Friday, 20 May 2011

Sexy bikini in the garden

Next week the UK officially goes gardening mad, as the TV cameras, celebrities and royalty all flock to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.  The last time I went to an RHS Flower show, I saw something that had me giggling for days afterwards.  I know we’re not supposed to laugh at other people’s misfortune, but this was irresistible.
It was the first day of the show, which is when all the judging is done, so only the press, celebrities and royalty were allowed in.  I was strolling around the show, when one garden in particular caught my eye; not because of its horticultural excellence but because there was a half naked girl sitting there.  She was wearing only a tiny bikini and had obviously been ‘hired’ to attract attention to ‘the garden’. Judging by the gathering crowd, the stunt was working.  As it turned out, she got more attention than she bargained for.
I stood there smiling to myself at the shouts of “over here darlin’, give us a smile” from the dogs dressed as photographers, and I noticed the wooden bench the girl was sitting on.  It had obviously been hand-made and the legs had been carved into something resembling sea shells.  While this bench looked beautiful, it didn’t look altogether stable.
I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed this fizzing little scene and an icy chill ran down my spine.  In stark contrast to all the excitement in front of me there were a group of sombre looking ‘suits’ approaching; the RHS judges.
What followed was both pure comedy and pathos.  The judges came nearer, the cameras clicked; the girl looked as sexy as she could, but then made the fatal error of repositioning herself on the bench.  You know those moments when you feel yourself beginning to lose balance; you think you’ve got it under control but then a split second later and you’re past the point of no return. You know you’re going down. Yeah, that. 
Nothing wipes away a false smile quicker than a dose of fear.  As the girl shifted her weight the bench first wobbled and then rolled on its shell shaped legs.  In a flash she tumbled clumsily over the back of the bench, arms and legs flailing wildly in panic.  A quick scream and the bench had dumped her unceremoniously into the neatly coiffed plants.  All that remained of the previously enchanting scene was a pair of legs sticking up in the air. Dignity vanished.  The photographers witnessed the whole thing and so did the RHS judges, she was all over the papers by that evening.
I hate it when emotions fight against each other, it causes such inner turmoil. On the one hand I wanted to throw my head back and laugh out loud and on the other I felt sorry for the girl. Everything had seemed to be going so well, right up to the point where one of the beautifully designed objects was tested, and it failed.
I’m afraid my empathy was overpowered by stronger, darker forces and I had to walk away, head down; whole body shaking with laughter. I hadn’t realised flower shows could be so much fun.    

Thursday, 12 May 2011

School sports day:even the teachers were shocked by this stunt

One of the biggest events of the school year for me was sports day.  The whole school would turn out to cheer, the teachers set up a loud speaker system and there was a great buzz for the day.  For a 16 year old boy it was also a great opportunity to impress the girls.  I was always a fast runner and so every year ran the 100m sprint; arguably the sexiest event of the day.  When I say I was a fast runner, I mean I was before the other boys grew taller than me. By the time my last ever sports day came along I was the eighth fastest in the school.  Not bad...just a shame I had to race against the 7 other faster boys.
Coming last in the sexiest race of the day wasn’t an option.  So I devised a plan; and it was a beauty. I may well come last in the race but I would be top of the ‘cool list’ when it came to impressing the girls.   
Like other schools, each year was split into 4 ‘houses’ and each house had to select 2 runners for the race.  Myself, and my good friend were selected to represent our house.  We both knew, no matter how fast we ran, we would cross the line in 7th and 8th place.  If my plan was to work, I needed a co-conspirator so I shared my plan with him and he readily agreed to it.
The weather on the day was perfect, the girls looked great in their little gym skirts and they were starting to gather at the edge of the track en masse. The announcement over the loud speaker arrived and the 8 fastest runners in the school assembled.  We drew lots to find out which lane we would run in; we got lane 1 and lane 8.  Damn, this interfered with the plan; we had to be in lanes next to each other for maximum effect.  Luckily we knew the boy in lane 2 was easily corrupted (I think he later went into politics) so we bribed him to swap with us.  We were set.
We all stood at the starting line.  We needed to show we were serious athletes, so we started some dramatic stretching exercises, jumping up and down on the spot and some of that leg flicking, you see professional athletes do before a race. We both knew we would probably be in trouble after this stunt but it would be better than going red in the face with exertion, only to cross the line last.  If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime, was our motto.
This extra fear was intoxicating; only two people in the entire crowd knew what was about to happen, and that was a lot of fun.  “On your marks, get set...BANG” As anticipated the other six runners quickly surged ahead, we on the other hand adopted a new, innovative running style. 
Our heads went right back, eyes up to the sky, arms stretched out in an exaggerated fashion – just like that bloke in Chariots of Fire....but all in slow motion and with the Van Gellis soundtrack playing inside our heads. It took us a while to reach the finishing line.  Our approach scored high on appearance, but low on ground speed. We did the facial expressions and everything; we even stretched our chests out and flung our arms back as we crossed the finishing line.  We looked ridiculous. The crowds loved it.
No-one had ever attempted such an audacious stunt. To mock the Holy Grail that was the seniors 100m race, was sacrilege but no-one could stop us – even the teachers were shocked.
After the race we felt like The Beatles arriving at an airport, the crowds flocked, even the ‘cool’ kids came over to worship at our altar.  We had come last in the running race but first in the race to be cool and rebellious. 
Needless to say a short while later we heard the announcement over the tannoy that we were to report to the headmaster’s office; although I’m sure I detected a wry smile on his face while telling us off.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

"Err...there's a problem with your passport sir"

A few weeks ago my brother was listening to Ken Bruce on radio 2 when he heard him ask the listeners to email the show with any stories they had about passports.  He promptly emailed a story about something I had done many years ago. Ken obviously found the story funny because he read it out on his show, to great guffaws.
When I was a student I spent a few weeks of my summer holiday one year staying with my friend Mike in Kent.  One morning we received a post card from two of our other friends who were travelling around Europe in a VW van.  Not a camper van mind you, this was simply an old VW van.
It was the early nineties, so pre-mobile phones. This meant a post card was the only way they could communicate with us to let us know how they were.  From the sound of the post card they were having a great time, whilst we were stuck in boring old England.  At the end of the card it said ‘tomorrow we’re catching a ferry from Italy, so by the time you get this card we’ll be in Corfu’.
Feeling spontaneous I suggested that we fly out to Corfu immediately and surprise them, how cool would that be? We didn’t know where they were staying of course because they were in a van and hence ‘of no fixed abode’ we also couldn't let them know we were arriving but we thought ‘how hard can it be to find them, Corfu is surely only the size of Worthing with a few donkeys wandering around isn’t it?’  We immediately booked ourselves on the next available flight, which was set to leave in three days time.
After booking the flights, I realised there was a flaw in our plan.  I didn’t have my passport with me; it was at home, so I phoned my brother and asked him to send it to me in the post. Luckily it arrived the very next day. I put it to one side never thinking to open it and have a look.   
To say we travelled light was something of an understatement.  We had no hotel booked, we had no campsite booked, we didn’t have a map nor did we have a tent but hey, who dares wins, right?  In fact we had little more than hand luggage. 
On the morning of the flight we got up ridiculously early and arrived at the check in desk at Gatwick by 6.30am.  We went over to the passport control and I was first in line to show my passport.  However I wasn’t prepared for the reaction of the passport control woman.  She took my passport, opened it at the photo page and immediately burst out laughing.  This wasn’t just a snigger you understand, it was a proper throw your head back belly laugh.  What the hell was she laughing at? I know passport photos don’t exactly make you look your best but I didn’t think mine was that bad.
Wiping away her streaming tears the passport woman said “in all my years working here, I’ve never seen anything like that before, that’s brilliant” and handed me back my passport. I immediately looked to see what was so funny. 
Before sending my passport to me my brother had cut out a magazine photo of Sammy Davis Junior and stuck it over my photo. It fitted perfectly; his face and beaming smile, on top of my shoulders.  
Incredibly I travelled to Corfu and back to England using this passport photo, every time the passport controller roared with laughter.  Not one of them checked to see if it was actually me underneath the Sammy Davis Junior photo.       

PS Even more amazing was that we bumped into our friends the next day walking along the road - the look on their faces was priceless!