Now- where do I start with this one- a plot synopsis perhaps?
Odstock Manor is, you've guessed it, a large manor house in the village of Odstock, a few miles South of Salisbury. We've been booked to play at the 21st birthday party of the son and heir (he had Madness playing at last year's bash- maybe the 'band budget' is a bit smaller this year?) His dad- Lord Odstock?- used to be the treasurer of the Conservative Party.
I wasn't looking forward to this at all.
Shirley and myself left early- since the weather forecast was good we'd decided to spend the day visiting Stonehenge (once a Tap fan, always a Tap fan) and stay down in the area after the show. The traffic built up as the signs for Stonehenge became more frequent, to such an extent that we turned off early and headed for Woodhenge which was turned out to be a good decision as they were doing an archaeological excavation (try saying that after a few drinks; for that matter, try typing it without a spellcheck facility on your computer) which was very interesting to say the least. We eventually made it to Stonehenge which was extraordinary- I'd been past it so many times but hadn't visited it before and it was well worth the effort, if only so that I could send hilarious picture messages to people with captions like '...and all the children danced...'. Little things for little minds, as they say.
After checking in at the local Travel Lodge we headed for Odstock. It's a typical countryside village with an almost total lack of street lights and some very odd looking inhabitants, most if not all of which probably tug their forelocks or doff their caps when the lord of the manor passes by. As we pulled up outside the manor house we spotted some of the band carrying some gear through a doorway in what turned out to be the garden wall- following them through we saw our venue for the evening, a large marquee. A man was kneeling on the path leading up to it fixing down a red carpet which he advised me (in a voice that made the Royal Family sound common) not to step on. For a split second I saw myself kicking him in the face, but thought better of it for some reason, probably because we would be unlikely to get paid if I had. I must be getting old. After a quick sound check (we could only do so much as John the drummer was arriving later; he was playing at the Proms in Hyde Park with T.Rextasy) we were shown our dressing room which was actually part of the birthday boy's, for want of a better word, 'quarters'. We had the downstairs part- a room about half the size of a football pitch with, among other things, table football, a snooker table and a fully equipped kitchen. We also had someone to look after us- Lainey (I guess she's really called Elaine?) who's presumably the lady who 'does' for the family. She bought us in mountains of food- while she was carrying some through the birthday boy arrived barking orders at her; she smiled 'they treat me like one of the family' before racing off to do whatever menial task he considered beneath him. Meanwhile Dave and Richard put 'The Proms' on the T.V.- the screen is roughly the size of a cinema with a sound level to match. At the first opportunity Pete put 'The X-Factor' on, much to their disgust. I went outside for a bit of fresh air just as the guests started arriving- virtually every vehicle was the size of a spaceship and had a 'Countryside Alliance' sticker in it's window, just next to the pro-hunting one. The air didn't seem quite as fresh anymore...
Well, to cut along story short (for once!), eventually we played and within a fraction of a second of the end of our last song I would imagine that they'd all forgotten about us and moved on to the next plaything. We packed up and left. That's about it really. Except, of course, that it's not- we'd been allowed into a world that we wouldn't normally be allowed to get anywhere near, populated by people who would rather that we just got on with our work and left them alone- provided of course that we pay all our taxes and don't get too noisy about things. Isn't the British class system wonderful?
Er, actually it's not. It stinks- I can smell it from here (it's even smellier than the countryside). The Countryside Alliance seems to me to be run by very wealthy landowners whose footsoldiers- the people who consider themselves lucky enough to be employed by them, who might even consider themselves to be 'like one of the family'- rant and rave in defence of a system that guarantees that they stay at the bottom of a very high mountain while farmers who claim a small fortune in subsidies bang on about how poor they are, then at the merest hint of a crisis (foot and mouth disease, the suggestion of socialism- that type of thing) start bleating on about losing millions of pounds. Meanwhile there are pro-hunting lobbies who say that they're trying to save jobs and preserve 'tradition' and 'the freedom of the individual' but whose members voted in the 1980's for a government that all but destroyed traditional British industry (mining, shipbuilding- that type of thing) putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work and decimating entire communities in the process.
Is it me or is there just the tiniest suggestion of hypocrisy here? Or am I the biggest hypocrite of all for playing the show or indeed for being there at all? Answers on a postcard please, usual address...