Bobby Charles

The highlight of our holiday, the first in four years, was ordering a second-hand CD and finding it on the doormat when we arrived home.

Some of this information might have trickled down to you but, we had five weeks booked in France, in Arcachon where we have been holidaying for 40-odd years, in a little house we had rented twice before.

Booked Eurostar to Bordeaux arriving Saturday 24 September, stayed overnight in a hotel before the last 50 minute leg down to Arcachon. Return tickets booked for 31 October.

What could possibly go wrong? Got through Sunday. By Monday morning I was starting to feel ill. Tuesday felt awful and Covid test was positive. The next 10 days were pretty unpleasant but then a large proportion of the population have been through this or worse.

So, two weeks on, a weekend dawned when we were both comparatively well. Off we went to the adjoining town of La Teste du Buche which has an amazing Saturday market and stocked on proper bread from Le Fournil des Boiens – my main influence, baker Marc Brion.

Went to a favourite waterside reastaurant, Restaurant du Port. It had changed hands and was still good but it wasn’t quite right – hey, ho …

Next day (Sunday) bought some lamb at the Arcachon market, stopped into Monoprix for a few bits and pieces and, after the check-out, Sue said she had to sit down …

Start of Phase II. Next few days were a bit of a mess of worrying fairly ineffectually about Sue, trying to find doctors, until, Thursday morning, decision time: called the emergency services. Have to say, they were pretty impressive. The call-taker quickly decided I needed a doctor, the doctor analysed the situation (was a bit pissed when I said she had a chest infection – diagnosis was her job not mine), but said the fire-fighters would soon be with us (the fire service runs the paramedic service in France). They were there within minutes, four of them doing tests as they came through the door – Sue said they were still doing tests all the way to the hospital.

Long and short of it is – she was in intensive care for five days; Surveillance Continue they call it, The care was great and there was always someone who could speak English, But I spent most of week 3 doing three hours a day travelling to and from the hospital.

What do you do after that? Sue tired very quickly and my brain was still Covid fuzzy. It’s 15-20 minutes flat walk into town but we started getting the bus. We went to some of the big restaurants on the prom that we hadn’t been to for probably 20 years – same names but all changed – generally not for the better.

My biggest worry was how to get Sue home: if we stuck to Eurostar it would mean train Arcachon to Bordeaux, Bordeaux to Paris Montparnasse, cross Paris to Gard du Nord, Eurostar to St Pancras, hotel overnight, Euston to Bangor with probably two changes – all with luggage and a lot of walking.

I know some people have no time for Ryanair but what we did on the Saturday (9 days early) was get a train to Bergerac, stay overnight, flight (with special assistance) to Liverpool, pre-ordered Bethesda taxi home.

Took the hospital papers down to the GP who said she’d actually had pneumonia …

BUT the point of all this is, and I’m not sure if this was during my Covid phase, but when I slept, I was visited by Bobby Charles singing, “Down South in New Orleans” over and over. It wasn’t at all annoying and in fact it was quite comforting, and I remembered all the words even though I’m really bad at lyrics.

I remembered it from The Band, a live performance, where Bobby Charles was introduced as a “great, great songwriter”. And I thought I know nothing about this man and I should have checked him out decades ago. So I did a bit of research (i.e. I Googled him) and discovered he was a big mate of Rick Danko and that they had put together an album of his songs with most of The Band involved + Dr John and people like Fathead Newman.

Couldn’t get my cheque book out fast enough …

So since we got back home I started wondering where do I know the song from? We watched the whole of the Last Waltz DVD (which I think Sue likes better than me), looked at the track lists of The Band albums that I have, even checked out the set list for The Band gig at the Albert Hall in 1971 (I was there, over 50 years ago, a youth of 24).

I’ve concluded that the track is on the CD version of The Last Waltz but not on the DVD.

And finally, I assumed because he was introduced as a great song writer he must have written “Down South in New Orleans”. But it’s actually credited to The Band.

He did write “See You Later Alligator” though.

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