Last day blues. I get up early for one final swim in the pool. I’m the only one there, and I luxuriate in the feeling, peeling off long, lazy lengths that take up often the whole width of the pool as well. It’s kind of like star-fishing in bed when you’re on your own except, well, wetter. It’s warm. The air is fresh and coolly scented. The sky is a delicate, flawless blue.
Then back for a shower, and a cup of tea. I pad around the apartment in shorts and bare feet. Everyone else is in bed. All is silence and calm.
The last day of a holiday always has a certain feel. We’re not flying out till 8ish, so we have a whole day ahead of us, but I know it still won’t feel like a holiday. There’s that knowledge that, no matter how early you check in, you can feel your passport and tickets home in your pocket. All day, you’re half on the plane.
Still, doleful don’t get diddly done. We’re going to try to fill in some of the gaps in our holiday plan, maybe one more whiz round the shops, before Big Bubba goes back in his kennel at about 4.
It’s been a brilliant two weeks. I can’t really single out any one moment as the best. The whole experience for me is already merging into one big fuzzy hug. I’ll muse more on this over the next few days, and try and compare it to the feelings I get about flying back to my poor beleaguered country. It’s gonna be a strange week, that’s fur shure.
Anyway, there’s movement now, and packing to finish. In Ian and Sandi’s case, there’s bags to be bought to pack all the stuff they bought that won’t fit in the luggage they bought with them. Land of the free? Hardly!
Time to be gone. With joy and best wishes, we have been the Orlando 5. Thanks for listening.


We’ve had a quiet couple of days after our theme park binge, chilling by the resort pool, having a ride in one of those funny five-seater bikes, which in this hot weather is not that sensible an idea. Still, got us a bit of exercise.
We took a day trip up to Daytona Beach, which as you can see by clicking the hotlink allows you to drive right onto the sands! Hot rods and beach buggies putter up and down all day, and the vibe is nicely chilled. Unlike the weather, which was fricking hot. The surf was glorious, but we were caught out by how quickly the tide moves, and Camp Bubba ended up underwater at one point. With no dry towels, everyone and everything ended up coated in a fine layer of sand.
Yes, everything. Oh, the chafing.
Oh, and apparantly Daytona Beach has a major problem with jellyfish. Which we found out about the day after. I feel so much better about disporting in the surf now…
Tonight, we’re off to Charley’s Steakhouse, as part of Ian’s quest to seek out the finest lumps of animal on the planet and get them down his cakehole. I, of course, will be picking at a chef’s salad with a supercilious expression on my face. And not indulging. Heavens, no. The thought of chowing down on a beautifully aged, wood-grilled USDA steak doesn’t appeal at all…

Things I’ve learnt at Theme Parks:

Everyone has a rollercoaster face.
Most rides now have a camera attached to record a punter’s reaction as they are being flung groundwards upside-down at 60mph. I’ve done enough rides with my companions over the last few days to ascertain that these faces do not usually vary. Ian is always laughing. Sandi, looks calm, serene almost. I have my head thrust forward, my eyes pop-wide and am yelling, as if screaming into the abyss. Which is normally the case at the point these photos are taken.

Queueing will eat up your day.
Trite and obvious, I know, but come on. If a park has five rides you want to see, and you’re queueing for an average of an hour at each, that’s half your day gone just waiting. There are ways and means around this dilemma. Disney, for example, has a FastPass system that lets you book a slot on a chosen ride for later. There is a common piece of park lore that says that if you turn left as you enter the park as opposed to right, you’re going against the stream and can cut down on the amount of time you spend in the queue. To be frank though, the best way round it is to do the parks with someone who has a disability Blue Badge. Then you just go straight to the front of every line (be prepared to ignore indignant stares from the punters as you swan past). It makes the whole experience much more pleasurable, and allows you to plan the day your way, as opposed to working around everyone else.
Thanks for getting your white stick out, Sandi.

Rides are always worse than they look.
From the ground, a ride may look scary. When you’re perched at it’s highest point, looking out over the flat Florida countryside, contemplating the corkscrew turns and flat spins ahead of you, you realise that you’ve just let yourself in for the sort of experience that normally comes under the banner of astronaut training. Sheikra does this pretty well. In fact, I have a new marketing slogan for this particular ride if the Busch Gardens guys are willing. Sheikra: Holy Crap, My Nads Are Nudging My Eyeballs! While we’re on the subject, another common truth is that the worst part of any ride is the moment before you get on.

You will never look happier than when you are photographed with Mickey Mouse.
Seriously. I didn’t look that blissed on my wedding day. Talk about cultural reprogramming. Thank you, Mickey.

To summerise. For the past few days we have mostly been doing theme parks. We have had the funnest time.

Got a few days to catch up on, as we’ve been busy having fun. In a nutshell, shopping, theme parks… and a disappointment.
We’ve got 21 day passes to Busch Gardens and Seaworld, which we’ve been using quite merrily to dip in and out of the attractions. Yesterday, for example, we pitched up at Seaworld at half 9 in the evening just for the nighttime spectacular Mystify. Very impressive, with images being projected onto a cloud of spray out in the central lagoon. Lots of fireworks and lasers and ting. Ali was a bit scared, but babbled happily about the show on the way home and said he was going to dream of Shamu.
Ah, Shamu the killer whale. Mascot of Seaworld. Apparantly it’s very difficult for your average punter not to buy a fluffy mascot of the happpy little creature. Clare certainly couldn’t resist.
The killer whale show was one of the highlights of our big day at Seaworld. Very big, and very damp. Brash, loud and fun, and the trust between the trainers and whales is extraordinary.
We’ve been indulging in a fair chunk of the old retail therapy as well. I had to be dragged kicking and mewling out of the Apple Store empty handed. This was at the Mall at Millenia, a very fine place to spunk more cash than is really appropriate. I have the feeling we may well be back there before the end of the holiday, and then my pretties, we shall see. My inner geek will not be denied.

As for the disappointment, well, what else? We drove west to the Space Coast on Wednesday, only to find out that the launch of STS-114, Discovery’s Return To Flight had been scrubbed a couple of hours from T-plus. It’s now looking unlikely that we’ll get to see the candle lit before we go. A real shame, as we found the perfect vantage point for the launch, on beautiful Cocoa Beach. Still, we got to paddle in the warm Atlantic waters and build sandcatles, so the day wasn’t a complete loss. At least not until we managed to get horribly lost on the way back, and an hour long journey took closer to four. Curse this crappy American road signage…

A clear, bright day in Florida. Hurricane Dennis, which has been giving a fat chunk of the southwest a wedgie and stealing it’s lunch, passed by the Orlando area with zero fuss. A perfect day, therefore, for a helicopter ride and fun with gators.
It was Clare’s first time in a helicopter, and she was clearly nervous. However, we are talking about a five-minute flight in a little two seater, which should be small beer indeed for a girl, who’s crossed the Atlantic without a blink two days earlier. And indeed this was how it turned out to be. She was grinning madly throughout, and proclamed the whole experience to be extremely cool. Seeing Orlando from above renders the scary looking rollercoasters, and indeed the vast scale of the place, down to much more manageable levels.
A qiuck whiz round the model train museum attached to the helicopter hire place. Much cooler than it sounds, crammed with detail. Clearly a labour of love, and it’s worth doing these sorts of things with a train obsessed three-year-old. Cynicism is simply not allowed.
THen a whiz down the Orange Blossom Trail to Gatorland. The first trip highlight. This place is the absolute antethesis of polished corporate Florida tourism. It’s all wooden walkways and ramshackle charm. And of course, lots and lots of alligators. They’re everywhere (well, not serving at the concession stands or getting under your feet, but you get the picture.) Gatorland has a major breeding programme ongoing, a huge wild bird sanctuary and just a charming look and feel. Oh, and a train, so Ali’s happy. (I told you he was obsessed.) There’s something about being a few feet away from something that’s clearly thought “”This’ll do” when it came to evolution, and has not felt the need to go any further. Something ruthless and prehistoric, that’s looking right back at you.
Chills? What do you think?
Some retail therapy to follow at the Premium Outlets (God bless you, strong pound!) then back to the resort for lazing around the pool and soaking up the beer.
Which reminds me. Sandi and I both got carded for trying to buy alcohol with lunch. We’re still not sure whether to be flattered or not…

It’s late on Monday night in Orlando, Florida. The rain, which has been bruising the sky since late afternoon, has finally started dropping. The air is clean and sweet. I’m four beers into the night, my tension gone, my eyelids drooping. It’s been a busy week.

After the events of the last few days in London, it’s good to be a few thousand miles away. Getting some distance from it seems the best way to deal with the feelings and thoughts running through my head. I’m sick and tired of the Dunkirk spirit, of being stoic and brave in the face of adversity. Walking home on Thursday night, passing the cordons at Edgeware Road, trying not to think about what’s in the tunnels at poor luckless King’s Cross. These are the things that make you decide you need a holiday. And fortunately, that’s just what we had coming.

We flew out on Sunday. There’s five of us. Me and Clare, her brother Ian, his wife Sandi, their three-year-old son Alistair. We’re all ready for the break. It’s Ali’s first flight that he can properly remember, and he loves it. He makes friends, chatters excitedly to the stewardesses, and is, as ever, cute as a pink fluffy button.

American border security was fun. Blimey. Forget the fingerprints and digital photos, I’ve never had to take my shoes off and run them through an x-ray to get into a country before. I have to unpack my hand luggage at one point, and as the digital camera and the laptop and the iPod come out it becomes apparant that I have become the geek I always aspired towards. I will embrace this inner geek. I will allow him to define my actions. There is an Apple store in Orlando. A reckoning approaches.

I’ll keep this to broad strokes, as it’s late, the caffeine’s worn off and the beer’s kicked in. Moments so far:

Cruising down Florida boulevards in our Chrysler Town and Country, Big Bubba. The radio has been figured and is pumping, the seating arrangements sorted, the cup-holders cooed over. Ian in the driver’s seat can’t stop grinning.

Ali’s reaction to the booking of a helicopter ride: “But Daddy’s too big to get in one of those!” Cue collapse of all parties. The kid is a stand-up comedian, swear to God.

The International House of Pancakes. We are all so, so fat now. Note also our waiter’s reaction to our response to the innocent question as to whether we would like the vast amount of uneaten food on our plates bagged up for later contemplation: “Oh GOD no. I don’t ever want to see another pancake!” Sorry, William. Nothing personal. We still tipped. We’re just not used to American portions yet.
While at the IHOP, a family from New York commisurate with us about Thursday’s events. We commisurate back. They have 9/11. We now, apparantly, have 7/7. London and NY have always had a lot in common, but this?

Walmart. There’s choice and there’s choice. But why would anyone choose to purchase big slabs of (and this is on the packaging) Ham And Water Style Product.
Let me say that again. Ham And Water Style Product.
It looks even worse than it sounds. Imagine a pink gelid slab of goop about the size of a PC case.
Walmart sell that. That’s food apparantly.
Just when I thought I couldn’t get over the aisle of bagged grated cheese.

Free broadband. In the apartment. There is drool on the iBook’s keyboard. I am so happy.

Generally, it’s what I thought it would be here (ugh, grammatical pratfall, sorry, typing on empty now.) Everything’s big and friendly and a little bit too man-made. Fun of course, and I’m already grooving on being here with people I love even if they do insist on laughing at my new Star Wars t-shirt (it’s the skull and crossbones but with a Stormtrooper head! Remember, I’m feeding my inner geek. There may be a danger of giving him indigestion.)

Tomorrow: Gatorland. And pictures. Promise.

Normally, Clare works in Oxfordshire, but yesterday she had a training session, so she travelled into work with me. I work in central London.
The trip in was slow, but uneventful. On the tube, there were delays due to a defective train at Picadilly Circus, so we got off at Regent’s Park. Handy for Clare, but I had a long walk down Great Portland St. I arrived into work in Soho at 8:50, just as the first bomb went off.
An email from our MD at about 9:30 talked about power surges on the tube shutting the network down, and that we should not be surprised if collegues are late in. By then, I was already getting text alerts about a bomb going off on a bus in Tavistock Square, and the tone of the mail seemed suddenly absurd. Events were moving far too quickly.
The morning was a blur as I tried to carry on with some work, while being constantly drawn back to the TV in the kitchen for news updates. The reports were fluid, the situation ever-changing. At one point there were seven bombs. There were troops on the streets in Covent Garden. Luke in VT started talking about martial law and curfews.
The phones were up. The phones were down. The word got out to my family, Clare’s family, my friends. Everyone but Clare. But I dropped her off pretty much at the door. Surely, surely…
Finally, a text at about 11. Check your email. I did. Nothing. Then, with a flash of inspiration, I checked the .Mac account. Bingo. From one of her mates at work. I’m fine. Mail me back to let me know you’re OK. Come and get me later, and we’ll work out how to get home. LuvU.
The day blurred past, Lunch with Dom, where we hunkered in a Pret and tried and failed to talk about normal things. In and out of the kitchen, where the jokes were already forming. Man in blue and white striped jumper and beret seen leaving scene trailing onions. The news tickers described the bus in Tavistock Square as “formally a double decker.” The same footage, cycling on a loop. The death and injured toll, ever-rising.
I left at 5, giving up on work for the day. Soho was eerily quiet. Most of the shops and pubs were shut. Many of them had signs on the windows beginning “due to the current circumstances…” There were hardly any cars on the roads. But pedestrians were everywhere, marching intently towards train stations, or just resigning themselves to a long walk home.
I met Clare at Park Crescent, and we started our own long walk towards Paddington. At one point, she’d been offered a hotel room for the night, initially taken it, then turned it down when she’d heard the mainline stations were open. She just wanted to go home. Her and me both.
We held hands pretty much the whole way to the station.
Walking past Edgeware Road, there was no obvious signs of damage, but police cordons were everywhere. No traffic on Praed St, but the pubs were heaving. Punters fortifying themselves for the journey ahead.
At Paddington, against all reports, a normal service was running. We got my usual train back to Reading. We had no problems getting a seat.
Home by half seven. Me and Clare swap the phones, checking in on people, including my mate Chris in Norfolk, who’d caught the news late and left a worried answerphone message. Clare caught up on the news reports. Tony Blair in his earlier conference had looked grey-faced and shocked. Ken Livingstone had came across as positively Churchillian. Then we just crashed. In bed by half ten, and I have to do the whole journey again. Clare’s back in Harwell, lucky thing. There’s a normal train service running today into London. I wonder how busy it’ll be.

Hello. Been busy, but I will be blogging again soon, hopefully during our holiday to Florida. Hopefully with pics. Thusly, here’s a test. You know you’ve been watching too much Star Wars when…

So, it’s the New Year, and the media is on our backs to get off our arses and do something about the filthy disgusting slobs we’ve turned ourselves into over Christmas. The papers and mags are full of diets. “Drop a Jean Size In Two Weeks.” “The Ten-Day Detox Diet.” The All-Sprout and Lentil Fart Yourself Thin Plan. Carol Vorderman’s “Totally Realistic Eat Yourself Slim, Go Up A Bra Size And Shag Brad Pitt In A Week Diet.” Lot of swiss chard in that one. My personal favourite, the McDonald’s “Buy One Big Mac Get One Free Fuck Dieting Diet.”

And of course the anti-smoking lobby gets into full swing, rubbing in that New Years Resolution guilt trip. And yes, smoking is foul and disgusting and of course giving up is a good thing to do. But you’re at your weakest when you’re fighting an addiction, and you can be damn sure there’ll be some evil bastard ready to take advantage of your need for a crutch.

Take the nicotine gum people. They’re easy! They’re convenient! They come in vaguely palatable fruit-like flavours! They’ll give you the power to beat the crap out of the six-foot tall cigarettes that you’re now hallucinating in your weakened state!

But you read the small print and you get a different story. At the bottom of every pack, on every poster, at the end of every advert, there are the two magic words. “Requires Willpower.”

Hang on a minute. You need willpower to give up smoking, chewy or no chewy. All the gum’s doing is giving you the nicotine you’re craving at a slightly reduced dose to ease you away from the fags. Nicotine’s the last thing you need. Nicotine’s the problem in the first place! You’re telling me that I’m going to be spending as much on chewing gum as I was on the old coffin nails, and I’m still going to be gnawing my fingernails down to the knuckle to fight off the need for just one more lungful of that sweet sweet smoke? As far as I’m concerned, if you’re on the gum or the see-through plasters, you’re still smoking! You’re just making it more difficult to justify the fag breaks!

That’s a thing no-one talks about. You’re not just giving up the bad stuff about smoking. You’re giving up the good stuff as well. You’re giving up your fag break buddies. You’re giving up that excuse to slope off from your desk for fifteen minutes every oh, half-hour or so. There you are one day, puffing away with that skinny bloke from accounts with the twitch and the bad teeth, and that receptionist you wouldn’t get the time of day from if you weren’t puffing Lambert and Butler at her. Next thing they know, you’re missing in action.

“What happened to Rob?” “He’s no longer with us.” “You mean…?” “I’m afraid so. Patches.” “Why? Why is it always the pretty ones? Why did I not tell him I loved him when I had the chance?”

I think what smokers need isn’t gum with nicotine. I think smokers need gum with willpower in it. Pop a couple of those babies and you’d be able to face down a crack jones with a jaunty shrug. “I have a craving!” Poink. “No. I. Don’t. Graaaaaaahhhh! Eye of the tiger!”

Fantastic stuff! You wouldn’t just have to use it for addictions. You could use it for any tough decision. That problem with the boss. “I can’t stand that self-absorbed arsemonkey a nanosecond longer! Don’t hold me back! I’m marching into that fucking corner office right this minute, tear his head off and spit down the hollow end!” “Wow! How’d Rob get so assertive?” “Willpower gum.” “Oooohhh…”

Break-ups? “No, you can’t have the Barry Manilow records! I bought them, I’m keeping them!” An altercation at the checkout? “I said there’s 5p off this can of beans! Grraaaaahhhh! Eye of the Tiger!” It’s self-confidence in a blisterpak!

Only problem is, you could overshoot the mark a little, of course. “Yeah, I’m smoking. It’s hard and the blonde on reception likes it when I blow smoke at her. Wanna make something of it?”

I was never a great believer in astrology (in fact I view it as pseudo-science of the worst kind), but I was none the less amused to find that I am not (a member of?) the star sign I thought I was.

Apparently there are thirteen signs to the zodiac, not twelve. I am not the Sagittarian I beieved myself to be, but Ophiuchan.

How cool is that? I can ignore the horoscopes even more thoroughly now!