You know how Cindy Beale just returned from the dead in Eastenders with a new name and a brassy attitude? Well, we’ve Rose from the grave too and whilst we haven’t clobbered anyone with a music box or shagged the landlord of the Queen Vic, we HAVE been busy. With this: our NEWEST cookbook. No gimmicks, no silly ideas – just what we’ve become known for. Excellent recipes, using fresh, simple ingredients, which takes very little effort to put together…and all sprinkled with our usual sassiness. It’s the most colourful, brightest book we’ve ever done and we hope you love it. You can pre-order it by clicking on the picture below! As for the blog, we’re coming back. Soon!
WORST TITLE EVER. Anyway, as we inch closer to Disney, let me start by talking about holidays of old.
You know, I just realised something. This blog entry was about to start this entry with ‘When I was younger’ and I deleted those words and replaced them with ‘When I was young…’ and if that doesn’t indicate to me how I’ve subconsciously come to terms with my advancing years, I don’t know what will. It was my 38th birthday a couple of weeks ago and boy do I feel ever aware that I’m more than likely halfway through my time sat on this rock. Good grief.
Anyway, where were we. When I was young, Disney was always a place I wanted to visit but knew I’d never get there. It was just far too expensive and we didn’t have much money, plus to use the unquestionable logic of my parents, why visit Florida for thrills and spills when you can be playing 10p bingo above a chip-shop in Seahouses? That sounds like I’m throwing shade against my childhood holidays but that couldn’t be further from the truth: my parents, although poor in money, were rich in experience, and we were always being bundled into the car and whisked away for a weekend of camping or touring the extremities of Scotland whilst being slowly hotboxed in a cherry-red Ford Escort.
Once I sashayed past puberty (a process which only seemed to take a week – I had one afternoon of squeaky voice and then everything seemed to settle, with my beard growing in as my balls dropped as though linked symbiotically in some biological mirror of a Playdoh spaghetti factory) those family holidays became few and far between. For some explicable reason the appeal of staying at home without supervision had risen in parallel to the increased speed of our Internet access and suddenly tramping around Albufeira with my parents didn’t seem quite so attractive.
On our final family holiday my sister was swapped out for a good friend which turned out to be an utter disaster: my parents didn’t care for him, and I soon realised that someone who was fun for a couple of hours a day at school may not necessarily be as convivial over a fortnight. It was like he’d forgotten to pack his ability to laugh. Perhaps he had known that he was actually my second choice of companion: I had wanted my proper best friend to join us but his family were rich (pretend rich, at least) and were off to Disneyworld. In retrospect it was probably for the best that he didn’t come along: he would later become a ‘very special’ friend indeed and judging by the fact neither of us saw much sunlight in the summer of 1999 when he stayed over at mine for weeks at a time, Portugal with my parents could have been super awkward. Of all the friends from my teenage years that growing old has pulled me away from, he’s perhaps the one I wonder about the most, and certainly, even to this day, he remains the person who made the biggest impression on me. Lee, wherever you are, I know you’ll be making a size queen very happy indeed.
Anyway, back to my family holiday with my sour-faced companion. The favour was returned by his family taking me to a remote Scottish island to look at moss and ride bikes in daylight that never troubled itself to wash fully out. To say I was bored was an understatement: a 13-year-old should never have to spend his summer wondering exactly how much it would hurt to pitch off a cliff and dash himself against the rocks below just to relieve the tedium. Happily, I’d discovered masturbation by this point, so it wasn’t all bad.
But with that, our family holidays were no more: my parents would jet off to sunnier climes and I’d stay at home to ‘look after the house’. As we lived in the middle of nowhere, I don’t think my parents were especially concerned about any big house parties – nothing says raucous night in like having to get the last 685 bus back to Newcastle at 7.48pm, after all. Plus I was a socially awkward teenager with Enya hair who bought his trousers from BHS, so, you know, there’s that.
I mention all the above as an introduction to say I always wanted to go to Disney, but never got the chance. Paul was much the same, aside from the detail of his own holidays. His were slightly more exotic, although I suspect the destinations were chosen based on how many cigarettes his mother would be allowed to bring back through duty free on her return. He too longed to go to Disney – most children do – but it was forever a pipe dream. Until we met each other, that is.
It was only two years into our relationship that I grew tired of being responsible with money and booked us a ten-day trip to Florida, deciding to pay for the flights and hotel on the gamble that somehow we’d save enough money to get by in the few months beforehand. We stayed at The Metropolitan Express on i-Drive, where the delight over the cheap rates were tempered by the very real risk you’d be shot in the carpark. We went with £1,000 which turned into $2,000 with the marvellously positive exchange rate back in the day and we felt like kings. We had such an amazing time that we repeated our trip the next year, ‘forgetting’ to pay our council tax for a few months to buy us a bit of leeway on the finances since the exchange rate wasn’t so grand. On that trip I proposed to Paul, and our next trip would be our honeymoon, which became a full-on four-week Florida pilgrimage.
So to say Disney holds a lot of happy memories to us is an understatement. They call it the Happiest Place on Earth for a good reason. However, over a decade had passed between our last visit and this upcoming return, and we were anxious. See, Disney has made a lot of changes over the last few years, and not a lot of them have been well-received. I’ll touch on them as I write the rest of this blog post but I mention the negativity as a warning: we almost cancelled our trip entirely because, if you were to go on the online feedback alone, the magic has entirely gone. Everything is super expensive, cuts have been made to previously free services, the crowds are awful, the customer service has disappeared. I’m an avid reader of online reviews and judging by some of the vitriol and hysteria in people’s accounts, you’d think they’d come back from four months holidaying in the trenches at Gallipoli as opposed to a few days being haw-hawed at by a teenager in a giant mouse costume.
Surely if everyone is complaining, there must be something rotten at the castle core? Well, yes, there are certainly faults and flaws, but it really isn’t that bad. Perhaps if you’re a regular visitor it is worse – when you stop sniffing the pixie dust, you see the cracks in the magic, but for us regular folks who visit once in a blue moon? All good. Bear that in mind when you’re reading the avalanche of woe online about Disney and don’t be like us, one step away from cancelling our holiday because we decided to listen to all the endless negativities. Go and make up your own mind – it’s not like you’ll be forced to go back if you hate it. By the way, if you’re here for more of the anecdotal writing rather than the ‘how Disney currently is’ writing, skip the next few paragraphs.
Before we get to the (fried) meat-and-potatoes of this Disney post, perhaps a little on the two very distinct people you’ll find in the park: those that plan to the tiniest degree and those that wing it. Paul and I used to be the former, but these days I can think of nothing worse than turning your holiday into a by-the-minute affair where a good day would be ruined by a bus delay. We’re far, far more laid back and I think that worked in our favour because although we managed to see everything we wanted, we never felt stressed. But then that’s an easy state of mind when you have the luxury of time on your side, like we did. Our plans consisted of nothing more than picking a park a couple of days before and choosing a couple of ‘big’ things that we would definitely do, with everything else being played by Mickey-ear.
That ‘picking a park’ bit is new (and the way Disney is, probably gone by the time you’re reading this) and the source of some of the online ire. Previously you could walk into any park you chose to visit without any action needed by you beforehand, but now you need to think ahead and reserve a park in advance. To be totally honest this didn’t affect us one bit, save for being a slightly annoying extra thing to remember to do, but I can see why local residents especially hate it: if I lived anywhere near a theme park I’d be there all the time on a whim and this removes that element of spontaneity. But as I say, it didn’t bother us, so we cracked on.
The other big addition to the Disney Experience is the introduction of GeniePlus, which replaces the old free Fastpass system they used to have and replaces it with a paid alternative. Back on our previous visits you used to be able to mince up to the ride entrance and get a little paper ticket which would allow you to return at a set time and jump most of the queue. It was great and, more importantly, fair. Things are different now: now you have to pay a varying amount (between $15 and, so far, $35) a day, per person, to access GeniePlus, which gives you access to a booking system on the app which allows you to pre-select a ‘Lightning Lane’ admission for a ride once every two hours. On top of that, each park has one or two ‘big ticket’ attractions (usually the newest ride in the park) where Disney allow you to pay a further fee ($10 a person, from memory) on top of the GeniePlus to get yourself a ride slot. If you don’t want to pay for the ‘Individual Lightning Lane’, you simply need to make sure you’re up and on the app at 7am to try and bag a free slot, but I kid you not when I say those slots sell out in under ten seconds. As someone who wouldn’t get out of bed at 7am even if his house was on fire, again, this hurt.
Of course, you don’t need to buy GeniePlus, you can wait in the normal standby queues, but they were killer when we were there, and January is traditionally the quietest time to go. We regularly saw lines of over 240 minutes for a two-minute ride and listen, I wouldn’t stand in a queue for four hours if there was a promise of having my bumhole pummelled by the entirety of the Scottish rugby team at the end of it, nevermind a virtual flight around Avatarland. Paul is equally as impatient and of the same mindset that nothing in a theme park is ever worth waiting that long for. We can’t imagine what it must be like to wait with screaming children – hats off to all the parents who do it, honestly.
I’ve made the whole thing sound way, way more complicated than it actually is: in reality the process runs very smoothly indeed and we never had a single problem with it. We managed to get on every single ride we wanted to do, including several goes on the newest ride at Epcot (more on that later) and never felt like we missed out. But see, without wanting to sound like a knobhead, we’re comfortable moneywise and so could afford to pay these little extras that Disney wanted for things that were previously free. I think of families like my parents who if they had managed to take us, would have had to be watching every last penny – this would have killed them off.
If you take the cost of a fourteen-day park ticket for a family of two adults and two of their most charming hump-dumplings, you’re looking at £2,100 straight off. Then add GeniePlus on top of that at £15 each, a day, that’s an extra £840, just to ride attractions in an expedited manner that used to be free to Fastpass. Throw in a few Individual Lightning Lane bookings and that’s another £120. That’s not a kick off the arse off an extra grand of expense. And listen, it’s not as though Disney is a cheap place to visit once you’re in the parks: food and drink is expensive (but, with me having the sophisticated palate of someone raised on Netto crisps, delicious) and the souvenirs and all that even more so. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a good time: it’s just strongly encouraged. I love Disney to bits but at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if they required you to tap your credit card on the ride car to make the restraints come down. There’s an American term for this called ‘nickel and diming’ which seems especially germane here: essentially the practice of charging for every small little service which may otherwise have been free: that’s Disney.
But good lord, I’ve succumbed to the same online negativity as everyone else! If you were to read only the last few paragraphs you’d be rightfully clicking your purse shut and saying hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s-off-to-Malaga we go, and then I’d ask you who you were calling a ho, then we’d fall into bed and make love. But see it’s hard to explain the changes at Disney without sounding like Grumpy because they’re all so inherently dreadful. With all of the above in mind, I’m going to do my darndest to get across how actually wonderful our time at Disney really was: and what better place to start than at the Magic Kingdom?
Which we will do…next week. Oh I know, I’m a terror. But it is what it is.
I was desperately trying to think of a pun involving either my eye or my health anxiety but couldn’t think of a good one, although worried sick is a banger if I ever choose to do a mini book on all of this crap. I’m a writer, ladies and gentlemen.
Just a quick post to update on my fizzy brain and how things are in terms of my bout of health anxiety and how I am getting through. I’m going to keep it fairly short because I’ve made a point of not indulging my anxieties for as far as I can, and writing about it can tip into that indulgence. You know the thing where someone tells you not to think of a pink elephant and all you can think of is a pink elephant – well imagine one wearing a t-shirt perhaps one size too small and pawing at his eye and you’ve got me.
But that’s doing my recovery a disservice, because, touch wood, my eye is getting better. That’s right: after weeks of telling myself that this was the end (and, if I’m honest, reassuring myself that it actually wasn’t) whatever the fuck was wrong with my eye has calmed down. Still twinges quite a lot but if that doesn’t underscore what I’ve been saying about if I just accept it’s nothing, I’ll relax, and in turn it’ll go away, what does? I’m almost convinced it was what I said it was: a pulled muscle that took forever to heal because I spent three months frowning like a chimpanzee doing a jigsaw. That and I remembered to put my glasses on of a morning instead of treating them as a fashion accessory and somewhere to rest my eyebrows.
So progress is always good news and it shows you that even with health anxiety, once you choose to accept that the sky isn’t about to fall in, things can and will get better.
But it does lead me to mentioning something else which is a total knacker with health anxiety – transference. That is, the removal of one worry and the replacement of it with another. For me, I’ve gone from fixating on the eye pain onto worrying about the fact I’m twitching and (LOL) jerking all over the place. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. I feel a bit like Tweek from South Park, massively over-stimulated and very bouncy, but that’s an easy enough one to deal with because frankly, who fidgets themselves to death? And it’s a funny one because I’m not sure I’m fidgeting anymore than normal, but rather just being very aware of it. Paul is forever telling me to stop bouncing my legs or clacking my fingers or breathing unnecessarily and I often find myself tensing my hands or feet or whatever and I’ve never really given it thought, but of course now it’s all I can notice. I went through a phase a few years ago where I was convinced that the muscles in my leg twitching away were a precursor to MS, and what is this if not an extension of that? Only I’m not so arsed this time around. But I can live with some fidgeting, if anything, think of the extra calories burned. Indeed, the only way to get over transference of symptoms is to treat it as just another thing to rationalise and get on with – and that’s what I’m doing.
So all in all, progress, and good progress at that, and if you’re reading and going through a bad spell of anxiety yourself, hopefully you can take some comfort in how quickly things can turn around.
I will say one other thing, because well I’m a writer see and I want to hit my word count. This has, in all honesty, been the worst period of health anxiety I’ve gone through in probably a decade. And not just health anxiety, but the resulting general anxiety and feeling down. It happened fast and it happened hard and for quite a bit of it, I couldn’t see a way out of it. I still feel a very long way from myself – but I’m getting better. And in a perverse way it’s provided me with a kick up the arse to realise this is something I’ll always have and that I can’t be complacent about it – it can and will bite me if I don’t pay attention to how I’m feeling at the time.
But you know what really made a difference? Being open and honest about it all. Writing everything down, whether unpublished or otherwise, and talking about it with family and friends and folks online. There’s always the worry of feeling like a burden and for all that I have plastered all manner of detail about our lives on here, I’m actually a very private person when it comes to discussing how I’m feeling, so it was a hard habit to break. I tried a different tack this time around and spoke openly (when asked) and it absolutely helps – I mean, I still feel like a loon when I’m rattling off my symptoms, but it’s good to talk. Remember that, whether you’re the one struggling or you know someone who is.
I’m luckier still in one respect: I have Paul, who god love him, has had to deal with all manner of nonsense these last few months. The best one was when I had to wake him at 4am because I was panicking that I’m having auditory hallucinations through lack of sleep. Nope he explained, that’s just the gas meter door creaking outside, and cuddled me back off to sleep. He’ll also cheerfully explain why I haven’t got disease X or illness Y or Jay-Z. Everyone needs a Paul, but you can’t have mine. Seat’s taken.
Howdo! The next chapter on our Florida tales involves two more hotel reviews, and what a time we had. Next chapter will be our Disney tales and listen, at some point, I promise to start posting food again. Maaaybe. I’m enjoying just writing, if I’m honest. Aaaaanyway, here we go!
Hard Rock Hotel
The third part of our holiday saw us returning back to an old favourite of ours, The Hard Rock Hotel. This hotel holds happy memories for us: we spent the second half of our honeymoon here, we had an ice-cream the size of our heads (which you must remember, in my case, is the size of three normal heads) and we ‘christened’ the butterfly garden on our way back from a drunken night on City Walk. Speckled wood? Well yes, but we were young and reckless with the portable douche. That joke only works if you’re enough of a lepidopterist to realise Speckled Wood is a type of butterfly, but you know what, I believe in you enough not to dumb this blog down. And you should be thankful I didn’t write a joke involving a brown hairstreak. Of course there was no such lewdness this time, but it’s always a pleasure to return back to somewhere familiar.
We turned up nice and early in the hope of being upgraded to the elusive Club 7, my fingers crossed so much that I could barely sign the check-in slip, but no such luck. The lady breezily checking us in poured salt into the wound by saying we’d have been upgraded if only we had been staying just a couple of days, but for this trip, it wasn’t to be. We’ll always be what could’ve been, Paul and I. With the chance of free tiny sandwiches and warm bottles of Heineken dashed from our hearts, we at least enjoyed our room, themed as it was on rock music and musical paraphernalia. Our mirror had little etchings to show you how tall you were in comparison to music stars – turns out I’m as tall as Nick Cave, whereas Paul is the same height as Nick Cave’s plectrum.
Where this hotel loses marks is the pool – it’s so bloody shallow! I don’t understand why American pools all seem to be just deep enough to get your ankles wet and nothing more, and I’m sure there’s a very good explanation that I could find if I google, but it needs to stop. When Paul walks into the deep end and doesn’t so much get his nipples wet – and remember, they’re usually found somewhere just below his knees at this point – it’s not good enough. We tried swimming until we realised we could lie on the bottom of the pool and still fart without blowing bubbles, so that was the only time in the pool. I did google by the way: it’s to make it easier for the lifeguards, water deeper than a certain amount means more intense lifeguarding training to stop the kids drowning. Well don’t I feel bad. No, and I didn’t feel wet either.
But that’s the only negative I can say because the hotel itself is wonderful – full of curios and knick-knacks to keep my own curious little Nick-Nack happy. We’d be making our way to dinner and he’d point out that a dress Cher wore once was hanging in the lobby. At a total loss for what to do with this information I was spectacularly unable to come up with a witty reply – if only I could turn back time. Special mention goes to the Emack & Bolio shop on the ground floor which was ostensibly there for snacks but also served pizza the size of a ship’s wheel. It was proper American pizza too – gooey and cheesy and with more topping than an after-hours Eurovision party. We ordered one for the evening and in a first in our relationship, still had some leftover, so we stuck it in the fridge to enjoy the next day. The next day saw us at Busch Gardens and to my delight, Paul turned to me on the coach trip back to the hotel and confirmed that he too had been thinking about this pizza all day. Great minds think alike.
In our defence, the pizza was magnificent
One of my favourite nights of the holiday was at the Hard Rock actually. For all the days filled with rollercoasters and thrills, the quiet days where we spent a day wandering around the shops or the grounds of the various hotels were equally as fun. We decided, after watching Wheel of Fortune (I ended up _ T T _ R L _ O _ S _ S S _ D with this show), to have a walk down to the other hotels and see what was what. All of the ‘fancy’ hotels are linked by well-manicured walkways or a short boat ride and we ended up at the Portofino Bay hotel, just down the path. We’ve considered staying here a couple of times but it looks a bit too fancy for our tastes, so we’ve always swerved. But we found a little bar by the water and settled in for the night, ordering three starter platters and all manner of exciting cocktails and just people watching. There’s so much to be said for this: a theme park holiday can be so full-on that it’s nice to sit and smell the roses. Well, not that Paul could, I was busy smoking a cigar the size of a draught excluder like a budget Magnum PI(e). He didn’t complain: I never do when he serves contemporary Californian cuisine in my lungs, after all. We made our way back to our hotel room past midnight, drunk and happy. I sometimes wonder what it is we actually talk about and how we haven’t ran out of things to mention to the other – how it is that with a stranger I’ll be stuck for words, or I’ll bite my tongue, or I’ll struggle for a conversation hook but with him there’s none of that, it comes effortlessly. You’d think we’d be conversationally bankrupt at this point, and admittedly most of our discourse is Wife Swap quotes or one suggesting to the other that we eat, but even so. An amazing night in a constellation of wonderful days.
I love this picture, despite looking like a sudoric strawberry – I think it’s Paul regenerating in the background that makes it
Rosen Shingle Creek
Our last hotel was perhaps the most unexpected of them all – a wildcard visit because we’ve never heard of the Rosen brand and Shingle Creek sounds like something you’d rub a cream into and hope it cleared up so you could go back to wearing tight jeans. We only picked it because an eight night stay meant 80,000 extra Avios via rocketmiles and as the taxi swept us up the half-mile long drive into the biggest hotel I think I’ve ever seen, our interest was piqued.
Naturally we didn’t bother with any of that
Turns out it’s another ‘convention’ hotel – lots of rooms, one of the best golf courses in the state and almost endlessly hosting seminars and meet-ups for various industries. When we arrived they were hosting a convention for ‘Luxury Products’ (me neither) which meant all sorts of braying hoohahs wandering around with giant lips clacking away on their phones and speaking in that atrocious manner of elongating every vowel and ending each sentence in a questioning tone. As we aren’t ones for spending the day in the hotel this didn’t phase us too much, not least because we happened across a quiet pool away from the marketers. Strictly speaking the pool was only to be used for lane swimming but as there was rarely anyone there, it was perfect for splashing about in.
On one of the rare moments we were enjoying the sun and swimming, we were joined by a lady who came to get a few lengths in. I apologised for being in the pool and not lane swimming and for some ungodly reason, possibly because I didn’t want to be told off by someone with a lanyard on it extolling her Sapphire status, explained that I couldn’t swim and I was just practising. I can swim just fine, by the way. You would have hoped she would leave it at that but no, she was one of those very sweet people who see a problem and needs to fix it, so she started helping me learn to swim. Half a bloody hour I was in that pool with her coaching me on my technique – you have absolutely no idea how difficult it is to strike a balance between pretending you can’t swim to keep up a pretence and swimming just enough to stop actually drowning. I tried to catch Paul’s eye in the hope he might fake us going back to the room but the rotter just laughed and waved his hand airily at me. I gave myself a reprieve by pretending I had a cramp in my leg but even this involved more schtick as I had to ‘hobble’ all the way to the sunbed, get dressed and walk back to the room like I had rickets just in case she saw.
Luckily the ‘Luxury Products’ symposium shuttled off halfway through the holiday and a convention of plumbers turned up in replacement. Now in all honesty I can’t imagine what plumbers have to talk about for three solid days – exciting developments in the world of washers perhaps, or thirty different ways to unblock a u-bend, but there must have been something captivating because suddenly our hotel was full of fit trade walking around the pool with their beer bellies on show. Imagine our distress.
The only issue with this hotel was the fact it was quite far away from anywhere, necessitating a lengthy walk to get back onto International Drive or jumping in an Uber. You can guess which of these we did most often, although we did have an exciting walk back from Publix one evening. We were just about to cross the road with our groceries when a car took the corner far too fast (showing off in their fancy hire), hit the kerb and popped their front tyres and took the bumper off. A very boorish British family climbed out to survey the damage to their car and we were treated to the sight of five very rah-rah wankers all arguing with each other. It was glorious! I almost put my neck out craning to listen. We found all manner of reasons to stand and eavesdrop – checking our phones, taking photos of each other, that sort of thing, until they all climbed back into the car and limped off. We’d see them again a few minutes later as they pulled into the car park of our hotel, still shouting, and then got the courtesy bus to the lobby, all the while still screaming at each other. You know in old cartoons when you’d get a giant ball of smoke and fists flying out? Imagine that but with whatever the FM World knock-off of Creed Aventus is. This continued into the lobby. Now did we both walk past with smug ‘at least I can drive’ faces? You best believe it.
The other joy of this hotel (and perhaps a result of it being a little cut off from anywhere else) was the sheer amount of dining options – it was like having a food court onsite without the risk of someone shouting SAMPLE SAMPLE in your face and throwing a tub of chicken teriyaki at you. We ate extravagantly and often and without any care towards the final bill at the end – that’s the peril of sticking a card behind the counter when you check in. We had burgers, sushi, sandwiches, salads, grilled cheese and so many fried pickles that when I went for a piss I thought I had an STI, then when we had finished all of that, we moved onto our mains. Special mention must go to the Mexican place, Mi Casa Tequila Taqueria, which promised big drinks and bold flavours and delivered in spades, with one of their margaritas served in a glass that would normally be reserved for serving woo-woos to a hen party in a city centre Wetherspoons. We ordered some freshly made guacamole without realising that a) some poor chap actually came to the table and made it in front of you (which was awkward) and b) you were given enough to comfortably skim an Artex ceiling, should you be so inclined. Now see I love guacamole but Paul isn’t a huge fan, but I couldn’t bear the thought of this chap coming back to collect the bowl and seeing we’d left most of it after his dexterous turn with the limes and the avocado, so I, somewhat grimly, ploughed my way through almost on my own. Paul deigned to help by dipping a tortilla chip in and scooping up about a fingernail’s worth then crinkled his nose and said he was full. He’s HELF now, remember.
Tell you what though, brave little sausage that I am , I put away nearly all of it, and when the chap came to collect the bowl he saw it was almost empty and gave us a big thumbs up. I smiled as much as someone can manage when they’ve got avocado pressing into every single square inch of their already quite large body and he went away happy. We had to call it a night at this point because I needed to spend a good three hours rubbing my belly and making ‘poor me’ faces to Paul until he tired of my schtick, put his headphones in and pretended to go to sleep. He can be quite the callous lover, you know.
There’s no case too big, no case too small
When you need help, just call
Ch-ch-ch-Chips ‘n Pale
And that was that. The Rosen Shingle was our final hotel on this wonderful holiday and it was a pleasure to stay there. Breaking the holiday up into four loose quarters and staying at four different venues was the perfect way to do it – it meant on ‘quiet’ days you had somewhere new to explore and you didn’t sicken yourself with the same foods each day. We were both given an opportunity to do what we love doing at home four times over – Paul ironing all the clothes, me packing them away diligently, and that’s always fun. I’m not one of these sorts who can live out of a suitcase, I find it altogether too stressful if I can’t see all of the 456 Fred Perry tops I’ve packed at any given time. We’d happily recommend all four hotels if you’re looking to go away, with the Contemporary and Hard Rock winning out on sheer convenience, the Hilton a close third and Rosen Shingle in fourth, but in no way indicative of the enjoyment of our stay at any of them.
Now we just need to plan the next round…
Howdo! Because it would be altogether too sensible to do these things in any way approaching a chronological order, the next two articles are going to be all about our hotels. Like tripadvisor, except I’m not a self-important gimp. I’m a self-important blogger, there’s a difference and that difference is 2,500 words. Anyway, our four hotels.
Disney’s Contemporary Resort
It almost goes without saying, but the Contemporary Resort is a wonderful, beautiful hotel. We had wanted to stay here ever since seeing it on our first trip fourteen years ago – there’s something so cool about being able to take a monorail into your hotel, plus being only a kick of the arse off Magic Kingdom. We had planned to stay here for our honeymoon but ended up in the Polynesian instead which was by no means a taxing swap but we always said we’d do the Contemporary on our return, so we did. It also goes without saying that this is an expensive, expensive stay. I’m not mentioning this to be a braggart, it ties into what I’ll say at the end of this bit, but lordy-loo. For context, we paid more for nine nights here than we did for (almost) the rest of the holiday hotel nights altogether. But you are paying for three things: the proximity and connections to the park, the extra hours you get in those parks in the evening and also, at the time of visiting, daily housekeeping. The room itself was huge and overlooked the lake which was nice, if only for the excitement of seeing people zip by on boats and forgetting you’re standing there on the balcony in boxer shorts you’ve been wearing since high school. We did have a wonderful view.
The first thing we noticed upon arrival? The smell. Oh the smell! As utterly wank as this sounds, the Contemporary just smells incredible. It’s a very citrusy fresh scent and when I asked the lady checking us in what it was, she mentioned we could buy candles online that replicate it. So it is now that our living room smells like the lobby of a deluxe hotel – which is appropriate, because the bedroom smells like a Days Inn being used by rail contractors. As we were checking in on Paul’s birthday we were given badges to wear for his birthday plus another to celebrate our anniversary – you best believe they didn’t come off for fourteen days to try and maximise the free desserts and drinks. I know, shameless. I’m going to talk more about Disney itself in a future blog post, but at least one of those badges led me into mischief. You’ll see, assuming I remember to type it up.
The room itself has been a bone of contention amongst Disney fans (who I swear, and I love you if you’re reading this but even so, are the most rabid fans out there) (after Doctor Who) because they’ve been redesigned away from what considered ‘contemporary’ back in 1980 (lots of brown, apparently) and to a fresher, more modern take. They’ve taken The Incredibles family as a theme and so you’ll find little touches everywhere – Ms Incredible’s jump-suit hanging in the cupboard, the baby pictures on the wall, that sort of thing. I did think about ringing front desk and demanding a live-action take on Mr Incredible to cuddle into but please, this is Disney. I did buy a t-shirt with him on it and ‘Dad Bod’ in big letters, as though my belly entering a room three seconds before my face does wasn’t enough of a clue. They had given us twin king beds which Paul and I both agreed wasn’t so bad, once we realised he was free of my snoring and I free of his wandering hands of an evening. I say wandering, they’re usually clasped over my mouth in a vain attempt to stop me suffocating on my neck-wattle. More than once I did wake up to find he’d got into my bed during the night. Apparently he was cold but we know that’s a lie: I’m just lovely to cuddle into. Imagine getting into bed with a fur-coat-wearing manatee and you’ll get the idea. Actually I’m being a bit unfair here because I love being cuddled in the night, even though I’ll fight anyone who tries it – one of the best things about Paul losing so much weight is he’s always cold and so it is that I’ll often wake up to find him curled into me like a content little cat. Naturally I’ll never tell him how much I like that.
We had been advised upon booking that the main pool was closed for construction but to our surprise it seemed fully open and, even better, they must have selected the lifeguards especially for us because to a man they were all chubby, hairy and bearded. Sure spent a lot of time in that pool – plus it had a water slide and I’m a sucker for those (and for the lifeguards, but the opportunity never arose). I did make the fatal error of jumping on the slide just as it opened and clearly not enough water was going down because I got stuck halfway, until enough water had dammed up behind me to get me going, and even then it sounded like a slab of wet ham being dragged down a mirror. I should have pretended I was dead as I popped out the end like an unenthusiastic turd: I might have at least experienced the sweet caress of one of those lifeguards. Ah well. Next time.
Long-term readers may remember I proposed to Paul at Disney after hiring a boat and taking us out into the lake and we were keen to honour this moment but alas, you can no longer hire the zippy little boats anymore. My Bobby Fisher death reenactment remains just out of grasp. We instead hired one of their pontoons for an hour and cruised around the lake in the glorious sunshine – it was lovely yes, but I get bored easily and we’re long since past the age of impromptu outdoors shenanigans. I let Paul take the wheel and started to fuss on with trying to get the speakers on the boat to pair with my phone. You may have seen those TikToks of people queueing up ‘I Feel Good’ by James Brown and terrifying people by loudly playing the first few seconds where he shrieks? I did exactly that with Paul – he was merrily cruising along without a care in the world when James Brown burst out of the speakers to the left and right of him and I swear the poor bastard lifted about 4ft off his chair. I’m glad we weren’t going full speed or he’d have landed in the water. I know, I know. Be my pal and tell me, am I a good man?
The rest of the brief time that we spent actually on site was thoroughly lovely, although I will say this: the families staying at the deluxe resorts do have a certain…air about them? Not all of course, but there’s the slight air of superiority, entirely unearned, floating about. More than once we had someone look us up and down as though itching to ask whether we’d somehow wandered in from the street in our scruffy shoes and scotchy t-shirts, but a returned hard stare soon put paid to that. We didn’t eat in Chef Mickeys because I’ve never been one for enjoying a meal to the chorus of two billion children screaming in sugar-rushed excitement and wonder. We did have breakfast in Steakhouse 71 which was sublime and came with a Bloody Mary so strong you could have rebooted the sun with it. The waitress asked me if I wanted my rim dusted and I thought well, that’s the deluxe difference right there, but turns out she meant the glass. Liquor? No, but I did leave a tip.
The housekeeping were a delight with their creative towel animals – I was particularly pleased with this effort:
Seriously, stick a cigar in that top pocket and I’d probably have asked Paul to leave the room for a bit
One thing that disappointed me about the Contemporary (and it’s actually a wider Disney problem now) is the lack of resort-specific merchandise. The Polynesian used to have all manner of tiki-themed-tut (that’s fun to say out loud, try it) but the Contemporary had nothing bar a few art prints (because who doesn’t want to cart an A2 cardboard-back poster around in their suitcase) and an etched glass. Paul eventually found a lunchbox shaped as a monorail car in a shop in Epcot and was delighted: he can take his Choobs and Babybel lunches into work in style. We wasted $30 in the arcade, coming away with nought more than two rubber duckies and some sweets that, judging by the texture, Walt had started sucking himself back in 1971. We watched the fireworks from the stairs and that was magical, not least because it meant when we were in Magic Kingdom we could focus instead on pushing folks out of the way and getting onto rides.
But was it worth all the extra money? Well, depends. It’s a glorious resort and the perks of staying in a Disney Deluxe are great, but in my mind, unless you’ve got oodles of cash or this is a once-in-a-decade trip like ours, you don’t need to spend so much to have a great Disney stay. It’s handy being able to jump on the monorail to Epcot (with a transfer) or walk along to the Magic Kingdom, yep, but with the money you’d save by getting a cheaper place you could easily get a Lyft to the parks and back and still save money. When we next go we’ll be staying in the Art of Animation Resort and doing just that, if only so we can ride the Skyliner to our heart’s content. But we did love it so.
That said, it was clear I didn’t want to leave on the last day…
What I love most about this photo is how much it looks like I’ve fallen from the sky like Mr Bean
Hilton Orlando on International Drive
The second quarter of our holiday saw us ditching Disney and checking into the Hilton, situated towards the bottom of International Drive. Now I confess, when I first booked this hotel I had thought it was the Hilton right next door to Disney Springs and therefore we’d still be close enough to Disney to get around easily, but I was wrong. I’m telling you this now because naturally when Paul pointed out my error on holiday I lied like a cheap rug and pretended I had made no error at all and actually us being further away from Disney would be no big issue. To be fair, I was right: we just took the bus (once, because who needs that in their life) or Uber/Lyfted it. Now you may be thinking at this point that we couldn’t possibly have spent each day at a theme park and of course you’re right – the idea was for the days we were staying on-site at Universal or Disney, we’d absolutely hammer the parks, and those weeks when we were ‘off-site’ we’d take it easier and drop in as and when we fancied, taking in some of the sights on International Drive and doing shopping and all that. It worked out really well doing this because we’d tucker ourselves out for a week and then rest up the week after. That said, I think we ended up in a theme park most of the days we were away – what can I say, a holiday day isn’t complete unless I’m worrying I’ve given myself arrhythmia from too many rides.
One thing I hadn’t realised upon booking was that the Hilton Orlando is one of those hotels which is really for guests attending nearby conventions or seminars. In retrospect it makes sense given it’s right next door to the convention centre, but of course it’s easy to be wise after the event, especially when the event was apparently ‘DILF Vet of the Year’, as was seemingly being hosted at our hotel. It was no bother at all, aside from the lobby was always very loud and full of very dashing folks in lanyards talking about horse medicine. Seriously – have you ever met an unattractive vet? Goomba’s vet is so damn handsome he made the bloody newspapers for it! I only wish I was taking Goomba in for something other than his bouts of diarrhoea – it’s hard to spark up flirtatious conversation when you’re being asked whether your dog’s stool is ‘like a badly poured Guinness, or one of those Daim cheesecakes from IKEA’. Sigh. The vets kept themselves to themselves for the most part and on the couple of days we spent at the Hilton lounging about, we had the place pretty much to ourselves.
Not the best picture, but we forgot to take many of the hotel
One of the best features of this hotel is the pool – absolutely massive and deep in places, but more importantly, there’s a giant lazy river circling around the grounds. We spent altogether too much time in here floating around, once Paul had figured out how to get into the floating rings without immediately tipping backwards, that is. I genuinely think he still sees himself as much larger than he actually is and moves accordingly – he still turns sideways when passing through doors, for example. After I’d let him stot his head off the floor of the pool a couple of times – always got my eyes on the insurance, me – we got him settled and must have floated for a good two hours, chatting away and trying desperately not to mow the odd child down as we went past. There’s also a tennis court if you’re feeling energetic – we weren’t – and a full size basketball pitch. We did give that a go but had to stop when we realised how like Marge from The Simpsons we were: we’re never ready for the Shaq Attack in this household.
We were huge fans of the onsite ‘Scratch Market’ which sold all manner of exciting, if a trifle expensive, snacks and goodies. We set out on this holiday to try and not gorge too much, but this always-open market would prove to be our undoing. The convenience of sending Paul downstairs every time we had a gurgle in our bellies gave us a good opportunity to try all manner of American snacks, which has led to me becoming addicted to Mike ‘n’ Ikes – these weird jellybeans that are frankly like crack in fruit form. I’m assuming, of course. It was fine when I was over there because we were on holiday and it didn’t count but I’ve since discovered they sell these in the American section of our local petrol station and I’m on a pack a day – I’m thinking about taking up an actual crack addiction just to distract me. Think of the weight loss, I guess. Ruin came on the penultimate night of our stay when I realised they had their own gelateria selling every possible flavour of ice-cream you can think of, including one called ‘garbage can’ where they seem to throw everything into one pot and stir it together. Gummy bears, marshmallows, bits of toffee, the lot. It was utterly magnificent and singularly responsible for me being a shade too heavy to go on one waterslide a little later in the holiday. Paul and I did agree that ‘Double Scoop Fudge Brownie and Garbage Can’ should be our porn names, should the book sales ever dry up and a market becomes apparent for two fat saggy men half-heartedly going at it whilst Tipping Point blares in the background.
Actually love this photo. Love it.
All in all, not a bad hotel at all. As I mentioned it was a bit of a ballache getting up to Disney first thing if you didn’t want to get an Uber, but other than that, it was clean and comfortable with plenty nearby to occupy yourself with, and that’s really all you can ask of a hotel. Well that and better toiletries: after enjoying the wonderful Disney H2Whoa toiletries at the Contemporary (for enjoyed, read ‘steal as many as we can from the trolley as we walked past and fill a suitcase with them’), the tiny rock-hard slivers of soap given out at the Hilton was a bit of a let-down. But listen, if that’s the only thing you have to bitch about, you’re living a charmed life indeed.
Now I had planned to rattle off reviews of the Hard Rock and Rosen Shingle Creek too, but they’ll wait for next time. You lucky souls!
‘owdo! The next instalment of our holiday memories presented for your reading pleasure.
Paul and I have been going to Florida for fourteen years now, albeit with a decade between this visit and our last. Lots of things have changed: for a start, we don’t need to get Momma’s Pryin’ Bar to get us in and out of the rides. Nor do we feel the need to take up smoking (true story) because the cigarettes over there came with a little blue capsule to click and make them minty. Perhaps the greatest sadness is the fact that the budget restaurants all along International Drive have all but disappeared – there was a time you could get a buffet breakfast for $2 and only pay extra if you wanted a copy of the Daily Mail. We never availed ourselves of this because we’ve never felt the need to wipe our arses during breakfast, that usually comes later.
Actually, whilst we’re on this bum note, a fun fact for you: Paul blames Sizzler for a decade of having a troublesome bowel: we had been for breakfast there and after a meal which somehow incorporated meat, dairy, ice-cream, pulses and yesterday’s bread all in one fabulous platter, only for it to have an immediate effect on Paul necessitating a dash back to the hotel to startle the housekeeping. Since then, almost as soon as he eats in the morning, it triggers a pressing and catastrophic evacuation. I’m not saying I’ve suffered as a result but I don’t think we’ve ever completed a fry-up without Paul bolting out of the room clutching his rectum. Rectum? No, but he doesn’t half suffer with it. However, in exciting news, this trip seems to have rebooted his myenteric system and he’s back to what passes off as normal when you’re Paul.
But we’re not here to talk about Paul’s anus. For all that has changed, two things remain the same: the creepy as fuck adverts for Dan Newlin the Ambulance Chasin’ Lawyer and the cheery billboards for the Sleuths Mystery Dinner. Dan’s apparently a Florida institution and judging by the fact you see his advert every eight minutes on the television – a twenty second sting showing a carousel of ashen-faced Definitely Not Actors spinning a yarn about being crashed into and then rewarded with $350,000 courtesy of Big Man Dan – he’s a pretty big deal. That’s not why I mention him though – man’s gotta make a living, even if it is in a line of work I’m supremely glad we don’t have over here in any great amount. No, when we last visited in 2012, we were taken by the fact he looked like a giant baby poured into a suit – you’d think time might have weathered the face, but no! 2023 sees him still looking like a live-action Boss Baby. He has to have a portrait growing old in an attic, I’m sure, albeit one printed on a sheet of A1 to get his noggin on. The roadside adverts where his giant forehead pops over the top of the frame are a delight, however.
Sleuths Dinner Show
Sleuths though – well, each time we visited Florida previously, we agreed that the idea of a murder mystery dinner sounded absolutely ghastly. Back then we were both terribly anti-social and slightly snobby – and listen, we had no right to be snobby, 2/3 of our living room furniture we had pulled from two separate trips to the back alley, but here we are. We’d always find an excuse not to do it – too busy, too poor, Wheel of Fortune was on, that sort of thing. This time, with the luxury of five weeks to fill and also a serious attitude readjustment, we decided to roll the dice and give it a go.
I ought to explain how it works, of course: it’s essentially a dinner show where you watch a little murder play, er, play out on stage, then a break for dinner where you can fire questions at the cast for more clues, then it’s onto the second part where the mystery is solved and everyone cheers. For $65 each, including unlimited beer and a three course dinner, it’s genuinely good value, especially when you factor in that I drink like I’ve wandered in from the desert at the best of times.
The show itself was absolute ham, but in the best way: hilarious actors taking part in a fake wedding which culminates in the groom being shot and four suspects presented for your review. Of course, as a Geordie who treats Vera as event television, I had it all figured out within ten minutes, noting the presence of an obvious anagram on the menu and some subtle foreshadowing in the early moments. Also of course, I was utterly wrong. Nevertheless, we went into the show thinking it would make us cringe, we left the show with aching sides from laughing and full bellies from the food which wasn’t bad at all, even if the cheesecake I ordered needed sucking to thaw it out. I consider that a win.
Of course enjoyment of such an event lives or dies on the company that joins you on your table (as a party of two you will be paired up with another couple at the very least). I thought our luck was in at first – we were joined by a 6ft 6″ bloke, all tattooed arms and a beard you could set your watch to, together with his tiny but excitable wife. He had the look of someone who could put out a house fire just by shouting at it and frankly that’s just my type. Alas, as the evening continued, it became clear that he was a proper old racist and, in the company of two big blokes with shaved heads and stonewashed denim, probably thought he was amongst friends. Pfft. If only he had known what Paul and I had been thinking when he sat down – turns out there was more than one unexpected stiff in this evening’s production – he might have kept his gob shut. As it was (and perhaps somewhat shamefully, but I didn’t want my holiday ruined by having my skull shot halfway down the interstate, sorry) we did some polite nods to his thinly-veiled nonsense and instead tried to engage his wife in conversation. It somehow got weirder: when pressed as to why she had never travelled outside of the US despite having a yearning to see Europe, her husband shot the conversation down by exclaiming he wouldn’t run the risk of having her kidnapped by people traffickers, as though this was a common danger that we all live in constant fear of. I tried to eke out further explanation on this worry of his but he was having none of it – by all accounts the second they would step off the plane in Zurich, his wife would be bundled into a van by a gang of burly bearded blokes and dashed away into the night for sexual exploitation. I resisted the urge to ask him which airline would be best and how much a one-way ticket would be.
With the conversation dead in the water we busied ourselves with our desserts and drank our beer and did everything but make eye contact with our companions. Paul pretended to be a vaper just so he could join me outside to agree how odd it all was. We loitered in a self-made thundercloud of Miami Mint until the bell was rung for the end of dinner and we knew it was safe to return to watch the second part. From thereon in, I don’t think we exchanged another word, and the second the culprit was revealed our tablemates scuttled off, presumably to get a jump on any potential kidnappers loitering outside. Takes all sorts. Glad we did it though, and thoroughly recommend it if you’re searching for something to do of an evening.
We got a photo taken of us which we really liked – liked it so much we took it into a bar called BJs and left it behind. In our defence, the bar was called BJs
Icon Park’s Starflyer
What I can’t recommend is the StarFlyer just up the road in Icon Park. I can’t recommend it purely because I was far too frightened to ride it. It’s a 450ft tower where you sit in little swings attached by only two chains and get lifted into the air and spun around. You can watch it here, it’ll open in a new window. Now see, I’ll go on any theme park ride you can throw at me – higher, faster, bigger, longer or uncut, doesn’t phase me: aside from not especially liking anything that makes me dizzy, I’ll do anything. We once jumped off the top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas – all 900ft of drop – and that was just fine. But there’s about as much chance of getting me on the Starflyer as there is me settling down with a milkmaid called Janet and raising three rosey-cheeked children. See, there’s two other ‘giant’ rides at this place – a colossal ferris wheel rather like the London Eye but 400ft tall and a drop-tower ride, also one of the tallest in the world, where they shoot you up into the air and then drop you. Sounds great, aside from the fact there was a fire in one of the pods on the ferris wheel (can you imagine how scary that would be) and some poor soul fell out of the drop tower ride as it descended and died instantly. It’s since been revealed that the latter happened because the ride operators decided to override the safety features to allow someone onto the ride who was 100lb past the maximum operating limit. Perhaps with the above facts in mind you can understand why I refused to ride the Starflyer – it just wasn’t worth the risk.
I did however send Paul up to have a go, Husband of the Year that I am. Now I know you might be thinking how could I risk something so unendingly precious to me coming to a sticky end, but you mustn’t fret: I kept his wallet on me. Seeing the love of my life strapped into a chair that looked as though it had been put together over 87 weekly issues of ‘That’s Probably Safe Enough’ was horrifying and I genuinely had to take some deep breaths to calm myself down as he went hurtling into the night, but thankfully, he returned safely to me, pausing only to reassure me it was terribly boring and I would have hated it anyway so that I didn’t feel like I’d missed out. He’s a good egg, thankfully remaining unscrambled.
Where to Miss? To the stars…
The Whale, M3GAN and Knock at the Cabin
Over the course of the five weeks we took the opportunity to visit the cinema for three very different films. Knock At The Cabin was very good but entirely unrealistic – if Dave Bautista knocked on our cabin door in the middle of nowhere, I’d have my legs in the air and my hole on show before his knuckles had left the doorframe. Of course it’s an M. Night Shyamalan film so we spent most of the film trying to guess the twist, only for the movie to end abruptly and leave us unsatisfied. I’ll say this though: I’d love to see Dave Bautista in more serious roles (either that or hardcore gay pornography) because he was absolutely brilliant in this. M3GAN was camp and magnificent and introduced us to one major difference between the US and UK cinema experience: every joke resulted in whooping and hollering and each kill got a round of applause. In the UK it’s entirely different of course: the sound of two M&Ms rubbing together is enough to elicit so many tuts and hisses that it’s often better you just leave. I know this because I’m usually the one tutting, if I’m not busy hypocritically stuffing my face with Minstrels and slurping my flagon of Ice Blast.
But Christ, The Whale. I’ve been waiting for this movie ever since it was announced that Brendan Fraser was cast, because it was never going to be anything short of brilliant. That man can act. And so it was: an exhausting two hours where you already know how it’ll end, but waiting for it to happen keeps you captivated in the worst possible way. The only moment of levity came when Paul managed to tip his entire box of Milk Duds across the floor, sending them pinging and clattering down the stairs. When the film was over and the lights came on, no-one moved. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not pretending we all had some sort of collective emotional epiphany – it wasn’t that American – but I reckon most of the folks there were crying. I certainly was, and I didn’t so much as sniffle when my house burned down. I looked at Paul who was also dabbing away at his eyes and we decided to leave the remaining quarter-tonne of buttered popcorn at the cinema. We did pick up the Milk Duds as we left, mind.
Oh speaking of popcorn, I’m not sure what’s going on with American popcorn but it’s bright yellow, which gives it the unfortunate look of something you’d excise from a diseased lung. It takes a lot of effort to chunk it down, I can tell you.
The Chocolate Factory
International Drive has two chocolate factories – one at the ‘nice’ end, surrounded by the convention centre and a five minute walk from our second hotel, and another thirty minutes away on a strip mall surrounded by shady characters who look like they might mug you as soon as say bless your heart. So naturally we went to the latter. We weren’t planning on taking the tour, rather just wanted to take a look at chocolates too expensive to ever consider buying in air-conditioned comfort. Yet the lady on the front desk was very persuasive and before you could say ‘I’ve never even been to the Ambassador’s reception’ we had two oversized golden tickets for the noon tour and fifty dollars missing from our wallet. There was the promise of free samples to quell any grumbling and anyway, tell me truthfully if there is any better attraction than those local museums which try their best? Exactly!
We were joined on our tour by four ladies who I’m not entirely unconvinced didn’t just wander in off the street to use the toilet and got roped into the tour and we were on our way. First we sat and watched a Powerpoint about what chocolate was. Then we got to see a cocoa bean and try a cocoa nib. Never one to say no to a bump of free coca I was straight in, immediately regretting my choice when this tiny match-head of pure bitterness was stuck in my teeth. Our tour did laugh and say he didn’t expect us to actually eat it and there was a bin nearby to pop it in, but I was fine: I’d already spat it into the hood on Paul’s jacket at this point.
Our tour guide then showed us some furniture that some people who enjoyed chocolate had once sat on, then a potted history of where chocolate came from, then through a room containing machines that took you through the chocolate making process. Temper? Well I was a little cross at having to stand for so long, but thank you for asking. The next room contained various sculptures made from chocolate which were fascinating to look at, if only so Paul and I could bicker as to whether or not they were actually chocolate or just painted wood. One of the quartet of ladies started chortling and pointing at a chocolate model of Barack Obama before posing in front of it with her middle finger up. I know this because I was behind her with my finger up my nose to ruin her photo.
Paul and I are at the front, in case you’re unsure
Perhaps sensing that things were about to turn nasty, our tour guide led us through to the sample room.
Well honestly. I’m not saying my expectations were high, but I was basing the enjoyment of this entire holiday on this moment, and before we get to what we actually received, know this. One television programme that Paul and I often rewatch on Youtube is Holiday Showdown – one of those classic reality TV shows from the early noughties which was designed purely for drama. They’d take some family from a house within one throw of a pint glass of a flat-roof-pub who holidayed exclusively somewhere a) hot and b) with laminated pictures of food to point at, then swap their holidays with some utterly cheerless gooseberry-and-cinnamon-yoghurt types who took their breaks in a knitted yurt on a nature reserve in some country which only exists in your memories. It was amazing: we’d always end up siding with the ‘rough’ family because without fail they’d have the better holiday and end up rucking with Tarquin-Perineum over some imagined slight in the karaoke bar. Anyway – I mention this because there was a particular episode which saw the families going to Las Vegas for a week of utter over-indulgence and as part of that, they visited a chocolate shop. Now whether the owners relaxed the rules on the ‘freebies’ because the cameras were there we’ll never know, but the image of one of the children – all glistening chins and happy-cow eyes – wabbling around with his entire basket of free chocolate stacked as high as him has always, always stuck with me. I wanted that experience. Could this be it?
No. Fuck no. We’d have got more chocolate inside us by taking a few deep breaths in the shop outside. He must have used a razor blade to slice these samples off. I appreciate I’m a big fat pig but even so, I was expecting chocolate I could chew as opposed to see straight through. One sneeze and they’d have all blown on the floor. Our tour talked us through the various flavours but all I could taste was sheer bloody disappointment. I felt like Augustus Gloop, only without the fun trip up the pipes. They perhaps sensed our sadness because they offered us 10% off in the shop afterwards but we didn’t indulge out of spite, instead choosing to choke down an ice-cream from the shop over the road. Pah.
Ah now I feel bad actually. Aside from my utter heartbreaking sorrow, the tour itself was very interesting and our tour guide was very bouncy and kept our interest. Paul admitted afterwards that he wouldn’t have kicked him out of bed for eating chocolate, to which I reminded him of the time we’d been working our way through a bag of Revels in our hotel bed after our house burned down and he’d fallen asleep on at least three coffee revels which I’d set aside for him. This led to him shaking me awake the next morning and, with the stricken look of someone who had spend a solid decade risking it all on every fart, told me he’d shat the bed. His face when I stuck my finger in it and went ‘ooooh delicious, tastes like coffee’ will stay with me for time evermore.
And on that note, I’ll bid you goodbye, proud that I managed to create such a circular narrative hook in the blog around Paul’s bum.
I’ve found with writing the blog that if I stick to a schedule, I pressure myself with writing and it stops being fun. And I love writing – I’ve always got so much to say. But equally, I’m forever conscious that some people just want a recipe and don’t want to have to trough through 3,000 words about the time I saw a bee. And I love bees! So going forward, I am going to split the lengthy writing bits out from food recipes, and hopefully, if you see a blog article come sailing into your inbox with the writing suffix, you’ll give that a read. Who can say?
With our recent trip abroad I’m positively leaking with things to talk about and although I’m saying right here, right now that I categorically will not be blogging the entire trip, because lord knows you know me well enough to realise I’ll do three days and then stop. However, because the more things change the more they stay the same, I will do the time-honoured twochubbycubs tradition of typing up the initial travel bit. Enjoy!
Our Floridian odyssey began at exactly 4am on Saturday morning – usually you’d find us absolutely catatonic at this point of the day, so to see us bright eyed and bushy-tailed would be a shock. Our own bushy-tailed wonderdog was staying with my parents, I should add, lest we get anyone thinking we’d left him at home with eighty-seven tins of Pedigree Chum and a guide on how to use the thermostat. My parents love him and spoil him rotten, although they take great pains to make the whole thing seem like a terrible inconvenience lest we get ideas above our station and disappear on holiday for six months. I think my mother likes someone to chat with who doesn’t answer back and who also runs his arse along the carpet a lot less than my dad. It’s hard to say.
4am faces. Delighted!
We were up at this ungodly hour because our taxi was due at 5am and I needed to start my holiday with a solid hour of stressing that the taxi driver wouldn’t turn up and we’d be stranded forever. I mean we could have left our car at the airport but as I haven’t won the Euromillions since I last spoke to you, this wasn’t going to happen. Being up this early did give me the opportunity to make sure the house was utterly sparkling and clean in case any burglars broke in and judged us harshly on Skidder Mountain in the toilet or the state of our valances, which was nice, and in an unexpected twist, our taxi driver actually turned up on time.
What he didn’t do, however, was wake up. Now you mustn’t get me wrong: he was very polite, especially in the face of our own barely-concealed excitement, and he didn’t even wince when Paul shut the passenger door with so much vim that I’m surprised it didn’t carry through a full 360 degrees on its hinge and smack him on the arse, but there was definitely something awry. By way of illustration, we set off along the country roads from our house to the airport and had managed a good two miles before I suggested that it might be wise to actually put the headlights on, given travelling by the light of the moon only usually works well for bats. He chuckled as though indulging me a trivial fuss and lit up the road.
Now you would think this would make it easier to see where he was going? Apparently not – I’m not sure if he was trying to acclimatise us to driving on the right but I reckon we spent a good 70% of that journey drifting over to the wrong side of the road then sharply pulling back into the correct lane with a ‘whoops’ or a ‘steady now’ or, perhaps more alarmingly, a sudden snort as though he was waking up from a deep sleep. At one point I considered reaching over and offering to take the wheel if he concentrated on the pedals but, of course, we’re British: we’d rather die in a burning accordion of car than ever look rude. Instead, I tried to engage him in ever more loud conversation which reached a veritable crescendo of ‘WHAT’S IT LIKE WORKING FOR BLUELINE THEN’ and ‘GOSH THIS IS A NICE CAR ISN’T IT DRIVER‘ and ‘NO I USED TO BE A LAWYER BUT NOW I WRITE FULL TIME IT’S A LIVING HA HA CHRIST MIND THAT SPEED-BUMP‘ as we pulled into the airport, treating the mini-roundabout as an optional aside. I left him a tip: 7.5mg of zopiclone. I’m kidding of course, we paid in full and left an excellent rating because we aren’t arseholes and anyway, now at the airport, the holiday had officially started.
We are on a bit of a mission to accumulate air miles at the moment and because we’re grasping status whores, we wanted to maintain our position with British Airways, and so it was with them we flew first down to London Heathrow and then onto Orlando. See that’s the difficulty with having Newcastle as your local airport: unless you’re going off to Spain on a cigarette-buying-run or you fancy a weekend in Omsk, you’re going to have to commute down to a bigger airport. That’s no shade at Newcastle Airport though: it’s a great airport for turning up an hour before your flight and not having to worry about being stuck in security. You know what else I love? Greggs wanted to open a store airside but Newcastle Airport said they’d need to increase the price of their food to make the airport more revenue. Greggs refused to rip folks off and so opened a store landside instead, meaning you can take your sausage rolls through security. We took advantage of the Priority Pass doohickey which I get with my American Express to get into the Aspire lounge for free, after a brief but exhilarating moment where I called some puffing old businessman out for jumping the queue. He didn’t even try and do it subtly, just breezed past everyone with that self-important air of someone who spends a good ten hours of the day turning scarlet at articles he reads in The Times. I do hope his free omelette had a bit of eggshell in it to tear up his hoop on the way out.
The Aspire lounge isn’t bad for a local airport lounge and we spent a pleasant enough hour trying to attend to the buffet as many times as possible without people thinking we were greedy fat pigs. I’m not one for breakfast as a rule but stick some bacon under a heat-lamp (which I think they did back in 1987, judging by the fact I could shave with the bacon) and I’m there. There was an amazingly beautiful man stalking about looking thoroughly sick of his life between long visits to the toilet to vape. I know he was secretly vaping because I went in after him and it was like pooping in a mango-flavoured shuttle launch. We drank about eighteen litres of coffee and then took our very short flight down the country. It really is short – it feels as though you barely get time to have a borrower-sized packet of Tyrells and a bottle of water that would struggle to extinguish a lit match thrown at you before the plane is descending and everyone is fussing about with their tray tables and pretending they don’t have any spare change for the charity envelopes. We arrived safely, made our way through Heathrow and went to try and find our bus.
Well, after a moment to pose. I’m only including this photo, which I wouldn’t usually because I’ve got my B&M glasses on, because of the lady growing out of my shoulder
Yes, bus: in a break with our usual tradition of clattering our suitcase sides off the ankles of various Londoners, standing on the wrong side of the escalators and taking a moment at the top of those very same escalators to exclaim loudly how rude folks from the South are compared to us Northerners, we decided to get the National Express bus from Heathrow to Gatwick rather than the train into London and out. I say we decided, we actually only realised we needed to do this when I took a second a couple of days prior to departure to realise we were flying from Gatwick and not Heathrow. How we laughed when we discovered that faux-pas, I can tell you. To compound the issue the trains were on strike. Well, the train drivers were on strike, not the trains – you’d never get a whole 387/2 Electrostar on a picket line, you silly goose – how would it hold a sign? Sometimes you just don’t think these things through, tsk. So it was onto the coach.
You must understand that I don’t have any issue with taking a bus, I really don’t, and Paul and I have had some very good times indeed on a coach: I tugged him off on a Megabus to Newcastle, for one. Don’t judge too harshly – I’d sat on my Game Boy Advance SP and broke the hinge and there was little else to do. I should say the bus was almost empty and it’s a long, long journey. It has given us the unfortunate side-effect of a rush of blood to the head every time we see that bloody Megabus face looming over us on the motorway, mind. None of that funny business on this trip though – we’ve been together sixteen years now and anyway, it was a National Express, there’s standards to uphold.
Now I only mention this little trip because it felt like the fates were conspiring against us. We, for the few weeks prior to the holiday, had been very careful who we were in close proximity with. Masks in public, hand sanitiser everywhere, keeping things strictly to one hole. We were determined to minimise the risk of COVID derailing our plans (again) and despite being fully vaccinated and all that sensible stuff, there was always a chance. Well we needn’t have bothered: this bus was full of folks wheezing and spluttering and honestly, if it had pulled into the Hospital for Tropical Diseases halfway through the trip to offload most of the passengers in bodybags, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. We were sat in the middle and the passengers in front, to the side and behind us weren’t so much coughing as trying to bring their lungs up for a closer examination. You know when someone looks sickly and pale and one cold snap away from rolling a seven and joining the invisible choir? Imagine that but across an entire bus. Paul had to hold me back from checking with the driver that we weren’t on a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
You can imagine then how well I coped with this: nothing soothes my health anxiety more than feeling someone else’s spittle pooling on the back of my neck. I put my mask on and tried a breathing exercise – that was, not breathing in for the entirety of the one hour journey save for tiny sips of air. I’m probably one of the only people to ever alight from a National Express coach with the bends. It was just relentless: one passenger would spend a solid five minutes trying to hack up a ball of flob only to be die off and allow another traveller to take up the task in hand with gusto. I knew immediately that there was simply no way we’d be getting off this bus without at least tuberculosis, nevermind bloody COVID, but as it happens we sailed through the entire holiday without so much as a sniffle. Take that science!
Arriving at Gatwick with cobalt lips, we spent a night eating Marks and Spencer snacks at the Gatwick Hilton (a real downgrade on what we were gobbling the night before our trip to Canada five years previous, alas) and then made our way the next day to our Orlando flight.
Oh top tip if you’re going out of Gatwick and trying the lounges: swerve the Aspire lounge and head to the My Lounge instead. They’ve got an outdoor smoking area which overlooks where lots of security blokes in hi-viz go to smoke, and that was a delight in and of itself. But if you need further temptation, know this: it has a nacho station with pourable melted cheese. I was feeling a bit full from my previous breakfast so in a rare moment of self-possession, I didn’t partake. But I know it’s there for next time. We boarded with minimal fuss, taking a second to capture what we looked like before eight hours of air travel aged us beyond all recognition.
Stunning and brave. I should point out that I have four of those white t-shirts, I’m not a total scruff. Paul is though.
Our flight over was terrific – eight hours is about the perfect amount of time for a flight, I find. It gives you enough room to:
- spend an hour to keep glancing fitfully at the curtain to see when the meal is coming;
- spend another hour or so to eat the meal and pick over your partner’s leftovers (that’s a one-way only deal though – I love aeroplane food so much I surprise myself when I don’t eat the tray it comes on);
- burn another two hours for a movie you’ve already seen because you don’t want to run the risk of wasting two hours on something awful (I watched Brenda’s Diary, still think she should have picked Daniel Cleaver);
- take an hour of trying to sleep but the second you nod off you know they’ll bring snacks round so you never truly nod off;
- wasting another hour spent watching the same couple of episodes of television you’ve already seen because, well see above; and
- two hours, made up of various ten minute blocks, of:
- farting quietly into your seat cushion;
- farting extravagantly into your seat cushion because you forget you’ve got noise-cancelling earbuds in;
- accidentally farting into your partner’s seat cushion as you climb over in your haste to get to the toilet;
- looking anxiously out of the window to make sure the engine isn’t on fire and wings are still attached;
- opening your phone to look at all the games you downloaded to keep you busy but you know you’ll never play;
- walking down the cabin so you can look at the folks in economy with a pained ‘oh but what a frightful affair travel has become‘ face before returning to your premium economy seat to really get the value out of that extra four inches of fart-soaked cushion;
- looking at the map and seeing although you’ve been flying for approximately eighty-seven hours you’ve just passed over Wolverhampton (though to be fair, if you listen hard enough, you can hear them shrieking about the sky-dragon flying over, even at 34,000ft);
- turning to your husband and making the same ‘WHEN ARE WE GONNA GET TO THE FIREWOOOOORKS FACTORY’ at least seven times; and
- visiting the bathroom for a poo even if you don’t need one, just to break up the flight.
Mind we were only in premium economy because we got a bloody good deal – now that Paul isn’t technically considered as heavy freight we are more than comfortable in economy, so that jibe above isn’t meant as any sort of slight. We flew first class once and I spent most of the time texting and getting pissed, which was delightful, but I can do that anywhere. Won’t pretend it wasn’t a lovely feeling turning left like.
One thing which was utterly wonderful though – on both the outbound and inbound flight – was the staff. British Airways gets somewhat of a bad rap online for having a reputation for somewhat standoffish flight crew but I’ve never found that. After we had taken off one of the flight attendants came over with our drinks and got chatting. We mentioned (in passing, not in the hope of getting freebies) that this was our anniversary holiday and how excited we were for all of the rollercoasters. She spent an age giving us tips and tricks for the parks and you know when someone is just so wonderfully enthusiastic they’re a delight to listen to? That was her – Katie! Later in the flight some brownies and glasses of champagne arrived with a handwritten note from Katie and Lucy, wishing us a lovely time, and later, the chief flight attendant introduced himself and gave us more champagne. It was perfect! We had a similar experience on the return flight – not with the freebies but just another sparkling member of staff, this time an older American bloke. This chap definitely took off from the same departure lounge as Paul and I and I always think there’s a little knowing banter when this happens which I love. I spent a while chatting with him whilst Paul slept (unusually for me, not a euphemism) and I got to ask all the flying related questions I wanted to know, such as how can I get some extra crisps and where do they sleep on long-haul flights and does this in any way link to me getting more crisps. I’m a right terror for chatting on a plane but it gives me something to do between all of the things I listed above.
The flight flew by, as you’d expect for a trip on an aeroplane, and it took only three minutes of being on American soil before Paul exclaimed excitedly ‘oh that’s how you KNOW you’re in America‘ by pointing out a plug socket. He’s a man of simple pleasures and I love him for it, and if a plug socket was enough to stir him into frisky animation, then who knows what five weeks of Disney and Universal would do? Well, you’ll find out. Probably next year when I do the next part of this, but we can live in hope! Tomorrow’s a dream away, after all.
PS: for completeness, the moment I know we’ve arrived in America is when I go for a dump and I end up making eye-contact with fourteen separate people who stare through the crack in the cubicle door as they walk past.
Because you won’t be needing them just yet – in a marvellous bit of efficiency, I’ve had my CT scan results back and everything looks normal. I’ve taken a look myself and I am assuming the ‘Unremarkable Head’ in the notes is a medical term and not someone critiquing my blowjob skills because they would be absolutely wrong. I could suck a golf-ball through a 40m garden hose without breaking a sweat.
What an opener! I was trying to be very good and sensible by not checking my NHS app to see if the results were in, and don’t get me wrong I was very proud of myself for those four minutes, but I cracked and checked on the off-chance. There’s nothing quite like that fear of clicking the link to look at your results and wondering exactly how long you’ve got left to live and how quickly Paul could order me a piano box. There’s also the very real danger of misinterpretation (which is why, if you’re anxious, you shouldn’t do this) and I know this from previous experience where I spent a good two days panicking about my heart only to realise I’d totally misread the detail and given myself a rough time for no reason. Exercise caution and if you’re unsure, leave it to the professionals. In fact, no, nevermind caution: always leave it to the professionals. I had a follow-up chat with the doctor who has reassured me that my bloods and my scan paint a pretty healthy picture and although I could stand to lose a couple of stone, I was actually doing bloody well. In the absence of him giving me a lollipop for being a brave boy, I made myself a certificate for the fridge:
So, how does someone suffering with health anxiety deal with getting an all-clear result? Interesting question, even if I say so myself. Which I’m obviously doing, as I’m writing this blog. You might expect that the relief is overwhelming, and of course it is after spending weeks telling yourself you’re on your way out and you’ve wasted your life, but this is where the fun of health anxiety comes in. See the next step of the trap is doubting the doctors. What if they missed something? What if they spilled some kahlúa on the results? What if every time they looked at the scan they popped their thumb over the exact place where something fizzy and nasty was growing? What if they ran out of oblique Simpsons references? What if what if what if.
Certainly, in darker times, I’ve gone down the route of assuming the worst and demanding second opinions and retests and wanting to look at their medical degree to assume they didn’t pluck it out of a crane-grab machine in a bowling alley (got one more in!). Let me tell you: it’s fucking exhausting. Not least because that level of narcissism, thinking you know better than someone who has trained for years and who doesn’t have an ulterior motive in seeing you shuffle off the Earth, takes some serious ego-upkeep. If we pop back in time a good ten years ago, and once you’re over the shock of seeing what a beautiful young man I was, you’d find me absolutely adamant that I was dying and everyone was wrong and why wasn’t anyone listening. My legs were going full Riverdance, my body felt like I’d been plugged into the National Grid, my balls were hurting, my brain was aching, my heart was clearly about to burst like a child’s balloon filled with butter. I was ill, and no-one was paying any attention, and any tests they did were lip-service at best. Honestly, I cringe with how arrogant I was, but that’s the indulgence of health anxiety: you’re simultaneously the cleverest and sickest person in the room.
Whaddya know though, here I am ten years later. I was ill, no doubt about that, but it was an illness my brain had created and then, because I was on edge for months, my body created physical symptoms not of some scary life-threatening disease but rather anxiety. You know when you get a fright – say you open your electricity bill and they’ve printed it on A3 to make sure all the numbers fit on – and you’re shaky and all-to-cock afterwards? It’s exactly the same with health anxiety – you spend so long worked up in a tizz that your body doesn’t properly shut down and relax. Like the cleaning of a house, it never ends. That’s another!
So you – or rather I – have a choice. You can choose to take steps to accept you’re not about to die and maybe this is a chaos of your own control, or you can keep distrusting the medical professionals and carry on sending yourself back into the storm. If you choose the former, you’ll recover, and if you choose the latter, you’ll worsen. At this point of the story it’s as binary as that. It’s how I beat health anxiety before: I decided enough was enough with fretting about every little twitch, every little shake and every little hiccup and just got on with things. And that is exactly what I am doing now.
I don’t doubt for a second that the next few weeks, maybe months, are going to be difficult at times: I am trying to come up with a good analogy for what it’s like at the moment and the best I can do is a river with a load of chemicals poured in. The balance of me is all over the shop and it’s going to take time to right it by de-stressing, being a bit more mindful of my reactions to things and, more importantly, not sitting on my fat arse and not doing anything about it. When I twitch I’ll accept it for what it is – the by-product of an overworked body. My eye will heal and stop being so much of a nuisance if I stop focussing on it all the time. The on-the-cusp-of-a-panic-attack moments will re-record, not fade away. And in time, just like the many, many times before, the ship will right itself. Because what’s the alternative? I retreat further into myself and waste my life worrying about what could be? No fucking chance: I’ve got books to write and a dog to play with.
And, at the end of all of this, if it turns out I do have something terrible, I can at least turn around and say to him, as I gasp my last in the best damn hospital room that an eighth-book royalties cheque can buy, that I was right all along.
Oh, before I go, actually: as I was writing the previous entry, I remembered a passage in one of my favourite books, Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (so good they named him twice) where he recounts his own experience with a flush of health anxiety. If you ever wanted to hear what health anxiety is like as described by someone who can actually write a joke, now’s your chance. I’ve copied it out below.
I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch – hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into – some fearful, devastating scourge, I know – and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.
I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms – discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it – wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance – found, as I expected, that I had that too, – began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically – read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.
I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn’t I got housemaid’s knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid’s knee. Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.
I swear, if it was Jerome K Jerome who got me onto health anxiety (and men smoking pipes in boats), I’ll be blaming my English teacher for time evermore. Damn you Ms Westgarth!
Oh and another final, final point – I’ve had so many wonderfully kind messages both on here and our various social media streams. I have tried to reply to them all, and I’ve certainly read each one, but the difficulty becomes I spend too much time talking about this so it never leaves my head. I will always try and reply at some point, but if I don’t, please do not take offence. I’m writing these blogs for myself, so that I may look back in the future and realise what a silly goose I am. I’m publishing them because I know others find them helpful, and that’s just fine. But if I don’t correspond, that’s not a reflection on the quality of your discourse or an apathy towards your predicament, but rather me taking steps not to overindulge my silly, fussy, always over-thinking, brain.
So ahead of getting started with twochubbycubs stuff, and partly because I want an excuse to write, I thought I’d update on last week’s post because I received so many lovely comments and questions from people about it. I can’t decide if it comes across as too naval-gazing or self-indulgent to temporarily use a food blog to discuss mental health issues, but fuck it, let’s roll the dice. I can always stick a scrambled eggs recipe on next week to take the edge off things. Social media, blogs, reels, updates – they all present these perfect little glimpses into us living our best lives. Nobody ever writes a blog post about a time they want to forget, after all. Such curated happiness is all well and good, but if you’re suffering with your mental health it can seem a bit like you’re the only one out there who can’t quite get their ducks in a row. Whilst I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert on the matter, and lord knows we don’t currently need yet more armchair-experts online, I hope that by writing about the bad times and how I’m getting through, it can hold a mirror up. It also helps me on a personal note, because having a catalogue of my thoughts that I can refer back to at a later point when things have settled down and I’m not totally doolally is a comfort. Of course, I could do that privately (and I do – there’s as much blog unpublished than there is published), but well, got to keep the wheel spinning.
So yep, please do forgive the (hopefully temporary) change of pace here.
In truth, I’m actually feeling a bit better. To recap: started having eye-pain back in December (and yes, I’ve been to the opticians twice over now – was a bit remiss of me to miss that key part out in my last post) and since then, have been in a cycle of expecting it to go away, being disappointed it hasn’t, worrying about it, trying to stop that worry swelling up and triggering my health anxiety and now full-blown anxiety about the fact it is clearly a brain tumour. Or MS. Or Parkinsons. Or CJD. Or a brain bleed because I saw that on a reddit post. Or any number of exciting and terrifying cancers.
When I’m feeling rational, this is what I think it is: I strained my eye muscles watching TV whilst lying down, and rather like when you sprain your ankle, it took a while to heal. Because it wasn’t immediate, my brain took issue with the fact that it hadn’t disappeared and started fretting. When you’re anxious, you tense up, and that means more strain on the muscle – and that makes it worse. Plus, I’m hyper-aware of my body at the moment, so every little pain or twinge that I’d normally dismiss is a CLEAR SIGN OF THINGS GETTING WORSE.
But because I’m anxious, I’m over-analysing everything, and this constant state of feeling anxious and worried is keeping me in this little vicious cycle. When you are anxious, your body is in a heightened state of alertness and adrenaline is pumping all over the place – it’s why the heart races, it’s what a panic attack is: a fear response. Because I’ve had two months of living like this, my body is worn out. My newest symptom is jerky legs and arms which has been fun, but totally normal when you think of what’s going on in my body. My body is like a spring that someone has been tightening ever so slowly for the last few weeks, and all that built up energy needs to come out. Essentially, I need to relax, and take a few weeks to calm the body back down. Which sounds incredible when you think I’ve just been away for five weeks, I know, but it was still always at the back of my mind.
But I said I was feeling better, and I am. Remember I said I was going for a CT scan? The lovely folks at my local hospital moved my appointment forward from late March to this morning – brilliant. I should say they didn’t ring me up with a grave voice advising me to come in as soon as possible – the CT scan remains ‘routine’ not ‘fuck me, don’t make any weekend plans’, I had called up on the off-chance of a cancellation and the sun of good luck shone on me. Naturally being me I turned up an entire hour early which gave me an opportunity to fret about things before going in. I was distracted by a cleaner who seemed in remarkably good cheer considering it was 7.40am and I had (accidentally) kicked her cleaning bucket and then sat in the chair she was trying to clean. I did apologise profusely and offer to help but she was having none of it, possibly guessing how distracted I was and fearful I’d start a fire with her bottle of Flash or knock a wall down in my haste to assist. You know though, I’ve poured countless words into this blog over the years about how amazing the NHS is, but today was another good example: from the receptionist who pointed out I was in the wrong department, to the cleaner who was whistling and cheerful at such an early hour, to the kind nurse who answered my questions about the scan with patience and good humour and who didn’t laugh when I stopped being brave and shut my eyes during the scan – we’re still on a perfect hot streak with wonderfully kind and patient NHS staff. You’ll miss it when it’s gone, I promise, and for the love of God think about that next year when it comes to putting an X in a box.
But the scan itself was nothing – lie on a table, try not to move. I’ve had a number of MRIs over the years (surprise!) and this was nothing compared to those. If anything, I missed the chance to try and doze whilst the world’s worst techno played. I did have a little seatbelt put over my skull to keep my head still, something which didn’t pass without snark from my mate who enquired whether they needed to get one of those bright orange extenders like they do on aeroplanes for those of us carrying significant extra baggage. Luckily I’m used to being restrained and told to keep still – indeed, it made a change not to have a pair of boots perched on my back during.
I’m now facing seven to ten days before someone takes a look at the results and lets my doctor know. Whilst I am fully expecting this week to be a rough one – for all the time I spend telling myself it’ll be nothing, another scan I’ve had done which shows I’m alright really, I spend an equal time trying to block out the ‘what if it is this’ and ‘what if they find that’. I’ll be fine – as I said, feeling better – but it’s still exhausting. Weirdly, if they do find something – chances vanishingly small, remember – I’ll cope. I didn’t think I would, but the same chap who made the seatbelt gag also pointed out that when I’ve previously had a genuine medical issue, I’ve been remarkably stoic about it and got through it with minimal fuss. Well no, lots of fuss, but not as much as you’d expect from someone with a brain capable of turning an ingrown toe into advanced sepsis or diagnosing himself with weeks to live when his hayfever was bad. I cope so much better with absolute than abstraction: that’s why health anxiety is such a fucking knobhead. If someone tells me my ear will fall off tomorrow, I can plan and deal with it accordingly, but if I read somewhere there’s a chance my ear could fall off, I’ll spend weeks worrying about it until I kick myself mentally up the arse and get on with things.
So that’s where I am right now. I am hopeful that the scan will come back with nothing to report and once that happens, I can work on calming my anxiety back down. As that happens, the adrenaline and stress rolling around in my body will abate and the symptoms will ease off. That means I won’t have so many ‘triggers’ and I can begin the climb back to feeling normal. I’m going to try and keep busy this week and keep my fingers crossed (that’ll be my stenosing tenosynovitis getting worse) that the report comes back as soon as possible, though. I want to get started, whatever that means.
Before I go, a final thought. I’ve touched on it a few times as the reason I’m writing these blogs, but it bears repeating: it really does help to talk to people about this. I’ve made the mistake way back when of keeping this bottled up, and trust me, it’s the worst thing you can do. It’s like getting a bottle of fizzy pop and shaking it up – at some point that lid is coming off and it’s going to be messy. I’ve made a point this time of letting people know what I am going through. When people ask how I am, I’m not replying on autopilot and pretending everything is fine, because lord knows it isn’t. And it helps so damn much. Sometimes you need to just pour your thoughts out and have someone listen. If you’re on the other side – if you have someone confiding in you – listen. You don’t need to provide answers and solutions, just an ear. I’m lucky to have a pretty damn good circle of people I can trust and talk to, and doubly so for having this space to get it all down, and if you’re in the same boat I encourage you to try and find the same.
That’s enough from me, anyway. Thanks for reading!
I feel we are long overdue an update, aren’t we?
Firstly, we’re both fine, thank you so much for asking. You didn’t ask? I see.
We actually managed to sneak away on holiday in January – returning (finally) to Florida for a few weeks of rollercoasters, waterslides and as much culture as one might find on a bleached petri dish. Listen, nobody goes to Disney to stroke their chins and exclaim ‘but what can one feel from such a representation’* or other such bollocks. You go to make sure your vestibular system knows who’s really in charge and to spend money so fast you get scorch marks on the tips of your fingers.
* I mention this because we did actually meet someone like this in the queue for Tower of Terror – a walking haircut who held up the queue to inform everyone around her, very loudly, of how wrong the ‘period’ theming of the hotel was. Ma’am, you’re in a theme park, no-one is impressed. Save it for Twitter. To add insult to injury, she stepped on Paul’s foot and blankly refused to apologise – luckily she was wearing some god-awful shoes knitted from llama-hair or suchlike, so it barely registered.
I’ll say only this, with an eye to some future blog posts that’ll cover it in more detail: we had the most amazing, incredible time. I’d go so far to say it was the best holiday we’ve ever had and listen, if that doesn’t impress you, know that we once did a three day coach holiday to Birmingham.
Urgh, get a room, right.
Because of this, the holiday blues that I usually feel after some time away were absolutely off-the-charts. Now I know there’s nothing more self-indulgent than feeling sorry for yourself when you’ve been lucky enough to get away from the relentless misery that is the UK, and for that I apologise only a shade. You must realise that I am an emotional being at the best of times, I just hide it behind a well-groomed façade of indifference. As a result, the last couple of weeks have been emotionally hard-going.
This has been compounded yet further by my own health anxiety conspiring against me in its most vicious form. In my last entry on here I wrote of some ongoing eye pain (like someone pressing a thumb in the back of my left eye) and how I was being stoic and using all my previous coping mechanisms to get through it. I felt as though I was doing well. But see, that was back in December and I was banking on the eye nonsense sorting itself out and buggering off by now. Alas, no. So although the last few weeks have been tremendous, they’ve been tempered with the utter exhaustion of having to manage my own health anxiety and what feels like an almost permanent headache. On holiday you can distract yourself with amazing things, but this isn’t the same at home, and as a result I’ve been pondering more than I should.
Without doubt, this has been the hardest period of prolonged mental health difficulties I have faced in many years and whilst I know it will clear, I am really bloody tired of it. I only write this now because I have been very frank about my anxiety through the nine years of this blog and have written at length about how I successfully manage my anxiety – it is important then to show the other side of the coin and write about the bad times too. I’ll be fine, though.
The inevitable result of this ongoing malaise is my demotivation to do all the usual things with twochubbycubs. A good example: would you want to sit in front of a computer typing out a blog post or editing videos if the screen made your eyes hurt? Of course not. But I love doing this, and so when I find myself wanting to write but unable to motivate myself to do so, it magnifies the shitty feelings still further. The less I do, the more I miss.
This leaks out still further into other aspects of my life: I feel disinclined to do other things – gym, running, going out, cooking, eating healthily, making an effort because I am tired and stressed as a result of the eye issue and the subsequent health anxiety tussle. But those things are what bring comfort and happiness and without them, the vicious circle continues and grows. I think of my health anxiety like putting a glass of diesel into a petrol car – I’m still going to motor along, but it’s going to be strained and the journey bumpier as a result. Listen, I don’t know if that analogy quite works because my mechanical knowledge extends only to what colour boxers our local Kwik Fit bloke wears, but you get the drift.
But: enough is enough. As cathartic as typing all of the above was, I’m painfully aware of how self-pitying it comes across. This blog entry is more me trying to put a full stop on the last few weeks of moping and listening to my theatrical and dramatic brain and instead, choosing to be more proactive about fixing the various things I’ve let slide.
So. I’ve been back to the doctors (for only the second time since all of this kicked off, a vast improvement on previous episodes where I saw the doctor so often his wife grew jealous) and explained the eye-pain was still there. He asked that I stop masturbating – not because it was affecting my vision, he just couldn’t get the blood pressure cuff on my jostling arm. Ayoo. I spoke very honestly about how I am sure it is nothing but how the ongoing pain was causing me more mental distress than anything else, and he was ever so lovely.
That’s a point worth mentioning, especially to those who suffer with health anxiety. Mention it to your doctor when you see them: don’t go in demanding every test you can think of, but do explain that you’re prone to catastrophising and ask the questions that are bothering you. For example, my main worry about all of this is that I have some dark tumour billowing in my brain that may reach a critical mass at any point and remove my inability to sing along to any Pet Shop Boys song. He took the time to explain why it is very, very unlikely to be anything of that nature – I’d have more symptoms, they’d be far more permanent, I’ve got a head so big he’s surprised the USA haven’t shot it down and so I could comfortably grow a tumour in there with room to spare, that sort of thing. He was – always is – very patient and kind, and I imagine most doctors will be the same if you have concerns.
With my worries somewhat abated, we agreed that I would go for a CT scan (purely precautionary) next month to have a look in my head. It’ll be like the space-docking scene in Interstellar but with a fraction more Geordie. They’re also taking bloods to make sure I’m still o-HAAAAY positive. So we shall see where that goes. I am hopeful that they’ll find nothing more than stalactites and snot up in there, and I can stop worrying, and in turn, my health anxiety will fuck off. It’s certainly how I managed to beat all my other previous life-ending conditions that I diagnosed myself with.
On a more personal note, I’ve created a little bucket list of self-improvement, and I’ll be working towards that over the year. It’s like I’m revising for my GCSEs, only I’m not sacking it off to play Max Payne instead. This bucket list isn’t because I think I’m dying, I should say, but rather I work so much better when I have things to aim for than I do when I allow myself to procrastinate. Again, we’ll see how that pans out.
Which brings me neatly to you lot and twochubbycubs. I know I’m a terror for false promises about content, but I am going to make a concerted effort from March 1 to update more often, create new recipes and write more. I bloody love writing and you best believe that five weeks in Florida has provided me with stories and views I want to share. There’s also the small matter of refreshing the older recipes. Hell, I might even get around to adding a functioning search button and a website refresh, but let us not get giddy. I do promise to try harder, though.
Finally then – a thank you. This may sound a little over-the-top but when my mood is low, seeing people cooking our recipes or reading the reviews for our books or just being decent in our facebook group is a genuine tonic. As are the Instagram messages from folks saying they’re cooking for the first time or a blog post has made them laugh or they’ve seen us in ASDA or just wanting a chat. We’re terrible at replying because we get so many, but we do read them and enjoy them. Keep doing that, please. For those that have subscribed to the blog, thank you, you’re why I keep writing these.