Two Terrible

I don’t want to tempt fate but, so far, the two’s have been anything but terrible.

I mean he’s had his moments like we all do, but largely it’s been all rather jolly. As usual, this is due to a combination of circumstances but the main driver behind this new wave of optimism is based around successful communication. Over and above preferred foodstuffs, he can now specify what he wants to wear and when he wants to wear it, chronicle the finer points of what he wants to do in terms of playing, staying or going and, most recently, tell us directly when he wants to go to bed, even if he doesn’t want to.

The main issue of discontent is the phone, or ‘own’ as he initially calls it, usually before shouting ‘own, own, own’ over again in increasing intensity before shrieking ‘OWN!’ in a flood of crocodile tears. I must admit, he’s very good. It’s very easy to say ‘no’ and distract him with one of those new-fangled books but, to our shame, far easier to give in and let him have it while we carry on with our lives in peace.

The phone is especially useful when we’re travelling, on a flight, on a train/coach/car to-and-from airport and all the hanging around associated with budget-air travel. Note ‘budget-air travel’. Reading back, you’d be under the misapprehension that we’re permanently sunning ourselves in foreign climes (with unlimited resources) and this needs to be addressed, here and now.

For a kick-off, the frequent sojourn to Italy is family-based: we’re staying at the family home so there are no accommodation costs involved. It costs less to fly to Bergamo Milan from Stanstead on Ryan Air than to take a train north of Watford and the to/from airport costs at either end are kept in check by both our location in East London and family/friends once in Italy. And, if you really know what you’re doing, you can eat for next to nothing if you know the right bars in which to order aperitivo.

This fantastic invention probably has its origins in Ancient Greece before arriving in Ancient Rome but wasn’t quite the drinkies-with-friends-before-dinner (or lunch) as its know today. Until the invention of Vermouth by Antonio Benedetto Carpano in the 18th century, aperitivo was more about the higher echelons of society whetting their appetites with nibbles and drinks before a big meal. Vermouth popularised aperitivo, not only was it delicious and complex, it was affordable; now anyone could enjoy a snifter before their tea.

The modern version of aperitivo began in the 1930’s with, essentially, a brilliant advertising campaign by Campari, it became fashionable and bars and restaurants began to serve their cocktails with ever-more fancy finger foods to woe patrons into dining and, well, show-off a bit.

These days aperitivo consists of spritz, typically Campari or Aperol mixed with soda water and sparkling white wine, served with food that can range from some crisps or nuts to plates of meat, cheese, sandwiches, tarts, pizza and anything in between and beyond. North Italy, especially Milan, is the best place to go but between roughly 11am and 2pm, 5pm and 9pm anywhere in Italy is fair game.

Stating the bleein’ obvious, drinking in Italy isn’t like drinking in a British boozer (though somewhat ironically, the Romans brought wine bars to the UK some 2000 years ago, these became alehouses and so on) for a start, parents with kids aren’t regarded as a fodder for social services and in spite of the craft-beer thing making tiny ripples, it isn’t all about beer; aside from the spritz, wine is cheap, plentiful and delicious and the constant dribble of complementary savoury snacks fortifies one’s resolve.

“So why not fuck off to Italy then?” Said the bloke stood waiting at the bar. “…And that’s another thing, you order at the table and they just bring you all this stuff, and they don’t expect a tip either. Pardon?”

There’s the thing, you see. It’s only when you get out of the UK you realise the pub is unique, whether it’s technically ‘better’ or ‘worse’ isn’t the issue, there isn’t anything like it in the world because it’s a rooted institution that has grown from the ground up over centuries…. For example, about the same time that Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales in the late 1300’s, King Richard the 2nd himself introduced the pub sign making it easier for passing travellers to stop for a beer and a chinwag/punch-up, firmly establishing the pub, as Samuel Pepys said some 300 years later, ‘the heart of England’. The Dutch and the French had their coffee houses, the Spanish and the Italians had their wine bars but only England (spreading to Wales, Scotland and Ireland) had the pub.

That said, pubs aren’t for kids, the bars of Italy and Spain are much more family orientated (some more than others, of course) and therefore a lot easier to plop the little fellow down in front of the ‘own’ and feed him little snacks while his parents get gently pissed on spritz (pristzed) but, all said, nothing beats the good old pub and I don’t know why.

Returning to Italy, the better half bought me a ticket for the MotoGP at Mugello. A few years ago, I used to write about MotoGP but hadn’t actually seen one live. You see, the British leg of the MotoGP is at Silverstone in Northamptonshire so, in addition to the fact that it’ll be raining all day, I’d rather save the hundred odd quid for a ticket, plus the cost of fuel getting there and back from London, and not get pneumonia in the process. It’s £30 to see British Superbikes at Brands Hatch in Kent, a pleasant hour there and back and it never rains there, ever… Apart from the trackday I did in early spring when it pissed down with such ferocity the rain was going up my pipe and the marshals had to stop the session. So, what better way to pop my cherry than at the Italian GP in Mugello, without question the best round of the lot.

We’d planned the trip a few months in advance, fly to the better half’s gaff in North Italy, stay there for a few days of sibling rivalry (another story, I’ll spare you) before driving to the east coast for three days on the Adriatic, passing through Mugello on the Sunday and back to the homestead the same day. The car, a sort of off lime-green Ford Ka, had recently been fitted with a new black bonnet following a collision a few weeks earlier so it resembled Mr. Bean’s mini, and wasn’t that much larger too.

How on earth we managed 800 kilometres and 12 hours plus is beyond me, especially when we factor in the little boy strapped in at the back.

Apart from a little sick-up following some particularly stunning but undulating, twisting roads in the Tuscan hills just outside Mugello (there were bikes flying past us, having experienced a similar ride a few years ago my envy realised itself in a stream of swearing) he either slept or watched endless streams of Peppa Pig (or ‘Pip’ as he calls it) to such an extent I had to buy more data for my phone. And I couldn’t have cared less, if he was happy then we were over button moon.

The only time he sort-of got the arse was when we arrived at Mugello and were forced to shoehorn him into a pram (once again Pip came to the rescue) after he’d been sat in a car for the best part of four hours.

Factor in our having just spent the previous three days frolicking under piercing blue skies in warm, crystal clear waters that chewed at a castor sugar shoreline then it’s a wonder he didn’t eject his screaming tongue. He just loves playing in water, his auntie got him a little bucket and spade and he couldn’t have been happier, especially as when he/we were done there were half a dozen little beach play areas -complete with slides, swings and his favourite, wendy houses- all conveniently located by pretty little beach bars that sold half a litre of ice cold prosecco for 4 euros, with complimentary snacks, of course.

We’d parked about half kilometre from the track on the kerbside as we were keen to avoid getting stuck in a car park after the race. The queues out of Mugello are a legend in their own right. It was almost 40 degrees and the walk with the pram mainly uphill, in certain sections the gradient was so extreme I was virtually parallel to the Tuscan earth as I pushed onwards, gasping for air like a dying fish

In 1999 I was at Brands Hatch to see Carl Fogarty win the World Superbikes championship amid 100,000 plus spectators, there was the same amount at the sixth Round of the 2018 MotoGP at Mugello but I don’t recall a medieval fog of yellow flares, bellowing fans and blokes with engines attached to sack trucks that’d be randomly fired up on mention of the GOAT that is Valentino Rossi. This was adulation on a scale reserved for megastars of popular music or evil cult leaders. For the entire time I was there the word ‘Valley’ was a constant in the breeze, when he appeared on screen, when his name was mentioned over the tannoy and most especially when he rode past, vast chunks of the assembled congregation would erupt in beatific praise, This adulation was matched only by the spleen-venting venom directed at world champion Marc Marquez which was actually rather shocking: I didn’t need any translation when it came to the extended middle-digits, caterwauling or boos that followed his every public action, but when I learnt they were shouting ‘you should die’ at the poor bastard I became concerned at the likely prospect of him actually winning.

Having secured a space overlooking the corner at the south-west aspect of the circuit (Correntaio) and as we were due to discover, slap bang in the middle of the Valentino Rossi fan club (a more intensified version of the shenanigans taking place elsewhere, worryingly) the little boy decided that the nearby standpipe was a far more thrilling prospect than boring old two-million-dollar motorbikes (or ‘booms’ as he calls them) and there he remained. Oh.

Thing is that he genuinely likes ‘booms’ but the GP bikes weren’t doing it for him, probably because they were some way off and punctuated by a screaming smoke-engulfed sea of Italian nutters. I had envisaged him on my shoulders clapping in explosive delight every-time the bikes shot passed, instead he was goofing around the standpipe by the bins at the top of the hill, laughing his little head off as he gleefully threw around handfuls of water while his mum, she who had bought the tickets and driven around half of Italy to get us here, stood by with a face like a wet weekend in Clacton.

Early on the race Marquez went down right under our noses, he was physically uninjured (mercifully) but the cheers of abuse from the Italian fans must have caused him harm emotionally. I cheered too, relieved he wasn’t going to get torn limb from limb if he won. In the end Rossi came a commendable third, though I was slightly disappointed because he was in pole and it would’ve been fantastic to see the crowds’ reaction had he won. The Italians weren’t too miffed mind you, Lorenzo (himself once just as hated as Marquez) won on a Ducati (an Italian motorcycle if you didn’t know) and to ice the proverbial torta, Italian Andrea Dovizioso’s brought his Ducati in second.

The long, hot slog back to the car was once again saved by Pip, when we finally reached la macchina we were relieved to discover that the traffic wasn’t too bad, I guess it took maybe an hour in heavy traffic before we were back on the freeway which isn’t bad, I’d heard of tales of people being stuck in their cars until the following morning. Not that I gave a shit, what an amazing day.

Back to then terrible-two thing, I’d forgotten to note that, suddenly, he hates going to nursery and has to be dragged out of my arms by the staff as he screams ‘daddy, daddy, no daddy’ (which is fucking horrific, by the way) and he’s grown a taste for soap. That is all.

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Oh sit down

The little bloke has just had his last free flight. He turns two very shortly, so he’ll be required to pay for his own seat as if he were a twenty-two stone Bookie, and as he’s between jobs, it looks like muggins here is going to have foot the bill. It’s worth noting that he’ll still have to sit on my or his mum’s lap during take-off, landing, and the intervening flight because if he were to sit on the actual seat we’re paying for he’d fall off/out it and break his bloody neck.

This is, of course, ridiculous; I mean we’re paying for a seat that he can’t actually use, so we have an additional, empty, seat that I can’t even sell on Ebay or tout in the airport lounge.

Yes, I can look out the window without having to lean over someone/don’t have to climb over some sap when I need to tinkle/change a nappy/walk up and down the aisle with the little bloke, but that’s small beer in comparison to the price of the seat.

I suppose the only victor in all of this is the person that would’ve been sitting next to us, they’ll never know how close they came, but that doesn’t help me does it? Reverting to my pre-dad, lone-flying self for a moment, I’m acutely aware of those two unoccupied seats beside you when you’re about to take off, those two still-unoccupied-seats as the last of the passengers’ dribble onto the plane and, suddenly, the dream of getting two whole seats to yourself becomes a reality.

Two empty seats offer business class potential for an economy fee. You might even be able to sleep all the way, almost lying down!

They’re closing the cabin doors!!

This is fantast…

…And then we appear.

Last, because we’ve maximised our time at the bar, last because I’ve left it until the final millisecond to take a leak because my middle-aged bladder is the size of a walnut and I don’t want to slosh during take-off. Last because we know how this shit works.

And we’ve a kid who doesn’t want to sit on a plane, he’s really pissed about this plane, about all sitting-down and about you staring at him in horror like he’s responsible for those Postcode Lottery adverts.

Once I knew how you felt and now I couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss. My primary responsibility is to myself via the state of the little boy; if he’s okay, I’m okay, it’s as simple as that. And if his state of ‘okay’ means he’s reaching over you because he wants to flap your little table up and down for hours then that’s fine by me.

But those days are over. The speed in which he’s gone from small gurgling lump into a pushing, shouty boy with words and gestures flowing forth has alarmed me. A few weeks ago we walked to the park together, there he was holding my hand, tottering along, as I tried not to trip over my jaw. I mean I was, like, walking down the street with my son, man.

As discussed previously, it’s hardly a surprise that he’d get bigger and learn stuff but that wasn’t the aspect that unsettled me, there was something more than just his ‘growing-up,’ until one evening, just before bed, I asked him how he was and said he ‘good.’ That’s when it dawned on me; he’d become aware.

Rudimentary research confirmed this to be the case. In accordance to a 2003 paper by Dr. Philippe Rochat, round about the age of two kids enter the third phase (there are five, apparently) and most significant stage of self-awareness worryingly referred to as the ‘Me’ phase, which is what I’m guessing everyone else calls ‘the terrible twos.’

This phase amounts to a seismic shift in his development, an irreversible foray into a new stage of his being. He now has an opinion, his way of doing things and an ever-evolving ego feeding sophomoric confidence.

And to commemorate this milestone in evolution, we have to pay for an unused seat on a shitty plane.

Happy Birthday, son.

Melting Snow

In some respects, you don’t really notice changes for the first 18 months, instead you’re inclined to exist in the aftermath of progressive milestones: solid food, crawling, walking etc. But now the changes are rapid and, at times, startling. I mean he’s capable of rudimentary conversation, informing you of decisions and requirements, he actually tells you when he wants to go to bed. In two languages. I know it was inevitable he’d, like, grow, it’s just I didn’t anticipate this stage of it. It wasn’t on my mental deck, so now it’s like I’m back to the first few days of his birth, agog at everything, seeing the world differently again because he’s able to interact with it and the people around him outside of just crying or looking bemused.

This new-found confidence in communication isn’t always positive, mind you. Because he can tell you what he wants he also knows that you know what he wants too -the days of pointing at cupboard doors bleating helplessly are rapidly coming to an end. This means that if you deny him his heart’s desire he’ll plead until one of the affected party gives in. Most of the time this is biscuit-based trivia but every so often a whopper meltdown will completely bugger up your day.

A wave of obscenely cold weather has been hanging over London, so time spent in the park has been limited. This flat in which I write isn’t very big, the boy can run the length of the living room/kitchen in five seconds, which means the potential for steam-letting has been limited, so it was the perfect opportunity to take him to the cinema on Saturday morning for Toddler’s club, essentially, a bunch of under threes running amok under the cinematic glare of a kid’s movie. It starts at 11am and the cinema boasts a well-stocked bar. Isn’t 11am too early? Oh, come on, it’s the bloody weekend and no one needs know, it’s a cinema, like dark and… Oh, it’s sold out.

This was a blow, it was perishing outside, even the short walk there had rendered us blue. But we couldn’t go back home yet… Then one of us, I can’t remember who, remembered a conversation about a ‘soft play’ place about a 15-minute walk away.

This wasn’t ideal, I’d never visited a soft play space before but had already figured that hygiene may be an issue, all those kids, all that soft stuff? Then I concluded that I must be wrong, such a place would contravene basic health standards, it wouldn’t be allowed to operate and would‘ve already made the pages of The Guardian and/or The Daily Mail.

On entering I realised that I should always trust my instincts, but it was too late. The little boy had spied a toy car, big enough for him to physically climb in and was already determinedly making his way over, his eyes fixed on his prize. Around him all hell had broken loose, there were screaming kids everywhere, among them were adult people with t-shirts announcing that they were numerically ‘authentic’ or ‘original’, wading about in strategically torn jeans and shouting from mouths bracketed by rolled gold earrings. There was a fat bald man in the ball pool and an equally-proportion mother attempting to right herself on a tiny bouncy castle, everything was sullied by smeary little fingers and ground in dirt and in the midst of it was my beautiful little boy climbing into a toy car with an expression of rapturous glee.

Inevitably, of course, his presence attracted the attention of some little bugger who wanted to ride in his car, so I was forced to advise my little dude to ‘share’ when I really wanted to tell the snot-nosed little shit to fuck off… I actually came close but his handy ‘dad’ looked like he’d done time for aggravated sexual assault and was eying up my wife. Of course, my little boy let Snotto have a ride, but it was abundantly clear he wasn’t interested in the portion of the ball pool that wasn’t occupied by man-hippo or the floundering harridan on the bouncy castle, he just wanted the car so he waited patiently for the kid do one before climbing back in. Occasionally he’d let some of the other bastards have a turn but for the most part of an hour, he owned that vehicle.

Whilst its fairly obvious that I wasn’t having a killer day things were about to get a whole lot worse. I’d been quietly enjoying how clean and well behaved my little fella was, in contravention to the dirty chaos that surrounded me, until it was time to leave. I went to extract the boy from the car and he loudly informed me that he wasn’t going anywhere, when I insisted he went ape. What followed was an unprecedented meltdown, a full-on fit, which included kicking, punching, rolling on the floor and a piercing, shrieking scream that seemed like it couldn’t fit in his face. It took us almost five minutes of wrestling to get him out the door by which time we’d convinced all and sundry that long-haired men shouldn’t be allowed to breed.

The drama continued outside so bystanders could judge us too and a day later I had a stinking cold.

FFS.

Jet Lag 3/3

The little boy seemed to positively thrive in his new home. Of course, he couldn’t care less if it was Christmas, Easter or National Arsehole Day, he was getting endless attention in an exciting new environment with his niece and nephew on hand to, er, to play with.

The nephew (six) pretty much gave up on his cousin from day one when he was on the receiving end of a slap in the eye socket followed by an arm-clawing, my son’s classic, opening. To his absolute credit, my nephew didn’t react to this assault with anything more than an expression of deep sorrow and spent the next nine days being careful to avoid a chuckling little boy determined to administer further abuse for his own gratuitous entertainment. My niece (eight) wasn’t exempt from the odd slap (or a bite for the ladies) but she countered his cheerful aggression with periods of intense affection, in which he’d be carried about like a Ken, before causing him unintended confusion by suddenly buggering off to do something else. This put the little fella on the back foot so for the most part his violence was replaced by curiosity.

While she may have got off lightly the two cats weren’t spared his devious attention. When he was very little, the sight of a cat would inspire him to go ape. He never minded dogs, he’s excited when he sees one even now, but cats have taken a while to come around to his style of thinking. For a while the cats were left to their own devices, a couple of days later he toddled over to where they were hanging to check them out. A few days before we left to go back to London he’d progressed to standing on their tails, dropping toys on their heads and attempting full-on body-contact wrestling moves that he never quite pulled off. Thankfully, in a fashion not dissimilar to my young nephew, the cats were more inclined to wearily move away rather than lash out, which could’ve had serious facial consequences.

It wasn’t just the people and cats he enjoyed hitting/interacting with. I’m loathed to admit that in spite of my previous imaginings that Bill Hicks’ negative opinion of the LA weather was on point (‘Only reptiles feel that way about this kind of weather. I’m a mammal, I can afford coats, scarves, cappuccino and rosy-cheeked women’) I think I’m happier in hot and sunny climes than a constant stream of pissing, cold rain. We were only a twenty-minute drive to Santa Monica (forty to Venice, hour to Malibu) and where lay endless, sandy beaches, caressed by a crystal-blue ocean that whispered under cerulean skies fading, it seemed, into the outer edges of fucking space. If we didn’t fancy driving to the ocean the apartment complex featured a private swimming pool which was far more decadent than it ought. The only downside to all this aqua-based entertainment was the ensuing tantrum when trying to remove the little fella from the ocean/pool; even when he’d turned into a shivering prune he insisted that he wanted to remain banging about in the water long after we’d all agreed to go for a much-needed drink.

On a couple evenings, when the missus was out with her sisters, my bro-in-law, bro and I had a chance to hang out as team, with the kids (when the bro-in-law and I experimented with a bit too much tequila in a Mexican place) and without at a Korean all-you-can-eat barbeque joint in which we, bros, stuffed ourselves rigid and drank ourselves silly. The better half and I got a precious night or two out, but mainly evenings were at home just talking, drinking.

These times were just as memorable as the drive through the Hollywood Hills or the rather profound visit to the Rainbow Bar and Grill on my 49th birthday where we drank in Lemmy’s bar as the little bloke ran in and out of his statue. Sitting here now, I’m missing that LA family stuff as much as I’m annoyed I can’t go downstairs right now and have a swim.

But the day that really sticks in my head was penultimate one when just DD and I decided to walk to Melrose Avenue and pay a visit to the LA branch of The Great Frog. The better half had ordered me a pair of cufflinks for Christmas from the London shop and I wanted to check ’em out, so while everyone was out doing other stuff, I figured a good walk would be of benefit, especially to my hangover from the bros big night out.

The boy and I set off, it was sunny and bloody hot, I decided en-route I’d get the boy a baseball hat because I could. I walked into a K Mart and spoke to a lady with way too much make-up.
‘Excuse me,’ I quothed, ‘do you have baseball hats for boys?’
‘Pardon, Honey… You wanna baseball hat for a bi-cycle?’
‘yes,’ I said ‘Yes. I want a baseball hat for a bi-cycle…’
‘I’m sorry, Honey, we don’t keep those here.’
‘Thank you,’ I said, and with that we left, unsure about everything.

The walk took us through a through a variety of neighbourhoods, all of which rung with that air of familiarity, now justifying itself from a first-hand perspective. One block was occupied by a gang of moody kids shrouded in a mist of weed. I continued through them with the pram, the little fella waved and they collectively softened and waved back, which was a good thing, really. A few streets later a couple of dudes on vintage Harleys (one definitely a Panhead) slowly turned right in front of us at an intersection. I could see the boy’s little legs rise up as he attempted to peer further into the shiny engine block. As they drifted past one of the guys called out to me, ‘hey dude, how you doing!’ I was just fine, thank you.

We left The Frog after checking the links and, after a quick chat with the shopkeep, headed back home, deviating slightly to see some different stuff. I took a dilatory pace, so I could drink in the sunshine and city sights, not taking a single step for granted. Tomorrow we’d be going home to London and the idea of leaving had begun to bite. As I walked the last few blocks back to the apartment I saw the better-half across the street as if it was the normal thing in the world. It didn’t feel like the end of a holiday, it felt like a chunk of my life was coming to a close; it was only a few days after we’d got home that I managed to figure out why.

That Christmas in LA had been unique, something that would be impossible to replicate on any basic level. More than simply the moment-in-time circumstances of our all being at an apartment in La Brea, it marked the passing of an age. The little bloke had noticeably entered into a new phase of his life. Whether this was on account of external factors, environment, family, circumstances, or just a coincidence wasn’t relevant, the little fella that left London wasn’t the same that returned home. The baby was gone, in its place was a little boy.

There was something else that had been bugging me too, I turned 49 in LA, my 50’s were less than a year away. LA wasn’t just about the sunshine, family stuff or even the little fella, a chunk of my life was quite literally coming to a close in a way that was neither profound or enchanting. And the jet lag was awful. Awful.

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‘Sir!’ the security man at the airport boomed after me.

Fuck. What?

‘Sir!’ the man said again, I turned back to face a fat bloke stood next to the bag-scanner with a peaked-cap obscuring his eyes…

‘Yes?’ I said, very, very carefully, ensuring that it was a neutral ‘yes’ that erred towards the congenial and agreeable.

‘Did anyone ever tell you that you resemble one David Grohl?’

I tried to say something witty but conflated the one about not having his money and, actually, him looking like me, into a garbled mess that fell onto the floor and hid behind my dignity.

At least I was pissed.

Jet Lag, baby 2/3

On the evening before we departed for Los Angeles I’d packed everything save the actuality of my going. Even after we’d stuffed all of our possessions in the taxi that morning, picked up my bro on the way, I still wasn’t mentally en route. The traffic was slow and strained, the emerging stress of my not being able to spend enough time in the bar prior to flying began to take form. LA was still miles out of my reality but the ten-hour flight with a 20-month-old baby was coming rapidly into view.

I’ve flown long haul a few times, I don’t like flying so, obviously, I’m not in my happy place. The only possible way of dealing with ten hours plus in the sky is to factor in the ten hours plus of free booze. I vaguely recall the nice stewardess on the Virgin flight back from Tokyo a few years ago, she slipped me a full 75cl bottle of Shiraz after getting fed up with my constant pleas for a refill which took the edge off of proceedings to the point it was almost alright. Lately, the better half and I have gotten used to the short hop across North Europe to Italy: we know the ropes, we can drink a bit, the boy will sleep a bit before he’ll want to walk the aisle for a bit. It’s not pleasant but it’s never more than two and a half hours, it’s not four times that.

Trying to reconcile a dread for flying for ten hours is one thing, to do so with the prospect of not enough booze and a 20 month-old-baby was inconceivable. The airport drink at Heathrow was rushed and fraught, we said goodbye to my bro (due to meet us at the designated apartment in LA and sensibly taking an Air New Zealand flight) and walked the plank into United Airlines’ finest. At the end of this missive you’re free to read the letter I sent to them when we returned to London as I’m keen to avoid recalling a single second of the miserable experience as I did just then.

Arriving in LAX was weird, apart from the fact it was day again (when it should’ve been 2am) the airport itself was dark and sparse and the sudden reunion with the better half’s sis and respective siblings at the end of an endless corridor quietly freaked me out. We drove to La Brea as the sun set, that odd feeling of being somewhere at once familiar on account of TV/Films etc. and completely alien at the same time was aided and abetted by the fact I was with my wife and 20-month-old son. It’s worth noting that I regularly have these ‘I’m married?!’ ‘I have a son?!’ moments in direct contravention of those stoned days when I had neither: from the point of view of that sad, south London couch and a lump of squidgy black, the current and yes, cheery, position of being both a husband and dad are unimaginable. I digress as per.

This sense of weirdness was amplified further when we got back to the apartment where my younger sis in-law and wife’s bro-in-law were waiting to greet us, I hadn’t seen the latter since we went out in New York and got paralytic on red wine -I then recalled the first time I went to NYC noting the current LA paradox of ‘I’ve been here/I’ve not been here’, at the same moment my bro, fresh from LAX, walked into the room as if he’d just come back from a long piss at Heathrow. Can I have some more wine, please?

I’d always made it quite apparent to myself that I’d never visit LA unless invited to do so; it’s not like New York, say, a city begging to be visited on account of its museums, galleries, theatres, venues, restaurants and excellent, user-friendly transport system. No, LA is basically concrete lumps in a desert near the ocean. To my mind, one’s reasons for going needed to be put into a context of sorts, which also made LA a rather illusive and strangely unattainable place by my own conditioning system. I figured there were plenty more places to see with far greater cultural significance without definitely having to hire a car.

What I hadn’t reckoned on was how my perception of LA would change when family are factored in. We weren’t staying in a hotel, we were in a family apartment, my bro was with us, which had the unanticipated effect of making the city feel rather homely, and whilst we had that ‘holiday’ feeling it was more down to the fact that it was holiday- season rather than our being on a holiday, type thing.

Driving around the city from the get go helped with the process of settling in our new environment too: there’s no time for looking at chopped Shovelheads in their natural surroundings when you’re squished in between six angry lanes of traffic on the freeway. That shit is real, as was the close call we had on the first day when the lane I was driving in turned into an exit ramp and I took extreme measures to get us back on track. The subsequent bollocking from my co-pilot bro was the final check into reality. Hello LA.

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Dear Sirs,

My family and I, two adults and a twenty-month boy, flew with you recently from LHR to LAX, and I’d like to talk to you about it.

First, the logic of placing a 20-month old child by the entrance to business class. That flimsy little curtain, the one that’s just about translucent enough for the clowns in coach to get a coquettish glimpse at how the other half lives, isn’t going to inspire hearing loss when, inevitably in the course of a ten-hour flight, he kicks off a hollering and a whooping.

Secondly, when he does start screaming the place down, because we’re expected to have him sit on our laps (for ten hours) it might be a good idea if the stewardess doesn’t refuse to get him some milk because, and I quote ‘…doing something else’, which was preceded with a charming ‘can’t you see…’ She was picking up litter, by the way, not resuscitating the pilot.

She refused to move out of the way, note ‘refused’, so I had to walk back up the aisle and shuffle up behind another stewardess on the adjacent aisle who was also picking up litter and wouldn’t move either. After ten minutes and much screaming (not me, the kid. I don’t fancy being beaten up by your cabin crew, something you have a reputation for. In fact, the reason we chose you over other equally competitive operators was that we’d figured you’d be bending over backwards to make amends for half killing a Korean Doctor. We’ll get back on to that shortly) one of your team handed over half a cup of milk which the boy devoured in seconds forcing me to repeat the same procedure as previously cited.

Back to the logic of placing a twenty-month child on a ten-hour flight in discomfort by the entrance to business class, I’d have thought you’d be doing all you could to prevent a small child for disrupting your premium paying passengers in case they, like me, decided to never, ever fly with you again. It’s not as if you can afford to lose passengers, is it? Before I booked with you I read that in the few months after you half-killed Dr Doa your passenger rates were at their lowest since 1995, specifically, down from 0.62 per 10,000 passengers to 0.44 per 10,000. Now I’m no businessman, but, well, why would you not want to give a crying child sat by business class some milk to shut him up? Even on the most basic of levels, in four months’ time, the boy in question would have been a paying customer as well. Goodbye, another passenger.

And finally, one of your crew in particular, a waspish looking individual with a small amount of hair on his head, took it upon himself to fire me the most unpleasant of glances throughout the whole miserable journey. I hadn’t spoken to this character, I’d not impersonated his gait or done that bald slappy-head thing, but for whatever reason, this guy seriously didn’t like me. Now I’m not saying I’m everyone’s cup of tea, heaven forfend, but on a professional level, keep your prejudices to yourself, no?

Just before I say cheerio, your food was appalling as well, actually inedible, and you’re stingy with the wine on top of it.

0/10

Yours Faithfully

Jamie Dwelly

Jet Lag, Baby

Part One.

The run-up to Christmas had been intense to the point that the trip to L.A. had been mentally engulfed by preceding events. The little fellow had been ill enough to keep him out of nursery adding additional pressure to some late work-related deadlines. Then there were the seasonally-themed social appointments, a few gigs, a sort-of pre-Christmas day with the folks and family and, last but by no means least, the band; furiously rehearsing in order to make good an appearance at a (dear friends’) wedding a mere two days before we were due to set off.

We’re a competent covers outfit that takes well-known ditties and sort-of fondles them into another shape. This is all well and good (and when we’re on form it is actually jolly good) so long as you remain aware that the whole point of a song cover is that it must have a semblance of the original then all is well. No problem for my skilled bandmates (two of whom are professional musicians, one in a well-regarded pop band) but a major issue when the singer can’t remember lyrics, song lyrics known for decades, lyrics from songs performed live a number of times, rehearsed one hundred times or more, melting into nothing at the very moment they’re supposed to be launched into the faces of our confused looking audience.

The gig had been playing heavily on my mind for weeks. Aware that I may be rendered speechless by my own brain in front of a hundred-plus wedding crowd isn’t the sort of thing one can psychologically brush off, especially as it’s not just oneself one is letting down if it all goes tits-up. I found myself awake in the small hours trying to establish codes and triggers in order to ensure I’d get from verse A to chorus B without incident. When I typically failed a wave of panic would hold open my already boggling eyes and I’d be forced to reach for the words printed on greasy foolscap that lay atop the pile of unread books on the bedside table.

The other small element of concern was that we weren’t due on stage until after 7 pm and the shenanigans kicked off at 2.30pm. I’d vowed not to drink more than a couple of glasses before we played but I already knew this was going to require an inner strength of its own accord. The solution for the reparation of my fraying nerves had now, ironically, become an issue, this took on a life of its own two days before the gig when one of our bandmates, the pop-pro, our glue and, frankly, reason we get away with our rather grimy set, was rushed to hospital. Mercifully his condition wasn’t life-threatening, if a tad painful, and he’d be as right as rain after a course of antibiotics. In a couple of weeks.

Having rehearsed extensively without our hospitalised pal it was possible we could do the set without him. But did we actually want to do it? After a little back and forth we decided to give it a shot, both the groom and his lovely wife-to-be were warned in advance that the set might be a little more chaotic/blue than usual and we were given the ‘up to and not including GG Allin’ green light.

On the day itself, I was both excited to be performing and terrified to be doing so; it’s the awful paradox in which the thought of not doing the show outweighs the projected nightmare of actually doing it. I hung out with the guys and their respective others and begun to loosen up a bit, the celebratory atmosphere re-assured me that this would be a forgiving crowd even if I cocked up. We ate, drank and cheered our way on to the moment we’d be on stage. Late afternoon the PA showed up and I helped lug some gear about which calmed me down and sobered my thoughts. Then all of a sudden, we were on.

I remember watching Mark Manning transform into Zodiac Mindwarp at an Idler party in the 90’s in front of a relatively small crowd. He went from writer to rock overlord in the space of seconds. At the time it looked faintly absurd (despite being a fan of ZM&TLR) when, all of a sudden, this articulate middle-aged man was ripping his shirt off, waggling his tongue off and grinding himself against a mic stand. Now I understand what was happening. When performing a person not dissimilar to yourself arrives into your being and fiddles with your controls, and there isn’t a huge amount you can do about it. Or maybe there is, perhaps that’s what determines whether you’re looking from the stage or at it… Not that there was a stage I hasten to add. We were on the ground level with the now rather sloshed audience who were dancing about and giving the impression they were having fun. That man off of The Kaiser Chiefs and X Factor was watching us play as well -I think he must have lost our contact deets because we’ve heard nout from him since- either way, he, or the wider audience, didn’t seem too fussed when, inevitably, I fluffed the odd word and made a pig’s ear of a Doors song (we all make mistakes, Mr. Wilson. You know).

All told, it all seemed to go rather well despite my aggressive and shouty self. Most importantly the bride and groom were happy so we’d done our job in that respect at least, and the better half wasn’t trying to crawl out the door with a bag on her head.

Soon after we said our fond farewells and departed, the better half and I stopping for one on the way home so I could mentally climb down and start to focus on the perils of a long-haul flight with a very little boy.

Never mind L.A., we had to get there first.

Ups ‘n’ Downs

At nearly nineteen months the little fella has learned that life isn’t just about the horizontal, that a whole new dimension of ‘vertical’ is within his gnarly little grasp. Now everything from the ground up is a climbing frame, and he doesn’t give a shit, really.

Until recently we’d sort-of been enjoying a period of uncomfortable ease, in so far as he could be left unattended for very short periods with specific toys in designated ‘safe zones’. I realised one day that, for the past week, I’d actually been able to prepare food without having to constantly check he wasn’t about to eat a wall socket.

Then, on the very day, he turned nineteen months, I casually watched him struggling to climb onto a chair. He’d grabbed hold of the bottom stile and was trying to pull himself onto the seat, waggling his chubby little legs in the ether in order gain momentum. After a couple of minutes of puffing and gasping, he finally made it onto the seat, his face beaming with victory. Thirty minutes later he could get onto the same seat in under five seconds, later that day I went to get a mug from the cupboard, I turned around to discover him standing on the fucking kitchen table about to pick up the Sabatier knife I just been using to chop up his tea. My hair almost fell off.

Stuff that was once inaccessible poses a challenge -I thought I’d sorted all this ages ago- now everything has the potential for lethal consequences anew. Once he’d figured out that the chair will grant him access to a brand-new dimension (with the sky quite literally being the limit) he discovered that by moving the chair next to the shelf, table, burning-death hob, he could, with a skip and jump, have access to virtually anything under the ceiling in seconds. Fortunately, the chairs are the cheap Ikea sort that fold-up, so that’s what we have now, folded-up fold-up chairs that lie folded on the floor until we have cause to unfold them for, like, sitting on.

Oh, you can’t walk around in bare feet anymore unless you’re constantly moving. If you stop a small child will toddle over before dropping to a crawl in order allow his head, with widening jaws, to fall down onto the top of your foot and bite down. The more you yell the funnier he finds it, what is even more concerning is that he’s a master of stealth, armed with the knowledge that if he attacks when you’re not expecting it, you’ll yell even louder with surprise.

Who taught him that and why? Though I suppose it might come in handy down the line when he’s prowling the streets.