Friday, 20 November 2015

"And red mutant eyes gaze down on Hunger City..."

... is a line from Future Legend, the opening track of David Bowie's 1974 album 'Diamond Dogs'. It's all very dystopian, Burroughsian and Orwellian. In 1979, we all thought: "Wow! David Bowie predicted 'The Warriors'!" But it's 2015 now, and I'm thinking this: "Oh dear. David Bowie went and predicted London."

The capital nightscape used to strike me with awe and excitement. The view up and down the river from Tower Bridge, with riverside lights twinkling and cars and people rushing up and down its banks, was always a beautiful and inspiring one. The balance of old architecture and new buildings, even as recently as ten years ago, was pretty much acceptable. Heritage and culture seemed assured and ingrained in London's fabric, as did the notion of growth and wide-open possibilities. There was a sort of mutual respect between the old town and the new.

Just look at it now. Nowhere on or near Tower Bridge can you look downriver without being assaulted by the monstrous vision of the Walkie Talkie building. A ghastly carbuncle which burns pavements, blots horizons and serves no great purpose. (Have you been to its rooftop garden? Of course you haven't.) That's all you see behind the drawbridge, now. It's horrible.

Then there's the cheese grater. The gherkin. The Shard. OK, I guess I can live with The Shard. But taken as a gang, these gargantuan buildings are clearly not a good thing. Either London wants to look like a Martian colony under a giant dome, as visualised in '60s sci-fi, or it wants to look like London, complete with the Monument and St Paul's and Big bastard Ben. The mix of the two - just like those arty photographs of the moon poking out between skyscrapers - doesn't work. Again, it's horrible.

And, of course, there's more of this wanton destruction to come. An unwanted underground railway called Crossrail appears to be giving developers carte blanche to take a wrecking ball to any old landmark that gets in the way of something sterile, new and under-occupied. There's money, it seems, in stark and empty new property. Not in Victorian factories and tanning yards.

Soho? Denmark Street? Who needs them? Why keep the late Ken Colyer's smokey jazz clubs alive when you can just as quickly level them and build a block of posh flats in their place? You could name it The Colyer Mews (or something). You could stick a plaque up. That would be nice. No need to keep history - get rid of it, stick a plaque on the new thing. Shall we talk about Battersea Power Station? Let's not. It makes me too angry and sad.

So, you see. London's heritage, history and culture is being erased for the short-sighted financial gain of the greedy few. Private rents and house prices today are actually, certifiably, obscene. Those people who are happy to live on rice if it means they get to paint a picture or write a book or make a record can't afford to do even that any more. So off they go, the artists, out to the sticks. It's all part of London's rapid sterilisation.

I love London, so all of this hurts. And however hard I try to get on with my life and let other people get on with theirs, and just hope for the best for the future, I just can't. And do you know why?

It's those red mutant eyes that gaze down on Hunger City. It's the red lights of the cranes at night, dotted up and down the river, zig-zagging the once bustling and exciting West End, scattering through the South London suburbs and beyond. Blood red lights which are supposed to stop helicopters from smashing into them (something they're not entirely successful at) and which denote major construction going on underneath. London is plastered with the things. They're demonic, like a glowing red pox pointing towards a disease that is spreading fast and becoming terminal.

London is not in safe hands. And for that reason. I'm out.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Go Dayglo

London is being comprehensively dismantled to make way for Dubai 2.0. This is a city in tatters.

Pubs, music venues, Victorian streets and social housing are being kicked to pieces to make space for this season's must-have investment: a box-shaped posh flat with a box-shaped posh balcony offering a panoramic view of all the other box-shaped balconies in the vicinity. Who'd live in a flat like this? Nobody, of course. The people who invest in them are perfectly comfortable in their much nicer homes in Russia and Egypt. While they sleep the empty chrome, glass and brick boxes swell in value for them. Good old England. Good old London town.

This is how things stand in this, surely, worst ever time for London under the worst kind of bumbling fool Mayor imaginable - and all overseen by the snivelling, dribbling, vile little shits that pass for Government these days. Fuck off, Cameron. Just FUCK OFF.

So London's landmarks are being sucked up the tube into the Hooverbag of 'progress'. But thankfully there's still character galore in the shape of London's fantastically mental street people. I love Gilbert and George, but they're not always easy to find. But there are one or two excellent second division eccentrics.

One of my favourites is the guy who directs traffic on Tower Bridge. Actually, these days, he's more likely to be found on Commercial Road near Spitalfields.

Here is a fantastic fellow. A giant of a man, upright rectangular-shaped with a shock of shocking ginger hair and wild eyes. He's in his late forties, maybe, or fifties. And he likes to spend his days waving through cars and vans and trucks that are merrily going about their business without his help, thankyouverymuch. He directs them anyway.

Yes, there are sandwiches missing from his particular picnic hamper. Marbles are lost. But he's got something to do with his time, and he's not hurting anyone. He's actually pretty big fun. The way he affects a point and a headshake at a phantom flat tyre or some other fictitious hazard which he has imagined up for himself is rather endearing. I like to acknowledge his waving through with my own salute of thanks - and he loves that. His face never drops its serious and professional veneer, of course - he's got an important job to do, right? - but something in his eyes confirms that he really enjoys motorists joining in with his little roleplay.

Mr Traffic Director has worn the same grubby and torn hi-vis jacket for years. Until now. Just the other day I noticed he was wearing a brand new yellow dayglo jacket. This can mean one of two things:

Either he is taking his fantasy vocation ever more seriously and he has invested in new equipment for himself.

Or some kindly soul has gone way beyond duty and handed our friend a brand new jacket.

I would love to believe that this is what has happened. How nice. How heart-warming that, when all around is being smashed to rubble to feed an insatiable, hideously short-sighted development greed, someone would do such a thing for a harmless nut job who, when you get right down to the nuts and bolts of it, is now one of London's last remaining landmarks.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Remembering Evelyn Parr

If you want to do something nice for your seven or eight year old kid, take him or her on a fantastic voyage. It's just about the most exciting family activity going.

As a little squirt I lived for the hours I journeyed with mum and dad in our white Austin 1100, orange Morris 1300 or maroon Morris Marina (dad got through a lot of cars back then). The back was my exclusive domain and sweaty legs would stick to sun-scorched seats while my chin would press up against the back of the vinyl passenger seat, my position of choice, behind my mum's head. From there I would soak up all the stories my dad could offer about his tenure in the RAF. Or I would make my mum squeal with pretend delight at my parrot-like recreation of Monty Python sketches learned from BBC comedy LPs.

A favourite destination would be my Auntie Evelyn and Uncle Trevor's house in Pontllanfraith, a tiny town very much locked into the South Wales Valleys. Collieries were still a thing then (this was pre-Thatcher) and the landscape was scarred but very much alive with black sinews and huge shaft wheels.

From Exeter, this was always an epic slog. There was no M5 yet: we let the A38 lead us slowly through Tiverton, Taunton and around Bristol to the amazing Severn Bridge. There, we would break. Egg and chips and some kind of chemical fizzy pop would be all mine at the devastatingly modern Aust Motorport (my mum continued to call motorway service stations 'motorports' all her life). And then the tunnels at Newport would appear, and the short last leg through tiny Valleys villages, coal mines and fields full of sheep would finish us off.

Uncle Trevor was a kind but slightly intimidating man - to this young mind, at least. He was a fantastic and fun, big-hearted soul, but his deep voice and strong frame were less attractive to the mollycoddled junior school version of me than my incredible Auntie Evelyn.

Of all my Welsh relations, I loved her the most (my darling cousin Linnet comes a very close second). This was down to purely mercenary reasons. Every time we visited she would magic up a present for her nephew... whether it was close to a birthday or Christmas or not. Amazing!

Best of all, she had a knack for picking presents that were way outside the box. She was imaginative and considerate with her gift buying. A brush and comb set was an early nod to manhood for me. There was a small telescope one time – which doubtless launched my enduring fascination with the stars and planets. Books – really good books – were gifted to me too. And so on.

The only gift I didn't accept from her, offered when I was a little older, was a genuine Nazi tie-pin that she had acquired from God knows where. To show off and act mature, I pretended it gave me the creeps. Stupid me: I was actually quite fascinated. I should have just shut up and gratefully accepted it.

Fast forward to the adult version of me. In the 1990s, I found myself working and living in Newport, not far at all from my Aunt, Uncle and cousins. I would see a little of Evelyn, from time to time, in her new granny flat down the hill from her old house, and when she grew ill I visited her at the Royal Gwent Hospital.

At a pensioner's club she was encouraged to undertake a gentle writing project. This was intended as a bit of fun for the old folk, but Auntie Evelyn took this task to a completely unexpected level. Scribbling like a demon, she sealed all of her early memories onto paper – from following her dad (a cattle drover) through the streets of Exeter (on the back of a dog with a saddle attached!), to a sad life in a children's home, to entering servitude as a young teenager, through the (alleged) murder of her half-brother Joe, to the time she was wooed by one of the Welsh blokes in the travelling fair which rolled into town one summer. Guess what? She ended up marrying and spending her life with him. It's all in there, and it's a fantastic read.

My dad always had a very special place in his heart for Evelyn, his youngest sister. When she died, I think in a way my dad started to die as well. Spiritually, if not physically.

Today marks the date Auntie Evelyn left us. I still have some of the presents she gave me. And some photographs of her as a young girl. And, of course, her incredible essay – which, whenever I happen upon it and re-read it, comes as an efficient reminder that I have been lucky in life. I grew up with both parents in a family home and I have always had food to eat, clothes to wear, a sense of security and the freedom to grow ambition.

Auntie Evelyn, though she would never let it show, was unable to take any of those things for granted. The generation of Bardings that came before me had a very hard time of it. Evelyn had to fight, really hard, for everything in her life. But she made it. She was a star.

God bless you, Ev.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Good Grief

Depending on which self-help book or website you choose, there are five or seven stages of grief that we all must go through. That puts me on the sixth or eighth with regard to my mum.

My mother's death in January of this year was a harrowing and horrifying thing. I don't like to think about it - but I do. It was an inevitable thing to happen, and something that I and my siblings had been expecting for some time. She had been ill for more than a year.

In a way, a good part of our mourning had already taken place by the time she finally slipped away. It was an inoperable brain tumour that took her from us in the form of a cruel instalment plan, piece by piece. In the months before she was bedridden, she spoke and heard nonsense. Her brain played tricks on her. But she seemed happy enough.

The last days and weeks, though, were miserable and scary. There were lots of tears and a lot of confusion and anguish. One of the cruellest twists was thrown at us just a few days before she finally died. A change in her medication brought her a sudden burst of lucidity. After days of motionless and inactivity, we found her sat up in her bed, chatting, even taking sips of tea. One of my happiest memories of my mum, strangely, is of her as the dying woman - nodding and smiling, looking around and chatting to us all from her bed. Her brain had given up on allowing her to form words. But we let her have her say anyway.

It gave us false hope, which was ultimately and inevitably dashed. Her decline was swift from there. It was so sad. In the end, as is often the way, her death came as a release for all of us... and a mercy to her.

Now, with my mum's passing an entire generation has gone. I have no uncles or aunts: all dead. My father died 11 years ago. Suddenly, at 51, I'm the grown up.

Since January, I have had a few tearful episodes. But nowhere near enough. This is something I'm mindful of. I've kept myself occupied since then, in positive and not so positive ways, and have kind of bricked away the crushing magnitude of it all. The losing of my mum has become, to my mind, the most recent in a series of disasters beginning with the death of my dad and continuing through the death of two very, very important friends, leading up to Jean Mary Barding (nee Newton). The grief from those three predecessors was well-defined, reasonably well-handled and, I'm sad to say, cumulative. The grief I feel from losing my mum is aggravated no end by the compounding factor of the other three deaths. If I'm going to feel sad about my mum, I will feel sad about my dad, about Ali and about Jon too. So oppressing is this feeling that I have not yet been able to properly handle it.

My parents' house has just (today) sold and contracts have been exchanged. This is an important thing for me, since I needed that finality to allow me to draw a line under that part of my life. No house, no mum - so I can get on with my life.

That life, now, is me and Rhoda against the world. It's been on pause since January. I couldn't help that, it's just something I had to stash away. I am a little worried that it has festered for too long, that I won't now be able to go back and work through grief processes 1-5 or 1-7 depending on your chosen book or website. But it's what I'm left with.

I'm looking forward to being able to remember my mum properly, and to celebrating her in whatever way I am able to. That's all to come. Right now, though, with the closing of the sale of her house - the house I grew up in - and the closing of a very important chapter in my life, I feel I am able at last, and at least, to have a really good, productive cry.

Sunday, 9 August 2015


Fat White Family gigs are always good. I've not seen a duffer yet. Certainly the one I witnessed last night - in a hipster-occupied former factory space in East London - scored highly on all the usual requisites... acrobatics, drama, bad psychedelia, noise, disturbance, damage. All in abundance.

Of course, I loved it. And my friends hated it.

I was hanging with a different crowd. A gang of visiting Californians. They'd seen 'it all' before. They'd already seen 'it all' done so much better. That's what they thought. That's what they told me. Of course, they're completely wrong.

Decades ago, they might have had a point. The MC5 were probably the most malevolent miscreants to ever stand on (and fall off) a Grande stage. They had haters, just like Fat White Family have today - although the MC5's opponents operated on an institutional and international level.

Rooted at the side of the concrete, hessian and brickdust stage of The Laundry in Hackney, my senses clobbered by 'Raining In Your Mouth' and 'Touch The Leather', I couldn't help but fall into flashback after flashback to some old MC5 live footage from 1968 or '69 that I have cause to have seen. In that clip, shot at a political rally in Boston (I think), the 'stage' area is defined by handheld rope. It's as anarchic and undefined as Fat White Family's makeshift platform in E8.

In both (footage and real life), tattooed and hairy boys and girls run a rampage, scattering over the boards, getting in the way, diving on and off, wrestling with mics and leads. In the old film, Rob Tyner is up and down on his knees, screaming wild oblivion. In 2015, Lias and his hair are blurred and flying, in and out of outstretched hands. In both, pretty much the whole band are smoking and playing simultaneously - the latterday lot, of course, in clear contravention of the great smoking laws of our fine country.

An intern photographer stood next to me stops shooting for a second to lift a one-finger salute to each and every person before him, unwittingly apeing Brother JC's actions as seen in that old, old clip.

A cowboy hat (a very wrong cowboy hat, I'm informed by my American friends) is worn in 2015. As it is in 1968 or '69. So is a redneck baseball cap. The band look so shockingly untogether and sound so shockingly close to falling apart. It's real as can be, in other words, and about as rough-around-the-edges and therefore captivating as The MC5 must have been at the height of their powers. You'd be a wise person not to give any of Fat White Family (or The MC5) your home address. That's what I think, sometimes.

The set over, one of my American friends shouted: "Boo, you suck!" just quietly enough so that the band wouldn't actually hear. Later he talked about having had tomatoes in his pocket and having thought about throwing them. He didn't do that, though. Because, he announced several times, "they would probably like that!"

Funny. I don't think they would have given a flying fuck.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

* "I am a stranger on the earth..."

All of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings are important but 'Landscape in the Rain at Auvers' means the most to me.

It's a striking double canvas, slightly larger than an opened-out gatefold LP sleeve, depicting a broad country panorama being pummelled and pelted under a particularly brutal summer downpour.

Diagonal streaks of rain stripe the painting from top to bottom and much of the French wheat fields' colour has been sapped by the storm. Vincent's other late-period works glow with characteristic yellow-golds and rich greens, but this scene has surrendered to cold silvers and greys, dark blues and depressed ochres.

To stand face to face with the painting, now in peaceful retirement at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, is to square up to the artist's own tantrums. A knife has been used to slash the canvas. Thick paint has been pasted on, as if spitefully. Where some of Vincent's earlier, happier work comes bundled with concession and compromise and a nod to contemporary taste, this one does not. It's a last hurrah. It's immense. No filter.

It was hanging on the wall of Vincent's room at Café Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise, just north of Paris, as he lay dying from his self-inflicted gunshot wound. It was most likely completed on or slightly before 27 July 1890. Vincent died two days later aged 37, the poor, poor man.

'Landscape in the Rain at Auvers' continued to stand guard over its creator's corpse until the funeral but for unknown reasons it never went on to enter the possession of the Van Gogh family. Maybe it was squirreled away? Canvas impressions on the thick paint splashes suggest, to my untrained eye at least, that it was rolled up while still drying.

One day in the late 19th Century it came up for sale in Paris. The Davies sisters bought it, and later bequeathed it to their local gallery. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, probably scared by the broken provenance, has always distanced itself from this one. But they're fools.

This is Vincent laid bare. Forget crows. FUCK crows. What the fuck have crows got to do with anything? This is Vincent's full stop. And it's the saddest thing ever.

* The first words from Vincent's first Sunday sermon. Turnham Green, London. 29 October 1876.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Music Is Lethal

Sometimes I think to myself, yeah, this could be the day. The day that I finally plot out my on-off, up-down, love-hate relationship with music and see how it looks laid out as a graph or in a Venn diagram.

I'd have rows marking out the years from 1964 to now, and I would have columns representing the intensity of the music heard each year. The higher the column, the more intense the listening experience. With a different colour, perhaps, to denote good or bad. With a great deal of luck, the statistics I input would reveal a curve of some kind - a wave or fluctuating frequency that demonstrates a pattern. That would be a real breakthrough. That would be brilliant science.

But I haven't tried the graph thing yet and I'm not at all sure that it would work out, anyway. Besides. My memory is terrible. Too sketchy to even attempt it. So here are some highlights instead - presented as an overview of periods in my life when music and I did or did not see eye to eye. These lasted weeks, months, years. They're not presented in any particular order.

1) The One-ness with Raw Power. This is when I was happiest. Luckily, this coincided with Rocket From The Crypt being active and touring. Throughout this time of my life I felt the gutteral, primal power of the rhythm and force of music. I was able to absorb, devour and surf its relentless movement. Music was like a life-force to me - I felt like it controlled my muscles and senses completely. My eyesight seemed brighter. Life was a breeze. More than this, it seemed to vitalise me, physically. I was hungry and thirsty for it. The opening bars to 'Pigeon Eater' were more important to me than anything.

2) Music as Passive Therapist. The 'teen in his bedroom' syndrome. I used music to reinforce or rebutt my voice in the world. This was a helpful phase. Music was unobtrusive and helpful.

3) Music as Aggressive Therapist. This was a powerful and unpredictable one. Instead of helping me through turmoil, the music would underline what was wrong with everything in my world. Innocuous songs, pop songs, would mock, jeer and condemn me. But I listened to them anyway. I would cling desperately to their messages, convinced that it would do me good in the long run. I went to a lot of gigs in this state - and hated them. Moreover, I hated the people around me at those gigs. I couldn't understand how they could look like they were enjoying themselves when the message coming from the stage was so utterly, utterly bleak. I was very unhappy at this time.

4) The Shredded Nerves. For a while, I found myself connecting super-strongly with what I perceived to be an emotional depth to the music I was listening to. This is the polar opposite of the 'One-ness with Raw Power', in that I would be drawn to music which affected me strongly, only to have such a terrible time coming to terms with it. British Sea Power and Arcade Fire songs made me weep, easily and freely. It was a type of mourning, I think.

5) Distrust In Music. This was a kind of purge on my part. Unable to pick out anything emotionally, spiritually or educationally worthy in the music I was listening to, I would consign the whole lot to the bin. I wouldn't listen to any records or attend any gigs. I would never put the radio on in the car. It was all bullshit, all of little or no use. In this state, I would have no recollection of any of the four scenarios listed above.

6) Music as a Welcome Distraction. Enjoyable tunes, enjoyed. Merry bopping about. Able to enjoy it for what it is.

7) Music as an Unwelcome Distraction. My mind would be twisted up in knots, confused as to how people could be letting this music stuff go on when it was mischievously clouding and shrouding something far more important - some perilous coming event, or something that urgently needed attention.

Written in a van with the door shut, backstage at a summer festival.

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Rodney Hallworth Preservation Society

Never say never and all that, but I can't picture myself ever going back to news journalism. I'm fairly certain those days are over for me.

Still, I look back on the 20 or so years that I gave to the Fourth Estate very fondly. I had great colleagues and quite a lot of fun. There would always be some drama lurking somewhere, poised and primed to punctuate the mundanity of council meetings, court proceedings and no end of sad-faced suburbanite families with potholes to point at. So I was happy in my work, by and large, if not the most voracious careerist.

My only dream as a young hack was to someday scribe a front page splash for The Daily Mirror. This I eventually did: only to conclude mournfully that I had been kidding myself. This had not been a burning personal goal after all, I decided, just a random professional benchmark to work towards. The much younger version of me always imagined having that first front page framed and hanging forever in a hallway or study. Next to the Pullitzer which followed it, maybe. When it came to the crunch, I didn't even keep a copy of the paper.

What I did hold onto, though, is an arsenal of handy life skills which I acquired and sharpened over years on the reporter beat. I still draw from these today (even the shorthand). And, to toot my own trumpet, I got pretty damn good at journalism. If a story was there to be found, I would find it. And I would report it clearly and accurately. I became a very good newshound.

I owe most of this to an irascible old bastard called Rodney Hallworth. I was in my late teens or early twenties when I first encountered this formidable fellow with thick-rimmed glasses and an even thicker Stockport accent. I was finding my journalistic feet on the Teignmouth News, a sleepy weekly paper for a sleepy South Devon seaside town. Rodney was my boss... kind of. His was a nominal kind of role as overseeing eye, by which I mean I already had a news editor and editor to report to in the paper's sister office up the road in Dawlish. Rodney just needed to be kept in the loop. Which I did through daily phone calls, visits to his quaint little cottage in the neighbouring harbour town of Shaldon, and lengthy sessions at his local pub.

Rodney was in his fifties and veering ever closer to retirement by then, having already lived out the most incredible journalistic life. He had earned his stripes decades earlier as crime reporter for the Daily Mail and Daily Express. Over multiple afternoon pints, he would roll out anecdote after anecdote for me – I heard about his reporting of the Great Train Robbery, about his relationship with Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged for murder in Britain (he accompanied her to the gallows), about the Scotland Yard pepper-pot collection which he had a hand in curating, and most notoriously about his key involvement in the Donald Crowhurst round-the-world sailing scandal. But let's come back to that...

Rodney and I warmed to each other very quickly. I was full of youth and enthusiasm for my fresh new career, and Rodney was, I think, delighted to have a keen cub reporter to tell his stories to. He called me his protege quite often, and occasionally he would introduce me to his friends and acquaintances as that. He was full of advice, guidance and tricks of the trade for me. It was Rodney who taught me, time and time again, to write as if 'for the bloke in the pub'. To write news stories as if they were for my mates to hear. Or, even better, for some dumb drunk asshole who needs every stupid detail to be laid out in simple language.

Rodney's speech was always colourful and kindly. He'd talk in terms of 'Christmas-ing up', of being careful to measure out the right level of personality for each story – and of sticking the boot in when it needed to be done. And each and every week, when I would ride my moped (he called it my 'put-put') over the bridge to the pub to deliver that week's freshly-printed paper, he would go through its pages with me, pointing out what was good and, invariably, what was bad too.

He had a temper, and no end of times I would be on the receiving end of it. I remember Rodney screwing our paper into a ball and throwing it to the floor, bellowing his disapproval over the use of some headline or other. Tourists in the lounge bar fled. And once, when I turned up to one of our boozy editorial meetings without a penny to my name, he chose to really let rip.

“You do not – and let me make this absolutely clear, boy – you do not EVER come into a pub without any fucking money! Is that understood?”

Rodney suffered from angina and complained about it regularly. When he died in 1985, aged 56 (I think) it came as no real surprise but it hit me very hard. Rodney had become a huge part of my life.

His funeral, choreographed in advance by the man himself, was memorable. The service concluded with a solo trumpeter, in bowler hat and jazz colours, playing 'Bye Bye Blackbird' at the church door. Back at the pub, we discovered he had secretly put a significant amount of money behind the bar for the purpose of his wake. I got smashed on whiskey and was soon in floods of tears in the corner. The Mayor of Teignmouth, Cllr Peter Winterbottom, put a comforting arm around me, saying: “We'll just say you've got the flu.”

Of course, the many little lessons I learned back then went on to serve me very well at work. And they still do. Many years after he died, I tried to pay tribute to him in my not-very-good speech on leaving the South Wales Echo.

But there's more. There's a reprise. Rodney re-entered my life.

One night in 2006 I was asleep in front of my TV in Kentish Town, London. The words coming out of the box drifted in and out of my dream state, as they often do. But then something incredible happened. I heard Rodney's voice. Clear as day. It was unmistakably him.

It was enough to shock me awake. Good God! And there, indeed, he was – in full colour – talking on my television. It was the documentary 'Deep Water'. Rodney, filmed in 1968, was speaking about his role as Crowhurst's press guru. This was staggering. It was surreal. Rodney in moving image form. Talking. The closest to being alive again that you can get.

A handful of further little coincidences followed. A friend of mine turned out to be a friend of the fellow who made 'Deep Water'. Some months before that, I happened across a copy of Rodney's book about serial killer Dr John Bodkin Adams in a stall on the South Bank. A couple days later, I found a second copy. More recently, I came across the Jonathan Coe novel 'The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim'. Rodney is mentioned in that, rather a lot.

And now a film, a feature film, is being made about the whole Crowhurst affair. Colin Farrell stars in it. Rodney's role has been taken by David Thewlis. I decided I should do something to try to preserve something of Rodney's legacy. So I wrote to Mr Thewlis's agent. I wrote to the producers of the film too. This is part of what I wrote:

“Rodney was an incredible character. Working under him as a junior reporter on a Teignmouth newspaper, right up to his death in 1985, was a life-shaping experience for me. He used to call me his 'protege' (as well as some more colourful names when things weren't going well).

“His role in the Crowhurst saga was incredibly dark, no doubt about that. And he spoke about it a fair bit, even decades after the event. But there was a warmth and simplicity to him as well. If Mr Thewlis has five minutes to spare and thinks it might help to hear a few Rodney anecdotes, I would be delighted to share them. Please let me know if this is do-able. I feel I sort of owe it to Rodney to try to fly his flag in some small way.”

I haven't had a reply. I'm sure whoever read the email consigned me to the 'nutter' bin. I look forward to the film, of course. And I hope something of the Rodney I knew will shine through it. But, as I heard somebody say the other day, the movie is going to need a villain and Rodney – who went on to sell Crowhurst's log books for a small fortune - doubtlessly fills that requirement perfectly.

Like I said in my email to the film people. I feel I owe it to Rodney to fly his flag somehow. Maybe this 'Letter from Claptonia' will just have to do. Whatever happens, I'll never forget good old Rodney.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Remembering Live Aid

I see a lot of people are commenting on Live Aid today. A lot of people who weren't there. I've read a lot of words from a lot of people who don't like Geldof, who don't like Bono and who don't like the idea of Queen having played Sun City.

I don't like those things either. But I was at Live Aid. Not sat in front of the telly... I was there, in the heat and sweat and thick of it all on the pitch at Wembley Stadium. My opinion of the events of July 13, 1985 is no more valid than any other. But it's at least pretty well-informed.

I was 21 years old. I had bought the Band Aid single the previous Christmas, though not through any particular sense of humanitarian duty. I bought it because I was young and into pop and rock and, back then, I bought a lot of records.

I was a nascent hack, a cub reporter on the Teignmouth News under the irascible genius that was Rodney Hallworth (more about him in some future blog). Wedding reports, bowls results and council minutes filled my working life, but every now and then my devotion to music would worm its way into the seaside weekly paper's pages too. Lo, it came to pass that in December 1984 I found myself interviewing Bob Geldof backstage at a Boomtown Rats gig in Exeter University's Great Hall.

My funny little paper had been encouraging its readers to knit tiny jumpers for starving African children, and I brought a couple of the little sweaters to show the scruffy little bastard. He obliged with encouraging words, we took a photograph of him holding two of the garments like ridiculous hand puppets, and I noted the understated revelation that he had started working towards a live concert in the summer, to reprise the whole Band Aid shenanigans. This was duly reported and ignored by the good people of Teignmouth. I offered the concert tip-off to the NME's newsdesk. They ignored it, too.

A couple months later press ads started appearing for Live Aid. I was curious and interested. David Bowie was confirmed, so that was it. I wanted in. Question: How does one get a ticket?

Answer: One books a coach from Teigmouth to Bristol (the closest available ticket outlet), one queues overnight outside the Virgin store (with hundreds of other people) and then one catches a coach back the next day. That's right folks. On the pavement, in the cold, overnight, just to buy tickets. That's how things used to work.

Then came the day – a blisteringly hot, scorchio one. TV crews buzzed around outside Wembley Stadium, reporting live from the queues at the gates as we (me and my mate, Ray) waited to be allowed in. Expectancy was high – and we were confused. The notion of strict 20-minute sets, even for big boys like Bowie and The Who, was revolutionary. The rotating stage design sounded, well, weird. Would it work?

On our way in, rushing to find a good spec, I flashed by a banner or two: “You are saving lives,” I think one might have said. There were t-shirts: “This t-shirt saves lives.” Programmes: “This programme saves lives”. Posters: “You don't have to be mad to work here...” You get the picture.

Sanctimonious? Here's my point: sorry, you weren't there. The atmosphere on that day was, even for the mid 1980s, simple and gracious and really quite pure. While you lot in TV land were watching Geldof swear next to Ian Astbury in a commentary box, our inadequate stage-side screens were screening ads for Budweiser. Unbearable given the July sunshine. From my right came a tap on my shoulder. “Swig mate?” Amber nectar. From a stranger.

Cups of water were passed around. I saw a chain of bottled beers snake its way into the crowd. Somebody handed me some suncream, too. My nose was blistered and almost bleeding come the end. But it's the thought that counts.

And it's the thought that still counts. I'm not claiming that this was some kind of Woodstock-ish utopia where everybody just got along for the first time. But the vibes, man, were good. Every act – even Nik Kershaw, folks - was entertaining and memorable. And well-received. Bowie's set was emotional and exciting – even my dad, who watched it on telly at home, conceded that he was 'pretty good'.
And then there's that video. The Cars. Harrowing TV viewing, right? I watched it with 70,000+ people, all blubbing. I can't begin to describe how I felt then. It was collective, though. And there was no kitchen to run to, no kettle to put on. We were a very big 'one'. And, oh heck, Status Quo were fab.
Yes, bands did well out of their Live Aid appearances. Reputations were forged and heightened. But is that really important? When I bought my ticket I knew what I was buying into: I wasn't there to save Africans: I was there to see a load of bands.

But still, when I saw those ships heading to Africa with “With Love From Live Aid” painted on their hulls, their steel bellies filled with food and medicine and what have you, I couldn't help but feel like I had played a small role in making that happen. We don't live in a perfect world. But sometimes something comes along to offer a little help.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Diary of a Gnomestalker - by Alison Hale

TWENTY FIVE years ago tonight I had just finished watching David Bowie perform at the now-demolished London Docklands Arena. It was the third of three spring 1990 dates in the capital and it followed two shows apiece in Birmingham and Edinburgh. I was part of a small travelling gang who slept in airport lounges, on lawns outside venues and on Bowie fan floors. These were good times to be 25. 

One of my travelling companions, Alison Hale, would become my girlfriend for a couple of years, and then - more importantly - my best friend, confidante, fellow adventurer and life explorer. We were two drifters off to see the world. There was such a lot of world to see, and she went on to see a lot more of it than I have. She had a massive thirst for experience, that girl.

She kept a journal of her maraudings and the paragraphs which follow are some of the best bits from that first week on the Sound and Vision tour.

The names and some details won't make much sense to readers who were not actually there. But it's a cracking read, nonetheless, if a little Bowiecentric. No excuses offered. That's how we were back then. 

Ali always wanted to write a book and call it 'Diary of a Gnomestalker'. God bless you, Ali. Here is an extract from that book...

SUNDAY MARCH 18, 1990.

Met Karen at Victoria and we got the tube to Euston then the InterCity to Birmingham International. The journey went really quickly (4.10pm to 5.45pm).

We eventually found the NEC after walking to the airport and getting the monorail back again. Found the actual Arena where the concerts are held.

As hoped/expected/dreaded there was nobody queuing. Just a sign that said the box office opened at 9.30am on Monday. Could this indicate that tickets have been held back? It IS a makeshift sign…

We then came back to the airport for some food. It was 7pm-ish by then.  Had a roll, banana, yoghurt and milk as I’m determined not to stuff up on junk crap food.  Also later discovered some long, soft seats – proper airport type ones – to sleep on. Explored the very posh hotel and decided the sofas in their hall would do if nothing else came up. Anyway… we’re settling on these long seats now.

Went to check the Arena once more. No-one there, so decided to leave it till morning to queue. Are taking turns reading ‘Woman’ which has a DB article. Karen phoned Littlehampton and got only a few seconds for 30p. Will quickly call Clare on Tuesday  – her birthday.

Birmingham’s quite nice. They have trees and daffodils – like we do!! Hope sleep is possible here. Have seen only one suspected Bowie person so far, and she’s fat. PS: have airport loos and basins nearby. Dead glad I brought my toothbrush and paste!


Have moved upstairs where it’s darker and the seats are spongier. The TV was blaring but I found the cunningly concealed volume knob.



Slept very on and off from about 2am. The airport was never really quiet, but at least they left us well alone up here. Another couple of people joined us throughout the night. I woke at 6.45am and Karen was already awake and washed. We switched TVAM on to wait for the first part of the Gambaccini DB interview. I got washed then we bought breakfast and brought it back up here: tea, toast, bacon and sausage.


On bench waiting for box office to open. Talked with security guard (no queue-ers yet). Saw lorry labelled “POWER FOR DAVID BOWIE” go in. Chap said the gear was already in and Bowie would go in door A5 at around 4pm. We snuck in the back and saw the ingredients, all invoiced etc, that’ll probably become Bowie’s lunch.

PS: He’s brought his own stage.


Sent postcards to Neil and M+J then got to the box office at 9.30am. After a chap had bought three Jason Donovan tickets and two Van Morrison, it was my turn.

Nothing on the computer… went out the back… I was nearly sick…

He came back… YES! But only for cash or cheque. So we got ‘em for both nights!!!

Some recognisable people were behind us (we were first). We got talking and now we’re looking more like a Bowie mob.


Went to entrance A4/A5 and heard some kind of soundcheck – probably not Bowie, but backing singers and band. Golden Years, Fashion, Let’s Dance.  Apparently “Heidi” is being let in. She got on stage with Bowie at Turin in ’87.

Went in briefly to see where our seats are. It’s not bad – we’ll get a good view, though it’s not too close. We’re all together anyway. Right now, the four blokes [Ste, Lee, Mike and Andy] are at our table drinking very expensive beer. Me, Karen and Sharon are sitting at another table, all in the bar at the Metropol (hotel). David and Coco are booked in here and have been since last night!!


Spent the afternoon, until 3.30pm, in the bar at the Metropol chatting with Steve, Sharon, Andy (who’s bought my spare London ticket) and Mick and another bloke. Andy is trying hard to get me to go to Edinburgh which he has a spare ticket for. Believe me, I am tempted. There’s even a lift up. Quite frankly, maybe I’m getting old, but I’d rather have the £30 than the hassle of going – I THINK! I wish I could go. It’d only mean two more days off work.

Then we went to see Bowie go in at 4pm. It began to piss down and didn’t stop. Heidi eventually got what she wanted – a backstage thingy or something. God knows what she does for it.

The three French people turned up, plus Michelle and Paul etc etc. 

Went back to the hotel bar after some food. Phil Calvert was there. He’s beautiful! I read about him in Smash Hits and other mags years ago for being a “superfan”.

Tickets were still on sale and the touts did absolutely no business. They’d only offer £10 to buy.

The shirts are OK. Embroidered logo for £30. Nice badge for £5. One t-shirt is wearable.

Our seats are way back in the depths of the heavens but half an hour ago people were buying Block C from the box office, which really isn’t on. It’s filling up really slowly, and DB’s meant to be on at 8pm.


First half wonderful!!


Brilliant concert. But being at the back was sad. Enjoyed it – but can’t describe it. Went back to the bar! It was brilliant, wonderful (the gig)!

We’re kipping at exactly the same place but Andy and Mick are with us.


Sitting by the lake in the sun waiting for the box office to open so Andy can flog spare tickets.  We were woken from deep sleep at 5.30am. The three French kids were kicked out too.

Watched TV and had coffee. Bought the Birmingham Post which has Michelle and Paul pictured in the front of the gig. Wrote a quick note to Darren and sent my newspaper cuttings home. Mike went home to Exeter.


We’re in the NEC hallway, playing pontoon (me, Karen and Andy). We were going to play for tickets and £20 notes only – but then decided small change would be a better idea! Two people from Switzerland came over and expressed an interest in Andy’s spare tickets (they asked if any were available). But it was doubtful because the guy’s plane flies back at 5pm. He’s gone off to try again to change it or buy a later one.


They came back and bought them and were SO chuffed! He’d decided to get the train home and sacrifice his ticket. They went off happy. And we did pretty good at pontoon. I ended up with more than I started with. Andy nearly had £5 at one point. It killed a few hours.

Then we went down to the lake. We thought about sleeping there, but the ground was cold and there was goose shit everywhere anyway. Generally dossed around for quite a while. Went to the bar at the Metropol to meet Lee. Had a drink. No sign of DB, of course. Then wandered down to the box office.

The three French kids were also trying to swop for better tickets. Touts were asking for a £20-25 price to swop our Block 16 for Block D. They said they were getting £100 each, which is crap – they can’t get rid of them. So we kept our ones. Then came back for tea.

As it turned out, the airport was serving fish and chips. At £4.10 it was a rip off, but better than toast.

I phoned Darren. He was really pleased. I love him and nearly said so. Spent a quid and a half on a phone card.

Will try and call him from Edinburgh too. I spent all day and yesterday deliberating whether to go. In the end I kind of called Daz for a second opinion. He said go for it! Apparently, when Neil went over there on Sunday, Darren had the impression he was going to “say something”. I wonder if he was?

Then I phoned Sam to get the other days off. I was kind of nervous but she was dead nice about it – no problem. Phoned Clare, said Happy Birthday, and she loved her pressies from me. Kings and Jason have left messages for me – nice messages. Crazy.

Unfortunately, C said Karen can’t stay. That’s going to be awkward telling her.

We’ve just watched (Andy, Karen and me) The Lone Ranger while discussing chocolate bars and cartoons. Now 
someone’s put it over to Neighbours. Will write a postcard to Ma, then phone Neil.


We’re now in Rotherham at Russell Street, the home of Stu (who’s coming to Edinburgh) and Jo (his girlfriend – who might be). Just washed my hair, a Cure video is on and Andy is washing his shirt so I can wear it to the gigs instead of my smelly white one.

Last night’s gig was about 50 times better than the first. We went to the box office at around 7 to see if they had any Block A, B or C. They said they’d have returns at 7.30 and we were first in the queue. When they came, she made certain we got first pick, which was good. By the way, we’d had an experience on the way to the Arena with a junkie. He stopped us (doing cold turkey) to offer us ONE Block B, Row C – third row, slap bang in the middle – first at £50 then easily down to £30!

We all gaped at each other, totally gobsmacked. Then Andy got his money out.

It’s kind of hard to describe how I felt. Pleased for him and gutted for myself at the same time.

Anyway. At the box office the rest of us got the back of Block C. Paid £25 each. Not too bad.

Me and Karen found our seats.  The first three rows or so and others were already gathered at the stage. After 
pretending to mingle, I got in a gap quickly and hid! Being down the front was totally different. It’s what gigs are all about. I got squashed up against the first seat of Row A and kind of started half climbing into it. Kneeling on it, I was.

A silly cow told me to move all the way along so she and her buddies could get on. After coming to blows (ie she shoved me and I landed on the little French girl’s bag) I made her go in front. She then had fisticuffs with the French girls/boy. I spent the next few songs then with a wonderful view, kneeling on Seat 3, Row A, Block B!!

In the interval, loads of people cleared out so I was standing (with two really nice girls I met right at the start – one with a really long plait) with only two people in front. Heidi was on the barrier close by and Steve and Nicky had about Row 6 (I went and said ‘hi’ after the gig).

It was a bloody marvellous shit-kicking stupendous gig. “We were well bastard close” – quote Andy.

During ‘Alabama Song’, Bowie RAN from the back of the stage, dived onto his knees, slid ALL the way down the catwalk, grabbed someone (Michelle) and kissed them!! Of course his arms were grabbed, he’d probably not thought about it beforehand, and he looked pretty stunned after for a sec. Didn’t actually see the kiss, but Andy did.

‘Young Americans’ was totally bloody brilliant, the ‘legs’ [screen projection] on ‘Space Oddity’ totally killed me again. ‘Fame’ was awesome.

It was really getting down by the time I got off the chair. There was a group of three or so of us where it was REALLY cooking. We had room to dance around which makes a change. That’s 'cause the majority of the audience were in seats. Bloody good, it was. Sheer joy!


Weds morning I had a good wash, including my hair, and then we all (Andy, Me, Lee and Jo) spent from around 1pm to 6pm in the pub. I had around six Southern Comforts and just felt a bit knackered. Later, we went back to No 73 and Stuart was back. Once again, when Stu and Jo had had their tea, we (except Jo) all went to a different pub. It was quite good there. I put all five of the DB tracks on the jukebox.

Liked Stu. He’s an artist/designer (left handed) and altogether an OK bloke. When we got back he sketched me. Bloody good. Really flattering, they were, but he wasn’t too pleased with them, being a bit pissed and all. Lee and Andy crashed and started snoring, so I got the two huge cushions and the duvet! After a coffee, I went to sleep.
Around 7am Andy woke up, so I offered him half the duvet. He still had to sleep on the floor though.

Eventually, we all came to life around 10am when Stu went off to work. I’ve changed into my borrowed shirt and washed my hair again. Andy is doing his review of the gigs for the paper he works for in Wales, Jo is filling in Housing Benefit forms.

We’re heading for Edinburgh around lunchtime when Stu gets in. That means we’ll be there around 24 hours before the gig in case a bit of serious queuing is necessary.

FRIDAY MARCH 23, 1990.

Mucked about watching TV and stuff, then decided to go into town for some various articles. Shampoo etc. Andy phoned work with the finished review. It looks as though my name’ll be in it as he’s bunged a “quote” of mine in there. Fame at last.

I called Darren fairly briefly.Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath are being predictably and depressingly boring. Nice to talk to Darren. Suddenly remembered Daryl’s birthday and Sarah and Daryl’s anniversary. Oops. Will send cards on Friday.

We had a nifty little lunch at ‘Robert’s’ café. Very nice. Then hit C&A and me and Andy got a load of new togs for the gigs. Loud shirts. And I got some socks and a dead pretty frock.

We got back to the house (worth £12,000 incidentally) at about 5.30pm, and set off at 6pm. Jo and Stu went separately cause it was a bit squashed. Had a couple of coffees on the way. Around 11.40pm we were in Edinburgh. Couldn’t believe it had been a six hour journey.

We then left Stu and Jo to it and found the Highland Exhibition Centre. Nobody there.

Now we’re back in the car park by the service station, freezing to death and playing I-Spy.


Service station. Sort of slept from 2.30am to 5am. Woke up totally freezing and had to go in the shop place for coffee rather than continue trying to sleep.

Went back to the venue. Possibly spotted Michelle  but not a lot else. We stayed in the car a couple of hours, waiting for Stu and Jo and sort of trying to sleep. Feeling a bit roughed up.

Now we’re all in service station writing postcards and Daryl’s birthday card and anniversary card. Then went to Asda and bought a bunch of ten pretty pink roses and a bottle of something called Thunderbird and three Crème Eggs. Then we went to the Post Office to post postcards etc.

Andy decided to give a girl in the street one of the roses. She was not impressed!

6.20pm. ON TRAIN.

Eventually got to the gig very lazily late. We’d been drinking this stuff and were fairly merry. Edinburgh was still freezing cold. Andy wandered down to find Sharon and Steve. They were there. We got chatting… and were in there. It’s fair enough, because we’d arrived last night before anyone!

It must’ve been gone 3pm and we asked around to find that the front was there around 1pm or 12pm. Decided to get a B&B for all five of us for the night to make up for no sleep last night.

It was great to get together with Steve and Sharon. They’re really nice.

We took in a couple roses each, me and Andy, and were up against the barrier without much problem – next to Steve and Sharon. The gig was the best ever. NO screen, the sound was perfect and HE was immaculate (me and Shaz decided he looks 28!).

But the thing that made it a gig to beat all gigs was ‘Pretty Pink Rose’. I managed to save just one by keeping it out of harm’s way over the barrier. When it became imminent that ‘Pretty Pink Rose’ was going to be announced I gave the rose to Andy (who was nearer and undoubtedly a better shot) and said “chuck it quick”, or words to that effect.

He did a bloody marvellous shot! Unreal! It landed at Bowie’s feet and shot across the stage towards him. He grinned and laughed and smiled and picked it up, then showed it to Adrian as if to say “I’m dead chuffed, aren’t you? They like our song!”

Then he looked to Michelle and gestured/mimed “was this you?” So me and Andy freaked out even more and he yelled “No! It was us, you bugger!” Ahem!!

Bowie, still grinning, waved and smiled and, you know, recognised us, then announced the song and swiftly put the half-wilted pretty pink rose into his buttonhole!! No shit!!!

He was grinning and happy throughout the song and we kept getting looks and recognition for the rest of the gig!! We were/are well chuffed!! Gobsmacked!

Unreal. I’ll never forget that. Steve took several pics, so here’s hoping some come out. The audience’s singing on ‘Ashes To Ashes’ (the end of it) was perfect. Pitch, timing, everything. ‘Life On Mars?’ again… and ‘Rock’n’Roll Suicide’ – one of the best live songs I’ve ever heard. Some great audience participation. The Scots crowds are definitely more enthusiastic. London, seated, will be hell after this. But we’ll get down there.

The greatest gig of all. Shaz couldn’t believe it!

After waiting ages to get out of the car park (we were boxed in and freezing) whilst discussing what an awesome experience it had all been, we booked into our expensive but worth every penny (£12.50 each) guesthouse. Then the ‘lads’ decided (or, rather, Andy and Lee did) to go for a piss up.

Me and Sharon were pissed off at this as it was unbelievably cold. So after dropping them off we took the taxi back to the guesthouse. We kept one set of keys – they had the other.

The key we had let us into Steve and Shaz’s room with a double and a single. There was coffee and a bathroom and beds! It was so warm!! We made a drink, then Shaz got into the big bed and me in the little. We talked about Bowie and the gig for a few minutes then were out cold.

An hour later, at 2,10am, we heard a knock. The others were back. Steve came in to go to bed. I offered to go and get in my own but he said don’t be silly. I figured I would, anyway.

Lee and Andy were in two of the singles so I got in the other. It was even cosier than the other one I’d had. Slept until the AM, when Andy’s snoring deafened me into a state of consciousness at 7.30am.

All had a good wash and yummy brekky. Chatted to the landlady and Shaz did me a French plait. Then we headed for the gig [second night in the same venue].

There was hardly anyone there! Three French, Michelle and Paul, a couple of skinheads. We were dead cert front row and having a good laugh together, too. God, it was so COLD though. We played Word Association – me, Andy and Ste – which was pretty successful. Not so many adjectives creeping in.

With a bottle of wine and a couple of cigs (this is something that started yesterday whilst in a similar state of inebriation) which Shaz and I had a bit of trouble lighting, we had a heck of a good time.

The guys went to the airport for food, so we got the sleeping bag and the binliners (and the bottle of vino) and didn’t do too badly. When a blizzard started up we pissed ourselves laughing – if you’ll excuse the expression!!
The gig was good but didn’t blow Friday’s away at all. Being where I was meant that wigging out was the done thing. The audience singing was good again, still had the sticker on his shoe, the bass sound was wonderful.

Someone threw a blow-up spider and he laughed his socks off and kicked it back a couple of times. Same with a balloon. He was really taken with this blinking great spider, though!!

Of course, a rose was thrown on. But it wasn’t us – and he totally ignored it!

The five of us set off after that. After checking the station at Edinburgh, it was decided Lee could drop Ste and Shaz at their house in Warrington.

Had fish and chips in Edinburgh, along with at least one pint of milk each. Then we drove until we reached their house at 6.30 in the AM. Sleep wasn’t really on. Although we were warm in the back with the sleeping bag it was too squashed.

We stayed at Ste and Shaz’s until lunchtime watching their amazing video collection and listening to their amazing CD collection and looking at the amazing photos. We drank tea and talked. Then around 1pm we set off for Birmingham. Said goodbye and thanks to Lee (owe £12), And me and Andy caught a 125 to London Victoria around 3.30pm.

PS: At the end of the Saturday Edinburgh gig, ‘Rock’n’Roll Suicide’ was left off. The crowd kind of started to sing it but it faded out unfortunately. It would’ve been brilliant!

Caught my train to Haywards Heath at 6.17pm. Got a taxi to pick up Ma’s present and card from the flat, then to Ma’s. Sarah, Daryl and Sebastian were there. And I got to look after the baby (the cutest little thing) while they had dinner.

Sarah’s hair has grown. She’s heard ‘Under The God’ on the radio and thinks it’s wonderful – wants to borrow the album! Bloody hell. I offered her videos and concert tapes too, but she said the album’s alright for now…


Lunchtime. Gatwick airport. Met Andy (no Mike) at 2.45pm. Mike was with Bev and Steve from Chatham. It was cold so we polished off a bottle of Thunderbird and went to a café for lunch.

Eventually, made our way to the Arena. We decided to sit at our places. Karen was quite near the front but up the side. We were way back but had a great view of the whole stage. A few ‘Let’s Dance Casualties’ were around us but we played it totally cool.

‘Pretty Pink Rose’ was a highlight. None of the others knew it at all. We at least had the chorus! Tried to learn the rest a bit at a time.

Enjoyed sitting back and casually watching for a change. A different way of doing things. Met Michelle and Paul after. She explained how she got to the front. We need front block tickets first.