… moves onto a different level.
Upstairs, to be precise!
My previous blog entry was written, appropriately enough, on a train coming back from the funeral of my friend, Paul. I say ‘appropriately,’ because Paul was passionate about trains and train travel.
I felt the need to mark his passing in some way, but didn’t want to write anything morbid or depressing in his memory, which is why I told the story of our day out with a pretty girl and an open top MG sports car in San Fransisco, when we were first introduced to the, now infamous, Crabs Legs Louis.
A few days after I posted my modest tribute, I was delighted to get a message from Paul’s son, who had enjoyed my little essay and in particular my recollection of Paul’s flight of imagination concerning the gangster, who was the scourge of Fisherman’s Wharf and the account of our sporting activities on that extraordinary day. Apparently, Paul, his Dad, was in the habit of saying, “Did I ever tell you about when I played with a frisbee in Golden Gate Park?”
Then a day or so later, I received another message from my old friend, Joe, whose marriage to Leslie had been at the heart of the whole saga. Joe’s email was entitled “Can’t get the memory out of my head!”
Once the wedding was over, Joe and Leslie set off on their honeymoon in Los Angeles, without a care in the world. The following day, Paul and I enjoyed our day out in San Fransisco.
But before I tell you the next part of the story, a bit of context. In 1974 I had just come back from two years in the Sudan doing Voluntary Service Overseas. I had no job and no money to speak of. Indeed the resettlement grant that I got from VSO went to pay for my flight to the US and the ‘runabout’ ticket on regional airlines which was supposed to get me to California.
Paul was studying in Canada at the time and was also pretty penniless, but he had also managed to get himself one of the magic ‘runabout’ tickets. We started our airline-hopping journey across the States. By the third airline, we could recite the safety announcements as the cabin staff read them out, which, of course, we did!
Then disaster! Hughes Air West, the airline that was supposed to take us from Las Vegas to San Jose suddenly dropped out of the system and decided that they no longer wanted to accept the “Visit USA” runabout tickets, which were our key to unlimited USA travel . Thank you very much, Howard Hughes, – another billionaire bent of ruining the lives of the poor – Paul and me in this case.
We phoned Leslie in San Jose and told her that we were, in effect, stranded in Las Vegas, without the means to get ourselves out of trouble. Leslie’s Dad was not a man to allow the antics of two indigent Englishmen to spoil his daughter’s wedding. He paid for our onward tickets from Las Vegas.
Anyway, back to the memory that poor Joe can’t get out of his head.
The day after our San Fransicso adventure, Paul and I set off, in the smallest hire car you could ever imagine, to get ourselves back to Las Vegas so that we could start using our runabout tickets again and start getting some more free airline meals. (You have to think strategically when you are a struggling academic or a recently returned VSO volunteer. We planned our flights to coincide with either dinner or lunch on whatever airline we were using.)
Our plan was to drive down to Los Angeles and then across the desert to Las Vegas. To save our dwindling reserves of cash, we decided that we would have to sleep in the car on the day we arrived in the City of the Angels. This was not one of our better ideas!
When morning finally came, we staggered out of our little rental car, unrested, bleary -eyed, aching, dishevelled and very sweaty after a humid, airless night in a tin box on a Los Angeles car-park.
An hour or so later, a mysterious note was slipped under the door of Joe and Leslie’s honeymoon suite at the prestigious Howard Johnson hotel. No-one saw who did it. There was no CCTV in those days. Investigators are still baffled.
The note made Joe and Leslie an offer they couldn’t refuse. It said that, if they knew what was good for them, they would present themselves in the coffee shop of the hotel by 10.00am. Failure to comply with this instruction, or any attempt to involve the Los Angeles Police Department, would have consequence that they would not wish to countenance.
The note was signed “Crabs Legs Louis!”
Paul and I were mightily relieved when Joe and Leslie duly complied with their instructions, and more importantly, when they agreed to our urgent and plaintive request for the use of their shower and perhaps some fresh towels.
Having refreshed ourselves with a shower and a hotel breakfast, and only slightly embarrassed at having burst in on our friends’ honeymoon, we continued our journey to Las Vegas.
But that, as they say, is another story.
My friend, Paul, died last week. He went to bed on Friday night and never woke up.
Yesterday I attended his memorial service, a humanist celebration of his life.
Paul was cremated at a small, private ceremony during the morning and then, in the afternoon, several hundred people, who had known him at various points in his life, packed into the local community hall to remember him and, in some cases, to share those memories. He had only just retired.
The event was a very moving mixture of sadness, laughter, reflection, stories and reminiscences, framed on all sides by music, Schubert, Mozart, Acker Bilk and, inevitably, Gilbert and Sullivan.
Paul was a remarkable man. A man of passions. If Paul was interested in something, then he was passionately interested in something. His passions included railways, music, Austin minis, cats, frogs and Esperanto. He was one of the country’s leading Esperanto speakers and used to lecture on the subject both in this country and in America. He once organised a conference in Congleton where he lived, for Esperantists from all over Britain. He managed to talk the station master at Congleton Station into letting him make the station announcements in Esperanto as the delegates arrived. The rest of the travelling public were a bit confused!
Paul was a keen watcher of politics and in the late eighties he even stood for parliament. He wasn’t successful in that venture, but at least he had felt strongly enough about how the country was being run to put his head up above the parapet and to offer himself to the people of Congleton as a prospective MP.
He was six months older than me.
Paul and I both studied German at the University of Manchester. On the first day of the first term, I was standing in front of a noticeboard in the Faculty of Arts, trying to work out where my lectures would take place. I was whistling a tune from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore,” quietly to myself. Paul recognised the melody, identified the opera and provided the appropriate lyrics. We were friends from then on.
In our second year, we shared a flat in the distinctly unsavoury area of Manchester called Moss Side. At that time, Moss side was a favourite haunt of gangsters, thugs, ladies of ‘tolerance’, (as the French used to say), and assorted neer-do-wells and ruffians, not to mention hundreds of students. I imagine that, by now, it is a neat and tidy suburb, full of respectable houses with lawns and net curtains. I don’t know that for sure. I haven’t been back.
For a couple of young bachelors living together in a small flat, we ‘kept house’ quite well. Paul was a very well-organised person. On one occasion, when he was out and I was writing an essay, I borrowed his German dictionary. When he came home he said “Aha! I see you have been consulting my dictionary!” Uncanny! How did he know? I had carefully replaced it in the bookcase but had failed to observe the alphabetical order, – or was it the height order? – in which his books were invariably kept.
Unlike the situation in many ‘bachelor pads’, we were quite good about doing the washing up, a task made easier by the enthusiastic accompaniment of a song or two from the Gilbert and Sullivan canon. God knows what the landlady thought was going on!
In 1974 I was invited to California to be the Best Man at the wedding of our old friends, Joe and Leslie. The invitation was for two. Not having a “Plus 1’ on my arm at the time, Paul gallantly stood in to accompany me to the festivities. (He was already on the other side of the Atlantic doing his PhD in Canada.)
Paul watching proceedings with interest. Yours truly trying to get out of shot.
Paul on the left, the groom with the ample beard, and yours truly, with Best Man’s speech in hand, on the far right.
The wedding passed off well, as weddings often do, and, at the reception, we got into conversation with an attractive young American woman, who was a friend of the bride. Charmed, (probably) by our quaint English accents, she asked us what plans we had for the following day. Now although neither of us had had much experience of dealing with the opposite sex at this time, we were, nevertheless, both clever enough to know that when a pretty girl asks you if you have any plans for the following day, any plans that you might have had need to evaporate.
She offered to show us San Fransisco. She said that she had a ‘small English car’ and she would pick us up in the morning. We awoke the following morning with great expectations.
These expectations were only slightly dampened when she turned up in a bright green, two-seater, open-top MG sports car, with her boyfriend in the passenger seat. Regroup! Regroup!
Behind the front seats there was a sort of parcel shelf on which Paul and I perched as our new friends showed off their city. We had a great day. We were driven across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sauselito, we toured Chinatown, we played with a frisbee in Golden Gate Park, and, for lunch we ate Crabs Legs Louis on Fishermens’ Wharf.
Paul’s rampant imagination immediately latched on the idea of Crab Legs Louis. He was convinced that ‘Crab Legs’ was the nom de guerre of a local gangster who terrorised the good people of San Fransisco and after whom the dish was named. The following day Paul wrote “The Ballad of Crab Legs Louis”, recounting the exploits of this scourge of the SF Police Department. I regret to say that the passage of over forty years has separated me from my copy of this minor literary masterpiece.
Our day with the pretty young woman and the open-top MG ended somewhat prematurely. On our way home, we crossed an intersection on a green light. The driver coming the other way found it unnecessary to pay attention to his red light, so the result was unfortunate. We were hit, spun around and came to a sudden stop. Mercifully, no-one was hurt.
Within minutes we were surrounded by police cars with flashing red and blue lights, just like we had seen on TV. There seemed to be big, burly police officers everywhere, with big flashlights and big, ugly weapons on their hips. Paul and I decided that our quaint British accents had nothing to contribute to this situation. We kept very quiet.
Eventually, statements were taken, insurance details exchanged and we were free to go. We examined our new friend’s battered, green MG and found one of the door handles still lying on the road.
Paul decided that, given that the car was a fine example of British engineering, the least we could do was to return the sadly deceased door handle to the place of its birth and afford it a proper burial.
Some months later, Paul and I went walking in the Lake District in the north of England.
I have no doubt that one day in the not-too-distant, on a quiet hillside, near a tumbling stream, someone will discovered the rusty remains of an MG car door handle as it pokes its way out of the Lakeland earth into which we ceremoniously committed It so many years ago.
Being with Paul was never dull and never predictable. The world has lost an original.
In the seemingly unending war against scuffed paintwork, torn wallpaper, and a hundred other challenges that make up the renovation of Beaconsfield House, as our Victorian terraced house in Brighton was originally styled, a new weapon has now been deployed to great effect.
It came in an innocuous-looking grey plastic carrying case and was then revealed in all its awesome glory…
A new ‘heat gun’ for stripping multiple layers of paint off the shed door that needed to have about nine inches of rotten wood cut off the bottom, the rotten wood ingeniously replaced and then the whole door stripped down and repainted.
What more can a man ask for? A new toy, a cup of tea and somewhere comfortable to sit down.
Oh, yes… and a new shed door at the end of it all.
Does life get any better?
Sometimes, when you go out with your camera, you get lucky.
The picture below shows the Angel of Peace that looks out to sea from Brighton’s seafront. It was taken in the early evening.
The next picture shows the same statue, one minute later, half a pace to the right, with added lighting effects.
As I said, sometimes you just get lucky!
One of the nice things about being retired is that sometimes you have the time to just stand and stare.
These two seagulls were clearly enjoying surveying their domain from their vantage point on top of this lamp-post on the seafront.
There was clearly some competition for these perches, because the two occupants were soon being aggressed by all sorts of aerial hooligans.
They held their ground until the big boy came along…
… at which point, they decided that discretion was the better part of valour and left.
Well, wouldn’t you?
The Pride celebrations in Brighton this year were the biggest ever. With around 300,000 visitors, it is estimated that there was a boost to the city’s economy of something in the region of £18 million, so even the big corporate players wanted to get in on the act.
The Metropole Hotel, part of the Hilton group, was decked out in its finery,
and even the Grand Hotel, which became famous in 1984, when it was the scene of an unsuccessful assassination attempt against the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was proudly displaying its rainbow colours.
The Grand Hotel in October 1984 when five people lost their lives and 31 other were injured when an IRA bomb exploded at 3.00am.
The Grand Hotel yesterday.
When my contract with OXFAM came to an end in 1992, we decided it was time to come back to the UK. We spent a year in Norwich, where Linda did her teacher training and I studied for an MA. We then had to decide where we were going to live. (One year in Norwich is enough for any one lifetime!)
Some friends invited us to spend a weekend in Brighton, and the town showed off royally to us. The sky was blue and cloudless, the sea sparkled and the sun warmed our bones after a freezing winter on the steppes of Norfolk. We were hooked and the rest, as they say, is history.
Someone once described Brighton as a town that looked as if it had been up all night helping the police with its enquiries but we love it. It has everything, easy access to London, an ever-changing seafront, fish and chips on the pier and candy floss. What more could you want?
It also has a large gay community, which adds an element of, well, gaiety and glamour to the place, especially during the annual Pride celebrations. Yesterday was that day and the town was suitably dressed for the occasion. There were rainbow flags, balloons, feather boas and outrageous costumes everywhere.
The day started off with a big parade, which we unfortunately missed, owing to a previous lunch engagement. However, in the late afternoon we took a walk into town to share in the excitement and the spectacle.
By the time we arrived, the festivities had already been in full flood for about five hours and a great deal of alcohol had been quaffed. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was bright and cheerful, like the weather, and everyone was out to have a good time.
And I mean, everyone. There were apparently over 300,000 people thronging the narrow streets of Brighton and, apart from the one minute silence to remember the victims of the Orlando killings in America last month, the whole town was gripped by one big, happy party. By the end of the afternoon, my smiling muscles were aching and my hand was sore from the endless ‘high-fives’ exchanged with total strangers.
Even the Co-op took part.
The police and ambulance services were very much in evidence, some of the wearing garlands and rainbow insignia. Precautions had obviously been taken to ‘keep the party polite’ as Sky Masterson said in ‘Guys and Dolls’ and security was everywhere. However, when we were there.at least, everything was very light-hearted and good natured – inebriated, but good natured.
The festivities were centred on Preston Park, which we can see from our front room window.
The music thundered on into the evening, when, at 10.30 sharp, it all stopped and everyone went home.
Well, most people went home. From what I saw at around 6.00pm, my guess is that, although most people will have made it home and will be surfacing this morning with a sore head, a raging thirst and a somewhat incomplete memory of yesterday, there will be a significant number who may well be waking up in unfamiliar surroundings, either in a police cell, a hospital ward or a bed that they don’t recognise!
After all of the atrocities and the hate that has filled our TV screens over the past few months, it was great to see thousand upon thousands of people coming together to have fun and to celebrate diversity, tolerance and a sense that it is OK to be who you are.
Well done, Brighton. Good on yer!