This Green and Pleasant Land
Cecilia and I began this week back in London. I did several more satellite BBC interviews, and found some time for record shopping and pints in pubs. My guide on Monday and Tuesday was the super-friendly music savant Jon “Mojo” Mills, editor of Shindig!, which has almost instantly become my favorite music magazine in the world. John kindly squired fellow author John Blaney and I to and fro in our interviewing process.
John Blaney, taking a week off his day job at the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Museum of Technology, came down both Monday and Tuesday for interviews and lager. A prolific writer of Beatles books, a font of rock knowledge, a fellow vegetarian, and an all-around ace guy, he struck me immediately as a kindred spirit.
Aside from the joys of the ale shandy, Sister Ray Records, and the restaurants of Notting Hill, our week was marked by nearly witnessing a murder on Oxford Street. John and I were headed to the Oxford Circus tube station when we noticed a huge commotion and police cordoning off the area. We just turned around and walked toward Tottenham Court Road station instead, only finding out the next day what had transpired.
Wednesday and Thursday, John, Cecilia, and I traveled to Bristol and Gloucester for interviews with Beeb affiliates in those locales as well as for BBC South West.
John met us in Reading (about 30 minutes from London by train) and drove us out to Bristol. He’s got a terrific little car—a Nissan Figaro, from 1992—of which just 25,000 were made. They’ve become big collector’s items, particularly in Britain.
Bristol is an interesting town, one of Britain’s largest with a population of around 410,000. Only in the last decade has it begun to attract folks from London, two hours away, to its hilly streets and lush surroundings. The amazing Clifton Suspension Bridge is here, along with several museums and some fine shops, and we really enjoyed kicking around the town’s high street on a surprisingly warm spring day.
Our interview with Keith Warmington (late night BBC Bristol DJ) was extremely pleasant—John and I found we do well when interviewed as a team, even though we’re promoting different books. We can bounce ideas off each other and crack jokes. When the interviewer is as enthusiastic and as well prepared as Keith, it’s a bonus.
Following another good interview with BBC South West (by ISDN line), we headed off to see the city. Dinner by the docks was followed by a bed-down at a fine (vegetarian) B&B at which, the next morning, we had pakoras for breakfast—a first for us.
Thursday morning we drove in the rain to Gloucester, a city of around 123,000 in the southwest of England, but east of Bristol. After a decent enough interview, John and I picked up Cecilia at the local library and found a restaurant (The New Inn) that had been standing since the early 15th century. Some locals believe that Lady Jane Grey was crowned there in 1553 for her reluctantly-accepted nine days’ reign.
On the way back to Reading, we chose to stop at Avebury to see the standing stones, a series of stone circles from some 2,000 years ago. Walking in this ancient place felt pretty fantastic—there was a certain energy going on there for sure, although I didn’t run up and touch the stones like a few folks did. I just walked through the stone circles and amused myself trying to avoid the piles of dolma-like sheep shit.
This thousand-year-old, gothic, much-decorated Catholic Church just down the way from the standing stones was also beautiful, and provided much evidence that even the most organized religions felt pretty damn pagan a long time ago.
Rooks, magpies, blackbirds, sparrows, and the inevitable pigeons dotted the landscape and filled the cool, grey air with their cries. It was the kind of cloudy British day that must have contributed to the melancholy of Joyce, Donne, Sandy Denny, and Nick Drake. Being a Yank, I just thought it was cool.
We then traversed to Silbury Hill, a man-made hill near Avebury that was constructed some 4,400 years ago. That's right, sports fans. 4,400. It's currently being strengthened, which means we couldn't access it. No matter--the thing was still amazing even from behind a wire fence.
John drove us to Reading (his home town) and let us off at the station, where we took a train back to London and collapsed at our new hotel in Hoxton (our fifth accommodation so far during this trip). With a Friday reading scheduled for Waterstone’s, there was no rest for this wicked rocker.
As if I have reason to complain. I’m in London!