Saturday, December 12, 2009


As this blog functions as a sort of journal for me, it's not surprising that I often find myself thinking about the subject of memory, specifically mine. I won't link to my previous ramblings on the subject because they're pretty tedious, suffice to say that while it takes months for my memories of interesting or unusual events to become blurred or vague, it only takes a week or two for the individual memories to fall out of my mental card index and get shoved, unsorted and heaplike, into a shoebox somewhere. As a result, the next post will probably just be a heap of scenes, probably in the wrong order. The last post was the same, I just forgot to put this disclaimer at the start. Some of the things that I said happened on the Thursday probably happened on the Friday (or the Saturday) and vice-versa, some of the things may have happened slightly differently to what I remember, and some of the things may not have happened at all. (In case you hadn't guessed, Kristen didn't really demand a car with a keel, although she should have done).

Also, I feel I should apologize for the length of these posts. I used to strive for economy and brevity in my writing, but these days I live by the pen, so to speak, and get paid by the yard. The work philosophy of "write as much as you can, then edit it down" is a good one, but unfortunately I can't be bothered to edit my writing when I'm not at work.

While these posts are intended to be about the Gevelow wedding, the actual wedding will probably only play a fairly minor role. This is for a number of reasons. First, as someone's plus-one I didn't really have much of a role to play in the proceedings other than to be there, so my viewpoint is very much from the fringes of all the planning-type drama. Second, although I was on the fringes of the chaos and the drama, it did occasionally sweep me along with it, as chaos tends to do. This means that the build-up to the wedding is at least as memorable to me as the ceremony itself, and so the Great Event of a Lifetime has to compete for mental space in a way that most weddings probably do not. Thirdly, I don't pay a lot of attention to what's going on around me, so I'm a pretty terrible witness.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gevelow vs. Ida part the second

The following morning I woke up, fully clothed, lying on a sofa in a room I didn't recognise. The room was large, and lit only by the cracks of light that shone round the edges of the curtains and blinds. I seemed to be in a sort of half-kitchen half-livingroom about the size of my parents' house.

To my right there was a heap of sheets on a sofa. The heap of sheets was moving up and down in a slow, rhythmic manner. At this point the higher brain functions were starting to shamble into my consciousness, bleary-eyed and wearing their bathrobes -- one of them pointed out that, as sheets don't breathe, the breathing pile of sheets was probably Kristen. Another higher-function switched on my memory and explained where I was, and why. I remembered the journey, the late-night introductions, and the power-cut. I could remember carrying candles around and I could remember the discussions about air mattresses. I didn't remember going to bed.

I didn't know what time it was. Due to the power cut, all the electrical devices around me were flashing "12:00" and waiting to be reset; my body-clock, after 24 hours of non-stop traveling, was doing the same. My phone told me it was one thirty in the afternoon. After the bit of my brain that does maths and knows about time-zones turned up for work a few seconds later, I figured out this meant it was about eight thirty in the morning, which seemed a reasonable time to get up.


I've eaten a lot of breakfasts in my time, although probably not as many as I've had hot dinners. Usually they consist of cereal, or, more commonly, toast. The toast is usually rendered edible by some form of butter, but in a pinch cold gravy, mashed potato, or custard will do. Breakfast, in case you hadn't already guessed, is not a meal I take particularly seriously and definitely not one that I've ever spent more than a minute preparing.

You can imagine my shock, therefore, when I reached the top of the stairs and was hit by the smell of all manner of cooking. Various early-rising food pixies had prepared a mountain of tasty, which included everything from bacon to what appeared to be bread and butter pudding. It was easily the biggest, tastiest, and most fattening meal I'd eaten in a few months. A few more introductions were made--an assortment of aunts, uncles, and friends who had gone to bed before we arrived. They were all friendly, and I think I managed to make a reasonably good impression--well as good as could be hoped for, considering that I'd traveled halfway across the world, slept a night on a sofa in my clothes (I was wearing the clothes, not the sofa) and still hadn't showered.


After the gargantuan breakfast, I was left at a bit of a loose end. I can't sew, can't bake, and I'm not much good at organizing things, especially things I don't really understand. I had no errands to run, and no important matters to discuss, so I spent a long time just wandering around the house, pushing buttons and giggling. Once that got boring I sat and talked to anyone who'd listen and checked my emails. I watched the heaviest rain I've ever seen bludgeon the landscape, and stared, amazed at the kiteboarders out in the sound -- to whom a hurricane is merely a patch of really good wind. They stayed out there for the whole time we were at the house. Even on the days when we had to batten down the hatches and rope ourselves together if we ventured outside, they were out on the water, leaping off huge waves and jumping over entire islands wearing only wetsuits.


Beyond the poolhouse there is a little wooden jetty. It goes out about 20 meters before it ends with a square deck. The deck has two chairs bolted two it and some mooring hooks around the edges. In the afternoon, after the storm abated, me and Kristen walked out there. It was a beautiful day, not something I'm used to in November. The Pamlico sound was glass-flat and the sky pure blue. For an hour or so we sat on the edge of the deck, dangling our toes in the surprisingly warm water and watching the pelicans flapping about on the shore. My body was deeply confused by all this, seeing as it had just got used to the British winter dispensing with the niceties of the indian summer and settling down to some good old-fashioned, pissing-down rain. Nothing on the same scale as Hurricane Ida's outbursts, but somehow wetter, and more insidiously unpleasant; coupled, as it was, with cold winds and steel-grey skies.

After a while Kristen was called into the house for some reason, and I was left to amuse myself again. To this end I wandered back down the jetty in search of pleasingly flat rocks. There were not many -- I'm guessing many others had rummaged among the shoreline pebbles before me -- but I found a couple of reasonable skimming-stones and one pleasingly boulder-like rock. I walked to the edge of the deck and sat myself down by the completely flat water. Conditions were perfect. There was a small patch of ever-so-slightly rippled water about 60 meters off the shore, but that wasn't yet disturbing my reflecting pool.

Stone by stone, I picked my heap away until nothing was left but the boulder. I'd pick each one up, feeling its weight and shape in my hand, then send it skimming across the water. For few moments after each stone sank I watched the ripples dissipate and interfere with each other. I think I managed to get one stone to bounce seven times, but there was no-one there to see it, and I'm a bit too old to impress anyone that way. Once all the flat ones were gone I allowed everything to settle. I kept my feet as still as I could, and tried not to breath too much. I then picked up my huge boulder (it was about twice the size of my fist, roughly spherical, and weighed about 6kg), raised it over my head like a caveman, and heaved it into the air.

I have to admit, it didn't soar like a bird. It flew with the uninspiring ballistic trajectory of a heavy rock thrown by a rather feeble man. If I'd wanted to see something soar, however, I would have watched the birds. I wanted to see this fall, and fall it did. Splooshing into the water like a giant raindrop. The water was momentarily forced down and out, forming into a crown. It held it for one perfect millisecond then -- with a glooping, flopping slopnoise -- it collapsed and sent another sphere, a clear mirror image of the one that went in, flying up into the air then landing in the disturbed water below. I was still watching the water pull tight and flatten when Kristen came back down the jetty to see what I was doing. We got some more stones, and repeated the process. I was impressed to find that, with sufficient force behind it, you can skim a roofing tile quite a long way.


Later in the day I decided to make myself useful in whatever ways a generally not very useful person can. I held things, chatted to people, and tried to get a kite off the roof. I spent some more time pushing buttons and wandering around the house before it was time once again to eat tastyfoods until we could no longer stand.

Not wanting to sleep on the sofa again, me and Kristen decided to set up camp in the poolhouse after dinner. We brought an airbed the size of a high-jump crashmat and a heap of bedding. Once the bed was inflated and the stereo fiddled with (even the poolhouse was filled with buttons for me to push), Kristen, loaded down with Jetlag and food, fell asleep at 9pm.

I went back up the house and had a fun evening drinking beer and playing a strange card game that I didn't really understand at the time, and don't remember now. I recall that I seemed to be winning at one point purely because I was able to give my explanations in an english accent.

That night I had the strange experience of sleeping in the middle of a hall about the size of the gym in my primary school. After a while the sounds of the sea were drowned out by the sound of the wind in the trees, and then both were overwhelmed by the rattling of rain on the roof once again.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Gevelow vs. Ida

I went to a wedding last week. This is my attempt to record what happened. It will take some time, and probably not do the event justice.

Weddings have never figured much in my social calendar. My family are a pretty godless bunch, for the most part, and my friends are not yet at an age where they crave nuptials, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. As it turned out, even an encyclopedic knowledge of wedding customs wouldn't have helped me understand what was going on. The whole event managed to be nothing like any wedding I've ever heard of while at the same time being the kind of experience that all other weddings aspire to be.

This is not the yet story of that wedding, however, this is the prologue.


For a long time the wedding was a vague and nebulous thing in the potential future -- along with Kristen's arrival in the UK. I'd been told that I would be invited if Kristen came to England, but otherwise not, which seemed fair enough. This pairing of events meant that once I was a confirmed guest, with the wedding a definite fixture on my mental calendar (I've never been organized enough to have a real one), I was inevitably rather distracted. Between a newly tangible Kristen, work, and the need to occasionally eat and sleep, Rachel and Ben's wedding remained largely out of my mind until about a week before the event.

The day of our departure lurched unpleasantly from "some time next week" to "tomorrow morning" in that way that such things tend to do. For me, November 11th, 2009, was the first day in years that started at four in the morning. We dragged our suitcase out of the house in the dark, wearing lots of layers. You get a special sort of silence in pre-dawn suburbia that is smashed into little bits by the rattling rumble of a heavy suitcase's plastic wheels. The little wheels were bucking and jerking the bag around from the start, and by the time we neared the station one of them had gone on strike and stopped turning completely. Kristen tried swiveling it to see if it was jammed with something, but the friction-heated axle scorched a big blister on the fleshy part of her thumb. This seemed a bad omen to me, but as I was facing down at least 20 hours of intercontinental travel I decided to keep such observations to myself. I made sympathetic noises and heaved the bag up to the platform.

The train to London Bridge was pretty dull. Like going to work, only with less people and more baggage. There were two off-duty train drivers sitting on the seats in front of us. Eavesdropping on their conversation taught me a number of things I didn't previously know (but most of which I could have guessed): First, train drivers aren't very interesting; Second, Southern railways are locked in a behind-closed-doors argument with the train drivers' union; and third, train drivers are really interested in trains. Like, really, really interested in trains -- more than I realized you could be interested in any mode of transport, even the cool ones like helicopters, hovercraft, and segways. The second train was equally dull, but more brown.

After the usual tedious business of check-in we shuffled, shoeless and saggy-trousered, through security. Things went in trays, laptops were removed, and liquids were scrutinized one last time -- just to be certain that there wasn't a liter bottle of lighter fluid among the shampoo bottles. I checked my pockets for change and keys, checked my feet for shoes, and my waist for a belt. All clear. I step through the scanner...


It's got to the point now where I am completely unfazed or even remotely embarrassed by the beeping of the metal detector, or the subsequent semi-friendly interrogation and pat-down that the beeping brings. I have no idea why it is but I always set them off. There are no plates in my head, no pins in my bones, and I've never, to my knowledge at least, swallowed any coins. Nonetheless, I get searched often enough to put me right off the idea of becoming a narcotics mule. Once they were satisfied that I didn't have a rocket launcher in my pants, me and Kristen fumbled our shoes back on, refilled our pockets, and stumbled off for some overpriced but sanitary airport food.

The journey from here to Atlanta was pretty much par for the course -- if you've ever flown long-distance then the tedium and discomfort will be familiar. Including the peculiar culinary efforts of Delta Airlines I ate about five meals over the course of the day. In my defense, the day lasted for about two days, so it's not like I'm a total porksnorter. I watched some films on the plane (Harry Potter and the Arse of Beelzebub* and 500 Days of Summer -- which was very good) and slept a little in a neck-crackingly strange position. In Atlanta we had to go through security again for some reason. I guess they were worried that somehow we'd got hold of explosives on the plane and were going to use them to blow up America. Again, shoes were removed, pockets emptied, laptops taken out, and liquids stared at. I stepped forward and...


I was waved through, slightly bemused. I felt like I'd been snubbed. This sense of confusion only increased when I realized that I'd forgotten to take off my belt with its huge metal buckle, or take the coins out of my back pocket. It seems that I make metal detectors work backwards -- perhaps a career as an international smuggler is on the cards after all.

The flight into Norfolk was stomach-distendingly rough. Like trying to sleep on a saggy water-bed that is being carried down a mountain by a group of drunks. Not a particularly pleasant experience. It was like landing in a hurricane or something. Funny that.

While waiting for our bags at Norfolk we looked outside -- Bangladesh-style monsoon rain, Scotland style wind, Southern-style chicken wings -- none of these things seemed to bode well for the drive down to Buxton, NC. Wedding control was contacted, word was that we were go for launch regardless. The weather kept turning uglier by the minute and they wanted us in the house that night in case the department of transportation closed the roads at high tide the next morning. Kristen got an upgrade on the rental car, "something big," she cried to the representative, "with the engine out of a flying fortress and the keel from a goddamn racing yacht." The lady behind the counter gave Kristen the keys to a Chevrolet Malibu, we decided to compromise.

The car smelled of cigarettes and salesman-funk, but our bags disappeared into the cavernous trunk and there was an exciting range of lights, knobs, and switches to play with on the dashboard. After about 20 minutes of pressing buttons we figured out three things: 1. It had no ejector seats, 2. The keel had to be wound down manually, and 3. It was an automatic. Armed with this important information we set the windshield wipers to what my family call "Holiday Speed"** and set off. Kristen driving, me doing some slightly, but not disastrously, incompetent navigation.

We sloshed onto the highway and headed out of town, stopping for some coffee and hash browns at a Waffle House on the way. By the time we reached the top of the outer banks I was already a little nervy. The visibility was low, the roads were under about 2 inches of water, and the wind was literally howling. At this point, just as the roads got smaller and more curvy, the wind picked up to bastard-force, the rain reached an intensity I've only ever seen in films, and giant puddles appeared, lake-like, across the roads. I started wondering if Budget would let us go back and upgrade to a tank.

I'm still not entirely sure whether the rain actually continued to get heavier the whole way, or whether the wind just pelted it harder and harder into the windshield as we got out into more exposed stretches of road. Either way, it wasn't long before it was so heavy I thought it was going to crack the windshield and come rushing into out little haven of dry warmth. In fact, I had quite detailed visions of this happening in my head. I kept this to myself.

We got a call from Kristen's mom. She told us that there was worse to come. I assumed that we were already in the really bad patch she was referring to, and took this to mean that we were making good time. Turns out I was wrong. The conditions did get worse. What was really impressive was when the storm managed to go that extra mile, and get even worse than that.

When we passed Kittyhawk conditions were bad, going on scary. The rain was sloshing around the road, and all the other cars about were leaving swirling, turbulent eddies of water in their wakes. Get too near to another car and the wash would roll up the windscreen like a wave up the beach, totally swamping the wipers for a few seconds and leaving you almost completely blind. At times like that I found myself staring at the blurry patches of red coming from the lights of the cars in front, waiting for them to grow and fill the windscreen, getting suddenly closer... crash! I kept this to myself, and made conversation about the Wright Flyer, particularly the groundbreaking, but fundamentally flawed efforts of Otto von Lillenthal. He hadn't considered the need for a large rear stabilizer, you see, so he ended up tentpegging into the ground...

Over the next hour I went from teeth gritting, pulse-racing, terror to some sort of plateau beyond that point. After driving for a while we reached a long causeway bridge, I couldn't see anything on either side of it, so I have no idea what it was over. Here the wind picked up to such an intensity that the puddles and lakes were gone. The wind was instead flicking the water around in whirlpooling clouds a foot or two above the surface. The road was periodically dotted with strange looking grey blobs, with little smudges of grey spread on the road around them. It took me a while to realize that they were seagulls, surrounded by little trails of feathers, lying where they had fallen after being dashed against the railings of the bridge.

After that we hit a stretch where the road was essentially all there was to the island. A cross section would look like this:


Here the puddles covered the entire road. Kristen had to slow almost to a halt and aim for the center of the road. I held my breath and hoped that they were shallower than they looked. On a few occasions the water was washing across the road like a shallow, slow-flowing river. Driving through these was probably the scariest part of the trip, I ran out of humorous anecdotes to entertain and amuse and just tried to keep my breathing steady.

Later on we were informed that we hadn't been driving through rivers formed by the rainwater overflow. Apparently the waves were breaking over the dunes and washing onto the road. I think if it had been light enough for us to see this we would have screamed all the way to Croatan Ridge and spent the next few days curled up in the fetal position. Luckily for us, and for the wedding (a traumatized, catatonic maid-of-honor wouldn't have been much use to anyone) we carried on unaware of just how scared we should have been.

By the time we reached the dirt road that led to the house, trailing Mark's truck through the headlight-deep pools of water, I really couldn't have cared less whether or not the car went down like the titanic. I knew that we were within walking (or swimming) distance of the house and that was enough to stop me from worrying anymore, my suit could get eaten by fish for all I cared. The void that the absence of fear left in my head quickly filled up with anger. I think this is a built-in automatic reaction with me (something along the lines of "someone has put me in a situation where I have become this scared, someone is going to get a kicking"). By the time I got out of the car I was in a mood to punch someone and scream. I kept this to myself.

There wasn't really anyone I could be reasonably angry at, however, so I tried to keep it to myself. When we got up the house I made a rather theatrical show of being shaken up, I downed a beer and then immediately asked for another, not because I needed to steady my nerves, but because I needed some way of excusing myself from talking for long enough to calm down.

Everyone was lovely and friendly, however, so my urge to scream rapidly faded to nothing. Me and Kristen were led on a tour around the house, or at least around some of it (I didn't realize quite how much of it there was at that point) and received hugs, handshakes etc., from Rachel, Ben, and those of the friends and family who were still awake.

I expect that more happened along these lines, but I was so completely exhausted that I didn't really take any of it in. After a few minutes the power went out, and me and Kristen were led by candle-light to a pair of sofas that had been made up for us. Kristen left the room to find something, and by the time she returned I was out cold, fully dressed, and could not be woken for love nor beatings. During the night the power came back on, along with the lights and a stereo that had its speakers right by my head. I didn't stir.


*The newest one - I don't remember the name, or the film, come to think of it.

**Yes, I'll be honest, a holiday marked by apocalyptic storms is not an occurance I'm unfamiliar with -- I've been on holiday in Wales.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Fun with Parcels

On tuesday a DHL man tried to deliver our new broadband router. Unsurprisingly, I wasn't in, on account of me having a job. Things went downhill from there. I was left a note expressing their surprise and sadness at the fact that I wasn't there to say hi. I was given two options, either have it delivered again (on a weekday) or go and collect it from my "local DHL office [Map on reverse]".

I looked at the map on reverse. I laughed. Local? It's in an industrial estate next to the battersea power station, who the fuck is that local to? The only people it's local to, now I think about it, are the people in the various other parcel distribution warehouses in that area. Other than the royal mail vans and UPS trucks it's a godforsaken wasteland of abandoned railway sidings, four-lane roads, and unlit, barriered-and-concierged office complexes. Oh, and the battersea dog's home. Nonetheless, I call their hotline and select "collect from office" because that option would still be quicker than getting them to continually redeliver the parcel until one day a delivery happened to coincide with me or kristen calling in sick.

The next day I decide to go there after work. It takes about half an hour's tube ride to get to Vauxhall station from my office. From there it's a fifteen minute walk through a biblical deluge, being continually soaked all the way by the lorries roaring past on the dual carriageway. Once I arrive at DHL's office I find it has all the charm of a prison. I'm buzzed through the main gate and have to walk down a path to the "customer reception" surrounded by razorwire-topped metal fences.

"hi, I'm here to collect a package that was sent out for delivery yesterday"
I give him the number on the slip I was given, he types it into the system.
"I'm sorry sir, but that package is not here"
"what do you mean? where is it?"
"it has been sent out for delivery"
"I phoned your call-center last night and said I'd come and pick it up here today"
"it has been sent out for delivery, look"
At this point he turns his monitor round and jabs his biro at a line of text that says SENT OUT FOR DELIVERY 07:38
"That's nice, but I'm not questioning whether it has been sent out or not, I'm asking you why."
He holds up the slip left by the driver
"packages are sent out for delivery three times, if they are not received by then, they remain at the depot for collection"
To help me understand, he jabs his biro at the relevant line on the slip.
"I know, I can read. What I want to know is why it was sent out for delivery when I asked you not to do so"
"did you call the number on the slip?"
"was it an automated service?"
"I'm sorry, the automated service is unreliable, we do not always recieve notifications"
At this point he scribbles a phone number down on the slip
"this is the number for this branch"
"why don't you just put this number on the card in the first place?"
"We have asked management, but they have not printed new cards"
"It would have been useful to know all this before I came all the fucking way out here in the pouring rain"
"I'm sorry sir, call during business hours tomorrow and you can arrange collection"
"Can't I just arrange collection now?"
"no sir. "
"Why not"
"I do not have access to the necessary systems"

There is a pause while I count to ten in my head.

"The vans leave before business hours, yes?"
"yes sir, they leave before 8"
"so if I call you tomorrow, it will be too late to stop you sending it out again"
"yes sir"
"so even if I call you tomorrow the earliest I'll be able to pick it up is friday?"
"yes sir"
"That's not fucking acceptable, how many times does this happen each week?"
"I don't know"
"Is there no-one here who can stop this being sent out tomorrow?"
"not at this time sir"

exasperated pause

"ok, fine."

I give up, pick up my slip, and stomp back to the station, shaking with rage. Despite running at every interchange, I still miss every connection home. This makes me angrier. When I finally get home, just before 8pm, I stamp around the empty house shouting at the air and struggling to resist the urge to smash something. I pick up the pile of mail on the doormat and notice that this time the DHL guy didn't even bother to leave a slip. I go to the kitchen, take a beer out of the fridge and turn on the radio.

The doorbell rings. I see the yellow and red of a DHL uniform through the glass. Iopen the door and sign for my package.

He must have been running late.

I have internet, and I'm glad I won't have to go back to Battersea. But I'm still annoyed with DHL.