Monday, 2 May 2016

Bank Holiday Weekend Cycling – Part two: to Westerham for tea, toast and cake...

Of late – and by 'of late' I mean for many years – my life has been largely devoid of music, mainly because it's impossible to listen to it without some kind of interruption, somebody asking me to 'turn it down' or requesting different music or wanting to discuss something. Ultimately, whenever I consider putting on some music, I think twice and decide not to bother.

As music has basically seeped away from my day-to-day life, like a burst water main, the machinery designed to bring music into the house started to fall into disrepair too. Old speakers soon found themselves in the garage en route to the municipal tip and now there is an amplifier and a CD player sitting self-consciously unconnected and redundant in the living room.

The music itself is in a state of disrepair. CDs can be found in a draw, not inside their original packaging but somewhere else: a New Order Best Of, for instance, might be residing in REM's Out of Time packaging and vice versa, and some CDs have no packaging at all. Needless to say some of them get damaged so that on the odd occasion when I find myself driving to mum's alone or nipping out to the supermarket to buy some milk, I place a CD in the player and it jumps, so I either switch if off or listen to the radio instead.

In all honesty, music has ceased to be important. I won't listen to anything produced beyond, say, 1995 – around that time good music stopped and a mixture of hip hop and Simon Cowell took over, giving the world some of the worst music it's ever likely to hear. It's not going to get any better either so I'm left with my memories and a few damaged CDs. When I say that music is no longer important to me, it used to define my very existence by providing the soundtrack to my life. I lived my life as if it was some kind of movie with me as the big star. Perhaps we're all guilty of this.

From an early age – probably around 13 onwards – I had been listening to music, trying to find meaning and relevance in the lyrics and, occasionally, transporting myself into a fantasy world where I was the lead guitarist playing in front of a huge audience, until the record ended and I came crashing back down to earth and found myself in my bedroom or, if I engage in such fantasies now, Sainsbury's or round at mum's house. And while I really should know better, I still engage in such fantasies.

Some people put music on as 'background' noise. I can't do this. Or rather I can, but I tend to want to listen to whatever is playing, drift off into some kind of other world and, hopefully, stay there for as long as I can. But, of course, such activity is impossible nowadays as there's always something else to do and, therefore, music is no longer relevant simply because there's never any time to just sit down and listen to it like there used to be. In many ways it's sad because I've always believed that music is good for the soul.

So, this week, on a mid-week drive over to mum's, I found All Mod Cons by The Jam – undamaged. What a tremendous album. From the word go it's brilliance shines through and it took me right back to 1978, a strange and formative year for me in so many ways. It reminded me of Bon, my brother, and going to the pub in Carshalton and drinking pints of Young's and not really having any worries – no mortgages, no bills, no responsibilities.

A few days later I found myself walking around the streets of Redhill with Jezza, a work colleague, who asked me to name any other artist – other than Paul Weller – who had not only remained relevant, but was still putting out cutting edge albums. I tried. The Rolling Stones? No, they're largely reliant upon their back catalogue. I wracked my brain and eventually scored: David Bowie. I was right, but Weller, as Jezza was keen to point out, was the only one of our contemporaries – Jezza and I are roughly the same age – who was still of massive relevance today and, of course, is still with us.

Yesterday, as I stood alone at the check-out in Sainsbury's, I spied Quadrophenia – a double CD set with a smaller version of the black and white story that's interwoven into the cover of the original vinyl offering. It was only £5. I'd earlier put a copy of the Observer into my trolley and now I picked it up and noted the price – a good £3. I cast it aside and put Quadrophenia on to the conveyor instead.

What can I say? Quadrophenia, in my opinion, is the best Who album. Better than Tommy, better than Who's Next, better than The Who by Numbers and so on. There are so many aspects of this great double album to bring out, but for now just two: Keith Moon's drumming and John Entwhistle's bass after Daltry has belted out, "Can you see the real me, can yer, CAN YER?!!!!" Driving home yesterday from mum's I found myself replaying it time and time again, it was that good. And when you think about it, what an achievement – the Who have had TWO albums turned into movies.

Another fantastic bit of drumming by Keith Moon can be found at the beginning of the track Bell Boy. Honestly, it's just amazing and, let's face it, they're all good – all four members of the Who.

Breakfast in Westerham. Pic by Andy Smith.
But right now, as I write this, my brain's in-built Walkman is playing In the Crowd from All Mod Cons. It's on from the moment I'm conscious or, as yesterday, when I rode along the Limpsfield Road towards the Green where Andy was waiting. We headed out to Westerham on what was easily the best day of the weekend – blue skies and sunshine and warmth. There was no heavy flask of water in the rucksack, no teabags and no milk as we were headed for the Tudor Rose café where we would enjoy tea, toast and the most amazing fruit cake.

The ride to Westerham was perfect. Great views, albeit with a few Lycra monkeys thrown in for good measure. We sat outside the Tudor Rose and watched the market traders setting up their stalls. Our tea arrived in a huge (and heavy) white teapot followed by two slices of thick, buttered toast and, of course, a couple of slabs of fruit cake. People walked past – dog walkers and old-age pensioners – and we sat there trying to put out of our minds the journey home and that long hill. But soon we were back on the bikes and heading towards the dreaded hill and I said something like, "Soon we'll be at Botley wondering what all the fuss was about." In truth, it was not that bad – it never is. The initial hill is peppered with flat sections and then, once beyond the Surrey Hills totem pole, it's a slow burn to Botley. We soon reached the pub and all that remained was the ride north along the 269 towards the Green. It was such a clear day we could see London stretched out before us, from the Shard to Docklands, but it soon disappeared behind the trees and suddenly we were back in suburbia.

We parted company at the Green and decided not to ride on Bank Holiday Monday, but, as I sit here now on that very day, with the time only minutes away from 0830hrs, I'm still mulling over a possible ride, although I don't think I'll bother. Instead, I'll take my exercise in the garden, sawing a few branches, pulling out some Devil's Forget-Me-Nots and sweeping the patio. Summer is fast approaching, the garden is starting to bloom... and In the Crowd is still playing in my head.

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