Thursday, 23 June 2016
Yesterday, Saturday, we passed The Shard. So named because it looks a bit like a shard of glass, it's main purpose seems to be visibility from outer space. I actually didn't know what it was used for except showing off, but a cursory Google search has thrown up the nugget that it replaced an office block built in 1975 and is owned by a property company as well as the state of Qatar. It has a viewing gallery, which is the point that I am agonisingly arriving at. I pointed this out but Emma said that it would cost far more than it was worth to go up there (I think she said about £20) and that we could get an aerial view of London from the top of a shopping centre by St Paul's Cathedral.
We have to find the shopping centre first and it doesn't prove to be all that easy. We'd got off the train at Bank and immediately it got complicated. Brilliantly, they shut the lifts off at the weekend. I mean, why wouldn't they? What the fuck are disabled people doing wanting to go anywhere at the weekend? The audacity of these fucking freaks. We spend a ridiculous amount of time sat waiting with a lady and her mum until Emma manages to contact someone on the intercom. He then has to haul his poor arse down a flight of stairs to unlock the lifts for us. One of five bloody lifts in a row, all of which have been shut off because it is the weekend. This happened more than a fortnight before I write this and I'm still reeling. It's all a bloody outrage. If only the pair of us had stayed indoors dribbling like we are supposed to then we might have spared this poor guy his legs. In the event he denies any responsibility for the whole charade, calling himself a 'mere puppet'. To be quite honest it seems as if the whole of Bank Underground Station is run by puppets so he may have more power than he supposes. Either way there is no point wasting any more time berating him for it. That's what this column is for.
We waste yet more time wandering around the area by St Paul's Cathedral looking for a shopping centre. Emma's dad offers some directions over the phone and it turns out that we have gone past it. I think we had expected something taller, given that it's meant to offer a view of the city from the rooftop terrace. Nevertheless we go in and ride the glass lift up to the sixth and top floor. Glass lifts are a bit weird I think. You lose your stomach a little bit. We come out on to the terrace and it's surprisingly stunning. There's a magnificent view of St Paul's Cathedral along a path that leads down also to views of the London Eye. The Shard is probably visible from here too as it is visible from pretty much anywhere in the universe. Best of all there is a small terrace bar just set back from the wall around the terrace. We go there and drink Sol at some totally unjustifiable price but it is hot, it's sunny and it is 11.30 on a Sunday morning. Sometimes you just have to spend a bit more to get a unique experience. Whatever it cost, and I don't rightly remember, it is definitely better value than the £5.30 a pint in The George yesterday. That was just an ordinary pub. A nice pub, don't get me wrong, but just a pub. No views of significant London landmarks and actually no sunshine because all of the outdoor space was taken and we drank inside.
We shelve plans to visit the Tower Of London. By the time we have stopped laying about in the sun drinking expensive beer it's way after 12.00 and Emma wants to be at Wembley Stadium for around 4.00. It's the day of the Bruce Springsteen concert, which after all is the reason we have come all this way. We take a walk (push?) towards and over the Millennium Bridge but then while looking for a pub we visited a couple of years ago called The Old Thameside Inn we take a wrong turn somewhere at Bankside, Southwalk. Eventually we realise this and turn back, looking instead for either Southwalk or London Bridge tube stations. Inevitably, we find another pub. This time it is the brilliantly monikered Doggett's Coat And Badge. There we watch the first set of the French Open tennis final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Murray wins the first but by the time we leave midway through the second he's on his way to what was probably always an inevitable defeat by the Serb who now holds all four Grand Slam titles, the first man to do so since Rod Laver in 1969. Architecture and tennis. Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard is your one-stop shop for useless information.
We get back on the tube and it starts. The gathering of the hard-core Bruce fans. I'm actually expecting them to be much older and with an array of stupid tattoos and piercings, but most of those that board the train between London Bridge and Wembley Park seem fairly average in appearance. The only thing that gives their musical preferences away is the t-shirts they wear which carry the face of 'The Boss' on the front and a list of exotic places he has played at on the reverse. Well some of them at any rate. Springsteen is 66 years old and has probably played everywhere except Thatto Heath Labour Club by now. Going off on a tangent for a second a friend of mine has just told me that her son is working in Thatto Heath at the moment. He took a photograph of the sign at the railway station and asked the question what kind of name this was 'for a gaff'. Then he said something about it being a shithole. While I can't make an impassioned argument against that I did at least tell her to let him know that I live in the posh end. Which means I own my own home. Said friend then went on to suggest that Thatto Heath must be a shithole because of the way we speak, before having a wild stab at mocking my accent. All of which is ironic given her own staggering scouse-ness.
We've gone off course. The next challenge for us was to get inside the stadium. It is not a long walk from Wembley Park but it is all uphill. At the top I feel like I have done 90 minutes in bloody Gym Bug or some other poser's paradise. We consider buying some food from the many outlets on the way in, but remembering my mum's advice never to buy food from 'places' (by which she means anything with wheels) we skip it and make our way inside. Like last week we are meant to enter at Gate J but we are about 30 blocks over from where we were for the play-off final. It takes an absolute age to walk that distance around the concourse, to the point where actually it would have been much quicker to let us in at Gate K. Which is probably not accessible. That's the only reason I can see for the logic. I mean, come on, it is only 2016 and only four years on from London hosting a Paralympics. Give them a chance.
Just to make life more difficult there is a separate kiosk for every different item of food you might want to spend silly amounts of money on. Which is all very well if you are on your own. Just decide what you want and find the relevant kiosk. But if you are with someone else, and you want a burger and someone else wants a hot dog or some nachos then you have to go your separate ways. So we both got a burger because anyway, in the end, there's little difference between one type of overpriced shit and another. Fortunately, all of the different kiosks serve beer. So with that sorted we eventually find our seats which aren't bad. Perhaps we are a little too far away from the stage if I'm honest. Bruce is going to look fairly ant-like from this distance (though I do hope he is a good deal more entertaining than Ant Man). Yet there are several big screens around the stage which will help.
For now the entertainment is on the field, well before Bruce has even appeared. One fella has had far too many scoops for his own good and is lying prostrate on the temporary surface, emptying the contents of his gut with some vigour. It's highly unedifying and gets worse when the security people get wind of it because their intervention involved that most dreaded of allegedly helpful apparatus, the evac-chair. I have spent large parts of my life to this point doing anything to avoid ever being placed on an evac-chair. Quite frankly I would rather burn like Stannis' daughter than suffer the ignominy of descending a flight of stairs in that manner. The chair they use to hoist me on to aeroplanes is as close as I'm ever going to get to it and that is only because that is a necessary evil if I'm ever going to get anywhere outside of the UK. In this lad's position I would have crawled off the surface and down the nearest tunnel. He doesn't though. He voluntarily sits on the wretched thing, assuming he can do anything voluntarily such is the depth of his inebriation. Notably his mates don't leave with him. Just as you sometimes have to pay that bit extra for a special experience, so you sometimes have to let your mates fuck off on their own to sober up if they can't handle their ale.
I'm in the toilet when Bruce starts playing, which would be slightly annoying if I was a massive fan. I'm not really, is the awful truth. Emma's the one with a keenness for him but I enjoy the show all the same. I don't know all of the songs so I spend part of the three and a half hour gig (he doesn't do support acts) trying to work out what song he is playing and part of it people watching. I haven't seen as many drunken and quite rubbish dance moves as this since we went to see Simple Minds at Wembley arena when punching the air seemed to be the thing. Looking around I'm quite envious that they know every word and are bellowing along. Concerts are always better when you know the music well, so I'd be the same if I'd done my homework. There's no doubt Bruce is good. He's very good and he has an exhaustive repertoire of rock anthems at his disposal. Born To Run is particularly uplifting and a fair portion of folk go quite dizzy during The River. I don't recall him playing Glory Days which is one that I do like, although I may just have missed it having been distracted by the swathes of middle aged, would-be rockers getting their Bruce on in ever more embarrassing ways.
Helpfully, Bruce introduces every song with signs and even chastises one or two audience member for the sub-standard quality of the signs that they have brought with them. I've not seen this kind of signage before at a gig and I can't work out whether it is a Bruce thing or a stadium thing. The majority of gigs that I have been to have been at indoor arenas, except for Robbie Williams at the Eithad in Manchester a couple of years ago. There's a fair chance that his fans don't bring signs because they can't spell. Except for me, of course. I'm a Robbie Williams fan and I can spell.
It takes an eternity to get out of the stadium and Emma's impatience is obvious. The police are holding people up so that there aren't too many people entering Wembley Park at one time. This happened last week but it somehow seems to take longer this time around. Not for waiting, Emma's weaving between the crowds through gaps that I can't fit my fat arse into let alone my wheelchair and I'm worried that I will lose her. Fortunately she knows to wait by the lift outside Wembley Park. Unfortunately, when I eventually get there I'm at the back of a ridiculous queue, made worse by the inability of the general public to operate a lift. They overload it three times, once to the point where an out of service message flashes above the door and it looks for a moment as if we'll all been spending the night here. Unhelpfully people who could walk up the stairs choose not to, contributing even more to the overloading of the lift and wasting yet more of my life force. When it comes to my turn Emma takes the steps, although someone bizarrely claims that they had been told they were not allowed to do so if they were accompanying a wheelchair user. This seems unlikely, although Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard would not be surprised to learn that the right to walk up a flight of stairs and wait at the top has been stripped from anyone who has the audacity to rock up with a cripple.
One such, a middle-aged woman with a seriously bad attitude, spend the tube journey chastising her teenage son for never doing anything to help her. The same teenage son who has just taken her to a Bruce Springsteen concert and pushed her all the way back from the stadium to Wembley Park. She never once touched her own wheels in anything resembling an attempt to self propel. Maybe she wasn't able to, but if that is the case shut the fuck up and stop having a go at your son for not doing anything for you. Do you really think he would rather be at a Bruce Springsteen gig than out drinking cider with girls his own age or whatever it is the cool kids do nowadays. I loathe ungratefulness.
Monday comes and we swerve the Tower Of London again, settling instead for a Spoons brekkie and a bit more time at home ahead of a Wednesday return to work.