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Notes from a small workshop - anecdotes & musings from the workbench
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The English summer gig

What's your impression of an idyllic English summer scene?

If you're fortunate enough to live in England then chances are you'll have seen it first hand - if you live abroad then perhaps your images are made up from a potpourri of old Ealing comedies and costume dramas. And how far from the truth is that? Not that far, sometimes...

On a Saturday afternoon in early June I found myself winding my way along a country lane in Hampshire heading for a gig in a marquee just outside a village called Longparish.
It constantly amazes me that despite having spent any number of years trawling around the back lanes of the English countryside there are still many sights as yet unseen - but what struck me about this particular journey was not so much the 'sights unseen', but rather the concentration of so many archetypal images in one small part of the countryside.

I must admit to being in a somewhat receptive frame of mind. I've always loved these type of gigs - large marquees in remote fields, the scent of lilies on the tables, salmon starters with coronation chicken to follow, spotting that one guy who always turns up at these affairs in a kilt, a rose to take home for my wife, a couple of balloons for the kids, a bottle of red wine from the band's rider. (No, we don't have a man on a horse - the rider comprises all the extras you specify as part of the deal).

The anticipation builds from the moment I wake in the morning, closely followed by the traditional poring over a map at breakfast. If I'm so inclined (and the weather approves) I may even wash the car! This is followed by the almost ceremonial 'packing of the gig bag' - the careful selection of stage clothes, the emergency tin of Cola and the stalwart of the post-gig early morning drive..chocolate.

I'm also quite unashamed to admit that about the only time you'll catch me singing in the shower is during my pre-gig scrub-up, as my natural exuberance wells up inside and bursts forth in an appalling pastiche of 'songs from the shows'..albeit it with the jazz lyrics (You make me feel so Jung... I've thrown a custard in her face...Don't throw old cakes at me... I took a thrip on a train...).
Is this acceptable behaviour for someone for whom Punk rock dominated his impressionable years?? Probably not.

And finally, there is the hallowed 'placing of the horns in the car' - complete with obsessive-compulsive checking to see that the children haven't swiped my Dukoff mouthpieces and are even now burying them in the garden as a form of buried treasure, to be dug up in years to come by unfeasibly jolly pirates who've strayed some thirty odd miles inland...either because of dodgy navigating or to do a spot of shopping.
Thus the scene is set for my foray into the countryside...or rather, different countryside. Visitors to the workshop will understand that last sentence even if no-one else does.

There appears to be an unwritten law that applies to gig directions. I think it can be best summarised by saying that the closer you get to the venue, the more specific the directions will be - and the less they'll fit the actual geography.
What looks like a simple crossroads on the map turns out to be a double-back looped dogleg, followed by a sharp right and a blind left. "A few yards past the pub" turns into a mile or so down the road, not forgetting to do two lefts and a right....but only after the SECOND pub, NOT the first. "Clearly Marked" becomes "vaguely indistinguishable" and "a very narrow track" means "park up and walk". And this is acceptable - but only if the directions include the caveat "Not To Scale".

So after much to-ing and fro-ing I found myself on the little "B" road heading into Longparish through winding sunken lanes, with ferns and lush early summer greenery playing tag with the side of the car, that slight nutmeggy aroma of honeysuckle breezing in through the open window.
I had a hint that something was happening by virtue of a stream that began to run alongside the road to my left, followed shortly thereafter by cottages - each with its own little bridge that led from the front garden, over the stream and out into the road.

I turned a sharp right corner and my eyes fell upon a sight that wouldn't have looked out of place in any of Constable's daubings. On the apex of the next bend stood a large thatched cottage, flint built, beautifully framed in its cottage garden. Atop the cottage the thatch poked untidily upwards giving it the appearance of having just gotten out of bed...the thatchers were at work. Bundles of thatch lay piled beside the cottage and although I could see no-one actually working, there was nonetheless a sense that someone, somewhere was busily weaving an ancient trade.

That image in itself would have satisfied many a tourist, but a mile or so down the road as I entered the village proper I practically overdosed on Englishness.
It started with a small park on the right hand side, a few swings, a slide, half a dozen children playing happily in the muggy warmth, apparently carefree - and was followed by that uniquely distinctive sound of leather on willow as I passed by a cricket pitch. And what, pray tell, are the odds of driving past a cricket pitch when someone hits a four?? Must have been my lucky day...

The muted, peppery handclaps faded as a few yards further up the road on my left I passed an old gentleman pushing a wheelbarrow along the street. He could have been dressed by any Hollywood studio...brown canvas trousers tucked into wellington boots, slightly tatty waistcoat, flat cap...even a tie! And the icing on the cake..a pipe in his mouth.
Then to my right, a chap riding a pushbike with a wicker basket attached to the handlebars and a young child on a seat to the rear, a ribbon in her hair flapping in the gentle breeze.

This was followed in no short order by the one thing you won't find anywhere else in the world..the English village pub, resplendent in its setting, draped with hanging baskets...and it was even called..."The Cricketers"! Somewhere in that pub was a pint with my name written on it. Yours too, no doubt.

I swear that as I left the village I fully expected a couple of Spitfires to come swooping low over the fields in a victory roll, whilst I'd have had to swerve to narrowly avoid Kenneth More coming in the opposite direction on an old BSA ...which would have given me the chance to lean out of the window and yell " I say, old chap, have a care..what?"


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