Leader of Cardiff City Council, Gareth "Knobber" Jones, gets ready to explain to visiting pressman what he thinks of their jokes about Cardiff not being voted "City of Culture" again.
I have gazed into the depths of Hell this weekend. I have witnessed all that is mad and bad about humanity, and funnily enough you can see nearly all of it within a stones throw of the august portals of the Travelodge in Cardiff next to the Walkabout Pub and not far from the Millennium Stadium. I was working once more with the lovely Knights of Royal England, only this time for my first visit to Cardiff Castle. We were booked in for three days on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and Jeremy Richardson, main man and top jouster had booked me a room for a couple of nights at the aforementioned Travelodge in beautiful downtown Cardiff.
Now if you have been reading this blog you will know I have had a bit of a week, with lots of travel up and down the country and to be perfectly honest I was exhausted before I even got to Cardiff, however, on arrival at the Castle it was nice to meet up with all the jousters again. Cardiff Castle is delightful, definitely worth a visit and bears more than a passing resemblance to Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter movies. On the Friday it was only one show - for school children mostly, all of whom had come in parties from their schools around the country. They were DEAFENING. Far louder than normal crowds, and great fun too. However, I got very good advice from all the jousters - as soon as we finished the show they said "don't head back to the dressing rooms yet..." This was because such an action would necessitate traversing a field full of manic, over excited school children. We waited to one side until they had all but cleared and then began our trek back. I was at once swamped with kids, who's reaction to me ranged from cries of "Hello Henry! We loved the show!" to "You're fat and ugly!", to simply trying to tear the clothes and props from my costume. It was almost akin to something from a zombie movie. Any of the little shits who called me names, if they were wearing baseball caps (as most of them seemed to be), I would simply tear the hats off their heads and try and throw them in the moat. Go and pick that one out of the lily pads you little f***er.
After getting changed and getting ready to go and find the hotel, the jousters announced they were all going out for a meal that evening, but to be honest I was beyond it by now and the lure of a nice big comfortable bed and not doing very much for a few hours sounded bloody wonderful. So I politely declined. Frank, the mad French Knight was also staying at the same Travelodge as me, so I gave him and his suitcase a lift down there. After a little trouble we found it, but soon discovered our only parking access was in a public car park behind the Travelodge and next to the railway station. We had no change for the exorbitant £9 a day rate, so I had to do it via my mobile phone which was apparently "Quick and Easy!" according to the details on the info board at the car park. You had to enter the number of the car park you were in as a final detail, but of course, they didn't put this number on the board with all the other numbers you need when you phone their automated service. Oh, hell no, they hide it on an obscure board about 20 yards away further down the car park. Our first intimation that we were about to pass through the portals to the gates of hell came when we tried to book into the hotel. There was a massive queue at the check in desk, consisting mostly of large sweaty men in rugby shirts, with thick South Wales accents, or perma-tanned giggly girlies in matching school girl outfits with "Lisa's Hen Night" emblazoned across their mini skirts, and all clutching partially drunk bottles of alcopops and shrieking hysterically at everything and nothing. And this was at about 4.30pm. It was going to be a long night. After a small cock up (for a while it looked like Frank and I might be sharing a room - Hell, no) we were sorted and wound our way up to the third floor and our rooms. I lay on the bed, stuck on the TV and promptly fell asleep. I woke up about 20 minutes later and nipped out to buy myself some grub for my self imposed exile from the rest of the group that evening. Bill, Mungo and Frank all came to my door at some point or other to try and persuade me to come and join in their fun and games, but I was on the backs of my knees and a night of doing bugger all sounded wonderful.
At about 9pm I was almost ready for sleep, but decided a bit of fresh air would do me good. I took the lift down to the ground floor and stepped outside into.... HELL. The road the hotel was in, was blocked off at each end by crash barriers and Police vans. Every single bar and shop along the street had at least one or two security staff on the door, with ear pieces in and a shifty look about them. Even McDonald's had security staff on the door. Vast hoards of men in fancy dress, ranging from pirates and convicts, to whole groups dressed in enormous onesies, staggered along the pavement, bellowing obscenities at each other, and belching like some sort of partially decomposing walrus. Groups of orange skinned women, in mega high heels, deely boppers, angel wings, and virtually no clothes at all, tottered along between the male groups, cackling, shrieking and singing, all on their ways to various deafening night clubs. Now you have to understand my viewpoint on clubs. I am about as much attracted to the idea of clubbing as a baby seal on an ice floe would be. Even when I was young the idea of going clubbing was totally alien to me. Why pay money to go into a god awful cauldron of cacophonous noise, mostly of music you hate, where the drinks are priced out of most people's ranges and all the beer is utter shite, where you can't talk to anyone as the music is so loud your nose starts to bleed and where, if you are unfortunate enough to look like me (i.e. fat, ginger and ugly) you immediately become a target for these groups of perma-tanned slappers/harpies, who upon your unenthusiastic entrance to this hell hole suddenly come running over to you screaming "my friend fancies you, can you go and give her a snog - cackle cackle cackle cackle...". I usually just drop my trousers at this point and offer her somewhere to hang her tea towels. When I was a teenager in Essex I would have had access to a whole pantheon of clubs - Zero-6, Tots, Raquels, The Pink Toothbrush, Dukes, Hollywoods to name but just some of the f***ing awful places you could go to meet a possible future spouse. I gazed upon this street of carnage in Wales and I have to say it depressed me enormously. Was this REALLY people's idea of a fun night? Seriously? Was this the limit to their imagination? If their life expectations are that limited and not wishing to sound like a pontificating smart arse, then I really truly pity them.
Saturday was more of a normal day at the Castle, two shows, open to the public and with the wind blowing an absolute hurricane across the grounds at Cardiff. We got through both shows and once more the invitation to join the jousters for a night out on the town cropped up, and this time I agreed. I was to meet them at a restaurant/bar in Wharton Street called Barocco at 7pm. I drove back to the car park behind the Travelodge and parked up, noticing first that the time was 4.30pm, and then shortly afterwards noticing the gentleman in the "KNOBBERS STAG NIGHT - TOTAL DESTRUCTION 2013" t-shirt, slouched on the wall opposite where I had parked. At this early hour of the afternoon, he was leaning forward and was vomiting. A lot. A quite tremendous amount. I was half inclined to check behind him to see if there was a hose going up his arse as he can't have drunk that much in a month. The depressing part of this site was him doing this in broad daylight, on a street, as families with young children walked past on their way back from days out etc.
At about 6pm Frank, Mungo and I walked up to the Rummer Pub opposite Cardiff Castle to meet up with some of the other jousters. We then made our way back down to Wharton Street and Barocco. By this time it was 7pm and Cardiff was just warming up. We were suddenly overtaken by a phalanx of young perma-tanned ladies dressed as angels and all clutching enormous dildos - as you do. While a mass group of drunk lads accosted a busker with a guitar and forced the poor bastard to play various crude rugby songs which they bellowed out with as much vocal dexterity as Lemmy gargling with razor blades.
Barocco was OK - very glitzy, very loud, pounding music, a limited menu and shite beer. So pretty much everything you would expect in a city centre restaurant. We had a good laugh. The jousters took much delight in nicking Frank's mobile phone and posting various extremely rude updates on his Facebook account. There was mock wrestling at the table, mass paper plane fights, loads of cocktails drunk and much loudness. A possible new commentator called Ian joined us for the latter part of the meal, and sat in the corner with a slightly terrified look on his face. I surrendered when the music level was cranked up and the light level was turned down to "Read in braille only" level - at about 10pm and slipped away and began to run the gauntlet of the walk back to the Travelodge. This walk did remind me a lot of some of the scenes in Mad Max 2. As I delicately tip-toed my way through the hurly burly of Stag and Hen Nights, hell bent on a good laugh, come what may, and the various little piles of puke already decorating the pavements, suddenly the Travelodge took on this appearance as a sort of Shangri-La for me - my sanctuary. And my God it was. As I walked into the reception area, the music from the Walkabout Pub next door was pounding through the walls at a deafening level. There was a sour faced little chap on the front desk. "Doesn't this noise drive you mad?" I asked, in a friendly way. "Vot?" he replied in a thick east European accent. I repeated what I had said, and so did he. "Say goodnight to the folks, Gracie..." I said, and was delighted to find the lift waiting to whisk me to peace and solitude on the third floor.
I met Bill and Mungo at the lift at about 9am the next morning. Bill was quiet, whereas Mungo just looked flushed, still drunk and wearing sunglasses indoors. Not a good look. We had another fine day at the joust, two very good shows, lots of lovely people to speak to and the delightful knowledge that I would be home in my own bed this evening in Somerset with not a stag party or hen night in ear shot. Heaven.
Good King Hal is going to be a bit quiet for a little while now as I am going away on holiday! Yes, me! On holiday! My first one in 4 years and I cannot wait. I am off to Ireland for a few days in County Wexford. I just hope they haven't got a massive hen and stag party problem, in which case I will be on the first ferry back.
Oh and if you read Dante's Inferno, I can tell you right now that Judas Iscariot, encased in a block of ice for all eternity is NOT the pit of hell. There is a hen party from Merthyr Tydfill just below him wearing "KISS ME QUICK BONK ME SLOWLY" hats and holding large inflatable penises dancing to pounding disco music while drinking industrial amounts of alcopops. Just so you know.