Bob Harris session, London, December 9th & 10th
I come burning out of the JPR Management Christmas party in a rage of resentment, flailing desperately at passing cabs whose lights are resolutely unlit. I’m cutting this fine. I’m in Shepherds Bush bound for Glasgow and my flight leaves Heathrow in about eighty minutes. Tick, tick, tick. That was a party I didn’t want to leave. I rouse a sleeping cabbie outside the Hilton with a gentle series of knocks on his bonnet, slowly increasing in intensity. He comes to with a smile, perhaps appreciative of my sensitivity to the truth of the proverb concerning sleeping dogs. We speed off to Paddington with an alacrity born of rich experience of London driving. He asks me about independence and I give him my tuppence worth. He is impassioned about its potentially disastrous effect on the Scots. Although I agree I find myself bristling. It’s like some know-it-all saying you’ll never amount to anything. You want to redouble your ambition and rub the ensuing success in their face. I seethe with the desire to impress upon him that we have the right to self-determination and though I’m keen to remain within the union I don’t need this cunt to tell me what’s good for Scotland. Oh, we are such complicated, cantankerous people. But he makes a decent point about currency union. He regards Scotland’s staying with the pound as no independence at all while believing that a Scottish Escudo would send our national economy into a tailspin. I can’t fault his logic. I sense in his subtext a dread of the English nationalism that would inevitably blossom in the shadow of a Scottish exit. That which blossoms in shadow only corrupts the world. He seems to feel it in himself. He needs the Jocks to keep him tidy. The Sweaty Socks will keep you warm – without us you will come to harm. I just wish they’d stop sending their rich folks to kill our defenceless grouse. It’s not the slaughter I mind, it’s the senseless waste of tweed.
I hit a baggage queue that refuses to shorten and I slowly accept that I have missed my flight. For a fleeting second I consider hauling my guitar through security and taking my chances at the gate but I quickly decide the gamble not worth the stress. I re-book on the last flight home and languidly amble to one of terminal five’s disgusting bars. These zones are hellish in their soullessness. They are dirty with an exquisite anguish. You’re not home: you’re still here. As I wait for my Guinness to be poured (yes, I’m available for sponsorship opportunities – my slogan? “Drink the dark stuff – it doesn’t get you drunk too fast”) I overhear the bar manager instructing his staff to cut off a customer at table one. They all look bemused. He reiterates that the customer is drunk, past his sell-by-date, Elvis has left the building. He uses these exact terms. I can sense that the rest of the staff have no problem with the man at table one. I can sense that this little boss has taken umbrage at something Elvis has said. Perhaps he pointed out that the manager was short, bald and neurotic. Perhaps he told him to go away. Perhaps he told him tonight he’d be gone from this woeful place while the bar manager would be back again tomorrow morning. Getting drunk in airports, it would seem, is a crime against decorum. So why do they sell drink? They certainly don’t sell decorum.
Terminal five is astonishingly ill designed. It’s essentially a crap shopping mall fatally compromised by the irritating responsibility to get people in the air. If they could miss out the whole transportation element they would. They’d have you kidnapped here sucking the retail teat forced into your mouth with all the motherly love of an ailing vampire. There’s not an inch of space here that isn’t exploited to embezzle. If capitalism keeps marching in this inexorable fashion one will be required to administer sexual favours to strangers to gain access to the privacy of a toilet cubicle. They will put coin slots in the seats. They will charge you to lean.
Time labours on. The airport as afterlife: neither here nor there. I turn forty-nine tomorrow. As I quiver above the drop I find myself drifting and hanging as an eagle above its range. Neither here nor there. A moderate failure as a songwriter, a passable face from a serviceable past as a band member. I can still hear the clarion battle cry – go forth and testify. At some point I will dive in for the kill; the world is waiting like unthinking prey. I will have my defining moment, hit the apex of the arc like a striker, eyes on the ball, volleying for the far corner. Death is impossible, perfection achievable. I will have another pint of the dark stuff and trudge off to my gate, sweating slightly in the phoney air with all the other cattle. We will be bourn aloft into the black and bitter night. The air will whip around us in an extraordinary tempest and for a time we will be astronauts. Freighted, weighted and homeward bound.