Sunday 22 May 2011

The First Day of the Rest of the World...

So, I can now legitimately answer the question about what I would do if I thought the world was going to end today. I would sleep in late, fart around at home for an excessive amount of time, and then go to Ikea with David to look for a dining table and some shelves. At Ikea, I would eat too many meatballs (as it would likely be my last meal, and Ikea meatballs are yummy), and would also make sure to have some of the deim cake, as that's also really yummy and appropriate for the last day of the world. Slightly marring the occasion, we would differ on taste as far as the furniture went, but end-times can be trying, so one must expect that. As 6pm and the end draws nigh, I would realize there wasn't enough time left for me to hit the tanning salon before it closed, and would rush to get to the bike store, so I could at least ride my fixed bike (with the new frame) into the final sunset. Priorities... 6pm came and went, pretty much without incident (I was waiting on the platform at London Bridge for the train home, with my bike - it needs some adjustment before it can be ridden into any sunsets). So, slightly disappointing on all counts, but, to celebrate the world's continued existence, I went home, made dinner (steak and veggies) and then we all sat around and watched too many episodes of Big Bang Theory. Not a bad way to bring in the new, still-here world, I think!

Wednesday 18 May 2011


So, in the nearly eight years I've been here, I've finally managed to fill up the pages of my passport, or nearly so anyway. This would likely not be a problem, as this country is perfectly happy to stamp anywhere and everywhere, and as I've applied now for a British passport (finally), which will negate the need for stamps as I travel around Europe. Problem is, this takes a long period of time, and requires I send in my American passport. I'm off to Germany next Thursday, which sort of requires I have a passport, of some sort. Anyway, the problem is that the Germans, being the lovely anal retentive folk that they are, seem to have this thing for always stamping the 'In' stamp next to the 'Out' stamp, and I don't have any ins left next to my outs (always a problem). So, in the interest of not being told 'nein' at the border, I forked over $82 to get an additional 24 pages stitched into my passport (thus making my weenie American passport as big as a hefty European pasport). To do this while in London requires that one visit the American Embassy, which is about as cuddly and friendly as, well, something not very cuddly and friendly. Outside the gates, I have to show ID. I then wait in this line, from which I am called into a rather reinforced looking antebuilding by this sort of door troll (English, actually), where I show my ID again. All of my belongings go through the x-ray and I walk through the metal detector. I am not allowed to bring in any electronic devices of any sort (fortunately, I new this before, so left my phone behind, but they do actually have a phone-check where one can leave one's phone if one was naughty and forgot). After being suitably cleared and telling them my business, I am allowed to leave the antebuilding (you can't leave the back if the door in the front is open). I turn left out of the door and walk towards the corner of the building (still outside), towards the first man with a machine gun. I turn right at the corner and walk towards the steps - towards the second man with the machine gun. Up the steps to the nice (English) ladies at the reception desk, where I receive my number, then up another set of steps into a large waiting room with many chairs in rows, where I sit to wait my turn. Fortunately, as I live in the UK, I am used to spending inordinate amounts of time waiting around in such dreary rooms, and it actually goes fairly quickly. I look around at the decor, which was probably pretty cool looking back in 1960, when it was built, but it's looking a little tired now. Apparently, it's not actually American soil, because the Duke of Westminster refused to sell it to the Americans. Still, it doesn't stop the embassy staff from refusing to pay the London Congestion Charge - they see it as a foreign tax, and therefore have declared themselves exempt. They are the worst, apparently, in terms of unpaid tickets. Charming. Anyway, I handed over my passport, and returned today for the same routine to pick it up.

So, you'd think that for $82 they would make some vague attempt to have it look nice. Ha! Yes, the new pages are stitched into the book, but they aren't even the same size! They are substantially smaller, and each page has some scenic drawing of the USA with some banal or nauseating quotation on top of it. My fave is from Ronald Reagan. Apparently, perhaps in a fit of Cold War busting delirium, he said, "We live in a world lit by lightning. So much is changing and will change, but so much endures and transcends time". Excuse me, what? That's the sort of thing one would say after a few too many bong hints, or possibly something from "Deep thoughts, by Jack Handy". Apparently that was from his second inaugural address. Actually, it sort of reminds me of this famous quote by another famous American:

If I could turn back time
If I could find a way
I'd take back those words that hurt you
And you'd stay
If I could reach the stars
I'd give them all to you
Then you'd love me, love me
Like you used to do

But I digress... (Might need to egress, as I'm definitely not going to progress...)

We're having a drought here. Apparently it's the driest in like 100 years, and, to be honest, things are looking pretty crispy and the weather has been generally fabulous. If it were CA I wouldn't worry, but this being England, the vegetation starts looking pretty sad pretty quickly, and apparently crops are on the verge of failure. I'm sure it's not climate change though, even though we just had the warmest spring on record... Hmm.

Oh yeah, and I forgot - David and I voted. It was our very first vote as British citizens, and took approximately 10 seconds, as it was a simple yes/no referendum. Very simple - just two nice ladies with a sheet of paper with our names on it. They gave us each a small sheet of paper and a pencil and we put a big 'X' in the box, folded it and put it in the ballot box. No touch screen voting here, thank you!

And finally - David's mother was here for about two weeks and we actually didn't fight! It's only taken 12 years, but we actually got along. I suppose some of it is that both of us have mellowed in our dotage, some of it is down to me just accepting that things are as they are, but whatever it was, it was pretty nice. I never thought I'd say that...

Right - must make my lunch for tomorrow and then head to bed.

Monday 2 May 2011

Biking through Welshest Wales...

So, I got back last night from a mostly fantastic two day bike ride from north to south Wales. Two days, 150 miles and almost two miles of climbing. I took the train on Saturday from here to Bangor, on the north coast of Wales. I spent that day cycling down through Snowdonia National Park to the town of Machynlleth (pronounced Makunthlith). I bought the train ticket quite early, so managed to get a first class seat, which is nice, as it tends to keep out a lot of the riffraff. I had the great privilege though of sitting across from two trainspotters, a small child and their dog. Dogs apparently aren't allowed in first class, but the train conductor was a weenie and didn't press the issue after his first complaint. The dog was actually fine. The trainspotters though- my god what a boring conversation they were having! I'd never eavesdropped on a trainspotting conversation before, and I don't think I probably ever will again! This was the first trip I'd actually seen trainspotters - people on bridges and along the tracks, peering at the train with binoculars. Wow - things really must be a bit boring in Wales (though there are a lot of sheep - can't be that boring! ;-) One of the more striking things about the coast of north Wales, besides the landscape being quite beautiful, is the number of trailer parks. I'd actually never seen so many trailer parks in my life!

Anyway, I got off the train at Bangor, then spent the next half hour or so trying to find a place that sold water. I ended up in the centre - lots of vaguely lardy people wandering about, several people that seemed to be sharing a rather shallow corner of the gene puddle, and a number speaking in Welsh, which is a language that consists mostly of consonants, and a dangerous number of Ls (for example...).

Not much to see in Bangor. So I set off towards Snowdonia - lots of very old, rounded mountaintops - I think it may, technically, be considered an extension of the Appalachians, though that might actually only pertain to the Highlands. I'm too lazy to Google it just now. Lots and lots of wind - lots of wind. And then I had a minor little potential disaster - I discovered that the increasing creaky noise around my seat was actually from a crack in the frame - the third frame with the same crack in the same place. I felt very alone in the world and very upset at that point, as there was just about dipshit I could actually do if my bike decided to fall apart out there, out in the middle of nowhere. So, after feeling sorry for myself for a while and texting David a few thousand times, I decided I wasn't going to allow it to ruin my trip and kept on going, though I was now pretty obsessed with the loud creaking noise and observed the size of the crack pretty constantly.

The rest of the day I cycled down the coast, past Harlech (the first place in the UK I ever visited on my own, 18 years ago). Last time I went there, you didn't have to pay to visit the castle (as there is actually nothing inside). Apparently, they realized they were missing an opportunity to make money. Oh well. It's still very pretty. From the outside. The last bit along the coast was heading east, along what is essentially a fjord, into an absurdly strong headwind, and then there was the slight matter of the 900 foot climb, followed by a pass, and then a long and quite beautiful descent to Machynlleth, a cute b&b, and a really tasty lamb dinner. I was very very very happy to get there, just before the sun set, bike still in one piece, and heinie, more or less, still attached.

The next day was approximately the same length, with a much earlier start, as I didn't have to take the morning train. I thought about shortening it slightly by cheating and taking the train part way, given the perilous state of both my bike and my posterior, but I "accidentally" missed the train, which forced me to do the entire 70 miles. The second day was through rolling farm country, whereas the first day had been mountainous. The funny thing is, the second day was actually much harder, because at least, in north Wales, they seem to understand the concept of a mountain pass - road follows a stream, more or less, over the lowest point in a range of hills or mountains, but in south wales, no, it's much more fun to put the road straight up and down the hill, even if there was a perfectly good valley alongside. It's a bit like England that way, and, to be honest, it looks much more like England - green and verdant grazing country. They speak less Welsh there as well, though I'm pretty sure they still hate the English as much. Everyone seems to hate the English in the United Kingdom. Even the English aren't always too keen on themselves, unless it comes to a sporting event or the royal wedding.

So I made it to the end without the bike collapsing in a big pile. Took the train back in first class, and had my own train car for quite a lot of the way! The bike is in the shop now. The next one is supposed to be the next size up - maybe that will keep it from breaking? I suppose this is my secret plan to get a new bike every year, or something. Sigh.

Oh, btw, just for the record, I watched the royal wedding - the whole thing, from start to finish. It was fab. The British do some things very well, and pomp and circumstance is one of them. I'm not a royalist - I think the whole notion is archaic and absurd, but the whole wedding was, as at least one announcer put it, "quite nice". How very British.

Less nice, I think, is the current reaction in the USA to OBL's supposed recent demise (I say supposed b/c I think the whole affair is steeped in enough bullshit to start a fertilizer factory, but that's another story). Standing on streets, shouting "USA, USA, USA!"??? How utterly revolting - if Americans were shown people in, oh, I don't know, Pakistan, doing exactly the same thing (but, obviously substituting for "USA"), how positive would the reaction be? Hmm. Anyway, I think the whole thing is suspicious in the extreme, but I suppose my suspicioun isn't going to change anything in the world, so I will just gripe about it and be done with it.

Oh, I almost forgot - photo location for Wales...

And a tiny bit of (very rare!) British patriotism...