Dawn dawned, as dawn is wont to dawn even in Florida, the next morning and I leapt from my sofa, narrowly avoiding decapitating myself on the ceiling fan, brimming with enthusiasm and determined to embrace the new day. I do this most mornings (well, from my bed, and without having to avoid any overhead machinery), being one of those irritating people who tends to be unreasonably chirpy on waking, and to be honest it doesn’t sit too well with my altogether grumpier pre-breakfast son even on those mornings, as this morning was, when I’m yelling ‘Happy Birthday’ or some similar fanfare to welcome him back into the world of the living. ‘Please shut up, Dad,’ he mumbled through gritted teeth while blinking and searching for his specs.
While he located and fitted his ocular upgrades I hastily scribbled a birthday message on the back of a theme park flier (in lieu of the proper card I’d bought in advance but forgot to pack) and contemplated an early morning fart. On applying cautious pressure I recognised that I wasn’t out of the diarrhoetic woods (or should that be pond?) yet, and beat a hasty path to the water closest, offering over my shoulder the suggestion that he think about what he would like in my absence in order that I could prepare his 14th birthday breakfast on my return. He plumped, as did Alex and Barbara on joining us, for blueberry waffles and/or toast and grape jelly, while I plumped for very small sips of orange juice – the latter proving an unwise decision in the fullness of time.
After opening his cards and pocketing all the money contained within them Ben was charged with the task of deciding what we should do for our first day in Florida. Disneyland, Universal Studios, or an air boat cruise though the alligator, snapping turtle and giant catfish rich Everglades we suggested. ‘Erm, what about ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not?’ he replied. Now to be fair Ben has had a thing for ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not’ (or ‘Believe it or Don’t’ as I invariably call/think of it from my childhood memories of the MAD Magazine spoofs) for years, so while this might sound a bit of an odd choice to some peeps it wasn’t an entire surprise. Knackered from the flight, and in my own case from the effects of ‘Florida Flotsam’ and many hours of intense white-knuckle driving, this option also presented us with an opportunity for a nice, relaxing morning in the pool where Ben and Alex frolicked happily while Barbara and I bobbed gently like stunned dugong or, for anyone who’s seen the film ‘Caddy Shack’, unflushed turds.
Later, after the others had partaken of a light lunch and I had ingested more orange juice (what folly!) we set off for what the sat-nav reliably informed would be a thirty minute drive to the Ripley Emporium, which with Barbara’s help we managed to locate around three hours later. Not the most thrilling afternoon out it’s got to be said, especially when taking into consideration all the other delights Florida has to offer, but Ben enjoyed it very much and we got some lovely photographs of him standing alongside various exhibits like ‘The World’s Tallest Man’, ‘Erik, the Tattooed Lizard Man’ and ‘Helmut, the Half Boy Half Pig Changeling’. Turned out that Helmut wasn’t an exhibit but a German tourist who just happened to be visiting the museum too, but it’s still one of the most impressive photos we got.
One of the good things about ‘RBION (or RBIOD if you happen to be an old MAD mag fan) is that the fun starts before you even enter the building. It is built on an artificial hill with an artificial slope in the opposite direction making it look as though it has sunk into the ground, so the whole site is an optical illusion. While it just looks ‘odd’ in a photo, the reality of walking around the outside of it is that your brain is constantly tricked into compensating for the twin gradients that actually don’t exist, so if you try, for example, to walk towards it you end up walking sideways like a crab, and in front of it either leaning forwards or backwards in anticipation of gravitational pressures that don’t actually materialise. If you’ve ever watched anyone who is totally pissed the effect is something like that, but the feeling itself goes way beyond the experience of being pissed or even of being dizzy, because of course when those things happen you are genuinely disorientated and haven’t got a ‘rational’ brain trying to compensate for it. It is very, very funny.
Anyhoo, Ripley’s done, we set off for home and it was during this journey that we had a major breakthrough in the field of in-car navigation. Barbara on this occasion had set up the sat-nav so that Ben could see the screen too, and when she screamed ‘TURN LEFT TURN LEFT TURN LEFT NOW’ he said over her shoulder, ‘No, not for another two miles yet’. Barbara, of course, (see previous blog) rounded on him to say that he was mistaken in his reading of the data, but Ben went on to explain with 100% clarity and undeniable logic the readouts she had failed to even notice beneath the small map, and the quite clear colour coding /symbol displays that underpinned the whole guidance system.
Armed with this information I was able, with some effort, to persuade her to position her I-Phone cradle to enable me to actually see the display too, and to turn up the volume so that I could hear what the lovely lady giving the instructions had to say. Barbara didn’t take this too well (see previous blog), and spent several days (well, the rest of the holiday) trying to convince me that it had been my fault she had chosen to operate the sat-nav in the way she had, but cutting a long story short things became much simpler and safer thereafter save for the odd occasions when torrential rain knocked out the sat-nav altogether while simultaneously reducing visibility to around 3 inches. Floridians, BTW, seem to take this in their stride, continuing to drive blind at speeds in excess of the limit and taking exception to any wuss limey bastard who might want to slow down a bit in the hope of preserving life and limb; a factor worth bearing in mind if booking a holiday during hurricane/monsoon season.
Back at home, the others leapt in the pool again for more frolicking and bobbing while I offloaded my cargo of orange juice. Ben had planned, even before we got there, that his birthday dinner would be a curry, but reluctantly agreed, given the state of my stomach, that this would be ill-advised if I was to eat in any way at all*. He suggested instead going Italian, and while I only ate sparingly I very much enjoyed my pasta and garlic bread while Ben and co gave the entire menu their best shot.
The repair men had been to sort the air conditioning, so it was a huge relief after a very long day to fall into my bed and snuggle down under the sheets. After about ten minutes I gave up on the bed, which appeared to have a mattress stuffed with boulders and angle iron, and sought again the relative comfort of the living room and sofa…
N’night Jim Bob, ‘night John Boy, ‘night, Granpaw…….
*NB: I feel it might be helpful, however unsavoury, to offer at this point a little more information regarding the nature of my medical condition. Putting it as politely as I can, there was no real ‘out of control’ aspect to this, and providing I could successfully quell any impulse to break wind I was pretty much on safe ground. In essence, my stomach had generally taken on the role usually fulfilled by my bladder, necessitating, as the pressure built, a ‘sit down wee’ (via the alternative plumbing the stomach usually utilises) every three or four hours or so. While unpleasant and disturbing this did enable me to fulfil my driving duties etc, and even, as the days went on, to go on the major rides and stuff at Disney/Universal et al. Providing there was a loo somewhere around I had a huge safety window to play with, though I did err on the side of caution regarding the major water parks ‘just in case’. Adding insult to injury, I didn’t, for the first four days at least, have any other symptoms or nausea whatsoever, so while knowing that I couldn’t for the most part eat, I was ravenous throughout. Lovely, eh?