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...

They're breeding

Congratulations to Paul and Bao-Kim, whose daughter, Sophie Doan Trinh, was born early Saturday morning -- weighing in at 8 pounds 4.1 ounces.

Both Mom and Dad carry the title "doctor," so it's a good bet that this child will one day be your leader. Better start getting in good with her now...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Why I will never again rent from Hertz

"Dear Mr Cope,

Thank you for your recent inquiry. I appreciate the opportunity to review your concerns.

I have contacted the licencee location and I can confirm that an error was made on our behalf. A refund has now been processed to your Visa card in the amount of 668.51 USD, which should appear on your next statement.

I apologise for this error and any inconvenience this may have caused."

Gee, your overcharging me almost $700 and taking two fucking months to sort it out -- why would that be inconvenient?

You know what would have been really inconvenient? If I had called you to sort out this billing fuck-up and was told each time that I would be on hold upward of an hour and 45 minutes, thus forcing me to write a barrage of e-mails and letters.

Oh, wait.

You did do that. Fuckers.