Saturday, June 30, 2007

When I were a lad.....

When I were a lad, the IRA tried to kill me. In Harrods, which is in Knightsbridge in London. I was standing on the ground floor, in the women's handbag bit, just inside the Brompton Road door, and smoke began to billow along the ceiling towards me. All the staff, every last one of them, came round from behind their counters and pointed (silently) to the nearest exit. We left quietly, thankfully uninjured.
I got a cab to Marble Arch, and just as I arrived, the police cordoned off Oxford Street in an "IRA security alert". I thought "the bastards are following me... "

But of course on that particular day, in the midst of yet another mainland bombing campaign, the IRA weren't actually trying to kill me, as it were, just scare the shit out of me. Thanks Gerry and Martin. You did.

But, the other night, someone tried to kill my teenage daughter. I don't know who. Not in a political or economic way, as the IRA might have tried, but in a cold-blooded-slaughter-way outside some random club off Piccadilly Circus - Tiger Tiger in Haymarket. Never mind the Vicar's tea party of code-worded warnings, or creating headlines from bombing banks and city institutions (or even Scotts Restaurant); this could have been mass, cold blooded slaughter of ..... the infidel. My teenage daughter. Or me again. "Legitimate targets" Both of us.

When I were a lad, the IRA didn't like me. In Crossmaglen, anywhere in South Armagh, or in various parts of Belfast. The man who pulled the gun on me in the Falls Road, who told me that "they ruled" on that side of the wall, was of course, right. They did rule. I didn't. He showed me photographs of him in his balaclava, with his gun. With his ammo. He didn't like me.
On the other side of the wall, on the Shankill and in Portadown - or Drumcree - they didn't like me either. Just to balance things up a bit.

And recently in London, I had to walk from one tube station to another, because someone else who didn't like me, I have no idea who, wanted to kill me so much he was willing to kill himself. His detonator might have been faulty, but he still wanted to kill me, whoever he was. He didn't. And I had to walk all the way to Baker Street that day. From Warren Street. Jeez.

When I were a lad, Glasgow Airport was called Abbotsinch, it became a carpet warehouse then an industrial estate, and if anyone had driven a jeep into the terminal by accident it would have been front page news. Shock Horror! Drunk Paisley man crashes into Airport!! A wee pensioner returning from Benidorm (or palmamajorca) has been hospitalised!! Ohmygod!

My son, a Londoner, was close enough to Glasgow Airport today to possibly have had a wee burn or two from a major car bomb. There has never, to my knowledge, ever been a political act of terrorism in Glasgow, but let's not delve too deeply into why. Let's just consider why my son, one of life's rebels, became a legitimate target tonight. By a total stranger. Same as his sister in London. Come back to me when the papers begin to identify the perps.

When I were a lad, Gordon Brown was a long haired lecturer who taught me for a year. He became a TV presenter specialising in politics, and he was a Labour firebrand. Tonight, a Saturday for chrissakes,Gordon Brown had to face the cameras in his first week as Prime Minister. Go Gordon. Go! I want to know exactly what you are going to do to stop total strangers who have no idea who I am, or my daugher, or my son, from killing us.

When I were a lad, parking meter attendants were wee blokes who walked about with clipboards, peering at meters, trying to figure out if the car parked in that bay might be liable for a ticket or not. They evolved into parasitical bloodsuckers, ten to a beat, who write down what time you have parked, how many coins you have inserted, so that they can issue a ticket at the precise moment the meter says zero! They work for local authorities who make huge amounts of money from Penalty Charge Notices. In the case of Westminster, heading towards an annual income of 100 million quid. Even speaking as a non car owner, it is truly obscene. It has nothing to do with traffic management, and everything to do with generating revenue.

But now the meter attendants, the clampers, the towaway truck drivers on the front line turn out not to be our enemies. They are our friends who pick up, and cart off, live car bombs to the pound. Bravo!

When I were a lad, well, it weren't all great.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Booze News.

Well, for those of you who've been wondering where I bin, and there seems to be quite a lot of you, according to my CIA-style internet-monitoring bugging-device, I ain't bin nowhere, sept out. And fuck me , am I too old for this malarkey.

I forsook the two day hangover many years ago but if I can delve back into the fog of the last week I shall attempt a self-admonishing Bridget Jones style tabulation of the sheer volume of things-that-are-bad-for-you tally.
Monday night is half price steak night at the local gaff and Pal P, who normally keeps his Zionism to himself, was feeling kind and spiritual and in need of a therapist to take to dinner. Me. We had half price steaks which were excellent, and way too much wine to go with. I was walking (just) but he was on the Vermillion Vespa and should not have attempted to ride. But did. I didn't care because by that time he had thoroughly annoyed me with his stupid views which I used to think were just expresed to wind me up but I now discover that's what he really thinks. Grrrrrr. Bad mood. Go home. Final drink and try to explain to wholly sober partner why am so grrrrrrr. She's not listening.
Tuesday, feel like shit all morning, but go to lunch at Broadcast Show with mates who're on a jolly and don't want a quick sandwich. They want pizza, wine, more wine, some wine with the coffee and after the coffee some more wine. Boy, TV cameramen know how to live. We never make it back to Earl's Court, probly just as well as I have to go and have late afternoon drink with mate who reveals when I turn up that he's effectively just been fired. Thus the bottle of wine on the table at 4.30pm. And the next. etc etc. Long explanation later to partner about, oh, something or other.
Wednesday have high-power art day with high-power art people who take me to lunch. They're fun and like nothing better than a long, long lunch. The actual launch party is at 6pm, an hour after lunch indeed, with free champagne and tiny, weeny canapes. No, that was another day. No canapes at all. But dinner is at nearby friend's house who offers small amount of food but large amounts of booze. And then starts rolling joints at 11pm. At least partner still dancing at 2am so no explanation required tonight. Just some sleep please.
Thursday, um, can barely remember now, but had lunch in Soho with someone or other, worked in a haze all afternoon before going off to go bowling (!) with Americans which involves much beer at bowling alley to fuel UK vs US challenge, then more beer at Chinese restaurant, then wine then beer, then long explanation to partner etc etc. UK tanked US incidentally.
Friday is heading for disaster. Lunch in Soho, there's barely any food, until I'm desperate and at 4pm order snacks from the bar menu. Chums (different ones I haven't seen for several weeks) are starting their weekend early and as I leave at 5pm realise I have done no work all day and am now headed to supermarket because I have promised to cook dinner for 8. Which I do. Supermarket a bit of a haze, but dinner is fabulous, in an instant kind of a way, and friends are generous in their wine choices so thankfully we can have lots and lots to drink before they leave at 3am. Thankfully also partner dancing again so no explanations required. Just some sleep. Please.
Saturday lunch is a brief rain-soaked Notting Hill affair where I try a glass of wine but this is a mistake. Feel ill and sleepy. Forced to go to party at night which would have been very enjoyable had I been feeling even faintly human, however was very well organised, including a Mr Margarita Machine which appears to be Slush Puppies with Tequila. Marvellous. Partner dancing till 1am. Am now officially one of the living, walking, sleeping dead.

Sunday. Curtains closed. Sleep. Call off lunch, put off Brighton people, and watch zombie TV until Shirley Bassey appears, relaunching her career at Glastonbury. I have long been a fan of "The Living Tree" by Never The Bride - who now manage La Bassey I understand - and the crowd buy it wholesale, as do I. Then horizontally watch two movies - I think I've seen The Untouchables six times now - until The Who close Glastonbury in the rain (a friend recently told me that if the two surviving members of the Who hooked up with the two surviving members of the Beatles, they could call themselves The Whotles. But not Boo - might cause fright, dangerous at their age).

So how much booze? Fuck knows. Too much. Detox apparently starts (again) tomorrow.
After lunch.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Gawping Muffintops

For UK readers, relief from Big Brother withdrawal symptoms may best be achieved by reading this in a Geordie accent. "Deay Too an Nayshonwiade isn Flornce". American readers should note that we are in Florenceiddaly. Italian readers, well, I'm sorry.

Prego. Pronto. Bonjiurno. Dolce & Gabbana.

Firenze, of all Italy°s treasures, is the most beatific. School parties point and giggle at the little winkies on Europe°s greatest marble staues, elegant fifteenth century architecture, a trip to Florence is to visit The Renaissance. The Uffizi. Il Duomo. Michaelangelo, pappa pomodoro and tripe, bold Chiantis and ...aaah, but aren°t we the lucky ones to be here? It is a truly remarkable city, unruffled and unhurried, with the Pontevecchio still straddling the Arno, and David, Michaelangelo's very own BigFoot, still looking down on us protectively.

Sadly, the European Grand Tour, where people such as myself were borne aloft in Sedan chairs on the shoulders of oiks, stopping every now and again to partake of a lark°s tongue or to commission a little Canaletto in Venice, is a thing of the past. So where are we to find the modern equivalent? Well pardon me just a second - turn your backs - while I quickly change into my grumpy trousers. It ain°t frikkin Ryanair.

The Irish behemoth which now dominates "no frills" air travel is a terrible way to pollute the atmosphere on your way somewhere. It°s bad enough trying to negotiate Stansted Airport, an architectural marvel when it°s empty, but full to bursting (ie 18 hours a day) with the great unwashed it°s a hellhole. And why have the British Airports Authority not been sued yet for calling it LONDON Stansted? It's nowehere near friggin London, trying to get there is a trial in itself. And once you°ve made your way through security and handed over all your valuables and liquids (a word to the wise, mascara is a liquid) you have to encounter Ryanair. I have history here. I have been standing in the check-in queue (you queue for everything with Ryanair) when they have closed the flight. I kid you not. I have been stranded three times because of them and I don°t like them.

This time, we smiled and smiled and smiled. Once we had fought our way through the endless shopping mall that Stansted has become, and found the gate, I was scowled at by surly staff member no 1 (remember "hello and welcome, have a nice flight"? Forgeddaboutit) and told to "stand back from the queue" until I had opened my passport at the photograph page; I was sitting on a seat which (and this is a first) had graffiti on it, apparently Rachel and Killer had sat there before us, bless; and for two hours fought off a headache brought on by a yellow livery that is truly the colour of bile, made worse by the clever idea of plastering on top of the yellow liveried (liverish?) overhead compartments adverts for themselves in an even more bilious yellow.

Of course Michael O°Leary, the owner of Ryanair would say (and forgive the literal translation) "You ungrateful bastard. Flying to Italy for twenty quid means you cannot fucking complain. About anything". And he°s right. I am not some superior intellectual being shoehorned against my will into row 27. I°m a Ryanair passenger drinking expensive undrinkable wine from a plastic cup, poured from a miniature plastic bottle. So feck off.

Now it°s a little warm in Florence so if you don°t mind I°ll continue this blog in a tee shirt. Not the "I know Somebody who went to Florence and all I got was this lousy Tee Shirt" Tee Shirt but the other which says "WHAT THE F°CK ARE YOU LOOKING AT?" since that°s the way this is going.

I don°t mind tourists. I°m one. But when there are quite as many as there are in Florence, it°s a little hard not to mind. Millions turn up every year to gawp and stare, to shop and bare all to the harsh Italian midday sun. In order to get from il Duomo to Pontevecchio you have to negotiate shoals of them, like a demented salmon making it°s determined way home, battling against the current, leaping upstream. Phalanxes of them, platoons, battalions, led by The One With The Flag, The Umbrella, The Hankie, the bloody head on a spike. Or nowadays the number where all the followers have their numbers too, stuck on their football shirts, their branded tees and cashmere cardies. Don°t ask me, I have no idea why. Do they get lost that often?

And then you suddenly find yourself going WITH the flow, joining the massed ranks of Japanese, Korean, Mid Westerners, Swedes, Brummies and walking more slowly, beginning to waddle a little, starting to stare blankly at Renaissance era architecture, when you catch sight of yourself in the window of Ferregamo or Zara and you look like one of them. Dear Gawd for a few short moments you become one of them. Luckily, by stepping aside and leaving the parade, you return to normalcy: your svelte, sophisticated self, to be viewed happily in the windows of Louis Vuitton and Gucci.

Squeezing through the masses outside il Duomo, the Cathedral, a man from Essex was shouting at his mate, wearing a Millwall shirt, "YOU SHOULD FUCKING SEE IT INSIDE: IT°S FUCKING HUGE" as if the exterior somehow belied the scale of things. What did he think this was, the Tardis? An LA Dodger was meanwhile shouting that they'd had enough, they were going to COVER THE PONTEVECCHIO. I wish they°s all cover the bloody thing. And jump off. Our little apartment is just plain fabulous, and overlooks the Cathedral which is just as well because right now, about 2pm on June Friday, there°s, oh, two thousand gawpers gawping at this marble wonder of the world and we can°t get fecking near it.

So now I am putting on my baseball cap, the one which says in tiny type "if you can read this you°re too fucking close" in case I feel like nutting someone. Because we°re in the bar beneath our lovely little apartment and during the day it°s a nice little bar which serves morning proseccos, panini, and yummy coffees. But at night, well, it changes a little. It's expat posh student territory and the Prince Harry lookalike slumped over the table next to me has just been sick and his pal, who doesn°t look like Prince William but also strangely Harrysome, is shouting to the chums outside (think head to toe Abercrombie and Fitch, but swaying and leery) that "Josh has just puked" which of course is terribly, terribly funny, witty, amusing and one for the chums back home. And ALL the girls still have wobbly bare midriffs, which they shouldn°t really, because while I'm no fan of size zero, muffintops should keep it hidden when smoking, shouting, puking, getting legless, screaming, crying and whatever else one does in Florence. But then I°m here, in the bar with the playmates. And we°re very merry, making a noise and guffawing too.

Florence is beautiful, but mass tourism is hell. And this is Tourist Central.
Now where did I put those grumpy shoes?