Surgery As Nostalgia

To the ICA to see Spearmint play a special gig: a 10th anniversary performance of their album ‘A Week Away’. It’s the record they were promoting when they employed me as guitarist in 1999.

They send me a nicely written (if fairly formal) invite and put me on the guest list. Given I was sacked from the band, I briefly wonder if turning up would make me look like a cuckolded booby. But then I recognise such thoughts as childish vanity of the worst kind. The grown-up option is to be thankful for the invite and to turn up graciously. It’s childish to make an appearance when one hasn‘t been invited, or to deliberately refuse when one has. And besides, I’ve already been to two weddings of former exes this year.

(Since writing this, I’ve remembered that I saw Spearmint a couple of years ago anyway, when they played with Scarlet’s Well at the 100 Club. Both bands had hired and fired me as a guitarist in the past. It felt like attending a festival dedicated to my failure as a musician. But I’m glad I went. I joined both bands because I was a fan, and I remain a fan.)

Surgical symmetry: I have a vivid memory from the Spearmint days of rehearsing while recovering from an operation on my left leg. I can see a rehearsal room in Acton, me strumming away while sitting down, the boyish Spearmint bassist (and later guitarist) James Parsons reminding me to stop crossing my legs as per doctor’s orders.

Ten years later, the ailment returns (varicose veins, same leg, different vein, apparently quite common), and on Sept 18th 2009 at UCLH in Euston I have the operation all over again. A decade ago it was ‘stripping’ out the useless vein under the knife, leaving me in a Tubigrip bandage for weeks. This time it’s a combination of ‘laser ablation and multiple stab avulsions’, still requiring the dreaded general anaesthetic, but without the bandage. I just have to suffer dissolvable stitches and a surgical stocking worn for 3 weeks.

(Naturally, the day after I have it done, I read on the BBC News site that a different London NHS hospital does a while-you-wait, 15 minute, non-anaesthetic, all-laser version of the operation. The latest surgery, the latest Ipod, all weapons in the conspiracy of feeling eternally out of date whatever one does.)

So I attend this tenth anniversary gig while wearing a tenth-anniversary medical stocking – a shade of camel tan labelled on the box as ‘Mexico’. Given I already favour the sort of silk scarves worn by old ladies, it’s all grist to the camp fogey mill.

Musing on ageing at gigs like this is inevitable, particularly as the album in question dwells on death (dedicated to their first bassist, who died before it came out) wasting time (‘A Third Of My Life’ proving particularly poignant), and of artists and bands who never quite made it (‘Sweeping The Nation’).

After years of being quite tousled and curly, James P has had his hair cut to match his photo on the album sleeve a decade ago – ‘a Hoxton fin’ as it was. And he really does look exactly the same.  Singer Shirley Lee is still skinny as a rake (shaking his enviable hips in ‘A Trip Into Space’). The gig also has a school reunion feel about it, with people I’ve not seen for ten years saying hello. Naturally they ask what I’m doing now. And I look at my shoes and try to think what the answer is.

Another old problem of mine recurs tonight. My body clock’s out of whack and I decide to go to bed during the afternoon rather than turn up at the gig with wilting eyelids. The alarm fails and I’m woken at 8pm by Charlie M. She’s in the ICA waiting for me, I’m still in bed in Highgate. A speedy dress and a Tube ride later, Ms M is very forgiving. But I’m mortified and angry at myself. I’ve spent too much of my life not just sleeping, but sleeping at all the wrong times. I’m hoping this diary entry, the first after yet another hiatus, will finally signify getting back on track. With everything.

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