Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Marx! Nietzsche! How are you, old chaps?... No?

After my last post bragging about how competent a traveler I am, I obviously annoyed the Great Gods of Travel and as such they provided me with the Steve Irwin of the driving world during my journey back from Chester. The first sign came when Howard (I know) suggested everyone on the coach have a 'group sing-a-long', complete with him harmonising on the microphone. People singing when they're going on holiday is one thing, but on a bus to Bradford I doubt that anyone has ever possessed enough holiday spirit to start up a round of Ten Green Bottles. Even if we had wanted to, it would be nigh on impossible as the breath was knocked out of us all when Howard thought it a good idea to go from 0 - 80mph in roughly two seconds. This was not a good idea, as he then found it extremely difficult to stop when he noticed a lorry the size of my house directly in front of us, forcing him to slam on his breaks and resulting in everyone's luggage flying through the air. The lady opposite seemed severely disgruntled that her travel pillow had been dislodged - I think this was her first time on a bus as she had also felt the need to wear flight socks... I thought things might settle down once we reached the motorway, but apparently Daredevil Howie is not one for gridlock, as he demonstrated by flying down the hardshoulder at 100mph, much to the shock (and, to be honest, excitement) of his passengers. We eventually arrived safely in Bradford after a tiny detour that made everyone over the age of 50 have a minor panic attack and I am now back in my beloved home city.

Apparently my penchant for procrastination has not been left behind in Chester. Whilst trying to ensure that my bedroom is habitable for when I move back in, I found many ways to keep myself distracted. There was, for some unknown reason, an old desktop computer keyboard stashed away in my wardrobe and I spent a good 10 minutes seeing how fast I could type various different words into it. However, it wasn't connected to anything, so not only was this exercise pointless, but it was also very difficult to measure my results. I then spent at least a further 30 minutes trying to get a spinning top to go for more than ten seconds. I even made a mental list of different tactics in an attempt to prolong the spin - it was a short lived dream that spinning it anti-clockwise as opposed to clockwise might make some miraculous difference. Obviously, getting a degree has not resulted in my being included in some elite group of society that gathers together and talks about Marx and Nietzsche like they were old school friends. Shame.

After getting my degree the first thing I did was open (for the first time since I got it three years ago) my 'Student Cookbook', seeing as I now have the time (and sobriety) to actually make food. I thought I'd start easy and bake a cake - mainly so that I would have the cake mixture left in the bowl to console myself if it went wrong. The cake itself was, well, a piece of cake (the time has come. I am now making puns worthy of women over 50); it was the fancy, decorative cream in the middle that was my downfall.  Apparently you can over whip whipping cream, so much so that it gradually morphs into cottage cheese and starts producing its own weird, watery substance. After trial-and-erring my way through an entire carton of cream, I decided to make buttercream instead, thinking it couldn't be that hard to do. In the end I just melted a bar of Dairy Milk chocolate and shoved that in the middle instead.

Along with baking cakes, there have been a plethora of other things since I left university that have drawn my attention to the fact that I am finally getting old. I realised this as I sat surrounded by 50-year-old women (most of whom were on reunion trips) at a James Taylor concert the other week in Manchester. Reassuringly, me and my sister seemed to be the youngest people there, but still... I think we enjoyed it a little too much to still be considered the hip young things that we are. Soon I will be on a par with my mother, wearing slippers and putting Rivitas in a plastic bag so they don't dry out. How much drier can a Rivita really get?! However, I have accepted my fate and begrudgingly removed the Parental Advisory poster that has adorned my bedroom door since I was fourteen. (Although, to be honest, the message still stands). There's still a little bit of rock and roll left in me though - I've recently taken to putting my contact lenses in shot glasses over night as I left the case at Megan's house last week. See? I can still be cool. I have, however, drawn the line at downloading music as opposed to buying CDs. For one thing, I like the album sleeves, and for another I can never quite get the hang of downloading. I've realised that unless you pay close attention to the progress of your songs, you can never be quite sure what it is you're getting and suddenly you'll have your iPod on shuffle only to hear, "I was driving to work when a cyclist pulled out in front of me" at the beginning of a song. More than once have I accidentally downloaded a good minute of someone attempting to defend Michael Jackson's sexual assault allegations. Despite my general dislike for the human race, I think I'll stick to buying music from shops so as to avoid accidental downloads of Two Girls, One Octopus. (If you've not seen it: don't, and if you have... Well, the damage is done and these scars will stay with you forever).

This week has been my last week of freedom before I get back into the dreaded lull of mindless work and I've spent it, mainly, wandering around Yorkshire taking photographs. (Right, that's it, I'm old). I went to Swaledale yesterday with my dad and, despite my being told off for getting chocolate on the seats of his car, we had a lovely day and I spent two hours on a photography "ramble" being taught by a real live photographer how to actually use the camera that I have owned for two years. Apparently all the numbers and letters that appear on the screen mean something and I should be looking at them before taking a photo. Who knew? I've also got a little bit of photography work lined up with one of my mum's friends - I've just got off the phone with him and he worryingly left the conversation saying, "We'll leave it to you, you know your stuff"... There's a big, dusty pile of camera manuals that have been sat in my bedroom for two years - I guess it's about time I got a wriggle on and read some of them so that I could hear someone say, "you know your stuff" without resisting the urge to hang up the phone and run for my life.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Going Wild in America! (And by that, I mean smuggling tweezers into my handluggage...)

After being in America for two weeks, I am tempted to greet each and every one of you (i.e. the three people who read this), with a short, simple 'hello' to prove to myself (and to America) that it is not necessary to greet every single person you see with, 'hi, how are you today?' The amount of times in the past fortnight I have gone to reply, 'fine, thank you, how are you?' only to realise that I am being ignored is innumerable. Apparently it is polite to ask, but not polite to wait for an answer and at least pretend to care. It's sort of like when people say, 'I don't mean to offend you, but...' and then tell you how hideous your baby's face is. Or maybe I am just too British in terms of what I consider to be polite. Anyway, enough of American supermarket etiquette.  I've been in California for the past two weeks and as a result I am suffering from jet lag induced nocturnality, (Google says it's a word, therefore it is a word) and high levels of I-dislike-England-and-I-wish-I-could-be-in-California-with-the-ever-so-friendly-checkout-people syndrome. Coming back to the north of England after being in California is like getting married, only to watch your significant other fall to their death at the altar, squishing your new born baby in the process. And your puppy. There are a few things I have missed about Mother England, though. For example, British public toilets. Every time I go to the States, I forget just how public American public toilets are. I mean, what is the point in even having a door? It's extremely hard to go for a wee when you can practically make eye contact with the person in the opposite stall, especially if they notice you and say, 'hi, how are you today?'; then it's downright impossible.

There are two things I have done whilst in America that have made me swell with pride at my own competence. The first is successfully flying there and back without any major complications. Minor complications are, of course, expected - for example, being taken to one side and being asked like a child to have a 'good, long think' after giving a very vague, 'I don't think so...' in response to the question, 'Are you holding any weapons?' (Incidentally, I wasn't).

The second is successfully mastering the Los Angeles city bus system by myself. I can barely manage getting to Leeds and back, so this is a milestone in my traveling career. I also managed to accidentally rip off all the bus drivers after getting it into my head that an American quarter is worth 50p, thus only ever paying half of my fare. (Incidentally, they're not).

During my plane ride there, I was fortunate enough not to sit with any questionable characters, which I was thankful about. However, after seeing that the man next to me had just watched me drop yoghurt on my iPod and proceed to lick it off like a cat, I realised that I was the 'questionable character' I had been looking out for. He looked at me in disgust as I concentrated on 'America's Funniest Dogs' (it was bad in-flight entertainment) and pretended I hadn't noticed. The final straw for him came when he saw me look in the back of my sudoku book for answers and he subsequently huffed off to the toilet.

After being collected from the airport by Molly and Brezil and doing the same 'you're-getting-in-the-wrong-side-of-the-car' routine that happens every time I visit, we embarked upon phase one of Amy's American Adventure: San Francisco. Due to unforeseen circumstances, phase one began with spending the night in the living room of a friend of a friend's apartment, which would have been simple enough had his drunk Mexican roommate not come stumbling home at 2am shouting, 'who are these bitches sleeping in my living room?!' as we, the bitches, pretended to be asleep. Thankfully, although not until hearing said drunk roommate throwing up in various locations around the apartment, we were rescued by aforementioned friend of a friend and finally got some sleep.

The next day, fueled on little sleep and lots of coffee, we, or rather, Molly with our 'help', drove to San Francisco in search of bigger and better things than Placerville. (Not that an old goldmining town full of antique shops isn't exciting, of course). San Francisco definitely did its job and provided us with lots of excitement, the first of which came in the form of what can only be described as the shadiest parking garage in the entire of northern California. After deciding we would park in it anyway, we walked out to the smell of cannabis and a gang of what, at first glance, appeared to be women. At a second glance, we promptly moved the car. After finally finding a place to park that was neither threatening nor impossible to get to, we spent the day exploring the city centre, during which I was talked into buying a book of poetry from a homeless guy who said he was only selling them because he wanted to be 'cool, like [me]'. I'm a sucker for people who think I am cool. We later headed to the Golden Gate Bridge, which took us over an hour to get to as opposed to the fifteen minutes recommended time due to our missing turns, getting trapped on one-way streets and the combined efforts of four people all looking at different road signs. Eventually, we got there and promptly locked ourselves out of the car with nothing but a camera and what seemed to be the windiest day San Francisco has ever had. After waiting an hour for the AAA to arrive and a long struggle trying to explain where we were, we drove back and comfortably indulged ourselves in Placerville's version of excitement: trying to entice the neighbourhood bear in with a leftover meatball.

After San Francisco, I took my ambitious city hopping to the next level and jumped on a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles. Having never been to a Greyhound station before, I had only one piece of passed on information about them: don't go at night. Naturally, my bus was at 10pm. I took this opportunity to put into use my nifty, incognito, under-the-tshirt bumbag (its difficult today to travel both in style and in safety...) and spent a while mentally sorting through the items in my bag and picking out those which would be best put to use during self defense. Not having very many possessions with me, the best thing I could come up with was a shaving razor, which I doubt would have come to much use if I was being attacked. 'Don't mug me or I'll SHAVE YOUR FACE'... Threatening, no? Anyway, I thankfully didn't need to use the nunchucks I had crafted out of two pens and a belt and I arrived safely in L.A. nine sleepless hours later.

After circling my hostel a few times (it seemed at first like the only way to get in was by climbing up the fire escape until I found a tiny, Alice In Wonderland door at the side), I checked in and headed out, bumbag at the ready, to explore Hollywood. By the end of the day I had completed my entire checklist of things to see, including 'Hollywood Forever', a graveyard full of (apparently) famous people. The only two graves I recognised were Dee Dee and Johnny Ramone, which were amazing but not worth the $5 I spent on a map. It was still exciting though, despite being surrounded by vicious geese, whom I later ran into again in Placerville with Molly after we fed one bit of bread to a duck and suddenly found ourselves running full pelt back to the car with an entire gaggle of adult geese chasing after us. I also visited Kat Von D's L.A. Ink tattoo parlour and got all my pent up tourist frustration out in one. Everyone in there was the epitome of cool whilst I stood at the side with a sunburnt face and a bumbag. I may as well have been wrapped in a towel, wearing crocs and carrying a beach ball.

Like any big city, Hollywood is full of beggars and I almost made it an entire day without being asked for money. Apparently, handing over a few cents and saying, 'sorry mate, I'm just as broke as you' does not have the same effect when you're sat there with an oversized digital camera and listening to an iPod. However, in Beverly Hills, my next destination, carrying a camera and an iPod is nothing to write home about. If you ever have a desire to know what it feels like to not fit in, try walking down Rodeo Drive in a scratty pair of denim shorts with unwashed hair and a box of crackers. However, bear in mind that there is nowhere to go for a wee - rich people must not urinate as much as their pauper friends, unless they all wear adult nappies in an attempt to even more dehumanise their characteristics.

Oh, also, if anyone is wondering where gay central is in L.A., it is apparently West Hollywood. I discovered this as I walked into what looked like, from the outside, an average bookshop. However, once inside, after the first thing to meet my eye was a giant poster of two men in a position they must have practiced yoga for years to do, I soon realised that this was not an average bookshop. By that time, though, it was too late and I was already at the point where the attendant had acknowledged my presence (hi, how are you, etc.) but not yet at the point where it had been an acceptable time frame to leave. Thus, I was stuck for the longest 3 minutes of my life in a homoerotic limbo, diverting my eyes to the only thing I could look at without seeing a penis: chewing gum, and vaseline...

After another week of having fun with Molly, spending my nights negotiating with her possessed cat about who gets how much of the blanket and flying down her drive on a chair on wheels (I'm aware that my inability to even walk without tripping means I should probably rule out any involvement in makeshift extreme sports, but I don't), I found myself back at Sacramento airport preparing for the flight home. As I didn't get a direct flight, I was stuck in Philadelphia for four hours trying to entertain myself before my flight back to Manchester. Being trapped in an airport for hours bores me to the point of reading all of the warning signs, one of which stated that 'Baggage containing dry ice must be clearly labelled'. Who the hell is taking dry ice on a seven hour flight?! In hand luggage as well?! You can't bring tweezers, but sure, you can bring dry ice... It always baffles me why tweezers on aeroplanes are prohibited. Imagine how much of a party you could have if you were allowed both tweezers and dry ice? You could create your own Stars In Their Eyes: 'Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be a very well groomed terrorist!'

Blog in progress! Reverting back to handwriting it in a coffee shop due to lack of a laptop.