My stay in Venice had been pleasant, and there was hardly anything in the world that I would have returned for. Yet as night follows day, and a hangover follows a night out, an invitation to a party eventually came.
The occasion was the final night of Cowes Week, down on the Isle of Wight. I had been there several times before, of course, and I hoped to see some old friends this time. The invitation was to the ‘Royal Cowes Yacht Club Fancy Dress Extravaganza’ which sounds absolutely frightful but it really was an A-list evening.
Thankfully for occasions like this I keep a small yacht moored in the Hamble district of Southampton, and a quick sail later I was mooring up outside The Parade, only to find thousands of people lining the streets. I had already changed into my hired Jimi Hendrix costume in the cabin, and this brought with it some surprised faces from the quay.
The final night promised a firework display which became bigger every year, and it gave a fantastic opportunity for the lower classes to enjoy some beauty in their lives. Yet however much I thought it lovely for them, I still had to push through them in order to reach my destination. I achieved this target by some deft skills, some weaving, and only beating three particularly boisterous chaps out of the way with a stick.
The Royal Cowes Yacht Club was situated at the back of the parade with balconies adorning its frontage, giving a splendid view of The Solent. After gaining entry, I immediately made my way upstairs to one of these vantage points and was greeted with a glass of Champagne.
“Hello my dear fellow,” said a man from behind, as he laid his hand upon my shoulder. I turned around to see Nelson Mandela grinning back at me, and only after he took off his hat did I realise that it was in fact the Duke of Edinburgh, who I had not seen since the do at the palace. Philip was a keen sailor which explained his attendance, and it looked as though he had already enjoyed a few cocktails as he began speaking to me in Afrikaans. His sense of humour had been frozen in 1973 and sadly he had lost his audience as the routine neared it’s end.
To save me from an awkward situation, the fireworks started as soon as he had finished, and we both turned to the sea to watch the display. Philip explained that this was the fifty-third firework display that he had seen this summer, and he had become quite apathetic to them all, but for me the inner child was delighted and I applauded the flurries enthusiastically.
As the light show ended I made my excuses and ventured inside to the bar area to see if there was anyone else that I knew. The seating area was beginning to fill up with people who were coming in from outside, but I noticed one group that were already settled. The group of four were dressed as The Beatles with grey suits and even basin wigs.
The man in the middle looked up as I approached, and nodded to me in recognition before nudging the man to his right. I had not seen this group of people since Paris in 1985. I had met one or two of them briefly at functions here and there, but never the full collective, because in front of me were no other than The Rolling Stones. It happened that they were playing nearby at the festival the night before and Sir Mick had wangled an invitation from his peerage.
“How are you, man?” asked Keith as he looked up.
“Absolutely topper,” I replied happily. “What’s going on?” I asked because with certain people there is always something else that is going to happen.
“Not too much,” Ronnie butted in. “To be honest, we were just talking about getting out and doing something a bit more, well… You know… A bit more… Like, alive,” and his eyes widened.
“I’ve only just turned up, literally just before the fireworks and I’ve already met the Duke, you know, doing his normal thing,” I explained. “What else do you have in mind?”
“Well, we’ve got this boat, man,” said Mick. “It’s loaded, and ready to go. We thought we’d just cruise around for a bit and see what happens.”
“Hey, well I’m in, who else is here?” I asked.
“A couple of the girls are over there, and we all know Claudia, right?” said Charlie.
“Right let’s do it then. I mean if we’re gonna do it then let’s do it now, right? Let’s get on the sea of glee,” said Keith.
“That’s shit,” laughed Ronnie.
“The waves to rave,” added Mick.
“Fucking hell, it’s getting worse,” said Ronnie as he stood up. “Mike let’s put the word round, and fuck off.”
We rounded up a group of seriously cool party goers, and the twelve of us fought our way through the throng of civilians, before we walked on to the deck of the biggest cruiser in the marina. Mick was leading, and I’m not sure if it was his, or he had borrowed it, but he was in charge when we were on board.
We eventually sailed over to Lymington, where we picked up Czech Mark, and then made our way along the coast to a private bay that Charlie owned in Dorset. I have not had a night sat by a fire on a beach for a number of years, and yet I settled in to the pace immediately.
Keith and Ronnie playing some acoustic guitars was of course the highlight, and yet I’ll remember the snuggle with Linda more. We all eventually drifted off in to a night of pleasant dreams, and we were only awoken by Ronnie and Mark driving quad bikes up the beach at seven in the morning. They could have killed themselves, especially when Ronnie’s flipped over a dune and landed on it’s top. But it all ended in laughter, as it always does, and Ronnie gave us a special dance to prove he was alright.
After Mick eventually gave me a lift back to Cowes, I sat on board my little forty footer and thought about the future. It seemed as though I had gone on forever, but I still had forever to go. I decided to sail off to France, where I knew a nice little cafe, tucked away in a cove, and Jean-Pierre and I went back a long way.