49 years and 11 months and three weeks and 7 days.

Yesterday I hit a milestone. It felt like a millstone but apparently it was a milestone. A half century. 49 years and 12 months old. five decades. Anything but that fi… no I cannot even force myself to see that number in print. I am no longer young. I am no longer youthful. I am in fact getting to the point where middle-aged is something I look back on.
How do I feel? well like many people I feel the same as the day before. I ache when I get out of bed, my knees crack and snap like old twigs and I start far too many conversations with the phrase “When I was their age..”. Getting old is something no-one can do about, even our best scientists are only able to theorise about time travel and until theory becomes practice I will have to accept that the chap with the scythe is starting to contemplate paying me a visit.
I can see the bright side to getting old. I read the papers and can remember the stories that start with “Thirty years ago today the ZX Spectrum was launched!”. Things that become collectible I now own and are in the attic. Of course, how valuable 8 tracks and betamax video recorders are is anybody`s guess.
I still say the dreadful thing that us oldies say, “The music was better in our day!” I still listen to the music I listened to when I was a spotty long-haired youth, Motorhead, AC/DC, Black Sabbath and The Scorpions. In the last three years I have seen all these bands performing on stage and can be found recanting to a rapidly diminishing crowd “Well yes but you really should have seen them in the “ace up your sleeve” tour of 1980″. At this point it will be pointed out that non of the people I am talking to were born then. Wife tends to lead me away as I start to sob at this point.

Of course the main consolation to arthritis, failing eyes, memory loss and….well I forget the other stuff, is that I am actually financially slightly solvent. I get Wife`s money from a cash machine and seldom check the balance. The mortgage is a mere slap on the bottom compared to the knee in the groin that it once was. We have actually traded in the last few cars as opposed to normally having them towed to a scrap yard. Going out for a meal is a pleasant experience now that we no longer have to sweat just in case service charge is added to the bill.

I suppose the main thing is that I am comfortable with my age. I am a happy chappy, provided I can grumble when I feel like it, and can hobble to the pub without too much whinging.When a pretty young lady smiles, approaches me and offers me her seat I think I will be rapidly looking over my shoulder for a sign of the Grim Reaper!

The Download diaries…..part 5

I woke to an unexpected silence. There was no rain pattering onto the outer skin of our tent and there was an unusual brightness. I pulled on my wellies and stumbled into the fresh air to see crowds of pasty and soggy people pointing into the sky at a round thing. “Sun…Sun…it does exist!”
Warmth or not the second point of call was the heart-attack on a plate we call “breakfast”. I could not get used to only wearing two layers of clothing, my arms seemed light and manoeuvrable and I carried my cholesterol laden death sentence to a table with a bounce in my step that I had not felt since the seatbelt sign went on at Hong Kong. The mood of the festival seemed to brighten and as we headed into the arena for the final time the patches of mud and straw did not seem to be an obstacle, but more of a playground
We headed for the second stage to catch a good performance by the Black Spiders. Wife asked if we should assist the stall-holders in making money by buying sun-tan lotion. ” Pish!” I said, “it`s not that warm, we are used to sun and heat, we will be fine.” Those words would come back to haunt me like a politicians pre-election pledge.
Wife wanted to see Sebastian Bach and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed his set. Next was Shinedown and then it was time to find a good place to watch the headline act. Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne. Names synonymous with heavy metal, one of the most influential bands of the day. Sadly, not quite the full lineup as Bill Ward was excluded. I do not know if it was contracts, egos or past conflicts, but it was a shame nonetheless.
Ozzy is a legend. The man is the ultimate hell-raiser and also one of the best frontmen around. He missed a few notes but who cares when a huge crowd can be incited to cheer,clap and wave their arms to a figure who keeps shouting ” I can`t hear you!” The band thundered through the classics of Iron Man and Paranoid. A brilliant end to a soggy weekend.
As the final echoes reverberated around the arena I felt my earlier words doing a u-turn and starting to chomp at my rear end. My forearms had a familiar prickly feeling and Wife was examining her hands…Yes, four days of rain and we end up sunburnt! We headed to the familiar bar at the RIP campsite and swallowed a couple of pints before heading to bed. We had contracted trench-foot and got sunburnt, but at least it was after midnight when we crawled into our sleeping bags.

The Morning After.

We arose to a warmish morning and had our usual artery hardening breakfast. Then it was a case of packing all our stuff back into the car. I could not understand why it did not go back as easily as we got it out, had it somehow expanded with the moisture over the last five days?
We had another fantastic Download, the atmosphere was dampened by the weather, but the audience and the security staff,as ever, made Donington park the place to be in June, come hell or high water we will be back next year, but can we have some warm and dry weather please? pretty please?

The Download Diaries…part four.

Day four. Summer in England in a tent. That can only mean one thing. Rain. We donned our usual summer wear of waterproofs, wellies and hats and headed off for the other traditional English summertime tradition, the calorie-laden fry-up for breakfast. It was served on a paper plate and dissected with a blunt wooden knife and shovelled into the cake-hole with a fragile plastic fork. For all its deficiencies in cutlery and tableware, it more than made up for in taste. Fortified with bacon,eggs and toast we trudged to the arena. Today it was still muddy and cold, but the rain had decided to give us a break and we finally saw the Black Veil Brides, a favourite of my nephew`s, who was mightily impressed that his elderly Uncle wheelmonkey, (who is like really old and must be over thirty now…) actually got to see the band perform on the main stage.
After more beer and food we headed to the main stage to see the Steel Panthers. Spandex and hairspray took to the stage and I immediately felt thirty years younger. This was my era. I was even happier as the females in the audience suddenly felt the urge to disrobe. At this point I was rudely reminded that I am no longer a youth. My first thought was that she will be cold without her t-shirt on! I enjoyed the set, a joke that had a bit of good music behind it always goes down well.
As the ladies decided to put their clothes back on we headed for the bar selling the Otter brewery`s beer. I needed a nice pint and it was not a bad one either. The next band was on the second stage and called Skindred.I had read about this band and was convinced I would not like them. Reggae crossed with heavy metal, it sounded as appealing as a pint of Doombar with a cherry and a little paper umbrella in it. As ever in my life I was wrong. A lively and fun set including something I believe is called the “Newport helicopter”. This is where everybody is encouraged to take an article of clothing, (it was cold, I took my hat), hold it high in the air until told to swing it around. It sounds a rather strange thing but it is very impressive when a huge crowd suddenly starts to whirl all sorts of articles of clothing in the air. At one point in the set the singer started singing “All The Single Ladies”,normally performed by Beyonce. He waited until the crowd was all singing along and then berated them with ” Download, I am DISGUSTED that you know that!”.
Next band was Killswitch Engage, complete with the usual new/old singer. Wife, who is more clued up on these things than me informed me that the singer was the old singer who had re-joined the band, the singer I had seen at their last performance was the old singer who was now their old old singer…I was so glad she cleared this up for me. Old or new, it was a cracking set from a band that I had seen a few times before and had never failed to satisfy.
At this point I would like to say that I grabbed another beer and found a good place to watch Metallica. This would be untrue. It was so cold I had a coffee and satisfied myself with being able to see the video screen.
I thoroughly enjoyed Metallica. I have always enjoyed their music and I thought they did a good set, although I wish they had left the flame-throwers on a bit longer to warm us up. Wife, however, is not a fan. In the same way as marmite is the food of life to some and a poisonous black gunk to others, Wife does not “get it”. Still, she stood by me until they had finished and even admitted to enjoying “Sandman”. The next stop was surprisingly enough the bar back at the RIP campsite. Although the main bar had been shut down a tiny serving hatch was still open and we managed to get a couple of pints in before we headed back to our damp pitch. Nearly one in the morning…Rock`n`roll!

The Download diaries…part three

June.Flaming June! The rain was still pitter-pattering on the fabric of the tent as the greyness of summer penetrated the interior of our accommodation. The interior of the tent looked like an explosion at a camping shop. Waterproofs,jumpers and trousers were scattered around the interior at random and hidden under it all was a quilt, a sleeping bag and two bodies. The warmth that attracted me to stay in bed was being rapidly counteracted by the urgent desire to unload a couple of pints of beer.
After risking life and limb I put the kettle on. A cup of coffee later and Wife emerged, her usual morning humour fully intact. “You woke me up.I hate you.Where is my coffee. I hate you.Is it raining? your fault. I hate you.”
She skipped happily off to the toilets with all the vigour of a three-week old corpse. Wife has never been at her best first thing in the morning….

Later, much later, and fortified with a artery-blocking full english breakfast we headed off to the festival`s main arena, only to be told by the security chaps at the gate that there would be an hours delay due to the mud. Not what you wanted to hear on the first day of a festival really! Still, RIP has it`s perks and we headed off to the RIP area at the bottom of the hill to the right of the main stage. A teepee wigwam sort of thing that featured a bar and dryness. I was more interested in dryness than anything so we dived in and bagged a seat.
As is the case with Download, we soon fell into conversation with a couple from Newcastle and before we had realised it the arena was opened.

We squelched our way into the arena. The grass was visible in some places but the rain was settling in to a steady drizzle. We figured to go to one of the small stages that are covered to watch a few bands to start with. Gosh! about 60,000 other people had the same ides! It was a bit crowded to say the least!
We did, however, finally get to see a band I have heard so much about but never seen,Lawnmower Deth. They are a comedy type death metal band, a sort of cross between Bowling for Soup and Napalm Death. A good set and loads of fun, although when they were brandishing a lawnmower about I suspect that they would have struggled to find a blade of grass to cut.

Then there was a disaster! No Hobgoblin! Panic set in until Wife studied the map and spotted a bar serving real ale. I engaged four-wheel drive and skidded up the hill to the bar. Yes! Beer! I grabbed a couple and we settled down. The main issue had now become that although my beer seemed to be lasting for ages, it was getting progressively weaker. My addled mind finally realised that it was the water dripping of my hat and into my glass!
The rest of the day passed in a slither and slide through the cold and the mud. Finally, at nine at night, we saw one of the bands I had wanted to see for ages, the Prodigy. They did not disappoint. I like the Prodigy because they fail to sit in any sort of classification with an almost wilful smile. Firestarter and Breathe are two of my favourite tracks.
We splodge out of the arena and hit the pub in RIP for a final drink. We are cold and wet and finally get into the tent at just gone midnight. We are now starting to party! The rain continues to patter on the tent as I doze off and dream of dry feet and suntan lotion.

The Download Diaries…part 2.

The sun shone brightly through the canvas of our tent. All around us I could hear the cheerful bustle of happy campers getting breakfast interspersed with the sounds of joyous birdsong. Or not. In reality our body clocks had not yet got fully in synch with the english time zone so I was wide awake at about five o`clock. As ever first morning thoughts tend towards coffee and toilets so I hurriedly unzipped the tent and groped in the gloom for my trusty wellington boots. As my bladder started sending ever more urgent messages to my brain I stumbled around, half crouched, in the low porch that we use to store our chairs and tables. Finally I tugged my boots onto my bare feet and unzipped the outer door. The cold air woke me up and I looked vainly around for the sun. The sky was a uniform grey, the grey that comes with no warmth or joy, the grey of doom,the grey of a thousand ruined english holidays. I gallumped across the grass towards the row of portable chemical toilets.

The field was nice and green, the gateway, however, had been churned to a brown porridge by a few vehicles and a multitude of boots. I stepped manfully through the mud, nearly losing a welly in the process. I open the toilet door to see the floor about three inches deep in what I really really wanted to believe was mud. When I returned to our tent I was wide awake and ready for my coffee. I huddled in a chair as I waited for the kettle to boil and amused myself by watching the spots of rain on the canvas slowly turn to rivulets and then running off the flysheet.

A couple of hours later and after several cups of coffee we decided to head for breakfast. A slightly expensive but very welcome english fry up was wolfed down and accompanied by yet another coffee. As it was Thursday we now intended to head to “The Village” which is an area near the standard camping, which features shops, food stalls, a fairground and more shops. The previous year we had spent a fun day wandering about and spent a very jovial afternoon in the company of some very pleasant young people. ( I know now that as I refer to “young people” I am assuredly advancing rapidly through middle age to old age).

As we passed the hordes carrying their camping equipment and beer towards the standard campsite, we noted that in most instances camping equipment seemed to actually consist mostly of beer. The cheerful attitude of these happy campers was possibly aided by most of them deciding to lighten their respective loads by drinking as much alcohol as they could on their route march from the car parks.

Once inside The Village we realised that in horse racing terms the going was “soft to liquid.” The trudging of thousands of boots had churned the grass to a brown slop. The traders selling gum boots were seen to be dancing and praying to a rain god. I presumed that once they had sold out of waterproofs and wellies, they would swiftly convert and start praying to the sun gods to enable them to shift their stock of sun creams. We managed one slither and slide around the stalls and retreated to the comparatively solid ground of the RIP campsite.

That evening we decided to head for the pub, more to keep warm than drink beer, although as we were there and there was a rather good selection of real ales on offer it would have been rude not to try one or three of them! I even managed to stay awake to savour them. Bed for ten o clock. Still not much of a rock and roll lifestyle, but we are heading in the right direction.

The Download Diaries…part one.

 

 We decided to camp up at Download on Wednesday. This was because we figured that once the tent was in place, complete with kitchen sink, we would start to relax. We seemed to have done nothing but race around since our flight landed on Monday afternoon. We fitted in as many visits as possible, even including the bank and a post office, but jet lag was starting to loom large. As we arrived at the RIP campsite we were frazzled by banks not co-operating with us, busy post offices and a pub that serves food all day deciding to close the kitchen just as we were about to place an order. The marquee that guarded the entrance to the VIP RIP experience was all that we needed to get past to ensure a relaxed start to our five days of fun. We approached the staff, handed over our ticket to be scanned and the scanner bleeped and then made a sound like a duck being stomped on. We were concerned and rather worried. This was not helped by the staff all gathering around the scanner, looking at each other and saying ” Well, it`s never done THAT before!”   At this point I rather thought that security would be called and we would be told to head in the direction of  “Away” and our money would was forfeit and in fact in the hands of an internet fraudster. Just as my blood pressure reached boiling point a woman arrived who did a few things to the scanner and then scanned our tickets. The scanner bleeped but failed to make the mallard noise and I finally managed to breathe. Once we had our wristbands fixed to our wrists we entered into the very soggy campsite that was to be our home for the next few days. We were guided to a small field and parked the car. We took the tent out of its bag and looked blankly at each other at all the pegs,poles and bits of string that we needed to attach to the mass of fabric that sprawled on the wet grass. At this point it started to rain……..

 An hour later and I had erected the tent, pumped up the air-bed and opened a beer. For a change this was in fact the order it all occured in.It was probably because Wife guarded the beer and informed me that until we had a home there would be no beer consumed that I set to my tasks with a vigour which is normally missing from my day to day activities. There is supposed to be a minimum wage in the UK yet I slaved away for fifty pence worth of tinned beer…I have a hard life!

 Once the accommodation was sorted we donned our English summer gear, Wellington boots, coats and waterproof trousers and headed for the pub that is a main attraction to going RIP at Download. At this point if you are considering going to RIP at Download I will tell you this. DON`T. stop reading and look at another blog.

 Now that those who may buy tickets and make it a sell out have gone I will continue with my narrative. We arrived at the pub and found a rack of six barrels on display. I cried, fell to my knees and pinched money from Wife`s purse. There was a total of eight real ales on offer. In Hong Kong my choice is one! I thought about being sensible and having a half so that I could sample more of the beer on offer but considering that the gentleman on the left of me was about six foot tall and the one on the right featured a facial tattoo I guessed that ordering a half might seem a little “girlie” so I went with a pint of “Village idiot”. A rather good choice too, a very nice pint of beer. Sadly, jet lag kicked in and as I finished my pint we both admitted to feeling knackered and decided to call it quits for the night. We sploshed through the mud to our temporary canvas home and were both asleep before our heads hit the pillows. What a rock and roll lifestyle! Both in bed by nine o` clock! 

 

Home Is Where the Heart Is.

I am getting ready for our next trip back to the UK. Are we going home or are we going away and returning home later? I don`t know where home is these days. I am looking forward to visiting the country of my birth for several reasons. In no particular order they are;- friends, family and pubs. I love my new life in Hong Kong. I have made many new friends and enjoy the life of a kept man.I am getting keen to visit my old workmates and chew the fat about how things have changed. I suspect the most talked about thing will be the fact that I struggle to see my toes over my waistline. I am also looking forward to seeing my parents and other relations, but think that they too will be passing a critical eye over my large trousers and wondering why the chinese population seem so slim yet I seem to be like Mr Universe, ie always expanding.I am not too concerned, I am looking forward to a visit to England despite the dreadful 24 hour travel time and the jet-lag that hits me like a red wine hangover.
My trip home is complicated by a five day camping expedition at the Download rock festival, a frantic visit to as many friends as possible and a 25th wedding anniversary. Sometimes the relief as the airplane touches down in Hong Kong after our trip home is unreal. No more rushing about, no more timetables and no more lists.
I will feel sad as I return home knowing that we have not seen people who we have not seen for far too long . I will be sadder still that I have not managed to visit more pubs and not tried more real ales.This sadness will fade as I bask in the warmth of the South China Sea and drink beer whilst avoiding the pesky mosquitos.
I will keep a Download diary while I am in the Uk and will post it once I am back in Lantau. Home is wherever I lay my hat and I need to have two hats because I do not know where my home is!

Touting for business..

One of my favourite bands is AC/DC. A few years ago they announced that they would be doing a world tour and my heart gave a flutter. I want to see them. I want to see them a lot and I will buy tickets. The only problem with a band like AC/DC is that a lot of people want to see them. And I mean a lot! Now that we have the internet there is no need to take a tent and sleep on the pavement outside the ticket office. It is all such a much more civilised affair now. You need to set up an account and at the alloted time press the “buy” button and before you know it you are singing along to “Thunderstruck.” That is the theory. In practice the start time for selling tickets is mid-morning when non-office workers are getting their hands dirty rather than getting RSI and the closest we can get to the internet is passing by a telephone line. I was very fortunate and had a nice and handsome and helpful and attractive and kind boss who let me slope off to the office to borrow a computer. I logged on to my account with the ticket seller and at the appointed time hit “buy.” The trouble was I worked on an estate in the middle of nowhere so my electrons took longer than normal to get to the office. I got tickets, really good tickets, but had fifteen minutes to enter my details. The egg-timer turned over and over and the modem (I believe that is what it is, to me it is a box with lights that flicker and that is as much as I know or care ) flashed and made noises. Too late! Timed out! “Please start again.” I pressed the “buy” button to be told that there was no tickets left and I had wasted all my bosses good humour for nothing. I crept away and sent Wife a text message explaining my total failure to provide her with an evening’s entertainment.
I decided that evening to see if I could buy tickets on ebay. My jaw dropped when I saw how many tickets were up for grabs! Not just the odd ticket but hundreds of them. The only niggle was the price had now risen by four or five hundred per cent! I looked on an internet forum where I discovered that these people had hooked multiple computers up to the web-site and bought as many as they could so they could sell them on at a profit. They even claimed that they were doing me a favour as now I could buy a ticket from them and go to a concert that was sold out because they had bought tickets to sell on!
I refused to buy tickets at this inflated price. As much as I wanted to go I could not justify paying so much money to somebody who`s internet capability was beyond mine. If the tickets were sold by somebody who could no longer go I could understand it, but these tickets were purchased with the sole intention of making money.
Human nature is what it is. The tout makes money from people who are willing to pay and who can say he is doing wrong when somebody will pass over money to buy a ticket for a sold out gig? Me? too tight and too mean pay over the odds.There has been many attempts to outlaw touting in the past few years but the only way to realistically put an end to this practice is for Joe Public to stop buying from touts. Back to human nature again!

( I got tickets to AC/DC in then end via the fan website at face price….then saw them again when they headlined Download!)

feral youth? Not these chaps!

I read a lot of newspapers these days,even though they are actually on my computer screen and no longer involve chopping down trees and being delivered by a schoolboy early in the morning. The papers vary in their content but there is on constant. The youth of today are bad `uns. They think the world owes them a living and by `eck the exams are so easy….they are all evil and violent and will attack a grandmother for her pension to buy drugs in a flash. Well we all know that this is not true and last year my faith in the next generation was completely restored.
Despite my advancing years and waistline, I still like to attend the Download rock festival. If you are younger than me you will refer to it as “Download”. If you are my age you will possibly refer to it as ” Monsters of rock”. If you are older than me you will refer to it as “What!!!???”. The lineup normally features a mix from the rock world spectrum from light rock to the growling and incomprehensible death speed metal. It is a broad church that attracts a wide age group and wide section of society. I have been going for several years but as my age and creaking old bones need a rest at the end of the day we always go “posh camping”. We can take the car and fill it with stuff we do not need rather than haul a ton of junk across a field to ignore for four days and then drag back to the car. We get brick-built showers and proper toilets. Possibly the main attraction to yours truly is the on-site pub with real ale although that is just a rumour.
Before the festival starts is a strange two days of camping and drinking. The festival features several different areas outside the arena and one to visit is called “The Village” and is surrounded by the campsites for people who have a smaller budget and who decide to spend most of their festival cash on alcohol rather than clean lavatories.This is where we went to have a beer and wander around the stalls selling the usual festival add-ons of T-shirts with witty slogans and camping gear that was left behind in the shed. Of course there is the occasional bar. We were both tired from the long walk from our camp-site, I was tired from twenty minutes of shopping and Wife was exhausted from fifteen minutes of moaning from me about being fed up of looking at stalls. We headed towards the bars. The bars feature a bar and some bench-sets to sit on and it was packed. I bought some guinness and we looked for somewhere to rest our old bodies. A table full of people shouted across to us “Over here! space for two!” and all moved a buttock`s worth to the right. We perched on the remaining space and I looked at our neighbours. Tattoos, odd coloured hair, piercings and strange clothes and that was just the females.” Where you from? Who do you want to see?” asked the nearest. “Hong Kong”, I answered. “I quite fancy seeing Alice Cooper”. This was a catalyst to a memorable and fun afternoon.These folks were fantastic. They cared not one jot that I had no tatoos.The fact that we were in posh camping merely sparked a conversation about the merits of spending money on warm showers when there was beer to be purchased. They accepted us into their drinking circle with not an ounce of prejudice or jealousy.They had come to Download to have fun and enjoy themselves and that was what they where going to do. They were not feral, they all wanted to work and they never made the slightest attempt to mug me for drug money.We spent a really pleasant afternoon in the company of some nice people. Their appearance may make you want to cross the road but I found their attitudes to be a counterbalance to the stuff churned out by the media these days.The hackneyed old phrase of never judging a book by it`s cover should be amended to include piercings, hair dye and tattoos.