“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 The band was slightly different this time, Doyle Bramhall II having been replaced by Andy Fairweather-Low, who was curiously subdued throughout, only getting a solo spot once, towards the very end.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.