Saturday, September 13, 2014

After the Dawn: To London and back

Kate Bush or bust! Being given the "diplomatic" treatment
by Karen and Colin for the ride to the airport.
UK immigration officer: What's the reason for your visit to the United Kingdom?

Me: I'm here to see Kate Bush.

UK immigration officer: That's a very good reason. [Stamps passport]

The exchange with the immigration officer after I landed in London was a good sign. To be honest, I had been sweating this trip because, out of all the visits I've made to the UK in the last 19 years, this one was the most important. I would finally see my muse Kate Bush live on stage - not once, but twice.  I was scared something would happen to stop me from going: the Icelandic volcano (I had already selected an alternate route to Spain and a series of train trips), terrorist attacks (the threat level in the UK was raised to "imminent" the day I left) or I'd be hit by a car. I wasn't going to be able to relax until I was in my seat in the Hammersmith Apollo and Kate Bush was onstage in front of me singing.

But I shouldn't have worried. The flight over was uneventful and I finally got to see Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive with the brilliant Tilda Swinton. Since I was planning to make a pilgrimage to Derek Jarman's cottage in Dungeness, watching his muse from such films as The Last of England and Edward II, seemed like a bit of synchronicity.

The view from Agnes' flat.
After a long ride on the London Underground, I arrived at the flat of friend and fellow writer Agnes Meadows. She lives on the sixth floor of a gorgeous old mansion block in the Clerkenwell neighborhood, but there is no elevator so the climb is a death march, but the exertion is so worth it. The flat is filled with light and books and Agnes herself. There's also a million dollar view of London that still takes my breath away.

After a nap, we jumped on the bus to Islington and the N1 Centre opposite Angel tube station. This is where Agnes introduced me to her favorite writing space – a coffee house called Tinderbox. Baked goods, incredible iced tea and coffee and fabulous warren-like booths underneath the stairs made for the perfect place to write. We went to Tinderbox four or five times and each visit meant I got a solid two to three hours of writing done on Leaving Paris. As a matter of fact, I finished the last chapter at Tinderbox. It seemed only appropriate that I started the novel in London two years ago while staying with Agnes and finished it with her, too.

Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage at Dungeness.
After a weekend writing and getting settled, I headed down to Rochester to meet up with my friend Donna (who was over from Virginia for the Kate shows) and our friends Peter and Krys. We all piled into the car and headed south to the coast and Dungeness. We were surprised to find our friend Ian waiting for us at a fantastic pub called The Pilot and then we drove on across the lunar landscape of Dungeness to Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage. The windswept desolation of Dungeness is beautiful in such a strange way. It's classified as Britain's desert, despite being on the English Channel. Jarman's cottage isn't open to visitors, but you can roam the garden made up of strange plants, driftwood, scrap metal and a great rotting rowboat. On the side of Prospect Cottage are stanzas from John Donne's poem "The Sun Rising." I was moved by the visit, and Krys took some fantastic photos of me there that will eventually be used for Leaving Paris.

We drove on to the end of the peninsula to see the two lighthouses and the giant, humming Dungeness nuclear power station. The landscape is truly like something out of science fiction. On the shingle-filled beach, we watched the ocean crash and searched for shells and talked about the upcoming Kate shows. It was a beautiful day with friends in a wild, amazing place.

Outside the Hammersmith Apollo to see Kate Bush at last!
On Tuesday, Sept. 2, I headed over to the Hammersmith Apollo to meet up with Donna for our first Kate Bush show. There was already a queue of fans outside the theatre waiting to get in early and grab up souvenirs. Once inside, I already knew I was seated on the third row but I was absolutely gobsmacked at how close I was really going to be to Kate Bush. You can read my review of the show at Beige at this link, but suffice it to say the concert was one of the most extraordinary things I have ever witnessed in my life. A rock show and West End theatre production all rolled into one starring an iconic singer who hadn't performed in 35 years. As I noted in my review, she was in fine voice and the technical wizardry and audaciousness of the show will surely not be matched anytime soon. It was worth the wait. If my plane had gone down over the Atlantic on the way home, I wouldn't have cared. I had reached the mountaintop, crossed off the number one item on my bucket list.

With BFF Donna in the lobby of the Apollo before seeing Kate.
After the concert, we went back to Donna's hotel around the corner from the Hammersmith Apollo and met up with other fans in the bar to decompress and talk about what we had seen. I decided to splurge and get a room at the hotel (since it was almost 2 a.m.) rather than trek back across London in the wee hours. It was lovely to meet fans who had come from Northern Ireland and others who had come from around Britain just to see Kate in concert.

On Sept. 3, I travelled out toward Greenwich to visit another friend and fellow poet, John, and we talked about the concerts, literature, film and our projects-in-progress. Before long, it was time to head back to the Hammersmith Apollo for night two with Kate. This time, I was "up in the gods" on row Z of the circle. It was a million degrees, there was a 30 minute technical delay in the show, but Kate was once again in great voice and the audience was totally with her. During the finale of "Cloudbusting," even Kate was taken aback (and obviously pleased) at the gusto in which the audience was singing along.

Writing with Agnes at Tinderbox.
The next day was one of rest, so I slept late and then Agnes and I headed out to Tinderbox for another night of writing and dinner at Chilango, one of the best Mexican meals ever. I recalled back in the mid-90s when there was one Mexican restaurant in London and now they seem to be on every corner. Even as I type this, I'm craving one of Chilango's burritos.

On Friday, I headed back over to the Hammersmith Apollo area to meet up with my friends Louise and Stuart, who had taken the train down from West Yorkshire to see Kate. We had lunch at a pub and talked Kate for two hours. Then it was back to meet up with Agnes for another writing evening at Tinderbox. As a side note, Agnes and I always rounded out our writing evenings by watching trashy British television - silly gameshows, ridiculous murder mystery dramas and crap reality TV. We had many laughs.

On Saturday, I got up early and headed over to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Virginia Woolf exhibit. It was small, but filled with photos, first editions, letters, pages from her diary, the walking stick she left by the bank of the River Ouse when she committed suicide and the letter she left to husband Leonard (Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again…). I am a devotee of Woolf, so the exhibition was incredibly moving to me and I went a little crazy in the shop buying up books, catalogs, postcards and magnets.

After a morning with Mrs. Woolf, I headed over to Victoria Station to meet my friend Dave for another trip down to Rochester for an evening watching the new series of Doctor Who. We happened to run into fellow Kate fans Sean (creator of katebushnews.com) and Thomas at the station before we caught our train. I got the chance to explore some of the shops along Rochester high street (where every other shop is named after its most famous resident, Charles Dickens, or one of his books) before Dave and I met up with Peter, Krys and Donna. After our Who fix (Peter Capaldi is amazing as the new Doctor!), Dave and I headed back into London where he was DJ'ing at a club called East Bloc. He was spinning Kate Bush tunes all night and the place soon filled up with those just out of the concert. It was great to catch up with Mike, Tarsem, Neil and "other" Collin and sing and dance along to our favorite songs. I finally stumbled back to Agnes' flat around 2:30 a.m.

Foyles on Charing Cross Road. A cathedral of books.
After sleeping in, Agnes and I made our way to the new Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross Road on Sunday. The new five-story flagship store is a cathedral. I was positively vibrating being around so many books in such a dazzling space. I was good, though, and only bought two books since I was starting to worry I wouldn't be able to get all my goodies home in my small bags.

That brings me to my final full day in London and my reading at the Polari Literary Salon at Southbank Centre. Host and author Paul Burston had graciously asked me back when he found out I was over for the Kate shows (he's also a big fan of her music). I met up early with Krys and Donna (and finally had the garlic dough balls from Pizza Express I had been craving all week) and then it was time for the show. Polari was sold out, so the Level 5 Function Room with its awe-inspiring backdrop of the London Eye and Big Ben was full.

Me reading at Polari (Photo by the brilliant
Krystyna FitzGerald-Morris). 
Trudy Howson read poetry, Carole Morin read in character as Vivien Lash from her book Spying on Strange Men, Juliet Jacques read a fantastic essay about attending performance artist Marina Abramovic's just-ended 512 Hours piece at the Serpentine Gallery (which I hated to miss) and how it intersected with her transition from male to female and Joanna Briscoe read from her new novel, Touched. I read exclusively from Render and got some big laughs by reading "The Virgin Mary Appears In A Highway Underpass," "Detour" and "Sex Machines" among others. The audience was truly enjoying the night, and I could feel their energy pouring over me. The kind folks at Foyles were also selling all the authors books. A brilliant night. You can read a great recap and review of the Polari reading at this link.

And then it was over. On Tuesday morning, I headed to Heathrow, got upgraded to "economy elite" on my Delta flight, had a row to myself and watched four movies (including the fabulous Grand Budapest Hotel). Before I knew it, I was home (thanks to swift pick up by Colin) and unpacking. The post-trip comedown set in almost immediately. I'll be back in London in the spring, but until then I am counting down the days. And still trying to win the lottery or find a rich British husband.

3 comments:

Malcolm Campbell said...

Busy trip = great memories.

Maureen said...

I'm jealous.

So glad you had such a marvelous time, Collin.

Lisa Nanette Allender said...

I'd not seen the update, Collin. What a wonderful visit you had. Sounds like it was the happiest of (early!) Birthday Celebrations. And very productive, too!

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