Saturday, September 01, 2007

Back To Reality

Returning to Leamington Spa after three weeks of holiday was a hell of a shock to the system.

Lake District It had been wonderful being in the Lake District for a week and then at the Edinburgh Fringe for another seven days. My third week on holiday I spent at home in the Lewes Garret, which was relaxing in its own way, although everything around me seemed to be breaking (the car, the internet router, my watch et cetera).

I drove back up the M23, M25 and M40 in a car with a broken head gasket, wondering when it (the car) would conk out (it didn't), feeling depression descending upon me. My first week back has been tough.

Girl rowing in the Lake District, UK The district council has introduced pay meter parking on my street, without even telling the residents. You have to pay for any parking you do between 8am and 8pm, seven days a week. Another money-spinning public rip-off! Even my efforts to get a parking permit failed. Apparently, Warwickshire County Council has listed my street as a business zone so you are not allowed to be a resident there, even though they are more than happy to take council tax off you!

Moreover, I spent a lot of time on holiday writing poems for a poetry competition, but after all my effort, I fear I have pushed my entry into a redundant post box so it may never even get to the judges. How stupid is that!

And... wasps keep swarming into the Leamington Garret (and my room has the smell of fungus about it). Welcome back to Leamington!

Naturally, the day-job is a mass of work and problems, which I had almost forgotten about. I am not feeling great.

I suppose holidays do that to you: lift you up and drop you down again.

On a positive note, I have given up eating cheese to try to reduce the number of horrible nightmares I have. It seems to be working. I still have dreams but they are not as vicious.

We stayed in a place called Loweswater in the Lake District. It truly was an amazing spot. One day we climbed the great fell Hay Stacks which was an extraordinary experience. We got quite lost; it was amazingly open and spacious at the top of that mountain. Like a mini-Lakeland in itself.

The whole holiday was really good and the holiday house out of this world.

In Edinburgh, it was my 11th year at the Fringe Festival writing for The Stage newspaper, and my 10th reviewing comedy shows (the first year I had covered the hateful Television Festival). I enjoyed this year - but didn't have anywhere near as many really late, drunken nights as I used to enjoy!

Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh Fringe 2007 One extraordinary thing was that I bumped into a former colleague from the Hull Daily Mail whom I had not seen for 21 years. The following day I chanced upon him again in the street and he introduced me to his father, a very famous novelist.

From a comedy perspective, so many of the people I have known since I was doing open spots with them in 1995, are now showing their age (as I suppose I must be). That seemed strange.

Poet Luke Wright, Edinburgh Fringe 2007 I saw some great shows. Brendon Burns was superb (I was pleased to see that my prediction in my review in The Stage that he would win the If.comeddies Award proved correct), as were Jerry Sadowitz and Phil Nichol. I enjoyed Tim Key's Slut In The Hut show and the Poetry Party on the Meadows, organised and ably compered by Luke Wright.

I went away determined to write my own Edinburgh Fringe show, on which I have actually started work. I mustn't let it drop. I have already done quite a bit of work on the ideas. Turning them into a script, however, is another matter entirely.

Another good thing about Edinburgh was hanging out with Tom Hughes, promoter and compere of The Reckless Moment comedy club in Leamington Spa. It was also pleasing to see one of their regular acts, Ivan Brackenbury's Hospital Radio, get short-listed for the if.commedies at Edinburgh, even though I could see it had been a tough one to make work as a full-length show.

Spank comedy club, Edinburgh Fringe 2007

Now I am back, I also want to do more journalism again. It was the way I made my living for 17 years and writing those reviews for The Stage has given me the appetite again.

The nights are already drawing in. It is eight o'clock in the evening and it is almost dark outside. And as I write overlooking a burgeoning fairground in the Pump Room Gardens below me, it is still August!

How many more years have I still to serve here in Leamington? It seems remarkably hard for me to get away - I wonder if I ever shall!

While I was on holiday, the usual round of sad demises occurred. The Cockney comic Mike Reid died. I always found him a very open and helpful interviewee when he was in EastEnders. In the late 80s, I was backstage once at the London Palladium and watched from the wings as he did his act. He was a remarkable performer - brilliantly quick with great timing. Years on, I was interviewing him and we got into a discussion about stand-up comedy. I asked him how much of his material he wrote himself. He replied: 'None at all - I'm not that clever.'

Lord Bill Deedes also died. He was a lovely man. When I was working for the Sunday Telegraph, I remember drinking with him at the bar at Davies wine bar / pub. He bought pitchers of beer and was pouring pints for all (he must have been about 85 then). We had a very lively and entertaining conversation about the state of British television. Funnily enough, I noticed this week that British TV was the subject of Bill's last column in the Daily Telegraph - the column he did not quite complete and was published posthumously.

Bill always looked forward - never back, something I could learn from him.

Saddest of all for me was an e-missive I received from my brother Nic while in Edinburgh. It was entitled: 'John Constantino - sad news'. Of course I knew instantly my old school friend was dead and waited resignedly as the creaking computer struggled to open the file.

What can I say about John? He was incredibly kind, gentle, intelligent, a brilliant linguist and a polymath. I have no idea why I lost touch with him. He was my closest friend in the fifth form at Poole Grammar School. I would hang out with him and a boy called Russell Tandy. We made a strange trio. John's family moved away to Dorking and then Marlow, I think, where his father managed posh hotels. I visited him there and kept in touch into the time I started working on the Hull Daily Mail. He came to my Last Night at Park Squat party, when I evicted myself from my squat on Little Park Street, near Hull city centre (the image of John is from that occasion).

John Constantino He visited me once again but after that, for no apparent reason, we lost touch and never saw each other again. I thought last month I would love to see John Constantino.

I have no contact details for his family, although my brother had heard from a mutual friend that John had married and had a daughter. Other than that, I know little.

The experience caused me to go onto the Friends Reunited website where I tend to divide the boys listed from Poole Grammar School into those who bullied or mistreated me and those who didn't.

John Constantino had no listing at all, but Russell Tandy was there, having thrown years of unemployment in London to teach at a cyberspace universe in South Korea. Good for him! I even splashed out the seven pounds fifty to congratulate him, although his email address no longer seems valid. No reply came from Russell Tandy.

In a way I was glad, I couldn't face telling him about John's death.

Subsequently, I heard that John had been involved in a choral society in Swindon and emailed it through its website. Yesterday, a friend of John's from the society telephoned me.

It was fascinating talking to her about John, like posthumously catching on an old friend, half of whose life you had missed. John had married and has a 14-year-old daughter. He worked in IT and enjoyed surfing. He had become a Roman Catholic (as I am), and his mother and brother had moved back to Portugal (his dad, a wonderful man, had died seven years before).

Hearing it all made me all the sadder that I had lost touch with John Constantino. Suddenly a memory came back of when, on my 16th birthday, we had gone to a party in Canford Heath, near Poole, which had been invaded by a large group of mods.

John had been kicked in the head by one of them, and, greatly outnumbered, we decided to beat a retreat. As we left the house, I kicked the first in a long line of parked scooters. They went down like dominoes, their manifold mirrors smashing.

With mods in hot pursuit, we ran for our lives through the labyrinthal underpasses of the Canford Heath estate, laughing like idiots.

Dear John, even though I hadn't seen him for at least 20 years, I shall still miss him greatly.

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