Not to be outdone by H.M. the Queen, Her Indoors has had an official birthday this year, alongside the actual one. The actual one took place some weeks ago here at The Gables, and was a low key do, involving a great deal of Marks and Spencer’s macaroni cheese, chocolate éclairs a boxed set of 1980’s Coronation Street, and not a great deal of moving about. By contrast, Her Indoors’ official birthday celebration was something of a Mardi Gras, and ground to a start in the early evening of last Friday.
Being a Signficant Anniversary, she had had it in mind that a Do of appropriate proportions was the thing, and being of good Lancashire stock, she felt that she’d like to create a little bit of Wigan right here in the Home Counties. More specifically, the Wigan in question was to be the one from 1986. In order to achieve this, certain criteria had to be fulfilled-
- Venue needs to look like a Labour Club
- Late Bar
- Brown Buffet
- Dance Floor
- Live Music
- Nice Lavs
- Room for about 60 people
- Staggering Distance from The Gables
You can understand that the run-up to this went on for months, and many options were investigated and ultimately rejected. A bold scheme to use The Gables themselves was looked into, involving several miles of purple Lametta, a marquee and a £30 Iceland voucher, but all came to naught. Things were getting a bit dicey- had this been a ball achingly cheap reality TV show entitled “Festa or Fiasco-When Party Plans Go Wrong” there would have been grainy slow motion images of Her Indoors and I on the bridge of The Volvo driving round the neighbourhood looking for venues, terse moments thumbing through the Yellow Pages, passing the local paper back and forth and a spot of storming out into the garden doing the international gesture of desperation, while all the while the voice-over would be coming out with buzz-words like “Party in Peril”, “Big Day In Tatters”, “How can they survive from here”, “If this party doesn’t go ahead, will it be the end of the road for them too?” and “Malaria risk”, all accompanied by a bearded young man called Giles or Ben back at the studio trying to make a threatening underscore on his keyboard on a budget of 9p. Karma went in our favour at the eleventh hour, however, on polling day at the local council elections.
Our local polling station was up a little alleyway nary two hundred yards from the front gate of The Gables, and was a small but tidy 1970’s prefab labelled “South Oxhey Community Centre”. Within, there was a largish room containing all the polling station paraphernalia to form the precision axis upon which the finely milled cogs of the engine of democracy runs in our modern age. You know- a painter’s trestle table, a big box of primary coloured plastic toys and an inflatable triceratops for when the room is used for playgroup and a couple of booths made out of plywood, all under the secure and ever watchful eye of two old birds and a chap with a rosette on. If a riot were to break out, I guess that the mob could be quelled by being pelted with Peppa Pigs. Or something. Anyway, whilst Her Indoors and I were actively involving ourselves in the process of local government, we heard unexpected noises of clinking glasses and general glee emanating from the next room along, and peeking through the door at the end of the room, we saw a magnificent little bar, all adorned with mock teak and fairy lights, and doing a roaring trade into the bargain. A brief chat with Marion behind the bar later, and we’d found our venue!
Giles back in the studio could switch from minor to major and the producers could be relieved that this week’s episode of Festa Or Fiasco could be broadcast as a Feelgood triumph. Marion also had the number of a local caterer called Jim who could provide the required brown buffet, mysteriously for rather less than it would cost you to buy it all yourself, Her Indoors went to poundland and spent tens of pounds on decorations, her chum Emily brought the disco lights and I came up with the idea of having the live music from the Bob Holloway Duo. All ingredients present and correct.
Music at a musicians’ party is always an odd one to fix. Some people like to have everyone get up and play who wants to, but this often ends in the musical equivalent of a drunken chat propped up at the bar. Also, having been in that situation myself a few times, if you are at a do as a guest but are also invited to play, you invariably end up being a rubbish guest and a duff player. Then again, for the chaps faced with the task of entertaining a bunch of musicians with, er, music, there is the question of what to play- should it be clever stuff with lots of flashy notes, or things you’d play for anyone? You can end up with versions of Valerie here with the middle bit from A Love Supreme, if you let this sort of thing run unchecked. Far better to engage chaps on a proper basis and have them do a proper job, and no-one I know does a more proper job than Bob, seen in the picture here with his mate Terry on drums.Bob is old-school, and clearly its undefeated champion. With one foot on the master volume, the other, shoe off, darting around the bass pedals, a separate keyboard in each hand and a vocal mike on the go, very little of Bob’s being is left unused in the act of creating his art. Given this, it is quite remarkable that when I’ve been on jobs with him, people come up to him from the dance and start trying to bark requests down his ear. I’m quite surprised that he hasn’t imploded by now. Leading off the dancing with a magnificent rendition of “A Man And A Woman” and then getting stuck straight in to a fifteen minute Beatles medley, Bob had us all on the floor for hours.
In other parts of the building, the Brown Buffet had been unveiled and was rightly receiving the critical acclaim it so richly deserved. Two vast pies formed the centrepiece, in the proper sequence of one meat, one meat and potato, shouting “Wigan” to even the most casual observer. Being of orthodox school pie oblong construction, each offered the full gamut of crust texture from black and crunchy to golden brown and moist with the mysterious saggy white bit underneath. Flanked on either side was a vast expanse of hot pot, and two huge catering pots filled to the brim with home made curry brought up the rear. On top of this there were enough French sticks to keep Beau Geste and his mates happy for a week, and a cheeseboard which read like the A-Z at the dairy counter at Costco. Which, of course, it probably was. It was a work of art- right down to the paper plates and bowls arranged in the number 40 to chime in with the theme of the night. I’m normally a fiend for Buffets, as my Ma brought me up with the good old ethos that somehow if I finished my dinner, I’d save a starving African village, but as I was mainly in the grips of Terpsichore, flailing helplessly as I was in the magma of hot rhythm emanating from the Bob Holloway duo, I stuck to a portion of steak pie drowned in curry. It was brilliant. It was also plentiful- at the end of the night there was enough left that if my Ma’s theory about Third World famine was correct, Her Indoors’ 40th would be high on the agenda at the upcoming Oxfam conference.
At the after party party, back here at the Gables, things wound down in a very genteel manner, with the last bit of drunken rubbish being spoken at around 4.30 a.m. As I had the impressionable young of Hertfordshire to teach the next morning, I’d retired at the positively crepuscular hour of 3, so as not to smell too much of booze and general rotting matter whilst croakily explaining a melodic minor scale to a nipper in return for folding money. Before that, the Men of the group had made a visit to the Shed in order to visit the ongoing work that is The Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers diorama. In its way, it was curiously Victorian, with the chaps withdrawing and the ladies still at table, near the chocolate. I took the opportunity to drunkenly bang on about the travesty of the TSR 2. to a captive audience. I think I got away with it.
There had been no fights, no crying and not too much sick. Perhaps we’re all getting older.