11/29/2006

Homeward bound

Okay, I was pretty bleak last night about the prospects of leaving here. I still wish I could stay, somehow, but the goal is to be back over here again in four months or so. And then again next November. My Thanksgivings will likely be spent over here for years to come, until I can figure out how to move over here with the family.

But, I am looking forward to getting back to Charlottesville. The site is moribund, and I've not posted anything since last week. The Wake-Up Call file from Sunday is sitting on a hard drive at WNRN, waiting for me to go and get it. I took the instructions with me, which wasn't good. My apologies to the producers, and to Rick Moore on that.

Charlottesville is home. I've lived there longer then I've lived anywhere else in my adult life. More than four years, now! Four very full years, with a lot of turmoil and drama, but a lot of happiness, too. And, a lot of possibility.

And, I'm ready to take it all to the next step. I can't wait to get back into my office, in my studio. I brought a microphone with me on this trip, but I can't get it to work too much. I've concentrated mostly all my time on my son, and had several great days with him. I met his mother's new lad, and he's a nice chap.

I had planned to produce a whole backlog of the Charlottesville--Right Now shows, but that just didn't happen. Sorry, Coy! I need an assistant, or an intern, or someone willing to gain experience with all of this. The sky is the limit, and it's sunny here in England!

I had hoped to write out a lot more about the day to day life over here. So many details. Maybe next time.

11/28/2006

"Break of journey"

So, Jim is watching an episode of the Ghost Whisperer on Sky +, and it has to be the one in which there's a major plane crash. It's freaking me out. But, I can type while sitting on this couch. I'm not comfortable sitting on the bunk bed I sleep on when I'm here at Dunstable. I hope all goes well tomorrow.

My flight leaves at 5:00 PM London time tomorrow. I've got a long day ahead of me. I'm hoping to be at the Luton train station by 10:30, to catch the train into London. I'm then getting the Underground to a stop to meet with someone from the UK Podcaster's Association. There may be an interview in the future.

After lunch, I'm then hoping to be at Heathrow for 3:00. The Underground trip to Heathrow usually takes an hour or so. The Heathrow Underground stop is back in operation.

The trip is over. I've not written anything about it since Saturday. Not even to myself. So much to say. Too late now. I hope I can recall the details once I get back, but I never do. The details of trips to England fade into oblivion so fast. I don't like this. My preference would be to be here, as is likely obvious.

Maybe I'll write more about it, but this blog will likely fade into oblivion, too. When I am in Charlottesville, I find it hard to write out any details. Being a so-called journalist, I can't write out what I want to write out. I don't know what my fear is.

Anyway, back to normality, soon.

11/25/2006

Afternoon tea in Berkhamsted with Mr. Gateway

Sit down with me for a second while I have several cups of tea?

Today's warning of gale force winds did not come about, and so the day ended up quite lovely, with the sun shining on Hertfordshire. Of course, Henry is at his cousin's play. Matthew is sixteen and six-foot-six, but he's still playing a Munchkin in a presentation of the Wizard of Oz in Pendley. Henry's aunt came to pick him up.

We had eight hours of pure fun today, though. Henry wakes up early, and so at 5:30 this morning he came to collect me from the sofa. And we began to play.

In the past, this might have left me exhausted, but the best thing about being news director at WNRN is that I'm now ready to go after being awake for just a few minutes. I can shake off exhaustion pretty easily.

So, we began to play, but not until he had his breakfast. Today, that consisted of "grown-up cereal", a cup of milk, and some toast with marmite. Unfortunately, I ended up eating most of the toast.

So far today we've built two truck-stops out of blocks, so the Coa-Cola truck has some place to go at night. The first truck-stop fell victim to the smashing that all small children are compelled to do when something fragile is in front of them. But, that just paved the way for a second one.

At about 10:00, we decided to go out for an adventure, and we went to the park, the one I've not been to yet. This is the one up a footpath from where he'll go to school next year. I got to see where he'll go to his first class, in his little blazer and tie. It's still hard to imagine how different his life is going to be to mine.

My family history carries with it strange prophecies. First, my great-grandfather moved to Malta from London. Then his son, my grandfather moved from Malta to Liverpool, which he used as a base during his career in the merchant marines. Then, my dad moved from Liverpool to America with my mother. At one point, I married a woman from England, and thought we would end up in England, but so far, I'm still living in the U.S.

But, I'm not breaking the cycle, given that my son is going to grow up in England. Who knows where he will go, what he will do, who he will become?

We left the park because it began to pour with rain. Cold, driving rain that was actually visible this time. We walked back down the hill and up Christchurch Road back to the flat. He was complaining about his tummy, which was bothering him. Of course, after I put Stuart Little on the telly, he was perfectly fine again.

I kept seeing signs for a car boot sale at some hall on Bulborne Road. I looked it up on the map that Pippa got for me, and thought I could manage it in the car. So, I got up the courage to get Henry strapped in the car, and off I went.

I did drive here on the last trip over, for the first time ever. I'm quite skittish about it, though, and so I was a bit scared about getting in for the first time. It was also pouring with rain, but I figured I should stop being a coward and just get on with it.

There are many little things you have to remember when you drive on the left. First, shifting gears with the left hand takes a bit of getting used to. You also have to remember to look behind you to your left when you're backing up. Looking right does no good. You also have to watch out for parked cars on the left of the road.

In England, it seems to be perfectly permissible to simply park on the road. This creates lots of one-way strips that aren't sign-posted. So, you've really got to work with oncoming drivers. People are incredibly polite about it all, of course. It all seems to work out, somehow, and has done for years and years.

But, to the American driver, it comes as a bit of a shock. I took a wrong turn and ended up on a single-track road, and at one point scraped the left-hand side of the car in the hedge that lines the way.

There's a lot of talk in Virginia about traffic circles, which I hope do come into play. But, I'm not sure Americans will be able to handle the concept of giving way. As this is my second trip, I'm an old hand at them now, though I do have to remember to think every second I'm driving. Being alert tends to pay off, especially when you're driving your ex-wife's car.

At the moment, I'm in Berkhamsted, sitting at a coffee shop called the Bloc. I'm at the intersection of the high street and the road to the train station. I'd say about 2,000 people have walked past me in the past hour and fifteen minutes I've been here. Everyone else is taking advantage of the day as well, though the light has already faded. The sun has already set, and the blue is giving way to a faded white, which will itself switch to an orange-tinted black before to long.

I've got one more night in Tring, and then it's back to Dunstable for the last three nights I have here. I'll be back in Charlottesville on Wednesday, and back to getting the business up, and back to the podcasting. I've done no work since I got over here. I had hoped to do a lot more, and I do have all day Monday to get on with it.

Tomorrow I take Henry to a birthday party, also here in Berkhamsted, very close to where Pippa's brother lives. That's going to be a very interesting experience. These glimpses I'm getting into his life are priceless. They can't build affordable teleportation devices fast enough.

Afternoon tea in Berkhamsted with Mr. Gateway

Sit down with me for a second while I have several cups of tea?

Today's warning of gale force winds did not come about, and so the day ended up quite lovely, with the sun shining on Hertfordshire. Of course, Henry is at his cousin's play. Matthew is sixteen and six-foot-six, but he's still playing a Munchkin in a presentation of the Wizard of Oz in Pendley. Henry's aunt came to pick him up.

We had eight hours of pure fun today, though. Henry wakes up early, and so at 5:30 this morning he came to collect me from the sofa. And we began to play.

In the past, this might have left me exhausted, but the best thing about being news director at WNRN is that I'm now ready to go after being awake for just a few minutes. I can shake off exhaustion pretty easily.

So, we began to play, but not until he had his breakfast. Today, that consisted of "grown-up cereal", a cup of milk, and some toast with marmite. Unfortunately, I ended up eating most of the toast.

So far today we've built two truck-stops out of blocks, so the Coa-Cola truck has some place to go at night. The first truck-stop fell victim to the smashing that all small children are compelled to do when something fragile is in front of them. But, that just paved the way for a second one.

At about 10:00, we decided to go out for an adventure, and we went to the park, the one I've not been to yet. This is the one up a footpath from where he'll go to school next year. I got to see where he'll go to his first class, in his little blazer and tie. It's still hard to imagine how different his life is going to be to mine.

My family history carries with it strange prophecies. First, my great-grandfather moved to Malta from London. Then his son, my grandfather moved from Malta to Liverpool, which he used as a base during his career in the merchant marines. Then, my dad moved from Liverpool to America with my mother. At one point, I married a woman from England, and thought we would end up in England, but so far, I'm still living in the U.S.

But, I'm not breaking the cycle, given that my son is going to grow up in England. Who knows where he will go, what he will do, who he will become?

We left the park because it began to pour with rain. Cold, driving rain that was actually visible this time. We walked back down the hill and up Christchurch Road back to the flat. He was complaining about his tummy, which was bothering him. Of course, after I put Stuart Little on the telly, he was perfectly fine again.

I kept seeing signs for a car boot sale at some hall on Bulborne Road. I looked it up on the map that Pippa got for me, and thought I could manage it in the car. So, I got up the courage to get Henry strapped in the car, and off I went.

I did drive here on the last trip over, for the first time ever. I'm quite skittish about it, though, and so I was a bit scared about getting in for the first time. It was also pouring with rain, but I figured I should stop being a coward and just get on with it.

There are many little things you have to remember when you drive on the left. First, shifting gears with the left hand takes a bit of getting used to. You also have to remember to look behind you to your left when you're backing up. Looking right does no good. You also have to watch out for parked cars on the left of the road.

In England, it seems to be perfectly permissible to simply park on the road. This creates lots of one-way strips that aren't sign-posted. So, you've really got to work with oncoming drivers. People are incredibly polite about it all, of course. It all seems to work out, somehow, and has done for years and years.

But, to the American driver, it comes as a bit of a shock. I took a wrong turn and ended up on a single-track road, and at one point scraped the left-hand side of the car in the hedge that lines the way.

There's a lot of talk in Virginia about traffic circles, which I hope do come into play. But, I'm not sure Americans will be able to handle the concept of giving way. As this is my second trip, I'm an old hand at them now, though I do have to remember to think every second I'm driving. Being alert tends to pay off, especially when you're driving your ex-wife's car.

At the moment, I'm in Berkhamsted, sitting at a coffee shop called the Bloc. I'm at the intersection of the high street and the road to the train station. I'd say about 2,000 people have walked past me in the past hour and fifteen minutes I've been here. Everyone else is taking advantage of the day as well, though the light has already faded. The sun has already set, and the blue is giving way to a faded white, which will itself switch to an orange-tinted black before to long.

I've got one more night in Tring, and then it's back to Dunstable for the last three nights I have here. I'll be back in Charlottesville on Wednesday, and back to getting the business up, and back to the podcasting. I've done no work since I got over here. I had hoped to do a lot more, and I do have all day Monday to get on with it.

Tomorrow I take Henry to a birthday party, also here in Berkhamsted, very close to where Pippa's brother lives. That's going to be a very interesting experience. These glimpses I'm getting into his life are priceless. They can't build affordable teleportation devices fast enough.

Visiting the Tring Christmas Festival (formerly the Victorian Tring Fiesta)

The English will do just about anything in a cold, driving rain. The High Street in Tring was closed to traffic this evening for the Christmas Festival. That is when the lights are turned on, and a carnival breaks out. Henry and I left Pippa's flat at precisely 6:30, when the Festival was to begin. At the time, it wasn't raining, so I decided against taking the umbrella. I also did not put socks on Henry's hands as Pippa had requested, though I did put him in two pairs of socks as well as a wooly hat to go under his jacket's hoodie.

All day, Henry was incredibly excited. “I'm so excited,” he shook, as we passed by the library parking lot, where they were setting up the roundabouts and a carousel. He was so giddy, and all day he's been asking when he would get to go to the fair. I even used not-going as a threat when he refused to pick up his toys at about 4:30.

Even now as I sit down to write this, I can hear the sounds of the festival. You usually can't hear anything from this flat, which is on the Western Road, just before the roundabout (the traffic kind) which leads into town. The sounds are incredibly muffled, but I know something is going on out there. Henry and I had a good time, despite the rain which started as soon as we got to the other end of the High Street, where the second set of Tea Cups had been set-up.

During our first pass, the street was already filled with people, people who live here and belong here. Of course, now that I spend about two weeks a year here, I feel I sort of belong here as well. I did not feel any loneliness. After all, I had Henry's hand in mine, and that's something I can't say for at least 49 weeks out of the year.

The High Street sort of dips down until the middle, where Dolphin Square is. That's where a huge row of charity stalls were. Most of them seemed to offer nothing but useless tat, so we didn't bother stopping. Well, I didn't bother stopping. Henry was sort of overwhelmed by it all. Being just three, the world is still brand new to him, and he just wanted to take it all in. On the first pass down the street, he did not want to go on any of the rides. He would just shake his head quietly, and on the third time of me asking, he would let out a three syllable no.

Opposite the Rose and Crown was the stage, which was still being set up at 3:30 when we walked back from Tesco's. When we walked past three hours later, just before the rain began, a youth jazz ensemble was playing a selection of Christmas songs. Henry was mesmerized. I crouched down, and he sat on my knee. We listened to the band play for a few songs, as people pushed past us. Children smaller then Henry were moving around without their parents, so I told him he could go and play with them if he wanted. But, he held my hand tighter and decided to stick close to me.

I really can't tell if he knows me or wants me to be here or if he really knows me as Daddy. Part of that is my inability to believe that anyone really likes me. But, a lot of it is that I've not seen him for seven months until this trip. When I picked him up at nursery with Pippa, he beamed at me, and came right over and gave me a strong hug. He had grown so much. At three, he's already three-foot-six. He will dwarf me when he is an adult.

And, he will grow up in a culture so very different than the one I grew up in. There is no equivalent to what I experienced tonight in Virginia. Christmas parades in Virginia are likely the closest thing, but there's really no life to those. Parades are static things that you sit and watch. This was more of a surprise carnival, that just appears over night. In Charlottesville, Court Square has some sort of Victorian Night, which I'm sure stems from the tradition of these Christmas festivals. But, that wasn't quite the same as tonight's festival in Tring, which was absolutely manic. Rain would also have canceled an event like this, because who wants to go out in the rain?

Tonight in Tring the rain kept absolutely no one away. I remember six years ago, before Pippa and I had even gotten married, we went to the that Abba tribute band concert somewhere east of London, and it poured the entire time, and the crowds never let up. Sure, people complained, but that was only to make conversation. Everything operated as it would have. And, during both times, it was a cold, soaking rain. Not at all pleasant, but yet, people stick through it, they manage, it is their lives.

Eventually, I was able to coax him to go home, but not until he had won a toy lorry in the Hook a Duck contest. Made in China, it reads "Coa Cola" on the side.

11/23/2006

Television in Britain

So, I'm watching television in the Peterson's apartment. At the moment, I'm watching Al Jazeera in English. It's really good, at the moment. To be honest, I don't watch much television news, but I think because the news channels in the U.S. seem to treat international news like it is something that happens in 80 second increments. In fact, I just watched a segment on Fox News (it's over here, too, as is CBS News and CNBC and likely others) that was actually called "Around the World in 80 Seconds" and all of the news focused on light, fluffy pieces.

New Dehli TV, on the other hand, covered today's bombing in Sadr City with a graphic quality CNN isn't going to touch. Bodies being pulled from scorched minivans. What aren't we watching? What aren't we getting?

Now, I've got the Chinese channel on, in English, but I'm not really watching. As a journalist, I'm feeling much better about the trade, because everything I've watched in the past hour seems to be incredibly thoughtful, balanced, and not at all propaganda. Except for FOX News, which seems to think the world can be explained in 80 seconds.

The best bit so far was watching NDTV, which was telling me all about a water fight going on in India. The Indian Supreme Court just upheld a law that is pushing for a certain resevoir to be raised eight feet, which will flood several villages in Kerala. The local government is refusing to implement this new rule. Shouldn't we have some sense of what's going on out there? These local disputes are happening all over the world. I've never even heard of Kerala, nor any of the other cities that scrolled across the screen as I learned about the weather.

This is an amazing planet. Sometimes it takes getting outside of the United States to remember this. The guy next to me on the plane was heading to Andalusia for nine days to rest. London is filled with people from all over. They're not all evil. If there was some way of taking a gigantic poll of the world's citizens, you'd find that most people want the same basic things in life.

Yes, I know the argument - Americans are too busy to care about what happens in Kerala, Katmandu, or some other obscure place beginning with an N. But, that argument just sucks. I'm in no condition at the moment to really put forth an argument for why we should pay more attention to the world (thanks, John Smith Bitter!) but, like a guy who sits in his basement all day, we really need to get out more.

A bus ride filled with peril through the Downs

“You can get on, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to get you up the Downs,” said the bus driver as I tried to purchase a single ticket on the 62 to Dunstable, where my aunt and uncle live. “There's been a serious road accident and the police aren't letting anyone through.”

I got on anyway. I had been waiting for the bus for 15 minutes. A taxi driver stopped and asked if I wanted to take a taxi. It would have cost twenty pounds for the ride. I told him I'd wait for the bus, but to check back in 30 minutes or so, just in case.

There were about a half-dozen teenage girls loitering about in the bus shelter, across from the Rose and Crown. The words coming out of their mouths would have made a sailor's mother invest in a soap factory. An older woman was waiting for another bus, which was also late, the 500 to Watford.

Thankfully, the bus arrived, and I got on, taking much too long to pay because I couldn't find enough change to pay the 2.70 for the ride. There were four or five other people on board, and one of the teenage girls got on as well. And, off we went.

The road that heads to Ivinghoe goes single-track when you get to this one block of flats, because everyone is parking directly on the road. There is nowhere else for them to park. No driveways. No parking lot behing the block of flats. So, with no solution, they make up their own. No one should really blame them.

The interior lights of the bus were fully blazing, making it impossible to see outside very well. So, all I could feel were the various jerks and starts as the bus rounded corners without seeming to slow down. I thought there might be a second accident. We drove through tiny villages, coming incredibly close to hitting various buildings. Very little clearance. Very little room for chance.

We got to the accident, and sure enough, the road was blocked off. It was in the country, no lights around except for epileptic blue.

“Looks like this is when we start playing 'Let's find Luton'”, shouted the bus driver. So, we started off down a single-track lane, on a huge bus, careering down even smaller passages. As we passed one pub, the people inside stared out at this bus, which really shouldn't have been speeding past their pub. I could see in, watching people play darts, barmaids pulling pints, logs crackling over a fire, meat pies being eaten. You know, England.

Thankfully, the driver was very good at playing his game, and country gave way to city, and the lights of shiny Dunstable began to come into focus. Again and again I heard the driver tell new passengers about the police lights and the accident. I recognized more and more pub names. The Bell. The Swan. The Five Bells. The Winston Churchill. And, it was outside the namesake of Britain's wartime prime minister that I got off the bus to walk back to the Peterson's house.

Of course, it was a really long walk, and I was carrying quite a bit, so I decided to get another taxi. 3.50 later, I was at the house, and was welcomed in by Jim, who seemed happy to see me, if only to tell me about the mess in the kitchen. They just purchased a new dishwasher, but to install it required moving the washing machine, and Jimmy explained the whole palaver to me. I sat in the lounge, and proceeded the long process of trying to fall asleep after being awake for 34 out of 36 hours.

On the whole, I'm happy to be here, though it's hard to be away from home for any amount of time when you've got a 13 month-old at home. But, as I type this, I'm waiting for my son to be dropped off by one of Pippa's friends. Jimmy drove me here this morning because I wasn't sure if I would be able to make it here. He works in Chesham now, and Tring is sort of on the way, but not really.

I can feel the inevitable cold coming on. Henry coughed right in my face yesterday. Maybe it was his way of giving me a little bit of a present?

The morning is allowing blue skies to poke through, which leaves me incredibly grateful. It'll be fun to take Henry out somewhere. He's talking so well now, and is a brick of a child. He's a big boy, takes after his mother. But, he's my boy, too, and we're going to have a great time today. I've got 11 hours until I have to catch the bus back to Dunstable.

11/22/2006

Greetings from a dingy Internet cafe in Heathrow!

For the next week, I'm in England on a trip to see my son. I'm hoping to blog about the experience.

Now I am off the plane. I've made my way through customs and baggage claim, along the Heathrow Express train, and am now sitting just outside the Underground station at a net cafe.

Sweating very much indeed. It's not that it's hot. It's just that I've lugged my luggage all across Heathrow. Now I am trying to learn this keyboard. I am going to have a cup of tea and sit here for the next hour or so, trying to kill time. And I'll write a bit, too, maybe.

I'm incredibly sweaty. It's a mixture of cold and hot. Someone wants me to be lukewarm, which is an appropriate way to think about it.

The plane was full. I sat in between people, which makes it hard to sleep. On my right was a very nice man who I chatted with for quite a while. I can't remember the details, but a lot of it had to do with with aging. On my left was a college girl who I didn't chat with as much. But, between the three of us, we were a bunch of dietary misfits. The girl was lactose intolerant. The man had celiac, so no gluten for him. I was the only one of us three choosing my diet, as I'm sure I could eat anything.

I could really go for a cheddar and pickle sandwich right out about now. And it's right behind me, as well as a ton of bottles of sodas, many of which we don't have in the U.S.

I did not sleep much on the flight. Maybe two hours. I'm going to crash at some point, but I don't have that as a luxury. It's going to be a bit of a while before I can crash. Right now, I want to rest up my strength before I go to the bus station to get my ticket to Hemel Hempstead.

There are so many details, so much that happens, so much water that falls from the sky, again and again and again. Can we collect it into a mighty river, to fuel oceans of narrative? What can we do to make it all worthwhile, to capture all of this, to make it into something to sustain us in the future?

I wrote in my journal at the bar last night, a place called Moe's. It was the only place at Dulles that had a nice vegetarian sandwich. A pretentious place, not that good. The flight was an hour delayed in leaving. But, I wrote at the bar, and a guy going to Indianapolis finally asked me after about an hour what I was writing, why I was writing.

"What do you do when you run out of pages," he said. I was happy to stop writing, so I struck up a conversation with him, drinking my tall Old Dominion Black and Tans. We talked about the football game that was on (Toledo vs Bowling Green) and about his trip. A woman eventually joined us in the conversation. She was from Albany, and was also on her way to Indianapolis.

"My sister is flying the entire family out to be there for Thanksgiving," she said. The sister is a doctor, and can afford it, and also can't get away. My brother is a restaurant manager, while my sister is a housewife just beginning to get back into the workforce. No one is flying me anywhere, except for my good friend Debt.

Because the flight was delayed, I had to close out my tab and check to make sure the flight was not boarding. None of the monitors reflected the delayed status. And, so I said goodbye to those going to Indianapolis, and went on to the gate. It wasn't boarding. So, I went back to Moe's, and they had already given last call, so no drink for me. It was only 9:30.

Except, I asked a woman in a brown casual suit if she knew if the flight was delayed, and she said she didn't know, but she'd check in with the Club World Lounge. She's a member, because she flies to England six times to work as a security consultant. Very classified stuff. So, she invited me in, and I got to see how the other half lives for a bit. It was very nice, indeed.

Then the plane finally boarded, and off we were, and here I am, killing time and drinking tea. Resting up a bit. Communicating. Blogging!

I must get on to other Internet business. I also wanted to make sure my sub for WNRN showed up (she did). So far, this whole WNRN business is causing me to embrace sleep deprivation. I'm on about two hours of sleep, and so far, the hallucinations are pretty mild. I keep imagining someone is sitting next to me. That could just be the fact that everything around here seems to be gray, metallic and wonderful.

Now, to retrieve my aunt's phone number... More later on this evening, once I'm settled in at Dunstable.