Monthly Archives: July 2006

Steve’s stag weekend

Last Friday I flew to Las Vegas for Steve’s stag weekend/bachelor party/delete as appropriate, returning yesterday.

It was hot in Cambridge the week before – mid-90s F, or low 30s C – so I was partly acclimatised to the heat, though stepping out of an air conditioned airport terminal into a temperature of 100+ is something else. “Wall of heat” is a good phrase. I found myself making Shuttleworthesque “oof” noises.

I stayed at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino on the strip: opposite the MGM Grand, and between the Excalibur and the Monte Carlo. Almost all stag-goers were staying there too. It’s the collection of pointy bits in the middle of the panorama above.

Friday night we ate at a Thai restaurant; eventually. The concierge at the hotel sent us to what he claimed was Thai, but was in fact a golf club restaurant not serving riff-raff like us. I think when we said “thai” the concierge heard “tie” and thought we wanted to dress up.

I bailed out at around midnight, 27 hours awake being quite sufficient thanks. The others partied on; Rob Ross got no sleep at all that night.

Saturday lunchtime took us to The Gun Shop, where boys played with noisy toys for half an hour or so. In the afternoon we wandered along the strip, stopping at Paris for drinks.

The main event was Saturday night. First a curry at the Gandhi, then into our stretch Hummer for the evening. Sadly its aircon was bust, words you don’t want to hear in this town at any time of the day or night (it never dropped below 95F).

The deal Curtis organised included VIP entry to Studio 54 at the MGM Grand, with a table and three bottles of booze. We got through that relatively quickly, choosing not to buy more at the slightly inflated prices they were charging ($15 bottles of Absolut vodka marked up to $250).

On Sunday, from the it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time department came the idea of a round of golf. In a desert. In July. In a heatwave. At noon. (I don’t play but went along too.)

Not everyone lasted the course; it was just too exhausting. The only shade was from the hats we wore and our golf carts, and the odd tree. We could have done with a day’s survival training beforehand. Luckily there were water stops every three holes, and someone gave us cold towels after the ninth, soon repurposed as Lawrence of Arabia headgear, dunked regularly in our golf cart iceboxes. I’ve never drunk so much water in my life; it was absorbed as fast as it went down the gullet.

Mad dogs, Englishmen and Scots.

By Monday at breakfast only Steve, his brother Craig and I were still at the hotel. We wandered along the strip again, stopped for refreshments at Planet Hollywood in Caesar’s Palace (I refuse to omit the apostrophe, whatever the hotel does), then returned to the hotel to grab a cab to the airport.

A few hours later I was settling in on the plane when a dark-suited American man came up to me. “May I see your ticket stub, sir?” he asked, but not in a “you’re in my seat” way: he was an official of some kind. I assumed he meant my boarding ticket and reached to my back pocket; he stiffened slightly as I did so, or was it my imagination? Anyway, I retrieved it and handed it over. “Oh, sorry sir, you’re seat 35C. I was looking for 34C. Sorry to bother you.” He went back a row, to find the seat was empty. Some problem with the processing of boarding cards, I think. I had visions of being hauled off the plane for possession of subversive thoughts.

Bonus: two empty spaces next to me, so I could lie flat, albeit slightly foetal, and sleep/doze a bit on the flight.

Back at Gatwick, it was about 85F. I felt cool.



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Old Bearded Man, by Avaragado


An OLD BEARDED MAN (OBM) totters towards a SALES ASSISTANT (SA), who’s standing behind the till. OBM is wearing denim jeans, a tweed jacket, shirt and tie, and a cloth cap. He’s over 80. His beard is silver.

OBM: Jawaarrbaddaoophhhddaclllweoooo?

SA: I don’t know, I’m sorry.


SA: Sorry, I don’t know. Try Glyn, over there. (Points to information desk)

OBM: Wpadddoogggborrrssa.

OBM wanders towards the information desk, muttering to himself.

GLYN: Can I help?

OBM: Jawaarrbaddaoophhhddaclllweoooo?

OBM: Sorry?

Back at the till.

AVARAGADO (to SA): Don’t worry, he’s harmless.

SA: Yes, we’re used to him. He comes in every Thursday and Saturday.



SA: Yes. For the last thirty years, apparently. He’s always talking about the war or something. Always the same thing.


SA: Yes. He sometimes asks for a job.

AVARAGADO (thoughtfully): I see.


I see the OBM every now and then; he’s almost always having a sit down in the barbers, jabbering away unintelligibly. He’s tolerated by the scissor twiddlers, who sometimes buy him a coke or a packet of crisps. Looks like he tours the city.

I have a strange feeling that I’ve just had a vision of the future…

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Avaragado’s film festival

I’ve seen two films at the Cambridge Film Festival this week, and one with the proles at the Vue. My thought-provoking and in-depth reviews follow.

It’s Nice Up North

In this ultra low-budget docucomedy, John Shuttleworth attempts to prove that northerners are nicer than southerners by talking to random people in Shetland (not the Shetlands!). He keeps heading further north until there’s nowhere to go, accompanied in part by a tourist guide who tells stories continuously whether or not anyone’s listening or even present.

Diverting. Reasonably funny if you like John Shuttleworth, and I do.

The screening was followed by a live Q&A with John Shuttleworth’s alter ego Graham Fellows and his cameraman, renowned odd photographer Martin Parr. John Shuttleworth is essentially Fellows with make-up, costume and facial expression; not much acting required.

Avaragado’s rating: tomato soup

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Too long by half an hour. Not as original (obviously) or as funny as the first film, but several humorous set-pieces.

Bill Nighy and his not-quite-right accent naturally steal every scene they’re in. Johnny Depp, well, camps it up magnificently again. Mackenzie Crook reprises his role and does very well; there’s a great scene where he debates the correct pronunciation of “Kraken” with crewmates.

There’s a weak ending. Without giving anything away, there’s no true resolution but only a set-up for the third film, made back-to-back with this one. Back to the Future did a better job.

Avaragado’s rating: coconut milk

A Scanner Darkly

Rotoscoped Keanu and friends in drug-based thriller action. The UK premiere, surprisingly.

The rotoscoping is very well done, if (deliberately, I’m sure) eye-bending in places. The stand-out performance is by Robert Downey Jr., but I always enjoy Woody Harrelson in roles like this (a kind of druggy version of Woody from Cheers). Keanu plays Keanu as only Keanu can, which at least means less of that tricky acting business.

Post-film it was suggested that had this not been rotoscoped and therefore Interesting, it would have been generic-by-numbers and therefore Tedious. There’s something to that, but there’s also the Philip K. Dick background to consider. Wikipedia’s summary of the story suggests film-faithfully-following-original-story shocker, which is, I submit, a good and healthy thing.

Avaragado’s rating: blue smarties


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And the room gently sways

Just back from a long weekend on a canal boat near Worcester with Lynda, Louise, Chris, Melanie, Andy and Mikey.

Two and a bit days, 2mph, about two dozen locks. Several bottles of wine and beer. Not too much bouncing between banks, no sinkings, no swimmers.

On Friday afternoon we swarmed by car from the four corners to Dunhampstead and boarded our boat. The little man told us the do’s and don’ts, we bagsied beds, and set off in the direction of Worcester (if you go too far the other way, towards Birmingham, you have to negotiate 36 consecutive locks, which would be a bit tedious; you can’t abort half-way).

One hour of river successfully negotiated we moored outside a pub for a drink, some food and the night – it was the last pub until Worcester, about four hours away (probably twenty minutes by taxi). As it was our first mooring we were busy making a small meal of it when an “old hand” from the boat alongside came to “help” and the meal turned into a feast: the front end in position, the back end investigating the vegetation on the opposite bank. Ah well, we got there in the end.

After breakfast next morning we sped on to Worcester, deftly negotiating the locks in our way without sending any tidal waves down the canal. An old lady muttered something about how “they don’t teach people how to do locks properly these days”, which may or may not have been directed at us, but was undeserved if it was. We kept going until we ran out of canal (it joins up with the Severn), turned round, found a fresh water tap, filled up, moored, and went for some lunch. It was about 3:30.

We wandered around Worcester, not finding that much of interest. Generic shops, ooh look another branch of Waterstones. We didn’t do the cathedral.

Back to the boat, then out again a few hours later for dinner. Most of the interesting places were fully booked so we slummed it at Cafe Rouge. At this time I noted that the room still swayed even when you weren’t on the boat. As is semi-traditional, they got Andy’s order wrong. Not sure how an order for beef bourguignon could turn into chicken something-or-other, but there you go.

Sunday morning saw us searching for breakfast before 9am. Ooh look, closed generic shops. Caffe Nero seemed to be the only option. We mostly avoided the eye of a man who wanted to tell his life story to anyone who would listen; another sucker wasn’t so lucky. A panini, then back onboard.

The ladies left us in charge while they did ladies’ things in town: I imagine these included window shopping and chocolate. We menfolk hit the wine, and decided to snack rather than join the ladies for lunch. Upon their return we cast off and headed out of Worcester. Our aim: to be in the pub by the boat yard for 7pm and the World Cup final.

Louise watched the men’s final at Wimbledon on a scratchy patchy screen as we hefted lock keys and swigged beers. Mikey did most of the driving, though Chris enjoyed piloting the boat into locks at a thirty degree angle on more than one occasion. I exaggerate, but only slightly.

We reached the pub twenty minutes after kick-off and ate a pleasant meal with the locals while France and Italy slugged it out. What on earth was Zidane thinking?

Then to boat, to bed. Up in plenty of time on Monday morning to return our vessel by 9am. And then disperse home…

My photos.
Lynda’s photos. Expect some from Chris and Melanie and Andy soon.

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