Sunday, 5 March 2017

Diversions

I have unconsciously switched into full slack-jawed-Cheltenham-babble mode. I know this because of the reactions of Mrs A. Only this morning I was criticising the inaccuracy of the weather forecasts and how difficult this made analysis of the likely underfoot conditions at Prestbury Park a week on Tuesday; and that the watering policy of clerk of the course Simon Claisse was so unscientific that the whole scenario all but precluded rational thought anyway.

On glancing up from the sink where I was vigorously swirling mugs in soapy water as if they were entirely to blame for this sate of affairs, I noticed Mrs A had adopted an expression somewhere between distracted mirth and shrug-shouldered tolerance.

“Am I wittering on a bit?” I inquired.

“Don’t worry dear. I’ve had twenty years of this, I know what to expect come early March”.

As I said to a mate earlier today, I reckon she’s currently ignoring roughly 75% of everything I say (as oppose to the usual 50%).

Luckily, there have been one or two other diversions this week to keep me from agitating about the Festival too much.

Last Sunday Mrs A and I went to Ronnie Scott’s for a classy night out at the monthly Blues Explosion residency. I’m a fan of the leader, Marcus Bonfanti and saw him electrify the Borderline with his own band a couple of years back.

All class at Ronnie's
 This night was courtesy of a mate’s very generous birthday present. But why we don’t go more often is beyond me. The venue takes its music seriously. It only books decent acts and even goes so far as to insist that babbling chatter is cut out so that the musicians can be heard by everyone. This is a real gripe for me, especially in small venues. You’d think punters, having forked out hard cash, would have a bit of respect for the bands. If you want a natter and a laugh all night, stay in the pub or the bar.

But not in the restaurant. Mrs A and I had something to eat in Muriel’s Kitchen beforehand, where the background music was so loud we were shouting at each other across the distressed beechwood table. The world’s gone mad, I tell you.  Nice place to eat, otherwise.

If Ronnie Scott’s was all about smooth blues and refined quality, my next gig was something of a polar opposite. On Thursday, I took Daughter No 1 back to uni in Southampton, where I had been offered a gig to cover for GRTR at the Engine Rooms.

“Fancy coming to the gig?” I said to her. “Bit of father-daughter bonding?”

“Well I’ve got nothing better to do!”

So that was settled.

One of the attractions of Southampton as a university town, from a parental point of view, is that it isn’t too far away. So why did our train journey take just shy of four hours? I can’t even blame, even in my grumpy-old-man pomp, the fragility of Southern Rail. No, this was all timetabled dawdle. We got to Clapham Junction easily enough. But rather than following our Rail Planner-suggested cheapo-non-London route via Winchester, Daughter No 1 spotted an earlier direct service from Platform 9. So off to the subway we went, carting four bags of kit between us and dived on to the packed service from Victoria. As we were approaching East Croydon, the guard ran through the list of stations we would call at. I lost count after Cosham and the will to live after Fareham.

So 2hrs and 20 minutes later, we pulled into Southampton Central after a gentle meander through the South Downs and then a slow swoop west from Chichester. The last few miles perfectly described the circuitous nature of the journey. We first rumbled north from Swanwick up the eastern bank of the River Itchen before crossing over about four miles upstream and then crawling back southwards on the opposite bank in to Southampton. I ask you.

There was just about time for a decent curry in the Coriander Indian Diner before we went to the gig. I had been trying to tell Daughter No 1 that hard rock was just important for the future of music as it had been in the recent past. She looked round at the audience of the warehouse-like, modern venue and took some convincing that the handful of long haired twenty-somethings, amongst a considerably older, even more hirsute majority, really held the future of rock ‘n’ roll in their sweaty palms.

The gig was good though, and we both enjoyed it. To different degrees, obviously. The Answer are a solid band and have taken to shaking up their mainstream classic rock riffs with some inventive Celtic influences, the odd folk melody and some fine acoustic moments. There was enough there for everyone.

I was staying in a cheap hotel on the other side of town to Daughter No 1’s digs. The thought of kipping in a student flat, where the party only really gets started at about 2am didn’t really appeal to me. (As if I’d have been allowed to stay anyway…). She told me that one night, she had come over all sensible and stayed in to get a decent night’s sleep for a change. She gave up on that idea sometime in the early hours and joined the throng in the kitchen who had come back from a club.

“Hello”, she said to a guy clasping a large vodka mix.  “I don’t think we’ve met?”

“Oh, I’m just the Uber driver that brought them back. I got invited in!”

Star Hotel. Never a dull moment. 
As it turned out, a 3 o’clock party might have been preferable. My wing of the hotel seemed to be hosting a three-way, endurance slanging match in which my room occupied the centre ground. I had to admire the stamina of the participants. The first bout was at 1am-ish when the door of the room on my right smashed open and a woman brayed on a door to my left until it was opened. She went in and slammed it behind her before giving vent at full volume to the significant number of issues she held about the attitude of the occupant of the room. Earlier misdemeanours in the evening appeared to be the cause of the grievances.

I don’t know how she was breathing because the vitriol that poured forth was seamless and unending. I heard the bloke grunt inaudibly a couple of times, but every word uttered by the young woman was piercingly crystal clear. The first assault ended with the bizarre claim, “AND I CAN WEAR MAKE UP IF I WANT TO!”

Then another door opened and second woman rapped on the other door and went in. Things calmed down for a bit, though there was a lot of door opening and closing. She was obviously the peace maker.

Or not. There followed a little scene of “sha’ ap”, “no you sha’ ap” back and forth that wouldn’t have been entirely out of place in the sing-a-long section of the gig earlier.

I lost track of who was in who’s room. Then I heard someone brush against my door and for an agonising second I thought I was going to get dragged into things. The moment passed and I got back to enjoying the show.

Later the three of them were in the corridor again and I could smell cigaratte smoke. ‘Great’, I thought. ‘Next the fire alarm will go off.’ It didn’t and a few minutes of peace ensued.

The final, classic moments played out when after about an hour, the antagonist again burst from her room and hammered on door of her nemesis, screaming “And another thing…!”

Drifting off to sleep (eventually), I thought I heard a male voice emit a gurgle/scream, in what I feverishly imagined was the grisly ending to the exchange. But nothing else happened and next morning the breakfast room was as calm and civilised as an Edwardian B&B.

We rounded off the week with a visit to our friends in Warwickshire where the late night/early morning entertainment was a little less dramatic. In fact, my main troubles were self-inflicted.

“Mind the shower in the morning” said Clare as I went to bed, “the pressure is a bit high right now”.

A 21st Century instrument of torture 

I even remembered this advice the next morning. When I climbed into the cubicle I noticed the little side hose beneath the main drench head. Cunningly, I put it on the floor nozzle down, out of harm's way. ‘Play it safe’, I thought, through a slightly fuzzy head. Messing about with the controls (never one of my strong points) I did exactly what Clare had warned me against and cranked up the pressure too far.

The hose jumped like a snake poked with a stick, flipped over and blasted my face with a high velocity jet of  super-heated water, whilst I groped blindly at my feet. I ducked out of the way. The pressure was such that the jet was hitting the exposed, restored 19th century beams of the bathroom ceiling and ricocheting out of the cubicle onto my towel and clean clothes, as well as running all over the floor. Just as Clare had warned me it would.

No more diversions, thanks. I think I’ll squirrel myself away now and unravel the mysteries of the Kim Muir Chase.





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