20 years ago this month, WipEout 3 was released for the original PlayStation. In September 1999, I had no idea how that futuristic racing game would come to shape the next ten years of my life and beyond.
There are certain songs that instantly pull you from the present and whisk you off down memory lane in an instant. Toca’s Miracle by Fragma is but one of many that can initiate instant time travel for me, with a memory so vivid that it’s hard to believe the moment it takes me to is nearly 11 years ago at the time of writing.
It’s Saturday, March the 4th 2000. The very dawn of the new millennium and my first day in London after flying down to Luton the day before to start a new job on the Monday. Until then, I hadn’t spent any appreciable time in the capital, save for a brief visit when I had been a child.
To say it’s an overwhelming city is an understatement to a newcomer. But there I was on Oxford street with Cousin Iain, shortly after emerging from Oxford Circus underground station. It’s like that scene from The Matrix where Morpheous is with Neo in a simulation of the matrix, walking effortlessly through the crowd as Neo negotiates and bumps his way through the oncoming tide of pedestrains. Not that Iain had spent a huge amount of time in the city himself, but he knew his way around and wasn’t trying to take everything in to the same extent as I was.
So Cousin Iain is forging ahead while I struggle to keep up, until he pauses at a clothes shop opposite HMV. We go in to browse the jeans, t-shirts, and winter clearance items on sale. They have Capital Radio on loud, and soon enough Toca’s Miracle comes on. It had been around for a while by that point, having been a late summer hit in Ibiza, but was gaining the domestic airplay that would see it peak at number 8 in the charts in April.
As the song builds to the first chorus I find myself just being really aware of, well, everything in the here & now. The music, the store, the crowded street outside, and the unknown path I’m just setting foot on, all come together. Somehow I know it’s a moment I won’t forget, despite the fact we’re not doing anything particularly memorable aside from browsing in shops when we should be finding me a place to live.
I stand for a while immersed in my thoughts, before Cousin Iain approaches and asks if I’m ready to go.
“Yes.” I nod, and we leave the store as Coco Star continues to sing about needing a miracle. I still smile at the sentiment, but for me I knew it wouldn’t come to that. All I needed was a little luck and my London adventure would turn out fine.
Just the way it did, in fact.
A couple of weeks back I made it down to The Great British Beer Festival at Earls Court in London for the 5th time running. The usual suspects were present and correct, with Cousin Iain, Nicola, and their friends helping Thursday night along after I’d flown down in the afternoon.
Friday was the main event, though, with myself, Iain and Charlie meeting up for a fine breakfast at Cafe Continente in West Kensington, before heading in to Earls Court just after 1pm. Much to our surprise it was already quite busy, but not so much that you had to queue too long at each bar. The bars themselves were differently laid out this year – in alphabetical order instead of the usual regional layout. This was initially confusing, as one of the Cornish breweries (St Austell) was where I remembered Cornwall being in previous years, so it took a while before I realised that they were in alphabetical order.
I could wax lyrical about all of the great ales we tasted, but the truth of the matter is that I don’t really remember. Not because we were staggering about in a stupor, but because the day was so packed with good company that it was easy to forget that the beer was meant to be the attraction. I think that’s the case at all good beer festivals, though – if the ales are fine and the company is good then it’s the best place in the world to be.