Rolling With It

“Are you looking for a ticket mate?” Well, of course I was. Now then, if, as Samuel Johnson asserts, patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, then flogging event tickets for a dirty great mark-up on the black market must come a very close second. Mind you, they didn’t have Seatwave and Viagogo back in the good doctor’s day. Had they have done, I dare say he would rethink his famous pronouncement.

I’m stood outside the Ancienne Belgique, the centrally located venue for the latest leg of Noel Gallagher’s tour on a chilly Sunday evening in Brussels. In this city noted for its fabulous beers, I am drinking in the last chance saloon. Swallowing my pride, and draining my metaphorical glass of the last bittersweet drops of common-sense, I nod in hesitant resignation.

“€100 alright mate?” Well, frankly, it’s a bally outrage, but, I’ve got no choice. It gets worse. A cursory glance at the ticket reveals I have just bought a freebie ticket. The penny drops, the seller’s voice is pure Burnage. 

“You know Noel then?”

“Yeah, he’s an old mate. He looks after me.”

Clearly. Everybody’s on the make.

“So, you’ve not paid for this then?”

“Ha ha! No, Noel’s a good lad, always looking after his mates.”

I laugh at the perverse nature of this transaction. Then I swore at the bloke. Which, I reckon, I was fully entitled to do at this juncture.

  

 

 Once inside the venue’s foyer, you can’t move for boozed, up coiffured types in Fred Perry shirts, skinny jeans and mock-Manchester accents. It’s like being in the away end at a football match. Stepping into the hall itself, there’s a capacity crowd in jammed into this intimate little venue. It’s standing room only and it is absolutely magical. “Manchester La La La” is interspersed with “Bedfordshire La La La”. A bemused local joins in with the Bedfordshire chants, he doesn’t understand but he looks happy to be part of it all. The place is rocking before our hero makes it to the stage.

 

Classic Oasis standards Champagne SuperNova and Digsy’s Dinner are served to the masses who lap them up. Recent hits are lustily roared back by the crowd, who, although lacking in lyrical know-how make up for it through pure gusto. The concert ends with Masterplan. I take the time to make some sense of what I have been privileged to be part of this evening. He’s still got it.

  

“€100 alright mate?” All things considered, it is an absolute steal.

Picky Brugge 

I’d backed the wrong horse once again. There, grim, grey skies stretching for as far as the eye could see, that dank, damp, hoodie-infiltrating cold which I assumed dear old Blighty had the naming rights to, prevalent. The Sunday streets full of hum drum folk in a hum drum town going nowhere in the rain. Hustle and bustle in Brussels.
Here, sun. And silence. Glorious sun. Glorious silence. Save for the soft pounding of my Sambas on these beautiful cobbled streets and the many labyrinths that stretch around this atmospheric city. I lap it up, the soul stirs & the morning head finally shakes itself free of the previous night’s sour Six Nations supping.
Bruges is quite something.

I’m smitten instantly. Canals, cathedrals, courtyards. And a pervading sense of peace. It is, in short, just what I need.

Sunday lunch is a liquid lunch as I discover a terrific little bar in the Bruges backstreets. Cutting short another alcoholic afternoon, I reemerge to find the streets busying nicely in shades of black and blue. It’s the Belgian FA Cup final and the locals are descending on Bruges in their thousands. The town square has been given over to a makeshift fan park as those supporters not fortunate to get tickets for the Anderlecht v FC Bruges game swell the bars. 
Meanwhile, a local band digs into the local band song book and starts to whip the crowd up. There’s a good three hours until kick off and the Bruges fans are tucking into the local firewater with gusto. Regardless of the cup final result, they will be dancing in the streets of Bruges tonight.
Sadly though, I must exit this party early. Just as I take my leave, the band’s lead guitarist rips into an elongated riff on an old Steppenwolff tune. For all I know, he may still be going. I have to get back to Brussels and a gig that I haven’t got a ticket or, a hope, for.

Chasing Yesterday

My name is Henry Wisson. And I am a fuckwit. 

There. There’s no easy way of saying these things, but, if you’ll forgive me the first-up f-bomb, that was something, I feel, that desperately needed saying. This morning at half past four in the morning I found myself and my bag packed for Brussels on a deserted platform station in mid-Bedfordshire with nothing but the pre-dawn chorus and the gentle hum of the motorway for company. Plus the cold, enveloping gloom of an early spring day. And the cold, enveloping gloom of a desolation I know only too well.

“I say, he’s being a bit harsh there, what? I mean, Brussels? There are worse places to spend the weekend.”

Dear reader, I’d imagine those kind of thoughts, or something to that effect are going through your head right about now. If you’ll allow me some Ian Brown indulgence here; Let me put you in the picture, let me show you what I mean.

In this gargantuan year for English rugby I should be heading for the heart of the action on this, the climax of an eventful Six Nations tournament in an eventful year for English rugby. I held those self-same tickets in my own hands. I should be picnicking with the car park picnickers of South West London, I should be revelling with the revellers, singing loud, swinging low and roaring on Chris Robshaw and the boys in the cathedral of rugby alongside my precious family, valued friends and all those boozy acquaintances I am yet to meet in an action-packed end to England’s first dress-rehearsal for the World Cup. 

I should be there, but I’m not. You see, owing to a monumental error of judgement, I am instead plunging through the early morning pain into Central Europe. The pleasant chitter-chatter of birdsong has been replaced by the odious self-important small talk of gap-year fashion student types liberally spraying the quiet carriage with the banal and the boastful. Out of my brain on the train, I am heading across the channel in the vain hope of catching one of my heroes, Noel Gallagher, in concert in the Belgian capital on Sunday night. At the expense of a brought and paid for ticket at Twickers.

Sadly, I forgot to check this most salient of points as I hurriedly booked the Eurostar fare and the two nights worth of accommodation for Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd March 2015. Sorry, the non-refundable Eurostar fare and the two nights worth of accommodation for Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd March.

And, ah yes, once again dear reader, you are absolutely correct. I don’t have a ticket for the aforementioned gig. 

In my defence, I can say only this… I’m not sure how it has happened, but, to this day, music plays a huge part in my life. I cannot strum a chord, read a bar, or sing a note yet, I revere the likes of Paul Weller and Morrissey, Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley with something bordering on the fanatical. I am, just about, a child of the seventies. I missed most of my musical heroes in their prime, so, for me, a Noel Gallagher gig represents a wonderful opportunity to live out my addiction. It’s something to tell the nephews; “Yeah, these old buggers you’re watching on YouTube right now, I was there when they were at their peak.” Because, twenty years ago, Noel Gallagher and Oasis did just that. They and their Britpop peers ruled the world. Judge me as you will, friend, but, I am still captivated by their spell.

Although, having said that… It’s England. Versus France. At Twickenham.

A ticket any rugby fan, any England rugby fan, would give their high-teeth for. And I’m seemingly half a world away from it all.

Because of my incredible imbecility, my sensational stupidity, my breathtaking buffoonery, I am en route to the most remarkable of unremarkable places on the wildest of wild goose chases. And, to boot, I have forgone the magic of an unforgettable day out with my brothers, cousins, uncles and chums at the home of rugby too. Sometimes, I ache from just how much of an idiot I am.

They say acceptance is the first step.

My name is Henry Wisson. And I am a fuckwit.

  Brussels. Enough said.

Magic Moments

He’s quite the sage is Uncle Ben. I’m talking here about my dad’s youngest brother and not the old bloke who does the savoury rice dishes. Not for the first time, I’m very pleased I took his advice.

‘Lake Como, chap. You don’t need too long in Milan, boy, get yourself up there for a bit.’

He’s right. Alan Partridge’s über-glib put down of London; ‘go there and be stabbed or under-appreciated’ could apply equally to Milan. More so, if anything.

In the fast-paced hustle and bustle of the one of the world’s couture capitals, I concurred with Steve Coogan’s character’s first point. Thankfully, the second even more tangible point doesn’t happen.
I spend much of my time in the city seemingly swimming against the wash of the immaculately sculpted and impeccably groomed. Frankly, if style’s not your thing (And with my hair and dress-sense, it’s fair to say it’s never been mine…) there’s little reward for spending much time there.
And, if money’s not your thing either (again, something I’m not great at…), then there’s much to see but little to do here too. Don’t get me wrong, Milan is well worth a visit, but I had hoped for more from the first stop on my maiden Italian adventure*.

Como, on the other hand, is a treat. Walking down from the station through the city’s walls, an instant calmness becomes the visitor. Alpine vistas stretch into the distance, the greenery pockmarked by the hill top residencies of the savvy Savoys. Stowed boats lol passively**. The autumn colours and bright sunshine make for a transfixing blend with the serene skies. The gentle lapping of the lake upon the shore and the boastful fly pasts of the local sea-planes all add to the peaceful scene.

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A stroll by the lake soothes the soul. A walk through the labyrinths of stone clad courtyards likewise. All in all, Como is a very acceptable choice for a lazy Sunday morning.

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Admittedly, by the time I choose to take my leave, Milanistas and visitors from further afield have cottoned on to the majesty of the Southern Alps. I climb the steps back to the station and get ready for my second big night of the weekend…

*Not a euphemism. Sadly.
**Hello Nasher!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

It did. Kind of. As I disembarked the Metro at Assago Forum, I bumped into a bloke who looked like Bernard Cribbins.

But if we’re using ‘funny’ as in a ‘bit odd’ as opposed to Eric & Ernie funny then, yes, there were one or two things to relay. Mind, I doubt you’ve ever seen a blog post, or indeed anything else, dedicated to the Lads from Les-tah with a Frankie Howerd inspired title before? Witter ye not!

Assago, situated to the south west of Milan is industrial with a capital ind. Charmless swathes of neon-noon lighting illuminate the Lombardy dusk. No bewildering gothic architecture and pleasantly cobbled streets.
Just lines of faceless international conglomerates and identikit factories, hulking, sulking hotels and enough roundabouts to keep the by-now-doddery planners of Britain’s 70s new towns happy in their retirement homes.

I reel as I take in my new surroundings, and not just because of my brush with the Cribbins clone. Right said Fredo, hang on uno momento!
I’ve come all the way over here, me plus no-one, hundreds of miles away just to see my favourite band play in Mil….

…ton Keynes.

Really?

Only the Italian signage gives the game away. Then the unmistakable sound of a mighty-agh Tom Meighan cry-agh at an early soundcheck splits the Assagoan air to remind me why I’m here. It’s not Eaglestone. It’s not Conniburrow. It’s not even Downs Barn. Thank goodness.

What it is, is Kasabian. The greatest British band of their- ok, my- generation. In Milan. The Mediolanum Forum, Assago.

A quick shufti of the local surroundings reveal no pre-match boozer to catch the Empoli-Juve game in. Because ersatz English pubs full of football and foreboding pop up everywhere. Yes they do. I even glimpsed one in the heart of Milan’s fashion district earlier. Clearly, nothing is sacred. Clinging to this flight of fancy, I reasoned there might be one close to tonight’s venue too.

There isn’t.

There are, however, two enterprising local blokes with a coolbox roped to a sackbarrow standing by the Metro exit selling knocked off bottles of warm lager and water. Grinning in deference both at their daftness and of great memories of tucking into similar bootlegged bevies on the Galle fort while watching England play cricket, I pass up this unique opportunity to ‘keep it real’, and repair to the only place selling liquid refreshment of an interesting nature near the venue.

A Pret-A-Manger/Costa/Starbucks type homogenised eaterie throbbing with good-looking plastic types (there’s not really any other ‘types’ over here, in all honesty) deliberating over rows and rows of plastic-looking paninis and piling into plastic pint pots of Pilsner Urquell. And, bless the hosts, for all their brain-drain deco faults, they’ve not watered any of this Czech champ down. It is a very decent pint.

Ah, the plastic pint pot. The preserve of any gig worth it’s salt. I stroll into the venue head held high. Thoughts that I could be the only other English representative here, at the home of Italian basketball, are proved incorrect by the sight of a phalanx of middle aged Brits stood around at the back of the auditorium in rugby shirts and silly hats. The Great British Stag Do: ragazzi will be ragazzi. The stands swell as the crowds begin to pour in. Even the Slipknot cast-off God-awful crap-ness of the warm up act (“This song’s all about high-fives!” Really? Jog on, wuck-fits.) takes nothing away from the build up. The atmosphere of heightened expectation goes up notch by notch.

Can you feel it coming? It’s time to do this. Forza Milano! Forza Kasabian!

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Breakfast With Bergomi

‘How do you like your eggs in the morning?’ opens Dean Martin’s cheery refrain played out in breezy breakfasts bars and restaurants the world over. Ironically, and rather sadly, considering the connections of the aforementioned singer to the land of his forebears, that song doesn’t play here.

‘Here’ is an old hotel in Central Milan where the character is reserved strictly for the endearing structure crammed in among the busy alleyways of the ancient capital of Lombardy. Instead of Deano’s sublime warbling comes the unwelcome racket of the local MTV’s ad breaks for ‘Cheesy-peas’ or some such Fastshow-like nonsense. The hotel’s matriarch sternly keeps watch, oblivious to the over-bearing television. A ‘buongiorno’ is uttered without bonhomie and my coffee order taken without so much as a ‘va bene’.

Breakfast is free, thankfully. Which is the best thing that can be said about it. The TV barks out more shouty incomprehensible barf. A troupe of Korean tourists eagerly map out their days sightseeing, safety in numbers is clearly the way forward in this gaff. One or two more guests stumble in and are greeted with the same frostiness as befell my arrival.

The fruit juice is served in one of those cups they give you to swill your mouth out in the dentist’s chair. The contents taste the same as the stuff they give you to swill your mouth out in the dentist’s chair. I move on to the espresso. It’s as bitter as mine host’s demeanour.
The bread rolls are set out with the functionality of croquet balls in a rack. And taste as such. Croissants like puffy boomerangs are the alternative with a meagre selection of gold-foil wrapped soft cheeses and unhappy looking yoghurts.

Wedged into my corner table I watch as Mamma moves un-smilingly along the same route from her seat, elevated like the head of the convent’s might be, to kitchen, from kitchen to seat, and back again. Drinks orders taken, doled out and dispensed with the kind of welcome usually reserved for the lifers on death row.

In fact, I have seen this kind of growling, scowling uncompromising performance many times over before. Watching Football Italia as a teenager, this style of totalitarianism was doled out on a weekly basis by the then captain of Internazionale (Oh, go on then Inter Milan), Guiseppe Bergomi.
Hotel guests are put in their place like opposing forwards stealing into the penalty area. There’s no shirt pulling, elbows or other such intimidatory tactics. But then there’s no need to. Mamma rules by fear alone. The catenaccio of the cafe-bar, belligerent and brutal. Pure Bergomi.

Breakfast comes to an end. No sign of the eggs of Deano’s song. And thankfully, looking up for the last time at Mamma, no sign of that song’s kiss either. I grab my things and head, into the autumnal Milano morning air. Hopefully there’s a bit more ‘bienvenuto’ and a bit less Bergomi to this city….

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Friday Morning, Coming Down

So it ended where it all began. The WACA, Perth.

Four weeks on from the beginning of the end for England’s men, I was back watching the start of the Women’s Ashes. Thirty degrees heat, the CBD dominating the backdrop, the Doctor on overtime blowing through an empty stadium, the field like fresh sheets, the anthem lustily sung (It was just me & Big G. The acoustics in a sparse stadium are rather wonderful, especially if it’s just you singing.), the players look pristine in the middle. The tension is at its most taut. The talk, talked. New beginnings.

I cannot get away from the fact that the opening moment of a Test Match is the most thrilling in thing in the world. But then, I guess, that also says everything you need to know about me. Till next time….

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