Friday, September 14, 2007

A Day in the south of England

April 2007:

The owner of the organic grocer drove us to a long and winding motorway where we could thumb a ride. He'd travelled the Western hemisphere long ago, before becoming an eco-entrepreneur. He was kind, good-natured, and down-to-earth, which left me wondering why eco-stores always follow the same formula of tin-flute trickling water and incence. [ My all time favourite restaurant is a big dirty greasy spoon Tex-Mex in NYC's East Village that has an all-vegan menu and plays rock 'n' roll music loud.]

We didn't have to wait long for two dudes in a kind of mini-Woody, c. 1988 but a 1940s replica, to pick us up and ride us about 4 miles up road to an east-bound junction. They too had travelled - to many diving hotspots - and were saving up for the next excursion. Most people who pick up hitchers are bursting with memories of kindnesses afforded them on past travels.

Tonya took us from the junction just outside Cheddar as far as Bath. She works with children who have special needs and she took great interest in Maven's work in Africa, so much so that she kept the conversation going at her friend's going away party. The host's face was a sketch of human perplexity when Tonya announced casually, "These are two hitchhikers I picked up en route. Can you spare them some tea?"

The host, a marine biologist, was about to embark on a long tour of photographing dolphins and whales. Once she realized that Tonya wasn't joking she set to the task of extracting our stories with scientific precision and impartiality, while her twin sister's husband made corny jokes and recommended routes northward from the sidelines like he was practicing for fatherhood.

They gave us a splendid time, tea and doughnuts, and a map of Bath, in exchange for adding some spice to their Saturday afternoon, and we were off with our packs to walk through town and back to the highway.

Johnny picked us up just outside of Bath and drove us far enough to explain his philosophy of spreading love through a network of kind deeds. He'as an aeronautical engineering guitar player and he played us a recent recording of his band off his i-pod. The recording quality wasn't great but you could hear some talent in there, reminded us of Feist or Frente. They had a strong, subtle female lead vocalist, whom he was honoured to play with.

Like me, Johnny is a music and chocolate lover, particularly fond of the Double Decker brand, and opposed to war in principle. Together we dreamed of better ways of spending a trillion dollars than causing a civil war in Iraq; it was all too easy.

He contributed his own gas and dollars to our cause, bought us some delicious cornish pasties, and I gave him some of my chocolate. He drove out of his way to drop us in Oxford-town, from where we got a ride with 36-year-old Harvey, who thought we were 20-year-olds and seemed a little disappointed in his own life when he saw ours.

Harvey quickly took to complaining about Britain's poor roads and high taxes, a story we hear everwhere it seems. The people who complain least about roads are the people who don't have any: Mongolians.

Harvey was good enough to take us straight into the heart of Kennelworth, between Warwick and Stratford, by the old town-clock, where we met 17-year-old Andy Stone, one of the hundreds of teenagers with whom Maven has worked over the years. One of those relationships developed in one place and non-sequetorially continued elsewhere.

Andy gave us a historical tour through town, pointing out the many houses built in the 1500s, now lived-in monuments, the owners of which are barred from making any structural changes.

Andy's mother made us fishcakes and veggies and we all chatted about West Africa. Andy's father had sptent three years in Nigeria managing construction projects and partying with other expats until he met his wife and found other things to do elsewhere.

Jon came home later and we stayed up to watch NHL playoffs on satellite TV and talk about the boys' lives in Engliand. Andy, the younger, seems to have adapted completely right down to the accent, whereas Jon has retained his Canadianness to a much greater degree. Among the three siblings, Jon alone has been hit with foreigner fees for university, even though he's a UK citizen, because he didn't live in Britain for thee consecutive years before starting his higher (cost) learning.

He has a good job though, as a tourguide at a castle ruin near his house. That helps, and he gave us a free tour, the informal version complete with quips like, "Elizabeth I, talk about your diva! She had 400 people follow her around everywhere and do her bidding. They built an entire section of castle just for her 11-day visit. It took them two years."

Their father is having a tough time adapting too, even though he grew up in England. He's slowly adapting to the construction industry as practiced there - the completely different jargon, and the skyward housing costs, which have pushed them back into renting.

In this immigrant house, under the coffee table, was a headline reading 'Immigrants Taking Away Our Culture' as if it was fact. And it was fact according to a new report complete with numbers to prove it. One can only hope that somehow poor England survives this assault on its right to snooty pretentiousness.

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Yeah, the English bitch a lot but you know what? We have high taxes here in the US when you consider what you actually get for the money here.

Id pay ten percent or more to get healthcare for all, just to take one example.

Our system is all about misguided people spending shitloads of money on things that do not serve the people's interests.

We cant fix our roads, bridges, infrastructure because we are warmongering corporate zoo keepers.

And here, the organic grocers are all being driven out by Big Box Organic. No incense, no rock and roll.
unfortunately that big box organic thing is happening everywhere, but they haven't all been driven out. In NYC and Boston there are still a lot of them, and lots of rock and roll too.

I hear you though, your current govt is killing anything resembling any kind of real culture. Hopefully the Republican days are numbered, this time around anyway.
on the subject of bitching about taxes, that happens everywhere in the 'west' too. even finns do it. it's ridiculous when you consider what taxes can do in a social democracy, i.e. most industrialized countries outside the USA. why anyone would want to lower taxes and cut services is a mystery to me.
The current Bush administration and cultural unfairness.

With the Brits, it's just the snobbery, though I don't know how often, In Hamilton Ontario, I as a non-Brit kid, I had to get into fights defending newly-arrived Brits from Canadian prejudice...Talk about Crow Jim!
It works both ways. An immigrant is just an immigrant.
I do worry about the Balkanization of Canada these days though.
Some immigrant now outrightly refuse to pay lip service to the Queen--"It is our right."
Egad, just off the boat and screaming for your rights!

Colour me O'Reilly.



apparently osama's a leftist. who knew?

you're right in so far as it going both ways. the one thing all the places i've visited have in common is a hate of everyone else.

as for rights, they must be screamed for at all times, in all directions, from every location, lest they be forgotten.
Benji, if that was fiction, you fooled me.

Lynn, In the UK the rich and middle class pay taxes to support welfare for the poor. In the US the poor and middle class pay taxes to support welfare for the rich.
TC: it was non-fiction, should have tagged that actually.

Your synopsis on taxes is most prescient.
You are quite the world-hopper.

Are you a prof? That would explain much. I get along with professors better than I do anyone else. That's what made me want to be one--even if that's still a bit far away for me. English major, of course.

Loved the part about Mongolians never complaining about roads. It's so true. Everybody is so pampered here in modern nations. Guess the people who complain about their roads the most?


The term "Michigander" came from the fact that people from Michigan in the eighteen hundreds had a bad rap for bragging about where they live, ie, "hawnk. we're from MICHIGAN, hawnk-hawnk". Nowadays people use it as a proper term for a resident of the state.
Don't know about England, but someone offshore liked the play we have put up. Your play.

She came in "anynymous".

I'll give you her name if you email me.
Eric: travelling prof eh? well, my wife was offered a teaching position at the main uni in Ghana, but it was subsequently rescinded for political reasons I won't go into. As for me, I'm currently an under-employed dreamer. Most of my travel has in fact for the sake of being under-employed, and for experience. During my over-employed days I managed to save some money that helped along the way. This is an approach that I highly recommend for aspiring under-employed travellers....Michigander, I didn't know that.

Ivan: what a nice comment she left, how kind of her! I'll send you an email.
I like that. I, too, am an underemployed dreamer.

However, my over-employed days involved lots of partying. Too much. Yes, experience is good for a writer, but when all one has to show for the hard work part of life are a few electric guitars and amps, an aging dell and an almost burnt-up Oldsmobile...

values. priorities. I had plenty of one, and not much of the other.

But I do have the memories to write from, and that is what matters most to me. Glad I am to have seen the things I have and talked to all the people I've met.

But it's kinda tough to remember spending two hundred bucks some nights, buying everyone sitting at the bar a drink when Yzerman scored one from the slot, or when Vernon fought Roy to a standstill. Yep. Hockey fan I am. Couldn't you tell?

I hope England doesn't survive it. Most countries are built on immigrants. The press that spew out these papers wouldn't be here if it were not for age old germanic and norwegian ancestors sweeping through the land.

The real english are the cornish and the welsh - who were forced out to the extremities of the land mass by various invaders.

Our papers would do well to remember that
eric: don't underestimate the value of a burnt up olds, and guitars and amps. i'd give a lot of money to be able to play just a few dylan tunes...I can recall vernon ever outplaying roy. anyway, i'm still struggling with balancing that writer part of me with the human whole. the human-firsts seem happier, the writer-firsts better writers. i can't decide which is more important to me.

Ultra: bang on as usual.
Wow... how this makes me long to travel again.
It sometimes feel like it's only when you are far from home that you are most accessible to others.
Loved this entry. We have many people from all over the world in our country making for a richness in culture which is a fantastic thing. By the way lived in Cheddar until I was 10.
PP: it's so true. I think it's because, if you travel the way I do, there just isn't that much else on the agenda. No house to clean, no project deadlines.

Kissa: Cheddar's a beautiful place, must have been a good place to be a kid.
Vernie didn't out play Roy; I wouldn't be fool enough to say that, no matter how much I dislike Roy. But they got into a fight at center ice, and Vernie bloodied Roy p[retty good, considering Roy was bigger all the way around. It was the Wings vs Avs game that Daren McCarty beat down Claude Lemeuix for his boarding hit in the back against Draper that crushed drape's face for the third time. Shanny fought Adam Foot. Everyone fought, except Yzerman and Sakic, the two classy hall of famers. I don't think Lidstrom fought, either. But that was when Vlady was still around. He laid Krupp out in one hit.

Anywhoo... that's hockey! Even the most urbane and refined persons can rejoice in the primal violence mixed with ballet or figure skating-esque grace that the game entails. I love it.

Sorry that Mike Illitch ruined the league back then. He knew he'd have a cash cow with the wings, if he could ressurect them from Dead Wings to Red Wings. Now, with the cap, back to back winners will have to really be something special.

Besides, Montreal was way better at dominating. There isn't a decade that they didn't win at least one Stanely Cup, is there?
go Habs go.

yeah, Roy was a wuss, through and through. Could never stand Claude Lemieux.

interesting point about the cap, yet I have noticed that the Red Wings have somehow managed to remain a ridiculously good team through it all. that's just good management.

go Habs go.
Ha. I so need to spell check.
Yeah, the Wings saw the cap coming and prepared for it. So did a lot of teams.

Others... not so much. The Habs seem to be OK with it. We loved Scotty Bowman when he came here; four cups in a row in Montreal. I know they even had a fiver in the fities-sixties. Unreal.

What's up with the Leafs? I miss being in the east, actually. Chicago is a petty rivalry, and the Avs are just Johnny-come-lately-but-already-left. Once Roy, Foote, Lemieux and Forsberg were gone, it wasn't the same. You just can't work up a sporting hate for Sakic or Hejduk, I've found. They're too nice and good at what they do. Like Yzerman--Yzer could run for Governor of Michigan. Why not? Our Current Governor, Jennifer Granholm, is a Canadian citizen by birth. He'd waste her in a vote, I'm sure.

The Leafs were the main rivals I knew from growing up. Too bad they can't get everything together at once. Actually, when the Wings still sucked, there were a lot of Leaf fans in Detroit. You'd have been surprised.
The Leafs continue to flounder and have not adapted well to the cap. They continue to overpay for mediocre talent rather than bring up good young players through the draft and farm system. I will enjoy watching them finish far from contention yet again this year.

The Habs are a bit more spend-thrift but have yet to put any serious offensive threats together under the new more freewheeling years. They'll probably finish 8th or 10th in their conference, sadly.

The Rangers are looking good this year, and here on the true east coast we enjoy watching our own Sydney Crosby make big waves in Pittsburgh.
Sydney Crosby is freaking unbelievable.

How lucky can one franchise be> Pittsburghers have managed to lanf Super Mario (even Gretz has said that Mario's high water mark showed him to be capable of being the greatest player of all time, not to mention averaging two points a game over his entire career), Jagr (the poodle, but despite his quirks is, or was, a genuine force) and now the "Next One". They need to capitalize, surround him with at least some defensive talent--and not let Mike Illitch talk to him!
Oh yeah... and a classy, under-rated gent by the name of Ron Francis. Pitsburgh should have more championships than they do.

And we in detroit know about under acheiving. Our Wings have been soo ridiculously good, they should have had more Cups, too.

It all says a lot about Sir Scotty Bowman.

The best Gmae I ever saw live was Wings and Montreal, a 6 to 5 overtime affair at the Joe. Wings won, but just barely. I sat in the cery back row, next to an entire family from Quebec City who came down to see them play. Very nice people, polite and refined.
the Penguins have also snagged Evgeni Malkin, who is looking to be Sydney's straight man. This team is looking scary good.
Agreed. who knows; they might have the beginings of a new dynasty. Too bad as soon as the Penguins show themselves to be mediocre, their fans abandon them.

Then again, the Wings are good, but they can't sell out gtames anymore. People are burnt out on them. And it makes people angry to sit in the nose bleeds and watch some rich season ticket holder show up half way through and leave in ten minutes.

How cool is this? A great hockey conversation on a blog filled with great reading.

btw--Make Singleton an offer on one of her paintings/drawing on justgivemepeace. Some of her olderstuff is as amazing as the new. Some of it even better, like the poster size collages. In addition to what I said I got it for, I also put twenty bucks in, too. We worked it out via email.

Still, it was a good deal. She has patrons around here and as far away as Israel who pay a lot for her stuff.
Eric, I love hockey and I'm always up for hockey talk. Now basketball, that's pretty much an obsession. The Atlantic Division looks much stronger this year, should be interestin.
Oh, yes. My obsession is hockey, but I love basketball, too. The East conference has been the powerhouse for years--excepting teams like the Bulls, Lakers and sometimes the Rockets.

I love the Celtics--except when they get in my Piston's way!

It's too bad the ESPN/Al Michaels type media encourages people to think that it is "boring" basketball when a team won't let another team run and gun with impunity--defense can win championships, but not ratings.

People down here are too obsessed by high numbers equalling a good sport--thus hockey and soccer are seen as "big snores".
high number score = high number ratings. they don't know what they're missing.
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