Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy New Year

As mentioned below, the child bride and I will be in Ireland for the next few days. I won't be back at the blog until at least 4 January. Somehow I think you'll carry on.

This is probably stupid on my part, but I am really looking forward to 2008, perhaps more so than I can remember for any previous year. In general, I refuse to make New Year's resolutions or pretend that a new year is any different than a new month, new week, new day, new hour.

"In Christ all things are new," a pastor once told me.

Shawn can probably tell you what scripture that comes from (I'm guessing New Testament, because of the stuff about Jesus). But even if you remove the "In Christ" bit it's a generally true statement that I try to remind myself of when I get frustrated. All things are new all the time.

But there is something about this coming year that inspires a stupid optimism. I feel as if I have spent a long time laying the groundwork and this year I will finally start to build something for myself. That is stupid, stupid optimism, I know -- inspired by two too many glasses of port -- but it's how I feel.

Maybe you feel the same way.

Maybe you don't. If you are a more sober/realistic person, New Year's is simply an opportunity to pay too much for drinks at the bar you always go to, or watch crap pop groups on television and remind yourself of why you don't listen to pop music.

Whatever it is for you, I hope that it is good.

In the spirit of pointless merrymaking, I will link to this YouTube video, containing what remains my favourite song of all time. Blwyddyn newydd dda.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Alesha, Astrid and Éire

I just heard the 9:08 train to Cardiff Central roll past. For some reason, that made it official for me that Christmas is over.

For those of you playing along at home, trains and buses don't run in Britain on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. Everything stops -- only the godless Spar stays open. Now that Christmas is passed, we'll slip into a half-speed routine for the next week, with everything again coming to a standstill on New Year's Day.

It was a good Christmas, starting with Alesha Dixon winning "Strictly Come Dancing." I voted for her twice, which is a clear sign that I am coming unglued; I am phone voting for celebrities on camp television. I try telling myself that doing this is simply an extension of my love for all things British -- obsessing over reality television is a national pastime here -- but I am still slightly embarrassed.

Probably not as embarrassed, though, as Jenny and Chris think I should be. At Thanksgiving they were wearing looks of serious concern and discomfort when I was talking about my love for the show. Theirs was the same look you might give someone going on and on about the innocent eroticism of child pornography: "OK, it's a given we're never going to speak to this man again. Do we just get up and walk out now, or leave it, hope he shuts up, and bolt at the earliest opportunity?"

But how can you not love the British Beyonce? That's Bruce Forsyth's estimation of Alesha Dixon, at least -- indicating more Bruce's total lack of awareness of Beyonce Knowles than anything else. He told Alesha this after she won the "Strictly Come Dancing" trophy.

"You can sing and dance. You've got quite an act," Bruce told her.

A little song, a little dance -- that's all you need to make it big. Apparently, vaudeville is not dead in Brucie's world.

Nonetheless, I was so enamoured by the show that once again I got out the video camera and forced the child bride to dance with me. Our making an ass of ourselves is becoming a Christmas tradition. That dance is the third take, with the other two showing an even more shocking lack of physical rhythm on my part. Originally, I had wanted to walk into shot moving my arms and hands in that exaggerated way you see in Salsa dances. But I did it so poorly that it was neither camp nor suave nor funny. I was spastic; I looked like a meth addict trying to swat away imaginary mosquitoes. Looking at myself jerk around in semi-epileptic fashion, I was suddenly taken back 15 years to when I was in Santo Domingo, hearing Merengue music for the first time.

Groups of people would gather on roadsides, throw open the doors of their cars, crank the radios and dance in the street. In a hotel, I heard the music blaring again and tried to mimic the dance I had seen. Then I looked around and noticed that two men in the bar had fallen off their stools, laughing at me.

The Amazing Astrid rolled into Cardiff on Christmas Eve for a short stay at the palatial Cope estate, which pretty much made the holiday for me.

I think having an extra person in the house encouraged the child bride and me to make more of an effort in celebrating. Had we been on our own, we probably would have sat around for two days, listlessly staring at the television. We still did a lot of that in Astrid's presence (I don't think I will ever again be able to go visit family in the U.S. over Christmas, for fear of missing the "Doctor Who" Christmas episode) but there were also good meals, sitting around talking, playing games and occasionally getting out of the house.

"Getting out of the house" is a phrase which for me is most often synonymous with "going to the pub." So we took Astrid to the Blue Anchor, which Rachel always bills as the oldest pub in Wales. I don't actually know that to be true. The Blue Anchor was established in 1380 and has been operating steadily as a pub ever since. Having 627 years under its belt certainly makes the Blue Anchor old, but I'm not sure there aren't others out there as old or older. It is, at least, the oldest pub in Wales that I have been to.

My immune system apparently can't handle two days of Hot Astrid Action and I am now ill, stumbling around the house in that sort of idiot haze that so often comes with cold symptoms. This wouldn't bother me so much if the child bride and I weren't Dublin-bound. On Saturday we're going over to stare at things for a few days and then spend New Year's Eve and New Year's Day with a friend who grew up in Dublin's northern suburbs. I will be leaving out the suburbs element when retelling the story to American friends.

New Year's in Dublin just sounds cool. New Year's in Skerries -- not so much. From what our friend Claire tells us, it will be an evening of imbibing with middle-aged people. Rock. If I were a single man, I would now be practising how to undo the clasp on a Marks & Spencer bra.

Christmas Without Robots

If you haven't had enough Christmas spirit, my latest column is out.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A time to sip an eggnog martini

This is Paul Simon and Steve Martin performing a sort of Christmas monologue. Reportedly the track comes from a "Saturday Night Live" rehearsal, but never made it to air for some reason.

For our friends in the Home Nations, "Saturday Night Live" (or simply "SNL") is a long-running television programme that has served as the starting point for most of America's comedy catchphrases. Americans always struggle with the fact that SNL doesn't exist in Britain. We'll say something like, "It was better than 'Cats,'" and you will just sit there and stare at us in that way you always do.

One thing I find interesting is that I can hear my own comedic timing in this. That's not surprising, I guess -- when I was a boy, I listened to Steve Martin records over and over and over (perhaps a questionable decision on my parents' part, but there you go).

My favourite part comes at 03:20.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Another brilliant idea that I will fail to cash in on

Occasionally I will think of brilliant things and then I will do nothing about them and be upset when someone else shows some initiative. To that end, I want the world to know at least that this was my idea first:

Tracking devices as fashion accessories

I realised today via a Facebook conversation with Charlotte that if the marketing was done right, millions and millions of people would willingly, eagerly, wear tracking devices -- allowing any and all to know their every movement.

Social networking sites and blogs and constant texting and so on indicate that there are large numbers of people who don't like the idea of being out of contact for even short periods of time. It's as if we are all a bunch of co-dependent girlfriends.

What I envision is a fashionable, waterproof, lightweight bracelet for ankle or wrist (your choice, of course) that allows for satellite tracking. That tracking information is then transferred to a social-networking-esque website that works in conjunction with Google Maps to allow your friends to know exactly where you are on the planet at any given time. The site would also work with Twitter, so your friends can know exactly what you are doing, too.

What fun! You would never ever ever ever ever be alone again.

Imagine: You're at the Starbucks and you're bored. If only you had someone to talk to. You click on your mobile web access and go to AlwaysThere.com. The site keys in on your location and shows you that your friend, or, rather, that girl who took poli sci with you in freshman year, is only 500 yards away. You quickly "wave hello" (or some other similar action via the SuperHello application), a message that she receives on her mobile phone, and within minutes you're hanging out together. How cool! How hip!

And, yes, by law all the AlwaysThere information is available to the Department of Homeland Security (a), but that can be a good thing. What if the IRS makes a mistake and realises it owes you $100 million? You'd want them to find you straight away, wouldn't you?

(a)Yeesh if you look at the top of your browser window on the Homeland Security homepage it says: "Department of Homeland Security | Preserving Our Freedoms, Protecting America." Really? They really have that as their motto? Is irony dead?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

May contain mature subject matter, bitches

My grandmother (and a few other family members, it has to be said) occasionally protests to the language and content of this blog. But imagine how this young lady's poor grandmother must feel. I mean, it's a given that any song entitled "Smell Yo Dick" isn't going to be all puppies and bubbles (a), but, crikey!

I've been thinking about language lately. Eric is right that my natural speech is peppered with a fair few profanities. As Papa once said: "Sometimes it just fits."

I generally like to blame my blue streak on my newsroom background. Newsrooms and radio stations are bastions of abusive language. There may be a sort of purging element to it -- if people get it all out before going on air, they are much less likely slip up and lose their jobs.

I think it also has something to do with the vagabond nature of the professions. People in local TV and radio bounce from one place to another -- they very rarely ever connect with the communities that they are supposed to be reflecting. These people have a tendency to want to stand out, a need to be seen. Being incapable of completing a sentence without using words or imagery that would get you kicked out of Sunday school is a subconscious way of getting that attention.

But there are people in newsrooms who don't swear -- they are called "managers." My dad has worked in newsrooms for most his career; I didn't hear a profanity from him until I was 18 years old.

Besides, that doesn't explain why I was foul-mouthed long before I entered the news profession. Yes, I was to be seen in newsrooms while growing up, but it's not as if KPRC was some kind of a brothel. Well, it wasn't in those days, at least. These days it's fucking Sodom and Gomorrah. Lauren Freeman has got a mouth on her that would make the drunkenest of drunken sailors blush, and Bill Balleza insists on fighting interns in Taipei death matches (b).

I don't really know where I picked it up. Various Texas playgrounds are a good start, I suppose. I had a pretty wide range of bilingual profanity and sexually-explicit imagery swimming around in my head by the time I was 8 years old. It was there, also, that I started to learn when to use inappropriate language appropriately. It only takes getting your ass kicked two or three times before you sort out that "pendejo" is worse than its English equivalent.

To that extent, I like to think that I'm not rude simply for the sake of being rude. Indeed, I have a strange set of parameters to profane-language use. On the whole, I shy away from blasphemy, for example. I've got no problem blurting out "Tit-fuck bitch face" in a moment of frustration, but I don't use "Jesus" or "Jesus Christ" as an exclamation. I'm pretty sure Sara cottoned to this fact when we were dating and that's why she started saying it. She will deny it, though. Probably by commenting: "Jesus, Chris, you think everything revolves around you." (c)

There was a short time when I tried to work extended surrealist blasphemy into speech, e.g., "Sweet Baby Jesus Christ Lamb of God Holy Saviour on a pogo stick, what are you doing?", but people tended not to get it and it took a long time to say.

I also tend to avoid the "C" word. Not so much because I find it offensive but because I don't think it sounds right in an American accent. A bit like "wanker." That word's out of fashion these days, but have you ever heard an American say it? It just comes out wrong. We spend too much time on it, as if the word is utterly foreign and we are trying to get our heads around it as it is being said.

Eric once said that one of the things he likes about me is that I say so much stuff that is politically incorrect, without knowing that it's politically incorrect. If my blog were an episode of "Scrubs" that statement would have been followed by a flashback to the time in high school I greeted Sonja Can't-Remember-Her-Last-Name for the first time by shouting at her from across a table: "You should put on a coat. I can see your nipples from here; you're going to put an eye out." (d)

The point is, I do and say things and these are the things that go through my head and I don't necessarily intend for them to shock or insult. Indeed, I have always seen myself as downright prudish.

-----
(a) "Puppies and bubbles" is my favourite phrase at the moment. Sharon Osbourne used it a few weeks ago in reference to brother-sister duo Same Difference. After a maddening performance that featured a pillow fight, Sharon said: "That was wonderful. The only thing missing were puppies and bubbles."
No one in the audience of hooting consumers managed to catch the sarcasm.


(b) This is a complete and total lie. Please do not sue me, KPRC.

(c) And, of course, it does.

(d) That comment scored me a sexual harassment citation (ah, the early 90s in suburbia). In that brilliantly idiotic bureaucratic way that things are done, when the citation was given to me a week or so later, they refused to tell me what I had said or who I had said it to. Thus it was a ridiculous and totally ineffective punishment; it was impossible for me to correct my behaviour because I didn't know what I had done incorrectly. I only found out when Sonja called me a few months later to apologise. She had mentioned the incident to Lindsay, who convinced her that I was not being offensive, per se, just myself. In a classic example of the kind of unintentional sleaze that I am, after Sonja apologised, I asked her out. Shockingly, she said no. Dyke.

Overheard on the 15:08 to Cardiff Central

PRE-TEEN BOY #1: "...and he told me, 'Watch your language.' You can't do that. You listen. You can't watch your language."
PRE-TEEN BOY #2: "You can. You can think about what you're sayin' before you say it, and you can watch what you say. It's like a metaphor.
PTB#1: "A figure of speech."
PTB#2: "A metaphor is a figure of speech."
PTB#1: "Yeah, but 'Watch your language' isn't a metaphor."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Post-Quarter-Life Crisis

My latest column is out. And contains a sentiment that I will save for when I'm famous and asked to speak at high school graduations: Older people are not superior, they've simply had more time to formulate arguments that they are.

Too cool for Yule

This picture both amuses and pains me. It is me, Sara, and Sara's best friend Michelle back in 1995.
Damn it we were cool.
So, so cool.
Really cool.
Maybe if I keep saying it to myself that will make it true.
Great googly moogly, we were cool.
Christmas Pain
Did I mention how cool we were?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Overheard at University Hospital, Cardiff

RECEPTIONIST: "Nice to see that Joe Calzaghe get Sports Personality of the Year, isn't it?"
SISTER: "Yeah. He deserved it."
RECEPTIONIST: "He did, didn't he? He seemed surprised. He wasn't expecting it, was he? He seems a nice fellow, doesn't he?"
SISTER: "Yeah. So many of those boxers seem, you know..."
RECEPTIONIST: "They do. They do. Mind, that Ricky Hatton seems a nice fellow."
SISTER: "Yeah. He does."
RECEPTIONIST: "He does. Shame about him, isn't it? He went 10 rounds, though. And that other fellow was bigger than him, wasn't he?"
SISTER: "Yeah. He done his best."
RECEPTIONIST: "He did, didn't he? Nice boy. He done his best and you can't complain about that, can you?"
SISTER: "No."
RECEPTIONIST: "Mmm."
SISTER: "Mmm."
RECEPTIONIST: "Oh! We got to remind Debbie not to phone Pamela during the 'X Factor' final."

(Note: In British hospitals there are people called "sisters" who are a bit like nurses. Indeed, they may be nurses. I don't really know how they fit into the grand scheme.)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Potty mouth

Actual quote from an e-mail my grandmother sent me today:

"I would go to your blog but I am not mature enough for the language sometimes. If 'mature' means finding profanity and vulgarity humorous."

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I am a magpie. I am that bloke off 'Final Fight'

It feels like winter in Yr Hen Ddinas, which means that it is wet and windy and miserable. It's not all that cold, admittedly; by Minnesota standards it is spring-like. But the conditions make you want to stay inside, wrapped in a blanket and refusing to move, unless to shuffle to the kitchen for more port. This is Christmas in Cardiff.

We are supposed to get 80 mph wind gusts overnight, but already the tree in our garden is dancing a strange sort of solitary mosh in the wind. On top of the house across the garden, there is a magpie clinging to a TV aerial (FTYPAH: "antenna"). He looks absolutely miserable and it strikes me as a particularly odd place for him to attempt to station himself. Surely birds instinctively understand things like wind and know better than to position themselves in less blatantly exposed locations.

I feel a bit like that magpie at the moment -- hanging on desperately, and almost certainly failing to identify simple steps that could be taken to make things less stressful. I am hoping that things will improve from next Thursday, when my Christmas breaks starts.

I have several things to do over the break, but at least the work won't keep piling on. I have so much trouble keeping up in my courses not because I'm not interested or not doing the work, but because they keep happening. Week after week. I could probably keep up if I had a week of lectures followed by a week to debrief. But as is, I find myself pushing to the end of the semester feeling as if I am playing one of those arcade fighting games, and I'm looking at that little meter that tells you how much strength you've got left and I'm thinking: "Fuck, there's no way I'm getting past this level."

In an effort to push time forward I am listening to Christmas music almost nonstop these days. Strangely, that hasn't driven me mad yet. Or, maybe it has and I'm not aware of it. Either way, I am doing my best to get into the spirit of the season.

For those of you playing along at home, getting into the spirit of things is a lot easier on this side of the world. It's the booze, you see. Christmas + Britain = Booze. On Friday I was in Marks & Spencer and they had three different areas in the store where people were giving away generously-sized free samples of port and mulled wine.

Free booze for shoppers. Yes! That sort of thing would be against the law in Minnesota. And it's a damn shame in economic terms, because a wee tipple has a certain way of loosening the wallet. Once, after spending an afternoon drinking with my brother, I went with the child bride to Target, where I wandered off with the cart ("trolley" for our friends in the Home Nations) while she looked at clothes. When she finally caught up with me, the cart was loaded with myriad items that I insisted we buy for her.

I wasn't quite in that state on Friday, but in a good mood and eager to run about city centre. When I finally got on the train home I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment, a feeling that is rare in these days of always playing catch-up in academics. Nothing is ever done in university, I simply run out of time to focus on it any longer and turn in whatever shit I've come up with so far.

"Look at me," I thought. "Look at all the stuff I got. I have actually done something"

When I wrapped it all up and put it under the tree, it looked far less impressive, but I am still excited. Especially so because Astrid will be here celebrating with us. I don't know what kind of horrible things must have happened in her life that she has fallen so far down she is now stuck spending Christmas with the Copes, but there you go. If I gain from others' misfortune, who am I to complain?

I am especially excited because there will be another alcohol drinker in the house. The child bride is a teetotaller, which would normally leave only me to consume all the booze-laden Christmas goodies. Unfortunately, I prefer these things in quantities too small to validate their purchase.

Indeed, on the whole, I refuse to drink anything stronger than beer. Higher-octane stuff has a bad habit of sneaking up on me. One minute I'm having a witty conversation, the next minute I'm not wearing a shirt and demanding to go on a road trip and weeping.

But it's Christmas, see. And I am really eager to enjoy all these brandy-infused things and port and mulled wine and so on. And with Astrid coming, I now feel that it won't be a waste to buy all this stuff. So, my Christmas plans involve getting a Dutch girl drunk and stuffing her full of mince pies. That sounds like the sort of thing you'd pay premium rates to see on the internet, but you get what I mean.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Overheard in Cardiff city centre

SON: "I'm not being funny, Dad, but when you're shagging your girlfriend, answering the phone isn't really on your mind, like."
FATHER: "Yeah, you've got a point."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

But if we weren't wet, we wouldn't need to dry out in pubs

OK, lovers of stereotypes, what do we know about Britain?
- People here have funny accents.
- Everyone has bad teeth.
- They all drink warm beer.
- It rains a lot.

Well, the first two aren't all that true, unless by "Britain" what you really mean is "Barry." Interestingly, those two stereotypes could also be used to describe the American South.

The third one is only partially true, and less likely to be true in areas where the first two are true. Go round to Ricky Hatton's local and odds are they're all drinking cold pints of Carling.

But the thing about the rain -- that's true. Granted, there are long stretches of lovely weather, but it does rain with a certain frequency not seen in, say, San Diego, California. Yet, bafflingly, the person-to-rain-jacket ratio there appears to be about the same as here.

For reasons totally unclear to me, hardly anyone in this country owns wet-weather gear. Or, if they do, they refuse to wear it. Britons sometimes possess a certain stroppy teenager element to their behaviour -- I am convinced that there are so many atheists in this country not because they've all sat down and tried to reason out their standing in the universe, but simply because church isn't cool. Church. Cringe. Church is mingin'. (a)

In Minnesota, it's not rare to see some idiot teenager standing around in 10-below weather wearing little more than a hooded sweatshirt ("hoodie jumper," for our friends in the Home Nations), but these people either freeze to death or gain a bit of sense by they time they reach their early 20s.

Similarly, it's not shocking to see the Bishop of Llandaff students trudging around in the rain looking as if they've just been pulled from the Taff (b). But the adults are wandering about doing pretty much the same thing.

It has been raining for most of the past week in Yr Hen Ddinas, in that way that always reminds me of nautical films. I live three miles from the coast, but the weather makes me feel as if I am at sea. The wind whistles and thumps and roars against the house, and sheets of spitting rain splatter against the windows. So, I wrap up in my Marmot rain jacket before venturing outside, which means I don't have to spend the whole day feeling as if I commuted via one of those amusement park splash rides.

At the train platform this morning I was one of only two people who had thought to dress for the weather. Everyone else was out there in their office attire, getting soaked. There were a handful of women who at least were attempting to defend themselves with umbrellas, but for the most part everyone stood around looking miserable. What the hell is wrong with these people? Buy a rain jacket, you fools!

(a) That teen-speak is blatantly copied from Catrin Dafydd's Random Deaths and Custard.

(b) Check me out; rocking the blog with the ultra-local references.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Doing that thing of making my already-stale blog even staler by blogging about shit that happened a week ago

ThanksgivingThanksgiving went well, by the way. I realise I'm a week late in offering that information, but considering that blogging has become something I say I do, more than something I actually do, I suppose it's alright.

Despite the presence of no less than eight bloggers, only one of us bothered to take any pictures of the event, with most of those pictures having that people-taking-pictures-at-events quality of leaving you thinking: "So, why were we posing like that?"

Thankfully, Jenny came through with the brilliant artist's interpretation that you see to the left. Having also once provided a view of what my funeral will look like, Jenny is now my artist of choice in all things. One day, when I am allowed to write books I think I will have Jenny illustrate them. Ideally, these books will be in the Welsh language and I will refuse to translate for her.

Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday, because it doesn't ask a whole lot of you. If you can eat, you can celebrate Thanksgiving -- only the anorexics are left out of the fun. I assume this is the reason (and, of course, the only reason) that Victoria Beckham fails to show up at the house every year.

Having Thanksgiving in a country that is Thanksgiving-less is arguably more fun than celebrating in the United States. Rather than being a family event, in which I spend the whole time making sure I don't drink too much and hoping my brother's girlfriend doesn't say something embarrassing, it was an opportunity to pack the house with as many friends as I could and enjoy their company.

The only problem is that the whole thing took place at the Cope Estate, which meant that it caused a ridiculous amount of stress for me. When I invite people to my house, I feel as if what I am really doing is inviting them to come over and judge me: "Hey, pop 'round the house and see if I've cleaned the toilet properly. Here, this is my chequebook -- why not take a gander at how mismanaged my finances are."

This, of course, causes me to judge myself, which I always do to a ridiculous extreme. That I didn't have a house full of people breaking into a sort of religious euphoric state over their joy of being fed turkey in my presence left me feeling that I was the worst host since Andrea Lugovoi's last tea party. But I am assured by others that it was an agreeable experience, thanks to a large degree to the witty banter of Jenny and Chris.

By now, the panicked stumble toward Christmas is under way. I am really upset that it is already 3 December.