Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman

About Me

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Red sky at night

From our doorstep on the third floor of our Battersea estate you can see the delightful Crown pub to the left where local chieftains hang about outside spitting and doing drug deals.

To the front is usual estate action. Kids running about on the corrugated iron topped garages, rubbish building up at the base of a streetlamp, CCTV cameras pointed at the parked cars below us.

To the right, during the winter when the trees are bare, you can make out the tip of the House of Parliament and the Millenium Wheel. Did I mentioned I have an 0207 dialling code? Anyway. It's not a view that would lead you to gasp for breath. Neither good nor bad nor remarkable in any way.

But cast your eyes to the heavens and it's a different story. Close enough to see the flight path above but far enough from the sounds the planes make for it to be a nuisance the sky is often dissected by jet trails and spiralled cloud patterns. When the sun goes down it's often quite beautiful.

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Friday, 26 September 2008

Bestiv.all good things must come to an end

Bestival 2008 was my last ever festival. It was at approximately 7am on the Saturday morning that I realised I’d had enough. That the years of knocking down fences, traipsing through mud, starving myself to avoid using the toilets, choosing to drink strawberry cider, £200 to camp in a field, flat batteries with no mobile signal, destroyed tents, damaged bodies, burnt out brains and lost souls had come to an end.

And so, sadly, had the evenings of Orbital, the nights with Darren Emerson, magical dawns at the stone circle, wristband swaps, Underworld, Kasabian, Smashing Pumpkins and acid for free, big belly laughs, grazing and lazing in the sun, enjoying the dirt, smoking and dancing and smiling, Beastie Boys, South London pals and the Reverend Al Green walking on stage in the middle of Glastonbury and screaming ‘Hello London!’ After thirteen years of festival action it was finally time to hang up the wellies.

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It was a combination of factors that led to my decision that first morning. I was alone, dehydrated, hungover and a little chilly. My only pair of trousers lay caked with mud on one side of my bed, my only jacket soaked heavy with rain on the other. My wallet was £100 lighter while the wind that hadn’t abated since we rocked up was buffeting my tent so badly I feared the roof would tear off while I lay there.

The rain that also hadn’t let up since I’d battled to put up my tent on the Friday was still pelting down. Although not as bad as Glasto’05 as this time my tent did its job and was holding up rather nicely despite severe misgivings I was at the very least dry. Unlike the evening before when heavy thunderstorms forced us to dive for cover on several occasions.

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We’d received ample warning that conditions were going to be ‘challenging’. For once the Met office had got it right as the dire weather forecasts leading up to the event proved more than correct. And the weather when we reached Southampton at 7am on the Friday didn’t augur well.

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And by the time we reached the campsite it was starting to rain heavily with the wind whipping up nicely. All of which made putting up our tents such a test of skill and dexterity that it made me think of nominating it as a new sport for the 2012 Olympics.

Thankfully Bestival is a friendly sort of place; one of the reasons we enjoyed ourselves so much the year before and a bunch of strangers helped us out. And after we’d put the tents up, had a walk around we went back to our base and started on the red wine I’d brought along. It was a nice moment and to mark the occasion the sun finally appeared which led to 20,000 people cheering up and down the campsite.

For the first time since our 5.30am wakeup call it was time to relax. We’d arrived, the weather looked good and we chilled out inside my four man tent watching the world go by and waiting for the others to arrive. As it was we ended up sitting inside our tent through the only two hours of sunshine that we’d see for the next 24.

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Luke and Tash joined us soon after and pissed on wine and rum we helped them put up their tents. And not a moment too soon as it started to tip it down once again. This time we were drunk and found the situation fairly amusing as we huddled under a lowered gazebo. All the gazebos had had their legs shortened. The reason for this was the nightly high winds; which had deposited them all over the field. One girl we overheard said that hers had been blown off in the night and they hadn’t been able to find it. Which gives some idea of the strength of the wind hitting the Isle of Wight that weekend.

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Taking advantage of a clear spell we left Luke and Tash to arrange their stuff before wandering back into the main area with plans to meet up later that evening. We didn’t see them, or anyone else, until 6pm the following evening.

What we did see a lot of was pissing rain and despite being veterans of hard time moments at festivals after a couple of hours of extreme soaking (another possibility for 2012) all three of us hit the wall.

While waiting for Richard to come back from the toilets it started hammering it down. And as we had no shelter we all got drenched. It was dark, cold and as we made our way to the Big Top our moods worsened and a severe sense of humour failure was experienced.

Once in the shelter we all started shouting a lot about our lot. We were so fucked off we even considered going back to the tent. It was eight o’clock. We’d reached the tipping point and we all stood there in the gloom waiting for a band we’d never heard of to come on.

But instead of admitting the defeat that crossed all of our minds we dipped into our manbags and produced more rum and red wine. Abandoning our no smoking policies we purchased cigarettes and tucked into vodka jellies that a random was selling at the back of the tent.

The answer to the problem was alcohol and lots of it. We got slaughtered and spent the remainder of the evening staggering around, failing to find our mates, awaiting bands to appear on stage, getting drenched, eating overpriced food and cleaning Annabelle after she fell over in the mud. It was hardly a classic evening’s entertainment.

And so my moment arrived. After years of watching friends reach their own personal limits at festivals in 1998, 2005 and 2007 I hit mine the morning of the first day of Bestival 2008. The love affair was over.

But that’s not to say I didn’t have some good times throughout the remainder of the festival. Similar to Glasto 2005 things got easier as it went on. But if the major bands we had come to see weren’t playing on the Sunday night it’s likely I would have gone home a day early. But as it was we soldiered on.

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Saturday was another grim day with frequent showers. And most of it was spent looking at the time and wondering when it would be okay to start drinking again.

After a short stroll up to the bandstand and a tasty fishfinger sandwich (that isn’t an analogy) we succumbed to the inevitable and bought a couple of brews. Our mood started to rise and even another strong shower dampened our bodies but not our spirits as we sought shelter in nearby bushes.

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After spending the previous night sending and receiving several thousand unsuccessful texts that went along the lines of ‘where are you?’ ‘am by the big tent, second pole from the front’, ‘am near main stage, just to the left but can’t see you’ ‘see you by the entrance at 9’. We actually managed to meet up with Gabe, Oli, Joe, Rohan, Dave D and the others.

And I had a really enjoyable evening as unlike the one before several bands and dj’s were playing that we actually wanted to see with the highlight being The Nextmen in the Bollywood tent.

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But after the sleepless nights before and the early starts I was knackered and headed back to my tent just after midnight for a good ten-hour sleep. It was exactly what I needed and another example of why camping weekends are for me a thing of the past as while I write this ‘blog the thought of that sleep feels me with more than pleasure than nearly every other incident I’ve mentioned.

Sunday saw me awake in far better spirits than that of the morning before. Like the year previous I’d brought a huge double airbed & duvet and unlike Bestival 2007 I’d brought a four man tent (for one) rather than a two man tent (for two) which meant I could happily stretch out at every opportunity. Bountiful amounts of snack bars, fruit, hula hoops and bottled water meant I was more than happy nestled away in my corner of an ever increasingly muddy field.

Richard and Annabelle on the other hand were struggling. Stuck in a smaller tent than mine their opening flap was caked in dirt, they had a hole which meant a constant stream from one side of the tent to the other and their moods were worsened by the fact they were forced to blow up their airbed every night by mouth as it had a puncture and the airbed pump didn’t work. Happy days.

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The picture above wasn’t their tent but you get the idea. I don’t know what they were moaning about to be honest. It could have been a lot worse.

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By the time we got ourselves into gear it was approaching midday on the Sunday and once again we found ourselves trekking along to the bandstand area attracted by the taste and smell of the fishfinger sandwiches we’d tucked into the day before.

When we got there we bumped into Gabe, Oli and Dave D who was busy trying not to laugh at his girlfriend Megan who’s just fallen into the mud. It meant he had to leave us to go back to their tent so the five remaining chilled out in weather approaching acceptability. And as we relaxed in the sun we were given wristbands which granted us free gins at one of the tents.

Despite misgivings due to hangovers we ventured in and were greeted by the unusual sight of Sanjay of Eastenders fame simulating sex with a purple flamingo. I kid you not. It made for an interesting hour or so and while we couldn’t get a photo proving how far a man can fall we did get one of us posing inside a picture frame and also one of Sanjay.

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The weird thing about Sanjay is that when the group of us had been up to Edinburgh in 2004 he’d been there then as well. Strange.

Now that we had gin in our bellies and a text from Luke to meet up we were back on our way. We also had some bands to look forward to seeing. So with something approaching the festival spirit we headed off to the Mohito’s Bar for a catch up with the rest of the gang.

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After a few drinks and with the main acts of the night soon approaching those of us who hadn’t left met up to dance to the Freestylers and then onto the main stage for Underworld. For despite listening to their music for approaching fifteen years I’d never seen them live and it was a fitting end to the festival. I couldn’t wish to see a better band on my final foray.

Their set didn’t disappoint and after a couple more brews and a bit of food on the way back that was it for Bestival 2008. And as trying as it had been at times we had enough good memories to make it worthwhile. Thankfully Dicky was driving us back in the morning so we didn’t have a journey from hell awaiting us. And it was another early start before our drive back to London in glorious sunshine. Typical.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The Edinburgh ‘Festival’

Conjure up an image of a festival in England and what should immediately spring to mind is a windswept field, moody musicians and their bad acoustics, plenty of mud and people desperately trying to convince themselves they’re having a good time (Bestival ‘blog coming soon!) If this is what makes a festival then Edinburgh should start looking into a name change for it couldn’t be more different than that.

It’s quite the most laid back festival going. Set against the backdrop of an idyllic historical city its crammed full of creative types, antiquated buildings and thousands of fringe theatre acts of interest. And there’s plenty of scope for some serious drinking.

The other huge difference between this festival experience and every other I’ve been to is that instead of waking up bleary eyed and dehydrated in a tent I did so in student digs. Instead of struggling in the morning to locate a mouldy old toilet roll before traipsing through swampland en route to catching hepatitis C on a toilet seat. This time I just pulled back my duvet, strolled down the centrally heated corridor and used freshly cleaned facilities shared by six people rather than thirty five thousand. It was quite pleasant.

But it couldn’t be a festival without rain and this was no difference. And by all accounts it had made more than a guest appearance in the weeks preceding our arrival. Several of the comedians used it as material for their shows as for the first two weeks of August it had pissed it down.

By the time we hit town a sighting of sunshine was being talked about as excitedly as any of the 2,000 acts on show. And that included Hans Teeuwen who may well be the long lost son of the ‘Flying Dutchman’ I met in Perth back in 2006.

Arriving just after midday on the Friday it seemed that those certain things that occur whenever I arrive in a country continued. Firstly, that it’s raining at the moment I disembark. And secondly, that Fulham choose this moment to beat Arsenal. And both occurred once again to spark reactions at separate ends of the emotional spectrum.

As we struggled with our luggage in the pissing rain I immediately regretted wearing my suede shoes with holes in the front, back and bottom. I think it was god’s way of telling me not to be a cheapskate and buy a new pair as within ten minutes they and my socks were drenched through and I was keeping an eye out for shoe shops rather than soaking up the Edinburgh atmosphere.

Thankfully it didn’t take long to walk to our digs as we’d booked rooms near the centre of town. Unlike last time there were to be no late night long drunken treks back for us just short ones.

Fe and I, Luke and Tash, Fe’s sister Lizzie, Calum and Bradford were in the same block which meant we had a floor to ourselves, with bathroom and kitchen facilities to share. It was like being a student again but with money in the bank, an inclination to shower and the intention to actually do something apart from getting trashed.

Thankfully for those amongst us unsure of this new world order the first event we were booked into combined the arts with the art of drinking. ‘Office Party’ takes audience participation to a whole new level. For without an audience there would be no office party.

The premise is that you turn up and are immediately split into different groups/departments within a fictitious company. Everyone is given a name tag and I was put in the ‘domestic services’ along with Fe and Lizzie. And we were almost immediately whisked away into nearby toilets to have a celebratory drink and a talk with our departmental head, Cath.

Being actively encouraged to drink alcohol throughout the show and the unusual start to proceedings immediately impressed me. But Fe was clearly petrified that Cath was actually going to get us to clean the toilets.

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After drinking shots by the urinals, we trooped out and me and Cath led a conga line around the hall before being joined by those in the other departments.

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All this was followed by several trips back to the bar in the auditorium that ‘Office Party’ is staged. While a live DJ, various stage acts, and ‘appearances’ by the various divisional heads and the boss of the company reminded everyone that they weren’t just at a normal run of the mill disco.

It lasted for a good two hours and was more than worth the £18 entrance fee. It featured nudity, limbo, fake puke and tribalism between groups that up to two hours previously had never come face to face.

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The spirit that those involved participated reminded me of School Disco during the late 90’s. And I believe ‘Office Party’ could go somewhere to replicating the success. As it draws on experiences everyone over the age of 21 can relate to, it allows attendees to have a big drink and a dance while also providing entertainment and a lot of fun.

And at the end of the show everyone is expected to stick around and continue dancing away and drinking at the bar. In fact even those who don’t attend the show can pop in and join the disco. I don’t want to ruin the surprises in the show but it matters not that I say this. Unless I go again it’s unlikely you’ll see this drunken fool anywhere near the stage.

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Nor will you see these crazy types strutting around on the dance floor.

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It was a fantastic evening. The perfect start to what would be one of my best festival experiences of all time.

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The remainder of the evening was spent at a local bar where we drank late into the evening. And my cousin Stuart learnt a valuable lesson after Calum went to get him a burger. In trusting Fe and Lizzie to pass it to him when it arrived he realised that these Kiwi girls aren’t the types to let free food pass them by.

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The next day Stuart had stopped moaning about losing half his burger to the two gannets and we all took the chance to watch ‘Pluck’ in action, have a look around the Golden Mile and visit the Scottish Museum for a view over the city.

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Several of us were nursing huge hangovers for the second day running. And because of our advancing years a couple even took the opportunity to go home for a nap. But for the hardcore amongst us the afternoon was spent sitting down and having a nice chat and taking a photo of Calum’s name in the floor of the Museum.

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That evening we went to see ‘The Time Step’ which featured our friend Marnie and the mother of our mate Sam, the award-winning actress Linda Marlowe. It was a fantastic play which boasted some superb one-liners, good intense acting and a neat twist along the way. And it ensured we could all say we’d witnessed a bit of culture during our stay.

Later that evening we went to see the American comic John Pinnette. I’d booked these tickets and so it was on my head if he turned out to be a bit of a turkey. But we were all in good spirits before he hit the stage. And his act didn’t give anyone any reason to complain. Another big boozy night soon followed.

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For Stuart there had been another painful lesson to learn. After being promised a sofa to sleep on back at our place he’d stayed on drinking with Luke, Tash and Lizzie. But on arriving back at ours in the early hours found out that Fe and I had stolen it from the living room to add more space to the single bed we were sharing. His pleas for a spare duvet fell on deaf ears and he spent the night on the kitchen floor covered only in a coat. That’s South London hospitality for you.

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For the rest of us, Sunday started much like any other with a headache, memory loss and a single confused eye open with a mind working overtime behind it trying to work out if an ass had been made of oneself the evening before.

Again the day was spent milling around the town centre and catching up on the football reports from Fulham’s 1-0 win over Arsenal.

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The sun was out and spirits were still high despite the effects of alcohol on our aging bodies and minds. For what better fill-up than a trip to see Pluck in action and their new show ‘The Titanic’ which plots the last moments of the band that sailed on the doomed ship. Sounds depressing? Anything but as it was given the Pluck treatment in front of a packed out crowd that lapped it up. It was magnificent stuff.

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Following this we had a couple of hours before the second comedy act I’d signed everyone up to. A strange sounding man by the name of Hans Teeuwen and his Underground Amsterdam Comedy Collective.

We headed to a nearby curry house that we’d visited in Edinburgh on our last visit back in 2004. We were running a bit late so had to wolf down the tasty hot food and hot step it to the theatre.

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Just in time for the evening’s entertainment and we joined the queue which was already filing into a small, blacked out venue which had us in a sweat moments after entering.

On the stage was a piano to one side and a single mic on the other. The rest of the stage was blacked out. And some upbeat Eurotrash pumped out of the speakers. It was all boding so well. And then he came on.

Offensive, physical, aggressive, overtly loud, childish, musical, extreme, uncomfortable, sweaty and did I mention offensive? Hans ticked every single fucking box. And split our group firmly down the middle.

For the likes of me, Luke and Bradford it was the best show we’d seen. For Fe and Lizzie it was most definitely the worst while Tash was somewhere in the middle finding some of it funny and amusing and some of it childish.

It was to be the talking point of the weekend as his act veered from one outrageous subject to another. Every seen a comedian touch on paedophilia one minute before embarking on a sexual encounter with God via a story about a disabled firefighter? I did mention it was a comedy show didn’t I? This is a guy worth seeing.

The last big night of the festival ended with me and Luke arguing on the dance floor about who would take the woman’s role as we ballroom danced our way round a tacky Edinburgh club. Thankfully there aren’t any photographs of that particular moment but embarrassingly I have to admit to succumbing. I obviously consoled myself with a spot of air guitar.

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And that was about it really. The Monday was probably one day too far for us all. With Stuart having gone home the day before and with Luke and Tash flying back that night the holiday was coming to an end. And after three days of hardcore drinking it was time to head back to London and normality. But with promises we’d return and do it all over again in the not too distant future. Edinburgh rocks. It really does.

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