Saturday, December 26, 2009

If ideas were things this one is almost certainly destined for the shed

I have long prided myself on not being the sort of person to accumulate countless items that I will never use. I don't have that odd piece of excercise equipment, used once and then abandoned to such an extent that I can't even be arsed to give it to someone else. My guitar has sat quiet since September but I am quite certain that under other circumstances, that would not be the case, and will not be the case in that magical future that never arrives in which I Have Time To Do What I Want To Do.

But when it comes to ideas, intangible things and projects, my mind is a mess of unfinished and unbegun brilliant schemes. Over the last, well, year or so, I have been quietly lamenting the death of my blog. I pine for its Golden Age when I was writing frequently and interacting with loads of nifty people and then getting to go visit them in London or Dublin or Phoenix or North Wales or West Wales or wherever else my blog has opened doors over the years.

But there's the whole thing of being quite busy trying to convince myself and others that I am in any way academic, and as such really only having blog-conducive downtime in small little segments and usually when I'm away from my laptop (like when I'm on the train). Or, when I don't have time to fire up the laptop. The damned thing takes nine minutes to get up and running, by which time my brilliant blog post will have slipped from my mind, making room for more important thoughts like: "Is there any port left?"

But today it occurred to me that there would almost certainly be an app that would allow me to blog from my phone, allow me to blog on the train, allow me to maybe, just maybe, bring back this blog and once again have the joy of being able to Google search my memory. And there is such an app. I am using it now.

It remains to be seen whether this app and the idea of blogging regularly again will fall to the wayside, just like that time I decided to learn French.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I finally turned my heat on today. For those of you following my personal narrative, you'll know that I had thus far refused to do so this season. I realise that won't be many of you since I effectively gave up blogging sometime in the summer. It's hard to follow my personal narrative when I'm not publishing it.

The reason for that comes from another part of my personal narrative: the fact that Rachel left. She moved back to the United States in September. I bring this up not because I feel like discussing it at all, or want your feedback, but simply to explain why I tend to go all quiet and look the other way when people refer to me in the plural. And that is generally what I do -- go quiet.

I have grown pretty accustomed to being quiet. Partially out of financial concerns, I rid myself of the television once Rachel left. For those of you playing along at home, owning a television on this island of rain requires a £142 (US$230) license. I'll listen to the radio from time to time -- 6 Music, or Radio Cymru after 10pm -- or watch "Strictly Come Dancing" on my laptop, but for the most part I live in quiet. The sound of my breathing, the rush-ring of silence, the tick-tick-tick of my Winnie the Pooh watch, and occasionally the whine of the fridge as it stirs itself awake to keep cool lager, salsa and sandwich meat.

On a typical day I will wrap myself up in a blanket or two and sit down to read the various materials for my masters degree. In one sort of way it is a very pleasant life. I just sit and read and think and occasionally write. And I suppose it would be far more pleasant if I had a little fireplace to huddle near, where I could listen to the crackle of the fire. In a perfect world, I would be here, with Annie playing peaceful songs on her guitar. But as is, my quaint little life of reading through the day is cold and lonely.

Officially I have been refusing to turn on my heat for financial reasons. Heat costs money, yo. Putting on a scarf costs nothing. But on the weekend after Thanksgiving I was out in London visiting some old friends, and Jeni (a) correctly identified that another part of it is deliberate self-deprivation. The effects of loneliness are both more appropriate and easier to suffer when your hands and feet ache with cold.

Have you ever seen the film What Dreams May Come? In it, hell is a cold and empty house, where you are left with nothing but your own thoughts, your own inescapable awareness of your own failings.

So, anyway, I turned on the heat. In part because I was starting to get ill, in part because I just couldn't stand being so god-damned cold any more, and in part because I haven't been doing as good a job of being miserable these past few weeks. I would not describe myself as joyful by any stretch, but pretty much ever since I went out to visit Llŷr in Oxford I've been less and less inclined to do that Sarah Millican thing of walking about the house thinking: "Is that light fitting really strong? Could it hold a decent weight?"

I have my little routines in my little corner of this little city in this little country on this little island and I take a certain comfort in them. Life is not as exciting as it could be, but for the moment it's...


And I guess that's OK for now.

(a) Yes, Jeni, I know you haven't spelled your name like this since we were in high school.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The one in which Garry Owen accidentally exposes the silliness inherent to being blindly pro-Welsh

Conversation heard on Radio Cymru this morning. Translated from Welsh.

DAFYDD DU: "Of course everyone knows that a Welsh Breakfast is the best kind of breakfast in the world."
GARRY OWEN: "What is a Welsh Breakfast?"
DAFYDD DU: "Uhm... well..."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

So best

When Jill Halfpenny came out in a skimpy Union Jack dress. That's when I realised that this was the best episode of "Strictly Come Dancing" I had ever seen. There have been shows that had more drama, more excitement, better dancing, and so on, but at the moment, looking back on the past four seasons of Strictly that I have watched, I cannot think of an episode that was better in an overall sense.

Some of it had to do with the show's travelling to Blackpool, I suppose. For those of you playing along at home, Blackpool is a town full of things you wouldn't want, all left to deteriorate no less than two decades in the cold and spitting rain. At some point in history, perhaps when U-boats made a channel crossing particularly dangerous, it was a major holiday destination for the British. For lack of any real investment in the town, Blackpool has held desperately to this image and still manages to draw a strange mix of of old people and classless binge drinkers to its rotten bespangled seafront.

But the British are nostalgics at heart. They don't like to change their long-held romantic visions of a place. So, despite the fact that there is not a single deep-pit mine in the whole of Wales, they still like to tell themselves that it is essentially a mining community. Despite the fact that the majority of people living in East London are of Asian or African descent, they still like to tell themselves that everyone there is like Peggy Mitchell. And despite considerable evidence to the contrary, they still like to tell themselves that Blackpool is in some way glamorous.

That said, however, undeniably the interior of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, where this past Saturday's episode of Strictly was held, is glamorous. It was an amazing venue, making you pine for those happy, simple times that we like to tell ourselves existed in the past. And its glamour had an effect on the dancers, bringing out the best in them.

Well, most of them. Blackpool's very own Craig Kelly performed a cha cha cha that was so bad you could almost see the soul of his professional partner, Flavia, dying just a little. Our Craig's dancing made me think of this guy, which is endearing in some sort of way, I suppose, but still deserving of no more than the 18 points awarded by the judges. The only high point was that it seemed to genuinely upset Alesha and you kind of got the sense that if someone had pushed her just a little she might have gone all "urban" and slapped someone.

Ricky Groves and Erin - Salsa - 25
Pop quiz, kids: What's a guaranteed way to earn point from Chris the imaginary judge?
That's right, shout in your routine.
And for that reason alone Ricky and Erin deserved to stay in for another week. I fear, though, they may not survive beyond that. They are doing a Viennese waltz, which doesn't usually lend itself to shouty bits, thus putting Ricky at a serious disadvantage.

Phil Tufnell and Katya - Rumba - 28
I have never understood why the rumba is a part of the Strictly rota. Why not drop it for mambo or Lindy hop? A good 7/10 of the time, the rumba is a painful thing to watch. Considering that Phil and Katya seem to have a kind of father-daughter relationship, I was fretting all week. I was dreading sitting through 1:30 of full-on uncomfortable creepiness, so imagine my surprise when it turned out to be not awful. It wasn't good and it wasn't sexy, but it was technically there and it didn't make me want to claw out my eyes. Phil did a good job of both performing the dance and somehow conveying to the audience: "Hey, nothing to see over here, just watch the pretty lady and all will be well."
My favourite part of their dance comes right at 1:02, when Phil flashes a very un-rumba-like shit-eating grin.

Laila Rouass and Anton - Paso doble - 30
This dance was undermarked. OK, fine, points were deducted for the illegal lift but even still a 30 is too low. Perhaps the judges are simply so baffled by Anton's still being in the competition that they don't know how to mark him. Whatever the case, Laila was robbed, yo. Every time we see a paso doble we are reminded again by the judges that the dance is supposed to be a reflection of a bullfighter and his cape. This was the first time I can remember seeing the dance in which that was so brilliantly clear. Watch the video from about 0:34 to 0:49 and the movements are straight mimic of bullfighting postures. It was brilliant.

Natalie Cassidy and Vincent - Quickstep - 31
From about 20 seconds into the dance one got the feeling that Natalie was simply holding on for dear life. I think it would have fit perfectly for her to have started screaming: "Heeeeeeeeeeeeelp!" while tearing around the dance floor (and it would have been shouting, which would have earned an automatic point from me).

Jade Johnson and Ian - Jive - 33
Oh, the Lioness has some legs on her, doesn't she? I could watch that all day. Every day. I want to be Jade Johnson's plaything. Sure, she'd break me; my gangly white-boy body simply could not sustain the demand. It would be like standing amidst a stampede of wildebeest. But I don't care. Let her destroy me. I would go happily to my end if it were to be amidst those legs. And with my last breath would come the words: "thank you."

Chris Hollins and Ola - Foxtrot - 34
I'll admit that wee Chris isn't my favourite. He's got that whole weird slave-dominatrix relationship with Ola that is more creepy than funny. But still, I couldn't help but cheer for him when he managed to pull off a properly good routine, thus earning a big kiss on the cheek from Ola right at the end. She was so genuinely pleased with him, and he so genuinely surprised at her response. I couldn't help but warm to him just a bit. I am sure, however, that next week he will return to completely weirding me out.

Ricky "Probably shagging Natalie" Whittle and Natalie - Tango - 35
Speaking of things that weird me out, the VT (ftypah: short video piece) that ran before Ricky and Natalie's dance was quite affectionate, wasn't it? I think our Ricky's done the classic thing of falling for the hot chick who tells him what to do. I guess I can see that. It's certainly happened to me. Although, in my case the girl wasn't teaching me how to dance, she was just telling me how to live my life and crushing all sense of self-respect.
Ricky made a mistake or two in this week's dance, which is mostly not worth mentioning but for the way he reacted to it. When he was standing in front of the judges he looked as if he had just spent 20 hours strapped to a chair being forced to watch episodes of "Hollyoaks" -- he was a man defeated. Therein lies the reason I think he'll come crashing down before the final. He's always been just a little too keen, without really enjoying it. Dude, you're on a TV show that puts Phil Tufnell in glittery open shirts. Stop taking it so seriously.

Ali Bastian and Brian - Viennese waltz - 40
Monkey Face and his girlfriend rocked the perfect score, bitches. I think it may have been a bit early in the series to be breaking out the 10s, but what do I know? Nonetheless, I'm predicting now that Ali will be in the final three. If Ladbrokes allows me to make bets online I might even put money on it.

A 40 was dealt out, Jill Halfpenny strut her stuff, Brucie sang (I've got to admit to being impressed by his ability to actually carry a tune at his age), and then Rod Stewart performed while his wife (2008 Strictly participant Penny Lancaster) danced. It was a pull-out-the-stops show. One wonders if Strictly has dealt all its cards too soon -- where do they go from here? There are still several weeks left in the show, what can they do? Bring back Zoe Lucker to perform a woman-on-woman rumba with Kristina Rihanoff while Muse plays alongside a 120-piece orchestra?

Santa, if you're reading, you now know what I want for Christmas.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Monday night in Fairwater

The early evening air is cold. Huge clouds of breath churn from my body as I run through the city's dirty western fringe. The cold is preserving my legs and I am moving faster than usual, half sprinting through the world of orange and black and swirling white light. Shadows stretch and turn and twist, the uneven pavement disappears into darkness and I am running on faith. My left foot finds only air, misjudging where the pavement should be, but momentum carries me forward. Faith in speed and strength.

Up ahead, fat man and a Staffordshire terrier, a metal barrier between them and the road, the pavement two feet wide. I refuse to slow. On my right shoulder I can feel a car coming, can feel its headlights, can feel its speed -- another Ford KA rushing to get home in time to watch "The Simpsons" or whatever the hell it is that people rush home for. I don't look. I can see the car in my mind. There is still space.

Where the barrier begins I fly into the road in full sprint. Fifty feet of metal fence to keep the man and his dog from stepping out into traffic. Fifty feet of metal fence to keep me from returning to safety. The strength of the car's headlights licks at my heels, starts to consume my legs.

This is where I'm best, I think. This is where I live. In these stupid decisions, in these times when I pick up speed to face challenges. "Headlong into adversity" -- that's what I wish they would say about me. Hornet's nest breaker. Wall kicker. Shit-storm creator. Bridge burner. Romantic and wild. Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs.

A oes heddwch? Nac oes, motherfucker. Nac oes.

My legs strain. In the thighs and calves, muscles pull and push and demand more energy; they claw strength from my gut, set my lungs on fire. Swirling shapes and sounds and colours and the white light growing brighter behind. There is no need to look. Just as I can see the car in my mind, I can hear the driver's thoughts, I can feel him refusing to take his foot off the accelerator.

"I won't speed up," he thinks. "But I won't slow down. He's the one darting out into the road. If he wants to take that risk, it is his to take, but I'm not slowing down. I'm not losing this battle of will."

The spring of the concrete, dust of exhaust swallowed, roar and whine and rattle of engines, legs powering, straining, burning, and ravenous to devour the space. Speed, strength. And in my mind I can feel the heat of the car's engine pushing, taunting, threatening.

Pop step jump back onto the pavement -- the car's engine throttles as if growling: "I could have, you know. I could have had you, easy." -- and into a pack of teenage boys all with their hoods up and jumping in excitement at the act. Laughter and sarcastic cheers as I weave through them: "Go on, runner-man!" "That's it, me ol' son!"

"W'hey!" I shout, fist raised in the air, and still sprinting. Past the car, now stopped in traffic. Turning left, away from the main road, uphill, slowing, laughing. This is where I'm best, I think.

But one day I will be too old and there won't be enough strength in my legs. What then?

Monday, November 9, 2009

9 November 1989

I remember the first time I ever went to the trouble to identify Germany on a map. I was in high school, in AP European History. I remember looking at it and thinking: "Wow, that's really close to England."

In the United States we tend to teach history in terms of good guys and bad guys. Generally, in situations where Americans or the Irish are not involved, England is good. Defeat of the Spanish armada? Good. Defeat of Napoleon? Good. The 1968 Eurovision contest in which Cliff Richard lost due to Francisco Franco's interference? Not so good.

And for some reason I had up to that point assumed that geography worked in a similar vein, that "good" places were sort of looped together. I mean, the United States is good, Canada's pretty good, and Mexico's alright as well. Even in Texas history I always felt that Mexico was not so much "bad" as "misguided but with tasty food." So it was a shock to see Germany so close to good ol' England.

I had assumed it would be over there in the bad part of the world, perhaps nestled in the bosom of the USSR. And yet, even before I knew where it was, and even longer before all the historical importance and connection made any sense, I knew that the fall of the Berlin Wall was a big deal.

Twenty years ago today I was 13 years old, lying on my bed in my little room in the basement of a four-bedroom suburban home in the middle of America, watching television. I had no idea of the world outside of America; I had no interest in it. But one of the few things I did know was that the Berlin Wall was not just bad, but evil. And now all these people were standing there, had been standing there for days, gathering and gathering.

I don't remember understanding why, or what was happening, just that it was big and that I was terrified. I kept thinking: "This whole thing is going to turn. The bad won't tolerate this. Someone somewhere is going to decide they've had enough and all these people are going to be cut to shreds in machine gun fire."

And then the crowd went at the wall with sledgehammers and saws and whatever they had. They started climbing on it and tearing it apart with their bare hands. I didn't fully understand the significance, didn't know the history or the ramifications, but I sat there with tears in my 13-year-old eyes because I knew that somehow the whole world had suddenly changed.

It had changed for the good.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A heinous dilemma

On Sunday I was on Radio Wales' current affairs programme "Something Else," which basically involved a group of people half-heartedly poring through the Sunday papers amid gulps of free BBC tea and then attempting to come up with things to say. To some extent it's the radio equivalent of being trapped in some dude's kitchen while he delivers an un-requested monologue on his political opinions. But it's different, you see, because there was tea involved. And Welsh cakes. And, apart from myself, everyone had British accents. It's a well-established fact that saying something with a British accent makes you sound more intelligent. That's why GW Bush used to have press conferences in which Tony Blair would simply repeat what Bushy had just said.

Anyway, even before setting foot in the BBC studios I had known that I wanted to talk about "Strictly Come Dancing." This was my chance, I thought. I was certain that a light-hearted Sunday afternoon current affairs programme would include some discussion of Strictly. How could it not? Especially considering that we were on the BBC. It's simple cross-promotion. I expected such conversation to be strongly encouraged if not required: "OK, remember that each of you must mention Strictly at least once, or else you'll be expected to pay for all that tea."

In digging through the papers I seized upon an interview with MC Harvey, the rapper no one has ever heard of who is slightly famous for being Alesha Dixon's ex-husband. Remember when Alesha was competing on Strictly and the reason the show meant so very much to her was because her life had otherwise gone into a tailspin after her husband cheated on her? Yeah, that guy. The adversity which Alesha overcame to win the hearts of a nation. The Sunday Mirror decided to scrape the bottom of the barrel and interview him about Alesha. The interview contained this brilliant quote, which I think pretty much encapsulates why their marriage was doomed from the start: "She's high maintenance -- you can't take her to Nando's."

But to my overwhelming dismay, the show's producer wasn't interested.

"We talked about 'Strictly' a few weeks ago," she said.

"Yeah, but you didn't talk about it with me!" I thought, but did not say.

Clearly Radio Wales (or Radio Cymru, I'm bilingual) need to have a programme solely dedicated to talking about Strictly. I realise that BBC 2 already has such a thing, and it's called "It Takes Two" but. again, they're not talking about it with me. On my programme we would talk about both Strictly and "It Takes Two"; that's how it would be different. And clearly such a thing is needed because things happen on "It Takes Two" that are just too awesome to just come and go in a tiny 30-minute window.

Case in point: Craig Revel Horwood's glittery poppy on Friday. How amazing was that, darling? Craig is my second-favourite gay man in the world, after John Barrowman.

Dude. Can you imagine a show that featured Craig Revel Horwood and John Barrowman as judges? I would go into some sort of gay-induced coma. I'd be so delighted with the thing that it would almost make up for the fact that the Cougar is gone; Zöe Lucker and James were the shock couple to get the boot from this week's show. Their samba scored a 32, placing them above five other couples. They should have been in the clear. Hell, that hip-grinding action she did should on its own have been enough to move her forward to next week. I echo what Bruno shouted: "Shake it in my face any time you want!" I could watch her do that all day. But, no. As happens every year at about this point in the series, the voting fucked things up and two legitimately good couples -- Zöe and James, and Ali and Brian -- got stuck in the dance off.
I had worried in previous posts that this sort of thing would be Jade and Ian's fate. And indeed, the only plus side to losing the Cougar is that I am no longer split in my affection toward the Lioness.
*Lurid offer to "console" Zöe in my bedroom goes here.*

Ricky Groves and Erin - Rumba - 24
That dance was about as sexy as a crisp. I've never seen myself attempting to be sexy when blindingly drunk, so I can't say for sure, but that's what this reminded me of. If I were absolutely elephants on Baltika and trying to put the moves on Erin Boag, this is probably what it would look like.

Craig "Goin' to Blackpool" Kelly and Flavia - Waltz - 24
I was distracted by Flavia's shawl, which she appears to have stolen from the wardrobe of Maria Portokalos. Equally distracting was hearing Elton John in 3/4 time, which made it sound quite a lot like classic country. There was a dance in here somewhere, as well, and our Craig managed to perform well enough that it isn't a howling disgrace that he's going to Blackpool. And that's lovely, he'll get to dance in his home town. Beyond that, though, I think it's time for our Craig to pack it in.

Chris Hollins and Ola - Cha cha cha - 29
I figured out this week what it is I dislike about Chris' dancing. It's that he looks like he's performing a workout routine rather than a dance. It reminds me of when I lived in San Diego and did Tae Bo in the living room each morning. And then there was that one time I was really into it and I kicked the futon really hard and couldn't walk properly for a fortnight. I am hoping that Chris leaves the show soon because he bores me when he dances and he annoys me when he speaks. I especially hate the strange slave-dominatrix relationship that he has with Ola, lowering himself when speaking to her and referring to her as "Mrs. Jordan." That's just creepy.

Phil Tufnell and Katya - Tango - 30
Someone I do like, however, is Tuffers. I find that I like him and Katya a little more each week. And what I like most about them is the sort of father-daughter dynamic they have. Generally on Strictly the couples, under the direction of the professional dancer, I'm sure, will seek to portray themselves as, you know, a couple. There is an attempt in the dances to have us see the two partners as romantically linked, or something to that effect. Sometimes that works, as with Jade and Ian or Zöe and James, and sometimes it fails miserably, as with Lynda Bellingham and Darren Bennett. But in the case of Tuffers and Katya, whether by design or default, they seem to dance like father and daughter, which really works with Phil and Katya's personalities. You get this sense that he's out there doing his best for his little girl, and sometimes in the way Katya looks at him you can almost picture her rolling her eyes and groaning like a teenager: "DaaaAAaaaad!" It's endearing.
So I didn't care that Tuffers was somewhat too into the music for his tango, bouncing his shoulders in time with the beat. The whole thing was lovely and sweet and wholesome. Which is probably not how a tango should be described, but there you are.
All that said, though... Oof, that Katya's got some legs on her, doesn't she? Those high kicks she does right at the start of the dance? Yes, please.

Natalie Cassidy and Vincent - Jive - 30
Another couple who I think have adapted well to the fact that they're not convincing as, you know, a couple, is Natalie and Vincent. And you have to give credit to Vincent because in previous years he's always created for himself the character of stylish lothario. But these days he has moved toward being reflective of Natalie's obsessive-fan-like enthusiasm for the show; I think he has changed his whole style to suit her dancing. With Flavia, his professional partner, he is incredibly quick and precise in his movements. But perhaps to cover for Natalie's lack of precision he is looser when dancing with her, less perfect. It works, I think, and shows Vincent as an evil genius. He knows Natalie is beloved by the British public so if he can ensure she doesn't look bad dancing next to him, he has a better chance of securing public vote, which, as Zöe and James can attest, is kind of important.
Natalie and Vincent danced to "Good Golly Miss Molly," made famous by Little Richard. On Friday's "It Takes Two" Len revealed that he is a life-long fan of Little Richard and told a story of buying the "Good Golly Miss Molly" record for his mother's birthday in 1958, knowing full well that she would hate it. That episode is available on iPlayer for those of us under Her Majesty's purview (and it might also be available in Ireland; I don't know), and is worth watching just for the bit featuring Len and Craig.

Laila Rouass and Anton - Viennese Waltz - 33
This dance was undermarked, I think, because the judges were too focused on complaining that Laila performs better in her Ballroom dances than in her Latin dances. Yeah, fine, fair criticism, but score the dance, not her overall performance. Bitches. Perhaps another reason it was scored low is that it was performed so well it looked like they weren't really doing anything: just sort of twirling and floating about perfectly, as if animatronic dolls. You forget that they are using their feet.

Ali Bastian and Brian - Paso Doble - 33
Oh, legs. I love those legs. I wish Ali were dancing with someone other than Monkey Face, because your man just creeps me out. I'll be looking at Ali, thinking something like: "Mmm, if I had her here I'd get a jar of Nutella, 20 feet of rope, 3 litres of baby oil, a volume of Anne Sexton poetry, 56 bakewell tarts, rubber gloves, and the fan belt from a '93 Volkswagen Jetta, and then she and I would..." But then I catch a glimpse of Monkey Face and it puts me off whatever fantasy was fomenting.

Jade Johnson and Ian - Foxtrot - 35
The fact that I do this somehow makes the whole Strictly obsession all the more disturbing, but I make little notes while watching the programme. I sit there in my armchair, beer to my right and notepad in my lap, jotting down whatever comes to my head. It's nothing too detailed, usually something along the lines of, "Bee Gees. Large female back-up singer has cowbell," but the fact that I do it is just wrong. It displays too much dedication. Nonetheless, if you were to look at my notes from last Saturday one phrase would stand out from several feet away. In enormous capital letters I wrote: "JADE AND IAN WERE GREAT!"
And they were. The Lioness is hitting her stride, and I absolutely love her. I worry the voting will let her down at some point, which would be heartbreaking because you get the feeling she's benefiting in an emotional, psychological sense from being on the programme. More so than the other participants. She's used to the ego-fuelled over-intense world of elite athletics, the kiss-hug glitter-camp world of celebrity dancing opens up new parts of her personality. It's good for our Jade. And good for me, too, because I get to see her flailing her legs about.

Ricky Whittle and Natalie - Quickstep - 39
I loved Craig Revel Horwood's response to this dance: "Pigeon-toed and bandy-legged. But that never stopped Brendan Cole from dancing, darling."
The audience's response, meanwhile, was a massive, wild roar of applause befitting the dance that would earn the highest score so far in the series. And despite my feeling that Ricky has got all the personality of a double-glazed window, I'll admit to clapping at the end of it.
All of which sets us up beautifully for the inevitable fall. I am convinced that some terrible misfortune will befall Ricky and he won't make the finals. Because that's the sort of thing that always happens on Strictly. That's why we watch.

Craig referred to this week's dance off as a "heinous dilemma", Alesha looked like she was near emotional breakdown, and Len called it "ludicrous." And I'm sure that somebody, somewhere in the control room was calling it "brilliant television." The crowd for this week's show was amazing in their enthusiasm and noise and rowdiness. Having the Bee Gees perform sky-rocketed the level of delightfully surreal (a) to unmatched levels. The show dance cha cha cha (which I'm guessing was choreographed by Aliona (b) and featured bits that would indicate she was a stripper at some point) was incredible, if not simply for the fact that it contained a wrestling spot (when Aliona hit Matthew with an incomplete hurricanrana). And the shock result was icing on the cake. It was, almost certainly, the best show so far of the year.

I found myself clapping along, cheering, and bouncing up and down in my chair as I watched. I literally jumped up and pumped my fists when Ricky and Natalie scored three 10s. It was a full-on vindication of why I am so stupid for the show.

I worry about myself.

I genuinely do. As the show was coming to an end, Zöe and James receiving the condolences of their fellow dancers and the band playing the archetypal Last Dance Of The Prom kind-of song they always perform at the end of the show, I felt an awful emotional comedown. I became immensely depressed because the show was over. What the hell?

"Fuck, I'm lame," I texted to a friend.

You will almost certainly have picked up that a large part of this whole Strictly obsession is displacement -- pushing out one set of thoughts (my life) and replacing them with others more cheerful (Jade Johnson in a high-cut skirt). But in those tiny flashes of sanity that I get every fortnight or so I fear I am too wrapped up in it. Already I find myself getting nervous over life after Strictly. A winner will be chosen by Christmas, and then what? I get legitimately upset thinking about life without Claudia and Bruce and Tess and Craig and Alesha and Len and Bruno and all that glitter and cleavage and flailing about. What will I do when it's gone? How will I cope? Please send help.

Although, don't send it just yet. Next week the show goes on the road to the mean streets of Blackpool, which is, previously unbeknownst to me, "the home of ballroom." According to Len, the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, where the show will be held, has seating for some 1,000 people. If that's true, Saturday's show will likely be loud and raucous. I can hardly wait.

(a) My favourite commentary on that whole scene came from Times columnist Giles Smith who wrote: "We thought the high-tide mark for musical interlude-based weirdness had been reached earlier in the series, when Andy Williams turned up in tennis shoes and looking as though he had been specially re-created for the night in bonded polymers by Gerry Anderson. We thought again as Barry Gibb stood alongside his brother, Robin, and reached back down the years for the old, vibrato-strafed falsetto, sounding, in the process, like a crow being fed, feet-first, through a mangle."

(b) Yes, I am so sad that I have learned you can often guess a dance's choreographer based on certain key moves and where the choreographer usually places him- or herself in the line-up.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I got all the bitches, baby

Dude, look at this picture of Claudia Winkleman. How hot is she? Has anyone else noticed that over the years Claudia has gotten more and more attractive? Remember when she was first hosting "It Takes Two" and looked a bit like Moaning Myrtle? OK, no, you don't. No one does. Because I am probably the only person not related to Claudia to pay that much attention to her. But I think she's awesome. I enjoy watching Claudia talk about "Strictly Come Dancing" as much as I enjoy watching the actual show.

The other day, Elisa and I had a wee Twitter exchange about the fact that female comics tend not to be very funny. Indeed, the only women I can think of who I think are funny are not comics. My friend, Heidi, for instance, is one of the funniest people I know, but, see, she's not a professional comic. She's an administrative type for a natural foods co-op. In terms of women that you, dear reader, are likely to actually see, Claudia Winkleman ranks near the top for me. One of my favourite examples of her humour is when Ricky Groves stated there would be "a few surprises" in his dance for that week and Claudia, without missing a beat, shouted: "Ooh! Will there be biscuits?"

And Claudia interacting with Marian Keyes is television gold. Seriously. I want the two of them to have their own show. Simply release the two into the world and follow them around with a camera. T'would be brilliant.

Although, I have to think that part of what I perceive as Claudia's wit is, in fact, a sign or her suffering some sort of low-level madness. What else could explain her being sad to see Jo Wood and Brendan Cole leave the show? Her "samba hell" scored a 14, the lowest score of the series. And you can't really feel bad for Jo. The woman is so dim, it's questionable whether she was aware that any of it had ever happened. I, of course, am delighted to see her go if not simply because it means watching less Brendan.
Less Brendan = Happy Chris

Craig Kelly and Flavia - Samba - 18
OK, I am fully behind Marian Keyes' "Get Craig to Blackpool" campaign, but, golly, this was hard to watch. Well, let me correct that; Craig was hard to watch. Flavia's wearing a bespangled dish cloth and flying about the dance floor was very easy to watch. If I were T.H. Parry-Williams, such a thing would inspire me to write pages and pages of wandering esoteric prose about motorcycles (a). But it was the whole Craig-being-there thing that was hard to watch. At several points in the dance he appears to be channelling Michael Flatley. That is never good. Ever.
On a side note. I seem to remember someone telling me that there was a show on TG4 a while back that involved celebrities learning rince (b). It hurts just to think about that. And I am surprised that S4C hasn't done something similar. They're presently broadcasting Fferm Factor, for fuck's sake, so clearly it's not an issue of them having any sort of standards.

Phil Tufnell and Katya - Samba - 25
Tuffers consistently makes me think of "The Love Boat" when he dances, which by extension always causes me to flash back to the time when Vegas legend Charo grabbed my head and shoved my face in between her breasts. That really did happen, by the way. The experience was equidistant between traumatic and awesome, and I've never really been able to decide how I feel about the whole thing. Similarly, I am at a loss when it comes to Phil's dancing. It's not good, but it's not awful and I like that Katya. Although, what was up with her dress this week? She looked like she was wearing a bath mat.

Laila Rouass and Anton - Samba - 28
Something about Anton makes me think of Sir Harry Paget Flashman. Not so much in his look or demeanour but in that he is a ridiculous version of some Britain of a bygone era. Anton belongs to a Britain that would declare war on those Brazilian savages rather than attempt to dance like them, what. And you can see the old chap hasn't quite mastered the trick of the thing. Len described the dance as "beige," and I think that's because Anton doesn't really possess the flair for wiggling his hips. You sense he's almost as uncomfortable with the dance as is Laila. Best return to the ballroom stuff, old boy.

Chris Hollins and Ola - American Smooth - 28
Meh. Ola was wearing clothes for this dance, so I didn't pay much attention.

Natalie Cassidy and Vincent - American Smooth - 29
Despite the fact that Natalie reminded me of Margaret Dumont, I think hers was the best American Smooth of the night. Other dances were flashier but she actually got the feel of the thing. If the idea is to make the dance look like those seen in Hollywood musicals, Natalie and Vincent came the closest. And the decision not to put in any lifts was, I think, the right way to go. As Natalie pointed out herself, Vincent is wee and his picking her up would have looked awkward.

Ricky Groves and Erin - American Smooth - 29
Speaking of awkward. I was kind of expecting some full-on awesomeness from Ricky this week because Erin had said on "It Takes Two" that she was having him channel Dick Van Dyke by dancing to "Chim-Chim Cheree". But perhaps my hopes were too high as a result. My dad can recite the whole of Mary Poppins from memory (you think I'm kidding, but I'm not), so I know me some Dick Van Dyke, bitches. And Ricky Groves, you're no Dick Van Dyke.
Ricky and Erin will be dancing the rumba next week. Prepare yourself for a whole lot of pain.

Ricky Whittle and Natalie - Samba - 32
Have you ever noticed that there there seems to be a correlation between a woman's boobs and her face? That is, the (naturally) larger her breasts, the less appealing her countenance. There are exceptions, of course, but on the whole it seems as if some sort of deal was struck at the point of creation in which God said: "Right, which do you want: massive bazooms or a pretty face?" Similarly, Ricky Whittle seems to have struck a deal in which he exchanged personality for killer abs. So, despite the fact that odds makers have him pegged to win the show, I think the downfall is nigh. As soon as the quality of dancing is about even (i.e., once the consistently low-scoring couples are gone), personality is going to be vitally important in scoring points with voters. Which means Ricky's in trouble.

Jade "The Lioness" Johnson and Ian - Samba - 32
I think the Lioness, on the other hand, has personality. But perhaps other people don't see it. I don't get how she ended up in the dance off. My guess as to how that happened is that all the women across the country were insanely jealous of how Jade looked in that dress, and all the men were too busy taking cold showers. So she was left with only the votes of gay guys who were taken with Ian's sparkly trousers and tight open shirt, and it just wasn't enough.

Zoe Lucker and James - American Smooth - 32
This was a quiet week for the Cougar, and I blame James. His two lifts seemed just sort of placed in there as if ticking off boxes rather than fitting with the feel of the music, and the whole thing felt just a bit plastic. Add to that the technical flubs and it arguably didn't deserve the high score it received. Indeed, the major highlight of their dance wasn't even in the dance itself. I have listened to it over and over again, and I am convinced that at 1:02 in the video the singer says: "I got all the bitches, baby, one man can ever claim."
I know it's supposed to be "riches" but go on, listen to it yourself. Dude says "bitches."

Ali Bastian and Brian - American Smooth - 37
I want to find the person who uploads videos onto YouTube for the BBC and hit them with a stick for claiming that "A Foggy Day" was made famous by Michael Bublé. The fuck? Ever heard of Frank Sinatra? Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald? Fuck that Michael Bublé noise, yo. Whoever made it famous, though, Ali and Monkey Face looked good dancing to it. Something about Ali is growing on me.
She has that sort of Englishness that is strangely appealing. Sexy, almost. If there were any Welsh people reading this, they will have abandoned me now, but there is a very certain kind of quality or essence in a very certain kind of Englishwoman that is attractive. They are tiny in their size and in their ways, like adorable door mice. More often than not they are fascinated by jam. Many moons ago, I dated a girl like that. She was no more intellectually stimulating than the tea mugs she would cradle with both hands, sipping slowly from them and capturing the tea's warmth in all ways, but I loved to look at her. I loved the shape of her and smell of her. She would twist herself up in my bedsheets and look at me through messed dirty-blonde curls and talk about the most inane things -- her favourite types of biscuit, brands of tea, jam and Dorset. And I would look at her and sigh inside and think: "You are so lovely, if only you understood any of the things I talk about."
But, anyway, Ali has that sort of quality and I find myself warming to her. I envy Brian and all the jam-related conversations that he must have each day.

And that was last week's show. Having Harry Connick Jr. as the musical guest was a definite high point. With a single exception, I'm pretty sure that every girl I've ever dated or attempted to date has had to suffer listening to Harry Connick Jr. in my presence. The very unlucky ones have had to suffer my singing along. Perhaps it's the musical equivalent of talking about jam, but I can't help it. I think the guy is cool.

(a) There's a reference that I suspect only two people will get.

(b) Traditional Irish dance

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The one in which I issue a fatwa against Brendan Cole

Mr. Phin sat quiet on his couch for a long time, staring begrudgingly at his television. The alcohol was helping, but not quite enough. Sitting next to him, his lovely, beloved wife, Jenny. Disturbingly, she was taking an interest in the shining whirling mess on the screen. This was wrong. It was painful. It would have been less torturous to have her sit and talk about ex-loves than see her actually enjoying this televised idiot-vomit for the masses.

And beside her, the howling, cackling American who had brought this upon them. True, the American was going through rough times, and one must maintain the olde traditions of hospitality, but surely this was going too far. Having him over for dinner, a few pints, a walk in the countryside -- those were all fine things. But this? This? Allowing the American to bring this into his home? Where was the line? If the American wanted to start sodomising sheep in the living room, would they put up with that, too?

Staring at Chris Hollins -- a journalist whom he respects, or, at least used to respect -- festooned in sparkling tight clothing and taking criticism from a woman who doesn't know the difference between "were" and "was" ("You was really struttin' your stuff."), Mr. Phin muttered, almost in defeat: "Is this real life?"

It is.

It is Strictly Come Dancing.

And that was more or less the scene a fortnight ago when I was out visiting the Phins in historic Bath. With that show now lost to the memory hole, I won't bother to look back at it. Lynda Bellingham was dropped from the show that week, but the real drama and tension of the evening came in watching Amy Winehouse perform on live television.

Amy was there as a back-up singer to her god-daughter, whose name and performance I doubt anyone remembers because all of us were too busy staring at Amy and thinking: "Hold it together, love. Come on, you can do it. Just hold it together. Don't train wreck."

Amy managed to make it through the performance without collapsing or suddenly deciding to attack someone or going into a profanity-laden tirade or stripping off her clothes or any of the other things that she always seems only a second away from doing when you watch her perform live. Although, I think it's worth noting that she was sandwiched between her own two back-up singers, and one feels that staging was intentional -- they could both get an arm around her should she start to fade or try to get away.

Then, this last week I again got to test the bonds of friendship by forcing Nic and Philippa to watch the show when I was out visiting them in Pontgarreg. I'm pretty sure they will never again invite me back.

Joe Calzaghe and Kristina "I cry at everything" Rihanoff were the ones to get the boot Saturday after dancing a jive that held to what we'd come to expect from the Pride of Newbridge. We love Joe in this little corner of the world that is Wales, so perhaps we all collectively decided that it was time for him to come home and so did not vote for him. I'm pretty sure that deep in his heart, Joe is thankful to us for that.

Craig Kelly and Flavia - Jive - 20
It's not often enough that I get a chance to quote one of the great poets of our time, Robbie Williams, so I will do so now: "Dance like you just won the Special Olympics." And therein you have poor Craig's open-mouthed all-bits-akimbo dancing style on Saturday. Alesha described him as looking like someone's dad down the local disco, which was correct, I think. But the thing is, there's a part of you that loves him for it. I know he can't dance, but I don't care. Plus, the longer we have Craig in the competition the longer we have Flavia wearing those strange not-sexy sexy outfits that she seems so fond of. She looked a bit like Baby Huey this week.

Chris Hollins and Ola "Cockney Pole" Jordan - Jive - 22
Ola messes with my head when she speaks. She's got that Polish accent but it's all phrased in the Cockney way in which her husband, James, speaks. It's wild to listen to. Indeed, I am far more interested in listening to her speak and watching her prancing about in a tea towel than watching her celebrity dance partner sort of wander the dance floor. And what the fuck was up with that air guitar Hollins attempted? He was playing it with his thumb. Was that, in fact, air banjo?

Laila Rouass and Anton - Jive - 22
"If you keep us in, next week she'll wear the from back-to-front," Anton told the viewing audience shortly after he and Laila's jive. Well, actually, he said that after his jive, which he performed while Laila watched him. She reminded me a bit of one of my first rugby matches, when I saw an amazing try and was internally delighted at the fact that I had been in such a good position to see the ball get touched down. Then I realised that the reason I had such a good vantage point was that I was the one who was supposed to have stopped the try. Laila got the best seat in the house to watch Anton dance, but forgot that she was supposed to be joining him. Still, obviously Anton's promise was enough and the two didn't find themselves in the dance-off.

Jo "Flowers for Algernon" Wood and Brendan - Viennese Waltz - 23
Every week Strictly needs a controversy, and this week's came when Brendan stormed away like the insufferable cock that he is because Craig Revel Horwood said that Jo had danced like a bush kangaroo. Whereas he hadn't stormed off when Bruno said she danced like a squirrel. It's at times like these that I like to recall all that stuff we told ourselves immediately post-9/11 about how we would never again get wrapped up in trivial shit.
Trivial shit like a flamboyantly gay man telling a mindless washed-up rock groupie that she dances like a marsupial, and the response that such a comment elicits from a narcissistic cunny fuck with a weird mole on his face.
But the thing that annoyed me more than Brendan's incessant need to turn the focus of the show on himself, was Brucie's response as Brendan and Jo were walking off. Bruce decided to scold Craig, which then changed the atmosphere from Craig being a sort of pantomime villain that people boo for fun to his being someone that people in the audience were talking back to throughout the rest of the show. Thanks to Brucie's need to be on the "good" side, the whole thing became uncomfortable. I don't think the atmosphere improved for the rest of the show.

Ricky Groves and Erin - Jive -25
"Be still you cats. We gonna spread a lotta jam," Ricky said before starting the dance. Or, perhaps, a lot of cheese. But, hey, I dig it. I've said before that Ricky and Erin are redefining dance. Whatever they do cannot be judged according to the standards applied to everyone else, because the standards applied to everyone else don't include awesomeness. Technique, musicality, blah-blah-blah. Ricky is too awesome for that. If I were the sort of person who voted (I only vote once a series: in the final), I would be voting for Ricky each week not so much because I enjoyed the quality of his dancing but because I want to see what the hell he's going to do the next week. According to his It Takes Two appearance on Wednesday, this coming Saturday he will be dancing like Dick Van Dyke.
Thank you, Jesus, for letting me be alive at this point in history.

Natalie Cassidy and Vincent - Viennese Waltz - 27
Natalie's lip-syncing a part of the song made me realise something: EastEnders actors tend to get the spirit of Strictly better than anyone else. They seem to enjoy it more, or are better at conveying their enjoyment to the viewing public. There is something about them, moreso than with the other celebrities, that leaves you referring to them by their first names and as if they were people you actually knew: "Oh, did you see Natlaie's dance last night? Didn't she do well?"
She did. Unfortunately she is paired with Vincent and continues to suffer from the fact that he is about 2 feet tall and 3 stone. So she looks ginormous dancing with him. I keep waiting for her to just pick him up and swing him above her head like a Muppet.

Phil Tufnell and Katya - Viennese Waltz - 27
I'm not quite sure why Katya slid down Phil's leg right at the end of the dance. Perhaps she had a flashback to her pornography days. But I loved Phil's response to it. At first he looked slightly confused then he just flashed that ridiculous grin of his. I think we should all start doing that. When you don't know what's going on, or things have gone pear-shaped, just stand there in a superhero pose and flash an enormous grin. The world would be a better place, says I.

Ali Bastian and Brian - Jive - 29
New rule: In addition to shouting, any time your dance incorporates sitting on Rachel Steven's lap you get automatic points. Ali got lost, but I think the general lack of clothing on her part makes up for it.

Zöe Lucker and James - Jive - 30
Somehow the Cougar ended up in the dance-off this weekend, despite finishing in the top three. I find that to be shocking and I would just like to say, Zöe, if you are reading this, you've always got my shoulder to cry on. Feel free to drop by the house any time. And then have your way with me. No, really.
Please do that.

Jade Johnson and Ian - Viennese Waltz - 35
Related to the above, Jade, if you are reading this, please feel free to drop by the house any time and have your way with both myself and Zöe.
My fantasy of being dominated by an Olympic athlete aside (I'm looking at you, Phoebe Burns), however, I think this was actually the best dance of the evening. And it was definitely Jade's best so far. She said that she has clicked on the emotional side and I think that really showed through. Hers was the only dance that I found myself actually paying attention to, being drawn into. Every year the Great British Public fucks up the voting around this point and I fear that Jade will end up being affected because she isn't quite as cheeky/charming as other dancers.
I really like her, though (think back to her lip-syncing in her quick step), and I would imagine that the whole Strictly experience is immensely positive for her in emotional/personal terms. Elite athletes like her do nothing but train and pile pressure onto themselves and I would reckon there is very little time for Jade to goof around, to be a girly girl. Have you ever noticed that there is often a sort of underlying sadness to Olympic athletes? They do one thing over and over and over and over, and sometimes their bodies give out on them, or they just aren't as good as someone else, or some other tiny unidentifiable factor, and then what do they have? But all this glitter and silliness and cheese and interacting with a bunch of other people who aren't elite athletes probably helps Jade's state of mind. It probably helps her to feel a bit more human.

Ricky Whittle and Natalie - Viennese Waltz - 36
Meh. He only got more points than Jade because Alesha wants to shag him.

And that's pretty much it. Having Spandau Ballet as the musical guest was cool not because I had ever heard any of their songs before, but because their bassist is Steve Owen off EastEnders. Steve was always my favourite, yo. And then he died in that massive car explosion. The lesson to be learned: Don't attempt to answer your mobile phone whilst driving.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Are you crying, Rav? There's no crying in 'Strictly.' Well, actually, there is

The other night I had a dream that I met Len Goodman at the Mad Bishop & Bear, where he was waiting for a train to Heathrow to board a U.S.-bound flight and film for "Dancing With The Stars." This dream shows two things about me: 1) My subconscious has a strange habit of providing plausible scenarios, thus placing us at the correct London station to catch the express train to Heathrow; 2) I think about Strictly in my sleep.

Other men have sex with Beyonce in their dreams; whereas I ask Len how he deals with the jet-lag.

I felt a little vindicated in my obsession last week, though, when I spotted a poster at Ladbrokes listing the betting odds for this year's celebrities. For those of you playing along at home, Ladbrokes is a perhaps-appropriately -named (it's a place where lads go broke, you see) chain of betting shops in the UK and Ireland. Generally when you pass by one of their shops you will see the odds on upcoming football matches, horse races and the like, but Strictly is so important (or, at least, so important in Pontyclun, Wales) that it earns a spot in the front window.

I almost went in to place a bet on Zöe Lucker but decided against it because, uhm, I'm a man. And it's South Wales. Latent homophobia is one of the things that binds South Walian communities together. Just as racism and xenophobia help the people of North Wales to feel a certain commonality.

Also, the whole culture of betting is another one of those weird facets of British life in which you very much feel that if you aren't already a part of it, you probably shouldn't join in. Whether it be dog races, working-men's clubs, rugby clubs, Eisteddfod, attending football matches (a), playing bowls, drinking at a pub that isn't a chain, or going into Ladbrokes to place a bet on something, this island of rain is weighed down by institutions heavy with an air of disdain toward all those not already involved.

Maybe that's another reason I love Strictly Come Dancing. In as much as a television programme can be welcoming, that's what it is. You know that sort of feeling you get when you go to see a friend's band perform and some part of you wants to turn to the other people there and say: "I know these guys. I hang out with these people." Inexplicably, that's kind of what I feel when watching Strictly.

And by now you will have identified that I am a very sad and lonely person. At least I have Tess Daly. I love Tess, yo. She is my Jodie Foster; I would definitely shoot Ronald Reagan to prove my love for her (b).

One of my favourite things about Tess is that she is in constant model mode. Have you ever noticed that when she's not talking, she's holding three-second poses (c)? I love that. I wonder if she does it at home: she and Vernon are chatting about whatever it is that they chat about (how they're so fucking gorgeous, I would suspect) and as he's making a point she's just sitting there thinking: "One, two, three. Switch pose. One, two, three. Switch pose. One, two, three. Switch pose..."

She will not be posing for Rav "Strong Like Bull" Wilding anymore, because he and Aliona were voted out Saturday. That's fine with me, actually, because I wasn't a particularly big fan of Rav. OK, sure, I respect the whole being-in-the-Army-and-then-joining-a-police-force-to-chase-after-baddies thing. That's grand. What I didn't like was his silly I'm-one-of-the-blokes air. No, you're not Rav. I've met plenty of average blokes in my time and I don't think one of them waxed their chest.

Also, blokes don't cry when they have to leave celebrity dance shows, which is what Rav did after train-wrecking his quickstep in the dance off. The dance earned a 20, which I thought was respectable considering that Rav almost goes storming off stage at 0:52 in the video, and the music filled me with hot rage.

Joe Calzaghe and Kristina - Paso doble - 19
Joe and Kristina actually got a lower score than Rav and Aliona. But Joe has the whole of Wales supporting him, and Kristina has every heterosexual male supporting her. Or at least, wishing he could support her. Or perhaps balance her. On his lap. But that's out of the question now because apparently she and Joe are an item.
A sort of charming thing about Joe is that one of the main reasons he agreed to be on Strictly was for his mother. In all his years of fighting she couldn't stand to see her son get hurt and so never watched any of his fights. Now, finally, he is doing something for her. You will, note, meanwhile that Enzo is nowhere to be seen -- now Joe's dad is the one who can't stand to watch.
I wouldn't have blamed him last week. That glittery boxing belt thing made my soul weep. And remember what I said about people from South Wales? You can see that in the Fighting Pride of Newbridge. No matter how hard he tries, some deep-rooted part of Joe sits there and thinks: "Nah, this is just too gay. I have to not put too much into it so that everyone knows I'm joking." He doesn't appear able to allow himself to get properly into the dances.

Jo "Where Am I?" Wood and Brendan - Paso doble - 20
I hate you Brendan Cole. I hate your face and I hate your accent. I take joy in the fact that you've been paired with a woman who is only slightly more intelligent than a wet plank, because it means that you won't be around for long. Or, at least, it should mean that. Whoever is voting for her, please stop. When Jo dances it makes the baby Jesus cry.

Craig Kelly and Flavia - Quickstep - 21
I like our Craig. He seems like an alright chap, and something about him reminds me of Ewan McGregor's portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Unfortunately the Force wasn't with him this week and quite a lot went wrong. He ended up looking very much like a little boy making up his own dance moves, rather than someone who had spent a week training with a professional.

Chris Hollins and Ola - Quickstep - 23
Speaking of little-boy dancing, Chris went into a full-on ska-style skanking fit right at the end of his number, which I'm willing to bet wasn't in Ola's original choreography. He alluded to that immediately afterward and then shouted "Yes!" when he got a 5 from Craig, which pretty much sums it up. The dance wasn't particularly great and Chris knew it. At least he owned up to it. If he had been Brendan Cole he would have argued blindly that it had, in fact, been great.

Phil Tufnell and Katya - Quickstep - 24
I actually liked this dance. And the longer Katya stays on the show the longer she stays out of porn. Good for you girl; you're too good for felching.

Lynda Bellingham and Darren - Paso doble - 25
If I were a judge, you would automatically lose a point for dancing to Cliff Richard. And I totally agree with Craig Revel Horwood that Lynda looked like a "stunned mullet" throughout. She had this weird comedy-terrified look on her face that probably would have worked if she had been in a panto, or dancing with Santino Marella. That said, she did actually improve when she danced again in the dance-off, which made Rav's train wreck all the more painful. On a side note, please tell me I'm not alone in thinking that Darren looks like Jack McFarland.

Natalie Cassidy and Vincent - Paso doble - 28
One of the things that Karen Hardy has talked about in It Takes Two's "Choreography Corner" (Wow, this is what my life has become? Knowing dancers' names off the top of my head, watching shows about celebrity dancing shows, and using the phrase "Choreography Corner" without irony. Why couldn't I just be addicted to heroin or something?) is the importance of building dances that actually suit the celebrity's strengths. Equally, it would be a good idea not to build a dance that plays to your weakness. If you are a tiny little man, like, oh, say, Vincent Simone, it's probably not a good idea to try to throw around Natalie Cassidy, who is a woman with some curves on her -- because you aren't strong enough for that. The end result was that Natalie had to help Vincent out and she looked like she was taking a wrestling bump. As always, I wholeheartedly approve the merging of these two worlds, but it looked awkward.

Ricky Groves and Erin - Paso doble - 29
I've said before that if I were a judge, an automatic point would be awarded for shouting in a dance. You shout, you get a point -- it's that simple. So I loved Ricky's full-on scream right at the start of his Paso. That is exactly what I would do if I were a celebrity, going out there and sending the microphone levels into red. Genius. Also, Ricky gets a point for suggesting that the final phrase in Queen's "One Vision" should, in fact, be "Fried chicken!" Add to that the fact that Ricky looked a bit like Ming the Merciless and, quite frankly, he should have scored 10s straight across the board. Not to mention Erin's cleavage. I'd like to balance her on my lap.
Ricky and Erin are redefining dance, bitches.

Laila "Not a Paki" Rouass and Anton - Quickstep - 30
Our Anton got himself into a fair bit of trouble this week, which is too bad because I really like him. If past events are anything to go by, he will need to either be a member of the royal family or die of cancer in order to make amends. I always struggle when people here get upset over use of phrases like "Paki" because they are not racist terms that I grew up with. I grew up in the U.S. South, so there were plenty of racists, but "Paki" wasn't part of the lexicon. As such, I don't have the automatic, gut repulsion that I would toward some other word. Plus, as I say, I like Anton. I am sure that this week's show will contain an awkward and uncomfortable apology, but hopefully that'll be it. Oh, and Laila's dance was nice.

Jade "Dominatrix" Johnson and Ian - Quickstep - 31
Did you see that episode of It Takes Two last week when Jade was sitting there with her hand on Ian's thigh? And the way she looks at him as if he were a piece of meat? What's up with that, yo? You can see a bit of fear in poor Ian's eyes when he's near her. And with good reason; he can't handle that mountain. I imagine it would be like having sex with a charging bison. I assume. I don't actually know what that's like, obviously. The rangers at Custer State Park arrested me before I got a chance to find out.
As far as their dance is concerned, I dug the little bit where Jade and Ian lip-synched to the song. I'm hoping that they'll be in the show for quite a while, because I like them, but that may not be the case because Jade suffered some sort of horrific back injury early in the week. There's something amusing about an elite athlete suffering an injury whilst dancing. Like when Austin Healey threw out his back, or the time he dislocated a finger.

Zöe "The Cougar" Lucker and James - Paso doble - 31
I have decided that Zöe and James are my favourite couple. Of course, a lot of that has to do with how much I'd like to shag Zöe. In the words of Bruno: "From you I always expect a little more sex." Or perhaps, in my case, "want" is a better word to use than "expect." I want her to come to my house and make sweet, sweet love to me on a bed of Ola Jordan clones.
But I also just really like something about her -- her attitude, the way she dances, I'm not totally sure. But it's strong enough that I am able to overcome my usual dislike for James. I worry, though, that she has been lucky with slow dances that allow her to rely on her acting skill. I'm not sure she will be as impressive when she gets stuck performing a salsa or quickstep or the like.

Ali Bastian and Brian - Quickstep - 32
I'm not really one to read tabloids, so Len's making note of rumours to the effect of Brian and Ali being a couple came as quite a shock to me. Primarily it was a shock because I kind of reckoned that Brian didn't swing that way, if you catch my drift. His creepy wisp of a moustache always made me think that he was child predator. It's lovely that he is, in fact, focusing his attention on a lovely, albeit slightly dim Ali. Lovely. That is the word that comes to my mind when I think of Ali. The problem is that although she is lovely she is also utterly forgettable. I just finished watching her dance again but cannot at the moment picture her face. I remember that she is lovely, but nothing else.

Ricky Whittle and Natalie - Paso doble - 35
Whittle is fast setting himself out as That Bloke Who Can Actually Dance. There is always one in every series. Usually what happens is that bloke will either train wreck or somehow end up in a dance-off with someone who is equally as good but prettier, and he will leave the show sparking a mini mock scandal. Already I am looking forward to Craig Revel Horwood's lecturing drone as he sits on It Takes Two and backhandedly insults the viewing public for failing to vote according to the quality of the dancing, darling. I predict that he will do this on or around Guy Fawkes Day.

And that's last Saturday's show. It's a shame that Rachel has left the UK because she would have really loved seeing Andy Williams as the show's musical guest. She would be pretty much the only one to love that, though. Andy looks to have held up alright over the years, but his ability to carry a tune clearly hasn't. That hurt almost as much as watching Jo Wood dance.

This Saturday I'll be in Bath, watching the show with the Phins. Pity them.

(a) That is to say, attending the matches of any team not in the top 10 of the Premiership.

(b) Admittedly, it's a lot easier to shoot him now. But it's the thought that counts.

(c) On an unrelated side note, I wish Christian and Edge would reunite and bring back the five-second pose.


There's something strangely appropriate about the fact that this was my 3,000th Twitter update. It sort of encapsulates the worth, or lack thereof, of both Twitter and my everyday life.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nice to see you, to see you...

"At least it's not child porn."

That's usually my defence when people frown and roll their eyes in disdain toward my love of "Strictly Come Dancing". I mean, if I'm going to be obsessed with something that makes you uncomfortable to hear me talk about, far better for it to be celebrity dancing rather than pictures of naked children. And actually, put in those terms, my fondness for Strictly (a) is perfectly healthy.

I mean, have you seen Tess Daly? I want scientists to perfect cloning so I can have my very own personal-use Tess Daly. I also want an Ola Jordan. And two Kristina Rihanoffs, because I will wear. that. out.

Beyond the opportunity to see scantily clad women, however, there is something about the show that I just love. I can't quite figure out what it is, but I thoroughly enjoy every element. I am actually amused by the cheesy likeable nature of Bruce Forsyth, I want Len Goodman to come over for Thanksgiving, I wish Craig Revel Horwood lived next door, and so on. In my daily life I will reference the judges, hosts and contestants of Strictly as if they were all people I actually knew -- my gang of glittery, camp, dancy friends.

Am I sad? Am I pathetic? Yes. But at least it's not child porn.

So, I'm going to blog about it. Because, firstly, I don't really feel like blogging what's happening in my actual life; and, secondly, because I harbour the quiet hope that at least one other person somewhere on the internets shares my mad love for the programme. I regularly wish that I were famous just so I could be eligible to take part.

I didn't get a chance to talk about week 1, but there wasn't really much of note. That's sort of the way in the early stages; you spend the first few weeks waiting for the sucky ones to go, along with the odd shock-exit due to the as-sound-as-a-pro-wrestling-plot-line voting system. The only thing that sticks in my memory from that week is: Joe Calzaghe.

Oh, Joe. What the hell, man? Please improve before we see you dance again next week. Surely you understand how important this is to Wales. Also, please stop with the fake boxing thing. We get it. We know what your famous for. No one else goes around miming their claim to fame.

Thankfully he wasn't dancing this past weekend. For those of you playing along at home or with social lives, at this stage in things there are about 9,000 celebrities in the show. There isn't enough time to squeeze them all in. Especially considering that Brucie's average joke set-up is now running about five minutes per gag. So half dance one week, half dance the next week.

This week saw Richard Dunwoody leave the show. "Who?" you ask. Exactly.

The real high point of this week was the strange "Welcome to the Thunderdome" feathered dress worn by Alesha Dixon. It looked as if she had stolen the the cloak off that bloke in CBBC's "Raven".

Actually scoring worse than Dunwoody and Lilia were Jo Wood and Brendan.
In their tango they scored an 18, and earned the same in their rumba. Jo is "famous" for fucking a member of the Rolling Stones. One assumes that a fair amount of drug use came part and parcel with that gig and it kind of shows in the way she moves; she's not 100-percent sure that she's actually there. Whereas you are sure, and equally sure you wish that she weren't. She sucked, Brendan was outraged. Brendan is, to me, the Didier Drogba of ridiculous celebrity dance shows. I find myself watching him in hopes of seeing him suffer a career-ending injury.

Craig "I'm from the North, me" Kelly and Flavia were the next up the leader board (check me out, usin' the lingo!), which was kind of surprising to me. I thought they were alright. I especially like the shouting Craig did in their tango. If I were a judge, you would get an automatic point for shouting. However, that point would be lost for making me listen to that damn "Jai Ho" song. All in all, they scored a 22. They again achieved the double deuce in their rumba, which, admittedly, was about as sexy as chips. And what was that weird Karate Kid leg lift they did in the middle?

Natalie Cassidy and Vincent are likely to be in the show for quite a while, so it doesn't really matter how well they did. Natalie is beloved by the British public, or, at least, that part of the British public that watches "EastEnders" -- which is a lot. I, myself, watched "EastEnders" for several years, until I realised that there was no rule saying that I had to. But that time was enough to develop a soft spot in my heart for our big-boned mouth-breathing Natalie. How can you not love her? Their tango scored a 24, which was possibly a bit low but the whole thing was hurt by the fact that Vincent, he is very, very speedy -- so Natalie looked slower than she actually was. Their cha cha (cha) scored a little better, 26, but again suffered from Vincent's speediness. Your man needs to learn not to make his celebrity look bad, yo.

I don't really want to like Phil Tufnell and Katya, but I kind of do. I liked the training footage that showed Phil shouting at the mirror, "Come on, Tuffers! Let's 'ave it!", and I also like his dance partner. I can't quite decide what I like about Katya. She kind of looks like one of those amateur porn stars that you look at and think, "Oh, sweetheart, you could be doing so much more with your life" -- and in this case she is. Instead of throat gagging, she's teaching a cricket legend how to dance. Their waltz scored a respectable 29 points, but I actually enjoyed more the lower-scoring cha cha (cha). The shiny gold outfits and swanky music gave it a real "Love Boat" feel. They scored a 22.

To this point I have referenced porn, professional wrestling, Premiership soccer and 1970s American television. Is anyone but me following this? Fuck it. No one's reading blogs anymore anyway.

I have no idea who Laila Rouass is, but I echo the sentiment of being happy to see her teamed with Anton "Brucie's love child" Du Beke. How many times have we had to see poor, likeable, charming Anton pushing an utterly clueless woman about the dance floor? Their tango scored a 30, and their cha cha (cha) scored a 25 -- the latter train-wrecking toward the middle. One of the judges complained that it wasn't very exciting and I liked Anton's response: "I was terribly excited. I was so excited I could barely contain myself."

My favourite dance of the week came from Zoe Lucker and James. Generally, I'd like to punch James in the face. With my fists. My fists to his stupid face. Kapow. But in every season of Strictly I've watched he always gets his female celebrities to act naughty, and their rumba was just that. I sometimes like to pretend that I am a judge, and here's what I would have said after that dance: "Two words, my friend: Cougar porn." I wasn't the only one thinking along those lines. Bruno got all animated and shouted: "I can feel something growing, big and powerful!" For all that, though, it only earned a 31. Their waltz, meanwhile, earned a 30.

Ricky Whittle and Natalie finished the show on top, which will make things all the more upsetting when he is dropped from the show next time due to the fact that no one knows who the hell he is. I have never met a person who's watched a full episode of "Hollyoaks," which is odd because it seems to be on 24 hours a day. Anywho, their waltz earned a 33 and their rumba earned a 32. What was up with Natalie's crazy whore hair in the rumba? Also, if you watch the video of the rumba, I like the fact that Ricky hits Natalie with a crooked arm lariat at 0:59. I want to see more of that. The day that Strictly is meshed with WWE is the day I've died and gone to heaven.

And that's pretty much it. I have effectively alienated every reader this blog ever had. And I plan on doing the same again next week.

(a) In the United States we would shorten it to "SCD", whereas in Britain people just drop words.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gettin' ink done

Sara seems to think that I got my tattoo as a result of premature midlife crisis. That is, of course, ridiculous. As are the insinuations that such a thing is also the reason behind my new sports car and hair plugs and 18-year-old girlfriend.

I have to admit, though, that some part of me feels a bit silly. Somewhere along the way, tattoos became an incredibly mainstream thing for people of my generation. Just as we must all own a copy of either "Under the Table and Dreaming" or "four" or both, just as we have all thought we were cutting edge for reading "On the Road" or "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" or "The Metamorphosis," just as every female had to have a lesbian experience in college, just as we all had to go through that phase of smoking cigars, so, too, must we all get tattoos.

A bit late, I have finally joined the throng. It's not a comic book villain, strangely irrelevant-to-the-wearer animal, or meaningless tribal design, but it's a tattoo nonetheless.

In my defence, I have wanted a tattoo since I was a teenager. Back when I was 16, I really, really, really wanted to get "HATRED" written across my stomach, just like Pantera lead singer Philip Anselmo. I think most people would agree that wouldn't have gone well. Just the stomach tattoo in general is a risky move; it means having to maintain your abs for life. Because few things are going to earn more derision than a fat old man with "HATRED" scrawled across his tummy.

Also, what happens if you cheer up? Perhaps in that case you could put on some extra pounds -- enough to expand your stomach so as to allow: "Santa's HAT is RED."

Then, for a long while I thought about getting the UT Longhorn logo, but thus far I haven't actually attended the University of Texas (a). Then, for a while I considered getting the letters of my fraternity, ΦΔΘ, but that idea is just beyond lame and, besides, I'm willing to bet £30 that not one of my fraternity brothers would now remember my name.

Bolstered by the awareness that most of my tattoo ideas were ill-conceived, I decided to shelve the concept, taking solace in the fact that I was enough a member of my generation because I know the lyrics to several New Country (b) songs, and I sometimes reference "Cheers" storylines as if they were things that happened to my family members.

And then, last Friday, I walked into Cardiff Ink and politely asked a man three times my size to repeatedly stab me with a needle. He agreed, on condition that I give him money for his trouble and allow him to listen to death metal while doing so.

Actually, I had to make an appointment for this. And it would be a massive understatement to say that I had been bricking it in the days running up to the event. I don't like pain, yo. You might be misled by the various scars I carry and the fact that I played rugby for a few seasons, but really, truly, honestly, I hate hurty things. Especially hurty needle things hooked up to machines. Especially when that hurty needle thing hooked up to a machine is operated by a man who has a picture on his hand of someone screaming in pain and terror.

Contrary to that image, however, Jay was really laid back and apparently very good at dealing with babies. He gave me candy. A cinnamon Jolly Rancher, to be exact -- which is something so rare in this part of the world that it was imparted and received as if contraband.

After we agreed on a stencilled version of my tattoo, I was told to hop up into a modified dentist's chair. My dislike of dentists is well-documented, so I immediately went back to bricking it as Jay went about the slightly surgical process of putting on surgical gloves, setting out a new ink pot, opening a new needle, etc. Then, hovering over my arm he said: "Dude, don't shake your leg like that. Relax."

"OK," I said, completely ignoring him and focusing instead on how unholy pain was about to be unleashed upon my arm.

"No, seriously, dude," he said. "Don't shake your leg."

The tone of his voice allowed me one of those beautiful moments of Zen, in which everything connects. Somewhere deep in my soul all things became clear: Big man with sharp hurty thing in his hand is telling me to stop doing something. And instantly my leg went still.

Shockingly and completely to my surprise, it did not hurt. It didn't tickle, and I might find it a little distracting if I were having sex or trying to ganache a cake, but for the most part it was a wholly tolerable experience. I say "for the most part " because I learned at an inopportune moment that my tattoo artist had spent some time in my home state of Texas. Six years, as a matter of fact. Or "six fucking years," in his words, because they were spent in one of the Lone Star state's fine prison facilities.

"Six fucking years, man."

"Yah-ho," I said, feeling an oh-so-slight additional sting from the needle. "We should talk about something else. What's the name of this band?"

"Distruzione. They're Italian."

"Ah, that must be why I can't understand a word of it."

"Fuck, me neither, man."

And in a few more minutes we were done. The whole process took less than a half hour.

"Check yourself out in the mirror," Jay said, again showing a brilliant awareness of his client.

Give me candy and allow me to parade in the mirror with my cool new tattoo. This dude had me down. If he had tossed me a hairbrush to use as a microphone and thrown on some Thin Lizzy, I would have paid him extra. As it was, I happily handed over my cash and gleefully shook his hand. I now have a tattoo, yo.

When I was last in Texas, my brother, cousin, uncle and I all got together for some beers and barbecue, and I commented at the time that I felt very much out of place because I had neither a tattoo, nor a story that starts with the phrase: "Well, first time I got arrested..."

Now, finally, I can claim to be a Cope. Of course, I suspect that Shawn Jr. will give me shit for being too high-brow and getting a piece of poetry on my arm. Such is the way with me, I suppose. It would be the same sort of disappointment if I ever got arrested, too.

"Yeah, I got arrested for drinking three bottles of tequila and having sex with a stripper in the sporting goods section at Walmart. But how 'bout you, Chris? What'd you get arrested for?"

"Uhm, well, I was campaigning for Welsh-language rights and I handcuffed myself to the door of a Build-A-Bear Workshop..."

(a) Although, having said that, I realised last time I was in Austin that the UT logo also represents local and even Texas pride. I think that next time I am in Texas with my brother, I will try to convince him to get that tattoo along with me.

(b) That is to say, the style of music that is "new country" -- e.g. Alan Jackson, Montgomery Gentry, Sugarland, Kenny Chesney, et al.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Because 'My little horse must think it queer' didn't seem as cool

"Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."
- Robert Frost

Every year, my mother takes a squadron of Catholic-school teenagers to the far reaches of Northern Minnesota and attempts to get into their heads the importance and value of such far away places. It's debatable whether that message is received; when you grow up in Minnesota it is hard to imagine the rarity and beauty of somewhere like Minnesota. It is only when you get to live in places like Britain, where it is impossible to stand at any one point and not see signs of civilisation, impossible to go on a hike and not encounter at least one other person, that you start to appreciate that wilderness that my mother drags stroppy suburban teenagers to experience.

Once, when I was a stroppy suburban teenager not too much older than those taught by my mother, I went along on the trip as a chaperone. My memory, especially as pertains to the decade spanning from age 16 to 26, is notoriously poor, so I don't actually remember much of the trip. I can't imagine that I was particularly adept at chaperoning; but since I can't remember either way, I will report to you that I performed my duties marvellously.

But one thing I do remember clearly: Lying in the snow.

Deep into the woods, the naturalist leading my little gaggle of teenagers on a hike had us all lie flat on our backs -- perfectly still, totally quiet. My body crunch-sank into the deep Northern Minnesota snow and suddenly everything in the universe slipped away. There was only my breathing, the chill on my lips and the infinite sky blue sky through arthritic fingers of leafless branches.

I lay there: stunned by it, absorbed by it, lost in it.

After I-don't-know-how-long, the naturalist's face came into view. She smiled at me and extended a hand; it was time to move on and go look at owl poop, or something equally as exciting.

The moment burned into my emotional memory. It became a moment -- a feeling -- that I long to return to in difficult times. And during The Very Bad Times of recent years, that longing became almost constant. I walked around feeling weak in my legs and waiting, yearning, for that moment when I would simply collapse to the ground and the universe would slip away. In the nebulous world of depression, the desire for the cold solace of winter would mesh into an ache for the endless peace of death.

That's the way I interpret Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping by Woods On a Snowy Evening." The quiet nothingness appeals to the narrator, it lulls him. Death is singing its love song. There is no life on a snowy winter evening -- only the infinite gentle stillness.

But then his horse, his conscience, his soul, his hope, shakes and says: "This isn't where we belong. We're not there yet." There are promises to keep. The promise of what you can become.

So, for a long while during The Very Bad Times I would wake up each morning and write on my forearm with a Sharpie: "MILES TO GO BEFORE I SLEEP." To remind me, constantly, that I had to keep going.

Roughly three years later, I feel the strength of my legs when I walk. The little horse of my soul is eager to drive forward -- eager to see where I will go and what I will do. But the words of the poem are still relevant. They always will be. So, on Friday, I decided to make them permanent. I got my first tattoo.

Well, it was that, or the John Cena "You Can't See Me" logo...