Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Phileas Fogg is a fat bastard

Not so much a Science Blog, mosre personal one, but it's interesting I think.

A number of people have been asking about some of my more surreal sounding comments regarding my experiences of late. Allow me to enlighten you as to the antics I got up to, the weekend before last.

I was at home. not home in Cardiff, home home, in the Garw valley, where I spent 18 years of my life, leaving occasionally only to buy things that, incredibly, weren't available in the 8 shops we had there. And once or twice to get drunk where nobody knew me, but seeing as everyone else I knew did the same thing at the same time, this never really worked out.

Basically, on the weekend of the 22nd of August was the legendary annual Garw Valley carnival (est. 2006). An event which, literally, draws the entire valley together in a fun celebration. This isn't me being cynical or sarcastic, that genuinely happens. Since it's establishment in 2006, the carnival has grown every year, to the point where I worry that if the trend continues it'll get to he point where all of the valley's limited population will be part of the procession and no-one will get to see the whole thing. Which begs the question, if a carnival takes place and nobody sees it, does it still happen? Yes, it does.

You'd probably thing that, as an almost doctor of Neuroscience and aspiring cynical stand-up comedian, I'm not the sort of person who'd take part in carnivals. And usually, you'd be right, but you're not aware of the complete facts.

The carnival was first established and has since been organised, promoted and effectively controlled by my own dear mother. She puts her all into it, she (voluntarily) spends at least 6 months of every year setting up the carnival. The other 6 months she spends complaining about having too much to do, while stopping my little brother from doing alarming things like joining the army, or hacking into NASA. Logically, she must sleep at some point, but I'll believe it when I see it.

So, my mother urns it, and as a dutiful son, I know how much it means to her and can't refuse when she asks me to be part of it. Again.

This years theme was The Victorian era. She explained it all to me one night on the phone, but did mention that they were having difficulty finding somewhere to store the dinosaurs. I did do a brief pause at this, before asking my mother exactly how long ago she thinks the Victorian era was. I was answered with a knowing smirk and the words "Ah, Jules Verne!". I still don't get it, but didn't pursue it further.

One of the carnival sections was 'Around the World in 80 days'. Fair enough. As part of this, there was going to be a few groups representing different countries and cultures. My mam asked if Vanita and I would represent India. This makes sense, Vanita is an actual Indian, and we have access to a fair amount of actual genuine Indian attire, I even have my own Kaftan-type top from India, courtesy of my mother-in-law. You could even argue, as mam did, that I'm Indian by marriage. You may be right. But I don't look it. So on the day of the carnival, the Indian procession was headed up by a lovely young glamorous Indian woman in traditional attire, and what appeared to be a fat pasty-white balding bloke in a stripy nightshirt.

We got ready in my mothers house, round the corner form where it was meant to start. As we were leaving, there were a bunch of children sat outside out neighbours house, also dressed up for the carnival's 'around the world' section. They represented the Wild West. They were native Americans. Or, as they are also known, 'Indians'. This led to the following exchange.

"Hi kids, what are you dressed as?"

"Duh, Indians!"

"No, we're Indians"

This was followed by an awkward pause, which I was convinced would end in a dance-off, Bhangra vs Tribal. Would have been awesome, but instead we just wandered down to meet everyone else.

I was assured the carnival would start at 12.30pm. We arrived at 12.05pm. We were late. It was at this point that I was informed that, apart from the pipe band, myself and the wife would actually be leading the carnival. I don't like that sort of attention, but I was willing to do it. I was also then informed we'd be leading the procession while pulling a life size replica of Phileas Fogg, in a giant basket with balloons, on a cart. This was less reassuring. It wouldn't have been so bad, but the cart they were using to put the basket on was on loan from the local factory, was designed for shifting about a dozen palettes of heavy plastics and actually weighed more than me by itself, let alone when weighed down with a giant basket containing a life-size replica of fictional gentleman explorers.

The carnival route took us to the top of the valley, then down to a communal field. Total journey time at a slow walking pace, about an hour. An hour of pulling this dead weight, with the pressure of about 200 gaily dressed carnival folk following me. Vinny did her best to help, but as someone twice her size I really felt I had to do the most work.

Interesting point, the biggest crowd gathers to watch on Blaengarw square, the main thoroughfare on the carnival route and the location which offers the most space and best views. It's also where the steepest hill is. So for nearly a thousand people all eagerly waiting to see the carnival, the first thing they saw of the procession was a fat, balding, pasty-white red-faced, profusely sweating balding bloke in a stripy nightshirt, pulling a gaily dressed scarecrow in a basket with balloons attached.

Getting up that hill was no fun. Then when we reached a certain point, we had to get it down again. I have a lot of sympathy for Sisyphus.

Getting down was borderline deadly, there being no breaks on this cart and a steep hill to contend with. People waiting at the bottom of the hill for the carnival were greeted to the sight of me, coming down hill backwards, trying like hell to stop Phileas Fogg from rolling out of control and killing me and the pipe band.

Eventually we got it down to the field where the all-day fete was taking place. The extremely muddy field. We were supposed to drag Phileas across the field to the end point, but it was so muddy we realised this would be a futile, insane thing to do, and abandoned him behind a bouncy castle.

The rest of the day was lovely, if very muddy. Here are some highlights.

- Having to wash my feet after walking on ankle deep mud in flip flops.

- Seeing my Nan and her best friend dancing to 'World in union', dressed as old time maids or something.

- Free Burgers.

- Annoying the self advertised psychic when she kept asking where certain people where, which resulted in me muttering the word 'fraud' to myself rather loudly.

- Seeing an old, pissed schoolmate with a Swiss flag painted on his face, which I'm not sure he was aware of.

- Surprisingly clean portaloos.

- Myself, in my smart jacket and shirt, and my wife, in nice Indian attire, being put in charge of the food stall, becoming officially the most unlikely hot-dog vendors in history and freaking out quite a few pot-heads.

So yeah, that's what happened.


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