~8~ Jenn's birthday: Easily, the highlight of the month was celebrating Jenn's 29th birthday -- not so much for what we did but simply for the fact that Jenn is awesome. It's fun to celebrate the people you care about, even when your method of celebration isn't all that creative. As we did last year, we celebrated Jenn's birthday with a trip to the Thermae Spa in Bath.
Bath's name, of course, comes from the fact that it is home to natural hot springs that have served as a draw since the pre-Roman age. For a while, though, it wasn't actually possible to bathe in said waters because the British people are like that: people come to a place for thousands of years to experience something and then you just sort of close it down for a few decades. It's like not having music in New Orleans -- just a museum where you can look at musicians.
But all is well these days. My favourite part of the Thermae Spa is the rooftop pool. It's a pool on a rooftop, yo. Does anyone know if we have such a thing in Wales? Hell, do we even have any outdoor pools in Wales?
After lounging in the rooftop pool (and mineral pool and steam rooms) until our fingertips were wrinkled, we went to dinner at a Tibetan/Nepali place that is now toward the top of the ever-expanding list of reasons why I love Bath. Someday, Historic Bath, I will make loads of money and live in you. I will have a house near the centre of town and friends will come to visit and tell me that my life is like a film.
The next day, a number of Jenn's friends came over for a birthday lunch that dragged into a birthday afternoon, a birthday dinner and a birthday evening. One of the things I love about Jenn's friends, Clint and Laura, specifically, is they remind me of characters from Hemingway's life.
~8~ Writing: I know I listed writing as a thing I loved about January, but I was still writing in February and still loving it. In February I found a bit more of my stride and the half-term break allowed me a week off teaching to focus on the book that I am now certain will actually become a book. When I wrote The Way Forward (only £1.97?! What a deal!) and Cwrw Am Ddim I had a belief that there existed some magical word-count point of no return: a number of words which, once written, would ensure completion of the project. Because who would write, say, 25,000 words of something and then just walk away?
This guy. I did that with the never-to-be-completed Sgidiau Caerdydd (your loss, Welshies) in 2010. To some extent, I feel that action initiated or, at least, exacerbated my very long stint of writer's block. Each time I would start in on something, some part of me would think: "Hmm, what if I abandon this project, too? Well, in that case, why am I even starting it?"
I seem to have a good head of steam for Tales of a Toffee-Covered Llama, however, a clear idea of where it's going, and a relative sense of how long the whole thing will take. Knowing how a book ends and having at least a vague idea of when I'll get there helps in its writing, I think. I write best when I've drawn a good map. I have long said that if I were to ever teach creative writing I would spend a certain amount of time focusing on the task of plotting shit out.
~8~ The good thing I can't tell you about: It's a secret, bitches. I promise to tell you later. Feel free to offer guesses in the comments.
~8~ Masterchef: I'll be honest with you, my brothers and sisters from other mothers and misters: February wasn't the most exciting month. Jenn and I spent the bulk of it fretting about money and I'm pretty sure the sun only came out once. Finding eight things to love about it is a challenge. Writing and celebrating Jenn were enough that I will not have this February eliminated once I become President of Time, but it was not so great that I shall enter it into The Great Book of Awesome Months. I struggle to think of eight actually loveable things. February was a month of muddling through. One way we did so was occasionally losing ourselves in unchallenging television.
Masterchef, for those of you playing along at home, is an example of such television. It is a programme in which a great slough of amateur cooks are whittled down to one, who is then given a kind of trophy that looks very much like that old paperclip fella in Microsoft Word. Each of them insists that cooking is their "passion" and that it "means everything" to them that they win and that they hope to one day open a restaurant. I always find this last part to be especially ridiculous. Do you know anyone who runs a restaurant? They are the picture of stress and woe. And here are a load of people who can't even remember to put their damn panna cotta in the blast chiller on time. Fools, I tell you. Damned fools.
But Jenn and I enjoyed cuddling up on the sofa and watching it all.
~8~ The long train journey from Penarth to Ebbw Vale: You probably wouldn't identify a five-hour roundtrip commute as something to love. And often it's not. Such as when I'm standing on a cold train platform at 11 p.m., wishing I could just be home with my fiancée and watching bad TV. But there is all that time to read and think, which I have come to really value. I like finding a seat over one of the rattling, inefficient heating vents on the train and simply getting lost in a narrative -- my own or someone else's -- as South Wales blurs past. It is not the sort of luxury or style I envisioned when I thought of myself living in Europe -- Arriva Trains Wales is the Dodge Aries of public transportation -- but it is pleasant in its own rundown way.
~8~ Parrot and Olivier in America, by Peter Carey: One of the books read on those long journeys up and down the Ebbw valley was Parrot and Olivier in America, a book about a French aristocrat visiting 1830s America along with his begrudging servant. It is a book I had wanted to read for a while, since I heard it reviewed on an Economist podcast. I am a total mark for the Economist. They sell themselves as being a magazine for intelligent sophisticates and I fall for it like those boneheads who vote Republican because they see it as a party of the rich and they want to be rich. The Economist sells itself as something for the intelligent middle-class, and I buy it because I want to be intelligent middle-class. Well, actually, I don't buy it; I can't afford it. I listen to the free podcasts. And on that podcast I once heard them talking about Parrot and Olivier in America and decided it was a book I wanted to read because people with posh accents were talking about it. A few years later, I finally did read it -- on a Kindle, on a train, in Europe -- and I felt very good about myself. Although, I'm not entirely sure it was all that great a book.
~8~ Blogging just a tiny bit more: I seem to be managing a blog post a week these days. It is not always gold, I'll admit, but I suppose I don't really mind since the number of people reading could fit easily into a Ford Aerostar (two economy car jokes in one blog post! Boom!). As I am happy to be writing a book, I am happy to be producing extraneous stuff. My mind is working, yo, I am alive and not dead. Which is usually a pretty good thing. Unless you are Franco. If you are Franco, you really should be dead -- Spain buried you more than 30 years ago and they aren't all that fond of you anymore. Go back to being dead, sir. It's best for all involved.
(Wouldn't it be funny if my blog was the first point of reference for zombie dictators?)
~8~ Breathing: I search my memory each month to think of things to put in these Eight Things posts, but there are often simple things left out. Unlike Franco, I am not dead. And I'm sure I'm not thankful enough for this simple fact. I have a body and mind that usually function relatively well; I have a beautiful fiancée; I have food to eat; I have a place to sleep. Air comes in and air goes out -- all the time, never stopping. The other day, the sun was shining and I found myself walking down the street humming the chorus to Brother Ali's "Fresh Air" and thought, too, of the song's first line: "I'm the luckiest son of a bitch that ever lived." In our own ways, many of us are, indeed, pretty lucky. I am, too. The air keeps flowing in and out of my lungs. I watch crappy television and rumble along on outdated trains and dream and read and think and live. What's not to love?