April 23rd, 2005


Ile Flottante

This unplanned break in the Lenten silence is prompted by the imminent departure from London of one of my closest friends. Well, I can hardly blame him. Following his wedding to Valerie, it was always rather inevitable that Andy might relocate himself to France. France? You say. It's not that far. No, it's not and I'm grateful for that.

They're going to be moving to a small island, or rather islands, a little ways out from Marseilles and called Les Embiez [or is it Bendor?] As far as I can work it out, these are either:

a. Tracy Island for the Ricard family.
b. Exclusive holiday destinations.

Or perhaps both. Valerie's got the job working for the Pastis King, Andy will be beachcombing. For a while anyway.

I've known Andy for twenty years now and he's been a great friend throughout this period. I'm not going to record the long series of (mis)adventures over the years. Most of them accompanied by a ever-changing series of Skodas that he's religiously driven througout this period. He was talking about buying a French car recently. Well, I'd agree that Skoda have rather lost their design edge since the fall of the Iron Curtain. I still say the Citroen Maserati was one of the most intriguing cars ever designed. But then I don't drive.

I shall miss him immensely.

Yes, it's not far. But it's far enough to put an end to casual socialising. I've not many friends I can casually socialise with. Distance, children... These two things require negotiation. Fancy a pint next month on a Thursday...? If I was thirsty (Guinness), hungry (generally a South Indian on Willesden Lane), bored (frequently), Andy was almost always available.

I left his house in West Hampstead yesterday afternoon and walked to a birthday party on Abbey Road. This is the one part of London that feels like my own. I grew up in Gospel Oak, went to a primary school in Hamsptead, lived in the Kilburn area for about fifteen years when I came back to London to go to university. There's a barely a corner of North West London that doesn't have some poignant memory attached to it.

Fortunately for those reading this journal, much of this has evaporated during the course of the night and you'll therefore be spared the rather baleful nature of my introspection at the time. SInce I was a little early for dinner, I stopped off to have a pint at the Abbey Road Pub & Dining Room. It wasn't a good idea. Whether it was my mood or those I encountered within, the place didn't feel right. It gets very self-satisfied on the St John's Wood borders. I slightly lost my temper with someone who insisted on pushing me from behind with a bar stool they were trying to squeeze into the area where I was already standing at the bar. Once I'd got out the way, he said "Thank you". I said that an excuse-me prior generally works wonders. I only later realised by his movements that he possibly wasn't in full command of spoken language and not because of the drink.

I sat outside. I sighed. The final week of Lent approaching. I was sad. To drown out the sound of the Friday traffic and conversations far more confident than my thoughts, I put on the headphones and it played the following song:

Soft Black Stars - Antony and the Johnsons

I saw Antony perform last Saturday night in London and I was quite taken with this song which was written by Current 93, who were the first to release him. I never had much time for Current 93 and similar bands that I lumped into a subcategory of Crowley-inspired malarkey and studiously ignored when record shopping whereas once I might have headed directly to this section. Well, on the strength of Antony's interpretation, I went and bought the original Current 93 album. Hmm. It seems that I've maybe misjudged them, not least on the whole Thelema aspect of things [I noted yesterday in a shop that there is a South African wine with that same name]. I wrote and apologised for having misconstrued them for so many years and I received a pleasant and friendly reply from David Late Tibet that same afternoon. In a spirit of contrition, I've since sponsored their next album. Whilst it's no more accurate to their current sound than my previous miscasting, had someone once described them to me as a Christian apocalyptic folk band, I probably would have given them a listen some time ago.

Did the song help? I can't say I left the pub any happier.

I've read that Les Embiez is a little reminiscent of Portmeirion in Wales. As long as they're not playing human chess on the front lawns, Andy, I think the two of you should be safe. Be seeing you...