Mad Times, Mad Bastards


A phone rings in the distance…

I was dancing.  In my dreams.

I was twirling around and around, clapping my hands, closing my eyes and feeling the music breathe against my shoulders on a summer evening.  When I opened my eyes there was a beautiful, familiar face.  The face belonged to someone who I hadn't seen in ages, for too long, someone who had known me for 17 years.  She was dancing beside me, smiling.

In my dreams…


Suddenly my daughter was shouting at me, "Mummy, it's the PHONE, it's BIG EMILY!"

I could hear the shower running, the sound of a man's voice, and suddenly the rabble that had interrupted my dreams was there in the room with me, luring me from my dream-dancing and bringing me into reality – into Tuesday morning.

I opened my eyes to see my daughter, my 3 year old receptionist, holding the phone to me, rolling her eyes.  She was wearing her pajamas, chewing on a piece of apple, chattering away to no-one in particular, continuing her life commentary that begins at around 6 am every morning and concludes during a half-finished mumbled sentence at around 8.30 pm.

Big Emily is my daughter's 10 year old cousin, my sister's daughter, and also happens to be the love of her life.  We named her Big Emily, purely to differentiate between her and another Emily that my daughter loves.  You've guessed it: Little Emily – a friend's daughter who is only 2 years old.  It makes perfect sense to my daughter, in that to her, people only come in four categories; little, big, nice and nasty.  Sometimes she will allow hybrids, and occasionally she introduces a sub-category.

I fumbled with the receiver.  "Hello?"  It wasn't Big Emily.

There are moments in life, when you receive a phone call very early in the morning or very late at night, when you really should be sleeping, when you hoped to be sleeping, when you wished you were doing anything at all, except taking that call.

You know it's bad news even before you pick up the receiver.  And when the voice on the other end is a little higher-pitched, a little more rehearsed, a little more choked than normal, and that voice belongs to a friend that you only kissed, hugged and said goodbye to yesterday, from the train station, it is simply a case of how bad that news is going to be…


It was some months ago that my friend Susi and I excitedly made arrangements for another trip to see Peter Gabriel in concert, this time in my home country of Switzerland.  Susi describes these trips as our "Pilgrimages".  It's a perfect description.

Until our Pilgrimages, we used to dance around Susi's living room after closing time and after several pints of Kronenburg (with a gin and tonic dropped into the pint glass – Susi's invention and one that she is still renowned for).  We sang until we croaked, danced until we couldn't negotiate her parquet flooring any longer and listened until we blew up the speakers one night.  We used to lament that Peter Gabriel no longer toured, no longer recorded anything other than film soundtracks, he was essentially, to us, no longer.  It always felt that we had missed a life-changing experience by never seeing him perform live.  So on a Friday night, after the pub, in honour of someone we very much believed to be God, we created our own little church in honour of the great man.

Then one day, suddenly, without warning, God decided he would tour again…

Hamburg, April 2003 and Glasgow, June 2004: these were my two pilgrimages until the third one this last weekend.  Susi has managed more, which is fitting considering that she is the Ultimate Peter Gabriel Diehard Fan.  Last weekend was her FIFTH time, and I am pleased to hear, perhaps her best.  It was certainly mine and I feel honoured to have shared it with her.  The location helped.  Avenches is a famous historical site in Switzerland; a Roman amphitheatre situated north-east of Lake Geneva, close to Fribourg and Bern.

We took the train, changed THREE times and finally arrived at a station, apparently in the middle of nowhere.  After some garbled exchanges with locals outside the station, we were directed along a residential street, up a steep hill, and finally several flights of steps.  When we got to the top, it was somehow as if, after some fumbled searching and frantic loosening of garments, we had suddenly located the pulse of our evening.  Upon reaching the crest of the hill, we found ourselves in an old, beautifully ornate village that had seemingly been invaded by aliens.  Large metal structures, lights, portaloos, beer tents, food stalls, cigarette smoke, merchandise, lots of people running backwards and forwards with trolleys full of beer crates, bottled water and Coca-cola.

And then, as we walked on, we could begin to glimpse the edges of something, a space where the ground literally fell away before us, stretching out like a massive meteor crater, a gigantic hole in the ground filled with people.  Hundreds and hundreds of expectant faces, lined up in rows, shifting their gaze every so often towards a huge stage, set up with lights, giant screens and a full orchestra.

Our night had begun…


Life is just a collection of moments…

Holding Susi's hand in a stadium in Hamburg as we watched Peter Gabriel walk onto the stage for the first time, never believing until that moment that it would even be possible.

Hugging and screaming in a Roman Amphitheatre, seven years later, as we watched him walk onto the stage once again.

Moments inbetween…divorces, family break-ups, depression, childbirth, new relationships, death…

A collection of moments that has seen our friendship remain constant…


"When I allow it to be

There's no control over me

I have my fears

But they do not have me"


Seeing Susi this last weekend has made me realise something.  It has been like a sharp pain in my heart.  I miss my friends.  I miss the real people who know me, the people I do not have to apologise to when I am not feeling myself, the people I feel I have to explain nothing to, the people who trust in me and the people who can accept me when I just want to hang around by myself for a bit.

I miss Woodbridge, the place where it all started.  I miss the River Deben, I miss walking past my old family home, I miss the mad Sunday sessions in the pub, when it was touch and go whether I might make it home without some form of assistance.

Two days ago, my real friends and I, the Woodbridge Massive (of which you could say I am now a "long-distance member"), lost one of our "number"; Gordon.

Who was Gordon?  Gordon was an utterly mad bastard.

More than that, Gordon will always be to me, the essence of what I miss about Woodbridge, what I miss about my hometown and my friends.  A familiar face, a slobbery, beer-enhanced kiss, an "Alright My Darling?", a bear hug, amiable but UTTERLY merciless piss-taking… laughing until it HURTS.

Gordon was over 60, going on 25; a foodie, a wine-buff, a dancer (particularly a lover of the "traffic-cones move"), a piss-head, a teacher, a friend.  One moment that could perhaps epitomise him, is a memory I have of an utterly ridiculous train journey from Manningtree to Woodbridge that involved him swapping clothes with a friend and travelling back to Woodbridge, completely shitfaced, swearing like a trooper, in style, and in chiffon.

Gordon was a provider of many of life's amazing moments, perhaps the most precious of all being when you are laughing SO hard and you just realise that the friends you have around you are worth their weight in gold.

Lately, I have been spending so much time on things, problems… PEOPLE, that essentially aren't real, or at least, I can't touch them.  My "head-noise" has been at an all-time high.  And now, since Gordon left us, I have been spending time regrouping, refocussing and regaining perspective.  There's nothing like a death of someone you love to make you do that.

We're so busy focusing about the stuff that doesn't matter; we waste energy concerning ourselves with people who have no concerns for us, the money that will come and go, the problem that will go away if only we would just let it….if we could just trust in the natural rhythm of life.

We concentrate so much on the shit stuff, that we don't hear the first couple of rings of the phone…the phone call that reminds us that these moments come to an end.

Gordon, we'll miss you…


Lyrics from "The Darkness" by Peter Gabriel (Album – "Up" released 2002)



2 thoughts on “Mad Times, Mad Bastards

  1. Lovely as ever, Janey. Proud to have been part of it all.

    Love & Hugs

    PS It was silk, not chiffon…and the bugger of it all was that he looked better in those trousers than I did!

  2. Janey your fab, right back at you we miss you too. Losing Gordon should remind us all how much we mean to each other, and hold onto those feelings coz its garanteed to make us smile instantly . xx

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