Norris McWhirter, the ultimate facts and figures man died yesterday.
The original author of The Guinness Book of Records, Norris and his brother Ross took a vague enquiry from one of the Guinness family and developed it into the top selling, non religious publication in the world. It was a great concept, a book of trivia to help lift the drab, austere grey days of the mid fifties…..
I got one as a Christmas present in 1967 – and proceeded to read it from cover to cover. By Boxing Day I was boring everyone rigid … "Hey Dad, did you know that the biggest cheese ever made was"….
"No I bloody didn’t – and I don’t want to. Just sod off and eat your turkey butties"….
"Turkey? Did you know that the biggest turkey ever, produced 625 butties"…..
Ever since then, I’ve always had an interest in the book. During my more vacant, looking down the end of a black velvet glass student times - we would often try to think of some so obscure activity to achieve a record. The more obscure, the easier to do, the easier to do, the more likely we are to get a record into the Book.
"How about ‘beer mat flipping’? Can’t be too difficult can it?"
Well, we had the pitch (the table), we had the ‘floppers’ (the beer mats) and we had the ‘flippers’ on the end of our arms.
In no time at all, the World Beer Mat Flipping Games were inaugurated. We had a ceremony to open them, this involved some more black velvets and a packet of crisps. We lit the sacred ‘flipping flame’ – this will remain lit as long as the games last – or as long as the upturned fag stays alight.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN!
We start with 1 and build…..
We flipped and drank.
Drank and flipped.
Drunk and flopped…..
Pretty soon, the ‘10 mat’ barrier was smashed. Incredible!
A lap of honour is run – well more properly described as ‘staggered’….. stopping off at the bar for a refuel. This sporting life is certainly thirsty work. The tension was tense as the new World record was achieved at about 10 o’clock that night. Just how many was our new and ‘never to be beaten’ World record? Seventeen. Only Seven-bloody-teen, that’s all!
After that high water mark, lactic acid, diminishing hand eye co-ordination and ever increasing bog trips took its toll. Those heady heights were never again repeated. I went home.
The next day, I eagerly dug out my Guinness Book, so I could contact Norris and tell him of our incredible feat of incredibleness.
Just to make certain – and to bury the nagging doubt nagging away in the back of my mind, I decided to look in the great book to see if there was already a category for ‘beer mat flipping’ Not very likely, I know – but best make sure eh? I scan the index, hmmm -
‘banana’ – biggest, bendiest, most like a penis… ‘beard’ – longest, shortest, flanging - the art of, twirliest.. ‘beer’ barfing, most pissed, mat flipping…..
"Mat flipping - blast!" See page 546… I find the page ‘Klaus Webber, a German student successfully defended his beer mat flipping title and set a new world record of 92 beer mats’….
NINETY TWO! – He must have hands like spades. How the hell do you get 92 beer mats in your hand for God’s sake? Dejected, the letter to Norris is consigned to the ‘bin of failure’.
We reconvene at Games HQ for a summit meeting. OK we need to find activities so obscure that not even know all Norris McWhirter has ever heard of them. We draw up a short list…
1) Furthest Gob.
2) Furthest Gob.(Into a gale force wind).
3) Highest wee up the bog wall.
4) Loudest Fart.
5) Quickest wee into a pint glass.
6) Furthest distance you can propel the contents of a packet of crisps by stamping on one end of it.
7) Most people in a pub bog cubicle………
Most of the night was filled with making the list, having a laugh and getting pissed.
Years later, I’m recounting this episode of my student days to a client of mine. "Did you ever do any of them?" he said
"No, of course not! After all, you’d have to be seriously mentally moronic to have a go at a Guinness record wouldn’t you?"
It was one of those seminal ‘foot in mouth’ moments. As soon as I’d said the words – I knew, I just knew he had attempted one. Did I say ‘one’ – well I was wrong, he had been in the book three times. Bloody hell, what a stud-muffin!
"Three times? Wow, what for?"
This man of men, this tenacious terrier then recounted his finest hours to me…
"Yes, the first time I was in was for ‘Endurance Monopoly Playing’ …. 105 hours none stop……
The second time was for ‘Endurance Squash Playing’ ….. 79 hours non stop"
I am truly humbled. I’m clutching at any straws I can grab. Is playing squash more demanding than beer mat flipping? Probably not….
"And the third time you were in?"..
"Well, 2 months after we set the Squash Endurance record, some git went and broke it – by putting another 6 hours on…
"So me and my mate decided to go for the record again, which we did – we put it up to 92 hours…. We tried to make the 100 hours, but we were just too knackered, you know how it is"…
Yes, I know how it is alright, he had his 100 hour non stop squash playing barrier, I had my 20 beer mat flipping barrier, both targets unattainable to 2 finely honed athletes……. Ah well, never mind, we gave it our best shots but it was just not meant to be. Cue the 'Chariots of Fire' music.....
The Sunday Times Rich List was published yesterday and guess what – I’m not in it again..... It serves me right really, I should never have invested in ‘Chocolate Fireguards Corp’ in a bid to corner the chocolate craving, chilly woman market.
A trilogy in three parts. Part 3 – Peters overload……
By God, it’s cold. It’s a late November New York morning and it’s our second day of shooting our little filmlet on ‘The hunt for Spiderman’…. Over the next few days, we are off to the ‘Coca-Cola’ shop, Rockerfeller Centre, Empire State Building, Ellis Island, Central Park, The Staten Island Ferry and ‘The Battery’. As in "The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down, the people go through a hole in a ground, New York, New York, it’s a wonderful etc, etc. Phew, it’s a double chocked, choca block with crispy bits, schedule alright.
To get the day off to a warming good start, we head for a bit of brain storming at a real Big Apple Deli’ and some hashy browny, easy on the squeezy, sunny side uppy stuff to oil the creative wheels…..
I order. God knows what, but as I’m reeling it off to the little Greek guy behind the counter, I become acutely aware that I’m sprouting a bit of a Kojak inclination to the syntax……. The order finishes with …. "Thanks cup cake and all like that – and everything. Keep da change ya bum. Yaderra, yaderra"…
It arrives. Christ, it’s no wonder the USA is the lardiest, lard-arsed capital of the world is it? Desperate Dan in his cow pie-eating heyday would struggle with this cornucopia of fat encrusted embolism on a bin lid. How the hell am I going to eat this?
What would Kojak do in this situation?
Probably get one of the guys from the Bronx division to call him up and tell him a heist was going down, somewhere uptown. "Sorry, Tony da Greek, can’t finish the pastrami ensemble jas now, gotta go, send me da bill cupcake, ciao".
I don’t have a lollipop, or a pair of ‘70’s dark glasses, or a jaunty trilby, or a white mac’ or someone from the 39th precinct to ring me up and get me out of this fat fest - fast…..
Instead, I struggle. Forcing stuff down, oozing schmoozing hot gloozin’ stuff, processed to death, courtesy of Clogged-Arteries Just Like Mamma Had Inc. All I want is a nice slice of toast and a cup of tea for God’s sake. Eventually I wobble out of the Deli. With every New Yorker eating like there’s no tomorrow how does their sewage system cope? Just what makes all that steaming smoky stuff coming up through New York’s sidewalk vents and immortalised in so many Hollywood films?
I dread to think. The penny - and the breakfast has just dropped. I look for the John.
Post-dump. We make for The Battery and the ferry…..
‘Spidey’ dons his cozzy. The skin-tight Spandex is under severe strain. The big brekky has obviously taken its toll. Spiderman’s got ‘Deli-belly’. He looks like ‘Little Plum’ in a lycra suit.
The camera crew suddenly decides to go all artistic and obscure like….. Spidey’s ‘GutsterGate’ will be covered up. We get on the ferry. Not before some guy had seen portly Spidey walking towards the gangway. "OK, Spiderman, let’s see you jump onto the side of da ferry ya schmuck" …..
It’s Spidey’s biggest problem. Every time he dons the suit, Joe Public expects him to actually be the guy that can walk on ceilings and bound from building to building using nothing more than a length of spun silk ……. The man in the suit told me he has broken bones because enthusiastic New Yorkers keep on pushing him off high places, expecting arachnid skills to kick in. They don’t. Gary Gravity has the last laugh.
Whilst stuff is being shot, Andi starts to tell me how much he earned during the last fiscal year. Well, that really does cheer me up. He also tells me the fantastic branded ‘Nanook of the North’ anorak he is wearing is all sponsored – to the tune of about 20 grand a year – plus free anoraks. I’m depressed. I look at my coat. Bought from the Army and Navy Surplus Bargain Basement Bin, it doesn’t compare well with the anointed one’s ruggedly immaculate attire.
I’m green. Is it envy – or am I turning into the ‘Incredible Hulk’? And if I am beginning to split my pants with anger, is Andi safe? We’ll never know, because Mr TV is called away for a bit of filming…..
I start to doubt my worth. What does my Son think? An old, cold bag of spanners dressed in inadequate Army Surplus against a loaded 2 dimensional billboard-sponsored, shallow celeb’-obsessed has been? ….No contest.
Our days seemed to revolve around filming, eating and drinking. I can handle that, I even bought a few rounds – well, you’ve got to haven’t you? For Mr Peters however, this was an alien concept. He clearly comes from the ‘I’ve got money, and I’m keeping it’ school of self-centredness. No one seemed to mind – except me. Where I come from, you go to a bar, you pay your way….. or you get beaten up. That wasn’t the worse part of having a beer with Andi though. No, ‘namedropping’ is much, much worse.
"Yeah, Jamie and Louise Redknapp, good friends of mine….. Philip Schofield, great bloke …. Spice Girls - really, really talented girls"…..
Andi’s getting close. Closer than he ever knows to finding out first hand just what lies on the bottom of the cold, cold East River. My spirits are briefly raised when Andi bemoans the fact that he has bought a pile of videos from some shop on 5th Avenue and he forgot to check if they were PAL format suitable for viewing in Britain – which of course, they aren’t, they’re all U.S. format. Oh yes! Thank you God.
Then he tells me it doesn’t really matter as he has both types of video players at home……. I’m crushed.
He seemed to get on with my son though – and to be fair, John is an absolute natch in front of the camera. He’s even outshining the great Andi Peters. At the end of one of the really good days filming, Andi asks my son whether he would like a job in television. Please, please, just say "Yes" I silently plead. …. If you say "Yes" and work on Andi’s already colossal ego, he’ll get you a job on a kids show – and untold riches will follow…..
I wait, hanging on John’s carefully worded and fully considered reply.
"No thanks, I’d rather work with dinosaurs"
Shit! He still wants to be a Palaeontologist….
We decide to all have a day off from the epic-filled, crazy, hazy filming days of make believe. I must admit, I need it. I’m suffering from celeb-fatigue. If I hear one more story about how really interesting, sincere and talented, Ginger Spice is, I’m going to kill someone.
I put ‘Plan B’ into action. (‘Plan A’ is to win the lottery and retire).
I’ve been pumping Jeremy during the last few days about who exactly employed him in his role as Spiderman. His reply is music to my ears. Marvel comics, New York HQ.
It only took a day of constant nagging to swing the deal. Jez sets up the visit for our day off. "Are you coming with us?" I ask.
Jeremy declines. Andi’s not coming either – so that’s a win-win situation then! I get to visit the home of my childhood heroes – and it’s an Andi-free zone to boot.
We arrive in a big yellow taxi outside marvellous Marvel’s offices…... Marvellous. I switch to hunter gathering mode. I’m on a cadging mission and those Yanks have got no chance. My pockets are full to the brim of empty Macy’s plastic bags – just in case.
We enter. I’m a bit shocked at first though. We are met by another Spiderman – an impostor no less! I discover they, rather like Father Christmas – job share. Stand-in-Spidey shows me around. "Is Stan Lee in the office today? He is! Soooperb – can I meet him?
Kid in candy store (and I’m not talking about my son) reaches the inner sanctum – the archive room….. Aren’t Yanks polite? They just never seem to be able to say "No". And even if they say "Well, I’ll have ask someone" – I take that as a ‘Yes’ anyway - and start stuffing posters and artwork into my Macy’s bags. Badges, nick-nacks, T-shirts follow. I feel like I’ve cleaned them out……. Oh dear, I have.
The week rolls along. Andi’s day is made when, while we were filming on 5th Avenue, some British people actually recognise him…. Eventually…. The autographs flow.
The last day. The film is ’in the can’ as us film folk say and we are having a last few beers before we all go our separate ways. Me? Back to humdrumsville. Andi? On to L.A. and an interview with Michael Jackson, no less. I took this relaxed window in our busy schedules to ask Andi for 3 autographs to give to my Blighty-bound sons.
Andi says "Oooohhh, sorry, I’m far too busy at the moment"….. Too right – too busy drinking my beer from my round. He tells me he’ll do it later. I tell him to ‘shove it’.
And it was shoved – sideways.
I didn’t speak to him again……. Peace at last.
The kids did get their autographs though – I forged them. Well, I couldn’t disillusion them could I?