The Adventures of Duffleboy

In which our hero, recovering from illness, travels to America and is supposed to get well again before carrying on with the humdrum of life.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Phone Conversation Overhead in Greenwich Village

I was walking toward the subway one day in Greenwich Village when a woman passed me in the street. She was in her fifties but I knew she was older because the extent of her cosmetic surgery made her look so scary she was obviously much older than her face and breasts implied. The old hag was tottering down the street in her stilettos and mini skirt while attached to the leash she tugged at periodically in her right hand was the smallest dog in the world, squeaking at passers by as its tiny windpipe was choked by what looked like a collar in a Burberry check. Over her left shoulder was a Prada bag (of course), a large one of course, because that is what is current for the season, and her left hand was held up to her ear, holding a mobile phone in which she was talking, nay shouting.

You must remember that I took in this scene in only a few seconds. Whatever the conversation was it was clearly important stuff and whoever was on the other end of the line was getting an earful as it was one of those conversations where you don't really need a verbal exchange, you just need someone to hear what you're saying. This is what I heard;

'... my shrink says I should just leave him... '

And with that she was past me, with dog half running half being dragged through the crowd of New Yorkers. Priceless.

An Interview With Athelia Woolly

Athelia Woolly sits opposite me across a small table in Cafe Mozart on 70th Street in New York City. The location was Athelia's choice, selected because it is 'very NYC', though I am still at a loss as to what 'very NYC' actually means. She tells me they usually have live music playing but this afternoon we have been spared the string quartet in favour of a very young looking waiter who raises his eyebrow at my scruffy attire and sweated brow which has been permanently coated with the dews of heaven since my arrival on the east coast.

I am late and blame the subway, the successful navigation of which is some bizarre New York rite of passage. There are no maps in the stations or the platforms, no one is around to help you, the ticket machines accept only those forms of payment that you do not currently possess and the trains do not seem to follow the map which I have been carrying around in my sweaty little palm these last few days. Apparently the man responsible for overhauling NYC's public transit was hired by Red Ken to do a similar job in London and when I asked Spencer precisely what he did in order to get the London job he smiled and said 'Perhaps he learned from his mistakes'. That would be a comforting thought if it were true, but it's not, the Central Line has a public safety record that would rival Chernobyl's infamous nuclear power station for its comedy of errors.

For those that do not know Athelia, she studied Dance at school (and in her living room) in London for a year way back in 2001-02 but came down with a mystery illness which facilitated her intimate experience with British health care. We have had sporadic contact since then but seeing as we were in the same city at the same time we thought it would be a good idea to meet and swap sickness stories.

Alex Drago: So what happened after you left home?

Athelia Woolly: I went home and was laid up for about a year.

AD: Did the doctors find anything?

AW: Not at first. I had all kinds of tests and saw all kinds of specialists. They would find something wrong with me and then treat that and then I'd get worse so they'd do more tests, then they'd find something else wrong and treat that while also treating the other thing. In the end they found three things wrong with me so I'm the only person on the earth who has this particular combination of things wrong with me.

AD: You sound like an episode of House. Did you almost die before they found out what was wrong with you?

AW: Not quite, but I did lose 40lbs and my skin turned yellow.

AD: Are you sure you weren't drinking too much Sunny D? How did they turn it around?

AW: I can only eat certain things and then I have to inject myself every day. It's quite a ritual. I also have to go to this health clinic every few months.

AD: Blimey Charlie! Where is that?

AW: It's in Mexico.

AD: Is that so you can't sue them if anything goes wrong?

AW: Yeah, pretty much.

AD: So what do you do when you're there?

AW: They do more tests and stuff.

AD: Do they make you eat certain stuff to detox?

AW: Sprouts. (For our British readers this means cress and not the little round things you are obliged to eat on Christmas Day)

AD: That's all!?

AW: Yeah... and olive oil. If you're too skinny they make you drink olive oil.

AD: Are there different forms of sprouts?

AW: Oh yeah, loads! My mum grows it at home now.

AD: Don't tell me, she's converted the basement into a carpet of sprouts?

AW: Not exactly. Sometimes she comes with me to the clinic as my support but she's still only allowed to eat sprouts and olive oil like everyone else.

AD: That would be hard work. She must really love you, especially as a Mormon mum. So how are you doing now?

AW: Much better, I'm about to finish up grad school and then travel with my family to the Galapagos Islands and then I'll come back and look for a job.

AD: Going to follow in the footsteps of Darwin are we?

AW: Nah, it's a beach holiday.

AD: Did you find your illness totally changed your relationships with people?

AW: Yeah, basically. People just don't really understand what it's like, you can be fine one minute and then the next you're so exhausted you can barely move. I tried dating people and they said they understood but they basically didn't. It's not really fair on anyone.

AD: I had that. Once one person came up to me and asked why I looked so tired and so I explained and they just didn't get it.

AW: What did they say?

AD: They told me they had been so sick once they had to take 4 days off work. That forced me to to stifle a chuckle let me tell you.

AW: That's funny.

AD: Yeah, I found that all my relationships changed cos I just didn't have the energy to do simple things like holding down a conversation. Social occasions were very draining for me and nowadays I feel weird when I am out with people.

AW: Why?

AD: It just feels quite unnatural cos I spent so much time on my own. I used to go to Church and manage about 20 mins of Priesthood before I was too tired to follow what was going on. I'd then skip Sunday School and fall asleep in Sacrament Meeting. That was the extent of my social life. I was dating someone when I first got ill but she dumped me. She didn't think I was ill at all, she thought I didn't like her anymore and was feigning illness to avoid the real issue. There's logic there somewhere I'm sure.

AW: What did the doctors suggest you should do?

AD: My GP told me I had to live my life in 30 minute segments. I was supposed to do light work for 30 minutes, then read a book or listen to music for 30 minutes, then lie down in a darkened room for 30 minutes. And I was supposed to do that all day. I said I was self employed and it wasn't gonna happen.

AW: So you just carried on working?

AD: Yup. Not much else I could do really. I struggled along for another 18 months and then I got food poisoning and it wiped me out for six weeks instead of a couple of days. It was then that I decided to take the six month break. Do you ever get frustrated about being ill?

AW: Yes, but I used to get more frustrated when I had a good day and the next day I was bad again. I'd get so angry then.

AD: I know what you mean. It's like you're back to normal and then it's taken from you. Did you manage to keep your spirituality up?

AW: Not really. I did feel the spirit yesterday at Church for the first time in a long time. Not an overwhelming experience but enough to recognise it.

AD: I am jealous. One of the things I have really struggled with is how you're supposed to maintain your spirituality when you're not strong enough to do the things you're supposed to do to maintain your spirituality in the first place. If you're too tired to even concentrate it's hard to do anything productive cos you just exist on a day to day basis, you basically just try to make it through the day.

AW: Yeah, I know what you mean, but it's good that you took the time off and put it right.

AD: Indeed. I feel much better now and am looking forward to getting back to London. I just feel it's time to get on with life again.

The rest of the conversation was filled with the normal types of catching up in the Mormon world... who married who, who's dating who, who has gone totally insane, so I won't bore you with the details. After we finished at Cafe Mozart Athelia gave me a lesson in Vitamin shopping at the local health food store before she left me, map in hand, to navigate my way on the New York subway once again.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Pearl of Great Price - Work in Progress

Since being back in London I have been working on a project called The Standard Works. This involves photographing every page of the standard works and then laying them all on top of each other to make one photo for the Book of Mormon, one for the Doctrine & Covenants, one for the Pearl of Great Price, one for the Old Testament and yes, you've guessed it, one for the New Testament.

Here is the finished Pearl of Great Price photo. I must confess I'm not looking forward to the Bible part of this project.

New York Young Men Portraits

Young Spencer Jensen, being quite the linguist and something of a capable lad, serves on the Young Men's Presidency in the Spanish speaking ward, so I volunteered a few hours to spend some time with the group so that they could plan and take some portraits before I left for Seattle.

Alas, it was raining proverbials, and no one had a key to the chapel but like true professionals, we carried on in the rain anyway. I've worked in many schools in London but have never met such great characters like these boys. The brothers in particular had a great attitude and are truly a credit to their parents.

Juliet & Alex go for a Bike Ride

On Juliet's birthday we decided to go for a bike ride up the Hudson River and so, after hiring some rather sensible looking bikes we set off, stopping in certain strategic places so Juliet could indulge her theatrical tendencies by climbing up an assortment of structures. Here she is, happy as larry, twenty feet up attracting stupid comments from the crazy folk that lived under the bridge.

I, on the other hand, continued to indulgence my peculiar preference for weird photos, taking this splendid picture of a yellow thing.

We cycled for about 90 mins North and stopped at this bridge where I went for a walk down the river and found a softball in the water which, after drying it out, is now with me in London. Juliet thought it was horrible. There was some weird light on the river which created some interesting shadows.

The Narrows

On my last Saturday in Utah Gian, Andrea, Shalene and I went to the narrows in Zion's National Park where we essentially walked upstream in a freezing river while avoiding Russian tourists. Andrea, being the shortest, was practically swept away by the flowing rapids, while i almost lost any future hope of children (if I ever find a wife) it were so cold. For some reason I wore a daft hat, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time, like Monetarism in the 80s or voting for John Major in 1992.

On the way down Shalene and I were treated to the story of how Gian and Andrea ended up wed which, like most things involving Gian, was a tale worthy of Jerome K Jerome. On the way back Gian insisted we tell him all about the houses we wanted to live in when we were grown up, which he then psychoanalyzed and interpreted on our behalf. My Georgian terrace on the outskirts of Blackheath was considered a somewhat conservative option, arguably the only time I have ever been called conservative in my whole life. If I ever got to Blackheath I would be neighbours with Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen, star of endless make over programmes on the beeb. (If you would like to read all about LLB then click on the title and you will go to his website. Just look, he has a kid called Hermione - and before Harry Potter!)

The Narrows, like all of the national park was simply stunning, so many browns and reds (arguably the new purple) and I'm sorry to say my photos simply do not give such a beautiful landscape justice. Timothy O'Sullivan must be turning in his grave. Sorry Tim.

Quintessentially British Things

Towards the end of my sojourn in the good ol' USA I started to maintain a list of quintessentially British things that would never have emerged from the american cultural melee. I don't really know what makes them uniquely British but perhaps that is the mystical attraction. Deconstructions on a postcard to the usual address.

Reeves & Mortimer
Former pig farmer Vic Reeves meets lawyer Bob Mortimer in Teeside and several years later they rule the British comedy scene with their take on surrealism as portrayed in Vic Reeves' Big Night Out, The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer and Shooting Stars. While they owe a debt to Monty Python their brand of humour is more accessible, poking fun at all and sundry as opposed to Python's obsession with the middle classes.

Sherlock Holmes
I'll wager there is no man on earth who can give such camp lessons in gentlemanly conduct as the great private detective. Even Batman must bow in the face of such grace under pressure... delicious.

Jangly Guitar Pop That No One Buys
The Beatles, The Stones, The Sex Pistols, New Order, The Stone Roses, Oasis and definitely not Coldplay. Britain has produced some of the greatest guitar bands to ever grace a distortion pedal. However, there is also a great history of jangle guitar pop in Britain, great but twee guitar pop that no one listened to and fewer people ever bought. Here are three of the finest that never made it but should have.

Liverpool's Shack are the band that should have been huge but never quite made it due to a complex mix of substance abuse, record company blues, no one really buying their records and the media completely being unable to place them in a genre. Like so many great pop bands before and after they will remain on the outskirts of the scene until the scene shifts and they suddenly become centre stage. Jest ye not, remember Pulp? I saw them in 92 when they supported Cud on their Leggy Mambo tour and Cud are simply a footnote in the pop music annals. Let me hear you say it... my cup of tear doesn't taste the same when she's with me.

The Railway Children
The Manchester tag did little to help them break through to mainstream popularity despite last ditch efforts to shed their jangly pop status in favour of the madchester bandwagon in 1991. I don't care what anyone says, their Native Place album had more jangle than Jimmy Somerville's entire jewellery collection.

Trash Can Sinatras
Scotland's Trash Can Sinatras have been through the wars. Signed to indie Go Records the future looked bright but everyone was too interested in Grunge to take notice. After 3 albums the band were dropped and they went bankrupt, only to storm back an amazing 8 years later with Weightlifting, a sweet and inisightful album about the end of relationships. Lead singer Frank Reader is the brother of folk singer Eddi Reader and what fun they must've had singing round the fireside back in the day. Percussionist is really going for it, tho, don't you think? Sublime.

Look out for more quintessentially British culture a little later in the blog.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Comparative Bathroom Study

I generally don't go around taking much of an interest in bathrooms but I did come across two most interesting wash houses, one at the girl's house in Washington and the other at Spencer's in New York.

This is the girl's bathroom.
Pros include a very large shower cubicle and seat.
Cons include this rather tasteless tile portraying a deer looking very happy about having his/her flesh torn from his/her back by a very large maned tiger. See the blood utilised for violent effect?

This is Spencer's bathroom.
Pros include being amused that the bath is too small for a dirty ewok to be able to confortably lick his fur in and being able to see the next door neighbour wandering around her flat naked while talking to her cat.
Cons include utilising said bath and Spencer pointing out that the next door neighbour is actually a bit muntin'.

Ummm... sorry

After being told off about a squillion times for leaving everyone high and dry with an incomplete retelling of the Adventures of Duffleboy I have finally given in to peer pressure and will post some of the interesting highlights from my final few weeks in New York and Seattle. This will be difficult as I took about 5 pictures in New York and not many more in Seattle owing to the ridiculous humidity that wiped me out from dawn till dusk.

More will follow...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cloud Study, 7th June 2006, Washington DC

National Gallery

The National Gallery here is amazing, probably larger than the one in London, and has a very impressive collection of art from the Renaissance onwards. Like most galleries with old pictures in them, tho, it still smells like someone died in there. I have spent most of my time in the photographic collection, gazing over some Atget prints, which are simply amazing. I also enjoyed the French, British and American collections from the 19th century.

Is it just me, or does this man have a huge head?

Democracy Starts Here

I went to see the American Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the other one that I can't remember the name of, last week. I was amused to find this sign declaring 'Democracy Starts Here'.

Now I am no historian but I'm not stupid. I know for example that Plato, who is about the only Greek philosopher who doesn't share his name with a Brazilian footballer from the 1980s, wrote The Republic which underlined democratic principles and considering that he died in 327BC, that's a long time ago. Turns out Iceland established a democratic parliament in 930AD which, except for a 50 year or so break (1799-1844) after Iceland's union with Norway, has been running continually. The British Parliament has been going since 1265AD. Perhaps we should really be celebrating New Zealand's achievement? They were the first nation to give women a voting franchise in 1893.

Anyway, it was fun to see these historic documents. Alas, I didn't see Nicolas Cage stealing it or pouring lemon juice over it and heating it with a hairdryer like in that film. Come to think of it, I never understood how the Knights Templar's treasure ever ended up in America in that film. It was strangely absent from the narrative, a bit like the evolution of democracy from the National Archives here in Washington DC.

God is a Superhero

America is a very religious place and at this local church there seems to be some concern as to how to attract kids to religious summer school. I suppose presenting God as a superhero is one way around it, but I keep trying to imagine the conversation between parents and kids.

Kid: So God is like a superhero?

Parent: Yes. Except he doesn't wear a cape and he doesn't really save you at the last moment, well sometimes he does but he'll get someone else to help you or he might change some things to work out best for you, but he won't appear and save you. Sometimes he won't help you at all and will leave you all alone, but that's for your own good cos you'll be stronger if you're left to do it by yourself, but you don't appreciate it till a long time after.

Kid: I don't understand.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Things I have Learned Watching The World Cup In America

Watching the World Cup in America is a very different experience from watching it in Britain. Here is my list of observations;

1, No other nation except the USA has a national anthem. In fact, I forgot that national anthems were even played until the Czech Republic v USA game and even then the Czech anthem was sacrificed for a Hyundai advert.

2, Commentary is shockingly bad... 'there's Michael Beckham who's married to Victoria Posh'. The commentators are worse than Alan Partridge and clearly footie is not their speciality. They have this Irish commentator who is terrible, like every bad Irish stereotype rolled into one; bad jokes, rambling stories, irrelevent comments, etc.

3, 'Coverage' does not include any analysis. No job for Alan Hansen here!

4, The typical punter's rant is 'I don't understand why they just don't do better!'

5, Fielding a team of mediocre players is not going to allow you to beat the Czech Republic, no matter how much you hype it up and have a fat, bearded Eric Cantona rooting for you.

6, Italy always has the best shirts. Apparently their shirts now have extra padding to cope with all that diving and rolling about in mock agony.

7, If the English team ever played with the same passion that their fans exhibited on the terraces they would do very well, but we all know that while the English team knock the ball about better under Sven they seem to have lost their will to win.

8, Women footballers, no matter how much make-up you put on them, will always look butch.

9, The days of the footballer's mullet are now over.

10, If I bought the stuff that was advertised at half time I would drive a Hyundai, use T-Mobile and Vonage to make calls, eat at Taco Bell, drink Budweiser and Guinness, wear adidas and watch Direct TV, who incidentally will give you a free DVD player if you sign up... so you don't have to watch Direct TV. Thankfully, I don't.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Masks From Sugimoto's History of History Exhibition

As part of my ongoing cultural rehabilitation I visited the Freer Gallery, a smaller and more manageable gallery displaying a range of trinkets from the far east as well as a very fine collection of Whistler paintings.

Sugimoto's History of History exhibition is a collecton of objects, paintings and prints that reflect Sugimoto's obsession with the passage of time. I'd rather it have just been a collection of his own long exposure prints as they were rather scarce on the ground, but what do I know anyway? These masks took my interest.

The Whitehouse

I visited the Whitehouse the other day and made another one of those montages like what I did with the Provo Temple. By some small miracle I didn't grab the attention of some law enforcement agency, small mercies and all that.


I am a man. I am proper man shape. I am 6'2", weigh 220lbs and have UK size 10 feet. I have a very broad back and do not have man breasts. In all of my years, no one has ever called me a pretty boy. I don't look like David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Boy George or Tilda Swinton. Bear this in mind while you read.

This morning I was out running, i wore shorts and a tshirt and so my hairy white man legs and slightly tanned hairy man arms were very much in evidence. I do not run like a girl because I am a man. Given my man shape running is not that easy for me, I generally don't get blown about when a lorry passes me because there is a lot of me.

As I was running a car pulled up beside me, the window came down and a middle aged man looking a little like Lord Winston revealed himself. He had the same bushy moustache, no neck and ridiculous steel rimmed spectacles. He looked at me as he spoke.

'Excuse me ma'am.'

I was silent. And then he tried again.

'Excuse me ma'am. Can you tell me where June Street is please?'

I was so surprised that he had called me ma'am twice that all I could do was politely tell him I was on holiday and didn't know where anything was. With that he tutted and drove off leaving me with my manlike frame to carry on with my exercise punishment.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

FBI Police

Canadia have their mounted police, Britain has their Bobby on the beat and America, so I discovered last night, has the... erm... FBI Police who are eqipped with state of the art bicycles.

I know this because i sat in a state of slight bemusement last night watching a bunch of fresh faced recruits being taught how cycle up steps. They started on 1 step, before moving to the slightly taxing 2 step variant before progressing on to the punishing 3 step routine. There was one dismount on the 2 step but no serious injuries were sustained. I would have taken a picture but every time I get my camera out these days I get stopped by the police so I left it in my bag just to be on the safe side.

'Unique' Cathedral

Last Saturday Cristy took me to Georgetown, complete with its gorgeous town houses and, a little further up the hill, the National Cathedral, conceived at the turn of the 20th century and finally completed in 1990. According to the blurb it is a unique building and not based on any other building that has ever existed. As is evident by the photos 'unique' in this context means 'exactly the same as the cathedrals that are on every street corner in England'.

The afternoon we were there also happened to be the graduation for St Alban's Prep School, the high school education choice for the Washington elite. This basically meant that there were marauding gangs of spotty oik teenagers being very loud, jumping about in their tassled slip-on shoes, ill-fitting cream chinos and blue blazers, all the time being herded about by their tanned, skinny mothers with false breasts and fat bellied lawyer fathers who have enjoyed several business lunches a week too many for the last ten years, all under the watchful gaze of indifferent grandparents. Cristy and I had a short exchange which went something like this;

Me : 'These are the type of people I hate.'
Cristy : 'Didn't you go to a school like that?'
Me : 'Exactly.'

Stained glass windows look great tho, don't they?

The Mall

The Mall is the big bit of grass and stuff that you always see on the movies. There are no shops there. On one end is the Capitol Building and three miles down the gentle incline is the Lincoln Monument. In the middle is lots of grass, the Washington Monument (the giant phallic) and the World War 2 monument which for reasons unknown, wasn't finished until a few years ago. On either side are an excellent collection of museums and galleries and this is where I have been spending most of my time in my quest for cultural rehabilitation.

I'm not ashamed to say I got the State Capitol confused with The Whitehouse.

There's only so many ways you can photograph a tall needle-like structure.

This is part of the WW2 monument. Each star represents a certain number of Americans that died during the war but I couldn't find out how many.

I fully expected Forest Gump to run across the lake but it was obviously not meant to be.

The Korean War Monument. It was quite erie actually and more so if you stumbled on it at night when it was foggy and they took the fence down so you wouldn't trip over before you got to the figures.

I liked the Lincoln Monument and it seems a fitting structure for a giant of a man.

Music What I Keep Hearing

I keep hearing the same songs everywhere I go in America. That would not be strange in itself if it were current chart topping pop songs but they're not, they're all stuff from the 80s. And then to go from one side of the country to the other and hear the same songs smacks of something, but i'm not sure what. The offending artists in question are;

Gloria Estefan and her Miami Sound Machine, most notably that one that goes '1-2-3-4 come on baby say you love me, 5-6-7 times, 8-9-10-11 I'm just gonna keep on counting until you are mine'. What do you suppose Gloria is doing now? Or more to the point, what about the Miami Sound Machine. Didn't she just ditch them and go out on her own. Does the Miami Sound Machine still meet in a bar in Miami, huddled around a bottle of JD, united in their bitterness of Gloria Estefan and talking about how badly they were done to?

Go West - The King of Wishful Thinking. You remember that Go West video for We Close Our Eyes? For some reason the singer is dressed either as a mechanic or he pre-empts Bruce Willis from the first Die Hard movie as he struts around the screen with his white vest, bulging pecs and large wrench. I can understand the first two but the wrench, now really, there's no need. I was about 12 when that song came out and being of something of a sensitive disposition I found him a bit threatening and was the main factor in my move toward harmless indie-tweedom (probably).

That one with that bloke's strained vocal 'Take these broken wings... and learn to fly...'. That's the kind of song you always hear and can't get out of your head. For the last few weeks i'va had the annoying keyboard sound that goes 'ding, ding, ding' between 'wings' & 'and' stuck in my frontal lobes.