As a youngster I loved a pre Python TV show aimed at children called ‘Do not adjust your set’. Palin, Jones and Idle starred alongside Neil Innes and the Bonzo Dog Band. Denise Coffey also played many a part. One sketch involved a bicycle tour of the West Country ‘taking in Looe’.
I loved Looe as a place name. It contained all that a smutty schoolboy could desire in a place name. I made up my mind to visit one day, in the hope it would live up to my puerile imaginings. Such a surreally potty title, up there with Piddle Hinton, Shitterton, Vagland and, well never mind.
Roll the clock on ten years and the longed for opportunity presented itself. My then girlfriend (now the Textiliste) adored Genesis (we all have our weaknesses) but tickets were like gold dust. However she joined a company where a colleague announced he too loved Phil et al; so much so that he belonged to the official fan club. As such he could pan us a couple of nuggets in shape of tickets for a concert on the next tour.
It is now 1981 and a new tour has just been announced. Garfield (near enough his name – a dopey cat that is nothing but trouble) passes on the good news. And the even better news he has indeed sourced 2 tickets (for her and her guest) to join him and his guest at the first concert on the tour. Whoop-de-doo. Cue much back slapping.
As the date approaches a couple of small logistical problems emerge.
First that first concert is in Looe a good four hour drive from London. Never fear says Cat Man he will hire a car and drive us.
Second, between acquiring the tickets and the date he is seconded from London to Brighton. Never fear says Cat Man we can catch the train to Brighton and we will drive from there – increasing the journey time by an hour – he says.
The day arrives. A B&B is booked – two rooms, how decadent – and we set off ludicrously early to be in Brighton for 9 on a Saturday. ‘My girlfriend will be on the same train,’ he tells us.
I will admit something here which I may have hidden from you, dear reader. I didn’t go big on Garfield. Spending time with him was rewarding in the sense that making your gums bleed when you clean your teeth is rewarding because it helps remove bacteria. I don’t make a huge effort to find his girlfriend on the train.
But the Textiliste has better manners than me, so as we exit the station for the collection zone we spot a young lady of our age, scanning the incoming cars hopefully. ‘Hello, are you Laura?’ The T offers her hand and her winningest smile which are both ignored and a back is pointedly turned.
Moments later The Puss Mobile pulls up next to the young woman and Cat Man emerges. He goes in for a kiss and misses by some distance. The Girlfriend is already in the back of the car, with arms so tightly folded that the dye in her pullover starts oozing from the collar.
I can be slow on the uptake, painfully so but the choice of front seat next to The Dear Leader suddenly appears a tad more appetizing than the misery zone in the back.
As we load our bag, the T and me have a quick confab.
‘What on earth’s wrong?’ I whisper.
‘No idea,’ says my better half. ‘They’ve only just started going out and I thought they were in the golden glow phase still.’
To anyone who contemplates a round Britain tour and finds themselves facing the leg from Brighton to Looe along the South Coast passing such gems as the New Forest, the Jurassic Cliffs at Lyme Regis and Dartmoor, my advice is, instead, check in to have your piles cauterized: it will be ultimately more useful and less painful. In any even it’s a case of ‘I wouldn’t start from here’.
It takes 9 hours. The tension mimics the hours leading up to the Cuban mission crisis. Every attempt at levity is squashed by the Miserablist in the backseat. Every break is spent with the T and me sitting together watching Garfield beg for some kind of forgiveness. The sourpuss seems animated in these moments. Lively but not happy. We do not have any chance to find out what the problem is.
Because we are so delayed we have to go straight to the concert venue to pick up the tickets. We do this while the Cat and his Whiskers drop the bags at the B&B.
We are sharing a well earned bottle when they return. G joins us while she visits the ladies, probably to drain excess venom. We are sympathetic. It has been a hard day for him. He flops down. ‘Bloody woman.’
‘She’s utterly convinced I planned to bring my old girlfriend – she’s always been jealous whatever I say.’
‘Why does she think that?’
‘I didn’t tell her about this trip until the last minute as a surprise but she now thinks I only asked her because Laura couldn’t come.’
The T and I share an anxious glance. I say, ‘So Laura’s your old girlfriend?’
He laughs. ‘Yes, confusing isn’t it? She’s Lorna and the old one’s Laura. Imagine what Lorna’d be like if I confused their names. Beer?’