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Ghostly Performance

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It’s not every day that you can go and see old school friends play music in front of fans and TV cameras. But that day came yesterday, when I trundled along to watch Ghosts play at London’s Hospital club, a mysterious but fittingly white building in Covent Garden. The performance was being filmed for AOL Music, and only a few people were invited, which made it all the more enticing. I’d brought along Elli, who had know idea who Ghosts were and who i’d hoped to convert to a fan. We managed to meet in Leicester Square – despite the delayed trains doing all they could to ruin it – and I followed Elli the few hundred yards over to Covent Garden. I discovered, much to my annoyance, that it’s another area of London that’s actually quite nice. Dammit.
We arrived unfeasibly early, and sat in a nearby bar having a cocktail while the clock ticked round to 6.30. After we’d got in and had ourselves ticked off on the guest list, we were ushered to another room, which looked like an art gallery. On the walls were photographic portraits, and as we had time to kill we walked around looking for all the world like art connoisseurs. Gradually, the room filled up with people, and after we’d stared at the portraits for far too long we were taken through to the performance stage.
It was an almost entirely black, large room, with one side set up with microphones, speakers and instruments and the other with the lighting crew and a white line on the floor – which we were told to stand behind. Camera crews were swinging their large wheeled cameras around, practising for the main event. After a few sound checks and excited whoops from the crowd, the place went silent.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome… GHOSTS!” The small crowd erupted in claps and cheers, and then the moment I’d been eagerly waiting for – the members of Ghosts rocked up through the curtains at the back of the stage.
It was a strange feeling – these were guys I’d known for years, at least one of them since I was seven years old. Unlike everyone else in the crowd, I couldn’t picture them at all as pop stars – I still remember them on the sports field, or at the back of the class in lessons. And yet here they were, about to do something a lot of people dream of…
Simon and Robbie, the singer and bassist, seemed to notice me – standing head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd, bang in the middle, I was hard to miss I imagine. I was tempted to wave, but they all evidently had their hands full – and if they decided to wave back there’d probably have been a camera retake to deal with. I contented myself with giving them all knowing smiles and taking pictures (which are here) and a couple of rubbish videos when I could. (Seems another person in the crowd was busy with the camera trigger too).
After their seven song set – plus two more for retakes – the session was over. They then embarked on a meet and greet for the crowd, and I was going to slip away – eager to not appear like a groupie – until I caught the eye of Robbie. He greeted me with a big smile, talked about the success they were having and how exhausting it all was – they all looked knackered, having been in Paris that morning for promotion and flying back for this gig and two rehearsals in the afternoon. “Any groupies?”, I asked. “Not yet – but I’m working on it…” Robbie said with a knowing wink. I managed to catch up with all of them on the set, and hung around a bit to watch the fans asking for autographs taking pictures and telling Simon how many gigs they’d been to so far. The AOL cameras were still filming, taking it all in. It was a little surreal, and I could sense that all the band wanted to do was sit down and zone out after a long day. As Elli and I made our way through to leave, Simon told us to follow him upstairs. We ended up in their dressing room, complete a suitable enormous flat screen television – “we’ve no idea how to work it, it’s beyond me,” said Mark – sofas, a beer fridge and mirrored washbasins. And there we sat for about half an hour, reminiscing with them all. It was great to catch up with them, and also great to find that they haven’t changed a bit from the nice guys they always were…

Rocking Rickshaws

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I woke up at 6.30am, as usual, and demanded my presents. I was now 28, after all, and the frightening closeness to the big 3-0 had to have a silver lining somewhere. Michelle had been teasing me for the best part of two weeks about her plans, and as it turned out she’d pulled out all the stops and get us tickets to the We Will Rock You musical in London. This was doubly brave for her, as she’s not keen on visiting London these days in case she gets blown up….
Naturally, I was excited. We travelled up just after lunch, and ambled round the sights of central London. After initially thinking the Dominion Theatre was in Leicester Square – which was entirely wrong but did enable us to get a meal meal at TGI Fridays into the bargain – we found the theatre, with its huge gold statue of Freddie Mercury glistening outside the entrance. There was a real buzz outside, and inside people we rushing upstairs, downstairs and across the foyer, bundled with sweets, drinks and lightsticks to wave during the performance. We forced our way through to the main theatre – past the poor souls queueing for ages to get their tickets – sat in a seat at the back middle of the auditorium.
And, from there, we sat – increasingly mesmerised at the antics on stage. Michelle and I had forgotten how good musicals were – and this one is no exception. It’s not your standard musical – and it doesn’t chart the musical life of Queen or Freddie Mercury either. It has it’s own imaginary story, based around Queen songs. And it is VERY good indeed. On a chilly Thursday night, after 6 years of twice-daily performances, they still managed to get the entire audience on their feet, chanted, laughing, dancing and singing along with the cast.
I can’t imagine how the cast manage to do the same thing every day for years like that. One of the cast had been there since it first started in 2000 – although I later learned that they do swop roles, which I suppose is something. And I imagine the cash incentive is a bit of a factor…
Anyway, after these musings, Michelle and I stepped out into the chilly night, eagerly peering round for a taxi. But there, shining it in eccentric brilliance, was a far better form of transport. Ladies and Gentleman, before us was a rickshaw. With a man on the front, eager searching for punters. Most people stayed clear, not wishing to be seen on a glorified bicycle – but it was exactly what I was after. I dragged Michelle into the two-seater “cab”, and sat down. The “driver” peered in and took a long look at me. I was wondering whether I’d have to pay a surcharge for my ample frame, but he relented, hoped on and cycled for all he was worth to Waterloo train station. Luckily, there were no hills, and he managed to get there with the minimum of fuss – although we had time to wave to astonished onlookers and text most of my phone book with the words, “Currently on a rickshaw”. Sorry about that…
So, another cracking birthday, thanks to Michelle. When I got to work the following Monday to boast it turned out my boss had seen it four time “and counting”. Show off.

The Long, Dark Stag Night Of The Soul

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“The husband who wants a happy marriage should learn to keep his mouth shut and his checkbook open.”
Groucho Marx
Saturday was the Six Nations rugby cup final. Although, not least because the shower of fools managed to lose against the French, I won’t be talking about it. No, an event that eclipsed all others also took place that night – Matt’s stag do. Get a cup of tea – it’s a long story.
It was a cool, clear morning. The promise of copious drinking and a strip club brought to mind my mother’s advice – “Line your stomach, darling, and you won’t go far wrong.” This turned out to mean bananas and milk all round, and as I left home for Guildford that morning to meet Matt (Michelle’s brother), James and Paul, my lonely banana skin served as a foreboding reminder that things were about to get messy.
In fact, messy seemed an understatement. Take for instance our opening salvo, a few swift halves in Edwards bar in Guildford town centre. A quiet place, you’d think, at 2pm on a Saturday. Three scousers, who looked barely out of their nappies, decided that now was a good time to show how very hard they were, with the victim being some poor, misguided fool who had objected to them. Cue a minute of fighting, four on one, involving chairs and all sorts. It was a severe pasting, but the victim won no points for yelling after every break in pummelling “Come on then!”. They already had – and they did again five minutes later, finally finished with a blood-curdling sound of head against door frame. A good start, we thought, and swiftly left through the blood-spattered door to board a train for the Big Smoke.
Leicester Square was the obvious starting point and we made for the Sussex Arms, mindful of the need to pace ourselves to last the night. A few drinks and an Aftershock later, the plan was in ruins. We bounded merrily along, past the Nags Head, past Covent Garden with its wide, intricate arches and on to the Boks Bar. Rugby-watching was the plan, with a view to celebrating England’s victorious win, and the Boks Bar served us splendidly. A Female Tequila Dispenser was installed in this bar, and she had a particularly wiley way of getting a drink out of us. Togged up in Lara Croft garb, the shot glasses were arranged at conveniently racy points down her torso, which she proudly offered with minimal embarrassment. The picture of her kissing Matt was a great shot, and made us thankful we’d brought the camera. The tequila, however, was disappointing – at ?3.80 a shot, it was watered down, and Matt confronted her with the revelation that while we thought she was downing the shots with us, she was in fact swigging from another water-filled bottle on her left hip. To top it all, she walked off without giving change from ?16. By then, of course, alcohol had taken hold, and we couldn’t have cared less.
We watched the rugby. We cheered. We groaned. We threw things. We bloody lost. By then, Matt was suffering. He’d had his head in his hands for around 20 minutes, and we thought it was high time he got some air if he was going to last the night. It worked, in a way we’d never envisaged – within 2 minutes, he’d emptied his stomach. We pressed on.
Two more had joined us – Mo and his friend, who for completeness I’ll call Gunter. I have no idea of his actual name, but he was German, and a cheery bod. Eager to reach the climax of our night, we grabbed the fifth taxi we could find – the first four were either full or ignored us, rightly guessing we might be a bit of a handful – and sped away to Spearmint Rhino, the Gentleman’s Club.
We made it. More to the point, Matt made it. He was disasterously unwell, and his poor preparation (distinct lack of beer tolerance build-up, 3 hours sleep the previous night) was clearly telling. Once in, he headed straight for the great porcelain bowl, while we sped on to the main room.
And, frankly, what a place. I’ve waxed lyrical about the Caf? de Paris nightclub in my time. This was Caf? de Paris with strippers. If you’re going to go to a strip club, this is plainly the place to be. Mo got a round of drinks to shove in our gaping mouths, and we settled down on a plush red sofa. Topless women danced around, and homed in on us like flies. To save my mother’s blushes, I shall merely say that fun was had, especially by our german friend, who ended up ?120 lighter. After a brief geeky moment wondering if any of the young ladies was the “mysterious literary sensation” Belle De Jour, we left, noting that Matt the stag clearly wasn’t having the time of his life thanks to his unpredictable stomach.
We staggered home, amusing ourselves with the astonishingly near retail store of the company I work for, marvelling at the 130-step circular stairway down to Goodge Street tube station (possibly the most challenging drunken moment of my life), and bumping into my old friend Kate and her sister at Waterloo station. I cannot for the life of me remember what she said, but she’d just been to the party I was due to go to before Matt’s stag night reared its head. I think I said “small world” several hundred times. We eventually surfaced in Guildford early on Sunday morning, considerably worse for wear.
A fantastic night, so thanks to James the best man, who conceived the whole sordid idea, and to Paul, whose witty banter had my cheek muscles aching with pleasure. And to Gunter and Mo, whose dad owns my local Indian restaurant the Madhuban (which happens to be the best I’ve ever been to). And to Matt, who provided endless hours of amusement looking like death warmed up. For all I know he’s probably still recovering.
Now all that remains is to get the long-forgotten camera back from the strip club…

Cafe de Paris… AGAIN

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In what’s becoming a weekly thing at the moment, I visited Caf? de Paris in Leicester Square with Nick last Friday. It was my friend Tony’s 25th birthday, and he’d booked the place for his frankly debauched party. We popped up at 8pm for a few drinks in Leicester Square, and mindful of the impending Rugby World Cup final the following morning, we attempted to moderate our drinks.
We failed. After 4 rounds in under 30 mins, we met Tony outside Caf? at 10pm, and entered the wonderful place.
For those whose lives haven’t been blessed with a visit to Caf? de Paris, save up and go. It’s a VERY cool place, which is a restaurant/meeting place during the day, and a nightclub at night. But the word “nightclub” conjures up sweaty teenagers bouncing away, drunken fools leering and throwing up in corners, and loud, loud music – not a bad thing for a standard night, you may think, but a trip to Cafe de Paris is not a standard night. Caf? has none of these nightclubish things, and is aiding my transition from Drunken Fool to Mature Man About Town considerably.
So anyway, back to the fun. We entered the nightclub, sat down on the “left mezzanine” (I don’t get that down my local club…) in the leather sofas, overlooking the dancefloor below. After Tony glad-handed seemingly the entire staff, we were swiftly furnished with 1 bottle of vodka, 6 red bulls, several jugs of coca-cola, cranberry juice and orange juice, an ice bucket and 6 glasses. We tucked in. And when the vodka had finished, another appeared. My wallet was similarly untouched for the rest of the night. Nick was wide-eyed in astonishment…
At this point, I’d like to thank Tony for a night of fun and frolics. He’s plainly a consummate party host, and everything was perfect. Thanks Tony!
Soon, a brief boogie on the dancefloor beckoned, and then back for more free drinks. Several old school friends were there, and we swopped stories endlessly until the early hours. It was, as you can imagine, a very good night, and Nick and I finally left at around 2.30am, worried that any more punishment would render ourselves unable to fully support England on their inevitable victory. We were astonished to find an open Burger King, and rushed in to find a Big Mac. After being approached by a man claiming to have been stabbed in the groin, we decided enough was enough. We spied a large black man standing next to an enormous Mercedes, and ordered a ride to Woking. “?50, very reasonable price, no better anywhere” he repeated over and over again, and, agreeing, we boarded the vast car.
We arrived at Woking at around 3.30am, walking the last half a mile after an argument with the disgruntled, tax- and authority-avoiding driver, and then slept. And slept.
But only for 4 hours; rugby beckoned.

Visiting London

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Well, on Friday Michelle and I have returned from a thoroughly enjoyable 2-day London trip, visiting Harrods, TGI Fridays, Leicester Square and Kensington, and staying in a rather corking hotel. And a visit to a Thai restaurant. It was, frankly, wonderful. And all paid for by Michelle. THANK YOU MICHELLE! However, here are a few tips for visiting the huge place:

Travelling around London – The prospect of your travelling day running smoother than a pair of Ulrika’s tights is about as likely as Barry White at a singles party. Out of the 5 trips I made in two days, every one was interrupted by signal and train failures. Even visiting Americans, normally totally in love with the place, muttered expletives and vowed never to visit again. Truly stunning.

The Tube – You think the overcrowded, illegally hot, mucky, rat-infested and maze-like underground tube system is bad now? Try next February, when the Traffic Congestion Charge rolls into town. All those hundreds of thousands of lovely, car-loving commuters will be spooned lovingly down the stairs and onto the Tube. It’s like a game of sardines, only you’ll want to cry.

Blowing your nose – Never do it after you’ve been on the fume-filled tube. The sheer blackness of it all will instantly label you a concerted smoker, even if you’ve never been near the blasted cancer-sticks in your life.

Visit Harrods – It may be illegally owned by an Egyptian grocer, but it’s seriously top draw. The gold and marble-covered escalators really are the pooch’s privates. And if nothing else, you should visit purely because it’s the only shop I know where spending a penny costs a pound.

London residents sense of distance – I suppose, if you lived in London, you’d have the necessary cash to hail taxis, and the necessary time to use public transport. But for visiting bods like Michelle and myself, walking was the only option, and asking how far some landmark was is like asking John Leslie for a quick snog. SIMPLY WRONG. “Just about a mile up that way, sir” smiled a friendly doorman. 2 1/2 miles later, we arrived, legs like stumps and gasping for air.