Sunday, September 6, 2009

From Langley Park To Memphis

As September opens up its account, those of us of a certain age mourn the passing of Simon Dee who passed from this life to the next on August 29th, falling to bone-cancer. Sad enough as that is, sadder still to relate that he died in more or less complete poverty and total obscurity – a far cry from his heady Sixties days as… the DJ; the first voice ever heard (under the bed-clothes) from Radio Caroline; stalwart of Radio Luxembourg and whose own, eponymous, TV show was as much a must-view as (say) Ready Steady Go or TOTP was back then.

If you ever wondered just who played the cameo role of the gay tailor in the original Italian Job film – kitting out Michael Caine with kipper ties after the latter’s release from jail… that’s Simon Dee. My autograph-book (as much cherished by a star-struck twelve-year-old as absolutely anything) contains his large, scrawled, signature from one heady afternoon spent in his company; watching intently as he recorded one of his night-time Radio Luxembourg shows – my Dad’s friend was Ken Evans, programme controller of the same and, without knowing how it worked in those days, a few strings had been pulled in order that I could sit in (quietly mind you) on the recording. I thought that was all fairly normal – I’d no idea (at the time) just how lucky I really was.

And so – as the days grow ever-shorter, the silly-season continues apace: factor in the latest intrigues as set forth by Colonel Gaddafi… can he really be serious – cue early-twenties John McEnroe Wimbledon-voice – with his proposal to the UN that Switzerland should be done away with meaning that, essentially, it’d be ‘folded’ into France, Germany and Italy.

From a brief study of the UN charter, no member country can threaten the existence or sovereignty of another. Nevertheless, Gaddafi is set to present his bizarre plan when Libya takes over the year-long presidency of the U.N. General Assembly on September 22nd or therabouts.

In amongst the wailing sirens and the inevitable overhead chatter of multiple helicopter gun-ships that’ll accompany the SWAT teams and NYPD blue-boys up and down the West Side Highway each morning and evening as the delegates are (securely) whisked to and fro to debate, one can but hope that something as entirely ludicrous will be thrown out at the first throw of the UN dice.

The silly-season also marks the ending of the holiday season. And for the first time in an inordinately long time I’ve been lucky enough to indulge in a few days of wave-jumping in the frothing surf of a far-away angry sea; washing sand from in-between my toes, kite-flying at the same time as trying to avoid the pull of a fierce rip-tide while bronzing-up on a beach reading one book after another.

To be honest, I’d completely forgotten just how truly wonderful it could be to while away sunshiney hours simply hanging about on a beach; that this activity – if it can be termed as such – was aided and abetted by people I really wanted to ‘hang-out-with’ helped… immeasurably.

The body has been refreshed by inactivity; the head freed from its lava-flow of mud(dled) detritus; the mind liberated like a prisoner no longer having to report to a parole-board of head-debris; the brain no longer clogged like a car-engine run dry of diesel; the spirit reinforced by concrete-clarity of mind.

Oooops, is that all becoming a bit too Oprah Winfrey; journeying a tad too far down the road of self-seeking humanistic counselling?

Probably… but hey… there’s certainly something to be said for the rejuvenating powers of salt-water.

Besides which, it was also the perfect antidote for a somewhat peculiar wedding attended; and – as much as I probably shouldn’t say this – about as far removed from what I believe celebrating nuptials should be… as could be. Strangely strange… oh yes… and anything but oddly normal.

It began innocuously enough with the time-honoured pre-hangover-riddance hotel-lobby rendezvous that transported groom plus six like-minded to indulge in the Royal & Ancient sport of… a good walk spoiled.

The front nine holes went as swimmingly as they should for a bevy of hung-over high-handicappers; however…the home-bound nine was played out accompanied by inbound texts at six-minute intervals to the groom from his bride-to-be explaining that his testicles would be neatly wrapped around his seven-iron should he arrive even thirty seconds late for the ‘wedding rehearsal’.

Ah yes… the not-too-dressed-up rehearsal… This aspect was overseen by the ‘wedding coordinator’ who, before long was referred to by the more irreverent amongst us as plain-old… wc; she brandished her clipboard full of notes from behind a crocodile smile under a leonine mane of bottle-blonde hair with... all-seeing, expensive aplomb.

Suitably primed from a generously proportioned bucket of Margarita, we all assume our places; we are then talked through the ‘service’ (this being an exterior affair); are shown – via her ingratiating school ma’am-manner – precisely how to comport ourselves from here to there in some form of mad(dening) entrance of the gladiators but, after a few minutes, all is done and we trot off back to the bar.

So… here’s the thing… what, precisely, does a wc… coordinate?

The next again day there wasn’t a great deal to do until dressing up time and so the beach was hit with a vengeance. That too went swimmingly until the kite I was flying crashed slap-bang into an elderly couple’s beach-picnic about a hundred yards from where I was wrestling with the sudden (and unanticipated) decrease in the off-shore-breeze. That’d be a somewhat unexpected forced landing from the picnic’ing couple’s perspective too, I’d imagine.

Anyhow, at the appointed and fully scrubbed up, we all gathered to wander around in a rather aimless fashion – this being the norm at every single wedding one attends. Then, wc hoves into view like a young dreadnought ploughing through the North Atlantic swell in an old WW2 movie with a phalanx of photographers in tow. Drat, these fellas hunt in packs and they begin their ‘work’ upfront of the ‘service’. Plus, the whole shebang is being video’d. Merde multiplied.

While the video-bods are relatively (pleasantly) discreet, the photographers are entirely ingratiating and, consequently, supremely irritating. Let the show begin.

Wc opens proceedings requesting that I please place this wilting-white-rosebud in position X on my lapel – nope, I’m sorry, I don’t do stuff like that… this refusal clearly means that self is accumulating minus-points on her clipboard with alacrity. Ok, stand like this then, shake hands like that, put your left leg forward... place your right hand over there... no, look this way, eyes in that direction... now – please adjust your cuffs, too much white shirt is showing... now say cheese. I utter fromage under my breath instead; bollox – I’m not a fxxxking contortionist... Ordeal over, its obviously time to return to the trough.

However, as everyone of similarly bent knocks back a swift one pre-nuptials, I realise that I’ve left the reading I’ve been asked to deliver in my bag and its a ten minute walk back and forth to room... and, mother hen with her stopwatch set to Apollo 18-style countdown, is saying we have but six minutes to kick-off.

Run to the room; hunt high and low in an A-Ha style while perspiration drips down my arms and onto my shirt-cuffs and, eventually find offending article hidden neatly under other articles; the cleaners have been in. Find hair-dryer in bathroom, plug in and blow-dry arms and shirt-cuffs before trudging back to position A. Brilliant, proceedings can now commence...Only they can't...

Vicar (substitute) doesn’t know that I’m doing a reading... My name doesn’t seem to be on his own clipboard; he evidently isn’t a rev-substitute who does unscheduled (nor does he seem to much care when informed)... His lackey is prodded, Lazarus-like, back into active service and instructed to produce a mic and stand as vicar-substitute marks a spot on his one page of 'notes' for self's inclusion in the proceedings and all, finally, is well.

We wander back (again) to position A and then proceed to march back across the lawn as instructed by the wc to position B (which she'd totally cocked-up and which the front rows had to interchange themselves) and every single lady present, even the ones with tattoos, rues the fact that high heels don't work terribly well on freshly watered grass. The bride, propelled across the greensward by her father, arrives to canned music and the hankies come out... her mother is seriously ill in hospital so a web-cam for her (the mum) to view the service / exchange of vows has been set up – unhappily and despite enough technology to pale Jodrell Bank into insignificance, its malfunctioning.

Nonetheless, the vicar-bloke talks the talk, vows are exchanged while a single white rose is waved about in the bright sunlight as loads more tears are shed and then its my turn to strut my stuff… but… not before the best man has tripped and fallen flat on his face over said mic and stand as the reverend-substitute, his Lazarus-like cohort, bride and groom and… photographers… and videographers all hover in the background.

Then follows the final wordy stuff from the vicar-come-quickly which, on his cue, is followed by huge yee-hah-ing applause. While everyone assembled is (naturally) delighted that bride and groom to have tied the knot and are, thereby, allowed the luxury of their first official – wedded - snog, I (genuinely) never could get that bit; it all seems a tad too manufactured to me.

The exit is as contrived as the entrance; we’re all video’d as more photographs are taken at strategic points (resulting in progress across the grass being funereal) but, eventually, we’ve all shuffled back across the lawn and, in light brigade style, the charge to the bar begins... but not before all the wedding flowers were rescued from being plonked into the dumper - weird as this may be, the guests had hardly moved away before the cleaners moved in.

Two hours later the cocktail hour ends and we're all ushered into the 'room'... that is, everyone bar the principals. Our table is so garishly bedecked that I’d take pity on anyone who’d quaffed a few magic-mushrooms as a pre-dinner bracer. Moments later, the master of this part of the ceremonies – equipped with his very own microphone and with the volume pumped to eleven and counting – starts extolling the assembled as to the next part of the proceedings. The grand entrance.

However, we’re not making sufficient enthusiastic noise for this particular mc. Oh dear.

To compensate, he then begins to whipp and whupp the assembled up into a complete yee-hah-ing frenzy and, only when satisfied – much like a stage-craft-bereft rapper extolling his audience, ‘hey Minneapolis… are you ready to p a a a a r t e e e e’ – do the happy couple trot into the room; their every step accompanied by blinding flashbulbs going off – the entire thing retained for posterity by… you’ve guessed… the videographers.

Eventually everyone settles and our table eagerly anticipates a couple of bottles of the well chilled arriving. Not so fast... first, there is the first dance. and, it seems to go on forever... and, the song is massacred by (hide your eyes) Celine Dion. It is utterly ghastly. Our entire table starts glancing around expectantly for waiters and waitresses bearing down on us with bottles. Once again, not so fast.

Because… next up is some kind of communal dance which – so the mic-brandishing mc informs us in a scarily loud voice – we shall be ‘sharing’ this with the happy couple. With a half decent bottle of the well-chilled on the near-horizon, I lead the charge to the dance-floor and we all we scurry around, treading on everyone's toes to another unidentifiable but equally abysmal song and scuttle back to our table as fast as possible.

The waitress arrives with one bottle.

Clearly this isn't half good enough, dancing gives one a bit of a thirst – and she is despatched post-haste straight back to the ice-bucket with a request that she brings a further three. In the meantime, food is served.

Within forty minutes, three from our table together with the best man are praying to the porcelain-lavatory-god under lock and key in the ladies and men’s cubicles.

Following this minor incursion into the good-natured proceedings came not just the ceremony of ‘throwing the garter’ (which, thankfully, I missed, having wandered outside to ingest a much-needed gasper) but, another treasure which the mc announced as... people touching. Now, bride and groom doing the old table hopping routine I get but... this, to my ears, was one announcement too far.

There were more speeches, mostly of the random variety and quite a bit more hip-shimmying... but the final furlong was, mercifully, in sight.

The only wedding speech I can remember was actually relayed to me second hand – this delight occurring many, many moons ago: friend X was to be second-time around married to a rather fetching blonde filly… everyone is gathered… the trough has been emptied and, on full stomachs, the speeches begin. The best man – who has flown in from Australia and landed but a day before – is suffering from jet lag and stumbles over his words like a man who has quaffed three too many Valium. Ultimately he gets to the end of his piece of paper and proposes the toast… to the happy couple… only… using the name of the groom and… his first wife.

Twenty-four hours later everyone has miraculously recovered but, my passport (always kinda handy to have about one’s person as a means of identification and so forth) is nowhere to be found… forty-eight hours further on and bride and groom are back from their honeymoon and at the bride’s mother’s bedside; she’s become dangerously ill and within a further moon and sun rotation, has (sadly) nipped off to be met by St. Peter at the pearly gates. Fast forward a further ninety hours and my ‘phone joins the passport on the missing list.

Annoying as this may have been, I stand by what I said about the rejuvenating power of salt-water.

The very same day, I come across this saying: Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but to learn dancing in the rain.

No comments: