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When Will I Be Famous?
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By Martin Kelner
Feb 27, 2003 - 2:03:00 PM

When Will I Be Famous
Article dated: Thursday 27 February 2003
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Up to Edinburgh for the Festival....

"....Anyway, early on Saturday morning Janet and I - me driving, she telling me I am too close to the car in front - hit the road disc jockey Andy Peebles once called "that great highway to the North we know as the A1." (If you have not got into the cult of Andy Peebles yet, I recommend it. Andy never uses one word where 126 will do, all perfectly modulated. I nominate him as Britain's number one radio presenter of the past thirty years, a man capable of talking absolute utter unmitigated bollocks, and making it sound convincing.)

Janet and I have never been a great market for the mini-break pamper-yourselves-weekend-have-it-awayday culture. As previously indicated, I am not an enthusiastic tourist. I always see people as visiting great places either to impress their friends, or to tick them off in some imaginary Big Chief I-Spy Book of Great Places.

What is more, with four children ranging in age from 2 to 18, there are never that many windows through which I might be dragged, and dragooned into spending two days oohing and aahing at great buildings, and enjoying "your choice of delicious fruits, cereals, and cooked items from our five-star breakfast buffet."

Truth be told, I would rather be at home with my children. Still, I will not pretend it is not a pleasant change to spend some time alone with Janet, talking - about the children, mostly. And when we reach the services at Scotch Corner, I do not have a car full of disappointed young people when I point out we are actually nowhere near Scotland; in much the same way as Watford Gap is nowhere near Watford. Is this a wacky country or what?

The other decidedly strange aspect of travel as you traverse the great highway to the North (hi, Andy), are the signposts at regular intervals giving accident tallies. The signs simply state the figures without comment - 223 Deaths In Last 3 Years, and so on - giving the impression of being some kind of boast, some breast-beating expression of civic pride; like Newport - Home of the Mole Wrench, and Oldham - Home of the Tubular Bandage (both genuine, I promise you).

I suppose the death figures are intended to encourage you to slow down, but my view is that loss of concentration is just as likely to be the cause of a road accident as speed, and there is nothing like an odd signpost to make you take your eye off the ball. Janet and I ended up noting the figures as if it were some kind of contest: "Mmm, only 186 on this stretch of road. They're going to have to try harder."

The café at Scotch Corner has been turned into some kind of a mini-Starbucks, where they make you say things like "skinny latte", and charge you £ 3.30 for a fairly emaciated tuna and spring onion sandwich. (one of the stand-up comics I saw said you can always tell when a coachload of Yorkshire people had pulled up at a motorway services by the chorus of, "What, three quid for a bloody sandwich?")

What Yorkshire folk do not understand is the fact that these coffee people are not merely what Andy Peebles might call purveyors of hot reviving caffeine-infused beverages. They are modern caring sharing organisations. "We make sure our suppliers use no genetically modified materials," reads the legend above the £1.50 flapjacks. I bet they are out there checking all day long.

Tell you what, pay the young girls behind your counter a half-decent wage instead, and I'll put up with a little genetically modified soya spread on my tuna sandwich.

However much I may rail against Starbucks, and Blockbusters, though, and every other sign that Britain is turning into some Texan capitalist wet dream, there is one aspect of modern life I applaud unreservedly, and that is valet parking.

There is something immensely liberating about chucking your car keys at a uniformed guy in a hotel lobby, and letting him find you a parking space. Arriving at the Carlton Hotel on North Bridge, in the centre of Edinburgh at Saturday lunchtime on the busiest week-end of the year, it was like taking off a pair of tight shoes. Well done, America. Great idea.

It is not even the fact that somebody else is taking care of the tedious business of parking for you. It is the sheer joy of being unencumbered for the duration of your stay at the hotel. You do not realise what a millstone your private car is until you are relieved of it for a week-end.

My problem, possibly, is that I have no real interest in motor cars. I drive the cheapest possible vehicle that will ferry me from place to place without my having to find out where the catch is that releases the bonnet. It means I can get to places without having to rely on trains sticking to their timetables, which is handy, but the rest of it is just an annoyance; the parking, the not drinking, fastening the damned seatbelt, the speed cameras (I write as someone with nine points on his licence - two more, apparently, and I qualify for a place in the UEFA cup next year), the servicing, insurance, getting a tax disc, all that stuff that takes up time when you could be doing something you enjoy.

On the other hand, maybe - and I am loath to admit this - the reason I am so keen on valet parking is that it is my one taste of the Upstairs Downstairs culture that Tony Blair is so excitingly bringing back to Britain. Unlike many of my liberal journalist friends in London, we have no servants. No au pairs, nannies, gardeners, cleaning women, and so on. There is no-one below stairs at our place. Valet parking is my one chance to say to someone else: "This is my mess. You sort it for me."

It is actually rather seductive. You can see how Prince Charles got hooked on the idea of having someone to do everything for him. As I write this, the papers are full of outrage that the heir to the throne had a servant hold the sample bottle while he urinated into it; although I am told there are some show business personalities with whom this is rather popular - except without the sample bottle, and with rather different rules about who pisses where.

Our room is perfect, overlooking the Royal Mile. From our window we can see white-painted mime artistes, oblivious to the fact that their art has become a standing joke in most parts of the civilised world, students handing out flyers for shows no-one will go to see, and numerous people outside bars having discovered that live entertainment may be uplifting, at times even life-enhancing, but there are other times when only beer will do.

Having the little lady with me, the temptation is to make the most of the hotel room and romp wildly like show business personalities, making liberal use of the free shower caps and towelling dressing gowns; but for the benefit of the volume you are currently enjoying, and in order to pick up some hints for my own forthcoming live performance, we behave like culture vultures, diving straight down to the Pleasance Downstairs, a stuffy cellar...."

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