Sunday, April 11, 2004

A trilogy - in three parts Part 2 Up, up and away….

My son with Andi Peters and Spiderman outside FAO Schwarz in N.Y.
(Spiderman is the one in the red Spiderman mask)

The great day arrives and we meet up with a BBC bodkin at Manchester airport. She has all the tickets and stuff. We meet, greet - and fleet of foot, we just manage to catch the shuttle down to Heathrow….

"Will we meet Andi there?"

"No – He’ll be getting a later flight"

"What flight are we getting then?"

"The ‘Air India’ jumbo to JFK. It takes off at 2.00pm"……

Hmmm, Air India…… I thumb through my recently bought leaflet ‘The World’s Top Airlines’ – to see just how Air India measures up. According to my leaflet, it doesn’t.

Apparently, for reliability and comfort, Air India ranks just in between ‘Air-Afghanistan’ and ‘Bedrock International Airways’ as used by Fred Flintstone.

"So what airline is Andi Peters getting then?"

"Virgin Club Class"

Do I really need to check in my little booklet just where ‘Virgin Club Class’ ranks in the Top Airlines list?

The booklet is consigned to the bin.

We get to the Air India check in desk at Heathrow. My heart sinks. It’s a scrum – it looks like first day of the Winter sale at Harrods Calcutta branch. There’s a guy with a walkie talkie in his hand and an Air India turban on his head screaming something to the heaving, pushing crowd.

Eventually, we get through check in and are welcomed aboard by a drop dead gorgeous stewardess in an Air India sari. She ushers us to our seats. Maybe Air India isn’t all that bad after all?

The engines roar, the g-force kicks in and we’re on our way. I settle back to explore the in-flight entertainment. Films. Any film you want to look at – as long as they are Bollywood ones. I’m not kidding, by the time we got to JFK I’ve seen an entire year’s output – and not a car chase, drugs bust, cyborg from the future or psychotic English villain in any of them……

Soon it’s time for dinner. The dream in the sari asks me what I would like to eat.

"What’s on the menu?"

I’ll have the Chicken Curry please"

The Curry was as hot as my pants in a sauna on the surface of the Sun. Even the guys from Madras were begging for water. The power of speech went first, as my tongue swelled to the size of a bouncey castle. Pretty soon, I’m in a coma and all my vital organs have shut down...

The dream sari girl gently wakes me with a tender kiss on each eye lid ... sorry, curry induced delirium.... she shoves a green card in my hand. Some of the questions are bloody awful. Does my stowed pack of 'Solpadeine' qualify as a class A drug? Fortunately, we sail through customs and move toward a waiting throng of people all holding up little bits of card with names scribbled on. And we are on one of them! This guy has got a peak cap on and everything, he tells us he’s off to get the limo’. We wait outside.

The limo’ pulls up. This thing’s so long, by the time it’s stopped, it stretches across 3 States and 2 different time zones ….

I feel like a million dollars as we cruise towards Manhattan. We check in at the Waldorf Astoria. The room, classy. The mini bar, emptying rapidly. The branded Waldorf nick-nacks, sewing kit, soaplet bar etc, gravitating towards my suitcase.
Well, you just never know when a sewing kit might come in handy do you?
We freshen up and get a call to meet in the bar.

I leave my son crashed out and flicking through 8 million TV channels and head for celebrityville… The director, an incredibly talented girl – all of 23 years old was really nice. She introduced me to Andi Peters. He was OK I suppose. A bit up himself, a bit Dale Winton, a bit of a sporty sweater wearer, a bit of a big head and a bit pissed off that no one else in the bar knew who the hell ‘Andi Peters’ was…..

The nice Director lady introduces me to ‘Jeremy’….

"Hello, I’m Jeremy Stooooooooart – I play ‘Spiderman’. At the moment, I’m out of uniform, obviously"….

"What, you’re here as Peter Parker then?"

He smiles, like he’s never heard of that line before…..

What a nice guy Mr Stooooooooart was. Unassuming, he told me that straight after he’d finished making the film with Andi and my son, he was off for the ‘Thanksgiving’ weekend up into Amish Country. Inspired, I tell that great joke "What goes ‘clip’ ‘clop’ ‘clip’ ‘clop’ ‘clip’ ‘clop’ bang ‘clip’ ‘clop’ ‘clip’ ‘clop’…?"

Jeremy didn’t know.

"An Amish drive by shooting!"

Jeremy didn’t laugh. Maybe he could tell his Amish mates the joke when he goes up country?

Anyway, because I didn’t want to know just what Andi had to say about the Spice Girls, I speak at length with Jeremy.

"You come fram Liverpool? – I been there. I was on a daytime programme…. Richard and Dooody? I think it was called"…

Superb! I spend the next 15 minutes debunking the legend that is ‘Richard and Judy’. Andi looks nervous – he obviously counts them as friends….

The next day we rise early and dress, my son and I in matching ‘away’ Liverpool tops – well, we are in New York… We meet the others in the restaurant. Andi is in a flap. "Ooohhh Steve, they won’t let you eat your breakfast wearing that! … I mean, look at me. This top cost £200 – and I’ve had to put a jacket on over it".

I didn’t realise it, but Astorian etiquette has been seriously compromised. They don’t appear to appreciate my non svelte figure, closely wrapped in my team’s colours. The Maitre D slimes over with a dinner jacket and plonks it across my shoulders. I am now wearing a footy shirt with a tux jacket, Levi jeans and trainers. I look a right berk.

After breakfast, we all gather in the lobby – Jeremy joins us as well. I notice that he has changed a bit. Something is not quite right though, somehow he just doesn’t seem the same guy I met last night …. "Jeremy, is there something different about you, from last night?…"

"I’ve got my full ‘Spiderman’ costume on"

Of course he has. We meet the cameraman and sound dude – and then we’re off. First stop, the biggest toy shop in the world, FAO Schwarz – then on to Trump Tower……. And they call this work?……..

In the final thrilling instalment I narrowly avoid chucking Andi into the East River wearing concrete boots, as he really does begin to get right up my tits…. Tight arse Peters manages to do the whole trip without buying a round …. King Cadge strikes again! I manage to blag a visit to Marvel Comics’ New York H.Q. Their poster and artwork archive is well plundered as a turbo boosted scouser on a mission says "Oh ay, go on, gizz it" 514 times in just 1 hour…. Gasp at the way Andi Peters tells me that he is "Just too busy" to sign 3 post it notes for my other 3 sons… Sob As Andi asks my son if he would like to be a TV presenter. My son turns him down flat…… Bugger!

A trilogy – in three parts. Part 1 An Englishman in New York…..

So, there I am sitting in a swanky bar in one of the poshest hotels, in one of the most happening cities on the planet and I’m talking to a guy opposite who had actually appeared on our own Kings and Queens of daytime TV, ‘Richard ‘n’ Jooody’…….. which was nice.

Oh yes. I know about sophisticated small talk chit-chat all right.

Well, I had to try didn’t I? After all, can you bloody well believe it, I’m sitting in the cocktail bar of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue in New York City.

How jammy is that then?

Bloody jammy actually. It was all to do with my eldest son entering a competition – and actually winning. He was always sending tatty little sealed down envelopes with some rhyming ditty off to a cereal or sweet manufacturer in the hope that it would win him a choccy bar, T-shirt or a years supply of creosote or whatever…..

I vaguely remembered him asking me to post yet another stuck down envelope with his usual scrawl all over it. This request obviously meant I had to pay for the stamp …. I almost chucked it in the bin for God’s sake.

Two weeks later, it’s a chilly October night, I’m on my Jack Jones and the ‘phone rings. It’s a BBC producer on the other end of the line. I stifled my first inclination to wittily tell my caller "Oh yeah, well I’m the Pope – and if you’re looking for Jesus, he’s just nipped out to get some chips to go with our 6 pack of Tennents Super Strong Lager" ….. Thankfully, I didn’t. Whether it was the poshness of her voice, the crispness of her syntax or whatever, I decided to listen……. "Blah, blah, blah, your son has won a competition"

I was barely listening …"What competition?" – (I expected a free cuddly toy)…

"It’s the BBC’s ‘Live and Kicking Spiderman’ competition – and your son has won first prize!"

Hmmm, the BBC. Their prizes are usually a bit stingy aren’t they? I mean, I grew up with ‘Blankety Blank cheque book and pen sets’ – and they cost about 15 bob per dozen didn’t they for God’s sake…..

Anyway, back to the telecon’…

"So, just what has he won?"

"A week in New York. He will fly over to JFK with Andi Peters. Once there, they will make a fi……

"Sorry, sorry, misheard you there, I think. Where did you say he was going?"…

"New York, in the USA"…..


"Yes, as I was saying, once there, they will make a little film for the show, where Andi and your son will look for ‘Spiderman’..

I’m gobsmacked.

"The problem is, he’ll need a chaperone. Could you or your wife accompany him to New York?

"Hmmmm. Let me think. Better still, I’ll have a look at my diary. I carefully place the handset down. Do I look for my diary? Nah. Instead, I thought I should do something a bit more constructive…. A silent goal scoring footy celebration with my shirt looped over my head mouthing ‘Oh yes baby!’ seemed to fit the bill.

I look for – and eventually find some decorum…

"Yes, I think I can fit that in"

"Or your wife, possibly?"

"We - ell maybe, but I know for a fact that she has a very important appointment soon. When is the trip?"

"It’s the end of November"

I rustle some sheets of newspaper for effect… "I’m just having a look at her diary to see ….. Oh dear, I’m afraid she has her very important meeting right smack in the middle of that week. It looks like I’m going to have to do the trip then, ho hum"…

The BBC producer briefly tells me the itinerary. "OK, that’s great, I’ll keep everything under wraps. OK, that’s great, Andi is going to ring my son live on air next week, OK, great, got it. Byeee"

I cringe – just how many times did I just say ‘OK great’? I could feel myself already becoming shallow, vacuous and vain – yes, delusions of celebrity were setting in….

I carefully replace the handset. "Back of the net!"
My real problem is trying to convince Alfreda what a really boring place New York is…. without actually losing my manly bits to a sharp upward knee thrust.

In tomorrow’sexciting instalment, we are off to the Big Apple. I team up with quite possibly the most talented BBC person ever. Oh, and Andi Peters tags along as well.

PLUS, we check in at the Waldorf Astoria….. GASP at the swankiness of it all..…… REVEALED – The strange stranger who has appeared on our own ‘Richard ‘n’ Jooody’…. READ how my first breakfast there is marred by the Maitre D insisting that I cover up my Liverpool away shirt… I deduce, he must have been a Man U fan…..