I Am Back

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So anyway it has been a while since I posted on here but to cut a long story short I quit working for Satan at the bank and instead went to work at another bank. Things were going pretty well until Goldman Sachs and co. got their fingers into too many pies and the whole financial world came close to collapse. I was faced with a choice of continuing to work for less pay but with higher goals or doing something completely different. So I decided to jack it in. It was kind of nice actually because when you are working in banking the evil doers who run the show convince you during painful brain washing sessions that everyone else in the world spends all day sitting around wishing that you would call and offer them a HELOC. It took me all of two hours to realize that was not true  but it took me a while longer to get over the trauma that comes from a decade of corporate indoctrination.

Anyway given the state of the world economy I decided to do the only smart thing I could: take a leap of faith. OK maybe it was not smart but I decided to do what I have always wanted to do and become a freelance writer. Now I answer to myself rather than a brainless moron wearing a cheap North Korean made corporate polo. My new website is up and running and I have finally realized after six months of self employment that I do not have to get up at 6am and wear a suit to work.

Do Eye not like that

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I woke up early on Sunday morning feeling (and no doubt looking) a bit like the “littlest hobo”.  I had done more travelling in 5 days than Michael Jordan in an NBA finals but at last it was time to take things easy.  We had a traditional English breakfast to start the day.  I had actually forgotten what bacon tasted like until my Mum dumped the remains of half a dozen pigs on my plate.  In the USA “bacon” consists of small hard strips of something that smells kind of like burnt cherries and tastes like wood.  The bacon in England actually originates from real pigs and has a meaty taste and smell.  My wife didn’t like it because it was unfamiliar to her but for me it was like manna from Heaven.  I ploughed through my rashers, some eggs and the customary piece of freshly incinerated toast before heading off to Mass.  Church was as I remembered it being give or take a few old folks who’d since been replaced by previously young folks who had aged since I last saw them but all in all it was your typical Sawbo service.  The main event of the day though was the birthday party.

My sister was pragmatic enough to make sure her second son was born around the same time as my daughter so that if we were ever to live in the same area we could kill two birds with one stone by having a joint party.  The time had arrived for her plan to come to fruition as we celebrated my lonely only and her youngests big days at the same time.  I dragged along my fellow Who fan Dorney and his new girlfriend to liven things up a bit.  He fitted right in to the otherwise strictly family affair by starting an impromptu class for five year olds in the art of stage fighting.  My sister can sleep more soundly at night now knowing that her 3 year old can pull off a convincing right hook and that his older brother knows how to dodge a sword blow to the head.   My sister laid on a lot of food which was something of a relief as she had in the past had a reputation for taking a Mr Bumble approach to meal times.  Once when I was younger my parents had left her in charge of making dinner and she literally sliced peas in half so that we all got four and a half peas to go with the egg sized jacket potatoes she had made for us.  Somewhere along the line I assume the penny dropped when her house guests kept dyeing of malnutrition so on this occasion she laid on quite a feast for us. 

I had wanted to end the night with a visit to the local pub quiz but the folks I used to go with were either on the road in camper vans doing audits for B & Q, studying sheep herds in Aberystwyth or in the case of my younger sisters were just old fashioned cheapskates.  We went to bed early without so much as a pint of the nasty stuff from the pub where the landlord would dump the drip tray overspill back into unsuspecting punters glasses.  I mean I guess avoiding the risk of contracting hepatitis from the most unsanitary ale house in England should be a good thing but when you’re accustomed to something you miss it.

Monday was the day I had been dreading.  It was time to ride the “London Eye”.  I really hate heights and  I am claustrophobic.  Only the sickest of individuals would therefore think it was humane to force me to endure an 40 minute “ride” in a fragile looking glass bubble millions of feet above London.  The guide book said it was 135 metres high but that was a lie.  I know for a fact it went higher because when we were near the top we passed through two meteor storms before the roof got dented by some debris from Saturn’s outermost ring.  They say that you can get some nice pictures from the “eye” but I really couldn’t tell you because I spent the entire ride with my feet firmly planted right in the centre of the capsule with my eyes glued to my camcorder as I pretended to perform emergency repairs on said item.  I wasn’t alone.  Another guy older and uglier than me was pulling the same stunt much to the chagrin of his even older and even uglier “life partner”.  The old guys excuse was a faulty Mp3 player.  Not much of an excuse really as it wasn’t exactly critical to make sure you got your dose of Lionel Ritchie to enjoy the ride.  More people believed me than him and I think it was a nice touch when I feigned disappointment at missing the sights as the camera miraculously “came back to life” 30 feet from the ground. 

Once we were off the ride I got away from it as far as I could because I have an irrational fear of giant bicycle wheel shaped objects falling on me.  We quickly made our way onto some kind of ferry boat thing that looked a bit like the starship enterprise and made our way down the Thames.  Our next stop was the Millenium Dome.  It was pretty massive.  It would have been ideal for the tent parties we used to have after school plays each year as there was no shortage of room in it and it looked liked it would take all of 2 seconds to knock down when you were done with it.  The reason we were there was to see the Tutankhamen exhibit.  The Egyptian authorities had also entered in a secret pact with me and my sister which tied King Tut tours to the birthdays of our offspring.  The display itself was very impressive.  The colours of the artefact’s had lasted much better after 3000 years then even the reds on the brightest sweaters on Persil automatic commercials.  I was kind of sad that Tut himself wasn’t there but they did bring his coffin which was probably more aesthetically pleasing that his withered remnants plus we didn’t have to worry about the curse of King Tut killing us and that was a blessing on a day when my nerves had already been put to the test. 

That was that and after a couple of pints of Guinness with Grandad, a visit with my old piano teacher, a bottle of bubbly with family friends and the customary squabble with a sister we finished our trip and came back to Gainesville.  If I had time I’d tell you about how the airline lost our bags for a week and laughed about how stupid I was to expect to safely get 4 bags there and back but that would be unkind since they did give a $350 of gift vouchers after I (falsely) told them I had started legal proceedings but lets let bygones be bygones and aside from that I am knackered.

No rest for the wicked

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My family live about 25 miles from London and yet to get there was a struggle.  My parents were of the opinion that since we had “been there before” that there was no need to go again … ever.  In my opinion not going to London on a UK visit would be rather like waiting in a long line on “free ice cream day” at “Ben and Jerrys” only to decline a dessert and ask for a water on reaching the front of the line. 

London is kind of like Budapest if you disregard the absence of 3 million Hungarians, cold war era buildings and the fact that Buda and Pest are actually two cities and are on either side of the Danube rather than one city on the Thames but aside from all of that it is similar.  It is also rather larger and has a much fancier looking business district and they have red double decker buses as opposed to orange trams and black taxis as opposed to papier mache trabants.  The restaurants are different too and the Hungarian women are prettier but anyway aside from all of that the two cities struck me as much of a muchness I mean for one thing it rained in Budapest last time I was there and it always rains in England but anyway since hardly anyone has ever been to Hungary I guess it is actually a bit of a crappy comparison so I’ll get to the point.  London is arguably (along with Budapest ?) the greatest city in the world.  In fact if the ancients were to come back and re-evaluate the “7 wonders” of the world today they would surely ditch the Lighthouse of Alexandria and replace it with the city of London.  That being said they could probably replace that boring lighthouse with the Odeon in Harlow and be onto a winner but my point is that London has everything you could want in a city and the best way to see it is on a badly driven red bus. 

Many tourists flock to the capital and get ripped off by Eton drop outs who act as tour guides on cramped single level coaches that plough through pedestrains at Leicester square but the savvy cockney knows that the actual local transport system is the way to go.  I’m not a cockney so I didn’t know this but since my old man grew up singing “I’m forever blowing bubbles” he was well aware of this so our first hour in the capital was a rapid fire whirlwind tour of the main tourist spots courtesy of Red Ken.  My daughter liked it because she got to see “the Peter Pan clock” (Big Ben), the Mary Poppins Bank (Eddie George’s place) and the Cyberman church (St Pauls).   

We had lunch at an Italian restaurant where we unwittingly took part in a Guinness book of records attempt to squeeze 4000 tables into and 20ft by 20ft room.  The meal was nice and certainly nicer than the one I once had at the pub opposite some years back when Deacon got drunk on 2 Harp shandys and humiliated himself by singing “Stayin’ Alive” on karaoke in the style of Pee Wee Herman. 

Lunch was followed by the days main event which was the stage musical “Wicked”.  To those who don’t know it is the leftie apologist back story of the wicked witch of the west and her house flattened sister.  The star looked uncannily like Elaine from “Seinfeld” but greener and with a voice more like the “Super Nanny” and the role of “Glenda” was played by a Bonnie Langford wannabee with a blonde wig.  The show was very entertaining and allowed my Mum the opportunity to see something that she wanted to see under the guise of it being someone elses birthday present.  Mine actually.  Fortunately for her I am easily pleased but my Mum has a long history of this kind of behaviour.  The most famous incident occured when my Dad decided to leave the post office after 20 years of service and his co-workers threw him a big party.  He was mortified on receiving nothing but expensive books on pre-Raphaelite art as goodbye presents .  His naive work colleagues had called my Mum and asked what he might like for a farewell gift.  When they called to ask she set down the picture book of Italian art work she was reading, thought for one second and then told them that my Dad loved nothing better than to come home after a long days work and look at pictures of limbless nude Florentine statues.  They must have thought he was a right weirdo but it didn’t stop my Mum and she used that as a starting point to acrue a vast collection of antiquituies that she bought for people only to see them re-gifted … to her.  “Wicked” though was one occasion when everyone was happy and after a rousing ovation we left the theatre and whilst my parents took my daughter back to Sawbo my wife and I ventured into unchartered territory…South London.

My Dad had tried hard to discourage us from visiting “Sarf London”.  The reason of our visit was to see an old school friend I had known since I was 4.  My parents showed us newspaper cuttings about headless Ukranian women being thrown from tower blocks, rampaging gangs of Neo Nazis and hordes of Satanist roaming the streets in search of flesh blood to feast on.  My friend had called and told me that he lived in a “dodgey high rise” which didn’t help matters but undetered we caught the tube and headed closer to the equator and into the mystical land they call Crofotn.  We exited the train and as the mist slowly cleared and the crows gathered over head I heard what sounded like the faint croaking murmur of a dyeing man.  I stopped dead in my tracks and held my breath.  The voice was getting fainter but I could just about make out some words.  “mind…………mind the ……..” I could almost hear it but the pitter patter of rain was obscuring the last word of this haunting message.  Then abrupdtly the rain stopped and the baying crows went silent long enough for me to hear the mysterious words ….”Mind the gap.”  It turned out that they had a faulty speaker at the train station so the tannoy operator was trying extra hard to make himself heard !  

The area was actually very nice once we left the station.  The scary image my parents had painted was about as accurate as a “fair and balanced” debate on Fox news.  My friend Aidan lived up to his reputation as a wind up merchant and far from living in a high rise he actually lived in a pretty expensive and nice looking house in a quiet neighbourhood.  The next 3 hours were a chance for me to meet his family  and he mine. We both had children which was scary since neither of us even had a girlfriend last time we met up.  We discussed how we’re haunted by memories of our sadistic primary school headmaster and still amused by childhood incidents such as the birth narrative of James Canning (He claimed his Mum never knew she was pregnant and took a sepository the day he was born) or the fact that there is a hotel resort in Orlando named after Gaylord Nathan.  It seemed like we hadn’t been there for long when it was time to leave as my parents had put an effective 10pm curfew on us.  Granted I am 31 and so what if I live 5,000 miles away from them and only speak to them via phone once a week, in their minds I can’t be trusted to be out after dark and so we said our farewells to our hosts and made our way home.  We were back just in time to see the Everton highlight on “Match of the day” which has always been the prefect way to end a day.

When Irish eyes are ….missing ?!

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We returned to Stansted airport at the crack of dawn as the last chavs glassed each other on their way out of the Black Lion pub in Stortford and the most conscientious milkmen began their rounds.  We fought our way through another badly managed security checkpoint and within an hour we were on a tiny little plane packed to the brim with Essex men and women.  We were packed in tighter than the contents of a Scotsman’s wallet but their was a cheery mood on board and everyone seemed ready for some fun and frolics.  I half expected Cliff Richard to appear and hand out some beach towels but alas he was a no show.  The flight was fairly tolerable aside from the fact that we had 4 peroxide blond foghorns with umpalumpa orange tans sitting in front of us loudly fantasising about their upcoming “Hen night”.  Having been subjected to their war plan I couldn’t imagine that the eligible bachelors of Dublin would be lining up to meet them but perhaps the free flowing alcohol and deafening night club music would compensate for their amoeba-like intellects.

On arrival we quickly broke away from the rabble who had been on board with us as they wandered about in bewilderment looking for passport control.  We hopped on a bus which took us to O’Connell St. right in the city centre.  For me it was quite a poignant moment not because I had an ancestral connection to this street but because I had once spent 2 quid on a cheap plastic framed picture allegedly of O’Connell Street in 1901 and at least I could now honestly say I had been there.  Five seconds after arriving we realised that O’Connell St. hadn’t added many places of interest in the preceding 107 years and we boarded one of the garish yellow buses that take your directly to the main tourist destinations.  The bus claimed to have running commentary in 5 languages but only the Spanish version seemed to be working.  The Spaniard did a good job of making everything sound interesting even though I couldn’t understand a word he said.  We made our first stop at Trinity College Dublin which is home to the book of Kells.  It is a document used to list famous Irish people called Kell like Kell-y Ripa, Kell-y Osborne and of course R Kell-y.  The college itself is a nice stop off point and it has a library that I am sure was used as the model for Disneys Haunted mansion but anyway we didn’t have all day to hang around so it was a case of a taking a few quick snap shots and moving on to the next place of interest.

The most fascinating place we went to was the Irish National Museum.  It had the usual assortment of things you’d expect in an old museum such as spearheads, Victorian chamber pots and enough gold jewellery to keep Mr T clothed for weeks but it also had a new display of bog-men.  These poor old fellows were prehistoric murder victims who had been perfectly preserved in peat for a few thousand years until a farmer was out giving his new combine harvester a spin happened to stumble upon them.  The weird thing was that they were all red heads and all were at least 6 foot tall.  No wonder the petit skirt wearing Romans had so many issues conquering the Celts.  These guys would have eaten a couple of Lucius’ for lunch with a nice Gaius for dessert.   It seemed a bit disrespectful to permanently store someones dead uncle in an air tight glass capsule but I guess it’s a step up from a smelly peat bog for these lads.

By midday I had noticed that something very curious had happened to the Emerald isle since my last visit.  In the past one of the things that had helped to make Ireland seem so Irish was the abundance of Irish people there.  I don’t know where they went but these days you’re more likely to find a Predrag than a Paddy or a Miljana than a Molly in Dublin.  We had to walk for 45 minutes at one point to a find an actual pub that served Guinness.  When I say a pub I mean a real pub as opposed to an “Irish style Italian restaurant” (whatever that is) or a “pub style French restaurant” (What ??!!!)  These were places where in the past flat cap wearing drinkers sat with a cheap fag in one hand and a betting slip in the other hand wondering why they never had any money.  These days the same locations were full of Czech hair stylists talking about the merits of knee length fur boots as opposed to leather ones with their Parisien customers.

Before we knew it the day was over and it was time to head out of the city and board our toothpaste tube sized plane for the journey back to the mainland.  I would have liked to have had time to venture out of the city and see the real country.  For example there is the small matter of checking on the “leprachaun trap” I made out of a wheel barrow and some brussel sprouts with the aid of an Isle of man politician in 1984.  The last time I checked ( in 1998 ) it had still failed to yield any results but the aforementioned MP assured me that it would “eventually” net me a pot of gold so until then I intend to keep checking.  I would also have liked to catch up with an childhood friend called Brian O’Brien and make sure he gets a good baby name book before he has to name his own offspring but alas God set the Earths orbit in 24 hour spells and the next day I was due in London.

Life on Mars

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My and my bank buddy

 

We exited the plane and I headed for the EU arrivals whilst my entourage joined the lengthy Non-EU arrivals line.  Bizarrely the Non EU line was quickly handled but the passport control bloke in my line seemed intent on nailing at least half a dozen terrorists that day and he was going to harass everyone until he found a would be suspect.  I tried as hard as I could not to roll my eyes or make loud comments about him being a self important jobsworth but inevitably he cottoned onto the fact that I was the person responsible for the loud sighs and he cast a steely glare over me.  Rather than punishing me directly by holding me up he decided to drag out the inquisition of the Finnish family in front of me.  They didn’t fit the stereotypical image of terrorists.  Their group consisted of Miss Marples frailer sister, a couple of Macauley Culkin clones and  a married couple who looked uncannily like Bjorn Borg except for the fact the wife had slightly less facial hair.  As far as I could tell the only crimes they were likely to commit were against fashion but then I am not a security expert.  “What is the purpose of your trip ?” the guard asked them.  “Where are you staying ?”, “For How long ?”, “Where are you people from ?”, “Finland ? Is that near Fatland ?”  It went on and on until Marple feigned spell of dizziness and a supervisor of the guard waived them  through.  Sly old Marple was probably the one carrying the explosives.   A few dirty looks and mumbled insults later and I was finally through to the arrivals area. 

My Mum came to greet us because my Dad was trying to find somewhere to park.  Well in fairness he hadn’t had long to find somewhere since the flight was only four hours late.  We slowly hauled our luggage outside onto the concourse.  There were only three of us but we had outfits to keep the Partridge family clothed for 3 national tours.  I had insisted on packing all of our winter clothes because from my experience England was cold in February.  My parents had tried to convince us that global warming had altered the climate there to such an extent that south east England was now competing with the planet Mercury as the hottest patch of land in the solar system so we brought all of our warm clothes too.  Finally the day before we left my wife had noticed that we still had some money in our bank account and so she went on a spending binge to buy even more clothes just for the fun of it.  The end result was that I was struggling to carry two bags that felt like lead lined coffins.  My Dad finally emerged from the parking lot but rather than help with the carrying he decided to film our suffering with his camcorder.  At first it was funny but after the first few tendons in my lower arm snapped I started to get annoyed.  It made no difference to him since he was determined to get every second of our trip on film.  His actions seemed to confirm rumours started some time back that he was in fact the paparazzi who hit Diana. 

 We all packed into their compact relatively fuel efficient car and set off for home.  My parents were upset that their 33 mile a gallon car wasn’t fuel efficient enough for the leftie tree huggers running the country and they’d been hit with a penalty tax.  Imagine if we made rich snow birds pay extra for gas guzzling RV’s in the US ?  That being said imagine if we made rich snowbirds pay taxes period ? Anyway I digress but it is funny how very little changes over the course of time.  As we drove by I bored my wife with stories about every street corner.  “That is where Deacon claims to have been abducted by the UFO,”I said “and the roundabout is where Mark almost got hit by former England International football player, Peter Beardsley…allegedly.”  I am sure that my wife was delighted to hear my running commentary most of which consisted of myths and half truths that had developed down the years to disguise the fact that in reality absolutely bugger all had ever happened there.   It was good to be home though in the mildly warm country of my birth where you can have a beer without having to have a follow up counselling session on “Dr Phil.”

For the first 24 hours I felt a bit like Sam Tyler from “Life on Mars.”  I had been awakened from my coma and the bizarre life where I was surrounded by larger than life characters with whom I had nothing in common.  Playing ball in the yard with Pop, high school proms, mulletts and fish cookouts are as alien to me as rocks on the red planet and needless to say the Gene Hunts and Rays of Gainesville had even less interest in learning about the world of Ceefax, Wombles and Kenny Everett that I grew up in. 

I had to remember not to use words like “soccer” “sucks” and “awesome” any more because I didn’t want to be accused of being a “fake American” although supposedly I now have an American accent which is hilarious since nobody in Gainesville seems to think so.  At work I guy I worked with for 3 years revealed recently that he thought I was South African and most of the customers at the bank seem to think I am either Australian or German.  There isn’t any logic to their mistaken attempts at pinpointing my origins it’s just that their idea of an Englishman is a bloke with a top hat and tails who rides around hunting foxes with a blunderbuss and so since the only other countries they know are Germany and Australia they assume I must be from one or the other.  Another thing that was strange about being back in England was that people would start conversations about sport … and actually have some knowledge of them so conversations lasted for minutes at a time.  At work in the US the sports discussion usually follows this pattern:

American male#1: “How about those Yankees huh ?

American male#2″How about them ?!!”

American male#3″Yep.  Those Yankees !”

American male#1″Did you watch the game ?”

American male#2″Nah”

American male#3″Me neither.”

Kjohn “I did so does that mean they’re going to win the world series ?”

American males 1,2 &3″Don’t know we don’t really keep up with it that much….Loser!”

Sports talk seems to be one of those strange rituals American men go through like looking at each others cars or boasting about upcoming drink fests that they have no intention of attending because they have to spend the weekend downloading software for the blackberry’s.  Englishmen on the other would cease to exist without football.  Every man over the age of 25 vicariously lives through his favourite team and it’s that kind of ultimately meaningless existence that I have come to miss.  It was good to be back but before I knew it David Bowie was reverberating around my skull and it was time to head to Ireland ….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueUOTImKp0k&feature=related

 

The Return

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One thing that really buggered me off last time I visited England was the fact that we had to fly to Heathrow airport.  Heathrow for those not familiar with it is like a giant greyhound bus station packed with sun burnt prematurely bald English soccer fans, Asian businessmen a small smatering of Hare Krishna book pushers, homeless hippies and at least 3 nuns reading Agatha Christie books.  The journey from Heathrow to my parents house is one of the most miserable experiences you could ever imagine.  You can get to their humble abode either by a series of filth ridden, rickety tubes and trains or in my Dads car with him driving.  I prefer the former because at least the train drivers typically travel somewhat faster than a snail across salt and you don’t have to watch out for white van drivers or deranged truckers trying to run you off the road.

We hadn’t been to England in four years for a number of reasons a) My family keep coming here to go to Disney every time I am off work.  b)The exchange rate is terrible so my mickey mouse money is worthless there c)Because due to my own self importance I think my visits should be a major event like the Olympics and come only once every four years although hopefully without condemnation from Richard Gere.  Since our last visit a certain airline had started flights to Stansted which is about 20 minutes drive form my parents house which means only a 2 hour round trip with my Dad driving.

The thought of flying direct from Orlando to Stansted seemed too good to be true … and it was… thanks to probably the worst airline in the world.  I know lots of people complain about airlines but my last trips with Airtran and Maleev had gone very well and I naively expected the same treatment from the airline I shall refer to simply as Crankey Yankees but was I in for a surprise. 

The intial arrival at the airport went fairly smoothly and after brushing off the saliva that was propelled in my direction by the phlegmatic check in clerk I was only moderately irriritated by the mute security officers who communicated only with eye rolls and sighs.  On arrival in JFK I was surprised to see that the weather forecast which had predicted “sleet and rain” was a little off track.  In fact we landed in a scene reminiscent of the opening part of the “Empire Strikes Back”.  Everything was covered in feet of snow which meant the Wookie ground crew were working over time as their human counterparts sought shelter.  Now I am not an aeronautical engineer but I did think that it might be a good idea to remove the 4 feet of snow that buried our plane before we took off.  How wrong can you be ?  The staff told us the flight was running on time.  The only qualm I had at this point was that for some reason they had separated our party.  Someone incompetant or evil (Darth Vader ?) had decided it would be a good idea for my daughter to sit by herself three rows away from my wife and I and between a couple of geriatric brothers from Guadalope who couldn’t speak English.  After being told by the stewardess that we couldn’t switch seats we soon discovered that the airline used a lottery system to decide on seating and NOBODY was placed together with their own groups.  Despite protestations from the cabin crew we revolted and everyone amicably moved around until we were back alongside our own families.  There were one or two suicidal teenagers and lecherous old men who were less than happy about being reunited with their kind but for the most part a degree of relief descended across the cabin.  Just then the captain spoke.  “Ladies and Gentlemen we are waiting to be de-iced but we will lift off on 15 minutes.  Until then I will be turning off the AC because of the fumes from the de-icing process.” We didn’t realise it at the time but this was the start of an Andy Kauffmanesque comedy routine that would last for four hours in the hot sweaty confines of the dingey plane.  Without fail and without a hint of a laugh the pilot repeated the same line every fifteen minutes for the next two hundred and forty minutes.  To make the situation more humourous from his sick point of view he kept the “seat belt fastened” sign on the entire time to ensure that all the incontinents on the plane could add their own fresh scent to the already stale air.  I thought at first we were on an episode of “You’ve been framed” until I saw the headline of the “Sun” newspaper being read by the guy next to me which read “Beadles not about.”  With him off the suspect list I figured this must be the work of either Fox TV or former presidentail candidate John Kerry.  There is no reason to think that John Kerry would have the ability or desire to delay a flight but since I routinely blame him for everything I decided to stick him with this one as well. 

I was in the midst of suffocating myself with a “complimentary blanket” when we finally took off.  I would have been dead already but for the fact that my obviously second hand blanket had a series of holes on it that were either bullett holes or evidence of a new breed of polyester eating maggots.  The ironic thing was that I had spent all day saying private “Hail Marys” to myself and praying that our plane would not crash but by the time we were airborne I was so so sick of being on board that I viewed a potential crash differently.  “Shit happens” I thought to myself as the engines stuttered away from JFK. 

The rest of the flight was pretty unpleasant.  The stewardesses were not the Hollywood variety of old.  Instead the blonde hair and tanned skin were replaced with wrinkles and toupees.  The glistening white smile was replaced with a raised middle finger.  The passengers were made to feel about as welcome as a Bill Clinton speech at a Hillary rally.  Finally though as my ninth set of earphones packed up during my third viewing of “What’s new on CBS this fall” I saw a glimpes of green outside the window.  We were finally there.  This was it.  This was England.  God save the Queen ………

To be continued ……..

 

Wine, Weirdoes and Wildebeast

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 For anyone who was wondering when the “Doctor Who” story was going to be “continued” as promised …. now you know how it feels to be a “Jericho” fan.  That being said here is the next installment ……….

Organizing a “Doctor Who” convention is harder than you would imagine.  My first attempt at hosting one ended in dismal failure because I only sold one ticket (to Dorney).  The sad thing was that I had actually convinced one of the actual actors who played the Doctor on TV to drive down to the St. Thomas More church hall in Harlow for a mere 100 quid.  Given that the going rate at that time for convention appearances was about 1500 I was amazed that the actor in question agreed to attend for such a meagre fee. I don’t want to cause any issues with the actors union so to protect his anonymity we’ll refer to him cryptically as a man whose last name suggests he makes bread but his first name isn’t Tom.  Anyway for some reason it didn’t occur to me to actually advertise the convention and so with a heavy heart I had to call back the star in question and tell him that the convention was cancelled due to lack of interest.  

Some people don’t learn from their mistakes Paris Hilton, Briney Spears, Saddam Hussein or Kenny from “Southpark” for example.  I on the other hand see the value in failure because it helps you to prepare better the next time around unless of course your failure was an attempt to prove that swimming with Great White sharks is safe but anyway the point I am getting at is that the next time I advertised the hell out of the convention.  We didn’t manage to get a Doctor to attend because frankly we didn’t have the 1500 quid that a certain white haired scarecrow impersonator wanted and to make matters worse two of the other Doctors were already dead which meant they were very infrequent convention guests !  Well my thought was that if you can’t get the Doctor you get the next best thing, his assistant.  Some people might even say an assistant trumps a Doctor particularly if you’re watching a “Carry On” film but anyway we were lucky enough to get two of the Doc’s onscreen companions to come.  The offer of “travelling expenses” was enough to lure them.  In fairness they probably thought that “travelling expenses” was code for “a small but adequate appearance fee.”  If that was their assumption then they were in for a surprise because I was a man of my word and “travelling expenses” meant literally that as I painstakingly figured out the cost of petrol for them to get from their London homes to the site of the convention.  I was cheap then and I am cheap today somebody has to be otherwise there would be no one to patronise the frivollous about their foolhardy ways. 

We held the convention at my high school because it was larger and less expensive than any other location.  I also thought it would be cool because the place was haunted and I was really hoping an apparition would appear in front of a celebrity.  As ever I overlooked a few details in the planning and it was only on the day of the event that my Dad pointed out the fact that we had made no provisions for refreshments.  This was easily solved as I ran to Sainsburys and bought some orange juice for the attendees and some wine for the the guests to get smashed on in the Biology lab we were using as the hospitality area. 

As the day began the anoarks started to arrive and before long my school hall was full of odiferous greasy haired young men, a few bearded women, a couple of dwarves, 5 or 6 haemaphrodites and a herd of Tanzanian Wildebeast.  Quite a motley crew.  As you can imagine I didn’t tell any of my friends about this whole thing so I was a little mortified when someone from the local radio station showed up to do an on air interview with me.  All the cool kids at my school were probably driving around town looking for pubs that allowed underage drinking when across the radio waves I was revealed to be a sci-fi loser.  I got off fairly lightly as only about 17 or 18 THOUSAND people heard the bloody radio interview and went on and on about it for the next 5 years ! 

Whilst my social standing was descending to the level of a sub amoeba, the convention was starting to take off.  Since I had recruited the guest speakers I basically let John Dorney interview the guests who I wasn’t as fascinated with and kept the big guns for myself.  The interviews took place on the same school stage where only weeks before I had done a pathetic attempt at an American accent as Riff in the school play of “West Side Story.”  Dorney had played a character called “Action” in the same show and I was afraid he was going to see some real action at the convention because I had him interview writer Gary Russell.  Just before going on stage Russell had been browsing through a copy of our Fanzine which included a vicious attack on his career but none other than the same Mr Dorney who beckoned him on stage.  Luckily either out of embarrasment or shame Russell made no mention of the article and kept the fans quite entertained or at least that is what I was told.  I didn’t actually see the interview because I was trying to locate the next guest who had gone AWOL from the Biology lab.  I eventually found her reclining on the back stairs that lead to abandoned school attic.  The backstairs were notorious for two things; people kissing and people seeing the grey lady ghost that roamed the school.  Either way it wasn’t a great location to be with a faded starlet who was blowing smoke rings and who was rumoured to have seduced unsuspecting fans at recent conventions.  Now wasn’t the time for any bs so I abruptly told her she was needed on stage and then retreated rather rapidly to the safety of the hall. 

The day moved along without too much drama until Sophie Aldred showed up and suddenly all hell broke loose.  Sophie was one of those people who looked fairly attractive on TV but was much better looking in real life.  That apart she was also still young and she didn’t smoke.  Dorney was in the middle of asking John Woodnutt about filming at Loch Ness when word broke that she had arrived.  The next thing I knew chairs, cups and bodies were being hurled around the room as the mob scurried after her.  I didn’t have to wrestle anyone to get to her since I was the host and in fact she came looking for me.  It was kind of cool having this chat with an attractive TV star in front of all these jealous Who fans.  I felt like the coolest man in the town at that moment in time.  In all honestly though compared with the average “Who” fan even a 700lb, two headed, mutant dwarf with leprosy would have seemed pretty cool with or without Miss Aldred but whatever I was the one who got to hang out with the celebrities for half the afternoon with only a couple of bunsen burners and the skeleton of a recently dissected rat for company.    Terrance Dicks (who had survived an earlier visit to our fan group) and Barry Letts (who I had previously interviewed over the phone) arrived soon after and helped my Dad prove that when there is good wine available that even the most sterile of environments can serve a prupose as an impromtu bar. 

All in all the day was a great success.  There were a few uncomfortable moments like when Philip Featherweather (who as ever was wearing his egg stained tuxedo) got into a row with Barry Letts about which quarry one episode from 1973 had been filmed in.  I always wondered what would become of weirdoes like him and recently I discovered he has put “Who” behind him and become a busker on the streets of Cambridge.  I don’t know if it was the whole quarry thing that caused his life to change or the fact that nobody wanted to hang out with him anymore but either way there is at least the chance now that a rain storm might wash that yoke of his lapel.

When everything was done I ended up going to the pub with a group of sychophants who tried to attach themselves to me in the wake of the conventions success.  I sat half listening to them harp on about how we could have another con and it would be bigger and better.  Over their heads I could see Gary Lineker on “Match of the Day” and images of Eric Cantona and Manchester United were crying out to me “Ditch these losers….watch the footie……”.  The voices won and not long after I cut my ties to “Doctor Who” fandom forever.  I still have a book that is autographed by the various celebrities I met during that fateful year and they all wrote what seemed like pretty genuine messages about wanting to come back to any more events I hosted.  It was not meant to be though.  My world was a far cry from the pipe smoke filled rooms of the BBC where tweed jacket wearing boffins would read the “Guardian” and debate the merits of marxism.  Without the anoraks and weirdoes I was nothing to them and so as quickly as the “Herts and Essex Borders Local Doctor Who Fan group”was born it came to an end.

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