A disappointing fiction and a great gig by Ben Ottewell

ben ottewell singingI READ a disappointing piece of fiction yesterday. The plot twist was all too easy to spot, the main character was predictably unreliable, and I guessed the ending before it arrived. Not that it ever did arrive.

You see, that disappointing piece of fiction was the First York bus timetable. And the unreliable narrator was the No 5a.

We’ve enjoyed fruitful journeys in the past, that bus and I, but not this time. Not this time on the first night of proper winter. Not this time with icy rain falling and the weather presenters muttering darkly about instant ice and frozen pavements. Not this time after a horrid rainy drive from Howden to get back just in time to dash around the corner for the bus.

7.32 it said on the timetable. The minutes shivered by. Two other hopeful passengers arrived at the stop. Ten more minutes passed without any plot development. I left the other two passengers and took my scowl off down the road to the stop where the No 1 bus hangs out.

Quite a few people were waiting. That’s a good sign or a bad sign. The illuminated sign said the bus would be along in two minutes. Then the letters reshaped themselves into 14 minutes. Two tourists laughed at our strange English ways. “It keeps doing that,” one of them said.

Giving them a nod, I turned from the delayed gratification bus stop, and headed into town.

So, if you saw a man wearing, besides the usual clothes, two coats, a woolly hat, knitted gloves and a frown, that’ll have been me beetling between bus stops. I glanced over my shoulder at each narrative stopping-off point, but there was still no plot development.

On I walked, glancing at the pavement, thankful that the dark mutterings about the weather hadn’t come true in York. The ground was wet but not iced.

I walked all the way and saw two buses. One was empty and the other one the right bus going in the wrong direction. The right bus going in the right direction must have been carrying all the red herrings.

I arrived at the Crescent Club long after everyone else, but nothing had started yet. I drank three pints of beer to banish the disappointing narrative of the bus that never arrived, and today as I type my head hurts.

This was a family outing, with two of our three plus one partner. The gig was a solo turn from Ben Ottewell, who used to be one of three lead vocalists in Gomez. The band’s first album became a family favourite, played in the old silver Volvo on long journeys, all the way to France once.

Ben’s the one with the rasped baritone, a voice of gravel and honey. He was great, just him, two guitars, a mic and a soundman who made it all sound like a big-arena affair, instead of an intimate gig in a former working man’s club.

“By the way this is a small guitar,” Ben said by way of introduction. Perhaps he didn’t want rumours of ukulele playing to be shared. A small guitar but a big sound.

Something wonderful lies in watching one man and a guitar singing songs he has written. Some of those songs put me back behind the wheel of that old silver Volvo.

Ben wasn’t well and called out for whisky near the end. More gravel than usual in that throat.

The bus home turned up on time and there were no disappointing holes in the plot.

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