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Used to work for AVIVA offshoring IT to India.  Now retired through ill health, writing my life story as a series of blogs chronologically from birth to current time.  At www.jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com
 

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Is that George I see before me? - 1987

So picking up where i left off in (http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/#!/2011/10/offers-are-not-what-they-seem-sometimes.html), we avoid the Gay Haight/Asbury district and its unique offers of “friendship”, jump in a cab and head off to the Waterfront.  Towards the Ghirardelli Square end of the waterfront, there was (no longer there and boarded up) a Houlihans Bar, Restaurant/ Nightclub.  The place was rammed with people and we grabbed a beer and sat people watching.  The American guys in the bar were all very much "into themselves" in a big way, pretty much trying to be John Travolta, in a modern 1980’s pop way.

Mark and I were probably no different to some degree, except that we had in our ammo box the "English accent", which had succeeded in getting us into town in the first place.  As I have mentioned, I was a big George Michael fan, his album “Faith” was a smash hit globally and as his track “I want your sex” came over the sound system, I went onto the dance floor and started my groove thang!  
A group of girls dancing nearby were my target and I slid my way over as coolly as you like and carried on dancing away, Mark spotting an opportunity, hit the floor as well and we slowly weaved our way into their group, and found ourselves dancing with them.  The girls, Debbie, Karen, Tina, Sam and Kate seemed pleased to see us and became a firm group of friends during my time in the States and here they are, with me in my element.



A couple of American guys seeing our success started to sidle across the floor, hoping to ride the shoulders of giants I presume and one came over and said to me, as George started to belt out “Faith”, “Hey man”, “Hi” I said, “I love your music man” he said, “what?” I turned to look fully at him and he was pointing to the Video screens around the ceiling of the club, showing the “Faith video”.
George was holding his acoustic guitar, dancing by the juke box in the video, and I looked at Mark and back at this guy, “gotta love that tune, your music is great” he said.  It dawned on both Mark and I that he thought I was George Michael!  This was the first time anyone had mistaken me for George and I laughed at the idea, but smiled back at the guy and said “thanks”.  Because I was English, this reinforced his notion that I was George and he went off around the bar telling people who I was, pointing me out.  Pretty soon, the dance floor was jammed with women and men, all eager to get close to me and share their love of George and offer me plaudits for “my” music. 
I have to admit, that it felt great, all these people surrounding me, wanting to know me.  I decided then that I would start to really fashion myself on George, after all what was there to lose, he was obviously “straight” was in the papers almost every week, pictured with another  girl, including Brooke Shields and Madonna, what was not to like?
So, the evening was a great success, Mark was cracking up about the whole “George” thing and we grabbed a cab back to our offered bed at the apartment of the girl we thought (see http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/#!/2011/10/offers-are-not-what-they-seem-sometimes.html) was a certainty.  To be fair to her English boyfriend, he let us in, helped us bed down and made us coffee and pastries the next day.
Apart from our visit to San Francisco, we’d mainly concentrated our efforts, (as we did not have a car), to Main Street San Mateo and the Irish Bar.  One evening we went for a few beers and they had a Karaoke night in progress.  Karaoke was new back then and everyone in the bar was having a go at singing a song or two.  A couple of girls (sisters), who we had consistently “bumped” into (turned out they were a little bit of the stalker type and Brit Mad), happened to be there.  They were not the prettiest girls in the world, and in fact the one who liked me was of a fairly large figure, so definitely not my type.  The other one was mad for Mark and he was being nice, as Mark has always been a gentleman and would happily talk to any girl.
After a few rounds, the guys and girls who we knew told me to sing.  Apart from a few sessions of singing with Al Tonner, back in Neinburg, when on guard duty in the cellars of our squadron block, and a sing along in Rhodes (see http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/#!/2011/10/all-roads-lead-to-rhodes-and-police.html) I had not really sung in front of anyone.  I wanted to be a singer, had written pages of lyrics, (can’t play an instrument mind) and singing along to my cassettes and records had been the limit of my career thus far.  But I had confidence I could sing and given enough prodding, I asked the Karaoke guy if he had any songs by George Michael.
The song choice was Faith, Club Tropicana and A Different Corner.  I chose Faith and had to clamber up onto a stage, turn and face a packed American Irish pub crowd and sing.  The song started, the familiar strum of the acoustic guitar and off I went.  Unlike the talent shows on TV nowadays, there wasn’t any of the whooping and screaming, as everyone recognises the lyric and the singer makes not too bad a fist of the first few bars.  But they listened and cheered at the end, I was patted on the back and Mark said, “I never knew you could sing like that”.
We left the pub along with the girls and wandered down the street to our apartment, I was intent on not letting them in; Mark was intent on letting them in.  It ended up with Mark in the bedroom and me in the lounge, fighting off this nutty girl.  I managed to avoid a serious lowering of standards and they left in the early hours of the morning.
Paul’s brother Victor had come over from Florida and started working with us, he could paint and so we had a three man team now.  Mark had found a Karate Studio where he could train, Fred Valari’s Studio of Self Defence.  Fred Valari had a chain of Karate studios countrywide and Mark was going almost every day as he had finally found his “thing”.  Pretty soon, the studio manager asked Mark whether he would consider taking on his own studio.  This would mean finishing with the construction job and taking management training courses, after which he would have his own centre, which was going to be a few miles down the peninsula near Interstate 92.
The main problem would be that Mark would not have any income whilst he was training, and therefore it would fall to me to cover all bills.  To me this was no big deal, he was my best friend, it did not occur to me to say no way, or even to consider it a problem really.  He was pursuing something he was passionate about and needed my support.  Simple!
When Mark was Best Man at my wedding Ten Years later, he spoke eloquently and emotionally about how this support had enabled him to go on and develop his career, marry, have children, who he dearly loves, and become a successful Karate Instructor (Sensei) to many thousands of children and adults.  He lives in Manteca, California and continues the owner of his own studio.  Look at the Facebook profile below to see how much enjoyment, happiness and self defence awareness he brings to his students. http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100000450177182
So I was pioneering the latest George Michael look and having some limited success.  I had bought a leather jacket, a pair of crocodile leather cowboy boots and some Levi 501's.  I needed some photographs to use as promotional pictures should I ever join a band and even joined a model agency in San Francisco.  As I left the agency, I passed a street vendor's shoe shine stall and he spotted the boots and said, "Shine sir?"  Why not I thought and I sat down and the guy gets to work.  After a moment he looks at me and says "are you that George Michael", I just smiled at him and for the next ten minutes, whilst shining my boots, he is calling out "I got George Michael on my stand, George Michael!". It took bravery to post this picture by the way!!

Our nights out continued, although to a lesser extent and we went back to San Francisco a few more times that autumn.  One evening we found ourselves on Broadway, in San Francisco, a street of bars and clubs, at the Embarcadero end anyway.  As we sat at the bar, two girls came in, one was slight, pretty and petite, the other chubby and not so pretty.  They were sisters and Mark was knocked out with the prettier one. 
For one of only a very few times, I agreed to have “get the goppa”.  Mark settled into his patter with Debbie and I sat and chatted to her sister (name escapes).  They were in town to see the Australian Doors, a tribute band playing at a club on Broadway.  I was never keen on The Doors, but given Marks ever growing attraction to Debbie, “we”, meaning he, decided to go to the gig as well.  As we crossed the street, Debbie spotted a “wrap” lying on the pavement and picked it up.  This is where our naivety comes in, we had no idea what a “wrap” was.  “This could be coke” said Debbie.  The penny dropped. She and her sister popped down an alley and came back a few minutes later.  Mark and I looked at one another, shrugged and joined them walking over the street to the gig.
The band was fantastic and played a full set of Doors songs with the singer acting out the part of Jim Morrison superbly.  Mark and Debbie had hit it off and we walked back to her car for a lift home.  She had a small Honda 2 seater and there were four of us!  It ended up with Mark and I squeezed in the boot under the hatch back, faces pressed against the glass.
Mark and Debbie were starting to see a great deal of each other and I was always either gooseberry or having to entertain her sister.  When on my own with them, I was always rammed into the boot and we’d go off on trips across the Bay Area.  We went to a number concerts at the Shoreline Amphitheatre where we saw; Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, OMD, and Erasure.  Mark got his Studio and each day went to work in a “Karategi” or “gee” and I went to work in my painter overalls. 
Paul was keen to keep me sweet.  He knew i wanted to do something in music, singing, joining a band etc and he and I started spending more time together after work and at weekends whilst Mark was working. I wanted to travel home for Christmas and Paul wanted to make sure I was coming back, so paid for a “return” ticket on British Airways.  I was keen to make a good impression when I got home, so started visiting a tanning salon in the Crosby Mall, I wanted to give the impression that California meant year round sun and sand, when in fact the climate in the Bay Area was usually, fog, mist and rain in autumn and Winter.
Just before I departed for home, Paul took me to Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo and bought me a full length Black silk coat, that I’d had my eye on for some time.  It cost $500 and was the nuts.  An air ticket and a silk coat, plus a bonus as well.  I was to fly home mid December and return just before Christmas itself, and was to spend that festive season with Paul, Shirley, Mark and Victor.  Soon after, Mark was to move out and live in Sunnydale with Debbie; I was to be alone in that apartment, with just my tanning booth and a writing pad for company.  Oh dear

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Offers are not what they seem - sometimes - 1987

Mark and Jonathan -
Burlingame 1987

Mark picked up work from another crew who carried out the sheet rocking (plaster-boarding) of apartments, once the carpenters has built the interior structures and the electricians and plumbers had been in doing the first fix work.  He was earning more and we decided time was ripe for moving out of Shirley’s place and into our own apartment.  We could rely on Shirley for a reference along with a guy called Mike, from who we sub-contracted our work.

I found a neat unfurnished 2 bed apartment on El Camino Real in San Mateo, about 2 miles from Shirley’s place, close to a Supermarket and not far from The Crosby Commons Mall.  We moved in with the basics and I mean basics, 2 plates, 2 knives, 2 forks, 2 mugs, you can guess the rest of the twosomes.  We had a TV, a small table and a couch.  In the bedroom we had sleeping bags on the carpet.  It was not the most elegant of apartments to bring girls to, but it would do for now.
Mark was keen to carry on with his Karate.  He was a 2nd Dan in Shotokan Karate and knew his stuff.  Every time we went to work with Paul in a new town in the Bay Area, Mark would be looking for Karate Studios (Dojo’s), Paul would be spotting Liquor Stores and I would be eyeing up the local talent, so everyone was happy.  We would work as far north (toward San Francisco) as San Bruno and as far south (toward San Jose) as Stanford/Palo Alto.  So I had a wide range in which to cast my gaze, as did Mark and Paul for that matter.  As Paul and my reputation grew for good work, we picked up more work, on higher profile and more expensive homes.
Some of these homes were in Hillsborough and others along the ridge of hills that form a backdrop to the bay looking west.   These homes were set back into the hillside, discreet entrances, usually gated and single storey in design; they would have pools overlooking the bay, with views on clear days of the Sky Scrapers in San Francisco and across the bay towards San Leandro and Oakland.  On Monday 19th October 1987, we were working (Paul and I) on just such a property, high in the hills directly behind and overlooking Redwood City and Menlo Park.  The area below us was known as Silicon Valley and at that time was home to Apple Inc’, and various other burgeoning Computer companies and software providers.
The guy whose home we were decorating did not appear that morning.  We’d been there a week already, cleaning the cobwebs and dust off the eaves running around the property prior to painting them.  In America, Gloss Paint is called Enamel and Emulsion is called Latex and we would be applying Latex.  We had laid out our drop cloths and were prepped and ready to go.  Noting that he had not come out is pertinent as every morning he’d bring out pastries and coffee, seat himself at a table and look across the valley reading the “Pink” Financial Newspapers.
We knew he was home, as we could hear him shouting and hollering into a phone at someone.  Mid-afternoon, after Paul had demolished the 6-pack and was debating a run to the store for “more paint”, the guy emerged and sat on the grassy lawn.  He was crying his eyes out, trying to light a cigarette, but with tears and snot all over his hands and cigarette, it was a non-starter.  I walked over and asked him if I could help, did he want some water and offered him a Marlboro, which he took after I had lit it for him.
All he could say was “I am fucked man, fucked, fucked, fucked” (sic).  I went to find Paul and we walked around the house to the guy, who was still sat on the lawn.  “He says he’s fucked Paul” I said, as if that helped explain the problem, at which point the guy said something like “I lost most of my money, my shares are worthless”.  Paul walked off, got in his car and went to the store, I sat on the grass, lit a smoke and we sat in silence, save for the odd sob and shudder coming from him.  Paul came back with a six pack of Bud’s and we all had one, not saying much, staring across the bay, savouring the last of the Autumn sunshine and deep in thought.
This turned out to be Black Monday; the day when the Dow Jones stock market crashed 22%, (by October month end, nearly 23% had been wiped off the Dow Jones value.  The UK lost 26%, Spain 31%, Australia 42% and Hong Kong 45%).  The guy paid us when we had finished and thanked us for our concern, the beers, smokes and comfort.  I wonder today whether he recouped or failed to ever get back his money. 
Mark and I were enjoying our life in the Bay Area but had never really explored San Francisco beyond a trip to the tourist haunts of Pier 39 and Fishermans Wharf.  My mum had given me one of my father’s watches just before I travelled.  It is a watch by Montine of Switzerland and whilst not worth a great deal, has sentimental value.  It needed an overhaul and a new strap, so Mark and I went along to a Jewellers and watch repairer on Burlingame Avenue.  He looked at the watch and recommended a few parts he needed and it would take a few weeks before it would be ready.  Mark was browsing the window outside when I came out of the shop and told him the news.

A very attractive blond haired girl (I kid you not), aged early twenties was stood to one side and said my favourite line at the time “Are you guys British?”  “Why yes we are” we answered together, “Oh, I just love your accent!” she giggled, we were hooked!  “Care to grab a coffee” we asked again, like Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dee.  “I’d love to” she replied, so off we went to the cafe’ just down the Avenue and proceeded to beguile her with our tales of Derring-do, our adventure to America etc.
She lived on Market Street near 16th Street and we told her (sneaky, sneaky ulterior motivey) that we had rarely been to the “City”.  “You can stay with me” she offered.  Mark and I exchanged what to us seemed fleeting glances of agreement, but to the trained eye would have been a blatant scream of “CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT, SHE FELL FOR IT, and SHE’S OFFERED TO PUT US UP – ARE WE IN OR WHAT!!”  One of us replied, “Why thank you that is very kind, we would love to, do you have a number?” in as refined a cut glass English accent as we could muster.  “You’re just so cute” she said.
Not ones to shun an offer, we had agreed by the end of the coffee to see her the forthcoming Friday and with address in hand set out after work on the Caltrans (The Caltrans is a train system that runs between San Francisco and San Jose) to the City.  Once there we grabbed a cab downtown to her address.  She lived in a three storey town house; the bottom floor was a shop, with an entrance door off the street and stairs to the apartment.
During the train trip Mark and I had discussed which of us she fancied more, whether a three-way would be on the cards and fantasised on the number of other shagging scenarios that may occur over the next few hours.  We turned up at the apartment and rang the bell.  She buzzed and asked who it was, we told her and she let us in.  Once in the front room, she asked us if we needed a drink and said we could crash on the floor in the front room.  Mark and I looked at each other, shrugged and said ok, perhaps she was playing hard to get?  Why? 
A male voice called her from the back of the apartment, a male “English” voice, (that was why!).  She left us and went towards the voice; we looked at each other again, our pre-nuptial erections wilting rapidly!  Raised voices came from the back of the apartment and she came back through to the front room.  “My boyfriend is not too happy that I asked you to stay” she said.  “Should we leave then?” asked Mark, “oh no, he says you can stay tonight” she said.  At that the boyfriend came through to the room.  He was a decent enough bloke, he explained that she was always asking Brits to stay and it was pissing him off.  We explained our recent history as much as we felt relevant and omitted the part about wanting to screw his girlfriend so hard her eyes popped out.  
He was ok with us staying, gave us a key and said don’t steal anything!  Mark said we couldn’t blame him as we were two English blokes on the pull in California and he was the same, or had been, so knew the score.  We decided to make ourselves scarce for the evening, and wandered out into the street.  It was after 7pm and coming down the stairs and out onto the street, the street lights were on and people were making their way home, or out into town for the evening. 
Mark was hungry and spotted a Hamburger joint across the street, we crossed at the lights and walked down to the burger joint, which was quite a large place.  As we entered, there were tables and chairs on either side with an archway through the right hand wall into another room, from wherein the sounds of disco music could be heard.  I wandered towards the sound and looked into the gloom, as there weren’t any lights on in there except for the low wattage disco lights reflecting off the glitter ball on the ceiling.  It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the gloom.
Beneath the glitter ball four couples embraced each other tightly, swaying to the music and occasionally staring into each other’s eyes.  The couples were all men and I turned to Mark, trying to point this out, but he was looking up at the menu.  I told Mark to look through the archway into the other room and he referred me to the menu.  The menu featured some tasty delights such as; Feel My Meat Burger, Hot and Meaty Burger, Chew My Meat Burger, (you get the idea).  Mark came back over and we smiled and tried not to laugh, but we were still hungry.  The guy behind the counter asked what we wanted, “FRIES!” we said. 
We took our fries out onto the street and looked at each other and started to smile.  That was the first time we had ever been in such a blatantly gay atmosphere and I suppose if you are going to experience the gay world San Francisco is the place to go!  Waiting for a cab the sidewalks had got busy, a couple walked past dressed in black leather and I looked at them after they moved on up the street and noticed that one of them had no arse in his trousers, his bare behind on show, we both lost it.  The traffic was passing by now and Marks arm went up and he shouted “CAB!”
Our trip to the City was not finished yet, but that can wait until the next blog.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

An Update on changes to Blog


Hello Reader(s)

If you are a regular reader/visitor to my Blog, you will note that the appearance of this blog has suddenly changed. I have used Google Blog spot to (hopefully) improve navigation for you, and it also offers the option to choose how you view each blog as well.

I hope this helps, if you have any feedback, drop me a quick mail to - thejonahs@aol.com or leave a comment at the bottom of each blog.

Next blog detailing the first year of my American Dream will be published next week.

Until then, I am attaching a picture of me posing (note hair length) to either make you smile, crack up, wince, or moan............umm JW's!!(That’s me being a vacuous twat). I was trying extremely hard to make it as a singer/songwriter at this time, whilst also attempting to look like George Michael.

The picture was taken July 1988; I was 24 years old and full of "IT". You can decide for yourselves what "IT" was!

Fond regards

JW.

Monday, 10 October 2011

BA, No Beach, Buds and Babes - 1987

An uneventful trip back to Norwich after the events getting our visa’s in London, was followed by a hasty period of gathering up enough money to travel.  I was working again for Adrian and on £40 a day - £200 a week.  I make a point of stating my income as I will note how much I earned a week in America, once we get there.  The months sped by, more drinking, saving, partying and clubbing, the nights and days merging into each other.


My mum was working at the dry cleaners at the shopping centre where she’d caught me shoplifting sweets in my teens (see http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/2010/07/road-to-redemption-is-made-of-chocolate.html), Mark was working as a salesman, starting a career in sales selling sweets and mints, moving onto cleaning products and developing a career that would eventually end up with Mark as a leader in sales recognised across the drinks industry (where he ended up) working for Guinness, then Diageo and finally Magners Cider, (more to come on that in later blogs).  Helen and David had moved from the council house into their own home and the girls were doing well at school, Richard was now a Police Sergeant in the met Police and Julian was drumming for bands having become very accomplished as a self-taught drummer. 
At home then it was a period of stability, is what I am trying to say.  My going to America was not going to cause too many ripples as everyone was getting on with their own lives.  I set about bidding my friends and family farewell.  For my male friends, this meant drinking and clubbing, for my female friends, this meant finding any of them willing for a farewell session of bedspring testing at my mum’s and for my family, a series of phone calls and visits.  I sold the car £150, my stereo £30, some clothes and had about £200 in savings.  Mark and I purchased one way stand-by tickets on BA (£169) to San Francisco for the end of May 1987 and I bought a bottle of Moet, packed my case and set off to Marks house in Portsmouth where I stayed for a week before we left for Heathrow.  We were about to set off on another adventure and I left Norwich behind, heading for the American dream.  I was going to be a star, singer songwriter, famous goddamit!

Terminal 4 at Heathrow airport was at that time dedicated to British Airways.  We turned up, one suitcase each and went to the check-in desk, where we were told that the day’s flight was full but that we’d be able to travel the following day.  Our only option was to bed down in the terminal for the night and await our flight.  I remember wandering around the terminal trying to find a place to sleep and we ended up on an upper floor, lying on some chairs we’d pulled together.  After a crap sleep, we ate breakfast and went back to the check-in desk, where we were told we could fly and our bags went off to the plane.

We boarded the plane midmorning and sat in our economy seats, the first time on a 747, the first time crossing the Atlantic, (I’d flown half way across on the way to the Falklands (see http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/2011/04/sailors-life-for-me-not-bloody-likely.html).  Once airborne the stewardess’s came round with drinks (free!!) and lunch.  Our area at the back was fairly empty and Mark and I stretched out across the middle row seats and slept for a while.  When I woke up I asked the Stewardess if I could open our Champagne.  She told me we could not consume our own drinks on the flight, but after I told her what we were doing, she gave us a half bottle, (I had started to blag!).

We landed at SFO mid-afternoon and went to the immigration desks.  During the flight we had been given the green Visa Waiver forms and in the section asking how long we intended to stay we’d had both written 6 months.  I told Mark that we may as well put that as anything else, at least we would get a pass for 6 months if approved, whereas putting two weeks would end up with us overstaying should we find work (knowing that working would be illegal anyway).

The queue for Immigration was short and we split to go to individual immigration officers.  I had £150 on me.  I had to find work to afford the ticket home.  If the guy decided to check me out I was in trouble.  Mark meanwhile had a Lloyds Credit Card.  Only problem was it was maxed out!  The guy at the desk looked at my passport and up at me.  “Six months, what do you plan to do for six months?” he asked.  No word of a lie, I said we were going to see Marks Aunt Shirley, and then we’d “probably bum around for a bit!” What a twat, the guy could really go for me now, as I had admitted I had no plans at all!  He looked at me and said “great, have a nice time” and stamped my passport.

I walked away amazed and still nervous and looked across to see Mark getting the third degree from his immigration officer.  I had passed and was allowed in, he looked like it was going badly and I thought about what I would do if he was refused entry. Fortunately, he got past the guy by showing he had funds by waving his credit card about!  We grabbed our cases and walked out of the airport and into America as fast as we could.

“Right mate, where to now” I said.  “A cab” he said, once he’d called Shirley on a pay phone, she answered the phone and he spoke for a few moments.  “Paul, “she called to her son, “they’re here”.  His aunt lived in a town called Burlingame, we had no idea where that was, just an address on Old Oak Drive, Burlingame.  This turned out to be $20 away.  After some weeks of acclimatisation, we figured we’d been ripped off by the cab driver, seeing two English guys with no idea where to go.

The apartment was a two storey, gated complex, with room for parking below the apartments.  Shirley, Mark’s aunt, lived with her son Paul, in a three bedroom apartment.  We buzzed and she let us in through the gate.  At the door, Shirley waited for us to climb the stairs with our cases.  I was shattered from the jetlag, but she welcomed us in, hugging Mark and Paul came through to see us.  Paul was tall gangley and had tousled blond hair and a moustache.  He was also an alcoholic in denial.  Shirley was welcoming, warm, and friendly and offered a home from home.

Paul drank Budweiser as if he owned shares in the company and after offering us a bottle, sat in his chair in front of the TV, which was where he could be found every night and weekend.  Mark brought them up to date and I was dropping off to sleep in my chair. I asked if I could get my head down and was shown to the spare room, a mattress on the floor and some blankets.  I hit the bed and slept for the remainder of the day and into the next morning. 

Paul smoked Marlboro Red, just like me so we had that in common!  He also had his own decorating company, residential painting mostly, so we had that in common too!  He offered Mark and I jobs straight away, Mark on slightly less than me as he was not a trained painter, but Paul said he could get Mark work putting up plasterboard walls in the homes we would paint, many of which were new build.

So, come the following Monday we would be working in California, “living the American dream baby!”  We had a few days beforehand to acclimatise and explore Burlingame and the nearby area.  Main Street was a pretty street, small shops and a small mall, called Crosby Commons, dedicated to Bing Crosby and his wife Kathryn.  They lived in the nearby neighbourhood of Hillsborough, which was at that time, I was told, the second most expensive piece of real estate after Beverly Hills in LA. 

We also wandered in the other direction into San Mateo, where we found an Irish Bar, full of ex-pats and called O’Neill’s and it is still there!  A got a warm welcome and we drank our fill of Guinness and true to form having been in the states for 24 hours, I started chatting up a couple of American girls, who did not know what they were letting themselves in for.  Come home time, I had been kissing one of them, Mark was well into the other and we walked them home.  We bid them farewell and wandered back to Shirley and Paul’s, content with a good days work. 

On the Saturday, I convinced Mark that we had to explore San Jose’.  I told him about the Burt Bacharach song, “Do you know the way to San Jose” and the lyrics and said we could go to the beach there and hang out.  Armed with a carrier bag, containing our trunks and towels we boarded the Caltrans Train at Burlingame, a two storey train, and headed south.  We got off at San Jose and headed into the city centre.  After wandering about for an hour or so aimlessly searching for signs saying “beach this way”, we eventually stopped someone and asked where the beach was?  The guy looked at us and laughingly said “you can go north until you hit the salt flats at the end of San Francisco bay, or, you can go west towards Santa Cruz.  Only Santa Cruz is 20km away and the salt flats aren’t much to look at”. 

Mark looked at me and I said “but the song makes San Jose sound really cool”, at this the guy laughed again and said “sorry buddy, but it may sound cool but there ain’t no beach here”.  We walked back to the train station and headed home, somewhat pissed off.  We spent the rest of the weekend wandering about and found a neat bar/pizza joint and a cracking Mexican place in Burlingame called La PiƱata’.  The place is still open and I recommend it!

Monday morning, our first day at work, Paul took us to the paint store and we collected some overalls, paint and headed off to the Deli to pick up some breakfast and a sandwich for lunch.  Our works van was a coupe, a massive American two door car.  The trunk (boot) was full of paint and tools; the back seat was covered in drop cloths and odds and ends, with room for one person to squeeze in.  Yep, we were living the dream baby!!!

At the Deli Mark and I got Coffee’s and Bear Claw pastries and a Pastrami (love it) sandwich.  Paul got a six pack of Bud!  We got to the site and Paul had already drunk one bottle and he left the rest in the car.  Paul's day went like this, get up, have a bud and a smoke.  Go to Deli, buy more Buds, and drink one on the way to work.  Work until 10am, have a Bud, work until noon, have 3 buds, go to Deli, get more Buds.  Work until 3pm, have a Bud, work until 5pm, go home, drinking a Bud.  Once home, celebrate, by having a Bud.  Cook (he was a fantastic cook) some food, drink a Bud with it.  Settle into easy chair, crack a Bud and watch sports and Miami Vice.

To put the Bud fixation into further context, at one point, Paul went to the Liquor Store with me and bought a fridge with a beer tap on it.  A small barrel was put inside the fridge, the keg was tapped and the user simply poured a beer whenever they needed one.  Paul placed this fridge next to his easy chair.

Paul was pretty impressed with my painting, so much so that he decided he would pay me $300 a week, Mark $250.  Back then you got 57 cents to the pound.  So my $300 was worth £157.  I wasn’t paying any taxes, health care, just kicking back to Shirley $30 a week for food.  Paul said my wages would go up as time went by and I intended to make sure they did as well so I worked my arse off!  Paul sub-contracted off a couple of Builders, and we were never short of work. 

We started to go to clubs and bars a little further afield with Hoolahans being one.  We met two sisters, one of whom was absolutely knock out, the other err, you know, plain looking would be polite.  The reader has to understand something about me at this time.  I was pretty much an insensitive bastard.  I did not “deep think” about my behaviour and its affect on others (mainly women), but I was not a chauvinistic pig either.  I just fancied women and my head would be turned almost every time I had known someone for over a week.  I was always looking for the next one.  Mark therefore knew his place and would sacrifice himself in order to further my cause.  He “would get the goppa!”  And get the goppa he did, on countless occasions, in countless clubs and bars.

And so our American dream commenced. I found that the English accent was a device of unrivalled power, and attracted girls like a moth to a flame when confronted by it. I therefore made full use of the tools at my disposal and moved swiftly through a series of one night stands and long term (one week) relationships. Mark has also developed an additional but powerful and very handy 6th sense, whereby he knew when my luck was in long before i did and would predict "you're getting laid tonight", with a certain amount of disappointment, if the girl in question was accompanied by a "Goppa"

 
On days off, Paul took us in his car to Half Moon Bay (we got to the beach eventually) and we started to develop a network of friends, relying on Paul for transport and work (for money) and Shirley for a roof over our heads.  Paul was good to his word and within a month my salary had gone up to $550 a week, which equated to around £315.  Why?  Because we were fast, good and reliable.  We started looking for a place of our own as we were saving up dollars fast.  We were to find a place and I was suddenly to find I was alone but in “Love!!”

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

All Roads lead to Rhodes (and a police horse) - 1986 - 1987

I was starting to get comments that I “looked” like George Michael.  I began to style my look on his (ex-WHAM! Pre Faith Album look); growing my hair longer and growing a stubble beard. 

My mates at the Wensum Community Centre all addressed me as George, had done for some time, as did their girlfriends.  Lisa Waterfield still does.  There was some competition from Gary Hughes as well.  Back from my visit to see Mark Cameron in Portsmouth, I again fell into my usual trap, over enthusiasm for women, under enthusiasm for work.  I was painting for Carters and we were sent out to a Nature Reserve property called How Hill to renovate inside and out. 

Each day we, (Bradley and various painters, builders etc) clambered into a Transit van and set off to How Hill.  In the main “living” room, cornicing and wooden carvings required detailed painting and I was doing this with Bradley.  Upstairs bedrooms were being painted by the rest of the crew and as if to prove a point made in my last blog (http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/2011/09/painting-porking-and-plans-afoot.html), any painter over the age of 40, looked at least 60, the consequence of years of working with paint thinners and toxic substances like paint stripper.  Leathery skin, cracked hands, thinning hair and bad coughs.  They looked miserable, smelt terrible and their moaning about life was doing my head in.  Fucking cheer up, I thought, do something different, and be something different, just shut up!
Bradley and I took great pleasure in winding up the foreman, a Ginger bearded chap who we hid from most of the time to avoid being given work.  The other guys were mainly working off ladders to reach the high ceilings, so Bradley and I would walk quietly up behind them and paint the heels of their shoes with White Gloss paint, which would rub onto their overalls and onto the trousers they wore underneath.  But I was bored and was unconsciously trying to piss Carters off enough to get fired.

I was spending a lot of time with my sister Helen and her husband David.  Whilst he worked shifts, I would go round to their house and keep her company.  I adored my nieces, Claire and Katie, and spent as much time with them as possible.  My more gentle side had resulted in my sewing together stuffed toys (baby seals), whilst waiting for discharge from the Army, which I named Bernard and Cecil and gave to the girls.  Mark Cameron came up to Norwich for a week and Helen, Mark and I went into Norwich for drinks and long chats about life, the universe and everything, (to steal a phrase).  Mark was moaning more and more about life on the south coast, the work situation too, but in contrast with the Carters Painters, he and I would do something with our lives to varying degrees.   
Mum had a “male friends” who she met at the singles club in town, purely platonic friendships, but she met a wider circle of ladies as well, who started to go to Spain with her each year.  One friend, Harry, was a gentle, sincere man, who mum liked a good deal, but he did not have the “spark” mum looked for.  Helen and I went out for a drink one evening and pitched up at mums quite late, to find Harry and mum having a nightcap, before he headed off home.  Helen and I decided it would be great to share our love of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore as their drunken alter ego’s Derek and Clive and proceeded to subject Harry and mum to such delights as “The longest Bogey”, “The Horn”, “This bloke came up to me”, Celebrity Suicide” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQsGBgDRNuM) (WARNING – ADULT CONTENT) and “The worse job he ever had” to name but a few.  Any aficionado of Pete and Dud will recognise these tracks from Derek and Clive Live and Ad Nauseam.  The content is mainly a stream of bad language built into skits lasting not more than 4 minutes.  Mum and harry sat there disgusted but unable to move, whilst Helen and I fell about laughing.

Mum always hit Benidorm in November and had assembled quite a large group of friends by now, who she met out there.  My mum had class (even though she liked Benidorm!), dressed immaculately, thought of herself as a new Joan Collins, (Dynasty was big-time TV then) and was the centre of attention wherever she went.  The other positive, I had the run of her house for two weeks.
Mum was not stupid, she knew I would entertain, but the one stipulation in all this was, ‘under no circumstances was anyone, even yours truly, to use her bedroom’.  That was sacred turf and the penalty for transgression would be severe.  The first weekend she was away, I invited the whole crew round, Rick Holmes and his band mates, the Wensum Community Centre gang and their girlfriends, the ladies who I met every weekend in town and various other hangers on.  I did not do drugs other than alcohol and cigarettes and I don’t think anyone else did at that time, apart from the odd spot of weed, smoked in the garden.
I spent most of the evening in my bedroom, carrying out a series of manoeuvres and experiments, designed to measure the capacity of the beds strength to withstand repeated banging and the recipient’s ability to use her legs afterwards!  Other bedrooms were also in full use and many a door was being knocked on, in the hope of hurrying the current occupants along.  I had already issued the dictat about mum’s room being out of bounds and this was being adhered to.  Unfortunately, Paul Waterfield and his new girlfriend Lisa could restrain themselves no longer and crossed the threshold.

In my ignorance and because they did such a good job of restoring the room to its original state, I did not know they had transgressed.  In fact, I was unaware until mum came home and after unpacking, came downstairs holding an earring in her hand.  Obviously it was not hers and despite my pleas of innocence, was the recipient of a clip to the ear (again), the threat of the frying pan around the head and booted out of the house, along with the silent treatment. 

Note – the silent treatment; wherein mum would not speak to you for a period of not less than 24 hours, which could extend to over 72 hours, no meals cooked and it was best to get out of the house as much as possible.
Summer of 1986 and the Wensum boys decided to go to Rhodes on a Club 18-30 holiday.  I saved and saved (meaning I had a few Drachmas totalling less than £200) and come the day of departure we met at the Lamb Pub in Norwich, suitcase packed.  Our party were Tim, Bradley, Ian, Gary (Hughes) and myself.  Paul Waterfield was now removed from such shenanigans under pain of death from Lisa.  We got the coach to Gatwick and flew out to Rhodes, arriving in the middle of the night, to find our hotel overbooked and we were dumped in another hotel for the night.

From left (?,?, Me, Ian, Bradley, Tim and Gary)

Our “booked” hotel, the Atlantic, was a Bed and Breakfast doss hole, with little to interest anyone, no swimming pool, only a pool table, so we would cross town to another “18-30’s” hotel, where most of the “around the pool” games and activities took place.  We took a cassette recorder (boom box) everywhere we went, playing Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, WHAM! (a lot) as loud as possible.
Ian and Me
Bradley(Hat), George (Me), Ian and Tim
Each day, (after the lay-in from the night before) was a series of beach and poolside viewing sessions.  The number of women easily outnumbered the men and I was in my element, or so I thought.  My abject failure to chat up and bed any girl until the later part of the second week was telling.  Mind you, we still competed with each other and this resulted one night in Gary Hughes scoring a direct hit on the bed next to me, as I lay there trying hard to ignore the muffled yelps and groans of pleasure.  We went on most of the “excursions”, including a sailing trip, BBQ and the “Greek night” where I had my “success” finally. 

We also hired a beach buggy, Tom drove and we shot off to Lindos via Falaraki, trying to maintain our cool whilst Tim took turns too fast and then said he needed to test the brakes, which ended up in near death as Ian, Gary and I did not have seatbelts in the back and shot forwards into Bradley and Tim.
Our main evening hang out was a bar we discovered, that had an open air courtyard and live music.  The guy who owned the bar was English and had been the guitarist in the group Sad Cafe’, whose only record I can remember was “Hurry Home”.  He did have an open mike though and I got up (supported by my backing singers) to sing “Club Tropicana” (WHAM!).  It was my first real live performance and would lead onto bigger and better things.

Greek night found me chatting to “Mary” from Southampton.  Mary was a lovely girl, pretty, blonde and happily pissed and we fondled and kissed most of the evening.  This being our last night, I was a bit put out when she told me she’d fancied me from the first day, but had taken two weeks to chat me up!  The coach back to the hotel dropped us off and she and I headed down to the beach and got sand in all the usual cracks and crevices, before heading back to her hotel for a shower.
As usual, i am in the front, strangling the competition!
I took her number (as if I’d see her again) and flew back to England, skint but satisfied, owning Tim a small fortune in money, lent to cover me for the final “13 days” of the two week trip!  I was then laid off by Carters, downturn in work they said, but probably because I was crap and lazy.  I signed on the dole and went to Portsmouth to see Mark Cameron again.  I told him about Mary and he said I should call her.  I did and we met on Southampton seafront and whilst Mark made his excuses, we revived the night on the beach in the seafront gardens.
Home again, football season again and the reserves for me as Bradley was back in good health and back in the first team.  The year (1986) drew to a close with a whimper for me, no work, on benefits, so not much in the way of spare cash to go out and no real girlfriend as such.  1987 started as 1986 finished, odd jobbing for Adrian Murphy and generally annoying mum by being around too much.

Mark Cameron rang me a few weeks into 1987 and said the now immortal line “Do you want to come to America with me; I have an aunt in California”?  “Yes” was my immediate answer.  I needed to know, no more than that. I asked no questions about where in California she lived, her ability to put us up, how we’d survive etc, and set about raising enough money to get out there and exist if need be.  Mark came back up to Norwich and we had to travel to London, to the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square to get our Visa’s.  Driving the “boat” my Cortina, was fun if not dangerous, with the front number plate balanced on the dashboard, bald tyres, rusting sills and rear doors that were held shut by a bungee cord across the seat and attached to the interior door handles.

We arrived into central London intact, just, and drove alongside Buckingham Palace towards Hyde Park, windows open, sun shining, stereo blasting out WHAM!  We were cool, certain we were attracting attention.  The largest Police Horse I have ever seen moved out into the road ahead and the policeman, who was sat astride it, put up his hand and motioned me to pull into the side of the road.  I told Mark to lighten up, that I’d be ok, but he sat ashen faced as I climbed out of the car and walked towards the horse, which proceeded to head butt me backwards towards and up against the car bonnet.

The Police Officer asked me where I was going and I told him of our plans and the trip to the American Embassy, and “did he know where The Embassy was from here?”  He looked at the car in disgust and asked me how I had the cheek to drive the thing into central London. I turned around and looked at the car and Mark shrinking down in his seat.  “My brother Richard is a Met Policeman” I offered, as if that would sway the encounter positively in my direction.  “Is he now, what’s his name then?” I told him Richards’s full name and where Richard was based (Peckham) and he spoke into the radio.

After a moment or two, he looked at me, at the car and said “right, go to the embassy, get your Visa and never, ever, bring that heap of crap into London again”.  I looked at Mark, gave him a confident “I know what I am doing” look and told the Policeman I liked his horse, to which it butted me in the chest again.  I got in the car and we drove around the horse and onto Park Lane and into Grosvenor Square.  We parked and went into the Embassy, went through the interview and came out with our Passports stamped.

The trip was on, it was time to save money and sell possessions.