Friday, August 30, 2013

The Parachute Jump Fiasco

As a child I'd always been entranced by TV footage of free-fall parachutists.
I mean, what child wouldn't be? People dress up in nifty clothes, strap an important-looking pack on their back with a complicated harness, get into an aeroplane with no door which flies up to a great height, at which point the parachutist waves a cheery goodbye to the unlucky pilot who only, only gets to fly the plane 'back to base', yells the magic word "Cut!" and jumps out into space. Then, then said parachutist displays just how awesome this all is by zooming hither and yon about the sky, tumbling and spinning at will. Sometimes they jump out with friends and do complicated dances, grinning like idiots the whole time from the sheer fun of it all.

In my childhood this would end with a rather boring canopy deployment and landing, but by the time I was fifteen or so the parachute of choice was an oblong parawing which enabled more aerobatic shenanigans and displays of awesomeness1.

What kid wouldn't be entranced by it all?

There was even a TV show about parachutists who solved crimes and had adventures all which required someone jump out of an aeroplane and zip around the sky creatively for a few minutes each week. It was called Ripcord and after watching it we would all make parachute packs from satchels with string for a ripcord and emulate the zooming bit by skating down the hill on Rotherham Road into Chesholme Road with our arms outstretched.

It was all great fun unless the grown-ups decided to put more crushed granite on the roads, which would result in loose chippings being scattered all over the pavement 2 which in turn would jam a wheel at some crucial moment of high-speed pretend freefalling, precipitating a moderate-speed real-world tumble onto razor-sharp gravel. It was all very tedious but that was adults for you. There was no understanding why they did the brainless stuff they did. All you could do was dig the stones out of the wounds and carry on as best as you could.
Fast forward a few years.

In 1984 I was working as a consultant on a contract with a firm in Aylesbury, which I've mentioned before as the boredom capital of the world at that point in time. I was working on a team led by a bloke who did free-fall parachuting for fun, and who was just about to qualify at the highest recognised level in the UK (there were ten such levels at the time). He talked about it a lot, sparking memories of lacerated knees and sturdy strap-on rollerskates weighing my feet down3.

One day we celebrated someone's birthday or resignation or engagement, can't remember which, with the standard I.T. lunchtime trip down the pub, during which the Parachuting Team Leader passed around photographs of his latest plummet to the great interest of all. That evening I retired to The Brewer's Elbow, my chosen local pub of choice for whiling away the hours until they opened Ayelsbury up again4 and someone asked who would be interested in doing a sponsored parachute jump for charity.

Let's recap: Childhood fantasy reinforced by recent photographic evidence of spiffiness, voluntary brain function depressed due to repeated application of large quantities of lethally strong beer, leading question. Anyone in any doubt whose hand shot up so fast it pulled a muscle?

It should be noted that in my youth I was not so robustly muscled5 as I am now, and was known at times to get involved in athletic pursuits that might seem far-fetched to those who only know me in my post "responsibility" years. Rock climbing had been a passion in my late teens, and I would be white water rafting inside a year of getting to the USA.
And so it came to pass that I signed up for two weeks of misery, by which I mean the process of asking colleagues if they would care to sponsor me.

I ran into unbelievable levels of hostility in this, directed at me by the gittish cadre of young men who worked around me, especially the gang who worked on the Olivetti equipment6 who, if there is any justice, went to early and lingering retirement at 40 because their chosen technology went the way of the buggy whip. They spread the false story around that the first however much I raised would be used to pay for the jump, which I had, in fact, paid for myself up front in cash the night I volunteered to take part in the mass plane evacuation at inconvenient altitude, and it took me days to quash the story, only doing so by calling the chief storyteller a fbleeping liar to his face in a voice loud enough to carry to the carpark.

I later opined that the next time I would simply donate the cost of the parachute course to the charity; it would be cheap at any price if it meant not having to try and access the better side of such people7.

I should add that this sort of thing was not at all unusual in that shop. A more sullen bunch of backbiting treacherous shirtheads I have never had the dubious pleasure of meeting. Even the hostility shown to me by real southerners two years before paled into insignificance beside this Faux Fbleepheadism. I wish them all well. A corpse-poisoned well. Gits.

Where was I?

The weekend of the training course and jump eventually rolled around and the hardcore Brewer's Elbow crowd departed for an airfield in Peterborough where we were shown to a rough baracks deemed unsuitable for purpose, airmen the billeting of sometime around 1942. We didn't care because we had thought to bring gallons of life-saving Red Stripe lager with us for emergencies.

It was perhaps unfortunate that an emergency8 had been declared two minutes after setting off leading to the consumption of the entire reserve on the road, causing us to be late due to getting lost, bathroom breaks and frank exchanges of views on the subject of route.

We arrived in the pitch darkness and woke everyone else who had turned up at the suggested five o'clock and bedded down at the suggested eight. They took it in good part, joining in the exchange of slanderous observations and vile epithets in which we were indulging ourselves. The next morning there was a great deal of loud greeting and backslapping. It was just a little sad that everyone else wasn't of a mood to join in, and we surmised by the dark looks people shot our way that they had yet to find their own reserves of derring-do (and perhaps some Red Stripe lager).

We breakfasted on whatever it was that parachutists thought appropriate, to be honest I've forgotten what that entailed, and began a day of learning how to count to four, which you have to do in thousands at the top of your voice for archaic parachutist reasons. After you get to four thousand you have to scream "check!" and look over your shoulder. Apparently "check" is the magic parachute-opening word.

As soon as the instructors were satisfied that we could get to four without getting lost along the way - perhaps they underestimated our tollerance for Red Stripe and feared after-effects would rob us of basic intellect9 - we were taken to the next stage of our training: the wooden mock-up aeroplane.

The aircraft in which we were to make our leap for idiocy was a Britten-Norman Islander, a short take-off shoulder-wing aeroplane originally designed for use in the Channel Islands where runway length is at a premium. In order to make the eight seater aircraft fit for six parachutists all the seats had been removed that didn't have a pilot sitting in them, the carpet had been replaced with plywood and the bit where the door and some of the wall of the port10 side once resided had been replaced with a sort of D-shaped hole. More a Delta really, with a long edge running down and a short edge running up to form the point around a foot above the deck line. This was represented by a wooden mock-up of half the aeroplane set up about four feet above the concrete of the hanger it was housed in.

The exit technique was simple. You sat on the floor. When the "Jump Master", the bloke nominally in charge of things yelled "Feet Out" you shuffled over, stuck your legs out of the plane turned forward, hung one buttock over empty space while holding the edge of the deck under your right thigh with your right hand and reached behind with your left for that point where the delta was made, just behind the small of your back. It sounds more dangerous than it would be if it were less dangerous. In point of fact there is no danger of falling out unless you fall out. When the Jump Master yelled "GO!" you would push hard with the right hand while stretching out with your left arm, trying to reach and touch the pylon of the landing gear. I was assured it couldn't be done, but the idea was to believe it could and to try and do it while simultaneously believing that you wouldn't end up stubbing the fingers of your left hand into the bloody thing.

I have to say I excelled at this and in only four hours or so was no longer whimpering aloud when I jumped out and landed on the concrete, there to stand spread-eagled in the manner encouraged by Mistress Alexa during her Executive Discipline sessions while screaming "ONE THOUSAND, TWO THOUSAND, THREE THOUSAND, FOUR THOUSAND, CHECK!"11 then hurrying out of theater so the next person could have a go, though I was dubious when told that the observers would be listening for the count when we jumped for real. It was all great fun, and soon we were deemed fit to try the various Fan Towers

These were even more fun than the Wooden Aeroplane. You climbed up a small tower, grabbed a set of writs restraints12 and jumped off the platform. The wrist harness was connected to two ropes wound round a drum, which was attached to a huge squirrel-cage fan by a massively overdriven gear train. This slowed your descent to parachute-like speeds and you crashed into the floor at only a mild plummet, collaspsing in an approved manner into a heap. If you did it wrong, a fat instructor yelled vile things at you.

Then, when we had mastered the vertical drop we got to do the really high vertical drop which was a bit of a challenge because of a teensy problem I hadn't bothered to mention to anyone: I was and am very slightly terrified of heights. However, I drew on the same reserves of sheer manliness I used while rock-climbing in my teens13 and managed to complete the training jump off the thirty foot tower with only a minor bladder leak and a falsetto shriek I passed off as a battle-cry.

Then there was only the travelling drop, a sort of inclined zip-line that crashed one into the ground at a forward speed of about ten miles an hour, and we were given the tour of the packing shed and roped into packing a parachute. We would also repack our own 'chute after we jumped later on the Sunday.

A word or two about parachutes and how they work is in order.

Parachutes came in two general flavours at that time: the round umbrella affair familiar to those who've seen The Longest Day or Band of Brothers, and the oblong sort you see the Red Devils and James Bond using. Oblong "parawing" parachutes are packed in haversack-sized packs. The canopy is bagged in something that looks like a spongebag. Really. The reserve 'chute is packed into a spring-loaded cylinder set in the middle of the haversack. The parachutist jumps out of the aeroplane and has fun, then, to deploy the parachute he or she pulls a small parachute from a sheath typically across the belly by means of a wooden toggle for all the world like a duffel coat "button", holds this outside their slipstream and lets go. The small 'chute zooms back and pulls the ripcord, and starts the parachute deployment by dragging it out of the pack. If there is a problem, the parachutist must pull on securing toggles at their shoulders, releasing a system of three overlapping rings that are the attachment points for the parachute shrouds, "cutting away" the main canopy so that the reserve parachute can be fired. The spring does the same job for the reserve 'chute as the small parachute does for the main; it gets the canopy of the reserve 'chute out of the slipstream of the plummeting skydiver (parachutes will tend to cling to the back of the skydiver because there is a partial vacuum there).

People who go on two-day parachute jump training courses get to use the first kind, with a spare one in a small pack strapped across the stomach. This is because round parachutes are simple and relatively failsafe after years of ironing out the bugs and because new parachutists count to four too fast sometimes and deploy the reserve parachute needlessly. The back-and-belly design means that you can do this without one parachute fouling the other, though you lose maneuverability if you use both 'chutes. I saw a couple of figure-eight shaped canopies the day I did my jump.

Parachute failure on these round 'chutes is extremely rare. The so-called Roman Candle failure that used to be a common killer of parachuting servicemen is no longer possible thanks to the use of static-free materials (the "Candle" is actually a lethal case of static cling that prevents the canopy opening because it sticks to itself like socks do in a tumble drier) and various other design elements. A Lineover failure, caused when the canopy opens, then momentarily collapses and allows the lines to flop over the canopy top before it inflates again, is made much more unlikely by another design element that looks like a mesh skirt running around the rim of the canopy. Modern parachutes can even lose a shroud or two without catastrophic failure. Which leaves the Hang-Up.

Parachutes can be deployed either by the parachutist pulling the so-called ripcord, or by the ripcord being replaced by a thick strap called a Static Line which is attached to the plane at one end and the parachute at the other, like paratroopers do in the movies. The act of jumping out of the aeroplane causes the static line to pull the parachute after a drop of a few feet.

A hang-up occurs when the parachute fails to unbag itself and the parachutist is towed along by the static line, bashing into the aeroplane and generally not having a good time of things and making it impossible to land the aeroplane. When this happens the jump master watches to see whether the parachutist puts his hands on his head, indicating he is conscious and aware. If the Jump Master sees this signal, he takes the enormous knife fastened to the rear bulkhead of the plane and cuts the Static Line so the parachutist falls away and can deploy his reserve 'chute by hand. If the Jump Master doesn't see this signal he is supposed to put the knife between his teeth and shin down the static line pirate-fashion, take hold of the unconscious parachutist, cut the Static Line, deploy the unconscious parachutist's reserve belly 'chute, push himself away and deploy his own parachute and effect a safe landing.

This rather flamboyant methodology was developed on the spur of the moment by the first (and as far as I know only) person confronted by the problem of an unconscious man hung up on the aircraft. They gave him the George Medal for it, which suggests it isn't quite as easy or safe to do as I may have made it seem. The Jump Master I eventually flew with said if it came to it he'd cut away the dangling person and swear he'd seen the signal. In his defense, he was a git.

I was about to see why a hang-up would be about as unlikely as a lottery win after not buying a ticket.

The pack of the parachute is a bit of a fake-out. Take an envelope and gently unstick the folds from each other. You'll have an oblong with triangular flaps on the top, bottom and sides that wrap around to overlap each other. This is exactly like a parachute pack. Along the length of the pack run twin tracks to which are attached rubber bands. The same sort as you use for in-office firepower. The shrouds, the lines that tether the canopy to the harness at the shoulders, are gathered in a loom on a long table and carefully folded into back-and-forth loops across the width of the pack, tethering each loop by slipping it through a rubber band. The canopy is carefully folded and inserted into the bag and the top secured to the ring the static line will attach to by string with a given beaking strain - I was told 100 pounds. The base of the bag is also secured by string with a lower breaking strain. I was told 50 pounds. The strings were colour-coded so you couldn't get them wrong, bright orange for the top of the bag, white for everywhere else. The bag then gets packed and secured with more rubber bands and the pack folded closed over the whole thing. The flaps were secured together around the Static Line ring with 50 pound string.

When the parachutist jumps out of the aeroplane the Static Line is pulled taut and the string holding the pack flaps together breaks as it is a sure bet the force of a grown person falling into the something-like 70 mph slipstream of the aeroplane will exert more than 50 pounds of force. The parachutist continues to fall and the bag, still fastened top and bottom by string unfolds from the pack, pulled by the retreating aeroplane. Once the bag is fully extended the shrouds pull free from the bands securing them in an orderly fashion so they don't tangle.

The 'plane is still pulling away with the Static Line attached and the top of the parachute, still packed in its bag, attached to the Static Line, the parachutist at the end of the fully deployed shrouds and still falling free when the bag suddenly takes the weight of the person in the harness. The 50 pound string gives first and the parachute, still attached to the 'plane begins deploying from the bag. It begins to open almost straight away.

When the canopy's length is fully extended the top string is pulled and breaks and the parachute, finally, is free of the aeroplane. The Static Line and the bag are still attached to the aeroplane and of no further interest to the parachutist. At no point is there anything stronger than rubber bands or string holding the parachutist to the aeroplane, thus a hang-up is just about impossible.

Should the parachute not open after all this, the parachutist simply grabs a fat red tab situated on top of the belly pack and pulls to deploy the reserve 'chute (we also practiced this with fake packs fitted with reusable Velcro ripcord tabs). The parachutist does not attempt to cut away from the main canopy because the belly 'chute is designed to deploy forward of the main canopy and is unlikely to tangle in it. Anyway, this sort of parachute does not have the three-ring release mechanism, but a sturdy pinch-and-pull-hard release on each shoulder called "Capewells" that we were warned time and again not to release in mid-fall because their primary use is for cutting away a canopy when it is dragging one along the ground after landing.
Modern equipment may differ from this 1984-era stuff I should add. My info is based on my own experience. You want research, you do it.

Parachutes in those days had twin vents in the rear panels that spilled air and conferred a 10 mph forward speed. This was considered an important factor for many reasons. Firstly it made the parachute maneuverable. By pulling on the steering toggles that would dangle over the parachutist's shoulders once the canopy was deployed the contraption could be steered and the Rottweiler Farm adjacent to the airfield could be avoided, as could the section of the National Electrical Grid that passed to the other side of the airfield. Secondly, positive airspeed would confer a small amount of lift to the canopy and reduce the downward velocity considerably14.

Unfortunately, after all the jumping and spreading and screaming and falling and packing, it transpired that the wind was blowing at a steady 20 mph on Sunday afternoon, and all jumps on round parachutes were cancelled. We would have to come back another day.
To cut a long story short, everyone else eventually did this on various weekdays, but I could only get to the airfield at weekends and for a few of these the weather was naff. Every Saturday morning I would dress in my jeans and a sweatshirt with no buttons or hooks, and a pair of Doc Martens I bought when I realised that the only boots I had had hooks for the laces which are a safety no-no in the world of parachuting. Foregoing breakfast in the interests of not suffering a catastrophic involuntary digestive tract evacuation should the sheer terror of jumping into pure height be too much for the old endocrinal system, I'd pile into the TR6 and drive to Peterborough only to be told "not today", and I would drive back getting into Coventry just in time for the lunchtime boozing session and throwdown Space Invader challenge down the Dog and Trumpet.
One Saturday I pulled into the airfield around eight thirty or so, to the vision of a thick blanket of fog. "So, no jumps today, then?" I asked a man wearing a Stetson, sunglasses and a parachute.

"Oh no, we're just waiting for the Sun to burn off the fog. I'll run you through the Wooden Aeroplane while we wait." His accent was South African.

I wandered back to my car past a group of people playing at free falling by running around with their arms spread so they could work out a four person routine and figure out how not to crash into each other before they did. Another team were doing the same but using mechanic's crawlers so they could be face down and see whether their close-order plummeting would end with someone getting a boot to the head. I'd always wondered how it was all choreographed.

Back at the car I carefully emptied my pockets of everything I could find and dumped the contents into my car boot. Nothing in pockets, nothing in bowels, no hooks. I was in good shape for the madness to come. I passed the time watching someone practice a juggling routine using the then-new "Klutz" bags. I had taught myself to juggle using the same book15 some weeks before16. He was good, too. Soon it was time for a parachute fitting.

"We've got ten-stone17 rated 'chutes and thirteen stone rated 'chutes. What'll you have?"

"I'm eleven stone18. What should I do?"

"It’s up to you."

I did a little thinking and reasoned that a parachute that was too small would drop me too fast and possibly injure me. An oversized parachute would, at worst, give me a longer ride for my money.

"Thirteen stone, please"

It weighed a ton. Then there was the belly 'chute that added another half ton to the whole sorry affair. Then I was hurried over to a group of five others. Two of them were sporting haversacks so they were going up to 15000 feet and would be last out, so first in.

Two were wearing elaborate parachutes with bulky automatic ripcord safety altimeters attached. They were at the point in their training that they were practicing a mimed cutting away of their main parachute19 demonstrating they could stay stable in free-fall while moving arms around. They would be going out at around 7000 feet and so were in second.
The last of my co-jumpers was also in training, and was destined to show she could pull a ripcord without becoming unstable in free fall20. She would be leaving the aeroplane at 5000 feet. Since I was the only one on a Static Line and would be jumping at 3000 feet, I would be last in and first out, and would not be able to "change my mind".

I sat, back to the pilot, looking at the South African cowboy sitting under the machete in its sheath on the rear bulkhead, nothing but open air a little forward and to my right. I comforted myself with the knowledge that I'd only have to look out at 200 feet (in order to get a mental picture of the "get ready for landing" look of the ground). The Jump Master held up two fingers and I had a good, long, nauseating look. And fell back, propped up by my parachute. The engine noise was deafening.

The Jump Master leaned forward to shout in my face: "We're a bit crowded in here with all these parachutes" he yelled.

I thought: Well I'm not chucking mine out, mate, but elected to say nothing.

"I want you to come and sit opposite the door."

I nodded, maintaining a manly silence rather than scream "Are you out of your fbleeping mind?" and scooted around to face the "door", with a foot on either jamb since we had not completed the ascent to 3000 feet yet and the pilot was banking to port which had the "door" pointing down for long periods as we climbed in a lazy circle.

"3000 feet!" yelled the pilot.

"Feet out!" Screamed the Jump Master.

I scrambled into the doorway and dangled one buttock over empty space and looked up as I had been trained to do. If I looked down, I had been informed, I would get pulled out of the 'plane, spinning, which would temporarily tangle the shrouds when the parachute opened and make it unmaneuverable until I'd kicked myself around and untangled them.


And I pushed and stretched and by some miracle missed the undercarriage pylon and watched the static line paying out forever overhead as the plane zoomed away21.

"One thousand, two thousand, three thousand"

It was at this point it dawned on me that my feet were not on concrete, that I was falling belly-down rather than standing vertically and that I had just jumped out of a perfectly good aeroplane at 3000 fbleeping feet.

"Four thousand"

The parachute opened with a "thwack", and, being underloaded by two stone came to a dead stop in the air. I, falling at about 70 mph by then was grabbed by the shoulders and swung onto my back for a good look at the canopy.


Having given me time to check the canopy and judge it good, my body swung back down. My feet, however, clad in their Dr Marten's Patent Parachuting Boots hung around at face level so I could also check them22 before swinging down to dangle bonelessly under my arse while I tried to inventory my organs and the contents of my underwear.

All seemed to be in order. The shrouds were not twisted (the only way this could have happened is that it had opened while I was spinning, though parachutist etiquette is that those who experience twisted shrouds are allowed to claim their parachutes were "packed wrong" on their first couple of jumps without being openly mocked) so I had full control of the canopy spread majestically above me. I reached for the steering toggles and Assumed Command. Now to get my bearings so I could pilot my little aircraft to a landing on the circle of sand called the Drop Zone, or DZ (if I was going to be a parachutist, I supposed I had better master their banter and when better than now, in the peace and quiet of the air over England?).

It was very quiet up there. The instructors had all emphasised that any failure of the canopy on deployment would be immediately noticeable because of the noise it would make. Most of the people listening to that imagined the roar of the aeroplane and the rush of air past their heads and smiled, but having experienced the quiet of a working parachute in action I can say that yes indeed, the first thing one would note would be the flapping or tearing noises because that aeroplane noise is above you and for some reason much, much quieter than you'd think. It might even be quiet enough for the observers to have heard my count as I fell, though I reckon that was a tale to make everyone concentrate on counting loud rather than thinking about the distance to the ground. It was time to get my bearings so I could begin to pilot myself around the sky to land triumphantly in the DZ. Easy peasy.

The airfield had in it two features that were vitally important. First, there was a DC 3 parked on it with prominent black and white stripes on its wings. This aircraft had given of its best and was no longer airworthy, but now did sterling duty as a piloting aid. It was perhaps the biggest identifiable thing below me and would serve to help me find the airfield itself. Laugh all you want, but at 3000 feet the world looks small and the bits of it you think would be unmistakable are hard to find if in fact they are, when you get down to it, a bunch of flat grass among many hundreds of acres of flat grass. The DC 3 would also enable me to see which way the airfield was pointing relative to my boots because one of the things that had been hammered into the students was where the DC 3 was in the airfield and which way it was pointing. Every time we had occasion to be in eyeshot of the thing, someone would point it out and note its bearing in relation to this hangar or that control tower. This took a while because I was directly over the wretched thing and my belly 'chute removed large amounts of the ground from my field of view.

Now I needed to find the other vital feature of the airfield, the windsock.
This bright orange tubular streamer was not, as I had first thought, merely a way for the normally taciturn people working in and around the aerospace infrastructure to express a small amount of festivity in the workplace, but was in fact a sophisticated wind direction and strength indicator. If the sock dangles around the pole, for instance, it means there is no wind at all. If it flaps about in a half-hearted manner in some direction, it mans there is a low-speed wind of a few measly miles per hour blowing from the opposite direction. If the sock is standing out horizontally it means that the wind is perhaps too strong for parachuting, certainly too strong for the round parachutes of the students. If there is no sock on the pole it means that your car has probably been blown into the next field too. If you can't see the pole, it means it is foggy.

I looked and looked but could not locate it for the life of me. Had I been with some of the original crowd from The Brewer's Elbow I would have suspected high-jinks at my expense, but they had all jumped weeks before and had the broken limbs to prove it. I figured out later that during the time it took me to trundle across the sky enough to see the DC 3, I had trundled directly over the windsock and so my belly 'chute was hiding it. These days I sort of expect this kind of behaviour from the evil spirits that commonly infest everything I try and do, but then I was a callow youth who did not believe in evil spirits other than the one I found in a bottle of something vile that allegedly came out of Yugoslavia23, and so I failed to pause and take stock.

It was then that Mr Brain made an overt move in our war of wits and suggested a plan. I licked my finger and held it up. Cold on the front, so I was heading into the wind and all was good. I would maintain this course and forget about the DZ, which I could hit the next time. Paramount was the need to face into the wind and gain the lift needed for a soft landing. The collection of busted arms and legs now propping up the bar in The Brewer's Elbow demonstrated that in unequivocal terms. Besides, I couldn't find the DZ either. Stupid airfield staff for not painting the sand bright orange. Didn't they know that everything looks like a big, flat bewildering plain of unidentifiable stuff from up there? You'd think they'd notice when they jumped themselves.

Have you figured out the flaw in my brilliant scheme? Don't worry, I didn't see it either, though I was still swamped in the euphoria of the Parachuting Experience so I at least have an excuse. Plus, of course, my brain was ambushing me, though I didn't recognise the signs at the time.

Recall that the parachute has a forward speed of 10 magnificent miles per hour or so. this would confer the illusion of an oncoming wind in just about any direction I cared to point myself. As it happened, I was carefully maintaining a course directly downwind, which upped my forward speed to about twice that I would be going in still air. It also meant I had lost the lift provided by the wind's movement over the canopy, and my downward speed was much higher than that recommended for a safe and comfortable landing.

None of this was conveyed by the view of the ground, which didn't change much as I descended and robbed me of any sense of approaching impact. I've been told the brain simply cannot properly interpret what it sees because of the illusion of flatness, but I suspect Mr Brain simply refused to interpret what I was seeing out of sheer bloody mindedness.

"I'm good" I thought as I zoomed across acres of flatflatflat. "That is nice soft grass." Tranquility was the order of the day.

Let us pause a moment to talk of the phenomenon of Ground Rush. Everyone who parachutes experiences it, and it is quite disconcerting, not to mention a hell of a shock the first time you see it firsthand. It is caused by the long period of long-distance viewing robbing the brain of its stereoscopic information as to the depth and distance of the ground features. A haystack can and does collapse into a flat disc under these conditions and the brain fails to note the gradual increase in size of that disc as you fall unless you specifically make note of it, and even then it can't make sense of the information because it isn't used to it coming in in that way. A field is just a mostly green Jackson Pollock canvass that stretches out to the peripheral vision on every side. Look up and you get no useful information because there is nothing to look at besides the horizon, and the angular change as you fall is so small that that doesn't provide useful "how fast am I falling?" info. Besides, look down again and you have no idea how high you are so even if you could estimate your downward speed it would be a useless statistic. This goes on until your eyes finally resolve the fine detail, at which point the brain updates the information and starts working normally on your visual intake.

As an experiment to demonstrate the effect, you'll need a camera with a manual zoom of around 70-210mm focal length. Find a wall containing texture but basically one colour - granite will work but you need detail in there that will become apparent quickly so pick some with light specks or veins in it. A Where's Waldo poster of sufficient size will work too.

Now, stand some distance from the wall and set the lens at the shorter focal length, 70 in my chosen example. Focus the camera and take a good look at your surroundings, making sure there are no pits, open manholes, children, bales of barbed-wire or sleeping humans for you to fall over. You need a clear field around you because you will be mobile for a bit and won't be looking where you are going.

Look at the wall through the camera and close your other eye. I know this is not how you were taught to use a viewfinder, but do it anyway. Now you have a two dimensional view of the patterned wall. Walk forward a couple of steps while looking through the viewfinder. Walk back. Notice how the wall is essentially unchanged and that you have no real idea of how far away it is. Now brace yourself and grip the zoom control. Concentrate on the wall and fool yourself that you are a long way from it. When you have yourself convinced, pull the zoom to maximum quickly (but no so quickly as to threaten damage to the lens elements). Watch the wall the entire time. Try not to fall over. You have just seen what Ground Rush looks like.

Back to me, dangling under the Zooming Parachute of Treachery.

So I'm busily correcting my line, which is carrying me further and further from the airfield buildings, the DZ and civilisation in general but who was keeping track of such mundane stuff? Not me. I was busy. I was looking down and internally chanting the mantra "That's nice soft grass. Grass, grass, grass. Soft green grass." and watching for the ground to come up at me as I'd been warned it would.

And it did, with a vengeance.

With no warning whatsoever the ground suddenly swooped up at me like a giant swooping thing. Simultaneously my eyes suddenly reported that the ground was not a carpet of grass but a rather barren field covered in sparse weeds and straw. Mr Brain gibbered "That's not grass, that's hard-packed dirt!" and shut down completely. I had just enough time to announce my consternation at this turn of events to the world when my trajectory intercepted the plane of the field and then some24.

I smacked into the ground and was catapulted into the air a few feet so I could try my landing again, this time face-first. The parachute had not finished its headlong flight either and so my bounce was a sort of parabolic affair that covered a few tens of feet of field before I once more felt the tender caress of Mother Earth on my face, chest and sundry other bits too stupid or too slow to take shelter behind the rest. Once more I rebounded and was dragged somersaulting through space to land on my backside, it having so far escaped injury and obviously feeling left out of things. If I hadn't had the good fortune to collide at this point with a pile of haybales I would probably have ended up in the next county.

Naturally I had readied some appropriate class four Words of Power at the sudden onrush of landscape, but such was the force and frequency of the blows dealt to my body by the terrain that I was unable to deploy any of them in lucid fashion and was forced to content myself with some interpretive groaning after the fact as I lay across the scattered haybales and did another inventory of my limbs, vital organs and underwear. My boots were still not full of wee but since I had lost all feeling in everything but my feet I couldn't swear this wasn't because I was partly upside-down and they had simply drained themselves.

I reflected a bit on the new-found knowledge of haybales as ballistic cushioning. I had, like most people, seen footage of those lunatics at the Winter Olympics zooming along on the Luge only to take flight like a rocket through a pile of haybales at some corner. I had always assumed they used haybales because they were soft and would safely cushion the sledging loon to a safe stop so they could have another go free of bruising and without having to bus back in from wherever they ended up. Now that I knew that a haybale is approximately the same consistency as a block of concrete it became obvious that they were deployed to make the Luge pilots ricochet back away from the public and press, and to shield said public and press from any blood spatter caused by the disintegration of the body of the unfortunate sledger. Live and learn.

Fortunately the wind had dropped and so I was given a few minutes respite in which to lie groaning on the cubist nightmare the orderly pile of haybales had become. Then, galvanised by a gust of a breeze, I leaped to my feet over the course of a minute or two, and limped around gathering the shrouds over my arms just like you see the Airborne Regiments do on war movies. It is vitally important during this phase of parachuting to get on the downwind side of the deflated canopy and to collect the shrouds quickly so you can pull the "mouth" of the canopy to leeward25 lest it get the bit between its teeth and re-inflate so it can drag you hither and yon across the ground in mutinous fashion to the detriment of your skin and the amusement of your fellow parachutists.

I collected the parachute over my arms and began the long trek back to the airfield and the packing shed. I had ended up on the extreme edge of the airfield, in one corner in fact, and so faced a journey of about a quarter mile or so with a ton of parachute in my arms. Those who had hit the DZ got bussed back to the shed. I had to walk the entire distance, which seems unfair to me even now. Oh well.

I repacked my parachute and went to see how I had been marked on my jump by the observers. These gentlemen watched through enormous German binoculars attached to massive steel pipe mounts as everyone jumped out of the aeroplane and noted the salient details on a card that would be important if I wanted to start a career as a parachutist, which I was not as keen to do as I had been earlier that morning, I will admit.

"Excellent exit26. Ran downwind out of sight. Landing unobserved." Result! No-one had witnessed the landing fiasco.

Well, there was nothing for it but to sign up for another lift and do it over again27. I signed up again before I could talk myself out of it and was soon riding up into the sky, this time with five other Static Line jumpers, all of whom knew each other.

This time I would be second out of the aircraft, and I got to see how the Jump Master dealt with Reluctant Parachutist Syndrome. The guy in front of me took up the proper position when the Jump Master yelled "Feet out!" and I watched with interest as the Jump Master quietly and unobtrusively placed his own left hand under the parachutist's pack. When he yelled "GO!" the young man sitting in the doorway hesitated and the Jump Master simply lifted his hand, not much, just enough to register on the parachutist's sense of balance. He naturally whipped his head round to see what was going on and the slipstream of the aeroplane pulled him spinning out of the door. Interesting.

I left the aircraft slightly less stably than the first time but still with a good line and not spinning or tumbling at all. The opening of the parachute went much as before, with a sudden dead stop from 70 mph interrupting my shout of "Check" so I could once more be spun about by my shoulders to look at the canopy and then my boots.

I spoke before of the quiet. They had kicked me and the first fellow out of the plane at the same altitude a few hundred feet apart, yet we could converse in conversational tones easily. Amazing, really. I can remember the sense of absolute stillness thirty years and more later.

My landing was this time a thing of more professional execution. I missed the DZ by quite a bit but was able to catch the bus with the other five, all of whom hit the sand effortlessly28. I was amused to hear my jump-buddy and one of his friends who had jumped on the very next circuit of the 'plane complaining that their parachutes had been packed wrong.

"Did you let out a Rebel Yell?" one of his pals asked me. "We thought we heard one from the plane as we circled round."

"Yes. It's exhilarating, don't you think?" I responded, and allowed ghost of a jaded parachutist's smile to cross my face.

"Are you having a stroke?" He asked in a worried tone.

I was tired and happy. I grabbed lunch in the cafeteria and called my mother to tell her that no, I wasn't lying dead or crippled in a field from this idiotic stunt and drove back to Coventry and a hot bath as my muscles began to stiffen up. It was only at that point that I discovered that although I had gone through my pockets, somehow an old-style29 Ten Pence piece had been left hiding in my right back pocket, and that the face depicting the head of state had been pointed inward. The coin was new and the sculpted relief was good, and the velocity at which it had been repeatedly driven into my buttock had been extremely high.

I would have bruises over 100 percent of my body the next day, leading some to speculate that I had lost a fight to a combine harvester, but all would fade over time except the one left by the coin.

  1. Though for some reason it seemed that everyone who used one had their feet catch fire and would end up landing in a cloud of orange smoke
  2. US: Sidewalk
  3. And I'm not kidding when I say that. Jacoskates were a fine product that lasted for ever, but they were like unto wheeled deep-sea diving boots in terms of weight and inertia. Mine had red lace-up leather toecaps, others had brown. The skates had wheels that made them look like miniature formula one racing cars of the day, with fat black rubber tyres and double ball-bearing races. Mine were almost worn down to the metal when I stopped using them. I don't think I ever thanked my Grandparents adequately for the fun these things gave me. They were truly the spiffiest skates in the world
  4. Seriously, they closed the bloody swimming pool at seven. It was like the town fathers were trying to engender discontent and dismay in the locals
  5. Albeit with relaxed muscle
  6. It is a small hope of mine that these gits recognise themselves one day from this brief but flattering description of their gittish miserable caricature Southern English Gittism that they strove so hard to cultivate
  7. Because they don't have one
  8. Namely the realisation that we would be facing two days without beer
  9. A realistic fear in some cases as it turned out
  10. Technical parachutist jargon for "Left as you face the sharp end while seated on the floor with a parachute pushed in your face"
  11. Mistress Alexa was perplexed by my reflex screaming of this mantra on the occasion of my first visit to her House of Executive Correction over on Tenth Avenue and Greenwich, particularly as she had not in fact begun the planned course of instruction that would prompt such outbursts
  12. Not unlike Mistress Alexa uses, but the ones in Peterborough didn't lock and were made of canvass, and there was less thrashing involved
  13. Another mad thing Mr Brain talked me into that was extremely bad for me
  14. Important point
  15. Juggling for the Complete Klutz
  16. I have remarked on the entertainment possibilities of Aylesbury before, and I couldn't drink all the time
  17. Fourteen pounds to the stone. Figure it out
  18. Them were indeed the days
  19. Once they'd done that to the satisfaction of the Jump Master they would have to actually jump with three parachutes. They would open the first, cut it away, fall free on their backs and mime deploying the belly 'chute then turn over and actually deploy their second main 'chute
  20. Where any movement of the limbs causes movement of the whole body in numerous ways
  21. Which was how I knew my exit was good and I wasn't tumbling
  22. Both on, laces fastened, not filled with wee
  23. And is probably part of the reason there is no longer a place called "Yugoslavia"
  24. I once saw an Action Man (G.I. Joe) tossed into the air tied to an improvised parachute which turned out to be inadequate to the task of soft-landing the 12-inch mannequin. In my minds eye I see my bounce as about the same as that experienced by the unfortunate doll when scale is accounted for
  25. Downwind from the rest of the canopy
  26. I remain inordinately proud of this to this day. I got out of the plane under my own steam when requested to do so, and was properly stable for the entire time the parachute was deploying. Job done
  27. The lifts cost quite a bit, and you had to be insured for each jump which was another expense, but I was entitled to six lifts in a given time so I wouldn't be paying any more for a second jump, at least not as far as money was concerned
  28. Show offs
  29. The size of a Florin or Two-Shilling piece

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Alone At Last, Part 1

Thursday happened.

I rose to the tintinnabulation of the Women de Famile Stevie making ready to cast off for the shores of the Magic Kingdom with the usual good grace, punctuated by vile epithets and threats on the one hand and strident claims of innocence/hurrying/whatever would shut down the vile epithets and threats quickest on the other.

Ah, the joys of family life. It only seems like yesterday that I was witness to that most wondrous of life's mysteries: the simultaneous onset of puberty and menopause, the lot of those who start families later in life and stick around to see how it all works out. Oh how I looked forward to coming home after a day of being screamed at by co-workers.

I tried to remain above it all by burrowing into the bed and stuffing pillows into my ears, but Mrs Stevie became aware that someone wasn't getting into the holiday spirit and demanded I rise and shine with the rest of the world (as typified by the contents of the timeshare villa).

I took a quick inventory. Two women, bright red from anaerobic shrieking: check. Boyfriend somewhere under the busby that passes for his hairstyle, nimbly managing to stay out of either of their zones of control: Check. Something was missing. A second brief inventory of personnel was no more help in dispelling the feeling that I was missing someone.

"Stop standing around like a great useless lummox and help!" yelled my darling.

There it was: the punchbag-cum-money-fountain formerly known as "You idiot". All present and correct then.

Now a newcomer to the business of marital bliss might have made a classic mistake at this point by saying something like "What would you like me to do?" or the even worse "How can I help?"

Of course everyone with more than two years service under their belts will recognize the first as the bait for the "Anything would be better than standing round doing nothing, I don't know why I bother sometimes you insensitive bastard, my mother was right about you" rant that never goes anywhere good. The second is a more subtle trap, one designed to play on any feelings of guilt the spouse may have left in them, and inevitably ends up leaving the baited one feeling angry and hostile for hours afterwards.

I have managed over the years to expunge all feelings of guilt from my body, even those left by the most egregious "transgressions1" enacted against the interests of Mrs Stevie over the two hundred years or so that we've been married. Even the time I inadvertently dropped a forty year-old Norwegian Maple on her is now, in the light of passing years, remembered simply as the unavoidable and entirely accidental result of insect perfidy and unobservable wood rot rather than a deliberate attempt to jump directly to the "us do part" clause in our contract of bondage as she would have it at the time.

Besides, I had intended for the tree to fall the other way and by doing so remove a small flower bed that we were in dispute over. Had I been trying to drop the bloody thing into the driveway I would a) have arranged a better plan that didn't involve split second synchronization with her parking in the driveway2 and 2) removed the new-ish chainlink fence from the path of mutinous arboreal destruction.

In any case, it missed both her and the car.

Where was I? Oh right.

Sadly for Mrs Stevie I have trained my ears to recognize the start of both phrases and was thus able to make myself unavailable by ducking into the bathroom until they had left and gone away. I adopted my usual garb when on my own by removing every stitch of clothing, there being no good reason to make more laundry for myself when all I planned was sleeping, lounging and sleeping, and walked out into the living room.

"Good morning sir!"

I had forgotten about The Boyfriend, who had waited until I had walked past and was therefore behind me when he spoke.

"Argh!" I agreed, leaping several feet into the air in a display of improvised British athleticism designed to confound and amaze the colonial eye, and returned to the bedroom to put back on my clothes.

"That is an interesting tattoo you have on your right buttock, sir" the lad opined through the door as I hopped about madly trying to get my trouser legs to match my actual legs.

"Not a tattoo" I replied. "More of an embossing, really"

"Really? Radical! Who is the woman?" he said in tones of wonder

"The Queen" I replied

"I didn't know they had any women in the band. I'm not really a fan of their stuff myself"

"Not Queen, The Queen. Her Majesty, Queen Elisabeth the Second, Queen of Great Britain, defender of the faith, et cetera et cetera."

"Wow! You must be a really loyal fan! But isn't it treason of the most mutinous stripe to depict the sovereign on one's buttock? Where did you get it done? I've never heard of embossing human flesh before. How do they do it?" His excitement was palpable.

"Not really. Yes, it probably is. A field in Peterborough, in Cambridgeshire. You do it by ... look, I'll tell you over breakfast if you'll drive us to a diner and you promise not to talk about my buttocks to anyone. Ever."


And so, once we had ensconced ourselves in a diner made quiet by everyone else having gone to Disney, and once breakfast had been served and I had coffee and eggs and bacon and sausage and hash browns and all the other things I like but have forgotten to mention in front of me, I told the tale of The Parachuting Fiasco.

continued in the next entry

  1. Per Mrs Stevie
  2. Why she believes this is beyond me. She knows from the two years we had a mountain of topsoil in the driveway that I can barely manage simple solid geometry. The calculus required to enact the ambush she believes I had arranged for her return from Starbux was, even then, beyond me without serious application of strong drink, and that would have precluded the use of the chain saw. Q.E.2.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Uncle Walt's Insane Dream

Wednesday dawned and I wandered into the living room to discover that the sofa was now unfolded into a bed and some sort of unidentified life form had made a den in it.

I was on the point of alerting Mrs Stevie to a possible badger infestation when I remembered that the Boyfriend was staying the night, and that Ipsum Loren this must be what it looked like when it was aestivating. Blech. I decided to shower and re-assess the tactical situation with a fresh eye and fresh everything else.

I was somewhat bothered by numbness in my legs, a problem I have when I've been walking and standing for extended periods of time, and one which is accompanied by intense pain under the numb area if I stand too long once it begins. I know that doesn't make sense, but it is pure misery once it starts and I wasn't too happy that symptoms were manifesting so early in the vacation, what with at least two more days of walking- and standing-intensive "entertainment" plotted by Mrs Stevie. Oh well, I'd play it by ear. Leg. Whatever.

Showered and shaved1 I re-entered the world of snooze and started rousing everyone. Then I drove to a nearby pharmacy and used their ATM to withdraw lots of money to cover expenses during the Great EPCOT Adventure and returned to the Villa de Stevie. We would not need cash for tickets since we had leftover "never expire, no ID" park hoppers from the year we came with the family2 for Mrs Stevie and me, and an ID branded never expiring park hopper we got for the Stevieling a few years later3 so we were good to go.

We breakfasted on eggs and toast and stuff and Mrs Stevie perpetrated The Great NASA Zero-G Room Hoax4, then we piled into the Mrs Steviebus bound for fun, adventure and fun6. Just before boarding Mrs Stevie asked me to reimburse the Boyfriend who hadn't been able to get a discount ticket after all due to his being too tardy and not getting a bloody move on. Apparently, while I was distracted by spaceships and spacesuits and space rocks the Stevieling had negotiated an alternate plan by phone with Mrs Stevie, in which they would buy a full price Park Hopper ticket for $1407 and I would supply the funds from my Special Bottomless Money Bucket.

Mrs Stevie, having delivered the news, climbed behind the steering wheel and let me have a few moments to myself, as is her custom.

"I say sir, what was that jolly dervish-like dance you were doing just now?" the Boyfriend asked when I climbed into my seat. "It had elements of Australian Aboriginal tribal hunting dances I saw on the National Geographic channel - I noted the stabbing motions you made with an invisible spear toward this vehicle as you stamped and whirled. I did find the ritual grimacing a little hard to watch though. I thought for a minute you were having a seizure of some sort. Very effective, the way the enamel flaked off your teeth like that, though I suspect gnashing them so hard is not conducive to their longevity."

"It is a creation of my own. I like to perform it whenever we share family outings with others to drive away evil spirits. I hope no-one minds if we stop off at the pharmacy so I can get some cash?"

"What's that smell?" asked the Stevieling.

"It's the lining of my wallet. It must have caught fire somehow. Luckily there was nothing in it."

We drove to EPCOT with only a minor shouting match when Mrs Stevie couldn't read the new road signs Disney has put up sometime in the eight years since we last cared to visit and requested directions from her half asleep passengers, and I paid extra for "preferred parking" so we would be only half a mile from the gate should the old legs start giving me problems. The others were also talking of moving over to The Magic Kingdom8 once EPCOT closed (it closes around 9 pm, hours earlier than the other park) so having the bus close by was favorite. In our joy at arriving Chez Fun we neglected to note the car park name, rank and spot number we had parked in. A rookie mistake that many years ago had me on The Sad Train, an experience I was not in a hurry to repeat.

Should you ever visit Disney in a car, you will see that all the parks have placards on which Disney characters are pictured and named prominently, and these also have a rank number on them. Consider that in order to accommodate the bajillion guests that turn up each day, the car parks must be huge and many. So huge and many that Disney operates special road trains called people movers to get folks from a point near their car to one near the gate and back again later that night.

This seemingly daft labelling practice is in fact a very clever thing indeed. It is relatively easy to remember "Goofy 150" and thus be able to find your car when you are tired and so are the kids, but in order for this quite clever number and rebus solution to a problem in the making to work you must take the preliminary step of actually looking at the placard nearest your car while your brain is switched on.

Those who fail to do so will be confronted later on by geography made different by darkness and exhaustion, and face the prospect of trying to find their vehicle among more cars than they ever thought moved on the face of the Earth. Not only that, the People Movers are constrained to set routes. If you don't know which Disney character you car is parked with, you have minimal chances of locating your car no matter how loudly the kids scream.

At about one o'clock in the morning, Disney operates one last People Mover that travels every route through every car park. It slowly zigs and zags across the now mostly barren fields of tar, with the occasional cries of joy as a passenger discovers their vehicle sitting in the middle of nowhere and everyone else groans as they cannot see theirs. I call this The Sad Train, because I know well how one feels when riding the bloody thing. Many years ago I took my Mum and Dad on a trip to Disney, where many things went wrong including me making The Rookie Mistake and us riding The Sad Train until almost the last stop9 as a result. Never Again I vowed. I will pause while you regain your composure.

We got to the park gate where we were directed to go back to Guest Relations and exchange the card tickets for plastic fingerprint-ID branded cards. Mrs Stevie was a little put out that we couldn't keep the voided card tickets as they were apparently a souvenir of our family get-together (why we needed a reminder of it other than our memories I have no idea) but eventually we trooped over to the gate and got fingerprinted again and were let into EPCOT.

Walt Disney was a visionary man, but could take wrong turns with the best of us. EPCOT is what was left after one of those wrong turns was narrowly missed.

Originally designed as the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, it was to have been a working community of 20,000 living with and working with state of the art technology, that visitors could peer at as they went about their day-to-day lives. There is a description of what was intended in the Wikipedia which matches what I remember reading in Omni magazine when the park was being built. Fortunately, this vision was lost when Walt Disney died (I mean, can you envisage the psychological stresses of living in such a place? In my first job the computer operators freaked out because of a letterbox-sized window that allowed passers-by to gawk at them in the course of their work) and EPCOT was re-envisioned in its current form (or damn near; there have been one or two changes over the years).

The park is essentially two quite different parks glued together. At the front there is a collection of pavilions dealing with various aspects of life such as energy, technology, earth science and so on, each containing themed attractions (usually a ride of some sort), restaurants and gift shops10 and at the back, surrounding a lake, the World Showcase in which pastiches of various countries have been assembled for people to wander through and interact with young men and women from each country modeled and buy crap from in the many themed gift shops11.

I know that right now people are scrunching up their faces, but remember, this isn't for the benefit of those who already live in those countries, it is for vacationing Americans to get a Disneyfied view of them. If you cannot get into the spirit of the Disney Thing you should not waste your money. I don't have the Disney buy-in of the women of my house, but I can ride with it when I have to and EPCOT is my favorite park of them all, being a very sedate experience on the whole. Not only that, I have fond memories of a visit when the Stevieling was about two or so.

On that occasion we were sharing our vacation with my in-laws. One day we suggested to them that they visit EPCOT on their own and that we would join them later for dinner. We got tickets for them and on the appointed day they eagerly drove forth and we settled back for a nice day of "just us".

I forget where we went that morning, but I have a clear memory of driving back into Orange Lake Country Club around 1 pm and saying to Mrs Stevie: "You know, I bet they are already back and waiting for us." I dunno why, but I was certain of it.

Mrs Stevie laughed off this stupid suggestion, but when we turned the corner to the Villa Stevie there was the Mrs Steviedad's car parked in its spot.

We went in and asked them why they were back. "We did everything" said the Mrs Steviedad. We expressed incredulity that this could be the case in such a short period of time. Allowing for travel they had spent maybe three hours in the park, if that.

Closer questioning revealed that they had actually not experienced anything but the World Showcase because "everything was being remodeled and was boarded up, and your father was in charge."

Okay, we said, we'll have some lunch and a rest and we'll take you back for another look. They grudgingly acceded to this while the Mrs Steviedad did some grumbling that there was really no point. There followed one of those sweet experiences life occasionally serves up.

Like many men, I am not well thought of by my father in law and never have been, so the chance to show him to be wrong while openly being helpful was a powerful narcotic. Accordingly I suggested we park in the Magic Kingdom car park and ride the Monorail into EPCOT, as the high perspective offered by this would allow me to see over the plywood that Disney had covered some stuff with while they remodeled and get a better idea of what was and was not working. The key to the fun to come was the Mrs Steviemom.

I began innocently asking her as we swooped over the various bits of EPCOT: "Did you do that Dinosaur ride in the Exxon pavilion over there?" "No." "There's an interesting presentation in the Land pavilion, that one there. Did you see it?" "No." "Well you must've ridden the Spaceship Earth ride. It is right at the front of the park." "He said the line was too long." Each of my questions caused a paint-blistering glare in the Mrs Steviedad's direction, of course. "Well never mind, we'll do them all now. The lines will be short at this time of night."

By the time we got off the monorail the Mrs Steviemom had steam coming out of her ears and wasn't speaking to the Mrs Steviedad, and he was looking very sheepish indeed. Result! We toured the park and made everything "better", and everyone was happy by the time we went back to the car. But that monorail ride was the best ride I ever took with my father in law, and the sweet nectar of the memory has carried me through many troubles.

Better days. Better days. Back to the present.

Used to be that everyone would crowd into Spaceship Earth, the giant golf-ball shaped thing front and center in the park, so Mrs Stevie and I would head over to the exact opposite end, into the America portion of the World Showcase and The American Adventure. In the huge Colonial Period mansion you can often listen to choirs of period-dressed people singing music from the Colonial Period, and The American Adventure is also the name of an animatronic presentation on the history of America (a very superficial one it has to be said but then one must remember the audience is on vacation and time is short). Upon viewing it Paul the Globetrotting Wargamer announced it made him feel proud to be American, even though he wasn't. Parts of it are very impressive still from a technical standpoint even though the mechanics date from the very early 80s. When it opened, I recall Disney were inordinately proud of their ability to make Benjamin Franklin's animatronic self climb a small flight of stairs convincingly.

Where was I? Oh right.

We would then work our way round the various countries until the crowds started to join us, at which point we would go back to the entrance and do the rides everyone else had queued for an hour to get on. It worked very well.

that is no longer an option, since they now only open the World Showcase part at around 11 am, so we were forcéd to rub shoulders with the hoi-poloi. Bah.

First up was the Energy pavilion so we could visit the (now cheesy) dinosaur animatronic ride. I had to sit through a movie presentation starring Ellen DeGeneres who is not my favorite comedienne with an energy-themed plotline that was like toothache in parts. When this ride was put together we still thought that oil came from Dinosaurs (apparently it doesn't, it comes from algae according to late breaking science) which is the justification for the display. The movie used to be a delightfully dated thing leading a cheer for gasoline usage in the classic Disney Mode that positively reeked of the 1960s, but I guess they thought it was time to modernize. Boo hiss.

The dinosaurs are still there, though. I dote on this sort of laughable animatronic stuff. My only reason for visiting the Magic Kingdom is the Pirates of the Caribbean ride12 which is another cheesy animatronic ride past its sell-by date14 but much-loved for all that in my case. Nothing says fun like a mind-bogglingly elaborate animated display of life-sized dummies, and no-one can make this stuff work as well as Disney. In a world increasingly in love with CGI it is a dying art too.


I love those Brontosauruses15 at the start of the ride. munching greenery in the early evening, the first thing you see when the chairs you watch movie from convert themselves into a train and truck you through the dinosaur bit before re-assembling themselves into a theater at the end. The rest of the dinosaur exhibit is no much to write home about to be honest, but the Apatosauruses16 are neat. Yes you can do a better job with CGI. Yes you can spot the joins in the "sky" if you look. To harp on these concerns it to miss the point and the spiffiness of what has been done. Get off my lawn.

After that we raced to The Land pavilion so we could try out the new "Soarin'" ride, which is a wraparound vision simulator ride of reasonable niftiness. The Stevieling and I had a great time poking fun at the frequent disorienting scene shifts. One moment we would be over the desert, the next zooming over the sea, then an orange grove. Our cries of "Wait, what?" and "Disney should stop putting LSD in the drinking fountains" were not enjoyed by Mrs Stevie who just likes to ruin other people's fun and harsh their mellow and like that.

This ride adds a new dimension to the usual motion/vision trickery by having perfumolators pump appropriate smells into the area as you soar over orange groves, the sea etc. (I wonder what the hyper-asthmatics who seem more numerous each year have to say about that). I think Disney should add footage of flights over the littoral left by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Dioxin Springs New Jersey and the Staten Island landfills. That would sort the men out from the boys, stench-tolerance wise. Only when the riders exit coughing, eyes watering after having swooped through the plume left by a Union Pacific Big Boy17 under full steam will this ride be said to have achieved excellence.

We staggered off that ride and limped over to the fast-track ticket machines and got ourselves on the Push-Ahead-Of-The-Proles list for Fast Track, another ancient ride but a rather neat one, and were told to bugger off and come back around noon by the smiling young man in charge. I'm never quite sure whether Disney clones these up or builds them from cogs and gears, but they never fail to smile18.

Disney has the best express-queuing mechanism of all the park operators. I believe they were the first to offer the feature, which involves no extra expense above and beyond your ticket and allows you to get on a special fast line for a ride provided you agree to come between certain times. A computer keeps track of capacity and when there is no more it refuses to issue express line-jumpers for that ride. Contrast this with Universal Studios who ask you to pay almost double the price of a single entry ticket which gets you on express lines throughout the park, but there is no capacity control involved - there can't be since it is a park-wide optional thing. The express line can get quite long in that park.

Anyway, we got ourselves a reservation for Fast Track, my absolute favorite ride in EPCOT19 and then nipped over to Mission to Mars, totally the best ride ever invented20. We first encountered this ride the last time we were in EPCOT, nearly a decade ago, when it was in shakedown, and it rocked.

We had been issued an express line ticket (I seem to remember it wa for the Fast Track ride but it has been a long time and Mr Brain is not my friend) and on the back was a printed invitation to "join us for Mission to Mars". Only thing was that although there were signs for the ride, advertising it as "due soon", they were plastered on huge plywood walls enclosing whatever Mission to Mars involved. I loudly opined it was a mistake21 and we proceeded with our park consumption but as we were leaving, around an hour before the park was due to close, Mrs Stevie said "lets go and have a closer look".

We went for a closer look and discovered a small doorway in the plywood with a young woman on guard in front of it. I started to explain why we were there and she waved us through without a word. Mysteriouser and mysteriouser.

The ride we entered was an elaborate space-themed thing and had lots to look at while you waited for the line to diminish, which we weren't required to do on account of there being a grand total of about twelve people in a ride designed to accommodate a thousand or more. The ride itself, explained Gary Sinese from two dozen TV screens, was a rocket trip to Mars. Reading the small print, we found it was a simulator ride (of course). We would be enclosed on a small "capsule" which was itself part of a centrifuge that would provide the gravity effects, as I could see when we began boarding.

The Disney engineers were in the process of tuning the ride to discover how hard they could push things before people started throwing up or having coronaries and strokes, and the ride we got that night was intense, to the point I thought I was going to die on the thing, but it was so convincing and so much fun I didn't care and was laughing for joy of the whole affair. So much fun we ran around and did it all over again when it was over along with the other riders who were grinning like idiots too.

The ride is boffo, tricking the riders with a very convincing bumpy ride to the pad, a launch, booster separation lurch and crash landing effects. It is more fun than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick and I recommend it to all.

In the interval between our rides on it Disney had come up with a compromise of sorts; they now offer the ride in two flavors, intense and not so intense. We, as veteran pretend space rats, picked the aneurysm line. Naturally, the ride was not as we remembered, being less intense and shorter than memory insisted it had been all those years ago22 but a good time was had regardless and we left the ride grinning like idiots again.

We decided then to go book our lunch in Germany and try to get in a ride on Spaceship Earth before we had to report to the Fast Track ride, and we made contact with a Disney representative who, after a brief chat took care of the booking and then kindly walked us to the front of the Spaceship Earth line. When we didn't understand what he was going to do he said, "I'm going to V.I.P. you into the ride folks!"

"Hurrah!" I cried, flashing on Sunday's "Sales Presentation". "We're V.I.P.s again and not idiots like we are at Orange Lake!"23. Mrs Stevie tearfully thanked him for his kindness and boarded the ride's little four-seater car under the resentful glare of those less fortunate and who had experienced the line in all its glory in a properly regal manner befitting one on whom had been conferred the lofty status of V.I.P.

"You look like The Queen" I snarled. "Stop waving to everyone in that regal manner."

"One must acknowledge one's inferiors lest one loses touch with the masses" she murmured, carefully adjusting her pose so the invisible tiara I knew she was wearing would catch the light properly.

"You're going to cause a riot! Stop it before they throw us off the ride!" I yelled.

"Let them eat cake!"

"That only works if you say it in archaic French, and then it only gets your head cut off by the masses you are waving at!"

"All right! All right! Fuggeddaboudit!"

Spaceship Earth is a sedate ride through an animatronic look at human technological progress through the ages24. I recall that it used to feature many more visual simulator effects that made it feel like it was zooming around at high speed, prompting Disney to advise people at the entrance that the ride never exceeded 4 miles per hour, but those seem to have been dialed back in favor of more dioramas, but again, old memories at work here.

And then it was just time for Fast Track. Ha!

Fast Track is a lovely little number. First you get to use nifty touch screens to design your car25. Mrs Stevie an I paired up to design the most perfect car in the history of automotive design, partaking of state of the art materials and incorporating many visionary design elements while at the same time building on the wisdom of others and not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Sleek, powerful and bright red, it evoked the lines of the old Corvette Stingray with a soupspoon of Thunderbird Three. Perhaps he most controversial design element, the face-level jet engines mounted in the blind spot were entirely justified by the design goal, and not just a way of getting cyclists of all types to stay where the driver could see them in his/her mirrors.

The Stevieling and Boyfriend also paired up and managed to half-build some lame yeast-powered ecomobile, but they ran out of time because halfway through they hit a major design issue that split the team ideologically: they couldn't agree on the right shade of green. They also messed around attempting to paint flames on it for some bizarre reason. I, mindful of the fact that although the Stevieling is fully grown now I am still her father and one from whom she occasionally seeks approval, roared with laughter and mocked their puny pseudo-Prius loudly and often until Mrs Stevie told me to shut up.

Our designs were "recorded" on a card which we took with us.

Then we were made to stand in line. The cars we were about to ride are six seaters, three front, three back, so some interlopers were placed in our happy bickering group. We were told to put our cards next to a sensor in order to "transfer our designs" to the test vehicle. It was claimed that our designs would be compared to each other as the test car went through various maneuvers, to determine the "best". Ho hum.

Then, those words actually penetrated Mr Brain and a fiendish plan formed. As "our car" pulled up I leaned over to the Stevieling's row and tapped our card on her team's sensor. Now we would be comparing the Parent Sport Annihilator26 with ... itself! The Stevieling howled with rage as I executed this brilliant plan and madly tapped her card against the sensor to undo my perfidious parental perfidy. "Not cool, Dad! Not cool!" she snarled as the sensor refused to flash its lights.

It transpired that either the plan did not work or that her frantic ameliorative card tapping was effective because the computer displayed the fact that indeed the Parent Sport Annihilator would be up against the Yeastmobile after all. I dunno about the interlopers. They didn't speak English and probably had not gone through the motions of getting in on the action.

Mrs Stevie and I grabbed front seats on the grounds that we were the parents and older and were bigger and faster than everyone else. The Stevieling grabbed the seat behind mine so she could kick it and yell at the back of my head on the chance she could thereby induce vomiting from vertigo. And we were off!

The car swerved this way and that as it went through various "steering tests" and "brake tests", but I wasn't paying attention, nor was I worried about whatever the computer decided about how our "designs" performed. I was psyching myself up for the last bit, the whole reason for getting on line.

Eventually the shenanigans were over and the car emerged into the bright sun on a track that runs around the outside of the pavilion the attraction is housed in. One small hump-back hill to set the scene and the car took off on the "speed test", hurtling around the track at Warp 7. As we approached the end of the track a speedometer claimed we were doing almost 65 miles per hour and it was just great. Consider that we were inside something only slightly larger than a go-kart, about fifty feet in the sky with no windshield to speak of, on a banked curve so you could feel the Gs piling on. And the acceleration is wild on this thing too. Those last few seconds (it must be around 20 or so but I was too busy grinning to time it) are worth the annoyance of the rest of it. I recommend a hearty "Yeeeeeeeeee Haaaaaaaaaaaaa" as the perfect accompaniment.

And so on to the World Showcase, and Mexico was first up since we were going clockwise round the lake. I love the way that when you go inside the Mexican display from the hot, bright outside you walk through a small museum of artifacts and then into a market plaza in the cool of night. On the horizon a volcano is burbling, and behind the worlds largest gift shop is a plaza restaurant overlooking the river, which houses the ride. This used to be a boat ride along a river with some light Mexican history extolled in an amusing way. Inoffensive and educational for the little ones you might have in your party.

It has been "improved".

Now it is a lame ride-long cartoon show featuring The Three Caballeros, Disney characters possibly popular in Mexico, possibly not. Who cares? One look and I was fretting about what might have been done at Norway, possibly the best of the showcase attractions.

Of course, the attraction isn't the entire point of each "world". Outside, the whole thing is a mock-up of some local architecture that provides excellent photographic possibilities, there are several options when it comes to dining (Mexico has at least two: The plaza restaurant and a more formal one across the street) and various local snack options abound. Everyone on staff is young, in the prime of health and kitted out in appropriate national costume (not necessarily The National Costume). There are also several gift shops, which is part of the point of the place. Mexico has a huge market with stalls of stuff I've never been tempted to browse.

Norway has the best architecture in my opinion, and the still-great Maelstrom ride in a "Longboat" through Norse myth and history (lite). The trolls in there terrify the kids, and I've always been fascinated on how Disney folded the ride up the way they did to cram so much into such a small space. The scenery is wonderfully evocative. The gift shops feature a wide range of inclement weather clothing and local-themed portable crap, along with Viking-themed stuff for the kids. Not too offensively Disney. Plus, there's all those blonde young women staffing the place27 to liven the day a bit, which is why Mrs Stevie always hurries us out of the place I suppose. For some reason we've never dined there.

Disney Norway was relatively empty this day and so we had the run of it, more or less. We rode the ship with a terrified child who took one look at the big troll and went into a conniption fit. Then we got admonished by a large animated one-eyed floating head of Odin and shot backwards for a bit so the kid could be terrified into three years of bedwetting & nightmares. It was just great.

All the young people staffing the place were speaking with dots over their "o"s and everyone was blonde except me. Outside in the "authentic" Norwegian street there were Norwegian snacks to be had, Norwegian statuary to gawk at and architecture sort of like Viking Tudor to my uneducated eyes. Every so often the stern of a little Longship would burst out of the "mountain" above us, then have second thoughts and disappear back in again28 accompanied by the screams of the younger crew fresh from Odin's Savage Visage.

We gave all the countries between Norway and Germany a miss (the Stevieling and Boyfriend pulled faces because they wanted to go into China and I did not. I wasn't in the mood for more than one 360 degree movie29 and Canada at the extreme other end of the circuit30 had dibs because of the Stan Rogers31 soundtrack. I pointed out that we could always split up and explore independently and smiling broke out.

Germany has a nifty restaurant themed as a beergarten in a Bavarian village, with the tables looking out onto the "square" - a dance floor - and a stage where every so often a band plays a set featuring traditional German drinking songs and polkas and stuff. They even have an Alpenhorn. And in Disney Germany they sell beer in litres, of which American wives have no idea of the size and readily agree to allow British husbands to buy them from the fraulein in the strange costume. We also had all the delicious German food we could eat served buffet/carvery style. The obvious danger here is overeating to bursting point, then going out into the tropical heat of a Florida afternoon.

We were careful and only overeat because the food was delicious, not because we were cheap and desperate to get value for money (as so many of the Englishmen I know would instinctively do). I recommend you do Dinner rather than lunch if you try this out for yourself. That way, as you stagger around the park groaning at least the heat will be manageable.

After Germany we split up, the Stevieling and Boyfriend heading off to Disney China and Mrs Stevie and I heading for The American Experience. After the show and some Singing Without Instrumental Accompaniment (aka Acapulco Singing) by women in Period dresses far too heavy for the heat we went outside and partook of Period lemonade while some men with a flag and some drums and fifes did patriotic things in public in swelteringly hot Period Dress Uniforms (If we British had cracked the secret of the Hawaiian Shirt and Surfer Shorts kit a bit sooner we would have put George Washington and the Swelterin' Mutineers to flight in two shakes of an Imperial Fist (of benevolent rule). Oh well.

Somehow, we all rendezvoused in Disney Japan, where I wanted to check out the Kimonos in the back end of the gift shop (the Japanese gift shop has a sort of price slope - the further back the deeper the debt). Ever since I found out I cannot replace my Mitsukiku kimono32 I've been keen to find a stand-in for it. I found a somewhat less impressive one of similar design, but then the Boyfriend ruined everything by dashing into theater and trying on every kimono I had deemed acceptable for me. I couldn't wear anything the Boyfriend had been seen in, even if only as a lark. Bah.

The Stevieling tried on a kimono with the help of one of the young Japanese ladies staffing the store (all the men were banished to the things going on outside because they screwed up the ambience or something) and looked so beautiful in it I bought it for her. She needs all her cash for college, and Dad's are supposed to buy stuff for their little girls. And Mrs Stevie told me I had to so that was that.

I had thought I had managed to lose that vile harridan but it turned out she was only round the corner watching another Japanese lady sculpt candy into animals. Once the smell of me enjoying myself was in the air she homed in like a starving shark to chum.

We dallied for a bit in Disney Britain, where a rock concert was underway in what looked like a Kensington Mews. If it hadn't been for the total absence of litter and the leavings of dogs it would have been completely convincing. We've eaten in the "English Pub" once, and the food was okay, but I've never understood why I find so many Englishmen in and around the pub as I walk by when there are so many other options for a good drink (Disney Germany stands out, but I think all the "worlds" serve beer somewhere with the possible exception of Canada, which I don't think has any restaurants in it - could be wrong though). The beer isn't that great and English style beer is hopeless for relieving the Florida Afternoon Heat Wave: if you chill it enough to work you ruin the taste. Plus: pints vs litres. I recall I had steak and kidney pie with trifle to follow that one time we ate there, many years ago33.

It was here in Disney Kensington that my legs started to play up in a big way, and I began to dread the rest of the afternoon and the evening plans for Walking Disney Until Midnight™.

I made it as far as Canada, where they make you climb up through scenery reminiscent of Quebec, to a waterfall in a rock diorama evocative of the types of features we saw surrounding the Columbia Ice Field, thence to a fake gold mine and the entrance to the 360 degree movie "Oh Canada!"

Mrs Stevie conferred with a young Canadian staffer who it turned out came from the same area where my Mum and Dad have settled small world and all that and reported back that the movie had been changed since we last visited. Argh! I demanded to know if the soundtrack still featured the late, great Stan Rogers34 but she didn't know. I sang a few bars but she begged me to stop, as did the three dozen or so tourists lining up to see the movie.

It was okay. Martin Short does a funny intro that dispels the stereotype "blizzard filled" Canada Americans usually picture and the new movie certainly shows off the wildly varied scenery to be found across Canada.

But there was no Stan Rogers35, and I miss the part from the old movie where you were in the cockpit of an aerobatic jet and could look around and see your fellow teammates flying alongside, in front and behind you, separated by lethally short amounts of distance - and it was all real, not a simulation. There were places in that old movie when the scenery banked and people would have to hold onto the grab bars or fall over from the illusion of movement. All excised from the new film, though in compensation there were remote places shown that Mrs Stevie and I recognized because we'd been there.

We aren't very adventurous. The idea of climbing Everest leaves me cold, even though it is a sorta-tourist affair now rather than a fraught man-vs-nature in a World Gone Mad one. I prefer my excitement man-made and escapable at will, as does Mrs Stevie37, but if you holiday in Western Canada civilization can mean door flaps on the tent and hand-painted warning signs directing you away from the bears. In Western Canada one is never more than five minutes away from spears made from a stick with a knife tied to the end and banging rocks together in the hope they will catch fire.

So, to the amazed disbelief of all around us, we had indeed stood on the same river bank as the camera operator as the glacial runoff roared along in grey magnificence behind us and the Rockies soared vertically into the sky wherever one cared to look, and we'd stood looking at the Athabasca Falls in much the same spot the camera operator chose to stand38. We didn't think much about the rough conditions and rugged life style at the time. It was just how things were in Alberta. Traffic may have to wait until the Elk herd wakes up and moves off the highway, and they may choose to wander through town and eat the contents of one’s flower beds of an evening. My Mum has chased a yearling bear off her back deck with nothing but an improvised squirt gun gussied up from bicycle pump and a bucket of cold water. That's how it goes. Life, Western Canada style.

In the Disney version, any bears you see will likely be wearing dungarees and floppy hats, and will pose for a jolly photograph and not attempt to eat you once, and if the weather is inclement Disney will likely figure a way of changing your experience of it into something not unpleasant instead of letting it kill you.

This marked the end of my tolerance for EPCOT and parks in general, and I begged to be allowed to go home and sit in a hot bath to soak my legs. Mrs Stevie decided that this was an excellent plan as she didn't want to be lumbered with me and my "moaning and dripping" during her Magic Kingdom experience, and so we suggested that the Stevieling and Boyfriend to go over to The Magic Kingdom while we went to get the Mrs Steviebus.

It was at this point that the fundamental Rookie Mistake was discovered, and the Disney staff were treated to that most rare sight, a couple locked in the ballet of synchronized Bonehead Dances. Admittedly, mine was a little off due to the leg problem39, but the onlookers were very impressed.

A quick consultation with a Disney Guest Security Assurance Operative in which we bickered over what the details of the walk to the gate involved, scenery-wise and he made helpful suggestions which we interrupted and argued with followed, in which we gradually reached the consensus that we were parked in the car park in front of us - somewhere.

Mrs Stevie boldly strode forward with renewed resolve toward sure and certain car findage. I staggered from side to side, bouncing off other people’s vehicles and the occasional Disney employee40 moaning piteously41 while my beloved bolstered my spirits by swearing at me. Only the fact that she had been driving was restraining her usual line of attack on my parents' lack of a marriage certificate at my birth and speculations as to how closely they were related. If I hadn't been suffering such debilitating torment I could have made much of this situation, but I was already in monumental amounts of discomfort and didn't need a kick in the hurtybits as garnish.

I gave up looking after ten minutes of fruitless searching, sank to a grassy embankment and began to weep for my lost bath, moaning how hopeless it all was and that I thought I might be ready to "let go" and gain some surcease from this interminable agony of life.

I was just getting into my stride, self-pity wise when Mrs Stevie hit me over the head with a bag of souvenir anvils and told me she had found the car by the expedient of telling a Disney Car Park patroller when we parked, and he had used some sort of electronic calculating machine of the future to tell her the rough area in which the Mrs Steviebus had to be located. Twenty minutes later I was soaking in a bath42 and Mrs Stevie was heading for The Magic Kingdom in a cloud of smoke and swear words.

I have no idea when they all returned; I was sound asleep.

  1. I've had a sort of Nigel Green Victorian Facial Hedge for a couple of years or so now which demands a daily scrape of the neck and chin. As soon as I run out of razor blades I'm going back to a full beard on account of it's quicker to look after and I'm lazy
  2. The year of the Barely Clad Brazilian Women Misunderstanding
  3. Disney used to sell tickets good for all their parks without requiring they be tied to a person by ID. They also sold these tickets good for multiple days, which never expired. If you bought two five day park hoppers and only used two days, you had three tickets to use the next time you came no matter when that was. When the Stevieling was around six or so they started branding the tickets with a photograph ID. A year or so after that the tickets started expiring after a few years. I have no idea how long a ticket lasts now, since the expiry date, ID branding and cost mean that it is extremely unlikely I shall buy such tickets ever again
  4. They bought it with stunned admiration for our daring and wistfulness at their having missed a turn. We never told them it was a gag so they remain convinced that NASA can just turn off gravity when they feel like it5
  5. A delusion shared by Ron Howard when he was negotiating for access to make Apollo 13 by the way. The implications of this dimwittery depress me utterly
  6. fun fun til her daddy etc
  7. Quel snip!
  8. Another Disney park
  9. Back at the park entrance. I've often wondered how many end up there and what their next step is
  10. Of course
  11. Are we sensing a trend? In a very real sense many of the attractions to be found in the Orlando theme parks are simply an elaborate lobby for a gift shop. All the ones in Universal Studios are
  12. And Space Mountain. Two. My two reasons for visiting The Magic Kingdom are The Pirates of the Caribbean ride and Space Mountain13
  13. and the Runaway Mine Train. Aaaaaaamongst the reasons for my visiting The Magic Kingdom are: The Pirates of the Caribbean ride, Space Mountain, The Runaway Mine Train and ... I'll come in again
  14. Unless it has been modified in light of the success of the movies of course
  15. Or whatever it is fashionable to call them now
  16. New name for Brontosauruses
  17. It's a humongous steam locomotive. Look it up for yourself for Stephenson’s sake
  18. Under pain of "retirement"
  19. Two. My two favorite rides in EPCOT are: The Dinosaur Thing and Fast Track
  20. Among the rides I count as among the best in EPCOT are such diverse contenders as: The Cheesy Dinosaur Thing, Fast Track, Mission to Mars ...
  21. Another win for my powers of prediction
  22. It occurs to me that the memories in question had just been spun and crushed under high G forces and were possibly affected by same
  23. When Orange Lake Country Club was stating up, owners like us were referred to as "V.I.P. Members". Now we haven't bought anything from them in fifteen years we are "You Can't Park There I'm Calling Security"
  24. Or the Disney version of it at any road
  25. Riiiight
  26. Working title pending something more awesome
  27. Also some polite young men
  28. this is where the boat transits the switches that fold the ride on itself - an engineering finesse of some cleverness
  29. The viewer stands in the theater surrounded by a ring of screens on which a full circle panoramic film is projected
  30. You know what I mean, dammit!
  31. ♪♪Who will know the Bluenose iii-iin the suuuuuuun?♪♪
  32. A magnificent black thing with a red lining and a Dragon embroidered in gold thread coiling along the entire back of the garment
  33. Because when I get the chance to eat from a "genuine English" menu I invariably go for Kate and Sidney pie. The trifle was Mrs Stevie's idea
  34. ♪♪Knooow the Bluenose in the sun know the Bluenose ii-in the suuuuuuuun?♪♪
  35. There was a very short piece of footage of the Bluenose36 that survived the change
  36. A replica Grand Banks Schooner. Look it up
  37. She says: "If God had meant us to go camping and crap in the woods, why did he allow us to develop The House and Indoor Plumbing?" I find her argument persuasive, backed by the threat of ultraviolence as her arguments so often are
  38. a precarious walkway carved into the rock by wind and rain, guarded by iron pipe handrails secured to the rock by hope and prayer
  39. The ritual cries of rage were in my case replaced with groans of pain
  40. They aren’t allowed to complain of minor collisions, but recent Human Rights Park Statutes allow them to attach humiliating Disney character stickers to persistent offenders.
  41. Mrs Stevie pronounces this "pitifully"
  42. Jaccuzi-style