What with all the Presidential fanfare going on and being back in America this past month, I guess it brought back some memories for me. You see, I too, had an interest in politics at one time. Or rather an interest in someone who was heavily involved in them. “And who might that be?” I hear you asking. Well, think short, cute and Greek, and what do you get? George Stephanopoulos!
Indeed, I quite fancied the fellow (not quite sure what’s up with me and these quirky little guys, but I always seem to go for them – or at least I do on those rare occasions when I actually go for anyone at all). In fact, I fancied George so much that I started up a regular correspondence with him, which led to my receiving a special ticket to tour the White House during the grand old days of the Clinton Administration. I was doing research for a novel I was writing – a novel which never got published or, for that matter, finished. (And no, it wasn’t my M. S. Valentine novel The Captivity of Celia!). Washington was a kinder and gentler place back then, as were those working within it – save for Hillary reportedly throwing an ashtray at Bill in the Oval Office, should you choose to believe what George wrote in his memoirs. Gosh, I wonder if I’m in his memoirs? After all, I did stop by his Adams-Morgan apartment one afternoon. (I’ll leave you to dwell on that one!)
I’m afraid my interest in politics has waned considerably since that time, as did my hankering for George. As many of you know, I moved to England, leaving behind my broken-hearted little Greek in D.C. I understand he’s never been the same since I left and fell into a deep depression. Frankly, I feel terrible about the whole thing, especially the part about him marrying someone else on the rebound. But what was I supposed to do? All that talk about having me convert to the Greek Orthodox church – yes, I realise it meant a lot to him. He’s the son of a Greek Orthodox priest, and his uncle is a Greek Orthodox priest, and I think his grandfather was one as well. Why, George studied to become one himself before following a career path to Washington. That’s a hell of a lot of priests in one family, you must admit.
Why did he have to complicate things? I didn’t ask for much, I didn’t make demands. I’d have been happy just with the dolmades and tzatziki and moussaka and diples. I wouldn’t even have minded having to go to all those Greek festivals; I can break plates and dance with the best of them! But no. He had to have it all his way. What is it with these men? Why can’t they ever listen to reason?
I know, I know. I spent an entire month in America, visiting two coasts (Florida and California), and all I have to blog about is a lousy fifty dollar bill?
Well, it isn’t just any fifty dollar bill. It’s a special fifty dollar bill. Or special to me anyway. Thank god I hadn’t given it to the taxi driver who took me to San Jose International Airport last Wednesday morning. Fortunately, I’d found enough cash on me to scrape together my fare without having to relinquish it, despite the fact that it was given to me for this express purpose. The fifty was still safely folded into one-fourth of its original size inside my wallet when I returned to Fort Lauderdale International Airport and had remained there until…
… a trip to Office Max on Sunday afternoon. I’d gone in to buy some cheap 2 gig USB flash drives (cheap in U.S. dollars anyway). When I went to pay, the cashier told me there was a special deal on some 4 gig flash drives that were even cheaper than the 2 gig ones I’d already chosen. I guess in all the excitement of the moment (and here you thought I led an interesting life) I didn’t pay attention to what I was doing. I reached into my wallet, removed the fifty, and plonked it down on the counter. The fact that I had a $25-off coupon only added to the confusion and pandemonium and before I knew it, I’d given away something that held great significance to me.
When I returned to the car, I suddenly realised what I’d done. I was in tears. How could I have been so stupid? HOW??? Seeing my state, my mother turned her car around and returned back to the crowded parking lot, speeding up and down lanes, ignoring stop signs, and nearly running over several dimwitted pedestrians just so I could get my precious fifty dollar bill back.
I was in a panic. What if it wasn’t there anymore? What if there were other fifty dollar bills in the cash register and we couldn’t figure out which one was mine? What if they rang the police, thinking I was operating some kind of counterfeit scheme or con game? South Florida isn’t high on my list of favourite places, therefore the thought of being imprisoned here held little appeal. Mind you, the thought of returning home to Blighty after being back in the San Francisco Bay Area again held little appeal either. I mean, the only thing I have waiting for me back in England is a broken vacuum cleaner.
I nearly pulled the glass doors out of their hinges in my haste to get back into the store. The cashier saw my panicked face racing toward her from even before I entered. I came to a skidding halt in front of her and poured out my tale of woe – or rather a vastly abbreviated version of it, since there’s only so much Pasternakian tragedy a person can take. My stricken expression must have told her all she needed to know. (Even the guy who’d helped me earlier looked on the verge of tears.) The cashier popped open the register and pulled out a fifty. Is it my fifty? I asked dubiously, hoping she wouldn’t take advantage of my delicate emotional state. I explained to her that my fifty was very crisp and new, and had been folded into one-fourth its original size. She said yes, it was definitely mine, as it was the only fifty in the cash register. And judging from the lack of customers, it seemed unlikely that she was lying to me. I hope not anyway. Christ, even now I’m worrying and wondering. Should I go back to double check?
And will they call the police this time if I do?
They don’t call this country “Blighty” for nothing. It seems like everyone’s always ailing around here, especially me. I get shot of one malady, only to have another swoop down and carry me off in its germy clutches. In the past few weeks I’ve been hit by a cold, followed by what may or may not have been food poisoning, followed by bronchitis (with severe laryngitis) combined with a head cold (that’s still going on). I average something every four weeks now, except for the summers, when I get time off for good behaviour. I shudder to think what would happen if I was forced to join the daily commute in and out of London with millions of germy commuters hacking and coughing and sneezing their way through the morning and evening rush hour. Frankly, I’m beginning to think the plague was never fully eliminated from Britain.
Some time back I was out for an evening in Blackheath with a bunch of Cockneys (I do seem to know a lot of Cockneys, don’t I?) and I was given a most interesting history lesson. Apparently the heath itself – which is a green space situated between some of Blackheath’s village streets – can never be built on. Now let me say to those blissful in their ignorance, the heath itself is one hell of a nice piece of real estate… until you hear that there are plague victims buried there. Oh, sure, there are mixed reports on all this, but when was the last time you saw anyone spending a Sunday afternoon on the heath with a bucket and spade? I mean, would you let your children play there? Er, well… providing you actually LIKE your children, that is.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not blaming Blackheath specifically for my maladies! I guess if I were to place the blame on any one particular location, I’d probably have to opt for Eyam, the famous plague village in the Derbyshire Dales, since I’d been there way before I’d ever stepped foot in Blackheath. When I lived in the dreaded north (by that I mean Sheffield, home of the Arctic Monkeys, Sean Bean, and assorted bits of steel cutlery), I spent quite a lot of my free time in Derbyshire, hiking about in The Peak District, only to end up in some wonderful country pub afterward (that really was the whole point of the exercise, if I’m honest!). If you want to know of a good pub in the Peaks, just ask – I know them all. There were very few Sunday afternoons when you wouldn’t find me at some cosy country pub with a pint and a plate of some tasty pub grub. No frozen rubbish there. The food was fresh and often bordering on gastro-cuisine, and there was always room for sticky toffee pudding. One tends to work up an appetite hiking and climbing and teetering about on cliffs, believe me.
I’ve had some very enjoyable experiences in the Peaks. In fact, I’ve even taken some literary inspiration from the area via my short story “Bakewell, Revisited” originally published in Erotic Travel Tales 2 (
Ca). It’s set in the market town of Bakewell and involves its most famous celebrity: the absolutely divine Bakewell Pudding. Mind you, I’m not entirely certain the Bakewell Pudding’s founding fathers (or mothers) had envisioned quite the scenario I’d conjured up for my story, but…
Anyway, let’s get back to those Peak District jaunts before I get myself into trouble here. I tell you, you haven’t lived till you’ve been right in there among the heather when it’s in its full purple glory. Oh yeah, you’ll have plenty of company buzzing about too, which can be a bit of a challenge. I’d already had some nasty run-ins with wasps on a remote mountaintop in the Greek islands (Epinephine anyone?), so their English cousins were not exactly winning me over – especially when one of the cheeky buggers got up my skirt. And honey, I mean WAY up my skirt. Let’s just say this could have been a la petite mort that would have truly been mort.
I’d probably have to say that one of the absolute highlights of my time there (the Peaks, not Greece) was when I was out one Sunday afternoon with my walking/hiking mate Liz and a couple who were visiting her from France. After a scenic drive, we partook of a brief walking tour of duty along a hilly country lane, which wound past a farm full of sheep bleating and whatever else it is sheep get up to. Indeed, our Frenchman was so inspired by this pastoral English setting that he burst into song, serenading these farm residents with the Edith Piaf classic “La Vie En Rose”. (Oddly, there was no applause when he finished.) We then trudged our way back up the hill to the pub, whereupon he ordered the lamb for dinner. I never quite forgave him for that.
Meanwhile, back to the plague. The crazy thing is, I was never ill this often when I lived in Sheffield – and that hilly city is far colder and much windier than The Big Smoke by a long shot. Perhaps those salt-of-the-earth Yorkshire folk are hardier and not as prone to germs as these spoiled Southerners are – after all, they come from steel mill and coal pit stock. Now I’m not saying the dreaded lurgy never sank its talons into the locals, but I don’t recall anything quite to the extent of what I’m experiencing here. Mind you, it could just be me. In fact, I’m certain of it.
I wonder if someone’s trying to tell me something. Is that a voice in my ear, whispering “Come to California! Come to California!”?
Nah. Guess I must’ve imagined it.
Is it possible to love someone so strongly, so overwhelmingly, you’d be willing to sell your soul to the devil to have him?
That is the opening line to my short story “Hell is Where the Heart is” from my anthology Getting Even: Revenge Stories (
Ca). Having to repeat it again and again for the camera on Monday afternoon caused me to revisit a sentiment that has been amplified exponentially from the time of the story’s conception. But read it I did, for the planned filming of my performance reading was a year in the making. And, on a cold winter’s afternoon in London’s South Bank, it finally came to fruition.
It began over a year ago at the London book launch of Getting Even, where I planned to do a reading of my work. Because my story was so heavy on dialogue, I realised I needed to find a legitimate Cockney to perform the part of my character “Alf” the Cockney Devil, since I didn’t want to get any Dick Van Dyke comparisons being hurled at me (cor blimey Mary Poppins!). So I’d put out a notice on Facebook and voila, enter Bob Boyton – as Cockney as Cockney can get, and in possession of an accent that could slice through a jellied eel in milliseconds. Yup, I’d definitely found my Alf!
Judging by the reaction of the audience that evening, our performance went down a right treat – so much so that let’s just say I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. Enter Paul Atherton from Simple (TV) Productions – a gentleman who kindly offered to film the reading. Well, I won’t say I got all starry-eyed and fancied myself as Lana Turner being discovered at the soda fountain at Schwab’s Drug Store (yes, I do realise I have star quality!), but I did imagine the video being watched on YouTube and anywhere else it was possible to upload it to.
Having lived for a time in El Lay, one tends to become rather blase about such creatures as actors. However, after an afternoon spent in various locations within the Royal Festival Hall – an afternoon consisting of back-breakingly hard work reading bits of my story again and again and getting them shot from various angles, I will never again be dismissive of those who have chosen or received the calling for the Thespian life. As if it wasn’t difficult enough trying not to flub our lines, we were forced to put up with Muzak playing in the background, espresso machines whooshing, cleaners banging and emptying bins, and individuals so stupid and inconsiderate that they couldn’t shut their mouths for two seconds when walking past what was clearly a film shoot. I mean, does the camera with the microphone sticking out of it not offer a tiny hint of what is transpiring? We were even interrupted by some daft old duffer asking why the door to the auditorium was locked. Um… probably to keep daft old duffers like you out! I nearly shouted. Instead I gave him my Hungarian evil (albeit myopic) eye, at which point he fell over dead with a heart attack. Well, okay, so maybe that isn’t what happened. But you gotta admit, it sounded pretty good.
After we finished the shoot, I went back with Paul to his flat to do some editing. Well, if the filming wasn’t labourious enough, just try editing it! To add insult to the injuries incurred courtesy of the Royal Festival Hall, the cable that was supposed to feed the film into the computer decided not to work. Fortunately another cable was secured – a nifty little red one – and after getting all the footage transferred into the computer and selecting passages to slice and dice, we found ourselves being further thwarted by technology when said computer, for some arbitrary reason known only to itself, decided not to automatically save the work it was programmed to save, and we had to start all over again.
By this time I was utterly convinced the project was cursed and that my tragic aura was having a negative impact on the equipment, and very possibly on Paul. I mean, the day had begun with a text message that pretty much shattered my universe, so why not have the film project shot to hell too? But Paul is nothing if not a consummate professional, thus when I left him late Monday night, he was still toiling away editing the video which, if no other mishaps occur, should be done and dusted by this coming Monday. And yes folks, I will post it on Facebook (including my group page and fan page) and MySpace and every conceivable place there is on this planet to post it, including here. I bet you can’t wait, huh?
Solo reading, Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZ2hvlxqYbM
– How many pints does it take before you fall into the gutter?
– How short does your skirt have to be before you’re technically on the game?
These are the kinds of questions I expected to encounter on the “Life in the UK” test I recently had to take in order to apply for British residency. Instead I was confronted by such silly and irrelevant questions as:
– In what year did women win the right to divorce their husbands?
– What percent has the UK population grown since 1971?
– When are you entitled to receive a free TV licence?
Now I ask you, what does any of this stuff REALLY have to do with life in the UK? Okay, I can understand why it was an important moment in history when women were finally allowed to get rid of the sorry bastards they’d been stupid enough to marry in the first place. But TV licences? I mean, does anyone even want to live to the age of 75 to qualify for a free TV licence? Just think how many more reality TV shows there will be by then, not to mention no-talent celebs spawned from said shows. If that isn’t enough to make you top yourself before you hit 75 then I don’t know what is.
Anyway, there I was in the garden spot of England known as Ilford – me and a motley crew of some 20-plus dodgy foreigners, all of whom had assembled in the public library to plunk down our hard-earned 35 quid to take a computerised test to prove we’re worthy of remaining in this country and paying income tax, National Health Service contributions, and VAT on virtually everything save for using the toilet. It was quite a cultural hodgepodge; I ran into Nigerians, Romanians, Australians (yes, even Commonwealth citizens have to take the exam), South Africans, Russians, Pakistanis – you name it, they were there. Though I believe I was the only American. Hmm… Wonder what was up with that?
Having spent nearly a month studying on and off (well, if I’m honest, mostly off), I felt fairly confident after taking the practice tests in the book I’d bought that I’d pass the blasted thing, providing I didn’t get hit with a slew of questions requiring my recollection of dates and numbers. Nevertheless, I began to get worried when the Muslim woman seated next to me was cramming up until the last minute from her dog-eared copy of British Citizenship For Dummies. Oy vey.
As I sat at my assigned computer terminal waiting for the endless queue of persona non grata foreigners to be processed (“processed” being to check their ID and get their money off them), my stomach reminded me that it hadn’t been fed since breakfast, and it was now pushing half past 4 in the afternoon (the exam time was set at 4pm). I became obsessed with the thought of the nice Canadian cheddar in my fridge at home. To distract myself, I got into a conversation with the Aussie seated behind me, only to be drowned out by a squalling infant someone had been daft enough to bring along to the party. Mind you, it got even worse once the exam started. Apparently some sort of Punch and Judy shtick was going on in the library (at least I think it was Punch and Judy), so all throughout the exam we found ourselves being treated to maniacal male shouting accompanied by the occasional manic strum of out-of-tune guitar strings. It made me wonder if we weren’t in a public library at all, but instead an institution for the criminally insane.
Fortunately for me, I passed the exam, which means I can now get the rest of my endless pile of paperwork assembled and apply for my settlement visa – providing, of course, I sell about a zillion more copies of my books or providing I can get the guys from The Italian Job together to steal that gold (I always did fancy driving one of those vintage Minis!), since it will take a king’s ransom to pay the extortionate new application fee imposed by the British Home Office. This would never have happened were they still operating under the aegis of that nice working-class bloke from Sheffield, David Blunkett.
Speaking of whom, I actually ran into David Blunkett in a car park in Sheffield city centre a few years back. And no, I don’t mean while driving a Mini! But that’s another story…