Timing Is Everything

Just back from a fantastic weekend in Birmingham. I know, for some readers that phrase alone, sounds like something completely crazy. Sure Birmingham does have a few negative aspects (a few which I will touch on in this post) but the City is much improved and this was my first visit since late August 2007. A great deal changes in three years. Before I get to the Birmingham segment of my Rock & Roll Weekend, let me start with my Friday working day and then my antics after the close of “play”. Friday is a critical day for me at work and I made a major effort to get into the office for 7:15am, to ensure I could kick off all the processes required for an extremely important report. I wanted to leave at 4pm (although the reality was, I could only leave once the report was ready and released!). Around 4:11pm, I finally was shutting down my laptop and could look forward to the weekend. The pressure had been intense but I had not let it phase me. Instead, I had just focused on the task (or rather multiple tasks) at hand, one at a time. I have to be honest though, it was the thought of the weekend that was keeping me sane! It was going to be great. A complete contrast to my feelings at 07:26am when I quickly updated my Facebook status before cracking on with work. On the drive home, I blasted the stereo. I could relax, unwind and focus on all the things I had planned for the next few days. You know me though, this was not going to be just your average weekend. I had places to go, people to see and things to do. I got home around 5:30pm and quickly got changed, showered and my Mum gave me a lift to the train station. (There was no freak traffic event in Wycombe, like on Friday 11th June when I ended up jumping out of my Mum’s 308 and rushing into town on foot.) I bought my ticket and headed to the platform, I was perfectly on schedule, I had planned to catch the 18:25 (only two stops before the final destination of London Marylebone). I plugged myself into my Zen and zoned out, I was on my way! I text Niko to let him know I was still coming. It was supposed to be very different, I would normally have been working from home and headed into town on the bus around 5pm or 5:30pm at the very latest. Never mind, those were minor details. I was on my train, I had my music and I was on my way into London. I text Niko to let him know I was on the way and should make it to the pub in time for around 7:30pm. He response was just two words: “Good lad”. At Marylebone, I had to queue at the cashpoint before finally heading onto the tube. I had considered walking around to Baker Street, but then realised I had planned my Oyster Top-Up for the Marylebone Underground station, so that was not going to work. I made my way down the stairs (the escalator is being repaired or refurbished). I took the Bakerloo Line to Baker Street (one stop, I know extremely lazy) and then the caught the first Circle Line train to Liverpool Street. It was here I had originally planned to catch a District Line to Mile End and then the new(ish) London Overground to Haggerston and then walk over to Engelfied Road. This plan was broken, when then train driver explained the District Line was part suspended all the way to Barking. I had to take another option. Coming out of Liverpool Street, into a busy, but pleasantly sunny Friday evening in London. The pubs around the station were spilling out into the streets and after I got some bearings I decided what mode of transport to take now. I called Niko to get the bus number that would take me to the pub. He had sent it across as a message on Facebook to all those attending the affect but I had forgotten the number. It was 145 and I rushed around the bus station (which is adjacent to the train station itself but could not find any sign with that number or heading in the direction I wanted to go. I asked a few people but they were as helpful as a tin of sardines, so I made the executive decision to get a taxi. Although I made a circuit of one of the office blocks, searching for a taxi but they were all already taken. Eventually I find a guy with a free cab and showed him my Google Map print out and he told me it would be between £12 – £15 depending on traffic. The fare came to £8.80, as we had a clear run, unheard of on a Friday night but he still needed to consult my map to ensure he got to the right place. I thought all black cabs had to have an extensive knowledge of not just the main streets but these little hidden gems as well. I arrived and headed up stairs. It must have been coming up to 8pm as I said hello to Niko, gave him my card and started to be introduced to his friends. Then it was time for a well earned drink or two!

Rupa, Dani & Niko

Whenever I go out with Niko, he tends to show me parts of London that are off the beaten track. Although when I started speaking to his friends, they thought I deserved a medal, going from being in my office in Swindon around 4pm, and then being in North London (technically N1) before 8pm. Most of them were locals and the most tedious journey had been two stops on the East London Line. I had been completely out the picture in terms of the World Cup Quarter Finals, not listening to the radio on my drive from work, or putting on the FM frequency on my Zen. I had asked my taxi driver, but he could only tell me that Holland had beaten Brazil which was a surprise. At The Talbot, the projector had been showing the Uruguay – Ghana match as I had walked it, the first half had been goalless up to that point. After some delicious food (it was a help yourself buffet, rather than the sit down and order individual meals as I had expected and it worked a treat). The projector was switched back on and they showed the penalties, although as I was outside on the terrace, I could not see the screen and let Niko’s friends relay the successful or failure of the penalty taker to me. It was a little while later I decided to call my old work colleague and football nut (he is now player manager of Henley YMCA) to get a full update on the football. He did not pick up his iPhone, but at 23:53 he text me to apologise and ask, “What’s up?”. I immediately called him. At this point in the evening, we had already been told to go downstairs, lack of space, meant we went outside but we then told due to residents, we would have to go inside and use the rear garden area. It was here that I started to actually take some more photos and noted that Katherine (Niko’s gorgeous girlfriend) had changed into more comfortable flip flops from her rather impressive high heeled stilettos. Girls, will be girls, so they had to get me take a few photographs to explain that this was very much a case of practicality over fashion.

Lan examines that high heel!Lan, Katherine & One Designer Shoe

As we were about to be thrown out of the pub, Niko invited me back around to his flat a minute’s walk around the corner for the after party! It was at this moment I decided to call Chris back and get a full update on the football. Some analysis, not just the name of the goalscorers but details of talking points in the games. This conversation was perhaps the only thing that was going to keep me going until sometime on Saturday afternoon. (The next opportunity I would have to sit down and catch highlights either on TV or PC.). It was great to hear from him again and I was glad he was better after a spout of bad health (although his friends do say his is stuck together with sticky tape). At the after party, Niko’s brother Toby and his girlfriend Rupa, gave them their present. A photo of Pete Doherty kissing some other band member. I am sorry, I have to confess my lack of musical knowledge in this area, but am sure someone will point out who the guitar player is. (Just leave a comment!)

Present UnwrappingPete Doherty

Niko’s parents, whom live in Chorleywood, up the road from High Wycombe, so offered me a ride home. Otherwise, my Friday night would have ended quite prematurely at 11pm (my last train home was at midnight ten, but I needed to get to Marylebone from deep North London, perhaps another taxi ride). I had a really great time and it was great to meet Niko’s family and friends. He has always been good fun, particularly when we worked together. There are plenty of stories I could upload to this blog but I will leave them for another time. We left around 1:30am and drove through London (which as you can expect at that time on a Friday night at the height of summer, was extremely busy. I fell asleep, it had been a long tiring day and I knew that tomorrow was another adventure (I was already almost two hours into the day). Niko’s Mum woke me up, asking for directions as we got to Handy Cross and I directed them to the bus stop closest to my house, thanked them gratefully for the lift and then headed home. It was around 2:15am and my weekend had just began. I woke up around 8:30am on Saturday morning, I was buzzing. It was a mixture of a great Friday night and the promise of a weekend in Birmingham, meeting old friends and perhaps even catching a few moments of the World Cup action. My friend had originally planned to pick me up around 10:30am, and I was all set for this,b ut they were delayed, so were going to pick me up around 11am instead. While I watched, I put the Chris Brown MJ Tribute from the BET Awards (which had been screened Stateside the previous weekend). It was an amazing tribute and surprisingly different. I have had the privilege to see Chris perform Thriller at the World Music Awards back in November 2006. You can see how much he has improved as a performer and entertainer. Sure, I agree that he has done some bad things, but seeing him be so emotional when attempting to sing Man In The Mirror, I can only hope he is trying to make that change. I had two albums for our drive up to the Midlands, I had got out from the garage (while getting my Cystal XBox) Teg’s a-ha H&D (Headline & Deadlines) Collection. This was one of the first albums that Pav had burnt for me, a personalised greatest hits of the Norwegian trio and included all the case artwork. My other album was a mixture of new songs I had recently heard on the radio and had been playing pretty much non-stop in my car. The drive up the M40 was uneventful, we stopped at Warwick services to get some water and I bought the T3 magazine. It was at this time, we decided that I should take over the driving, although maybe I made the decision more myself. The weather was amazing and apart from the humming from the roof rack (which was costing us an increase of two percent in fuel) I was enjoying the journey.  We put on Drake – Find Your Love and Nicki Minaj – Your Love (which takes a sample of Annie Lennox’s No More I Love You’s). We got to Birmingham just before 1pm, and after dropping of my friend I headed to find Sippy’s yard! I had my sister’s TomTom with me and knew from earlier Google Map searches that I would only have to travel a few miles. As I entered the area, I came to the realisation that this was very much an Asian heartland, with the takeaways, corner shops and ethnic stores. It reminded a little of Green Street. No, not that Green Street in East London (which I have never been to) but Green Street in High Wycombe, which is the defacto Asian area in my home town. There were cars parked either side of the road and it was very difficult to get down the roads, so being the courteous driver I am, I let other drivers pass by first before attempting to head down. In only one instance did I get a wave of a hand or the nod of the head (the international driver’s code for thank you). As I headed down St. Paul’s Road, I called Sippy. He walked out of his house and met me outside the park. There was a massive community event taking place and the whole area was heaving. I had parked the car up at the end of the the road and followed Sippy to his gate and then he stayed there to ensure I could get in when bringing the car back down the road. Once I parked outside Sippy’s house, I took a long sigh of relief. Then I realised, that perhaps in a few hours I would have to go through the whole thing again! When was the last time I saw Sippy? Well we tried to remember but it was sometime in late May 2004. In those interviewing six years, Sippy had got married and had a baby girl. It was great to see him again and we shared a Pepsi, (for the record Sippy had a Diet Pepsi) and I handed over the Crystal XBox, to a very happy new owner. Then it was down to the business at hand, transferring some avi files. I got Sippy to transfer over the MTV Movie Awards so he too could see Les Grossman save the awards ceremony. After it was time for some serious work, so we had both the MacBook Pro and iMac burning some DVDs. It was a geek paradise, as you will be able to tell from the photos over on FlickR. It will only be a small percentage of readers and I’m afraid to say the majority of them will be male that will be interested in the contents of Sippy’s network cupboard. It was great to catch up with my old Uni friend. It had been too long, but then we do tend to get very busy in our own lives and forget some of our friends that in reality are not actually that far away (eighty odd miles). It was just a shame his wife and daughter Zahra were not around, as I was really looking forward to meeting them. However, you can imagne how stupid people must consider this blog post. The hottest day of the year, but instead of being outside enjoying the sunshine, I am inside getting copies of movies. Our time was soon up, I had only been granted a window of a few hours as Sippy had important places to be. I was thankfully for any time, particularly after a gap of over six years. Before I went, I had to work out how to take a self timer photo. The first two attempts I didn’t press hard enough on the shutter release (yes I know I’m sure you have heard it all before!) but third time lucky, I got the shot!

Teg & Sippy

It was coming to quarter to 3pm, as I left Sippy and headed onto the busy streets of Birmingham. I was taken a slightly different route by TomTom, so ended up driving through ford. (Yes the irony, a battered old Ford Focus, driving through a ford). There was a young girl, perhaps about four on the bridge with her Dad and she waved as I drove through the river, so I slowed the car down and waved at her as I then made my way up the bank back onto the main road. I got my bearings instantly and parked up before knocking on the door of my friend’s house. To my surprise, they were watching the football and as I walked into the lounge, Germany scored! However, it was when I sat down on the sofa, I realised that even though there was a Sky+HD set-top box on, the channel was BBC1 SD, so I got them to change the channel to BBC HD and began to watch my first World Cup match in high definition. (Okay, there was one HD screen at Yates for England Germany the previous weekend, but I had been watching the big projector, so that does not count!) After some delicious food, prepared by our hostess, I was able to settle down to the football. The man of the house had arrived and the ladies made themselves scarce (into the garden). Match 59 of this World Cup was turning out to be a classic. Germany turning over Argentina as if they were not there. Could it be an all European affair for the final? We left pretty much at the final whistle and drove into the City Centre, first to New Street to drop off some friends at the stage (whom just made their train by the skin of their teeth, obviously they had not read my recent train related blog post.) We then drove around to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express which was on a one way system, but eventually we navigated to the car park. After checking in, we decided to go into town for a bit before grabbing some food. As we entered by Tesco Metro to grab some desert and drinks, Spain scored against Paraguay. Luckily there were big screens showing the game live (only SD mind). I saw the replay and realised it was David Villa, top scorer now and odds on for the Golden Boot you would say. Today was rather a relaxing day actually, a relatively late ish start after breakfast, heading into the Bull Ring, getting some clothes shopping done. I was surprised at how busy the shopping centre was at 11am, just as it had opened. Primark too, had been very busy during the “browsing” time, from 10:30am, even though the tills would not be active for another half an hour. While in H&M trying on cheapish sunglasses, I heard a beautiful song. I took note of just one word from the song, which I believed was the title. Listening to the song when I got home, I realised that this song was special. You get these songs from time to time (or maybe I just look too deep into the songs I listen to and it is all in my head). It was a song I felt was written for me, for my particular circumstances. This is not the first time, I have noted this and written about it on my blog. (With the band Sister Hazel from an entry from early April 2003.) The song is by Charice featuring I.Y.A.Z. and the title is Pyramid. (Check it out on YouTube. Oh and yes, she will be appearing as a guest star in the next season of Glee. I better get a wiggle on and watch the season finale.) A light lunch at Bella Italia before cruising back down to Wycombe. I got home around 4pm. Rather than collapse on the sofa as I should have done (I could not have in any case, as both my sisters Julie and Natalie were lying on the sofas). I headed straight out to hoover my car and then give it a quick jet wash before, re-fuel and then get back home to relax. It had been a wonderful weekend and I was actually looking forward to the reality of work tomorrow morning. Four walls and love, packin’ more than enough Holding on to one another, be the cover when it’s rough Mother nature or disaster Won’t stop our happy ever after

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