Visions of Splat!

For the second time in under a year, I thought that I’d killed Charlie this afternoon.

 

The first time was when he keeled over like a punch drunk boxer on a hot day last year. I’d had him chasing balls and sticks around the park at the back of the house. He’d tried to walk and couldn’t. He had overheated and his poor little legs wouldn’t work. Having never had a pet I didn’t know that he did this occasionally. I carried him home only to get there and for him to run about the house like a loon.

 

Today was different. We’d been out walking Charlie around Southgate playing fields and the Hawth woods. We were walking parallel to Southgate Avenue, and Charlie had been chasing the ball all afternoon. I threw it down the path in front of us as normal. Only it didn’t quite go as planned.

 

The ball hit a dustbin by the side of the path, and being a circular bin it shot off at an angle. The angle happened to be straight down the slope and path that led to Southgate Avenue. Charlie didn’t care and carried on chasing it. We both shouted for Charlie to stop, and thankfully he did, just at the point where the path disappeared behind the hedge.

 

When we got to the path we could see the ball sat in the middle of the road. Well for a split second we could. Just before the number 10 bus ran it over and it disappeared up the road at thirty miles an hour.

 

I had visions of that being Charlie on the road. Thankfully it wasn’t, but it was enough to give us both palpitations.

Finished

I finished writing my second book today. When I typed the last word, it felt great. Then I made sure I saved the thing. Not once, or even twice, I must have hit that little save icon at the top of the screen half a dozen times,

 

Then I looked at the word count. Over 101,000 words. Over the last ten months at various intervals, whilst going to the writing group, writing other short stories and travelogues. Whilst working full time, and doing countless other things, I’ve managed to write an entire book.

 

In fact, it’s not just the single book, it’s the fact that there is plot and a plan for two other books to make it a trilogy. Granted it won’t be Star Wars, or Lord of The Rings, but if you had told me 18 months ago I would have two complete novels written, I would have laughed in your face.

 

The thing for this one is that it started out life as a Drabble – a 100-word piece of fiction. There was no plan to do anything else with it. But something about those 100 words demanded more from me, and so I started to write.

 

Of course, now that I have finished writing it, it doesn’t mean that’s the end of the journey. The first book I wrote tells me that. I edited that one four times, I’ve had various people read it for me and point out errors and corrections needed. That piece of work is now in the state of trying to see if I can get it published. No easy feat. That can take longer than writing the book in the first place. Though if it takes the fifteen years from first words written in an old edition of Surerandomality to completion, I’ll probably be dead before it is published.

 

I’m going to leave book two for a few weeks before I look to start any serious editing on it. Enjoy the fact that it’s all out of my head and onto paper – or at least hard drive – and relax and do some other shorter pieces. I’ve got some volunteers lined up to read it already, they can take the rough draft if they want it before the summer is through though.

 

Then it will be on to the next one to write. All while trying to get the first two published via the old-school methods of finding an agent or publisher to work with. If that doesn’t work after a couple of years, then I’ll look at self-publishing.

 

 

Not A Record Year

Most people who know me know that I’ve always been slightly obsessed with music. I can’t remember the last time I went more than a week or so without buying music in one format or another. It may not have always been new music. I’ve spent countless hours wandering around charity shops, second hand stalls jumble sales and car boot sales looking for music.

 

Over the years I’ve built up massive collections twice, having to start from scratch in 2001. Since the dawn of mp3s I’ve rarely gone anywhere without an mp3 player, and have ran out of space on pc’s, laptops, and external drives on more than one occasion.

 

I’ve always been a vinyl junkie, and since vinyl has been taking off again over the last few years, when I’ve bought new music it’s normally been on vinyl. Most new releases tend to come with download codes, so I have the physical thing of beauty that is a vinyl LP, and the portability of listening to it whilst on the move. I’ve probably bought a new release every week.

 

However, this year it’s not been like that. I haven’t been in a record shop all year. I’ll qualify that by saying HMV isn’t really a record shop, and I’ve been in there a couple of times to get presents for people, but I haven’t bought anything for myself. I’ve not looked at the offerings in the supermarkets. Sainsburys, Asda, and even Aldi have vinyl selections, but I’ve been walking straight past. Charity shops have been getting short shrift as well. Crawley’s vast array of charity shops must have seen a substantial downturn in earnings so far this year. Not even Amazon has seen any musical action. I haven’t listened to a single thirty second track preview.

 

It got all the way through to week twelve of the year before I bought any music for myself. Even then it was only the ubiquitous Now That’s What I Call Music release. Number 99 in what is now a never-ending sequence. I have them all, either on Vinyl through to the early twenties, or then on CD from the twenties on. It’s more out of habit now than anything else. I may have bought it, but I’ve only listened to the first four or so tracks.

 

I still have a backlog of tracks to listen to from albums I bought at the back end of last year. I just don’t seem to have the time or inclination to listen to a lot of music. I rarely travel that much nowadays, the hours of having the iPod plugged in to block out the general public as I walked, bussed, or got the train anywhere has shrunk down to probably an hour or so a week.

 

The decks sit on top of the unit next to the sofa I sit on in the living room. Yet it barely gets used. Thousands of records adorn the units on the opposite wall, yet the sense of apathy around playing any of them seems to grow by the day. So much so that I’ve committed to having a thorough sort out and selling a number of them. Something else that I’m struggling to getting around to.

 

Part of me wonders if I’ve hit that stage where music is over for me. A constant companion over the years, especially as I had no television for several them, it has now drifted away into a casual background acquaintance that I barely seem to recognise. Or is it that this writing I now find myself doing has taken over? Do I avoid playing music and using my senses to accept incoming stimuli so that I can concentrate on outputting streams of consciousness instead? Or is it somewhere in between the two?

 

I hope it is not the end of my musical fascination, it would be a terrible way for it to end. Yet it is not something I can force, I think I’ll just have to wait it out and see if it does come back to me, hoping that the apathy will depart.

 

Perhaps once I’ve sold some of these records and CD’s that I’m sorting out, and had that kind of cathartic clear out, it will clear my mind out and it will all come back to me.

 

Listening to Now 99 too much isn’t necessarily going to help.

 

 

 

Mercury Calling – 3 days in Barcelona

There really isn’t any need for two 4.15’s in a day, yet here we were, both awake before the alarm went off. We could hear the rain hammering down outside through the slightly open window. It didn’t sound nice out there.

 

The taxi was a couple of minutes early, and we were actually ready when it arrived. The drive through the dark and the rain was made more interesting by the amount of standing water everywhere; it was amazing how much water had fallen since midnight.

 

BA had texted us to say they were offering free bag check for cabin bags, as they were expecting a very crowded cabin, so we dropped off the larger hand luggage we had. It was at this point that Helen got to know the destination for her birthday break – Barcelona.

 

We wound our way through the airport, following the yellow brick road through duty free, the only way through to airside now, forcing people to go past all the booze and smellies, as if it was an airport version of Ikea.

 

It was Nando’s for breakfast; Maccy D’s having now been banished from the south terminal at Gatwick as well, replaced by a Starbucks in the latest refurbishment. Woe betide anyone who wants to get a cheap breakfast or any form of food nowadays. The plus side of Nando’s for breakfast was that there was halloumi.

 

And then it’s off to the gate and straight on board the plane after picking up half a forest’s worth of free publications available at regular intervals on the walk to the gate. Everyone else was on board the plane in plenty of time and we pushed off from the gate early, it was time to escape from the rain.

 

Five minutes was all it took for the plane to break through the cloud cover and have us bathed in glorious sunlight. Bright enough sunlight to make it difficult to read. We landed more than half an hour before we were scheduled to, but lost some of that time due to a new and novel approach to unloading a plane. They unloaded the baggage from the hold before they bothered to get any steps up to let us off.

 

Pre-booking Barcelona transit tickets was a great idea, less than two minutes on the machine in the metro station at the airport and we had our three day passes and were ready to go. Perhaps Southern Trains should look at getting some of these machines for their stations. Even in Spanish, a language I can’t speak, it was still easier to use than the newly installed ones at Crawley and Three Bridges stations.

 

Their metro system rattles along at a great pace. We had to change lines a couple of times, but everything is well signposted and as we found elsewhere later on, everything is posted in three languages – Catalan, Spanish and English. Quite useful for heathens like myself, who have only just about managed to master a single language – English.

 

Despite being at the hotel before midday, we were able to check in and dump all unnecessary items in the room and head out for some lunch. We went for that well known Spanish staple – Burger King – before carrying on walking up to La Sagrida Familia. A sight that can be seen from most of the north part of the city. We passed a building on the way up to it that is almost an identical shape to the Gherkin (30 St Mary’s Axe for those who like to be precise), only the textures and colours on the building were better.

 

Once at the frankly staggering edifice that is La Sagrida Familia, we found that tickets were only on sale online. Thank fuck for smart phones and roaming data packages. Ten minutes later we were going through security, stuffing up their entrance machine due to the poor use of QR codes.

 

Once inside the gates, well, words really aren’t adequate to describe the magnificence of the basilica. The amazing detailing on the outside of the building, which is still taking shape over one hundred and thirty five years after work started on it, is completely outdone by the scale and colour inside. The towering supports really do look like a forest of trees reaching up to the sky to hold the heavens up. The vivid colours of the stained glass windows let the most amazing shades of light into the astounding space of the building.

 

The design of the Windows were done before Antonio Gaudi died nearly a century ago, and seeing the banded shades of glass across the spectrum of the rainbow, you can’t help but feel it is a lighter, less foreboding space, but remarkably similar to the effect in Paddy’s Wigwam (The Liverpool Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral to those who are of a sensitive nature). So much so it may be thought that the Wigwam has copied La Sagrida Familia. Only to find that the stained glass in La Sagrida Familia has only been installed in the last twenty years, long after Paddy’s Wigwam was complete.

 

Even as an incomplete building site, La Sagrida Familia is quite honestly the most flabbergasting building I have ever visited.

 

From there it was a quick metro ride down to the old town, starting at Placa de Catalunya, where a stage was set up for a rally for International Women’s day. Most had dispersed by now and the sound system was playing Portishead’s “Sour Times” on a loop. We walked through the narrow streets past the remains of the Roman aqueduct and to the Gothic Cathedral, which though impressive in its own right, paled into insignificance to what we had already seen. We carried on walking through streets that were only wide enough for bicycles and scooters, which we found were more than happy to speed along them with no regard for pedestrians, until we found ourselves at the harbour before realising where we were.

 

With heavy legs we headed back to the hotel for a brief rest, a freshen up and a change of clothes before heading out for dinner. Another city, and yet as always we opted for the local speciality – curry. Only a couple of blocks away from the hotel, it was a fairly small restaurant and there weren’t a lot of spare seats. Choosing the ones next to the door wouldn’t normally be the option we went for, but compared to being next to a table with two food throwing small children, it was the only one that made sense.

 

The food was great, much better than the Bruges curry catastrophe of half cooked chicken, but once food had been consumed, and being out of the centre on a weeknight, there weren’t really any open local bars, so it was back to the hotel and a reasonably early night. After all we had been up since four.

 

On day two we woke early, but feeling refreshed, and we had had breakfast and were out on the mean streets of Barcelona early. We found a bus stop and in a rare turn, one turned up a minute later. Travelling through the city on a bus is so much better than using the metro, as you get to see so much more of the city. We were heading across to Paral-lel to get the funicular railway half way up the mountain of Montjuic, to the cable car station to wind us up to the castle at the top.

 

However we found a sign there to say that there was no service as they were on strike, so it was another bus to wind up the hill, past the palace built for the Barcelona Exhibition in 1889, and the Olympic Stadium built for the 1992 Olympics. Whilst on the bus we could see the cable cars were moving and had people on them. Turns out the sign related to the previous day, and no one had bothered to take it down.

 

Once at the top of the mountain, we found the castle, which had a little sign outside and a bridge across a wide moat. The sign said it had been built as a small fort. As a group of school children were rampaging across the bridge to get into the castle, we decided to go for a walk around the small fort first.

 

Jeez, I’d hate to see a big fort. The whole thing was huge; the walls around it must have enclosed a space nearly the same size as the walls of Carcassonne, which we had visited the year before.

 

We paid extra for a guided tour of the castle, which was money well spent as we were the only two on the tour so got lots of information as we went around the castle, hearing of its history from the eleventh century up to the twentieth century and its part in the Spanish Civil War and what a symbol of Catalonia it was. The hour and a half flew by and we got to two parts of the castle that normal entrance doesn’t allow. The first being a cistern built in the seventeenth century originally , but updated and still used today to supply water to parts of the city, the second being up onto the roof of the tower of the castle with amazing views all over the city and the port, the sea and away to the mountains that surround Barcelona.

 

We got the cable cars down the mountain, always a nervy method of transport for me as someone with a fear of heights, before going back on the funicular down to sea level and a spot of lunch in one of the many street side cafes. Nice baguettes sat outside in the sun, getting ready for an afternoon of more sightseeing.

 

Another afternoon in Barcelona, another Gaudi masterpiece to look around, this time Casa Mila, or as it is better known locally La Pedrera (The Quarry – because of its outer appearance). Another place where it’s good to have a smart phone to book online tickets. It would cost an extra three Euros each to walk in off the street and buy tickets at their ticket office. No need for that at all.

 

Entering into the heart of the building you find yourself in an amazing open air atrium and as you explore the rest of the building you find that it is one of two such atriums, which means there isn’t a room on any floor that doesn’t get the opportunity for natural light.

 

From the atrium it was up to the roof, and another great undulating space, with views over the late nineteenth / early twentieth century expansion of the city. There are a number of what at first glance appear to be unnecessary adornments of decorated towers all over the roof, but they all serve a purpose. From being stairwells, to lift towers, chimneys, ventilation stacks, water towers, they are all hidden there as art.

 

Beneath the roof the brick arched attic space forms what is now an exhibition space, but was originally a communal area, an open plan space across the whole of the building; though at one point in the late twentieth century it was split into thirteen apartments. The whole building has no load bearing walls. It is all built using columns and beams, so that any floor space could be changed by the occupants to suit their needs.

 

The sixth floor, just under the attic has been laid out in the style of a 1920’s single apartment across the whole floor. It has an eclectic mix of furnishing and decoration that would have been in vogue at the time. The space and light is fantastic. The whole building is a work of genius. I’m just in awe of how Gaudi used nature and took it to build spaces that were decades before their time, working out problems that most could only tackle with the advent of computers.

 

It’s a long standing saying that anything overly decorated, showy for the sake of it, is called Gaudi. Yes, there is a lot of decoration, but I think that if I call anything Gaudi in the future it will be because I think that it is an utter work of genius.

 

A few hours flew by again, so there was only a quick drink before another fascinating bus journey through the city. Most of this one was accompanied by the soundtrack of two very enthusiastic geeks talking about the “fucking awesome” things that could be done when programming with Ruby.

 

The plan was to get changed and head back out to the Gracia district, to hunt down tapas and music, however stopping to change after over ten hours of intense sightseeing (and not seeing sights within tents) made it difficult to get started again. Trying to find a tapas bar in Gracia whilst online was proving tricky and we hadn’t even started getting ready yet. When it had got to the time where the bus service to Gracia was going to be coming to an end and we hadn’t found food, it was time to change track, so we knocked that search on the head and looked local to the hotel again.

 

We found a place that was exactly a block away called Can Resadata and got what pretty much looked like the last two seats in the house. Plates of salad, cheese fondue, more cheese, meats, and baskets of bread all followed with a rich depth of flavours and strengths. We had just about managed to plough through it all when the deserts turned up, followed by espressos. With the bottle of wine and ice cold mineral water that were included, the whole thing was great value at only fifty Euros for the lot.

 

We were quite glad it was only a hundred yards back to the hotel, where the bar didn’t offer such great value for money. We had to fight our way out to the street to get out as well, as even at eleven at night the queue to get into the restaurant was just mental.

 

It was a bit of a later start the following morning, breakfast and packing took a bit longer, and there was a queue to check out, and then the room to store the bags for the day to find. We took a stroll into the centre of Barcelona making our way down to the wide open space of the Parc de la Citutadella. The huge fountain in the north east corner of the park was free of water, but it must be a sight to behold when in full flow. Also under repair was the castle of dragons, fenced off and dark inside. From there we could see the Arc de Triomf; in brick it looked impressive, even if it wasn’t as large and grand as its namesake in Paris. On the walk up to the Arc all along one side of the avenue were the imposing law courts, barricaded off to the hoi polloi. We were carrying on walking around the Parc de la Citutadella, and had got alongside the Hivernade, when off to one side we spied another impressive looking building, and so we detoured in that direction.

 

Turns out it was the El Born Centre de Cultura I Memoria. A large nineteenth century market that has been turned in to a centre for culture and history. Streets and houses from the seventeenth century have been excavated underneath the space and are now on display at a lower level to the old market floor. After some time reading about the history of the city and especially the area around the citadel, we were back out onto the streets, and wandering around more of the old narrow streets of the old city in la Ribera.

 

By accident we ended up popping out into the cathedral square. It was lunch time by now, so we found another tapas restaurant – Neyvas – where we managed to cram a little bit more food in and top up the tapas levels before heading to the last big venue of our visit.

 

The Palau de la Musica Catalana. Another modernism masterpiece, which in this case wasn’t built by Gaudi, but by Lluis Domenech i Montaner. We got tickets for the next available tour and had forty minutes to spare beforehand, so wandered the almost alleyways around the Sant Pere area near to the Palau to pass the time.

 

When we got back the queue for the tour was just building up. There is so much detail in the artful build of a very much working building. It holds over five hundred concerts per year, with a seating capacity of over two thousand (2,146 was the figure the somewhat confused tour guide finally managed to settle on.) At other times it is a rehearsal space for numerous choirs and other groups, and there was such a group in full voice whilst we were on the tour around the upper galleries.

 

The hour flew by and it got to the sad part of any trip, the part where you head back to the hotel to pick up the bags ready to head back to the airport. A final walk through the streets of Barcelona followed as we made our way up to the Glories interchange, past the Barcelona gherkin, which is called Torre Agbar. It turns out that the locals are quite proud of it if the number of different postcards it appears on at the numerous vendors through the city is anything to go by.

 

The metro was full and warm as it went through the stations across the city, right up to where we needed to change for another line to the airport, at which point the crowds dissipated and the journey became chilled. We had just enough time in the airport to pick up some vittles’ for the flight, and some gifts for fellow workers before making it to the gate for almost immediate boarding, an on time flight, and a shorter journey time.

 

Then it was back to blighty and for me the joy of cooler weather.

 

Definitely three days well spent.

 

Well, right up to the point where I left our shopping from Barcelona airport on the plane.

An Ad Break

Now, I’m not normally one to succumb to the influences of television advertising. There are a number of reasons for this. First, there have been a number of years where I’ve not had a television, and then secondly, when I have, there’s Sky plus, everything is normally watched on a delay, so the adverts can be fast forwarded through.

However football is normally watched live, and Sky do like to cram as many adverts as inhumanly possible into the half time break. Plus, with there being an episode of NCIS on one channel or another at any time of the night or day, it quite often goes on as background noise, along with all the adverts in that.

Now the advert that managed to seep through into my consciousness was one for McDonalds. It’s the one that is celebrating fifty years of the Big Mac. So we get treated to a variety of seventies, eighties, nineties and noughties flashbacks of random Muppets trying out Big Macs. There’s nothing from the late sixties, as although the Big Mac has been around since then, Maccy D’s has only been in the UK since the early seventies.

There isn’t any reason why the advert should work, as it suggests that their clientele over the years had been somewhat less than bright. So what is it that did work?

Well it’s the mention of a Grand Big Mac. Obviously the paragons of healthy eating have slipped a bit with this one, a Big Mac, but twice the size. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with that?

To be honest, I’m not a massive Maccy D’s fan. I quite like their breakfast double sausage Mcmuffin, and Mcflurry’s – what can go wrong with a tub of ice cream for ninety nine pence – but their normal burgers just seem insubstantial. A Big Mac has always felt that way as well. An extra piece of bread doesn’t make up for two pieces of meat that you can see through.

Despite of all that, the advertising was telling me I had to try a Grand Big Mac.

As soon as I opened the box I started to regret the decision that had been so massively influenced by the television advertising.

Yes it was bigger, but the burgers were still see through, and if anything looked as if the Big Mac burgers had been further stretched out to fit the bigger buns. Then there was the fact that the whole thing looked like it had been thrown together by a chimpanzee with Parkinson’s disease.

There was more cheese outside of the bun than inside, and shredded lettuce filled every little corner of the box. It tasted just like Big Macs always do – just meh! Only there was more of it. I didn’t feel like it filled me up any more than a normal one ever did. It just cost more.

Next time I get an urge to get something based on an advert, I’m setting a reminder to give myself a slap first.

Don’t do it.

St Anne’s Church

Now, many is the time that I’ve been to a church or a cathedral and exited via the gift shop. Yet, not one of them has had a sign as blatant as the one it the photo above. My better half had noticed this as we were checking out the various floats parked on Shaftesbury Avenue during Chinese New Year in central London. It was above one of the numerous Londoniana shops that can be found all over the capital.

This particular one was on the north side on Shaftesbury Avenue between Wardour Street and Dean Street on the way out of Chinatown, through theatre land and into Soho. We’d been on both streets during the day and hadn’t noticed any sign of a church, so being curious I decided to look up what I could find about the church.

The original church was built between 1677 and 1686 and is said to be the work of Sir Christopher Wren, although it may have been William Talman. It was built on land that was then fields, and was consecrated on 21 March 1686 by Bishop Henry Compton (after who the nearby Compton Street is named) as the parish church of the new civil and ecclesiastical parish of St Anne, created from part of the parish of St Martin in the Fields. It was dedicated to Saint Anne because Compton had been tutor to Princess Anne before she became Queen.

It was designed as an 80 feet long and 64 feet wide basilican church, with a 70 feet high west end tower. The tower was only completed in 1718, but by 1800 had become unstable. The original tower was demolished and the new brickwork tower was completed in 1803, and kept the one ton clock bell from the original tower.

The church had a famous choir and musical, and it was from St Anne’s that the first ever religious service with music to be broadcast on the radio came in the 1920’s.

When Shaftesbury Avenue was built between 1877 and 1886, it replaced the existing King Street that used to sit as the south west boundary to the consecrated grounds. Now however, the church became hidden away from the main thoroughfare, and a gallery was put in between numbers 65 and 67 Shaftesbury Avenue to lead to the south entrance to the church.

The old church was left burned out by a bombing in the blitz on the night of the 24th September 1940; with all that remained untouched was the tower. Religious services were moved to St Thomas’s on Regent Street (now demolished), and into rooms in St Anne’s House next to the church at number 57 Dean Street.

Apart from the tower, the remains of the rest of the church were demolished in 1953 and the gallery that the flagstone now lies above was converted to be a shop. The tower was used as a chapel during the 1950’s, and partly restored in 1979, before being fully restored and becoming a grade II listed building in 1991. A new complex was built in the space of the old church and was rededicated on St Anne’s day, the 26th July in the same year.

The Church is currently thriving as a church community and as venue for many local community and charitable events and meetings; it also houses the Soho Society, the archives of MoSoho (the Museum of Soho) and anti-homophobic bullying charity Diversity Role Models. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the rebuilding of the church a redesigned entrance on Dean Street was unrevealed on 8 December 2016. The new entrance was designed by Lina Viluma and Sherief al Rifa’i, who were chosen as part of a competition to redesign the entrance of St Anne’s to make it more visible, accessible and welcoming. The new design uses concealed lighting, neon and wooden panelling to create an inviting space that is also eye catching. Push plates on the front doors carry the imprints of the hands of local community members, and the corridor is lined with illuminated display cases.

Parts of its churchyard around the tower and west end are now the public park of St Anne’s Gardens, accessed from the Shaftesbury Avenue end of Wardour Street, whilst the church itself is accessed via a gate at the Shaftesbury Avenue end of Dean Street, as it does not front onto the street.

The Churchyard, St Anne’s Gardens, was closed to burials in 1854. This closure was largely as a result of one Sexton illegally dumping the bodies in the ground having sold their coffins for firewood, and because the churchyards of London were full. It is believed that in addition to the essayist William Hazlitt about 80,000 bodies are buried there. This explains why the ground is so high above the entrance on Wardour St. Something people who lie there eating their sandwiches on sunny summer lunchtime are probably quite unaware of!

Chinese New Year

How many eyes does a lion have? A strange question I know, but seriously even with there being two lions, it really shouldn’t have taken nearly an hour to dot the eyes of the lion.

We had arrived near Trafalgar Square at just before midday. We couldn’t say we were in Trafalgar Square as they weren’t letting anyone else in at that point. No matter how many people were coming out, the marshals couldn’t deal with the simple one out, one in principle that nightclub doormen had been using for decades; and so thousands of people were stacked up on Charing Cross Road straining to see what was going on via the big screens either side of the stage. Straining to hear them as well, as the PA system was less use than a chocolate fireguard.

Chinese New Year was being given the full treatment in London, with lots of cordoned off, pedestrianized streets for the day. Lots of stalls, barriers, various stages and events over a reasonable sized area of Central London. Yet they couldn’t get the sound system right.

There were a lot of the usual London suspects there, you know the ones, those that would turn up for the opening of an envelope if they thought someone would give them a microphone for a few seconds.

The dotting of the eyes was supposed to take place at 12. By the time all the talking heads had finally deflated the dotting actually started at twelve minutes to one. All the time it was going on I had the thought going through my head about the fact I’d obviously missed the crossing of the teas ceremony. I found out that came later as there was a mix of Earl Grey and English Breakfast on the table as we stopped for cakes before heading home.

Wandering over to Chinatown through Leicester Square was like trying to wade through treacle. Most of the small side streets were barricaded off by little Hitlers in Day-Glo blousons shouting no entry at anyone who had the temerity to try and walk along an un-crowded street. They were forcing everyone into the same tightly packed thoroughfares.

With lots of people, there was lots of pushing and shoving, loads of people coming the other way too. It wasn’t a case of the little Hitlers stopping people from entering to make foot traffic one way; it appeared they only wanted to keep the un-crowded side streets for themselves.

Bastards!

Various stalls and performers were dotted around all over the place, and wherever they had set up, the squeeze to get past was worse than ever. Too many people pushing you, trying to get through to a non-existent space in front. Too much impatience. If I had received a pound for each time some halfwit had trodden on me, or some prat with a pushchair had rammed my ankles, then I could be sat here writing this as a retired man.

We were looking for somewhere to get food, and wanted to try for Chinese, considering the occasion, but we would still have been queuing now for it. There were queues around the block for the takeaway buffets, and the restaurants were all bulging at the seams. We found a little American bar style diner in Soho and got various snacks to share. The food was lush, as were the cocktails, but the cocktails cost a damn sight more.

Once refreshed we fought through the crowds again and made it back to Trafalgar Square where we were actually allowed back in. Typically there were street food stalls within the barricades, and without long queues, but we walked past and found some space in a line with the stage.

The presenters had the kind of chemistry that made you hope they weren’t providing the powder for the firework display later on. The acts weren’t a great deal better. The Chinese dancing was interesting, but I couldn’t understand why they were using a backing track of what appeared to be a medley of cowboy theme tunes. I was expecting the Deadwood Stage to come crashing onto the actual stage at any second.

As for the magician, well he certainly wasn’t a dynamo, in any sense of the word. The only way he’d have got a cheer if was if he’d made himself or the presenters disappear. Instead he just made us disappear, out of Trafalgar Square and for cake before getting the train home.

The first part of the journey was fine, a couple of stops to London Bridge from Charing Cross, but then on the Southern train, we had an on board supervisor who appeared to be playing a game of one station, one shot. There were a lot of stations.

The longer the journey went on, the less sense his announcements made. After the first stop at Norwood Junction, he started on a long winded, rambling announcement that went on so long the train had pulled into East Croydon before he had finished and he had to open the doors.

At Purley it was just gobbledygook. At Mersham he cut himself off about a dozen words in. At Redhill it was a slurring, rambling mess, and at Earlswood, the bing bong was followed by thirty seconds of fumbling and heavy breathing noises. Out of Salford he stopped halfway through what appeared to be the word Horley, or we assumed he said Horley, though to be fair he could have said anything and we’d just assumed he meant Horley because we knew where we were going.

Which was more than could be said for him, having come from London, when we got to Gatwick, amongst the various messages for taking care of your luggage when “in the platform, or on anywhere else”, he was advising people to change there for stations to London Bridge and Blackfriars. At Three Bridges he advised us to change for Brighton, Bedford, or any other stations in Sussex.

He was also now advising us to listen to the on board announcements which may occur from time to time. From time to time? Are you joking? They were nonstop. He’d only just finished saying that when he bing bonged again and told us we were approaching Three Bridges.

Mind The Gap he wittered at one station, which left us laughing, thinking the biggest gap was between the poor bloke’s ears. In fact we were laughing so much that some bloke wearing headphones had tutted, looked at us in disgust and got up to find another seat further down the carriage to get away from the laughter.

His last announcement before we got off at Crawley was to say to listen to on board announcements as the electronic customer screen was faulty, and so were the automatic train announcements. To be fair, we hadn’t heard any automatic train announcements; they couldn’t get a word in edgeways. The main fault appeared to be with the very human announcements as the stops went past and the shots kicked in.

Hic.