Thursday, August 31, 2006

Getting lost in my arse a bit

I am really enjoying my little Penhill and Sneaveweedle series that I've started building through Flickr Fiction. I only wish I were getting money for it.

Mick Foley says money only complicates things, but it's a complication I'd like to deal with. If anyone wants to find a way to sell this stuff, I hereby offer you a 40-percent cut of the profit.

Anyway, I am so stupid over this that I have built a side blog to keep a running catalogue of the stories. In the back of my head, I think I'd like to eventually come up with something that is book length.

That's nothing special -- people come up with book-length shite every November (Uhm, no offence to anyone who has actually completed a NaNoWriMo novel). What makes this cool and unique is the fact that I am trying to make it fit to the random Flickr Fiction pictures (some attempts fit better than others) and people's suggestions.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What ho

  • As a former member of the Global Media Conspiracy - Television Division, I find that I inherently arrive at things a bit late.
    If you watch U.S. local market television news, you'll note that they are doing stories about things you knew about five years ago: "Tonight on News 11: Viruses placed on your computer through websites you use every day could be hurting performance and telling thieves Every Detail Of Your Life!"
    As a result of my time in GMC-TD, failure to cotton to trends has made its way into my daily life. I find that I will suddenly be keen on a clothing style just as everyone else is about ready to let it go. I catch onto bands only after they been around for several years. And I am even worse in literature. To this end, I have only just discovered P.G. Wodehouse.
    I have that excitement of having found an author that I really like, but feel really stupid for saying anything, since I'm about a century late to the party. At least I have finally arrived at Wodehouse, I suppose. Thanks to Jenny and Chris for that -- they had a Wodehouse book in the room that Rachel and I stayed in last week. If you were to stay in our spare room (which is actually to small to stay in), you would only find the child bride's tawdry romances and two Welsh-language novels that are unreadable even if you understand the language.

  • I mentioned today to Anthony (point) that I am not drinking enough beer. What the hell is the point of being a washed-up 30-year-old return student if I still go around acting like I'm fully employed and trying to be an upstanding member of society? With only one month to go before classes start, I think I need to work on this aspect of life. I'm sure the child bride would reject this notion.

  • If you are like me, spending several hours a day sitting in front of a computer, here's a bit of hard-earned advice: That ultra cheap chair at IKEA may seem like a good idea, but it's not. The chair is uncomfortable and wiggles a lot.
    On a related note, you seem to you use your whole body when you type. It's very weird when you consider that you are effectively a one-finger typist.

  • What the hell is wrong with me that Bowling For Soup's "Ohio" makes me feel so heartsick? I am a sap. And not even an eloquent sap.
  • Sunday, August 27, 2006

    The First Rule of Being a Travel Assistant

    "Why, that's nine hours of travelling, boy!" exclaimed Sir Percival Artemus Llewellyn Penhill III, KBE, PhD. "Haven't you ever heard of a plane?!"

    "Oh moan," Sneaveweedle whined, feeling himself shrink.

    He thought he had thought of everything. A few minutes after being hired on as Penhill's travel assistant, Sneaveweedle had gone straight to the Grivelsby high street to purchase anything and everything he thought a travel assistant might need. And since he still wasn't sure what exactly a travel assistant did, he purchased quite a lot.

    First on his list were all 470 Ordinance Survey maps. Not surprisingly, the village of Grivelsby's solitary bookshop wasn't ready to meet such a demand; but Jessica-Rose McDaniels, the shop's owner, decided it was in her best interest to get a hold of the maps when Sneaveweedle began listing his 1,410 reasons -- three for each map -- for needing them.

    Sneaveweedle was in the midst of a story about his great-great-great-aunt Maureen and the time she lost a toe to highwaymen in Glossop (which is located on Ordinance Survey map No. 1) when Jessica-Rose said she would gladly order all the maps if he promised to leave. She gently pushed him out of the shop and told him not to call for at least two weeks, as it would take that long for the maps to arrive. As soon as she was back behind the counter, the phone started ringing and she ripped it from the wall.

    Concerned by the fact that his 6-year-old Nokia seemed be on the blink -- the majority of the numbers he tried to dial in Grivelsby just rang and rang -- Sneaveweedle's next purchase was a new mobile phone.

    Most phone salesmen would stab a family member to hear a customer utter the words, "I want the best mobile phone available," but Sneaveweedle's insufferable personality had become urban legend within the village's customer service community. Grivelsby Mobile Solutions sales associate Nathan Jenkins had heard tales of Sneaveweedle and went to bed each night thankful of never having had to deal with him, and fearful that one day he would.

    When he actually heard the voice like a squeaking gate that everyone had talked about, and saw the matted hair and green windcheater, Jenkins crumbled in fear. Despite all he had been taught, he had no choice but to provide the most efficient and straightforward service in the history of mobile phone sales.

    Sneaveweedle signed up for myriad travel-related text alerts and programmed the numbers of several travel offices into his new phone. He collected brochures and timetables of all sort and began committing them to memory. He bought four different types of rucksack, several pairs of sturdy walking shoes, the equivalent of seven gallons of sunscreen, an assortment of bum bags, and eight multi-pocketed reporter-style vests. He bought so much travel-related stuff that it filled an entire room of his home.

    He then went about planning his and Penhill's trip to western Ireland. He pored over the timetables and very carefully plotted out the route and came up with multiple contingency plans in case there were delays. He made all the necessary reservations and checked at least twice daily that those reservations were confirmed. He had even printed up a full-colour multi-page itinerary.

    What he had not done, however, was consider the possibility that Penhill wouldn't want to travel by train and ferry.

    "That same amount of time on a plane and we could be in Brunei, Sneaveweedle!" Penhill boomed, waving the itinerary in the air. The two were in his office at the internationally revered Grivelsby University.

    "Mmmm," Sneaveweedle moaned, convinced he was about to lose his job. "I guess you were wrong to hire me."

    "What?!" Penhill blustered, steadying himself on his massive oak desk. "Pardon? What did you say?"

    "Mmmwhoa... I said, I guess you were wrong to hire me," Sneaveweedle stammered.

    "Sneaveweedle, I am almost never wrong!" the professor shouted, pointing a bony finger at his assistant. "As memory serves me, which it always does impeccably, I have told you this before. I have been wrong only once in life."

    Penhill took a deep breath and raised one of his bushy eyebrows before continuing on in his standard aristocratic boom.

    "As it stands," he said, "I quite fancy a journey by train. What with all this rum business in the airlines as of late, a train will be a welcome respite. And it will be a perfect opportunity for a young man such as you to see more of this great country of ours. My only regret is that so much of our journey will be spent in Wales."

    "Oh, I've seen plenty of the United Kingdom. I quite enjoy trains. Riding trains is one of my hobbies -- they are a great place to find people to talk to," Sneaveweedle said. "You meet the most interesting people. Summer is the best, when you can find lots of American tourists. They always just smile and nod and will listen to whatever you have to say. Often I will just get on the train and go wherever it takes me, which, admittedly, is always Winchester because all trains from Grivelsby go there but... OW!!"

    Sneaveweedle brought his hands up to a sudden pain in his skull, covering his head as if he were in one of those 1950s films that tell you what to do in case of a nuclear attack.

    "Do you know what this is?" Penhill asked, waving a large knotted stick.

    "Hngh? No," Sneaveweedle moaned, peeking out from underneath his arms. "Did you just hit me with it?"

    "It's a shillelagh, Sneaveweedle, known commonly as an Irish fighting stick. And, yes, I did hit you with it," Penhill said. "I say, in every working relationship there must be certain rules. Our first rule will be this: when it is time for you to stop talking, I will hit you with the shillelagh. Understood?"

    "Oh, moan. I understand, but wouldn't it be easier to just... OOOF!"

    "You see? It's time for you to stop talking," Penhill said. "Now, according to your itinerary we must leave for Fishguard Harbour at 7 a.m. tomorrow. I shall meet you in the village cafe for breakfast at six."

    Sneaveweedle, keeping an eye on the shillelagh, simply nodded.

    "Oh, and Sneaveweedle, let's be perfectly clear in that we are travelling via train and ferry not because you had a good idea, but because I am forgiving."

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

    The above is a piece of Flickr Fiction, based on this photo by user Pablo Gavilan.
    Also taking part in this week's Flickr Fiction are: Elisa, Isobel, Sarah, and Tadmack
    The above piece is also the second episode in the story of Penhill and Sneaveweedle. The first episode can be found here.
    I would love to hear any comments about what you might have liked or disliked, or what you think should happen next.

    Chris, Jenny, and instructions for when I die

    As tedious as the 11 hours on trains, buses and boats was, these past few days were made worthwhile not just by the fact that Rachel and I finally got our passports stamped, but also by our getting to spend a short time with Jenny and Chris.

    Chris and Jenny are the couple from the old country who took me in several months ago when I was passing through London.

    As always, they showed far too much kindness and instantly offered Rachel and me a place to stay when I first mentioned our coming to town.

    Ice cream at promsWe chose this weekend in particular because it afforded us the opportunity to see the Minnesota Orchestra perform at Royal Albert Hall.

    Great googly moogly is RAH cool. Despite having been to London several times before, I had never seen RAH until Thursday night. Much of this has to do with it not being a pub, I suppose. But I'd like to think that my boneheaded, uncultured 20-year-old self* would have been impressed, anyway. When you sit down at RAH, something about the place permeates through you and lets you know you are in one of the greatest performance centers on the planet.

    Our seats reminded me of a quote from Bob Uecker: "Turn these seats around, we'd be in the front row." But the tickets were only £7 each and you don't really need to see an orchestra to appreciate it.

    Proms, for those of you playing along at home, is a summer tradition at RAH where lowly commoner scum are encouraged to expose themselves to a bit of culture. They are so encouraged through cheap ticket prices, the cheapest being £5 for the people willing to "prom," or stand, throughout the performance. Proms at RAH has absolutely no connection whatsoever to the American definition of "prom," a fact that took me a really long time to get my head around. More's the pity, I say. A bunch of drunken teenagers in ridiculously expensive dresses and rented tuxes would add to the party atmosphere, I think.

    But there is still a lighter mood than you would expect from such surroundings. Seasoned "prommers" will yell various things at each other and at the performers. When I was there, a bloke shouted in Welsh at the pianist. I was going to yell back, but felt the child bride with her hand on my knee mentally instructing me not to.

    We had a good time and I was kicking myself for not having gone to a proms concert sooner, but I think I still enjoyed more the opportunity to hang out with Jenny and Chris.

    I learned a fascinating new fact about Jenny: she can play reels and other such traditional Scottish music on the fiddle. Beyond that, she: 1) has a Scottish accent; 2) can make things out of silver; 3) can speak a bit of Scottish Gaelic.

    What you have there, boys and girls, is a woman who could make a hell of a lot of money in the United States. I pointed out that she could walk into a place like Mackenzie, or any other British/Scottish/Irish theme pub or folk/heritage festival with her fiddle and instantly be loved by one and all. Especially if she wore a lot of tartan.

    "Ach, here's a wee tune from the old country," she could say, and then get to fiddlin'. She'd make ridiculous money and all her drinks would be free. Imagine how great it would be. And I would walk around like the King of America for knowing her.

    Last requestSomehow, this all led to my explaining what I want to happen at my funeral. I want a procession of actors hired to portray various British Isles stereotypes.

    I have mentioned this once before (last bullet-point) -- when I die, I want an Irish stereotype to sing "Danny Boy" while several others weep.

    I envision four Irishmen. All will be ruddy-cheeked and stout fellows with big round bellies and bushy sideburns. They will wear tweed jackets and Aran sweaters and flat caps; each will have a flask visible in their jacket breast pocket.

    While one of them belts out an emotional, baritone "Danny Boy," the others will slowly lose it as the song goes on. I want at least one of them to say things like, "Jesus, Joseph an' Mary! It's just not fair!"

    Jenny later sketched out her vision of the scene, I really like her suggestion that one of the men say: "Top o' the afterlife to ya'!"

    She also rather brilliantly conceptualized my coffin with a large Guinness advert on it, adorned with leeks. I think everyone should be given a leek to throw at my coffin.

    I am still working on exactly what Welsh stereotypes I would want at the funeral, but I know I want a group of old ladies -- possibly in traditional Welsh garb -- complaining about the food at the wake.

    Also at the wake would be a Mary Poppins-style cockney pearly king and queen. One of them would reminisce on some key element in my life, and the other would then lead into a catchy, cockney-rhyming-slang-fuelled ditty about said event:
    "Ah, me old China, remember that story of when Chris totaled his father's car at age 16?"
    "I sure do, my turtle dove. I know a song about that one."
    "I think I know how it goes..."
    And away they'd go and it'd be a good ol' fashioned knees up.

    As everyone is filing out of the church or pub or bingo hall or wherever, I want a lone Scotsman playing a bagpipe on the roof. Or, if Jenny's still alive, she can play her fiddle and sell some silver items. Ideally the piper, or Jenny, would work the riff from AC/DC's "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution" into whatever they were playing.

    *Because, you know, there is such a chasm of sophistication between my boneheaded, uncultured 20-year-old self and my boneheaded, uncultured 30-year-old self.

    Saturday, August 26, 2006

    Trains, buses, boats and legal

    The trip to Dover was a success -- the child bride and I are no longer filthy foreign scum who are here illegally to leech off the goodwill of the British people.

    We are still filthy foreign scum who are here to leech off the goodwill of the British people, but we are now here legally.

    Coming homeFor those of you entering the theatre a bit late, while you find your seats I will fill you in on the fact that Rachel and I had spent several hundred dollars getting a piece of paper glued into our passports, but the visa wasn't actually valid. It was missing an all-important stamp from an immigration official.

    Our visas were issued to run from 1 August 2006 to 31 October 2009. In the face of that time window, three weeks aren't (or should I say "isn't," since I'm referring to it in the singular?) really all that much. We could have stayed in the United States until the visa actually started and we would have saved a load of time and frustration. But I was eager and impatient to move to Britain and out of my parents' house and -- as Dr. Sara Handy likes to point out -- I don't think. So, we got here on 12 July.

    That meant that we were here on a general tourist visa; issued automatically to any American with a passport. Tourist status is good for six months and does not allow me (or, more importantly, the child bride) to work, so as soon as 1 August rolled around, I was keen to change my status and make use of my proper student visa.

    When I got my visa in Chicago a few months ago, I mentioned this little visa-switching plan to the woman who had issued the document and she said it would be no problem. All I had to do, she explained, was leave the country and come back.

    White Cliffs"Day-trip to France on the ferry, that sort of thing," she said.

    Just as I would have saved myself a load of trouble if I had simply waited until 1 August, I would have saved myself half my trouble if I had followed the woman's suggestion to the letter. Instead, because I like Ireland more than France (Je suis désolé, France), I went to Rosslare. That turned out poorly; apparently no one has alerted British immigration to the fact that Ireland is a different country. So, no stamp was issued.

    And that brings us to Friday, when the child bride and I set out from London to the coastal town of Dover. Famous for its white cliffs, Dover is also home to an enormous and bustling ferry port that sees more than 60,000 travellers a day. It took just shy of two hours to get there by train.

    After a short bus ride from the train station to the ferry port, we handed over £12 and were soon on a shuttle to the ferry. Very strangely, we went through French immigration control whilst still on English soil, which I thought sort of defeated the point of then getting on a boat and spending 1.5 hours sailing to actual France.

    England"That's the way governments work, love," explained the British immigration officer who was very strangely to be found on French soil. "Whatever's the most difficult; that's the way we do it."

    As soon as we had gotten off the ferry and been deposited in the Calais terminal, Rachel and I were on our way back onto the same ferry. In total, we probably spent 15 minutes on French soil. Most of that time was spent talking to the very friendly British immigration lady who was fascinated with my learning Welsh and wanted to tell me all about Ivor the Engine.

    I have never seen the programme, so I can't speak to the accuracy of her description of the show, but I have to say that Donal's account of the show a few months ago* was more interesting.

    Anyway, she put a stamp on the piece of paper in our passports, thus giving us legal status in the UK for the next three years. The child bride and I are legal. It was all sort of anticlimactic.

    Then we had to spend another four hours travelling to London, where we ate dinner with Chris, who had been drinking for three hours but was still more lucid than I am on my best days.

    *Blimey, that was a while ago. I need to get to Dublin.

    Wednesday, August 23, 2006

    I see London, I see France

  • OK, so the child bride and I are set to make our second attempt at getting our passports stamped properly. For those of you just tuning in, Rachel and I have discovered that, in a country where politicians seem to argue nonstop about immigration-related issues, it is surprisingly difficult to find someone who can perform the oh-so-difficult task of putting a stamp in a passport.
    This time we're going to Glorious Calais! Originally, I wanted to go somewhere a little more interesting, like Paris, but the train to Paris would be £249 for the child bride and me. A train to Dover and then ferry to Calais is £35. Since Rachel still hasn't found work, we're going cheap.
    But this trip won't be all suck. As I alluded to last night, we'll be staying at the stately home of Jenny and Chris, the same lovely people who provided such a warm welcome for me back in October (dude, I miss my long hair and rockin' sideburns).
    And before experiencing all that Calais has to offer, we'll be promming to see the Minnesota Orchestra perform. The concert will broadcast live on Radio 3 -- I wonder if I would be kicked out of the country if I were to yell out my friends' names during the quiet bits: "Big up Dan and Anthony!!!" (That's one point each, guys)
    If everything works out as it should, we'll be back in Cardiff -- legally -- by Saturday evening.

  • There is a small shop in Llandaff* that sells cards and other sorts of things you might need for someone's birthday, where Rachel and I went today to get a card for a friend. I noticed on the way home that the bag had written on it: "LONDON - PARIS - NEW YORK - LLANDAFF"
    Really? Am I really supposed to buy that?
    Shops love to do that sort of thing and I always wonder if they're telling the truth. Perhaps they are like my former benevolent employer in that they maintain a token office in those areas just so they can make they claim.

  • Can someone please explain the point of having a home security alarm if it's not connected to anything? For about three hours today the alarm on the house just behind ours was going off. And nothing happened. No police or security companies showed up as they would in the United States, it just sat there going off until the residents got home from work.

    *The English way to spell it is Llandaff (two letters "F"); the Welsh way to spell it is Llandaf (only one "F"). How does this make sense?
  • Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    Honey, 'Glove Zoom'

    My latest column is out. Please help me continue my (what's the opposite of "meteoric?") rise to fame by forwarding it to all your friends, neighbours and immigration officials.

    Skiving

  • Them Magnum bars sure is delicious, ain't they?

  • I spent the day working on my book again. I am happy to report that I did not take a shower until late afternoon.

  • Both of the jobs Rachel applied for were bust. The job in Swansea called her last night; the job in Cardiff called her today. Both were very pleasant, but in the end said no. I like the fact that would-be employers here will call and tell you why you didn't get the job and then offer suggestions on how to improve for your next interview. In the U.S., they just never call.
    That's of little consolation to the child bride, however. She's been pretty heartbroken over it and I haven't been able to do much but sort of stand around.

  • Eventually, she decided to spend some time looking for jobs on the internet and I went on a walk. I found a path that runs behind a few homes, under a road, and then suddenly you are out in farm country and there are sheep and cows and horses. That's something we don't have in Minnesota. When the weather improves a bit (it's supposed to rain the rest of this week), I'll probably pack a lunch and see how far I can go on the path. Apparently it connects to the 70-mile Millennium Heritage Trail. So, when the child bride and I run out of money, that's where you'll find us. We'll just keep wandering the Vale of Glamorgan and become the stuff of legend, like the big cats people are always claiming to see: "Somewhere in these woods, son, there are Americans. Stay close."

  • But since we have a little time on our hands, Rachel and I are going to again attempt to leave the country and return legally. We figured we'd loop it in with a trip to London, planned all of a sudden when I discovered that the Minnesota Orchestra is playing at proms on Thursday. I am still putting things together, but I may find myself relying on the incredible hospitality of Chris and Jenny. I was talking to them tonight about my plans and I had trouble saying yes to their offer of accommodation, even though I really wanted to.
    It's that thing of feeling bad for not being able to offer something that's really of equal value. Here's what I have to offer: a nice home in a quiet, comfortable area of Cardiff; homecooked meals; the most comfortable place to sleep I can provide (probably an air mattress, admittedly); eagerness to offer helpful information on any activities in the whole of South Wales; endless country hiking just outside the door (fields of sheep in a five-minute walk!); and they are welcome to stay for as long as they like. But let's be honest, are they really going to come to Cardiff? And even if they do, how many times?
    If I hit up Jenny and Chris for a place to sleep this week (as I almost certainly will), the hospitality score will stand as this: Scottish 2 - 0 Yankee Scum. And with little chance of the child bride and I ever taking the lead.
  • Monday, August 21, 2006

    Nice boat

  • I spent the day working on my novel -- the novel I've been working on for years. I just keep working on it and working on it. It's like building a really nice boat in the desert. My ego insists that the book is actually worth something, so I keep on building that ship.

  • The child bride spent the day waiting to hear the results of the two job interviews she had last week. Both had promised to call her back "early" this week, but it's hard to say what the hell that means.
    By the end of the day she was in a pretty low mood. The process of applying for jobs and waiting to hear back on them can be emotionally trying. I think just the slightest possibility that I could somehow escape ever having to go through that again is part of what keeps me banging my head against the wall with my book.

  • For those of you playing along at home, I'll explain what everyone's talking about with this TV licensing stuff. Here in the UK, you have to purchase a license to watch television. A license costs £131.50 ($248.66 or €193.26) a year. That money goes toward funding the British Broadcasting Corp.
    I tend to think it's worth the money, but a lot of Britons really don't like paying a TV license. They point out that the BBC also receives money from the government and then they bring up EastEnders, a mindless soap opera that is one of the most popular programmes in the UK (and it is the No. 1 watched programme Wales). My taxes and £131.50 a year are too much to pay for a load of people screaming at each other in Cockney accents, goes the argument.
    Fair enough. And I don't think ChuckleVision helps things any. But, the BBC runs at least eight television channels, upward of 57 radio stations, countless websites, and produces one of the most reliable news products in the world. That news product can and does get it wrong from time to time, but it's still far better than anything I worked with in my journalism career.
    Beyond that is the fact that so much of the BBC product is shipped out all over the world, most identifiably by the World Service. This exportation of news, information and entertainment translates to influence. Much of the world's understanding of the rest of the world is shaped by Britain. It's like a larger, more trustworthy, less evil version of TV Martí.
    Thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of media and world influence for 36p a day.
    It's a deal.
    It's also the law.
    People in vans drive around using crazy spy techniques ("Some aspects of the equipment have been developed in such secrecy that engineers working on specific detection methods work in isolation -- so not even they know how the other detection methods work," according to the TV licensing website) to catch people watching TV without a license. Those caught face fines of £1,000 ($1,891.78 or €1,472.26).
  • Sunday, August 20, 2006

    Missing out on teenage props

  • This is an actual conversation I had today while walking into the shop to buy beer.
    TEENAGE GIRL WHO HAD BEEN HIDING ROUND THE CORNER: "Would you go into the shop for me, please?"
    ME: "No."
    TGWHBHRTC: "Why?"
    ME: "Because."
    TGWHBHRTC: "Because why?"
    ME: "Because a lot of reasons, really. I can think of legal, sociological and philosophical reasons not to buy booze for you. Do you really want a lecture?"
    TGWHBHRTC: (After a long pause) "No."

  • The child bride and I Saturday took a pleasant bus ride up to Talbot Green. It's a little village about 7 miles north of where we live that would almost certainly have gone completely unnoticed were it not for the fact that there's a Borders book shop there. There is a Waterstones in Cardiff's city centre, which would have been easier and cheaper to get to (the bus to Talbot Green cost us £8.60), but it doesn't have a romance section. No romance section means no visits from the child bride -- she reads at least one romance a week. They are her guilty pleasure, I suppose. Whereas some people indulge in alcohol or cigarettes or silly languages, she is goofy for poorly written and predictable narrative*.
    Bookstores, I have found, depress me -- especially large ones. I found myself wandering past shelf after shelf after shelf of authors I have never heard of and two things always come to mind:
    1) I am really not all that bright, that there are so many authors I've never heard of and so many books I haven't read.
    2) It seems unlikely that I will ever see a book written by me on one of those shelves. There are just so many authors, so many books; the whole thing seems saturated and I can't see how I'll ever be able to get myself in the mix. And if I ever do, I can't see how I'll ever accomplish anything with it.
    Nonetheless, I am back at work, finally, on the sixth version of the novel I've been working on for several years. Even though I have lost faith in its ever being published, there is this part of me that feels the need to make it as good as possible.

  • At the Borders, I bought "Captain Alatriste," by Aruro Pérez-Reverte. Yeah, i had never heard of him, either. I bought the book because it has a Spanish bloke on the cover looking all swashbuckling. Yes, I am the sort of person who judges books on cover art; yes, I know this makes me a clod.
    Anyway, I burned through the book, finishing it early Sunday evening. When I finished reading it, I thought: "Gee, I'll bet that would make an OK film." And apparently I'm not the only one -- the film is set to be released later this year.

  • Having been here for only a month, I have only been able to develop two broad generalizations about the Welsh, but here they are:
    1) In general, women here have larger breasts. If you are a breast man, Cymru is the place to be.
    2) In general, teenagers and young people who speak Welsh are better behaved than their English-only speaking counterparts.

  • On Friday I suddenly realised that the NFL pre-season is under way. I got a real sense of hiraeth (homesickness) over the fact that I am not back in Minnesota to witness what will likely be one of the shittiest Vikings seasons in recent memory. Old and busted Brad Johnson is our starter, and the second-stringer looked so crappy in Saturday's game against the Steelers that people are pinning their hopes on the third-string. Oodashitty!
    I really wish I could be there with Eric and Gronert and Bryce to watch the games and revel in the overwhelming sucktitude. No, really, I actually do. It's going to be weird not following the NFL season.
    I will try to develop interest in Premiership (Portsmouth is ranked No. 3 in the league**, baby!), but it just won't be the same. For one thing, I don't have a TV, so I can't watch any of the matches.

    *Suddenly the fact that she thinks I'm a good writer doesn't mean quite as much.

    **After only one match
  • Friday, August 18, 2006

    Sneaveweedle

    "You're fine."

    "Hngh? I'm fine?" whined the patient; disappointed and disbelieving.

    "Yes, fine," Dr. Kumas sighed. "Just as you were last month. And the month before last."

    Dr. Kumas took in a deep breath to stop himself from insulting his patient, a 24-year-old man who could quite easily pass for 16. The man certainly didn't look like an adult. He was small and thin, 5-foot-7 and weighing only 9.5 stone. His face was pimpled and his hair matted and greasy, like that of a boy who has yet to figure out how to groom himself properly.

    "Oh, moan. I don't feel fine," his patient complained. "Surely there's something wrong?"

    "You are pale and underweight," Dr. Kumas said, "but those things could be remedied by getting outside and eating properly."

    "Hmmm. But surely it's more than that." the patient whinged. "Perhaps if you ran some more tests? Maybe a rectal examination. I'd be more than happy to provide blood or urine samples. Would you like me to swallow some barium?"

    "No. If you are desperate to be ill, Mr. Sneaveweedle, I suggest you seek out a private doctor. I am sure that he or she can find something wrong with you and charge ridiculous rates to cure it. As far as I and the National Health Service are concerned, however, you are fine."

    Dr. Kumas clicked closed his ballpoint pen to emphasize the finality of the visit and started to walk from the room. Just before opening the door, he spun on his heel, closed in on Sneaveweedle and jabbed the ballpoint into his sternum.

    "Also," he said, "it was not necessary for you to be unclothed for this examination. If you return again next month, as I have no doubt you will, do not disrobe. Understand me?"

    "Hmmm, yes," sighed Sneaveweedle.

    "Now, put your clothes on and go for a walk. Good day," Dr. Kumas said, slamming the door shut.

    Sneaveweedle let all the air out of his lungs with a long sigh. Dr. Kumas was clearly losing patience with him.

    His eyes moved up to the mirror across from him; he looked at himself and sighed again, watching the little ridges of his sloped spine move as he took the breath. He knew there was nothing wrong with him. He desperately wanted there to be, but he had been cursed with good genes. He hadn't had an actual cold since he was 11 years old; not even a sniffle in at least five months.

    Regardless, for the past three years he had visited Dr. Kumas on the 4th of every month, or the closest Monday, if the 4th were on the weekend. He did this not because he was ill, but because he was lonely.

    In addition to good genes, Sneaveweedle had been cursed with a number of other things that most people spend their lives praying for. Most obvious among these things was wealth; Sneaveweedle was easily the richest man in the county. His affluence came from birth; he had never worked a day in his life. He was relatively intelligent, holding a master's degree in biochemistry.

    What he lacked, however, were self-confidence, ambition and personality -- qualities that any number of U.S. presidents have shown to be far more valuable than station or intellect.

    In lack of personality Sneaveweedle suffered greatly. And what little he did have tended to annoy people. He was a pest. In the time that it takes to make tea, he would ask at least four times whether it was ready. He wasn't trying to be a pest, it just came naturally to him. And it might have been forgiven were it not for his accent.

    Sneaveweedle spoke in a whining, ridiculously upper-class English accent. He spoke like a caricature of a Prince Charles who had just been soaked in urine. People often thought that he was kidding when they first met him, but caught on quickly that he was incapable of being so witty. After that, they did their best to avoid him.

    Even the shallowest of gold-digging women had passed him by. Of course, he didn't exactly flaunt his wealth. His clothes were drab and fashionless. His haircuts cost £7.70 with tip included. His mobile phone was a 6-year-old Nokia that didn't accept text. He owned car -- a 1.3-litre Ford Ka, but usually chose public transportation when going anywhere. And despite Dr. Kumas' pleadings, he was strictly NHS.

    The absence of any job or obligations or friends or ailments meant that he never felt the need to impress anyone, he never needed to be at any particular place at any particular time, and he never needed urgent medical care. He was cursed by comfort and found it terribly, terribly lonely.

    This was why he had taken to visiting Dr. Kumas once a month. The medical profession is morally bound to help people; morally bound to look after everyone; morally bound to pay attention to people.

    True, the modern emphasis on customer service meant that there were any number of people out there willing to pay attention to Sneaveweedle, but one can only book and cancel so many holidays, one can only open and close so many bank accounts. Those people always expected something from him, too, which made him nervous and unhappy. And almost certainly they all eventually got sick of him.

    After three years, Sneaveweedle could see, even a doctor's patience can be worn. Dr. Kumas had been quite attentive at first, even sending him to the hospital to have various lab work done. It had all been very exciting. But in the last year, especially since both Mrs. Calen and Mrs. Stout had had twins, thus increasing the doctor's regular workload some 20 percent, the visits with Dr. Kumas had grown more and more abrupt.

    Sneaveweedle sighed again for emphasis, hopped off the examination table, and started to get dressed. White cotton socks first, to keep his feet from getting cold, then underwear, khaki shorts, blue polo shirt, green windcheater, bum bag, and Birkenstock sandals. He then made his way to reception to schedule next month's visit.

    "Three o'clock on the fourth, yes, I've already got it Mr. Sneaveweedle," the receptionist said as he walked into the room.

    "Uhhhmmm?" Sneaveweedle moaned.

    "Your next month's appointment; I've already written it down. Good day," she said, waving her hand in an attempt to shoo him away.

    "That's for next month? Not for a different month? Or you're not looking at a different month's calendar?"

    "Yes. The fourth of next month at 3 p.m. We'll see you then, OK? Good day."

    "You're sure you've written it down?"

    "Yes. It's right here on the computer screen, see? Good day."

    "That won't get deleted? Maybe you should actually write it down."

    "Yes, I have done that as well, see. In this large black book. In the computer and in the book. No one will forget. Good day."

    "Hmmm. Perhaps I'll call a few days before to make sure you haven't forgotten."

    "No, Mr. Sneaveweedle, as I've told you many times before, that is not necessary."

    "I'll call, still. That's probably the safest thing to do."

    "It's unnecessary Mr. Sneaveweedle. It's in the computer and in the book. Look, here, I will write it on my hand, too. See?"

    "That will come off."

    "No it won't. I've written it in indelible ink, and I promise not to wash for the next month. OK? Do not call us, Mr. Sneaveweedle."

    Sneaveweedle moaned, did a stutter step and then turned for the door.

    "Yes!" the receptionist shouted. "I mean, yes, there you go. Have a good day. Goodbye. Remember not to call us."

    "Perhaps I will write you a letter."

    "No, don't do that, either."

    But Sneaveweedle was gone, and the receptionist certainly wasn't going to chase after him.

    .....

    Sneaveweedle walked across the village of Grivelsby to Molly's Cafe for afternoon tea. When Molly saw him coming down the lane, she wrapped her dishtowel around her neck and squeezed hard. After a few seconds, realizing that she would not die before he arrived in the cafe and not wanting to risk his knowing CPR, she grabbed a large metal tea pot, and scrambled for a tea bag. As she did this, she shouted to Sneaveweedle, who was still outside: "Hello, Sneaveweedle. As you can see, I am very, very, very busy and I cannot talk, but I am making you a large pot of tea right now."

    "Hmmmm," Sneaveweedle moaned as he reached the counter. "I know you're quite busy, but may I have a pot of tea, please?"

    "Yes. This pot of tea is for you. I said that. This pot that I am putting water in is the pot that I will give to you."

    "Ah. Uhm, I would also like to buy today's copy of The Grivelsby Yodler," Sneaveweedle said.

    "Yes, that's fine. They're on the counter there. Help yourself."

    "That's in addition to a large pot of tea, I mean."

    "Yes, Sneaveweedle. A large pot of tea and The Grivelsby Yodler."

    "And these biscuits."

    "Yes, fine. £2.40."

    "That includes the large pot of tea?"

    "Yes. Large pot of tea, biscuits, The Grivelsby Yodler. £2.40."

    Molly took the money with one hand while pouring milk into a small pitcher with the other. As she handed Sneaveweedle his receipt, she threw a handful of sugars onto a tray with the small pitcher of milk. She turned to grab something from the counter behind her.

    "Uhm, oh, moan. Should I sit down and come back for my tea, or?" whinged Sneaveweedle.

    "Your tea is right here!" Molly shouted, startling an old woman at the back of the cafe.

    She sucked in a breath and then hissed at Sneaveweedle: "Normally I am quite happy to be the only cafe in this village. No competition is good for business. But you. You! You!"

    She took in a deep breath and wrapped her dishtowel tight around her fist.

    "You," she said, mustering all the sweetness in her voice that she could, "sit down over there and drink your tea and eat your biscuits and read your paper and stay for as long as you like, but not a word to me. I'm very busy. Alright?"

    Sneaveweedle moaned to the affirmative, sat down, unwrapped his biscuits and started reading the paper.

    He read every single word of the paper every day. There wasn't much else to do, and besides, The Grivelsby Yodler wasn't a very difficult read. It rarely numbered more than 24 pages, with the majority of those pages taken up by advertisements or surreptitiously taken photos of celebrities.

    Sneaveweedle read through the stories of elderly residents inconvenienced by sidewalk repair, the mum and daughter who fell in love with a father and son, and the angry residents who still hadn't figured out what to put in the recycling wheelie bins distributed by the council. He saw pictures of Madonna eating breakfast, Radio 6 presenter Nemone wearing a bikini in Majorca, and possibly just a bit of Kirsetn Dunst's nipple as she slipped on the rug at an award ceremony. He was into his third cup of tea when he reached the classified ads and something caught his eye.

    .....

    "Although I'm sure you're well aware who I am, I will introduce myself for the sake of formality," an older man bellowed as soon as Sneaveweedle walked into the office. "I am Sir Percival Artemus Llewelyn Penhill III, KBE, PhD. I am senior lecturer on ancient Celtic history and culture at the School of Very Ancient Things here at Charlesfield University. You are here about the position I advertised in The Grivelsby Yodler."

    He was tall and gaunt, with enormous and untameable scrub-brush eyebrows. His wiry grey hair appeared not so much combed as pushed back by the wind, as if perhaps he had parachuted into work that morning. He wore thick-framed glasses that had slipped off his bumped nose as he spoke; the glasses were hooked to a small chain around his neck and had simply fallen against his chest. He wore a blue tweed suit, complete with matching tweed waistcoat, all of which appeared to have spent several years crammed into a wet tube before being worn.

    Penhill spoke with an upper-class accent similar to Sneaveweedle's, but there was no whining to be found here. He spoke clearly and loudly -- more full than Sneaveweedle had thought possible for a person to sound without the aid of electronic devices.

    "Hummm, yes. You were advertising for a travelling assistant," Sneaveweedle stammered.

    "Yes, of course, boy. I am well aware of what the advertisement said. I wrote it," Penhill said, propping his glasses back on the bridge of his nose. "What's your name?"

    "Hmmm, everyone knows me as Sneaveweedle, Mr. Penhill."

    "That's Sir Penhill!" the professor growled. "Sneaveweedle you say? English name?"

    "Yes, sir," Sneaveweedle whined.

    "Good. Where did you get that banana?"

    "In the reception area..."

    "The reception area?!!" Penhill shouted. "Was it set in front of a small statue of a monkey?"

    "Uhm, yes."

    "Sneaveweedle, you're hired."

    "Hunh? But you haven't..."

    "I don't need to. Boy, that monkey is an ancient idol. You've stolen an offering to the Tumamahamakuakua-ulie. Any man brave enough to commit thievery against the monkey god is more than capable of serving as my travelling assistant."

    "Oh, moan!" Sneaveweedle cried. "I thought the bananas were for anybody. I looked around for someone to ask but... I'll go put it back."

    "It's too late for that, boy," Penhill boomed. "Stealing from the Tumamahamakuakua-ulie is serious business, and his wrath is dubiously unpleasant. First, every hair on your body is plucked one by one by the undead bride of Hawaleeamkaka, Then, your eyeballs are fed to dogs with mongoose heads. Afterward, you are strapped to a pole and poked with sharp sticks for 10,000 lifetimes."

    "Oh, dear," Sneaveweedle whimpered, almost collapsing.

    "But don't worry, boy. It's a sack-load of rubbish. What's important is that banana belongs to my colleague, that seditious Welshman Dr. Rhys Davies. Nothing makes me happier than to see him miserable, as no doubt he will be when he discovers his lunch missing," Penhill laughed, clenching his fists in victory. "As I say, you're hired."

    Sneaveweedle found himself on an emotional rollercoaster. He sat down gingerly in a small office chair and fluttered his windcheater a few times in an effort to get some air. This was exciting. Really exciting. For the first time in his life, he had a job. He was doing something.

    "Thank you, sir," he yelped. "I promise you won't regret this."

    "Of course I won't," Penhill said. "Sneaveweedle, you will find that I am almost never wrong. Indeed, in my 67 years on this Earth, I have been wrong only once. And that I chalk up to youthful transgression."

    "Sir?"

    "Eh?"

    "What does a travelling assistant do?"

    "What do you think a travelling assistant does? You travel with me and serve as my assistant, and you assist in my travelling. You start immediately. I pay £7 an hour plus expenses."

    "Hmmm. Is that good?"

    "I should say so! More than reasonable. Although, you will almost certainly spend it all on shandy and hip-hop music. Now, I want to travel to western Ireland this weekend. You will make all the arrangements. Don't be too extravagant, but nothing below four-star. Understood?"

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

    The above is the first bit of Flickr Fiction I've done in a month. Also taking part this week are: Donal, Isobel, Linus, Sarah and TadMack.
    This week's stories are based on this photo, from Flickr user Gavin Mackintosh.
    To make things extra hard on me, this piece of Flickr Fiction is written to fit into several others that will come after, each following the adventures of Sneaveweedle and Penhill and incorporating the weekly photo. It's a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure thing, except it's a choose-a-picture thing and I don't choose the picture. To that end, I'd really appreciate your input on what, if anything, you like and what you don't like and where you'd like to see this story go.

    Thursday, August 17, 2006

    The return of APT

    Audio Post Thursday returns with my making fun of old English people.


    MP3 File

    Wednesday, August 16, 2006

    Staring intently at wee Buddha

  • The child bride and I were up and out the door early this morning for the long trip to Abertawe ("Swansea" for those of you playing along in England). Rachel had a job interview at one of the hospitals there, and I got to come along so she wouldn't have to worry about the logistics of public transportation.
    It was an hour and a half of travelling each way. Sadly, the result didn't seem to vindicate the effort; Rachel is pretty sure she didn't get the job. She said that at the end of the interview she was sort of given advice of what to do "should your application for this position be unsuccessful," which almost certainly means that it was.
    She was pretty heartbroken when she came to find me in the hospital cafe afterward. And I felt pretty useless as a husband for not really being able to say or do anything about it.
    I think she was expecting it all to be a lot easier. My experiences of constantly applying for jobs and failing she had written off as the absence of a university degree on my CV ("résumé," for those of you playing along at home). She has a master's degree and I think was expecting...
    I don't know what she was expecting. Husbands get in trouble when they try to guess the mindsets of their wives. But clearly she wasn't expecting to find herself a month into living here without a job.
    Things really aren't so bad. She has another job interview lined up for Thursday, this time for a job in Cardiff. And she has applied for a position in Heath (a medical area of Cardiff).

  • But this certainly isn't helping things.

  • I think the South Wales Echo must have dropped the story they were going to do about me. It was supposed to run Monday or Tuesday, according to the reporter. With Wednesday now come and gone, I am wondering if the story was, in fact, a ploy to get me to buy their ass paper for a week.

  • Although there has been no mention of my Welsh exploits in the paper this week, I did get to learn about a translation error on local road signs warning Welsh speakers about "bladder inflammation overturn."
  • A goodbye to Hank Hill

    I found out today that the man who lived across the street from my parents has died. My brother and I referred to him as Hank Hill because he was so concerned with keeping his lawn perfectly manicured.

    His real name was Denny; I assume he was a veteran because he very proudly flew a U.S. flag and a POW/MIA flag in his yard every single day of the year. The flags were always crisp and in good condition -- he no doubt bought new ones every couple of months.

    Denny died of pancreatic cancer. He had only found out about it three weeks ago.

    Jon and I never got to know him, but it is weird and depressing to think that he won't be there anymore. In the autumn, leaves will probably sit in his yard for more than two minutes. In the winter, the lines of snow probably won't run at right angles; an occasional patch of ice might be found on the driveway. That tired old black Labrador that quietly followed him everywhere and knew to never leave the plush green of the lawn is probably inconsolable. The late 80s Ford Bronco will collect rust.

    I can't explain why I am so upset by the death of someone to whom I've probably said, "Hey. How's it goin'?" less than a handful of times. Perhaps it is the realisation that there are no constants. We get older; we suddenly slip away.

    Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    Bring back the ¢

  • I've noticed that a lot of my posts lately have been a little wordy. I apologise if, like me, you prefer not to sit through really long blog posts. Especially when those posts suffer from a lack of being funny. I don't know what's come over me.

  • I find it unfortunate that the ¢ symbol is falling so much out of use. Obviously Microsoft is to blame -- it's not easily found on a keyboard, so no one uses it. Yet the { and } symbols can be found. When the hell have you ever used { or }? I used to be a fucking copy editor and I don't even know what the { and } are used for. The best I can come up with using those is a moustachioed emoticon:
    ; { )

  • I was thinking today about the song "Ain't No Other Man," by underfed songstress Christina Aguilera. In the song, the chorus is: "Ain't no other man but you."
    Ain't no other man but you. Doesn't this mean, then, that there is another man?
    It seems to me that there is a primary male and a secondary male. The secondary male, or "other man," is the individual being sung to -- she is only assuring him that there is no other man beyond him. He is the only "other man" in her life.
    The phrasing is also rather insulting, I think. For instance, when I was 6 years old, I had a friend named Josh. Josh's dad drove a pickup truck, but also kept a rusted, motorless Datsun up on blocks in the front yard. If you had had asked Josh's dad if he had a car other than his pickup, he might have said: "Ain't no other car but that piece of shit Datsun."
    The Datsun was almost not worth mentioning. It barely even ranked as a car. So, when Christina Aguilera sings, "Ain't no other man but you," she's suggesting that the individual to whom the song is directed is not that much of a man, anyway. He has only "other man" status and the "man" aspect is up for debate.
    It's really a depressing song when you think about it.
  • Monday, August 14, 2006

    Xenophobia and castles

  • To answer Jenny's question, I don't think the child bride and I have experienced any anti-Americanism since we got here. Or if we have, it hasn't been blatant enough for me to notice -- Rachel says I tend to miss certain social subtleties.
    Occasionally I'll hear the usual criticisms of the U.S. (we're fat and loud and uncultured and arrogant and hell-bent on promoting the Zionist agenda in an ultimately futile attempt to subvert the will of Allah), but these are generally the same criticisms that people had 10 years ago, and, from what I can tell, generally the same criticisms that people had in the time of Oscar Wilde. They are spoken with no more vitriol than ever before.
    It's possible that people's stereotypes about Americans have solidified a bit, making it oh-so-slightly difficult for me to be accepted as a person than a caricature (the photographer on Sunday seemed to think I was lying when I said I didn't have any sort of typical Americana tat around the house), but c'est la vie.
    And generally, criticisms of the U.S. offered by UK residents are diluted by the fact that they are in cultural lockstep with us. Britons refuse to admit this, but it's true. If you are British, take a walk through your local high street -- look at the fashions, listen to the music, look at what is being sold and how it is being sold, listen to the style of speech used by people, look at what they are eating and drinking and then try to tell me with a straight face that the "special relationship" doesn't extend to almost every aspect of life.
    In terms of "why the hell would you want to move here" negativity, I have bumped into a little of that. The "here" in question is Wales, and people are usually directing the question at the fact that I have moved here to study the Welsh language.
    Some people are confounded by my coming here to study Welsh. But these are often the same people who carry a strange animosity toward the Welsh language, so I don't give them a lot of credence. A person the other day was telling me about visiting the United States and said: "One of the things I really liked about visiting America was it was all in English. You didn't have to deal with this two-fucking-languages bollocks."
    I suggested to him that he must have visited a trompe l'oeil USA, because Spanish is the backbone -- and every other bone, for that matter -- of the U.S. economy. Not to mention the myriad other languages that can be heard in even the most staid of Midwestern towns.
    Other people just can't see the point in my being here because they can't see how it will earn me money. I can understand their concern; I can't see how this will make me money, either. But a few years ago, I came to the very frustrating but inescapable realisation that I am going to die some day. Not any time soon, I hope, but it is going to happen. And when it does happen, it will mean fuck all how much money I have in my wallet.
    It is no doubt elitist to say this, but I have an inherent belief that all smart people are capable of living in relative comfort. And it is egotistical for me to say this, but I am a smart person. Or I am at least smart enough to live in relative comfort regardless of what I end up doing with the Welsh language. I may not end up with a lot of stuff, but I am confident that whatever I do, I will be able to sleep in a warm bed at night.
    That's all very high-minded talking out of my ass, isn't it? I won't claim that I don't want three houses and a Ford Mustang. I do. A lot. But just not quite enough to make myself as sick as I always felt when I was doing a job that I hated.
    Usually, though, I will just say this: "The Welsh language is not a religion. So, I'm not going to ask you to convert."

  • The child bride and I went to Swansea today. For those of you playing along at home, Swansea is just west of Cardiff; Dylan Thomas and Curly are both from there -- Curly is, at present, in better health.
    View of Mumbles from Oystermouth CastleRachel and I were there so she could scope out where she'll be doing a job interview on Wednesday. Once that was completed, we decided we would just make a day of it and headed to Oystermouth because we had seen a sign that referenced there being a castle of the same name.
    The child bride is a sucker for castles. We certainly chose the right place to live for that -- Wales boasts upward of 400 castles, more than any other nation in the world. Every time I go to a castle, I feel this obsessive need to point out every single arrow slit. I don't know why I do this, but the child bride puts up with it.
    The interesting thing about this castle was that you could see that people had changed things to suit their needs from time to time, and often this had been done without particular attention to aesthetics. In a way, it was like looking at a 900-year-old government office block.
    Here are a few more pictures from today.
    Once we felt we had gotten our £2 worth of castle, we started walking toward Swansea along the promenade (that's what it's called, right?) that stretches along Swansea Bay (Here's a map; we started at No. 19). We ate lunch at a place that served pasta then sat there for a while longer just watching people walk by. We walked as far as Singleton Park (No. 11) and then took the bus to city centre, then another bus back to Cardiff.
    When we got off the train at Danescourt, walking up to the Somerfield to buy groceries for dinner, I realised that today was one of the first days that I've felt somewhat comfortable; very slowly -- much slower than I would like -- I am starting to accept that this is actually my life. I actually live here.

  • I just spotted that I twice used French in this post. It's the beginning of the end, my friends. I'll be wearing a beret soon...
  • Sunday, August 13, 2006

    Ufudd*

  • One of the more amusing facets of living in Cardiff is the fact that, perhaps because it is a cosmopolitan city where people come to work, you will occasionally run into people who really aren't all that fond of the Welsh. I'll think, "What are you doing living in Wales, then?" But I guess I was sort of the same way when I lived in Southern California.

  • I got a call Friday morning asking if I would come into the Radio Wales studios at 7 a.m. the next morning for an on-air interview. Since Radio Wales has a habit of bumping me from live interviews and because I didn't want to wake up any earlier than I had to, I squirmed out of it. They scheduled to have me come in at noon on Friday for a pre-recorded interview.
    It started raining on my way home from the studios, so of course I ran into my neighbour, who had seen me on "Wales Today" the night before. I did my best to chat amiably in the wet and cold, ignoring my lack of a jacket and this damn illness that has held onto me for a full week now. Since my English-language blog is easily found, I should point out that my neighbours on both sides are all lovely people. I don't have a lawnmower, and they take care of my lawn. So, my inferring that I didn't want to talk to Julie comes only from the fact that I was cold and miserable and had a pounding headache and a cough.
    When I got in the house, the child bride informed me that a reporter from the South Wales Echo had called.
    The Echo is a newspaper here in Cardiff that suffers from a distinct lack of actual news. I may shoot myself in the foot by saying this, but I am not exactly the biggest fan of the paper. The headlines are tabloid-esque ("Victims Tell Of Ordeal At Hands Of Dirty Doc") and I personally think they possess a certain dislike of Welsh speakers. But I called the reporter back, anyway.
    They will almost certainly end up getting the story wrong, claiming that I am a Navy veteran from Rhode Island, or that the child bride is 14 years old and only has one arm, but I decided it would be cool to have a story about me be in an actual newspaper (or something looking like one), so I can send it to my relatives who don't own computers.

  • I was up and out of bed at 6:45 a.m. on Saturday morning, which is a horrible thing to be, but I needed to be ready for when the BBC came to pick me up an hour later. Saturday was the event that the BBC was actually paying me to take part in, so I felt a certain need to be properly bathed and shaved and other such things.
    I gave a complete rundown of the day's happenings on my Welsh-language blog, and I doubt non Welsh speakers would have a great deal of interest, but here are the highlights of the day:
    - I got an enormous round of applause when I told the audience that one of the bonuses of the Welsh language is that it has given me an opportunity to live outside the United States during the presidency of George W. Bush. That made me feel a little uncomfortable; I was expecting a polite chuckle, not an ovation.
    - I go to meet Welsh-language news presenter Garry Owen, who never stops smiling and is really cool in that way that I can't explain. I want to make a T-shirt with his face on it and the words "Mae posse gyda Garry Owen" ("Garry Owen has a posse").
    - Fi a SabrinaI got to meet Welsh-language soap opera star Gilian Elisa who was genuinely delightful and an all-around entertainer. There are increasingly fewer entertainers who can properly work a room, but you get the sense that Gillian is one of those people who is equipped to entertain three people at an old folks' home, or 3,000 people in an auditorium -- she could do either without breaking a sweat and both audiences would leave thinking she was the bee's knees. She also won massive points with me when she insisted that I should have my own show.
    I also got to meet a group of Welsh-language bloggers. And as a result of all of the above, my attitude about Eisteddfod changed enough that I will probably go to next year's event.

  • A photographer from the South Wales Echo came to take pictures of me today. He was disappointed that I didn't have anything in the house that was "really American." I told him that if he wanted to drive, we could go get some Budweiser and KFC, but he opted for my wearing a baseball cap. At one point he also had me doing some sort of crazy thing where I was reading my pocket Welsh dictionary in the tree in my garden. This made no sense to me, but the photographer was considerably larger than me so I just did as I was told.

  • Good name for a band: The Old-Time Hurty Shits

    *One of my more obscure titles ever, requiring you to know Welsh and catch my reference. I think perhaps Sarah might get it.
  • Saturday, August 12, 2006

    Y dyn a fi


    Y dyn a fi
    Originally uploaded by ChrisCope.

    Me and universally loved Welsh-language presenter Garry Owen.

    If you don't like Garry Owen, you're letting the terrorists win.

    Friday, August 11, 2006

    The happiest Buddha

  • One of my favourite things right now is my 1.5-inch-tall statue of Buddha. He is the happiest representation of Buddha that I have ever seen. He is a fat little bloke with a pot of tea in his right hand and an apple or some other round thing in his left hand. The expression on his face tells you that the round thing in his hand is truly one of the greatest things this piddly little world has to offer, so it may be that the round thing is, in fact, an enormous chocolate truffle filled with Bailey's.
    I bought this statue at a flea market in San Diego. I think he cost $2 (£1). Ever since then, he has spent his days getting dusty on various bookshelves as Rachel and I bounced from home to home. And for some reason, as we were packing up to move to Cardiff, I decided to put him in my book bag -- so he has been with me from the start.
    He now holds a coveted spot on my windowsill. When I look up from my laptop to stare out at the Welsh sky (and the aerial on the house behind ours), he's right there as well -- gleefully eyeing his chocolate filled with sweet Irish booze.
    He has got to be the happiest Buddha ever. And, in turn, he makes me happy. I don't have anything beyond that; I just thought I'd tell you about my happy Buddha statue. I find myself grasping for pieces of solace these days, so perhaps he means a little more to me than he should.

  • Helo, Chris Cope ydw i. Thursday kicked my ass. I was at Eisteddfod from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and my only real moment of quiet came in a space of 15 minutes while I was waiting to do a live interview with Wales Today. The short version of everything goes like this: I was filmed by three separate TV crews, I gave my first ever talk in Welsh, I was kissed by a Welsh celebrity, and I possibly put my life at risk -- all while suffering a cold that continues to drill holes in my skull.
    As the child bride and I were scurrying about the house Thursday morning, getting ready for the two-hour trip to Eisteddfod (train from Danescourt to Cardiff Central; train from Cardiff Central to Swansea; bus from Swansea to Eisteddfod), I got a call from ITV Wales, with whom I was scheduled to interview at 12:30:
    REPORTER: "Yes, I was wondering if you could be at the Maes (main Eisteddfod site) any earlier?"
    ME: "Not when Arriva Trains are involved, no. Hell, I more than likely won't even get there on time."
    REPORTER: "Right, I'd like you to be there earlier. Would you mind if I picked you up and drove you there?"
    ME: "Gee, I was really looking forward to all that public transportation. When Rachel and I went to Eisteddfod on Saturday, we got to sit near a hen party ("bachelorette party" for those of you playing along at home) that brought a stereo, on which they were blaring 70s disco hits. But, I guess you can come pick us up..."
    The reporter and cameraman showed up a few minutes later, and 40 minutes after that we were walking toward the rocky Eisteddfod field. Not only did Rachel and I drop 1 hour 20 minutes of travel time, I found in the cameraman an appreciative audience for my impression of someone with a Welsh valleys accent rapping House of Pain's "Jump Around." And the reporter paid our admission.
    The only drawback to all this was that I was in "show" mode from 9:30 a.m. on.
    Despite suffering a dearth of actual talent, I have the mindset of a performer. If one or more people start laughing at my jokes or showing the slightest bit of interest in what I'm saying, my brain goes nuts and dumps as much adrenaline and endorphins into the mix as it can. I get all excited and want to talk and feel sort of drunk and lose touch with myself.
    I once saw an interview with Garth Brooks and he was talking about this mindset that washes over him when he performs. He told a story about his doing a show at some massive arena; during a song he spotted that the wee rope ladder that went up to the catwalk had been left hanging down. So, he charges off and starts climbing it, this 230-pound-man wearing cowboy boots tearing up a dodgy rope ladder without any safety harness. He got about 40 feet up and started swinging on it -- holding on with just one hand -- to swing out over the crowd.
    After the show, everyone from his band mates to the stage crew to his (ex-)wife were screaming at him for being such a damned fool. He had put his life and career and their careers all very much and totally unnecessarily in the balance.
    He explained in this interview that he hadn't been drunk or on drugs, he was just in the moment of the performance. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And I remember thinking to myself: "That is exactly the sort of stupid shit I would do if I had that level of talent (or, if you refuse to believe that Garth Brooks has talent, that massive a fan base)."
    As things are, it's just little old me, and I rarely command the attention of more than five people at any given time. But I still got all hyper and stupid. And I just talk and talk and talk and talk. And when I finally wear them out and they go home, I usually crash physically and emotionally. The child bride constantly suffers my instant mood swings that seem to come once we get home from the bar.
    ME: "I feel like shit. God, I'm such a fucking idiot -- did you hear me talking? I say the stupidest things. I've got to be the biggest ass on the planet."
    HER: "Shut up."
    (Side note: I even get this way when I write)
    So, this whole process was starting as soon as I got in the car with the blokes from ITV. Meanwhile, I have had a cold since Saturday, and my voice is one of the many bits of me that's suffering.
    On top of this is the fact that I was speaking Welsh. Cymraeg kills my brain. With the quality of my Welsh still relatively low, it takes all of my limited mental capacity just to have a conversation about the weather ("Ydy, mae yn oer heddiw"). So, my brain -- desperately try to stay afloat linguistically -- was using up all the adrenalin and endorphins as fast as they could be produced.
    The ITV piece either aired today or will air this weekend. Since I don't have a TV, it wouldn't matter if I knew, anyway. It mostly centred on the fact that I used Ye Olde Internette to teach myself Welsh, and the growing number of Welsh-language resources online. In all likelihood, the finished piece will run around two minutes, but it involved about two hours of filming.
    When we were done, I had just enough time to down a pint of Guinness (what the fuck is this "Extra Cold" bullshit? We don't even have that in the U.S.) and say hi to a friend before I had to meet another TV crew.
    This time it was the crew of BBC 1's "Wales Today" programme.
    Let me back up really quickly. If you were one of the smarter kids at school, you might have gleaned over the years that I taught myself Welsh using the BBC's Learn Welsh website. I am a big fan of the site, and since learning about me, the people running the site are big fans of me. I am the star pupil and they are very eager -- very eager -- to get me out in front of anyone and everyone to help promote the site.
    I am happy to do this. I spent five years using BBC tools but, as a U.S. resident, not paying a license fee, so I feel I owe it to them. And, in some cases, I even get cash money for plugging the site. On Saturday, I am being paid to take part in the Eisteddfod's Welsh Learner's Day, which is being put on by the BBC. I even have a contract -- my favourite element is: "(By accepting this payment) you agree that your contribution will not bring the BBC into disrepute or be defamatory."
    But, it can all get a bit weird at times.
    And that's how I found myself having a conversation about footwear with one-time "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here" contestant Siân Lloyd. She kissed me on both cheeks and told me I'm sexy.
    I was introduced to her by her Big Welsh Challenge protégé, Derek Brockway. Both seemed like perfectly lovely people, although I had no idea who the hell they were. I picked up that Derek was famous when a little girl ran up and asked for his autograph, but had to be told by a friend who they were exactly.
    Derek was teaching "Wales Today" reporter Claire I Forget Her Last Name But She Was Really Nice how to speak a bit of Welsh. I figured into all of this when they filmed a bit in which they ran up and talked to me about the Learn Welsh website. It all had a sort of "Reading Rainbow" feel to it: "Hi, Levar! Let me show you around the taffy factory..."
    Despite our filming for quite some time, the end product was scrapped for whatever reason and I was scheduled to show up and do the interview live on air.
    Before that, I had to give a speech. You might remember back in May when I unsuccessfully interviewed to be chosen Welsh Learner of the Year. Out of that came a request to speak about my learning experiences at the Welsh learners' tent at Eisteddfod, now inexplicably known as "Maes D."
    I had spent a great deal of time putting together my speech, but managed to spook myself just before giving it, so it was ass. I spoke clearly and all that, but I had to read my whole speech because I was so nervous. It came off looking like the sort of thing I would have done when I was 12. And apparently, my sense of humour doesn't translate into Welsh; every time I would pause where I had put a joke I would hear silence. As I was standing up there, I suddenly had a flashback to the one time I tried stand-up comedy. I've never told you about that, have I? It was that shameful of an experience that I will tell you no more.
    I spoke for 20 minutes on my experiences in Welsh, bombed miserably, and then discovered that two of the professors from the School of Welsh -- Dr. Wyn James and Dr. Siwan Rosser -- were in the audience.
    Fuck. Great way to make a first impression.
    There wasn't much time to reflect on that, because I had to run around and do some more filming for another thing and then did the live interview on "Wales Today."
    It was in the 15 minutes where I was sitting quietly waiting to be interviewed that I realised how exhausted I was. My brain and voice were both shot; my brain more so.
    Now that I am here in Wales, I find myself in a lot of ways more frustrated by the language than ever before. My Welsh isn't nearly as strong as I would like and I feel confined by it. It's like being retarded and knowing you're retarded. I know that what I'm saying isn't dynamic enough -- it's not properly expressing what I want to say -- but I can't get the words to fall together right. I can't come up with the words. And my brain is screaming to get it all to work; every part of me goes into it. So, stupidly, I'll get emotional about things. At the end of a really long period of speaking Welsh I will feel exhausted and defeated. And all of this attention feels more like I am all some kind of big joke -- the William Hung of the Welsh language.
    Whatever I am, I was able to pull it together for the live interview and it actually turned out OK. I found out later that, according to one of the producers, "Wales Today" is the second most popular programme in Wales, behind EastEnders. So, I'm not sure how wise it was of me to claim live on air that Duncan Jones is a Hobbit. Making fun of 17.4-stone international rugby players on live television is probably not the best way for me to stay healthy.
    And it doesn't stop. I'll tell you more when I get a chance...
  • Thursday, August 10, 2006

    Hassle

  • Have you ever noticed how much ridiculous stuff happens to Crystal? She is constantly getting some sort of red tape run-around. Her cell phone, her car; at least once a month there is some minor yet ultra-frustrating thing that she has to deal with. For a while, I wondered if perhaps she wasn't embellishing things just a bit.
    Now I have moved here and it has come to my attention that it is quite possible for a person to face nonstop hassle, even when they are trying to do very simple things.
    The simple thing I was trying to Wednesday was this: Find an immigration officer.
    Since I couldn't find one in Fishguard on Tuesday, I decided that before I did the leave-the-country-and-come-back thing again, I should find out where exactly I should come back to, so as to be sure to find a nice immigration officer to put a stamp in my passport. So, I called Immigration.
    And, of course, it was a clusterfuck.
    I ended up talking to a woman with a French or Belgian accent who spoke much in the way you would expect if she were strapped to a chair and there were deadly cobras slithering around at her feet. She spoke in a rapid, panicked, whine; giving answers to questions that I had not asked and seemingly failing to comprehend the meanings of the questions that I did ask. Twice I used this phrase: "Perhaps if you will allow me to speak, I can explain my situation to you."
    Despite the fact that she was responding to me as if I were a Nazi interrogator, I was unable to pry any clear information from her. Mostly what she did was repeat what I just told her, but in a more long-winded way. Eventually, I just gave up on her and decided that the child bride and I will go to the continent as soon as time affords. Until then, I will play dumb American if the issue ever comes up.

  • This link will only be good until 6:30 p.m. GMT (12:30 p.m. CST) Friday, but I'm posting it because it's of me. If you go to time code 18:14, you can see an interview I did on Welsh television.

  • Good name for a band: Fizzy Piss
  • Wednesday, August 9, 2006

    Asylum seekers

  • It's official; I'm back online. I wrote a really long post (almost 10,000 words) that details everything that's been happening over the past month but I really don't expect anyone will read the whole thing.

  • I need one of these people (thanks to Huw for the link) to dress up as UK Immigration.
    All I want to do is obey the law, and they're making it difficult for me.
    The child bride and I came here in July on a tourist visa.
    Because the U.S. bought Western Europe loyalty with the Marshall Plan, all Yankee scum are allowed to come to the UK on nothing more than a passport. We are allowed to stay for six months at a time, but we are not allowed to work. In order to do that, one has to have a proper visa, which, you may remember, the child bride and I went to a great deal of trouble to obtain.
    But, as I say, we came here on just our passports. The proper visas could not be used until 1 August. Now that the date has passed, the proper visas must be validated, which basically means that we need to leave the country and come back.
    And that's how the child bride and I ended up in Rosslare, Ireland, last night. We took a ferry over from Wales and stayed in a hotel in what turns out to be a charming little port village.
    "Oh, isn't this all wonderful, taking the train across Wales and the ferry to Ireland? It's all so much more pleasant than sitting in a plane, even if it does take 10 times as long" we were saying to ourselves.
    And then we arrived back in Fishguard, Wales, this morning to discover that there is no immigration officer posted there. None.
    I suppose that's good news for my friends in Ireland, should they ever kill someone -- just take the Rosslare-to-Fishguard ferry and you'll escape the country undetected.
    But for us, the whole reason we travelled seven hours to Ireland was a bust. And actually, things are now just a bit worse. Because, while Fishguard doesn't have an immigration officer, Rosslare does. So, our passports were stamped in Ireland. Technically, then, we left the UK and have now returned without proper clearance to do so. I'm pretty sure that means we are now here illegally. I am an illegal immigrant.

  • I am also sick. I blame Eisteddfod, where I spent several hours Saturday just sort of wandering around in the sun. On my Welsh blog I mentioned that I was somewhat disappointed by what I have come to understand is the apex of Welsh culture. I'm hoping that my opinion of the event will change when I go back on Thursday.
    A discussion has been going on as to how I can better appreciate the event. One person suggested I needed to visit the beer tent. Of course I went to the beer tent! Name an event I would go to where I'm not drinking beer. I had keyed in on the Guinness area within two minutes of my setting foot on the maes.
    But it seems the general consensus is that the reason I didn't think it was great is because I'm not Welsh.

  • As Rhys pointed out the other day, I was on Welsh-language television last week. The story about me shows up at 17:40, after an inexplicable and insufferable piece about the release of "Miami Vice." I am still trying to figure out the tenuous Welsh link on that one.
    I will warn you that even if you can't understand Welsh, the interview with me is painful to watch.

  • The correct way to write "internet," according to both the Associated Press and Blogger's spellchecker, is "Internet." I have decided this is ridiculous. Why should "internet" be a proper noun?

  • I came up with a new phrase yesterday: "This is cocksuckery."
  • Tuesday, August 8, 2006

    The Surreal Country

    My latest column is out and I am a big fan of the headline.

    I don't write the headlines, so I can't claim credit, but I like it because it reminds me of Hunter S. Thompson: "We can't stop here; this is bat country."

    Sunday, August 6, 2006

    Dodgy crisps


    Dodgy crisps
    Originally uploaded by ChrisCope.
    One of the unexplained elements of British culture is their love of strangely flavoured crisps ("chips," for those of you playing along at home).

    Yes, I did actually try these. But having never had roast ox, I'm not sure how close they came to the real thing.

    Friday, August 4, 2006

    Ein tŷ ni (Our house)

    Here's a quick look at where Rachel and I live these days. Obviously this post is mostly for family, so I'd ask the regulars to be on their best behaviour when commenting...

    This is a quick photo tour of our new house. Simply click on a picture if you want to see it bigger.

    No. 3
    Here's our new home in Cardiff. Having lived here for just shy of a month, I can say that I am really happy with where we ended up. I suppose a lot of the credit for that goes to my friend, Rhys, who is a fellow Welsh-language blogger. Several months ago, Rhys was kind enough to do the actual footwork of checking out this house for us.

    Front of the house
    This is the front of our house. Our neighbours are very nice people.
    To the left of this picture live Kevin and Judy, who are often so quiet that I am surprised when I step out into the garden and see them sitting there.
    To the right are Debbie, Tony, Chris and Matt. Chris and Matt are Debbie and Tony's teenage sons who are far too well-behaved to be actual teenagers. The most noise you'll get out of either of them comes when Matt will drill his soccer ball against the house.

    Front door
    Here's the other side of the front door. You'll note the mail slot; it took us several days to get used to the sound of the postman delivering mail in the morning. We kept thinking someone was trying to get into the house.
    That's unlikely (to calm the nerves of our parents) both our doors have five points of contact when they lock, and our neighbourhood is pretty safe.

    The child bride at leisure
    Here's Rachel sitting on the couch. It's important to point out that this house was furnished -- Rachel and I are not the sort of people who would purchase a white leather couch. And Rachel especially wants you to know that she is not a fan of the throw pillows, nor the curtains with matching print.

    Look away
    Just above Rachel, you can see one of the more disturbing elements of our new home...

    Terrifying roosters
    The landlord left us with an enormous oil painting of roosters fighting. Nothing says "God Bless This House" like a cock fight. But it gets even more disturbing...

    Two-headed cock
    If you look closely at the rooster on the left, you can see that it has two faces. It's like one of those weird things they would show you in circus side tents in the 1950s. Most of the people who come to the house find the picture too unnerving to look at. Rachel and I have plans to replace the painting with, well, anything, but there is a part of me that wants to keep it for its garishness.

    Our dining area
    Here's a look at our dining area, with the doorway to the kitchen just ahead. To the left of me is the couch, to the right is the front door and stairway (I'll show you that in a bit). Further on, through the kitchen, you can see the garden.

    Our fridge
    Here's the other side of the doorway, and a good look at our tiny fridge. It's not all that tiny, actually, but the section for frozen foods is larger than in a U.S. fridge, so we have to be good at fitting all the cooled items in.
    Also you can see Rachel's Kitchen Aid. It had strangely arrived before we did, despite the fact that the post office had told us it would take six weeks.

    The kitchen
    Here's the other side of the kitchen. On the lower left, you can just barely see that we have a clothes washer. The loads it will take are comically small by U.S. standards, but is still better than any other washing machine Rachel and I have had, which suffered from being nonexistent.

    Our garden
    This is our garden, which is still overgrown despite my buying shears. Apparently just buying the shears doesn't trim back the hedges.

    My shed
    The thing I like most about our garden is that it has a shed. Welsh author Dylan Thomas was frequently locked in his shed by his wife in an attempt to get him to stop drinking and start writing something so they could pay the bills. This is why I keep the shed key with me.
    Presently the shed is being used to house our bikes, a brand new pair of hedge shears and a few large spiders.

    The house
    Here's a few of the garden and the back of the house from our shed. Behind our garden is another house where there lives a girl of about 8 years old who loves to sing. One night she spent a full hour going through every song she knew, and when she ran out of actual songs she started making up her own. My favourite was: "I'm singing/ Very loudly/ And you're telling me to be quiet/ But I won't stop singing."

    Stairs
    Here are the steps leading upstairs. At the very top you can see the bathroom.

    Tŷ bach
    I wouldn't normally take a picture of a toilet, but I figured that the different shape of it might be amusing to people who have never been to Great Britain. Sadly, no one here (by "here" I mean Cardiff) calls it a "loo."

    Bedroom
    Here's our bedroom. The bed also came with the house and is too small for me and Rachel. We plan on buying a new one when we've got the money, although it may not last that long -- already we have managed to break two of the frame slats.

    The study
    Here's the study, where I will be holing myself up for most of the time. It's important to note that we didn't pick these curtains, either. My "desk" we did buy. It is, in fact, a table; the cheapest one they sold at IKEA.

    And that's our house. As I say, we like it quite a bit. In American terms it is a town house, and a very small one at that. Its size and the fact that our street is much quieter than I expected often make me feel as if we have moved to some sort of Thomas Kinkade vacation village in northern Wisconsin. I'm not sure what I mean by that -- I think I may still be suffering jetlag.