Sunday, November 20, 2011, 2:08 PM
In a couple of hours time I will be hurtling towards certain death faster than a speeding bullet, screaming in terror and thinking of my children.........or so I imagine every time I step onto an aeroplane. Which is far too often for my liking recently but it has to be done.
I am well aware of the old adage that flying is safer than driving but that doesn’t wash with me. I know the tin can I am about to strap myself into is the one that’s going to hit the deck, hard. Of all the thousands of flights zipping around the world without a hitch, mine is the one that is going to cop it. That’s for sure.
On approach to the airport the butterflies in my stomach have worked themselves from a flutter the night before to a furious frenzy. I am breaking out in a sweat and my survival instinct is having serious words with my rationale, insisting I turn around, right now! Do I do it? No, I head off through the airport doors, my internal row still raging as my body moves forward awaiting the final decision. Flight or Flee!
While I am going through the motions my mind is jumping between snapshots of my flame encased ‘flight’ falling from the sky and an image of a Gin & Tonic while sitting at the airside bar. The old d onkey and carrot syndrome. I have just got to get through security first.
This is another terror I have to endure for no other reason than I feel guilty. My untimely death has now been replaced, briefly, by another picture. One of me walking through the metal detector setting off ringing bells, sirens and fashing lights, a swat team will appear and I will be rugby tackled to the floor. Why? I have no idea. But I am sure it is going to happen. So I try to act ‘normal’ which apparently makes me look decidedly dodgy. I am always searched, my bag rummaged through and mechanically sniffed. On two occasions they have even brought out the canine variety to give me the once over, these dogs are extremely thorough with no crevise left unsniffed (blush). Hot and flustered I stuff everything back in my bag, rearrange my clothing and search fleetingly for my dignity. Nope, it’s gone. Ah well, I’m sure it will catch up with me later. Just keep moving.....cue Gin and Tonic image.
Feeling relieved that after strict scrutiny I am no longer considered to be a risk to worldwide security, other passengers, or carrying cocain for a drugs cartel, I make a beeline for my boarding gate to assess the que situation. Now this is where I get obsessive. Travelling on the cheapest of flights (which doesn’t evoke alot of confidence to start off with) I don’t have the option to book my seat first and as I have a prefereance I will be as devious as I need to be to get it. Being first in the que is the obviouse and by far the easiest method so I always make a point of being ridiculously early. Once I am satisfied that no one else is about I head to the bar.
Here I feign a bright and breezy attitude to the barman, concealing my inner turmoil, ‘It’s still not to late to turn around you know’, and as my Gin and Tonic is put in front of me I try not to grasp it too eagerly. This then goes down in surreptitious gulps while keeping one eye on the departure gate and with a fair amount of fidgeting going on. If I can get another one in before anyone makes a move I will, but as soon as they do, I down it in one and start sprinting, literally.
Providing all has gone well my feet hit the tarmac first and I am power walking towards the steps at the back of the aeroplane. I have done my research you see, Air Crash Investigation on Discovery and a good bit of Googling. These were my findings.....
Over the wings you may survive a crash, as it is the strongest part of an aeroplane, but you have a good chance of being burnt to a crisp while still in your seat once the fuel tanks ignites. In the front you’ll be the buffer as you smash head first into the side of a mountain. If seated away from the exit doors you will have to fight your way through panicked passengers or clamber over mangled and dead bodies to get out. If you go down over the sea, you are basically stuffed and it doesn’t really matter where you sit. So after years of deliberation and trying out every area of an aeroplane I finally decided on, and felt most comfortable in, the last seat at the back on the aisle. Why? Well...... you are first to get served from the drinks trolly and you are right next to the toilets. Which is extremely important after several Gins on an empty stomach.
Once in my seat..... we won’t go into my reaction if someone has somehow managed to get to my seat before me. Errrrm.... maybe a glimpse....ouch....Nah, we really don’t want to go there. So anyway, once in my seat I strap myself in tightly and send out hostile vibes as I really don’t want anyone sitting next to me. I am not being unfriendly but if I am going to die I want my own space to do it in and not squashed into someone elses. And then I wait, while every other part of body is trying to convince me the final decision was 'Flee' my head is poo poohing it telling me not to be so silly and to stay put. So the conflict continues. It’s not to late.... it’s not to late.... it’s not to late. Still I sit there. They are closing the doors.... get off... get off... get off. But too late, my fate is sealed, as are the aeroplanes exits. Death is imminent. I have my phone in my lap ready to switch on and send my children an already prepared text telling them how much I love them.
We lumber down the runway with me gripping the arm rests taking note of every rattle and jolt, cursing myself for not getting the hell out of there when I still had the chance. After an interminable amount of time we are finally airborne being buffeted by turbulence as we break through cloud pockets. At this point I am wild eyed, gasping and squealing at every bump and dip and know with heart thumping horror and absolutely certainty, that this is it! Only to find that it isn’t. The flight levels out, the seat belt sign goes off and the stewardessess spring into action. All the other passengers are looking relaxed and calm. I, however, am looking a bit sheepish. Ok, ok so we made it up here...... but we still have to make it down! Where’s that drinks trolley? Ah ha! There it is..........
“I’ll have a large Gin and Tonic please...........actually, make that two!”
Monday, November 7, 2011, 5:11 PM
What I want to know is, what’s taking them so long? They went into a huddle on Friday morning and there they stayed until Friday evening. For the life of me I can’t understand what they are finding to deliberate on.
I have watched every day of this trial, listened to every witness and scrutinised every piece of evidence put before the jury (I know, I know, I need to get a life) and for me the verdict is crystal clear. GUILTY! It really doesn’t take a mind equal to Einsteins to work this one out. Anyone with an ounce of common sense will know that what Conrad Murray did was very, very wrong.
My last blog on the trial left off just as the defence was going into bat. Well, they were pretty much stumped from the off. I think I can say without exception, that each and every one of the defence witnesses actually helped strengthen the prosecutions case rather than weaken it and you were left wondering whose side they were actually batting for. The emerging super hero of the hour, main prosecutor David Walgren, was exceptional in his cross examination. Mind you, the first few witnesses basically knocked their own bails off with blunders that rendered the defence speechless and the prosecutions case enhanced. It wasn’t necessary for them to get to their feet. When Mr Walgren did rise to the podium a few short sharp questions were all that were needed to topple the wicket. Howzat!
The defences final witness was to be their get out of jail card. The counter attack to the prosecutions own expert in the field. With their whole case pinned on this one witness it was make or break time. It broke. They pulled the pin from the grenade but omitted to throw it. Through a measured, patient and determined cross examination the witness proved to be no match for our hero who, after quite a tussle I must say, got the answers he was looking for. The expert was left licking his wounds and skulking off into the shadows. The defence team were left with faces like thunder as they had just watched their star witness duped and cajoled into digging the hole they were sinking into a good few fathoms deeper.
We had reached the final showdown, the closing speeches. Here, finally, was the high drama with each side putting across their full arguement and pleading with the jury to, in effect, vote for them. The prosecution, with their now much publicised efficiency, stepped up to the plate and with compassion and conviction put across the facts of the case, step by step, using information slides and play backs of the trial sliced and spliced into the narrative. It played like a Discovery Documentry. Again the planning and proffesionalism of the prosectution shone through (There is one very proud Mum in America somwhere ).
The defence on the other hand were whinging and whining, sloppy in their approach (as throughout the whole trial) leaving you with a nasty taste in your mouth and wanting a shower. Having had all their theories shot down in flames and their own witnesses working against them, there was little more they could do but fire cheap shots at the bullet proof prosecutions case. The defence were firing blanks and came across as petulant as a teenager caught out in a lie.
The final rebuttle was left to the prosecution who swatted away the defences criticisms with less effort than needed to eliminate a fruit fly and closed the final day of the trial stronger than when they had started.
Whatever the outcome, one thing can be said for sure. For some, in the course of this trial, careers were made and stars were born. Others will be scrabbling around, picking up the shattered pieces of their own and mourning the loss of respect that their involvement has brought upon them.
Thursday, November 3, 2011, 1:00 PM
My all time most embarrassing moment. Bear with me while I set the scene........
Far to long ago I spent a couple of years working as a card dealer on cruise ships. One of which was based in Cocoa Beach Florida taking Americans on island hopping jaunts around the Bahamas. It was quite a busy casino and although the hours were long I was paid a ridiculous amount of dollars and had an absolute ball. The entire casino staff were Euorpeans, most coming from clubs up and down the length of the British Isles and as casino staff can be quite nomadic, we generally found many of us had work colleagues or friends in common.
The company I was contracted through supplied casino staff to several different cruise lines on a variety of routes and you never knew where you would end up or when you would be transferred. Ship hopping was common due to contracts ending and you could find yourself packed and on a plane with only a few hours notice. This meant new additions to a ship were welcomed immediatly, interrogated as to who knew who and then whisked off to a bar to be initiated into the play hard ethos, the work hard part would come later. Friendships were created instantly. When group dynamics are constantly changing and you never knew how long people were going to be around, bonds happend much quicker. I met a bevvy of wonderful characters some of whom were so eccentric I am quite sure in normal circumstance would be committed, totally harmless though and fantastic fun.
As a unit we worked, eat, slept, socialised and partied together along with other X pats who had different proffesional roles. This particular ships rules allowed only those who worked in the front house aspects of the boat to socialise in the passenger areas, excepting the main restaurant, providing the strict dress code was adhered to. This was a bit of a bind so at night we generally stuck to the Crew Bar (or cabin parties), in the bowels of the ship or in the afternoon the pool bar, where a bikini was the order of the day, as were Long Island Iced Teas. The Crew Bar only served beer.
At the other end of the spectrum the ships crew were expected to be invisible and were to keep themselves to the engine rooms, kitchens, laundrys and so on, staying well away from the passenger decks. These were predominatly South Americans, Hondurans and Puerto Ricans with the Crew Bar being their only source of entertainment and place to socialise. We would all eat in the Crew Mess but were seperated by a centred wall, open at one end, and were only visible to each other when filling our plates from the buffet via a hatch that ran the length of the serving area.
While working this particular ship I experienced a New Years Eve I will never forget. We were docked at Freeport, Grand Bahama having just deposited our Christmas Cruise and were on a turn around. The ship was to be totally passenger free when we took sail that evening and a pool side New Years Ever Party was announced by the Captain (who enjoyed a good knees up) with ALL crew invited.
Christmas had been hard work but now with the whole day off and a party to look forward to later that evening the Casino Crew were like greyhounds in a trap and crowded around the exit plank waiting for the barrier to go up. And then we were off! The hare was running. First stop was the private beach of a nearby hotel where several hours were spent sunbathing and sampling the Beach Bars extensive cocktail menu. Next the hotels casino to take advantage of the free drinks served to players. With all money, spent, lost or squandered we headed home and made a beeline for the pool bar where we watched the sun set as we headed out to sea.
The evening progressed with much frivolity and larking about with many pool dunkings (which I managed to avoid) and every health and safety law broken. The fact that no one fell over board is down to pure luck rather than vigilance. The Captain, sporting his latest tennis outfit, was in full swing and entertaining us all by demonstrating his tennis serves, belting balls towards Florida. We watched admiringly, uttering ooh’s and aah’s after each shot, hoping to gain a few brownie points. The ‘Casino Crew’ were always getting into trouble so keeping the Captain sweet was an advantage.
Now, the ships crew, not used to bright lights and crowds had decided there was safety in their own numbers and stayed in the enclosed disco side of the bar, well away from the poolside shaninigans but taking full advantage of the free alcohol aspect of the evening. So much so that it wasn’t long before they relaxed and had commandeered the dance floor to strut their stuff. Midnight came and went and just as we were heading into the disco ourselves one of my all time favourite songs, Love Shack by the B52’s, started to belt out. I pushed through the door at full speed ahead, knocking others flying, and launched myself right into the middle of the pulsating pack. All inhibitions had, unfortunately, long been beaten into submission by a very persausive amount of Long Island Iced Teas.
Within seconds the heat of the crowded room hit me and while dancing and whooping I whipped of my sweat shirt, swirled it around my head several times and flung it in the general direction of a distant chair. I then proceeded to give the music my full attention going all out with a couple of hip thrusts which I felt were called for at the time ( the Bang, Bang bit for those of you who are familiar with the song). After throwing in a couple of twirls for good measure faces started to come back into focus and it was only then I realised that alot of people were standing back and staring at me, no not staring, leering, It took a few seconds before the full horror dawned on me. I was girating, very provocatively, bare foot in my Daisy Duke’s.......... and totally topless!
I had left the ship with a bikini top under a loose little T-shirt, a pair of shorts and flip flops, with a sweatshirt stuffed in my bag incase it turned chilly. The plan had been to change later. As plans go, this didn’t. Much earlier in the day after getting the bikini top wet I had removed it when putting my T-shirt back on and early in the evening I had added the sweatshirt. As I yanked off said sweatshirt in the disco, my T-shirt had clung to it, abandoning my modesty without a backward glance.
Absolutely mortified I darted towards the nearest exit, and in my panic, furiously pushed instead of pulled becoming immediately swamped by over excited crew shoving each other out of the way to ask me to dance. They believed my improptu burlesque show had been intended and that their New Years wishes had just been granted. After what seemed a very long time but was probably only a minute or so some of my friends had got to the other side of the exit and managed to push the door open enough to pull me through while others had gone in search of my top. I have absolutely no memory of what happend after that, just the feeling of relief once on the other side of the door.
Unfortunately it didn’t stop there. Ooh no, my blushes were constantly in demand over the following couple of weeks. Mumbled comments, passing winks and surpressed s****s had to be endured while moving around the ship. And at meal times, when serving myself, heads would peep through the hatch the otherside taking turns to smirk and giggle. Thankfully I didn’t have to suffer for too long. It was my turn to move on and after many tearful goodbyes and some not so tearful I found I had hit the big time. My next stop was a first class cruise liner heading to Rio for the ‘Mother’ of all parties...... The Rio Carnival. Now my New Years wish had been granted.
This trip was very different and found me dealing Black Jack to the Rothchilds every evening, having to hire a bodyguard in Brazil (nothing to do with that other incident hehe), experiencing a storm with waves the height of houses and meeting a real live, incredibly handsome, ‘American Gigilo’, who made every rich widow on board swoon with his charm and pay for his pleasure. I did quite a bit of swooning myself, but sadly, I couldn’t afford him, PFFFT!....... that’s a tale I might tell another time.
Here are some of the New Years Eve party goers, that's me sitting down with the hat on. The chap standing behind me biting the young lady's knee is Andy who managed to pull me through the door to safety.
This photo was taken a couple of weeks before Christmas at an improptu 'Toga' cabin party. As you can see the cabins were pretty small so the rest of the party was carrying on out in the hallway.
Ahhh, those were the days!
Monday, October 24, 2011, 9:20 PM
It is dawn, on what will be a glorious summers day, the sun is slowly peeking over the tops of the trees in the distance. There is a low wispy white haze swirling lazily, browsing the tips of dew dipped emarld green grass, in the fields that surround me. The scene is magical. The air is fresh and still, tinged with the chill of the night just making it’s exit. It is blissfully quiet, but it won’t be for long, so I am sitting, sitting and waiting..........
It all began with a little brown bird that caught my eye through the kitchen window. I had been contemplating cleaning out the fridge and was looking for a distraction to do otherwise. I’d found it. I decided it was extremely important to find out what type of bird this was and it was important to find out now, so I skipped off to raise Google to assist in my quest. Fridge forgotten. An hour or so later I had my Free Garden Bird Wall Chart winging it’s way to me, a space cleared by the window in readiness for it’s arrival, and car keys in hand to pop to the local village for bird seed. Later in the day, seed scattered and dogs secured elsewhere, my garden was the host for all manner of visitors of the feathered kind and I was struck by how indvidually delightful the different species were. The assortment of colours and characters were enchanting and proved to be immensly entertaining. They made me smile and I needed to smile.
While watching it occurred to me that I had reached pffft years of age and although I had lived in the country, surrounded by woodland and fields for most of my life, I still knew nothing more about birds apart from they generally come with a beak and feathers. Quiet shocking really!
The full extent of my knowledge being, that every year I would have a flock of Robins nesting on my mantle piece looking jauntily festive as they adorned the assortment of Christmas cards I recieved. Thanks to the old nursery rhyme involving Blackbirds and pies I had a rough idea what they looked like too. Oh, and Seagulls steal your chips (the potato kind) if you are brazen enough to walk along Brighton Pier with them on show, which is considered an invitation to dinner. After that it all got a bit murky. It was about time I found out.
After my garden encounter I started seeing birds everywhere, telephone lines, roof tops (not good when driving) car parks (not good when parking) sons football matches. “Did you see my goal Mum?” “.....errrrrm.... Yes, it was errrrrm... BRILLIANT
Why had I not noticed them before? I was surrounded by them.
Not being able to remember all a birds details, most times you only get a glimpse, I started carrying a camera with me. This was the start of a slippery slope. A bird spotting handbook was a must as were field binoculars. Bottled water and snacks became necessary, as a half hour casual stroll would often turn into an assault course, groping through undergrowth and trudging across fields while I hunted down the source of a particular ‘tweet’ I was not familiar with. So a bigger bag was needed. Books in more detail started to fill my shelves at home. My computer favourites list was overflowing with bird information sites and forums and my portfolio of personal sightings was growing at a rapid pace.
It became quite normal for me to arrive home, after going missing in action for hours while ‘in the field’, with twigs and bugs in my hair, mud up to my knees and hands in need of first aid due to thorn punctures and scratches. I didn’t fair much better in public parks where unseen benches and bins would send me sprawling as I backed up to get a better look up a tree. It is also not so ‘cool’ to emerge from the midst of park pruned bushes with binoculars swinging and camera in hand, looking like I had been dragged through a hedge backwards, which I had, to the astonished faces of mothers with little ones playing only feet away. It also seems that a lone women staring up a tree for half an hour (there was a woodpecker up there) can provoke an array of passing looks ranging from confused interest to concern for my mental health. I definitly prefer public parks very early in the morning. When there is no one else
That first afternoon in my garden was where it all started, but there was something else that caused me to continue. Not only can I now recognise by sight or song most birds found in the British Isles ( she writes smugly) but I gained something much more precious. A sanctury, a place to dream, to hope, to think, to grow stronger. A place where I can make time stand still, if only for a little while. I found it strolling in woods and along country paths, salty aired coastal treks and beautiful parks. It’s having a little part of the world all to myself, no computers, no TV, no people.....just me. And all around me, while I witness the struggles of those fragile little lives trying to survive against heavy odds, I am reminded of what is important in life.
So I am sitting, sitting and waiting..........for the first beautiful song so full of fervour and delight........ to break the silence, announcing the start of another day. And when I am ready, I will walk back to reality, better prepared to deal with it.
Pure pleasure, and I’m not guilty at all!
Try it some time, find a pretty spot when the sun is just rising, sit alone and very still, breath slowly, take in the view, listen and wait.......the river that took you out of the tournament last night, won’t seem so important anymore.
Oh, and the little brown bird? It was a sparrow, average life span in the wild 1 to 3 years, in captivity about 15 years, eldest recorded 23 years.
It’s a tough old world out there. ;)
Monday, October 17, 2011, 9:08 PM
I didn’t watch the OJ Simpson trial but was aware of all the hulabaloo surrounding it at the time. Now that the People (Jackson) v Murray circus has strolled into town I decided to see what these high profile televised court cases had to offer.
I was not an adoring fan of Michael Jackson, particulary when his private life became the focus for newpaper sensationalism, but have always admired his music. I have many memories from my disco days when the first few bars of Billy Jean caused a stampede to the dance floor where I would put quite a spirited wiggle on. I still would given the chance, much to my sons horror I am sure.
The outcome of the trial is not why I am watching. That will be plastered all over the papers when it is over. It is the actual process. and the fact that I have a very high boredom threshold, that has got me pressing the record button in order to watch it when no one else is around..... my guilty pleasure.
Prosecution v Defence
I have to tell you it is pretty gripping stuff! If you are prepared to wade through the endless hours of labourious questioning, pay bum numbing attention to seemingly non consequetional detail and atom splitting dissection of every fact, regardless of its relevance , you are finally lead, ring through nose, to the Ah Haaaaa! moment. The three weeks of tedium were all a smoke screen. The prosecution subtly tap tapped their way through the jurys subconscious with the mundane as they laid the path for the final damning blows. The elusive point of it all was well and truly hammerd home in the revealing final two days of the prosecutions case, coming together with the speed of iron filings to a magnet. Having the meticulous account of Jacksons last few hours laid before me, I am quite convinced Conrad Murray was the cause of Michael Jacksons death, and the prosecuton will be hoping the jury are to. Job done. Brilliant!
BUT! It is now the turn of the defence to do their damndest to mangle our minds, cast doubt on our certainties and basically push a stick into the prosecutions spinning spokes.
From where I was sitting Jacksons lawyers were extremely efficient, well organised and in control at all times. And seen with hindsight, had a well constructed and purposfull plan in play, which was executed with precision timing. Unfortunately I cannot say the same of the defense...........
Defence v Prosecution
When it came to the cross examination of the prosecutions witnesses I had hoped for high court room drama. But after watching the first of the defence lawyers, there are three, take to the podium, images of the bumbling, fumbling and vague detective Columbo to started to come to the fore. Accompanied shortly after by an uneasy feeling that this guy wasn’t acting, and without a script, was clueless. It made cringe worthy viewing.
This case, was clearly, never going to be a walk in the park, but I had expected them to be better prepared to put up a fight. Instead, all three are floundering thigh high in sticky stuff, thrashing about and getting nowhere. Their inadequecies are leaving their peers in the profession aghast at the eye popping mistakes being made and shaking their heads in disbelief. This trio, who I have fondly (they are far too entertaining to think otherwise) tagged as the Three Stooges, will be centre stage this week when they roll in the witnesses for the defence. But with the rug well and truly pulled out from under their feet they are left, arms flailing, grasping at highly flammable straws. The impressive and efficient prosecution team will be on the attack this time, no doubt weilding a lit match in readiness to send the case for the defence up in flames.