2014? 2014? That’s not the name of a year, it’s a science fiction novel. Back in the brown and orange gooey world of the early 1970’s the establishment was promising a bright and sparkling world of atomic-powered monorails, moving walkways, foil catsuits for all and golf courses on the moon. As I look out of the window this morning of my writing studio, or kitchen, here at The Gables, I can see pylons, and glowering on the horizon like the diametric opposite of Wordsworth’s host of daffs, the concrete brutality that is Watford Gen. So no change much from 1974. I guess the money ran out, or more likely it got spent on layers of middle management. There are no call centres in Star Trek.
The back end of 2013 was a busy time. Christmas for Her Indoors and me took place in the grand festive city of Wigan, which is in the north. I actually managed to find a picture of Wigan town centre on Christmas eve for you on the net- be amazed at how festive and jolly it looks!
Our plan was to hook up with her folks on xmas eve, have a quick brew, and then retire to the splendour of the Wigan Oak hotel to prepare for an evening out in the yuletide capital of Britain, leaving us in good form for the full on turkey dinner at Uncle Jonathan’s on the main day. Although you probably can’t make it out from the picture above, down there in the upper left of the frame is one of those fabulous red-brick and tiled Victorian boozers which so characterise the North-West. Walking past it on our way from the hotel to the Guantanamo Bay (I think) Tapas Bar and restaurant, we noticed that it was lit up inside as brightly as a chemical research laboratory-there were enough bare fluorescent tubes in there chucking out such a volume of light as to make the place visible from lower orbit. Getting a little closer, a regular thumping was emitting from the building, as if the Ghost Of Christmas Past had decided to get all the old mills going again. Closer still, and it turned out that the sound was emanating from a karaoke machine, and in fact was the backing track for “I’m Every Woman”. Belting out the vocal part out without a hint of irony was a six foot two drag queen in full feather boa, orange sequinned frock, stubble, fishnets, Dolly Parton wig and red stilettos large enough to resemble invasion barges. His audience comprised six pensioners sat neatly in a row in their best going out gear, nodding along benignly, as if they were at a Sunday afternoon recital by Reginald Dixon. That’s what Wigan’s like, folks- it’s a magic place.
Christmas day itself went extremely well. The highlight was a game of “Who Am I”. Not the usual one, you understand, which occurs the morning after a night on the Vodka and Night Nurse, usually on an unfamiliar sofa, but the old parlour game where there are two teams. One member of one team decides to take on a secret identity, and the opposing team has twenty questions with a yes or no answer to guess who it is. It was in one of the rounds of this game that Her Indoors’ grandma, or Grandma Indoors completely stole the show. Funnily enough, I was in the chair and I’d decided that my secret identity was Mr. Spock. The opposition had got it out of me that I was male, currently alive, and a fictional character. Based on this evidence, Grandma Indoors piped up with “I’ve got it!”. Heads turned, the suspense in the room tautened and we waited. “Nelson Mandela.” Just for a second, we were the Royle Family xmas special. Boxing day came and went, with the traditional cold meat buffet and Scalextric tournament here at the Gables, and the day after it was off down to my folks for the home counties version of xmas. Poignant this year- my old dad is suffering badly from motor neurone disease but he managed to get it together enough to sit at table with us and eat a bit at dinner time. I was really proud of him, especially as it is absolutely obvious that on top of it all, he really hates us all seeing him in that state. My dad is a brave and good man.
The overriding theme of the back end of this year has been one of toil. The crest of the toil tsunami finally crashed onto the headlands for the final showdown last Sunday when seven musicians, a gospel choir and I met at Heathrow at horrid o’clock in the morning to go to Monaco, a place globally assosciated with glamour, leisure and fun. For me, it is generally associated with stress, toil, curved balls from the client and enough emails to put the main NORAD computer into meltdown. In this case, we were there to put together an hour-long new years’ eve cabaret with the fabulous Matt Lewis, premier exponent of the art from Las Vegas. Here he is-
Looks like Elvis, sounds exactly like Elvis, but most chillingly of all, moves just like Elvis. Sat on the horn section riser as I was, it was easy to sell myself the lie that I was actually working for the man himself. That end of it was all marvellous. In order to stitch the show together though, with the dancing girls, eight piece gospel choir, hydraulically moving stage, lighting effects and VT projections, we ended up rehearsing every hour God sent. It was exhausting, folks. On the subject of God though, an interesting thing happened with backing singer Dave’s iPad. Like all singers, Dave is a furious facebooker, so as a result there is always photography on the go. Multiply all this by the amount of singers (in this case eight) and it is more or less possible to construct a flickbook of the whole trip. You even have to watch out in the breaks when nipping off to address the thunderbox, just in case. At one quiet moment in the rehearsal, when the crew were setting the lights, trumpeter Jon Scott started playing a version of Stardust. It was lovely, and the rest of us all turned to listen. Dave decided to capture the moment. By a freak of timing and lighting, and eerily appropriate for the Nativity time of year, Jon comes out looking like the Archangel Gabriel-
By contrast to the thirty-six hours of graft which preceeded it, the fifty-four minutes of the actual gig went quickly and smoothly. Everyone was great, to the extent that at the high points in the show, with the drums flailing, the choir raising the roof, the horns blasting, the dancers kicking and Matt Elvising at full tilt, the audience of billionaires managed to muster up a mild ripple of applause. First time since 1953, apparently. To express their thanks, the venue kindly laid on a big party for us backstage after the show. It was smashing, and in keeping with the Great Law Of Touring, where the earliness of the flight home is in direct proportion to the amount and lateness of free booze on offer, we got into our beds at around 4.30 a.m, just in time for the coach call to get to Nice airport at 7. Trombonist Barney Dickenson, being a trendy sort of chap, took this trendy selfie of me and him at the departure lounge, playing the other kind of “Who Am I?”.
I’m shutting up shop for a week now, so there will be tales of the Shed and the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers Diorama next time! Thanks for tuning in.