Straight outta Gorton…

It’s been a while since I blogged last, I have been gathering my motivation to put finger to keyboard. As I am new to this,I have been thinking about what it takes to be a success at this writing lark… I guess alot of what it takes to be a good writer is to be opinionated (check), literate (hmmm kinda check), and confident (DAMN SO CLOSE!). Most importantly is a rampant imagination, and I have to add I have in spades! Sadly I don’t write many of my ideas down, so are lost in the ether, but I believe that, like loving someone, if you set them free and they come back, it was meant to be…..If you set them on fire in your front garden, and they end up pressing charges, then it wasn’t!!!

since we last rendezvous’d I have had a number of interesting experiences, but I shall save those for my next letter home, this post is primarily concerning the returned to England that we made last month. It’s a little lengthy, so forgive me. I’ll understand if you read two paragraphs and think ‘bollocks to that’.

Since we last crossed path’s we have been treated to some harsh home truth’s by the French employment service, We’ve had a hoot of a time at an early bird showing of the latest Bond film and I’ve learned that when desperately seeking a free toilet cubicle ALWAYS check for toilet roll before commencing ones business, especially when the afore mentioned cubicle is in a woman’s toilets. Sadly these are topics for future blog’s (YES REALLY MY LIFE HERE IS THIS DULL, and you thought I’d of learnt to play the accordion and gotten a job as an onion seller by now).

Right, down to business, so to speak…

We start our blog on the 20th of October, myself and Sarah said goodbye to our cat, who had taken on the persona of Jimmy Stewart from the Hitchcock classic ‘Rear Window’ (sans wheelchair) and left our boarding’s in the 17th errondisment to make our way through the city.

Day 1 (Saturday) 20th October.

Our visit home was over 5 days from Saturday to Wednesday of the following week; We set out for Paris Charles De Gaul airport at 5am. Travelling on the underground network underneath the sleeping streets of the French capital.

For those of you that have never travelled on an underground railway, especially the Parisian Metro network, it’s like normal train travel, only all the maps and directions are in an unintelligible dialect, and shortly after leaving the station somebody comes along and paints the windows black, then they stand right next to you, stick their armpit in your face and attempt to get in your shoes, whilst holding a baguette.

Luckily on this occasion it was early morning and there were plenty of seats available, so we sat rocking like Romanian’s to the rhythm of the rails. The train trundled along making sounds as if one, if not ALL the wheels where about to drop off simultaneously, like some form of public clown car. It was during my thought that “why do ALL French men wear pointy shoes” That Sarah informed me to “look around” at the ethnicity of early morning travellers in Paris, she told me that it was an advertisement for what was wrong with the country; Almost all of the passengers in our carriage as well as all the people we encountered on our journey through the underground, were of African decent.

The night shift of Paris was entirely made up from France’s colonial heyday. Whilst the wealthy white Parisian’s slumbered above ground, the subterranean realms were populated by the weary workers of the city.

After braving the scrum of the underground, we finally faced the scramble for seats on the RER train to the airport (RER trains are the double decker trains that connect the city to the suburban sprawl). Upon our trains arrival at the platform, we bustled forward knocking janitors and office cleaners asunder with our tremendously large and bulky suitcases, and claimed a couple of seats.

The journey on the RER can be extremely trying; on our last visit back to England for my Graduation, we had boarded a train at Gare Du Nord, that had so many passengers, you didn’t need to hold onto the handrail, as the shear mass of humanity wedged into the carriage kept everyone upright. It was a Pythonesque journey with a great deal of awkward eye contact and nodding.Upon arrival at stations, there would be minor human eruptions from the carriage onto the platform, before everyone crammed back in to continue their journey.

Sadly on this occasion the train was quiet and seats where readily available, which was a shame as I rather enjoyed the enforced claustrophobia that many Parisian travellers put themselves through but I digress.

We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, and after some refreshment we made our way to the check in desk. Upon our arrival at the Easy jet desk (oh yes we travel in style) we witnessed a man wearing the newest leather jacket either of us had ever seen, it was literally still mooing,there he stood with his i-pad and his wrinkle-less, pristine jacket  with an extremely proud look on his face. Sadly this was one of those times where your idea of self image did not match up with the reality of the situation. There he stood all proud and shiny and new thinking he looked slick, yet in reality he looked a complete and utter bell end. We laughed about him all the way through check in, we commented that he looked like he had just attacked and skinned a sofa on his latest deep sea diving expedition, but sadly he was on a different flight, and we lost sight of him soon after (I think he was flying on DFS airways!)

After another spectacular example of French racism, from the immigration officials (questioning the African passengers with a passion that the Gestapo would of admired  whilst almost waving the white folks through without checking their passports). I did my small part to even the score when an incredibly vocal pensioner in the cue behind me began making overtly racist comments about a Nigerian family who were having thumb screws administered at the immigration desk, two of the party of Nigerians where the most beautiful infants, a toddler with the bandiest legs I have ever seen, and a four or five year old girl who had spent the previous ten to fifteen minutes trying  to run me over with her hello kitty suitcase. I happily blocked the racist granny from cue jumping on several occasions, I did want to drop her with a right cross, but sadly Sarah said that such action’s would be frowned upon, even if she was a wrinkled up member of the third Reich, so I unclenched my fists and satisfied myself with the odd gentle shoulder barge and the hope that she missed her flight.

Once I had breezed through the security check, and the Alsatians had got tired of biting Sarah, we walked through to the limbo that is the pre-security check area of the airport or as I like to call it “the lounge of the damned!” Here you can buy over priced alcohol to numb the humiliation you are about to submit yourself to, it is a horrible place that is best not to dwell to long in, and this is where my tale of horror truly begins…

Entering the gents toilets, I was over come with a devil may care attitude and I chose to occupy one of the four cubicles rather than standing at the trough, (which I think is like something from the dark ages, the Japanese can have toilets that wash your gentlemen parts whilst playing soothing music, yet we in the west still put up with a trough? It really boggles my brain) sitting there quietly I heard 3 more people enter the toilets, all of which chose the privacy of the cubicles, one of these people for quiet obvious reasons.

As I sat thinking about our trip home and the strange way my life had changed over the last few years, (how I had, had many personal and professional set backs over the years  that had left deep and troubling emotional wound’s in my psyche….Or I could of been wondering why all belly button fluff is grey and stinky) when I was interrupted by what can be best described as a vicious bowl evacuation some 4 0r 5 feet away, it wasn’t so much a bowel movement, more, a bowel removal, it sounded as though in his rush to evacuate his bowel’s he had completely obliterated his anus…(you know like in hannah and barbara cartoon’s when the villain plants a bomb and it ends up exploding in their face leaving him in tatters, well imagine that but with anus’s….lol)

In all my years on earth I have never heard such effort made to take a dump, this guy sounded like he was passing a fridge freezer, through gritted teeth he was grunting and making some horrific noises, I hastened to the sink’s and rushed from the room as quickly as was possible. As I waited outside the toilets for Sarah to exit the ladies, three men came from the gents, one of whom I knew was the phantom shitter, but which one?

I was about to don my detective trench coat and go in search of the brutal bog butcher, when Sarah appeared, so instead I just told her everything and we both pointed and laughed hysterically at the three flustered looking gents dotted around the departures lounge.

After removing most of our clothes to get through the security check I sat and watched with a member of the Easyjet check in team, as Sarah was wrapped in a blanket and beaten with rubber hoses, we were finally there ready to board our flight back to the U.K.

On board our luxurious Easy jet plane, I was treated to further proof that God enjoys a bloody good laugh at my expense, when I was seated in front of a woman, who, for all intents and purposes sounded as though someone had just forced her to have a smoking contest with the Marlboro man, which she had won after his cowboy head exploded. (I briefly thought of blaming Jimmy Saville, as that appeared to be the trend at the time, but when I turned casually to ask her to stop barfing mucus and tar encrusted flem into the back of my hair she looked exactly like the Viz Character Millie Tant, and I thought to myself “Surely even paedo’s have standards?)

Upon landing in Liverpool we disembarked and made our way through immigration (Sarah was only briefly pepper sprayed and tazered) to the baggage claim. The room was almost full when we arrived, so we casually hung back near to the baggage conveyor that wasn’t surrounded by angry looking wazzocks. When the baggage conveyor began, to our amazement, we where the one’s stood in the correct area, and everyone else had to hurry over and jostle for places (why do people do that?) Our bag’s were first out and we plodded off to the car hire…

After exchanging pleasantries with the car hire worker and picking up a car I had never heard of before, we where on our way to Preston.

The plan for Saturday evening was drink’s with friends, but as I had not slept, as well as I didn’t have any friends, we spent Saturday night in front of my mothers ridiculously large T.V. in the company of my eldest brother Mark, who had chosen our viewing for the evening, in the form of Disney’s “John Carter” and ancient Greece’s “Wrath of the Titan’s”…

Now without going too Barry Norman on you all, allow me to briefly outline the premise of these movies, firstly John Carter….. this film was utter pish, a gun slinging adventurer from the wild west is magically transported to Mars to fight for some creatures that look like walking Twiglets, against some invisible evil monk’s that want to dominate the planet using the power of solar bull shit! (couldn’t remember exactly as I must’ve been ‘face palming’ myself when they explained this bit…In the mean while John Carter meets up with the planets pre-eminent scientist who just so happens to be an orange skinned mega breasted woman who both, loves to get her tits out AND is not averse to the idea of marriage? Watching this film was very much like eating red hot broken glass with my ass hole, and the evening didn’t get much better with the second part of the double feature…..

Picture the scene…..It is ancient Greece and the God’s are having a bit of a barny with each other, who should they get to settle the score, why it’s the bloke from Avatar and a load of Home and Away cast off’s, this film made me want to gouge my eye’s out and stand on them! Thankfully I had imbibed a great deal of Grolsch  by this stage and was drifting off to a well earned sleep…..

Day 2 Sunday 21st of October.

Whoever thought that it was a good idea to sleep on my mothers leather couch instead of the air bed they had got out for us was an utter fucking idiot (ME) I awoke crooked, hung over and broken and spent the day visiting various acquaintances, drinking lots of tea and talking toot.

The evening was spent eating pizza in front of my mothers enormous T.V. Hoeslty this thing is HUGE it makes “Deep Thought” the mega computer from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy look like a ZX Spectrum. We watched the BBC’S flagship Animal murdering show “Countryfile” and it was genuinely staggering, I had to resist the urge of putting my foot through the screen and kicking the cheery presenters teeth out on a number of occasion, after the rage abated we went to sleep.

Day 3 Monday 22nd of October (Mum’s Birthday!!!)

After a night of restful sleep (well as restful as you can get on a couch that is so small my ankles dangled off the end of it) We rose bright and breezy and headed out to our local supermarket for much needed supplies, After picking up an enormous black forest gateaux, we visited our local florist to grab my mum a nice bouquet of flowers, this was where Sarah almost came to blows with the florist regarding which flowers she should use, I had to drag her from the shop and tell the florist we would come back to collect the bunch later, it nearly went OFF, it was rather funny.

My plan of a giant cake along with a large bunch of flowers delivered with a card and a kiss from her favourite troubled offspring (see what I did there hehehe) was a master stroke if I do say so myself.

Mum was VERY happy that her son’s had lavished gifts upon her. In the afternoon we had the plan of taking her out for lunch, little did we know, that my mothers birthday coincided with both the global chef conference in Moscow AND the annual kitchen workers union day out to bangor (where else) After visiting a number of establishments and being told in no uncertain terms that the best they had to offer was a bag of crisps, we stumbled upon a gastro pub that served HUMONGOUS meals, Bellies busted we staggered home to digest.

It was at this stage that I got a call asking  if I fancied a round of golf, (“Does the pope shit in the wood’s” I thought to myself) and so there we where playing some seriously awesome golf, unfortunately this being the North West of England it got dark as we tee’d up on the 7th hole, this at first didn’t stop us, however when we found ourselves bumbling around in the pitch black some ten minutes later, we decided to call it a day.

Once I had returned home I remembered I had been invited to the pub to have a couple of quiet drinks with my friend Dean.

Sadly our local pub served Warsteiner so the quiet couple of drinks turned into many MANY drinks followed by some late night toot talking in my friends condo (his shed in the back garden) where I sadly drifted off to sleep for a while, upon waking I had the longest pissed walk home EVER, my friend lives literally two minutes from my mothers house, yet it must of taken me 25 minutes to get home.I was happy I got home at all as I was utterly and entirely pie eyed and bollocksed!

Day 4 Tuesday the 23rd of October.

Today was the day of ALL DAY’S…..Saints be praised all hail the D!!!!!! Tonight we would visit Manchester for the gig to end ALL gig’s…. Tenacious D Live at the Manchester Apollo. Now as I had the mother of all hang overs, I was less than motivated or organised for this trip, I spent most of the day lounging, cruising websites to find a hotel near to the venue, and this is where this blog gets it’s name….. The Travel Lodge at Sport City in Manchester was affordable, near the gig, and it had rooms available, seem’s like a no brainer huh? OOOOOOOOH how wrong could I of been……

The trip to Manchester in our car was over in less than an hour, however upon arrival at our destination we wished we had gotten a little lost, the Travel Lodge in Gorton Greater Manchester was, to frame it in some sort of literary way, like the moment in the Lord of the Rings Saga when Sam and Frodo arrive at mount Doom, all that was missing was the giant flaming eye of Sauron and two hundred thousand blood thirsty Orc’s all hell bent on the destruction of mankind, but as it was only 6pm we figured that they could well be playing the early bird games in Mecca bingo next door, seemingly the only structure within thirty miles that had all it’s windows in tact, so we hurried into the relative safety of the hotels compound!

The 15 foot fence topped with razor wire did little to assuage the feeling of imminent violent death, indeed it rather enhanced the ‘Middle East U.S embassy compound’ look. The highly trained travel lodge militia watched on from behind banks of sand bags and other strategic firing positions as we approached the car park. Upon entering the compound in our hire car, we waved in a friendly manner to the guards in the machine gun towers.

After parking the car, petting the attack dogs, and negotiating the mine field, we entered the reception to be greeted by a surly hotel worker who wandered off as soon as we walked up to the reception desk.

When the receptionist finally appeared it turned out that I had booked the wrong date for the hotel, when the receptionist then informed me that it would cost a further £60 to book a room, I began to internally give myself Chinese burns, not only were we in a hotel that made a night out in Damascus seem to be a welcoming experience, but I had to pay TWICE for the privilege   I was just about to draw my sabre and commit seppuku right there in the reception area, when the young Mancunian girl added in an enthusiastic manner (with no hint of sarcasm);

“Well you can stay the extra day as well if you like?”

to which we thought…

‘how many times can you be violently stabbed and murdered?’

but we answered…

“Sorry but we are leaving the country tomorrow.”

This comment was met with the sort of look that is usually reserved for the moment after you soundly thrash someone else’s children with a shitty stick, on the park. After paying (TWICE) for the room, we where finally free to admire the accommodation we had paid so handsomely for.

Our room was everything we had dreamt it would be, the thick crimson shag pile carpets in the hallway, completely enveloped our toes in exquisite comfort. The lavish hallway lead through to the boudoir area which was carpeted by luxurious tiger skin rugs, and flanked by walls hung heavy with various works from the grand masters of the mid to late impressionist period, all framed in the finest gilt frames and hung from the most lustrous  velvet wallpaper.

In the centre of the room sat an emperor sized four poster bed carved from the finest Brazilian mahogany, the headboard was crafted to depict an interpretation of the bayeux tapestry which appeared so accurate, that by the time the carving reached the foot of the bed the arrow sticking out of King Harold’s eye still had the feathers attached.

In one corner of the suite sat an ornate log fire set onto a pedestal of the finest alabaster. This was blazing when we entered, sending shadows flickering and dancing across the walls and ceiling of the room, giving the room a feeling of cosiness and warmth which boarded on the magical. The French doors set into the wall at the foot of the bed, where cloaked in the finest ermine and opened out onto our own private balcony area, the trellis’s which clung around the door frame where be-decked by highly perfumed varieties of flora, most evidently night flowering Jasmine, which  left it’s sweet enticing aroma hanging heavily in the late autumnal evening air. The ample proportion of the balcony allowed for a great many examples of unique marble sculpture and statuary. At the far side of the balcony sat a luxurious hot tub, EVERY last subtle touch was accounted for in exquisite detail, from the gentle harp music piped into the room, to the finely carved cherubs in various stages of undress that adorned the ceiling frescoes, it was a remarkable feat of architecture and interior design that would of made Christopher Wren and Lawrence Lewelyn Bowen blush, respectively!

After forcing the door open the smell of damp was enough to make you gag. the dank stench was backed up by an ambient room temperatures that was so low it would of made Linda Blair’s character in ‘the exorcist’ feel really comfy. The distinct lack of lighting in the room was clearly an attempt to befuddle the senses of room guests into thinking the stains on the walls and carpet where actually intentional works of modern art. The electric wall heater sat buzzing angrily, under the only porthole of outside light in the room. This three foot square window had one of those annoying window locks on it to prevent anyone opening it more than two or three inches, escape was clearly not an option this way. We would have to be more creative to escape this hell hole…

One possible escape route was to use the divan bed as a makeshift trampoline and KER-BOING through the paper thin ceiling.  it didn’t bare to much thought to imagine what kind of a harrowing abuse this poor bed had had to suffer to become so worn out, the springs where so shot that you had to get on the bed very slowly otherwise you found yourself splattered against the far wall, like some form of cartoon wrecking ball. I wasn’t aware that ACME made double bed’s, but obviously unbeknown to me, they where branching out.

The further we investigated the room, the more horrified we became, the bathroom had a sink and a bath with no hot water, or for that matter any plugs, it also had an obstinate door which refused to close or open in equal measure (clearly it was a feature of this hotel room, that access and egress where equally trying on the weary traveller).

After carefully settling in, we decided to grab some food before heading to the gig, what we actually ended up doing was buying disparate and random items from a branch of Tesco’s that wouldn’t of looked out of place in a Tim Burton film, I mean this place was vast, we found some sandwiches, and then had to take public transport to discover any liquids, the place was so enormous that it kinda answered our questions about, why all the houses where boarded up and empty in the area….Everyone was trapped in Tesco’s, and not allowed to leave until they had handed over their benefits. Entire families had built toilet paper castles or cereal packet terraces just to sustain themselves and protect against the packs of feral track suited children, hyped up on energy drinks and junk food, that stalked the aisles looking for their next victim. It was a very macabre experience.

Having escaped by the skin of our teeth with sandwiches, a toilet brush, some roast potato’s, a lint roller and some shelf warm beer, we returned to our dank, dark and dangerous nest to prepare for the evening’s jollities…A night of outright rock in the company of Jack Black and Kyle Gass and three thousands like minded folks.

Leaving our squalid pit behind us we ventured out into the wilds of the Travel lodge corridor, I being the first through the door (always the gent) my ears where met by the tortured screams of someone in a great deal of distress;

“They must of got the same room deal as us”

I quipped jokingly, only to realise with cold dread that what we could both now hear wasn’t the squeals of agony, far from it, cold, clammy and now with the added urge to projectile vomit we made a dash for the stairs before we could hear any more, our taxi awaited us.

The venue for the night was the art Deco masterpiece that was the Manchester Apollo, This brick built behemoth is genuinely a stunningly beautiful structure all smooth rigid cladding and subtly curving lines, when lit by spot lights it is a very attractive building, with a wealthy of charm and character seldom seen in more modern constructions.

Originally opened in the 1930’s as a cinema, it has been refitted as the perfect musical venue with superb acoustics.

Upon arrival in our taxi, we hurried inside, through clouds of deeply suspicious and highly pungent smoke and crowds of shifty looking types trying to sell us tickets, amongst other things.

Fighting off the urge for a munchy attack, we climbed the zig-zaging internal stairways and took our seats to await the beginning of the show.

First to come on stage where a band called ‘The Sights’; from Detroit (I didn’t put my hands up when they announced this, for fear of being beaten to death by some sweaty rocker). They where a very high energy bunch, with a lead singer who appeared to have restless leg syndrome, their musical style could be best described as being like a really good psychedelic 1960’s band on amphetamines. They reminded me of The Animals, but a version of the band where the lead singer Eric Burdon has the resting heart rate of a terrified woodland creature in a thunder storm! In short very loud very fast rock n roll music with a soupçon of Saxophone thrown in for good measure…(with that description I don’t think I’ll be getting a job at the NME any time soon) a good support act, but not a patch on what was to come.

At around 9pm the house lights dimmed and Tenacious D came on stage to rapturous applause. Two and a half hours later, more than three thousand ‘D’ fans left feeling ecstatic. Since forming in the mid 90’s the band have been given the moniker of ‘mock rockers’ but what was witnessed on this night was anything but ‘mock’, they oozed talent and an ability to captivate an audience that would have ANY serious rock group green with envy.

The addition to the group of a drummer as well as a bass, and lead guitarist, has not only added to the richness of the ‘D’s’ sound, but, it has also freed up Jack Black and Kyle Gass to do what they do best….Entertain. Whilst Kyle Gass has a masterful ability with a multitude of instruments, as well as a dead pan persona, Jack Black has a maniacal energy  and vocal range that is nothing short of phenomenal.

Starting the show with a stream of songs from their new album ‘Rize of the Fenix’ all destined to become modern classic’s, they slipped from the saucy, tongue in cheek lyrics of  ‘Low hanging Fruit’, through the hilariously Hyspanic influenced revenge story that is ‘Señorita’ with consummate ease. Next came the high octane ‘Dethstar’  followed by the future anthem ‘Roadie’ along with a few more from the new album (Throw Down, Quantum Leap, The Ballad of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Cage and Saxaboom) and ending with the brilliantly funny ’39’; before the shows second hour settled into much more familiar territory with such classics as ‘Kilbasa’, ‘Kick-a-poo’ and ‘Kyle Quit the Band’ each song was interspersed with a small comedic back and forth, that never failed to hit the spot.

The D managed to skim through their triumvirate of recordings with resounding and rapturous support from an audience that where putty in their hands through out, they even managed to add in their own version of The Who’s ‘Pinball Wizard’ before, the show ended with the obligatory rendition of ‘Tribute’ which brought the house down.

After a riotous standing ovation, the duo of Jack Black and Kyle Gass returned to the stage minus the rest of the group, via an eight foot high ladies ahem…erm private place, to finish the evening with what most fans will agree is their Pièce de résistance ‘Fuck her softly’ which was sung by the entire audience at the top of their voices….It was at this point I made an interesting observation regarding the the crowds activity.

In the past when a singer or band would sing what is considered to be a ballad, the audience would join in whilst holding aloft a naked flame from a cigarette lighter. Since the smoking ban in the U.K as well as the explosion of gadgetry it would appear that the modern trend is to substitute the lighter for a mobile telephone, because on the night, there were literally hundreds of smart phone’s being waved aloft as ‘the D’ did their thing.

After the curtain came down on the nights frivolity we made our way out of the Apollo to the waiting rank of taxi’s upon opening the taxi door we got the old;

“Where to guv?”

To which I answered;

“Bogota please driver?”

This elicited a blank look from the front seat, so we had to come clean and answer sensibly. After narrowly avoiding being strafed by heavy machine gun fire when we pulled into the Travel lodge compound, we paid the driver and stepped briskly into the foyer, as ripples of distant gun fire began to echo through the night air.

Back in our room we huddled together for warmth and discussed what we had just seen, both agreeing that it was a magnificent show, we drifted off to sleep together in the center of the bed, like a pair of knackered Ford Cortina’s in a scrap yard.

Day 5 Wednesday the 24th of October

The following morning we awoke at 5am and hurriedly packed our bags to evacuate the building by 5:30am. The offer made by the receptionist of breakfast being served from 7am, whilst being tempting, was also a horrifying prospect, if they could mess up a hotel room so easily, what on earth would they do to a breakfast?

After wishing the general and his men the best of luck with the rest of the conflict, we burned some serious rubber to get the hell out of Gorton at the earliest possible opportunity. Passing a sign that proudly exclaimed

“Gorton twinned with Kabul!”

We both nodded ans made a mental note to visit Afghanistan ASAP to see who got the better part of this deal?

As we rocketed towards the M6 Sarah informed me that I had been sacked from the roll of holiday planner, I simply shrugged and agreed, my choice of hotel was utterly abysmal and with that my resignation was complete.

We made record time back to Preston, and ended our journey in Morrison’s supermarket at 7am waiting for the first batch of bakery produce to arrive on the shelves, after some serious hot tea and croissants action we had little more to do but pack our cases, give kisses and hugs and wish our lovely family ‘adieu’  until the new year, the days had flown by and all that was left to do now was return to the airport for our flight home to Paris.

After spending an afternoon in Liverpool airport awaiting our flight home, we finally boarded our flight at 6pm to discover, to our horror that Easyjet had sold their spare seats as a package to the Euro Disney people, and we where to be surrounded by excited infants for the entire journey.

Further to our horror we discovered the small packets we had picked up in the Manchester Apollo, thinking they where ear plugs, were actually jelly sweats!!! Thankfully I had a book to read, and the plane made fine time, actually landing earlier than scheduled. Myself and Sarah then ran from the baggage claim leaving the horde’s of screaming Euro brats behind us.

When we reached the station to catch the train back to the big P, we happily discovered a train that was running an express service, without exaggeration this saved us at least an hour of travelling time, so we sat happily zipping along towards our destination.

Upon reaching the Gare de Nord however we discovered that the gods of travel and the gods of reliable electrical current had a further hand in our destiny, by shafting the final metro line in our journey, which then added a further two hours of Metro line hopping across the city to reach our home in the 17th. We rolled through our front door at a little past midnight and fell into our bedroom in a sweaty heap.

What we have learned from our holiday experience?

Don’t allow me to book hotel rooms….

Don’t linger in airport toilets…..

What ever you do….

Never……EVER……Visit Gorton!

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A Beautiful, yet sadly empty, Mind…

Well after ‘bongostock’ had left its imprint in my mind, I was struck down by a mystery throat ailment. As it turned out it was a sore throat. Which I assumed was laryngitis, Cancer, the black Death and even my personal favorite…Throat aids. I spent the next few days kicking around the flat self medicating and attempting to find ways in which to fill the hours.

Frantic tea drinking, whilst people watching from my window did nothing to move forward the hands of time. It is truly astonishing to discover the length of a day without watching Television if I had been at home I would have channel surfed the day away completely oblivious to my I.Q plummeting like a bungee cord.

Television had been my best friend since childhood,  hundred’s of channels all ejaculating their drivel into my face 24 hours a day, (I used the word ejaculate as I’ve just been reading some Kafka and it was a word he employed to describe conversational outbursts, much to my amusement) but since my move to a brave new world my televisual crutch had been cruelly snatched away from me, and replaced by a strange entity that appeared to be modeled on a cocktail of 1970’s sexism and misogyny coupled with the concept of the panel show with a modicum of Cbeebies thrown in for good measure?

French television is the most peculiar creature, almost as peculiar as my cat, and his new-found affinity for the music of Charles Trenet.

Instead of numbing my brain, and in between attempts to discover the precise amount of cups of tea it would take to drown, I decided to begin writing. Now having just finished an undergraduate degree I was no stranger to the written, or rather typed, word. What I intended to write was as far removed from the dry scientific papers i I ha written about at university. What I want to write about is my feelings and experiences in my new home country.

Being creative had always come easy to me for some reason (having had to fill out those little job search books for the job center had helped exponentially) I had in my mind a number of ideas that screamed at me to be produced. So as the cat entered into his second verse of ‘La Mer’, I settled in to put my ideas down for posterity.

My first idea was to write a radio play for BBC radio 4 about my experiences working in a cardboard factory shortly after I left school, I had this idea because, well, have you ever heard Radio 4, there are literally NO working class people on the channel, it’s painfully middle class. My work at the cardboard factory had allowed me access to some of the most colourful, outlandish, and in some cases just plain weird people you have ever met. The stories that I gathered from my multiple appointments at that place will, in my opinion, be comedy gold.

I say multiple appointment because I was sacked twice, but simply re-applied, sat the interview with the same boss that sacked me, then re-started the following Monday,  It really was an incredible place.

Some weeks later the boss approached me and asked, “Haven’t I sacked you before?” to which I simply had to answer “Yes Stan, twice!” having not done anything wrong on this occasion I felt on safe ground to answer, and if the worst came to the worst I would simply fill out another application and begin the process again.

To give another example of the plain weirdness of this place, I was once caught smoking in the toilets with a good friend of mine called Tosh. We were marched through the factory by the boss, me on his left and Tosh on his right, to whistles and shouts of derision, all the while Tosh was making grotesque faces and hand gestures at the bosses face (He had a glass eye and had no idea what was happening to his right hand side a fact that would later terrify me when I saw him driving into work in his large 4×4) we were told to stand in his office, and this was the strangest part, while the boss composed a letter home to our parents? I had been there quite a while now, in fact I think it was my third stretch, I was about twenty at the time, and if his (the boss’s) intention was to have the piss taken out of me by my mum and dad then I am happy to report he was successful, they received the letter a few days later.

On my return home from work I was met by a bewildered look from my father, and the question; “Sooo you’ve been caught sharing a toilet cubicle with another boy, and smoking…anything we should know about?” To which i probably answered something along the lines of “Yes papa I love musical theater!”

The cast list for this production are 100% real with no embellishments from me, it is literally what you see is what you get, from the packaging operative (a man whose sole purpose was to wrap pallets of cardboard in cling film by walking round and round in circles for 8 hours) who used to set up his own sideline business as a corner shop on his work desk (honestly you couldn’t make this up later on in life he won the lottery? would you Adam n Eve it!)

To the ancient dirty old man who would physically attempt to violate your most sacred regions should you bend over anywhere near him, a man so old school that when tasked by the boss with cleaning the toilets, he’d use his fingernails!!! To the middle-aged waste cardboard operative from Leyland that lived in a caravan and moon lighted in a local night club as a cross dressing glass collector, This was the kind of place it was, an utter mad house, and this was my primary idea for creative writing.

I figured I would begin with 6 half hour episode, and take it from there.

Besides this biographical work, I had a number of other ideas that I needed to work out, my next was a children’s mystery tale set in a sleepy Cornish village, about a boy who is on holiday with his family who witnesses strange goings on in the local harbour, and decides to investigate the caves above the village only to discover that what lurks inside, is slowly sucking the life from the community…

Another idea I had brewing in my mind, and possibly the most demanding idea was a graphic novel about a hard-working yet down on his luck farmer, who is struck by a meteor whilst out in the fields and is bestowed strange and mysterious powers which he goes on to use against his crooked bank manager and other evil doers, this has the running title of ‘Red Eye’ but it may yet change once I begin to write the story AND draw the characters.

Other ideas bouncing round my noggin are, a Hitchcock style ‘when the animals turn against us’ story written from a first person perspective almost like a diary, but with flashbacks and a back story.

And finally I want to write a book about angels (i know this sounds sappy but not that type of angels) if anything it would be a slightly creepy tale about how they are able to watch us at all times without our knowledge, not really worked out the kinks on this one yet but i like the idea.

That was it for the moment, I did have all kinds of other ideas but sadly they would come to me at the most random of moments, in the supermarket, or whilst in the shower, it certainly wasn’t true in my case that man did his most profound thinking whilst sat on the lavatory.

I would spend a few hours each day running these ideas through my mind, seeing if they had originality and interest enough for me to pursue the project, happily I think they have merit so these are my babies for the foreseeable future, and I will report more about them as they evolve in my mind.

After a couple of days of self-imposed exile while my throat aids cleared up, I was ready once more to get out and see my City once again. Having done some research into the Parisian life of one of my literary hero’s, I decided to ask Sarah to be my guide and take me to Le Jardin De Luxembourg.. This was a place described by Ernest Hemingway as a haven from the sights and smells of the food stalls in the city during a period in his life when he was literally poverty stricken  and so we found ourselves once again boarding the number 81 bus, for the perilous 40 minute journey into the belly of the Parisian beast.

At this juncture I would just like to add , that anyone who grows weary of the nanny state or the health and safety overlords of the U.K would find the nation of France a blessed release, the roads, for one thing, are for want of a better word, chaotic. How anyone manages to complete their business in this city without dieing at least once a day in a horrific pile up is nothing short of a miracle.

The highway code in France has been condensed down from the snooze inducing booklet we have in the U.K to a single sheet of A4 paper here in the French capital, on it written in blood-red capital letters are simply two things, firstly; “ARE YOUR AFFAIRS IN ORDER?” and secondly; “TRY NOT TO DROP YOUR CIGARETTE!” these are the only pieces of advice for the French motorist, and yet the system works.

So there we sat watching the bus filling with people until the ones trapped against the glass started turning blue, making our way into the city center, passing as you do, the magnificent opera building, along past the Louvre until we reach the terminus as Chatelet.

To amuse ourselves on the journey me and Sarah enjoy playing a little game called colour change, when we set off along the Avenue de Clichy the racial demographic is a melting pot of colours, creeds and religions but as you get past St Lazarre station at the mid-point of the Rue de Amsterdam you notice subtle changes.

The roads that have up until this point been normal sized one lane carriage way suddenly doubles in width outside the station entrance, the shops too take on a whole new look, instead of the independent small shops, boulangerie’s and butcherie’s selling wonderous and delicious smelling goods you are faced with the glamour brands of Dior or Chanel  the people change from a mix of races, to a single race with some but not many variations (you think I am kidding but I am not, France doesn’t have a problem with racism….It just doesn’t see racism as a problem!)

Once past this point you’re in Hausmann’s Paris, wide rue’s with five or six-story sandstone buildings standing on both sides of the street, every designer brand and shop imaginable, and a distinct lack of social deprivation, it is said that in these parts of the city you can stand anywhere and within a fifteen yard radius of where you stand there would be a multitude of different languages this is most certainly true.

After alighting the bus at Chatelet and turning back towards La Rive Gauche (the left bank) passing over the Ill De La Cite, a small island in the river Seine home to the  Palais De Justice. The Palais De Justice is a building that is so opulent it makes the old bailey in London look like a park toilet. Next door to this (if you count next door as being 800 yards further down the street) is the location of the Gendarme  H.Q another stupendous ornate building adorned with statues and flanked by dozens of police vehicles.

On the next block is Notre Dame cathedral a Gothic cathedral that is arguably as iconic as any Parisian landmark. Passing these structures you cross onto the Boulevard St Michel which marks the border between the 5th and 6th arrondissment this area has a strongly studious influence, the boulevard is lined by small book stores selling second-hand books.

As the street inclines gradually towards the summit and the Jardin De Luxembourg,  which is the home of the French senate (not a bad place to work, if you can call what they do work?) the boulevard widens out, and is flanked by some very exclusive looking cafe’s and salon’s de Te.

It was along this section of boulevard that made me think about Hemingway’s Paris, pre-war, and more importantly pre-car, just what did he see, what was it that inspired him about this area, how different was his life back then from mine now. Please don’t think I am in any way comparing myself with one of the greatest writers that has ever lived..One thing that had not changed in all those years was the expense of the Parisian lifestyle. This I felt was my only tangible connection with Ernest, from his humble beginnings he would become the darling of Parisian literary circles, from my perspective I just wanted to carve out a niche for myself that would allow Sarah and I a great level of independence.

The Jardin de Luxembourg is Paris’s second largest park, it’s avenues are lined by chestnut tree’s, which at this time of year are alive with the colour’s of autumn, Reds, yellows and browns abound, we spent the afternoon wandering around the Jardin, looking at the statues of the great and the good, sitting  by the fountain in the autumn sun and watched as Paris rolled past before us.

The traffic rumble which is a constant in the city is some how silenced in the Jardin allowing the visitor time to relax and reflect upon nature. As the sun began to set, we stole away and made our way through the throng on our way home.

The Friday of that week Sarah’s uncle announced that he would be returning to the south of France, and he asked if we could help him to the Garre de Lyon with his luggage on the Saturday morning, this we agreed to.

Saturday morning rolled round and the journey to the station began, the bag given to me to carry was the heaviest luggage in the history of travel, after straining to get through the metro network, with a  bag that seemed determined to remove the skin off my ankles, we arrived after much sweating and cursing at the  Gare De Lyon.

All that was left to do was to exit the underground and enter the station itself. The dimensions of the luggage I carried meant that I had to use the disabled exit which i did, when the gates swung open, before my eyes came a short squat fat butt ugly blonde haired woman wearing a style of coat that was much favoured by the 1950’s detective, without a ticket she merely barged straight past me muttering obscenities in some language or other, one of which was ‘imbecile’ and it was upon hearing this dago uttered slur that my polite English demeanor slipped away and the red mist descended. Lurching forward as the barrier gates closed I pointed directly at the astonished looking woman and shouted “OI SHUT IT KNOB HEAD!” which was the first thing that came to mind!  I was considering leaping the gate and taking her down, but I thought better of it. Not my greatest moment by any means, but happily despite the language barrier my message had gotten across as the woman looked rightly shocked at my outburst.

After depositing Sarah’s uncle on the train and stowing his bags safely in the luggage rack we made are way home via the metro system, only to discover when leaving the station that we had been caught in a vicious downpour, luckily we dodged into our favorite boulangerie, bought some freshly baked baguettes, which I happily stored under my jacket, whilst Sarah selected some heavenly patisserie as a special treat for all our hard work. After a short soggy walk home, we gleefully tucked in to our treats as we sat and watched the rain tumbling from the leaden skies.

Next week we visit the Eiffel tower and return to Blighty for a short break to celebrate my mothers birthday, And the cat gets a gig doing Edit Piaf covers!

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In the City…

Chapter 4 Awaking from a wonderful dream….

Rubbing my eye’s and sitting up in bed, my surroundings didn’t seem real for at least two or three hours after I awoke, 24 hours asleep will do that to a person, I felt discombobulated, and just like Arthur Dent from Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhikers Guide’ books, I felt sure a nice cup of tea was what was needed.

So our journey was done, we had found a home for all our furniture and most of our possessions and we had made the trip over to Paris with the minimum of fuss and head aches (HA) but what was I to do next?

According to a recent article in Le Monde the highly respected French daily newspaper, 96.3% of the residents of Paris are currently in process of writing a book. I thought to myself ‘That’ll be 96.4% at the end of this week then”

sadly for the time being this blog was about all my frazzled mind could handle, and the immediacy of the present time that I found myself in would have to suffice. The new surroundings of France coupled with the sights and smells of one of the greatest cities on earth would be my muse, all this seen through the eyes of a man from Preston, a city whose biggest claim to fame to date is an ugly bus station, and Europe’s biggest civilian cemetary (apparently people have been dying to get in their for decades).

Our residence in the 17th arrondessment of this gargantuan city was a spacious flat in a block, that in France is called social housing, In the U.K I suppose it would be called a council estate, here in France however they are radically different, rather than having gangs of feral children roaming the streets, and abandoned washing machines in their front garden, these habitations where neat, and tidily presented and well cared for by the residents, this was the home of Sarah mum Jocelyn  and Sarah’s little sister Camille, as well as the temporary residence of Sarah’s uncle who was sleeping on the sofa until he could find a place of his own.His name to this day eludes me, though we did find out that the same glasses we had been drinking Coca Cola out of, HE had been using to keep his false teeth in.

Although it may appear that the flat maybe over crowded already, we occupy the largest room in the flat which is located at the rear of the property ensuring a modicum of privacy, the room is long and rectangular in shape and has a large window which looks out over the sporting stadium that is located to the rear of the block of flats a double bed and ample desks and storage places mean that it was a comfortable hide out for our French life.

After the obligatory climatisation with my new surroundings, which consisted of unpacking and squaring away our luggage, something which made our room seem almost claustrophobic, and gave the impression that moving the wrong item would bring about a catastrophic collapse burying us both until search teams dug us out, we began to settle into the rhythm of our new life.

The cat had taken to his new beginning like a duck to rocket powered roller skates, and he immediately loved his new surroundings, many was the time he would stow himself somewhere unreachable light up a filter-less cigarette and begin to croon his favorite Jaques Brel songs, well if he was happy in his stripy jumper and beret then who where we to stop him (at least he’d gotten simply red out of his system).

Having been house bound for the first couple of days, we where relieved when Sarah’s older sister rang and invited us to lunch.

Sarah’s older sister is called Awe (pronounced AWA) she works in a dance academy in the center of Paris and she invited us for lunch on the Wednesday morning.

The last time we had met Sarah’s sister earlier in the year she had introduced us to one of her students from the dance school called Justin. Justin was, by a French country mile, the campest individual I had ever clapped eye’s on, he made Alan Carr look like Johnny Rambo, Compared to him, Liberace was a knuckle dragging toothless cider drinking resident of Blackpool, I mean he didn’t just bat for the other team, he also fielded, bowled, kept the wicket, washed the kits, made the sandwiches and parked the cars and drove the coach to away matches. He was the archetypal French duke, I’m not kidding.

On this occasion Sarah’s sister had wanted to buy some hair products to dye her hair. Sarah’s sister has afro hair and as such we had to pay a visit to an area in Paris that I wouldn’t like to go to when its dark, if I’m honest I really didn’t want to be there during the day, this place was SERIOUSLY ropy, I’m talking ‘I’m in my happy place’ kinda ropy, this was a place the Taliban wouldn’t even entertain, this place made the Red Light District of Amsterdam look like Covent Garden, and there I am with Sarah and her sister and graham Norton’s camp stuntman.

It goes down as THE scariest experience of my Parisian life, whilst in the shop, idly bumbling around in a generally uncomfortable ‘I really don’t belong here’ kind of way, Justin asked the group which hair dye he should choose, as the girls where engrossed in talking about hair pins and such, and I just wanted to escape, I absent mindedly pointed out the brightest of bright pink hair dyes as a joke…..Sadly the French don’t really get my brand of sarcasm, so Justin found himself buying the most outrageous vivid hair colour known to man, this colour was so bright it could be seen from the international Space station, and it is the only hair dye positively endorsed by Stevie Wonder, and it was all my fault.

Shortly after the hair dye incident, we entered a number of shops specialising in wigs, well, talk about feeling unwelcome, the only thing missing was the woman shop assistant squatting down and shitting on my shoes, I have never been looked at or treated in that manner, by a sales woman that looked, in my mind anyway, like Obafemi Martin’s sister I felt it best not to mention that. I was under the impression that she thought I was going to steal something, but Sarah later informed me that it was because Black and Afro Caribbean women seriously don’t like any white men knowing their hair secrets, and I had inadvertently stumbled upon the mother load of women’s secrets. (Racist fuckers)

I spent days pointing at women in the street and identifying their method of hair care. I was sure this closely guarded secret and my new power, was going to lead me to being the victim of a hair ‘hit’. Thankfully the poisoned baguette never came and the voodoo doll never worked it’s wicked magic and the memory of that scary day slowly faded from my mind.

So it was that we found ourselves on our way to meet Awe again, taking the bus along the Avenue De Clichy with its multitude of small shops and businesses, into the Rue De Amsterdam on a sunny Wednesday morning, we switched from the number 81 bus at the Place De Clichy, which is an interesting area of the city that marks the meeting points of four arrondessments (the 8th,9th,17th and 18th), the central traffic island has a 14 meter high statue to Marshall Moncey, who successfully defended the city during the war of 1814, the romanticised bronze statue depicts Moncey standing atop the baracades holding his military Sabre aloft in a defiant stance (fnerk fnerk coooooo missus), this statue is a magnificent center piece as well as being the prototype  for all other war memorials.

We switched buses with ease without buying the mango’s, mineral water, or umbrella’s being sold by the seriously dodgy street vendors, and took the short journey on the number 54 down towards the Moulin Rouge.

Now I know this is not the first location you would have in mind when thinking of the gastronomic delights of the French capital, but it is the home of a superb little Chinese establishment AND some pretty seedy looking sex clubs and theaters(Quel suprise), including one which made me roar with laughter, with the title ‘Erotic Supermarket’. (“I won’t be buying my carrots from there”! I thought to myself)

After lunch and a spot of shopping we parted company with Sarah’s sister and caught the bus home. It was during this journey I began to come to a realisation about the modern city we had moved to and its people.

As more Parisian’s boarded the bus causing serious congestion and the very real possibility of suffocation, I began to notice that no one made eye contact with anyone else, beyond say, a few accidental glances to prevent walking into doors or tripping over babies.

People glared into the glowing screens of their mobile telephones, like drones they thumbed buttons, sent text messages or selected their favorite music to entertain them in their infinitely shrinking bubbles of personal space, as the beautifully constructed buildings and streets of Paris whizzed by their window.

I felt increasingly sad for these people, before snapping out of my funk, internally calling myself a prick, and following an alternate train of thought.

I myself had left the world of mobile technology back in the U.K and had been re-energised by being freed from its electronic bonds, yet here I was sat surrounded by slaves to this most curious of items. This made me think back to Hemingway’s era, and what he would of made of the traffic jammed Boulevards and tourist laden pavements, how would he of reacted to the modern age, furthermore I thought what would Monet of made of the graffiti artist or the post modernist’s or surrealists, I often find myself thinking in this manner, one of my many character flaws. but like I say, it’s a brief whimsy of mine, which I bury deep down and carry on with my life. In the case of Hemingway I more often than not come to the conclusion ” That’s why he blew his head off”

Later that week we received a phone call from Sarah’s aunt who wanted us to attend her first gig in Paris, Sarah informed me that her aunt wasn’t even a singer and therefore this was an event not to be missed, so our second Parisian adventure was afoot.

That evening we strolled down to our local metro station to catch the train to the gig. Travelling on the Paris underground is a very singular experience, it is both liberating and constricting, most lines are served by aging rolling stock to varying levels, some are merely dangerous, whilst others require you to of filled out your last will and testament before travelling, the noise made by some of the older trains is horrific, when hitting a corner it sounds like you are running your nails down a blackboard whilst listening to your favorite Judas Priest LP in reverse on a record player made of angry midgets, couple this cacophony with the universal law of the underground, which is, ‘if there is any form of gap in a carriage then you can fit at least five more people in it’, and you have the recipe for underground travel, on this evening we arrived in the area known as the Bastille relatively unmolested, and found the small bar and restaurant quite easily.

Upon entering I was pleasantly surprised to find the kind of warm, welcoming establishment you expect to find when thinking of visiting Paris, it had that feeling of being a place with some personality, not the obligatory Starbuck’s or Mcdonald’s that have been projectile vomited all over the city to suck the money clean out of your pockets, no this place had home cooked food, very reasonably priced beer it even had its own shaggy dog (but thats another story).

We ordered drinks and stood at the bar awaiting direction to the gig. After a few moments more of Sarah’s family arrived and we where directed upstairs to what turned out to be the most questionable function room I have ever set foot in, the ceiling was about an inch above the top of my head and the walls where covered in mirrors (kinky i thought) arranged around the room where a dozen or so chairs, and to the front of the room where a couple of microphones and a bongo drum (my heart sank).

We kissed and shook hands with everyone else in that curious way that is so French, and small talk ensued, after some curious conversations with the bongo player, who turned out to be Sarah’s aunt’s husband, mainly regarding him really liking my shoes, as they reminded him of bushmen? we settled in and the gig began…. hmmm How best to describe it, I think Caribbean Jazz maybe or possibly a Calypso Jazz fusion, whichever you choose it was a pleasant enough experience, toe tapping stuff that was at one point described as being a selection of spicy cover versions, these consisted of a few French children’s song’s given a bit of a pep up with some bongo’s, and a couple that I recognised as Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘the 59th street bridge song’ and the Noel Harrison classic ‘the windmills of your mind’ everyone sang along and a jolly good time was had by all, including some random drunkard woman who staggered in half way through and stayed til the end, don’t get me wrong The Who at Knebworth it was not, yet it retained a kind of raw appeal that i just couldn’t shake off, honestly, for French music it was alright.

Once the gig was  fin, we once again kissed and shook our way down stairs and out into a wet Parisian night, and off to the metro station for the train home. Saturday night on the Paris metro is a special experience, not only do you have the fear of death to contend with but you also have the party hearty residents, in this case consisting of four or five posh kids that had had a sniff of shandy, obnoxious isn’t the word for these little fuckers, but happily they got off before any blood was spilt and we wended our way home with little incident, apart from a drunk bloke with a beer in his hand getting his arm caught in the door and thus splashing his beer all over himself, something that made us all chortle.

After visiting our favorite Turkish kebab house round the corner from the flat (which sells beer, honestly it’s brilliant) we rolled into our room at about midnight and proceeded to gorge on yummy things and to generally drink and be merry, “I could seriously get used to this sort of life style” i thought to myself……

Next week I fight with my brain to come up with some workable ideas for short stories, sight seeing in the city, Sarah’s uncle leaves for his new home in the south of France, and I angrily call a fat old Spanish woman a “Knob Head!”

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Three shades of Grey…

Chapter One “Too fast, and I was too fucking furious!”

So here I sit in our Parisian bedroom on a mild Friday evening, contemplating the week that’s been. This time last week, we had undertaken the largest and most trying part of our journey (or so i thought) and had just checked into a very pleasant and clean hotel in the center of Portsmouth.

The near 300 mile trip in our hired vehicle had been interspersed with some lengthy jams on the outside lane of many of the U.K’s busiest motorways, these jams which held us up where all caused by accidents involving worse drivers than I, thus I took it upon myself to loudly and passionately criticize these errant individuals, stopping just short of pulling up next to the ambulances parked on the hard shoulder, getting out of my vehicle, walking round to the back doors, opening them and informing them of my feelings that…”I HOPE YOU FUCKING DIE IN PAIN YOU INCONSIDERATE FUCK STAINS!”

Happily however I refrained from this action and made do instead with giving the steering wheel third degree Chinese burns, and listening to Radio 3’s afternoon concert (Don’t ask, to say that i felt like jabbing myself in the ears with a red hot poker was an understatement…but it appeared that our cat liked it) Anyway, the car journey safely negotiated phase one of our journey was at an end…

Upon checking in at our hotel, the receptionist informed us that we could “Leave our credit card open” enabling us to sample the shockingly overpriced fare on offer from their in room menu, this we kindly refused, whilst silently hoping that the receptionist’s children were born with some form of abnormality (come on we’ve all wished that on someone in our time haven’t we…haven’t we?) and we opted instead for the cheaper culinary experience of the local Spar shop whose menu included pre packaged sandwiches, crisps, pie’s and lager (the healthy option obviously),the picnic assembled upon our bed we tucked into our feast, and it was about this time to my horror we discovered the T.V. program ‘Being Liverpool’ on channel five.

Oooooooh lord what has happened to that once proud club, I’m sure the displacement caused by the rotation of Bill Shankly in his grave was enough to cause minor earth tremors in some distant corner of Indonesia,  it was neither informative nor entertaining, as previous ‘fly on the wall’ football documentaries have been, in short a program about a team that used to eat from the top table of European football, and their decent from the top table, into the freegan bin scavenging which they now find themselves mired in, all shown on the same channel as ‘home and away’ this left me feeling somewhat grubby.

Having showered, brushed my teeth and taken a shit all at the same time, in what was possibly the smallest bathroom I had ever encountered, a space so small even the borrowers would call it ‘A bit pokey’; I returned to the comfort of our hired bed and reclined for a little more channel surfing before the Heineken sleeping tablets took hold and bore me off to the land of drunken nod.

The morning began abruptly at 6 am as our cat had taken it upon himself to play the role of Charles Bronson in our bedroom production of ‘The Great Escape’… having gotten bored with the freedom we had allowed him after his incarceration in the catcatraz during his stint in the car, he somehow managed to squeeze himself under the tiniest of gaps underneath the sink unit, upon finding that he couldn’t extricate himself, he proceeded to entertain himself by singing his favorite simply red songs at the top of his voice, something that we found extremely amusing after 2 weeks of furniture moving and several nights sleeping on sofa’s at my mothers house, (HA) who needs sleep in a warm comfy bed anyway… And so I found myself bleary eyed at the hotel reception trying to explain our situation to a very confused and very French night porter, who handed over the hotels tool kit, simply to get the irate bearded scare crow he found himself confronted with away from his desk.

After a short spell of cat rescuing D.I.Y  we packed up our belongings and proceeded to check out from the hotel, after dropping off the hire car we where left with just over 11 hours to kill in Portsmouth, this we did by means of tantric tourism, that is to say we sat for at least 8 hours surrounded by our luggage wishing we where on the ferry and bound for France, had we of known the nightmare that awaited us we would of gladly waited longer….

Chapter Two: The Boat that didn’t rock.

Once one of Portsmouth’s famous Rubenesque taxi fraternity had collected us from our hiding place and loaded our 1.2m suitcases into their 1m boot space, slamming the boot lid down with that satisfying crunch sound that should of been a dull clunk, we where dropped off at Portsmouth International Port (bit of a gob full i know, which funnily enough was also offered on the menu of some of the less salubrious establishments in the area, usually by scrawny dead eyed women with cold sores but i’m digressing…) Sarah and I entered to discover we where the only customers in the entire building, so as the clock lurched provocatively towards 9 pm we approached the check in desk of the L+D Lines Ferry company. We where greeted by what can be best described as a fat, headset wearing retarded phone jockey who checked our passports and issued our boarding cards with  as much panache and charisma as a weeping genital sore. Upon informing him of our feline compatriot we where informed that, rather than him being caged separately from ourselves and cared for by a member of staff, we could keep him with us for the duration of the 9 hour crossing! Presumably the intended member of staff charged with the care of animals during the crossing had either (A) swallowed his or her own head in an attempt to get some much needed time off, or (B) decided, mid crossing, that a life spent caring for other ungrateful peoples pets wasn’t a life worth living and they had tossed themselves overboard and presumably landed on David Walliams as he attempted the first ‘cross channel dressed like a tranny’ swim, rendering both sadly lost at sea.

So boarding cards in hand, we sat, and waited…and waited…..and waited some more, after a couple of hours I asked Sarah if she’d like anything to eat and drink, she said she wouldn’t mind a coffee so I obligingly wandered around in search of refreshment, what I found seemed promising; not only was it a coffee machine, but, it had the word ‘COSTA’ emblazoned across the front, what I hadn’t taken into account was that ‘COSTA’ was the French word for ‘Lukewarm Donkey urine’, what followed was an awkward 10 minutes of sips winces and polite glances at one another. After my rage had subsided, and the urge to shove excrement into the coin return slot had abated we returned to waiting (remember the scene at the end of ‘The Shining’ when Jack Nicholson is sat slowly freezing to death in the maze well by the time boarding time arrived both myself and to a lesser extent Sarah shared that forlorn and hopeless look, had we of thought to look inside catatraz i’m sure we would of seen the words ‘red rum’ scrawled all over the walls in cat shit.)  but boarding we were, as is usual I waltzed through the security check, whilst Sarah was submitted to intense cross examination, a cavity search and the obligatory beating with rubber bats whilst wrapped in a blanket, We did laugh as they wheeled out the Electric shock machine, and began attaching the electrodes to Sarah s nipples, beatings taken and bruises delivered, we headed for the ferry, upon our arrival we where ushered, along with the other dozen or so foot passengers onto our ship…The Love boat it wasn’t.

After climbing umpteen flights of stairs we arrived in a reception area that would of left the guards at Auschwitz thinking that this was a bit cold and austere, we wandered through corridors filled with confused looking people and ended up in a room full of brown leather reclining chairs to discover that although there where only 15 foot passengers, the twenty five thousand car passengers more than made up for the short fall, the scene resembled an sub Saharan African refugee camp that had just been told that (A) the Stella was running out, and (B) Gerri Halliwell was going to pay a visit, it was utter pandemonium, it was like the Poseidon adventure if it had been set in a toilet on a farm.

Finally after finding some seats and depositing the cat on the seat between us we sat and awaited the end of the world, the reason i say that is this, have you ever gotten on a bus or coach n thought “How the fuck is this thing road legal?” well the boat we where on sounded as though it wanted to head in two directions at the same time, what made things infinitely worse was we where then at the mercy of having to tell people every five minutes “Yes we have a cat” and then have to listen as random people we have never met before told us all about their pets…Resisting the urge to stab people in the eye, we turned our attention to the cat, who had now begun singing Mick Hucknall’s  ‘If you don’t know me by now’ (if i do say so, he was slightly off key) this began as an amusement for people but by midnight had become a little trying, I took it upon myself to take a tour of our vessel with the puss in tow, firstly we sat on deck and took in the night air, it was peaceful and calm on deck something both I and the cat really enjoyed, we then wandered through the ship until we returned to the reception area where we where pounced upon by a member of the ships security team, a dark haired diminutive woman who informed me that having a cat on board was against the ships ‘hygiene’ policy, I could of argued that surely the people sleeping on the floor along the corridors and under the stairwells would be a greater risk or that the pervading stench of stale urine emanating from every corner may be a slightly greater risk, but I couldn’t summon the motivation, she informed me the cat should be caged away from the ships population (I did think of asking if I could join him but I thought better of it) so our puss was imprisoned for a second time, and we finally had some peace and quite, as I was led away I swear I could hear the cat break into a rendition of San Quentin by Johnny Cash but sadly the security door slammed shut just as he got to the “I hate every inch of you” bit.

On our walk back to reality the security women informed me in broken English that she preferred cats to people, this made me wonder if she had recently transferred over from another department of the L+D Ferry company, but as my brain was attempting to climb out of my ears I simply nodded and smiled as I knew exactly what she meant, upon returning to my seat and seeing the clock strike 4 am I slumped blissfully into a deep sleep (despite a woman sitting not 3 or 4 seats away snoring like a malfunctioning jack hammer) for all of two hours…

For the second time that weekend 6 am came abruptly, interrupting my dream of repairing Daniel Day Lewis’s bright red Mini? sat in the half light listening to the ship trying to rip itself in half, my first thought was of disembarkation this came about some three hours later in the hazy morning sea mists of Le Havre harbour, a modernist looking water front that was deserted of people and populated entirely by sea birds, Had it finally happened…. had hitchcock’s dream finally been realised, had mankind been usurped by our raptor relatives? Sadly no, it was just really early on a sunday morning…. the kind of time Lionel Richie sung about. Upon collection of the cat we headed for the exit as fast as is humanly possible. After passing through customs and security control, we (that is me and the cat) sat and watched Sarah being ritualistically beaten with stale baguettes before we collected our baggage and made for the taxi rank like bedraggled sleep deprived zombies that have been locked up over night in a ship that stank like a sweaty pissy bucket! we sighed and concluded that phase two of our journey was at long last at an end.

Chapter three: Waiting for the Ghost Train.

Having arrived at Le Havre station at around 8:30am on Sunday morning we began our final stint of tantric tourism sat in the waiting room waiting for the train to Paris, this final leg of our journey was going so well until ‘the guy’ arrived, you know ‘the guy’ everyone at some stage in their lives has met ‘the guy’ he’s the guy who sits listening to his media player on top volume through what must be the shittest head phones imaginable, the kind of head phones that have so much bleed through that he may as well of been singing his playlist out loud, and BOY what a playlist. The first three songs will give you a flavour of what type of person he was, the first song was by African musical sensation Akon (nuff said) the second song was by the American midget dancer Usher, and the last of the three songs was by plaster emblazoned dip shit Nelly (yes it was getting hot in there, but sadly the only reason i was going to take off all my clothes was to form a noose to lynch the fucking bell end) just as I was about to snap and go totally bat shit mental killing everyone within a fifty feet radius the fourth song came within my ear shot which changed everything….The Rose is a song written by Bette Midler and is quite possibly the cheesiest song ever written (SERIOUSLY) and this was the song that appeared next upon his headphones, both myself and Sarah began to sway and had I of still been a smoker there is little doubt that my lighter would of made an appearance as I held it aloft and swayed it from side to side, thankfully moments later he received a call and had the common courtesy to leave the room to answer and never returned, after that little interlude little else of any interest occurred other than me dozing off with my face against the glass in the window something which amused Sarah sooo much she decided to take photos of me as a keep sake, we reached Paris at 1 pm on Sunday having set off at 2 pm on Friday eat your heart out Michael bastard Palin, we dodged the pick pockets (well all but one who took one look at me informing him that if he so much as touched any of my possessions i would gleefully rip his fucking arms off and beat him to death with the wet end) and jumped into a taxi bound for the 17th arrondissement and our new home, falling through the front door at a little before 2 pm I collapsed onto the double bed in our room and didn’t stir for 24 hours our torturous journey of three shades of grey was complete, all that was left was to live my new life in the French capital to grasp this opportunity with both hands and savour every single moment of my existence in this wonderful mesmerizing joyous yet terrifying city.

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