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Thursday, 17 July 2008

US Diary #6 - A Perfect Day.

Homer!! We are not worthy!! Etc.

Up reasonably early, drove to Daytona Beach stopping via the Waffle House (or Wapple House, as my 2 year old Ollie calls it) for a, quite frankly, unseemly huge breakfast feast. Waddled out, back into the car on squeaking suspension, then continued the rest of the journey to the beach. Out in the sun, splashing in the waves, building sand castles etc etc. The boys loved it, and the sun was beaming and the world felt good. Cleaned off sticky sand, went to my favourite biker shop in Daytona (Hot Leathers, yeah, I know...) where I got some Bike Week t-shirts and checked out the open-face lids (I’ll be getting one before I return to the UK, probably with a flames symbol, maybe an eagle symbol, possibly a flaming eagle eating flames symbol) then over to the Daytona International Speedway race track, which was surprisingly ace. Did the official tour, checked out the NASCAR motors and the original 1929 Bluebird, saw the IMAX film of Daytona 500 and went on a “simulator” which was good fun. After this, went for a slap-up Italian meal in a non-franchise restaurant and ate absolutely so much food that I resembled a pot-bellied pig (don’t say anything, you lot giggling at the back). Waddled once again back to the car, and cruised back to the villa. Read some of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods (which I was thoroughly enjoying until he skipped a hundred miles of his Appalachian Trail adventure with a taxi/ hire-car combination, thus earning my disrespect, the lazy pie-eating individual). Settled down with a large Tequila (eat the worm), and watched some Long Way Round with Ewan McGregor and his long-haired monkey friend, Charlie, which I thoroughly enjoyed for its Britishness. After all, American TV truly does suck. A Perfect Day, no less.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

US Diary #5

Went shopping today. Bought lots of things I shouldn’t. Spent way too much money I didn’t have (ze beauty of ze credit card, no?). Played in the pool with the kids. And.... At last!! Did some work on HARDCORE, my new novel, planning the beast through from where I’m at, pretty much to its scintillating hardcore high-octane conclusion. I’m very very happy with this.

Checked out a local book shop, and they had my books!!! Yayy!! Bought Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, which is totally brilliant, very succinctly and humorously written.

At 10pm went round and told the neighbours off for making way too much noise. It sounded like they were murdering each other in the pool, and quite frankly, I wish they were. There were 25 of them in their villa. 25!! Talk about economising, the penny-pinching backwood comedy rednecks!!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

US Diary #4

It starts off like a tiny insect bite. Mostly unnoticed, then a gentle swelling which itches, or nags with a lull that eventually comes to your attention. Eventually, infection sets in, swells rapidly to a torrent of toxins which overrun your system with such violence you start to bubble and melt inside. Your hair falls out, your internal organs liquefy, you pee blood and regurgitate bile and toxic pus.

What am I talking about? Why, American theme parks, of course. And specifically, the ones in Florida which I am currently forced to endure for the pleasure of my little boys who want to see Barney, and Shrek, Buzz Lightspears, Mickey Monkey, Spiderspunk and bloody Donald the bloody Dunk.

OK. I love the US. I love the people. But the gradual toxic poisoning of my system leading to total mental meltdown and a loathing so great you could bottle it and sell it to serial killers began with theme park car parking. So simple, you inquire? Well, yeah. After queuing to get into the damn park (in this case Universal, but hey, count Disney in this tirade as well) you then queue to pay for parking. This is on top of the extortionate park pass fees you’ve just stumped up for. Pay. To. Park. Then, you trudge for klicks to the bag searches, where you queue to have your bag searched by an incompetent. Really. I could have smuggled a thermo-nuclear device past these goons. Then, you trudge again, and queue to buy tickets (if you’ve foolishly arrived without, which many people have). Then you queue past the queue for tickets, queuing to get into the damn place. All of this in the broiling Florida heat meaning you stink like a fish market before setting foot on park. However, at least this gets you in the general mood for the gig, for your main activities of the day will be a] trudging, and b] queuing. You see, you’ll trudge halfway across the park (as always happens, daddy daddy, I want to go on Jaws) and you arrive, either to find the queue is an hour long, or the ride has shut down due to leaves on the track, inclement weather or mysterious ‘technical difficulties’ which doesn’t really instil faith, especially on the fast rides. So you trudge around some more. Then you queue, more often than not in the sun with a foot-pedalled fan drifting warm, oddly-smelling air over you as loud people talk loudly around you and at you. But what’s really amusing is that you queue for the entrance, but with most ‘rides’ they let you through the entrance and you think ‘thank Donald for that’, only now you’ve shuffled into a room and the doors are closed, like cattle being taken for slaughter. As you all stand, mooing, you’re shown some pointless video and you gradually realise the ‘ride’ hasn’t yet started, but that you’re now enduring filler. Yup. That’s right. It’s a mind-job. You’re being conned into thinking it’s started, when in reality you’re stood in a room, now in another queue. Sometimes, you go through two of these cattle-slaughter pens, thus queuing a total of three times to get to the dam ‘attraction’, which is then regularly so pathetic that you wished you just spent the previous hour with your head down the toilet. Even somebody else’s toilet.
You queue for the rides. You queue to queue for the rides. You queue for a coke, a beer, a pizza, a pee. You queue to queue. What a joke.

Today, as I (surprisingly) queued yet again, I realised what a wonderful, wonderful scam these theme parks are. Not only have you paid for entry, and paid to park, paid for warm coke etc etc, but the majority of what you’ve paid for is to queue. I don’t like queuing. I don’t queue. I was an English teacher. Straight to the front of the dinner queue, slapping the little kids on the back of the head with my dinner tray. The Chinese don’t queue. They have the right idea.

And this, dear reader, is why I hate Florida theme parks. But the greatest irony, and why Universal and Disney will always win (and take my dollars, the scheming con-artists), is that my kids love it. And so, as a dutiful father, I am forced to endure Barney in perpetuity. Or until the little brats are 18. I’ll get back to you later. Much later. My thoughts are now in a queue.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Comicon Promotion.

Comic-Con International is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular art forms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.

Comic-Con International:San Diego2008 San DiegoConvention Center111 W. Harbor DriveSan Diego, CA 92101

July 24-27 at the San Diego Convention Centre. So, over my birthday then. When I will be a year older!! Not that it matters, because I am a zombie, and will live forever.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

US Diary #3

Drove out to Clearwater today. Man, is this place Paradise!! The drive over was pretty good, not too busy, even past Tampa (which can be hell, I know, I’ve queued - a kind of M62 car-park for middle-Florida). Did a steady 85, well, the Americans do it and I’ve got a nice big car. Found a nice spot on the beach, and there were dolphins playing out in the bay. The sun was scorchio, and the boys played under a the shelter of an umbrella. Took them down to paddle in the ocean, and they giggled and threw shells at each other. Ollie, who’s only 2 and a bit, giggled like a maniac and did funny little dances in the surf. We also played wave-splashing, and the boys built sandcastles with their buckets and spades. Aww.

Anyway, my wife and I were here about 5 years ago, and went to an ace little Greek restaurant facing the beach. Well, it’s still there, only more "fast-foodicised" now, and looking a lot different, more modern and plastic. Went in for lunch anyway, but some of the same original Greek staff were there, and we picked Souvlaki platters which were just absolutely scrummy. I was asking the waitress about the old Greek place, and she knew what I was talking about so this wasn’t just some drunken figment of my sun-fried zombie imagination. Had the best, just the best meal I’ve had in the US for a long long time. Forget steak, forget pizza and burger smush. This was great traditional, um, Greek food. In Florida.

Back to the beach, read some more Bill Bryson (I just love his outlook on both the UK and US, and his statistics are, amusingly, amusing) and Sonia proceeded to turn lobster pink. I mean, real neon nuclear legs. Finally, after frying like eggs in a pan, we checked out some MuckyDonalds ice-creams and headed back to the villa, just creeping under the evening rush-hour by the whisker of a cat’s tail. Or something. Got back to the villa and had a much-deserved cold Budweiser, and a funny dancing session where we applied cold cream to our burnt bits (the kids, obviously, escaped this because we had them syrup-smeared in Factor Stupido).

Ported over my photos, which are just cracking. The white beaches of Clearwater are pretty hard to beat. And couple that with Greeko-Americano food? Can’t beat it bubba.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

US Diary #2

The Not-So-Wonderful Wonderful Wonderworks.

Lounged in the pool all morning, playing with the boys and getting soaked and losing at "kerbie". We ordered some Universal and Wonderworks tickets on the net, then drove to Ponciana to pick them up. Bargain. Cheap as chips etc. Was overcome by an incredible hunger (this was 10.30am, and no, I’m not usually a Pig in a Poke at this early morning brunch slot). Stopped at Subway, and bought a foot long meatball marinara with jalapeno peppers and onion and honey mustard. Mmm. Be a pig, be a pig, be a pig! It cost, get this, $5. That’s a smidge over £2.50. Bargain! No wonder so many Americans are fat. If I lived here, I’d certainly turn into Jabba the Hutt (yeah yeah, I know, I’m getting there already).

My wife needed some shades, so we drove to Prime outlets and the Sunglasses Hut. I said to her, I said, don’t drag me in, I can’t help myself around Oakleys. But no. She had to drag me in. And what turned into a cheap shopping trip for my wife, turned into another Oakley buying session for me. I am a bad man. I cannot help myself. After all, what kind of person needs five pairs of Oakleys? Five, I tell ye? It’s just not proper. Not human. Not normal. I bought some Oakley Riddles, the polarised ones. Very, very nice. Very.. mm.. Oakley. I know, spoilt brat, more money than sense, etc etc.

Picked up our Universal and Wonderworks tickets, parked up in Pizza Hut and went into the "Wonderful Wonderworks" which from the outside looks awesomely impressive, a house which is completely upside down complete with upside down lamp-posts and palm trees. Great. In we went, through a promising spinning corridor which makes you want to puke, and out into - well, a very hot room filled with tat. Yes, some of the tat was mildly interesting, and the bed of nails was superb (although I was the only one with the balls (and steel skin) to lie on it; everybody else bottled it) and it burned a bit like a tattoo and made you wonder if you were about to be impaled. Made me feel like I was in an Arabian Knights movie. The rest of the "attractions" were OK. Some face stretching screen endeavours, some green-screen action, a few mechanical devices displaying load and effort. In the lift, an enthusiastic man kept enthusing that you were in the "wonderful" Wonderworks, but I had to disagree. For our $50 we spent about an hour there, which is always a bad sign, and left bathed in sweat (no aircon in Florida?). I think it was a simple ruse to cook you from the premises.

Anyway, on the way back to the villa stopped at an "Authentic English Pub", run by Americans obviously. I really, really, really should have learnt my lesson in these places. After all, all the authentic "Irish Bars" are 99.9% of the time guaranteed to be nothing of the sort, as any Irish-born person will tell you. So then, the English pub had English beers, and we enjoyed a few and I taught my eldest boy (5, nearly 6) to play the mainstay of all British boozers, pool. Now, I am no stalwart of pool, and in fact the last time I played in a real-world UK boozer setting, I performed the most amazing shot, lifting a ball from the felt and depositing it in a mate’s beer. In my younger years, I had been known to knock people out cold with a misplaced cue ball. Anyway, I did my best, but my five year old beat me on his first game.

Got chatting to a couple of local women who worked at Perkins up the road, and had a really good chat where I pumped them for information on Blue Shield insurance cards, and the difference between a State Trooper and a County Sherriff, and what the alcohol tolerance levels were in Florida (about the same as the UK, apparently). I thought it was zero tolerance. The women thought the UK had zero tolerance. Seems there are quite few misconceptions flying about.

Back to the villa, and chilled out for the rest of the evening. Had a Chinese delivery, which was great on volume, not so great on quality. I live in a place which is horrendous, in my opinion, but has some awesome Chinese takeaways. Orlando is awesome, but the curry is urine. I think I’ll settle for pee-curry anyday.

Had an early night. Read my Bill Bryson book (ace!). Damn this jet-lag.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

US Diary #1

I've decided to do some irregular diary entries whilst in the US, a country I absolutely love. So, spurred on by Bill Bryson, here's THE FLIGHT.

Flying, for me, is like having a tattoo. I love the end product, but the process is painful. And, like having a tattoo (which is damn painful, and anybody who says it isn’t is just a plain liar in the same mould of those fake-tanned guys who wear t-shirts when it’s -2° outside), with flying you always forget the pain. Until the next time.

Early start, up at 4am, drove to Manchester airport and everything was going smoothly. Breakfast, kids behaving, tiny queue at check-in. Great. Then, approaching the gate for boarding, the whole gang were shuffled ¼ of a mile to a different gate where we sat for an hour, reaching and exceeding our flight time without any explanation, then moved to a barrage of many groans, all the damn way back to the original gate. Arse. We finally boarded amidst Monarch’s apologies (but as my good friend Jake would say, apologies are like arseholes - everybody’s got one) and took up battle formation in our four central seats. Me on one end, Sonia on the other, and our two bouncing boys in the middle Hmm. Should be a long flight.
Amusing flight anecdotes. Well, it was funny when Sonia took Olly to the toilet and he peed all over her foot. Funny for me, anyway. Also funny when Joe announced to half the Boeing 767 "I’m gonna be sick!" and we scrambled for the sick bags. Also funny when we bought the tiny monkey cans of coke, and proceeded to pour our own brandy into the glass feeling slightly like naughty schoolchildren at the back of the class, doing something we shouldn’t. OK. Here’s the deal with the brandy thing. It’s not a financial thing. Actually, it is, but more linked to principles. The airline states you cannot consume your own liquor aboard their aircraft for safety reasons. Oh yeah? Like... what? Despite the fact that they’ll sell you an unlimited amount of liquor in little comedy bottles, oblivious to yours or anybody else’s safety whilst doing so. What a joke. I bought a litre bottle of Three Barrels brandy in the airport for £8. On the plane, they were charging £3.20 for 5cl of same liquor. That’s £6.40 for 10cl, or, get this, an incredible £64.00 a litre. Profiteering? Monarch airlines? On top of my 2 grand plane tickets? Never. So, giggling like kids, me and Sonia chucked in our own brandy whilst giving the middle finger to profiteering bureaucracy in the process.

Happily jolly, the flight was going great. Only, I have a problem. The problem is a delicate constitution on flights. Apparently, on a flight all the gases in your body, i.e. your guts, swell up. This makes people fart. A lot. Normally, I’m fine on these long-haul flights. Unless I drink. Every single time I travel, I recite the mantra I will not drink, I will not drink, I will not drink. And then, like a comedy dumb arse, I drink. Thus, as night follows day, as man followed the dinosaur, as sexual deviancy follows appointed politicians, I proceeded to an upset stomach situation and spent too much time in the bog.

Spending my penance in the airplane bog, slightly drunk on prohibition brandy, I had time to reflect on Jeremy Clarkson’s claim of how to beat the airline anti-smoking policy. Now, I’m not smoker, but tell me I can’t smoke and I immediately want to. I know, dumb-arse obstinacy and sheer bloody-mindedness, but then I never said I had all my sanity, did I? Clarkson (fine toilet reading, by the way, not that I’m trying to insinuate I correlate Clarkson with crap) says you can smoke in an airplane toilet if you hold the flush and smoke with your head down the pan. Well, I tried this, and the toilet only sucks for a short period. Certainly not enough to disguise your smoking. My subsequent capture and interrogation by the plane’s captain was just a testament to how Clarkson needs a slap on the legs when I next see him. Or maybe I deserve the slap for listening to his rambling. (This is of course, a joke. I am not stupid enough to smoke in a Boeing 767 toilet, although I did crash a car once by driving into a wall at 50mph. My excuse was that I was 17 and stupid. The police turned up, used the F-word, and asked my mate who was in the passenger seat if he’d like to press charges against me. Charming! I have since had a deep distrust of the Five-O).

We landed, and US immigration really had their stuff sorted (unlike once, when we stood for a good hour and a half with lots of fat people from Birmingham). We sailed through passport control and customs (our smuggling, as usual, going unnoticed), got our luggage and car (a rather superb gay-blue Hyundai Sonata with soon-to-be broken boot hydraulics, a kind of retro-engineered ocean liner on wheels), and then headed off into the heat mirage of The Swamp.
The villa was cool, spacious and well equipped, the kids full of McDonalds, and after a quick visit to Publix (Pubix, ho ho) for some Budweiser and fine Chardonnay we unpacked and hit the pool. Then slept. Boy, we slept.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Gender Imbalance.

Just took part in the SF Signal "Gender Imbalance in Genre Publishing" Mind Meld discussion. This can be viewed over at:

SF Signal in general is a very fine site and worth checking out at:, where you'll find interviews, free fiction, posts and all sorts of news tidbits.

Right. Off to do my packing. All that hairgel won't pack itself.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Born in the USA.

Hitting the US on Friday for a couple of weeks. Florida. Sunshine. Beer. Great beaches. And, um, Mickey Mouse. Damn that Mouse. Anyway, I love the States (this is my fifth visit) and intend to explore Georgia this time, having done NYC, Miami, the Keys, most of Florida in fact. Anybody in Florida who wants to meet for a beer (and to take me shooting, preferably with a HK MP5) then just email me and we can drink many jugs of bud. I'll even pay for bullets! That's how friendly I am. I'll pay for the pizza as well!! What a guy. Anyway, I must admit, it's a great shame I'm leaving behind the bad Manchester weather, the sour faces (the Americans call it our "English Face") and the road rage (there's no road rage in the US, you don't know what the other guy's got in his boot, sorry, trunk) ........ America, here I come!!