Itís time for me to tell the whole story of my trip to the UK Ė which was a goddamn adventure. Donít worry, guys, you aren't signing up to look at my terrible slideshow of places you could've looked up on Google maps.
In case you didn't know, I was going on this trip to the UK in order to present my Doctor Who film 'The Time Run' at Doctor who the shadow proclamation. It's a silly film. It's an awesome film. Right now, I'm listening to it through headphones so that as I write this I'll hit the right tone. Because this story is joyful and funny even when it's terrible, and Doctor Who delights me endlessly, and really this is just the story of what I would do to feel close to this beautiful thing that makes me happy for no reason at all.
You may have noticed that before this trip, I was freaking out a bit. This was for several reasons, including, but not limited to:
OHMYGOD, Paul McGann!!!! TRAVEL TO ANOTHER COUNTRY BY MYSELF. Onstage at a convention with all these deeply respectable Doctor Who people! AGH, I HAVE TO LEARN HOW TRAINS WORK. Will my phone work?!?! (no) Will my credit card work?!!? (sometimes) WHAT IF I GET LOST??? (often) What if something awesome happens?! (eh)
I also knew that I was going to meet Colum and Kerry. Colum was Ten's double in Doctor Who, and Kerry is his wife. Would they like me? (eh) How many stupid things would I say in succession? (probably a lot)
You see, this whole time I was really concerned with glomming onto people out of desperation, so a lot of my thought process was like this "PLAY IT COOL, ALISON. NO, I SAID "COOL". CHRIST, ALISON, WE'VE GONE OVER THIS, QUICKLY WHEN NO ONE'S LOOKING, LOOK UP THE DEFINITION OF 'COOL' IN THE DICTIONARY AND TRY THAT SHIT AGAIN."
But let me back up a step. The way I was able to do this was through donations from all of you. I mean, I can't believe how beautifully that wound up coming together - though here's a secret I hadn't revealed before - part of those donations came from me selling off some prized possessions. I won't say what because my mother is on here, and she doesn't want to know. But I did part with things that were important to me in order to make up the cost difference.
Then, about three weeks before I left, I got really sick. I didn't tell any of you, because I wanted to just push my way through it and be fine. In actuality, I had this stabbing abdominal pain and was rushed through a billion tests to see if I'd have to have emergency surgery (thankfully, no) and have been on enough Vicodin to knock Charlie Sheen flat since.
So, that'll paint the picture for you, I think - a drugged up Alison in a foreign country attempting to navigate an already precarious situation where she doesn't know anyone and also starry-eyed over Doctor Who.
The first thing that happened after I landed was Customs, where I had to explain that I was there to do a Doctor Who presentation, and got a pretty severe eyebrow raise in return, followed by a sigh, a stamp, and the guy muttering "Yeah, a lot of Americans come here for that." And, me being me, I asked, "Do you make fun of them after they're gone?" "Yeah." WELCOME TO THE UK, ALISON!
Then it was off to baggage claim where I discovered my luggage had gotten lost somewhere between Boston and Amsterdam.
Then, while I was working out the lost luggage form, the currency exchange booth closed. It was really turning out to be awesome already.
I went out to find a taxi to take me to my hotel with only the clothes on my back and did you know that Cardiff is really windy? I was unaware of that. A whole lot of what I packed to wear involved cute little dresses. So, walking to the taxi was the first (of many) times the wind got me and I flashed my ass at passersby.
By the time I arrived at Jolyons at No. 10 (a little boutique hotel), I was pretty miserable, but that quiet, exhausted kind of miserable where you just want to go to your room that doesn't exist because you arrived at 9am and they won't let you into it until 2pm unless you pay sixty pounds. I still don't know how to do a swirly cursive L thing, so yes, I am typing out the word 'pounds'.
Luckily their bar was open, so I went in and sat down and drank a pint. Did you know that pints are massive? I guess I just don't think in measurements but WOO! The day was starting to look up. And they did wind up taking pity on me and giving me the room key, so I went up and ordered a cheeseburger from room service (mistake 1. Cheeseburgers there are nothing like American cheeseburgers. Just don't do it. Don't. No seriously, step away from that menu right now.) and, jetlagged, fell asleep.
I woke up around 11pm, and decided, well, since I'm in Cardiff I may as well do SOMETHING. I should say, here, I looked about as American as it's possible for people to look. I was wearing a sunddress, a jean jacket, cowboy boots, and carrying a Stephen Colbert tote bag - and I couldn't change because no luggage.
I went to the bartender of the hotel bar and asked him what was open that late, and for a moment he was torn between directing me to turn right out of the hotel or to turn left. But then he looked me up and down and either decided I was too innocent, too alone, or too American, and warned me away from the bars to the right, and directed me downtown.
I should add that this was... I think it was Tuesday? So downtown wasn't exactly hopping. Also, I'm sure I looked hilarious because I was using my phone for walking maps (I never did run out of data on my plan, though the phone part is another story I'll get to momentarily) but trying not to LOOK like I was using my phone for walking maps, so I kept just glancing at it as though I was sending and receiving texts, realizing that I'd passed my turn, leaning up against a building like that had been my intention all along, and then discreetly heading around the corner... Honest to god, I wish I could've watched myself from outside of myself, because I'm sure it was hilarious.
Anyway, I wound up at this pub and immediately some older guy started talking to me. And remember what I said upthread about glomming onto people - well, I did that. I was all "THANK GOD, SOMEONE WHO CAN SHOW ME WHERE THE BATHROOM IS." Note: It is not a bathroom, or the restroom. It is called 'the toilet' or 'the ladies'. Unless you're a man, and then I have no idea.
I did lead the conversation with this guy by telling him that no matter what, I was not going to have sex with him or make out with him or go back to his place so if that's what you're thinking JUST STOP RIGHT THERE, BUSTER. When the bar started to shut down less than an hour later and he offered to show me where other places were, I took a photo of his ID and MMS'd it to a friend just to be sure that even if he was a murderer, well, at least he'd get caught.
We walked about a mile away to a nightclub, and oh my god, you guys, Cardiff nightclubs are SOMETHING. Something hilarious. It's like those junior high school dances where there's an invisible line between all the men and all the women and only the most daring cross it. But even then, just for a second, and then they scamper back over to their side.
And the guy I was hanging out with was cool. Not attractive in any way whatsoever, but funny, and interested in showing me the sights, such as they were. We even played a game of 'the most interesting person in the room', wherein each of us had to point to who we believed to be the most interesting person in the room, and then both of us would sit down at their table without asking and start talking to them and see who was right (it was me). My pick, as it happened, rattled off series of statistics over and over and over again - not related ones, and not to any purpose within the conversation. Just statistics. And train times.
At this point, it was very late, and time for me to go. So I headed outside where a line of taxis was waiting and said my goodbyes to the guy - who immediately violated my initial agreement and tried to convince me to spend the night at his place and have sex and all this stuff. I was SO mad that after he had rambled for a while, I just said "OKAY. IT WAS NICE MEETING YOU. GOODBYE." and got into the cab and left.
The cab driver was nice, and told me a bunch of weird stories about his life in an open relationship. When we pulled up to the hotel, he was still talking, so I sat for a minute and joked back and forth until there was a knock on my window.
And it was the guy I'd been hanging out with.
Because he got into the next taxi in line, and followed mine back to the hotel.
I know this because he told me so, as though that was normal.
I kept trying to relay to the cabbie, using frantic eyeball motions only, that this guy was following me and help oh my god what do I do, but he never did get what I was trying to say, and drove off. At which point I pushed past the guy and ran for the door and slammed it behind me.
It's a testament to the hopefulness of men that this guy called the front desk of the hotel the next day and had them connect him to my room. I was hoping the person on the line was calling about the luggage. When I realized, I slammed down the phone and sat there, having an existential crisis. Why is this happening to me? Where is all that Who magic? How long am I going to have to sit around naked because I don't have any clothes?
Then began the nuts and bolts of trying to change that - making phone calls, staying on hold for inordinate amounts of time, frustrations, gnashing of teeth.
Now, remember, before I left I tried to take care of every single thing I could think of that could go wrong. This involved preordering a SIM card from HolidayPhone. Mistake 2. While it was great for the amount of time it lasted (250 minutes of talk time), once you run out of minutes, there is NO WAY to top it up again without the actual phone you're calling from.
Luckily, I still had data, which meant I could Facebook and use maps. And I still had picture messages, so when Colum took pity on me later that day and started trying to arrange for me to hang out with his friends (Colum was somewhere in Ireland at the time) I could write down the message I was trying to convey on sheets of paper and send it as a photo.
Weirdly, I could also still receive text messages and receive calls. I have no idea how that happened.
So - that night was going to be different! Colum had arranged for me to meet his friends at a bar (they were musicians and playing a gig), and all I'd have to do is show up and voila! A lovely time ahead. Except I ar
rived ten minutes after his friends left.
I should add - in between those things, the luggage did arrive and I wrapped my arms around my suitcase and wept before opening it and realizing that yes, in fact, every dress I packed was short enough that these Cardiff Winds I've never in my life heard of were going to leave me naked.
This is actually kind of funny - there was a gas station (petrol station) right across the street from the hotel and I'd occasionally want Diet Pepsi or whatever and have to pay someone off to run across the street and get it because the one time I tried? BAM. You guessed it. Flashed my ass at passersby again. I fear that there is now a legend built around me in Cardiff - That American Girl With The Bare Ass.
And, by the way, I again used my Walking Map But Not Looking At The Map method to get to this bar where Colum's friends were supposed to be. And then when I arrived, I intentionally overshot the place so I could walk past and get the lay of the land. Keep in mind on this again - I was the most American-looking out-of-place little creature in the whole of Cardiff, so while I thought I was being really smooth, people were probably just turning to one another and asking, "What is up with that girl hovering around this place?"
But anyway, eventually I made it into the bar, realized Colum's friends were gone already, sighed, and went to order a pint.
And we've arrived at one of the best parts of this story. You didn't think it could be all bad, did you? Because this was David. David was standing at the bar, and he was gorgeous. And the first thing he said to me was, "I love your boots."
I'm looking at a photo of David on my phone right now. And nope - not sharing it, either, because it's the one where he jokingly made duckface at me and I'm not letting that be what you think of him, because he was just... well, the perfect person for me to meet.
He told me all about his family in Alicante, and about - and here's where you guys say "Oh my GOD, Alison" - about being in prison for homicide. He killed the guy who killed his brother. I hope he never stumbles onto this Facebook, actually, because I'd feel badly for telling you about that. But, it is part of the story, and lying is weak.
That's almost worse than posting the duckface picture, because that's not who he is in this story, either. He was the upturn. Well, for the time it lasted.
He was like... having a forcefield around me. All of those things I was worried about went away. He didn't think I was stupid for not knowing where things were or what to pay for them, and when someone tried to give me shit, he got in the way.
He didn't even think anything negative when I said I was going to run to the restroom ("ladies", Alison, why can you not get this) and came back less than two minutes later and said, "Walked into the men's." He just grabbed my hand and walked me to the right place, and then waited for me to come back.
And I did get hassled by another guy - someone who sat down at the table and wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. And David did his whole "You'd better fuck off right now or your stomach will be full of teeth" thing, and the guy went away.
The bar closed soon after that, and we walked over to a nightclub and danced. I don't mean danced well. I mean danced horribly and ridiculously. And he sat outside on a bench and watched the entirety of The Time Run on my phone. And raved about how great it was, and how awesome of an opportunity I was having, and how he would like to ask me to stay in Cardiff for the rest of the time and do this every night, but that wouldn't be fair to me.
He showed up at my hotel the next day with muffins for breakfast, but I had already packed up and was about to head to the train station. Ah, the train station. It's like the evil villain of this story. I was terrified of the train station, because I've never been on trains. I have no idea how they work. And, keeping in mind the sheer number of times I have flashed my ass at people and couldn't figure out where bathrooms were, I want you to imagine me navigating trains.
So we were standing outside waiting for my taxi doing the well-now-that-we're-sober-what's-all-this-about thing and he was so fucking nice, you guys. He was so fucking nice to me that when the taxi arrived, he jumped in and came with me to the train station and picked up my ticket with me and then we walked over to a nearby cafe and drank coffee and laughed and had a really lovely time all the while with me thinking trains, oh my god, trains.
The amount of anxiety I had must've been really obvious because when we went back to the station, he purchased the cheapest one-way ticket available just to get on the platform to physically put me on the right train for Middlesbrough and kiss me goodbye.
Being on a train is like being put into a sardine can, but you're not allowed to make eye contact with the other sardines.
I was happy, at this point, finally having done something right. Before leaving, I ripped the audio off of 49 episodes of Scrubs and loaded them onto my iPod. Those things saved my life, I swear, because the train is boring.
I mentioned before that my mental imagery of the UK is tumbling a handful of grey moss-covered stones out of your hand and into a pool of water. Most of that impression came from looking out the windows of trains.
This was a six hour journey through the middle of nowhere, and at each stop, I'd stare out the window at these tiny little towns and wonder what life was like in each of them. I made all these plans in my head to come back someday, take the same train, and get off at every stop.
Now, remember, this was all about presenting The Time Run at Doctor who the shadow proclamation, and I was moving forward with all these kind words from David about how great it (and I) would be, so I was a lot less terrified of the presentation than I had been before. The organizer's father was supposed to pick me up from the station, so I mentally prepared for navigating that as well, and kind of sat back and waited for the next thing.
When I arrived, though, I didn't see anyone who could fit that description - and since my phone didn't work, I couldn't call anyone to ask about my ride. So instead I hopped into a taxi and headed off to The Thistle hotel.
Even though the convention had nothing to do with The Thistle other than being geographically nearby, when I checked in and they asked what brought me to Middlesbrough and I said "a Doctor Who convention" they knew. Before I did. "Uh - you know that's been cancelled, right?"
I didn't even react. I mean, it was par for the course. I just said "Oh, really? No. I hadn't heard that." and went to my room.
Now again, I could still access Facebook and all that - I just couldn't use the phone. So I checked up on Doctor who the shadow proclamation's page and yep, there are all the angry people. It was, indeed, cancelled.
People were talking about meeting up, though - finding something Whoish to do in spite of the disappointment. So, thinking that I would find them all better if I looked the part, I put on my Tenth Doctor coat and headed outside.
In retrospect, I can kind of see it - how someone could mistake me for a prostitute. I wear red lipstick a lot. I had on a little dress and a big coat. And I was standing next to a relatively swanky hotel by myself.
But at the time, it was a total surprise when a drunk Scotsman cornered me and gave me an earful of shit - demanding to know my name, telling me I was lying when I said it, asking me if I thought I looked "retro" with the stupid coat and then when I held up my phone case (which has the Tenth Doctor on it, wearing the coat) making fun of me for liking Doctor Who at all.
This went on for a good ten minutes while I played the part of the foreigner who doesn't want to offend anyone.
But you know me.
That's not me.
Before I continue this story, I want to say that I had this guy (whose name completely escapes me, because I cared that little) crying within the hour.
For people who are making travel plans to the UK - I want to warn you - Middlesbrough is a little bit dangerous. Don't go walking alone at night. Particularly if you're female and you have no idea where you're going.
But back to the drunk Scotsman who was accusing me of being a prostitute and trying to run me away from the hotel.
After a good ten minutes of his abuse, I decided it was time to show him that I can, in fact, beat the fuck out of a person if so inclined. And so I told him no, I am not a prostitute. You are a huge asshole. Here is my room key. See that? I'm staying here, dick. Do you hear this accent? It's American. Do you think that I, what, traveled all the way to Middlesbrough, England to whore myself next to this hotel because the rates are so great? Hm? Do you know the rates for prostitutes here? I'LL BET YOU DO.
Anyway, he got very apologetic and wanted to buy me a drink to apologize - and remember my issue with glomming onto people? I said sure. So we walked over to a nearby bar - a locals bar, don't do it - and got a pint.
This place pushed all of my 'danger' buttons simultaneously. It was probably fine for anyone else - but it was NOT fine for an American who can easily be mistaken for a prostitute. Some random guy pushed his way over to me and tried to kiss me on the lips. The first time he rammed himself in for the kiss, I put my arm out in front of me so he just ran into that. The second time, I physically shoved him. And then he went off to his friends and loudly complained about "that stuck up bitch" and how he had "taken an instant dislike". And for the rest of the time I was in that bar, he kept speaking to people and then motioning at me and giving me the finger.
I drank my pint quickly.
And the Scotsman - well, he is the worst kind of person in this story. He really was just a huge dickhead, and just sat there like nothing at all was happening as this guy (who he knew) continued to motion over to me like he was going to kick my ass for not making out with him at the bar.
I told Scotsman I was going back to the hotel, and he left too, to walk along with me.
I was pretty pissed off with him at this point, and I am very good at pushing psychological buttons when I want to. So I asked what woman he had loved who had made all of us seem so bad, and that's how I heard about Linda. Linda, Linda, Linda - the love of his life. He hadn't been with her in nine years, but his heart still cried for Linda, who left him for her skydiving instructor.
Yes, you read that right.
And that's when he cried.
Remember how I was co-presenting The Time Run with Colum? Well, when I realized the whole event had been cancelled, I sent him a picture message of a note I had scrawled on a piece of paper that said "DON'T COME TO MIDDLESBROUGH," and he called to see what had happened. And when I told him, I fully expected that he and Kerry would cancel their trip to Middlesbrough entirely, take what refunds they could, and I would be, again, spending days alone in a place where I knew no one.
OH MY GOD, I almost forgot to tell you - I also got a call on my hotel room line from David, who wanted to make sure that I'd made the train transfer alright, and was safe in Middlesbrough. David, you glorious bastard.
Anyway, Colum and Kerry did not cancel. Whether it was because it was impossible to get a refund at that point or because I'm a darling person, I don't actually know. Let's pretend it's the darling person thing.
They arrived the next day. And here's where I have to start leaving parts out of the story. Not because I'm keeping secrets or anything, but because it's a lot weirder to give your impressions of people when you know they can read it. (Hello, Colum and Kerry - none of the impressions were bad - I swear.)
You know, it's actually going to be difficult to continue this story knowing they're there. And, again, not because of anything bad - just because I did the same thing I always do when I meet new people. I got quiet, and I watched - because it's a lot less interesting to talk about those Cardiff Winds, and, my, have you seen up my skirt lately, than it is to try and shift the way you're looking at things and really SEE people. Know what I mean?
Remember, the only reason I know them at all is because when I was making The Time Run, at some moment in editing, I realized I wasn't looking at David Tennant - I was looking at someone else, who the fuck is that and why are they ruining my film? And then, as it turned out, it was Tennant's double, Colum, and Kerry filmed him running around Cardiff specifically for my project.
That was the extent of what I knew about them - two people who were, theoretically, frickin awesome because who does that? Hell, for the first day of communicating with Colum, I continually called him my Nemesis.
Anyway, I probably seemed really rude because they took me to Whitby and to Robin Hood Bay and to York, and I didn't take a single photo. It only struck me afterward that must've made it seem like I was bored or miserable or something - but really it's because I want to take the places in; breathe them in fully; see everything and remember nothing but the sensation of being there. Middlesbrough is crumbling. York is covered in hanging ivy. Robin Hood Bay is just air - nothing but air and a spray on your face and the smell of water. And all those things are true even if they aren't.
Anyway, after those adventures, it was back on the train to Cardiff. And I stayed with Colum and Kerry the night I got back. And Colum and I chatted about his novel, 'The Fly Guy', which is being published by Wordfire press early next year. Keep an eye on that. It's a wonderful book.
Then back onto the plane, and back home again. They have fantastic food on the flights back, by the way, or maybe I was just a little starved from eating only granola that I packed in my luggage. I'm not sure which. I do know that when I landed at JFK and had a bit of time between flights, I walked outside and stood in New York thinking "It smells like mustard. It smells like feet. It smells like home."