Monday, May 16, 2005

A Ripping Yarn

One thing which is just about worth mentioning is that very few Americans make any distinction at all between England and Great Britain (or the United Kingdom if you must, if you're some kind of Orangeman or somesuch). Indeed I have seen on more than one occassion the Union Jack printed with the word England written beneath it; at Target the other day they were selling T-shirts with the aforementioned flag alongside the words "London Rugby Center" which would surely be mis-spelled even if it existed. However I got my revenge on the excellent Greek fellow I play footie with by donning the T-shirt pictured beneath last Saturday. He actually thought it was quite amusing and then went on to canvas my opinions on the Glazer take-over of Man Utd, which of course I was completely oblivious to. I did notice that Sheffield Wednesday have made the league 1 playoffs though. They seem to be renaming these divisions faster than I can keep pace with, but in such a way as to keep Wednesday in the first, however far they descend relative to their peers, which is kind of them.

There's constantly bugger-all on TV, which is remarkably liberating (although, given the monkey-typewriter theory, also quite astonishing). I was down to watching one hour per week i.e. 24 with Kiefer Sutherland, but even that's optional this season as a) they've run out of ideas and b) the screenwriters have been replaced by hardline crypto-fascists, and all the bad guys are now being represented by Arabs with english accents, liberals, homosexuals and - I'm not making this up - Amnesty International. So now even in my most listless moments I can bear no more than ten minutes of televisual bobbins, usually alighting on Survivor as at least in this instance the scenary is impressive. I had high hopes for the Discovery Channel until I discovered it was no more than over-sized American men building motorbikes (I was going to say "tinkering with enormous choppers" but that's actually on pay-per-view).

It's not so easy to say this mes amis, but I've rather been keeping something from you. The fact of the matter is that I've started writing a novel. Being out here in the wilderness and distant from the perennial ecstacies of bad faith that I positively revelled in at home has sharpened my sense of purpose somewhat and I have resolved to sit myself down and write a novel before my 34th birthday. A bit ambitious perhaps, but I've never been one for doing things by halves - if my parents are to be believed I said sentence before I said a word and I walked before I crawled, though - just to be clear - neither of the aforementioned activities were undertaken prematurely. So no, I shan't write a short-story or join a writer's circle; I'm just going to knock out an entire novel Barbara Cartland style, 80 000 words, bish-bash-bosh and no poncing about.

Those of you who knew me in my youth will know I wrote quite a bit back then, though only when the muse took me. Personally I thought it was great stuff, you know: deep, meaningful, insightful, sardonic, bitter. Bloody marvellous in a solapsistic, "angry young man" sort of vein. Anyhow it made absolutely no sense, and then the muse and I fell out rather, and I stopped writing anything even vaguely creative for ten years (even my expense reports were non-fiction for that matter, such was my state of utter disillusionment). Anyhow, I think it was this blog which reassured me that I'm not so bad at knocking out a couple of hundred words of complete nonsense at the drop of a hat, which as far as I can tell is just about all the modern novel amounts to, except it contains the semblance of narrative and drones on in a dilatory, vaguely linear fashion for around 180 pages. And so now I approach the whole thing in much more workmanlike way, determined to get it written, knowing full well that it will only be an average novel and not at all high-brow, earth-shattering, zeitgeist capturing i.e. I write unencumbered by the delusions of grandeur which haunted earlier attempts. Instead I'm simply writing the book I wish someone would have written for me and thus saved me the effort. In short it's a ripping-yarn which trots gamely across various glamourous european locales in classic adventure book style, only starring cats, of course, and extremely British in a way that would be impossible to write if I were actually living there. I have done about 25 000 words so far, which is not so shabby (as they really do say out here), so I hope to have it wrapped up in time for Christmas and my triumphal, if brief, return to the home country. I write the thing whilst riding the MAX or in my lunch-hour at the previously mentioned Orenco Station Starbucks, which in due course will no doubt sport a blue plaque of some sort, or whatever the American equivalent is; cemented footprints possibly, unless I'm thinking of The Sopranos.

Anyhow, even though I know it's not going to change the world I am still very excited about my little project - so wish me well!

By the way - who are you HW of last week's comment? You are clearly a gentleman/woman and a scholar: swilling absinthe and patronising the locals whilst doing the horses on a Saturday morning, I doff my cap at your indolence!

here's me in front of the BBQ, or "grill" as they call it out here. So next time you want a decent kebab, you know where to come.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Culottes: ce n'est pas tres chic, d'accord?

Mostly Americans seems to enjoy British pronunciation. Indeed they find it adorable. Although often they fail to understand me when I request simple, everyday items such as "water" or "rootbeer" (warder and roobeer are the correct terms, one has discovered). However there is at least one exception, and that is the way we say "Maryland" i.e. Mary + Land. To the American ear this sounds absurd and ignorant. It has taken me literally years to work this out, but with assistance from fellow ex-pat Jo, we've finally pinned it down to Meralnd i.e. 'mera' as in ths middle part of America, plus 'lnd' as indeed we pronounce the land in England. So there you have it. There is still quite a lot of mutual incomprehension around the word squirrel however, which they pronounce something like "squirl", apparently missing at least one vital syllable.

Of course omitting syllables is one thing, adding superflous words quite another. For example I heard a teenager on the MAX (which I now understand to be a rather forced acronym for Metropolitan Area eXpress) say, "I thought it was like downtown or something" as a synonym for "I thought it was downtown." I believe one could even say, "I thought it downtown," thus saving 50% of sentence with no loss in meaning. Yet I'm certain the correct interpretation for "I thought it was like downtown or something" ought to be "I found it evocative of the city, or perhaps some other equally fabulous destination."

Another unpleasant feature common amongst certain sections of Portland youth, along with their absurd facial hair, is their inclination towards baggy-ass shorts which extend below the knee. It is hard to imagine a more distasteful garment (beyond the confines of some of the more outre custom leatherware retailers, perhaps), which, given my Seventies upbringing I know only as culottes, although synthetic sk8ter-boi plus-fours would perhaps be a more accurate description. Back when I was a nipper these items of clothing were restricted by EEC mandate to awkward French teenagers on exchange trips, before being banned outright in 1986. Of course, for what seems like centuries now the American male has needed very little excuse to don a pair of shorts, but this latest trend is, for me, a bridge too far. Although, given the government's ever more liberal policies on widening participation, I expect it's already a common enough site across the campuses and sink estates of the UK, let me assure you that I for one intend to embrace the classical school of thought on this matter, which states that a true Englishman never relinquishes his trousers.

Some truly excellent news this week came in the confirmation of Jason and Jane's visit to our humble abode for ten days in June. I have arranged a week off work (yes, a whole week, imagine that!) and we intend to take a tour down 101, taking in the Oregon and California coastline, Crater Lake, the Giant Redwoods, Lassen Volcanic National Park, the Sasquatch / bigfoot museum near Eureka and so forth until we've had enough. I am like so looking forward to it! Also my parents have confirmed their visit for three weeks in September, which is marvelous as my Mum's never been one for aeroplanes. Roll on Summer!

Meanwhile, they say a picture says a thousand words. Of course this one didn't, so I had to add a few of my own...