I’ve fallen back in love with London. It comes and goes in fits and starts, but at the moment London and I are having a very deep and meaningful affair.
The first time I really truly fell in love with London was almost exactly three years ago, sitting on a bench on the South Bank, looking out at the water. I had hot chocolate because it was so cold, and there was a mist rolling along, so that I could barely see to the other side. Then just as if I had been dropped into a film set, an old man sat on a fold away chair in front of us, took a cello out of its case, and began to play Chopin’s Etude Op25 No7.
I cried and cried and cried.
But then there have been visits to London that have just been grubby and disappointing, and my terrible dislike (sphincter-clenching phobia) of downward escalators has sometimes stopped me from doing all the exploring that I have wanted to, via the Underground. However, this terrible dislike (ahem) seems to be fading, and I’ve even bought an Oyster card in the last few weeks. Increasingly, I feel like I belong there, although London is probably not as thrilled as I am by this concept.
This time, I was doing everything just right. I had scoped out the cheapest possible tickets between here and Euston (£23.50, open return! It’d cost me more than that in butties if I walked it!), booked them in advance and arranged to meet friends from all over the city (get me!) in a lovely pub recommended by my mate Roussety. I had also got my bed for the night at Fenella’s place, which she affectionately refers to as The Crack Den, but which in fact is BEEYOOTEEFULL. I stepped off the train at Euston, wandered casually across the station, stuck a tenner on me Oyster card (which for some reason makes me feel very grown up), took a DOWNWARD ESCALATOR (oh yes!) to the Underground trains and travelled on the Northern line to Leicester Square. I know roughly where I’m going in that area, so I took myself for a bimble round, to Londonise myself a bit.
I was disappointed to note that Leicester Square is STILL a bloody building site (what ARE they doing in there?) and so headed for Charing Cross Road. I stopped off for a lump of choccy cake and a coffee in a Cafe Rouge, which seemed to annoy my waitress intensely. You’d think I had just ordered baby brains and nun’s blood, the way she looked at me, but I decided that being mocked by the French is character building, and continued to slurp at my beverage. I left most of the cake though. I know, right? Me! Leaving cake! And it was quite delicious, but I will admit to being a bit of a giddy kipper, and I had started to get excited butterflies in my tummy.
The butterflies were for a number of reasons. Firstly, they were there because I was about to see some of the very, very loveliest people in my life, all of whom are people I don’t see nearly enough of. Secondly, I was going to see Dodgy play their new album in its entirety in London, which is really a sort of homecoming gig for them. I love Dodgy for many reasons. Primarily because they’re my mates, and I am just heart achingly proud of my best boys, but also because they’re really, really fucking good. They always were, and their new material is definitely worthy of a Mercury nomination. Definitely.
So I met Fenella, Gordon, John Devine, John Roussety and Julia in The Angel, nextdoor to St Giles in the Fields church. What a beautifully preserved pub! I half expected to hear an air-raid siren go off, and Nicholas Lyndhurst walk in, wearing a Trilby and overcoat. Once everyone had arrived, the terrible business of getting pissed had to be addressed, and we made quite good inroads within a very short space of time. I really cannot remember why, but at one point I thought I was going to have a stroke, because Gordon declared (fictitiously) that he had once fingered David Bowie.
At the correct moment, the remains of our drinks were downed, and we traipsed off to The Bowery. I have just remembered that I linked arms with Mr Roussety all the way there, because his coat looked warmest. Ever the Girl Guide. Upon arrival, we were ushered to a table to say our names to the lady, who would then check lists and stamp our hands. I was at the head of the queue and the seven-foot bouncer said, “You have to join the queue”. I explained that I had, and even demonstrated it by indicating towards my feet to show where I was standing, and then to my friends behind me to indicate the remainder of the queue. He rolled his eyes (I rolled them back – it seemed polite) and added, “No, you have to join the back of the queue”. I explained that ‘the queue’ constituted my friends and no-one else, and therefore we were all together as one party, but no. Igor had spoken and until Master had flicked the switch marked ‘logic’, the queue was going nowhere until I moved to the back. When I got the front again, I smiled at the lady with the clipboard and said that I would be on the guest list. She looked and exclaimed, “Oh yes! You’re at the top of the list actually! Sorry…”, and gave Igor a withering look. I tried to form my features into a face which said, “I will NOT be writing kindly about this in my London clubs column in the Independent!”, but realising I had drunk a whole orchard’s worth of cider, it probably looked more like, “Heheheheheeee HIC!”.
Downstairs, in the room where the gig was being held, I looked around, spied a great spot for us all to stand, and headed that way. As I crossed what was essentially a tiny dancefloor, I passed Math, we hugged hello and he headed directly for the stage. Bloody hell, how’s THAT for timing!! I hadn’t even got me coat off and the gig began. Perfect. Dodgy’s new album “Stand Upright In A Cool Place” is fast becoming one of my all time favourite albums. I have only heard it live, except for a few recorded snippets that have been made available here and there, and I am absolutely dying to get my copy, to have, cherish, listen to over and over, and learn word for word, and chord for chord. The tone of the album, the subject matter and the musical style could not be more perfect for me, right now, at this very stage of my life. And here I was, watching three of my favourite people playing some of my favourite music of all time, surrounded by some of my best friends, in one of the greatest cities in the world. That realisation hit as I sang along to ‘Only A Heartbeat’, and I don’t mind admitting that there may have been a moistening of the eyes. For me, that’s what it’s all about, and without those moments, life would be pretty shit.
After Dodgy’s new album set, a support band called The Rise came on. They were unexpectedly good. I say it like that because as people wandered off to the bar, or for a natter, or for a smoke, The Rise started to play, and people were looking at each other, saying “Bloody hell, these are GOOD!”, and going back in to watch. I watched a bit of their set, but in the end we went outdoors to smoke and natter to people. We were introduced to all kinds of lovely people we had heard of through old Dodgy tales of yore, and people whose names and photos we’d seen on Facebook, but here they were in real life to say hello to! I met some great folks, especially Ray, Mick and Vanessa, and at one stage I was chatting away to a lady I had danced with earlier, and Math came out and exclaimed, “Christ! I cannot believe YOU two are chatting to one another!”, although I am still not sure why. Must remember to ask. It felt like the new Dodgy family was meeting the old Dodgy family, and there was a LOT of love about. We all very much came away with a collective feeling of having been to a big old love-in. And I know what you’re thinking, but no. Not even the tiniest of Garys. Good eh?!
Back downstairs for the second of Dodgy’s sets, and the place was bouncing. All the greatest hits were played, everyone’s favourites and crowd pleasers, and it was brilliant. Dancing and singalongs aplenty. There was a point at which Nigel made up an impromptu two verse song, while Andy tuned up. At the end of the song he said, “Sorry, it’s only short”. Now, I tried with every fibre of my being, but my comedy timing gland was in overdrive, so I replied, “That’s what SHE said!”. Quite a lot of people heard. Some laughed. But Nigel gave me one of those stern looks that only someone with experience of placing minors on a naughty step can give. “Chappeeerrrrrs….”. Ooops.
Afterwards the party raged on and Ray continued to tell everyone who would listen that he is fifty-one. “I’m fifty-one you know, I am!” I felt compelled to compliment him on how well and fresh-faced he looked, despite his years and the ravages of rock and roll. This encouraged him further. “Yeah, I know, I’ve looked after myself, see. Fifty-one you know…” Bless. Photographs were taken (none of which were in the least bit sensible or attractive), goodbyes were said, and eventually, after a really very lovely night out, Fenella and I decided to head back to her house.
We got literally yards before some friendly voices shouted from behind us. “Oi! Wait up!”, and we turned round to find Nigel and his nephew Chris, hot on our heels. Collectively we decided that Burger King was the very place to be and so settled in for more silliness over beanburgers, Whoppers and coffees. Marvellous. We left the boys to drive back to Malvern, and we ladies (ahem) caught the last Brixton train, which isn’t nearly as edgy as it sounds. Once back to base, I seem to recall there were cups of tea before bed and happy slumber.