Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wayulles, Wayulles, Wayulles ...

A couple of weeks ago I went to my first rugby match -- ever -- at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. Fantastic!

I wasn't planning on going and had walked to the city centre to just be around the buzz and heard a scalper 'buying and selling' tickets on the street for the Wales-South Africa game. I knew they averaged £65, but it was a glorious sunny afternoon and I didn't know if I'd get a chance in the near future to try and see a game.

"How much for a ticket?"

"How many do you want, luv?"

"Just one."

He showed me a ticket for £65.

"Make me an offer."


"I thought you would give me a serious offer!"

"Sorry, I just thought I'd give it a shot," I said, shrugged my shoulders and walked away.

"Luv." He called me back. "Because I like you, you can have it for £30."

I still wasn't sure, and walked away again, thought about it for two minutes and decided it was a pretty good deal.

"I'll take it," I said.

"I thought you would."

Right on the centre line, only 14 rows from the field, only three seats away from the entrance the players use to come onto the field. It was a single ticket too, as I was surrounded by people, which explains the great price I got on it.

Live sports in an arena can't be beat. The stadium holds close to 70,000 and there were about 58,000 on hand. As well, games are not blacked out here, so the game is available live at all the pubs and in people's homes on television.

Red and green, the Welsh colours everywhere, dragons painted on people's faces and the Welsh flag draped over shoulders. People wear giant yellow daffodil hats (the daffodil is the national flower). Before the players enter the arena, large flames shoot up high at points around the field, like a dragon's hot breath. I can feel the heat in my seat.

The game is crushing and fascinating. Wales leads handily by half-time and when they come back, it is as if the two teams switched in the dressing room. South Africa takes the game by mere points with Wales on the verge of breaking through again in the final minutes.

I don't know why anyone would play this game. It is brutal. It makes N. American football players look overprotected with all that padding they wear. But it is fascinating and requires passing and throwing skills from nearly all the players (as well as an ability to give and take crushing blows.)

After the game, the hordes step out into an early clear evening, with a pink sunset blushing the sky. The stadium is downtown and everyone spreads out through the streets, hitting pubs, stopping at cafes and restaurants, filling up on some street grub. I head for some chips with curry sauce, the perfect food on a cold night, and eat it sitting in the city centre.

This Saturday, Wales meets the much-anticipated New Zealand team, the leaders in rugby.

And that's the last International game until the Six Nations teams play in the New Year.

Wayulles, Wayulles, Wayulles ...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

workin' hard for the money

The jury is still out on whether or not my room attendant job is going to pay the bills.

Be kind to your chambermaids, folks. This is one tough job.

Since beginnning about six weeks ago, my body has been dealing with one adjustment after another. Of course, much of this has been due to my weakling status as a longterm desk jockey, but also the job is physically demanding and time expectations and conditions challenging.

I haven't stepped on a scale recently, but I am pretty certain I've been losing any flab I had.

Sore shoulders and arm tendons at first, followed by a left thumb that almost stopped working (from flipping pillow cases), followed by tightening back and ab muscles, followed by hands that cracked raw and bleeding from linen changes. Throw in a few head colds on top of this and the picture isn't very pretty.

On the bright side, my knees are taking on shape again and I am more flexible than I've been in years.

The time and pay restraints are challenging. Yesterday and today are the first two days I can say I finished within my time frame -- that is, approximately half an hour per room. For the first month I was getting paid for 6 hours work a day (as part of 'training'), but since that time I get paid by the room. Twelve rooms = 6 hours work: if you take longer than that time, you only get paid for the 6 hours. It has generally been taking me 1 to 2 hours longer than the goal, so I have been technically working for free to finish my rooms. Apparently others in the past have had the same problem getting their times down, and one co-worker, who is speedy now, says it took her six months. (It won't take me that long.)

The problem, as I see it, is that management treats all rooms as equal, when obviously they are not. Some rooms have one double bed, others two doubles; rooms visited by business clients are barely used while rooms used by families with children or partiers are obviously well-lived in. A stayover room needs cleaning and making the bed(s), while a checkout requires cleaning as well as stripping the bed(s). Add to these time restraints the necessity to restock your trolley (up to four times a day) and hunt down evasive supplies, waiting for service elevators and a daily staff meeting and the half an hour required per room is actually cut down to about 15 minutes.

Stripping and changing the beds is still a challenge. I am getting close to half an hour on the more difficult rooms.

But on top of the time and physical challenges, I'm not sure the hours I'll get will be enough. When I interviewed for the job I was told it was 30 hours a week, 6 hours for 5 days, with the possibility of going full-time. But the room numbers fluctuate. It is near Christmas and on some days, like today, I only had 8 rooms to clean (only four hours pay). I was just told yesterday I may have '4-5 days off around Christmas' (though I'm working Christmas Day). Many of the women have been at the hotel a long time and the camaraderie is actually excellent. Management has not been totally upfront about the terms of pay or hours, but on the other hand they are very fair, keeping lines of communication open.

It's a challenge on many levels, and one I'm not completely averse to, but the money concerns will ultimately decide if and when I find something else.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

setting up house

I have been in Cardiff two months and two days. I have been in my apartment (flat) almost three weeks.

I'm still awaiting a five-week paycheque (due next Friday!) and living off savings, sticking to a tight budget. But the area of Cardiff I live in -- Cathays, which is primarily a student and immigrant area -- makes this relatively easy.

My flat is furnished with the basics: kitchen table and chairs, fridge, washing machine, stove, couch and chair, bed, bedside table and wardrobe.

Nicky Harris, on my first day in the flat, took me to a giant Tesco's -- a bigbox store -- for some cleaning basics and cooking and eating basics: pot, pan, silverware, a few dishes, a mug, some towels. The Harris' were also very generous in providing me with some bedding and later, a T.V., a DVD player and more pots and pans.

Here in the U.K. there are no Salvation Army, Goodwill or Value Village stores, but rather hundreds of little charity shops. In many areas every fifth shop is run by a different charity: cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, hospices, etc. These all sell second-hand goods at very cheap prices, so I have been able to go in and pick up extra bowls and pans relatively easily. I've also been able to pick up a few jigsaw puzzles at these stores for only a pound each and was able to buy a camping table on sale that works double duty as an eating surface and puzzle area.

Canadian Tire or Home Hardware should open up shop here though. It is very difficult to find basic hardware necessities. It took me several days of scouring the City Centre and my neighbourhood before finding anyone who sold such a thing as a broom. Scores of garbage bins -- garbage bins of every shape and colour for inside your home -- but no brooms or dustpans.

Because there are many Middle East, Southasian and Polish shops in my neighbourhood I have been able to buy vegetables, grains, breads and spices at prices even cheaper than the larger stores -- and in many cases, better quality. I also have a local butcher. Butcher shops here are so quaint -- a la Coronation Street, the butchers dress up very fine in white.

Many of my clothes are still packed in my suitcases though. Once I get a little extra cash, I can make the trip to satisfy small furniture needs in style -- IKEA awaits.


Before I attended Sparks in the Park last Saturday, I watched my first rugby game -- partly on television at home and the last quarter at my packed neighbourhood pub.

Saturday was the start of the Internationals with the Welsh playing a team from the Southern Hemisphere each Saturday in November at Millennium Stadium here in Cardiff. Last week they had a turn against Australia (whom they took a gallant run at but apparently haven't beaten very often), this week it will be South Africa, and the following Saturdays the Welsh will play against Fiji and New Zealand.

Rugby has always been a mystery to me and the most I'd seen anything of it before last week was in the film Invictus about Nelson Mandela and the South Africa rugby team. In that film even it seemed to just be barbaric, slow-motion muscle against muscle in the scrums. So, it was quite a surprise to me to find it an exciting game to watch, especially when the teams would pass the ball back across the width of the field, man to man. I'm afraid I got hooked with an early toss.

The fireworks were in the City Centre at the Castle, only a block from Millennium Stadium, so I walked through the Centre after the game. What a great buzz. What a vibrant core. Much of the centre is pedestrianized now and one of the main thoroughfares has huge flags of the participating rugby teams hanging from lampposts.

In February is another series called Six Nations (not the same as the Canadian aboriginal Six Nations), which includes European teams.

I would really like to see one of these games live at the stadium.

sparks in the park

Standing in a muddy field, watching fireworks on a cold, damp November evening is not quite the same as sitting on a waterfront in July as the sky dazzles.

I paid my £8 last Saturday and tried not to freeze as the early children's fireworks went off, blowing smoke directly into everyone attending. Then, great anticipation as the two-to-three storey high bonfire was lit, with a mock Guy Fawkes in a chair at the top.

More smoke. Lots of smoke for about five minutes as the damp wood refused to burn. Finally, the fire wizards got the bonfire to start to quiet cheers and handclaps.

The big fireworks display was still 45 minutes away and I faced a half hour's walk home, so I decided to leave and possibly watch them on my walk back. I was shocked to see that in the time I had been there (little more than an hour) the crowds had quadrupled, so that there was little empty space in Coopers Field behind the Castle. Literally hundreds of people stood in lines zigzagging across the width of the field waiting at the fast food outlets.

At the entrances to the park, hundreds more approached, with lines more than a block long and four-to-five people thick. I was glad I was leaving and have no idea where all those people were going to stand.

Imagine the Detroit-Windsor Fireworks with paid admission and everyone arriving within half an hour of the show ... hard to imagine. Walking home I faced groups of ten and twenty walking towards Coopers Field and definitely felt as if I were going against the tide.

I'm assuming there must be a great deal of emotional attachment to this cold, November tradition that as a visitor is lost on me. Guy Fawkes/Bonfire night necessities: Good dry wellies and lots of woolen accessories.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

bonfires and winter wonderlands

There is a huge fireworks display and bonfire under preparation to light up the sky within Cardiff Castle grounds on Saturday night.

Sparks in the Park will celebrate what the Brits call Bonfire Night. Unfortunately this is not free, but unless it's pouring rain I do plan on attending.

As November begins its grey march, workers in the city centre have been quietly placing lights here, there and everywhere. Every day on my walk in to work I notice more strings, more domes and geometric shapes. They are not lit yet. I think they may be waiting until the Winter Wonderland launches next week at the City Hall.

Even now, unlit, they dangle like fine lace overhead. Inside some of the covered Victorian and Edwardian arcades, elaborate upholstered decorations take on the form of velvet lampshades. There is an anticipation in the air, all the more mysterious because there is no Christmas music playing.

The shops inside the City Centre malls are decorated and people are everywhere among the golds and reds and blues. It's refreshing to see all the colour and light and not be blasted with all the repetitive, competitive sounds of Christmas carols. I'm sure the music is coming, but music here is treasured, so I'm hoping -- and expecting -- it will be measured and showcased in wonder.

death junction

My new apartment (read: flat) is located just off Crwys Road in an old part of the city. It is very near a five-street intersection called Death Junction.

My former host Mr. Harris informed me that this moniker has nothing to do with vehicle/pedestrian fatalities, which I had readily assumed, but is known as such because it used to be the site of the Gallows Field.

The present Cardiff City Market site in the City Centre used to be the gaol and the prisoners were taken to the hanging grounds (a good half hour walk away) to meet their ends.