Blurred Time Continues
The War Pipes
A Trip with Ralph
In a Birmingham Diner
1978. Wats is riding shotgun in the Poisson Volent, and we're in Calais, waiting for "them" to load a whole train onto this ferry, so we can cross the Channel and get to our next gig, in Oxford. Supposed to play about 7:30 PM. We've been waiting a long time already, past departure time. They break the train down into four car sections and it rolls into this lower hold of the ship, leaning the ferry way over on one side, then the other. It's an interesting process. Might as well be interested in it as not.
"So this guy has gone to sleep--passed out really--on the creek bank at Iveydale, at the Iveydale Festival, in '72 I think it was." Watson is telling Patrick, who is riding with us on this leg, Patrick Couton, from Nantes, who seems to always be around when we get into some hassle with the flics or whatever. This trip, the '78 European Tour, we've booked through this agent in London, who has turned out to be a good looking brunette with an annoyed boyfriend who has a broken leg and doesn't much like that this band of Americans are staying in her flat when they're in town. Not that we're there much, because we have seven Channel crossings to do in a couple of weeks. The gigs fall more or less two in France, one in Scotland, one in England, two more in France, one in England, one in Belgium, one in the Netherlands, one in England. Like that.
"Well, these buddies of his decide to have some fun." The last of the train sections disappears into the hold. "They go over to the Port-o-Let and get a load of its contents." Watson grins at Patrick's expression. "What the hell, Patrick, it's just manure, that's all." The ferry is about 2 hours late now, departing. The line of cars still isn't moving. "You guys have bidets!”
"Anyway, these guys ease the guy's pants down and fill 'em up, then button him all back up and go over a ways, kick back with a Bud and wait."
"Look," Patrick says, "at last we are moving."
The ferry finally gets underway. We wander around, look at the Channel, at the various passengers. The train is a level below. We can't go down there. There is a little bar and we go in there and have a Stella Artois. Patrick pulls out his Galoises, the fat blue pack like a badge of nationality. I'm smoking Marlboros, which are in the correct-looking pack but taste funny. Philip Morris has apparently farmed out the business to save the overhead of shipping. Or maybe these were made about 1968. Watson strolls up.
"There you are. Anyway, the guy sleeps a long time, the jokesters are running out of beer when he wakes up, finally. They're holding their breath.
"The guy sits up, looks around. He realizes something is wrong, very wrong. 'Oh hell,' he says. 'Oh HELL!'" Watson is grinning. Patrick is looking at him, smoking the Galois, brushing his hair out of his eyes.
"And what happened then, Jim?" Patrick asks. Patrick is a very good straight man.
"Guy goes down to the creek, away from view. Behind a big bush. He strips down, starts washing up in the creek. The jokesters can hear him cussing under his breath. 'Damn, damn, damn. . .' Then it gets silent."
Jim stops here, grinning. He has to fight the smile. Patrick is finally paying attention, the cigarette burning low in his fingers. All of us but Patrick know what's coming. We're all grinning too. The ferry blows a big toot on the whistle. We're coming into Dover at last, only four hours late!
"Sweet corn!" Jim shouts it out, acting out the rube in the creek, bare ass shining, overalls around his ankles: "'Sweet corn? I didn't eat no sweet corn!'"
The whistle has been premature. We can't dock because the tide has gone out. We sit in a lock, waiting for it to fill, the docking platform over our heads, people standing around. Finally we are raised high enough, and the train is pulled out, four cars at a time. Finally we drive off the boat and up to British Customs. Our passports are stamped. We head towards London. Oxford lies beyond. If it was North Carolina, we could still just make the gig. Maybe a little late, but it's makable.
Looking at a map, we decide that the only way around London is to the south. There's no sign of a real freeway, or a straight shot through the city, and it seems that if we try to go through we'll just get endlessly bogged down in traffic.
Our route definitely works. There are roads around the south side of London. They are endless. There are endless villages, endless intersections. We plod and plod. Night, even in the northern latitudes, eventually begins to fall. It's 8:30, then 9. There is clearly a good hour of driving to go, at best.
"Do you know why birds fly upside down over Belgium?" Patrick asks. In France, Belgian jokes are in 1978 like Polish jokes were for a while in the States. There seem to be jokes like these in all countries. In Switzerland these jokes are microscopic and refer to the inhabitants of Frieborg. Frieborgian Jokes. Patrick smiles at the joke before making it. We scream through an Experimental Roundabout. "They do not want to shit on such a beautiful country," he says, chuckling.
We do, finally, arrive in Oxford. Amazingly, there is an audience. We rush in, apologizing. The man who is to introduce us seems a bit unhappy. We get out our instruments, start into a tune. After maybe a second, the impresario stops us. He looks happy now.
"That's it," he says, grinning. "We have to close the hall. Sorry. Contract."
|Red Clay Ramblers Souvenirs|