Friday night was the Neil Diamond concert and the Midnight Walk in aid of the Sam Beare Hospice. Personally, I would not recommend that you schedule two events like these on the same night, but maybe you’re even crazier than me.
Cheese Boy had reconnoitered the route to Wembley Arena and organized it down to the last detail. The problem would be getting away quickly at the end of the show to get to West Byfleet to check in for the walk by the 11:30 PM deadline.
We left Oy Veybridge at 5:00 sharp. The plan was to drive to Rayners Lane, park the car, have dinner, and take the Piccadilly Line tube the rest of the way to Wembley, four stops.
Of course, just as we were leaving, I received a text from the Smuggler: “I am taking the 35 Jews to the pub for a drink now.” Push ‘hold’ and ring Pinkie. “Darling, the Hebes have arrived. Can you do a ‘meet and greet’ and entertain them for me till tomorrow?” Pinkie graciously agreed to be the Jews’ hostess.
The only thing that went wrong with the Boy’s plan was the 78,659 cars on the motorway on a Friday night in the summer at a dead standstill. It took us almost three hours to drive the twelve miles. We got to Rayners Lane, realized dinner wasn’t going to happen, hopped the tube to Wembley and raced to the Arena. We got to our seats just as the show began.
It was fantastic! Neil Diamond is still…Neil Diamond. In sequins. He sang a bunch of his classic hits – I love ‘Solitary Man’ and “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show’ – and, of course, some numbers from his newly released album. He did ‘You Don’t Send Me Flowers’ with one of his back-up singers, which prompted a lot of piss taking from Cheese Boy, who hates it. During ‘Brooklyn Roads’, family home movies of his childhood played on the big screens.
I have to confess that I got terribly homesick, and teary-eyed, when he did ‘America’. They played that video, which is the one for the song from VH-1, you’ve all probably seen it, with the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. I thought about Grandpop. Yeah, I definitely missed home.
Fortunately, Pinkie chose that very moment to text me. “Stop the press! Stop the press! Police are conducting a house to house search after Cobham residents reported sighting 35 tanned Jews traveling toward Weybridge. There is strong evidence to suggest they have relocated in their bid to enlighten the uneducated barbecue masses. Residents should not approach for fear of a taste explosion.”
My reply: “As Charleton Heston once said, ‘Let my people go!’”
The concert ran for about two and a half hours, after thunderous applause demanding an encore. As Neil was singing his last number, a sort of mix of his hits, we started heading downstairs to leave. We stopped for a minute for Lou to take some snaps of BooBoo and me in front of the fountain outside the arena, and then ran to the tube to head back to Rayners Lane.
Don’t ask me how he did it, I know how he did it, Cheese Boy drove at a steady 120 KPH to West Byfleet so we could make check-in. Pinkie rang to check our progress and we arranged to meet her at the Church which was the start point of the walk.
The British weather, as usual, didn’t cooperate. I was wearing four layers, including my long underwear. It was actually warm. I started stripping in the speeding auto to save time. “What the bloody hell are you doing?” the Boy shrieked. “Give it a rest, Cheese Boy” I told him, “I’m only taking off the sweater, the turtleneck and the hoodie. I’m putting the Midnight Walk tee shirt over my long underwear so you won’t accidentally see anything.”
In case of rain, Boo had brought a couple anoraks, which we tied around our waists, and she had loaded up on bottles of energy boost drinks.
We got to the Church at 11:29 and dashed in to check-in, pick up our numbers and get some flashing pink ears to wear, as we had forgotten to bring our torches. BooBoo pinned the picture of Jerry to the back of my shirt, and I pinned hers, a picture of her friend’s Dad. Pinkie was walking for her granddad.
We found Pinkie among the 627 other women in tee shirts and flashing pink ears, and we were ready to rumble.
We congregated in the parking lot to hear a little pep talk from the Director of the Hospice, and then did a half-hour of warm up exercise to ‘I Would Walk 500 Miles’. “I don’t fucking think so” I mumbled to BooBoo. It was midnight; I was tired…and hungry.
“All these women!” Pinkie said wonderingly, “I must know somebody here.” Meanwhile, I’m going “Hi! How are you? You alright?” kiss, kiss etc. to all the women I knew. “How does she do it?” Pinkie said to Boo, “She’s been in Surrey five months!”
Finally, at 12:05 AM, we were off. In last year’s walk, the best time was two and a half hours. I had no intention of hurrying; my goal was to finish, it didn’t matter how long it took me.
We set off at a leisurely pace and it was a sight to see – a long column of women in blinking pink ears as far as the eye could see. Cars passing us beeped their horns, and when we went through High Streets people outside the pubs hugged us or shook our hands.
Every mile, there was a Support Station, with water and aides telling us ‘Well done!”
The halfway point was in Oy Veybridge, at the Sam Beare Hospice. We could sit down for a few minutes, have a cup of tea and a banana and power bar, and have a loo break. The only problem was that 624 women were all in line for the six loos. We decided not to wait and keep walking. I was afraid that if I sat down I would fall asleep on the spot.
BooBoo had rung Cheese Boy, who was having an impromptu party at mine, and he and the Irish Lad walked all the way to the Focus on Monument Road to cheer us on. It must have been at least three blocks. The Boy took some pictures, we continued walking, and they went back to mine to have some more Fosters and rest after their strenuous workout.
As we got near Brooklands (about mile 6), missing that loo stop became a real problem. Pinkie and Boo both had to go…really bad. Not to worry; Tesco’s is open 24 hours a day. “Let’s pop into Tesco’s” Pinkie suggested. “Good idea” I agreed, “I need a few odds and ends.” “Are you bloody insane” they both yelled, “We’re not carrying your carrier bags for four miles because ‘you’re handicapped.”
I was so miffed I sat outside and had a much deserved fag break while they peed. And we carried on.
It was not easy. Ten miles is a pretty long distance. I did get tired. But I just thought about the under privileged little children… Oops! Wrong charity. Seriously, I thought about Jerry, and about all the other people coping with cancer, and how important hospice is, not just to the patient, but to their loved ones who have to cope with everything. They sure kept me from going off the deep end.
I did the entire ten miles. And I am damned proud of myself, and BooBoo and Pinkie. We did it in just over three hours, which is pretty amazing. In fact, when we were heading back to Oy Veybridge afterwards, we passed groups of walkers still making their way to the Church.
The last mile or so was tough; it was all up-hill. I got on my own nerves whinging “Are we there yet?” every five minutes. No Church ever looked so beautiful when we stumbled in, exhausted but elated, and got our medals for completing the walk.
By the way, donations are still being accepted until July 30th. You can still go on line and sponsor me at the Just Giving site: www.justgiving.com/jeancohen, if you hadn’t gotten around to it yet. I know who you are! And for those of you who did sponsor me, a heartfelt ‘thank you!’. I feel as though I’ve done something worthwhile and meaningful.