Archive for September, 2010
Apart from being a semiperfect number, the atomic number of zirconium, the number of winks someone might have, the amount of thieves Ali Baba hung out with, the number of days and nights it rained when Noah was on his ark, and the name of a song that appears on consecutive U2 albums, forty is the age I am today*. Let me just say a quick OH FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCKING HELL FOR FUCKING FUCK’S SAKE HOW THE FUCK DID THAT HAPPEN!? This isn’t a birthday to be celebrated. Forty deserves some sort of semi-funeral for one’s youth.
*And the amount of seconds I probably spent on Wikipedia checking this stuff out.
But when did 40 become a significant birthday? It’s a multiple of ten; humans seem to feel safe and comfortable with multiples of ten. But apart from that, why 40? When you think of other significant birthdays, birthdays that stand out above all other birthdays, they all have legal significance. Age of consent, suffrage, drinking alcohol, driving, joining the military. The ages 16, 18 and 21 all seem important milestones in one’s life. But 40? Why is that significant? Is it because at the age of 40, all men are issued with a can of WD-40 by the governments of the world?
And why does life begin at forty? Is it because you’re likely closer to death than your birth, thus you scramble to enjoy life more? Surely forty being a landmark is only a recent, possibly even post-war phenomenon. I’m sure a lot of people up until maybe the fifties or sixties were grandparents at the age of forty, great-grandparents at sixty, conceivably great-great-grandparents at eighty. That is nuts. Or maybe it’s just nuts that I am forty and childless.
I guess, though, it’s not at bad as I was expecting. Obviously, I don’t feel any different from when I was 39. Or 35. Or 30. There’s stuff I appreciate more now (the word “old” in “old people” shouldn’t be a defining characteristic of one’s view of that person, for example; and I do kinda think it’s true that the older you get the more you realise you don’t, and won’t ever, know everything), but on the whole, I still giggle at farts, I still fancy Molly Ringwald in “Pretty in Pink,” and I still feel a welling of joy in my heart when I listen to “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
The changes I have noticed, though, are significant. I’ve completely lost the will to keep up with the daily grind of following new music. If a radio station boasts they have new music or the best unsigned bands, well, why would I care? Come back to me when someone else has road-tested them and it has been collectively decided it’s worth some attention.
“The XX are good, Craig.”
“Cool, I’ll check them out.”
“And it’s lowercase, not capital Xs.”
“Fuck that. And fuck K. D. Lang, Blink 182, and E.E. Bastard Cummings, too.”
“You grumpy old fucker…”
I’m less willing to humour younger people who do think they know everything (one time in Toronto, a pretty-ish woman in her early twenties insisted I check out the Velvet Underground because “they were awesome”). This isn’t all young people, of course. In my life I’ve met people in their early twenties when I’ve been in my thirties and it makes me wonder how much a complete arsehole I was at that age; people who are more intelligent, thoughtful, and are way closer to having it sorted out than I’ll ever be.
But, I think most of all, it’s perception that I’m afraid of. If I tell people I’m 34 or 36 there’s not likely to be a huge difference in the way that person would view me. But the difference between saying 39 yesterday and 40 today is massive. Or maybe it’s a perception that is massive in my own head. Maybe this is all in my own head.
Finally, I find it amusing how my valuation of what constitutes middle age has changed. When I was a teenager, it was anything over 30. As I approached 30, it became the over 40s. And now, well, I’m telling myself it’s 50, even though I do deep down really feel like I’ll be middle aged in two or three years time. Unless, that is, someone farts, then I’ll laugh and feel twelve years old forever.
The TV in my hotel room has only a handful of channels. Two of them are sports channels. One of them has been stuck on this image for over 24 hours now. As I have undoubtedly mentioned before, I enjoy looking at pictures of people and imagining they’ve just farted. So, y’know, feel free to imagine that here, too. As you were.
This is a big city. By population, It’s the second biggest city in the Americas after São Paulo, and there are around half a million more people here than in New York. There are 8.8 million people in Mexico City. Lincoln, the city I was born in, has 85,000 people. Mexico City has roughly the population of 103 Lincolns.
There are a lot of the same cultural aspects that I’m used to in England, Germany, the States, and, recently, Canada. But it is different here. For one thing, I don’t really understand what people are saying. I can kinda muddle through reading a sign, a newspaper headline, or an advertisement, but if those same words were spoken, I’d have a difficult time understanding. I’ve spent a total of three weeks here in the past on three separate visits, so it’s not entirely a new experience for me, but the one massive difference I’ve noticed this time is within myself. It’s not very often I notice a positive change in my head, but I’ve noticed one this first week in Mexico City.
I’m a lot less nervous about being somewhere that is “different.” I kinda knew theoretically that I’d relaxed and trusted my instincts more during my six months travelling around the Americas in 2008, but this is the first time I’ve been back to a place where I have been nervous in the past. Mostly unfounded nervousness, of course. My first time here, I was so ridiculously convinced I was about to be mugged at any second in the city centre, it was incredibly annoying for my then-girlfriend. The second time I was here, I really didn’t do much if there wasn’t a taxi involved. And when I was walking around, I was like a squirrel; constantly looking for predators. But this time, I’ve found myself wandering around, and as long as I have my watch on my wrist (it has a compass on it), I know that I’ll be able to find my way back.
Not that I’ve strayed that far — I’ve stayed within a half-hour radius — but I really have noticed that I’m not looking over my shoulder all the time. I’m not expecting to get mugged at any second. It’s not even something I think about. Which is a far nicer way to live your life, frankly.
Today I had a wander, ended up on Reforma (the big avenue where the parades were), and headed west towards Chapultepec, a big ass park. I was on the wrong side of the street — a massive street with about 100 lanes of traffic and a big barrier in the middle — but there was an underpass. There is no human invention as dismal, grimy, and inherently ominous as pedestrian tunnels under big roads. You never see them in children’s stories, do you? There’s a reason for that. They are the invention of a city planner who’s imagination was equal to the darkest corners of David Lynch’s mind.
So, I went into the underpass. This is where one would normally say how it was dirty and smelled of piss, right? That’s not entirely true. It did smell of piss, but it wasn’t that dirty. It was queasily lit, though, as is the law with underpasses. This underpass wasn’t straight, it had a bend in it, so I couldn’t see the other end. And there, right in front of me… was a little ginger kitten! And a little black kitten! Aaaaaw, cute! They miaowed at me. I thought they might be hungry, but I saw an empty can of cat food on the floor. And there was an open door on one side of the tunnel. I looked inside, and there was an old guy in there. I didn’t want to be too nosey, but the quick glimpse I got indicated he lived there. There was a mattress, a chair, and he was sewing something. I looked at him, he looked at me. I smiled, and said “hola.” He said “hola” back. Just outside the door was little red shelf with a framed picture of Mary, a couple of house plants, and some glittery tinsel in the colours of the Mexican flag.
I carried on along the tunnel. When I came out of the tunnel, I noticed it was kind of a tunnel to nowhere. To my left were plywood panels, the sort that go around the outside of a building site. To my right was a locked gate to the park. So rather than go back through the tunnel, I walked along the edge of the road and after five minutes or so I found an open gate and had a stroll around the park. It was getting kinda late, so all the market stalls in the park were closing up for the day. But should I want to buy a picture of a luchador cut out and stuck on a neon pink piece of paper, I know where to come.
I tell you what is nice: the Niños Héroes memorial. The Niños Héroes were a bunch of kids (aged 13 to 19) who resisted U.S. forces in the Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War. As they were killed, the last one wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and leapt to his death from the top of the castle to stop the flag falling into the Americans’ hands. And there I was proud of getting my O-level in art at school…
Anyway, here’s a picture of a common bird here. It makes a nice clicky noise when it flies, and it’s got red bits on its wings that you can only see when it’s in flight. It’s called an Inca dove. I asked the guy at reception what the bird was called in Spanish. He started to Google it, and was about to tell me it’s proper Latin-y name, but then I asked what he would call it, and he told me people just call it a coquita.
At a local restaurant (which is obviously fairly new as it’s a Sony store on Google Street View). Eleven different types of sauce. Okay, one of them is tomato ketchup, but still. There’s several different strengths of Chimay salsa habenera. I like the “muy picante” variation. Goes splendidly with marlin tacos.
(I will, at some point, stop using Spanish words for blog post titles, but for now, you’re gonna have to put up with it. Sorry.)
Well, after Wednesday’s celebrations, I had a sturdy hangover. Actually, that’s a lie: I leapt out of bed at 8 a.m., brushed my teeth, deodorant, and went for breakfast downstairs. I think the guy down there in the restaurant doesn’t like me. He looked at me like I’d stiffed him when tipping the other morning, yet when I was at reception later, I saw a few restaurant receipts and none of them tipped as much as me, cos, clearly, I’m King Tippy McTipper (translation: scared of being that stereotypical shitty British tipper). Yesterday morning, he asked if I wanted eggs, I told him, thank you, no. I think that offended him, too. Perhaps he simply hates me for no reason. That sort of stuff does happen in life, though, right?
I had a business phone call to take care of mid morning, so I didn’t get out to see the military parade as soon as I’d've liked. I did see and hear some massive Mexican Air Force planes flying very low, though, while I was listening to a client telling me stuff. Once that was over, I dashed down to Reforma where the military parade was going on, but in the reverse direction from yesterday’s independence parade. It was a public holiday. Even the ever-open stores in this neighbourhood were closed. And seemingly everyone was down at the parade. It was at least three or four times busier. People had come prepared, too: plastic buckets, plastic patio chairs, plastic stools, step ladders, so they could see. People sat on top of portaloos, walls, in trees, balanced precariously on bollards. Enterprising people sold periscopes made from cardboard cigarette cartoons, candy boxes, and the boxes that expensive liquor comes in.
With no chance of getting a good view, I decided to just wander along, get a glimpse here and there. The amount of people, and the fact that there were plenty of horses in the parade made for a whole street that had quite a funky smell of horse poo and parmesan-y body odour.
It was weird seeing such a show of military force. My brain flitted between a frowning lefty pacifism, through an admiration for how aesthetically pleasing it is to see lots of people in the same uniform marching in time to drummers, to a rather wrong feeling that, no matter how different I know from experience Latin American countries are, somewhere in my brain, there still exists the stereotype of military juntas putting on parades like this to remind the people who’s in charge.
The army, navy, air force were all in attendance. Trucks with cannons, and a bunch of soldiers from different countries in the Americas. I caught glimpses of the Colombian, Argentine, and American military. I may have been projecting, but the Americans appeared as though they would much rather not be there. The straight faces of all the other soldiers had a tint of boredom and what-the-fuck-are-we-doing-here? about it with the U.S. bunch.
Following on from all the military were people in lovely costumes on horseback. Not sure which branch of the military they belonged to, but they were certainly a joy to behold, as men whipped lassoes over their heads and women in lovely skirts turned their horses around 360 degrees in unison.
And as if to prove to me that the previous day’s applause for the workers in the parade wasn’t in my head, when the street cleaners brought up the rear, they again raised the biggest cheers. It would seem on the evidence of the last two days, Mexicans really do appreciate those who work shitty jobs to keep the city clean. I don’t think it’s overly pompous to suggest we Westerners could learn a thing or two from that.
Again, I was really tired by the end of the day. Went to bed at 11 p.m. But after an odd dream about me having to arrange a photo shoot for the cover of Elle featuring Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, a different type of Mexican air force woke me up. A fucking mosquito. I’d only been asleep for a couple of hours, woke up scratching my hand which had three red bumps on it. I tried to hide under the plentiful bed sheets every time I heard the buzz close to my ear, but it was hot as hell under the sheets, and I couldn’t really sleep properly because of the danger of further attacks. A fitful sleep followed. I woke up with my arms and chest and back now featuring around 20 mosquito bites. As if to make a proper comedy out of it, the maid must’ve knocked the switch on the clock radio. I’ve returned to the room while she’s been in here before, and noticed she listened to the radio when she works. Fine with me, but she must’ve switched it to “alarm” not “off.” And the previous user of the alarm had it set for 6.30 a.m. so when Mexican pop music kicked in, I called it quits, got up, admired my mosquito bites, and went down for breakfast where, seemingly, I arrived before the kitchen staff, so sat there reading a book chugging down three cups of coffee before I could eat anything. And the guy there still looked at me like he wanted to slit my throat with a hacksaw.
The first thing I noticed about Mexico’s celebrations – it’s the bicentennial of independence and the centennial of the revolution – was “Sultans of Swing.” Around noon, I walked up to Reforma, the big avenue where the parade would take place, and a few streets away, I could hear Dire Straits*. As I got closer, police and security people were using metal-detecting wands, and patting people down. Contents of pockets removed: camera, cigs, lighter, some pesos. And I was in, and, well, it was still really early. The big speakers that were now playing “Romeo and Juliet” as walkie-talkie people walked hurriedly around, policemen stood looking bored and ready to kick ass with their riot shields, or alternatively completely relaxed and laughing with people.
* Dire Straits really are due their, err, due, I think. I mean, they’ve never been fashionable; red headbands can do that for ya. But some of their stuff is utterly fantastic and still sounds fresh.
Some people had arrived early to snag a a good spot. I had no idea what time the events were kicking off, but the sparseness of the crowd hinted that it wasn’t for a while. I had a mooch around, enjoying walking down the middle of a street that is normally heaving with traffic. And it was lovely to see people looking so happy, ready for a good celebration. Even with the sparseness of the crowd so early in the day, one could see a pattern forming: lots of people wearing green, white, and red, and lots of people in traditional clothes (the women look so beautiful in the white dress with multi-coloured* hand-embroidered patterns, and the men look great is nice fancy bow-ties.) I also noticed how dominant Adidas is here. I’ve hardly seen any Nike clothing at all, even aside from the Adidas-made Mexican soccer jerseys. I was wearing an old 90s-style blue and teal Seattle Mariners cap, and felt a bit weird wearing something so American, so decided to go back to the hotel to change into my Diablos Rojos del México cap. (A Mexican League baseball team.) It was, at least, red, and has an M on the front. While I didn’t want to go as far as some other European tourists I saw later in the day (sombreros, face paint…), I did want to fit in a little bit. Plus, y’know, a green, white, and red, strap-on mohican really wouldn’t suit me.
* Ever since I started the Flip Flop Fly Ball website, and particularly since working on the book – a book specifically for a mostly American audience – I’ve had to remember that things are spelled differently in the States. It has got to the point now, though, where I forget to spell worlds like colour “properly.”
Cap changed, time for lunch at a local restaurant. Fish tacos and a couple of Tacates, watching Real Madrid vs. Ajax on the telly. It was one of those nice, relaxed moments where for half an hour or so, it feels like life is good.
Back down to Reforma. The metal detectors were gone. The sniffer dogs gone, too. Still more policemen than I’ve ever seen in my life on duty. Ranks of them on every corner. Many more people this time. Lots of stick-on Zapata-style moustaches. Families jostling to get their kids to the front. A guy in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey, plenty of Yankees caps, and even, somewhat ironically considering the recent political anti-illegal immigration stuff down there, a guy in an Arizona Diamondbacks cap. I was reminded that Mexico City has recently legalised gay marriage by seeing a fair amount of gay and lesbian couples around. Lots of people hawking face paint, banners, flags, bandanas, Mexican coloured stick on eyelashes, and all kinds of noise-making devices. (No vuvuzelas, thankfully.)
It was still early, though, so I wandered off the avenue to a pedestrianised side street where a man dressed up in costume Jim Carrey wore in “The Mask” having his photo taken with people. Time for a few more cervezas. Corona is a third of the price that it was in Toronto. So it would’ve been rude to drink less than three, right? Very loud folk music on a flat screen TV, young lovers spending minutes at a time kissing over a pitcher of sangria, and a guy who looked so ridiculously uncomfortable sat on a bar stool, like all he wanted was to be back in bed where he wouldn’t be nervous about all the people around. Barcelona, Manchester United, Real Madrid jerseyed men walk by. (I did later see a guy in a Liverpool shirt, but he looked English, so that doesn’t count, sadly.) All around, though, you could really feel the joy in the air.
I’d spend my first couple of days in Mexico City wondering if this would be the sort of place I could end up living. I swung between polar opposites: it’s exciting to be in a great city that is new and full of potential adventures, and oh, Craig, what are you doing? why not just give up on this silly dream of living somewhere like this and move back to England, let that bungee that you’ve resisted for so long drag you back. Thankfully, the former was the over-riding feeling I had all day. Why give up? I only need to do that when all other possibilities are exhausted. Stop being a pussy, Craig.
So, the parade. After a while more wander around, soaking up the atmosphere, I settled on a place where a few shorter people had congregated and waited. I was there for about an hour before the big screens showed that farther back, the parade was coming along. Slowly the sound got louder, and then I could see them: a marching band in white shoes, black trousers, orange capes and sombreros playing “Jarabe Tapatío” (the Mexican Hat Dance). It was so exciting! And it made me smile that a song that I normally associate with being a cartoon-y shorthand for Mexican-ness must be incredible popular and important to Mexico if it’s the very first thing in the parade.
The parade was organised so very well. Each section of the non-stop entertainment (literally no gaps where you were looking at only tarmac) was introduced by people holding banners announcing the next section. The first section was Indepencia, tens of people in black jumpsuits with cacti on their heads, holding hands and dancing down the street. A float in the shape of a folded up newspaper dated 16 septiembro de 1810. Fantastic revolutionary dummies operated by people strapped behind them walking along; the dummies had big eyebrows, moustaches, sack clothes and bullets. Behind them, similarly structured horses. Then some huge stone feet. And huge stone legs. then a huge stone torso, and finally a huge stone head. All of which would later be assembled in Zocalo Square as “The Colossus,” a 20 metre high sculpture of a revolutionary fighter by Juan Carlos Canfield Zapata.
The parade went on, my mouth locked open in amazement at everything, my eyes welling up at the beauty of it all. It was so utterly fantastic to be there to see how overjoyed people were at seeing all these elements of Mexican history and culture presented in such a wonderful fashion. I had a melancholy moment wishing that British people could celebrate like this, but, I guess when you have been colonial masters, you forfeit the right to celebrate anything resembling independence.
On and on it went. Women in terracotta-coloured ponchos with long sausage-shaped balloons on their heads; huge feather head-dresses; lots of fantastical masks; parades from all over the country in traditional local dress with local variations of music; a whole section dedicated to workers, which was the favourite part of many people around me. It was beautiful to see the biggest cheers saved for people dressed as street cleaners, cooks, maids, nurses all dancing down the street.
Plenty of drummers. A float that looked like a printing press with kids skateboarding on the “paper” between two rollers. Hats, dresses, colours, music: my head felt like it had been injected with sherbet. People dressed as chickens. Huge wooden coyotes and leopards. Pre-Mexican themes, pre-historic themes, an enormous Day of the Dead-style skeleton flat on a float with dancer atop it in lucha libre costumes. Flowers, horses, twirly skirts. It was very literally two of the best hours of my life. The parade came to an end with real street cleaners sweeping up the parade route, but still in a vaguely organised way that looked like part of the show.
I was tired, my feet ached, but my head was fizzing with joy. The party went on longer, with a couple of stages of music (mariachi type stuff on one stage that I saw, and a symphony on another). Many people headed towards further celebration at Zocalo Square, but my head was already full, I couldn’t really take in any more and fully appreciate it. And I was hungry. I wandered back towards the hotel through a street market selling all kinds of wonderful smelling food. I had two unspecified-meat-but-I-think-it-might’ve-been-pork tacos. The guy was shouting “Tacos! Tacos!” so I went up to him and said “No hablo espanol pero tengo hambre!” He said “taco?” and pointed at the meat. I asked if it was chicken, he said, “no” and then the name of something or other. It looked good, though, so I shrugged and said okay. I was served my tacos on a small red plastic plate wrapped in thing transparent polythene. Guacamole, lime, a good dollop of very hot chili sauce. Utterly fantastic. By the time I got back to the hotel, the fireworks had begun, I watched them through the window. Mexico continued to celebrate, and as late as I can remember before falling asleep, people still walked on the street below shouting “¡Viva Mexico!”
More photos on my Flickr.
Today is the Mexico’s bicentennial and centennial. It’s 200 years since independence; 100 years since the revolution. There are many, many, many, many, many, many flags all around. I saw an elderly lady this morning in a green waistcoat over a white shirt with a long red skirt. And I saw these three lads. I was following them for several minutes before the guy in the white t-shirt moved to the middle. I like to think their clothing choices were a happy accident this morning. I’m most likely wrong, though.
One of the things I’m hoping to do more of while I’m here is this type of quick sketchy stuff. I often find that when I’d drawing using the Brushes application, I get too into the detail, and end up with a bunch of semi-finished drawings that I’ve lost the will to finish and are therefore useless and deleted. But I really enjoyed sitting down on a wall across the street from a nearby fancy and expensive hotel, and spending a swift ten minutes on a drawing. The most fun I’ve had using Brushes in a while.
More of my finger painting in the Much Fuck It’s Drawing section.
I went to Toronto to write the book, and the book is more-or-less done. (I still use the word “write” when really, it’s a bunch of information graphics; but I kind of feel like write is the correct word, as there are six essays in the book, and like a proper non-fiction writer, a crap load of research was involved. It is odd, though, when people ask what it is about, and I just shrink and mutter stuff about charts and graphs.) Now it’s time to move on. Not back to Europe just yet. Not sure exactly when that will happen. I figure I’ve spent enough of my life in Europe. Time for something new. Just after I’d turned 30, I moved to Berlin. Now, as I hurtle towards 40, I find myself a bit listless, out of sorts. Toronto has been very nice. I’ve met some nice people. The city, the atmosphere is… nice. It’s a little bit of an emotionally cold city, though. I’m glad that a couple of Canadians (that is, Canadians not raised in Toronto) confirmed this, and it wasn’t just me. I can be emotionally cold, too, so these two things colliding probably means that Toronto will not be my home again. But I realised I’d miss it on Saturday. I’d been at the Blue Jays game and as I left the Skydome, I took one last walk around the Douglas Coupland-designed Toronto Park. (I wrote about it earlier in the year.) It hit me there, that I would miss Toronto. It hit me three more times, too. I went into my local bar Squirly’s, a place where I’ve spent so much time that I’ve developed genuine friendships with a couple of people who work there (ie. meeting up at other bars to go drinking, going to ballgames, etc.). So I went there for one last drink on Sunday night, and after goodbye hugs, I walked out with a lump in my throat, widening my eyes to make sure I didn’t weep.
Hit number two was at the airport early on Monday morning. The plane was boarding, and along the walls of the skywalk, there were the usual smug-ass HSBC ads that seem to be in every bloody airport in the world, but there were also a few Toronto tourism-y pictures. The very last one before I stepped onto the plane was of the SkyDome. I stared at the ground, shuffled into the plane, and thankfully, got engaged in a baseball conversation with one of the stewards who saw my Yankees cap and asked, “Do you just like the cap or are you a fan?” So while a guy who was seemingly oblivious that standing in the aisle and taking off his jacket and getting stuff out of his carry-on was holding everyone up, we had a chat about the games the Yankees are currently playing against the Tampa Bay Rays.
I had a middle seat. Always a joy. The guy with the aisle seat was probably in his late fifties, looked like Humpty Dumpty with liver spots and a sparse head of pomade-laced hair. He also took up about 10% of my seat, too. Thankfully, the window seat guy was a stick insect, so I could kinda dominate the arm rest there. Hit number three came when I flicked through the channels on the telly system, and found a few episodes of the Ken Burns documentary series, “Baseball.” Watching black and white images of Babe Ruth drilled home that I was leaving baseball behind, except for watching games on my laptop.
But, it did distract me from the middle seat-ness; time flew by, and soon enough, the plane was on the ground and my passport had been stamped, and I picked up my luggage. They have x-ray machines at Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México. You hand in your form, put all your luggage on the conveyor belt, pick it up, and head out to get a cab. Except they had some questions. They wanted me to open my suitcase and look at something. I had a jar of Marmite in there, so I wondered if having a jar of that gorgeous, dark, yeasty gloop was considered importing food that you’re not supposed to import. But no, they wanted to know about my baseball caps. Now, I realise it is utterly ridiculous to have over forty baseball caps with me, but, y’know, I only own two pairs of shoes, and three pairs of trousers, so my clothing priorities may be a bit askew, but this is the United States* and I can do what I want.
* Okay, technically, it’s not the United States we all know and love, but I am in the Estados Unidos Mexicanos.
The lady was under the impression I was importing goods to be sold. She asked how much they were worth. I low-balled her. She asked why I had them. I told her that I really liked baseball and gestured towards the baseball books, the baseball glove, and the Dave Stieb bobblehead in the suitcase. Clearly at this point, any normal person would think I was just a mental person who liked an American game way too much. But she was insistant that I had to prove they were mine. She wanted to see receipts, she started counting them. One by one, I got them out, pointed out sweaty stains on the inside, the faded colours on the older caps, and the ungodly stench coming from my Montreal Expos cap. It must’ve been the smell that convinced her than no-one in their right mind would be trying to sell something as disgusting as that Expos hat.
So, yes, I’m in Mexico City y tengo aprender español.
I watched The Killing Fields again recently. As is the way in the modern world, after finishing watching it, I had a poke around on Wikipedia, read some stuff about the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. On Pol Pot’s page, there’s this photograph of him meeting with Nicolae Ceauşescu:
Original, full-size image here.
I’ve become a wee bit obsessed with this photograph. I’ve looked at it at least once a day since I first saw it. It’s so utterly fascinating. At first I kinda got to wondering why Pol Pot and Ceauşescu would be meeting each other, but I guess all world leaders have something to talk about, some common business interests. I wonder if they talked about their brutalities? I wonder if they were one-upping each other? Or did Ceauşescu not get into that game simply because he knew he’d lose, no matter how big of a twat he was?
I like these official meeting photos, the way they are always kind of the same, but it’s the differences that are fantastic. Here, it’s the potted palms that look like they were dragged into that room 20 minutes before the meeting. The huge curtains look like they are concealing something other than windows. Maybe that’s where the banquet is being held, but, y’know, it’s Pol fucking Pot, so it’s probably a room full of skulls.
And who was it who decided those types of chairs were good? Nobody ever looks comfortable in them unless they’ve kicked their shoes off, put their feet up on a pouffe, and are reading the newspaper in front of Coronation Street. The guy on the right looks like his feet barely touch the floor; Pol Pot looks like a Gerry Anderson marionette, Nicolae looks like a drunk uncle, and Mrs. Ceauşescu seems like she’s about to nip into the kitchen to put some more custard creams on a tea plate. The guys in the background, too. The Romanian seems to be a cartoon villain, and the Cambodian guy seems so out of place; he looks like he’s expecting the photograph to just be on Nicolae Ceauşescu’s Facebook page.
And seriously, could the photographer not hold a camera straight?
Well, I still haven’t stopped recording my sleep every day. I do wonder if this is it, if I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life now.
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Aaaah… ooh, feel a bit dizzy.
Last night I went to the Toronto Blue Jays vs. Texas Rangers game, my 30th Jays game of the summer. The stadium was very empty. Apparently, being the day after Labour Day combined with the first day of the new school year makes this day in the calendar a bad one to be hosting a ballgame. My friends Andrew, Joe and I bought cheap upstairs tickets but snuck down in to the $50-ish seats. The SkyDome has some of the most stringent stewards I’ve ever experienced at a ballpark. Most places you can usually move around easily as long as you aren’t in somebody’s paid-for seat. But there are ways and it’s not too difficult. Andrew has an extensive guide to sneaking down to the better seats on his website, Drunk Jays Fans.
Anyway, the Jays beat the Rangers. Some home runs. Blah blah blah. We went to a bar called Wide Open, a narrow dark bar, drank more beer, shots of sambuca, Joe went home. Andrew and I looked for somewhere to carry on boozing. We discussed how gross the draught beer at a place called Java House is. One can’t be sure, but it always tastes like they have dirty pipes.
We ended up at Java House. A pitcher and wings for $13. Sweet. That’s what we had. We were sat on the patio, taking shit about baseball. At an adjacent table, I overheard two guys talking about “Love, Actually.” I asked them what they thought. They thought it was great. I agreed. Behind us, another guy chimed in. He thought it was awesome, too. A bunch of dudes all agreeing that an English romantic comedy was ace. Which was as unlikely a part of the evening as was Andrew and I spending the next hour or so chatting to a Croatian woman about baseball. But not as unlikely as the fact that, drunk as hell, I ate salad instead of junk food when I got home.
On Saturday I had lunch in a Chinese restaurant. The waitress brought over water, a napkin and chopsticks after I’d ordered what I wanted. I sheepishly asked for a fork when the meal arrived. (Insert Jerry Seinfeld bit about chopsticks and forks here. Okay, I’ll do it for you.) For whatever reason, a childhood memory barged its way to the front of my brain, pushing aside any chance I had of focussing on the page of the book I was reading (“Elliot Allagash” by Simon Rich. I’m a big fan of his two previous collections, and this, his first novel, is great: if you want something to read that is quick and very funny, I thoroughly recommend it.)
We had these forks at home that were only brought out when we had Chinese takeout. They were forks that, I assume, were designed for British people to eat rice with. Chinese takeout was a treat. Whatever my parents had, my sister and I invariably had chicken curry and chips*. Chunks of chicken in that strange MSG-laced, cloying, mucus-y curry sauce, and chips. Big fat chips. Chips that were different from chip shop chips or my Mum’s awesome homemade chips**. And there would always be a brown paper bag of prawn crackers too. It was a kid’s dream: crackers and chips in one sitting!
* How depressing must it be if you move your family halfway around the world to make a better life for yourself, you open a takeaway place and the locals order chips?
** Once, when I was a teenager, and it was my turn to wash the dishes — my sister and I took turns to wash or dry — I thought that I’d be nice and wash out the chip pan. So I poured the still-warm chip fat down the plug hole, washed the pan, and felt incredibly proud of myself. Until my Mum, rather vocally, pointed out my error.
The forks we had were kinda like spoons with a U-shaped notch cut out of the apex to create two prongs. (Actually, they were probably sporks not forks.) The memory of those forks set off a lightning-fast slideshow in my head of other childhood memories…
I lived really close to my school. I could see the sports field from my bedroom window. It was across the street. My school was on the same land as the local sports centre. So we were lucky: we had enough space for four or five soccer or rugby fields in the winter, and space for cricket and athletics in the summer. Inside the sports centre, we had access to badminton, squash, and swimming. The gymnasium was also used for roller skating on Saturday nights. I used to go there when I was around 14 or 15 years old. I only ever learned to skate anti-clockwise. So at the point in the night when the DJ announced that it was time to go the other way, I would sheepishly move to the side and take a break. It was also the place where I learned the power of perfume. There was a girl there who wore Poison by Christian Dior. It was like teenage boy catnip. I’d skate in her wake, constantly in a cloud of mind-bendingly lovely Poison. Later, in my late teens and early twenties, Calvin Klein’s Obsession had the same effect, so much so that I had one of those smelly magazine pullout adverts, (the kind with the smelly strip folded over) Blu-Tacked to my bed head. It didn’t hurt that it had a nice black and white picture of Kate Moss on it. I’d give it a wee sniff before I went to sleep on the nights that my then-girlfriend didn’t stay over, (she also wore Obsession and was fine with me liking Kate Moss). Most of all, though, was the smell of dewberry. I guess dewberry was a Body Shop thing; and to this day it makes me weak at the knees whenever I pass someone on the street and catch a whiff of it.
The nearest part of the school/sports centre to my house, though, were the tennis courts and the gravelly area that was used for five-a-side soccer, and car boot sales on Sundays. I remember one time, some friends and I entered a five-a-side competition, and we chose the team name Cosmos because we thought New York Cosmos and the other NASL team names were really cool. We never saw them on TV, of course; I guess we must’ve seen them in football magazines like Match and Shoot. And we also used to call it soccer. We really, really thought it was a cooler word than football.
In the winter, I guess it was in the month or so before Christmas, they put an artificial ice rink on top of the nearest three tennis courts to my house. I never skated there, though. I would have done, but the first year they did it (1983) I fell ill. I was thirteen years old. One day I had a cystitis-like pain when urinating. It was either later that day or the next day, I don’t remember that clearly. I’d been into town and got the bus home. There were two buses that serviced my suburb of Lincoln: the 24 and the 27. The 27 stopped outside the school, but the 24 went another direction that meant a fifteen minute walk home. On this particular day, I got the 24. Shortly after getting off the bus, I felt like I’d need a poo quite soon. But, y’know, I was only fifteen minutes from home: no biggie. I broke wind. I broke wind with extras. I had a fifteen minute walk home with sludge in my pants. I was a 13 year old boy who had shat his pants, who had a fifteen minute walk home. It wasn’t fun, I don’t recommend it. The next morning my alarm went off as normal. At that age, I was very much a get-up-and-go kid (at least, that’s how I remember it). I got up, and fell over. My legs were useless. Couldn’t move them. My parents were both at work. My sister must have already gone to school (not entirely sure why that would’ve been the case, but my memory is of being alone in the house). I don’t remember much of what happened next. I was taken to see the family doctor, and whatever happened there, I had this horrible chalky medicine to drink. For the next few days my sister and I switched bedrooms. It’s likely that that happened because her room was closer to the bathroom. From her bedroom, I could see the ice rink. From my room — which was slightly set back from the rest of the house — I wouldn’t have had a good view of it. I saw kids skating, I could hear the music, but I couldn’t skate myself. In fact, to this day, I’ve only ever ice skated once in my life, a couple of years previously in Weston-super-Mare, a seaside town with an awesome name in the southwest of England. That time was on artificial ice and I remember being very bad at ice skating. Christopher Dean’s professional relationship with Jayne Torvill was entirely safe.
Some time later — I have no idea how long it took; a few days maybe — an ambulance came and I was taken to St. George’s Hospital. I had this weird thing, and I would have to have it seen to in a hospital. Thankfully, I was thirteen years old and thus was admitted to an adult ward. (A school friend subsequently spent some time in the hospital for diabetes, but he was twelve and had to stay on the children’s ward with the wailing six year olds.) I basically had an arthritic problem, and my legs were Velco-ed into these plaster bandage splints. I only took them off when I needed to use the commode. My memories of my teenage years are kinda hit and miss. I don’t remember much about certain things; a lot about other things. Unfortunately, my memories of my time in hospital aren’t very full. Mostly just bits and pieces. I remember having a crush on a nurse. I remember that I was terrified of injections. I remember enjoying ticking the boxes and choosing the food off the menu that was brought around at the start of the day. I remember my parents would go to a record shop and buy 7″ singles for me with my pocket money. I remember my iron deficiency meant having to drink iron medicine daily, and it being the foulest tasting thing (even typing the words brings back a sensory memory of the taste). I remember the guy in the bed next to me was an engineer with the Red Arrows, which was very very cool. And I remember after several weeks of not seeing Tessa, the family dog, my parents and nurses organised for my bed to be wheeled into the day room, up to the edge of the doors that opened up to a garden, where my parents were waiting with Tessa. I was so happy to see her. And I remember when I was on the mend, and ready to leave, the doctor and nurses helping me stand up. Six weeks in bed wastes away your muscles. I couldn’t support my own weight. When I returned home, I distinctly remember the lounge was hot. All the bars on the gas fire were on. And I arrived home in time for “Diff’rent Strokes.” And, I don’t know if this is true or not, but it’s very easy to convince my memory that we had Chinese food for tea that night.
Back at school, I had special treatment. I was allowed to spend breaks indoors, out of the cold. My mate Tim — the kid with diabetes — was allowed to spend his breaks inside too, to keep me company. For some reason, I used to have a Khmer Rouge-esque relationship with things from my own past. It’s always Year Zero. When I went to art school, I threw out all of my school-era artwork. When I got to university, I did the same with my art school stuff. When I got a job in London working in the music business, I threw out all of the university stuff. I really really wish I had all of that stuff now. Thankfully, I’ve kept everything since the mid-Nineties. But, if I had the stuff I was doing back in those indoor school breaks, I’d have a diary of an invented Craig Robinson. A Craig Robinson that was a pop star. Every year we were given diaries at school. I guess they thought — rather optimistically — we’d use them to keep track of our homework assignments or tests. I used mine to record the day-to-day events of my life as a pop star. I’d record an album in two days, and it would be released a week later. I’d be on the cover of Smash Hits soon afterwards. And every Monday — the pop charts were revealed on a Monday lunchtime back then — my single’s progress up the charts would be recorded. I would have several singles in the charts at the same time for most of the year. I would go on tour quite a lot, too. I’d play in London, New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo all in the same week. I was BIG NEWS! I was bigger than Nik Kershaw.
Tim and I… Well, as school went on we became more casual friends. I remember we had an argument about something and it was never the same again. Our music tastes changed (we were both into Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Huey Lewis at one point) but when he got a girlfriend (who, I believe, became his wife) and I got into the Mission and the Sisters of Mercy, our separate lives were complete.
But back in the early to mid-eighties, as well as the pop star diary, I made miniature record sleeves. I’d take graph paper and make a record sleeve about two inches square. I’d also make an inner sleeve, and I’d use a pair of compasses to draw a circle and carefully cut it out. I’d draw the front and back cover with felt tip pens. I’d do the same for the inner sleeve (mostly thin horizontal lines to recreate the printed lyrics) and I’d colour the circles black on both sides, with an appropriate coloured centre to make a tiny paper record to slip into the sleeves. I made quite a few of them. I’m not sure how many, but I distincly remember doing “Thriller,” Wham!’s “Fantastic,” and Duran Duran’s self-titled debut and “Rio.” I really wish I still had them. It’s funny that I made miniature record sleeves as a kid, and ended up with a website based around miniature portraits of pop stars.
Beer glass is empty. That’ll do for now.
I typed the above words into my iPod, sat in my local, sat at the bar, over the course of three pints of Stratford Pilsner. The guy who sat down at the empty stool next to mine while I was outside have a smoke, was drinking whiskey and had a really strong smell of feta cheese. Like, really strong. Anyway, what I wrote about, and what I wanted to write about here are two different things. I guess if I’m drunk and in the mood to type, I’ll get around to writing more about what I wanted to write about.
On Queen Street West this afternoon, two women in diagonally matching clothes.
Close to where I live is a nice wee area called Kensington Market. Lots of grocery stores, cafes, bars. It is quite, for want of a less heinous word, vibrant. There’s a park there called Bellevue Square Park. Within that park is a statue stood between two benches. It’s a statue of Al Waxman. Al Waxman! The lieutenant off “Cagney and Lacey” has a statue! Made me laugh loads when I first saw it. And it made me happy, too, because I’ve long had a desire to have framed photographs of TV and movie lieutenants all along a corridor wall. Apparently, though, Waxman — who died in 2001 — was very famous in Canada. He was in a sitcom called 1970s “King of Kensington” (YouTube clip of title sequence) in which he owned a convenience store in Kensington Market. Al Waxman had a happy face, as the clip linked above shows. And I remember him as having a happy face in “Cagney and Lacey,” too. So it’s kinda weird that the statue looks Aphex Twin-ishly creepy. Especially when you take two photographs and make an animated gif out of them.
For the first time since I arrive in Toronto in May, I am wearing a sweater in the day time. I’ve only worn a sweater or hooded top four times in total since arriving. It’s been hot. Earlier this week, even, the people who warn about these things within local government issues a heat advisory warning, saying there was a heat wave. But it’s sweater weather today, and it’s nice.
I went to McDonald’s yesterday because — obviously — I wanted a healthy nutritious snack. I had a hamburger. I absolutely cannot ever remember having a McDonald’s hamburger before. I felt like J. Wellington Wimpy. Sadly, though, I had to pay them immediately.
While I was there I took one of the little paper cups that you can pump ketchup into. They are lovely little creations. Something I didn’t realise until I played with it this morning is that there’s no adhesives involved, it’s all origami. Look:
I also took a sachet of pepper. It’s called pepper on one side of the sachet and, being Canada, it’s called poivre on the other side. It’s a good job I didn’t actually want any pepper, cos, well, there’s not much pepper in there: forty one grains to be precise.
Saturday morning, watching a movie from my teenage years: WarGames. 1983. Starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy. It’s a very strange feeling to look back on Cold War nuclear armageddon scenarios with a sense of wistful nostalgia. Things weren’t really simpler back then, it’s just that I was simpler, I guess. Ally Sheedy … she really is incredibly pretty.