Christmas Eve Blog

Christmas is finally upon us here at The Gables, not in a frost encrusted sparkling winter wonderlandy sort of way, but with great gobbets of good old-fashioned Hertfordshire rain which seem to fall out of the sky slower than normal, are greasier than normal, and seem to be possessed of some computer-controlled laser guided system to impact straight down the back of the neck to make a chap wetter than normal. I found this out earlier this morning whilst trying to catch up with the council refuse management mobile office, or dustcart, to donate a tenner to them for their xmas box, or protection racket. It is possible, in hindsight, to reflect on the fact that in my haste to spread a bit of festive cheer, I had emerged at speed from the front door sporting my usual morning attire of Old Rugby Shirt, festive reindeer and holly boxers, and green furry slippers with crocodile faces on, and in running down the street at some velocity, would have taken on the appearance of a raging yuletide nutter. This may well have led to the unusual acceleration displayed by the vehicle in question as it sped around the corner, back to the warmth and security of the Local Re-Cycling and Salvage Grading Station, or tip.

As I have whinged about on these august pages before, since October I have been at the computer screen by day and operating saxophones by night. Whilst I am very grateful for the work, and after the ninety days of toil have just about saved up enough for the bank account to demonstrate a balance of nearly zero- the record for me stands at forty nine quid, in 1983- I’m not sure that a Thatcher’s Britain eighteen-hour day, seven days a week work regime is right for your poor old scribe here. As the xmas deadlines approached, I would generally get in from work at 1.30 am, have a night time snack of Anchovies On Toast and Horlicks, and then get the head down, only to find, to my own horror, that the head in question would wake the rest of me up at around 8 am with a new and complicated to do list imprinted in slightly hurty letters on the inside of the skull. Yesterday, was the last day of all that, and by 5pm I was happily in the bath with the Airfix Tirpitz with the slate, and therefore the head completely cleared. All I had to do was to finish the xmas run at Ronnie Scott’s with the big band, and then settle down to enjoy the festivities, which this year are taking place for her Indoors and I in the grand city of Wigan, which is in the north.

It was a bit of a funny old gig last night. Soho was quiet, and the whole proceedings had a decided end of term feeling about them. Clearly most of our audience had their mind on Christmas, with all its incumbent turning down of spare rooms, worrying about Aunty Sheila getting on the sherry a shade too vigourously and wrapping of Ninja Turtle key fobs. You could tell- I’ve done enough gigs down there over the years to know which series of controlled musical detonations will have which specific result, but last night it was as if the whole audience had assumed the role of 15-year old Monica Smith at the Croydon Youth Orchestra 1981 xmas Party, and the entire band had assumed the role of 15-year old me at the same do, desperately flailing around trying anything to get her attention. In fact the parallel works on a number of levels, since the medium of the attention getting was in both cases a gallant attempt at generating interest by using Jazz, and was only a notch more successful in Ronnie Scott’s than it was in St. Saviour’s church hall, Addington. Maybe I should have charged Monica an entrance fee. I might have got a snog.

After the unexpected teen angst flashback experience which was the main set last night, Her Indoors had decided that she’d like to celebrate xmas with a nice end of run sophisticated west end cocktail at the bar. Normally, like a safe cracker who has just wired the ticking alarm clock to the clod of Gelignite, I display a keen enthusiasm to immediately vacate the place of work as soon as the job’s done, but I fancied a small celebration too. As I was at the helm of the Volvo, I elected to wax a little Sapphic and go onto the carrot and apple juice. In addition, there was to be a late set and Jam Session hosted by young Callum Au, a trombonist who is fast turning out to be one of my favourite musicians of all time. Furthermore, there was the intriguing possibility of a lie-in this morning- no flight time spreadsheets, no emailing of tech riders, no cobbling together of vocal demo audio in the home studio. Knowing how my mind works, I thought that in order to achieve a decent lie-in, I’d benefit from tiring myself out with a sit-in, and so buoyed with natural goodness from the Lesbos Drinks company, I played until about three in the morning with chaps half my age playing twice my speed.

As we were promised in the leaflet about attending cubs camp in 1974, “At the day’s end your head will hit the pillow, tired but happy”. By the time Her Indoors and I had reached the portals of The Gables, I was right ready for bed, foregoing even the Horlicks and Anchovies and indeed I went off to nod exactly as prescribed by Baden-Powell. There the idyll ends though, because as I mentioned earlier, the old noggin has clearly got used to processing a load of information whilst the rest of me tries to sleep, and so, bang on cue, at 8.01 a.m. I was awoken by my own head. Unfortunately for me, as all the to-do lists have been to-done, all that was going on in there was the flywheel whizzing round in empty space making such a din as to try and render any form of sleep worthless. It’s going to be a while before I come down from the adrenalin, I fear.

Shortly, Her Indoors and I will be climbing aboard the Volvo for the journey to Wigan, to spend the festive season with her folks. For the first time in my life, I’ll be spending Christmas in an Hotel. How’s Santa going to get down the chimney there then?

Have a lovely Christmas- Airfix Halifaxes for one and all!


Return of Plog

I’m back! The re-orchestration work for the upcoming tour has now all been done, the showbiz idyll that is life here at the Gables has gone back to normal and I can now bring myself to look at a computer screen for fun again. During the last couple of months, the looming presence of the constant need to enter musical notes onto a computer score has brought me into close contact with my own guilty streak, imbued at an early age by a good catholic education at St. Agnes of the Nine Wounds. It became harder and harder as the weeks wore on and the deadline neared to pull myself from the computer to go and do normal things such as eat, sleep or write the Plog because of Sister Immaculata my imaginary invisible Irish Nun friend wagging her finger in my face reminding me that there was good work to be done, and only The Devil would want to watch Top Gear at a time like this. Thus it came as a considerable relief at 2.35 last Friday afternoon that the final keystroke fell on the final bar of the final piece. I came indoors from the Home Production and Music Preparation suite, or shed, and did what every right thinking chap who has just finished preparing enough sheet music to cover the proposed new runway at Heathrow would do and put a DVD on about the day-to-day life in Aldenham Bus Works in the 1950’s. Sister Immaculata was nowhere to be seen, Her Indoors had prepared a special celebratory helping of Anchovies On Toast and Horlicks, and as the glorious London Transport R.P. voice-over flowed mellifluously from the telly, I drifted off into a fabulous kip.

As we’re well into December, we’re well into the Christmas run at Boisdale Of Canary Wharf where a team of crack functioneers and I are laying on a Vegas- style cabaret show all month for the office party set. A regular club gig is something of a rarity these days- I get to leave my sax in a lock-up at the venue so I have nothing to carry on the tube, and at the end of the evening we get to say a phrase which musicians haven’t used since about 1978- “See You Tomorrow”. The commute entails a good hour on the Jubilee Line. Although the good chaps at LT are planning a new extension of the track to link The Gables directly to London’s Glittering West End, I’m currently happy to use the existing public terminus at Stanmore down to Canary Wharf. As well as the finishing of the Big Project, last Friday saw the busiest night of the year for going out on the town, according to the papers. Life on the Jubilee line would certainly have seemed to bear this out. On the way home from the gig the 11.53 was jam packed! At the end of the carriage was a very tall chap who had clearly become really quite refreshed with cunning use of beer, wine and spirits. As the human stomach is not really designed to take such a vibrant and interesting mix in such quantities, he was, in the words of Barney Dickenson who was travelling with me, “About To Blow”. Although three sheets to the wind, the poor chap was not without gallantry, and at the next stop he was straight out of the door to find relief in a litter bin, thus saving all of us in the carriage from unimaginable horror. Two stops later, his seat was occupied by a sweet little old lady, grey hair up in a bun, knitting. It occurred to me that her presence and comfort there owed much to the honorable actions of Nigel from Dockets Inwards of which she was completely unaware. Funny old thing, life.

During the last punch-drunk days of the re-scoring, I’d come to rely on the Jubilee Hour as my rest period of the day, and fiddling around with the iPhone on one of these journeys I came across an old disused Plog written during the opening stages of the whole Orchestration thing. For completeness, here it is-

    November 7 2013
    It’s been another long week shackled to the desk with the Herculean task of reducing two hours worth of Irving Berlin classics arranged for orchestra down to a rather more modest 16-piece. After a day’s worth of staring balefully at the merciless flicker of the laptop screen, it has been hard to drum up the enthusiasm to repeat the procedure for fun and put key to pad in order to cobble together a Plog.

    As well as the tap-tapping of the reduced orchestra, it has been a week of high highs and low lows. I left you the Tuesday before last just before setting off to the Golden City Of Croydon to continue the experiment from the summer of trying to find a form of jazz which people could actually enjoy. It seems to be working- when I arrived at the modern concert venue, or pub, I had the most welcome shock in that it was heaving full before we’d even set up the drums. Things went so well that we actually got overpaid! Don’t get excited though, being overpaid at a jazz gig in Croydon only means that rather than being substantially below the national minimum wage, the rate of recompense climbers to the giddy heights of being slightly lower than the national minimum wage. After the train fare and a copy of Airfix Monthly bought at Victoria station had come out of it, what was left would probably have had Bob Cratchit getting a bit sniffy. Unwisely, the landlady had thrown in a free dinner and beer. We got the money back on the beer. As any fule know, you’ll never buy a new Jag off playing bebop in boozers, but I think it’s fair to say that ours was the moral victory. Right from the word go the energy was oozing off the bandstand, and although I’ve said it before, the sight of so many people in an audience smiling whilst jazz was being sounded could come over as deeply unsettling if you forget for an instant that out there in the real world, a smile is generally construed to be something positive.

    Another high this week was, to quote Community Chest from Monopoly, “Bank Error In Your Favour”, or to be exact, Bank Admin. Her Indoors and I have decided to restructure the global financing strategy for The Gables, or move lenders at the end of the cheap first two years. It all changed over last month, and for a reason contained somewhere down deep in the small print, the old lender refunded the last month’s dough. Hurrah! That was last Thursday, and I can clearly remember thinking at the time that Halloween was lucky for me this year, I must be special, nothing bad happens to me etc. Events were to show once again that your penitent pilgrim can be cast into the pit of horrors by his own smugness, as the next thing on the agenda was a trip up to the Quack’s to see nurse Blossom for a blood test.

    I’ve been seeing Nurse Blossom for a few years now, and I can personally vouch for the fact that she is something of a Heifitz with the needle. Confident that she could bang a tent-peg through my skull without me noticing, I was smugly contemplating the mortgagelessness of October when she missed the vein and just touched the main nerve in my elbow. It was like I imagine being hit by a bolt of lightning would feel- I can honestly say that in all my puff, I’ve never felt pain like it. A huge white flash of agony went through my entire frame, and before I knew I’d done it, I’d let out a fearful scream which scared me rather more than I think it did Nurse Blossom. As soon as it started, it was over. Our sense of time is a curious thing- the whole episode was a quarter of a second long at most, but the sheer amount of agony seemed to make everything go into a colossal sort of slow motion, during which time I had opportunities to consider that the effect of the pain was having the unusual side effect of making me think a bright light was being shone in my eyes; the howl I’d just let out was going to be a cause of considerable embarrassment; that like bebop at a wedding, I’d managed to create the sound guaranteed to be least popular with the folks in the waiting room outside and there was still time at the end of the pain curve for a bit of contemplation about the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers Diorama.

Ouch! Weeks later, I can still visualize that pain. I need to add to the earlier copy that Nurse Blossom tried immediately after the Pain Episode to draw a blood sample, and with her usual aplomb, I felt a little prick. I felt like quite a big one walking back out through the waiting room, mind.

Now it’s nearly Christmas. The Amazon references for the relevant Airfix purchases have been emailed to Santa, and today Her Indoors and I will be adorning the Gables with fire-resistant illuminated mock pine fronds, as is the custom. She loves a real tree, but having a large plant in the corner of the living room screaming “I’m Dying!” has always given me something of the willies. I, on the other hand have a splendid 1992 issue artificial number bought from Woolworth’s in Croydon, which sadly has now lost its base and so cunning use has to be made of crepe paper and the bottom half of a baritone sax stand. Being a subscriber to Style at Home, Her Indoors finds that my lovely little tree sits slightly askance with her finely developed sense of interior décor. Our compromise is to have our thing on alternate years. This being an oddly-numbered year, it’s my go and so the 85cm pine effect Winfield Christmas tree will yet again be going into bat!

It’s Stan Tracey’s funeral on Wednesday. To my mind, he is the chap who has defined much of British jazz since the 1960’s. Another important cornerstone gone, but that’s the great wheel of life for you. I wonder who will get born on Wednesday? Raise a glass to them both if you have a mo.