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Monday, 15 September 2008

What a night it was

At last I have the time and the space to sit down and write about the events of the past few days, and what a couple of days it has been.

I must be one of Stevie Wonder's biggest white fans outside of North America, and so it was with great excitement that I heard about his concert tour for 2008. I have seen him three times before, twice at Wembley Arena in 1987 and 1988, and once at the Dominion Theatre, Tottenham Court Road in 1995. It has been 13 years since he graced these shores for a concert tour, and once the tickets went on sale, I was straight on the Internet to try and get some seats. I certainly wouldn't have paid £65 for anyone else, but in Stevie's case, it was worth every single penny.

What with the problems at work, it was touch and go as to whether I would be able to get the time off to leave early in order to get there, but I managed it in the end, and my partner met me from work just before 4pm on the day. I changed into my outfit of navy track suit bottoms with lilac flowered white cotton tunic and lilac three quarter sleeve top, and drove to the station, where we got the train to Waterloo, and from there, the Jubilee Line to the 02 Arena at North Greenwich.

My partner has never been a good traveller, and I was half expecting problems. Unlike me, he has never been a big Stevie fan. He knew how important this was to me though, and as the day drew near he seemed to be looking forward to the event and making the effort to try and get to know Stevie and his music a bit better. On the way to the station, he told me that the fears were returning, and that he had been feeling dizzy and more and more unwell as the day drew on. As he had had very little to eat, we both hoped that it may be nothing more than low blood sugar, and that he would feel better once he had had something to eat. Sadly this was not to be.

On arrival at the Arena we were greeted with what seemed like hundreds of people queuing up at the various outlets for food. After half an hour we gave up and went to get sandwiches from Starbucks before venturing upstairs at around 7.40 to find our seats.

The 02 is an impressive venue, and I was pleased to see that we had an excellent view of the stage, considering how far back we were. As the lights dimmed at around 8.45 and Stevie walked on stage, we were greeted by a roar from the crowd, as he launched into an impromptu version of London Bridge is Falling Down. The noise and the crowds proved a little too much for my poor partner, who bid a hasty retreat to sit at the imitation golf course downstairs near Starbucks. We arranged to meet back there after the show had finished and I did my best not to feel self conscious at his departure.

The concert seemed to take some time to get going compared to other ones that I have been to, but all the favourites were there and Stevie played for 2 1/2 hours. The last half hour saw everyone on their feet as the Arena swayed to the rhythms of 60's classics Uptight (Everything's Alright), Signed, Sealed, Delivered and My Cherie Amour. The crowd erupted in a frenzy when the band struck up the chords for I Wish and Sir Duke, with 23,000 people on their feet singing all the same time. Looking around the Arena it was like one huge Mexican wave, with everyone swept away with the energy that this remarkable man generates. By the end of the evening I was hoarse from singing and sweaty with exhilaration.

I knew that I may have to leave a little early to try and get the train home, but once Stevie had played those old favourites, plus Living for the City and Superstition (the closing song) I minded a lot less. The only other songs I would have liked to have heard were Love's in need of Love Today and What the Fuss, which would have been the icing on the cake, and made the Arena absolutely erupt with 23,000 sweaty folks high on the drug of Stevie.

With the concert over, the events of the night were only just beginning, as when I got back to golf course, my partner was nowhere to be seen. I had been there barely one minute when 23,000 people began to pour downstairs, and frantic with worry at not knowing where my partner was or being able to contact him (the silly man had not brought his mobile phone with him), I seized the nearest security guard to see if he could help. He explained that as my partner was an adult and not a lost child, he could not put out a security alert until everyone else was out, by which time we would have missed our train. Absolutely distraught and frantic with worry (being in an already heightened state due to the concert did not help) I started to push through the crowds in case he had gone to the lobby to meet me there, and after a few minutes there he was. I rushed to his arms and sobbed out great big tears of relief that he was safe and okay.

Once outside we joined the scrum for the tube and it was then that the trouble really began. With 23,000 people all trying to get on the to the underground at the same time, there was a very real risk of crushing, and so the authorities temporarily closed the station to keep everyone safe, leaving everyone pinned outside. With the last connecting train to Waterloo due in less than 10 minutes we both began to panic until it got to the point where we could take it no more, and my partner had to escape from the situation to get some fresh air and calm down.

I was not best pleased, as I was due at work the following day, and as the reality of our situation began to sink in, we both wondered what on earth we could do - stuck in an unknown part of London late at night without transport home. The cost of a taxi home being totally prohibitive, my partner decided to ring his sister and ask her to come and collect us.

We spent the next hour walking round and round in circles around Greenwich watching drunks fighting and being sick, until she eventually turned up, with her husband at around 12.50am. As we passed near her house, my partner who had gradually been feeling worse and worse as the evening wore on, began to hyperventilate and complain of chest pains, and asked to be taken to hospital. I was now more worried than ever, and in turmoil, racked with guilt as having put him through this, just so that I could have 2 hours of enjoyment.

The next 9 hours were spent in Casualty being prodded and poked and subject to blood tests, ECG's and all manner of other tests to rule out the possibility of a heart attack. It didn't help that there had been a major incident that night - a young man was fatally stabbed outside a nightclub and killed, and his friends had carried out a retaliation stabbing on the perpetrator who was responsible for this senseless murder, and was under Police surveillance, refusing to talk. The doors had to be closed at one point, as the vigilantes tried to get in and finish off the job, and place was crawling with armed Police. We were there when the young mans mother was informed of her son's death and the cries were truly heart rending - what a senseless loss of life.

It was all in a nights work the nurses and doctors, who also had to cope with a suspected overdose and a self harmer with arms were marked with razor marks. My partner and I had to spend the night in this place, he on a hospital trolley and me in a chair, attempting to sleep surrounded by a refugee couple who spoke only Swahili and an elderly woman who kept muttering to herself. He was finally discharged at around 10am, having been given the all clear, and we rang his sister for a lift home before crashing straight into bed. Of course my own sister was ringing as we got in, her timing as always impeccable, but we let the answerphone get her call.

Needless to say, I didn't make it to work on Saturday, but my acting Manager was very good and understanding. I didn't realise just how much this had affected me until I got to work today, my regular boss having returned from his holiday. It feels like the rug has been quite literally swept from under me, as I felt so low and miserable all day, with no energy and no enthusiasm to do anything at all. I found myself wanting to just lock myself away and cry. I suppose given the situation, and all that I have experienced these past few days, this is to be expected, but it hit me like a ton of bricks. I am not normally like this, bouncing back from setbacks very quickly (with a family like mine I had to learn to do this, or otherwise I would have done stark raving mad a long time ago).

What didn't help is the realisation that I may have to face disciplinary action for some items that were stolen from the window last week - the thieves got in through the front window, which I thought I had locked after putting out some new price tickets. I know that someone has to take the rap for this, and it is a serious stock loss, but it seems so unfair given the way I have worked for this company in the past 10 months. I have worked my arse off for little thanks or reward, at minimum wage in awful conditions, frequently without lunch breaks. This was a sitting time bomb waiting to go off, as my boss has told them, and it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. Now it looks as I will be the one to take the blame. It doesn't rain, it pours.

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