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Mis Viajes

29 Aug

It’s August, therefore I’m back in my beloved Spain once more. Sant Agusti just outside Palma de Mallorca to be exact. Just around the headland from our apartment stands the King of Spain’s summer palace, Marivent.

 

Juan Carlos woz ere. And the King of Norway. And Michelle Obama………….

 

I’ve been coming to the same place for 22 years now and nothing much changes. But this is the first fish duel with my daughter’s main squeeze. His eager looks quickly change to those of resignation and contentment and I win by two mussels and a razor clam. Life is sweet. Peace.

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London Moments

19 Aug

Most cities, not least London, can appear hostile at first,  merely places of exchange where goods and services are traded. As in London since the Roman establishment of AD42, people are thrown together into tangles of population. Certainly, cities can be impersonal and the visitor can be forgiven for thinking that they’re unfriendly, noisy, dirty, etc. But it’s best to slow down, get almost lost walking and just take a longer look at things.

I did just that the other day in my beloved Soho. I get my lunch there a few times a week at Pizza Malletti in Noel Street, run by Antonio from Napoli who serves pizza al taglio in the Roman style—thin pizza cut up into rectangles for quite an interesting clientele, given that north Soho is dominated by the music and film industry, I even used to see an emaciated but beautiful Amy Winehouse at the corner. However, most of the patrons are in a rush and take away back to their offices after having queued up for up to fifteen minutes to be served. I always eat inside at the counter built onto the opposite wall to the food and brush up my Italian by listening to the staff conversing and putting the world, or at least English football, to right.

Having parked to walk up to Malletti, I wandered up through Berwick Street market, showing out to the few guys still working there whom I’ve known since when I used to work in neighbouring Rupert Street market every Saturday to supplement my apprentice’s wages from 1968 to 1973. Rupert Street market is alas no more and Berwick is a shadow of its noisy past. Few shout out their wares these days, they look a bit demoralised by the harder times precipitated by the arrival of Marks and Spencer’s food department up at the Pantheon branch in Oxford Street. Years ago, it was dominated by fruit, vegetables, flowers, fabrics and clothing. Up at the top, outside the Chinese-run fish and chip shop was a London Jewish guy who sold ladies’ underwear and looked like a white Sammy Davis Junior replete with a broken nose and black leather trilby. Most Saturdays I went to the fish and chip shop to buy our lunch to take back to the fruit stall and it’s there that I discovered my favourite fish, skate.

One Saturday, a woman was stood at the underwear stall browsing and unsure of what to buy. The dilemma was solved by the stall holder asking her, “What size are your Bristols, sweetheart?” (Bristols: London rhyming slang for Women’s breasts—Bristol City {mediocre football club}, you get the rest?). Unsure, the woman lifted her arms and was measured by him and another sale was registered. I quickly passed on back to Rupert Street, at the age of sixteen envying London’s Sammy Davis and his job.

These days I walk through Berwick Street, looking for the ghosts of the old faces, imagining I can hear them shouting and of course pause briefly by where London’s Sammy stood. I even still try to nail the exact spot where the photo was taken for the front cover of the Oasis album, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory.  I passed by the Blue Posts pub which takes its name from the blue posts that marked out the boundaries when Soho was a hunting ground—Soho was a hunting call.

And then I saw him.

“Style is an expression of individualism mixed with charisma. Fashion is something that comes after style”
John Fairchild

Not Sammy, but a cool guy and artist I see around a lot called George Skeggs, I’m informed by my good friend Colin Staplehurst of Passport To Pimlico Radio Show fame, in his seventies but he’s a cool dude, still got it in the style stakes. There he was, decked in a black flat topped wide brimmed hat, grey overcoat with blue button-holed flower, and black and white correspondent’s shoes briefly fashionable in the early 1970s. Most people failed to notice him out of the tumult, but his shoes and hat caught my eye. To my surprise, he’d focused on my 1960s Tootal yellow  paisley scarf, and for that moment we checked each other out, a sartorial signing-in. There was a knowing look to say “we understand each other”. And just as quickly, the moment was gone as we both passed by and on to another Soho scene yet to be staged. But that day, that instant was a London moment. And that’s why I love all cities but London most of all.

Midnight Blue

18 Aug

Since the Millenium around 2001, the River Thames has acquired a plethora of blue lights along its waterfronts north and south. It doesn’t seem to have been an orchestrated exercise, which makes its growth even more interesting.

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I popped down to the Southbank around 0200 the other evening and caught these babies. Peace.

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County Hall, once the home of London democracy, now boasting galleries, hotels and an aquarium.

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The Shell Centre, a prime example of the Modernist architecture that sprang up along here at the same time as the Royal Festival Hall in the early 1950s.

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The Afterglow

17 Aug

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So, shortly after the Stadium’s central fat flames die out, having charmed 23.5 million UK viewers and around 750 million viewers abroad, it’s a wrap. The Games are finished and are globally held as the best ever, London breathes a sigh of relief, possibly like when the all-clear used to sound during The Blitz in 1940. This city has delivered, the doubters silenced and we warm down until the Paralympics.

We’ve witnessed the repossession of the Union Jack, not the jingoistic one of the Sink The Belgrano 198os but a new inclusive symbol. This repossession has been reflected by some of our Gold Medallists like Mo Farah who came here as a Somali refugee and, like all arrivals, got claimed as a Londoner in the end. This is as momentous as the French World Cup winning team of 1998, where those champions reflected their own society’s make-up. nobody dared as in 2007 to divide us and gain propaganda for their twisted, hateful beliefs.

War-time air raid shelter and now gateway to the best show on earth. not much is more iconic than the London Underground

So, closing night at our sponsors’ headquarters, our passengers are all safely back and, an hour later, our boss declares our own wrap. I emerge into a warm Mediterranean kind of evening and walk through Holborn as euphoric as on New Year’s Eve, the relatively empty streets seem so clean, car tyres on the road surface sound different, my senses have been heightened from the magic of the moment. I begin to drive home but want to stay in this moment but delay going home to an empty house by dropping down to Waterloo Bridge to afford myself the best view in London and to reflect on what has just concluded.

I park up on Waterloo Bridge itself, My taxi is the only parked vehicle on the bridge and I alight. Leaning on the railings and looking downstream, the bridge’s every bypasser gives me a happy and friendly smile and I decide I’m in no rush to end this moment. The famous buildings, still lit up, shine out with pride as if to utter “back to business” for a short while before The Paralympics a fortnight later. I name check all my favourite buildings as I pan 360 degrees and just live in that personal moment.

Remaining negativity which had lingered now flows out below my feet eventually to the North Sea and London is cleansed of those who would dare question this city’s ability to do things right. After al the drum beats, wailing guitars and rousing choruses, the only sound I get is the lapping of the Thames against the walls of the Embankment. Beyond the wall stands an empty and open Temple Underground station. The staff look proud to have done their job against mad predictions of gridlock and train queues and are ready to close at 0300.

This is a privileged moment, I have this skyline almost to myself. In five hours’ time, this bridge will be packed with traffic and pedestrians and I pity them not knowing what I’m experiencing. But slowly, I come down a little and sensibility takes over, a few snaps from either side of the bridge and it’s time to head south not to sleep but to flick through a recorded closing ceremony on TV. I’m shall pour out a nice cold glass of wine and wait for sunrise to announce the official end to a night, a fortnight and a global love affair which should be sanctified at the altar of human unity. Reality can wait just a little longer.

But reality will come, I and my taxi driver comrades who chauffeured the best Games ever, will melt back into the London mix, woe betide the first one to give us stick, seeing us as just taxi drivers. We will be entitled to deal with our complainants with added authority. We know what we did. As for me, I shall seek my living as a chauffeur again. For all I know, the slowest driver in the world may again drive the fastest man in the world. I’m the one on the right. Peace.

Not often that I’m speechless, but this guy had the charisma to do that.

Roy Hinton, The Caxton, Pimlico RIP

9 Aug

We all live with death these days, but there are some deaths which stun us such as that of JFK or John Lennon. It’s too soon, just not now, please. Such was the reaction when my good friend Ian told me of Roy’s passing. Ian had turned me on to the Caxton in 1965 as I approached the age of 14. I was already six foot one inch tall, had a part-time job and money in my pocket to buy those Ivy look mohair suits, American button-down shirts and American shoes.

Max Justice, hard Mod and supplier of mohair suit lengths!

My first night there was like a religious experience as we descended the stairs into the dance hall where at the end sat Roy at the first twin record deck in London, playing music I’d never heard before apart from the stock soul tracks you’d get on Radio Luxemburg when the medium wave allowed. But added to that was the Ska music of Jamaica, even more exotic than the soul coming out of Detroit, Chicago or Memphis.

Roy and I soon became good friends to the point that I’d play the records myself if he was needed elsewhere. From that, I started calling round for him to go to the club together. Those early evenings waiting in his flat turned me on further to even more far out stuff such as Jimmy Smith, Miles Davis or John Lee Hooker. While not played in the club, these guys were nevertheless part of the cool scene going on in the world of the Mod.

Soon after, I accompanied Roy every weekend to either Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat Records in Brixton for the Ska imports From Jamaica or to Soul City in Monmouth St, WC2 for the latest soul imports from the USA. Soon, the word of the Caxton spread south of the water to Clapham, Brixton and Lambeth and the crowd got very glsmorous style-wise albeit slightly tense in gang terms with serious dancers in search of these stomping sounds.  Roy never let the crowd down, often surprising them with a rare track which produced a stream of queries after their titles.

By 1969, I’d bailed out of the scene as reggae became more mainstream and was getting associated with the more violent Skinhead movement. I moved on to become a mix of a jazz and suedehead, digging CSNY, Santana or my father’s cool music. As my mates moved on to long hair and flares, I kept the faith with my sharp suits, shirts and ties to the point where, if out, girls thought I must have just come out of prison to be hanging around with those Yetis.

Like most people, I got on with life until one day Ian phoned me to say he’d been on a stroll down memory lane and stumbled through the door of The Caxton to not only be greeted by Roy and his assistant Jan, but to be shown our contemporary signing in books and photos that I remember being taken down there in 1967.

I shortly followed Ian down there to be met likewise by Roy and to see that the club was now an educational centre for the disabled youth of Westminster. Indeed, Roy and Jan had been awarded the MBE for their services but they typically played this down. The lnk below shoees the difference that can be made to people’s lives.

If you’re lucky, some people come into your life, even if only briefly, and change it utterly and forever. I can say that Roy is one such person for not only myself but also for many other Westminster kids who otherwise may have ended up in prison or dead, given the gang scene that was emerging. But that music lives on in all of us and I won’t be the only one forever transported back to that romantic and electrifying dancefloor when today we hear Pheonix City by Roland Alphonso or Things Get Better by Eddie Floyd, too many more tracks will do the same but are too numerous to mention here.

Ian recalled in tribute to Roy that “It’s true to say that my life would have taken a different course without his musical inspiration”. Certainly, without Roy, I wouldn’t have the record collection that I have. I owe my musical tastes today to him.

Roy, you’ll never know what you were and still are to us Pimlico kids, I can’t hear certain records without seeing your face there at the record counter. Your cancer took you away far too early, neither we ravers of the Sixties nor the lucky kids today who’ve had a leg up to achieve self-respect and worthiness despite their disability can thank you other than by following your example and not crossing over to the other side as is so easy.

Roy Hinton; friend, legend, inspiration.

To my soul brother here’s the tune–my own group’s last tune–that heralded the end of the night and the walk home through Pimlico’s then shabby post-war streets.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6P7hyrO3GiM

Peace.

George Best: Forever Young

8 Aug

George Best celebrates his 26th birthday in Marbella, Spain

Georgie Best, probably the greatest footballer I ever saw in person. Mercurial, unpredictable and a Sixties icon. In later years, I often picked him up in the taxi, always sober and always painfully modest. I’d always afford him some privacy but that self-control evaporated when he got out at his home and I declined payment of the fare out of gratitude for the pleasure he’d given me, even though he’d tormented my Chelsea FC, especially the time at Old Trafford I saw him ride attempted GBH by Chopper Harris and then body-swerve Peter Bonetti in goal to reward himself with a tap in. With that swerve, 5,000 fans paid to get in again! 

George would always walk away embarassed with the fare in his hand and I’d weep briefly at the tortured beauty who’d become easy headline fodder for lazy, mediocre journos in search of their moment in the sun at George’s expense as alcohol proceeded to close his beautiful frame down.

Thank you George for the pleasure you gave us all. Present players, look away in shame, the press would today only speak of him, Lionel who?

http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/george-best-unseen-photos-manchester-843690

While The City Sleeps

8 Aug

The beautiful art deco Battersea Power Station, 2am at low tide. Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who gave us the red telephone box and the Bankside Power Station, now Tate Modern. Also featured on the front cover of the Pink Floyd album, Pigs.

It supplied constant  central heating and hot water harnessed from its cooling system to some housing estates in Pimlico and to the red brick majesty that is Dolphin Square. Looks like they’re getting in on the riverside light show that’s marking the Olympics right along the Thames.