Adventures of El Presidente Blog

Just like those of a South American tinpot dictator, my birthday celebrations seem to have gone on for most of the last week, and are showing only now the first signs of slowing down. So immersed am I with my new found role of El Plongusto, martial leader of all I survey (or the shed) I have, in my darker moments, found myself surfing eBay for ceremonial military uniforms, rows of bogus medals, eye patches, and stick-on Gringo moustaches. In darker moments still, I have been tempted to paint the words “Border Control” at the end of the drive here at The Gables and issue a UDI for the Peoples Republic of Gableria whilst busily setting to on the inkjet printing my own currency. With pictures of me on. Declaring independence would also get me out of the need for planning permission for the 200-foot statue of me and Her Indoors I’d now like to put up in the back garden- you know the sort of thing, me as the heroic worker, sleeves rolled up, hammer in one hand, scythe in the other, and her Indoors looking defiantly into the middle distance, all plaits and breadbaskets. If the council wanted it taken down, I could take it as a threat of war and have them up in front of the U.N. I do have my own air force, mind, if things get a bit nasty. I know it’s only in miniature and can’t fly, but I’m pretty sure it could have some value as a PR threat, once the Ministry Of Propaganda, or Her Indoors and Photoshop, get their hands on it. Getting back to the money thing, the People’s Republic of Gableria unit of currency should be the Plongeiro. As I intoned earlier, most of the notes would bear pictures of me, getting up to the normal range of banknote art high jinks such as staring up inscrutably from a map of the New World, or standing boldly on the prow of Cotes’ galleon, or looking on proudly as the new hydro-electric plant is built in the lee of the mighty Plongusto dam etc etc. Only the highest denomination note (the fifty trillion Plongeiro) would differ, as it would carry an heroic image of Her Indoors as a mighty Wigan Valkyrie, riding on the rising sun’s rays, silver shield of honour in one hand, and golden pie of wisdom in the other.

Yes, apart from one hour-long bout of physical jerks with the Flymo on Friday afternoon, El Cumpleaños Glorioso President has had a splendid week separated from most of reality. Looking at it another, and more statistically likely way, it could be argued that most of reality has enjoyed a splendid week separated from me. The main reason for this is that one of my birthday presents from God was a complete lack of paid work, which has led to essentially to a week-long festival of Airfix down in the shed. It is highly possible that exposure to all those solvents may have done something to my brain, as I don’t normally have bouts of contemplating how my own currency system should work, but I have had a smashing time! The birthday itself was conducted at the rather splendid museum of Naval Aviation in sunny Yeovilton, down in what was until very recently, really rainy Somerset. Somerset is now merely quite soggy, and has the feeling of a paperback which has been dropped in the bath and is now spending its first night on the towel rail. Naval Aviation’s good in any weather, though, as it has to be. Part of the birthday celebration customs for El Presidente is to be allowed to take Her Indoors to an aeroplane museum and bore her rigid. This year, we did slightly better, in that down at Yeovilton they have a huge section of the museum into which has been built the working innards of an aircraft carrier, specifically the Ark Royal, and specifically in 1976. It was both interactive and slightly old-fashioned and clanky- just what we like!

You are guided around the innards by a rather super-looking Chief Petty Officer, who, by popping up on various strategically placed TV monitors at strategically timed intervals leads you to believe that he is supervising your tour from an ops room deep in the bowels of the ship. To get the most out of these things, it is necessary to put the bar of necessary suspended belief quite low, as there is only so much drama shop dummies dressed in uniform, disembodied recorded voices and flashing lights can generate. It’s a trick anyone can master by watching enough Emmerdale though, and the rewards are great if you stick with it. At one stage, we were ushered into a reconstruction of the ships communications room, where a pair of mannequins were poised in fervent activity over a gigantic pale grey box-like machine festooned in flashing lights. This turned out to be the very hub of the Ark’s state-of-the-art communications suite circa 1976, the teleprinter. With less than a grillionth of the brainpower of last year’s x-box, this mighty paper issuing, juddering, clattering behemoth would have received the instruction from Jim Callaghan to load up the planes and nuke the Russkies. Terrifying.

Less terrifying was the simulation of the carrier deck itself, sort of a mini-Imax with extra effects such as a vibrating floor. I blame Health and sodding Safety for this. After a quick briefing from the nice old chap that we would be in an enclosed space and would be subjected to loud noises as the jets took off, strobe lighting and a strong wind during the helicopter simulation and several other things which induced such a state of fear in Her Indoors that it took all my powers of brave manly persuasion to convince that it would all be all right. To tell the truth, after the grave tones of the H&S announcement, I was having a mild twinge of the collywobbles myself, but as El Plongeiro, I of course mustn’t be seen to flinch in the face of mere fear by my doting populace! In addition, I’ve never really been a fan of Adventure Park rides much, as I always consider that the actual purpose of fear is to make you run away like stink, and was never intended by the Maker as a form of entertainment to be queued up for for hours on Bank Holidays. Within seconds, it appeared that the collywobbles were unjustified. Huge jet planes were launched very quietly into the great Blue Yonder. The world’s gentlest helicopter hovered benignly above us emitting small puffs of downward air and gently twinkled its rotor lights. Mild juddering emanated from the steel deck. In all, it was rather soothing. Sodding Health and Safety. Museum is thoroughly recommended though, whether you like planes or not. Just try and look at the Japanese Kamikaze rocket bomb they’ve got in there and not come over all cold.

One of the reasons for the Western nature of the Birthday celebrations, instead of the usual expedition up the hill to the Swan to find out just how much Guinness can be encased by the body, and then round the corner to the India Garden to attempt to float a Chicken Vindaloo around on the newly formed gastric lake, was that on the day after, there was a little job to do in Weston-Super-Mare, just up the road, more or less. Therefore, I’d booked a night’s stay in a rather splendid spa hotel just south of Bristol. Splendid it was too, as the evening followed a predictable but rewarding schedule of Steam Room, Spa, Cider, Steak, Soufflé, Sherry and snoring. Sunday followed, with a further visit to the spa, and then setting off for the short drive to Weston, which was basking in the spring sunshine, for the first time in the season. It was ram-jam packed, and we felt sorry for all those Ice-cream parlour owners who’d not come back to town from the winter residence in Lanzarote to open up. There were queues for 99s everywhere! It could have been a scene straight out of one of those documentaries you see about Eric and Ern doing summer seasons in Blackpool before they hit the big time, only with more tattoos in the women. Seeking a slightly quieter time with less tattoos Her Indoors and I made for the Edwardian tea-room at the end of the pier, which turned out to be a little cavern of many and diverse charms. A curious mixture of 1990’s industrial catering furniture and Edwardian curtains, the tea rooms boasted a fairly unique anachronistic approach Mind you, the sea would have looked exactly the same, back then, so that was something. However, in terms of the tea itself, it passed with flying colours- the staff were nice to us and the scones were baked on premises by the chef .They even had a piano in there, but alas no pianist, so a score of 50% there, but then again, 50% represents a handsome pass at GCSE these days, I suppose. The job in question was to do one of Kevin Fitzsimmons’ Sinatra shows, the prospect of which will always have me slightly on edge after the harrowing incident of the Southend Trouser Trauma. I can only really relax on one of those after unpacking the suit bag in the dressing room as soon as I arrive at the venue. I then have to fight off the urge to try my trousers on just to make sure lest I fall foul of the dark grapnels of OCD. Back in the normal world, the sunshine had brought seaside fever on amongst the chaps after the soundcheck that the inevitable curry was eschewed in favour of a sit down chippy. Cod and Chips on the Front in a melamine and neon palace unreconstructed from 1963 before a Sunday night concert at the Gaiety. We’ve never had it so good.

Seriously, folks, that museum is a cracker. Why not have a look?


Blog Of Ages

If there has been a defining factor around the week’s activities, then I’d say it would be the various ways in which the jamboree fun bag that is the aging process makes itself felt. Really, there have been three main thrusts to this. The first one occurred last Friday. You see, something unusual is going on in the august offices of the Jazz Club of Mr. R.Scott (deceased), and to cut a long story short, I have been put in charge of a new band there. The unusual bit is that the club is very keen to see this new project to succeed, so a very reasonable budget has been made available for rehearsal time. For me and the chaps in the band, this opens up the tantalising prospect of paid daytime work, with no need to get in the car as soon as the bandcall is over to drive through the Friday rush hour to operate an instrument somewhere in The North. No! Instead, we decided to celebrate our new found temporary night of normality with a good old chaps’ eating excursion. The natural and proper course of events after six hours’ work in Ronnie’s would, as regular reader(s) of this column will know, would be to nip down Lisle Street for the ceremonial standard menu at Mr. Kong’s, to emerge a couple of hours later all fizzy with MSG and sake. Trombonist Callum Au, being of Chinese descent, and a very trusted member of the team when it comes to grub, really played with fire and suggested that we should all go to a place called The Gold Mine over in Queensway. After a short stunned silence from the group, he went on to explain that when his relatives come to stay from China and Singapore, they’re so keen to get there that a stop is made on the way into town from Heathrow. In particular, the roast duck was of near legendary status, and we’d need to get down there before about seven pm before it all ran out.

Wind forward an hour or so, and there were the chums sat round a lazy susan, groaning with goodies. It was fabulous. Reasurringly packed to the gunnels with London’s Chinese population, The Gold Mine did not disappoint on any level. It might sound a bit weird, but it was the smoothest Chinese food I’ve ever had. You’ll understand what I mean when you go. As Callum says, get there before 7pm, and as well as the duck make sure you order the char siu pork served on a bed of pork belly. All delicate and amazing, and a very different design ethos to Mr Kong’s. So now we have two best Chinese places in town. I’m looking forward to the Kong’s- Gold Mine face-off pub crawl thingy. Watch this space.

What all this has to do with the aging process is that we were out of the Gold Mine by 7.45, and in the boozer opposite by 7.47. The first inkling that I was getting a bit long in the tooth for this was that I temporarily turned into my Mum when the barman asked me for forty-one quid for a round of six drinks. Somewhere in my head, I am sure that a pint of lager is logged in at costing 83p, and I know that things have gone up since 1982, but I must say that forty-one quid came as a bit of a shock. However, we stuck with it, and as is the way with nights in the boozer, it was quarter to nine for ages and then all of a sudden it was half past eleven. By this time, I had began to feel a bit sorry for Nadim. Nadim was playing tenor sax with us, and had come out for the jolly, but being a Baha’i, he doesn’t drink. As the rest of us had become shouty, incoherent and tedious on the outside, whilst the lager was making us feel amusing, informed and incisive on the inside, I can’t imagine he had all that much fun with his Ferrari of a brain being subjected to the intellectual equivalent of a dump truck demolition derby. Still, he stayed to the end. His choice. Maybe he was viewing it as some kind of project. A short while later, I was being shovelled into the Volvo by Her Indoors at Moor Park tube and whisked back off to The Gables. And then, the glorious impenetrable blackness of beer sleep.

Mother nature is a great lender, but hell’s bells does she charge interest. The trip to the Gold Mine and the pub had fuelled a wonderful state of vigour and glee in your scribe, and so the next morning whilst administering a saxophone lesson to young Ben from Radlett, I was experiencing the exact diametric opposite of vigour, and especially glee. Ben was trying his best, but each note felt like a breeze block being dropped on my head from a great height. I waited all day to for the fog to lift, and for someone to remove the invisible G-clamp from the skull, but to no avail. Knowing that I had a very heavy Sunday, I gave in and wrote the rest of the day off and retired to the relative comfort of the dressing gown and my Dambusters DVD. It’s official, I’m old.

While Friday was the day of Food and Drink, Sunday was the day of Toil. I had to report for duty at Ronnie’s at 11.30 am to take Big Band In A Day. Big Band In A Day is the outreach thing they have there, in which young developing musicians can come for a day’s instruction at the club in the ways of the Big Band, receive a free plate of chicken and chips, and then do a short set at around 7pm to all the adoring mums and dads. They also get a certificate for the back of the door of the downstairs lav. Even though I had a reasonably functioning nervous system, and a mouth than no longer felt that it had been lined with the sheet of newspaper from the bottom of the cage of a McCaw, it was still like a symphonic version of Ben, but with drums and amplifiers thrown in, and for four hours on the trot. I firmly believe that in order to get such an ensemble to bond together, the energy has to come straight from the director, who in this case was me. Therefore, it represents a challenge in that one is playing a gigantic version of Just A Minute, with no hesitation, repetition or deviation for 240 minutes with as much vocal volume as can be sustained.

I also insist that the students try and play at a realistic volume for a big band. This is normally way way louder than anything they have come across before, and the way to get them to come in loud confident and tight is to shout, rather than speak, the count-in. As I try my best to make them all come in exactly together, which is normally way way more together than anything they have come across before, this results in a lot of false starts, and therefore a lot of shouting. So you can see that by the end of their rehearsals at 4pm, I’m knackered. No hammock time for me though, because 4-6.30 was spent rehearsing the evening’s show, and then at 7 we presented the youth big band. And then it was our show. When I got back to The Gables at gone midnight, I’d had it. I’m not sure if I’d completely recovered from Gold Mine Friday anyway, but when I woke up on Monday I could hardly move. Dressing Gown and Dambusters DVD all day for me. It’s official, I’m old, and the rule would now seem to be that if a day consists of anything more strenuous than sitting down and drinking tea, I’ll need a clear day off afterwards.

A huge victory occurred for the team on Thursday. Her Indoors is a woman of admirable social conscience, and so she’d got a huge fundraising event for the cancer research lab at the local hospital together in the Watersmeet Theatre in Rickmansworth. Loads of folk had donated their services, so we were able to field a show involving the Ronnie Scotts’ Jazz Orchestra, Her Indoors, Ray Gelato, Matt Ford and Clare Teal. And all for free. The do was a huge success- the theatre management told us that we could have filled the room twice, there had been so much interest. The crowd was responsive, and the band and all the turns did a great job. Interestingly, the dynamic in the band was incredibly positive. Because everybody had chosen to be there for no fee, everybody mucked in. I’ve rarely seen a better atmosphere at a rehearsal or backstage- with the dough taken out of the picture entirely, no-one could feel hard done by. It was an amazing thing. The medics from the unit were amazed too, and took all the boys and girls in the band out for an inevitable curry afterwards. The venue was the Rasal in Rickmansworth- should you ever be up that way, give the tandoori lamb chops a go- and a vast amount of beer and nosh ensued. It’s amazing what you can get on the National Health.

Knowing my limits as an official old person, I positioned myself in the dressing gown with the Dambusters DVD lined up first thing on Friday morning, and let events take their course. It’s Saturday morning now, and I’m nearly back to feeling as good as I did just before Gold Mine Friday kicked off.

It is official- I am old. I got up early to write this, as at twenty past nine this morning I will become 49 years old. It is currently twenty to, which makes me a mere whippersnapper at 48.9999. For my birthday treat, Her Indoors is allowing me to take her to the Fleet Air Arm museum down in Yeovilton, where she will endure me for about three hours at my most demandingly tedious. She’s a great sport- she’ll pretend to be interested as I bang on about such riveting topics as the different marks of Fairey Firefly, or even, now I think of it, riveting. I’ve dangled a carrot though, with a stay in a spa hotel down that way for tonight, and then it’s on to Weston Super Mare tomorrow for a date with the fabulous Kevin Fitzsimmons. Watch out for pictures of inevitable chippy teas soon!