possibly the most surreal day of the year?

Posted on 03 Apr 2000

Old content migrated from a very long time ago…

today has been, by far, the craziest day of the entire year so far.

it started at 8am, having had about 6 hours sleep since last night’s concert. i packed a sleeping bag, clothes, some paper, pens, books, money and tickets, before heading downstairs, grabbing a microwave meal (a curry it turned out), stuffing it down myself and running off to the metro station.

i arrived in manchester piccadilly half an hour before i expected to meet the squirrel, around 10am. we’d originally suggested meeting 10:30, because i thought there was a train at 11am.

so i’m sitting in a black leather trenchcoat, cat collar, black nailvarnish, with a huge backpack (which is wearing another backpack, because one just was not enough). an oriental girl stops as she passes me and exclaims “were you there last night?!?”

it took me a few seconds to figure out what on earth she was talking about, but following where her finger was pointing, i soon realised - she was pointing to the dream theater images and words tour t-shirt i was wearing under the trenchcoat (admittedly all that was visible was a “am-the” and a bit of “es and wor”). “oh. yes! it was brilliant!” i replied.

“you heading home?”

“no, i’m going to the london gig.”

“wow, you going to nottingham too?”

“no, i’ve got work i should get back to doing.”

“oh well, i won’t see you there then.”

we introduced ourselves. her name was choon-kang, and she was from switzerland (originally from korea). she was following the tour, pretty much. she said she was expecting to get the 11am train. it was now ten to, and no sign of the squirrel, but that was ok, because there wasn’t an 11am train. she said she had a friend who was coming too, who was from germany.

her friend arrived later than she had planned too. the excuse he gave was basically that “drinking with mike the night before had gotten a little out of hand”. the last night had been his seventy-fifth dream theater concert, and that he usually brings mike some beer (but made with herbs and spices) from germany because mike loves the stuff, and they have a few drinks.

i spotted the squirrel - he’d been standing near the middle of the station, not slightly to one side where we were sitting - and called him over. he’d been there for about half an hour. we all ran together onto the 11:30am train to london.

on the journey, a few unexpected/surreal things happened. the first was choon-kang showing me one of the cd’s she had - “cleaning out the closet” - a cd of all the unreleased material from dream theater. she actually lent me her copy, saying i should post it back to her (and gave me an address in switzerland) when i was done with it. we exchanged pen and email addresses and i hope we keep in touch. she then returned to writing her diary (or so it seemed), discussing the previous night’s set with her friend in german. the squirrel and i returned to a discussion about freedom of speech (yet more problems we’ve found).

another weird thing was a random, but familiar looking, man came down the aisle in the train, carrying a small girl, with a small boy following. he stopped at our table and said, “hey, did you like last night’s show?!” it was the front man from spock’s beard (i have to now shame myself and say that i don’t actually remember his name, or choon-kang’s german friend’s name - i’m not great with names, especially at the unearthly hour of midday - too early for me!). he said he was travelling with family to london, that he thought the trains were great, and that one of the members of marillion were going to be playing along with them later that night, and that the soundcheck with them the night before went great.

at some point in the journey, our german friend (sorry, i don’t remember your name!) pointed to my t-shirt and said that he thought it was the best one that dream theater had done.

“oh, well, i quite like this t-shirt,” i replied, pointing to the t-shirt that mike portnoy is wearing in the print on the t-shirt.

“oh, that one? one of my friends back home has the very t-shirt he wore in that shot.” when we later noticed his jacket was signed by each of the band members, and not printed, we were amazed - it very likely was true.

choon-kang took out her camera and prodded it (there seemed to be something wrong with it - exposures under 1/180th of a second were not working). we briefly exchanged camera chat, talking about the photos we had of the gigs, and she mentioned her “online tour diary”. i mentioned that i’ll have some photos of the manchester gig (and hopefully london too) up once i get them developed.

choon-kang noticed some of the weird stuff the squirrel and i were talking about, mainly crypto, and asked what it was. we explained, and i think she made a note of it in her diary (“met weird goth and friend on train, on way to london gig. they were discussing crypto and law stuff.”). it turns out that she’s studying medicine, and that led to silly graphs and a conversation that went over my head between her and the squirrel (something about enzymes, i think).

we arrived in london and parted ways, till the concert. the squirrel and i wandered around looking for blade. she wasn’t there. we wandered around outside the station. not there either. aha! there she is! i was careful not to poke her eyes out with the cat collar when i hugged and greeted her.

we dropped our bags in her mum’s car and headed off to covent garden. there i bought a yoyo and a tarot deck, but we wandered around shops for a number of hours before deciding that time was against us. we drank coffee at starbuck’s (note to self: mocha valencia frappucino is a good choice), and then headed back to blade’s. her mum had cooked a roast chicken, with potatoes and onions - delicious, and perfect for starving travellers.

we then headed to the gig (thanks again to hilary for dropping us off there).

it turned out that our tickets were circle tickets, seated (not the standing ones that i’d anticipated - still, they were very good seats!).

spock’s beard did brilliantly again, pausing half way through their set to wish the front man’s little son a happy fourth birthday! the whole crowd joined in the song and cheered as he was brought onstage.

the marillion/spock’s beard/dream theater jam was pretty neat - “let’s make some history”.

dream theater, similarly, were brilliant too. the sound quality was better than at manchester - probably because it was in a theatre intended for plays and operas and the like (shepherd’s bush empire, in fact).

half way through beyond this life, i got grabbed by a bouncer and pull out of my seat. he informed me that “professional photography was not permitted” and that i should follow him. i told him that was a student, not a professional, and had identification to prove it. he wasn’t interested. my film was confiscated, and my camera locked away till the end of the concert. it’s still got the label “101” on it. thankfully i was let back in to see the rest of the show.

the rest of the show was brilliant, as to be expected! the set that was played at the end was different this time, though, but i can’t remember the exact order or contents due to lack of sleep. here’s some of it though:

- peruvian skies - erotomania - paradigm shift - another hand, the killing hand - under a glass moon - pull me under - take the time

the cheering at the end of the concert was actually louder than the concert had been. it was obvious that dream theater had enjoyed it as much as the crowd: petrucci had to be dragged offstage by james - he just kept playing and playing improvised solos at the end of take the time.

i picked up my camera and we went back to blade’s by bus. she had loved the concert, and was bouncing and muchly happy.

i phoned home, and mum sympathised that my film had been pinched. “there’s plenty of other opportunities for photos though,” she said.

“yeh, there’s nottingham tomorrow,” i joked.

“oh are you going to that?”

“no, i don’t think so - we should head back. plus there’s not enough time.”

“oh, i’d love to go again! anyway, about tomorrow. if you’ve got time, please go meet the oakley’s in gerard’s cross…”

what happened after i hung up is not entirely clear to me anymore. suffice to say, the squirrel and myself somehow managed to talk ourselves into going to nottingham, with no tickets, no idea how to get there, no idea where the gig would actually be held, no idea if it was sold out, no accommodation and no sense in our heads.

“you’re mad, but if you make it, i’m gonna be extremely jealous!” was blade’s response to the crazy discussion we were having.

i asked for a map of the uk, and another of london. we sat down and planned some form of route around half of london, then half the country. we produced a critical time path and rough timetable. we set 15 alarms on various clocks and watches and pagers and personal organisers. here’s the to-do list as we originally wrote it:

- ewan (phone and visit)
- jules (phone and organise)
- oakley’s (phone and visit!)
- jessops’ (buy films!)
- cybercafe (order tickets, check trains, accommodation?)
- phone lots (home!)
- accommodation? (haha!)
- gig! (we hope!)

the critical timetable read something like:

- wake: 0800-0830
- panic: 0830-1000
- travel into city centre: 1000-1030
- jessops/cybercafe: 1030-1100
- sort out stuff with ewan: 1100-1130
- spare half hour: 1130-1200
- travel to gerard’s cross: 1200-1300
- talk to the oakley’s: 1300-1400
- travel back to london: 1400-1500
- get train to nottingham: 1500-1830
- taxi to the gig: 1830-1900
- gig: 1900-2300
- kill time/sleep: 2300-0600
- train home: 0600-0900

doesn’t exactly leave a lot of time to lose. slightly underestimates travel times within london (it’s a big place!). we didn’t have tickets to the gig. we didn’t know what times the trains to nottingham ran, or back so we could get home. we used road maps to guess where trains went from and to, and planned the journey with that. we figured that nottingham was maybe too big to walk across in half an hour, and that we’d likely have too little time to get find the place - we didn’t even know where it was!

we’ll see how it all plans out…