Budapest to the Black Sea

Budapest to the Black Sea

Thursday, 31 July 2008

The Bourne Misunderstanding

The kids and I are great fans of the Bourne movies and the most recent. ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ is worth seeing if only for the sensational chase sequence on Waterloo Station.

Scene: The beating heart of Basingstoke, the Railway Station, Traveller’s Fare snack bar.
“The train now arriving at Platform 2 is the 09.35 for Exeter St David’s, calling at….”
Katya Grodzsinski leant on the cappuccino machine and studied the man on the stool by the window. He had been there for more than an hour, nursing the same cup of tea. He barely moved, gazing north towards the Reading branch, occasionally he spoke into his phone.
“Overton, Whitley, Andover, ,….”
Katya moved over to the magazine rack to get closer to him. She made a pretence of tidying the ‘Now’s, ‘Hello’s, ‘OK’s, and ‘Big Breasts Monthly‘s’. Two days worth of stubble did nothing to mar his good looks.
“Vould you like anuzzer cup of tea?” she said. He turned slowly to look at her, he said nothing and his eyes told her less. The Exeter train pulled in, his eyes flicked back to the window, a momentary flash of interest.
…passengers for Micheldever, Old Todger and Long Trousers should travel in the first five coaches of this 10 coach train due to short platforms at those stations”.

Scene: CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia, USA. Covert Operations Room, an acre of flickering screens and earnest young Americans fighting for freedom the best way they know how.
“Chief! We gotta hit on ‘Fishpaste’. A cell phone in Europe”. The atmosphere suddenly crackled, screens jumped into life, coffee cups were pushed to one side as the room swung from an average CIA day at the office propping up murderous dictatorships to battle stations.
“Ok! Where is it? Location, location, location!”
“Basingstoke, England sir. The railroad station”.
Whose phone is it? C’mon people we’re losing time”.
“The phone is registered to a J. Bourne of 42 Elm Tree Rd, Solihull, Birmingham, England”.
The Chief exploded. “Jesus H Christ! Bourne’s alive! Bourne’s alive and he knows about the ‘Fishpaste’ programme”.
Younger operatives around the room glanced at one another in alarm, older hands mentally buckled up their seat belts and prepared for a bumpy ride.
“Listen up people, we are going to condition ‘Tangerine’, Jason Bourne is the most potent threat to National Security that we could possibly face. This is a code 5 Priority. Where is our nearest asset”?
“Er. Twenty minutes away Chief”
“OK. Activate the asset. Give him a no recall, green for go, shoot to kill directive”.

Scene: Wisteria Cottage, the Clampings, Hook, Hampshire, UK.
A middle aged couple are enjoying a late breakfast. The woman scanned the Daily Mail (headline “All Foreigners are Satanists Claim”) while eating her second piece of toast. Opposite her the man pondered the Telegraph crossword. The mobile phone on the table suddenly chirruped, the man read the text on the screen, put the crossword down and said “I have to go out for a while”
His wife looked at him for a long moment. “Oh, I see” she said.
He got up, went out to the hall and opened the cupboard under the stairs. He pushed aside the golf clubs, Christmas decorations and wellingtons, he took out a leather holdall labelled Hartley Witney Bowls Club. He headed for the front door, the elderly Labrador dozing in a basket in the corner lurched to his feet in hope of an unexpected walk but quickly sensed that what his master had to do he had to do alone and slumped back down again.

Scene: Basingstoke Station.
“Southwest Trains regret to announce that due to engineering works in the Basingstoke area this weekend and for the following 52 weekends…
The man got up from his stool and came to the counter. His eyes held Katya’s for a moment before he said, “Can I have a Scotch Egg please?”
Katya couldn’t place his accent. Was he English?
“Sure” she said, “anuzzer tea?”
He looked weary for a moment as if the acceptance of a cup of tea was a surrender to a human weakness he would rather not admit.
….there will be no train services to or from this station. Alternative bus services will be provided but frankly they are not much use and you would do better to stay at home, there is plenty to do in Basingstoke”

Scene: CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia, USA.
The Chief paced the room angrily. “Where’s the fucking CCTV from Basingstoke? We can’t afford to lose this guy”.
“Online now Chief!”
The senior men clustered round a screen to watch a fuzzy grey image of Basingstoke Station, Platform 3. The camera panned slowly along the platform.
“Where is he? Where is he?” fumed the Chief.
Finally the camera panned across the window of the Traveller’s Fare snack bar. A shadowy figure sat on a stool by the magazine rack.
“OK hold it there. Increase the resolution.”
The shadowy figure came slowly into focus, the image fractured by reflections on the window.
“That’s him! That’s Bourne!” said the Chief
“You sure Chief”? said his deputy, who at that moment thought the image could be anyone from Joseph Stalin to Minnie Mouse.
“Jesus I’ve been hunting this guy for ten years. I know it’s him. Where’s the goddamn asset?

Scene: The A30 between Hook and Basingstoke.
The man from Wisteria Cottage drove the Rover with calm assurance, his mobile chirruped again on the seat beside him. An image of a young man appeared on the screen, he studied it for a few moments then snapped the phone shut and put it away.

Scene: Basingstoke Station.
“Customers are asked not to leave any unattended baggage….
The young man watched two men in dark blue anoraks come onto the platform from the subway, they didn’t look in his direction and strode purposefully to the north end of the platform where the sat down on a bench. He put the Scotch egg in his rucksack, left his tea, and followed them.
“Zank you. Come back soon” said Katya but she was talking to a closing door.
“…and if they do see anything unusual please point it out to a member of staff as they do have a very dull time here.”

Scene: CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia, USA.
“He’s on the move people. Let’s not lose him. Shit! Who are those other two guys on the bench? Where’s the asset?”
“Asset in position now sir”.

Scene: Sainsbury’s Pay & Display Car Park, Basingstoke
The man from Wisteria Cottage parked the Rover on the deserted roof of the Sainsbury’s Multi-Storey Pay & Display. He paid for half an hour and carefully stuck the ticket to the inside of his windscreen. Then he carried the Hartley Witney Bowls Club holdall to the north parapet and assembled the Ptacynski P45 snipers rifle that it contained. He then clipped on the Hytner diometric telescopic day-sight, together they made the weapon of choice of assassins the world over. He slipped a single round into the chamber and started to hunt his prey. From his vantage point he had an excellent view of the full length of Platform 3.

Scene: Basingstoke Station.
The man came up to the two men on the bench and greeted them familiarly.
“Hi fellers. Anyone fancy a fishpaste sandwich?”
At that moment the man from Wisteria Cottage shot Jason Bourne of 42 Elm Tree Rd, Solihull, rail enthusiast and train spotter, better known to his mates as ‘Gobbler’, through his right eye.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

My Appearance on the Parkinson Show

Regular readers will know that I once had a career in stand-up comedy (see Blogs of the 11th & 18th May) and that I spent some months playing clubs up north billed as ‘Ted Irwin – The Irritating Git from Down South". It was during a week when I was third on the bill at the Accrington Odd Fellows & Job Seekers Club when I got a call from a researcher on the Michael Parkinson Show. Apparently Jimmy Tarbuck had pulled out at very short notice and she was desperate for someone to fill the gap that very night. Now I hear you saying to yourself “Surely the Parkinson Show could find someone more impressive than a comic who was third on the bill at the Accrington Odd Fellows & Job Seekers Club”. Apparently not and though I say it myself I had gained some local notoriety as a comedian whose sole purpose in life was to insult anyone born north of Watford whilst being pelted with rubbish by a hostile and drunk audience and I had attracted a lot of media interest in Manchester where the Parkinson show was recorded in those days. Needless to say I jumped at chance and as the show was recorded early evening it didn’t interfere with my club engagement.

The researcher Fiona met me at the studio mid-afternoon and we went through background details until Parky himself became available and he and I mapped out how things would go. It was agreed that since I was a relative unknown I would do a snippet of the act in my full rig of ankle length quilted riveters coat and orange cycle helmet, before sitting down for the chat bit.

Being the new boy in town I was on first (Meryl Streep and Noel Edmonds were my fellow guests) and then as now the entrance onto the Parkinson set was at the top of a curving staircase. I was on the point of vomiting from nerves and was by no means reassured by seeing Audrey, my mistress, Harry her husband and my boss with the rest of my cabaret co-workers in the audience, when I got a “3-2-1 Go” and a gentle shove from a floor manager and I tottered down the stairs.

Now before I go any further I will answer the question that has popped up in all your minds. “What is behind the entrance at the top of the Parkinson staircase?” Presumably you, like me, have always thought that there would be a lavishly appointed hospitality suite with agents, promoters, hustlers, high class hookers, recreational drugs and young men with metal briefcases full of money. Every so often one of these young men would open his case and say “Look what a lot of money I have in my briefcase” only to be put down by another young buck opening his case to reveal even more money. But no, the backstage area resembles nothing so much as a ‘Goods Inwards’ in a typical Slough industrial unit. The hospitality suite and dressing rooms are contained in two rather squalid portacabins and the only catering on site is a Turkish burger van on the far side of the car park. Parky spends most of his time, when not on set, playing cards with his chauffeur in the back of his car. Even more intriguing is the fact that the staircase just goes up to a temporary platform accessed by a rather steep ladder from offstage. Lounging around at the bottom of this ladder are two shaven headed Serbs dressed in combat trousers and rather soiled vests whose sole purpose in life is to assist any guests that might have trouble getting up the ladder. Apparently they really earned their money when Whoopi Goldberg was on the show.

I was on and I launched into my standard patter and as I did so the studio audience dutifully started rather feebly to chuck the odds and ends that the studio staff had provided, nothing more lethal than screwed up paper or soft fruit. Luckily my party had managed to smuggle in some bottles, glass ashtrays and a decent sized bag of King Edwards. In no time at all shards of glass were flying round the studio like shrapnel and Parky was ducking and diving down behind his chair. My routine ground to a standstill in very pleasing uproar and there was a lengthy pause while the studio staff swept up the debris and Parky picked all the shreds of potato out of his hair (Kevin Keegan style in those days). Then we sat down and I explained to the world at large how after a long, expensive and privileged education I had ended up standing on stage in a long coat and cycling helmet while the punters threw lethal objects at me. It was dull and predictable but would have done my career no harm at all had it not been terminated soon after. Then it was Noel followed by Meryl, afterwards we adjourned to the portacabins for a bottle of light ale and kebabs, which Meryl gamely fetched from the burger van. I thought Noel was a bit sniffy about the whole thing and sulked in the corner muttering that they always had Chicken in the Basket on Multi-Coloured Swapshop. Meryl and I got on famously, so famously that a few months later we had an incognito ‘weekend’ together in a B&B in Solihull. It wasn’t bad at all, en suite but with hard loo paper, nylon sheets and loud parrot in the hall. To be honest I thought that Meryl was a bit noisy too and I’m sure the landlady wonders to this day why her parrot was squawking “Aahfrika! Aahfrika!” on the morning that we left.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Basingstoke in Bloom

Regular readers will be aware that Basingstoke (civic motto “We’re walkin’ on sunshine”) won the coveted prize of “Hampshire’s Cultural Glory 2008” last year and this is my report from our front line in the war on barbarism.

First the bad news, our headline production of Berloz’s epic opera The Trojans was stillborn after an unfortunate accident during a rehearsal of the torchlit entrance of the Wooden Horse. Basingstoke Chief Executive, Paul Poltroon, said, when interviewed in front of the smouldering remains of the Brimshott Rd Scout Hut, “I don’t think Hector Berlioz would have done it differently and besides this is why we have insurance”.

As expected the ‘A Hundred years of the Sooty Show’ exhibition has attracted world wide interest with visitors coming from as far afield as Chile, Taiwan and a jumbo jet load from the ‘Izzy Wizzy Let’s Get Bizzy Society’ of San Diego. The 10m high Sooty and Sweep inflatables that flanked the entrance to the exhibition have been retrieved from the field in Belgium whence they were blown in a May storm. More worrying has been the claim by a Professor Doppelganger that the show’s centrepiece, the original Sooty glove puppet made by Harry Corbett’s grandfather (see my blog of 9th March), is a fake. The Gulbenkian Glove Puppet Museum of Bratislava, the owners of this cultural treasure, were outraged but strangely reticent when DNA tests were suggested to prove that the artefact was indeed made from a wolf’s bladder and two acorns. The whole affair will be in the courts for some time yet and in any case the publicity has probably increased attendance.

The surprise package in this cultural fiesta has been Null Point!, the story of the Eurovision Song Contest from earliest times. What is ingenious about this ground breaking show, which might have been just a dull compilation of Euro winners in sub-standard performance, is that it almost entirely ignores the songs and concentrates on the presenters and the scoring. On Eurovision night anyone who values their mental health will do almost anything to avoid hearing the ghastly songs but will return from the pub or their ‘Conversational Portuguese’ classes in time for the epic ritual that is Euro scoring. The show is performed in its entirety by a pair of Finnish impressionists/quick change artists who rattle through the years of Euro drivel at breakneck speed. Their impression of UK presenter Katie Boyle (1960/63/68), who single-handedly managed things with an aplomb that latter day Estonian and Serb duos can only dream of, is absolutely bang on. They switch costumes and languages with equal ease, they deliver the wooden ‘spontaneous’ by-play between hosts that obviously loathe each other with great relish. Above all the joy is in the detail. In much the same way that we all remember where we were and who we were with when Michael Portillo got dumped by the voters of Enfield in the 1997 General Election, we all remember Jahn Teigen getting Null Point in Paris in 1978. But do you remember presenter Dottir Lundqvist (Gothenburg 1985) getting caught short just before the final scores were announced and having to run off stage to pee in a fire bucket, or the now forgotten lady who inadvertently exposed a large and enchanting breast while giving the votes of the Belgian jury in 1974. This show is a wild wild ride and has got rave reviews across the board. “ …very much of the zeitgeist……Terry Wogan and Ulricka Johnson with an existential twist” (Time Out). “It’s Gardener’s Question Time on acid!” (Rose Growers Monthly)
The 2007 UK entrants Scooch were invited to be the cabaret at the First Night party but were intercepted by the police at junction 6 of the M3 and turned back to London in the interests of ‘public order’.

The Literary Lunches at the War Memorial Park Roundabout Harvester got off to a shaky start when Eric Haynes (publisher of the legendary maintenance manuals) had to cancel after a breakdown on the M3 but Dermot O’Dainty certainly got the ball rolling re-enacting early moments from his career with a Mrs Baldock of Sherborne St John under the luncheon table.

There is much more to come in this cultural beano. Next month we have “Celebrity White Water Rafting” on the Basingstoke Canal. Can’t wait!

Sunday, 6 July 2008


A couple of weeks ago I was writing about the year 2025 and what I should tell my grandson Cowell, who would be ten in that year, about how life would be when he grew up. I rather failed in my grand-parental duties and lied, saying “It’ll be alright” when I definitely felt that it wouldn’t. Since then I have checked horoscopes, read the Scientific American, memorised tide-tables. plotted economic trends back to the 16th century and tossed a coin or two, and my conclusions have changed completely. Only two years after Cowell asked his question the state of the world would deteriorate markedly, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had packed their sandwiches and were saddling up, we teetered on the abyss of global doom. Then a miracle occurred, a man named Jeremy Beadle (no relation), who worked for a small agro-chemical company just outside Cambridge announced the discovery of GOOP. What is GOOP? GOOP is ‘Genetically Optimised Organic Petroleum’. Beadle came to the obvious conclusion that the only way to harness solar power was nature’s way, photosynthesis. He took mono-cellular algae-like organisms and tinkered with their genetic make-up until he came up with something that both reproduced and photosynthesised at prodigious rates. All that was required was seawater, carbon dioxide, and human excrement (for it’s nitrogen and trace elements). Initial tests near Wisbech resulted in a significant proportion of Cambridgeshire being covered with GOOP, which looks very like the green scum you get on a garden pond. Beadle then took his product to the very nearly moribund motor manufacturing industry who, realising that their salvation was at hand, quickly adapted existing engine prototypes to run on GOOP. The nations of the world of the world stopped bickering over the few barrels of oil still under the ground because in effect the alchemists dream had come true, the manufacture of raw energy from components that were as commonplace as anything on earth. Of course there were doubters, environmentalists, embarrassingly still called ‘Greens’, who declared that GOOP would become a Frankenstein Monster among algae. US President Earl Dewberry declared that GOOP was the product of a plot by homosexual Jewish Communist bankers and the Boy Scout Movement to subvert the very being of the USA. His voters, realising that here, at last, was a chance to get their pick-up trucks out of the garage dumped him at the earliest opportunity and replaced him with President Clooney.
What made GOOP so revolutionary was that the technology required to produce it was minimal, a DIY GOOP starter kit cost little more than a barbecue. A suburban family could easily produce enough GOOP in a summer week to fuel the school run and a visit to Granny on Sunday. On a grander scale the UN and IMF embarked on a massive planet wide engineering programme and started by gouging out a mile wide canal from Dakar on the west African coast heading due east across the Sahara. The poorest countries on earth, Mali, Mauretania and Chad, with access to saltwater from the Atlantic and with limitless supplies of sunshine and shit, became the world’s leading GOOP producers and immediately constructed massive GOOP fuelled desalination plants to irrigate the desert. In a matter of years the Sahara became the market garden of the world and a new centre for narrow boat cruising. Similar schemes transformed Australia’s Northern Territory, Arizona, Nevada and the Gobi.
The greatest GOOP plus of all was the reversal of global warming. GOOP sucks carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and temperatures are dropping again. Weather men predict that the Thames will freeze as it used to do 300 years ago. Bonnie Langford has promised to skate from Greenwich to Windsor to raise money for the Arlene Phillips Home for Dancers with Bad Knees when it does so.
The world’s leaders, with no scarce resources to squabble over, convened endless summit conferences, slapped each other on the back and disbanded their armed forces, pledging to spend the cash thus made available on the Arts in general and 18th century Italian opera in particular. The Four Horsemen unsaddled their horses and ate their sandwiches while watching reruns of The Midsomer Murders.

Cycling Down the Danube

Cycling Down the Danube
The Map