Will they let me carry my guitar on? We’re traveling Aer Lingus and when checking in on-line I saw their policies required either checking or buying a seat for any instrument bigger than a penny whistle. Various musicians websites I searched (Mandolins United…We Strum International) offered stories and advice “Brazen it out!” “Don’t risk it, honestly”. In the end Eric checked his and I brazened it out and it was fine. Aer Lingus was not bad, we had to fly through Dublin but it broke up the trip into 5 hours and an hour and a half to London and I unknowingly went through immigration in Dublin when a guy in a booth asked me “So – do you live around here then?” and I said No and he stamped my passport. No landing card, no chance to show my work permit. At Heathrow we exited the plane to baggage claim!
We’re stopped in a lay-by in Norfolk with the rain beating on the roof of the car. Graceful trees with yellow leaves all around, other cars speeding by spraying water, seats back to sleep a few minutes. This is us, I think – stopping for a nap on our way to our friends’ house after a flight from New York. Ever since I met Eric we’ve been going somewhere. Heathrow to motorway services where we drank Starbucks and ate bacon sandwiches and got that giddy “wow, we’re here” feeling looking at a busload of Cambridge youths in their sports gear, glowing that rosy cheeked silken ringlets way only British youth can and taking in the older folk in their Sunday leisure wear, trying to keep away from the newspaper stand because I’m not ready for the latest scandals.
We’re in the Cley Spy store on the north Norfolk coast with my goddaughter Daisy, trying out one of hundreds of varieties of binoculars and looking at khaki vests for “twitching” (bird watching). It’s a treat to visit this beautiful part of England and stay in our friends’ lovely place and get to catch up for a day or two but we also have to gather up our equipment (two amps, a keyboard, various stands and pedals and cases) that we keep over here. Get it down from the loft, load into the rental car. Drive to London for rehearsal. (Eric drives over here. The right hand drive car, manual transmission on jet lag…roads that seem half the size of US highways, packed with cars – I should handle it but can’t face it). Stop at another Starbucks. Or was it a Costa Coffee? Arrive at Fire Records to meet up with Sterling Roswell who’s playing drums and opening some of the shows, he’s a stylish chap and great character and Barry Payne, bass player who at seventeen played with Eric and still has that boyish charm and shaggy Brian Jones-style hair. We work our way through the songs in Fire’s rehearsal space, it’s a lot to keep track of but I’m lucky cause I know a lot of them already.
Stayed with Barry and his wife and adorable boys in Muswell Hill. So many names ring those bells here – think of the Kinks of course and remember a Gregory Isaacs show I saw in a gym somewhere up here when I lived in London in 1980. Pub names from fabled punk gigs I read about in the NME that still fill me with reverence even though I know they’re more Wetherspoons and quiz nights now.
Driving through Stoke Newington I see people in black standing on a sidewalk and a hearse with flashing lights parked at the curb – it’s a funeral and just as we pass they carry the casket out. The street’s so narrow that from the left passenger side window I can almost reach my hand out and touch the gleaming wood as it slides into the back of the hearse. A reminder to live? That this is all there is? That no matter how cold it is in Germany, it’s better than the alternative? “Better write a will,” Eric says. We agree we don’t want to be buried like that.
Another rehearsal and healthy lunch at Haberdasher with its shelves of old Penguin paperbacks (not just orange, there were green ones too). Getting a handle on everything and notes for the stuff I haven’t got yet (lucky thing about playing keyboard – it doubles as a handy shelf for paperwork).
Wembley Holiday Inn. Dumped the rental car at Saint Pancras, jumped on the tube to out here where the tour van company is. It’s fun to be in the shadow of Wembley in our Hotwire hotel with pool, sauna and right next to a mall with Wagamama, Pizza Express, Gap Outlet and Costa Coffee. Yes, there was a time when I would’ve begged to stay in central London – so much charm, so much character! I want to be where the action is! No more. What’s easy, convenient and gives me the best chance of getting a decent night’s sleep and being where I need to be with the least amount of effort the next day? Yes, I have changed, become hardened. It’s not that I don’t like culture and discovery. Just…not when we have to catch an 8 AM ferry and drive to Cologne on Friday and play Friday night.
There’s the van hire place. Time to meet our tour vehicle.