my first visit - my first time travelling in Asia, indeed - I really didn’t know quite what to expect. Shimmering, illuminated skyscrapers sucking up every square inch of land and sky for the eye to see? Or mottled old shanty towns and terracotta teahouses, dotted randomly amid miles and miles of rice paddy fields? Well, either way, I knew something about Chinese food and was looking forward to that at least.
The first real sight I remember taking in, though, as our minibus took us from Pudong airport to the Broadway Mansions Hotel in riverside central Shanghai, were the convoys of what looked like motorised rickshaws chugging away along the crammed city streets. After being slightly starved and disappointed by the arid, concrete-highway-dominated sights as we first emerged away from the airport’s surrounding roads, I did, I admit, hope to seize on these as a handy image of this China’s amalgam of old and new - looking forward to the side-by-side blend of ancient structures (both architectural and cultural) and sleek, modern, techno-brightness, but I was probably to be mildly let down in this regard. Not by the reality of the place, which did indeed veer between down-at-heel antiquity, and upwardly-mobile 21st century intensity, but by the subsequent shortage of these somewhat bulky little mopeds-cum-mobile-homes.
Not that there weren’t many, many - and again, many - more conventional cycles, convoy-ing their way through the city, an immensely eye-catching sight anyway, but even more surprising considering the sheer frenetic fury of drivers on Shanghai’s roads. With traffic lights having such an arbitrary and mostly-meaningless influence on Chinese manic motorists, the last thing I would want to do is take my life in my hands and handlebars by straddling up a mere vulnerable bicycle, let alone without a crash helmet - as so many seemed to be happily doing. Then again, every pedestrian seemed to saunter into the road without even bothering to glance up at the traffic hurtling towards them - living in a city of such haphazard road manners, and somehow surviving until this present point, must breed a super-insouciance. Though, having read a Max Hastings double-page spread in the Mail on the flight over, I was able to regale our group with the statistic that China suffered 100,000 road deaths last year, probably the highest in the world. Not that this revelation went down well with our already-nervous travellers, but still… I would have been denying my inner-trivia-monster by keeping this one schtum.
So, our group, who were they…? Well, setting off into tightly-packed (mostly by luggage) taxis from Hendon Lane to Heathrow, were myself, two younger brothers Noel and Christy - obviously, other bro Lyndon was already out there, fretting over last-minute wedding plans for himself and his soon-to-be-bride Jessie. Supplemented by Noel’s girlfriend Vicky, my parents Lynn and Keir, my Uncle Dave and cousin Daniel who arrived from the West Midlands on Saturday morning just in time for a pre-journey brunch, and Tagbo, one of three friends of Lyndon committing the time and considerable expense to being there in China for the first leg of the wedding (the return fixture, back here in Blighty, is scheduled for May 1 next year.)
So, after a 10-and-a-half-hour flight (spent half-watching movies - the so-so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the excellent Crash - and half-spreading out across a four-seat row in a happily-under-capacity Virgin Atlantic flight albeit failing to get more than about 45 minutes’ worth of sleep), we arrived in Shanghai to be greeted by both my dad’s cousin Ros and my great-aunti Win (travelling with us at the grand old age of 93 - and a half, as she is keen to emphasise), who had both been on the same flight albeit higher up the plane, both physically and class-ily, and two of Jessie’s bridesmaids, Lily and Jean, who quickly adopted the temporarily-wheelchair-riding Win and escorted us - slightly circuitously - towards the minibus taking us to our hotel.
If the early passages of the journey were a little nondescript, it was fascinating to finally penetrate the city centre, take in the eccentric towers - especially the double-bulbous TV towers and the People’s Daily offices - as we edged our way through busy little neighbourhoods of furniture depots, pencil-thin takeaways and your more expansive, garishly-decorated restaurants (or “Restruant� as one pidginly-signposted establishment heralded itself).
About an hour after boarding, we were there, cruising across a bridge over the River Bund and sliding in front of the Broadway Mansions Hotel, built in 1935 and gilt from each upholstered crevice to the braid of the doormen’s pin-sharp collars, it quickly appeared. Checking in at reception brought about my first introduction to the hardly-convenient calculations to be made, converting Chinese Yuan - or RMB - into sterling. The deposit for checking in was 1,000 RMB - divide it by 14, I was told, to get your English pound version, about 70 quid. This, perhaps unconsciously, became my default way of calculating prices - thinking of 1,000 as 70, 100 as seven, 10 and 70p.
Christy and I were sharing a room, 608, while Noel and Vicky were elsewhere on the sixth floor and Mum and Dad - after a brief false start and a complaint, confusingly begun as Dad returned to reception while I was still checking in, with a ninth-floor upgrade suite, eventually with the river view they had requested. I was overlooking the other side of the hotel, merely down onto concrete streets albeit with a few hefty old towers to inspect, but it seemed clean and spacious enough, so I had few complaints. Especially after hurling my head onto the pillow and grabbing a few hours’ sleep while others rushed out into the flea markets to start stocking up on counterfeit DVDs, of which the streets and street-dealers of Shanghai had many millions. I could wait. They would come.
The evening meal was where we would really start to get going. Mum and Dad had taken the decision, along with Lyndon and Jessie (only fair, I suppose, they were somewhat involved in this week’s events), for the entire group to enjoy a slap-up dinner at a place called the Shangri-La - even swankier, it seems, than the Broadway Mansions and also guaranteeing the Kings’ song Shangri-La to stay implanted around my head for most of the following week. (That, and Draft Dodger Rag by Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie, mainly due to the fact I was reading Jung Chang’s hefty biography of Mao Tse-Tung, and every frequent mention of his prime minister Chou En-Lai would irresistibly remind me of the lyric, “I hate Chou En-Lai and I hope he dies, but I think you’ve gotta see, that someone’s gotta go over there, and that someone isn’t me…� Etc etc…)
On arrival, we settled down - myself on a table with Noel, Vicky, Christy, Uncle Dave and Dan - to be greeted by the manager rattling off an only-occasionally intelligible spiel about the ten serving areas the restaurant offered, starting off - strangely - with the dessert and ‘candy’ stalls, taking in tossed salads, fish platters, Indian takeaways, fresh noodles of variable sizes and shapes, vegetables, more vegetables, soups, slabs of beef, pork, pretty much most of your common-or-garden farmyard animals, and much, much more. All delivered in such a friendly, eager-to-please way - as replicated by every servery-staffer, each of whom quickly greeted us with exuberant ‘hellos’ even as we first stepped in - that we quickly realised we could not go wrong, nor at all hungry, while hunkered down here for the evening. Add in a couple of ‘Great Wall of China� red wines, then later, some penny-chew-packed boxes and sticks of candy floss, and it all made for a truly cosmopolitan but also fun and filling adventure. Uncle Dave did make an interesting remark about how truly Chinese it did, or didn’t, really feel - but then, they were plenty of made-from-scratch-while-you-waited noodles to be enjoyed, or local sauces to be spattered, so there was Chinese there if you wanted it.
Jessie’s parents came along too, and although they spoke very little - and us, the impressively-multilingual Lyndon apart, even less Chinese - they seemed very happily and jovial and approving of their daughter’s match, and posed for pictures as we handed Lyndon a photo album mostly Mum, but on printing and cutting-out duties Dad and myself too, had put together. He seemed moved by the gesture and gift, but steadfastly refused to really open it and explore until the following day. Wedding day. Ah yes.
For this convivial little outing was just the hors d’ouevre. We went to bed, tired but fired-up, anxious about all going to plan, but mostly excited for what the next day would bring. The first full day in China. The first of the four Radnedge boys to get married. The first new Mrs Radnedge in almost 30 years.
I don’t know about Lyndon, but I could feel my own nerves gently jangling already. His must outdoing even Roger McGuinn’s haywire Rickenbacker 12-string arpeggio-outs on Eight Miles High.
Stranger than known, indeed…