Film review – The Revenant

First off, I should say I’m not a film reviewer, nor am I aspiring to be one.  As my blog seems to be changing to become more of a place where I collect and deposit my thoughts, it seems sensible (and quite useful for me) to also park my thoughts about books, films, theatre, sporting events and other life events I experience. I’m notoriously bad at recalling things as I get older, so this might help refresh my memory and perhaps be useful to a few readers of this blog in the process.

I will try and categorise such reviews under film/movies, books, sport etc, so those that are interested can find them, and those that aren’t can ignore.

I should also mention up front that I’m very much a non-film buff. I’m the sort of person who usually has film conversations with friends that go like this:

Me: “Have you seen that film about that man who escapes from that prison on a motorbike? There’s mountains and green fields in it. You know, it’s got Clint Newman in it … no Paul McQueen, yes Paul McQueen that’s it.”
Friend: “Errr …”
Me: “He throws a baseball against the wall a lot, and eats boiled eggs, loads of them. No, hang on that’s Papillon, no, that’s about butterflies, this is a motorbike definitely. Anyway, have you seen it?”

At which point I’m usually confronted by my friend’s rather withered, horrified look. The conversation can go on for hours until we find out what film and what actor I’m talking about:

Friend: “Steve McQueen?”
Me: “Yes!”
Friend: “The Great Escape”
Me: “Yes!!”
Friend: “Yes I have, many years ago, why do you ask?”

At which point I’ve usually forgotten why I mentioned it in the first place:

Me: “Why do I ask what?”

It’s not always easy being my friend, so in an attempt to smarten myself up, become a better friend, and aid memory recall in future, making such conversations less painful for friends and acquaintances alike, here’s my first film review:

Date: 25th February 2016
Film: The Revenant

I’ve always been indifferent towards Leonardo DiCaprio, meaning I neither dislike him or think he’s mega talented, just a decent Hollywood A-list actor. He is, however, superb in this film, where he plays the part of a fur trapper in the wild-west(?) of 19th Century America. Not sure if it is the wild west as it’s covered in snow, in fact I googled it and it is in fact Nebraska. I don’t know where Nebraska is, more shame me, but it’s ever so cold.

The film is basically the story of Leonardo’s character (I forget his name) who spends the film trying to get home after being brutally mauled by a grizzly and left for dead by a nasty, vindictive Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy) – I think I have my brackets the wrong way round there. Sounds basic as far as plotlines go, and some people (all my 3 kids in fact), thought it dragged and was too long. I however loved it, but then I love long novels like ‘World According to Garp’, which are about people and don’t have much plot. I like that, plots often confuse me, and I really identified with Leonardo’s character, so much so that I was gripped from beginning to end. I was with him as he dragged himself back to life, fighting against endless elements and losing his son in the process (Reggie Kray again). The film is gruesome, brutally so in parts, but it doesn’t feel misplaced. Leonardo is fantastic and indeed the supporting cast are brilliant too, including a few Brits who do rather good American accents, at least to my untrained ear.

I was exhausted at the end, but in a good way. I have a new found respect for Leonardo too, who has come on leaps and bounds from that film he did on that boat which capsizes, you know, it was the same year as Barnsley won the FA Cup … 1912 … ooh what’s it called .. also has that woman in it from Reading, Emma Winslet … that’s it.

The Revenant (****)* – 4 out of 5 stars according to Andy’s newly devised film ratings scale.

 

 

 

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If I could turn back time …

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I suspect this is a question which has piqued us all at some point:

If you had one turn in a time machine, where would you set the dial?

What a wonderfully indulgent thought, to be given the opportunity to set the record straight, to right that wrong, to write that book. Would you go back to last week to relive that argument with your best friend? Would you go back to your last job? Your first marriage? Back to school? Even back to the crib? Or as far back as the womb?

I’m tempted to say I would go back to being a baby and do everything again. I’d grow up eating healthy food, I’d pass on the deep fried spam fritters and 1/4 pound bags of kali (northern English word for sherbert) that undoubtedly rotted my teeth beyond redemption. I would have continued running, cross country running was my thing, I was good at it as a kid, as a teenager. I found running easier than walking, and I should have exploited that, not neglected it.

I would have been more confident, less shy. I would have asked girls out at school and I wouldn’t have turned down that kind offer from Jane T. in 1981. I was bright and fairly academic, but I wasted my education. Had I applied myself I would have certainly attained better grades and that in turn would have led to better career choices and more money and … and …

So many choices, how far back do I turn the dial? So many choices! However, university was probably my greatest tragedy – 3 years of drinking beer and very little else, probably the single, greatest downturn in my life, certainly the period I look back on with the most regret, and so that seems to be a good place to return to in my time machine.

But wait, I met my wife at University. The Butterfly Effect, borne out of chaos theory, tells us that infinitesimally small changes can have huge longer term effects. Had I not been a beer monster, I may have turned left into the library rather than turn right into the top bar at Essex University. Had I done that I wouldn’t have seen her, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with the girl that rocked my world. We would never have married, and in turn, our children would have never existed, and that’s unthinkable.

If I step into that time machine, whichever point I choose to return to, I risk losing everything I now hold dear. The butterfly effect tells us that anything we do differently during our trip back in time, risks changing everything from thereon in. If I stop eating kali, perhaps I replace it with something else more sinister – I may have nicer teeth on my 2nd attempt, but perhaps I have a more addled brain. If I start running more in my second life, perhaps I end up at a different university, studying a different subject, and most certainly never get to the top bar at Essex University in the spring of ’82, and never actually meet that girl in the green combat trousers.

To imagine, or to wish for a different outcome from our past, is to risk changing everything going forward, including all that one holds dear. I don’t think we can pick and choose, we just act spontaneously and we must therefore live with the consequences of our actions. You pays your money, you takes your choice, and you have to accept all that comes with it.  I might wish I had better teeth and a flatter stomach but would I risk everything for that? To change anything about us is to change ourselves forever, and that has unintended consequences.

On reflection I think I’m OK after all, so I think I’ll pass on the offer of a spin in the time machine, thanks.

I warned you …

When I started this blog, way back in March 2012, I predicted, and in fact pronounced in the tagline of my blog, that it would become ” … tumbleweed within a month”.  I was wrong, it took just over a year before the tumbleweed rolled into town.

April 2013 was my last entry and it’s now November 2013, some 7 (seven) months on.  That’s how they do it on the football vidiprinter, for large numbers they spell the number (word) just in case you can’t believe your eyes.

Vidiprinter: Barnsley 7 (SEVEN) Huddersfield 1.  “Is that a ‘7’ or a ‘1’?  Was it a draw? Surely Barnsley didn’t score SEVEN did they??  But wait, if you look closer, they actually spelled it out S-E-V-E-N, it really is SEVEN-ONE to Barnsley!”

And that did in fact happen in November 1998, and this was the best goal of the match, no the season, no, ever:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UdBOgZPHLw  See, told you.

I tried to work out why that happened.  No, not Darren Barnard’s screaming volley, I will never understand why or how that ever happened, but rather why did I stop blogging? I had a year to get used to the fact my blog wasn’t going to set the world alight, and anyway my enjoyment came from the writing, not from the responses.  ‘Good job!’ I hear you heckle, but fair heckle, for indeed the responses were indeed spartan at best.  In fact if I had a penny for every response I ever got, I would have about 13p.  I’m guessing, I really haven’t counted but it’s a low number, certainly not one worthy of spelling out on the vidiprinter of “Blog response” scores on a Saturday afternoon, that’s for sure.

I changed jobs in February 2013, and then again in May 2013, and such changes are always quite significant.  On both occasions I had to adjust to commuting again after years of being a homeworker.  That was very significant.  Going from a 2-minute commute to a 4hr round trip commute certainly has an impact on one’s work/life balance.  Something had to give and I think the blog was probably a casualty, but is that really an excuse?  A long commute means a lot of down-time, a lot of sitting, surely there was time right there to do some blogging?  Damn you and your logic …

So what else changed?  Probably the biggest change (after commuting) was travelling.  My Feb 2013 job was entirely UK based, in stark contrast to the transatlantic jet setting life oft blogged about before.  In fact the May 2013 job was also UK based and involved no overseas travel .. until last month.  Last month involved a trip to New York. This month has seen trips to Germany, Poland and France, and more are planned. And here I am, blogging again.

I’ve said it before,  I love travel, in fact I said it at the very beginning of this blog. For sure I find it stressful, tiring, sometimes a little lonely, occasionally a bit scary, but I really do love it. It feels like it’s always meant to be there. My first ever job, way back in 1986, was an international job, and ever since I have gravitated towards international work.  It’s like the travelling awakens the blogger within.  Sitting on a BA plane isn’t that different from sitting on a First Capital Connect commuter train but it certainly feels different.  You feel part of a bigger world, you meet new people, you hear different news, encounter different problems.  You experience different cultures and hear fresh perspectives, and you see your self differently too, and I think it’s that essence of travel that sparks my desire to be more introspective and therefore to blog*, more than anything else. More than anything else in the whole wide world in fact.

*This blog was written on a Paris to London Eurostar train on 14th November, 2013.

The etiquette and pitfalls of airport and aeroplane toilets

I’ll get straight to the point, the only people who should poo on an aeroplane are children under 10, the elderly and the infirm, and I maintain it should be a criminal offence (or at least grounds for an ASBO), for a normal, healthy human being to do one.

I also believe that no healthy human being wants to use an aeroplane toilet ever, at all, for anything, and you have to be pretty ill or sick in the head to actually take a crap in one, for doing so has to be the most selfish, most anti-social action anyone can ever knowingly undertake.

I feel self conscious just getting up to use the aeroplane loo because I know it’s clear to everyone where I am going.  If you’re not a member of staff and you’re walking down towards the back of the plane you’re going to the toilet.  Fact.  So don’t try and pretend you’re just stretching your legs, no-one buys that ‘well being’ nonsense any more.

And to make things worse, as if to bring even more attention to myself, I epically fail, time and time again, to walk in a straight line as I crash from aisle seat to aisle seat, zigzagging my way like a drunk towards the rear of the economy cabin.

I want to shout “It’s OK, I’m only going for a wee!“. I like to get in there, do my thing, and get back out, always remembering to wash my hands of course, and I set myself an internal target to do it all in under 150 seconds, that way people can be sure I only went in for a wee.  Any shorter and they think you didn’t practice full hygiene, any longer and they think you’ve done the unmentionable and actually done the dirty deed.

The worst thing is when a queue forms.  You feel self conscious for standing by someone’s seat, your crotch ominously close to their face as they try to ignore you and watch their tiny TV, and you try your damnedest not to sway and thrust your genitals even closer than they already are, due to that damned turbulence again.   And as the queue moves forward, you start to work out which toilet will become yours and, most importantly of all, who you will have to follow in there.

Now this might appear a little sexist but if I ever have to follow someone into the loo, I prefer it to be a female. Generally speaking, if the worst does happen, they are, on average, more fragrant than your average male.  Sorry lads but its true and if you’re honest you know it as well. The worst thing, the Dante’s Inferno scenario of airport toilet attendance, is when you arrive at the cluster of WCs only to find them all occupied, and then from nowhere a queue forms behind you.

Now you are trapped.  You are now committed to enter the first toilet that becomes available. On occasion the nightmare scenario actually happens and out walks a very large, hairy, meat eating, beer drinking bloke, all 110kg of him, looking rather shame faced as he opens the door gingerly and begins his walk of shame back to his seat.  You’re not even in there yet and the smell hits the back of your throat.  You look at the person in the queue behind you and try to express, nay, plead, a sentiment in your eyes that says ‘Please be aware I didn’t create that smell, please pass word down the line that it is not I that did this’.

But it’s too late, you are obliged to enter and close the door behind you, and as you slide the lock on the door, the light comes on and illuminates the disgracefully soiled pan.  The dirty b.astard. You feel like leaving and calling him back but he was big, very big.  And as you lift the seat (for you only want a wee) the seat feels warm to the touch. You recoil in horror as you realise from whence that warmth comes, and you feel sick and light-headed with anxiety.  You want to wee, wash and get out in under the critical 150 seconds, but if you do that. the next person in will think YOU are the filthy beast that created this cesspit.  But if you take too long and exceed the 150 second limit, the red lights will flash and the “He is taking a crap!!” klaxon will start to sound.  And when you leave they will DEFINITELY think it’s you!!

Of course the only sensible course of action is to do your stuff, wash thoroughly and get the hell out. And upon exiting the toilet you really want to shout at the top of your voice:

“It’s not me!, I didn’t make that smell! I didn’t make that mess! It was that burly bloke in seat 33F!”

But you can’t, and inevitably your eyes make contact with the poor sod who has to now follow you in, and you guiltily make your own walk of shame back down the aisle, looking angrily across at Caveman Kev in seat 33F as you bounce by.

Of course to avoid all this, the chivalrous thing to do is to go BEFORE you board the plane. That’s what I try to do. It’s much more civilised and far more sociable for everyone. But this isn’t without its pitfalls either, as you may not be alone in having this thought, especially so if you wait until you reach your departure gate, because rest assured the loo nearest the point of departure will be busy with like minded passengers also wishing to have one final ‘evacuation’ before boarding.  Before boarding YOUR plane, for these people aren’t strangers any more, they are your fellow passengers.  So my advice is always try to go in the main lounge WC where you have a much lower risk of meeting your plane buddies.

Queuing for a trap in a Gents toilet is more than slightly awkward. I know women often have horrendous problems with queues at public conveniences because they have no choice but to use the cubicle, whereas us men, we have a choice.  99% of us use the urinals for a quick wee and we’re out, simple as that. Simple that is, until you need a poo.

Whereas a woman in a loo queue can look her fellow queuers in the eye and suggest she is only going in for a wee, us blokes queuing for a trap are there for one thing and one thing only – to do a poo.  And it is awkward, and it is embarrassing – the bloke in front of you needs a poo, the bloke behind you needs a poo and the bloke leaving the trap has just done a poo.  It’s awful.

I was once in such a situation, caught in the line of shame, at the airport prior to flying and I had made the fatal mistake of leaving it until I reached the departure gate toilets where it was very busy.  And to make things worse, the design of the Gents was such that the queue that formed for the traps, blocked access to the urinals from the entrance (see attached schematic), so as us ‘offloaders’ queued, a man entered and only wanted a wee.  He chirpily tried to make his way to the urinals only to find his way blocked, and as I was the nearest person to him, he turned to me and cheerily said:

“Sorry mate, are you wanting to use that?” (pointing to the empty urinal), to which I replied, and this phrase is etched in my memory:

“No it’s OK, I’m waiting to do a poo”.

You could have a heard a pin drop.  FFS why oh why oh why did I say that?

All I had to say was “No, go ahead“.  Three. Simple. Words.

 

But no, not content with standing in the line of shame, I had to then tell this stranger, this happy-go-lucky, ever so chipper fellow who only wanted a quick wee, I had to tell him that I, a total stranger, was “waiting to do a poo“.

Had I been 4 yrs old I might have got away with it, but I was 47.

I stared at my shoes.  Other people in line stared at their shoes.  I contemplated leaving. Leaving the queue, leaving the airport, driving to the seaside, leaving my clothes on the beach and drowning myself in shame.

No it’s OK, I’m waiting to do a poo“.  You idiot.

And of course, inevitably, that man did board my plane.  He sat in seat 33F.

 

Berlin

Last week I was fortunate enough to visit Berlin.  Initially I didn’t want to go, particularly not for an outside-of-my-comfort-zone corporate event held at 7-10pm on a Friday night surrounded by ‘luvvies’ and other press/media types.

Nevertheless, I went, and due to the flight timings and late finish of the meeting, I had no choice but to stay overnight.  Luckily, my meeting was in the heart of the city and so I booked a cheap hotel walking distance from the event and within striking distance of historic, downtown Berlin.

Why didn’t I just stay the weekend, I hear you cry?  Well, I’m a married man with kids.  If I were single I almost certainly would have stayed longer, but the trip was short notice and we had things planned and I needed to get back.  We had considered my wife flying out to join me, but cripplingly high last minute, (summer holiday), air fares put a dampener on that idea, and so I flew alone and was due to return back just after lunch on the Saturday.

I should point out that my default setting when travelling alone is ‘recluse’.  I hate eating out on my own.  I feel desperately self conscious and tend to wolf down my food just to get out of the place as soon as I can, which I feel is a terrible waste of money and a real wasted opportunity, as eating out is one of the best bits of travelling, but I do need company.

Ergo, my initial plan for Berlin was to get back to my hotel at midnight, and use the late start to sleep in and catch up on some much needed rest before heading to the airport.

Thankfully, I didn’t sleep well and was up and about by 9am.  The sun was shining and I had three hours to kill before I needed to be at the airport, so I set off on foot to explore. I should perhaps explain at this point that I have only been to Berlin twice before in my life:

1989
I first went there in 1989 when I was inter-railing with my then girlfriend, now wife.  Donna and I stayed a few days in Berlin during a very special part of its history.  I remember there was a real buzz about the place.  I had heard people talk about the “Berliner Luft”, which literally means “Berlin air”, but is a reference to the special atmosphere that seemingly permeates everything in Berlin.  In the summer of ’89 there was a lot of political unrest in Eastern Europe, especially the Eastern Bloc.

I’m no historian and I won’t waste my time googling events but it was around the time the Soviet Union unravelled and geographical and political boundaries were being redrawn.  Berlin was politically tense, there were suggestions of reunification and although that didn’t happen until the following year, the “Berliner Luft” was in overdrive, pumping a heady aroma of anarchy, freedom and electricity throughout the streets of the old city.

We visited Potzdamer Platz and stared at the wall.  Like many others during that time, we anarchically chipped some pieces off the crumbling relic, so maybe the transition was already underway, I’m slightly ashamed I don’t quite remember.  But I do remember the atmosphere.  I remember visiting Checkpoint Charlie and reading about the heroic attempts at escape.  I remember the stunning black and white photographs of men, women, children and even soldiers like Conrad Schumann trying to break through the barbed wire to escape to the west.  Amazing stories of people hiding in car seats and suitcases to try and cross the border.

1998
The second time I went to Berlin was around 1998.  I was living in Munich at the time and went to Berlin for someone’s birthday or stag do, I forget which, but I will never forget the weekend as it was quite possibly one of the best weekends of my life. There were around eight of us.  We did the sights again by day – museums, buildings, parks.  In the evening we visited bars and drank a lot.  We were seven English and one Austrian.  I’m not sure why I mention that but it might help explain the drinking part.

On the main night, probably the Saturday, we went to a huge nightclub where I seemingly danced all night.  Yes you read that right family and friends, I danced all night.  The night club was like a vast aircraft hanger, there was lots of acidy house, trance, dance, I-have-no-clue-what-I’m-talking-about kind of music, great lightshows and what seemed like thousands of people all dancing their own dances.  And there I was, dancing.  I hate night clubs.  I detest night clubs.  I hated them as a kid growing up, they blighted my teenage and university years, those godforsaken places that always left me feeling miserable, alone and skint.  Expensive, low quality booze, pretentious poseurs, the whiff of violence as the night wore on as testosterone mixed with sweat, I hated them then and I hate them now, but I loved that night in Berlin.  The “Luft” was everywhere.  It crept under my skin.  I don’t know what it was.  I wasn’t overly drunk, in fact I recall I drank water that night as I wanted to keep dancing, I wanted my senses to remain alive, my receptors on full alert.  I wanted to savour everything.  This was nothing to do with romance, but everything to do with deep friendships, the few of us who stayed there until the early hours didn’t need to talk, we remained connected by the ‘Luft’, that made Berlin feel so very special.

It also felt safe, full of people that just wanted to have a good time.  There wasn’t that sense of violence that I usually associated with nightclubs.  No packs of lads on the prowl looking for a fight or a vulnerable bit of skirt.  This evening felt like humanity stripped bare, love reigned supreme, a love for life, love for humanity, love for the world.

2012
Back to last week, and within 30 minutes of leaving my hotel I had reached Potzdamer Platz for the 3rd time in my life, 14 years on from my last trip.  There were pieces of wall still, kept as tourist memorabilia, watched over by a fake touristy guard who would put fake touristy stamps in your passport (for a tourist fee).  Kind of tacky, but still very poignant.  To see the 12ft high segments of wall plastered in graffiti really did bring back memories.  To think I was now stood on the border, literally with one leg either side of what was the wall.  It still felt bizarre.  To see the buildings on that side of the street that now looked identical to the ones on the other side of the street, yet just 20 years ago they would have looked so architecturally different, the wealthy side – the poor side, the capitalist side – the socialist side, the open side – the closed side, a street separated by feet and inches, yet impossibly kept apart by a 12ft high, 96 mile wide concrete wall.

I then walked on to Brandenburger Tor, the Brandenburg Gate, probably the most well known landmark of Berlin.  During the partition access through the gate was blocked for this was where the wall went.  I took a photo.  I had to.  Ever had that feeling?

I continued my walk to the Reichstag.  The very word sounds scary, immediately bringing to mind thoughts of Hitler, the Nazis, WWII.  In fact it’s been there since the 19th century and is now once again home to the German Parliament.  It’s so fcuking historical you can only stop, look up and stare in credulity.  It’s a truly incredible building.  You try and soak up all that history but you can’t, you just can’t, it’s too vast.  So I took another photo.

At this point I had timed out and needed to head to the airport so I hunted down a taxi and was gone, but I vowed to come back again soon.

I love Berlin in a way that I also love Munich, but for very different reasons.  I lived two years in Munich with my young family and it will always hold a special fondness and affinity for my wife and I.  I think we could easily live in Munich again, but I love Berlin for very different reasons that I have found hard to communicate in this blog.  I love its historical significance, I love the stories, I love the atmosphere.  It really does feel special and unique.  I know you can make that case for any city in the world, they all have their own stories, but Berlin’s history is so far reaching, so dramatic, so close in time, and that seems to make it something truly unique.

At the weekend I told my mum about my trip to Berlin and she said my Dad had always felt the same.  Apparently he had been several times on business trips and had always promised to take Mum one day.  Dad must have bloody loved the place, all those museums and history.  He never did take Mum before he passed away, but I like to think that, somehow, accidentally, I have stumbled across the same city, unknowingly falling in love with the same places he did.

I want to go back again one day.  Perhaps I’ll take my family next time, and maybe Mum might even come too.

The power of advertising

I’ve been travelling a lot lately.  Different countries, different continents and therefore different time zones, different foods, poor sleep patterns, a little extra stress, and as a result I suffered with what I can only politely describe as ‘constipation’.

I know I am straying off the conventional blog path here, but with a fully signed up blog membership of 1, I hardly risk losing many punters.

I think it’s all part of getting old, one of those annoying conditions that as a younger person you only ever heard about from your grandparents, or read about in the back of newspapers.  It’s the stuff of jokes.  I wonder what’s next – uncontrolled flatulence? acid reflux? incontinence?

So there I was in Texas, feeling a little, shall we say, backed up.  And it isn’t trivial younger readers, it becomes quite demoralising after a while, and when mixed in with jet lag and solitude, it can make you feel quite down in the dumps.  So I was feeling a little moribund, it was Saturday morning and I was scanning the 76 channels on my Hyatt TV, when I chanced upon an advert.  Here’s how it played out …

Attractive looking lady, mid 30s, rather dowdily dressed with dull hair, sat in an aeroplane seat with a real frown on her face.  She’s not happy, and then when a man tries to squeeze past her she frowns even more as he rudely pushes by, rocking her chair quite violently.  She has one hand gently clasping her stomach. 

Now I’m no media ad expert, but I think the man squeezing past was a metaphor for a ‘blockage’.  What I did know was that I recognised that frown on her face, for I shared that frown.

Cut to the same attractive lady, this time now dressed in bright colours, with beautifully conditioned hair, drinking a glass of water and taking some DULCOLAX, beaming a radiant smile, so brightly that it made me smile too.  I wanted to wear a smile like that.  Cut back to lady sat in aeroplane seat with NO-ONE sitting beside her and she wears that same disarming smile.

“DULCOLAX, gentle, predictable, overnight relief”.


That sounded beautiful, I muttered the phrase again “gentle, predictable, overnight relief”.  It was like a sign from above.  Here I was, bored, time to kill, dollars in my pocket, and constipated. There was only one thing for it.

Google -> CVS Pharmacy, Richardson, Texas -> DULCOLAX -> AVAILABLE IN STORE!!

And before I knew it I was haring down North Central Expressway 75 faster than a speeding bullet.

Pharmacies in Texas are big.  In my local Co-op in England there is a small corner of the store that does medicines.  It’s tucked away at the back, but what’s good is that you can stand in front of the entire range of medicines, and without making it obvious that you are looking at BOTTOM REMEDIES, for example, you can casually stare, feigning interest at the Aspirin/Ibuprofen in case someone you know passes by, and then slowly look down to your left at the 2-3 medicines of shame which are of real interest.

The CVS Pharmacy, Richardson, Texas is the size of a football field.  It makes a Tesco Extra/Superstore look like a corner shop.  There must have been 20 rows, each the length of a cricket strip, each specialising in a different “condition” or “genre’.  So that’s good, should be plenty of choice, I thought to myself as I entered.

In I walked, looking all casual.  I knew I couldn’t meet anyone I knew which was good.  In situations like this I craved anonymity, but being in the USA you just never know when a stranger might come up to you and chat, the one thing any Brit fears above anything else, anywhere, at anytime, but when you’re in a pharmacy looking for BOTTOM tablets you definitely do not need that, and I was becoming anxious at the prospect.

Aisle 1 – baby stuff, Aisle 2 – more baby stuff, Aisle 3 – shampoos, Aisle 4 – teeth, Aisle 5 – cold/flu, … I walked on, …. , Aisle 19 – ARSE PROBLEM RELATED MEDICINES

And then it dawned on me that there is no hiding here.  You can’t use the old Co-op trick and pretend to be reading the back of the Lemsip packet whilst casually looking down at the BOTTY tablets.  In CVS Texas, once you enter Aisle 19 you are committed, you can’t be there for any other possible reason than for ***ARSE MEDICINE***!

DING! DING!!! HELLO EVERYONE!  I’M ANDY AND I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH MY ARSE FOR I AM IN AISLE 19!!!  YES THE ARSE AISLE!

And there was so much choice – active bacteria for the gut, haemorrhoid creams, suppositories, embarrassing itching.  I was beginning to feel stressed, my back was starting to feel sweaty and I was suffering uncontrollable hot flushes like a menopausal fish wife (Aisle 13 as I recall).

The back of my neck was prickly with sweat, a sure sign I was feeling pressurised, as I scanned the aisles trying to make sense of the cornucopia of choices laid open to me.  Finally, I saw the word DULCOLAX and zoomed in on Aisle 19, sectors 37-63, rows 4-28.  They were located next to suppositories.  Nice move CVS Pharmacy shelf stacker.  You bastard.

At that moment a woman walked past with her two children.  She was using Aisle 19 as a cut through, her ARSE was just fine, in tip-top condition, but as she passed by me she held tightly onto the hands of her two children who were staring boggle eyed, and in awe, at the awesome array of chattles on offer in Aisle 19.

“Come on Zach, Cory, stay close to Momma, that man has ARSE PROBLEMS!” I heard her think to herself …

By now I had a decidedly waxy pallour, this was very traumatic, but I managed to focus – DULCOLAX 20, DULCOLAX 50, DULCOLAX 100.   Never wanting to go through this appalling experience ever again in my entire life, I calculated that, aged 47, a packet of 100 would hopefully see me through to death, meaning I would never have to experience such trauma in the few years I had left.

To give me strength, I closed my eyes briefly and tried to conjure up the image of the attractive lady on the plane and that beautifully relaxed smile.  I wanted that smile, this would all be worth it.

A bolt of electricity shot through me as I picked up the rather large box of DULCOLAX 100.  It was at this point that I thought about the unfortunate name.

The ‘…LAX’ part obviously screamed LAXATIVE!!!  Why make it so obvious?  I might as well have been wearing a t-shirt with ARSE PROBLEM written on it.  It’s embarrassing enough buying this stuff without plastering it all over the box.  Why not call them SOFTABS, or at least put RE on the front of LAX to make them RELAX-TABS?  I didn’t want anything to do with the word LAXATIVE, I wanted gentle, predictable, overnight relief, that was far less scary and certainly way less embarrassing than buying something so forthright as LAXATIVES.

It’s a slight diversion to the story, but the only time I had ever heard of people I knew using laxatives was at university.  A girlfriend of mine shared a flat with another girl who was trying to lose weight, and I once had the misfortune of walking past the bathroom door when she was in there ‘evacuating avec laxative’.  The sounds I heard that day still haunt me 30 years on.

Back in Texas I recalled that story as I looked at my mega-pack of DULCOLAX 100.  I didn’t want that, I wanted the gentle predictable relief, I wanted to be like that pretty lady on the plane.

I was now getting in a bit of a state as I realised I had no choice and I still had to negotiate the checkout.  I could see it far ahead in the distance, the happy go lucky, oh-so-fucking cheery bloke on the checkout was CHATTING to the customer checking out.  WTF?  You aren’t paid to chat, you are paid to take the money, issue a receipt and move on to the next customer!

I contemplated the old chemist ‘condoms’ trick of buying other things, so the offending article would blend in, but I didn’t want to carry loads of stuff back to the UK with me, and I didn’t have many dollars, and I didn’t want to extend the checkout time by paying with a card that probably wouldn’t be accepted on account of it being ‘foreign’ and risk the chatty checkout bloke asking me where I’m from, etc.

So I headed to the checkout, just one in service, please, no queues.  But what if there’s a queue when I get there and the person behind me sees my LAXATIVES?  I might have to kill him in the car park, yes I’ll do that.

100 yards from the checkout and it looked like the customer was finishing up and no-one else was in line … 75 yards, no queue … 50 yards, still no queue … 20 yards, no queue, chatty checkout bloke looking at me, no turning back now, heart rate quickening, throat drier than an Iraqi’s sandal …. 10 yards, look into his eyes, not around the eyes … don’t be afraid, think pretty plane lady, remember that smile …

“Hi there Sir!  And how are you today!!?”

“Hi … fine thanks … just this *cough*” I couldn’t bring myself to look in his eyes.  I could hear someone approaching behind me …  this was just awful, I wanted to cry.

“Is that all or do you need anything else today Sir?”

“No … that’s all …”  WHY DID YOU ASK THAT?  WOULD I NOT HAVE BROUGHT ‘ANYTHING ELSE’ WITH ME HAD I NEEDED ‘ANYTHING ELSE’?  ARE YOU DOING THIS ON PURPOSE???

“Do you need a bag for that Sir?”

“Yes please”  NO THANKS, OH BUT DO YOU HAVE SOME BLU-TAC THOUGH SO I CAN STICK THE BOX TO MY FOREHEAD AS I WALK OUT INTO THE CAR PARK?  OF COURSE I WANT A FUCKING BAG!!!

I paid, I left, I got into my car, I locked the doors, closed my eyes, sat back and breathed an immense sigh of relief.

I had done it!  It was a traumatic experience but I had done it.  Yay for me!

I got back to the hotel and excitedly opened the packet.

INSTRUCTIONS:  Blah, blah, blah … “12 yrs and over – 1 to 3 tablets to be taken once a day just before bedtime”.

Hmm 1 to 3.  12 yrs old and over.  I reasoned thus – if a 12 yr old girl can take 1 tablet then a 47yr portly old bloke who weighs approx 3 x times what a 12 yr old girl weighs must need at least 2, probably 3, but what was it to be, 2 or 3?  The USA is famed for lawsuits, especially where medicines are concerned, so they must always err on the side of caution, so 3 must still be safe.  I bet you could  take 4 or 5 but I’m not going to be silly, I will stay within the guidelines and take 3.  I mean what’s the point of taking 2 only to find it doesn’t work?

So that night, after I brushed my teeth, I popped 3 tablets and tucked myself in for the night, dreaming of the beautiful aeroplane lady with the relaxed smile.

The clock was showing 04:17am when I awoke with stabbing pains in my stomach.  WTF?  Food poisoning?  Then there was the gurgle.  Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, something was going on downstairs and no mistake.  And then that twitch of the arse that accompanies every bout of diarrhoea.  That subtle but unforgettable twitch of the sphincter that shoots an instantaneous message to the brain saying DO NOT FART.

What was going on?  What had I had for dinner?  Chicken salad, can’t be that can it?  I ran to the bathroom and glanced across at the 97 pack of DULCOLAX and the penny dropped.

I will spare you the detail of the next few minutes, suffice to say I was anchored to that piece of porcelain for 20 minutes, wailing like a deranged Banshee on acid as my life flashed, nay flushed, before my eyes.

The clock showed 04:39 when I staggered back into bed, shivering and sweating.

The thought of the smiley lady on the aeroplane made me feel rather cross.

 

Seat 55E

 

Choosing your seat on a plane is a science.  As a fairly frequent traveller I take this job seriously as I tend to fly the cheapest, nastiest, most inflexible ticket available.  This is particularly important on long haul flights, and in case you’re interested and ever find yourself booking a seat in World Traveller (Cattle) on a BA 747-400, Seats 52B/J are the seats to go for. 
You have a window seat so are undisturbed, you have space to your left/right for bags and extra legroom into the row 51A/K space in front of you.  I had seat 52B on the way out to Dallas, unfortunately on the return leg I was late selecting and ended up with seat 55G – that’s the right hand yellow coloured aisle seat on row 55 (see link below).
Hang on, you said you booked 55G Andy, but this blog is titled 55E?
Let me explain … 
Upon arrival at 55G, the air stewardess asked me if the elderly lady in 55F could have my seat as she would need to ‘use the toilet frequently’ (she whispered this for full effect).  The elderly lady was Indian and didn’t speak English so her son interpreted for her.  Her son was in 55E, so they had the two middle seats on the back row.  She looked sad and a little scared, rather frail looking too.  I couldn’t say no, so I offered to swap with her, only to find the son took 55G, whilst elderly lady remained in 55F and I was left with 55E.  Needless to say 55D was also occupied (by a middle aged lady).
The son of the elderly lady then proceeded to drink 7 (seven) cans of Heineken before the plane had even left American airspace, and was refused an 8th by the senior steward in charge.  
It turns out the elderly lady didn’t need the loo but her son certainly did!!  What a stroke of luck for him!! One minute consigned to a middle seat with a serious drinking habit and a slack bladder, only to find he had duped the English guy on the aisle into a swap!! 
Being the back row, there is very little seat recline due to the wall of the toilets (for there are 4 of them) located directly behind, and in flight, there is a constant queue in the aisles on both sides of row 55 as rows 40-55 (3+4+3 = 10 x 15 = 150 – 10 = 140) stand in line to empty their bladders. 
I calculated.  If a passenger needed the toilet on average every 3 hrs then on a 9hr journey that’s 3 trips to the traps situated by row 55.  Multiply that by the 140 passengers in that section of the plane and that equates to 3 x 140 = 420 toilet door openings, 420 toilet door closings and 420 associated chemical scented toilet flushes plus assorted peripheral odours *cough*. 
And if, of those 420 trips, every 10th one was for a poo, that’s an additional 42 headily scented aromas thrown into the aromatic mix and ambience now permeating row 55. 
Also, whenever anyone uses toilet L1 (upper left quadrant), the wall of said toilet wall at the back of seat 55E rattles each time the door opens and closes, and it judders/bangs the back of seat 55E.  
If the four toilets are used evenly throughout the journey, that’s approximately 105 bangs x 2 (1 on way in and 1 on way out) = 210 on a 9hr flight from Dallas to London, so that’s 1 bang to the back of seat 55E every 2.5 minutes, for 9 hours.
If 55E and row 55 were for sale in an estate agents window it would say something like this: 
“Adjacent to 55D and F, 55E has to be seen to be believed, and is within close proximity of the toilets which are ideally suited for the elderly, the insecure, the alcoholic and the infirm.
On row 55 you NEVER need waste another journey waiting in line for the loo.  That’s because there are no less than 4 (FOUR!) toilets within easy reach, and should your eyesight be problematic, worry not because your nose and ears will tell you every time the toilet doors are opened and closed!! 
And as well as neighbours on both sides, you are also treated to an endless stream of (bladder filled and gas ladened) visitors who form a permanent queue right by your row!  Don’t be a stranger! Move to row 55 NOW and make many NEW friends!!!” 
Incidentally, the yellow colour of row 55 on the seatguru site link above indicates there are “some drawbacks”.  You have been warned.