Sunday, May 25, 2008

Jesus Christ, Mo!

My love of fly-on-the-wall documentaries would have dictated my viewing of Driving School anyway, but the fact that it featured a local woman from nearby Grangetown made it must-see television.

There were actually many learner drivers (and their teachers) on the show, but it says a lot about the legacy of Maureen Rees that I hardly remember anything about them (apart from a woman who had a very annoying ringtone on her mobile phone and a boy who used to roller-skate to the nearby phone box in order to speak to his long-distance girlfriend).

Maureen Rees was a natural star. A cleaner at the local police station, Maureen’s dream was to set up her own cleaning business. The one thing stopping her was her inability to drive. She had tried to learn, oh yes. But she had failed on every attempt. As the underdog, she was therefore the ideal candidate for reality television. But who could have predicted just how memorable she would become?

Dave Rees was Maureen’s long-suffering but devoted husband. He was a driver for Cardiff Bus. Anybody who has travelled on one of Cardiff’s buses will testify that their drivers would usually be considered the most unsuitable teacher for a learner driver. But Dave was alright. He only reversed the buses into their parking slots at the Sloper Road depot, so he hadn’t been tarnished by the freedom of Cardiff’s bumpy roads.

Strapping himself into the passenger seat of Maureen’s blue Lada, he looked like a picture of serenity. He spoke calmly to Maureen, politely reminding her to check her mirrors while she fussed around with her seatbelt, grinning insanely at the dashboard-mounted camera. So far, so good.

Five minutes later, Dave was screaming like a mad man and holding his face in his hands as Maureen careered across both lanes of a dual-carriageway into the path of an oncoming truck.

This was not to be a one-off. During a parking lesson in the local multi-storey, Dave quickly got out of the car to check Maureen’s clearance. Within seconds, Maureen was reversing into a tight empty space. Unfortunately, she gave it a little too much gas and ended up running over Dave’s left foot. If Dave was a cartoon character, he would have turned bright red and smoke would have started pouring out of his ears. He stood in silence for a moment, before clutching his leg and yelling “JESUS CHRIST, MO!” at the top of his voice.

In subsequent episodes, Dave was seen hobbling around with a bandaged foot. To give him credit, he continued with Maureen’s lessons and eventually (after numerous attempts) she passed her test.

Some years later, I passed Maureen and Dave’s home on a daily basis as I made my way to university. Parked outside (in a haphazard, half on the pavement/half on the road manner) was a small yellow van. Emblazoned on the side were the words Top Banana.

I can’t think of a better description for such a memorable character.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The S Files (Part Three)

Part One
Part Two

A month or so after the disastrous Pool tournament, S decided that the reason it had failed was because "not many people like Pool." He soon came to the conclusion that he couldn't go wrong with a bit of Football. Trying to keep his costs low, S decided that he would organise a Five-A-Side tournament in his home town of Torquay during the Christmas holidays.

The fact that S struggled to organise a Pool competition within a one-mile radius of his Cardiff home should have told him that he might have a bit of a problem trying to organise something a little more long distance. He was not deterred however, and began sending letters and posters to his friends and family back home so that they could organise the event while he continued with his studies.

The one thing that he really wanted was somebody special to open the competition. Even S knew that he wouldn't be able to afford somebody like David Beckham, and when he telephoned Torquay United to ask if they could send somebody over, they unfortunately had to decline because they had a match on the same weekend.

As a last resort, he found himself trying to have a mobile phone conversation with somebody from a look-alikes agency (not, I'm sorry to say, Derek's Doubles) in the pouring rain one December day.

"How much is your David Beckham?" S asked, grimacing as he received the reply.

"How much?! I could get the real one for that price!"

He continued making a face as the agency replied.

"I think you'll find I could" he said.

He then shook his phone for some reason and put it back to his ear.

"I said...I.THINK.YOU'LL.FIND.I.COULD!" he yelled.

"How much for Michael Owen?" he asked, after much head shaking.

"That's more like it!"

He gave me the thumbs up.

"He's what?" he asked, unable to hear the agency. "I didn't hear you. He's a what?"

He covered the mouthpiece and looked at me.

"I can't hear what they're saying. I just want to book Michael Owen!"

He then returned the phone to his ear.

"Could I just book him please? No, no...I'm sure that will be fine." he said, still shaking his head.

S then gave the agency his details and I didn't see him again until after the Christmas holidays.

"How was your tournament?" I asked.

"The competition was good" he replied. "Eight teams signed up."

"That's not bad" I replied, genuinely quite impressed considering what had happened at the Pool tournament.

"The look-alike was a joke though" he moaned. "He was forty if he was a day and must have weighed about twenty stone"

I struggled not to laugh.

"Didn't you say anything to the agency?" I asked.

"I tried to get a refund but they told me that they had warned me when I phoned them."

He then went on to explain that the agency had tried to inform him that Michael Owen was a comedy look-alike. He was nothing more than a middle-aged man in an England shirt who still managed to open S' tournament to rapturous applause.

In his constant quest for female attention, S had developed a rather impressive party piece. It was this that earned him the moniker "Disco S."

Whenever we attended a large public gathering, there would come a point during the event when he would announce "right, I'm ready!" This was the cue for all members of the crowd to create a makeshift gangway down the middle of the room.

S would then walk to the end of the human corridor and take ten paces backwards. He would then begin running. As he reached the line of people, he would drop to his knees and slide the rest of the distance with his arms outstretched. This later became known as "Doing The S."

For those who may be inspired to attempt a similar move themselves, the main rule to bear in mind when Doing The S is to always make sure that the floor is uber-slippery. As S warned us on many an occasion: “Never attempt to Do The S on any sort of carpet surface or you WILL suffer INJURY!"

Soon after leaving university - very soon actually, it was the same day - I lost touch with S. I would see him around Cardiff from time to time and would always have a brief conversation. Usually, however, he was too busy running somewhere to be able to stop.

During my disastrous and ill-advised stint working at the Cardiff branch of Stationery Box (that’s another story), S came in one day to buy three packs of printer paper, a set of yellow highlighter pens and a Pokemon mouse mat. I can only imagine what he was planning, but unfortunately/thankfully he was in a rush, so I was unable to question him further.

Years later, I received a text message from R one Saturday night. The contents were hugely exciting:

You'll never guess who is on Blind Date? S!

At first I thought that he was joking or playing another instalment of The Look-alikes Game. But no, there on the television screen with his trademark blonde hair and dressed in a lemon-print shirt was S. He had finally managed to get himself on television for the first time since his Jim'll Fix It appearance. Fame at last!

Unfortunately, S' answers to his three questions were not quite cheesy enough and he was not picked by the lovely lady that evening. To be honest, it would have been asking a bit too much for his luck to last out quite that long. However, it was a perfect example of what must surely be S' life motto: Almost....But Not Quite There.

Although he had his strange ways and mannerisms, it was impossible not to like S. He was very ambitious and always had a plan, but there was never any arrogance. Well, alright, maybe a little when he Did The S, but it was so impressive that he can be forgiven for that.

Since his television appearance, S has not been seen or heard from since. His Blind Date episode hasn't even been repeated on Challenge (and believe me, I've checked often). I like to picture him dashing around Torquay, sticking up some posters and maybe organising an Olympic-themed party.

Come to think of it, he could be organising London 2012 itself!

Good luck to him!


Prawn Cufflinks on eBay

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