I'd never been to Cardiff before, I'm embarrassed to say, and when Matt Shaw originally invited me to attend the Comic Con there with him, my first instinct was to decline. I was aware that book signings tended to cost more than they made back and that even the most popular author usually spent a lot of time sitting around wishing that more people read (unfortunately we book lovers are the few). However, Matt suggested it would be fun and I appreciated him asking me, so I went against my gut feeling and said yes. I'm glad I did.
As it turned out, the ex-convict was an addict, but a decent human being when not on the chronic, having worked as a missionary for the last few years until falling off the wagon several months before. We spoke at length and actually had a lot in common. He borrowed my phone and made half-a-dozen calls (including one to a methadone clinic) and he bought me a cup of tea to say thanks (there is no better way to win my favour than to give me tea). For the next two days I would receive random calls from gruff-sounding gentlemen asking 'who's this', but never mind. I was glad to have met my new friend, Dillon, on the cross-country train to Cardiff.
Then I arrived in Cardiff, ready to kick ass and eat crumpets (I was all out of crumpets). Matt informed me he was waiting in the North car park, but the problem was that I had been unceremoniously expelled into the southern courtyard. What were we to do? With our great adventure quickly turning into an unspeakable nightmare, Matt and I were forced to act. Matt came running for me immediately, determined to reach me before it was too late. I went to a nearby pub and took a piss. Five minutes later, Matt and I turned a corner and saw each other in the distance. We came together like two long-separated lovers finally reuniting. "Alright?" Matt said. "Yeah," said I.
Then we were on our way, taking half-an-hour-to find our way across one single road to our hotel. We checked in, ignoring the judging looks that Giuseppe gave us, and went upstairs to our suite...My God, the Humanity!
Inside the womb of Hell was like stepping into an anti-tardis. I felt the walls closing in on me like a tightening sphincter. What I was met with chilled my very bones. The curtains were woven with human flesh. Flaked, congealing bio matter clung to the fabric like an after party for a Porn Awards Ceremony. The carpet was sticky. My mattress had a huge, gaping hole in it. The toilet was built INSIDE the shower. The beds were smaller than WW1 cot beds and there was a fuming honey badger in the corner (that's a lie). Still, Matt had paid and invited me. I knew that I should be polite and not say anything about the condition of the room. The polite thing to do would be to say nothing.
"This is the worst hotel room I've ever been in," I shouted. "It stinks!" I exclaimed. "This is disgusting!" Immediately I took out my phone and began recording so that I could later inform my wife of the abject horror I was being subjected to. Matt stood aside patiently while I conducted my expose. Then we unpacked.
At the arena (which was gloriously close to the hotel), Matt and I encountered a massive queue of traders wanting to get in. Not wanting to wait, Matt decided to go to the front of the queue and talk to one of the security guards. I never found out what he said to the man, but we were immediately let in without having to join the queue and were treated like VIPS the rest of the weekend. All of the staff knew us and would have our High-Vis jackets waiting for us each time we arrived.
We went inside with our books (which Matt had been holding for me the last 3 weeks). I had brought with me a promotional t-shirt, hoodie, and 1500 vouchers for my books. Matt had brought posters for each of us, a banner for both of us, and a price list for my books. He commented that everything I had brought benefited only me, whereas everything he brought was for the both of us. He was right. It was a shitty thing to do. :-(
My guilt weighing heavy on my heart, I soldiered on. I directed Matt where to put my posters and had a look around while he got to work setting up our display. Unfortunately, we had been provided with titanium plated backing boards. We went through hordes of drawing pins which bent in fear at the very sight of the board. We eventually got all of my posters up on the wall but were forced to give up when it came to Matt's posters. At least my side of the table looked okay. Phew!
Finished for the time being, we went into town to have dinner. We found a TGIs and started chatting. I asked Matt what it was like being 40. He informed me he was 34. Slowly we bonded and started chatting about all kinds of things, including the rudest, most aggressive waitress ever (she really didn't like me for some reason). When the food came, I managed to finish before Matt had even laid his napkin out on his lap. That's just how I roll. When the bill was brought by a second waitress (perhaps the first could bear to look upon me no longer) I said I would pay it. "How sweet," she remarked. Matt then went into length about how we were on a date - a story which the waitress wholeheartedly believed. I told him to shut up, not because I have any problem with being viewed as gay, but because I would like to think that if I were, I could do better than Matt Shaw.
Then we were off to the cinema. After Matt's satnav failed, I tried using my phone, only I set it to pedestrian mode which tried to lead us sideways across the highway. When we finally made it across the water we parked in a multi-storey which was on the wrong side of the highway. We got straight back in the car but it still charged us £2 anyway! The outrage. By the time we arrived, the heavens had opened in fury and we were both soaking wet.
After a shaky five minutes where I became irate by the venue's lack of salt n vinegar Pringles, we went and bought some popcorn and cokes. Matt had a hot dog. I paid for it all, wanting to be a good guest. The movie was Interstellar. The girl next to me had brought her own grapes. I won't repeat what Matt called her.
The first 90 minutes of the film were great. When Casey Afflick turned up, I started to worry, When Matt Damon came on screen at the two hour mark, I had a feeling of dread. During the final hour, when Matthew Mcongahoheyowooia started saying things like "I need to use love to navigate the 5th dimension. They are us communicating through gravity and crossing space and time..." I threw up in my lap. Matt and I looked at each other with expressions of mutual condolence. We had both been the victims of some strange cinematic prank.
After the movie it was late, so we went back to the room. Aside from the smell, we dared not touch the spunky curtains and so we were left with a light-bathed room. It was also unbearable hot, but with the window open the entire sound of Cardiff made its way inside. At one point an ambulance flew past our room. I got to sleep about 4am. At 5am I woke up for a wee. When I flushed the chain, I thought an earthquake was occurring; the entire floor shook. It was Satan's own flusher. Until 8am I slept soundly and, if Matt Shaw is to be believed, snored like a banshee. At that point we staggered across the road like zombies, bypassed the queue, and went inside. Immediately I rushed off to get a cup of tea, only to be told to come back later. I went back later, only to be told to come back in a bit. I came back in a bit, only to be told to wait a while. I waited a while only to be told that their machine was broken. Dejected I returned to Matt who had managed to fix his half of the display through the clever use of velcro stickers (purchased from Rymans, no rubbish). As Matt and I sat in silence, waiting for the unwashed public to be let inside, the young entrepreneurial couple beside us started having a tiff, so we watched that until 9 0 clock when business kicked off. Things were quiet, so I continued my quest to obtain a cup of tea. I found a vendor willing to serve me at the far side of the room. I returned to Matt triumphant.
At 10.30 I finally sold some books. Then some more. Then a fan came up to buy a signed paperback for his wife. During this time, Matt sat in silence, slowly wilting like the entertainment value in a Matthew Mcongahoheyowooia movie. Then he could take it no longer and went to have a look around. Two minutes later someone came and bought a Matt Shaw novel. Matt had missed his first sale, but luckily I was there to make it for him. Then it all kicked off. For the next few hours, Matt and I sold lots of books and spoke to lots of readers, There was an incident involving a fellow author turning up in a mask, but that's a story for another day, as too is the story concerning a guy dressed as Spiderman having his picture with us despite having no clue who we were.. All in all, it was a good time where Matt and I felt really good about ourselves. I could tell, most of all, it meant a lot to Matt to see people showing an interest in his work. I was glad, because I'd felt really sorry for him during that first 90 minutes where it looked like things were going to go badly for him.
After the busy period ended, Matt went shopping. He splurged an obscene amount of money on a Freddie Kruegar/Robert Englund hat, and then immediately regretted it as he knew his wife would kill him (he also tried to convince me that Freddie wears a black and red sweater, whereas any true horror aficionado knows it is red and green). He also bought Wolverine's claw, but stopped himself from buying a Willy Wonka bar and golden ticket. So I went and bought that for him, to say thanks for inviting me. He seemed to appreciate it and we had a little bro moment. By the end of the day we were in good cheer, yet knackered. We went and ate at a ChimiChangas which was lovely. Matt only managed half of his meal, so I ate that as well. Because that's how I roll. Then we went back to our room (which was beginning to feel like home) and showed each other funny youtube videos till 12.30 at night. Kevin Spacey is awesome at impressions!
The next day was slower but we still sold books. I instructed Matt to lower my pricing board and he did as he was told. We made friends with the young couple on the neighbouring stand and Matt immediately started making Welsh jokes at their expense. They were a lovely couple and it was nice meeting them. They were selling Pop! Vinyl figures which were simply everywhere! Before close of day, and after much discussion about topics such as Altered Beast, Labyrinth, and the Goonies, I noted that Matt had spent a fortune on himself yet had bought nothing for his wife. I, myself had bought Sally a Hershel figure (her favourite TWD character) and a TWD board game). Matt saw my point and ran to buy his wife a Frozen Olaf figurine.
Then it was all over. I waited while Matt took my remaining books back to his car and then waited for him to come back and get me. He drove me to the train station and then told me he "had had a really good time and a lot of fun," to which I replied "You're very welcome."
I journeyed home with 400 hundred passengers crammed inside a train the size of a Pringles tube, eventually making it back to my home town of Redditch at 9.30. I was met by my wife, Sally, who gave me a big hug and asked me all about it. And so I told her.
I really enjoyed my weekend with Matt. He's a funny guy and I trust him, which is rare for me. Likely I will do another function with him at some point in the future, but being away from my family is hard, so I can't say when that will be. I see me working with Matt more closely as a friend now rather than a simple colleague. He and I have already discussed the possibility of writing a book together and that will likely happen when our schedules allow. It should be good.
Thank you for Cardiff for having me and thank you to those who bought a book from me. It made me feel like a bigshot! And thank you to Matt Shaw for pulling me out of my shell and giving me an experience I won't forget.