Continued from Musical Adventure #2
The newly acquired musical tastes would logically lead to a new musical adventure, which culminated in a visit to London, the unanimously elected Music Mecca.
Being all of us students, we had not much money left to spend on eccentric trips in search of records (obviously with the exception of the previously mentioned wealthier guy), so we had to scrape money anywhere there was any to scrape.
After quite some time (I’ve never been a financial genius) we all finally got it together…
It seemed a huge amount but we realized, after some quick calculations, that outside the “vinyl budget” there was just enough dough to pay for the trip fare, a cheap hotel and barely enough meals to prevent starvation.
Of course I was one of those who chose for traveling by train instead of by plane – much cheaper, more to see, more relaxing, plenty of time to chase girls, cheap tax-free shopping for cigarettes and beer on the boat – in one word: perfect!
Maybe it was because of our green and tender age, or maybe because it was spring, or maybe just because memories get better as time goes by, I don’t know, but those Easter days in London are still remembered by all of us as the best vacation together ever (we had a few more, but this one has remained unsurpassed).
Anyway, during two whole weeks before departure we were following every evening the European weather reports on TV and World Radio, plotting carefully the course of every low or high front that could spoil it all.
Not that we had any intention to spend much time outside of a record shop or a pub, but still…
Eventually, we all agreed that out of all the possible plotted forecasts, only two weather situations were likely to welcome us on Albion’s soil:
5ºC with vast showers
Sparse snowfall and gusty winds from the North-East.
5ºC with vast showers.
Sparse snowfall and gusty winds from the North-East.
Luckily, we arrived in Folkestone – fearing frostbite and the like – just to be welcomed by an Easter week weather that the British remembered as one of the warmest and sunniest of the last 28 years (or at least everybody continued to tell us so).
Traveling with different means of transportation meant that we approached the city from different directions which, logically, made the choice of a common ‘meeting point’ a sheer necessity.
Eventually, after long and weighted debates, we chose for a place where the land and seafarers were to meet the aviators: a small park along Curzon Street.
I cannot exactly recall why we had chosen that specific place, instead of something more obvious like Trafalgar Square (too obvious?) or Hyde Park (too big?) or Piccadilly Circus (too crowded?) or the Old Crown (where the hell was that pub, anyway?), though the choice of that particular place was going to test our nervous and psychological endurance.
In Curzon St. was located one of the famous Playboy Clubs and you can easily imagine what was going through the minds of two young guys (me and my land & sea travel pal) sitting there, watching those doors unleashing countless pairs of long legs in black stockings per minute (the Bunnies were arriving at the Office…).
We were so mesmerized by this Heaven on Earth that we completely failed to look out for our sky-traveling friends.
…That is, until I got repeatedly whacked on my head with a rolled newspaper by one of the aviators.
When and how we moved from that wonderful spot, I still don’t know, but somehow we managed to reach the alleged place where an acquaintance of ours had guaranteed we could find a decent – and cheap! – place to stay.
Well, for those of you who are – like yours truly – ‘Allo ‘Allo fans, the place could be described as the hotel version of Café René, with a touch of ‘Fawlty Towers’ here and there.
I haven’t had so much fun in a hotel ever again.
As a matter of fact, they had tried to organize some kind of separation between genders: ladies on the first floor and gentlemen on the second, but the showers were all in the basement, just across each other, which is a pretty useless way to avoid promiscuity, if you ask me.
We only met – boys and girls, that is – in the lunchroom for breakfast or supper and, of course… in the showers.
I must say that I have never been more clean and ship-shape like during those 10 days. I even shaved twice a day (at strategically and rigorously scientifically determined times).
I think that only there and then I was able to fully appreciate the intrinsic irony of the celebrated theatre play: “No sex, please…, We’re British”.
I cannot say that I saw much of London that time, as a tourist I mean, but I still remember all addresses of the major “vinyl dealers” (besides the indelible memories of the hotel’s shower, naturally), like ‘Cheapo-Cheapo’ (Rupert St.) or ‘Rough Trade’ (Talbot Rd.), ‘Harlequin’ (Berwick St.) and ‘Records & Tapes Exchange’ (nowadays called ‘Music & Video Exchange’).
Rough Trade is the only shop that still is housed at the same address as then, still maintaining its look thoughout the years:
I’m sorry to say that today the day, ‘Records & Tapes Exchange’ shops just sell mainstream rubbish for rip-off prices.
But in those days they were THE PLACE to buy second-hand vinyl at more than fair prices.
One of their best shops was in Notting Hill Gate, a mere five-minutes stroll from our own ‘Fawlty Towers’.
In just 10 days we bought so many kilo’s (literally) of vinyl that we had to make 12 separate postal shipments from there to our home addresses, leaving just a couple of true treasures to be carefully and lovingly carried as hand baggage.
We would have never been able to carry all that extra luggage by ourselves, without even considering the more than possible problems with the Customs.
When all those shipped records finally reached our houses (some 5 long, tantalizing weeks later), we were the proud owners of 7 beer crates of pure black gold (vinyl, not raw oil).
I still own and cherish the full content of my personal 1.5 crates.
Oh, by the way, I still remember one more place in London very well (again, this is without counting the hotel’s showers!): “The Swan”, our favorite pub in Notting Hill.
It had such good beers (tried them all) that every evening it took us 30 to 40 minutes to find the way back to our hotel (scarcely an eight minutes walk in sober conditions).
In particularly, I remember a special beer that was mixed on the spot by the landlady (who became younger and more appealing by every sip of it). I cannot remember the name (the beer’s, not the landlady’s), but I suspect it was Scottish or Welsh, or most likely I was already beyond coherent language understanding by the time she mentioned it to me.
Anyway, it must have been made by 1/2 pint of Guinness, 1/2 pint of one light ale or another, a good part of a reddish, sweet ale, all topped by a generous spoonful of sugar syrup of sorts and a shot of whisky.
I was told, the morning after my first encounter with the devilish beverage, that I had been trying to describe how delicious it was to all the people we encountered on our all but straight way back to the hotel.
Honestly, I can’t remember a thing about that…
Eventually, that trip to London taught me also something about the value of money and the relativity of beauty, or maybe it was the relativity of money and the value of beauty…
No matter the order, I discovered that I would go quite far in spending money on something beautiful (music in this case), but I was not prepared to go far enough to acquire beauty (music, again) no matter the cost, which was a lesson I still keep in mind to the day of today.
Continues on Musical Adventure #4