John Mayer and Costa Coffee

As previously confessed, I’m a big fan of John Mayer. So when a friend said he’d been on Jonathan Ross’ Radio 2 show a few Saturday mornings ago, I fired up the iPlayer with a certain amount of anticipation/apprehension. Meeting your heroes, it’s said, can be a disappointing experience. I find that even listening to your heroes on the radio, or seeing them in concert, has a certain amount of risk attached to it – how can you fail to be disappointed? Your expectations are so high. When I saw JM in Hyde Park a few years back, I was disappointed, because he didn’t set anything alight (I mean metaphorically. Although it’s true to say that he didn’t physically set anything alight either, this didn’t disappoint me). I consoled myself in the knowledge that he only had a 45 minute set, which didn’t allow him to express himself fully. And this was vindicated by his Hammersmith Apollo gig a few weeks ago, when he torched the place. Metaphorically, of course.
Anyway, back to the radio show. I’ve never found Jonathan Ross compelling listening, not because he’s not funny, because he usually is (IMHO), and not because he gets paid ridiculous amounts of money, because I don’t hold that against him. I find his show irritating in the extreme because there’s this bloke who sits in with him every time (possibly his producer) and laughs at everything he says. Everything. In a nauseating, sycophantic kind of way. Drives me crazy. Or at least it would, if I listened more.
I steeled myself for the sycophant, and tuned in. However, it was Ross himself who wound me up early on by first of all introducing the guitarist JM brought along to play live (Robbie McIntosh) as “his (Mayer’s) dad”, and then proceeding to either forget, or pretend to forget his name, and make up new ones for him every time he referred to him. Serious lack of respect for a fine musician. He then confessed that he knew of Mayer only through his appearances in gossip mags and the like, and expressed surprise when it transpired that he really could play guitar. Which is, quite frankly, lazy. Any small amount of research would have revealed that Mayer has played guitar with Buddy Guy, BB King, and Herbie Hancock. Oh, and Eric Clapton. And that he’s done stand-up, and writes well too. And he features heavily on my iPod. But I still don’t like his new album. Only two songs of any worth, I reckon. Neither of which he played at the Apollo, naturally.
I created an ‘evening’ playlist a few years back, containing songs of a more, um, reflective nature. Melancholy, some might say, and I wouldn’t contradict them. It’s my favourite playlist, by some distance. Wiseman’s response to my musical taste is usually a despairing kind of snort when yet another miserable track comes on the car stereo. On one occasion, I was driving Nasty Jen somewhere, and as Bill Withers wailed “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,” I realised I was listening to the melancholy stuff. Jen is a teeny-bopper really, and should know better at her age, but I thought I would humour her and switch to my ‘pop’ playlist, which contains songs of a generally more upbeat nature. After a few seconds delay while the iPod found the new playlist, the opening track kicked in.
“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone…” lamented Bill, again. I resolved to get some happier music on my iPod.
On a more recent occasion, Wiseman and I found ourselves listening to some tunes from the 70s on the car radio. Wiseman took great delight in identifying, usually incorrectly, the year of each track from these, his formative years. Sometimes he has even been heard to sing along to seventies tunes. It’s quite a sonic experience.
The car radio has been employed more often of late, since I neglected to remove my iPod from the seat pocket in front on arrival in Geneva last month. The airline was Jet2, and to anyone flying with Jet2 in the future, I would strongly encourage you to follow their advice and take all your personal belongings with you, as contact with said airline afterwards can prove a touch elusive. All “post-flight communication must be in writing” (that’s letters, rather than emails) and so far they have failed to acknowledge either of mine. Which rather stymies my as yet unborn insurance claim, unfortunately.
After lunch today I made the trip to Arbroath to see a client. Having plugged the postcodes into Google maps, China’s least favourite internet company advised me it would take 1hr 50 mins. For some reason I read this as 1hr 30 mins. Tapping the details into my sat nav as I prepared to leave, 90 minutes before the appointment, I was somewhat startled to note that it was predicting a journey time of 2 hrs 13 mins. I made haste for the M90. Once over the bridge, I encountered another problem. My body sometimes thinks it’s somewhere in the south of France, or Spain, and takes an involuntary siesta shortly after lunch. I was falling asleep at the wheel. This is never a good thing, I find, and so I have a couple of strategies to combat it. One is to pull over and close my eyes for forty winks (I find five minutes almost invariably does the trick); the second is to stop for a coffee, or any sort of break. I had time for neither, but having pondered the pros and cons extensively in the past, I have arrived at what I believe is a rather sensible conclusion. No matter how late you end up being for your appointment, and possibly all your appointments for the rest of the day, and whatever you were planning to do in the evening, annoying and stressful though this can be, it’s still better than killing people, possibly including yourself.
So I stopped at the Kinross services, and ordered a double espresso at the Costa outlet. Now, Costa. They’re not quite Starbucks, and their coffee certainly tastes better to me. But I don’t really like them either. They’re “Italian about coffee”, or so they claim. Now, I’ve been to Italy, once. I stayed in Milan for a week with my good friend Slid. It was June, it was hot, and humid. I remember sitting in a park with Slid watching some locals play football. Had it not been so hot, we might well have taken them on and shown them a thing or two. But it was very hot. They were playing in a classically slow, Italian style. It struck me that in these temperatures and humidity, there was no other way to play. And I immediately made a connection between the climate and the style of play: Italy and Spain – slow and languid so as not to get hot and tired too quickly, Scotland – fast and frenetic so as not to get cold by standing around in Baltic temperatures. It all made, possibly perfect sense. In that sense, Costa are very Italian. They are chuffin’ slow. Far too slow when you’re running late for an appointment in Arbroath. I lost eight minutes in the service station, although admittedly I had to take a pee as well.
Apart from the speed of service, I find nothing about Costa remotely Italian. Every time I had a coffee in Italy it was outstanding, and it wasn’t supplied by a chain, in an enormous bowl of a cup whose diameter is so great that the coffee sometimes dribbles down the sides of your chin. But perhaps that’s just me.
I was late for my appointment. And the next one. And my evening ‘appointment’ back in Edinburgh. But nobody seemed to mind too much. And what’s more, I’m still alive!

No delays when you need them

After a consecutive series of delayed flights over the last week, the least I might have expected was for tonight’s flight back to Edinburgh to be shunted back, at least a little. Which would have been useful, as a points malfunction at Stratford had left me scrambling onto an overcrowded bus in order to complete my ‘rail’ journey to the epicentre of the 2012 Olympics, from where I still had to take a tube and the DLR to get to the City Airport. I hadn’t managed to get on the first bus, due to the panic instilled in my fellow travellers by being denied their timely arrival into Stratford, and the scrum that ensued.
Finally made it to check-in, with the screen showing my flight as boarding, and on to security, which had the longest queues I’ve seen there. Naturally, I joined the slowest-moving one, which is a natural gift of mine, and then forgot to take a pen out of my trouser pocket, which triggered the scanner. At which point I had to remove my shoes, belt, and all pocket contents before undergoing what amounted to a full-body grope. And an electronic sweep-down which seemed convinced that I had something metallic somewhere very personal. I know privacy campaigners are exercised by the prospect of the new X-ray scanners which display an image of you in disturbing detail through your clothing, but personally I think that’s preferable to the physical invasion of your dignity as it currently stands.
By the time I had been certified a non-terrorist, the screen was displaying ‘Gate closed’ beside my flight. Undeterred, knowing my hold baggage had gone ahead of me, I pressed on, almost breaking into a run at times despite flapping shoelaces, and less-than-secure trousers, having had no time to reinstate my belt to its rightful place.
Escorted individually to the steps of the plane by a very kind and patient member of the BA ground crew, I finally made it on to the flight ten minutes before it was due to take off.
I had eschewed the opportunity to change my seat during online check-in earlier, since having done this on the way down and yet still failed in my attempt to secure a seat with no-one beside me. Miserably. I was sat beside an absolute bear of a man. I took my seat and tried to make myself comfortable. The Bear was working his way through a puzzle book, and I could feel the pressure as I reached the crossword in the Guardian, and folded it over, in a way which suggested I had every confidence of being able to solve one or two of the clues. And what do you know, I solved 1 Across instantly. Instantly, I say. And then had a lucky run with four more in a row (in a row, I say) later on. Quite satisfied with myself, I put the paper away and re-opened Mr Trescothick’s autobiography.
The City Airport being principally used by, um, City types and pink-sweater-clad students at the London School of Economics, I was, by some distance, the scruffiest person on the flight. I love the City Airport, for its proximity to my sister’s house (points failures at Stratford notwithstanding), and its spectacular flight path in and out over the centre of London. But I can’t help but feel it wasn’t made with the likes of me in mind. Visiting the cash machine in the terminal on Monday I noticed that on selecting ‘cash withdrawal’ the amounts assigned to the screen-side buttons started at £100 and increased in multiples thereof. I selected ‘Other Amount’. On plugging into the free LCY wi-fi I was presented with a welcome screen which requested the usual user info – name, email, postcode etc. And two drop-down boxes in which I was to state my industry and occupation. The default suggested for industry was ‘Accounting’, and for occupation was ‘Board of Directors’. I didn’t even satisfy the default age range (18-24).
Sigh. At least the John Mayer gig was brilliant, and worth the travelling and hassle. My ears were ringing for some time after getting home, not so much from the music as the audience. I had commented on how many teenage girls were present to my gig companion, affectionately known as The Maestro. He pointed out that girls which looked like teenagers to me were probably 25. I thanked him for his observation. The 25-yr-old girls made a heck of a racket when JM’s band arrived on stage, but managed to ratchet it up even further when the man himself appeared. And they kept it up for most of the gig. In fairness, he played a great set, despite him not playing my favourite songs (why do artists do that… is it just me?), memorably throwing a bit of the Jackson 5 into the mix at one point. The Maestro was playing in his own gig the following night, and I went along to watch him. Was greatly pleased to see that I wasn’t the sole target of his youthful insolence, as he publicly heckled the singer/guitarist he was playing for.
I say ‘youthful’, but actually he’s getting on a bit himself. As is Maggie, 3 years old today, and terribly excited about it. I deferred my present until later in the year, as she has quite a few to be getting on with, and anyway, junior cricket sets cannot be practically demonstrated in January. Those delights will have to wait.
Now back in Edinburgh for the foreseeable, I find myself experiencing a slight return to the post-holiday blues which hit me hard on Sunday night. A reappearance on the slopes before the ski and cricket seasons crossfade, while financially daunting, seems like a great idea right now…

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 Café-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…