WITH NEL AND I -- Part 4 …More detachable Lizard tales.


Coming back from the Bicycle Tour was strange. After the City University Gig headlined by Jenny Éclair – still a new circuit comedian then-- on Sunday 29th of October I came home. I cycled to Liverpool Street. It was Sunday. Naturally there was engineering work. At that time in the morning I could only get as far as Witham. I think Nel may have waited for a later train but I needed to get back to Wivenhoe.

I decided that even with full pack I could cycle the last 20 miles from Witham to Wivenhoe. It was a fine day with a good south-westerly wind. The train got me in to Witham at 12.30 ish. I made last orders at the Rose and Crown in Wivenhoe for 1.50. Almost 22 miles, with a good tailwind – even with a full pack –took me an hour and twenty. Amazing what the thought of a pint of lager will do.


So all that excitement…What did I do next? I looked at my Musician's Union diary for that year. I took Monday off. I was probably knackered.

I may have had a hangover. I had to get used to living in a house again, after living out of my bike panniers for four weeks. I guess I unpacked, tidied up a lot of loose ends, checked the mail and… I realised I needed money. The Bike Tour hadn't lost any money but it hadn't made any either. There'd been phone calls from gardening customers. It was nearly Halloween and the winter was coming on. So on Tuesday 31st October 1989, after all those adventures on the road, the gigs, the busking, the radio and newspaper interviews the TV appearances, I got up and went out gardening, And that's pretty much all I did for the whole of November.

Looking at the first week of my jobs – nearly all of them wintering down jobs – stirred some memories. Hedges, general clearing, lawns, one re-seeding job following the dry summer. And a few bonfires. And most poignant of all, their names: Dr Dean, Cathy and Bernard, Professor Chris Winsten, Chris Gibbins – the genial oil engineer. All of them now dead. All of them lovely kindly people, whose gardens I was so familiar with. It was sad to have finished the adventure but it was great to be back at home in late autumn, out in the clean crisp air. I made £75.25 the first week. £87.75 the second. Doesn’t sound a lot, even for then, but as my mum used to say, "You've always been able to live on a shoestring." My social credit was good, because I brewed good beer and was always having people round to drink it. Round about weekend of 18th November, I do an interview with a pirate radio station and another with GLR in London.

Round about here, Nel and I played the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden. Robyn Hitchcock and Captain Sensible were there. I seem to remember we did okay. But it was, you know, London…a cool 'so what' audience making us work for it. But we were battle-hardened. We did it? Our reward? Nel and I were in the dressing room when one of the Irish security guys (it was an Irish-run venue) burst in and said, " You've godda gedoudda here now, there's a big fight downstairs." He was really hassling us. We threw all our kit haphazardly in our panniers, got our instruments, waterproofs etc in their cases. All this time he was urging us to hurry up. Finally he bundled us out into a dark and narrow side-alley, then shoved the door shut behind us.

We were a bit put-out but started repacking the panniers, putting them on the bikes, cinching up straps etc. After all, we had to cycle back to Notting Hill where were staying that night We were just getting ready to go when the door we'd so unceremoniously push out of, only minutes earlier burst open. Out spilled about half a dozen fighting drunks, with the bouncer punching an kicking them as they pushed them out of the door, locking it again. Great! So now Nel and I were in the path of an ongoing punch-up in a narrow London alley. Luckily, they didn't even seem to see us. It was only a narrow alley but it was as if we were invisible to them. We just carried on cinching up, checking lights etc and the whole maelstrom thundered past us and out into Harlesden High St.

We just looked at each other and kind of went, "Well that was lucky" I couldn't believe we'd got away with it. One last thing before we did the 20 minute cycle back to base camp in Notting Hill Gate – I needed some tobacco. We went round the front door of the venue. It was still open. By chance I saw Robyn in the foyer. I said "Robyn? If I give you the money, can you go over to that cig machine and get us some fags?" He looked at the two of us in some surprise. "Yeah of course." I knew he wondered what we were doing outside the venue all packed up and ready to ride, but I said, " We have to get back." Robyn got me the cigs. We said ta-raa and got on the bikes in the London drizzle.

I'd received news that my cousin, about a year older than I was had died. Suddenly. In his sleep. It was a shock. Next morning I'd have to get on a bike and cycle to Marylebone, thence to Aylesbury and the cycle the six miles to the village of Waddesdon where the funeral was. In the drizzle again. The entry for Wednesday just says in small biro letters 'funeral' I must would have got home to Essex that evening.

The next day, a Thursday says, "Dr Dean." It says it brightly, like the sun coming out. I probably needed that. I would have spent the day on a plank-trestle between two big wooden stepladders, cutting a high laurel hedge. The clocks having gone back by then I would have stopped work when it got too dark to see the line of the hedge. You know, I don't think Nel and I ever got paid for that Mean Fiddler gig. It would have come under the heading of a 'London Showcase' or some old flannel like that. Big Important Rock'n'Roll London, hey? Never go there myself. Always done better without it. Here endeth Part the Fourth of "With Nel and I."

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