Sunday, March 6, 2011

Eight things I loved about February

It's been a while since I've done an Eight Things post. Hell, it's been a while since I've done a post. There have been good things in my life these past few months but enough negative things that I allowed them too often to overshadow the positive. Winter in Britain seems to do that to me; it is like The Machine in The Princess Bride. Time gets lost.

Eventually, though, the days stretch longer and I start to feel -- slowly, slowly -- like a person again. So, I'll make that first on my list of eight things I loved about the month previous.

~8~ Later sunsets: I really should get a holiday home in Spain or some such place. It annoys me to no end that I am so susceptible to weather patterns, but I can't deny that simply having a day without blanket-thick cloud cover can make all the difference in my outlook. In British winter those days are few and far between. I have lived in places dramatically colder and places where the rain falls considerably harder but British Winter wins the war of attrition on one's soul through its lack of daylight. The days are short and grey, each blending into another. It is like a three-month-long Tuesday. Christmas breaks it up a bit. In the analogy of an endless Tuesday, Christmas and New Year's are like a nice lunch break at Wagamama. Which is pleasant, but you're still stuck in a Tuesday. February, though, takes one through to about 4:15 p.m.

~8~ Settling into my new home: I moved in with Helen in mid-January. Roughly a week later, Lidia joined us and thereafter I spent a fortnight humming the "Three's Company" theme tune. To complete the circle, the plant in my room is named Larry.
I'll admit I wasn't immensely pleased when I first moved into the House of Good Touch (I'm still trying to work out a nickname for our household). It felt like a step down. Previously I had been living off my father's money in my own house, now I was living off my father's money in the house of some woman I had never met. Obviously, my father had failed me.
I find myself now, though, genuinely enjoying my little life. If I had a women's underwear fetish I would be in heaven. But as is, I am simply quite content. In my old house I spoke quite frequently of being cold. It is never cold here. The kettle is always boiling a new mug of tea, hugs are distributed in abundance, there is always someone to talk to. In a letter home not too long ago, I named the things I love in life, among them creeks and rivers and women.
This house I share with two women is roughly 100 yards from the River Taff. On particularly quiet nights I can hear it pushing its way out toward the Severn Channel and then into the wider world. In the trees on the river's banks there is an owl that calls out and somehow makes me feel connected and not so terribly fearful that my life has gone to hell.

~8~ LTFD: In light of my awesome life, Jenn and I came up with the phrase "Living the fucking dream," which we've abbreviated simply to, "LTFD," in order to hide the offensive word. Helen, being a teacher, will sometimes say, "Living the Friday dream," which is less offensive but retains the spirit of the phrase. Either way, it's my favourite thing to say at the moment and I'm hoping to get everyone using it so I can sue for copyright violation and become rich enough to build my own Scrooge McDuck-style money swimming pool.

~8~ Visiting the thermal spa in Bath: Several thousand years ago -- before the world even existed, according to creationists -- Celtic peoples discovered hot water bubbling out of the ground in England and decided that was a pretty special thing. It was. It still is. The thermal springs in Bath are the only to be found on this island of rain and have been popular with just about everyone who has ever come across them. Just about. I'd assume the slaves the Romans put to work stoking fires for steam rooms were less than impressed. But they're gone now, replaced by languid teenagers who check their phones whilst you lounge about in a thermal pool, imagining you're Joanna Lumley.
In late February, Jenn and I went to the New Royal Bath to celebrate her birthday and I had so much fun that all the adjectives I can think to use feel cliché. It was the first time I had ever been to a spa in my life, so, of course, I kept walking around feeling I was in some sort of movie. To that end, I was somewhat upset at the distinct lack of camp-gay South American massage therapists, but my disappointment was countered by the open-air rooftop pool. With the natural thermal waters helping to battle against British chill one can sit and look out across the beauty of Bath and beyond to the surrounding English countryside. It is ridiculously awesome, stupidly great. And, actually, there may be plenty of gay Guatemalan masseuses; I didn't get any of the spa treatments. Jenn got a massage from a woman named Lucia and spent the rest of the afternoon not really being able to form complete sentences.

~8~ Getting a bit of work: I have not held a full-time job in almost five years. I sometimes wonder-worry whether I am even capable of being a full-time employee anymore, whether I have the mental acumen to work that hard. There is some truth to what right-wing types say when arguing against welfare: not working makes you lazy. Of course, in my case, the word "lazy" could quite easily be replaced by the word, "content," or the phrase, "less inclined to break into sudden fits of hysterical screaming," but the financial result is the same. Not working makes you poor.
I have thus far been unsuccessful in finding a full-time job. Partially the economy is to blame, partially my desire to stay in Cardiff is to blame, partially my desire to have my Welsh degree be something other than a hilariously expensive joke is to blame. One of the things I have not loved about the past several months, and, indeed, one of the root causes of my falling out of habit of noting things that make me happy has been coming to terms with the terrible reality of Welsh as a skill. It is not useful.
We tell learners that speaking Welsh will lead to a good, high-paying job. This is a lie. A lie created by people who are desperate for you to sign up for their Welsh courses because they got a degree in Welsh and then discovered there wasn't anything one could actually do with the language other than teach it. Take a look at this website. Take note of how many jobs are available. These are all the full-time Welsh-speaking jobs in the whole of Wales. In a nation of almost 3 million people, there are seven advertised jobs -- two of which are temporary positions, filling in for people on maternity leave.
As with my Irish ancestors some 150 years ago, the answer to employment woe has come from across the Atlantic. I have been signed on to write a series of articles for a U.S. news syndicate. But unlike my great-great grandfather, I need not be on American soil to benefit from her bounty. As a matter of fact, my present location is what got me the gig. The articles I've been hired to write are about Wills and Kate. I'm a royal correspondent, bitches.
Oh, the places you'll go.

~8~ Hiss Golden Messenger: Jenn and I went to see Hiss Golden Messenger, aka Mike Taylor, when he played a show in Cardiff, supported by Jenn's friend and all-around lovely Welshy Cate Le Bon. The North Carolina native sings the kind of roots folk that is perfect for slipping into an easy three-beer nap in the late afternoon. Or perhaps it is music to listen to in the wee hours of the morning as your campfire is dying out and the cold starts to seep through your summer sweater. When everything is quiet and the warmth of the fire comes more from the sound of cracks and pops of dying embers than from the heat they produce. If you don't like Hiss Golden Messenger, you don't like freedom.

~8~ Wales Shark: A few weeks ago, randomly, I found myself putting together a stand-up routine that I will never deliver, because I don't do stand-up. One of my jokes was this: "I have a master's degree in Welsh. I don't really have any jokes about that. Primarily because I have a master's degree in Welsh. That's not funny, it's tragic."
Humour about the Welsh language is a bit like Civil War humour. It tends not to work very well. Welsh speakers have spent so long, and spent so much energy, defending their language that it is difficult for them to allow humour (which is always an attack on something, no matter how mildly) in or around the language. Being funny about Welsh people is easy, but being funny about their indigenous language is really, really hard. In fact, before the Wales Shark videos, a series of sketches-cum-Welsh-lessons on YouTube, I had never seen it done successfully. The humour is perceptive, well above the usual "I'm Welsh, me," stuff one too often has to suffer from comics in Wales. And sometimes it's simply brilliant, such as the observation that the dragon on the Wales flag faces backward, and this pretty much encapsulates Wales as a nation. It is a place that too often looks back on its past than forward to what it could be.

~8~ The Shaytards: The Shaytards are an internet phenomenon. Two years ago, a guy from Idaho decided it would be a good idea to film scenes from every day of his life and post it to YouTube. Now, roughly 800,000 people a day check into see what he and his family are up to. The answer is: not much. The Shaytards are simply a quintessentially Mormon (and very Americana) family in Boise, Idaho. If TV executives were sitting around brainstorming ideas for programmes people would want to watch every single day, it's likely this sort of thing would come pretty low on the list. But, effectively, that is why it works. Shay (real name Shane) and his family are very much like people every American knows. They are not super cool or super beautiful (though, Mommytard isn't exactly hard to look at), they are just people living their lives. It is a somewhat extraordinary life because the success of their daily video blogs have meant they receive enough money from YouTube that Shay has no other job. But they maintain a sense of the genuine; they are like actual people. And there is something addictive about them.
I have been so enamoured by the Shaytards that I was inspired to mimic them: in December I started up my own daily video blog, which I do in Welsh. Considerably fewer people watch my videos.


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed that.
Where can I read your Royal blather?


Anonymous said...

"We tell learners that speaking Welsh will lead to a good, high-paying job."

Really? All I've seen is something along the lines of 'it can help you find a job'.
People do claim that learning European languages will lead to high paying jobs, but this is absolute rubbish unless you are a chemical engineer or something and need German for a highly paid job in Germany. It's clear that jobs with languages don't pay as well as jobs in science and technology.