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Friday, September 29, 2006

For Tea and Country

"Are you CRAZY?! Have you completely lost the plot, mate?! Do you want to get us all killed?!"

"Oh moan," bleated Sneaveweedle as he fell down again.

Sneaveweedle enjoyed trains but struggled to stay upright when walking in a moving carriage. He found the areas between carriages, with their funhouse moving floors, to be the most challenging, so he remained sprawled on the ground. He looked up at the snack trolley attendant and tried to figure out where things had gone wrong.

It had taken him several minutes to reach the trolley, which was parked in the roaring midpoint of the first and second carriages. Sneaveweedle had fallen six times before adopting a slow, stooped, time-consuming waddle that involved gripping every seat as if he were ascending Mount Kilimanjaro. Once he had finally reached the snack trolley, he had been greeted by a dishevelled and obese man in a dirty Arriva Trains shirt who blocked Sneaveweedle from seeing what snacks were available. Sneaveweedle had asked whether the trolley would be moving to other carriages any time soon, and that's when the man had yelled at him and Sneaveweedle had fallen down.

"You must be daft," the snack attendant continued. "You expect me to leave this strategic position? Or perhaps that's what you want me to do, is it?"

"What? I'm sorry?" Sneaveweedle stammered, completely flustered. "Strategic position?"

"Listen, mate," the man said. "Where I am now allows me the best vantage point from which to defend these snacks. If I go all tra-la-la through the carriages, it leaves the door wide open, doesn't it? I can't be everywhere at once, you know. "

"Hmm, I'm afraid I still don't follow you. When you say you need to defend the snacks, who are you defending them from?"

The man looked at Sneaveweedle for a moment and reached down to help him off the floor. As Sneaveweedle steadied himself against the wall, the man combed his bird's nest hairdo with his fingers, then he looked around to make sure no one else was listening.

"From... you know. Them."

"Them?"

"Yes, them. Mate, my number one job is to look after the wellbeing of the people on this train. Now, mostly I do that by providing them with tea, coffee and Cadbury's chocolate fingers. But I also do it by making sure that none of these snack items fall into the hands of Muslim extremists."

"Oh dear," Sneaveweedle yelped. "Do jihadists normally travel on the train to Fishguard?"

"Officially, no, they don't." the fat man said. "According to my supervisors, in terms of terrorist targets, the Cardiff-to-Fishguard line ranks just below an abandoned Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Crown Point, Indiana. But that's just what the Muslims want us to believe, ain't it?"

"The Muslim extremists, you mean?"

"Yeah. Same thing. They want to lull us into complacency. They want to use the element of surprise."

"Hmm, I suppose it would be very sneaky."

"Yeah it would," the man said proudly. "So, you see, there's no way I'm moving this trolley all about. I'm staying right here. If people would like a lukewarm John Smith's or packet of Hula-Hoops, they'll have to come to me. And, of course, if one of those people is one of them, there'll be real trouble, mate. They'll have a highly trained British soldier to deal with."

"Oh! I always enjoy speaking with soldiers. Did you fight in Iraq?"

"Well, no," the man said, mumbling something that was lost in the noise of the train. "I was in the Army for only two days. I was let go after I failed to pass a fitness test in basic training. But I picked up a lot in those two days, I tell ya. Wanna know what I'd do to one of these Muslim blokes if I got my hands on him?"

"Hmm, I don't know..."

"I'd strap the bloke to a chair. But not just any chair -- one with only three legs. That way, if he falls asleep or even tries to relax, the whole thing topples over and, BAM, he hits his head on the floor. Brilliant, eh?"

"I suppose. Although, that would be torture, wouldn't it?"

"No, it would not," the man protested. "And even if it was, it's the only thing these people understand. But I'm not finished. I would also make that bastard listen to tapes of the entire musical back catalogue of MC Kermit La Freak over and over and over again until he confesses."

"Uhm, confesses what?"

"That he's a witch."

"I think you've confused your targets of indiscriminate harassment."

"Ah, so I have. Sorry, mate."

"Oh, that's alright," Sneaveweedle sighed. "I hope you won't mind my asking, but I'm still a bit confused though as to why the snacks need protecting in the first place."

"They're crafty these blokes, aren't they? They can turn almost anything into a bomb. Who knows, mate, this snack trolley could comprise enough explosive to sink the whole of Britain."

"Ehrm, Britain wouldn't sink. It's not, you know, floating."

"It's surrounded by water, mate. What else is it doing? Being held up by string?"

"I suppose it is, in a sense, floating on magma," Sneaveweedle moaned. "But irregardless of that, how would a terrorist manage to turn anything on your snack trolley into a bomb?"

"How should I know, mate? I'm not one of them, am I? My mind's not corrupt like theirs, so I don't know what they're thinking. But better safe than sorry, I say. I'm not going to be known as the man who let a cup of tea fall into the wrong hands only so it could be used to murder thousands of innocent civilians."

"Oh moan. But it's tea. It's just hot water with caffeine, tannins and negligible quantities of calories, protein, sodium and fat. Short of removing particles of hydrogen from the tea and smashing them together, it is virtually impossible to turn it into an explosive. Indeed, vast quantities of tea could be used to put out a fire."

"Listen, mate, there's no use in arguing with me," the man blustered. "This is an issue of national security, and I've probably already told you more than I should. Did you want something?"

"Yes, two teas, please."

"Two teas?" the man said. "But there's only one of you. Why do you need two teas?"

"I'm getting one for someone else."

"Well, have him come get it, then."

Sneaveweedle cringed. He thoroughly disliked being confrontational, but he liked even less the idea of his shillelagh-wielding employer's response to being told he would have to get tea for himself. Sneaveweedle took a deep breath.

"No, I should like two teas, please. If you do not give them to me, I may be forced to write a strongly-worded letter to The Grivelsby Yodler."

The snack trolley attendant raised an eyebrow and loomed over Sneaveweedle.

"You're not a jihadist?" he asked.

"No, I am not."

"Promise?"

"I promise."

"And if I give you two teas, you won't use them to blow up the train?"

"No, I won't."

"Promise?"

"I promise."

"Fine. Two teas. Milk and sugar with those, sir?"

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

The above is a piece for Flickr Fiction, based on this photo by user DarkTranquility.
Also playing along this week are: Eilis, Sarah, and TadMack
This is the sixth episode of the Penhill and Sneaveweedle adventure. You can read previous episodes here.
I would love any comments -- good or bad -- you might have about the story, and I would love to know where you think it should go. Since the story is being written week to week, your input helps determine what happens.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

College

  • I realise most of you don't speak Welsh, but I was amused with what I did in this video. I think Dan and Anthony (point, point) will be most amused -- just skip ahead to 1:05 in the video.

  • Can anyone who lives in the United States tell me if the 80s are back over there? They are here in a huge way. Tuesday I saw two girls who appeared to be straight out of Degrassi Junior High. A few minutes later, I saw a girl who I think may have been kicked out of Dexy's Midnight Runners -- so much so that I found myself humming "Come on Eileen" as I walked past her.
    What worries me is this: If such hideous fashion trends as the 80s produced can return, it's not much of a stretch to imagine that in a few more years, 90s fashions will also come back. These are dark times.

  • When I said Tuesday that I had enrolled, it was only partially true. Enrolment here is a two-part process that involves a load of carrying multiple pieces of paper from one place to another so a person can put a sticker on the piece of paper and then send you to talk to someone else. In other words, it is a university system.
    Now, though, I can say with confidence that I am enrolled. I am a Cardiff University student and I have the ID card to prove it (an aside: it has always annoyed me that people will write it as "I.D." -- that doesn't make sense. "ID" is not an acronym, it's an abbreviation*).
    I think it may be law that student ID cards look like shit, because I gave them a perfectly good passport photo and they've distorted it by stretching out my face. The plus side, though, is that my nose isn't crooked.
    Although I am enrolled, I'm really not sure when or where my first class takes place, nor any of my other classes. I have a vague idea for a few. On the wall in the Welsh department there is a piece of paper that says things like: "CY 1744, O Destun i Draethawd, SR, 1.19." This wacky code is organised as if to show a weekly schedule. I think, in fact, it is a weekly schedule. If so, then I'm set for four of my classes. The two Spanish classes are a mystery. I'm hoping all will be revealed before I flunk out.

  • I am looking forward to the Spanish classes, even though Zoe is probably right that they will fuck with my head and I'll be talking about "fiancé pool" at some point ("novio" means "fiancé" in Spanish; pronounced the same, "nofio" means "to swim" in Welsh). But if it can get me up to speed on a language I should have learned 20 years ago, I'll be happy.
    Before I could enrol in the Spanish classes, I had to talk to two very nice Spanish ladies (good name for a band) who were supposed to grill me on my qualifications. For reasons that I cannot explain, they treated me completely differently than every other student. I told them my paltry qualifications (I'm from Texas and really dig salsa music**), and the chattier one said: "Oh, dass fine. Iss berry easy. You do fine."
    Then they had me fill out some forms. As I was doing that, other students came in and they were all warned that the classes are "berry intensive, berry hard."
    I still can't guess why my being an older American would make them think I would acclimate to Spanish better than an 18-year-old Briton. Perhaps it was pity. Spanish is the language that Jesus uses when talking to friends, I was once told; perhaps they were hoping to save my Yanqui soul.

  • One weird element of the university buildings is the way they write room numbers. "Room 1.19" would simply be "room 119" in most buildings. I think they've added the decimal point to make it seem cooler.

  • Anyone want to invade Iceland with me? It's soon to be free for the taking.

    *There is no specific rule on this in either Associated Press nor British Broadcasting Corp. style guides.

    **This is an understatement for comedy purposes. I have also taken multiple university-level Spanish courses in the United States. I even passed one or two of them.
  • Tuesday, September 26, 2006

    First day

  • I enrolled for classes Tuesday. That's kind of freaky, my bitches. I've been pushing toward this moment for well on two years now and here I am, actually attending university in Wales and studying Welsh. It's one of those weird saying-things-over-and-over-until-it's-true things, I guess -- like in seventh grade when I told Allison Dibble every day that she wanted me, then, suddenly she had a crush on me.
    By the way, I am the greatest writer of all time, yo.
    Thousands of other people are also starting university this week, so I'm not exactly special, but it feels weird to be among them. And perhaps I should take comfort that I have already had a classic Chris Cope moment.
    For those of you just showing up at the party, I have a natural averseness to being prepared. It's not that I'm necessarily lazy or dense or disorganised; I want to be prepared for things. I'm just usually not. Sometimes this facet of my personality results in wacky beer-drinking high jinks, but most of the time it results in my going into a profanity-laden panic.
    In the process of getting everything together for enrolment, I discovered that as a student under the umbrella of Humanities, "BA students take additional subjects in the first year ."
    This means that I am expected to take several classes that have nothing to do with my degree, much like liberal arts courses in U.S. universities. One of the reasons I wanted to attend university here is that I hate liberal arts courses -- their tediousness is partially to blame for my previous academic failures*. I do poorly when forced to do things I don't want to do.
    But let's ignore that and focus on the Chris Copeness of the situation, in that I managed to overlook this fact until the day before enrolment. I am genius. The end result of this is that in addition to Welsh, this year I will likely be studying crazy-unpronounceable-and-not-really-useful-where-I'm-from-Castilian Spanish (because I have taken several semesters of beginner Spanish over the years).

  • The system of doing things here is different than in U.S. universities. A major part of the Yanqui higher education experience involves building your class schedule each semester. For those not familiar with it, it's a bit like playing Tetris -- where the coloured blocks are classes and the goal is to not fuck up your future.
    All of that fun is eliminated in the British system:
    ME: "Hello, I'm a Welsh degree student."
    UNIVERSITY: "Yes, you are. Show up for class at 9 a.m. on Monday."
    I get no say in the matter. I sort of like it better this way. The only drawback is the fact that, since I have no say in how my schedule turns out, the university saw no reason to tell me about it until the week before. True, I don't have anything else to do with my life other than go to university, but I don't appreciate their assumption of that fact.

  • On Monday night, a Welshy friend and I were wondering what people do with philosophy degrees. That's a pretty cheeky fucking question coming from a woman with a degree in art and a dude working toward a degree in Welsh, but we had been drinking. Anyway, I found out today that one of the people best suited to answer such a question is blogging again.

  • I broke down and bought a Jack Johnson album Sunday night. Again, I had been drinking, but it's no excuse. My music cred is shot.

  • On my way to the pub Monday, a group of 20 people dressed as pirates got onto the bus and started singing pirate shanties.

  • I apologise for this blog post's rough-draft feel. It will be a while until I settle into things, I think, so me write like dummy.

    *Admittedly, they probably only take about 10-20 percent of the blame.
  • Monday, September 25, 2006

    Fuck you very much, Seiko Epson Corp.

  • The other day, my printer ran out of ink. No problem, there's a Staples pretty close to my house.
    But, in fact, there is a problem. I bought my CX4800 printer in the United States and it turns out that I cannot buy the ink in the UK. I can buy ink for the DX4800, which appears to be the exact same printer with a different name, but when I tried using that ink I hit a brick wall. Each ink cartridge has a little microchip on it to tell the printer when it's time to start fleecing me to buy more ink. The microchip also told my CX4800 printer that the ink I had put in was not compatible. And rather brilliantly, Epson has it rigged so that if one ink cartridge runs out (cyan, in my case) the printer will not function. So, I have plenty of black ink, but I cannot print out important documents for classes, which start tomorrow, because I don't have cyan ink, which I hardly ever use.
    I sense a few of you are now guiding your cursor to the comments field to tell me that, yes, that sucks, but all I have to do is order it online and have it shipped over.
    Wrong.
    Epson appears to have rigged it so that companies are not allowed to ship it outside of the United States. I am amused by Amazon's phrasing of the issue: "There is a slight problem with your order. This item can't be shipped to your selected destination."
    A slight problem.
    So, I wrote to Epson to ask them what the fuck they expect me to do, now that I'm stuck with their piece-of-shit printer and no place to find ink. This is their response:
    "You need to have it shipped to an address in the USA and then have that
    person forward it to you.
    "
    That's really their answer. Strain the generosity of friends and family members; ask them to go to the trouble and expense of shipping ink to you every time you need it.
    Fuck you, Epson. Fuck you 1,000 times.
    Looks like I'll be buying a new printer -- one that isn't an Epson, obviously.

  • The Ryder Cup is huge over here. I've heard it mentioned numerous times on television and radio. Apparently the Americans are losing. Or we lost. I have tried to read news stories to determine exactly what is happening (or has happened) but I tend to fall asleep after four words: "Colin Montgomerie and Lee... Zzzzzzzzzzzz."
    It speaks to the oddity of the British and their fascination with sports that are not, in fact, sports. Golf is not a sport. Nor are snooker or darts.

  • Does this only happen to me: Every time I want to view something that requires Quicktime, I have to upload a newer version. Does Apple put out new versions weekly?
  • Friday, September 22, 2006

    One for the kids

  • I start classes on Tuesday. That means I've been spending the past few days trying to get everything organized and occasionally lapsing into ridiculous panic over the possibility that I have forgotten some Really Important Thing that will prevent me from attending university.
    The money is sorted out, at least. I think. There appears to be only one person in Cardiff University's finance department who understands the procedure involved with U.S. student loans. And there appears to be more than one American attending Cardiff, because that guy is always busy. That leaves me dealing with people who don't really have a clue. But at least they are polite about it.
    ME: "So everything's sorted? I can enroll on Tuesday?"
    POLITE BUT IGNORANT PERSON: "Yes. Well, I should think so."
    ME: "And the remainder of the loan money -- when will I get that? I need it to pay rent."
    PBIP: "Oh, uhm. I should think it would take at least 10 days. Call back then."

  • Lately, I've noticed a bad habit on my part of telling stories that have no real point. At the end of them, I will look at the person I'm speaking to and read on their face complete and absolute boredom. To that end, I have taken to saying this a lot: "That was a good story, wasn't it? I think I'll write that one down and save it for my children."

  • Last night I dreamt that Reese Witherspoon was trying to steal me away from the child bride. She made a pretty convincing case, being all touch-feely and playing to my ego -- she laughed at my jokes and told me I was a good writer*. But in the end I said no. I turned down Reese Witherspoon for my wife.
    Admittedly, it was only in my head, but I still don't think Rachel is giving me the credit I deserve. When I told her about my dream, she only commented that it was hilarious that I fantasize about beautiful women not so much having sex with me, but saying nice things.

  • In the interest of full disclosure, however, it should be noted that on the same night I dreamt about spurning Reese Witherspoon's advances, I also woke up in illness-induced sweats several times. For the second time in as many months, I am really, really sick. Guess how happy I am that this comes just days before I'm supposed to start on my course.

  • Because I am sick, there will likely be no Penhill and Sneaveweedle adventure this week. Staring at the computer screen is giving me a headache.
  • Thursday, September 21, 2006

    It's all relative

  • According to his MySpace site, the New Zealand Chris Cope now lives in London. This is bad. Two Chris Copes living on the same tiny island and vying for prominence. This may result in some sort of nasty Chris Cope cage match.

  • I found a blogger with the same name as my mom. But it is not, in fact, my mom.

  • Am I the only one having shitloads of trouble posting? Stupid crappy Blogger
  • Tuesday, September 19, 2006

    Thank you, usurping multinational corporation

  • Keeripes, Andrew Lloyd Webber is a scary-looking man.

  • The date of Wales' smoking ban has been officially announced, which I think is pretty cool. Although, I'm not sure it will matter much to me. Only about two people smoke in the Mochyn Du as is.

  • Huw sent me a link to this blog. Oh. So. True. The other aspect of the Cardiff press is that there is no actual news. None. A look through the Echo would offer no sign of what is happening in Assembly, Parliament or any other part of the world.

  • The child bride finally has a job of sorts. She is now gainfully employed by a huge multinational corporation. It's not exactly the job you dream of when you work your ass off to get a master's degree, but it will stop some of the financial bleeding, and hopefully something that actually challenges her will come along soon.
    The child bride, being the sort of person who would be nominated for sainthood if her church had such a thing, is making no complaints. This long period of unemployment has taught her to appreciate the value of any job, she says.
    And it's a win for Starbucks. Now when Cymdeithas show up to protest, the multinational can shuffle her out to try to placate them: "Dw i'n dysgu. Does that count for anything?
    Apparently, as part of Rachel's employment she is given a bag of coffee a week, which seems like a ridiculous amount if you ask me. Since neither the child bride nor I drink coffee, it means that one of our friends will be getting a lot of free coffee.
    What I am most worried about with this job is that the music she hears all day. I fear it will affect her brain and she'll come home some day with a Joni Mitchell CD.

  • I have started work on a second novel. When I was writing my first novel (that you haven't read because it remains unpublished), I used to keep a running word count on my blog to offer an idea of my progress. Presently, I have a whopping 1,948 words, which puts me about 98,000 words shy of a completed book. So, it's going to be a while.
    But Eric, Paul, Anthony and Dan might be interested to know that I have figured out ways in which I will weave their names into the book. By doing this, I reckon I'll ensure that at least four people would buy the book if it were published.
  • What You Shouldn't Tell Your Wife

    My latest column is out. In it, my editor has eliminated a sentence in which I make fun of myself for using the word "connubial." So, now I seem like the sort of ass who goes around using 10-cent words just because I can. If you think about it, that probably is very true.

    There is also such a thing as "connubialism," which I can use to make these columns sound a heck of a lot more highbrow than they really are, e.g.: "Most of my columns address connubialism and connubial interest."

    There are a number of community colleges that would hire me as a professor on the strength of that statement alone.

    Saturday, September 16, 2006

    Quite comfortable here, thank you

  • So, the Bush administration has completely lost the plot, the other wings of government aren't much better, the CIA has become some kind of disturbing block-headed farce, the stalwarts of the American economy are crumbling, and Ann Richards is dead.
    Man, Cardiff sure is lovely in the autumn. I think I'll stay here a while.

  • That said, we sent off for our absentee ballots today. I've actually slacked on all this, so I'm worried that the whole send-and-return process may mean our votes won't be counted.

  • And Portsmouth is at the top of the league. What kind of crazy Bizarro world is this?

  • Is there anything that the Muslim community doesn't get angry about? Has there ever been a headline, "Muslim Leaders Not Particularly Bothered By So-And-So's Remarks?"

  • Chris asked me the other day about Thanksgiving -- he wanted to make sure that he is still invited. He is (as is just about anyone who can be in Cardiff at that time and can behave themselves long enough to not trash my house), but it struck me as a bit odd to be asking me about it now.
    Then I remembered that he used to live in Canada.
    I hate to inform you of this, Chris, but Canadian Thanksgiving is on a different day than American Thanksgiving. Canadian Thanksgiving takes place on 9 October. America can't have its Thanksgiving on that day because it would conflict with Columbus Day.
    Since Texas was home to the first Thanksgiving (hosted by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1541 -- look it up) the Thanksgiving that I celebrate is inherently the right one. This year, the child bride and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving with the rest of the United States on 23 November.

  • I find it interesting how many people find my blog by searching my name in Google. Who are you people?
  • Friday, September 15, 2006

    Penhill, Sneaveweedle and Ms. Jones

    "Moonfloat Rivershine Glastonbury Jones," mused Penhill. "I am going to wildly guess that your parents are not teetotalers."

    Moonfloat laughed warmly and scrunched up her face as if trying to display to a child that she was thinking.

    "It is a bit of an odd name, innit?" she said. "To name a child after a music festival. But that's where I was conceived, wasn't I? In a tent at the Glastonbury Music Festival, as Judie Tzuke sang 'Stay With Me Till Dawn.'"

    "Hmm," Sneaveweedle moaned. "I don't believe I've ever heard that one. How does it go?"

    "You know, 'And I'll show you a sunset, if you'll stay with me till daaaaawwwwn,'" Moonfloat sang.

    "Hmm, it does set a certain mood."

    "Yeah. Judie Tzuke is a totally overlooked talent. Voice of an angel, she has. An appreciation of Judie Tzuke is one of the things my parents were able to pass on to me before they passed on."

    "Oh, dear," Sneaveweedle sighed. "Both your parents are dead?"

    "No. They moved. They live in Bridgend now," Moonfloat said.

    The dirty rattling train slowed to move through a track maintenance area. Outside, several workers in hardhats and neon green Network Rail jackets stood around chatting and pointing at the ground and doing a whole lot of other things that involved not fixing the tracks.

    "And the explanation of Moonfloat? And Rivershine?" asked Penhill.

    "Oh, you know, that's a good question," Moonfloat sang, her Welsh accent running the words together. "I never thought to ask, did I? I suppose it will remain a mystery now. Oh, hello! Hold on!"

    Moonfloat jumped across Sneaveweedle in a flurry of hemp clothing and clinking bracelets, and pounded her fist against the window. The train had stopped by now. Two workers outside looked up from their tea to see what the commotion was about and Moonfloat waved frantically at them.

    "Hello Mum! Hello Dad!" she shouted through the small opening at the top of the window.

    "Oh, hello, darlin'" shouted the male in a thick, gravelled Welsh Valleys accent.

    "Hello, my flower!" the female worker sang, in an equally thick accent. "Where you goin', then?"

    "I'm going to Ireland, aren't I?" Moonfloat sang back excitedly.

    "Lovely," Moonfloat's mother shouted. "Goin' by ferry are you?"

    "Yeah!"

    "You'll love it. Your father and I went by ferry a few years ago. Who are your friends here?" the mother asked, pointing at Sneaveweedle and Penhill.

    "I don't know. I've only just met them," Moonfloat said. "Oh, but this one -- holding his face in his hands right now -- he wanted to know about my name. Where's it come from?"

    "Well, love, we were in our tent at the Glastonbury Music Festival..." the father started.

    "The other bit, I mean."

    "Jones?"

    "No, no. The Moonfloat Rivershine bit. Where's that come from, then?"

    "Oh. Well," the father said, shaking his head, "it's from lyrics to a song I wrote."

    "We sent the song to Judie Tzuke, we did, but never heard back from her, did we?" the mother said.

    "Voice of an angel, that Judie Tzuke has," said the father.

    "She does, doesn't she?" agreed Moonfloat.

    "Personally," the mother said in a loud conspiratorial whisper, "I think your father forgot to put a stamp on the envelope when he sent the song to her."

    "I did not."

    "I think you did."

    The train lurched forward, causing Moonfloat to fall into Sneaveweedle's lap. He let out a quiet squeak and tried to sit on his hands as Moonfloat righted herself.

    "Looks like your train is off now, love," the father shouted.

    "Yeah, I guess so. It was lovely to see you," Moonfloat said.

    "Oh yes, goodbye, my flower," the mother shouted, waving.

    "Goodbye."

    "Ta."

    "Ta ra."

    "All the best."

    "Cheers."

    "Take care."

    "Bye now."

    "Ta."

    Moonfloat fell back in her seat across from Penhill and sighed.

    "Oh, that was really lovely, that was," she said. "I haven't seen my parents in five years. I thought they were long lost. Oh, my. I wonder if it means something. Just think about it. Here you are, asking about my name and I'm thinking about me parents and there they are with the answer to your question. That's amazing, innit? It must mean something."

    "A fascinating coincidence, I'll grant you that," Penhill said. "But its only meaning, my dear girl, is that you and your parents need to learn how to operate a telephone."

    "But that's how the universe communicates -- through coincidences and signs. It's like the universe is sending you a text message, trying to let you know something." Moonfloat said. "Almost everything that happens has a meaning, a purpose, don't it? But it's not just coincidences. Sometimes I get these feelings. I just get this strong sensation."

    "Hmm," Sneaveweedle moaned. "What do these feelings tell you?"

    "All kinds of things, don't they? Like, there was this one time, I'm standing there and I'm about to cross the street and I just got this strong feeling and I stopped," Moonfloat said, her eyes wide and staring as if she was back at the moment. "It was a pedestrian crossing and the light was green, but I knew I had to stop. I froze and I stuck out my hand and there was this woman next to me and I said: 'Stop!' And right then, this great huge lorry came screaming past us. The wind off it knocked us both down, it came so close."

    "Oh my," Sneaveweedle gasped. "And what do these feelings, erm, feel like? How do you know when you're feeling a feeling?"

    "It's like something just plays over and over in my head, doesn't it?" Moonfloat said. "For instance, all day, I been seeing that woman's face -- the one I stopped from being hit by a lorry. I can see her face but it's like it's a painting of her face, innit? And there are only parts of her face there. What it looks like is one of those barns you see in films about people who live in rural America, and someone has painted her face onto that barn. But it's been years since they did it now, and it's being worn away by weather and age."

    "Hmm," whined Sneaveweedle. "What does it mean?"

    "That's the thing. I can't control these feelings. So sometimes I know what they mean and sometimes I don't. It's a bit like when you've got a song stuck in your head, innit?" Moonfloat said. "And sometimes you know all the words and sometimes you only know the chorus."

    "Are you asserting," Penhill sniffed, "that if I find myself sitting here humming Sir Edward Elgar's 'The Smoking Cantata,' it has some sort of deeper universal context?"

    "Could be. I've never heard that song. But just because something is small doesn't mean it's insignificant, does it? Think about all the things out there and all the ways people can go and all the things that can happen. The ways that people do go, and what does happen, has meaning, doesn't it? Like, I'm here on this train sitting across from you."

    "Oh moan," said Sneaveweedle, who was feeling a little spooked by all of this. "Our being on this train has a meaning?"

    "Yeah. I mean, here we are at this exact point in your lives and this exact point in my life. You could be all sorts of other places. Why aren't you in, I don't know, China?" Moonfloat asked.

    "Because my Chinese is rusty and kung pao chicken gives me gas," Penhill boomed. "I say, that man with the snacks trolley needs to go back to training. Where in blazes is he? I would very much like a cup of tea. Sneaveweedle, go and find the meaning behind his absence."

    Sneaveweedle moaned, struggled to his feet against the movement of the train, fell down awkwardly, got up, stumbled down the aisle and fell through the door to the next carriage. Penhill raised a bushy eyebrow as he watched Sneaveweedle go, then closed his eyes and rubbed his temples for a moment. When he opened his eyes, he spotted that Moonfloat was again staring at the ring on his right hand.

    "Don't you want to know what it means?" she asked, smiling.

    "I told you, it means my friends are ill-informed when it comes to choosing gifts," Penhill sniffed.

    "No. I've been studying the Celtic stones and crystals. That's why I'm on my way to Ireland, innit? I'm attending a conference on the use and understanding of them. The ancient Celts understood things about the universe that most of us miss in modern times, didn't they? They were very wise."

    "My dear, you are speaking about one of the many subjects upon which I am an expert," Penhill boomed. "I am senior lecturer of ancient Celtic history at Charlesfield. I will inform you, then, that after many years of careful study at the very highest levels, I can state unequivocally that the ancient Celts were idiots. They couldn't even master the engineering complexity of a chimney. They lived short, miserable lives of eating poorly, stabbing one another and breathing in smoke. I find it difficult to believe then, that these oxygen-deprived peoples should understand any more about the bigger picture than your average monkey -- less, possibly, because a monkey would not subject itself to a mud hut filled with smoke."

    "You're a professor of ancient Celtic history?" Moonfloat asked, almost in awe.

    "At Charlesfield."

    "Then you know what the Celtic Heart Stone means, don't you?"

    "Yes."

    "And what it says about you, is it true?"

    "You're the clairvoyant, Ms. Jones."

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

    The above is a piece for Flickr Fiction, based on this photo by user tangent. Also playing along this week are: Elisa, Littlegoat, Sarah and TadMack.
    This is the fifth episode of the Penhill and Sneaveweedle adventure. You can read previous episodes here.
    I would love to see any comments -- good or bad -- you might have about the story, and I would love to know where you think it should go. Since the story is being written week to week, your input helps determine what happens.

    Wednesday, September 13, 2006

    Kerdiff

  • With the child bride trapped in a sort of unemployment stasis, she has taken to staring at shop windows to see if they are hiring. It's like we are in some sort of EastEnders episode and soon the local affable crime boss is going to offer her ridiculous pay to "deliver a few packages," the contents of which she has no idea*. Then she will end up in prison and I will be forced to live underground in the Welsh-language community, surviving on my wits and constantly calling in "favours" that various Welshies owe me without any sort of explanation as to what I ever did for them.
    Or, not.
    Still, life has an odd feel to it these days.

  • I finally set foot in the National Museum today.
    The museum is located in the far north of Cardiff's city centre in one of those white Britishy buildings that tourists fall over themselves to take pictures of. Out of Cardiff's annual 34 tourists (their names are printed in the Echo and we are encouraged to say hello to them and suggest they purchase some fine Welsh tat: "Do you have any nieces or nephews? I'm sure they would love one of these delightful cartoonish plush toy dragons. Yep, that's what we're all about -- cartoonish dragons and inflatable daffodils."), I would suspect all of them take pictures of the museum but only two can correctly identify it when they get back home.
    I don't know how long I'll be living here, but I have a very strong desire to make Cardiff my own -- to feel that I am an organic part of the city. I want to feel that I really know this place in and out. I want to be like those old men on the buses who can tell you something about almost every building. So, the museum is essential.
    Unfortunately, I had failed to look at my watch when I decided to visit, and I had only 30 minutes. I am happy to report that it was far too large to see in that time -- I only managed to get through one small room. This getting-to-know-Cardiff thing is going to take some time.

  • I also learned today the location of the candy shop Roald Dahl used to frequent in Llandaff. It's a Chinese restaurant now. If you ever come to visit, I'll take you there (I'm really selling this place, aren't I?).

    *The hell? Did the last part of that sentence make sense? I am well and truly past my days as a copy editor.
  • Tuesday, September 12, 2006

    Cymraeg overload

  • You can't understand Welsh, I realise that, but I think this video is still amusing for the first 2 minutes and 10 seconds. In short, I'm talking about seemingly requisite elements to all YouTube video blogs.

  • Things seem to be quieting down somewhat these days, as evidenced by the decreased amount of blogging. Or, if I do have something to say, it's usually in Welsh. Cripes, bitches, my whole fucking world is Welsh.
    There's this one Welsh song that they'll play on the radio every once in a while, where the bloke just says "Cymraeg, Cymraeg, Cymraeg" over and over again. That's how I feel. My world is filled with Cymraeg (it's the Welsh word for "Welsh;" please stay with the group), and as much as I dig Wales and Welsh, there is a part of me that is just a little tired of it.
    It's that thing of still having to use my whole brain to stay in a conversation that causes this. I feel like Sam in that episode of "Quantum Leap" when he was a kid with Down's syndrome.
  • Sooner perhaps than instantly

  • Yes, I know it's been a ridiculously long time since I last visited your blog (unless you are Afe, who doesn't exist -- he's like that whole Lonelygirl15 phenomenon), and I wish I had a good excuse. Let it be known that I am an ass. Somehow, time slips away from me faster than I can understand, and I'm trying to exist on multiple planes at the moment. A clear sign of that fact is demonstrated by my use of bullshitty statements like, "I'm trying to exist on multiple planes."

  • I'm inclined to believe that when you find yourself melancholy, drinking beer and listening to country music it speaks of something wrong. I don't know what that something is, though.

  • Sometimes I'm amused by spam e-mail subject lines: "Is you shy of your short dick? Increase three inches instantly. Sooner perhaps."
    Sooner than instantly. That is pretty fucking quick, yo.
  • Saturday, September 9, 2006

    On The Road

    "Blast!" hissed Penhill, dropping his teaspoon and glaring out the window of Molly's Cafe.

    Sneaveweedle followed his stare to the street, where a large bearded man was walking toward them. The man's neatly trimmed beard was salt-and-pepper grey, more salt than pepper, and his hair shaved close in concession to the male-pattern baldness pushing up from his temples. His barrel chest thrust from an open pea coat as he strode powerfully toward the cafe, drawing on a long churchwarden pipe. As he reached the cafe door he tapped out the contents of his pipe, stamping them out with his shoe, and slid it into an inner breast pocket.

    As the man stepped inside, he glanced quickly at Sneaveweedle and then beyond him to Penhill. He grinned and said, "Bore da, Dr. Penhill," in a deep baritone voice.

    "That's Sir Penhill!" boomed the aforementioned indignantly.

    "I'm afraid, doctor, I only acknowledge titles that are earned," the man said.

    Penhill crossed his arms and drew in a deep breath, staring with simmering contempt at the man. His eyes then darted to his travelling assistant.

    "This," Penhill growled to Sneaveweedle, waving a hand toward the man, "is Dr. Rhys Davies. He is a colleague of mine in the Department of Very Ancient Things. You will recall, of course, that you stole his banana!"

    "Oh," Sneaveweedle moaned, trying to melt from his chair.

    Davies raised an eyebrow at Sneaveweedle then looked back at Penhill who was wearing a self-indulgent grin. Penhill carried on.

    "Don't worry, boy. As you can see from his rotund figure, Davies had no need for that banana," Penhill said. "Indeed, Davies, I may be good for your diet. You will find that young Molly has run out of sausages this morning. Can you guess who got the last of them?"

    Davies simply looked at the gaunt Englishman and waited for him to answer his own question.

    "Me!" Penhill shouted gleefully. "I got the last of the sausages! Ha! The early bird catches the worm, Davies! Your typical relaxed Welsh attitude has left you sans saucisses, as the French might say."

    "I'm only out of sausages temporarily, Dr. Davies," Molly said, placing two full breakfasts before Penhill and Sneaveweedle. "The delivery man is running late, that's all. He should be along soon."

    "That's quite alright, Molly," Davies said, turning to grab a copy of The Grivelsby Yodler from the counter. "I am quite happy with toast and tea for the time being."

    Davies took off his coat, draped it on a chair and sat down at a table facing Penhill. He fluttered open the paper then looked up and pointed at Sneaveweedle.

    "Who is your little banana thief, Dr. Penhill? I've never known you to be particularly chummy with the students at Charlesfield," he said.

    "Oh, I'm not a student, sir," whined Sneaveweedle. "I'm Sir Penhill's travelling assistant."

    "His what?" Davies chuckled.

    "Travelling assistant, Davies," Penhill interjected, wagging a fork. "He is an assistant who travels. It is a tremendous opportunity for Sneaveweedle here, who will, of course, benefit from my presence."

    "A young boy in the tutelage of an elder gentleman. How very Greek," chuckled Davies.

    "I'm afraid I didn't hear that juvenile remark, Davies," Penhill boomed. "I was too busy enjoying my sausages."

    .....

    Penhill grimaced at the dirty, rattling embarrassment of public transportation that had pulled up at Platform 4 of Cardiff Central train station. There were five carriages in all, being pulled by a sooty old diesel locomotive. Of the five carriages, three bore the familiar paint scheme of Virgin Trains, but the word "Virgin" had been sloppily painted over and someone had slapped an "Arriva Trains Wales" decal next to it.

    Penhill tapped one of the carriage doors with his shillelagh and eyed it suspiciously.

    "Apparently, Sneaveweedle, our little trip to Ireland detours through the Third World. I shan't be surprised to see Hindis climbing atop this thing to sit on the roof," he boomed.

    "Hmm," Sneaveweedle whined in agreement. "Although, this really is quite exciting. The locomotive is an old Class 37. Most of them have been retired in the last few years, so this is a treat. This is engine 37425, or the 'Batchdeery Commode.' It was built in the 1960s and refurbished in 1986. I'm quite a fan of trains, you see, and..."

    "That's enough, Sneaveweedle, thank you," Penhill said, half-heartedly swinging the shillelagh at Sneaveweedle's shoulder. "And the name of the engine is 'Balchder y Cymoedd.' It's Welsh. It means 'Pride of the Valleys.' Pride of the valleys, indeed. Well, come on, boy. Let's get aboard and see if we can't find a car we won't have to share with livestock. I hope all your vaccinations are up to date."

    The two stepped onto the train and found seats that faced each other and allowed for more legroom. Penhill slapped his seat a few times and swatted at the dust that had kicked up, and then sat down.

    "Hmm, you speak Welsh, sir?" Sneaveweedle moaned.

    "Of course," Penhill huffed. "I wouldn't make it very far as senior lecturer of ancient Celtic history without knowing Welsh."

    "Oh moan. But you seemed quite upset at Dr. Davies' speaking Welsh this morning. Why..."

    "Sneaveweedle," interrupted Penhill, "just because I can do a thing doesn't mean I want to. Just as I am capable of speaking Welsh, I am also capable of stabbing myself in the eye. I prefer to do neither."

    "Hmm" sighed Sneaveweedle, turning his attention to the large black smokestack in the distance and wondering why anyone would call a beer "Brains."

    As the train clicked and jerked and rattled away from the platform, a frazzled young woman carried several bags into the carriage and sat down across the aisle from Penhill and Sneaveweedle.

    She looked to be in her late 20s. She wore an orange sundress with a sort of white daisy pattern printed around the waist. Her dreadlocked hair was dyed bright red and held up by what appeared to be twine. She was that strange sort of dishevelment that is immaculate and beautiful. As she settled herself and her bags, she was an orchestra of clinking bracelets.

    Penhill spotted that she was wearing a Celtic talisman around her neck and rolled his eyes. He crossed his legs, folded his hands on his shillelagh and decided to himself that he would like a cup of tea.

    "A Celtic Heart Stone!"

    "What?" Penhill jumped, suddenly pulled from his thoughts.

    He looked at Sneaveweedle, who was looking at the woman across the aisle. She was looking at Penhill and pointing at the ring on his right hand.

    "That's a Celtic Heart Stone, innit?" said the woman in a deep sing-song Welsh Valleys accent.

    "Oh, yes. Yes, it is," Penhill said dismissively. "But before you go assuming that I buy into that rubbish, I will inform you that it was gift from a friend. I only wear it to be polite."

    "I don't believe you," the woman sang. "The Celtic Heart Stone is very rare and very special. Very powerful. Yours points to your brachial artery and it's deep blue! That means..."

    "It means, young lady, that my friends are not very skilled in choosing gifts," Penhill snapped.

    "No. It means somethin'. You don't want to believe it, but that doesn't change truth, does it? The world is made up of all kinds of things we don't understand and things we don't want to understand, innt? We hide the truth from ourselves, don't we?" she said, moving across the aisle to sit opposite Penhill.

    Sneaveweedle gave a little moan and pressed himself against the carriage window as she sat down.

    "There are all kinds of things that don't make sense, but there they are," the woman said. "Like, last week I was in St. Louis, USA, and I saw a tiny winged horse in a jar. And a testicle the size of your head."

    "Oh, I say!" Sneaveweedle yelped.

    "Yeah! It's true!" the woman exclaimed.

    "The latter, perhaps, but your pickled Pegasus -- hardly," Penhill sniffed.

    "That's what a lot of people say, innit? But I know what I seen," she sang. "And if you leave yourself open to the truth, certain things are revealed. That's how I make my livin', see. My name is Moonfloat Rivershine Glastonbury Jones. They call me 'The Clairvoyant of Caerphilly.'"

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

    The above is a slightly late post for Flickr Fiction, based on this photo from Flickr user masticanotte. Also writing pieces this week are: Donal, Elisa, Isobel, Sarah and Tadmack.
    This is part four in a series on Penhill and Sneaveweedle. You can read the other parts by going here. I would love to see any comments -- good or bad -- you might have about the story, and I would love to know where you think it should go. Since the story is being written week to week, your input helps determine what happens.

    Friday, September 8, 2006

    1386 is alright for fighting

    Quite a while ago (under "Dydd Sul 30 Gorffennaf""), I mentioned that the child bride and I went to a mediaeval festival called Joust. I mentioned also that it wasn't quite as good as Renaissance Festival because it took itself a little too seriously. There was a serious dearth of fart jokes at Joust.

    But they had beer, so I made the best of it. Unfortunately, this resulted in my getting into a fight.

    It all started when I wondered over to an area of reenactor types who had set up camp at the periphery of the festival. Outside one of the tents, someone had set up a large array of mediaeval weaponry, so I decided to play around with one of the sticks...
    Nice stick

    As you can see, the lovechild of Peter Pan and the Michelin Man came out to yell at me, primarily because I was calling it a "stick" and not a "halberd." People who do reenactment are a little touchy about that kind of stuff. I didn't like his tone, though, so I thought I should let him know that a person wielding a halberd should be allowed to call it anything he wants...
    Back off, Puffy

    He didn't think it was as funny as I did and we exchanged words. He made fun of my nose and I told him he was so poor he could hardly afford papal indulgences and therefore had no choice but to live a life of goodness and piety...
    Fightin' talk

    He tried to cool my heretical tongue with cold steel, but my reflexes are cat like and I was out of his sword's deadly path in an instant...
    Close one

    I warned him that he would receive no Christian burial from me, then proceeded to give him what for...
    On the attack

    By this time, our disagreement had drawn the attention of no small amount of onlookers. Of course the ladies were crying my name. I'm afraid that my attention was more toward the fair maidens when that fiend was able to put me on my heels...
    Too close

    I was back at him quickly, however. The battle lasted for several minutes. I must admit it had been foolish to go into a fight my head so swimming with ale. My attacks were too few and I spent much of my time swatting away his weak adances...
    Again he goes low

    You can see here he is raising his sword in a futile attempt to hold me off, but it was ultimately unsuccessful...
    Coming in for the kill

    This is a family blog, so I'm afraid I can't show you what happened next. Suffice to say, however, I am the one who is here to tell the tale.

    Postponed

    Due to the child bride's hogging the computer over the last two days, this week's Penhill and Sneaveweedle story will be late. I am presently endeavoring to have it posted by Saturday afternoon. I apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.

    Thursday, September 7, 2006

    Cleveland, Oahu

  • Cripes almighty Americans are loud. Voices-reverberating-off-the-walls loud.
    The child bride and I found ourselves reflecting on that fact this morning after bidding farewell to a group of Yanqui who had stayed with us Wednesday night.
    Rachel and I have only lived here for two months and already we are making this observation. Soon we will sewing Canadian flags into our backpacks.
    The Yanqui in question were a group headed up by the child bride's friend from university, Rachel Kossover. Also making the U.S. presence felt were Koss' brother, Nathan, and a friend from Koss' Case Western days, Dawn (yes, all of us have blogs -- the extreme geekiness here is making me numb).
    The three of them are doing that American thing of going on a whirlwind tour through England, Wales and Ireland in the space of about a week, so the child bride and I had only a few hours to make a good impression for Wales. That's the way I always feel when people come to visit from out of town, that I need to make a good impression for the area I'm living in.
    We took the Yanqui trio to St. Fagan's. Also known as the museum of Welsh life, it is a collection of actual buildings that have been collected from throughout Wales and reassembled a few miles outside of Cardiff. It sounds infinitely duller than it actually is. It is, in fact, the child bride's favourite place to hang out and I have no doubt that pretty soon, everyone that works there will know us by name.
    One of them does, already -- Sara, the lovely lady at St. Fagan's who can tell you all about Eglwys Sant Teilio. Although, the child bride and I simply refer to it as "Sara's church." I'm sure she would approve.
    Thankfully, Sara was around Wednesday to show us her church and then commit an act of charity that puts her well toward sainthood in the Church of Chris -- she gave us a ride home. Inexplicably, the 32 bus had failed to show up. Cardiff Bus Co. seems to be run by that guy you knew in college who had to drop out so he could dedicate more time to pot smoking. We were in the process of wondering what to do when Santes Sara turned up in her minuscule car.
    I'm still new to British cars, so I can't say for certain that she drives a two-door Austin Metro, but whatever she drives is of the same basic size. Nonetheless, we were able to cram six people into the vehicle -- Sara and me** up front; the child bride, Koss, Nathan and Dawn all packed into the rear, which would normally be a squeeze for just two people -- and bumble off toward Cardiff, the suspension pleading with us to make it a short trip.
    I have spent most of the day waiting for an angry phone call from Sara: "I can't get the stench of Americans out of my car. I demand that you pay to have it cleaned."
    After arriving safely home and cleaning up a bit, our American quintet went out to eat at La Tasca, which I realise is a chain restaurant, but a chain restaurant that we didn't have in Minnesota, so it's new to me. Once seated and supplied with sangria and lager, Nathan and I proceeded to have a very loud discussion about which NFL team is going to suck more this year -- the Vikings, the Browns, the Ravens or the Lions. We came to the conclusion that NFL teams that finish in last place should be forced to play the No. 1 college team; and if they lose that game, they shouldn't be allowed to compete in NFL for a year. We carried on like this for a few hours.
    Eventually it was time to dash out and catch our bus, where we met two of Cardiff's brain trust teenage girls. When Nathan sat down and started chatting with the girls, I'll admit that the child bride and I thought it was going to be one of those loud-drunken-American-brings-shame-to-the-nation things, but instead it turned into one of those holy-shit-these-girls-are-thicker-than-a-drunk-guy things.
    Teenage Girl: "Where you from?"
    Drunken Nathan: "Cleveland."
    Long pause and blank stare from girls.
    DN: "Ohio. Cleveland, Ohio."
    TG: "That's in Hawaii, innit?"
    DN: "No. I'd be a happier man if I lived in Hawaii."
    TG: "Is it hot?"
    DN: "Ohio?"
    TG: "Yeah, is it hot?"
    DN: "Not really. Sometimes it can be. It can also get pretty cold and snowy."
    TG: "Like the North Pole?"
    DN: "Uhm, not so much."
    TG: "Is it close to New York?"
    DN: "About a 12-hour drive. Is that close?"
    TG: "Twelve hours drivin'?"
    DN: "Yeah."
    TG: "I don't think I wanna go. I ain't never been to New York, but I think here is better."
    The conversation carried on for about five minutes, until the girls' brains had overheated and they were forced to stare blankly at their mobile phones.
    Back at home, we spent an hour or so chatting really loudly before the Yanqui trio had to go to bed -- they had to catch a 7:30 a.m. train today.
    After they were gone, Rachel and I found ourselves thinking about how loud we had all been. We wanted to call Sara and apologise and then call Chris and Jenny to ask if we had been too loud when we came to visit recently. Then we thought of people we know who are loud by American standards and just sort of held our heads in shame at the possibility that those people will come out to visit.

  • You know how a lot of blogs have categories? For example, if you went to Donal's blog, but didn't want to read anything other than posts relating in some way to Dublin, all you'd have to do would be click a link and then, viola**, it's all organised for you.
    But who is this feature for? Does anyone really use it when reading blogs? I feel like I'm missing something.

  • Perhaps my failure to see the point of categorising blog posts is yet another sign of age. The child bride and I both spent several minutes muttering profanities at her phone while the two of us attempted to text a response to a question that had been sent by Koss.
    "No, that's not what I want to say at all, you fucking little..."
    "Shouldn't there be a space there?"
    "Yes, but how do I do that?"
    "Fucking waste of time."
    "I hate this thing."
    "I hate it more."

    *I got shotgun because I am a speaker of The Sacred Welshy Code. More and more when people ask me why I've learned Welsh, I want to say: "Guess how many free pints it's earned me."
    **I love misspelling that word.
  • Tuesday, September 5, 2006

    I can bullshit till Christmas...

  • I think what upsets me most about Steve Irwin's death is that he was one of the few people I was able to impersonate. At present, I can think of no other impersonation I can do where I wouldn't have to tell you who I was impersonating.

  • I have come to the conclusion that the child bride hates adventure. Or, at least, she hates the kind of adventure that involves showing up to job interviews with seconds to spare. She was swearing like a Welsh Valleys native (who beat out sailors and longshoreman pretty much any day of the weak) as we hurried our way to Ysbyty Llandochau on Monday.
    Interesting side note, no one seems to be able to agree on the proper spelling of the large Penarth-based hospital we went to. Signs and maps offered multiple spellings in both English and Welsh. I spotted Llandochau, Llandoche, Landochau, Llandough, Landough, and Landoc.
    Whatever it's called, we arrived there just in time. Rachel scurried off to interview and I wandered around the hospital corridors for about an hour and a half. I had a surprisingly long conversation with an old bloke about the fact that it was too hot in the hospital and there weren't enough toilets, then I went and stood in the rain.
    Meanwhile, it was pretty much made clear to Rachel in the interview that she wouldn't get the job because she doesn't have immediate experience within the British system. She was applying for a temporary and part-time job, and they were looking to find someone who could hit the ground running, to use insufferable business cliché.
    We were pretty worn out by it on the way home. The child bride has gone through this four times now -- interviewing and being rejected -- and as time wears on you start to see only the worst-case scenarios. Presently we are living on credit cards and family charity, all the money we had saved before coming here long gone. So, there's that feeling that it will all cave in on itself. And then I don't know what would happen. Just as this week's column deals with the fact that I don't know what I'm doing, I haven't a fucking clue what I would do if this didn't work. It's sort of like George W. Bush's war strategy:
    "What happens if we lose?"
    "We won't lose."
    Except that far fewer people die as a result of my learning Welsh. There was old man Higgins, sure, but he had it coming.
    The job rejection is hard on Rachel, who, unlike me, hasn't built her persona on consistent failure. It really kicks at her confidence.
    And it's hard on me because, you know, I'm the husband. Traditional roles bollocks, but there is still that feeling that it's my fault and that I've put us in this position and if I were any kind of man at all, I'd fix it. This led to my drinking all the beer in the house and getting really angry with myself that I can write and write and write and write, but I'm not making money from it. I am prolific but penniless.
    Rachel heard from the hospital today and they made it official, she didn't get the job. But the people she interviewed with were so impressed by her that they are eager to find a place where she would fit. They said they were particularly impressed by her enthusiasm. Perhaps that invigorating dash to the hospital was helpful after all.
    Ideally, she will be employed by Christmas. I think we can hold on until then.

  • The child bride and I are hosting our first guests tomorrow. Koss and a sundry Jew crew will be staying over Wednesday night. I mention religion only to set up the comment Koss made on the phone last night.
    She told me she and her crew were headed to my beloved Portsmouth, and I told her all the good things I could think of, but couldn't dance around the fact that it's not the prettiest town on Earth. For a place with such an incredibly rich history, it is architecturally no more inspiring than, say, Fargo, N.D. This is because it was bombed to shreds in World War II.
    "So, when you walk down a Portsmouth street and run into yet another architectural embarrassment, just know that at the heart of it, Nazi Germany is to blame," I said.
    "Right," Koss quipped, "because I need another reason to hate the Nazis."

  • Oh Texas, you make me so proud.
    (Link sent to me by my dad)

  • I found this strangely fascinating.
  • I Don't Know What I'm Doing

    My latest column is out. It has been sanitized for your protection. Originally, I had written: "I, on the other hand, was most concerned with trying to convince Emma Carrbridge to take off her shirt."

    C'est la vie.

    That means that the column is now perfectly safe to forward to all your friends and relatives; please do so to help me become famous.

    Monday, September 4, 2006

    The weakest blog post I've made in several months

  • I am heartbroken over this.

  • I've stretched the template on my blog a bit. The goal here is to be able to post larger pictures on the rare occasion that I actually post them. But you, my beloved reader, may not be such a fan. Or it may show up wonky in your browser. Or, you may just not like it.
    Let me know if you think I should change it back.

  • Has anyone noticed that Blogger has launched Blogger beta? This version alows the user to manipulate the look of their blog easier. What the hell, yo? What if I want all the fancy new stuff but don't want to lose two years of posts?

  • Why yes, I am 13 years old. Last night I came up with this phrase: "Dude, this tastes like butt sex."
  • Sunday, September 3, 2006

    Legendary

  • The child bride and I have a TV now. A friend of Rachel's from church managed to find one we could have for free and insisted on delivering it to our doorstep. It is an enormous 29-inch Panasonic television that receives BBC1, BBC2, ITV and S4C.
    I'm really not sure how I feel about this. I was quite happy being one of those people who didn't own a television. There is something about a television that makes one feel as if your time is being stolen away from you. I am perfectly happy to lose several hours of my life to writing or reading a book, but I find myself almost angry at the 90 minutes lost to "The Story of Light Entertainment."
    On the positive side, I am now able to watch some Welsh-language programming -- what little of it there is. And EastEnders. When did Phil become so affable?
    For those of you wondering, yes, I bought a TV license straight away. I'm still not sure I'm happy that I own a TV, but at least I can take comfort in knowing that I am paying my share of all the internet features I use.

  • With my new television, I was able to watch a bit of the England game on Saturday night. Commence Welshy-style grumbling that I was not able to watch the Wales game. Not that either was really worth watching -- England proved they can beat up on a load of amateurs and Wales proved they aren't all that great. Both of these things you could have guessed before the matches started.
    It helps to ease the homesickness that the Wales side are just not quite good enough -- they remind me of the Vikings somewhat.

  • Curly reported he had the following conversation in a pub in the wee hours of Sunday morning:
    Curly: Alright mate? Good night so far then?
    Random Bloke: Yeah. Good. Just enjoying a night out before work again on Monday.
    Curly: Yeah, good idea - where do you work?
    RB: Cardiff Uni as a lecturer.
    Curly: What subject do you lecture in? (grasp of vocab had left me)
    RB: English.
    Curly: You from Wales?
    RB: Yeah, can't speak Welsh. Learning though.
    Curly: Lessons? Or just teaching yourself?
    RB: BBC website.
    Curly: Oh, you know of Chris Cope then? The American who learnt Welsh over the internet?
    RB: (nods very positively) Oh yeah... that guy is just legendary. What a thing to do. What a legend.
    Curly: Indeed, well - off to get a taxi. See you again.
    RB: Yeah. Bye.
  • Friday, September 1, 2006

    Mumsy Makes a Phone Call

    Sneaveweedle was in his room, packing his things, when Bentley brought him the phone.

    "This rum is fantastic," Sneaveweedle's mother was saying as he brought the receiver to his ear. "Rum. I love rum! It's even a fun word to say: rrrrrrrum! Why we gave up control of the Caribbean, I will never understand."

    "Mumsy?" whined Sneaveweedle.

    "Dear Lord! What is that insufferable noise coming down the phone?!"

    "Oh moan. It's me, Mother."

    "Oh, I say. So it is. Hello, darling. How are you?" shouted the voice on the other end.

    Sneaveweedle's mother spoke with the vigour of a pantomime queen. The casual observer might expect her to shout things like, "We are not amused," or, "Off with her head!" She was blue-blood aristocracy through and through, but had come off the rails since Sneaveweedle's father had met his untimely death seven years earlier.

    The relationship between mother and son had never been particularly close, but after Lord Grivelsby's demise, Lady Grivelsby had made a valiant effort to raise young Sneaveweedle through his teenage years. After six months of this, she chose instead to pursue a life of heavy drinking in exotic locales.

    "Hmmm, I'm alright," Sneaveweedle answered. "At the moment I'm.."

    "Hold on a minute, darling," Sneaveweedle's mother said. She then shouted at someone in a slow, loud, pronounced voice. "Excúseme, Huriel, darling, fetch us another of those fabulous rum drinks, will you? There's a good lad. Oh, my, he is a pleasure, isn't he? These Cuban gentlemen are devious fellows, but one certainly does enjoy the view. Were I a shade younger, I think I should be ravishing him in one of those beach huts. Not that 52 is so old, mind you. But since that embarrassing episode in a Tibetan monastery I've tried to be a little more judicious in where and when I remove my clothing..."

    "You're in Cuba?" Sneaveweedle asked.

    "Great interrobang, what was that noise?!" shouted Lady Grivelsby. "Oh, you're still there. Yes, darling, a group of us decided it would be fun to see what might happen when Fidel dies. It could be rather exciting. Although, on the face of it, that seems quite unlikely at the moment. There was a time not so long ago when the Americans would be hitting the beaches by now. They've lost their bottle, I say. We never should have left them to run off on their own. This is what happens when you cavort with the French, you see -- 230 years down the line and you've lost the nerve to storm a tiny island."

    "Hmm, Mother, are you drunk?" Sneaveweedle moaned.

    "Oh, of course, darling! I should sooner be caught not wearing makeup than suffer the slings and arrows of sobriety!" Sneaveweedle's mother shouted. Then, again to someone off the phone: "Gracias, Huriel. You are magnificent. Turn around now and let me watch you walk away in those tight trousers of yours. There you are, very good. Oh, lovely. Yes, very nice indeed. I really must speak to him privately. Dearest, is there a reason you've phoned me?"

    "Hmm? You phoned me," Sneaveweedle sighed.

    "Egad! That noise again! It's like a rabid monkey let loose in my ear canal! Oh, it's still you, is it? Yes, I suppose I did phone you. Dear, is there anyone else around?"

    "Hmm?"

    "Anyone else around the manor? I should like to speak to them. I'm afraid your voice is not mixing well with the rum, darling."

    "Oh whoa," moaned Sneaveweedle. "I only see the gardener, I'm afraid."

    "Stevens? That's fine. Put him on, will you?"

    "Hmm, I'd rather not, Mumsy. Stevens makes me terribly uncomfortable," protested Sneaveweedle.

    "Stevens?! Why, darling, he's one of the finest gardeners I've ever encountered. And not too hard on the eyes, I might add," Lady Grivelsby said. "What ever could be the matter with Stevens?"

    "He thinks he's a pirate, Mother."

    "So he does. That's nothing to hold against him. Put him on the phone at once."

    Sneaveweedle pushed open his bedroom window and called down to the peg-legged man who had been replacing soil for roses. Despite a greying beard and only one leg, the man spun with incredible speed, brandishing a shiny foot-long knife that seemed to have come from nowhere. His one good eye scanned the garden quickly; when his gaze moved up to the bedroom window, his shoulders relaxed and he smiled.

    "G'mornin' Mr. Sneaveweedle!" he shouted, returning the knife to its hiding place in his large black pirate coat.

    Stevens was up the stairs in a flash. He smiled a warm, gap-toothed grin through his scraggy beard and took the receiver from Sneaveweedle.

    "Who be wantin' to speak to Black Cap'n Stevens?!" he growled fiercely down the line. "Oh, hello yer Ladyship. Ye be soundin' as lovely as ever. Yar-har! Ye be too humble! If ye'll excuse me immodesty, I've had the company o' many a woman in many a port, but I never laid eyes on such a lovely creature as ye. Oh, har-har-har, yer Ladyship, ye be too generous to ol' Cap'n Stevens."

    Black Cap'n Stevens sat down in Sneaveweedle's reading chair, crossed his legs, or, leg, as the case may be, and chatted a while with Sneaveweedle's mother.

    Sneaveweedle sat on his bed and let out a slow, quiet moan.

    "Ye be in Cuba, ye say!" Stevens growled. "I been to Cuba many a time. Yer Ladyship, if ye should meet a man by the name o' Guscar, would ye be so kind as to stab him in the eye fer me?

    "Oh, I have good reason, yer Ladyship. In the port o Havana, Guscar sold me a mirror. The back o' that mirror, he said, contained a map -- a map to treasure! More treasure than any man can imagine! Beyond even the greediest pirate's dreams.

    "But the treasure, he said, were guarded by hideous beast. A beast so hideous, so awful, so gruesome, so horrific, so terrifying, so dreadful that nary a man dare to look upon it. If ye look upon the beast directly, he said, ye'll rip yer own eyes out in disgust and run cold steel through ye own skull to chase away the memory. The only way to battle the beast, says he, is to look upon it indirectly -- through the mirror...

    "What? Is that so? Well, I'm afraid I never saw 'Clash of the Titans,' yer Ladyship. Thar not be many opportunities for Black Cap'n Stevens to visit the cinema these days...

    "What's that? No, I haven't heard about the new pirate movie... Ha! 'Rated Arrrr.' That be a good one. How about this: 'What do a pirate say when he has a heart attack? Arrr! Me heartie!'

    "Anyway, as yer Ladyship can well imagine, thar be no monster. The map at the back o' the mirror were just to the IKEA in Bristol, where I found several o' the same mirror -- a KOOFKUP, it were called. It were reasonably priced at £7.99. But that mangy bastard Guscar had charged me 20 doubloons!"

    Sneaveweedle was no longer paying attention. He had busied himself by checking to make sure he had the train and ferry tickets for the next day. He then used his new mobile phone to check that both the train and ferry were expected to run on time.

    "But what is it that ol' Black Cap'n Stevens can do fer yer Ladyship?" Stevens asked. "Eh? Well, he be right here. Ye want me to put him on the phone? Oh, I see. Agreed -- tis an ingratiating tone to be sure! Right. Really? OK, I'll be askin' him."

    "Mr. Sneaveweedle!" Stevens shouted, suddenly stepping toward the young man.

    "Oh!" cried Sneaveweedle, dropping a handful of travel pamphlets.

    "Lady Grivelsby be wantin' to know if it be true what she heard from Bentley, of your findin' a job?"

    "Hngh?" Sneaveweedle bleated. "How did she hear that from Bentley? He doesn't speak."

    "He speaks, young Mr. Sneaveweedle; he doesn't speak to you," Stevens said. "An' stop trying to avoid the question. Are ye or are ye not gainfully employed?"

    "Hmm, well, yes," Sneaveweedle stammered.

    "Hello? Hello? I think yer mother fainted," Stevens growled, cupping his hand over the receiver. "Ye be a cruel man to do such a thing to yer poor sweet own mother."

    "Oh moan," Sneaveweedle cried. "What did I do?"

    "Hello, yer Ladyship? Be ye OK?" Stevens said, his attention back to the other end of phone. "Yes, well thank goodness ye were already reclining in a beach chair, yer Ladyship."

    Stevens again directed his attention to Sneaveweedle.

    "How can ye be doin' this? Yer mother asks," Stevens hissed, keeping the receiver pressed to his ear. "No member o' the Grivelsby family has held a steady job in at least five generations. Are ye tryin' to shame ye own family?"

    "Oh, Mumsy, erm, Captain Stevens, it seemed like a good idea at the time..." Sneaveweedle moaned.

    "If yer father were alive to hear this, he'd have a fit, she says. The Grivelsbys are above filthy common labour," Stevens reported.

    Then again directing his speech away from Sneaveweedle, he said, "Oh, no offence taken, yer Ladyship. I agree that the life o' a pirate-gardener ain't no kind o life for young Mr. Sneaveweedle. Do ye want me to run him through for ye? No? How about I just wound 'im -- take a finger or somethin' like that? To teach him a lesson. No? Sure? 100 percent? OK, I understand."

    Stevens' eye darted back up to Sneaveweedle and he asked in a low, gravelled tone: "What kind o job be ye havin, yer mother wants to know."

    "I am a travel assistant to..."

    "ASSISTANT?!" screamed Lady Grivelsby loud enough for Sneaveweedle to hear.

    "Avast!" yelped Stevens as he winced and extended the phone to arm's length.

    "Oh moan! Yes, Mumsy a travel assistant to..." Sneaveweedle tried again.

    "GREAT BANG SCREAMER!! CAN'T YOU JUST BE GAY OR SOMETHING?! HURIEL! BRING ME A DRINK, RÁPIDAMENTE! AND NOT THAT FRUITY CANDY IN A CUP -- A PROPER DRINK! ASSISTANT? ASSISTANT! AN ASSISTANT TO WHO?"

    "Oh moan. His name is Sir Percival Artemus..."

    "Percy?!" Sneaveweedle's mother gasped, going quiet.

    Black Cap'n Stevens gingerly tested placing the phone close to his ear again, looked at Sneaveweedle and asked: "How be dear ol' Percy? yer mother be wantin' to know."

    "Hmm? Mother knows Sir Penhill?"

    "That be none o' yer business, says she," Stevens reported. "But she be givin' ye permission to keep the job."

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

    The above is a work of Flickr Fiction based on this photo by Flickr user Iguana Jo.
    Also taking part this week are: Donal, Elisa, Tadmack and more to follow.
    This is part three in a series about Penhill and Sneaveweedle. You can read the other parts by going here. As always, I would love to hear any comments -- good or bad -- you might have about the story, and I would love to see where you think it should go. Since the story is being written week to week, your input helps determine what happens next.