rashbre central: August 2009

Monday 31 August 2009

bikecam 2 - the everything you've dreamed of button

homemade bikecam mount
A readjustment of the handlebars on my road bike and I found a spot wide enough to attach the little camera thingy that I'd made a few days ago. A case of real estate conflict on the handlebars. Yes, there's also a light, bell and reflector, so space was at a premium.

Then out for a spin, again around a few lanes.

This time a different challenge. I'd picked a slightly larger camera for today's attempt but only when I was en route did I notice that the camera battery was almost run down. Today's problems: lack of battery, wobble from weight of the larger camera, slow focusing on the slightly zoomed Panasonic. Trial and error, but I am circling towards a formula that will work.


The main point was to enjoy some cycling around the sunny lanes, which seemed to be a plan for a few other friendly folk too - quite conversational in fact.

I've simply uploaded part of the footage to where the battery died with a bit of music mixed onto it. Feel free to snigger as the camera spins sideways part way through this two minute epic.

Sunday 30 August 2009

the xx

A bank holiday weekend and the time that I finally fill in the tax return. Means clearing up messy paperwork and generally filing a few things.

Time to also swap a few car CDs, having been listening to saint etienne's old foxbase alpha for quite a while.

Instead in goes The xx. A debut album that sounds surprisingly well formed. One I can already sense will be on the playlist for a while.

Sounds which would go well in a David Lynch movie soundtrack. Laura Palmer returns to Mulholland Drive. It turns out The xx are from South London and were born in the 1990s. They have kind of landed rather than been promoted.

There's a clever edginess, with stripped back sound stage, and old 80's MPC for drumming, some strangely blues tradition guitar, a bass that sometimes drifts on like a background explosion and self-aware lyrics that flame with burning houses, uncrossable bridges, lovelorn outsiders, stars, infinity and (of course) boiling wax.

Always good, they sound like themselves, rather than a copy of someone else.

Saturday 29 August 2009

bikecam experiment number 1

P1020021A test of a few new components today. The updated Mac, with Snow Leopard, Final Cut Studio and Logic Pro, for video and music editing, plus the zero cost camera mounting for my bike.

A couple of drawbacks with the bike mounting though...It works fine mechanically, but the plastic clip I used was for a rear reflector and is too small for the handlebars on my road bike, so I've had to clip it to my boingy mountain bike.

Not a problem for the route I've taken except the front fork suspension coupled with a small HD camera and no image stabilisation makes even a fairly flat road run look bouncy. I also set a wide angle for testing, which doesn't give quite the sensation of speed of a more telephoto view.

Still, its given me a chance to try the components and discover that I need to try a different camera for the handlebars and ideally to fix it to a bike without 30 cm of front fork suspension.

I'll try my little Lumix with the image stabilisation next. I think that should work better.

I'm also aware that the camera just points where the handlebars are aimed, so when I turned around at the edge of a field, it just gave me 30 degree angled pan. I can see why people spend money on steady-cams and similar.

But for now, in the true spirit of pioneering low cost bicycle attachments, you can watch me judder around a few little lanes at the edge of town under various video editing treatments and to a stuttery Beatles remix.

Friday 28 August 2009

mac reboot needed

time to reboot the mac
Once in a blue moon, for sure, but I think I will need a reboot of the mac sometime soon.

It is ages since I posted anything Mac-related. Probably a sign that everything is mainly working.

The iMac update for Snow Leopard was flawless after a few clicks to start and then everything just happened in around 45 minutes. I had to answer 'yes' once at the end when it spotted a couple of teensy PowerMac applications and installed Rosetta to run them.

For my MacBook Pro I noticed the disk space appears to have an extra 12Gb back after the 35 minute update. Even the printers and my strange music hardware still work.

Now, after a few hours of use, I notice that the system does seem to be running smoothly and quite responsively. I seem to have a suitably excessive number of big programs (PS, FCP, Logic, Aperture, iMovie, tweetdeck, Safari) running and everything is still stable and quick.

Tomorrow I may update the Mini that runs the television's media support.

Then maybe Logic with its 9 DVDs and FCS with similar. Gulp.

Thursday 27 August 2009


I've found the bits and pieces for the bikecam project. All laying around so zero cost so far. Next will be to attach to handlebars. Earliest opportunity will be Saturday.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

i theorise on the law of broken boots

After the recent boot catastrophe for my car, I thought I could get by for a few days without any difficulty until I can get it fixed by the dealer.

I hadn't counted on this week's Very Important Business Meeting and the arrival of Important Overseas Visitors. I found myself in the position of having to ferry a couple of them from our office to a hotel, prior to their departure to a different hotel. The task when we got there..

to pick up their luggage...

As it was anyway part of a long chain of inconvenient logistics, there was other help on hand to resolve everything quickly, but I think there is a Law associated with that type of situation.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

busted 2 - dieppe problems with the luggage

panic buttonThere were a few tell-tale signs that all was not quite what it seemed. We'd packed the luggage in the car and I'd tried to close the boot. It refused a couple of times. I pushed a little harder and it finally co-operated. I noticed a slightly different gap on one side of the closed shape compared with normal. I even ran my finger tips along it in mild recognition that something was different.

We hit the road back to where the content was to be unloaded and distributed. Some to go indoors, and the rest to be distributed to another car that was about to travel to France. On the way home, I stopped to buy milk. I pinged the electric boot release to attempt to put it inside. Nothing happened. "Whose been playing with the controls?" I quipped as we placed the milk on the rear passenger knees for the last section of the journey.




Mild consternation at this stage. Find the key for the boot instead.

Still nothing.

"Hmm, we have a problem. All your luggage for France is stuck in the boot and it won't open."

My mind thinking that my car is kind of definite. If it doesn't do something after a couple of goes, then it probably won't.

"Can we get into the boot from the rear seats?"

I had this flashback to the time I'd locked the keys in the boot a couple of years ago. I called out the car company specialists. He'd explained these are great cars because the boot area is so secure. The only way to break in involved damage to the vehicle. At that time I had watched him do clever things and after alarms going off we managed to pop the boot and reset everything. Then I had to take the car to dealer to have the repairs carried out.

This time it was Sunday. I called the car company specialist hot line. They offered advice "someone sit on the boot whilst you open it with a key" and then repeated what the previous person had said. The boot was invincible without damage. I should take it to a dealer on Monday.

"What about the luggage?" - "No really, if we send someone around, they won't be able to do it if you've tried the normal techniques".

Indoors, people were on the internet finding forums which also noted that this was difficult and stories of people spending two unsuccessful hours. Violent and incredibly expensive locksmith phone numbers were being noted for later use.

Then the AA, who would be glad to come around, but my concern was that they would run into the same problems as me.

I reached for my screwdrivers and spent 15 minutes trying to remember what the specialist had done when I lost my keys. I noticed there were still a few scrape marks on a normally hidden section which hinted that I was going along the right path. Then a combination of keys and clicks, and finally.


The boot swung open. Everyone indoors ran outside and stopped me from closing it again. "Quick take out the luggage and tell the AA they don't need to come around". The silence of single minded focus on one topic washed away and normal conversations resumed.

Afterwards, I closed the boot again. It stayed shut. The remote control and the driver switch don't work. I can now open it with the not designed for regular use key. The middle brake light has stopped working and a couple of bulbs. My car dashboard is normally rather quiet but since my exploits with a screwdriver is scrolling a series of warning messages about defective components.

It doesn't even mention that the empty boot won't open.

The car goes in for repairs next week.

Packing luggage? - less is more.

Dieppe? They made the ferry.

Monday 24 August 2009


As a public service, it's necessary to reveal the perpetrators of the Saturday bus ballooning, whereby a perfectly serviceable red bus was customised for special duties. The addition of surprisingly noisy balloons along its sides preceded the bus taking a short journey after which certain folk came back changed forever.

Of course, we all had a great time and by Sunday, when my own car left bursting with luggage from the weekend and also an improbably large additional load for today's trip to France, I had little idea that we would be caught in our own special drama before the exit towards a ferry for Dieppe.

But more of that later. I shall probably entitle it 'busted 2'.

Saturday 22 August 2009

a bit of a do

A weekend in Surrey, celebrating the lovely occasion of Geraldine and John's Wedding.

We arrived on Friday evening for the rather action packed weekend and I promised to load a few of my pix for family and friends.

Friday 21 August 2009

short term obsession

As if I don't already have enough to do today, I managed to let an idle thought slip into my head, alongside all the PowerPoint charts and general bizstuff that was supposed to be there.

I could nearly blame a fellow blogger or or two for getting me onto this train of thinking, but I realized early this morning that my brain was loose and susceptible to random pointless wanderings when I started pondering whether carpenters line up the screw heads when they fit a door handle.

So my short term obsession is to build a handlebar clip for my bike that will let me fix a camera to the front. Some of you will have seen my prior experiments like juice-cam, starbucks-coffee-cup-cam and the various commutercam and carcam models that I've built to record journeys.

But I've never got around to a decent bikecam, instead preferring to stick a cellphone in a handy pocket, film a journey and then delete it in disgust.

I don't have time to do this right now, and the whole of the weekend is a Social Occasion, so I'm stuck with lusting after this Instructable $1 project until some time next week.

There will be footage.

Thursday 20 August 2009

a pannier of mail arrives

Our postman, Colin, turned up today with the mail which wasn't delivered whilst we were on vacation.

I knew it was a couple of days late arriving, but I'd talked to him once before about what happens when someone puts the mail on hold with that special service.

In our case, the domestic mail after a couple of weeks is several kilos, so he prefers to deliver it when he has his bike with the panniers.

It was fine by me and I'd already got a mental note that if it didn't arrive by sort of today, then I'd swing by the sorting office.

Indeed, it was around half a metre high and I could fully understand the pragmatics of his approach. Needless to say, once stripped of envelopes and the general marketing blurbs, it soon reduced to a rather more manageable quantity.

Wednesday 19 August 2009


Another meeting bit the dust this morning.

That's three this week.

I expect is a function of the season, where most people are too busy dreaming in full colour to be fully on top of their monochrome work schedules.

Its easier when the sessions are by phone (two of the three were) so I've not yet travelled anywhere to what has been a cancelled session.

"Touch wood"

Tuesday 18 August 2009

I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw

Day Two back at work today and I'm still holding onto the holiday spirit so that nothing will phase me. I was soon into some meetings with mainly folk from the Nordic countries, for whom their earlier June/July vacations are already a month past.

Then I noticed another northern meeting (this time to the North West, around Liverpool) slipped into my calendar for tomorrow. I decided to drive there late today, and booked a last minute non-refundable hotel room so that I'd be ready for tomorrow morning. That was at around 11:00, after we'd confirmed the meeting was to go ahead.

By 11:38, a little cloudette appeared as our contacts suddenly realized they had another urgent appointment and blew out the meeting - by email. I'm probably too sensitive, but feel this breaks some kind of meeting etiquette on at least a couple of levels.

Naturally, other demands have already filled in the time, so I decided to keep my relatively cloud free blue sky thinking for a few days longer.

(yes, Shakespeare. Hamlet.)

Monday 17 August 2009

uncrushed by the wheels of industry

yellow man 2
Back in't smoke today, celebrated with a trip to the office ultra early and picking up a prime parking spot. I seem to have side-stepped the effects of time zone changes, although I sometimes wonder if it's partly because I spend so much time working with the USA in any case.

Tonight, as an example, I thought my last meeting would be at 20:00, but it was then cancelled and replaced with a different one at 20:30. 'I thought you were based in the States', came the explanatory email later. Luckily, the replacement meeting gave me a chance to drive home in the gap, so I'm now feet up sipping tea before the 20:30 call starts.

So contrary to usual post holiday situations, I don't feel as squashed as the yellow stikman graffiti art which I've been noticing on some pedestrian crossings.
yellow man 3

Sunday 16 August 2009

hot foot to the UK again

Nikki-ann commented about the shadowy blueness of the rashbre feet, so today I thought I'd better cover them up if they were going to sidle into another picture.

We didn't just stay by beaches during our trip; sometimes it was mountains, lakes or as evidenced by this one, even tennis courts.

Of course, the feet have been somewhat stationary for the last five and a half hours whilst we flipped back to London and I think there will be more of that whilst I take a snooze to let the soul catch up before re-entering the maelstrom (mailstrom?)

Saturday 15 August 2009

Cod navigation to Logan

Awaking to another beautiful sea view, we decided to round out the trip by heading for the very tip of Cape Cod, before that inevitable moment when we had to turn back towards the airport. A few days earlier we'd been in Cambridge Vermont, close to the Canadian border and considered that to be the most northern point of the trip, so this was a second opportunity to create one of those signifying moments where things flip around.

First a lazy breakfast looking out to sparkling sea, watching the seals amassing on the sand bars and then the final checkout from the timber boarded cottage overlooking the bay.

It was easy enough to follow the Route 6 to Providence and to take in the natural shoreline of the area but more challenging as we turned back towards Boston. Not the first part, where the 6 meandered us back to the mainland nor the next stage where there was still a clear route.

As we approached Boston again, I was reminded of the relative lack of signage and confusing directions which are my experience of American road systems. I guess we are spoilt in the UK with countdown markers, uniform sign style and place names before road junctions. America seems more hit and miss with direction signs and we drifted into some interesting neighbourhoods with indiscriminate double and triple parking along routes with only half hearted street names. I still havn't figured out the way North and South gets used. On the way to Providence (North of Cape Cod), the signs said South. At the end of the route it said North. Heading back, it could have said North (or even South again; it decided to say West).

I was sure we would eventually find Boston (we did - thank you John Hancock Tower) and from there navigated a surprisingly straight route back to Logan airport.

Right now I'm in the lounge waiting for the flight to be called. Next stop Heathrow.

Friday 14 August 2009

later that same day

Some tough decisions today.

Should we spend the day on the beach maybe sipping the occasional pina colada and margarita, or should we explore further afield?

Rather sensibly, we recognized that the place we are staying is a 'destination' for many and it would be slightly odd to move elsewhere. And fortunately the sun awoke early and has been with us all day, so ambling between beach and swimming pool seems a sensible solution.

When I was first on the shore at daybreak, the tide had hidden a couple of the sandbars. Later in the day they were exposed, along with a selection of seals, who later decided to play around within easy reach of the shore's edge.

So I've had a rather relaxed day and even made some enjoyable inroads into the new Thomas Pynchon novel "Inherent Vice". I must save some for the flight, though.
chatham beach, cape cod


Five thirty this morning and I was on the beach. Watching the sunrise. Vee-shaped patterns of birds overhead, a couple of noisy gulls and the sea. Savour the moment before walking the few steps back to the beachside cottage we're in for the last couple of days here.
Earlier yesterday we managed the statutory Taco Bell stop at a random spot on the 6 parked up next to a white car with a huge HDTV sticking from the trunk. We perused the menu and tried for the perfect order without getting tricked but once again had an extra Chilupa and some mystery tacos when the order finally arrived. I would have been slightly disappointed if we'd received exactly what we thought we were ordering.

This morning, as I walked back from the shoreline to the cottage, there was a point where the sound of the waves was overtaken by the hubbub of birds awakening in the nearby bushes. I'm holding my transition back to the hubbub until Monday.

Thursday 13 August 2009

in which I discover the roof garden

I found the apartment's balcony yesterday and even briefly sat on it whilst drinking coffee, but somehow missed the extra stairs going upwards.

This morning I realized they lead to the roof garden, which was the optimum spot for breakfast whilst also viewing across the rooftops of Newport.

I wasn't sure what I'd make of Newport, which I'd half expected to be modern and a little utilitarian. In practice, its packed with relatively old and well preserved buildings; even the apartment has a historical preservation order and the town had a plenty of shops, restaurants as well as the attractive harbor area.
We decided to take to the water later and enjoyed the views across to Goat Island, the way out to the Atlantic and as well as to the huge estates along the coastline.

Jacqueline Bovier (later Kennedy Onassis) grew up in one of the big houses we could see from along the coast line and which also hosted her marriage to John Kennedy. For us, though, overall today was a day to just absorb the bustle of Newport. Tomorrow we'll head for a resort for a couple of beach and pool style chill-out days, before returning to the UK.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Rhode Island

This morning's business meeting went okay, although the observation about pre and post meeting time is true; it's almost impossible to limit the time to just the call. I also discovered that I've been given some extra responsibilities during the call, but I shall need to park that thought until next week.

At least I could be smug in the knowledge that I'd (finally?) visited the Ben and Jerry factory before the meeting and am now an expert on how to make wavy gravy (make sure the waves are colder than the surrounding ice cream to avoid sinkage).

We've moved out of the mountains of Vermont during the day and headed along the Connecticut River, winding up in a rather well appointed apartment in Newport, Rhode Island. The apartment is about 30 seconds from the waterfront and right in the bustle of Thames Street.

But right now, its time to chill.

taking a break from the vacation

An early start today, but not because of vacation plans. I have an office meeting which has sneaked into my holiday.

I normally look at other people intent on blackberries, business cellular calls and laptops whilst on their holiday and think they should take the break and be 'in the moment' instead of chained to their commerce, so it's difficult when it happens to me.

Originally the meeting was booked at 07:30 my time, but now it has moved three hours later which makes it 10:30. I only found that out last night along with another message that it was important that I attended the call.

I will, of course, although it puts a dent into today's plans because I'll need to be somewhere suitable for a one hour call mid-morning.

Hopefully, the other people I see in these circumstances are similar to me and it is a 'one off' during their time away. Some how I suspect not.

in which it all begins to look alpine

Luckily my plan to visit the ice cream place was overturned. The better plan was to walk a trail in the first part of the day although there was fairly conflicting weather advice - rain vs sunshine. I carried a modest backpack and as we set off the indoor impression was of a cold and grey day.

As we got outside we realised the scale of the heat pinning us to the ground. It must have been the decor and the aircon that had lulled us into thinking it would be cool. True, some of the weather channels had been warning of the hottest day of 2009, but we were in the mountains of Northern Vermont, so thought this wouldn't affect us.

It just got hotter and hotter. At one point mid morning I spotted a wall thermometer on the side of a shed. It said 95 degrees. I don't really do Farenheit, but I know that 95 is pretty warm. So did my tee-shirt. Now we are not talking Joshua Tree or Death Valley heat here, but it was enough to catch us out and we changed our route and plans.
Ben and Jerry's would never have been first on the itinerary but now it became the Plan B option to head across to somewhere cooler for at least the peak part of the day. But ohmygoshthecrowdsthere. It was far too busy and an almost improbable jarring compared to the relative ease with which we'd moved about up to this point.

We decided to go for Plan C. That's the 'no plan' plan. And it worked a whole lot better. I'd already commented that Vermont was more like New Switzerland or New Austria rather then being bundled with New England and then, lo and behold, just past the sign for Inky Dinky Oink Ink, was another for the von Trapp residence.
We decided to take a look, and sure enough, these hills were still very much alive with the sound of music. It turns out that Maria and the gang had moved to Vermont and established a miniature version of Austria very close to where we'd been staying. Brilliantly located, well maintained, thriving as a hotel nowadays but also touching because of the little memorial ground where Maria and her siblings are buried.

Then further onward across the mountain peaks before deciding to head for the nearby lake, which also reminded me of the edges of Lake Lausanne in Switzerland.

Across the other side we could see the shoreline of upstate New York and our good fortune was to be able to sit with a Magic Hat #9 and a snack by the water's edge to watch the sun set before heading back to our current base at the Inn.

Monday 10 August 2009

the one with the inn in vermont

This is my first time in Vermont, and I can't help thinking of all the movies and sitcoms where people from New York head up to Vermont for the weekend/to go ski-ing/to someone they know's borrowed cottage.

It reminded me of TV series Friends where Vermont was used to signify escape from Manhattan. And then, today, to my surprise, Pheobe from Friends appeared on the breakfast show promoting a new movie.

Meantime, the area seems kind of homely and cosy, with decor more suited to a winter environment than the heat we are currently experiencing. Whilst the coast was all lobster and seafood, around here its all dairy and home baked bread.

We're backpack-ready for a day out on the trails, cautiously with waterproofs as well as tee-shirts.

Sunday 9 August 2009

screamin' across the mountains

oneSometimes the strangest things can excite.

We decided to head from the White Mountains in New Hampshire to the Green Mountains in Vermont.

As we cut across to tonight's stopoff, I can't help thinking that our really near neighbor* is Ben and Jerry's, the ice cream company.

We passed them shortly before we arrived at this Inn and I'm trying to think of an excuse to go back tomorrow for a quick look around.

*American spelling because they are American neighbors.

Saturday 8 August 2009

bretton woods

We are out into the proper mountains today. The Northern Appalachians and the White Mountains in particular. More of that when I have a chance to load some pictures.

Right now we are dancing the night away in Bretton Woods, which is the place where Keynes and a large bunch of diplomats and economists planned the economic reform and pegging of currencies which led to the IMF and the end of the gold standard.

The place is awash with finery and despite the passing of time, its not that difficult to visualise the setup for the creation of the dollar peg rate to gold.
P1010825Keynes' idealistic approach to the creation of a new index was outmanoeuvered by the United States, which wanted all the currencies to be pegged via the dollar, which effectively supplanted gold as the reserve currency of global economics.

It was clever thinking at the time, because the US needed to have an ongoing economic engine after World War II and getting all of Europe's currencies linked to the dollar and everyone using it as part of commerce was a way to keep the export engine running and access to all markets.

It worked for a while, but the dollar based scheme created some interesting disparities. The US could effectively trade at huge profits with developing nations and then send some of the profits to Europe as post-war grants. The US became capitalist in chief of the world.

Pax Americana.

Until in the late 60s when the Europeans bonded, Japan regained some economic strength and a war in Vietnam created new US challenges and a massive US balance of trade deterioration.

The USD to gold rate of $35 per ounce was ending and with it the fixed nature of a Bretton Woods global currency peg.
Fascinating to turn up at the location where these events played out and amusing to see that the various delegates would have been rather well catered for, judging by the locale and its rather opulent amenities.

Yes, I did also find the Bretton Woods speakeasy cave for a different type of music.

Friday 7 August 2009

cadillac mountain

Boston 611
We started today at sea level and only climbed around 1500 feet to the top of what is called a mountain around here.

Doesn't sound impressive? It was.

We're in one of the East Coast glacial areas and the highest point of the pink weathered granite has spectacular views across the bay, across the Atlantic and across to Canada.

All of this with a relative lack of people in the area. We'd dabbled feet in the salty sea and then stomped in the same sand covered boots to a superb vista.

I gather in Maine the top pursuit is 'doing nothing'.

I think it fits well at the top of one of these views.
Boston 678

Thursday 6 August 2009

universal language of sport

Porpoise Point, Maine
Dmitry was from Volgograd. "That was Stalingrad, wasn't it?" I asked. "Very good", he said, "most people think of Leningrad".

"St Petersburg", I thought, "I've nearly been there."

"There's the big statue in Volgograd", he continued, "It's the one of the Motherland".

"THAT big statue", I thought, "It's spectacular". We chatted about the battle of Stalingrad in the second World War, the way his Russian cities had been renamed and then how he wound up in this part of America. Dmitry had learned his English from books. "Oxford books", he added, "So I would learn proper English. I can tell the difference between an American and a British accent immediately, although Scotland and Glasgow can be difficult".

"You must like soccer?", he asked, "We have some great Russian players in your teams now, in Tottenham and Chelsea." I nodded, "Many of the players in the major English teams are from overseas nowadays, and the coaches and managers. The team names are more of a brand."

He could sense I was out of my depth trying to talk soccer. "Go over that causeway", he pointed, "There are some great views".

Wednesday 5 August 2009

separated by a common language

Boston 511
I havn't been back in the USA for over a year, whereas in some years I'd be here pretty much every month. The gap is long enough to re-examine some little day-to-day differences, which initially stick out like a Hopper lighthouse guarding the shoreline, but soon assimilate into the way things are around here.

Remember I work with quite a few Americans and we all get along just fine, but here's a few observations from the last couple of days
  • ordering a coffee provokes a response of "awesome". Not quite sure why, but its certainly very friendly

  • getting commments about "not being from this town" in many places on account of my accent

  • remembering that television comes in ten minute bursts interrupted with commercials on most of the 60-100 channels provided in hotels.

  • knowing that all tablets and health remedies have a page of disclaimers and that special people are paid to recite these characteristics very fast in adverts.

  • being reassured that objects are still closer than they may appear

  • flicking around the radio dial and being surprised at just how many country music stations there are

  • needing to be especially careful when ordering anything with multiple options on account that I could be misunderstood with entirely unpredictable consequences

  • being pleased now that most electronic devices are multi voltage so I can take one plug adapter and a UK powerstrip instead of lots of plugs.

  • being surprised at the fragility of some US domestically produced items. Thin metal designed for short MTBF.

  • remembering that food comes in industrial quantities in many restaurants. Moderation required.

  • being able to do calculations of tips for all manner of services. Everyone gets paid, etc.

  • remembering that the temperatures indoors are no guide whatsoever to the temperatures outdoors

  • the sheer number of American flags on display everywhere

  • hating that after landing if I don't use my usual car hire company then there's an undignified argument about extras, insurance, upgrades and why the car I've been allocated looks as if its a repo thats been in a car chase.

  • noticing that, charmingly, just about everyone has a story (Just finished chatting to Dmitry about his exploits since he left Russia)

  • hearing debates about Dubya and Barack and how Republicans are trying to make all of what Obama says sound like spin.

  • needing to drive at American speeds, which are both different and slower than Europe and in some states within a good 5 mph safety limit of the prevailing speed limit

  • being still amazed that gas is only $2.59 per gallon.

  • pleased that GSM and 3G coverage is finally pervasive after years of irritaingly poor coverage

I know these are all trivial points, but they are things that pop up in the first couple of days and make me smile. By tomorrow I'll be taking it all for granted.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

hold your breath 'till the sun goes down

Salem witch number 1
We've left the upscale tranquil splendour of our harbourside suite in Boston and headed North.

Quite a contrast between the sedate couples strolling the waterfront in our well-heeled part of Boston and the late night noisy swirl right outside our doorstep in the new place.

"You might want to come back to the bar at about eleven", explained the grinning lady at the check-in. "There'll generally be singing by that time." We headed off to our room across the road overlooking the landing where the lobster boats come in.

On the way here we did stop off at Salem although the cutesy candy coloured toy witches and occasional Wiccan symbols didn't really give a sense of the witch trials. In fairness there was also a museum but my own impression from the town gave mixed messages.

The original Salem events near the time of the new settlements lacked legislative balance with Puritans creating a claustophobic, oppressive and hysterical environment. A sub-text was that land could be reclaimed upon the death of widowed women.

So the rumour mill and use of pseudo spiritual accusations meant anyone slightly nonconformist could be accused as a witch with potentially material gains.

Around 150 were accused and nineteen received capital punishment before the use of spectral evidence such as the 'touch test' was abolished. The touch test was a way for an accuser to devine whether the person they accused was guilty based upon the lifting of pain following the touch. Hocus Pocus? The Salem trials were in 1692, only 10 years after the last witch executions in England.

Anyways, the lady at our waterfront stop was right. The local tap beer in the noisy lobster joint is great.

north under protection of sunlight

Boston 275
We are moving on today, further along the coast to somewhere with adjacent beaches.

Boston is a fascinating city and continues to undergo huge transformation. Not so many years ago, there was a complex, mystifying and rather ugly overground road system, which has now been replaced by streamlined tunnels. The wharves and harbour areas have also received significant makeovers and we are taking full advantage with our vista across from Battery Wharf.

In the centre of town, the once landmark Filene's store is now an empty shell with simply the facade left whilst a new mall, condominiums and office blocks are to rise from within its site.

But we're mixing some urban with some country and so its off to the homely delights of Salem famous for the witches and the adjacent coastal locations Stephen King seems so fond of in his novels. I have plenty of garlic.
salem's lot

Monday 3 August 2009

no lions or unicorns here

Faneuil Hall
Faneuil Hall is one of the spots from which Sam Adams caused the ruckus that eventually led to Independence for the Americans. Some call Faneuil the cradle of democracy but when I googled, it disappointingly presented itself as a shopping mall.

Boston's Freedom Trail laces the city with the varied sites of rebellion. Around 200 metres away from Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market is the Old State House site of the Boston Massacre. Riled British redcoats killed five protesting settlers who were part of a crowd angry at the British taxation of New England.

Years earlier, the English had rewarded the Italian explorer 'John Cabot' with a pension of £20 per year after he claimed the land in the name of Henry VII. After settlement it became a source of taxation without representation.

Sam Adams and Paul Revere were amongst those who campaigned to remove the British hold especially when George III kept increasing taxes and sending more militia to maintain order.
After the massacre a grudging peace ensued until Sam Adams and John Hancock threw a protest party, heaving hundreds of tea chests into Boston's harbour and further promoting the cause for independence.

A colonial congress, progressive arming of the locals and the famously thwarted attempt of the British to seize the arms, when Paul Revere and William Dawes rode through the night with a warning.

Soon afterwards came creation of the American Declaration of Independence read from the Boston State House and then a further six years of fighting for the establishment of the new nation.

Sunday 2 August 2009

talking italian

Boston 107s
Our hotel is on the edge of the Italian district in North End.

A couple of streets away the roads have been closed and there is a big celebration in progress. There's a number of guys in white sports shirts with little italian flag flashes on them who seem to be in control of the street's proceedings.

The Boston Police barricades at either end of the street are also manned by more of the same guys and at one end theres a stage and someone singing Frank Sinatra songs.

In the middle is the church and the shrine with money attached.

Everywhere is busy and bustling with Italians and tourists. There's the locals standing on street corners chatting. Determined tourists follow the Freedom Trail maybe missing the main action in order to stay on the big red line on the sidewalk showing a route that links early American patriotic sites together.

Melancholy strains of a saxaphone waft from an alley. I recognise the tune. It's the theme from The Godfather. The restaurants all show pictures of famous visitors - film stars - singers - sportsmen - as well as family pictures from the old country. Everyone who owns a restaurant seems to have met Tony Soprano.

We take a left into the square by Paul Revere's house and spot Mamma Maria's. That will be our evening destination.
Boston 221