Monday, May 29, 2006

Now on the subject of gigs - Pet Shop Boys will be performing in June as part of the Tower of London Music Festival. Last night when we got in from Moz, Owen went online to see about tix. Now I have never been in the moat at the Tower - hard to believe as that it - but the pricing goes:

back tiered seats = £35
floor seating: last third £55/£45
floor seating: middle third £65
floor seating: front third £125

EXCUSE ME - a jump of £60???? I was genuinely shocked. Thrown in with the £125 ticket is a pre-show drink and a private picnic area - like, wow.

I think I can wait until they tour at the end of the year.

The music weekend continued on Sunday with MORRISSEY's last night of his Sunday Night At The London Palladium residency. We had excellent seats - 9 rows from the stage at the side - and wouldn't you fecking believe it.... the two tallest bastards in the auditorium in front of us? These two men - totally unknown to me - have won my undying hatred for talking at length into each others ears throughout the whole show - and when they were not talking they were gawping at friends either in one of the boxes or in the dress circle and waving at them like mongs or taking photos of them. All the while Morrissey - who I presumed they had paid to see - was on the stage in front of them.

Am I - and Owen - the only people who go to fuckin' concerts to watch the act in question? This is a constant thread running through all my live reports but it really is getting beyond a joke. Like... gigs are becoming an increasingly expensive past-time - so why do the twats with no spatial awareness want to yak to someone all the way through it??

Anyway back to Moz... yeah he was in good form, no hissy fits thrown as on his first night supposedly but... the new songs sounded better live than on the album but, but, but.... why didn't I enjoy it more than I did? A combination of the irritating twats in front of me and me struggling with a sore throat probably.

The set list was PANIC (wonderful) - FIRST OF THE GANG TO DIE (great) - THE YOUNGEST WAS THE MOST LOVED (good) - IN THE FUTURE WHEN ALL'S WELL - I'LL NEVER BE ANYBODY'S HERO NOW (both servicable) - GIRLFRIEND IN A COMA (great) - YOU HAVE KILLED ME - TO ME YOU ARE A WORK OF ART - I WILL SEE YOU IN FAR-OFF PLACES - LET ME KISS YOU (all good) - I JUST WANT TO SEE THE BOY HAPPY - GANGLORD - AT LAST I AM BORN - LIFE IS A PIGSTY (all treading water) - HOW SOON IS NOW? (great) - IRISH BLOOD, ENGLISH HEART (excellent) STOP ME IF YOU THINK YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE as an encore.

The trouble is, with most of the new songs, I think I *have* heard it before - Life Is A Pigsty a case in point... just because it's long does not make it 'epic', gimme "You Know I Couldn't Last" or "Speedway" anyday.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Saturday night found us at the sticky-floor emporium that is Shepherds Bush Empire to see BEVERLEY KNIGHT - I think it was the 5th time I had seen her on stage not counting the PA she did at Virgin Megastore to promote AFFIRMATION. Indeed the first time I saw her was at Shepbush promoting the WHO I AM album.

I was feeling a little below-par going in but soon got bounced into the happy place when Lady Miss Knight appeared. Bev puts her all into her stage shows and always generates wild audience reaction. She has been getting a lot of mainstream attention recently what with many appearances on tv, her BEST OF cd and supporting Take That on their comeback tour. The latter actually garnered some boos in the audience when she mentioned it but she justified her doing it by maintaining that it would bring her to the next level in her career. Beverley has always had a bigger percentage of white punters than one would suspect for an essentially r&b performer but she has always been the first to acknowledge her own hybrid of rnb & pop as stemming from growing up in Wolverhampton and listening to so many styles of music. Ultimately she has to maintain her wide appeal to continue to have a career - the UK r&b scene is littered with performers who never managed to break out of the urban music ghetto despite goodwill and initial success - Omar, Kelly LeRoc, Shola Ama, David Lyndell Hall.

Anyways back to the show - Bev now has 5 albums-worth of material to draw on and all her 'standards' were in evidence - "Flava Of The Old School" from B-FUNK, "Greatest Day" and "Made It Back" from PRODIGAL SISTA, "Gold", "Get Up" and "Shoulda Woulda Coulda" from WHO I AM, "Not Too Late For Love", "Keep This Fire Burning" and "Come As You Are" from AFFIRMATION, "Angels" and "Piece of My Heart" from VOICE. She also included "Moving On Up", "Sista Sista", Whatever's Clever", "Supasonic" and a fierce cover version of "I'm Every Woman". She left me elated and grinning from ear to ear as always - must try and book tix for her November date in Hammersmiff.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Off to The Retro for the first time since God was a boy for the What's In Your Record Bag? night. After mulling over various combinations of tracks I plumped on a set based around Broadway show tunes... oh yes, say it loud "We're here, we're queer, we're singing out Louise!"

I was quite pleased hearing my tracks played loud.. "Dreamgirls" from DREAMGIRLS, Angela Lansbury singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from GYPSY, "Welcome To The 60s" from HAIRSPRAY, "Luck Be A Lady" sung by Ian Charleson from the 1982 National Theatre production of GUYS AND DOLLS and Chita Rivera singing "All That Jazz" from the original Broadway production of CHICAGO. There were heaps that I road-tested but the ones selected had the bouncy heft needed to be heard over the chattering arses.

I garnered some polite mitt-pounding but by far the biggest ovary was for O's 1974 set.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Thursday evening found me and O in fashionable Islington - although the shopping centre there is alarmingly pikey. We were at the Academy Bar to see Owen's latest singer/songwriter gurly Sandi Thom. She has been getting a lot of press lately due to her unconventional launch into popdom.

Stuck with a brokedown car and a need to tour she came up with the smart idea at the start of the year to invest in a £60 webcam and do the tour from her Tooting basement, broadcasting live via her website. In only two weeks she was performing one night in front of 162,000 people!!! Not too long after that she was signed - live on her webcam - by BMG.

O discovered her through a Google search where she namechecked Buffy Saint-Marie as an influence and he has been top-thumping her for a few months. She certainly has an enthusiastic following who gave her a huge ovation. As usual with me despite being 4 deep from the tiny stage, my view was somehow blocked by a bloke with an alarmingly wide head and neck in between a tall woman and a tall baldy photographer at the front FFS! I swear to God... I could go to a gig with 3 other people and somehow they would still stand directly in front of me. Luckily tall baldy photographer moved to the other side of the stage after a while affording me a proper view. Her music certainly is traditional singer/songwriter fare but she performs them winningly and it's certainly good to hear such a stripped-down sound as it was her, another guitarist and a drummer - playing a packing crate (and damn well too). There was supposed to be a song sung while she played keyboards but she couldn't get it to work - despite the help of an audience member who poked about at it while she sang. I wonder if the sound will be fleshed out on the album SMILE... IT CONFUSES PEOPLE due for release at the start of June, The Independant today compared her to, among others, Kirsty MacColl. Let's not be silly now.

To break up the run on unknown songs she threw in a very good cover of Stevie Wonder's LIVING FOR THE CITY and an excellent version of fellow internet hotshot Gnarls Barkley's CRAZY. She also shyly pointed out that she had knocked Gnarls Barklay off iTunes #1 downloaded song spot with her upcoming single I WISH I WAS A PUNK ROCKER. I must admit were it not for the Stomp-like accompaniment and her nice vocal I would find the song a bit twee but I hope it does well when released next week. She is very Scottish! It threw me a bit when I realised during one of her introductions that she sounded like Rhona Cameron. Only better looking and with BIG Bobbie Gentry hair.

We spotted 2 other people hanging around the dressing room door next to the stage after the set so did the always unconvincing "I'm just waiting here, I'm not waiting on an autograph" hover but she came out soon enough and she signed our tickets and she posed for a photo with O too. All in all, an enjoyable night.
Big Brother 7

And your nominees for execution....

Bonnie {aka Bonner} - indecipherable fat cow, TK Maxx cover girl
Pete - indecipherable chinny twat, turn the gas on now!
George - Public school ugbo. Hates hyper-gay men so let's bring on the sista...
Shabaz - Kemal de jour. Came out of the car like an asian Liza Minnelli drag act.
Lea - the love-child of Jodie Marsh and Pete Burns or Jayne Mansfield after the car crash
Imogen - a Welsh bar hostess. Just dwell on that. This year's Saskia?
Mikey - vile sexist clown. Vile hair. Will be found dead in the pool.
Dawn - possible serial-killer ("Monster" played by Whoopi), I think we have found a heroine.
Glyn - indecipherable Welsh lifeguard. Looks like Byker Grove meets Baywatch.
Richard - Canadian mary. A sexual terrorist.... or waiter.
Grace - Faux Sloane. Will probably get pregnant by Mikey.
Lisa - Oriental Su Pollard. Says she's 27, looks 73.
Sezer - Entrepreneur ladies man. Will probably be turned by Richard
Nikki - Chantelle played by Sophie Thompson. Couldn't stop a pig in a passage.

I hate them all. So in about 13 weeks I will probably be running one of their Fan Clubs.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

One shouldn't laugh I know but...

A couple are to become the first lesbians to divorce - just two months after tying the knot.

Liz King, 40, and 36-year-old Daphne Ligthart were among the UK's first homosexual couples to seal their union. They registered their partnership in Ashford, Kent, on February 11 under the Civil Partnership Act.

However, it emerged that the couple are splitting up and now face the prospect of dividing their joint assets.

Ms Ligthart told The Sun: "Liz told me she didn't love me anymore, that she hadn't done so for years. I was absolutely flabbergasted. I asked her why she had gone through the wedding and she said it was to make me happy. But it was all her idea."
However, within a month Ms Ligthart said she became aware that Ms King was acting "different". She said: "Liz is into athletics and is a triathlete. She began spending a lot of time training with another girl at her athletics club."

No mention of who gets custody of the k.d. lang cds and the TIPPING THE VELVET dvd.

Finally got round to seeing the AMERICANS IN PARIS 1860-1900 National Gallery exhibition tonight with O. The show is an overview of the work of a number of American-born painters who in the late 19th Century moved to Paris to study art, were taken seriously enough to be exhibited in the annual Salon exhibitions and who subsequently carried on the lessons learnt when they left.

Comprising 87 paintings spread over 7 rooms it wasn't too arduous - although needless to say, it being the show's last week, there was the usual bodily 3-point turns needed to get through the clumps of punters. There were of course quite a few names who were new to me and Mary Cassatt's work might bear more investigation but the two supreme artists represented are James Whistler and John Singer Sargent.

Whistler's "Arrangement in Grey and Black 1: Portrait of the Artist's Mother" justifies it's iconic status when seen in the - er, paint? - and his "Symphony In White 1: The White Girl" is freed from it's use on book covers for Edith Wharton or Henry James to show the sweet virginal girl is standing on a snarling bearskin rug with flowers strewn at her feet. There is also a delightful landscape - not my most favourite area of art - "Harmony in blue and silver: Trouville".


Whistler was by far the better artist but Sargent is the artist whose paintings I would grab off the wall if allowed any three from the exhibition! His portraits of the monied classes, which made him so sought after when he lived, also helped him being dismissed for a while after his death but his work has since been re-evalued. Among the 8 works displayed is his 1879 "In The Luxembourg Gardens", a marvellous painting of the Parisian park frequented by a few of the American painters. A fashionable couple stroll in the twilight through the gardens, the woman swirling the hem of her skirt as the man, smoking, stares fixedly ahead. Around them other visiters enjoy the cool of the evening in the moonlight, so bright it shines on the water of the pond. There is also his huge square painting "Daughters of Edward Darley Bolt". Bolt was a fellow American painter who lived with his wife and four daughters in a spacious apartment on the same street where Sargent had his studio. Sargent painted the girls in 1882 in a strange pose, the two eldest girls are in an alcove and the youngest two staring challengingly at us. It has always struck me as an oddly disquieting picture... two facts are a bit strange too, none of the daughters married and the eldest two, dressed alike and surrounded by shadows, both in later life became mentally disturbed. Very spooky.

And then there is "Madame X" which was the subject of a book by Deborah Davis I read earlier this year. Virginie Amelie Avegno was born in Louisiana, relocated to Paris with her widowed mother during the American Civil war and who had later married the wealthy - and older - Pierre Gautreau. Her striking beauty soon had her being mentioned in society columns and the leading painters of the day were soon requesting to be allowed to paint her portrait. Her celebrity coincided with Sargent's emergence as the brightest talent in Parisian portraiture and after meeting through a mutual friend - who was also possibly Amelie's lover - these two socially ambitious people agreed that he should paint her for inclusion in the Salon of 1884. Amelie's naturally pale skin, strikingly offset by her auburn hair, was accentuated by her with all the cosmetic help available at the time: although she never went so far as enameling the skin as some women did - which occasionally resulted in death by lead poisoning! - she did use rice powder on her skin as well as accentuating the tips of her ears with rouge and using a mahogany eyebrow pencil and the deepest red colour on her lips. This vision is immortalised in Sargent's painting especially in the choice of dress - a jet black evening dress with gold straps. He became fascinated with her as he painted the picture but exasperated too by her laziness and inability to stand still. He certainly didn't help her in the striking pose he made her adopt, her head turned as far as possible to accentuate her profile while obviously straining her right arm to rest on a small table. It might have been while adopting this pose that her right strap dropped off her shoulder and rested on her upper arm. Sargent was struck by this arresting sight and painted her so. On completion both artist and subject were delighted with the result - the painting stands 7 foot tall - and it was submitted to the Salon, titled "Portrait de Mme ***" as an attempt at modesty although her look was so famous it would have been known to all Parisians in the know who it was.

Then they went and spoiled it by opened the doors to the Salon! There was soon uproar in the room where the painting hung. The critics quickly condemned this painting of such obvious erotic charge, her fallen strap and the defiant pose of a woman who is obviously unafraid to flaunt her sexuality and feminine power. Odd that the Salon would have featured paintings of any number of nudes - but these of course would have been either rendered in an ancient classical setting thus 'allowing' for the nudity or shown in the titilating style of a semi-dressed courtesan. This however was a woman of high society and an affront to her peers. Amelie went into hiding and when he heard that the Gautreau family were threatening to buy the painting at the end of the Salon and destroy it, Sargent removed the painting and kept it in his studio. He later repainted the offending shoulder strap in it's rightful place but the line of the neckline still shows it is being tugged down. He also renamed it "Madame X" instantly making her more of a stereotypical scandalous character.

The scandal had life-changing consequences for both Amelie and Sargent. He left Paris for London - taking the portrait with him - and never worked in Paris again. Soon he re-established himself in London and the 1884 Salon outrage was put behind him. Amelie slowly tried to ingratiate herself into society again but the scandalous painting was always mentioned. She even went so far as being painted again twice - the first was 7 years after the Sargant painting and amazingly she allowed herself to be painted again in profile and with a shoulder strap dropping down. However this time she was smiling benignly while dressed in frothy virginal white but her moment in the Parisian social world was fading fast. She fought hard against the ageing process - limiting her public engagements, removing all mirrors from her house, eventually moving away from Paris and living alone by the coast. She died of a fever aged 56 in 1915. Sargent outlived her by ten years dying of a heart-attack aged 69 - and he's buried in Woking!!

All in all, she strikes us now as a hopelessly vain and unsympathetic woman but when one considers the limited possibilities open to women of her class in that society, I guess she was making the best of what few good cards she had been dealt. Little did she know that she would actually get her wish and became internationally well-known. But did Sargent know all along? Tonight I looked back when leaving the room her portrait is hanging in and there she was, towering over the large group of onlookers, turning away from their gaze disdainfully, sure of her place in art's history.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Friday night Owen and I went to the Astoria to see those lovable Brechtian punk cabaret ragamuffins THE DRESDEN DOLLS. We first became aware of them last year through the Patti Smith-curated Meltdown with their appearance in the STAND BRAVELY BROTHERS Brecht evening. After it they did a small set in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall and we got Amanda to sign copies of their CD which was cleverly on sale. Owen is happy to point out to anyone who will listen that she did an extra squiggle under her name so it's definitely love.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect as this was a proper gig, I certainly wasn't prepared for their obvious huge fan following. There were many different Amanda and Brians of varying size and look-a-likeyness among the general goth-y types. It was fun though with a dance troupe in the circle bar doing a synchronized swimming routine and a gymnast who made interesting shapes while hanging from 2 strips of red material from the top of the stage. We arrived just as the support act Dvotchka was coming to the end of it's set - just in time to see Amanda Dresden Doll totter out to duet on - I think - Rufus Wainwright's "Oh What A World".


The Dresden Dolls are a strange band, Amanda on piano and Brian on drums, but somehow they manage to fill the stage with sound, enough to satisfy any metal fan. Amanda is of course the focal point being both writer and singer but Brian is such an inventive drummer he is a pleasure to watch too with his sneaky little asides on the hi-hat or snare. Amanda's extraordinary to watch - squirming and dancing seated at the piano like a chicken on a hot plate. Her peculiar songs of vengeful sadness and askew optimism are best heard in the privy of one's own home where her caustic lyrics can be heard and savored but in concert they are belted out with such venom they are probably still traveling when they hit the back wall!

From their first album we were treated to GOOD DAY, GIRL ANACHRONISM, MISSED ME, HALF JACK, THE PERFECT FIT and of course COIN-OPERATED BOY which when I first heard in the Festival Hall foyer made me practically self-immolate with joy! Off the new CD YES, VIRGINIA we had SEX CHANGES, BACKSTABBER, MODERN MOONLIGHT and MRS O. Throw in a lovely cover of T.Rex's COSMIC DANCER, a swaggering take-no-prisoners version of Brel's AMSTERDAM (oh and he was Belgian Amanda..not French) and her own solo, highly-emotional interpretation of Leonard Cohen's HALLELUJAH and it made for a great evening.

Oddly enough they didn't do SING which is allegedly the first single released off the new CD and also there was no merchandise available - and one look at their website shows that this is one group who knows how to market themselves! Owen probably rightly guessed that this was due to the fact that the house had to be out by 10.20 so they could get the Astoria ready for the bright, shiny gayboys and their sympathisers who frequent G.A.Y. Bloody homosexualists... they do so put a dampner on a Brechtian punk cabaret t-shirt buying opportunity.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

There are certain definite TV memories I have from the early-70s - one of the most tantalizing was the peak-time Saturday night series THRILLER. The dvd god has released the whole run in a multi-disc set. Somehow even I have baulked at the £90-ish boxset but have started renting them from Amazon. It is really great watching them again - as usual with the 70s there was hardly any location filming it's all shot in the studio on videotape. It's a shock to see this style now as one is so used to full location series - I CLAUDIUS and ROCK FOLLIES were shot similarly.

The first three episodes, all written by Brian Clemens, set the general template for the THRILLER pattern. Invariably they are women in peril stories, the first two are newly-wed wives in danger from their husbands while the third pits two young women against an ominous evil. The first and third feature minor-league US actresses in the leads and it's surprising - even with my renowned knowledge of performers - how few of the major supporting players are unknown to me. Of course American actors and actresses were needed to sell the show in the States but surely even back then Barbara Feldon and Alexandra Hay were hardly names!

The fun aspect of watching this is seeing established actors in earlier roles - certainly the case with the first episode LADY KILLER which replays one of the classic thriller plots of plain-Jane girl (Feldon) being swept off her feet up to the altar by charming but secretive Robert Powell - looking about 12. Of course it's all a plan to bump her off so he and his real wife - AVENGERS' own Linda Thorson - can claim the insurance. The second called POSSESSION stars 60s tv actress Joanna Dunham and John Carson (b-movie James Mason) as newlyweds buying a house he has always liked in a small village. Imagine their surprise when a dead body is found buried in their cellar from 20 years ago. It turns out to be a woman whose disappearance was never explained. The husband suddenly starts taking on strange threatening traits and the wife deduces he is possessed by the murderer of the woman. The reveal is a little less paranormal.

The third one I actually remembered watching!
SOMEONE AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS has two young women - US import Donna Mills and 60s TV star Judy Carne - find a room for rent in a house that anyone with half an eye could tell was a bit on the gloomy side. The neighbours are a rather creepy ex-army colonel, a husband, wife and son who are all rather creepy, a young Irish bloke a bit on the rather creepy side and the landlady whose polished exterior barely hides the fact that she's rather creepy. Mills starts to suspect something is up when she finds HELP ME written on the inside of a cupboard and slowly she suspects there is an evil presence in the house. Could it possibly be the man who lives in the room at the top of the stairs?

Hampered slightly by some strange playing styles it still is good to watch - if only for the wardrobe! Judy Carne in particular has a nice line in frocks including a darling dark chocolate dress with orange piping and small buttons. There is a spooky downbeat ending, something which was to become de rigeur in the later tv series of the same ilk HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR. Now why do I clearly remember the shot of Mills finding Judy Carne's body in an upright trunk? It must have really freaked me at the time I guess!

The real hoot is attached to the end of each episode - these are the credits used for when ITC showed them in the US. They are jaw-droppingly bad! They sometimes use elements from the standard small intro scene - usually the murder that sets the plot in motion - and then embellished it with unlook-a-like actors, cheesy state-of-the-art video graphics and the naffest "Behind yooooooou" music - absolutely hysterical!

Monday, May 08, 2006

DAY THIRTEEN

After the racing around yesterday we deceided to have another slob day - however on the walk to the beach we deceided to have a strenous Friday morning's painting. Next to the swimming pool was a Mexican woman selling ceramics and also selling unpainted items that you could do yourself which she then glazed, so Owen picked a little treasure chest and I did a small vase. Owen's was miles better than mine - I deceided mine was more in the Bloomesbury style where the imperfections made it special!

After the hard graft it was the usual round of beach/veranda/iPod/book/snooze. Such a curse.

Tonight we headed off to La Palapa Hemingway for dinner - one again affording a 1st floor balcony view of the moving sea of people and musicians along 5th Avenue.


DAY FOURTEEN

Umm.. we went back to Xcaret today! I know... I know.... but it is a GREAT place!

The Hola parrot was AWOL again... new things we did were a nice peaceful river ride which was very restful - until I got splooshed when we got close to a waterfall! - and we finally saw inside the St. Francis church next to the memorial mound. It was delightfully simple, open to the elements at the side and overlooking the Caribbean stretching beyond the simple altar and the 'crucifix' tree with the face and hands carved in it.



Apart from that.... bring on the Sea Trek (no problems this time, even gave a pep-talk to a Brit family who went in before us... the father came shooting out of the water as soon as he went in, the wuss), bring on the animals, bring on the cemetery mound monuments, bring on thr Diet Coke and water... more more more!










We went for our final meal tonight at the marvellous Ula-Gula - again left there with fully satisfied taste-buds and stomachs - and wandered one last time past the shops and restaurants on Fifth Avenue including this delightful shop where I spent a few pesos during my stay - known to us as the Frida Death Shop - on behalf of the large section of Frida Kahlo merchandise and the ever-present skeleton figurines. Home to pack in sad silence *sigh*


DAY FIFTEEN

Here it was then, our last morning in our little eco-paradise. Had breakfast and then went for a final hour or so of beach life - and lo, there was the mythical Sock Man that Owen had been trying to tell me about all week. I say trying because every time he started he would start to lose it and spend the next 15 minutes in shrieks of giggles. So there he was this mythical beast... half German tourist half knitting shop. He was wearing a knitted sock/pouch over his meat and zwei veg and nothing else Constant Reader... nothing else. Oh apart from the co-ordinated necklace of course. I really didn't know where to put my face... especially when he started bending over to move his sun lounger - it was a sight that I don't think I will ever forget - although I hear therapy can work wonders.

But let's not let Otto von Knittypouch be our last view of this holiday! We had one last look at our little cabana that had been our home then with heavy luggage and heavier hearts we trundled down to reception to await the car to take us to Cancun airport. Quite a few were checking out - including Sock Man... in a pair of pink plastic pampers with elasticated leg-holes - I was verklempt. I had time to take one last picture of the green on the other side of reception which was presided over by a large Ceiba tree - under which O and I had a little boogie when ever we passed in keeping with Kirsty's song MAMBO DE LA LUNA "And we'll dance underneath the Ceiba tree"

The car ride was sadly the same as all the other rides we had complete with loud gobby bloke, this one American, yakking on about sport. Boy was I happy to see the airport. We got there to find Rosario the Kuoni rep who told us that there were still Premium seats available on the flight that had to be paid for in cash. Rather than face a cramped seat - albeit with our already-paid-for extra leg room - O raced to the nearest cashpoint. It turns out that we got the last two, you know I am sure I get snotty looks in the departure lounge from those behind us in the check-in queue!

It was only once they had shut the plane doors that we were told the flight was going to Manchester then onto Gatwick! We were not happy as I suspect were the people who would have people waiting at Gatwick to pick them up at 8am as the itinerary said. The flight was - well a flight. Ploughed onto the end of EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS. Sat at Manchester for ages while the dizzy Monarch mares attempted to do a headcount. We arrived at Gatwick after 10am... waited an age for the carousel to be allocated but the bags popped out among the first. Cab back to Owens... and Mexico carries on without us.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

DAY EIGHT, NINE & TEN

Had a bit of beach life this morning then felt a bit dodgy during lunch... sure enough it was time to fall victim to Montezuma's Revenge. Stayed on the veranda for the rest of the afternoon. We came to the sad decision that O should go on Monday to the scheduled excursion to the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza on his own as I didn't think my hairtrigger stomach could be trusted on the long coach journey. So Monday was spent on the veranda, listening to my iPod through speakers and finally finishing the Michael Redgrave biography. Owen arrived back and dinner was had for a second time at the delightful Media Luna. Tuesday was spent mostly doing the iPod, book, hammock and zzzzzzzzing the hours away.... bliss. We finally roused ourselves for dinner at the fine Italian restaurant Da Bruno (which also had a nice loo!)

DAY ELEVEN

Last night we deceided that a second journey to Xcaret was definately on the cards! Once there I bit the bullet and agreed to go on a Sea Trek which involves a 30 minute walk along the sea bed - me? under water??? I blame the sun getting to my brain. On a small jetty close to the beach we were given little rubbery slippers to wear, were given a brief description of what it entails and then pointed towards the ladder that went down under the sea. You had to climb down into the water as low as possible, they put the oxygen mask down over your head and then go under. Owen went first and then it was my turn. The water was C O L D! I was hyperventilating as I stood on the ladder, he plonked the helmet on my head and the weight pushed me under.... I panicked a bit at first as suddenly all noise stopped and all I could hear was the hisssssssssssss of the oxygen in the helmet and me repeating "OHMIGOD OHMIGOD OHMIGOD". It didn't help that water was coming in under the helmet up to my mouth! Somewhere I remembered that you had to stay upright and any water would drain out so I did and the water went blubulubblelubble out the the bottom of the helmet. A diver guided my hand to the waist high metal rail which was driven into the seabed and sure enough I found myself walking down a slight incline following Owen along the bottom of the sea! It was great... strolling along with brightly luminous fishes swimming around and as usual with these things by the time I was really loving it we found ourselves back at the bottom of the ladder! I was buzzin' for a while after doing it. After that we had lunch in a large open-air restaurant and had a nice wander through the park. Sadly no Hola parrott - O was distraught - but there was plenty of time to gawp lovingly at the 3 tiger cats as well as checking out the Macaws and the bigger cats on Jaguar Island!.






This also meant a return to the wonderful cemetery mound and the opportunity to explore underneath it... a lofty 'crypt', open to the sky, with water running in ledges down it's walls. along the sides of the walkway into the crypt, around the paving stones you walk on and down into a round pool at the base of an enormous stone cross that towers above you in the crypt - all quite wonderous. The cool of the interior is in marked contrast to the heat of the monument path above. Off the sloping walkway are two side "chapels" lit only by the lights under gaudily-painted religeous staues in hidden niches - well spooky! I love this place - here are more of the delightful monuments...

After some serious shopping in the large shop there we headed back to the hotel. We again had dinner in the rather marvellous Ula-Gula restaurant on Fifth Avenue.

DAY TWELVE

Set off for the last excursion booked, a trip to visit the ancient city of Coba which is still in a process of being excavated by archeologists. A fairly long drive in 2 coachs was the order of the morning - sadly picking up a group of Californian twats from one of the hotels who provided an audio commentary to the rest of the day - mostly consisting of OH WOW MAN LOOK AT THAT TREE, THAT'S AWESOME MAN. BRO, DID YOU SEE THAT CRAZY TREE DUDE? I sat scowling in my seat, muttering abuse under my breath. We reached Coba just in time for me to have another purge of my innards! In the blazing heat we set off with our guide for the long walk to Nohuch Mul the tallest pyramid excavated at 138 feet high. I was knackered by the time we reached it's base but I had a reputation to uphold of climbing up big things on holidays so up I went. The steep steps are not smooth - just large square stones built beside each other so it was a bit of a workout climbing up them, hands on the steps ahead to steady myself. After a few breathers I found myself at the top in front of the tiny Temple Of The Descending God which was pitch black inside. The view from the top was quite breathtaking - the canopy of jungle trees broken by the top of a smaller Coba pyramid in the mid-distance. A nice man proved not too fluent in English but adept enough at taking photographs! With the help of a helpfully-placed rope at stair-level I managed to clamber down well enough although even with this to hang onto it was still a dizzying view.


And that was Coba! Then it was back on the coach for a short drive to a Cenote - an underwater freshwater pool - which was fine to wet the back of my neck with but after a few minutes I went back up the ricketty stairs to join O in the air-conditioned coach. We were then driven to a large-ish restaurant for a buffet lunch then onto Aktun Chen an unannounced stop but which turned out to be a good adventure. The underground caves are reached quite easily - we had fears there would be a vertinious walk downwards like the one in Thailand that Owen couldn't face - and walked for about 45 minutes through sometimes narrowing chambers of natural beauty. Stalactites, stalagmites and rock formations that look like weird sculptures if you stare at 'em long enough. Finally we found ourself in a beautiful cave standing on a bridge over a cenote which when he flicked a few switches was lit up with underwater lighting showing the rocks beneath the clear water. Very lovely. After that, it was back on the coach and back to Playa del Carmen - by way of one of the Californian stepping on an anthill getting on the bus HA!! - no wonder my blood sugar was 3.6 after all the schlepping today! Dinner at Media Luna again. A very nice day all n all!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

DAY FIVE

A first proper excursion - shared with a plethora of very loud Spanish blokes who seemed to only want to go to the lap dancing bar CHILLY WILLY {aka Cheeeeeeely Weeeeeeely}. We went to Tulum which is an ancient Mayan city further down the coast from Playa del Carmen. It is quite a large site with several standing buildings extant none of which are available to get too close to.

They looked very impressive but I wasn't
particularly engaged by it as the area was too large to get an idea what I was actually supposed to be looking at - I think the guide was particularly poor at this as he seemed preoccupied telling us all about the intricacies of the Mayan calendar and very little about where we actually were standing! The city was built on the edge of a cliff which made for a very picturesque location. There were heaps of tourist groups too which made it a rather bizarre experience - like little armies moving around the site trying not to bump into each other as well as the concomitant problem of taking your place in little queues to take photos of the best aspects!

After the heat of the exposed spaces of Tulum it was time to have a bit of a cool down. We then went to Xel-Ha (Xel pronounced shell) - a kinda aquatic theme park with animals! O was very excited about the concept of swimming with dolphins which is one of their trump cards, however when we saw what that entailed he went right off the idea as it was the dolphin having to do tricks with punters... all he wanted to do with paddle about with 'em! We wandered around a bit, made some new friends who DEMANDED pictures taken with us and eventually found a quiet inlet by the lagoon for O to have a swim and me to write some postcards. Thoroughly exhausted we dragged ourselves back and went for dinner at the under-lit (and slightly underwhelming) Mandarina where the waiter said he could sit us "either at the side or the backside". Bless.

DAY SIX

Another beach, ocean, veranda day. I felt a bit groggy later on - I think the excessive battering by the Caribbean waves had driven my blood sugar down. We went for dinner at La Cocherina where I had a rich Mayan Chicken and a jaw-dropping dessert of oranges and ice-cream. Wasn't quiet what I expected... the waiter had various sliced fruits brought to the table, oranges, strawberries etc. then doused them in rum, set them alight, then served them up with a dollop of ice-cream... totally delicious (and very bad for me ordinarily)!

DAY SEVEN

Wooo - a big day. Today we went to another theme-park Xcaret (sounds like uscaret) which we had booked through the Kuoni rep. We arrived to find no rep with our tickets, indeed no one had even heard where we supposed to be meeting them! We got in eventually and it didn't take too long for us to forget all the tsouris if getting in. What a place! Primarily another aquatic theme-park with swimming with the dolphins, snorkeling, underwater river swimming, etc. there are also many animal enclosures and areas for botanical preservation, several areas devoted to Mayan history and culture, a lovely open-air church overlooking the Carribean sea and an amazing Mayan cemetery with multi-coloured memorials spiraling up in a pyramid topped off with Ceiba trees.


We started off walking around a butterfly enclosure, set in a small valley with a net roof where the flutterbies can wing around to their hearts content and closeby a marvellous stained glass ceiling for what will be an insect house soon, we enviously watched the jaguars and pumas lolling about on their island, lazily looking about then nodding off again, strange manatees floating in their pools like large submarines, a big aquarium where we stared at the underwater windows watching the multi-coloured darting fish then onto big turtle pools. After a nice lunch we wandered round a tropical jungle trail, an orchid hothouse and a stables. We then sat and watched the Voladores de Papantla, 5 men re-enacting an ancient ritual where they climb up a huge pole, one of them stays atop playing a flute while four others twirl down by ropes to the ground joined by Mr. Fluter - and with no safety harnesses! If this wasn't enough they then climbed on a rotating catherine wheel/cross affair and rotated clockwise speedily! Them crazy Mayans!

Then we upped the excitement level by going to the Regional Wildlife centre - parrots and macaws, toucans, a creepy looking vulture and an oddly quiet mynah bird. We were both entranced by the green parrot who quite happily kept saying "HOLA!" to us then giggling away - only in the taxi back to the hotel did we realise we could have videoed him on our cameras to capture him in all his chatty glory - BUGGER!!

Then my heart missed a beat! A large cage with three sleepy tiger cats aka tigrillos aka adorable! They are related to the Ocelot, are nocturnal (which might explain why they were sparko when we were there) and only grow to about 2 foot long. They were in the big cage to get them used to their environment - I did try the door but it was locked!! One of them was asleep stradling a branch on the stunted tree within the cage while another was on another branch right up against the chain link fence. Luckily O pointed out that if I wanted I could stroke his tail. I did consider the fact that he was so small I might be able to drag him through the fence and stick him in my bag but thought otherwise and settled for a quick stroke!

Somehow Owen managed to drag me out of the area in time to see a re-enactment of an ancient Mayan fire dance with a well spooky man made up like a skeleton with skull mask and a guy with a painted blue face who for some reason reminded me of Pete Burns. Go figure. We stood watching this taking place on a raised island in a haze of burning incense which at one point was so overwhelming I really had to grip the fence otherwise I would have made an awful ker-splash when I passed out and fell into the river between them and us!

Then, as if the HOLA! parrot and the tiger cats weren't enough of a wow factor, we discovered the Mayan cemetery. A wide conical pyramind of 365 memorial stones circle upwards towards Ceiba trees stretching their flat branches across the sky. In postcards we saw later there was also a neon horizontal cross too but that's disappeared - probably a Hurricaine Katrina loss? It's amazing, practically all the monuments are brightly painted in dayglo colours - only in a Latin country - or feature some sort of statuary, minature church with tiny stained glass windows delightful in the flat late-afternoon sun or strange replicas of items - one shaped like a sports car, a bed, empty birdcages... We spent ages slowly walking around the circular paths as I felt a smile of pure pleasure spreading wider and wider. Time was also spent in the wonderfully air-conditioned shop next to it... indeed I bought a snazzy t-shirt in there that Tall Paul translated by text for me as saying "The Dead Hang Around Until They Are Forgotten Forever" - fun huh? Suddenly just where I would never have expected it, I have found a new favourite place! It did nothing to quieten O's bafflement about the Mexican preoccupation with death!

Hard to believe but there was still more as night fell - a huge spectacular show in the park's 6,000 seater auditorium boasting a cast of 300 singers, dancers, Mayan ball players, the Voladores swinging down their pole again... oh and the horses and parrots had co-starring roles too! The first act depicted the ancient Mayan marriage ceremony and infamous ball game played by 2 teams of men who have to hit the leather ball with their thigh through a ring at each side of the court. In real-life the one who scored the most would then be sacrificed to the gods! An incentive to miss scoring if ever I heard one. The first act closed with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. The second act was a bit different... a bit of an Around Mexico review with local dances and song styles. All certainly colourful and well received by the Mexicans in da house but a bit repetitive for us non-Latinos! Needless to say we were totally exhausted when we fell out of the cab back at the hotel but also very happy to have experienced so much fun stuff in a single day!