Monday 29 July 2013

Journey to the Centre of the Garden of England (and the Sussexes)

So, with our Gonzo Multimedia hats on, we (Jon, young Jessica and I) were off to Kent to film Judy Dyble and others at the SOL festival, visit CJ Stone in Whitstable and then visit Mick Farren of The Deviants in Brighton on our way home.  What started out as an adventure turned into a freaky episode of peculiarities, culminating in a very sad return journey.

There were so many odd occurrences that they cannot go by without a mention. Jess certainly had a baptism of oddities during this, her first, trip away with 'uncle and aunt'.  She seemed to enjoy herself and we hope that any future trip she may accompany us on will be a little less full of such strangeness. She is great company, as are all of her family, and we hope she would like come with us again some time.  Thanks Jess, you were a star.

Frustrating hitch number one: Jon wanted to try to get a replacement watch – but the shop in Bideford no longer sold them. Well it did, but for some odd reason it only sold ladies’ watches. Go figure.

Frustrating hitches numbers two, three, four…..ten:  Then came some of those odd, unexplained stop-start traffic incidents – caused, presumably, purely by the sheer volume of traffic, with the M25 doing a perfect impersonation of a car park at Christmas time. 

Frustrating hitch number eleven (although it was probably actually somewhere between four and eight):  Well not really a frustrating hitch.  Just one of those Jonathan moments – a bit like one of those old Fry’s Turkish Delight moments but with no Turkish Delight, seductive music, or desert scene.  In fact, nothing like one of those moments, and I have no idea at all why Fry’s Turkish Delight popped into my head. 

But whilst on the subject, and for those who don’t remember, or have never seen, that iconic advert of the ‘80s here it is:

Anyway, we were stop/starting over Salisbury Plain and asked Jess whether she had seen Stonehenge ‘in the flesh’ before.  She hadn’t.  So Jon explained that we would be passing by said monument very soon and that she should have her camera-phone at the ready.  ‘Just after this hut’, he said confidently.  Hmmm nope.  ‘Sorry, I always get confused when it will actually appear,’ he explained.  ‘Okay’, said Jess.  ‘Actually I don’t think we will be passing it at all to be honest,’ continues Jon later.  ‘Sorry’.  ‘That’s  a shame, never mind,’ says Jess, putting away her mobile.  Stop/start.  (I am so glad our car is automatic at times like this).  ‘You know, I think we will pass it,’ announced Jon confidently.   This will we/won’t we scenario continued along the A303; Jess remaining outstandingly unfazed by Jon’s long-drawn-out senior moment.  However, you will all be pleased – and relieved – to know that we DID pass Stonehenge and Jess DID get her picture after all. Phew. 

Frustrating hitch number twelve:  Arriving at the festival, we discovered that the other act we were supposed to film had kindly gone on a couple of hours earlier, because those who had supposed to have gone on a couple of hours earlier had ‘phoned in to say that their transport had broken down.  So, basically, we missed who we had supposed to be filming because when we arrived the people who had supposed to be on two hours earlier were actually on then, having managed to get their transport working again.

Frustrating hitch number thirteen:  We mustn’t forget the ambiguous travel directions to our hostelry which caused our cranky sat nav to take us around the back-streets of Bexhill-on-Sea and to keep telling us that we had reached our destination, although eventually we found our actual destination about half-a-mile away.  Then there was the missing key to our room facilitating the need for the inn-keeper having to be asked to lock the door for us after we had left each day.  I am not sure how it would have worked if we had not returned before closing time on the Saturday, for although we had a key to the hotel back entrance, we would quite possible have had to bunk down in the corridor. 

Frustrating hitch number fourteen:  We had booked the hotel rooms online just like we always do.  When we eventually got there we found that although they had taken the card details, these were just required to secure the booking.  So instead of what we had thought was a good idea, thus avoiding the need of claiming back the expenses with Gonzo having paid for the booking, we ended up having to pay them anyway.

Frustrating hitch number fifteen: Then came the beer and oyster festival at Whitstable (plus road-closing carnival) followed by thunder, lightning and heavy rain drenching hundreds of festival-goers (plus us non-festival goers) and pubs being so full they looked like enormous cans of sardines.  Then there was Jon trying to hold a ‘business meeting’ amongst the loud ‘chatter’ of revellers.

However, this frustrating hitch did give me the best seat in town to be able to watch the antics of one particular drunken attendee who was outside in the pouring rain as he stood in the road, stopped traffic and mooned splendidly at all and sundry, before intermittently gesticulating and then throwing himself on a bollard.  Wow they make bollards of bendy plastic now – that’s brilliant.  I know this because when he stood to pull up his trousers over his lightning-lit posterior cheeks, it bounced back up again.  Amazing.  They should get some of those in children’s playgrounds.  It would give them practice for any future exploits they may undertake in those odd years of youth that would probably have - once upon a time - involved the beating of chests, body painting with woad or some other ancient ceremony that cannot be performed these days due to health and safety, or just simply because we have evolved a bit since then and are supposedly civilised. However, the painting of woad does still appeal to me on  occasions.  I am quite often impelled to daub myself, fling my quiver over my shoulder and take up my long bow, and a sword, and cause havoc in Barnstaple High Street or on one of those trains that are transporting that other group of ceremonialists – the football supporters.

I understand that new grandpa (or whatever he is to be called; granddad, grampy, grumps or even just plain Your Royal Highness, granddad sir) Prince Charles, is supposed to be visiting Whitstable Oyster Festival today (Monday).  I hope Mr. Moonie is either still suffering from one-helluva hangover and is hibernating in his bed, or that he at least keeps his trousers on for such an auspicious occasion. 

Frustrating hitch number sixteen: During the festival Jess and I somehow started discussing milk shakes and both then yearned for a McDonald’s milkshake (because they do make exceedingly good shakes).  This was sometime during the afternoon of Saturday.  So for the rest of our stay at the festival and the journey to Whitstable and back, it was at the forefront of our minds.  Could we find a McDonald’s on the way back to Bexhill-on-Sea?  You bet your posterior cheeks we couldn’t.  So it seemed that the yearning on the 80-odd mile round trip was going to prove insatiable.  Until, that is, we stopped at a garage shop not far from the hotel to buy some sandwiches etc., and a quick enquiry revealed that there was a McDonalds on our way back to the hotel.  We found it.  We were excited.  It had a drive-through. And it was OPEN. Huzzah!  Somehow, not one of us had noticed this establishment on the other two occasions we had passed it.  But to be fair I think we were all side-tracked by the sight of the Big Top that had been erected in a ‘field’ opposite.  Well I wasn’t that side-tracked of course, because I was the driver and had my eyes firmly fixed on the road, and after driving for so long I was firmly glued to my seat,  with hands firmly wrapped around the steering wheel (basically set in that position) and staring out of the windscreen. 

‘To McDonalds and milkshake,’ we cried.  We didn’t really cry that at all,  but that rousing untruth does add a little je ne sais quoi to the situation.   After tackling the mini roundabout that had been placed so you couldn’t actually drive all the way around it in one go, facilitating a dodgy three-point  turn, I then promptly drove right past the ordering station – you know, the metal thing that speaks to you.  As I crawled along I heard the muffled, ‘Can I have your order please?’ as the sound trailed off behind me. Realising my mistake, and reversing back, I said something along the lines of: “Oh, I am sorry. I drove right past you then” – admittedly in a rather Joyce Grenfell, and ever-so-slightly vacant, way - at which point Jon started laughing.  Anyone who knows the sound of Jon’s laughter will know it is not a stifled giggle, or a gentlemanly guffaw, but more of a raucous cacophony of belly laughs that echo around the area like ricocheting rubber bullets.  At this point young Jessica started laughing and I was left to implore them both to shush whilst I started to give our meagre order.  This shushing task I singularly failed to fulfil and had to shout down the thing, ‘One banana and one strawberry milkshake please!’  Fine… I had gotten the order out.  But then came the reply ‘I’m afraid we have no milkshakes,’ at which point we all started laughing.  The guy on the other end apologised profusely, and after saying, ‘Okay, never mind. Thanks’, I drove off.  I didn’t notice, but apparently the guy gave us a really odd look as we crawled passed the window.  Slightly confused, I then asked why Jon had laughed, and he replied that when I had explained (albeit unnecessarily I have to admit, but I put it down to a manic state of mind on actually finding a McDonalds after all that time) down the speaker that I had driven passed, it had sounded as if I was stoned.

Frustrating hitch number whatever it was:  We thought we would take Jess on a shortish trip to Beachy Head, but the road was closed due to yet another annual event. However, we did manage to see a very large white horse and a giant....etched into hillsides I must add before you begin to wonder whether I was actually stoned after all.  

There were other irritations too, for example: a) whilst there were coffee and tea facilities in the room, there were none of those handy little milk cartons/tubes, b)  there were no instructions on how to work the shower nor was there any mention of having to flick a switch on, located high up on the outside of the bathroom in order to get aforementioned gadget to work, c) we realised at 9.55 am that we had to be out of the room by 10.00 am avoiding the necessity to pay for an extra day.  This information, of course, causing a mild panic as Jon was still IN bed and I was still faffing around in my undergarments. 

None of these peculiar and frustrating occurrences mean diddly-squat though.   They were purely that – peculiar and frustrating, and part of the rich-tapestry of life; little things that just happened to occur all on the same weekend rather than being spread out. 

When Jon attempted to contact Mick Farren to confirm that our visit to see him at home in Brighton was still okay, the news that unfolded of his collapse on stage the previous night, and his resulting passing deeply shocked and saddened us all.  Both Jess and I had been looking forward to meeting him for the first time, after hearing from Jon what a great guy he was. 

Bon voyage, Mick, and rest in peace.