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  Church was as I remembered it being give or take a few old folks who’d since been replaced by previously young folks who had aged since I last saw them but all in all it was your typical Sawbo service.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