Sunday, November 8, 2009
Well it's been a while, friends. I currently type this with a gimp-finger thanks to my skills, or lack thereof, with a lino cutter. You see, I have of late had a renaissance of my creative side and have been painting, attending cooking classes and now carving lino for printing (I will be sending out elegant, hand-printed Christmas cards this year to a select few people, a step up from my usual Christmas email typed in red and green font). I am back to painting glassware and will notify you when my shop is up and running online so that you can all show how much you care by buying copious amounts of artwork from me. Don't worry, I will wipe the bloody fingerprints off first.
The summer was good to me - filled with visitors from England, although I have put a stop to that because childhood heroes of mine kept dying when I had guests over. First Michael Jackson, then Patrick Swayze. The only dance hero left is Molly Ringwald and that is a cross I am not willing to bear in 2009, so please, stay on your side of the pond until next year, peeps.
I have upgraded on the job front to an events role which will run until January, then I will be cast back into the sea of unemployment with nothing but Judge Judy and Cheez-its for company again.
This year saw my first American Halloween! I missed it last year because of the douche-nozzles at the US embassy in London playing silly beggars with my paperwork and so my costume sat in storage until this year when I could bust it out in Duluth, MN.
Wamby and I went as guys from A Clockwork Orange. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the film, a gang of lawless youth in futuristic Britain go on a rampage of rape and 'ultraviolence' dressed in bowler hats, false eyelashes and codpieces (pl. codpi?). This to me, would be an apt costume for Halloween, celebration of all things evil, horrific and grotesque, right? Well in America, apparently not. Halloween is an excuse to dress like a slag. Anyone who has seen Mean Girls has had that moment where they walk into a fancy-dress party complete with bad wig, rotten zombie teeth, or in my case a pair of Y-fronts worn over my trousers with a sock stuffed down them, and been confronted with everybody else wearing playboy bunny outfits or the equivalent.
I looked like the ring-master of a lesbian circus and it seemed that I had overlooked the memo informing me that since I am the proud owner of a (rather fabulous) pair of breasts, they had darn-well better be on show. Every other girl in Fitger's Brewery that night was a 'sexy witch', 'sexy pussy cat', French maid, or even - and this still puzzles me - a 'sexy leprechaun'. 'How can a leprechaun be sexy?!' I hear you cry. Let's think about this for a second, leprechauns are ginger, bearded midgets who wear green hats and shout something about lucky charms a lot. Well apparently, you just wear a green corset with shamrock nipple-covers and a pair of green hotpants, and you have your halloween costume ready to go! One other woman also missed the slutification memo and went dressed as a box of Franzia wine, which I thought was hilarious, if a little cumbersome on the dancefloor.
Don't get me wrong, our costumes went down a storm. One guy came up to us gushing that they were the best costumes he'd ever seen, EVER! I wanted to return the compliment but was unsure what he was supposed to be; he had a regular shirt and trousers and had a utility belt with a power-drill on it. I didn't want to be rude by guessing wrong so we just said thanks and exchanged some jokes and lines from the film about the joys of rape and whatnot.
There was another moment of the night that really rammed it home to me that I now live in the States. I was standing at the mirror in the ladies rearranging my sock stuffing (it was quite the ordeal to pee that night) and having a rather pleasant conversation with the Franzia lady who was waiting for the disabled cubicle when a voice piped up to my left:
"Uh, I don't mean to be rude, but what are you? I mean, if you're supposed to be Charlie Chaplin, he like, totally had a moustache."
"Thanks for the update toots. I am supposed to be Charlie Chaplin, but came without the cane, moustache, black suit or tie. At least I got the hat right though, eh? And what did you come as? Oh, that's right, a slutty cat."
With that I continued rearranging my package to make it bump-free so I didn't look like I had genital warts. Nothing like a moronic American girl to cheer me up with their gawping stupidity.
And so now, as November settles upon us here in Minneapolis, snow is imminent and another limb-numbingly cold five-month winter approaches. I have already subconsciously started my winter diet in order to build up my blubber and stay warm. Essentially this means replacing salad with gravy at each meal. Aah, Bisto, the cornerstone of any super-starch diet. This is all purely instinctual, obviously and it is quite the chore to replace my salads with anything roasted, mashed or stewed. It's tough but essential you see, for without it, I would die. Well I certainly would if some genius hadn't invented the Skyway system here - the series of linked heated walkways which connect all the downtown buildings. Without that, I would definitely die, or at least have very messy shoes from walking in snow a lot.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Whitewater State Park is a beautiful spot down in the Mississippi River valley, which we've been to before and wanted to revisit. We left the Twin Cities after work on Friday and took I-35 South through the 'burbs and into Minnesota farm country. It was a beautiful summer evening and as the sky turned pink, we chatted idly. We're rarely short of things to talk about, Wamby and I, as we both do like the sound of our own voices.
I was playing navigator and had my trusty Google Map directions clutched firmly in my little hands. By American standards, this was a stone's throw; spitting distance, a hop, skip and a jump from the Cities. A two and a half hour drive - hell, we've driven further for dinner. We'd both had a hard week and this journey we didn't even have any driver/passenger arguments, not even when we missed our turn and ended up in a small town called Chatfield about eight miles South of our destination.
So we took the scenic route. We arrived at Whitewater around 8pm, with the sun setting slowly in the sky, only to find the campground full. Not a problem, we thought; there's bound to be another State Park nearby. In fact, the nearest one was also full, the next one along was John Latsch Park - merely a clearing in the woods with no facilities, just a walk-in pitch with no running water or toilets. As it was starting to get dark, we drove the 43 miles to John Latsch and pulled off the highway up the driveway the led into the woods. It didn't occur to me to be scared until Wamby asked if I was sure I would be OK on my own while he drove to get firewood. I looked around the clearing and suddenly realised that I felt very much like a sitting duck. Aware that there could be a hundred pairs of eyes that I could not see locked on me at that very second, I decided we should both go for firewood.
'There should be a gas station any minute now....somewhere just around the next bend...maybe in that town up ahead?' We kept stating things like this to each other, only to be disappointed that the next 'town' or strip of civilisation we came to consisted of nothing more than a bait shop and a bar. Around 30 miles later, we stumbled across a 'Kum & Go' petrol station. Wamby has affectionately nicknamed the chain 'conceive and leave' and 'pump and dump', which I can honestly say, just never gets old.
As we pulled in, we were well aware that we had just driven North for about half an hour past John Latsch Park, and that perhaps if we drove another half hour, we could reach Red Wing State Park, which had hot showers and more flush toilets than you could shake a stick at. The risk being that we may arrive at Red Wing to find that was full too and have an hour drive back to the clearing in the woods, or an hour drive back to the city to sleep in our own bed, having done a totally pointless five hour drive around Southern Minnesota.
We entered the petrol station and asked the charmless woman behind the counter if they sold firewood. She had a face like a dropped meat pie and a slight stoop which made her look older than she was. Through a slew of 'Aww gees' and other colloquialisms, we gathered that they did not sell firewood, but that there was a wagon-full in front of a house four miles up a dirt road on the other side of the highway, where we could drop a donation into a tin by the gate. Well, we'd come this far - we were going to buy firewood if it was the last thing we ever did....and it almost was.
We drove up the desolate winding track with our headlights on full beam and eventually saw a farmhouse with three or four outbuildings and a wagon - just as pie-face had said there would be - stacked high with firewood. We eased into the driveway, dipping the headlights and as I searched in my bag for change, we heard them.
They were in the distance at first, well up the driveway near the house. A scrabbling sound on gravel and barking that got louder, and louder. Two dogs came hurtling towards the car - picked up at first in the headlights - teeth bared and eyes wide.
We looked at each other, not really knowing what to do. They were small, but they seemed vicious and we weren't sure what breed they were. They calmed for a few seconds, so W tried to open his door. They barked ferociously and the headlights picked up more and more of them. Within seconds there were eight or nine dogs around the car, all barking and growling, one even jumped up at my window and was scratching at the glass. I laughed nervously, sure that at any moment the owners would come down the driveway, round them up and apologise. They never came.
We sat on the driveway for five minutes or so, waiting for them to get bored and go away but they never did, so we reversed without checking the mirror, hoping to hit one of the little bastards, confident in the knowledge that an unleashed dog is fair game in any US state.
The feeling that we may well be in a Stephen King novel was starting to dawn on us and we headed straight back through the cornfields to the highway, aiming for the town of Wabasha - home of the film Grumpy Old Men. Shining like a beacon was a BP garage with a stack of firewood outside. We stopped and bought the wood and a $2 scratch card. I scratched it off and checked it twice: we had won $12!
Wamby went back in and asked for our winnings in one dollar bills and made it rain through the sunroof like an NFL player in a strip club. Our luck had changed. This was going to be a good night after all! We decided to head back to Latsch Park for the night rather than risk being turned away from Red Wing, and look for somewhere else to camp the next day as it was now 10pm. As we drove back the way we had come, we saw a brown sign for 'Richard J. Dorer State Forest'. We could hardly believe our luck as we drove up the hillside into Kruger Campground, where there were other campers staying too. We marvelled that we had never found this little nugget before. We found a site and began unpacking the car. That's when we heard them.
'Yo, where the party at?!' 'Not here', I'm thinking, leave us alone. 'Man, why you pulling up so late?' Leave us alone. 'Dude, where you from?' Leave us alone. Three guys bowled straight into our site, drinking neat J.D. from bottles clothed in paper bags. We said as little as possible to try to persuade them to leave us alone, but they insisted on inviting us over for drinks. We politely said we were tired and were just going to bed. After hot dogs and a beer to unwind, we hit the hay, praying for an easier journey tomorrow.
"Left my niggaz house paid
Picked up a girl been tryin to fuck since the twelve grade
Its ironic, I had the brew she had the chronic
The lakers beat the supersonics
I felt on the big fat fanny
Pulled out the jammy, and killed the punanny
And my dick runs deep so deep so deep
Put her ass to sleep"
Are you kidding me? I'm in the middle of a state park, it's midnight, I just want to sleep and you're gonna play Ice Cube so loud the bass bins shake in your ugly Lincoln Navigator? And so we laid in our tent for a while. Maybe they'll just listen to one song? Maybe three? Maybe a ranger will come along? I did the very British thing of moaning about them and clenching my fists, but ultimately laying there not actually doing anything about it. W did the very American thing of going to unzip the tent saying 'I'm going to tell those jack-asses to knock it off!' I talked him out of it with the flawless logic that we are in the middle of the woods with no cell-phone reception; going to confront three drunken hoods is not a good idea. Around 3am, the music died down and I drifted into a shallow sleep.
Two hours later, I woke with a feeling in my stomach that I prayed would go away. I looked over at W and he was sound asleep. I felt like my stomach was being put through a mangle. It was the unmistakable gripe of food-poisoning, and I knew it wouldn't go away. I woke Wamby and he said he would walk me down to the pit-toilets, which were about 50 yards from our site. For any of you who have never camped, pit toilets are essentially a hole in the ground with a toilet fixture attached, which is usually peppered with blue bottles, there is no flush. They are unappealing at the best of times, but the idea of possibly having to hug one whilst heaving my dinner into it from one of my orifices was considerably unpleasant.
I crawled out of the tent and took perhaps three steps before I collapsed. My knees went weak under me and I was seeing black and white fuzz, like static on a TV. I made it to the picnic bench and rested for a few moments while W unlocked the car. He carried me to it and delivered me to the toilet hut by rolling down the hill with the handbrake off. I barely made it the ten feet inside before almost collapsing again and I saw my arm shaking uncontrollably from side to side as I reached out for the torch Wamby was holding out to me. I will spare you the details as to what took place inside that shed, suffice to say it has now been declared a toxic waste site.
We don't talk about that night. It was a glitch in the matrix that saw all our bad luck and dangerous encounters for the next two years rain down on us in one evening. Knowing that we have officially used this up, we have begun playing the lottery, buying pull tabs and attending meat raffles at the Uptown VFW on a regular basis. So far we're up $7 and a turkey crown. To infinity...and BEYOND!
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Well, it's official: the grass is always greener on the other side. You had to listen to me whine for 6 months about not having a job and now that I have one, you're going to have to listen to me whine that I do. It irritates me on so many levels, which I shall proceed to list for you in an orderly fashion:
1) It's retail. Just the word prompts an involuntary eye-roll from me.
2) I have to ride the chav-wagon to work, which invariably results in me having to smell or hear something emanating from another passenger which is offensive.
3) I'm expected to smile...a lot (which is discrimination as I have a naturally down-turned mouth).
4) I am currently on a worse wage than when I was working for Asda at the age of 17.
5) I work very early sometimes, and I'm not a morning person.
6) I work very late sometimes, and that means I miss Letterman.
7) I work that awkward, middle of the day shift sometimes, which means you can't do anything in the morning and your evening's ruined too.
8) I get spoken to maybe 12 times a day like a crusty polyp on the sole of any given customer's kitten heel.
9) I don't know that I'm cut out for selling clothes as I don't think I'm a very convincing liar in the fitting rooms. While colleagues are able to tactfully suggest an alternative colour or size, I have been known to do the plumber's whistle (through the teeth, whilst simultaneously shaking my head), followed by closing the fitting room door and walking away laughing.
10) It's retail. *eye roll*
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not being a snob about people who choose retail as a career. If you don't mind working unsociable hours on pay that blows, good on you. I just don't have the patience or desire to massage the egos of high-maintenance American women who have a vocabulary of precisely one phrase, which is applied to seemingly every item in the store, "Oh my god, that ... is so cute!" Seriously, poor old Roget would rotate in his resting place.
I am looking for alternative employment, but currently there is little out there in the events industry. I guess there are always the fail-safe options of being a cleaner, and/or sex-line operator. After all, people always need clean houses and apparently the novelty of a British accent still just doesn't wear thin. Maybe I could combine them into some kind of slutty Mary Poppins character? I kid, of course - it would be wholly inappropriate to utilise a Disney character in the sex industry, except for Jessica Rabbit and The Little Mermaid - everyone knows they've been around the block a few times.
One piece of good news is that I am now officially a Legal Permanent Resident of the USA. All my paperwork is complete and I am free to travel as I please with no more waterboarding from Bertha in a side room at the DHS. OK, so I wasn't actually exposed to waterboarding, but I always thought it sounded kind of fun; like boogie-boarding, or skateboarding - and what's more fun than water sports?
So I leave you - little ray of effing sunshine that I am - and will resume my job search with renewed vigour, having offloaded all my negative energy onto you, my faithful reader. Cheers for that.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Dad was a man far too complex to be summed up in a few words, and this is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to write, but I felt I had to at least try and return the favour for the amazing speech he gave at my wedding a few months back, which he made look easy.
Regardless of how you knew him, one of the things most people will remember about him is his sense of humour. He had an acerbic wit that was not always politically correct, sometimes inappropriate and at other times just plain rude, but I’ll smile every time I think of him laughing, even if I disapproved of the joke.
I learned a huge amount from dad, one of the first things was never to judge a book by its cover. In the 80’s, he’d go into pubs in the city in his biker’s leathers, with his long hair and piercings and strike up conversations with the stock traders at the bar. They were always amazed when dad chipped in with information about recent trading and offered his opinion on the state of the economy, and after a frosty start, welcomed him as part of the group. What he didn’t tell them, was that he used to memorise a few paragraphs of that day’s Financial Times and drop them casually into the conversation, to make them think he knew what they were all talking about.
Dad’s ability to retain facts like that was second to none; whether you needed to know who played drums on a Bob Dylan B-side or the quickest route between two London landmarks and the name of each pub along the way, Dad was your go-to guy. Fantastic if you were on his team in a pub quiz, but a total nightmare to play Trivial Pursuit against.
He was like this until the end, even from his hospital bed he would open his eyes and pipe up to correct our conversation about music when we thought he was asleep. He loved holding court with all his visitors and chimed in regularly with little nuggets of hilarity, like only he could. On one visit, dad was speaking slowly and deliberately, with the precision of a man trying articulate his final wishes. He told me; “Hayley, I’ve got to......I’ve got to.....” and I waited, enthralled, for the sage advice that my father was to pass down in his final days. He finally finished: “I’ve got to....give you your Christmas present, it’s in the cupboard at home.”
Thankfully, not all of his conversations dealt with issues like where he’d stashed our Christmas presents and Laura and I both had the opportunity to spend time with him alone before he passed away. I think this is one of the few benefits of having an illness like dad’s and I’m thankful for every minute we got together. What’s important to me now is to celebrate dad’s life, not mourn his death and to remember the immense love and unshakable commitment he had to my sister and I. Finally, and most importantly; his motto: Illegitimis nil carborundum, or in English: don’t let the bastards grind you down.
Friday, February 27, 2009
104 days. That’s how long I’ve not worked for, and I have probably another 50 or so to go. The first two weeks are great fun; you can lie-in everyday, watch daytime TV, stay up late on a school night. Then the rot sets in; you realise that daytime TV only teaches you how to sue people, file for bankruptcy and buy insurance. American TV in particular I find, instils a feeling of entitlement amongst the viewers: the car accident was not your fault, your debts should be minimised, you deserve to spend your tax refund on financing a new car, the list is endless.
Times are tight for Wamby and me, but we’re by no means on the breadline. We have plenty of things to hawk before we get evicted from our apartment. I firmly believe that anyone who bangs on about how broke they are when they have a Wii console and a gym membership deserves a good slap on the noggin. It’s all relative, and I have to say that we’re not doing too badly for getting by on one income. Apparently Minneapolis is also the easiest city to get wealthy in the USA (admittedly according to the Minnesota tourist authority), so once I’m allowed to work, we should have it pretty cushty here.
Minneapolis is great, it’s Chicago-lite, and I have to say that I’m actually really enjoying the current recession - it’s an amazing time to be a consumer. Macy’s had an 80% off sale last week, you can buy a 2 bedroom house with a garden for $50k and Toyota Tundra are offering buy one, get one free on trucks - I kid you not! As long as I can make it through the rest of my enforced unemployment without going gouging out my own eyeballs with a spoon just for something to do, my prospects are rosy.
I recently had my biometrics appointment, where they photographed me and took my fingerprints for my moustachioed friends at the Department of Homeland Security. The lady commented on how soft my hands are and I can only credit this to not working. I didn’t realise they were distinctly smooth and may consider adding it to my resume: ‘Detail oriented, strong interpersonal skills, hands like a baby’s bum’.
I looked around the waiting room at my fellow fingerprintees, wondering if me and my digits were really distinctive or if perhaps it was a chat-up line from Ms Mullet. In a crowd of 50 or so, there was only one other white woman (I would guess Canadian because of the polar fleece and orthopaedic shoes).
The Twin Cities of Minneapolis, St Paul have the second largest Hmong (pronounced ‘mung’) population outside of Laos at 17,000 -behind Fresno, California. Bizarrely, the state of Minnesota also has the largest Somali population anywhere outside of Somalia at 50,000, mostly in the Twin Cities, according to the 2000 census. The Hmong were allocated housing in Minnesota in return for helping US forces during the Vietnam war, but I believe the Somali community has simply grown as it has established itself here. I think the only state less like Somalia they could have chosen to relocate to would be Alaska, with our record low temperature being minus 42 degrees.
These were the two major groups who filled the waiting room and yet I knew that I would never be subject to the same branding they would be as a foreigner. As a Brit, or any kind of European in the US, you are a charming oddity and an accepted minority. The term ‘them immigrants’ for whatever reason does not include me. I’ll be able to pick up my career where I left it in London after the upheaval and disruption that is the immigration process and hopefully won’t have to work long hours in a job I’m overqualified for purely because my qualifications are not recognised in the land of opportunity, and for that I am well aware how lucky I am.
I have actually considered doing TV voice overs, such is the US love affair with the English accent. Minnesota has a particularly jarring twang, with one local landmark, the St Croix River being pronounced Croy, to rhyme with Troy, NYARRGGHH! It’s French - what’s so hard?! Another favourite is New Prague being pronounced New Praig, to rhyme with plague. It’s like fingernails scraping across a blackboard to me every time I hear it!
Anyway, everyday a new advert pops up with a British voice over, and I have already been asked to be the talking tree of a friend’s engineering company phone system. You know the kind; ‘If you hate these answer phone systems and just want to speak to a human being that may have some interest in and/or capability of answering your very simple query, please press one’; ‘To speak to an operator who has a distinctly thick Indian accent and calls himself Ian, when you really wouldn’t mind just addressing him by his real name so long as he can help you, please press two’ and so on. My friend seems to think that people would be less irritated by my dulcet tones guiding them through the labyrinthine phone system than the current voice, provided by his South Carolinian receptionist. I know which I’d prefer to hear, but if he’s willing to pay, I’m willing to take his money - and what could be more American than that?