Pay Per View

It’s been quite a while since I’ve stood in line waiting for a cinema to open. I think the last time I did that was when I went to a preview of the first Harry Potter movie and I was the tallest person in the queue. And the only one not wearing a bloody wizard’s hat. But, on Wednesday, there I was – in a queue – waiting for the Odeon in Huddersfield to swing open its doors and let us into the darkened foyer.

The first thing that struck me was that there are some strange people in Huddersfield. A few of them were in this queue. Once we got into the cinema proper, and were lined up to buy tickets, one of the shone out like a beacon. As the queue was quite long, a woman who resembled Tick-Tock from Return To Oz offered the option of buying tickets from the ticket machines near the entrance. People leapt at this opportunity. Not us, we stayed in the queue. We were near the front and it was far easier to just hang on a couple of minutes.

One of the people who seized the opportunity to use the machines was a heavily tattooed man wearing a blue vest top. He’d already complained about having to queue up to get into the cinema in the first place – a proper bundle of laughs. He went to use the machine. And then he was back in the queue. Back in the spot he had, moments before, vacated to use this high-tech sophisticated ticket machine.

“They should have told us you could only use cash or a card to buy the ticket,” he said, genuinely shocked and appalled at the service.

Only cash or a card. To me, that seems obvious. They are the two most popular methods of paying for things. What did he hope to be able to use to buy his tickets? A cheque? Maybe he wanted to barter for a cheaper admission fee, employing haggling techniques rarely seen outside of a Middle Eastern bazaar. Maybe he wanted to pay for his ticket in goats, like a dowry. It was all I could I do to stop myself from turning round and asking him. But I didn’t. And now it’s a mystery that will haunt me for years.

I suppose he could have wanted to pay with his Odeon Premier Card, the loyalty card scheme in the cinema. It’s possible. No, really, it is possible. It’s highly unlikely. Even with the increased price of a 3D ticket – even though all the films seem to come out in 3D nowadays so, you could argue, 3D is the new standard – it’s highly unlikely that he’s racked up the points to see him rewarded in a such a way. We’ve had our Odeon card for a year or so now. In the time we’ve amassed enough points that we could, if we wanted, sniff an empty packet of Minstrels or other cinema-based snack. Not that we’d be so reckless with our hard-earned points. At the rate we’re going we’ll have saved up enough for a free ticket just in time for us to enjoy the free cup of tea and a biscuit offered by the Senior Screen on a Tuesday. Which is the same as a normal film, but filled with pensioners talking over it for an hour and a half about how so-and-so had died, or got married, or whatever.

Or constantly saying, “What did he say? Who’s that? What’s happening? Oh films weren’t like this in my day.”



Rambles In The Shambles

York is a town that was, basically, established by the Vikings. This was partly as it’s in quite a convenient place to land a long-boat you’ve just rowed across from somewhere Viking-y, and also because the North needed a really good tourist attraction and, by settling in York, the Vikings gave us Jorvik.

Jorvik is a Viking experience. You fight your way past hordes of school children on trips to find yourself in the dark underbelly of the city, at the level that actual Viking remains were found. Look. Look below your feet, that’s actual Viking stuff in the actual ground the actual Vikings did actual Viking things on. And you can, thanks to the magic of some thick plexi-glass, walk all over it and look at remains of the wattle and daub wall. Or some shells. Or where they made their fire.

It’s actually pretty nifty, once all the school kids have stopped being educated and you can see stuff. When Time Team first started I wanted to be an archaeologist. I wanted to dig holes and look at layers of soil and find things I could give to an artist who would, from a shard of pot, recreate not only what the pot looked like but the face of the man who made the pot. I wanted to wear a multi-coloured wool jumper and have mad hair. I wanted to get excited about pottery in a West Country accent and, most importantly, I wanted to say, “No, Tony Robinson, you can not come in my trench. Just stand on the side and be less annoying.” So, in short, I love all this stuff.

After you’ve marvelled at the in situ remains, you go on the ride through a recreation of Coppergate in York, as it would have been in the time of the Vikings. When we first went into Jorvik one of the members of staff mentioned the word “ride” and Carole turned to me with a slightly worried expression and went, “Ride?!?”. It is a ride, in that you get on at one place and get off at another and don’t have to do any moving around inbetween, but it’s not a scream-if-you-want-to-go-faster ride. You’re taken, on a slow-moving carriage, through the recreated houses and streets. It’s really good and some of the animatronic people give you the willies. There are points when the commentary will say things like, “look to your right,” and then the entire car will swing round at breakneck speed resulting in whiplash injuries for all occupants, but other than that it’s grand. I’ve been on it once before and I remember it smelling a lot worse than it did this time. My nose was disappointed.

One thing the Vikings did do for York is provide it with narrow streets. The Shambles, scene of my stumble from the kerb, is one such street. It’s narrow. Probably wide enough to get a cart down it, in all honesty. Or up it. I’m not directionally biased. Either way, it’s a narrow street. I know it’s narrow for two reasons. Firstly, I could see it was narrow. The closeness of the other side of the road gave me all the clues I needed – not enough clues to stay on the pavement without falling off, but enough clues to know that the buildings were a lot closer together than on wider roads. Secondly, every bugger we walked past was saying, “It’s a narrow road this one.” It was as though the concept of a road that wasn’t wide enough to negotiate in a car was completely alien to them. I heard one American woman explaining to her son that it was a narrow street and that, “it probably didn’t need to be any wider.”

In a way, though, it did. It needed to be just a bit wider so that you could get up and down in without having to stop every few metres while someone in front of you explained to the person next to them that it was a narrow street. I’d like to go back in time and bring a Viking to the present day. I’d take him to Jorvik and ask him if it smelled worse when he was there the first time as well. And then I’d take him to The Shambles and show him the crowds of people, all commenting on how narrow the street was.

Bet he’d make it a bit wider then.

A walk in York

Ah, York. So good they named it once. It’s been a long time since I was last in York – I remember a trip with my parents and queueing up outside the Jorvik Centre for ages. So here I am again, with Carole, enjoying the sights and sounds of this great city. And there are some great ones, including the Quilt Museum and the Brass Rubbing Centre – neither of which we had time for, sadly.

The first thing we did upon arrival was head for the National Railway Museum. Partly because it was free, and partly because the Flying Scotsman was there. Unfortunately, the Flying Scotsman wasn’t there and a couple of the rooms were closed for renovation, but it was still free.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room with so many bearded men in a permanent state of nursing an erection since that time I stumbled into a Brian Blessed convention dressed as a mountain. Honestly, everywhere we turned bearded men were gushing over steam engines while their partners trailed along behind, wishing death upon the husbands with their eyes. It was as though someone had said to all the men, “Hi, Beardy Man. All these beautiful engines are going to vanish and the only way they’ll live on is in the photographs you take. Get in there and get to work.” You know what they say about a man and the size of his zoom lens.

There was a moment of panic, though. A real cliffhanger which threatened the entire mood of the room. It unfolded shortly after a video presentation started to play, with music which made everyone over the age of 50 start to dance.
“Margaret! Margaret!”
At this point Margaret was dancing and oblivious to her bearded companion.
“Margaret,” he continued, rushing over to tap her on the arm. “Margaret! My batteries have gone.” His voice broke at this point, as the enormity of the situation started to sink in.What use is having a beard and a massive zoom lens in the National Railway Museum if you’ve got no batteries? “My batteries have gone. I need more batteries!”

Margaret had more batteries, so the prospect of seeing a grown man cry was averted. She handed them over with a sigh. A sigh which spoke volumes about how Margaret felt about her role as pack donkey for this excursion. We crossed paths with them a bit later on as he was explaining the HSTs to her. She looked thrilled. I think HST is a type of train, although it may be a method for giving milk a long shelf life.

But that was nothing – nothing – compared to the very real sight of shorts, knee socks and trainers man. Grey knee socks, at that. He was with a man in an embroidered shirt which proclaimed “Southern Pride” which was either something to do with the American Civil War or he had a side line in crispy chicken that may, or may not, be finger licking good. When I noticed our grey socked friend, I tried to draw Carole’s attention to him. You know those moments where you realise you are so in tune with another person it couldn’t possibly get any better? This was one of those.

She turned, looked at me, and uttered some words which, at their very core, cement all the reasons I love her.
“No words are necessary, Pet,” she said, “No words at all.”

A bit later on I fell off the kerb in The Shambles, just outside the Yorkshire Sausage Shop, and she laughed at me. So, in tune or not, I immediately retracted any nice thoughts I had about her earlier in the day.

All in all, though, I enjoyed the National Rail Museum. But, unlike the majority of the other visitors, I didn’t want to have sex with it before we left.


It’s been quite warm today. As I write this the sky is hazy and there’s the odd grey cloud threatening the rain that’s been forecast. It’s cooled down a lot now. Which is good. Not just because I have been sweating from parts I didn’t know could sweat but because it means we’re less likely to walk around the house and keep finding Pumpkin doing a passable impression of a dead cat.

Because of the heat she’s taken to sprawling out in what we affectionately call the Superman pose. She’s been everywhere today. On the bed. On the couch. Under the bed. On the bedroom windowsill. By the side of the bed. And each and every time she’s laid as still as a board, barely a flutter of her breathing, causing mild heart failure in her owners. On a couple of occasions she’s continued to lay still as we’ve stroked and prodded her in ways that she normally reacts to. Today, nothing. It’s almost like she’s decided it’s too hot and she just can’t be arsed to move about.

It’s not the first time she’s done the playing dead thing. And I’m fairly sure it won’t be the last. I think it’s one of her favourite tricks that we never taught her, along with the ability to teleport. Yeah, I’m fairly sure Pumpkin can teleport. You’ll see her upstairs one minute, come downstairs for something and she’s there at the cat flap trying to get in, or you’ll be downstairs and you know she’s eating her food because you can see her but when you go upstairs she’s there, on the bed, and she hasn’t walked past you. Cats can teleport.

But when they combine teleportation with playing dead, that’s when it’s the most impressive. There she’ll be, sprawled out in the sunshine on the bed. You look away, you look back. She’s gone. Now she’s playing dead on the floor. You have heard nothing, not a sausage. No sound of paws hitting the carpet as she leaps from the bed, no sound of cat claws on the duvet. Nothing. But there she is, in almost the same pose, just somewhere else. Look away again and she’s gone. Maybe she’s outside now. She doesn’t seem to be bound by the need to have a line-of-sight. She can just teleport anywhere she wants. And play dead when she gets there.

Maybe curiosity didn’t kill the cat, after all. Maybe it was just playing dead, you know, for shits and giggles.

The Sound of Summer

I like sunny weather.

It’s nice. It makes everything seem happy and cheery. Just a few days after the glut of people claiming they wouldn’t know it was summer, the sun has come out and everyone’s basking. Nothing, for me, makes a sunny day more than hearing the neighbours have a squabble about whether they should use lighter fluid to get the barbecue going. And the smell, some three hours later, of food being cooked on the self-same barbecue. Sometimes following a loud “whoomph” noise and the smell of burning eyebrows, but not always. For me, that’s summer in a nutshell.

The only downside with summer is that everyone takes a sunny day as an excuse to go out into the garden and play some tunes. Everyone. Whichever way you turn there’s a garden from which tunes are emanating. And each one is slightly louder than the one before so that their tune becomes the dominant soundtrack to your summer’s afternoon. What it actually does, though, is come together in a maelstrom of hideous music as each tune blends in with the others. Different rhythms, different banging bass and different lyrics gather in the air to make you wish that you were back inside with the doors shut. Sweating like Ryan Giggs about to Google his own name to see what comes up.

That’s been our afternoon – filled with arguing couples, some new tarmac and some banging tunes. It’s been too warm to sit inside unless you’re snuggled up with the fan, but too noisy to sit outside without earmuffs and a strong drink. Even now, as the sun slowly sinks below the level of the houses across the road, there’s still the lingering smell of the lighter fluid barbecue and the odd heated argument carried on the breeze. There are children up far later than they should be on a school night, bouncing footballs around the street, and parents sitting on dining room chairs at the front of their houses.

I couldn’t even join in with the musical maelstrom as I’ve recently retuned the radio to Radio 4, so any blaring tunes required a retune and finding a station I liked. And that’s why, yesterday afternoon when it was not so warm and there was less competition, I was in the shed listening to the Afternoon Play and Weekend Woman’s Hour.  Sometimes, I am so rock and roll it actually hurts.

What we need, as a nation, is a radio station which caters to everyone and which is broadcast, to everyone, on sunny days. That way you can go out into your garden and play your tunes as loud as you like because everyone will be playing the same songs. They won’t all smash together in an audible mismash that assaults your ears like the SAS storming the Iranian Embassy.

Feel free to keep burning your eyebrows off with barbecue fires, though. I need to get my laughs somewhere.