When Tom visited Santa Cruz in August 2009, I asked him what he wanted for his birthday in October. Touchingly, he asked for a beer with his dad in Paris, where he lives.
Well it took a while, but we finally had that beer on July 12. He moved from Santa Cruz to Paris in January 2008, and this was my first visit there since his move. Tusk, tusk! Bad dad.
Apart from his social life, which clearly takes substantial time, most of what Tom does in Paris is centered around his music. He attends music school, where he works on voice and guitar. He plays guitar and sings in bars whenever he can, and seems to carry his heavy leather guitar case pretty much everywhere with him.
During the summer, he reduced the hours that he spent earning money the traditional way, in his case looking after little kids at a “centre aeré” (a government-funded child care center, where working parents send their children to be looked after), in order to spend more time playing his music.
He figured out that busking is a way for him to play and earn money, as much money or more as taking care of children, without getting booked into a concert hall.
When the weather was good enough to busk, Tom invited me to Beaubourg to watch him work, watch him play. It was a lot of fun. I took these photos as far as possible from a distance, so as not to distract him or his audience walking by.
Spare change arrived regularly in his upturned hat, and on he went from song to song. He’s getting very good: I barely recognized his voice at times it had changed so much. His repertoire was diverse, and each song was carefully executed.
He had told me before setting up that he wanted to play for several hours, not only for the money but also so that he could play for longer and learn more about playing music. The key part was playing for longer.
Unfortunately, and sadly, the public authorities in their wisdom did not want this to happen. He had only played for about 45 minutes before he was stopped. Tom complained bitterly about not feeling that he had played enough, about needing to play more music. Explaining that a local resident had called to complain about the noise, the police added that no-one has the right to play music on the streets of Paris. Isn’t that a very sad state of affairs?
The upside was that one of the French customers in a nearby café who had been listening to Tom and enjoying his music came up after the police had moved on and thanked Tom effusively with a 20 Euro note. He earned about 50 Euros in less than an hour!
* * *
Karim and Nathalie Medjad were kind enough to put me up for the two nights I stayed around Paris. Karim and I used to work together on translations into French of verbose anglo-saxon contracts, and we watched at least two Superbowls together.
He is an “activist” law professor, the best kind, recently promoted to a prestigious chair with life tenure in Paris. That’s his second position with life tenure! Nathalie also works for a University, and they work together at times.
* * *
The next stage in the trip involved complicated travel arrangements. On the Wednesday evening, Tom took the TGV to St Malo in Brittany and met up at a hotel there with Charlie and Alex, whose mother had driven them from their grandfather’s cottage near Malestroit. Early Thursday morning, he took his two brothers on the Brittany Ferries for Portsmouth. I was to pick them up there at 6.30 pm Thursday.
Arriving in London from Paris on the Eurostar at about 8 pm on Wednesday, I went straight to Euston and took the Caledonian Sleeper for Aberdeen. There was no way that I could find a B&B in London at the last minute for less than the 38 pounds cost of the sleeping berth. After 30 minutes in Aberdeen on Thursday morning, I took the train back to London, then the tube across London to Paddington and finally a train to Heathrow. Heathrow? I rented a car there, and drove down to Portsmouth. As the boys walked off the ferry, I walked into the terminal! For a train freak, this was heaven: over 1000 miles in less than 20 hours, with the only delay a breakdown on the tube! Go ScotRail!!
* * *
We spent the weekend in and around Marlow, my little town in England. I was bored silly growing up there, and yet just love to go back.
The Times covered the town earlier in the summer. It’s wealthier and trendier than it was growing up, and remarkably similar in overall appearance. The bridge over the Thames is still being repaired!
By coincidence, there was a reunion of the boarders that weekend from Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School. David Milsom and I met in this august establishment on my first day there, January 4, 1967. He boarded, and I did not, having fled to Marlow from Solihull School, the boarding school I had attended the previous year. But he was kind enough to invite me to the reunion anyway, and it was genuinely fascinating.
It was fascinating first for the opportunity to catch up with people I had not seen in 40 years, some of whom I barely remembered. Many had traveled extensively (two are based in Southern California, not so far away from us), done a variety of interesting jobs all over the world (many too seemed unconcerned with status, just doing what they wanted, which is admirable and rarer than it should be), and generally lived colorful lives (the retired rock roadie had the best stories).
Equally fascinating, perhaps for different reasons, was the adult entertainer in attendance! Her name is Jan Burton, she is married to a former boarder who is a glamour photographer, and here she is, complete with artificially enhanced attributes: http://www.janburton.net/. And what was she doing there, when no other spouse or other half attended? Her photographer husband was taking pictures of the assembled boarders, and she was assisting him.
But it went further.
Home movies were organized, one being a camera tour of the boarding house in 1985, just before it closed and reverted to private ownership. That must had tugged at a few heartstrings in the audience.
Then there were seven minutes of Ms. Burton finding girls from a nearby school in a classroom and punishing them. I’m not sure what that was tugging at! It was an edited movie, and we were all invited to purchase the unedited version for the benefit of Philipino children. I may have become a little confused here, it was way into an evening of dinner, drinks and more drinks, but am pretty sure that I heard that correctly.
And, if any of us wanted to volunteer to be photographed caning Ms. Burton, they would give him the photograph free on the cover of the unexpurgated DVD. I passed: one can have too much of a good thing!
Boarding evokes strong reactions, as does the single sex education we had in Borlase’s. David and I are still dealing with ours as, I suspect, is that glamour photographer!
* * *
Next stop, Bournemouth, where my cousins Louise and Ron Warrington had invited us to visit them and Aunty Vi and Leon and Tammy. Ron had pointed out that they all lived in a seaside resort, and so the four of us spent a good old-fashioned day at the English seaside!
Ron took us to Splashdown in the morning (http://www.splashdownpoole.co.uk/), a water park full of slides and some serious splashdowns. The boys all had a blast, and I was obliged by fear of ridicule to slide and splash for a mercifully brief period!
Then to the pier and beach, where again the boys enjoyed themselves. As Alex and Charlie splashed and Tom strummed away, I tried to remember the times Sue and I had spent days at the seaside there with mum and dad almost 50 years ago. No use: all gone.
Finally dinner at the Harvester, a pub near Aunty Vi’s flat. She is almost 90, and has the good fortune to live near one of her sons and his wife (Ron and Louise) as well as one of her grandsons and his wife (Leon and Tammy) and young children.
That’s a family that cares.
* * *
On the road again, as in railroad, to the industrial north of England. This was the holiday’s last leg.
Ron took us to Bournemouth station, and we hopped on a train direct to Manchester. Bournemouth to Manchester in less than five hours.
Why Manchester? A couple of reasons. First, a football team named Manchester United makes its home there (http://www.manutd.com/), and Alex and I are both Man United fans. We are not alone, as fans of rival clubs enjoy noting. Forbes recently estimated that Man United is the most valuable sports team in the entire world, ahead of such luminaries in the US as the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees and in Europe as Real Madrid and Arsenal.
According to Forbes, Man United claim to have over 139 million fans worldwide.
Second, Manchester is only an hour by train from Liverpool, and we were all booked in to the Hard Day’s Night Hotel in Liverpool for our last night together this holiday.
We only stayed in Manchester long enough to take a tour of Old Trafford, where Man United play (of course, when we were there the team itself was in the middle of a North American tour. Who planned this UK trip anyway!?). A few mementos from the Man United “Megastore” and we were on our way.
On the train for Liverpool the boys learned a valuable lesson in what soccer means in England. Remembering the extent of the rivalry between Liverpool and Man United, I had emptied the Man United shopping bag that we had been given at the MegaStore and packed the clothes from it in our luggage. I didn’t want to be walking through Liverpool to the hotel carrying a provocative bag!
Sounds ridiculous, right? Or paranoid even. Not exactly.
Just before we arrived in Liverpool, the well-spoken, middle-aged man sitting opposite Alex pointed to the Man United badge that Alex was wearing around his neck. It was his ticket for the Old Trafford tour, and he had not bothered to take it off.
“You don’t want to be seen wearing that in Liverpool,” the man admonished Alex, “it doesn’t matter how old you are, or where you’re from. They’ll kill you for wearing that in Liverpool!” Alex, who is 12 and has an American accent, dutifully took the badge off. It was raining hard as we arrived at Lime Street station, and we took a cab to the hotel.
I have to admit that the choice of hotel was mine. The Beatles meant a lot to me growing up, and I was excited about visiting their home town for the first time. Here is a summary of what they were to me way back when.
But it’s such a sad feeling, going back to such a wonderful time that has forever gone. It was like the song “Free as a Bird,” which the surviving Beatles put together in 1995 for their Anthology project, using a contribution recorded by John before he was murdered. Their collective sadness was palpable: it simply was not the Beatles any more. It was the survivors seeking a moment of togetherness reborn, regretting so much what had gone.
How could it have felt otherwise?
The only problem with a journey through the past is that you can’t ever go back, not really, not to what it was when you were there. But you can still have a most enjoyable holiday looking.