Found my new favourite drinking hole on Saturday night, during one of our all too infrequent weekend nights out into Reading. The Hobgoblin is crammed into a tiny site on the main Broad St drag. There are always people outside, which led me to suspect that it was tiny inside too. Not so. The place is a labyrinth of woodlined corridors and cubbyholes, the ceiling encrusted with beer plaques from the 4000 guest ales they’ve served since 1993. One nice feature is that the graffitoes on the walls, tables and chairs have been left to accumulate, and they have a bit more class than the usual “John Shagged Jane ere 2002” tags you get in most pubs (although there are plenty of those too). Love stories, cryptic sayings and rude jokes jostle for your attention. The music is the right side of gothy, and I was even feeling mellow enough to forgive the odd burst of folk. What’s more, they’re selling old vinyl for a quid a pop (some collectable stuff too, no I’m not saying what, too late sucker) and all in all a mellow vibe that is light years away from the Yate’s and All Bar One’s clustering on Friar St. If you’re a lagerhead you may as well forget it (however, Budweiser Budvar on draft? not too shabby!), but speaking as a beer bore, I had a fine time.
In other alcohol related news, this was introduced to me earlier in the evening by a very nice man at Santa Fe on the Waterside. Beats Jack and Coke into a tipped hat. Won’t be trying this in a hurry, though.
Hangover report for Sunday: heavy, overcast, thundery in places.

That’ll teach me to blog. Running for a bus last night, some wag yelled out “Everybody off! He’s got a bomb!” Highly amusing. This is in Reading, by the way, hardly terrorist central. However, I’m now seriously contemplating changing my bag, which at least should have the effect of cutting down the amount of crap I’m lugging around with me these days. For example, today I’ve got my iBook, iPod, associated chargers, library books to go back, writing implements, assorted bits of paperwork, for some reason a tube of Krazy Glue, and this is before we talk about my phone, keys, wallet and travelcard secreted about my person. It’s a good workout, but starting to tire me on too many different levels. Maybe I should just invest in one of these.
On a related note, apparantly a girl toting a big rucky on the tube yesterday had a note pinned onto it saying “Don’t shoot me, I’m going camping.” Made me laugh, anyway.

Back in England, things aren’t quite so rosy. Coming into London is of course a jolly experience. There are signs at both Reading and Paddington listing bus services for those too un-nerved to travel by tube. If you are brave enough, try not to be dark and in possession of a rucksack, unless you’re prepared for a journey filled with sideways looks and uncomfortable shiftings from your fellow passengers. I suppose I should be grateful I didn’t get more of a tan on holiday. Meanwhile, the weather continues to disappoint and the jet lag from the flight back still has it’s claws in. And I haven’t shaken the cold I caught on the plan. And I cricked my neck at work last week and the bloody thing’s still twingeing.

Hi ho. Post-holiday grumpiness makes for poor blogging. I will get me some happy and write again when smiling.

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…