Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy New Year

As mentioned below, the child bride and I will be in Ireland for the next few days. I won't be back at the blog until at least 4 January. Somehow I think you'll carry on.

This is probably stupid on my part, but I am really looking forward to 2008, perhaps more so than I can remember for any previous year. In general, I refuse to make New Year's resolutions or pretend that a new year is any different than a new month, new week, new day, new hour.

"In Christ all things are new," a pastor once told me.

Shawn can probably tell you what scripture that comes from (I'm guessing New Testament, because of the stuff about Jesus). But even if you remove the "In Christ" bit it's a generally true statement that I try to remind myself of when I get frustrated. All things are new all the time.

But there is something about this coming year that inspires a stupid optimism. I feel as if I have spent a long time laying the groundwork and this year I will finally start to build something for myself. That is stupid, stupid optimism, I know -- inspired by two too many glasses of port -- but it's how I feel.

Maybe you feel the same way.

Maybe you don't. If you are a more sober/realistic person, New Year's is simply an opportunity to pay too much for drinks at the bar you always go to, or watch crap pop groups on television and remind yourself of why you don't listen to pop music.

Whatever it is for you, I hope that it is good.

In the spirit of pointless merrymaking, I will link to this YouTube video, containing what remains my favourite song of all time. Blwyddyn newydd dda.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Alesha, Astrid and Éire

I just heard the 9:08 train to Cardiff Central roll past. For some reason, that made it official for me that Christmas is over.

For those of you playing along at home, trains and buses don't run in Britain on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. Everything stops -- only the godless Spar stays open. Now that Christmas is passed, we'll slip into a half-speed routine for the next week, with everything again coming to a standstill on New Year's Day.

It was a good Christmas, starting with Alesha Dixon winning "Strictly Come Dancing." I voted for her twice, which is a clear sign that I am coming unglued; I am phone voting for celebrities on camp television. I try telling myself that doing this is simply an extension of my love for all things British -- obsessing over reality television is a national pastime here -- but I am still slightly embarrassed.

Probably not as embarrassed, though, as Jenny and Chris think I should be. At Thanksgiving they were wearing looks of serious concern and discomfort when I was talking about my love for the show. Theirs was the same look you might give someone going on and on about the innocent eroticism of child pornography: "OK, it's a given we're never going to speak to this man again. Do we just get up and walk out now, or leave it, hope he shuts up, and bolt at the earliest opportunity?"

But how can you not love the British Beyonce? That's Bruce Forsyth's estimation of Alesha Dixon, at least -- indicating more Bruce's total lack of awareness of Beyonce Knowles than anything else. He told Alesha this after she won the "Strictly Come Dancing" trophy.

"You can sing and dance. You've got quite an act," Bruce told her.

A little song, a little dance -- that's all you need to make it big. Apparently, vaudeville is not dead in Brucie's world.

Nonetheless, I was so enamoured by the show that once again I got out the video camera and forced the child bride to dance with me. Our making an ass of ourselves is becoming a Christmas tradition. That dance is the third take, with the other two showing an even more shocking lack of physical rhythm on my part. Originally, I had wanted to walk into shot moving my arms and hands in that exaggerated way you see in Salsa dances. But I did it so poorly that it was neither camp nor suave nor funny. I was spastic; I looked like a meth addict trying to swat away imaginary mosquitoes. Looking at myself jerk around in semi-epileptic fashion, I was suddenly taken back 15 years to when I was in Santo Domingo, hearing Merengue music for the first time.

Groups of people would gather on roadsides, throw open the doors of their cars, crank the radios and dance in the street. In a hotel, I heard the music blaring again and tried to mimic the dance I had seen. Then I looked around and noticed that two men in the bar had fallen off their stools, laughing at me.

The Amazing Astrid rolled into Cardiff on Christmas Eve for a short stay at the palatial Cope estate, which pretty much made the holiday for me.

I think having an extra person in the house encouraged the child bride and me to make more of an effort in celebrating. Had we been on our own, we probably would have sat around for two days, listlessly staring at the television. We still did a lot of that in Astrid's presence (I don't think I will ever again be able to go visit family in the U.S. over Christmas, for fear of missing the "Doctor Who" Christmas episode) but there were also good meals, sitting around talking, playing games and occasionally getting out of the house.

"Getting out of the house" is a phrase which for me is most often synonymous with "going to the pub." So we took Astrid to the Blue Anchor, which Rachel always bills as the oldest pub in Wales. I don't actually know that to be true. The Blue Anchor was established in 1380 and has been operating steadily as a pub ever since. Having 627 years under its belt certainly makes the Blue Anchor old, but I'm not sure there aren't others out there as old or older. It is, at least, the oldest pub in Wales that I have been to.

My immune system apparently can't handle two days of Hot Astrid Action and I am now ill, stumbling around the house in that sort of idiot haze that so often comes with cold symptoms. This wouldn't bother me so much if the child bride and I weren't Dublin-bound. On Saturday we're going over to stare at things for a few days and then spend New Year's Eve and New Year's Day with a friend who grew up in Dublin's northern suburbs. I will be leaving out the suburbs element when retelling the story to American friends.

New Year's in Dublin just sounds cool. New Year's in Skerries -- not so much. From what our friend Claire tells us, it will be an evening of imbibing with middle-aged people. Rock. If I were a single man, I would now be practising how to undo the clasp on a Marks & Spencer bra.

Christmas Without Robots

If you haven't had enough Christmas spirit, my latest column is out.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A time to sip an eggnog martini

This is Paul Simon and Steve Martin performing a sort of Christmas monologue. Reportedly the track comes from a "Saturday Night Live" rehearsal, but never made it to air for some reason.

For our friends in the Home Nations, "Saturday Night Live" (or simply "SNL") is a long-running television programme that has served as the starting point for most of America's comedy catchphrases. Americans always struggle with the fact that SNL doesn't exist in Britain. We'll say something like, "It was better than 'Cats,'" and you will just sit there and stare at us in that way you always do.

One thing I find interesting is that I can hear my own comedic timing in this. That's not surprising, I guess -- when I was a boy, I listened to Steve Martin records over and over and over (perhaps a questionable decision on my parents' part, but there you go).

My favourite part comes at 03:20.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Another brilliant idea that I will fail to cash in on

Occasionally I will think of brilliant things and then I will do nothing about them and be upset when someone else shows some initiative. To that end, I want the world to know at least that this was my idea first:

Tracking devices as fashion accessories

I realised today via a Facebook conversation with Charlotte that if the marketing was done right, millions and millions of people would willingly, eagerly, wear tracking devices -- allowing any and all to know their every movement.

Social networking sites and blogs and constant texting and so on indicate that there are large numbers of people who don't like the idea of being out of contact for even short periods of time. It's as if we are all a bunch of co-dependent girlfriends.

What I envision is a fashionable, waterproof, lightweight bracelet for ankle or wrist (your choice, of course) that allows for satellite tracking. That tracking information is then transferred to a social-networking-esque website that works in conjunction with Google Maps to allow your friends to know exactly where you are on the planet at any given time. The site would also work with Twitter, so your friends can know exactly what you are doing, too.

What fun! You would never ever ever ever ever be alone again.

Imagine: You're at the Starbucks and you're bored. If only you had someone to talk to. You click on your mobile web access and go to AlwaysThere.com. The site keys in on your location and shows you that your friend, or, rather, that girl who took poli sci with you in freshman year, is only 500 yards away. You quickly "wave hello" (or some other similar action via the SuperHello application), a message that she receives on her mobile phone, and within minutes you're hanging out together. How cool! How hip!

And, yes, by law all the AlwaysThere information is available to the Department of Homeland Security (a), but that can be a good thing. What if the IRS makes a mistake and realises it owes you $100 million? You'd want them to find you straight away, wouldn't you?

(a)Yeesh if you look at the top of your browser window on the Homeland Security homepage it says: "Department of Homeland Security | Preserving Our Freedoms, Protecting America." Really? They really have that as their motto? Is irony dead?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

May contain mature subject matter, bitches

My grandmother (and a few other family members, it has to be said) occasionally protests to the language and content of this blog. But imagine how this young lady's poor grandmother must feel. I mean, it's a given that any song entitled "Smell Yo Dick" isn't going to be all puppies and bubbles (a), but, crikey!

I've been thinking about language lately. Eric is right that my natural speech is peppered with a fair few profanities. As Papa once said: "Sometimes it just fits."

I generally like to blame my blue streak on my newsroom background. Newsrooms and radio stations are bastions of abusive language. There may be a sort of purging element to it -- if people get it all out before going on air, they are much less likely slip up and lose their jobs.

I think it also has something to do with the vagabond nature of the professions. People in local TV and radio bounce from one place to another -- they very rarely ever connect with the communities that they are supposed to be reflecting. These people have a tendency to want to stand out, a need to be seen. Being incapable of completing a sentence without using words or imagery that would get you kicked out of Sunday school is a subconscious way of getting that attention.

But there are people in newsrooms who don't swear -- they are called "managers." My dad has worked in newsrooms for most his career; I didn't hear a profanity from him until I was 18 years old.

Besides, that doesn't explain why I was foul-mouthed long before I entered the news profession. Yes, I was to be seen in newsrooms while growing up, but it's not as if KPRC was some kind of a brothel. Well, it wasn't in those days, at least. These days it's fucking Sodom and Gomorrah. Lauren Freeman has got a mouth on her that would make the drunkenest of drunken sailors blush, and Bill Balleza insists on fighting interns in Taipei death matches (b).

I don't really know where I picked it up. Various Texas playgrounds are a good start, I suppose. I had a pretty wide range of bilingual profanity and sexually-explicit imagery swimming around in my head by the time I was 8 years old. It was there, also, that I started to learn when to use inappropriate language appropriately. It only takes getting your ass kicked two or three times before you sort out that "pendejo" is worse than its English equivalent.

To that extent, I like to think that I'm not rude simply for the sake of being rude. Indeed, I have a strange set of parameters to profane-language use. On the whole, I shy away from blasphemy, for example. I've got no problem blurting out "Tit-fuck bitch face" in a moment of frustration, but I don't use "Jesus" or "Jesus Christ" as an exclamation. I'm pretty sure Sara cottoned to this fact when we were dating and that's why she started saying it. She will deny it, though. Probably by commenting: "Jesus, Chris, you think everything revolves around you." (c)

There was a short time when I tried to work extended surrealist blasphemy into speech, e.g., "Sweet Baby Jesus Christ Lamb of God Holy Saviour on a pogo stick, what are you doing?", but people tended not to get it and it took a long time to say.

I also tend to avoid the "C" word. Not so much because I find it offensive but because I don't think it sounds right in an American accent. A bit like "wanker." That word's out of fashion these days, but have you ever heard an American say it? It just comes out wrong. We spend too much time on it, as if the word is utterly foreign and we are trying to get our heads around it as it is being said.

Eric once said that one of the things he likes about me is that I say so much stuff that is politically incorrect, without knowing that it's politically incorrect. If my blog were an episode of "Scrubs" that statement would have been followed by a flashback to the time in high school I greeted Sonja Can't-Remember-Her-Last-Name for the first time by shouting at her from across a table: "You should put on a coat. I can see your nipples from here; you're going to put an eye out." (d)

The point is, I do and say things and these are the things that go through my head and I don't necessarily intend for them to shock or insult. Indeed, I have always seen myself as downright prudish.

-----
(a) "Puppies and bubbles" is my favourite phrase at the moment. Sharon Osbourne used it a few weeks ago in reference to brother-sister duo Same Difference. After a maddening performance that featured a pillow fight, Sharon said: "That was wonderful. The only thing missing were puppies and bubbles."
No one in the audience of hooting consumers managed to catch the sarcasm.


(b) This is a complete and total lie. Please do not sue me, KPRC.

(c) And, of course, it does.

(d) That comment scored me a sexual harassment citation (ah, the early 90s in suburbia). In that brilliantly idiotic bureaucratic way that things are done, when the citation was given to me a week or so later, they refused to tell me what I had said or who I had said it to. Thus it was a ridiculous and totally ineffective punishment; it was impossible for me to correct my behaviour because I didn't know what I had done incorrectly. I only found out when Sonja called me a few months later to apologise. She had mentioned the incident to Lindsay, who convinced her that I was not being offensive, per se, just myself. In a classic example of the kind of unintentional sleaze that I am, after Sonja apologised, I asked her out. Shockingly, she said no. Dyke.

Overheard on the 15:08 to Cardiff Central

PRE-TEEN BOY #1: "...and he told me, 'Watch your language.' You can't do that. You listen. You can't watch your language."
PRE-TEEN BOY #2: "You can. You can think about what you're sayin' before you say it, and you can watch what you say. It's like a metaphor.
PTB#1: "A figure of speech."
PTB#2: "A metaphor is a figure of speech."
PTB#1: "Yeah, but 'Watch your language' isn't a metaphor."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Post-Quarter-Life Crisis

My latest column is out. And contains a sentiment that I will save for when I'm famous and asked to speak at high school graduations: Older people are not superior, they've simply had more time to formulate arguments that they are.

Too cool for Yule

This picture both amuses and pains me. It is me, Sara, and Sara's best friend Michelle back in 1995.
Damn it we were cool.
So, so cool.
Really cool.
Maybe if I keep saying it to myself that will make it true.
Great googly moogly, we were cool.
Christmas Pain
Did I mention how cool we were?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Overheard at University Hospital, Cardiff

RECEPTIONIST: "Nice to see that Joe Calzaghe get Sports Personality of the Year, isn't it?"
SISTER: "Yeah. He deserved it."
RECEPTIONIST: "He did, didn't he? He seemed surprised. He wasn't expecting it, was he? He seems a nice fellow, doesn't he?"
SISTER: "Yeah. So many of those boxers seem, you know..."
RECEPTIONIST: "They do. They do. Mind, that Ricky Hatton seems a nice fellow."
SISTER: "Yeah. He does."
RECEPTIONIST: "He does. Shame about him, isn't it? He went 10 rounds, though. And that other fellow was bigger than him, wasn't he?"
SISTER: "Yeah. He done his best."
RECEPTIONIST: "He did, didn't he? Nice boy. He done his best and you can't complain about that, can you?"
SISTER: "No."
RECEPTIONIST: "Mmm."
SISTER: "Mmm."
RECEPTIONIST: "Oh! We got to remind Debbie not to phone Pamela during the 'X Factor' final."

(Note: In British hospitals there are people called "sisters" who are a bit like nurses. Indeed, they may be nurses. I don't really know how they fit into the grand scheme.)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Potty mouth

Actual quote from an e-mail my grandmother sent me today:

"I would go to your blog but I am not mature enough for the language sometimes. If 'mature' means finding profanity and vulgarity humorous."

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I am a magpie. I am that bloke off 'Final Fight'

It feels like winter in Yr Hen Ddinas, which means that it is wet and windy and miserable. It's not all that cold, admittedly; by Minnesota standards it is spring-like. But the conditions make you want to stay inside, wrapped in a blanket and refusing to move, unless to shuffle to the kitchen for more port. This is Christmas in Cardiff.

We are supposed to get 80 mph wind gusts overnight, but already the tree in our garden is dancing a strange sort of solitary mosh in the wind. On top of the house across the garden, there is a magpie clinging to a TV aerial (FTYPAH: "antenna"). He looks absolutely miserable and it strikes me as a particularly odd place for him to attempt to station himself. Surely birds instinctively understand things like wind and know better than to position themselves in less blatantly exposed locations.

I feel a bit like that magpie at the moment -- hanging on desperately, and almost certainly failing to identify simple steps that could be taken to make things less stressful. I am hoping that things will improve from next Thursday, when my Christmas breaks starts.

I have several things to do over the break, but at least the work won't keep piling on. I have so much trouble keeping up in my courses not because I'm not interested or not doing the work, but because they keep happening. Week after week. I could probably keep up if I had a week of lectures followed by a week to debrief. But as is, I find myself pushing to the end of the semester feeling as if I am playing one of those arcade fighting games, and I'm looking at that little meter that tells you how much strength you've got left and I'm thinking: "Fuck, there's no way I'm getting past this level."

In an effort to push time forward I am listening to Christmas music almost nonstop these days. Strangely, that hasn't driven me mad yet. Or, maybe it has and I'm not aware of it. Either way, I am doing my best to get into the spirit of the season.

For those of you playing along at home, getting into the spirit of things is a lot easier on this side of the world. It's the booze, you see. Christmas + Britain = Booze. On Friday I was in Marks & Spencer and they had three different areas in the store where people were giving away generously-sized free samples of port and mulled wine.

Free booze for shoppers. Yes! That sort of thing would be against the law in Minnesota. And it's a damn shame in economic terms, because a wee tipple has a certain way of loosening the wallet. Once, after spending an afternoon drinking with my brother, I went with the child bride to Target, where I wandered off with the cart ("trolley" for our friends in the Home Nations) while she looked at clothes. When she finally caught up with me, the cart was loaded with myriad items that I insisted we buy for her.

I wasn't quite in that state on Friday, but in a good mood and eager to run about city centre. When I finally got on the train home I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment, a feeling that is rare in these days of always playing catch-up in academics. Nothing is ever done in university, I simply run out of time to focus on it any longer and turn in whatever shit I've come up with so far.

"Look at me," I thought. "Look at all the stuff I got. I have actually done something"

When I wrapped it all up and put it under the tree, it looked far less impressive, but I am still excited. Especially so because Astrid will be here celebrating with us. I don't know what kind of horrible things must have happened in her life that she has fallen so far down she is now stuck spending Christmas with the Copes, but there you go. If I gain from others' misfortune, who am I to complain?

I am especially excited because there will be another alcohol drinker in the house. The child bride is a teetotaller, which would normally leave only me to consume all the booze-laden Christmas goodies. Unfortunately, I prefer these things in quantities too small to validate their purchase.

Indeed, on the whole, I refuse to drink anything stronger than beer. Higher-octane stuff has a bad habit of sneaking up on me. One minute I'm having a witty conversation, the next minute I'm not wearing a shirt and demanding to go on a road trip and weeping.

But it's Christmas, see. And I am really eager to enjoy all these brandy-infused things and port and mulled wine and so on. And with Astrid coming, I now feel that it won't be a waste to buy all this stuff. So, my Christmas plans involve getting a Dutch girl drunk and stuffing her full of mince pies. That sounds like the sort of thing you'd pay premium rates to see on the internet, but you get what I mean.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Overheard in Cardiff city centre

SON: "I'm not being funny, Dad, but when you're shagging your girlfriend, answering the phone isn't really on your mind, like."
FATHER: "Yeah, you've got a point."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

But if we weren't wet, we wouldn't need to dry out in pubs

OK, lovers of stereotypes, what do we know about Britain?
- People here have funny accents.
- Everyone has bad teeth.
- They all drink warm beer.
- It rains a lot.

Well, the first two aren't all that true, unless by "Britain" what you really mean is "Barry." Interestingly, those two stereotypes could also be used to describe the American South.

The third one is only partially true, and less likely to be true in areas where the first two are true. Go round to Ricky Hatton's local and odds are they're all drinking cold pints of Carling.

But the thing about the rain -- that's true. Granted, there are long stretches of lovely weather, but it does rain with a certain frequency not seen in, say, San Diego, California. Yet, bafflingly, the person-to-rain-jacket ratio there appears to be about the same as here.

For reasons totally unclear to me, hardly anyone in this country owns wet-weather gear. Or, if they do, they refuse to wear it. Britons sometimes possess a certain stroppy teenager element to their behaviour -- I am convinced that there are so many atheists in this country not because they've all sat down and tried to reason out their standing in the universe, but simply because church isn't cool. Church. Cringe. Church is mingin'. (a)

In Minnesota, it's not rare to see some idiot teenager standing around in 10-below weather wearing little more than a hooded sweatshirt ("hoodie jumper," for our friends in the Home Nations), but these people either freeze to death or gain a bit of sense by they time they reach their early 20s.

Similarly, it's not shocking to see the Bishop of Llandaff students trudging around in the rain looking as if they've just been pulled from the Taff (b). But the adults are wandering about doing pretty much the same thing.

It has been raining for most of the past week in Yr Hen Ddinas, in that way that always reminds me of nautical films. I live three miles from the coast, but the weather makes me feel as if I am at sea. The wind whistles and thumps and roars against the house, and sheets of spitting rain splatter against the windows. So, I wrap up in my Marmot rain jacket before venturing outside, which means I don't have to spend the whole day feeling as if I commuted via one of those amusement park splash rides.

At the train platform this morning I was one of only two people who had thought to dress for the weather. Everyone else was out there in their office attire, getting soaked. There were a handful of women who at least were attempting to defend themselves with umbrellas, but for the most part everyone stood around looking miserable. What the hell is wrong with these people? Buy a rain jacket, you fools!

(a) That teen-speak is blatantly copied from Catrin Dafydd's Random Deaths and Custard.

(b) Check me out; rocking the blog with the ultra-local references.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Doing that thing of making my already-stale blog even staler by blogging about shit that happened a week ago

ThanksgivingThanksgiving went well, by the way. I realise I'm a week late in offering that information, but considering that blogging has become something I say I do, more than something I actually do, I suppose it's alright.

Despite the presence of no less than eight bloggers, only one of us bothered to take any pictures of the event, with most of those pictures having that people-taking-pictures-at-events quality of leaving you thinking: "So, why were we posing like that?"

Thankfully, Jenny came through with the brilliant artist's interpretation that you see to the left. Having also once provided a view of what my funeral will look like, Jenny is now my artist of choice in all things. One day, when I am allowed to write books I think I will have Jenny illustrate them. Ideally, these books will be in the Welsh language and I will refuse to translate for her.

Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday, because it doesn't ask a whole lot of you. If you can eat, you can celebrate Thanksgiving -- only the anorexics are left out of the fun. I assume this is the reason (and, of course, the only reason) that Victoria Beckham fails to show up at the house every year.

Having Thanksgiving in a country that is Thanksgiving-less is arguably more fun than celebrating in the United States. Rather than being a family event, in which I spend the whole time making sure I don't drink too much and hoping my brother's girlfriend doesn't say something embarrassing, it was an opportunity to pack the house with as many friends as I could and enjoy their company.

The only problem is that the whole thing took place at the Cope Estate, which meant that it caused a ridiculous amount of stress for me. When I invite people to my house, I feel as if what I am really doing is inviting them to come over and judge me: "Hey, pop 'round the house and see if I've cleaned the toilet properly. Here, this is my chequebook -- why not take a gander at how mismanaged my finances are."

This, of course, causes me to judge myself, which I always do to a ridiculous extreme. That I didn't have a house full of people breaking into a sort of religious euphoric state over their joy of being fed turkey in my presence left me feeling that I was the worst host since Andrea Lugovoi's last tea party. But I am assured by others that it was an agreeable experience, thanks to a large degree to the witty banter of Jenny and Chris.

By now, the panicked stumble toward Christmas is under way. I am really upset that it is already 3 December.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tossing My Brain Overboard

My latest column is out, complete with family-friendly edit. My editor (who loves the Longhorns, by the way) felt that I would be less likely to receive grumpy e-mails if he changed, "I was singularly focused on getting her to take off her shirt," to, "... singularly focused on getting her alone."

It defeats the point of the joke, which was to finish off a navel-gazing statement about my sub-conscious with a crass reference to sex, but almost certainly Adam is right. American news consumers are desperate to be offended and a reference to my fondness for certain parts of the female anatomy would give them too easy a target.

Amusingly, I had already self-censored an entire paragraph.

It is said that when Custer got his ass handed to him at Little Bighorn, some of his men went into such an idiotic panic that they simply fired straight into the air, unable to control their fear enough to aim at anything. I was going to point out that I respond to stress similarly, and likely would have run out of ammo before ever actually spotting a Lakota. But I scrapped the line because I could imagine someone getting so angry with my reference to a 131-year-old military blunder that they would write to me IN A FIT OF MISPELED CAPSLOCK HISTEREA.

The fear-the-reader nature of modern American news media means I can't really accumulate too many complaint letters. Managers in the fine company that hosts my column wouldn't have any problem dropping the thing if any of the complaints were to appear on their radar. So Adam is simply protecting my ass because I am too dumb to protect it on my own.

Although, obviously, he's not protecting my ass, because that, too, would be offensive -- both for its language and homosexual connotations. But it would be typical of the kind of thing we've come to expect from the liberal media: a Jew watching out for his sex-deviant European pal.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

All about the Baroque and Rococos?

I just read a story about Jay-Z losing faith in the dollar and it struck me that the implications of this are huge. If the dollar falls out of favour within the hip-hop community, it will mean phrases like, "all about the Benjamins," will become obsolete.

Thankfully Curtis Jackson doesn't have to change his moniker, because the euro subunit is the "cent." Although, "33 Cent" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

The images on euro notes represent seven different stages of architecture. The 100 euro is supposed to represent Baroque and Rococo.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Brazen be fucked

I've mentioned before that Welsh-language television has a bad habit of being not very good. Media is a challenge for a minority language.

While modern media can help to promulgate the ancient tongue, it can also savagely expose a limited talent pool. Only a few of any population are going to be legitimately talented. If the population is 750,000 (a) that few are very few. Sometimes one has to wonder if a programme is on the air simply because there are people speaking Welsh in it.

Another problem for a minority language like Welsh, or Irish, etcetera, is the fact that viewers will compare whatever they see in the language to the stuff they see in English. And they subconsciously expect it to be as good or better. It's not really fair to compare something on S4C to a programme with an audience that is some 15 times larger than the whole Welsh speaking population, but people do. That's life.

"'Sopranos' ger y lli" ("Sopranos by the sea") is how the new programme "Y Pris" bills itself, even going so far as to use music by Alabama 3 (b) in its title sequence. My general feeling is that it's incredibly stupid to deliberately draw that comparison because: 1) People will be hyper-critical, looking to prove you wrong; 2) It makes the show sound unoriginal; 3) "Y Pris" isn't really all that much like "The Sopranos."

One could just as easily describe "Y Pris" as: "Twin Town without as many characters that you wish would die." Indeed, "Y Pris" even features "Twin Town" actors (c). Or you could describe the show as being simply: "Pretty much every stylish British crime/drug film you've seen, in a language you don't understand -- just pretend Begbie is talking."

Whatever it is, it's actually pretty good.

S4C is banking quite a bit on its success, advertising on bus shelters and billboards and the like. They are hoping to create a crossover programme that will appeal enough to English speakers that they'll sit and watch it with subtitles. The channel had a similar publicity blitz for the programme "Caerdydd," which looked like it should have been good but, in fact, wasn't.

Because "Caerdydd" was such a disappointment (the acting was alright, and it was visually well done, but the storyline was insufferable and directionless. And it seemed to have fuck all to do with Cardiff), I've been sceptical about "Y Pris," not actually watching an episode until the second week. I was impressed enough that I tuned in again this week. At the end of this week's episode I found myself thinking: "You know, this is, surprisingly, not shit."

It's even good enough that it could be aired in the United States. Obviously, it would be on some ultra-obscure satellite channel, at 2 a.m., on something like IFC, but it is actually worth watching even if you have no interest in Welsh.

It is worth watching enough, that I will encourage you to watch the programme online. The episodes are only 36 minutes long and broadcast in good quality. You should see the subtitles in Windows Media Player. If not, click the "Play" tab, and go down to "Lyrics, Captions and Subtitles."

One of my favourite scenes so far is actually one done in English, about four and a half minutes into the third episode.

(a) That's the number of Welsh speakers worldwide, according to Wikipedia. I am too lazy to go dig up more official stats.

(b) The title sequence for "The Sopranos" uses Alabama 3's "Woke Up This Morning."

(c) The characters Bryn and Fatty from this clip.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wishing for Hard Labor

My latest column is out Actually, it's been out since Tuesday, but I haven't really had time to get at the computer until today.

I am busy reading Welsh-language novels. There appears to be an unwritten rule that in every single fucking Welsh-language novel the English must be nefarious, arrogant and ignorant/spiteful of the Welsh language.

I'm a bit disappointed in this week's column because I wasn't able to come up with a way to directly reference the Triple Lindy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Don't forget your passport, visa or astrological chart

Huw's recent story of arriving in the United States reminded me of one of my favourite immigration experiences, from the happy pre-9/11 days when Americans didn't fear having to come into their own country.

It used to be the case that a driver's license was all a U.S. citizen needed to get into or out of either Mexico or Canada. Crossing the border was a simple act of walking through a maze of scary barbed-wire fences, self-consciously fixing your hair when you saw the sign that said "YOU ARE BEING FILMED," and then showing your driver's license to a member of the always helpful U.S. Border Patrol. The officers were more nightclub bouncers than anything else, sitting on little stools and half-heartedly analyzing people's licences to check that they weren't fakes.

In the San Ysidro checkpoint one night, the guy in queue in front of me somehow managed to draw the officer's suspicion and was asked: "What's your sign?"

"My... huh?" asked the guy.

"Your sign, my friend. What is it?" the officer asked.

"Uhm. That's not it?" the man asked, pointing at his license.

"No. What's your astrological sign?"

"I don't think I have one of those."

"Everybody has an astrological sign. You know, astrology. That thing where you find out what's going to happen in your life based on what the stars and planets are doing."

"Oh. Uhm. I don't believe in that stuff."

"I don't believe in it, either. But I know my sign," the officer said. Then, nodding to several large Border Patrol blokes with dogs: "Here's your license back. Go have a chat with my friends over there."

The guy did as he was told and I stepped forward to the officer, holding out my license.

"I'm a Pisces," I said.

"I'm a Sagittarius," he said, waving me on and not even looking at my license.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The old hotness

Lately I feel as if I am going through some sort of pre-midlife midlife crisis. I am boring, my bitches. I have left Coolsville.

OK, I was never a resident of Coolsville. They let me visit once, but only carrying a pass, and I had to be out by sunset like the Welsh in Chester (a). But I did used to be less boring.

I was reminded of this fact when my cousin, Shawn Jr., recently commented on a post, reminding me of the reason why he wouldn't let me drive my Papa's golf cart. Because when I drove "all thought and rationalization flew out the window" (b).

I'm sure a number of the people who read this blog could tell you similar stories involving me behind the wheel of a car. Or of my strange love for throwing myself from things -- speeding boats, rooftops, etc. You know those stories you always read around prom time about high schoolers getting drunk and doing shockingly stupid things and dying? Every time I see one of those stories, I think: "Yep. I've done that."

But I wasn't drunk. And I carried on doing that stuff well into my 20s (c).

So, I wasn't cool, I was unhinged. But at least I wasn't boring.

What the hell happened to me that I am no longer waking up in France, but instead fretting about missing episodes of "Strictly Come Dancing" or "Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two"? Gah. I wish there were two of me, so I could punch myself in the face. And then myself could punch me in the face -- I deserve to be punched twice for being so boring.

The thing that frustrates me is that I am almost certainly a better person now that I am boring. I am generally agreed to have been an insufferable ass up until... say, five or six years ago. I have had friends go out of their way to tell me how much more they like me now than in the good ol' days when I was insisting on waterskiing during lightning storms or drunkenly running full speed at oncoming trains.

But why can't there be a happy medium?

If anyone needs me, I'll be drinking beer and watching repeats of "Q.I."

(a) In response to the same Welsh rebellion that saw Cardiff's St. John the Baptist church ransacked Henry IV issued a decree that in the city of Chester "all manner of Welsh persons or Welsh sympathies should be expelled from the City; that no Welshman should enter the City before sunrise or tarry in it after sunset, under pain of decapitation." Reportedly, this law has never been repealed.

(b) That would make the best title of an autobiography ever: All Thought and Rationalization Flew Out the Window. It's too bad I don't live up to the title.

(c) At which point, yes, I was often drunk.

The things you learn from old ladies on buses

There is a street in Cardiff's Roath (a) neighbourhood named simply The Parade. It gets its name from the days when a girls' college was located on the eastern end of the road and a boys' college on the western end. The street was a popular place for the young men and women to see and be seen.

Similarly, parallel street The Walk served as a quieter area for the students to meet, and, in the words of the old lady who told me all this, "do more than look at one another."

(a) Roath, by the way, gets its name from the Irish word "ráth" (prosperity). The area was once home to an enormous Irish population. These days it is home to a load of students. I feel as if Cardiff lost something in that change.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Obit

Papa's obituary as it ran in his local newspaper:

James C. “Jim” Cope, writer, age 80, of West Columbia, died Oct. 31, 2007, after a lengthy illness.

He was a loving husband who cared for his wife, Joie, during her own lengthy illness.

He was a great father and grandfather, providing guidance when needed and freedom when ready. He had a quick mind and a sharp wit, was a great reader, a lifelong sports fan and a loyal friend.

He came to Brazosport in 1961 to be the public relations director for Dow’s Texas Division, working at Dow until he retired. Born in Paint Rock, Texas, he was quarterback of the high school football team, then joined the Navy and served in the Pacific at the end of WWII. He graduated from Texas Christian University as a journalist. He was a writer and editor at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a sportswriter for the San Antonio Express-News and sports editor and columnist for the San Angelo Standard Times before joining Dow.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Joie, and by his son, Whitney Dirk.

He is survived by his sister, Johnnye Louise Cope of San Angelo; his sons, James Steven (Cece) of Bloomington, MN, and David Shawn (Kelley) of Lake Jackson; grandchildren, Chris of Cardiff, Wales, Jon of Burnsville, MN, Garrett of Carthage, Texas, Josh of Angleton, Shawn Jr. of West Columbia and Christy-Lynn of Lake Jackson; and eight great-grandchildren.

A memorial service celebrating his life will be held at 4 p.m. Monday, November 5, 2007, at Chapelwood Methodist Church in Lake Jackson.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

I don't like piggies

For those of you playing along at home, you're missing a load of amusing television in Britain at the moment. One of my favourite shows is "Coal House," if not simply because it features Rhodri Phillips, the most amusing child ever.

My catchphrase at the moment is, "I don't like piggies" (about 8 seconds in).

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Garden seed

Me and ScruffThis is a picture of Eric and me shortly before I left for Britain. Although it's not the most flattering (we both look like dopes), it is one of my favourite pictures of myself because in it one can see a resemblance between me and a younger version of my Papa.

Papa died Wednesday.

Having spent all my life living relatively large distances from Papa, I find myself now scrambling to collect in my mind every single memory I have of him. Because even though I saw him far less than the other grandchildren, he has strongly influenced the person I've become and that I try to be.

Perhaps that's somewhat by design. I was remembering today the time when he refused to let me take his golf cart out for a drive, and the strangely brilliant logic he used in so doing.

Papa lived in the gated golf resort community of Columbia Lakes, where golf carts are the mode of transport de rigueur. No childhood visit to Papa and Joie's house (a) was complete without forcing one of my grandparents to take me for a ride on the cart. Often the other grandkids would come along, which meant that I got to stand on the back of the cart where the bags were supposed to go. For reasons that now escape me, I always envisioned that we were storm troopers out on patrol. Other kids grow up wanting to be firemen; I wanted to claim East Texas for the Galactic Empire (b).

When I was 12 or 13 years old, my cousin, Shawn Jr., and I were allowed to take the golf cart out by ourselves to go fishing at one of the resort's lakes. When I say that we went fishing, what I mean, of course, is that Shawn fished and I watched. To this day, I have never caught a fish. I am such a bad fisherman that Jesus would lose his patience with me. Shawn drove the golf cart because he is a few months older than me and, more importantly, he can kick my ass. Shawn decided that the best way to the marina was via bumpy fields, where he simply mashed down the accelerator and tore around in circles, treating the golf cart as if it were some kind of off-road sport vehicle. Obviously, my reaction to such blatant mistreatment of my grandfather's property was an immediate and acute desire to do exactly the same thing.

A few months later, I found myself back at Papa and Joie's and with no Shawn around to act as the Responsible Grandchild, so I immediately made my case for being allowed to take the golf cart out on my own.

"Well, hoss, I don't think that's a good idea," Papa told me.

"Why not?" I asked, indignant. "You let Shawn Jr. drive the golf cart. I'm the same age. Almost."

"But I see Shawn Jr. more often, stud. We don't get to see you very often. If you do something stupid with the golf cart, and I get mad at you, that'll be something that just sticks with you. If Shawn Jr. does something stupid, well, I'll see him again in a few days and we'll get over it."

I love that line of thinking. And to his credit, I don't have any negative memories of him.

I also love that he was taking it as a given that I wanted to drive the cart around like a maniac. It's a defining characteristic of Papa that he was so subtly straight-forward. He was honest, but in that veiled manner that comes from a career in public relations.

I remember when Sara and I were down in Texas and went to see him. One of the first things he said to her was: "Well, you look pretty smart. I hope you are smart. We don't need any more babies. I like the things, but we don't need any more of 'em in this family right now."

Actually, he probably said it a little more cleverly than that. My grandfather was good with words and especially good with brevity. When I was in my 20s, I would write to him often and his letters back were like news bulletins. Whole events were put into single sentences.

That brevity, though, and the limited times that I saw him -- especially after I moved to Minnesota -- leave me with little to remember him by. I feel frustrated and upset that I don't know more stories about him.

I know that he grew up in West Texas. When he joined the Navy they sent him to San Diego for training and the journey was hot and he hated it. I know that he spent most of World War II in the Marshall Islands. After the war, he bounced around Florida and ran into Joie, who was, in my dad's words (c), "probably a little too fast for him." Somehow they landed back in Texas. There was Denton, and San Angelo, and then Papa got work doing PR for the company that gave the world napalm, Agent Orange, and faulty breast implants. He retired and rarely left Columbia Lakes. He drank whiskey. He smoked Merit Ultra Light cigarettes. That's a life in a paragraph, and there is so much I don't know and probably won't ever know.

I am left with soundbites -- a collection of cool slang and maxims. And I am trying now desperately to gather them in my faulty brain. I am afraid now of losing these things, wondering how I can hold them in. But at least I know I'm always carrying some part of him.

Once, when I was in high school and my Papa was in a rare chatting mood, he showed me a picture of his football team in college. He pointed to himself and said: "Shawn Jr. saw this picture and said that you look a lot like I did back then. That was a pretty mean thing for him to say."

I took it as a compliment.

--- This post gets its title from a phrase that Papa would use in place of "goddamn it" -- to be said as "Gar-den seed!" ---

(a) Joie was my cantankerous grandmother, who died in 1993. I say "cantankerous" because that's how everyone seems to remember her. I take a certain glee, then, in the fact that she was always sweet as pie with me.

(b) This pro-Empire stance is almost certainly at the root of those really bad years when I was voting Republican.

(c) My dad often displays his father's talent for stating things in amusingly polite terms.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Half the Fun of Not Travelling

My latest column is out. My favourite part is when I refer to myself as a "wistful girl's blouse."

Also, I claim in this column that I am not being forced to sign statements of allegiance to Len Goodman. You'll note, however, that I conveniently left out the fact that I so totally would. Len Goodman should be king.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bram

I just learned that long-time blog friend Bram Davidson died suddenly a fortnight ago.

I learned about this from Kari and felt ashamed to admit that I hadn't heard earlier because I haven't been reading blogs in a while.

I've been wrapped up in my own little world -- that happens, I suppose. Then something tragic comes along to remind you that all the little shit is really not worth tearing yourself up over.

Yr hen ddinas

This city is only as old as the stories that are told about it.

I learned recently that Cardiff was established by the Romans 1,952 years ago. Nobody appears to have been keeping records before the Romans showed, so as far as we know Caerdydd (a) is the oldest city (b) in Wales.

You wouldn't really know that from walking around. On the surface, Cardiff often resembles St. Paul, Minn., with its relatively wide and tree-lined streets, architecture that tends not to date back more than 150 years and ample parking. It is a city that Welsh people, Welsh speakers in particular, are often eager to dismiss. This modern, always changing, historyless place; it's not the REAL Wales.

Of course, in fact, it is. Like the real Wales -- whatever the hell that's supposed to mean -- it's history is hidden.

European History courses in the United States would often be better named as courses in "Things The British Have Done," such is their focus. So, the facts and histories of this island are not too unfamiliar. Except when it comes to Wales. We learned nothing of Wales in the United States.

But then I learned the language of this place no one's heard of and it's slowly revealed a vast expanse of literature and history. It's like poking your head into the ground and discovering one of those enormous underground caverns that you could build an A380" in. It's an awareness that leaves me feeling a bit like Nada in "They Live," walking around knowing that all around me, practically coming up from the ground, and unseen to everyone else, is this different culture/history.

Cardiff is like that. Its soul is veiled.

There are former Roman sites dotted all throughout the city, but few are identified as such. The most amusing one for me is the Roman fort that lies opposite the Cardiff Bay Retail Park (FTYPAH: "strip mall"). Turn one way, you see Ford Escorts queuing at the McDonald's drive-through, turn the other way and you see the work of people who laid the foundation of Western civilisation.

Cardiff has the largest concentration of castles of any city in the world. But you'll only find two of them in any tourist literature, with one of those being a castle that was torn down and reconstructed according to Victorian interpretation. The others are crumbling, or paved over by housing estates.

There used to be dozens of canals through the city. Hundreds of miles of railway. Roads have names that reflect a history hardly anyone knows. The original Welsh name for City Road is Heol y Plwca, which refers to the fact that when it marked the boundary of Cardiff it was where heretics were hanged.

In contrast, this city welcomed Britain's first Muslims. It rioted to keep the Irish out. Its history is rich but almost wholly unknown by its inhabitants.

I was thinking about all this last Tuesday as I sat eating my lunch in what used to be a church graveyard but in the last year has been converted into a lovely little square with benches and trees. There is a straight, neat row of old tombstones on one side of the square. Having lived here a year ago, I know that they didn't used to be so perfectly aligned like that. Presumably the subjects of the tombstones are still in their original spots -- beneath the workers and shoppers and tourists eating pasties and pork sandwiches.

There's something about this city. It's a hell of an interesting place if you can find someone who knows about it.

(a) "Caer" means "fort," and "dydd" means "day." Calling the place Day Fort doesn't seem to make sense, so the theory is that "dydd" is a bastardised version of either "Taf" (the river that runs through the heart of Cardiff) or of "Didius" (a Roman bloke who was governor of a nearby province).

(b) I'm using "city" in the philosophical sense here, obviously. As a city, Cardiff is only 102 years old. FTYPAH, the British are anal in their use of words like "city" and "village" and "town." The words are not as interchangeable as they are in the United States; you're only what the Queen says you are.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In many ways, this is a picture of my soul

The embodiment of all that I strive to beThis is a picture of Jett, photogenic front man for under-appreciated Atlanta rock band Rock City Dropouts, found via the Flickr page of Lopez1.

If somehow my soul were able to jump out of my body, I would very much like to think it would look like this chap.

I am at once amusing and disturbing, scary and laughable. It's difficult to tell whether I'm taking myself seriously, whether I'm in on the joke, whether I should be befriended or avoided. From the quiet middle finger, to the bike that is flamboyant but not in particularly good condition, to the fact that he is roaming around in the daytime when all the normal people are at work: that's pretty much everything I feel inside.

Of course, if it were actually my soul, it wouldn't be so adept as to ever ride the bicycle -- it was just do that thing of of walk-rolling all over the place, yelling at pretty women. It also wouldn't be able to handle Jett's Pabst intake.

If it's not a picture of my soul, it is at least the physical representation of my ambition. In a philosophical sense, this is all I strive to be in life. It is all any man should strive to be.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Oh, sweet irony

Here's a fun fact about the city in which I live:

In Cardiff city centre there is an old church that not many people pay attention to called St. John the Baptist, which has been there more or less since 1110. I say "more or less" because it underwent some major reconstruction after having been sacked by Welsh national hero Owain Glyndŵr in 1404.

Directly across the pedestrian walk from the church, no more than 15 feet from the church's main entrance, is a pub called... The Owain Glyndŵr.

Random memory of a really surreal thing that didn't seem all that surreal at the time

Here's an actual thing that happened in my life: Some 15 years and six months ago, Eric and I were in the Dominican Republic, wearing wool marching band uniforms, and several hundred people were shouting, "guapo," at Eric's brother. That's the sort of thing you wouldn't think I'd forget, but I had until just now.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Swimming

I don't really have a nifty segue into this, but I was amused by this video, which was brought to my attention by Gin.

Life's been like that lately -- I don't have the mental energy/time for segues. I'm not really able to craft anything, which is why the blog has gone a bit dead. Any writing energy I have at the moment is going into my column for bARN, because they pay me, or my column for IB, because they give me a large audience. Well, a potentially large audience. In truth, the audience is probably no larger than that of this blog, which has yet to deliver those big advertising dollars (a).

But with life swirling around me, I am doing my best to still take notice of it. I'm not sure whether it's my notoriously poor memory or climatologic fact, but this autumn seems more autumnal than last year's. I don't remember golden sunsets and changing leaves and crisp nights.

Autumn is my favourite season, if not simply because it means I can start wearing long sleeves again. I have always preferred to wear long-sleeve shirts because they helped to hide the bruises from when Daddy would push me down the stairs.

No, I'm lying. My dad reads this blog and he's a very nice fellow who won't appreciate that joke at all. I like wearing long sleeves because I am a wiry chap and additional clothing gives me a bit of girth.

I think that last year I was wearing long sleeves by this point but feeling uncomfortable in them. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin last year -- that is my predominant memory of the period. Around this time last year, my large but shockingly unstable ego had crumbled to dust amid the challenge of what I had thrown myself into. I was so out of my league. With the BBC cameras following me around, I felt as if I was in some sort of ridiculous reality show -- a crueller, unending version of "Faking It."

It is fair and perhaps bordering on too kind to say that I was drowning last year. I kept waiting, and, in a way, almost hoping, for the day that I would get called into my advisor's office and he would say: "OK, look, let's be honest. This was all a bit of a mistake, wasn't it? Perhaps we didn't assess you correctly, perhaps you sold yourself a little too well, but I think we can agree now that you simply don't belong here. This is a university, and, really, you should be... well, somewhere else."

Things felt very claustrophobic. To carry on with the water analogy, it was like when Landeros and I would go to the beach on rough days (b). The waves would crest over our heads and pull us into them as they broke, spinning us, tossing us around and slamming us against the sandy grit of ocean floor. Amid that experience, one loses perspective. You focus only on getting your head above water and trying to turn and face the next wave. All other things disappear. I would be standing just a few feet away from Landeros and he would be shouting something at me, and I would be completely unaware.

My memories of last year are rarely of things that existed more than a foot away from me. I remember feeling that I looked stupid, I felt I sounded stupid when I spoke, I worried that I smelled bad, I lived in paralyzing fear that people could just look at me and see how ignorant I was.

But somehow I stumbled through and I'm back in it. Remember that episode of "Scrubs" when J.D.'s conscience manifested itself as an opera tenor who bellowed: "MISTAAAAKE"?

Occasionally that guy will still show up in my world and announce: "YOU'RE AN AAAASS," but, on the whole, things are improved from last year. My ignorance is still immense (c), but I feel slightly better able to deal with it.

So, I am occasionally able to look up and think: "Wow. Were the sunsets this pleasant, this life-affirming last year? Were the female students this pretty? Did the weather feel like this? Was all this happening around me?"

It probably was, to a large extent, and I just wasn't seeing it.

(a)Since I sold my soul and put advertising on this blog back in December 2006, the blog has pulled in a whopping $74, which, when converted to a currency that isn't plummeting, is just about enough for a packet of shortbread at Somerfield.

(b) Jim "Landeros" Landrith and I worked together on the morning shift at KUSI in San Diego. After work, we would grab several cans of Fosters and go to the beach.

(c) I'm not being charmingly self-effacing here; there are shit loads of things that I simply do not know -- the history of Wales, Welsh literature, Welsh culture, etc. Just about everything is new to me. Add to this the fact that I tend to struggle when it comes to interpreting poetry and my university experience is almost unbearably humbling.

Finally, one problem that New Orleans doesn't have.

"One approach has been to train bands of larger, more ferocious langur monkeys to go after the smaller groups of Rhesus macaques."

And then when they become a problem, we'll employ heavily-armed silverback gorillas

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What Does Running So Far Prove?

Action shotMy latest column is out. My dad's favourite line is: "I love me some Powerade."

Unfortunately that line is a lie. They gave us Lucozade, but I felt it would slow the pace of the column to reference Lucozade and then have to explain that is a sports drink that is apparently for people who like to eat candy while running. Cripes that stuff is sweet.

I also didn't mention my time in the column, which was around 1:54. That's a few seconds more than I ran in Fargo a few years ago, but I'm not particularly bothered because I had been suffering a pretty bad cold in the week before. At the starting line I was still coughing like someone's granddad.

The run itself was enjoyable, winding from City Centre down to the Bay and then up into Bute Park. In my column, I make a bit more of Butetown than was actually the case. The boy I referenced in the column followed up his taunt with: "All day, my old son! All day!"

My guess is that he was simply shouting things for the sake of shouting.

Going up through Pontcanna was the best part, because there were people cheering us on in Welsh. My favourite supporter was a curly-haired girl who looked to be about 4 years old. She was jumping up and down and shouting, "Da iawn! Da iawn!" at the top of her lungs.

Unfortunately, the race was "organised" by retarded people, so the moments before and after the race were filled with frustration. I'll bet cash money that any one of the regular readers of this blog could have done a better job on just a day's notice than the mental midgets who apparently have been putting on this run for several years in a row.

Here's a question for you: If you had an event that some 10,000 people were attending, how many portable toilets would you have at the start line? If your answer is "more than 10" you are better qualified than the Cardiff Half Marathon fuckwits. All of the men simply pissed in the street. I saw several blokes making no effort to stand near a wall or bush or behind any sort of barrier. They were pissing in disdain.

The race ended within the walls of Cardiff Castle. There's a certain romanticism to that, but take a look at this aerial view of the castle grounds and tell me how many gates you see. That's right, two. Two gates.

So, here's another question: If you were using one of those gates to allow the thousands of people to stream into the castle grounds, that would leave you with how many exits? If one exit for 10,000 people sounds a bit silly to you, you are WAY ahead of the incompetent ass-hats that charged me £21 ($42) to take part in their clusterfuck. They were trying to use the other gate -- a space that is only about 8 feet wide -- to allow people both in and out.

Oh, but that's not all. They didn't ask the police to block off the road that runs in front of the castle. That left only the pavement as the method of dispersal. The pavement is probably 4 feet wide and on any given weekend (like this one) is usually crowded with tourists and shoppers.

Things came to a standstill inside the castle walls. Those of us who had finished the race found ourselves trapped -- exhausted, dehydrated, cold and not at all prepared to stand in a crowd for 40 fucking minutes. The child bride was close to fainting.

The organisers insist they'll learn from their mistakes, but these mistakes are so basic that they shouldn't have occurred. It's the sort of thing that may very well drive me to write a sternly worded letter to the Western Mail.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Random statement about me

I often compare my relationship with God to my relationship with Justin Timberlake. You know, if I were to run into either down at the pub, I would compliment them on what they've achieved and would ask if they had a clue as to what the hell's gone wrong with Britney Spears. I would be forced to admit to both, however, that I don't at the moment own copies of their work.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

P.S. - I'm crazy

Actual e-mail received the other day:

I read with disdain,the ungentlemanly remarks about Prince William losing his hair to "male pattern baldness "and can not help but laugh at the ignorance and rudeness of the writer.He should be so lucky !!

I am aware that male pattern baldness is a sigh of virility,which the writer (Chris ?) does not have.Only a big mouth to make fun of others, about subjects that he is totally uninformed.

Male pattern baldness is a result of excessive testosterone which is exuded in the form of sebum, through the sebacious glands of the scalp. As this substance builds up , it chokes the hair shaft which in turn causes the hair to fall out, resulting in the death of the hair root,which culminates in "MALE PATTERN BALDNESS ". tHIS MAN WILL STILL BE GOING STRONG FOR YEARS, WHEN YOU ARE LAMENTING THE LOSS OF YOUR MANHOOD.

I suggest you get the facts before you start poking fun at others.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cheesecake 97

I think I've mentioned before that one of the more amusing elements of British university-campus fashion is their strange love of random Americana on T-shirts and sweatshirts ("hooded jumpers," for international viewers). For example, I often see faux-worn-out clothing promoting Minnesota kayaking clubs or non-existent Wisconsin colleges.

Thus far my favourite of these had been the shirt that simply said: "CENTERFIELDER." But today I saw one even better: a girl wearing a sweatshirt that said:

CHEESECAKE
97

I want to believe that it was an ironic shirt, that someone somewhere spotted this ridiculous trend and decided to take it to its ridiculous extreme. But it's so hard to tell sometimes.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Is America ready for the Secondhand Ska Kings?

The other day I saw Suggs advertising fish fingers ("fish sticks" for those of you playing along at home) on television, which elicited a howling response from myself and a sort of roll of the eyes from the child bride. She did this because she knew that no matter what she did, I was going to insist on telling her who Suggs was.

My head is a Rwandan minefield of useless pop culture references -- it is almost impossible to hold a two-minute conversation with me without my working in a joke about some person or band you've never heard of. I don't really have a good reason for doing this. When you think about it, it's a stupid way to hold a conversation. What's the point of a wacky reference to Phyllis Diller (a) if it is no more relevant to the listener than a reference to Valerie Bell (b)? But I can't help myself.

"Dude! Suggs!" I shouted, when I first saw the 2 Tone icon on screen.

After a bit of giggling to myself in such a way as to convey that I was thoroughly amused, but not so thoroughly that I would refuse to field questions about the source of my amusement, I decided that perhaps my wife hadn't heard me, despite her sitting three feet from me.

"I can't believe Suggs is shilling fish fingers," I said, being sure to annunciate.

The child bride knows that I pride myself on retaining useless crap information and I live to share it with other people. After a long pause and an exasperated sigh, she asked: "Who's Suggs?"

"Cultural icon," I said, happily, knowingly. "I suppose you could blame him for Gwen Stefani."

And that's pretty much ska in a nutshell, isn't it? Suggs and Madness took the Jamaican sound, Anglicised it, made it poppy and sold a load of records in the UK. The 2 Tone sound carried over to the United States a few years later and fuelled the early 90s ska revival that gave us No Doubt.

Now Suggs is selling fish fingers and Stefani is No. 4 on my List Of Women I'd Like To Keep In A Shed For Personal Use. Funny how life works.

But the point of this post is that sound: ska. These days it is all too often the sound of concrete basements and cheap beer; the sound of Welsh-language activists who are too untalented to master or develop their own folk music. But occasionally it will show up in an Amy Winehouse or Lily Allen cover and I'll grow all wistful.

Whereas interest in ska had ebbed elsewhere by the late 90s, it was the sound de rigeur of Midwestern college bands. It was easy to play and easy to dance to. The quirky/catchy Midwestern brand of 2 Tone was the soundtrack to my Moorhead years. And whereas I suggest that most modern purveyors of ska are crap, the ska I was listening to in those days was great. It was great because everything is great when it's in the past and because most of my friends were in ska bands. And as we all know, people who are in bands are cool; if you have friends who are in bands, you, too, are cool. So, I was great. Everything was great in Moorhead and I never wanted to leave.

Not really. But the music was good. Long-time friends of the blog will remember my tome to 3 Minute Hero, one of the bands of the time.

Anyway, a few years ago, guys from 3 Minute Hero and Suspect Bill and The Smoking Jackets decided to relive the good old days, when they could jump around on stage all night and not wake up the next morning with aching backs. They formed Secondhand Ska Kings and started playing gigs mostly to their ever-suffering girlfriends and wives.

Things have moved on a bit and these days they occasionally play to crowds of people with whom they have more than one degree of separation. Sometimes these people even give them money to play. As evidence of this big-time success, the band has released an album, Ale to the Kings (iTunes), and I think you should buy it. Here's why:

1) The music is actually good. What they've done for this album is something that's a bit different from what a lot of ska bands do -- they've practiced. You can spot this in the lack of chipped notes.
2) Four of the guys in this band have bought me beer. If you buy this album, they will probably buy me beer again.
3) The guitarist, Matt, once nursed me back to health when I got the flu. If you buy this album, you will be supporting the idea of my being alive. If you are one of my ex-girlfriends, you should buy the album anyway.
4) Trombonist Eric has been my best friend for almost 20 years, is a frequent commenter on my blog, and is the guy that everyone loved in the documentary about me. If you buy this album, you get to hear him implore a woman to "take that, take that skirt off."
5) The cover art is cool.

For the low-low price of $9.99 (less than the cost of a pint in many London pubs), you get 44 minutes of the good-time sound that was in part popularised by a man who now sells fish fingers.

Perhaps one day a strangely impossible-not-to-look-at beautiful girl will be inspired by the Secondhand Ska Kings and will produce music that is at once brilliant and insufferable. It's not that far off an idea. Matt's first band, Ten Cent Fun, is mentioned in the liner notes of one of No Doubt's first albums.

(a) Female stand-up comic whose career peaked in the late 1960s and early 1970s
(b) Girl I had a crush on in kindergarten.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

It goes to 11

It's a simple fact that some peoples are naturally cooler than others. Black people for example: on the whole, blacks (and especially in the United States) are so cool that it is almost a super power. They can make anything cool. Remember that fashion of pushing up one's trouser leg for no particular reason? That was ridiculous. In a strictly controlled environment, jacking up the leg of your trousers is a sign that you haven't figured out how to wear clothes.

But black people made it cool.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen black guys wearing silly hats and managing to pull it off. I'll think to myself: "Hey, I like silly hats. I wish I could wear a hat like that." But I know I can't -- not unless I want to get punched in the face.

That's life. I like to think that karma is somehow involved -- blacks have had to spend hundreds of years getting the short end of the stick (uhm, that's putting it mildly), so God gives them extra cool. Yes, I realise I've just mixed Buddhism and Christianity, but you get my point.

In race terms, white people rank pretty low in coolness. Within that group, of course, there are sub-groups and some white people are just naturally cooler than others. In the subsection of the British Islands, then, I think we can agree that the Irish are at the top, with the Welsh, unfortunately, left to take up the slack.

I'm sorry. I know my Welsh friends won't be happy to hear that, but it's true. The Welsh are a likeable and admirable people in all sorts of ways, but coolness isn't one of those ways. A country that posits Meic Stevens as a musical genius is not cool. End of discussion.

Since I'm also not cool, this is something that has never really bothered me. But now I'm learning Gaeilge (Irish) and the coolness of the guy teaching the course is off-putting. I'm not saying he could walk into the classroom sporting an Afro pick, but he at least has a Coolness Factor of 11, which is to say that he is cooler than the 11 of us taking his course.

This makes it difficult for us to learn his language because when we try to repeat what he says to us, it comes out all wrong and we feel stupid and totally lame for trying to mimic him. Then we go all quiet and think: "Oh cripes, I hope he doesn't eviscerate me with his notorious Irish wit. They're famous for that, these wily Irish. They can think of funny, brilliant and cutting things to say really quickly."

Well, at least, I think that. I don't know why the rest of the class is mumbling.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Over The Falls In A Barrel

My latest column is out. Despite its headline, it is not about Britney Spears' career. However, it does contain a line that I'm sure Elisa can relate to: "Facebook is my chocolate pie."

Monday, October 1, 2007

Is America ready...

The other day I was watching Samantha Bee's "Daily Show" report on whether America is ready for a female president, and the thing that struck me was the fact that all the news orginizations were asking the same question in pretty much the same way, and how stupid this was.

Bee did a good job of pointing out the stupidity of the question by responding to it with stupidity (the best part in her report is when the feminist talking head breaks in mid-sentence to help Bee choose a blouse), but when you think about it, even the phrasing of the question is stupid.

By asking, "Is America ready for a woman president?" the question suggests that a woman president is a bad thing. Almost always when the phrase "Is America ready for..." is used, it is followed by something bad: "Is America ready for terroist attack?"; "Is America ready for a major flu outbreak?"; "Is America ready for the next Tom Cruise film?"

When is that phrase ever used for something good? When has the media ever asked: "Is America ready for more cuddly teddy bears?"; "Is America ready for a hug?"; "Is America ready for free Hostess Cupcakes? Can the nation withstand yet another onslaught of chocolatey snacky deliciousness?"

Friday, September 28, 2007

Cambridge, Oxford, Cardiff?

I am now fully registered, and on Monday I return to classes for my second year of university. It feels a bit momentous because despite years and years of previous university experience I've never been this directly focused, this likely to actually end up getting a degree.

That, the experiences of last year, and the fact that I need to do better than last year* has me feeling a certain amount of sickness at the moment. And I am brought back to the old feeling that at any minute someone is going to pull me aside and say: "Look, we're sorry for messing you about, but there's been a terrible mistake. We got you confused with JC Cope. Obviously, as even you must have figured out by now, you don't belong here at all."

And I feel even more pressure knowing that I am attending the British equivalent of an Ivy League school. Well, according to Wikipedia.

For our international viewers, U.S. colleges are broken into all kinds of groupings that are mostly used in sport. For example, the child bride's alma mater, University of Minnesota, is a Big Ten university. Very strangely, Big Ten has 11 members. The "Ivy League" is another one of those athletic conferences but the term is also (and perhaps more commonly) used to denote some of the traditionally best universities in the United States, e.g, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale.

According to Wikipedia, the Russell Group of universities "is sometimes referred to as the British equivalent of the Ivy League." And Cardiff University is among them. What the hell am I doing here?

Of course, University of Southampton is also amid that "elite" group, and Southampton will accept anybody.

But I still can't shake that nagging feeling that I am out of my depth and that someone should pull me from the game before I get hurt.

*I passed and since the first year is pass-fail, I shouldn't really spend too much time fussing over particulars. But they don't send geniuses to summer refresher courses, which indicates that there's quite a bit of room for improvement. This is a key issue for me because I have visions of carrying on and earning a master's degree. But to do so, according to the literature, I need to meet a grade minimum of 2.1. For those of you playing along at home, that's not grade point average. The British university grading system doesn't really translate to U.S. terms; there are four levels above passing: 1st degree, 2.1 degree, 2.2 degree and 3rd degree.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mike Stonecreek reports


When I worked in local television news one of the things I hated most were health reports. More often than not, they were shockingly uninformative and the only reason the newscast carried them is because they were sponsored. In America's free press, the sponsor is king.

This video might not make any sense to international viewers, or indeed anyone who hasn't spent several years working (read: "suffering") in American local media, but Adam and my dad will get it, and blogging is all about targeting a narrow audience.

Were it real, of course, this report would be twice as long and even more useless. And because it would be sponsored we would drop actual news to ensure that it aired: "Oops. The show's running heavy, I'm going to axe this stuff about the crumbling American economy to make space for health."

I am particularly tickled with my choice of news guy name.

Oh Frenchy. Oh Lieutenant Steve

This video is so stupid it almost makes me wish I knew French.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

25-21

Twelve points down and only five minutes left -- why did we take a penalty kick over kicking for touch and attempting a try? My only guess is that the USA knew it was going to lose and decided that a nine-point loss was better than a 12-point loss.

As it happens, we only lost by four. The 25-21 final score is respectable but not what I think the USA was capable of. They didn't seem to start playing rugby until the second half. As usual, we suffered from a lack of experienced players and intelligent strategy (why did Ngwenya not get the ball more?). The USA seems to split between playing a game designed for two types of team -- a power team and an endurance team. It is neither at the moment. It's frustrating because our next and final match is against South Africa and only the most deluded fan would think we could win that one.

(Although, Tonga performed well against South Africa and we performed well against Tonga...)

I'm sure my neighbours will be looking at me funny for a while, because I was screaming at the television throughout the second half. Hopefully they were able to figure out that I was screaming at rugby and not just stomping around my living room in a homicidal rage.

I think the thing that frustrates me most is the number of guys in the United States who don't make the NFL cut who would make brilliant rugby players (assuming they improved their fitness and learned to check their egos a bit). I hate New Zealand so much and it just twists a knife in my gut to know that I come from a country that could present a team to destroy the All Blacks, but doesn't.

You cut me USA. You cut me deep

I am presently watching the USA lose to Samoa and I am in a rage. Why do we even show up to this fucking thing?

I've been thinking about this a lot over the World Cup. There are so many minnow teams who have to break their backs and their bank accounts just to attend a World Cup, only to get thrashed by a bunch of pro teams. I realise that there is a certain poetic justice to the USA getting slammed around in international competition, but you have to wonder: what's the point?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thank you, Barclays, for your vigilance against Chris Cope doppelgangers

Actual experience at Llandaff branch of Barclays:

ME: (Handing over cheque, deposit slip and bank card) Hello, good afternoon. I just need to deposit this cheque.
BANK TELLER: OK... (Types in numbers on keyboard) Oh, but this cheque says "Chris Cope."
ME: Yes...
BANK TELLER: Well the account is for "JC Cope."
ME: Right. (Quickly assessing that explaining the whole shortened-middle-name thing will be too much for this woman) "Chris" is my middle name.
BANK TELLER: But the account says "JC Cope."
ME: I know it does. And the "C" in "JC" stands for "Chris," as in "Chris Cope," as in the person standing in front of you.
BANK TELLER: But it's different from what I have on the screen, you see?
ME: You don't think my parents named me "JC," do you?
BANK TELLER: (Pausing for thought) Well. No.
ME: The "J" and the "C" stand for things. In this case, they stand for "James" and "Chris."
BANK TELLER: But a cheque is supposed to have the name of the account holder on it.
ME: But there isn't anyone named "JC Cope." Or, if there is, he's going to be upset that I have his cash point card, know his PIN and have been receiving his bank statements. And what a fool I've been for putting money into his account for the last year and a half. Why is it that no one has ever brought this up with me before?
BANK TELLER: (Flustered and wanting me to go away) I couldn't say. I've accepted it this time, but I was simply letting you know.
ME: (Making the rare decision not to carry on being a smartass) OK, fine. Thank you very much for your time.

I wanted to ask her how she would expect me to prove who I am if the bank really only accepts cheques payable to "JC Cope." My passport, my U.S. driver's license, and my UK driver's license -- the most official proofs of identity I have -- all state my name in full. If "JC Cope" is the only thing the bank accepts, they have made it impossible for me to ever prove to be that person.

Also, since I was the one with all the account information, she must have assumed me to be the infamous JC Cope and was suggesting I had masterminded the theft of a cheque written to Chris Cope -- that cheque having been written by Rachel Cope. Obviously, she was trying to prevent some sort of ridiculous Eastenders-style family fracas. As it stands, the cheque has been deposited and Chris Cope will now be unable to pay his £90 gambling debt to Javier Carlos Cope. Bwahahaha.

(It all reminds me of Henry Cho's story of JB Stuart [50 seconds into the video])

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yes. And yes.

For 50 weeks of the year, I'm not really all that interested in going to Germany. But then Oktoberfest comes along and I am once again kicking myself for not being there.

Apart from lack of money, my main problem this time around is that I don't have anyone to go with. The child bride doesn't drink and she's not really a fan of being stuck amid a huge crowd of drunkards. Considering that some 6 million people are expected to take part in this year's German boozery, it's a good bet that Rachel won't be found anywhere near Munich over the next 16 days. If anyone out there is interested in going next year, let me know. My only requirement for a travelling companion is that you be able to lie convincingly -- you will need to do this when we return home and the child bride asks if I drank too much.

"No," you will say. "He was very well-behaved. To be honest, I think he missed you so much, he didn't really enjoy being there."

For those of you playing along at home, two devastating wars and countless soccer defeats have resulted in a general disinterest in Germany and German things here in Britain. Oktoberfest gets very little play. To be fair, though, Britons have their own massive beer-drinking festival -- they call it "Saturday."

For international viewers, as a big thank you for providing us with beer, sausage, pretzels and two ego-boosting wars, Americans host Oktoberfest celebrations in towns all across the country, including places where German influence is almost non-existent, like La Mesa, Calif. (it is from that city's Oktoberfest that this blog gets its name). These events are similar to our St. Patrick's Day celebrations in that the focus is on eating and drinking and reinforcing comical stereotypes. We also do this with Mexicans and Cinco de Mayo.

One of the best single-location* Oktoberfest celebrations I've been to is held at Gasthof zur Gemütlickeit, in Minneapolis. A large tent is erected in the parking lot and then filled to heaving with people and a polka band that is loud and raucous on a Gogol Bordello scale. The band is so loud that you don't so much hear it as feel and think it; it becomes a constant, coursing through your skull, that, when matched with beer consumption, destroys your ability to string together coherent thought. Each time I've gone, I've walked away feeling that it was one of the best nights I've had all year.

*As opposed to those celebrations that take up several city blocks and feature several vendors.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Spam poetry

This is the text of a spam e-mail I received today:

"A trio of soldiers guarded the
Roger was surprised by her que
Roger could not help smiling.
Elizabeth turned and walked in
There were several other people"

Thursday, September 20, 2007

'Everyone do stupid things sometimes when they're drunk'

Yes, they do Alejandro. But how do explain the bit where you were hit with a garbage can and pelted with bottles?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Female Army Lays Siege

My latest column is out and it's a pretty easy guess that I was going to write about my sisters-in-law. My favourite line this week is: "Westerners are bulls in a china shop where all the china has a little picture of a matador on it."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Green Card wanted*

Ya-Ya The child bride is enjoying so much having her sisters visit that she has decided one of them should stay. In light of the immigration issues that raises we've decided that the most expedient way to keep Ya-Ya here is to marry her off to a citizen of the European Union, mail-order-bride style.

But in this case, you don't have to be some wealthy fella willing to pay for false affection -- you simply have to be someone that Laura would want to marry. Which means that you should probably be Mike Phillips or Gordon D'Arcy .

Ya-Ya is charming young lady who enjoys dancing, singing, photography and verbally assaulting her brothers-in-law. She can speak Spanish fluently and is instilled with a cooking skill that, while not equal to that of the child bride, is certainly better than any of that takeaway crap you've been eating lately. Sure, you'll find yourself with parents-in-law who think Rush Limbaugh is too liberal (no, really), but the Atlantic Ocean provides a nice buffer from that sort of thing.

Laura plays to the home crowdIndeed, the only down side to this union is that occasionally your sisters-in-law will invade your home, shaking its foundations with their bunker-buster laughter. But fear not, you'll have me to commiserate with. We can drag a television and microwave oven into the attic and exist on frozen curries and televised sport until they go away. Assuming they do go away.

Oh, no. What if they don't go away?

*Admittedly use of the term "Green Card" in the headline is misleading, since that is something that allows a person to live and work in the United States. But that is indeed an added benefit of hitching yourself to the Ya-Ya Wagon -- she gets legal status in the EU, you get legal status in the U.S. It's a win-win situation.