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Wednesday, 29 December
London (II)

Well, might as well finish this out. There really isn't much to tell, but hey . . . it isn't football either.

Our train back to London from Bath was relatively event-free, and mercifully did not include any drunken, amorous fumblings from fellow passengers. I confess I did briefly feel an urge to experiment with screaming at the public address messages: "SHUT UP! CHRIST HATES YOUR GONE-OFF SANDWICHES!" But I confined myself to periodically dozing, occasionally waking up to hoarsely whisper at the wife, "WOTSITS?"

We arrived without incident at the hotel, if one can rationally consider a London cab ride a non-incident, for London cabbies are a voluble, lurching lot that think nothing of erratic lane changes and rundown bicyclists left screaming in a tangle of twisted hollowcore metal, all the while calmly expounding on the relative merits of dead junkies. "They's a lot of mass, them junkies. Hell on the landfills. On t'other hand, they's dead, which is good." "My God! You ran over that delivery guy!" "Snapped 'is femurs, I did! Bloody cunts."

You people who cycle around London are fucking crackers, is all I'm saying.

We arrived at our hotel presently, which was in the alarmingly tony-seeming and thronged Kensington neighborhood. Various luscious-looking shops were everywhere, and filled with people with cell phones screwed into their ears. An H&M beckoned at the wife to come besmock herself, and on a visit the next day, we found it typically swarming. I noted a certain non-American disregard for rack sorting: in the US, pants are all over there, shirts over here, and so forth. H&M doesn't give a fuck, really. It's just fashion salad: suit jackets next to jeans (AND here's a shelf of ugly hats!) and then a couple parkas tossed in like croutons. We didn't have any fucking money anyway.

But I get ahead of myself. Checking into the hotel, we were met at the desk by a pleasant young woman. I gave her my name. "Kurruk . . . Skot? Yes! Two rooms, then?" We stared at her. I felt something knot in my bowels. "No . . . " I said, knowing what was to come. "One room. We reserved one room." She looked down at some paperwork. Specifically, two sets of paperwork. Then she went and got a manager. Who, yes, told us that we had two reservations.

I stifled a moan. In Bath, we had made reservations via a website called [REDACTED ON ADVICE OF PRETEND COUNSEL], a . . . . "last minute" website offering discounted hotel rates in "London." (There! Nobody could possibly piece those hints together!) The rates were indeed good, but the interface was fucking horrifying; I literally was able to smoke a cigarette before the fucking page load completed to give us our confirmation. I have bought thousands of dollars of crap online, so I also know better than to (despite mounting fury) pound the "Submit" button over and over and all that crap.

And yet we got nailed twice by the "last minute" website for hotels in "London." (I AM BEING GOOD, PRETEND COUNSEL!) The real clincher in my mind that I had not done anything wrong was the fact that I got only one confirmation email regarding the transaction, specifying only one room. If I had somehow fucked it and inadvertantly made two, I should have gotten two confirming emails. We called them, and they promised to make restitution, minus some fucking fee to the hotel, them being out for reserving a room and all that. Well, eat me, because we didn't do anything wrong, and it seems to me that we shouldn't have to pay a cent for an error we never committed.

Good God, I don't even want to go on about this, because it's so fucking stupid. And it's not even my place, since we were using the unlucky wife's card on the whole deal, and she's been the one having to deal with it. Suffice it to say that there was chargeback wrangling, and then bank complaining, and much confusion, and it is still not resolved, and all I can say is, when at the "last minute" in "London," be wary of which "dotcom" you engage to make your bloody reservation. [PRETEND COUNSEL, AM I NOT SMOOTH?]

Our last couple days were spent frugally, as we were getting a bit on the lean side--thanks, lousy crumbling dollar! I did note that a week after getting back that the dollar dove even further into the septic tank versus the pound. We kept to the hotel bar and restaurants (which played, mysteriously, freakishly loud Trans-Siberian Orchestra-esque music; nothing like eating carbonara while baffling guitar sprays keep getting tangled in one's noodles). We ventured a couple times to a pub called the Prince of Wales, which was obviously no stranger to travelers; its menu prominently featured a HOW TO ORDER block of text, advising befuddled Americans that sitting down at a table with worried expressions was never going to result in a waitress.

(It's actually kind of fun trying to spot Americans waiting for service rather than going up to the bar. They usually end up either disgustedly leaving, feeling affronted, or they corral some poor bastard who was on his way to unclog a toilet. Just who you want handling your comestibles.)

What else? Not much. The flight back was unextraordinary, and we glumly stared at the same fucking movies we flew over with, horrors like Troy and Dame Edna Eats It All For You or whatever.

Soon we were home. And now we're done with all that.

I'll try and cool it on the football too. No promises.

Tuesday, 28 December

After having been informed by numerous people (including personal friends) that everyone's pretty fucking sick of hearing about my vacation, we'll just go ahead and move on. And frankly, there's something else that caught my eye over the weekend: a new comedy that I'm really excited about. Sunday night brought me the funniest show I've ever seen in my life, and I'm praying that it gets picked up for future episodes.

I am talking, of course, about Sunday Night Football, which is nothing new, but Sunday's matchup was really special: the Cleveland Browns (3-11) vs. the Miami Dolphins (3-11). I simply must demand that the NFL make this matchup an annual thing, particularly if each team continues its current level of utter wretchedness, because I haven't laughed that loudly in a long time. But humor is only good for so much; the best humor is also imbued with a sense of wonder, or something, and as I watched this incredible game (final score: 7-10!), I was indeed filled with wonder. How on this fucking earth, I wondered, did either of these teams win three games? One is hard pressed to find a worse team than either of these, unless you look to San Francisco, and really, let's not.

Where to start? Well, maybe the quarterbacks, who in this instance I hope are named for the amount of money they earned for their efforts. Luke McCown? AJ Feeley? These are not the names of quarterbacks. They are the names of residents of West Egg. Then again, the hottest quarterback in football is named Peyton, so what do I know? In the future, look for more QBs with names like Drake or Rex or Chester, I guess. They can throw to receivers with names like Ebenezer Ekuban, who, startled by the sudden appearance of mysterious football-shaped objects, will drop those passes. Yay!

The whole thing was simply baffling. After each team scored a touchdown in the first quarter, threatening the fans with an actual game, there ensued . . . nothing. No scores at all for an astonishing 3 1/2 quarters. Only Olindo Mare's admittedly nice 51-yeard field goal prevented this debacle from continuing into overtime, but there were, as I say, laughs aplenty nonetheless. Highlights include:

--Six turnovers. If memory serves, none of them were converted into, oh, I don't know . . . points?

--A field goal attempt! It's very exciting! Cleveland kicker Phil Dawson lines up for the easy score! He kicks! It's hooking! It's hooking! It's . . . clanging miserably off the upright and falling to the unhappy turf! CLONGGG! The sound of that poor ball seemed to summarize every aspect of the game. Naturally, ESPN played it over and over, while the booth rats dissolved into laughter. "We've got the giggles!" squealed Mike Patrick. "And there's still a quarter to go!" Even Paul Maguire was incapacitated by laughter, and for a moment actually had to leave off twisting legendary dimwit Joe Theismann's dick with his Vise-Grips.

--But best of all was what can only be described as a Series of Unfortunate Events when Luke McCown launched yet another unfortunate pass to nobody in particular (not that the receivers appeared interested in receiving anything, unless it was a paycheck), which was naturally picked off by Arturo Freeman. Freeman began to run, and was soon swarmed by lunky Browns.

Now look: it's a tie game. You just intercepted. Good for you! It's okay to be tackled; you're a hero. Fall the fuck down and let your (admittedly awful) offense take over and do their job. No? Or you could lateral.

Lateral to Patrick Surtain. The lunky Browns then go after Surtain. Patrick is actually not a horrible player and knows what to do, right? Well, no. Surtain behaves as if someone has tossed him a recently severed head. Holy fuck! Who tossed me this awful thing?

Surtain laterals to Sam Madison. Madison immediately fumbles, also believing that his teammate has thrown him something ghastly. Jesus Christ! thinks Madison, Patrick threw me a big ball of phlegm! Madison swiftly drops the ball of phlegm at his feet, and is then leveled by several dozen Browns, all of whom have by now had ample time to get to where the ball is. And the Browns recover, for what amounts to a 28 yard gain.

That was the best Browns gain of the entire quarter. "Merry Christmas," I whispered. "Do that again."*

*I cheerfully stole this line from Pat Maguire.

Wednesday, 22 December
Bath (II)

While we enjoyed lazing our way around Bath, there wasn't a ton of remarkable things that happened, really. Mostly we woke up, the wife ate some breakfast while I smoked, the we'd shower leisurely, and head out to the city center, usually stopping by a pub at around noon or so for a pint and to chat about what the rest of that day would consist of, which was frequently nothing.

Coinciding nicely with our visit, Bath had a groovy little Christmas market set up, where we would enjoy spiced wine and watching all the dogs in the crowd be very excited about this kinetic new neighborhood just bustling with fresh new asses and crotches to be pondered and sniffed. One day, a "town crier" wandered through the market, bellowing some nonsense about "GREAT SAVINGS!" at a nearby Marks & Spencer (department store); we decided we'd have a look.

Which was a horrible mistake. The place was a mad crush of bodies, mostly women, all racing around the place and generally behaving like a band of marauding huns. Children were dragged around like unwanted freight, their wails of protest unheard; merchandise was seized frenziedly; the staff wore the hunted expressions of doomed quarry. We noticed a couple harried employees manning a wine-tasting little promo table, and we wandered over because, hey, free wine.

The table was surrounded by in inordinate number of older ladies; on the table itself were many dozens of plastic cups filled with Cabernet. We helped ourselves, but we were the only ones. This is because the ladies didn't want any damn Cabernet: "D'you have some Chardonnay?" one crooned. "Yes!" another piped, "I'd prefer Chardonnay!" The entire crone chorus was almsot immediately as one voice, and it demanded Chardonnay. "Please! Some Chardonnay, please!" (Another thing is, old English ladies really do sound exactly like one of the Monty Python boys in drag. Exactly.)

One of the staffers clutched a lone bottle of white. "THIS IS THE ONLY BOTTLE OF CHARDONNAY WE HAVE LEFT!" she yelled. "IT'S SOLD! THERE IS NO MORE CHARDONNAY!"

Only a brief second passed before one of the ladies simply repeated, "I'd really prefer some Chardonnay." Others picked up the familiar refrain. "D'you have some Chardonnay elsewhere in the store?" "Yes, a little Chardonnay?" Some didn't appear to have listened at all. "Will you open that bottle of Chardonnay?" "Oh, that would be lovely. Open the Chardonnay!" Moments later they were all again fluting hellishly at the staffers, a tireless flock of wino loons.

"We have to get the fuck out of here," I said, and the wife agreed.

I naturally stopped at some local beer & wine merchants, checking out the native suds fare, and was pleased that I did, for it was there that I saw a brand of beer called The Fursty Ferret, whose delightful label showed alcoholic ferrets crawling around a cask of brew in a craze of apparent need. Plus, it was called The Fursty Ferret, which is delightful by itself. The wife opted for some cider called Scrumpy Jack, which I'm sure she regretted later if only because I became so enamored of the phrase Scrumpy Jack, that I got obsessed with it for a while, and adopted it as kind of an alter ego, and was given to unpredictable hollers such as "I'M SCRUMPY JACK!" or conspiratorial whispers: "I'm ducking this bill. Grab your purse." "What?" "Are you mad? I give coin to no man. I'm Scrumpy Jack!" I'm sure this didn't get old at all.

Another product I found utterly charming I saw in a supermarket over there called Sainsbury's, a truly awful place to exist for any amount of time. The color scheme is dependent on a curiously 1970s-ish hue of ghastly orange, giving everyone and everything inside of it a sinister, desquamated cast. But then a bag of chips--scratch that, crisps--caught my eye. They were called Wotsits! (Their exclamation point.) I whooped happily and pointed them out to the wife. "WOTSITS!" I screamed. "Mmm-hm," she grunted, probably anticipating what the next few days would be like. I didn't disappoint. Funny looking dog passing by? "WOTSITS?!" When asked what we should have for dinner? "WOTSITS!" As I've said before, I am very lucky to be married.

Just in case we missed Seattle at all, Bath kindly also provided homeless people for us. Many of them were selling a paper called The Big Issue, which I assume is analagous to Seattles Real Change paper, which is sold by the homeless who then get to keep most of their profit. These fellows were the cheeriest damn bastards on the whole street. "Hallo, how are ye, good afternoon sir, fancy a copy of The Big Issue, only a pound, right then, copy of the paper sir?" The first couple times I saw these guys, I (sigh) assumed it was some crummy scam and passed on by, and the guys saw even before I got past that I was a big No Sale, and with only the slightest tinge of regret would call out, "Right, well, sorry, have a nice afternoon."

There's something heartbreaking about the fact that in Bath, anyway, the homeless people are more polite than most of my friends.

Then the weekend rolled around and the population of Bath suddenly trebled, because apparently EVERYONE GOES TO BATH ON THE WEEKENDS for Christ knows what. There were millions more of the demented old ladies, and they were still screaming for Chardonnay, or sometimes even more bizarre drinks, such as brandy and Diet Coke, or lager beers spiked with lime juice. Freaked out by the roil, the wife and I retreated; we spent one night in the room eating sausage, cheese, crackers and wine purchased at the accursed Sainsbury's (and drinking Fursty Ferret); another afternoon, we went to go see The Incredibles. Hey, we had six days, you know?

And all too soon they were over. It was back to London for a couple days before our flight left. And being the exquisite planners that we are, we didn't have a hotel booked yet. What could go wrong?

Interlude (Present Day)

O Holiday Season! Or, as I like to think of it, GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY WAY Season, when I am annually moved to push people down, and would happily do so, were I not a meek little pussy who is easily beaten up.

It's not just me. Tonight we took a van ride with some friends-of-friends for a nice 'n dorky tour of the local neighborhoods that go crazy with the holiday decorations (including, horribly, "Candy Cane Lane," at which one house featured a fence with a charming Santa-figure outline done in lights. "Look!" I shouted, "That's where they shot Santa!").

Anyway, my friend K. was sitting in front of me, and I realized I had not yet bought him a gift. In fact, I hadn't the slightest idea of what to get him. So I leaned forward. "Look," I said, "what do you want for Christmas? Just tell me so I can go buy it." "Nothing," he replied. "Don't waste your money. I'm not getting you anything." He says this every year because he's a real pain in the ass, which is why I imagine we get along.

"Fuck you," I told him, getting into the holiday spirit. "I'm getting you something anyway." He snarled back, "Anything you get me I'm going to throw at you." I wondered briefly how much Kate Winslet would cost and how I would properly catch her, but then K. continued: "You know what? I'm serious. I don't want anything. Save the money and go volunteer somewhere good. That would be a cool thing." But I'm no sucker. "No," I said firmly. "I don't believe in that shit."

Yes, we really had this conversation. The holiday season is really a boon to assholes like me and K. because frankly, there's a lot of ammunition out there to play with.

Case in point, earlier today: On the way home from work I wandered up to Broadway to grab some stocking stuffers for the wife, which I found in a nice little store advertising a big 40% sale of all their shit, and grabbed a few things. Then I waited at the counter as the oaf before me hassled the shopkeeper about the startlingly ugly plant-thing he was buying for his presumably suicidal significant other ("Do you have a box? No? How about a bag? With tissue? Does it need watering? What if she wants to return it?" Dude. It's a stumpy little palm that will be dead in a month. You'll be lucky if you don't find it wedged up your ass in January). I waited patiently (by which I mean impatiently), and presently a woman came up to me bearing gloves.

"I'm getting these for my brother. He wants gloves, he said." (He was lying. Nobody wants gloves.) "What do you think?" She waved them at me. I stared at them; they were black and green suede. Gloves? Who is this broad? It was, of course, horrible.

"They're fine," I said lamely, and did not say, "But the point is, they're 40 percent off, right? Oh, and for God's sake, don't touch me."

"You think so?" she persisted, and then whapped me playfully with the gloves, touching me. I flinched. "He said he wanted gloves! I think they're nice." This was hopeless. I stood rigidly, deciding not to say anything else. She then found some votive candles. They were marked at fifty cents apiece.

"You think these are forty percent off?" she asked. There were signs all over the store saying "40% OFF ALL STOCK." "I assume so," I mumbled, managing to forget not to say anything else. My mind screamed at me. They're fifty fucking cents apiece! You could probably put a box of them in your coat and nobody would care! Please stop talking to me!

She kept talking to me. Soon she found this odious little keychain toy called "Mr. Wonderful." When you pressed Mr. Wonderful's ribcage, Mr. Wonderful said allegedly hilarious things like "Whatever you say, honey!" and "No, I don't mind doing the dishes!" and "I promise I won't come in your mouth like I do with those gutter whores!" She was delighted. "Have you seen this?" Did I have a choice? "You've got it right in your hand there, dontcha!" I nervously half-screamed.

Finally, I reached the counter and was rung up; the woman blithely edged next to me and began stacking her votive candles and Mr. Wonderfuls next to my stuff. I edged my crap away from hers, really wanting to leave. At that moment, the store's sound system began playing "Go Tell It On The Mountain." And the woman exclaimed, "This will get us in the spirit!" She began singing along, God help me, and doing a little hootchie dance.

Creeped out beyond all reason, I grabbed my shit and left. When I am an old man, old enough where people will say, "Aw, let the old duffer be, he's crazy, and shits his pants all the time" and all that, I do now swear: I will push people like her over. I might be a total pussy now, but when I get old and un-beat-up-able . . . that woman is going down.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 21 December
Bath (I)

Respite! And so we came to Bath, where we had already been duly warned that Bath "really isn't worth six days. Maybe two." We appreciated the advice, and maybe it is true for the hale & unconstipated traveler who is just ripping to get back on a damn train or plane or motorboat to go winging off to the next destination, ready for the next plate of fish and chips to lodge resolutely in his or her duodenum while gazing fondly out the window at yet another sooty wall decorated with the happy slogan, "FUCK BUSH."


We understood, and yes, you can see the sights of Bath in a day or two, but the point was, we were a little tired of big cities and definitely tired of racing to and from various stations and checkpoints, and so the idea of spending six long days of idly wandering around a smaller city with its small, cramped roads was immensely appealing. And we were very happy we did.

As has been previously mentioned, however, the daunting thing about staying for long periods of time on the American dollar is its utter fucking puniness relative to the GBP. (And it's gotten worse, I notice. Holy Jesus.) We surveyed the terrain of our usual haunts--that is, charming, rustic little B&Bs where your iron tubs are cold and rusty and for some reason they have mounted dead crabs on the walls, or something--and they were all horribly expensive (again, remember the flaccid exchange rates). So we did what any person would: we immediately compromised our standards, and booked a room at the yes, soulless and corporate local Holiday Inn Express. It was a good 20 pounds cheaper a night (at least), and was a mere 10-minute walk to the city center.

And we were glad we did, to be honest. Now listen, again, I am a huge fan of those dead-crab-on-walls B&Bs, and they tickle me a great deal, particularly when I'm lowering my tensed ass onto cold iron and I think "I am traveling, and I feel it right now on my ass!" and then I pick up some complicated bath-sceptre and spray water all over the towels. I really do love it. But you know what else I love (and was really happy to find at the Holiday Inn Express--we were never able to determine what exactly made it an "Express," unless it described the velocity with which one's body expelled their glum, defeated coffee, but you could say that about all English coffee, and nobody calls the place England Express)? I loved a queen-sized bed. I loved standing up and taking an actual shower. And I loved--oh, how I loved, I confess, after only a mere week--more than three grainy televeision channels. O God! I cried. I am not forced to watch the Gaelic news! I have options other than baffling childrens' programming! On the other hand, one lonely night as the wife slept, I did discover myself watching Mystic Pizza, which I gravely analyzed as some sort of Hollywood autopsy.

Our stay in Bath was not really very remarkable; we saw the sights, of course: we toured the baths (duh), which was fun in that crumbling-stones-and-green-water kind of way (PLEASE DON'T TOUCH THE WATER! IT'S GROSS! blared the signs. Everyone touched the water. No wonder it's gross.), but somehow more fun was the Museum of Costumes, a charming little collection of outlandish garments throughout history that silly people all actually wore. I'm being mean, of course--we do, after all, live in a culture which has countenanced such things as leg warmers and body glitter. By comparison, an elaborately embroidered greatcoat weighing twelve pounds seems . . . well . . . cool.

Maybe it's a theater thing.

But mostly we took pleasure in relaxing, walking around, seeing lovely old architecture, etc. We wandered the Abbey, a typically Gothic affair with a stunning array of memorial plaques mounted on the walls, on the floors, on the pews, everywhere. "Neare here lies Magdalene Chomper, goode Mother and Faithfulle Wyfe; her surviving Husbande grieves to this Day, and Faithfullie appends the Letter E to manie Good wordes. 1784." That sort of thing. I felt particularly bad about the inscriptions set into the granite floor, as they were all worn away to practically nothing by the millions of feet: you couldn't really read them at all, and it bummed me out that the feet-corpses were getting the short end as compared to the wall-people; it also bummed me out to think that not only were their sentiments getting wiped out earlier than the wall denizens, but also that I might be walking on their faces. "Sorry about the size tens, Mrs. Hoagaboam," I thought. "You want me to give the finger to Mrs. Gangenhall? She's the uppity one over there on the wall." But my fears were probably misplaced; many of the plaques were pretty cagy about the actual resting place of the remains. They said: ". . . whose body lies near here . . . " quite a lot. Which makes me wonder if there was just some ignominious chute where all the bodies were dumped, and then mercilessly scavenged by gravediggers who hauled them back to dark rooms where they would yank out their earbones and sell them for gin.

I think it's clear I needed a rest. Which I definitely got; and there's more, but Lord, I do go on, don't I? We can pick this up later. There's a whole fucking Christmas market that happened, and an unfortunate event at a Marks & Spencer, and a selection of beers to talk about, and a supermarket that, given European complaints about American crassness and bloat, cannot be left without comment.

How's Wednesday for you? I'll see you then.

Friday, 17 December
Interlude (Travel Day)

After leaving Wexford, we had one more night in Dublin before going back to England. This night was so unremarkable that I'm not even going to bother to try and dress it up with any lies. We had dinner somewhere and then a few drinks at the Long Hall, where the only thing that amused me was when I ordered (for the wife) a Harp at the bar. The very efficient bartender actually took two steps away from me to fill the order before his neurons fired. He wheeled on me. "ARP?" he shouted. "NO ARP!"

I don't know if ordering Harp is a dumb American thing to do; I tend to assume that when traveling, any time someone tells me "No" that I've done something stupid. I quickly just asked for a cider.

The next day was dedicated solely to travel; we had to get from our hotel in Dublin to Bath. Geographically speaking, this is kind of the equivalent of me driving to Spokane. In reality, of course, things were much different. Here's what had to happen--each step of the journey, incidentally, costing simply fantastic amounts of money, particularly when taking into account the supine posture the American dollar has adopted against European currencies:

Dublin hotel --> Dublin airport --> Gatwick Airport --> Gatwick Express --> Victoria Station --> Paddington Station --> Bath train station --> Bath hotel.

To be honest, things on the whole went incredibly smoothly, all things considered. Our cab ride to the airport was made pleasant by a typically garrulous driver named Tony. ("He took a gamble on old Tony there!" he cried when a pedestrian made the dumb move of stepping in front of his cab. A London taxi driver would have accelerated, I guarantee.) Tony regaled us with his own travel stories, proudly telling us of his adventures in certain US cities such as Juneau and Branson.

And Dublin airport managed to exceed our dim expectations as well simply by being far less ghastly than Gatwick. (Though for some reason I am a security magnet. I was taken from my seat at the gate to have my carryon inspected by the most humorless man on Earth; he poked at my gloves with a little stick, which for some reason tickled me. Yes, there's a bomb in my gloves. The wife commented on the fact that I get singled out for these things more than anyone she has ever known. I am proud to say that I have been given the security business in four different countries; a couple years ago, the Belgians practically cavity-searched me.)

The RyanAir flight was just fine--quite by chance, we were among the first dozen to board, so choice seats at the front were ours. The Gatwick airport--like any airport--was much more of a pleasure to leave than to enter. The express train to Victoria was typically fine, as was the cab ride to Paddington (only three pedestrian casualties!), where we happily went to the counter to purchase tickets for the next train to Bath.

The teller scrunched up his face. "When do you want to go?"

Was this a trick? "Now would be nice. The next train?"

He smiled. "If you travel now, it's peak time. It'll be ninety pounds a ticket."

This wasn't in Rick Motherfucking Steves. The counterman continued on. "But if you wait until after 7:30, it's only thirty pounds."

7:30 was three hours away. This certainly dented our day's schedule, but there was hardly any way we were going to be nailed for the difference. We waited; I had a brief temper tantrum about this once we reached the outside, but it subsided once we realized that there was a nearby pub (THE PRIDE OF PADDINGTON!), and I wouldn't be stuck in the station staring at brisk Londoners.

Eventually, we boarded the train, and we were feeling pretty good about how things had been going. Yes, the wait was a bit of a drag at Paddington, but everything else had been pretty smooth. We found seats and sat down. All was well.

And then they arrived. A man and a woman, clearly drunk, and they sat across the aisle one row back from us. They immediately smashed their faces together for a while, engaging in some seriously enthusiastic tongueplay accompanied by a musical variety of grunts and moans. Oh, lord.

If only they'd just done that for the whole trip. But no.

Everyone else in the car was doing their level best to ignore them (and this was a milk run; the train stopped at every little town like Grumbleton and Yob's Knob and Corkbutt--we all prayed they'd leave, but no, they were going to fucking Brixton), but after a bit they left off their clumsy amory to--what else--pour some wine.

I looked over when I heard the generous glug-glug-ery, and--look, this isn't nice, but fuck them--I have to say that they were really very ugly people. The fellow looked like something poorly die-stamped at a factory in China, and the woman . . . well, she looked like several miles of wagon trail. Together, they resembled something like a total repudiation of evolutionary tactics, and I imagined that their children would all come out looking like broken chairs or puddles of botched stew. I mean, ugly. There was no getting around it. I speak as someone pretty funny-looking myself.

And on they drank, particularly the woman, and they carried on loudly in conversation. She would ask, over and over, "So whadyew really think of me?" She really only had to look at any other passenger's face for that answer. To his credit, the guy did try to shush her some, but it was hopeless. Things really got exciting after the second round of glugs: God knows what die-stamp guy did to provoke the response, but all of a sudden the wife and I were jerked out of semi-successful attempts to nap by her piercing scream: "PERVERT!"

We sleepily thrashed for a moment at nothing, and then swiveled to see who was getting mauled. Nobody. The harridan laughed uproariously at the entire car's response.

Later, the club car announced over the PA that it still had some snacks left for purchase. She erupted again. "SHUT UP! WE DON'T WANT YOUR HORRIBLE GONE-OFF SANDWICHES!" Then she cackled some more, and belched. It was like AbFab with all of the humor carefully removed. The car was deathly silent in a very English way.

Finally, we reached Bath, where we hurled ourselves off the train; the awful couple were apparently continuing on to the hellmouth of Brixton (I only insult Brixton, of which I know nothing, because THEY were going there). Bath--sweet Bath!--where we had been cautioned that travel-wise, was only worth a day or two. We planned on staying there for six.

Wednesday, 15 December

After our little stay in Dublin, it was time to move south to Wexford, where the wife has old friends who live there, B. and E. and their two kids Z. and G. She hadn't seen B. and E. for ten years, which was the last time she had been in Ireland.

We took the train ride--only a little more than an hour--and it was perfectly lovely. Too lovely, really, and it maddened me a little as I stared out the windows at the countryside to realize that I was rapidly being forced to acknowledge a cliche: that green really does mean something different in Ireland. Realize that I've spent most of my life living in what amounts to a nontropical rainforest; I am not unaccustomed to green. And yet, as I looked out at the landscape (dotted with one of nature's more inexplicably comic animals, namely sheep--why are they so funny?), I was unable to prevent myself from thinking that I had never really seen anything quite so fucking green. It dug at me, but at least it was just gorgeous. Plus, I thought I might have a shot at making a bit of money by pitching a new tourist slogan at someone: "Ireland: Quite So Fucking Green."

B. and E. were utterly charming folks, and the kids (the girl Z., 10 and the boy G., 8) were also clearly unrotten--G. wasted no time informing me that rugby was "way more violent" than American football, casting a shy grin as he imparted this dire news. I decided not to tell him about Ray Lewis.

We had a nice homemade dinner consisting of standard Irish fare: spaghetti and meatballs, prepared by E. and the wife. The wife was in charge of the meatballs, which, by her own admission, turned out to be a terrible responsibility that she simply wasn't up to. As she wailed the next day, "I'm sorry about those meatballs. I've never made meatballs before!" At the time I reassured her that they were fine, but since then it's become a running joke, so in truth, I do admit that they were rather like tiny meteorites shot through with desiccated oniony flatworm xenomorphs.

Later in the evening, perhaps in an attempt to poison our minds against any memory of the spaghetti and frightballs, E. offered to take us out to the local pub. Now, this is not the same thing as a pub in a large city, which is just really a bar. "Pub," after all, is short for "public house," which is what we got to experience: someone, some time ago, gutted out a house and threw in tables and a rudimentary bar. And this is where all the locals go for evening drinks; very much a community thing. So of course when we strangers walked in, everyone in the place immediately shut up and stared at us, at least until they saw E, the familiar face. Without her presence lending us tacit endorsement to be there, I'm pretty sure we would have been identified as invading brigands and seared by hot pokers.

The next morning, B. unfortunately had a business trip to make, so he was unable to accompany the rest of us on a car trip conducted by E. around County Wexford to see many crumbling Norman ruins, impossibly adorable country houses, and yet more innocently hilarious sheep. The tour culminated in some lighthouse point where we all got out of the car to admire the thing and to wander around on the beach of (apparently) volcanic rock where we hunted for fossil impressions (which were legion) and endured the incredibly cold and merciless wind, to which E. seemed impervious.

"Isn't this beautiful?" she howled at me, red-cheeked under her knit cap. She stood facing the wind as if it were a gentle zephyr caressing her skin, when in fact we were all being horribly dermabraded by its killing ferocity.

"My testicles are near my heart!" I screamed piteously. "I think we might die here!"

She nodded. "Yeah, there's little fossils all over the place! I like to come here to watch the dogs play in the surf."

I beat my numb hands feebly against the rocks, staving off hypothermia, or at least pretending to. "I can't feel my skin!" I shouted into the wind.

E. put her hand on her hips, facing the murderous gusts. "Sometimes the dogs get carried off by rogue waves!" she bellowed agreeably. "Sometimes kids!"

I had had enough of the lighthouse beach.

A few hours later it was time to head back to Dublin--we hadn't planned this visit very well, unfortunately. We said our goodbyes and got back on the train, back to Dublin for a night before returning to England.

Nothing much happened on that last night in Dublin--a few more damned Guinnesses at the Long Hall, really. And then the travel day, from Dublin to Dublin Airport to Gatwick to London to Bath. And it all went so smoothly. Right up until the very last train ride.

Where it all went terribly wrong. It's not a long story, but it's not one that fits here. Next up: The Train Ride Featuring the Drunken Horny Brixton Mutants.

Tuesday, 14 December

And so we went to Dublin, flying out via Gatwick airport, which is evidently an ongoing experiment in panic-inducement. I cannot stress enough how terror-inducing our experience was at this airport.

For one thing, the gates are all separated in multiples of (roughly) five, but these multiples are fed by single long walkways. Okay. But for whatever reason, Gatwick chooses to keep your gate designations a mystery until mere minutes before flight departure. So what happens is, several hundred desperate travelers stare fixedly at the Departure screens, waiting for the gate assignment to come up, and when it does, everyone charges into these walkways like frightened elk, throwing elbows like frightened elk who had suddenly evolved elbows. Then you come to a frightful bottleneck--without explanation of why everyone just stopped running madly--and see that this awful crush of people are being ticket-stamped by one lonely elderly gentleman doing his level best to manage a panicky charge of elbow-y elk.

This is before you even get to the gate to fight for your seat in RyanAir-style single combat. Kudos, Gatwick! You make Newark look like the Elysian fucking Fields. Let's be clear here: I would rather fly out of Newark than Gatwick. I am hard pressed to think of a more damning statement.

Once in Dublin, the wife and I were a bit stunned to learn this interesting fact: traffic in Dublin blows dead dogs. The cab ride into town was a phantasmagoria lullaby of . . . not . . . moving . . . much. I watched with interest as actual zombies passed our taxi with relatively surprising speed; the driver commented, "Yeh, the zombies er fast, but they wun't kerry yer luggage! Itch yer neck is what'chell doo!" We remained silent and continued staring at the knotted traffic going nowhere and the attendant zombie slaughter. I asked tentatively if Dublin had any sort of viable public transportation system, and received only derisive laughter.

Eventually, we reached our destination, Kelly's Hotel, a little dilapidated spot in the city center whose staff's fucking-A-ness more than made up for little details like cranky windows and bash-yer-head ceilings (at one point, they contacted the rail people for us and obtained information on several different fares and times). Knowing that earlier in the year that Ireland had, stunningly, banned smoking in public places (and being advised by a reader that this included my hotel room), I wasted little time in BREAKING THE LAW, MOTHERFUCKERS! by opening a window and defiantly half-clambering out of it to have a smoke. The wife, however, made this unnecessary by simply asking if smoking was banned at the hotel. "You can't smoke anywhere else," was the reply. "Might as well smoke in the room." (The Irish are virtually incapable of not deriding the smoking ban law; we heard countless variations on this very sentiment.)

And you can't; certainly not at the pubs. Outside of the wonderful Long Hall, an establishment right across the street from us (and a recommendation by a reader), smokers crowd in the entrance to have their precious cigarettes. One night, I met a very drunk fellow passing by who asked for a smoke; his brogue was very thick, so charades were involved in translation. Finally, I understood, and gave him one, to which he confusingly exclaimed "Odor point!" while waving his arms enthusiastically at me. Then he turned around and stumbled face-first into a metal pole, to no observable effect on his demeanor.

It was a little while before I figured out that "Odor point!" translated to, "I owe you a pint!"

And then there was Brian, whom we met while waiting in a pub for a train to Wexford from Pearse St. Station. Brian could almost be his own blog entry, but we'll do it here.

We had bought our tickets to go see friends of the wife down in Wexford, and while waiting for the train, found a pub called Kennedy's to pass the time. Brian found us at our table, accompanied by two young boys in his charge, relatives of some affiliation I never quite comprehended. Brian was the soul of Irish good charm, in (I would say) his late fifties, and full of incomplete ideas about America. He asked us where we were from. We replied that we were visiting from Seattle, Washington.

"The states!" he exclaimed. "Got the Bronx, do yer?"

We didn't have any good way of denying that, as Americans, we guessed we were stuck with the Bronx, and it seemed pointless to try and get into any geographical hairsplitting. Brian didn't care anyway. He pointed at the young boys he was herding around to little success.

"That one's a rockhopper!" he yelled. The boy mugged at us in return. "By which I mean he jumps around. All the time!" The boy obligingly jumped frantically in place, drawing dark looks from the bartender. Neither Brian nor boy gave a fuck; in the meantime, the other boy made faces from behind Brian's back.

Brian continued on with a disjointed account of the family history behind the childrens' provenance while the lads ran madly about. "He's a rockhopper, that one," said Brian again before becoming briefly serious. "I lost me wife last year."

We put on sad faces and cooed plangently, not quite knowing what to make of what was going on. Brian didn't care. "There's a lot of history here!" he brightened for some reason and waved at the window. "That hotel over there used to be a church!" Okay. The boys were becoming more and more restless; one of them grabbed Brian's hand and began tugging on it, bleating, "Can we go soon?" Brian (not for the first time) admonished him, "I'm talking!" The lad tugged again on one of Brian's fingers, prompting Brian to say, "If you pull on me again, I'll kick yer right in the nuts!" The kid laughed. Then Brian made strangling motions at us, as if to say, "You won't mind if I throttle these kids, right?" For the second time, Brian then said tenderly, "Me wife died last year, you know."

I wish I could transcribe more of what Brian said, but frankly, much of it was incomprehensible to me. There were more confused geographic questions about our proximity to certain New York touchstones interspersed with such queries like "Do ye believe in God?" and "Can ye take the rockhopper off my hands?" The latter with more neck-wringing gestures.

In the end, he left us (with the children mercifully--as yet--unkilled) with no less than four heartfelt two-handed goodbyes, making sure the kids gave us stout handshakes as well. And I swear that one of the last things he said to us--the wife's hands clasped in both of his--he breathed, quietly:

"I lost me wife last year."

Saturday, 11 December
London (I)

Flying into Heathrow airport after a nice wakeup on British Airways ("Sir? Orange juice? Coffee?" "What, no wine? I'm on vacation!"), I was naturally concerned with one thing. I turned to the wife, who, having slept very little, glared at my well-rested self; undeterred, I tenderly gazed at her and whispered, "Do you remember if you can fucking smoke anywhere in Heathrow?"

What a dumb question. Of course you can. And, once we cleared customs, I did. God save the Queen.

After snagging our luggage from baggage reclaim (Reclaim! Not claim! How exotic!), we then set about our first task: getting to our hotel. Being the masters of not planning much of anything in advance, we hadn't bothered to work this out. There was the Heathrow Express, of course, the handy train system that zaps you straightaway to Paddington Station, but the thing was, we were staying nearer Victoria Station. Or there was the option of just taking a cab, but Heathrow, being a fucking city in and of itself, is a ways out of London proper, and we knew that it would be a horrifyingly expensive ride. Neither of us were up to negotiating a tube ride with our bags and barely-functioning brains either, so that was out. It was quite a conundrum, which I set about solving by going and having another cigarette.

Presently the wife found a small desk called "Hotelink," which promised us airport-to-hotel service for fifteen pounds a person. (A note on the US dollar versus the pound sterling: we're fucking losing. The dollar is around .53 pounds--and not much better against the Euro--so it became quickly evident that to convert British prices to the American equivalent, you just doubled prices in your head. As if I needed more excuses to drink heavily.)

Hotelink worked pretty well, really. We shared a van with just one other customer (who got out first at the London Hilton; thinking about its room costs filled me with a kind of economic nausea), and got to see some lovely urbanish sights along the way. I distinctly remember passing an office building with its name proudly emblazoned on its side that was quite memorable: THE LEPROSY MISSION. Welcome to London! Our mission: To give you leprosy. I'm sure it's a fine organization, and obviously with a noble cause, but leprosy just isn't one of those things that gets a lot of play in the States, and you don't often hear it mentioned, much less stamped onto large buildings. And yet, there it was, greeting me into the city. It had a curious logo, which seemed to be that of an adult reaching down to hug a child. Or to give it leprosy.

A little later, twenty minutes or so, we were treated to our first really English experience: someone calling someone else a cunt. That would be our driver. At a stoplight, he was apparently harangued by another driver; however, he apparently couldn't hear the exact words of the insult, so he accomodatingly rolled down the window to get a better listen. I thought this was really charming.

"WOT?" our driver shouted.

I heard only indistinct replies.

"Aaaaah!" he snarled back in irritation. "Yer cunt!"

I admired a couple things about this. First of all, his utter lack of regard for the fact that he was swearing freely at other drivers without a care that we could clearly hear him. Another was that he managed to somehow pronounce "cunt" as if it contained a diphthong. But England is the Land of the Diphthongs. I'm pretty sure they snore using extraneous vowels.

We reached the hotel in due course, and the driver cheerfully flinged our bags to the curb and waved us off briskly, clambering back into the van before we could even tip him, which naturally (not for the first time) made us feel like stupid Americans--Americans are deeply nervous about not tipping anyone who has done us the slightest service, and so we go around doing things like tipping people who make us coffee, or fix our toilets, or give us leprosy, whatever. Fortunately, we were too whacked out to give much of a shit about it, because otherwise I would have likely ran after his van, screaming, "I FORGOT TO TIP YOU! STOP, YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE! TAKE MY MONEY!" And flinging pound coins at his windows. Instead, we trudged up to our hotel room and collapsed.

We spent only a couple days in London at first (we'd be back later), and to go on much more about it would be pretty boring: those days were mostly spent acclimatizing ourselves to the time change (and resulting body malfunctions: "You shit yet?" "No. You?" "Just air." Our trip would turn out to be positively Rabelaisian in its varied discussions about what did or did not fly out of our asses). We did manage to stir ourselves long enough for a trip to the Tate Museum, which any fucking fool can see is a seriously great place to see some astoundingly great art, and at an unbeatable price: free.

It's a profoundly American reaction to feel like you're ripping off someone, somewhere, when you go to a European museum and just wander in the front door for nothing. Because it's deeply weird for us that a government would actually take the position that, hey, part of our (the government's) function is to make absolutely fucking sure that anyone, without regard of who they are or how much money they have, should absolutely be able to experience things like great works of art.

Naturally, it doesn't really work like that here. Which is pretty embarrassing.

Like I say, though, we only had a couple nights in London before we headed out to Dublin, via RyanAir through Gatwick. And here is where things got exciting. For Gatwick might be the most horrible airport in the world. For myself, I am convinced that Gatwick is simply a large, particularly cruel Skinnerian experiment in operant conditioning; a maze for rats where there is no cheese, but only Velveeta.

But enough for now. Next time: Gatwick. And Dublin. Where we leave off diphthongs and go straight to glottal stops.

Thursday, 09 December
Hirsute Fruit and Other Concerns

Yesterday at 2:05 PM or so, the wife and I took off from Heathrow airport in London, and at around 3:40 PM, we happily landed at Seatac. Which was puzzling, because the flight certainly felt longer than an hour and a half. We must have encountered some temporal difficulties along the way. I mean, it really felt more like nine hours--actually, watching the last part of Troy seemed to last for weeks, really--and why would they serve us two meals on such a short flight? It's a mystery. And speaking of mysterious, for that second meal, we were served something called a "bap." Specifically, a "turkey salad bap." The word "bap" was ominous enough, but not nearly as ominous as what it actually was: a small sandwich that was filled with, apparently, leftover meat from a burn unit slathered in clotted pus. I left aside my bap and stared morosely at my tiny little TV screen to watch more of Troy, which was itself increasingly unappetizing in a nicely bappish way. I wondered idly if someday an inventive airline chef would create the Troy Bap, which I figured would be popular with the gay crowd. You could do worse than a Brad Pitt/Orlando Bloom sandwich, after all.

I think it's clear that I have not quite recovered from the effects of the trip back. Sorry I'm still a bit woozy. Just one thing before I launch later into more in-depth coverage of the trip:

American bars really must try harder to be more interestingly named. Here in my neighborhood I have such uninspiring establishments as The Deluxe, The Broadway Bar & Grill, The Canterbury, etc. But across the pond, we encountered such delights as The Rat & Parrot (whose mirrors featured etchings of a rat and parrot in seeming combat), the Slug & Lettuce (Yum!), and (my very favorite, and recommended by a Dublin cabbie) The Hairy Lemon. There's something terribly obscene about a mental image like a hairy lemon, especially when you're eating food there, particularly fish and chips. "Care for some hairy lemon with that?" Well, no. In the end, I wasn't able to rationally figure out which was worse: the idea of some mutant lemon-shaped genitalia, or Meadowlark Lemon shaking his loose hairs out onto my fish.

It's good to be back. And we were greeted in absent-friend high style by our friend D., who nicely looked after our apartment while we were gone. He kindly left us a note to greet us, which he wrote on a piece of paper and then used a chip-clip to attach it to a lighting fixture. It read: "WELCOME BACK, DIPSHIT!"

Lord. None of this is very coherent; as I say, we're still trying to deal with the horrific time change and all that. But I do note something . . . this is roughly the second anniversary of this blog. Which seems crazy. It seems sometimes like much longer than that, and sometimes much shorter. And I have a lot of people to thank for it--more than I can name here, but fortunately, I list most of them on that little list of links on your left, so check them out if you want. They're good people, and for want of many of them, I wouldn't be doing this.

Thanks to you all, and to the others who know who they are--



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