Peace pounces in the most unlikely of places. Twenty feet above Trafalgar Square, serenading Nelson with my slightly squally rendition of Moon River, watched in person by the Round Britain Rally (insomniac) section and online by an opinionated community of twecklers, I was expecting my predominant emotion to be panic with a side order of terror. But it was impossible to be anything but calm, high in the kind of cold clear night that kicks off all the best
fairy tales, and surrounded by friends.
Or maybe I had just used up all my panic in the previous 12 hours. I thought I'd been lucky with the rain this year, but in fact what has happened is that it saved itself up and landed 10 months worth on my head on the M40. A brief detour to the Tithe Stone in Beaconsfield only allowed the weather more time to ooze through the zip on my jacket, and by the time I was circling St James Square looking for a parking space I had reached saturation point. No problem, I thought. Quick check-in to my plush hotel (special rate for plinthians :) and out with the dry clothes packed around Steve's busking amp. But no - contrary to previous reports, the Metal Mule does leak so it was off with the soaked-through clothes and on with the ones only damp in patches.
In my pre-plinth fantasy the next step was filling my balloons with the helium delivered to the hotel by Just Balloons, perhaps with a little glass of something cheerful, before a hot bath and an early night. I had reckoned without the power of Health and Safety. The cylinder was sequestered in the loading bay in a HazMat cage and couldn't be delivered to my room, for reasons unclear but possibly involving incorrect memories of the Hindenberg. Nor could I go to the loading bay and fill my balloons there, because insurance doesn't allow for guests to roam behind the scenes at the hotel. Stalemate for the next three hours, while the decision of the General Manager was awaited. On the positive side, it gave me the chance for a final practice of my tunes, as the Plush Hotel came with a very nice sound system. At 7.45 pm I had a call from the Duty Manager who said that a deal had been arranged and at midnight, once the press in the bar had eased, I could bring my balloons down to an empty public room and fill them up under the supervision of hotel staff. Not brilliant, but better than nothing.
At 7.55 I got a call from the other Duty Manager to say that since I probably wanted to be asleep at midnight he would meet me in the Strategy Room in 5 minutes and we would get the job done, which was very kind of him, though Health and Safety certainly wouldn't have approved of his assistant standing on a chair waving the leg from a flip-chart stand around in an attempt to persuade an escaped helium heart out of the wide-open first-floor window.
Balloons ready, kit checked, and tunes practiced, by 8.15 I was free to go and meet f1roro for a Malaysian curry and that long-anticipated glass of wine, improved only by the arrival of PB just before pudding.
At 3.15 am PB and I were wrestling two sets of balloons - one for each end of the plinth - out of the front doors of the Plush Hotel and across the road to the One and Other portacabin at the edge of Trafalgar Square, ready for the 3.30am check in. Which shouldn't have been stressful, and I don't want to be ungracious, for it is conventional to thank the One and Other team for their welcome and hospitality, and they genuinely were very warm and friendly given the earliness of the hour, but the 90 minutes of hanging about ended in a sudden declaration that "We have to go NOW!" followed by a hasty bundling out of the door. Possibly things were made more difficult by the fact that the just-landed plinther was accompanied by a large suitcase, a partner on crutches and a medium sized wooden horse, but in the chaotic departure my carefully arranged dual balloons were loaded together into the cherry picker and instantly tangled into one sticky mass, while the second search of my pannier and person (required in case during the 90 minutes of hanging about I had managed to acquire and secrete any naked flames, glass or scissors) left me anxious that something essential to the production of tunes or the hanging of RBR banners had been taken out and left behind.
The one thing I wanted to avoid (OK. There were several things I wanted to avoid, including changing my mind and wanting to get down, falling off, and forgetting the tunes)....the *main* thing I wanted to avoid was the five minutes of faffing about which seem compulsory at the beginning of every plinther's video. I wanted an elegant setting out of kit, a brief wave at the RBR, then a seamless segue into Wonderful World. What I got was a doomed attempt at separating the two sets of balloons, a resigned spreading out of Graham's spanking new banner onto the floor of the plinth where only the Sky Arts camera could see it, and a nervous launch into my Louis Armstrong cover.
Previous plinthers have remarked that the lights are so bright you can't see who is watching you. I'm very happy to reveal that isn't true - it was perfectly possible to see (and wave at, at the risk of dropping one's Green Bullet blues mic) my crowd of friends, supporters and passing traffic wardens. In the words of the late great Freddy Mercury - I thank you all. It was a privilege to have you there and I'm overwhelmed by how many people were prepared to sacrifice their beauty sleep and their annual leave on my account. But especially I'd like to thank:-
- Dave the D, Graham and all the RBR's, the ones who met at South Mimms at 3.30am and made the dash into London, and the ones who couldn't come in person but have said kind and wonderful things online
- Ro, who made a special trip to London to come and take photos
- Jo, who must have been on the milk train from Oxford to be in Trafalgar Square by 5am
- LU Goodwin, who stopped to listen on his way home from the night shift
- Just Balloons - if you need helium, give them a call for service above and beyond
- The Trafalgar Hilton, for moving heaven and earth to find a way to let me use my helium
- PB, for not complaining at the hundredth time he heard Moon River while trying to cook
- Steve Lockwood, for his encouragement, his enthusiasm and the loan of his busking gear
- Willingham Jam Club, for being my practice audience
- egneg, for his encouraging tweets
- The One and Other team, for giving me the chance to be a part of London's history.