Monday, August 27, 2007

What I Did On My Holidays (WARNING: ESSAY-LENGTH)

Well, then. I done had a birthday. I got older, which isn't so great, but people gave me presents, which takes the edge off a bit. I travelled down to the ancient city of Evesham, which after the recent floods has risen once again from the waves to strike horror and madness into the minds of men. I had an awesome birthday party in the antedeluvian bower of Matt and Gilly, with special guests Maria and Claudia. Gifts were recieved (including superb goblins painted by the Arnolds which you can see in the picture there), Pictionary was played and simply AMAZING birthday cake, created by Gillian, was eaten, booze was drunk and so were we. I also got awesome stuff off Claudia including an Ankh-Morpork City Watch wallet, which will keep my dollars safe from Thieves' Guild members, and a decent razor, so I can now slough off my terrible wiry growth of beard-matter without lacerating my face to such a degree as I resemble Marv from Sin City.

Returning to London, we spent my birthday evening at home eating more cake and drinking wine and opening more presents. By some freak cosmic convergence, my parents got me a City Watch bag. How cool is that? I also recieved plane-oriented giftingtons from brother, before frantically packing our bags for the adventure ahead.

Paris, then. If you base a children's book upon our experiences, then "Ben & Claudia Eat Cheese and Get Shitfaced" would be a good title. If, however, you are a pervert who delights in hearing the minutae of other people's holidays, I will now go into them in tedious detail. Highlights from the over three fucking hundred pictures I took can be absent-mindedly glanced at here.


The great thing about the Eurostar is that it leaves from Waterloo, which is piss-easy to get to from my house and constitutes the two-thirds-of-the-way-there point of my commute to work, so I am au fait with its layout and environs. Of course, this is no longer true as they've now relocated to bastard St. Pancras which is all the way over on the other side of town. Fortunately we went just before the transfer, so the trip over was relatively irritation-free, besides being sat in seats with about half an inch of window to look out of during the two and a half hour journey.

Got into Gare de Nord around mid day, minutes later having our first encounter with one of Paris' many transients, who are actually employed by the French government to ensure Paris retains its authentic Gallic vibe. We decided that we could totally walk it from the station to our hotel, and naturally we got rather lost, wandering along pretty backstreets for an hour and a bit until we got our bearings.

After collapsing in our hotel for a few moments, we ventured out onto the streets and decided to investigate Montmartre. Our investigation yielded the following information: A) it is pretty, and B) it is very vertical and slopey with gorgeous buildings, reminding me of San Francisco. Or San Francisco in all those films I've seen. We eventually gained the summit, and marvelled at the view of Paris and the Sacre Coeur. It is quite different to the standard Jesus-based religious buildings, actually it looks like a mosque from the outside. It's only when you venture in and see all the Christ schlock that you're reminded this place is all about the God that you don't get in trouble for drawing cartoons of.

Wandering back down into Montmartre, we passed by the carousel from Amelie and stopped into a restaurant for omlettes and drinks. The food was lovely, and they had spectacularly horrible toilets where someone had evidently been hit by a bowel disruptor set to Fatal Intestinal Deluge. Making our excuses and leaving, we wandered out of Montmartre and onto Boulevard de Clichy, suddenly finding ourselves surrounded by an astonishing array of sex shops, erotic museums and various other such knob-oriented retail outlets. To calm our nerves we stopped off at the Chat Noir and had drinks outside on the pavement. This is where I discovered the wonderful French custom of getting free bits of sausage with your drink. As Claudia is averse to eating dead pig arse-derived meat products, I helped myself to plenty of these throughout the week. Suitably refreshed, we ambled home past the Moulin Rouge, the first of several locations I was already sort of familiar with, due to them being featured in ancient Playstation shooter Medal of Honor Underground. I remember sniping a Nazi off the windmill. In the game, not on holiday.


The weather was beautiful, so we decided to go up the Eiffel Tower, which we were dead set on until we saw the queues and decided we would rather not spend this gorgeous day waiting in line with screaming American teens. This turned out to be a wise move, considering how rubbish the weather was the rest of the time. Instead we wandered around taking photos like the tourist scum we truly were, eating liquorece, and trying not to stare at the huge guns being sported by the French soldiers sauntering around the gardens. Seriously, everyone is packin' a strap in Paris, apparently even the traffic wardens. I swear I saw one policeman with a goddamn Dirty Harry six shooter strapped to his leg. No wonder there's so little trouble on the streets. Sauntering down to the riverside, we had cheese and little bottles of wine on a floating café, then walked down the river, marvelling at the Napoleonic pomposity of the bridges. We crossed the river a few bridges down and took in the Grand Palais (Big Palace) and the Petit Palais (Little Palace), where we discovered a bronze statue of my homeboy Winston Churchill, replete with an engraving of the famous "we shall never surrender" speech. I was so caught up in patriotic fervour, I spent the next few hours running around and neck-punching every German tourist I could find. Eventually Claudia caught up to me and administered my Special Medicine, which calmed me down enough to visit the Place de la Concorde without even screaming "WHO WON THE BLUDDY WAR THEN, EH HEINRICH?" at any children.

That may have been fibs.

Passing through the Place Concorde, we looked at some fountains and the Parisian equivalent of Cleopatra's Needle (ours is bigger, fnarr), then went through the gardens towards the Louvre. There we saw the shittest street performer of all time. It was a bloke dressed up like Tutunkhamen, with gold mask and robe, standing on a box, and his "thing" that he did when you gave him money was to... lean forwards, slightly. He could have at least had the decency to flash people.

We approached the louvre, passing through the mini triumphal arch, just one of the many bits of grandiose Napoleonic bling-architecture in Paris. This one was apparently adorned with various trophies from Boney's victories, but he had to give them all back after he was deposed. Haha, loser!

Leaving the interior of the STAGGERINGLY ENORMOUS Louvre for a later day, we wandered onto the Rue de Rivoli, which features the single most intense concentration of shitty souvenir shops in any city on the planet. Seriously, the whole road consists of nothing but these places, each one selling exactly the same stuff as the last. I purchased some tat for The Folks Back Home and a sno-globe for Claudia which would later explode in my bag, soaking the other gifts and covering them in glittery "sno". Arse.

Before going up the Champs Elysee, which is STAGGERINGLY LONG, we stopped into a restaurant where Claud ate a steak so rare that it had its own knife and was actively fighting back. It provided sorely needed energy for the walk up that seemingly endless road, which eventually bought us to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, and its spectacular panoramic views of Paris, which gave us a good impression of how stupidly far we had walked. And plus I also saw a guy down on the road get busted for speeding!

Descending, we got on the Metro home. A few words on the Metro: it is awesome. It travels ridiculously fast, so services are very frequent, and the whole experience is a lot more rough 'n ready than the Underground. Pretty much everything makes a loud noise, from the doors to the seats to the trains themselves, and plus some of the trains have really huge wheels on! Cor!

Back at our manor, we went on a mini pub crawl, had vodka-and-oranges, and were served by an amusing waiter who added exaggerated sound effects to everything. Which was nice.

Crawling into bed, we were woken up in the wee small hours by the very odd pair of middle-aged ladies in the room above us. There was a very thin ceiling between our room and theirs (so thank Christ they weren't a pair of newlyweds), and every morning at about 3AM they would barge into their room, apparently roaring drunk, and proceed to spend the next hour or so throwing breezeblocks at eachother and playing ten pin bowling with 18th century seige artillery, whilst cackling like demented witches. To make things worse, every time they used their bathroom, a high-pressure jet of water would surge through the exposed pipe in our room, making a deafening WHOOSH. Our sleep was not the best.


Rain, rain, go away, you're fucking up our holiday. In contrast to yesterday's glorious sunshine, wednesday's weather would have put Wales to shame in terms of soggyness. For serious. Fortunately our Thing for the day was lunch on board a glass-topped river cruiser, and this was superior. A smorgasboard of foody goodness was dropped in front of us, with delicious salmon, plates o' cheese and lashings of wine, all to the accompaniment of a singer beltin' out show tunes and pointin' out places of interest as the boat ferried us up and down the river. The only downside was the rain obscuring our view of some things as it poured torrentially onto the windows. It was interesting, and I saw a few things I'd never heard of before, like the national library and the extremely funky miniature Statue of Liberty, given to the French government by the American community in Paris as thanks for the full-size one, back in the days before freedom toast. There's also a fullsize replica of the big golden flame from Lady Liberty's torch, standing right outside the road tunnel where Princess Di cashed her chips a decade ago.

Exiting the boat, it became clear we had succumbed to the debilitating effects of the Gallic devil-drink. Heading vaguely in the direction of the Rodin museum, we stumbled along the riverside, singing the two lines of Beyond the Sea that we could remember, like proper lifelong alcoholics, as rain filled our booties.

We eventually made it to the museum, still very much having our slant on, and dried off somewhat as we gawped at sculptures. Unfortunately, with Rodin being a sculptor, most of his stuff was in statue form and displayed outside, so extra soakings were absorbed. We repaired to a café and sobered up with strong coffee, but the rain, now completely torrential, sent us back to our hotel at a stupidly early hour of the afternoon. It finally dried up in the early evening, so we went down the road to a great little café called Les Nivs, run by a big flamboyant red-faced Frenchman and his big flamboyant red-faced French wife, where we reinstated our binge with some lovely white wine and inane chattering. My last memory is running back through a fresh bout of rain, collapsing on the beds, and inexplicably waking up on the floor, roused from my sleep by the nightly artillery duel.

Day 4

Getting up and out nice and early (which, with me and Claudia, is usually just something that happens to other people), we made a beeline for the Louvre.

Pro Louvre Tip 1: Given the immense size of the Louvre, which makes the British Museum look like Lynmouth Railway Museum, it is wise to at least have a vague list of things you want to see, otherwise you will become hopelessly sidetracked. With this in mind, we decided to see the Egyptian section and Mona Lisa, plus any targets of opportunity we could hit on the way. Metro'ing our way there, we were surprised by the Louvre station, which actually has relics in it, some of them without any glass around 'em. They'd last about four seconds in London...

Pro Louvre Tip 2: Avoid the massive queues for the Louvre by taking the super-secret underground Ninja side entrance, accessed from Rue de Rivoli. We did this, passing under the giant pyramid (or "triangle" in Claudia-ese) and conveniently ended up in a prime position to go and scope some 2000 year old dead rich muthafuckas. When we tired of grave goods, we set off for the Mona Lisa, passing a section of the Apollo gallery consisting of completely hideous gaudy "blingitecture" with gilding everywhere and fucktons of marble slapped on the walls. It is decidedly Beckham-esque in there. We also passed by the statue of Nike (the Greek godess, not the fucking shoes), which was accompanied by a big sign saying "DON'T TAKE ANY FUCKING PICTURES" and about 700 people, all of whom were taking pictures.

It was the same in the Mona Lisa's room, which is like a goddamn Cairo marketplace. Being the most famous painting in the world, and because there are lots of cunt-wits who think The Da Vinci Code is actually a decent book, Moanin' Lisa attracts a fair bit of a crowd, and it is sadly somewhat hard to appreciate the lady when you only get a brief, fleeting glimpse of her as you are jostled along by a whole Mafia's worth of crazed Italian tourists. Shame really. Anyway, we managed to survive the scrum and went out into the Gods Room, gawped at some deities, made a visit to the gift shop, then departed for the Latin Quarter.

Now, Maria had informed us there was a really good comic shop on Rue Dante. We found it, went in, had a look around. It was pretty decent. We went out, and there was another one across the street. "Cool!", we thought, for it is a novelty to have two comic shops so close together, or indeed in the same town, back in the UK. So we went in that one, and it was better. We came out and saw there were two more. No, three more.

This continued for some time, until we had worked our way through all FUCKING THIRTEEN of the comic shops on this one street. Evidently they were owned by two competing companies, playing a sort of shop-based game of noughts and crosses. This was nothing but good news for us, and we purchased some fine, cheapo comix from these fine outlets. Claudia got a complete collection of Spirited Away comics and I got the first two volumes of Transmetropolitan for about half the price of what I'd pay for one in London. Bar-gin!

After that we went up the hill to the Pantheon, then down to Notre Dame. This was a repeat of the Eiffel Tower experience, in that we got one look at the queues and did a simultaneous "fuck that".

Instead we just walked around the outside and admired the pointy bits, before scooting across the bridge to a restaurant reccomended by Matt and Gill. This turned out to be the best restaurant ever. For a comparative pittance each, we got to dine out on wonderful food that woulda cost us £305167138196 at home, complete with as much appetiser as we could eat (big basket of sausages, big basket of veg) and - crucially - unlimited wine top-ups.

Several hours and about 800 pounds of food later, we staggered out, and got to go in Notre Dame after all, as it stays open at night while a documentary film about its history plays on a big screen. It's incredibly spooky in there at night, it's like the goddamn Mines of Moria. I snapped some drunken pictures of the Eiffel Tower's searchlight, and home we went.


Well, that's our lot. Back to Merrie Olde Engylande for us. We waited around on the main concourse at Gare de Nord before we figured out we had to go and check in, cos we're 'tards. Amusingly, we had to go through UK Immigration Services. I did my best Polish accent.

We actually had a window this time, which was a luxury. We chatted about what an awesome time we'd had and listened to music as pretty French countryside became pitch blackness became pretty English countryside with differently shaped pylons. Then it was Waterloo, home and the end of our Paris adventure. We were pretty bummed to have to leave, but it was surely The Best Holiday Ever, which more than made up for this.

I called my nan to thank her for providing monies for our holiday, and she asked if we "went anywhere near that bloody awful Eiffel tower?". I swore inwardly, as all but one of the souvenirs I bought her featured the damn thing. Bloody nans!

Right, I've got to go and make my room like like a sane person lives in it, because Jess will be sleeping on the floor up there. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Confusion to Boney

I am writing this under considerable mental strain, as all I can see when I close my eyes is mountains upon mountains of cardboard boxes. I went to work yesterday, for the first time in Six Fucking Weeks, to help out with a huge delivery of produce housed in a 20-foot container. What should have been about an hour and a half's work turned into a whole afternoon, as the lorry carrying it was too large to get into the self-storage facility where we intended to stash its contents, so we had to hire a smaller vehicle, fill it with guff from the lorry, drive it to the storage place, unload it, go back for more, lather, rinse, and repeat. Today, I am aching in every part of my body, including some bits that I've never heard of before. I do not miss the boxes. Neither do I miss our new work-experience boy, a posho boarding school friend of my boss' son, who is an haw-hawing upper crust rugby shirt type. You know, the kind who will probably grow up into a banker or something, and finance his private yacht (which is crewed entirely by naked women) by precipitating genocides in South America. Like... so he can sell genocide insurance or something. Look, I don't know how these things work. I'd be doing them if I did.

A few weeks back, Claudia and I braved the floods to visit Evesham, where our little friends live. By chance, our visit coincided with the annual river festival, which featured people's boats done up like pirate ships and strung with Christmas lights and a flyover by a Lancaster bomber. There was also a market which included several stalls selling awful books where the author's name is printed in gold embossed capitals ten times larger than the book's title, a guy selling miracle spectacle-cleaning fluid, and various craft stalls staffed by gentlemen previously seen gracing the sex offenders' register.


After perusing the market for some time, we repaired to a Rough Local Pub and attempted to carry on a conversation over the noise supplied by a gaggle of uproariously drunk fortysomething gentlemen, whose number included, bizarrely, a very quiet and dignified-looking Sikh gentleman with a spectacularly well maintained grey beard and blue turban. We named him Captain Nemo, in honour of the famed science pirate.

"Tell the Gods that Nemo sent you!"

Returning to the river as dusk fell, we were treated to a parade of all the lit-up boats, with musical accompaniment from a child-friendly pop act whose lyrics made heavy use of the word "funk". It was all "let's get funky!" and "Evesham... funk!" which quickly became a catchphrase. They were the sort of band I thought only existed in the universe of The Beano.
Matters concluded with a superb firework display, and then we ambled home among the hordes of stumbling country chavs. Little over a week later, most of Evesham was underwater.
I must have left a tap running.


Hey, get this - this time next week I will be in the most freedom-hating country in the world, also known as France. This is very exciting, as it will be my first visit. In fact it will only be my second time going to another country (not counting Wales, which is a swamp, not a country), because I am a pathetic shut-in. Mrs. Benneth and I will be going by Eurostar, which is great because A) it leaves from Waterloo, which is a twelve-second tube journey away, B) it terminates right in the heart of Paris, and C) it's not a plane. As much as I like aeroplanes, I am never too comfortable travelling in a vehicle which is effectively a thin metal tube full of extremely flammable gases, suspended thirty thousand feet above the world. Of course, I'm fine with travelling in a thin metal tube that hurtles at an obscene speed down a tunnel carved out of the bedrock beneath the god-damn sea.

Anyway, it will be great to see the City of Lights for the first time, in the company of my female accomplice. And it will be interesting to finally find out if French people really are the assholes they are made out to be. Not that I ascribe to the idea of boiling down the identity of an entire nation of people into a cop-out stereotype. No, I prefer to work on an individual basis.

You, for example, are a mingebag.