Here come the Fash Pack

The Boulevardier is displaced. This sometimes results in attempts to navigate the unfamiliar waters of advancing years while trying to retain cool, trend and panache. The days of uber fashionable parties filled with the fash pack of London were behind me. Or so I thought.

I rather fortuitously landed an invite to a rather fashionable magazine party in East London several weeks ago. I was pleased to see that my networking with media types still had bite when it was required.

First and most major consideration was what to wear. Leatherette jeans would have been perfect. However, they were snug when purchased, and with too much fine dining of late, the snug has developed into too tight. A trip to Brent Cross was required. I had ideas.

I wanted to achieve a hybrid of fashion and smart casual. And I am not talking about the boring smart casual of the corporate (non media) world i.e. keep your suit on but whoop-e-doo take your tie off.

I wanted a smart jacket perhaps with a 50s edge which I could couple with dark jeans and T. When combined with the quiff and jewellery I hoped I could pull it off.

I had seen some jackets which were varying shades of blue with a darker velvet(ish) lapel and collar. However, they only came in children’s sizes, well young men’s perhaps. The male body shape changes so much from mid 20s onwards. This idea was thwarted.

Fashion and grown up or bigger than sample sizing can create quite the challenge.

I looked in a number of establishments, but nothing said ‘Statement Jacket’. I finally found a black corduroy blazer with pink visible stitching around the collar and pocket flaps which was indeed unique, in Jeff Banks. Who knew the presenter of The Clothes Show still had ‘it’. I thought the jacket represented a portent for the impending autumn and would contribute nicely to my smart, casual, cool look.

New simple black jeans and an array of potential T shirts were purchased from All Saints and H&M.

Brent Cross has the ability to solve serious problems. It was like Breakfast at Tiffany’s but less glamorous.

Foresight works so well for me, and with the planned outfit on, complimented by blue and silver Prada trainers I set off. As I approached the venue with my good friend Justin it looked like an old man’s pub on a main road north of Hoxton. We double checked the address but it appeared correct. We were expecting a private members club. We strode ahead with confidence, as you do in these circumstances, and the doors opened and presented a wonderful oasis of vogue and elegance.

The ground floor was sumptuous with rich red velvet booths and banquette seating. There were chandeliers at every turn, and an intricately designed pewter ceiling. 90s swing was pumping from the DJ which is ironic as this was the music de jour when I lived in East London. An enormous stuffed taxidermic tiger pounced from the centre of the bar.

A winding Victorian staircase with heavy flock wallpaper led to an enormous lounge with further stuffed creatures in the shape of a massive polar bear and peacock.

We continued our journey upwards and found a flock of tropical stuffed birds perched on a wooden roost on the landing. I have a ridiculous and irrational fear of birds, which was heightened by the peacock a floor down, and dared not look up for fear of running from the building screaming.

We were unfashionably on time. The venue was more or less empty. We had broken the first rule of fashionable parties and not arrived several hours after the start time. Even the hosts didn’t arrive until 45 minutes after us. There was only one thing for it and we sunk into a red velvet booth seat and a quenched our thirst with a few Tanquerays.

The chic of London started to arrive from 9, from the trendy Hoxton/Dalston boys in tight chinos with baseball caps and sockless loafers to the artists, photographers, djs, drag queens and transsexuals, muscle boys in t shirts, fashionista females who only eat once a week draped around designers and even a couple of infamous 1980s party people.

There was no keeping up with this crowd. There were a few of similar age to me who were trying, and squeezed into child sized clothing. Maybe it’s ok to try when surrounded by your own peers, but not when attempting to play this uber stylish fash pack at their own game. Several other slightly more mature gents, of a similar age to me had opted for the jeans, suit jacket and t shirt and we looked cool damn it. We would look unique and original in our own peer circles and here we wished the young would look at us and hope they still had this degree of ‘it’ when they matured.

I headed out into the crowd, networked and made new friends. Even met a fantastic trendsetting and beautiful DJ known for her unique and outrageous fashion. Amy has already made a massive name for her Sink The Pink brand, and incidentally dates someone I knew when I was much younger and lived out in the provinces. He is cutting edge artist now.

I was really starting to believe that it’s distinguished to be a ‘displaced’ Boulevardier. I don’t need to wear clothes three sizes too small to be somewhat ahead of the pack. Those times have passed.

However with displacement came an early call for bed, and at 11.30pm my yawning had increased (been there since 7pm) and I decided to head home. As I exited the venue I rubbed shoulders with another of the moment Drag Queen DJ who just arrived to take to the decks. Unlike many of the young attendees I could afford more than the night bus, flagged down a black Hackney cab and headed back to the warmth and protection of Crouch End knowing that here I am the fashionista and Boulevardier combined.

TNW

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You say tom-ate-o and I say tom-art-o

Arguments have long endured between the British and Americans concerning correct class, etiquette pronunciation and tradition.

I certainly held my sword aloft to this debate when I recently hosted a good friend Joe for a couple of weeks. He is American.

I quite happily quoted Downton Abbey, Tea With Mussolini and other worthy and valuable rules books at him when it suited my purpose.

Did not the Dowager Countess profess in Downton Abbey ‘You Americans never understand the importance of tradition.’

I somehow can’t remember Shirley MacLaine’s response.

I have a great greeting card which questions

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Cher was not invited to the picnic in Tea With Mussolini, as according to Maggie Smith, the ‘Americans simply don’t understand picnics’, and was criticised for buying a knickerbocker glory or ‘that American Monstrosity’. Maggie confirmed that ‘they (Americans) can even vulgarise ice cream!’

I love America and have spent significant time there over the years and enjoy immersing in their culture. However, they do get rather antsy when talking about tradition. Great Britain has been great for a long time and had opportunity to develop, enhance and refine tradition. Perhaps our friends from across the pond should look and learn.

Is the difference in language? We seem to speak the same words but in different order and with apparent misspelling (theirs).

From their fannies (our posteriors) to our fags, (their derogatory word for gays) to our vest (their undershirt or wifebeater), to our wifebeater (a slang term for Stella Artois lager). American vests are our waistcoats, and our braces their suspenders, and our suspenders their garter belts.

It’s no wonder conversations are oft difficult. It reminds me of spending afternoons drinking with a group of Glaswegian friends, whose accents grow stronger and they talk faster with each passing drink. After a short time I always hope I am nodding and smiling in the right places.

So I asked Joe for his 5 points of commentary on the differences or challenges he faced while in England. I will try and offer a suitable answer to each.

1)      Air-conditioning: Admittedly, I grew up in the Southern US and always seem to find myself living in places that are warm and muggy, except during the deep freeze of February. So, I like my air-conditioning. Unfortunately, the London Underground and other enclosed public spaces don’t seem to share my love of things cool. It’s about time that England joined the rest of us in the 21st century and condition the air supply. I’m not saying they have to crank the thermostat down to sub-arctic conditions, but a little cool air is refreshing when one is packed into a carriage with 100 other sweaty people. I was there in September, and that was bad enough. I can just imagine what it’s like at the peak of summertime with tourists so thick you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting 50 of them.

Boulevardier: It is rare that air conditioning is necessitated in the United Kingdom. For the few days a year when it would be useful we would rather protect our atmosphere rather than risk contributing to the ozone layer. But fear not Joe, we are always cool. Rest assured that our styling is carefully plucked and arranged to ensure cool at all times.

2)      Ice: Water, water everywhere, and nary a drop frozen. The US traveller will learn very soon to ask for “extra” ice in their drinks. Otherwise, you’ll just get a cube or two. I’m surprised pubs and the like haven’t caught on that there is less liquid poured into a glass that’s full of ice. Less liquid, higher profit margin; it’s simple economics.

Boulevardier: As a frequent visitor to the USA I am overwhelmed with the amount of ice in drinks. I can barely get to the drink sprinkled lightly between the ice cubes. Perhaps this is why Americans are quite quick to involve support organisations such as AA. I mean if you are able to actually get to the drink between the ice you must have a problem.

3)    Language: George Bernard Shaw purportedly said, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” Don’t even try to call out an Englishman when he’s made a grammatical gaffe; it’s a battle you will never win, even if you are correct. It is, after all, “their” language. I mean who cares if the major contributors to modern English were the Angles, Jutes, Danes, Norse, Romans, and French? Sadly, the original inhabitants’ Celtic has long been phased out of modern English vocabulary, with only traces of its syntax remaining. However, I digress.

The English know everything there is to know about their language; and other speakers of English from, say, the US (aka speakers of English as a foreign language) will never be able to comprehend the complex nature of the language. Just smile and nod.

Boulevardier: I think you make my argument quite succinctly. Unlike you and your fellow countrymen I do know when to keep quiet.

4) Tipping: Don’t tip in pubs, unless you have food. Round up to tip the cab driver unless he/she assists you with your bags, then it’s a pound per bag. Some restaurants include the tip on the bill, some don’t. Look, either do like the US where everyone sticks their hand out for money regardless of how much or how little service they have provided, irrespective of the quality, OR just do away with tipping all together. Who can remember all the rules for how much to tip because of convoluted tipping customs that would require a dissertation to explain?

Boulevardier: On this point I am happy to agree. Tipping here is confusing. Perhaps we should not have attempted to mimic your ways.

5) Public Transportation: I know I’ve been winging (that’s ‘complaining’ for you non-native speakers) about things I feel would improve England, but I have to say London’s public transport has got it right this time. Convenient, efficient, and for the most part, timely, London’s underground, rail, and bus service is on the mark. I never had to wait more than a few minutes for a train or bus, and it’s fairly simple to navigate. Although a bit pricier than public transport in the US, it’s well worth the little extra cost. I was never more than a few minutes’ walk from a station or stop. I think almost every major city in the US could learn a lesson from London, if they could only get that air-conditioning issue sorted out.

Boulevardier: Agreed. We agree on two of your five points. It was rather lovely when you even knew the times of the W7 bus to and from Crouch End. They come every few minutes so we natives just turn up and ride.

So the war is far from over and Americans may have size, voice and an air of entitlement but it’s no match for our class, style, tradition and age. All in my own humble opinion of course.

TNW

Catfish

We all sometimes present a slightly different version of ourselves. At interviews we try and accentuate our saleable features and shroud our less marketable talents and characteristics.

Online we can present ourselves in a number of different ways too. For instance my Boulevardier persona is a part of me but is exaggerated for entertainment purposes. Some might suggest that it’s not embellished at all.

When we act we take on different characters whether that be dramatically on a stage or just on a night out changing our name and circumstances when we talk to people we meet.

Does this ever become a problem? And how do people tip over the edge?

I have in the last couple of weeks been watching a TV show called Catfish. The Catfish of this show is a person who creates fake profiles on social media sites to market themselves as someone more attractive and appealing than their real selves.

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The reason behind the term Catfish according to our all-knowing World Wide Web is

They used to tank cod from Alaska all the way to China. They’d keep them in vats in the ship. By the time the codfish reached China, the flesh was mush and tasteless. So this guy came up with the idea that if you put these cods in these big vats, put some catfish in with them and the catfish will keep the cod agile. And there are those people who are catfish in life. And they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank god for the catfish because we would be droll, boring and dull if we didn’t have someone nipping at our fin.’

The first episode dealt with a young girl whose father was shot dead. As a result she went off the rails, drank too much and slept around. Her life turned about when she met a perfect guy on the internet who befriended her on Facebook. He became her boyfriend and despite their never having met were planning to spend the rest of their lives together. Suspicion was aroused by his never being available to web chat or meet.

The hosts of the show then come in to look at the evidence and try and track down who is behind the would be scam or in other words the identity of the Catfish. In this first episode the girl’s best friend had created the fake profile to help her get over the death of her father and used her cousin to be the male voice on the end of the phone. She tried to justify her actions as not knowing what else to do in trying to get her best friend to stop ruining her life.

The second episode centred on an gay ex-soldier, medically retired after being injured in the Middle East. He met a guy online who became his boyfriend of several months. They had never met and the same scenario ensued. This resulted in the team uncovering a very unhappy young man pretending to be someone else to deal with self-esteem issues in his own life.

The third episode which was shown this week told a similar story but this time the victim had been sending money to his Catfish who was a significantly less physically attractive girl than her internet profile suggested.

The show is astounding and shocking, and while each individual story is different there are similar dark threads of deception, desperation, denial and decay. There can be no longevity to the webs the Catfish weave but they don’t seem to be able to detach themselves when the situation is spiralling out of control.

Interestingly most of the people in the programme were young and under 25, and many under 21. Does that mean that this problem is associated only with the young or that only the young are prepared to put it on camera?

No one seems to get a good outcome and everyone whether the Catfish or victim end up with a bitter taste in their mouths. The deceivers have openly said that they started off with deception but really fell for the deceived. I have not yet seen anyone forgive the Catfish to the point of continuing with the relationship.

Our modern multimedia lives create great opportunities and shrink the world divides but this would definitely be one of the cons.

This pretending to be who you are not lark or in this case Catfishing (if there is such a term) becomes a problem, in my mind, when it starts to impact on other people in a negative way.

Hopefully my Boulevardier does not impact on anyone in a negative way and is a fun accentuation of me! I think it’s great to have a doppelgänger. I hope you enjoy him too…

(I would wage that no one expected a blog from me about fishing!)

TNW

Rules of a displaced Boulevardier

To celebrate over six months of weekly blogging I thought it was time to share with you the very essence of a displaced Boulevardier.

The trusty World Wide Web tells us that a Boulevardier is a man who promenades the fashionable streets of Paris. In other words an urbane, fashionable city dweller, who is usually of higher class and has knowledge of the city, and in particular how to find the best advanced cultural entertainment.

I do think that Crouch End is a suitable replacement for Paris. I also just about manage to replicate the criteria albeit in a displaced fashion.

I will now enlighten (and hopefully entertain) you by providing the seven areas of consideration in my self help guide.   

Hair

A Boulevardier, however displaced, should have a good head of hair. This should be coiffured into a chic style. The quiff is a good example of en vogue tresses, which equally retains a classic and classy element.

Regular visits to the salon are also required. Barbers do serve a purpose, but seem to deal more in volume sheerings than dazzling creations.

The most important part of the appointment is the initial consultation. It is not enough to provide the instruction

‘Just a trim please.’

The Tonsorial Artist will perform much better with a detailed description of each area of the how the cutting should take place for each area of the head.

For example ‘Please don’t cut any length from the front and top. The sides and back should be much shorter, and as short as possible without showing the scalp, and disconnected from the top rather than graduated.’

Healthy (some might say excessive) attention to clothing

Fashion is constantly changing and evolving, and while it would be fantastic to keep right up to the minute with every microscopic change it’s simply not practical. It is important to ensure sartorial sophistication exudes from your wardrobes and this can be achieved by developing your own essence of cool. Of course this will be wrapped around various genres, from hippie to punk, but it will be your own.

A cautionary note should be added. Please check with your friends and family first to validate your ability for natural panache, as without this creating your own style could lead to disaster.

Adding the right and the right number of accessories is vital. Think jewellery, manbag (to manbag or to not?), and shades. Shades are mandatory and the choice should be around which pair to wear.

And contrary to popular belief a man can never have enough shoes.

Social Media Presence            

Updating social media is an art. Each tweet, status update or photo should be interesting and make the reader or viewer wish they were in your world.

For instance if you wake feeling too tired to get up, then you post should read something like the following

‘Decadently lounging in bed savouring endless cups of tea.’

Timing your updates is also key and ensuring you still pay sufficient attention to any company you are keeping. It’s not wise to constantly update when you are in a social situation but sometimes needs must. Much will depend on the duration of your social intercourse. If you are meeting for a short lunch then it’s probably not prudent to be constantly tapping your phone or tablet, but if it’s a longer affair then it’s only reasonable to keep in touch with your wider circle.

Theatre, concerts and the arts

Regular visits to all manner of cultural events are required and enjoyed. Crouch End is vibrant with its own annual arts festival, and with so many nearby local theatres there is always something to watch and enjoy.

From the revue showings of new plays in bars to the acoustic music sessions in the cafes there is always something on.

These experiences should enrich your cultural conversational referencing.

We even had crocheted squares and woven pompoms decorating the trees and railings near the Clock Tower this summer.

Immergence and appreciation of all artistic expression is required.

Elegant Hosting

This is the area of Boulevarding (I think I just invented a new verb!) I struggle with most. The kitchen is not my natural sanctuary. If you think Carrie from Sex and the City, and her redundant kitchen you won’t be too far from the truth. However, I would like to protest that it is almost sacrilegious to stay in when there are global gastronomical opportunities minutes from my residence. Crouch End is bountiful with eateries. Everything from Caribbean fusion to Pan Asian via Spain, Italy, Turkey and Japan to name just a few.

The hosting at my home is finer tuned to thirst quenching and entertainment. My piano forte is often in use.

Drink Sherry and Tanqueray

A preferred tipple which coincidently sets you aside from the pack is also a bonus.

Sherry has certainly made a comeback in recent years, and our palates have been warmed to an excellent Fino or a darker Amontillado. Sherry is an elegant drink to enjoy and certainly raises the eyebrows of most bar staff when requested.

However, while it has been revived Sherry is not freely available. It is therefore important to have an alternate in mind. I oft for Tanqueray a lesser known London gin. My spirit of choice has long been gin, and I really don’t like the taste of the default Gordons. Amy Winehouse introduced me to the joys of Tanqueray when she sang of it in her track You Know I’m No Good.

If in doubt ask ‘What would Amy do?’

Replace ‘Amy’ with your own hero but it has to be someone qualified in style, cool and presence.

I hope my short and perhaps self-indulgent guide spurs some of you into the joys of Boulevardier hood.

TNW

North Marine Drive

I waited outside the school gates for Heather at the beginning of lunchtime. It had been easier to coordinate lunch in the 3rd year as we were in the same set and had the same lessons. The 4th year was the start of our ‘O’ Level options and as we had chosen differently had to plan meeting up at breaks.

At registration that morning she had tantalised me with news that she had new music from her older super cool sister who was at University. We were predominantly listening to The Smiths and Simple Minds until Helen, the older sister, had introduced us to Freur and their electronic album Doot Doot. In the same vein I hoped the new music would be original and something off the wall.

Heather appeared and immediately passed her school books to me. Heather was a young lady and preferred to carry a small, impractical for school books, picnic basket which housed her hairbrush and make up. I didn’t mind as my bag was much bigger and I was stronger. We had been good friends for over a year after Heather dated one of my school friends. They split but we stayed friends.

We hurried the 10 minute walk to her parents’ house, and I retrieved my cheese sandwiches my mum had prepared that morning. Cheese was my preferred sandwich with prawn cocktail crisps, penguin and apple. I sometimes varied the cheese sandwich with cream cheese. Heather went into the lounge and hit play on the large silver coloured ghetto blaster.

Brass instruments hit my ears followed by a distinct jazzy beat, and then the silky voice of Tracey Thorn ‘If you ever feel the time, to drop me a loving line.’

WOW!

WOW!

This was jazz, and I liked The Smiths. But there was something so unique and so simple. I didn’t like jazz. It wasn’t cool, but this was something else. It sounded like jazz but as the tracks flowed it was clear that there was a darker sound to the voice. I needed to get a copy.

My new sound stayed with me through the day, and Heather had promised to make a copy for me that evening. I got Everything But The Girl’s album Eden on one side and Ben Watt’s solo album North Marine Drive on the other. It’s funny that we talk today about illegal downloads, but either recording from the radio or tape to tape copying was commonplace in the 1980s.

The beginning to Eden gets me every time, even to this day. It’s so powerful and pure, and transports me to a different place and time.

Ben’s solo album is more raw, and a collection of melancholic but picturesque (however bleak) tracks. As a somewhat morose teenager at times, this fitted perfectly and provided a companion (alongside Morrissey) to the problems and depressions associated with growing up.

I never got to see Ben Watt or Tracey Thorn live either individually or collectively as Everything But the Girl. Concerts weren’t so accessible then. In fact I didn’t go to concerts until I was in my early 20s. I was not in the know to find out about concerts and rarely read NME so didn’t see any EBTG concerts advertised. My Boulevardier qualities were in their infancy. EBTG were silent popstars. Today the words silent and popstar create an oxymoron. EBTG were not emblazoned across the front of every newspaper, falling out of clubs or selling their souls. They just made music.

So that was that! I still loved and consistently listened to particularly Eden and North Marine Drive. It was such a relief when these albums were released on CD. CDs were more durable, and every time I played the tapes I feared it would be their last.

Earlier this year, Ben Watt posted on Twitter that he was performing a couple of acoustic concerts, at small venues. These would be the first solo gigs of this nature since the early 1980s. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted tickets and booked two. I really wanted to ask whether he would be playing some of the older stuff, but I always sensed they were not sentimental and preferred not to look back. This was confirmed by Tracey Thorn earlier in the year when I asked her at her book reading about touring and playing some of the earlier ETBG material.

Ben asked on Twitter who was coming to the gigs, and I responded positively. Justin, my good friend who was coming with me, stated that he wasn’t sure what to wear. Ben replied saying ‘It’ll be hot, so keep it simple.’

Fashion advice from Ben Watt on Twitter.

I decided to keep it really simple and wore denim shorts, sandals and a Jimi Hendrix T shirt. I met Justin at Old Street underground station, and he was wearing a long sleeved, but thin, sweater, jeans and silver pointy shoes. He was also carrying a jacket. A Jacket! It was still about 24 degrees. I did have an H&M graffiti hoodie around my waist but a jacket. We laughed and joked as we bound along Old Street expectant of a great gig.

The venue, interestingly called The Venue is a downstairs room at The Slaughtered Lamb Public House in Clerkenwell. The pub itself is a large square room with a mish mash of aging leather sofas and unpolished wooden tables and chairs. Justin walked in and instantly greeted the barman. Was he a regular? No, it was a friend he didn’t know worked there!

After quenching our thirst on delicious wine and beer, respectively not subsequently, we walked downstairs to the Venue. Two heavy dark wood doors opened into a medium sized dark room. At one end was the bar and the performance area. This was not a stage as it was not raised. It actually looked like a guitar shop as there were 6 guitars all lined up ready for use, along with a mandolin, keyboard, mikes and amps. One solitary standard lamp rather frayed at the edges lit the corner. In front of the stage were a number of small stools, and we selected the second row. The Venue gradually filled and started to heat up. Ben was right with his advice! I wondered if Justin rued wearing a sweater. Both our jacket and hoodie were redundant and on the floor.

At just after 8.30 Ben appeared to applause. He didn’t bask in the applause and instead offered simple non-verbal gratitude and sat at the keyboard and shared one of his new tracks with us.

Wow! It was fantastic. The sound more mature than his early solo material, but still full of emotion. His voice still as unique and haunting as it ever was.

Someone called Bernard joined him to play on a few tracks. Ben joked that Bernard hadn’t had time to learn them all. I wasn’t aware at the time but this was Bernard Butler from 90s fame and acclaim.

Ben warmed up and as he did engaged more and explained his journey back to music. He hadn’t written any new tracks for a number of years and was suddenly hit by inspiration earlier in the year. It was good to know that even the great and successful artists found it difficult to write when consumed with other projects. I have previously written here that my passion for the commercial world stifled and stunted my create writing. I am working hard at redressing this balance.

Ben hinted that if he was brave enough he would play a few of his old tracks. My excitement intensified. Was I really going to hear live interpretations of some of the sounds of my youth.

Ben continued playing some beautiful new tracks, mostly with the same gloom and angst present throughout his early work. Songs such as Golden Ratio, The Levels, Nathaniel we will always love you, and Bricks and Wood, or was it Wood and Bricks, spring to mind.

Ben announced that he had not played the next track to an audience in over 30 years. As soon as the first few melancholy plucked notes hit my ears, I knew we were in for the treat that is Walter and John.

Ben then played Somethings Don’t Matter and North Marine Drive, which are two of my favourite tracks from his North Marine Drive album. Ben forgot some words halfway through North Marine Drive, but it really didn’t matter. It felt like we were sharing a journey with him, and in doing so he was fulfilling my journey which started with these tracks over 30 years ago. This evening was a precious moment in time.

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The temperature in the room was akin to a sauna, but it somehow didn’t matter.

After a few more new tracks and a keyboard version of On Box Hill Ben’s first solo concert in over 30 years was over, and an amazing success. He even quipped that it wasn’t as tough as he had expected! And that he would be in the studio from September and hoped to release some new material next spring.

Ben came back into the room after the concert and it gave me a chance to say thank you in person.

A fantastic evening coupling a trip down remembrance avenue and some new fantastic material.

TNW