Great Expectations


‘So,’ says the guy with guitar cutting such a lonely figure on the stage, ‘are you here to see John Martyn?’ Tempting though it is to shout, ‘No, mate, we’re waiting for Guns N’ Roses. Where are they?’ or ‘Well, we didn’t stump up the best part of fifty quid to see you!’ I manage to restrain myself. It’s tough being the support act and even tougher if you’ve been busking in an underpass just moments before being thrust on stage and told to keep the audience amused. Oh, okay, I’ve no evidence for that but it certainly how it sounds, nevertheless I manage to applaud politely when the poor man winds up his set to everyone’s relief.

I’ve been looking forwards to this evening but I’m a bit apprehensive too; some of these songs are going to stir up memories of people no longer in my life, like Kay who disappeared after university never to be seen again. With thoughts of the past reverberating in my head, it’s a shock when a huge fat man in a wheelchair comes on stage and I have to reconcile the John Martyn in front of me with the John Martyn I last saw some twenty years ago. I knew he’d suffered a leg amputation but the physical changes in the man are a sharp reminder of how much time has gone by. It’s a bitter-sweet kind of evening; some of the songs are only saved by a very accomplished band and it feels uncomfortably like watching a tired old boxer in one fight too many, and then there are moments of sheer dazzling genius. One song in particular, almost reduces me to tears because it is so perfect, so painful and so beautiful. Whilst Tom declares the evening to be ‘sheer purgatory’ there’s enough for me to take away and feel glad I went.

It’s lovely to be able to stay with Lily and Russ in their Cardiff Bay flat and we get up the next day and go for a windy walk under a crisp blue sky to the barrage and back before heading into town for the game. Our neighbours, Mr & Mrs Across-the-Road, have been kind enough to offer us spare tickets to watch Wales v All Blacks. They’re ‘getting a few in’ at a town centre pub but it’s a first time at the Millennium Stadium for both me and Tom so we get there early to soak up the atmosphere. OMG! It’s amazing! Everything’s well-organized, our seats are brilliant and, look, there’s James Hook glowing orange in the lights, booting the ball between the posts from the other half of the pitch (why didn’t you do it in the game, James?), there’s Dan Carter, fully clothed, unfortunately, and here come the Regimental Band of the Royal Welsh and the Pontarddulais Male Choir.

The sense of anticipation is enormous; every Welsh supporter in the 75,000 strong crowd firmly believes that the boys are going to win. Mr Across-the-Road gets warm commiserations when Mrs Across-the Road, a Kiwi, bravely sings the New Zealand national anthem and then the rest of us nearly take the roof of with ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nahdau’. ‘Now we get the girly dance,’ Mr Across-the-Road, says dismissively of the Haka and finally, after a bit of posturing, the game begins. Well, Wales do win for a little while before the All Blacks overwhelm them and whilst there is, shall we say, a little disappointment in the crowd there is never any of the aggression and hostility I’ve witnessed at football matches despite the huge amounts of Brains being consumed.

Along the way I make a new best friend when the man on my right stops making rude gestures with his sausage roll to indicate his opinion of the players and suddenly turns his attention to me instead. ‘So, where’re you from, then?’ he says, before determining to discover every detail of my life… (and what was Tom doing whilst this was happening? Nothing! I swear I could have gone off and had a drink with my new chum and Tom wouldn’t have blinked!). Game over, Mrs Across-the-Road takes me down to the front to have my photo taken with Dan Carter; she has a cunning plan to snap us together as he goes into the tunnel. Alas, her timing is a bit off and we end up with a photo of me and a steward instead. We return to our other halves to find Mr Across-the-Road has become rather emotional. He gives us a very stirring rendition of ‘Myfanwy’ which rounds the evening off nicely. And so out into the Cardiff night to find ourselves in the middle of the country’s biggest street party attended by lots of girls with hair straightened to within an inch of its life and wearing tiny skirts made of the Welsh flag. Hard to believe, looking at this lot, that their team has just lost. What a weekend!

And finally…I’m sitting here writing this looking at the view in Tom’s painting, ‘Hidden Summit’ above. It’s a beautiful day with soft light on the hills. Some compensation, perhaps, for the funeral I’m so sad to attend tomorrow.

Comments

Elizabethd said…
Just caught up. How wonderful that the book is taking off, you must be excited and apprehensive togehter I guess.
Your evening with John Martyn made me think of the sadness of watching Tom Jones recently, who should perhaps have stopped a while ago.
JJ said…
Twenty years ago I saw Don McLean ... but I was so enamoured I would've accepted anything. My standards were pretty low.

Slightly fewer years ago I went to see Wales and England at Twickenham, and the whole crowd were lovely. Being a quarter of one and threequarters of the other, I couldn't care less who won, as long as it was an exciting match. It was, it was fabulous.

Thinking of you tomorrow.
Flowerpot said…
A bittersweet post Chris and I'm with you on all of it. I'll be thinking of you tomorrow - send big hugs from Cornwall.
Milla said…
we saw John Martyn a couple of years ago. Still shuddering at the leg. Sometimes the past is best left well alone, it can be too freaky. How awful about your friend Kay! Tomorrow will be difficult, and sad and hopefully cathartic. Will be thinking of you.
BT said…
I too have just had a wonderful time catching up on your blog. I love your other half's paintings. They are original and beautiful.

So sorry about your Aunt Joan and I too will be thinking of you and hope there will be laughter among the tears. Celebrate her life.

Wonderful news about your book. My daughter in law has had similar ups and downs with her first novel, now due out in December at last.

Good luck and love
BT
Pili pala said…
I'm so pleased you had a lovely weekend. I always feel quite proud, when a french person who has been to a match in Wales,tells me what a fantastic welcome they had and "oh the singing." I've never been to a match in Cardiff, on my list of things to do.
Thinking of you tomorrow x
Pat Posner said…
I'll be thinking of you tomorrow, Chris

xxPat
Debs said…
It sounds like you've had an exhausting week.

Shall think of you tomorrow.x
lampworkbeader said…
The last time I saw John Martyn was years ago, at Hove Town Hall. He was sexy and so talented and playing with a local guy I knew reasonably well. To my horror, John was so drugged up he nearly fell off the stage, he slurred his words and could barely hold the tune. I've never felt the same about him since though, like you, his music brings back quite a few memories.
bodran... said…
I've never yet been to a rugby match definatly going on my things to do list. xx
Frances said…
Hello Chris, and thank you for taking us along to the concert and the stadium. You allowed us to see what you saw, hear what you heard, and even feel what you felt. You do write so well!

I would also like to let Tom know how much I like this picture.

xo
Lane said…
We sort of forget our 'heros' age too. Glad you saw him though so we could hear all about it and how it made you (and Tom) feel.

Kay? That sounds very sad.

Thinking of you tomorrow Chris. Take care x
Preseli Mags said…
Brilliant news about FTT - you deserve something good to happen right now. Great to hear of your trip to Cardiff too (although I don't think I've heard of John Martyn - I'm such an ignoramus!) Thinking of you for tomorrow. xx Mags.
LittleBrownDog said…
Lucky you to have the Hakka AND Hen Wlad Fy Nahdau in one go - that would have been more than enough entertainment for me (I love big singing welshmen - they really seem to put their heart and soul into it). And yet another lovely painting from Tom.

Will be thinking of you tomorrow. Hope it goes well.

x
mountainear said…
Hope I don't sound too much like a party pooper when I say the past should stay put. Hold on to the memories which only get better rather than risk having them disintergrate in reality's harsh light.

Best wishes for tomorrow.
elizabethm said…
Great post Chris. I love rugby and Welsh rugby is really special. I am now really proud of myself for knowing all the welsh words of the anthem but still haven't been to a game in Cardiff.

I think I would have cried at John Martyn.
Good luck.
Pondside said…
Congratulations on the book! It sounds as though the football game was your celebration - and a good one too.
I'm sorry to hear about your aunt. It is so hard to see our parents' generation disappear.
Thinking of you.......
Zinnia Cyclamen said…
I hope it went well. (((((hugs)))))
Un Peu Loufoque said…
You have confirmed all I ever thought about come backs, to me there is somethign sad and pathetic abuot aged stars staggering about on stage recapturing thier and our youth..good news about the book hope the 26th went as well as canbe expected!

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