O For the Memories

Crouch End has always been a wonderful place to live. It’s a suburb of our capital city but has a unique village feel which compliments a vibrant London arts’ vibe. I’ve always felt safe and secure and barely witnessed a cross word.

That is until I entered the world of our senior residents. In talking to friends, this is not a phenomenon unique to N8 and seems to penetrate our senior community globally. I wonder if the swearing nan in Catherine Tate’s show inspired our genteel senior community to be more verbally expressive…

After an afternoon of community bingo deteriorated in such a fashion last week I wanted to know what happened thereafter, but also didn’t want to know. I hadn’t heard from Lil or Armando since the episode with Bill, which I hoped was a positive sign.

The sun was pouring through my bedroom curtains and I had no time to dawdle or procrastinate further and was up and ready to go – shorts and an Amy Winehouse T shirt prepared me for Breakfast Club.

Lil wasn’t yet in situ and I took the opportunity to extract an update from Armando.

‘I found him two streets away sitting on someone’s wall. He looked a-confused. He couldn’t explain what happened.’

Armando paused his explanation as our first pot of tea arrived. I could feel the warmth radiating from its welcoming centre. It didn’t matter how high the outside temperatures climbed; I had to start Breakfast Club, or in fact any day, with tea.

‘I took him home, and let me tell you, he hadn’t been looking after himself properly for quite a while judging by the state of his flat. I telephoned his daughter and she asked me to stay with him until she arrived, which I did. I haven’t heard anything else.’ Armando finished his story and started to pour our tea. I always appreciate a china cup, irrespective of a mismatched saucer. Is it in my mind or does tea taste better when consumed from china crockery?

‘Pour the third cup please Armando,’ said Lil as she sat down to join us.

We greeted with our routine, tender kisses. Lil was not decked out in finery this week, and had a simple white blouse with a beige cardigan. Her hair, however, was electric blue. She’d been at the rinse bottle again.

‘Nice hair Lil,’ I said. She nodded her gratitude at my comment. ‘Tory blue is it?’ I added.

Armando jumped in before Lil had chance to answer. ‘Any news of Bill? I didn’t want to trouble his daughter.’

The waitress was back to take our order. Armando and I requested granola with yoghurt and berries. Lil ordered a full English. I wasn’t surprised; not only because it was habitual but the hair would require feeding too.

‘It’s been a dreadful week for Bill and his family. I spoke to Penny, his daughter. She went to his GP’s the morning after she arrived, which would have been Friday, and demanded an emergency appointment. He was on a waiting list to get memory tests completed as you know, and they brought the session forward to Monday.’

Lil stopped speaking and looked towards the door. I wondered if she were hoping Bill would walk through and save her from continuing. From our previous discussions we knew the percentage chance of Bill developing dementia was high at his age, and that the memory tests were a key component of diagnosis.

Lil was distracted as she greeted another elderly patron of the café. Apparently this one was called Mrs McAleen. She spoke with a strong Irish accent and was waiting for her brother Marty who was joining her for morning coffee, although she would be having a Coca-Cola, or so she informed us. Her spectacles wouldn’t have looked out of place on Dame Edna Everidge. Mrs McAleen moved away to await her company as our breakfasts arrived. I managed to drain another cup of tea for myself from the depleted pot and sent for another. I was particularly thirsty today. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the bottle of Oloroso which evaporated in my presence the previous evening.

‘I took a chance and paid an impromptu visit on Tuesday morning to find his sister packing up some of his stuff. She explained that the tests had proven inconclusive, or at least confirmed that he wasn’t suffering from dementia but they were concerned he was confused to such a degree and not taking care of himself. Anyway, Penny told me that they had decided to take Dad, as she called him, back to theirs for an extended visit to keep an eye on him. Bill and I went out for a morning tea, at her suggestion, while she continued loading items into battered suitcases.’

I wasn’t sure how I felt about the departure of Bill. He was jolly and fun, and for a time had made Lil happy. I wasn’t confident their journey together should as yet be snuffed out.

Lil was carving a fat, skin encased sausage. She dipped a piece in the semi-congealed yolk of her egg before inserting the fork into her mouth.

‘Armando, I think this sausage is off. It tastes weird,’ Lil exclaimed as she extracted the contents of her mouth into the handkerchief which was conveniently tucked into the sleeve of her cardigan.

Armando didn’t appreciate the sudden change of conversation or the criticism of his produce, and put his hands on his hips and said ‘Nothing wrong with sausage. They are fresh,’ and glared at Lil.

‘Maybe it’s the new flavoured sausages,’ said a passing waitress.

‘What? What’s wrong with the bangers you usually serve up?’ asked Lil.

‘Lil, please stop it. We are using local wild boar and apple sausages, and we never used what you call bangers.’ Armando was being firm despite Lil’s latest woe. The café was his business and he was proud of its achievements.

Lil realised she had overstepped the mark and had already, adeptly, slipped the squelching full hankie into her handbag.

‘Sorry. Maybe I overreacted. I’ll try again. I thought it was off, not apple.’ Lil cut a thinner sliver of sausage and coated it in ketchup, added a button mushroom and popped the new combination into her mouth. I didn’t want sausagegate to stunt the story and decided to encourage its continuation.

‘What happened next Lil? Did you go out with Bill?’

‘Yes Wayne.’ Lil looked relieved to be back to her traumatic tale and away from potential disagreement with Armando.

She continued, ‘We went to small café near Bill’s flat.’

Armando huffed gently. I hoped we weren’t now going to get knocked off course again to discuss the choice of café.

‘We wanted somewhere quiet to talk. I’d have preferred to come to Armando’s, but it’s too bustling.’ Good Lil, very smooth I thought.

‘“I don’t know what is wrong with me Lil, and I’m scared” Bill said as soon as we sat down with a pot and two slices of walnut cake. I didn’t know what to say to that,’ said Lil.

She hesitated and added additional salt to her setting yolk. I refrained from pointing out that she’d already salted it once.

‘“They said it isn’t dementia…yet. So does that mean it’s on its way?” he’d asked next. There was a real fear in his eyes.  Goodness I still didn’t have any answers and instead took a bite of my cake.

It then got worse.

He took me hand and said “I’d wanted you and me to enjoy a few good years together, before we had to deal with anything like this.” I went to speak and reassure him but he wasn’t finished.’

Lil paused again. Armando and I were finishing our bowls and trying not to scrape our spoons against the sides as we extracted the final remnants of yoghurt covered granola.

‘Oh Wayne, he carried on,“I don’t know what to do next, but I know if this is a sign of what’s coming then I don’t want you to be part of it. It’s not fair and I’m decided. I’m going to Penny’s for a while.”’ Lil put down her cutlery at this point and put her hand over her face. I hoped she wasn’t going to cry. She was obviously upset, but we’d had enough of that lately.

Lil picked up her paper napkin and dabbed the corners of her mouth before taking a long, slow, sip of tea which revived her to continue.

‘We just looked at each other for what seemed like ages. Neither of us knew what to say or how we should feel about it. In the end we just continued with our tea and cake. It was all we were able to do.’

‘That is too sad,’ said Armando as he placed his spoon into the empty bowl before him and picked up his cup.

‘He was right, and I don’t mean to sound unkind. It put the fear of God into me. We’ve seen so many friends and other members of the community start suffering from these dreadful symptom and it robs life and enjoyment and replaces it with confusion and panic.’ Lil delivered the latter part with remarkable stoicism but she made a good point. People are living longer and the chances of dementia increase with age. We worry about cancer, HIV and it’s no different for the elderly to worry about a devastating affliction which affects them. Lil hadn’t declared a finality to their relationship and I wasn’t going to ask but it sounded over to me.

Fortunately it hadn’t suppressed her appetite and she looked up and wiped the last slice of toast across her plate.

‘How’s your love life Armando? Still with Jason the ticket inspector?’ asked Lil.

She was bloody good at this. She avoided getting to the nub, the painful part, of the conversation and moved on. This must have been how it was with Bill. They’d reached a part of their conversation which was too excruciating and instead of dealing with it, they returned to their cake. We didn’t know how she felt deep inside and it was clear she didn’t want us to ask.

‘Yes, and he works in the ticket office, not a ticket inspector. Although we don’t get much time to see each other. He has such silly shifts, and I’m always at the café.’

Another pot of tea arrived. This was a serious Breakfast Club and we hadn’t even established whether Lil had seen Mavis in the week.

I sat back and watched Lil and Armando chatter about Jason. Dating can be traumatic and whether it’s kiss-chase in the junior school playground, clubbing in Soho, or a companion for your later years, it’s fraught with drama, or it can be. My thoughts turned to my Michael and I was grateful he was in my life. We had a relatively drama-free romance.

‘What you thinking about?’ said Lil nudging me in the ribs and interrupting my thoughts.

‘Nothing,’ I said, ‘so who did your hair this time?’

Lil pursed her lips before she allowed them to part and released one of her famous, eardrum-shattering cackles.

 

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Bonkers Bingo

I drew the bed covers up and raised my second Assam of the morning to my lips. I loved our Breakfast Club but equally enjoyed the decadence of a long lie in, particularly when the air has a glacial bite to it. I had opened one of my sliding wardrobe doors and was looking intently in from the warmth of bed. I had no idea what to wear.

I knew how to dress for an evening with Eve Ferret at Crazy Coqs, or a night at Polari Literary Salon at the Royal Festival Hall, but what would I wear to a charity bingo afternoon at the community centre? I wanted to make sure that Lil was impressed. It would take several more cups of tea before I was able to make a good decision.

It was ten to two. How time flies when you want it to stay still, and I was having a final check in the mirror; the hair was quiffed, and the combination of purple chinos, Amy Winehouse T shirt, blue/silver Prada trainers and a dark blue cord jacket said I’d made an effort but not overdone it.

Lil and Armando were waiting, arm in arm, outside the Café as I approached. Armando had seemingly combed his hair and applied some pomade, and wore a plain shirt beneath his coat, and blue jeans. Lil looked a picture; his lips were rosy, her cheeks rouged, the hair purpler (she’d been at the rinse again), and she wore a tightly buttoned woollen coat with oversized buttons – an animal print silk scarf warmed her neck. Her fancy court shoes matched her patented handbag. She’d pushed the boat out and I was glad I was wearing some glad(ish) rags too.

‘I hope you haven’t forgotten to take off your house coat today Lil,’ I joked.

‘Shut it Boulevardier. You could have made an effort,’ Lil retorted with shooting speed.

I took Lil’s other arm and we escorted her the short walk to our afternoon entertainment.

As we entered Lil spoke to the door staff; apparently called Tom and Ted. We didn’t get an introduction but paid our fees, handed over our prizes of wine and vouchers, and received our bingo cards.

‘I’m just nipping to powder my nose gentlemen,’ Lil said, and with that she was off. She reminded me of a peacock and we were her plume.

Upon Lil’s return her cheeks were re-rouged and her lips coated in an extra layer of liner. We re-linked arms like the front line of battle and shuffled through the double doors into the hall. Our entrance wasn’t as smooth as expected as Armando caught his sleeve on the door. Lil pursed her lips briefly and then switched as we entered the hall and let out an enchanting cackle as if one of us had said something funny. She was performing. We would have to oblige.

Lil guided us between a number of elderly patrons to an empty table near the front. She asked Armando to get us a Sherry each from the bar. This was out of habit. She was used to Armando serving us. While he completed his mission Lil steered me to the front where a portly elderly gent was bursting out of his chequered waistcoat.

‘I’d like to introduce you to my good friend who is a writer, Bill. This is Wayne and Wayne this is Bill.’

‘How do you do,’ I said trying to sound as much like a writer as I could.

‘Likewise. What do you write?’

‘A blog.’ Bill looked nonplussed. An online journal and some short stories.’

‘Good afternoon Lilian. Please move away from the bingo cage. We don’t want to be accused of fiddling with the balls now do we,’ came a familiar voice.

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‘Hello Mavis,’ Lil said through gritted teeth, ‘you seem to have forgotten to take off your pinny.’

‘It’s a pinafore dress Lilian as well you know.’

‘Are you sure? You look as if you should be in the kitchens.’

Mavis smiled politely but was not prepared to engage Lil further and moved to another table where we could hear her loudly exclaiming to other attendees. I coaxed Lil back to our table where Armando was waiting with the Sherries.

‘Lil, honestly, you and Mavis are like a pair of schoolgirls,’ I said.

‘She accused me of trying to cheat,’ Lil said in a low but firm defence, ‘and I’m not having it.’

We were interrupted by Mavis, booming through a microphone to thank everyone for attending. We were invited to help ourselves to a selection of sandwiches and cakes and a hot drinks as the bingo would be starting in fifteen minutes.

I left Lil with Armando and ventured forth to get a sharing platter. The sandwiches were varied and on large aluminium plates with doilies for decoration. I’d finished my Sherry and fancied a coffee and approached the two ladies who were standing on either side of two large stainless steel urns and made my request.

Back at the table I enjoyed the simple cheese sandwiches. Why do we go for fancy sundried tomato and Prosciutto when simple and traditional tastes just as good?  I’d also secured three slices of Battenberg. Our afternoon tea was cut short as Mavis announced the commencement of the bingo.

‘I’d like to pronounce this Bingo event open.’

‘She’s not naming a bloody ship,’ said Lil loud enough for Mavis to hear.

Bill stood. I hoped the buttons on his waistcoat stayed put as they were being stretched and could cause quite a nasty injury should they ping forth. Bill turned the handle on the metal bingo cage full of coloured balls before lifting the latch and pulling forth ‘number 23’ which he then placed in its designated circular hole on the large wooden board.

None of us had ‘23’ on our cards and regrettably this was to be a harbinger as we didn’t win anything. I came close once where I only needed one number but was beaten by a rather downtrodden looking lady at another table. I reasoned that perhaps she deserved to triumph more than me.

Mavis announced the end of the proceedings, thanked everyone for their time and contributions which totalled several hundred pounds for charity.

‘At least Mavis didn’t win anything either,’ said Lil.

I turned and looked at her and she appeared defeated and tired. Did she want or rather need to win a prize?  Lil looked vulnerable.

Mavis was still full of spirits and laughing loudly with some of the attendees. Lil looked upset and I felt protective. We needed to get her out of there and home as soon as possible. A nod from Armando meant that our thoughts were in sync.

We exited the venue quickly and without further incident. Mavis was still busy talking to some of the winners on the other side of the hall and Bill was focussed on putting his balls away. As we walked back to the café Lil relied more on the arm support.

‘Are you tired Lil?’ I said.

‘A little, but let’s get a nice tea together in Armando’s café before we separate.’

Our usual table was taken but Lil seemed too weary to mind and we sat next to the front window.

‘Thank you for coming with me, my lovely boys. You don’t know how much I appreciate it.’

Armando and I looked at each other. We knew.

 

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

A Family Portrait

It was fantastic news when it was announced that the Jewish Museum in Camden was to exhibit a number of personal items belonging to Amy Winehouse. The family had given unprecedented access and promises of her first guitar, albums and clothing ensued.

The Mayor of Camden hosted a private reception and viewing of the exhibition, and in doing so raised money for the Foundation Amy’s father set up following her demise.

“The Amy Winehouse Foundation works to prevent the effects of drug and alcohol misuse on youngpeople. We also aim to support, inform and inspire vulnerable and disadvantaged young people to help them reach their full potential.” Amy’s Dad, Mitch

Tickets were obtained for the event.

Now as regular readers will know I plan with precision each outfit for every event. The Crouch End Boulevardier did not let standards slip especially when there was a chance to pay respects to one of the most contemporary influences in his life.

The difficultly was the temperature. It was so beautifully hot and I refuse to be one of the Brits who bemoan the cold and the heat! The only difficulty was in deciding what to wear. Cool clothes are not always loose and summery. The temperature gauge hit 30 degrees and I decided upon the leatherette trousers (again as always grateful they were not real leather), Paul Smith inspired Papillo Birkenstocks and a Kurt Cobain T shirt. A friend asked on Twitter whether the tee decision was wise. I wanted to reflect those who died too young, without wearing an actual Amy t shirt. Kurt is also a member of the awful 27 club.

I met Ange for a swift gossip and glass of red at the Bucks Head. We fortunately managed to drown out an unskilled busker as he murdered Creep by Radiohead.

Once inside the museum we were met by 8 foot display screens rotating images of Amy from school days to Back to Black performances. Part of Back to Black was playing. The song still sounds so fresh, and the emotion emanating from Amy still devastating.

Up a few steps, and a glass display cased the gingham dress immortalised by Amy in the Tears Dry On Their Own video. At its base were a pair of pink ballet pumps, another of Amy’s signature looks.

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The main reception was being held in a function room, and we were greeted by the Mayor dressed in a smart suit and adorned by his livery collar. We chatted to a few other patrons over a glass of wine and canapés. In typical British reserved fashion we danced around the canapés and watched for someone to breach the artificial barrier and grab a morsel, thus signifying it was in order to dive in!

The Mayor officially opened the semi formal part of the reception with a short speech of thanks and expressed his support and passion for the Foundation and invited Mitch Winehouse to speak.

Mitch warmed our hearts and brought a tear to our eyes as he spoke proudly of Alex and Riva, co-curators of the exhibition, and of Amy. He spoke of the last time he saw Amy alive, and how they had enjoyed moments pouring over old photos of the family. Amy had previously lost a suitcase full of photos in her various moves and found them shortly before her death. Mitch cited that the suitcase was part of the exhibition. Had Amy not insisted her Dad come to her home on the way to the airport and look at the photos, he would have been off to New York and missed this precious last time with his daughter.

Entering the actual exhibition was like entering Amy’s world. Quotes taken from her application and audition to the Sylvia Young School were printed in her handwriting on the wall. Her school uniform hung ‘pieced together from various members of the family’ Mitch informed.

Videos of early performances at school led toward one of her Grammy’s.

The open suitcase of photos provided a visual feast of Amy’s family. ‘Amy lived for her friends and family’ Mitch’s words rang in my ears.

The key exhibition picture printed to 6 feet shows a posed Amy, pre beehive, in front of a fireplace, one elbow resting on the mantle and the other arm over her head pulling her hair off her face. The chimney breast adorned with framed pictures of legends and Vogue covers, martini and khalua bottles in the grate, their usual purpose changed to candle holders.

And then the fridge magnets….  I am not sure why this part of the exhibition moved me so. I think it’s because it’s so simple and normal. I love a good fridge magnet and own around 20, which are functionally displayed on my own fridge . Amy’s were funny with ‘It’s better to have loved and lost rather than to live with this psycho for the rest of your life’ down to the poignant ‘It’s Sinatra’s World, we just live in it’. I stood and imagined Amy opening her fridge door and smiling at the quips and puns before her.

After having a look around the gift shop (I think there should be a law necessitating visits to any gift shops where available), and purchased a notepad with the lyrics to Tears Dry on Their Own printed in Amy’s hand on the inside cover, we went back into the reception and had an opportunity to speak with Mitch Winehouse, who graciously allowed us to have our photo taken with him.

After thanking him for sharing so many of the family’s private memories with the public he proudly asserted that Alex (his son and Amy’s brother) was responsible for the exhibition along with his wife.

We spoke about the Foundation and Mitch explained that he really had to do this in Amy’s memory, and she would have wanted him to do so. She was always helping people, even when they were undeserving. Mitch went on to detail the amount of help they have managed to provide already, and supply almost 100 ‘down on their luck’ youngsters a meal every day, which is a fantastic achievement.

We spoke somewhat about Amy, and I talked to Mitch about the Hammersmith concert I wrote about last week and explained my perspective as an audience member. Mitch talked about the difficulties they had with that tour, and how Amy would perform divinely one evening and then struggle the next. That very evening in Hammersmith Mitch had found Amy with Pete Doherty and had to remove him from the room.

Mitch told us of the birth of the beehive credited to Amy’s great friend and stylist Naomi.

Amy loved shopping, Mitch told us, and had an account with Selfridges and would come home laden, really laden with so much, too much, that he would have to take most of it back the next day!

We spoke about his book and I thanked him for providing a frank insight into struggling and living alongside an addict daughter who also happened to be a phenomenal worldwide talent. For anyone who reads who hasn’t read it I would highly recommend it.

I could go on, as there were so many little tales he shared with us, as he generously spent time talking. Mitch doesn’t always get the best coverage by the press but I can tell you all now, that he is an articulate and passionate man, who is also very earnest in his storytelling, which is why he probably gets a rough deal from the press sometimes.  I was so moved I offered to help with all the sales, marketing and fundraising for the foundation!

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Ange and I left the building full of emotion and gratitude to all involved in this event and for giving a glimpse into the world of Amy Winehouse.

TNW

Beehive Fanatic

Amy Winehouse would have been 30 years old this year, and it’s hard to believe it’s almost 2 years since her untimely death. This week your Boulevardier wants to talk about his relationship with Amy and her music.

Starting right back in 2006 I hadn’t consciously listened to any off Amy’s music until I started to hear Rehab everywhere. It seemed to be on the radio, on the television, and tickling your ears wherever you went. Who were Ray and Mr Hathaway she sung of? Mr Hathaway would unfortunately be a harbinger. Amy was referencing the late great Donny Hathaway who had also left this mortal coil too early in life, albeit for different reasons.

This was 2006 and iTunes was starting to gather momentum, and as a relatively new user I enjoyed the instant response it provided. If I wanted an album I could download and be listening to it within a few minutes. I could also just select a few tracks. (Remember when Amazon felt so modern where you were able to order album online and get it within a couple of days!) I took the plunge and downloaded the entire Back to Black album and started listening.  I didn’t love it on first listen, but it was good enough and different enough to keep going. I was drawn to the 60s sound next to modern arrangements and beats. Amy’s voice was breathtaking. The tracks Back to Black and Addicted started to stand out, and I couldn’t get Back to Black out of my head.

From there a complete immersion into Amy’s sound occurred, and I don’t think I listened to any other music, or rather no other music meant so much to me until at least 2008. Someone who is no longer a friend, but who I reasonable amount of time with in 2007 often remarked that ‘I listened to Amy Winehouse on a constant loop’. English was not his primary language, but he accurately summed it up.

With the growing success of Back to Black Amy’s personal life, which didn’t appear to be in a similar ascendency, was plastered all over the tabloids and internet.

I loved her look. I loved that she had taken 60s hair and makeup and turned them into something very modern, punk even. She was a punk to me. She found a way to rebel lyrically against the outward sugar of most of the 60s girl groups she emulated, The Crystals aside.

The beehive was iconic and I loved it. I really wished there had been a male alternative.

Her tattoos also added to her urban raw look. She worked effortlessly to bring a real urban cool back to Camden. Reports of wild nights at the Hawley Arms only added to the urban myth.

I have to confess heading to the Hawley Arms a couple of times in the vain hope of bumping into Amy, maybe getting a photo, and if I was really lucky having a chat. The best I got was seeing the Amy doll which stands 5 inches tall standing at the back of the downstairs bar.

Concerts were announced in 2007, and I got 2 tickets to see Amy at Hammersmith Apollo for Saturday 24th November 2007. I was really excited and my good friend Jane agreed to go with me. She knew I was obsessed with Amy’s music and loved live concerts where artists provide their face to face interpretation of their tracks.

However, Amy’s press coverage was getting worse and I was avidly following, but really couldn’t ignore it with regards to the concert. Her benders seemed to be getting worse, along with continuous allegations of drug taking. A lot of press put blame on her then husband.

The DVD release of one of her concerts ‘I Told You I was Trouble: Live in London’ perked me up as the performance was breathtaking. So all Amy needed to do was to stay away from the demons in her life and give a fantastic performance at Hammersmith.

Blake, her husband, was on remand at the time, and not only was the case not looking good but bail had been refused, and this seemed to affect Amy so much.

Jane and I met at Hammersmith underground station expectant of a great concert. We had a couple of drinks in a grotty pub near the tube station to get our buzz started, and headed across to the venue. The bar queues were extensive and several people deep. Everyone seemed intent on having a party! Jane and I decided to double double up, and had our respective vodka and gin and slimline tonics in pint glasses to accommodate the quadruple measures.

We excitedly headed into the auditorium, following another ticket check. We later discovered that it was not official, and a tout had taken our tickets! Fortunately we did not need them again.

We finished our drinks, expecting Amy to be on, but she was running late, so Jane headed back out to the bar and refilled our mammoth portions. Still no Amy! The crowd was getting restless, particularly as her gigs had been rather hit or miss.

I said to Jane ‘This is ridiculous! How do you think I get out the back to see what’s going on and gee her up?’

Jane was amused, laughed and called me delusional.

She eventually came out onto stage. Mitch Winehouse reports in his book ‘Amy My Daughter’ that she was only ½ an hour late, but I think it was nearer to 1 ¼ hours. I guess it depends on perspective.

About a 1/3 of the songs sounded OK, but most of them seemed a little off, and the entire experience made me feel nervous. Amy was clearly distressed, and so ‘not there’ I felt like a voyeur. I could have cried. I have never seen so many people leave a mainstream gig before until the end. I was determined to stay to the end, willing Amy to snap out of it and perform as we knew she could. She kept on digging her hands into her beehive and scratching her head. The hive was swaying from side to side, and I thought it was going to topple her over.

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I was upset, which turned to angry and I set about posting on line the next day and looking for a refund, as did so many others. Mitch countered in the press and asked people to give her a chance. At the time I was dismissive of his reaction and thought of my invested money to see a great concert, and that I was not there to support a charity. However, after reading his heartbreaking book, he was a father trying to keep his daughter alive and happy, and desperate for support. I completely get that and respect him. On reflection, I am glad I got to see Amy live, even if not at her best.

Months and years started to pass, Amy was no longer with Blake, and seemed to be getting her life on track and I longed for new music.

The news of her death on 23rd July 2011 hit hard. I remember watching the live news, and hoped so much it was not Amy. It was.

I visited her home, a beautifully restored Victorian Villa on a residential square in Camden. The tributes and flood of support was amazing.

Most of my friends recognised how much Amy and her music had meant to me, and lots posted on my Facebook wall to commiserate her death, knowing how upset I would be.

I have got to know and love all of her music, including the posthumous album. Even the music Amy had ‘thrown away’ or not completed was amazing.

I this week attended a private view of a new exhibition ‘Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait’ co-curated by her brother and sister in law.  Her legacy lives on. Next week’s blog will provide more detail.

To me she is one of the greatest musical talents of our age, and her voice will live forever. It’s a shame she is not here to live life and enjoy it.

TNW