Sunday, October 31, 2004
Imagine a bar where, should the conversation dip amongst drinkers, the bartender will bully you into a few sets of Trivial Persuits to liven things up a bit. Or perhaps he’ll ask some pop quiz questions about the CD he’s currently playing, which as often as not, is a Rod Stewart compilation. Or if he wants to piss off the waitresses from the restaurant upstairs needing drinks orders to be processed, he will drag you off to the games room for a few rounds of table tennis. Hi, my name’s Tim. This is Beth. We’re from Preston in the north of England - yeah, sure we know Hugh Grant - and you are drinking in Dick’s bar, at the Franconia Inn, Franconia, New Hampshire. Make mine a beer.
We were sorry to leave The Inn At Woodchuck Hill Farm, but the pull of the road is an irresistible force, just like gravity, or the desire to work Ronald McDonald over with a baseball bat, screaming all the while “So tell me Ronald, are you still lovin’ it?”
We struck out in a northerly direction, passing through Norwich, and stopping for coffee in Hanover, New Hampshire. I’m proud to inform you that in doing so, we can now say we’ve walked part of the famous Appalachian Trail, discussed at length in this excellent book by globally loved Hanover resident Bill Bryson.
In the Dirt Cowboy Café, a lively young man with jazz hair explained to me the subtle nuances of each of the five hundred coffees on offer. I said I’d have whatever he recommended. He produced a frothy concoction which he promised would enable me to go without sleep for a whole month, help me through my exams and resolve any erection problems I might be suffering with. It tasted of, you know, coffee.
We didn’t see any cowboys, but there were a lot of well turned out students, reading newspapers and looking thoughtful. From their earnest expressions, I presume they were thinking about how everybody else was getting more sex than them. I thought about getting a T-shirt printed that says “Bookish Chicks Are Hot!”
We floated around some of the fine college buildings. Dartmouth is one of the ‘Ivy League’ colleges. I believe the expression comes from the fact the buildings are old enough to be covered in ivy, the inference being that their heritage makes them superior to more recently built colleges. Please correct me if I’m wrong here.
Either way, Dartmouth College and the city of Hanover are virtually synonymous, and all the kids we saw looked well dressed, well nourished, and in all probability, pretty well connected.
A group of boys in an open topped BMW asked us for directions, which I suppose was flattering, in a ‘you don’t look like dorky tourists’ kind of way. I devoted a minute or so to helping them, describing traffic lights, tricky road junctions, distinctive landmarks and so forth.
Of course, none of it was true, as I didn’t have any more of a clue where we were than they did. But making stuff up is harmless fun and you owe it to yourself to have as much as you can. Because you’re worth it. As they pulled away, I gave them a cheerful wave and gauged a deep scratch into the side of their silly ostentatious car with a sharpened coin that I always keep handy for such occasions.
We continued north along Route 5, higher into New Hampshire. The landscape began to widen. Green hills turned to blue-grey, a little more craggy here, a bit mountainous there. Everything looked bigger but further away.
For the first time, we saw towns and villages which looked like they might not have been painted the week before. Even the trucks in the drives looked older, a little more lived in.
A rusty dent in your vehicle here might not be such an issue as it would be in, say, Boston, where all the cars appeared shiny and well manicured. Road signs warning us of moose became more frequent.
Rusty Dent, incidentally, is the name I’ll use if I ever have to go back to working in the porn industry. Look - I was young and I needed the money. Is that OK?
We arrived at the Franconia Inn as the afternoon was settling down into early evening.
I wasted no time in attempting to book a horse riding trip, only to be told that they’d stopped now for the winter, when sleigh riding would begin instead. Bloody buggering bugger. We’d missed it by only a few days.
I was never going to be a Wild West Hero and ride the range all the day, nor be with my western gal round the fire oh so bright, nor for that matter be the Indians friend letting them love to be free, tryin’ to do what’s right. Sod it.
To console ourselves, we went outside and sat in the hot tub for a bit. Girlfriend, being a dedicated athlete and hardened fit bird, brought the swimming pool out of winter retirement.
We sat at the bar all evening, watching the ballgame on TV, winning free drinks for Girlfriend’s trivia prowess, and occasionally playing ping pong. We seem to be nurturing the beginnings of a meaningful relationship with vodka. I’ll keep you posted.
In my dream I’m a Western hero riding my palomino, Silver Star, there you are.
I also dreamed about trains rushing into tunnels, and putting tents up.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
My dizzy head crammed with grand ideas and cheese, last night I rashly declared that I’d be up before sunrise on assignment.
And so here I was, barely awake, camera in hand. The air was heavy and damp like a bag of freshly bathed puppies, the ground saturated with dew. All was misty perfection. I wandered up the track through the woods to the top pond and waited for the sky to lighten. I thought about the bear Mark had told us about, and was thankful not to be smelling of Snickers bars that morning. I’m quite pleased with some of these photos.
On the down side, I had to put new socks on when I got back, messing up my strictly planned underwear changing schedule. A bit of a pisser, but hey, life is for living and you only get one. One life, that is. Socks usually come in pairs.
By the time we got to Woodstock - no, not the famous one, but when will I get the chance to say that again? - the sky had clouded over and not unlike hobbits, we were ready for second breakfast. A rock band on the green was playing Ain’t No Sunshine. I put three quarters in the parking meter, and we headed for the Mountain Creamery.
I love the smell of diners in the morning. I like the noise and bustle and the comings and goings. I like the way the waiting staff flit so effortlessly from table to table, filled with purpose and poise. And doesn’t everything hang together so beautifully in diners? Everybody has their part to play, and the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.
When we left, the band was still playing Ain’t No Sunshine.
Woodstock, Vermont - a few miles west of the Connecticut River if you’re following our journey with an atlas and your favourite highlighter pen - fancies itself as a bit more swanky than other tourist towns. Still, there’s a great covered bridge, some nice galleries and we continued to do our bit for American book retailers with barely a thought for how we’d get the bloody things home again.
There was a Chili Cookoff going on, but we were saving our appetites for that evening’s big dinner engagement .
A frequent talking point amongst fellow guests at the inn was how absurdly difficult it is to book a table at The Old Tavern. It’s the only restaurant in Grafton, and yet the management seem ambivalent about whether or not to bother with customers. You can turn up, find the place all but empty, and still be turned away.
There was a nice young couple from Texas who were really keen to eat there. Apparently it’s quite famous and they wanted to try it for themselves, but their attempts to make a booking had all ended in rejection.
The previous night Mark, our convivial innkeeper, had had to cajole and humour and ask to speak to the manager and make all sorts of unseemly promises in order to reserve a table for four.
So that evening, me and Girlfriend shook the creases out of our poshest tops and joined W and D for a very pleasant meal in the rarefied, oak panelled splendour of New England’s most reluctant restaurant.
They told us what a great place Austin, Texas is, especially when the South By Southwest festival is on. He used to be a college football goalkeeper who trained by diving onto a goalmouth full of chairs, while she had an uncanny resemblance to the Duchess of York and was expecting her first. It seemed like it would have been rude to say so, because they were so lovely.
The bill, when it arrived, had me and Girlfriend wondering if we could somehow re-schedule our mortgage payments and maybe get part-time jobs in the evenings.
I slept very well. I dreamed I saw the bombers riding shotgun in the sky and they were turning into butterflies above our nation.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Monday, October 25, 2004
1. How did George W. Bush make his fortune?
A. He “hit the big one” with a Texas oil well.
B. He got a huge advance for his campaign autobiography.
C. Having used various family connections to buy the Texas Rangers, and having wheedled $135million worth of corporate welfare out of the state, which levied a sales tax in order to build a new stadium for the team, he made almost $15 million on his original $606,000 investment when the team was sold.
D. Kickbacks from executioners.
2. Complete George W. Bush’s recollection of trying to build up his various oil businesses, which ranged from not particularly successful to failing (though somehow he always got bailed by his father’s buddies, who got to take huge write-offs): “I became totally __________ with hitting the big one.”
3. What happened when his mother took thirteen-year old George W. Bush and his friend Doug Hannah to play golf at her Houston Country club?
A. Young George W. got caught sneaking a beer.
B. The boys drove a golf cart into a water trap.
C. Young George W. got upset when he failed to tee off well and started screaming “Fuck this” after which his mother told him to go sit in the car.
D. The boys got caught killing frogs.
Answers in a comments box tomorrow.
Friday, October 22, 2004
If you’re sitting on a horse and you decide you want it to go faster, here’s what you should do. Give it a kick in the ribs, a firm tap on the rump with your whip - you do have a whip, don’t you? - and you need to say in an authoritative tone “Go on Molly! Go on Molly!”
To make your horse stop - well, the truth is that you’re pretty much at your horse’s mercy. You can try pulling on the reins saying “Woah there Molly!”, or perhaps even screaming “For fuck’s sake stop! You’re going to get us both killed!” But the horse is in charge now and will only stop when it wants to, so you’d better have been nice to it earlier on.
I rang a nearby riding stables and left a message on their machine to let them know we were coming. Girlfriend and me used to have lessons and were OK with the basics - walking, trotting, a little bit of cantering. But it had been a while, so I went over in my head all I could remember (see above) on the way.
When we eventually found it, the stables looked abandoned. There was neither sight nor sound of horses, and no office to report to. I took a look around.
A house down the hill had a marquee set up in the garden and a little girl was skipping barefoot between the guy ropes. The sun came out. No dogs barked. The sun went in. After five minutes a lad in a truck skidded noisily into the yard.
“Is this the stables?”
“Can we book a session please? I rang earlier.”
“We’re closed today. There’s a wedding on.”
“OK. Can I book a session for tomorrow?”
“You need to ring up.”
“But I’m here now. Isn’t there anyone I can speak to?”
“There’s a wedding on. You need to ring up.”
He shrugged his shoulders apologetically and walked away.
Bugger. Everything I’d just written about horse riding would now be irrelevant and go to waste.
“There’ll be horse riding at Franconia,” said Girlfriend. “Maybe you can use it then.”
How does she do that?
“ I just can,” she said.
We drove south to Brattleboro.
It’s a nice little town, with a vaguely hippy-ish vibe going on. It has the appealing scruffy buzz of a university town, but there is no university, and hence no students puking into traffic cones. So it’s got the best of both worlds. We liked it a lot.
We pottered around bookstores and junkshops, and had falafels for lunch. I bought some CDs and a calendar with arty photos of wild horses. Girlfriend bought some books that you actually read, and a badge that says “Girls Can Do Anything.”
Driving back, we stopped in Newfane to top up our beer and postcard levels. It’s a two store town - a grocers and a quilt shop. The grocers seemed to be run by a collective of kids in their early twenties who, when not serving customers, sat around talking about films. It looked like fun.
“I’d just like to say,” said one of that day's new draft of guests, “how much I appreciate what your Tony Blair has done to support us.”
He’d been a pilot in Vietnam and was a very nice man to boot. His wife was clearly very proud of him, though in the circumstances, perhaps she could have been a bit more sensitive about it. Also present was a woman who’d lost her husband in the same war.
Talk turned to last night’s debate, and Iraq in particular. Passions rose, sparks flew. If our fireside chat was anything to go by, it’s true what they say about Democrats and Republicans being so polarised.
One thing they could agree on is how great they think Tony Blair is.
I said I’d pass it on.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
“There’s a fridge full of beer and wine behind reception. Help yourself to anything you want and let me know what you had when it's time to leave.”
I caught Girlfriend’s eye and grinned. She grinned back. I had a good feeling about this place.
Mark is the most laid back innkeeper I’ve ever met. He has a beard like the sheriff in Deputy Dog and his newspapers arrive a day late. He lives in a beautiful wooden house a few hundred yards up the track, and looks every bit like a man who lives in the woods.
After a hearty breakfast of pancakes, served up by the wonderful seventy nine year old 'B' - “She’s doing a great job, isn’t she? I might keep her on for another day” - we strolled down into Grafton.
“It’s two and a half miles down to the village,” Mark had told us, “and nine miles back.”
The village was full of dummies.
We sauntered around the local points of interest and magically found ourselves at the cheese factory. Here we ate as many of the free samples as we thought was proper and dignified, which in our case was quite a lot, and I even managed to pocket some toothpicks into the bargain.
Then we watched some blokes making cheese for a bit and bought stuff from the gift shop. I can personally recommend the three year old cheddar - strong, not too dry - and the elderberry jelly, which I’ve smuggled back through customs, is delicious.
The sun shone as we wandered back to the village for lunch at Daniels Café, where I tried root beer for the first and last time.
We climbed the steep lane back to the Inn, pausing here along the way, and had a lovely lazy afternoon lolling on a hammock on the porch.
Each night cheese and biscuits are put out for guests, and what with there being no television, those who want to while away the evening chatting around the fire. It’s like living inside one of those murder mysteries set in a country pile miles away from anywhere, only without the murder bit.
Presently new guests appeared at reception. A tidy collection of empty beer bottles lay at our feet.
“Ooh, new people!” I exclaimed.
Mark rose from his fireside armchair, pointed a bony forefinger at me and murmered “Don’t you piss me off.”
“Don’t give him any money!” I yelled.
How we laughed.
We spent a pleasant evening talking with a speech therapist from Seattle, who urged us to visit her hometown on our next trip. We also put the world to rights with a nice couple from Colorado, who recommended that we visit Colorado on our next trip.
“In springtime the flowers in the desert are out of this world,” we were told.
“I’d like to see that,” I said, and I really would.
And finally, we listened to the first of the presidential debates on the crackly bedside radio.
I dreamed of chipmonks and impending global disaster.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Picture this. The year is 1774 and you live in Manchester, England. To make matters worse, all four of your children have died in infancy, and you can no longer find in yourself the will to meet your husband’s physical needs.
What are you going to do?
Simple. You emigrate to America and found a colony of an obscure religious sect. You endure brutality and persecution and are dead within ten years, but the movement you dedicate your life to blossoms and thrives. By the mid-nineteenth century, The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, more snappily known as Shakers, has an estimated 6,000 members in 19 different communities. Oh, and your name is Mother Anne Lee.
We spent a few hours respectfully wandering around the Hancock Shaker Village. Shakers believed in racial and sexual equality, the communal ownership of property, and abstinence from alcohol and shagging. During their services of worship, which would sometimes continue for successive days, the ‘Quaking Shakers’ celebrated their faith by singing Shaker hymns, of which there are thousands, giving spoken testimonies, and most famously, dancing like Bez from the Happy Mondays.
Shakers paid their way by producing simple and elegantly designed furniture, which you can guarantee is being plagiarised right now by a furniture superstore somewhere near you.
Broom fans amongst you will know that the ‘common flat broom’ was invented by Shakers, and the Round Stone Barn at Hancock Village was an agribusiness sensation for it’s time. The latter enabled herdsmen to feed a previously unimaginable fifty four cattle simultaneously, while the resulting crap, erm, manure could be swept down state of the art trap doors to a ‘fermenting cellar’ below. Cattle feeding nerds would cross continents to see it in action.
Of course, one of the fundamental issues with any celibate organisation, and this is something you should consider if you’re thinking of starting your own, is the problem of perpetuation. If you don’t breed, you cease to exist within a generation. The Shakers bolstered their numbers by means of adoption and conversions, and although conditions were basic in the extreme, the community offered a better quality of life than what was otherwise available to many country dwellers at that time.
Today the Hancock Shaker Village is a not-for-profit musuem, the land and the dwellings being sold by the Shakers in 1960. It was sad to walk around the remaining buildings, once happy and industrious, and imagine how they once might have been. Girlfriend has given me permission to let you know that she cried.
We were both cheered, however, by a talk about Shaker music, given by a jolly volunteer lady in one of the many highly polished halls. A group of mainly old people in slacks and anoraks, but including us in suitably ‘middle youth’ attire, all sang ‘Simple Gifts’ in a way that wasn’t embarrassing or silly, and then with our spirits rejuvenated, we went on our way to eat more stuff. It was really nice.
We drove on, crossing State lines into Vermont, and stopping at the fabulously named Inn at Woodchuck Hill Farm. It was great, but more about that some other time, hey?
The last remaining Shaker community at the time of writing, by the way, is here . They don’t keep a tally on their website, but the only figure I’ve been able to find - and I suspect it may well be out of date now - said that there were only four remaining Shakers left.
Monday, October 18, 2004
In the low budget independent road movie “A Free Man In Preston” (byline - “Witless in Massachusetts”) , the part of Tim is played by Johnny Depp, chosen for his soulful good looks and irritating tendency towards earnestness. Girlfriend is played by Sarah Beeny, the sexy cool property development babe, as smart as she is curvy, revealing hidden depths as a navigator par excellence.
Tim, who is wearing nothing at all except a saucy smile, opens the curtains to discover grey skies. He switches his camera onto Muted Melancholia mode, photographing the causeway again. After filling their faces with bagels for an hour or so, pausing only to snap a lady in a hat looking longingly to sea, they hit the road.
It rains and rains. Today is their big driving day, two hundred and fifty miles, or something like it. On a British motorway, this would be no big deal. Somehow it takes much longer here. The miles chug slowly by. There’s nothing on the radio but country ‘n’ eighties, so they listen to Keane and Elbow and Starsailor. Sounding real good guys, real lonesome.
They pull off the highway and follow a sign promising food. Eventually they reach a small town - it’s nothing special - a high school, a few houses, a Benny’s Tyres on one side of the road and a Wendy’s on the other. It’s full of real Americans, tough looking guys, men who drive trucks and have done their share of heartbreakin’. The women look friendly enough, but life is wearing them down by degrees.
“I don’t know Betty, Tuesdays make me feel so sour.”
“Me too, Wilma. I hear Billybob was out drinkin’ all night.”
“I swear I’ll kill that woman one day, Betty. So help me God, but I’m gonna take my rifle and tell that cheatin’ no good... Yes sir. What can I fetch you?”
Tim is glad to be here, in an “here‘s some authentic America for the tourists” kind of way.
There’s nothing vegetarian on the menu so Tim orders fries. Betty and Wilma behind the counter don’t understand, and there’s a small commotion.
“Nothing else?” they ask, looking at him like he was a deviant.
An old guy with a five o’clock shadow and one mean eye looks to go for his pistol - you looking for trouble, Punk? I gotta whole mess of trouble right here - but actually he’s just headed for the bathroom.
There’s a long wait because Harold is stuck in there. Harold is one hundred years old today and not as light on his feet as he used to be. “You OK Harold? Do you want me to get the key? Can you hear me Harold? Shoot, Harold! There’s folks waiting out here.”
Girlfriend has the spicey chicken burger which later disagrees with her. No it doesn’t. Yes it does.
If nobody has ever sung about the Massachusetts Turnpike in the rain, the huge silver trucks throwing up spray like monsters from the deep, the murky grey trees ominous in the background, full of bad secrets you don‘t want to know, then somebody ought to. They keep on driving, and so does the rain.
In Lenox Tim steps out of the car to ask a shop assistant for directions. It’s a small town, but she’s never heard of their hotel. They ask in the post office - they ought to know - but the question just seems to make them nervous. The whole town breathes a sigh of relief as Tim and Girlfriend head out on the main drag, then head back in again looking confused (sharp inhale), then out again (cautious exhale).
They find the world’s creepiest hotel two miles out of town on a steep curve on Out-a-here Highway.
It looks like it was built in the sixties for the swinging New York set, but nobody here goes back that far, or cares to.
The swimming pool , covered for the winter, gives off an air of high school horror flick. Chipmonks prowl the grounds. There’s nobody else alive - they’re the only ones left - and there’s no bar.
They drive three miles to the nearest restaurant. It’s a Mexican food franchise, and despite the empty rain soaked streets, the atmosphere inside is warm and convivial. The waitress smiles at them sympathetically.
“You’re the English guys staying at the motel?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” and she hurries off screen, dabbing her eyes with a hanky, holding back mournful sobs.
They are hungry and travel weary. While they wait for their fajitas, Tim gloomily takes pictures of telegraph wires.
Camera fades to black.
Sunday, October 17, 2004
The first time I went to Glastonbury Festival I couldn’t believe my eyes.
It was 1986 and I’d spent so much of my youth with my head up my arse that I’d never even heard of it (the Festival, not my arse) until a few months before my first visit. It blew me away (ditto).
I didn’t know that a counter culture existed outside of Woodstock documentaries, and for years afterwards I couldn‘t shake the experience out of my head. People frequently describe discovering Glastonbury as like finding their spiritual home and I can appreciate that entirely.
I mention this because I imagine that gay people may feel the same way about Provincetown.
It’s the only town I’ve ever been to where gay couples can stroll hand in hand, show affection to their partners in public the way that straight couples can, and happily go about their rightful business of being themselves. It’s not that gay people are tolerated - come on, who wants to spend their lives being merely tolerated?
Gay is just normal. For a visitor it must feel like coming home.
On the other hand, if you’re not comfortable with being surrounded by gays then you should either stay away from Provincetown or buck your ideas up. Get over it.
Ooh, listen to me! I’m almost ranting! I’ll be criticising George Bush next - isn‘t he the pits?
We were up at six to witness the sunrise over the bay. It was worth it. And it wasn’t such a great effort - we only had to open our door and we were there. I even threw some clothes on.
Then we passed the morning flopped out in the sunshine, reading, writing a little and listening to music.
It was much warmer than we’d expected, and of course I hadn’t brought any shorts. I looked for some but the only shops selling shorts were trendy establishments with over exuberant pricing policies. I could have unwittingly bought a pair of gay shorts and been none the wiser. I don’t even know if gay shorts exist but judging from what I saw on the racks, I thought it best to err on the side of caution. What kind of mixed signals would I have been sending out? I’d have been a laughing stock and that’s just what I came on holiday to get away from. So my jeans stayed on and that was the end of it.
The whale watching was amazing. Before our trip I’d emailed Jamie asking for advice on tipping etiquette - it’s a bit of a minefield but you probably already knew that. She very kindly replied and also mentioned that she once worked for Dolphin Fleet in Provincetown, so naturally that was the company we went with.
We pulled up alongside a finback. You only ever see the top of their backs and their fins, so it’s a bit like seeing an upside down surfboard, but we got much closer than I’d expected. It was quite an experience.
Moving on we presently found a humpback whale. No offence intended towards any finbacks that might be reading - you’re a really lovely whale and all that, but you have to admit that you’ve got nothing on humpbacks. It was awesome. It swam alongside the boat and you could see it’s eyes and mouth and that knobbly stuff round its mouth that looks like whale acne but isn’t. I took loads of photos and was way too slow off the mark with all of them, so here’s a link to a decent picture. It would also swim directly towards the boat, then breach, heaving itself right out of the water before lunging downwards, waving its huge tail flukes in mesmerising slow motion. It would swim right beneath us, resurfacing some minutes later on the other side. It was a hyperbole eluding experience which I’ll never forget. If you ever get the chance, go and see a humpback.
We ate at Napi’s again. The previous night we’d chatted with the owner and enjoyed his story of how he’d built the place himself. Obviously the food was very good, and it was a terrific place for people watching and eavesdropping.
A girl sitting at the bar in a blue shirt would from time to time recognise someone - a couple of waiters, the owner, customers, an extremely pretty blonde waitress - and let out a squeak of happiness before rushing up to them and hugging them intensively. She must have been a former employee catching up with old acquaintances.
When the girl in the blue shirt noticed the extremely pretty blonde waitress she had a more serious expression in her eyes. She walked towards her slowly and gave her a giant hug, then a long tender kiss on the lips, then another giant hug, followed by an even longer lingering kiss on the lips. It was quite beautiful - I still think about it now. In fact I could happily have watched them all evening but pudding arrived and somehow the moment was gone.
Afterwards, we wandered through the still busy streets, pausing to look at galleries and a shop selling Jesus action figures, then past the ghostly empty summer homes on Commercial Street and back to our room.
Funnily enough, I dreamed about waitresses again.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
When the Pilgrims stepped off the Mayflower in December 1620, exhausted by the ravages of their traumatic voyage and woefully equipped for the vast continent that lay ahead of them, they hopped onto the famous Plymouth Rock and then gratefully onto dry land.
They immediately headed up to the All American Diner on Court Street where they enjoyed waffles and unlimited coffee, all served up by a delightful young waitress named Jessica. They soaked up the pleasantly nostalgia themed ambience of the establishment, and marvelled at spotting their first truly obese Americans.
They ate heartily, tipped handsomely, took a stroll around town and went a bit mad taking photos of clapboard houses and stuff. It all looked so perfect. They wandered down the main street in town, passing humble bookstores and cozy diners and the offices of hopeful local politicians until they came to a conclusion: Plymouth, “America’s Hometown” was a lot more pleasant than their Rough Guide had led them to expect.
Of course, the Pilgrims had already touched land four times previously on Cape Cod, but this doesn’t stop the good people of Plymouth from milking the connection for all it’s worth.
Plymouth Rock, a small boulder now enclosed in a silly pseudo Greek temple, was almost certainly not the Pilgrim’s first stepping stone to America, and it’s nowhere near as good as the one with the Jacuzzi at the John Carver Inn.
With this in mind, me and Girlfriend packed up our belongings and headed off for Cape Cod. It took longer than we thought, mainly because I kept over mis-estimating my ability to negotiate “rotaries”, the inferior American equivalent of roundabouts. On rotaries, the only road signs you see are the ones you’ve just missed.
We stopped off for coffee and pie in Wellfleet, a pretty and underdeveloped village, where every business is dedicated to either crafts or lobster, but usually both.
After much leisurely rambling, we made tracks for Provincetown, a charming seaside town which took all our preconceptions of clapboard Americana up a couple of notches. It is picturesque beyond, erm, words.
We booked a whale watching trip and a table at Napi’s, then drank beer at the Surf Bar and more beer in The Squealing Pig. We’d noticed posters all around town advertising that three indie rock bands would be playing in town that very night. Excellent, I thought. A crowded bar and rowdy music - the icing on the cake.
So as darkness fell and the moon rose over the harbour, we shuffled on over to the New Arts Cinema full of dinner and expectation.
There were two members of staff present, four musicians and an accompanying friend, and no audience. Even more troubling, there was no bar. We ordered two coffees and took a table by the stage.
Eventually, when it became clear that no one else was coming, the opening act, a girl and boy duo called Rabbits came and sat at our table and began to sing. And I have to say, they were fantastic. They only did four songs, but Nicole and Jason were poppy and lively and such good sports for doing their set right in front of us. We grinned throughout like fools.
Afterwards, Tiger Saw, a quietly spoken young man who sang even more quietly stood on stage with an acoustic guitar and did his thing. This was followed by another lad going by the name of Thanksgiving, who wore his jumper artistically inside out. Both sang with a great deal of quiet, agonising introspection. Everybody in the room except me got their journals out and passed the time writing. I’d have done the same but I’d left mine at the hotel, not thinking I’d need it at a rock gig.
Thanksgiving finished his set by running in his flip-flopped feet to the exit, running back again, and collapsing onstage with his legs kicking in the air. He sorrowfully mumbled his last lines with his head trapped in the curtains. Everybody scribbled in silence. I examined my empty coffee cup.
“Both these singers had talent, and there were some lovely tunes in there somewhere, but c’mon kids - that’s no way to entertain a crowd,” I would have written if I’d brought something to write on.
It transpired that Jason Anderson, the boy from Rabbits, hadn’t been writing his journal. He was producing sing-along sheets so the audience could join in with his closing set. And once again, he was fantastic - perky, energetic, full of commitment and great music. By the end the crowd had swelled to six. Awesome!
When it was over I bought a Rabbits CD and a Jason CD, and chatted with Jason about bands and England and stuff. He was so pleased that I like Teenage Fanclub and Reindeer Section that he gave me a third CD free. Wer-hoo. If you take a look at their gigs list , you’ll see these guys are on tour practically non-stop.
“The average crowd,” Jason told me “is about thirty. But tonight was really special. You guys were great.”
Me and Girlfriend shook his hand and wished him well. We waved goodnight to everyone and wandered back to our hotel.
I dreamed of waitresses, folk singers and head on collisions.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
There are those who toot and those who are tooted at.
This was our first trip to the States, my first time at the wheel of a car where you sit on the left and drive on the right, and we were in Boston. My sources had tipped me off that Boston is possibly the worst city in the country for driving in. I don’t mind telling you I was a little apprehensive.
I had a practice drive up and down the rental company’s parking lot, and having not actually injured anybody after a whole fifteen minutes, not physically, I took my courage in my hands. This is it. With my heart in my mouth and a churning sensation just about everywhere else, I made my first intrepid left turn and skidded out onto the highway.
As luck would have it, nothing was coming the other way. Furthermore, we didn’t have to go through the city, just out of it, and I had an excellent navigator by my side.
The traffic was pretty frantic. Tooting reverberated all around the Ted Williams Tunnel, so much so that it surely can’t all have been directed at us. At one point a guy in an SUV the size of a double decker bus leaned out of his blacked out window and yelled something at me. I didn’t catch what he said, it might have been something about getting into the correct lane asshole, but he didn’t shoot us or anything, so that was, like, cool.
We checked into our hotel, wasted no time in peeling off our frankly rather sweaty clothes, and went for a swim around Plymouth Rock. OK, so it wasn’t the Plymouth Rock. This was a thoughtful and tastefully designed replica in the hotel pool, complete with water slides and a Jacuzzi set into the top of it.
We bubbled in the tub until we were pulpy at the edges like boiled potatoes, and then another couple joined us.
“I’m not getting up to any funny business,” Girlfriend nervously whispered in my ear.
“No. Me neither,” I replied, louder than intended. “Not with these fat biffers anyway.”
Carefully avoiding eye contact, we made our excuses and set sail for the bar. It was my first beer in a fortnight, having only just finished my course of anti-biotics. By golly it was good, and so was the next one. We enjoyed an excellent meal in a booth in an ersatz log cabin, then retired, dizzy and incredulous that we’d made it this far.
I had a patchy night, waking frequently, and when I did manage to sleep I dreamed only of guns and head on collisions.
Monday, October 11, 2004
I was sure that socks went in the top drawer down and pants in the second drawer. And my favourite stain on the futon where I dolloped tiramisu last Christmas - the one that I liked to suck while waiting for inspiration to arrive - it’s gone. What will I do now?
The badly drawn egg has melted and the writing is all smudged. It’s ruined, taking with it my plans of early retirement to a condo on the Cape.
And Girlfriend will go double mad when she realises someone has binned her Gareth Gates CDs again. Do you know how difficult it is trying to remove the vile stench of rotting vegetable off those things?
The Q magazines never used to be sorted in chronological order. I used to have them sorted on issues with the most pictures of Bob ‘hasn’t done anything interesting since the sixties so why do we persist with him?’ Dylan. It took bloody ages setting that up. Number one was February 1998 with seventy three photos. In the event of a tie, I’d move down to Noel Gallagher and then Paul Weller. After that I’d lay Madonna, Britney and Kylie down on the floor and let them fight it out between themselves.
It looks like a tramp has been living in the shed. There’s a dirty blanket in the corner, a selection of smutty novellas where I used to keep my illegal creosote stockpile, and they’ve installed wi-fi where the Flymo used to be.
But that can’t be right. Must be my mind playing tricks on me.
Whatever. A big up goes out to my guest blogging crew and many thanks to the readers who kept the faith these past two weeks. Great stats everybody. I see there was a couple of days you were up in the eighties. What happened there? Did I miss a glowing review in Loft Converter’s Gazette or something?
We had a brilliant time in New England. It’s absolutely wonderful. I started writing a journal type thing, which deteriorated to briefer and briefer notes as time passed by. I also took approximately fourteen million photographs, so I should be able to string some thoughts together and I’ll be blogging stuff up retrospectively in the coming days.
Is it a bit wanky blogging about your holidays? Mmm, possibly. But if I don’t write things down I forget them, like that time a few years ago in Ireland when, erm… I can’t remember exactly, but didn’t I… no, I think that was someone else (John Cusack?), might have been in Belgium actually.
So while I can I’ll write what I remember.
To starts things rolling, here’s some cautionary advice from Grafton, Vermont. It’s a photo of me and Girlfriend and it illustrates what will happen to your blood sugar levels when you eat too many pancakes with maple syrup.
Saturday, October 09, 2004
No sooner had I pressed 'delete' and banished my crappy Beatles/Oasis tune to the Recycle Bin of life when...
As I moved away from the stairs and the sound of footsteps getting ever closer, a vision in comfy slippers and some majorly sexy undies appeared before my eyes. In these circumstances I'm fairly sure that it's impolite to greet a lady whilst drooling, but I'm afraid my manners left me for a moment as the shock of what was happening hit me. I confess that I didn't meet her gaze as I was momentarily, er, distracted. Luckily, though, my up and down appraisal of the situation took in something significant. Something huge. Something of great import. A bum like J-Lo's. Yes it could only be...
'You must be petite anglaise I take it?' I said, trying but again failing to make eye contact. Then, before I knew it she'd mumbled something along the lines of 'Hello, Big Boy, you can be strict with me if necessary' and then bolted for the door, adding 'I'll go and find a protective plastic sleeve or something'.
At that moment, the door to the ASC opened and there standing staring at us in amazement was a fully clothed (but dressed as a foxy trapeze artist) lady who could only be the famous Leanne. As petite anglaise made an exit I'll never forget, Leanne made an equally memorable entrance. Blimey.
I was just spluttering 'It's exactly what it looks like. She was all over over me.. and why have you put all Tim's groceries in alphabetical order?' when Leanne clipped me round the ear and exclaimed in a matter of fact tone 'In your dreams, Backroads. Now calm down and have a drink.'
'Yeah right...' I replied, somewhat deflated, 'a drink?... an alcoholic drink?... in here?... you must be joking... I think it's Cat Stevens bloody studio not Tim's... you're more likely to find WMD...
...and anyway she did call me Big Boy you know.'
Next thing I know, Leanne's opening three bottles of Newcastle Brown with her teeth and deftly spitting the tops right into Tim's f-hole (of his mandolin... please). Somehow she's discovered a secret stash of beer hidden behind the shelf of Q magazines. Then I remember, she's been here before.
My memories of the evening are a bit hazy from that point onwards, but I remember petite anglaise reappeared and the three of us started off singing along to some of Tim's music and compositions and then progressed to improvisations and the actual recording of tracks (which I thought were inspired at the time and made sure I backed up on CD before we left).
I keep getting flashbacks of petite anglaise standing on the futon singing her heart out into a (hairbrush) microphone while I played guitar and Leanne accompanied us on the triangle, swinging from the ceiling on a trapeze that I hadn't noticed previously.
But that can't be right. Must be my mind playing tricks on me.
posted by backroads
It started off as a very nice, relaxing evening. I'd been so engrossed in the excellent book I was reading that it wasn't until I'd finished the very last page and brought my mind back to reality that I heard it. Coming from somewhere upstairs I could hear the feint sounds of a CD playing. I knew that it couldn't be Tim back already and so decided to venture upstairs to see what was going on.
No sooner had I reached the top step to the ASC that a figure, dressed in what could only be described as straight from an Ann Summers window display, went flying past me down the stairs, mumbling something along the lines of 'it's not what it seems like'. I could still hear noises coming from behind the ASC door and faced with the dilemma of whether to try to find out who the woman was or whether to see what all the racket in the ASC was about (the music no longer sounding like a CD) I decided I'd better see what was behind the door. Better that than risking having to explain to Tim that 'it's not what it seems like' should he come back early and catch me chasing a scantily clad woman around his house.
Well there he was guitar in hand, strumming away completely oblivious to my presence. A quick 'what on earth do you think you're doing' cough soon got his attention though and after he got over the initial shock and puzzlement he introduced himself as the infamous 'Backroads' (strange name for an aspiring rock star but there you go). He did try to convince me that him and the woman who nearly knocked me right back down the stairs again, who I now know to be 'petite anglaise' (an equally strange name for an aspiring rockstar's roadie) had actually been using the ASC as a secret love nest while Tim was away. I didn't believe a word of it of course - still wearing sunglasses, buttoned up parka and a guitar strapped round his neck made it all seem a bit unlikely.
On Petite Anglaise's return we introduced ourselves and all decided we might as well make the most of the amenities - free range of Tim's instruments, recording studio and mini-bar was an opportunity too good to miss.
My memories of the evening are a bit hazy from that point onwards. Well, when I say hazy I mean pretty much non-existent. All I've got to show for it is a chipped tooth, a few bruised knuckles, a huge lump on my head and a very vague recollection of Petite Anglaise warning me to put the cycle helmet on before showing off my skills on the trapeze.
But that can't be right. Must be my mind playing tricks on me.
Posted by Leanne
Wearing only my comfy slippers and some rather fetching underwear, I had opened the Tadpole's cupboard door to fetch something, I forget what, and
suddenly I was sitting on that cursed exercise bike in the ASC.
But this time I was NOT ALONE. There was a complete stranger - a male - tinkering with Tim's fancy recording studio gadgetry. And as Tim wasn't due back until Sunday at least, I correctly supposed it could only be Monsieur Backroads.
We were both speechless momentarily, but backroads found his voice first.
'You must be petite anglaise I take it?' he said, trying but failing to make eye contact.
'Ahem. Yes. And I think you've met a little more of me than was strictly necessary' I replied, blushing a deep shade of beetroot and trying in vain to preserve a little modesty with crossed arms. 'I'll, erm, just go and see if I can find a bathrobe or something...'
At that moment, the door to the ASC opened and there standing staring at us in amazement was a foxy (but fully clothed) lady who could only be the famous Leanne. I skulked off without further ado to make myself decent, leaving backroads to introduce himself and explain to Leanne that despite appearances, it was all perfectly innocent really.
When I got back, wearing a lovely soft white towelling bathrobe which I had found hanging on the back of the bedroom door, Leanne and backroads were rejoicing at the discovery of a well-stocked mini-bar.
My memories of the evening are a bit hazy from that point onwards, but I remember we started off singing along to some of Tim's music and compositions and then progressed to improvisations and the actual recording of tracks (which we thought were inspired at the time, but I sincerely hope were deleted).
I keep getting flashbacks of myself standing on the futon singing my heart out into a (hairbrush) microphone while backroads played guitar and Leanne accompanied us on the triangle, swinging from the ceiling on a trapeze that I hadn't noticed previously.
But that can't be right. Must be my mind playing tricks on me.
posted by petite anglaise
Thursday, October 07, 2004
I can't resist firing up Tim's little studio, his marvelous magical mouse organ, his kazoo and his swanee whistle. I just have to have a little stab at a special AFMIP composition and I aim for somewhere between Bert Bacharach, Elvis Costello and The Fountains of Wayne. Unfortunately my efforts sound more like a savage cross of the very early Beatles with Oasis. I press 'delete' as I hear someone coming up the stairs...
Posted by backroads
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
So anyway, it was a good job I’d decided not to put it on Ebay – which was purely down to last Sunday’s rain soaked afternoon showing my support for women’s football. It wasn’t fun standing on the edge of the pitch in the absolute pouring rain with zero visibility and mud seeping through my trainers hollering 'Come On You Whites', but as I used to be a player myself I felt that I’d better show willing (when I say 'player' I mean that I used to go to training, played in a few matches and scored a few goals but gave up in the end due to not being able to take the pace). Anyway, there were about ten of us in total cheering the team along one of which was Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy and sponsor of the footie team. I was chatting to him about this and that and then in a momentary lapse of sense (or so I thought at the time) I stupidly mentioned the kinder egg story, thereby scuppering my chance to auction it off (I was worried that he may pop onto Ebay every so often just to check out his popularity status by seeing how much BDB memorabilia is going for).
So in the end it seems that it was a stroke of luck that I got absolutely drenched and got chatting to Badly Drawn Boy about the egg, despite the drawbacks.
Anyway, I’m off to settle down to a grim black coffee (the milk was strangely off even though I only bought it a day ago) and to read ‘Everything Is Illuminated’ that I found on the shelf and that I recall Tim recommending in a post some time ago.
The score was 2-0 to ‘us’ by the way.
Posted by Leanne
Monday, October 04, 2004
Anyway, I managed to dispatch everyone off to the park on Sunday afternoon, on the pretext that I wanted some quality housework time. This ploy never fails: the Frog can't believe his luck at getting off scot-free and, like most men, doesn't actually notice if the place is any cleaner when he gets back. It never is. I just leave a few dusters and cleaning products out.
Upon arrival at Tim's, the first thing I noticed was Tadpole's chocolate fingerprints on the futon, so I decided to take the cover down to the kitchen and stick it in the washing machine, praying the chocolate stains hadn't been left on too long. Who buys white furniture anyway? You can tell they haven't got kids/pets...
The kitchen light wouldn't go on for some reason. In the dim light it looked like something had been at the rubbish bin - rodents? All the clocks on the electrical appliances were flashing and showing the wrong time. I stepped in a pool of water in front of the fridge freezer, which must have defrosted.
Oh bugger - why did things have to go wrong on my watch? I managed to find the electricity meter under the stairs and tripped the switch, which seemed to do the trick. Why it had gone off in the first place, I'll never know. Maybe using a portal causes a power surge?
I thought I'd better check the fridge to make sure Tim and his missus wouldn't be welcomed home by fluffy green vegetables and rancid butter. Actually, the fridge was bare and smellt of bleach. Admirable foresight. But wait, what was that? Something oval was floating in a puddle on the bottom shelf. A Kinder egg. It looked like there might once have been something written on the wrapper with a marker pen. But the water had smudged it and it was now almost incomprehensible: "Boldly drowned dog"??
*lightbulb appears above petite anglaise's head*
posted by petite anglaise
Saturday, October 02, 2004
That’s it. I’m in. Well, I’m in the kitchen and whoever was here has gone (for now). I’m going to try and see what they’ve been up to before they get back. The cupboards are open but the shelves are full. I can see tins and all sorts… asparagus, beans, chick peas, a packet of digestives, egg-noodles, fry-light, go-ahead bars, tinned ham…. Hang on. There’s something odd about this. It’s the most orderly food cupboard I’ve ever seen. I know Tim’s a tidy bugger, but this is ridiculous…
Someone’s put the groceries in alphabetical order. Is that weird or is that weird?
Turning round, an overflowing rubbish bin catches my eye. Out of character of Tim to go off on holiday without emptying the bins. Hang on, it’s full of CDs!!! I can see Kenny, The Rubettes, Mud, Rocky Sharpe and The Replays, Clive Dunn’s Grandad, Yessongs, Benny Hill’s Ernie, The Osmonds ‘The Plan’… I’m not sure that Tim’d admit to these CDs so it looks like someone’s done him a favour and cleared out everything from before 1979! He must have loved this stuff on the quiet and bought it all relatively recently… CDs didn’t come out until 1983 and even then you could only get Brothers in Arms.
posted by backroads
Friday, October 01, 2004
Well, as Tim mentioned, I’ve been trying to persuade him to put it on Ebay – it’d go for a fortune I’m sure. Tim wasn’t quite so sure – until I told him a couple of my Ebay stories.
One of the most ludicrous involves a pair of socks and towards the end of this entry you’ll no doubt be under the impression that I’m a tight git. It’s not true – I’m just intrigued by the way some people are just too happy to part with their money in exchange for crap.
Last Christmas someone bought me a pair of footie socks. Plain, white and non-descript. Approx. £1.99 from most high street sports shops. And yes of course they could have gone to charity but instead they just got thrown on the ‘must put on Ebay’ pile.
I eventually got round to it and put them on at an ambitious starting price of 20p. The days ticked by and not surprisingly a couple of page hits appeared but no bids. Then, as if long, white, knee length footie socks were about to become collectors’ items, the bids rushed in. The final winning bid, a ridiculous £8 + P&P!
I didn’t question it but envisioned an e-mail a couple of days later saying, ‘really sorry, these aren’t for me, thought they were those long, white, knee length footie socks that are about to become collectors items, can I have my money back please?’. Instead, the e-mail said, ‘Great item, thanks very much, do you have any more to sell?’!
Now this proves that I’m not tight – no I didn’t rush down to my local JJB to stock up on a footie teams worth of cheap crap socks so I could flog them to him at £8 a throw. No – I sent him an e-mail suggesting he pops down to his local JJB to save himself a fortune.
Yes I know I should have sold him a footie teams worth of £8 socks and given the proceeds to charity – but whilst not tight, I am incredibly lazy and just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle.
But back to the egg. I’m very tempted to do him a favour and get the egg listed and sold in time for their return. Only problem is it’s not Tim’s, it’s the Girlfriend’s. She’d kill me (final bid price permitting). Oh well, I’ll have a think and maybe I’ll do it anyway.
Posted by Leanne
It kind of goes without saying, but this is my blog. I own it. Slightly daft MP3 disclaimer: All MP3's are posted here for a limited time only. Music is not posted here with the intention to profit or violate copyright. In the unlikely event that you are the creator or copyright owner of a song published on this site and you want it to be removed, let me know.