The knock on my hotel door must’ve been at about 9:15 a.m. I immediately pictured the ‘I’m still sleeping’ sign hung on the outside door handle - placed there the previous night; a sign with a somewhat serious message to it, a message that in truth is saying to anyone contemplating making any contact with me whatsoever: ‘even though I may not, as the sign says, actually be asleep, DO NOT under any circumstance knock on my door’. As those who spend any significant amount of time in hotels will know, these ‘do not disturb’ notices are at times ignored by cleaning staff who either can’t read, or always do the opposite to what they’re told, or just want to make absolutely certain that you meant to display the notice, thereby confirming the total accuracy of the intent behind it’s placing on the outer door handle.
It was a sheepish knock; a knock without real conviction; not just a quiet knock; one that suggests more than just hesitation; it carried a dynamic, and though hard to quantify, a dynamic that’s recognisable both instinctively and instantly. Smelling fear, my response was totally committed. The timing has to be just right and it’s important not to appear too angry; I waited just a moment, just long enough, and in a fairly low timbre, and without shouting I said, “HELLO”; more of a question than a greeting. There was no reply. With attempted authority I strode, wearing the pyjamas I bought from Lidl only a few days earlier, towards the door thinking I was going to make life slightly unpleasant for this person, this cleaner; well, I mean there must be many cleaners who find cleaning pretty unpleasant anyway, and in truth I wouldn’t want to compound anyone’s misery or anything like that, but after all, they have ignored my sign.I swung the door open, again not too fast as I repeated, “HELLO”. In broad northern voice I heard “Sorry Ken, ‘ave I woken you up?“.
Before me stood Phil. Even his grin was sheepish. The words ’what the f##k’ that were in my mind, almost reached my lips. “I’ve been talking to the person at the desk, and they said there’s no way we should drive anywhere today. Have you looked outside?” He asked. When I did look outside I saw what he meant. The snow was thick; thick and frozen.
The question arose as to whether we should ‘stay put’ and cancel the hotel reservation for the following night in Bridgwater; we were informed that it was possible to transfer all the details to the present Travelodge in Barnstable. I have to admit that the thought was quite an attractive one; I could do a little practice; I could do some writing; I could relax a little; I had some food in my rucksack, and even a bottle of wine; being snowed in didn’t sound so bad at all.
First thought was to email tour manager Nigel, and find out if he and the band have made any decisions. An hour or so passed without a reply and so I phoned Simon. He explained that Nigel had called the AA, and they had informed him that the roads were in fact open but the going was slow; so the band were going to make their way to Ilfracombe from Tiverton, intending to set off at 12:30 p.m.
Not all roads lead to Ilfracombe, just two in fact, they’re both small, but one is not quite as small as the other. As luck would have it, the sun appeared in the sky; it was very picturesque outside, and though there was still plenty of snow around, the ice lost it’s footing. The journey and the gig began to look feasible. Though the going was definitely slow, in Ilfracombe we did eventually arrive. The conditions were quite bad, but they were manageable; it was, so we were told by the locals - the first time they’d had any snow to speak of for over thirty years. So, the show went ahead. I felt that for all of us this was the point at which the transition became noticeable; that is, the transition from the music being something one might have to reach for, as opposed to something that has been absorbed into the system. When that starts to happen basically there’s less tension, and the more free you are to think about expression, etc.
February 4th. The Anvil Theatre in Basingstoke has to be one of my favourite theatres, it’s just very tastefully and well designed from both an atheistic and acoustic point of view. It was good to chat with Maria again, someone who I first met when friend Charlie Monck used to get me solo gigs in Whitchurch, some years back. Don’t know what’s happened to Charlie; last time I saw him at a Morris On show he was holding his mobile phone in the air as the band played, so as to let his girlfriend in the USA listen - and we’re not talking just one or two tunes here, it was for most of the night. I keep imagining that he finally went to live over there. Charlie, if you stumble upon these writings, do get in touch sometime.
The 5th of Feb, and Worthing. The first in a duo of seaside venues, this one not really being at the sea-side, more a case of above-sea, on the pier to be precise. Lovely crowd there; at least four people came up singing the praises of Folkcast. If you don’t know about Folkcast - you should; you need to visit: Folkcast
Weston-Super-Mare, 6th Feb. The Playhouse. If it had been left up to me we probably wouldn’t have made the journey today, not for any other reason than the weather report being absolutely terrible with significant areas of the country completely cut off, and this included the closure of the road into Weston-Super-Mare on the east of the town - the direction we are approaching it from. With reports of around two hundred drivers who had been stranded over night on a hill just south of that location, it wasn’t just a case of wondering whether we’d reach the place, with extreme icy conditions forecast over night, it was more a case of wondering if we could get back for tomorrows London show. After the customary email to Nigel and phone conversation with Simon, once again ‘fearless Fairport’ were on the road. So Phil and I did the same and set off on a westward course. We made sure we had plenty of food, and that the car was full of petrol and gas, just incase we got stuck somewhere. The hardest part was getting the car out of the hotel car park as it’s wheels spun on the thick, compacted snow and ice.
The names: Devon, Somerset and Cornwall have an instant association of warmth and cosiness for me; they are reassuring and safe places. They are all about cream, cider apples pasties and beautiful coast lines; when compared to the likes of steel, cotton, black puddings, and other dubious products associated with some of our other counties, for me the south-west of England is the winner. Of course, my coloured view is most likely down to a childhood holiday. Our parents were quite brave to drive us all the way down there from Preston back in something like 1960, especially when I think about the car - an old Post Office van; a Morris with a smiling front. The way these vehicles were sold by the PO was by inviting offers from prospective buyers, and from what I recall, my Mum and Dad offered the princely sum of £7.00. On it’s acquirement my Father painted it blue, and being a joiner, he fitted it out with these bench-like seats in the back which were covered in this sort of fake leather, PVC type of material. There was a layer of foam between the cover and the wood that could be described as, well, minimalist. Maybe this is why I prefer to stand up so much these days.
There was, of course, no concept then of such things as seat belts, but there was also no concept of this car travelling at speeds greater than 40 mph; there may have been one occasion when we overtook someone; I recall us cheering in the back. In the end, via central and south Wales, we got to Devon, and then got back home. It was a great childhood holiday, and there’s no doubt that wherever you have a good or a bad time as a child you will most probably continue to view those places in a corresponding light for the rest of your life. The show was a very good one tonight in Weston-Super-Mare, but you know, it wouldn’t have really mattered if it hadn’t been; I like this place - unconditionally.