Friday, October 05, 2007

Goodbye Girl - The Chris Difford Retreat Diaries, Part Sixteen

(Ed. note - Due to technical restrictions, the song by song breakdown of this week has been delayed until he can get the CD player to work properly. The author regrets any inconvenience caused to himself. He's a selfish bastard most of the time, frankly, although he is, apparently, a decent enough lay.)

September 9th, 2007

7:30 a.m.

My phone, which until this point has been useless for anything above ruining the line of my jacket, is beeping loudly and obnoxiously. I would, as is my habit, hit the snooze button, but I can't find the damn thing. And, quite frankly, as we're two scorpion sightings up this week, I am not fumbling for shit in this room.

I retrieve myself from the gap between the two single beds that have been pushed together to form my double. Ordinarily, I would have no problem with this arrangement, but, as I have remained resolutely pure, it has only served to accentuate my feelings of asexuality. Having pushed beds together once or twice in my life, the sensation of jury-rigged sleeping accommodations still carries a frisson of young romance, and it leaves me feeling a little haggard and past it.

I actually had the sense to pack last night, although I admit there was more scooping and stuffing than folding involved. I've actually seen people doing laundry this week, hanging their clothes out to dry in the Italian sunshine. This is all very well and good, and has certainly lent an air of domesticity to our home away from home, but, frankly, if no one's interested in seeing my pants voluntarily, I'm not going to force it on them. That's simply impolite. Plus, I carefully packed enough clothing so that I didn't run out of clean clothes, even if an iron might have come in handy once in a while.

I did, however, dress for dinner one night. Shiny shoes, waistcoat, shirt and tie. Trousers would have probably been a good idea, but then I've mentioned the couple of bottles of vodka I purchased, haven't I?

Like many insomniacs, I am tremendously gifted at remaining awake until a ridiculous time of the morning and almost hopeless at waking up once my body has finally decided it's had enough. This morning is no exception. I dip in and out of horrifying dreamscapes, as I build up the will to force myself bolt upright, out of my bed and into the shower.

I'm not ready for this to end. It feels like the culmination of an unfairly short set. You're just getting warmed up and it's time to say "Thank you, and goodnight" before abandoning the stage. I'm holding my breath for the encore.

I have described, I believe, the shower of death with which Rich and I have been granted, and it is particularly vindicative this morning, tiny little pinpricks of water mapping out the first uncomfortable patches of sunburn. Which is almost a relief, cause ordinarily I appear to sweat Factor 57. I don't tan in the summer, I reappear. The easiest way to put colour back in my cheeks is to wait until I pass out, and paint me.

I dress in what's left of my clean clothing, none of which match particularly well, leaving me looking rumpled and devil may care, but not in a good way. I look like my children do when left to dress themselves. Six ill-matched layers, topped off with glowing plastic shoes and a pair of fairy wings.

Well, perhaps, not quite as extreme as that. It is Sunday, after all. Nonetheless, I'm worried about what I will look like come the end of today's travels, if this is what I look like before I even started. I haven't shaved all week, which in a normal man should have produced a decent outcropping of Levon Helm style beardage. I have a face at war with itself, however, and the best I can manage is D'Artagnan after a month in a mental hospital.

As I come around the corner towards the drive, tugging my bag behind me, I feel a lump form in my throat. And it's not just because I am dreading attempting to drag a bag full of clothes, a guitar and my manbag around for the rest of the day. Honestly, who designs the fucking wheels on these bags? Two small plastic wheels, the size of Noel Gallagher's vocabulary, which roll over surfaces about as smoothly as a 1960's Dalek. I might as ewell attach a handle to a dead pig, cut it open and wedge my belongings amongst its guts.

No, it is not the insanity of luggage designers that causes me to tear up. It's the gathering of the people with whom I have shared this experience, with their bags surrounding them, waiting to be divided into groups for redelivery to Perugia Airport. Not everyone is flying out together, so there are already some goodbyes to be said. Emma-Wilfrid is taking the train, as is Darren. Amber is headed off on further travels, and Mr. Difford disappeared into the night in his rented Mini in the early hours of the morning.

William is warding off the world with a combination of headphones and sunglasses.

Cigarettes are smoked, goodbye hugs distributed and we are all piled into various vehicles. As we pull away, I take a last glance over my shoulder at Monestevole. Considering how much I've moved around in my life, I've already mentally added it to my list of former homes, albeit in the depressingly long column of places in which I've never had my end away. (I'm a romantic, really.)

The one or two emails I've had from the band while I've been away have carried a definite sense of worry about them, alongside a sense of utter surprise that I managed to get to another country without injuring myself or others, being arrested for smuggling bootlegged Barry Manilow cassettes or becoming embroiled in a top secret CIA invasion of Hounslow.

I nearly prove them right as I queue to check in for my flight back. Now, as anyone who has ever met me can attest, I am a man of many pockets. These pockets are always full to the point of contravening the laws of physics. I usually rip the linings out and just let the hem of my jacket carry the strain. At this particular moment they contain an iPod (sans headphones), two novels, an empty wallet, half a carton of Camels, house keys, my check-in information, my passport, a handful of now useless European change, a pair of wonky sunglasses, my notebook, several scraps of unfinished lyric and my mobile phone.

Except not quite. My phone isn't there.

I feel a cold chill run down my neck. Still half awake, I try to convince myself that I am being playfully iced by nymphettes, but to no avail.

I desperately try to remember if there was a point where I could have left it in the room. In the end, we rush back out to the van and check the seats. There it is, forced out of my pockets by the lamentable overcrowding. Okay, I'm ready to go home now. I am clearly useless at looking after myself.

Checking in, the woman behind the counter takes my guitar case and says, "Are you a musician?"

I'm always very careful answering this question, for fear of my band lurking somewhere behind me, ready to jump out and start laughing if I say "Yes."

I risk it.

"Were you performing in Italy?"

I demur, remembering a friend of mine from Canada who came to visit me in England as was promptly deported for idly mentioning that he and I might work on a novel together while he was over. Of course, the long, lyrical description of the acid trip in which he'd partaken on the bus to the airport probably didn't help matters, but I am now extra cautious when talking to travel officials.

But, no, she seems more miffed that she missed out. The rumpled clothing is working for someone at least.

"You must let us know when you are next playing in Italy," she says. Am I supposed to take details at this point? I ought to have an email mailing list somewhere in these Mary Poppins pockets of mine.

The break-up of the group is slow but sure. William, Dorie and I retire to the waiting area, pleased to find a bar, which almost makes up for the lack of a smoking area. Riley, Geoff and Danielle are around, and I catch a glimpse of the hatted Mr. Bentley, but for the time being, fourteen has become six, and so it remains on the flight, with a Scottish - American sandwich on one side of the aisle, and the Topley/Hall/Jackson Axis of Evil on the other.

We have returned to BobAir, for another excursion into budget travel.

This time it's William who kindly plies me with gin, as we discuss the gifts we really ought to have bought for our children by now. We thumb through the in-flight magazine, which is surprisingly filthy, and a good half-hour is spent, like small children, labelling various pictures which remind us of the people we have left behind. I'm surprised we aren't writing each other's names on our schoolbooks by now. The phrase, "grown-up musician" is clearly an oxymoron, but then I had already suspected as much.

Who buys things from the airport catalogue? It's like someone's flung Argos into the heavens. I'm beginning to believe that the reason why planes are designed to cram as many people together into as small a space as possible is to increase sales of perfume and aftershave. The ready availability of appealing scents is the only way the Mile High Club could ever have taken off, cause I'm sitting next to a female friend and I'm already self-conscious of my travel odour. You become remarkably used, when one's life is spent in an all-male band, to sweat, and removed from that comfort zone you begin to wonder whether your level of personal hygiene is actually adequate in mixed company.

But, seriously, you can order anything on a plane. Computers, time-share, alarm clocks, stocks in major Italian fashion houses... I'm fairly sure, in fact, that with a clear enough credit rating, you could probably purchase the plane, although you'd have to wait six to eight weeks for delivery.

Two things happen of note over the next couple of hours. One, there is an announcement from the captain, as the "fasten seatbelt" sign unexpectedly lights up, that there may be a period of slight turbulence. Moments later, the captain exits the cabin and enters the toilet. I wait for a flight attendant to join him as the perfume tray has just been passed around, but no.

We are being put on turbulence alert because the captain is having a bowel movement.

Now while I'm sure someone is still flying the plane, there is a moment of "Hey! Hold on just a damned moment. When I need a piss mid-show, I hold it." On the other hand, I'm pleased to think that he is going to be relaxed during the landing procedure, because BobAir have already demonstrated a propensity for a lackadaisical approach to setting down planes.

"Right, thank you for flying BobAir," the pilot on the way over had announced, "We'll be landing in Perugia...*THUMP*... now." It was the slight element of surprise in his voice that worried me most.

When we had purchased our drinks and food, Dorie and William had been given raffle tickets. I, as the beneficiary of free gin, had not. The raffle is, apparently, for a free flight on BobAir.

Dorie's ticket wins. Dorie does not, as William quickly reclaims the ticket and the prize, cackling as he does so.

It's the perfect end to this first flush of our relationship, as we return to the dreaded Stansted laughing.

We go through the dull and lengthy exercise of retrieving our rotating baggage, and head outside where we can smoke. John Bentley appears briefly to say his goodbyes, and disappears in search of his car. Riley, Geoff, Danielle and I are waiting for connecting flights, trains and buses, although Danielle, as a US citizen, is still entertaining herself in the customs queue.

Hugs and goodbyes to William and Dorie. I hope to see them again soon, but who knows? Life's a funny thing. We shall have to see. It's to the bar for the rest of us. Geoff and Riley check into their - separate - flights to Glasgow - Riley for some reason, and unbeknownst to him, on Air Berlin we are rejoined by our American, and we head - as is our wont - to the bar.

We drink and chat, and Riley gets a text about yet another piece of exposure for Aberfeldy that further illustrates the fuckwittedness of his former label's lack of support.

And then, slowly, we peel off... Riley and Geoff for their planes, Danielle for her bus, and me to kill a few hours until my cheap train back to Leicester.

I get a call from Jay Burnett, with news of an upcoming label meeting. I'm both pleased at the prospect, and feel slightly as if I've been thrown directly back to the wolves.

But, the adventure isn't quite over, and I don't mean the endless cups of coffee and bad airport food I am about to consume in order to pass the time over the next few hours, before I return to hearth and home.

In passing, Mr. Difford had mentioned a gig in Brighton, the Tuesday after our return, where some previous retreat attendees, including my friends Melvin Duffy and Vivien Scotson, as well as Danielle, and some others would be performing.

"Feel free," he says, "to come and play."

I'm going to stretch this out as much as possible.

But for now, Leicester beckons, with its crooked and ill-smelling finger. Life beckons. Family beckons. Now I just have to make sense of all this, and figure out how I'm going to use it to move forward.

Also, I should probably sleep at some point.

I step into the great outdoor, and light a cigarette. About what happens next, I have no idea. But, for the first time in a long time, I'm extremely keen to find out.

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