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.

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