Monday, October 01, 2007

Melody Motel, The Chris Difford Retreat Diaries, Part Four

September 2nd, 2007

Last I left you, dear reader, I believe I was sitting down to lunch at la table du Difford. Much fantastic food was consumed and the urge to demonstrate one's levels of testosterone slaked by foolishly downing a glass of grappa in one. Considering how long I have been awake for, I think I am doing rather well.

There has been much wandering hither and thither, gawping in amazement at the level of surreal beauty at hand.

"Ooh," I say to myself, "Horses!" I am suddenly taken by a memory: I am five years old, visiting friends in North Dakota.

Do I want to try riding a horse?, they ask.

Of course, I do... It's scary. It's the grappa compulsion in its infancy. Most of the major joys and idiocies in my life have had an element of me saying, "Fuck it. I'll do it." Under the same influence, I have stripped naked on stage (repeatedly), danced for Boo Hewerdine, and woken up in a variety of ill-advised places. At 14, I once tried to impress a girl by eating a jar of chillies. I had a lot to learn about women. Still do, frankly.

Anyway, the horse upon whose back I was gingerly placed, feeling immensely glad that I had learned full bladder control over the previous two or three years, trotted a little way from my family and friends and then abruptly decided that he had had enough of the equine Big House and was going to run for it, small screaming Canadian child notwithstanding. It was one of the most alarming experiences of my life, and that's saying something.

My first thought on seeing the horses here is, "God, I want to ride a horse."

I fully admit there is something wrong with me.

The place is full of natural beauty, something I appreciate, but ordinarily have little time for, of late... to me the Great Outdoors is where I have spent most of my moping time. I have sat on beaches, crying over unrequited loves, usually while they were sitting next to me, snogging my best mate. I have sat beneath the grandeur of the heavens on a crystal clear Canadian night, crying over a broken heart. Frankly, I have experienced pretty much every natural phenomenon going whilst in the deepest and bluest of deep blue funks.

Here, however, there is sunshine, dogs, cats (a particular kitten will, in fact, play a large, if subsidiary part of this story), pigs, wild boar, scorpions and enough insects to suggest that Steven Spielberg may be arriving to shoot a scene from the new Indiana Jones movie at any moment. And, what's more, I kind of like it.

I decide quite quickly to be maudlin. It is, after all, my natural state. Why, oh why, I ask myself, am I here in this beautiful place, alone and fully clothed?

It's strange - the desire we have to share things with others. It's beautiful when done right, but are there times where we rob ourselves of the simple joys of something, simply because we are viewing or experiencing them alone?

It was while in this frame of mind I discovered that the bastards at BT are incapable of creating a mobile phone that works with other networks. I was completely cut-off from friends and family. Now as much as many of my nearest and dearest have a tendency to give me ulcers, I am extremely fond of my small, but close circle of immediate and adopted family, and I do not wish for them to worry about me. I am also a rather anxious parent, beset by nightmares of harm befalling the midgets, no doubt encouraged by continually finding them dangling from things, leaping from things, setting fire to things, and sticking metallic things into electrical things.

But I am determined to enjoy the full experience, so I try on a couple of different Kenton heads, and just wade in.

I am actutely aware in writing this, that those elements of name-dropping which many of you will be expecting are few and far between. "Enough with the inner monologues, Hall, what was Difford wearing?"

But, no, I will not stoop to such Hello! style chicanery, for there is business to attend to.

I make for my room, ostensibly to unpack, but primarily to rattle my sleep-deprived head into submission. Needless to say, I fall asleep for several hours before being summoned to dinner. I would like to say I woke refreshed and elated, but in fact it takes me several minutes to remember who I am, let alone where.

Over dinner, we all begin to relax a little. We are once again, fed to bursting point, with food ferried to the table from a restaurant in the town, run by the parents of one of our hosts, the lovely Valeria.

At some point, over very small coffees, a guitar is produced. Riley Briggs of Aberfeldy leads us all in a stunning acoustic version of "Night Fever". I weigh in with "With or Without You" for reasons I continue to fail to understand.

We aren't writing today, as obviously, we have just arrived. Tomorrow will bring the full onslaught, but nonetheless, after dinner, we make our way over to the studio and performance space, and do our best - individually - to make our presence known, singing and performing at the top of our not inconsiderable lungs.

I attempt "Fag Break" on the piano, which goes down well, despite the fact that whenever I get to the bridge, which has black notes in it, I hear John McCourt's voice in my ear going, "It'll never happen."

A Queen medley is taken up on the piano at another point in the evening, at which point I also hear John's voice, only this time, saying much ruder things.

Frankly, it's all a bit of a blur.

It's all very much a getting to know one other session. Were this an 18-30 holiday, no doubt we would be pressing balloons against one other's genitals and covering each other in whipped cream. None of us are drunk enough for this yet. We're still trying to find our corner of this particular sky.

To be fair, I think tomorrow will be the beginning of something special. There's already a feeling of it in the air. Perhaps it's different for those who have attended previously, but for me, I couldn't be happier, which means I am quietly melancholy.

Today, I'm still a little spaced out, which is why I am unsurprised to find myself, some hours later, standing in a field staring at a ridiculously expansive Italian sky and wondering how it is I found myself here.

A tiny cat runs past my feet. Goodnights float in and out of my ears. A bottle of rather odd, and inadvertently non-intoxicating beer clinks against the three million things I keep in my coat pockets.

It can only get stranger.

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