Many words have been penned about the magic of the borough of Brentford, but it certainly appears to be true. There is a tradition, or an old charter, or something, that the weather will be absolutely gorgeous for a Sproutlore event in Brentford. This year it certainly was the case on Saturday, 2nd August as people gathered in the grounds of the Memorial Library for The Witches of Chiswick book launch.
This was the first time I'd seen the Brentford Memorial Library in the flesh, and by golly I was impressed. A lovely Victorian edifice of a public building it is too. Not too grand in scale with those lovely decorative touches that really add character, all set in its own grounds away from the road. It feels like a place of books and quiet contemplation through and through.
To begin with there were a mere handful of people gathering around the (or should that be THE? or even Jim's?) bench. Greetings were exchanged. Then more and more people started to arrive and slowly the grounds started to fill. Then Mr. Bacon, Mr. Stef and Mr. Elvis dressed in all their finery - top hats and tails were very much in evidence and very dapper they looked too. Shortly after this a certain Mr. Rankin arrived. More greetings followed, along with cries of "give us your money" for tickets for the evening's entertainment. Photos were taken and old toot talked whilst we soaked up the sunshine.
Then a door in the side of the library opened and the librarian appeared. The look on her face was a wonder to behold as she surveyed the loiterers in her grounds. James was hurriedly brought forward to explain our presence, a delight of a conversation followed that led to him being taken inside with the door slammed behind. Quite what went on behind that door is never likely to be revealed, but that librarian certainly had a smile on her face when James left again!
Once our gathering had reached a critical mass (about fifty), the departure occurred, and off we wandered from the library. Mr. Rankin lead, as often happens on these occasions, and did the tour guide of Brentford routine. From the library we soon reached the Butts Estate, and Professor Slocombe's house. Quite what the occupants must think at this time every year isn't recorded! The obligatory group photo was snapped before we wandered down the road to the Seaman's Mission. Which has for some unexplained reason large letters painted on the side saying "Boatmans Institute." Hmm. This building is boarded up and has the air of dereliction about it, a crying shame if ever I saw one.
Photo taking seemed less in abundance at our next venue. However, as this was Somerfield on the way to a picnic, this is probably understandable! From the supermarket we crossed into the recreation ground whereupon a very fine picnic took place. Thus fed some beer was called for. When faced with a need for beer in Brentford where do you head? The Bricklayers Arms of course! Which, as loyal Sproutlorians all know, is the real Flying Swan.
Our journey to the Flying Swan, sorry, Bricklayers wasn't without interest. We passed through the streets of Brentford, soaking up the atmosphere, passing Mafeking Avenue (abode at one time of a certain Mr. Pooley) and passing a newsagent's. A newsagent's with a poster saying "Brentford 'trilogy' author interviewed" for the Brentford, Chiswick and Isleworth Times. Many copies of said newspaper were purchased. (I can see the shopkeeper in year's to come saying to the descendents "Do you remember that day those mad people dropped in and bought all my stocks of the Times?") Suitably newspapered up we descended upon the Flying Swan. Where needless to say there was a little bit of a crush at the bar.
The beer garden was a lovely venue within which to talk old toot and sup alcohol. However, all too soon our next point of call called. After another group photo that is. The transport of delight for the next stage of our journey was a bright red London Transport diesel engined omnibus to Chiswick High Road. On the way to Chiswick we passed the Waterman's Arts Centre (allegedly the only place that Robert Rankin has worked that hasn't closed down), the former Brentford Waterworks with its huge chimney for the steam pumping engines (another delightful example of the Victorian age), and the Brentford Musical Museum before leaving the magic of Brentford behind to enter the environs of Chiswick.
For it was here was the start of the Witches of Chiswick signing tour. Contained within Waterstones on Chiswick High Road were many copies of the new shiny hardback along with the paperback of Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse. Along with a table and some people that weren't Sproutlore members already in the queue! Don't know if James managed to persuade them to join - but just in case, hello! Then there was much loitering whilst people queued and got books signed, or just took a look round Waterstones. After a while the cry of "pub" was heard, and off some of us went.
The pub in question was the Hole in the Wall in Chiswick. Which was to be the venue for the evening's entertainment. It seemed like it was miles and miles away but eventually we were there and drink was purchased. Soon the old toot talking commenced. After a while the beer garden was increasingly colonised by Sproutlore members keen to see the bands. In due course Mr. Rankin arrived from his signing, and the launch proper began with a speech from his new editor. She was the first editor of Robert's to turn up in sequins! She went on to say how proud the publishers were to have Robert on their books (as it were), especially as they'd increased the hardback sales five times over Robert's previous publisher. Golly. Needless to say, Robert appears to be very grateful for that. Then the music began!
The headliners were Robert Rankin and the Rock Gods, and they ROCKED big time. They are indeed Gods of ROCK and roll. Opening with a sterling rendition of Johnny B Goode they ROCKED. (Do you get the impression that this band ROCKS?) The vocals were inspired, the guitars roared and the drums beated. They were loud. They were good. They ROCKED. Awe prevents me from remembering all the details but the set also included a reggae version of Blue Suede Shoes and (slightly Rankined) War, What is it Good For? This closed the set with an audience participation number (all together now "absolutely nothing"), and a promise to return later in the evening.
The second band of the evening also ROCKED. They were more of a heavy metal group called The Trick. Consisting of guitar, bass, drums and a goth chick lead singer - they worked for me! Their material was of an excellent standard and they rocked good and proper. Unfortunately, halfway through the set the volume was turned down due to complaints from neighbours (Boo! Hiss!) yet they continued to rock. Although it is harder to rock properly when you had to turn the music down from 11 to 6...
After The Trick had concluded to much applause it turns out that the landlady of the Hole in the Wall had made an "oversight". Due to the UK's archaic licensing laws, live music is discriminated against. You can have two musicians and that is all, unless you have a public entertainment licence. Which it turns out the Hole in the Wall doesn't, and despite being booked for an evening of ROCK, the landlady had failed to get one. This meant no more music for the evening. Boo! Hiss! Which was especially a shame for Stubrn, who were due on after The Trick, as they couldn't play at all. There is nothing more upsetting than seeing a band ready to rock that can't.
Not to let a set back like this upset the evening, we continued to do what Sproutlore members will do in the pub with alcohol consumed, old toot talked, books signed by Robert Rankin, raffle raffled, more alcohol, more old toot talked, and a buffet (kindly paid for by those nice publishers Orion) disappeared quicker than you could say "buy The Witches of Chiswick - it's a great book." Much fun was had by all.
Sadly, and far too soon, the night drew to a close, and it became time for people to say their goodbyes and journey home. So they did.
Must end this with thanks to Mr. Bacon (and all his helpers) for organising another stunning Brentford event, and also to Mr. Rankin for writing another excellent book - not least because it gives us an excuse for holding another Brentford event!