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Sunday, 4 April 2021

A Bridge To Far


A Bridge To Far

Christmas Eve 1966. What better way was there than to start the holiday season with a trip to London to see the 'Mighty' Reds? Liverpool were playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Actually I nearly never made it. Alan Murphy and John 'Wilf' Wilson came round in the morning, draped in their red and white scarves, both excited, and I answer the door, sleep still in my eyes, and announce I can't be bothered! Pissing down with rain didn't help either. Their disappointment turned to anger until they managed to cajole me into getting off my arse and getting myself organised. We duly caught the 287 bus to Kettering, walked down to the railway station and to our surprise; we bumped into our pal Alan Clarkson, standing there with that great big grin on his face. Now there were four of us. We had previously met 'Big' Al on Leicester Station in October when we were on our way to Aston Villa. Today’s crew would increase to five when we arrived at St Pancras and found another of our Corby Reds, Stan Watkinson waiting for us. Stan, nicknamed 'Snowball' was a pure albino and there he was standing by the ticket collector at the gate, greeting us with a big drunken yell, "Smit!" Stan was a great character and the only one amongst us who had true Liverpool blood in him with his dad being a scouser. We had only seen him the night before, staggering out of the Rockingham Arms; 'going tomorrow Stan?' I asked. ‘Nah I'll give it a miss' he replied. Yet, there he was. He'd gone on to the clubs in Kettering, slept over somewhere, he couldn't remember, and jumped on the early train to London on a whim. Somewhere along the line he had also obtained a big floppy Reds rosette which was hanging on his lapel limp on the end of a huge safety pin! We all broke out laughing. God he was a case. Before this though, we had been taken aback when the train had slowed right down to a crawl as it approached the area of Kentish Town. We had all seen the news the night before about a train crash in London but we didn't realise it was on our line. A row of carriages were lying on their side, bashed and mangled and the signal box had also been damaged. It was a sobering sight and suddenly, we couldn't wait to get off! Piccadilly and Carnaby Street were our destinations as we plunged into the Underground. London was like a giant circus to us, full of wonder and discovery. The Christmas decorations adorning Oxford Street added to the buzz. After a hot dog and a drink in The White Horse Inn off Piccadilly, which turned out to be a 'Gay' pub, we eventually made our way to Chelsea, our first time to Stamford Bridge. The weather was still grim, damp and grey. Spilling our way out of Fulham Broadway tube station with hundreds of other football supporters, the streets were already packed, everyone it seemed, heading for the ground. Excitement was reaching fever pitch. This was what it was all about. Programme sellers. Where are they? That was always my first thought. Football programmes were magical, collectable. Other street vendors were shouting their wares above the din of rival fans taunting each other, 'lapel badges, rosettes'. All added to the thrill. Outside the turnstiles, queues were lined up, police on horses were nudging people to get in line, scousers were taking the piss, great laugh! Then, totally unexpected, a horse reared its back legs up, missed me by a whisker! The copper perched on its saddle, glared at me, 'didn't do anything mister!' I said panicking! Once inside we made our way to the terracing high on the right of the infamous Shed, Chelsea's end. Looking over, it was already a seething mass. Liverpool supporters were also in the mix, they hadn't heard of segregation in the 1960s. Clarkson, Wilf and Murphy decided to head for the throng. A fight started, the police moved in. Scousers welcomed them in song; 'Who's that twat in the big black hat, Scuffer, Scuffer....' The melee continued, with me thinking, 'bollocks to that'. I stayed put; it was a great view of the ground anyway. Wilf smacked a copper on the head; "Little fat copper with an ugly face, he was shouting abuse and I sneaked up and belted him - then ducked down into the crowd, I caught him a beauty". Big Stan was more than happy to stay with me. We'd all meet up afterwards. Looking over at the frenzy occasionally during the game it amused me to be able to spot Murphy, hands up in the air, clapping along to the chorus of the scouse songs. His 'Olive' hat stuck out like a beacon. A red and white woollen hat his mum had knitted with Liverpool stitched onto it. At the back of his head, the letters joined up to spell out Olive! Always a source of amusement to the rest of us! On the pitch, Liverpool lined up with virtually the same team that had played every game of the season thus far. Lawrence, Lawler, Milne, Smith, Yeats, Stevenson, Callaghan, Hunt, St John, Strong and Thompson. Chelsea included new signing Tony Hateley in their side. Hateley had already scored twice against Liverpool that season in the Aston Villa game we went to. He was a threat but we knew Big Ron (Yeats) would take care of him. The pitch resembled a paddy field, a description given by Kenneth Wolstenholme on that night's Match of the Day. Chelsea did the early pressing but were stunned when their wing half Marvin Hinton dived full length to head in a Peter Thompson corner. Brilliant! It was the cue for more fighting behind the goal. I seemed to remember a crash barrier being handed down over the crowd of heads to the pitch! Where's Wilf and Alan I wondered. Geoff Strong scored a second for Liverpool before half time. The Reds were coasting. Boyle scored for Chelsea in the second half but it wasn't enough. The Reds had triumphed. The referee's whistle went for full time and we gathered together again, made our way out of Stamford Bridge and rushed back to the Tube to get ahead of the Chelsea 'headhunters'. The West End was where we were heading to celebrate. A bite to eat in a Lyons's Corner House and a pint in the Western Bar in Leicester Square before ending up in the Euston Tavern opposite St Pancras for a last pint before catching the train home. Happy Christmas! The following season I was at the Bridge again. It was my 18th birthday. A Monday. I was working on dayshift in the C W Mills, and at one o'clock I walked out with my mate Henry Reid to go the game. Only problem was, we forgot to inform the foreman! Jack Lynch, a dour looking grey haired old geezer gave the two of us a right bollocking the next day. But what the hell! Henry was one of the most laid back fellers I'd ever come across. Docile, nothing fazed him. A gangly bloke with jet black hair in a 50s rock 'n' roll style he once joined our mob for a game of football on Studfall Green and turned up with his trainers in a carrier bag. "Henry's brought his golden boots" Tom McGowan howled. Henry took the jibes all in his stride. Quiet guy, even at work he rarely opened his mouth. Then one day he came and informed us that he was leaving on the Friday. "What?" thinking he was going to say he had another job in a factory or building site or something, I asked him where he was goin'. "To Luton" he said. He'd never gave an inkling before. "Luton!" It just happened that his family were moving to Luton and Henry was going with them. Never once mentioned it. That was Henry. Strange but funny guy. It was a real miserable night. Raining most of the day again. Liverpool support at the Bridge was sparse; Monday night was a bad time to travel for the scousers. There was the usual crowd from the Southampton Branch of Liverpool supporters in attendance though. We used to see them everywhere. One guy stood out every time and it became almost a game to see if we could spot him. Tall bloke in a donkey jacket with a mop of curly hair in an afro style. Big Alan called him Curly and it stuck. Never failed to see him. Liverpool's team showed just one change from the previous season's game. Emlyn Hughes, signed from Blackpool, was now the left half instead of Willie Stevenson. The game was poor, the Reds were poor. About the only thing I remember of the game is hearing Status Quo's Pictures of Matchstick Men, John Fred's Judy in Disguise bursting out of the tannoy above the terrace. The Lemon Pipers' Green Tambourine. The records sounded great. Chelsea gained revenge from the simultaneous game the year before and walked it, 3-1. Peter Thompson scoring a late consolation for Liverpool. I had hoped the game would be a memorable way to celebrate my birthday. But - you can't win them all! A very odd encounter I had was one day in 1970, when travelling on a train to Liverpool to watch the ’pool do battle with Chelsea. The trek to Liverpool those days, if you didn’t own an automobile, meant a four and a half journey via Kettering, Leicester, Nuneaton and Crewe, courtesy of British Railways. (43/-) £2.15p in English! Changing trains at the various crossover points often brought you into contact with other nomadic football supporters criss crossing the country to watch their favourite teams. Or joining up with fellow or opposition fans en route to your game. Changing at Crewe, there was always the chance of an encounter with London fans heading in your direction. This day, just two of us, me and my big pal, Alan Clarkson, all 6’ 6” and 16 stone of him, were forced to stand in the aisle of a packed carriage, amongst a whole mob of Blues supporters. Listening to the patter of the cockneys, discussing the prospects of our teams, I suddenly realised that the gum I had been chewing since Nuneaton, had lost its flavour. Glancing across a table, where six or seven ‘Shed Enders’ were sitting around, I noticed the small window open above their heads. With unerring accuracy, I figured I could dispense with the tasteless bit of chewy by chucking it through the gap. As the train rattled over Runcorn bridge, I took aim, and, ping! The gum missed, and rebounded off the window, straight onto this fellow’s head. Automatically, his hand went to his mane just as I leapt over his pal to try and catch the gum. He beat me to it, and the wet gum entangled itself into his mop. Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, and thankfully his friends saw the funny side of it as well, or maybe they saw the imposing figure of the giggling Big Al, I apologised profusely and promised to sort it out before we got to Lime Street. Off I went, up and down the train, looking for any likely candidates that might have a pair of scissors on their person. Feeling a right divvy, explaining the rather unusual request time and time again, I finally came across an old woman sitting by herself, who had the utensil required, nestling in her handbag. Still looking bemused, I said to her gratefully “Thanks very much, you’ve saved the day.” Back in our carriage, Big Al and the cockneys were getting on great, laughing, all bar the miserable looking one with a blob of chewing gum stuck in his hair! “Right pal, if you can just lean this way a bit”. Snipping away, resisting any more attempts at humour by asking him if he wanted a short, back and sides, or a crew-cut, an audience built up, all looking on in bewilderment. Snip, snip, the errant strands were chopped off, eat your heart out Teasy Weezy! Another satisfied customer! A round of applause for my endeavour was given, “Thank you, thank you” I accepted. The Chelsea fan, an abject picture of misery, a chunk of his hair missing, his pals and fellow travellers all laughing at his predicament, was morose. “Looks good to me” I reassured him! 

Reunited with Big Al in the 2000s

Just to make his day, Liverpool beat Chelsea 1-0 as well! This was the game that Steve Heighway burst onto the scene. We had noticed his name in the Liverpool Echo a few weeks before in a column concerning the reserves. Heighway, an amateur signed from Skelmersdale, unusual name too. He was getting rave notices. A long striding winger who was a university student to boot! All this just seemed bizarre. Named as substitute for this Chelsea game Steve made his bow right at the start of the second half. Bobby Graham who had made the centre forward position his own since the departure of Roger Hunt, Ian St John and the rest of the great 60's team, had gone down awkwardly on the edge of the area right in front of the Kop just prior to half time. I remember the crack! It sounded awful. Bobby was carried off on a stretcher with a broken leg to a rousing chorus of 'Viva Bobby Graham' sung to the tune of the Equals' Viva Bobby Joe. Little did we know that that was just about the end of his career at Anfield. Shankly went out and signed John Toshack shortly afterwards and when Kevin Keegan signed up a few months later, Bobby left Liverpool to sign for Coventry. There was a buzz around Anfield at the start of the second half; it felt as if everyone was waiting in anticipation to see this new young unknown student called Heighway. The ref blew his whistle; the ball was played immediately to Heighway standing on the half way line in front of the Kemlyn Road stand. He received the ball, came back inside with it, went past one defender, then another, then another! The noise resonating around Anfield reached a crescendo when this new young guy on the wing let fly from outside the box. Bonetti finger tipped it over the bar. What a start! Who was this guy? That memory has never left me. What an introduction. Chelsea's hatchet man Ron Harris had a torrid time trying to mark Steve. He ran like a gazelle. A strike from Alun Evans in the first half before Graham's unfortunate injury was the only goal of the game and was enough to send the Pensioners packing. January 1978, 3rd Round of the F A Cup. Chelsea away. By this time I was living in Steyning Close with my girlfriend Sue. I was driving a battered old Hillman Minx around. Nice looking car I bought cheap but didn't realise what a heap of crap it was until I had to change a headlamp one day. The whole casing surrounding the lamp gave way. It was a rust box! I could have cried! For all that it seemed to go alright, dodgy headlamp or not, until I decided to take it to London for the cup game. Pat Devlin, Jeff Stewart, Wilf and Dennis Taylor was the crew. We set off for the M1, everything going fine and then the oil light came on. "Bollocks" I thought. The engine began to overheat. The general consensus of the Brain's Trust in the car was that we pull into Toddington Service Station near Luton and buy a gallon of oil. This we did and set off again, hoping the heap would get us to the match in time for kick off. A couple of stops to top up the oil and we finally pulled into West London not far from Stamford Bridge and parked up a side street. Relief was tangible. At least it got us here! The woe was forgotten with a couple of pints and the build up to the game. This was going to be easy we figured. Liverpool were European Champions. This was the team of Clemence, Dalglish, Fairclough. Chelsea were in transition, a team of youngsters trying to make it in the big league. Names like Langley, Walker, Sparrow. Couldn't compare could they? A Chelsea website couldn't have put the outcome better; 'Ken Shellito's unremarkable team thrashed the reigning European champions 4-2 at Stamford Bridge, with two from Clive Walker, sending Bob Paisley into an uncharacteristic funk. "Bloody pathetic we were," he hissed. "I'm not taking anything away from Chelsea, mind, but we went out with sawdust in our heads." Complacency or what but Liverpool didn't turn up. They were running as well as my bloody Hillman Minx! Chelsea were 3-0 up before the Reds got going with a David Johnson goal to bring a smidgen of hope to the Liverpool fans. Then the Blues had the temerity to go and score again, unbelievable. 4-1 with time fast running out. This year's F A Cup run was over at the first hurdle. Dalglish restored a semblance of respectability near the end to make it 4-2. It was a shambles! As for the car. We filled it up with oil again, bought another big can at Toddington, limped home to Corby, dumped it outside my house and we went for a pint. The Minx never moved again. I scrapped the heap of shite. Another visit to the Bridge came with my mate from the Post office, Chelsea supporter Stuart Allen in 2003. Before I had time to settle down, Chelsea were two up! I hate this damn place I was thinking to myself. Just to show how pissed off I was, I got a book out of my pocket that I'd bought in Charing Cross Road on the way to the match. Elvis; Last Train To Memphis. Infinitely more exciting than the game!! Course, Stuart loved it! Haven't been back since. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Ice cold in Iceland


I was passing time surfing the internet when an advert appeared on the screen, ’Fly to Reykjavik for only £x.’ Forget what it was exactly but it was cheap. Price included the hotel as well. It caught my imagination. Take in the Blue Lagoons, a trip to see the Aurora Borealis otherwise known as the Northern Lights, maybe even a whale watching boat excursion, I thought ‘let’s give it a go!” 

Thus on Tuesday November 4th 2014, I was rudely awakened by my alarm at 6.45am to begin my journey to Iceland, a country siting on the top of the map near Greenland. Peering out of my bedroom window I was alarmed to find we were shrouded in dense fog. Not ideal when you have to drive to an airport early in the morning. Or any other time of the day if it comes to that. 
I was knackered from the previous night’s Rockingham Arms Quiz and consuming a few pints of Sam Smith Old Brewery Ale. I wasn’t ready for the drive to Birmingham but a cup of coffee helped ease the fog in my head, if it didn’t the weather. 

The drive to Birmingham was slow, the fog failing to clear at all. Took me an hour and a half when normally the journey would be around 50 minutes. My head being hazy didn’t particularly help. I wasn't used to these early mornings having been retired for over a year. The Airport Car Park was pre-booked and paid and I dropped the car off thinking ‘this was all too easy’. I felt hesitant and asked a Security Guard for assurance, showed him my paper-work and he confirmed I was in the right place, but I was still not entirely convinced but by now I was in the building and there was nothing I could do. Funny how you get these feelings of doubt and that something isn’t quite right..
A cup of coffee was called for and it was then that sinking feeling that something wasn't right dawned on me.
‘My phone!’ I couldn’t find it. Searched my bag, my pockets -  nothing!
I then remembered putting my mobile on the seat in the car. Damn! I knew then what it was that had been bugging me. God I hate these early mornings!
I realised without my mobile the only other connection with the outside world while exploring Iceland would be my iPad. 
An ignominious start to my break it was fair to say.

The aircraft was a propellor job which was only the second time I had flown on one. Compared to the 747s the plane resembled a bus. Flying northwards towards Scotland and the Mull of Kintyre before crossing the North Atlantic only took a couple of hours.

Keflavik Airport is approximately 25 miles from Reykjavik. A bus to the city centre awaited. The journey giving an opportunity to view the rugged landscape of Iceland, an island of volcanoes. It looked more like the moon!
It was dusk by the time I arrived at the Central bus station and not having a clue where my hotel was I decided the easiest thing to do was jump in a taxi. The driver looked slightly surprised but nonetheless off we went, and less than five minutes later I was at the hotel! Just round the corner!
The hotel was up a backstreet, the entrance, at the top of wooden stairs, looking more like something leading to a warehouse. The reception was inside a cubby hole but if I was feeling less than impressed, the people seemed friendly enough, giving me a warm welcome. My apartment was spacious, clean, and colourful. Bright greens and yellow everywhere. Made me think that the lack of daylight in Iceland at this time of the year, bright colours was an attempt to cheer things up! I was aware the suicide rate in Iceland, which is part of Scandinavia was high and a few days of this and you can understand why.

 Over the next couple of days I discovered daylight didn’t happen until around 10am and dusk would begin to descend at around half three! Giving us around five hours! 
First task once settled in was to get something to eat and stock up the apartment’s fridge. A supermarket wasn't too far away. I bought milk, tea, crisps, rolls, a few nibbles, sausage rolls etc. and then went for a brief look around the immediate area. It was too cold to go far, but I found a pub where the Real Madrid v Liverpool European match was showing on the TV. The Reds lost 1-0. A couple of pints, some splendid fish and chips and I headed back to my hotel for an early night. 
Switching on a 42” TV screen on the wall at the bottom of my bed I was amazed to get the U.K ITV channel. Suddenly felt like home!

First surprise of the morning was waking up and finding it completely dark outside. It was 9.30am. I turned on the television, all the channels we get back home available! I flicked through them and ended up watching the Jeremy Kyle Show! Here in Iceland! I found that remarkable. Watched it for a bit but soon grew bored and I got up to make myself some breakfast. Not being an expert on the mechanics of the kitchen it took me half an hour to figure out how to turn the electric hob on! Ridiculous as it sounds. Course this was never my territory. 40 odd years of living with Sue and suddenly Im having to learn all the intricacies of living on your own. I had mastered how to turn the washing machine and dishwasher on thanks to some coaching from Sue in her latter days. Shameful really. As regarding ironing I didn’t have a clue, I was taking baskets of clothes up to my daughter Carly in Widnes for her to iron. I mentioned this when skyping her brother Gareth in Stockholm. “Ironing? That’s a woman’s department.” He scolded me; “that’s embarrassing dad! What a chauvinistic attitude!” Gareth is a modern day liberal thinking dad but I have to confess, he did make me think. Anyway, back to my breakfast. A boiled egg had been placed in a very large saucepan, that’s all there was in the cupboard, half an hour later I was still waiting for the thing to boil! And there wasn't any eggcups either! Not a great start to the day you could say.

I had booked the Blue Lagoon trip, the bus was leaving the station at 11am and it was freezing out there. The country was living up to its name, Iceland!
The Lagoon was in the middle of nowhere, looked more like the moon than ever. The weather was miserable, cold and drizzling. I was wondering what I was doing here feeling dejected, when suddenly I got my first glimpse of the steaming blue water. Now that did look inviting. Before going for a dip I discovered there were a few rituals to adhere to. Queueing up for a dressing gown took me by surprise. Onward to the changing rooms, all very clean and white. A series of communal rooms with coat hangers, lockers, showers, reminded me of schooldays and school changing rooms. First of all you have a shower before going into the lagoon. Swimming gear and dressing gown on, towel in hand I made my way outside. It was still drizzling. Dipping my toe into the blue water my reservations soon disappeared and I joined the throng of fellow worshippers in the pool. It was like a bath! Absolutely wonderful, the scent of sulphur adding to the experience. There was even a bar in the pool where you could have a pint. I wasn’t sure how you would pay for it or where you put your money but either way I didn’t have any on me. Some did though, amazing. The Lagoon was huge, I walked around, up to my waist, immersed myself to my neck in this amazing blue water, didn’t want to get out. It was just like having an hour soaking in a bath at home, and similarly after a while you start going all crinkly and reluctantly have to get out. I asked a couple to take some photos of me first, my iPad was on the side, and I went back for another shower and to get changed, Completely refreshed. Lovely! 

Back at the apartment I had the egg that I had boiled in the morning, put it in a sandwich. It was early evening, the wind was howling outside, it was still raining but I couldn't just stay in, I wanted to venture out and discover what the nightlife was like in Reykjavik. I didn’t go far, it was bitter. Opposite the street where my ‘hotel’ was, a crowd had gathered around a store window. All wrapped up in winter gear they seemed oblivious to the conditions and were transfixed with a singer/guitarist entertaining the milling crowd from the warmth inside the shop. Sat on a chair he looked like a bluesman as he strummed away and sang. He was really good. Made me wonder though, don't they have any music venues in Reykjavik? Still, it was different. I headed into the town centre, had a couple of pints, some more fish and chips and called it a day. 

The following night, weather permitting, I was booked in for the Northern Lights adventure.
I awoke next morning feeling knackered. Thanks to a combination of the howling wind rattling the window all night and a disco bar round the corner blaring out crap music to all hours! Sounded as if the place was mobbed with all the noise emanating from the place and drunken revellers hanging around the streets. Maybe this is why the hotel was cheap I mused!
With the limited time I had most of the morning was spent, once the gloom had lifted, of walking around taking photographs. Wrapped up to keep the chill at bay I took in the harbour area and walked along the front. There’s nothing much to see in Reykjavik apart from whaling boats but I suppose its not exactly the Med. You’re not going to see sun seekers or bikini clad ladies roaming around  in these temperatures. Instead what you have is a nation of bearded people, battling against the cold. That includes the women! Joking there obviously!
Some nice scenes to snap though, murals and trawlers, statues of a kind. Good way to pass the time while waiting to find out if the trip to see the Northern Lights was going to be confirmed. I called in at the ticket office in the bus station twice before they gave the go-ahead. It was leaving at 5.30pm which gave me time to get something to eat and freshen up.

There was about sixteen of us on the bus which left on time prompt. I sat at the front, the odd one out amongst the couples. A guide sat alongside the driver. I felt quite excited. After all the Northern Lights is a phenomenon rarely seen and by not many people either. 
We had been going for about thirty minutes when the driver pulled over to a spot which was obviously a sightseeing vantage point. Everyone alighted and gazed into the night sky, looking in vain for a hint of bright coloured lights. 
The driver did say sometimes you could see them from here, but not always. ‘We will carry on’ he informed us. Well thank you I thought, thats what I paid good money for!
We stopped a couple of more times, way out in the wilderness. Everyone got off each time, and stood, staring with crooked necks into the sky. The driver and guide were clearly getting as frustrated as the rest of us. Doing their best to assure us there was a good chance we would catch the lights he repeated ‘we will carry on’. Reassuring, yeah..
Time was getting on, we drove for miles, and miles. Didn’t see anyone or any place of habitation, this was getting boring. As if to placate everyone the bus driver announced he was going to make a detour to show us another Icelandic phenomenon, a geyser. He was doing his best to salvage something out of the trip. Murmurings resounded around the bus, I stared out of the window. 
We pulled up and the guide warned us not to get too near the geyser because the water ‘is boiling hot and could explode anytime’. Well that made it a little more interesting. Into the black of the night we traipsed across the barren land, the geyser was shining lightly as if to beckon the spectators forth. To say it was underwhelming would be an understatement. Steam rose from the stream meandering from the geyser, there wasn’t much else to see apart from that. The driver and guide were almost urging the geyser to spout, or the blessed Northern Lights to make an appearance. I reckoned everyone was thinking it was all a waste of time and money!
Where’s the geyser?
Back on the bus, the driver announced we would, yes, ‘carry on’. I couldn’t have been the only one bored off his tits by this time, I would have welcomed it if he had told us ‘we’re heading back, there’s no point carrying on’. But he didn’t. Maybe he had some sort of schedule or timetable and didn’t want to get back to base too early. Who knows? Might have docked him his pay. Nothing much you can do but sit patiently and believe that eventually we would achieve our goal. We stopped again, same old story. Bloody neck was a stiff as a board by now. On we went, and all of a sudden, there it was. No, not the Lights, but an oasis in the distance, a cafe, similar to a Little Chef. It was deserted. We had a half hour break, a cup of coffee and a sandwich and I guessed that with it getting quite late, we would indeed, give up the ghost and go home. How wrong can you be?
Fuck me, the driver was determined and onwards we went. Miles and miles. I began to think that at this rate we would end up in Greenland or somewhere. Course I do know there’s an expanse of sea between the two countries but you get my drift.
At long last the driver and his guide admitted defeat. Everyone had cricked necks gaping into the sky, enthusiasm long since gone. Half of them were falling asleep only to be disturbed for yet another pit-stop on the return journey. ‘Give up for Chrissakes’ i said to myself. Turned out we had travelled a 100 miles, a 200 mile round trip. Bored shitless, hungry, thirsty. An absolute and complete waste of time! Ok you are warned beforehand that it’s not guaranteed you will see the lights but all the same. Getting back to Reykjavik, to make matters worse, the driver dropped everyone off at their respective hotels and you’ve guessed it, I was the last one! It was 1.30am!

I retired to my hotel to be greeted by another belly-aching wall of sound coming from the damn disco outside my window. Just what I needed. I buried my head in the pillow and did manage to drift off to sleep. Exhausted, aching from head to toe! 

The third and final day of my vacation was spent wandering around trying to catch up with a few sights I had so far missed. A church towering over the city from the edge of town. The National Football Stadium and to cap things off a visit to the famous Penis Museum!

I walked along the seafront first, until I was nearly blown off my feet. It was like battling against a hurricane, and so cold. I did manage to get some photos looking out across the bay and also the football stadium. Pity it was locked up though, sometimes there is an entrance somewhere you can sneak in for a peep. Obviously not today though. There were no vehicles parked  outside, no sign of life at all. Perhaps it was too cold even for the hardened Icelanders to play football in November. 
Back in town I searched out the Penis Museum, asking a couple of guys if they knew where it was and receiving some funny looks! I told them I wasn't a weirdo but this museum with a display of knobs pricked the curiosity if you excuse the pun! They laughed, admitted that they too had been there.
A seedy looking old gentleman took the money, £6 for the privilege, somehow that seemed appropriate, not the £6, the seedy looking bloke.
Inside were glass cabinets, photographs, examples, donations! Full of pricks! Everything from a mouse to a bloody elephant! As well as a display of human meat. There was something strange though, no veg! What did they do with the nuts? 
There’s only so long you can look and study these type of artefacts and twenty minutes was long enough. For those interested. The elephant knob was the largest on show. Proudly hung in the centre of the wall. 
Weirdest exhibition I’ve ever seen, I have to say.

It was back home next day, back home to a slightly better temperature and another twist in the tail.

Departing Birmingham Airport Car Park, I placed my pre-paid ticket into the machine, only for it to be rejected. An alarm went off in my head, my fears confirmed when a message came up on the machine. I owed them £500!! What! Panic set in!
I pressed the button. A voice on the other end explained I was in debt. I explained I had pre-paid and was then informed me I had parked up in the wrong car park. I was told to back up from the exit and go into a blue office on the right to sort things out. I was raging, admitted I had made a balls up but to charge me £500?! “It’s £100 a day in this car park sir” the guy behind the desk said. To be fair he did phone his superior and had a conversation about the mistake I had made etc. Eventually he gave me the ‘good news’. “My boss has agreed to waiver the full payment due in this car park and to only charge me £129”. 

Well my instinct told me; ‘I suppose its better than 500 bloody quid!’ The end of a very odd adventure!

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Getting the blues in Chicago


                                    Monday 18th June 2018

The Raffaello was well situated, just a couple of blocks from Lake Michigan and well placed to explore the city’s delights. By the time I was settled in, it was 8pm and I strolled down the avenue to get a feel of the area and find somewhere to eat. A bar about half a mile away 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. A chat with the barman enlightened me on the blues clubs also, which was one of the main reasons I wanted to come to Chicago.

Nice way to end the day, but not before I took the elevator in the hotel up to the rooftop ‘speakeasy style’ Drumbar, 17 storeys up. I found it busy with background music and a phalanx of guests providing a relaxed and very cool backdrop. 

The Drumbar pamphlet described; 

View from the rooftop

‘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 none more so I guess than the blues clubs, and its gangsters, including the infamous 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 Bugsy Moran’s rival gang in a garage situated at 2122 N. Clark St. in the Lincoln Park area.

Bristling with excitement 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 was interested in. 

Turned out to be, I have to say, slightly disappointing.

The tour guide, a 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 stop on the tour was the Biograph Theatre in North Lincoln Avenue where in 1934 another famous gangster, John Dillinger, was gunned down by the police. Now to most film goers, Dillinger is decidedly second division compared to Capone, probably because there’s not as many films made about him! Dillinger was in fact an interesting character who achieved legendary status ‘of near Robin Hood proportions’, student informed us. America like their ‘gangs’. Think of the Barrow Gang of Bonnie and Clyde fame that rampaged through the States around the same time as Capone was flogging his liquor in Chicago. The Jesse James Gang were another bunch of reprobates who robbed trains in the Wild West days. John’s ‘Dillinger Gang” hit the road in 1933 and robbed dozens of banks AND embarrassingly, four police stations, Talk about extracting the urine. During his career John escaped from jail twice and embraced the notoriety with the media building 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 he was a pain in the ass and set out to get him. 

Dillinger managed to escape from four states with the police hot on his tail for almost a year. Returning to Chicago in July 1934 he found refuge in a brothel owned by a Romanian prostitute, Ana Cumpănaș. Suspicions aroused, if nothing else was, Ana informed the police and federal agents of his whereabouts. It was on July 22 the police surrounded the Biograph Theatre where John was enjoying an afternoon out with his girlfriend Polly, eating popcorn and watching Clark Gable in ‘Manhattan Meldrama’, a gangster film, naturally. Ana had also tagged along, inviting herself without any thoughts of being a gooseberry by the sounds of it. Exiting the theatre, John, Polly and Ana were confronted by the ‘Feds’ led by Melvin Purvis and Samuel Cowley. John drew his gun and made a run for it, but was shot in an alley adjacent to the Biograph.

And here we were, in this very same alley, listening to this tale of Dillinger’s demise and trying to imagine 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 which occurred in 1929 and on we continued. Student 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, the whole chabang. What he didn’t do, or he didn’t know much about, was the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. Sure, we went down Clark Street where the garage was situated, where Bugsy’s boys met their fate, but we drove right past it! Student obviously thought it wasn’t worth stopping for and Ok, a lot has changed in the intervening 80 years, the garage is long gone, but the wall where Bugsy’s men were lined up and machine gunned was still there. Truth be told, the wall was set back from the street, and nobody would know or be any wiser of its significance other than gangster fans and maybe if a dozen or so people had stepped off a bus in the middle of the afternoon to stare at a brick wall, it might have looked odd. Student wasn’t too impressed that’s for sure, and probably bored, but surely he could have stopped the bus for us all to have a look at it, take a picture, even if it did look innocuous and had been re-painted a million times! I did think though that showing friends back home a picture of a wall wouldn’t have been that impressive. Could be any wall I could hear them say… but not as famous as this one!

Anyway, we moved on, driving around a few streets which I could have sworn we had driven down three times already and eventually we stopped opposite a store where another battle had ensued, ‘you can still see the bullet holes’ Student informed us. We took a look, sure enough, they were there, we stared at them for a minute and then jumped back on the bus to finish the tour off with a visit to a bar where the walls were adorned with framed copies of the front pages of 1930s Chicago Tribune news reports on the gangsters. 

I don’t think I was the only one who felt a little underwhelmed, but there you are.

Looking for something more exciting I set off to find the House of Blues Club. A venue of particular personal interest in that my son Gareth had played there with his band Raging Speedhorn just a few years before. Impressive it was too. A large quite imposing building with a couple of floors, plenty of bars, a souvenir shop. It reminded me of the Bailey’s Night Clubs we had in the U.K. back in the 1970s. A fellow called Mike Wheeler on acoustic guitar was entertaining the crowd before he was followed by The Windy City Rebels. A great name, and a great band. After buying a couple of tee shirts from the souvenir shop I settled down 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. I was already looking forward to the next day, excited about visiting the famous Chess Studios. 

The Windy City Rebels

                                    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 etc. 

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 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 parallel to the street where my Raffaello Hotel was situated and I assumed by that, that finding the Chess Studio would be a piece of cake. 

Rambling along to view the shops, restaurants and bars with one eye on the clock, I decided it was time to get the metro to the Chess studio, which was about five miles away. This was an unexpected delight. The ‘metro’, referred to as the ‘L’ line, is an overhead transport system. The ‘L’ is short for elevated’. The ironwork constructions are exactly like you see in the old gangster movies of Chicago. Gives you a feel and great sense of history. 

Nearest station to the studio was Cermak-McCormick Place, opened just a couple of years earlier in 2015. Walking distance from there was about ten minutes. As the studio didn’t open until 12 noon, I roamed the surrounding area, the back streets where you always find items of interest. And I came across a graffiti daubed row of industrial units under the iron works of the ‘L’. Not the usual scribbled and indecipherable mess you normally see, the graffiti was decorative, artful 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 patiently outside Chess for the door to open I was joined by another chap, a bespectacled intelligent looking guy with a camera slung over his shoulder and a notebook in hand. We acknowledged each other and then the receptionist, a black lady called Mel invited us in.

A brief history of the building and a parting of a dollar or two, Mel proved to be charming and enthusiastic as she took us on our tour. First off she asked us to introduce ourselves. ‘Clive” I said, “from England’. The other guy introduced himself as “Chris Reynolds, journalist for the L.A.Times”. What! Made me feel a dullard! 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 and as we made our way around she played snippets of great blues records that were recorded here in this very studio whilst interjecting stories about Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon and other great blues artists. ‘Johnny B.Goode’ came blasting out, “recorded in this very room” Mel informed us. Then 'At Last’ by Etta James, Bo Diddley’s ‘Down Home Special’. I felt as if I’d been transported to heaven, I really felt quite emotional. Mel told us about when the Rolling Stones recorded at Chess in 1964 as ‘It’s All Over Now’, one of my all time favourites came out of the speakers. And it sounded fantastic! What an experience. I’ve been to Stax and Sun in Memphis, Hitsville in Detroit, Capitol in L.A. For me, Chess was topping the lot. I was in dreamland visualising Charlie set up behind his drums in the corner, Bill, Keith and Brian Jones perched on stools with their guitars, Mick Jagger behind the mic. Spine tingling. 

Mel showing us around.

Before leaving I bought a couple of CDs and managed to have a chat and swap emails with Chris Reynolds. Told him about my involvement with world famous session drummer Clem Cattini’s up-coming biography. Disappointingly he hadn’t heard of him. Typical of American insularity I supposed, not many this side of the pond had heard of Clem’s contemporaries in the pre Beatles British era, hit makers like Johnny Kidd, Billy Fury, Cliff Richard, The Tornados… But Chris Reynolds had by the time I was finished! 

The rest of the day was spent down by the river and Pier Park. Described:

'The epitome of fun. It’s 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. 

Next morning I was picked up by Uber for my lift to O’Hare Airport and my return to Britain. As it normally does, it felt as if I’d been away for weeks. Like to think I’ll return to these places sometime…who knows.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Travelin’ Man - Teignmouth

                                                         Travelin’ Man

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. 

                                                             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.