I’ve just spent a wonderful few days in London with my old friend Brian (the balletmaster; you may have heard me mention him). Weather notwithstanding, it was a lovely and eventful weekend. Brian organised all the food and drink, as well as all the outings (as a good host should) so that, for the entire weekend, I had nothing at all to worry about. Seriously; nothing at all.
I could get used to this ‘enforced idleness’!
The weekend was built around a Royal Ballet performance of La Bayadere at the Royal Opera House. Thanks to one of Brian’s patrons, we were in the front stalls, row E, in seats worth over £70 each. Seventy pounds. Each.
It was a lovely ballet, beautifully performed (as you would expect) - all tutus and tights and the ludicrous posturing that makes classical ballet so utterly irresistible. It liberates you from the humdrum worries and concerns of everyday life in a way that no other art form can even approach. But it does what it does at a price well beyond the reach of those who need its mind-freeing effects most.
It was an ‘interesting’ weekend in all sorts of ways. For example...the journey to Covent Garden on the Underground was a bit of a nightmare. Because there are always engineering and improvement works on the system at weekends, many lines and stations are closed. This means that many thousands of weekend travellers have to use alternative routes - which therefore get much, much busier than normal.
Our train was very crowded indeed; and this had two unexpected and very welcome effects. Firstly - and on a journey of about 35 minutes - no fewer than five people gave up their seats, either to disabled or older people, or to women. Perhaps this should not have surprised me. After all, I lived in London for 15 years and know perfectly well that Londoners are as friendly and considerate as people are anywhere else; often, much more so.
But (let’s face it, folks) it’s extremely uncommon now for people to give up their seats on public transport anywhere in England, let alone in our supposedly inconsiderate and selfish capital city. I honestly cannot remember the last time I witnessed it in our famously friendly north-east.
The other effect of that crowded journey on the tube was even more startling.
I suffer from mild claustrophobia on crowded tube trains, so Brian and I decided to get off the train one stop too early - at Leicester Square. We found a coffee bar (which was, to be honest, almost as crowded) and were slurping our cappuccinos when...
But we need to back-pedal to last October and my trip to Seville. One of the reasons I wanted to visit the city was to renew my acquaintance with a lovely Spanish bloke I met when I lived in Sheffield 25 years ago. And when I say lovely, I mean he was a total stunner. Curly black hair, dark shining wicked eyes, a killer smile...I was besotted.
However, if you have tears to shed, prepare to shed them now.
His name was - wait for it - Manuel; but our love was doomed. He was an exchange student and within six weeks, he had to return to Spain to become a lecturer at the University of Seville, his home town. On the night before he left, he wrote down his address and telephone number and invited me to visit him as soon as I could.
I kept that scrap of paper in my wallet for 25 years. I’m looking at it now.
So - determined to honour a promise made many years ago and also out of a sense of unalloyed curiosity - I made my journey to Seville.
The rest is history - or so I thought. I discovered that Manuel was now a Professor at the University and emailed him. I was astonished when he enthusiastically agreed to meet me.
We met at the foot of La Giralda (see the picture at the head of Blog 101) and our minds instantly became uninhibited, joyful and liberated dust to be blown from the present to the past, where they do things differently.
That was last October.
Fast-forward now to last Saturday. Brian and I are in the coffee-bar at Leicester Square. And a familiar figure is pushing through the crowds towards us. A familiar, seductive smile.
I have absolutely no idea what the odds against this happening actually are. Both of us away from home meeting - by pure coincidence - on a cold, wet Saturday night in the same coffee-bar in a city of 6 million souls. Just think of the long series of events that lead up to it. I think it must be the strongest and strangest coincidence of my life. So far.
Even stranger, to a certain extent, is the fact that neither of us would have recognised the other if we had not already met in Seville a few months earlier. After all, 25 years changes people quite a lot, you know.
THE NEXT COUNCIL MEETING
I’m not sure how these Council Meetings are going to progress but...just in case anyone fancies a coffee and iced finger later this month, I’ve decided that the next meeting will be on THURSDAY 26 FEBRUARY. I will be in the Coffee Lounge upstairs at the Tyneside Cinema in Pilgrim Street, Newcastle after about 1800. Even if no-one turns up, I'll stay there until 2000. I like it there!
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