It’s taken its time in getting here, but I’m only a couple of days away from my summer break. This is one of my favourite times of year - even more than the break from work itself. The "wind down" phase before it actually begins and the anticipation of a long period of rest and regrouping ahead of me. Three weeks when my time is my own and my days aren’t running to some schedule or other. Not that I’m complaining about my working life - I love my working life. Apart from my Starburst column and online scribblings on my site, I have a whole other career. One that’s been going on for 34 years.
"The day job" keeps me pretty busy, as I’m a website editor, publisher and administrator for a government department and my role involves a lot of travelling. I like that aspect. I like travelling up and down the country because I love to drive. Driving relaxes me. It’s a burden to many, but give me a few hours behind the wheel of my car, with a stack of CDs and I’m happily in my element. Besides, it means that several times a year, I get to visit the great city of Cardiff, which has a Forbidden Planet store, albeit a small one. (Incredibly, one side of my life feeds the other)
But a favourite outing for us as a family is Manchester day, and it’s a tradition that’s been in existence for 21 years. On the first day of my three week break, we’ll get into the car and I’ll drive us to Manchester for a day of "shop ‘till you drop".
I love the journey, the sights and the sounds - despite the fact I’ve already been to the city three times this year. Back in the day, admittedly, it was even more of an adventure. It was the longest journey I undertook in the whole year back then and it was far from certain that the car I drove at the time (a bright red Ford Capri that despite having seen better days, was my pride and joy) would actually be able to complete the trek. But we always did.
Steve was just a year old the first time we ventured northward. The big attraction was a store called Odyssey 7 - a comic book store that took us quite a while to find. I knew it existed because I had bought some Judge Dredd books via mail order from them about six years earlier. I still had their address from the ad they ran in an old back issue of Starburst.
On that first journey, we discovered the Arndale Centre with its Warner Bros Studio Store. This would be a regular part of the pilgrimage until its closure. They had a huge video wall of TV screens all showing Loony Tunes cartoons with booming surround sound. The high point of our visits there occurred when we were invited by a member of staff who saw us gazing in awe at a window display of props from Batman Returns to have a closer look. Steve would’ve been about 4 at this time. The store guy unlocked the door to the window display from the inside of the store and showed us around. We were right there, with a Bat suit actually worn by Michael Keaton on set. I couldn’t believe how heavy and bulky the rubberised cape was. We saw up close and were allowed to touch Danny DeVito’s Penguin costume as well as Michelle Pffeiffer’s iconic Catwoman outfit. All originals, all worth a small fortune. The Batmissile was there (the torpedo-like vehicle used for escape when the Batmobile crashed) as well as one of Stan Winston’s mechanical penguin props and parts of the computer from the Batcave.
They had a large and expensive display of statuettes, maquettes and original art and framed displays of animation cels from Warners cartoons, especially Batman - the Animated Series that we would admire for ages. No way could we afford them, but looking was free and all part of the magical experience of the day back in those pre-internet times.
After a few years, our first stop at Odyssey came to an abrupt end. The store was shut, the windows were bare, except for a handwritten notice that said they were now trading as part of Forbidden Planet and there was a new address. Out with the old, in with the new. I hate when people say "new and improved" because if something is new then it didn’t exist previously thus can’t be an improvement. Likewise if something is an improvement, then it’s a better version of something that already existed and therefore isn’t new. The transformation of Odyssey to Forbidden Planet is the only thing I’ve ever seen that disproved this notion. Forbidden Planet in Manchester is, hands down, my favourite branch of that brand. I’ve been to outlets in Cardiff, London and New York - but you just can’t beat the easy familiarity and friendliness of the Manchester store. Back in 1999, Steve asked about a Darth Maul costume, they couldn’t find one in stock - so they sold him the one they had on display - with a discount. I remember Maria walking down Deansgate and Piccadily wondering why all the people were staring in her direction - not realising I was walking directly behind her wearing a replica "Scream" mask I’d bought.
Wow - I just remembered - several years ago, there was a release of Star Trek figures. As happens with lines of movie/TV figures, some of the set are much harder to find than others. There are 25 of some characters in a box, 10 of another and so on until there’s one per box of a certain figure. There were Dr McCoy’s all over the place and a couple of Captain Kirks. Mr Spock figures couldn’t be found anywhere. I didn’t want to buy Kirk and McCoy without Spock. It didn’t make any sense. I asked at the counter and was told that due to their rarity, the handful of Spock figures they had were kept in the back and were only sold to people they knew (true story). Luckily, we’re known to them.
One year, as an experiment and out of curiosity, we wore those little pedometer gadgets that measure the amount you walk in a day and it turned out we did 19 miles, just walking and shopping.
And so on Wednesday - a day that’s pretty much as important and eagerly anticipated as Christmas, Halloween and birthdays comes around again. We’ll park just off Deansgate at around 9:45, head for a Starbucks to keep us going and then the adventure starts.
I have no idea what I’ll come away with, but it’s a safe bet there’ll be some graphic novels, books, CDs and DVDs. It’s when I buy my entertainment for the following three weeks of vacation time.
The only other plans I have are to see some movies at the local cinema which I’ll be reviewing - stand by for Cars 2, Captain America and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and catching up on some Starburst writing. I have a couple of upcoming Future Imperfect columns that I’m eagerly anticipating getting stuck into. I also have some Cult Corner stuff up my sleeve - but none of this is considered work - this is pure, relaxing pleasure.
I really should do something about the idea I had about putting a sign on my study door, reading "Reality Stops Here" because for the next few weeks - it will.
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