Monday, 27 September 2010

The Day BBC Radio 4 Paralyzed Me With Disgust

We still do not own a television set. I have been living in London for four months without the pleasant flickering drone of broadcast television. Richard and I do, however, have the glowing warmth of the Internet and occasionally we watch programs on Richard's laptop. Therefore, I'm not living in a cave cut off from the modern world.

Nevertheless, when I was watering the plants for some fellow American expats, who were out of town, I had access to their television and it was an embarrassment of riches. Being able to sit down and enjoy the accented wonders of British television for the first time certainly sweetened the deal and made it worth the trek across London to water a balcony full of plants -- who, I might add, were decidedly uncooperative in my attempts to keep them alive.

It was nice to have a taste of local television, but I've managed to get along pretty well without having a TV. Back in Brooklyn, I would have the television on in the background to keep me company while I was working into the night on a children's book with a fast approaching deadline. Since I work at home in London too, I have filled the TV gap with music, audiobooks and occasional journeys to the kitchen to have a listen to the radio. When moving into our apartment, Richard brought a tiny digital radio that we keep on top of the microwave. It is very useful for those certain evenings when we eat dinner together but can not be bothered to engage with one another. BBC News does the talking for us.

During the day, while eating lunch or having a spot of tea (I'm SO British now!), I listen to BBC Radio 4. It is an odd station. Usually it resembles the United States' NPR (with news, commentary and witty trivia programs) but occasionally it has strange radio dramas and a show called The Archers which is apparently about a rural English family who have the uncanny ability to never do anything even remotely interesting. I can't help but imagine that the only way I could be BBC Radio 4's intended audience would be if I looked like this:

Anyway, a little while ago I was listening to BBC Radio 4 while making myself some lunch. 

A talk program dealing with news-ish topics was playing. The reason I say "news-ish topics" is that one of the stories they were reporting was about this year's edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. The announcer was having a discussion with some guy who I assume was an editor for the book. The editor mentioned something of note about this year's edition. He said that they had to change the person who held the world record for longest finger nails. He said that that the previous holder had been an American woman. I instantly pictured her in my mind, her obscenely long nails sprouting from her finger tips into a forest of curling revulsion.

Oh, who am I kidding? I'm sure she looks more like this:

I was pretty disgusted by this mental image, but I had no idea what was to come. The editor went on to explain how she got struck from her notorious place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Apparently, at some point over the past year, this woman decided to go for a drive. I'm not clear how she could drive with that garden of nonsense on her hands, but drive she did.

On this drive, she got into an accident

The next thing she remembers was that she was lying on the ground, neither dead nor seriously injured.

Apparently she had been thrown from the car.

Her nails, however...

...were still in the car.

The Guinness Book of World Records editor made sure that the listeners knew that the nails did not break, but were ripped free from her hands. He and the announcer chuckled. I did not chuckle. I reacted like this:

I think I'm still recovering, and this post is really just part of my post traumatic stress therapy.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Mounted Warriors

A few weeks ago, Richard and I were sitting in our kitchen enjoying a cup of tea together. I'm sure we were discussing all manner of enlightened and worldly topics, because, you know, we live in England now and we have to work overtime at being scathingly brilliant and witty. Anyway, the following exchange was afloat somewhere in this scholarly conversation -- which, in all likelihood, was probably about New York City real estate and/or KitchenAid mixers.

Richard looked at me and said:

I responded:

I suddenly realized that Richard expected me to say more on the topic of his mother's birthday. But what?

This was getting awkward.

My sudden realization of what was expected of me, and my relief that it wasn't "Mark, plan my mother's surprise birthday party" meant that I may have seemed oddly eager to make a card for Richard's mom. 

Rosemary and I had met twice before, but I didn't glean enough information from those visits to know what kind of drawing my de facto mother-in-law would appreciate. I asked Richard about her interests, but we quickly decided to avoid the minefield of my making her a card that catered to her fondness for theological study.

Fortunately, a topic that was perfectly benign and uncontroversial came to my mind:

Done. I had my inspiration.

A couple of days later, Richard's mother received this in the mail:

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Expatriate Sharing Time

In October 2009, I met the love of my life.

Luckily, I managed to trick the poor bastard into loving me in return. After having met Richard in London, he moved to New York to do internships and ended up staying with me -- indefinitely.

Our relationship felt like some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, but, in reality, everything about our meeting and coming to live together was so chancy and coincidental. Nevertheless, at the time, the decisions I made about shacking up with Richard were made with unthinking abandon. I felt like I was following the script to some saccharin-sweet romantic comedy. All the hallmarks of a typical romantic comedy were already present: I lived in New York City, illustrated cute children's books for a living and surrounded myself with a posse of quirky, sassy friends who were chock full of problems that could be examined wittily over brunch. The last ingredient needed to turn my life into a full-blown romantic comedy was a Welsh love interest who looks like the illegitimate offspring of John Hannah and Jude Law.

Truth be told, I've always had a small hope that my life would end up resembling a whirlwind globe-hopping fantasy adventure.

However, whirlwind globe-hopping fantasy adventures involve an inordinate amount of waking up early, living outdoors and running from danger. So, I was glad to live the life of a romantic comedy in which my sleeping-in, long hot showers and walking at a comfortable pace would be incidental, if not encouraged. 

Granted, I was actually quite happy with the plotless mish-mash of folly that was my pre-Richard existence, but even my well-watered and well-fed cynical side couldn't see any holes in the gamble of his moving in with me. Richard made me feel that my slut years had been a valid exercise in comparison shopping; he is living proof that loads of research inevitably leads to an informed and satisfying purchase. From the start we were like two peas in a gritty Brooklyn pod that we also shared with a couple of girls and a Shiba Inu.


If it seems like I'm bragging about having found a man, it's because I am -- just a little bit. Nevertheless, I don't really consider "man-finding" an achievement, despite my earlier comment about my "slut years". I may have found love, but I haven't found truly consistent and reliable income from drawing, I haven't discovered the chemical compound for eternal youth, and my attempts at world domination have fallen flat since my weather-machine broke. 

All jokes aside, my bragging is actually relief that the love of my life is Richard. I firmly believe that love is blind, and I dreaded that I would turn the corner one day and be struck dumb with love for a troll. I know that by virtue of being in love, I would have been happy and stayed with said troll for eternity. But c'mon, let's be serious, falling in love with a charming and intelligent British boy is clearly preferable (in just about every conceivable dimensionto a shared lifetime with a troll.

So, for six blissful months Richard and I frolicked around the city making people vomit from our sickeningly cute coupley-ness.

Our whole time in New York was a blur of light-hearted romance with flashes of life-changing intensity. To put it simply, it was bliss and we have the facebook albums to prove it.

Eventually, informal internships end, tourist visas expire, and with no ability to legitimately work in the United States, brilliant expat Brits have to go home. Had Richard and I been a straight couple, we would've just gotten married to keep the good times rolling. However, that wasn't an option and Richard had to pack his bags and leave.

Now, Britain does recognize civil unions between gay men, and I would have had the option to join in a union with Richard and live in Britain. However, it would be a huge hassle of paperwork and Richard knew about plenty of international couples who were still living apart while sorting out all the crap that came with obtaining a British visa. No matter which way we looked, the prospects were grim and full of bureaucratic obstacle courses.

However, I had an ace up my sleeve.

As luck would have it, I was born in Switzerland to an American father and a Swiss mother. I have both American and Swiss citizenship. Switzerland is a member of the European Economic Community, which is just fancy-speak for, "I have THE GOLDEN TICKET!" Since Richard couldn't live in New York --the city we both love-- we decided to do the next best thing and live together in London. 

All I had to do was renew my Swiss passport and tie up a couple of loose ends. All Richard had to do was move home to his parents' house in Wales, search for a well-paying job in London, find an apartment that was both affordable and lovely, go on job interviews, scout out and then negotiate with estate agents over apartments, land a job with the help of a friend and a seriously stellar CV that took him years to build, coordinate our signing of the lease on an apartment while I was still in New York, and book me a flight to London since he could get me a deal with his airline membership.

So, it came to pass that, for love, I was about to journey across an ocean. I had visited London once before (for twenty-nine hours) and now I was going to live there permanently. This was some pretty momentous stuff. However, it didn't feel momentous. I, mercifully and regrettably, was in a this-isn't-real-until-it-is-actually-happening-to-me state of mind -- mercifully, because I didn't have any anxiety attacks, and regrettably, because I didn't quite appreciate that the last time I did certain things in New York would be THE LAST TIME I DID CERTAIN THINGS IN NEW YORK.

I organized (with the help of some dear friends) a big going-away party on the night before I flew out of JFK. It may have been a bit ballsy to have my farewell party directly before moving to another continent, but I wanted my party to be definitive. My friend Rex had moved to Spain a couple months earlier and, fittingly, had a big going-way party. Unfortunately, due to some visa issues, he had to remain in New York for two weeks after the emotional goodbyes. He lived in a state of limbo and tried to stay hidden in order to avoid awkward re-goodbyes. I, learning from Rex, decided to have my going-away party ACTUALLY be a going-away party. You wouldn't hug me farewell and then see me in line at Starbucks the next day, no, I'd already be on a plane to the UK!

Despite the fact that a third of my belongings had yet to be packed (my zen state of mind was really kicking itself into to overdrive for that oneI was able to unwind and enjoy my party. Although the party was a success, I was crying and on the verge of crying at several points during the night.

I guess that my dream of a globe-hopping adventure was coming true in some respects. And so, like our forefathers (er... fore-people?) I set out to tame and colonize a far-flung, frightening wilderness -- and by "tame and colonize" I mean "reacquaint myself with my loving boyfriend while looking for illustration work from the comfort of a couch (oh, who am I kidding? BED!) and by "far-flung, frightening wilderness" I mean "adorable one-bedroom apartment with lots of light in West London."

I've been in London for about four months, consumed a lot of tea and been on many adventures (to follow). I've recently signed with an illustration agent who is making me do a bunch of greeting card art before finding me another book project. As I think of new, bold, and, frankly, incredibly derivative ways to illustrate the Nativity, I have also set aside time to keep a blog -- with drawings! Although this is primarily for my distant and much-missed friends, it can be seen by anyone and I want to do it properly. I researched various blogs and decided on a format and a style of drawing that works best for me.

This post --as the establishing post and a treatise on 'how I ended up in London and am now keeping a blog'-- is by far the wordiest thing that will ever appear on this blog. From now on, my tales from England will be primarily in short cartoon form, and I applaud you for reading this verbose essay. As a reward, here is a drawing of some nonsense involving a platypus.