Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Don't you blaspheme in here

BlasphemyInspired by Monday's post that referenced blasphemy, I took a handful of self portraits today using the light in my study as a sort of God light. These pictures are a good example that I amuse myself far more than perhaps I should.

I think my favourite picture is this one, where I was trying to go for the fear-of-God look, but instead I came across as being sort of agitated with and sceptical of The Alpha And The Omega. I'm so amused by it, that it's now the profile photo on my Welsh blog.

As bad-ass as we would all like to believe ourselves to be, I doubt very much, though, that it's the face anyone would have when confronted by their creator. Well, perhaps Cain had that face, but he was thick as a plank.

I'm also amused with this picture, which looks like the sort of thing one would see on a 1960s album cover (a bit like those used on Leonard Nimoy albums). Extra points for those of you who can think up a title for an album that would fit my pontificating pose. I was thinking either: "The Many Moods of Chris Cope," or, "Unexpectedness."

And to answer Lucky's question from a few days ago, yes, most of the pictures I take of myself are with my left side facing the camera, giving me a sort of Paris Hilton quality. But it's not wholly intentional. Obviously, the pictures are all taken at arm's length, and I've found that it's just easier for me to take pictures with my left hand than my right.

Le bastards

Someone found my blog searching: "Epson CX4800 is stuck in French."

I can't quite explain why I think that is so funny. Epson are such fuck-ups, it's both amusing and not at all surprising that they would produce a bit of electronics that speaks only French.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Girl, we couldn't get much better

The other day I was listening* to "This Ain't A Scene" by the insufferable Fall Out Boy and I was struck by how much of a prude I am. Beyond its cookie-cutter nature and bubble-gum-angst lyrics the thing that bothers me most about the song is the fact that they shout "Goddamn" over and over and over.

Hey, I'm as big a fan of blasphemy as any other, but, I can't help thinking: "Cripes, is this appropriate for daytime radio?"

It's clear I'm getting old that I find myself thinking about the possibility of there being some mother out there, taking their child to school and scrambling to hit the "scan" button when that song comes on. Who needs that? No one wants to discuss the third commandment with a child that early in the morning. Suddenly, painfully, the necessity of Radio Disney becomes clear. Goddamn you, Fall Out Boy, for making Radio Disney seem like a good idea.

I've always been this way, though. This morning Radio 1 was randomly playing "500 Miles" by the Proclaimers** and I flashed back to high school, when our flag corps (we had a flag corps; you know we were bad-ass) performed a routine to that song. Keep in mind that I am not that old but that I lived in the Midwest, so it took several years for the Proclaimers to reach us.

The first time they performed the routine, I found myself listening to the song's lyrics and thinking: "Oh, golly. Is it appropriate that high school girls should be dancing to songs that mention excessive alcohol intake?"

*Please note that I listened to the song only because I was doing the washing up, so my hands were wet and I didn't want to just kick the radio across the room, as perhaps I should have.

**Is it just me, or is Frankie Boyle one of the Proclaimers?

Why did I never post this?

DrunkennessI found this picture in my Flickr account last night; although I took it a year ago. I cannot for the life of me think why I never posted it on my blog. My only guess is that a year ago I had higher standards for what I put on this site. Or maybe it was shortly after Crystal made some comment about how she really hoped I wasn't the sort of person to pull my hair back. Sometimes you just need that shit out of your face, though.

Ah, the long hair. Good times. Sometimes I miss it -- in that way that I don't really miss it. It looks sort of goofy-cool in pictures and my children will have a field day with pictures like this, but having all that stuff sitting atop my head was a major annoyance when it was actually there. I have found myself lately toying with the idea of growing it out again, but I almost certainly won't.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

My Right Ear Produces A Lot Of Wax

In light of this recent talk of poetry, I've decided to post one of the only two readable poems I've written in my lifetime. Note that I do not say it is good. In truth, it is below the standard set by the limericks read by Terry Wogan on Radio 2. But I'm pretty sure it won't cause you to drive pencils into your eyes. If it does, I'm sorry.

This poem was written on a train 10 years ago; I'm not sure of the exact date, but it was in mid- to late-January 1997.


My right ear produces a lot of wax.
I'm not being boastful,
Just telling the facts:
My right ear produces a lot of wax.

Some women have their talents
And some men have theirs;
Some people juggle balls,
Some people cut hairs.

Some can paint houses,
Some can sew a lovely pair of slacks.
But my right ear produces a lot of wax.

Some stand on their tippy-toes,
Or fight wild bears when it snows,
Or put things up their nose
(But for me that's not how it goes).

Some can balance 10 pianos on their backs,
Or stay calm while the enemy attacks.
I've known blokes who could do a thousand jumping jacks.
All the while, my right ear produces a lot of wax.

As for the rest of me,
Well, it's just too hard to say.
I don't know what I'll be
When my hair turns all grey.

I might have an enormous mansion,
Or live in a box.
I might be insane,
Or sly like a fox.

Maybe I'll have a great job
With lots of good friends,
Or be a lonely old yob
Who's wearing Depends.

Will I have a wife who will love me?
And a dog who will, too?
Or when I walk into stores
Will people shout: "Boo?"

Will I live in London,
Or Boston?
New Ulm?
Or Halifax?

All I can say for certain is:
My right ear produces a lot of wax.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What were you thinking when you wrote this song, Macy?

On Macy's Gray's On How Life Is album there is a song called "I've Committed Murder," the chorus for which is "I've committed murder and I think I got away..."

Yeah, well you would have, if you hadn't written a fucking song about it. Yeesh.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

2: They like poetry. No, really.

It's rare that I say this, but I think I feel a haiku* coming on...

Another strange thing:
Welsh people like poetry.
This confuses me.


For a very short while in high school, I decided I was going to be a poet. I decided this based on my ability to produce reams and reams and reams of grumpy non-rhyming free-form poetry dedicated to this or that girl who had broken up with me after two weeks.

"Time with you was perfect --
Never boring,
Never wasted."

That was my favourite line. Sadly, it was stolen from Henry Rollins. I'm digressing a bit here, but for a guy who writes a lot about love and relationships and has in his head at least three novels that would explore these subjects, my romantic foundation is a bit odd; it consists almost entirely of Rollins-sentimentalism and Van Morrison.

Needless to say, my poetic ambitions were abandoned when I realised that no one actually likes poetry. No one, that is, but the Welsh.

There's a bloke here named Twm Morys. He's got a massive head and a boozer's nose and when he speaks he sounds as if he's suffering a cold. He's a poet. Partially for reasons already explained**, I'm having trouble finding a good page to link to that would provide information about Twm (pronounced "Tomb" -- how bad-ass is that?), but trust me, he is popular.

He is popular like Soul Coughing were popular in Minnesota. That's a good analogy, actually, because Soul Coughing weren't really popular anywhere else. Similarly, I have never been among any other group of people who actually liked poetry. I've met plenty of people who understood poetry (I can't even put myself in that group), and plenty of people who claimed to like poetry because it made them seem deep; but people who really did "ooh" and "ahh" over verse? Nope.

In Eisteddfod, which is THE MOST IMPORTANT CULTURAL EVENT ON THE PLANET, poets are prized above and beyond novelist scum.

There is a long-running radio programme here that basically consists of two groups of poets competing against one another. Then some terrifyingly old man who sounds like he's breathing through a hole in his neck offers a bit of opinion and the live studio audience clap politely or chuckle knowingly. This is one of Radio Cymru's most popular programmes.

Click about five minutes into this clip and you can hear what I'm talking about. If you listen to the programme long enough, you might notice that all the poets speak in a style that is very similar to the up-and-down "my-words-have-meaning" technique that is so popular among Methodist pastors (If you don't know what that sounds like, here's my best impression of it [I'm reading from the United Methodist church website]. The quality of the recording isn't all that great -- I sound like I'm recording in a moving car -- but you get the idea). This is THE way to read poetry, apparently. People in my course dropped into it when called upon to read bits in class.

One of the reasons I don't have any friends in university is perhaps my sustained shock at the whole love-of-poetry thing. When we were studying barddoniaeth, as it is known, I would turn to the poor girls stuck doing group work with me and ask: "You don't really like this stuff do you?"

For the sour-faced response I got, I could have just as well asked, "So, when are y'all gonna get naked and make out?"

Here, poetry means something. In cultural feeling, it is at the heart of why Wales is so much better than where you're from. They've been reciting poetry in these parts since before your language even existed, son.

*Eric, if you are reading this, I will leave it to you to share the greatest haiku of all time.

**And, yes, it's partially because Twm is a Welsh-language poet. So, any internet links referring to him would be in Welsh. If you read Welsh and somehow don't know who Twm Morys is, here's a page about him from the BBC.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Thanks Jade Goody, Whoever You Are

My latest column is out and it contains some of my all-time favourite lines, including: "Crikey, immigrants are a bit frightening, aren't they?" and "Imagine a TV show that takes Flo from 1970s sitcom 'Alice,' NFL referee Ed Hochuli, some bloke who dated Carrie Underwood in high school and a handful of other people you've never heard of and pits them against one another in competitive bass fishing."

Monday, January 22, 2007

Boosh

This weekend, several months after everyone else, I discovered the magic that is "Frisky Dingo" (first episode: part 1 / part 2). I promptly watched all of the episodes from the first season and encourage you to do the same -- especially if, like me, you are supposed to be studying for a Welsh grammar exam.

Cut that meat!

Holy shit, Payton Manning can actually win an important game. My dad would probably tell you that this is a clear sign the Republican-controlled Congress was holding him back.

(The headline refers to this advert)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

1: They fear the internet

Does anyone remember PINE? It was the e-mail system universities were using back when bison still roamed the plains and my friends and I had just graduated high school. At that point in history, very few of us really knew what to do with e-mail. At the start of the semester we'd bang out a tedious, misspelled tome to our friend in Boston or our girlfriend in New York and then we'd forget all about e-mail for multi-week stretches.

Twelve years later, all civilised peoples have moved to using e-mail on a daily basis. All civilised peoples but the Welsh. One of the best ways to hide from a Welsh person is to send him or her an e-mail telling them where you are.

On the whole, Welsh people seem to approach the internet like a complicated Christmas present they didn't ask for, as if the world has given them a Bowflex. They're appreciative, and a handful of them have taken to it and developed killer abs, but for the most part they would have preferred that Voices of the Valley CD and perhaps a gift certificate to NEXT.

I would suspect that all of this country's regular internet users would fit comfortably into the available seating at a Bangor City FC home game. And most of them would work for the BBC.

For those of us blogging in Welsh -- less than 80 at my last count -- we find it is very difficult to get past the "What is a blog?" question. And with the exception of Dogfael, who seems to blog every 12 minutes, Welshies tend not to be the most dedicated of bloggers. With English blogs, I will assume they've gone dead if they go without updates for a month. With Welsh blogs, I find the window needs to be about six months.

It's not that the Welsh are mentally slow or any such crap*, it's just that they tend not to trust the whole thing. Before moving here, I had never been asked whether I was concerned about the possible negative effects of keeping a blog. I get asked that question all the time over here, referring to my English blog, my Welsh blog or both. And the tone of the question implies not just that I should be concerned but that I shouldn't be doing it in the first place -- the tone one would perhaps use if asking: "I'm sure it's invigorating, but aren't you concerned that bathing naked in the Taff will get you arrested?"

Last semester, people in my course were instructed to form groups for a project that will become the bane of my existence in the coming semester. As always happens when classmates are forced to do group projects, we immediately discovered that none of us could be arsed to adjust our schedules so as to meet with one another. To counter this, I decided to create a Google Group that would allow us to stay in e-mail contact and set up a basic running structure. This worked slightly less effectively than if I had tried to recruit for Promise Keepers. A week later, we still had failed to come up with a name for the group (a goofy requirement of the course). When I pressed on this, I discovered that the majority of my group members had not checked their e-mail. In a week.

In a way, it is very endearing. Having previously worked in a web-based company, I'll be the first to admit that the internet is not the World-Peace-Making Magic Box that people sold it as in the 1990s. It doesn't bother me that I am unlikely to hear a conversation about "hi-def compression and the emerging rival optical disc formats" in the Mochyn Du. Taking technology with a grain of salt is a good thing. But, come on, answer my freakin' e-mails, will you?

*I have actually had one or two people try to tell me that Welsh people aren't all that bright. OK, fuckers, then why don't you tell me who developed the equals sign? And the word "zenzizenzizenzic?" And the Jolly Roger? And the sleeping bag? That's right, bitches, the sleeping bag. Your ass would be freezing on camping trips if it weren't for the Welsh.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Misheard lyrics

I swear I heard this lyric in the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive:"

"Well there's a big ol' panda on my shoes..."

The drawback to mindlessly burning your wife's CDs into your iTunes

Dumbest song lyrics ever: "You can't run from your pain, because wherever you run -- there you will be. You have to learn to water your spiritual garden."

Oof. I feel ill.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Oh, Shooty, you're so cute

Death PandaI have suddenly remembered Shooty the Death Panda. I know I've blogged about him before but I can't get over how much he amuses me. When I suddenly remembered him today, thanks to Neal's communist bear, I laughed for 20 minutes in that maddening joy that comes from rediscovering something so amusing.

Shooty is a mascot for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Sadly, his name is not actually Shooty, it's Jingjing, which doesn't sound nearly as cool if you ask me. But, of course, China didn't ask me. That is the root cause of a number of China's problems -- failure to seek my counsel.

I am at this moment very seriously considering creating a T-shirt with Shooty and the words, "Penliniwch o flaen y dyrfa Gaerdydd," which roughly translates to: "Kneel before the Cardiff massive." It would be the most obscure T-shirt ever. And I would win.

UPDATE: I've put a potential design on my Welsh blog

Monday, January 15, 2007

At leg's length

I happened to spot this photo of Elisa the other day and noticed that it was a part of a photo pool called "The Arm's Length Self Portrait Experience" (I'm pretty sure there should be hyphens in there, but let's not be picky).

FloorI tend to take a whole hell of a lot of these types of pictures of myself. I seem to be under the impression that if I take enough pictures some day one of them will turn out OK.

The phrase "arm's length" made me think: "You know, no one ever takes a picture at leg's length. I wonder what it would look like if I were to hold the camera with my feet and take a picture. Now that I think about it, I can't remember ever seeing a picture taken from that particular angle..."

The fact that I had stumbled onto the idea of doing something that I can't remember* anyone else doing meant, of course, that I had to do it. So, I lay down on the floor and held the camera between my feet -- you can see a bit of my foot to the left. The pained expression on my face is testament to the fact that getting this shot was a lot trickier than I had thought. I'm not exactly the most flexible guy, so it was difficult for me to sit there with my legs in the air, keeping the camera steady.** And in order for me to get the shot right, I had to roll back on my shoulder blades.

I do have monkey toes, but, to answer Elisa's question, I am not so dextrous that I was able to hit the button with my feet -- the camera was on timer.

In an ideal world, other people would now go about the task of taking pictures of themselves with their feet. But it is kind of a bothersome task, lying on the ground and trying to hold a camera with one's feet. If you do take a picture like this, however, send me the file or a link -- I'll put it on my blog.

*Note that I say "remember." I am sure someone else has thought of this, and perhaps I've even seen the results; I just don't remember seeing them.

**That sentence out of context seems like one that would be better suited for Isabella Snow's blog.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Becks

Here's another thing about Britons: they are more conformist than we are in the United States. They're not all crazy lockstep or anything, but one does find that in many cases there is almost always an unquestioned prevailing viewpoint.

I'm not talking about political thinking necessarily -- every nation has its insufferable share of people who are doggedly liberal or conservative despite any evidence. I am referring more to the way people here will view various elements of pop culture.

For example, the David Beckham deal. The line of thinking on this is that Beckham is a washed-up footballer who has effectively given up on the game and is content to milk his fame for all it's worth in a soccer backwater.

Add to this the fact that he's English and I'm not winning any new mates by admitting that I actually like Beckham (he influenced my choice of shaving razor). And I think his move to Los Angeles could turn out to be a stroke of brilliance.

If you were to walk up to average Americans and ask them to name a professional soccer player, I suspect the top three answers would be something along the lines of:
- "Soccer is boring. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back to watching NASCAR and golf on television."
- "Oh, you know, that one red-headed guy."
- "David Beckham"

I was still in the United States during World Cup 2006 and when I went to the pub to watch the matches, all the England shirts had Beckham's name on them. In my experience working for the Global Media Conspiracy, Beckham was the only player ever mentioned by U.S. media outlets. With the exception of those shown during MLS matches, Beckham was the only professional soccer player to appear in adverts on U.S. television. NBC, ABC, and CBS all ran the story of his signing with the Galaxy. Sports Illustrated carried as its top story this morning and ESPN had the story prominently displayed on its front page. If anyone is going to draw attention to the game in the U.S., it's going to be him.

Beckham has style and Americans respond to that -- sometimes more than actual skill. Jermaine Wiggins and Wally Szczerbiak could tell you that. And that one red-headed guy, Alexi Lalas, general manager for the Galaxy, understands it, too.

There are a lot of Americans who will never like soccer and a lot who will never take a full interest (I haven't decided whether I fall into this second category*). But, Beckham will bring exposure that will help fuel the slow progression of the game in the United States. I have already predicted that USA will win the World Cup in my lifetime. If that happens sooner than later, Beckham will be able to sit back and say: "See, I made that happen." It's certainly a greater legacy than he would ever achieve playing in Europe or a chronically underperforming England side.

It's clear that this is something Beckham is hoping for -- he has said almost as much. And I think he is sincere in wanting to promote the game, having set up the Beckham Academy a year and a half ago.

Beckham also has, you know, talent. He's still in his prime playing years and he's a better player than England fans will admit. So, it's not like he's Ric Flair. People drawn by Beckham's star power will see a player of top quality.

Hopefully that quality will rub off on some of his fellow players (I'm looking at you, Landon Donovan, you fucking slacker) and, by extension raise the level of U.S. play. But he's not exactly stepping into the "Mickey Mouse League" that I've seen described on a lot of UK discussion boards. Like Brazil, England and several other sides, USA underperformed in the most recent World Cup but it did have flashes of brilliance. Their battle against Italy was intense.

Americans don't tend to respond well to the idea that they should do something just because everyone else does (you know, like care about the environment), so Beckham faces a pretty massive task in popularizing the game. He's not helped by the fact that the Galaxy have the gayest name in all of professional sport**.

But I would like to see him succeed. I would also like to see his wife eat something, but that's less likely. Ideally this would result in a team that could legitimately compete against a top European team. Lalas has said his goal is to create an "MLS super-club." The top UEFA teams regularly travel to the United States in the summers to put on exhibition matches -- I'm sure someone somewhere is already salivating at the idea of putting one of these teams up against the Galaxy.

*It is, at least, in my top three: rugby, American football, soccer.

**MLS was started in the heyday of late-90s political correctness, and the names of the older clubs reflect the desperate attempt to avoid upsetting anyone: the Galaxy, the Wizards, the Rapids. In addition to gay team names, the MLS also carries the distinction of having the gayest logo in professional sports, a team with the most half-assed sell-out name ever and a inclination toward pointless gimmicks.

Vive la 49.65 percent

Google Analytics is my new favourite toy. It's a tracking programme that is supposed to be used with a proper website, but works great in providing far too much information on one's piddly little blog.

For example, I have learned that of the however-many people that visit this site each day, only 49.65 percent of them are returning visitors. I'm assuming that these are people who are actually reading my blog and not simply misguided individuals hitting another dead end whilst Google searching "sex with horses."*

I have learned that while the majority (44.56 percent) of the people visiting this site are from the United States, the people actually reading it tend to be British, Irish, or, strangely, French.

I also seem to have at least one regular visitor in Istanbul, Turkey.

*This post is responsible for 1.15 percent of my readers.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Someone needs to go back to ad-writing school

I just spotted an ad on my blog that reads:
Is Jesus God?
No, he is the Son of God. See what the Bible says. Free articles.

Why? You just told me what the Bible says. I don't even need to click the ad now -- I don't need any free articles when you've summed them all up for me in one sentence. At least you've saved me several hours of reading. Now I can get back to my Danielle Steel novels.

My new favourite toy

Found on Tuckmac's blog, my new favourite toy is the peculiar aristocratic title generator:
My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
The Very Reverend Chris the Scattered of Chalmondley Chumleyton
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

I tend to be behind the curve on meme-type things, so I have no doubt that everyone else on the planet found this in 2002. Nonetheless, you may refer to me as The Very Rev. Chris from now on.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Point Dan

Sucks to be DanSome time ago, my friend Anthony confided in me that he and another friend, Dan, had developed a sort of points-based system for mentions received on this blog. I recently found myself thinking about this running competition when I finally switched over to the new version of Blogger.

For me, of course, the biggest difference in the two versions has been the end of my bullet-point system, and my attempting to use labels. I get the sense that I'm not using them to their full potential. But, how much potential could possibly exist in a label? Nevertheless, whatever-the-hell else labels are good for, they can at least keep track of who's winning Dan and Anthony's blog-mention battle.

"Awesome," I thought, "from this point forward, 'Anthony' and 'Dan' will be labels. My only problem is that I haven't heard from either of them in a coon's age, so I don't really have anything Dan- or Anthony-related to blog about."

Thankfully, everything Dan owns was reduced to ashes on Christmas Day. That's a talking point.

I only learned about this today. While Dan was enjoying Christmas with his family, everything in his apartment -- where the joy of the beer float was uncovered -- was being reduced to cinders. The picture above is of his entertainment centre, or what is left of it. The picture below is of his office.

"I think karma is punishing me for being Republican," Dan told me. "By the way, if you don't have renter's insurance, I suggest getting it."

Dan's OfficeThat last bit of advice came a bit late for Dan, who was left with just a few clothes and a story that should hold up well against every other bloke's my-worst-girlfriend story: "Wow, that sounds like a pretty harsh relationship. I guess getting over her might have been like, oh, I don't know, having to put your life together after all your worldly possessions were lost in a fire..."

You thought your New Year was off to a rough start. But there are positives to all this. First, Dan gets to live that "getting rid of all your old shit and starting life anew" fantasy that we've all had -- whether he wanted to or not.

"I'm trying to take the, 'this is very liberating,' route," he said.

Second, and most importantly, Dan takes the first point with ease.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Cruising Lake Jackson With Granddad

My latest column is out, chock full of interesting facts about the town my parents' hometown.

Another fun fact: There are 535 people per square kilometre in Lake Jackson, Texas. There are 2,263 people per square kilometre in Cardiff (of course, London blows both cities out of the water with 4,761).

Wikipedia drops the ball

Pancho ClausAm I the only white person in the world who remembers Pancho Claus? He was a Mexican lowrider-Santa-Claus-fella in Houston who showed up everywhere when I was a kid. When my family moved to Minnesota, I was shocked and appalled that people there had never heard of him.

There was at least one TV special featuring Pancho Claus bringing toys to all the cool girls and boys. His elves were a mix of Pachucos and cholos and at some point there was a mariachi band*. Most of Pancho Claus' actions involved standing at an angle and flipping a silver dollar. I remember, also, that at some point a kid laments that he will not see Pancho Claus because his family's house doesn't have a chimney.

"I don't use chimneys," says Pancho Claus. "I'm not getting this suit dirty."

Apparently he's still around, but I couldn't find anything about him on Wikipedia. Every minor Star Trek character to get 15 seconds of screen time is documented, but Pancho Claus gets nothing. There's something inherently wrong about that.

*Not really related to this, but not worth putting into a post of its own, my all-time favourite use of a mariachi band came when Michael Moore's short-lived "TV Nation" sent one to drown out a KKK rally.

Monday, January 8, 2007

All things British

This is probably one of those posts that I formerly would have used bullet points on. But bullet points don't work with this template and putting several topics into a single post makes it difficult to label. As we all know, the fate of Western Europe* rests on my putting blog posts into categories.

I spotted Saturday that I am no longer too old to join the British military. I haven't really looked into it, but I think joining up would put me on the fast track to UK citizenship. Take a bullet for the Queen and you get to be one of her subjects.

If I remember correctly, the process of naturalisation in the UK is easier for people whose grandparents were British citizens, which means my dad could apply. We only found this out recently. My dad found the naturalisation papers of my great-grandfather, John Finley Cope, stating that he became a United States citizen in 1923, formerly having been a citizen of Great Britain.

This is odd for two reasons:
1) JF was born in Texas.
2) He had never been to Great Britain.

He had, however, been to Canada. He went there to help build the Canadian National Railway, but discovered that only Canadian citizens were being hired on. So, he became a Canadian citizen, which, at the time, meant becoming a citizen of Great Britain.

There is a picture somewhere of JF holding a baby version of me, but I don't remember ever having met him. Nonetheless, he managed to pass on an economic appreciation of Britain.

*Switzerland, especially.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

#54: They have all been to Florida

Jenny is going to hate this post.

Monica keeps a running list of strange things about the British, some of which are undeniably true (#46: Televised dart competitions) and some not as much (#5: There are no obese people here -- Obviously Monica has never visited South Wales). Some day in the future, I may attempt a list of strange things that are uniquely Welsh (They fear the Internet), but for the moment I thought I would just add to her list.

Almost anytime I meet someone new over here, the conversation will work its way toward two things:
1) What do you think of British people?
2) It's really different over here, isn't it?

Both of these questions, of course, are not actually questions. People are not asking for my opinion; they want to hear an American accent telling them that they are awesome. A similar thing happens in the U.S. when returning Yanks are asked, "What did you think of England*?" What the questioner expects of you is a tirade on everything wrong with the UK, and confirmation that he or she is a good and intelligent person for never having left the country. If you absolutely must speak well of Britain, it should be contained to a no more than three words: "It was OK."

That said, I have a bad habit of bursting people's bubbles on question No. 2. Yes, Britain is different than the United States, but in a lot of ways it is only different in the sense that Utah is different from Wisconsin. To a true outsider the two peoples are indistinguishable. When you lay this in front of a British person it makes them sad and they get quiet and don't want to talk to you anymore.

So, I pick them back up by pointing out that I find British people to be quite friendly.

Perhaps strange thing No. 55 is that most Britons feel a conversational obligation to negate Americans. They tend to do it ever so slightly, and they don't do it in a rude way. Arguably, it is simply done to keep the conversation moving. If they were to simply agree, we would run out of things to say and then do that thing of staring at a wall and wishing there were some football on the telly (I think the lack of this conversation element in the U.S. is part of the reason ESPN is on at every bar in the country).

At any rate, having received a compliment, the British person will usually counter with: "Oh, do you really find us to be friendly? I've always thought us to be cold and stand-offish."

"I think it has something to do with the accent," I say. "People hear me speak and they hear the accent and that automatically gives them something to talk about, and they'll usually come over and tell me how they've been to Florida, or..."

"Oh! I've been to Florida," the person will exclaim.

"Yes. I think it may be law."

I have run into a handful of Britons who have not been to Florida, but my assumption is that they will go there eventually. There or New York City.

*In the U.S., "England" = the whole of the UK and sometimes Ireland.

Bottlenose

I had a dream last night that I was in a romantic comedy with Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, but I was living the film, if that makes sense. I was aware that everything was following a set plotline and that McConaughey and Witherspoon were, in fact McConaughey and Witherspoon, and not the characters they were playing, but I felt all the things that happened to me.

I was the comic-partner-sort-of-thing to McConaughey's wealthy and slightly arrogant character. He was trying to exact revenge from Witherspoon, who had fouled up some major business deal. Or some such thing. It was a romantic comedy, so of course strength of plot wasn't particularly relevant.

I was a homeless guy who hung out with five very large dogs that would keep me warm a night by sleeping on top of me. A number of my scenes involved having conversations with the dogs. I can now only remember two of the dogs' names: Benedict and Bottlenose.

Benedict (short for Benedict Arnold, of course) was so named because he was desperate to find a new owner. He would run up to people in the park where we lived and try to charm them into taking him in. When I caught him doing this, I would shout: "Traitor!"

Bottlenose was a muddy golden retriever who took incredible joy in finding plastic Coca-Cola* bottle caps and bringing them to me.

McConaughey recruited me to pull all kinds of boneheaded stunts in an attempt to embarrass Witherspoon, but, of course, they all fell through.

I can't remember exactly how the love story of McConaughey and Witherspoon went, but predictably it involved a life-altering fall from wealth that resulted in McConaughey hanging out with me and the dogs. And something hinged on Witherspoon becoming Benedict's new owner.

In my storyline, after Benedict's departure, all the other dogs leave as well, one by one, until it's just me and Bottlenose trudging through a cold rain. As you will have seen coming from a mile off, Bottlenose digs from the mud a Coca-Cola bottle cap that is from one of those look-under-the-cap competitions. The cap is worth £100,000.

McConaughey and Witherspoon end up together, and me and Bottlenose become millionaires -- having invested much of our winnings in Coca-Cola stock. The end.

*My dreams have product placement.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Genesis 4:12

Continuing on from what I was thinking about Friday, the story of Cain only gets more confusing after Cain offs his brother. As punishment, God tells him to piss off to someplace else.

This seems to do the trick in terms of punishment, because Cain goes into a panic and worries about what other people will do when they find out he's killed his brother.

"I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth," he bemoans. "And it shall come to pass that every one that findeth* me shall slay me."

See, again Cain is showing that he's not very bright.

Every one that findeth you shall slay you? You can only be slain once, bonehead. But more importantly, who is this every one? You've killed one-fourth of the Earth's population; as long as you give Mom and Dad a bit of distance, there exists no one else to worry about.

But God, perhaps accepting that Cain wasn't really an example of His best work, says (I'm paraphrasing): "Don't worry about it. Look, I'm going to put this mark on your head. It says, 'DO NOT KILL.' Anyone messes with you and I will fuck their shit up. OK?"

Cain reckons this about the best deal he's going to get and he heads off to the land of Nod, where, according to Genesis 4:17, "Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch."

What? What wife? Where did she come from? And why doesn't she get billing? It's not like the Bible was trying to save column space. Wherever the hell she came from, presumably the entire human population would still fit into a Chrysler Voyager and no one could be arsed to ask her name?

*Microsoft Word says "findeth" is not an actual word. Fucking heathens.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Genesis 4:9

Unless you are British youth*, you almost certainly know the story of Cain and Abel. That's when Cain, third person to exist on the planet Earth, got upset that God hadn't appreciated the fruit basket he sent and decided to take it out on his brother, Abel, Earthling No. 4.

So, God walks up to Cain after a bit and says, "Where is Abel, thy brother?"

It amuses me that God says it this way. There are four people on the whole of Earth, and God feels it necessary to use a proper noun and state clearly Abel's relationship to Cain. He doesn't ask, "Where is Abel?" or "Where is thy brother?" or "Where's the other one?"

Cain, then famously responds: "I know not; am I my brother's keeper?"

Most people assume Cain's being a smartass here, that he is the originator of the rock attitude because he is so ballsy as to backtalk The Creator Of Everything. But I found myself thinking this morning: what if he was asking a legitimate question? What if he really didn't know?

Already we know that God has to tell Cain who is brother is. That could be a sign that Cain wasn't very bright. And being only the third person to exist ever and the son of the committers of the original sin, it's not like he had the strongest moral upbringing. Hillary Clinton says it takes a village; there was no village -- only Mom and Dad, the Original Sinstas.

Maybe, rather than being the first person to use sarcasm, he was simply asking for clarification: "If you could just clear that up for me, Lord, I'd appreciate it. As you are probably aware, I've gone and killed this one. And that's wrong, is it? Shit. I feel like a right cunt. What? Swearing is bad, too? Wow, you have a lot of rules. Someone should be writing all this down, don't you think?"

*British kids know shockingly little about the Bible. Even if you don't believe a word of it, it is still the foundation for centuries of Western Literature. In terms of understanding literature, knowing fuck all about the Bible is like learning English but skipping over all the words that start with "K."

Thursday, January 4, 2007

I am not as lame as Google Talk would have you believe

Google Talk has this nifty feature that displays what music you are listening to at the moment, thus allowing you to show all your friends what a dedicated fan of The Fray* you are. The drawback to this is that it occasionally gets stuck and makes it look like you've been listening to Grace Jones' "Warm Leatherette" for three days.

*Who are these people?

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

The things that grownups do

For those of you following my life as if it were some ultra-important epic novel, you'll remember that Eric has been known to send me pictures of his dog.

On my fridge, I have a Christmas card from him featuring him and his wife in matching outfits*, standing with the aforementioned dog in front of their fireplace. The card says: "Merry Christmas. Love, Eric, Kristin and Bear." Apart from wondering how Eric managed top billing on the card, the thing that stands out to me is that Bear, the dog, wanted me to have a merry Christmas. How do they know that?

I have read that a dog can forget about you in as little as 10 hours. If I ever meant anything to that dog, she is soooo over me by now. In a way, it was very cruel for the Johnsons to send me a picture of a creature that never thinks about me. Why not just send me a picture of Sarah McDaniels, you heartless bastards!

I thought it was just Eric who did this sort of thing -- that some kind of domesticity overload had pushed him over the edge -- and that all my other friends were fine. I was wrong.

Paul's kitchen This is a picture of Paul's kitchen. As you can see, he and his wife live in a furniture showroom. Actually, that's probably not too far off. The lovely and talented Mrs. Kopesky is a medical doctor, and Paul is presently earning his PhD. This means of course, that no one ever has the time to actually use this kitchen. That's why it's so clean.

But I am still concerned that Paul would send me pictures of his remodelled kitchen, along with a description of how complicated it was to use glass tile for the kitchen backsplash. This sentence drew my attention particularly: "It was kind of a challenge to cut (you can't score and break like regular ceramic) and also to grout without scratching it, but we figured it out in the end."

That bit in the parentheses seems to assume I know what the hell he's talking about. Score and break? The who and the what now? I know nothing of home-improvement projects, seeing as how I've never owned a home. Thanks for twisting the knife, Paul. Why don't you just send me a picture of Sarah McDaniels in a house that isn't mine?

Paul sent a few other pictures of his place, and he appears to have done well for himself. There is not one bit of pity furniture. Pity furniture is the stuff that your friends give you because you are pathetic and they can't be arsed to throw it away. The couch, barbecue grill, and lamps that Paul gave me when we lived in San Diego were pity furniture. The television that the child bride and I spent the holidays staring at was a pity appliance from someone at her church (on a side note: I forgot to mention that the child bride and I were recipients of a Christmas hamper from her church. We didn't ask for it, it just showed up. Her church decided that we are so pathetic we need free food. As owners of a television, high-speed Internet access and a mobile phone, we felt a little guilty but we accepted it because, uhm, we don't have any actual money. The hamper was a strange hodgepodge of foodstuffs. There was a 9-pound turkey and apples and clementines, but there were also three packets of McVitie's Chocolate Digestives. The child bride decided that we should set some of it aside for food storage, so when the End Times come we'll be serving Kirk Cameron rice pudding and beans). The computer bits that Jenny gave me were pity computer bits. Without pity items, the child bride and I would own little more than a duvet, several CDs and six towels.

Paul's living roomThe picture that amuses me most is the one that Paul sent of his living room. As you can see, no one uses that either. And in some kind of taunt/challenge, they have furnished the room with lamps that I would almost certainly drunkenly stumble into and break if I were to visit. But the best part is the window. Look outside. Apparently Paul and his wife live in the opening credits of "Welcome Back Kotter."

Who'd have thought we'd need ya, Paul, back here where we need ya?

When did we get so old that it became OK to send each other pictures of our dogs and kitchens? And more importantly, what am I supposed to send them pictures of? In terms of things that I spend all my time and energy on, I have a choice between sending them pictures of essays written in Welsh, or my blog, or of me trying to convince the child bride to take off her clothes: "It was kind of a challenge to dupe her into shagging (you can't get her drunk and promise not to tell her friends like regular girls) and also to grout without scratching it, but we figured it out in the end."

*Matching outfits. That's almost as lame as this picture.

Lame pleasures in life

There is a strange sense of immense pride that comes from realising that my best friend's band is on iTunes. It's like he's talented and stuff.

EDIT: My best friend's band that he's not in but whose album you should still purchase because he gets royalties.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

A post that was supposed to be a year-in-review thing but sidetracked to music and the wealthy Indian family across the tracks

Young Amy Winehouse is an odd duck, isn't she?

The child bride and I spent a quiet evening in Sunday. I realise it's not very sexy to spend New Year's Eve watching television but it was actually a much more enjoyable experience than you might think.

For one thing, it had been an exhausting year. In 2006 we lived in three different homes, three different cities, and two different countries; and at least since May we have been in an almost constant state of movement and stress. We are immersed in debt. The depression that gripped me in October/November/December was arguably one of the worst I've had in my life. A New Year's Eve spent keeping our heads down was actually very appealing.

Also, God seemed relatively against the idea of our going out. Weather forced cancellations of New Year's celebrations in Liverpool, Newcastle, Belfast, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. Calennig went on as planned in Cardiff but in some pretty shit weather. It rained all day Sunday, with strong winds generally convincing Rachel and me that our house was lovely, thank you. We felt vindicated when it started hailing at midnight.

And we would have had to get to and from city centre on foot because none of the buses that run anywhere near the Cope Estate (25, 33, 62, 122) were running on the holiday. It's not too awful a walk -- about two miles -- but the bit about walking in a gale made me tired just to think about.

Underline all this with the fact that I figured out on Saturday how to dramatically improve the reception to our television (I finally connected it to the aerial).

So, we watched Jools Holland's Hootenanny. For those of you playing along at home, Jools is some random bloke who looks a lot like Kevin Wicks off EastEnders and appears to have restless leg syndrome. He is shit at interviewing people but had several good guests, among them the aforementioned Ms. Winehouse.

The U.S. version of iTunes doesn't sell Amy Winehouse, so it's possible that you haven't heard of her. She's your archetypal talented person who has managed to trainwreck her life before hitting her mid-20s. Congratulations, Amy, you're shite at living. American journalists would refer to her as the live-fast-die-young-leave-a-good-looking-corpse type, but her anorexia means she's already missed the bus on that last bit. The end result is that she's a tremendous singer, but you have to keep your eyes shut if she's on telly.

Staying with the odd-duck-singers-who-don't-look-like-they-sound theme, Madeleine Peyroux was also on the show. If you don't know who she is, you are letting the terrorists win. The interesting thing about her is that she looks like somebody's sister. She may very well be someone's sister, but I mean that she's got the look of someone who's singing exposure would normally consist of performing her sister's wedding: "I know you don't want to stand for a long time, but, I was thinking we could ask Madeleine to sing 'Our Love Crosses the Ocean' at the service."

Another highlight of the evening was my wife suggesting that Ray LaMontagne is, in fact, me in a parallel universe.

"A parallel universe where I have talent?" I asked.

"No. One where you can grow a beard."

In addition to the hail at midnight, we were also treated to a massive 15-minute fireworks display by the crazy wealthy Indian family that live across the train tracks. I'm not sure if I've mentioned them before. In the summer, they once had a live bhangra band playing in their garden until 3 a.m.

Here's a satellite view of my neighbourhood. Just to the left of the green arrow, you'll see a fucking great house that is right next to the tracks. Its garden ("back yard" for those of you playing along at home) would fit both my house and garden eight times over.

Admittedly there is something particularly amusing about a family that flaunts its wealth with live bhangra bands and full-on fireworks displays. Perhaps I will write them into a Penhill and Sneaveweedle story.

Please send help

There's this song by Shakira, when she sings: "You said you would love me till you die. As far as I know you're still alive."

I think that lyric's bad-ass. I sing along to that song. Something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.