16 July 2012
“The heat, the damned heat!”
I’m not sure who said that originally, but I have visions of a sweat drenched Niven-esque officer type snarling it out through clenched teeth somewhere on a lot in Pinewood done up to look like a rattan bar in deepest Dar-Es-Salaam. Today, in the Home Office, or shed, I was getting similarly Niven-esque myself whilst attempting to do my VAT return in the sweltering heatwave we have upon us at present. I’ve mentioned my propensity for perspiring buckets before, and today I was at it like a good’un. Whilst I won’t pretend that preparing my Profit And Mainly Loss accounts are on a par with either driving an Austin K2 over the Sahara, or constructing a large wooden bridge for the Burma Railway, by the time I had the figures ready for HM Customs and Excise I looked every inch the extra from Tenko. To add to the torment, the new Sun Terrace Swimming Pool, or Tesco’s £7.99 inflatable paddler, we’ve just had built was looking untenably inviting, and so it was with a considerable gasp of relief that as soon as the last entry was tapped into the laptop I was able to don the Flags Of All Nations Speedos and leap into the deep end to do a few lengths, or in fact just clamber in and sit there fizzing, in a manner akin to a knob of butter in a frying pan. Yes, I was a knob of butter, melting in the huge pastry crust of my own humble pie after initially reacting to Her Indoors’ plans for the construction of our new aqua palace with a curled lip. Leisure centre, blood cooler and backdrop for model seaplanes, it has been without a doubt the best single batch of £7.99 that the Domestic Expenditure Control Department (Or Her Indoors) has ever spent.
Summer’s really here. After the last few years’ worth of dismal endurance tests of humid months of drizzle, it’s baking hot again, just like in the good old days. Although for me, as one of Britain’s leading sweaters, this entails quite a bit of skulking in quiet corners in case there’s a raid by the nook and cranny police, there is much pleasure to be gleaned. Especially if you have a gig in Clacton-
I firmly believe that as long as it’s sunny, most places in Britain are as good as anywhere on our planet. Sunday afternoon saw me and the Volvo hacking up the A12 with the Air Conditioning on at full blast to do a show with the genial Kevin Fitzimmons, who does a good line in all things Sinatra. After the bandcall, the weather was so nice that the great law of eating on the road was suspended-inevitable curry gave way to chippy tea on the Front! And what a beautiful front. Someone at Clacton council has really got the right idea. Our chippy was right opposite the entrance to the pier, and like all these seaside areas, it is festooned with arcades, funfairs and light bulbs. In Clacton though, all the music is switched off. By removing the cacophony, Clacton’s classy council completely cleared confusion-causing clattering, leaving the natural sounds of the sea, the seagulls and the breeze in the rather well kept trees bordering the front. Even the seagulls were well behaved. Even though they were the size of Messerschmitts, they were content to perch near us and our chips without going the full Hitchcock nine yards. Tame buggers too. When I got back to the theatre car park (where we were afforded the rare luxury of parking for free near the door where we had to go in) there was one sat atop the Volvo, probably cooling his feet on the air-conditioned roof. It obligingly stood still for long enough for me to get this shot-
Mind you, on the walk back from the Chippy, it turned out that Clacton had more treasures up its sleeve. I wouldn’t normally wax lyrical about civic gardens, but the ones by Clacton pier simply defied description. There was a positive bombardment of colour on offer, and by the time I’d got to the third enclosure, called the 1920’s garden, with an arts and crafts layout which I am convinced would have had Lutyens himself weeping with joy, I became convinced that Clacton will be my Seaside resort of choice. Gary Baldwin, legendary jazz organist runs a B&B up there too. A dark plan of whisking Her Indoors off for a couple of days of Sun, Sea, Fry-ups and Jimmy Smith is forming.
Not to be outdone, it appears that the good residents of Clacton don’t want the council to have the monopoly on Matters Horticultural. On the way down to the front after the bandcall, I stopped and had a chat with a charming old gentleman who was painting a small model windmill to adorn his front garden, which I can only describe as a psychedelic version of Beckonscot. A beautifully laid 0 Guage garden model railway wound around the periphery and over a small gantry bridge which spanned the central water feature. The rest of it was glorious British madness. My resounding memory was of a vignette by one of the pansy beds in which we were treated to the unique spectacle of a Dalek dancing with a Tellytubby. If that doesn’t portray a utopian vision of the future, I don’t know what does. As a diorama man myself, I doff my hat! I’d have taken a picture, but I got a bit shy and didn’t ask. Further down the same road, however, lies this-
Apologies for the grainy image. I think the iPhone has a hair in the gate, or something. What we have here is a corner garden, with, amongst other things, a six-foot ceramic gorilla and an old phone box. There is also a seven-foot elk and armies of small woodland creatures. Whilst Mr Hobbs up the road was honing his view of the future in car-boot trinketry, here was gigantism which even Albert Speer would have been startled by.
Saturday was notable for the sheer amount of it spent at the helm of Her Indoors’ Mercedes Benz. It all started innocuously enough, with a nice Chinese meal in Wigan on the Friday, to celebrate the in-laws’ Ruby Anniversary. We’d decided to have a morning cuppa with Grandma Indoors, and leave Wigan at 1.30 on the Saturday, which would give us plenty of time to get to Yeovil by 7, which is where we had to go and do a wedding job. Now then, the Mercedes-Benz is a very nice motor and all, but just at the moment it has no aircon. On the hottest Saturday of the year so far, I was already in serious nook and cranny peril, and I’m sure that as we left Her Indoors’ Grandma’s house at the appointed hour, a N&C inspector was eyeing the whole operation suspiciously from the end of the road.
Out we swung onto the M6, only to find that the big signs were telling us that things had come to a grinding halt at Stoke, and a quick scan of the BBC travel site in the iThingy revealed that the M5 at Birmingham was gridlocked as well, Not handy if you’re going from Wigan to Yeovil. We swung off the motorway, and as all the internet went down, bought a trusty map and planned a route the old fashioned way. The A roads of Britain and Wales did us proud, no jams and beautiful scenery, but what a long way! We got to our gig at 7.40. Seven hours without a break, a brief bout of Lady In Red and Mustang Sally in a barn in a field, and then back in the warm German Box for another three and a half hours of fun up the A303. I was really creaky by the time I got to bed, I can tell you. Every cloud has a silver lining-on the A49 near Church Stretton we drove past the Copper Kettle Tea Room. It looks amazing. We’re going back. In the Volvo.