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July 7th 2013

77 years of hurt have come to an end.

A glorious day for British tennis, as we have a winner in the men's singles at Wimbledon for the first time since Fred Perry in 1936. Outstanding. To put that in perspective, we have a winner in the men's singles at Wimbledon for the first time since Fred Perry in 1936.
In other news, you may have heard that I have broken my longstanding motto of "don't drink or drive" by getting behind the wheel of a car on a regular basis. I've had about eight driving lessons now, and not only have I got to a stage where I'm relatively confident that I'm not going to kill myself as I pootle along, I'm also generally of the opinion that I'm not going to kill anyone else either. Which can only be a good thing. The main thing I have taken away from driving, though, is general bemusement that people still drive manual cars when automatic cars are readily available and do half the job for you. Why do people insist on making driving more complicated for themselves? This is one area where our American cousins have, in my opinion, definitely got it right. I've raised this point with a few seasoned drivers and most of them have said that they like the additional control the manual gearbox allows... maybe I will feel that way in the future, but I can't see it happening: anything that makes all that clutch biting nonsense go away is OK in my book, and I'm happy to trust that the folk who make cars are better at car-stuff than I am. I'll check back in with you when I'm buying a car, and let you know what my thoughts are then. Maybe. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to check my family tree for evidence that I'm Scottish.

July 27th 2013
It's only July and I've already been to two - count 'em, two - gigs this year: it's like I'm some kind of music junkie. Having seen the great Mark Knopfler at the Albert Hall earlier in the year, last Tuesday saw me heading to the Millennium Stadium to see the man they call The Boss, the living legend that is Bruce Springsteen.
While Bruce is not one of my absolute favourite artists, he's probably hovering somewhere in the top ten and I'd heard that he was a great live performer, so I jumped at the chance when Alan said he might be able to get tickets. Alan, it turns out, is something of a Bruce-maniac (I don't know what devotees of Springsteen are called; I rather think he predates the labelling of fanbases, so perhaps they don't have their own moniker. As well as Bruce-maniac, I'll suggest Springster and Bossist - they can then take their pick), having already seen Bruce ten times since the start of 2012. That level of devotion is not uncommon amongst 'Steeners (look! Another one!), as has recently been shown in the fan-made documentary 'Springsteen & I', featuring people who would regard Alan as having little more than a passing interest in the Boss. Anyways, the third member of our party was Zijian, who had never heard a Springsteen song and didn't know what he looked like ('Like Sting' was his assessment when Bruce first appeared on stage), but is always eager to try new things. Even after this eagerness led him to see the Wurzels in concert earlier in the year.
I've been to the Millennium Stadium on two occasions previously: the first was to see Cheltenham Town beat Rushden & Diamonds in the old Division 3 play-off final; the second was to see U2. On that latter occasion I was seated somewhere in the upper tiers of the stadium and, much though I enjoyed it, struggled to make out the various members of the band as they ran around their remarkable spider-like stage. For Springsteen it was a rather more intimate affair - inasmuch as a stadium can be - since only about a third of the ground was being used, and we were stood on the pitch area (the only decent thing for real fans to do, Alan assured me), which gave a much better view. Especially once I'd moved away from behind the tall big-haired chap who liked to bob back and forth a fair bit. Having arrived at about 6.40pm and found ourselves a decent patch well in time for the scheduled 7pm start, we were left waiting for a while: not Bierbesque eons, but it was at least an hour before Springsteen and the E Street Band bounded onto the stage. Once he did, I don't think any of us begrudged the wait, though.
In the various gigs I've been to (few enough to list: Bob Dylan, U2, Don McLean, Tom Paxton, Talon, Morning Runner, Casting Crowns, The Illegal Eagles, The Bootleg Beatles, Thin Lizzy) I've never seen any performer having a quarter as much fun as Bruce was. At the age of 63, having done this for decades and countless performances, he not only clearly loved the songs he was playing and the band-mates he was playing them with, but also the fans he was playing them to. Every artist under the sun will claim to have a special relationship with their fans (even the famously mercenary Chuck Berry said he loved his fans. Although he did explain that it was because "fans mean dollars"), but with Springsteen it is clearly true: on several occasions he ran down into the crowd on all sides of the stage, shaking hands, kissing cheeks, leaning back into waiting arms and even offering his guitar to be strummed. Not content with going amongst the fans, though, he also brought some of them up onto the stage: it is a long-running Springsteen tradition that he bring a woman up to dance with at some point (as demonstrated by Courteney Cox 'I thought you booked the tickets?'in the video for Dancing in the Dark), and he did so on Tuesday night, as well as getting up three other people to dance with various members of the band. But the sweetest moment came when he invited a small child from right at the front (don't worry, guardians of children's ears: the kid was wearing noise-cancellers) to come up on stage and sing along. Fortunately the kid knew the song (Waitin' on a Sunny Day - not one I knew myself) and sang for a minute or two while holding his hero's hand, before being returned to his tearful father. There aren't many artists out there who can match Springsteen's musical output; I'm not sure there are any of a similar level who have the same unaffected rapport with and genuine affection for the punters.
After three and half hours of non-stop music (including Born to Run, which I would have been very disappointed not to hear) we made our way out just in time for the 11.30pm coach. Which didn't show up. There's not a lot to do in Cardiff coach station in the early hours of a Wednesday morning, but we made the most of it (see photo) until a different coach arrived at 1.20am to take us to Bristol. Not, perhaps, the ending to the trip that I'd envisioned (it was 2.45am before I got home), but a small price to pay to see the Boss in action: he comes with my strong recommendation, and if that's not enough for you, Zijian has confirmed that he's 'better than the Wurzels'. Expect to see that line on the next tour poster.

what was I listening to?
Legends of Rock - Various Artists
what was I reading?
The Firm - John Grisham
what was I watching?
Superman: The Movie
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