By the time I stagger into the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate I'm about ready to give up the ghost and die. Probably to become one of those bleached skeletons you see in westerns, only without the horns. Thursday: day three of an ill-advised trip into the slow cooker that is England. Yesterday and the day before, it was Newcastle to see She Who Must's sister Valerie and her hubband get joint doctorates from Northumbria Anniversary. Which sounds very cool, until you take into account the hooringly high temperatures and my steadfast refusal to wear a dinner jacket. If a kilt's good enough for Scotland, it's good enough for the rest of the world. OK, so it's going to be a bit hot, but they used to wear these things in India! She Who Must's dad wore one in Cypres for God's sake... Mind you, he did come back bald with no teeth, so maybe that should have been something of a hint.
It's sodding roasting beneath my kilt. If you ever see a Scotsman, properly attired, and he's standing shoulders back, hands on hips and legs planted far apart like he's in pantomime, it's because sweat is running down the inside of his thighs and into his socks. If he wriggles his hips, he's not being suggestive, he's just trying to encourage some sort of breeze around his poaching nether-regions. That and two nights of un-air-conditioned hotel rooms have left me sleep-deprived and dehydrated, so when the Old Swan Hotel looms out of a sun-haze through the taxi window I think I've died and gone to heaven.
And then I struggle up to my room, find it' doesn't have air conditioning, and realise that although I've may have died, I seem to have gone the other way.
Quick: to the bar!
It's an opulent place, fancy, wooden bits and enough magnolia paint to feed a family of four for six generations, but it still feels like someone's trying to slowly cook me. And there's no one in the bar either. At half past one I'm an hour early for registration and everyone else seems to have more sense, so I trudge back up to my private oven (with double bed and en-suite grill), peel off my sticky travel clothes, shower, then settle down in front of the computer to do some more editing.
Of course, I probably should have closed the curtains first. It wasn't till I was pacing the room, talking to myself, trying to get a bit of dialogue to work, that I realise that anyone looking out of their bedroom window in this direction will be getting an unpleasant eyeful. It'll be all over the papers tomorrow: 'Bearded Crime Write-ist Spotted In The Nip!' Screeching like a girl, I scurry for the bathroom, wrap a towel around my sinful ITW man-parts and creep back to the window. Look left, look right, shut the curtains and hope no one was out there with a video camera.
Half three and I'm back in the bar -- and so are people! Hurrah! Out into the sunshine with a pint of cold beer to speak a load of old bollocks with people who really should know better, and Jayne from the BTZ. Who looks a bit like Mystic Meg, only not so damn creepy. More beer, more people, more chat. And then James turns up, wearing his trademark tartan trousers. If nothing else, it'll make his unconscious body easy to identify when it's fished out of the rose bushes later after an obscene amount of Theakstons Old Peculiar.
He, the Rickards, and I wander into town for a small bite of supper at a little Tex-Mex place where I ignore all medical advice and go for a rib-eye steak the size of my head. Mmm, cow... Made all the sweeter by John having the vegetarian Chilli. Make mental note to keep an eye on him -- obviously he's not right in the head. Neither is Declan Hughes, who lurches up to our table, tells us he's had the early-bird special, denies having any sort of profile published in the New York Times, but does admit to being a bestseller in Germany. Make mental note to have him killed.
Back at the hotel, the bar-goers have spilled out into the evening light, laughing and clinking glasses, making merry in the run-up to the award ceremony. There have been writing workshops today -- and according to Betty they were good, especially the bit at the end where they all went out for wine -- but the main meat of the day is the award ceremony. I sit at the back with my rowdy dinner companions and cheer like a demented football fan when Val wins the prestigious mini barrel for THE TORMENT OF OTHERS.
After that we adjourn to the bar, until someone realises that the after-show party is going on, and that probably means free booze. And if there's free booze on the go, what the hell are we doing paying for it? There follows a stampede, and much drinking of Theakstons Old Peculiar.
It has to be said that when Mr Rickards is involved the conversational tone tends to take a dip for the gutter. But when he, James, Simon Kernick, and Kenneth Withnail are involved it heads for the sewer. Thank God Agent Phil's not here tonight, or it'd be half-way out to sea on a raft of used toilet paper by now. We try to be all serious and intellectual for a big group interview thing that's going into Spinetingler, but the only one sober enough to make even a token stab at it is Mr Guthrie, and he's suffering from heat-stroke, so it's fifty / fifty.
I have determined not to stay up late tonight, so it comes as something of a surprise to still be in the bar at half four in the morning, chatting away to naughty Irish ladies from Mark Billingham's forum and a strange bloke in sunglasses who invites me up to his hotel room with the promise of an ipod full of vintage punk. I tell him I'm not that kind of boy, but he tells me he's a millionaire with purloined beer. We all have our price...
As I lurch down the corridor back to my room at six in the morning, I think this was probably a mistake. I've not slept for three days in a row now and the world is beginning to rotate in an anti-clockwise direction. Last year I lasted all the way through to Saturday before staying up all night -- this year I've done it on day one.
It's been fun, but this does not bode well!