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 ¬†The band was slightly different this time, Doyle Bramhall II having been replaced by Andy Fairweather-Low, who was curiously subdued throughout, only getting a solo spot once, towards the very end.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

Oh Mary, this London’s a wonderful sight

Oh, Mary, this London’s a wonderful sight,
With people all working by day and by night.
Sure they don’t sow potatoes, nor barley, nor wheat,
But there’s gangs of them digging for gold in the street.
At least when I asked them that’s what I was told,
So I just took a hand at this digging for gold,
But for all that I found there I might as well be
Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

(Percy French, 1896)

Friday last, I found myself in London for the day, courtesy of my work. I had the luxury of travelling down by train, in first class, which was very pleasant. Free tea and biscuits only takes you so far, however, so just outside York I headed for the restaurant car. One lucky and unsuspecting lady got a high-definition close-up of me on the way, as the train rounded a bend suddenly and I lurched into her lap. I muttered my apologies and carried on without looking back to see what her partner had made of our close encounter. In the restaurant a nice Aussie waitress took my order for breakfast.

“How would you like your eggs done, sir?”

Unprepared for such a question outside of the USA, I was just trying to remember how I liked my eggs done (Over easy, as I recall), when she clarified the options.

“Fried or poached?”

Ah. How naive I was.

Today sees me in London again, for the weekend this time, at the beginning of a holiday. I have never been desperately fond of London, finding it intimidatingly big, dirty and generally unfriendly. But it does have rather a lot going for it, too. Quite apart from the obvious (my sister lives there with her partner, and my mischievous bundle of a niece), there’s always plenty of things happening. And it’s noticeably several degrees warmer than Edinburgh. On Saturday I spent the day in Hyde Park, at a Hard Rock Caf√©-sponsored event, soaking up the sun, Sheryl Crow, John Mayer and Eric Clapton.

Sheryl Crow was great, John Mayer, one of my principal reasons for going, was excellent, although restricted a little by only getting a 45 minute set, and Clapton was simply awesome. The sequence which closed the show (prior to the encore) was Wonderful Tonight – Layla – Cocaine, with barely a pause for a breath. The other guitarist in Clapton’s band was a left-handed wizard called Doyle Bramhall II whose guitar strings were in the wrong order. My eagle-eyed festival companion Iain noticed this. Mr Bramhall clearly learnt to play on an upside down right-handed guitar without restringing it. Genius. Either that or he has so completely mastered the conventionally-strung guitar that he got bored and reversed the string order to give himself a challenge.

So my sojourn in London is almost over. In addition to the Hyde Park show I had the privilege of worshipping at Soul Survivor yesterday morning, and what’s more, watching the afore-mentioned Eagle-eyed Iain playing bass there for the first time. As far as I could tell he had all the strings in the right order. There’s been two barbeques in one day, and the usual quality time with little Maggie, lying on our backs in the garden, considering the sky and philosophising. And kicking our legs in the air, which seems quite popular.

But that’s my digging for gold in London over for now. I’m off to where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea, to see if Mr French had it right after all…