Thursday, 22 August 2013

Issue 10: European culture

Lee Gale is away. Well, he’s been clocking up the miles, travelling between Budapest and Doncaster, Europe’s two great capitals of culture. I realised this week precisely why I loathe international travel and it’s more to do with airports and airlines rather than the countries themselves. Flying gets worse. The days of rawnging over three seats and sitting down in peace for your in-flight meal like a lord – Jack Lord, possibly, in a James Bond film – are already golden images of a past era. Nowadays, you’re lucky if you can sit next to the person you’re travelling with. When you fly with Wizz, the Hungarian carrier, the 1997 Nicolas Cage film Con Air looks like a promotional feature for business class. At airports, parking’s £85 for four days. Eighty-five pounds!

“Did you check in online?”
“No, I thought I’d cock it up – I wanted you, the experts, to do it for me. The flight’s £330, so I reckon I’ve paid for the privilege.”
“We’ll have to charge you £20.”
“What, £20 for clicking a button?”
“Why did you not check-in online before you left, sir?”
“Check-in online… I don’t actually know what that means. You check-in at the airport, surely. What if I was involved in a motorway pile-up on the way in?”
“Huh! Highly unlikely.”

Everyone at airports is in a state of confusion and panic, like there’s been an earthquake. You shuffle down queues, pay some money, get pointed to other queues, pay more money – these are spot fines for not logging on to the airline’s website – and you spend hours and hours being processed and numbered. You do at Luton anyway. No wonder we almost missed the flight.

Much as I appreciate Budapest and the Hungarians, getting there is a major headache, but as this was a work trip – I was covering the Sziget music festival – I didn’t have much choice. I suppose I could drive to Central Europe, but the road system in Budapest is completely alien and I’m sure I’d end up driving in the wrong direction on a busy stretch of highway, causing deaths, and then I’d be in prison for ten years. But when you factor in the industrialised mayhem of Luton, where you feel like a fish finger in a Findus plant, it’s a close call to make.

In its favour, you can get from London to Sziget quicker than it takes to travel from London to Glastonbury. I’ll not go into detail about the weekend right now because I’ve spent every spare moment of the last seven days writing about it. You can see it here:

Having found a new appreciation for Franz Ferdinand – I really like the new single, “Right Action”, and they were the stand-out group at Sziget ­– once back on familiar territory at Luton David Pleat International, I tried the new ePassport gate and realised that once you’d gone through the rigmarole of having your passport scanned, and your eyes scanned, and your hands scanned, and your shoes scanned, and your arse scanned, and your DNA scanned, and your soul scanned, you’re moving more slowly than the people queueing with old passports. So much for technology! I think I managed to convince the Sziget organisers to make an approach for New Order in 2014, so I’ll no doubt be heading to Budapest again next August. Next time, I’ll pay more for fast-track, longer legroom and preferential seating – anything to beat the system. And this is what they want you to do, to pay extra for every aspect of the flight. This is the same trick the banks were pulling with payment protection in the Nineties.

From Luton, I had two days in London then drove the kids up to Doncaster to see how real people live. Although Donny has its detractors down South, my two lads think this much-maligned district is like Disneyland, but better, because rather than losing money at every turn, people are pushing cash into your hands. They’ve learnt that Doncaster is a money-spinner. Pensioners can’t give ackers away quickly enough.

People that live in Doncaster refer to its central-business district, ie: shops, as “Town”. It’s not a bad town centre, although all the women look like Mutha from Viz. The recent addition of fairground rides on its streets has certainly hit the right note with the boys. They think that Town and Doncaster are different places but somehow twinned, the Castor and Pollux of northern industrial settlements, almost identical, but apparently Town just edges out Doncaster in terms of fun. I’m not sure how they weigh one up against the other. I used to think Spurs and Tottenham were different sides – when you’re seven, you’re still unravelling the complexities of the universe. “Right then, shall we go to Town or Doncaster this morning?” “TOWN!”

When we visit the North, we stay on the floor of my 90-year-old nana’s pensioner bungalow. It’s like sheltered camping for us. There isn’t really anywhere else for us to stay and she’s overjoyed to spend time with us. The arrival of the lads, age six and seven, creates much excitement among my nana’s group of wartime survivors. My two don’t realise how lucky they are to know a great-grandparent so well. People say Nana’s slowing up a bit and getting more forgetful, but she runs rings round most women 30 years her junior. She still goes to Town to get her shopping once week (or gets the bus to Doncaster if she wants slightly less fun).

Last Friday, having a glass of wine and discussing family matters from the late 19th century onwards, Nana told me that she hadn’t long left but had enjoyed her life and wouldn’t change anything other than she wished my grandad hadn’t died when he was 57. Nana never re-married; you don’t when you’ve been truly in love. She still cries when she mentions him. Nana then asked if I’d do a reading at her funeral. I said I would and that it was something that I’d also been thinking about, but I didn’t want to start writing the passage until the deadline (literally) was approaching – after all, I’m a professional writer. It’s unusual discussing the funeral of somebody you love who’s still alive. I’m convinced she’ll be getting a letter from the Queen in 2022; the wartime diet worked wonders for Nana’s generation. One of the funniest things I ever read was in NME in 1999. The Fall’s Mark E Smith was asked what song he’d like played at his own funeral and he replied, “I’ll just get the organist to hold down the note of F.”

You may have frowned with some confusion in the opening paragraph of MW Issue 10, when you read the word “rawnging”. You won’t find it in the dictionary. It isn’t there. I think it’s a Manchester term – it’s the act of lazily sprawling, usually over furniture, especially a settee, often with your shoes on. Just to recap - we're a Manchester/Doncaster mix of a family. “Give over rawnging on the bloody settee.” Another term I’m very fond of is “monk on”, which is localised to Doncaster. It refers to the condition of being in a bad mood for no apparent reason. “What’s up with you, have you got monk on?”

Accusing somebody of having monk on only deepens the condition. It’s a state that can last for hours. It’s a morose ailment, usually associated with boredom, and tends to strike in the late morning or early afternoon. I’ve never suffered from monk on, but have certainly dated women with terminal cases, to the point where their mouth turns down permanently, a bit like that rabbit Miffy. The wife says that the north-west London word for monk on is “greuse”. “Are you in a greuse?” they’ll ask. “No, I’m not in a greuse!” will come the angry response… meaning they are in a greuse! Sufferers never admit to having monk on or a greuse. It’s a diluted, short-term depression, but asking somebody if they have monk on leads to a deep-seated gloom – their face turns grey, eyes become watery and they look like they want to kill you. It’s great to see.

I don’t get monk on, although the cost of the school holidays is certainly pulling at the corners of my mouth. It’s costing me a bomb. Remaining true to my part-Yorkshire heritage, I keep an eye on every penny that’s spent by noting figures into a red Silvine cashbook. There’ll have to be some seriously boring weekends in the run-up to Christmas if we’re going to balance the books. But if you’re a parent with boys and looking for something to do before that glorious Monday in September, the following places are highly recommended…

1.     Crich Tramway Village, Crich, Derbyshire: Stroll through a Twenties town and take a 1926 Blackpool tram along a mile of track. We went on a Thursday and it wasn’t overly full, although there were a lot of fat tourists and some of them didn’t like children very much, tutting at the slightest misdemeanour. Apart from that, my two felt truly alive here. I may have to take them to Blackpool.
2.     Skate King’s Cross, King’s Cross, London: This is a pop-up roller-skating park, not particularly big, but big enough to realise you are rubbish at roller skating, and haven’t improved since you last tried in 1984. Kids either instantly understand skating or get monk on, crawling around on all fours, shaking their head, saying they want to go home. Afterwards, let the kids cool off in the 1,000 fountains outside the nearby Granary Building.
3.     The View From The Shard, London Bridge, London: For two adults and four kids, this is over £100, Premier League money, but the 40-mile view is spectacular. However, kids get bored after just seven minutes at the Shard and are much happier running around at Coram’s Fields children’s playground near Russell Square tube.
4.     National Railway Museum, York: It’s massive, and as much fun for dads as sons. The major problem is that boys get so excited that they naturally feel the urge to dash from locomotive to locomotive. Now, these engines have got very, very hard buffers, roughly at head height to a five- or six-year-old. Maybe visit when they’re ten.
5.     Imperial War Museum Duxford, Cambridgeshire: Again, huge – there’s much ground to cover, and you can even take a flight in a de Havilland Dragon Rapide from the Thirties if you’ve got birthday money to burn. I think it costs £35 per person to get airborne. You have to be careful at Duxford, though. My two got so giddy the last time we visited that when we were in the Battle of Britain hangar, my eldest, for some stupid reason, pushed a display cabinet with his hands, showing off, which then rocked as far back as it could without actually toppling over, then rocked forward, and continued this back-and-forth motion for an agonising 10-15 seconds, while furious World War II veterans looked on. By the time the cabinet was static, the memorabilia, model aeroplanes and artwork within looked like it had been strafed by a Messerschmitt Bf 109. We left instantly.

My final word this week concerns perceived Yorkshire tightness. It’s a male disease – most Yorkshire women can’t get the tenners out of the mattress quickly enough. A few years ago, my friend’s mam and dad went on holiday to Egypt. While nosing round a bazaar, the dad – a shopkeeper – thought he might forge a great deal on a new rug. The bartering between the Egyptian carpet salesman and Arkwright-type Yorkshire shopkeeper continued for a good two hours and by the end, a compromise had almost been reached. The Egyptian market trader was probably at the stage of making no profit at all, worn down, but at the point of sale, the Doncaster dad said, “I’ll tell you what, son, I’ll leave it for now,” and promptly walked off. Incensed, the Egyptian leapt into the air with his fist waving and shouted, “TIGHT YORKSHIRE B******!” I enjoy the fact that Yorkshire penny-pinching is so well known, even in Africa. 

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