On Thursday morning, the time was ripe for an extended visit to Oxford. I stopped off in the Peug to pick up the Swindler, who is in the midst of ‘collapsible season’ and has added to his collapsible creel and collapsible hat a collapsible stupid accordion trolley:
The accordion is itself collapsible, I suppose, in that it gets bigger and smaller as you play it. It’s quite big even when shut though:
But I get ahead of myself. We wound our way out of London – M11, M25, M40 – and eventually stopped to refill the Peug’s supply of butterscotches at the new Beaconsfield service station. From there it was a dart to the car park behind the Cowley Road Tesco, where we anchored the Peug and walked into Oxford town centre. The sun came out at this point and there was a feeling of hope and magic in the air. Stopping off at the new Truck shop to bask in its bounty, we rendezvoused with Oxford ally Jessi outside Magdalen college. She made us buy quite a lot of sweets from the new “Ye Olde Sweetshop” (don’t interrogate that one too closely) on the High Street. We ate a lot of fizzies, felt a little bit weird, and walked up queen’s lane to a sunny perch outside the Bodleian.
Jessi having made her way back into Blackwell, we then entered the library and got our research on. I don’t normally talk about my work on here, but I think it’s worth mentioning that I found a large number of great new stories in 1900 editions of Pearson’s Magazine, including George Griffith’s epic Stories from Other Worlds series, which features some of the most rampant colonialism in early sci-fi (no mean feat). The Dapper Swindler, meanwhile, found a delightful article on ‘After Dinner Sports’ in the December 1900 issue, which is about amusing games you can play between the ‘drawing room’ and ‘billiards’ sections of the evening.
After an afternoon of such delights, it was time to link up outside Blackwell and head over to Catweazle. We first enjoyed a ‘swift one’ in The White Horse, somewhat marred by passing St. Patrick’s Day wankers (who seemed about as Irish as I am and made us high five them on the street. They were all wearing stupid hats, a fact I would mind less if it weren’t for the sure knowledge that one of them will be a cabinet minister one day. But I digress). Strolling up Holywell Street in the twilight, past the impressive queue for Edamame (strains of ‘Five Figs Down’ echoing through our heads), we eventually ended up in Red Star, my favourite pre-Catweazle food-dive, where we ate approximate four hundred tonnes of food. My running out of the restaurant to move the car at half-time only added to the excitement, especially as I was rewarded with an excellent new parking place.
It was then time to queue at the East Oxford Community Centre. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my strong feelings about Catweazle, and last Thursday’s was an especially worthy one, with a noble contribution by Mr. Edward Pope (who told a fabulous story about Ireland and celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in the proper way), and many other talented artists pitching in. It was also our distinct pleasure to link up with our old ally Mr. Sam Taplin at this juncture, and to hear his forceful cover of ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’. I debuted ‘One for the Windowbox’, a new solo FaceOmeter tune, and the Swindler and I, predictably perhaps, played ‘Five Figs Down’. When our revels had ended, I gave Jessi a lift home in the Peug and then picked up Sam and the Swindler from St. Clement’s, whence we headed out to Witney and made our camp for the evening after snacking on Red Star remnants and expressing our entirely platonic affection for each other.
On Friday morning, Sam awoke me by sitting down at the piano next to my head and playing me quite a lot of his new material. It was good. After breakfasting on tea, we then headed back into the library via Oxford’s handy Park & Ride system in order to get back in the library. Another profitable day of research was augmented by a trip to see Weird Trees outside the Oxford Museum of Natural History, again with Jessi. Having blown our minds in the Pitt Rivers, we stopped off in Kurger Bing for a heavy lunch, then the Swindler headed to the covered market while I went back into research mode (I met a lovely American at the photocopiers). In Blackwell, I experienced Shaun Tan again, and read a book so beautiful that I immediately bought it.
Back in Witney at day’s end, we took advantage of the fact that Sam had left us his house keys to get back before he did. We broke in, arranged a scrabble set, put the kettle on, and whilst I organised my research, Max made a suspicious-looking (but incredibly tasty) stew. When Sam got in we feasted merrily, played a few songs, and contemplated the weekend ahead of us. In the evening, we stepped out, keen for a pub. The one opposite Sam’s proving too full of objectionable sorts, we proceeded to a nearby hostelry which boasted a caged parrot (much better in principle than in practice, as all caged birds are basically depressing). A wide-ranging conversation and free-style poetry battle led to the creation of some rather wierd videos on a nearby swingset under the light of the full supermoon. Home and bed followed.
Saturday morning: I awoke earlier than expected and went for a stroll in the incredibly pleasant Witney sunshine.
When I got back, Sam and Max were awake and we indulged in a little light rehearsal and breakfast, a session which included videoing one of our newer songs, ‘The Spine-Chilling Skeleton Express’ on the sofa, with Sam topless. It was then time for the Swindler and I to proceed into Oxford city centre to meet up with my parents. After an enjoyable lunch, my father obligingly pretended to be a Hell’s Angel for a moment (I have elected not to put this picture online, but let the record show that I have it and It Is Good), and then, in the fine company of Jessi and equally valuable ally Lisa, we headed north to the Cherwell punting house. Renting a brace of vessels, we proceeded in delightful fashion down the river, nourishing ourselves on Jessi’s excellent homemade carrot cake and amusing ourselves by leaving the Swindler’s shoes danging from a tree. The weather was ideal.
And things only became more picturesque as we approached Rona (and Sam’s) old college:
After many twists and turns, most of them accidental, we returned safely to dry land, took tea on the terrace don’t you know, bade farewell to Lisa and my parents, and proceeded to my old local, The Duke of Switzerland. It was here that we rendezvoused with a number of worthies, including the Mountain Parade’s Mark Taylor and Roxy Brennan, to say nothing of Sam Taplin, who had made his own way over. Jessi and I strolled to the evening’s venue, the Isis tavern. It was time to start preparing for th
e Catweazle Volume 1 album launch, and a number of old friends were already on the premeses, including of course the noble Captain Matt Sage, who had arranged the space in his classic fashion with fairy lights aplenty, and turned it into a beautiful space for a concert. With Jessi on the door and the rest of us in the audience, things finally kicked off. James Bell opened things up, and I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job of it. A particular moment in the first song he played put me into a new level of heightened bonus which I never quite climbed down from for the rest of the evening – certainly what a multi looks like, and probably in the top twenty moments of my life. After James Bell we had Aisha Mirza, Simon Davies, Sam Taplin (we were on stage with him), Ric Wade and then Roxy Brennan. Then an interval, in which we all went to the toilet.
The second half was Matt Winkworth (superb), King of Cats, ourselves (we played ‘The Ballad of Old Bob’ to a Catweazle audience for the first time), Matt Sage, and Ed Pope. Ed did a particularly blinding finish, as this picture I nicked from Facebook indicates:
I was bonusing so badly at this point that I don’t have an entirely reliable memory of the order of events, but certainly there was a truncated visit to a bonfire, around which we sang along to Matt Chanarin’s rendition of ‘Wagon Wheel’ before being turfed off by the Isis’s overzealous authorities. The bar just having closed, I had a few pints of water with some other Catweazle luminaries (including the excellent Ms. Rosie Caldecott, who had also been in attendence) and then there were some driving-home logistics which involved Sam and Max standing on Donnington Bridge for a rather long time, playing music to passersby beneath the full moon and getting slightly chilly while I bussed people back up to Headington. We Tom Waitsed back to Witney via the Oxford Ring Road and dined on artfully served cheese and sausage rolls:
To which Sam then dexterously added salami:
We stayed up late comparing our thoughts about the show, the CD, and the other Catweazle artists, and finally retired to bed. On Sunday morning, Sam woke me up (I was in a bedroom this time) by putting this owl down his boxers. Something of the experience has, in this picture, survived on the Owl’s countenance:
It was then time for the Swindler’s Special Chorizo Breakfast Explosion, which is an important Sunday ritual of our Witney visits.
After sinking a few crosswords (the independent one is a bit weird) and a little music, we headed for the green in Witney town centre to sit on the grass outside, voluntarily, for the first time in 2011. Sam dressed as befitted the occasion:
Pints were liberated from a nearby hostelry, a new jam about a Trout Farm was penned, annoying drunken people attempted to make us play Metallica, we consumed Pop Rocks, and eventually returned to Sam’s. We sat on the terrace outside his house don’t you know and pretended for a while to be miserable French pensioners dropping ill comments about the youth of today. After a few hours of this, we bade a reluctant goodbye to Mr. Taplin, saddled up the Peug, dived over to Headington for a glorious farewell dinner with Jessi (incorporating Biltong, the Lion King, Dr Who, Not Moving a Wardrobe, and about 17 desserts) and then put Oxford astern and drove down the M40 in the night, listening to James Joyce and looking at the moon overhead. By the time we arrived at South Mimms, the weekend and the Joyce had taken its toll on the Swindler:
It was obvious that we needed a pick-me-up in order to complete our journey safely, so we spent a while selecting the appropriate energy drink. We eventually went for IMMORTUS:
Which did the job, although had the unfortunate side effect of making us pretend to be Roman Legionaries for the remaining hour of the drive (Lucio and Flavius, if you want to know – ably assisted by their Brummie helpsmeet Downus, whose main role was ‘getting the Immortus’). We got so into this that it took me another two hours to break character after I returned to Greenwich.
The Peug had done exactly 300 miles at journey’s end, and once again our lives and memories are richer. The Catweazle CD has been well-launched and we’re a couple of important steps closer to finishing the Spooky EP, which is all finished in writing terms apart from one lyric (which Sam needs to do) (Sam, I know you’re reading this) (get on with it). The slight bittersweetness of the end of the trip, returning as we did to work and the city, is only fractionally alleviated by the continued assurance of the blue sky, even here in the old metrop, that more of such times will soon, somehow, be upon us. Bring them on.