Friday, August 4, 2006

The first two three weeks

I have internet again, bitches. Here's a look at what's been happening while I was away:

Dydd Sadwrn 15 Gorffennaf 2006

This is the first day that I've had to sit down and write since we've arrived. I've decided to keep a blog going in a Word document and I'll put it online as soon as I can. That guy Salaam Pax did something similar when Americans were bombing his house -- I am just waiting for BT to install broadband.

I don't understand why I need a phone line for high-speed internet, but I am fast re-learning the No. 1 rule of British life: Try not to ask questions.

People here will give you answers, but the answers will be tedious and detailed and they will usually still result in your not being able to do the thing you want to do. Unless you really, really want to know the history, sociological implications, and environmental effects of coaxial cable, it's not worth it to ask why it's not used in BT's broadband service.
...

Driving in Cardiff requires a sort of Islamic extremist mentality, I think. People here tear through streets so small that Americans wouldn't call them driveways, in cars so small that Americans wouldn't call them golf carts, at speeds that loosen American bowels.

The child bride and I scheduled to rent a minivan at Gatwick so we could drive our two bike boxes, five duffel bags, one computer bag and our exhausted selves to Cardiff on Wednesday. The rental agency gave us a Vauxhall Unpronounceable, which was about the size of a Honda Accord, but we were able to cram everything into the car and were on the M23 by about 11 a.m.

The M23, for those of you playing along at home, is a motorway. Us Yanks call roads of this size "interstates." I have actually heard fellow Americans ask why they are not called "interstates" in Britain. I think it has something to do with the absence of states.

Driving on the motorway was only mildly stressful and by the time we got to Swindon, I was calm enough to listen to the radio. Rachel, on the other hand, was in extreme stress mode. Imagine what it must be like for those guys who run convoys in Iraq every day, constantly waiting for an IED to rip through their Humvee. Rachel was at about that level.

Driving 150 miles in a straight line on a single road (the M4) is not hard. The problem was that everything was relatively new. I have only driven in Britain twice before, and in both of those instances I was doing that "wherever the road takes us" thing -- that's how my family ended up staying in Bala when we were planning on visiting Llangollen (look at a map). But now we were trying to get to a very specific point.

The car was totally new to me, I was working on more than 24 hours without sleep, the road was unfamiliar, the scenery was unfamiliar, driving on the left was unfamiliar, the surrounding cars were unfamiliar, and the road signs were unfamiliar.

If you unhook your brain from the American experience, British road signs are easy to understand. But if you try to make it adhere to what you are used to -- especially in the midst of sensory overload and exhaustion -- they become a challenge: "What the fuck is with all the arrows on that sign? What is it trying to tell me? English, you fuckers! You invented the fucking language; put it on your goddamn road signs!"

Things only got more chaotic as we exited the M4 to head into the heart of Cardiff.

It was at this point that we discovered that Mapquest is shit. Seriously, my bitches, Mapquest in Britain was apparently set up by someone who wants you to take the train.

Of course, it wouldn't matter if the directions were correct because the first thing you'll note about driving in British cities is that clearly marked roads are for pussies. Having a road and plainly promulgating to anyone driving or walking by what the road is named is Yankee scum thinking. In Her Majesty's Kingdom, if you don't know what road you're on, you should probably just go back home.

So, we arrived at the offices of Chris John + Partners thanks mostly to Rachel's power of prayer and my sketchy knowledge of Cardiff that has come from two visits and having spent hours and hours staring at a map of the city.

We got the keys to the house and managed to bumble our way home with my only once coming close to killing us, because the roundabout where Cardiff Road splits to Llantrisant Road and Bridge Road looks absolutely nothing like a roundabout. The woman in the car I almost hit was absolutely livid and sort of cartoonish as she bounced around in an effort to express how I had committed the greatest sin in all of history. Hitler was bad, but he never shot through a roundabout -- I am clearly the greater evil.

She turned to go to the BBC Wales studios. With my luck she is a higher up with an incredible memory who will keep me from ever working there.

Smart people, having managed to escape death and arrive sleep-deprived at their new home probably would have taken a nap. The child bride and I decided we would try to navigate our way to >IKEA. We acquired a Cardiff A-Z map at the petrol station near our house (check me out, instantly converting to use the British lingo. In America, you would call me a "tool" for doing that. I'm not sure of the British equivalent -- "ponce" maybe?) and headed out for some genuine city driving.

I think it might help when driving in Cardiff to be screaming nonstop -- just one long, terrified, spine-searing scream. That would probably attract unwanted attention from other drivers, though, so I just did that in my head.

You know that scene in "French Connection" when Popeye Doyle is flying through downtown Chicago (edit: this movie actually took place in New York City)? The scene has been copied countless times and it's supposed to give you this real sense of claustrophobia and the absolute madness of Doyle in his pursuit of the bad guy that he would drive like such a maniac. I'll bet that scene wouldn't draw much notice from a Cardiff driver. They do the same thing every day on winding roads.

This is what I mean about an Islamic extremist mentality. They are driving as if they feel they are not really in control of their actions -- everything is in the hands of Allah. If Allah wants you to die a horrible death in a Ford Mondeo, then you will die a horrible death in a Ford Mondeo. That death will come if you are going 15 mph or 100 mph. So, you might as well go 100 mph; if Allah doesn't want you to die today, at least you will get where you are going quicker.

While I was trying to hold my own in all of this, the child bride was busy having some sort of major life crisis from the stress of trying to help navigate.

ME: "Where do I need to go at this roundabout?"
HER: "I... I don't... What?"
ME: "Where are we going? Do I take this? The A4232? Do I take this?"
HER: "The... what? Where are we?"
ME: "There's a river. We're passing over a river. That's the Taff River, I think. Do you see that?"
HER: "Where? I... How am I supposed to know where we are?"

In my head I have the pieces of a column on how moving is one of the great tests of marriage. If I end up using that column, expect our driving experiences in Cardiff to be a part of it.

We used the car again the next day to go to IKEA again (we have been to IKEA three times in four days) as well as a grocery store and a bike shop. Rachel was delighted when we finally dropped the car off at the airport and has been singing the praises of the Cardiff bus and train system ever since.
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The weather has been unusually warm and sunny here in Cardiff. The child bride and I were at the Food Festival in Cardiff Bay today and it was picture perfect. There wasn't a cloud in the sky.

Things were so perfect that for the first time in my life ever, anywhere, I wanted to go on one of those boat tour things. Cardiff has several. You can tour the bay, you can go up the Taff River, you can go up the Ely River, and on.

Unfortunately, everyone else in the region decided it was a good day for the same thing, so the lines were enormous. And I had foolishly waved the IKEA carrot in front of Rachel in trying to help her get her bearings in the city.

What I said was: "See those buildings over there? Just on the other side and down a bit is the IKEA..."

But this translated to: "Let's go to IKEA and buy another £70 of shit that I will have to carry onto the bus."

According to the beacon of journalism that is the South Wales Echo, the weather will stay like this for a few more days, so perhaps I can still take my boat tour.

I suspect that God is lulling me into a false sense of security with all this nice weather. On Wednesday we are supposed to go pick up our bikes. It will probably be pissing rain when we do this.
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We had to have our bikes dismantled in order to transport them on the plane. Presently, my only tools are those that are available via my Leatherman, so the child bride and I are paying a nice man named Reg to put our bikes together for us.

I am thinking of starting a new blog: CopeNeedsTools.blogspot.com

On it, I would simply keep a list of the myriad tools that I need, so that people can buy them for me as birthday/Christmas/Thanksgiving presents. That's right British people, we give presents on Thanksgiving. I expect you to take part in the tradition this year.

(Note to Americans: Don't spoil it for me by letting the British know I'm lying.)
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Dydd Sul 16 Gorffennaf 2006
When I was growing up in Houston, there was a woman who always gave out pennies on Halloween. In a similar vein, I am thinking of handing out our remaining U.S. dollars to neighbourhood children. Jesus Christ Lord Almighty on a motor scooter, could my home country's currency be more useless?

I have $13 sitting on a table downstairs and I can't be arsed to go get it converted. If I were to exchange the money in city centre, half of it would be used on bus fare.
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The child bride and I found the shopping Valhalla that is the Cardiff Tesco Metro today. Tesco bitter is 92p for four cans. I was so tempted to try it. I'll bet it's awful.

I bought a £50 radio/CD thing there, which means that I finally feel like I am here. The first thing I bought when I moved to Portsmouth was a stereo. Radio became the centre of my world and has pretty much been that way ever since.

I have been grumpy at the end of every night we've been here so far, but now I can happily sit and listen to Welshy radio and all sorts of other stuff. The child bride and I are surprisingly low on cash at the moment, so a TV and TV license are out of the question for the time being (for those of you playing along at home, you have to pay to watch TV in Britain. A yearly license is about £150, or $300).
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I did laundry today. Even though my machine apparently dries clothes, I decided to conform to what everyone else is doing and hung my clothes out on the line.

Europeans seems to be really, really hung up on energy consumption. I fear I will understand this more clearly when the power bill comes.
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Dydd Llun 17 Gorffennaf 2006
The spin cycle on our washing machine sounds like a dentist's drill. This displeases me.
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Our house is furnished entirely by IKEA. Not just the stuff we bought, but everything else. The kitchen looks to have come from IKEA, the dining room (area, if I'm honest) table, chairs -- pretty much everything.

The house came furnished. I expected it to have a table and chairs and couch, but our landlord has gone all out. He has provided the sorts of things you wouldn't expect, like an ironing board, and wall art.

We have an enormous and disturbing picture in our front room of a rooster battling a two-headed chicken. A Cardiff friend was in today and said: "I can't even look at that thing, it's so disconcerting."

We're pretty sure we want to replace it with, uhm, anything. But I almost don't want to just for the novelty factor: "Look at that thing. Our landlord seems to think it would make us feel at home."
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Dydd Mawrth 18 Gorffennaf 2006
Last night I was at Y Mochyn Du -- a pub here in Cardiff -- and a woman walked up to me and asked: "Are you Chris Cope?"

She 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.

My parents need not worry about how the child bride and I are fairing in Cardiff because the BBC is apparently keeping tabs on me.

The story was online today, but I haven't had a chance to look at it. Someone from Radio Wales has been trying to contact me, as well, but I haven't been able to get back to them because I don't have a phone. I have to walk down to Llandaf to find a payphone.
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It is hot, yo. I hesitate to piss and moan about summer weather in Wales, but it really is hot here. Tomorrow's expected high is 95F, according to The Western Mail. I realise there are people in much hotter places who read this blog, but remember that the child bride and I are sans air conditioning.

Pretty much this whole city is sans air conditioning. The Waterstones book store has AC, as does the cinema, but that's about it. Rachel and I decided today was a good day to see "Pirates of the Caribbean." I'm not sure what we'll be doing tomorrow. We are considering going down to the beach.
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Dydd Mercher 19 Gorffennaf 2006
Today was the hottest day on record, according to the BBC. Weather records in this country go back upward of 350 years, so that means it was pretty hot. Somewhere Al Gore is doing his "See? I told you so!" dance.

Thankfully, some cloudy weather has pushed in this evening and it is sufferable, albeit humid, in our house.
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I was interviewed today by Radio Wales. They brought me in to interview at 17:15, but then bumped me back to 17:50. I was happy to sit around and do nothing because it meant sitting in an air-conditioned building. Air conditioning in this country isn't on the same level as in the U.S. My parents-in-law would have thought that the air conditioning at the BBC was broken... or that it was being withheld as an extension of the evils of socialism.

My interview was amazingly short to the extent that I kind of wonder the point. I'm happy to come in anytime because I am the Biggest BBC Kiss-Ass In The World, but it seemed a bit odd to bring me in and talk to me for only three minutes. The interview went a bit like this:

INTERVIEWER: "You might remember Chris Cope, that wacky American who taught himself Welsh and planned to move to Cardiff. Well, he's arrived now, and he's here with us. Chris, it sure was hot today, wasn't it?"

ME: "Yes, it was. A lot. That's a bit unexpected."

I: "Are you liking Cardiff so far?"

ME: "Yeah. My wife is still struggling to find her way in a city without grids, but all-in-all we're enjoying it."

I: "You should go to (name of Welsh town). It's all grids there."

ME: "Yeah, we'll do that. Being the fans of grids that we are."

I: "So, what makes you want to be learning Welsh?"

ME: "Ah, you know. It's something to do, isn't it?"

(Note to self: I really need to come up with a better answer than this. Perhaps I should say that God told me to do it. Or, perhaps to add a bit of Cardiff flair, I could say that Ninjah told me to do it.)

I: "Well, thanks for coming in."

The interview had the sort of feel you would expect if I were a D celebrity in town to perform in a panto: "You might remember Chris Cope from that one episode of EastEnders when he got punched in the face by Kat Slater. Now he's in town and starring as Sneed in a New Theatre production of 'Peter Pan.'"

Still, it was enjoyable enough. They said they might be interested in talking to me again once classes get under way. I am assuming they'll get sick of me eventually, but it would be really funny if they never did: "Chris Cope, everybody's favourite American Welsh speaker has turned 50 today. Chris how are you?"
"Good."
"Fantastic. Now, let's move on to the weather..."
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Ninjah is a street crazy who seems to think that he is a god. Yesterday he was standing in city centre taking full credit for it being so hot.

This town is brimming with crazy. The thing about Cardiff crazy, though, is that it is a mobile crazy. The crazy in most cities is stationery -- it sits in one spot and shouts at you as you hustle past. The crazy here is on its feet, making eye contact and eager to chat.

I think that all good cities have a personality. I'm still trying to figure out Cardiff's personality.
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An interesting element of this whole Welsh experience is that it has taken on a life of its own. I have long said that I kept on with Welsh, because it just grabbed a hold of me. More and more I feel that it is pulling me down some road and I am just sitting here trying to be pleasant to people and hoping that wherever I end up is OK.

I have been interviewed by BBC Wales radio, BBC Wales online, Radio Cymru, BBC Newyddion, and Cardiff University's alumni magazine. There's one particularly exciting thing that's going on that I can't tell you about until May, I am speaking at Eisteddfod next month, Radio Wales seems keen on talking to me again, and the university's PR office is so eager to get in touch with me that they called the BBC in an attempt to get in touch with me. When I arrived in Cardiff, there were welcome cards from fellow Welshies (can I say fellow Welshies?), and apparently a few people have dropped by to say "hello" when I was out. It's all very exciting.

But as I say, it feels as if I am just holding on and trying not to forget to be gracious. And I am grateful for all of it, but I feel this sense that if I fuck up, I'll be disappointing a whole lot more people than when I usually fuck up (which, hitherto in my life, has been every time in my life I've tried something big).
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The BT people come tomorrow. That means that I will have a phone, which I can then use to order broadband Internet. So, I should be back online within a week. It feels weird not to be checking my e-mail four times a day.

Also tomorrow I will probably have a bank account. Accounts in Britain take a while to set up; it's not like in the U.S., where you can just show up and walk out an hour later with a box of cheques.
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Dydd Iau 20 Gorffennaf 2006
We now have a phone. It will be a while until we get Internet.

I had been told that I could not get internet until after my phone was set up. As soon as that was done today, I called BT.

"I'm sorry, but we can't set that up until your phone has been connected," a woman told me.

"It is connected. That's how I'm talking to you now."

"Oh," she said. "Well, our file says it's not. So, you'll have to wait until the engineer closes the file. Everything should be sorted out by tomorrow."

British bureaucracy, baby. You gotta love it.
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I was, as you probably noticed, able to do a quick blog post today thanks, as always, to the BBC. When I mentioned to someone at the BBC that I am sans internet, he offered to let me come into his office and use his computer for a bit.

That's surreal, right? I'm starting to lose the ability to tell whether my life is weird.

So, I was able to answer a poopload of e-mails and clear out the 500 spam messages that had collected in the last week or so. Thanks to everyone who sent messages of support, either directly or on the blog. I'm sorry I didn't get back to you.
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A National Insurance number is not the same thing as an NHS number. I figured that out today after a great deal of running around.

I need an NHS number so Rachel and I can see a doctor should we ever get sick. As a student, I am eligible to be on the NHS, as is my spouse. The literature encouraging international students to come to Cardiff University points out this benefit myriad times.

Since both "National Insurance" and "National Health Service" are pretty much terms without meaning to my Yankee mind (remember to say "Yankee" like the angry bad Indian in "Last of the Mohicans" -- "Yahn-keee"), I found myself asking for the wrong thing at the Cardiff University International Development Office on Tuesday.

The thing is, though, I asked for it like this: "I need to find out my National Insurance number, or whatever it's called, because my wife and I want to be able to see a doctor."

I was in the International Development Office, which is supposed to deal with international students -- the vast majority of which aren't exactly rocking it with sterling English. You would have thought that, being used to people who say things wrong, they would have identified what I was really asking for and helped me out.

Nope. They sent me on a wild goose chase to another office, who then sent me to another office, who then sent me to the Job Centre Plus office, where I was handed a photocopy of a pamphlet and told to call to set up an appointment.

Only today, when I tried to set up said appointment, did I discover my error.

I called the International Development Office again, this time asking how to get an NHS number, and they directed me to a website. Which, of course, I can't access for a week because even though my phone is working, it isn't really and I can't even apply for the internet until it is. Cue the circus music.
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Dydd Gwener 21 Gorffennaf 2006
Make that 4 August. I will not be connected to the internet until 4 August. BT had better be some great fucking shit after all this fuss.

It is frustrating to be this disconnected from the world -- all my friends specifically. I might not even have that much of a problem with all this if it weren't for the fact that I keep all my contacts on my Gmail account. So, I can't even send anyone a letter.
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Dydd Sul 23 Gorffennaf 2006
There is a young girl who lives in the house across from the garden who loves to sing. The other day she spent a full hour singing in the bath, often making up the lyrics: "I am singing. In the bath. And you're telling me to be quiet, but I won't. Because I'm singing!"
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Today was the sort of Sunday that us writer types (or, wannabe writer types, in my case) seem to go all stupid for. I sat and watched our curtains dance in the breeze for about an hour. The sun is shining in that way that it bounces off things that aren't supposed to reflect light, like bedding. Our duvet glows in the sunlight.

It made me want to sit down and write a short story about falling in love, but I was able to resist the temptation.
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As I was writing the above, the girl who lives in the house across the garden found a spider. It is, by all accounts, the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to her.

She's not alone, I suppose. A few days ago the child bride and I were at Boots, and the woman across the counter yelped in the way that perhaps I would if I were to happen upon a 60-foot part-cobra-part-pit-bull with dentist drills for teeth. She, too, had found a spider.

A few days later, an old lady who lives down the street was staring anxiously toward the sky at the three dark clouds that happened to be there and spent 10 minutes telling me how much she hates thunder.

I can't remember whether it's inductive or deductive to draw general conclusions on an entire people based on only three cases, but I find it strange that Welsh women are allowed to hold onto fears in such an intense way. Don't these women have grumpy uncles to tell them to shut up?
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The child bride and I finally got our bikes on Friday. Rachel seems keen to never bike anywhere that isn't immediately connected to the Taff Trail, which is a path that runs from here to the Brecon Beacons with most of it being car-free.

When I was younger, I used to do this thing where I would suddenly kick open the door of a moving car and swing out, holding onto the seatbelt. This was a great way to scare the shit out of anyone who was driving me around and, it turns out, it was quality training for biking in Cardiff.

I have found it helps not to think about my own mortality as I pedal through the city streets, narrowly avoiding the psychopath-piloted vehicles around me. The Jedi accepts that he may lose everything.
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The only drawback to a day like this is that it allows for homesickness. It is peaceful and beautiful and lovely and suddenly you find yourself thinking about how far away you are from... something.

Homesickness, for me, isn't a particularly valid emotion, because I'm not sure what the hell I'm homesick for. Very strangely, at moments like these I always find myself wishing I could be in my grandmother's house in Lake Jackson, Texas. I would be eating pound cake with melted butter on it. And a scoop of vanilla Blue Bell ice cream. That, somehow, is home.

Expect me to turn that into a column some day.
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Living here makes me feel like a more valuable member of global society. I bike or walk, or take buses and trains. I dry my clothes on the line. I don't have air conditioning. I even recycle. I am suddenly the Sierra Club ideal.

Dydd Mawrth 25 Gorffennaf
The child bride and I were just listening to a Radio 2 documentary (they still do stuff like that here -- using radio as a tool rather than something to block out noise) on Lenny Bruce and it reminded me of something that has always secretly bothered me: I will almost certainly never run in intellectual/hipster circles.

I don't get it. The documentary stated numerous times that Bruce was a genius, but didn't really offer evidence to that fact. I've heard a lot of commentary on the tragic genius of Bruce and I've always wondered what people were seeing that I am not.

I tend to think that people are too often labelled geniuses simply because they died young or tragically.

If Bill Cosby had been shot down in the late 60s by some crazed racist, he would be regarded as the greatest black comic to have ever lived ever.
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I was interviewed by Welsh-language television today. A programme called "Wedi 7" (After 7) sat down with me in a pub beer garden and asked me a load of softball questions, several of which I managed to fuck up. I have reached a point in my Welsh speaking level where I sometimes try to turn phrases, as I might do in English. But almost as soon as I head down the road to a pun or witty observation, I realise that my vocabulary is not, in fact, strong enough to make it come out right.

So, I looked like a dope. Go me.

Still, apparently they are going to send me a check. I'm starting to grow fond of the British media and their willingness to pay for stories. In America we would call that a violation of journalistic ethics.

Because I am the BBC Kiss-ass, I should point out that in all the interviews they've done of me, I was only paid once. I like to think that was done by mistake, or that they paid me because Beti George planned to bundle my interview with others and make a profit.
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Buddha on a bicycle, it was hot today. What's with Cardiff always being sunny and hot? Apparently, Glamorgan has, unbeknownst to anybody, broken free of Britain and drifted into Spanish waters.
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The child bride and I finally managed to order mobile phones today. I only had to spend an hour and a half chatting with a nice Geordie bloke from BT. Actually, that bit was alright. He was fussing with his computer and then got into telling me about why he chose not to pursue a master's degree in Greek classics: "The comedy of Euripides loses something after 3,000 years."

His name was Paul. He is now considering pursuing a second BA; this time in astrophysics. I almost want to call BT every few months just for an update on his progress.

Anyway, our phones will not arrive for 10 working days. It is at once charming and infuriating that everything takes so long here.

Now, I know what you're going to say. Because you -- the collective you -- say things like this every time I find myself entangled in some wee thing that annoys me: "Oh, Chris, you've done it all wrong. You should have gone with such-and-such company. They would have done everything in less than 8 seconds or you would get £800 as part of their 8-second guarantee. And you get unlimited calling for 12p a year. Blah blah blah."

Shut your fucking cake hole, you. I'm locked into these phones now, so telling me how I could have done such and such for less money and less effort does me no good.
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If I were a songwriter, I would write a song for all the kids who play near the weirs in the River Taff on hot days. There is something life-affirming about all those foul-mouthed boys swimming exactly where the city has told them not to.
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Dydd Mercher 26 Gorffennaf 2006
Rachel got her phone today. Some bloke showed up at 7:40 a.m. and thrust a box in my hand containing Rachel's phone. My phone... uhm...

Anyway, Rachel's phone is really cool. I'm not really much of a phone guy. Hitherto, I have refused to carry one, because it is nothing more than a way for people to get in touch with me. I prefer contact me via e-mail. This way, I can think about my response and come off sounding wittier than I actually am. In person, off the cuff, I am tedious; phone conversations reveal this fact.

Rachel has always carried a mobile phone, but as she is with a lot of things, she has hardly ever been interested in the kind of mobile she carried. If she can talk into one end and be heard at the other, she's not particularly bothered about niceties like cameras and disco ring tones.

So, the coolness of Rachel's new phone is completely lost on her. It does all sorts of really nifty things, but she only wanted to know turn it on, how to make a phone call, how to receive a phone call and how to turn it off.

"But, honey, look at this feature," I would say.

"You can mess with that on your phone when it gets here," she would say.
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We biked down to Cardiff Bay, to the Assembly building, today. We had heard third- or fourth-hand that it was possible to connect to a WiFi network there. Which seemed like just the sort of "open to the people" mindset the Assembly is shooting for.

Probably one of the best places to sit and stare out across the bay is from the comfort of the leather couches in the main part of the Assembly building, but sadly, one cannot (yet -- expect me to write a letter) use WiFi there.

So, we went to the Starbucks just a few hundred yards away and keyed into WiFi from there. I know it is bad and wrong to go to Starbucks, and MAYBE IF ONE FUCKING OTHER BUSINESS IN THE CITY would offer WiFi, I wouldn't have to go there. I don't enjoy paying $12 an hour to use the internet, yo, but I can't find any viable alternatives.

Rachel was able to search for jobs online but came up with nothing. We are burning money at a ridiculous rate and I am starting to get really worried. Maybe I should do that thing where I ask people to donate via PayPal... you know, because that always works.
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The child bride and I have now been here for two full weeks. I still don't feel like this is my home, and I find that a side-effect of that is that I will suddenly become really pissy for no reason.

It doesn't help that the heat has yet to subside. I have heard tales of other parts of this great country seeing thunder and rain and such, but we've had none of it in good ol' Caerdydd.

The Echo (which is, by the way, the worst paper ever) says it is supposed to cool down over the next few days and we are supposed to have rain through the weekend. I hate to say it, but I'm looking forward to it.
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Dydd Gwener 28 Gorffennaf 2006
I like our house. Especially now that the weather has cooled a bit.

The house is tiny by American standards and is packed in among a load of other tiny houses out here on the edge of Cardiff. The Welshies will often point out that I live close to "y cefn gwlad" (literally translated: "the back country"), which demonstrates that they have no idea what back country is. But it is pretty quiet here, even more so than Bloomington Rock City.

It's as if I live in one of those vacation villages you see in the middle of Wisconsin. Sadly, we have no indoor water park.
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I had a dream last night that someone in the city of Bloomington had read my blog and had the council send me a plaque that stated officially that the unofficial name of Bloomington was now "Bloomington Rock City."
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I'm going to have lunch on Wednesday with the people who run the website that taught me Welsh, BBC Learn Welsh. In a perfect world, they would offer me some ridiculously well-paying cake gig that I could do whilst still attending university.

That's highly unlikely. I think the days of the BBC being able to throw money at things (if ever those days really existed) have passed.

Nonetheless, it's kind of cool that I get to meet them. In years past, I have always promised myself that I would send them a Christmas card, but I worried that it might be just too weird.
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It looks as if we will be scrapping the trip to Ireland that I had planned for Tuesday. The 1st of August comes right before Eisteddfod, so we wouldn't have had a chance to enjoy ourselves. We are legally here until January on a tourist visa, and Rachel has yet to find work, so there is no pressing need to validate my student visa just yet.

Most likely, we will take a longer trip to Ireland after Eisteddfod. In my head, I would like to take the ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare, spend a few days in Ireland, then take the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead and spend a few days in Northern Wales.

This whirlwind tour may not happen, though, depending on our financial status.

Wow, this is a boring blog entry.
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Dydd Sul 30 Gorffennaf 2006
Today has been the second ridiculously pleasant Sunday in a row. I spent most of it reading and doing laundry.

Our washer-dryer accepts only comedy-small loads, but it is still a distinct improvement over our previous washer-dryers, which did not exist.

It feels like mid-September in northern Minnesota. It also reminds me of being in college; lying naked on a tiny bed with some girl who was foolish enough to take an interest in me.

If this blog were a novel, I would be told to drop that last bit because it does not necessarily fit the character.

And you see what I mean about days like this doing weird things to me -- making me all melancholy and introspective and tedious. Still, it is an incredibly lovely day.
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If you were to stare at me for a while, you would probably make me uncomfortable, but you might also notice a little grey dot just to the left of my noise. I noticed today that it is still there.

It comes from when I was in fourth grade. I had just sharpened a pencil and managed to stab myself in the face with it. Contrary to what you might expect, I did not make a sound when I did this. I was embarrassed and worried that someone would make fun of me.

When I saw that no one had spotted my stabbing me in the face, I made a very loud display of karate chopping my pencil, so as to be able to explain why I needed to turn around and go back to the pencil sharpener. After being admonished by my teacher (it was either Miss Key, Miss Webb, or Miss Jenkins -- I'm drawing a blank), I was allowed to sharpen my pencil again. This time I was careful to avoid putting it near my face as I walked back to my desk.

When I was eventually able to inspect the damage, I found that I had managed to break off a large chunk of graphite in my face.
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The child bride and I went to an event called "Joust" yesterday, which was held on the grounds of Berkeley Castle, where Edward II was famously killed with a red hot poker up the ass.

The people who tell you all sorts of interesting facts about the castle politely gloss over that fact, but it seemed to be common knowledge by all who were present: "Hey, this is where Edward II took a red hot poker up the ass."

It's one of those delightful bits of historical trivia that everyone seems to know and want to share, like the demise of Catherine the Great (although, I'm not sure if that last one is actually true).

Joust, as you can probably guess by the name, is a medieval festival. The child bride and I are suckers for those sorts of things. We tried very hard not to contrast it with Rachel's beloved Minnesota Renaissance Festival, but comparisons were inevitable.

I found Joust to be woefully lacking in bawdy humour and saucy lasses. Ren Fest (as it is known in über-dork circles) is a veritable cleavage-palooza, where a man walking across a field risks severe spinal damage from turning his head so much. At Joust, I saw only one woman wearing a leather bikini top.

Equally, I only heard one comment about the loosening of bowels. Joust is in desperate need of more ribaldry.

I think this comes as a side-effect of many of the Joust participants taking themselves a bit too seriously. The various shows put on had far too much chatter for my American tastes.

In one part, a group of "Cossack" horsemen ride around performing a series of tricks that were relatively impressive (although, I've seen the same tricks performed at every rodeo I've ever been to -- often by 12-year-old girls) but ruined by a bloke who stood in the middle with a microphone shouting things like: "Behold! The might Cossack riders! Watch now as Antonovich Mostokovichichivich risks his life to swoop down from his horse and pick his hat from the ground!"

As he did all this, weird Trans-Siberian Orchestra-type music was blaring in the background.

Similarly, the joust spent to much time yammering on about the actual history of joust tournaments and suffered from having participants who weren't particularly eager to take a dive. I don't blame them, if you told me to put on a shitload of metal and then take a header from a horse, I'd probably have to think on it for a bit. But, having seen it done at Ren Fest, and then not done at Joust meant I wasn't as impressed as some of the other people there.

Joust did have going for it the fact that it was staged on the grounds of an actual castle that was built in the 12th century. That's one element you'll never get at Ren Fest. And, a large group of historical re-enactors staged a 15th century battle outside the castle walls, replete with cannon fire and archers (the cannons fired only packing and the archers fired rubber-tipped arrows).

But something was lost there, too, because the re-enactors didn't seem particularly keen on falling down and playing dead. So, you had three waves of attack without a single person keeling over. Also, from a purely military strategy standpoint the attacks were horribly sloppy.

Sadly, our medieval-type costumes are presently somewhere between Minnesota and Cardiff, but I did have my rocking cool leather mug, which I filled with various ales (Abbot and Old Speckled Hen).

After four tankards of said liquid, I brazenly wandered over to the re-enactors' camp on the periphery of Joust. This resulted in my getting in a sword fight with one of Lord Talbot's men.

This sounds like a lie, but the child bride was thankfully smart enough to take pictures. I will put them up as soon as possible.
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There is an ice cream van that regularly cruises our area but never comes down our street that plays a sped-up music-box-like version of "Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head."

If I ever write a horror film, the killer will drive that van. The music is at once annoying and unnerving.

Throughout the film, people will just hear that music but never see the ice cream van. And when the music stops, another person turns up brutally murdered.
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Earlier I mentioned that I had $13 just sitting around. I finally took that to the bank the other day. It netted me £6.53. Again, thank you GW, for allowing the dollar to devalue.
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The child bride and I have been able to use the internet at our local library. Our library has that sort of charm that comes from being financially neglected for years. The sign outside says it is the "FAIRWATER RANCH LIBRARY" -- the letter "B" fell off some time ago. The computers are probably old enough to be legally married in Kentucky.

Rachel was able to find a few leads on jobs Friday and plans to make phone calls on Monday. We have both gone into denial about the finite nature of our bank accounts. If money comes from the cash machine, we assume it must exist. There will come a day when the cash point will stop giving us money and we do not presently have a plan of action for when this occurs.

In an interview the other day, I was asked if I felt that God was smiling on us. I sincerely hope that he is.
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Dydd Mawrth 1 Awst 2006
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. I used to be pretty good at that game -- the key is convincing yourself that you don't need air all that urgently -- but after a few rounds it would give me a driving headache, where my eyeballs felt like they wanted to push out of my skull.

Welsh does that to me. If I find myself for an extended period of time in a room full of people speaking Welsh, especially if a number of those people are naturally inclined to mumble (read: "raised in British society"), it can do my head in.

It's that thing of having to run your brain at full speed just to have a conversation about the weather. My Welsh still isn't anywhere near where I want it to be, and that becomes clear in casual conversations.

So, I'm exhausted after spending nigh three hours in the sacred headquarters of BBC Wales today.

I had another interview today, this time with Radio Cymru presenter Siân Thomas who -- and I'm not just saying this -- ranks up there as one of the more delightful people I've ever met. It turns out that she lives just down the street from me. She gave me her phone number and address and told me to pop in anytime.

When I get a mobile phone, I think I'll program her number in there, just to impress anyone who might be flipping through my list of contacts. Who would be impressed by my knowing Siân Thomas, I'm not sure -- little old ladies, most likely.

After the interview, I met up with Stephen Morgan, who is one of the people running BBC Learn Welsh. Because I am the Learn Welsh prodigal son, he bought me lunch in the BBC commissary (interesting fact about the BBC commissary: it lists the number of Weight Watchers points for each item of food). But this was not before he introduced me to the newsroom.

As a result of said visit, some BBC outlet (I have forgotten which -- I will just show up and smile) is going to interview me at Eisteddfod. Possibly twice.

I am going to be at the Learn Welsh stand at Eisteddfod on 12 August. My name is even mentioned in the promotional material that presenters are supposed to read out. You can meet Welsh-language soap opera stars, unconditionally beloved Welshy Garry Owen (I've spoken to him on the phone twice, he is impossible not to like), and me. One of these things is not like the other.

It's as if it were: "Meet the cast of 'Days of Our Lives,' newsman Tom Brokaw, and a Mexican kid who can recite the whole of 'King Lear' in under 15 minutes."

But there we are. That's my life now. And apparently that makes my opinion valid in matters of Learn Welsh's future endeavours. I got to spend about an hour learning the crew's extensive plans for their next learning tool.

I will tell you that it's really cool, and the goal of it, apparently, is to take you along the same sort of path that I took -- from know-nothing to Class H celebrity. OK, maybe not that path. But they hope to help people with no Welsh move on to fluency. You can almost certainly expect me to hype it once it comes to fruition.

Stephen also took me on a sort of wandering tour of the BBC complex. I got to step onto the set of "Pobl y Cwm," the Welsh-language soap opera. Considering how long the programme has been running, I think I felt a bit of what you would feel if you got to set foot in the Queen Vic (admit it, even if you think the absolute worst of "EastEnders," you would feel a sense of reverence in the Queen Vic).

On a side note, one of my goals in life is to set foot in the Queen Vic.

When I mentioned "Catchphrase," the learner's series that I used to start learning Welsh, Stephen insisted on dragging me up to meet former Wales national rugby team member Nigel Walker, who was the star of that programme and is now Head of Sport (your guess is as good as mine on what that entails) at BBC Wales. And on and on it went like this.

Having worked in media, I am sure that there are mentally set boundaries of where people in certain departments can and cannot go ("Oh, I'm in radio, so I really have no business wandering into the orchestra's recording studio" -- that sort of thing. And yes, BBC Wales has an orchestra. I walked into their studio as they were rehearsing), but refreshingly, Stephen was happy to break these boundaries. We went everywhere.

But as I say, at the end of it, my skull hurt from the experience of meeting dozens of new people, trying to take in everything and trying to hold down running conversation in Welsh. My brain had been pulling from every available resource and that meant using up reserves stored in my ego and emotional core. As I walked home I felt stupid and had this feeling that I am just a big joke, and very quickly -- perhaps next week at Eisteddfod -- people are going to key in on this fact and hate me for wasting their time.

I got home, had a cup of tea and three Fox's Golden Crunch Creams biscuits (which I have discovered to be among the most delicious foodstuffs ever), and lay on the floor and thought about what will happen if I fuck this all up. Not only do I have the pressure of knowing that I have hitherto failed to complete a university degree, I also get the added stress of knowing that my failure could quite possibly be reported.

The Sunday Mirror (which strangely back in February ran a blurb on my coming to Cardiff University next to a blurb about Robbie Williams announcing a concert tour) might run the headline: "Welsh, Maybe Not" or "Ameri-Can't Cut It In Wales Uni"

I feel a bit better now, but my skull is still pounding. In a few hours we are going over to a friend's house to watch the interview that I did with "Wedi 7." The fun never stops.

My question now is this: How can I use all this to get myself a walk-on gig on "Pobl y Cwm?" I want to be the Winston of "Pobl y Cwm" (Winston is the token black guy who runs a stall in Albert Square).

Dydd Iau 3 Awst 2006
The day is winding down, which means the child bride is in a pissy mood. Rachel has yet to figure out how to fill her time in Cymru, so when there are no shops to go to or really old things to tour, she gets in a foul mood whilst I try to sneak into the study and write. I am fine with not having anything to do because I have my head.

Many years ago, someone once said of me that I would make a horrible hostage because I could keep myself perfectly busy if locked in an empty room. I would have nonstop conversations with myself and come up with a series of hilarious inside jokes with myself. I would probably also emerge with a thick Scottish accent.

When I drove West in 1998, it meant spending four days alone in my truck and to amuse myself I maintained a running commentary of everything in my ridiculous Scottish accent. It then took me a week to stop doing it when I returned to society.

I have tried to encourage the child bride to develop an interest in Britain's myriad quality radio offerings, but she doesn't seem to be keen. I sometimes find it frustrating to have married a woman who shares so little of my interest in music and radio, but it's probably for the best.

If we were both stupid for music, we might sit around and have the sort of head-up-our-asses conversations that would put us at risk of imploding from the tediousness of it all. Like when I read music magazines. Multi-page articles about the cheeky brilliance of Broken Social Scene make me want to drive a pen into my eye.
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Rachel and I went to Caerphilly Castle today, which is really cool in the sense that you can sit there and think, even by modern standards, "Hey, this would be a son of a bitch to attack."

But, as it happens, not all that many people felt like attacking it. It was sieged only once, as far as I could figure out from all the informative plaques at the castle. There's a fact that was probably written out of any tourism promotional material: "Caerphilly: Nobody really feels like fighting for it."

Rachel was so taken with the castle that she signed us up to be members of Cadw, the Welsh heritage organisation that helps to look after the myriad castles, abbeys, Celtic burial chambers, Roman ruins and historically important industrial sites of Wales. We can now go to loads and loads of really old things for free.

It's interesting to us, even if not to anyone else in Wales. As the child bride and I were sitting there being all taken with the fact that we were standing in a structure that was built before anyone knew my home country even existed, a local youth found the wall was ideal for kicking his soccer ball against.

He just kept drilling the ball against the wall and doing that thing of offering running colour commentary: "Yet another beautiful kick to goal!"

Amusingly, his commentary involved his never scoring. Each time the ball would come back to him, he would say something like: "What an impossible save! But here comes another attack."

There was something amusing about the fact that he never scores in his fantasy world.

And I realise that a kid with a soccer ball shouldn't be much of a threat to a building that was designed to withstand armies, but it seemed somewhat disrespectful. We found ourselves stating the obvious in realising that kids who grow up in a country where 800-year-old buildings are set next to the Greggs just aren't all that impressed by them.

In fairness, I'm not sure that many American kids would be impressed, either. I, on the other hand, took a shitload of pictures and will put them up as soon as I can.
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If everything goes as it is supposed to, we will have internet tomorrow. Apparently some sort of bit of equipment is supposed to arrive in the post and then all I have to do is make it work and, viola*, I will be back online.

Huzzah.

I've missed you guys.

*Yes, I misspelled it on purpose.
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Once I get internet, I will try to link to the interview I did with "Wedi 7." It aired Tuesday and is embarrassing on all sorts of levels.

"Wedi 7" is a sort of human interest programme, like a small market morning newscast without the hindrance of news, sport or weather. Inexplicably, on Tuesday, they did a five-minute piece on the fact that the film "Miami Vice" is out, and doesn't everybody think the 80s were great?

From this, they segued into the story about me. It starts out with me riding my bike with an American flag faded in and generic "Dukes of Hazzard"-stylee country music playing.

When I saw that, I hit myself in the forehead with the hope of damaging my frontal lobe enough to forget the experience. Sadly, it is all still pretty clear in my head. I need to kill the bad thoughts with Guinness.
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Actually, I've yet to have pint of Guinness since arriving here. There are too many beers that I've never heard of to go around drinking the familiar. Disappointingly, there are no proper off-licences ("liquor stores," for those of you playing along at home) within walking distance, but the Tesco offers two full aisles of beery goodness.
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Cream of Cornish ice cream is delicious.
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The child bride has a job interview on Wednesday, 16 August, which means that we need to push up our plans to leave the country and come back in order to validate our visas. She has to be able to prove that she is legal to work in the country.

We will probably spend Monday through Wednesday of this coming week in Wexford or thereabouts as a result. Lucy, I will e-mail you as soon as possible to see when you are available to grace us with your presence.

In retrospect, we probably should have gone this week.
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The other day I was flipping through a tourist guide for Britain. As I always do with these sorts of guides, I checked the entry for my beloved Portsmouth. Fodor's said: "there is no compelling reason to stay overnight."

I love that.

3 comments:

Lucky said...

Your bit about being a hostage and emerging from the room with a Scottish accent had me laughing out loud.

Good luck with everything. I'm horribly, horribly jealous. :D

Huw said...

Just think how much worse it would have been had you gone with Bulldog. They are poo you know.

Isobel said...

Fox's Crunch Creams are the best biscuits in the whole world: FACT.