One night out

credit: katjohnston.com

So, having done the equivalent of move a mountain – ok, maybe not a mountain, but a broken down car – yes, having done the equivalent of moving a broken down car with my own two hands (which, in this case, means prevailing upon my dear friend Anne to look after Rosie until an unknown time), I go out to see my first proper gig since I moved to London 17 years ago.

I think: This is it, I’m going out, I’m seeing a real, live, indie band, and I’m going to love it. YES!

The first thing that hits me when I open the door to the venue is the unmistakeable stink of (apologies to the faint-hearted amongst you) PISS. Please understand that the anodyne words – wee, pee or urine just don’t work in this context. It’s PISS. I nearly faint. As I move towards the actual hall where the band is meant to be playing, I notice there is a bar and then the second noxious odour of the night thunks me over the head: beer.

Finally, I open the door to the hall and am struck not just by piss and beer, but B.O.   The floor in the hall is carpeted. The ceiling is chandeliered. But the overall combination of stink suggests a stained corner under the stairwell of a Parisian train station.

I take a velour-cushioned chair. This is going to be one of those lovely, laid back type of concerts: a man and his guitar, soothing vocals, a violinist, double bassist, pianist… all making mellifluous sounds that lull you gently into –

I can’t get comfortable. I am knotted up on the chair, fingers over my nose, bum clenched because I’m now thinking that with all this carpet and velour and general lack of hygiene, there are bound to be bedbugs. I get itchy. I change seats.

As the minutes tick by, I check my phone several times, texting Anne to tell her how disgusting it is here and emailing my friend in Florida to tell her the same. She is also a fan of the guy I’ve come to see, and I want her to understand that she should in no way feel envious of me right now. I am definitely not enjoying myself.

In fact, time is dribbling by and he has not even mounted the stage yet. There are two opening acts, who have started ridiculously late, so it isn’t until 10 minutes to 10 that the main act – the guy I’ve come to see, Neil Halstead – finally comes on. He does a quick sound check, finds his mic doesn’t work, and gets off. As he walks by, I find myself screaming at him inside my head, saying: You spend your life surfing in Cornwall, writing songs and drinking beer. How would you even UNDERSTAND that some of us here have children we need to pick up, jobs we need to go to in the morning. GET ON THE F*@!!ING STAGE!!!!!!!

I guess you could say I’m tense.

Anyway, eventually he does get on the stage, along with his band, and although I am initially repelled by the fact that there is a beer bottle at his feet, which he dips into every now and then, the music he plays is stunning. His voice is stunning. It’s all just too beautiful. For a moment, I forget everything and duck inside the music. I am there, surfing on those moonlit vocals, lifting my face to piano notes that fall like rain.

And then the other smell starts asserting itself – cigarette smoke. It’s illegal to smoke in public places in the UK, but this is clearly a lawless space and people are lighting up in the foyer. I start coughing and wheezing, and by 10:30, I’ve had enough.

I run down the road, heading straight for Shepherd’s Bush Market station, making sure to avoid eye contact (this area is dodgy). Just over an hour later, I’m back home, Rosie is snoring gently, and my clothes are in the washing machine.

I’ve come away with the realisation that I have really left this kind of thing behind. In my youth, I went to gig after gig, watching every band there was to see (The Smiths, the Pixies, the Jesus and Mary Chain, The The, the Sugarcubes, David Bowie) the list goes on and on. I braved smoke and mosh pits, crowd surfers and screamers. But I can’t do it any more.

I want things to start on time and end on time. I want clean seats and smoke-free venues. I want excellent acoustics. And I don’t want to have to negotiate smells that are better left in a toilet. Above all, I don’t want to be around the stink of beer. I can’t be around that smell. I can’t be around alcohol. Period.

So, next time the bands come to perform, it will be the Purcell room for me – or some other rarefied venue. I guess I’ve just reached that era, hunh?

And for the curious among you, here’s a track from the man, Neil Halstead, playing with his old band Mojave 3. Enjoy, hopefully in the sweet smelling comfort of your own home.

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Back up and running

We arrived yesterday morning, and aside from puncturing the milk bottle I’d bought at the airport, and spilling it all over the front steps, things went largely to plan.

The first thing I did was vacuum and do a load of washing. I also cleared the laundry that had been left on the stand since I left for Canada. We did the groceries which, thankfully, are just a bus ride up the road and back, had lunch, and then cuddled up on the sofa. When I folded away Ben’s clothes, it was with a satisfaction I haven’t felt in a very long time.

Amazingly, Rosie managed to stay awake for most of the day. We slept for 14 hours last night and woke up this morning feeling like we had finally arrived.

Having the flat to ourselves – no Ben on the futon, no cans on the bookshelf, no ubiquitous TV noise – has been wonderful. I can sit here in the living room and type in silence. I can go out and come back with Rosie without fearing the worst in between. He’s not here. Let me repeat. HE IS NOT HERE.

And I love it. I love being on my own with Rosie. I love having this space to myself. I love that I finally have some peace of mind.

For Rosie, Ben’s absence is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. ‘Where’s my daddy?’ she asks over and over again. When I explain he’s at the doctor, she asks me why. The why’s don’t stop until she is given an answer she can accept. ‘But why does he need to stay there?’ she asks. ‘So that he doesn’t drink any more coffee,’ I say. (She calls beer cans ‘coffee’). Eventually, she asks me why he drinks: ‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘Ask your father.’ ‘But he isn’t here,’ she says, distraught. ‘You can ask him when you see him.’  ‘When?’ ‘Today.’ This finally silences us both.

The truth is, it isn’t all rosy with Rosie. She has chucked several tantrums since our return – the screaming, hitting, biting kind that knocks me over and leaves me confused. She has told me she hates me more times in the past 36 hours than she has ever before. In fact, I don’t think she’s ever said it before. She’s four years old.

How do I rationalise these fits? At the time, I don’t. I shout back sometimes, or I take away one and then another privilege, until there is a list of banned activities as long as my forearm. Each time I remove a privilege, she tantrums again. And she says she would rather be with Ben than me.

Today, I took Rosie to visit him. I am not permitted contact with him until later this month, but our phone calls -which are frequent – are dismal. Ben keeps talking about the day rehab centre he attended before. He tells me how much better the group sessions were there than at his current centre. He says he may not stay more than two months. He is thinking of finding somewhere else.

I told him he can’t come back here. I’m not sure how much of what he is saying is dissembling and how much is genuine. Is he serious about recovery? Or is he looking for an excuse not to recover? Whatever it is, it isn’t my problem.

Rosie was much happier when I picked her up from the centre after her hour with Ben. Apparently, they played table tennis on the floor, hide and seek, and had a chat about Canada. She asked me whether she could visit Ben tomorrow. I said, no.

Rosie loves Ben. Ben loves Rosie. Of course they do. But what Rosie doesn’t understand is that Ben is where he is because of Ben. I’m coming round to understanding that one only now. So, how can I expect her to get it?

Years from now, she will look back and realise how unfair this whole thing was. She may even understand why it happened – why I am the way I am. Until then, I’ll have to accept she needs a bag to punch. I guess I’m old enough to qualify, yeah?