Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Eight things I loved about July

~ 8 ~ Setting a date: July 20, 2013. That's the wedding date for Jenn and I (or is it "Jenn and me"?) Obviously we had a rough idea of dates when looking for venues in June, but didn't really nail things down until a month later. It is a weird thing to try to plan something so far in advance; it doesn't quite feel real. The tremendous amount of time between now and then lulls us (or, at least, me) into a weird almost belief that, somehow, it will all come together with little to no effort on our part, and we'll have no trouble paying for it. In certain ways, the wedding feels like when Jenn and I sit around and daydream about what we'd do/where we'd go if we won the lottery. But I am sure it will start to feel a little more real in August, after we sit down with organisers and caterers and so on -- the thought of which I find mildly terrifying.
Next week we'll get an actual sense of how much things will cost and I anticipate this knowledge will inspire little fits of depression and a panicked desire to make sudden, drastic changes ("OK, new plan! Everyone brings their own lunch!").

~ 8 ~ Summer weather: I understand that rain is an inherent part of life in Britain. I get that. But there has been far, far too much of it this summer. Through May, June, and most of July, there was little to do but sit inside, staring at grey, soaked streets, eating cupcakes and slowly putting on weight. Or, at least, that's what I did. The early months of summer were wholly miserable and had the effect of ratcheting my homesickness -- like arthritis in that it is inflamed by unpleasant weather -- to intolerable levels. Thankfully, summery weather final arrived in the last week or so of July. It got hot enough that Jenn and I slept without a duvet; I was able to sit outside in a T-shirt; coming home from work one day, I was actually compelled to take off my coat and tie.
People here responded, of course, with a kind of madness. A frantic competition began amongst many Britons to see who could get skin cancer first. People flooded beer gardens and drank through to the next morning. And far too many men who had no business doing so took their shirts off. People on this tiny island lose all sense of decorum when the sun shines. That is probably because warm weather is so rare one never gets a chance to get used to it. There is no opportunity to establish a kind of normalcy.
Already the good weather has faded. As I write this, cars splash through puddles outside, and I am back to wearing at least two layers of clothing.

~ 8 ~ Hiking in the Brecon Beacons: I kept my shirt on (for the most part) during the warm weather, but was still keen to make the most of it. On July's penultimate weekend, Jenn and I took the train up to Merthyr Tydfil, and walked from there into Brecon Beacons National Park. Merthyr's proximity to such natural beauty underlines what a miserable failure of a town it is; the opportunity to benefit from tourism is right fucking there and yet they do absolutely nothing but lament an industrial past that ceased before most of the town's parents were born.
Our stated goal -- stated mostly because we are horrible at judging distances -- was to walk all the way to the top of Pen y Fan, the highest peak in southern Britain, and back, in an afternoon. We got nowhere close. I think such an epic trek (about 20 miles, roundtrip) might be possible were we to wake up particularly early and actually manage to stay on the right path, but we did neither of these things -- cheerfully wandering about a mile or two off track, into the middle of hillocky nowhere, before realising our mistake.
But I was quite happy that we did. We ate our simple lunch, cheese sandwiches and crisps, in a meadow where the only thing we could hear was the sound of wind pushing through nearby trees -- no cars, no aeroplanes, no other people making noise. Those of you playing along at home have no idea how hard it is to find such a thing on this tiny, crowded island. There are people everywhere. Usually that doesn't bother me so much, I am more a city person by nature, but occasionally the constant lack of silence wears on me.
Britain has its breathing spaces, but I find them frustratingly difficult to access without car or great deals of money. I suppose, though, the same is true anywhere; part of the reason a place doesn't have people is that it is not easy to get to.

~ 8 ~ Swimming in the sea: The sunny weather persisted into the final weekend of July, when Jenn and I went to the Gower for a day with her brother, his fiancée, and her son. The Gower, for those of you playing along outside Wales, is a peninsula just to the west of Swansea, designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty, which means that it is a part of Britain where people are desperate to establish caravan parks. It is also an area beautiful enough that Jenn's grandparents have made an annual visit for the past two decades -- participating in that very strange kind of British camping where people crowd together on an open field, no more than six feet from each other, for a week or more at a time.
On a late Sunday morning, we packed five people into a two-door Mini and trundled off to meet Jenn's grandparents at a pub on the Gower. Afterward, we went to the campsite where they were staying and wandered down to one of the sandy beaches that are one of the main reasons so many hundreds of thousands of people visit each year. The sun was out, but the warm weather of days previous had ebbed slightly and the wind was pushing along at approximately 8,000 mph. Jenn didn't care; she wanted to swim in the sea. 
And, deep down in my cynical soul, there was a kid part of me that wanted to swim, too. So, we put on our suits (a somewhat traumatic experience for me because my formerly loose-fitting suit was now snug) and ran full speed into the Ungodly Cold North Atlantic. Sit in a tub full of ice cubes and you will start to get a sense of how cold the water was. I spent the first several minutes involuntarily shouting, "Hunh! Hunh!" as my body kept trying to develop the ability to levitate above the surface.
Eventually, though, I lost all feeling in my extremities and it was lovely. The sun shone down on us and Jenn laughed and splashed around and I thought: "Well, if I can't go to Minnesota this summer, at least I have this."

~ 8 ~ Shakespeare: For no apparent reason other than to prove they can, the BBC in July decided to air four new productions of Shakespeare plays: Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V. The plays all fit together, of course, and the BBC produced them under the banner of The Hollow Crown. Money spent on bringing in top-level actors resulted in a lack of budget for convincing crowd scenes (the Battle of Agincourt, for example, apparently having been fought between only about 30 men), but the productions were still incredibly good. This is one of those Why Britain is Better things: it has a broadcasting body the produces new versions of classic literature. When was the last time an American broadcaster did such a thing?
The whole thing reminded me of my persistent wish to see a production at the Globe.

~ 8 ~ The Opening Ceremony: There was the Queen jumping out of a helicopter, a Mary Poppins army, British industrialists doing the macarena, and sequences with people in wires were kept to a tolerable minimum. I am inclined to say the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games were the best I've seen in a long time. It showed sides of Britain that are sometimes left out of outsiders' understanding of the place -- pride in the NHS, for example. The British are a frustratingly self-effacing people, but this was a vision of the country with which many Britons were comfortable. I know that because my British fiancée and I had a few friends around to watch the ceremony and we were all cheering. A friend of mine who has been sceptical of the Olympics apparently changed his mind upon watching the opening ceremony.
Sticking with my long-standing tradition of having cheesily themed opening ceremony dinners based on the host location, we made fish and chips and mushy peas, then washed it down with Pimms and various British ales. For dessert, our friend, Laura, brought a kind of deconstructed apple crumble in the form of homemade ice cream.
I had so much fun. It reminded me a little of going over to friends' houses in the United States to watch football. Everyone was commenting and making jokes, and just having a good time; the thing on TV becomes almost secondary to the fun had watching it.
"They should do this sort of thing more often," Mrs. Phin said. "Maybe it would cost too much to do all the time, but perhaps once a year -- for Christmas."

~ 8 ~ The Olympic Games: Dude, I love me some 'lympics. I'll never fully understand why; I just do. I think I admire most the athletes of obscure sports because, having learned Welsh to a high level, I can somewhat relate to that sense of sinking endless hours of effort into things that others don't really give a damn about. By that analogy, I think I can also relate to the people who try so hard and come in fifth.
At the moment, though, I am really into watching the physical sports, like judo and boxing. I am fascinated by judo, especially, because it looks like the sort of thing that would never be fun. Not ever. With most things, you can see how a person might have gotten into that activity. For example, you can imagine a swimmer's career beginning with a love of splashing in the pool, or a cyclist starting out as little kid who loves to go fast. But judo, at what point does a person think: "You know what would be fun? Mashing my fingers and getting thrown around by my shirt. Wheee!"
I'm impressed by the fact that judo competitors have taken this wholly un-fun thing and become really good at it.
I think my only complaint about the Olympic Games is the endless parade of blokes who look better than I do. Yes, I realise the reason they have such perfect bodies is that they do little else but train, but I don't care. It's hard on my ego. I'm looking forward to watching things like shot put to make myself feel better.

~ 8 ~ Writing: At the moment, I have a little more than one chapter to write before I can claim to have finished a rough draft of my book. I think I am still on track to meet my self-imposed deadline of the second weekend of August. Unfortunately, I will be nowhere near done at that point. As part of the editing process, I'm planning to eliminate an entire chapter. It is exhausting, but I love that I am doing this. Hopefully it will pay off.


Brian said...

I plan on going to see the 10th anniversary remount of Twelfth Night at the Globe, which I happened to see 10 years ago, at the Globe. You and Jenn should come with.

Wierdo said...

I know what you mean about wedding organizing. I fully suspect that 3 months before the wedding, I'll suddenly remember that I need a dress. At the moment I'm quite happy looking at crafty things and thinking "oooh, might do that"

To my dissapointment, I've been told that "bring your own chair" is not done at weddings!

Banksy said...

Been a while since I've visited these parts, but congratulations both of you.