Monday, October 31, 2005

Traffic Violations Part 2

Driving in the UK must be a terrifying experience for first-time American tourists. We Brits operate binary cars ('binary' as in 'on' - screaming along at the redline, or 'off' - stuck in a traffic jam.)

The experience here is surreal - wafting along in what the hire company calls a 'compact' (but would qualify as a substantial bit of car back home) at ludicrously low speeds. The only real challenge is working out what the current speed limit is (they seem to change pretty much randomly; I'm sure there's a pattern at play but have yet to find it.)

That said, it is a very relaxing and stress-free experience. Everything happens so slowly (at least, compared to what I'm used to) that there's plenty of time to veer across the carriageway after spotting the usual badly placed exit sign.

The one thing I've yet to grasp is the whole stop sign thing. Who has right of way at a four-way? Since I'm in the protective mantle of a hired Nissan, festooned with air-bags, I operate an attitude of 'He Who Dares, Wins'.

Possibly not the best course of action.

For those in the area - if you see a beige Nissan bearing down on you... I'm really, truly sorry.

Traffic Violations

So, this whole USA driving thing. Is it turn left on red or turn right on red?

I kept forgetting. Well, at least up until that truck last night screeched to a halt, tyres smoking and horn blaring as I screwed up yet another intersection.

At least First-Born is enjoying my attempts at navigation. She sees it as all part of a ride.

I got suckered into having our names and photo stuck onto the sculpture at the base of the Epcot giant golf ball thing. That should be a slightly longer lasting memento of our stay than the gouge down the side of my hired Nissan where I misjudged the position of the barrier in the car park.

If anyone asks, my name is John Smith from London, ok?

Culture Shocks

I blinked. Had the bouncy ride in Richard Branson's pensionable jumbo jet been just a bad dream? I fingered the marks on my palms where I'd clenched my hands as the aging plane had attempted to lurch into the air, bounced twice on the runway and finally lumbered toward the clouds. Still there. So I was clearly still in the US.

First-born broke the spell. "We don't look anything like this" she squeaked in outrage.

We were in the UK section of Epcot's World Showcase. Alongside Ye Olde National Stereotype (aka The Rose And Crown pub) stood a red phone box and a fish and chip shop.

I couldn't do much to sort out the authenticity of the fish and chip shop (too clean, no huge vats of month-old fat on display and lacking pickled eggs) but the phone box... Well, some urine, graffitti and an elbow through one or two of the glass panels would do wonders.

A heavy-set man called Mark (according to his name-badge) eyed me suspiciously. Urination would have to wait for another day I guess.

Its interesting to see the Main Street formula (namely, a nostalgic Americana that never really existed) being applied internationally.

Something else about this place; its awash with alcohol. I last came 10 or 12 years ago, and it was only Mexico-world, Germany-world or Ye-Olde-English-world where beer could be purchased. Now there are stalls on the paths dolling out the stuff. I like a beer as much as the next man (although since I'm alone with First-Born for this fornight, its obviously a dry period for me) but more than once I've had one of those electric fatty-mobiles bearing down on me with 200 kilos of lard more concerned with drinking his beer than steering the thing straight.

Tomorrow - Magic Kingdom.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Normal Service Will Be Resumed Shortly

Seems the internet has yet to reach this corner of Florida (also known as the Disney All-Star resort). With luck, Universal (where First-Born and I are off to next week) will be a little less backward.

"Use dial up"... Tch - dahlings, that's just so last century...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Where Is Ecverybody?

First Born and I landed in bright sunshine. A cool breeze was refreshing after 9 hours in one of Mr Bransons old and grubby 747s.

The question is - where is everyone? The roads were empty, the tolls deserted and the hotel deserted.

Did someone warn Florida about how bad my driving is?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Morning After/The Day Before

Darlings, I'm so rock and roll. How many others would be updating their journals while quaffing Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin champagne from the bottle?

Admittedly, the only reason I have this bottle is that it was beside my bed when I woke up this morning, sans hang-over but avec large chunks of missing memories.

You could say the wedding went well. I'm fairly sure the speech went well (lets face it, the audience were so well lubricated with alcohol that I could have just said the word "arse" and got a laugh. In fact, I have a feeling that I did.)

Naturally, I liberated some left-overs on my way out. Some champagne, it would appear, and also the remains of the barrel of bitter into whatever recepticle was available.

Somehow a bottle of Tesco Blue Stripe water containing something that looks like a sample from a sewage outfall is a little less glamorous than a bottle of the fizzy stuff. Make you own minds up.

But I digress. It may the day after the wedding, but its the day before First-Born and I make the 9 hour flight to Orlando (hurricanes permitting.) This means the next update will contain observations on the airport, the driving abilities of Americans (yes, after 15 years of US business trips, this will be the first time I hire a car) and Disney's All-Star hotel.

First-Born is bursting with excitement. Me? Less so, to put it charitably.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Big Day

So this is it. Today my father is marrying my mother's sister. I've been prodding my mind to see how I feel about this; The Ex was aghast when they got together a year or so after my mother died and very bitter when my father announced he'd be changing his will to include my aunt and her offspring (my cousins.)

Me? I'm overjoyed about the whole thing and always have been. It was probably one of the things that really annoyed The Ex - I was genuinely very happy; I love my Aunt and grew up so close to my cousins that I know them as well as, if not better, than my own brother. Ah well, it isn't The Ex's problem any more...

And so it is that I'm best man at my father's wedding. In two hours time I'll be funbling for a ring that I belatedly realise is still sitting in the flat. 3 hours later I'll be standing up to conquer my terror of public speaking. I've timed the speech at 3 minutes, 28 seconds. Amazing that I'm so worried about something that takes little more time than the average act of intercourse (excluding the pizza beforehand and the apologising afterwards.)

And then I get to hit the champagne.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Serenely Snoring

I'm turning into my father. I've been aware of this process for a while, but this week it really hit home.

I went to see a film last night. Something called Serenity.

Well, it left me relatively serene. I have a feeling that I may have missed the good bit. I must have done because the critics all seem to like it, but the sphincter-clenchingly awful dialogue left me cold and looking forward to the next exploding spaceship rather than trying to follow a story that Joss Whedon clearly lifted off his "not good enough for Buffy The Vampire Slayer" script pile.

Why was I serene? I'd dozed off for a good 30 minutes during the film, such was the ability of the script to grip the viewer.

And why am I turning into my father? He snored through much of the middle act of Return Of The Jedi. Having watched it again recently, I can see why...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Deja Vu?

I've a vague feeling this has happened before. It happened again tonight. First-Born and I were enjoying supper having been to the local cinema to see the new Wallace And Gromit film (excellent, by the way. Although the homage-ometer was going into overdrive by the end of it.)

The phone rang. The CallerID was 'witheld' Expecting another Ex rant or psychotic stalker 'brief encounter' date, I gingerly answered it.

Caller: "Hello sir! I hope you don't mind me calling you this evening, but I wanted to tell you about a fantastic deal we have on home improvements!"

Me: "Uh huh?"

Caller: "Yes, we're looking for properties in your area to be show homes for our range of stylish, yet affordable conservatories"

I decided to play along. The caller could barely believe his luck as I signed up for a site visit, a site survey and explained that my property could certainly use the extra space an extension would provide.

Keith (for that was his name) eventually got around to asking me for my address. Doubtless he was calculating his commission.

I began: "Flat 7..."

Keith interrupted: "Sir, you live in a flat?"

Me: "Yes, the top floor. Will that be a problem?"

Keith hung up.

Oh Mr Darwin...

I met the world's unluckiest squirrel today. It dropped out of a tree as I was bowling through the country lanes to my workplace.

Unlike most of the creatures unfortunate enough to stray onto the same road as the The Black Golf Of Rodent Extermination, this one didn't make it to the tarmac.

No, it smacked into my windscreen and hung there for a while. Spreadeagled, with a surprised expression that mirrored my own before rattling over the roof and bouncing down the road behind me.

And before anyone says "Aw, but its a cute ickle squirrel - you're so cruel" - they are RATS WITH FLUFFY TAILS.

And lets face it, a squirrel that falls out of a tree is ripe for unnatural selection anyway...

Monday, October 17, 2005

I Am A Bad Person (Part 433)

A rail trip to London to indulge my space-fetish. I was off to see the IMAX presentation of Magnificent Desolation. Newly's review: don't bother, aside from watching astronauts falling over its pretty poor. Unless you get your kicks from watching American kids swinging from nauseatingly sugar-sweetness to breathtaking ignorance.

But I digress. As is my way, I paid a visit to the trailer-of-lard conveniently located on the platform (run by Russians, I think. The chap who made my bacon sandwich bore a startling resemblance the Russian billionaire that owns Chelsea Football Club.)

I pottered through the tunnel (holding my breath to avoid the compulsory smell of urine that accompanies all covered areas in British stations) to platform 2 and looked for a place to sit. A woman in a white denim jacket sat one end of a bench. Her luggage was spread out over the rest of it.

"Do you mind if I sit here?" I asked. She rolled her eyes, tutted, and moved a small bag to the ground. I perched on the sliver of clear bench at the end and proceeded to discreetly make my way through my East European bacon sandwich. Having removed excess brown sauce from my hands, I placed the soiled napkin on the bench, weighted down by my mobile phone while I hunted for the can of coke I'd selected to wash down the feast.

I looked up. The napkin had contrived to be picked up by a gust of wind and be swept along the length of the bench. It was affixed, sticky side down, to the back of the woman's white denim jacket.

I had a choice to make.

"Excuse me..." I volunteered.

She turned to face me and snapped: "What? I can't put these suitcases on the floor too, you know. The dirt on the ground will make them messy!"

"...oh, I'm sorry." I finished.

I watched her board the train with napkin affixed to her back. I also watched her disembark at Gatwick Airport, napkin doggedly clinging on. I hope it enjoys its adventure.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

PC or not PC? That is the question...

My father is getting married next week. In my role of Best Man it fell to me to organise a stag do and keep some of his more unruly friends under control (Dad is a very quiet chap and simply wanted some drinks and a nice meal with close friends and family... some of the close friends were determined that as least one stripper be involved. I had to wield The Big Club Of Understanding to ensure Dad had his way.)

It was a good day. A brewery tour (which I was terrified about, for fear of falling victim to the "couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery" line), followed by a pub crawl and terminating in a gastro-pub conveniently located 30 seconds walk/crawl from my apartment.

But, of course, there is still the speech to do. This worries me somewhat - those who know me know I'm not really public speaking material. And of course, how does one draw the line in what one should say or not say?

Using material from the stag do is, I think, acceptable

Mentioning the time my Dad owned a caravan with bunk beds against a window. One night, while very young, I rolled out of bed and out of the window in my sleep. They didn't realise I had gone until morning...

Or there's the time when Dad (who drives his Golf diesel around at a resolute 50pmh to get intergalactic miles per gallon) was loaned a Saab Turbo while his horrid old Fiat was being serviced. It wasn't until I was 15 that I realised motorways had speed limits.

Those, I think, are ok. However, making light of the fact that Dad is marrying my dead mother's sister... hmmm... some things, I think, should stay unsaid.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

From The Department Of 'Say What?'

Bizarre conversation with The Boyfriend (now The Replacement Husband)

The Ex and I have an arrangement concerning First-Born. I get her (First-Born, not The Ex. That would be weird) for two nights a week. We tend to alternate between weekday nights and weekend nights since it wouldn't be fair if I hogged all the weekends.

Since I'm whisking the girl off to Florida for a fortnight to meet the Proper Mickey Mouse (and, with luck, Spongebob Squarepants) next week, I've stuck to weekday nights to let The Ex have the lion's share of the weekends.

However, the problem with this is the whole work thing. Since The Ex works next door to First Born's school she swings by in the morning to collect her en-route and then I can set off for work.

Thing is, she's late. Every Single Morning. Which makes First-Born late for school and me late for work. After a few months of this, some raised eyebrows from HR at work and multiple requests that The Ex perhaps leave the house a little earlier I did the ultimatum thing. Either turn up on time, or I stick to weekend nights.

Hence the telephone call. Lots of blustering and then "Well, you're often late picking up First-Born in the evenings - you say 6ish but don't turn up until ten past. How can we plan our evening out to the pub when *you* aren't on time?"

Say what? Is that really an apples for apples comparison of getting a warning from work and being 10 minutes late to the pub?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Things That Go Moist In The Night

Get your mind out of the gutter.

I have a man in the apartment at the moment, dismantling my kitchen and bathroom in the search for a leak.

A nice young lady is moving in downstairs and while unpacking, opened one of her kitchen cupboards to discover a relatively advanced civilisation that had evolved over the last 6 months from the damp running down the wall from my flat above.

Or it might have been a hideously disgusting growth of slime/fungus. The shriek was heard all over the building.

So she's refused to go near the place until the landlord sorts it out (these apartments being new and still under warranty - which is proving to be very cool.)

I, of course, don't care. I selected the top flat in the hope I might be able to ruin someone's day below me. And lets face it, as introductions goes, it beats the usual "Hi, I'm Newly, what do you do?"

Saying "Hi, I'm Newly. The funny smell in your kitchen? That was me..." is far more memorable, don't you think?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


...Yes, the joy of the GBH is best summed up by this unfortunate green lady, normally garbed in an appropriately sinister black robe but now condemned to rotate on a pole above the Ghost Train, attached to her broomstick with only a scrappy piece of material and a slightly surprised expression to cover her modesty.

Its all a bit rubbish.

And if you think I have somewhat of a downer on the British funfair (particularly in its semi-permanent incarnation as seen on Brighton's Palace Pier), well, you'd be right. The idea of hurtling around at the end of a 100 year old wooden structure in contraptions assembled by individuals that were most likely thrown out of the gene pool for wearing their swimming costumes on their heads is not one I like to entertain without the help of Ms Vodka and her naughty friend, Miss Tequila.

Which is why, in a week and a half's time, First-Born and I shall be stepping aboard one of Mr Branson's finest for two weeks of hurricane dodging in Florida, USA.

Which won't be tacky at all. Oh no.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Ah, the Great British Holiday (also Grevious Bodily Harm, if you're legally minded)

Can't be beaten.

Aside from being hung upside down with your head in a bucket of donkey poo. That generally gives a more rounded experience than many of my trips around Britain.

The Seaside Holiday is another British favourite. I was spared this owing to the fact that I spent much of my childhood within spitting distance of the coast, and a town called Brighton (a little like a UK version of San Francisco, just a bit grubbier.)

I like the sea, and so often pop back for a stroll along the pebble beach (barefoot not recommended owing to razor-sharp stones and a slightly careless drug-using beach community.) The other weekend I ventured onto the Pier.

Its a tacky place and not something I'd recommend for anyone seeking cultural enlightenment (one of the mad Prince Regent's palaces lies at the centre of town and is a much better bet in that regard.) A 12 foot Elvis Presley impersonator (I suspect stilts may have been involved) dribbled out ballads to entertain those caught between the entrance and the end of the Victorian structure. At the gates another Elvis (this time depicting Elvis in his little known 'fat bloke from Wales' phase) bellowed some funkier numbers.

I glanced at a sign on the seaward railing. "Please Do Not Feed The Birds" it said. Judging by some of the chip-eating tourists waddling towards the funfair at the end, the sign was too little, too late.

Tomorrow - the mystery of the naked green woman.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Guess Who's Back, Back Again...

Ok, so I'm not the real Slim Shady. Even the most charitable parent would hesitate before describing me as 'slim' and the word 'shady' only applies if I'm standing in front of you, blocking the sun and causing a kind of beer and curry fuelled eclipse.

But I digress. 18 hour days still rule, but stuff is still happening.

Stuff can wait until tomorrow. First I want to share a date story from a while back. Its only now, some 10 months later, that the horror has ebbed enough to allow me to relate it...

Picture the scene... date 2, and things are going well. Impressively well. Its back to her place for some coffee and what 1950s teenage fiction would call 'heavy petting'

Nature takes its inevitable course.

We're at the point of no return. I reach down in a fumbling effort to find my jeans and the back pocket that contains the protection that is oh so essential. She says "Wait! Hold on a moment! I've got something here..."

I'm suitably impressed by this organisation. She leans over to the bedside table and produces...

...and produces...

...a tape measure and a digital camera.

"For my collection" she says

You've never seen a chap get dressed so fast. God help anyone who asks to see that person's family album.