Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Wisdom of Tea Bags

"Radiant inverted question mark, Sneaveweedle, where have you been? It feels as if I sent you for tea three months ago!" Penhill bellowed. "And what on earth are you doing on the floor?!"

"Oh moan," whimpered the travelling assistant. "I'm terribly sorry, but I'm not very stable on moving trains; I had to crawl back from the snacks trolley to avoid spilling the tea."

Penhill stared down at Sneaveweedle for a moment, then at the two paper cups in Sneaveweedle's hands. He took in a deep, whistling breath through his nose.

"Did it not occur to you to ask for a lid?" Penhill asked.

He took the cups of tea and Sneaveweedle climbed back into his seat in a graceless, flailing all-hands fumble across Moonfloat that resembled a teenage boy's first endeavour to second base. Each attempt to avoid touching her inappropriately resulted in making things worse; when he pulled back his hands to avoid touching her stomach, he fell face-first into her breasts. He eventually found his seat with the assistance of Penhill's shillelagh, which dug into his sternum and shoved him to his spot.

Sneaveweedle stared back in red-faced horror and embarrassment at Moonfloat, whose face was also red, but from laughter.

"For future reference," she giggled, "a woman expects dinner before you attempt something like that."

Sneaveweedle made a high-pitch squeak and attempted to hide by pulling up the collar of his green windcheater and slouching.

"I can read your tea bags for you if you'd like," Moonfloat said, pointing an unpolished fake fingernail at the cups of tea balanced in Penhill's left hand.

"You want to read the tea bags?" he sniffed.

"Yeah. I can do tea leaves, too, but no one drinks loose-leaf tea anymore, do they? So, I thought to myself one day, 'Oh, I'll have a go with the bags.' It's not as clear as the leaves, mind you, but it works."

"Indeed" Penhill said, plucking a tea bag from one of the cups. "Ah yes, I see what you mean. This tea bag is most certainly telling me something. It's coming in quite clearly, now: This tea is cold! It is undrinkable, Sneaveweedle."

Moonfloat ignored him, pulling a small square of blue plastic from her purse and placing it on the floor. She took the tea bag from Penhill's hand and dropped it onto the square.

"Hmm, OK..." she muttered, reaching down to pick up the square. She looked at it for a second, wiped it off on her skirt and placed it back on the floor. She then removed the tea bag from the second cup of tea, also dropping it on the square.

"There, you see?" she said, pointing to the floor.

"Brilliant," Penhill muttered. "You've made a mess. Congratulations. You don't charge people for this, I hope."

"See how the splatter pattern is similar to the other tea bag?" Moonfloat said. "That means your destinies are linked."

"And this long tea splatter means an adventure," she continued, pointing to a pattern that extended beyond the plastic square, "an adventure in, well, in that direction."

"Oh, I say," Sneaveweedle moaned, coming out of his windcheater cocoon. "That is quite exciting. An adventure, Sir Penhill. In that direction."

Sneaveweedle followed the direction of his own pointing out the window to a panoramic mid-afternoon view of the Pembrokeshire coast. The sun shone brilliantly. The train was pulling into Fishguard Harbour -- a strange lost fishing village amid green coastal cliffs. It was the sort of picture they put in holiday brochures or on the walls at chain hotels, but for the enormous Stena Line and Irish Ferries boats in dock. The ferries were like shining white office buildings turned on their sides and set on waves of light.

"In that direction is nothing but open sea. Ireland is over there," Penhill boomed, nodding to the right of where Sneaveweedle and the tea splatters were pointing. "The ferry would have to be horribly off course for us to end up in that direction."

"I'm afraid tea bags aren't very clear, Mr. Penhill," Moonfloat said. "But they are also never wrong."

==============================

The above is a piece of Flickr Fiction, inspired by this photo from user Dejon. I am quite out of practice in Flickr Fiction and creative writing in general at the moment, so keen observers will note that the photo doesn't particularly match the story I've written. That said, the two things that stood out for me in the picture were sunlight and a sense of adventure. That's what I've written on.
Also playing along this week are: Donal, Elisa, Sarah, and Tadmack.
You can catch up on previous episodes of Penhill and Sneaveweedle here. With this and a few other episodes, I have written in some necessary direction for myself, but for the most part the story is being written as I go along. I would love your input and ideas on where you think things should go from here.

One weird thing

You've probably seen that meme that has a person list six weird things about themselves. I am stuck for a blogging topic, but too lazy to be arsed with six things, so I've come up with one.

Of course, the question of what falls under the category of "weird" is a bit of a trick. I speak Welsh, I think medieval fayres are awesome, and I follow EastEnders so religiously that I refer to characters as if I know them personally (I am about two dead brain cells away from writing them letters of advice on how to solve their problems: "Stacey, you know that nothing good will come of this thing with Max!"). So, I'm not 100% sure* I'm qualified to judge "weird."

Perhaps that I am so taken with iTunes (a half decade after everyone else) is a bit odd. But for the most part, I don't tend to think that things I do or think are all that weird -- probably because I am the person doing and thinking those things. It's a bit like Catch 22; people who are crazy don't know they are crazy. If they think they are crazy, it's almost certainly a sign that they are not.

So, the fact that I don't tend to think of myself as not weird may be a sign that I am, in fact, very weird. Most likely, though, this is wishful thinking. More likely, I am one of the most boring people on Earth.

In terms of what other people might think is weird, I am either so boring or people are so used to my quirks, that I ceased surprising people years ago. I could list just about any odd thing and people who are close to me would think: "Yeah, sure -- that's not all that weird coming from him."

So, here's my totally un-weird weird thing about me:

I have a science-fiction TV series in my head.

It's about a border-line suicidal space fighter pilot. Because of the accessible nature of electronic information, his branch of the military (which would have to have a cooler name than the usually lame "Space Force" or "Space Marines," but I haven't thought up the name yet. Most likely it would be an acronym) starts putting important information on paper again (written in Sioux). The fighter pilot -- nicknamed "Witke," Sioux for "crazy" -- is given the job of hurtling unescorted (so as to not draw attention) across vast, cold, dangerous stretches of space, delivering various ultra-important messages.

Recognizing that he is already more than a bit psycho (he gets this assignment after being pulled as a squadron leader, having led his group into one too many mismatched fire fights), the yet-to-be-named military branch he works for fits his ship with a beta-version navigational/operating system that is designed to develop a personality of its own. The idea is to give him company on the long, cold (to preserve power and to help avoid detection, most of the time his ship does little more than circulate oxygen, so he's almost always weighed down by cold-weather gear [hence the connection to Heather's kittyhead hat]).

The system learns at an immense rate, so it tends to know everything that can be known, or can learn it in a pinch by gathering information from the future incarnation of the Internet. It is also designed to make itself as compatible and personable as possible to the user, so in short order it develops a female voice (probably with an accent) and Witke names it after some girl he had a crush on as a cadet before she was killed by some habitually-evil alien race that have been warring with Earth for 100 years.

Partially because his mood is erratic, and partially because the software recognises Witke actually enjoys arguing, the two have long, bantering philosophical/humorous conversations as they hurtle through space. They are occasionally interrupted by the need to blow stuff up or narrowly escape certain doom or save the universe. You know how it goes.

Needless to say, this culminates in all sorts of philosophical questions about the nature of reality as Witke "falls in love" with his ship's navigational/operating system, and vice versa. Neither will admit this fact.

At about the same time as this man-software love that dare not speak its name is coming to fruition, the military branch with a cool acronym name decides through other tests that the software -- hard-programmed to be so accommodating and protective of the user -- is a bad idea all around. They order it removed from Witke's ship and all existing versions of the software are deleted.

That's the end of season 1.

The second season starts with Witke in the bar, receiving the equivalent of a text message. The message contains a backup file to his ship's navigational/operating system -- it was sent by his ship, and had been bouncing around the corners of space, making it impossible to trace.

And it goes on from there, with all kinds of possibilities:
- The ship becomes too reckless in actions, because it can always provide a backup of itself, and almost kills Witke.
- An evil-twin version shows up, based on a corrupted version of the file that was bounced around space
- The ship starts to project a hologram of an attractive woman, so it messes with Witke's head even more.
- Through either Star Trek replicator technology or William Gibson microsofts technology, the OS becomes a tangible female form.

*The phrase "100% sure" is there only because I wanted to use the percent sign.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Oh, hey, how are you? I wasn't expecting anyone to drop by. No, no, come in. Sorry about the smell. Are you hungry? I have some mince pies left...

Ever notice that you get listed as blog of the day when you're doing fuck all? And now I feel this tremendous pressure to come up with something brilliant. My immediate thought is to film myself doing something really stupid, like setting fire to my hand.

While I'm thinking of something, I encourage you to check out the "second-hand Redd Foxx anecdote" that City Pages referenced.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Wife Gives New Meaning To Boxing Day

My latest column is out, to give you something to read as you stuff another leftover mince pie down your gullet.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

I've got a fever; and the only prescription is more sleigh bell.

Merry Christmas
Nadolig Llawen
Feliz Navidad
Happy Hanukkah
Happy Sol Invictus
Happy Quaid-e-Azaim's Day
Happy Constitution Day
And on and on and on...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas cards

We got Christmas cards today from the Phins, and the Johnsons. I mention that just so they will know that the cards have been received and are muchly appreciated. We're putting all our cards on the modern hearth -- the television -- and are now running out of space, so we don't feel too lonely this Christmas.

For our part, we've been ridiculously slow in sending out cards. We got out all the ones to family last week, but I was still sending a few to friends today.

-30-

Random memory

Our first summer in St. Paul was particularly hot and our apartment did not have air conditioning. One day I came home and found the child bride making dinner wearing nothing but an apron.

I responded as you would expect -- with glee. But when I attempted to grab her she was having none of it. She hadn't been naked to be sexy, but because she was that hot.

I'm becoming one of those people

Please send help. Today I made a joke in which the punchline required knowledge of grammar. This is clearly the result of studying two languages and being all wannabe writer-like. Soon I will develop a Bill Bryson beard and become as tedious as Mark Twain*.

Perhaps related to this is the fact that lately I have been seriously considering purchasing a smoking pipe -- preferably similar to the one used by Bing Crosby in "White Christmas." The only thing preventing me from doing this is the fact that the child bride would have a fit.

My taking up smoking would almost certainly result in a sudden increase of Rachel "accidentally" hitting me in her sleep.

*Remember, kids: You don't have to actually be witty if you look like you should be witty.

-30-

The death of bullet points

I've finally been switched over to Blogger Beta, which is now apparently no longer Beta. It's just Blogger. So, nothing's changed. In honour of this switch (if it has, in fact, occurred), I've decided to become a conformist and start using the labels feature. The sad result of this, however, is that it makes my system of using bullet points in a post a bit silly. With labels, I should be creating an entirely new post for each separate idea, even if the idea is as simple as "Dude, look at this thing" (and I should probably create a label called "Dude look at this"). Long bullet-pointed posts addressing a number of topics wouldn't be as efficient.

And, you know, efficiency is really important on this blog. It's an international resource.

Also, you'll note that I now have an AdSense box on this blog. I'm still not entirely comfortable with the idea of advertising, though, so it may be temporary. I have long hated advertisers and salespeople (my railing against the latter is what got me fired at KOLO and in part what eliminated my chances of promotion in every other media job I've held), so I feel scummy and duplicitous for allowing an ad box to exist on my blog. I still refuse to visit any site that has pop-ups or pop-unders.

But like all other bloggers, writers and air breathers, I entertain delusions of importance; I dream of being paid for all the nonsense I put out. Hopefully you will find AdSense to be relatively unobtrusive. If not, please let me know.

It's not as if it matters, anyway. I've had an AdSense box on Good Name for a Band for two months and it has reaped a whopping $0.53 for me. With boxes now on all my blogs, I may see a profit of $0.90 a month. Since AdSense doesn't pay out until I've earned at least $100, I won't see a check until I'm in my 40s. Considering how fast the dollar is plummeting against the pound that means I'll be able to buy a packet of Tesco chocolate biscuits.

-30-

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Booze!

Christmas in Britain kicks the ass of Christmas in the U.S. because of the number of booze-laden products available: mulled wine, mince pies with brandy in them, Christmas pudding with cognac in it, rum sauce to put on my brandy mince pies and cognac Christmas puddings! Woot! If anyone needs me, I'll be lying on the floor.

Ladies' man

I dreamt last night that I was staying at Eric and Kristin's cabin and playing Kubb in the yard when Kristin drove up in a white early 90s Renault; her passenger was an ex-girlfriend of mine.

She (the ex-girlfriend, not Kristin) had Kool-Aid red hair, so I had to stare at her for a second, but then it registered and there was a rush of excitement as I lifted her up in one of those "Oh, my gosh, I haven't seen you in ages"-type hugs.

It was actually her, not an amalgam of female features attached to a name, as can often happen in dreams. My memory of her was so strong that I could smell her as we hugged. Her smell is scored deep in my memory.

Dr. Handy once told me the technical term for a person who remembers based on his or her senses, but I have since forgotten that term because it was mentioned in an e-mail conversation; I couldn't smell her when she told me.

Either way, sensing that this "Oh, my gosh, I haven't seen you in ages" hug was lasting just a second too long and becoming an "Oh, my gosh, you still smell so good" hug, Eric piped in loudly with a comment about Rachel, putting emphasis on the phrase "your wife."

Not missing a beat, Kristin added that almost every column I write is about how stupid I am for Rachel.

This particular dream featured Sarah McDaniels, but it's one I've had countless times.

The dreams are little morality plays of the subconscious, and they almost always go the same way: I meet some girl I haven't seen in a coon's age and am too patient/accepting/happy to see her than perhaps I should be, and then Eric comes in as the voice of reason*.

It's perhaps an odd thing that Eric features as the metaphorical angel on the shoulder in my dreams. But of all the people I know, he has one of the most defined and clear senses of what is right and wrong. Remember that knowing right from wrong is different than choosing right from wrong. But he is still considerably beyond me. I often fail to identify that things I do are insulting or hurtful or inappropriate. It's probably not coincidence that the people who are closest to me are so thick-skinned.

My subconscious works like a poorly written Victorian novel, so these lessons in fidelity usually end with a sort of karmic reward for good behaviour -- I discover that while I've had seven and a half years of happy marriage, the ex-girlfriend has experienced a slow and steady emotional decline since parting from me.

Of course, the side-effect to these dreams is that I end up spending the next conscious day wondering what has actually happened to the featured ex-love interest. The thoughts bring a deep and wistful melancholy. I can feel it pushing against my ribcage; breathing feels laboured. I'm not totally sure why the feeling is so strong, and what it says about me. Most likely is says I am a big girl.

But it's strange to think that out in the world right now there are all these women, all these souls, who have been close to me, and the odds are quite high that I will never see or hear from them again.

"All these women." That makes it sound as if there are thousands upon thousands of them; as if they could all move to the Aleutians and set up a semi-autonomous state of jaded ex-lovers: The People's Republic of Fuck-Chris-istan. But, you know what I mean -- there are more than three.

They are women who actually liked me -- even if just for a tiny space of time -- enough to be close. They saw me as better than I have ever seen myself. They kissed me. They wanted to hold my hand. And, to varying degrees, I tore myself up over them. It's hard to accept that two people could have existed in such intense moments and emotions and then just sort of fade away and never know if the other is even alive.

I often wonder what happened to this person or that person. So much so that I will work their name into a blog post**, making their names Google searchable for all eternity. I have this stupid quiet hope that these little internet snares will lead to the person e-mailing me. But there's probably a reason I don't know where they are or what they are up to; perhaps they have no interest in hearing from me. I'm hardly a recluse; if Jeni Rodvold were to ever find herself wondering what the hell happened to me it would take less than a second to find out.

*His wife, Kristin, will often serve as a second voice of reason. Both are capable of speaking in the blunt way that is necessary for communicating to me.

**I have mentioned Sarah a few times: here and here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Storytime

The story behind why, "Man, this is fucked," is one of my all-time my favourite phrases...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Greatest hits

I'm stealing this meme from Crystal -- the first sentence of the first post of each month in 2006:

I cannot stop laughing at the picture of this kid. Have I ever told you how much I love my job? I'm a food and drink guy -- drink especially. Here's an insight into the genius of the child bride that I only just cottoned to last night: Seemingly at random, Rachel will posit the "When You're Famous" scenario, in which she makes me promise not to run off with one of the thousands of beautiful young women who will throw themselves at me when I finally stop failing in life. It's a holiday in Britain isn't it? It's a day or two late, but my latest column is out. It's been an exhausting week and things only look to become more trying, but, you know, cliché about the complexities of life and how it's all worth it goes here. Sometimes the Welsh language makes me feel like I've been playing that game where you try to hold your head underwater longer than all the other kids. Sneaveweedle was in his room, packing his things, when Bentley brought him the phone. Well, I've managed through my first week of university. Radio Wales' "Eye on Wales" programme came to the house to interview me Wednesday. My apologies for not joining the group of bloggers that met Saturday in London.

Cripes, they taught me in Journalism 101 not to start a sentence with "it" or a variant, but I did it three months in a row.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

My girlfriend quite likes the sausage

  • I've decided I want an MBE. How hard do you suppose it would be for me to earn one? What do you reckon I'd have to do?

  • For some odd reason I decided to read a load of American news today from local sources (sites of newspapers and television stations). It was very refreshing because it reminded me of why I was so eager to get out of U.S. journalism and the United States. Presently I feel like burrowing under a roadway, like one of those environmental campaigners: "I'm not coming out until you promise not to send me back!"

  • Most amusing sentence from tonight's Spanish homework: "A mi novia le gusta bastante el chorizo."
    I'll bet she does.

  • Yeesh, this news has got to hurt one's self-esteem.

  • A warning to all snowmen: We ain't particularly fond of your kind around these parts.

  • An example of Britons' razor-sharp wit, as found in my Christmas cracker:
    What's the difference between Santa Claus and a biscuit?
    You can't dunk Santa Claus in your tea.
  • Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    First Kisses Make Men Dumb

    My latest column is out. It makes a great stocking stuffer!

    Also, it should be of particular interest to Crystal, who is overtly mentioned and linked.

    Sunday, December 10, 2006

    The Sheriff of Nottingham can score one more than you

  • What the hell is wrong with you, Britain? Louisa Lytton is out of Strictly Come Dancing. I am shocked. I am outraged. Has the world gone completely mad?!

  • In car news, we've decided on the Peugeot. We went with this one for a handful of reasons:
    1) It's a diesel. They get slightly better gas mileage and the engines hold up longer. Also, diesels are a little noisier and, due to aspects that involve attempting to use the word "torque" without sounding like some idiot who just learned the word "torque" and wants to throw it around, it feels more powerful. So, it is about as manly as a 1.9-litre hatchback can get.
    2) The engine looks easier to work with. Granted, it is still ridiculously wee, but at least I was able to immediately identify the location of simple things like the oil filter, air filter and serpentine belt*. The fact that I knew that much about an engine completely shocked the bloke who sold me the car. Apparently no one in this country works on their car. This fact is most evident in that a common tactic of Phil Mitchell is to remove the distributor cap. This puts his enemies totally at his mercy because apparently no one else in the whole of East London knows how to fix a car.
    3) It's Frenchy; I can see my mother-in-law grimacing now.
    4) It's actually an OK little car.
    I'll take pictures when I get a chance.

  • Dude! The Sheriff of Nottingham in BBC's "Robin Hood" is a member of Fat Les of "Vindaloo" fame! And -- strangely, in light of the previous fact -- he's Welsh.
    For those of you playing along at home, BBC 1 airs a weekly ultra-revisionist/populist version of Robin Hood that the child bride refuses to miss. Hands down, the Sheriff is the best character on the show because he is unscrupulously evil.

    *And some of these parts are actually accessible. Obviously, there's not a whole lot of space under the bonnet ("hood," for those of you playing along at home), but I will be able to change the oil.
  • Saturday, December 9, 2006

    Size matters

  • For months I have been waiting to be allowed to use Blogger Beta, and finally today I got a note that said: "Your new version of Blogger is ready!"
    I eagerly clicked the button to switch over but was confronted with an error message: "Unfortunately, we cannot switch your Blogger account at this time, because one or more of your blogs cannot be moved."
    Why?
    Apparently, the problem is that I have "a very large blog."

  • Random interesting fact about Cardiff Central Station: There is no Platform 5. The platform numbers go up to 7, but for some inexplicable reason, they skip over 5. Actually, that's only part of the platform confusion: the platforms are numbered as such: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4a, 4b, 6, 7.
    So, there's a Platform 0, and Platforms 4a and 4b, but no Platform 5. I am surprised that none of the science-fiction shows that are filmed in Cardiff (Dr. Who and Torchwood) have made anything out of this.

  • Random interesting fact about the Welsh language: It is easier to read Welsh written in 1753, than English that was written in 1753. This is because the written side of Welsh hasn't changed as dramatically over the last 250 years. I am on the fence as to whether I think this is good or bad or if it is even a fact to which any value can be attributed.

  • In car news, we are debating between a Peugeot 306 (1.9 diesel) and a Toyota Corolla 1.3. If anyone can offer advice, please do.

  • Lately I've found it impossible to sleep due to what comic Dylan Moran calls the washing machine of the mind: "What am I doing? Is it enough? Do I enjoy it? Am I any good at it? I should get some sleep; I can't because I'm too stressed."
    I am awake every morning at 6 a.m., and just sit there staring at the ceiling in a slow-minded panic. I have only one week left in the semester and plan to just sort of fall down and weep for a week as of Thursday afternoon.

  • Related to the above, I am still not writing any Flickr Fiction, but I thought I would draw attention to other people's stuff since it's started back up. Taking part this week are: Donal, Elisa, Isobel, Sarah, and TadMack. I may be back next week -- no promises, though -- with a new piece of my own. Remember that all of my pieces are supposed to be connected, so, like me, you may want to refresh on what's happened so far.
  • Best. Album. Cover. Ever.


    All hail Dino Crocetti. I bought this album just because of the cover.

    Wednesday, December 6, 2006

    Alive in Danescourt with my woman, Rachel.

  • In car news, we presently have our eye on a Peugeot 306. A Frenchy car! Bwahahaha!
    Admittedly, we are using confused thinking in trying so hard to avoid buying American -- the auto giants already have their money if we're buying used. And Peugeot are putting several thousand Britons out of work, so it's difficult to claim the moral high ground.

  • The headline of this post comes from Google's translation of the sentence "Vivo en Danescourt con mi mujer, Rachel," which is supposed to read as "I live in Danescourt with my wife, Rachel." The Google version makes me sound much cooler, though.
  • Tuesday, December 5, 2006

    No, Jammie Dodgers do not count in your '5 A Day'

    The child bride and I need a car. Well, the child bride needs a car; suffering Arriva gives me something to talk about and, unlike driving, it is an experience improved by alcohol.

    But Arriva doesn't go to Ebbw Vale, which is where Rachel's new job is based*.

    In searching for pictures of Ebbw Vale, I found a website that offered such exciting scenes as the Argos, the Domino's, and (I hope you're sitting down) the interior of a multi-storey car park. I've never actually been there, but from what people tell me of the place, there's not much else to see. Like a lot of Welsh towns, its history is tied to the slow, miserable decline of mining (coal, iron, slate, et al) until the industry's abrupt death due to Thatcherism. Not a whole hell of a lot has happened since. If you know anything about dietary trends, you know that this sort of situation -- where identity, community, and economy are struggling -- tends to result in high rates of obesity.

    So, Rachel will be working with children and their parents and trying to make a difference. It's not exactly the glamorous European experience that Americans abroad want to put into letters. We want to be able to make it sound like outdoor cafes and reading of broadsheet newspapers are everyday experiences. Nonetheless, Rachel is really looking forward to it; this is actually what she went to university for.

    And, as I say, now we have to find a car. Most likely, we'll end up with something ridiculously small and embarrassing for me to be seen in, like a Ford KA (for those of you playing along at home, this car is wee; it is smaller than a Mini; my bicycle looks quite large in comparison). Although we would like to avoid buying a car that is GM or Ford, this looks to be a lot harder than you would think. We have thought we might get a French car simply to annoy our staunchly pro-American family members. For these purposes, we'd like a Peugeot 206 that plays "La Marsellaise" when you hit the horn.

    *That's called burying the lede, kids. The child bride got a job!!

    Monday, December 4, 2006

    Why the world needs Leatherman tools

    Today's Arriva Trains fun involved the Bargoed train breaking down on the tracks between Cardiff Central and Cardiff Queen Street. Despite the fact that I was going the opposite direction (and therefore not needing to use that section of track) my train to Danescourt was delayed by 17 minutes.

    They eventually managed to get the Bargoed train running and got it to Queen Street, where it promptly broke down again. That's when they really did make this announcement over the tannoy: "Does anybody have a screwdriver? A hammer? Anything? Anything?"

    I'm inclined to believe they were taking the piss, but it's so hard to tell when Arriva is concerned.

    Marw yn yr harnais

  • My apologies for not joining the group of bloggers that met Saturday in London. I really wanted to go; but lately I have been under a suffocating depression that doesn't make me the best of conversation. Coursework is also kicking my ass.

  • Has anyone else noticed that EastEnders seems to have taken on a few pro-wrestling writers? I am still confused by Ruby's heel turn, Sean's face turn, Ian's instantaneous heel-to-face turn and Pauline's ridiculously see-through wickedness.

  • Somewhere in conservative America, I am sure, a hack radio host is working him- or herself close to a stroke over Gwyneth Paltrow. Obviously, though, Gwyneth hasn't ever met a Cardiff teenager (I refer you to the case of Cleveland, Oahu).
  • Thursday, November 30, 2006

    For the love of Pete, will somebody please wear this corsage?

    For my Spanish class we have to do a group project, holding a five-minute conversation with another classmate. Asking people to do the project with me feels like I'm asking someone to a school dance:

    "Uhm, hey I was wondering, if, uhm, you have a partner yet for, uhm..."

    I've been shot down twice, with one of the girls making it actually feel like I was asking for something more: "Oh, dear. I'm so sorry. I've already got someone. I'm really sorry -- I'm sure you'll find someone, though."

    Wednesday, November 29, 2006

    Childhood trauma

  • According to a computer at Cardiff University, I have a kinaesthetic learning style.
    I also learned that I am not dyslexic. Take that, James Joyce, you fuckin' retard.
    All of this comes as part of a series of tests to determine whether I have any learning disabilities. I went to the Student Support Centre last week in hopes of figuring out why I feel like I'm struggling so much more than I should be. The fact is, though, this is a waste of time. I know it is. I was tested for learning difficulties on numerous occasions back when I was flunking high school, and they didn't find anything.
    I had one teacher who thought I might have a learning disability that had not yet been discovered. Her general theory was that I had become so good at bullshitting I had never learned to do things properly. There is probably some truth in that.
    In thinking about it now, I haven't been studious since third grade, when I wrote a story about a parrot. It was apparently so good that Mrs. Brown took me and another kid to compete in a school-district-wide (this was the massive Houston Independent School District) creative writing competition. I promptly went nowhere in said competition because we were given 45 minutes to write on the utterly bullshit theme of how to deal with bullies.
    My suggestion was to stab the bully. I very clearly grew up in a different era that no one pulled me aside and gave me a talking to; I was simply given a cheap blue ribbon for participating.
    Mrs. Brown then took me and the other kid to lunch at Whataburger. I ordered a plain cheeseburger but it came out with pickles on it, so I just ate my fries.
    I don't remember trying much after that; from then on, my main interest in school was getting girls to pay attention to me.
    So, rather than a learning disability, it's probably my 21-year gap in studiousness that's making things so hard for me now. That's not really comforting.

  • Oh, well this is just lovely. Actually, it would be lovely if Rachel or I were employed over here because it would mean that all our debt has been effectively halved.

  • I saw this quote from the UK Foreign Office in response to Kofi Annan's claim that Iraq is on the brink of civil war:
    "The situation is serious but it is not on the brink of civil war. In 14 out of the 18 provinces, security is not as bad as it is in Baghdad."
    You've got to love that spin -- "security is not as bad as it is in Baghdad." That's not really saying very much is it?
  • Tuesday, November 28, 2006

    Exporting Thanksgiving

    This week's column is out, but I'll warn you that it contains a blatant lie. I am not actually developing a South Wales accent.

    For some unexplained reason, my Texas accent seems to be returning ever so slightly.

    Monday, November 27, 2006

    Learning Welsh at the university level is like taking fluoxetine without the side effect of bad poetry (unless you count englynion)

  • That is probably the most esoteric headline I've ever written.

  • If you have a NaNo project going on this month, I wholeheartedly apologise for not reading it. I hope you can understand that I can't even seem to manage my life more than six hours ahead, so I'm somewhat short the time it would take to read several novels.

  • Related to the above, if you are expecting to see me in London on Saturday that is now looking less likely. I haven't given up yet, though.

  • The good news is that there are now less than three weeks until my Christmas break, which lasts until 29 January (chalk another point for the British university system). I'll be stuck writing two papers over that break, but I think I may manage to avoid wanting to throw myself in front of a bus for a whole month.
    I need it the break. My brain is so fried these days. I feel like I'm operating on some kind of weird behavioural drug that depletes 60 percent of my personality.

  • I saw today that you can buy episodes of the latest series of "The Real World" on iTunes, which prompts two questions:
    1) That show still exists?
    2) Who in the great googly-moogly would purchase that?
  • Sunday, November 26, 2006

    Ringa pakia

  • For those of you playing along at home, I hope you had a good Thanksgiving. The child bride and I held our feast on Friday because I had a Spanish exam on the actual day. We had a handful of people over and I think it went relatively well. Thanks to the fact that Welshies (and one Scot*) don't eat as much as Americans, Rachel and I have leftovers and desserts to last us well into the next week. We especially cleaned up in beer -- at the end of the night, I had gained 36 bottles or cans of lager, ale or bitter. The lesson there is to always invite the BBC to your parties.

  • I was thinking Friday about the end of "A Christmas Carol" when Mr. Scrooge has an enormous goose anonymously sent to the Cratchit family. I wonder how Mrs. Cratchit felt about that: "Oh, fuck you very much anonymous donor. I was already stressing over putting together the Christmas meal and now I have to use up precious extra coal to cook up this fucking great goose. This being the Victorian era, I don't have a meat thermometer handy, and I may not be able to read a cookbook let alone afford one, so all the things I know abut how long a goose should be cooked and at what heat kind of go out the window in the face of this monstrosity."

  • The night before the Wales-New Zealand match, I was talking with Chris and Geraint about the two teams and somewhat dancing around my deep-rooted dislike of the All Blacks. Ooh, I hate them. This goes back to the 2003 Rugby World Cup when they soundly defeated Canada 68-6. After the match, I saw a Canadian player motion to exchange jerseys with one of the All Blacks who just waved the Canadian off and gave him a look that said the Canadian wasn't good enough to expend the energy removing a jersey.
    Fucking cocky bastards is what the All Blacks are.
    They are also babies. In response to the haka, Wales were Saturday planning on singing their national anthem back at the All Blacks, but they were having none of it. Like the proverbial kid who gets upset, takes his ball and goes home, New Zealand performed its precious little tradition in the locker room because they refused to allow a response to it. All Blacks are the NBA players of rugby.

  • Note to Gavin Henson: You have to get in front of a person to tackle him -- stepping to the side in matador stylee won't actually stop someone from getting past you.

  • Just in time for the various Spanish essays I have due over the next fortnight, Merriam-Webster now has a Spanish/English dictionary. I think that says something about the exponential growth of Spanish-language influence in the U.S.

  • To answer a question from Isabella Snow (dude, a professed writer of smut reads my blog -- I am definitely doing something right) the child bride turned 30 this month. Here's the explanation of her nickname.

  • I was standing at the train platform Thursday morning, looking at how miserable my fellow Arriva-sufferers looked in the wind and spitting rain, and I found myself wondering why they all looked so miserable and I was fine.
    Then I realised it was my coat. My pea coat is proper military clothing and it actually works, bitches. I was so impressed by this fact that I actually said, aloud: "Dude. This coat rocks."
    No one shared in my happiness.

    *The Scot who was born in Herefordshire and has a slight Australian accent.
  • Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    That's deep, Elton

    "Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids;
    In fact, it's cold as hell.
    And there's no one there to raise them
    If you did."

    But then it all falls apart, doesn't it?

    "And all the science I don't understand.
    It's just my job five days a week."

    What kind of fucked-up space programme sends a bloke into space who knows fuck all about science? And he's in space -- where exactly does he go the other two days in the week?

    Also: "There's no one there to raise them if you did." If you did what? If you raised them on Mars? There would be no one on Mars to raise your kids if you did raise your kids on Mars.

    What?

    Monday, November 20, 2006

    I love you, Louisa

  • As much as I hate to admit it, yes, Mona, I do watch "EastEnders." I can't help it. It's some kind of weird illness that compels me to follow the lives of Ruby Allen (guess how pissed I am that she's leaving the show*) and Bradley Branning and WHAT THE HELL EVER HAPPENED TO JAKE? I haven't forgotten you, Jake!
    Worse than that, however, is the fact that I refuse to miss "Strictly Come Dancing." My "EastEnders" loyalties mean that I'm partial to Louisa, but I'm also a fan of Emma Bunton and Matt Dawson. I feel vindicated in watching "Strictly Come Dancing" due to the fact that one of my professors also watches. If someone who is smarter than me and inherently cooler than me (he's Irish) watches the show, surely it's OK for me.

  • Wait, when did Kurt Angle join TNA? What is happening in America?

  • Fun fact about Welsh: Verb forms often sound like the names of Star Wars characters. E.g., "Gwnêl Adnabyddont"

  • Lyrics that have amused me over the past few days:
    - "Stop writin' raps and go play volleyball."
    - "Let there be wind and occasional rain, chilli con carne and sparkling Champagne."

    *Jesus Christ Our Lord and Saviour in a Cardboard Box and Shipped Internationally At Reasonable Rates, how sad is it that I know behind-the-scenes information about the future of "EastEnders?"
  • Psst, I'm still in the room

    Last night the child bride and I were watching Ireland beat up on Australia, and Rachel suddenly launched into a long monologue about how it amazed her that some of the rugby players could be so attractive.

    "I mean, just look at the guy," she would say. "I can't believe that he would just look like that. It's amazing. I can't believe that he's real."

    I don't think I want to watch rugby with her anymore.

    Friday, November 17, 2006

    Horseshoes and Handgrenades

  • I still haven't managed to get past 2:05 in holding my breath.

  • Best name for a song I've heard this week: "Almost Only Counts in Horseshoes and Handgrenades." Unfortunately the band's the song doesn't live up to its name.
    I have recently discovered PureVolume, which means that everyone else probably knew about it 1994 and there are infinitely better versions of the same thing, but I've still been enjoying it. Because you just can't get enough Christian artists and 17-year-old-laden punk bands recording tinny versions of bad songs.

  • Please help me to Google bomb the Conservative candidate for Cardiff West by clicking on this link: "y plentyn gordderch Ian Beale."
    That's Welsh for "the bastard son of Ian Beale." The reason should be obvious when you see a picture of him (for those of you playing along at home, Ian Beale is a character in EastEnders who seems to be turning heel these days).
  • Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    120 seconds without air

  • In all my yammering about trains Tuesday (Wednesday's train fun: the wheels appeared to be slipping on the tracks at one point, forcing us to crawl our way to Fairwater in a way that was slightly reminiscent of my mother driving on ice), I forgot to mention the highlight of Tuesday: I managed to hold my breath for more than two minutes.
    I was sitting in the train at the Radyr station, staring at the platform's digital clock, when I thought: "Hey, I'll pass the time by depriving myself of oxygen."
    Curly says he's the type of person who has nothing better to do than sit around on a train platform for a few hours, and apparently I am, as well. But, still, two full minutes, bitches. Go ahead, try right now -- can you do better*?

  • I saw today that Malta is the fattest country in Europe. Congratulations, Malta, you fat bastards.
    Of course, although Malta's average body mass index is 26.6, that is still comfortably better than my home country, where the average BMI is 29. Yes! Maybe some day we'll be able to rival Micronesia, where the average BMI is 32!
    In case you're wondering, according to the BBC's BMI calculator, my BMI is 23.23. I am the picture of health, ladies.

  • Yes, I am lame for being impressed by this. I think I am most impressed by the outside-the-box thinking required to come up with the idea.

  • Best. Wikipedia. List. Ever.

    *I get a sense that perhaps Omega can beat my attempt. He can probably also kill a shark with a bread knife at the same time.
  • Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    160 cups of tea

  • TS Eliot measured life in coffee spoons (or, at least, I think he did -- the whole of my TS Eliot knowledge comes from that one Crash Test Dummies* song that mentions him); Mike Doughty** measured heartbreak in beer cans; so, I think it's worth noting that since moving here I have prepared 160 cups of tea.
    Tuesday afternoon, I emptied the box of Murroughs Paned Gymreig that we bought at Asda on our first day in Cardiff (I would like to point out that the child bride and I were delirious with sleep deprivation when we went to Asda; we learned shortly after that it is owned by Wal-Mart and have never returned). Since I often drink more than one cup a day and have occasionally shared my precious tea with Jews, it doesn't quite work out to 160 days lived in Wales, but it still feels like a sort of benchmark.
    I am gradually sloughing off various mental and material ties to the United States; I suppose that's a good thing. Chavtacular Caerdydd is starting to grow on me a bit.

  • In response to a few comments on this blog, the BBC has adjusted the playback feature for the "Eye on Wales" programme so you can now actually hear me getting the last word.
    And, I've got to say, it is immensely ego inflating to have one of the world's largest, most respected, most valued media organizations respond to stuff on my blog. But I have known for a long time that the BBC is tracking me via a device they implanted in my skull; remember when that reporter showed up at the pub?*** I suppose, though, it's comforting to know that if I am attacked by chavs, robbed of all my shiny fake jewellery and New York Yankees paraphernalia and then left for dead, the BBC will know where to find me.

  • If you listened to the "Eye on Wales" programme Monday, you heard me reading out a post that mentioned Cardiff's laughable train service. Being disappointed by Arriva Trains is an experience that almost every Welsh person can relate to.
    If I had more time, I would probably start a blog dedicated solely to Arriva's daily fuck-ups. I experience fewer trouble-free train journeys in South Wales than I did sexual intercourse in high school.
    On Tuesday they managed to turn an 11-minute journey into an hour-long clusterfuckapalooza.
    I always feel bad for the train company employees in these situations, because there's often not a whole hell of a lot they can do when a 20-year-old multi-tonne piece of machinery breaks down and blocks the line. Off the top of my head, I have never met an Arriva Trains employee that I wouldn't happily buy a pint. But having said that, Tuesday was the second time my attempts to arrive at Danescourt in a timely manner have been thwarted by a train breaking down. And I find it interesting that the last time this happened to me, that train also broke down at the Ninian Park platform... also at 2 p.m. ... also on a Tuesday.
    If you think of Cardiff as a large circle, running roughly up the middle of that circle is the River Taff. On either side of the river, roughly, there are train lines: the City and the Merthyr/Rhondda. Some women will need a mirror for this, but a good (albeit immature) way to think of Cardiff is to imagine it as an enormous vagina -- with the City and Methyr/Rhondda lines serving as the labia minora, the village of Radyr serving as the clitoris, and Cardiff city centre serving as the perineum. I live on the left side of the labia minora, close to the clitoris, and the university is on the right, closer to the perineum.
    On this particular rainy Tuesday at 2:06 in the afternoon, I had just barely managed to be at the train platform on time. I had a pint of Guinness in my tummy from lunch and after I found a seat near one of the (atypically functioning) heaters, I was feeling content and warm. I closed my eyes and tried to think of the paper that I would be writing into the ungodly hours of the morning.
    Then I realised the train wasn't moving. And on cue, I heard the conductor shout: "All change, please, ladies and gentlemen. All change."
    For those of you playing along at home, "all change" is train lingo for "everybody get off this train." You are most likely to hear the phrase when something gets fucked up, which means you hear it quite often in South Wales.
    After first herding us toward another train, but then deciding that said train would go instead to Barry -- the spiritual anus of Cardiff, if not necessarily geographically -- we were made to stand on the platform for half an hour.
    At 2:36 p.m., the next scheduled train arrived, but the broken engine was still in the way. However, the platform supervisor had figured out that while it was impossible to move a train north on the City line, the southbound tracks were clear. So, he could send us up to Radyr via the Merthyr/Rhondda line and then finally back down to the places we had hoped to be a quarter of an hour before. His determination to overcome any obstacle to reach the clitoris no doubt means his wife is very satisfied.
    This plan confused the blokes running the train, and in a scene that is quintessential to the British train-travelling experience, a passenger had to explain it to them. The passenger was me. At least they didn't ask me to help fix the train.
    Once we were all clear on what the hell we were doing -- bypassing three stations and going straight to Radyr -- the train driver seemed eager to answer a question that I've always had about the trains that run on these lines, that being: "How fast do these pieces of shit go?"
    Since trains on the lines don't go more than a mile between stops, they tend not to move very quickly. But with about four miles of open track we were able to find out what the old Pacer could do. And what she could do was scare the shit out of me when she hit a rail joint. As the train bounced toward Radyr, it would occasionally hit a particularly uneven section of track and the floor of the second car would leap about a foot and a half.
    A scheduled journey of 14 minutes, we covered it in five. And then we sat at Radyr for 20 minutes.
    I finally got home at 3:08, which was 51 minutes late, or, nine minutes shy of the point at which Arriva will refund my money (and don't think I won't pursue my £1.40, yo. That's a half pint).

    *Crash Test Dummies. How's that for obscure? Points to you if you know the song I'm talking about. Side fact: one of the lines in the chorus of that song is a life ambition for me.

    **But the Mike Doughty reference is even more obscure. Extra special bonus points to the person who can name the song I'm referencing.

    ***A woman walked up to me and asked: "Are you Chris Cope?" She then explained that she was from BBC Wales and that she had been sent to interview me because "someone had heard" that I was at the pub. The story is located in the massive post that I wrote during three weeks without Internet.
  • Is Trying Enough?

    My latest column is out. Admittedly, it's a little less cheerful than usual, but, uhm, yeah.

    Here's my favourite line: "Relationships, academics, bank accounts, careers, opportunities to make friends in the Klingon community -- I've driven them all into the ground at some point."

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    I got the last word, bitches

    Many moons ago, when the child bride and I still lived in the United States, one of the things we most disliked to see on television were joint press conferences with President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

    The presence of someone who grew up properly articulating words always served as dramatic contrast to Bushy's mumbling Texan style of speech*. Impossible as it may seem, he would sound even dumber.

    I thought of those press conferences Monday night as I listened to my interview with "Eye on Wales." If you missed it, you can listen again (follow the link to the programme and then click "Listen Again" on the upper right-hand corner) and you'll hear that when contrasted by British accents, I come off as ChrisCo the Slack-Jawed Yokel: "Yee-haw! Put on yer clean pair o' pants, darlin' -- we's goin' to Kumree!"

    All in all, though, I'm pretty happy with how things turned out, because I got the last word in the programme. And, I think I got more airtime than Annie (although her story of going to the dentist was more interesting than my yammering on about trains). Go me.

    As an added bonus, the BBC is sending me a CD copy of the programme. I plan to burn additional copies and make loads of cash selling it illegally in East Asian black markets. Because that's what East Asian black markets are clamouring for these days: Kalashnikovs, teenage prostitutes and bootleg copies of "Eye on Wales."

    *It really is a Texas thing. Some Texans just don't like putting in the effort to speak clearly. I refer you to the recording of my grandfather saying grace as proof.

    Blogging made the radio star

    If you are near a radio or computer tonight, or if the CIA is beaming Radio Wales directly into your head, be sure to tune in at 6 p.m. (noon U.S. Central Standard Time) to listen to the "Eye on Wales" programme.

    I was interviewed for the programme, as were an unknown quantity of people who are probably more interesting than me.

    I think blogging is a difficult phenomenon to convey on radio -- in the finite space that is a radio programme, how does one explain the appeal of millions of substandard writers yammering on about themselves or how much they dislike conservatives/liberals/religions/bands/Bruce Forsyth? I am eager to hear how it all turned out.

    If you miss the programme, it will be available on the BBC's rockin' Listen Again feature for seven days -- just follow the link above.

    Sunday, November 12, 2006

    We've got your photos

    I finally upgraded to a pro account at Flickr today, which means two things:
    1) I am now paying to store my pictures online.
    2) Flickr will either go bankrupt or become obsolete in a few months.

    What I found amusing was the sort of ransom note that they put on top of my homepage that was supposed to encourage me to upgrade: "None of your photos have been deleted, and if you upgrade, they'll all come back unharmed."

    They should have added something like: "Do not attempt to contact the police. Leave the money for your account upgrade in a plain paper sack, underneath the flyover at the Gabalfa Interchange. Don't try anything smart, Chris -- you wouldn't want any sort of an accident to happen to your pictures of castles, would you?"

    Thursday, November 9, 2006

    Steak and a drink

    I finally got a chance Wednesday to meet Chris, aka Curly. Interesting fact for the ladies: his voice is deeper than I would have expected. I learned this when he serenaded me with a touching rendition of Luther Vandross' "How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye."

    OK, I made that up.

    Nonetheless, by purchasing dinner for me (£5.45 for steak and a drink!), he has secured himself as one of the bloggers that I will mention as my favourites. Here are a few of the high points from our conversation:
    - Good name for a band: Big Gay Mexican
    - His Canadian accent is shit.
    - My Welsh accent is shit.
    - Crystal is pretty.
    - Astrid is pretty.
    - Alan Titchmarsh is an ass
    - When Wales wins at rugby, Chris drunkenly calls his parents to tell them he loves them.
    - Like much of the Western world, after drinking consecutive pints of Guinness we'll inexplicably start speaking in shit Irish accents. Much to our chagrin, this impresses no one.

    Somehow it took us three hours for us to cover all of that.

    Everything's all better now, right?

    "Tomorrow you're all going to wake up in a brave new world -- a world where the constitution gets trampled by an army of terrorist clones created in a stem cell research lab run by homosexual doctors who sterilize their instruments over burning American flags. Where tax-and-spend Democrats take all your hard-earned money and use it to buy electric cars for National Public radio and to teach evolution to illegal immigrants. Oh, and everybody's high."
    - Steven Colbert on Election Day

    So, the Democrats now -- it seems -- have control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the midst of this, Bushy suddenly comes out and announces that Rummy's getting the boot.

    I can't help but wonder about the timing of that last one. Why, after years and years of calling for his removal, does Rumsfeld suddenly get the boot on Election Day? I think perhaps the White House is trying to kill its critics with joy. Perhaps they're hoping that liberals would suffer jubilation-induced heart attacks and no longer be on the planet for the 2008 elections.

    Of course, you get the sense that some Democrats didn't really want power at this point in history. Without a Democrat president, there's only so much they can do about Iraq, but they will almost certainly find themselves shouldering blame a few years down the line. And they're unlikely to be able to effect any real sort of positive change in the economy. The only thing they can do is pass loads of environmentally friendly legislation, which they won't because they're pansies and it wouldn't carry enough political weight.

    Ah well. Theoretically, at least, this means Terry Schiavo-like fiascos are less likely. Theoretically.

    Tuesday, November 7, 2006

    Ooh, Election Day, innit?

  • I have to admit that I didn't vote this year. The child bride and I ordered absentee voter forms but then got distracted in buying methamphetamine and sex from a male prostitute and mailed the forms back too late. Or we are being disenfranchised because we're black. Either way, we never got our absentee ballots. So, whatever the outcome of Tuesday, I don't have much right to complain about it. After all, in the "America: Love it or leave it" equation I chose the latter.

  • Have you ever had that discussion in which you found yourself arguing that "The Muppet Show" was some kind of strange tear in the fabric of reality that somehow allowed a show that was, in fact, too good too exist to be aired? This same phenomenon explains "Monty Python's Flying Circus." Perhaps these shows were/are/will be produced in Heaven and some sort of snafu caused them to be aired on Earth.
    Anyway, if you needed it, here's more proof for the case of "The Muppet Show."

  • Good name for a band: Love Box
  • Gwallt

    A rare English-language video post in which I ask the all important question: "Do I look gay?"

    I have no idea why the lighting and sound are so totally different at the end of the video, despite the fact that they were both shot in exactly the same way.

    Monday, November 6, 2006

    No turning back

    The child bride and I are scheduled to be on a plane tomorrow. The plane is flying from London Gatwick to Minneapolis.

    We won't be on it.

    When we bought our tickets to move here we found it was cheaper to purchase return flights rather than singles ("cheaper to purchase roundtrip rather than one-way," for those of you playing along at home). Hoping to get the best price on the tickets, I set their return date for well out of the summer season and before the holiday season -- 7 November.

    A few weeks ago, when things were so bad and I was feeling like I had made a huge irreversible mistake by moving here, I found myself staring at those tickets. I don't know how serious I was about it, but I was aware that they were my last best chance to give up. If I wanted to crawl back home and try to quietly fall back into the same old routines that had once frustrated me so much that I dropped everything and moved 5,000 miles away, these tickets were it.

    We don't have the money now to buy any other tickets. When that plane takes off tomorrow morning and we aren't on it there will be no contingency plan -- despite the sage of advice of Bruce Willis in "Armageddon." We can only succeed from here. Or fail really, really big.

    As Omega said, "You're living the dream. But no one said it would be a nice dream."

    It's a good sign, though, that I had managed to forget about the tickets over the last week. I was reminded only by the e-mail from Northwest airlines offering to let me check in for my flight online.

    Thursday, November 2, 2006

    I met Peter Johnson and you didn't

    Radio Wales' "Eye on Wales" programme came to the house to interview me Wednesday. They're doing a radio documentary type item thingy on bloggers in Wales and since Curly is likely to rile the pensioners with his controversial pro-Canadian stance, they went with me to fill the "bloggers who aren't influential or necessarily good" niche.

    Wait. That was supposed to be a self-depreciating comment, but because I looped Curly in there, it comes off a bit wrong. I'll leave it there, though, because I really just wanted to link to him as a nod to a fellow (English-language) blogger in Wales.

    Perhaps by singling him out in a post and buying him a pint when I see him (next week?) it'll make up for the fact that I failed to mention him when I was talking about other bloggers I read regularly. When asked about my favourite reads, I listed Donal, Esther, and Jenny.

    Jenny was perhaps an odd one to list, since her blog is password protected. But, after a bit of thought, I realised why these names came to my head right away. All three listed above have bought me beer.

    Admittedly, they're not the only people to have bought me stuff*. And I should point out to Chris, who has bought me booze and multiple meals, and showed me around London and given me a computer lead that makes my laptop work in the UK, that I was mentally looping him in with his wife. As someone who seems to be as stupid over his significant other as I am over mine, I doubt he will take offence that for conversation purposes I deferred to his better half.

    I even read a bit of an Esther post, but there's no promising it will end up in the final product. Odds are, in fact, although I talked to Peter Johnson for nigh 30 minutes my bit of the programme will last only 20 seconds.

    Nonetheless, I'll try to get details on when exactly the programme will air so you can hear it.

    *At present I have a mental image of Elisa digging in her purse. I assume I chose to log this in my head because she bought me booze. And, I'm pretty sure Linus bought me a pint as well, but even if he didn't, he served as a guide through the mean streets of Dublin.

    ------------------------------

    Special bonus feature

    I originally wrote: "...after a bit of thought, I realised why these names came to my head right away. All three listed above have bought me beer or feature in my illicit sexual fantasies. Actually, now that I think about it, Donal has also bought me beer."

    I scrapped the line because I wasn't sure the "Jenny and Esther have bought me stuff; Donal has done nothing more than to exist in my mind wearing an enormous dildo on his head" joke came through.

    Monday, October 30, 2006

    Delayed gratification

  • If I don't blog, if I don't write, if I don't go out, if I don't watch TV, if I don't play on the Internet, if I don't listen to music, if I don't pleasure read, if I don't drink more than a pregnant woman's weekly allowance of booze, if I live in Wales but don't actually live in Wales I can just barely keep up.

  • I have been amusing myself lately by thinking of what it would sound like if Shakespeare were performed by a load of people with Larry the Cable Guy accents. Actual proper good-quality actors in a top-level production, but everyone sounding like a redneck.
  • Friday, October 27, 2006

    One of the best writers you'll never read

  • My writing is "eloquent, addictive and genuinely funny" and "wonderfully readable,"* but not good enough to print. The rejection letters for my novel continue. It's just piling on now. I won't say this is the most miserable I've ever been. It's not. But it's arguably the most miserable I've been in a situation that didn't involve some girl wanting to get away from me.

  • I should, though, say thank you to the people who send me encouraging e-mails. I really do appreciate it, even though I am crap at showing my appreciation. I am trying to develop a more positive attitude about things and not focus so much on previous failures. Hopefully I will sort myself out before I burn up everyone's goodwill.
    My favourite message of goodwill as of late came from my grandmother, who has a brilliant way of at once commiserating and telling me to shut my whining cake hole.
    "(Your experience brings) back memories of me registering for courses at University of Houston," she wrote, "when I finished my degree at age 33 with three children... I drove 50 miles to the campus three days a week, alone."
    She also provided me with a nifty turn of phrase that perhaps I will use when I want to sound wise: "You can't learn anything yesterday."
    Obviously that sage wisdom would sound much better if it had been worked into limerick read by Terry Wogan (how's that for esotericism, eh? For those of you playing along at home, Wogan is an iconic radio presenter in the UK and he often reads out touching or lightly amusing poems sent in by listeners).

  • Dude. He hates that monkey

  • Good name for a band: Monkey Hater

    *I run the risk of committing major faux pas by blogging direct quotes from rejection letters, so I should point out that I genuinely appreciate the comments and I don't hold it against these editors for deciding against taking up my book. It's perfectly logical to me that if they don't see themselves successfully publishing my book, they would not want to take on the project. It's a business decision for them.
  • Wednesday, October 25, 2006

    End of an era

    End of an eraThe people at Gillette call it a "shaving system;" I would call it a razor, but then would struggle to explain the difference between it and the actual bits of metal that cut away the little tiny hairs growing out my face* -- whatever it's called, mine broke Wednesday.

    I have had the same Gillette Sensor Razor since 1994, when the Gillette Co. sent one to me for free on my birthday. Does anyone know if companies still do this sort of thing? It was a brilliant investment on their part -- think of all the replacement razor blades I have bought over the years. But I get the sense that in the modern age, companies are far too greedy for that.

    The loss of the razor I've had for 12 years continues this Wales Breaking of Chris theme.

    You're probably aware that the philosophy behind constantly screaming at recruits in a boot camp (apart from the fact that it's just downright fun) is that it breaks their will. Once the individual will is eliminated or sufficiently oppressed, so the theory goes, instructors can then build the person from the ground up.

    A year ago, I started throwing away my personal possessions in preparation for moving here -- I planned to bring only a few of my things. Then the money burned more quickly than planned and I took almost none of it. A few weeks ago, I lost my wedding ring, and now I've lost my razor, so that the only thing in my house that dates from before I started learning Welsh is a Portsmouth FC jersey that I now refuse to wear because inevitably that will be the day someone chooses to attack me with indelible ink.

    Along with this, my courses have completely crushed my spirit. I don't feel like writing, I have no confidence in myself, and on and on -- I could keep going until you started to wonder whether this blog was, in fact, being written by a teenage girl.
    Wales is my strange, slow, subtle boot camp. A boot camp with mince pies.

    Actually, it's probably not. The only emotion I felt toward my razor breaking was a mild sense of amazement that it had taken this long to break.

    And it actually provided for the high point of my day, which was my going to Boots. I'm in a sad state that going to Boots is a high point, but there you go. I bought a Mach3 razor, which is a ridiculous name for a razor, but there was a cardboard cut-out of David Beckham there encouraging me to purchase it or other ridiculously named razors of the same brand, like "Gillette MetaFusionUltra5Xinator."

    Yes, my purchase was swayed by the appearance of a man who can't make it onto a team that got its ass kicked by Croatia. I can't help it, I think he's a likeable bloke. That, and Hackett didn't sell shaving kits.

    I had never before heard of Hackett of London until I saw their large display of men's heath and beauty products** today. I decided immediately that I want a load of their stuff, even though I have never managed to use a bottle of cologne before it went stale, because they have Jonny Wilkinson modelling their products.

    Jonny Wilkinson is the shit, yo. He is the John L. Sullivan. I realise that Welsh Experience will punish me for saying that (probably by having me run into Charlotte Church who will then tell me that she reads my blog and will punch me in the penis because I didn't say that her boyfriend was my favourite rugby player) and everyone will point out that he has basically been injured for four years, but I don't care. The dude's still cool. And if he wants to sell me girly aftershave, I'm buying.

    (I am particularly amused by this picture of Wilkinson, where he's been paired with some dainty model boy. Wilkinson is only 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, not the biggest fella, but he looks like he could break the model boy in half. Also, I would like to believe that after this picture was taken, Wilkinson punched the person who thought it would be a good idea to take a picture of him walking that dog.

    Wait. How did I get onto the subject of rugby players? Wasn't I talking about razors?

    *Extra points for those of you who can tell me where "little tiny hairs growing out my face" comes from; no fair using Google search. I'm pretty certain that Eric, my dad, and Beth will know.

    **Side note: Since moving here, I have seen a number of newspaper and magazine articles asserting that British males spend ridiculous amounts of time pampering themselves with health and beauty products. If this is true, why does the men's health section in the Cardiff city centre Boots consist of only two shelves, and why are there only three brands of deodorant?

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    Morbid Traitorous Bastards

  • Actual spam e-mail subject head: 'Spermamax improves your sperm integrity.'
    Is this an actual problem for people? Disreputable sperm? 'Damn, my sperm wouldn't be allowed in high society? If only there were something I could do... wait a minute, what's this e-mail?'

  • Tuesday was probably the most prolific blogging day I've had in a month. I think that means I don't have to write anything for a while.

  • I think it's funny how many people will tell me to be sure to see some of the rest of Wales. Every time I meet someone new and they cotton to my being Yanqui I get told "be sure to get out and see Wales."
    It's just an odd thing to say, when you think about it -- the idea that I've travelled 5,000 miles to study Welsh but need to be told to venture an extra 100 miles to go on holiday.

  • My dad on Thursday reminded me somewhat of what drove me to want to move here in the first place -- to get away from life in the U.S. media. He told me that someone strangely took issue with the headline of this story and then accused the website of being, "morbid traitorous bastards."
    Which is a really good name for a band, I think.
  • Thursday, October 19, 2006

    Remember memes?

    I lifted this off Heather's site because I am too busy to be arsed about posting properly.

    1. FIRST NAME?
    James

    2. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE?
    The brother of some bloke named Jesus, a king who commissioned a book that talked about said bloke named Jesus, both my grandfathers and my dad.

    3. WHEN DID YOU LAST CRY?
    Despite having had some very rough times as of late, I can’t remember the last time I cried. Although I got a little teary-eyed at the end of Jane Eyre

    4. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING?
    It's better than my footwriting.

    5. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCHMEAT?
    Corned beef, if it's proper corned beef. Do not give me anything that comes out of a can.

    6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU?
    Perhaps, but I don't think I'd be a really close friend. I'm pretty sure that I would find me to be more than a little tedious.

    7. DO YOU HAVE A JOURNAL?
    You mean, apart from three blogs? Yes, I do.

    8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS?
    Not that I know of.

    9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP?
    I would, but it's that bit about paying for it that will probably prevent me from ever doing it. While I can allow myself to chuck my only mortal vessel off a cliff, I can't allow myself to pay for it.

    10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL?
    Banana Milkshake Rice Krispies. They were test marketed in the UK 10 years ago and I was the only person buying them. As such, they no longer exist. In protest, I no longer eat cereal unless I am at my parents-in-law's house. There, I usually eat Fruit Loops or Lucky Charms.

    11. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF?
    No. I untie them before I take them off.

    12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG?
    As compared to Madonna's African baby, yes. I could kick that baby's ass.

    13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR?
    Guinness. They sold it at Izzy's in St. Paul a few seasons ago.

    14. SHOE SIZE?
    46 European

    5. RED OR PINK?
    Red

    16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF?
    Instead of doing proper school work, I am inclined to fill out blog memes.

    17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST?
    Strangely, my brother. That's a whole blog post in itself, though.

    18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SEND THIS BACK TO YOU?
    Yes. Every single person on the whole planet. Tomorrow. And if they could offer me the chance to download videos of pregnant women having sex with farm machinery, I would be all the more appreciative.

    19. WHAT COLOR PANTS, SHIRT AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING?
    That's the kind of question they would ask in my beginner's Spanish class: Mis pantalones es azul, mi camisa es azul y mis zapatos es marrón.
    In Welsh: Mae fy nhrowsus yn las, mae fy nghrys yn las a mae fy esgidiau'n frown.

    20. LAST THING YOU ATE?
    Toast and tea; the breakfast of champions

    21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW?
    The hum of computers, the occasional passing train, clicking of keys on a keyboard.

    22. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE?
    That is such an ass question that I refuse to answer.

    23. FAVORITE SMELL?
    Perfume on naked breasts.

    24. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE?
    Someone from my wife's chapel who was asking to speak to her.

    25. THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE YOU ARE ATTRACTED TO?
    Face

    26. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON YOU STOLE THIS FROM?
    If by 'like' you mean 'picture naked and standing on my chest holding a whip,' then, yes.

    27. FAVORITE DRINK?
    Ale

    28. FAVORITE SPORT?
    Rugby

    29. EYE COLOR?
    Blue

    30. HAT SIZE?
    I have absolutely no idea.

    31. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS?
    Yes, I exhaust them -- always pestering for information. But if you're asking about my eyes, my vision is fine.

    32. FAVORITE FOOD?
    Phở

    33. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS?
    Happy endings

    35. SUMMER OR WINTER?
    Winter. As a skinny person, I like being able to look larger thanks to multiple layers of clothing.

    36. HUGS OR KISSES?
    Context, yo.

    37. FAVORITE DESSERT?
    I could really go for one of those Molten Cakes from Chili's. How low-brow is that?

    38. WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND?
    Someone I'm poking with a fork.

    39. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND?
    Phil Harris, the voice of Baloo in Disney's 'The Jungle Book' -- he won't respond if not simply because he's dead.

    40. WHAT BOOKS ARE YOU READING?
    'Dan Gadarn Goncrit' by Mihangel Morgan; 'Y Ddraig Goch' by Emlyn Roberts; 'Thank You, Jeeves,' by PG Wodehouse

    41. WHAT'S ON YOUR MOUSE PAD?
    The mouse

    42. WHAT DID YOU WATCH LAST NIGHT ON TV?
    I didn't watch TV

    43. FAVORITE SOUNDS?
    Total and complete silence (this is a hell of a lot harder to find than you might think) or the sound of someone laughing at my jokes.

    44. ROLLING STONE OR BEATLES?
    The hell? In which century was this meme written? Rolling Stones if forced to choose.

    45. THE FURTHEST YOU'VE BEEN FROM HOME?
    This calls into question the definition of 'home.' As someone who was raised in four (arguably five) different cities, and who has not lived in the same place for more than 2 years since I was 18, what is my home?

    46. WHAT'S YOUR SPECIAL TALENT?
    Providing unnecessary criticism

    47. WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
    Austin, Texas, USA

    48. WHO SENT THIS TO YOU?
    The Lord Our God.

    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    Wedding Ring Jingles Away

    That's right, bitches, my latest column is out.

    As an added bonus to this week's column, here's a section that I removed because it digressed too much and made the column too long:

    "I used to take evil glee in retelling the story to anyone who hadn't heard it: Paul had been languishing in the Pacific Ocean when he allowed the expensive ring that his dear sweet wife had meticulously chosen to represent their undying love to slip off his finger and into the shallows, where it was no doubt later found by a retiree with a metal detector who hocked it for enough boxed wine to build a small fort.

    Of course, when I say "allowed," I might as well say "willed." Why, in his negligence toward the object that signified a sacred unification before the eyes of God, he could just as easily have ripped the ring from his finger, spat on it, and heaved it into the sea while screaming obscenities directed toward his wife, family and country.
    "

    It's only Tuesday

  • Tuesday was some sort of national blogging day, apparently. 'National' in this case refers to Britain and blogging was being encouraged by the National Trust. I'm not really sure why; I had no idea that it was National Blogging Day Thingy until Welsh-language news programme 'Post Cyntaf' contacted me and asked me to comment on it.
    I wrote a post, but then discovered that the National Trust blog thingy has a 625-word limit; I had written 1,800 words. So, I posted it on my blog. I was trying to create a sort of snapshot of my life for someone who doesn't know me, so it has a slightly different feel to it.

  • Among the seemingly countless actually-insignificant-in-the-grand-scheme-and sort-of-not-really-worth-mentioning-but-for-the-fact-that-I-have-a-blog-and-it-gives-me-something-to-write-about complaints I have these days is the fact that my class schedule burns me out by Tuesday afternoon. Sometimes before.
    On Monday night I was so worn out that I kept waking up in a panic, not able to determine what day it was. At one point, I jumped out of bed, thinking that I had forgotten -- again -- to take out the garbage for Wednesday collection. It's a clear sign that the child bride has suffered me for quite a while that she knew without asking why I had jumped out of bed.
    "It's Tuesday, Chris," she said. "Wednesday is trash day. Come back to bed."

  • Someone asked me today if things have improved at all in terms of my confidence in being able to deal with the class load and my expectations for myself, etcetera. I don't think they have. But I've mellowed a bit, nonetheless.
    It's like those blokes in World War I foxholes -- the shelling doesn't actually stop, but after a while they just get a little more used to it*. OK, it is, in fact, nothing akin to the WWI experience. The risk of my getting blown into countless indistinguishable bits as a result of my learning Welsh is thankfully very low.

  • One thing I can say is that academia is bad for my posture. All the chairs and tables and desk thingies at Cardiff University (ranked No. 144 in the list of the world's top 200 universities, according to our flashy but poorly written student newspaper) appear to have been designed for petite women and lemurs. Being a normal-sized fellow means having to stoop over a lot. This, of course, means that my back always hurts, which makes me feel even older.
    "Oof. Doin' all this sittin' for fancy learnin' makes my back hurt. I guess it's not a problem for you young whippersnappers, with your boom-boom-boom music and partying till all hours of the mornin'."

  • In one of those cruel twists of fate that sometimes affects perfectly good people, there are three girls in my Welsh Literature course who are stuck working in a group with me. I feel really bad for them that they have to put up with such dead weight, but I try to make up for it by being pleasant and offering to buy them tea.
    Every time I see one of them, I think it would be really funny to say something like, "How's my lady?" with my head cocked to the side and me sounding creepy-pimpy. I have a feeling, though, that if I were to try to do that it would fall horribly flat and I would then have to try to explain myself amid a flurry of punches.

    *Dear self, why did you write this sentence in the present tense?
  • 17 October 2006

    I'm from the United States. Depending on my mood when you ask me, I am from Texas or I am from Minnesota. Right now, though, I am living in Cardiff, Wales, and studying the 2,600-year-old language that is Welsh.

    I don't really know why I am here doing this -- I don't have any family or personal connection to Wales. A few years ago, I was bored and I found a website that taught Welsh. Now I'm here; 30 years old and struggling to see and understand a culture that is at once familiar and utterly confusing.

    The trains here in Cardiff are laughable by even U.S. standards. I like to imagine the entire company is run by one of those friends everyone has who is a likeable alcoholic -- he tries to do a good job, enough that it pains you to really complain, but everything he does is substandard.

    My train to Cathays, where the university is located, was delayed by about 10 minutes and then so fully packed that it was like a city centre pub on Saturday night. The large breasted woman pressed against me on the short journey from Radyr to Cathays smelled lovely.

    Welsh women tend to have larger breasts than the women I knew back in Minnesota. They should put that fact in the tourist literature: "Wonderful Wales! More castles than any sane person could ever want to visit and lovely large-breasted women!"

    The train cuts through generally unexciting territory. From cow fields along the lazy River Taff down through middle-class homes, past one of Cardiff's numerous chav hotspots, over the A48, past student housing and into the heart of campus.

    The nature of my arriving in this country to do what I'm doing has resulted in my becoming something of a darling in the Welsh-language media. So, while I was almost late to my 9 a.m. class, the camera crew was not. I am the focus of a documentary that will come out in the spring, and they were there for the obligatory "here's Chris trying to pretend he understands what the hell is going on in his lectures" shot. I felt bad for the cute girl with a bad cough who was sitting next to me. She smelled of the previous night's booze, so I was pretty sure she didn't want to be on camera.

    I probably understood about 60 to 70 percent of the lecture (all of my lectures are conducted entirely in Welsh -- cell phones and flatulence are more readily tolerated than English), which was focused on the history of the Eisteddfod. A word that's impossible for my father to pronounce, Eisteddfod is at the heart of Welsh culture. It is basically a competition of singing, dancing, art, and literature. Other cultures have similar events, but here IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER. I went to the National Eisteddfod this year, in August, and I didn't get it. I generally try to keep this fact to myself. As a Welsh learner, my lack of interest in Eisteddfod is equivalent to training to be a priest but thinking that John the Baptist wasn't all that important.

    Afterward, sans camera crew, I tried to keep my head from exploding in my Welsh grammar course. I feel so stupid in my courses. They are like The Machine in "Princess Bride," but instead of sucking away years of my life, they rob me of all self-confidence.

    As if my brain weren't scrambled enough, the class that comes straight after for me is Spanish grammar. But Spanish has become a respite in my world of Welsh sub-understanding. It is the academic form of candy for me right now.

    Buoyed by the confidence that I am better at beginner Spanish than the 18-year-old from Somerset who sat next to me, I then returned to the Welsh-language department to do a "Chris talks about how he feels about his lectures" interview with the camera crew. They've been following me around on and off since May, and I've been generally unhappy with my past few interviews. I know the fact that I am heartbroken and homesick comes through. That might make for a good story, but I am media savvy enough to know that it will feel very embarrassing when I see it in several months time.

    I ate lunch in a building on campus that only international students seem to know about. It's always me and a load of Asians eating in the building's cafe, which serves a sufferable curry, naan and bottle of Coke for £2.90. Then I went to the library to try to make sense of a Welsh poem.

    Poetry has never made sense to me, but when you add the fact that it is in Welsh, esoteric, and focused on a culture that I still don't understand at all, it becomes the intellectual equivalent of a spinal tap. I spent two hours trying to draw something from it before getting together with a group of girls from my literature class to write up an assessment.

    Poets are revered here, whereas in the U.S., even well-read people would be hard-pressed to name a single living poet. So, people who were born and raised in Welsh culture are better suited to poetry.

    I feel bad for the three young pretty girls who are stuck in a group with me. They are all native Welsh speakers and they probably understand this as well as I understand professional wrestling and rodeo (I would prefer to discuss Triple H over Twm Morys any day). But they are all very nice, and were quick to point out to one another the contribution I had made -- figuring out that the not-in-the-dictionary word "amenio" means "to say amen" -- and we managed to put something together.

    I took the 18:43 train from Cathays to Radyr, then the 19:04 from Radyr to Danescourt. The train heading south was packed with people heading to the Cardiff vs. Southampton match that Cardiff City would eventually win 1-0. I was home in time to watch "EastEnders."

    I am allegedly a mature and intelligent adult of proper breeding, but I find myself obsessed with keeping track of what's happening in the long-running soap "EastEnders." If I could have one wish granted, it would be this: I would show up at the Queen Vic and say hello to Peggy in Welsh, then she would throw me out, using the phrase "sling yer 'ook!"

    For dinner, I ate lamb stew that my wife had left cooking in a crock pot. She has a master's degree but the only work she can find here is at the Starbucks. It is demeaning and tedious and they have her working stupid hours, but she is beautiful and wonderful and keeps at it. She is always tired when I see her, and I feel a terrible guilt that she is serving coffee to self-absorbed city workers while I spend my day reading poetry and looking at pretty girls.

    This is our life. Tomorrow will be somewhat similar.