Tuesday, 13 February 2018

"What's the worst Brexit shithole you've been to?"

Asked an old teaching colleague over on the Twitter. I wasn't really able to answer, for a couple of reasons. We haven't been to any towns we have particularly disliked. Some city centres have been too busy or noisy or smelly but that wasn't what she was asking, and these city centres were probably the places most likely to have voted remain, as most of them have significant immigrant populations and large universities. We haven't exactly been looking at EU referendum vote maps to choose where to go either - I feel fairly safe in claiming that I haven't mentioned Brexit at any time previously in this blog.

Admittedly, we haven't been to any towns that we assumed we were going to dislike, either. Although we've been to every county in England, some of them we've done no more than stop to fill up the diesel. Great swathes of the Midlands and the North, to say nothing of the Home Counties, have gone unvisited, especially those towns with names that make them sound awful in the first place. I'm sure you know the ones I mean. Towns that were flattened in 1944 and never properly rebuilt, or where the historic architecture was neglected until it had to be pulled down, or where the one industry that supported all human life was killed off by Thatcher, or where there was never any money to build something nice in the first place. Towns where it's visible that the council just doesn't care, there is no work for anybody, and everybody is angry or bored and has turned to drugs or crime or using the one time in history that the state has asked their opinion on something to mash a self-destruct button with the palm of their non-vaping hand.

But I can't say that I've stopped to think about the politics of the people in any one town. If you were looking for a blog written by somebody who is well-informed on the subject, or has a lot to say about it, you probably won't be reading this one any more. I don't have much of an opinion on Brexit and I can't remember having a single conversation about it during our time on the road. Quite frankly, I couldn't give the tiniest shit which way individual people or towns voted - it's done now. Granted, it was a complete balls-up on every level and at every stage, but I reckon about half the other big decisions in the history of politics probably were too.

I did find myself musing on what my colleague could have meant by asking the question though, and came to this conclusion - she wants to hear about dreadful places where everybody is a bit racist and always blaming the Metropolitan Liberal Elite in London (as well as immigration) for how shitty their lives are, I would guess. Some middle-aged Londoners are desperate for most of the rest of the country to be as crap as is possible, as I suggested once or twice before - otherwise what are they getting in return for those extra decades before the mortgage is paid off? This doesn't sit well with the fact that among all the people I've worked with, nobody has been seen to do more to include everybody, to reach out and welcome in, than this particular colleague. She doesn't seek to divide and classify, but she does have a wicked sense of humour. 

And we all like to assign characters to people we don't know. My family are not immune to this of course, and are just as quick to say, "Here's where the racists live..." when we pass a house with a flagpole in the front garden as we are to say, "Look - it's the murderer's house!" when we pass one that doesn't appear to have been lived in for years.

But I really haven't been travelling the country judging people on appearances or looking for evidence of right-wing politics. Rather, when I saw neat block capitals printed on a wall in a car park in Ipswich declaring - NO POLISH - GO HOME - I had a mental image of my father, having spent fifteen minutes squeezing into one of The Spiral's strangely tapered spaces, looking down at the dusty, dried-out leather of his shoes, sighing, and returning to his car.

There's actually plenty of Polish in Ipswich. And Lithuanians, varnish, Albanians, linseed oil, Kurds and dubbin. It may not be a city, but last week it seemed as global as southeast London. Many of the shops were still open on a darkening Sunday evening, and there were lots of people around. Young E observed that the only ones he had heard speaking English had been some shouty teenagers who had nothing to say and nothing better to do. And he's grown up in Peckham, as a true citizen of Planet Earth, completely separated from the notions of Old Empire and WWII hangover that formed my worldview as an eleven-year-old.

Ipswich actually seemed rather pleasant. It has plenty of shops and pubs and places to eat, has some stunning countryside just down the river, and in Christchurch Park it really has one of the best urban outdoor spaces in the country. Some of the trees are incredible - like with those in Anthony Browne books, you can see loads of scary stuff hidden in the twists and lumps of the branches and trunks. Amidst these ancient sentinels, Yummy Mummies chase children on little scooters and bikes, all radiant beneath their winter woolly hats. If the town where I was born has gained this much innocent charm, our delondonisation process is complete, and Brexit is harmless.

How many times in our travels have we been having a perfectly reasonable and pleasant conversation with somebody and then they’ve decided it’s time to say something racist? Only once. This is pretty damn good going, I think, as I used to hear something virtually every day in South London twenty years ago, even if it was usually from one of a tribe of old men who are surely all dead by now. But while London has moved with the times, the rest of the country has at least been keeping up, I think.

A friendly woman in her thirties was talking about how much happier she was in her village in the South Downs than she had been in Suburban South London some years before. "You go there now and it's like Spot the White Person and I'm not racist." There was little aggravated intonation or emphasis in her delivery, and so she seemed genuine - the almost-complete absence of white people in Croydon can be better observed by a self-proclaimed non-racist person than by anybody else. This may be true, because I don't believe that I have ever told anybody that I am not a racist, and on each of the handful of occasions that I have visited Croydon, I've seen fucking hordes of white people milling about. Even she, though, has clearly been advised not to preface racist utterances with, "I'm not racist but..." and has taken to appending the disclaimer smoothly to the opposite end. It made her seem rather more gentle in her opinion - perhaps even to the point where she might begin to wonder why she bothers sharing it.

Meanwhile, the van has also been struggling to stay the pace with 2018. It's impossible to air it on any kind of basis, let alone daily, as when we are home the windows need to be closed to keep the warmth in, and when we are away the windows need to be closed to make sure that nobody else steals our precious family warmth. There is no escape for the moisture in the air, worst of all in the boys' bed over the cab. This is the most compact space with two humans in it who will insist on breathing all night long, the highest space where the hotter air eventually ends up, and the only space with three outside walls and ceiling, and could almost be a patented condensation-catcher. Prolonged periods of cold weather like this one, with all four of us in the van every day, expose the van lifestyle as Not Completely Sustainable. The moisture leads to mould and the boys' pillows end up sopping wet and smelling like granny's attic. We had to throw them away - yet more waste.

A few days earlier we had been visiting London - for a third time on the tour, this time to take some papers to the solicitor. On the day we came to leave, the van wouldn't start. This was no great surprise, as it had been sitting there charging 20000mAH power banks day after day, while I didn't even dare to start the engine in case it cost me a hundred quid. A new battery was only marginally more expensive than the London LEZ charge, of course, but we had to pay that in addition later that day. I wasn't exempted for wrecking my battery with good behaviour. This was the first time I'd noticed the TfL website encouraging me to sign up for an account. "But that's almost as if you WANT me to keep bringing my [supposedly] heavily-polluting vehicle [with an engine the same size as that of the average Saab] into London... and to keep paying you two hundred quid for the privilege!" I shouted at the Internet, which didn't hear me.

Vanny will still be our cheapest and easiest way of visiting London once we are settled in Yorkshire, however (which is one of a number of reasons why I get nervous as M makes louder and louder noises about selling her). We've broken free from the capital's economagnetic field, but we will want to go back pretty regularly. It has been a great place to live, in recent years at least. I have a vivid memory from 1991, standing on the roof of a multi-storey car park in Stratford E15, after a biophysical science tutor had shamefacedly accepted that he was absolutely desperate for students who could start his course the following month. The view was toxic industrial wasteland and housing that showed utter contempt for its occupants. "Look at this shithole," my friend and I said together.

Very few places have changed as radically as Stratford, but the whole world has been evolving with incredible momentum in the twenty five years since. All that time inside the M25 meant I hadn't spent enough time elsewhere to notice that it is changing for the better outside of London too, whether it's the food in Cornwall, or the decreasing likelihood of a country bumpkin complaining about the people in cities who aren't white.

There was a young woman who worked in our neighbourhood in London cleaning the streets - picking up litter with one of those claw things. I think she was probably from Eastern Europe somewhere - maybe she was Polish. She stood out, of course, because the majority of people doing her job are men. I never spoke to her, never asked if she got paid the same as the men did, for example. But I assume she's still doing it, because the streets around our old home are usually fairly tidy. The disgraceful mess at the sides of the country's A roads varies from county to county, which makes it obvious that some councils don't pay anybody to clear this shit up any more. 'Litter' just doesn't do it justice - the recent winds have seen to it that there are miles of road where every single tree and bush wears a bag, and whole, full bin-liners can be seen here and there, carefully placed by somebody who really wanted rid of them, but couldn't think where else to do it.

The scene is made even more grim by the roadkill. The veins and arteries of the nation are clogged not only with thin layers of plastic but with a variety of decaying corpses. I've finally seen more dead foxes than I ever saw live ones in London and I must have seen a hundred dead badgers too - I should organise myself to see one living happily, to exorcise their many ghosts. At one point, I can't remember where, I saw a huge stag lying in a ditch. Such a great beast, you'd think, must have made out a will - 'Leave Me To Rot By The Side Of The Road.'

What a strange way to end a blog post about beautiful England. About how it's getting better, and about how considerate and kind its people are. Mind you, it is just another thing on the web now, which has even more rubbish on it than the A14. Everywhere in this country is a nicer place than the internet.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Space Travel

It's been six months since we set off on tour. A voyage of discovery has led us to a small town in North Yorkshire, via dozens of convivial conurbations, full, as far as we can tell, of good food, good beer and good people. The overall experience has been one of learning that there are many, many great places to live in this country outside of London. But more of that some other time.

The road hasn’t ended yet. There is no standing still. Since we all agreed on where our home and shop will be, however, we've struggled a little to know where to go and what to do. Hopefully it'll only be about a month of living footloose and fancy free, as it's cold and wet outside, loads of places are now closed for the winter (a lot more than there were back in November) and we've just about had enough of living in a van. Until summertime at least.

So we’ve been revisiting some friends in The South and going back over some old ground from the early days of the tour. It’s been an interesting experience, staying in the same spot in Walberswick as we did on that first tumultuous night, but with none of the nerves about what we were doing and whether we were allowed to do it anyway. Or walking back along Southwold pier, in bright sunshine once again, but with ninety percent of the rest of the population having been wiped out, perhaps by climate change.

We found a great little campsite on a farm in Thetford Forest, which I would have avoided if I’d known how strong the coming winds would be. On the way I’d stocked up in Beautiful Beers, a great shop in Bury St Edmunds. I heartily recommend the place to anybody who is after a decent beer in a town that would have oodles of it, if it were not the home of Greene King. The shop’s particularly strong in the Tempest department, and after several bottles of Marmalade On Rye (among others) I had completely forgotten that there had been any mention of squalliness. In fact I was fast asleep.

I awoke to an almighty crashing noise, one of those that you can only establish has just happened because bits of it are still going on, even now you’ve had time to collect yourself. And by you, now, I mean me, then. The wind was howling around the van, which bounces around happily when a larger vehicle drives past, so in a gale she becomes a zero-gravity simulation. I assumed the noise had been caused by the removal of a substantial part of the vehicle, but was still too drunk and tired to establish exactly what, so I went back to sleep.

In the morning, the sun shone and total peace reigned on the farm. Alone on the January campsite, the family in the van laid in until ten. I drank some water and felt quite super. Fried some sausages, read to the kids, took my time about thinking where we were going to go next. Not for a fraction of a moment did it cross my mind that there had been a storm last night. Until we set off, that is. The farm stood in a large clearing, but proper foresty forest was only about a hundred yards to the rear of our van, and as soon as the farm track entered the trees, we had to stop because one of the larger ones was lying sideways, completely blocking the way.

In falling, it had brought down the electricity line with it. This, we saw as we backed up, had pulled two telegraph poles askew to crazy angles, and now lay along the line of the track like a menacing cyborg snake. One of the farm workers welcomed us back from our micro-excursion with what was frankly unbelievable good cheer, considering he now had his work cut out for the foreseeable future. He showed us that the powerline had nearly ripped the chimney off the roof of the cottage and had started a fire in the surrounding trees, told us he’d been at it since six taking the farm’s one generator around the various sheds and animal feeders, and gave immeasurable care and loving attention to a pewter-coloured dog in his arms as he described the route of a smaller farm track that “ye moight be ayble to ge’ back ow’ ahrn.”

Moight, here, was the operative word, and he didn’t look the tiniest bit surprised to see me walking back down the muddy path less than ten minutes later. He had warned me about the big dip, of course, but I’d been so delighted to sail straight through that and back up again, I’d decided to celebrate with a change of gear and suddenly found a world of no traction. At all. None. Again and again my front wheels would spin, but there was no hint of travel. To look at them from the side was a mystery indeed, as they had not dug into the turf at all – it didn’t even look muddy here. It was just as if I had stripped my tyres naked and slathered them in goose fat. Admittedly I’d been pretty drunk the night before and had forgotten quite a lot, of course.

Still, he didn’t even wait to hear my cries for help, just jumped behind the wheel of the nearest tractor, drove up to me and hoisted me into the cab, then rolled on half a mile to Vanny and set about her liberation. It was, in the truest sense of the phrase, all in a day’s work for him. But if a tree falls in the forest and the only person nearby is too pissed to hear it, or remember that he has heard it, should he really get away so easily, leaving such devastation in his wake?

A few days later we were back in Overstrand, on the
North Norfolk coast, looking out to sea. “Do you know,” I asked E, who automatically rolled his eyes, “if we were to sail away, out there, Due North, where we would arrive first?”

A shrug. “
Iceland or Greenland or something?

Good try.” That’s what I would have guessed too. Luckily I had already looked at a map. “We wouldn't actually meet land between here and The Arctic.”

Oh. Wow.” There aren't any words for how un-wow his wow sounded.

I tried again.

I like this idea of being back in the very same spot we were in six months ago, when we are actually as far from where we were as we will ever be. In, like, astronomy terms and that. About 180 million miles across space, we were, in fact, in the very same place.”

Yeah, but the galaxies themselves are moving too. A lot further and much faster. The universe is always expanding.” He pointed to a muddy spot about thirty feet away. Plus, last time, we were parked over there.”

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Friendly Street to (Highw)A61 Revisited

"You hear it all the time - 'People are Friendlier Up North.' I reckon it's a myth. People aren't any friendlier here, it's just that they talk to you." The most Southern bloke I know (in the North) shared this observation in his Ilkley kitchen back in September. Within a week, I would be the audience for one of Yorkshire's foremost parking experts. This alone didn't seem much of a coincidence, let alone resemble the beginnings of an emerging pattern, but our weekend visit to Chapel Allerton, a gentrifying North-Leeds suburb, made my Useful Soundbite Gland start oozing again. All three incidences occurred within an eight-mile radius of Otley, it emerged, as I drew a big red circle on a map in the police station of my mind.

The woman in question on this occasion was neither a police officer nor a parking enforcement non-officer, but felt that she was entitled to an opinion on our very presence next to the park across the road from her house. We are still really careful not to sit our big ugly machine right outside somebody's front door unless we absolutely have to, but it appeared that this was an individual whose personal space straddled the highway. To be fair, she had probably noticed we'd been there all night, it was now late into the next morning, I had always expected our van to be on the receiving end of negative public opinion quite frequently, and this was literally the first occasion of it. I should also make it clear that I dithered on my way to the door to answer her knock, and that once again it was M who actually dealt with the Enemy of the Van. 

Earlier I had stared at a particularly interesting droplet - among millions - in a protective veil of condensation inside the windscreen. Meanwhile she squawked at her silent husband about us, as he carried the cat basket to her little yellow car.

'I would usually park it here, where THIS BIG VAN IS,' she told him. He gave no audible response. I would imagine that he knows where she usually parks her car, or perhaps he was thinking that she can only park it there when there isn't another vehicle parked there already. Or maybe the cat was just really heavy. He put the cat basket in the car, which he could almost certainly have done without her company for the long diagonal trek to a geographical point about thirty feet in front of us. They walked back to their house, which looked really nice. Then she strode purposefully to her yellow car again, this time without the husband, who had presumably gone to hide in the shed. 

She stood and glared at Vanny, probably able to make out a rotund silhouette in the front seat, and waiting for it to move. Waiting for me to move when I don't absolutely have to is a losing game for anybody of less-than-otherworldly patience. Eventually she gave up and walked off to her house again, so I went in the back to the toilet. As I came back, there was an impolitely-loud knock at the door.

'Are you visiting someone? I've got a broken foot.'
That's all I really remember of the conversation, but it is all I really need. This utterly perfect non-sequitur told us a great deal - that she suspected we had no real reason to be there at all, but that if we did know somebody in the neighbourhood she wanted to know who they were and why we couldn't park our big ugly van outside their house, and that whether or not we actually had the right to be parked in the unrestricted parking on the street where she lived, taking up her preferred parking space not immediately outside, but across the road from, her house, and forcing her to walk a little further to her car, we were proving ourselves shit-arse inconsiderate by doing so, because we should have been able to infer that she was carrying a debilitating injury, perhaps from the way that she made the same journey two additional times in order to glare at, and eventually, talk to, the people who were making her life so much more difficult. But she wasn't being friendly.

Nevertheless, M was superbly polite and sweet with her, which impressed me as much this time as it did with the parking bloke at Durdle Door and the toilet man in Abbotsbury. But she wasn't looking to make a new friend here either. The problem was not the woman's unfriendliness in itself, so much as the fact that this was the morning after M's third successive sleepless night. We had been to see a house, also for the third time, and made an offer that was accepted, and now it looked like the Tour was in its final stages. More importantly, it was dawning on us - long before dawn - that we were soon going to be living in a town where we didn't know anybody, at the far end of a massive county where we only know half a dozen people, hundreds of miles from most of our friends and family. 

It's when you're lying there alone with your ill-marshalled thoughts at night, unable to sleep but not really awake either, that the thin, brittle enamel of what you're doing with your life can give way and open up a festering cavity of loneliness. I'd had it myself on the first night - up to this point it has all been imagination, projection and fantasy. But just as it becomes real it suddenly seems so much less desirable, and so much more scary. Don't get me wrong, the place looks amazing, I can't wait to get started on the shop, and the boys will probably get straight into their new life, but the shadowy forms of one's doubts and fears do tend to congregate when you should be asleep, don't they? 

After Christmas in Suffolk, we had spent a very enjoyable few days back among friends in London. The highlight, for me and my stomach, was a visit to Everest Curry King, which I'd never called on in a quarter century in the capital, but which I could not commend more completely. Not only is the food amazing and the cheapest we've found anywhere in the country, but the people are so damn friendly. M recalled the occasion at the end of the nineties when we'd walked a group of drunk Geordies from the Blue Posts on Berwick Street to Leicester Square tube. 'Tha's fookin greet ovya man. I orlaz thought Cockneys was a reet buncha unfrenly coonts,' their translator offered as he groped for his Travelcard. We didn't tell him that he'd said that six times already, and that we were only doing it to prove him wrong.

After return visits to York and Richmond, Leeds revealed a lot of what we'd missed the first time, an inner city residential district with lots going for it, the waterways and industrial buildings, and in particular the breweries based in them. Northern Monk's Refectory was everything that the Magic Rock Tap wasn't, with the added bonus of a sign saying they'd spent £1872 replacing stolen glassware in the last year, and that they were "as tight as anyone else from Yorkshire," so if you liked their glasses so much, why didn't you just buy one? Durham, meanwhile, seems to be a city that is absolutely dependent on its university and its cathedral for the entirety of its identity. Take those institutions away, and the Jack Wills would go out of business, leaving little but the building works of desperate-looking redevelopment around the river on which my brother had shouted at teams of eight strong women at a time so long ago.

The boys set an excellent example of getting on board with this house thing, despite the fact that it couldn't be much further away from Worthing, which was their preference. They were cheered enough by the discovery of a decent sweetshop in the town that they turned from flat refusal to a kind of acceptance on a sixpence. This says much about the fickleness of kids but also their supportive relationship - having each other, and a place they can go for sugar, will be enough.

There are friendly faces everywhere you go, I'd told them as we were setting out in July, and we've seen dozens of them since, but now it looks like we will be living in the one town that is furthest away from any of them. The boys will make friends easily, I think (and hope), but what about their parents? And if Northern Monk are right about Yorkshire, to hell with friends, what about customers?

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Motorsport Can Be Dangerous (Devon and Cornwall, Part 2)

We were headed for Lands End. Not the place itself, which, despite being the setting for one of the great unsung classics of children’s literature is, according to M, “really boring,” but Penzance and St Ives. I was interested to visit both towns, and they’re as close to the Southernmost and Westernmost points of England as we could be bothered to go. I did have a look at how much it would cost to get to the Isles of Scilly, and decided it wasn’t worth it. I’ll go there when I’ve made my fortune selling secondhand records and I’m trying to decide what to do with my yacht.

Penzance is a great town. Sure, it has plenty of tell-tale signs of people living in poverty and heroin, but it has lots going for it. It has atmosphere, dramatic landscape, architectural interest and more miles between it and London SE15 than the Tyne Bridge. We met up with some other ex-regulars from the Ivy House who moved out of London at about the same time as us. They’ve both got jobs down there, and their young son is starting nursery school. 

What they make (so far) of their drastic change of circumstances is given interesting perspective by the fact that they’ve both taken the time and trouble to be American.I don’t know them particularly well, only chatting to them on a few occasions prior to this, and I tend to assume that Americans experiencing The Great British Countryside can only possibly be enjoying a quaint oldy-worldiness. People hailing from a continent where the scale of everything dwarfs what is possible on these islands surely can’t actually be thrilled by the best that our natural and built environments have to offer, can they? 

As we walked down the hill away from the Admiral Benbow Inn (where I was moved to tell the barman that my two pints of Proper Job were the best cask ales I’d drunk in the last six months, the length and breadth of the country), one of our new friends leapt into an involuntary star-jump at the view. “LOOK at this place.” She almost snarled. “I FUCKING LOVE IT.” And, for the umpteenth time on this journey, I had to agree.

Not just because I’m a little scared of her (because the first time I ‘met’ her, she was heavily pregnant and just standing in the doorway of the Ivy House, firing ice-laser-beams out of her eyes at her partner, who had already fielded two ‘come home’ phone calls while sitting at the bar nattering about record shops in Brooklyn), but also because the view across harbour to water was impressive. She is, I realise now, one of the most talented pubgoers I’ve met, effortlessly striking up conversations with locals everywhere we went (The Lamp and Whistle was very good too), although Being American might be cheating.

He, for his part, has already got himself a regular spot playing records in some late-night bar, and gained unrestricted access to one of those stupidly huge archive-type collections you see YouTube videos about. The thought occurred to me that Penzance was all the more inspiring a place for us to visit because it had this family happily living in it. They took us to the lido café for breakfast, which was amazing – the food, the elegant lines of the building, but, more than anything, the light.

Also, one member of staff (still) wore a Save the Lido T-shirt, and I felt a little Londonsick for the first time. People would ask me why, a year after the pub reopened, the Twitter account I was running was still called Save the Ivy House, although we would always both know that if nobody spent any money there, it would close again, forever, and soon. Being a customer for small businesses is like Mr Incredible says, “No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again… sometimes I just want it to STAY SAVED, y’know?”

Near St Michael’s Mount (or a good view of it from Marazion) there’s a great spot to park up (we have found it much easier since M found this website), away from the road but open to the elements. We were battered by the wind and rain more relentlessly than on any night since Rothbury, and although we never quite got to the bottom of whether Plymouth is truly “Britain’s Ocean City”, I’m not having anybody try to tell me that what was blowing around and through Vanny that night was a breeze from the English Channel or Irish Sea. That’s the Atlantic Ocean right there, and you can’t tell me any different.

Two of M’s least favourite things (on this tour, at least, after me) are steep, winding roads on which I might end up running her over, and towns where most of the buildings are Londoners’ second homes. But, like the Bio-Electronic Navigator BEN-GUNN in Disney’s version, she arrowed in on St Ives Rugby Club, which is a good overnight stop (if you’re prepared to ignore a few signs) and saves you from having to take your van down the slope into the narrow lanes of town.

Big H had told us to beware of ‘low-flying seagulls and Barbara Hepworth sculptures’ and we were soon victims of both. In something of a Cornish Cliché, M had the last bit of pasty stolen from her by a gang of gulls. A gull gang, or rather, one adult seagull and a bunch of teenage gulls flying around him, trying to look hard. Despite the armour of the brown paper bag it was barely protruding from, M, showing me her angry-red fingers, said she could feel that the seagull’s beak was serrated at its edge. I call BULLSHIT. (Remember to Google that before putting it in the blog.)

It’s interesting how Dame Babs has left great slabs of stone and metal lying next to our route throughout, from the dreadful sculpture above John Lewis on Oxford Street, where I spent the vouchers my colleagues collected for on my departure exactly a year ago, through Big H’s retirement japes with a cardboard replica of Two Forms (which had been a well-loved landmark in the best lesson I ever planned (rendered unreusable when the Divided Circle was recombined in a backstreet scrapyard’s furnace six years ago)), past reading about what Leeds is famous for, and ending up peering into her garden.

There were some nice ones of hers in the Tate, though. Big H’s younger namesake must have received an irreverent message psychically, as his behaviour in Tate St Ives was the worst I’ve seen from either boy on the whole tour. (To give credit where it is due, this wouldn’t even place him in the 30th percentile of the Boys’ Bad Behaviour Bell Curve I didn’t draw when I was teaching.)

H just wandered about looking grumpy and bored and saying sarcastic-sounding things that his vocabulary didn’t quite stretch to. I didn’t exactly help, delving into myTired and Bored Teacher’s Mental Book of Wind-Ups as we sat in front of Roger Hilton’s Oi Yoi Yoi.

“I just don’t like it. It’s not very good. It doesn’t even look like a person.” He opined.

“Ah, but you’re still responding to it. Well Done. You are appreciating it for what it is, whether you like it or not.”

This made him really cross, marching off to one of the two stations in the gallery that asked for feedback to be written on little paper circles which could then be hung on little round pegs. There were lots of little pencils with which to write something heartfelt. H was the second most-motivated (after his Christmas list) I’ve ever seen him when writing, “I didn’t like any of it. And I’m keeping the pencil.”

It was, as my brother has suggested, a good time to visit the town, and be able to enjoy its pubs and bars and beaches without all the bloody part-timer tourists getting in the way. Beer and Bird, the Firehouse, John’s bottle shop and more took plenty of money from us in return for great food and beer and incredibly friendly, professional service. It was, in fact, one of those phases of the tour when it felt like we are just on a really long, greedy holiday, breaking off chunks of Property Pie and stuffing it into our fat mouths, getting all bits of filling stuck in our beards.

Or maybe it was just me.

So for the first step of the journey back East, we thought we’d do something more educational. E had been insistent upon trying either quad biking or paintballing. It was a school day and I felt that driving a motor vehicle would hopefully be a more useful transferable skill for his future than shooting people, so we visited Blackwater’s ATV centre. Like the shit and boring Dad I sometimes have to be, I made a point of standing them for a meaningful moment in front of the sign that says MOTORSPORT CAN BE DANGEROUS in big letters.

It wasn’t really that important a lesson for these two first-time drivers. The sign would probably be better-deployed next to the A30 near Ottery St Mary. The boys were given full safety gear and excellent tuition, and the quad bikes themselves had little throttle limiters that the young bloke adjusted carefully, according to their respective ages and body weights. These, I feel, should be fitted to ALL vehicles driven by anybody under the age of 45. As they pootled around a well-designed course, they looked like they had a lot of fun, even if H did shout “I HATE THIS,” each time he passed me in the pits.

I consider this to be a healthy attitude to motor vehicles. Although I’ve never particularly enjoyed driving, this van is the most comfortable and least stressful ride I’ve ever had. Part of it is the position, up nice and high so you can see everything. Part of it is never having to stop because somebody needs the toilet. But the biggest part is that it doesn’t go very fast, so I don’t feel obliged to keep my speed up. The fact that I can’t see out of the back, so I don’t feel the pressure of a great long line of Audi drivers shaking their well-groomed fists at me, probably helps too.

M had just come back from the loo. This is illegal, of course, but I would like to see any of you try and stop her, even if you weren’t driving. The fact that you can’t see what’s behind you came as a blessing yet again, as I was only aware of these two cars, bumper-to-bumper at about seventy-five, as they appeared in the right-hand corner of my vision. As the second car, a little sporty-hairdresser’s thing, was passing me on my right, it was looking to accelerate across in front of me and undertake the first car in one very short diagonal line.

“Undertakers. Friends only to the Undertaker,” I decided to write in a blog several days later.

He lost control with his car a few feet in front of Vanny’s brave little snub nose, immediately going into a spin and bumping skywards off the central reservation, spinning mid-air, broadsiding the crash barrier with an enormous, well, crash, bouncing up in the air again and doing a lot of quick backwards swervy stuff before gradually slowing to a stop. All the time this was happening, I was just looking at the slow-lane gap, leaning forward over the wheel like Dougal in Pat’s milk float.

M said she felt she was looking at his face all the way through. Both boys were watching too, and all of us reported something different – M didn’t hear a crash, E was just mesmerized by how many “bits of mud and other stuff were flying up in the air,” H’s keen sense of drama reported that he was sure he’d heard the car knock some bits off the van. We were all in shock, and resolved, then and there, to stop off in Frome again and get drunk. On our previous visit, Brewed Boy was closed. This time, thankfully, it was not. And it is excellent.

Like Chris Rea, we felt we had been driving home for Christmas for about thirty years, but we made it to my Mum and Dad’s in Suffolk in the end. Where will we go next? Um, dunno yet. But we hope that you all have a very enjoyable few days off from whatever awful things you have to do the rest of the time, and do take care and look after each other. 

Merry Christmas, if that’s your sort of thing.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Best Pasty Filling - Worst Festival (Devon and Cornwall, Part 1)

The West Country has always been associated with four things in my mind: pasties, cider, festivals and dangerous driving on inadequate roads. As this pair of pre-Chrimbo posts will reveal, nothing has changed. We’re approaching the final stages of our adventure (at least the part that involves driving around in a van every day), and this leg, out to the far reaches of Cornwall and back to Suffolk in time for Christmas, means we have been just about everywhere we need to go before deciding where home and shop will be. That said, this travel thing is damn good fun and we are keeping the van (I might even sell some records out of it one day) with lots of the British Isles still to explore.


"Okay. Get the pasty if you must, but just
DON'T LOOK INSIDE IT." The year is 1992 and I am visiting Seale-Hayne agricultural college in Newton Abbot, Devon. We've just walked through the union bar, where preparations are being made for tonight's Christmas meeting of the college's Drinking Society - bins have been moved to the middle of the room and the floor is covered in plastic sheeting. My friend, who is over six and a half feet tall and, folded carefully, drives a Peugeot 205 at consistently dangerous speeds, has warned me that either the drinking culture or the isolated location of the college (or perhaps a function of both) has made it possible for the canteen to prepare and sell the worst food that he has ever had the misfortune to eat. Intrigued, I have picked out what appears to be a perfectly appetising (and quaintly local) meal and, sitting down, have just been shown a metaphorical Big Red Button with the words DO NOT PRESS stencilled above it. 

I take my fork and lever the armour-plated top sheet of pastry away from What Lies Beneath - a mangled, twisted mass of gelatinous grey material, it resembles edible food in no way whatsoever. In fact, in line with popular Urban Myths of the time, it looks very much like the mutilated carcass of a rat. Anybody who has ever known me will understand just how unpleasant this food looked when I say that I could not eat any of it.

This experience of South-Western cuisine stayed with me to the extent that I have rarely been drawn to the pasties one sees on sale everywhere else, and it was with gastronomic expectations very much in check that I drove Vanny into
Devon for the second time on this tour. M had set the controls for the heart of Newton Abbot because there was a house I liked the look of there.

I’m sure pasties are okay. Even M likes them. I’ve eaten enough in the last fortnight to exorcise the ghosts of the Worst of All Possible-Rats and Seale-Hayne College (which closed down just a few years later, although it’s still not clear whether the food had anything to do with it.) But I’d still say the best pasty is the one you're eating right now, if you are hungry enough. It helps if it is still warm, and if you can penetrate the pastry casing with a normal set of teeth. There should be chunks of steak in the filling, not minced beef, and it should be abundantly peppery. Yes, there should be some vegetables in there too, but frankly I couldn’t give a rat’s ass what they are. I’ve had some very nice ones from a chain called The Cornish Bakery in Bude and Tintagel. Pasties, not rat’s asses.

I wasn’t, however, expecting to be blown away by the very first place we visited in Newton Abbot at the beginning of December 2017. Teign Cellars is the kind of pub most localities (including cool areas of
South London) can only dream of - a proper pub with all sorts of (all right, local) people drinking in it, that sells some incredible beers at excellent prices. Okay, it smelled a little funny and the music was awful, but both these factors could be integral parts of being a proper local instead of a poncey beer bar. We drank pints of Deya's Steady Rolling Man at £5.20 a go (still can’t quite believe that) and asked the nice man if the town got much tourist trade nowadays. He shook his head and shrugged.

Teign Cellars deserves some kind of award for its brilliance, and its cheesy chilli chips that were probably better than those of the much-vaunted Red's True Barbecue in Sheffield and Leeds. “Just in case you're worried, that is chilli on there, just with chunks of steak, not mince” said the nice young man, presumably accustomed to people complaining if it doesn’t look like a tin of Old El Paso Chilli con Carne. So I'm going to say their chilli was the best pasty filling. Because it's my blog, so there.


If there were ever two reasons to believe in a place, it's what Newton Abbot has right now - a great place to drink beer (another bar showed up on my standard iOS Maps search – “craft beer [name of town],” but we didn’t feel the need to go there) and a great place to buy records. In a music shop called Phoenix Sound M told me I had to stop spending money on myself, as she was not able to. This, I felt, was unfair. She can spend money (up to a certain amount) on herself any time she wants to (up to a maximum of about, erm, twice), because we are not Santander’s pigs any more, and the records are really nice.

We stopped in at
Plymouth, where the boys and I traded knowledge of Sir Francis Drake, his game of bowls and his Golden Behinde, before eating lunch in McDonalds, losing patience with a Limbo Dancer and picking up the next instalment of Super Diaper Baby for H's edumacation and headification. We also discussed whether the sea splashing around at Plymouth Hoe was, in fact, the Atlantic Ocean, after noting the smart new signs declaring PlymouthBritain’s Ocean City.” I then discovered that these signs have cost the city council seventeen thousand pounds each, and am still trying to work out how.

Okehampton suffers from a shoddy reputation, but deserves better. It's on the edge of
Dartmoor, near the middle of Devon, and some of its cashpoints still work. Why it has three supermarkets on the same narrow spur off the Main Street is beyond me, but the car park at the other end of town provided us with a quiet spot by a noisy river to pass another night, en route to visiting the beautiful people in Langtree again. I can recommend eating in The Black Horse in Great Torrington, especially if you are skint, or greedy, or it is Christmas, or all of the above. The town car park actually makes proper provision for motorhomes to stay overnight, too.


Things are different over the border in Bude. The technicalities and semanticsof the rules that hope to forbid it elsewhere aren't strong enough for
England's campervanishest county, so they have their own rule to prevent them from being overrun - campervans and motorhomes are simply not allowed in council car parks between eleven o'clock at night and six in the morning. (I expect they only pay a little ticket man to work nights in peak season though.) A quick bit of research from Undaunted M (she's better at it than I am) found that the King Arthur's Arms (great pub) car park in Tintagel allows motorhomes overnight for a very reasonable four quid, so we went there, had a look around the castle (as far as we could when the island was closed) and I did a little internet-finding-out of my own.

As unconventional as our curriculum and angle of approach has been through our Van Ed so far, the boys are very quick to hang a subject label off of everything we do. E says he doesn't like history, for which I blame Michael Gove, colonialism and class teachers' tendencies to ask their cover teacher to do the history when they're on PPA, in roughly that order. But when we begin a session with the question "What can we find out about King Arthur?" and quickly establish that the most important fact about him is that he did not necessarily exist, all the retrospective planning or curricular fluidity in the world is not going to help us – once again, NOBODY KNOWS.

In fairness, we were mildly interested in whether it could possibly be true that he once slew, personally, almost a thousand men in a battle somewhere. We like a story about a place, but we're not that arsed about a place about a story, so the tide being too far in for us to enter Merlin's Cave was no real (or even legendary) disappointment. In conclusion, we quite enjoyed the walk around an interesting bit of coast, but it seems King Arthur's greatest contribution to the world we were exploring was having a reasonably priced car park that allows motorhomes overnight named after him.

The Lanivet Inn is a really good, busy local that does excellent food. I had the monkfish and several pints of a sweet but sneakily strong cider called Rattler that seems hugely popular down here. It reminded me of the effects of the Glastonbury Festival Brothers Bar cider, back before it started to appear in cans in your local Londis. Even when ordering my fifth pint, I still couldn’t drop the double T central to pronouncing it as the locals do.

The following night, we economized by staying at the very friendly DoubletreesFarm caravan site in Parr. At twenty-five quid it was cheaper than parking for free behind a pub and provided us with the facilities we don’t absolutely need to hand, but definitely appreciate from time to time. It was only a mile from the Eden Project, another of the top five things to do in
Britain checked off our list, and almost worth the money.

I say almost because the Rainforest Biome is tremendous, while the rest of it is predictably low-key in December. Also, tickets allow free entry for a year, so we were able to return the next evening for their winter Festival of Sound and Light. This was seemingly as atmospheric for the boys as the Blackpool Illuminations were for me, back when they weregood. However, it would have taken eight pints of Rattler and some peyote buttons harvested in the dark for me to get into this festival. The lasers weren’t moving and neither was the music. Still… like I say, the kids enjoyed it.

The next day I took them to a trampoline park, which is the sort of thing I was promising them while explaining that they were going to have to leave all they had ever known behind. Bodmin is home to iBounce, which is a good one as far as I can tell. As they bounced, I checked my emails. And found I had to pay a £500 FINE for entering something called the fucking
LOW EMISSION ZONE, which is basically the whole of Greater London inside the M25. I had absolutely no idea this was in effect already, even though I’d been driving a small petrol vehicle past a sign that said something about it on the A12 for years.

Unfortunately, ignorance is no excuse when it comes to this kind of thing.

Fortunately, the fine is halved if you can pay it quickly.

Unfortunately, even though I’m aware that I have to pay a charge to drive Vanny in London now, that charge is A HUNDRED POUNDS. EVERY DAY

Fortunately, there only seem to be cameras recording when you go in and when you go out, and they can’t charge you for going out, or assume that you spent the In Between Days driving around, poisoning the millions of children who get driven half a mile to school every day.

Unfortunately, I don’t know that for sure. I was wondering why London wasn’t full of people living in motorhomes, smirking at the system. But now I know.

Eventually EVEN I get bored of the LEZ and start talking to the bloke. Turns out he used to be the manager of Peckham Pulse for a while. We discuss our respective muggings at the ends of our South East London working lives in good humour, as if being victims of crimes and dangerous behaviour were all in our pasts. I’m not suspecting for a moment that within a week I will be watching M get mugged (okay, by a seagull) and get so close to a Hollywood-worthy high-speed car crash, I will be delighted not to shit my trousers. For once.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Arch Theory

Yes, I've managed to cheer up since last time, thank God. It was just a blip. Not a brief blip, but a slow descent to a nadir of ridiculous self-pity and back up again. Part of the process. Part of any process for me, I sometimes think.

I have been saved by archways. Specifically ones I've still not passed through but would really like to. From Southampton we went to look at Stonehenge. It was bloody freezing that day and there are few things that interest my two sons less than lumps of ancient stone that raise questions with the answer "NOBODY KNOWS," but M had some work to do in the van and so we walked to the new visitor centre and handed them almost fifty quid. There weren't any new answers in there either.

Once Upon a Time, I told the boys, it was possible to just walk up to this most ancient of monuments and sit among the stones, contemplating the achievements of one's species over thousands of years, or watching the sun rise or something. Hell, it was possible for Chevy Chase to reverse his Austin Maxi into one of them, wasn't it? The boys looked nonplussed, so I made a mental note to look this up on YouTube later.

Moving those great rocks all that way though? Aligning them with the position of the sun in the sky at different times of day throughout the year, lifting some on top of others and balancing them? It's all absolutely staggering
I've always been a tad intimidated by feats of engineering, from the construction of the dome on St Paul's Cathedral to the process by which the gas operation of the refrigerator in a compact motorhome can use heat itself to facilitate the removal of heat. Awestruck, I ask myself (or the kids, or whoever is listening,) 'However did they manage that?' as if somebody is going to give me some answer other than, 'By an enormous amount of careful planning and hard work, probably involving a huge number of people who devoted or even sacrificed their lives to the project,' although it's hard to imagine scores of men living and dying that Vanny might have a fridge that doesn't cane the battery.

I've done my share of (mostly) careful planning and hard (if not always smart) work over the last twenty years, and I'm quite prepared to do some more when I know where to do it, but a character-building chat in a record shop in Wincanton (that I actually can't find on the web) did make me wonder if the direction I have been trying to point myself in is even worth the first few tentative steps. He knew a bloke who started out with an enormous collection and turned it into a shop, didn't want to have to work there all the time, and ended up swapping lots of lovely records for rent and wage payments before giving up. I shall have to own my premises and staff them all the time they're open. I reckon I might do well to ask punters to make informal appointments outside of some manageably brief core hours. Would that work?

Meanwhile, my travels have taught me the true value of a good pair of sunglasses at last. En route to Shaftesbury, this pair of Aviators somebody bartered for burgers at Borough Market many years ago were on and off my face with frightening frequency. I considered asking for bits of burger back when they shed a screw with removal on arrival, revealing an earlier shoddy repair with one that wasn't quite long enough. I'm indebted to S H Harrold Opticians, who fixed it on the spot for free, with a proper Ray-Ban screw. So I felt rather ashamed that E had done a Chevy Chase with the carefully-balanced Christmas presents in the window display while we waited.

Durdle Door, another archway I couldn't pass through (without a kayak or similar small vessel) was a sun-drenched winter setting where the last of my dark mood finally lifted. The s
usurrus of the tiny round stones moving in the water, the unreal plopping of handfuls as they dropped into the shallows made deep by the ridges of millions more, the total absence of fingernails-on-blackboard seagull screams gave the beach an audible beauty that matched the view. We lingered there as long as we could, had a pint in the pub and parked up for the night. In the morning, a friendly but diligent parking marshal approached the van and told M that overnight camping was not allowed. "Oh, we wouldn't do that," she replied with a smile. I had to admire this answer, as the use of the future tense was both a technical avoidance of the lie and an assurance that we hadn't decided we lived there now.

I don't suppose there are a great many people who read this blog looking for wild camping tips, yet I can't recommend the Top o' the Town Car Park in Dorchester highly enough to motorhomos like ourselves. Here are my reasons.

Number 1. There are oversized parking spaces solely for the use of commercial vehicles and motorhomes. Although I take particular pride in being able to squeeze Vanny into a normal space in almost any car park, biggies are often available when the normal spaces are full. This was the case here, as it was in Ord St, Newcastle Upon Tyne. It also means you have plenty of room to access your toilet cassette for Number 2.

Number 2. There is an excellent public convenience. One of the main advantages here is that it has three cubicles - two more than a great many of the relatively few facilities that are still open elsewhere in the country. This helps one avoid that awkward moment when one emerges, smelling like a drain, Ghostbusters Backpack in hand, to find a queue of people waiting to use the only trap.

Number 3. There is a café that would have been used as a location for a scene in a Coen Brothers film if it were anywhere in the United States. It is not only an Aladdin's Cave of weird cuddly toys and twenty-year-old business cards advertising polyphonic ringtones, but is also a great place to buy big floppy bacon sarnies and catch up on the local goss, by earwigging on the enormous man holding court in the corner.

Fortified by the sandwiches and in thoroughly good cheer, we headed off to Devon (again) and (this time) beyond.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Border This Now

Last week was the worst of the trip so far. No difficulties, no challenges, no unpleasantness from anybody or anything outside of my head. Just my mood. 

Pathetic, isn't it? As Philip Norman said of Jagger's persona, it is the insufferable ennui of being handed everything. I have no work to do, no bills to pay, no deadlines to meet. I have all I want and need right with me and can choose where I want to buy a house at my leisure. And last week it was really getting on my tits. 

My birthday was probably the low point, perhaps because I'd expected something to have materialised in the property search by this landmark date, or 'cos I'd always assumed there would be some record-shaped celebration when I reached Halfway To Ninety. We've visited lovely towns, crossed our first national border into a breathtaking landscape, and all I've been able to do is moan that we're not getting anywhere, every town is starting to look like the last, and I'm not getting my own way.

M says she has been feeling the pressure that she knew sharing one small room with her family for most of every day was sure to bring, but we don't actually argue. We don't even quietly seethe. We just seem to start feeling unhappy, and are probably blaming each other subconsciously even if we don't articulate it. The boys start picking up on the frustration and ask infuriating questions about what is going to happen and when, and we get more and more exasperated with them asking for answers we really don't have.

I found a house I wanted. M seemed to quite like it too, but wasn't as confident she'd be happy living there as I was. The vendor was good enough to spell out exactly how little she would accept, and M licensed me to offer her fifteen grand less. This was rejected, of course, and after a while I became convinced that it wasn't about freeing up cash for paint and plant pots, but about making an intentionally inadequate offer because she didn't really want to buy the house but didn't want to be honest with me either. So I spent the next few days visiting towns and thinking 'Yeah this place is great but what is the point of liking it? If I decide I want to live here, M will just decide she doesn't.' This, of course, is my problem and only existed briefly in a small space on the inside of my skull. I am over it now and would be better off not sharing it with anybody. Whoops.

Shropshire and the Brecon Beacons have been very pleasant places to visit, like everywhere else we have been. The tour has been a success in terms of teaching us there are a great many places to enjoy outside of London, but a total failure (so far) in terms of narrowing things down. In Ludlow, a man running a micropub and bottle shop (that seemed to exist in complete isolation from the big changes in the beer market of the last decade) told us of a number of advantages of living on the other side of the border, principally the free prescriptions and support with tuition fees. He also spoke knowledgeably about the beauty of the Welsh landscape and the cheaper property prices, before saying that the only drawback is that there are a lot of people with very nationalistic views. 'What, like in England?' I wondered-out-loud, but his point was that it is the English that a Welsh nationalist is most likely to despise. 'It makes no difference to me though really,' he continued, 'I'm a Brummie, so I'm used to being hated by everyone.'

Armed with this wisdom, I crossed the border ready to keep my Englishness in check. The first person I met who wanted to speak about this divide was an English chef with that commonplace angry-bitter-controversial chef's sense of humour, who was talking about having a red dragon tattooed on his arse.

Both E and H are dyslexic and are only beginning to recognise reading and writing as useful forms of communication, rather than the stuff of day-to-day slog and chore that is schoolwork. And that's in English. I don't think that returning to school to find there is another, much more difficult, language to read and write in, would go down too well. If we were to set up home on the other side of a border, it might work better for it to be In Scotland, but that's a long way away and one thing we are not struggling with is a lack of options. We need to narrow things down really, before the money runs out or the weather turns too cold to make this viable.

Hay on Wye was a great little town, once the chef stopped trying to talk to me. We enjoyed some tremendous beers at Beer Revolution and some pretty damn good Chinese food ('we just call it "food",' a Chinese bloke said to me once) and revelled in the town's more understanding approach to car park signage - the text above says something like "no caravan or motorhome may stay for more than one night in seven," which seemed very civilised to me, but wasn't accommodating enough for the man who had obviously been there with his car and caravan for a while, feet down, TV aerial up and noisy little genny chugging away into the night.

There was no such crafty beer place in Abergavenny - a huge hotel called The Angel dominates, but within, the traveller discovers a handsome bar with a disastrously poor beer offering. It occurred to me once again that there are still opportunities in the beer market in certain towns. I'd really like to be able to offer the sort of beer that M and I like to drink in a town where there aren't any other places to drink it. There was a great food festival on in the town hall though, with all sorts of options and excellent atmosphere, but H wasn't really able to enjoy his burger.

He had toothache every time he ate for a few days back there, so we needed to get him to the tooth doctor, as well as getting Vanny to the van doctor (the skylight leak is fixed - hurrah - but we had to wait for them to order the tap, so they'll fit that after Christmas. It's not exactly a long walk to the bathroom tap though.) We couldn't just take him to the dentist like you do when you're living at your home address. Finding a dentist who would give him an appointment took several days - in fact it's difficult enough just to find a practice that will take on new NHS patients even if they do live locally. So we went back to M's mum's place to sort this out. H 
now has a very nice young dentist who cares enough about him to tell his mum he should never have any sugar. Since then, he's managed to lay off for the most part, even during a visit to see his very bestest friends on the South coast. We've stopped off in Southampton and checked my penultimate English Brewdog bar off the list (very nice it was too) and narrowly avoided paying TWENTY-FIVE QUID to drive Vanny across a toll bridge. Now it's time to head for Cornwall, which we missed on our first journey to the Southwest for reasons I can no longer remember. 

When we have been there to our Satisfaction, we will have driven through every county in England, and I think we should be ready to make a serious move on a place that has caught our collective eye. The boys have been amazing together, and so positive about the whole thing, but they probably need to start spending more time in the company of other children their own age. They're not bumping into kids in playgrounds and places as often as they did when the weather was 

While watching Blue Planet II, E expressed genuine concern that we were not recycling enough. It's very difficult to organise recycling when you are in a small space and have no bins of your own, so we do it when we can, but have thrown away a hillock of glass and plastic on this trip. We would all much prefer to put this guilt behind us as soon as possible. In stark contrast to how we lived, skint and time-starved in London, we've been huge consumers too, as much so as the muscly
 bulging young men we saw in Worcester, nearly bursting out of the ripped skinny jeans that go so badly with their Fred Astaire hairdos. Eating out virtually every day is expensive, fattening (when you hoover-up everybody else's lefties) and does something to my soul. Every oversize, open-top refrigerator and freezer exhaling dry-ice fog into the air, every bright red lamp heating an empty outdoors causes me insane amounts of worry. I need to get somewhere to live so I can hide away from all these smoking guns at the scenes of our suicide. I hate feeling like I am being bought and sold in the marketplace, and I hate being the trader too.