Sunday, January 31, 2010

Whimsy bath

I took a bath today in a fit of whimsy. That is to say the bath was whimsy-induced, not that I was in the midst of a whimsy fit and that bathing also took place. Like, if I were to have said that I had taken a bath in a fit of rage, you likely wouldn't see a cause and effect there: "Grr, I'm so angry that Reese Witherspoon won't return my calls, I'm going to take a bath!"

You'd just assume I was angry and bathing (which is a good name for a band). But in this case, there was a connection. I felt whimsy and then submerged myself in water as a result.

However, I don't want you to think that it is only in whimsy that I choose to bathe. It's just that usually I would shower. Because I am a man. And men shower. Men prefer to do our bathing standing up. We like to do all sorts of things standing up: peeing, watching soccer, hanging out at the pub, shagging, waiting in queue at the bank. Generally the only time we don't prefer to stand is when we are moving. We hate Segways because they take a perfectly manly activity like standing and make it all gay.

It's OK to stand on a moving bus or subway train, but only if there are hot chicks around to see that we gave up our seats to old ladies.

But, anyway, I took a bath today, which is one of those sort of things you can do when you are living the single life. There's no one around to see me acting so gay. While in the bath, I listened to Joni Mitchell and cried. Then I ate chocolate and watched "Twilight."

By this point, you'll have cottoned to the fact that this particular blog post has no point. In fact, the whole thing is a lie, but for the bit about taking a bath.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Is it an early sign of midlife crisis? Probably

I've picked up the guitar again. Because, apparently, I like being really angry. And that's what the guitar does to me: it makes me angry. It fills me with brain-quivering, muscle-tearing, teeth-breaking, eye-watering rage. Guitar make Chris mad.

As an instrument, the guitar is one of the oldest in history, isn't it? Wikipedia says there is evidence of guitars existing 3,000 years ago. And that's got to be true because Wikipedia said it. Wikipedia is never wrong. Except for when the entry for me (a) on the Welsh-language version described me as being from "St. Pauls."

Considering that the guitar has been around so long, I find it odd that punk music is really only about as old as I am (according to Wikipedia, it developed roughly just before or during 1976). Because the first thing that learning guitar guitar makes me want to do is bang the strings in anger and then smash it to little pieces. It makes me like Jeff Jarrett in some small way.

But still, I'm making another attempt at learning.

I had started learning in the summer, but then Rachel moved back to the States. And doing things that make you really, really, really angry is generally not an advisable activity immediately after your wife has left you. So, the guitar sat in its case through the autumn, through the whole of the last series of "Strictly Come Dancing", through Thanksgiving, through Christmas, through New Year's, through the writing of two rather long papers that I almost didn't write. But then, last week I decided to start again. This time with lower expectations.

There's a mantra in that: "Start again; this time with lower expectations." It has a sort of Jedi ring to it.

With a new semester starting Monday, and a new year and new decade still relatively young, I'm trying to get myself into this whole "start again" mentality. I've begun work on a new novel, and, as you can see (unless you're reading this via RSS or on Facebook) I've given the old blog a new look.

I'll be perfectly honest with you that my cynical side isn't buying all this "new" crap. The guitar-playing especially. One thing I've kind of picked up from being an author and hanging out with author types is that producers often don't make the best consumers. And the opposite is generally true, as well. So, I like listening to music. I could spend thousands of pounds purchasing music, and thousands of hours and calories dancing about like a fool to it. However, these things don't necessarily translate into being any good at making music. The negative part of me thinks this guitar thing will go no further than Craig Ferguson's attempts to learn Spanish (b).

But, I live in outrageous hope.

(a) Which I really did not make myself, as hard as that may be to believe.

(b) Craig Ferguson is hilarious, yo. I love his utterly, utterly random interview style. Case in point, his interview with Abbie Cornish.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It's a bit like one of those Kilgore Trout novels

There once was a man who found himself atop the world's tallest building, listening to Thin Lizzy's "Still in Love With You" off the "Live And Dangerous" album. You know, the version that carries on for roughly eight minutes and has that beautiful-simple bass line where you can just imagine Phil Lynott lost in his druggy haze with four strings being his only reality. And right where the second guitar solo kicks in (a) -- right after Lynott moans, "Help me see it through, I'm still in love with yooooo" -- the man set himself on fire and jumped from the top of the building.

With music blaring and the whole great world stretched out below him, here are some of the things the man thought as his flame-engulfed body sped toward the ground:
- "This is so beautiful, so amazing, so incredible! My soul is overflowing. My heart is singing."
- "This hurts so much. The pain is excruciating. I can't take this."
- "I'm lost. I've got nothing to hold onto but this feeling. There is nothing solid, nothing real."
- "I'm going to die. Oh, God, I'm going to die. This is going to kill me and it already hurts so much. I just wish it would end."
- "How did I get like this? Why did I do this to myself?"
- "I just can't ever fully get into my head that Phil Lynott was Irish. It just messes with the mind a little bit."
- "Why does it have to end?"

Meanwhile, a woman sitting at a cafe at the foot of the world's tallest building, sipping a white chocolate mocha, heard a noise and looked up. The noise she heard was screaming. Or perhaps laughing. Or perhaps both. Singing, too. All emitting from a ball of flame plummeting toward her from half a mile above. Calmly dropping her mobile phone into her purse (she had been texting her friend), she picked up her mocha and stepped back about three feet just as the screaming, laughing, singing ball of flame tore through her table and extinguished itself in the inexorable sudden unmovingness of pavement. So sudden was the stop that the sound it had been making continued to echo down, its last words being: "Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!"

The woman walked over to the smoking lump of a thing and nudged it with her foot. She emptied the contents of her coffee cup to extinguish the last little flame and walked away.

"Wait... wait... wait... wait..." breathed the man, too quiet to hear.

He coughed to get back the breath that had been knocked from him. The dull ringing ache of his head kept him from moving right away, but after a moment or two he straightened out his legs, sat up and rubbed his neck.

"My clothes are ruined," he thought. "But no broken bones..."

He pulled his iPod from his jacket pocket and, using the back of the personal stereo, checked his reflection. Hair's a mess. But no scars. No, wait, there's one. A pretty good one, actually. In a weird sort of way it made him look a little more dignified, more mature -- like he had lived a little.

As he did this, with his head still muddled, the iPod quietly whirred back to life and started playing "Tupelo Honey" by Van Morrison.

"Ooh, this is a great song," the man said to himsef.

He got up, made a half-hearted effort to fix his hair and then walked over to a little patch of manicured green lawn, where he sat and looked at the world's tallest building and thought: "You know, I probably -- probably -- wouldn't do that again. Or, at least, not do it exactly that way. But I don't regret it."

After a few more moments, he realised that the iPod was stuck on repeat; "Tupelo Honey" was playing over and over and over. But the player was banjaxed, and he couldn't get it to play any other song. All he could do was adjust the volume. So, unwilling to go without music, he sat there listening to the song for almost a fortnight -- sometimes turning it up, sometimes singing along, sometimes nodding his head to the rhythym, sometimes feeling warm and content in the song's layers, and sometimes getting quite bored with it and turning it down in order to try to think of his own songs to sing.

One day, cold and tired from sitting still for so long, the man got up, turned the sound on his iPod down so low that it was almost unnoticeable, and went to see the Gourds perform live in concert.

"Holy shit!" he screamed into the noise of the evening. "Holy shit! I love this!"

All around him was warmth and dancing and laughing and singing. And the band took the crowd everywhere -- up and down, fast and slow. Everyone wailed at "Port Arthur," they whooped and howled to "Burn the Honey Suckle." And the joy swelled in the man's heart and filled his lungs.

But when the concert ended he fell into inconsolable tears because the Gourds' albums aren't available through the UK version of iTunes.

(a) No truly great song has just one guitar solo.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Don't put salt in your eye

I find myself unable to stop thinking about the video below, which Elisa linked to the other day. Specifically I find myself thinking: when and how was the decision made to abandon the vehicle? How does that make sense? How could it possibly have been deemed the proper course of action by the vehicle's occupants?

Was this a case of the Voice Of Reason simply taking far too long to get to the point?

"Oh, hello, we seem to have found ourselves in a situation which I am certain most outside observers would agree is particularly unfavourable. Clearly the current state of events demands that something be done to either help us better cope with the situation or, even, possibly, reverse what at first glance would appear to be an inevitable fate. Right, what to do, though? There's the question. For the sake of variety, I believe I shall start with the options available to us that are, in fact, really not very good. Firstly, there's the option of jumping out of a moving car onto the slippery, slippery ice. Obviously that one is quite foolhardy and is to be avoi... Hey! Wait! What are you doing? No, no, no! I said that was a bad idea. Weren't you listening?"

Clearly they weren't. I find it disturbing how quickly (six seconds!) they decided to jump out of the car once it started sliding:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Leaving the black

I'm on my fourth cup of tea, trying mostly unsuccessfully to overcome my London hangover. Before my grandmother fires off another e-mail accusing me of being a drunken no-good, I should stress that the hangover is not alcohol-induced; yesterday I had only a bottle of beer. And a pint of beer... And a gin and tonic... But the hangover -- this headache, sore throat, dry mouth, sore body, muddled brain and exhaustion -- has come as a result of spending a week in what is arguably the world's greatest city.

For the benefit of those who have missed out on much of season 33 in the Chris Narrative due to a writer's strike (and it's a pity because you missed that whole cross-promotional story arc with NCIS, in which Ziva and I had a child together), I have been stuck on the Island of Rain over the holiday season thanks to the UK Home Office's brilliant anti-terrorism measure of just sort of letting immigrants wander about without identification for several months. Nothing stops a terrorist more than enforcing annonymity.

Back in October I compiled every little piece of information about me and shipped it off to an office in Durham, all for the sake of being issued a new visa. And one of those pieces of information about me was my passport, the little collection of papers that bureaucratically facilitate what my great aunt Johnnie refers to as my "jet-setting playboy lifestyle," the little collection of papers that one aspect of UK immigration law insists I must have in my possession at all times -- overuled, apparently, by the aspect of UK immigration law that insists I send the thing to the grim North.

In addition to my passport, I had to send along a lengthy questionnaire which contained such baddie-filtering interrogatory statements as: "How much money do you presently have in your current account?" and: "Do you own a business?" and "Are you a financial genius who could turn around the economy and save the election for Labour?" and: "Have you ever been convicted of genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity?"

The first and last of those are actual questions; the other two are implied. What I have learned from the UK's immigration system is that devotion to British values is far less important than a fat wallet. I am tickled to think someone would answer "yes" to the genocide question: "Ah, well, you know, we all do silly things in our youth. My girlfriend at the time did a lot of cocaine; and I slaughtered 9,000 religious minorities. But, hey, we all make mistakes, and since two wrongs don't make a right I'm certainly not going to lie on this visa application."

I'm not exactly sure what the chaps up in Durham do with one's passport, but apparently it takes them a whopping great long time to do it because I still don't have mine back. I mean, honestly, how long does it take to run a Google search on the terms "Chris Cope" and "war atrocities"?

Actually, I fear that the internets may be to blame for the delay, specifically the wee corner that contains my Welsh-language blog. The immigration system may noy be built for digging through a Welsh speaker's internet presence. I would assume that part of the background check is delving into one's internet presence, searching for certain key words and terms. But it's possible that no such software exists for Welsh. So, they've brought in some bloke named Dai, who's from Margam and really only has A-level Welsh, and he's presently poring through every Welsh-language post. Right now he's somewhere in 2007 and has written in his report for the 54th time: "Really likes women's breasts."

While Dai is at it, I am sans passport and not allowed to travel beyond this island's shores. In November I was called in to give biometrics, which is a slightly Total Recall-sounding term for "fingerprints and eye scan," and asked when they thought I might yet again have freedom to wander. I was told my passport would be returned in "roughly four to 14 weeks."

"So, I'm not going to see my family for Christmas, am I?" I huffed at the woman in Cardiff's biometrics office.

And in one of those moments that reminds me of why I moved here in the first place, the woman dropped her governmental tone and looked at me with that almost-maternal warmth that all South Wales women seem to possess.

"No, James. I'm so terribly sorry," she said. "But do you know Monknash? Down by Llantwit Major? There's a pub there, the Plough and Harrow, that does a lovely Christmas dinner."

As it turns out, the Plough and Harrow didn't serve Christmas dinner on Christmas Day, but I was saved from spending Jesus' birthday alone (well, just me and Him, I suppose) by my neighbours, who are the sort of people who make it difficult to think seriously about moving. I often think that I would like to live a bit closer to the areas of Cardiff where Welsh speakers are most oft to be found, closer to cafes, closer to the Chapter Arts Centre, but then it occurs to me that I quite possibly would not end up with neighbours half as good as those I have now. So, Christmas was spent with a proper family, including a grandfather who dismissed America as "kind of a young country."

But as the new year rang in I was on the banks of the Thames, in Britain's capital city, with a bottle of Champagne in hand and hundreds of thousands of people shouting out into the cold, crisp night. After the fireworks reached their climax, as the crowd began to push away from the river toward pubs and Tube stations, snow began to fall and everything in the world felt right and good. The beam of light shot out across Greenwich and we were all connected.

I spent a week in London, and, as happens to me every time I visit the city, I spent the majority of my time telling myself I want to move there. But London is not a place; it is a thing. Mrs. Phin once brilliantly described it as the most intense lover you've ever had: it ignites your soul but also holds the power to destroy you. London can take everything you have to give; it will never get its fill of your energy, your hope. London is that Twilight vampire, but it shows no restraint as it sinks its teeth into your veins.

And one of the things they don't mention in tourism books about London is The Black, the soot that lurks in London corners and seeps into your every part.

Years ago I saw a piece featuring Ruby Wax on the top of a tourist bus with Lisa Kudrow, in which Kudrow stupidly commented on how London is cleaner than she had imagined. Ruby Wax then succeeded in drawing out that Kudrow, who had never been there before, had imagined a kind of Dickensian coal-dusted misery in which coughing rag-adorned hordes collapsed in the street from consumption. Many Americans have this sort of view. We expect heavy, miserable skies pissing acid and woe. But, in fact, the weather is quite often agreeable and there are days where you would rather be nowhere else in the world. There are days when the sky is so blue it almost hurts your eyes and the air is so clean you feel like you're flying.

But beneath the ground, in the ground, lies The Black. After a journey or two in the Tube you notice flecks of black -- ink black -- when you blow your nose. It works into exposed skin, slips beneath fingernails, and robs clothes of their colour.

In the past week there have been museums and art and theatre and good food and warm pubs and laughter, but constantly moving around the city has overexposed me to The Black. It has sunk into my lungs and cut at the back of my throat.

And so I am ready to be back in Cardiff, back in the Old City. I am ready to be back in my old routine. I am ready to be back trying.