Monthly Archives: October 2007

Digging deep


It’s difficult to explain how impressive Crete and Santorini are – they are both a constant reminder of the longevity of human existence, and indeed the resilience of the Earth and its ability to survive all the horrors that are thrown at it. After all, if Crete can survive the marauding hordes of beer-swilling fish-and-chip-eating English yobs every summer, it can survive anything.

We’ve only arrived on Santorini today, but already we’ve seen some awe-inspiring views on a short walk from our cave-like hotel in Oia. The island was given its current form by a volcano eruption in around 1500 BC, which blew out the entire centre of the then-much larger land mass and leaving only small islands around the edge. It’s believed that the eruption was four times more powerful than the 1887 explosion at Krakatoa, with the blast capable of being heard on the Scandinavian peninsula.

The tsunami caused by the volcano is put forward by many experts as the reason for the destruction of the Minoan civilisation in Crete. Although much bigger than Santorini, and of continued economic and military importance today, Crete is still a small island. Yet the number and sheer scale of archaeological sites is out of all proportion to its size. Knossos is well known, but the palace of Malia is in many ways even more impressive given that it has largely been left as it was discovered. Sadly the Kiss Me Kwik hat-wearing brigade just down the road at the resort of the same name are too busy at the Fun Beach or eating chips as England play football and rugby, to take the short walk to a site of such potential importance. I always thought Chester had archaeological significance, but a visit to Malia almost has you believing that my hometown is about as noteworthy as the excavation of an out-of-town shopping complex that was abandoned in 1993.

Even more stunning was a visit to the remains of the city of Lato, a few miles outside Aghios Nikolaos. Built into the side of a calf-punishingly steep mountain, the remains of many buildings are still intact, to the point where you can almost hear the locals gatherings in the squares around the shops and workshops. The Ministry of Culture in Greece charge a frankly insulting €2 for admission to the site, which can barely cover the maintenance of the toilets, let alone ongoing archaeological work. And yet still there were only six other people on the incomprehensibly large site, in the whole time that we were there.

The Artist Formerly Known As Soon To Be Wife (please feel free to leave comments on the site as to what you think I should rename her now that we’re married) is an incredible source of knowledge when it comes to visits to sites of historical relevance. Poring through all the books ever written on the two islands, she’s capable of coming up with unique nuggets of information on every site we visit to add colour and inrigue at all times. Who needs a tour guide when you’ve thankfully got America’s most inquisitive woman by your side?

That said, she’s just fallen asleep, so I’m off to read my book. I’m not sure “Bobby Charlton: The Manchester United Years” is on the officially sanctioned curriculum for this week, to be honest…

Right here on the dancefloor is where you gotta let it go

Many things you expect when you’re taking it easy at 6pm in a swanky bar in a hotel in Crete, but a lounge version of S Club 7’s “Don’t Stop Movin’” is really not one of them. Hearing a soulful crooner purr out “DJ’s got the party started, there’s no end in sight, everybody’s moving to the rhythm that’s inside” while you pop cocktail olives in your mouth is a unique kind of experience.

We’re off to Santorini tomorrow morning, and if I don’t get to hear an acid-funk reworking of HearSay’s “Pure & Simple” or a swing attempt at “Slam Dunk Da Funk” by Five, I’m going to be sorely disappointed.

Potato paradise

Apologies for the lack of posts, but a wedding and a honeymoon will do that for you. I’m still a Brit Out Of Water, but I’m currently a few yards away from the Aegean Sea rather than a couple of miles from the Atlantic Ocean. And Crete (followed by Santorini from Sunday) is proving a completely relaxing antidote to the stress and strains of the last few days.

So what insight am I going to bring into my time on this glorious, ancient and historic isle? I could mention any number of things – the incredible seafood, the beautiful blue sea, the stunning company. The sunrises are remarkable, the customer service of the hotel is spot on, and the water of the sea is crystal clear. Put simply, it couldn’t be any more perfect.

But no, what I will mention is oregano-flavour crisps. Man alive, those things are good! The sooner Walkers or Lay’s get their act together and get those things into the UK and US markets, the better. Forget about cheese and onion, prawn cocktail or lamb and mint – oregano is where it’s at. Although I’m still reeling from the fact that I described the flavour as oh-regg-ann-oh today. No doubt the language police will be taking me out and giving me a stern talking to as soon as they can find me.

The first cut is the deepest

I’ve always had a bit of a phobia about having my hair cut. Back when I was living in a small town in North Wales, I guess I didn’t really have to worry about it too much, as I always went to the barbers shop owned by Chris Dawson. Chris was – and still is – a really good friend of the family, and going to see him was never a chore. But of course, Chris didn’t work alone, and I always lived in terror of getting Clive or any one of the revolving cast of co-barbers that Chris had at any point. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust anyone but Chris – it was just that I really didn’t trust anyone but Chris, and lived in perpetual fear of being given an accidental mohican.

So as a eleven year old boy, I used to sit one of the wicker chairs in the ‘waiting room’, trying to pretend to read the Daily Mirror, while all the time anxiously trying to work out whether I was going to be forced into having my hair cut by anyone other than Chris. Sometimes I’d be convinced that all was going to be OK, the numbers all falling into place at the right time. But then I’d realise that one of the customers ahead of me in the queue was actually waiting for his mate and didn’t need a hair cut at all, prompting a desperate mathematical rethink and further minutes of distress.

Of course, nothing ever went wrong. Although anybody looking at pictures of my hairstyle shortly after I left Buckley to head to university would surely disagree. At college I was out of my comfort zone, given that Chris wouldn’t travel 150 miles just to cut my barnet. Of course, I could (and probably did) try to last a whole term without a haircut. But having realised that girls weren’t particular fans of the moptop look in 1992, I knew that desperate times called for desperate measures. And that meant stepping into an American-themed hairdressers around the corner from college.

My theory with hair at that point – and it’s still true now – is that the more you have to pay, the less likely they are to make you look like Pat Sharpe. Back in 1992, paying the princely sum of £9.50 on a student grant was quite a stretch, especially as I was used to paying £1.50 (of my mum or dad’s money) for a haircut at Chris’s. But it was worth it, given that this was the first place I ever had my hair washed by someone who didn’t have the same surname as me. As I lay back, I always imagined it was Glynis Barber or Susan Dey from LA Law who was gently massaging my head. In reality, it was more often than not a spotty fourteen year old who picked her nose before she put conditioner into my hair.

Still, they at least managed to convince me to get rid of my floppy fringe, and from then on there was no stopping me. That’s a lie, actually. For about three years after I left university, I would travel back at great expense just to get my hair cut so that I didn’t have to pick a new place. When I eventually moved on, I found myself in a trendy place in Kentish Town called Kuttzone. Generally I live by a mantra that says ‘never trust any business that wilfully misspells its name’, but the fact that I remember Kuttzone’s name despite only living in Kentish Town for six months suggests that they did something right. It also suggests that I spent about four years going there, even after I moved to Wandsworth in South West London – a good hour or so away by national rail, tube and bus.

Since then, I’ve probably had about two more hairdressers, notably Northcut on Northcote Road in Battersea. The only time I ever freestyled with my hair was when I went to a place at the bottom of my road in Mortlake out of sheer desperation. So short was the haircut I received, that I barely required a cut for a good six months afterwards. Never again.

Of course, all this put me in a dilemma when I moved to New York six weeks ago. Clearly, I had my hair cut on my second to last day in the UK, to ensure that I was at least covered for a while. But with a wedding only five days away, today was the day to take my life into my own hands, and enter a hairdressing salon laughably known as a “beauty lab”.

When people say that Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language, what they’re actually referring to is the world of hairdressing. Asking for a “grade four” was met with a quizzical look, and a question about what a “grayfull” was. “Blending in” was off the radar, and I probably took my life into my own hands by talking about my fringe rather than “my bangs”. I guess I needn’t describe her face when I told her that the only product I used in my hair was Fudge.

Actually the haircut hasn’t turned out too badly. As Soon To Be Wife said when I returned home, it could probably have done with being a bit shorter, as it looks like I had it done about two weeks ago. Given that I generally hate the first two weeks after I’ve had my hair cut though, maybe that’s no bad thing.

At least I’ve made that initial first leap into the unknown. I just hope I don’t ever move to Los Angeles though – a trip to a beauty lab in Manhattan every six weeks could start getting pricey.

Lights, cameras, action

Sometimes I really wish I could do that thing where you put a couple of fingers in your mouth and blow, to emit an ear-piercing high-pitched whistle that brings pedestrians to a standstill and forces all cabs within a three mile radius to screech to a halt at the kerbside for you. Sadly, the only whistle I can muster is a jaunty version of Kanye West’s “Stronger”, the like of which provokes sneers from taxi drivers, and has that nice Mr West seeking emergency legal advice.

In the movies, of course, the “power whistle” is not a problem for any leading man. And given that I’m still at that stage of boyish wonder where all of New York is a stage, it somehow seems wrong that I can’t quite manage to hail a cab in the same style as, say, Kiefer Sutherland or Andy Garcia.

As a result, my usual “eager hand in the air” had to suffice as I made way uptown in a taxi from outside the office this evening. The five minute journey to Soon To Be Wife’s place of work did nothing to dispel the notion that New York is one giant movie set. In only thirty three blocks, we drove through two major productions, including one that took up an entire city block between 9th and 10th Avenues. I’ve no idea what they were filming, although I’ll be watching out for glistening white noodle bars in films from now on, given that they seemed to be building one from scratch.

With Sex & The City: The Movie, the second Incredible Hulk film and the new Joel & Ethan Coen flick “Burn After Reading” (starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand and John Malkovich) among dozens of movies shooting in the city, New York can lay claim to being more Hollywood than Hollywood itself.

As for TV shows, you can’t move without coming across sets for small screen productions such as “30 Rock” or “Talk To Me”. And don’t get me started on “Law & Order”. With spin offs including “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Law & Order: Trial By Jury” emerging every day, it’s a source of constant wonder to me that “Law & Order: Exiled In Brooklyn” isn’t filming in our kitchen even as I write.

The basic fact is that for all Ken Livingstone and Film London talk about supporting movie making in London, it’s all just chat compared to New York’s actions. Much of that is to do with tax breaks and funding, as well as the natural dominance of the American movie-making industry. But at the same time, you’ve got to admit that Londoners haven’t got the experience or patience to put up with the traffic and disruption necessary for everyday filming on a massive scale. It’s that kind of attitude that means London-based movies have to film at 4am if they want to close off a road. “28 Days Later” was probably an extras-heavy rom-com before the attitude of the London filming authorities required a complete rewrite.

Until London gets its act together, I’ll content myself with wandering around the streets looking for opportunities to get myself into the latest blockbuster. Talking of which, did I ever tell you about the time I appeared in Zoolander?