Thursday, 14 January 2010

A song and a story


What is it with children and post-Christmas naughtiness? It's only Thursday and already this week Littleboy 2 has managed to break a standard lamp belonging to my landlady and sneak a load of wax crayons into a laundry load, some of which then made it into the tumble dryer too, possibly staining clothes, and the dryer, irrevocably. I need a distraction, and in the absence of anger management classes, thank God for blogging.

The lovely Brit in Bosnia has tagged me for a meme involving songs and the stories behind them - a sort of Desert Island Discs, or Inheritance Tracks if you're a fan of Radio 4's Saturday Live.

There are so many songs that evoke strong memories for me; where just one chord can whirl back in time to a room, the people in it and exactly what I was feeling about the world at that very moment. I could tell you about how The Glory of Love by Peter Cetera reminds me of my dorm at boarding school; Soak Up the Sun by Sheryl Crow reminds me of driving down Route 101 in California, pre-kids; Take That's Back for Good makes me think of the end of University exams.

But the one I'm going to choose is Patience, by Guns N Roses. Now I confess I am not really a heavy metal/hard rock fan. Indeed, before the summer of 1991 I never would have voluntarily listened to a Guns N Roses album. But that summer, the one following A Levels, my friend J and I bought ourselves an Inter-Rail ticket each and set off for Europe. I don't know if Inter-railing is still popular, but it was THE thing to do with your summer holidays back then; you bought one ticket which was valid for a month all across Europe, including in exciting-sounding new countries that had only just emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, such as Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

J and I met at Victoria Station to take the Boat Train, in those pre Eurostar days. Not wanting to carry too much, I had packed light, with a tiny rucksack, one book, a swimsuit and a few clothes. J appeared carrying not only a massive rucksack but her stereo, a huge, heavy contraption with enormous speakers - the kind of thing my mum would have referred to as a 'ghetto blaster'.
J was a huge fan of heavy metal/rock - Bon Jovi, Kiss, Metallica but most of all Guns N Roses. She wore, as I remember, the same Guns N Roses t-shirt and long, fringed black skirt for the entire trip, but she had decided she could not live without her music. Nowadays I guess she would have taken the whole thing on a tiny iPod, but this was 1991 and we were still listening to cassettes; hence the huge rucksack, which was stuffed with them.
So J's music was our soundtrack to Europe that summer; we listened to it on railway platforms at midnight; on Mediterranean beaches; in cheap guesthouses and strict youth hostels from Barcelona to Corfu; even on the French beach where we daringly slept one night and narrowly escaped being eaten by a sand-machine at 4am. It was actually a great way to meet people - everyone came up to us on the train and chatted about the music or wanted to listen to it. And while I never warmed to Metallica, I grew to like some of the Guns N Roses music; Sweet Child O'Mine, Paradise City and especially Patience, a ballad where Axl Rose temporarily abandons the head-banging and guitar-throwing and sounds really quite sexy.

It summons up everything about that month; lazing in the blazing Mediterranean sun; rushing for trains with our rucksacks; flirting with an assortment of dodgy European boys; trying menthol cigarettes (oh, we thought we were so cool). The stereo nearly came to grief a couple of times; once in Barcelona, a guy snatched J's purse and ran off. She dropped everything, including the stereo, kicked off her espadrilles and chased after him, leaving me standing there like a lemon surrounded by luggage. Amazingly, she caught up with him and he threw it back. In Corfu, where we rode around on mopeds, with the stereo strapped to the back with string, it escaped from its moorings constantly and nearly perished on the steep mountain roads. But it survived.

Most of all, Patience makes me think of our last night on an isolated beach in Corfu, towards the end of our holiday. We were up late, despite having a ferry back to Italy to catch at 6am, sitting round a campfire drinking Jack Daniels (what else to Guns N Roses?) with some good-looking South African boys we had met. I was quite hopeful of having a snog with one of them before the end of the night. Then, disaster struck. I had dropped my wallet somewhere on the sand. Now, this did not contain anything as vital as my passport, Inter-rail ticket or travellers' cheques, but it did contain all the ticket stubs I'd been collecting throughout our entire trip with the aim of making a scrapbook. I was determined not to lose them, and so forced the whole party, including the South African boys, to walk up and down the beach for what seemed like hours, combing the sand in the pitch dark for my crappy leather wallet.

Eventually, by some miracle I found it; hallelujah! Now it really was time to leave, and the 'moment' had definitely passed with South African Boy, who looked somewhat miffed by this point. But I kept the souvenirs and still have that scrapbook.

The summer ended. And J and I rarely saw each other after that; we went to the same Uni but in different years. She started going out with a long-haired fellow rocker and Jack Daniels drinker; I hooked up with The Doctor. Years later I went to her wedding; she married the rocker, who had transformed into a Hugh Grant lookalike who worked for a mobile phone company. J herself became a highly succesful corporate banker; they live now in a converted barn in the Home Counties with kids, a dog and horses.

I wonder if she still listens to Guns N Roses? I suspect not, but Patience will always remind me of that summer and that friendship.
I'm going to tag these bloggers to share their songs and stories:
Calif Lorna

14 comments:

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Thanks for taking on the tag. I LOVE it. What a fab memory for you. Sounds like a brilliant holiday. Love the thought of J chasing muggers in her bare feet, the ghetto blaster strapped to her back in Corfu and those poor South African boys... You were also in the year below me meaning that I am older than you. Grrr!

PS - my little boys are being absolute monsters today too. Is it January? missing the excitement of Christmas? Wish it would finish...

Mud in the City said...

Fabulous. I did inter-railing too - the summer when I was but 17. It was highly enlightening esp as I was the only girl in a group of 5, one of which was an ex I'd broken up with the week before. Not such happy campers! Quite a trip though and there are numerous songs that can take me back there in an instant, 'Creep' by Radiohead being one of them.

Jenny Rudd said...

Cool story. Absolutely love it

Nota Bene said...

Great adventure - shame you missed the snog, but hey ho....I shall have a hard think about songs and memories....

Francesca said...

brilliant post. loved every word.
keep up the great writing

Metropolitan Mum said...

Oh, I remember that album. 1989, I was 13 and stuck on a rainy vacation with my family in Holland. Again. My three years older brother introduced me to that fine piece of music.
Gosh, I was so terribly misunderstood.

Muddling Along Mummy said...

Great story - you've got me thinking of all the songs that have similar memories for me !

Vinogirl said...

Fab story...I have fond memories of Corfu too :)

完蛋 said...

困難的不在於新概念,而在於逃避舊有的概念。.........................

nappy valley girl said...

Brit in Bosnia - that means I would have looked up to you at school!

Mud - you and 4 boys? You are a brave woman...

Jenny - thank you

NB - I think I spent all of 5 minutes regretting it!

Francesca - thanks for the encouragement!

Met Mum - that makes you a little younger than me, then....

Muddling Along - Would love to hear them - if you want to, I'll tag you as well!

Vinogirl - Ah, Corfu....backpack heaven in those days.

To my Chinese commenter - Thank you, I wish I could understand your comment!

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Doubt it! Don't think anyone looked up to me at school. Not one of my best periods..

angels said...

Bet J does still listen to Patience. And I hope she reads this. It took me back to my Interailing days, so if J reads it she'll be blubbing at all the memories. I'd love to go Interailing again - wonder if my children would let me go with them? A friend and I Interailed on £10 a day, not much even back then. We got away with it by spending as many nights as we could sleeping on a train, and we took a tent and cooking equipment. We ate a lot of pasta and tuna that holiday...

Lorna Harris said...

Thanks for tagging me - I couldn't comment last week for some reason. Will get straight on and do my post.Really didn't see you as a Guns N Roses fan at all!

Home Office Mum said...

thank you for the tag. I have been utterly crap about blogging this month but will write my songs up shortly.

Your trip sounds fab. sigh. Wish I was a youf again.