Stand Upright.

It was a weekend of ups and downs, mostly caused by booze.
I shall start at the very beginning.

On Friday the 17th February, Dodgy gave a command performance at The Box, here in Crewe. It was to be the first gig of the tour to support their new album ‘Stand Upright In A Cool Place‘. A warm-up gig, if you like, before they hit the bright lights of the big cities. The band arrived on the Thursday and used the venue as a rehearsal room, to polish up a few rarely heard songs from the first album before adding them to the setlist.

In my new and shiny position at Redshift Radio, it was my absolute pleasure to get one of the band into the Redshift studios to discuss life, music, and other less important stuff. So on Friday afternoon I collected Mathew Priest from the rehearsal venue and deposited him into to studio for a half hour grilling by the lovely Liz Southall. The fairly hilarious results can be heard here.

Straight afterwards I met up with Elliot and Eleanor Howells, some more of the Dodgy family and we went for a slap-up carvery lunch together. The conversation very quickly found its level when Elliot sniffed the passenger car seat, after I told him that two minutes previously I had dropped Math off after the radio interview. I had been in their company for about thirty seconds at this point. I knew I was going to love them dearly from there on in. They were clearly very weird people.

Later on at the venue it was lovely to see so many familiar faces. Local friends who had come to see what all fuss I was making was about, as well as friends from further afield, such as London and Newbury! Blimey. A couple of liveners were had in the Corner Bar and then off to The Box to hear Smoke Feathers‘ set.

I’d never heard them play before, although I’ve heard some of their recorded output. I was blown away. I really rate them, and wholeheartedly encourage you to have a listen to them for yourselves. Their album’s out, and well worth a few quid of your hard-earned wedge.

Then Dodgy. We’d all built this gig up so much that I’m fairly certain that Dodgy could have walked on stage lowered their jeans, farted and walked off again, and we’d all have applauded and retired happily to the bar. Good though that they didn’t. They played songs from their first album that I have never heard live before, a great big chunk of their latest album which is wonderful both in a live setting and recorded, and then a selection of Dodgy favourites.

A drunk woman in the toilets said, “I wish they’d hurry up and play Good Enough, that’s the only one I know!” and with every fibre of my being, I fought the desire to punch her repeatedly in the face. Sometimes pacifism sucks, man.

The gig was utterly fantastic, and after a bit of a boogie at the indie disco afterwards, we all said big drunken huggy goodbyes and went our separate ways. Drunk, tired and very happy indeed.

The next day I woke up with a moderate to raging hangover, and collected Julia from Crewe station. She had travelled up from Harrow to spend the remainder of the weekend with me. For those of you who don’t know, Julia is the woman who was foolish enough to make me ‘Guardian Aunt’ of her firstborn daughter. That’s a bit like Godmother, but without the involvement of religion. Stu Thoy of Smoke Feathers summed it up for himself with, “So, right, if they die in a car crash, you’ve gotta like look after the kid? Wow. So what’s in it for you?”. There is a distinct possibility that he may have taken strong drink that night.

Julia came back to my place to meet Che the cat and to begin the weekend’s proceedings with a nice mug of coffee and a healthy splosh of Tia Maria in it. It was only 11:45am, but we figured it was Saturday, so what the hell. After I had gathered my thoughts and thrown some stuff into an overnight bag, we headed for the train station to catch the next train to Liverpool. Dodgy were to continue their new album tour at Eric’s, the famous venue on Mathew Street, and so Julia and I had treated ourselves to a posh room at the Hard Day’s Night Hotel.

Once at the hotel we reasoned that since it was lashing down with rain outdoors, there was no sense in going sight-seeing in Liverpool. As beautiful as my beloved spiritual home is, it’s true to say that it’s just as grim as any other collection of streets and buildings, when you’re huddled up to avoid a soaking. So we took advantage of our plush and palatial hotel boudoir. I fired up the coffee machine, Julia drew a deep, bubbly bath for a soak, and we chatted and nattered about all the things we needed to catch up on since last time we spent quality time together. It was bliss.

Heading towards gig time, we dressed, threw on some war paint and headed downstairs for expensive cocktails. Very swish indeed. However we realised quickly that we needed food before we embarked on any serious drinking and so we headed out into the direction of Pizza Express. “Have you got a booking? Ah well, you’ll have to wait 45 minutes then”. Oh bugger. So we left and  wandered along looking for an alternative.

A sign about the size of a postage stamp said, “Metro Bar & Grill” and so we followed it underground into a mainly empty, but properly lovely little place. It was tarted up kebab food, but beautifully done and jolly reasonable. We ordered halloumi and chicken, and a load of rice and chips and salad and you name it arrived too. Far too much for us, but we soldiered on, until we were at Mr Creosote bursting point. Once we’d left, we had a little walk along North John Street to ease our full tummies.

At Eric’s we laid heavily into G&Ts in plastic glasses. Smoke Feathers were playing, and so we caught most of their set again. Great stuff. One by one we said hello to all the people we expected to see there, and then joy of joys, we spotted Angela and John Devine! We hadn’t known they would be there, so it was great to see them. We took up our audience positions near to them.

There were a few weirdos in the crowd (a man called Mark who tried it on with every attractive female in the crowd – not me, a drunk woman with yellow hair who did a proper bump and grind to even the most sensitive songs on the set list, and two men who stood millimetres away from the 12″ high stage, so that pretty much no-one but them could see Nigel), but then that’s Liverpool for you.

The gig was monumental. One of the best ever. Julia was absolutely made up, I was beside myself with happiness, and the band themselves seemed rightfully pleased with the way it all went. John, Angela, Julia and I danced and sang and cheered and clapped, and gave each other knowing nods and smiles throughout the set. Just as it should be. Music, friends, love and happiness.

We saw lots of other friends there too: Prowsey & Bernadette, Olivia, Cath & Andy, Chris, Paul and others who the fug of drink has caused me to forget. Do forgive me.

We left the gig and Stu from Smoke Feathers was standing in the corridor brandishing a bottle of white wine. We chatted for a while, he offered us a swig from his bottle, and said the magic words: “There’s loads more booze backstage”. Music to my ears, as if more music were needed. So we toddled off, availed ourselves of a couple of very friendly vodka and oranges and got comfy as Prowsey and Math entertained the crowd with rock and roll anecdotes. Booze was being passed around and Julia and I drank well. At one point I turned around to see her swig neat tequila from a bottle, which is something I never thought I’d see Julia do. But then I never thought I’d ever hear her say ‘cunt’ either…

Time to leave and wander back to the hotel. We tumbled upstairs (or was it down? I’ve gone a bit fuzzy on that bit) and found a fantastic soul band playing to a packed floor of movers and groovers. We stayed for a while, threw a shape or two, but then conceded that it was bedtime for Chappers & Jules. Quite a merry gang spilled out onto Mathew Street and lots of boozy goodnights and goodbyes were said by everyone. I seem to recall leaning against a statue of John Lennon to smoke a cigarette, but where I got the cigarette from, I have no recollection.

Back at the room, we performed our ablutions, got into jimjams and as I turned out the lights, Julia said, “G’night Mary Ellen..”. Obviously, I replied, “G’night John Boy..”, at which point she sat up and exclaimed, “BUT I WANNA BE JIM BOB!”, and fell back down onto her pillow. To sleep; perchance to dream.

We woke at about 9am. Julia was satisfied that this was sufficiently late to count as a lie-in, in her capacity as a mother of two titchy people. So we lazed around a bit longer (because we could) and then checked out. I remembered from a previous visit with Lis Lambertsen that there was a branch of Patisserie Valerie round the corner, so I suggested eggs benedict and hot chocolates for breakfast. Nom and indeed nom.

Having further put the world to rights (the UN ain’t got nowt on us), we set out towards the Albert Dock, to go and pay homage to the mighty Mersey, and to visit one of my favourite places in the world – the new Museum of Liverpool. I especially wanted Julia to see it, because I knew she would ‘get’ it, and understand why I feel about Liverpool the way that I do. The exhibits in there say everything there is to say about the city and I insist that if you go to Liverpool, you MUST visit this museum. Julia hit the nail on the head when she said, “Seems to me, London is a city of business and buildings and things and activity. Liverpool is all that too, but it really is all about the people”.

As usual there are things in that place that make me weep. Four times I’ve been there, and every time I’ve sat down and shed tears, looking out of that huge pillar box window, the Three Graces to my right, the Mersey to my left, and the Irish Sea before me.

My mate Ann (Liverpool born and bred) says you don’t have to be from Liverpool to be a Scouser. It’s a state of mind, a way of life and kind of soul. I count myself lucky to be one of those people; not born in Liverpool, but as Scouse as I can be despite it.

 

Delayed Gratification.

When was the last time you had to wait for bloody YONKS for something you really, really wanted? In this age of immediacy, we rarely have to. Your evening meal can be ready (DING!) within four minutes. Your weekly shop can be done in ten minutes without leaving the house. If you hear a song you like, it is yours to download and listen to at will, in less time than it takes to clean your teeth. We very rarely build up a proper longing for things anymore, and I think perhaps that leads us to cherish them less.

There have been many times I have been worked up over the release of an album, but I think the last time was in 2004. Having seen The Zutons loads of times in little clubs and venues around the NorthWest, I was bloody bursting to get my mitts on their first album, and especially because there was a special 3D zombie giftpack with a limited amount of copies. I booked a holiday for the morning of the 18th of October, and was standing on the steps of Virgin in Crewe, waiting for them to open.

I was their first customer of the day, they hadn’t even had time to work up the customary record shop assistant apathy yet. I got back to the car, tore off the cellophane, put the CD in and drove to work, enjoying my own little piece of Zuton heaven. A moment of bliss I had waited weeks for, and it was worth every minute.

Since then, it hasn’t been that music hasn’t excited me as much, it’s just that it’s been easier to get hold of. You could get an artist’s demo tracks and promo snippets on MySpace. There’s always a a ‘leak’ if something’s hotly anticipated, and there’s always ‘exclusive’ MP3s to stumble upon, download and enjoy, here and there. It’s all so immediate and this isn’t necessarily a Bad Thing. It’s quite exciting to think that you’re hearing a track that was recorded so recently, that the seats in the studio are still warm from the producer’s arse.

However, if you’re a bit ‘old school’ (as the ‘yoot’ would have it) like me, sometime you yearn for the days when you could work up a good set of tummy butterflies for an album. Lucky me then, that this year, I’m being treated to exactly that.

I had missed out on the whole Dodgy experience in my late teens and early twenties for various boring reasons, so when I received a text message in 2007, to tell me that there was a strong possibility that Dodgy were about to reform, I let out a little excited yelp. The day I got the text to say the tour was off because of Andy’s broken arm, I cried with disappointment. Standing at the front at their first Liverpool gig in 2008, there were tears of joy. Hearing rumours of new songs and studio time started the excitement building, and then news that they were off to Texas to polish up the finished recordings… SQUEEE!

At the end of last year, they played the album in full, at all dates on their Autumn tour. A big risk, but it paid off. Every tune was a diamond, and every fan rapidly picked a favourite. By the end of that tour in December, people in the crowd were singing the new songs back to the band, which was amazing considering hardly anyone had those songs to own and to listen to over again. They’d become familar purely in a live setting, which is a great feat for any band, let alone one that hadn’t released any new material since the late nineties.

It is now about three weeks away from the release of that album. Since it was mixed in Texas, I have had to resist countless ways of hearing it. I have been offered emailed MP3s, mini-mixes, promo copies and all sorts. I am only suprised that a car hasn’t been parked outside my house with the album being played at high volume, through a loudspeaker system, strapped to the roof. But I have stayed strong.

There is even the opportunity for Dodgy fans to get a copy of the album prior to the release date, if they come up with a great idea for a ‘listening party’. No thank you. The first time I listen to MY copy of this album, I want to be very much alone. I will prepare the lounge with dimmed lighting, some candles, and maybe even a sandlewood joss stick. I will pour myself a glass of something boozy (a Rioja, I think), headphones on, press play and close my eyes. I expect I will cry. I am a great spiller of tears, especially when it comes to music that makes you feel something.

So between now and the day I receive my copy of Stand Upright In A Cool Place, I don’t want to know. You can keep your sneaky peeks, and exclusive chances to hear a track here and there. I want MY copy of the whole thing, from start to finish, and it’s already making me feel a bit queasy to think it’s just three weeks away.

But something tells me that it’s well worth waiting for…

Tick Tox.

I’ve got to That Age. In fact I’ve been at That Age for a few years. I’d started to look at the skin products in Boots for ‘aging skin’, the ones that promise to rejuvenate and stop (if not turn back) time. After eight hours good sleep I look like I haven’t slept in weeks, and if I haven’t slept well, then I look like I was recently dug up.

“Yeah well, it happens to us all”, I hear you say. And you’re right, of course it does. But do we have to accept it when there are so many products and techniques out there to delay the inevitable, even for a little while?

So after failing to find a lotion or potion to perk up my dermis, I grumbled about my increasing wrinkliness to Ann, who didn’t even take a breath before she sad, “Botox”. This is not what I was expecting. I mean Botox is the preserve of the rich and famous, Essex wannabes and Pete Burns, isn’t it? Nope, apparently not. Turns out everybody’s at it.

As with every half-important decision I make, I floated the idea among friends. The responses I got were pretty varied actually. There was a surprising amount who confided, “I have been using it for years, and I swear by it”, and another group who confided that they too have hankered after Botox for a while, but didn’t dare to in case they were turned into Joan Rivers. There were others who sent me really genuinely lovely messages, making sure that I was absolutely positive about this, and telling me (as good friends do) that I am already quite lovely without any intervention, and then there was another slightly weirder minority who tried to convince me that I would die. Hmm.

It was interesting to note that most of those who were being kind about my complexion and making absolutely sure that I was doing it for the ‘right reasons’, were almost all married women or women in relationships. I make this observation because I’m not in that particular demographic. Does that make any difference to how I see my face? No, but as I explained to my pal Zoe, although I’m not doing this for anyone but myself, I want to be able to go out and feel confident. But does that mean I really am doing it for other people, so that I look attractive to them? Well if it does, then the same can be said for t-shirts, lip-gloss and having a wash, I guess.

Being a single girl, I can’t deny that it’d be nice to have a helping hand in the pulling stakes. I also won’t deny that it’s lovely to be chatted up from time to time. It was genuinely heartwarming to have friends tell me they love me “just as you are” (Bridget Jones, eat your heart out), but they’re not going to want to shag me anytime soon, and nor are they in their thirties, single and aware of the competition. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going all out in some kind of psycho man-hunt, all I wanted was to be able to order my drinks at the bar and have the man standing next to me give me a look that says, “Hmm, not bad”.That’s all. It’d be a start. Know what I mean?

After I’d explained myself to Zoe, she knew what I meant. She said that she would fight to her last breath to stop anyone doing something cosmetic out of some kind of need to impress others, but agreed that a self-aware, empowered choice was cool, and quite alright by her. Since Zoe is actually a really good arbiter for most things on the planet (from music, to the public shifting of mucus) her opinion counts, and so I was pleased to have passed her Litmus test. I decided to go ahead.

My lovely mate Ann works as a consultant to a number of different dental clinics who these days offer everything from clinical and cosmetic dentistry to ‘facial aesthetics’. I asked Ann for her professional opinion. After all, it seems a bit odd to go for Botox with the same person who does your scrape and polish, doesn’t it? However, after speaking with Ann, I came to the realisation that actually, no-one would be better placed to do it than a massively qualified medical professional who has a unique understanding of the workings and muscular structure of the face. Ann booked me in at one of her nearby client’s clinics.

So, last Tuesday I went to Endon Dental Care and had Botox Cosmetic injected into my forehead. Haha, sounds scary huh? Voluntarily having botulism injected into my body! There have been one or two who have called me some pretty harsh names for having it done, and one absolute charmer who said that I deserved to die for being so vain. Lovely. I’ve been called many things in my life, but as someone who shaves her legs about as often as Kim Kardashian gets divorced (three to four times a year), that was pretty hilarious. And what those helpful types failed to look up on Wikipedia was that there has never been a case of the spread of botulism (or indeed the plague or the Black Death) when Botox has been used at the recommended dose to treat frown lines. I’m not stupid, I did my homework kids.

I was met at reception, was talked through the treatment at length, and given a medical form to fill in, as I’d never been seen at this clinic before. Usual stuff: name, address, date of birth, have you got TB, are you pregnant, has your head even fallen off. That kind of thing. I had a series of ‘before’ photos taken, or in other words close-ups of me pulling mad faces at a dentist. Eyebrows up, look surprised, frown, grin, scowl, look up, look down.

Then it was time to sit back into the treatment chair. Dr Wray cleaned over my forehead with a steri-wipe and then following where the creases in my forehead were, marked seven sites with a marker pen; four across the width of my forehead, and three in an upside triangle shape, between the eyebrows. When Dr Wray said, “You’ll feel a sharp scratch”, she was exaggerating. It was really nothing, and then within a minute or two we were done. We talked again about the kind of results I could expect and Dr Wray gave me an aftercare sheet, to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do for the few hours immediately afterwards. Obvious stuff really, like no make up or alcohol, and to drink plenty of water, just like after a facial or a massage.

I paid for my treatment (cost price – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know!) and said goodbyes to the people I’d chatted to at the clinic. I drove home, and as instructed I spent the evening relaxing on the sofa until bedtime. During that time I experienced a bit of a headache, but nothing I would even have taken a paracetamol for. The only other thing I’ve experienced is a twitch between the eyebrows which was intermittent on day two, but which stopped after a couple of hours.

It’s now four days after my treatment and everyone I’ve seen so far has commented that they can see a positive difference. My forehead is smoother, the creases I had are reducing day by day, and although my eyebrows are still moveable and expressive, they don’t cause my forehead to wrinkle. Brilliant. Just what I wanted. I never wanted to look waxy or ‘fake’, just refreshed and less knackered. I’m really happy to say that’s exactly what has been achieved, although the true result may not been seen until the 14 day mark. I think the effects last from 4-6 months, although I’m not sure if there’s anything you can do to prolong the effect.

I will return to Endon just before Christmas to have my ‘after’ photos taken, and for Dr Wray to check that I’m satisfied with the result. I’m absolutely made up with it so far though, and if anyone is thinking of having  Botox treatment, I would wholeheartedly recommend Dr Wray at Endon. Not only is she friendly and professional, and really knows her stuff, but she’s also a massive Dodgy fan, which I consider to be an excellent personal quality…

London Loves – Part 2.

In the morning, we woke up a bit blurry headed, and so more tea was had, and after a post-mortem on the shenanigans of the night before, we headed off in the car to a National Trust place called Morden Hall Park, and met with Fenella’s friend Sally, who among a great many other lovely things is a dog-walker and dog-sitter. She is also a trainer and can help owners with dogs with behavioural problems. Sally had nine dogs with her: Fenella’s two, her own two, and five more of her clients’ dogs. It was great fun, strolling through the park with all these assorted dogs. They’re all wonderfully behaved and so were allowed off the lead, and I made a special friend in Hattie, a little old Staffie lady, who believes she is a princess and is quite above all this hanging around with filthy mutts. Once all the dogs had had a good run and a swim in the River Wandle, he headed for the caff, and had some lovely grub, coffee and a chin wag. At this point the dogs were tethered to a fence, and sat so beautifully, that Sally hardly had time to eat because of all the people coming over to compliment her on such a lovely pack of woofs.

We took Fenella’s dogs back to the house and relaxed for while, with a cuppa. I was starting to feel blue about having to go back that afternoon, having had such a great time. Reality’s such a bitch at times. Fenella enquired about which train I had to catch and I explained that I had an open ticket, so I could catch any off-peak train between then and December. Then she made a suggestion. Since I didn’t have work until Friday, why didn’t I stay another night and go with her to work? She explained it might be a bit dull to hang out at Radio2 for a whole evening, but I was welcome to come and go as I pleased. Blimey. AS IF hanging out at Radio2 would be dull! AS IF! Outwardly, I was composed and being quite cool about the whole thing, “Yeah, I suppose that’d be alright…”, but inwardly I was wooping, punching the air and high fiving myself… if of course, that were possible.

As we got in the vicinity of Western House, we stopped to eat at a lovely little Thai canteen, and had Phat Thai, spring rolls and tempura vegetables, washed down with tins of fizzy pop. Bliss. We headed off then, and were quickly whizzed through security once we were in the building. I was given a pass that says, “BBC Visitor” which gave instructions to return it upon departure. I have to admit to still having mine, and yes I realise this makes me deeply uncool. The lift up to the correct floor is absolutely tiny, but before I could continue with my fantasy of being trapped in there with Huey Morgan, we arrived.

Busily Fenella gathered up the papers and documents and bits and pieces she needed to do her first bulletin, and as i sat there feeling a bit wowed about it all, Sally Traffic popped in to say hello. Then with the six o’clock news over with, we went for a wander. We stood and gawped at Simon Mayo through glass for a bit, listened to Bob Harris talk about bum cancer from Nashville and then went to get a cuppa. I was making myself feel useful by carrying some papers round for Fenella and increasingly felt like Baby Houseman, when she carried a watermelon. “It’s okay, I’m carrying papers you know…”. I then met Steve Wright who is a) more dashing than I imagined and b) really very lovely indeed. The sort of person who is so smashing, you feel that you’d like to hug him. I didn’t though, rest assured.

After a bit of a natter with Steve (first name terms, see?) we set up in his studio so that Fenella could do the remainder of her bulletins from there. What I hadn’t realised was that after a certain time at night, instead of filing ones nails, shopping online or practicing a golf putting technique with the aid of a coffee mug, the news presenter is actually in control of the ENTIRE station. So every segue, link, programme and back-up programme (I probably have the technical names all wrong, but you get the idea) on that evening, were entirely as the mercy of two red heads, who 24 hours before had been in a nightclub, arms aloft, yawping, “So let me go faaaaaarrrrrrrrr!” at the tops of our voices. Now obviously as a visitor I did very little except make tea for me, Fenella and Trevor Nelson (Trev’s producer was new that night, and couldn’t get the hang of the machine) and collect news scripts from a printer. However, the idea of duct taping Fenella to a chair and taking over the airwaves for my own evil purposes did cross my mind.

At about half eleven, and after five bulletins, alot of BBC tea and much gossiping, Janice Long came in. Now it had all been exciting and wonderful (except going to the loo straight after Jo Whiley and finding the seat warm) but this was the best bit. I love Janice, and having met her in person and chatted a while, I love her even more. She is where it’s at. She is passionate about music, really properly knows her stuff and knocks many of these young pretenders of broadcasting into a cocked hat. It was an absolute pleasure to meet her. What made it even more of a pleasure was when Janice began her programme with a little on-air chat to Fenella, who had just delivered the midnight bulletin. “Thanks Fenella, so how was the Dodgy gig?” she asked. “Great thank you Janice”, replied Fenella, and continued to tell her a bit about the gig and how good the music had been. “That’s great Fenella. And was Clair from Crewe there?…”. Blimey. A mention from Janice Long, who was sitting just feet away, smiling at me through several sheets of glass. SQUEEEE!

Anyway, hometime. A swish looking car with blacked out windows was waiting outside Western House for us, and transported us back to Fenella’s, like proper celebs (or drug dealers, take your pick). It was about 1am when we got back, and so straight to bed. Fenella explained that we had an early start tomorrow, and so I set my alarm for 8am.

I was up and at ’em by 8:30, and we caught a train to Victoria just after 9. My host was a bit concerned about me, a provincial type, travelling through the capital at rush hour, but it was fine. Nothing to it, just busy, that’s all. We said quick goodbyes on a delayed and slow moving Victoria line tube, as Fenella got off at Oxford Circus, and I continued on to Euston. Once there, I found the next train I could take was almost an hour away, but that was okay because t gave me time to grab a coffee, acclimatise myself to reality and de-Londonise. Ann rang to catch up on each other’s gossip, and it was just the loveliest way to feel like I was going home.

I had a wonderful time, was really glad to have seen great friends and to have made new ones, and to have had some truly money-can’t-buy experiences. A great gig, a lot of love, a kick through the leaves in a pretty park, a fantastic and generous host for my stay and to have been able to learn so much about one of my favourite things in life: radio. Enormous thank yous to everyone who made that possible.

And that’s why I love London again.

London Loves – Part 1.

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.

Four Counties.

Last Saturday I had an X Factor and vino date with Becky but she had most inconveniently caused herself a neck injury and a migraine through decorating her bathroom, and so we postponed to the results show the following night. I still don’t understand why she was decorating – she has a husband, so why have a dog and bark for yourself? Anyway, this left me with a Saturday night with nothing to do except catch up with the Dodgy tour, which had stopped off at the throbbing metropolis of Shrewsbury. The rain was absolutely wazzing down, but I figured if I took it easy along the back country lanes (no laughing at the back), it’d be okay. It was, phew.

It was a weird place for Dodgy to play in; the Four Crosses Hotel in the middle of the Shropshire countryside, and it looked more like a mock-Georgian wedding venue than a kicking gig venue. However, I was (unusually) wrong, and it turned out to be fantastic. The room was absolutely packed and the crowd were jumping, the gig was truly fantastic, the whole thing sounded amazing and it was nice to catch up with the boys, as always. I was driving home again (uurgh) so I stayed sober (double uurgh) and stayed just long enough to say ‘hello’, ‘great gig’ and ‘see ya soon’.

During the following week I visited my mate Mark the Yid on Monday, had tea at me Mum’s on Tuesday, went to see Dad and took Bryony out to McDonalds (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it) on Wednesday, had pizza and stayed over at Ann & Tilly’s place on Thursday, and had a wonderful dinner at Marie & Paul’s on friday, which was produced from the River Cottage Garden vegetable cook book I bought for Marie a couple of weeks back. Busy bee, huh? I love it like that, nothing better than catching up with friends and family, and putting the World to rights.

Friday was also birthday day for two of my younger pals. Bryony turned 15 (going on 30), and Tess had her first birthday. I’ve decided that since so many people have birthdays at the end of September and the beginning of October, sex during the Christmas and New Year holidays should be banned. Do your friends and relatives a favour people. If you’re even vaguely fertile, keep your genitals to yourself from mid-December to mid-January this year. Thank you. As you were.

Saturday came, and with it a BRILLIANT weekend ahead in the best city in the entire World – Liverpool. Oh, and I need to point out that you can try to tell me London’s better or Manchester’s better, or that there was this place in South east Asia you saw when you were backpacking in 1994, but you’d be wrong. It’s Liverpool, end of.

Having taken Mum to get her ‘flu jab and helped to change Granny’s bedding and one or two other errands, I finally got to the railway station and on the chuffer to Liddypoolsville. Ahhhhhh, the feeling you get as the train crosses the Runcorn Bridge, and you know you’re nearly there. It’s just the best. I always start to get butterflies as I get to Lime Street (it might well be my liver groaning as it realises what we’re about to do). Once I’m on the station concourse and can feel like I’m really in the city, I take a deep breath in through the nose. A lung full of Liverpool – nothing finer for the constitution.

I met Lis at the uber-swanky Hard Days Night Hotel, where she had very cleverly booked us into the best room the place (in my opinion). Room 402 has a balcony which gives you a view all the way down Mathew Street, from North John Street, past Pink, past the Cavern, past Eric’s, down to the Grapes and so on. At one end of the balcony you can see the Three Graces over the rooftops, and at the other end you can see the iron arch and slated spires of Lime Street station.

In fact the only thing that is wrong with Room 402 is the portrait of Ringo, who’s pervy eyes follow you around the room (shudder).

Having absorbed a bit of luxury in the hotel, Lis and I wandered along Mathew Street, into town and found a table in a pub that sold bottles of plonk for £6. Oh yes please. We polished that off at a fairly alarming rate, and simultaneously caught up on each other’s news and gossip, since we’d not spent time together since July. Then we wandered on to meet some friends at Villa Romana. I hadn’t been there before and have to say, it was gorgeous. Beautiful restaurant, great staff, and the food was out of this world. Four starters, four mains and two bottles of vino came to £80. Can’t say fairer than that, eh? Thoroughly recommended for a belly full of Italian in Liverpool.

We jumped into a cab and got to the venue just in time to get drinks, assume a decent position (as opposed to an indecent one) and wait for the first band of the evening. Damien Dempsey is an absolute powerhouse of a man. He’s more Irish than… well, anything really. There is a school of thought that enthuses that Dempsey is currently the very best singer/songwriter this side of Jupiter. I’m not of that school, but I do think he’s really bloody fantastic. Pretty easy on the eye too (wink nudge).

Then Amsterdam. This is a band I got into accidentally. I had been to a couple of Ian McNabb gigs, at the insistence of my then boyfriend. He told me that he knew I would love McNabb’s music, because “it’s music for lovers, and music lovers”. He was right, and long after he and I split up, I was still going to McNabb gigs. I met a few new friends at those gigs (Lis being one of them), and some of those people suggested that I would also like Amsterdam – a celtic, folk, rock, punk, rollercoaster that was a bit of the Clash, a bit of Dexy’s and a whole lot of Ian Prowse, their brilliant frontman.

So, then Amsterdam came on stage and my stomach turned with excitement. Some of the best BEST gigs I’ve ever seen in my whole life have been Amsterdam gigs. I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of all kinds of gigs, and I’m not easy to please musically, so that’s quite an accolade. Saturday night’s show did not disappoint, it was blinding. You just cannot fail to be turned on by an eight piece band like Amsterdam, but if you do fail, call an undertaker. All my favourites were on the set list, as well as new material I’ve never heard before and am looking forward to hearing again. I sang along, clapped, stomped, laughed, cried and squealed with delight. Luckily for me, Lis filmed almost all of it on her fantastic new little Cisco FlipVideo gizmo. To top it all off, we met up with a huge bunch of friends, old and new, some we expected, and others we just didn’t know would turn up and it was a wonderful surprise to see them.

After the gig, Lis and I walked a little way through the city with Dave and Chris, and then we girls peeled off to walk towards Mathew Street. Saturday nights on Mathew Street are always pretty raucous affairs (think Hogarth’s “Gin Lane“), and so we decided to walk along through the mayhem, to our hotel. We saw one immaculately turned out girl in a fabulous red dress, with full WAG tan and make up, long ringlets and a handbag that probably cost more than my car. As we got level with her, she staggered, leaned against a littler bin, sicked up into her own mouth, held it in with her hand, and swallowed it back down. That, ladies and gents, is true class. Once back inside the Hard days Night, we peeled off to the left into Bar Four. A bloke at the bar ordered two cognacs, which were served heated over a flame, and cost him about £30. Bloody hell. We ordered a pair of rum and Cokes and sat down quickly for more gossip and some priceless people watching. Feeling suitably rummed up and snoozy, we eventually wobbled off to our lovely room, and got all jimjammed up. Having had a final pillow-based gossip, it was lights out and the end of what had been a wonderful night out with a much-loved friend.

We woke late and after we had taken our turns in the shower and got dressed, we wandered through Liverpool a bit more. We breakfasted at Patisserie Valerie – one of a small chain of Belgian patisseries that seem to be popping up here and there. After a mini shopping spree en route to Lime Street (all Lis – I was entirely innocent of this) we acquired tea and coffee and hopped onto our train. A slightly sad journey back after such a smashing time, but we chattered away nevertheless and before we knew it, it was time for me to leave Lis at Crewe, and she then carried on to Birmingham, and onward to deepest, darkest Berkshire. A happy time had by both.

Once home I was able to catch up with Facebook, sort my bag out, spend some time with the cat (who didn’t seem to have noticed I was away) and speak to my pal Ann, who had gossip to share. After a long phonecall, catching up with each other’s news, we decided it would be easier for me to pop over there, so we could natter and watch the X Factor results. With bellies full of KFC, we settled in to shout at the telly, especially that Kitty one who needs a metaphorical thump in the gob, as far as I’m concerned. There’s no-one really grabbing me from this year’s finalists so far. We’ll see…

Much silliness and hilarity at Ann & Tilly’s place as usual, and then Spooks. I haven’t been able to watch Spooks since an episode years ago where the ‘baddy’ put one of the Spooks faces into a chip shop deep fat fryer. She came out screaming, fried and disfigured and when eventually she passed out from the agony, the ‘baddy’ shot her in the head. This gave me terrible dreams for ages, and so I have never watched it since. However, this episode was fantastic! Shame it’s the last series. Fucking typical.

This morning, Ann introduced me to something else I’ve never had. Tinned spaghetti and fried egg on toast. When I admitted I’ve never tried this combination, she called me a “Southern Poof”. I can now say with some certainty that having had tinned spaghetti and fried egg on toast, and having declared it delicious, I am now both thoroughly Northern and utterly heterosexual. Eeeeh…

This afternoon I went to pick up the lovely Lucy, and we went into Hanley to sample the food at a brilliant little caff she has discovered and insisted I sample too. She was SO right. Lángos (pronounced lahn-gosh) is a tiny little Hungarian caff, tucked away at the back of the market under the Potteries Shopping Centre. It is named after the traditional Hungarian flatbread that makes up much of the menu there. It’s the sort of thing you can have with cheese, sausage and garlic as a savoury meal, or with chocolate spread and ice cream as a dessert. Delicious doesn’t even come close. Lucy and I had goulash which was pretty much the most amazing tasting dish I have tasted in years. We drank hot apple and maple tea, and then had lángos for dessert. Lucy ordered hers with chocolate spread and banana, and I ate mine with honey and vanilla ice cream. Two meals, two desserts, two hot drinks, less than £10. Perfection. If ever you’re in the Stoke area, try Lángos. It looks like a tiny little teapot and toast style caff, but serves top notch restaurant food at soup kitchen prices.

So now I’m home and I don’t think I’ll be moving from this seat at any point soon. The weather’s gone a bit biblical, there are Jack Russel dogs flying past at some altitude, and all the trees have gone a bit horizontal. The cat’s wandering round with eyes like saucers, like something off a Halloween poster.

I’ve done quite enough gallivanting just lately, across four counties and covering many, many topics of conversation, many types of food and drink, a handful of music genre and with some of the loveliest people I know. It occurs to me tonight, as I relax on my own with my thoughts, that just like everyone else I have my problems, issues and things that go AARRGH in the night, but I have to say that I am a very lucky girl indeed. Thank you so very much to everyone who makes my life so lovely, and bollocks to all the rest… 😉

Weather: buy a chin strap for your wig, probably best if you don’t go out with a big umbrella. Just saying.

I’ve Had The Time Of My Life!

Last Wednesday was my 36th birthday. I’ve come to realise that if I tell people that I’ll be 24, it’s now such an outrageous lie, that no-one questions it:
“So, how old are you this time?”
“Umm… twenty-four.”
“Sorry?”
“Twenty four.”
“Oh. Right. Good, well have fun..!”

My birthday celebrations actually began the day before my birthday, with a slap-up curry tea at Mum & Kev’s, and a veritable skipful of presents to open including scrummy jumpers, a bracelet, fab booze, a bubblicious foot spa, some smellies, and all kinds of other groovy stuff. It was brilliant, really lovely way to kick off the shenanigans.

On the Wednesday, I met with Vampyre Marie, Chicken Tina, Psycho Sarah and Perksy at Giovanni‘s for lovely Italian grub. It was also Perksy’s 40th birthday and so while she thought she was simply joining a quiet birthday celebration for us both, we got balloons and table confetti and banners and all kinds of celebratory paraphernalia to show the town exactly how old she is. Hehehe. Needless to say I’m leaving town for my 40th, and will STILL be insisting that I’m 24.

The food was fab, and there were more beautiful gifts and GORGEOUS cakes, but during our meal all hell let loose. Blue light after siren after blue light after siren passed the restaurant’s frosted windows, and then when they started to stop outside the windows, and all other traffic ceased, we decided that Chicken Tina should nip out for a fag, and see what was going on. Three minutes later, Tina came back with the news that there had been an underground electrical surge so strong that it had blown manhole covers out of the pavements, and fire was shooting through the resulting apertures. Holy fuck.

The main road through the South of the town was on police lockdown, and the restaurant we were in was bang in the centre of the exclusion zone. Furthermore, our sixth guest, La Fudge, was still on a train in from Euston, and her train was stranded outside the station due to a total lack of electricity along the railway and into the station. Eeep.

Eventually the station re-opened and just as I was about to set off in search of La Fudge, she appeared on the restaurant’s car park. Huzzah! Onwards then to Square One, my favourite boozer. We met up with JaffJaff, Bitznpieces an Pokey and I was given some really pretty jewellery and an appetite for getting thoroughly pissed. A few gins and shots later and La Fudge and I were the last men standing. Time to go home. Back at the ranch we had birthday cake and Southern Mist, and took ourselves off to our respective boudoirs.

On Thursday the heat was cracking the flags. Mental late September heatwave really added some glamour to the proceedings! After some lounging about and chasing the remains of a mini-hangover away, we set off for Liverpool. Slow traffic, Cocteau Twins on the stereo and the last glimpse up Summer’s skirts sent La Fudge into an M6 snooze and without too much hassle we found ourselves on the Albert Dock. I parked up easily and we headed off in search of lunch.

En route we bumped into a callow youth collecting comments from passers-by, regarding the Labour Party conference that was going on nearby.

[Youth, over excited] “‘Scuse me, I juzz clectin’ VoxPox from peeble ’bout thuh confruuunce. You godda minute to ansah couplah queshtuns?”
[Fenella, initially disinterested] “I beg your pardon?”
[Youth, exasperated now] “‘I juzz clectin’ VoxPox from peeble ’bout thuh confruuunce. You godda minute to ansah couplah queshtuns?”
[Fenella, playing dumb] “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you mean..”
[Youth, smug face] “Yeah, okay, wot VoxPox are, is, right…”
[Fenella, losing will to live] “Look I KNOW what Vox POPS are, thank you very much. But which conference are you referring to?”
[Youth, incredulous] “The Labour party one…”
[Fenella, holding back a great left hook] “But what makes you think we are AT the conference? We’re here for LUNCH!”
[Youth, deflated] “Oh.”

We looked for a place with a nice view that was sunny but in the shade, and found a table outside PanAm. Food was good, but we were surrounded by Labour Youth. I was disappointed, frankly; not a beret or Guevara badge or scuffed Doc Marten boot among them. We left and wandered along, past the Tate, past Billy Fury and along into the big new Museum. We spent a happy half hour wandering around the music and culture bit and then the city history bit and then it was time to return to the car for our next adventure. EXCITING!

The traffic between Liverpool and Burnley was shite and it took us nearly 2 hours to get there, but we were off to see Dodgy (favourite band of me and la Fudge) so we didn’t mind. Once we found the venue, we found a guitarist (Andy) and a bassist (Stu the Fugitive) smoking at the back, and a frontman (Nigel) and his nephew (Handsome Chris) smoking round the side, closely followed by a non-smoking Derek. La Fudge and I found a Weatherspoons, found an additional Claire (aka Brierley O’Reilly) and sat down for drinks and grub. The band soon followed and lots of laughs were had until they had to run off to get on stage. We ladies finished our drinks and followed rather more casually.

The set-up at Burnley Mechanics felt weird at first; a dancehall room with a theatrical stage, set out with circular tables and seats in a cabaret style. However, once the magic began, it felt right. The crowd listened intently as Dodgy played songs from the new album, and really loved the old stuff played with new treatments. We absolutely loved the gig, properly loved it. Brierley O’Reilly  almost burst with happiness at one point, it was that good.

After the gig we stole booze and fags from the band and their entourage, and then disappeared in a tired but happy fug, along the M6. En route, La Fudge sent a text to Janice Long requesting a shout out for we weary travellers returning from the Dodgy gig. The shout came, but about 10 minutes after we got home. We never heard it, but the band did. Once home we had more birthday cake, more Southern Mist and then beddy byes.

On Friday we were Manchester bound. Having had a lie in, and wander round Crewe in search of something snazzy to go out in that night, a cooked brekker in town and a pot of tea, it was time to leave for the station. It seemed to be no time at all before we were pulling into Manchester Piccadilly, but not before most of the overhead luggage rack had emptied itself onto La Fudge’s head, much to the loud amusement of our fellow travellers. Hehehehe…

A cheeky and stylish sashay through the station concourse, a cab round the corner to Great Ancoats Street and hey presto, we were in our Flash Harry apartment. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, lounge but best of all (considering the mental heatwave) was the balcony. Easily five or six metres of sun-baked decking with glorious views of… the roof of an Aldi. Well, you can’t have it all ways, and we were only there for a night. After a cuppa and a doze, La Fudge and I applied the war paint, fluffed our wigs out and hit the town. Food was acquired at the fabulously new and groovy Band On The Wall, as was the first of about half a dozen bottles of house red.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Dodgy since they re-formed in 2007. I was there at the first re-union gig in King’s Heath, and now I can say I was there the first time Stand Upright In A Cool Place was played in its entirety for the first time. But however many times it’s been, maybe dozens, this THIS was the best ever. It was the best Dodgy gig I’ve ever seen, and I’d even go so far as to say it was the best gig I’ve ever seen full stop. Really and truly. The crowd was properly up for it, the band were in top form, harmonies were perfect and every song from the new album not only sounded brilliant, they started to sound like favourites, and even better, like instant classics.

We laughed, cried, sang, danced, bellowed, hugged and drank. Oh boy, did we drink. By the time we left the venue, I think we had managed to tuck away a good half a dozen bottles of house red. In addition to this we met old friends and new. Really grand to see Jez, Chris, Nicola and a few other familiar faces, and equally lovely to make new friends in Amy, Martin, Henrietta and Emma. The latter two proved to be our drinking partners into the wee small hours, as we escaped from Stu the Fugitive and Handsome Chris and went for veggie kebabs to soak up some vino.

Having scoffed kebab, and laughed about the best bits of the night so far, we retreated further to Henrietta’s place, which is a pretty terraced house just a couple of streets away from all the action. In her garden we drank sangria and texted abuse to Math, who had abandoned his drinking duties to slope off to bed. Shameful. Him that is, not us. Obviously.

Somewhere between 3am and 4am La Fudge and I wandered back along Great Ancoats Street to our apartment, went back onto the balcony and discussed the evening over mugs of tea. Bed at 4:30am and then up at 10am because of the bloody sunshine, which is lovely… when you’re not suffering the biggest hangover known to mankind. Aaaargh. I caught some rejuvenating rays alone on the balcony, and shortly afterwards La Fudge arrived, shuffling out into the sunlight, like a little ginger pit pony in pyjamas. Nothing needed to be said. We just looked at one another, immediately remembered all the ridiculous stuff we’d done the night before and burst out laughing.

Eventually we left, got a cab to the station and found trains to take La Fudge and I to Euston and Crewe respectively. Big hugs on Manchester Piccadilly concourse and the best birthday adventure in years was nearly over. After I returned to Crewe, Becky picked me up to treat me to a tarot reading at Shanti, Dad and Anne Louise treated me to lunch on Canal Street the following day, Ian treated me to pizza that night and yesterday Ken treated me to cuddle cake, sausage butty and tea, and Lucy treated me to crystal healing, another tarot reading and a long and enjoyable chinwag, in which the World was put to rights.

It has lasted a whole week, but it’s been the best birthday adventure ever, and probably the best 24th birthday anyone has ever had.

Weather: hot as fuck. Very peculiar.