Well we didn’t go on that ghost walk in the end.
Allow me to explain. Stratford is slightly odd. Actually, no, scratch that. Stratford is as crazy as Jock McCrazy, winner of Crazyville’s annual “Woah! How crazy is that dude?” competition. For a start, everyone is really nice. In fact, take a walk anywhere in Stratford and every single person you pass by will smile politely and even offer you a hearty pleasantry such as “Good morning!” or “Lovely day isn‘t it?”.
Now, to be honest with you, this totally freaked me out. See I grew up in Morriston, where people aren’t nice to each other. Indeed make eye contact with anyone on a street in Morriston who isn’t a close friend or a blood relative and chances are you’ll end up getting stabbed. So by the second day of this peaceful Stratford life, and after the 500th person had wished me well, I’d become a paranoid wreck convinced that we’d stumbled across a pod of body snatchers. “What’s wrong with these people?” I cried, “They’re so friendly. Too friendly. It’s not natural”. Seriously, I half expected to run in to Donald Sutherland who would then proceed to point and wail at me any moment.
Secondly Stratford itself seems to have a split personality. There’s the culturally rich, bohemian Stratford which includes the Swan Theatre, an art gallery on a barge, and Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Then you have the fabulously tacky, tourist trap Stratford boasting a sex shop called Romeo & Juliet’s (Gee Note: Geddit?!?! Sadly I didn’t and spent a good ten minutes staring in to the store’s front window confused, only to be lead away by a rather miffed future ex-Mrs. Davies demanding to know just what the hell I thought I was doing. Alas my pleading of “I thought it was, like, a bakery or something” didn’t seem to placate her in any way), and the Museum of Wizardry and Witchcraft. Or MoWaW for short.
Situated a mere two doors down from the bard’s birthplace, the MoWaW looks a bit like a Halloween store in the middle of Atlantic city run by a crazy cat lady. Covered in gaudy neon lights punctuated by various depictions of ghouls and the like, it instantly screams “CHEAP”. Of course, me being me, I simply had to go in there. My fiancée (Gee Note: Man it feels so weird saying that. I mean it’s not a bad thing obviously. Quite the opposite in fact. It’s just… I don’t know… different I guess. Like mud wrestling a panda bear. If you did it every day you’d get used it eventually. However the first couple of times you’d be going “What the f***? Why am I mud wrestling a panda? What the hell is going on here?”. It’s a bit like that.) on the other hand didn’t seem quite so keen as I. In fact I kinda had to talk her in to it using half a bottle of wine and a packet of Olde English fudge.
Of course it was fantastically terrible, or terribly fantastic depending on which way you look at it. On three separate floors you could experience such delightful exhibits as “An old stick that might have been a wand” or “A chair that a witch might have sat in once”. They even had a sorting hat, a la Harry Potter. In fact for one whole English pound you could sit down, place the hat on your head, at which point some guy with a beard would stick his head around the corner and go “Uh yeah. The hat says Gryffindor.” Epic is not the word.
Problem was the future ex-Mrs. Davies didn’t agree. In fact she passionately found the entire experience completely disagreeable, even to the point that as we wondered through the gift section…
“Darling” said I, “I found a plastic bag with a spell in it that will help us win the lottery.”
“How much is it?”
“Ummm. Seven pounds.”
“C’mon. We’re going.”
On walking through the exit I saw an advert for the ghost walk and gazed at it longingly. My fiancée noticed this and in a less than playful manner exclaimed “No. No way. Not a chance in Hell.”. Sadly I knew she meant it.
So instead we went to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company perform King Lear. Which, of course, was unbelievably good. Thing is it’s of absolutely no use to this blog what so ever. Thankfully, as a much wiser man than myself once said, the solutions to life’s problems aren’t at the bottom of a bottle. They’re on TV.
I should point out that as I type this I've just finished watching an episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show which has left me, quite frankly, gob smacked. For those not in the know, The Jeremy Kyle Show is kind of like The Jerry Springer Show except with British accents and less fisticuffs. Another remarkable difference is that while Jerry would simply introduce his guests and let them at it, the JK show revolves around Kyle (Gee Note: Who looks like a cross between a bored viper and a horny turtle. No really.) shouting at some poor, bumpy skinned, shell suited wretch that they should "Get off their backside and get a job!". Either that or "Put something on the end of it!" should they have, heaven forbid, accidentally impregnated someone.
This inevitably leads to one or more of the participants storming off stage, at which point Kyle will slither off behind them and display a level of passive aggressiveness normally associated with psychopaths. For example, some unfit mother will be condemned for drinking Toilet Duck while letting her kids play with chainsaws, until the time she gets a wee bit teary eyed. At that point dear Jeremy will sit next to her backstage and calmly explain that he knows it's difficult being a single mum (Gee Note: Although quite how he knows this is never really elaborated on) and that he's simply here to help, neglecting to mention of course that his show's viewing figures go up every time he makes a Burberry bedecked manatee blubber.
Sadly, not a single one of Jezza's guests are ever intelligent enough to call him out on his buffoonery, and so the pompous loon is allowed to grandstand as much as he pleases. It makes for some complicated viewing. On the one hand you end up gawking in wonder at various monstrosities that are paraded before you like some kind of interactive Victorian freak show, and have a jolly good time in the process. On the other you can't help but notice the seediness of it all, how the whole process is designed not to help anybody, but rather to poke fun at the unwashed masses. Oh look at him, he's a really awful father. Oh look at her, she's an alcoholic. Oh tee hee hee, what japes.
Still it's not as if most of those that subject themselves to this circus are entirely undeserving of ridicule. Take today's show. On the stage were two slack jawed, white trash, yokels, who had come to Jeremy for a DNA test to determine once and for all if the male was the female's unfortunate sperm donor.
Anyway during the shall we say "heated" debate, the Kylester ended up displaying a picture of the couple's potential offspring for all to see. And then, in what can only be described as the single greatest moment in television history, he paused, looked at the mother, looked at the baby, looked at the father, looked back at the baby, held up his hand and said…
“I have to be honest with you. That baby is black.”
And without a pause the potential dad said…
“Well I’m glad you’ve said that Jeremy. Because it was that what initially raised doubts in my head”.
Raised doubts? RAISED DOUBTS?!? That’s a bit of an understatement surely? I mean I’m no geneticist (Gee Note: In fact I had to use spell checker to type out “geneticist” properly) but unless there’s some woovy bezerk DNA splicing going on, complete with a mad scientist cackling while lightening strikes all around him, then I’m guessing you’ve found yourself a pretty strong case to get yourself out of the whole paying child support thing.
As it turns out they did the test just for the hell of it (Gee Note: Either that or they’d pre-paid for the booth) and, yeah, no he wasn’t the father. Later on in the same episode they also revealed that the Pope is not, nor has he ever been, a protestant.
Which brings us to Psychic Sally: On the Road. Sally Morgan is a former dental nurse who claims to be able to contact the dead. In 2008 she became rather famous in the UK after publishing a book entitled “My Psychic Life”. Since then she has toured the country non stop, conducting shows in various theatres where she cold reads members of the audience. Unlike most UK psychics who are, let’s face it, kinda creepy - Sally’s gimmick is that she’s an average, down to earth woman. So much so she waddles on to the stage with the minimum of fuss, after which she calls everyone darling, and smiles a lot. During one episode when the person she’s speaking to starts to well up she exclaims “Oh don’t cry darling, you’ll set me off.”. You see, this isn’t some dude with a bad hair cut and glittery jacket trying to amaze you with his mind powers. No, this is Aunty Sally telling you your loved ones are in the after life all sitting around the dinner table having a nice cup of tea. You know, real cosy like.
Except it’s not. In fact it’s all a bit sinister. You see Sally’s way of “passing on the spirit’s message” is rather unique. While other psychics will say something along the lines of “Your father says that… wait… he’s saying he had problems with his arm? Is that right? That he couldn’t lift his arm?”, Sally goes to town by putting on a weak little voice and crying out “How could I live like this? How could I? I can’t even lift my arm!”, at which point the camera cuts back to the receiver of this news who nods gravely and wipes a tear away from their eye.
But the most intriguing part of the show are the bits in between her performances. Sally is filmed travelling the road reality style with her husband/manager John in tow (Gee Note: A man who looks like he was imprisoned 30 years ago for a crime he didn’t commit and has long since given up the fight to prove his innocence), where it turns out it’s a wee bit more difficult to keep up the mother hen routine. For example, at some point Sally get’s a tooth ache and seems to think she has a God given right to get anti biotics carried to her by a flock of white doves or something. Unfortunately when trying to book an appointment with a dentist, it turns out they wouldn't give her a prescription for anything unless her face had swollen and she was unable to function properly. Which of course it hadn't, and which of course she was. This pretty much pushed the lovely Ms. Morgan over the edge.
After a relatively volatile discussion with a representative for the NHS over the phone, Sally dearest ends the conversation with sarcasm streaming through her voice.
“I’m sorry I’m going to have to cut you off now. Because I’m 58 and I’ve paid in to National Health Service all my working life, and this is what it is. Great isn’t it?! Absolutely wonderful!”.
Now, this might not seem like all that big of a deal, but for me this speaks more about this woman’s character than all the smiling and the “darlings” during her stage performances. Because I’ve had a conversation with those folks on the NHS helpline, namely when I had a kidney stone and thought that my back was exploding from the inside out. And the thing is, the people who work at the NHS helpline try to help you as best as they can, even though they probably have no formal medical training and are undoubtedly paid an awful wage. So, you know, taking your frustrations out on them is like kicking a puppy when your in a bad mood. It’s not cool, bro. Not cool.
You see, the truth is that Psychic Sally and Jeremy Kyle aren’t all that different. They both make money off other people’s emotions, both manipulate their audience in to giving them a specific response, and they both claim they’re doing it for the greater good. The difference is that one does it by bellowing that their guests are rubbish, the other does it by claiming that their guest's deceased loved ones are proud of them.
And, for the life of me, I really can’t decide which one is worse.