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  Church was as I remembered it being give or take a few old folks who’d since been replaced by previously young folks who had aged since I last saw them but all in all it was your typical Sawbo service.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.

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 ……..

 

“To Rome or not to Rome ?” – That is the question

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Next year my wife and I plan to visit England.  The last time we went was 2004 so we decided visits should now always coincide with Olympic years not so much because we like watching athletics on the BBC but more so because the exchange rate means that the UK is so bloody expensive now that we can only afford to go there once every four years !  Anyway my wife would like to take advantage of one of these Ryanair “fly for the price of a bag of crisps ( which is more food than you can ever expect to be served on our cheapskate flight)” deals to visit Italy for a day or so whilst over there.  She has never been there and my daughter is pretty excited about meeting Pinocchio since she seems to think we’ll run into him in Rome.  The fact that she has already met the string-less wonder at Disneyworld hasn’t dampened her excitement.  I have been to Italy more times than Paris Hilton has been drunk so I am trying to convince my family members that if we do take a trip within a trip that it should be to somewhere else.

I would like to visit either Bulgaria or Denmark for the simple reason that I have never been to either nation before.  When I was a kid I had a weird obsession with Denmark which lead my Dad to think I had some kind of trace memory from our ancient ancestors who were marauding vikings that made their way to Ireland and started our clan on the emerald isle.  He seemed to think there must be some deeper reason behind my desire as a 7 year old to move to the Nordic nation but in reality the only motive behind my childhood plan was to go there and buy a soccer shirt.  Back in the mid 80’s Denmark had a shirt that was red on on side and thin red and white stripes on the other.  Somehow in my mind this seemed like the most attractive looking piece of clothing ever created and that coupled with the fact that Preben Elkjaer scored a hat-rick against Uruguay in the first world cup match I ever watched was the driving force behind my first emigration bid.  When I was 19 I almost went to Denmark once when my mate Deacon found a deal to go on a “cruise” there for 40 quid round trip.  It sounded great but when I realised that it actually involved sharing bunk beds with 3 other people (two of whom would be complete strangers – probably Swedish chef looking style serial killers) and a grand total of 4 hours ashore in the land of bacon I decided it was better to pay 129 quid to ride on a rickety old bus to Prague for 5 days instead.  I am sure that in reality Denmark has more to offer than classic Hummell soccer shirts but beyond bacon, legoland and a recently defaced statue of the little mermaid I am not exactly sure what !  Therefore the only way to find out is to show up there and asked the first basin headed blond that I run into where the party is.

Bulgaria is another country I have never been to despite the best efforts of a NYC based “Bulgarian” dentist to lure me there and pay 16 times the price I ended up paying in Romania for my recent mouth renovation.  Back in the day I recall Bulgaria was little more than a place for weightlifters, Papal assassins and people who use poison umbrellas to kill Russian dissidents but apparently today it is a Mecca for Brits.  You know a place has come of age as a tourist destination when even some of my parents less than worldly neighbours have been there and at the last count they knew at least 3 sets of middle aged Sawbridgeworth based couples who have recently made the trip.   When I first went to Eastern Europe in the 90’s these same people reacted as if I had just visited Alpha Centuri so either Hristo Stoichkov and co. have come a long way or the good people of Sawbo have been priced out of their usual haunts on the Costa-Lotta.   For my part I did once eat a can of Bulgarian luncheon meat in Budapest that was covered in green fungus and more recently I discovered that the father of one of my daughters pre-K friends once represented Bulgaria as an Olympic gymnast so I am not totally in the dark about the place.

Bulgaria like Denmark was a place I wanted to visit as a child.  I had no desire to purchase the rather bland looking Bulgarian 1986 world cup soccer shirt but I did think it would be a good idea for me to go there as a 9 year old and explain to the people that being communist was pretty stupid.  Luckily for me the people there realised that long before I showed up and since then it fell off my radar until this whole Ryanair thing came up with my wife.  She seems to think that the basis for choosing where to go should be what the country has to offer as a destination.  I am more concerned with satisfying my obsessive compulsive desire to have a red dot on my world map showing that I have been to every country in Europe and I don’t want to “waste” an opportunity by visiting a country I have already been to a thousand times.  I guess we will see what happens and in reality we will no doubt discover that the cheap flights have more stipulations than loan from a Scottish bank but hopefully my wife will realise that whilst we could climb the leaning tower of Pisa, marvel at the piazza Michelangelo or stand in awe at the size of the Coliseum that we could also more importantly tick one more country off my “must visit” list and surely that is what travel is all about.

May back in England.

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When you move to a new country you tend only to think of the major things that will be different and overlook the small things that you will miss.  Since I moved to Florida four years ago the list of events I look back on fondly has grown with every day that passes.  I think in part it stems from the fact that I am a “the grass is always greener/glass is half full” kind of guy but there is something to be said for some of the old traditions back home.

As we head into May I can expect to get a phone call from my parents within the next few weeks explaining how they have been out all day at the town fayre.  In the small Hertfordshire town that I am from the annual May fayre was a big deal.  For any Americans reading this try and imagine Oscar night and the Superbowl rolled into one, add a few crowded pubs, the odd carney and hey presto you have the Sawbridgeworth Fayre.  When I was a kid I thought it was great because it was one of the few times that my parents would let us roam freely around the village green without watching our every step.  Usually I would have my sister persuade my Dad to give us a few quid and then we would head over to the attractions.  The “attractions” were modest even by the cheapskate standards of village events.  Basically the big thrill was a tiny airbone carousel where you could sit in either a red or blue plane and slowly rotate at above 5 feet above sea level for about 40 seconds per ride.  It was amazing !  I would have stayed on it all day but for the temptation to gamble.  Yes gambling was encouraged at a young age in Hertfordshire as our token town carney lured unsuspecting kids into handing over the 50 pence pieces in the vain hope that they might win a prize.  Our local carney was an odd kind of fellow with a glass eye and an abnormally small head.  He wore a mullett hairstyle well into the 90’s and when he wasn’t ripping off kids at the fayre he was propping up the bar in the “Queens Head” pub.  I don’t recall his name but since I knew a similarly strange fellow who went by the name “Carney” I will just refer to the glass eyed boy as “Carney” for the purposes of this tale.  So Carney ran about three stalls all of which involved some element of luck and the apparent ability to win a prize.   If you were lucky enough to win he always found some kind of reason why he couldn’t give you a decent prize and instead gave you a “gonk.”  I won two of these one summer some years back, one was blue and the other was white.  I was pleased at first just because I had actually won but once I got home and realised that “gonks” were nothing more than toilet rolls with a strip of fake fur glued around them and and two ping pong balls attached as eyes, I was a little annoyed with Carney.

Aside from the one ride and the rip off merchant the fayre always attracted Sawbo’s weirdest residents.  The bearded men and one or two bearded women of the surrounding area would show up in outfits that appeared to be made from rags and shredded news papers and try to pass themselves off as “morris dancers.” It was kind of like an episode of the Mr Men.  Mr Fat the biggest man in town would have his “double glazing” stand which basically was just an advertisement and not in anyway a true attraction.  Mr Boring would team up with Mr Drunk, Mr Short and Mr “I can’t afford a razor or shampoo” and and perform the lousiest attempt at Barbershop since Sweeney Todd.  Sometimes the fire brigade would show up and once this complete nutter called “Mad Ken” who walked around town all winter without a shirt on showed up in his WWII army tank and for 25 pence each all the local kids got to jump all over it for 10 minutes spells.  Kids loved all of this crap whilst the parents got quietly wasted whilst feigning interest in the fortunes of the local cricket team who always seemed to lose unsually badly on this day.   Luckily for those chaps it usually rained after lunch so they could save some pride due the inclement weather forcing a drawn game.  Unluckily for Carney all his gonks cardboard centres quickly fell apart in the rain and he must have lost 2 or even 3 quid to weather damage each year.  It is kind of sad that we don’t have this to look forward to in Florida but the even sadder thing is that I actually miss it !  What is wrong with me ?!!!  

Hells Finest Hotels

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 I am currently trying to book a hotel for a family vacation to Colorado and as you might expect I am looking for somewhere offering basic amenities and a nice view.  However I wasn’t always a lover of 3 star hotels and during my pre-marriage era travels I stayed in some of the most unusual places you could imagine ……… (Dim the lights as flashback sequence commences) ……………..

Lake Brno, Czech Republic …… My mate Deacon and I decided to go with Cosmos on a $129 coach trip to Eastern Europe and booked into a dated but seemingly decent hotel on the banks of Lake Brno in the summer of 1996.   The Lake was pretty nice if you could overlook the masses of Czech nudists who were congregated on its banks.  They were all men over the age of 40 with giant beer bellies and moustaches that could easily have been mistaken for small woodland animals.   The women were mostly clothed possibly because they didn’t have enough of the oompa loompa style fake tan to cover their entire bodies.  Irregardless I wasn’t there to spy on naked people I was there because it was cheap and so after a day spent discussing the merits of dyeing your hair purple with some middle aged Czech women we retired to the hotel.

The first night the Deacon (We called him “The” because his nickname Deacon was more of an unwanted title that an actual name) started accusing me of throwing things at him.  When something struck me on the head a second later I told him to cut it out.  Before long I was being pelted with fragments of plaster.  Angrily I turned on the light fully expecting to assault my travelling companion for this unprovoked attack.  As the 15 watt bulb slowly came to life we both realised that the cause of the problem was a huge hole in the ceiling that had miraculously appeared as we were sleeping.  Chunks of plaster continued to rain down on us as we quickly dressed and ran for cover.

For our second night the hotel manager transferred us to a more stable room but we were soon on the move again as Deacon came under attack from a colony of spiders at 3am.  I am assuming the bed linen hadn’t been changed for at least 15 years because the offending arachnids were entrenched in every corner of the cheap plywood bedframe.  We stormed down to the hotel reception and demanded to be moved again.  The reception desk clerk called Barin who looked like a cross between Mr Bean and Rod Stewart lead us to one of the “luxury suites” on the 3rd floor.  Everything seemed OK at first but at about 5am I noticed an increasingly loud buzzing sound eminating from the area around Deacons bed.   I wasn’t sure what was going on but thought it would be better not to ask until Deacon suddenly jumped out of bed and starting swearing profusely whilst waving his hands in the air.  At first I though he was having some kind of sleep walking experience where he was dreaming he was at a “Village People” concert but it quickly emerged that another force was at work.  It turned out that there was a well hidden wasps nest in the room and poor old Deacon who already had a black eye from the falling debris of night one was now covered in sore looking wasp stings.   Time to move again !

As you can imagine we were pretty relieved when our latest room passed our thourough safety inspection.  No spiders, no wasps and even the ceiling felt pretty solid.  The last words I heard Deacon say were “OK I will turn out the light” when suddenly there was a blue flash and Deacon was flung across the room by a violent electrical surge.  All that remained of the light switch was a charred piece of plastic and a small hole in the wall.  The next day we checked out.

The irony was that we only stayed in a hotel because of our experiences of dodgey accomodation on our previous trip to eastern Europe a year before ……

Budapest, 1995.  For some stupid bloody reason we thought that we were getting a good deal when an old shrew who looked like some kind of 13thcentury plague victim approached us with a cardboard sign at Keleti station and said “$5 hotel.”  We should have known better but we followed the old women up several flights of stairs in one of Pests crappiest looking tower blocks to her apartment which in her mind at least was a “hotel.”  Our accomodation consisted of a small room with an old couch and a “bed”  I grabbed the bed and left Deacon with the couch but he was to have the last laugh this time around.  I dove onto the “bed” only to discover that in fact it was nothing more than a grand piano with no legs from which the lid had been removed !  For comfort the shrew had placed a thin blue sheet over the piano strings.  The sound of vibrating strings was almost as loud as my scream as I smashed my knees on the ill fated hammerstein.  Things got worse when we inspected the bathroom and found a toilet with no seat that was entirely covered in some kind of black tar like film and appeared to have no flushing mechanism.  Nevertheless we decided to stay and the following day after a bout of sightseeing we returned to the apartment only to discover that the key she had given us for the door didn’t work.  A passing neighbour informed us that Mrs Nagy had “gone away.”  The fiend !  We had left our luggage, our cash and our passports in there only for this trickster to change the locks and leave town !  We were livid.  Before I knew what had happened Deacon started trying to break down the door whilst the neighbour called the cops.  I don’t exactly remember all that followed but what I do remember is that about 5 minutes after the police showed up (I never quite established if they came to arrest Deacon for attempted breaking and entering or to investigate the shrews apparent deception of us) the landlady showed up with a few bags of Bulgarian luncheon meat for dinner.  Apparently “Gone away” meant she had gone grocery shopping !  Either way we were asked to leave !  I guess it wasn’t as bad as the time we were locked in a padded dungeon by the guy in Krakow but that is a story for another day ……

Marco Materazzi : Equally blessed and Cursed

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I have always regarded football as more than just a sport.  Football is about entertainment and like every good village pantomine football has always had its fair share of heroes and villains.  One player though has managed to blur the line between good and bad, talented and violent, smart and crazy, helpful and harmful.  His name is Marco Materazzi and about a year ago he was far from a household name despite being involved in more controversial incidents than the average Kennedy cousin since his pro career began about 15 years ago.

The name Materazzi even now may not mean a lot to people around the world but if you add the words, “Italy,” “headbutt” and “World cup final” to the equation then most people will immediately recall a tall dark haired clown who conceded a penalty, scored an equaliser and then induced the worlds best player to headbutt him all within the confines of one game on live TV just less than a year ago.  For those of us familiar with Marco or “The Matrix” as his team mates call him, his World Cup final antics were not a huge surprise.

Marco had one season at Everton which consisted of goals, own goals, conceding penalties and most famously of all an unprovoked attack on an advertising hoarding.  Coventry City striker Darren Huckerby decided to take a dive that Matt Biondi would have been proud of and the ref decided to red card Materazzi by assuming his guilt based upon his past crimes rather than asking the linesman who had clearly seen that no contact was made.  Being a reasonable kind of guy Marco decided that to display his mild annoyance at the red card he would first refuse to leave the field for a few minutes, then kick the crap out of  the adverts surrounding the field and finally for his grand finale he would sit and weep hysterically on the touchline for the remainder of the game.  Poor old Everton boos Walter Smith had to explain to the media afterwards that his $3million pound defender was “not of right mind” to play another game for the club.  Wacko-razzi was sent back to Italy and after a brief spell at Perugia he came to fame again for using his elbow to poleaxe Juan Pablo Sorin in the Champions League.  He also had a major tunnel bust up which caused Cirillo to get two black eyes and to make sure he stayed in the headlines he also scored 12 goals which was a record for a defender.  That is the thing with Marco he is always in the headlines for good or bad.

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The World cup was all about Materazzi.  A goal against the Czechs, a red card against Australia and then the in the last game the finest display on attention seeking insanity seen since Nero decided to burn down Rome .   Anyway the reason I mention all of this is because today Inter Milan secured their first Italian title since 1989.  They were awarded the title last year but only long after the season had ended and because all of the teams above them were docked points or relegated for match fixing so that one doesn’t really count.  They needed a win today against Sienna to seal the deal and on cue Marco Materazzi decided his name had been out of the headlines just long enough to warrant a big game and so he scored both their goals in a 2-1 win.  You may love this guy or hate him or you may variously think he is a gift from God or a curse from hell depending on his last involvement in any particular game but you have got to hand it to the lad that he is one hell of an entertainer.

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