Sunday, October 3, 2010

Eight things I loved about September

~8~ Autumn weather: If you haven't figured out by now, I have the emotional stability of a teenage girl. That delightful facet of my personality seems to kick into overdrive during the autumn, but the season is nonetheless my favourite. Weather here in the old city of new has been cool, and often I can see my breath floating in the glowing orange of Cardiff nighttime. For those of you playing along at home, British street lights cast an orangish lambency (a) over evening's soggy gloom. Admittedly, as I lie alone at night in a cold bed, with that pumpkin dim seeping through cheap Ikea curtains, I find it difficult to take pleasure in the season. But in daytime I can step outside in the comfort of a sweatshirt, feel the wind on my face and think that perhaps somehow today will be awesome.

~8~ Publishing The Way Forward: One certainly can't accuse me of failing to mention this book on my blog. I suspect that my constant promotion of the novel earlier in the month is what cost me a spot on the short list of the Wales Blog Awards. Whichever judge it was that looked at this site likely made no effort to read a post representative of my style and chose instead to simply look at the most recent thing. And it's a good bet that most recent thing was a post related to The Way Forward. C'est la vie.
Regardless, I've been quite happy with the feedback I've gotten thus far. I am very glad to hear those of you who have bought the book have enjoyed it. If you haven't bought the book, what's wrong with you? Do you hate awesome things?

~8~ Rag and bone men: A lot of Americans (myself included, at one time) tend to have an anachronistic view of Britain. Those who have never been here don't fully grasp the concept of it as a modern country. They expect a quaint little isle full of cheeky chappies and comedy aristocrats all milling about in crowded, coal-dusted Dickensian markets.
Quite depressingly, that's not at all what it's like here.
In Wales especially. A former lecturer of mine once described the people of South Wales as "all the Americans who didn't get on the boat." In Cardiff city centre you will find KFC and McDonalds and Burger King and Starbucks and TGI Fridays and Ruby Tuesdays and an abundance of obese people in jeans and T-shirts who don't trust muslims. Were it not for the accents and people's fondness for playing shit dance music on their phones, one might think it was just a mid-size U.S. city on a rainy day. Sometimes people ask me about suffering culture shock; I tell them I am disappointed not to have encountered more of it.
But there was a time when Britain had a more unique personality and perhaps the recession can be thanked for the apparent return of one of its facets: the rag and bone man. Or, at least, he has returned to my neighbourhood.
From time to time a bloke will drive through the area shouting, "Iron! Any ol' scrap of iron," in a sing-song way. To break up monotony he will shout out the names of appliances he'd be happy to take off your hands. I have no idea whether he gives you money for these things, if perhaps you could get involved in a witty, banter-filled, haggling battle with him over the value of your bedframe, but I love the fact that he exists. I want more of this sort of thing.
And perhaps I'll get my wish. The BBC reports that chimney sweeps are coming back. Additionally, Britons are returning to the old-school tradition of eating lots of meat pies. I am all for it. Hooray old-school Britain. Let's get rid of modern toilets while we're at it.

~8~ My new phone: A few months ago, Apple launched iOS4, which instantly turned my super-awesome iPhone into a slow and substandard piece of shit. Quite honestly, I felt betrayed. The whole reason people pay more for Apple products is because of the promise of quality. Or, at least, that is why I have been willing to pay more. I realise that some people do so simply because Apple products are trendy.
I had been quite fond of my iPhone up to that point. But when the iOS4 upgrade was released, it seemed clear to me that its designers had put little to no thought into how it would affect the 3G and the 3GS versions of the phone. This new software basically demanded that I buy new hardware. At the same time, you'll remember, there were all sorts of reports about failures with iPhone 4.
It's possible that Señor Phin will accuse me of being too quick to jump onto the Apple backlash bandwagon, but, as I say, I felt betrayed. I felt that after years of building a reputation for reliable, quality products, Apple was now resting on that reputation rather than actually making such products. So, as soon as my contract was up, I scrapped my iPhone.
I replaced it with an HTC Desire, a phone with a name that sounds like a gay bar. The phone runs the Android operating system, and came free with my new service plan, which costs me roughly £10 less a month and is far superior to what I had. There are a few minor complaints (mainly that I had gotten used to using certain iPhone apps that I can't find an exact replacement for in Android Market), but for the most part I am really happy with the phone. The biggest drawback is that it is a serious battery whore; don't take this phone camping.

~8~ My new internet provider: Well, I'm sort of loving this. Around the time my iPhone was giving me the rage, I found myself suddenly no longer willing to suffer another technological frustration: the inadequacy of BT's broadband service. It was slow and had a tendency to crash at least once a fortnight.
Use of the term "broadband" is misleading in this country, because all but one provider in Britain run internet down the phone line. Only one company, Virgin, offers internet via coaxial cable. On a side note, here's a tip for our friends on the Island of Rain: when those annoying Sky ass-hats come to your door (why are they always from Australia (b), by the way?) you need only use the term "coaxial cable" and it will signal that you know far more than they do. You will have won and shortly they will have no choice but to leave and go bother your neighbours.
Anyway, for those of you working for Sky, coaxial cable is that kind of cable used for television, with a wee strip of copper running through it. You can also use it to deliver the internet more effectively than via phone line. If you are an American without any friends, accessing the internet via cable means you can get rid of your phone line and save £12 a month.
I'm loving saving that money but I'm not really loving Virgin's service. It is no faster than BT and has a wee tendency to lock up. My complaints to Virgin's customer service wing have gone unanswered. This sort of thing is why the empire fell, Britain.

~8~ Hanging out at Starbucks: When I called BT to cancel my service, the Scottish bloke I spoke to seemed personally hurt that I was leaving the fold. So, he may have conveniently misheard when I said I wanted service stopped a week and half from the date I was calling. Instead, it ceased roughly 45 minutes after I hung up the phone. That left me with no internets while I waited for Virgin to send a bloke out to invest three minutes taking a router out of a box and connecting it to the pre-existing cable I had told them was there. Are there actually people out there who are as technologically useless as media companies seem to think we all are, and so actually need technicians coming out to connect routers? UK internet providers seem to think we, the great unwashed masses, believe the web to be magic.
But I digress. In order to access that magic I decided to turn to the reliability of corporate America. Yes, Starbucks is evil. But, it's an evil that offers free Wi-Fi. It's an evil that trains good-looking people to be nice to me. That's hard to beat. I mean, I suppose I could instead pay a prostitute to prop up my comically fragile ego but it would definitely cost more than a grande signature hot chocolate and I probably wouldn't be able to log into Facebook ("Chris is wondering what the symptoms for syphilis are").
So, on several occasions I found myself heading out to the corporate coffee giant's only stand-alone store in the Cardiff area, i.e., the only one with its own parking lot. That makes it more posh. And if I'm going to fork over exorbitant amounts of money for hot chocolate, I want to feel as far away from the working classes as possible.
To my surprise, I enjoyed it. I realise that sitting at a coffee shop with a laptop is insufferably cliché. I might as well get a pair of thick-frame glasses and start jotting things down in my Moleskine notebook (c). But, see, I don't get out much. And in Britain especially, there are few places for a fella to go on his own without him feeling terribly awkward and out of place. At Starbucks, for less than £5 I can sit and listen to the chatter of people, watch them, imagine their stories and not feel so much like a ghost.

~8~ The kindness of others: At the moment, though, I'm staying away from Starbucks. And everywhere else, for that matter. Even reasonably priced hot chocolate would be out of the question. Financially I'm in a pretty bad way, having had to ask my parents to help me pay October's rent. I'm 34 years old, yo. Meanwhile, all my friends in the U.S. own homes and are having babies. Life; I'm doing it wrong.
But fortunately for me, I have these incredibly good looks and a likeable personality. So, a few people have been willing to keep me afloat. There are, of course, my parents, who have sent money and have refrained from offering too many lectures on the subject of behaving like an adult. Additionally, my next-door neighbours continue to be awesome. Last week, my neighbour twice brought me dinner. She also gave me a mix to make cupcakes.
A number of you out there in the interwebs have also been eager to lend a hand. Kim even offered to PayPal me some money. There is no need for that. If you feel like giving me money, buy my book. That way you actually get something out of it. If you've already bought my book, you've already helped me out plenty. Thank you.

~8~ Joining a choir: With my tedious knowledge base of the country's history, culture and indigenous language, I am often accused by people born and raised in Wales of being more Welsh than they are. Sometimes I think I do all these things simply so the irony will be unavoidable when I am eventually deported. To further ensure that fact I have recently joined a choir. If I were to take a job at a coal mine or a slate quarry, I would officially become the most Welsh person ever.
The choir thing was a bit random, though. Someone I know from university was aware of my constant complaint of not fitting in and put it together with her choir director's constant complaint of not having enough male voices. Shazaam, I found myself sitting among the basses of Welsh-language choir CF1. It's early days yet -- I've only been to two rehearsals thus far -- so they might decide to give me the boot. But, I'm slightly embarrassed to admit, I am enjoying it. In my teenage years I was part of a marching band (d). Infinite geekery though it was, I loved being a part of it because it meant being part of something greater than myself -- one part of this great big sound. Being a part of something like that, the gratification is instant; I can hear that I belong. Whether I belong socially is another question. I've been too afraid to find out, choosing to quietly disappear at the end of rehearsal rather than go out to the pub with everyone.
Perhaps that will end up being something to love about October.

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(a) Thesaurus for the win!

(b) That's not to say that Australians are ass-hats, just the ones trying to sell Sky door-to-door.

(c) There are Moleskine covers for iPhone and iPad. Whoever thought that up deserves a slow and painful death.

(d) Dude! Are they seriously playing Led Zeppelin songs?! I am jealous. Kind of a step up the coolness ladder from the "Beer Barrel Polka" that we used to play.

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