Archive for September, 2008
A weekend bunged up with a cold, mostly lying around, wrapped up, watching telly, and catching bits and bobs of the last weekend of the regular baseball season. I felt a warm melancholy about not being in the States. It was nice to watch some of the different stadiums that I visited in the summer, but over the weekend, they were all tense and excited, the teams’ seasons on the line. And it’s nice to think of real people who are affected by the results. I enjoyed seeing the Phillies clinch the National League East Divison, thinking of the friendly woman I met there who’s dad was a Yankees fan. I thought of my mate Mark who’ll be sad about the Mets’ failure to win the NL Wild Card, but also several people in Milwaukee who’ll be happy about them winning the Wild Card. And with the American League Central Division still undecided, I can’t help but hope that the White Sox win their one game play-off against the Twins, simply because of the friendly people I met in Chicago, and the lack of friendly people I met at the Minnesota Twins game. It still weirds me out a bit to think that I’ve been to the stadiums of all but two of the teams in the play-offs. For what it’s worth, I’d like to see the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs get to the World Series.
One of the joys of being in Belgium is you can get BBC 1 and 2 on the telly. I don’t know if that’s a proper deal with the Belgians or whether it’s just because Belgium is close enough to receive the signal. Either way, thank you Licence Fee payers. Having a cold, and being under a duvet on the sofa was a lot better with some Match of the Day and Top Gear to watch. And I managed to watch two travel programmes. Both of them annoyed me.
The first one was Charley Boorman’s By Any Means (those of you in the UK can watch it on iPlayer). I know very little about this chap apart from he’s the son of his father and he did something with Ewan McGregor which I never saw. On the strength of this show, though, Ewan must’ve been the entertaining part of that show. I’m not sure quite how Boorman managed to make a trek through India, Nepal and China seem quite mundane, but he did. Absolutely nothing of interest going on in his or his companion’s brains. All he did was tell us guide book-ish facts and how something that the camera was pointing at was nice.
The second show was Russell Brand on the Road (iPlayer). I guess most of you who know who he is know already whether you like him or not. You might not be surprised to know that I find him a bit annoying. Well, that’s not true. I don’t see him often enough for him to be properly annoying. I look at his hair and snigger, and whenever I see him on telly on brief visits back to the UK, I can’t help but wonder why people think he’s funny. He’s not. Anyway, I figured I’d give him a chance with this show. I’m glad I did, cos it just confirmed that he’s a talentless show-off, managing to make a decent (if slightly obvious) TV show idea into a tedious hour of GCSE-level analysis and goofing around. At least there was Amazon with Bruce Parry last night (iPlayer). Now there’s a good travel show.
Paper map of the city centre in my pocket, headphones on, circling my index finger to an episode of This American Life on the iPod, and out the door I go. Aalst. Or if you wanna be French about it, Alost.
And… well, it’s a nice wee town. Small, but that means it’s easy to get around on foot. There are English language books in the bookshop, and everyone I interacted with spoke God’s English, so that’s handy, cos my knowledge of Dutch is limited to hello, please, and thank you. Whenever I see adverts or menus, I can’t help but imagine the inventors of Dutch taking a German Scrabble set and deciding it needs more Os and Js.
I’ve only ever spent one evening in Aalst prior to arriving here, so it was nice to see the place in the day time. It’s nice to be in a town with fancy old buildings and big factories. The view from my garret window is of a chimney at the power station. That makes me happy. And there’s a park just around the corner, too.
I tried some local cuisine at lunch in a restaurant called Subway. I had a delicious long sandwich made for me by a lady in thin plastic gloves, and ate it sat next to a loud TV playing a Pink video.
When I got home – home! – I couldn’t help but wonder if this is right place to be. Damn you, internal monologue, telling me that I could be somewhere else. I checked my email, open the garret window, had a smoke, and looked out at the chimney. I like chimneys. But I don’t know. I do know that more-or-less anywhere I decided to stay after the previous eight months was gonna feel a bit odd, a bit not right. There are certainly worse places to be, though. I put on my jacket and went around the corner to the Match supermarkt.
Picked up a red, plastic basket, and went though the fruit and vegetable section. I picked up a few bits and bobs to make some pasta sauce. Oooh, must go and get a courgette. And then Sting’s “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” came on. I found myself humming along as I went to get a courgette. I hummed along throughout the song. And as I tried to work out which was the semi-skimmed milk, Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” came on. I was quite enjoying the supermarkt’s DJ, and life was normal. A bit of shopping, a bit of a Teary Feary spring in my step, and then: on a shelf at the end of an aisle, right in the middle, at eye level, there it was… Marmite! This place is alright. I could get used to Belgium.
One thing I wanted to do after my trip was to continue writing a lot on the blog. Didn’t really turn out that way. Must be something about being in England or Berlin. Gonna try and rectify that right now.
On Friday I left the island, and now I’m back On The Continent. I had a horrendous stomach ache on the train from London to Luton airport; a stomach ache made worse by having to sit near a couple of women who wouldn’t stop nattering about a hairdresser they knew, and how she was going out with someone of a reality TV show.
I’ve already moaned way too much about airports on these pages, so I won’t say much, but I will say this: at Luton airport, you have to buy the re-sealable plastic bags to put your liquids in. Yes, that’s right. There’s a vending machine where they give you four bags in a little plastic ball for a quid. Fucking chancers.
I was flying with that most opulent of airlines, EasyJet. On a Friday. So, the flight was full of horrid English people all going for a weekend in Berlin. The snob in me comes out at moments like that: leave my nice city alone, you fucking yobbos! As luck would have it, I was sat quite near the two ladies I’d been sat next to on the train. One of them got in an argument with a German woman, and they were conducting the argument in a way that amuses me: pleasantly. Both of them were calling each other “bitch” and other nasty stuff, but both were doing it in polite pleasant tones, not wanting to show each other any annoyance or loss of control.
Anyway, it was nice to be in Berlin for a few days. See a few friends, that kinda thing. Got to hang out with Billy for an afternoon. He’s on the mend, slowly. He spent four days in a doggy hospital last week, and the vet seems to think that he’s getting better. He’s very skinny now, though. Lost two kilos over the past six weeks, the poor little bugger.
I also got to see the Prenzlauer Berg Piranhas play. That’s the softball team I played with last year. They crushed their opponents 22-2, and are heading to the final. I guess that’s what happens when an Englishman leaves the team. Well done, Piranhas.
And on Monday, I got on a train at the Enormobahnhof. It’s been a while coming. Since I got back from flouncing around the Americas, the only real landmark in the distance that I’ve had is the thought of living for a few months in Belgium. While I’ve enjoyed seeing friends and family in London, Lincoln, Nottingham, Oxford, and Berlin, there’s been a couple of feelings circling around each other the whole time. Contradictory feelings: grab my backpack and go off again to some corner of the world where I don’t speak the language and see stuff that’ll make me feel alive again, and grab my backpack and settle down for a while in Belgium. I can’t financially justify the former, and I also want to save the experience of going off again until I really feel the need to go off again. It’s strange – and difficult to explain – how only nine months ago I was in a camping shop buying my backpack (Christmas present from me mum), never having done anything like that, and now… well, I can’t imagine life without wanting to go off somewhere. I know I’m lucky, having a job that takes place within a laptop, so I can work anywhere I want to, and I kinda feel that I should make the most of that.
But for now, I’m in Aalst, Belgium. A town of about 77,000 people between Brussels and Ghent. My friends Beatrijs and Jeroen live here, and they had a spare room, which will be my home for (insert random amount of time here). I’m in the attic. I think I’m going to refer to it as a garret, though, cos that sounds more bohemian; like I’m necking absinthe and painting nudes all day.
So, yes: hello Belgium. Let’s see what you’ve got to offer, eh?
Honestly, I can read your minds. I know you’re sat there thinking, which side of the infield do Major League Baseball teams have as their home team dugouts? I’ve answered that question for you. Oh yes. I have answered that for you.
Today is the day that completes two full years of keeping track of my sleep: remembering what time I turned the light off, and what time I woke up.
I’ve been doing it so long now, that I really cannot imagine choosing to stop. But, really, it’s not that I’ve chosen to keep doing it, I just do it. I hope there comes a point when I forget to do it, because otherwise, I’ll be doing this for twenty years. The different shades of red refer to different time zones, by the way.
One fifth of a mile: that’s the closest distance between Craig St and Robinson St in Overland Park, Kansas, USA. Since Google Maps first started sucking time out of my life, I’ve – oddly – not spent much time looking to see if I could find my given name and surname as street names close to each other. But, one fifth of a mile is pretty dang close. Sadly, I couldn’t find an intersection of a Craig St and a Robinson St anywhere, but this is good enough. Consider this a gauntlet laid down at your feet, readers.
Update: Woo hoo! Craig St and Robinson Rd in Jackson, Mississippi.
Well, well, well, I hadn’t really imagined this day coming so soon:
The A year of streets project is complete.
Woo hoo. Every now and then, I’d get an email from somebody – one of you, in fact – telling me of a street here or there, then, last week, a chap called Paul sent about fifty of them, which more or less got the project to the halfway point. Spurred on by this, my pal Jacqueline and I sat down at her kitchen table, laptops sucking down an unprotected Wi-Fi connection in the neighbourhood, and Google Maps being constantly typed into and refreshed, searching for variations of each date in different languages. It took a while. And this morning, I finished it off. You’d think I’d be over the moon, but – damn my head – now I’m wondering what other pointless obsession I can develop.
So, yes, I just wanted to say a great big thank you to everyone who helped out. Thank you. And thank you to Mexico for having so many streets named after dates.
Here’s a little true story. It happened last Monday in Lincoln. It’s called Sparrow. I’m not proud of myself.
And while we’re on the topic of birds, I saw Jesse Birdsall walking along Upper Street in London yesterday. Marcus Tandy! I quite liked Eldorado. Despite its shaky beginnings, it shaped up to be a fairly decent soap opera, I think, and there was a 7.00-7.30pm shaped hole in my life when it ended. Anyway, he had a cheeky little smile on his face like he’d remembered something funny.
My step-brother James married Maria on Saturday. Here’s some photos.
The groom, his father, his son, and his best man
A jolly cameraman
The church is really close to Lincoln City’s stadium. At around the same time as the wedding finished, the Imps drew 1-1 with local fishy rivals Grimsby Town. Had either team’s fans kicked off, there’d probably have been more than confetti raining down on the happy couple
(l-r) Groom, photographer, bride
Too much energy plus a shiny floor equals:
“I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith