How do you get to Carnegie hall?

 

[Title suggested by William T, as part of this ask a few days ago.]

Practice!

Obviously.

That is the answer that was at some point funny, and in something, when said by someone but I cant remember who.

And no, I cant be arsed to look it up, because I am not at work and thus do not need to be able to quote sources. So there.

However, that may have been the way to get to Carnegie Hall back in those days, whenever those were, when whoever said it in whatever it was, but now, it would simply not be enough.

You would not only need practice, You would need some kind of directions from where you were to Midtown Manhattan (in my case those would be turn left onto Gloucester Road, travel 3,472 miles, turn left again at Chibougamau, Quebec, and carry on until midtown Manhattan, Carnegie Hall will be on your left so as long as I remember which is my right and which my left – which I generally dont – we should be ok) but you would also need a visa, as theyre pretty strict on those kinds of things. Seriously, because it would be terrible to do all that practice, get to Carnegie Hall, and then have someone turn up and chuck you out for not having the right kind of visa. It would be terribly embarrassing.

Because if you need to do stuff that some people might consider work in certain countries, you ned to have a piece of paper that says that youre allowed to do that, apparently.

Which is why I ended up with an appointment to have a breakfast meeting with the American Ambassador a few weeks ago on a Monday.

Not quite brunch – obviously, I know that more important people probably get the brunch appointments – but I was fixed up for an 8am business breakfast, or so the letter kind of said.

And even though I had to get up before 5 to make sure I was on the train with all my appropriate documents and things, and dressed smartly in something that would carry me through the rest of the day, it would be nice, I imagined. Me and the ambassaor, some watery American coffee, some Ferrero Rocher; wed have some laughs, kick some ideas about on the topic of what really was the last great US sitcom; and then Id show him my documents and hed be all put those away, Anna, were way past that now! and hed smile and get some white-toothed lackey to stamp my passport and wed kiss – though only one cheek, because hes really not into the whole continental thing – and Id be on my way.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself standing in a queue of a couple of hundred people ALSO summoned for breakfast with the ambassador – or rather some perfunctory and bloodless exchange with that lackey with the winning grin (who, in fact, would turn out to be the only factual element of my fantasy morning) – in the very cold, and the drizzle. Oh, and in nice if slightly tall heels, because Id thought for some reason my journalist visa thing would be more likely to be approved if I could prove that I was able to stand around in uncomfortable shoes for long enough without complaining.

Id come up to London with no electrical goods in my bag – no laptop, no phone, no music thing, no well, no anything, because it had said on the letter that these types of goods were strictly verboten.

No, it said forbidden, sorry, because it wasnt the German embassy, in which case that would have made sense.

So I had nothing to amuse myself apart from watching all the other people in the queue, enjoying the play of freezing drizzle on my cheeks and reading a slowly disintegrating magazine with a main article about the complete breakdown of control, law and humanity in Abu Ghraib – which, to be honest, I was a bit worried about being caught reading in case anyone thought I was, like, trying to say summink and thus was an enemy of the state

We stood in line. And stood. And stood.

And then we had our stuff checked by one set of security people – the documents in our document pouches, and things – and then we queued and queued and stood some more.

And then we had our stuff checked by a second set of security people. And then we went through the third and fourth sets of security checks, in a security hut, and had everything electrical or time-passing or interesting taken away from us, and even though i thought Id been very assiduous, I was discovered to have a usb key and some kind of plug in the bottom of my capacious handbag, and I was tutted at and mildly told off and they were put in a plastic bag and I was given a ticket and told I could pick them up later. Maybe. If I was good.

And all the while, everyone stood very patiently and recognised there was a certain order to things and that this is just the way things had to be done, and do you know the only point at which we doubted that? Or, perhaps, the only point at which I doubted the whole sanity of it all is when a bunch of people that looked like a fat old version of a rock band turned up, and I thought to myself God, that looks like what Robert Smith of the Cure would look like if he was old and fat and then I realised it was, and he is, and then they all marched with their embassy accompanist past the queue and straight through the security checks without so much as a by your leave. Like they were important, or had actually made an album that anyone bothered listening to in the last 12 years or something.

In the embassy itself, after another two security checks – I hope Im not giving too much away here, Im not trying to write a how to for grumpy terrorists, Im really not; and besides, I should think that if any grumpy would-be terrorist ARE reading this (hello! Stop it!), they would be put off by how very very secure it all is. I know I was. Not that I was planning anything BAD, obv, just in a general wa Im just going to stop there, I think.

So there we sat, in tight little rows of hard plastic chairs, each holding their ticket with a number in the high thousands printed on, and watching as numbers far below ours were called to windows in a seemingly random but neverending stream that meant you could never look away, or go to the toilet, or really concentrate on anything else in the knowledge that as soon as we DID they would call our number and we would miss it and then have to go to the back of the queue again. Of ALL the queues.

This means, then, that youre stuck, eyes fixed on these flashing boards and their continuous stream of numbers – unless youre The Cure, in which case you apparently employ someone to do that for you, as they all stood at the back of the room drinking that watery coffee and talking about the days when they were a real band that people liked in more than a nostalgic way while a be-suited donk stood by them squinting at the screen on their behalf.

Funnily enough, in between the two screens of flashing numbers, there were two screens with constantly shifting photographs.

There were images of beautiful smiling children wrapped in flags and waving in a happy, contented way at the camera. And images of fluttering flags up proud flagpoles standing erect in front of stunning sunsets over municipal-looking buildings. And even one of Mickey Mouse waving at crowds while being driven slowly through a ticker tape parade. And they showed these melding slowly into each other, and in rotation, in the periphery of the thing you were actually looking at, but still very visible.

And Im not saying that they WERE purposefully hypnotic, just if you were trying to hypnotise people, that wouldnt be a bad way of going about it.

So with no watch or camera or laptop, in a room with no clocks, I slowly went from gruntled to disgruntled got called to three windows, filled in five more forms, handed over several more pounds and didnt get offered Ferrero Rocher ONCE. Thouhg I did watch in shock and dismay as The Cure were clearly rushed through the system ahead of everyone else. I eman: The CURE? REALLY?!

But I didnt kick up a fuss, because all the security guards had guns and – who knows – probably a soft spot for Love Cats as well, so instead I sat patiently and read my quietly anti-establishment article and went to the windows when I was finally called. And when I got there, they were all very nice and friendly – well, to an extent – and did at least smile and stamp everything I wanted them to smile at and stamp; thus giving me licence to do something that Ive not quite figured out what it is yet. Although I do know that it means the things Im doing later this week I wont, apparently, be doing illegally.

So phew for that.

And thats how you get to Carnegie Hall.

Be The Cure.

Everythings so much easier when you are The Cure.

Bastards.