Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Shhh! It's the Olympics Opening Ceremony

Dear Reader,

Last week myself and the Dear Lady Wife were invited to the Olympic opening ceremony. Actually, that is not completely accurate; we were invited to a pub/bar which showed the opening ceremony on a big screen and we had a reserved table. Come Friday (yesterday as I write this) we were very excited indeed, as it appears was most of rest of the nation.

The World gets a Summer Olympics opening ceremony once every four years, no matter where you are, geographically. To have one in your own country is something special. This was, without doubt going to be an occasion, up there with the Jubilee, a Royal Wedding, a soap opera wedding where nobody dies, an egg with two yolks, you get the idea.

The last time this happened was 1948...
The city that housed the venue for our evening out was eerily quiet. There was a good reason for this, (apparently everyone watched it on the telly.) We arrive at the pub/bar. It also is quiet, but not ghostly quiet, just quieter than normal. Every table is occupied, all attention focused on the big screen. There is not however the normal nine-deep throng trying to get god-awful cocktails at the bar. This is all fine, I will not have to fight when it is my turn to order some god-awful cocktail from the bar.

Two of my five a day!
I join my compatriots and purchase my first god-awful cocktail. It is at this point I realise something is wrong.  There is an irritating buzzing sound, right on the edge of the audible range which won't stop. Am I getting tinnitus? Combined with this observation is another (they're coming thick and fast, must be the god-awful cocktail), I can not only clearly hear the conversations of my compatriots, I can join in without screaming.

The god-awful cocktail and my brain work together to make the connection. The barely audible buzzing isn't tinnitus, it is the speaker system. The reason I can hear every conversation is because there is nothing competing. The reason every face in this bar is looking so intently at the screen is because they are trying to learn how to lip-read (in itself not easy after a god-awful cocktail or three), they are trying to lip-read without any lips as a point of reference. They are trying to lip-read the commentary.

I am a little annoyed. This venue and table was booked in good faith, it was booked because of the big screen. I do not believe there was explicit mention of sound being provided, but this is sort of implied. We live in the 21st Century and the Olympic opening ceremony is not a silent movie. If it was I would have requested the sub-titles to be in bold and perhaps a larger font, but we have moved on a bit. Ah, digressing, sorry.

I discuss this with the early arivals, they say they have asked and nothing appears to have changed. I scratch my chin whilst formulating a plan. I will not harass passing waiting people who are delivering food, I will accost a man or woman bearing the badge of responsibility. The badge shall be engraved in gold and shall be inscribed with the following... Manager.

This proves to be slightly more difficult and certainly a little more painful than I had anticipated. The bar is ill-lit for this sort of pursuit, which means I have to stare at the chests of numerous staff members before I find the one called Manager. Peering myopically at bar people's chests can produce mixed results. Having been called a perve, told to piss off, provided an explanation of working hours, (I only do that on Tuesdays... which confused me a little as it was clearly a Friday and she was working,) I eventually found the manager.

Having accosted the gentleman, I felt we should have a little chat, the good new was I didn't need to shout. It sort of went like this.

Manager: How can I help you?
Me: Well, I can't help thinking that you should turn up the Olympic opening ceremony just a tiny amount. It is after all a celebration of many things, but I suspect the silent movie industry was not high on their agenda.
Manager: (appraising me with a glare), You're not the first person to ask, but we can't turn it up.
Me: (reverting to playground argument mode) Why?
Manager: This is as far as it goes.
Me: Really? Are you sure? Have you actually tried? I came here a few months ago and my ears bled, partly because the music was terrible, but also because the music was quite loud. I didn't imagine it. I have fantasies, they involve cats, there were no cats in this bar, this is how I know it was real. (I use the cat thing to confuse authority).
Manager: We wouldn't want to upset our other punters.
Me: (Being quite close to the front, I look behind me, moving my arm out in a sweeping gesture, so as to encompass those sitting at the tables, rapt, they do not notice me, I would be a distraction to their new discipline, commentary reading. One enterprising couple in their twenties have found ear-trumpets from somewhere). This lot you mean? (I am perhaps not doing justice to my gesture).
Manager: No, there are people outside as well.
Me: (Sensing my pray is on the verge of defeat). The outside people? One, they cannot see the screen and two, THEY CANNOT SEE THE SCREEN. What does it matter what comes out of the speakers. Also, they are mostly smokers, so they don't count and will probably lose the right to vote shortly. (I don't mention  at this point that I am about to have a cigarette, I have him where I want him).
Manager: Anyhow, this conversation is pointless, the amplifier only goes up to 10.
Me: Is it on 10? Are you sure it does not have an 11? (Spinal Tap references may not help at this point, but you have to try).

These ones go to eleven...

Manager: (has wandered off) ...

Either the god-awful cocktails helped or my hearing got better. Maybe my race-memory kicked in and I became a pre-historic hunter, stalking an Olympic opening ceremony sound-track for hours on end. It seemed to get slightly louder, but not enough to inject a proper atmosphere into the occasion. The rest of the bar was so busy commentary-reading they were no help.

As if our cordial hosts could not do enough to please, they managed to switch off Paul McCartney five minutes before the official end of the broadcast. 

If using the Olympics as a cunning ploy to get people into your bar and then ripping off every person that attended was an Olympic demonstration sport, we may have been congratulating this entrant and celebrating TeamGB's first Gold medal. Sadly, it was a ploy, but not a demonstration sport.

I watched it all the next day from the comfort of my own hangover, when I am at my most critical. It was hard to find much wrong with the whole affair. I hoped you enjoyed it too, Dear Reader. I will be back soon, when the sport stops, or I can't take any more.


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Postcards From Marbella Part 2 - Flying

Dear Reader, 

The last time I shared, I and the Dear Lady Wife were beginning the process of flying off to Marbella for a wedding. We had booked the tickets and accommodation. This was an epic journey in itself, but there is much more to come.

I have previously posted  about the joys of the DLW's preparation for a night out. Now we have to consider the much more exotic beast which is the DLW's preparation for a holiday. To prepare for a night out there is a list of things which need to be done, as below:
  • Nails - potentially
  • Hair - obligatory
  • Waxing or shaving - the mere thought makes me shudder so I will not dwell
  • Shopping, online - a whole host of objects are required that bizarrely the Dear Lady Wife appears not to be in possession of...
  • Clothes
  • Handbag
  • Shoes
  • Make-up
  • Hair products
  • Moisturisers, balms, ointments and other unguents to be applied to face, hands, skin etc.
To prepare for a holiday, some mathematical constants need to be applied to the list above and some new items will need to be added. The constants that can be applied to a given item in the above list are [Days Away] and [Panic Factor]. Note that [Panic Factor] is always a variable.
  • Nails - absolutely
  • Hair - obligatory
  • Waxing or shaving - the mere thought makes me shudder so I will not dwell, this is now obligatory
  • Shopping, online - a whole host of objects are required that bizarrely the Dear Lady Wife appears not to be in possession of * [Days Away] * [Panic Factor]
  • Clothes * [Days Away] * [Panic Factor]
  • Handbag * [Days Away] * [Panic Factor]
  • Shoes * [Days Away] * [Panic Factor]
  • Make-up * [Days Away]
  • Hair products  * [Days Away]
  • Moisturisers, balms, ointments and other unguents to be applied to face, hands, skin etc  * [Days Away]
  • Plugs for foreign destination. Just in case, it is necessary to bring every foreign plug for every foreign destination we have ever visited just in case our European hotel is having its electricity piped in from Thailand, or San Francisco, you never know, right?
  • Plasters and tissues, always plasters, always tissues. 
  • Something to repel mosquitoes, regardless of where we are going.
  • Jabs, there must be jabs.
There will also be a fake tanning session, as  previously posted  much to my chagrin. On this occasion we are visiting a sunny country, which means there will be an interesting metamorphis of the DLWs skin color. She will arrive faux brown, get lighter as it washes off, before catching up with where she started from with real tan. The irony of this is never lost on me. 

Then there is packing. I am not responsible for this, I am just the cup that receives DLW's frustration. My cup doth runneth over. I do have a purpose though, I am the finder, the fetcher and the carrier. Once this is all done we rush, hotfoot to the airport. It should be noted, for accuracy, that neither my feet, or the DLW's feet actually get hot on the way to the airport, making the word hotfoot in the previous sentence seem rather unnecessary. Has anybody literally run hotfoot anywhere? Never mind.

So to the terminal, at an airport that is occupied, neigh dominated, by a budget airline who shall remain nameless.

Damn spellchecker.
We breeze through check in, glide through security and are ensconced in our seats comfy and warm, a mere ten minutes after entering the terminal. The flight takes off immediately and we are are whisked to our destination. Then, I woke up, screaming, because the nirvana of air travel had so cruelly been plucked from my grasp. 

Let's try again, tearing apart the last paragraph activity, by painful activity.

Breeze Through Check In
This should be the easiest bit, to be fair it actually is. It still isn't as smooth as it should be though. I present my email confirmation on a piece of paper as requested. A lady of indeterminate age (due to exaggerated make-up and botox) regards with me a fixed and startled expression (which I hope is because of the botox, not my appearence.) "Is there just one of you flying today?" She demands without a single facial movement. "Erm, no, two." I respond, weakly, gesturing at the now fuming DLW and cases clearly belonging to two people. Some huffing and swearing follows, eventually a new question emerges. "Are there two of you flying today?" No shit Sherlock, I mutter under my breath, but the bags are eventually checked in.

There will be questions. Pay attention.
Glide Through Security
Perhaps this was a definition of the word glide I wasn't previously aware of. This definition involved scuttling, shuffling, some more scuttling and some more shuffling. A little shimmy and some swaying. All this over a period of about thirty minutes. Eventually there was some undressing and some awkward silences. Finally we were through security.

Shuffle, scuttle, perhaps a sashay, if you're feeling brave.
Ensconced In Our Seats - Part 1
This is actually the best bit. Having escaped security with out clothes (if not our dignity) intact we are in the shopping heaven that is the airport. There will be no ensconcing, but there will be shopping. The finest available provider of books and literature will furnish the DLW with Heat magazine and a bottle of water. The finest chemist will furnish us with extra plasters and mosquito repellent (you can't be too sure). An electrical outlet will look bemused as the the DLW explains her destination, along with her existing collection of travel plugs and demands variants, just in case.

Ensconced In Our Seats - Part 2
Now we must make our way to the gate. Our flight is boarding immediately (allegedly.) Upon arrival at the said gate it appears boarding means sitting in four extremely uncomfortable chairs which have been taken, or standing around. In the blink of an eye executed by an eyelid welded open by a crowbar traversing an eyeball covered in molasses things start to occur. More botox and exaggerated make-up (and that is just the boys) appear at some door. The smell of orange is cloying. Could we perhaps re-convene at another departure gate in a different postcode, suggests an orange, apparently the airplane driver got lost. We all tramp to our new departure gate.

There is a concept called speedy boarding touted by our flight operator who shall remain nameless. I am not sure who this applies to and neither does anyone else. When the gate eventually opens, boarding is the usual undignified fight for survival that typifies most budget airlines.

The Flight Takes Off Immediately
No, it doesn't. An eternity passes, then we start to move. Not at any great speed. The pilot must be getting paid by the hour, so insists on inching down the runway and most off rural Hertfordshire at approximately four miles an hour. Maybe he is lost as well. Another three eternities pass, finally the proverbial pedal is applied to the proverbial metal and we are off.

This has taken a while Dear Reader, I am sure you are breathless from the excitement, as am I.

More soon xxx

Monday, 16 July 2012

Postcards From Marbella Part 1 - Getting There

Dear Reader, 

A combination of sporting events, weddings and lofty goals have recently kept me quiet. When I say quiet, what I mean to say is I have been recovering from hangovers in darkened rooms for what seems like weeks.

Time to emerge, blinking into the sunlight, like a mole who set his alarm wrong, or an underground traveller on a sunny day.

Oooh, it's a bit bright out here!

Let's begin with the wedding... it is no ordinary wedding, as if there is such a thing. The thing that makes this special (apart from the people, obviously) is the venue. Not the church itself (although it was pretty damn spectacular) but the location. It is in Marbella, Spain.

Marbella, from this point forward shall be referred to as Marbs, not because I am a lazy but because the Dear Lady Wife has just learnt the cast of her favourite program are filming there. They refer to it as Marbs, so Marbs it is. Who am I to argue with the collective intellect that is the cast of The Only Way Is Essex?

The location implies an extended wedding agenda, including pre-meet, wedding and post party. Basically a wedding over three days, which is fine. It also means travel, my least favourite form of travel, the foreign variety.

To get to this wedding I, and the DLW have to to get on a plane which will whisk us to our destination. This should be the easy bit, however before this can happen we have to book flights, we have to book hotels and then we have to prepare.

To avoid total meltdown due to stress we split into two teams, I get flights, DLW gets accommodation. I do well, within one hour of starting the process, I have narrowed down the list of possibilities from many to some. To the untrained eye, this might not seem like a lot of progress, but trust me it is. I have eliminated all return flight options due to either the departure or return time being unacceptable. I have booked the outbound flight and I am working on the return.

This is not me, but the smoke is pretty accurate.

Having used the word meltdown in the previous paragraph, it can be assumed that I find this sort of thing stressful. I hate filling out forms; when it comes to searching for a flight, let alone booking one, there are many forms. If I actually book a flight, there are many more. To deal with this stress a bottle of wine may have been opened, followed by another. I am not certain how many, but this information has been verified and logged by UN trained observers. 

There is a point in time when you should stop trying to make purchases on the internet under the influence of wine. UN trained observers should step in. They should say something UN trained observer like. "Son, you've booked enough flights for one night. Come back tomorrow." Or something similar. They didn't, so I made a mistake.

I was searching for a one way flight from Marbs back to the UK, I made the mistake of attempting to do this through the providers website. If I searched for flights returning on the Saturday, then a red line of text would appear saying, we haven't got anything on the date specified but here is a totally unrelated flight to a different destination a year later which you might be interested in. OK, you have an eccentric search engine. If I wanted a flight in 2014 from Dubrovnik I probably would have asked for it, but no matter, you have alerted me to this in big red letters.

Dubrovnik, looks lovely, should go, but I need to be in Marbs.
I actually wanted to return on the Sunday so I changed the search criteria. Do you know what that nasty website did? It suggested a random flight, without the warning message. In a frenzy of excitement I booked it. It was not until I printed the confirmation email, having handed over a large amount of cash I realised that I and the DLW would be flying from Dubrovnik at some point in 2014.

This, to the untrained eye, may make me appear to be a complete idiot. This is why you should not book flights under the influence of wine. Booking flights is like operating heavy machinery, dangerous if you are using medication.

So, I need to cancel. Which means I need to speak to a human, and the human operated telephone service closed for the evening 30 minutes ago. I have failed in my task and I must reconvene the following day.

This experience deserves a post all its own. It has a working title Would I rather stick cocktail sticks in my eye or cancel a flight with a budget airline I booked whilst tipsy the night before.... Discuss. Like I said, its just a working title.

Suffice to say, the cancellation was agreed, an appropriate flight was purchased, we are on our way.

This feels like a lot of words already Dear Reader. This is going to be an epic with a number of parts.

More soon xxx