Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fair play

Those of you playing along at home may not know this, but the World Athletics Championships are currently taking place in Osaka, Japan. This is the major competition that Olympic athletes compete in when there are no Olympics.

In the United States, this is never televised. But here, where they televise sheep dog trials and air racing and darts, athletics is receiving pretty extensive coverage. It's refreshing. Arguably, people of the United States are a bit silly in that they suddenly care about the Olympics and forget all about these sports in the space between.

Also refreshing is the British attitude toward the sports. If you watch Olympics coverage in the United States, the general attitude is that there's not much point in watching unless an American is going to win (or, it's figure skating/gymnastics). It's similar to Eric's response to may taking part in various organized runs: "Did you win? No? Then what's the point?"

If such an attitude were held in Britain, of course, Olympics and World Athletics coverage would consist of "Allo, Allo" repeats. No -- here, they tend to go on about personal bests and how an athlete has improved over their past performances. All of which sounds like a load of rubbish until you see Jessica Ennis absolutely delighted with a fourth-place finish. And then you think: "Hey, good for her! She's a normal person."

I can't imagine there are too many people in their right mind* who attend the Twin Cities marathon thinking: "I'm going to win this thing." Most people are happy to simply take part or improve upon their own performances. For example, when I run in the Cardiff Half Marathon in a month, I'll be happy to equal or better my performance in the Fargo Half Marathon. Actually, I may not even do that well. I won't care, though, because I'll be more focused on the fact that Elisa, Donal and Isobel will be in town and I get to go to the pub with them afterward.

Anyway, there's something to be said for this mindset of personal bests. Britain's goal for the entire World Athletic Championships is to walk away with three medals -- colour is irrelevant.

Sometimes you need to judge athletic performance on something more than whether you win or lose. I found myself thinking about this today whilst watching France comfortably destroy Wales in rugby.

Those of you playing along at home will probably be equally unaware that the Rugby World Cup is less than two weeks away. In this rugby-intense country, though, they've been thinking about it since... well, since the last World Cup.

It may surprise you to learn that the United States has a rugby team, and that it has qualified for every World Cup, including this one. As a matter of fact, the United States has held the Olympic gold medal in rugby since 1924 (although, that has more to do with the fact that rugby hasn't been in the Olympics since 1924**). But they're unlikely to make much of an impression this time around.

All the teams with a realistic shot at the cup have rosters of entirely professional players. That's not so much the case for the Yanks. In terms of players in top-level teams, the United States has really only got Mike MacDonald, who plays for Leeds Carnegie, and Paul Emerick who plays for Newport Gwent -- my nickname for him is "Viking."

To make things worse, the United States is the lowest-ranked in its pool of South Africa, England (to whom the United States suffered the biggest defeat in its history -- 106-8), Samoa and Tonga. In short, we're going to get killed.

So, obviously the United States needs to approach the competition from a different mindset. They need to set a few realistic targets and if those are achieved, they can walk away claiming to have had a "successful World Cup." Winning a match would qualify as a successful World Cup campaign in my eyes; scoring a try against England or South Africa would qualify as an extremely successful World Cup campaign.

I've decided that Wales needs to approach the World Cup with the same mindset. The fact that they have only beat one proper team in the last year is indicative of a team that's not going very far in World Cup. I have already accepted this, I am emotionally prepared for the possibility of Wales losing to Japan; their failure won't affect my enjoyment of the World Cup. But I am trying to think what could realistically be considered a successful World Cup for this team.

Wales is a team that won Six Nations with a grand slam a few years back. With most of the players that accomplished that feat still on the roster, this should be a team with a real chance. For whatever reason, that's wholly unrealistic. So, what good can they get from this World Cup? What challenges can they set that are both legitimate yet achievable challenges?

*There are a surprising number of people participating in marathons, though, who are not in their right mind.

**The story of the 1924 Olympics is one of my favourites. The United States played France in the final. At the time, the rules of rugby weren't exactly set in stone and a game's time would fluctuate depending on the mood of the teams. The Americans asked for a 90-minute match because they suspected they were more fit, and the French agreed because they were the 20-to-1 favourites to win and they wanted to put on a good show for the Paris crowd. The Americans then proceeded to beat the living hell out of the French, scoring five tries, and breaking the arm of a French winger. The French crowd were in an uproar by the end of it and somehow one of the French reserves was knocked unconscious by a walking stick amid the ruckus. When the U.S. national anthem was played, it was booed vociferously by the 30,000-strong French crowd.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Yeah, but how many times has he been on Radio Cymru?

I'm a bit behind the curve on this one, but, dude, a guy I went to high school with is coach of an NFL team. Meanwhile, I had to ask my dad for money last week. Yeah, things are going just great.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Rambling

I walked today from Barry to East Aberthaw and decided to turn the experience into an audio/visual blogging extravaganza. Well, perhaps "extravaganza" is a bit much. It's really no more than a slideshow with commentary.

I apologise for the quality of the audio in some of these clips. It's blustery on the coast. Adding to the poor quality is the fact that in most of the clips I was walking. My goal was to do things quickly and give it a sort of "instant" feel, but arguably this still could have been achieved while standing still and out of the wind.

The audio has the added factor of displaying my present hodgepodge accent. It's generally the old Minnesota-with-Texas-twang sound, but occasionally you pick up South Wales phrasing. It's most notable, I think, when I'm talking about mini-golf in the clip from Porthkerry Park.

Double-spelling not needed
The journey begins. I took the train from Sweet Home Radyr Way down to Barry. In the audio clip below, I misspell the Welsh name.

Angular
Angular waterway-thingy in Barry's The Knap area.

The Knap
Lake in Barry's The Knap area.

Roman building
This looks like a building site, but it is, in fact, a historical site. These are the remains of a Roman building that stood here in 45 AD. It's quintessential Britain that you have ancient sites sandwiched into everything else. Those are peoples' homes in the background. Just behind me was an ice cream shop. I was very obviously the only person interested in the site.

Barry
Above The Knap. The large body of water, of course, is the Bristol Channel. Off in the haze you can see Flatholm Island.

Audio from Barry:


Scenery

Porthkerry Viaduct
The viaduct at Porthkerry Park.

Mini golf
Mini golf course in Porthkerry Park.

Audio from Porthkerry:


Bulwarks camp
I don't know what a bulwark is, but this camp of theirs is mighty old.

England
In the haze, across the water, you can see England.

Phallic
Phallic stone circle at Rhoose Point.

Compass
Giant compass made of rock. Impressively, the markings on the compass are in Welsh. In this picture you are looking to the dwyrain (east).

I think they're supposed to mean something
These stones were very clearly in a specific formation, but I couldn't make sense of it.

Desolation golf course
The golf course between life and death.

Audio from Rhoose Point:


Near Rhoose Point
According to a BBC cameraman I know, you can go down to the beach and see dinosaur footprints somewhere around here.

Cliff

Heading out to sea
A ship heading out to sea.

Trailer park
Trailer park.

Audio from the trailer park:


Sailing
That is a massive sign. Sadly, the sailboat hit it and sank. Two people died. Very sad.

Wetlands
Wetlands near East Aberthaw.

Crabbing
This is a family crabbing in the wetlands near East Aberthaw. I really wanted to take a picture of what they had caught, but I couldn't figure out a non-embarrassing way to say: "Can I take a picture of your crabs?"

Old building
Interesting-looking abandoned building.

Discomforting sign

Audio from the woods near East Aberthaw:


England says hello

East Aberthaw
Even the garages are made of stone in East Aberthaw.

The Blue Anchor
The Blue Anchor pub has been around since 1380.

Thatched roof
A look at the inviting front side of The Blue Anchor, and its thatched roof.

Pint
Heaven.

Audio from The Blue Anchor:


Looking toward Barry
And that's about it. I walked home the same way. I left my house at 10 a.m. and was back just before 6 p.m. If you ever come to visit me and want to see The Blue Anchor, I promise that we will just drive there.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Missing Idiocy of Storms

I have slightly mixed feelings about my latest column, which is out today. I'm happy with it -- especially lines like, "...they throw themselves at it like Britney Spears to a bucket full of crazy," -- but what I'm saying isn't true, you see. I don't really miss TV news at all.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Mustachio

1976

If coach would've put me in, fourth quarter, we would've been state champions. No doubt. No doubt in my mind.

(Caption comes courtesy Llyr, who captures the mood brilliantly. Feel free to offer a caption of your own on the other pictures I took today)

Simultaneously the best and worst thing you'll hear today

100 mp3s of music inspired by the Tijuana Brass sound. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll hurt deep inside, and then you'll laugh again.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

hell.

Remember when I used to do Flickr Fiction? Of course you don't, because that was a coon's age ago. But anyway, I used to do be part of this group of people who would make up short stories based on pictures that Donal found on Flickr.

We would post these stories to our blogs and then everyone who wasn't also part of the Flickr Fiction crew would ignore the post and wait until we got back to talking about naked teenagers or dog grooming or whatever the hell it is that we normally talked about.

Then, at some point, I don't remember when, all the Flickr Fiction crew decided it would be a good idea to create a site solely dedicated to our Flickr Fictionry and I promptly stopped writing because I am lazy and more inclined to call myself a writer than actually be one.

But today, for the first time in Forever Land, I actually wrote something. The piece itself can be found here, and it is based on a photo that can be found here. I'll warn you that it is unusually dark for me.

Whatever happened to that one guy?

One of the seminal novels of Welsh-language literature is Traed Mewn Cyffion, by Kate Roberts. The title literally translates to "Feet in Chains," but the book could just as easily be called "101 Things to Be Miserable About."

It is that kind of novel that so often appears on lists of classics, in that it is about miserably poor people living their miserably poor lives. These novels always annoy me and cause me to react like some sort of 1920s Tory, growling at the book: "What's wrong with you, man? Pull yourself together and make something of yourself, why don't you. What?"

To her credit, Kate Roberts tries to answer that question in the title and in a dialogue late in the book that was probably put there for stupid people like me that need things spelled out. In life we are bound to all kinds of things, we are chained to family and poverty and place and station and on and on. More often than not these bonds are mental, and more often than not the mental bonds are the hardest to break.

Oh, and World War I was a shit war.

Anyway, in the book, the character that stood out for me is one whose name I can't even remember at the moment. The eldest of the Gruffydd children, he basically gets written out of the story about halfway through. He is a sort of incidental character who spends all his time working or sleeping, thus demonstrating the exhausting monotony of working at a slate quarry. Then his character gets frustrated with life and demonstrates how hard it was to get people to join the union. Then he demonstrates that trying to get people to join the union was likely to get you the sack. Then he demonstrates that a lot of people moved down to South Wales to find work. Then he pretty much disappears. A few years later he is married and doing alright in the south and no more than a paragraph is spent on him.

The book carries on and everyone else is miserable and poor and can't ever seem to get a leg up and Sioned's a slag and Twm dies in the war and Owen spends several pages telling us how much life sucks and if we have anything in life we only have our family and war sucks the biggest suck that ever sucked because it kills your little brother and now you've got nothing and no one. So you might as well just sit there and smoke your pipe. And the book ends.

So the thing I found myself growling at the end was: "What about your older brother? Ay? He's still alive, what?"

But the older brother is out of sight, out of mind. Which is, I suppose, testament to Roberts' famed ability to capture real life. If you live far away from family, you quickly fade from the family picture. You become peripheral -- a family member by title only.

It's like this that the child bride has been feeling lately. She comes from a big family that revels in being a big family. When she calls to see how they are, she gets the sense that they are just fine. Without her. Not thinking about her. Not wondering how she is doing. Almost certainly they are wondering these things but they are difficult to convey over distance and phone calls that must conform to seven-hour time differences.

Meanwhile, I've been feeling lost in my own way. And I think a lot about George Berkeley who said that reality is simply God's perception. That's troubling since reportedly I am made in God's image and I have a shit memory. If God's memory is at all like mine, I am in woeful danger of ceasing to exist. I feel a terrible sense of needing to do something so as to be memorable, to make a mark, but not really feeling that I can or ever will. I feel fading.

Much like this post, the child bride and I feel as if we have lost the plot a little bit. There is homesickness and more and we're not really sure how to shake it. This is the drawback of setting off on far-away adventures, I suppose; sometimes you feel far away.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Thank you, Lord

Admittedly, I'm not truly Welsh, but I think I can speak for all the people here when I say: "Thank you, Lord, for Duncan Jones and his ability to make a tackle."

If we're honest, Wales is not going to beat France next week, which meant that this week was Wales' best chance of going into World Cup with at least one win after the record defeat to England. Without Duncan there to strip the ball from Durand, it would have been a draw and the Western Mail would be calling for a Nicolae Ceausescu-style removal of Gareth Jenkins from the coaching job.

The thing that baffles me is that the commentators were on about him having to compete for the No. 1 shirt. Who the hell are they watching? Duncan's got good hands, he's a forward that backs can't get past and when the players have to be lead by children onto the field he's the only one who actually talks to them. And, sometimes he cries when he sings the national anthem. Duncan is the shiznit.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Teithio

The child bride and I will be travelling around South Wales until Sunday, which will keep me away from the computer for a few days. Considering that I stopped blogging regularly several months ago you probably won't even notice my absence.

Aesthetically pleasing, or, in other words, fly

If opium dreams lasted for 200 years...If, like me, you feel obligated to watch every television programme featuring a poncy British guy yammering on about whatever subject it is that he thinks is so delightfully interesting it deserves an hour of your attention, you know that the modern Olympics aren't quite the Olympics as they used to be. In the good ol' days, of course, the chaps ran around naked and killed each other. Ah, good times.

Somewhat similarly, the Eisteddfod dreamed up by Iolo "Forgery is Fun" Morgannwg isn't exactly the same sort of thing that was going on back in the 12th century. It is an opium-induced Edwardian romantic vision of Welsh culture. That's an element that I wish they would play up a little more: "Welcome to Eisteddfod: kooky pseudo-druidism from the mind of a nutjob."

Of course, dreamed-up cultural traditions are perfectly fine with me. Made-up stuff provides the foundation of American culture. Thanksgiving was dreamed up to sell cookbooks. I simply bring it up because romanticism is the thing that struck me most about my second Eisteddfod experience.

For those of you playing along at home, an eisteddfod (roughly pronounced: "ay-STETH-vode") is a cultural event/series of competitions that encompasses pretty much anything you've got time for: singing, literature, dancing, arts, crafts, etc. It's a bit like a county fair, minus the baking competition and those kitschy endearing elements that British filmmakers like to feature when trying to demonstrate that all Americans are slack-jawed yokels. There is no eisteddfod leek-eating contest (and more's the pity for that, I say).

The eisteddfodau (more than one eisteddfod) are based on a tradition of poets strutting their stuff for one another, which took place as late as the 12th century and as early as some time that I failed to note when I had a lecture on Eisteddfod several months ago. These events are held all throughout Wales, all throughout the year and they are generally about as exciting as you would expect a bunch of people gathered in a church hall reading poetry to be. Actually, it's more fun than that, thanks to sock-rocking elements like cerdd dant and côr llefaru.

Cerdd dant is a competition that in its essence involves singing to harp accompaniment. But for wacky fun, every competitor has to sing the same song. Or, at least, the same words. I think they are allowed to make up a different tune if they are so inclined, but to be honest I've never been able to sit through a cerdd dant competition long enough to say one way or the other. Here's a clip of a bloke who won £150 for his performance.

The utterly baffling côr llefaru, meanwhile is something that our man Iolo almost certainly would have seen in his opium fits. Like some kind of low-tech Lydia Lunch spoken word performance*, it involves several people reciting poetry in dramatic unison. You should probably be sitting down to watch this clip (although, it's worth it for the hottie flutist).

Easily the most hilarious competitions, though, are those for dancing. They are funny in a surreal way -- the whole thing of performing what should be life-affirming folk dance on a vast, empty stage before an utterly silent audience. It's like attempting to do Def Comedy Jam on Sunday morning at an old folk's home.

The big pink tent and those goddamn rocks againOnce a year, there is a national Eisteddfod (note the big "E"), the big-money eisteddfod. This is the thing that all the Welsh Bob Dylan wannabes** sing about. Last week's Eisteddfod events pulled just shy of 155,000 visitors, which is about half of what St. Paul's Grand Old Day pulls in a single day, or 1.5 million people short of Minnesota State Fair attendance. But don't let the numbers fool you; Eisteddfod is televised live across the country and the focus of all conversation for the week before, during and after the actual affair.

Well, the focus of conversation in Welsh-speaking circles, at least. The bus driver who took me from Chester to Mold (where Eisteddfod was held this year) had no idea it was going on.

People attending Eisteddfod are probably happy to have it that way. It plays more into the sense of isolation that Welsh people often seek to create for themselves. And minimal numbers of English speakers assist in the romanticism of the event. It meant that in the instant village that was the caravan park one heard only Welsh. Hundreds of people, across acres of land, yammering away in y Gymraeg. It was Welshie utopia.

FTYPAH: "caravan" here means "camping trailer." Imagine my disappointment when I first figured that out. In all the times I had heard about people going caravanning, I had envisioned them bouncing about the British countryside like Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof."

In that vein, I had bundled my tent along with me to Mold and set up with a few friends on the periphery of the rows of caravans. Camping at festivals is an established British summer tradition -- pitching a tent in the mud and stomping around on two hours' sleep is part of the experience. Or, at least, that is the way that it is portrayed. In fact, what I found was that everyone had a tent that was at least three times the size of mine. Mari had a six-man tent all to herself. Rhodri and Elin's tent was so large and equipped with so many guy wires that it reminded me of the tent used by Hawkeye, Hunnicutt and Winchester in M*A*S*H. I kept asking them when they were going to set up the still (a reference that I think was lost on them).

People came equipped with full-size air mattresses, camping stoves, radios, televisions and countless other amenities. The field itself was equipped with proper working toilets, showers, a chippy (FTYPAH: "burger stand"), a convenience store and a bar. This is what I mean by "instant village;" it wasn't camping at all.

At dusk, smoke from barbecues would lift up against the sunset and hills, and from every corner you could hear the constant patter of Radio Cymru or families and friends all speaking in this ancient language. It reminded me of my first impression of Cymru Gymraeg (Welsh-speaking Wales) more than 10 years ago: that I had somehow stumbled into a different country within a different country. That's the romantic vision, the romantic hope of many Welsh speakers, I suppose. It's the thing that makes Eisteddfod worthwhile, which is also what makes it hard to appreciate.

Welsh-language culture is wrapped almost entirely in the language. It has traditional dance and music, but for whatever reason these elements are seemingly shunned within the culture. Its modern music is awful more often than not, and almost all other modern cultural aspects are indistinguishable from those found in England. This results in a culture that doesn't really have an entry level for appreciation. There is no bodhrán or tartan to Welsh culture.

On the most recent episode of "Mountain," Griff Rhys Jones was talking about a British attempt to wipe out Highland sentiment by killing a load of people. He noted that tartan (FTYPAH: "plaid") was at one time banned and people were cleared off their land and killed, and yet in modern times all these Highlandy things can be found pretty much anywhere on the British islands and they are easily recognized worldwide. He suggested that these things have become more widespread than they ever would have been if the British had simply left the Highlanders alone. He then darkly quipped: "Perhaps if there had been a few massacres in Wales, people would know who we are."

There's a certain truth to that. Whatever the reason, it's difficult for outsiders to really grasp the differentness of Welsh culture. If you are an English speaker or person from outside the British islands, there is little to pique your interest because the language is so tightly woven into the culture -- if you don't know the language, you are not likely to see what's so fucking special about this place.

All of this is at the heart of why I was so disappointed by my first Eisteddfod experience. Last year, when the child bride and I went to Eisteddfod in Swansea, I was hoping for a sort of cultural event/celebration that would in some way vindicate all the time and money and trouble of moving here. I wanted to be able to say to my wife: "Yes, I know that I have failed you as a husband by dragging you on some ridiculous dream, but look at what we get in return."

I had long had difficulty answering the question that I am so often asked -- "Why Welsh?" -- and hoped that Eisteddfod would finally provide that answer.

It didn't. Cripes almighty, it didn't. It was a bunch of rocks and white information booths. A third-rate county fair trying to win legitimacy by mimicking the "Ode to a Grecian Urn" scene in "Music Man"***.

But then this year, I was sitting around a barbecue with friends -- beer in hand, smoke rising into the summer sunset -- and it hit me. It hit me again the next day, when I was chatting with people who were spread out on the grass near a beer stand, listening to the caterwauling of yet another Dylan wannabe. The language stupid.

So often in Welsh-speaking situations there is an element of something -- defiance, academia, back-room dealing -- that runs through the experience. But in Eisteddfod, with everyone speaking the language simply because it is a language and language is how you tell your friends about funny things, the simple act of talking rubbish in the sun feels slightly otherworldly. It's romanticism, of course. In this world there is only one radio station, one TV station, no newspaper and the 1990s have yet to occur musically. But with the language clicking in my brain, I was finally able to see the appeal of Eisteddfod.

I don't like saying this, but I actually enjoyed it.

*Whoa, in the great game of obscurity baseball, I have just knocked one out of the park with that reference.

**For some inexplicable reason, one of the most-respected Welsh-language pop artists is a dude who blatantly stole his style from Bob Dylan ( here's proof). Even more confusing is that there are legions of younger performers who are blatantly stealing their style from him.

***I couldn't find that scene on You Tube, but I did find my favourite scene from the musical. His producing a marshmallow (7:25) is one of the greatest bits of random comedy ever. I also wish that I had had the guts to use "It's alright, I know everything and it doesn't make any difference," as an opening line when meeting a girl.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Home

You know those dudes who live for events like Sturgis?

Those of you playing along in Britain can't really relate. There are plenty of tough-looking dudes in this country who look like they would consider glassing* to be foreplay, but in the United States we grow a special breed of grizzled individual. Madmen who tear across the American expanse in motorcycles with engines larger than most European saloons (FTYPAH: sedans**). Baked by the sun, battered by mother nature and seemingly impervious to whatever things come flying off the road at high speeds, they are tough sons of bitches.

Suddenly I am wondering who would come out as being tougher -- an actual biker dude or one of Britain's finest. I think the British thug would have speed and agility but I think the American biker would be a little more stamina and have a more concentrated sense of cruelty. It would be tough to call a winner in a head-to-head match-up.

It's probably an unanswerable question. A bit like how I've always wondered which would win in a fight: a polar bear or a lion. In the polar bear - lion contest, you've got two creatures who have mastered their environment. Part of what make them so tough is how they deal with their surroundings. So any fight would favour the home team. I suppose you could put them in neutral territory, but then you'd have two competitors who weren't at their best. The same thing with your American biker and British thug, I think.

But that's not the point. The point is this: right now I feel like the leathery skin of an American biker. I feel rough.

And this after only two nights at Eisteddfod.

*FTYPAH: "Glassing" is when someone breaks a pint glass and shoves it in your face.

**How the hell Americans and Brits came up with such vastly different meanings for the word "saloon," I can't even guess.

The Ghost of the Ice Cream Van

My latest column is out. Actually, it's been out since Tuesday, but I wasn't near a computer to post it. Random line from the column: "In Britain it is more acceptable to kick an old lady in the shins than design straight roads that are easy to navigate."

Monday, August 6, 2007

Eisteddfod

I'll be up in North Wales for Eisteddfod for the rest of the week. Although I theoretically could blog via my phone, I almost certainly won't. I have asked the child bride to blog in my absence but she has refused.

I suppose if people really felt like it, they could create their own sort of Chris blog in the comments section. Feel free to blog about things you think I would blog.

Otherwise, I'll see you in a few days. I am currently planning on returning on Thursday night but there's always the off chance that Eisteddfod will be shockingly less sucky than it was last year and I will decide to stay longer. Money and willingness to go days without showering (I'll be sleeping in a tent) will be the key factors in my decision-making.

Hwyl fawr.

Testing

I'm trying to post to my blog from my phone.
---

Great googly moogly, it works. Of course, the likelihood of my ever actually posting from my phone is relatively low, seeing as how the above sentence took me several minutes to write (this bit was obviously written later, on my laptop). I am shit at texting. I am shit at all things phone.

Those of you who have known me a while are thinking: "Whoa, go back a bit. You got a phone?"

Yes. I've finally given in.

For years I have resisted owning a mobile phone because they strike me as pretentious and annoying little things. It just seems pompous to walk around thinking that you are so fucking important that people need to be able to get in touch with you no matter where you are.

Recently when I went to Nant Gwrtheyrn, several members of the group I was with spent the vast majority of their time lamenting the area's inadequate phone signal. They would stand out in the rain and bend in funny angles, desperate to get enough bars to be able to send texts or make calls to their friends, family and boyfriends. I couldn't help but think that they were completely missing the point of being there.

One morning, I asked one of them: "Why is it so important that everyone know exactly where you are and what you are doing? Surely you're not that important. Surely people can survive without hearing from you for a day or two."

She just looked at me funny and didn't really speak to me again for the remaining week and a half of the course.

I realise that phones can be useful and important. In Minnesota and in Wales I've encouraged the child bride to carry one, should she find herself stuck in some snowy/rainy/mountainous wasteland. If, like the child bride, much of your job involves driving over hill and dale, then perhaps a phone is an intelligent accessory. But everyone else, not so much.

My feeling has long been that people own phones because they are status symbols, not because they are needed. People make excuses for needing phones much in the same way that they make excuses for needing 4x4 vehicles. For years I have carried my non-phoneness like a badge of pride.

"And if I ever actually need to use a phone," I would proclaim, "I will turn to the person next to me and politely ask to use theirs."

But now I've given in. My will has been broken.

My technique of using other people's phones was working just fine. I haven't suddenly become more important, popular or employable. I'm still using public transportation to travel within the same five-mile radius. Nothing has changed. I have no good excuses. I don't need a phone. Nonetheless, I now own one.

I suppose it's worth noting that when I lived in Minnesota, I drove a 4x4 pickup truck*.

My phone is loaded with ridiculous features. I have enough media tools to set up my own entertainment network. The thing that appealed to me most, though, was the idea that I could blog from my phone. I could be in Eisteddfod (I'm heading up there tomorrow) and tell you about things almost in real-time. Oooh. Because that's important, see.

But as Sara indicated in the comments, I'm not exactly breaking new ground here. Everyone else was using their phones for e-mail back when I was learning how to strike through things in HTML. And, as I say, I've got a long way to go before mobile blogging would be practical. I write texts only slightly faster than it would take me to etch things in stone.

Odds are pretty good that in a short while, my phone will find a place in the bottom of my book bag, turned off and almost never used. I suppose I am my mother's son in that way. Despite the fact that she carries a phone, my mother is no easier to get a hold of now than she was in 1987.

It's unfortunate, because my phone appears to have all kinds of cool features that will likely go unused. One feature that fascinates me is vocal command. Apparently I can yell at my phone and it will do things for me. It's unlikely, though, that it would do things that would actually be useful: "Phone, call my wife. Don't let her know that I'm drunk, but tell her that she needs to come pick me up -- make up a good excuse. And you're going to have to give her directions because I don't know where I am."

If further developed, this vocal command thing could be quite handy. Imagine if I were still single, I could just yell: "Phone, I'm drunk and lonely," and it would dial one of my ex-girlfriends at random.

"Phone, I need money," and it would call my parents.

*Well, in fairness I drove a Delta 88 and my wife drove the 4x4 pickup. But I had originally bought the pickup for myself.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Di-chwaeth

Often there is a thin line between public expression of grief and buffoonery. I think that this picture takes a Phillips Idowu-style leap over that line.

(FTYPAH: Idowu is a British triple-jumper who currently holds the European record)

Friday, August 3, 2007

L'Étoile du Nord

In watching/reading news coverage of Wednesday's bridge collapse, and e-mailing back and forth with friends, I have been reminded of the things that endear me to the state and area that I am wont to call home.

On this side of the water, more often than not when something happens in America, news crews manage to find the dumbest person in town and talk to him. If this were one's only exposure to the United States, it would make sense that some people don't like the Yanqui -- seemingly Americans are incapable of putting together coherent sentences. So it was refreshing to see so many Twin Cities residents speaking coherently and without the sense of melodrama we've come to expect in these sorts of things. If you watch this video clip of survivors, you'll notice a lack of "Oh my God!"-type exclamations. By and large this is how Minnesotans are. They're not comedy stoic as Garrison Keillor portrays them, but there is an overall tendency to take things in stride.

It's something that often manifests itself in the Minnesota sense of humour. Eric's response to my e-mail yesterday was simply: "Want to come over tonight and grill some meats? Don't take 35 to get here."

Post tragedy, that appears to be the biggest concern for Twin Citians at the moment -- how to get around. The core road network (the Twin Cities is deceptively named; it actually consists of dozens of cities stretching out across 13 counties and two states. So when one speaks of "the core" they are generally speaking of the 15- to 20-mile radius with Minneapolis-St. Paul as its centre) was established in the mid- and late-1960s, when the Twin Cities were more aptly named. According to Sara's dad, who has worked in a municipal function for some time, when 35W was first laid out some people suggested making it bigger than necessary, so as to deal with any growth in the city's population. The general response to such a plan, however, was something along the lines of: "Who the hell would move here?"

Back then, the population of what is now the core was just a bit over 1.2 million. These days, the same area holds some 2 million people, with an additional 1.5 million in the surrounding areas. Good times.

The road network as it runs through Minneapolis appears to have been drawn up by a drunkard. And for people commuting from north or south of the city, at least once a day they think to themselves: "Cripes, is this really the ONLY major north-south route? Who the hell thought this was a good idea?"

Or, rather, they used to think that, because now that route is gone. It's not completely gone, but it is seriously disrupted at a key point and it's going to be that way for years. The thousands of people that used to travel across the 35W bridge will now be dispersed to other routes, all of which were frustratingly slow and outdated before the collapse.

Unfortunately, lack of investment in public transportation (the whole of the Twin Cities area has only a single 12-mile light rail line*) means that there isn't really any alternative to driving and sitting in traffic. Add to this the fact that the Twin Cities has the second highest rate of congestion growth in the United States, and you're talking happy, happy fun time for all. Suddenly Arriva trains don't seem quite as bad.

*Before the collapse, optimistic types were hoping to see a second line built by 2014. That will almost certainly be pushed back as money is diverted to inspect and improve the state's bridges.

List of potential titles for Shakespearean-themed porn films

As You Lick It
Romeo in Juliet
A Midsummer Night's Cream
The Hot and Horny Wives of Windsor
The Merchant of Penis
Balling of the Shrew
Much Ado About Nuttin'
The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Thinking of home

To my knowledge, I don't know anyone who was injured last night (local coverage). Pretty much everyone I know back in the Cities works in other areas. So, at 6 p.m. they would have been elsewhere. The child bride used to drive across that bridge every day to get to work.

The I-35 (the road that collapsed) is easily the busiest road in the metro area. From Burnsville to Forest Lake it is almost always slow. Where it collapsed, in the heart of everything, traffic would have been at a standstill even if things hadn't been reduced to one lane. That factor only means that fewer people were affected than would have been.

This is a huge shock if not simply because in the Twin Cities people pride themselves on doing things properly. When you drive around, occasionally you will see signs in people's yards that say "Happy to pay for a better Minnesota," indicating the resident's willingness to pay more tax and maintain the quality of living that makes one forget about the miserable weather. Road projects are constant in the Cities -- they take too long and cost too much money and frustrate everyone, but in the back of your head you always console yourself by thinking: "Well, at least all this time and money means it's being done properly."

Something now has gone horribly wrong, and in probably the worst place imaginable. I-35 is a major artery, so the effect of this disaster will be felt for an extremely long time. And whatever political ramifications that arise will likely be felt severely.

For those of you playing along at home, I hope you're alright.