14.1.08

Tunbridge Wells


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Originally uploaded by fred pipes.

The No. 29, from vibrant metrosexual Brighton to genteel Royal Tunbridge Wells, must be one of the great bus journeys of Britain, wending its way via Lewes (past Harvey's brewery) and Uckfield though the spectacular South Downs and leafy Weald. The occasion was a rare gig by David Devant and his Spirit Wife at the Forum, a former (very grand) toilet on the edge of the common. I alighted at the Pantiles and after checking in at The Swan Hotel, a tavern I can heartily recommend, £60 a night via Late Rooms. [Foz? complained later that his 'boutique' hotel had no tea-making facilities or trouser press, and breakfast comprised dry foreign bread, salami and cheese!]. After a quick visit to the friendly tourist office to get a map, I met up with Peter Chrisp on the High Street and after a visit to a second-hand book shop, where he purchased a copy of Cuban Pete sheet music (with uke chords!) we had coffee in Blends (where the proprietor was the spitting image of Nigel Havers), thence to the Duke of York for a pint or two of Harvey's. Supper proved difficult to find - we were turned away from Pizza Express and Zizzi, but found refuge in an Italian tapas bar called Soprano, where we overordered and observed the pink-wigged hen party opposite! So, stuffed, it was on to the Forum where we caught the end of a set by locals Mr Tom Williams and the Boat, featuring a lady violinist (anyone remember Curved Air?) and harmonica. Then it was the band we came to see. The boys launched straight into 'Cookie' (I think) and powered through a blistering set, Mikey in half glittery costume and cape, Foz? in a monkey suit (I thought he was a teddy bear a la Mark Wallinger until the head made an appearance during the encore, during which he played Mikey's pink uke). Despite being their first gig since the 100 Club, everyone was on top form, and it was a great set. Apparently the band had torn up Mikey's setlist and substituted their own, much to The Vessel's delight. The Forum was full, but very few old faces - Mr Peekaboo was Mr Solo from Brum, and he videod the whole thing on his new gadget. Dai Laffin was there too with a large contingent, and I met a couple from Shoreham.

Next morning, after a hearty breakfast of Alpen (too sweet!), toast, tea and 2 eggs, baked beans, mushrooms and tomato, we met up with Foz? and took the 29 to Isfield where we had 2 hours before the next bus to play on the Lavender Line. Lady Angela, a Peckett Class R2 0-4-0 saddle tank No. 1690 originally from the Gypsum Mines in Nottinghamshire, was waiting in the station, so we jumped into the open-air truck to ride the mile or so to the end of the line and back. We stopped a couple of times on the way back for a photographer to take snaps for next year's brochure - hope we'll be in it! After larking about in the signal box, we had a pint of Old Hookey in the Laughing Fish and jumped back onto the 29 for the ride home.

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