Bring the Jubilee

Trip Start Jan 05, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Saturday, June 2, 2012

Did I ever mention that zombies walk amongst us? You probably think they are figments of writers imagination and denizens of a popular but very restricted genre of horror stories.

We were of the view that we might have a couple of rather late nights and that we might even be a bit active so we didn't rush in the morning and we weren't on the road until about 10 a.m. when we set off south down the A34 towards the coast. The road signs were quite encoraging, putting Southampton at around 70 miles away and we had a vague idea that we wanted to be somewhere near there. Breakfast became a priority because we didn't finish our doner meat the night before, the ambiance of our Travelodge room somewhat inferor to that of an exotic Indian-style restaurant complete with Bollywood music and shiny pictures.

The first set of services contained a McDonalds Drive-thru. We weren't that hungry. We never are. So we carried on. Next was Newbury Services and that looked more promising because it had a range of over-priced food outlets. We were going to pay too much but at least we had a choice of where to get ripped off.

If whoever designed the layout of Newbury Services is not insane then he or she has a wierd sense of humour. It is preposterous. There seems to be an inconsistent one way system which hardly anybody understands. We had to go round twice before we found a way in, having not fancied the first "entrance" because there were three other vehicles all converging on the same spot. We eventually got parked, having been 'tutted' at by a lady in a 4x4 who thought she was going the right way around the one-way system that we also thought we were going the right way around - we were both right, the arrows on the ground pointed at each other and went inside the service station to find some breakfast.

Approximately 63% of the people inside (staff included) were zombies and some were in charge of strategy. We found a place selling traditional English breakfasts and waited whilst the eggs were cooked (this is a good thing, freshly cooked eggs are better). Whilst we were waiting I went to get some drinks from the self-service coffee machine. Now this should not be too tricky. I think there were eight choices in all, of which one was chocolate and the rest were coffees. There was latte, cappucino, mocha and so on. They mostly had names that just about anyone familiar with major European languages should recognise, partly because for some reason the Italians have the enduring right to give names to types of coffee, so Espresso is near enough universal. There were 8 (eight! I counted them) discarded cups of partially poured drinks around the machine. In fact there was barely room to put anything else. Living humans cannot be responsible for this, surely. They cannot be that stupid. It must be zombies. Watch out for them wherever there are crowds. They are generally slack-jawed with glazed expressions and a complete lack of spatial awareness. They're constantly surprised that there are other beings on the planet but as most of them seem to be zombies they don't notice either.

The next zombie experience was paying for our food, which is normal in these places BEFORE you eat. We had nice freshly cooked eggs and freshly poured coffees (two cups used, one each and none discarded) but the two checkouts were unmanned - or even un-zombied. To pay we had to queue at the coffee stall. This is presumably the stall for the better class of zombie who have worked out that attempting to operate machinery is beyond them so are happy to have a trained monkey pour it for them. Of course they still don't really know what they want so the queue was long and there was a lot of fannying about going on, mostly cake-related. Who doesn't know there own minds where cakes are concerned? Eventually a lady in a uniform went past and asked "Anyone waiting to pay?" which was a question that wasn't really needed. "We are." I said, "We've been waiting quite some time." but by then she wasn't listening. The breakfast was ok but all in all not a great way to spend 17. On the way out we saw a chap in a car go shooting out of an entrace that was clearly marked "No Exit" but there was also a large arrow on the road pointing straight at it and clearly marked "Way Out". Insane.

The first 20 miles or so on the A34 were ok, lots of traffic but steady. We hit a couple of inexplicable slow patches where we were down to 10 mph for a short while and then we reached a long and stop/start queue. Julie checked the map and we pulled of to go via Petersfield on minor roads which seemed to be a good decision because there were no delays at all. We were in Chichester a bit later than expected but decided to have a quick look around in daylight before heading for Portsmouth for the Jubilee celebrations.

Winchester is rather lovely. I suppose that the UK is often underrated by its citizens. The small but ancient city is dominated by a large 12th Century cathedral which is a minute or so from the Travelodge so that was our first destination. We walked around the back and Julie noticed a sign about Peregrines breeding on the church and there was a couple with a telescope set up so we went to talk to them. There have been Peregrines on the church, which is easily the tallest building locally and the nearest thing to a cliff as well, which is their preferred habitat, since the 1990s and eventually a nesting box was set up for them and they have been breeding successfully. The adult female was on show, feathers being ruffled in the breeze but indifferent to the locals and tourists passing below, most of whom would be too big to be reasonable prey for even this powerful falcon.

We had only paid for an hours parking at the Travelodge car park and had not really expected to stay long because we had plans but the room had not been ready on arrival and the man on the checkout had agreed to look after our bags for the day and confirmed our room number, so after a very quick walk around the city centre and a stop to get some cash we walked back to the car park. The helpful concierge at the hotel was giving directions to someone and as we passed told us that the room was now ready so we took the bags and stashed them in a corner and then set off for Portsmouth. Our vague plans for the long weekend probably involved visiting various nature reserves and beauty spots, seeing some wildlife, taking some photos and meeting up with our friends Jo, Andy and Lucas (3). However Jo had told us about the Portsmouth Jubilee celebrations and we were unable to resist.

Portsmouth is another underrated city with a major tourist draw, the Historic Waterfront, home to the HMS Victory, the Mary Rose and the HMS Warrior as well as a host of more modern vessels. This was where a two day long free festival was taking place.

The drive into Portsmouth was a quick one, something of a surprise because we have almost always hit traffic queues in the area before and we were soon parked a few minutes walk from the entrance to the waterfront area and with the sun threatening to shine a bit more we were starting to look forward to the afternoon. HMS Warrior is the first impressive boat that you encounter upon reaching the water's edge although the attractive Spinnaker Building just along the quay also draws the eye and it was here that we joined the short queue to have our bags checked for entrance to the festival area.

Getting through the security cordon was straightforward and they were mainly interested in stopping people bringing glass bottles into the area which seems fair enough. We had little in our back pack other than a couple of lightweight waterproofs and an inexhaustible supply of camera batteries and memory cards.

We bought some fizzy drinks and jelly babies at one of the stands and then detoured to have a look at the Acoustic Stage which was the first of the attractions after "Buskers Corner". We caught the last couple of songs by an act called Katie and Alan who were not bad and there was a relaxed atmosphere. There was a large area of artificial turf in front of the stage which was a brilliant idea and behind that there were rows of deck-chairs giving an effect a bit like that around a sea-side band stand and with ice cream and candy floss available the effect was enhanced.

With a gap between acts on the stage our next stop was the main stage where Sound of the Sirens were just finishing off. What a superb setting. With Portsmouth Harbour and some very big military ships behind the stage, one side of the arena was formed by nothing less than Admiral Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, the HMS Victory. We had seen this magnificent ship that is still in commission and was built over 240 years ago from a distance a couple of times from the Pride of Bilbao as it returned from its crossing of the Bay of Biscay but never close up before so we walked all the way around the outside for a closer look.

After the Sound of the Sirens there was a bit of a bonus (for us) because the act previously scheduled had been delayed in bad traffic (hard to believe!) and so they were fitted in before the next band. These were The Three Belles who were kitted out in 1940s-style military uniforms and who belted out a number of standards from that period, finishing off with a great rendition of “The Boogie-woogie Bugle Boy from Company B”.

Back at the Acoustic Tent we saw the end of what might have been a jolly folksy set from The Day of the Rabblement and the start of The Beth Oliver Band’s set before going back to the main arena to find a place to watch the main entertainment of the evening. Freestyle Funk collective had attracted a decent crowd and after them there was a Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band, UK Chili Peppers. Tribute bands are not really something that I actively seek out but they are actually pretty good in a setting like this, especially if they are competent. We saw the real think a few years ago and were rather disappointed because we felt they were just going through the motions and we didn’t think they cared much about the audience because their real fans were going to love whatever they did. At least with this lot you felt that they were hoping that the whole crowd was going to have a good time.

In between sets there was music supplied by a couple of DJs and for a while it was like they had borrowed my iPod. I think they played about 10 songs in a row that are on my playlist including some ska and reggae classics (Toots and the Maytals were in there) and “Sally Cinnamon” by The Stone Roses.

Although I enjoyed quite a lot of the music that was lumped under the Britpop banner The Bluetones was a band that didn’t ever make much of an impression. I was aware of them and if asked for an opinion I would probably have said that they were alright but couldn’t name a single song by them (the answer to that question, by the way is “Slight Return”). Their front man was Mark Morriss and he was the penultimate performer – quite a brave choice really after the rousing rock riffs of the Chili Peppers. He got through quite an engaging set, although some of his sardonic and occasionally self-deprecating humour was lost on some of the audience and chucked in a few of the bands better known songs for good measure.

Our friend Jo arrived in the final interval having been at a barbecue all afternoon so we chatted whilst awaiting the day’s headline band, Dodgy who are another Britpop-era outfit about which I knew little – although I could at least name one of their songs and had a feeling that I knew at least one more (I was right!). They were due on stage at 20:45 and as the evening progressed the weather worsened. We’d had sunshine for much of the day but clouds had rolled in and we’d noticed the odd spot of rain and this got heavier as the set progressed. They were ok. “Good Enough” was well received and got most people singing along and dancing but they came back on for an encore to coincide with a definite escalation in the rainfall from annoying to teeming down. The encore song was a new one so we decided to cut our losses and make a quick exit. Julie and I tumbled in to the first pub we found and Jo went home.

We won a decent amount on the quiz machine then put most of it into the car park machine. Although 8 for about 6 hours seemed reasonable and then followed Jo’s directions (sort of) to find a curry house for a meal before bedtime.   

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