Thursday 5 June 2008

One of the best Dreams of my life

No idea; 9.75 units of alcohol yesterday evening; 1,339; Athens.

My Newcastle club is never the quietest of locations, what with having a nightclub opposite where the customers like to spill out onto the pavement to smoke, shout and occasionally knife each other, after which the staff enjoy lobbing empty bottles into a skip for a bit before the council sends a truck around in the early hours to empty it. This morning I was wakened before 6 by the distinctive sound of the bin lorry, and lay braced for the usual racket of tumbling bottles like a man anticipating the clump of the second cast-off shoe in the bedroom upstairs – but it simply did not come. Instead there was a remarkably persistent mechanical humming noise, exactly like that made by a lorry hefting wheelie bins, but with no matching sound effects of bins being emptied and returned to the pavement. And, crucially, no evidence of the thing moving progressively further away. I was finally provoked me into getting up and sweeping back the curtains to find out what the hell was going on, and found myself eyeball to eyeball with a man on an aerial platform who was giving the street lights their annual wash and brush up. How typical of my luck to book into the club on this of all days.

I made my way down for breakfast at 8, and was surprised to be greeted as though I were in a downmarket seaside boarding house by a large, white bearded man sitting in the window wearing a generously cut Hawaiian shirt and accompanied by an equally generously cut wife. He looked exactly like the Earl of Harewood would do if he were about a foot shorter, five stones heavier and so frightfully common as read The Sun at breakfast. He wasn’t actually tugging himself off over the Page 3 girl, but perhaps he was too old for that sort of thing. Or perhaps he’d finished the job before I arrived. I should have known when the club allowed me to join it that its social standards were on a pretty disastrous slide.

The chef, who looked about 14, arrived and offered me “anything you want”. I decided to eschew the obvious and made some half-hearted enquiries about grapefruit and brown toast before succumbing to the inevitable and ordering the full English. This must surely be the best cooked breakfast anywhere in the country that gave it its name: two sausages, two rashers of bacon, a perfectly fried egg on a piece of authentic fried bread, a large slice of black pudding, a magnificent field mushroom and a grilled tomato. I could feel my arteries furring up as I forked down every wonderful morsel.

When I went to collect my car from the neighbouring antique multi-storey, the man on the desk asked for just £3.50; such a ludicrously small sum that I was moved to query it, but he confirmed that it was correct, though if I had arrived about 12 seconds later when the clock hit 9 a.m., my bill would have leapt to £11.80. Perhaps the pendulum of my luck is finally swinging in the other direction.

I collected the dog from his kennels and made the mistake of asking to join the woman in charge when she fetched him from his pen. This proved not to be the outdoor run I had seen on a previous visit, but a totally enclosed cage in a long wooden shed shared with a lot of other small dogs. It seemed much more like a prison than any other kennels I have visited, where it was usually just possible to kid myself that it was more like a holiday camp. No wonder he had barked himself hoarse in my absence, though at least he had not been moved to join in the dirty protest that seemed to be gathering momentum among the other inmates, to judge from their newspaper-covered floors.

I then went to see my doctor to arrange a private referral to an ENT specialist for a persistent sore throat which my GP continues to insist is “nothing sinister”. Which would be more comforting if absolutely everyone I know who has died young of cancer had not been similarly assured that they were suffering from something trivial and easily curable, like stress or conjunctivitis. At least dying young is no longer an option in my case.

This evening I returned to the Theatre Royal for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Opera North’s performance faced a formidable challenge from the many great productions of this opera I have already seen, including Peter Hall’s classic enchanted forest for Glyndebourne, the Australian Opera’s Raj fantasy at the Edinburgh Festival many years ago, or the ENO one where Puck was played by an acrobat who kept doing triple back somersaults into the orchestra pit. It opened with some Perspex hangings that looked rather like shower curtains, with shadowy figures behind them. For a few seconds I had hopes of some gratuitous nudity, but they proved to be juvenile fairies wearing 1960s white gym kit. The Athenians were in similar period dress, evidently acquired from Carnaby Street during a particularly disturbing acid trip. My immediate neighbours in the dress circle all bailed out at the first interval, evidently disappointed, but the production grew on me progressively, and by the end – after the funniest Pyramus and Thisbe I have ever seen – this was definitely ranking right up there with the very best Dreams of my life.

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