A Seat at the Table

December 29, 2013

Our trip is slowly drawing to a close – by Monday we’ll be embarking on what looks like being two days of torture-by-travel, complete with an oh-god-hundred hour start, a six hour layover in Salt Lake City followed by an overnight flight to Manchester via Paris (and who even knew you could fly direct from Utah to Paris…) and then home by train on New Year’s Eve with whatever the weather gods have left to throw at us after all the that’s been going on in the last fortnight.

Today we made the most of the time we had left, getting out for one last day in the mountains. On the way back, taking the scenic route, stopped by Bishop’s Castle, which is basically a castle built single-handedly by one man who – when he’s not building castles – apparently fills in the time writing signs.

bishops castle bishops castle2

We were going to explore further but, frankly, the tide of crazy (I missed out the sign which proved conclusively that the constitution meant you didn’t need a driver’s license because I was getting a bit worried about the guy in front of us in full camo muttering ‘Amen’ as he slowly read each sign) just sort of pushed us back into the car.

laminated photos

Then tonight we decided to fortify ourselves and headed off to one of the approximately 17,000 Mexican restaurants in Pueblo for some decent Mexican food.* We drove down to Jorge’s Sombrero, and were promptly seated at a booth for four where the table was covered in laminated photographs of some event or other which we didn’t pay much attention to because the chips and salsa arrived promptly and there were menus to peruse (and in my case desperately try and remember the difference between a taco and a tostada and a fajita and a burrito and which one wasn’t going to end up blowing my head off). At least until the other half peered a little closer and said ‘isn’t that Barack Obama’ and lo and behold it was.

Barack Obama

For we weren’t just in any booth – we were at the President’s table. It seems he stopped by for a quiet family meal with just Michelle, Sasha, Malia and the assembled press corps during the 2008 election. This kind of surprised us as Colorado comes across as a pretty conservative place where about 90% of the billboards are advertising gun shows (the other 10% urge us to ‘put Christ back into Christmas) and the mall has to have a sign on the door saying ‘no weapons’ -although, thinking about it, the 17,000 Mexican restaurants might have been something of a clue that the demographics aren’t entirely 100% redneck. But it turns out that more than half of Coloradoans voted Democrat in 2008 – including much of Pueblo county

Although I’m guessing the creator of Bishop’s Castle wasn’t among them.

* note to any British readers – if you have only ever eaten Mexican food in some sort of themed joint where tequila shots are semi compulsory, and 98% of the clientele are stag and/or hen nights and the food is, frankly, irrelevant, then you haven’t actually eaten Mexican food. Come to Pueblo (or, at a pinch, Mexico) and find out for yourselves.

Committing Pedestrianism

December 20, 2013

I suppose in the interests of strict accuracy, I should report that it’s not always blue skies and gloriously sunny weather here – while yesterday we had lunch sitting in the sun before going on a 3-hour bike ride, today the temperature barely crept above freezing, and we decided it might be time for some of those car-based errands we’d been putting off while the weather was so gorgeous, like going to the grocery store and the giant bookshop and other shops surrounded by acres of parking. And hunting down the mysterious pop-up baklava shop that had no website and appeared to be in an abandoned used car lot, if Google Streetview was anything to go by…

We decided that we’d better do something a little bit active as well, especially if we did find that baklava shop, so we headed down to the riverwalk where you can walk a mile, sponsored by Toyota (the river was actually diverted away from the city centre after it flooded the whole place, but when they wanted to create somewhere for people to walk, they diverted some of it back as long as it promised to behave).

toyota_mile toyota_mile_2

For those who find walking sedately around a glorified duck pond a bit tame, you can always try sprinting across the roads instead…

downtown street

It’s fortunate the drivers around here are mostly pretty patient, but there’s no doubt that round here the car is king. Outside of a tiny historic downtown area, and the mall of course, even parking and walking from shop to shop just feels, well, wrong. Not illegal or anything, but wrong. Well, maybe a little bit illegal if you don’t cross in the crosswalks. If you want to walk and not get funny looks, get a dog. Or stick to the Toyota mile…

Oh and the baklava? We found it in the abandoned used car lot as promised, and it proved absolutely delicious if a little calorific. Looks like we’ll need to do a few more circuits of that riverwalk pretty soon….

In-flight Entertainment

December 8, 2013

We’re off to the US on Thursday for some R&R, overeating and hopefully sunshine. I’m still massively behind on all my Christmas preparations, but I have at least sorted out one travel necessity:

sock wookI’m not a brilliant flyer, but I find knitting socks quite soothing. If last year is anything to go by, I should have at least one new pair by the time I return…




November 1, 2013

Today I:

- cycled eight miles to Bigtown station

- took the train from Bigtown to Carlisle

- took the bus from Carlisle to the place which really is known as the Muckle Toon (or ‘Bigtown’ for those not fluent in Scots), possibly ironically.

- drove with the other half from the Muckle Toon to Duns

All of which took approximately 2 hours longer than if I’d done it in a car like a normal person. All this talk of HS2 makes me wonder when we’re going to get a FWS* rail line up this way. With maybe trains that run more frequently than once every two hours. And connect with buses that don’t leave from 100 yards down the road exactly 1 minute after the train comes in, with not another bus for 40 minutes. Just a thought… Still, it did at least allow the Brompton to make some new friends, as it always seems to wherever it goes.

Thus commences as week of fairly intensive gadding about, so tweeting and blogging may be light, although I’ll be at this, which I expect will generate a lot that will be tweet- and blog-worthy and this, which will possibly not (although I notice they have at least managed to dig out a few women to speak – their exciting original line up consisted entirely of men in suits).

* Faster than Walking Speed

Wagging Tongues

October 3, 2013

I think I have written before about my ambiguous relationship with Wigtown* and its book festival. This year, rather than see what creative corner the organisers could hide the local writers in, we took matters into our own hands and have – for one day only – planned a little mini festival of our own, disguised as a pop-up bookshop (yes I know, London people, you are so OVER pop-up shops but bear with us because the trend has only just filtered its way up here and we still find them unbearably exciting). There will be readings. There will be books and pamphlets for sale (including, of course, the Fankle). There will even be my own book for sale. There will be hand made Moob hats (no, I didn’t know either). It should be a blast.

It had better be, because I’ll have to be waiting to be picked up at 7:50 AM on Sunday at the road end due to an inconvenient delivery of an entire school to Nearest Village which will be blocking off the road to the village that morning. Honestly, you wait five years for something as exciting as a school to be delivered, and it happens on the one weekend you aren’t going to be there to witness it. I just hope there’s someone waiting at the school, otherwise they’re going to be landed with one hell of a ‘while you were out’ card to pick up…

* note for the confused: while ‘Bigtown’ isn’t really Bigtown’s real name (and nor is Notso Bigtown Notso Bigtown’s), ‘Wigtown’ is a real place. I gather this has caused some confusion in the past…

One for the Life List

August 29, 2013

Readers may remember the lovely and enigmatic book sculptures that delighted literary Scotland last year by mysteriously appearing in libraries. Well, the artist behind them has now released a whole flock of little book birds into the wild – and one of them has somehow ended up in Bigtown.

book bird sculpture

Never one to miss a good ‘twitch’ I got myself down there to catch a glimpse of the bird (although technically you can’t count it as a tick once it’s been caged as this one appears to have been). Even better, the bird has been released in the Arts Centre cafe which, I discovered this afternoon, serves a rather good peanut crunchy rocky road. So I think that counts as a result all round…

Gone Retro

August 1, 2013

So, it seems the list of things that I would like to spend my money on but which modern life has deemed there’s no call for gets longer by the day (see also: trousers that fit, shoes without high heels that are vaguely foot shaped). My glasses have long been driving me nuts by falling off my face at inconvenient moments, most recently while on a night ride (thankfully, with enough people around me to turn their lights on the verge so someone else could spot them). I need my glasses, as I’m extremely short sighted – the only pub competition I ever win is the one where people start comparing prescription strengths and swapping glasses (yes, my evenings in the pub are that fun; I spent too long working in IT in retrospect).

I wear them every day and it’s important that they’re both light and comfortable and I’m vain enough that I’d like them not to dominate my face. For the last fifteen or so years I’ve been wearing small metal frames, first silver, then bronze, that sit directly on my nose, rather than have those little pad things that pinch the bridge of your nose. The latest pair have now reached the stage where the arms are loose and worn and so they swing out too wide and let the glasses slip down my nose to where evolution has kindly placed a little ‘ski jump’ ledge. This is great for doing the ‘strict librarian’ look but not so great for actually seeing things and recently they’ve started sliding further so that anything that involves looking down (bike fixing, gardening, putting on my socks) is now accompanied by a clattering of several hundred pounds worth of lens to the floor, followed by much swearing and groping around on my part). So yes, time for a new pair.

Except the gods have deemed that glasses must now come in two sorts: metal-ones-with-little-nose-pads and plastic ones that sit directly on the nose. I’m not wearing plastic ones because I still remember the dreaded NHS specs and just because the youth of the day have taken to wearing them ironically doesn’t mean I’m going to join them. And the nose pads are just uncomfortable. Metal ones that sit directly on the nose? They just don’t exist. There’s no call for them! Because the world’s gone mad or something…

A plea for help on Twitter (is there any other way?) resulted in the suggestion that I try vintage frames on Ebay, and after some extensive googling (the search term, apparently, is ‘saddle-bridge’ or ‘W-bridge’ glasses) it does seem that’s pretty much my only option apart from some very expensive hand-made frames from Saville Row, or some so-expensive-they-don’t-actually-mention-the-price frames from Germany. So I’m left with the conclusion that I either have very good taste, or that I just have to accept that I’m out of touch with the modern world and have become vintage myself. (I’m not alone). So it’s into the shark infested waters of Ebay for me – or else I’ll have to wait for the ironic kids to discover the joys of properly designed metal framed glasses so that it can come around on the guitar again and I can stock up with several pairs and hope they see me out.

What next?

The Cat then went Away Again

July 10, 2013

crouching cat

In good news for mice – but bad news for blog fodder – the neighbour is finally and definitely moving out this week and taking her royal highness with him

staring cat

He’s moving to Bigtown and he did suggest that she’d be better off staying with us. We were tempted but in the end he needed her (and she needed him – while she tolerates me and likes the other half, she’s very much a one-man cat when it comes down to it) more.

cat on sofa

We will miss her.

Nobody suggest getting another cat.


Bit Windy

April 18, 2013

It’s never a good sign when you’re checking in for a ferry and unwarily opening the car door results in it being almost snatched off its hinges by the wind… I have to admit that we sat in the queue to drive on to the Belfast Ferry with some trepidation, not helped by the excellent fried lunch (and extra cake) courtesy of the Tea Pot* on the way.

Fortunately, although the winds were gale force – and the waves were crashing right over the front of the ferry in an alarming way – ferry technology has moved on since I was a kid and the Irish crossings used to be completely awash with vomit. Hard concentration on the horizon meant we got across with our lunch intact. And although it’s been raining on and off since we arrived, it’s also been sunny at the same time which counts as a win in my book, albeit on points and after extra time. I could do without the town’s awesome bi-directional headwinds though: cycling or walking, whichever way you go, it’s always blowing a gale right in your face. How do they do that?

* Highly recommended. It’s basically a shed on the A75 as you drive to Stranraer where they do good if basic nosh plus stupendous home made cakes at below average prices in direct contrast to the depressing lowest common denominator at whatever they think they can get away with that the ferries serve up. Especially now the ferry terminal is out in the middle of nowhere so you’re stuck with their nasty coffee and the substance known as ‘tastes like fresh milk’ which I have objected to before and will object to again every time I encounter it.

Bah Humbug

December 31, 2012

By the time you read this, we’ll be seeing in the New Year on a plane flying from Newark to Glasgow.

I’m hoping that any self-respecting Glaswegian will have already got themselves home for Hogmanay and we’ll have a nice empty flight, but I have a bad feeling that we may very well be spending the evening with a plane full of pissed-up Weegies. Still, as being trapped and kept up all night with a load of drunks is what your average New Year’s Eve feels like anyway, we might as well get both horrors over with in one go. In fact, the worst part of the journey will likely be getting from Glasgow to Bigtown on a day when the entire public transport system of Scotland is either shut down or hungover. And then getting ourselves acclimatised again to rural plumbing after three weeks of fire-hose strength showers.

Here’s hoping you have a pleasant and enjoyable New Year and a splendid and prosperous 2013.


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