Friday, December 30, 2011

fluctuations on the festive front

I am very fortunate that I have lived almost 59 years before having a bad Christmas.

The buildup and preparations for the big day were wonderful and full of the spirit, so that is coming back to me now in the aftermath, however this 25th of December put me into an emotional tailspin.

It was the first Christmas I have ever worked and I thought I was prepared for it. The hotel is usually only half full with groups of pensioners staying for three to four days and physically not demanding. However it went rather sour quickly -- upon asking what time lunch was that day we were told by our supervisor that there was none.

What? You're joking surely -- we were still to be working a full day, and it was, well, Christmas. As well the coffee vending machine, which serves excellent drinks, was dry on Christmas Eve and stayed that way until the 28th of December. After a frenzied time the supervisor informed us that someone in the kitchen fried (overfried) bacon and we could have bacon sandwiches on the gummy white bread of which the British are overly fond.

An hour after finishing a rushed meal we were cleaning rooms and informed that, in fact, we were supposed to be only doing the 'bare basics' in order to leave extra early. This may sound as if it should have been good news, and may have been if we had been told before beginning our shift. At this point it made no sense that we had stopped for a meal, and the joy of doing of a job well done and at a rare, sensible pace was stripped away.

I cried walking through empty streets on the way home and as I passed through the University of Cardiff campus was rescued from a full-blown sense of isolation by a blessedly-timed Christmas call from my brother Kevin and his family. So wonderful and so wonderfully timed. It did not escape me that if I had still been at work I would have missed the call.
On Boxing Day nothing opened. As Christmas fell on a Sunday, the bank holidays were extended until Tuesday, so it wasn't until Wednesday that people began to appear on the streets and stores opened, albeit with half-empty shelves. I don't remember last Christmas being so desolate and quiet, though I was probably just happily relaxing in my flat. It was actually worse, I think, because I was out and about and no one else was.

I am very glad life is getting back to normal again. I work New Year's Day, cleaning up hotel rooms after the big celebration for my first time, and will be even gladder once the New Year is in full swing. Last year I attended the fireworks at City Hall which was a wonderful gathering and great way to begin the New Year. I would like to attend it again this year but not if it is raining, and at this time the forecast is predicting unholy weather.

On the up side I have been bathing myself in whatever uplifting films or programs have passed the TV screen. One of my all-time favourites, The Wizard of Oz, appeared on the bleak British landscape just in time for me as it did for Dorothy of Kansas. The Muppet Christmas was one of the rare versions of Dickens' classic Christmas Carol programmed for Yuletide viewing this year or last. In fact it has been difficult to find Christmas-related films at all and I think I won't see It's A Wonderful Life or Shirley Temple's Heidi until I return to N. America.

I have viewed five Rocky's on five consecutive nights, and though hardly what I would call holiday fare, have come away with an abiding respect for Mr. Sylvester Stallone and his many talents.

And, I have discovered two gems. Son of Rambow, a 2007 British movie about two young boys making a film, is an absolute delight filled with rare, innocent, true performances by the two young leads and universal truths wisely observed by the screenwriter and director. Brilliant. Also on the feel-good front and a prop person's delight is the recent BBC adaptation of The Borrowers.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


A few weeks ago our housekeeping department had an evening out after our Secret Santa exchange of gifts and an afternoon of food and games. It was scheduled to be a late afternoon of karoake at the Vulcan Pub (not to be confused with the popular Vulcan Lounge).

Only a few blocks from our hotel we went to a dimesize establishment standing in the midst of a parking lot like a forgotten soul, forlornly facing the stylized glass-faced Atrium college across the street.

I'm not sure I have ever been in such an old pub. I probably have, as so much in the UK has been around for hundreds of years, but you could feel the creak in this place. The crooked rooms, the thick wooden-slabbed floors, the soiled walls all cried out in a strange, cozy welcome. Where have ya been? We've kept the place going for you. Are you alright?

The proprietors through the years have barely kept it going. The Vulcan has been facing demolition for years and an online petition hopes to dissuade the landowners from wiping it away to create eleven more parking spots.

The tiny front room with a piano in one corner and probably only five tables besides a few wall lounges leads to another room behind the bar in which the pool table just fits, surrounded by magnificent ceiling-high wall seats and an old unused fireplace. A jukebox from the 70s hangs on the wall leading to the gents' toilets. One of the women in our group suddenly goes through the door. Oh, it's alright, she says, that's where the smoking is. The men's toilets are half outdoors with the wooden doors opening to the elements.

Beyond the pool room is yet another smaller room filled with books and games for obstensibly quieter entertainments and at the end of the reading room is the ladies' toilet, which is completely indoors with no smoking allowed.

As some of us sit around the pool table I feel pleasantly at home, as if I'm in the basement hideaway of friends or an old Polish church hall wedding celebration. As we continually duck our heads and drinks to avoid the pool players and their sticks, I feel as if I'm waiting for some shy, gallant gent to ask me to dance.

A blackboard on the opposite wall outlines the names and numbers of food establishments where you can order take-out and eat it in the Vulcan.

The karoake that was supposed to start at 4 p.m. still hasn't begun at 7 p.m. as the Wii version the owners were going to use apparently had a meltdown and they were on the hunt for another system. After interminable pool games and 70s songs on the jukebox the karoake began in the front room. So bad. Only one of the microphones worked properly, the words were too small for most of us to see, and no one could sing. So bad that it was hilarious. A few people from 'outside' came into the pub which certainly felt like our own and it was good to welcome them into this wacky, headache-inducing scene.

I've definitely developed a soft spot for this old place. Cheers! or as the Welsh say: Iechyd Da!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Fright Night

Trying to channel Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly for hotel's Fright Night
(I don't think the employee change room is successfully passing for Tiffany's)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

keeping warm

It is December already and I've finished my Christmas shopping and have all my parcels mailed off to Canada and the U.S. Amazingly, instead of the usual six weeks, I've been informed one of the packages has arrived at its destination within a week's time. It must have had its own wings.

This upcoming Tuesday afternoon we are having our Secret Santa party for the hotel's housekeeping department. Everyone brings a wrapped present under £3 and a dish of some kind and after the festivities we are heading to a bar for some karoake. I am informed we have some real singers in our group, of which I am sadly not (a singer).

Finally this week, after a month of sporadic heating problems and two weeks of  no heat, I have a warm flat. It is seldom cold here like a Canadian winter but because of the constant dampness and a ground floor corner apartment with concrete floors and little insulation, it can feel as cold. Because my heat was only working when it felt like it, instead of on the timer as it was supposed to do, and because it naturally worked the first time the plumber came to fix it, I was being patronized by my landlord and plumber.

Even though I worked the easy system perfectly fine last winter, they didn't believe I had a problem even when the plumber arrived following a totally heatless week and I greeted him in three layers of woollens, a hat and scarf. He turned the system on and it worked! I said, it won't stay on -- it will probably go off in half an hour. Fortunately, he stuck around. After 15 minutes the heat died. It took him awhile, but he found not one, but at least two problems.

So now I have heat! Having no heat, fighting an unrelated head cold at the same time, and wondering if the boiler's problems and the presence of the plumber would ever happily coincide is very wearing. I didn't realize until after Roger, the amazing and genial plumber and part-time DJ, married to a woman who taught in Medicine Hat, Alberta for years, plumbed the problem that I had been a deeply unhappy camper. I had been able to sleep well in all my layers, but I also had visions of me living like that for months.

All's well with heat!