Friday, 1 August 2014

Product DetailsThis was sitting on my shelves for a couple of years.  A large-sized paperback that runs to 358 pages, every one worth reading. It's an American novel.  It stretches from WW2 at Guadalcanal in the Pacific Ocean, to Apollo 8 orbiting the world.  Such a big stretch of time might seem just too big, but the story involves a cast of less than 20 strong characters, and one man's dream.

The man is Loyal Ledford, who comes home from the war with visions still in his brain of the deaths of men he knew, coming to him over and over again.  When he realises that his job as a pen-pusher is just not enough for him, he takes it upon himself to create a little paradise, on land in the ownership of his cousins, where he can build a factory, plant gardens, open church and school and live with people like himself both black and white.  Paradise, eh?  but paradise has serpents, and as Ledford attempts to live out his dream, there are those who, in the 1960s, do not like the idea of mixing races, and who will do anything to stop Ledford and his friends.  Stop them from what?  Just stop them living their lives as they wish.  And those who want Ledford's dream to end are dumb, cruel, heartless; heard JFK speak but sniggered when he talked about fairness for all, as to them, all only meant white folk.  The kind of cowards who would kill people just to get where they wanted in life.  This is what Ledford is up against.  Can he make it?  Maybe. Can he persuade others to stick with him on this journey?  Maybe.

  I was in my teens when the race riots were on the news in the UK.  I was a little older when Martin Luther King was shot.  This book may go a little way to explaining the mindsets of those who cheered when he died, and those who felt only horror.  This is the author's second book.  The cover compares him to John Steinbeck, Cormac McCarthy, John Irving.  Maybe, maybe not.  I don't do comparisons.  But I liked this book a lot.  Liked the author's style. Got to go back and read "Trenchmouth Taggart" now.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Flight of the Maidens - Jane Gardam

Product DetailsYet another Jane Gardam - about which I can only ask "how does she do it?"  Every time I read one of hers it's different, brilliant, moving.......

It's 1946.  The Maidens are Ursula, Hetty and Lieselotte.  Eighteen, and with scholarships under their belts, one will go to Kings College, London,  and two to Cambridge.  Or will they?  Hetty has an interfering Mum, she gossips continually about her daughter with her friends at the local cafe, and then keeps saying sorry to Hetty afterwards.  She's having a bit of a "thing" with the vicar too, and Hetty doesn't even know if her father understands this, since shell-shock in WW1 has reduced him to the duties of grave digger.  Ursula, who's Mum is an amateur hairdresser working out of the front room of her house, has being going cycling with Ray, the boy who delivers the fish, since she was around 14.  And then there's Lieselotte, a German jew who arrived on one of the  last of the kindertransport trains from Germany in 1939, and who has been living a live of quiet desperation with a childless, Quaker couple ever since.

Over a period of a few months, between leaving school and starting at University, they all have adventures - not childish adventures, but life changing adventures.  Hetty to the Lake District to get away from her Mum, who is writing a letter a day; Ursula overnight youth hostelling where she discovers her real feelings for Ray, and Lieselotte.... well, she has a rather more far flung adventure.

 I held my breath several times in the hope that all would work out well for these different but likeable women on the thresholds of their adult lives.  Don't think this is aimed at the YA market, it isn't;  she doesn't have a group in mind when she writes, she just writes - but I'm sure anyone who loves Jane Gardam (and those who have not found her yet) will love this one.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Hunting Season - Andrea Camilleri

Product DetailsA boat arrives in the harbour at Vigata, Sicilly, 1880ish, and the last passenger off is a pharmacist who does not take long in setting up a new shop and setting out his wares. In the same town, there are various philanderers of both sexes, titled families, servants, priests and messengers, all linked up in some way or another, which becomes clear as the story progresses. Then deaths begin to occur, and all, at first,  have very reasonable explanations!
What a delight this little novella was. Only 148 pages long, but I suggest you take the phone of the hook and get to know the characters - all of whom have long names. A real latin feel to it - and nicely amusing. I was put in mind of One Hundred Years of Solitude, although it was nothing like it, either in length or content. Andrea Camilleri is the author of the Inspector Montalbano books, though this is nothing like them, either!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Cleaner of Chartres - Salley Vickers

  The publishers seem to have changed the cover of this too many times in the two years since it was published, this appears to be a newer one, so have chosen it against the one shown as current on Amazon.  Anyway, another book passed on to me, and having read two others of Sally Vickers', I was looking forward to this one, and indeed, really enjoyed it, polishing it off in one day!
Agnes Morel, a foundling named after a) a saint, and b) the finder's favourite food, spends her early life in the care of nuns after being found, in a basket, in an orchard by a batchelor farmer.  A series of mishaps in her early life colour her later life, and at around age twenty she finds herself sleeping rough on the steps of Chartres Cathedral.  It is not long before she finds a niche in the town of Chartres, cleaning the floor of the cathedral, cleaning other people's homes, nude modeling for a local artist, live-in caring for an elderly lady and all the while keeping her secrets to herself.  Her early life has held at least two tragedies, and we, the readers, get to hear about them not from her lips but from others.  Several of the characters in this short and bitter-sweet read have things in their own past they do not care to discuss with others, but we will find out about them.  Loved the style of this novel, with the past and the present in alternate chapters, and liked the characterisation too, with Agnes being present throughout, but rather vaguely described at first, gaining more colour and character as the story progresses. 

WW1 poets: Jessie Pope

I found this today on a friend's blog.  She is reproducing WW1 poems throughout 2014, some are very touching, some make you cry - but this one?  Well, it just hit the spot for me.

Shining pins that dart and click
In the fireside’s sheltered peace
Check the thoughts the cluster thick  -

20 plain and then decrease.

He was brave – well, so was I –
Keen and merry, but his lip
Quivered when he said good-bye –

Purl the seam-stitch, purl and slip.

Never used to living rough,
Lots of things he’d got to learn;
Wonder if he’s warm enough –

Knit 2, catch 2, knit, turn. 

Hark! The paper-boys again!
Wish that shout could be suppressed;
Keeps one always on the strain –

Knit off 9, and slip the rest.

Wonder if he’s fighting now,
What he’s done an’ where he’s been;
He’ll come out on top somehow –

Slip 1, knit 2, purl 14.

Jessie Pope was a poet and journalist. She is best known for her patriotic motivational poetry
which was published in the Daily Mail newspaper during WW1.
Pope was widely published during the war, apart from newspaper publication producing three volumes: Jessie Pope's War Poems (1915), More War Poems (1915) and Simple Rhymes for Stirring Times (1916)

The Mercy of Thin Air - Ronlyn Domingue

Product DetailsTime Traveller's Wife?  Lovely Bones?  Loved the first, disliked the second.  But if you liked either of them, I think you will find yourself drawn to this one.  This was passed on to me by a friend who's normal genre was murder, mayhem and detection and at first it seemed an odd choice.  But indeed it is a detective story of sorts whilst you, the reader find out a little more with every page about two quite separate love stories, seventy years apart, the protagonists within those love stories and how, actually, they may be more connected than it at first seems.

Raziela Nolan is a ghost who is inbetween.  She cannot let go and move on, so she exists, in spirit only, in the land between life and total death, observing, listening, trying to find comfort and completeness and the whereabouts of Andrew, the love of her life.  Seventy years ago she was deeply in love with Andrew, and when she died she couldn't pass over.  Her heart was broken and, in the real world, so was Andrew's.

This is a book to be read in large chunks.  You may find it hard to read as there are no chapter headings, just a little leaf motive to break up the pages ever now and again.  But if you treat those like the beginnings of chapters, they will serve you well.  The book is divided into three parts, and I do think that was unnessary, as things do not change from part to part, but, author's choice and all that.  You'll also have to get used to who is currently telling you the story - sometimes it's Raziela, sometimes the third person.  The time frame jumps too, but there are no friendly clues as there are in the Time Traveller's Wife.  This didn't put me off at all.  I was so intrigued by the style of the book, and so wrapped up in finding out why? when? how? that I didn't let it bother me at all.  I just got stuck in and enjoyed being part of an intriguing tale.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Back Home - Michelle Magorian

Product DetailsBack home for Rusty is....... well, just exactly where is back home?  Rusty was evacuated as a seven year old to the USA during WW2, and now, aged twelve is is back in the UK, a a house in Devon owned by  friend of her mother's.  And she wants to be back in America, where she lived with such a lovely, loud, talented family who taught her so much, and made her life a joy.  Now, with a silent and shy mother, Charlie, a new four year old brother, a father still absent in the Pacific; Rusty has to make that life hers.  But how difficult it is.  They have to return to  her father's family home, and live with Rusty's paternal grandmother, a woman who disapproves of Rusty's every move and of Charlie's too.  And when she is shunted off to a boarding school where no-one wants to be her friend - life becomes even harder.

This is a coming of age story, although the heroine, Rusty, is only twelve.  She has to go through a lot more than most of us to get to the point where she is happy again.  Magorian always writes of younger people so well, you forget that you are reading, and you find yourself in that world inhabited by people who have not yet found their place in life.  It reads like a dream, whole chapters go by and you keep turning pages.  It's a fine example of grownups not really seeing what is happening, and not really listening to what a child says (or doesn't say). 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Mrs Mac's book to read in JULY...

Last month's was a little early, this month's a little late.  What d'you expect, I have a life off the screen!  So for July - how about reading:

A book with a surname in the title

e.g. Flowers for Mrs Harris (now republished as Mrs ‘Arris goes to Paris by Paul Gallico

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole - Stephanie Doyon

I had this on my shelves for a while and just thought it might be a good'un.  It was a lovely read, and I'm so glad I took no notice of the reviewer and Goodreads member who said "nothing happens".  Well - yes and no.

Set in a very small town in an unmentioned US state; where everyone knows everyone else, affairs are noted and talked about, people like it enough to live there, but don't hate it enough to leave, it covers the story of two boys and their families through a period of around 20 years.  But don't be tricked into thinking this is just a family chronicle, because it isn't. Two boys in class together but not friends:  Robert J Cutler, who is bright as a button, and from a dysfunctional family where Mom is holed up in the house and eating until she cannot go on; and Francis "Spud" Pinkham, from another kind of dysfunctional family altogether where several sisters born before him have perfected the art of bullying.  In the way that the film It's A Wonderful Life is a great example of how one person's life impacts on others, this too shows how people's lives are affected by the people around them.  But it's not too deep and soulful, and there are some wonderfully funny bits of conversation tucked in there too.  And in the end, the person you would least expect does become The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole.   Recommended to anyone who likes some soul.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Eyrie - Tim Winton

I do like Tim Winton - every book different, every tale believable, and just an all round good story teller. This one is so believable that you find yourself saying "no!" under your breath as you read.
Tom Keeley had a reputation - that is until he lost his mind, his marriage and then his job, and now he has nothing and wants to keep it that way. He's bought himself a cheap top floor ex-authority flat in a ten story block and there he is, drinking too much, taking a cocktail of painkillers and sleeping tablets every day. He has little episodes of blankness, often awaking on the floor or walking somewhere in his city, Freemantle, Australia. This kind of loss of memory happens quite often - his mother is worried, his sister is worried. Tom is not. In fact he just wants to be left alone. And then one day he meets a woman who his parents saved from parental danger when he was a child. She has a child in tow now, her grandson. She works nights in a supermarket, and locks the kid in her flat. Tom soon makes friends with the boy, a bright but odd child, who is possibly on the low end of the Aspergers scale. Kai, the boy really takes to Tom - he is a hero to someone at least, even though that child is only six. And then, after he has sex with the boy's grandmother, worrying things start to happen, it seems that there is danger somewhere and Tom becomes desparately worried for the child's safety.
I jumped between believing that someone was running drugs, to blackmail, and various other causes of this sense of danger; and had to keep reading. Tom Keeley is a broken man, and during the reading of this tale you will find out some things about him and his family which perhaps explain a little, but not too much about what makes him what he has become. The sense of danger grows with every one of the short chapters, which make the book very easy to read, even late at night when you eyes are closing but you need "just another chapter". Not a thriller in the best seller/accepted sense of the word, but a book I needed to get to the end of as quickly as possible, to find out if Tom could ever really be the hero that Kai thinks he is. Great stuff, Tim Winton.
[copy of my Amazon review]

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Small Book - Zina Rohan

I first heard about this book some time ago, when a bookie friend brought it to my attention.  When it arrived in my house, it went straight to the bookshelf - I could not bring myself to read it, it looked so boring.  So now, in the year celebrating (if that is the right word, should be remembering I think) 100 years since the  outbreak of WW1, I have read it.  I'm sorry I left it so long, but perhaps this was the best year to read it.  The cover does not represent the book and therefore I have not reproduced a picture of the cover, which shows 4 soldiers walking on duckboards above the slime and mud of France.  Yes, the book does start with a short chapter set in WW1.  But it is not about that war, but about the effect of something that happened in that war on three generations of a small family.  A small and rather disfunctional family too.  Each chapter is headed by the name of the character that it's about.  So as you work your way through the book you will come to know the character of each of the family members, and why they are as they are.  The  "small book" of the title is not explained until near the end of the book, but that is no matter, in fact it is working towards that ending that racks up the tension here.  This is simply a wonderful book by a wonderful wordsmith.  Why is this book not more well known?  And why, oh why, did the publisher choose this cover, which has nothing going for it at all, the title and author are shown in a too-plain typeface, and, (as a reviewer on Amazon states) has Australian soldiers on it and the scene depicted bears no resemblance to any part of the book.  That aside, I urge you to read this "small book" ( 240 pages) and not be put off by the cover.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady - Florence King

I have no idea how I came by this book, (I know that a bookie friend sent me a copy to read but I don't know where I read about it first) but I am so glad I found it. What a charmer! Based on fact, this is the coming of age of Florence in the 1950s, describing her family, her friends and her lovers with great style and humour. She wanted to graduate in French Language, and found herself at a college that "didn't do" that. She found herself in a group of girls who only wanted a husband - she didn't. She found several lovers where the sex was more important than the person. Failed Southern Lady? That's because her grandmother ached for her to be just that, a southern lady - something she had never acheived with Forence's mother, so guess what, she tried it (unsuccessfully) on Florence. The discriptions of conversations involving sex are gems - her grandmother, when confronted with anything that involved penetration, would change the subject by always saying "your grandfather was such a gentleman" - a sort of code for "he never bothered me much! I don't think I would have picked this book up in a bookshop, so I must have read someone else's views, and I am so glad I did. The cover shown is the UK paperback.... I found two American covers, neither of which had very much to do with the contents of the book - one has bare legs up in the air, wearing a garter and on the feet a pair of stiletto heeled red slingbacks; the other shows a solitary walking boot and a flower (magnolia). Take your pick, but do take the book. You won't regret it and and you may even learn something!

Monday, 9 June 2014

Rick Mayall dead at 56

So sad.  And too young.  All the comedy he did was larger than life, and I loved him most of all in Blackadder - here he is, arriving as best man to Edmond Blackadder.

Smile at the joy he gave people.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Timbuktu - Paul Auster

This is a short book (186 pages) with a big heart.  Mr Bones is a dog, and this story is about him.  However, it's not written by him, and there is no sweetness and cuteness here.  What there is the tale of a dog who can think, a dog who loves his master, a dog who has to make choices.  I have never read another Paul Auster book, but this would have to go on my all time favourite reads if for no other reason than Auster's gift with words, particularly in the first half of the book when Mr Christmas, Mr Bones' master is describing things, and thinking things.  For Mr Christmas has been a drug-taker, and has fried his brain.  This means that sometimes he says the same thing three times, sometimes he uses the same theme for three different comments, sometimes he uses several similar words.  And all the time, Mr Bones listens and thinks. When Christmas is on his last legs, he urges Mr Bones to run when the ambulance arrives.  He runs into his future.   Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

HS2 line overbudget already and not a sleeper yet laid....

HS2, the controversial new rail line is exceeding itself in every way.  Latest spends are for consultancies only.  By the end of February this year (2014), a total of £188 million had been spent on contracts for consultants ..... this exceeds the budget by 86% - and that budget was originally £101 million.

Don't all answer at once, but I fail to see how it can cost £188 million to "consult".  If I was an engineer, and someone asked me to cost out the total of (say) bridgebuilding for this scheme, even if I had to employ specialist bridgebuilders to give me a cost, I would not expect to have to work any longer than a couple of months on supplying a price - and even if I had a team of ten working for me - it just would not cost millions.  And yet, looking closely at the figures, every group of experts, or "consultants", as they are now referred to, pick a juicy price, and we pay it! 

About 12 years ago, I did 4 months consultancy work. It doesn't matter what the work was, but I was the only person at that time who had the knowledge necessary to produce a guide for others to use.  I probably earned £4,000 total.  Even if I had a team of 10 working for me (I didn't!) I make that total £44,000 including me for four months intensive work.   

I'M JUST SAYING..........

Monday, 2 June 2014

American Road Trip - Off towards the airport, discover Route 1 and Fredericksburg - Part 17 (the last one!)

Raine, our host at the little apartment gives us a tip.  She never uses the 95 between Richmond and Washington, but goes up on Route 1.  And so shall we!  We pack, strip the bed and put all whites in the shower as per instructions and off we go.  It's another glorious day, the trees are in full leaf, and we head north on this lovely, lovely highway.  What a surprise.  The 95 is full of traffic in both directions, and this one?  every now and again a vehicle passes us...... it's a slower maximum speed on here, but we have all day to tootle along, looking and enjoying.   The route is full of historic markers too.  This is the place to start your Civil War explorations! See what Wiki says. We see so many things that make us ooh! and aah!, and we pass this little dinner and takeaway.  It makes us smile and we drive on by.  The sign says "Pop's Dogs - Ma's Burgers".

We see, on the other side of the road, i.e. driving away from Washington, loads of yard sale signs, fleamarkets and barns marked 'Antiques'.  No room in our cases, and so sadly we drive past every one.  Next time, perhaps?  Then suddenly, we are approaching Fredericksburg Virginia - a small city but with huge Civil War connections that we missed on our way out on our road trip, because we came across from Charlottesville to Richmond.  We need a comfort break, and why not have lunch at the same time?  Lots of history here, and the town and surrounding countryside has enough interesting stuff to keep you going for quite a few days.  We had no time, so had a lovely lunch and moved on.  But if you'd like to know more, have a look at this.  Lunch eaten, we press on towards the airport to drop the car off and go home.
Sunken Road and Stone Wall at Fredericksburg
Fredricksburg Battlefield site -calm now

We are at the airport after a little blip when, on the road to Fairfax to drop the car off where we picked it up, we realise that we are going to be late because of huge traffic buildup in the area.  Calling the office we are told that it closes at 2.00pm and it's 1.35pm now.  "Take it to the Airport" - and so we have to do the one thing we least wanted - to rejoin the main roads, and get into Dulles  Airport.  But we make it.

Here is our trusty steed.... and hopefully Maccers is telling me he is not having another nosebleed! No, what he's saying, is "Look! No Noseplugs!"  Well, apart from getting inside the airport and onto the plane, it's over.  Holiday of a lifetime?  Yes, it was for us, and we'd do it all again tomorrow.  The kindness of strangers, the things we saw, the food we ate, and especially the people who opened their homes to us - thank you all - you made our holiday what it was.

And last - a few random thoughts.

  • How great to have known Hazel before she left the UK - a lovely three days of chatting and eating and getting to know Miss Hannah better - how tall she is now.  Thanks y'all!
  • The policeman at Union Station who stopped us using a public phone "because it makes you vulnerable - you look like out-of-towners!", and gave us the use of his own mobile/cell phone.
  • Finding (and finding out about) Jamestown and the island.
  • Pepsi Cola's birthplace in New Bern.
  • The surprise of Fredericksberg.
  • Wanting to hear from Kathleen in Charleston about how her plans are shaping up.
  • And of course anyone who hosted us who said they would look us up if they came over - Just do that!


Saturday, 31 May 2014

American Road Trip - Richmond and what a small street has to offer! -Part 16

The facade - every ticket here $1.99


Cary Street is the street.  Richmond is the City, Virginia is the state.  Cary Street is the kind of place you want to spend a week's holiday/vacation on.  So many restaurants, cafes, bars.  Shops of the kind that you don't find in a mall.  The Byrd.  Ah, the Byrd!  That's an old theatre and cinema, still original, the box office faces the street.  Every Saturday night a Wurlitzer rises from the floor and gets played.  It is so big that several rooms in the basement house the working parts that give you the instruments you will hear (although of course it's all controlled and played via the keyboard).  And no, it isn't like an electric organ!  We are travelling home, so we are leaving in the morning, and the organ gets played at 5.30pm.  But if we ever get back, boy are we going to be there!  Find out more, here

The Box Office... if I lived near I'd hire a body to polish those lovely brass doors!

On Friday, we have lunch out, visit a fab bookshop which has books for $1 outside, and old and new books inside.  Also a famous cat who sleeps in the window called Dim Sum. "Do not tap the window" says the sign!  This cat likes undisturbed sleep. We also visit a newly opened kitchen supplies shop, buy a couple of small novelty items, and buy ourselves a tea-towel that tells us Y'all is an adverb in "the south"..... of course it is. We decide that our last night in the US will be spent in our little apartment, over food and a nice bottle of wine - and that is exactly what happens.  We call at a supermarket, get fried chicken and a bottle of Merlot, switch on the TV for a while, and enjoy, talking about leaving tomorrow, wanting to come back straight away, and generally deciding that for us, this was the holiday of a lifetime.

Just one more episode to go.  And by the way, if your name is Tammy Shmitt who commented on Google + - it cut your message off at "This is Tammy from ......"  so I never did get the name of our your town- comment again!

Oh yes, Tide!  My Mum used this throughout her life.  Once found, she never used another washing powder, and I have to say, it did clean the laundry well.  But I should have been out selling the remainder of the bottle on the street, because.... look at this!

Friday, 30 May 2014

American Road Trip - Fayetteville to Richmond to our last stop - Part 15

 Up in the morning, and our host is gone; his wife returns from a run before nipping off to work and telling us to help ourself to bacon an biscuits from the freezer.  No, I won't do that, not fair if the food is not left out for us, but how lovely it is to be really trusted. We decide to re-visit the old part of town, and find a fab. cafe called Rude Awakening (pic above) where we have a lovely cup of Java coffee and sit outside with our breakfast croissants.  Pleasant start to the day. Before it starts to rain we spot this garbage truck/dustbin collector.  And when we "get" what it says on the side, we start to laugh!  After all, if you have to dig big holes in the ground for rubbish to be dumped into it, surely it was wildlife habitat before you dug the holes?  Wasn't it?  Anyway - doing their best!


 Doug had told us about the Airborne and Special Ops Museum in town and as it was grey and rainy, we decided to poke our heads in.  Tableaux plus sound effects tell you everything you want to know really, and they have great information boards each side of each set.  We spent about twenty minutes in the WW2 France section and by that time I knew why people come home from a Theatre of War with Post Traumatic Stress.  Each area has it's own sound effects, and it's incredible how that noise gets into your brain.  A really interesting museum, and worth a couple of hours if you are near Fayetteville.

On we go, getting ever nearer to Washington and the plane home (sigh).  We are headed now for Richmond where we have booked 2 nights in an apartment, rather than B and B.  No more "real" stops on this part of the journey - only at a rest station for a comfort break, a little walk around, and a look in the information centre for other places to go when we come back (and we are going to!).  We find ourselves approaching Richmond, where we stayed a night at the beginning of our trip, but this time in a different part - the old part of town, and we have to navigate a road system that would make Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham UK cry.  Phew!  And again we give thanks for our sweet-voiced GPS who eventually says those magic words "you have reached your destination".  We phone Raine, the owner of what we hope is a lovely little apartment.  She is on her way, and we stretch our legs, have a slug of water, and wait......

When she arrives, and shows us in - I can't stop saying "Oh!"  This is a tiny, tiny apartment.  It was the storage area for a corner store (which is now an office) and our entrance is at the side.  Inside is a double bed, a full size wardrobe, two nice chairs to sit with a beer or watch TV; a working kitchen, a laundry area with washer and dryer, full size; and one and a half bathrooms as they say in the US.  One is basin, shower and toilet, and the little one is toilet and...... the smallest basin I have ever seen in my life!  And it is just beautiful!  It's about 15 minutes walk from Carey Street in the "Fan" area of Richmond - full of restaurants, quirky shops, and lively people day and night.

front of building - was a corner shop
what you see as you step through the door
from bedroom to sitting area

 Raine, our host is lovely and chatty, and over an hour later we are still talking!  When she's gone, I load up the washer - this is the chance to go home with suitcases full of clean clothes.  We settle in, and decide we'll go out for dinner.  Because it's raining hard now, we take the car and park just off the the main street.  And we are confronted with so many different eating places we don't know where to go.  Ask a couple of college types in knitted beanie hats to recommend a place.  They then recommend at least three!  Well that's no good, how to choose from three in the pouring rain?  We find one that looks fun, and ask for a table for two.  The tiny blonde who shows us to our table says, "Plenty of room, but Karioke starts at 10.00pm", thus marking us as old biddies who who not be joining in!  Actually she was right, as we were knackered again, but we finished before they started, so we missed it.  Walk to the nearest 7 11 in the rain and get a small bottle of Tide for the washing.  On the way, a young lady with a big unbrella stops and asks us if she can walk us to our car as it is so wet!  Flabbergasted!  We thank her and say we are fine, but what a nice thought.  What we find out about Tide at a later date came as a surprise - and we'll tell you all about it. 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

American Road Trip - sadly leaving Charleston, but finding a Piggly Wiggly! - Part 14

We need to get on the road today - our next stop is 218 miles up country.  But as most of this will be on Highway 95 - a straight, straight, straight road the driver thinks it's no bother.  So we take a walk down to King Street so that we can have a look at the shops.  Got to be done - holidays are not all about scenery and visits to historic places!  We find an ATM inside a corner shop with it's own resident cat, and the owner doesn't seem to mind at all that we don't want to buy anything.  This is the morning I get to have a little treat - here is Pottery Barn, it's lovely windows beckoning!  We enter and the air conditioning is cold enough for a sweater - which all staff are wearing - but very refreshing for us.  If redecorating your home, this place with give you enough inspiration for every room (at a price!).  But as I may never be in another branch, I buy 8 new linen napkins, reduced in the sale, and very beautiful indeed.  At the counter, I bemoan the fact that we have no branches at home, and the haughty guy who's serving me says "but Madam, you can buy our goods on the internet... just open our page, click on the Union Jack, and all shipping prices are in £s".   Oh Dear.   I tell him I will be bankrupt shortly, now that I have access, but he just smiles and passes me the goodies.

Walking back to the house, at a crossroads, I manage to get the camera out of it's case quickly and catch this guy and his gorgeous old car and he gives us smile and the horn a "beep! as he spots us.  Back to retrieve our car now, already packed and ready to go, with a quick but heartfelt goodbye to Kathleen who I'd like to know better.

We take the road, promising a stop for lunch, even if it's only a chain restaurant. We shout "bridge" and this is another biggie.  It crosses Lake Marion, in South Carolina, which is so big that each side of the bridge is water up to the horizon.  Lovely.  When I spot a sign that says "Antiques Mall, 70 miles"  I decide that will do as a stopping place, and as the word antiques in the US covers everything from seriously old to mid-20th century stuff, I just might find a little gem to take home.  We couldn't find it at all!  Small town, so not far to go looking for it, but either it was gone, or it was hidden. At least we find somewhere for lunch.  It is a chain, but what a chain!  Route 55 is a 1950's style diner, and everything that goes with it.  Hot dogs, Burgers, Coca Cola, Fries, the usual suspects.  But like most chains, it's a franchise, and the staff here are really proud of their venture.  The black and white tile floors shine like mirrors, the toilets are spotless (in fact I never found a dirty one the whole trip) and smell fresh and clean, and the staff are attentive.  The chrome gleams, and there is great rock and roll playing.  I would not have been surprised if the staff had not leapt onto the counter and burst into an acapella version of "Will you still love me tomorrow?" or some other hit of the past.  Maccers has a hot dog, and me?  I have frozen custard. Never had it before, but given the chance will have it again.  Who knew that custard makes such a lovely cold treat when I can't eat icecream?  Heaven!

We could do with bottled water, so a quick half mile from the diner we find a Piggly Wiggly!  It's a supermarket chain and if you like American films set in the south, you may be familiar with the name.  Certainly I have seen it mentioned in novels and by stand-up comedians.  And here we are attempting to understand the cashier, who not only talks quietly, but has the strongest accent I have ever heard in my life.  I caught "y'all", and got the money right, but I'm ashamed to say that I really did not hear what she said, although "have a nice day" might have been in there somewhere.   Now we are non-stop until Fayetteville, North Carolina where we are staying the night.  We have no idea what this town offers, but it is a good distance to break the journey back to Washington Airport.  What we don't know is that it services Fort Bragg.  Fort Bragg is H U G E ..... 50,000 military personnel at any one time.  The town is easy to find with the GPS (just come off the 95 and listen to her - "take the next left") and  we find ourself (hurrah!) at the correct address.
probably our only ever 'Selfie', but here we are - made it to our next bed for the night!
Arrangements have been made for us to let ourselves in if we beat our hosts home and so we let ourselves in from a red hot afternoon to a cool and dark house.  Our room is easy to find, downstairs, and just like the photo on AirBnB, so we dump the bags, and get back on the internet, to check on friends, answer emails again, and generally slob around.  John puts a few beers in the fridge to get cold, and I make a cup of tea.  We relax and chat and eventually the back door opens and in comes Doug home from work.  We are fascinated by his deep voice - remember the bald eagle in "The Muppets"?  He could make a fortune in voice-overs!  Over a beer we discuss British politics, American Politics, the House of Commons which he watches avidly!  "Say, who's that guy in the big chair?"  We explain about Mr Speaker.  He loves Prime Minister's Question Time and wishes they had it in America - there are some Presidents he would like to have seen in the hot seat.  He asks us about the Scottish question - which John is against, and we discuss other world problems and politics.

He recommends us to the best burger in town "hand made, and I know the cook" - he's right, John says it's like an old fashioned home made job.  I have a little taco as I am not really hungry, and ask for red wine.  Remember Buckfastleigh?  Or Sanatogen?  Fortified wines of the past... not my taste, and probably not anyone else's in Fayetteville, because it is served from a bottle into a wine glass right next to the till, so they obviously don't sell much of it.  John has  a beer, sensible boy!  When we return, Doug's wife is back from work, and we spend another hour talking this, that and the other before they need to go to bed and we go too.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

American Road Trip - Lunch at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and Supper out in Charleston - Part 13


Well, of course, it isn't the real Whistle Stop Cafe.... but the brew pub has Fried Green Tomatoes on the menu as a starter.  What can I do?  They also have hush puppies - what are they then?  We ask our absolutely charming waiter what they are, and if you already know, you will be laughing by now.  Deep fried dough balls made with corn meal.  Have to try them so that's starter number two; and then John chooses Spicy Shrimp for starter number three.  So there we sit, on a table outside watching the world go by and sharing our starters.  Fried Green Tomatoes?  Just that.  Sliced and dipped in a very thin batter and then fried.  Served on a cheesy sort of sauce with a pale green chutney/pickle made, I think from a vegetable called chow chow.  I loved them!  Going to try to cook them myself.  The hush puppies are good too, crispy on the outside, bready on the inside, and served on a bed of salad.  Finally the Spicy Shrimp, which of course are prawns.  They are delicious too.  So what a nice little "southern" lunch!  We get talking to a couple on the next table who are having a treat of a few days away - their youngest child just off to college, they have not had a solo break for seventeen years - I  truly cannot imagine that.  They are from Concord, near Charlotte, North Carolina, and have accents so strong that even I have to bend forward.  "Moose, that's ma kinda nickname"  he tells us.  They too are charming, concerned for our welfare ("doncha go goin' off the main highways without a full tank of gas y'all!") and we spend a lovely half an hour talking to them.  Then a slow stroll up another couple of blocks to the market where Maccers gets a plain black Tshirt (his souvenir), and I get a present for my sister. It is an air conditioned building and when we open the door at the far end I'm finished!  I can't walk home.  Sorry, but there it is.  We call the Tom, Pedicab "driver" who picked us up and delivered us for our walking tour this morning, and he says "Wow!  On my way!"  and, like a knight errant, here he comes!  We clamber aboard in 90+ (f) with matching humidity, and he still manages to get up speed, taking us through the university buildings instead of the direct route because it's cool.  Is that cool as in hip or cool as in not so hot?  I'll never know, I didn't ask him.

But here he is  complete with a fashionable (or so we hear) beard, and all he wants to do really is write music and play in his band...  Another southern charmer.  It's tonight that we are taking Kathleen, our host, out to supper to repay her kindness of yesterday.   So alighting daintily from the pedicab (haha!), I get myself inside and upstairs for yet another shower.  Later on we walk a few blocks to the Loaves and Fishes, a local restaurant where she has been coming for family celebrations for years.  Nice little place, too, and a quiet gossipy walk home, to be met by Captain Stump;  a tortoiseshell cat of indeterminate years who only has half a tail (hence the name) and is definitely a female.
Idea of scale?  The ceilings in this house are 18 ft high, and you can see that there is another 2 ft above the wallpaper.

And for the last time, we climb into that huge bed because tomorrow we are heading back North on the 95 highway on our way home.  But still, a few adventures to come yet!