A Pain in the Back and The Beard

March 25, 2009 -

John Heald

I am writing to you while sitting in a hard back chair and sitting as straight and upright as a meer cat that’s just eaten a few Viagra pills………….because I have a terrible back pain. I know it’s not necessarily a sign of aging – young men have bad backs too – but as I stood tentatively doing stretching exercises this morning I realized there was a difference between old men’s bad backs and young men’s bad backs.

I realized this when Goose the cruise director of the Carnival Splendor asked me how I injured my back. Now, a young man would have been able to give him an answer like “Oh, I was running in the Iron Man contest and just as I finished the 300 mile run a felt a twinge…………or………..I was having rumpy pumpy with 23 Latvian women and while I was hanging from the chandelier I pulled a muscle.” Anyway, Goose looked at me expecting such tales of heroics…….instead, I just said, with an air of resignation: “I don’t know.” Such was my condition I couldn’t even accompany my answer with a decent shrug.

However, my back pain was the last thing on my mind after my usual trawl through the morning’s news. I came across an article in the Washington Post (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/checkup/2009/03/do_older_dads_make_dumber_kids.html) which almost literally added insult to injury. New research shows that children conceived by men over 45 do badly in intelligence tests. In short, old dads produce stupid kids. At first I wasn’t too worried because I am 44. And then I became pissed off with the world and myself for not giving Heidi a bun in the oven before. Then after an hour of depression mixed with lashings of back pain, I realized that if my Thingy was not the brightest bulb on the tree at least it would give me some comedic stories for the blog.

There must be thousands of fabulous “my stupid kid” anecdotes left untold because stupid kids tend to be the offspring of stupid parents rather than great raconteurs. Or, at least, I always assumed as much. This new research changes everything. If I’m going to be the first aged Dad to get a whole blog out of his slightly dim Thingy. I am already preparing myself for “the funny things kids say” stories I will be telling my friends and you here on the blog. Of course, children are beautiful and innocent and, as William Wordsworth said, come “trailing clouds of glory,” but some of the parents I know are still inclined to view them chiefly as things to talk about. And let’s face it, “Porsche likes Dora the Explorer” or “Peter finished his math homework by 7 pm” will not be in the same league as my groundbreaking “My Thingy set fire to the next-door neighbor’s cat because he thought it looked cold.”

The big test of whether a man is too old to be a father always seems to be whether he’ll be able, when the time comes, to play sport with his children in the park. I take a different view. It is the great sadness of my life that I’ve combined an enormous passion for watching, reading and talking about sport with a complete inability to play it. I’ve no desire to reveal this humiliating fact to my Thingy.

If I instead stand, balanced on two walking-sticks, watching the Thingy happily kicking a ball about they will be none the wiser. Especially, as I’ll no doubt tell them I had trials for the Miami Heat and could easily have turned pro were it not for the back injury I sustained during a bedtime story. Obviously, they’ll be too stupid to question this story or indeed to question the logic of the fact that I am about 200 pounds overweight and about one foot too short to even get the Heat to look at me.

Oh, and another thing. When I see a man walking along with a child sitting on his shoulders, it always seems to me as if he’s parading a “My Healthy Sperm” trophy on a macho lap of honor. You’d never catch me doing that. Not with my back.
So, there is lot to look forward to. everyone tells me about the sleep deprivation……I get up three or four times to pee and poo in the night now anyway so a crying baby won’t bugger all difference to me………………….and most importantly…………….if my Thingy is a smart as Henry Kissinger or as dumb as…… ummmm………….me……..I shall love he or she unconditionally.

It’s 8:20 am and I am apparently the only bugger out of bed. The travel agents here in Los Angeles seem to be much more spirited than the ones who boarded in San Francisco …………..and when I mean spirited I am referring of course to Grey Goose, Bacardi and all their mates.

On Friday we go to film the new interactive Aquarium in LA and it will be wonderful to be able to explore this great city again. I grew up mistakenly thinking that Los Angeles was a dangerous place to live thanks to the way that the city is portrayed on TV .

When you think of Las Vegas, you think of casinos and the excesses of life; when you think of New York, you think of shopping and people who move from a to b at 2,000 miles an hour; and when you think of London – despite the best efforts our double chinned Scottish idiot of a prime minister to steer you in the direction a tofu restaraunt– you think of Big Ben and HM Queen and when you think of Paris you think of love……..that surprised you didn’t it………you thought I was going to say the smelly people waving white flags………..but I didn’t.

Rome has its architecture. Sydney has its bridge. Venice has its sewage and thanks to many television shows LA has its crime. Ask any Brit what comes to mind when they hear the words Los Angeles and they will say Hollywood and the place to go if you want to be shot, stabbed and eaten.

You could tell your mother you were going on a package holiday to Kabul, with a stopover in Haiti and a cruise through the pirate infested waters of Somalia, and she wouldn’t be bothered at all. But tell her you’re going to Los Angeles and she’ll be absolutely convinced that you’ll come home with no wallet, no watch and no head……………mine certainly did.

But I’ve been here more than my share and always come back with great memories. I have come to really appreciate this terrific city and all that it has to offer.

It seems that LA has an undeserved reputation for being a town with gangs of men with low slung pants that show the crack of their bottoms hanging out with their “house boys.”

Nevertheless, I shall look forward to my visit over the next few days and to prepare myself to blend in with the surroundings I will also be wearing my trousers at half mast so everyone can see my XL extra white Fruit of the Looms and I shall refer to Stephanie Leavitt and the camera crew who will be joining me as “my dog.”

So today I have already done two TV interviews for local TV called California Life and a channel called Wealth TV. This channel’s motto is it’s your life….Spend It Well. Considering AIG took all my money and spent it on Latvian women and bottles of 1947 Chateau De Bastardo it seemed ridiculous for me to be on a station with the word Wealth in the title ……………rather like putting Paris Hilton on the History Channel. I then did an interview for a local TV station and every reporter and interviewer I have spoken to has seemed so excited that the Carnival Splendor is in California……….and so they should be.

Last night the entertainment staff performed a 50’s and 60’s rock n roll show on the Lido deck. The dancers and singers all wore poodle skirts ……..well the girls did…….and they performed a series of dances to the live music of the orchestra and the brilliant Elite rock and roll band……………….it was a beautiful night and we were able to retract the roof. Now, at this point I was supposed to show you some photos of this but when I looked this morning there was bugger all there……..I mean………..bugger all there. It’s a new camera provided by Carnival and has a zoom lens that can show a man’s nose hairs 3 miles away………..but the bloody thing doesn’t take photos.

I hate gadgets ……………….with a true passion. Today, you have a video EyePod and a super model thin television set. You have a portable satellite navigation system, TIVO, a widescreen laptop, Flip thing video cameras, automatic sprinklers on your lawn and a cell phone that plays the James Bond theme when anyone calls.

This dramatic and frenzied burst of activity has created a new type of person. The gadget freak. And he is every bit as important to the world of consumerism as the last great marketing invention: the teenager.

Of course, to keep him happy, many new and useless things were invented. The home cinema. The La-Z-Boy electric massage chair recliner. The electric toilet seat, phones that take pictures, cameras that access the Internet and the list goes on an on. However, as the world of the Internet marches strongly along there is a price to pay………………the death of the newspaper.

I was speaking to a reporter about this yesterday and the news does not seem good. Is there a future for news served on paper? Some giant US titles, including The New York Times, sounded a warning a few months ago that they feared financial meltdown in the face of Mr. Google and Mrs. Yahoo. But just as technology is siphoning off the readers and advertising revenue of traditional, ink-on-paper newspapers, now it might be coming to their rescue.

On the news this morning (that’s TV news as in CNN) there was an article about flexible “e-paper” screens emerging from the labs will soon find their way into portable, lightweight, electronic readers the size of an A4 sheet of paper. They’ll eventually display a full-color electronic version of your daily paper, with moving graphics and video. You can turn the page by using your finger in a Matrix kind of way, rather than fumbling to control half a Brazilian rain forest on a crowded plane or train and accidentally sticking your elbow into the left breast of the lady sitting next you ………I personally will miss the good old fashioned newspaper……………….will you?

As I mentioned yesterday there was some excellent news regarding the Carnival Elation………….here is the official press release.


MIAMI (March 25, 2009) – A new four- and five-day cruise option featuring day-long calls at Cabo San Lucas will be added to the Carnival Elation’s existing schedule from San Diego in July 2009, complementing the ship’s popular three- and four-day Baja program.

Carnival Elation – which emerged from a multi-million-dollar renovation last week with a host of new features — will operate the West Coast’s only three-, four- and five-day schedule, expanding upon the line’s industry-leading short cruise offerings. Roughly half of the “Fun Ship” fleet offers voyages of five days or less in length.

On its new schedule, Carnival Elation will operate a year-round series of four- and five-day cruises for a two-week period followed by another two weeks of three- and four-day Baja departures.

Four- and Five-Day Cruises to Cabo San Lucas

Beginning July 2, 2009, Carnival Elation’s four-day “long weekend” cruises will depart Thursdays and visit Cabo San Lucas. Two different five-day itineraries will also be offered. Five-day cruises departing Saturdays will feature the industry’s only itinerary that includes two full days in Cabo San Lucas, providing guests with a unique opportunity to enjoy one of Mexico’s most spectacular destinations. Five-day cruises departing Mondays will feature both Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada.

New Departure Days for Three- and Four-Day Cruises

The Carnival Elation’s three- and four-day cruises which currently depart on Thursdays and Sundays, respectively, will be changed to Fridays (three-day cruises) and Mondays (four-day cruises) starting with the July 20, 2009, four-day departure. These new departure dates offer guests an even more convenient option on these popular short cruise itineraries from San Diego.

“We’re always looking for ways to diversify our itinerary offerings to provide our guests with the widest variety of experiences ashore,” said Ruben Rodriguez, Carnival’s executive vice president of marketing and guest experience. “Carnival Elation’s new three-, four- and five-day cruise schedule and new itineraries visiting Cabo San Lucas offer our guests a truly unique selection of memorable vacation choices, all at a very affordable price,” he added.

The 70,000-ton Carnival Elation – the only cruise ship operating year-round from San Diego – offers a host of new facilities and features following an extensive renovation, as part of the line’s product enhancement program for its eight 70,000-ton Fantasy-class vessels.

Carnival Elation’s refurbishment included the addition of Serenity, an exclusive adults-only retreat, a new Circle “C” club geared to 12- to 14-year-olds, and expanded Lido-area dining options, including a new Mongolian Wok custom stir-fry station and an updated deli and dessert station. The Carnival Ecstasy’s suites were also remodeled and cosmetic enhancements were made to a variety of shipboard areas.

These features complement the ship’s myriad resort-style amenities, including 12 lounges and bars, three restaurants, four swimming pools, a 115-foot-long water slide, a 12,000-square-foot health and fitness center, an Internet café, and ship-wide Wi-Fi access.

Reservations are currently being accepted for all of the Carnival Elation’s three-, four- and five-day sailings from San Diego. For additional information and reservations, call 1-800-327-9501 (individual) or 1-800-327-5782 (groups) or visit the line’s travel agent Internet portal, bookccl.com.

And so the day continues with everyone having fun………….well nearly everyone. I was working once again in the Guest Services Pursers Office Relationship Desk as my lap top dancer has bugger all connection with anything. It was while I was blogging the first few lines early this morning that I heard raised voices coming from the desk.

There…………was a man who was letting the poor chap at the desk have both barrels because the casino is not open. It’s not open because we are going to nowhere and the country of Nowhere and it’s capital Middle of Nowhere are not recognized as a foreign port and therefore the state of California and its Govenator “terminated” our right to open the casino because we will “be back” without going foreign. This rather “barbarian” law has meant that we cannot open the casino. This really upset the guest from angrytravel.com and he was swearing and cursing at the purser.

He then said that he had just sailed on a similar cruise on what sounded like the “Alligator of the Seas” and that they had opened the casino. Whether he did or he was telling a load of “true lies” I don’t know but there was no way I was going to allow the Mr. Angrytravel.com to speak to a staff member like this. I listened to see if anyone else was going to jump to the purser’s defense but I guess it was down to me to be “The last action hero” as he really was giving our staff member a “raw deal.”

I introduced myself and asked the guest to stop shouting please. I also warned him that I would be reporting him to the sales team from Carnival who had invited him on the cruise for free and despite the casino not being open there was so much being offered. He then accused us of “being full of s%$t” and that the casino not being open had nothing to do with California laws but that it was a Carnival decision. I also said that we would loved to have had a chance to show everyone the brilliant gaming we had there and that if he wanted to take some money, put it in an envelope and slide it under the casino door he was very welcome to………..it would be the same process as some people who go in there.

Trying humor with him though was as pointless as Dove opening a factory in Paris because he then went on to tell me how much better everything was on the “Am I Bothered of the Seas”……………….the shows, the food, the service, the ship…………I mean………….what a bloody liberty. Carnival pays for this agent to come onboard and all he can do is talk about how better the competition is. It takes a special kind of rudeness to do that. Anyway, I have reported him to our VP of Sales and hopefully he won’t be invited to anymore of these events and the sales team can take an “Eraser” and wipe his name off the invitation list.
Sorry about all the Arnold references.

And now an apology…………..to a blogger who I met yesterday here on board who said although he liked my blogs he did not appreciate my comments about men ………….with beards. He really did……….and therefore I guess I should explain where this comes from as part of my apology to George Hicks, a travel agent from Oakland, California, and to all men with beards.

One of the weirdest things my dad ever told me was “never trust a man with a beard.” I’ve always wondered what happened to him that might have corrupted his view of hairy faces? He was in the army for his national service and I believe that they weren’t allowed to grow beards so maybe he’s always associated them with hippies.

How things have changed. I was reading a book the other day written by a soldier who had just returned from Afghanistan. He was being interviewed because, while out there, he and his comrades had been told to grow beards in an attempt to “show respect for the Pashtun culture.”

According to the Army, village elders have long beards, so the thinking is that when they see soldiers with beards arriving in their village they will assume that they are also wise fellows. When the soldier was asked whether he’d ever had his beard remarked upon he had to admit that, no, this had never happened. But, he said, on several occasions elders had made hand gestures concerning his face bush.

He didn’t elaborate as to what these gestures were, but I’m pretty certain they were along the lines of, “What the hell do you think you look like, you silly man?”

Growing up of course shaving was a big deal. I remember my friend Barry Edwards, howling with laughter at me when I shaved off the first pathetic hairs on my upper lip. He grew a hideous bum-fluff moustache, because it was considered a sign of maturity although I thought he looked like the construction worker from the Village People.

Beards are huge news: take Bin Laden’s latest video message. The CIA/FBI/Salvation Army compared it with his last message, more than three years ago, and it became clear that he had dyed his grey beard black. This could be for reasons of disguise but, frankly, it was a bit crappy if that was the case.

I prefer to think that, after years of living in his cave with very little to do but look in a mirror, he’s just become a bit vain. Maybe he started to worry that he was losing his looks, the chicks didn’t dig him any more and, before you know it, he’s ordered an underling to go get him a bottle of Just For Men from Kandahar. I love the fact that every time Bin Laden releases a video, he screws up. The first time he did one it was outside, and the Americans got geologists to analyze the rocks behind him, then the video camera clearly broke because he started doing audio tapes while someone found a new one. Now his frightening words about us all going to burn in hell, etc. are forgotten because we all want to know about his beard. He may be right; we are a very shallow society.

While I’m doing everything beard-related, I have a running fascination for every new razor that Gillette releases. Each one is proclaimed as so much better than the one they said was so brilliant the last time. I’ve somehow got on their mailing list so I’ve just received the new, improved, bionic one which now has FIVE blades, an extra one on the back and batteries. It’s insane. This is the one that some male model is advertising on TV in just his underpants. He may have have no beard and skin as smooth as silk but he hasn’t noticed that someone has put a cucumber in his underwear.

So, men with beards…………I apologize and when we finally capture Bin Bastard Laden………… I will grow a beard myself in celebration.

Your friends
John, Heidi and the Thingy

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.