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The Internet Is Much Smaller Than You Think It Is.

Towards the end of 2016 I wrote a story for my writers group which had some utterly unexpected side effects. The homework assignment we were given was to write about donating to, or supporting, a cause. I wrote a piece about Rag Week at my university – rag week is what British universities call that mad time when students perform outrageous stunts and pranks in order to collect money which is then donated to charity.

My story was about a trad. jazz band called The Campus City Jazzmen. A friend of mine played double bass in that band. A double bass is a clumsy instrument that takes up rather a lot of space. Consequently the bass player's tiny bedroom always felt more than a little overcrowded and he took every opportunity that he could to relieve the pressure. So I often used to find his gigantic instrument sleeping on my bed when I came home from a weekend away. So to speak...

I originally wrote the piece in the third person from the point of view of a spectator watching the band perform, but the story came out flat and lifeless. It just sat there on the page doing nothing. So I re-wrote it in the first person from the point of view of the double bass player, and suddenly it sparkled.

Here's the story. All the events in it did actually take place, but of course, they didn't happen to me. Despite the first person narrative, this is not an autobiographical piece. And the names have been changed to protect me from libel suits.

So read and, hopefully, enjoy. And when you've finished reading it I'll tell you what happened next. I'm sure your flabber will be quite ghasted. Mine certainly was...

* * * *

Rag Week

Have you ever noticed that after three pints of Guinness everything sounds like a good idea?

We were sitting in the pub trying to decide what we could do for rag week. Rag week, of course, is just an excuse for university students to dress up and do silly things in order to persuade people to donate money to charity. What could be more fun than that?

The third pint of Guinness inspired me to say, "Why don't we pretend to be a Dixieland jazz band? I've got a double bass, Nick plays clarinet, and Paul almost plays the trumpet. I'm sure we can get a few other people as well."

After dropping a few gentle hints to our friends, we soon attracted a drummer, a trombonist and a piano player. And that's how The Campus City Jazzmen were born.

The next day dawned bright and sunny, which was fortunate because we'd decided to do some outdoor busking. At 9.00am, we took our instruments down to the Old Market Square, the huge open space in the centre of Nottingham which the locals always referred to as Slab Square. We set ourselves up well away from the tinkling fountains. We were planning on being there for quite some time and we didn't want to get wet if the wind changed direction...

"Ladies and Gentlemen," I announced to the largely indifferent crowds who were passing through the square on their way to work, "we are The Campus City Jazzmen and we will be playing non-stop music for you for the next twenty four hours." I turned to the band. "Are you ready, lads?" They nodded, and we surged into our opening number:

Ain't she sweet
See her walking down the street...

We finished the piece at almost the same time as each other. There was a small smattering of applause and one or two people put coins in our collecting tins. After a brief pause we played our next tune:

Ain't she sweet
See her walking down the street...

This time we were a little tighter, though only the trained ear of an expert would have realised it. We were definitely on a roll, and so we went straight into our third number without any pauses at all:

Ain't she sweet
See her walking down the street...

A man who had been standing there listening to us right from our very first note yelled out, "Is that the only tune you know?" Clearly he was our biggest fan.

"Yes, it is," I told him. "We only put the band together last night and so we've only rehearsed one tune, and that's the one we're going to play for the next..." I looked at my watch. "...twenty three and a half hours."

"Cool," said our fan, and he put fifty pence in the tin. "Can I make a request?"

"Of course you can," I said.

"OK," he said. "Will you play Ain't She Sweet for me?"

"Certainly," I said, and that's exactly what we did.

You can't really play music non-stop for twenty four hours. You can't even play whatever it was we were playing non-stop for twenty four hours without taking a break. So at staggered intervals throughout the day, one of us would sneak off for refreshment and a pee. When it was my turn, I went over to The Bell, a pub just off the square. Because it was a lovely warm day, I took my pint outside and stood on the pavement sipping my beer and enjoying listening to the rest of the band playing  Ain't She Sweet. A few other people followed my example and soon a small crowd of us were standing there nodding our heads to the by now over-familiar rhythm.

The landlady of The Bell came bustling out to us. "What do you think you are doing?" she asked angrily. "I haven't got a licence for outside drinking. Get back inside, the lot of you. Now!"

Meekly, we all took ourselves and our drinks back inside the pub. I've been thrown out of a lot of pubs over the years, but that remains the one and only time that I've been thrown into a pub...

About three o'clock in the afternoon, the university mountaineering club turned up to break the monotony. The members all roped themselves together and solemnly mountaineered horizontally from one side of Slab Square to the other. One of their Sherpas came over to us. "Can you stop playing while they climb across the square?" he asked. "It's very distracting and they might fall off and injure themselves."

We ignored the request and deliberately played them a medley of our melody instead. Every one of them reached the other side safely and nobody was injured, so clearly we weren't dangerously distracting.

Time crawled slowly as we played our tune again and again. Our audience waxed and waned. By four o'clock in the morning my fingers were bleeding from the pressure of the strings on my double bass. All of us were exhausted. Even our fan had deserted us, and Slab Square was completely empty. Nevertheless we carried on playing because we were far too close to the end to stop now. Early morning commuters started to appear about 6.00am. Most of them took pity on us and put money in our collecting tins before running away with their fingers in their ears.

At 9.00am we finally stopped playing. We packed our instruments away with a great sense of relief that our twenty-four hour marathon session of one-tune jazz had finally come to an end. We'd played Ain't She Sweet 683 times, and we'd raised almost £300 for charity, which made us feel very good. As a bonus, we'd enjoyed ourselves so much that we decided to make The Campus City Jazzmen a permanent fixture in our lives. Over the next few years, we played a lot of gigs and a lot of different tunes. We even made an album called Jazz on a Bootlace. But not once in all the time we played together did we ever play Ain't She Sweet again. Somehow the tune had quite lost its charm for us. Funny that...

* * * *

I presented the piece to my writers group and it was well received. I published it on my web site and then promptly forgot all about it until nine months later when an email slithered into my inbox:

Hi Alan,

Remember me? I'm the real double bass player from The Campus City Jazzmen. I've been searching out the other members of the group and while I was hunting them down I stumbled across your little story. We're actually getting back together again to play a reunion gig in a few weeks time...

He went on to tell me what he'd been doing with himself in the forty or more years since last I saw him. We chatted back and forth and it wasn't long before other old friends joined in the conversation. So as a direct result of me posting that little semi-autobiographical squib I'm now back in touch with some ancient friends from my youth. Who would have thought something like that would happen? I certainly wouldn't have believed such an outrageous thing if I'd read it in a book. Nevertheless it did happen. For once, and most unusually, I've not exaggerated anything about it for dramatic effect (except in the actual story itself, of course. But even in that, there is much less exaggeration than you might think).

I rather regret that I won't be there for the reunion gig. They are planning on recording it, but the sound quality of a band playing live in a noisy pub will not be the highest of hi-fidelity. Never mind. I can always listen to Jazz on a Bootlace. Forty years on, and it still sounds good. They were, and presumably they still are, a talented bunch of musicians.

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