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Belize, day 2: Corozal to Placencia

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A good solid eight hours sleep, up at 5.15am to get the 6.15am bus. Shower, dressed, sweating virtually from the off. It’s good being a hot-blooded English human when I’m in cold countries, but as soon as I get to somewhere humid, it kills me and any pretence I have that I might look good. How can you look good when your shirt is sweaty from the moment you wake up?

The buses in Belize are great. If you are child-size. They are yer actual genuine Blue Bird buses. The American school buses that you know well if you are American, and know from films and telly if you are not American. At Corozal, there were about ten of us on the bus. On the way out of town, it stopped every few hundred yards to pick up more people. It was frustratingly slow, by normal life standards, but I am on holiday, so not too much of a worry. After leaving Corozal, the bus kept stopping, but less frequently. Where roads from villages met the main highway, there would be people waiting or getting off. As we got close to Orange Walk, one of Belize’s bigger towns, the bus was full of children going to school. At Orange Walk, a couple of Mennonite dudes got on. Long trousers, long shirts, long beards, tall wide-brimmed hats. One of them was drinking a Coke. It seemed odd to see that (says the ill-informed blogger).

I listened to Coldplay. Yes, I know. But ever since my travels in 2008, I always associate bus travel with listening to and enjoying their music. I do it now almost of out of habit. It’s comforting somehow.

Some of the people who got on the bus at 6.15 in Corozal were still on the bus as we entered Belize City, three hours later. And judging by their business attire, they must work there. A six hour round trip to work every day.

At the Belize City bus station, I got off the bus and onto the bus right next to it, to head further south. The bus was already fairly full, and I sat in an aisle seat. Ordinarily, I like window seats, cos, y’know, the view. But on these tiny school buses, an aisle seat wasn’t so bad. I could stretch one leg. The woman in front of me was reading a Kindle. Over her shoulder it was something that featured characters called Aubrey and Max. A beach house was mentioned too.

I listened to some of an audio book. Somewhere along the way, I lost the physical copy of In Patagonia by Bruce a couple of years ago before I’d had chance to read it. And because I’d already bought it, I didn’t feel guilty recently, when I torrented the audio book. I’m about half way through. I wanted to read/hear it because, well, I still dream of being a travel writer, and this is one of the books that’s always mentioned amongst the best of the genre. To be perfectly honest, so far, it doesn’t seem as great as I assumed it would be. I mean, it’s enjoyable for sure, but it’s not blowing me away.

The highway system in Belize is minimal. There’s one from the north, via Orange Walk, to Belize City. Another that goes west towards Guatemala, and another than goes from the capital, Belmopan (about halfway along the western highway) east and towards Dangriga, then south to Punta Gorda. I was on the bus that stopped at Belmopan. It emptied and filled up again with passengers and we kept on truckin’ towards Dangriga, where the landscape changed from flat to a bit hilly. Lovely jungle-y stuff going on on either side, which allowed me to ignore the guy who kept falling asleep on my shoulder.

An oldish guy across the aisle with a Milwaukee Brewers cap and a splendid moustache was chatting with anyone who would listen. At one stop, he stood up, went to the door, and chucked his empty Coke bottle onto the grass verge. So *that’s* why there’s so much trash in Belize…

A woman and her two sons sat down on the seat in front of me. The kids spent a lot of time staring at me. I crossed my eyes at one of them. He hid his head. Then looked up again. I crossed one eye (it’s a talent, y’know). He hid again and looked a bit scared. I did it again and smiled. Nope, even smiling doesn’t work. But it did stop him staring at me, so one-nil Craig.

I’d not had a piss since 6am. As we left Dangriga, at 12.15pm, I realised that I really should’ve used the five minutes that we were stopped there to have a wee. Still another hour and a half to go. I saw road signs that told me we were getting closer. It was good to know. We pulled into the new bus station at Independence (a bit further out of town than the old one; taxi drivers rejoice). I got in a cab and took the five dollar ride to the Hokey Pokey water taxi station. Joy: a good long piss.

Relieved, I went to buy the US$5 ticket for the water taxi to Placencia and as luck would have it, the TV in the cage above the ticket window was showing the second half of the Liverpool v Real Madrid game. As luck wouldn’t have it, Real were 3-0 up and looking like they could’ve utterly crushed Liverpool had they been bothered about doing so.

In the water taxi, I sat behind a couple of Dutch guys who were talking as loudly as people talk when they realise nobody understands what they are saying. They were both in their mid-forties, ie. my age, but they were dressed in that mid-forties way that is best described as Borisbeckerian. Spiked and gelled hair. Earrings. Ill-advised tribal tattoos under flamboyant shirts. Sporty shades.

Ten minutes of water taxiing (a joy, actually: across the lagoon, loads of birds and mangrove) and I take a slow sweaty stroll along the Sidewalk (referred to as a road, but actually, it’s just a concrete path raised an inch or two above the sand), to the hotel that I booked at the border the day before.

I checked in, had a shower, a couple of glugs of mezcal from my hip flask, then went out to the Barefoot Bar, a beach bar, a short walk along the beach from the hotel. I drank Belikin stout and chatted with the older couple at the next table. They were retired hospital workers from Wheatland, Wyoming who bought a house down here. They seemed genuinely happy to be living in Belize for seven months a year. They thought I was nuts for living in Mexico City. I googled Wheatland, Wyoming. It has a population of 3,627. It makes sense that Wheatland natives would think living in DF was nuts.

A band started up. Just a guy with a guitar, singing, and his mate playing a bongo and a cymbal. They started up with a cover of With or Without You. They said they had a spare bass and harmonica if anyone wanted to join their “fun” and “funky” “jam session.” Without needing to be asked twice, I stepped up to the plate, grabbed the bass guitar and sang a few Police songs. The locals clapped. The ovation lasted for several minutes. I went back to my beer. Men wanted to shake my hand, woman wanted to shake other bits of me.

Obviously, that’s not what happened. They played Eagles, Pretenders, Bob Marley covers. Enough was enough. I paid up and went back to the hotel. I could hear the jammers jamming from my room. Black Hole Sun. I watched a good twenty minutes of Children of Men on my iPad and fell asleep before 9pm. I kinda like how Belize does that to me. I wake up dead early and go to bed dead early too.

Written by Craig

October 23rd, 2014 at 12:40 pm

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Belize, day 1: Mexico City to Corozal

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You always worry when you’ve got an early flight. You have to wake up earlier than normal, so you try to go to bed earlier than normal. That last bit never works. I was in bed at 9pm, but didn’t sleep til gone 11. And that worrying about missing a flight is never necessary. I’d set my alarm for 3am, but woke up naturally at 2.58am. I gave myself an hour before the taxi was due. Again, though, that was unnecessary. You only need an hour to get ready if you are unprepared and like to hit the snooze button. The snooze button is something I haven’t used since I was in my twenties. If I need to get up, I get up.

Buzzer / yes? / taxi / I’ll be right down / goodbye to girlfriend / in taxi / empty roads / pay / receipt / check in / last smoke / security / wait / plane.

The guy sat in front of me snored like a bastard. He sounded like he was trying to snort gravel through a straw.

An expensive taxi from Chetumal airport to the border and there I am, ready to do my favourite thing in the world: cross an international border on foot. At the Mexico side of the border, you have to pay 300 pesos to leave. Paid the money, gracias, then walked over the bridge above the river at separates Mexico and Belize.

The first time I made this journey, two years ago, I was naive, and got a 15 US dollar taxi. On subsequent trips, I’ve not been stupid. There are small buses, like VW van-size, that charge two or three Belizean dollars (US$1=BZ$2). It’s a ten minute walk from the bridge to immigration on the Belize side. A guy in a van pulled up alongside and told me it was three dollars to go to Corozal, my destination, about ten miles or so away. Sweet. I gave him the dollars, he drove me to immigration, and said I’ll wait for you on the other side.

Immigration is a stand alone building that, until last year, was just a few wooden desk and some relaxed dudes with ink pads and a stamp. Now, though, those desks have perspex screens and cameras and the officers seem more uptight. Not sure if it’s true, but I’ve heard that the US government paid for the security upgrades.

The officer looked at my passport, asked why I had been in Mexico for so long. I told her. She asked where I was going in Belize. I told her. She asked if I had hotel reservations. I told her that, I had reservations for a couple of places, but not for a couple of others. She asked to see the reservations. I told her that I did them online and don’t have print outs. She asked about Placencia, a place where I didn’t have a reservation. Well, it’s not tourist season, so I figured I’d just arrive and find somewhere (this is something I like to do; arriving in a place and not knowing where you will sleep in kinda exciting.) She pushed my passport back through the hole and said, I can’t let you in if you don’t have somewhere to stay. I asked what I was supposed to do, she gave me a look, and turned away. Okay then, thanks for your help, ma’am.

Very very fortunately, there was a tourism desk at the entrance. I told the guy what had happened, and that I’d previously stayed at Sea Spray and One World in Placencia, so maybe I could try one of those. He looked at his screen, went to the Sea Spray website and used his own private cell phone to call them. Yes, they have vacancies (obvs). I spoke to someone on the phone, who was nice and friendly, telling me the difference between the rooms (prices, A/C, telly, sea view, etc). This was all fine, but just gimme a room. I told her my credit card details, and gave the phone back to the tourism dude. I heard his end of the convo. He told her that, yes, I think we have a fax machine. Pause. Well, if you can do it soon, because this gentleman is waiting to get into the country. When he ended the call, he said that she said that she would fax confirmation in 15 minutes.

15 minutes is a long time when you are in limbo. I went outside for a smoke. It was humid. I was sweating. I went back inside and chatted with the tourism guy. He was called Bernard. He asked where I was in Mexico. When I told him, he looked at me like I was nuts to live somewhere like DF. We chatted about our lives, his ex-wife, my girlfriend, his job, my job. All in all, he was the perfect person to be stuck dealing with this situation. Laid back and friendly.

After 20 minutes, the fax came through. I shook Bernard’s hand, thanked him for being so helpful, and went back to the immigration desk. By this time, a different person was there. A man about my age. I told him that his colleague had insisted I have a hotel in Placencia. He didn’t even look at the fax. He asked how long I’d be in Belize, then stamped my passport and wished me a good stay. Obviously, the three dollar bus guy had gone by the time I left immigration.

In Corozal I stayed, again, at the Sea Breeze Hotel. It’s my third time there. It’s cheap, basic, but I like it. The owner is a Welsh former roadie. He’s got plenty of tales to tell, which, depending on how he feels about you, he seems willing to tell after a couple of beers. If this hotel was on the Gordon Ramsay show Hotel Hell, it’d be fun to see who would punch who first. The problem, though, with watching that show is it kinda makes you paranoid about every hotel.

After a quick shower, I borrowed one of the hotel bicycles and went for some breakfast. Went to Al’s Cafe, a place I’d not been before, but had seen recommended on a blog about Belize. Eleven o’clock, though, was too late for breakfast. I had lunch. Rice, beans, stewed chicken. Average.

While I was eating, this guy came and sat next to me. He kinda looked like a curly-haired version of Neymar. Handsome chap. He started his pitch. He carves wood. He showed me his hands. They looked like he carves wood. He told me he’s not a bad guy, not begging for money. He told me he didn’t ask me for money when he saw me ten minutes earlier, so “you know I’m not just a beggar.” Then he asked me for money. Just a couple of dollar so that he can get the bus to Belize City, so he can sell his carvings to the people getting off cruise ships. I didn’t give him money.

Next stop was Primos’, a bar near the water in the south of the town. When I say that, you probably think I went a decent way on the bicycle, but no, it’s a small town, and it was only a few minutes on the bike. Like a lot of Belizean buildings, it was wood. Open sides. Loads of flags hanging from the roof: Belize, USA, Mexico, Canada, Panama, Honduras. Pretty much all North and Central America represented. Tiny white ants ran across the bar. A Canadian woman sat near me played whack-a-mole with them. Killing ants with her thumb. Here, there, here, there. She had quite the task. I talked to her male companion. A bug eyed man (he had beautiful blue eyes, actually) with a nicotine stained moustache. We chatted about life. He told me they’d been in Belize for four months, yet he spoke with all the weariness of someone who had lived here for decades. He was from that part of Canada where they frack. He told me that a few shitty companies have ruined fracking’s reputation for everyone. If done responsibly, he said, it’s not dangerous. But, of course, this is a man who has retired in his fifties after fracking for twenty-odd years, so I’m inclined to feel he has an interest in fracking’s reputation.

As mentioned above, this was my third time in Corozal. The first time I was there, the best food I had was at a place in the centre of town called Purple Toucan. The next time I visited, Purple Toucan had closed and the delightful Mexican-Belizean couple who owned it had moved their restaurant to their own home, about a fifteen minute bike ride into the countryside away. It was renamed Tucan Mexicana. I took the bike in the midday sun and sweated my way out there. It was closed. And looked like it wasn’t functioning anymore. None of the seating and tables were outside the front. In their place, just the concrete ground and several loud barking dogs. Belize is always the same, but always different.

I returned to Primos’. Club sandwich and another Belikin. Fun fact: Belikin beer has had a redesign. And as with most redesigns, it’s not as nice as it was before. I was tired and a bit sleepy. I returned to the hotel, had a lie down, but my brain stopped me from having a nap. I watched the Barcelona-Ajax game for a bit, and then went out for supplies: water and custard cream biscuits.

I got stuck back into the Belikins at the hotel. The owner was sick. He had food poisoning. I sat alone in the bar, marking down the beers I drank. He came out occasionally, groaning about his dodgy tummy and arse. I flicked through the channels on the telly, and eventually found a channel showing game one of the World Series and spend the next couple of hours participating in the NotGraphs live chat.

When my iPad battery died, I retired to my room and watched about ten minutes of the remaining innings before falling asleep.

Written by Craig

October 23rd, 2014 at 10:47 am

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A wee trump

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September 25th, 2014 at 8:06 am

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Dodger Stadium

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July 8th, 2014 at 7:50 am

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Predictions update

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I am clearly rubbish at predicting stuff.
My original predictions, with correct placings in bold.

Group A: Brazil, Mexico, Croatia, Cameroon
Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
Group C: Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan, Greece
Group D: Uruguay, England, Italy, Costa Rica
Group E: France, Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nigeria, Iran
Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States
Group H: Belgium, Russia, South Korea, Algeria

Let’s have a re-look, then, and predict the Round of 16 and beyond.
Because of my crappy predictions in the groups, my original Round of 16 predictions are virtually pointless.
I originally went for a Brazil v Argentina final with Argentina winning. Still think that’s possible, but having watched each of the teams a few times, I might change my mind.
Let’s see, shall we? (Enthralling, right?)

Round of 16:
Brazil v Chile
I would love to see Chile win this one. But I just think that, however it happens, the home nation will find a way to stay in the competition.

Colombia v Uruguay
Colombia had a relatively easy group, of course, but they look pretty good, huh? And Uruguay, apart from Suárez against England, haven’t been as impressed as I originally imagined.

Netherlands v Mexico
Heart over head here.

Costa Rica v Greece
Please let’s get rid of the boring teams at this stage.

France v Nigeria
It would be wonderful, I think, if there was an upset here. And then we, as the dominant species on this planet can all come together and get behind the Nigerian people and completely destroy those fucks kidnapping schoolgirls and bombing people.

Germany v Algeria
They’ll just win, right?

Argentina v Switzerland
The only Round of 16 game I actually predicted happening. *High fives self* Argentina all the way here.

Belgium v USA
I don’t like the US team at all, but they’re like mosquitos and never bloody stop. Can see them upsetting Everyone’s Dark Horses here.

Brazil v Colombia
Mexico v Costa Rica
France v Germany
Argentina v USA

Colombia v France
Mexico v Argentina

France v Argentina

Written by Craig

June 28th, 2014 at 9:07 am

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A Barcelona-er

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November 8th, 2013 at 7:45 am

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My birthday in three sentences

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I spilled coffee on my trousers
I had a nosebleed
And a bird shat on my arm

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September 22nd, 2013 at 11:12 pm

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3 quick dudes

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September 10th, 2013 at 7:56 am

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July 24th, 2013 at 10:22 pm

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Oscar Niemeyer, 1907-2012

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Oscar Niemeyer died today in Rio de Janeiro, aged 104.

I’ve been lucky enough to have seen a lot of his buildings.
His work in Brasilia is mind-blowing. Truly amazing stuff.
Here’s some photos I took of his buildings in 2008 in Brasília, São Paulo, Niterói, and Curitiba.

Written by Craig

December 5th, 2012 at 7:55 pm

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This drawing is called Pepinster. You can see a bigger version here. It has a fairly long history. I drew the first elements in March 2003. Actually, I should explain the name first. In 2002, when I was living in Berlin, I went to visit friends in Belgium. The train went through a town called Pepinster, not far from Liege. It struck me as a fairly British-sounding town name. And an anagram of “pert penis.” I’d be lying if it wasn’t the latter of those two things that helped keep the name in my mind.

I did a sketch of a town with flat two-dimensional houses in a notebook, and then decided to do a pixelly drawing of what a town called Pepinster would look like. I started with the pub. And a bunch of other buildings, all of which have been discarded. The only elements from the 2003 version of this drawing that still exist are the pub, the train station, the river, and the bowling green. Over the years, I’ve opened the Photoshop document intending to finish it many times. I did a little more work on it in 2008. Last weekend, though, I opened the document and added a row of terraced houses. And kept on going.

It’s difficult to remember what I was thinking nine years ago. I vaguely remember some grandiose plan to animate it (cars moving, people walking) and having a narration that, in my head, would be kind of along the lines of – but obviously not as good as – Under Milk Wood. I also find it difficult to pick up old things later; it’s hard to get the feelings in my head back, and re-start with the same enthusiasm and goal. But that was kind of what allowed me to finish it. Working on it in June 2012, I viewed it as simply a drawing of a made-up British town drawn by a British person who has not lived in Britain for twelve years.

Whilst it’s mostly a made-up town, there are references to various things from my own history in there. The pub is based on the Harrows Inn in North Hykeham, not from from where I lived as a teenager (Google Street View). The parade of shops either side of the pub and next to the river are influenced by similar parades in Crystal Palace (where I lived in the late Nineties), and Barnet (where my friends John and Sarah live, and where I usually stay whenever I visit London). As anyone who has tried will know, drawing “random” is tough. The brain doesn’t work like that. (If you’ve never tried, and feel like giving it a go, try drawing a skyscraper at night, and choosing which lights in the building should be on or off; it’s really difficult to get it looking randomly realistic.) So when it came to deciding on what the terraced houses would look like, I used Google Street View to find colours and styles of windows and doors. Mostly I looked at houses I walked by on the journey from my house to the university in Derby. The church is All Saints Church on Brant Road, Lincoln, near my Mum’s house (Google Street View). The bus is a Lincolnshire Road Car bus. My grandfather drove one of those buses. And the swans and boat on the river are yet again influenced by Lincoln. The overall layout of this section of the town is kind of based on Brighton, if you imagine the river is where the sea would be.

It’s not really meant to be some horrible Little England, idealised version of a British town, even though it might look like that. When I’m drawing something like this, with lots of elements, my mind drifts and I tend to get into the details and back stories. There are Polish immigrants here in Pepinster. There’s a Chinese take-away, an Italian barber, and no St. George’s Cross flags. Fuck that shit. I guess there are things that would set this drawing in a time that isn’t the present (the British Rail train, the old design of the Road Car bus, the lack of billboards everywhere, no graffiti), but that’s mainly because I feel more comfortable drawing things I have personal experience of seeing. Because I’ve been away for such a large chunk of my life, whenever I go back, seeing the different designs of buses and trains these days feels a little disorienting. One of the fun things about getting really into the details of things is how I’ll take half an hour or more to draw a shop front. I’m entirely aware that nobody else will ever look at this drawing as closely as I have, just because nobody else has spend such a long time drawing it. I’d guess there’s over 50 hours worth of work in this drawing. Anyway, that’s enough explaining. Hope you like it.

Written by Craig

June 15th, 2012 at 12:51 pm

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(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)

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This is an idea that has been floating around in my head for a few months, and for obvious reasons, I got around to realising it this weekend.

Each dot represents one word of the song. The colours represent who is saying that word.

Sometimes, I’m asked if there are prints of my work available; I don’t normally do that sort of thing, but on the off-chance that you would like a print of this graphic, I’m providing a hi-res TIFF (254 x 321 mm / 10 x 12.6 inches; zipped file; 18.1MB) that you can download and have printed.

You don’t have to pay for it—-I certainly don’t want to profit from it-—but if you do want to download and print it, it would be nice if you would consider donating something to a cancer charity.

Here are some links to cancer charities in different countries.
If your home country is not listed, and you want to donate, just do some Googlin’,
and do it that way (and if you do do that, please email me (craig AT flipflopflyin DOT com)
and let me know which charity you used, and I can add it to the list.)

Canada: cancer.ca
Germany: kinderkrebsstiftung.de
Mexico: amlcc.org
UK: cancerresearchuk.org
USA: cancer.org

Here’s the Mediafire link to the hi-res file: fightforyourright.zip

Written by Craig

May 8th, 2012 at 3:29 pm

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Rubik’s Cube

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Animated GIF (1.3MB). May take a few moments to load.

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May 6th, 2012 at 8:09 pm

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Bored bird board beard braid brand bread breed bride broad brood

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May 3rd, 2012 at 3:29 pm

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Flamingos through a hole in the window frame

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April 24th, 2012 at 2:36 pm

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Birdy bird bird

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April 14th, 2012 at 8:49 pm

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Some words about a drunk person at a baseball game

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At last night’s Diablos Rojos del México-Leones de Yucatán game, there were three dudes in the section up and over from me. All in medical student white trousers and coats with shirts and ties and incongruous, red, Diablos caps. The camera man had picked them out a couple of times between innings, dancing around, being silly. All good. Then there seemed to be a murmur as more and more people started watching them try to leave. One of them was okay. Stood on the concrete steps, watching another of his pals try to convince the third that it was time to leave. The third guy was shit-faced. So drunk. The muscles in his face looked like they’d gone to sleep, his eyes were barely open, and his legs didn’t seem to want to bother holding up the rest of his body. His mate was trying to drag him to the aisle. He was having none of it. More and more people were watching this theatre instead of the game. After several minutes, the second guy gave up and left with the first guy. (Seriously! You can’t leave your drunk friends behind, dude. Not cool.) Anyway, once the third guy was freed of his downer buddies, he stood on the concrete steps, turned from the field, and urinated. I didn’t see the urine or penis itself, but by the looks on the faces in the seating above him, he was urinating. He turned around when he’d done, took a long time to find a way to make his fingers grab the zipper to do it up, and by this time, two security people were recreating the dance he had with his friend. He didn’t want to leave. They wanted him to leave. They got their wish. And we got back to watching baseball.

Written by Craig

March 29th, 2012 at 12:49 pm

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Avoiding the Oscars

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I made a decision last Sunday: to try and avoid knowing anything about the Oscars this year. And when I say “avoid,” I only really mean “not seek out information.” I was going to try and carry on with my normal browsing, and see if it is actually possible to avoid knowing about an event which the media seems to adore writing about. First thing to note: I haven’t watched any television or read any actual newspapers this week, and aside from a couple of hours of BBC 6 Music later in the week, I’ve not listened to any radio either. The only media that I went out of my way to avoid were a couple of podcasts which I knew would likely spend time talking about the Oscars. On the whole, I did quite well in avoiding finding things out. This is what I know or think may likely have happened:

Viola Davis won an acting award. I’m not sure if she was up for best actress or supporting actress, as I didn’t see the film she was nominated for.
(I learned this on the night of the Oscars when I clicked on BBC News on my way to look at sports stuff. There was a photo of her holding a shiny thing on the home page.)

Moneyball and Tree of Life didn’t win.
(Read this on Tuesday on a baseball Web site which mentioned Brad Pitt.)

An Iranian film won best foreign film.
(Mentioned on Tuesday by a friend on Facebook.)

The Undefeated won best documentary.
(Heard that on Tuesday when listening to Slate’s Hang Up & Listen sports-themed podcast.)

The Artist, I think, might’ve won best film.
(Saw those words close to each other when scanning a comment thread on a Web site.)

And that is all I know about this year’s Academy Awards.
And I do not feel like I missed out on anything.
My life is not lacking because of this.

As it happens, I went to see the possibly-Oscar-winning film The Artist last night.
It was alright. The actress was cute.

(Should you be inclined to make a comment, please don’t tell me what did or did not win. I don’t care to know. Gracias)

Written by Craig

March 5th, 2012 at 12:15 pm

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NFL playoffs infographic for Grantland

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Title of this post says it all, really: I did a big chart about the National Football League playoffs for the fine Web site, Grantland.


It looks like this, but bigger and more legible:

Written by Craig

January 20th, 2012 at 4:07 pm

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It’s the town where I was born. And it’s the town where I have lived over half of my life. (If I can stay away from living there for another three years, though, it will be less than half of my life.) And it is called Lincoln. It’s a cathedral city in the county of Lincolnshire. It used to be the capital city of the Roman Britain before that London. About 85,000 people live in Lincoln (120,000 if you include towns and villages on the outskirts). And I now live in a city with nearly nine million people (over 21 million in the metropolitan area). Here’s a quick chart to try and take your mind of that utterly awful first paragraph:

It’s interesting being back. There are some nice things, some shitty things. Shouldn’t be surprised by that, cos every day in every city is like that. Lincoln seems to have some sort of sponsorship deal with Super Dry to make every man’s jacket, and UGG to make every woman’s jacket potato-esque boots. That’s if the men are wearing jackets. There is all together way too much under-dressing. I saw a fat man in his twenties, with a pink head, shivering as he walked down the High Street in a grey Nike JUST DO IT t-shirt. Just do it, in his case, should mean, “buy a fucking coat, you idiot.” Women on the town in skimpy dresses. Skin mottled like corned beef from the cold. The only baseball caps you see – caps of actual baseball teams, that is – are Yankee caps.

Men walk funny there. If they’re not doing the stupid walk that Liam Gallagher popularised, they’re hobbling. Lots of Lincoln men seems to either have sports injuries or are just too fat for their legs to cope. Every time I pass McDonald’s there are huge queues. Every time I walk by KFC, more than half of the tables inside are occupied. Living outside of the UK, certain foods are fetishised in your head. Marmite, of course. Branston pickle. A good pork pie or Scotch egg. Fish and chips. On this trip to Lincoln, though, every time I’ve been near a chip shop, the smell of gallons of hot fat has made my stomach turn. It also turns when I walk past the Walkers Crisps factory; a place that I was fascinated with when I was little. That place! It’s FULL of crisps! There is a Mexican take-away place in Lincoln now. It’s called Cactus, obviously. And the sign above the window has a man in a big hat and poncho sleeping next to an acoustic guitar. Pretty accurate, that, cos that’s what all of my Mexican friends do. Just like I, as an Englishman, wear a pinstripe suit and bowler hat all day long.

Drizzle. Wind. Rain. Cold. I’m not gonna pretend that I’ve forgotten what cold weather is like, but after five seasons in Mexico, you get used to a certain niceness to the temperature. The bad weather in Lincoln wasn’t a shock, but I’m no longer used to having constantly wet nostrils. I’d forgotten how a bit of exertion, something as simple as walking into town instead of getting the bus, can leave your exposed extremities cold, while my abdomen sweats under the layers. I walked a lot, actually. It was nice. Mostly to save a few quid, because it seems somewhat ridiculous to pay over three pounds for a return bus ticket. But the walk from my mum’s house into town can be quite nice. There’s a point where you can access a footpath along the edge of the River Witham, and it’s nice to go along there instead of along the main road.

A man in a van pulled up alongside me and gestured for me to open the passenger door. (I am no longer walking by the river; this was at a different time.) I did. He asked where Branston is. It’s a village not far outside of Lincoln. And I absolutely could not remember where it was. The driver had a London accent. I have a Lincoln accent. I’m the one that should know. So I pretended, and sent him further along the road towards a roundabout, told him to take the third exit, and go up the hill on the left. I checked Google Maps when I got home. I’d sent him the wrong way.

Things are slow. Life is slow. It takes some getting used to. I used to notice it when I returned when I lived in London, but I notice it way more now that I live in a busy, over-populated city like Mexico City. People ring the STOP button on the bus, and amble off once the bus has pulled to a stop. I queued for nine minutes in Starbucks. The three employees looked like they hadn’t a care in the world. But it is me with the problem. My fancy big city ways where life is faster, and less frivolously friendly.

There’s a new store in Lincoln selling Apple products. It looks like you might expect inside. But the store is a reseller store, not an official Apple store, and it is called Stormfront. I have no idea who chose that name, but if you asked me what things they would sell at a store called Stormfront, I’d fairly confidently predict it would sell Neo-Nazi paraphernalia. But then, maybe there’s a Neo-Nazi group somewhere called iConnect or something. Who knows?

I had a haircut while I was in Lincoln. Went to an Italian barber shop called Luigi. As I entered, Luigi wasn’t cutting hair, just chatting with an elderly fellow about alcohol. They were just naming types of drink they liked. Whiskey. Vodka. Rum. Brandy. Beer. The other would either concur or say something they didn’t like about the drink. The old guy left, and Luigi said he’d seen me walking past and looking in for a few days. It’s kinda true. I did look in the day before, and saw him stood against the far wall looking bored. I asked him how long he’d been in Lincoln because his accent was quite strong. “Since 1967,” he said. He couldn’t have been much older than mid-fifties, so I kinda got the feeling the accent might be an affectation. I took off my cap, and he asked why I wore one. I told him it’s cold here. He asked where I live. I told him. “Oh yes, I bet it’s nice and warm in South America.” I didn’t correct his geography. He asked what I did for a living. I told him, and he proudly pointed to the mural of a kind of tropical seascape on the wall behind me. We got talking about the economy, and he told me the barbering world is suffering now that “anyone” can go to college for two years and open a salon. I mentioned how strong the memory of being in a barber shop when I was a child is: that smell of hair products, cigarette smoke, and pictures of topless women. He again gestured to the mural, pointing out a topless mermaid on a rock. He answered the phone and spoke in Italian. He spoke for a couple of minutes. It was his wife. Back to my head, a few more snips and he was done. All in all, it took him less that ten minutes.

I was in a bar waiting for friends to arrive. I’d arrived ten minutes early. Sat down with a pint on an upholstered bench that ran the length of a wall. In front of the bench were small, round tables and some chairs. I sat right at the end of the bench. A few moments after I arrived, a group of nine or ten young men with no jackets arrived. A few feet away from me, at the next-door-but-one round table were three women. Just as the men got their drinks, the women got up and left. The men chose to sit on the bench. There were enough of them for them to take up the whole of the rest of the bench. I sat there, tapping away on my iPod, using the bar’s free Wi-Fi. To anyone else in the bar, it must’ve looked like I was a part of the group, just in a huff.

Still, though, when I walk up Lincoln’s pedestrianised High Street, that feeling I had as a late teenager still exists: one of the tough guys is gonna kick my head in for having glasses and looking “weird.” I had a couple of good nights out, though. Good to see old friends. And there are some nice pubs left. It’s good to know that the Lincoln I see as a visitor isn’t the real Lincoln. There are certainly elements of that, and my friends are all too aware of it, but, I guess if you stay there or in any small-ish town, you carve a life out for yourself where the good things are, on the whole, all you experience and care about. Lincoln was a good place to grow up. A bit boring at times, but on the whole: nice. It made me who I am, for better or worse. I feel guilty about the snobby feelings I have when I walk around the city centre. I often wonder how miserable I’d be if I ever had to move back. And I imagine there’s a funny novel or something to be written about life in Lincoln, but when I left yesterday, on the train from Lincoln Central, I had an odd feeling. To leave Lincoln knowing that I won’t be back for a while. I don’t know how long. But likely not during 2012. Part of me is sad to leave, the part that enjoys seeing people that I’m fond of; but there’s also an ecstatic feeling to be done with it for another year or two. I spent the entire journey from Lincoln to Newark (anagram: wanker), where I’d catch the connecting train to London, staring out at the fields and that utterly magnificent, huge huge sky. I will miss that.

At Newark, I listened to a playlist of Super Furry Animals songs. As the train pulled in, “Slow Life” started. My favourite song of theirs. And somehow, it seemed quite apt that a song with that title was to accompany the start of the high(ish) speed journey to whisk me away from home.

Written by Craig

December 28th, 2011 at 9:55 am

Posted in Uncategorized