Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

Ursidae in the Workforce

I realized recently that it has been some time since I last posted. So, I thought it appropriate to jot down a quick note in order to sustain the heretofore waning pulse of this blog.

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to witness the beginning of a tidal surge of toys that will be lavished upon my son as his life progresses. Largely innocuous and irrelevant to Langston (he prefers chairs or his own feet for entertainment), there are a few infant leisure items that have captured my attention, namely, bears employed as various rescue workers. Today, I watched Langston as someone held a small bear clad in the gear of a water rescuer. Given his proclivities for amusement, however, he did not award it much attention. All I could think to myself was, “Good for you, son!”- and here’s why: the reality of what that bear represents is terrifying.

Imagine that you’ve ventured out in a friend’s dinghy just off the coast of England in early January. You haven’t a clue why you agreed to this- the temperature is near freezing, you’re shivering prevents you from holding a fishing rod, and you haven’t actually anywhere to go. Suddenly, your friend’s inability to appropriately navigate the boat finds the vessel capsized and you both struggling for your lives. In the midst of flailing your arms, treading water, and timing your breaths to gasp for air at the trough of each wave. The burning in your muscles signal that you cannot take much more of this, when, suddenly, you notice a boat speeding in your direction. The nearly epileptic flicker and color of the lights signal to you that rescuers are fast approaching. As the boat draws nearer, however, you note the inordinate amount of fur that these lifesavers possess. It is a boat full of bears. Now, despite the extreme unlikelihood that these mammals would have received and retained the training necessary to navigate a rescue boat, here they are. You’re problems have been compounded exponentially. Not only are you on the verge of drowning, but shortly you will have bears in the water. Your choices are not between drowning and holding on for the rescuers to arrive. They are between drowning and being eaten. Forget about pacing your breathing. How are you going to escape a group of bears trained to swim in rough seas, not to mention the fact that they can bide their time and follow you at a relaxed pace, waiting for you to exhaust yourself, given their recently acquired boat-driving skills?

A bear dressed as a fireman is even worse. No one would breathe a sigh of relief when, as their house is engulfed in flames about them, they perceive a brown mass of fur wrapped in the gear of a fireman charges toward them at heroic speed. Your situation just got worse, m’friend. No one in need of help ever thinks, “I could really use a bear right now.”

A rescue bear is not an adorable plaything. It is a warning that things could be worse. “Hey, kid. Here’s a teddy bear. Appreciate that your life isn’t this bad.”

Trapped with a Porcelain Apostle

Imagine a man trapped in a safe, descending rapidly through the dark pacific toward the murky seafloor- the cramped, close environment; the hopelessness of escape. Surely, even if the safe door was to jar open from the impact with an undersea rock face, the immense pressure at those depths would simultaneously compress all of his organs to the size of a key lime and explode head as his natural orifices were not enough to accommodate the unimaginable speed with which all of the air was forced from his body.

Now imagine that that man is, in fact, this author and that the safe is a 5×5 bathroom with a fifteen foot ceiling and a broken lock in a building approximately 60 miles from the nearest ocean. That was the scenario only weeks ago. Having bravely come through the trauma of that event, I can now recount my story.

Shortly after our Greek-reading group I found myself particularly aware of the amount of  liquid I had consumed that day. I rushed down the hall to the men’s toilet, expecting only a brief excursion. After shutting the entryway behind me, I reached for the lock— an activity in which I have participated doubtless hundreds of times. Something felt strange as I twisted the metal thumb lock— a disturbance. Full bladders afford little time for reflection, though. While decreasing certain internal pressures, I casually looked around the room as I had dozens of other times.

The room is no more than five feet by five feet, and, for some inexplicable reason, divided further into two separate rooms. As you walk in, the sink is immediately to your left. At approximately 2.5 feet of your stroll through the bathroom, you reach the division between the “washroom” and the “toilet.” The University must have had a surplus of toilet doors during the construction of this room, because there is no other logical explanation for why one would divide a private bathroom into two separate rooms, including placing a door between the toilet and the sink. Are there that many males who just need to wash their hands that I should leave the main door unlocked so that they still have access to the sink for sanitary emergencies? Or perhaps it is for added security, like Fort Knox, except that what is on the other side of the final door nobody wants to steal? Furthermore, closing and locking the inner stall door requires either standing on top of or straddling the toilet. Needless to say, I have rarely locked said door except during the occasional instant of curiosity, but I digress— back to me at the toilet.

Having finished the assigned task, I turned on the sink water and pretended to wash my hands, as all men do. I included the added flair of cranking out some paper towel on the slot-machine type dispenser we have. Then things went terribly wrong. As I twisted the thumb lock counterclockwise, it felt as though the knob separated from and turned apart from the deadbolt. Now I had a turn knob that twisted freely from the locking mechanism. I felt a moderate sense of panic surge through my arms (for some reason), and I realized that I had no phone, no book, and no window in that tiny room. I was facing my only way of escape.

For the next five minutes I fought violently with that tiny, metal protuberance, even managing enough room to kick it twice. The option to which I wanted to resort least was yelling for help, but I had reached the end of my already extremely limited range of escape plans. This toilet has the added annoyances for the entrapped of being well-insulated and the furthest room from all offices, excluding the basement. Therefore, one has to scream all the louder if one hopes to be rescued. I decided to bang on the door loudly at first without pleading for help; I wanted to get out, but I did not want to sound desperate. After a few minutes of no response, I began to yell “Hello!” At this point I briefly feared that I might die in that minuscule room. But the thought lasted less than a second as the article about the Chilean miner rescue I had read the night before helped give some perspective of my situation. I had three basic needs met in that room. Besides, the amount of coffee consumed in our department ensured me of the fact that someone would be at my door by the next morning.

About fifteen minutes into I heard the heavenly resonance of footsteps in the hallway. I knocked and shouted louder. Someone twisted the knob on the other side and said in a German accent, “Oh sorry.” Of all the people who could of rescued me, it had to be my secondary supervisor and respected NT scholar Roland Deines. I thought of saying, “That’s okay” to spare myself some embarrassment, but self-preservation won out over pride. I shouted louder, “No, wait. I’m stuck in here. The lock is broken.” I heard a pause and then the sound of someone fiddling with the lock. “Well I can’t unlock it from this side. I’ll have to go get maintenance.” Salvation was near… hopefully.

Moments later a knock came on the door and a soft feminine voice said, “Hello, Andrew are you alright?” It was Laura, the administrator for the theology department. I responded, “Yes, it’s just that the lock is broken.” Muffled chuckles came through the door. “I’m sorry, it’s not funny,” she said. I assured her, however, that it certainly was. “Anyway, I’ve called maintenance and they’ll be here in a few minutes.” Relief replaced the panic in my arms and I waited. A few minutes later Laura returned to say the same thing, so I can only assume the ulterior motive was for another laugh at my expense.

Silence persisted for another five minutes before I heard metal against metal and watched the lock reach the peak of its turning radius and pop back into its resting, and still locked place as the screwdriver slid from the slot on the other side. I attempted to twist the knob on my side, to which I think the person on the other side responded, “Stop that,” but the noise of the vent fan made it difficult to tell. After several minutes of the same sounds and still being locked in the bathroom, I heard one of the maintenance men grab his radio and call a supervisor. “Mike where are you?… Can you get down to Highfield House as soon as possible?… Yeah, we’ve got a gentleman who’s locked himself in the toilet.”

That’s right— the toilet. The longer I live in England, the less it makes sense to call this room the bathroom, American readers.  If I was taking a bath in that room, you would have cause for concern (and probably wouldn’t invite me over anymore). Perhaps it offends our sense of modesty, but it is more accurate. Furthermore, requesting the “bathroom” does not somehow leave the concept so vague that your company is completely unaware of what you are actually going to do in that room. Specificity, m’friends- ’tis the way forward.

Back in the toilet I waited for mike. There was muffled discussion on the other side of that former tree, then a snap, and the door slowly crept open. I suppose he did not want to interrupt in case I had decided to make use of the facilities while I waited, so I opened the door the rest of the way. Forty minutes after the ordeal began, I found myself thanking Mike and company in the liberating atmosphere of the theology department.

Apologies?!? Nay, Proof Rendered (to some)!

You may recall some months ago that I submitted a post claiming that, though more eloquent, British signage and labels are notably prolix, when compared to the same items in America. I submitted no other proof than my verbal memories in this regard and, alas, some New Worlders cried, “Foul!” It seems that my word was not sufficient. They demanded signs.

Alas! I find in my possession such proof that would silence their odious noise-holes like so much meconium in Langston’s diaper. To surrender to such slander, however, would mean giving credence to the lie, as my friend Dr. Bonhoeffer would say. The sheer hilarity of the proof, though, presses me to present this item. What shall I do? I am torn between the two. I include this pictorial representation, then, for those of you who objected not to the aforementioned post. The naysayers are commanded to avert their eyes and look only at what follows the picture below.

My British friends might not be as entertained to the degree of my American compatriots, so perhaps a bit of an insider’s perspective will result in greater enjoyment for the Kingdom. In the States one would purchase the items below labeled simply as “Burping Towels”- no explanation. Certainly, the terms “whilst” or “winding” would never appear on this product in our federal constitutional republic. We would also be more likely to take “winding” as “turning” or “punching in the stomach,” before we thought of burping.

That is all I would like to say on that topic.

Below, however, I have composed a list of embarrassing pharmaceutical products whose names allow for no discretion or retention of dignity at the checkout counter/till. One can only lay them on the conveyor belt, head down, cash in hand, and hope that the cashier does not have to call for a price check. They are the items that one will not ask whether the store carries them, but search desperately and, if not found, move on to the next store. These products advertise your ailment with explicitness.

1. Anusol (may as well be called “Uncle Jeb’s Rump-Soothing Cream”)

2. Gas-Ex and Wind-eze

3. Ex-Lax

4. Vagisil

5. Any store brand that simply says, “Constipation Relief,” “Anti-Diarrhea,” or “Hemorrhoid Relief” (in the latter case, you may as well walk up to the checkout and say to the clerk, “Don’t bother bagging that. I’ll be using almost as soon as I walk out the door.” Then try to shake their hand). In fact, let’s just say any store brand that simply describes its intended effect

6. Jock-itch spray with a picture of a male’s body and the treatment area highlighted (the name is irrelevant)

7. Lice-B-Gone

8. The worst of any item I have ever seen: “Faultless Goodhealth Rectal Syringe” (in this case we should be grateful for the anonymity afforded by online shopping)

Midwifery Colloquy

As the last eight months have progressed, wife and I have found ourselves in frequent contact with midwives (healthcare blessings in lilac blouses whose relative absence from America gives the UK a distinct advantage in pre- and post-natal care). Through the check-ups, scans, and birthing workshops (get with the program, America), we receive a massive amount of information, and occasionally an off-color remark. This entry is a tribute to those midwives who have let slip comments in our presence and never asked, “Why are you taking notes, sir?”

A string of favorites quotes came in a single day and from a single midwife during a course that helped prepare us for the birthing process and the post-natal period. In trying to help the soon-to-be-parents, the midwife fielded a question about the rate of increase in time between contractions. She began her response with, “Textbook rate, from a cervix point of view…” I did not hear the rest. Shortly after this, she encouraged those mothers who wanted to use the birthing pools which are available in most labor wards in the UK (can you hear me, America?). She encouraged the mothers to dress in what was most comfortable, or nothing, if they felt like it. If they want their spouses in the pool (nasty), however, the men must wear swim trunks because, “Midwives are used to seeing naked women, but we’re not so keen on naked men.” Eventually, she got beyond the items available to us during labor and spoke on the event itself. Her eyes glistened slightly as she looked around the room and told the wives, “When you start to push, you will feel like you are taking the largest poo of your life,” then reminded them at the end of the lecture on labor that you are “just pushing down into your body like you’re taking a big poo.” Ahhh, a veritable sonnet on the lips of a bard. Such skill it requires to punctuate one’s stanzas not with commas or ellipses, but with flecks of poo.

When she carried on into the information about actually caring for the baby, she made note of numerous foul, squirty, mucousy, and sticky qualities of this new person. Numerous items were novel to me, and I frequently caught myself grimacing in disgust. More often than not I only realized my expression when I looked around the room and saw all of the women nodding knowingly at our sensei. One of these (numerous) occasions resulted from our midwife’s description of the meconium poop that babies produce for the first few days of life. Apparently, it is a dark, sticky substance (that doesn’t smell!!) that gets all over the baby and can take some effort to remove (Wikipedia has a picture, in case you’re curious). She noted that dads are particularly sensitive to their baby boys being cleaned, and will cry out in horror, “Oooooh! How can you scrape his balls like that!” As she passed on from cleaning the baby, she encouraged us to have our hospital bag ready for the big day, and got very detailed in the process, not even realizing how it sounded when she said, “If you want to be really prepared, because I’m anally prepared…”

As the day drew to a close, she noted that mothers should do all they can to bring the labor on once the baby has reached term. “At 39 weeks [of pregnancy],” she exclaimed, “you should be eating hot curries, taking lots of walks, and having lots of sex. And if you do all three, you get a prize.” I just eyed her suspiciously, because I don’t believe she has any prizes. This suspicion was compounded by her frequent use of the word “squozen”as the past tense of “squeeze.”

She concluded it all with information on breastfeeding, noting that it would be difficult at first, but eventually things would just click. She cautioned, however, that if the baby is not on correctly this can lead to a great deal of soreness- soreness we cannot even imagine, because, to put it in her words, “I don’t want to get into anyone’s private life, but odds are you have never had that much suction on your nipples.” After wetting myself and several others, I gathered my belongings and made for the exit.

The comments above, though amusing, do not capture the awkwardness of another engagement with a midwife during an active birth workshop. She was attempting to demonstrate how a pregnant woman should sit on a birthing ball by actually having a pregnant woman sit on a birthing ball. A novice at it, she just could not get the posture that would please our midwife. “No, that’s still not correct… you’re back needs to hammock… No… stand up for a minute.” She then had her sit on the ball again. “No, you need to sit on your perineum… Wait… do you all know what your perineum is? It’s the place between your bum and your… um… front… between… um… it’s… the area between, you know… between your vagina and you bum.” The fact that a woman who delivers babies for a career had such a hard time saying vagina tickled me ever so much.

That’s all for now. Only four weeks lie between today and the due date. Unless something of great interest arises in the near future, the next time I write there will be another Talbert in the world.

An Accompanying Portrait

Based upon the records of wife, I believe that I have accurately reconstructed the imagery from dream I had during the previous evening.

A dangerous, magical combination: the wand and newspaper (+10 damage points)

An Ankle-Smashing Holiday with a Little Yellow Bird

Thirty days of paid vacation: one of the numerous, fantastic realities about living in England. This reality resulted in wife and I awake at five a.m. and on our way to the nearest airport with dirt-cheap tickets to the Canary Islands (a sharp contrast to leave the land of soft-spoken, polite Brits for a place where all conversations sound like arguments) and a hotel of similar price categorization. We had scheduled ten days of holiday, though you will see shortly how that materialized. By noon we were on a bus to Puerto de la Cruz and nearly two hours later we found ourselves in the lobby of a hotel. Though Bethany’s Spanish is rough, it is kilderkins better than my own, so she spoke with the concierge and dealt with our reservation. If you need help counting to fifteen in Spanish, then I’m your man, otherwise I would advise you seek help elsewhere.

Having surveyed the room and deciding it met with our standards, we ventured out into the city of Puerto de la Cruz to see what it had to offer. Being the misers that we are, wife and I firmly decided against renting a car and opted for walking in the city or taking a bus to the more distant sites. As it turns out, our hotel is located at the top of a moderate-sized mountain and the city lies in the valley roughly one mile below. The hike down is relatively simple (and high-speed, should you like), but the return journey demands a bit more of the body. After several days of multi-mile walks through the city we found ourselves with bulging, trunk-like leg muscles, the veins of which were pressed up against the skin in order to transport the massive amounts of blood to our lower extremities… except that genetics expressly prohibit the veracity of this statement in my case.

At any rate, after the long walk back up the mountain, we examined the immediate environs of our hotel and noticed an inordinate amount of German restaurants close at hand, not to mention large numbers of relatively pale men and women wearing fanny-packs, hiking boots, and backpacks everywhere that they went. It turns out we had landed ourselves in the German quarter of Tenerife, which boded well for our ability to communicate. In the end, we settled down at a genuine Canarian restaurant and, thanks to a multi-lingual waiter, were able to order our first meal. Typical lady-style, wife first ordered a salad, though I insisted on large quantities of meat to nourish my growing, über-masculine boy developing in her womb. She settled for some fish. For my first course, however, the waiter brought out a scalding-hot skillet full of boiling oil with chilies, garlic, and shrimp. It was refreshing for someone to consider me a person of basic intelligence such that he did not warn me “not to touch” because the skillet was hot. I suppose he figured the bubbling of the oil would be a hint enough for me. Regardless, I immediately grabbed the skillet, poured the searing oil onto my crotch, and sued the restaurant for millions of Euros, all in keeping with my American sensibilities. That pretty much brings the first day to an end.

Bubbles Galore!

The following day we began the day with a traditional Canarian, German breakfast and decided to explore our surroundings more thoroughly. Initially this led us to the impressive botanical garden north of our hotel- not much to report here. It was pretty and peaceful enough. We even stumbled upon a dragonfly that was smacking his bottom against the water for some bizarre reason. Mimicking the behavior does not enable you to get any closer to the insect, nor does it aid in flight as one might think- you just end up with a wet butt and a dragonfly (not to mention onlookers) that thinks you’re a weirdo. After fifteen more minutes of failure in my entomological experiment, I dried off and dejectedly looked at the rest of the flora that the garden had to offer. A long walk later and we had arrived at our first beach for the vacation. It looked peaceful enough, but the steep incline of the shore and the yellow flag on a nearby pole did not sit well with me. I stuck my toes in the water- not too cold. In fact, it felt quite nice. Then the first large wave came in and I instantly realized why there was no one else in the water. The steep angle of the beach, coupled with the strong current meant that each wave sent large, rounded volcanic rocks up the shore and then sucked them back out with equal force. Putting something between the path of such a rock and the ocean, say a foot or an ankle, for example, means that the rock strikes said foot or ankle with the force of a furious ocean. You would be surprised how much foot skin a single rock is capable of removing in one go. After collapsing on the sand and cursing Poseidon, I dragged myself back to our towel and slowly bled while I waited for my ankle to recover enough to sustain my weight again.

Put your workboots on and join us for a swim

As the day drew to a close, wife and I sat in the hotel lounge for some drinks and conversation to wind down. We looked at each other and almost simultaneously asked, “What are we going to do here for ten days?!?” We came to realize something important about ourselves on this vacation: what made vacations so enjoyable was the company of family and friends, or being in an area with less stereotypically touristy options. Within minutes, we were at a computer booking a cheap flight back to England. The hotel even refunded us for the final days of our reservation. We certainly missed the final few days of sun, but the benefits of coming home early outweighed our vitamin-D needs.

Free from the concern of what we would do for so many days in Tenerife, we entered the new day with the aim of visiting a banana plantation. Less than two hours later, our hopes were dashed when we told the plantation had been shut down. Plan B: walk around relatively aimlessly until we find something to pique our interest for several hours. This led to an uphill hike of several miles to a park designed with multiple types of gardens. The apparent claim to fame was that it had been built on one of the few remaining “Plais” on the island. The information board never fully explained what a “Plais” was, so when we finally stumbled upon this legendary “Plais,” we were little impressed to see an unkempt weed-garden, populated with various cacti and low-lying shrubberies. The excitement for the view of a “Plais was only further quelled as we explored the countryside and found that this “rarity” was, in fact, ubiquitous. Perhaps they meant “rare within 500 square meters?”

The ever-impressing plais- in mint condition!

Dejected, we turned south and decided to venture an encounter with another beach. Playa Jardin promised a shallower incline, potential swimming, and a weaker current than the previous beach, but the percentage of topless women made it difficult to find a spot where wife was comfortable sitting. Eventually, we settled, swam, and sunned until late in the afternoon. After the 14-mile walk back to the hotel, we settled into an evening of playing cards and reading. At some point in the early evening, an idea came to me with such impact that it nearly erupted out of my head. You see, several weeks ago, a friend recommended that I give any children we have prenatal names. These names would differ from their birth names and, because they due not last beyond the pregnancy (not yet anyway), they can be anything I want. Therefore, I burst into the bathroom while wife was showering and shouted “Freydor Hammerhelm son of Og!” It is a collection of the most masculine names that I could envision, and even includes the name of an ancient relative in the time when names were at their manliest. At this point, we are sure Freydor will be born with a full beard… and perhaps a sword. After a discussion with some friends we determined that Freydor will fly out of the womb during the birthing procedure and, with a single stroke, slaughter all of the medical staff in the room and cut his own umbilical cord.

Freydor in situ

The next day we decided Puerto de la Cruz had offered all that it could, so we took a bus to the west coast in order to explore Los Gigantes. For those with a proclivity toward motion sickness, I would advise against the bus manned by Mario Andretti. It was as though our driver lived in a perpetual fear that the volcano on the island behind him was constantly erupting. The tortuous roads were better for little else than exacerbating the nausea. Every time we reached the crest of a hill, I thought, “Thank you, Jesus” only to see a long stretch of road and another slope in the distance.

Upon arrival, we found that Los Gigantes had more Brits to offer than our base city and an inexpensive cruise along the coast. Because of Freydor’s endless stomping upon his mother’s bladder, we found ourselves frequently in need of a restroom, but rarely one of the public variety on offer. We even settled on our cruise boat because it promised a toilet on board. After boarding the boat, however, there was no toilet to be found. I disembarked quickly and found the crew to ask about the aforementioned situation. The captain first asked, “For pee-pee only?” When I said, “Yes” he nodded and tapped another man on the shoulder. He turned around quickly and asked how he could help. So, I repeated my question. He looked at me over his sunglasses and asked, “For pee-pee only?” I nodded. So, he led me back to the boat and pointed out a secret compartment that a person could fit inside, indeed, even a toilet. Then he asked again, “For pee-pee only?” I assured him it was only for pee-pee. Then, he turned and laughingly said, “Something else for po-po!”

Our terlet situation sorted, we took off for a view of the local dolphin pod. Though our shipmates squealed with delight at the sight of the marine mammals, wife and I nodded in acknowledgment of their presence. At first, I must admit, I was overcome with the group’s excitement at seeing a dolphin surface, but, as I desperately scrambled for my camera, I remembered that I had grown up in Florida. Excitement then waned into familiarity and I shook my fist at the dolphins, shouting, “Kill a shark and impress me!” As a whole, the experience was nice, and we managed to snag a less erratic driver for the trip home.

I see you

The final two days in Puerto de la Cruz were relatively uneventful. We spent one day relaxing, and the last day up at Mount Teide– the highest peak in Spain. After marching around in the desert for a bit, we returned to the café at the tourist center and waited for our bus to arrive.

It took her twenty minutes to find the mountain.

We were up early the next morning for our bus back to the airport. The only bus that we were sure would get us there on time left at 6:30 a.m. and arrived five hours before our flight departure. Hoping that a coffee break and security would take up some time, we sluggishly proceeded through the airport. Wife passed through the metal detector first and managed to set it off. As the female security guard called her over and began to pat her down. She reached wife’s stomach and began to rub in circles. From the other side of the metal detector, I saw her ask something excitedly, then say something to the other security staff, all the while continuing to rub Bethany’s belly. She is probably the friendliest airport security guard of all time. Sixty games of gin and a Burger King break later, we were in line to board our plane.

As we filed in like so many bovine, I caught a glimpse of the prohibited items sign. I was surprised that they needed to mention crossbows, but less so to see fingernail clippers and liquid containers over 50ml. It was good of them to note all of these items in the end, however, as I had contemplated rigging up my arbalest with some fingernail clippers soaked in 100ml of travel shampoo to shoot the flight crew in the eyes. Wife wisely advised against this, so that we have made it home without a hitch.

Two Tales of a Cousin Nearly Lost: Part Two

Heimdall the Barbarian

Our well-rested heroes found themselves no worse for wear following the evening’s disruptions. Had there been any dark evil in the city of Dubh Linn, it had vanished since the arrival of the cousins. Therefore, the two gathered their belongings and ventured West, having sensed in their dense, indestructible bones that their enemy had fled in that direction.

Bounding across the land, Heimdall and Andreas eventually found themselves in the city of Corcaigh. The city yielded no evil, but the filthy river that ran through the locale was enough to send them away in a hurry.

In that same day, they happened upon Castle Blarney and began scouring the grounds, weapons in hand. Hearing the laughs of nearby travelers, they followed the noise beyond the hex’s cave to the inner halls of the castle itself. It seemed that many had gathered here to kiss an infamous stone in the wall of the structure near to the very top. Intrigued, Andreas followed his cousin up a staircase into the sunlight. They inquired with a peasant waiting in line as to the meaning of such stone molestation. This farmer responded with trembling voice, “It is said to give one the gift of eloquence in speech, fine sirs.”

The cousins glanced at each other for a moment with looks of bewilderment, and then broke out in uproarious laughter. “Imagine,” said Andreas, “that we should ever need a gift that we already so perfectly possess!” They laughed near to the point of retching, then pushed their way through the line, wiped their posteriors on the stone, and jumped from the height of the castle back to the castle garden. Satisfied at having found no evil here as well, Andreas turned to his cousin and said, “Come Heimdall, let us go.”

But something did not seem right with Heimdall. He appeared frozen in time. Then, with his brow furrowed and eyes squinted, he awkwardly threw up a pointing finger at the son of Donald and said, “You’re the one who needs to do the going…”

Apparently finished, he stood there with finger frozen in midair and a look of expectation on his face. They stood with the small distance between them for some time before Andreas broke the silence. “I’m not sure what you’re trying to do, cousin, but I assure you that you are doing it incorrectly- perhaps another time? As for now, let us be off.” Dejected, Heimdall’s finger retracted and he nodded in assent, mumbling to himself, or perhaps Jimmy, “Dang…”

From Blarney they ventured to Cill Airne and managed to procure two velocipedes. It soon became apparent that no evil resided in the town, so they mounted their contraptions and headed into the dark forest close at hand. The foul stench of wickedness laced the air faintly as they travelled. They increased the speed of their hunt with great fervor, convinced that their unknown enemy was within their grasp. The pair rushed pass monoliths, falls, lakes, and all variety of creatures in pursuit of this nemesis. Having taken the lead because of his acute perception of evil, Andreas followed the path with fixed determination. As they came near to a highway, Andreas noted the faintest whiff of depravity, and veered suddenly to his left onto a rarely used dirt path. He shouted back to Jakob, “I sense the need to pursue this course.” Certain that he had heard the agreement of Heimdall, Andreas followed the path for a furlong. Yet when he did not hear the familiar sound of earth crushing beneath the weight of his cousin, he stopped on the side of his route and faced the road he had just taken. The hero had vanished in the foliage.

Andreas waited several moments before turning his locomotive means around. Before he could begin pedaling, however, faint creaks and heavy breathing broke through the tree line.

Heimdall lumbered around a distant oak, covered in scrapes and bruises, and pedaling with some difficulty. In shock, Andreas asked, “What happened?!?”

With a gasping huff Heimdall responded, “Jimmy fell down!”

Relieved to see his cousin no worse for wear, Andreas laughed for a minute before returning to the path before them.

As they rode back toward the town, they began to consider whether Heimdall’s stumble might have been the work of an evil force attempting to hinder their progress. Upon reentering Cill Airne, they took note of the gatekeeper, who stared intently at them and seemed to be gesturing for them to join him in the shadows on the side of the road. The cousins glanced at each other, nodded in agreement, and veered from the main path into an alley.

The gatekeeper was a wrinkled old man, bent over with the weight of time. Before they could even ask him his reason for impeding their journey, the man sputtered, “Beware the wizard who endangers your path; a mystical man known for his power to control the lightning of Thor. He has claimed this island as his own and regards you as trespassers on his territory. If you pursue this journey further, it will end with the loss of life…”

The cousins stared with interest at this weathered man, then responded together, “Yes, the wizard’s life.” They laughed together and thanked the man for his fortuitous insight. Surprised at their lightheartedness regarding the matter, he volunteered more information, including the advice that they venture north to the highest seaside cliffs on the south of the isle. Taking their leave of the gatekeeper, they returned to their inn and bedded down for the night.

Early the next morning they began their journey to the cliffs known as Mhothair. The journey lasted the entire day, however, as they went from town to town seeking accommodation. Only when they had reached the bottom of the cliffs on the northern side, were they able to find an inn in the town of Doolin. The place had little more to offer than a bed in which to sleep and a lonely ass wandering around in the solitude of his enclosure in the middle of the town.

Early in the morning, the duo set out for the cliffs- a perilous journey that put them on the edge of the earth with waves crashing hundreds of feet below. Having spent more time in the mountains than his flat-landed cousin, Andreas quickly found himself leading the way, bounding from rock to rock. He carried on this way for some distance until he took note of a groan from behind.

“Dude can we wait up a second?!” bellowed Heimdall. “I twisted my ankle and it hurts real bad. I think it might be broken.”

Somewhat irritated, Andreas apologized and walked back to his cousin. Jakob Freyr sat on a stone, holding his knee with both hands in order to suspend his foot in midair. He began to slowly rotate it in circles. “Sssss… no, I can move it, so it can’t be broken. Maybe it’s sprained…” Heimdall muttered as he winced in pan. It appeared that they were on the right track, as the wizard began his attack on the lower appendages of this great hero. Nevertheless, Heimdall recovered and they found themselves on the path again.

A short time later, Andreas felt slightly ashamed at not having been more sympathetic to his cousin. So, he turned his head in the direction of Heimdall and asked over his shoulder, “How is your ankle, cousin?”

Heimdall responded, “Well it is a bit sore, but I th… HUAHWOAHOWLUHAOH!” Andreas turned quickly to watch his cousin tumble down a small hill and come to rest in a little clearing, sitting upright with legs directly out in front of him. A bit disoriented, but without any permanent damage, Heimdall cautiously rose to his feet and proceeded forward.

Inexplicably, the wizard’s magic suddenly changed him into the dress of a magpie, no doubt aimed at humiliating him.

“Everything would be fine if I could keep the ground from moving under m… HUDDAHHIYAHOOOLAOW!” he shrieked as he tripped and fell down the next hill, this time landing perilously close to the edge.

He sat there with his legs dangling over the cliff and noted, “I would be fine if I could simply stop falling.” Andreas helped him to his feet and, enjoying this trip substantially more, he continued to lead the way to the pinnacle of the heights.

They followed the precipice for a mile before they came to the end of the natural trail. It seemed that a local farmer wanted his fence to run to the very edge of the island, so that he could maximize the size of his land. Several yards from the edge, however, this same farmer had provided a small stoop that led over his fence for foot-bound travelers. Standing on the stoop, Andreas lifted his mighty leg over the fence, planted it firmly on the ground on the far side, and then brought his other leg over as well. He then took a few steps in the direction of their goal.

As he trudged forward several steps, the son of Donald realized that something was amiss. Was it the air? The grass? Something had registered in his subconscious that he could not quite articulate.

Then it came to him: the fence! He turned around in time to see his mighty cousin at the barrier, giving it a looking over. Being shorter in stature, Heimdall could not simply step over like his cousin. So, before Andreas could utter a word of warning, Jakob Freyr stretched out his hands and firmly grasped the steel cable before him in order to push it down. Unbeknownst to our hero, the wizard had concentrated all of his wicked power into this implement.

Don’t touch it! It’s a trap!

Heimdall felt the surge of lightning course through his body into his torso. Quickly, he released the fence and clutched his hands to his chest, shouting, “Holy crap!”

Yet, he winced in pain only momentarily and speedily regained his composure. It seems that this wizard had not taken into account the might of this warrior, and it would prove to be his undoing.

Heimdall carefully stepped over the fence, and rejoined his cousin on their path. Within the hour they found themselves at the topmost reaches of the cliffs. A lone tower stood there, guarding the coast and bidding the sun farewell every evening. The pair sensed the waning power of evil from within, so they hastily drew their weapons and destroyed the door with a heavy-handed blow.

As they stepped inside, they found a feeble old man cloaked in gray lying on the floor. His face bore the signature of time in a preponderance of wrinkles and his hair likewise with the absence of pigment. He seemed repulsed at their appearance, yet he gathered enough strength to raise his left hand and point at the mighty Heimdall. “You have destroyed me,” he said in a faint, raspy voice. “I vested all of my magical energy into one final trap: the fence. Using a deep and powerful magic known descriptively as ‘electronic,’ I put my very self into the trap, expecting that you should die and I should absorb your life-force…” He wheezed and coughed for several minutes.

After gathering his strength again, he whispered, “but my plan has failed and you have absorbed my power, my very life. You have become more powerful than ever, and shall, therefore, no longer be known by a name of your past might. From this moment forward, you shall forever be regarded as ‘Tron!’”

Thou Shalt not Consume…

Over the weeks here in England, I have observed a vast array of comestibles indigenous to this British population. Some I have consumed with great pleasure, while others I have gone to great lengths to avoid, like an eight-day-old boy who has caught sight of a rabbi. This short blog is dedicated to the latter category of sustenance. Below, I have constructed a list of Andrew-rebuked food items, the rejection of which should be self-evident. I anticipate that this list will expand as the years pass. Here they are in top-10 format:


10. Pulses (it turns out these are beans, or something, but the terminology reminds me of a beating heart)

9. Salad cream (this mayonnaise-based salad topping doesn’t even require refrigeration… or at least none of the restaurants we’ve been to bother)

8. Tuna mayonnaise and sweetcorn sandwich

7-5. “Gü” (pronounced “goo”) brand “pud” varieties, including: “chocolate puds,” “mini puds,” and, my favorite, “saucy puds”

4. Jellied eels

3. Canned goose fat

2. Prawn mayonnaise pita (exactly like it sounds)

And last but not least, everyone’s favorite beverage:

1. Cockburns Assured (who knew that drinking could be so dangerous)


If you’d like to see me stumble through Latin, take a look at this video of 1 Thessalonians:

(I also contribute to Deuteronomy, Lamentations, and Jonah)


A Thunderous Compadre and Sage-esque Advice

At long last, I am able to sit and write, to ponder, pontificate, reflect, and furrow my brow in pretend depth-of-thought (consternated squinting might be a more accurate description). I have been distracted from my responsibilities as blog-master by a series of harrowing experiences that have involved the rescue of numerous orphans, impromptu muay thai fights, and hijacking prevention- all of which concluded with my shirt in tatters and my vascular musculature pulsating as a passing breeze warmed by a blaze in the background gently wafts through my hair and wife embraces my left bicep (*fade to black). In another reality, it turns out that living in a foreign country differs vastly from globetrotting adventures that force one into awkward and hilarious encounters, especially when there is the persistent absence of a hilarious cousin or a Norwegian giant. The reality of “living” in Nottingham has finally taken root. Be that as it may, “living” was not able to prevent the following day from elapsing:

Shortly after wife had left for work, I hopped on my über-masculine bicycle and headed to the university. While on the ride I recalled my humiliating journey into the town centre only weeks earlier and rejoiced at not having to endure such embarrassment on a regular basis. It was during this reflection, however that I began to observe the frame of my own mode of conveyance and realized it bore striking similarities to wife’s bike. Dentritic connections fired throughout my brain, a small mass grew into a large lump in my throat. I swallowed this welling sadness and involuntarily uttered, “I own a lady’s bike.” Unable to abandon the cycle, I attempted to encourage myself and weigh the positive aspects. Should I ever fall forward from the seat, the low frame will prevent fatherhood-ending injuries. Why did I have to buy a fuchsia chain? Fortunately, the parsimonious penny-pincher in me was quick to remind that the bike came free of charge. So I rode toward the university with my head raised a bit higher.

As a side note for those of you who doubt, let me assure you that making motorcycle sounds with your mouth actually increases your velocity exponentially. My record-setting speed on this morning, however, was inadvertently obstructed by a young Asian man travelling at a leisurely pace… in the middle of a bike path. I am unsure of why this happens with ever-increasing frequency, but nearly every morning I avoid a collision only barely with a person of similar ethnic descent on the same path. Perhaps it is a conspiracy hatched by the Chinese to infiltrate the world’s cycle route system, causing mass-pandemonium, and preventing university attendance in other countries while their own students excel at home. I’m on to you. You may have Tibet, but Nottinghamshire is beyond your reach. Anyway, as this thought passes out of my cranium, I take note that the young man has ear buds in situ, which prevent him from hearing my approach. I briefly contemplate the increasing individuality/reclusiveness that such products breed, but that is quickly replaced by the blinding fury that this gent unconsciously steps in concert with my every attempt to pass him. It turns out that simply crashing into the person speeds the process along, but the number of witness and the fact that my tires aren’t designed for such off-road/over-body expeditions generally militates against such a decision.

I slowly wheel onto campus as the massive herds of undergraduates migrate across the field below the theology building on their way to their morning classes. Nearly every morning I pause for a moment to take it all in, imagining how lethargic they must be from a night of cramming, or staying up all night to not do any work… as I imagine some students do in college. Then I picture a T-Rex crashing through the tree line, and chasing after the helpless students. He grabs them in mouthfuls. You can’t escape, freshman! Your backpack is too heavy- but you won’t drop it because your books were too expensive. That’s why you eat Ramen for every meal. I chuckle to myself as I imagine high-fiving Rex, and then I begin pedaling toward the post-graduate building. The entire experience is quite cathartic. Know that this imagined scenario does not stem from a dislike of undergraduates, so much as it does for a predilection of dinosaurs.

After a few relatively productive hours, it becomes necessary for me to venture into the town centre for a bit of shopping. It is here, while at the vegetable stand, that I begin to notice something has caused the majority of young males to abandon all vestiges of masculinity in preference for their disproportionate, skin-grabbing, movement-restricting skinny jeans. It was as though a designer said, “I know, let’s take some pantaloons and stuff them into a pair of knee-highs! The kids will go crazy over them.” The only benefit from this fad is that it has become abundantly apparent that my brother and I are now in the majority of average leg-size (if not on the larger end). Do some calf-raises, son! The rigidness of the legs runs the risk of causing widespread gastrocnemius atrophy, for the pants render the use of leg muscles unnecessary until the hip. Fathers, where have the initiation rites into manhood gone? Take your son hunting, or on a coming-of-age fishing trip. Drive him deep into bear-country, toss him a pocketknife, tell him to find his way home, and peel-out as you abandon him there in the woods. At very least take him camping and discuss with him at the fireside that it should not appear as though he has put on a diaper over pantyhose and then loaded it up. I weep for this generation. After drying my eyes, I made my way out of the shop and headed home for a trip to a nearby locale with wife and some friends.

We arrived at a place called Southwell (pronounced “Suh-thull,” which you would know if you read my British pronunciation guide), and began a walking tour through the town. The

Kindred spirits

Bethany befriending a tiny, inquisitive man

area is known for its wealthy inhabitants, mostly old ladies if the “pant-suit, gaudy hats, and high-collared shirts only” stores are any indication, and their Cathedral. We toured the building, perused the grounds- here Bethany met a kindred-spirit; a fellow gold-digger, if you will- and had a tea before the Cathedral’s evensong. Having had our fill of “Sul,” we stuffed ourselves into the car and made our way back to Beeston.

That evening, we attended a local, more contemporary church service in Nottingham. It was here that I realized that people in the UK have never gone through a phase where singing was awkward or embarrassing, so one simply mouths the words quietly in an attempt to deflect attention. So far, the congregations we have visited sing at full-tilt in a way that always surprises me. It’s refreshing when the crowd is louder than the speaker-system. At the same time, I am used to singing just barely louder than my neighbour, so this experience has raised the bar. I find myself on the verge of screaming in order to contend with these warbling Brits. The veins in my neck protrude, my head turns crimson, blood vessels in my eyes rupture, and it tends to conclude with a coughing-fit. The whispering wife, on the other hand, usually passes out from over-exertion by the first refrain. I mumble something about the Holy Spirit to our neighbours and they tend to ignore her.

During the ride home, a glance at my bike chain invoked some memories of my mother. You see, mom had the tendency to occasionally stretch the truth in situations- sometimes to protect her children, sometimes for her own entertainment. I tend to realize the elasticity of these adages as I am announcing them with confidence to another person, only to taper off at the end. Here are some of my favourites (siblings, please help me fill this out):

1. If you ride your bike barefooted or with sandals you will cut off your toes.

2. If you pick at a scab you will contract impetigo/flesh-eating bacteria.

3. All of the foam that washes up on the shore is fish spit (I unreflectingly believed this up through part of high school… all of high school ).

4. If you chew your fingernails you will get fingernail worms.

5. If you eat without washing your hands you will get worms (there were a lot of Beth-razors that resulted in worms- I miss you mom).

Ode to the Six-Stone Swan of Attenborough

6-Stone Swan of Attenborough

Under a sky heavy-laden with clouds

One finds the pebbled path

Stuck fast betwixt the willows

Guided by the Trent, carrying its pellucid offering to Brigantia

This umber road presses its travelers ever forward

Nymphs whisper softly of legendary fowl

The northern ponds yield not your ethereal presence

Every corner promises you, the oaks sway in assent

Mounds betray your former haven

Across a bridge which bears the weight of time

Yet has not borne such a burden as thee

Downward one must travel, ever hastily downward

Another pool breaks through the arborous wall

There you reveal your avian majesty

A tortuous ivory neck, bent as a shepherd’s crook

Sable trunks undulate with great effort like the rising and crashing of the Deep

Thy gait they dare to deem “pigeon-toed”

Though you surely demonstrate it as “swan-footed”

Every gesticulation comes with a heave of your great breast

Straining for breath

As you have engorged yourself on the daily offerings

The goose, the mallard, they shudder at your attendance

With wings upraised you flaunt your glory

Enraged at the presence of the avian serfdom

The earth quakes at each step, pleading for your mercy

At long last, you heed its request

For it has declared you sovereign

Reluctantly your feet lead you to water’s edge

Each footfall brings you closer to your fluid perch

You have abandoned the shore in confidence

Preserved by the writ of royalty

Nary shall you cast your gaze behind

Now the river shall bear the burden of your legs