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Sunday, 22 March 2020

Getting the blues in Chicago


Getting the blues in Chicago

Monday 18th June 2018
Following my adventures in New York and Detroit I was embarking on the final leg of my tour and heading for Chicago. Passing time until my train journey started I took in the Sweden v South Korea World Cup game on the television in my hotel room. Supporting Sweden of course! Sweden won 1-0 to progress in the tournament and I was sure Gareth, Jenny and Polly would be celebrating in Stockholm.

I ordered a taxi to take me to the station, which didn’t appear to be too far from my hotel as it happened but in the heat, 64o, it would have been silly to walk it. Railway stations always hold an interest for me, particularly foreign ones. I like comparing them to those back home and in my experience I have to say, most of the ones I’ve visited don’t compare at all. Detroit was no exception. A nondescript building which housed the ticket office and waiting room beset on a sparse piece of land conjuring up an image more akin to a mid county branch line, was disappointing. Maybe railways are not that important or cherished in this part of America I pondered. Sitting in the waiting area with nearly an hour to spare the time was spent studying my travelling companions who gradually came in to fill all the seats. One I couldn’t miss was a huge black lady taking up two seats on a bench who immediately filled me with dread, should she have a perch alongside me on the train. Thankfully she didn’t.

We embarked the Amtrak from the platform which was in the open air, a narrow strip the health and safety merchants at home would have a field day on. So began the 8 hour journey to the ‘Windy City’.
If I was looking forward to replicating the memorable Memphis to New Orleans journey I had undertaken the previous year I was to be disappointed. The air conditioning was nil, and the scenery was the same. Dull. You imagine criss crossing America by train to be full of wonderful landscapes, peaks, lakes and isolated townships with their own peculiarities. Which had made the New Orleans run, transgressing through Louisiana and Mississippi, the swamplands, a really true experience. Detroit to Chicago was far less inspiring. Tedious. Only place that distracted the boredom was Kalamazoo which had me straight away singing the old Glenn Miller song in my head; 

‘A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H, I got a gal in Kalamazoo
Don’t want to boast but I know she’s the toast of Kalamazoo
Zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo’

They don’t write lyrics like that anymore! Or maybe they do. 
All the same it had me thinking; ‘so this is where the place is!’

The journey was monotonous, I was surprised by the lack of anything remotely interesting to look at. And it wasn’t helped with the train stopping regularly in a loop to allow one of the legendary mile long freight trains to pass. I did pass some time in the buffet bar where I  managed some idle chat with other bored passengers. One guy proved to be a music nut like myself and an engrossing conversation passed an hour, talking about the early 60s rock and roll scene both here in the States and in the UK. Unsurprisingly he had never heard of Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Cliff Richard, Mark Wynter… but was intrigued when I told him about The Tornados being the first British group to have a number one hit on their Billboard Charts in 1962. And I was co-writing the biography of the Tornados drummer Clem Cattini. 

Contrasting with Detroit, the Union Station, Chicago was like an airport. Negotiating my way through the complex which reminded me of Brazil’s São Paulo International Airport, endless, (I had a connection flight there from Johannesburg to Buenos Aires in 2016, a nightmare!) I eventually found my way to an exit and a taxi rank, where the queues were stretching way way back into the station. Took me some time and then the journey to my hotel, the Raffaello was equally as long. Rush Hour apparently! 

The Raffaello was well situated, just a couple of blocks from Lake Michigan and well placed to explore the city’s delights. Settled in, refreshed, the time was 8pm and tired after a long day I strolled down the avenue to get a feel of the area and find somewhere to eat. A bar about half a mile way looked comfortable and aching for a drink I entered, sat on a stool at the bar, ordered a beer and a Fajita Mexican meal which went down a treat. Pleasurable it was!  As was the chat with the barman who enlightened me on the blues clubs, which was the main reason I had wanted to come to Chicago.
Nice way to end the day. But not before I took the elevator in the hotel to the rooftop ‘speakeasy style’ Drumbar, 17 storeys up. Surprised, not sure why, the bar was busy, background music and the phalanx of guests providing a relaxed and cool backdrop. 
View from the rooftop

Described; ‘The moody yet energetic bar boasts an intimate indoor lounge area and a beautiful outdoor terrace with views of Lake Michigan and the Hancock building. Drumbar’s spirits menu is comprised of an unparalleled selection of earnestly sought after whiskeys, scotches, bourbons and cognacs. Many of these are limited released, one-of-a-kind, highly allocated products meant to offer some of the world’s most unique spirits to guests. Drumbar also has a unique partnership with The Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, an organisation that selects and bottles single-cask scotches from distilleries all over Scotland.’

All of which would have impressed my friends back home.. but I settled for a couple of bottles of cold beer! And called it a night.

Tuesday 19th June
Chicago is famous for many things but I guess none more so than the blues clubs, and the infamous and legendary Al Capone. We all grew up watching the great Hollywood gangster movies depicting the 1920s and 30s prohibition era, starring James Cagney, Edmond O’Brien, the Dead End Kids. ‘Top of the world Ma!’ and all that. One of my favourite movies was the 1967 ‘St. Valentine’s Day Massacre’ starring Jason Robards. The story of Capone’s henchmen gunning down members of his rival 
Bugsy Moran’s gang in a garage situated at 2122 N. Clark St. in the Lincoln Park area. For me, this was the main port of call I really wanted to see.

I bought a ticket for one of the ‘gangster’ tours and joined a gang of around a dozen others on the so-called ‘Black Bus’. Good way to see the city apart from anything else I figured, but it was the mobster sites I really wanted to see. Turned out to be, I have to say, slightly disappointing.
The guide, a youngish student looking type at the front of the bus was very informative, and amusing but after around 20 minutes it all just sounded like waffle to me. As if he was trying to think of something else to say. First destination on the tour was the Biograph Theatre in North Lincoln Avenue where back in 1934 another famous gangster, John Dillinger, was gunned down by the police. Now to many, Dillinger was decidedly second division compared to Capone, probably not as many films made about him! He was in fact, the more you learn about him, an interesting character achieving legendary status ‘of near Robin Hood proportions’ our guide informed us. America like their ‘gangs’, the Bonnie and Clyde Barrow Gang that rampaged through the States around the same time for instance. And of course before them the Jesse James Gang in the Wild West days. Well John had his ‘Dillinger Gang”, hitting the road and robbing a couple of dozen banks AND four police stations, which must have been a tad embarrassing. John escaped from jail twice, and obviously believing his own hype, ‘courted publicity’ which the media seized on to build him up as a right character with a ‘colourful personality’, ‘full of bravado’. J.Edgar Hoover, Director of the F.B.I. thought otherwise however and decided enough was enough and set about cornering him.

Dillinger had managed to escape from four states with the police on his tail, for almost a year. Returning to Chicago in July 1934 he found refuge in a brothel owned by Romanian prostitute, Ana Cumpănaș, who, suspicious, informed police and federal agents of his whereabouts. On July 22 the police closed in on the Biograph Theatre where he was enjoying an afternoon out with his girlfriend Polly and Ana who by the sounds of it, invited herself along, eating popcorn and watching ‘Manhattan Meldrama’ a gangster film, naturally, starring Clark Gable. 

Exiting the theatre they were confronted by Federal agents, led by Melvin Purvis and Samuel Cowley. John drew his gun and tried to run, but was shot in an alley adjacent to the theatre.
And here we were, in the alley, listening to this tale and trying to imagine what it must have been like to witness the scene that occurred here some 70 odd years ago. Fascinating really. Made Capone sound boring!

Well that was interesting but I really did want to find out more about the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. Our guide gave us some info on Al Capone’s exploits, how he virtually ran the whole of Chicago in the 20s and 30s, the speakeasies, the liquor rackets, the lawyers - and his battles with Bugsy’s mobsters. What he didn’t do, was enlighten us much on the infamous St Valentine’s Day massacre. Sure, we went down Clark Street where the garage was, but we virtually drove right past it! Ok, a lot has changed, the garage is no more, long gone, but the wall where Bugsy’s men were lined up and machine gunned was still there. Truth be told, set back from the street, nobody would know or be any wiser of its significance. But surely we could have stopped and got out to have a look, take a picture of the wall even if it has been re-painted and re-pointed! 
Anyway, we moved on, around a few streets which I could have sworn we drove around about three times. Stopped opposite a store where another battle had ensued, ‘you can still see the bullet holes’ and the tour was finished off with a visit to a bar where the walls were adorned with framed copies of front pages of 1930s Chicago Tribune news reports on the gangsters.

I don’t think I was the only one who left the Black Bus a little underwhelmed but there you are.
The Windy City Rebels
So, back at base, refreshed and changed, I set off to find the House of Blues Club. A venue of particular interest for me in that Gareth had played there with Speedhorn just a few years before. Impressive it was too. A large quite imposing building, a couple of floors, bars, a souvenir shop. The venue reminded me a bit of the old Bailey’s Clubs we had in the U.K. back in the 70s. Good vibe there. A fellow called Mike Wheeler on acoustic guitar entertained the crowd before being followed by The Windy City Rebels, great name, and a great band. After buying a couple of tee shirts I settled in for some beers, and a meal, hamburger and fries, which was crap! Didn’t really surprise me. Ive never been that impressed generally with American cuisine. But never mind, the music and beer was good. Most enjoyable way to spend an evening. Tomorrow would be another good day, I was excited and looking forward to visiting the famous Chess Studios. 

Wednesday June 20th
Waking up on my penultimate day of this trip/ tour around New York, Detroit and Chicago I lay thinking about the highlights and sights I’d encountered so far. I’d had an agenda of sorts, to visit as many of the music establishments/ venues I could as well as the obvious points of interest like Central Park, Times Square, Greenwich Village. 

Being a blues fan since the days of the ‘British Blues Boom’ of the mid 60s and the earlier British R & B scene of the Stones, Kinks, Animals, Downliners Sect a visit to the Chess Studios here in Chicago had always been high on my list. I knew it lay on South Michigan Avenue, number 2120 to be exact. I remembered that from way back when I bought the Stones ‘Five By Five’ EP, which included an instrumental track titled with the address of the studio. Not that I realised it at the time. 
Getting around these cities is fairly straightforward when you get the hang of it. All grids and blocks. Michigan Avenue was running along just behind my Raffaello Hotel and I assumed that going by that, finding the Chess Studio would be a doddle. Which isn’t too far from the truth….
I decided to walk for a bit to view the shops, restaurants and bars before with one eye on the clock, deciding to get what I thought they called the metro. Chess was about five miles away! 
This was an unexpected delight as well, much of the ‘metro’, which I discovered is referred to as the ‘L’ line is overhead, ‘L’ is short for elevated’  and the ironwork constructions are exactly like you see in the old films of Chicago. Gives you a feel of walking around history. Nearest station to the studio was Cermak-McCormick Place. A new station opened only couple of years before in 2015. Walking distance about ten minutes. With time to spare, the studio wasn’t open until 12 noon, I investigated the surrounding area, back streets where you always find items of interest. And I came across a graffiti daubed row of units under the ironworks of the ‘L’. Not the usual scribbled mess you normally see, the graffiti was very artful, decorative, and two coaches parked outside were equally impressive. Think of the days of Sgt Pepper and John Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls Royce and you get the idea. 

Standing waiting patiently outside Chess I was joined by another chap, a bespectacled student looking type with camera over his shoulder and notebook in hand. We acknowledged each other before the lady in reception opened her door and invited us in.

A brief history and parting of a dollar or two, forget what it was exactly but that didn’t or doesn’t matter, and Mel, a charming and enthusiastic receptionist took us on our tour. First of all she asked us to introduce ourselves. ‘I’m Clive” I said, “from England’ . The other guy introduced himself as “Chris Reynolds, journalist for the L.A.Times”. What! I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d told us he was a Vietnam vet! He looked the part.

Mel had an MP3 player, interjecting stories about Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and so on recorded in this very studio. Which was almost surreal. ‘Johnny B.Goode’ came blasting out. “This was recorded in this very room”. Then Etta James, 'At Last', Bo Diddley. Felt as if I’d been transported to heaven, really quite emotional. Then finally, Mel told us tales about when the Rolling Stones recorded here back in 1964. ‘It’s All Over Now’, one of my all time favourites came out of the speakers. I visualised Charlie set up in the corner, Bill, Keith and Brian Jones perched on stools with their guitars. Mick behind the mic. And it sounded great! Surreal. What an experience. I’ve been to Stax and Sun in Memphis, Hitsville in Detroit, Capitol in L.A. For me, this, Chess, topped the lot.
Mel showing us around.
Before leaving I bought a couple of C.Ds and managed to have a chat and swap emails with Chris Reynolds. Thought he might come in handy somewhere down the line. 

Rest of the day was spent wandering around the shops, bars and down by the river where Pier Park  is situated.
'The epitome of fun. Its where you'll find the amazing Centennial Wheel, the Pepsi Wave Swinger, a 1920's inspired musical carousel, and other nostalgic fairground rides. The Centennial Wheel soars to near 200 feet, with year round climate controlled gondolas for the most spectacular Ferris Wheel ride ever.. It's an iconic part of the Chicago skyline and treasured piece of Chicago history, harkening to the City's 1893 World's Fair. You can even book a VIP Centennial Wheel experience in a glass bottomed plush seated gondola.'

Indeed. Wonderful. If you like fairgrounds. Chicago River at one time polluted the city until authorities decided to miraculously alter the flow so that the pollution, sewage flowed out in to the lake instead. Remarkable!
I came across a bookshop which was excellent. Bought four music books. Nothing I love better, mooching around a bookshop.
And that was about it. Next morning I was getting picked up by Uber for my ride to O’Hare Airport and my return to Britain. As it normally does, it felt as if I’d been away for weeks. I had crammed quite a bit in though..
Like to think I’d return to all these places again sometime..and I’ve a feeling I will.







Sunday, 10 February 2019

Travelin’ Man - Teignmouth


                                                         Travelin’ Man
                                                           Prologue.

July 2012. 

Sue retired as a Phlebotomist on Friday 7th July. Three days after we had returned from a ten day holiday in Moraira Spain. A holiday that was booked a long time before her retirement and to help us get over our daughter Carly’s wedding in the May just gone. Shopping in the Duty Free at Alicante Airport something was clearly amiss as Sue tried hard to remember a perfume she wanted to buy. Prompted and cajoled, she just couldn’t recall what it was. She looked blank. She grew more and more exasperated and finally gave up. I dismissed this as ‘everything is catching up with her’, weariness, but all the same it was disconcerting. This just wasn’t like Sue.
Over the weekend, it got worse. Sue became quiet, couldn’t respond to simple questions, she looked drawn. Sue was always bubbly, always on the go, except when watching her favourite soaps on the TV. I was worried. That Saturday afternoon I called her over to me on the settee, sat her on my knee. I said to her; “Sue, I think we better see the doctor …”.
Normally she would have brushed this off; “Its’ nothing, only a headache..” or something along those lines. 
She looked at me…. and said “I know..”
This freaked me out.

Result was a CT and an MRI scan and then both of us being called in to see the doctor at Studfall Surgery. The news was devastating. Two tumours on the brain and one on her lung. 
“I’m so sorry…”  We sat there speechless and in total shock. 
Having to inform Carly in Widnes and Gareth in Sweden was a nightmare and something I somehow had dreaded I would have to do when Gareth moved over there to be with his girlfriend Jenny in 2002. A phone call with bad news… a dread that someday I would be the harbinger…

What followed was 18 months of hell as Sue went through three courses of draining chemotherapy, months of radiotherapy. The side effects were horrendous, traumatic and invasive. When Sue’s hair began to fall out is when it really sunk in. We were distraught and I felt totally helpless. 
We were determined to fight and beat this dreadful disease as many finding themselves in this situation will tell you. What else do you do? Give in? Accept it? Or fight it. 
Carly was a Radiotherapist at Christie’s Hospital in Manchester, one of the leading cancer hospitals in the world. We had hope. She immediately contacted, arranged and organised, with the help of her consultant, Dr Favour-Finn, to have her mum’s records and treatment transferred to Manchester. 
As the months went by, all was going better than we had dared hope. Each time, following a course of treatment, the scans revealed the tumours to be shrinking, no sign of the disease spreading. Relief was palpable.
Then came the bombshell. It was June 2013.
Dr Favour-Finn looked strained, could hardly look us in the eye. We sat in this little room, Sue, myself and Carly, wondering what was forthcoming. First of all Dr Finn told us; “The tumours are continuing to shrink…..but…”, a pause… “I’m afraid the cancer has shown up on your pancreas”. Silence. It was Deja Vu. A re-run of the meeting in Studfall Surgery when Sue was given the diagnosis.
“How long have I got?” Sue somehow gathered the strength to ask. Stunned beyond belief, we looked silently at Dr Finn. “With treatment…months. Without…weeks’

How do you deal with news like this? The inevitability of the outcome coursing through our bodies like a lightning bolt. 
We left the hospital in tears, holding onto each other as we made our way back to the car. Sue suddenly stopped, looked at Carly…her voice almost a whisper, shaking, she asked Carly.. “Who’s going to look after your dad..”
Some things will stay with you forever. That in her moment of overwhelming distress she should think of my well-being and future was too much. I broke down. 
We had been together for not far shy of 50 years, since we first met on a blind date when we were 17. I couldn’t contemplate life without her.. but with two granddaughters Polly and Ruby to look after, both miraculously born midway through Sue’s treatment, which gave her the spirit to fight on, I had to. 
Of course, I had to. Apart from my own grief I had to help both Carly and Gareth through this terrible ordeal.
Sue lived to see her grandchildren's first Christmas, that’s all she wanted she told me a month before as her body became more frail and racked with pain. She passed away peacefully, if there’s such a thing, with all her family, including sisters Barbara and Christine, at home on Saturday January 4th 2014. 


                                                                               1
     
                                                                           2014
                                                             Devon and Cornwall      

May 7th  Teignmouth..

“I wish I was coming with you” my old mucker John ‘Wilf' Wilson said as he dropped me off at Corby Station. In a way I wished he was too. We share a load of memories from as far back as the 1960s when we used to travel around the country following Liverpool F.C. and going to gigs. “Where's the rucksack?” Wilf asked, laughing. In 1971 we had headed off down south with just that, and a tent on our backs. We were hitch-hiking and bound for the Isle of Wight but ended up in Ramsgate! Not because we didn’t have a map, more because it was done on a whim. The abiding memory is of causing mayhem in shops nearby Ramsgate Station as we knocked boxes of sweets off shelves with protruding tent poles from our rucksacks and being told angrily to “Get out!”. 

Here I was with a hold-all that weighed a ton! I was off for eight days to wander around Devon and Cornwall. Something I had been looking forward to since Sue had passed away. 
There are no rules in coming to terms with and handling grief. At times it catches you unawares, anything can trigger a bout of depression. Loneliness, photographs, memories..You tell yourself, ‘life goes on’, ‘It’s what Sue would have wanted’. Indeed there were times during the latter stages of her life where we discussed just that, candid conversations at night in bed.
I decided  that I had to get away. Away from the house, anywhere, where nobody would know me. I didn’t want to talk to anybody, didn’t want to see anybody. To disappear. And then an idea entered my head. To re-trace our footsteps over the last fifty odd years and visit places from our past and also to where I had never been before. 
Sue was never one to partake in such adventures, she loved her holidays abroad but asking her if she fancied a day out to the coast or a weekend away didn’t really interest her.

Thus I was heading south to Devon and Cornwall where we had enjoyed holidays in Newquay, Bude, Torbay.
I had spent some time since Sue’s passing with Carly in Widnes and Gareth in Sweden, where the legendary Swedish actress Great Garbo rests in peace, in a cemetery not far from where Gareth lives in Stockholm. 
I understood what Garbo meant …“I want to be alone..”

The hour long train journey to London gave plenty of time for reflection. Making my way from St. Pancras to Paddington for the Teignmouth train via the Underground however, brought me back to the present. 
“Single please” I requested at the ticket office. 
“That'll be £4.70p” 
Seemed a bit steep for a ride that passed through only five stations I thought. For some reason I still imagined the Underground was a cheap way to travel. After all, didn’t we used to hop on and off these trains for a couple of bob in the 60s when we regularly came down to watch Liverpool games? 
I know time has moved on, inflation, wages etc have increased too, but £4.70p?
“Do you have concessions for senior citizens?” I asked hopefully. 
“Not for single tickets sir” 
I shrugged my shoulders, smiled, conceded; ‘Typical. If anyone can rip you off in this country they will.’
On reaching Paddington and with an hour to spare I went for a drink at the lavishly named Cafe Rafitta on the concourse. 
“Hot chocolate please” 
“£2.60 sir” 
‘At least everyone is polite but they always are when they are knifing you in the back at the same time’ I  mused. I was slipping into my cynical mood. Sipping the chocolate, which was lovely, I had to admit, I was thinking; 'the Cafe Rafitta? What's that all about? Though I guess it sounds better than a greasy spoon eatery called Joe’s Caff or something’. 

The Cafe Rafitta was apparently of Portuguese origin, which explained the price of a simple egg custard on display, £1.89. 'Stick Portuguese in front of an Egg Custard and hey presto, you have something exotic' I pondered. 'You can pick up a pack of two in Asda for 50p! Outrageous!’ 

Moaning to myself passed the time and I eventually boarded the train for Bristol where I was to change for Teignmouth. I had been looking forward to this but was disappointed not only to find the train crammed, but the journey boring, the view of the countryside boring. One thing that amused me though was the TV screen on the back of the seats, like they have on aircraft and I thought to myself; 'Blimey the Great Western Railway is slowly creeping into the 21st century.' There didn't appear to be much to watch, switching the stations as you do but one item did catch my attention. 'We are travelling at an altitude of 243 feet'. Now that did tickle me. If there’s a more piece of useless information going I don’t know what it is!
Changing at Bristol Parkway I was surprised to discover I would be joining the Manchester to Paignton Cross Country Special. I was even more surprised to discover when it rolled in that it only had four coaches with everyone again packed in like the proverbial sardines. God almighty, wouldn't you think that for a journey this long they would have a full compliment of coaches? Making matters worse was that I ended up being hemmed in around a table by laptop maniacs. All with the obligatory set of earphones to emit the impression they were high profile and typing something really essential; an occasional break to sip a bottle of pure Mountain Spring Water; a nibble from a Marks and Spencer Cheese sandwich and then it was off again. 
They were doing my head in. Bloody posers! 
Then, out of the blue, the ringtone on my mobile went off. Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues blasted out and stopped them in their tracks. It was a call from my mate Danny Coyle. I swear the lap-toppers all paused and looked at me with disdain while I answered Dan the Man. 'Yes' I thought, 'I can be a poser too!'
So far this trip into deepest Devon had been one of disappointment. I had imagined there would be scenes of great beauty, but it was rather bland. Daydreaming about this brought the TV show Fawlty Towers to mind. This is where the show was based, Devon. I gazed out at the passing landscape. Basil Fawlty's diatribe to a deaf old woman complaining about her bedroom view brought a grin to my face. I didn't exactly expect to see the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or herds of Wildebeest galloping by either but it did occur to me. The countryside is really rather dull.
Finally I arrived in Teignmouth at 7pm, it was drizzling, the sky was grey, nobody around at the station. As I took the scene in it suddenly occurred to me; ‘Where the hell is the Bay Hotel where I'm staying?’ I wasn’t even sure what the address was! I decided, easiest way was to get a taxi, simple. But no, there wasn't a taxi to be seen! I began to walk in the direction of the Town Centre. My eyes peeled for a cab coming round a bend. Not one came. A sign pointed to the seafront. I carried on. There was nobody around and thoughts were circling in my head; ‘Christ this place looks lively!’ A young girl appeared out of nowhere, heading my way, oblivious to everything with her headset on. 
“Excuse me”, I stopped her, “Any idea where the Bay Hotel is?” She took her headphones off and I repeated my question.
“No” she said, and put her headphones back on. Ah well! I carried on walking and then much to my surprise and relief, there was the Bay Hotel, right in front of me. A four storey pink building which didn’t particularly look that inviting and I recalled at that moment that I had been forewarned that the hotel had a dubious reputation. I never look at Trip Advisor but Carly and my mate Pat McMahon had both checked it out and both had cracked up, Pat laughing his head off! Carly wailing “Didn't you check this out dad!?” 
“Can't be that bloody bad” I had said. The owner was an alcoholic by all accounts, pissed up at breakfast every morning, she was insulting, the hotel was dirty. My answer to Carly and Pat was the same. “Well I'm only staying there for four nights and I'm not living in the bloody place.”

Knackered and hungry, I just wanted to get checked in and sorted so I could go out for a pint and a bite to eat. A young guy was on the desk. “Ah you must be Mr. Smith?” he announced. Did I detect a hint of impatience? Was he waiting up for me or something? I looked at him; “yes” I replied and asked; “don't you have any taxis in this place?”
“Yes” he said without lifting his head up from the paperwork he was sorting.
“Well I've just walked all the way from the station and I didn't see one!” 
“Oh, we do”
It was clear this conversation was going nowhere, so I left it there. He picked a key up and showed me all the way to the top of the building, up four flights of stairs. Must be packed I figured. No, I was wrong again. Turns out I was the only one there! And they shove me up in the attic!
The room was tiny but adequate. The single bed squeezed in under the window, looking out over the rooftops which was covered in bird shit. It was still pissing down.
‘I've come all the way for this’ crossed my mind. I had a quick wash to freshen up and went out. Looked around the seafront for a while, took some photos of various things, the Lighthouse, Lifeboat Shed, usual mundane things and went and treated myself to a fish supper from the wonderfully named Rock and Sole Fish Bar. Sitting on a bench opposite to enjoy my dinner I was immediately set upon by a hungry seagull. “F—- off!” I shouted. If anyone walking nearby had witnessed this they’d have thought I was a vagrant or a nutter but the gull didn’t bat an eyelid. Whatever, it was getting fuck all.
Two pints in the adjacent Blue Anchor pub to wash my fish supper down and I was ready for bed, which was quite comfortable as it happened. I drifted off into the land of nod, thinking; ‘tomorrow should be a better day. Pat and his wife Yvonne are coming down on their Trike from Bude to meet up before heading home to Corby. It’ll be nice to have some company..’.

It would also be Sue's birthday. She would have been 63.
I woke up to find the weather was still glum, still raining. I was thinking about Sue. A lovely birthday message from her friend Gill on Facebook saddened me but I was determined not to be morose today. I’m forever been told; “Sue wouldn’t want you to be sad, she’d want you to get on with your life”. Of course I knew she would but it was still too early and raw.
I dressed and went down for breakfast, somewhat apprehensive. Where was the dreaded landlady? Was she going to be lying on the floor in a state of undress with a glass of wine in her hand, paralytic? Cursing everyone that came in looking for something to eat? Well, surprise, surprise, there was no sign of her. In fact there was no sign of anyone except a couple of young girls looking bored and hanging around in the kitchen sitting on worktops waiting for someone to come in. The dining area was laid out nice, it was clean, Good Morning television was on. ‘Take a seat Clive’ I said to myself, ‘take your pick’. One of the girls came out and asked me if I wanted a cup of tea first, followed by a Full English. “Sounds good” I said and she trundled off looking pleased to have something to do. Meantime I was waiting to hear some expletives, some crashing of crockery, maybe even a song. Perhaps the landlady's on a bender I guessed, or can't get out of her bed. Felt a bit disappointed to tell you the truth. I was looking forward to meeting this lady, warts and all. Think I could have taken to her. 
Breakfast was served and it was lovely. I don't normally bother with this but I figured that if I was going to spend the best part of my time roaming around in the fresh air, it’d be best to fill the engine up, as they say.

A text message informed me that Pat and Yvonne were arriving after lunch, they were going to stay overnight in an establishment called the James Luny House. Yes you read that right, what a name! I decided to spend this first morning taking a good look around the town and harbour. An ‘easy’ type day after yesterday’s excursion. I was keen to walk the coastal path to Dawlish but was dismayed to find it closed due to the recent storms that obliterated this part of the south coast. Not totally unexpected as the coastline and scenic railway had been decimated in February and was only now showing signs of recovery. A workforce was carrying out repair work as I approached. Nonetheless I walked as far as I could and had a chat with the site manager. Interesting and informative it was. “I’ll have to come back next year then” I said to him. “Yes, afraid so unless you’re around here in about a month”. I wouldn’t be though, pity. I headed into town after this, only small but with plenty of shops, including charity and junk outlets which I love to rummage around in. I bought a half pint Heineken glass jug emblazoned with its colourful logo. Only £1.25p. I have a collection of half pint glasses at home that I’ve nicked from pubs over the years. I don't like pint pots in the house. Think they look vulgar. 
With camera in hand I headed in the direction of the Shaldon to Teignmouth Road Bridge. On the way passing the local rugby club ground which was interesting as it was right next to the railway line and also the sea. How many balls to do they lose during a game I wondered? A big hoof by a full back would surely see the ball flying over the fence and into the harbour. 


Crossing the bridge I received another phone call from Danny. “Where are you?” he asked, “It sounds noisy”. 
“What?” I replied, “I can't hear you”. 
The traffic was constant walking over that bridge and it was noisy. “I’m walking across the sea” I said. That would throw him I thought! Dan laughed and said “Oh, right I’ll get to the point then” and then attempted to explain that he had booked a couple of single rooms in Llanberis, North Wales for an adventure of climbing up Snowdon in June. “Is that OK?” This all sounded like an excerpt from the TV programme An Idiot Abroad!  “Yea, whatever Dan, good stuff” 
I couldn't tell if he had heard me or not, the wind and the traffic noise was quite intense. Another burst of cackle and Dan signed off, I could hear him chuckling; “Good, enjoy the rest of the week, see you soon”.  
Time was getting on and instead of taking the roadway back into town which was hilly I decided to take the overgrown looking pathway running parallel to the railway line. Big mistake! Brambles were overhanging everywhere, snagging me at every opportunity, the path was mostly submerged with puddles from the recent inclement weather and I ended up bogging. ‘This was a bright idea’ I said to myself. My shoes were manky, jeans wet, splashed with mud. Emerging out of this quagmire I happened to pass the place where Pat and Yvonne were due to stay. I couldn't resist sending them a text. ‘I’ve found the Luny house Pat’. Thought that was quite amusing but I've always been one to laugh at my own wit.
The Luny House was owned by a retired Rear Admiral or Squadron Leader or something, ‘very posh’ Pat later told me, ‘bit well-to-do’.
The Lady of the House knew all about the establishment I was staying in; “Oh, yes, she's a barrister, and an alcoholic”.
Well, there you go; it takes all sorts don’t it. Although I still hadn’t seen her, I’d been back inside a couple of times since breakfast and the hotel still appeared to be bereft of life.

Meeting up with Pat and Yvonne we headed for a pub and chewed the fat for a couple of hours, talking about Sue which was nice, talking about a proposed show I was due to make with Pat on Corby Radio, talking about the future prospects of Corby Town F.C.
With it being miserable, grey and still drizzling, it was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon in a cozy, friendly little Inn. The ale was going down well too, enough to dull the senses a tad and cause Pat to crack his head on a solid wooden toilet door! ‘Bar steward!’ he exclaimed rubbing his head, “I’m going to complain, feel the lump on my head!” Sympathy was in short supply as me and Yvonne just laughed and said; “it was nothing to do with the beer then?”
At that we called it a day and went back to our respective hotels to rest, wash and prepare ourselves for the night, a meal and some more refreshment. 
It was nice having good company on such a poignant day.  
Pat and Yvonne were heading home next morning whilst I was going to begin my adventure in earnest. I was ready to make Looe and Polperro my first trip. 

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Detroit City


Detroit

Taxi was booked to take me to LaGuardia Airport. The driver, a New Yorker, was amusing, enlightening and communicative, he cracked me up. Talking in that inimitable yankee way about the American Health Service he stated; “You got plenty of money, you got the best chance of the doctor saving your ass!” It reaffirmed my desire to stay fit while I was over here!
I asked him of his whereabouts during the 9/11 crisis. His story of helplessness, witnessed from a distance, was chilling. He told of a friend who was right there, close to the towers, but escaped the carnage. ‘He just ran and ran like hell to get away from there. Ran all the way home, took him about four hours. He’s never been the same since, haunted, reclusive, traumatised beyond belief’. I can believe it. Reminded me of a poster I saw at the Staten Island Ferry station informing people who were affected by 9/11 that they could still be due compensation. 17 years on and that terrible day remains a haunting memory. A hundred years from now it will still be a haunting memory.
LaGuardia deals with internal flights and so I wasn’t expecting much hassle, how wrong can you be! Turned away at the gate because I hadn’t printed a boarding pass from a machine. Four machines nearby weren’t working! Two wouldn’t accept my credit card, needed to pay for my baggage. Two wouldn’t read my passport when I inserted it! Maybe I wasn’t doing something right but eventually after watching a fellow passenger struggle with the same problem and finally achieving some success I followed her before the machine kicked back into action. Through to the departure lounge which was less than adequate for the numbers milling around I found a table away from the main area and perched myself there for over an hour. Soon it was time to find my gate for the flight to Detroit. Sitting around where I could find a space, which was on the floor, watching the travellers and officials go about their business was fascinating. Some were even turning up with their dogs! I couldn’t believe it. Surely they hadn’t bought a ticket for Fido? The guy checking people in and out was a right card. He immediately caught my attention with his patter. Talk about full of bullshit! Sat there laughing to myself which I think he noticed and only encouraged him to ramp it up. ‘Morning marm. How long you been with this guy?’ ’40 years?’ ‘Awesome!’ ‘Fifi! Welcome to New York.. great name Fifi.. have a great weekend!’ This continued non stop. He was a right character. Clearly enjoyed his job.

The flight was under an hour but when we landed in Detroit it took me another hour to get out! The airport is a sprawling place. When asking where the baggage reclaiming hall was I seemed to be walking forever. I was getting exasperated but others were as bemused as me. After about five miles (sic.) I arrived fully expecting to see my suitcase going round and round on the belt. Well surprise surprise, it wasn’t! I was on the verge of giving up hope when it duly appeared much to my relief. Aching to get out of the airport there was then a pantomime trying to find and then engage a taxi. Back and for, through doors and up and down elevators. Finally I was pointed in a direction where cabs were lining up, and a queue of about twenty people waiting patiently. This was going to drag out until a driver shouted down the line, ‘anyone else going to the centre?’ Five of us dived in and away we went. At last!

The Courtyard Hotel was right on the front, by the Detroit River. Fantastic hotel! Spacious, huge room, great view, for a change! I couldn’t wait to get settled in and then to get out. Temperature was still in the 80s as I strolled in a direction that looked like it was taking me towards some a activity. Not far from the hotel a ‘beach party’ was in full swing with a reggae band entertaining the punters in the heat. Basically it was a big kind of swing park with imported sand, deck chairs and lounges. A good crowd cheered the band on enthusiastically. I got myself a beer and found myself a pew. Stayed for around three quarters of an hour before deciding I needed a meal. My first impressions of Detroit were good. At least where I was at the moment, appeared a tidy and clean place. No litter to be seen. Not like back home. The city has had a gloomy past what with race riots in the 60s, shootings, the gradual demise of the motor industry which gave rise to it’s nickname Motor City. All that is left, as far as I could see and would gather during my stay here was office buildings, skyscrapers still bearing the name Ford, rusty derelict factory sites. Staring up into the sky you can get the sense of what it must have been like back in the days when the city was alive, bustling, assembly lines pumping out vehicles by the thousands every week. A 24 hour town. Bit like Corby with its steelworks during the 50s and 60s I mused. Pondering this I hooked into a Mexican restaurant which was alive and bustling, assembly lines pumping out Fajitas and Burritos. Lots of people, lots of noise, music trying to break through the din. A celebration party adding to the mayhem. Women, all dressed in black, screeching and screaming. Didn’t think it was a funeral wake but you never know in this part of the world. I was too tired to look for anywhere else to eat so I sat on a stool at the bar, ordered some Burritos and a beer. Even though I was starving, I still wasn’t prepared for the size of the meal when it arrived! God almighty! Delicious it was! But just too much. One time, long time ago, I would have scoffed these meals no bother, not any more, but I gave it a good go.
I had a couple of days to spend in Detroit and was looking forward to discovering the place but tonight I was weary. I decided to walk down to the riverfront, get some clean air in my lungs, take in the landscape before heading back to the hotel and a nice cool Blue Moon beer to polish the day off. Thoughts of New Orleans came back to me, where I had first encountered this ale. Tomorrow was Saturday, and a trip to find the building they call Hitsville, the Tamla Motown Studios, was on my agenda.

The sun was shining through the huge window when I woke up. 17 floors up this was a view to die for. The Detroit River to my left. A Riverboat steamer moored up on the right, a huge tanker ponderously making its way up towards the Ambassador Bridge that crosses over into Canada. I tried to figure out where the tanker was coming from, where it was heading to. How did it find itself here? Seemed to me that here in the heartland of the Great Lakes it was a maze. Detroit is surrounded by Lake Erie, Lake St Clair, Lake Huron, Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Ontario. The sea is miles away. Got to be a labyrinth of connecting canals I guessed.

There was a music festival in Detroit this weekend. Celebrating the city’s musical heritage. Headlining were The Jacksons, minus the absent Michael of course. Wasn’t a fan of them but nonetheless it was free. 
First was a trip on the river, scheduled in my mind for Sunday so I took a walk down to the Steamboat to suss out the situation regarding bookings, times etc. A black guy sat on the gantry, the only person around so I asked him if he knew anything. ‘Sure’ he said, ‘just come down half hour before you want to go, 12 o’clock or 4 o’clock. Pay when you board.’ Well that sounded easy enough. Mission accomplished I headed into town for something to eat before heading for ‘Hitsville’. A restaurant on a corner looked inviting, as did an apple and ice cream dish along with a mug of coffee. Chatting to the owner/ waitress gave me an insight into Detroit. She asked me where I was from,  where I was heading for. She was very friendly, informative, very proud of her city, despite its past and reputation. On her advice I hailed a taxi to take me to the Tamla studio. Where the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and the rest recorded so many great hits of the 60s. Took a good half hour to get there and when I arrived I was surprised to find how small it appeared. There was a good crowd hanging around as I made my way to the shop at the front of the building to look for the ticket office. To my dismay the woman told me; ’Sorry Sir, next tour is two thirty’. That was four hours away. There was little else to do so I decided my next move was to go in search of Rosa Parks Boulevard (12th Street) which was the scene of the race riots in 1967.

Rosa’s story reads.. 
‘A key figure in the Civil Rights Movement and the Montgomery Alabama bus boycott of 1955. Rosa Parks had refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus, was ordered off and then arrested by the police. Found guilty of violating segregation laws she was given a suspended sentence and fined $10 plus $4 in court costs. Leaders of the black community led by Dr Martin Luther King organised the bus boycott which lasted for over a year. Harassment and threats to Rosa, her husband and mother eventually saw them move to Detroit, where her brother resided.
Rosa later became an administrative aide in the Detroit office of Congressman John Conyers in 1965, a post she held until her 1988 retirement. Her husband, brother and mother all died of cancer between 1977 and 1979. In 1987, she co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, to serve Detroit’s youth.
In retirement, she travelled to lend her support to civil rights events and causes and wrote an autobiography, ‘Rosa Parks: My Story.’ She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999, the highest honour the United States bestows on a civilian. (Other recipients have included George Washington, Thomas Edison, Betty Ford and Mother Teresa.) When Rosa died on October 24, 2005, aged 92 she became the first woman in the nation’s history to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. She rests in peace in the city cemetery.’

Anyway, as it turned out, the boulevard named in her honour was less than 200 yards from Hitsville. Thinking I could salvage something out of this trip I discovered that the Boulevard seemed to be about ten miles long! Illusions that the scene of the infamous race riots in 67’ was just around the corner were soon dismissed. Enthusiasm evaporated into the hedgerows after about a mile and I turned back, got a taxi into the city to concentrate on the festival that was due to start in mid afternoon.

Last year Aretha Franklin was the headline act which would have been great. Sadly she has since passed away but today there were a number of acts of varying degree performing on six stages scattered around in marquees. Bars were taking a pile as hundreds maybe more enjoyed the scene. Best of all was a ‘mobile’ bar which was a sort of tandem pedal driven taxi. Don't know how to describe it really. Up to eight revellers perched on stools either side of a bar. To move they all had to pedal simultaneously before wandering off around the streets singing, shouting and drinking. Looked a real hoot have to say. Great fun. I had checked out the rota on the website to find out who was appearing, where and what time. Having entered a few marquees in the afternoon there was nothing really to grab me music wise. Hip-Hop and stuff like that but there was a great atmosphere.
The one that stuck out was a guy named Mark Farner and his band due on the main stage at 6pm. Farner was an original member of Grand Funk Railroad, a 60s band supposedly America’s answer to Led Zeppelin. 
Meantime I went to check out some of the bars. One less than salubrious place had the temerity to ask me for ID. Three heavy looking young guys barred my way. I tried to amuse them by saying something corny along the lines of ‘do I look like a troublemaker or under age?’ only to be met with a stone faced scowl and a repeat of the demand for ID. Oh well. I produced a bus pass with my mugshot and they eventually let me in. I had imagined that it must be a real cool and ‘in’ place going by the fuss those guys were making but when I entered I found a sparsely filled dingy long bar. A dump in other words. One beer and I moved on. I resisted saying something to the 'heavies' still standing guard. A downtrodden looking building caught my attention. All around had been demolished bar this establishment with ‘Jacobi’s Bar’ imprinted on the brickwork. Nobody on the door, curiosity took hold and I went in to find another dingy bar, but the ambience was terrific. Good music from a jukebox was being played, nice friendly barmaid, good beer too. This was more like it. My type of bar, rough and ready, nothing fancy about it. I sat at the bar and stayed for a couple of beers, feeling chilled. 

A good enthusiastic crowd were already in attendance for the Farner band when I arrived. Obviously a well known and well loved character I figured. He didn’t disappoint. With a superb heavy rock band behind him they ran through a load of numbers, many of which I didn’t know but were reminiscent of George Throrogood and the Destroyers whom I’m a big fan of. The crowd were soon on their feet, singing and swaying along. Farner has a gruff sort of voice, not unlike Rod Stewart, rasping out the vocals. Great stage presence. They were on for a hour and it flew by. Exhilarating, it was all too soon over. With the crowd baying for more, they obliged with an encore. Great stuff.

With two hours to spare before The Jacksons made their appearance at 9 o’clock I made my way back to Jacobi's. A snack and a beer and I headed back to the arena in the hope of getting a good viewpoint for the show, and found the area almost overwhelmed with people. Nearby tenement buildings with the traditional fire escapes overlooked the arena and stage. They too were crammed with people. Excitement was building…9.30. and the Jacksons had failed to show. There was a lot of activity on stage, stagehands fiddling around with cables, climbing up the scaffolding to the overhead lights, re-adjusting guitar stands.. generally to my mind, just farting around! And I wasn’t alone in thinking this. Disgruntlement began to surface. ‘Even Black Sabbath don’t keep you waiting this effin’ long’ I overheard. That made me smirk. Probably thinking the same as me! By ten o’clock The Jacksons had still not turned up. The heat was getting unbearable. The crowd more restless by the minute. Fed up hanging around to watch a group I never liked anyway I walked off in disgust. To my surprise, a good many others were also giving it up, deciding to head off as well. Talk about an anti climax. 
The night was finished off with a Blue Moon in the hotel bar before I retired, feeling exhausted.

Next morning, showered, dressed and ready to go I couldn’t resist the smell of bacon and eggs, pancakes, wafting from the dining area by the reception. Can’t recall the name of the concoction I ordered but suffice to say, it was enough to feed three people! Scrambled egg, bacon, fried tomatoes, baked beans, mushrooms in a wrap, apple pie and cream as a side, all washed down with a mug of glorious Americano coffee. 

The boat trip was at noon. Sitting on the top deck to take in the views was a nice relaxing way to end this brief stay in Detroit.
Final lap of my  tour was Chicago. ‘The Windy City’.

Monday, 2 July 2018

New York, New York, so good they named it ….


                                              
                                        New York, New York, so good they named it ….

A city everyone says you have to visit. So it’s the first stop on a trip that will also take in Detroit and Chicago. I left home at 5.30am on June 12th 2018 for the drive to Heathrow. Plenty of time thought I. Surely at this time of the morning.. and all was going well until I hit the M1 and even worse the M25. Which reminded me of why they call this stretch of motorway the biggest car park in Britain! Interminable. Took me 3 hours! Luckily I had plenty of time but it was still a nightmare. 
Hot and bothered, never mind tired, confusion set in as I finally approached the Purple Parking car park, a ten minute courtesy ride from Terminal 5. 
Trying to pay attention to my sat-nav after turning off the M4 I missed the turn off at a roundabout, went round twice, cut some bloke up that was ungraciously greeted with a blast of his horn before getting on the right road. Then I drove into the Premier Inn Hotel next door to the car park. Clear as mud I said to myself, frustrated. Exiting the Premier after taking advice off a taxi driver I eventually arrived at my destination. I had made it. Dropped the car off and hopped on the awaiting bus.

The flight was excellent. Six and three quarter hours was passed watching a couple of films, a Michael Caine sort of documentary ‘My Generation’  and the brilliant ‘Darkest Hour’ which I’d seen at the cinema. Service on British Airways is superb I’ve always found and this was no different. Meals, free, though I suppose they are hidden in the cost of the flight, and free drink thrown in as well. What more can you want? Arriving on time at JFK the passage through customs etc went smooth. I’ve heard some horrific stories of trying to get through passport control at this airport so this was a pleasant surprise. I jumped a taxi to take me to the Washington Jefferson Hotel in Manhattan. Took over an hour, traffic was the same as in Britain, horrendous but it gave me a chance to view the famous skyline. I gave the driver a tip, the journey set me back 70 dollars. As the fare was actually 52 dollars I thought I was rather generous but the cheeky sod still looked disappointed, grunting something I didn’t quite catch. Talk about extracting the urine! On your way pal! It was mid afternoon, I had a few hours left of this day and I had an itinerary more or less sorted so I didn’t want to waste time. 
My room on the seventh floor was tiny, here we go again I thought! Adequate, view looked onto the side of a building with fire escapes prominent but I didn’t expect to see the neon lit Times Square or the Statue of Liberty. Reminiscent of West Side Story I thought to myself. Bed was single, not that that mattered much as I was on my own. Television didn’t work unless you put money into it but again that didn’t bother me. I hadn’t flown thousands of miles to watch the box. 
Central Park and the Dakota Building where Beatle John Lennon was shot in 1980 was to be my first sightseeing foray. ‘Turn left onto 8th Street sir, and keep walking’ the Consigliere informed me. The humidity was high, the street long. Crowded, with everyone it seems, walking towards you with their cellphones held in front of them, wires connected to their head, many talking to themselves, which always looks ridiculous to me. A few years ago these people would have been marched off to the funny farm but that’s the way it is in 2018. I’m thinking this and gradually getting peed off having to step aside these morons until I decided ‘right, I’m not moving’. So I reversed it and people started side stepping me! That was more like it! 
Received an occasional cursory glance but I was adamant. You walk into me, it’s your fault!
The heat didn’t help or the fact that New York is five hours behind us at home. It was beginning to feel like a long day. Then there it was, Central Park. The place I’ve heard so much about. The entrance I found myself at was the Columbus Circle, one of the busiest road inter-sections in the city apparently. A monument to Chris stands proudly in the middle of this mini roundabout, and proud he should look having found this place three or four hundred years back. For some reason I always thought Christopher Columbus was British but checking out this useless piece of information, it turns out he was Italian. There you go, learn something every day!
Wandering aimlessly around in search for the ceremonial Strawberry Fields Garden dedicated to John I decided to leave the park and stroll the road Central Park Way running parallel. Looking for someone who hasn’t got an iPhone stuck to his head. Three young lads relaxing in the shade on a bench pointed me in the right direction and also the Dakota Building. They probably weren’t even born when that fateful night occurred but they knew the Beatles. Everyone knows the Beatles! The Dakota was just off this main road, a hundred yards or so down. I recognised it immediately from memory of photographs, stood there in silence for a bit, remembering where I was when I heard the news of Lennon’s assassination. Sitting in my Royal Mail lorry on the dock at Oxford University Press, Corby. I took some photographs, not very good as it happened with the sun in the wrong place but I got a few. Two uniformed security men stood astride of the Gates and the door of the Dakota, youngish looking guys. I walked up to them, interrupting their conversation with, I don’t know why I do it, asking them the bleedin’ obvious! “This is where John got shot?” I asked, knowing full well it was. With a look of abject boredom on their faces, one of them looked at me as if I was dumbo. And nodded. Didn’t even open his mouth. I did think to be fair, they probably get asked that stupid question a thousand times a day, but I can’t help myself! I didn’t really expect a full rundown and commentary of that fatal night 38 years ago but the two of them could have at least looked interested. 
Job done I walked back to Central Park and continued the search for Strawberry Fields. Which was just opposite the road from the Dakota. Success! Felt as if I was getting somewhere. Two of my ‘priorities’ marked off the list on the first day. Nice one. Truthfully there’s not much to see. A plaque with ‘Imagine’ ingrained on it in the middle of a path, a fenced off section with shrubs and flowers, people mingling and resting on the grass. Appropriately peaceful with an opportunist busker sitting on a bench with his acoustic guitar, playing, well it had to be, ‘Imagine’. Nice moment. Time was moving on, getting hungry and thirsty I treated myself to a hot dog off a vendor, who looked disgusted when I gave him the correct money. I know the tip culture over here but hang on, throwing in an extra dollar or two when buying a sausage! Don’t think so. I walked around the huge lake, the Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir it says on the map, recognising various views from pictures I’ve seen, decided to head back towards the hotel - and got completely disorientated and lost!
I always like the idea of ambling along, trying to find my way around, but after an hour or two this was getting tiresome. I knew if I could get to 8th Avenue it would be fine. The way they work with a grid system of roads in America sounds simple but I obviously left the park through a different gate. Eventually I gave in, and asked a guy holding a placard on a corner who had approached me to ask my views on the Liberal Democrats or Donald Trump or something. I told him I didn’t have any, resisting the idea to tell him I couldn’t give a toss. Instead I told him I was knackered, lost, just arrived in New York, hungry, dying for a beer, my feet were aching! He told me I was miles out of my way! Pointed me in the right direction and I left him to carry on his campaign.
Half hour later I came across a police car parked up alongside Central Park. Always wary about approaching the police in America but they were good. Told me I was on the wrong side of the park, and just follow the sun! Which was a big round bright blob in the sky so it should be easy. McCartney’s ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’ immediately came into my head when the copper said that. Funny why I think of things like that!
Sure enough, keeping my mince pies on the distant sun I arrived on the road that I had started on, near the Dakota Building and headed back towards Columbus. And 8th Avenue. The heat was oppressive, 8th was thronging with people, many still obsessed with their cellphones. I escaped into a bar, had a lovely cold beer, chilled for a while watching the televisions, they don’t settle for just one over here do they? I ascertained that it was now around 10 o’clock which meant that back home it was 3am and I’d been up for nearly 22 hours. Time for bed! Slept like a log!




                                                         Wednesday 13th June
Madison Square Garden

New York, you think of Times Square, Ground Zero, Greenwich Village, Broadway, Harlem, Brooklyn, Central Park,…only scratching the surface of this great city.  My first port of call today though is Staten Island. 
A Uber taxi took me to the Ferry. First time Ive used this and have to say it was very efficient. Like the idea of knowing the price of the trip before you get picked up also. The ferry terminal was busy, awash with day trippers, like myself.
The highlight of this hour long return trip is to get a close up view of the Statue of Liberty. And its true what they say, ‘its not as big as you think’. Photo opportunity though and the Manhattan skyline was impressive from the boat. Whilst gazing at this serene setting the Airbus plane crash in 2009 came to mind! The aircraft that ditched into the Hudson River just up from us towards Midtown Manhattan, not far away from where we were. I tried to imagine witnessing such an event. Which also made me think of 9/11. Hard to visualise let alone imagine what that must be like. A flock of geese had hit the Airbus engines just after it had taken off from LaGuardia airport. Which is where I’m taking off from for Detroit in a couple of days time. Somehow you get a different perspective visiting places like these from watching the news on the television. Miraculously the pilots managed to glide the Airbus safely into the water. All 133 on board survived. Remarkable.
The sea air, or maybe I should say river air, gave me an appetite, I was starving on disembarkation. The Brooklyn Bridge is nearby, another famous landmark which I decided to head for. Wandering about I came across Wall Street. Couldn’t see the Stock Exchange, must be another long street I hazard, but I did come across an eatery with tables set outside which looked welcoming. I ordered a bagel and a coffee and I swear it’s the best I’ve ever tasted. Wonderful. Relaxing watching the world go by, opposite was a garbage lorry. With two Stars and Stripes flags attached to the bonnet! Blimey I thought, they love their flag that much they even have them on dustbin lorries. Can you imagine that at home? Quite extraordinary really. 
With my engine now stoked up I made my way to the Brooklyn Bridge. Gareth had text to tell me, if I had time, to try and find a bar called The Charleston he and his band The Victims had played in Williamsburg, other side of the river. It’s a bit like walking across the Golden Gate in San Fransisco, you have to do it! That’s what they say!
I had the address of  the bar, had read the map and was confident I could find it. Gareth had told me that the Charleston was right opposite the metro stop, which was the first station after the Williamsburg Bridge. Which was up river according to the map, couple of bridges away but maps can be deceiving. Walking for ages with a feeling of getting nowhere fast, two police officers idly chatting away was targeted for advice. They looked a tad bemused when I told them where I was going. Never heard of it! One of them kindly got his cellphone out and looked it up. ‘Your about an hour away if you’re walking’ he said. I told him it couldn’t be that far and asked him which direction it was. They both looked slightly amused, ‘who’s this mad Englishman’ written all over their faces! ‘OK, turn left up there by the lights and keep walking!’ I thanked them very much for their help and set off. Then it started raining. Welcome to a certain extent in the heat but still a little uncomfortable after a while. Coming to a crossroads two women traffic controllers were taking shelter in a doorway. To confirm I was in the right direction I thought I would ask them. They too looked surprised and advised me I was better getting a cab! Soaked to the skin with the rain I had to agree!
I flagged a yellow cab, showed him the address and off we went, took a good twenty minutes, which equating to walking, was what those police people were telling me! The cabbie dropped me off outside the Charleston, a dark and dingy looking place it first appeared. But it was a punk venue. Not the first I've been to following Gareth and his bands around and I thought for a minute that it was closed. To my relief, it wasn’t and I entered to find the place deserted with a barmaid painting her fingernails and a big heavy black chap acting as security. Gave me a big welcoming smile though, ‘morning Sir, what can I get you?’ Always polite over here I mused, nice. I ordered a Brooklyn Beer which has become my favourite already. For the sake of conversation I told the barmaid my son had played here a few years back. ‘Really?’ she asked. I asked her if it was alright to take a few photos. ‘Of course’ she said with the big guy looking on. ‘They’re a Swedish band’ I told him. No reaction at all to that, never mind. As I was about to start snapping, the barmaid asked, ‘would you like a free pizza?’ I thought she was having me on. ‘It’s free with a pint’. Well how can you say no to such an offer? ‘That’d be lovely, thank you.” I replied. The bar was elongated, with familiar punk decoration, pictures, heavy lighting. Atmospheric venues these are and I can well imagine loving this if I had been forty years younger. Or to be more precise, if venues had been like this when I was in my twenties. The pizza came out from a hole in the wall, a small square where the chef was poking his head out, looked amusing to me. Love these barmy sort of places! Sat at the end of the bar, I was soon joined by a couple of other punters, obviously locals by the way the conversation was going. The big guy was restless, sticking his head outside for something to do, moving a chair or two about. ‘Excuse me” I said to him. That stopped him. ‘Can you do me a favour, take a picture of me sat here at the bar?’ I gave him my ipad and he took a couple of pictures. ‘That alright?” he asked handing it back. I checked them and thought, ‘Christ, why do I always look so bloody grumpy!’ ‘Hold it, can you take another one? I’ve got to learn to smile when I’m having a photo taken” I said chuckling a little to him. Pan faced, he took another. ‘That alright?’ ‘Yeah, that’s better, thanks’. And he went back to tidying a few tables up.
So good I was feeling, I had another pint. ‘Another pizza too?’ Barmaid asked me with a lovely smile. ‘Blimey, no thanks” I said politely. They do have a good appetite over here in the States don’t they, to put it one way. 
Could have spent an hour or so in here but other things to do. I bade my friends farewell and went out to explore the neighbourhood before getting the metro back across the river. 
It was still warm and humid, rain had eased and I got off at the wrong station on 8th Street. Could have done without another long walk, my feet were aching, felt like they were swelling up. Wrong sort of shoes for this I decided. The respite of the hotel pulled me in. A break in the cool was needed before venturing out again.
Times Square was just two blocks away. Don’t know what I was expecting really but it wasn’t what I thought. I imagined a kind of huge sort of exaggerated Market Square or something, with all the neon lights of course. Which was something to see I have to admit. The area was rammed with people, a couple of street entertainment shows taking place which was, well amazing.  A group of young guys doing back flips and all sorts of acrobatics. Can’t help but watch with disbelief. How the hell do you do that? Moving on I walked past the famous Brill Building almost without noticing it. So this is where Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Mort Shuman and Doc Pumas and all the rest of those great composers wrote all those classic 60s pop songs. Saw the Carole King story/musical ‘Beautiful’ only last year in Manchester as it happens, brilliant. I thought of Kenny Lynch also when I stood there at the doors of the Brill. I met Kenny last year with my friend Bip Wetherell. He gave us a great story for the Clem Cattini biography. Telling us about the time he worked over here in the Brill during 1962. Fascinating. Walking around Broadway, 5th Street the scene in the film Crocodile Dundee came to mind. Paul Hogan sitting astride a cop on his horse. One of the funniest films of the 1980s.
Refreshment was needed and lo and behold I spotted a bar called Smith’s Bar! Had to investigate, might have been a long lost cousin or something, obviously it wasn’t. It turned out to be a pokey place but I was hungry so I ordered what was described a ‘Dublin Fish Style’ meal. It was crap! As was the beer. Feeling adventurous I asked for a pint of ‘21st Amendment San Fransisco Ale’. Wish I hadn’t have bothered. Bloody maiden’s water! A pint of ‘Bronx’ was marginally better but I gave in and went back to the Brooklyn Lager. Well you have to try don’t you?
It had been another full day and I still hadn’t been to what was at the top of my list, Greenwich Village. One full day left on this brief visit, I intended to make the most of it. I had received texts off friends telling me I should visit such and such a bar if I have time, see a show, Empire State Building. There’s so much to do in New York you have to prioritise. 
Maybe next time.


                                                      Thursday 14th June
MacDougall Street
Greenwich Village has fascinated me for years. Situated in the Lower Manhattan district of New York the Village was the epicentre of the Beat culture during the 50s and 60s. The bohemian capital it has been called. Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs all passed through this pocket of New York City. Like saving the best until last, I set off to walk, all the way down 8th Avenue, which according to my map, I would then take a turning left, then right and into Washington Square, the gateway to Greenwich. 
Temperature was well into the 30s, 9.30 in the morning and as I found, New York was bustling, people going about their business in every direction. On my way I passed one of the world’s legendary venues, Madison Square Garden. I was surprised how small it seemed, from the street anyway. You have these preconceived ideas and images about certain landmarks and buildings. Was this where all those great boxing fights involving  Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammed Ali took place? Where The Beatles, Elvis played? Well as it turned out, it is and it isn’t. This is the third MSG, as they refer to it nowadays. All built on the same site. It’s more relevant to note that this is where George Harrison held his Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, John Lennon played his final gig as a guest for Elton John in 1979, Elvis played here in the early 70s. It’s now better known as a sports arena, home to the New York Knicks Basketball team.
An hour later, and I’m finally coming towards the end of 8th Avenue, feeling dehydrated, looking for my left turn which was Greenwich Avenue.  I walked another mile and found on the corner of 6th Avenue and West 8th Street, Jefferson Market Garden, with refreshments available from mobile street vendors. I took advantage and sat on a bench in the shelter sipping a nice cool Apple juice, watching the world go by, as you do. A few elderly gentlemen chatting away, Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Old Friends’ from their album ‘Bookends’ came to mind. Young women with their babies in pushchairs taking a breather, street cleaners gathering up items of garbage. Sat there for about half hour, enjoying the rest and relative tranquility. Time to move, another glance at my map and I headed off down West 8th Street towards 5th Avenue which should take me right into Washington Square, the Village!
It had taken a while, but eventually there right in front of me, at last, was the Washington Square archway. 
Research tells me that the arch was built in 1892. It celebrates the centennial of George Washington's inauguration as President of the United States in 1789 and forms the grand southern terminus of Fifth Avenue. Who said ‘you learn something everyday?’ 
The arch stands at the front of the Square where in the 60s buskers, poets, street entertainers congregated on Sunday afternoons to revel in communal spirit, play their instruments, get drunk, get stoned, sing folk songs. The scene grew until it got too intense for the NYPD. The chief of police, in his wisdom, decided they couldn’t be doing with people having too much fun and sent his force down to stop the singing and disperse the crowd. Riots ensued as the revellers cried for ‘freedom for speech and freedom to sing in America’. Many were arrested by the heavy handed police, thrown into the back of ‘meat wagons’. It’s all on film. And this is where it happened in 1961.

Digesting this I moved on towards MacDougall Street where I was pleasantly surprised to find immediately, the famous Cafe Wha. Animals bass guitarist Chas Chandler discovered Hendrix here in 66’, Dylan and his cohorts were regulars here before him. Disappointingly it was closed but it was still midday. Getting hungry I walked around and came across an inviting looking bar called The Lantern which was just opening. They had the opening ceremony of the World Cup on their television as well. Perched on a bar stool for a couple of beers, ordered a cracking Mexican Fajita meal and watched the Russia Saudi v Arabia game. It was lovely and cool as well. Outside, the temperature was well up, exhausting. Another hour of walking around MacDougall and Bleecker Street, buying a couple of t-shirts, checking out record and book shops, in which I bought two, and I made my way back, deciding that the last night in NYC would be spent down here in the Village. A pit stop for a refreshing beer on the way back to my hotel was opposite a fire station. And lo and behold, they were called out while I was sitting there gazing out of the window. Impressive and once again my thoughts turned to 9/11. These guys or their predecessors would have been involved. What must have they been thinking as they raced to the scene of the Twin Towers? What must it have been like to be standing around here going about your everyday business and watching in horror as those twin towers disintegrated before your eyes? God only knows. Terrifying.

The Village was swarming tonight. I went looking for The Bitter End in Bleecker Street. Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Dylan, Jackson Browne, just a few of the thousands of artists who’ve played there. To hot to go in, there didn’t appear to be much action going on either, I called into Willie’s Bar next door which was air conditioned, colourful and quirky. Signs and anecdotes, cartoons adorning the walls and ceiling. Some good music being played on the system too. From ‘Willie’s’ I headed back to MacDougall Street to seek out where the once famous bar The Gaslight was. This was another regular haunt for Dylan and the folkies. Closed in 1971 it is now a tattoo shop.
MacDougall was thronging with people, bars were rammed but the one right opposite where the Gaslight used to be,  The Four Faced Bar, had an unoccupied round table near the doorway. Got myself a beer and settled down at the table to take in the buzz. A couple came in, looking for a table, glanced around and were deciding to move on until I told them that the two stools next to me were free. They looked relieved, thankful for some respite. ‘No problem” I said, ‘Take em’. Russell and Kerry had just arrived that day from Canada and were originally from Sydney, Australia. Russell was on the same trek as myself, searching out the Dylan and other famous haunts. ‘Massive fan’ Kerry said, nodding at Russell. We discussed various things about Dave Van Ronk, the Clancy Brothers, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the 60s, knowledgable he was too. Ramblin’ Jack is still around, aged 85 and still playing. Pity he wasn’t around here tonight. That would have been something. Being cocky, I admit, I asked Russell if he had found The Gaslight yet. He looked at me hopefully, obviously hoping I would enlighten him. I pointed out of the window. ‘Right there’ I said. They looked out at across the street. ‘Where?’ Russell asked. ‘The tattoo shop’. They looked gobsmacked. ‘I checked it out earlier’ I told them. ‘It was number 116’. They looked as disappointed at what I had been. It was nice meeting them and chatting away. Total strangers but its always interesting to discover other people’s backgrounds, outlooks, history. I left them to it and moved on to take in another couple of bars, soaking up the atmosphere and thrill of being in this place. A feeling I had when I went to San Fransisco some ten years before. I had achieved my goal for New York. Next time I’ll get round to visiting other landmarks and venues I didn’t make this time. Even a show, but I reckon you’d need more than three nights to achieve everything.