Once upon a time .....
On a somber morning, I watched from the warming comfort of a cushion plumped sofa (and with a seasonal mug of cocoa in hand) as rolls of ghost-leaden mist descended beyond the dusty pane of the living room window, thickening the bitter Winter chill. Outside, the atmospheric omens didn't look promising. The fog curdled, unmovable, hanging densely in the air, choking giraffe-necked street lamps, stroking frost bitten windows, and muffling the click-clack of heels straining direction on icy flagstones.
Today was the 31st of December, '95 on the cusp of giving sway to '96, the old year dying into a more urgent version of itself. My record box, a green flight case gilded with 'fragile' stickers, was tightly packed with analogue rushing trance, bass heavy techno, tech house, deep house, acid house, house... Each record sleeve compressed against the other like slices of prepacked ham.
I was set to play a New Years Eve DJ tour of France - one night, four gigs - that began in Paris, took in Lyons, and ended in Montpellier. And as it was New Year, I was to receive double payment for each performance - definitely an auspicious start to '96! AND, my French agent threw in a free flight for a friend. So, H - entourage, supporter, best friend - was to accompany me on this whistle stop Gallic adventure.
Then, a phone call from my English agent with bad tidings. The fog that currently, and without invitation, inhabited my street held greater ambitions, swathing ground level opaque cloud over the rest of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, (the Universe), the English Channel and most of France. Heathrow was closed. Gatwick was closed. Charles De Gaulle was closed. Disheartened, dismayed, I was set to give up, when my French agent later phoned to offer, with hopeful spin, that Montpellier airport was still open, that although three of my gigs were now cancelled, the final one in the South of France was still on. Weather pending, New Year was partially salvageable after all. So the flight was re-directed from Gatwick (in the faith it reopened its runways) to Montpellier airport, and with that, H and I decided to risk the pre booked National Express voyage down South.
There was not much to view from the coach window. Only the hard shoulder was distinctly visible, the one solid indicator we were moving forwards. The fog distorted all that was rounded, friendly, and familiar. Out of the cloaking gloom, architecture and nature poised to attack; sharp angles protruded, branches clawed, groping for clearer air, indicator lights cast eerie pools of dampened red and orange.
It was early evening by the time we arrived at Gatwick. The terminal was very, very empty. A select handful of flights were now operating including, with great relief, ours. Calls were made to agents, "we're coming!" Arrangements were made for the pick up at the other end. H and I ate in a very empty Burger King. We sat in a very desolate check in hall, the hours rapidly counting down to midnight. Waiting for the flight desk to open, we overheard the echoing conversation of the only other tourists, an ageing American couple, who stood protectively glued to their luggage...
"Honey, make sure you keep your bag closed."
"We're in a third world county. Something might get stolen."
I tried to spot a camouflaged thief in the surrounding wilderness. H and I, both taken aback, looked at each other, eyebrows quizzically raised, telepathically communicating the same thought. Were they referring to us? Do we look like criminals? We were wearing woolly hats, not balaclavas. And besides, we were flying business class, with hand luggage, not shot guns.
We must have been the first to check-in as our flight was surprisingly full. New Year chimed at 35,000 feet. Our plastic flutes, bubbling with warm champagne, joined in a celebratory toast, to H and I, to new beginnings, on wards and up wards. It wasn't long before my bladder was frothing with fizz. Dragging my merry legs to the mile high lavatory, I spotted techno God Father, DJ Juan Atkins, sitting in economy looking rather po-faced. I sheepishly said hello, but didn't bother properly introducing myself. I mean, who was I? Just a humble minion, bottom (almost) of the techno DJ family tree.
Our feet touched French soil, well tarmac, a little beyond the witching hour. Luggage reclaimed, I greeted my record box like a long lost friend. I could handle missing knickers (I think). Not records. But poor Juan (see above), his box of 12" tricks had escaped onto a different flight. He looked drained of any humour. He wasn't going to be spinning any records that night...
At the arrivals lounge H and I stumbled upon a scene that resembled a military base. The space was occupied by a small testosterone sea of berets, boots and guns. What was the army doing here at this ungodly time in the morning? H wisely suggested we shouldn't bother enquiring. We waited nervously, inconspicuously. Almost two hours later, our chauffeur, a dopey bloke in khakis - probably a mate of the promoters - finally appeared to chaperon H and I, at treacherously high speed, to the gig.
I can't recall much of the club night or the set I played. But...There was more champagne. A lot more. There was pulsing bass, and hip throwing rhythms (the French love their techno). There was a blanket of dry ice, an indoor continuum of the day's thwarting fog. There was a strobe light that cast the limbs of whistling, cheering clubbers in time stopping slow motion. There were my stifled yawns as I chose vinyl to spin at 4.30 am.
And then it was over. Happy New Year.
Back at the hotel room, H and I laid in bed gathering the duvet around us. We couldn't sleep. So we talked. And talked. And talked. About our lives, our loves, our pasts. We panned golden nuggets from our shared histories, discovering things in common, things that intertwined our bond, things we might not have shared had we not found ourselves in a double bed in Montpellier.
January 1st was clear, balmy, almost Spring-like. H and I dunked fresh croissants in mugs of gloopy hot chocolate, our sisterhood strengthened, on new fertile ground. We had fought the fog of yesterday, and here we were, today, on New Years Day, in the South of France, talking, smiling, about our mist banishing clarity, our deepened understanding, of ourselves, our friendship, and of our familial affection for each other...
As the moving walkway conveyed us to the baggage reclaim area at Gatwick, our attention was caught by a tall, glamorous woman stood several feet in front of us. She was wearing an ankle length coat, thick with pelt and fur, that she'd protectively, and maybe politically, turned in side out. Squeezed under her right arm was the tiniest of toy dogs...
...H and I, both taken aback, looked at each other, eyebrows quizzically raised, telepathically communicating the same thought.
So once upon a time, what did you enjoy (or dislike) doing, seeing or creating? It could be anything. What were you like many moons ago? Do you have a once upon a time story to tell or picture to share? It could be a happy, sad or humorous tale. The skies the limit. So do link up below and grab the badge code ... and don't forget to tweet #onceuponatime. This is a monthly meme.
You can read my other once upon a time stories here.
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