Just like those of a South American tinpot dictator, my birthday celebrations seem to have gone on for most of the last week, and are showing only now the first signs of slowing down. So immersed am I with my new found role of El Plongusto, martial leader of all I survey (or the shed) I have, in my darker moments, found myself surfing eBay for ceremonial military uniforms, rows of bogus medals, eye patches, and stick-on Gringo moustaches. In darker moments still, I have been tempted to paint the words “Border Control” at the end of the drive here at The Gables and issue a UDI for the Peoples Republic of Gableria whilst busily setting to on the inkjet printing my own currency. With pictures of me on. Declaring independence would also get me out of the need for planning permission for the 200-foot statue of me and Her Indoors I’d now like to put up in the back garden- you know the sort of thing, me as the heroic worker, sleeves rolled up, hammer in one hand, scythe in the other, and her Indoors looking defiantly into the middle distance, all plaits and breadbaskets. If the council wanted it taken down, I could take it as a threat of war and have them up in front of the U.N. I do have my own air force, mind, if things get a bit nasty. I know it’s only in miniature and can’t fly, but I’m pretty sure it could have some value as a PR threat, once the Ministry Of Propaganda, or Her Indoors and Photoshop, get their hands on it. Getting back to the money thing, the People’s Republic of Gableria unit of currency should be the Plongeiro. As I intoned earlier, most of the notes would bear pictures of me, getting up to the normal range of banknote art high jinks such as staring up inscrutably from a map of the New World, or standing boldly on the prow of Cotes’ galleon, or looking on proudly as the new hydro-electric plant is built in the lee of the mighty Plongusto dam etc etc. Only the highest denomination note (the fifty trillion Plongeiro) would differ, as it would carry an heroic image of Her Indoors as a mighty Wigan Valkyrie, riding on the rising sun’s rays, silver shield of honour in one hand, and golden pie of wisdom in the other.
Yes, apart from one hour-long bout of physical jerks with the Flymo on Friday afternoon, El Cumpleaños Glorioso President has had a splendid week separated from most of reality. Looking at it another, and more statistically likely way, it could be argued that most of reality has enjoyed a splendid week separated from me. The main reason for this is that one of my birthday presents from God was a complete lack of paid work, which has led to essentially to a week-long festival of Airfix down in the shed. It is highly possible that exposure to all those solvents may have done something to my brain, as I don’t normally have bouts of contemplating how my own currency system should work, but I have had a smashing time! The birthday itself was conducted at the rather splendid museum of Naval Aviation in sunny Yeovilton, down in what was until very recently, really rainy Somerset. Somerset is now merely quite soggy, and has the feeling of a paperback which has been dropped in the bath and is now spending its first night on the towel rail. Naval Aviation’s good in any weather, though, as it has to be. Part of the birthday celebration customs for El Presidente is to be allowed to take Her Indoors to an aeroplane museum and bore her rigid. This year, we did slightly better, in that down at Yeovilton they have a huge section of the museum into which has been built the working innards of an aircraft carrier, specifically the Ark Royal, and specifically in 1976. It was both interactive and slightly old-fashioned and clanky- just what we like!
You are guided around the innards by a rather super-looking Chief Petty Officer, who, by popping up on various strategically placed TV monitors at strategically timed intervals leads you to believe that he is supervising your tour from an ops room deep in the bowels of the ship. To get the most out of these things, it is necessary to put the bar of necessary suspended belief quite low, as there is only so much drama shop dummies dressed in uniform, disembodied recorded voices and flashing lights can generate. It’s a trick anyone can master by watching enough Emmerdale though, and the rewards are great if you stick with it. At one stage, we were ushered into a reconstruction of the ships communications room, where a pair of mannequins were poised in fervent activity over a gigantic pale grey box-like machine festooned in flashing lights. This turned out to be the very hub of the Ark’s state-of-the-art communications suite circa 1976, the teleprinter. With less than a grillionth of the brainpower of last year’s x-box, this mighty paper issuing, juddering, clattering behemoth would have received the instruction from Jim Callaghan to load up the planes and nuke the Russkies. Terrifying.
Less terrifying was the simulation of the carrier deck itself, sort of a mini-Imax with extra effects such as a vibrating floor. I blame Health and sodding Safety for this. After a quick briefing from the nice old chap that we would be in an enclosed space and would be subjected to loud noises as the jets took off, strobe lighting and a strong wind during the helicopter simulation and several other things which induced such a state of fear in Her Indoors that it took all my powers of brave manly persuasion to convince that it would all be all right. To tell the truth, after the grave tones of the H&S announcement, I was having a mild twinge of the collywobbles myself, but as El Plongeiro, I of course mustn’t be seen to flinch in the face of mere fear by my doting populace! In addition, I’ve never really been a fan of Adventure Park rides much, as I always consider that the actual purpose of fear is to make you run away like stink, and was never intended by the Maker as a form of entertainment to be queued up for for hours on Bank Holidays. Within seconds, it appeared that the collywobbles were unjustified. Huge jet planes were launched very quietly into the great Blue Yonder. The world’s gentlest helicopter hovered benignly above us emitting small puffs of downward air and gently twinkled its rotor lights. Mild juddering emanated from the steel deck. In all, it was rather soothing. Sodding Health and Safety. Museum is thoroughly recommended though, whether you like planes or not. Just try and look at the Japanese Kamikaze rocket bomb they’ve got in there and not come over all cold.
One of the reasons for the Western nature of the Birthday celebrations, instead of the usual expedition up the hill to the Swan to find out just how much Guinness can be encased by the body, and then round the corner to the India Garden to attempt to float a Chicken Vindaloo around on the newly formed gastric lake, was that on the day after, there was a little job to do in Weston-Super-Mare, just up the road, more or less. Therefore, I’d booked a night’s stay in a rather splendid spa hotel just south of Bristol. Splendid it was too, as the evening followed a predictable but rewarding schedule of Steam Room, Spa, Cider, Steak, Soufflé, Sherry and snoring. Sunday followed, with a further visit to the spa, and then setting off for the short drive to Weston, which was basking in the spring sunshine, for the first time in the season. It was ram-jam packed, and we felt sorry for all those Ice-cream parlour owners who’d not come back to town from the winter residence in Lanzarote to open up. There were queues for 99s everywhere! It could have been a scene straight out of one of those documentaries you see about Eric and Ern doing summer seasons in Blackpool before they hit the big time, only with more tattoos in the women. Seeking a slightly quieter time with less tattoos Her Indoors and I made for the Edwardian tea-room at the end of the pier, which turned out to be a little cavern of many and diverse charms. A curious mixture of 1990’s industrial catering furniture and Edwardian curtains, the tea rooms boasted a fairly unique anachronistic approach Mind you, the sea would have looked exactly the same, back then, so that was something. However, in terms of the tea itself, it passed with flying colours- the staff were nice to us and the scones were baked on premises by the chef .They even had a piano in there, but alas no pianist, so a score of 50% there, but then again, 50% represents a handsome pass at GCSE these days, I suppose. The job in question was to do one of Kevin Fitzsimmons’ Sinatra shows, the prospect of which will always have me slightly on edge after the harrowing incident of the Southend Trouser Trauma. I can only really relax on one of those after unpacking the suit bag in the dressing room as soon as I arrive at the venue. I then have to fight off the urge to try my trousers on just to make sure lest I fall foul of the dark grapnels of OCD. Back in the normal world, the sunshine had brought seaside fever on amongst the chaps after the soundcheck that the inevitable curry was eschewed in favour of a sit down chippy. Cod and Chips on the Front in a melamine and neon palace unreconstructed from 1963 before a Sunday night concert at the Gaiety. We’ve never had it so good.
Seriously, folks, that museum is a cracker. Why not have a look? fleetairarm.com