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Notes From a Big Ship in the Middle of Nowhere


Afore Ye Go'.


Well, folks, as many of will know already, I’ve buggered off to Miami and beyond. In a fit of madness, the admin folks of the Blue Room have agreed to let me send you all a blog or column every now and again (whenever I can get internet access, basically), so I get to inflict this on you all. It’s called, in a nod to the mighty Bill Bryson, “Notes From A Big Ship In The Middle Of Nowhere,” and I hope you’ll find it amusing….I certainly will.


So, why choose to move to…well...nowhere, then? Around 15 months ago, following a rather drastic change in my personal circumstances, I decided that I should probably do something a touch more interesting than run a sleepy little venue in the extreme glamour of Croydon. Now, don’t get me wrong – I loved the Clocktower. We frequently said, it’s not a job, it’s a rest. (Does anyone want my old job, by the way? Keep ‘em peeled.) I just thought I should probably retire to somewhere quiet at the end of my career, not the beginning!


Freelancing was out: I can’t be doing with that nonsense. Getting another venue-based job meant big-time pay cut, and touring? No thanks. I like getting at least some sleep every night. Anyway, I’m a non-driving peasant… So what did that leave me? Well, my flatmates knew some folks who’d done the Cruise ship thing, and way back then, I thought: why not? Being the practical (read: vaguely useless) type that I am, I left myself a “generous” timeframe of doing it by April 2004. (This was in December 2002, so it felt like almost an infinite time away.)


So, I set about proving utterly wrong the adage: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Rubbish. My initial enquiries were via a bunch of friends of friends who were all involved with the Cruise ship business. Every last one pretty much failed to help me whatsoever. I don’t know what I did to put them off…most of them haven’t even seen me, which is usually the problem…So, I went for the alternative and slightly more traditional method of (gasp) applying for jobs in the (gasp) Stage. Now, ask most theatre people and they’ll tell you that no-one ever gets a job out of the paper…immediately stop listening to these people. I got my old job the “normal” way – I got my new job the “normal’ way. Use my new maxim: “It is what you know. But you also have to know who to tell.”


So folks, watch out for the occasional missive here in this thread. I’m carefully reading the laws on slander/libel so you can rest assured that it’ll be as interesting as I dare. I’ll try not to be too rude, though. You never know; my staff may well read the Blue Room. (At least, they may well start once they see my t-shirt!)


If anyone has any questions about it all, feel free to ask – PM or E-mail is fine – just note that I have no idea how often I’ll check them. Thanks for listening….

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  • 3 weeks later...

Toto, I Don't Think We're in Croydon Anymore...


Well, folks, here I am. I’m writing this on the very back of the ship, watching the wake and the Moon, in the middle of the Caribbean. It’s midnight, I’m wearing a tuxedo, I’m sipping a beer, and it’s still pleasantly warm back here…


But first things first. I know this is an easy subject, but I want to talk about American immigration. Yes, I got pulled for a “secondary interview” by a man who was approximately as rude to me as it was possible to be without physical violence. Now, I truly understand that the Americans are a little worried about their own security right now, and that they’re fully within their rights to vet people thoroughly when they enter the country – but this guy had “for f**ks sake” imprinted into every sentence (or rather, monosyllable) that he uttered. To be fair, the secondary interview was conducted by a more senior (read: more intelligent and therefore more courteous) officer and was actually fine. No rubber gloves or strenuous bodysearches required. Phew…


Aside from that, the flight was pretty good in the end, if a tad delayed. By luck of being on my own, I ended up with one of those nice seats where you can stretch out your legs in front of you, which is always a bonus. Disappointingly, I slept through the main meal, and so was utterly famished for most of the flight. Plus I had a vodka and orange at what was essentially 4am (I reset my watch to Miami time as I got on the plane) which I was quite pleased with. Rock’n’roll, baby…


Anyway, I made it into the States, eventually. Here, folks, I am rich. Rich, I tell you! Seriously though, the Americans pay almost the same price in Dollars that we pay in Pounds. (Except petrol, which is essentially free, like tap water. In fact, having just paid my final water bill to the lovely Thames Water, I think it may even be cheaper.) With the exchange rate the way it is, that means that my final pathetic English wage packet is worth rather more here than over there. Consumer electronics shops are calling me…move into the light, Bryson…the pale LCD display screen light….


So, a quick stroll down South Beach, Miami, a few beers in a bar on the strip, and back to my ludicrously oversized hotel room and bed. It appears they take this “officer status” thing quite seriously. The room I was in had the most insanely overlarge bed and bathroom I have ever seen in a hotel room. In fact, in was on a floor inaccessible to the rest of the hotel’s residents (you had to swipe your room key in the lift to get there!) called the “club” floor. It was very, very cool. Sadly, I’d forgotten my white suit and neon pink t-shirt, otherwise I may have come over all “Miami Vice.” Plus I can’t afford the Ferraris, either.


Next day, I was awakened at sparrowfart (this is the correct technical term) in order to wait outside the hotel in the morning sun for an awfully long time. Apparently there was transport laid on, but it was a mite late for my liking. In the end, it was merely an hour late, which I’m assured is good going for this type of thing. They transported us to the port, where we were subjected to yet more security paranoia, before we could get to the ship.


The Sun Princess is utterly, mind-bendingly huge. To me, anyway. It’s like taking 12 streets out of a town and stacking them one on top of the other. It has: 5 pools, 3 spas, 2 theatres, 12 bars, 9 restaurants, and a nightclub. It’s impossible to describe without showing you it, really. Watch this space for some photos and even, (if I can work out how to use this compression software,) a video. How terribly exciting, huh?


Anyway, fact fans, the ship has two full-on venues, plus a few other little stages scattered around (like the disco, deck stage, teen centre, etc etc). I am technically (in all meanings of that word) in charge of the technical services provided to all of them. What this means in reality is that I do a little light paperwork, check everything is going groovy everywhere, and then call the show and run LX for the shows in the theatre. Timecode is my friend, folks. All the production shows are entirely timecoded on the clicktrack, so the desks literally run themselves. All I really worry about is calling the show, operating the automated scenery, pyros and “encouraging” the bloody laserdisc to work the way it should (more on this later!). All in all, not too shabby. There are other various bits and pieces to be done, but the crew have all been doing these exact same shows for years, so they hardly even need the cues.


The amount of money that must have been spent to set these venues up must have been phenomenal. Bearing in mind that the venue was fitted out in 1995, it has 35 VL5s, 12 Cyberlights, a Hog 2, ETC Expression 2x (yes, 2x, not 3) a whole rake of Source 4s (50-60 odd, haven’t actually counted) and a dozen Dataflashes (which we never use!). Anyone that ever visited the Clocktower will know how that compares with the Tech Spec there.. The VL5s have been immediately promoted to my favorite fixture ever. They rule. Despite this jump in equipment levels, the job is surprisingly similar. Both involve long periods of standing/sitting around waiting for stuff to go wrong, followed by a little light show running, surmounted with a stupid amount of alcohol abuse. The difference here is that I spend my time off with virtually full use of a 5 star hotel, and every day I open my curtains to a different place. Can’t say fairer than that.


Anyway, I’ve only been here 20 days and so I’m still a touch overwhelmed. I’m sure after a while I’ll start to notice the downsides more. For now though, I’m in the “can’t believe I get paid for this” stage. I spent all of last Cruise (we say cruise instead of week as we effectively have a 10-day week at the moment) learning the shows, and most of this week learning some of the ins and outs of the shipboard life – networking with the right people (like the communications guys, without whom, we’d be in trouble. How would any of you venue techs like your choice of mechanical, electronic or electrical engineer on staff, on call whenever you need them? It’s great.) I’m starting to learn the tiny rules that they love to enforce – for example, staff may not sit at the bar. But they can stand there all day. Looks pretty stupid when you’re chatting to some passengers who are sat down and you have to stand, despite there being a load of free stools. I’m also learning the big rules they don’t enforce (like the old drinking rule…beer is a dollar a pop in the crew bar…don’t tell me they think you’re only having one…) It’s all a learning curve, but so far a pretty interesting and cool one. Will keep you folks posted.



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  • 2 weeks later...

You're On The Sun Princess Now, S O N


Another ten days here out in the middle of the sea have passed, then, and to be honest, things continue in much the same way as they did before. My incredulity has worn off somewhat, but returns in flashes every now and again whenever I turn around and realise just where the hell I actually am. Today, I entirely forgot about being on a ship, and while pondering a bass amp problem, found myself wondering why the nearest door was swinging back and forth. Perhaps that’s the very definition of blasé. Or perhaps this is: In Barbados last week, I couldn’t be arsed to get out of bed in time, and so didn’t go ashore as a result. If not being bothered to visit Barbados when it’s outside the window isn’t blasé, I really don’t know what is!


Anyway, in reference to the rather bizarre subtitle above, I’d better explain. The Sun Princess was the first of it’s class, and as such has a number of peculiarities, particularly with the entertainments side. In fact, I believe it was one of the first ships to have a real “theatre” onboard, rather than just a Las Vegas-style show lounge (although we actually have both). Anyway, there are some seriously odd things going on on the stage. For example, the stage floor is steel. Yes, steel. The designer must have had some kind of vendetta against dancers, I guess. (And who can blame them, in some cases!) So, every time I find one of these oddities (another example: my Hog runs version 1.4 of the software – I keep reaching for functions that aren’t even there) the Senior Production Assistant (essentially the crew chief/stage manager) says: “You’re on the Sun Princess now, S O N.” It apparently stems from a previous Senior PA (see, we’re into acronyms already) who had a slightly shaky grasp of the English language, and truly believed that was how you spelt Sun…


And on that note, I want to talk about the extreme internationalism (is that a word? Permission to coin?) here on board. I spend almost all of my day dealing with people who do not speak perfect English: For example, my crew are all Phillipinos, save the Audio Manager (read: Sound Engineer, we have odd titles for some jobs, I tell you) who’s a Canadian. There’s a load of other Phillipino guys and girls, Polish, Romanians, Mexicans, Portuguese, Italians, Thais, South Africans, Australians, Kiwis, and a few (although surprisingly few) Americans, plus a few others I can’t name right now. What this means is that by the time I get home, I reckon my accent will be in a state of terminal confusion. I’m also learning to say: Pants when I mean trousers, Trashcan, Sidewalk, Fries etc etc. People just look at you oddly if you use the proper words. As I keep explaining to people, it’s our language, and you’re using it all wrong. They don’t seem to agree with me for some reason. Can’t imagine why, you know.


To come back to the main crew nationality on board, and the nationality of my crew, the Phillipinos who are the guys who really keep the ship running. I have never encountered a crew more willing and ready to work. I haven’t touched a physical light since I got here. I just run them up and point out the dead ones, and the lamps just get changed. (The rate at which we go through lamps, due to the vibration of the engine, I guess, is appalling. We change, on average, on VL5 lamp and one S4 lamp a day. That means that they only last one month!) I am eternally thankful for the crew here – they make the whole thing a pleasure – and they’re good lads too. I spent most of last night at a Phillipino Karaoke party (they do seem to love Karaoke for some reason) eating traditional Phillipino food – Fish salad and adobe (I know that’s spelt wrong, but that’s what it sounded like) chicken. Delicious! I’m trying to learn some Basic words of Tagalog, so I can actually understand what the hell is going on on stage while they do fit-ups.


One deeply bizarre thing is the way we use “casuals” who are people who work elsewhere on the ship during the day, then come and work in the theatre in the evening. I have the ships carpenter on one followspot, and a radio operator on the other, plus a guy from hotel stores pulling drapes onstage. I have to pay these guys, in cash, each cruise – something I’m not entirely used to yet. Handling budgets is fine, but just handing people cash is a little alien to me after working so long at a council. Even more bizarre than that, though, are the dressers. They too are casuals: but they’re all men! They spend the day as carpet fitters and electricians, then work as dressers in the evening. However, having looked at the dancers, perhaps they’re working for free….


So, tomorrow, I have a new Audio Manager starting. It’s his first ever time on a ship, like me, so that’ll be interesting. Poor chap will have to do all the deeply tedious inductions, including the dreaded “Environmental Training.” This is an hour and a half of the most extreme tedium ever designed by man, which essentially boils down to: Don’t piss in the shower, and don’t chuck anything over the side. No really, just don’t. This is followed by one of those great multiple choice tests that have questions like:

You witness someone disposing of rubbish over the side, do you:

A: Report the incident to your manager and the Environmental officer

B: Offer to help shovelling

C: Kill the offender, then throw the body over the side.

Not the most productive way to spend a couple of hours, I can assure you. Hopefully the new chap will be good with it all. He’s getting something I didn’t get on my first week: his own cabin! To be fair, he is doing an 18-day handover, whereas I only did 10.


The next cruise looks to be interesting: The Panama Canal. Sounds pretty exciting. Apparently there’s only 2 feet (!) either side of the ship as we pass though. Sounds insane. I’ve been trying to make the most of the ports we’ve been in, as we’re not coming back to the Caribbean while I’m on board. A couple of days ago, we went to an island called St Vincent, and took a speedboat to the set of Pirates of the Caribbean, which has a convenient restaurant right inside one of the buildings. So we sat on the dock (the one that Jonny Depp lands at right at the beginning, for those who’ve seen the film) eating Creole Chicken. It was a deeply cool way to spend the time before work, I tell you.


So, I’ll leave you with that thought. I need to finish my Martini and watch the wake some more before I get to bed. Next time I’ll explain: invisible stripes, stupid yellow hats and the finer art of laserdisc massage. Good evening to you all…

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  • 3 weeks later...

An Officer And A Gentleman



Yes folks, it’s true. I am indeed (in a technical sense) an Officer on a ship. Who’d have thought they’d let little old me do something like that? Actually, it’s a whole lot less interesting than it sounds – when they say Officer they pretty much actually mean “manager.” And, I’m afraid, ladies, that I don’t actually get a white uniform with stripes on my shoulder. Black Polo shirt or a tuxedo is the way I get to dress. Shame. I do have stripes, but only in a virtual sense – black stripes on a black background, if you will - and no-one is quite sure how many I actually get. Estimates range from 1 to 3, (for reference, my boss, the Cruise Director, has 3 and a half) so I’ve assumed that the reality lies somewhere inbetween. What it does mean is that I get some nice perks. Your own cabin is a perk not to be sniffed at, I can tell you – I had to share for my first two weeks here and I have no desire to go back to that. Not that the trombone player wasn’t a nice guy – I reckon you can get sick of anyone after 2 weeks of sharing a 15 x 10 box with them! It also means that I get to eat in the Officers Mess, off the passenger menu, which is nice, if somewhat hazardous to my waistline (which, as some wag will surely point out, requires no additional help for it’s expansion plans...) It’s an interesting situation really, as you not only have to manage people at work, but in their spare time, where they live, and everything. It can be slightly (these are comparative terms) stressful – getting involved as the last resort in a argument between two guys who don’t have English as a first language is a tricky one, to say the least. But it seems to work out – my guys are well behaved by comparison to some. The Bandmaster has to manage a group of musicians, which looks like a task and a half to me. Can you imagine being responsible for the condition of the Band’s living quarters? No thanks!


Anyway, it’s been a good couple of weeks here – we’ve been repositioning via the Panama Canal, which was quite interesting, and we’ve been to some good ports. We’re overstaffed at the moment as well, as we have a new guy on sound doing a handover. He’s come to us from another cruise line, and can’t believe the relaxed atmosphere here. I nearly had to kill him yesterday, though, when he knocked on my door at the unearthly hour of 10am. 10am? That’s sleeping time for me, I’ll tell you. Aside from that it all seems good – he’s super-keen (we’ll soon detrain him of that) and is content to mix quieter if I ask for it – which this cruise happens a lot. You see, the average age of the Panama Canal cruiser is…deceased. They’re old. And impatient, too. (Mind you, I’d be impatient at that age, you’d never know if you’re on your last 15 minutes or not…) If I get them slow hand-clapping ever again at 1 minute past the advertised start time, I’ll kill them myself…


So, as you’ll note from the occasional post in “Today I Will Be Mostly” thread, I’ve been enjoying myself somewhat of late – it’s all making the most of the time I had left in the sun before we go to the cold places. In fact, the weather has turned already and we’re not even in America yet. I had to put a fleece on today in order to help mix the Calypso band. Yes, the Calypso band were wearing fleeces too. There’s something deeply wrong about a man in a fleece playing steel drums – it just doesn’t work somehow, you know? Anyway, they’re off tomorrow in San Fransisco, and are being replaced with a string quartet who won’t be playing on the open decks, thank god.


Excitement abounds at the moment onboard, as we’ve had the new rotations through, which tell you what you’re doing for the next 6-8 months. They must either like me or they’re pretty desperate, as it appears that they’ve reserved me a slot for a second contract. Fools! Anyway, I’m coming home sometime in September and going back to the Caribbean on the Dawn Princess (basically, exactly the same type of ship as this one, except everything works…) in October, so I’m happy. The new sound engineer has, it appears, been designated as my personal property, as he leaves the same day as me and starts on the Dawn on the same day too. How lovely, my own pet noise boy. AndIshallhughimandpethimandcallhimGeorge. (See vintage Bugs Bunny cartoons, for those that don’t understand.) As long as I can talk him out of his early rising (or at least if he stops sharing it,) I’m sure it’ll work out very nicely.


I had one of those shows tonight where everything went utterly wrong. I fluffed the first cue, and it just went downhill from there. Scenery stuck, crashed into each other (slowly) or generally failed to move at all, meanwhile the VL5s decided that today was the day to lose their lamps at an unprecedented rate. And our amazingly efficient shoreside management have failed to order me any more. So I now have a set of interesting moving buckets that conspicuously fail to make any light come out of themselves. Add to this a Cyberlight that frequently changes it’s mind mid-show about where it actually is, and a Hog that really doesn’t like being turned off and on again more than once a day, and what you have is about a million dollars worth of toys that aren’t quite as great as you imagine… And don’t even talk to me about video. I have a load of SMPTE triggered video gear made by some company I won’t mention as I believe they’re still trading (somehow..) which is somewhat temperamental. It doesn’t help that it’s also all tied in to a Laserdisc player, voted number 1 in the Top Ten List of Oversensitive Media. You only have to breathe near a Laserdisc and it develops a huge scratch that makes the whole disc unplayable. I’ve begged head office for a better format (one of the shows is currently being run off my own DV video camera as I actually trust it not to fall over mid-show) but they seem to be unreasonably attached to the format. Surely a DVD and DVD player would cost less than a new Laserdisc?


And finally; does anyone recall when Glantre went out of business? I have this terrible feeling that this is the job that put them under. Everything here was installed by Glantre, which is great for follow-up support, as you can imagine…


So, I never did get on to stupid yellow hats. A tale for another day, perhaps. I better get to bed as I have to go shopping for DA88 tapes tomorrow, without which we are utterly stuffed. Mind you, with the VLs blowing lamps at this rate, soon the stage will be dark enough that the audience will be unsure as to what they’re actually watching, so we can probably get away with a touch of tape stretch. So, for now, keep the Blue Room warm for me – I’ll be in Alaska soon enough where there’ll be more than the room that’s Blue, if you see what I mean….

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  • 4 weeks later...

It's Cold Outside, There's No Kind Of Atmosphere


A change in the weather indeed for me – from the rather warm and humid Caribbean to the rain, wind and cold in Alaska. It’s almost like being at home. Actually, it’s a welcome change from having to boil to death every time you went out on deck, and it’s not too bad in certain ports: Skagway for example, is very nice indeed. On the other hand, one of our “turnaround” ports (ie, where we load and offload passengers) is a place called Whittier, population 400. Ie, there are twice as many people working on the ship than live in this town. There is pretty much nothing there. Although bizarrely, it does have a Chinese restaurant. In fact, everywhere has a Chinese Restaurant. It baffles me what motivates people to move to these crazy, out-of-the-way places and then open specialist stores. Odd indeed. The only good thing about Whittier is that it has a bar (just one, mind) and we get into the place at about 12.30 at night, so as soon as we get clearance, the bar gets an influx of about 250 crew (to add to the seven locals who are there) at 1am. It must play havoc with their cashflow. It is absolutely crazy though - the whole crew roll back to the ship at about 6am looking somewhat the worse for wear. Thankfully, we leave late that day and it's turnaround day, so I don't work until 10'o'clock (PM) anyway.


Anyway, I’ve been here for 2 months nows, so my FNG status has expired and everyone thinks I’ve been here forever. Actually, the turnover of people here is so great that two months is a reasonably long time to have been here – many officers only do 4 months anyway, so there are about 25 new people every week. It’s bizarre really - every week there are people you've never seen before in the place. The other thing this means is that there are constant induction talks and lectures. Everyone does 4 induction talks, and the lucky entertainment folks get a Stage Safety Induction with...yes, little old me. I hate talking in front of people so it's a real pain in the ass. I also have to introduce the MC at the start of each show, which I'm kind of ok with now, but I was very very nervous the first few times I did it.


So, I was going to talk about the attractive yellow hats. You see, each member of the crew has a secondary part to thier job. You have an "emergency duty" and in the entertainment department, we run the Passenger Muster stations - that means if the ship starts to go go down (please no!) we get all the passengers together in one of the venues in preparation for getting them into lifeboats. At the start of every cruise, we have to get all the passengers together and run them though the safety talk - it's a legal requirement. So, we all have to don a lifejacket, neon yellow hat with "Muster" written on it and stand in front of the passengers and demonstrate how to put the lifejacket on - just like a bloody airline steward. It's terribly humiliating, to be honest, but as I do, I've manouvered myself into a position where much of the time I can hide..You see I check off everyone to ensure that they're there, and if anyone is missing, I take thier place. But if no-one is missing, I get off scott-free. It helps my sanity somewhat.


One thing I get here, which I never got at home, is a Routine. It's nice to not have to get up and work at unpredictable times (the Clocktower boys will vouch for the unpredictability of the work there. It’s still pretty unsocialable hours by normal standards, but most of the people I hang out with; Musos, Youth Staff etc etc are late workers too, so the party doesn’t really get going until 1am anyway. But now, from week to week, I do the same sort of things on each day. And (whisper it) I get a day off. Every Sunday I have no show in the theatre, and I cram my paperwork on the other sea days, so I get a whole day and night off. That’s virtually unheard of, and I try not to mention it to other people because they don’t ever get one, but it really stops me from going utterly bonkers, to be honest.


Anyway, last thing for today: Norovirus. For those who don’t know, Norovirus is a type of gastoenteritis that is massively contagious. On land, that’s not such a big deal, but on a ship, everyone is in much closer quarters and it spreads pretty quickly. By all accounts it’s absolutely no fun at all, unless of course you get your kicks from vomiting and, well, simultaneously. For several hours. Uncontrollably. So, no fun at all. They’ve had it so badly on some of the other ships that they close the cruise down and make everyone get off. So, the management are understandably paranoid about it, so if there’s even one case, we get banned from all passenger areas, so you can’t do anything nice – or even get to go outside unless you can be bothered to go right to the front of the ship where it’s approximately as windy as it is possible to be. It’s booooorrrrriiiiinnnnggg. We just got let out again yesterday, so we’re kind of happy today.


So folks, I better get on and look like I work for a living. Next time we’ll be discussing fear of bears, the ship’s ghost and the use of the syllable “eh” as a form of emphasis.

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  • 1 month later...

Halfway to Nowhere


So folks, I’m halfway through my contract. It’s been 3 months since little old Bryson departed the shores of Croydon (football hooliganism capital of the UK, I note from the news..) for a place on a ship, and 3 more until I return to the hallowed shores of blighty (just in time for PLASA, actually, if anyone fancies a pint or seven.) So, what have we learnt so far?


Well, I’ve learnt that Canadians punctuate their sentences with the syllable “eh” and that Mexicans punctuate everything with “si”, but mysteriously, Americans do not say “be” at the end of everything they say (think about it…). Actually, the whole “eh” thing is somewhat addictive. Persons meeting me when I get home will find me doing it too, I’m sure. Feel free to point it out to me, eh.


So, what else do I know now that I didn’t know before? Well, I know the difference between Genius and Idiocy – genius has its limits. Seriously, the passengers (read: punters) astound me each week with the ridiculous questions they ask. One even asked if the crew sleep on the ship. Where exactly did she think the alternative choice was? The Cruise Director (Head of Entertainments, essentially) has a list of idiot questions that he reels off at the beginning of one of the shows. My personal favourite is “How high above sea level are we?” I guess that’s the same as everyone else’s punters, but do your idiot punters actually live in the building, eh? Exactly, there’s no way of getting away from them here. Now, I’m not saying that all passengers are the same (In fact some are quite…friendly…potentially too friendly, in places) but can you imagine getting the exact same punters every night for a week? The worst are the ones who work for tiny theatres back in the states – places like Armpit, Dakota or suchlike. They like to come up and offer helpful comments and little questions – always a good exercise in customer service. At least I don’t have to do backstage tours like they used to do on the ship – the previous Production Manager used a strategy of extreme grumpiness to stamp on that one, and thankfully, no-one has asked me if they can do them now.


Further lessons learnt include the fact that there really is a job in which I get to work less hard than the Clocktower. Who’d have thought it? Not having to re-build your venue every day is bliss, I can tell you folks, and refocusing by just pressing a few buttons a twiddling some dials is bliss itself, and even if we do lose a Cyberlight every day from the excessive vibration, there’s a huge crew available to strip that bad light out and hang a fresh one. (Fresh nells?)


However, it looks like I may have to do some work soon after all. The dance captain has been informed by the office that we’re loading in two entirely new shows during the next two months. My people back in the office, however, haven’t chosen to share that information with me. Why would I need to know about new shows going in? I’m only the Production Manager – anyone would think that I’m involved in some way the way I’m going on about it… Anyway, of these two shows, one is apparently originally produced for an open stage that has three revolves and lifts, plus a videowall. Not entirely sure how that’s going to translate to my proscenium arch stage with a moving wagon. And if we have a videowall, it’s pretty well hidden from me… Oh well – it’ll be an experience, I’m sure. The crew seem a little worried about the concept of having to work for a living, but I’m sure they’ll survive.


Fear of bears is a new experience for me too. Hiking in Surrey was somewhat different to hiking out here - it’s not often you find snowfields covered in porcupine blood and guts near Epsom. But, it’s well worth it – the scenery is utterly incredible out here. Last Whittier (remote port in the middle of nowhere) myself and one of the guitarists went for a massive hike, up and over a pass to the other side of the mountains to a grey sand beach facing a glacier. Bizarrely, I managed to get sunburnt while looking at the glacier calving (that’s when big bits of ice fall off the face of the glacier – and when I say big, we’re talking the size of a house – it makes a noise like thunder when it happens) which doesn’t seem right for an activity involving ice in large quantities. Anyway, nowadays I try to go hiking with other people since I found that snowfield last time I was on my own. The naturalist told me not to worry – it could just as easily have been wolves that were responsible. I was not reassured by this.


In fact, the weather up here is nothing like what I expected from Alaska – there’s considerably less unpleasantness than I anticipated. One of the ports we visit, Ketchikan, has a story about a visitor coming to Ketchikan and asking a child how long it had been raining. “I don’t know,” replies the child, “I’m only 5.” But for me, there’s been bright sunshine – full-on shorts and T-shirt weather. Good thing I packed for the Caribbean as well as Alaska. The nights can be a little fresh, but you can’t beat sitting in a Jacuzzi at midnight in the midnight sun, watching the mountains on the shore. It’s truly beautiful, it really is. I’ll stop gushing now. Sorry.


So, a week or so ago we were in port with one of our newest ships, the Sapphire Princess, so I blagged an invite from it’s production manager. My god, do they have a lot of nice kit. I though I was doing well, and then I saw their High End showroom – I mean main venue. They’ve got the works - 20-odd Cybers, 30-odd X Spots, a load of Studio Beams, Catalyst mirror heads (and, of course, the media server to match) all running off a spanky new Hog 3. High End must absolutely love us – that’s one of two ships we just opened with the same kit onboard. That’s just in the main venue, too. There must be about 60-odd Technobeams scattered round their other venues. It comes to something when a Hog 2 and a load of VL5s and Cybers looks a bit sad and underpowered to you – I’ll be spoilt when I come back, I tell you.


In fact, the feeling of being spoilt extends to pretty much everything. Nowadays, I get anxious if my room steward is a little late to clean my room and make my bed – whereas before I got here, my previous flatmates will vouch for the fact that making the bed was not high on my priority list. In fact, the other day I made myself stop and really think about what I was saying. I was sat in the officers’ mess and caught myself saying “you know, I don’t really like the soufflé – it’s too moist.” This from the same person who before he came here would eat a McDonalds and find it somewhat appetizing.




Anyway, I’m sure you’ll forgive my tardiness in writing a new one of these – I met a young lady who’s been terribly interesting – certainly more interesting than you lot, anyway… She’s a Canadian, but that’s not her fault, and acts as my personal guide to Vancouver when we’re there. What is the big deal with Tim Hortons, anyway? (Only people who have been to Canada will understand that one..) Sadly, I won’t be able to get off in Vancouver this time (boo) as I have contractors coming in to site survey for a huge round of upgrades I asked for. Yes folks, it turns out that head office do read my e-mail after all.

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  • 2 months later...

Curtain Up


Well folks, after a rather excessively busy last month onboard, I’ve finally got around to writing the last couple in this series of “Bryson’s Blog.” Apologies for the extreme tardiness with these, which I’ll attribute to the continuing interesting behaviour of the aforementioned Canadian and by me finding myself in the unfortunate position of actually having to do some work for a change.


In a break with the normal routine, the company suddenly remembered that they had two ships (Mine, the Sun Princess, and the Dawn Princess) floating around out there with some rather old shows on them. Not to say that there was anything wrong with the shows, in fact, I’ll miss one of them which was quite enjoyable both to watch and to call, but just old. And the kit was starting to look a bit sorry for itself too. (My VL5s were not in agreement as to what “zero position” entailed. A rogue smattering insisted on 5 degrees off vertical, which didn’t help the focus any.) So the beady eye of head office became fixed upon us and they started bombarding me with e-mails. You see, it had been so long since they had really dealt with the ships, that they had pretty much forgotten most of the useful information that they had ever had about them. The most fundamental thing they forgot was that despite appearances (Sun Princess & Dawn Princess) they aren’t actually exactly the same, especially onstage. (More of this later!)


Anyway, in an effort to spruce us up a bit, they decided to send us two brand-new shows to play with. The first one was apparently going to be dead easy (does anyone recognise where this is going?) as it had only minimal set and hardly any technical stuff in it. The other one was apparently a little more complicated. This statement is, I believe, comparable to when a doctor tells you that you ”may feel a little discomfort“ ie: it will hurt like something you can’t even imagine. I tried to show willing a provided a suspiciously small set of measurements to the office for their use in planning the set, and about a week before the set arrived, I received a ground plan. Now, the ground plan was very impressive - a nice CAD-drawn plan that had all kinds of interesting set stuff going on on it. It was very pretty, and I didn’t bother to break the scale ruler out as it looked so well done (big mistake). So, I sent one of the Production Assistants to help the dance teacher mark it all out on the floor so she could start teaching the dancers whatever it is that they do. That’s when we noticed. The set came an awfully long way downstage in the real world, very much unlike the set on the drawing. So, a quick measurement and some e-mail later, I establish that the Dawn Princess (from whose measurements the plan was made) have a stage a good 8ft deeper than ours, despite looking pretty similar. At this point the dance teacher is hyperventilating as she has nowhere to put the dancers, the crew are looking increasingly despaired about where they’re actually going to keep this bloody thing and the office seem to think that I’ve somehow lost 8 feet of stage space somewhere. Down the back of the sofa, perhaps? Maybe it fell overboard? Anyway, I think I have a solution, send it off in an e-mail, and relax for a nice quiet listen to the show tapes (delivered with the setplan) in the hope that it will soothe my mind.


Alas not, though. We use for the production shows 16 tracks of DA-88 playback (actually soon to be MX2424s. Sadly, whoever recorded the show we’d been sent had a badly faulty recording set-up and the whole of both tapes was spattered with digital errors, most of which would cause our ever-so-clever amplifiers to freak out and shut the whole system down for a few seconds. This was, as you can imagine, not entirely ideal. Cue additional e-mail to head office, requesting that the people at the audio company at least try testing their tapes before sending them to us.


So, I finally managed to get that little lot out of the way. The dancers had to live with rehearsing to a low-quality CD that they had of the show, the sound engineer wandered away muttering darkly and head office pretty much ignored 90% of what I sent them, but agreed that some compromise would be needed to make the set work.


A week later, in the beautiful Vancouver, the set arrived. Or at least some of it did. The set comprised of a dozen wardrobes, two largish risers, two sets of steps, a single step, and five enormous illuminated signs that were quite heavy and needed to be hung. The company had provided me with one of the people from head office to help me with this stuff. See if you can guess which bits didn’t turn up? That’s right, the signs were not delivered as promised, so I ended up with a rigging expert with pretty much nothing to rig. He was also required on another ship the next week, so I was pretty much going to be on my own. We carted what we did receive (none of the promised chairs arrived either, but were later found in the accommodation office some 4 weeks later, labelled with question marks) up onto the stage. We took the 10 minutes required to build it, argued briefly about my compromise solution which ended up being the only way the thing would fit, then turned to the exquisitely manufactured steps that were extremely nice in every way except that they were 3 inches too high. These were immediately dispatched to the engineers who discussed things urgently in Italian before squirreling the steps away into the metal workshop and telling us to return at some point tomorrow.


The wardrobes, we found, had been painted in the dark by the work experience kid, in a selection of dark blue and/or black paint, and had then been carefully packed in such a way that it was impossible for the handles not to have been broken off. The risers were lovely, and were topped in a fantastic virgin black dancefloor surface that we couldn’t help but wish we actually had onstage instead of this dark grey, fag-burned, 9-year old surface.


Well, we cobbled the lot together, and it all looked pretty much ok. Of course, the bottom step of the treads was a bit dodgy, being only 2 inches off the floor (we had to cut a bit off the bottom so it would fit) and the wardrobes had to be strategically lit in order to stop anyone seeing that they were not painted by the world’s greatest scenic artist. But overall it looked ok. The dancers fit on it, which is always a bonus and the guy from head office entertained himself in lieu of having any work to do by irritating me about imaginary rules and regulations. Everyone seemed happy. That’s when the lighting guys came.


It wasn’t their fault, but striking and resetting the production desk 2 or 3 times a day, especially when you use two consoles, neither of which you possess a spare for, gets really really dull. Add to this a snake that someone had thoughtfully cable-tied together, just in case your palms needed some extra lacerations, and a highly temperamental video system that sometimes (but only sometimes) was able to record a tape of each rehearsal (of which there were many) and anyone’s temper would get frayed. Even mild-mannered, reasonable me. I was not amused to be attending 8am rehearsals and running the 10.30pm show and the turnaround that took ‘til 1am, I can tell you. There was some serious intrusion into my naptime, I can tell you. But finally, without the promised sign, we premiered the show and the audience seemed to like it. (You can never tell with these people, you see.)


So, we were happily running the show, sans signs for a few weeks, when finally the signs arrived. In a big box. A very big box. It was approximately 35 feet long, 8 feet high and 6 feet wide. They had loaded it onboard with two forklifts. It was a big box. The contents, I’m pleased to say, were somewhat smaller than the box implied, but the main sign was way too large to fit up any of the staircases. In the end we had to wait until the next port, take it back out the way it came in and have the bloody thing craned onto the deck we needed.


After a few exchanges of e-mail (remember, the guy they sent to rig these things had left already) we got them in the air, and merrily plugged them into our dimmers, which promptly dumped the power and became angry dimmers. It turned out, after some investigation, that they had been wired by the guy who painted the set’s spiritual brother, who, in his insanity had decided that common neutrals were perfectly fine in a four-channel unit. In the end we just made the things into single-channel devices (chases? Who needs ‘em?) and plugged each into a single dimmer.


Meanwhile, in Audio land, the people managed to send us new tapes. With exactly the same errors as the previous time, only not quite so bad. To this day we’re running the show on substandard tapes as we’re awaiting our spanky new MX2424. Hopefully the errors aren’t on the original source material, because if they are, the sound guys need new ears.


Well, I think I’ll call it a day there. Bunging in a new show is always fun, I guess, and disasters are what we get paid for, but remember, this is the show that “had almost nothing technical in it” and the one they’re putting in now is “much more complicated.” At least this show was easy to run. My cue sheet for it read as follows:


01:59:30:00 Lock Timecode

01:59:59:00 Curtain up

wait until end of show

Curtain down at end.


Now that’s the kind of work I enjoy!




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Turnaround Day


And so here’s the second of what might be called a “flurry”of installments. A pretty small flurry, but I like the word and insist on using it in the first paragraph at least 3 times. A “flurry”of flurries, if you will. Shall I get on with it?


Anyway, with the little hiccup of putting in a new show, life settled back to the usual sleepy routine. You get used to all kinds of odd things on the ship that would make no sense on land. Take changing clothes, for example. I guess living about 2 or 3 minutes from your workplace makes it bearable, but you do end up changing clothes pretty often. In fact, in production you get away with staying in the same clothes more than most people, so I was only changing my clothes 3 or 4 times a day. You see, we have an outdoor uniform, an indoor uniform, smart casual clothing, suits, tuxedos and of course your own clothes for going down the crew bar or nipping ashore. We also had a terrible uniform comprised of o blue blazer and tie which I never ever wore, and neither did any of the other production staff. It was pretty nasty. Other people onboard, especially in the entertainment department, were changing their clothes 7 or 8 times a day for various duties. It all gets a bit surreal when you think about it, especially now as I write this while wearing the same Blue-Room hoody I’ve been wearing all weekend - ah holidays! The only thing that makes it all bearable is the way that your room steward would come and do your laundry for you. You’ve gotta love that.


The other thing I’m used to that I didn’t get at my old job was the frequent naptimes. The sound engineer and I would discuss the concept of “third nap” which was essential to our happiness. The day would pan out somewhat as follows.


6am: Get woken up by huge winches. Go back to sleep, cursing the person who put my cabin next to the mooring deck.

10.00am: Get Up. Breakfast already missed in the mess, so brew coffee on highly illegal in-cabin coffee machine.

11.00am: Go to office. Do some light paperwork and e-mailing. Once bored, retire to the communications centre and spend long periods of time drinking coffee and chatting to the comms officer.

12.30pm: Lunch

1.00pm: First nap

2.30pm: Do some more work - maybe run some maintenance or if it was the end of the month, extra paperwork. This was frequently replaced with watching TV instead if you couldn’t really be arsed.

4.30pm: Second Nap

5.30pm: Crew call, check that everything worked. Change the depressingly large quantity of lamps that have blown overnight.

6.30pm: Hopefully, third nap.

7.30pm: Dinner

8.30pm: Shows. During shows, send e-mail to people who have already finished work for the day implying that you were up before them the day after.

11.30pm: Turnaround and/or crew bar. Almost always both.


Now, you see, if the theatre had problems, third nap would often be sacrificed to fixing the problem, so if either of us was in a bad mood during the show, the other would know they had missed “third nap” that day. Third nap was one of the greatest times of day for us - a real boost to staff morale. During that fit-up I was lucky to get one nap a day, which made me a very angry person. I can heartily recommend the power of naps to improve your day. Obviously, as before, it helps if you live under the stage of the theatre for easy access. Ask your boss and see what he thinks about you moving in...


So, I spent much of the last few weeks making preparations for our refit. The company, as mentioned before, had noticed that we still existed and had decided to spend some money on us after all. So they sent me an e-mail asking what was currently knackered. My reply “everything” wasn’t too well received, so I had to be more specific. As in, I listed everything we had, then crossed off the two things that worked (the minidisc player and the vision mixer in the Vista Lounge) and sent them that instead. This occasioned much scoffage from the office until they realised that I wasn’t actually joking, so they sent hordes of contractors every Vancouver to site-survey the stuff. Every Vancouver, I hung around escorting contractors who were dismayed to find a lot of very expensive gear very badly corroded (sea air and all that) and shaken up (by the engines). Anyway, the list was “distilled” (read: cost-engineered) and we finally got a list that bore some resemblance to what I asked for. In fact, it also included some toys I didn’t ask for (like one of these) that I’m not entirely sure where we have to room to fit them in. The list also omitted the Expression 3 I had asked for, but as a nice new one was delivered in Vancouver one day anyway, I kept my mouth shut about it. The best thing about it all was the way I managed to leave just before the refit started, thereby avoiding all the tedious work involved in actually fitting the damn things in.


I haven’t entirely escaped the pain though the Dawn Princess is having the same stuff fitted once I get there - however, we have a luxurious 20 days to do what the Sun has to do in 6. In Grand Bahama. (Assuming there’s anything left of Grand Bahama, obviously) And I’m assured that the Dawn is not as broken, generally, as the Sun. It even has a little door in the booth so you can step down and beat the Sound Engineer during performances. Now that’s a feature I like the sound of.


So, finally, after 5 months and 20 days, they let me go. The day before the ship went to drydock, they let me off the ship and sent me back to lovely old England. It was a little fraught for a moment as they weren’t sure that my replacement was going to arrive in Whittier (the lovely town of 400 people that we went to in Alaska. A severely glamorous place, as we left they were starting their very first tarmac road!) In accordance with the law of universal stupidity, they had decided to offload our ship, and our two largest ships as well, all at the same time and into the same terminal. I’d say it was chaos, but actually it was less efficient than that - it was as if they had immediately sacked everyone who knew anything about offloading and moving large quantities of people and replaced them with entirely untrained people selected on the basis of their severe personality disorders.


Canada Customs asked for my job title and then proceeded to swab all my credit cards for traces of Coke. There may well have been some Coca-cola on them, as I’m a messy drinker. I guess they think we Production-types are a bit dodgy, like. At least they didn’t search me as they did for one of our guest entertainers, who received the full treatment. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke, I can tell you!


So, one extremely tedious long-haul flight was next, trapped between two Germans who spoke zero English but were keen to share their thought in German with each other, over my head. What is wrong with these people? If you want to talk to someone, sit with them! I guess I should have got on the plane early and put my towel on the aisle seat, but I didn’t think about it. I believe I got about 2 hours sleep, but I do now subconsciously know all the latest German Celebrity gossip. And now I’m back in the UK.


The first thing that got me was the price of things. How do you people live here without being filled with rage every time you have to pay for anything? Obviously, the airport is even further inflated, but that just served as a ramp for my anger. The second thing was that in my addled jetlagged state, I managed to leave my bankcard in the cash machine, which never improves your mood. I’ve been trying to come to peace with Britain for the last week by going to some nice bits of it, but unfortunately getting to those places involves interacting with Virgin Rail and paying £3.00 a go for coffee from places. £3.00? As in, $5.00? You’re joking, right? I’m not saying America (or even Canada) has got it all right, but at least there the s**t is reasonably priced!


So, I’ve been up in the Peak District for the last weekend, exploring caves and hills and things, and drinking some real beer and eating proper food, which is all very pleasant. Next week I’m going to London to see just how expensive this country can really get. I’m going back to the Clocktower for a bit to see everyone (not to work, oh god no. Not sure I remember how to lift stuff, anyway,) but my holiday has ended up a little truncated.


Two days ago, my mobile rings and it’s the wonderful Princess Cruises. Can I go back 10 days early? Now, I’m a sucker (plus the interesting Canadian lady is out there) so I said yes. So, come Sunday, I’ll be on a plane to Miami again. Land of the free. Land of the reasonably-priced consumer electronics. Land of insanely difficult immigration officials. Land of interesting Canadian ladies.


Back soon



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Once More Into The Breach, Dear Friends, Once More


So my very short holiday in blighty is over folks, and I’m off back to the sun, sea and staging that I’m used to. The last couple of weeks have been a bit hectic, to tell the truth, as I’ve been mainly dashing around the country trying to catch up with people…which brings me to my first subject of the day, which is the wonderful, incomparable British Rail and all it’s lesser demons (starring Virgin as Beelzebub, and Central and Thameslink as the Imps..)


Again, I know it’s an easy target and it’s been done a million times before, but why are train journeys designed to make you as miserable as possible? Do the people who run them get some kind of perverse pleasure from making everyone go to a certain platform with all their heaviest luggage and then at the very last minute change the platform to one at the other end of the station? Or, better still, Thameslink now make you change trains to a train in an entirely different station – one which is “a short walk from this station” – a term obviously made by a person who a: knew where said station was (the signs were not entirely clear) and b: wasn’t carrying the largest rucksack I have ever personally encountered.


Actually, the first trip I made (to Chesterfield) wasn’t all that bad – probably because I persuaded gullible friends of mine of drop me in their cars at reasonably main stations. I was visiting some friends of mine who I hadn’t seen for a while and who mostly do tedious but lucrative things like engineering, so they consider my lack of driving licence to be a matter of great hilarity and deserving of charity. One of them has the new TVR (I forget the model number/name) which, when idling, puts me in mind of a 747 or perhaps a Saturn 5 rocket. God knows what it sounds like when it actually drives somewhere. The end of the world, probably, or someone landing the Space Shuttle on the driveway. It was the next couple of trips that nearly killed me.


I was asking for it really, I suppose. I just wandered down to the train station, bound for the cultural hub that is Croydon without having made any reservations (a decision that was later borne out when Virgin, as they have on every Virgin Train I’ve ever travelled on, cancelled all the reservations on my train due to “overbooking”. Or gross incompetence, as it may also be called.) Sadly, the train service from my home town, (the inestimable Cannock, Staffordshire, so called because you cannot estimate how bad it is until you get there) was not running and the dreaded words “replacement bus service” were posted. This turned out to be a coach, which is in itself a replacement for a bus, and the driver was, I assume, a “replacement” for a real coach driver. In the end I presented myself at the front of the bus and offered to read the A-Z for the guy as he had arrived unarmed with any knowledge whatsoever as to which stations he needed to go to or where in fact these stations were. With his limited talents fully focussed on driving, we progressed at a leisurely pace to the nearest station that was running some form of train and a mere 1 hour later (the train takes 15 minutes) arrived at Walsall.


Now, the ticket seller at Walsall was a highly skilled man. He was able, with his computer and highly developed mental facilities, to find extremely cheap fares to any destination on earth, so long as you were prepared to take a highly unlikely route and use train operating companies unknown outside specialist circles. “A fare to Croydon, eh? Well, you can get it for £3.78 if you go via Smolensk using the Lesser East Anglian Steam Locomotive Company.” I opted for a more expensive but slightly more direct route in the end as I wasn’t entirely sure if I would ever get to Croydon via his suggestion (which, I believe, is also the route by which they used to send my mail).


In the end I managed to catch a Virgin Train to London. It was one of those nice new ones, but they seem to have redesigned the seats on the aeroplane seat model, which is, as you will know, a sub-optimal decision. The train was excessively full, but I blagged a seat by using the tactic of assuming that sooner or later they would freak out and cancel everyone’s seat reservations and so I flagrantly stole a pre-booked seat. Sure enough, about 5 minutes out of Birmingham the seat reservations mysteriously disappeared from the clever little LCD screen jobby and a harassed looking lady came round and stripped away the pieces of paper that were sticking out of the top of the seats.


I was feeling pretty happy with myself, until I realised a new feature of these trains is that each carriage is fitted with some kind of buzzer, that randomly makes extremely loud noises at irregular intervals and in different tones. (If we were prisoners, I suspect we could claim cruel and unusual punishment, but we were merely paying customers so that law didn’t apply.) No explanation was offered as to what these noises actually meant, but at one point they did increase the volume, which I assume was for the benefit of those persons trying to block the noises out with their personal stereos (ie: me.) Luckily for me (and you, too!) the journey was only 5 hours long, so I escaped without any lasting damage to my sanity. Or at least none that shows above the existing base level, anyway.


I nipped across to Kings Cross, reacquainting myself with all the reasons that I swore I’d never take a big bag on the tube again, and invited Thameslink to whisk me down to exotic Croydon. Kings Cross Thameslink, unfortunately, is run by a last-minute-platform-changing sadist, so my blood pressure received another little bump in it’s quest to compete with SpaceShipOne, but it finally chucked me out in Croydon, where I was free to part with a considerable proportion of my savings in exchange for a taxi to my friends house.


Croydon was, well, pretty much exactly the same as when I left. All the folks from the Clocktower were there (much drink was involved) and they let me sit in my old chair, put my feet on the desk and make facetious comments (exactly as I did when I worked there). The wi-fi and tea at my friends house (where I used to live) was as good as usual, and aside from everyone demanding to know where my tan was, it was exactly as before. Wi-fi, incidentally, is a hallmark of Civilised society (which is why you can’t get it in Cannock).


All this time, Princess, who, having demanded I go back out in a hurry, were decidedly unhurried about sending me anything useful such as flight details or hotel reservations, and I was starting to be somewhat concerned when on Friday morning (bearing in mind I was flying on Sunday) there was still nothing from them. After a couple of “reminder” phone calls they finally sent me details at 5.25pm, Friday night, before going home immediately. And well they might, as it transpired that they hadn’t booked me on the nice BA direct flight to Miami, but rather on the considerably more indirect United Airways flight via Washington DC, starting 2 hours earlier and finishing 3 hours later. I was not best pleased. They had also failed to enclose any hotel details, but had in fact booked one. I just had to guess which one! Luckily, I’m very very good at guessing so I rang the hotel to check the reservation, and got lucky. I suspect this is also a sub-optimal (I love that expression!) way of going about things.


After my little stop in Croydon, I went to Bedford to see my sister and my niece. Once again I had to entrust myself to Thameslink for my transportation. Now, Thameslink used to run Trains from Croydon (well, Brighton actually, pedants) to Bedford, so you could grab a seat and pass through London without having to actually interact with it in any way. But now, they’re “redeveloping” Kings Cross and St Pancras so you are forced to make a very long walk between the two in order to proceed with your Journey. (The “redevelopment”, as far as I can tell, mostly involves building a huge ugly cowshed of a station behind St Pancras, with lots of glass and absolutely no soul whatsoever. I am a fan of the old St Pancras, which, for those that haven’t seen it, looks like they started building an immense Hogwarts-like school and then changed their minds half-way though and made it into a station instead.)


Bedford is like a northern outpost of Croydon, with the slight advantage that you can nip down the road to Milton Keynes if you need to feel superior to somewhere. Which is what we did. Milton Keynes is a bit like Telford, without the sense of architectural distinction. (Go to Telford and find out, if you don’t know...) It took us about 45 minutes to park, partially due to some people who I believe were simply baiting us by wandering around the car park with shopping bags looking like they were going to leave, but never actually getting into a car. Or perhaps they were car thieves, upset that we were following them. Either way, it wasted a lot of time before we could actually experience the magic that is Milton Keynes. Milton Keynes town centre is a shopping mall. Most towns have a shopping mall or two, but Milton Keynes is one. The signs pointed out a theatre, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to see what the people who designed this place would do with a theatre. (Apologies if you work there and it’s really, really nice, btw.)


Anyway, as if this weren’t quite enough, it was also hosting an event called “Collectamania,” with the catchy tag-line “The coolest event on earth!” Do you find that as disturbing as I do? It was basically a convention/trade fair at which various sci-fi minor celebs were drafted in to sign autographs (Random selection: That guy who played Face in the A-Team, that woman who’s the councillor with the big boobs in the new Star Trek, the guy who played Chewbacca in Star War and many others not quite so famous…) while the memorabilia folks sold their wares. It was very, very busy, and not unlike a feeding frenzy for nerds, driven wild by the scent of protective plastic sleeving. I took refuge in a shop selling toiletries (strangely unpopular with the nerd community) and reflected on being, for possibly the first time in my life, one of the coolest, most attractive and unobsessive persons in the general vicinity. And then the moment passed, and I had to move on before the cosmetics ladies in the shop threw me back to the Nerds.


Overwhelmed by this level of excitement, I’ve slept pretty well for the last two nights (finally got over my jetlag…just in time to go back…) and I’m writing this now at 36000 feet over the Atlantic somewhere. No theatre-specific stuff this week, I’m afraid. I was on holiday after all. Next week or so, I’ll update you on the ship (the same but different, I’m told) and how I get on with no hand-over whatsoever (Standby Making It Up As You Go Along), but until then I’ll be busy with my revolutionary treatise on why the use of reclining seats on aircraft should be banned immediately. (Can you hear that, Mr Rude-Man-In Front? Eh?)


Yours internationally,



(Ex-Sci-Fi nerd. Reformed)

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  • 6 months later...

Dawn of the Dead


So folks, it’s been a while since I managed to do one of these, so what have I been doing? Well mostly, I’ve been on Holiday. Some enforced, and then some not so enforced. Last time you saw me I was on my way to the Dawn Princess – sister ship to the Sun, but oh so different in many, many ways. The booth was almost comically larger than the Sun’s. To the point where I was seriously considering installing a Chaise in there to complement the armchair and TV (I kid you not). The stage was also much, much better designed, with a sliding, not a solid back wall and bags of storage space (well, by comparison, anyway.)


The ships are kind of strange about rules. Some are enforced harshly, some not so harshly. What I didn’t quite realise is that which is which is almost completely different from ship to ship. Now the Dawn has a character for a Captain. Legend has it that he once appeared in the middle of a man overboard training drill, donned a life jacket and jumped in the water to “add realism”. He was also believed to have issued himself with a written warning for alcohol consumption... Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that there was a bit of a weird atmosphere on board – everyone was a touch on-edge.


And it didn’t really help that the office in their infinite wisdom had somehow made a bit of a hash of the staff scheduling. On my way out, I was told that I’d have no handover, but when I got there, the previous guy was scheduled to stay for 2 weeks! It’s tricky having two people trying to do the same job, and it didn’t help that the guy I was replacing was not the most pleasant of people. In fact, he was famous in the company for being a mite difficult to work with (my English understatement reflex is in overdrive right now!). I’m not saying he wasn’t good, technically, but he was just plain unpleasant. Luckily for me, the office also sent out three of the roaming office staff who were really great, and buffered me from the other guy a bit at least.


The folks from the office were there as we were loading in and teching a new show, called “Tribute” – it was based around various sections of mostly Pop music (from the Beatles and Beach Boys, Cher, some Rat Pack stuff and even Robbie Williams) - typical cruise-ship cheesy show. However, we were converting the show from a previous version – one that was designed for a stage with three automated revolves with integral lifts on an open stage. I had a pros arch theatre, no revolves whatsoever and some temperamental stage machinery, massively overdue an upgrade. It was interesting, I can tell you! We ended up with a manually operated revolve in two parts, that also rolled around the stage. The base was Heavy. It took about 15 guys (more than the whole tech team – we employed some “casual” Eastern European deck attendants to help us out with it, the only problem being that they were about twice the height of the Filipino stage crew! Hell, I’m twice the height of some of the stage crew!) So, the load-in was entertaining to say the least. Oh how I longed for one of the newer ships where they have a load-in hatch and a crane! We used a shoreside crane and brute goddam force to get it on.


Well, once it was on it was mostly OK – the show did contain an awful lot of video though – three main projectors, and 25 monitors, all supposed to be switching between 4 different DVD sources, all triggered from Timecode. All of this was controlled by some Alcorn McBride gear. I’ve stated my opinion on this stuff before…I have no idea how they stay in business. The stuff hardly ever bloody works. I guess they’ve got such unique products that they have a captive audience, but I could make a box that claims to do anything if I was granted leave for it not to ever work! Anyone want to buy my new VHS video to Mozart Symphony in 7.1 surround sound converter? It doesn’t work, but it has a really great Logo! Anyway, the video ended up being “simplified” in order to be able to run the show at all, and so the only real problem (aside from the projectors not having any lenses, but that’s pretty normal for ship deliveries…the buggers know you’re too far away to complain properly…) was the Screens.


The screens were leftovers from a U2 tour somewhere, and were rather interesting. They were designed to operate very, very quickly, both up and down, which made for some heart-stopping moments with the performers. Although they were operated from the stage, they operated so fast that they could easily brain an unsuspecting turn if you weren’t careful, and there was no way you could react in time to stop it if it happened. Now, many of you may think that doesn’t sound too bad, but remember, on a ship you can’t get any spare twirlies, so once you run out, you’re stuffed! :P They were also designed for an arena context, not a stage, and weren’t as tight or as uncrumpled as you might hope. In fact, they looked very much like “my grannies bedsheets”, as one, unnamed member of the tech department called them. Actually, once the projectors were on, and as long as you didn’t look too closely, they were OK in the end.


It all looked great, and the show was almost entirely up and done, so I left the crew to do the first turnaround without me being there, now we’d rehearsed it several times. I retired to the bar with the Sound Engineer. (This sounds bad, but the Stage Manager and the crew didn’t want me or the sound guy around for turnarounds really – we interrupted the flow of conversation in Tagalog, apparently!) Come 2am, my pager goes. This is somewhat worrying, as they never page me at funny times. I called the stage and the Stage Manager suggested that I might want to visit the stage to see something…. Now I’m intrigued.


On the stage, at the back, is an Orchestra lift. It’s picked up by four winches, which pull cables up tracks recessed into the wall. The drums for the cables stick out of the wall, but the lift stops a good metre or so below them. Now, in all the confusion, the crew had refitted the handrails in the wrong slots, so one of them was able to foul the cable drum…and had promptly ripped the thing off the wall. It looked pretty damn bad, I can tell you. Like, thousands of dollars bad. We roped the area off and waited until we could get the engineers to look at it the next day.


The next day, I went down to the stage in trepidation, to find the whole system entirely as it was before the accident. It took me a good couple of hours to track the engineers down, who just said, “yeah, we had a spare one so we fitted it.” It never ceases to amaze me – we had no spare lamps, but we do have entire spare highly specialised motors lying around. Bizzare in the extreme. At least it saved me calling the office and having to ask for a new one!


Well, finally we had the show in and it would seem for a moment that some sense of normality would return, but in a genius stroke, we had installed a new show just before drydock, when we would need to rip every bit of kit out of the theatre and start again, replacing major bits of it (like the automation controller, every lantern, the Playback device that runs the whole show….nothing important :P) Drydock was to be held on Grand Bahama. Now, I can tell what you’re thinking. That sounds nice. But you would be wrong. Grand Bahama is not nice – it’s mostly industrial (all the nice bits are on smaller Bahamian islands) and we were stuck in a shipyard in the middle of nowhere. It’s also very badly storm damaged from the Hurricanes, so a load of the places we’d been advised to visit weren’t even there anymore! We did try to go to a local bar and nightclub, but it wasn’t the friendliest of places, and death threats in the toilets (gents And ladies!) are never a good way to begin a night out. It can put a cramp in your party mode. So mostly we hung out in the crew bar, which had been moved up on deck (no passengers, see) which sounds good until you realise we were sharing the deck with some guys who were re-tiling the pools, some other guys ripping up all the teak decking and replacing it, and 8 large industrial skips. It was somewhat like drinking in a “building site” theme bar, only with frequent blackouts and hidden trip-hazards! Great.


On the subject of blackouts, the ship had to run on shoreside power throughout drydock, but there wasn’t really enough to go round. The electrical officers would roam the ship looking for excuses to turn off the power in areas, which is no good when you’re trying to re-programme the AMX panels, or flash out the rehung lighting rig! It also meant that the Aircon was feeble at it’s best, and off for pretty much half the time. This made for some interesting living and working conditions! In the end, I took the smoke fan from the stage and installed it in my cabin. It was like a wind tunnel in there! But it did mean I could at least attempt to sleep.


Now, I’m sorry to turn serious for a moment, but as I mentioned the Dawn was a stressful environment for me, and coupled with some personal stuff that prompted my leaving the country in the first place, I did start to lose it on that ship. In fact, by the second week of Drydock, my nerves had pretty much had it, and I wasn’t really a very effective worker as I had to keep going back to my cabin to try and pull myself together. In the end, I did lose the plot entirely, to the point where I had to report to the doctor. She sent me home. I hated walking out on the thing half-done, but I just wasn’t able to work anymore. I flew home only 6 weeks after arriving, to try and rest up and put myself back together again. I had fun on the Dawn, but in the end, it was too much for me, all at once like it was.


There’s another one coming, but rather than leave this one like this, I just want to add that I’m alright again now. In retrospect, I didn’t take enough vacation between contracts and I was still a bit burned-out. Next time: What I did on my holidays, to include the immense stupidity of tourists (including me), naked women bursting into my hotel room and the fine art of complaining to Hotels…

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  • 4 weeks later...

Irish Stew (in the name of the Law)


So, as I previously mentioned I’m taking a long holiday. I was back in England by the end of October and I took a little time to pull myself back together. As James C pointed out to me, I now have a piece of paper that says I’m not mad. You lot have to take that on trust. Anyway, just after Christmas I was ready for some serious holiday action, and who better to join me than the Interesting Canadian Lady who has appeared before in this very column. I’ll call her K from here on in, as to be honest, it’s much easier to type…


That necessitated a short trip to the lovely Heathrow airport to meet her, as we (read: she) decided that Europe was the way forward. (I suppose to her, it’s exotic. To me, not so much.) The arrivals gate at Heathrow is an interesting place, not really reminding me so much as a place of ultimate romance as depicted in the brutally successful Love Actually. (The film which they bullied everyone in the UK to watch by sheer brute force of famous British Actors. Marketing: “Hugh Grant! Don’t like him? OK, Rowan Atkinson then? No? Ok, Bill Nighy. Goddamit, you will watch this film! Keira Knightly! You’ve got to like her.”) It was more like more like a sheepdip or cattle market, with hundreds of predatory relatives lining the handrails, waiting to pounce. I considered for a moment just randomly picking a bewildered and sleep-deprived family and seeing how far I could get them to come before they realised that I really wasn’t related to them. My money was on at least as far as the car park. But then K ruined my fun by arriving. She looked confused when I greeted her, and I thought for a moment my extremely poor memory had failed me and I was greeting a stranger, but it turned out to be the sleep deprivation (It’s a long way and a weird time difference from Vancouver) rather than any huge mistakes on my behalf. I shouldered her 8-ton luggage, winced, nearly collapsed, faked a manly smile and strode towards the car park, valiantly causing permanent damage to my poor back in the name of bravado, but without mentioning it. Much.


Now, K was more than a little worried about English food, because it seems on the North American continent, any suggestion that your food may have once been in contact with mud is A Bad Thing. It took me a while to explain the superior properties of food that has been grown rather than processed in a factory. The classic was when she attempted to purchase ready grated cheese, at which point we agreed that I’d look after our culinary well-being. I think I have persuaded her that fresh food is better, but she does still crave things like Peanut Butter, (the butter of the Devil, in my opinion) or cheese that’s an unnatural yellow-orange and comes in a tube of some kind.


First up was Dublin, which is a flight so short you are either taking off or landing. The interval between the seatbelt light going out and then immediately restoring is so short that I’m sure they don’t use DMX to control those lights, as I don’t believe the refresh rate is high enough. What they don’t tell you is that Dublin Airport is approximately as far as you’ve already flown from Dublin centre. I believe the Taxi Driver was able to buy his ninth house once I’d paid up. Dublin was, unsurprisingly, rainy when we arrived, and for extra fun, our Apartments had to be checked into at a Hotel some 15 minutes walk away. The staff there seemed bemused that I didn’t have a car, but unless aeroplane luggage allowances have been greatly increased without my knowledge, it would have been tricky for me to bring one with me. Anyway, once we actually got there (liberally sprinkled with genuine Irish sky-water) the apartment was actually pretty nice.


We soon learnt not to turn the TV on. The TV had an Irish form of MTV, which plays U2’s entire back catalogue over and over again (now, I like U2, but not non-stop) interspersed with relentless advertising by Jamster of the Crazy Frog ring tone. More so than they do in the UK. (Which is a feat; yesterday I noticed an advertisement break which incorporated the same Crazy frog advert no less than 3 times, for the benefit of anyone who may have had any remaining sanity.) This was occasionally interrupted by strange and pointless public information films about how the speed limit was changing to metric in order to less confuse the French, and what may or may have not been news, in Gaelic. The TV received no other channels.


So, with televisual entertainment denied to us, we decided to brave the sky-water and explore a little. Miraculously, once I was entirely wet (this didn’t take long as K is taller than me and the rain ingeniously slotted in under the umbrella) the rain ceased, and Dublin started to look a whole lot prettier. We walked up to Temple Bar (as all tourists in Dublin are obliged to do so by law) and scouted around for good places to eat and maybe sample a little of the local Guinness. But for that day, I was to be denied, as the spectre of jetlag loomed and K rather needed to be escorted back to the flat and pretty much put to bed. The onset was so sudden that I found myself inspecting her for blow-darts or something similar, but apparently flying all over the place takes it out of you. So, I spent the night eating takeaway Pizza and singing along to Vertigo while attempting to decipher Gaelic.


The next day dawned rather too soon for my liking. One of the side-effects of Jetlag is that you also wake up at sparrowfart and having watched Gaelic U2 Breakfast-Vision for a couple of hours, she was raring to get on with the sightseeing by 8am. Cursing, I dragged myself from the bed, weakly demanded some form of caffeination and sloped to the bathroom in a similar fashion to a man carrying several hundred kilos on his back. (You’ll note, in a nod to the wishes of our European cousins, that I’ve had that converted to metric.)


Once caffeinated, washed and repeatedly reminded that I was wasting time, I felt just above the level of death, and was declared Fit To Go Sightseeing. Proceeding into the town, we stopped at the Tourist Information office who had intriguingly decided to charge for any maps of Dublin, leaving me to compile a kind of FrankenMap out of the fragments to be found on the backs of the leaflets about each attraction. I was quite pleased with this, but K looked very slightly concerned. I think this is because women don’t really understand maps. Or something. We decided that it was pretty bad form to visit Dublin without going to the Guinness brewery, so we spent the day gently ambling around (browsing entirely normal shops like Principles and Next, which were exotic curiosities to K) before finally setting course for the Brewery.


Once again, the Brewery was considerably further than it appeared to be on the map (which must be the fault of reality, as my composite map was a work of genius) and took us through an “interesting” area of town. Once you got near, though, there was no mistaking the distinctive Brewery smell (it smells just like burning Porridge to me) and the Famous gates came into view. The paint on the “2005” was still pretty wet by the look of it (it was January 3rd) and it turned out that the visitor entrance was...yes…another 10 minutes walk away, on the other side of the block entirely. Once again, I blame reality for not corresponding properly with my map.


The visitor centre was an interesting exercise in expensive, impressive but ultimately pointless multimedia installation. The whole place used vast expanses of space to convey each of the steps involved in making the Guinness. I’m pretty sure most people don’t need to see a 10mx10m square tray full of artfully underlit hops to understand that hops are involved in the process in some way. That said, the glass waterfall was pretty impressive, and at the end of the day, it’s the Irish water that seems to make the difference. At times, the exhibits were so underlit that it could become a little confusing, and the multiple slide and video projection presentation was pretty typical of the type. I’d tell you what it said, but K has a North American attention span and wanted to move on after about a minute or so. We moved onwards and upwards to the main attraction, (for me anyway) a free pint of Guinness, served in a bar on the top of the building, with a 360° view of the City. As we entered the bar, the Sun was just setting, and the view was truly breathtaking. Mind you, my perceptions of any event can be coloured by the availability of free beer. And yes, before you ask, the Guinness in Dublin does taste different – it’s definitely more refreshing and maybe even a touch lighter in terms of taste.


We retired that evening to K’s choice of restaurant, a Irish/Italian/American place called Luigi Malone’s or something in that vein. We had Mexican food. Don’t ask me to explain as I really have no idea why. We were served by the lovely Maurice, (no names have been changed to protect the innocent,) who was apparently waiting on tables to supplement his day job as a male supermodel. He had cheekbones capable of cutting glass, and a gravity-defying hairstyle that had obviously been inflicted by a severely pissed-off hairdresser, at great expense to Maurice. The hairstyle was so extreme, I believe it was currently banned in a number of US states. He had an excellent line in posing by the cutlery, while imaginary photographers jostled for his image. Sadly, his line in remembering what we’d actually ordered was somewhat lacking. (It seems that pads of paper and a pen are so last season, dahling.) Bless him. So we ate whatever he brought us between poses, and I’m prepared to forgive him in the wake of the Toblerone Cheesecake that he managed to rustle up on the third attempt.


The next day, we abandoned the apartment and toddled over to the Clarence Hotel ?link?, a 5-star hotel, booked at enormous expense, as K had always wanted to go there. I spent much of the day doing the usual expensive hotel things: trying on the robes, using every towel in a huge and luxurious bubble-bath, marvelling at the prices in the Minibar, cursing at the prices of the Wi-fi access (why can’t that be free in a 5 star hotel? I mean, come on!) and generally trying to extract the maximum possible value from the place. I made a reservation at the hotel’s restaurant as it transpired that my credit card wasn’t quite full yet, and then made one of the most foolish decisions of my life.


Temple Bar, for those who haven’t been there, is filled with only four types of establishments. By far the most numerous are the Pubs, of which there are almost imprudent amounts, along with the restaurants and the tacky Irish souvenir stores. And finally, for no apparent reason, there are lots and lots of old-fashioned barbers. I made the somewhat rash decision that what I really wanted was a proper, cutthroat razor shave, so I could be all smooth and lovely for our expensive meal that evening. This was a very big mistake. Now, women tell me that getting your legs or other parts waxed is the ultimate in enduring pain to look good, but I think I may have found the male equivalent. A proper wet shave (in Ireland, at least) involves a constant procession of alternating red-hot and ice-cold wet towels, very small cuts inflicted by a man with a lethal weapon that you have willingly exposed your throat to, interspersed with frequent and painful run-ins with a witch-hazel stick. By the time it was finished, I was pretty sure that my chin would now glow in the dark and I began to fear that if it didn’t subside soon, my ability to work in a dark backstage area would be severely compromised. I began to believe that he’d not just shaved off my beard, but also all but one layer of skin, and if he had continued for even one second longer, I’d be looking like one of Doctor ?Van Haagens? plastinated creations, all exposed muscle and tendon. K admired the look for a while, attempted repeatedly to touch my face (these advances were repelled with the time-honoured “windmill of arms” method) and finally conceded that it looked pretty good. I can’t recommend the procedure though. I think I understand now why Bono always looks like he hasn’t shaved. He did get a shave, once, in Temple Bar, and vowed henceforth to merely clip his beard with nail scissors. I know I have.


Anyway, a couple of hours later, the pain subsided to a dull throb that felt like really bad sunburn (this was a vast improvement) and I was ready to go and inflict some serious damage to my credit card down in the restaurant. It seems I’d already used my bad luck ration for the day, as we had decided to eat “in” and so the sudden torrential downpour in a Traditional Irish mode was not really a problem for us. I would have looked smug if it weren’t for the fact the facial movements required were actually quite painful.


I grabbed a drink in the Octagon Bar (watch me name-drop!) and waited for K to get ready. Actually, to be fair to her, she’s pretty good at getting ready within a reasonable timeframe, and knows better than to ask my opinion on clothing choices. (I never did work out why most women think that men might be good at selecting women’s clothing. They’d be better off asking a transvestite.) The food was, well, out-of-this-world. Easily the best dinner I’ve ever had, and I pay a lot of attention to this particular league table. I would be prepared to offer physical violence to anyone coming between me and that chocolate pudding. The waitress was Swiss (no-one who works in the Clarence is Irish, as far as I can tell) and refused to allow us not to have a starter. In fact she brought us some complimetary Pate de Foie Gras, and you’ll all know that I’ve long been a fan of free stuff.


Full of rich and delicious food, we retired to our room (the rain had somehow increased in intensity during the meal, so going anywhere else was out of the question) to see if the Minibar could really be as expensive as it said it was (surely not). We watched BBC1 (oh, the luxury!) on the TV, selected a vast quantity of breakfast for the next morning and finally drifted into an excessively full, drunken, but contented sleep.


At 4am the doorbell to our room rang. I woke up, swore repeatedly, decided I was hallucinating and started to doze back off. The doorbell rang again. This time, I became convinced that somehow my terrible writing had come back to haunt me and the breakfast was being delivered a good 6 hours early. I staggered out of bed and managed to find a robe. The faint red glow from my chin helped in this task. The doorbell rang again. Whoever it was, it was urgent. I dragged myself to the door and answered it. I was greeted by the sight of a quite drunk, quite naked woman who was just going to ring the bell a fourth time. Actually, at first glance I thought she wasn’t entirely naked,, as she appeared to be wearing a pair of black angora panties. Now I think back, I think she was actually not as devoted to the cause of looking good through hair removal as I was. She suddenly realised the door was open and started to push me back into the room. Now, I knew that it was a Five-star hotel, but this was a level of service I wasn’t quite prepared for.


“Ummm…Hello?” I said. I’m not sure what the standard form of greeting is when confronted with naked ladies in hotel corridors. She recovered somewhat and covering herself as best she could (ladies are unlucky in having two more bits to cover than they have hands) she explained she was from the room next door and had somehow, while aiming for the Bathroom, locked herself out in the corridor. Once again navigating by the light of my chin, I found the second robe in the room and gave the robe to the woman. She looked somewhat relieved by this. I then went to the phone and attempted to describe the situation to the night porter. He didn’t believe me. I think he thought I was a victim of wishful thinking. Finally, he agreed to come up to the corridor and see the “fictional” lady for himself. I went back to bed, glad to have helped a lady in distress. K mumbled and turned over.

“Who was that?” she asked.

“It was a naked woman, trying to burst into the room.”

“Yeah, right,” she said, turned over and went back to sleep.


The next morning, I was compelled to tell the naked lady story to K again, the Hotel Manager and the Desk Clerk in order to prove that I wasn’t stealing the bathrobe and that I had, in fact, given it to a random naked woman in the middle of the night. I’m not sure any of them believed me, to be honest, but I think eventually they decided to stop baiting the crazy man and just went along with it. I know I didn’t dream it, because she’d definitely look better if I had.


I think I’ll leave it there, actually – next time I’ll address the issue of the French, and the Sub-tropical paradise that is Cardiff.

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Ah, the French. So many things have been said about them, that it almost seems a shame to repeat some of them. Well, almost…


The next little leg of my extended holiday was Paris. Now, regardless of it’s inhabitants, Paris is an amazing place, and seems a much more pleasant city than London, certainly much, much cleaner and seemingly with a famous building around every corner. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to it, but London seems to have a Southern Fried Chicken bar around every corner instead. Charles De Gaulle airport, with it’s criss-crossing escalator tubes and multiple exits around the perimeter looks for all the world the way you think a sci-fi space shuttle port would look. Had a group of Vulcans or Gungans walked past me, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. What did surprise me was the passport control at the Airport. Now my passport is about 9½ years old, and on the picture my hair is about 2 feet longer than it is now, and I’m a good 3 stone heavier now. I’m also not wearing any glasses as I was enjoying a brief flirtation with contact lenses at the time. The guy at passport control took the passport and did several double-takes.

“Iz theese your sizster?” he asked me, before dissolving into uncontrollable laughter. I’m so unused to the French having a sense of humour, I was temporarily struck dumb, but he found a conspirator in his hilarity in K, who being Canadian, is obliged by law to find French jokes funny. Finally, he turned to his supervisor to share the joke, but his supervisor was properly French and refused to crack a smile. They let me though in the end, but not before showing the photo to each of the passport control guys, so they could all get a little ration of humour. Probably their only one that week, I guess.


Our hotel was just by the Eiffel Tower, and the proprietor thoughtfully gave us the only room in the hotel without a view of the tower, in case we got sick of it. I’ve been there before, but I’d forgotten just how huge the tower is when you stand underneath it. We went at night – as soon as we’d dumped our luggage in the room, in fact, and it was great. I’ll admit to feeling slightly disconcerted by the military presence there – a group of soldiers patrolled the base of the tower carrying Assault Rifles – I guess for anti-terrorism purposes, but they also did a great job of keeping away the souvenir hawkers. All the hawkers had relocated to the street leading from our hotel to the tower, and were attempting to sell little polycarbonate Eiffel Towers with flashing LEDs inside. While I support the great breakthrough represented by LED technology, I could do without this particular application of it, and adopted my best “don’t #### with me” face while passing through the crowd. The hawkers, as one, suddenly leapt into the bushes and ran as fast as possible, and for a moment I thought that perhaps I may have overdone the facial expression, but then realised that the Gendarmerie had just pulled up in a van and were light-heartedly making their presence felt. For a country that doesn’t support violence, they don’t half heavily arm their policemen. Each of them looked like an extra from an Arnie movie, all with sub-machineguns and what looked like grenades. I think they may have had more armaments than the Soldiers. They certainly looked much more likely to use them.


The Eiffel Tower was fully floodlight in an attractive sodium yellow when we arrived, but on the hour, it suddenly bursts into a flood of sparkle strobe madness, which lasts for a good five minutes. It also has a set of rotating beamlights at the pinnacle that sweep the skyline sideways like a huge, landlocked lighthouse. It’s actually very beautiful, and pretty useful too. If, of course, you can see it from your hotel room. It being off-season, the very top level of the Tower was closed for maintenance, but to be honest, the second “landing” is plenty high enough to see for miles. I can only imagine that at the very top, it’s unbearably windy, as it was windy enough for me on the second level.


Down on the first level, they’d built a temporary ice rink (!) which was totally unused, but very nicely lit. LED battens are definitely the fixture of choice here, and they had them all the way around, skimming the surface of the ice. It also had a number of Clay Paky moving heads in those inflatable condoms, projecting breakups across the ice. A very nice look, and not at all what I expected to find halfway up a world-famous landmark. I couldn’t help but think that the moving gobos would certainly confuse me if I were skating on it, though. That said, I’m not as elegant on ice skates as you might think – I always look like I’m on a skateboard, as my left leg stays static and my right frantically tries to propel me forwards. I’d say that Olympic Ice Dance is not the sport for me.


The next day we decided that we’d “do” the Louvre. We’d received all sorts of stern warnings about not trying to get round it all in one day, so we threw any notion of integrity to the wind and planned to just go and see the famous bits. The problem with this plan is that there’s just so many of them. The Louvre is like a microcosm of Paris itself – each time you turn a corner you’re confronted with something world-famous, just standing there in the middle or the corner of the room. The Venus de Milo just snuck up on me like that – I wasn’t even looking for it (in fact, I had forgotten it was even in the Louvre) and then suddenly, there it was. It’s a very unusual, overwhelming and humbling experience, to be in the presence of all this amazing artwork. What really made me think was why some of the pieces were more famous than others. The Venus de Milo, for example, was in a room of similar, and to my eye, equally accomplished, pieces of sculpture, yet the Venus is about a thousand times more famous than the other pieces. It made me wonder how one piece could be so much more well-known than the others. I guess it’s some kind of positive feedback loop, whereby it only has to be fractionally more discussed initially to become vastly more exposed in the long term. The Louvre was full of students and schoolkids, and I realised just how amazing a facility the Lourve was for Parisian students – from what I could decipher (my French isn’t great) at the front desk, schools don’t pay and students can get very cheap yearly passes.


Like the shameless tourists we were, we went straight to the Mona Lisa. This was before it got it’s own room and such luxuries. As I probably should have suspected, the Mona Lisa was mobbed by American and Japanese tourists, all pointedly ignoring the stern signs that warned against photography, including taking photos with a flash. There were so many that the staff of the Louvre had obviously lost heart even trying to tell them to stop, and I will admit that the experience was somewhat ruined for me by their ignorance. If you’ve never seen the Mona Lisa for real, you can recreate the experience in the comfort of your own workplace. Simply take a picture of the Mona Lisa, reduce it to the size of an A4 piece of paper and place behind a piece of very reflective glass. Next, take two strobe lights, put them on very slightly different strobe rates and point at the picture. Dim the normal lights to backstage working levels. Take eight steps back, and get your tallest colleagues to stand in between you and the picture. Ask them to talk loudly in Japanese or bellow about their dinner in New York accents. Trust me, you’ll get just as much out of this as going to see the real one.


We spent most of the rest of the day aimlessly wandering the Louvre, particularly the Egyptian and older Greek stuff (that’s my kind of thing). I can’t even remember everything we saw, but the day passed very quickly, and there was some truly fantastic, virtually unknown things in there. It was also was full of students and schoolkids, and I realised just how amazing a facility the Louvre was for Parisian students – from what I could decipher (my French isn’t great) at the front desk, schools don’t pay and students can get very cheap yearly passes. The level of inspiration and exposure to great art must be fantastic for those students.


The next day, we decided to go and look at the cathedrals. First up: Monmartre. We went there by Metro, which somewhat resembles the Tube, except it’s clean, runs all the time and there are stations everywhere instead of missing out vast chunks of the city as the Tube does. (Yes, I’ve lived in South London and I’m bitter.) In fact, the Metro runs so efficiently, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s secretly run by an underground clan of Germans. They seem to have a station every few hundred yards, and we never had to look very hard for a Station if we wanted one while wandering around aimlessly. The one place it doesn’t go, is anywhere near the top of Monmatre, which as you probably know (but I didn’t) is a really steep hill. To make things extra entertaining, the nearest station was closed for engineering works, so we emerged from the Metro into a rather savoury area of Paris. It was interesting, as nestled amongst the Sex Shops and XXX Cinemas, was the Moulin Rouge, which I wasn’t expecting to find. I guess they deal in a similar type of entertainment, but I always imagined that it would be a bit less seedy and a touch more high-class. I guess I was mistaken.


I had been wondering what the little lines across the path I had selected on the map meant, supposing them to be some kind of one-way street code that I didn’t understand. (I had purchased a map in French so as to look less of a tourist. This didn’t work.) When we got there, the meaning was clear. They meant steps. Lots and lots of steps. More than you’re imagining now. There were a lot of steps. I contended that we could actually see the Sacre Coeur from where we were, but K had heard about a Salvador Dali exhibition that she had wanted to see, and we were going, steps or no steps. K strode up the steps two at a time, while I lagged behind, wondering if the stabbing pain in my chest and extending down my left arm was in any way normal. K’s opinion was that I was being a big wuss, and my opinion is generally disregarded in these kinds of disagreement, so we continued on up the hill. Eventually the hallucinations mollified the pain somewhat, and we made it to the top without any vomiting from me whatsoever. Just.


About 3 hours later, once I’d got my breath back, we found the Dali museum, where we were treated to some traditional Parisian customer service. The woman selling the tickets was engaged in a lively and apparently interesting conversation with a friend of hers, who had just popped in to tell her entire life story and to allow her small child to break something really expensive. Best to do that out of the house, I suppose. I stood for approximately an hour before I realised that she wasn’t going to break off her conversation to sell me a ticket or two, and so in halting French asked for two tickets. Her eyes never left her friend, and she didn’t acknowledge my presence in any way other than snatching the Euros from my hand and dispensing two tickets. How she managed to take my money without even once glancing at my hand, I’m not entirely sure. I bet she’s great at “Slaps”. The Dali exhibition was pretty good actually, and had some stuff I’d never seen before – in particular a set of illustrations for the Bible, made by firing a glob of paint at the canvas and then working into the resulting splat. I was very taken with a picture of the Tower of Babel done in this technique, and if I can ever find a print of it, I’ll get it. I was never particularly taken with his more precisely drawn stuff – all the giraffe/elephants and the like, so I was pleasantly surprised by the stuff in there. They even had the original red “Lips” sofa, but sadly they didn’t let you sit on it.


We emerged to a spectacular view. It turns out there was a payoff for all those steps after all. The entire city was wreathed in what I like to imagine was a romantic mist, but was more likely to be Citroen fumes, to be honest, but you could see for miles across the city. We wandered across to the Sacre Coeur, looking pristine and not unlike the Taj Mahal now it has been sand-blasted clean again. We peeked inside, but this was much more of a “real” church than Notre Dame and we didn’t stay long. We did stay long enough to watch a young world-traveller type fail to remove his hat before entering, and then swore at the church curate who asked him to remove it. He was comprehensively chased from the church by a group of curates who looked like they meant business. I couldn’t help but wonder what they would do with him if they did catch him though. I guess they’d be obliged to forgive him, but I’m not an expert on such matters.


We grabbed lunch in a Café in Monmartre, (I was disappointed to note that the waitress didn’t look even slightly like Audrey Tatou,) and painfully composed our order in French. The waitress paitently stood and waited for me to finish my tortuous sentence and then said “no problem” in a slight London accent. I maintain that K, being Canadian should be able to speak French, but her argument that Vancouver is further from Quebec than the UK takes some dealing with, and I don’t really have the energy. We jumped on the Metro down to Notre Dame. K insisted on pronouncing it “Note-er Day-me” in a thick American accent in an attempt to embarrass the hell out of me. She did, of course, fail, as anyone who has seen my wardrobe will know that I am immune to public embarrassment. In fact, we found that the best way to get away with anything stupid that you do abroad is to suddenly start braying in an American accent, and people around will simply roll their eyes and mutter “typical” in whatever language they speak. That way, the pride of your true nation remains intact…


The Notre Dame is on an island in the Seine along with the Palace of Justice. My mapreading skills caused us to complete one full circuit of the Palace of Justice before we managed to find Notre Dame, and it was outside the Palace that I gradually became aware of the sheer Police presence there. There must have been about two hundred police officers around that building, either on the corners in groups of eight or nine, or sitting in vans in even larger numbers. I wondered what on earth we’d stumbled into, but none of them seemed particularly on alert. Later, on consulting a guidebook, it appears that the Parisian police do this sort of thing pretty often – just congregate in huge numbers in a single location for no good reason. No-one seems to know why. Perhaps they get lonely.


Notre Dame was much more touristy than the Sacre Coeur, and was covered down one side in scaffolding. I was gratified to see the statue of Charlemagne, the Frankish Emperor in the courtyard outside the cathedral. (See my profile if you can’t work out why I’d like this.) Inside the cathedral, I was somewhat surprised to see an inordinate number of the Tourists on what appeared to be mobile phones. It took me at least 10 minutes to realise that they were in fact Audio Guides, and not mobiles after all. “Hello?! Yes, I’m in the Notre Dame! THE NOTRE DAME!! No, it’s Rubbish!!” (Little burst of Trigger Happy there, for those who like it.) Actually, it wasn’t rubbish, but maybe a bit overcrowded and nowhere near as “serene” as the Sacre Couer. The sheer opulence of the stuff in there was amazing, but you couldn’t help but feel that the money might have been put to better uses.


The next day, we transferred across to a different, rather posher hotel (spotting a pattern here yet?) called the Champs Elysee Plaza Hotel. I’d selected it on the basis of a few tiny thumbnail pictures on the web, and primarily on the rather amazing deal I’d got on it, so I was understandably a bit nervous about going there. I’ve found that what looks like an excellent deal at 1.30am while you’re web-surfing can frequently turn out to be otherwise. Well, I don’t like to gush, but this place was out-of-this-world. We pulled up and the iron grated door swung open automatically to let us in, and two porters grabbed all of our cases. The reception desk was more like a little office from the 19th century, all mahogany desks and huge leather-bound books. Our room was at the top of the hotel, an attic room, almost, with slightly sloping walls with huge dormers in. I had a TV and a Sony Stereo to play with, and the Bathroom was about the size of the house I used to live in in London, with a massive corner bath and a shower with a showerhead the size of a dinner plate. We had a dining area, a lounge and a bed area, as well as an enormous wardrobe at the end of a little corridor. The bed was enormous and draped with fantastically expensive fabrics. It was insane. I had to keep checking the bill didn’t have an extra zero that I hadn’t noticed earlier. If you ever go to Paris, stay there. The staff were great too.


We decided to spend the day over at the Musee D’Orsay, an amazing collection housed in an ex-railway station. Once again, we really didn’t have time to see everything, so we concentrated on the top floor which had some Van Gogh, Monet and Rembrandt paintings. Anyone engaged in the art of Lighting design should really take a look at Monet’s paintings of Rouen Cathedral – there were four of them on display (although I understand there’s many more in total) and they are each painted at different times of day – it’s the use of colour that’s most interesting from a lighting design perspective. I sincerely recommend you go and check them out if you have any cause to be lighting to suggest time of day – you can’t beat “borrowing” the eyes of a world famous artist.


We wandered back to the Hotel, through some of Paris’s rather lovely parks, past the old men playing Petanque. (Who, for some reason, had decided to play on the one part of the park that had a manhole cover in it. Didn’t half make a lot of noise when they threw boules on it!) It was a wonderful evening, crisp but sunny, and we had a great hotel room to trash when we got back. Fade to black on B and K, walking back to the Champs Elysee….

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  • 8 months later...

Driving Range


Yes, yes, I’m back. First of all, please excuse my extreme tardiness in writing this little missive – I’ve been actually having to do some work, which, as I’m sure you can imagine, was quite wearing for me. I’ll try to pick up somewhere near where I left off, but you’ll excuse me if there are gaping holes in the coverage. (Much like most of my Lighting Design, actually!)


Anyway, the next part of our little journey involved strapping ourselves into a small metal box (EasyRentACar) and seeing exactly how stressful it was to drive the length of the country on the wrong side of the road (for K, of course, as I have foolishly never actually got round to getting a driving licence.) It turns out, the answer is “very”. K might argue that a factor in that involves my choice of routes, which invariably involve one-way streets, strange back lanes and three-point turns on very steep hills. What can I say? They look perfectly sensible to my non-driving brain. But first, we had to get the damn car.


EasyRentACar gamely supplied us with a Vauxhall Meriva, which I believe is an ancient Swahili word for “piece of crap” or possibly “Zafira droppings”. It had a cunningly placed windscreen that ensured you were entirely unable to see either side of the car and a bizarre “semi-automatic” gearbox that basically changed gears whenever it felt like it or, rather, whenever was least convenient. Such as halfway across a dual carriageway, with a huge juggernaught bearing down on us. But by far and away it’s best feature (and the one that must have been the most difficult for the designers to produce) was it’s uncanny ability to fog up regardless of the temperature or the humidity inside or outside the vehicle. Pressing buttons on the heating controls just seemed to encourage it to fog up further. This was a cause of much amusement, particularly when the fog cleared and we would find that absent-mindedly, K was driving on the wrong side of the road again and those horn noises were, in fact, for our benefit. (I always assume they’re for someone else. I mean, who knows that it’s me in the car?)


Once we’d mastered these little motoring foibles, we were on our way. We drove around and around parts of Birmingham for a few hours, gathering momentum (and engaging in robust discussion of my map-reading abilities and her driving style) until we finally hurtled, like a cork from a bottle, northwards, to Yorkshire. We headed right for the heart – straight to York, or more accurately, just outside where my sister lives. Rather foolishly, she lives in a village with no pub or shop. However, in order to trap the unwary, there is a house in the village that looks like it might be a shop of some kind. I can personally attest, though, that the woman who lives there does not take kindly to people staring into her living room window and sizing up her possessions. I can’t imagine why.

York itself was quite lovely, but the best part for me was getting to have tea and cakes at Bettys. It’s one of those bizarrely posh teashops where the waitresses wear proper black and white waitress uniforms and the cakes come on a 3-tiered silver stand. Say what you like, but I’m a sucker, especially after being deprived of proper tea for so long, for a nice cup of tea and some cakes, presented in a strangely 1930’s style environment. Further evidence, if any was needed, that I’m rapidly becoming my own father. We wandered around the Shambles (K was amazed that such a thing as real cobbled streets existed outside of museums) and finally returned to my sisters house.


My sister, in addition to living in a village with nothing in it, lives by a field that contains the three local breeding sheep – the boys, as it were. This makes them more than usually aggressive, and also a little frisky. We keep having to explain to my Niece that the sheep are “playing leapfrog” – mostly unsuccessfully. However, my sister’s cats do a nice line in hunting the sheep through the long grass, and one day may well try and go in for the kill. That would be worth seeing...


We headed South, down avoiding Hull and straight across the Humber. I’d forgotten what a incredibly massive bridge that is – it just seems to keep going and going. Ambitiously priced though. However, I realized the true cost to me of suddenly suggesting another route, and grudgingly stumped up the cash. I’ve actually lost my notes about that day, but I have a vivid memory of it being somewhere in the region of the entire hire cost of the car.

We stopped off in a little village called Thornton Curtis, which has the chief distinction of being where I was born, and the venue for one of the most successful attempts on my life so far. As soon as I was born, my parents brought me home and put me in a nice new cot in a nice new house. My father was a little perturbed, then, to find his nice new ceiling strangely bowed and cracked the next morning, right over my head. Further investigation found that the builders had piled up all their spare bricks (about a hundred or so) in the attic, in the spot directly above my cot. It looked like they were about to make an unscheduled entrance to the bedroom below, apparently. Dad got to spend all day redistributing bricks around the attic. As far as we know, to this day, that house has a hundred bricks randomly placed on various joists in the attic.


We had a cup of tea with an old friend of my mum and dads – I think the last time I met her I was 7, so she seemed a little confused by me turning up for tea unannounced. I like to keep people on their toes.


Anyway, the next stop on the Grand Tour was Cardiff. I’d managed to grab some tickets for the Tsunami Benefit concert, and every time I’ve ever visited Cardiff in the past, it’s been blazingly hot and not unlike a tropical paradise. My friends who live there keep claiming that hot weather really isn’t the norm, but I refused to believe them. I was sure that they were just trying to keep the place to themselves.


Imagine my surprise, therefore, when we arrived. I kept reassuring K that the weather would improve as soon as we got within spitting distance of Cardiff, but it never managed to do so. She was somewhat distracted anyway by trying to drive on the wrong side of the road, in the driving rain, while the windows steamed up again. To be honest, the weather was horrible, so I’m officially withdrawing Bryson’s Holiday Destination Recommendation from Cardiff. Sorry, folks.


Anyway, we strolled down to the Millennium Stadium and excitedly followed the directions to our seats. We ascended somewhere in the region of 25,000 steps, and found ourselves in the Troposphere somewhere. Our seats were two rows from the very top row (I understand the top row was extra,) and about 4 and half miles from the stage. It was very much like being a flea, sitting on the edge of wok. Except without that handy superhuman jumping ability. It was ok, though, as they’d installed two of the largest LED screens I’d ever seen either side of the stage. These were easily the size of a postage stamp from our seating position, and so the whole time was much like watching a 9-inch TV at the other end of your hallway, only colder, damper and with less comfortable seating.

To our left was a trio of unusual looking ladies who had a couple of rather interesting peculiarities. The first of these is that they had apparently been born with the world’s smallest bladders, so they had to be let out to go to the toilet approximately once every 2 minutes. Those that know me will protest that I have the world’s smallest bladder, and will point out any extended car trip or visit to the public house as evidence, but these ladies were well beyond me. They must have missed a good 80% of the concert. The other was that one of them decided that every time she pushed past me, it would be polite to give my bottom a little squeeze. I was somewhat surprised, to be honest, so I didn’t comment. Some whispered consultation with my companions later, it transpired that it wasn’t a quaint local custom, and neither was she extending the favour to anyone else, so I did the only thing a man in my position can do. I just shut up and let her do it. I am English, after all.


The concert was pretty good, overall, with a few unmemorable performances from some pop acts, but mostly good stuff. Lemarr was unintentionally hilarious whenever he tried to talk – I could imagine his manager in the wings shouting “Just sing the damn song, idiot!”, and Heather Smalls managed to make the presenters look like idiots by not doing the song they’d been talking about throughout her intro. All good stuff.


The Eric Clapton with Jools Holland was good. Although it was it bit more like Jools Holland with Eric Clapton, really. The music was pretty much all Jool’s stuff, only with far fancier guitar parts. I felt for the Video guys during that section, though. The very central module of one of the LED screens started going nuts as soon as the Clapton set started, eventually falling to a black square that somehow managed to obscure Eric’s face in every shot.

A couple of parts were in questionable taste, though. Badly-Drawn Boy obviously realised that a Mexican Wave wasn’t his greatest idea to date, and it petered out by about half-way around the stadium. At least the Manic Street Preachers overcame the terrible, terrible temptation to sing “Tsunami.” And when we left, the warning signs that it was “very wet” outside seemed a bit pointless in the face of all the Tsunami footage we had been shown.

I’d comment on the lighting and sound, but to be honest, from where I was, it all looked like it could have been pretty much anything big, bright and loud. I just couldn’t tell. Sorry.


Once the concert had finished, we ventured back out into the rain, fog and general unpleasantness. Lucklily, because we had had to decend from the outer reaches of the atmosphere, there were absolutely no people or taxis left to impede us in our mission to walk back to one of the Cardiff suburbs. I’d name it, but I’ve actually erased that part of my brain and overwritten it with something more useful. Like the birthdays of every Big Brother contestant ever – something like that. By the time we got back to the house, we were somewhat tired and flaked out. But rest was not to be had just yet! Oh no. My friends Girlfriend, D, somehow managed to break off the key in the lock. We just stared at it. Surely we hadn’t been bad enough to deserve this? My friend, R, forlornly loped away down the street in the vain hope that some nearby neighbors of theirs who had a spare key were still awake.


We sat on the doorstep, trying everything we could think of – including shouting for the cat inside. (Actually not as bad an idea as you might think, as R’s cat has a bizarre mutation that means it has an opposable thumb. Just imagine the possibilities of that!) But it was to no avail. I have no doubt that the cat could have opened the door for us, but it just couldn’t be bothered. Thankfully, I haven’t entirely forgotten what it is to be practical. So, I broke out my keys and managed to fashion a grabbing device from a glasses screwdriver and a keyring. First I turned the key, then carefully withdrew it, and finally threw the door open with a triumphant “ha!” It was a great moment – I knew all that training would be useful one day. So, always take a technician out with you – they’re great at housebreaking. We scurried inside, and realised about 20 minutes later that R was still outside. We sent the cat to let him in.


We took the car back to Birmingham, with a little stop-off in Portishead (yes, that Portishead) which is where I grew up. There, I treated K to a three-point turn in a cul-de-sac entirely full of cars and on a 30 degree slope. K just gave me a meaningful look, the car shifted gear for no reason, and then the windows all steamed up again.


Sadly, K had to take a flight home to the Canadark for a little while – throw some more stuff in a bag and bring it back, and it was time for me to face up to a little reality and either get a job, or win a lot of money on some kind of lottery. So….it was time to dig out the Stage and see what was out there….

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  • 5 months later...

So, I have new neighbours. I haven’t actually spoken to them yet, but I’m resolved not to let that get in the way of issuing them a silly name, so I’ve decided to call them Mr and Mrs Noisington. Despite having never had a conversation with them, I’m able to deduce many things through the luxurious paper-thin walls of my luxurious paper-thin flat.


Mr Noisington is a guy in his late 30s. He works in the quality control section of the local hammer factory, and is so dedicated to his career that he always brings extra work home. He’s also a semi-professional clog dancer, who is very dedicated to his practising. He has what appears to be a Bluetooth headset for his mobile phone, which he wears all the time, but he never actually turns it on, preferring instead to shout loud enough that he can be heard through his trouserlegs. When he’s not hammering or practising the latest clog dancing moves (some of them are very tricky, you know), he’s holding extensive conversations about his latest bowel movements just outside my front door. Apparently his cellphone gets better reception there. (Although, obviously, not so good as to remove the need for him to ask “can you hear me now?” every second sentence.)


Mrs Noisington is also in her late 30s. She was once a championship-winning Town Crier, but since her conversion to the West Peruvian Door-Slamming Religion she stays at home every day. She now spends most of her days rearranging her pots, pans and glasses, and indulging in the Holy Sacrament of Slammage. However, some of her old friends from the town crying club still visit her whenever they can. In deference to her religion, they ensure that they slam every door they can on the way in.


They have three pets: the first is a rhinoceros called Sandy which they have had shoed like a horse, in order to protect his feet. They paid extra for the decorative extra-heavy gold and lead shoes. Secondly, they keep a rabid wolverine on a leash near the door. The wolverine (called Chuckles) has been specially trained to viscously attack the (paper-thin!) door every time a Theatre Technical Manager comes within 50 feet. Finally, they also have a Jack Russell terrier (to be honest, this is the only one that I’ve seen) which they rescued from the Home For Yappy Annoying Dogs. They’ve trained him quite well, and he frequently stops barking well before 3am some nights.


Luckily for me, they don’t have a TV, but have instead invested all their cash in a 48-Gigawatt Stereo and the full set of “Songs No-One Wants To Hear” which came with a bonus CD of “The Worlds Most Repetitive Basslines” and a free Gong. Thoughtfully, thy don’t ever turn this on until after 5am (except Mondays, of course).


Sadly, this setup has caused permanent deafness in both of them. Due to a complicated set of restraining orders dating back to an incident in 1979, they have to stand on opposite sides of the room to each other and operate a selection of powertools when conversing. They converse often.


Neither Mr or Mrs Noisington have any teeth, so all the food that they eat has to be tenderised with mallets and then prepared in some kind of blender before being served with heavy iron spoons onto steel crockery. Burping is considered to be extremely good manners, and the length and intensity of the burp denotes how much they wish to compliment the meal. They drink exclusively crushed ice, which they prepare with the more old-fashioned rolling pin and dishcloth method, and then stir vigorously with specially made long spoons.


You may have seen them in one of those house magazines, as the décor is quite unusual. They have managed to decorate the entire house without using any soft furnishings whatsoever, and all of the furniture is made of iron, lead or brass. Obviously, this would be a bit hard on the floor surface, so they’ve had the floor clad in steel for durability. They’ve cleverly got round the problem of having to buy wallpaper by entirely covering each wall with pictures, nailed directly to wall. To ensure that they are straight, Mr Noisington removes all the nails every day and rehangs each and every picture, putting in fresh nails.



I met Mr Noisington in the hall yesterday, the day after he’d had all his pals from the hammer factory round for an evening of singing and clog-dancing.

“We didn’t make too much noise last night, did we?” he said.

“No, it was fine.” I replied.



Two-faced little bastard that I am.

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  • 2 months later...

Job Lot

By this time, I was forced to admit that my “Holiday” was…. tending towards unemployment, and my stash of 100 Dollar bills was starting to look a little smaller than I hoped it would. It was time to either get back on a ship, or get (gulp) a real job. It was time to start actually buying the Stage again (does anyone buy it if they’re not looking for a job, I wonder?) and trawling the various sites for some real work. The real problem was, there really weren’t a lot of jobs around for little old me, and there was some real variety in the types of jobs I was looking at.


Job hunting is bizarre in this industry: You go out, you get the Stage, you circle the stuff that’s in your area, you sift through 98 pages of ads for topless dancers (note: this is not my area, no matter what the rumours say). Then you fire off CVs or (dull, dull, dull) you fill in an Application Form. (Which, I contend, is not the panacea to the Equal Ops stuff that they claim – surely arranging for a single CV is less onerous than repeatedly filling in Application form after Application form?) And that’s it. That’s all you can do for that week. You go back to a listless state, sitting around waiting for letters until next Thursday, when you can buy the Stage again and start over.

It’s interesting to see the patterns in the Stage job adverts. There’s a couple of Theatres (I’ll mention no names) that seem to advertise for staff every single week. It’s not so much that it must be rubbish to work there, more that it must seem ok when you visit, but then turn nasty. Who knows, perhaps it’s like From Dusk Til Dawn in there, and after dark everyone turns into some kind of flesh-eating monster. Who knows? All I know is that I gave them a wide berth. I needed a job, but not one that I was going to have to quit in five minutes because someone was chewing on my leg.


As usual, I filled in my religion as Druid on the equal ops form. (I urge you all to do the same. Jedi is so last year, you know.) I never really understand the point of about half of the questions on the form. Why would my primary school have any bearing on what I want to do now? But, obviously, you have to fill in the damn things. The best part is the only bit any of the employers actually read: “Why do you want this job?” Apparently it’s bad form to say: “Because you are prepared to part with enough money” so instead, I used The System.


Now, I’m worried about sharing The System with the general public, but here goes: The big secret is; writing those “Why do you want this job” blurbs is easy. This is the only useful thing I ever learnt in an official council training course. All you do is copy and paste the “person specification” and “job duties” from the Job Description, directly answer each point, explaining that you are so amazing at each task that you have to concentrate to avoid evolving into a lifeform of pure light, and then delete the stuff you pasted. That’s it. If you’re even vaguely qualified, you’ll get an interview 90% of the time. Seriously. It’s so systematized, It bugs me that I have to even go through the process. I feel like writing: “I know how to play this game already. Just give me the interview.”


Anyway, having fired out approximately 1 million virtually identical Job Applications, I had something a lot more fun to go and do: Well, if you can call going to Heathrow “Fun” in any way. The thing is, K was moving to England to come and attempt to keep me from causing too much trouble. I believe she was required to do so by the Queen or something. Anyway, a flight from the Canadark is a real killer in terms of jetlag (the other way is much kinder on you) so at first, I thought that K’s quiet voice and unnerving knack of walking exactly in my blind spot were due to the jetlag. I was sorely mistaken. It turns out that K is a Canadian Ninja, sent here to stalk me and ensure that I don’t get in anyone’s way. Many would think that having a girlfriend who talks so quietly that you frequently can’t hear her would be a blessing, but it isn’t so. It just gets you into a whole world of trouble when you haven’t heard the vital information that you require to perform your menial tasks correctly.


So, with K lurking in my blind spot, waiting to pull me out of the way of anyone else that wants to use the pavement, I finally got some Job Interviews.


The first was down in London, for a consultancy. It was one of those great jobs where the salary was a secret, and the only way to find out was to go to an interview. They were situated in the furthest point in London from any Tube Station, a prime location that attracts only the cheapest of employers. I jest, of course. There are no cheap employers in London, as even in the worst possible location, the rents are calculated to be exactly 1% more than the average turnover. Anyway, they had asked me to prepare a presentation on past projects that I had managed, but when I got there, there didn’t seem to be an appropriate juncture in which to do so. Instead, they asked me to diagram a double-purchase counterweight system. Why? I have absolutely no idea. Seriously, none. Unless, of course, they were looking for a guy to design counterweight systems. You’d think they’d include it in the Job Desciption, no? Anyway, that one didn’t work out, somewhat to my relief (I wasn’t relishing handing over 80% of my Salary for somewhere to live, you see) and they sent me a lovely letter asking why I hadn’t done a presentation, and noting that I was a little “overqualified” for the Job anyway. Perhaps the (secret) job description said: Must be able to slightly mess up drawings of Counterweight systems, and I had gone far too far with the incompetence. Who knows? Anyway, I’ve never been overqualified for anything before, so that was quite exciting in itself.


The next one was possibly The Best Job Interview Ever™. It was for the entertainments department of a Theme Park. The job itself looked terrible (you think the stuff on the ship was cheesy? You ain’t seen nothing…) but the interview was riotous fun. It was a two-day job, with a large selection group given a load of “leadership test” exercises, followed by a call back the next week for the shortlist. First of all, the selection day was great, on all sorts of levels. Anyone who’s ever read any Dilbert Cartoons would recognize the techniques being used – it was pure management doublespeak all day. But if you recognized that, and played along, there was loads of fun you could have with it. It was like a ‘live” version of “The System”. You knew exactly what they were looking for, so you just played the game. There was another guy there who had also rumbled what it was all about, so he and I basically used the time ticking all the boxes and then messing with the minds of those who hadn’t got the hang of it. Yes, I am evil. Anyway, the shortlist was predictable (me, the other guy who understood the system, and a guy who already worked there) so we went back a week or so later.


There were two interviews, with a very long gap inbetween. The interviewers obviously hadn’t really thought very hard about what to do with the candidates between interviews, so in the end, they turfed me out into the park to do whatever I liked. So, I spent the entire period between interviews riding rollercoasters in my interview suit. It was great, seriously. The best part was that the staff who run the coasters obviously aren’t used to guys in suits coming around, and I think they must have assumed that I was someone from Head Office checking up. Either way, the service was impeccable. I have never had so much fun on a Job Interview. In the end, it too them absolutely ages to phone back and offer me the job, by which time I was already employed. I wouldn’t have taken it anyway, I don’t think. But I did enjoy the interview, I’ll give them that.


I had a couple more interviews, one in a Northern town near Manchester that will remain nameless, where I’m pretty sure that they were planning on promoting someone internally (one member of the tech team, who I actually know from a long time ago, was suspiciously missing from the place when they gave me the tour), and another in a southern university city that just didn’t “click”, but neither of them worked out.


Finally, I had two interviews scheduled back-to-back. One all the way up in Newcastle, and then the next day, one for a conference centre down south. I’ll admit to a little trepidation in going to Newcastle. I had always been told that it’s grim up North, you see, and my, it’s a long way. You know there’s a problem when after York, there’s no mobile service again until Newcastle. ie: You are a long way from civilization, son. The interview was for a National Dance Agency. Don’t know what one of those is? Don’t worry, neither did I. I’ll admit that I hadn’t totally paid attention to my research, and when I arrived, I was surprised to find a slightly tatty converted warehouse on a back street in the middle of an area undergoing major construction. I became more and more confused on the tour, as they showed me round smallish tatty dance studios, with domestic stereos in. One of them had a Betapack and 6 parcans in, and that was pretty much it for technical gear. I just couldn’t quite fathom why they were asking for a Technical manager. I’d been to a preliminary interview for a place down in London a few weeks earlier that had advertised for a Technical manager, but it transpired during the interview that what they really meant was “caretaker”. I thought this was perhaps another one of those…


And then it became clear. At what would appear to be the end of the tour, they handed me a hi-vis and a hard hat, and took me to the site of the new building.

Well, it was great. There was a shell of a building there, but the theatre was just a huge cavernous space with nothing in (no floor, even!). There was so much potential, it was brilliant. Then they took me for the actual interview. They introduced me to J, who was the line manager of the position, who basically said: “I feel like s**t. I’m out of here,” and promptly left! So I did the interview with the Artistic Director and the Production Manager of another organization. It went pretty well, I thought.


Then, as I left the building, I dropped there was a slight spinging noise from the catch that holds the strap onto my laptop bag. I watched in delicious slo-mo as my laptop hurtled towards the floor. And then it hit. It looked bad. I picked it up, attempted to look like I wasn’t a complete tit, and nonchalantly wandered around the corner. Where I immediately dropped the pretence and opened my bag in a tearing hurry.

It looked kind of bad. The entire corner was bent up and the laptop was making a rattling noise of some kind. I got myself round to the nearest Starbucks (Wi-Fi is the killer app, I tell you) and fired it up. It worked, but the denting and bending was pretty nasty-looking. “I better get the damn job” I told K on the phone. Minutes later, the phone rang. Karma is real, folks. The job was mine.


Being the polite soul that I am, I called and left a message for the conference center down south saying that I wasn’t going to be coming to the interview the next day. It took a fair while to leave the message as no-one wanted to accept responsibility for taking a message for the boss while he was out. It wasn’t terribly complicated, I didn’t think, but obviously it required a level of responsibility no-one was prepared to shoulder. In the end, I left the shortest message I could generate with the most junior member of staff at the organization and hoped it would get to him.


Bizarrely, later the next day, the conference center called me back. They basically said that although I hadn’t come to the interview, they still thought I was the best candidate for the job, and would I reconsider? They must have interviewed some serious no-hopers to give the job to the guy who didn’t turn up….

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