Friday, February 22, 2013

Bucket trip – Day One (well – sorta!)

Don’t expect a day-by-day accounting; I may be having so much fun that I’ll forget to blog. I’m not sure where to start, but there was some other guy from Swansea who once wrote: “To begin at the beginning. I was moonless . . . “.  That, folks, is where the similarity ends!

Wednesday February 20th. 1:00 pm CST

I am at home in St Louis, fixing lunch and listening to the weather forecast for Thursday 21st – the date on which I am scheduled to begin this 6-week ‘Bucket-List Trip’ to the UK. I hear – ‘SEVERE  weather warning! At least 6” of snow, sleet, freezing rain’. Stop already! I think. This is St. Louis – Our airport, Lambert Field, is going to have problems and even if I can get out of there, I may have problems getting to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport – and beyond. Panic!  What if I miss the 45-minute connection; what if I can’t even get to Lambert Field - if it is even open? My flight is for 4:00 pm tomorrow. Quick call to American Airlines: “Don’t s’pose there’s any chance I can change this ticket to get out today is there?”   

An hour or so (a few phone calls) later, I’m on my way to the airport – I got my ticketing switched to a 5:45 pm flight today – a full day ahead of this pending storm! Yeehah! Panic over! Oh!  Better call my brother in the UK – I’ll need him to pick me up a day earlier than he was expecting me.

OK – on board the plane to Chicago now, “Our flying time to Chicago today will be a short 45 minutes”, the captain announces. Thank God for that I think – I just HATE those LONG 45 minute flights - the SHORT 45-minute ones are so much better!  A quick into trip to McDonald’s at O’Hare and I’m set for the wait until my 9:30 pm departure for Heathrow.

An hour into the flight and here comes a nice, ‘picture-perfect’ meal – in a 3” x 5” box: beef, mashed potato, carrots, broccoli, squash, salad, cheese wedge, crackers, roll, brownie and coffee. A meal fit for a king, but the only ‘royalty’ onboard is me! Lights out, movie on; UK, here I come! No tail wind tonight, so ETA is 20 minutes later than scheduled.

Arrive at Heathrow about 11:50 am – just about as the snow starts to hit St. Louis (it is 5:50 am there and without my flight change, I’d be panicking as there’d be ½ a foot of snow accumulation yet to come). Through customs and immigration, no problem – British passport, no packets of white powder in my bags, easy-peasy! Then out to the Central Coach Station to get the coach to Woking where my brother was to pick me up.  Of course, he knew I was arriving a day early in the UK, but not which of the ‘every-half-hour’ coaches I’d be on. No problem, we’d discussed that I’d text him as soon as I knew which one I’d be on; good planning is a must, you see.  Well, not all plans go ‘right’ – as I discovered when I pulled out my well-charged cell phone (I think you call them ‘mobiles’ in the UK) – I see that horrifying message in the top left corner – ‘No service’! Bugger me; what now?  Fortunately, the nice lady who was directing people onto the correct coaches, took me back to her desk and allowed me to use her desk-phone to call my bro’.

‘Long story, short’ – if not too late already – I’m in his house an hour later, drinking a very-welcome Carlsberg lager. A little later – about 4 pm in St Louis - I emailed my likely-snowed-in family in St Louis to say ‘Got here fine – my blydi cell-phone won’t work; find out why. How much snow have you got yet?  Talk later’.

What a day!  Two days, I guess. It started about 7 pm (UK-time) Wednesday when I was rushing my lunch while talking to American Airlines (I know – it is rude to talk with your mouth full), and ended when I hit the sack about 11:30 pm (UK) after getting an email telling me ‘We’ve had 6” of snow so far (with attached photo of grandson number 9 sledding); more on the way; no idea why your cell won’t work! Have fun!

Then, as that other Swansea man said – in another story – “Then, I turned out the light and slept”.

To be continued



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

That damned bucket

Ever heard of the song, “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza” -'s_a_Hole_in_My_Bucket ?  Well, I think there’s either a hole in mine – or the handle is falling off the damned thing!

I have this ‘Bucket-list trip’ – keep up here, Leroy, I blogged about it here 2 weeks ago! Since that time, I have done more searching on the internet than a whole squad of ‘Nitty Noras’ (you can do your own ‘Googling’ for that) ever did on a school-full of scratchy-headed kids in the 50s. I searched for bus and train routes, time-tables, ‘How to get from A to Z’ . . . 

Wait, I tell a little fib there, see? I only searched from ‘A’ (Abertawe) to ‘Y’ (Ystradgynlais) for there is no ‘Z’ in Welsh!  Even that (‘Z’) is a bit of a problem for an Ex-Pat in the USA. When I was a child in Wales, we learned our ‘ABCs’ all the way to ZED, but when I immigrated into the USA (in 1970) I learned that not only did they not have a single ‘tomAHto’ here (only a ’tomAYto’), they had not one ‘ZED’ in the entire country - only a whole bunch of ‘ZEEs’! 

Did you notice? I did that thing I often do – I digressed! [I’m not sure where I learned to do that; I was instructed in waltzes, foxtrots, quicksteps and other ‘baggy-pants’ *  dances, but cannot recall the night Victor Sylvester taught the ‘Digressive Eight’!] 

* Lots of ball room; get it?

Oh!  Bucket-List’ – you’ll have to forgive an old man for his forgetfulness! Yes, I was rambling about a hole, or a loose handle, on that thing. A few things took some unfortunate turns since this trip was conceived, but not wanting to ‘bewitch’ it any further (never mind that this ‘tease’ may induce you to return to my blogosphere – if only to satiate your fiery curiosity)  I will withhold disclosure of those ‘turns’ until after I land on the shores of ‘Mae hen wlad fy Nhadau’.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

I’m in training

Yesterday, after 5 months, I finally finished reading Jasper Fforde’s ‘The Eyre Affair’. The average person would read its 360 or so witty pages in a week, I’d guess. But then, I’m not ‘average’ – I must have been born in Lake Wobegon, where “All the men are strong, all the women are pretty and all the children are above average” – says Garrison Keeler in ‘A Prairie Home Companion’. I love listening to that program on PBS Radio; you may like it too – here’s a link:

I digressed, as I often do!  The point about finishing the novel was not about finishing the novel – but about the manner in which it was accomplished. The final 40 pages were read in sunny, but chilly, weather on my front porch. It was a lot chillier than earlier in the week when I read a couple of dozen pages in the same setting. What drove me on in spite of the piercing breeze and numbed fingers – difficult to turn pages with gloves on – was that 'I am in training'.

"In training?  For what?" you may ask. As I sipped on a glass (or two) of port wine and nibbled mouse-like on an extra-large lump of extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, face to the stinging wind, I was thinking of doing the very same thing in a couple of weeks time. Well, the ‘very same’ - with some ‘very different’ nuances. First, I would not be reading that same book; this time it would Fforde’s second Thursday Next’ novel – ‘Lost in a Good Book’. Next, (no pun intended) I would not be sat on my porch, at a location approximately Longitude 89 West and Latitude 34 N, but something a lot closer to Longitude 4 West and Latitude 51 North – somewhere along the Gower Coast in Wales - watching the waves pounding the rocks.  I will have to walk a mile or two to enjoy that experience, but fortified with wine and cheese in my back-pack, it will be well worth it. The training of which I spoke was: turning pages of a book, opening the bottle of port and extracting the cheese from its container - with gloves on! 

I have already travelled (courtesy of ‘FirstCymru’ buses and ‘Google Maps’) the various bus routes and cliff-walks that I am anxious to take. A stop or two at some of Gower's famous pubs on the way will have me transported back to the late ‘50s quicker than if a Tardis were available. Garrison Keeler likes to take people from the hustle and bustle of city-life in Minneapolis-St Paul to the simpler times and places of the rural Minnesota country-town of Lake Wobegon. Something about that prospect warms me – despite the cold breeze I anticipate.

See you soon, Gower Coastline. Iechyd da!  (Welsh for Good health!)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

What a heavenly week!

We had a spate of strange heavenly or celestial happenings this past week. 

It all began with a surpise announcement early in the week triggering a process that will, towards the end of March, have us looking at the rooftops in Vatican City for puffs of smoke. Will they at first be black - or white?  That same question may be posed regarding the personage for whom the cry, "Abbiamo un Papa!" will fill the air.

Next, we saw pancakes being tossed into the air - from Olney, England to whatever that place (Liberal, I think it is called) in Kansas, USA that follows suit - on Shrove Tuesday [aka Pancake Day - remember that].

Then, as if by some strange duet of coincidental celestial tardiness, we had events that caused people to look skyward again a couple of days later.

First, there was that overdue asteroid (I thought a steroid was something that would have the strength to overcome lethargy) called '2012 some-thing-or-other' that clearly was misnamed as it made its appearance in 2013. We are forunate that its 17,000 mile 'near hit' was a miss, else we'd have a BIG hole someplace in this planet of ours. Do you realize just how close it came?  The Earth's diameter is about 9,000 miles and the moon is 250,000 miles away. That blydi rock came pretty damned close. The bad news is, it will take another run at us (why not Uranus?) in 100 years or so. 

The same day, strongman Vladimir Putin must have quaked as he pulled on a shirt and thought Ronald Reagan had been resurrected. A 'half-football-field-sized' meteor hurtled to ground with a big bang - injurying a 1,000 or more scared Ruskis. First, why is everything (to Americans) described in terms of 'football field dimensions'?  Could it not have been 'quarter-of-a-Siberian-labor-camp wide'? Next, this was not a Big Bang - like that other one 6 billion years ago - but big enough to set off life-creating actions inside many a Boris or Svetlana's underpants. Finally, in a trifecta of puzzlement, was that NASA expert 'serious' (certainly he was 3 days late with his analogy) when he proclaimed, "It just pancaked and exploded".

And the week is only 6 days old at this time; I think I'll adopt that age-old practice - and rest on this 7th day.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Why not? It was a nice day.

I had nothing on my plate yesterday afternoon – I had skipped lunch – so about 4:00 pm I decided to do something novel. I grabbed my copy of Jasper Fforde’s ‘The Eyre Affair’ – I just had to read it before Next, Thursday!  Just to aid in the vowel balancing act, I grabbed a beer to go with the book.

I went outside to my front porch and sat facing north-west. I knew the exact direction because I was only 20 feet from the weather-vane my oldest son had given me when his family came to visit us at Thanksgiving. I had bought a six-pack of some new German beer – it was called Sapphire – made by Beck’s. I immediately thought of Amos and Andy.

Then I started to read the book – at page 302. No, I mean I started it at page 1, back in September 2012, but had left off at page 301 a few weeks ago. I am notoriously slow at reading anything written in English – but with anything written in any other language, I come to a grinding halt – so I take solace in that. It is a gripping novel, which was a little disconcerting as it impeded my efforts to lift my beer glass. The beer had been bought ‘off the floor’ only an hour or so before – so had not yet cooled to its optimum temperature. I let the novel have its way – for 6 more pages over the course of the next half an hour – before loosening its grip on me.

By that time, the stiff breeze that blew from the WSW – I am so thankful for that weather vane - had caused the beer to chill a few more degrees to where it now had that little crispness it was lacking at page 302. It wasn’t a cold day, maybe 54 Fahrenheit; I’ll let you Celsius-lovers adjust your algebras – and any other undergarments you need to loosen - just very breezy. My son’s Thanksgiving gift was not to be in vain! I tried to assess just how breezy it was by trying to count how many revolutions per minute were made by those little cups on its anemometer. Not even the Bolshevics, the French or the Americans had revolutions as fast or furious as those blydi little cups! My head became dizzy watching them furiously whirring around. I think I could feel the heat they had generated on the vane’s axis. 

No wait!  Maybe the dizziness was from that beer I had been sipping, and I was not sure whether the heat I felt squarely on my left cheek was from that vane, or from the sun (you deduce the direction) which was at an elevation of about 20 degrees – neither F nor C this time – but above the horizontal.

There had been the odd fluttering of small birds seeking the spillage from my birdfeeder in the plum tree – also to my left. It was a pleasant late afternoon but the sun would set in an hour or so; it was already beginning to dodge between the chimney stacks on the houses across the cul-de-sac.

I decided to venture back indoors before the less fortunate, those still having to work for a living, began their mad homeward 40-mph dash down the subdivision street in front of me - as I wished the 25 mph speed sign would jump in front of them, before some ball-chasing-child would be involved a ‘day-, no a ‘life-spoiling’ calamity. There are no roses in bloom yet for you to small folks, but please SLOW DOWN !!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Shrove Tuesday – aka Mardi Gras

It’s that time of year again: time for people to give up (again) the things they swore to give up on New Year’s Day, but let themselves off the hook by mid January.

It is to be the end of the gluttony we indulged ourselves in since the end of the previous Lenten Season. For those living under rocks, the pagans, and those who fell asleep during Sister Veronica’s ‘liturgical calendar’ class in school:  Shrove Tuesday

For those more interested in the secular aspects of the day, this may be more to your liking: Pancake Day

It is not all about eating those things we (in the UK) call pancakes, but more closely resemble the thin (25 mm), rolled up things - the ‘posh’ folk call them ‘crepes  - than the thick (80 mm) stodgy doorsteps the Yanks make.

It has been a tradition for hundreds of years, in the small English village of Olney, for the women there to participate in a foot-race whilst holding a frying pan and tossing the pancake that it contains. There are many videos of that event, but this is the most informative – and best footage: Olney Pancake Race    

In case the sight of that exertion made you hungry, I have provided the following recipe and photographs. I use a 6” pan and with only 2/3 of the ingredients, can easily make 9 or 10 of them – I did that vey thing this morning.  

The recipe - courtesy of Geoff Smith (Frigal Gourmet)

The ingredients and utensils

The cooking - lightly oiled pan, medium heat

The toppings - drizzled with honey, a dash of lemon juice and sprinkled with sugar

Plated - ready to eat - Enjoy!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sorry, but . . .

I have spent significant portions of the days in these past 2 weeks looking on-line at train schedules and bus schedules in an attemp to inject some measure of cohesion and optimization in my planned 'Bucket-List' trip - see my prior blog for more about that  - but it entailed comings and goings between (and within) South Wales, North Wales and Southern England - not to mention the pond-crossing part of it all.

Well now a wrinkle has developed. To be more correct, two wrinkles have appeared.

The first surfaced three days ago when my intended North Wales-based host announced a major turn in his personal life. It doesn't involve cancellation of that part of my trip, but adds a new dimension. He suddenly suggested that the opportinity may be ripe for just the two us to relive a part of our lives that ocurred more than 46 years ago!

He and I had spent three summers conducting post-graduate studies in adjoining parts of rural Ireland. It was there that I met my 'Anam Cara' - though it was a few years later before she and I married - in Wales, and left for the US. Anyway, without further (or at least less) digression: my host-to-be and I had decided in 2002 - at our first reunion since 1968 (we had no contact whatsoever in that 34 year interim) - that 'some day', we should return to that area for nostalgia's sake. Of course, I have been there dozens of time - as my wife's family still lives there.

It seems by bucket grew a handle!  The on-line searching just got enlarged and the calendar got shaken up as I am now making plans to include ferry-schedules to the list of searches - to accomodate that part of this expanding trip.  I'll take a train to North Wales, spend a few days with him, take his car on the Holyhead - Dublin ferry, and we'll both step back to our haunts of the '60s - in Ireland.

Oh - you thought I had forgotten about the second wrinkle, didn't you? No - that one only arrived on my 'to-do' list this morning. It took far less deliberation on my part than 'wrinkle number one' before deciding I would have to forego inclusion of yet another place on my trip. To the relief of many, I'm afraid I will NOT be accepting any invitations to visit Italy in March - I'm sorry, but I'm just not up to the job.   

Friday, February 8, 2013

What's your dining pleasure?

There's been a lot of hoopla this past day or two about horse-meat.

Neigh!  Say it ain't so!

To my knowledge, I have never eaten horse-meat, but imagine it may be a bit tough - if served up as a steak. I did have a bison-burger once; thought it may be tough too, but if my recollection serves me right, it was not. I think the same place also had ostrich-burgers!

We carnivores are a funny (and fickle) bunch. Don't get too smug here if you are a vegetarian - and especially if you a vegan.  The best-man at my wedding is an avowed vegetarian; he says "I will not eat anything that runs, jumps, hops, swims, crawls or flies."  Who would eat flies anyway?  [Sorry about that, though I have heard of a shoe (or is it shoo)-fly pie].  

Anyway, back to we carnivores:

The French will eat horse-meat.
Many Orientals will eat dog-meat - it is said.  Oh yes, THEY would eat flies, crickets, grasshoppers, etc.

No way 'regular' folk in the UK or the US will eat either of those critters, but they will not bat an eye at eating beef (to the disgust of Hindus), or pork (to the horror of Muslims and Jews), or possums and squirrels to the disgust of city-dwellers. What about rabbits?  I avoid them, opting instead for their distant-cousin, the Welsh rarebit.

I guess one's nationality, ethnicity or religion plays a large part in which of the multitude of beasts we were 'given dominion over' we will either cuddle - or slaughter!

I'm with my best-man on that 'hopping' thing - won't catch me eating any damned frog-legs!  Ychaf fi! You know, I'm not too fond of what 'swims' either - unless it comes laying side-by-side in newspaper with six-penn'orth of chips; and salt and vinegar on it. Has to be Cod - not this catfish they hash up here at so many of those Lenten Friday-fish-fry-fests. [I do like alliterations though]. Also, none of those slimy shellfish, eight-legged ink-squirters, lobsters, or crabs - or any other STDs for that matter! I will swallow those small (I think they call them 'pop-corn') shrimp but avoid the oxymoronic jumbo variety! Truth be told, I really only like the hot-sauce that comes with them, but it would seem uncouth to eat it by itself, don't you think?

Oh yes - here is one other food-stuff I would not wish upon anyone - diner or donor!

Enjoy !

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It's funny you said that

I was reading a friend's daily blog yesterday. Well, it had been 'daily' until he went under the weather and was unable to blog for a week or so. It's 'funny' (that's 'peculiar', not 'Ha-ha') that though separated by half a globe, we may be sharing similar circumstances and situations, that could have similar - or different endings.

Anyway, let me first direct you to his 'return' posting from:  Barkeep's Blog - then have you come back here to see my response - and more:

Good to see you are back at the keyboard.

Watching the egg-hatching video I had a compulsion to try to 'get into the head' of a chicken. What must they be thinking in their shells:

'Let me get out of this cramped, hot, hell-hole that Ma and Pa put me in', or 'Try THAT, for an encore, Mr Houdini', or maybe,: 'Did this egg-hatcher really think I could break out right on that 'X' he put on the outside of my prison?'
I see you and I share a dilemma; which of the scores of old VHS tapes contain footage worth preserving - and when am I going to undertake the daunting task of converting them? Unlike yours, on the 2nd floor landing, mine are in the basement. But as you say, that is another storey altogether!

That basement also contains boxes of every National Geographic magazine for two decades or more - 1970s on. I can't recall if I ever finished that spreadsheet in which each title and topic was listed for easy sorting and sifting. I'm afraid my grandchildren will foresake it all and simply jump to the search engine on their i-Phone or i-Pad if they ever need to learn about Timbuktu - or if there is even a a place called Timbukthree!
By the way, thanks for the egg video; it gave me an idea:

Glad you are back!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Did he or didn't he?

I must have been 'otherwise engaged' on February 2nd this year. I was - that was opening day of the 2013 IRB Six-Nations Rugby Tournament. Being that I am Welsh, I'll immediately drop that subject!

What I did miss on that day was the escapades of Punxatawney Phil - the (in)famous groundhog said to be the official predictor of the ending of winter. At least there was some good news that day - Phil predicted an early end to winter; so no need to wait till March 20th. to shed the long-johns!

Ironically, the next day we received an unforecasted 4" snowfall. Crank up the BBQ; how do you want your groundhog cooked, mamma?

Don't forget, a week from today is Mardi Gras - time to cook up some pancakes! More on that later.