Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Love, peace and slippers.

On Wednesday evening, I took me down to Strawberry Fields, where everything was real. It was the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon's murder, and Strawberry Fields is the memorial area of Central Park, right across from the Dakota Building in 72nd Street (or ON 72nd Street as US English has it), where he lived and was shot down, and where his widow Yoko Ono still has apartments.

Susan was working, so I went on my own, riding up on the subway on the A Train. There were hundreds of people there, some lighting and holding candles, all singing Lennon and Beatles songs. The age range was from teens to seventies: John and his band have universal appeal. There was a minute's silence at 10.50pm, the time he was shot, and another at 11.10pm, the time he died, or anyway round about the time he died; a couple of people had turned up by then whose idea of fun was to disrupt things by yelling. There were those who wanted to do some damage to the people shouting. I thought "right; if they won't give peace a chance, split their heads open..." and a woman behind me said, surely rightly, that John would have been with the disrupters. But more or less a minute of more or less silence we eventually got, which is an achievement in itself in Manhattan.

People were relaxed, calm and peaceful, talking to one another about John, the Beatles, what the lyrics meant (I know, I know, but it's inevitable), the history of it all; and singing, always singing. Everyone seemed to know all the lyrics and we were all singing along with great gusto. We sang Imagine (of course), Strawberry Fields Forever (of course), A Day in the Life, which was the moment I choked up-- well, okay, one of them-- and many others. It was at that point that I looked down at my feet and realised that I hadn't changed out of my slippers before I left the house. Well, do you know what? My feet never felt cold or sore, so they must be damn good slippers, well worth the twelve quid I paid for them, so that's a result really. I'm glad I went, glad now that I was there, glad that from now on I can say I was there, that after thirty years I've finally been at a Lennon memorial at Strawberry Fields. And that I have a fine pair of slippers.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Not long now...

It's Friday evening. On Monday morning in the middle of still Sunday night really, I will be off to the airport, where I will board an aeroplane bound for New York. And when I get there, I will see my Susan, hold her, and spend eleven wonderful weeks with her, her family and friends.

She's been writing list after list, of things to do, things to eat, things to see, things to buy, things to cook. She's a list maker, and also a folder user, which will benefit me greatly in the years to come: no more wondering where the hell that electricity bill has disappeared to! No more panicking because I can't find the prescription the doctor gave me just that morning! I will learn to live with her organisationalism (don't care, it's a word NOW), she will learn to live with my scatterism (ditto), we will reach amicable accommodations together. We do so already, mostly without rancour or unpleasantness, although there is on both sides the occasional dropped jaw or raised eyebrow, and sometimes both at once. But most of the time there's only ONE side, called Us; Cameron and Susan; Susan and Cameron.

We're an And now. As in John AND Yoko, Romeo AND Juliet, fish AND chips, bagels AND more bagels. I have never been more certain of anything in my life, and I know, not just feel or think but know, that nor has Susan.

They say that relationships, marriages, take work. They're right. And we're working on this one, out of a shared Love and a shared determination to succeed. Sometimes it takes surprisingly HARD work, and when that's the case, there's a satisfaction of enormous proportions in it when we come out on the other side of it knowing we've done a good job together and put another potential obstacle behind us. We joke and laugh often, talk about films and art and culture, and language, often; discuss serious issues frequently and share always. We don't always agree about everything, but we have a set of shared assumptions that means major conflicts are rare to the point of non-existence.

Sound idyllic? Does it? Well, sorry, but it is. I am hugely happy. It's odd being so happy while still being aware, inside my head, of suffering from depression. Most of the time the depression is fairly distant, more than a memory but less than a spectre. Sometimes it looms larger, when I become aware of still living on a different continent from her or when we have a fight (they're inevitably about really silly little things, all sound and fury but signifying nothing, but they hurt terribly). On occasions like that there are still clouds above my head; but they're little grey ones, not at all the thunderous black devils that used to be there.

Wow. I started this post just because I wanted to write something and wanted to tell you all how exciting it is to be me, here, now. It's taken itself in unexpected directions. Probably not unpredictable ones though. I love it when a piece of writing does that, when I start with a vague idea of what I'm about to write and then the words themselves take over and I end up writing something completely different. Sometimes comedy turns into tragedy or whimsy turns into nostalgia, or nostalgia into feminism. Sometimes even the form changes, and a poem becomes a fairy tale. Once, a poem about a paragraph long got sculpted down to four words, while on another occasion one which felt just not quite right was studied and worried over for two days before I realised that what it needed was to start with a comma. With the comma in place, I felt like baby bear.

I think this post is done now.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

It's been a long ole time...

My puter blew up. It has now been buried with full honours, but the new one has four times the memory, twice the disk space and cost less than half the full price of the old one. So, onwards and upwards, dodophobics.

But my, things have been happening! In the United States, Repuglicans have taken control of the House of Representatives because millions of Democrat voters, sick of the timidity of the Obama government, stayed at home rather than voting, and as a result have convinced themselves that everyone loves them. And their plan for power is to do absolutely nothing other than shut down the government of the country they profess to love, purely to try to ensure that Obama is able to get nothing done. They have nothing new to offer, nothing but the old, tried, tested and failed policies of giving as much as possible to the rich while preventing the poor from ever having anything. "Trickledown" has never worked before, but they still promote it as though it were a startling new idea that they've just this minute thought of. Americans will suffer for it. In the end, we all will.

And on the Cameron front, things are also moving on. On the small scale, I am finally rid of TalkTalk, the phone and broadband company which is totally unbeatable if price is the only criterion but which has frighteningly bad customer service. Within a week or so, I will have my broadband with Orange, who also supply my mobile phone service and whose customer service is (almost) beyond reproach; and within a week or two after that, I will also have my landline with them. The phone service will be about three pounds dearer but, as just over a year ago I had got so pissed off with TalkTalk's customer service that I switched my broadband to Sky (at a cost increase of first £10 and more recently £12.50 a month), I will actually save money. I'll also be getting half price Sky TV for the next six months for a total saving of £72. So I'm pretty happy.

Visawise, things have not been as great. I got together all the stuff that had been demanded and sent it off with guaranteed 48 hour delivery. Parcelforce promptly lost the lot. That caused us to miss our deadline and even though they had been told what had happened, the visa bods slapped us with another rejection and told us we will have to go to an appeal hearing in the UK (but no idea exactly where yet). We already have everything they told us we needed to get the visa, so we'll have no problem there, especially when we turn up with a sheaf of letters and affidavits promising support and pointing out that Susan's presence will if anything EARN the British state money. The hearing itself will cost the government quite a few pounds, which they could have saved by waiting a week or so before issuing their hasty decision. And of course, it puts the wedding date in more doubt; we may have to postpone it for a second time. None of this is going to stop us finally being together as husband and wife, but it is very irritating. It has already been almost seven months since we saw one another, and it's hurting.


I got a letter from the Inland Revenue recently (if you're American, you won't be remotely surprised to hear that this is the British equivalent of the IRS). It informed me that I had paid the wrong amount of income tax in 2008/09; uh oh. But reading on brings the discovery that in fact I had OVERpaid, because my employer at the time, Hilton International, had put the wrong tax code by my name and taken more than they should have throughout that tax year. In a separate envelope, they therefore also sent me a cheque for £1211.62, which will be put to very good use indeed. Once it clears I will be booking a flight to New York, where for the second year in a row I will be spending Christmas and New Year with Susan, her friends and family. New Year's Eve Susan and I will spend in the Sheraton Hotel at JFK Airport, my birthday celebration will be at an Italian place in Manhattan called Carmine's which I believe is quite famous but in any event sounds wonderful, and who knows WHAT we'll get up to for Valentine's Day, shortly after which I'll fly back to the UK a couple of months older and personally happy and sated. Of course, on 2nd January we will repeat last year's trick (or should that be this year's trick?) of getting up at 6am and taking a cab to The Blue Room to watch the Rangers-Celtic game complete with early morning beer.

We have plans to catch up on some of the things we missed last time. Ground Zero is top of that list, and the Stonewall Inn is not far behind it. We'll also catch the Olympic Diner and the very famous Sylvia's in Harlem, as well as at least one bus tour and at least one Broadway show (suggestions welcome). We'll get to see Susan's sister's new place in upstate New York, at a place called Highland Mills, and most importantly get to spend one hell of a lot of serious quality time together (how's THAT for a euphemism?). And at just over two months, it'll pretty much let us see what married life is going to be like.

Not too shabby, eh?

PS the spellchecker on this thing has just gone mad and highlighted words like "get", "which" and "taking". Most bizarre.

Friday, 27 August 2010

The beliefs of a right wing repuglican.

I believe all life is sacred. So doctors who do things I don't approve of deserve to die. And "life" doesn't include anyone who is a criminal, unless they believe in my god and my holy book and shout it loudly enough, in which case they aren't really criminals but tragic, good people who have been corrupted by Democrats.

I believe absolutely in freedom of choice. Except for pregnant women. And poor people. After all, God will provide, so if they were better Christians they wouldn't be poor. And the women would have penises, because Jesus had a penis.

W is a genius. I mean Hell, I can't even SPELL misunderestimate.

If you said "Hell" like that, it would make you a blasphemer.

I believe every word in the bible is literally true. Now, there are lots of bits I haven't read, like that one that says pi=3 (whatever that means) or the one where God says insects have four legs and bats are birds. And there might be something about slaves having to obey their masters and the rightness of raping female prisoners of war. But my pastor hasn't told me about any of those, so they don't exist.

I believe in freedom of religion: everyone is perfectly free to believe all the things I do.

I believe in freedom of speech. So if I say something it's my right and if you criticise it you are denying me my rights. And when I criticise the stuff YOU say, well obviously it's my right under freedom of speech.

Everyone should speak English. If it's good enough for Jesus it's good enough for everyone else, and I know Jesus spoke English because I've read what he said in my bible.

All men are equal. But women aren't men. So they're not equal to men. And Jesus was white (I've seen the movie) so really it means white men.

Love thy neighbor. All my neighbors believe exactly the same stuff I do, so of course you don't have to love anyone who doesn't believe exactly the same stuff I do, in fact if you do you're a pervert.

You're probably a pervert anyway.

Allowing people who aren't like me to get married to just anyone they want to marry would mean millions more people getting married, and obviously that would destroy marriage.

Getting shot never did anyone any harm.

Sarah Palin and Dr. Laura are honorary men.

THOU shalt not.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Raoul Moat

Raoul Moat was a human being. He is now dead.

I have no sympathy for him, but an awful lot of empathy for a mentally ill individual in whom the switch got tragically flipped. I felt the same way about Thomas Hamilton after the Dunblane massacre. Predictably, there are now large numbers of people shouting and wailing about what a monster he was, how he was a beast, an animal, not human. And they are all spectacularly missing the point. Something has gone disastrously wrong for these people, something massive and, fairly literally, mind-blowing, in order for them to do the things they do; and it is something for which the potential exists in every one of us, because we are all human beings just as they were. The same is true of the Nazis in Germany in the thirties and forties, from Hitler down. They were not subhuman in any way (and how ironic that people sometimes use that particular word to describe them, showing their complete obliviousness to what was wrong with Nazism).

The human mind is enormously complex, perhaps the most complex thing in the Universe, certainly one of them. And cases like Raoul Moat's, or Thomas Hamilton's, should encourage us to try and find out what went wrong in theirs, not simply to condemn them and try to distance ourselves from them by pretending it couldn't happen to us. The whole, tragic point of these cases, and of that of the Nazis and many others, is precisely that they ARE human, that they are exactly like us, and that therefore the potential for that behaviour exists in each and every one of us. We ignore that at our peril.

Monday, 12 July 2010

It's been a while.

Well, that's the World Cup over for another four years. Or two years if you count the qualifiers. Spain won, as I had tipped from before the start of the tournament (not fishing for compliments, almost everyone did).

For the last month I have done precious little else. Not only Dodophobia but all my other online activities have been neglected, well other than my online grocery shopping, which has suddenly stopped being neglected and been restored to its previous prominent place in my life, on a temporary basis. I have seen lots of football matches and heard many a vuvuzela, while supporting ABE, or in other words Anyone But England. And ABE in fact won the World Cup a good fortnight ago when Germany took England to the cleaners and left the English moaning about the unfairness of not being given a goal when the ball crossed the line. Well, a little bit of delayed justice there as they were given a goal when the ball didn't cross the line in 1966, which led more or less directly to them lifting the trophy.

SOME other stuff has happened, though, mostly (I'm sure to no one's great surprise) involving Susan. My niece, Karrie, is over in New York City right now visiting Susan for her summer holidays. And today, they went to church (!), along with my other niece, Cheri, to listen to some gospel music. A damn good excuse, I feel. Karrie has had her first reuben sandwich, at the Edison Hotel. The reubens are truly vast in there, so they ordered one and halved it, and Karrie ate her entire half, which as she has the appetite of an unhungry mouse tells its own story.

Susan recently found something online which suggested to her that she could not get a marriage visa if I was receiving benefits. As I am, that would mean we would be unable to get married. So I headed to the local Citizens' Advice Bureau to ask them about it. They cleared things up very quickly: she cannot stay permanently IF she causes any FURTHER reliance on state funds. In other words, we may not claim any benefit for her or because of her. That will mean a couple of phone calls once she is living here, because I have to tell them about any change in my circumstances, such as having a wife live with me, and that would normally lead to an increase in benefits. So I will have to call them to sort that out somehow, so that they know she is here but don't give us any more money. She is not allowed to work for the first six months-- logical and rational they ain't-- but once she is she can get a job and we can stop claiming benefits at all, other than my Disability Living Allowance which is not income related. And as my total benefit amount is just marginally below what I was earning in my last job, there is no doubt that we can live on it for those six months without any difficulty.

My wee nephew Robbie had his seventh birthday today. I was delighted to learn that on their recent holiday in France, he declared himself to be "feeling creative" and worked a bit on the book he is writing, which it turns out is about five cheeky monkeys. He's a bit of a wordsmith, that lad, loves language, bought a French phrasebook before they travelled out there. For the last two Christmases, my present to him has been a thesaurus. When he received the first one, he was astounded and amazed to discover there could be a book about words and it rapidly became his favourite book, which he would take to bed with him and read before going to sleep. Not your average five, six or seven year old, our Robbie. He's a normal wee boy other than his love for and ability with words, his wonderful level of vocabulary; he's not being hothoused or anything. He has the attention span of his age group, for instance, had difficulty staying with it for very long when I played him at Scrabble recently (might well have had something to do with the fact I was ahead of him-- just barely, to stretch him a bit) but his behaviour was totally normal for such a young 'un. He adores his language, though, adores words. And his uncle couldn't be prouder of that.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Lena Meyer-Landrut

Okay. Yesterday ended up being quite an extreme day. NOT unusually, I woke up late, took a long time to get out of bed, knew I had to go out and do some shopping, ended up not quite following the previously worked out plan. Instead of my previous idea of going to my regular supermarket and doing some grocery shopping as well as buying some beer to drink while watching this year's Eurovision Song Contest, I went to a different, smaller supermarket and bought much fewer groceries and some beer. Then I took a cab home, because what I had bought was heavier than I had planned. In the cab, I told the driver that the contest was going to be crap (well, crapper than usual) because I had watched the second semi-final two nights before and all the songs which were classic, traditional Eurovision fare had been knocked out, and the bloody contest had lost its sense of humour. I wasn't expecting much.

Later, I spoke to Susan on the phone, just as the broadcast was starting, and I told her no, I couldn't turn the volume down because the Eurovision Song Contest was starting. I said I would call her when it was over and we hung up. Well, there were still a couple of fairly eurovisiony songs in there (from Rumania and Denmark (you can always rely on the Scandinavians)), and a couple of surprisingly good, astonishingly credible ones, from Ukraine and Germany. I had never heard songs of that ilk nor calibre in the contest before, and I voted for Germany. Beforehand, there had been some talk about the German song being a bit like Björk, and I dismissed the possibility as ludicrous, because after all it was Eurovision. And it wasn't really LIKE Björk, but it wasn't as UNbjörkish as I had expected, and I really liked it, and voted for it, as I said.

Then the voting started. I was pleasantly surprised that the first two maximum scores went to Denmark, and that Germany also got a few points from each of those votes (the songs I vote for generally crash and burn from the beginning). And then, what do you know, after a few more rounds of voting, Germany was in the lead. Well, it wasn't going to last, but I enjoyed the rare thrill. Then it went a bit further ahead. And before I knew what was happening it was 34 points ahead and I was cheering every score it got. Not too long after that it became clear that the song I had voted for was actually going to win. And it did; just the second German winner ever (after Nicole in 1982), and the first ever really quite credible sounding Eurovision winner in the history of the Universe ever. Here it is on Youtube, the winning performance taken from German TV. For reference, HERE is Nicole's reprise after winning in 1982, and here is Guildo Horn's (still amazing) 1998 performance in Birmingham, England, the previously most talked about and loved German entry.

Yeah, Lena...

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Ode to Mount Unpronounceable.

Okay, so Susan had a direct flight from JFK to Glasgow. Naturally, it was delayed by two hours. Which meant she only got in THREE hours ahead of her originally scheduled time rather than five. Boo bloody hoo. We had a wonderful time together for a week and a half, including a stunning meal at Raeburn's which, remarkably, was entirely Scottish, including the wondrous cheeseboard. And I got a cheese shop recommendation from the owner's daughter, Melli's in the west end of Glasgow, which of course I shall have to try out. That cheeseboard had the most insanely fabulous cheddar I have ever tasted, as closely related to the average supermarket version as I am to a shrub growing on the side of an Icelandic volcano.

We got most of the marriage documents filled in (or out if you prefer), Susan got a look at the venue for our reception and approves mightily of it, but best of all we got to spend some time together. At the end of her stay, we went down to Glasgow Airport in time for her flight, couldn't check in immediately because no desk number was listed, so we went and had breakfast (which itself was a recurring theme of the visit). Once we had devoured that, there was still no gate showing so Susan went off to try and find out what was going on. It turned out the flight had been cancelled, along with all the other flights that day, due to a return of the sainted ash cloud. She rebooked and got a flight for two days later, on the Friday. So we got an extra two days out of it. We LOVE Icelandic volcanoes! That meant she got to be here for the general election to the UK parliament, and she was very game about it on the basis that in a few months she'll be living here. However, compared to a US election, it was all much too complicated for her: all those parties all over the place, some only standing in Scotland, some in Wales, some mainly in England, and then Northern Ireland has a completely different set of parties, at which point she gave up trying to understand it all, sensibly I think. She was confused also because of the two biggest parties, the most right wing one is blue and the slightly further left one is red, exactly the opposite of the US. And when all the votes had been counted, the winner was no one at all, only there were no court cases and no corrupt practices leading to that outcome. The Daily Show, which is available here on More 4 (but WHY no Colbert Report, hmm?), has been having enormous fun with it all, and Susan has been hugely appreciating their stuff about it. As have I.

Anyway, we are now separated again, communicating much more often than daily by phone, text message and internet. The difference this time, though, is that when she next comes here, we think in September, it will be forever; so I can now say to her "when you get back home" rather than "when you visit next", and we get to try to feel that she is just on an extended holiday in New York. Since her visit, my divorce from my first wife has been finalised, so there are no obstacles in the way now, well other than UK Immigration of course. Mind you, when she got here this time, an eager beaver decided she walked like an actress (I'm not making this up), interrog... sorry, interviewed her on the basis that he suspected her of being here to work and eventually phoned me on my mobile as I sat at international arrivals waiting for her. Oddly enough, our stories matched, mainly because his suspicions were bollocks. So he was kind enough to let her in. But Susan was rather excitimicated by the time she reached me, and it took her several days to calm down completely. In the circumstances, she is doing amazingly well with the visa process, although she is terrified at every turn that she will be turned down, even though she knows there is no reason for that to be the case.

So, in October we get married. We are both looking forward to that rather a lot, in fact we are being completely pathetic about it all. Watch this space.

Oh, yeah, I've written a poem, inspired by this most recent visit. Here it is.

And cups of tea and breakfasts and free baby food
and salads and scones and fruit loaf and bin bags and
toilet roll and buses. And drunks on the bus and tramps
in the street and junkies at the chemist's and news in the

paper and Jon Stewart on the telly and standing in the
rain and looking at trees and sitting on benches and
shopping for sandwiches and Indian takeaways and
Chinese prawn crackers and deep fried pizza and pints
in the pub and nothing is dull or everyday if you're there.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The Scottish weather

Aye, I know, it's a crap topic: talking about the weather and all that. But the weather here has been very odd in recent times. Usually, as Susan has said, I describe the weather to her in shades of grey. But in the last week or two, it's been consistently... well, sunny and... warm, and... well, I'm not quite sure how to put this, but... blue.

I don't trust it. It's up to something. I've been saying so since it started. There's this big yellow bastard in the sky and it looks evil, it looks dangerous. That's what I've been telling people, anyone who would listen, and none of them would but I've been telling them anyway.

And what's happening now? We've got chunks of ICELAND falling on us! The bloody SKY is falling on us!! Cars are getting covered in black, grey ash, planes can't take off or land, people in the north are talking about the nasty, sulphurous taste of the air... I TOLD them, I bloody WARNED them. But who's got the last laugh now, eh? EH?

Not me.

Because Susan has a flight booked via, yup, Reykjavik. The capital of Iceland. She's due to land here on Saturday afternoon. As it stands, though, things are kind of up in the air. Unlike the planes. We think she'll get in okay, because SURELY the volcanic ash cloud can't hang about not moving for a whole further week. Can it? But, it seems likely that Scottish airspace might be the only airspace in the UK with flights taking off and landing, which will mean lots of flights for other places, in England basically, will land at Glasgow and coaches will be booked by the airlines to take their passengers to their destinations. It's happened already: two flights landed at Glasgow the other day which were actually for London and Manchester. Which means there may well be flights landing here next Saturday, but there will equally likely be lots of delays. So Susan will probably get here, but she might not be in the happiest of moods by the time we see each other. Mind you, once we do any bad mood isn't going to survive. It'll be yet another fantastic visit, and we have a table booked at Raeburn's for the following Friday evening. I might well post about that.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The US Healthcare Bill

Well, the House of Representatives eventually passed the bill, and estimates are that over thirty million Americans currently without health insurance will get it and that only 15000, rather than 30000, will die each year because they don't have it.

In all honesty, the bill is still pretty damn weak and is nowhere near the universal coverage enjoyed by people in this country and in fact every other developed country other than the United States. But, considering how horrendously painful its passage has been, as well as the lives it will save (it will also save money, but that isn't enough to persuade the repuglicans that it's an acceptable idea, because insurance companies will make slightly less obscene profits as a result of it), it is a vital first step. Most Americans wanted the bill passed, indeed the majority wanted a better, stronger version, despite repuglican outright lies claiming the opposite-- and more will come around when the apocalyptic consequences disgracefully, disingenuously and dishonestly put forward by opponents don't come to pass and when their friends and neighbours as well as themselves find life just a little bit easier because it has passed. Fewer Americans will lose their homes or their lives as a result of having no health insurance, maybe it will even stop being the number one cause of bankruptcy in the country-- a simply unimaginable fact in the rest of the world, in what I call the civilised world, where countries take care of their citizens.

It's a start. For the American people and for President Obama. It gives his administration, which was born among so much hope and optimism, a chance to come good after more than a year of mostly disappointing events.

The League Cup Final

Not one for my north American readers, this, but my team Rangers won the Scottish League Cup (officially known these days as the Co-operative Insurance Cup) on Sunday with a 1-0 win over Saint Mirren, the local team in Paisley, where I now live, and the team supported by my brother-in-law and all three of my Paisley-living nephews, and one of my nieces. In my defence at not supporting the local team, I wasn't born here and Rangers, as well as being the biggest and most successful club in Scotland (and reigning champions and probably about to be again), play their home games just about three miles from where I was brought up and were my local team as a boy.

In the game, though, Saint Mirren were by far the better team. They had possession of the ball about two thirds of the time, an amazing statistic in any game, especially by a small club playing against Rangers. And Rangers had not one but two players sent off (thrown out of the game and can't be replaced) so Saint Mirren were playing for quite a while with eleven against nine. But they didn't have the quality of goalscorer to put the ball in the net, and with seven minutes left Rangers broke forward and scored a beautiful goal with an excellent cross and wonderfully accurate header.

The Saints fans were gutted, of course. I have it on good authority that it was the most galling defeat they've had since a game some years ago against a Swedish team whose name begins with H (out of courtesy to family and friends I'm not actually going to name that team), and indeed Saint Mirren forums were discussing urgently whether this one might be even worse before deciding that it wasn't, quite. For probably the first time in my life, when I saw the inevitable shot of a wee boy in the other team's colours crying his eyes out, I didn't laugh immoderately but felt my heart go out to him, and to all the Saint Mirren supporters.

For that reason (well, okay, not ONLY that reason) I was delighted when, this evening, the Saints went out and won 4-0 against Celtic, the second best team in Scotland and Rangers' historic and eternal bitter rivals, the other half of the "Old Firm" who have utterly dominated Scottish football over the years and decades. That result also means that Rangers would now have to lose six of their last ten games in the league to have any chance of throwing their title away, having lost just one of about forty eight in the last year and a bit. So I'm probably twice as happy as the Saint Mirren fans.

Ach well, it's only a game. Apparently.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Tea trays, washboards and skeletons

The British skeleton bobber Shelley Rudman said on TV the other night that the skeleton is not, as some people think, a tea tray. And she's right. It's more like a washboard. Shelley won a silver medal in the event at the last Winter Olympics in Turin, and Amy Williams got a gold last night in Vancouver, Britain's first female individual gold in a Winter Olympics since 1952. Their event is exciting and excruciating to watch, but rather than "skeleton" it would be more accurately called "throwing yourself down a mountain lying face down on a washboard, head first". It's insane, which may be why Britain does so well at it. A country which is not exactly the strongest at the winter games has won at least one medal at this sport every damn time it's been in the games, culminating in last night's completely dominating performance by a woman who twice smashed the track record, once broke the record for fastest start, and eventually won by well over half a second, an eternity in terms of the skeleton.

I've also enjoyed the snowboard cross, or "throwing yourself down a mountain side by side with some other people while standing on an ironing board". This is also exciting and features people diving arse over tit on a regular basis (those two things are not, in all honesty, entirely unrelated). And short track speed skating is likewise, for essentally the same reasons.

It's the curling that I'm really watching, though, as usual in the Winter Olympics. Scotland (as the officially "Great Britain" team would be more accurately named-- when England once amazingly qualified for the World Championship, all four of even THAT team were Scots) is doing fairly well, especially in the women's event, where they yesterday took the reigning European champions, Germany, to the cleaners (no washboards in sight though) by a margin of 7-4. They've won three games so far and lost one, while the men have won two and lost two but are looking okay for a place in the semi-finals. I've been staying up until five and six in the morning to watch this, and will not be stopping until the medals are presented.

BUT, the event I'm thinking of entering next time (along with Susan, but she doesn't know it yet, so keep it to yourselves) is the ice dancing. Marks are awarded in this for degree of difficulty, and as absolutely anything at all would be insanely difficult for us, especially bearing in mind our size and shape, all we'd have to do to win the gold would be to stay on our feet for more than five seconds. I reckon that in four years we would probably be able to master that.

And if she doesn't want to do it, I'll go to a jumble sale and get myself a washboard.

Monday, 25 January 2010

More New York stuff

I've edited the poem I sent in the last post but one.

There's a car that isn't yellow.
Hail it anyway; you never know
what might happen.

Quite a dramatic edit by my standards. Anyway, there's more stuff to tell you about from the trip. We'll start with Sunday the third of January.

There was a football match in Glasgow that day, between Rangers and Celtic. The New Year Old Firm game, one of the big events of the year. And I was on the wrong continent. But modern communications are a wonderful thing, and I looked up the North American Rangers Supporters Association on the internet. Sure enough, there was a pub on 2nd Avenue showing the game: The Blue Room. It's a Rangers bar, seems to be owned by a Rangers fan, and it is also the home of the Big Apple Bears, New York's Rangers supporters' association. Now, the game was kicking off at 1230 British time; that's 7.30am New York time. So, we got up at 6.30, went out and hailed a cab after buying coffee and muffins to go. We were there by just after seven. Went in the side door, as advised on the website, took breakfast in with us (the kitchen isn't open at that time in the morning, but they have no problem with people bringing food and hot drinks in with them), paid our $20 a head and sat down. The place was jumping, with a wondrous mix of accents. My favourites were the broad New York accents shouting Scottish football insults with Glaswegian terminology, presumably belonging to Scottish guys who had lived there for decades. Susan and I were both wearing Rangers shirts, it was her first ever game, and we had a great time. At half time we each had a beer with our free meat pies, at around 8am, which tickled Susan no end. She got really into the match, which bodes well for the future of course, and even avoided saying anything daft or embarrassing while joining in heartily. I think she even understood when I explained the offside rule to her, which is one for me to boast about.

After the game we headed to Port Authority and caught a bus to New Jersey to visit the family again, to wish everyone Happy New Year and to have a pretty impromptu engagement party. Not many people showed up-- it was very impromptu and they'd not had any notice to speak of, 24 hours at most-- but we had a lot of fun; it was another deeply pleasant family occasion. Actually we had been out there on New Year's Day too, back to the River Edge Diner for the traditional family New Year lunch. I had a plateful from the salad bar and a turkey leg with veggies and coleslaw. That leg was BIG, man! I couldn't eat it all and took some away with me.

I first visited New York in 1999, for two days on the way back from Pennsylvania. It was my first trip to the US and, as I was nearby, I wanted to verify that New York really existed. Also I wanted to visit the Museum of Modern Art to see Vincent's beautiful Starry Night, but when I got there the museum's workers were having a strike, the cause sounded reasonable and I didn't cross the picket line. So I had waited another ten years to finally have the opportunity to see it in the flesh. It was worth the wait. MOMA is wonderful. We might have spent a lot longer in there, but we were using a wheelchair and it was hard on Susan; still it was a great day. We saw Starry Night, of course, but much else besides. She wanted to see the Jackson Pollock room, and there was a wonderful energy in there; it was a very pleasant surprise for me. Got to see some Andy Warhol, including the famous soup cans and a Marilyn head, some Roy Lichtenstein (not a favourite of mine but always worth seeing) and a lot more, as well as having a pretty decent coffee on the fifth floor. After leaving we bought ourselves some gyros from a street vendor, and it was absolutely delicious and very warming in the cold weather.

But the best middle eastern food we had (well, kind of middle eastern, north African really, but hey, it's a link) was at a Moroccan restaurant on Ninth Avenue, called Tagine. Tagine is also a traditional Moroccan dish, well THE traditional Moroccan dish, and we had one, as well as a sort of vegetable stew, and some Moroccan spring roll like things as a starter. Before even the starter, we were given some very fresh, very warm bread with dips, one of which was a sauce called harissa. This was one of the hottest foods I have ever tasted, truly beautiful, but so hot it would have completely killed the flavour of the rest of the meal had I eaten more than a couple of small spoonsful of it. It was Great food (note the capital G), and Susan had a $25 voucher, so it wasn't as expensive as it might have been.

The only movie we saw, other than on TV, was Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal. It is an excellent film, grabbed a couple of Golden Globes and will surely have a fistful of Oscar nominations. Jeff's performance is stellar, he is absolutely the centre of the movie and everyone orbits him to great effect. I heard Maggie describe it on The Daily Show as "a tiny movie", which is about right, but in this case tiny doesn't mean small. It is well worth your time and money to see. After it we crossed 42nd Street to a Mexican restaurant called Chevy's, the queue at the Dallas BBQ having been too intimidating in the cold, and it was pretty damn good. Mexican isn't my favourite cuisine, still isn't, but it was well prepared from fresh ingredients and you can't complain about that.

All in all, we had a long succession of wonderful days, some wonderful experiences, and an awful lot of wonderful, wonderful time together. I do believe Eliza, the cat, loved her daddy, which is just as well as she'll be moving over here with Susan come the autumn. Mainly she just thought it was a really cool idea to have TWO humans to pet her instead of just the one, but the one with the hairy face didn't seem to mind petting her more or less constantly, and she was well happy with that.

Finally for this post, and probably for this New York trip, a poem. I wrote it in a cafe on 42nd Street just before we saw Crazy Heart, while waiting for Susan to come back from her apartment with the movie voucher she had. I like this one.

When I was a boy, I drank cup after cup
of tea, hot and welcoming and satisfying.
Then I had an Earl Grey. It had no milk,
but it smelled of beautiful flowers, heady
and exciting. It was like Times Square on
a good night, bright smiling and fierce, at
once bewildering and innately understood.
A few hundred gallons later, feeling bloated
and streamlined, wise and indescribably
foolish, I found a woman who was in the
same place. We sat down together, put the
kettle on, and watched until it boiled.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

New York, New York

What a month. The longest time Susan and I have spent together so far, and we are now wearing engagement rings and have the wedding rings tucked away ready.

One of the first things that happened during the trip was, sadly, that Susan's mother died. It happened during the night just before we went out there to meet the relatives; it wasn't unexpected as she had been very ill for a very long time, but a shock for Susan anyway of course, and I was just glad I was able to be there for her. The upshot was that I met every relative this side of Alaska. I have never felt so warmly welcomed or accepted, and within a few days of arriving in the US I was suddenly a family member at a family funeral. It was quite an experience, for all of us, and quite a burst of humanity. I never met Nancy physically, although we had spoken on the phone and by Skype and were friends, but I felt so much love for her from relatives and from everyone else we met, and it was obvious that she was a very special woman.

We were in New Jersey for over a week, taking in Christmas, which was very beautiful. Again I was surrounded with family love, and I owe a great debt of thanks not only to Susan but to her sister Donna and all her family; I hope they know the thanks are given and the love returned. Christmas dinner was cooked by Susan's nephew John, who is a qualified professional chef, and it was truly magnificent. Rather than turkey we had an amazing roast beef joint and a ham, of which I felt compelled to take photographs. We had started with Italian hors d'oeuvres of cheese and cooked meats and sundried tomatoes. It was incredibly difficult not to eat far too much, but I just about managed it although I had to sit very still for quite a while afterwards. On Boxing Day (or December 26th as it's called over there) we went to some other relatives in Connecticut for White Elephant Day. This is a family tradition in which everyone sits around and regifts something. Everyone takes a number and the somethings are distributed on a more or less random basis, although there is also the possibility to "steal" something that someone else has already taken rather than pick one of the still wrapped objects. It was a lot of fun and another state to add to my collection.

After we got back to the City, there was still my entire list of desired destinations and experiences to go through. And we got through almost all of them, at the same time meeting friends of both Susan and myself (I have friends from Munich who are born New Yorkers and now live there again). We had cheesecake at Junior's, as well as at the River Edge Diner in NJ, and I have to tell you that, good as the famous Junior's version was, the one at the River Edge Diner is the greatest cheesecake on the planet, my niece's vote for a bakery called New York New York notwithstanding. We also ate at the Edison Hotel, where I had an absolutely reubenrific sandwich experience as well as my first ever matzo ball soup; and had a New York diner breakfast experience at the Westway Diner on 8th Avenue by 43rd Street, eggs sunny side up, hash browns, ham, bacon and sausage, pancakes, bottomless coffee and all.

I had my photo taken at the Dakota Building, right by the spot where John Lennon was killed, just before we visited Strawberry Fields and the Imagine memorial circle. The Chrysler Building and Empire State Building were visited on one morning, and the view of Lady Chrysler from a telescope on the observatory on the 86th floor of the ESB was worth the price of the trip all on its own. To see that wondrous art deco architecture so apparently close up was breathtaking to me, AND I got a fine beer at the Heartland Brewery back down on the ground afterwards.

On New Year's Eve, we went up to the roof of Susan's building, but thanks to a new building we couldn't actually see the ball from there and there was no one else up there, so we eventually went back down and watched it on TV like everyone else, despite being in Times Square and able to hear the crowds from her apartment. Still managed to get one of those daft blue Nivea hats you saw everyone wearing on TV though, so I can prove I was there...

All in all, it was a fantastic trip, most memorable, especially for all the time I was able to spend with my Susan, holding hands, watching TV and movies, playing with the cat, seeing and sharing her city, her family and her friends-- now MY family and friends, too. It was magical, and there were many tears from both of us at JFK as I was leaving. A wedding is expected later this year, and you're all invited to Paisley for the festivities. Just tell them Cameron sent you.