30 January 2008

I Often Dream of Trains

An opportunity to hear Robyn Hitchcock is not something to let pass, and when he's playing the Queen Elizabeth Hall - his favourite venue in London, he said - it's even more imperative. I enjoy getting some friends together for the evening almost as much as the event itself: tonight it's Ben Price and Dave Musker, and we meet Chris beforehand so I can give him his tickets for Friday night.

It occurred to me that we were sitting having a drink in exactly the same place that we - Chris Dave and I - experienced an evening of Lol Coxhill, or at least experienced as much as we could take before the nearest pizza restaurant attracted us. We sat and chatted and remembered that evening before eventually taking our seats in the hall, well into the support act's set. Ben had an idea about who was supporting, but he was wrong: I didn't pay much attention until I'd sat down, when I could see that the stage was occupied by a drummer near the front, who seemed to be wearing a military uniform from the American civil war, and two female cellists at least one of them dressed in what appeared to be native American costume.

They had just started a song as we took our seats, and when they had finished it they announced that they'd now play a ten-minute medley of three songs. We'd already been exchanging glances and suppressing laughter, but this was not a prospect we could countenance, so we left again, not for a pizza this time but for the bar, where we passed an agreeable half-hour, much of it debating the law of copyright and its application to parody, before Robyn's imminent appearance on stage was announced.

He appeared alone, and explained - in one of his rare comprehensible introductions - that the songs we had come to hear, which make up one of his albums, owe their origin to a period he spent in Bergen (which he compared to Seattle in that it faces west, has a great deal of rain and is surrounded by pine trees) when he realised he wanted to make a green - I think he said a dark green - album, and first he played a piece that had been listening to at that time - 1982. It turned out to be Roxy Music's More Than This, which I have to say he played and sang delightfully. Terry Edwards and Tim Keegan joined him for most of the following pieces, one or other or both of them. Terry played piano, electronic keyboards, trumpet and soprano sax (shades of Lol Coxhill!), and sang; indeed they all sang Uncorrected Personality Traits a capella.

I kept wondering whether I had the album, which has been re-released in several guises since 1982, but only some of the songs were familiar, such as My Wife and my Dead Wife which he admitted he'd recorded more than once (and which research shows might not be on the album anyway). He finished with an Incredible String Band song, The Yellow Snake, which fitted the programme in the same way as the Roxy Music did at the other end, then a few encores including Queen Elvis.

Then I was off to Paddington, the scene of the title song from the album and therefore of the evening, where it seems he had dreamed of trains on platform 7. My train was from platform 4, and it left at 11.30, so by the time I get home and return to London in the morning I am going to be pretty tired. But it was worth it. As the man beside me at the QEH (like me wearing a suit, but he still sported his work shirt, tie and even tie pin, whereas I had changed into a neo-psychedelic shirt which seemed the right thing) remarked, it brings a smile to your face. A great start to the week, he added, though I prefer to have those on Monday morning rather than Tuesday evening.

Earlier, I'd been exchanging emails and phone calls with a client for whom I was preparing a couple of trade mark applications. After I'd expressed an interest in one of their running vests, I received an invitation to take one of their places in the London 10K in July, which was also extended to colleagues. Within an hour eight of us had signed up. That is certainly the thing I like most about the firm: people are so willing to go in for things like this.

The trouble with trains at this time of night is that they run so slowly. We need to be speeding along at over the ton, but instead we are meandering along at half that rate. We've already had a couple of rather sudden stops, and we've only just reached Slough when we should nearly be in Reading. In addition, the train is pretty full, and many of the passengers are football fans returning (to judge by their attire) from an Arsenal match. They seem good-humoured, and there is no sign of drunkenness, but there's always an element of discomfort when you find yourself in a public place with a group you don't know. Maybe they will all alight at Reading.

Walking to the South Bank this evening, I noted that most of the voices of of other pedestrians I could hear were Russian. I could make out the odd word. They weren't affluent-looking, though come to think if it there were two scruffily-dressed eastern Europeans on the tube last night carrying shopping from some very expensive shops, so clearly appearances may be deceptive and perhaps they deliberately dress down. If I were an oligarch, I probably would too.

Reading at last, and we are only about seven minutes late. At this time of night, at least there will be no congestion at Reading station. But still the train meanders along until, after a couple of false starts, it makes it to Didcot - an hour after leaving Paddington. Under seven hours later, I am once again at the station and so is a gentleman whom I have seen making this journey many times in the last several years - distinguished by his smart but casual dress, jeans and deck shoes, which seem at odds with his age, as he looks a good few years older than me.

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