Friday, October 21, 2011

The forbidden fruit

Okay, so it's been waaaay too long. I've neglected my poor blog once again, however this time it was in the name of dissertation writing, which is now done and dusted. After five months I'm finally inspired to write once again. It's not because I'm moving to another country (different city, yes. Country, no), it's not because I'm running another marathon (thanks to injuring myself doing the last three), it's not because I'm obsessing about cheesy chips (trying to kick that habit...nothing to carb up for really) and it's not because of the recent (and fairly frequent) radio play of another Sleepy Panda Club track. Heck, it's not even about the other amazing developments in my completing my MA dissertation about Illegitimacy in Eighteenth Century Wales, or partnering up someone who I can actually say supports, respects and challenges me and has similar values, interests and ambitions...for once in my life (look mom, miracles do happen). This blog is not because of any of that.

This post is dedicated to something that seems so mundane, so simple, so...boring. But for me, represents several years of frustrated denial, inconvenience and overall unfortunate-but-necessary ridiculousness. Today I apple.

I repeat. Today I ate an apple.

I'm sure lots of people ate apples today, but this was the first one I've eaten in over two years thanks to a sudden and extreme case of oral allergy syndrome that set in several years ago. The last apple was a test to see if I had gotten over it. It didn't end well.

For anyone whose been in my presence over the last few years while I've attempt to consume a meal not prepared by myself or by my mother you know what a pain I can be. For over three years the list of things I can eat is shorter than the list of things I can't. To make matters worse, I'm allergic to the things that most allergy suffers use as replacements...such as rice, and worst of all corn. However slowly but surely I'm claiming those back one by one. I still have to avoid a few foods, but today is a massive landmark. I ate an apple. A juicy, crisp, delicious Pink Lady apple. And nothing adverse happened.

Unlike Eve my temptation to eat an apple came from the BBC and not a devil dressed up as a snake. Unable to sleep one night I decided to watch a documentary about apples in Britain. As I drifted off the delectable juiciness was etched into my subconscious and I awoke with a fierce craving for the delectable tree fruit.

I was told my allergies to certain foods might subside after a few years of strict avoidance, but I didn't think it would happen this quickly. Since I spend far too much time thinking about this and obviously need a proper hobby, I've come to the conclusion that it is a direct result of three things.

1. Living in a different environment, thereby reducing my exposure to the pollens in western Canada that my allergies are linked to
2. Careful avoidance of certain foods which has allowed my body to get over its fussiness
3. And perhaps most importantly, excessive consumption of substances containing a trace amount of the allergen...what I react to in fruits is mostly removed during cooking or processing...such as the cider making process. 

This past year in Wales has apparently done me a world of good in more ways than I had anticipated.

Thank you cider. Thank you.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Radio Ga Ga

Okay, so I've posted virtually nothing in the past few months...funny how a writing-intensive MA and an insane schedule will do that. Granted, doing my MA in history in the UK was always in my life's to do list, but as most people who know me right now will attest I have a greater love in my life...Panda.

Its amazing how one move begets another. Who knew that a work trip to Wales would result in a song I co-wrote being played on BBC Wales? I went to Carmarthen in 2009 with a group of amazing students and faculty on a trip that made me wonder how on earth I landed such a lush job. On that trip I met my now BFF Gruff, who works in the international office of the college we took our students to. We instantly hit it off talking about music and kept in touch after I returned return home is another story altogether best told in person over a bottle of wine.

Up until this point I had done loads of music, but always playing other people's music. I'd write but keep it to myself because I didn't want to share it with the world. Gruff, on the other hand is so prolific and active in music that he writes and shares everything. He encouraged me to share my music with him. We started swapping lyrics, melodies and chord progressions over our trans-Atlantic conversations. We visited eachother a few times and wrote several songs together and tucked them away for safe keeping. Meanwhile, Gruff had ideas of starting a new project called Sleepy Panda Club...which is a story for another post.

My trip to Wales also inspired me to take the big step of applying for grad school, which I did and was accepted to Swansea University. That gave us the idea to work on Panda together. When I returned to Wales again for work we started laying the foundation. We found our drummer Steffan who has quickly become a core member. The three of us have toiled for 10 months through different members, 60 different songs, random rehearsal spaces including an abandoned church on the grounds of an old mental hospital...the end result is where we are at this very moment.

As I write this I've just hear one of our songs on BBC Radio of the songs Gruff and I wrote in Vancouver and tucked away for safe keeping. Next week we play Clwb Ifor Bach, where we usually go to see the bands we love play. We're also playing London in about a month.

In addition to these small victories I'm lucky enough to be in a band with some of the nicest, funniest and most supportive people I know. I rarely laugh more than I do when I'm with the boys and girls that are Panda.

This is really only the beginning, but it's turning out to be one hell of a fun ride!

You can find Sleepy Panda Club on Facebook, Myspace ( and Sound Cloud 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

So this is what it feels like to have horseshoes up your ass

Holy luck of the draw! As I write this I’m sitting past security waiting for my flight at Heathrow airport. The past few days have been absolute insanity for people here. The majority of flights have been cancelled or severely delayed, and the terminal looks like a posh refugee camp. Heathrow is allowing 1/3 of flights to depart today, and Delta is running 4 of its 7 flights and I’m fortunate to be on one of those 4. Plus, as it stands now my flight is completely on time. If all goes well the next obstacle will be connecting through Minneapolis (which contrary to what one friend thought, is not the home of Superman). 

I can’t believe it was over 4 months ago that I sat in Calgary airport writing a blog post about the adventures ahead. This has easily been the quickest 4 months of my entire life. In some ways I feel I should have done more, but at the same time I’ve done quite a bit. Since arriving in the UK I’ve:

-          Run 2 half marathons 
-          Started my MA and so far my marks are looking got for a 1st
-          Had a song played on BBC Radio Wales
-          Finalized the line up (well, almost) for Panda...I love those boys
-          Recorded an EP
-          Play our first live gig with Panda
-          Started learning a new language
-          Discovered a passion for cheese and chips, and invented my own version (the double layer C&C)
-          Gained at least 5 pounds (see the last point)
-          Landed a decent job with really awesome people
-          Spent 3 weekends in London
-          Learned the art of epic procrastination
-          Spent way, way, way too much money

All in all its been a good on to Christmas!!!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sorry blog, it's not you it's me.

Oh my poor neglected blog. How typical is this. You fall in love, it's all intense and then you just lose interest or something better comes along. Sigh. I promise to try to be more attentive.

 It's almost been a full month since my last post, which means it's been almost a full month since the Cardiff half. Holy crap time flies. Since then I've gone to a music festival in Cardiff, spent a weekend in London, went on a day trip to Bath, became a tiny bit more fluent in Welsh (or rhygl yn Gymraeg), completed my first history paper in 6 years, recruited a bassist and another guitarist for Panda, worked a bit, fired someone for the first time, eaten my weight in cheese and chips, and finally gone on about 4 runs. That's it in a nut shell.

Other than the trips to cities most people have heard of I've done most of these activities from a small city called Swansea, nestled against the ocean in South Wales. Most people have never heard of the place unless they have family from here or they’ve been to Wales before. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Swansea. It’s quite rough around the edges, but it also has it’s charms. The city centre lacks character because most of it was bombed away during WWII. In addition you can still see the after effects of Thatcherism on the area, plus the fallout from recent economic downturn has also left its mark. On more than one occasion I’ve felt that the city really has no soul. That being said, the area I live in does have a bit more personality. The Uplands is a quaint pseudo-bohemian neighbourhood that was once quite posh. The area boasts the house Dylan Thomas was born in, as well as live music venues that smell of urine and ale, and a few really nice little cafes. There are remnants of its former glory tucked in and around the brothels, solicitors, Indian take aways’ and social services. It’s that sort of place.

The residence I live in is university housing for international grad students. The facades are majestic Victorian town homes, which you walk right through to access the modest but comfortable student apartments, which were built much more recently. It’s quiet and clean, and because it’s not swarming with undergrads it’s usually fairly peaceful.

Ty Beck Student Residence

To give the city some credit, it does have some amazing scenery. I live about 10 minutes from the beach, which runs right down to the Mumbles. In addition, I get to walk through another beautiful feature of the city – Singleton Park. Beautiful as it may be, it’s also dangerous. A student was mugged in broad daylight a couple of weeks ago, and because there’s no regular bus service to the Uplands we all have to walk through the park after dark, and the city has yet to replace most of the burnt out lights.

Singleton Park

Singleton Park

That basically sums up Swansea. It’s rough and ugly with breathtaking scenery. It completely lacks character in some area but has loads in others. I don’t think I’d every live here permanently, but it’s not a bad place to spend a year.

Monday, October 18, 2010

And I Ra-a-an...

Thank you Flock of Seagulls for providing me with the only title could come up with today.
Well, my 2010 half marathons are all done and dusted...unless I come across another one before the weather turns absolutely miserable. I have to say, this last one yesterday in Cardiff was my least favourite but in all fairness it did produce my best time.  

The course itself was beautiful, but the 14,999 other runners trying to race through the fairly narrow streets and park pathways of Cardiff were not. The race officially started at 9am, but it took close to 7 minutes before I crossed the start line. We wove our way through central Cardiff, cheek by jowl into Bute Park along what was a walking path that would normally fit four people walking side by side, not rows of runners, elbows up, jostling for a better position. Fortunately the grass was soft in most places so we could spill over on to it. How I didn’t end up with a shiner from a rogue elbow or a rolled ankle is beyond me. There were also a lot of slower runners who placed themselves at the front of the pack, which was frustrating given the fact that it was far too crowded to pass people easily. It’s called race etiquette people.  

There were a couple of cool views of the masses of runners, such as when we came around a bend and followed a football field. I could see the 5,500 runners in front of me snaking along the path at a steady cadence. It made me think of what it must have looked like to be inside the ranks of an infantry marching to battle. That was the only novelty of the crowd. There were simply too many people to make it enjoyable.

The other cruel factor of the race was the misleading finish line. After running our way though beautiful Caridiff bay we passed the 11 mile mark. I looked at my watch and saw my time so far was 1hour 40 minutes, so I knew if I just kept up my pace I’d finish in under 2 hours, which was my ultimate goal. Rounding a curve I could see the Millennium Centre in its splendid glory standing right by where the finish line was. As we approached I could see the inflated red arch of the finish growing larger as I approached. I pushed myself as hard as I could. My legs were heavy, my left  IT band felt like snapping, my stomach felt like heaving, my airways were constricting, but the finish line was so close! Then the course took us straight past the finish line on the opposite side of the road and onwards for what seemed like an eternity (probably about ½ a mile) before we finally u-turned and ran back up to the finish. I think I swore under my breath about 5 times. Whoever thought that up must not be a runner.

After the finish line I sucked on my inhaler until my airways opened enough for me to inhale properly, and I grabbed my medal, cried a little and drank a latte...the caffeine is good for preventing lactic acid build up. It works. Trust me. 

I think the moral of the story is, run a race that’s not fun to run. The Calgary half was nice because I enjoyed running through the familiar streets of my childhood home, which I see less and less of each year. Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, with an injury. The Wales half took me through stunning coastal scenery, ancient villages and beautiful, bucolic farmland. Time: 2 hours 10 minutes. I couldn’t wait for the Cardiff half to be over. Time: 1 hour 57 minutes and 46 seconds.  

Thank you to Dad, Gwion, Llinos, Gruff, Marni, Iris & William, Rhian, Sean, Katerina and Pete for sponsoring me!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Neis Cwrdd a Chi NHS!!!

Translation: Nice to meet you National Health Service. 

This is a record, even for me...and unfortunately I'm not talking about half marathon finish times. 2 weeks, two rounds of antibiotics for two completely unrelated infections. I'm thinking I may need to slow down just a touch. Work, music, school, socializing and running seem to be catching up with me. I should probably also lay off that ubiquitous and odious South Walian delicacy...cheese and chips. Ugh. I’ve eaten my weight in greasy, curd laden spuds in the past fortnight. Granted, it did prove to be an excellent carbing up meal, but really. I’m not running an ultimate.

According to the wonderful marathon-running doctor at the university medical centre, it’s not uncommon to catch something after a half or full run, so that made me feel a bit better for coming down with a sinus infection within 48 hours of crossing the finish line. That doesn’t explain the latest bug, which I won’t spell out but only allude to by saying cranberry helps and hurts. I’m only ranting about my tragedies in the hope that someone out there will be moved enough by my pathetic state to donate towards the charity I’m trying to support this coming Sunday...hint, hint ;) 

On a positive note, classes are now underway! 8 hours of Welsh lessons and I can officially call someone an idiot, say I’m taking the dog for a walk and ask you for your phone number and where you’re going for a meal tonight. All very useful ;) (Twpsyn; Dwi’n mynd i ci am dro;  Beth yw’ch rhif ffon? Ble wyt ti’n mynd i bryd o fwyd heno?). I’ve also attended one history seminar, which was very basic and informal, but full of potentially interesting people. However, the evening prior to this I attended a small video link seminar during which time two senior members of faculty from my department did that infamous slumbering head bob.  I’m hoping this indiscretion on their parts buys me a bit of credit when my turn comes, because given my recent schedule and current condition it’s only a matter of time.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Bit of an epic week

I’d have to say that this past week has been an eventful one, and fortunately everything except the cold that kicked in this afternoon has been quite positive.

1.       I’m gainfully employed. On Thursday whilst preparing for a job fair I received a call from Arch Anglez with an offer of a part time position in their central office. They have several beauty counters in Debenhams and Boots around England and Wales and need help with their daily operations. They’re really nice people, the pay isn’t rock bottom and it’s a cool company. I started the job today, and so far it seems like a decent gig.

2.       First proper electric practice with the band. We plugged the Panda in and things are sounding pretty fantastic. We rehearsed in an old former church on the grounds of a defunct mental hospital in Carmarthen (BC isn’t alone apparently). The inside is elaborately decorated with brickwork apparently done by former inmates. It looks more like a tube station than a church, except for the dusty pews and old pipe organ. Musically, it’s so great to hear songs written over the past year come to life, hear with the boys have been working on and what they bring to the material that’s already there. We all left feeling pretty exhilarated. Now we just need a proper singer and a vocals certainly won’t do!

3.       I moved into residence, albeit one day late thanks to some bad chicken eaten by my chauffeur. Fortunately his lovely parents drove me there the following day. Operation De-Dormify is now nearly complete thanks to a new area rug, mirrors and drapes. Only 3 of the 6 rooms in my flat are occupied, but both occupants are very sweet.

4.       And last but not least I ran my second half marathon in record time, which isn’t that difficult when the first one was run with an injury and on very little sleep. There were only about 100 runners and the run started with a samba-led parade from Pembroke castle, down the high street to the start line and took us along stunning coastline, lovely rolling hedge-rowed farmland, ancient castles and wooded groves. The downhill bits led to angry IT band that made me almost drop out halfway, but a bit of a walk and a lucky dose of Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen from one of the Race Marshall’s car stereos helped.

This coming week will include registering for my courses, working, band artwork, a Pink Floyd and hearing a song I wrote played for the first time on BBC Radio Cymru (C2)

That, in a wordy nutshell, is that....aaaaaaaaaand scene.