I like to think of myself as a maverick, a lone-wolf – never one to follow the crowd, rejecting anything that becomes too popular. I have never wittingly followed fashion – though fashion is welcome to follow me, if it has the necessary vision and can keep up.
So events of the last couple of weeks have been rather disturbing, assailing my delicate self-image where it is at its most vulnerable. I keep finding myself doing things which appear wildly popular with others – have I suddenly joined the mainstream? Or has it joined me? Which is the more disturbing development? Will he ever stop asking us questions?
A couple of weeks back I took the train to Brighton from my home in Southampton (well, OK, not my home – but the nearby station). This train was beyond packed long before it reached its destination – boarding was impossible for the last six or seven stations and regular Northern Line passengers were growing concerned at the level of over-crowding. I had somewhat anticipated a degree of crowding given that it was a weekend in the summer, though one with a fairly poor weather forecast, and figured that the masses might be hurling themselves towards the sea – though to be fair, the sea was rarely more than a couple of miles away for the entire rail journey. As a result, I paid the modest supplement for a ticket in first class – but even I was surprised. Southern Railways clearly had no clue that the train might be busier than normal and so provided no additional carriages – I’m thinking I should be employed as a highly paid consultant to ATOC as I am far better at gauging the volume of travellers than any rail company.
When I arrived in Brighton, every incoming train seemed similarly heaving – though my new train heading off towards Eastbourne was pretty quiet. Only some days later did I discover why, apparently Gay Pride was taking place in Brighton – though my fellow sardines did not look particularly gay (then again, my lack of interest in gland games may make me rather poor – and supremely uninterested – in identifying people’s preferred sexual partner). I will admit that on my return, I did identify that a small group of lads sitting near me were probably gay – but only because one was wearing a t-shirt stating that he couldn’t even think straight. However, I feel if I was the primary rail operator serving Brighton I might have been aware of this event and laid on some extra rolling stock.
My train up to Edinburgh was also exceeding packed – so much so, that passengers were encouraged to disembark at Darlington and switch to a slightly later and much more empty train. I had selected the train as it offered the cheapest Advance First fare to Edinburgh – so I fear East Coast may have rather mis-judged its popularity.
The last couple of years, I have ceased pre-booking gigs to fill every minute of my time here in the weeks before my departure – as this was, frankly, making me look slightly insane. Instead, I rely on the edgy (or just plain unpopular) nature of my choices to allow me to book my gigs “on the day”. Newspaper articles saying that there were just too many events at this year’s Fringe and audiences were spread too thin, reinforced my belief that this was a safe approach. Really, I ought to be old and cynical enough to know better than to believe a newspaper headline!
All the “normal” (i.e. ticketed) Fringe events I have visited have been full – and several have just not been available as a result of selling out. Is the left-field the new centre? Or is my taste just less obscure than I like to think? However, it is the Free Fringe that has been the worst – with most events filled to way beyond capacity. I blame The Guardian (though other broadsheets must shoulder some of the blame)! It keeps either recommending or giving 5* reviews to people I want to see – before I’ve seen them – thus revealing their desirability to the unwashed masses. How is a chap to maintain his obscurantism under these circumstances? Have I been hacked by left-leaning journos?
Liam Williams was the worst example, where I had arrived at the venue 40 minutes before the off to enjoy a leisurely pint. The queue was already round two sides of the pub (jn the rain) when I arrived and grew much worse – the venue was packed (I suspect well beyond legality) and my tardy arrival meant I missed all the seats by some distance. Still, the gig was fun – and quite disturbing – and I do tend to spend too much time sitting down whilst in Edinburgh. I did, however, learn that my shoes were significantly less waterproof than I had hoped – so I did spend the rest of the day with wet feet.
My next gig was with Mark Cooper-Jones and was entitled Geography Teacher – and I (of course) have not one but two O-levels in geography. When I arrived at the aptly named venue – The Globe (I like to think that MC-J insisted on it) – it was virtually deserted. I bought myself a pint and by the time this transaction was complete (~ 90 seconds) a substantial queue had materialised from nowhere – and I only just obtained the last seat in the venue (and that was partly due to the kindness of strangers, I like to credit my grey hair and the sympathy for the poor, old codger it engenders – but I think the lad was just being polite). The crowd weren’t even proper geography fans – no-one even knew what an esker was! Still, MC-J did seem impressed (or perhaps slightly scared) by my knowledge of glacial features some 35 years after completing my second geography O-level. Should he happen to read this post, I think mworld could use an inselberg – somewhere central.
I think I may have to learn to live with my new role as trend-setter – perhaps I could monetise it? Perhaps we could also ban newspapers giving a review summary based on 0 to 5 stars – if people had to read the full text to identify whether a gig appeals, it might keep at least the lazier of the masses out of my way. Another policy to implement come my imminent, and glorious, rule!