Pat Keating – Kansas, USA
It seems as clear as yesterday ...
Many others, including myself, have written, or will write, about their experiences at the Redhill event on 19 July 1997. Having just received the Redhill Souvenir Programme, a flood of pleasant memories came rushing back to me as I pored over that exceptional document and testimonial to those events which occurred nearly one year ago. However, I will now relate to you a slightly different tack on this subject – of how I struggled with the decision of whether or not to attend at all – and of this pilgrim's progress from Kansas to Redhill.
You see, last year was my wife Sharon's and my fifth wedding anniversary. We decided we would celebrate with a cruise of the Hawaiian Islands in October. (We had taken a Caribbean cruise for our honeymoon five years prior, and we have made a pact to take a cruise every five years. Next time it will be Alaska in 2002!) Needless to say, cruises are pricey propositions, so we had mortgaged the house, sold spare pints of our blood, and cashed in all of our loose change at the bank to reserve our berth on the SS Independence, the only wholly-owned American cruise ship still sailing the high seas. This reservation was secured just as details of the Redhill celebration were taking shape. On top of that, I had also recently murdered my car (by running it out of oil – don't ask!) – a beautiful 1988 Toyota Celica GT – so we had also just incurred the expense of a brand new 1997 Chevrolet Malibu LS.
As the tale unfolded concerning the details and accommodations for Redhill, I was immediately faced with the struggle of deciding whether or not I would attend. However, my first order of business was to phone the Harlequin box office on the appointed day to reserve one ticket for the show – just in case. (Sharon graciously, and wisely, said she would not go – she likes Procol's music, and even met Gary B, Matthew F & company at the Dallas 1993 show, but she is not afflicted with the dreadful disease of Procoholism like the rest of us.) After next checking with a travel agent, since July is 'high season' for travel from the US to the UK, it became clear that a journey ending at Redhill would set this Devil back a bit more 'cheese' than he had envisioned. Long story short, I sold Sharon's extra kidney and her extra lung to pay for the trip. (So far, she hasn't needed them.)
Having been clued in by the Shine On announcement that Redhill was south of London near Gatwick Airport, the trip to England could not have been easier. I booked a flight from Kansas City ['Kansas City, here I go ...'] to Minneapolis – site of my infamous two-hour encounter with Mr Brooker in my hotel room one week prior to Edmonton '92 – on Northwest Airlines. (Now let me say that Northwest is a nice airline with wonderful service, but their motto must be: 'Before flying airplanes, we packed sardine cans for a living!') I then quickly, painlessly, comfortably, and easily transferred to another Northwest sardine can – er, airplane – for a direct flight to Gatwick Airport. (I cannot stress enough what a joy it was to not have to transfer airplanes in such 'lovely' airports as those in Chicago, New York, Boston, Dallas, or Atlanta!) I also made a point of bringing just two carry-on bags, which I managed to squeeze on-board each leg of my flight. (No messing about with potential lost luggage or endless retrieval carousels.)
Upon arrival at Gatwick, I quickly got my bearings and then purchased a 'one-way' to Redhill – only two stops or so down the line. Imagine my surprise as I disembarked the train ('Mind the gap!') at the Redhill platform, descended the steps to the street-level exit, and was instantly greeted by the sight of The Harlequin Theatre – just across the market square, right next to the town clock. Little did I know at the time, but a quick left turn out the station and a short walk up the hill would have put me at the Lakers Toby Hotel – my accommodation for the next two nights. (I arrived on Friday, July 18th, at about 10:00 am.) Instead, I ventured across the square to survey The Harlequin. I, too, was oddly struck that the theatre was actually upstairs from the street! I felt a sense of relief as I spotted the poster on the door of the theatre entrance announcing the next night's 'Procol Party.'
(So this whole thing had not been just an elaborate ruse staged by Gary B, Keith R, and the Shine On bunch! But, to be absolutely sure, I entered the theatre, with concert ticket in my sweaty little hand, to seek verification and authentication that this little piece of paper in my palm would indeed be my admission to a glimpse of Nirvana. Of course, a member of the theatre's box office staff – who, I have just learned from the Redhill Souvenir Programme, may well have been one of the Rolph clan – thought I was daft – as she explained that I was definitely in the right place, but one day too early. I assured her that was the least of my concerns, and that everything was fine. I did ask if any of the band happened to be around rehearsing or whatnot, but her response was 'No.')
Pat (outside the gates of)
Finding myself outside (the gates of) the theatre once again, I asked one of the locals for directions to the hotel. This kindly older gentleman practically walked me there himself – and probably would have carried my bags for me had I let him! – which is when I discovered how close the hotel was to both the theatre and the train station.
Friday afternoon was spent checking into the hotel, downing a pint or two of ale or stout in the hotel bar, and relaxing in my room after the lengthy journey. Finally, by Friday evening at about 7:00 pm, other Procoholics began arriving at the hotel bar, and the previously well-documented festivities began and carried through until Sunday. Sunday afternoon was when Tito Davila and Evan Wagshul (of The Homburg Society) and I encountered Mr Robert Box, the conductor on the train from Dorking to Redhill. (No, we are not making this up!) My question is this: If Robert Box had a box, and Brooker / Reid wrote a song about it, would it be called Robert Box' Box or Robert Box's Box? Tito, Evan, and I firmly believe that Mr Robert Box (the train conductor) – or his box – holds the key to solving Keith Reid's enigmatic 'statement' delivered to us by Gary Brooker during the Redhill concert.
Robert Box with Tito.
And below his name is barely visible on a close-up of the nametag.
In closing, I will just say that my return trip on Monday (Redhill-Gatwick-Minneapolis-Kansas City) was just as pleasant and hassle-free as the first half of the trip. One can only wish that all modern travel could be this easy!
(A footnote: We also enjoyed the Hawaiian cruise very much, the Chevy Malibu is serving us well, and Sharon has recovered nicely from her 'elective' donor surgeries!)
(Click here for my original Redhill report.)
More Redhill anniversary pieces