Archive for August, 2008
Should the Catholic Church ever run low on cash(!), I’ve thought of a way they could generate some extra income.
The other day I read that it was a hundred years since the Democratic Party’s convention was in Denver. Which got me wondering where it had been held in other years. Then I checked where the Republicans had held their shindigs. Seems like Chicago is a popular town. Oh, I dunno why I waste time doing this stuff; it just gets in my head, then I have to do it.
Blue is Democratic, rusty orange for the other lot. Maybe I should’ve added labels for cities, but, I’m just gonna assume that you know which cities are where.
Didn’t really see much of the Olympics this time. Shame, really. China’s first place in the medals table breaks the fairly long-standing duopoly of the United States and Soviet Union (including the 1992 effort by the so-called Unified Team of former Soviet republics) being top dogs. In fact, it’s the first time since 1936 when Hitler’s Jolly Germans were the big winners. I do hope that doesn’t mean that China will be invading Poland in 2011.
Anyway, I’ve updated the chart that compares how the Soviet Union fared at the Olympics and how the former Soviet republics have fared separately. Seems like they’re getting better.
When, on my travels, people have asked where I’m from, I tend to get a blank face staring back at me. Nobody knows where Lincoln is. Even a lot of British people.
This is how I’ve answered the blank faces:
About an hour and a half from London.
About an hour and a half north of London.
In the north.
In the east.
In the Midlands.
In the East Midlands.
Near Manchester (relatively speaking it is, I guess).
More-or-less on the same latitude as Liverpool.
About an hour from the east coast.
In the middle of nowhere.
Something that I overheard at San Diego Zoo made me laugh yesterday when I saw that I’d written it down in a notebook. There’s a part of the zoo called Panda Canyon. I walked past a sign pointing to Panda Canyon near a couple with their two sons. The younger of the two – definitely pre-teen – saw the sign and said in with a withering, sarcastic tone of voice way beyond his years, “Oh, Panda Canyon… if you like seeing pandas in a canyon.”
Back in April, when I was feeling a bit blue and missing Billy a lot, I posted a small collection of photographs of dogs that I’d seen on my travels. The pictures that I posted last time are posted here again, but I feel it’s only right to complete the collection for the hundophiles out there.
Mexico City, Mexico
Port Honduras Marine Reserve, Belize
Brasília, Brazil (Bono and Pancho)
Punta del Diablo, Uruguay
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Ushuaia, Argentina (Frodo)
El Calafate, Argentina
El Calafate, Argentina
Puerto Iguazú, Argentina
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Wenatchee, United States (Sasha; who has since died, sadly)
Estacada, United States (Annie)
Estacada, United States (Nemo)
Estacada, United States (Miss Flora)
Estacada, United States (Buddha)
San Diego, United States
And, well, let’s not pretend that you didn’t know which dog would be at the end of this post, eh? It was wonderful to see him again. I’m not going to get to hang out with Billy as much as I’d hoped as he’s a bit ill at the moment (Canine Coronavirus), but apart from that, he seems to be in fine fettle. It was kinda weird for him, I think, to see me after nearly nine months. When I walked up the path, he saw someone and I got the feeling he was thinking, That looks like the fella that I used to hang around with. And then we had a little hug and he licked my hands, and my arms, and my face, and spent the rest of the afternoon playing with a red ball. Lovely Billy.
There’s beauty in moving along. My brain has been itching to do it for the last week or so. It’s been a long time since I spent more than a week in one place – not since New York in May – and being static feels, well, a bit odd. Packing my bags again: that feels normal. Rolling clothes up so they’re small and jamming them down in my backpack. Double-bagging my toiletries just to be on the safe side. Making sure iPod and camera batteries are charged. And I’m ready to go. And the mundane journey is beautiful.
The untended trees, bushes, and weeds along the edge of the train tracks; the sprawl of towns pushing against the tracks with semi-detached houses and apartment blocks with views of trains rumbling past every ten minutes. And I wonder who’d want to live there, who’d spend their mortgage looking over this. And I imagine that maybe a couple might spice up their sex life now and again by doing it on their kid’s faded red plastic slide in the back garden knowing that people on the 12.37 Stansted Express would be watching them.
There’s the factories and warehouses, the artificial turf football pitches sectioned in by dark green chain-link fences, and I watch them play for those few seconds that the train is passing like I always have done and will always do. And I will never see a goal being scored. I think that one day I might, but it’s never happened. It’s always some miscued shuffle by a lad who thinks he’s Zidane, letting his team down in favour of trying to show off, as a clodhopper of a defender empties him and chunters up the pitch launching a cross field pass to nobody in particular safe in the knowledge that he done that fancy cunt good and proper.
There’s a lake and I wonder how much rain it’d take to flood the train line and cause a bit of havoc for passengers heading to Stansted. There are supermarket distribution centres, where the second incomes of many local families are earned putting slices of cheese and tomato onto wholewheat bread to be packaged in shiny cardboard, driven around in lorries, loaded onto shelves, and sold to office workers at lunch. There are sheep who, if they’re not sleeping, are munching on grass. More and more munching, more and more grass. How much grass could they possibly want? Do sheep never ever think about the taste of something else? I wonder if sheep will ever evolve to the point where they have a conscious thought about one type of grass tasting better than another.
And the train stops at Harlow Town. More people get off than I expected. And I wondered why it is that you can never use the word “alighted” instead of “got off” in conversation without sounding like a twat. People I expected to be going to the airport are getting off: the girl with the backpack, and the chap with a suitcase on rollers. And there’s a guy who looks like Hideki Matsui on a bird-watching trip. (Is it really true about Matsui’s porn collection, or is that just one of those Internet rumours?) There’s a young chap with his hair styled in a way that doesn’t acknowledge that he’s got a proper job, and a suit that he still doesn’t look comfortable in. How long does it take, how long do you have to wear a suit day-in day-out before you feel – and therefore, look – comfortable in it? Two teenage girls, both in tight sleeveless tops and too-short skirts sit bored on a bench waiting for the local train; and the thought passes through my mind before my moral conscience has time to intercept.
Canned Heat isn’t appropriate listening for a train on a cloudy day in Essex. And my mind drifts to other journeys I’ve made this year. It’s these gaps, these “empty” times, the time spent between places, that seem to bring back the most memories. Like the smell of the soap that your grandparents use, the bits that feel like inconsequential nothingness are now really evocative. Watching a guy on a ladder painting the girders holding up the roof at a bus station in Rio de Janeiro somehow seems just as important as Ipanema beach. Blustering through a ticket transaction in broken Spanish, Portuguese or English and spending a hour or two sat on metal-wire seats waiting. Watching other buses come and go. Families en masse seeing off one of their son with his travel pillow and a Tweety Pie blanket under his arm. His mother not wanting that hug or kiss to be the last one before he goes off. And I’ll be smoking a cigarette and I’ll get hassled for some change or a smoke. Keeping my mouth shut and listening to middle-aged English tourists in an airport in Patagonia.
And I only realise I’ve been staring at the Independent Glass Co. logo on the toughened glass window for about ten minutes when the train pulls into Stanted Airport station and stops. And I wander around, less hassled by things than I would’ve been this time last year. I use the online check-in terminal and wonder why so many people are queued up to get their boarding pass from a human when all you have to do is swipe your passport through the machine and then saunter over and drop your bag off with the Air Berlin employee without a queue in front of her. I have a last smoke outside and watch the other people having their last pre-flight smoke or their first post-flight smoke.
And then the calm disappears when I get in the snaking queue to go through the security pantomime. He’s behind you! Presumably with a big beard and explosives strapped to his cock. And I empty myself into my rucksack. Wallet, iPod, headphones, watch, camera, Tic-Tacs, cigarettes, and lighter. I take my belt off, take my laptop out, put my shoes in a tray, and get ushered through. The machine beeps. Joy. A middle-aged man runs his hands all over me with a look on his face that says, I had a trade, got laid off, and now I’m frisking tourists, looking for stuff that none of them will ever have hidden in their baseball caps.
And I wonder when it will all end. Whether one of us will be the first to stand up and say no! Some guy will say no. Then, in my mind, I imagine an elderly woman, on her way to some corner of the world to see her daughter and her grandchildren. And she’ll see the guy saying no. And she’ll say no too. And those in the queue behind her will look a bit befuddled, but slowly, a ripple will pass along and we’ll all take our toothpaste and roll-on deodorants out of those ridiculous plastic bags, and as one we’ll stop being treated like scum just because we’ve had the temerity to want to fly somewhere. But that guy will never be me, and it’ll never be you, and it’ll never be the elderly woman: she wants to see her grandkids, so she’ll go through it all and put her shoes back on, and like me, she’ll glance at the departure board and find that her flight has not been assigned a gate number yet. So we all look at perfume, Toblerones, newspaper headlines, and ties. And we’ll sit down and eat a sandwich, and there’ll be men looking at the car on a tackily “modern” raised-stage surrounded by big signs saying WIN THIS CAR! And the men will be checking out the wheel arches, and I’ll never know what it is like to be one of those guys who knows stuff about torque and horsepower.
Over in the corner there’s a bar. It looks like it has had a makeover, but it’s the bar where, back in autumn of 2000, a bunch of Welsh football fans were getting drunk at 5am, And I was there with a few possessions in a couple of bags, moving to Berlin. It feels such a long time ago. All those flights since then between Stansted, Luton or Heathrow and Tegel or Schönefeld. But this time, right now, I’m happier than I was for most of those airport visits. I’m looking forward to knowing if going to Berlin is like going home or if it’s just nostalgia. An hour and a half later, and my passport has been checked and I’m hearing myself talking German; asking a fat, grumpy lady for a bus ticket. And I get the bus to an S-bahn station, and I take the train to Schönhauser Allee, and walk the way I would normally walk to my old flat. I don’t want to say it feels like a dream, becaus
e that really means nothing; but it is like walking around inside one of my dreams insomuch as everything looks so real, so like Berlin, so like the street and neighbourhood I left on 1st December; but it doesn’t feel like Berlin because, well, I’m on holiday here. I’m just visiting. So the daily grind isn’t resting on my shoulders. But it does feel like home. Really, it does. I walk past my old flat and feel the urge to open the door, empty the mail box, and go upstairs, drop my bags in the hall, pick up my PSP and go for a poo and some Grand Theft Auto. But it’s not my flat anymore. And I walk down the street and see that building sites are now buildings, and the cars aren’t allowed to park on the pavement anymore, and the coffee in Impala is just as good as I remembered it was. I’m in Berlin.
And in the morning, I’ll be seeing that little ginger fella with the floppy ears again. And I’m really really excited.
More infographic stuff today; something that’s been lying around on my hard drive for nearly two years, in fact. Not sure why I never got around to putting it online, but that’s exactly what happened. So I took the opportunity to update it a little. Anyway, I’m needlessly over-explaining something that I’ve not introduced yet: a history of baseball’s National and American Leagues for the ever-unpopular Sport section of Flip Flop Flyin’. It’s entirely possible that there are a few errors here and there, as it seems fairly tough to find a consensus about certain teams’ histories. If you see anything that you think is wrong, please let me know.
Either click the image above for the full-size version, or if you’re feel too comfortable at this part of the page to move your cursor, click here.
Blimey, he runs quick, doesn’t he? I reckon he probably doesn’t miss many buses, that fella. I sat in front of the telly with a McVitie’s Digestive poised in front of my gob, to see if I could beat the runners, but I got nowhere close to Usain Bolt’s time of 9.69 seconds. I was still munching away while he was celebrating.
You may remember that I’ve used a Beatles mp3 to demonstrate the swiftness of the 100 metres world record. I didn’t bother with Bolt’s world record earlier this year, but I’ve updated it now.
The new 100 metres world record: 9.69 seconds
It costs £17 to get in. The cheeky buggers put a little asterisk next to the big letters telling us the admission price. Scan down the sign a bit, and it tells you that it includes a “voluntary” donation to save some tigers or something, and that if we don’t want to make that £1.60 donation, we should say so and we’d only pay £15.40. Now, isn’t that a bit like blackmailing your conscience into donating? I don’t particularly mind giving them the donation, but, it’s just the way they do it that bugs me.
Aaaaaanyway, decent zoo. Not bad at all. not a patch on San Diego, but better than Buenos Aires and Itaipú. I did lose the top off my pen, though, and that kinda irks me. I hate losing pens. Especially if they are pens that I like. Blah blah.
Still, the Snowdon Aviary is still a lovely structure.
I had a hot dog and, like a fool, forgot to take a photograph. The cart was branded “Rollover™ – The best hot dog in the world.” Well, how could I not try it with a claim like that? I’m sad to say, readers, that it wasn’t the best hot dog in the world. Nowhere close. Taste is subjective, of course, but when one is claiming that something is the best, it should at least be in the upper eschalons (is that spelled right? (update: no, it’s “echelons.” Thanks Ian.)) of the hot dog universe. So, y’know, just a warning: Rollover™ – NOT the best hot dog in the world.
I’m feeling a bit grumpy today. London’s doing my head in. All the buy! buy! buy! everywhere. Cellphones, CDs, DVDs, books, games, buy every-fucking-thing. The TV adverts: buy now! save money! buy now! save money! All the crappy typefaces everywhere; those typefaces that think they are groovy, like provincial cafes use. The sort of cafes that until a few years ago probably had “expresso” and “frothy coffee” on their menus. And those fonts like the one that Sainsbury’s uses, a serif font dressed up as a sans-serif, like your Uncle Ralph trying to dress like he’s in the Strokes or something.
Moan moan moan…
Allow me to be self-indulgent for a minute. A minute!? you say, So what’s the last nine years of web stuff been about, ego boy? At the arse-end of my trip, I wanted to do a little mix that features some of the most listen-to off my iPod. Here ’tis.
goinghomemix.mp3 (1h16m, 87.3MB, available for one week)
The songs: “Sunflower River Blues” John Fahey A song that I listened to on virtually every bus ride I took. In fact, it kinda became the theme tune of bus trips, listening to it as I did, at the start of most of them. “Star Guitar” The Chemical Brothers Perfect for bus rides. Especially when there was the rare few moments when the music syncs with what I saw out of the window, like a low-rent version of Michel Gondry’s video. “João Sabino” Not sure who the musicians are, but it’s from a site called santodaimehymns.com. Despite the post-Santo Daime calm no longer being around, I have listened to the music a lot. “São João” Gilberto Gil Loved this song from his 1974 album “Ao Vivo.” Again, it’s a song that reminds me of bus journeys, specifically, from Rio to São Paulo. “Soledad” Ástor Piazzolla I didn’t go and see any tango in Argentina, and after Marta introduced me to this, I kinda kicked myself. “Whenever I Call You ‘Friend'” Kenny Loggins feat. Stevie Nicks An old favourite that kept cropping up. “Born On The Bayou” Creedence Clearwater Revival There’s never a bad time for some Creedence. “Colorado Beetle” The Bluetones I didn’t have any Bluetones on my iPod and when this song popped into my head, well, I’ll be honest, I illegally downloaded it because my copy of the 12″ single that this was the b-side of is in a box in Lincoln. “Speed of Sound” Coldplay The song I’ve listened to most on my trip. “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” The Dream Academy No matter what things are going on, no matter what I’m looking at, this song always manages to make things seem a little melancholy. “Reckoner” Radiohead Best album I’ve heard in a long long time. “Saturday In The Park” Chicago Fucking magic. “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” Weezer Reminds me of Milwaukee and the bus journey to Minneapolis. “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” She & Him Since downloading it from Stereogum, it’s been the go-to song to put a smile on my face. “See The Sky About To Rain” Neil Young Simply a stunningly beautiful song.
Hope you enjoy the mix.
I wish I could just do a clever university-style research paper about dumb things without all the effort and funding that would be needed; the kind of research paper that would lead to a discussion on BBC Radio 4, but about silly stuff. I was thinking the other day about the following question:
On average, do women with embarrassing maiden names (eg. Pratt, Willy, Dicks) get married earlier than women with “normal” surnames?
That question brings about follow-up questions:
Do women who would ordinarily be opposed to changing their surname do so more often if they have an embarrassing surname?
Do men with embarrassing surnames get married later than men with “normal” surnames?
Do women who would normally be inclined to take their husband’s surname decline to do so if the man in question has an embarrassing surname?
As you were.
UPDATE: Thanks to Barbara and Lisa who both emailed me this: http://famouslikeme.blogspot.com/2008/05/marriage-is-fun.html
Baseball? It’s just bloody rounders, innit? There’s too many bloody adverts. They have to wear big bloody gloves to catch the bloody ball. They call it the bloody World Series ‘cept it’s only the bloody Yanks that bloody play it…
I went to see a soccer game at the weekend. They call it “football” in England. It’s quite perplexing. There’s no bats and there doesn’t seem to be a pitcher. Anyway, up to the northernest bit of the Northern Line I went, to see Barnet vs. Chesterfield with John. It was raining. And it cost 16 quid to get in. That’s more than I paid to go and see the Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers, and Colorado Rockies combined. Three Major League Baseball games is cheaper than going to one fourth tier (the absurdly-named Coca-Cola Football League 2) English football game. You can see players of the calibre of Ichiro, CC Sabathia, and Matt Holliday for less money than you can to see last season’s 76th and 80th best English football teams.
Having said that, it was a lot of fun to be at an English football game again. Barnet’s stadium is tiny, the smallest in the Football League, with a capacity of just 5,568. And the pitch slopes quite a lot, as you can see in this photo. Compare the horizontal roof of the stand to the slope of the pitch.
There’s something special about the lower league teams, though. It seems to me that to come and watch this level of football every week involves much more dedication than going to see a Premier League team. I couldn’t do it. Aside from Chesterfield’s Jack Lester who seemed pretty good, the quality wasn’t great.
It still freaks me out a bit to think of my school friend who went on to be professional. He was light years better than the rest of us, yet League 2 is as high as he got. How good must Steven Gerrard have been at school?
Anyway, Barnet scored. Being only 20 minutes of so into the game – the first game of the season – some Barnet fans began singing that they would be top of the league. Over the remainder of the game, Chesterfield scored three times. There was one amusing moment, when the ball came over into the stand where we were sitting, and a woman in her forties caught the ball. She had a fairly low-cut top, and, well, one of those jiggly-like-blancmange chests. One of the Chesterfield players came to the edge of the pitch with his hands out waiting for the ball, and was completely distracted by her chest. John and I looked at each other, both with “did you see that!?” looks on our faces and had a good chuckle. Which is exactly why I wanted to go to the game: to have a chuckle with my mate.
You know when sportsmen or women get stupid injuries, like when they break their leg falling off a ladder or trip on a glossy magazine or something? Well, I’m not gonna giggle at that sort of thing any more. I was outside my mate John’s front door the other day, wiping my feet on the mat, and suddenly, I felt a searing pain in my toe. I’d wiped a bit too hard and I’d managed to kick the concrete doorstep. Ou-fucking-ch!
Being a man, I expect a lot of sympathy, so if you could pass me the remote control, plump up the pillows, bring me some tomato soup, a Guardian, a coffee from Starbucks, and perhaps a Scotch egg in the comments, that’d be great.
On Friday, I met up with fellow web-person Anne of I like and her friend Marc, and we visited the V&A; Museum of Childhood. Of course, there’s the worry when you meet another blogging person that they might do a post about how that Flip Flop Flying dude is a bit of a dick. She’s not done that yet, so I’ll get mine in first: Anne’s a dick. She’s not really, she’s lovely. She is Scottish, though, so I was a bit disappointed that she didn’t have ginger hair and some bagpipes.
The Museum of Childhood is a big cafe and shop with a bit of a museum around the edges, but what is there is very nice. There’s lots of old toys. It’s pretty sweet. We went, though, to see the exhibition of Olympic posters. What is immediately obvious is how the poster as an object has changed. What began as something to promote the events changed into something that was quite daring (especially the München 1972 stuff) and, in the more recent ones, seem to be just about re-enforcing the brand.
My favourite part of the whole exhibition, though, was in the area where blank postcards had been provided for children to draw their own Olympic posters. This one is quite magnificent.