Cooper Brown: He's Out There

'You Brits never speak to strangers unless you're unbelievably dull, then the rulebook goes out the window'
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The Independent Online

Phone rings - "Hello Cooper, it's the Indie here. We want you to go to the Proms. What? Your mother's staying with you? Why don't you take her along and have a great night out on us."

So, Mom and I find ourselves in a black cab heading towards the Albert Hall. She, to the uninitiated, is an unreconstructed hippie - think Mama Cass with an IQ of 15 and you're not too far off. She's smoking a reefer out of the window and the cabbie is asking me to ask her to put it out. I try to protest that she's got very little to do with me but he jams on the brakes and kicks us both out. So we're walking down Kensington High Street in the pouring rain, not another cab in sight, and I'm in my best tuxedo while my mom looks like she's off to Woodstock. It's going to be a great night.

We finally get to the Albert Hall. The first thing that I notice is that I'm the only person in the place in a tuxedo. I assumed that this was a classy affair and have dressed up accordingly. It seems that no one else had thought this necessary. I never get the deal over here. When I dress up, I'm over dressed. When I turn up, Cooper-style, I get stared at like I'm the guy in the chicken suit. You guys have sure set up an elaborate system to keep foreigners in their place.

I order a bottle of champagne to try and drown the hideous prospect of spending an entire evening listening to classical music with my mom. There's an extraordinary bunch of people assembled in this ancient room. The evening light streaming through the windows is of the most unforgiving type and it's not a pretty sight. There are a lot of women with women - old spinster types with slightly younger, shorter-haired chicks.

There's also a gaggle of uncomfortable looking twentysomething women dressed in ill-fitting taffeta dresses. They look so completely out of touch with fashion that they can only be classical music students. Beneath the veneer some aren't actually that ugly. What they need is to be taken to a good rock gig and then back to the Cooperdome for a night of un-classical bliss. Trust me, they'd be queuing up the next day at college to hand in their resignation.

In the corners of the room are little gangs of twentysomething dudes who look like they got dressed in the dark. They stand together awkwardly in corners drinking Guinness - one of them is actually smoking a pipe. Jesus Christ, this is going to be one hell of a night out. I was under the impression that this was one of the big society events of the year? It's more like a meeting of the Berkeley Chess Society. My mom is, predictably, loving it all. A couple of the spinster women approach her - "Can I just say that I love your Kaftan? You look very glamorous. Oh you're American, how simply wonderful. Is this your first time at the Proms? We come every year as often as we can. When we were young things we used to get free tickets every night. It's a wonderful atmosphere, there's simply nothing like it, It's Mozart tonight, he's our Beatles don't you think..." How come you Brits never speak to strangers and ignore everyone unless you happen to be unbelievably dull and then the rulebook goes out of the frickin' window and it's like someone shoved a gram of coke up your schnozzes?

It's showtime. We take our seats. The Indie has spared no expense and we are seated right at the very back of the very back row of the Circle. The venue is, unbelievably, almost full, and the hushed chit-chat and coughs of the misfit crowd wells up towards the Circle like a solid wall of interference.

I start to think about what I know of the Albert Hall. I know that they don't just do classical concerts. This, after all, is where Bob Dylan played in the famous DA Pennebaker movie. It's also where Eric Clapton hosts his annual month-long series of concerts. Even that living hell seems a more enticing prospect than this crap.

I'm squeezed into my seat between some guy wearing red corduroy trousers and a gay cravat, and the all-enveloping folds of my mother's fat pouring over the arm-rest. I feel hot, claustrophobic. I hate being in situations that I can't really leave. I hate not being in control. I hate... the fucking Proms and they haven't even started.

Far, far below us, something stirs. The misfits hush and the orchestra start to walk on stage. Once they are settled two violinists wander on to rapturous applause. They're obviously the Van Halens of the orchestra. Then, after another little pause, on waddle the conductor and the pianist. They, at least, are exactly what I expect - two crazy white haired old dudes in tails. This is more like it. The conductor taps his stick and they're off... it's a major disappointment. They're doing a Mozart piano concerto in an enormous packed hall and it sounds not unlike a four piece playing in a pizza parlour.

After half an hour or so, the tinny cacophony from below draws to a close and, for a moment there is silence, then a volley of repressed coughs and sneezes ring out around the hall. It's a far more engrossing sound than the Mozart.

On stage, without, as far as I can see, anyone asking them to do so, the conductor and the old man on the piano take about three separate curtain calls. To cap it all off someone actually brings the pianist a bouquet of flowers from backstage. This is insane. In the real world the audience would be hurling bottles of their own urine at these idiots. I nudge Mom and we get up and squeeze past people into the corridor. I tell her that we're leaving.

Back at the apartment, I turn on the plasma and channel surf. I get to BBC 4 and can't quite believe it. The Proms are on, live, and the evening is still going strong. They don't show the audience, most of whom must, by now be dead. I can't believe anyone could sit through this shit for that long. Guess you have to be British? Cooper out.

scoopercooper@gmail.com; www.myspace.com/scoopercooper

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