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.