Camping and Clapton

“We’re going camping for the weekend!” Alison had announced a week or two ago.  So I did have some warning, but nothing quite prepared me.  Alison and Sebastian collected me from the City Airport in the Passat Estate, which was packed to the gunnels with all manner of camping equipment, and some equipment not conventionally associated with camping.  Like king size duvets, for example.  “I don’t really do camping,” my sister explained.  There was barely room for my luggage.  I was glad I had decided to travel light.
Camping on the south coast of England is somewhat different to my previous camping expeditions in Scotland and Ireland.  The ground, not to mention the air, is somehow drier and warmer.  After a pleasant lunch of baguettes and pork pies, Angela and I set to work on putting up the tent, while Alison blew up the airbeds and made a cafetière of coffee.
Later I poked my head into the tent to find my sister kitting out the beds with organic Egyptian cotton sheets.  Like she says, she doesn’t really do camping.
But we all did it, and survived.  Despite a decent thunderstorm threatening to rip the tent away from its moorings in the early hours of Monday morning, apparently.  I was oblivious to it all.  Ah, the value of good earplugs.
We retreated back to London yesterday, once the tent had dried out a bit.  I showered and changed and shot straight out again.  I had tickets for Eric Clapton, and I didn’t want to be late.  I wasn’t, as it turned out, and it was a great night.  I was there with my friend Iain, who also accompanied me to see Clapton this time last year, in Hyde Park.  This time round, it all felt a little more… civilised… which was, I suppose, entirely reasonable and to be expected given that it was in the Royal Albert Hall.  A magnificent venue, and we had brilliant seats, but all in all I preferred last year.  The band was slightly different this time, Doyle Bramhall II having been replaced by Andy Fairweather-Low, who was curiously subdued throughout, only getting a solo spot once, towards the very end.  In my experience, a band feeds off its audience to a large extent, and with a crowd of well-behaved mostly forty-to-sixty-somethings, all sitting down, as compared with last year’s younger, sunshine-and-alcohol-fuelled crowd, nothing was going to get set alight.  And with Clapton on the seventh night of an eleven night stint, I suppose the band were going to be on auto-pilot to a certain extent anyway.  ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ was certainly an unwelcome addition to the set-list from where I was sitting, and the acoustic version of ‘Layla’, while great in its own right, is not quite as, um, electric as the original.  Anyway, it was a good experience, and I’m glad I was there.
Today was a chance to recharge the batteries a little, although I ventured into the East End in the afternoon.  Got a little lost, and found myself passing the end of St Mary Axe, a street which houses the organisation that regulates my profession.  I considered popping up to their offices to see if any of their staff were doing enough work to merit our scandalous retention fee, but opted to try and find a record shop instead.  I ended up in a hip coffee shop on Brick Lane.
“Black coffee, please.”
“Americano or filter?”
The girl hesitated as her eyes fixed on my t-shirt.
“Can I read your t-shirt?”
The strap of my man-bag was obscuring the anti-Starbucks logo.  She was clearly concerned that it was an actual Starbucks t-shirt I was wearing.  I moved the strap.
“Oh, that’s cool.  We like that.”  Her colleague behind the counter chuckled.
Phew.  I was relieved that I was considered ok to drink coffee there.  I glanced up at the board on the wall above the counter to discover  “Chav Coffee (filter)” in the list of drinks available. Phew, again.  I settled down at a table with a left-behind copy of the Guardian, and tried to look nonchalant.
Tomorrow sees my second visit to a renowned London arena in three days. This time it’s Lord’s, for a Twenty20 thrash between Middlesex and Kent, where the newly-installed floodlights at the home of cricket are set to be used for the first time.  And I get to catch up with another old friend.  This holiday lark is just the thing.

Summer of Hope

“What’s the time?” asked Wiseman, nibbling the last morsel on his plate.

“Seven thirty” I replied, and grimaced. “Could totally have made the 7.30 showing.”

He nodded.

“Shops shut at eight, though,” I said. “Could go for a browse?”

We were having dinner in Ocean Terminal, last Saturday evening. Cricket had been cancelled due to the inclement Scottish weather, and Wiseman and I had landed upon a film that both of us would conceivably enjoy (Star Trek). We had bought tickets for the 8.30 showing to allow us plenty of time to eat, but the eating hadn’t taken us as long as we thought it might. We paid the bill and headed off for a mosey around the shops. They were all shut, obviously. Apart from Starbucks. We decided to do laps of the shopping centre instead. Is it not about time Starbucks went bust? Do people not forgo their overpriced cups of bitter-tasting ridiculously-named coffee in a recession? Apparently not.

I found myself at the doctor’s last week. Rushing in, slightly late, I made use of their hi-tech touchscreen self-check-in system, and took a seat in the waiting room. I resisted the seductive delights of Trout & Salmon magazine, and pondered instead on who thought it would be a good idea to install a touchscreen in a GP practice. Probably got swine flu now.

Today is Saturday again, and I would be playing cricket, but am en route to London for a week’s holiday. Have had an utterly seamless journey so far, no doubt due at least in part to having chosen to fly BA rather than easyjet. No queues at check-in, no mad scrum to get on the plane, no paying for your food on the flight (puréed breakfast comes as part of the package). Love it.

Sitting on the plane, looking out at England’s green and pleasant land bathed in sunshine, the summer is stretching out in front of me, full of optimism. Buoyed by a decent batting performance for the Holy Cross 3rd XI in my opening game, I’m actually looking forward to the forthcoming season. That’s if I can get my availability and a sunny day to coincide. The British and Irish Lions are about to depart for an eagerly-anticipated tour to South Africa, and the Aussies arrive soon for the Ashes. It’s beginning to bug me (now, four years on) that Sky have the exclusive rights to England’s home Test matches. Scandalous. With this kind of summer ahead, it would almost be worth getting Sky myself. Oh, and a TV.

Maybe not. My Sky Sports-subscribed friends have been warned…