Sunday 1 June 2008

The black hole on Marine Parade

I have no idea of my weight, but it’s certainly nothing like the 13st 0lb I planned to reach today, and those who pledged money to my Good Cause if I reached 12st 7lb by the end of the month can breathe as easily as if they had just swallowed a whole case full of Tunes; 12.0 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,343 days left; Glyndebourne.

Generous as ever with other people’s assets, after supper last night I invited the friends we had dined with back for a nightcap at the flat where the LTCB and I are staying, and we all sat on the terrace for some time savouring the view. Eventually the visiting couple wanted to order two taxis to take themselves and their son to their respective homes. Only this proved to be impossible because, according to the taxi firm’s computer, there was no such address as the one we foolishly believed that we were at.

It had definitely existed earlier, when I had successfully ordered a cab to take the LTCB and me to the theatre, but since then it had slipped through a hitherto unsuspected rift in the space-time continuum, and ceased to be. My friend tried kicking the stonework to demonstrate its solidity, and pointed out that he was standing on a terrace reading out the large brass numerals on the front door, but the taxi switchboard operator was adamant; there was no such property in Marine Parade, Brighton, and he could not possibly despatch a cab to an address that did not exist. Eventually a good old-fashioned British compromise was reached, whereby my friends agreed to go and stand outside the house next door, which did feature on his computer, so that the cabs could meet them there.

It reminded me very much of the time that my present host and I went to see Ken Dodd at the Wimbledon Theatre, and we attempted to order a taxi to take us home. The operator similarly insisted that there was no theatre in Wimbledon, despite the fact that we were standing right outside it, and that it had been there for at least 100 years. At least the increasingly irate exchanges revealed to my then colleague that our London cab company had outsourced its call centre, not to Bombay as might have been expected, but to Aberdeen. He sacked them the next day, giving all of a peculiarly warm glow of satisfaction. Is it just because I am from Northumberland, and am thinking daily about Gordon Brown’s date with destiny, or does everyone get a particular kick out of sacking Scots?

By the time I came to order a cab to take the LTCB and me to Glyndebourne and back, the address where we were staying existed once more. But this did not prevent the firm from failing to send a cab for us, because they proved only to have logged my order for the return journey. And, when someone did finally turn up, he went via a determinedly non-scenic and roundabout route until I told him on no account to go via the A27 and Glynde because of the major road widening works which Glyndebourne had taken the trouble to e-mail to warn me about. Whereupon he went via the A27 and Glynde, even managing to miss the turning to the latter and having to perform two convoluted U-turns to get us to our destination. Here his parting shot was to point out the precise spot where the taxi for our return journey would be waiting at 8.45 precisely. I wish I had had the presence of mind to say “Yeah, right.”

Because, of course, it wasn’t there. Presumably during the performance new co-ordinates had been set on the flight deck of the Brighton cab firm’s Tardis, and Glyndebourne had been wiped off the map. There was no reception on my mobile phone in the pick-up area, so I had to keep oscillating between there and the lawn where my phone did work. The first time I did it, there was a message from our taxi driver to say that he was running late but on his way. On every subsequent visit there was a long, silent non-message, presumably from the same source. Eventually, after the best part of half an hour plodding to and fro, someone from the cab company rang to express their disappointment that we had not been at the appointed pick-up place when our driver arrived there, presumably for no more than a few seconds, and he had accordingly returned to Brighton without us. If there had been a carpet to hand, I swear I would have bitten it.

The whole experience put me in such a bad mood that it completely undid the positive effects of an excellent performance of L'incoronazione di Poppea and a fine dinner in congenial company. The opera had featured some striking voices but had not been long on sets or costumes, being performed in what can perhaps best be described as modern undress. My favourite.

I should have ended the evening in a blissfully relaxed condition, reflecting on the happy fact that opera is no longer about wondering when the fat lady will burst into song, but whether the negligee worn throughout by the Top Totty playing Poppea will remain in place. Or reminiscing fondly about the bubble bath which proved to be the most striking costume donned by the equally delightful young lady filling the role of Drusilla. Instead my blood pressure was back to the levels I last experienced when I was in full-time work and in the final throes of a bitterly contested takeover bid. I was also cursing the fact that I had turned down my guests’ kind offer of a lift back to Brighton because I had already booked a taxi. Ha! At least I shall never make that mistake again.

Fortunately the LTCB is not only beautiful and understanding, but also calm and resourceful. In no time at all, with the aid of directory enquiries, she had tracked down a competent Lewes taxi firm which delivered us back to Brighton at a bargain price. It is a comfort to know that she would have been similarly efficient about ordering an ambulance if I had sustained the stress-related heart attack which I could feel hurtling towards me like a TGV with dodgy brakes on particularly slippery rails.

Safely back in Marine Parade, I remembered the wise words of Elton John in Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and had the prescribed couple of vodka and tonics to set me on my feet again. Before I did so, I made some crack to the LTCB about being sorely in need of a stiff one. I very much regret that her wittily insulting reply has once again fallen foul of the censorship process.

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