Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pancho Claus reads this blog

Richard Reyes (aka Pancho Claus) has commented on a post I wrote about him some time ago.

With all due respect to any other famous people reading my blog, having Pancho Claus drop by is easily this blog's greatest moment (even better than when I encouraged Huw to drink a gallon of milk in an hour).

Some day when I get time, I will take it upon myself to write the Wikipedia entry that Pancho Claus so rightfully deserves.

Monday, July 30, 2007

My pal Rich

I've been in magazines, I've been in newspapers*, I've been on the radio, and I've been on television -- but only now have I finally arrived. Richard Massey is my Facebook friend and he reads this blog.

Or, at least he has read this blog once. Something tells me, though, that Rich (I can call him "Rich" because we're pals now, you see) won't become a regular commenter, helping me come up with good band names and such. He's probably busy doing important things, like fending off the attractive women throwing themselves at him.

Rich, of course, is one of the contestants on BBC Three's "Last Man Standing," which is my favourite TV programme to not feature John Barrowman. If "Last Man Standing" were to somehow incorporate Barrowman, it would become the greatest show ever**. On Saturday, Rich sent me a message via Facebook commenting on the post I wrote about the show. How cool is that? A guy who almost certainly has countless more interesting things to do, took the time to read my piddly little blog. I am obligated now to follow through on my promise to get a T-shirt made that says: "Richard Massey is my Facebook friend." Here is the design I've made for it -- what do you think?

I'll need to get a few other shirts made, too. As it turns out, a number of the guys on "Last Man Standing" are cool like that. Contestants Mark Hoban and Rajko Radovic are also my Facebook friends. Sure, none of them would ever actually speak to me, but that can be said of the overwhelming majority of the people I know through Facebook -- and those people haven't even been in a Zulu stick fight.

*Very randomly, there will be a picture of me holding a sign that says "Oes treiglad yma?" in the South Wales Echo some time in the coming week.

**If James Best (who played Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in "Dukes of Hazzard"), were somehow also added to the mix, it would create a show that would probably knock me into a coma with its awesomeness.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fácil

I am amused by this story, about a BBC duo who plan to spend a fortnight travelling across the United States speaking only Spanish.

It reminds me a bit of the Popeth yn Gymraeg challenge of a few years ago, in which Ifor ap Glyn went around these parts using only Welsh. But the Spanish-in-the-USA challenge is considerably easier -- especially when you look at the BBC crew's route. I reckon that one could perform the same task following a route that hugs the U.S.-Canada border; running through places like San Antonio, El Paso, and Nogales will be a cakewalk.

I want the BBC to pay me to do really easy things. Send me to Ireland to discover whether I can find any people who drink Guinness. Lock me in a room with a naked Reese Witherspoon to discover whether I find her attractive.

Spanish speakers can follow their journey via a BBC blog.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

An open letter to Arriva Trains Wales

Dear Arriva Trains Wales,

Sometimes I feel very lonely and empty inside, and I want so very desperately to be held. I would like to thank you, therefore, for your utter incompetence when it comes to serving the needs of your customers.

Your morning- and afternoon-commute trains are so packed with people that they are physically pressed up against one another. Twice a day I can experience a level of intimacy that would usually require my buying dinner for someone, at the very least.

Even better, I often have multiple partners. Why, just the other day I found myself delighting in the warm embrace of five slightly largish women on the way from Cathays to Radyr. That kind of action would normally cost a fortune in Amsterdam, or require me to join a religious cult, but on Arriva trains it can be had for as little as £1.10. Actually, my experience was free! Your train was so crowded the conductor couldn't walk down the aisles to sell anyone a ticket.

Thanks Arriva Trains Wales. You're the best.

XOXO,
Chris Cope

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Richard Massey for prime minister

Those of you playing along at home are missing out on my favourite television programme in a long time: "Last Man Standing." It airs on BBC Three and is a strange mix of reality television, travel show, and sports entertainment*. It features six blokes -- three American and three British -- travelling around the world and taking part in various tribal sports and tribal customs. They live with people of the village for a fortnight or so, working alongside them whilst training, and then they take part in a massive competition that often sees them getting schooled by tiny tribesmen.

So far they have wrestled in the Amazon, fought with sticks in South Africa, run a ridiculous race in Mexico (that one was a sham), participated in kick-fighting in India and wrestled in Mongolia. It is a shockingly addictive show and I find myself able to recite far more information about it than I should.

The other day, Facebook friend Helen and I suddenly went into stalker mode (as she pointed out: "Stalking is fun when you have a fellow stalker to share experiences with") and hunted down the Facebook profiles for all the show's contestants. Friend requests were promptly sent, but as yet have not been accepted. I am particularly hoping to be added to the list of friends for Brad Johnson (not to be confused with Brad Johnson) and wee Richard Massey.

Brad is a big black guy from Oklahoma who has more cool than the combined population of several Midwestern states**. A week ago, when all they guys were at a meal and suddenly informed that they were eating dog, Brad didn't even break pace. The camera then turned to him and he said: "I just ate some dog. Tastes decent."

So far Brad has won two events and was robbed in a third. In South Africa, the guys only had to participate in one stick fight; of those that won their fights, the tribal chief then determined a winner. The chief clearly based his decision on which fight was most interesting to watch, which ruled out Brad because his opponent had run away (I would have, too -- if this guy were coming at me with a stick, I'd be gone).

Richard, meanwhile, is the plucky Englishman who loses at everything but in a way that causes you to never remember that he's lost. I think it has something to do with the fact that he never really complains about anything. I have decided that if he accepts my friend request, I will get a T-shirt made that says: "Richard Massey is my Facebook friend. Bitch."

Is anyone else watching this show?

I think the highlight this week came when Rajko and Jason had to castrate sheep with their bare hands (uhm, not for sensitive viewers, that clip). Afterward they were served testicle soup and Jason provided the show's best quote: "We'll both stick a big fat testicle in our mouth at the same time."

*"Sports entertainment" is a term coined by professional wrestling. I don't think the outcomes of "Last Man Standing" are predetermined but it is like pro wrestling in that who wins isn't all that relevant.

**Not Minnesota, because they've got Prince.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Happy birthday Eric

Being away from the internets this past week meant I didn't get a chance to wish Eric a happy birthday.

Actually, that turns out to be pretty convenient -- it is much easier to with Eric a belated happy birthday than sending good wishes on the day. Because I'm not entirely certain when his birthday is. After 19 years of friendship, I am able to state with unsteady confidence that his birthday falls somewhere between 17 July and 21 July.

That four-day window of possibility is better than I can claim for Paul, who I've known almost as long. I think Paul's birthday falls on 12 October but I could be off by as many as 15 days.

A pretty place

Me on a rockI am safely again among the soggy throng of Caerdydd after spending a week in Nant Gwrtheyrn. I have been assured that the stitches from the Welsh Appreciation Assistance implant will heal quickly and I won't even notice it's there unless I support England in rugby -- in which case I will experience a "steady and unpleasant burning sensation in the head."

I'm sure it's nothing to worry about.

For those of you just arriving to this blog but still keen to tell me how to run my life or make snap judgments about what I do or don't know, I've spent the last week in the North Wales village of Nant Gwrtheyrn, an isolated patch of land that was set up as a place for learners to live a sort of immersion experience. The fact that this immersion experience doesn't seem to be able to make ends meet without also hosting self-involved English-speaking creative writing exchange students from CUNY kind of makes one wonder why he spent six hours in a minibus to go there, but it was at least pretty. Surrounded on three sides by mountain, the village rests just a few hundred yards from the Irish Sea. On a clear day one can see north to Anglesey, which is one of those pieces of information that really isn't all that interesting if you don't know the geography of Wales.

Here is a map of Wales. If you look at the top left corner of said map, you will see a little isolated bit of land -- that is Anglesey, known in Welsh as Ynys Môn. Just below that you'll see a small peninsula, known as the Llŷn Peninsula and therein is located Nant Gwrtheyrn, close to the village of Llanaelhaiarn. Not on the map, but some 60 odd miles to the west, is a place called "Ireland." You might have heard of it. On a really good day, one can see all the way from Nant Gwrtheyrn to the Wicklow Mountains, which is where the water for Guinness comes from.

The village gets its name from a king who reportedly moved there in an effort to get as far away from Saxons as possible. Gwrtheyrn lived in a castle on a mountain on the village's north side. Legend has it that he got all in a huff about something, ran all the way to the mountain on the village's south side, and flung himself into the sea. Why he couldn't have jumped from the mountain he was already on is anyone's guess, but it certainly puts into doubt those studies that say exercise helps to ease depression. The village was at one time cursed by grumpy monks, which resulted in a girl getting stuck in a tree, but it's most notable period in history was the time spent churning out rock for Queen Victoria's empire. Granite from Nant Gwrtheyrn was used to pave roads all across Britain. Tons and tons of the stuff was shipped to Liverpool, which, as Mary alluded to, meant that the village was more closely tied to an English city a few hundred miles away than any of those villages resting behind the mountains.

Nant Gwrtheyrn's quarry legacy lives on through Coronation Street. A cobblestone road in the soap was built with granite from the village. But for the most part, things came to a stop when Britain started using tarmac. The village fell into disrepair, was occupied by a hippie commune, and then sold to a load of idealists in the 1970s. If I remember correctly, they bought the whole massive area -- land, houses and all -- for around £35,000.

Picture of Jo Full taking a pictureThe village consists of six buildings: a main office, a chapel, a small cafe, a learning centre, and two rows of houses. All of these buildings are built of granite, most of them dating back to the mid 1800s (I'm not sure about the cafe). There are 12 houses in each row (FTYPAH, a "house" in Britain is pretty much any dwelling; an American would refer to them as "town homes"), each house about the size of the house that the child bride and I live in (two-floor, two-bedroom home of about 1,200 square feet).

The rows of houses are catty-corner to one another. Actually, I don't know if they are catty-corner, because I don't actually know what "catty-corner" means. I think it means that they make a sort of "L" shape. I heard my friend Paul use "catty-corner" once and so decided that it must be something intelligent people say (Paul is earning a PhD at MIT -- if smart were money, he would be the U.S. military budget). I am always eager to use the phrase, even though I don't know how to use it. Whatever the terminology, the rows of houses border two sides of a walled field where I played soccer for the first time in my life. From my window I could look out over the field and then beyond to the Irish Sea.

The air was fresh and in the mornings, sheep and wild mountain goats would mingle about eating the grass and heather and leaving all kinds of stuff for you to step in. It's a very pretty place, which means that it will almost certainly be spoiled within my lifetime.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Nant Gwrtheyrn

I've got three good names for bands that I need to mention straight away:
Heroic Doses (from Eric)
Aural Small Print (from Mr. Phin)
Absent American (from Chris)

The last of those is inspired by the fact that once again I will be missing a blogger meet-up in London this weekend. I am genuinely upset about it, but I suppose that on the plus side, I won't yet have to pay up on my bet with Huw that he couldn't create a Chris Cope fan club on Facebook that would have more than 50 members. Currently there are 83 members, which I find both delightful and disturbing.

Instead of drinking in London, I will be travelling off to Nant Gwrtheyrn as part of Cwrs Meistroli.

I'm doing my very best to temper all the good things people are telling me about Nant Gwtheyrn. The Welsh have a certain knack for overselling things: five defeats and one win against England is a successful rugby season; a dozen people are a good showing at a protest; third-rate talent shows are revered cultural events.

It's a side-effect of national pride, this kind of thinking. As a Texan, I can relate -- you can produce all kinds of evidence to the contrary, but I believe to my very core that Schlitterbahn is the greatest place on Earth, that the Houston Rodeo cannot be outdone and that Shiner Bock is the trump card in any "good beer that you can actually drink" discussion (and as a half-Minnesotan I also believe that societies lacking a Dairy Queen are far more likely to fail*).

Nant Gwrtheyrn is a sort of re-education village for Welsh learners. Or so it feels from what people say about it. They tell you that it is beautiful and inspirational and life-changing and on and on until you start to wonder when they're going to hand you a glass of Kool-Aid.

In reality, it is an abandoned quarrying village in North Wales that was turned into an immersion learning centre. Everyone and his uncle will tell you that the slings and arrows of immersion are the best way to get up to speed in a language. But that is difficult in the Welsh language, where English is always a fall-back option. In Nant Gwtheyrn they've apparently established little rules for themselves where everything is done through the medium of Welsh. The village is isolated from the rest of the world to the extent that TV, radio and phone signal are unreliable, so it exists there on the Llyn Peninsula as an Epcotian dream of the Wales that nationalists are always telling themselves still exists.

Obviously I am being aggressively sceptical about it. One of the best ways to ensure that I won't enjoy something is to tell me how great it is. My problem is that I actually believe people, but my definition of what is great often doesn't match that of others and I have a powerful imagination that creates difficult-to-fulfil hopes and expectations. So, I try to beat down my visions of things before experiencing them. This is especially true when it comes to things in Wales. There have been a handful of staggering disappointments in the last year.

I'll be up in Nant Gwrtheyrn for a week, so intermittent blogging will be reduced to no blogging at all.

Despite my efforts, I am looking forward to it. I'll apparently have time and space to wonder around, and there is a reportedly a pub within walking distance. That's pretty much all I need.

*Thankfully, DQ is planning to begin expansion to the European market in the next five years.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

One year

As of today, the child bride and I have lived in Britain for one full year. I'm expecting Prime Minister Gordon Brown to drop by the house to offer congratulatory tea and shortbread.

To be honest, our first year is still very much a blur. I'm hoping that some greater sense of perspective will come as time carries forward. At the moment, I remember the year like this:
- It was hot (summer 2006 was the hottest on record)
- John Barrowman was on "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?"
- It got rainy and cold and windy.
- John Barrowman was on "Never Mind The Buzzcocks."
- I consumed a lot of alcohol (around Christmas time, practically every drink and foodstuff in this country has booze in it).
- John Barrowman was on "Torchwood."
- The weather was really nice for a while.
- John Barrowman was on "Any Dream Will Do."
- It rained some more.
- John Barrowman was on "Dr. Who."
- Now it's July and I'm suffering from John Barrowman withdrawal.

John Barrowman, FTYPAH, is an actor who is on television every 12 minutes over here. I find myself using him as a marker in my personal timeline: "Oh, gee, I should probably throw out this milk because it was bought back when John Barrowman was on 'Would I Lie To You?'"

So, at the moment at least, this year hasn't felt too much different from all those lived in the United States. The past 365 days are a haze of weather patterns and media images. That's a bit surprising to me.

I'm not really sure what I was expecting or hoping for out of my first year; something a little more sexy, I guess. Sure, I can score meaningless better-than-you points against ex-girlfriends with the statement: "I live in Europe." But several if not all of those points are lost if I follow the statement with a detailed list of media appearances by a guy who plays an immortal time-traveling bisexual.

Somewhere in America, a person has just read those four words -- "immortal time-traveling bisexual" -- and decided that whoever John Barrowman is, they don't like him. And they probably don't like me for writing about him.

That's just the way America is, I suppose -- immortal bisexuals don't go over well. Here, though, they are turned into action figurines. Therein is the quiet underlying fact of my first year in Britain: my wife and I live in a place that is very much but not at all like the place we used to live.

At first glance (and increasingly so), Britain can feel quite a lot like the United States. Every main street has a Burger King and KFC, giant box stores and their parking lots consume what were once perfectly good places for trees to grow, and everything on TV and radio looks and sounds familiar. But then you turn around and see that everyone -- I mean everyone -- is good at soccer, people are mystified by the mere idea of root beer, and it's OK to say naughty words on television, and you realize: "Hey, I live in a different country."

It's like having everything in your world shift just slightly. A year on, and my wife and I have acclimatized to most of the differences, so what stand out are the things that didn't change. Of course, the most important unchanging thing was us.

This life has swirled all around us and it's given us highs and lows, but at the center of it we've still woken up next to each other each morning. I still have my wife to occasionally laugh at my bad jokes, she still has me to occasionally clean the bathroom, and we both have each other to pull, push, and encourage the other to carry on forward.

We're both eager to see what this next year will bring (John Barrowman's autobiography's coming out in 2008! Yes!), but there's joy in knowing that some things will stay the same.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Beeple-bopple-boop

Does using Transformers to sell cars actually work? Is there actually one person on this earth who thinks: "Damn! I sure love me some Transformers. I love Transformers so much that I'm going to sink thirty-fucking-seven-fucking-thousand dollars into a Buick Lucerne."

Transformers are for people of my generation or younger. Buick Lucernes are for people of my grandparents' generation or older. And it's a fucking car! It's not a toy! I don't like the idea of someone driving around in their Lucerne making little Transformer noises as they drive into a house.

I am torn between who I want to injure more: the person who thought up this marketing scheme, or the person who will buy into it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

And suddenly it gets busy

I have three different people asking me to write articles by the end of the week. I'm not complaining. I want to be a writer, and having people press me to write is certainly better than sitting around wishing I had an outlet.

My only problem is that I am unsure whether I will meet these deadlines. Because at the same time as I am supposed to be writing I am also immersed in my Welsh Cult Experience. A few days after I ungratefully accepted a position on a Welsh course for the month of July, I got a call from one of my professors informing me that I was, in fact, being offered a place on a higher-level course, Cwrs Meistroli.

I was much happier about accepting a place on this course, if not simply because it involves a weeklong trip to a secluded area of North Wales. So, I get to go on holiday and hopefully walk away with the ability to survive my degree. Brilliant. Another positive of the course was highlighted on the first day by one of my professors, who said* in Welsh: "Ooh, look Chris. Six girls in your course. That should make you happy."

The only drawback is that I have effectively sold my soul to Canolfan Dysgu Cymraeg. The course runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. There are also evening activities, trips to various locales, and the weeklong venture up north. And homework. I feel as if I have joined some kind of cult -- like I'm going through Scientology training and soon Rhys Ifans will be denouncing anyone in my family who doesn't love Wales, Welsh, and Welsh things.

So I am left with little time to focus on doing things like writing, or reading, or working out, or keeping the house clean. Thankfully, though, there is still time to watch "Last Man Standing," which is the best show ever.

The credits suggest that it was produced in part for Discovery Channel, so those of you playing along at home may get a chance to see it, but probably without the swearing and topless women. You may want to just fly to Britain to catch the rest of the series.

The idea is that they take a load of guys around the world and have them face all sorts of ridiculous indigenous challenges. The show's tagline is: "There's only one rule: Try not to die." Last week they were wrestling tribesmen in the Amazon, this week they were Zulu stick fighting. Next week they run 51 kilometres in high altitude. I am so addicted to this show.

Brad is my hero. He won last week and should have won this week, but was defeated by his own greatness. This week's winner was chosen by a Zulu war chief who based his decision on the quality of the contestants' fighting skill. Brad won his fight by basically storming in and scaring the shit out of his opponent, who gave up after three seconds. So there wasn't opportunity to display skill.

Crap. It's almost midnight and I've got homework to do.

*Because she may read my blog, I should point out that not only am I translating what my professor said, but paraphrasing it, as well. "That should make you happy," was said with body language.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Where's the hate?

It's kind of a mixed blessing that this most recent batch of terrorists has been so inept. Yes, it's good that despite three incidents, a grand total of one person has been injured -- that one person being the bloke who set himself on fire. But there's also the pride issue. I mean, what's the deal, al-Qaeda? Why are you sending us the guys who clearly flunked out of terrorist school?

Also, what's the deal with ignoring Wales? London and Glasgow, but not Cardiff? What's up with that? Where's the love? Or, hate, as it were?

You don't have to load an expensive vehicle full of stuff that won't blow up -- a Ford Fiesta with a few oily rags in the boot would be fine. Just something to acknowledge that as a capital city of Western Europe we are as deserving of your scorn as other places. Did you know that Hillary Clinton's family is Welsh? Come on al-Qaeda, we gave the world a prominent and powerful woman who toils for the Great Satan and won't wear a burka. Surely that's worth something.

Listen, we'll cut you a deal: If you set fire to a Vespa in the Bay, we promise to pretend that it's made us really apprehensive. Actually, we probably wouldn't do that. But still, we're no less great than other Great Satans.

NB - My favourite aspect of the Glasgow attack is the fact that as the bloke on fire was running away from police, random Glaswegian Stephen Clarkson punched him, thus knocking him to the ground. Other people run for their lives from terrorists; in Glasgow, they kick the terrorist's ass.