Friday, April 25, 2008


The other day I was having a coffee break in a Leeds cafe with my fellow super heroes, Superman and Batman. As we were 'off the clock' and so dressed in our civvies, we were left alone and cats everywhere had to wait to be rescued from tree branches. Tough, we needed a break.

Anyway the conversation came round to which of us had the hardest job. That Batman is always bitching about having to stand for hours on top of buildings waiting for some WW2 searchlight or some such to light up the sky so he can go do some good deed. Superman gets pissed off flying around for ages looking for something to do and at his age he's getting a bit past it. Altitude sickness I think he calls it. I've told him over and over that at his age he really NEEDS to be wearing his skivvies underneath his tights as he can't keep expecting the pigeons to take the blame when he gets one of his 'attacks'.

I said they both had it easy. They should try moving around in Leeds with only a web to use. Leeds has about 2 skyscrapers of any note and you try going any distance in a city where most buildings are only a few feet above the height of the buses. My arse is red raw by the time I get home and the missus has sewn more patches on the ass of the old Spidey suit than on a quilt.

Mine isn't indestructible you know. And neither is my ass.

They'd never thought of such problems and finally agreed that being Spiderman in Leeds pretty much sucked. We were arguing over how much of a tip to leave (Batman is such a tight bastard) when my alarm went off. Why was my alarm going off in a cafe ?

Then I woke up. Or had a shower. In any case it had all been just a dream. Hurrah.

I have some bizarre dreams but this one didn't need a lot of explanation.

Just before I finally got out of my chair last night and left a shroud like body impression behind me, I noticed movement on my living room curtains. I looked closer and saw a huge spider slowly climbing upwards, disappearing and reappearing as it moved partially sideways over the folds in the fabric.

This monster of nature was at least half an inch long with legs as thick as.....well a human hair. I kid you not. It was huge. If it had landed on my face, it would've smothered me for sure !!

What is it with us and spiders ? I mean I'll happily cup a crane fly in my hands and gently take it outside to let it fly free and bother someone else. It has even bigger, longer legs. It makes a noise for God's sake. We should be terrified of them. But words like 'it tickles' come to mind when I take one outside in my hands.

Maybe it's the common name that makes us treat them differently. The Daddy Long Legs. Cute. Like a pet. Not scary at all.

But spiders. Ohhhhhhh get them out of our sight. They scuttle. Maybe that's it. If they flew, we might like them a bit more. But they scuttle around in dark places and remind us that we have parts of our houses that we've not dusted in years. Little tell tales. Squash them.

But that's just it. They don't hang around like good little pests and let us kill them easily. Pull off a leg and they've plenty to spare. We look for cups and glasses and tumblers to scoop them into and then treat them as if they're radioactive or are capable of giving us 20 zillion volts. We do a sort of frantic dance if they scuttle our way and climb up onto chairs as if they are 100 times the size they really are.

"Ohhhhhh it's coming this way" we scream. Oh for goodness sake, it's a half inch little critter that has never been known to have eaten a human being, ever, and we're up on a chair poking a broom at it as if it's a rampaging rhino.

Well I could've let my little visitor roam free but then I'd not have slept last night knowing it might climb 14 stairs, cross the landing, open my bedroom door, scale the bed leg and proceed to smother me as I lay helpless below its formidable body. Don't laugh. It might've done all those things. You don't know.

Damn that "Incredible Shrinking Man' movie. It put me off spiders for life.

So I did what any brave, resourceful man would do. I flicked it into a cup, placed a napkin on top and set a cast iron frying pan on top of the lot. Push your way out of THAT, little fella.

Then I went to bed and planned to deal with him in the morning. But you can probably guess the rest.

This morning I lifted the frying pan, lifted the napkin and peered into the cup with mounting disbelief and alarm - the cup was empty.

What the %^&*$ ??!! Now I have to live in this house with one seriously pissed off spider on the prowl. I hope I'll be back to post again but look for a very fat spider if I'm not.

Where is a Super Hero when you want one ?

Please Speak Slowly.

The British have a habit of wanting to shout slowly at Johnny Foreigner as if doing both of these things will make the poor tourist understand what we're talking about.

We really do assume their faces will light up with comprehension as the sentence that totally baffled them moments ago will suddenly become almost as clear as if it were in their native tongue, now that it's been spoken much more slowly AND at an increased volume.

"Ahhhhh", they say with wide smiles on their faces, "the street on the museum is in my grandmother's undergarments. Thanks you very good" And off they go to get thoroughly lost but with a continental skip in their step and we rightly believe that we've cracked Romanian and what language can we master next.

Leeds, city of culture ! Yeah right. Even most Brits need a phrase book when coming here.

But it works both ways of course. I give you this entry from a travel site that I came across today.......that had the title of "Leeds And Urban Centre - Starring Instruction Inwards A Car Hire"

I guess that should've hinted at just how low the language bar had been set.

I paste the entry here with no further comments needed from me - although several came to mind. Oh hell yes.

Oh ok let me add one. Never, never, never put a block of text into an online translation site and expect what comes out the other end to be ANYTHING like the results you'd want.

The United Kingdom that comprises four countries of Great britain, Scotland, Cambria and Irish free state is a trustworthy tourists’ paradise dominion it not only when abounds inwards places of historic curiosity, castles, forts, palaces, memorials, civil rights activist, gardens and museums but also relic a heartbeat center for sports, artistic creation, and cultural events. What could be a advisable choice to see this vast gainly and nature precocious Turkish empire than travel by way to explore its rich diversities? Take a transaction car and be on your personal to make advisable of your blunder to the UK.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Piping Hot - The Sequel

Sad to report, at 4:50am it happened again this morning and once again it woke me up.

This time I lay in bed for the 10 or so minutes that it took to fill the loft tank and then all went quiet again. Before I'd gone to bed at 2am, I'd checked the hot water tank in the back bedroom and as it had had an hour or so of Economy 7 power, it was hot right to the bottom.

After this rude wake up I dragged my sleepy carcass out of bed and checked it again. Sure enough it was only hot right at the top and was buzzing away heating up again. So it looks to me as though I'm expensively heating this flaming tank and then at 4:50am the hot water somehow flows UP to the loft pipes and pours into the tank up there. Why this loft tank should be so empty is another puzzle. It normally fills up on a trickle feed as I use the water in the kitchen and bathroom etc.

It's all very bizarre. And slightly worrying. And will probably cost a fortune to sort out. Of course it doesn't seem to be causing an actual problem so in my usual way, I'll probably do nothing until it does. However, being woken at 5am every morning might be the push I need to get the rip off merchants, sorry, local plumbing experts in to sort it all out.

I just KNOW what will happen.

"Hey Billy ! Come up here and have a look at this pipework."

Billy joins his expert colleague and myself in my loft.

"Good lord, Arthur. This really is a right mess and no mistake"

"Now now, Billy. Lets not say things like that in front of the owner. Don't want to worry him, you know"

"What was I thinking, Arthur. Yes it's not exactly up to code, Sir, but we'll have it all sorted for you in no time. No time at all. You just nip down and fix us both a nice pot of tea. Milk and 2 sugars and some jaffa cakes would go down a treat."

I leave them to it.

"Holy shit, Billy, we're on a nice little earner here. This idiot knows nothing and we can have 3 weeks in Benidorm on this one. Look at these pipes. Some are made of wood for gawds sake.
Go fetch all the impressive tools and we'll bang around up here for a couple of days and, oh sod Benidorm, this loser is going to pay for the wife and kids going to Disney World !!! Happy days."

I think it's time to move house.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Piping Hot

Back in the Sixties, I suspect that whoever installed the plumbing in my house, did so on a Friday afternoon about 4:30pm. I say this because it has always looked like something that was botched together in a rush just before he buggered off for the weekend. And then never came back on the Monday.

I'd like to see the guy who brilliantly developed the map of the London Underground have a go at my pipes. That'd keep him busy for a few months.

Admittedly it has all hung together and worked fairly well for the best part of half a century - a bit like my own pipework ! Yes it's a bit furred and clogged up in places and some bits don't look like the original so I think it's been cobbled together at some point in time. Again like my own pipework !

It's a constant source of wonder to me that every winter when I fire up the pilot light on the central heating boiler, itself a unit that was thrown out of the ark as being past it's prime, it bursts into life and sends tepid water around the aging pipes and manages to take the chill off the house.

Of course it doesn't do this without an assortment of gurgles and creaking noises which used to terrify me but now give me the sort of comfort that would be lost if and when I have to get a new boiler. Over the last 26 years, we've learned to live with each others shortcomings.

It's an uneasy relationship at best.

I also have Economy 7 to heat my water. Economy what now ? Economy 7 is a wonderful system which turns on the water heater at about 1am so it can make use of a cheaper rate of electricity. As the name suggests, it does this for 7 hours and then switches off. Marvelous. Of course it has a thermostat so when the water in the tank is bubbling away nicely, it turns off and doesn't use the rest of the allotted 7 hours. Marvelous.

I've often wondered why we all don't make more use of this cheaper rate of electricity....or "off peak" as it's known in the business. We should plug loads of timer switches into our power points around the house and do things while we sleep. What about washing and/or drying a load of clothes ? How about running the dishwasher ? The list goes on.

Hoover the living room carpet and annoy the neighbours at the same time. Record the quality tv that's on between 1am and 8am..........imagine 7 hours of QVC or infomercials. Brilliant.

I think we're all missing out on saving a fortune. I should tell that Martin Lewis fella about it.

But back to my pipes. At 4:50am this morning I woke to a very disturbing sound. Last time I'll have beans on toast before bedtime. But there was an even more disturbing sound coming from the loft - the sound of running water and lots of it.

I leapt out of bed faster than a priest in a convent and stood under the loft panel hoping that I was mistaken about both the sound and its location. I wasn't. With my dressing gown flapping around my legs, I got the stepladder, grabbed my torch and headed up into the darkness above.
I paused on the top step and shone the torch towards the far wall that separates my loft from the one next door. Next to the wall was the large water tank that I'd always thought contained cold water used to refill the hot water tank down below in the back bedroom airing cupboard. This is the hot water tank that gets heated by the Economy 7 and gives me lots of lovely hot water that lasts all day.

The pipe that topped up this large loft tank was vibrating with the force of the water pumping through it and that, along with the noise of the water pouring into the tank, was what had woken me up and was now scaring the living bejesus out of me at 4:50am. It's not supposed to do that.

Even more alarming, it was hot water that was pouring into the loft tank ! Where was THAT coming from ?? Given the low temperature up in the loft at 4am and the heat of the water pouring into the tank, there was a cloud of steam hovering like a post apocalyptic mushroom cloud over the tank and this didn't help reduce my stress levels.

As my knowledge of all things plumbing consists mainly of paying the occasional repair bill that equates to the GNP of a small African country, I only THINK that the loft tank is supposed to be the feeder tank for the hot water tank and is just not supposed to be getting hot water poured into it. What was going on ??? Did this sort of thing happen every morning at 4:50am and I'd just never noticed it before. Not once in 26 years ? I don't think so.

As I stood there on the top step of the ladder thinking what to do, the water flow slowed down and after a few more minutes it stopped completely and with a final plop, the loft returned to an eerie silence and I also realised that, ironically, my mouth was as dry as a camel driver's jock they say around the wadi in Cleethorpes. The immediate panic was over but an uneasy sense of future doom had replaced it.

I came down and checked the hot water tank and it was only hot right at the top - it was as if the contents, which by 4:50am would've been a whole tankful of hot water, had somehow gone into a sort of plumbing stargate and ended up pouring back into the loft tank from where it's journey began many hours or days earlier. All very bizarre and not the sort of thing I wanted to think about in my half asleep and half dressed state.

I went downstairs to gain some comfort from the normal world - I went on t'internet. When I can't sleep or don't feel well in the morning hours, I invariably turn to the web to take my mind off whatever ails me. After a while I decided to watch a couple of episodes of the excellent Eli Stone and by then it was 6:30am and I was ready for bed. I went up and checked the hot water tank and it was hot all the way to the bottom and the thermostat had kicked in. All was quiet in the loft and so I climbed into bed and thankfully fell fast asleep within minutes.

So what had gone on and had it been normal or abnormal ? Will it happen again tomorrow morning or was it a one off freak occurrence ? Well I've no idea. I obviously hope so as I'd much rather be asleep at 4:50am than standing on a stepladder with my head up in the loft.

I'll let you know what happens. Watch this (loft) space.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Adverts Are Good For Your Health.

I need to vent. Actually I need to explode but venting might help a bit as my doctor doesn't recommend that I explode on a Monday. Bad for his image or something. Fridays are better exploding days it seems.

So what do I need to vent about this time ?

TV Licences. Gotta love them. Gotta have one.

Let me quickly explain this for non UK readers. Every household in the UK that has a tv set needs a tv licence to be able to watch it legally. The money raised from this digital highway robbery allows the BBC to broadcast its top notch, quality shows free of adverts and so the blame for them giving us "Eastenders" and "The Kids Are All Right" is down to licence payers like me. I accept my part in all this and hang my head in shame.

Ok. At the end of September last year, I was following my list of things to do before going to Florida for 6 months and got to the tv licence entry. I rang them and said I was leaving the country and to please cancel my monthly Direct Debit for my licence as no one would be watching tv at this address......honest. Fine they said. They'd cancel it at their end and they advised me to do the same at mine. Have a lovely winter in Florida, you lucky lucky bastard.

They didn't actually say that exactly. They didn't say Florida.


Ah if only.

I came back 2 weeks ago to find, amongst 6 months of mail, no less than 5 'threatening' letters from them saying that according to their records, this address had no tv licence and woe betide me. The first 3 letters went up on a scale of threats about what they'd do to me if I didn't do something about this treasonous situation - including sending some heavies around to sort me out. With a pair of false legs I'd imagine.

The 4th letter was more worrying to me as it HAD been delivered by someone who HAD come to my door to find out why I didn't have a licence. No envelope, just a document with the date and time and these words across the top "And You Thought We Wouldn't Call." Honest.

Nice sentiments.

The 5th letter was back to the normal threats of a fine and possible lockup in The Bloody Tower if I didn't get a licence asap.

I had arrived back on a Friday so had to wait over that first weekend before ringing them on the Monday......somewhat irate. To cut a long post short, I was told by happy laughing tv licence man that there wasn't a problem in the world and I could ignore these letters.

IGNORE THEM !!! I had 5 of them. Dammit I had someone come to my house with one !! Ignore them indeed. I asked if my call was being recorded for training purposes ? Yes it will be he said. Good I said, as you are the most useless people this side of an Indian Call Centre and you certainly NEED some training.

It seems that their policy, which they'll defend to the death, is that they regularly send out these letters to every household in the UK that doesn't have a tv licence. Some houses might be empty. Some houses might be occupied but there is no tv. Some houses might have been demolished 15 years ago to build the M25 but they don't care. No tv licence ? Send them a letter.

How much is this blanket overkill costing us tv licence payers in postage alone ?

Of course why should I care as according to them, I'm not a licence payer anyway !!

Get this : I was told that the clue to knowing when to ignore these letters is if they start "Dear Occupier" as that means they don't really mean what they say in them and you can ignore them. No name equates to no problem in tv licensing speak.

So after finding out that my phone call wouldn't change their policy on this matter (so much for the power of the licence payer) I gave the customer service fella a very loud 'tut' and meekly said I'd like to start up my Direct Debit again. Pretty please. If it's ok with the BBC ?


Ahhh if only.

That was 2 weeks ago and last Saturday I received another mail from them. I really thought it was my new licence so I didn't open the envelope till just before going to bed. Big mistake. I shouldn't have opened it at all.

It wasn't my licence but another letter and this time it was personal ! Well it had my name at the top so yes, it was personal. And by their own rules, I couldn't ignore it. Remember ?

It stated that "we recently wrote to inform you that we were unable to take further payments for your tv licence because your direct debit plan had been cancelled. As we have not heard from you, your tv licence has been cancelled from the date of this letter. Therefore, this address is now unlicensed" And so on. There followed more threats of action to be taken if I didn't sort this out.

As this was their first letter to me since my return, I'm not sure where the 'recently wrote to inform you' bit came from !

So I had all day Sunday to fume about this and was on the phone to them this morning. Well this afternoon actually as I thought I'd let the level of calls from other Monday morning irate callers go down. I got cheery customer services lady this time and once I'd established that the call was being recorded (which for some reason stopped her being quite so cheery and changed her into much more defensive customer services lady) I laid in full guns blazing. She took it for a while and then calmly asked me for my licence number.

The lava almost blew a hole in my living room ceiling. My licence number ? You people keep telling me I haven't got a %^&*$£ licence, never mind a $%^&* licence number. (I'm sure they've heard worse language but it should make for an excellent training call. I'm thoughtful that way).

I gave her the number mentioned on the letter and after a few key strokes she said "oh you can ignore the letter as everything is fine and you are licensed and it'll be in the post to you shortly."

More lava was bubbling out by now but I tried to remain calm.

"Ignore the letter, you say. Even though it has my name on it this time and is very specific about what's going on and tells me to NOT ignore the letter in the body of the text" ?

"Yes, ignore the letter. It's just a cross over letter and you ARE licensed and so everything is lovely in the world of La-La".

The mountain erupted big time. She got the full force face on. Everytime I paused for breath, which wasn't often, I could hear her going into Indian Call Centre mode and repeating that I WAS licensed and to ignore the letter. I think she'd gone for a fag break and left a tape recorder on continuous loop mode.

I paused. Nothing. Not a sound.

"Are you there ?" "Yes."

"So.....I've got a licence then ?" "Yes."

"Thank you."

I'd like to say I at least slammed down the phone but modern phone design doesn't allow for that pleasure anymore. But I can report that I pressed the 'end call' button really quite firmly indeed. It would've impressed the hell out of call centre lady if she'd seen it and reinforced the idea, now firmly planted in her mind, that I wasn't someone to be trifled with. Oh no.

So I'll let you know when the next letter arrives, because as sure as baked beans makes you fart, one will arrive any day now.

I'm really not sure it's all worth it just to watch Eastenders without adverts. In it's case, they'd really add to the viewing enjoyment.

But I've worked out how to get my revenge. When my licence does arrive and I'm sure I'm legal, I'm just going to stop watching BBC programs. Brilliant. And there is nothing they can do.


I love beating the system.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pausing Madeleine

I joined a new breed of tv viewers this afternoon when I took delivery of a V-Box from Virgin Media. As well as lots of other wonderful features, I can now pause live tv. Never again will nipping up to the loo mean missing a key part of a tv movie. Never again will getting a phone call mean missing a goal during a live footy game. Never again will answering the front door mean missing David having a melt down in Corrie.

Ok based on those examples, I guess I'm not sure if all this technical wizardry is 'one giant leap for mankind' or even a tiny step for me. I rarely record anything broadcast on tv as it is. Even if I find out I've missed a show, there are so many other ways to see it again.

This thing will store 80 hours of recorded shows. 80 hours !!! I could almost go away for an entire weekend and record everything shown on tv. Then I could spend the next weekend watching it.....and recording the current tv in the background. Wonderful. What progress.

So why did I ask for it ? Well actually I didn't. Virgin Media just gave it to me. When I rang them to ask for my tv/phone/internet services to be turned back on after my winter in Florida, they said I could have all 3 restored for a little bit less money AND get one of these V-Boxes thrown in. I said I didn't want it.

"But you can record 2 different channels while watching a third one"

Hmmm I find it hard enough to find that one channel to watch. Don't need it

"Well you can pause live tv and so never miss a vital goal or a key movie moment again"

Hmmm well that MIGHT be useful I suppose. Nope, don't need it.

"You can record 80 hours of television"

Hmmm I've had a dvd recorder for 5 years and recorded 3 tv shows. Don't need it.

"You can watch tv channels that are broadcast in High Definition.....all 5 of them"

Hmmm don't have a HD television. Don't need it.

"You can have your existing cable box moved to another room"

Waste of time as I don't have or want another tv in the house. Don't need it.
But hang on, are you saying this V-Box will replace the old crap cable box I've had for the last 10 years or so ?

"Yes sir, it will"

I want it !!!

And so it was installed today and I've the bright new remote control to prove it. I still can't read any of the displays on the front of the box from my armchair as the letters and numbers are like those on the bottom row of an eyesight chart. Is it just me ?

But never mind. I've gone up to the toilet 4 times since the nice VM people left just so that I can use the pause button. I've only had to 'go' once and the other times I've stood at the top of the stairs so as not to upset The Box. I may well grow tired of this function.

I also went into the kitchen to fix a bite to eat, safe in the knowledge that I wasn't missing a second of the featured item on QVC as it was being recorded. I've never watched QVC in my life before but I've got 23 minutes of it now if you ever pop round my place.

7 hrs 37 mins left.........what can I record next ?? It's all so exciting.

Speaking of excitement, Madeleine McCann's name has featured several times on various news programs today. Madeleine who ? Oh don't even go there.

Her parents have been over in Brussels today at the European Parliament urging MEP's to introduce a Europe wide child abduction system like the Amber Alert used so successfully in the USA. This alert system was set up after the abduction, 12 years ago, of 9 year old Amber Hagerman from Arlington, Texas who was snatched off her bike and found dead in a drainage ditch 4 days later. Her abductors have never been found.

Whatever you may think of the McCanns (did they, didn't they ?), this alert system would be a good thing here. But what concerns me more than anything else is that, because this case is so high profile and because the parents are so gifted in media manipulation, then any similar process might be called the Madeleine Alert......and I just couldn't take that. No, no, no.

I wonder if I can set my V-Box remote to permanently pause tv any time the McCann name is mentioned.

I'm off to check out the instruction manual.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Desmond Morris Reporting...........

It's been a week since I left Florida and at long last I feel settled back in sunny Leeds as opposed to sunny Buttonwood Bay. Yes it really is sunny today and very nice it is too. It might only be 66F in the sun and so a tad cooler than I've been used to but hey, it's England in Springtime.

Sleet and maybe snow are forecast for the weekend !

Anyway, I said I'd say more about the trip back here last week so here it is.

To start with, Miami airport sucks. It really does. Like most major airports these days, it's a work in progress with new bits being added and old bits being upgraded. The result is an organised mess and following temporary signs is the order of the day.

I didn't help myself by having 3 wheeled cases and my camera bag to lug around and as any fool can see, 4 items and 2 hands do not compute. I did think about paying for a cart but the check-in desk was a few feet from where I'd been dropped off so I didn't bother. That was my first mistake.

The check-in desks I headed for turned out to be for poxy 1st class passengers and the snotty AA lady guarding it looked me up and down and instantly decided I wasn't a 1st class type at all. Oh no. Not in this lifetime, pal. YOU need to go along there and check-in with the other rabble.

So I dragged my reluctant luggage several hundred yards to join a heaving mass of humanity and Puerto Ricans who were all jostling to get to a personal check-in terminal which seemed to be the only way to get an AA boarding card. It was like dragging 3 supermarket trolleys as all 3 wanted to nip off to different parts of the concourse and when tugged into line, would just go all limp and fall over on their sides.

Have you ever tried to 'right' a fallen wheeled case with 2 others in tow ? Well let me tell you it's a nightmare. As soon as you twist the handle of the fallen case to get it up on its wheels again, one of the others will decide to take its place and it falls over too. Bloody cases are in a union. One over, all over. I headed off to find a free computer terminal with 2 cases on their sides and one on its wheels but in the knowledge that if I stopped and got the others upright, that one would just follow the union line and tip over.

I did have the advantage of bulk though and when a terminal eventually became free, me and my union members thundered towards it scattering Mexican families like nine pins. I so wanted rid of those cases.

I used the touch sensitive screen to enter my details and all was going well as for one thing, it recognised that I wanted to fly today. That was the high point as it then told me it couldn't print me a boarding card and I needed to see an agent. Didn't say why, just see an agent please.

Feeling somewhat dirty and unwanted, I approached an agent. Well I say approached but really my middle wheeled case fell on her foot which got her attention at least. I was told I needed to go to a check-in desk ( really ??) but wasn't told why I'd been singled out for this honour. So I joined the masses again and finally got to the desk.

With some relief I handed over my documents and put my cases on the weigh scales. I said a few unkind words to them and almost waved them goodbye while saying "see you in Leeds". Just as well I didn't as to my astonishment the agent said, "ok please take your cases over to the inspection area !!!"

What ??!!! Me ? Inspection area ?? You've got to be joking ????

She wasn't. So I hauled the cases off the scales and off we went to the inspection area. Given this extra time in the concourse, all 3 cases acted like frisky lambs in springtime and went their separate ways again. Thankfully the 'inspection area' wasn't as bad as I'd feared it would be and in fact I just had to pass the cases under a barrier where they were taken away to be branded or neutered or something. Contents stolen probably.

Finally they were gone and I was overcome with emotions on a par with grandparents who wave their grandkids off in the car taking them back to their parents after a week with them.

I was free, free I tells ya.

Unburdened, I fairly skipped along to explore the terminal but there wasn't much to explore so I headed for my departure gate. Security wasn't bad and nothing on me or in my carry ons caused a problem and I passed through in no time at all.

I was 90 minutes early at the gate and so I settled down to do what I like to do at airports. I people watched.

As you'd imagine, airports are huge melting pots of classes, cultures and cretins. You see people who shouldn't be allowed out into society and just hope and pray that they aren't your pilot. People dress up and dress down......and some look like they were dressed by Stevie Wonder. Prada handbags mix with WalMart carrier bags. Versace dresses mingle with Habitat castoffs. Gucci shoes give way to Woolworth flip flops. And that's just the clothing !!

What is it about male and female tree huggers and open toe sandals ?

The men usually have shaved heads and over compensate with unkempt ginger beards so long they have birds nesting in them. They wear brightly coloured knitted cardigans and corduroy trousers to give that 'we care about the planet' look. Ironically that's as far as their caring goes as they usually have 5 kids in tow and enough carry on luggage to hold 3 more as political refugees.

The females have unwashed looking hair tied back so they look like 1930's school teachers. It's held at the back with multi-coloured clips and bits of ribbon made at home by the eldest child who is called "Deciduous Forest." She is 'gifted' and so gets to be home schooled and thus looks remarkably like a clone of mommy.

The whole family will constantly dip into carry on luggage to find things to eat, play with or read. All the hours of careful packing back home in the treehouse counts for nothing as now they look like they've been mugged by case bandits and nothing is where it should be.

Mommy tree hugger wears a home made flowing garment that sags at the front as her hands are always in the pockets. And pockets ? These pockets hold everything including the kitchen sink. Tissues ? In a pocket. Candies ? In a pocket. Cucumber and lentil sandwiches ? In a pocket.

But get her at the end of a line where she's asked to show her boarding card or passport and she has to rummage around them all and takes 25 minutes to find them.


Then there are the skinny model types who just KNOW all male heads (and other bits) will be following them around the departure lounge. Their heads are so up in the air that they don't need a plane. They have a cell phone glued to their ears giving the impression that they are chatting to other important and presumably good looking friends and they talk so loud that they don't really need the phone. The fact that they've never learned how to turn it on and are holding it upside down doesn't seem to bother them.

They constantly walk past the same spot just in case someone new has sat down and hasn't seen them. They can't sit down as their skimpy tight shorts would disappear right up into a black hole (oh come ON people, it's an astronomical expression !!) and so, once onboard the plane, they have to lie across all 5 middle seats for the entire trip. I think that's the reason.

Obese people in wheelchairs up next. You never know if you need to extend them some sympathy as they might be disabled people who are obese or....well just fat people who can't walk. I wish it was ok to ask them.

"Excuse me, I was just wondering, are you disabled ?"

"No I'm not in the slightest. Why do you ask ?"

"No reason, you fat bastard"

Not very PC is it ? Of course, being British, if you suspect at all that they're 'just' obese and may be trying to get a head start down the gangway to the plane, you are definitely allowed to give them a very disapproving 'tut' as they do so. Maybe even a "tut tut" if you feel really strongly about it.

And what is it with the flight crew these days ? Their black uniforms always look so shabby and dull and if the braid on their sleeves ever looked golden and clean, those days are long gone. I don't want someone driving me at 37,000 ft wearing a shabby jacket !! Maybe that's why they take them off once they get settled and drive along in their crispy white shirts. Now that's a pilot !

And are ALL male flight attendants gay ? Not that I'm a homophobe or anything but I'm just asking the question. The cabin crew on my flight were gathered around waiting to board the plane which was being cleaned after the previous passengers had, to use the announcers own words, trashed it. The males were talking to each other and showing off watches and jewelry that they'd picked up cheap in Tokyo. One of these watches looked like a 2 inch square plasma tv screen which could probably pick up tv direct from the Nagoya Tower in Kyoto. He was showing it to everyone and of course was wearing a short sleeved shirt so the watch couldn't be missed.

Kids ! Loads of kids. This flight was leaving Miami remember and you only get more kids in Orlando airport. Their over indulgent parents are nowhere to be seen so little Chuck or Astrid are free to run around the departure lounge shouting and screaming like a flight attendant who has just had his watch nicked. You just want to stick out your leg as they run past and send them flying into the lap of 'not really disabled' obese man so he gets wheeled away as a potential paedophile. The family has to go as witnesses of course so it's a win-win situation and everyone claps appreciatively.

I'm tired. I'm old. I'm stressed out. I just don't like kids at airports. Shouldn't be allowed to fly ! Bah humbug.

Finally I caught sight of guitar man. I say man but he was barely that. He was sitting across and slightly behind me so I'd not spotted him before. His guitar was part of his carry on luggage I assume but surely that didn't give him the right to play it in the departure area. He was busking for goodness sake and that's not on ! I mean if I want to hear some barely shaving punk kid plucking guitar strings and calling it music, I'll get my folding chair out and sit near any tunnel in any subway system in the world.

As it happens, he must've had a mute button on his guitar as although his fingers were moving the strings, I couldn't hear a thing. Brilliant. He was singing too but again I never heard a note.
Double brilliant. Of course I could be going deaf. Not so brilliant.

And so we boarded the plane. 1st and business class passengers first. Families with small children. Disabled and/or obese people in wheelchairs. Wow watch those chairs move !

Then the rest of the cattle get allowed on. They call us by seat rows but no one takes a blind bit of notice and so you end up squeezing down the narrow plane passageways having to wait while everyone in front of you tries to push their entire house contents up into the overhead compartments. Why can't we all just be allocated large numbered cards to go over our heads with our seat numbers on them and then we could board in order from the rear of the plane and avoid all this hassle ? Rocket science.

So I settled down for my 9 hour flight in my cramped seat (NOT the one I'd carefully picked out and had allocated to me 6 months ago when I booked) that was so far back I was up against the tail gunner. My companion next to me was a basketball player sized, non English speaking Johnny Foreigner who only 'spoke' to me once and that was when he wanted me to move so he could go to the toilet. He must've been holding it in since Guadalajara as he was in there for 25 minutes. At one point images of "Con Air" came to me and I was as relieved as he obviously was when he just came back and sat quietly in his seat.

The flight was long and time dragged. Yes there were personal video screens and about 20 movies or more to watch but AA have a stupid system where all the movies are running continuously so you have to jump in to get one and just hope you get it at the start. You can't pause it so when they come round with food (ha !) or drinks or just to shatter your elbow with the duty free trolley, you miss chunks of the movie. And your elbow.

At Heathrow I was overjoyed to know that I'd not be reunited with my cases and that they were going on to Leeds without me even seeing them. Of course this joy was tempered by the worry that I'd not be reunited with them in Leeds either !

The flight to Leeds was hardly worthy of the name as we were probably airborne for all of 25 minutes but after 9 hours from Miami, I wasn't complaining. There were only about 20 people on board and so we basically all had a row each.

While standing at the luggage carousel in Leeds airport, I sort of recognised the guy standing next to me. We made eye contact and he smiled at me but it was obvious he didn't recognise me either. It's me you fool ! The blog guy.

I knew he was a cricketer but just couldn't remember his name. Looking at his wife didn't help as I'd never met the woman. The bags started coming around on the carousel and his main one was easy to spot - a huge red and white sports bag with England Cricket Team plastered down one side. Should've been his name. That might've helped a bit.

Anyway we hugged, promised to keep in touch and went our separate ways. I've just googled his description (Yorkshire and England blonde haired batsman who hugged me at LBA) and it threw up the name of Matthew Hoggard, for that is who he was. And still might be.

I can just imagine him in t'locker room at 'eadingley at the start of the season when players are all exchanging stories.........

"I met blog man. Can you believe it. I really met him. He was right next to me at Leeds airport and I just couldn't remember his name. We hugged and everything but the bastard still hasn't written"

Ahhhhh such bright little moments can brighten an otherwise dreary journey.

I know it's one he'll never forget.

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