Sunday, September 10, 2006

Recycled Air 

True to my word, I collected some scientific data for my research into time travel.
Amongst other things, I hoped to discover some answers to important questions, such as:
1) If an aeroplane leaves Portland at 1:45pm local time, travels for nine hours and forty minutes, and lands in Frankfurt, when will it be teatime?

I keep my pen poised.

2:00pm. 16,000 feet. 5,132 miles to go.
As if to compensate for our missing the Mount St. Helens visitor centre, the plane flies directly over the mountain. Steam rises from the crater. It’s like looking into a giant boiled egg that’s had it’s top lopped off. Amazing. Girlfriend begins reading Love In The Time Of Cholera,

4:30pm. 3,729 miles to go. Travelling at 588mph. Outside temperature: -16 °C
Approaching Hudson Bay.

5:15pm. 33,000 feet. 3,293 miles to go. Travelling at 590mph. Outside temperature: -52 °C
Between Hudson Bay and Baffin Island. Holy crap, we’re going fast. Glad it’s warmer in here than it is outside. Girlfriend reading like a good ‘un. I’m too busy with my data to think of anything else.

7:15pm. Midway across Greenland. Outside temperature: -46 °C
Of course, on the outward journey, you could see Greenland below. It looked flat and white and worthy of a photo, but I didn’t have my camera. Now I do have my camera but it’s dark outside. Bugger - I forgot to record when it went dark. I am worried for my reputation as a scientific researcher.

8:45pm. 37,000 feet. 1,320 miles to go. Travelling at 560mph. Outside temperature: -58 °C
Girlfriend is galloping through her book. It’s becoming a real scientific possibility she might finish before we get there. Bugger - I forgot to record when it got light. We are shown a video extolling the virtues of Frankfurt Airport. They want us to know it’s really great there.

10:30pm. 385 miles to go.
We fly over Esbjerg, which might be in Denmark. I see eighty wind farms out to sea in a diamond formation. It is, quite literally, neat. I take a photograph. It looks like it was taken by a blind person.

Forget to record the time.
We land in Frankfurt. I have caught a cold during the course of the journey, and coming into land is excruciatingly painful on my ear drums, and I’m not just talking “Man Excruciatingly Painful.” It really hurts. Girlfriend finishes her book as we taxi into the docking station.
Frankfurt Airport is filthy and disgusting. Their idea of a ‘smoking area’ is a roped off section in the middle of a corridor. You have to walk through it to get where you need to be.
There is racist graffiti in the toilet cubicles. They didn’t mention this in the video. What with me having a snotty nose, ears that feel like Meg White is practising in them, my clothes smelling of cigarette smoke, and now public displays of racism, I am not in a good mood. Somebody - I’m not sure who: the person who wrote it; the Frankfurt Airport authorities for not bothering to remove it - should be fucking ashamed of themselves.

Can’t be arsed to record the time.
We eventually fly to Manchester. My ears do that fucking thing again as we come in to land. I’m not kidding. It seriously hurts, and continues hurting for the next week or so.
Sleep in taxi. Nice to get home though.
I’m a bit confused as to what time it actually is. Mid-afternoon the next day, I think. This is the heart of the nub of the problem of the mystery of time travel. Girlfriend suggests staying awake until bedtime, as it will help to offset the effects of jetlag. I am so tired I want to cry. I try, but end up catching a few ZZZs while she’s not looking.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Prairie Home Companion 

Next time Sir Alan Sugar gives me a small kitty and orders me to flog stuff to the general public, this will be my money spinning scheme: I’ll set up a market stall selling pancakes.
We wandered around the food stalls at the Saturday Market in Portland, and there was only going to be one winner: the Jerry Garcia lookalike with the same birthday as me. You can have sweet fillings, savoury fillings, and nobody who saw Jerry's stall thought twice about stopping to buy one.
Remind me of this should I ever need to call up a Plan B.

After browsing round the market, we headed for Powell’s City of Books, a place of departmental store proportions, so vast it has it’s own car park on the roof and they issue maps to help you find your way around. It was all a bit too much, overwhelming even. I didn’t know where to start and ended up in the café, which isn’t unusual.

Then we took a look at Pioneer Square and strolled along the riverfront.
Hempfest was in full swing, a mini-festival celebrating the joys of cannabis use. People were selling clothing and bootleg DVDs. One stall was selling video tapes offering advice on what to do should you be apprehended by the police. Essentially, this is: don’t run away because they might shoot you. The man on the tape also recommended repeated viewings of the tape, so that it all sinks in, thus implying his audience were idiots with short term memory problems. I wonder why that might be so?

It was another hot day, and we spent a good while people watching around the Salmon Street Springs fountain.
I liked Portland, or at least, what little we saw of it. It has a nice, liberal, easy going kind of feel. It’s a small city, noticeably down on it’s uppers here and there, rougher around the edges than Seattle or Vancouver, but no less endearing for that. Walk.

We sat in the soaking pool for half an hour, chatting with a man about how the presence of the hotel had been good for the neighbourhood as a whole. For one thing, local residents got to use facilities like the soaking pool free of charge. I can think of places round our way that would - or would have - benefited from the McMenamins treatment.
Through a gap in the trees we could see that a wedding ceremony was about to start. We considered the comic possibilities of appearing in the background of somebody’s wedding video, clowning around in our swimming costumes, then thought better of it so went to catch a movie instead.

Tonight’s show was A Prairie Home Companion - “We come from people who brought us up to believe that life is a struggle, and if you should ever feel really happy, be patient, this will pass.” It's a lovely end of the era comedy about old theatres and variety shows, and couldn’t have been more right for the venue.

Then we ate, and after that we drank cocktails in the Detention Bar until fuzzy o’clock.

Breakfast shot: Strawberry pancake.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Interstate Five 

Seattle was overcast, workaday grey.
Sadly, there was no time for any of the things we still wanted to do: visit the underground (for reasons of bad plumbing, in the 1890s the streets around Pioneer Square were rebuilt ten feet higher. The original streets and buildings still exist, and for many years a dingy, subterranean world of brothels and seedy bars co-existed with the new city above); look round the EMP; ride to the top of the Space Needle; check out the university district. They’ll all have to wait until next time.
I took a few panoramic cityscapes - I haven’t read Terminal Sales Blog, but hats off to it’s author for the unabashed self-promotion - then hit the road, pausing only to hire a car first.

We headed east, out of the city on Interstate 90, destination Snoqualmie Falls. If you love Twin Peaks as much as we do then you’ll recognise this view because it features prominently throughout. It’s, like, awesome.

I like the unspoken understanding that exists among holidaymakers when it comes to having your photo taken with your partner/family/friends/team of carers.
You only need to catch somebody’s eye, half wave your camera in their direction, and they understand that you’d like your picture taking, and are always happy to oblige. We’re all in this together; we all understand.
I like to think I became quite adept at this. I lost count of the times I snapped other people for their holiday albums.
It reached the point where I wouldn’t even wait to be asked. I’d see a group shaping up, snatch the camera out of the photographer’s hand, nod to him or her to join the rest of the group, press the shutter, admire my work on the little screen, then return the camera, and all with barely a word spoken.
I wonder if I ever unwittingly forced an asked photographer to have their photo taken with a bunch of complete strangers. Probably.
Here we both are at the bottom of the falls.

We had a late breakfast a few miles down the road at Twede’s Café, North Bend. In Twin Peaks, this is the Double R Diner, so you can guess what we ate.
It’s a really great place - blue vinyl seating, lots of neon - and was bustling with locals, but we weren’t made to feel like the nerdy tourists we patently were.
In spite of having been burned to the ground and rebuilt since the show was made, it still looked thrillingly like it does on the telly.

We found our way to Interstate 5 and drove the 150 miles or so to Portland, Oregon.
It wasn’t much fun. The roads were too congested to be able enjoy the ride, the traffic around Tacoma and Olympia being especially awful. At one point I missed a turn, so we drove for ages looking for a suitable road to pull into and turn around, which only led to other roads which couldn’t be turned in either, so we drove for miles and miles deep into suburbia, where we eventually turned around in somebody’s drive before heading back in search of our junction.
“I think we went left, left, right, left, right, left. So all we have to do now is right, left, right, left, right, right and we’ll be back on course. Easy.”
It’s a similar story if you need to stop for petrol. British motorway service stations never seemed like such a stroke of genius.

It was late afternoon as we approached Mount St. Helens.
Here is a picture from before May 18th 1980, and here is one from afterwards. Fifty seven people lost their lives in “the most deadly and economically destructive volcanic eruption in the history of the United States.”
This roll call of geologists - “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!” - photographers, people like us just passing through, locals, ham radio enthusiasts - “The camper and car sitting to the south of me is covered. It's gonna get me too” - and so on, makes moving reading.
We were disappointed to find that we’d arrived too late for the visitor centre. It had been somewhere Girlfriend particularly wanted to see. We stood at the viewing point and looked at the mountain some thirty miles away. You’d never guess the devastation that took place.

Our hotel in Portland was the best I’ve ever stayed in. It had once been an elementary school but had lain empty for years, until being rescued and restored to its full glory by McMenamins, a chain that specialises in quirky historic buildings.
The reception desk was staffed by a bunch of real friendly young dudes - they looked like they all played in indie bands when they weren’t running a hotel - and we were put in the Sewing Room.
We grinned the grins of the tired and demented as we took in our surroundings, admiring the cosy bars and movie theatre, the art on the walls, and resisted the urge to run down the corridors for fear of being reprimanded by stern mistressy types with canes. Well, actually…

In the restaurant bar me and Girlfriend had to produce our passports before they would serve us - which in the light of recent events made me immeasurably happy - and we can recommend the dessert.
The place had a terrific Friday night buzz and was clearly a big hit with locals. Radiohead (Kid A period) played on the sound system.
All you can see of this man is his knee.

Breakfast shot, Diane: Cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Take The Long Way Round 

...see the sights, hear sounds. Where you’ll go, nobody knows.

I woke up and I was forty. And I’m still not going bald yet. Hooray.
We checked out of the inn, then returned to the lighthouse in the hope of spotting more whales. We didn’t see any, and by the look of it, the last sighting of any had been those we’d seen on Monday, so we must have been pretty lucky.

We had a look around Friday Harbor, population 1,989, a quiet, pleasant town, and caught up on writing postcards in an unassuming little coffee shop - the girls behind the counter were re-arranging the shift rota to work around their new college timetables - before returning the car. The island seemed to be winding down after the summer. The guy from the car hire firm gave the impression he felt torn between living here and being somewhere with a bit more going on.

It was another travelling day, back to Seattle. An eerie fog descended. We felt kinda sleepy.
It was a treat to see the city swing into view again. A small crowd gathered on the deck, excitedly taking photos of the skyline, which was even more spectacular than the last time. Dusk was falling and the lights were coming on. I couldn’t have wanted more.

This time we caught a cab. The driver, a thoughtful, quietly spoken young man, asked about our travels.
“Vancouver is the San Francisco of the north,” he said. “More international than Seattle. Americans are very insular.”
He’d majored in urban planning, and said we’d like Portland. He spoke highly of the work of it’s city planners.

We stayed at the Andra again and had a nice meal in the hotel restaurant, enjoying some quality people watching. We felt like regulars - they even gave us a bag of sweets when we checked in, a welcome back gift.
But I didn’t mention it was my birthday. I didn’t want them thinking they had to sing for me or anything.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Reach Out, I’ll Be There 

From this day on I wish to be referred to by my First Nations name: “Kayaks With Harbour Seal Pups.”

We wandered through Roche Harbor Cemetery, then into the woods to the mausoleum of John Stafford McMillin. It’s very imposing and must get pretty spooky at night.
We imagined it being a great haunt for teenagers, especially those of a goth bent, a regular hangout for cider drinking and frightening themselves witless. I don’t know if the International Federation of Goths actually has a chapter on San Juan Island, but it’s a pleasing thought that it might.
This poor soul didn’t have much of a life.

Roche Harbor itself was literally jumping to the lively thud of hammer against nail, building fever having taken hold of the little community. Nice houses.

In the afternoon we went sea kayaking, which was dead brilliant. There was me and Girlfriend in one kayak, another couple in another, and a very pleasant and thankfully competent young man called Brent (I think) who was our guide.
We were out for three hours, happily hopping from island to island, across major shipping channels, up tide, down tide, handling starfish, which are hard and muscular and a bit weird, then through fields of kelp - you can eat it, but you wouldn’t want a whole one - and I loved every minute.
We must have kayaked, I don’t know, a hundred miles or so.

My favourite bit was paddling among harbour seal pups, who would come up and look at us with their gorgeous big puppy eyes, and splash about playing and all that. I want one.
"We could keep it in the bath," I've told nobody. "And I’d take it out for swims everyday and look after it properly, I promise, and it could sleep at the bottom of our bed, and it’d be great for frightening off burglars. We’d call it Flipper, or Spot, and it would be my best friend in the whole world after Girlfriend."
Then I would pause and say, if I actually ever did tell anybody, "I wonder if they stick their heads out of the window when you take them for rides in the car?"

Now here’s an interesting fact for your contemplation: the male barnacle has a penis twelve times it’s own body length. This is because it requires far too much effort to unstick itself from whatever it’s clamped onto - a rock, a pier, the sofa whenever Kate Humble Watch is on the telly - so instead it stays put and sends it’s enormous member out and about when in the mood for love and reproduction.
Okay. So I’m six foot tall.
Supposing I was a barnacle - and that doesn’t require as big a leap of the imagination as you might think - would it be possible, I wonder, to train it to make coffee and prepare light snacks while I'm upstairs playing the guitar? Or return my library books if it was too rainy to get out of the car? Or buy a round of drinks in the pub while I remained seated, making sophisticated conversation with my friends? We’ll probably never know.

Anyway. For dinner we had pizza overlooking the harbour, and the evening’s local interest video entertainment was Snow Falling On Cedars, which was a big improvement.
It turns out that Helen our innkeeper’s son-in-law’s English teacher was the bloke what wrote the book. Small world.

Breakfast shot: Fruits.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006


“Would you rather,” asked Girlfriend, a worried expression on her face, “find yourself 1) sitting helplessly on top of a fountain, with your head banging repeatedly against the ceiling? Or 2) being sucked down a vortex through the plughole?”

Tough call. We passed the morning in the jacuzzi bath in a state of mild anxiety, hanging onto each others ankles for dear life. It kept going off for no good reason!

We had a lovely, lazy day, sitting out on the deck mostly, reading and that. We listened to some local singers and I caught up with my notes. It was T-shirts and barefoot warm, but you could see snow on the Olympus Mountains across the water.

In the evening, we drove down the dirt track -
"How many acres, how much light? Tucked in the woods and out of sight. Talk to the neighbours and tip my cap, on a little road barely on the map. Oh! Old dirt road! MushaBOOM!"
- back onto West Side, round the bendy bits for a few miles as far as Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse. Sometimes whales come right up to the shore, and you can reach out and tickle their tummies, but sadly not tonight.
We hung around waiting until sunset, then made our way back through the creepy woods, rushing blurrily past the slightly sinister looking woodsmen’s huts. Dinner was beer and nachos again.

We watched a video of Sleepless In Seattle, playing ‘spot the places we’ve just been to,’ which wasn’t very many.
The story goes: Meg Ryan hears recently widowed Tom Hanks on talk radio show, becomes obsessed, stalks him, callously dumps goofy fiancé Walter.
I won’t say any more to spoil the ending, but it was a turgid load of crazed-fanaticism-masquerading-as-romantic-fulfilment bollocks, with Meg and Tom inevitably walking hand in hand into the sunset, all thanks to Hanks’ vomit-inducingly schmaltzy idiot son, and poor innocent Walter - he can’t stop sneezing! - heartlessly brushed aside and forgotten about.
“That was a load of rubbish,” said Girlfriend as the credits rolled, and I agreed.

The next day I discovered she was being ironic. She certainly is a complex and bewitching woman.

Breakfast shot: Strawberries, napkins and posh crockery.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Came And Went, And We Shed What Was Left Of Our Summer Skin 

“So if you’ve any questions, you come ask me. Sometimes I’m up here, sometimes I’m on the lower deck. Nothing important to keep me here, so you just ask away.
At 9 o’clock that’s a California sea lion. It’s the only sea lion which barks like a dog, so if you see a sea lion at the circus and it’s barking, it’s a Californian. No questions yet? Hey, that’s OK. I’m just the guy nobody wants to talk to, but I’m cool with that.
There’s free coffee on the lower deck, where Nicole is taking breakfast orders. Nicole used to talk to me, but not anymore it seems.
You’ll notice a lot of pleasure craft in the bay. Salmon fishers mostly, note the long rods. They drop their lines very deep. Today is Labor Day of course, so lots of these large boats are returning home after the summer, a lot of traffic today. Still no questions?
Two o’clock! Another Californian sea lion! What sound do they make? Woof! That’s right. Woof!
I miss our little chats, Nicole. It used to be me and you versus the rest of the crew, but now it's like I don't exist.
Okay folks, we have a question! How long do orcas live? I’m sorry Ma’am, I don’t know the answer to that question. I’m not sure I even care, Ma’am. Yes Ma’am, life is very long, isn’t it? Too long sometimes. Did you hear that Nicole? Life is very long! The days drag without you. Woof!”

Another day, another ferry.
When we boarded the 7:45 Victoria Clipper to Friday Harbor, St. Juan Island, we weren’t expecting a sightseeing trip with lonely guy commentary. But it passed the time, and we learned this delightful fact: the male puffin cannot distinguish between male and female puffins.
The only way it can tell is to present a fish to another puffin, and if the fish is accepted, then the puffin is female. I thank the Lord I’m not a puffin. The days must amount to one dismal humiliation after another:

1) “It’s not you. It’s me. I’ll eat your fish, but no way am I breeding with you.”
2) “It’s not me. It’s you. Your breath stinks of salmon.”
3) “I’m a lesbian. Sorry. Now go away.”
4) “I’m a vegetarian. And I’m also the same puffin from 3). Now really - please go away.”
5) “I’m a gay male. You don’t need to know that yet. Fish? Ooh, lovely! Do you work out?”

Deception Pass was invigorating, and I felt a compelling yearning to set up home in Useless Bay. Can’t imagine why. This man made me think of Buddha.

At Friday Harbor I persuaded a woman to hire me a car. It wasn’t easy. Her body language said “You look high risk” and she charged us accordingly. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.
We set off in search of our inn - drive on the right, drive on the right, drive on the right - but I missed our turn, so we did a complete loop of the island, thirty miles or so, and I nailed it at the second attempt.
St Juan Island is what I imagine the outer Hebrides must be like: just a few quiet roads, a handful of farms, and two small towns. It felt terrifically remote. On that first loop we saw two separate car smashes being attended to by the emergency services - the first vehicle was down a ditch in a “Shit, that looks serious” kind of way; the second had blown up and managed to set the road alight in the process. I was wondering if we’d landed on Boy Racer Island. It explained why I’d just paid six months salary for car insurance.

We picked up beer and stuff in Roche Harbor, then settled into a rather grand suite at the Highland Inn. It was all a bit posh by our standards and we were frightened of knocking things over and breaking them. Helen the innkeeper was terrifically nice and explained how to operate all the equipment at considerable length and at such a pace that we panicked and couldn’t remember anything at all. This only made us more nervous.
After our technical briefing, we stood on the balcony - and boy, was it some balcony - and within no time at all saw a pod of five orcas casually passing by, doing the breaching thing and enjoying their tea. We watched them for over an hour and it was simply amazing. Orcas, or killer whales, aren’t whales at all of course. They’re just dolphins with big bones, and thankfully, the particular pod that passed before us wasn’t the hooligan type that duffs up seals for laughs. The last thing we needed now was violated seal trauma.

We stayed out on our swing while the sky darkened, completely enchanted. Victoria twinkled across the Haro Strait, where the 49th Parallel - the Canadian / United States border - hits the coast, loses it’s straight lined inhibitions and goes all wonky for a bit. I’m sure you would too in the circumstances.
Five million birds partied in the surrounding shrubs, and it was heavenly.

My Turn To Cook Dinner Shot: Beer, nachos, San Juan Salsa.

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I make a rare Public Announcement!!!

The Fiftieth Annual Royal Manchester Society of Blog Awards Ceremonies takes place at Urbis, on Monday evening, 7:00pm. Bring your own. Urbis is somewhere in Manchester. I suggest you try Multimap or something.

Please join me in thinking mildly hateful thoughts towards Keris Stainton and Stuart Kitchentable, my fellow nominees in the Best Personal Blog category.

If you’re thinking of going, I’ll be the chap in the tuxedo smiling ineptly towards Keris Stainton and Stuart Kitchentable and attempting polite small talk, while quietly dying inside and wishing I’d stayed at home with some Special Brew and Bryson’s latest.

The two blogs that I voted for, Mancubist and The 43, are going head to head in the Blog of the Year category, and I’ve heard there’s going to be a bloodbath. If I’d only had the intelligence to realise I could vote in three categories, I’d have voted for Crinkly Bee too.

If you see me, please do say hello and maybe join me for some cocaine in the toilets.
Further information here.

This message will be deleted once it becomes a bit, you know, irrelevant.


Best Arts and Culture Blog: Yer Mam
Best Political Blog: Normblog
Best Personal Blog: A Free Man In Preston
Blog Of The Year: The 43
Good Egg Of The Year For Organising The Whole Thing, Thus Disqualifying Herself From Entering: The Manchizzle

It was a very nice evening meeting up with everybody I met up with. I'll blather on about it more once I've caught up with myself. Could be a while yet.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


“There’s a man with a parrot in his hand!” exclaimed Girlfriend.
“Where?” I asked, looking up and down the street. Actually I could see him perfectly well, right there, strolling along, bird in hand, like it was a quite normal Sunday morning thing to do.
“Can you see that?” she asked doubtfully.
If this was a cartoon, she’d have rubbed her eyes and a trombone would have made a funny noise.

She had good reason to suspect she was witnessing avian apparitions. We’d skipped breakfast in order to brunch in the hotel restaurant and she was gulping down a Bloody Lola: a savage blend of vodka and the freshly squeezed juice of a thousand chilli peppers. She was on pints.

Earlier we’d walked Downtown, gawping open mouthed at skyscrapers - they’re incredibly tall! - and admiring the lovely old buildings in Pioneer Square.
We could have made an entire holiday of wandering from room to room in the huge and wonderful Elliott Bay Book Company shop. I believe that during monsoon season, which begins mid-September and ends late August, Seattle’s more fervent book botherers are actually allowed to take sleeping bags and sanitary essentials and live amongst the shelves, surviving only on scraps of remaindered Jamie Olivers and giving readings - everybody’s an author - for small change.
Afterwards, we stopped by at the market again to catch the fish throwing.

As we headed back to Bumbershoot, a girl in a wedding dress was doing sultry in the hotel foyer. I photographed her being photographed. “Model shoot or real bride?” we wondered. She was extremely pouty, and they were gone in minutes. I think we witnessed our first drive-by speed wedding photography incident.

Back at the festival, we queued here and there for things only to give up and not bother. The line to see Mary Lynn Rajskub performing standup - you know, the socially awkward one in 24 - was such that you needed to have joined it at Bumbershoot ‘05. And if you wanted to watch headliner Kanye West, well forget it.

We’d been looking forward to seeing Jose Gonzalez for months, so we headed three hours early to the North West Court Lounge to get a good seat and waited patiently, enduring some jazz which wasn’t really our thing, and sixties survivor Vashti Bunyan, who I’d have liked to have enjoyed but I’m afraid was very weak indeed. Project, Vashti, you need to project!
We passed the time talking to a friendly local couple behind us, greying hippy types, who you might have thought were among Vashti’s core audience. They’d never heard of her, but after a few songs the lady leaned forward and whispered, “You were right. She’s not very good, is she? We’re off to see Kanye.”
We also chatted to some teenage lads sat in front of us, when the urge to join in their game of Trivial Pursuits became too strong to resist. “What’s the UK’s largest ethnic group?” Not what I’d have thought. We compared Belle and Sebastian T-shirts.

Jose Gonzalez was extremely good, a very neat, intimate little set, and it was well received.
Afterwards, we ate Funnel cake - heart attacks on paper plates - fondled some trees, then enjoyed Jose’s second set with dance outfit Zero 7. We lay on the grass, holding the Space Needle between our fingers and thumbs, soaking up the mellow beats and it was just, you know, really lovely. A perfect moment, in as far as anything ever can be perfect, I suppose.

Brunch Shot: Eggs, toast, home fries, side order of berries.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Secret Someones 

The Crocodile Café has a pleasingly scruffy student refectory kind of vibe. They were having an Elliott Smith morning, which only made me like the place more.
If I lived in Seattle - and you know, I think I’d quite like to; I’d even consider attempting a beard - I’d be a regular.
“Hi Tim,” they’d say as I stepped through the door. “Beard’s looking good this morning,” they’d remark while pouring my coffee, and we’d pass the time of day this way, speaking of music and art and great things, and I’d be an exceptionally good tipper, the best.

After breakfast we walked down to the famous Pike Place Market, as seen in films and that, and bought fruit from one of the immaculately set out stalls - sometimes psychotically so - and generally drifted around with the crowds.
I was hoping to buy some stuff from the Sub Pop Megamart, but everyone we asked had never heard of it and it didn’t appear on any maps, so it seems it must have closed since our guidebook was published. We did pass their old office on Fourth Avenue where, apparently, bands would play in the lobby and you could come and go as you pleased, but now they’ve moved elsewhere. Oh well. We did get to pass by a Giant Shoe Museum.

Bumbershoot was great, even if it’s counter-culture credentials were skewed slightly by the presence of local entrepreneurs made good, then made very bad indeed, Starbucks.
There was a kid playing a violin, while hula-hooping on a ball - lose the rubbish jester look and you'll go far; another kid juggling machetes while standing on a stack of skateboards; art made of cake; family portraits in confectionary; umbrellas up trees; and sew on.
I was particularly taken with guerrilla knit tagging, and keenly await it’s arrival here in Lancashire, even if I have to learn to knit to make it happen.
Girlfriend bought a book made from books, while I opted for a book about books, both read and unread. I've not read it yet.
There was an exhibition and talk about Second Life, the point of which I couldn’t fathom.

Music-wise, we enjoyed Laura Veirs’ set, who was rockin’ the alt.geologist crowd, and looking suspiciously like the unstoppable force that is our Petite.
‘Of Montreal’ were daft, flamboyant and highly entertaining in a Scissor Sisters kind of way, and then we watched Badly Drawn Boy, who was terrific in his own raggedy-arsed shambling fashion. I like him a lot.
It seemed strange seeing him there, like bumping into a friend whilst on holiday half way around the world. From the way he kept blinking up at the Space Needle while he sang, he looked like he was feeling a bit “I can’t quite believe I’m here” too.

It was all terrifically civilised. Afterwards, we flowed along crowded streets back to our hotel, past street drummers bashing away polyrhythmically on plastic tubs and beer bottles, and bought a sandwich from a shop where neither the staff nor the clientele could understand a word of what the other was saying - with hilarious consequences, ie. not being given a sandwich.

Breakfast Shot: alt.rock Omelette.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Seattle Skyline 

We checked out of the Shamrock Suites and wobbled down to the harbour, rucksacks bastard heavy with teabags, our passports at the ready. We were leaving Canada and catching the next Victoria Clipper to the States.

I’ve begun to wonder if North Americans are genetically programmed to be so outgoing - perhaps it’s a throwback to pioneering days - because they seem to form friendships with enviable ease, and nowhere more so than on ferries.
You’ve hardly settled into your seat and adjusted your under garments for optimum comfort before the chatter of life stories being exchanged rises above the drone of the engines: the straits of the Pacific Northwest are rich feeding grounds for the shy and retiring English eavesdropper.

In between listening to the traveller’s tales of two wholesome teenagers and the elderly couple they’d been asked to keep an eye on, I took snaps of an eerily calm sea, guzzled free coffee, and became terrifically excited upon seeing the Seattle skyline swing into view. It was one of those Wow! moments I hope will stay with me for as long as I have a memory.

On the map it didn’t look too far to the hotel so we walked up from the harbour.
Naturally, we chose an unnecessarily wrong route, it was hot, and Seattle is hillier than we’d anticipated given the grid layout of its streets, so we were a little icky by the time we eventually checked into the Hotel Andra.
Then we were kept waiting forty five minutes longer than we should have been while they cleaned our room - I browsed the guest book and tried not to get cross - but the staff apologised graciously and frequently, giving us free drinks and, better still, a room upgrade for our inconvenience, so it worked out alright in the end. The view was very satisfying.

We showered and swanned about the room, looking in cupboards, playing with the gadgets and generally going “Oooh!” a lot.
Later we walked up to the Space Center, where preparations were in place for the weekend’s Bumbershoot Festival - think Glastonbury in the City, cleaner, less drug pushers - and I took a thousand or so pictures of the International Fountain and the Space Needle. It was retro-futuristic-tastic.

We ate at Racha on Mercer Street, wandered around some more - it was warm and the streets were buzzing - then drank margaritas in the hotel bar, looking out onto the corner of Fourth and Virginia until our heads went fuzzy.

Dinner Shot: Mmmm - I Heart Thai.

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