Hayjax is in Nottingham

This is what happens when you drop a Canadian into the East Midlands.

Archive for the ‘Cultural events’ Category

Easter in Nottingham

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This country does not mess around when it comes to Easter. I have never seen such wanton egg-buying in my life. I guess you mix English people’s two favourite things together—Christianity and milk chocolate—and it’s bound to result in an unseemly frenzy. People in Marks and Spencer were standing in line with five or six Easter eggs in their trolley. I am told that in this country, it’s quite acceptable for grown-ups to buy one another Easter eggs, an exotic cultural fact I passed on to my husband several times. He didn’t take the bait.

For some reason, chocolate Easter bunnies are not such a big thing here, and I missed the iconic sight of all those side-facing rabbits lined up along London Drug shelves, each with its single white icing eye staring out crazily. Chocolate rabbits always look homicidal, which is probably why biting their heads off is such a supreme pleasure. Take that, Hopsy McKill!  So, no bunnies but lots of very inventive riffs on the egg theme, including a Mr. Potatohead version from John Lewis which came with a handful of candy facial features and a tube of chocolate glue to stick them on with.  Which, wow, I can’t say enough things about how brilliant that is.  Other contenders include the rocket ship eggs and dead clown eggs.  Also brilliant.  And puzzling.

Other Easter surprises included the fact that the entire town shuts down for three days. Coming from a godless country where Christmas Day itself barely dents store opening hours, it was an eerie sensation to walk through the empty streets of downtown Nottingham, past shuttered shops and malls in an advanced state of lockdown. The only thing open that day was McDonald’s, probably because there’s only room for one Messiah at McDonald’s, and he wears floppy shoes.

I saw no egg-rolling, or “pace-egging,” which is supposed to be a big part of Easter festivities in this country. But I did find this really amusingly silly pace-egging song on Wikipedia:

Roodle oh my doddle oh
Roodle all the day
Now all you gay bachelors listen oh to me
Never get wed if you want to stay free
Billy cock, Billy cock
For who will boggle me gander
When I am far away?
Roodle oh my doddle oh
Roodle all the day

A message as relevant today as it was in times of yore. Aren’t we all wondering how our gander will get boggled when we’re far away, what with the increasing pressures of globalization and so forth?

The day after Easter is traditionally a time for sugar-dependent cheapskates like me to stock up on some deep-discount chocolatey merchandise. Since stores were still closed on Monday, I wandered into town today with the intention of getting me some cheap-ass eggs.  It’s an Easter ritual.  But lo, just as Jesus disappeared into the heavens three days after he died, so, too, did the chocolate Easter eggs vanished from the store shelves three days after Easter. It was spooky. Entire Easter wonderlands of chocolate had folded up and vanished overnight. Where did all the eggs go? Have they transubstantiated to a better and more ethereal realm? Or are they all being melted down to make next season’s Santas? It’s an Easter mystery.

Written by Hayden

April 6, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Merry Cashmas!

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Did you know the English have found a way to monetize snow?  Not the civilized way, by allowing people to ski on it, but by allowing them to bet on it.

Every year, thousands of British residents lay bets on whether it will snow on Christmas day.  The English will bet on anything that moves, and if it isn’t moving, they’ll slap a bet on the amount of time it takes to start moving again.  There are betting shops everywhere–one of them is called Ladbrokes, and when I made a joke about how it might be a bad idea to put the word “broke” in the name, I was coldly informed that it was pronounced “brook.”  Lesson being, don’t make fun of betting shops.  Or fruitcake, for that matter–don’t make fruitcake jokes unless you want the frosty shoulder. These twin pillars of British culture are sacrosanct.

There’s even a handy online map of the snow odds across the UK. Nottingham is currently 11/8 against, although we’re ankle-deep in the stuff at the moment.  Betting shop William Hill has announced they will have to pay out 1 million pounds to the punters if it’s a white Christmas.

Forums where people can talk about their White Christmas bets are springing up all over the Internet, a phenomenon called “snow-cial networking.” That’s not me making a bad pun, that’s an actual fact.

Obviously, this is bananas, but there is a kernel of wisdom in there somewhere.  I’m thinking we should have weatherpeople put their money where their mouths are.  It’s all very well to stand in front of a bluescreen wearing a sharp suit and making those vague, sweeping hand gestures at incomprehensible “weather systems.”  What if they had to bet fifty buck of their own scratch on the outcomes? Wouldn’t they take their own predictions a lot more seriously, and wouldn’t we feel a lot more reassured?  And wouldn’t we see them as more sympathetic creatures if we knew that every time we walked out of the house without an umbrella and got drenched, they would be feeling the pain along with us?  It’s win-win.  More accurate weather forecasts, more likeable weatherpeople.

Written by Hayden

December 21, 2009 at 1:34 pm

PowerPoint Karaoke

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Is this one of those situations where I let slip how humiliatingly out of touch I am by trying to introduce you to something that has already emerged, crested, appeared on Oprah and been mercilessly spoofed on Saturday Night Live?

SNL is still on the air, right?

Anyway, my Nottingham social group is hosting a PowerPoint Karaoke event next week, and I have to admit I had never heard of this executive/entertainment fusion before.  But having been introduced to it, I would like to claim the word “executainment” as my own.

Basically, contestants have to stand up and improvise on a series of random PowerPoint slides, with points given for: 1) content provision, 2) presentation style and 3) chutzpah.

Apparently, this competitive sport was invented by the Germans (insert tired joke about conformity and humourlessness here) in 2006.

The first annual BattleDecks PowerPoint Karaoke challenge, sponsored by Imation, was held in 2007.  The irony of an iconic corporate tool being subverted and then immediate co-opted by a corporate sponsor is sending my mind on a Klein bottle-shaped roller coaster ride but I guess that’s the new millennium for you. You can watch excerpts from the 2008 Challenge on Youtube.

Next up, Xtreme Excel Sport and MS Word Freestylin’.

Written by Hayden

December 9, 2009 at 6:37 pm

These people know how to burn stuff.

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Guy Fawkes bonfire

Wow. Just… Wow.

Coming from Vancouver, where you pretty much need a municipal permit to make toast, I couldn’t believe last night’s Guy Fawkes bonfire. It was total, delicious, irresponsible mayhem. I came home covered in heat rash, reeking of smoke and gibbering about the Rapture.

This wasn’t a few bags of leaves jumpstarted with a presto-log. This was a towering mound of wood doused with gasoline and prodded into a roaring inferno by burly men carrying torches. The heat it gave off, even from 30 feet away, was stifling. Billows of smoke, studded with glittering sparks, twisted themselves into tornado-like columns and menaced the crowd. Renegade flames tore themselves from the pack and leapt into the air. The fire turned white at its centre, then an eerie, incandescent grey.

Flames, when they’re that high, act like nothing you’ve ever seen inside a cozy, domestic fireplace. They lap like water, billow like clouds, make crazy faces like a devil baby. They start building elaborate, molten pagodas against the sky and then smash their own creation to smithereens in a fit of pique, scattering charred fragments and glowing embers. The bonfire threw its image against the windows of nearby houses, making it look as though they, too, were spontaneously erupting in flames.

It took more than an hour to wear itself out, at which point, a display of manmade fireworks tried and miserably failed to improve on nature’s terrible beauty.

More iPhone photos on Flickr.

Written by Hayden

November 6, 2009 at 10:14 pm

The Fawkes Rawks!

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Happy Guy Fawkes Night!

Setting things on fire is the basis of any really good celebration and Guy Fawkes Night pursues this aim with admirable purity. There are no special family meals, no exchanges of presents, no licensed holiday decorations and memorabilia (unless you count the “Fawkesy Lady” t-shirt I found online), just the serious engulfing of stuff in flames.

It makes me wish we could put crass, popularized holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day through a trial by fire too. Wouldn’t Easter be more fun if it revolved around incendiary havoc? Like if every third egg hidden in the shrubbery was filled with gasoline and rags instead of inferior milk chocolate? Boom! Now that’s good times, and teaches a valuable life lesson. Sometimes you get chocolate. Sometimes you get your eyebrows singed.

You should know that the angry, fire-starting rabble over here is a little ticked off with North America for kicking the tinder out from under them. Apparently, Hallowe’en is whupping Guy Fawkes’s ass, with fewer people in England raising a flaming stick to the memory of regicide, terrorism, torture and religious schism, and more kids slapping on plastic Transformers masks and demanding Hershey’s minis.

But the real threat to Guy Fawkes Night is the enemy within. In Devon, a rugby club has been forced to digitally tame the flame, bowing to pressure from local health and safety authorities. This year, 2,000 celebrants will be gathering around a TV screen showing footage of an actual bonfire. Sounds of crackling wood will also be broadcast from loudspeakers. This is sadder by a factor of 2,000 than those crackling Yule log videos.

Tonight, I will be attending a real, live Guy Fawkes bonfire, and unless the situation goes all “Wicker Man” on me, I will report back tomorrow.

Written by Hayden

November 5, 2009 at 12:09 pm

No more mickey in a paper sack for ME

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Okay, although Nottingham is a hotbed of nudism and Gaia-worship, it is possible to meet normal people. Yesterday, I tamed the Ted Kaczynski hair and practiced saying, “Hello, how do you do” in front of the mirror until my vocal chords sounded less like Phyllis Diller’s and then I took my social self down to the Broadway Cinema, where other non-imaginary people from the Nottingham Social Club had agreed to meet.

Other than managing not to make a fool of myself in front of strangers, the best part of the evening came when I had the option of carrying my glass of house red from the adjoining bar into the cinema. Legally. That’s a thing that people can do here in England. Consume liquor and celluloid entertainment at the same time. And guess what? The darkened cinema does not erupt in an orgy of knife-fights and loud singings of songs with dirty lyrics and projectile barfing. It all remains quite civilized and acceptable. And these are English people, keep in mind, with cast-iron livers and vestigial Viking DNA. So I feel confident that British Columbia could probably manage the beer n’ film combo without heads winding up on spikes.

P.S.: We watched Julie and Julia, a film that felt like an actual movie spliced together with an ABC Afterschool Special. Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep were a revelation, but I wanted to drown that waifish, tremulous, blue-eyed blogger in a vat of Olestra.

Written by Hayden

November 4, 2009 at 10:53 pm