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Friday, 18 April 2008

Mat Ricardo

I'd just finished a show. Not great, not bad, nothing to write home about - just another day at the office. I'm packing away my props when a friendly-faced man bounds up to me, family in tow. As I turn around to him, he thrusts a door key card into my hand and says "I think you must have dropped your card". "Oh..", I say, assuming it must have slipped out of my back pocket during the show at some point. I'm about to thank him when I look down at the card he has given me. It has my name on. More specifically, my stage name, Mat Ricardo. Well, not quite. It actually says Matthew Ricardo. Which is weird because my room card has my real name on, which isn't Mat Ricardo.

My mind, in it's typically post-show woozy state, crashes for a second. As it slowly re-boots, I realise what's going on. I look back up to the man, who is grinning excitedly. "This", I splutter slowly, "is your name?"

"Yes!", he says, and throws his hand out to shake mine, "Been trying to catch you all week"

We both stand there and giggle for a while, and I do admit that it's not my real name, but has been my primary name of use for 20+ years. We agree, it still counts.

We shake hands again and say how nice it was to meet Mat Ricardo, and say goodbye, and I go back up to my room giggling like a drunk, my mind boggled.

Sunday, 13 April 2008


Image: Google Maps

This one's for Vena.

When I was young, every so often, usually during a non-summer school holiday, we would go to Norfolk to visit George and Vena, my grandparents. During much of my childhood they lived in a bungalow in a small coastal village called Walcott. My parents didn't have a car at the time, so we'd take the train to Norwich, then a smaller train to somewhere a little nearer, and then my Grandad would pick us up in his fudge coloured car, pipe in mouth, and drive us back to Walcott. It would always seem very late when we arrived but it probably wasn't, and we'd come through the back door to find my grandma making crab sandwiches on the little kitchen table with the shiny vinyl tablecloth on it. She'd give me lemon squash, always made too weak. I didn't want to sound greedy by asking for it to be stronger, but when she wasn't looking I'd pour in a little more from the bottle.

Scientifically speaking, a bungalow should be much easier to navigate than a house with more than one floor, but if there's a house in my childhood that I got lost in the most, this would be it. All the rooms opened out of one long, crooked, winding corridor, which gave the illusion of simplicity. One of my strongest memories of these holidays, though, is the regularity in which I'd go to my bedroom, only to find I'd walked into the bathroom by mistake before backing out slowly muttering to myself. Once I even remember asking my grandad if they'd moved the rooms around since I was there last, which was met with a confused and stern denial.

Once I'd found my bedroom though, there was the cupboard. In the cupboard was a small treasure chest of stuff that I was continually reminded HAD TO STAY IN WALCOTT AND COULD NOT COME HOME. A half size football. Two boxes of fuzzy felt. A small stack of Marvel comics - The Mighty Thor and Captain Britain. The football was great as I could kick it at the low garden wall and let it bounce back. Fuzzy felt was a rainy day toy, to be played in the conservatory while listening to the rain peppering the glass roof with heavy taps. As for the comics, well, although I was (and continue to be) a Marvel comics fan, nobody could say that these were the A-list titles. Thor never really did much for me - all he had in terms of super-powers was a hammer, which you can buy. Also he was a god of some kind, which was a little too much like school for my liking. Captain Britain, I think, lasted not very many issues and was clearly a transparent attempt to create a hero for the UK market. As I remember, he was a superman rip-off, meaning only the most generic powers (flight, strength etc), the only distinguishing feature being that the top of his head, above the eyebrows, was a flame. I'm not sure why they thought this was either a good idea, or particularly British, which might all be reasons why we're not seeing Ewan Macgregor in the big-screen adaptation. Something to be thankful for.

What was good about the cupboard was that our visits had enough time in between them that without fail I would forget about the cupboard and then rediscover it, as if for the first time, on every visit. I must have read those Captain Britain comics over and over, the story seeming fresh every time.

Once I'd read the comics and lost most of the pieces of fuzzy felt, there was still much to do in the bungalow. It was full of fascinating objects, things interesting to my young eyes just because they were different. In the front room there was a large wooden stereo, as big as a sideboard almost, with a heavy lid that you lifted up to expose the turntable and a storage box built in to it for all the records. And a radio that, when the big push button was pressed, lit up the long wide yellow band that had weird, nonsensical words like "Luxembourg" hidden amongst it's numbers. This was something I was allowed to look at but MUST BE VERY CAREFUL WITH. As I knelt in front of it, the speaker grill right in front of me, I'd spin the radio dial and occasionally hit upon someone talking, whose voice I'd feel against my chest.

On the mantlepiece was a gold clock in a glass dome, kept ticking by a propeller-shaped thing hanging under the clock face, which would rotate one way, winding up slowly, slower and slower until stopping, pausing motionless for a moment, then unwinding the other way. Over and over. I had no idea, as a child, how this movement made time, but I knew it did. And I knew that if, when nobody was around, I picked up the clock, I could feel the movement in my hand. And if I gently tipped it, it would slow or shudder the motion of the propeller-shaped thing, and make the second hand slow or stop for a tiny instant, at which point I'd get a little scared, put the clock back, and go back to looking through the records.

On the many little tables nestled in various corners were a zoo-full of glass animals. Coloured glass stretched and poured while hot liquid to form the long necks of swans or the legs of giraffes, then dotted with colour for eyes. I wasn't allowed to touch these just in case I broke them, which I'm sure I would have done, and possibly did. I remember being proud of myself knowing how they were made, knowing that when you heat something up it gets softer, like the way my dad made sword pommels in an old saucepan on the kitchen cooker. Science.

When it wasn't raining, we'd start each day by going out for a walk along the sea front, which wasn't much of anything although it did have a strange diagonal sea wall which sloped down to the beach and on which I could run up and down and pretend to be Spiderman, walking up walls. Then we'd go to the single shop that Walcott boasted, a Wavy Line store. All things to all men, the Wavy Line. Post office, newsagent, bakers, grocers, record store, toy shop. It did all these things, but just not to any great degree, although my uncle David did once buy a Dr.Hook album there, on a crazy whim. My dad would get a paper, and perhaps some pasties to eat for lunch. I have vivid memories of buying a chocolate covered toffee ring about the size of a wagon wheel but with no centre, called a Stopgap. A confection that I had only ever seen in Walcott, which is probably for the best. Also "Snaps" which were like crisps but somehow thinner and were represented, packaging-wise, by a cartoon dragon. Something tells me that they might even still exist. I must find some. Tomato sauce flavour.

We'd often go for longer walks. Big on walks, my parents were, and I thank them for that as these days, on my travels, the first thing I always do is start walking and see what I find. We'd walk down the coast to Bacton, the next village along, past some kind of big electrical generating plant, which would look like something from the future with all it's pylons, coils, tanks, blinking lights and long shadows. It would hum quietly as we'd walk past it. Unlike the glass animals, I had no idea what this was for, but I didn't like it.

My memories of these holidays veer wildly. There are times when much fun was to be had, playing on the beach and watching uncle David attempt and spectacularly fail to ride the little wooden surfboard thing we bought, or playing badminton with grandma in the garden. Also, strangely, the plague of greenfly that happened out of nowhere one year. Suddenly, one morning, the air was thick with greenfly, and I mean thick. You couldn't go outside for fear of them going in your mouth, in your hair and up your nose. If that happened now, there's a fair chance it would freak me out royally, but back then all I remember was being indoors and looking out the window at the zillions of little green bugs and being so excited at something crazy happening. The next day, they were gone and badminton recommenced.

Sometimes, however, as is often the case with children on family holidays, I was deathly bored. My interests at that time involved computers and, well, pretty much just computers. It didn't take long before I started getting withdrawals. Which is why, a few years into our visits, when the little holiday park opened 10 minutes walk up the coast, I was a happy bunny. My grandma would tell me how none of the locals liked the new holiday park, and how it brought down the quiet tone of the village. It was something new, though, so as soon as I could I went up to take a look. Maybe it would have shop or something equally exciting. The place itself was nothing to write home about, just a collection of new redbrick holiday homes in a little complex. It didn't have a shop. It had something much better. It had an amusement arcade. Oh yes. A building the size of a small kitchen, but lining the walls were the things that would make every subsequent holiday so much more fun. Phoenix, Bump 'N' Jump, and Astro Blaster. Now I had something here that was all mine. When I was bored, or various members of the family were arguing (or worse - reading quietly), I could jog up the road with a track suit pocket full of 10p coins and hit high score after high score. Astro Blaster was by far the lesser of the games, but did have a neat little feature: An sensor hidden on the front of the cabinet that detected when someone walked past it and triggered a loud American voice to suggest that you "PLAYYYY ASTRO BLASSTERRRR!", which at the time was incredibly exciting.

If there's one thing that the men in my family are known for, it's stubbornness, so as you might imagine, having three generations of them in one bungalow often resulted in fireworks. I submit the Hawaii-Five-0 incident. I had seen a trailer on TV telling me that Hawaii-five-0 was on later that day, so I asked if I could watch it (I was young and bored). No, said my Grandad, as he looked in the TV Times, it's not on today, so I couldn't watch it. But I saw an advert for it, I protested. Tempers started to get frayed, the TV Times was thrashed about and stabbed with angry grandad fingers. Voices were raised. I was branded a stupid boy. I ran away to my room, which I found on the third try. Later on most of the family came and quietly told me that Grandad had been looking at last weeks TV Times, and it was on, and of course I could watch it, and would I like some lemon squash.

I don't want to give the impression that Grandad was a bad person, he was just as quick to find the opposing side of the argument as all men in my family are. Except me, of course. I'm fair minded 24/7. Yes I bloody am.

We'd sometimes go for little drives, my Grandad driving, my dad in the front passenger seat, and my mum, Grandma and me in the back sucking on barley sugars and giggling every few seconds when Grandma would be spooked my something road-related that nobody else could see and would grab my Grandad's shoulder from behind as he drove and blurt "George!", then quieter, "careful George". My Grandad would tolerate this for half the journey then he'd start muttering, "Bloody woman", and we'd all giggle quietly.

Easy alarmed, is my Grandma. When she'd come to visit us in London, we'd sit in the front room and whenever a car when past outside, she'd straighten up like a meerkat and peer towards the window saying "Ooh. Car". When served any amount of food at any meal any time ever, she will deliver the exact same speech: "Oooh no that's too much I can't eat that not at my age that's too much for me ooh no too much you shouldn't oh dear".Then she'll put away 5 peas, a forkful of chicken, and five pints of sherry. Once, and I hope she doesn't mind me sharing this, at Christmas, she farted while playing charades. It was possibly the funniest thing in the history of the World and I remember us laughing about it continuously until new year.

She is currently somewhere in the region of three hundred and six years old and lives in Yorkshire, and when I visit her (which I do not nearly enough), she will do the same three things: (1) Show me the "little bit of fish" she will be having for tea later. (b) Furnish me with twelve biscuits and worry about me when I only have eleven, and (c) Ask me if there's anything in her house I want when she's gone because I might as well take it now. On the other hand when you call her on the phone (something I also do not nearly enough) she will run down the almost endless list of physical ailments when plague her, but do so in such a witty way that you know that the one part of her that isn't showing her age is her brain. She's sharp as a tack, and still has the potential to say something silly and collapse into peals of breathy giggles. She'll readily admit that she's "Ready to go", something that boggles my little mind. Speaking as someone who's scared to death of, well, death, this kind of acceptance fills me with a confused awe. Although I'm sure it's born as much from zen-like mastery of the journey of life as it is from the daily pains and unpleasantnesses that age brings, I still hope that by the time I get to her age (and for a start lets hope I do get to her age), I can have such a relaxed relationship with the frighteningly inevitable. I am convinced that she'll outlive us all, as her body falls to pieces she'll end up just a giggling head in a jar of brine watching TV through the glass and complaining that we've sprinkled too much food into her water. My wife always tells me that I get a lot of my funny from her, I hope I've soaked up more of her qualities than that. I have a feeling they'll be useful.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Jet Lag and lost bags made flesh

Robe - stolen from Crown Princess Spa.
Sunglasses - bought in Miami in an attempt to emulate the great Horatio Cane.
Luggage tag - model's own.

In the last 24 hours I have been to Aruba and Miami and San Juan and St. Lucia and am now en route to Antigua. I have had three pizzas (1 room service and 2 airport) and slept 3 hours. This is simultaneously wheeeeeeeeee and ick.

Also, to add to the crazy, American Airlines thought it'd be a hoot to leave my luggage in San Juan, while I flew on to St. Lucia. They were mistaken in this. Luckily, and thanks to a plucky and heavily motivated and medicated taxi driver, my bags arrived by at the cruise ship literally five minutes before we were due to set sail.

Then, as soon as I got on board the ship, I had to do two shows. I have been up since 2am and flown through more time zones than Superman when he reverses time to save Lois. The shows were fine, but everything's a little blurred and shiny through my eyes.

Wheeeeee. Ick.