This being 2008, the memories of the London Bombings were relatively fresh in everyone’s minds and in those silent few moments that followed this unnerving noise, businessmen, young mothers, and people still pissed from the night before, were united in what might have been their last moments.
There was no announcement to let us all know that we were still alive, no metallic voice echoing through the compartment offering re-assurance, instead, the memory of the terrifying bang slowly drifted away as we all did out best to be British and forget the unpleasantness. Luckily, we soon realised we were all fine, and the businessmen went back to shouting as loudly as they could down their mobiles, as they told Dave from accounts about the new project they were just so excited about.
It would have been just my luck to die on what was possibly going to be the most exciting day of my life. Today was the day. I was on my way to Clapham Common for the Ben & Jerry’s festival: a two day music and ice cream extravaganza. Rumour had it, anyone who attended could have all the free ice cream they could eat, and I’d been in training for weeks beforehand. I was also extremely excited to see Northern Irish guitar heroes Ash headline the festival, because this was 2009 and also because Burn Baby Burn will always be a classic.
I wasn’t alone on this trip to see the seminal saviours of British music. No, I was accompanied by a manager and three colleagues from the dirty northern cinema where I pretended to work whilst at college. All of us (apart from the manager, presumably) had won the chance to come down and gain 5kg in one day, by racking up top sales on the hawking stand. ‘Hawking’ for those amateurs not in the know, is when you set up shop outside the cinema screens and (in between texting your mates well funny lolz) you shout at cinemagoers to see if they’d like to spend £4 on a tub of popcorn. It turned out that a lot of them did, and I was also good at shouting at people.
Brilliant work by Northern Rail
Flash forward to Kings Cross, at the other end of our death-defying journey, and the five of us stood on the platform surveying the massive gouge that had been ploughed into the side of our train. The work of a passing train with an open door, it certainly did not look safe. In fact, it looked like our train had been a prop in a MichaelBay movie. We knew then that we’d had a narrow brush with death. However, there was no time to dwell. We had the Northern Line to navigate, and not much time to do it in, if we wanted to make the most of this free ice-cream situation.
We traversed the Northern Line with the skill and panache of a group of Northerners on their first time in London, at 8am on a Sunday morning, and within an hour and a half, we arrived at Clapham Common. People, young and carefree, lounged in the sun poking optimistically at disposable BBQs and chugging from 3 litre bottles of warm cider. An area in the centre of the common had been walled in and the grass shook with the fuzzy, echoing bass being pumped out from inside. A giant queue of bare flesh and excitement snaked around the high walls of the festival.
It turned out that the tickets we had won were actually V.I.P passes and we sauntered past those suckers in the queue as if we were Ben & Jerry themselves. We collected our golden wristbands from a gloomy looking teenager at the gates, then slipped inside into the festival. Rows of marquees lined the parameter walls and signposts outside each marquee proclaimed which ice cream flavours were available there.
‘I’m going for Cookie Dough!’ My friend Will squealed.
‘I’ve got to try Berry Berry Extraordinary! Meet back here in an hour!’ I yelled over my shoulder as I ran off to fill myself with purple mulch.
I queued for half an hour in a hot tent before receiving my helping of Berry Berry Extraordinary, which I gulped down like a slightly more patient Augustus Gloop. Then I looked out at my new world. Free ice cream was within arms reach, all I had to do was take it. I stepped out into my new empire and set off to discover its treasures.
It was wild. Here was real excitement, life being lived to the full; people lounging about inside tents, with dreadlocks in their hair and joints in their fingers. They did not give a fuck. There was a double-decker bus done up like a huge union jack and they were selling Pimms out of it. It was crazy. It was anarchy in the U.K.
After a few hours of this (and a half an hour that I’m never getting back, spent watching GetCape. WearCape. Fly) we decided we’d had enough and set off to find our manager who was IN THE V.I.P. AREA. The four of us lowly cinema workers shuffled up to the security guard, flashed our golden wristbands, and tried not to punch the air when the guard let us through into the secret, walled off area beyond. What new wonders would lie ahead? Umpa Lumpa waiters with silver trays of rare ice creams? Tubs of vintage Phish Food? Ice cream made from endangered Peruvian animals?
Our heros just living life in the V.I.P
The answer was even better than I dared dream. Beyond the V.I.P barrier, in between the solitary catering tent and the assorted ultra-underground indie bands was that star of Saturday morning TV, that beacon of childhood hope: Gail Porter. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t recognise her at first, what with the ‘new look’ she was sporting back then, but there she was, and there we were. We’d finally made it to the major leagues.
Just when things couldn’t possibly get any better, there was a rumbling of murmured voices and our drinks began to shake like at the beginning of Jurassic Park. Then, the clouds drew back, the sun shone out and, like Moses stepping down from Mount Sinai, Ben appeared. The Ben. Hetro life partner and BFF of Jerry. Ben whose work in the field of frozen deserts has made a million dreams come true. He was there, standing before us, a deity in our presence.
My friend Will and I hugged each other and jabbered away without speaking real words, such was our excitement. Our manager and other colleagues seemed rather nonplussed about the whole thing and even when I’d explained that that short, fat man was Ben. The Ben. Ben from Ben & Jerrys, they didn’t express much interest. Fools! I thought. Will and I would meet him. We would shake the hand of God.
Hesitantly, we stepped forward, whispering to each other about what would be the best thing to say to our hero. We were about to step up to the great man, when a bald head slipped past our noses and a burly Scottish brogue rumbled out like thunder.
‘Ey up Ben, ya wee cunt!’ Porter said (probably).
Will and I took a step back. Shit! Gail Porter had beaten us to it. Not to worry, we’d wait her out. That’s just what we did, but, when Gail slipped away and we stepped forward to meet the don of deserts, the ice cream game Rick Ross, Ben simply waved at us and began to walk away, calling over his shoulder.
‘Gotta go guys! Catch you later!’
Just when Ben thought he was going to ‘catch us’ remains a mystery. Was he going to visit us oop north? Was he planning to get the train back with us? If so, did he miss his tube? It was a question that was never answered, but then, God works in mysterious ways.
By this point, black clouds of disappointment had begun to drag themselves across the sky. Will and I slunk back to our deck chairs, beginning to feel that all was lost, when an almighty roar sounded from the stage. Ash were starting! How had I ever forgotten that? Suddenly, the clouds lifted and I dashed out of the V.I.P area to watch Northern Ireland’s finest.
They’d just finished ‘Girl From Mars’ when my phone began vibrating. Clearly, you’re not going to answer your phone when rock Gods Ash are on stage, but I chanced it during one of the (many) songs I didn’t know and found a few dozen messages, all along the lines of ‘We have to go, the f*ckin’ train leaves in an hour!’
A bit of Ash
Fuck that train! I thought. Ash! I scanned the crowd and could see members of our party weaving their way through the masses, like the tribesmen creeping through the jungle at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I decided then that they’d never take me alive. As if in glorious celebration of my decision to stay and watch the rest of their set, Ash began to blare out the opening bars of ‘Burn Baby Burn’ and the crown went bananas, like it was 2001 all over again.
Eventually, the song finished and, as I was dragged from the crowd, we all realised that times had changed since Ash had been kings, and that things would never be so simple again.
I stumbled from the crown and was brought before my manager who was standing impatiently near the exit.
‘Let’s go,’ he said.
‘But, ‘Shining Light!’ I began, but it was no use, my words had fallen on deaf ears. Even Will had had enough.
Deafeated and full of sorrow
We caught the next tube and just about made our train home. During those long hours of stomach cramp, I tried to think of some sort of moral lesson of the day. Maybe, ‘despite all the free ice cream we want, we’ll never be happy?’ Or perhaps ‘the human race is spoilt and nothing will ever be good enough?’ In the end, I decided the moral was to never fly too close to the sun. Sometimes it’s better not to meet your idols, rather than risk it and have Gail Porter relegate you to their second priority. I thought about this for a while, then went off to be sick. The train rocked along and a purple glob of regurgitated Berry Berry Extraordinary landed on my new shoes, but at least we didn’t almost die again.