My trip to London, which took about 5 hours was pretty uneventful, one long long road from my town to the Capital, no turn offs, junctions or traffic lights. Then came London or as I like to call it, HELL. Now, bearing in mind the night before I had printed a load of street maps out from some street finder web site for London, actually I think it was used from old World War 2 aerial photographs, because it was nothing like the road I was on. So, with a full pack of cigarettes I ventured into Hell. About 13 cigarettes later I remember saying to Janice (my wife).
"You might want to put your button down on your door dear" well it actually came out as.
"Jesus, look at the size of that knife !!" after I saw a man run into an alleyway, carrying what I believed to be a machete or something of that nature. Now trying to put your foot down in a traffic jam is pretty useless, you just have to sit there and try not making eye contact with anybody, eyes straight ahead look tough, so I wound my window down and shouted.
"Hey, you with the knife, can you tell me how to get to Juan's house ?" That's a lie actually, the only time I wound my window down was about 1 inch to let the smoke out. Which was very brave when you consider the thickness of a knife blade.
Right, I'm in the heart of London now, trying to turn right according to my map, no right turns ahead is all I kept seeing. Easy you might say, just take the next right, then another right and you are back on the road you first wanted, wrong, remember this is London, 2 rights don't make a left, 2 rights make a wrong, because when came up to the road I wanted there was no left turn !
I must have went round 3 times before I realised I'm going to have to turn off somewhere here.
So, after turning into a back lane by pure accident I wound up on the right road. I opened another packet of cigarettes and headed off for my hotel. Wound the window down a little bit more because I could tell we were in a better class of place, the names on peoples tattoo's were spelt correctly.
Finally we reached the bridge that took us over the Thames. On the other side was our hotel, what a lovely site, and 2 hours to spare. I said proudly.
"Look, there's our hotel at the next right. Look, there goes our hotel" I said going straight past it because of another right turn.
"Don't worry, I'll take the next right and come back round," I said nervously, realising we had gone off the map I printed out. Off I went onto this one way system that seemed to last for miles, starting to panic, I decided to pull over and phone Juan, he could help, give me directions or something. I phoned the number he had given me the day before, no tone, I tried again, still no tone, after a short while this recorded message told me the number did not exist, What !!, Juan's only given me the wrong number, what could be worse, I said to myself as a knock on the window startled me,
"You can't park there Sir" said a stern looking traffic warden.
"Sorry, I'm lost" I replied.
"This is a disable parking only." He said
"I'm sorry, I'm trying to find my way to............"
He interrupted with a look of I'VE HEARD IT ALL BEFORE and said .
"Stupidity does not qualify as a handicap, now move on before I give you a ticket"
I didn't argue. Off we went blind into the centre of hell, I still don't know to this day how I found my way back to the hotel but we did.
After settling in to the room I booked, we made a cuppa, got a shower, using everything available to us free including the shower cap !. Used up most of the towels when I noticed something wrong with the room. There were smoke detectors all around the ceiling and no ashtrays, no ashtrays !! I'd booked a smoking room. Phoned the desk explained the situation and found out they had give us the wrong key, I had to go down to get the new one while Janice tried to make the room the way we found it, minus coffee, sugar and milk, biscuits, wet towels, shampoo used shower cap in the bin.
2.30 PM, I still had to inform Juan when I arrived, I still had the wrong number, phoned the operator, asked if they could help, she was only too pleased, all I had to give them was a name and address, and they could give me the number. I said Juan, then she asked for the second name and I said I can pronounce it but don't know how it's spelt. It's something like ANIAROS, A..N..I..A..R..O..S, there's nothing under that name, so I tried ANEARIUOS, ANERUS, ANNIERUS, hang on a minute it might be under Christina's name, Christina Lee, Oh god they married, but has she changed to Juan's second name or kept her own? It didn't matter, nothing came up for either of them. Then Janice noticed that the number Juan give me last year was 2 digits different from the new one. Tried it, and Juan answered to my relief.
"Hello Juan, it's Colin" I said.
"There's no need to tell me who you are with that accent" Juan said laughing.
We agreed on a time to be at Juan's house by 3.00 PM, giving us time to settle in before Mr. Lee arrived at 3.30 PM. It was only 10 minutes walk away, but not wanting to risk booked a taxi for 2.45 PM We went down stairs at 2.35, waited in the lounge, I started to read my tall dark & Gruesome book I had taken to get signed when the taxi pulled up. We got in the taxi and headed for Juan's house. Got there about 2.45 PM, rang the bell....nothing, rang again....nothing, knocked and knocked and rang the bell, still nothing. I not only had the wrong number but I was thinking I had the wrong address !!, we hung around for about 10 minutes, only because we had nowhere to go, when Juan and a very tall man arrived, it was Matt, I think Juan went to pick him up, but I never asked. We all introduced ourselves and went in.
This was it, the chance of a lifetime was only minutes away, both Matt and I were nervous, you couldn't tell with Matt, it didn't show on the outside, but he told me he was very nervous, which was hard to believe coming from such a huge Scottish Policeman, but that's what the affect Mr. Lee has on people, he has such a 'presence'. It's hard to explain. Matt, Janice and myself sat on the sofa next to the front window, with a good view of Mr. Lee's arrival, Juan made us a cuppa, and we chatted, and waited. Mr. Lee was due in about 20 minutes when it suddenly dawned on me that I did not have my book with me, I'd only gone and left it in the hotel lounge on the table we were sitting. Now for the young readers of this article what I said next translates into "Oh dear, I've left my book in the hotel" Luckily, the taxi driver give us his calling card, I phoned him straight away and Janice, God bless her, volunteered to go back and retrieve it in case I missed Mr. Lee's arrival. The taxi came and she went.
Matt and I were sitting there chatting to Juan for a while. My palms were starting to sweat and Matt showed me his hands which were shaking, the thing is with Matt is that he had already spent the morning at a convention in London which he will be telling you about in his article, so he was already on a high and very excited, it was a weird feeling inside, hard to put into words how you feel. It was surreal to say the least, it was a totally different feeling from the Barbican last year, because we were the only people in the house, and not surrounded by hundreds of fans. Then, without warning, without hearing a car pull up, there was a knock at the door. I looked at Matt, who looked at me, took a deep breath, stood up and watched as Juan went to the door and let in................Janice, after my heart started to beat again I said the worst thing possible to my wife, "Oh, it's only you" but she understood, and she had the book in her hands, I was relieved, just a bit. Then Juan asked me if I wanted to speak to all the fans back home on the Internet, not the best time for me to speak, I went over to the computer, saw Jacob's cam and said " hello Jacob, how are you doing" not realising that there were other members there, I was lost for words, didn't know what to say, was very confused. Then I saw the rest of the names on the left and tried to type hello to them all but the screen had frozen. I was trying to type and nothing was happening, then ..wooosh..loads of writing scrolled up, I think it might have been loads of questions from everybody, but it was very confusing, that's when I asked Matt if he wanted to say hello. No sooner had we sat down when we heard a car pull up, for some strange reason I could not turn round and look out of the window down the garden path, my eyes were fixated on the door, tunnel vision. In walks Mr. Lee with Christina.
All eyes were on Mr. lee from that point on, nothing could distract me from looking at him, I was in awe. We were all introduced and settled back into our seats.Mr. Lee sat at a table in front of the Camcorder with a mike in front of him and the poster I sent down was used as a backdrop for the whole event. Now, to mine and Matt's horror, Mr. lee looked us both up and down and said to Juan "What's all this, what's this about?" Matt and I looked at each other and gulped, panic swept in, arghhhhhh he's going to send us away I thought, we shouldn't be here, I felt about as welcome as a fart in a space suite, but Juan and Christina explained the situation and it was soon forgot about, phew. Mr. Lee settled in, Christina made some tea and we were then asked if we didn't mind him smoking a cigar. Well, what were we going to say? Actually Janice said she loves the smell of cigars, even though she has never smoked in her life. Then the show started.
Now bearing in mind that we not only had to keep quite, we also couldn't move, because the video was in our path to everywhere. The hardest part for me was not trying to cough or sneeze during takes ( I had a bad cold) and had to hold them in until Juan pressed the stop button. Sometimes I would go blue in the face because of Mr. Lee's long answers, even though I could have listened to him forever, it was fascinating, I was actually praying the he would Finnish this one answer just so I could cough, it was funny, frightening, embarrassing and nerve-wracking all rolled into one. Somehow I managed not to make any noises during takes, apart from when Mr. lee was making us laugh, we all could not control ourselves, he told some really funny story's and even cracked jokes. There was a conversation started about Joda between Mr. Lee and Juan, because Juan could not pronounce his 'Y's and said 'Joda', Mr. Lee kept saying "No, it's pronounced Yoda, Yoda with a 'Y' Y.O.D.A" Juan kept replying "Joda, Joda" we fell about laughing, but Mr. lee was taking it serious and kept trying to get Juan to say 'Y' instead of 'J'.
Juan had all the items to be signed behind Mr. Lee, all laid out, with a list all numbered and put in order to be signed, an awful lot of preparation had gone into this event, you have no Idea, Matt will back me up on this I'm sure. At one point Mr. Lee said that he has never seen Juan run around so much. Then so far through Matts name was read out to be next, and he sat down next to Mr. lee and presented him with a fine bottle of whiskey from his home town, Mr. Lee was impressed. Photo's were taken, and Matt asked Mr. Lee to sign a poster from To The Devil A Daughter, I think, correct me if I'm wrong Matt. They started talking about Matt's job and other things. After a while Juan was getting to the last few and said to Mr. Lee, "Only one left now" and proceeded to produce some Star Wars figures, Hmmm, he's forgot about me I thought, not that I could tell him, that wouldn't be right, but when he walked past me he winked and pointed to my book. Phew. Sure enough, I was the last one, I was invited to sit next to Mr. Lee at the table.
What happened next will live with me forever, as one of the funniest things and at the same time one of the most scariest things that has ever happened to me. I sat down, asked if he would sign my book. Mr. Lee said "Ah, one of the originals, where would you like me to sign it?" I opened it to the page with his name on and he bellowed out "What's that !!?, who's that signature?" and give me 'The Look' , you see, when I got the book I signed my name in it so that people would know it was mine, not realising at the time that one day it would be signed by Mr. Lee. I tried to explain why I had signed it, but he proceeded to sign it saying " I will only sign it if you don't tell anybody who did it ". The funniest thing that happened I missed and only saw it on the replay afterwards, When I sat down Mr. Lee lit his cigar, with a match and dropped it between his legs, and he was trying to find it to put it out, at the same time some ash fell onto the table cloth and he was trying to wipe it away. Christina was trying to say it was all right, don't worry. Like I say, I was unaware this happened at the time. Then it was over. Cameras stopped rolling, all items signed, everybody stretched there legs, coughed and so on. Wow, still couldn't believe what had just happened. While we were on the sofa Matt and I would pat each other on the shoulder and just look at each other in disbelief, great fun.
Unfortunately Matt had to leave for his flight home to Scotland, He shook everybody's hand said his good-byes and left. I went to the toilet, and when I came back I was a little bit confused. Janice, Juan, Christina and Mr. Lee was sitting round the table and there was a seat next to Mr. Lee. Juan said "Take a seat Colin" I didn't have a clue what was going on. I was actually rubbing elbows with Mr. Lee. Then to my surprise, Juan explained what we were going to do. There were hundreds and hundreds of Star Wars Plaques to be signed by Mr. Lee to go with the Count Dooku Light Sabre. They were about the size of a credit card but very heavy, they were all inside plastic folders. So, Janice and Juan took them out of the folders, passed the plaque to Mr. Lee to be signed and then Mr. Lee would pass them back to Christina and myself to be put back into the folders. This was heaven, everybody was so relaxed and natural. Mr. Lee made us feel so at ease, we were talking about everything and anything, I was so at ease I was starting to act like my normal funny self, and forgot where I was or who I was with. Christina noticed that she was getting most of the plaques from her Father and said, "You're not doing many Colin" and I replied, "Well, if he would pass me some I would" straight away I thought to myself, what the hell did I just say? did I say it or think it, did I just refer to Mr. Lee as 'He'? OMG. Everybody stopped everything, Mr. Lee looked at me over the top of his glasses, and give me that 'Look' again, twice in one day I had the 'Look'. Then proceeded to pas them to me, all of them, I could not keep up with him, and after a while when the pile was growing I got a great 'Look' from Mr. lee, a satisfying smirk that said, " That's what you get" That's what I thought anyway, I really don't know what Mr. lee was thinking. But I will never forget it. We began talking again, talking about my home town Durham, Mr. Lee informed me that he had filmed some scenes for 'Ivanhoe' in Durham Cathedral and said it was a beautiful building, I agreed. It was once voted the most beautiful building in the world.
You think it has been good so far do you? what happened next was extraordinary, I still don't believe it happened. In the background Juan had put one of Mr. lee's favourite Operas on, Mr. Lee started to hum the tune, then sing in quietly to himself, but he got louder and louder and was singing opera at the top of his voice !!, right next to me, the hairs on my neck stood up, a shiver ran down my spine, I mean come on, this meant something, not many people have witnessed this, it was unique. I was flabbergasted. To Juan and Christina it would be normal I presume, but to Janice and myself, well we felt very privileged indeed, life cannot get better then this.
Another funny incident happened when Mr. Lee had the cigar in one hand and the pen in the other, he got mixed up and tried to smoke the pen and write with the cigar, we all broke out in fits of laughter and couldn't stop.
Then it was over, Mr. Lee had signed hundreds of items, It's quite amazing really, he never tired once or slowed down. I did not want him to go, I was wanting to phone Mr. Lee's Wife Brigitte and ask if he could stay just a little bit longer, but I never did. He shook our hands again, thanked us and went. I think we spent about three and a half hours with Mr. Lee, much, much more than I had expected. I will never be able to thank Mr. Lee, Christina and Juan enough for making this happen.
There was two items I would have loved to have from the event, one was the pen Mr. Lee used to sign the Star wars plaques, but he put it in a box with a dozen other pens which were identical, and I couldn't tell them apart. The other was the cigar butt, daft I know but it would have made a great momento of the occasion, the cigar lasted the whole of the event, but at the end Mr. Lee stubbed it out in the ashtray, when I say stubbed , I meant it was ground to nothing, only a trace of a bit of tobacco leave remained. Ah well, can't have everything.
So, you think that was it for Janice and myself ? No, the night was still young and we had a lot planned. Juan and Christina took us out for a drink at a local bar, standing room only, some seats were empty with reserved for 8 o'clock on them, so either Christina or Juan asked if we could sit in them until 8, we did. We stayed there for about an hour and headed for a 'Tapas' restaurant, I've never been in one before, so I didn't know what to expect. What you do is order these bowls of food and everybody shares, I have never eating so much in one night, there was squid, garlic mushrooms, sausage in a sauce, meatballs, Greek salad, to name but a few, I stuffed my face till I couldn't eat any more, then Juan wanted seconds !! where was he putting it all? I managed to eat some more squid, I couldn't get enough of it, we had a few glasses of lovely wine, another first for me, and to top it off Christina suggested a Brandy to help my cold, another first for me. I took a drink and WOW !! my mouth was on fire, I felt it burning all the way down to my stomach. Christina said "Only take a sip" so that's how I managed to finish it, just sipping it all night. Still burning my mouth every time. I actually learnt a few words of Spanish, I think it was Spanish, It could have been Swedish, I honestly can't remember, I was a bit light headed by then. Christina said I had a good ear and my pronunciation was good. I even learned how to pronounce Mr. Lee's wife, Brigitte's name correctly, it is pronounced Beer-Git. I brought up the 'Yoda' incident up again and tried to help Juan pronounce his 'Y's, I said "How do you say 'Yacht' to which he replied "We don't say yacht, we say ship or boat" There is no answer to that.
We left for Juan and Christina's house and had another cuppa while we chatted, then I was treat to a screening of "This is your life" with Mr. lee and a very young Christina. I saw Christina's private collection of autographs she had collected over the years, and what a collection it was, I was thrilled to flick through the pages of legend after legend all personalised to Christina. I even got to see some of Christina's artwork, which was just amazing, some beautiful pieces of art, sketches, pastels and I think water-colours. By this time it was into the next day, Sunday, 1.30 AM and time for us to be off. Juan walked us back to our hotel and arranged for us to call back to his the next morning before we headed home. Needless to say, I didn't sleep much that night. Got up had breakfast and drove to Juan's house, but unfortunately Juan was ill that morning, Christina apologised for him, we said our good-byes and headed home.
Sorry this was a long story, but I had so much to tell and didn't want to miss anything out, hope you enjoyed it