I have been on tour!
Not, I hasten to add, the poetry tour of which I dream but a working tour of six cities to promote a most worthy fundraising campaign for research into a horrible disease. It has been good.
We started with a big do in London with a member of the Royal Family and then a quieter but useful media event in Bristol. I like Bristol. Our accommodation was fairly dreadful – like a half-built Crossroads motel - but I really enjoyed dining out in Clifton village, near the wonderful and very high bridge.
Despite being incredibly tired, we had a very pleasant dinner at the Walrus and Woodcutter restaurant, just above the hollow of a hill, and then a drink a pub at the Clifton pub where a jazz-reggae duet was providing ambient sounds.
Students were everywhere. Earlier a group of pretty girls had accosted us in the street dressed as pirates. 'I've cut up my new jeans to be a pirate tonight,' one leered at me. I asked: 'What about tomorrow?' She laughed: 'I'll be a pirate in lectures!'
Then on Sunday, I ventured up to Manchester on a (whisper it) Virgin train which was packed to the gills and charging rip-off prices at the buffet.
The two little Mancunian lads I was seated beside had, between them, three mobile telephones, two Gameboy consoles and two personal stereos. They made a hell of a racket and one of them whinged all journey that he was 'sweaty' but still kept on his shellsuit jacket. I had a headache by the time we eventually rolled into the once great city of Manchester.
It was cold with an eerie ground mist which made it look like Victorian London. The streets of Manchester were almost deserted on a Sunday night. I went to a huge bar, almost empty except for a group of blokes who were drunkenly singing, and, afterwards, had one of the most revolting takeaways I have ever tasted. The next day it was beautifully sunny, although the event I was organising was not a great success.
Like Liverpool, its glory days are (currently) behind it.
A sad apathy pervades Manchester.
Leeds, on the other hand, was brilliant. Real enthusiasm there; the people were far friendlier. We ate out in a fantastic Indian restaurant called Akbar, where the chefs bring out the meals, and massive nam breads are hung vertically on special holders on the tables. Much Cobra beer was quaffed, and afterwards we played pool at a hilarious pub called Hoagy's, on Eastgate, Leeds. Cracking night!
The following day it was a long drive to Edinburgh. The weather was amazingly fine. Brilliant sunshine all the way. Clearly there had been a deep frost the night before the trees were Lapland white – truly scenic. We lunched in Gretna Green – home of elopement - and then stayed the night in Penicuik, eight miles south of Edinburgh, where there was a brilliant get-together of the Edinburgh University and Penicuik folk clubs.
The work event also went well. I had a look round Edinburgh which seemed to me to be incredibly sunny for the time of year. I have only ever been to Edinburgh previously in August (although 10 times in total) and was intrigued to see what the main comedy venues looked like in February.
The 'Pleasance Courtyard' was a university car park but I was surprised to find the inside bar still called the Pleasance Bar, serving inexpensive food and with comedy posters featuring old Joe's Comedy Madhouse turns like Rob Deering on its walls.
From Edinburgh I flew to Belfast which was cold and threatening to snow. I was terrified I would not be able to get home. I was feeling jaded by this stage and found the shenanigans with the hotels somewhat trying. When I arrived at the Stormont Hotel, I was told building work meant I would have to be relocated to the Europa Hotel in Belfast city centre. There, my room had not been serviced. I ended up sleeping on dirty sheets and clearing up the rubbish left by the businesswoman who'd been there before! The taxi driver told me the Europa Belfast is the world's most bombed hotel. I am not surprised. It must be irate former guests.
All the same I was struck, as ever, by the tremendous friendliness and enthusiasm of the Irish. And while channel-surfing in the Europa, I caught an episode of Never Mind The Buzzcocks show, featuring a cameo role by my co-promoter Phil Zimmerman, at his craziest, eyes out on stalks.
I was mightily relieved to return from my tour of our sceptred isles to the Lewes Garret, despite driving snow and what seemed like an eternity at George Best Belfast City Airport.
Moving to Leamington (Flashback to Saturday, 25 February 2007)
I have moved into the 'Leamington Garret', overlooking the Pump Room Gardens, Leamington Spa.
I can honestly say that none of my many previous home moves have come anywhere close to the pain of this one. I started after I finished work early yesterday – at around 3pm – and were still going at almost midnight, after at least five trips back and forth in a borrowed pick-up truck, lugging an incredible amount of stuff – including a massively heavy washing machine and a remarkably awkward and weighty sofa – up seven
flights of stairs (as well as the concrete steps outside). It almost killed me. If my back gave way, it would not surprise me one iota.
Eventually I collapsed out of exhaustion, gave up, with a pile of stuff still in the hallway at the bottom of the building, and went for a drink at a back street, lock-in pub in Leamington. Rarely has a beer been more welcome.
The new flat is great. The living room overlooks the Pump Room Gardens and my bedroom has a fabulous view over the rooftops. On the other hand, tonight it is incredibly cold. Falling asleep does not seem likely.
I feel excited about moving here but also fearful. I was happy living in Warwick, in a lovely little house on St. Nicholas Church Street, and it was a shock when the landlady decided to sell up. I only found out when I arrived back from Lewes to see the 'For Sale' sign on the front of our abode opposite the kirk.
Now, in this freezing sky-pad in Leamington late on this starry, starry night, I am full of worries about the future.