Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lovely dark and deep

Today was the shortest day. It was a bleak, wet and miserable day; the kind of day that this island of Britain is so adept at producing. If miserable days were a commodity to be bought and sold, soggy Albion would be surviving the global economic downturn with aplomb.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, this place is also quite capable of manufacturing days of perfection; days that fill you with life and hope. And most strangely, these days -- the glorious and the miserable -- can often run consecutively. One day, the meteorological stage is set for you to finally win over your One True Love. The next day, the cold, wet and dark hang unrepentant as she dies tragically in your arms.

My arms remained corpse-free, but it was a miserable day nonetheless. The sun never shone. The weak grey mist of morning failed to become anything more. The novelty of sunrise and sunset running so close together was made irrelevant by the absence of sun. It was a day to fit my mood.

As the grey was starting to bleed to dark purple and then black, I decided to go for a walk. Or, Rachel decided for me.

I have been sick all this last week, I think as penance for my failing to stand up for Wales at the Jones wedding last weekend. Amid a 786-hour stretch of wedding speeches, I had decided to sneak out of the room and into the bar of the hotel where the wedding was held. Therein, I came across a member of the Skerries crew, who looked at me wearily and, waving a hand in the direction of the Room Of Perpetual Wedding Speeches, said: "I haven't been to Wales before. Please tell me this isn't representative of a nation."

"Well, actually, it kind of is."

"Make that a double," she said to the bartender.

OK, yes, they have an obsession with reality television and a tendency to never rise above seaside humour (a), but that doesn't mean the Welsh are in any way a less wonderful people to be around. But in the face of the coolness that I have, for some reason, allocated to Irishness I couldn't live up to my affiliation. So, the next day, assisted by the several gallons of Guinness, Carling and Gordon's consumed the night before, the Welsh gods made me deathly ill.

I have been relegated to sleeping on the couch because my all-night coughing fits were preventing Rachel from getting any rest, and she herself recovering from a kind of cold. Indeed, one might suggest the blame for my illness rests on her shoulders and not on the duwiau Cymru. But for the fact that whatever I have is so much worse. This is always the way, isn't it? Women will get sick and then show no sympathy when their partner does the same -- not realising that the man has received some sort of terrible mutated killer version of their paltry cold.

So, my past several days have been spent lying on the couch, wrapped in a duvet, trying to come to terms with the fact that I have contracted incurable tuberculosis. Or lupus. Or luperculosis. The house has become my sickbed.

"If you are waiting for me to listen to your diatribe against American automakers, you are going to be waiting for a very long time," Rachel said today, shortly after I had mentioned my displeasure with the bailout plan and looked at her with that sort of expectant pause that says: "Ask me why!"

When did we become this? When did Rachel and I become a modern version of the mother and father off "A Christmas Story"? Me pontificating into the air and she not paying attention. Or, when she is recovering from a cold, not having any of it.

"Have you got out of the house today?" she asked, eyebrow raising slightly from her romance novel. "Maybe you should go for a walk."

Down Llantrisant Road from the roundabout that leads to our house, the roundabout that, on the misting grey death of a Sunday afternoon, somehow feels like the last roundabout of the civilised world -- I imagine one of those old white mile markers on the northern edge of the roundabout stating: "UNKNOWN 1/8" -- and left onto Greenwood Road. Past the houses that are average by American standard but so large in Britain that I cannot realistically imagine what it would be like to live in one. Down the Highfields Steps and to the River Taff.

I have been so tired lately. Physically, emotionally, mentally. Endings and beginnings and place and belonging. All these things are swirling around in me and I can't figure any of it out. I don't have the energy.

Just beyond the playing fields of Ysgol Glantaf, on a bench, looking out across the weir toward Llandaff Rowing Club, sat a man with the hood of his coat up -- drinking cider and looking very much the physical representation of my mood.

If (and there is great emphasis on "if") I can turn in all my essays and pass my exams in January I will have one semester left of university, a semester that will inevitably speed past. And then? I will have a degree but what will have actually been achieved in these three years? What will have been built? And what next? And why?

Passing by the antiquated "NO FISHING" sign that I am always amazed has yet to be stolen, I suddenly thought of Astrid and when she came to visit last Christmas. On that Christmas morning, after we had opened all our presents, she and I took a walk along the Taff. She in her woefully inappropriate shoes. And it was the first time, I realised, that I had ever really gotten to talk to Astrid. A strange thing, perhaps, for a woman who was staying at my house. But that appears to be the modern way. Things work in reverse. I stay at the home of Chris and Jenny, or Donal and Is, and then I get to know them.

When Astrid stayed at our house she ran around in scandalously sexy underpants, but even without that particular happy memory, the thought of her, the thought of my having a friend on this island, served as a sort of "dust of snow" (b). I felt lightened. Warmed.

But Britain can at times feel a snowless place. Wales especially. And Welsh speakers? Oh, sure, we're all friends, aren't we? But in a way that perhaps an outsider might notice? I won't put a number on it, but less than I would have anticipated after three years. And in terms of friends that I feel are close? Friends that I feel I could really talk to about any of this, if I could be arsed to talk about it? None. One?

Under the Western Avenue bridge and looking at my watch, seeing that total darkness would come before completing my intended route up through Llandaff Fields and past the crossroads where characters sold their souls in the Llwyd Owen novel, turning and walking up to street level. Over the Taff and then back over Western Avenue on the rickety UWIC footbridge. Past Llandaff RFC's clubhouse and along the dark, narrow footpath that leads to Llandaff Cathedral.

There is something immensely lovely about the cathedral. It is hidden there, sitting at the bottom of the hill for hundreds and hundreds of years, with its uneven overgrown cemetery of cracked and eroded headstones and tombs. That doesn't sound all that cheery or welcoming, but it is.

Our friends the Germans blew out a number of the cathedral's windows (and a wall) as part of their elaborate scheme to force Britain to build a load of really ugly buildings. The scheme was successful in Portsmouth and Swansea but in Llandaff, at least, aesthetics prevailed and the new part of the building looks more or less like the old part, save the absence of old stained-glass windows. Through the new windows flow a light that is so incredibly warm and welcoming, especially in the dark wet cold misery of the shortest day, it is as if this one place has turned against the Church of Wales' apparent insistence on making Christianity as lifeless, boring and unappealing as possible.

I walked across the churchyard and stood at the cathedral door, considering walking in. The door is seemingly always open, light streaming out. Sometimes I step in and I feel a strange something that I suppose might be connection or perhaps just a respect for whatever it is that has served to console and fortify and rebuild people who have sought and found those things there. Atheists always annoy me in failing to identify that simple fact. Even if it's not true, why do you care? It gives someone purpose and hope and centre. Without it, "X-Factor" becomes their moral core.

I didn't step in. I am always afraid that someone will tell me I don't belong there, which would tarnish the affection I hold for the place. I walked up the Cathedral Steps and along Bridge Street, past the houses I always wish I lived in and then past The Heathcock.

Warm light streamed from the pub and looking in I saw it decorated for the season. A man talking to a woman. Two men playing pool. These quintessential miserable days are in themselves an explanation of Britain's pub culture. Almost every time I pass that pub I want to go in, but rarely do because it is that kind of small that a person cannot walk into without being noticed by everyone else. I don't really like the massive pubs but tend to go there because I don't have any friends in the small pubs I wish I could frequent.

Up Llantrisant Road, past the BBC, the large houses, the petrol station and back into my little neighbourhood with its cats and reasonably priced automobiles and its people who always seem to back away when they see me coming. To my house, with its drapes shut -- looking empty and alone.

(a) FTYPAH: Seaside humour is hard to properly explain. It's a bit like blue-collar comedy in its intellectualism or lack thereof.

(b) The only two poems that I really know are both by Robert Frost, both take place in the snow and both deal with the same subject (by my interpretation). As such, I tend to run them both together -- hence my use of a different poem as this post's title.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

45 minutes in my life

Walking up through Danescourt's cookie-cutter 70s white and brown Tuesday afternoon I picked up the strong and distinctively skunk-smelling odour of a certain kind of smoke. I am a boring person that I have never actually partaken in the aforementioned activity, but I can identify its aroma easily thanks in part to my years of living in Southern California. Rounding onto Matthew Walk, I saw a man in his 70s or 80s drawing on a hand-rolled cigarette.

Well, as you do, I thought.

"Hello!" he shouted at me with a perhaps understandably hearty cheerfulness.


"Miserable, this weather," he said. "Ah, but there you are. Not going to change for my complaining. Here, have you got any proper fags (a) on you?"

"'Fraid not, sir, no," I said.

"Ah, well. This young chap just gave me one of his. But," he said, pausing to check if perhaps the chap in question might still be within earshot, "I have to say, it's bloody awful."

He paused, looked at the cigarette suspiciously and, resigned, took another long drag. I made a guess as to who had given him the cigarette; probably that dude who looks like Eggsy off Goldie Lookin Chain (b). I debated telling the man what he was smoking but decided against it.

"Something tells me you'll warm to it," I said.

"Yeah, well. Sure you haven't got any proper fags on you?" he asked. "I'm happy to pay for them."

"No, I don't smoke."

"Ah, one of those sort. Healthy bastard," he smiled, swatting my shoulder lightly with his copy of the Echo.

"Unfortunately. But the shop's just by there," I said, pointing my thumb in the direction of the Somerfield.

"Nah. Wife'd catch me, you see. Having tea with the ladies," he said nodding across the green toward the 750-year-old parish church that sits so inconspicuously in centre of Danescourt's seemingly un-historic housing estates, across from a pub that looks so terribly unexceptional that I have never set foot in it, despite the fact that the building dates back to the 1300s. "I'm not supposed to be smoking. If she spotted me up there buying fags she'd have me head. But, there you are. I'm alright with this."

He took another drag of the cigarette and coughed.

I carried on across the green, up to buy stamps from Danescourt's perpetually miserable post mistress. Then to the chemists, ostensibly to get something for this stupid cold but also because I have a kind of crush on the young pharmacist and her Northern Irish accent. Walking back toward home, I passed the Parish Hall; I peaked through the windows and saw several tables of old ladies sipping tea at festively decorated tables. All of the ladies looking particularly dour.

I wondered which was the wife of our man on Matthew Walk. I wondered what her face would look like if she knew what her husband had been up to.

(a) FTYPAH: cigarettes. One of the great etymological mysteries is how Americans and Britons ended up with such different definitions of that word

(b) Hell, it may actually be Eggsy. What else is he doing these days?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

And yet we're the ones with street lights

At Starbucks today, when the barista asked the name of the university-age bloke ahead of me in queue -- so as to write it on his cup -- he cheerily replied: "Oh, uhm, it's Matthew Rhys Davies. That's 'Davies' with an 'e.'"

There is something inherently beautiful and Welsh about that.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Never out of season in a Christian land

"Just because you're older than the rest of, Chris, it doesn't mean you know more," Fflur said as we staggered our way through the surreality of Saint Fagan's at night.


"Oh, dear," she said. "That's going on the blog, isn't it?"

"Most certainly."

We were there -- along with several other members of our Folk Studies class (a) -- to partake in the museum's Christmas Nights festivities, a hodgepodge of random Christmastime things packed into the museum's sprawling grounds.

For those of you playing along at home, or indeed anywhere that isn't Cardiff, "museum" is a misleading term when referring to Saint Fagan's. In American parlance a museum is a largish, boring building filled with boring things. Americans only ever go to museums when we are visiting other places. We do this because we are told this is the thing to do. And we feel the need to somehow vindicate the cost of our having travelled to wherever it is that we've gone by doing things that we perceive to be cultural before doing those things that we would be doing at home, which is usually getting drunk and hitting on the waitresses at TGI Friday's.

Saint Fagan's has a largish, boring building. And indeed, there are a handful of boring things contained within -- incongruous bits of farm equipment, random old "Popeth Yn Gymraeg" propaganda and so on. But for the most part the building is consumed by a restaurant, a cafe and a gift shop. Stretching for acres outside the building is a collection of houses, buildings, chapels and churches from the various corners of Wales that have been disassembled, transported and painstakingly restored on the grounds. This is the actual "museum."

Rather than a museum, it is more of strangely authentic Thomas Kincade-ian village. For Minnesotans, it is slightly reminiscent of the Renaissance Festival site in Shakopee, except that these buildings really are several hundred years old and sadly no one shouts "Huzzah!"

(Equally, since Saint Fagan's was partly established as a political statement of Wales' unique and separate identity from the rest of Britain, it is extremely unlikely that anyone will shout, "Twenty pounds for the king!")

I am a strong proponent of Saint Fagan's and find that it is a great way of quickly showing visitors to Wales that they were a bit silly in scheduling so little time for the place. Wales doesn't carry any real traveller cred; almost no one, including the Welsh, is impressed if you tell them you've visited this small nation on the western edge of Britain. Getting people to come out to visit me is often a tooth-pulling process because the person feels that they won't be able to brag to friends about having come here. And what's the point of going anywhere if you can't brag about it? More often than not they will allow themselves just 24 hours. Once the very heart of Celticism, home to the legends of Arthur and Merlin, populated with more castles than any other place on the planet, with a language tradition that is older than Christ -- yeah, 24 hours should cover it.

Actually, Saint Fagan's doesn't really address any of those things but is still usually enough to make friends audibly regret deciding to give Wales so little attention. It is one of my favourite places to spend an afternoon. It's safe to say that I am there, wandering about, at least once a fortnight.

Because it is in Wales, where people understand the value of a hard day's work and, equally, the value of not working, St. Fagan's promptly shuts at 5 p.m. So generally I only ever see it during the day. In the dark of night, when the Christmas celebrations are held, it becomes surreal. The familiar paths and buildings suddenly become twisted in my head and people seem to appear and disappear into the darkness. Everything swirls in the torchlight.

"This is the perfect setting for you to perform a few stories," said the head of my department, who had appeared behind me on the path.

She had not come with the group of students but suddenly there she was.

"This is Chris," she said to a young boy I presume to be her son. "He told us a story about a monster in Bute Park."

"Chris can tell all kinds of stories," Fflur said, perhaps with a hint of sarcasm.

I turned to look at Fflur, turned back, and the Welsh department head was gone.

In the 1963 holiday song, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," Andy Williamstells us:
"There'll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And carolling out in the snow.
There'll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories
Of Christmases long, long ago."

I have always heard those lyrics and thought: "Scary ghost stories?! The fuck? What does that have to do with Christmas?"

But wrapped in the cold and darkness of St. Fagan's it is easy to see how tales of the supernatural would spring from one's everyday experiences. And indeed, ghost stories are a tradition -- just not one that I was raised in. In the same way that the lyrics to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" are not a part of Fflur's tradition (b).

For some reason, I am trying to immerse myself more fully in Christmas this year. I've got the nigh 90 holiday-themed songs on my iTunes on constant rotation, Friday I'm heading to the Bath Christmas Market, next week I'm going to a Christmas concert, I am stuffing myself with mince pies and brandy and so on. Some part of me is grasping at these "traditions" (some of which are being created on the spot), trying to root myself.

And so this is how I've ended up purchasing A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Books,a collection of Charles Dickens' Yuletide works. I had had no idea there was more than one.

The story of Scrooge has slowly become one of my favourites over the years, I think because I can very much relate to the idea of being grumpy and hating the world. And also, I think the scene in which Scrooge's girlfriend "releases" him of his obligation to love her -- stating it in financial terms for him to understand -- is the saddest thing in the world. In one of the productions of the story that I have seen (I think the one starring Patrick Stweart), Scrooge's modern self screams in vain at the visage of his former self: "You fool! You fool!" And I imagine that if ghosts wanted to haunt me they could do so far more effectively in showing me failed loves than my grave.

It is in productions -- films and stage -- that I have previously encountered A Christmas Carol. This year is the first time that I have endeavoured to sit down and read the actual words of Dickens. It has taken me this long because I formed a deep and gilded hatred of all things Dickens back when I was in Mrs. Morgan's classroom at Jefferson High School. We had to read Great Expectations, and its failure to be anything at all like Dave Barry meant that I had no interest whatsoever. Add to this my pro-Texas (and inherently pro-America) upbringing and I despised being required to read the pompous old words of a long-dead pompous old Englishman. I rebelled by not reading a word of it. In the classic American tradition, I formed a vitriolic opinion of something foreign based on a complete and utter lack of evidence.

When I lived in Portsmouth, where Dickens was born, I used to gleefully get drunk and go piss on his house.

But now, here I am actually reading Dickens. And I find myself shocked, dismayed and pained to discover that I really like it. This throws my world off its axis. I like Dickens. What the hell is going on? I may need to re-evaluate all things in my life. Does the desk I'm sitting at even exist?

Clearly, Christmas is having a very strange effect on me. Or, perhaps it is simply that, as Fflur says, I am old.

(a) Apologies, my friends in the Home Nations, for using an American term here but I continue to struggle in certain academic definitions. I'm still not sure how to refer to a single set of lectures and seminars that one attends as part of his or her degree programme -- "module"?

(b) Can you believe that?! The girl doesn't know the lyrics to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!" I feel that the British state has failed her somehow. Is it any wonder the children in this country are feral?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A book you should have bought a long time ago

Sunday was St. Andrew's Day in Scotland. According to my Scottish friends it's a day that means nothing up there but I tend to remember it because it was late on 30 November 2004 that I finished the first draft of my first novel. Four years later, still no one has ever read that novel but the date has sentimental value.

There are a handful of people in the wide world who at least have copies of that great never-read novel. Among them is Catrin Dafydd, who very strangely asked me to send her a copy a while back. I say strangely because Catrin appears to be the busiest person in Wales. The day after just about anything happens in this country, pictures of the event will make their way to random Facebook pages and there's Catrin in the midst of it all.

I'm not sure it's actually possible for her to be attending all these things. Perhaps she has employed someone to hack Facebook and Photoshop her into events.

Anyhoo, I mention Catrin because her novel, Random Deaths and Custard,is among the 50 listed as Books To Talk About according to Spread The Word. If you're the sort of person who loves registering for websites, you can do so here and then vote for hers as The Book To Talk About in 2009.

Or, you could just read her book anyway. Not being born and raised in the South Wales Valleys, I won't be so lame as to claim that is an authentic glimpse of life growing up in this area. Because I don't know. But it does a good job of grasping that strange swirl of stupid hope and constant defeat that exists not only here in Wales but everywhere.

As I am fond of saying of myself: I dream big and achieve little. It is a common affliction. Perhaps moreso in the age of reality television (or perhaps I am identifying an easy scapegoat). It can feel at times that overwhelming success is just right there, waiting for us. And as each consecutive unsuccessful day closes one is slowly overwhelmed by the weight of not being magnificent.

There is a certain skill in being able to address a topic while not really pointing a big spotlight at it and effectively saying: "See? See? See what I'm doing here?"

It's a skill I have yet to really develop (along with the makers of most American dramas). But Catrin manages it pretty well in her book -- in an entertaining and sometimes funny way. And to the extent that, if you're like me, you would read the whole thing in one day -- failing to attend her book launch in the process -- and really only get around to actually thinking about the thing quite a while after the fact.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Stepping into Christmas

Step Into Christmas - Elton John

According to my Google analytics thingy, readership of this blog has dropped nigh 11% recently. Damn this credit crunch! Damn it all to heck! It's ruining everything.

Of course, the fact that I haven't blogged in a coon's age could also be to blame. Indeed, the only thing keeping me afloat these days are those false-return searches for farm-animal-loving Asian teens. Ah well, someone's got to click the ads for mail-order brides (true fact: this site was advertised on my Welsh blog this morning).

As apology for my blogging dearth, I direct your attention to this video, which is the most beautiful thing I've seen this week.

It's not that I've necessarily been too busy to write (although, I should be -- the end of the semester speeds near), but that I've been too lazy. Or melancholy. Or both. Or something in between. Whatever that is that causes you to fail to send a REALLY important e-mail for five weeks simply because you can't be arsed to turn on the computer when you're actually thinking of said needs-to-sent e-mail.

I have at least now reached the stage of telling myself that I am going to do some work. However, that evil awareness that I have previously put off things until far later and still got them done just before deadline keeps me from displaying any actual signs of productivity. Especially now that I have switched into Christmas mode. As I write this, Johnny Mathis is pontificating on the state of our marshmallow world.

Since Christmas means not trudging to campus each day to fake alacrity for middle ages Welsh poetry, I find myself embracing the Yuletide with far greater readiness than usual. And with Thanksgiving now past, I can do so with clear conscience.

Every year I encounter at least a few of you playing along at home who are surprised to hear that Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Britain. It isn't. This Thursday is just Thursday. So, the child bride and I, the Joneses and the Phins gathered Saturday evening to eat the flesh of some poor stupid animal and take pictures of ourselves making faces for Señor Phin's undoubtedly expensive camera.

It was a good Thanksgiving, as far as I'm concerned. Although it was short a few people that I had hoped would be there. I say that not as a taunt to those absent but to convey that they were missed and will be invited again next year. Well, except for Mared (a).

For our friends in the Home Nations, Thanksgiving serves as a kind of festive levee against which the waves of Christmas batter. Traditionally, we don't really start our Christmas shopping until the day after Thanksgiving. Although Christmas music has slowly been working its way into the hip mixes with which we are bombarded in Borders and Starbucks and Chipotle (b), it is only after we have been worn down by tryptophan that the musical onslaught really begins.

So, with my Thanksgiving done and dusted, I have brought back to life the almost 90 Christmas-related songs dwelling on my iTunes and am wholly looking forward to the long port-and-brandy-confused afternoons that Christmas has come to mean for me. And in the time between I have plenty to keep me busy.

This Wednesday I am going to the launching of Owen's latest book (if you'd like to come along, let me know). I'm going to the Wales-Australia match on Friday; next week I'll be in Historic Bath on both Friday and Saturday, with the latter being dedicated to celebrating the birth of Jenny; the weekend after that we're going to a wedding. In between there are a handful of concerts and gigs to attend. This is the most socially active I've been since coming to Wales. I am dizzied and frightened. Thank the sweet baby Jesus there will be brandy-infused holiday treats to steady my nerves.

(a) That's a joke. Apparently my attempt to compliment Mared in this year's Thanksgiving invite was misinterpreted as a cheeky insult, so I now feel a desire to play on her insecurity.

(b) To my knowledge there are not yet any Chipotles in Britain. As soon as there are, I think we can officially state that the take-over is complete and slap a 51st star on Old Glory (c).

(c) Some part of me cruelly looks forward to that day, because it will mean we can replace Noddy Holder's warbling with A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Monday, November 10, 2008

'Proclaiming our allegiance, our faith, our love for you'

"When you look out at this, does it look like home?" Rachel asked a few weeks ago as the long dark blue First Great Western train sped across the rolling fields of Somerset toward London.

"What, England?" I asked.

"Britain," she said. "Does it look like home to you? It does to me. I look at it and I just get that excited feeling that I am home."

"Yeah, I guess it looks like home. It doesn't not look like home, " I said, looking out the window and remembering a scene in Geraint V. Jones' Zen, when the main character is being driven through southwestern Wales and he wonders to himself that he has never in his life seen anything like it. But the character is from England and had served in Northern Ireland -- bullshit he hadn't seen anything like it. I suppose it's possible to live in Britain and fail to have seen something exactly like southwest Wales but to not have seen anything like it is to have never opened your eyes. All across south Wales and southern England, at least, the landscape is vaguely similar; those "pleasant pastures seen" that they insist on singing about on the other side of the Severn stretch endless from one's train window -- interspersed by jumble towns doing that strange thing of trying to mimic American sprawl without really having any space for the sprawl to go.

But I'm not sure I feel a real connection to it. Not, at least, to that forgettable stretch between Bristol and Swindon. I feel far greater connection to Cardiff. Sometimes, sitting atop Y Garth and looking down on Wales' capital city, or striding through it with a pint or two in my belly, a feeling will come over me of wanting to shout out: "This is my town, you fuckers!"

I'm not sure who I'd be shouting at. Not my fellow Cardiffians, who are an organic part of it all; the drunks and chavs and wealthy and middle-class and moms and dads and kids who are of this place. They are mine as well. And I am theirs. Or want to be. Perhaps I am shouting at Welsh-language culture, which I feel is often too eager to disavow the capital. Perhaps I am shouting to the swirling thoughts in my head that tell me I will never belong to anything.

But this connection fails me sometimes. I feel lost and unwanted. Or I fear that I am abandoning what I have. I have put myself on a course to live in Wales permanently, to make it my home, to set my roots here, to become officially British. But there is that indoctrinated part of me that fears turning against what I am; what I was.

Many moons ago, I was baptised in the Mormon church in an attempt to placate my mother-in-law. This idea was an unmitigated failure, of course. Putting on an Elvis suit and going for a swim was never going to change her mind about me. And an un-guessed side-effect was an overwhelming sense of remorse and regret on my own part. I went into a full on panic. Even though I adhere to the Sikh philosophy that God does not have religion (and therefore it doesn't really matter what rules you impose on yourself in order to be a good person, just that you are a good person), some part of my soul burned at having "betrayed" my United Methodist (a) upbringing.

I'm not sure it's possible to "betray" a United Methodist upbringing without committing a crime. The United Methodists are a pretty relaxed folk. If you want to throw on some white polyester, jump in a pool and stop drinking tea they'll raise an eyebrow but probably won't condemn you to hell for it.

But this is what I felt. It was possibly the only time in my life I have ever felt any sense of religious fear, of having done something REALLY ETERNALLY WRONG.

I wasn't really fearing God, though, but the severing of that connection to my family and my history and my past. I felt a sick terrible guilt at having erased that Methodist baptism I was given as a wee baby, when my mother and father had held me close and a pastor sprinkled water on my ugly little head. I don't attend Methodist church (or any church), but my mom and dad do and it's especially important to Dad and I felt sick at having cut that connection.

In a fit of guilt-driven madness I drove up to Mt. Rose, and climbed to an area that I perceived to be the top where I had a very long mea culpa conversation with God. Effectively, I asked if he could, you know, not file the paper work on that most recent baptism. It was probably the most mad (i.e., insane, not angry) I have ever been. Which is a pretty big statement.

Anyway, you'll be happy to know that after a great deal of weeping at the sky and begging and pleading I walked away feeling that God was willing to let me off. Love makes you do very silly things sometimes. I had desperately wanted to make things easier on my future wife and hadn't considered my own feelings. It was agreed between me and The Creator Of The Universe that all would be forgiven and I would still be allowed to mark "Methodist" on the demographics survey that everyone has to fill out in the afterlife.

All of this loops back to a First Great Western train in southern England because it was there that I got thinking about that eventual day when I will promise to "be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law" (b). Will I suddenly wake up that night in panic, feeling that I have betrayed the United States of America?

I worry about this. Stupidly. I feel an untraceable guilt at the idea of not being American. More specifically, at not being Texan.

"Texas is a state of mind," wrote John Steinbeck. "Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word."

It is my nation. I am of Texas. Its air and water and soil are in me; they were used to form me. That water trickled on my little baby head came from Texas taps. When I lived in Minnesota I was still Texan; it says so on my dark blue U.S. passport. But I am worried about what, if anything, I will feel in that future I am working toward, hoping for, in which I get to carry around a maroon-coloured passport.

(a) I'm kind of picking up that the Methodists in Britain are different than the Methodists I grew up surrounded by, hence the use of "United Methodist." But I don't actually know if there's a difference. Shawn or Dad, if you are reading please clue me in.

(b) Actually, one is allowed to do the citizenship ceremony in Welsh, so my actual words will be something along the lines of: "Yr wyf i'n tyngu i Dduw Hollalluog y byddaf i, ar ôl dod yn ddinesydd Prydeinig, yn ffyddlon ac yn wir deyrngar i'w Mawrhydi y Frenhines Elisabeth yr Ail, ei Hetifeddion a'i Holynwyr, yn unol âr gyfraith."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

You suck, Huw

Flash fiction or nicely conceptualised truth, I do not know, but Huw has a post up at the moment that is really well written. It is that kind of well written that makes me jealous. Some time in the future I will probably steal this post, translate it into Welsh and use it in a book.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

We are and always will be the United States

Exhaustion is the predominant feeling. There is the physical exhaustion of not really having slept for two days. I was up well into Tuesday night/Wednesday morning and then up at 6 a.m. on Wednesday to take part in its "American Breakfast" -- an hour and a half of drinking tea with a fellow American and a Welsh historian, occasionally breaking to tell Garry Owen that this is pretty awesome.

But there is also the emotional exhaustion of having had my head swimming in this and fretting in this for too long. And the emotional exhaustion of knowing that this is actually the easy part. The United States needs root change; Obama and the Democrats will have limited time to enact that change and will need to work outside party lines to achieve it.

I pointed out on radio today that the last time the Democrats had the presidency and a majority in the House and Senate was during the Carter years. Not even Carter would try to suggest that those were particularly good times.

History is history and that's nice but there is also the need to realign, reinvigorate, refocus; to rediscover America the shit they sing about. One of the beautiful-frustrating things about America, which in part led to Obama becoming president-elect, is Americans' willingness not to be tied to their past. What's important is now. I think Obama understands that and I am hopeful.

Right now, though, I just want to get some sleep.

Meanwhile the senate race in Minnesota may face recount, Ashwin Madia lost, and the fucktard wingnut who called for an investigation of people with anti-American views has held onto her seat. Minnesota, Minnesota -- why do you hurt me so?

There are big mountains to climb.

"This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time -- to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth -- that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: yes we can."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Remember where you were today; your grandchildren will ask

As I write this, polling stations in the United States' east coast are opening and millions of people are queuing to take part in what feels to be the most important election of my lifetime.

There is the historical element, of course. If the polls are right, the United States will elect its first black leader and we can say once again that the American dream is fulfilled. Few histories are more tragic and painful than that of blacks in America. As a white middle-class kid from the suburbs I won't be so condescending as to pretend to be able to fully comprehend that history or how it feels to carry it around. I also won't suggest that the election of a skinny mixed-race fella from Illinois ties it all up in a neat bow.

I can remember from my own childhood seeing the "whites only" water fountains. The pipes ripped out and rusted, the fountains broken and crumbling, but the sign still there as a reminder that things were really shitty not so long ago. And that's a stench that still hangs in the air in some places. But this election is a chance to leap forward, a chance to show that thundering overwhelming all-consuming promise that lies at the heart of "the unlikely story that is America." (a) It is a chance for us to wave our middle fingers in the air and declare that we will not be chained by the sins of our grandfathers (b).

But the racial element has become a footnote. To me, this election is more important than that. The United States has reached a crossroads in its history. In the last several years we have set ourselves on a path to irrelevance. We have acted as crumbling empires are wont to do and the more cynical of us have declared that the end is nigh and scarpered off to other countries. To me this election has become very simple and very clear: a choice between the end or a new beginning to America. Not America the state, the boundaries, the government, the economy, but America the philosophy; America the shit they sing about. America "the nation built upon the lives and dreams of the sons, daughters, brothers and sisters who left," in the words of Donal.

I'll be honest that either way, I will probably stay right here in Wales. I will probably stay on my course to become a British citizen. But this Welsh experience has taught me that I will never truly cease to be American. I carry it in me; I am of its earth and water and air. And I don't ever want to lose that. I hope to give it to my children: America the philosophy.

I am hoping, I am praying that this election will signal one of those shifts, one of those revolutions that Thomas Jefferson felt were so necessary, in the American mindset. Electing Barack Obama won't put a pretty bow on that story either, but it could write the first chapter. And maybe America can lead for another 100 years.

We'll see.

(b) Full Obama quote is: "In the unlikely story that is America there has never been anything false about hope."

(b) I say that generically. Despite my grandfather's unfortunate occasional use of racially inappropriate language I have never thought of him as racist.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Happy birthday Rachel!

Today is the child bride's birthday. She is...

Well, how about if I let you guess her age. Here's a recent picture of Rachel, how old do you think she looks?

(Hint: She's younger than me -- hence the nickname)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Severing ties

My latest column is out. It is also my last column. After more than six years of writing for the fine people at Internet Broadcasting I have finally decided to pack it in.

I have to say that I am genuinely sad about it and questioning the wisdom of the decision. I want to be a writer, but now I've abandoned a platform that had the potential to deliver an audience in almost every corner of the United States. On the face of it, I've pulled one of the most boneheaded moves in my long and tragic history of boneheaded moves. And it's entirely possible, in the next month or so, that I will wake up at 3 a.m. screaming and punching myself with the realisation of my irreparable stupidity.

But, as the Welsh are so fond of saying, there you are.

Ending the column feels like severing my last tie to America. I still have friends and family, but those are things that transcend. My mother-in-law struggles to fully comprehend that fact, but family, friends, these loves that we carry in their various forms, are nationless. Eric, for example, is American because that's where he lives. He likes where he lives but if he were to change nationality the intrinsic thing that makes him my friend wouldn't change.

Often, when I say that I am homesick, I am mixing my words. I am not sick for "home" but for those people and things that are in that place I once called home. I don't miss America but the people and things that are in America. A hungry person does not long for a refrigerator but the things contained within.

The column, however, was, in my mind, American. It was supposed to be geared toward an American, "family" audience and I would adjust my words and spelling accordingly. It was accessible everywhere, but philosophically very much in America.

I'm not explaining this very well. In part because I'm weary, and in part because I question the need to deconstruct my nebulous emotion toward a column that no one was reading. It's like those people who write treatises about why they blog. Who fucking cares? Don't analyse, do. I suppose, though, if you are analysing on your blog your reason for blogging, you are indeed blogging.

But I'm digressing. Considerably. Point is, that column felt like some kind of yarn tied to my finger and stretched across the Atlantic to help me remember what it's like to think and feel like an American. Or, perhaps, to give me legitimacy in claiming to know those things. What American living abroad is actually qualified to pontificate on that mysterious non-entity that is the average American? We are quite clearly not average -- we have passports, we've chosen to leave the country (but I'll still be on Radio Cymru next Wednesday to chat about the election results).

So, I took a wee pair of scissors and snipped that thread.

It was probably bad timing; I have been suffering devastating homesickness this week. See above for an explanation of what I mean by homesickness. Friends, family, smells, foods, places. Not mindsets or procedures or modes. Here is where I want to be. This is my home, so I can't claim to be homesick.

But at the same time, I feel somewhat disconnected from this place. In severing my final American tie -- in part to be able to dedicate whatever time I would have spent on that column instead on Welsh-medium writing -- I found myself questioning the dividend. In slowly shaking off my Americaness over the past two and a half years, what have I gained? My mother will answer this by listing achievements: "You're this close to getting a university degree, you are soon to be publishing a book, and so on. What the hell is wrong with you? The things gained are impossible to miss."

She will be right, of course. But there is still that melancholy of a thing lost. Even when it's something you wanted to get rid of.

Dummy heads

I think this is mildly interesting:

There is talk that credit cards could be next in terms of economic doom. Although the overall effect is expected to be less severe than with the mortgage crisis, there is a possibility that at least a few credit card companies could go belly up.

Meanwhile, I noticed this week that Discover has increased my limit by $2,000 (i.e., they are willing to let me spend more money with their card). They did this for a person who has twice been late on payments in the last year and who has not had a job in two and a half years. Some part of me wants to stop paying my credit card bills just to hasten their demise. Evil stupid fuckers.

(Note: In fairness, most likely they extended my limit in an attempt to get me to use the card. Discover is not accepted anywhere in Britain or Ireland, so I haven't used the card since July 2006)

Friday, October 24, 2008


The Welsh-language hip-hop scene could fit comfortably in a Chrysler Town & Country; everything that hip-hop has come to be it is not. And despite that, or perhaps because of it, there is something beautiful-appealing about the lonely state of this music form yn y Gymraeg.

Here (skip ahead to about 1:40 in the video) you have Y Diwygiad -- two guys who wouldn't look out of place at the Fargo Applebee's performing for whatever audience that may happen to exist in the Harry Potter space (i.e., under the stairs) between the gift shop and the toilets of the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. In terms of artform purity this is hard to beat; they're not doing it for the money. You've got to respect that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lo siento

"Black Rain" by Ben Harper

I apologise that I have become more and more brazen in breaking my loosely-adhered-to rule of remaining apolitical -- the latest evidence being the Barack Obama badge over there on the right.

If you are one of those people who occasionally stumbles upon my posts several months after the fact -- reading this subsequent to the 2008 election -- you'll see that I have since removed the badge, so here it is in the body of the post just for you:

There is something about a presidential election that causes my behaviour to become more and more erratic. I fail to heed the advice of Public Enemy and I believe the hype. I start to think that this really may be our last chance (a) and I get sick in worrying that we'll blow it.

Since the beginning, the rhetoric of the Obama movement has been to give voice to those who have been ignored or unheard over the past several decades. But an honest person would have to admit that sometimes people are unheard because they've given politicians little reason to listen. Ideologically, a politician should be representing the common views of his or her constituency, but practically and in terms of job protection it makes more sense to represent the common views of those people who can be arsed to show up on election day.

A handful of this blog's readers may remember the time that Paul Wellstone came to my high school and pointed out that the visit was politically a waste of time because people our age were so unlikely to vote (b). There is little to no incentive in fighting for people who won't stand behind you.

And so I worry about a variation of the Bradley Effect rearing its ugly head -- a slacker effect. It strikes me that a number of these unheard voices are the voices of those people who are perpetually telling themselves and others that they're just trying to get their shit together. You know, the relatively intelligent cook at Denny's who is a nice enough bloke but who will never leave his mother's basement. He talks a good game, purports to have dreams and aspirations but is unlikely to put any of them into action.

"Will he really show up on 4 November?" I think. "Is he actually even registered to vote?"

I get so wrapped up in this and the potential negative consequences that I lose perspective. I can't see the funny side. I can only imagine endless The End Of America As We Know It scenarios. It makes me feel sick and empty and frustrated and helpless. I feel cornered. I feel trapped.

At least I'm not the only one feeling this way.

The Karl Rove strategy is to simply accept that there is an insufferable throng of whining idiots who are too lazy to go to a specific building on a specific day and punch a specific hole in a specific piece of paper. So, the way to win an election is to pull harder into the party base and hope that you've got more numbers than the other guys -- let the people in the middle flounder in their laziness and indecision. McCain-Palin appears to have taken on this strategy, doing its best to paint Obama as whatever awful thing they can think of that will send the base into fits. This week they're going for socialist.

But then they see Obama raising enough campaign money to stabilize Iceland's economy, and 100,000 people turning up at a rally, and their own No. 2 incapable of doing anything but nodding her head and they think: "Shit."

Cornered and panicked they are allowing themselves to go batshit crazy, like Michelle Bachmann McCarthy Overdrive (c) calling for investigation of people with "anti-American views," or a certain family member who will remain nameless asking why I and the child bride had bothered to vote when we so clearly "hate America."

The peaceful transition of power seems to expose how fragile that peace is. We're all going a bit nuts, regardless of what pockets we're from.

I am trying to ease away from constantly paying attention to all this. But, having today agreed to be on Welsh radio the morning after the election, I can't make any promises. It's on my mind. I find it difficult to blog about anything else. I'm sorry.

(a) If America is great, one of the things that makes it so is the scarcity of last chances.

(b) Wellstone was unique in his desire to represent even those who ignored or opposed him.

(c) Is a BTO reference too obscure for anyone who didn't grow up with KQRS?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I can haz cheap emotional manipulation?

Shameless kitten

This is the envelope from a piece of junk mail that arrived today from the RSPCA. It is so woefully shameless that it's almost brilliant satire. Look at the kitty with it's lil bwoken weg. Ahhh. What cruel, heartless bastard would deny wee Mr. Snuggums here?

This guy.

You are whores, RSPCA.

No doubt their next campaign will involve direct insult and threat: "Look at this sad little cat you self-important prick; it will die if you don't give us money. Pay up or we'll use the might of our publicity machine to tell the world how shit you are in bed. You will die penniless, alone and despised if you don't write a cheque right now, and your soul will burn forever in the unforgiving fires of hell."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Cardiff go boom

It's that time of year again: the leaves are changing, the sunsets fall earlier, and the chill of autumn evenings are punctuated with explosions. Soon Britons will be setting fire to a Catholic bloke.

Well, not exactly.

Depending on how hot the girls were in your school, you may or may not have been paying attention on the day they mentioned Guy Fawkes. He was the chap who, more than 400 years ago, plotted to blow up Britain's Houses of Parliament with the king and most of the Protestant aristocracy inside.

He failed, of course. But for his trouble he was tortured for several days, hanged and then cut into pieces. Afterward, it would appear that someone, somewhere, said to themselves: "You know, that was jolly good fun. But what with all the torturing and hanging and cutting into bits, I can't help but wish that we had also set him on fire."

So, an effigy of Fawkes was made and promptly set alight. With no quality television like "Strictly Come Dancing" to distract anyone, this torching of a fake person turned out to be a delightfully good time. So much so that the British decided to keep at it for hundreds of years, burning Guy Fawkes anew every 5 November.

For those of you playing at home, a tradition of this time of year is for children to wander about town with their Fawkes effigies in tow, encouraging people to give them a "penny for the guy." Although, this has died out considerably in recent years. People aren't quite as comfortable as they once were in encouraging children to burn traitors. And, I think, the children are somewhat lazier than they used to be.

When I lived in Portsmouth, in the late 1990s, the tradition was already on its way out. I once passed a boy on the street who was sitting next to his effigy in the city centre and asking all passersby for change. But on closer inspection I discovered that his "guy" was, in fact, just his friend sitting really, really still. I gave them 10p for the sake of their entrepreneurial cheek.

These days, people tend to skip the bit about doing nasty things to fellas from the 1600s and celebrate in one of two ways: 1) simply set yourself aflame whilst pouring litres and litres of petrol on a pile of soggy detritus in typical British weather; or 2) lose a hand to a stockpile of fireworks that make the Beijing Olympics look like an also-ran.

Here in Wales we tend to choose option No. 2. In the Welsh language the celebration is most commonly referred to as Noson Tân Gwyllt, or "Fireworks Night." But it would be more accurate to describe it as "Fireworks Season." The fireworks started last week and will continue almost nightly until February -- with the post-Fireworks Night fireworks falling into the pre-New Years fireworks window.

On the actual night, my neighbourhood will become reminiscent of those CNN warzone news reports -- all British accents and explosions -- and there will be no sleep. The wealthy Indian family that live on the other side of the tracks behind my house will play Bhangra music at 6 million decibels and set off a sustained 50-minute pyrotechnics display, as they do every time there is anything worth celebrating.

In the United States, the tiny distance between my house and theirs would be our backyards. But here, there are three homes in that space. And on the night, each of those houses will be setting off fireworks as well. At the end of the evening we'll all meet each other in the local hospital's emergency room.

Strangely, I can't wait.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Absentee ballot

I was thinking yesterday about how much I wish Michelle Obama would just go off on Sarah Palin. I like to imagine that when she is in interviews she is using every bit of her strength to keep herself from unleashing a verbal firestorm against the folksy cheerleader that calls her husband a terrorist.

I'm going to stray into ridiculous stereotype territory here but the three most frightening words in my world are: angry black woman. Verbal devastation is the black woman's superpower. Somewhere deep in Michelle Obama's soul is the ability to unleash a storm of words that would lay cities to waste.

In Welsh mythology, the cry of the red dragon is so overwhelming that it forces women to miscarry and causes the crops to fail. That's what I envision a Michelle Obama tirade to be like. I picture a group of men delivering a box to a podium and then running away in fear as Michelle comes tearing out like the Tasmanian Devil in Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Unfortunately Michelle Obama is too good for that. As Annie says, she's reasonable. And has apparently learned to control her powers to such an extent that she claimed on Daily Show she watches reruns of the Dick VanDyke show.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The post in which Chris talks about politics and falls into a spiralling panic

All U Can Eat - Ben Folds

The other day I was talking to Rachel about a girl we both know who is, for all intents and purposes, a self-serving, out of touch, ignorant, morally ambiguous bitch. But see, she's pretty. And I have this terrible habit of wanting to be an apologist for pretty girls' unacceptable behaviour because, you know, they're pretty.

So I stumbled upon something that I referred to as pretty girl syndrome, which is the wavering internal compass that guides this particular pretty girl, as well as several others I know. For those pretty girls reading, I'm not saying that every pretty girl is like this, just that it is a behaviour endemic of your kind (a).

As a pretty girl said female has spent her life encountering (and gravitating toward) weak-willed souls such as myself who can't build up the testicular fortitude to break down her fucked up little world view. So, she has learned that necessary and primary to every action, decision, viewpoint, etc. is that which she wants.

There's a difference between selfishness and want in this case; a sufferer of PGS can be wholly altruistic. But rather than being driven by a strong sense of what is right and wrong, or what have you, her motivation for altruism is that she wants to do it.

For example, a few weeks ago I was running through Bute Park and I saw a guy who was slumped over by a tree. My assumption was that he was your average park-dwelling drunkard but something about the way he was positioned made me concerned. So I stopped and walked over to ask if he was OK.

The whole time I was walking toward him, I was thinking about how I would prefer to just leave him there. If he was just some drunk guy, I didn't give a damn about him, and I should just carry on jogging because he's probably got a knife and will attack me as soon as I get close and so on and so on and I REALLY did not want to be dealing with this bloke. Not at all.

But my father somehow managed to instil in me a basic respect for people. So, cautiously I approached our man in a heap:

"Hey, mate, you alright?"
"I said are you alright? Are you OK?"
"Uhmff. Yeah. Fine. Got any change, mate?"

And off I went about my run. The point is, no matter how desperately I wanted to walk away I couldn't let myself because somewhere deep in my sad twisted soul is the belief-hope that people are good and that we should be decent to each other. And that overruled what I wanted to do.

But for a PGS sufferer, want is most important, and no decision can be made without it. Want is the foundation for all thought, action and deed. To this effect, no action, thought or deed needs serious vindication. Want is the only reason; it is the best reason.

And so we arrive at Sarah Palin. Woman is fucked in the head, yo.

And that wouldn't bother me but for the fact that she is representative of a great mass of people who think exactly like her. The modern "conservative" (b) movement has become little more than a horde of snarling monkeys whose alleged moral foundation is the fun-house moving floor that is want. In the immortal words of Karl Rove: "We create our own reality." (c)

The only reality is that of want.

McCain-Palin want to run the United States. With their want established, there is no other necessary vindication. So they can -- with free conscience -- lie, slander, and mislead for the sake of achieving this aim. In their mind they aren't doing anything wrong because they are working toward their stated want. And what has me waking up at night feeling sick is the reality that there are so many millions of people buying it wholesale; watching this all straight-facedly and with the inability to see that it's just a really bad Disney movie.

Actually, it's worse than a Disney movie. Because in a Disney movie Obama's adorable children would somehow dupe Sarah Palin into a character-exposing tirade in the middle of a stump speech. Like Homer Stokes in " O Brother, Where Art Thou?" she would expose herself to be a right-wing racist wingnut and everyone would boo and throw rotten vegetables.

But what would really happen in that scenario is that her faithful throng would cheer wildly and call for the murder of Barack Obama.

The pretty girl calls Obama a terrorist, pisses on the concept of rational thought, lies, misleads, and encourages the ugliest sides of the American mindset... and we just sit and watch.

This. Shit. Is. Fucked.

The child bride and I will be sending our absentee ballots in the post on Wednesday, in good time for November's election. Here's hoping they achieve something.

(a) And because I am so weak in the face of beauty I will even back away further and state that this is a behaviour exhibited in all facets of person; but I have only noticed it in pretty girls because they are the only thing I pay attention to. Because I'm a sexist. And Europhile scum. And a terrorist.

(b) I'm too lazy to go into this, but modern conservatives are in no way conservative.

(c) To be fair, that quote has never been fully pinned to Rove but to an unnamed person in the Bush administration who is generally believed to have been Rove. The full scary quote, by the way, is: " We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Celebrity gossip

Classes are under way again. My final year of university has begun.

Of course, one of the highlights of walking across a crowded university campus is the opportunity to see myriad fashion disasters. My favourites are the ones that are woefully climate inappropriate -- extremely skimpy clothing in Britain in October. Obviously I am more forgiving of the females who do this.

The weather today was cool enough for the intelligent people to wear undershirts or light jackets, but that didn't stop several others from prancing about trying to pretend that they were attending university in Cardiff-by-the-Sea rather than Cardiff, Wales. Walking toward classes today I spotted a dude wearing a white tank-top, white shorts and flip flops.

"Yeesh," I thought to myself. "Does that guy not know what country he's in? And what's with the wife-beater? I will never understand British guys' desire to walk around looking like Georgia trailer trash. Hey. Wait a second. That's Glyn Wise!"

For those of you playing along at home, Glyn is a proper celebrity in Britain, having appeared in the reality television programme "Big Brother." He is especially well-known in Wales where he is (or, at least, was for some time) a kind of folk hero for insisting on speaking Welsh in the Big Brother house.

It appears that he is keen to cement his status as a Welsh-language hero by backing it up with a degree from Cardiff University. I spotted his name on the list of first-year students as I was waiting in the hallway before a lecture.

"Hey, look at that," I said to my friend. "Did you know that?"

Of course she knew. One of the reasons the Welsh have been so slow to take to the internet is the effectiveness of their grapevine network. E-mail is redundant. But, of course, I am forever on the outside of Welsh-language society so it was news to me.

"I saw him today," I said. "Kid doesn't know how to dress."

"How so?" she asked.

"He's walking around in the cold in shorts and a wife beater."

"Wife beater?"

"A, uhm.. you know, a vest."

"Like what you're wearing?"

"I am not wearing a vest. This is a thermal shirt. See, it's got sleeves."

"A vest with sleeves. So much better."

"It's different, chick. And besides, I'm not wearing only a thermal shirt. I'm wearing it under something."

"You're wearing your vest with sleeves like a vest. Instead of being fashionable, you're just an old man with an undershirt."

Then I pushed her.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

We're doomed, you hear me? Doomed

"Pennies From Heaven" - Louis Prima

It occurred to me today that I never got around to posting my most recent column, but since it's actually about a fortnight old I won't go to the trouble to record myself reading it. Instead I offer you an appropriately ironic Louis Prima song.

That said, the column is still somewhat relevant. It's about the economy and the fact that this sucker's going down, to use a Bushism. You have to hand it to Bushy in that he's not one to mince words. I have a slight suspicion that he's become a better president since everyone stopped listening to him. He's straight-talking and doesn't really give a toss what his party tells him to do. That's the president I wanted in freaking 2000.

But I'm still not keen to go with him on the $700 billion deal. Am I the only one who really, really, really hates this idea? So far, this is how I understand it: There were a load of guys who ridiculously misspent their investors' money. But because those guys threw away so much money, that makes them more important than everyone else in the world. So now, every man, woman and child in the United States is expected to hand over $3,300 to said jackasses, no questions asked.

I think Rhodri off Coal House put it best when he said: "I don't like piggies."

And I don't like saving their asses with no-strings-attached schemes that no one is sure will actually work. How exactly is it supposed to work, by the way? As far as I can tell, we want to give them shitloads of money so they can go back to doing exactly what they were doing before.

"Ooh, you were so close to fucking the world, but you ran out of cash. Here, take $700 billion. Try again."

Someone please leave a comment to help me see how I'm totally misinterpreting this and it is, in fact, genius. Because at present all I can see is a great sea of fuckery.

Here's the thing I think about all the time: Does anyone remember how we won the Cold War?

Effectively, through the arms race and other activities, we duped the Soviets into spending so much money that their economy caught on fire. Oh, how we laughed when they were using wheelbarrow loads of roubles to buy bread.

Now the United States is sitting on a debt that is so massive and so fast growing that any figure is instantly inaccurate seconds after writing it down. And yet we're chomping at the bit to blindly handover $700 billion to people who have a track record of making bad decisions with money.

And here's the best part: We will have to borrow that money to give it away. The United States does not have $700 billion to give away. It will need to borrow from foreign investors to give to Wall Street investors. Boy howdy, if being a slave to foreign oil is shitty, think how much fun it will be when we owe our souls to China.

I know I'm going a bit nuts here and completely wandering away from the sort of thing you've come to expect from this blog, but Jesus Joseph and Mary this is fucked. It's like the world is suddenly being run by me at age 17.

I had $5 in my checking account just a week before homecoming and Eric happened to see my chequebook.

"Uhm, do you need to borrow some money for homecoming?" he offered.

"No, dude. Check it out," I said and wrote a 0 behind the 5. "See, now I've got $50. Everything's fine."

My checking account was shortly thereafter forcibly closed by the bank. But apparently I am qualified to be treasury secretary. Indeed, why don't we just do what I did? It's just as stupid an idea. Instead of giving financial fucktards $700 billion that we don't actually have, let's just write a law requiring every bank in the land to add a zero to the balance of every American's checking account.

Only got $320 in your account? Now you've got $3,200, friend! Go out and spend your money! Keep America rolling. Purchasing is patriotic.

Before moving to Britain I used to regularly panic that this sort of thing would happen and it would somehow trap me in America. That I would not be able to live out my dream of living in the UK because the dollar's only legitimate value would be as a cape for mice. I am trying to take solace in the fact that I am here now and that British banks aren't quite in as bad shape. But the thing that I conveniently forgot in my Must Escape To Wales Before It's Too Late scenarios is that when the economy goes bad, it's those bloody foreigners who feel it first.

So, this week the British government announced that they will soon be collecting my biometric information, so as to make it so much easier to round us all up and put us on boats in the Solent to be used as defences against potential invading French (a).

The only plus side to all this is getting to see if I was right about the inherent weakness of the European Union. I have long predicted that within 50 years of the introduction of a common currency, national differences will rift the EU to the point that, for all intents and purposes, it will cease to be. I have thought that legitimately challenging economic times could be the spark.

Those times are nigh. Or, in some cases, they are here. Ireland is now officially in recession. I find that particularly sad. After dramatically changing the dynamic in the British Isles, if not Western Europe, and (I believe) serving as the primary catalyst to ending The Troubles, the Celtic Tiger is dead. It's worth noting, I think, that this coincides with increasing Euro-scepticism among the Irish.

Bah. If anyone needs me, I'll be hiding under my bed. Weeping quietly to myself.

(a)That's what the British did to French prisoners of wars in the Napoleonic Wars

Sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand

People who know me feel free to confirm this: When buying new clothes I will stand in front of the mirror and say: "Does this make me look anything like Paul Newman?"

If the answer is so much as a simple grunt to the affirmative that article of clothing is purchased forthwith.

I'm not really one for looking up to famous people. I think it's a bad idea. But I make an exception for Paul Newman, who died today. How could any man not want to be like him? Who else could make getting your ass kicked seem like the coolest thing in the world?

Almost as much as I dislike the idolization of celebrities, I dislike eulogizing by people who never so much as met said famous types. So I won't. I'll just keep trying to copy his shit.

Headline comes from one of the best movie lines ever

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Changing the uniforms

My apologies for lack of blogging. I've been re-rereading my book since last week, trying to avoid sending a manuscript loaded with crazy stupid mistakes to my editor. My goal is to get the thing in the post to her this week.

Originally I was hoping to send it off on Friday, but that has now been pushed back slightly thanks to the minimal amount of proofreading that occurred today. Instead of working, I started thinking about all the little extraneous things that one thinks about when writing a book and somehow this resulted in my deciding that I really needed to rework my blog.

There is a long and tedious explanation of how exactly I came to this decision but when I was telling the child bride over dinner she literally closed her eyes and started to fall asleep.

So, anyway, I've gone all three columns on your asses and added Twitter to the top. I'll also be trying to remember to justify the text, which I think gives my blog a slightly more professional look.

Although, I'm not sure why I would want a professional look. All this week I've been thinking about how much I want to blog about "Strictly Come Dancing" (a). That's a subject that almost certainly doesn't deserve professionalism. Or evin currect speling.

So, nothing's really changed then. The look is slightly different but the content is still shit. It's a bit like when the football team that went 0-16 last season tries to dupe fans into thinking that this season won't be awful by giving the same old players brand new jerseys.

Oh, and in case you missed it, this picture is awesome.

(a) My favourite "Strictly" comment so far came in Tuesday's episode of "It Takes Two" when it was noted that John Sergeant and Kristina Rhihanoff look like a couple from an Agatha Christie mystery: "He's the old guy with the beautiful young wife. And she kills him, but somehow you know he's not bothered."

Oh, the shame

This is me and several of my friends in in high school. Eric is in the white hard hat. It's not even worth explaining what we're doing. I'm the only one without a hat. I was that vain in high school -- I didn't want to ruin the 'do.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

'Hey you, good lookin' female'

This picture has fuck all to do with my book.Someone please explain to me why completing work on a book suddenly leaves me listening to Thin Lizzy nonstop. Some sort of psychological defect there, methinks.

Nonetheless, I finally finished work on Cwrw Am Ddim, the book about my learning Welsh, moving to Wales, going a bit nuts, sexually assaulting Llŷr and spending six years at her majesty's pleasure in HMP Cardiff. OK, those last two are made up; Llŷr loves a bit of the rough stuff and would never report me.

Now, see, I write that in an attempt to be funny. But the last time I made some random statement about shagging Llŷr, the next time I saw him he stood uncomfortably close to me and said something like: "You weren't supposed to tell. I can't even look you in the eyes now."

Next summer I am planning to travel around the United States to "research" (a) for another book. Last I heard, at least, Llŷr is signed on to travel with me. Rachel is always joking that I should introduce him as my gay lover when we meet new people.

"Take him to your 15-year high school reunion," she said.

But the thing is, I worry that Llŷr is a bit like Eric (b) in that if I introduce him as my gay lover he will feel the need to prove it. If my blog were an episode of "Scrubs" we would now quickly jump to a montage of Eric jumping on my back and dry humping me. Several times.

But this post isn't about Llŷr or Eric or homoerotic behaviour. It's about my book. Which I have yammered on about nonstop for at least the last the last six months to just about anyone who will stand still. And now it's done. Yay me. Of course, when I say that the book is "done," I mean that the writing bit is over. Now comes a long and tedious stretch of editing the thing before sending it off to my editor, who will probably draw a big red X on each page and ask me to rewrite the bits marked with red.

According to Owen (b), publishing a book in Welsh is a long and frustrating process, so I have no idea when the thing will actually see the light of day. I am hoping, though, that it will occur within the next year. That will give most of you an opportunity to learn Welsh, which is the language the book is written in.

OK, I will now return to rocking out to the Lizzy.

(a) Read: "drink a lot, bother a bunch of people, and try to keep notes"

(b) Shameless name-dropping! Go me!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hopefully Gordon is reading

Gordon Brown's diminishing number of supporters are fond of using the cliché that one should not switch captains mid-journey. I'm not exactly sure why that would be the case, I mean, if the captain is going the wrong way why wait until arriving at a hostile port to point this out? But in this case I think a more apt metaphor is that of removing a pilot from a plane that's going down in flames.

I'm not entirely sure what getting rid of Gordon Brown would achieve apart from signalling to British voters that there's nought but stupendous fuckery occurring at Whitehall. Honestly, Labour, how many unelected leaders do you want to cram in before the Conservatives seize on your ineptitude?

If our man GB had cajones, he would respond to all this by calling a general election. He could use the leadership challenge as an advantage, saying to voters that he doesn't want the party installing more leaders the people didn't elect. He could effectively ask for a mandate. He could equally put heavy focus on the fact that in this time of international businesses going under and dragging us all with them, the Conservatives are the party that has always been keen to run government as a business.

The election might work, and then he'd be able to raise a big Scottish middle finger to his detractors.

If it didn't work, no big deal because his party are keen to stab him in the back anyway. And being replaced by Conservatives would be the punishment for Labour's utter inability to deal with actual issues rather than whining.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Other phrases Barack Obama should not use

Apparently using the well-established metaphor (a) of "lipstick on a pig" is a direct attack on Sarah Palin, who we all know is the only woman in America who wears lipstick. So, I've been trying to think of other clichés, metaphors and similes that should be avoided.

That dog won't hunt
Famously one of Bill Clinton's favourites, this is clearly an assault on Sarah Palin, who we all know is an avid hunter. Nevermind that Spally Six Guns compared herself to a pitbull, how dare we cal her a dog! And of course we all know what a female dog is called.

A stitch in time saves nine
Sexist! By referring to an activity that is so often associated with women, Obama would be suggesting that Spally has no place in the upper echelons of American power. Clearly it's a suggestion that Spally's place is in the home, barefoot, pregnant and mending her husband's shirts.

Necessity is the mother of invention
Outrageous. This is so clearly an attack on Spally's habit of giving her children unique names like Willow, Piper and Advil. I thought you were above this Mr. Obama. I thought you said personal lives weren't part of the campaign. You are a hypocrite.

Keep your nose to the grindstone
Have you no shame, sir? Have you no shame?! Putting one's nose to a grindstone would cause physical deformity, which is a crass and disgusting reference to the physical features of Down's Syndrome sufferers like wee Trig Palin. This is appalling.

Can you think of any other phrases that the Obama campaign should avoid?

(a) I worry that our friends in the Home Nations and elsewhere don't realise this. The fact that this is a phrase that is simply part of the American lexicon doesn't seem to get mentioned very often.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Life Of A Mono-Tasker

My latest column is out. In truth, it's been out for a week, but I've only now gotten around to recording it. And as usual I struggle to make it sound natural.

It gives you a certain respect for Sarah Palin, I suppose. She can read George W. Bush's words (a) and make them sound like her own. Well, sort of. Better than I could, at least. I struggle to string words together in any sort of coherent way -- listen to how I add a mystery syllable to the phrase "an adult." Or the way I tend to pronounce "a," "the" and "of" as, "nuh." For example: "mos' uh-nuh time."

I am a bumpkin.

I read once that GW Bush sounds more intelligent when he speaks Spanish. I am hoping the same is true for me in Welsh. According to Welsh-language dimLOL magazine, listening to me speak in Welsh is like listening to the results of Eisteddfod competitions being read out on the Tannoy (FTYPAH: "loudspeaker"). I'm not really sure what that means, though. I am either loud, unnecessarily wordy, boring, or inclined to embellish.

Actually, that's a pretty accurate description.

(a) Well, not GW's words per se, but the words usually written for him.

Monday, September 8, 2008

'Man, will this never stop?'

Interesting video piece from The Guardian that talks to a U.S. Medevac crew member in Afghanistan.

Most poignant moment comes at 2:05 when he makes a verbal mistake which probably gives away more about the challenges he faces than anything else he says. The other things he says are pretty poignant as well.

Something else I noticed is that patter style of speech: he's not fully talking to the camera, he's allowing the images in his head to spill out at their own rhythm -- trying to expel them.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Those small-town values Sarah Palin was talking about? They're on Twitter

Interesting New York Times article that suggests that one side-effect of Twitter, Facebook, et al. is that we are returning to small-town sense of community.

I suppose that's not actually a new observation. Señor Phin and I effectively had that conversation three years ago, sitting on the floor of his London flat and drinking wine. The last bit of that sentence is irrelevant but it makes me and the Phins seem more bohemian.