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Thursday, May 31, 2012

I Just Love New Toys!

It can be an ordinary tablet or open the case underneath and ...

Voila! ... it becomes a netbook with a reasonable keyboard
It's a brilliant piece of kit -- not an i-pad but there doesn't seem to be anything missing -- except maybe the price! From The Man early because he won't be here on the day ...


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Is It a Journey You Want or a Slog?

A comment by Cro Magnon of Magnon's Meanderings about the fact that he drove down to his place in Provence set me to thinking about the fact that I refuse to do the drive from Calais to the Lot without stopping the night along the way. The Man will be leaving on Saturday for the house and he, like Cro will drive without night stopping.

The Man was reluctant to let me have my way, until I pointed out to him that I would take the train to Paris, spend the night and follow on by train the next day. He chose the cheaper option! It's one thing to drive for a few hours to the Loire and get to your maison secondaire at a reasonable hour and in the daylight. But it's a long winding drive to where we are and it's always late and sometimes early morning before we'd arrive. The house is dark and dusty. The beds have to be made. The chances are we would not have stopped for a meal. We'd both be grumpy. Arrival about 3 or 4 in the afternoon is much the better idea. To my way of thinking. And besides it's a nice to start our long sojourn with a good French meal, delicious wine and a good night's sleep in a charming French village.

One year The Man went down with his friend Mike. They were going to knock down walls and extend one of the bedrooms. Of course they were not going to overnight somewhere en route. They arrived at the house at 2.a.m. Exhausted! The entered the house through the kitchen door in the blackness one only gets in a house that has been locked up and shuttered down for months -- and where the electricity has been turned off! The Man walked to the end of the kitchen and turned right at the door to step down into the dining room. 

Splash! 

The tiled floor was ankle deep in water. It was March so the water wasn't warm either! The Man, flashlight in hand,  sloshed through to the other side of the room, where the water was not so deep and into the living room to the cupboard where he took a chance and switched on the electricity! Water was dripping voraciously through the light fixture in the dining room ceiling and down the wall. Both men looked at the mess and then at each other and both said simultaneously,

 "I'm so glad The Broad isn't here!"

My point had been made -- exactly!

Mike then turned to The Man and said, "I'm going to bed" and up he went...And now, that is exactly what I am going to do!!!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Torches and Jubilees

I feel as though something big is about to happen and I am not quite 'there'. Any other year this weekend would have been the late May bank holiday. It almost always coincides with Memorial Day in America. However, this year, in case you've been even more 'elsewhere' than I feel, the bank holiday weekend is a very special one to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's accession to the throne.

In addition, on Friday 1 June, the Olympic torch is coming to Southport -- and The Man and I actually and amazingly enough, know two of the torch bearers! One of them, Hilda, who is 81, will bring the flame a block down the road from our house to had over a block further down. Only it's not a 'hand-over' is it? It's a 'kiss' when one torch 'kisses' the next torch down the line. Then it will be a mad rush to wherever along the route Ben is to watch this young man who we have known since he was in diapers nappies 26 or so years ago! The plan is to go to Liverpool that night for a special extravaganza at the Pier Head, which will feature a performance of a song composed by Ben called 'White Light'.

Saturday, The Man, leaves on the long trek to our house in France. And later that day my sister-in-law and a close friend, Kate arrive for the rest of the special 4-day weekend. Guess I'll have to plan dinner! Oh, and they are also bringing their dogs... Woof! Woof!

Sunday there is a special Diamond Jubilee Service at our church which promises to be quite an extravaganza. I am sure the place will be packed. I'll wear red, white and blue and get to sing My Country Tis of Thee  God Save the Queen!;-)

I have absolutely no idea what to do with Monday and Tuesday. I only know what I won't be doing -- basking in the sun -- starting on Friday and for the entire 4 days the high is predicted to be 14C (58F). Brrrrr...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Another Duck in the Row, but there Are More to Come...

Needing to replace a damaged U.S. passport when living in a foreign country can be problematic. The first problem to overcome was that I could not use my damaged document to prove my citizenship. Therefore, it was necessary to obtain an official copy of my birth certificate -- my only copy being in storage somewhere in Olympia, Washington.

I ordered my birth certificate from the State of New Jersey the 3rd of May and received it last Wednesday the 23rd. It was complicated because that State only sends birth certificates within the United States and only to the address on the identification used! This could have been a real problem for me, but as I had just sorted out transferring my driving license back to the State of Connecticut using my mother's address -- I was good to go!  I had arranged with my brother to mail it to me when it arrived, however, when it didn't drop through the letter chute a week ago, I called my mother. She said it had not come -- but when I checked I discovered that it had been delivered to the front desk on the 5th of May. I called my brother and he promised to look for it when he visited my mother later the same day. That night he telephoned me with the good news that it was indeed among the vast quantities of mail she collects! He sent it  by UPS on Monday and Wednesday morning it was delivered!

Now I could make an appointment with the Embassy in London. Because it is a 'damaged' passport, I must appear in person. The earliest appointment I could get was 29th June at 7.45 a.m. and I booked it. Train tickets have been ordered and delivered and arrangements have been made to stay with my Niece in Bayswater. The only thing left is getting the passport pictures. I am happy to say there is a photographer here in town who is familiar with all the rules involving this and taken photos for other Americans -- the government is incredibly fussy about this and regularly reject photographs that are not up to their exacting specifications:
Submit a color photograph of you alone, sufficiently recent to be a good likeness of you (taken within the last six months), and 2 x 2 inches in size. The image size measured from the bottom of your chin to the top of your head (including hair) should not be less than 1 inch and not more than 1 3/8 inches. The photograph must be color, clear, with a full front view of your face, and printed on thin paper with a plain light (white or off-white) background ....
U.S. Government Bureaucracy at its best!

Once I've appeared and sworn allegiance, and so on and so forth, my application will be sent off to the States. I am praying that Officialdom will return my damaged document to me because it has the home office stamp giving me indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. I will need to present it along with my new passport to British immigration officials the next time I return to the UK. Which brings me to going to France this year!

The Man leaves on Saturday 2nd June for the Lot and I shall join him whenever I get my passport, which could take 4 weeks from the appointment day! But at least, at the moment, things are looking good for a sunny and warm English summer!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stonehenge, Another Place


Stonehenge is one of those places on everybody's list of 100 places to see you die. Ever since I first heard about it at the age of about 10, the idea of it has fascinated me. As you can see from the above picture, the sun shone and despite a good breeze, it was not unpleasant. What surprised me was that it was smaller than I imagined it to be. It is possible that the reason for this is the distance the public is kept away from the stones. You can't really tell how big or small they are. It is possible to take a tour before and after hours at 15 pounds each, but we were not able to arrange for this in time -- though if the opportunity arises I would try to do it. I don't think it can be appreciated fully without being able to 'get up close and personal'.

Last night it occurred to me that it would help just to have some life-size figures standing nearby to give some idea of the scale of the place when I had a brilliant idea. Can you imagine, a display of the iron men, by Antony Gormley in and around Stonehenge? The thing is the figures are life-size and just eerie enough to pull it off and could work really well to give an idea of the scale and mystery of the whole area.

Crosby Beach, Another Place
(Photo, theartsyn.com)
I expect it's blasphemous to even think of desecrating the site in such a way -- the pre-historic Mecca of the  British tourism. Nevertheless, the idea appeals... I am not thinking such a thing would even be possible  -- but imagination can go where it likes!

Here is the thing about Stonehenge: I can see more of its mystique in photographs and television documentaries -- on film -- that I did in person. I had already bought a small tourist guide at Salisbury Cathedral and looking at it a few days later I was more entranced than I was while standing before it!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Finally

Finally, I feel like posting again. Quite simply a  bad cold has laid me low and I haven't been able to concentrate enough to even string enough words together to make a complete thought. I blame airplane travel. When I finally boarded the plane on 2nd May and found my seat, I heard the warning sounds of chesty coughing coming from the lady seated directly behind me. I knew I was doomed!
Having safely landed, however, The Man and I had  made plans to do some British sight-seeing -- places I had put 'on my list' and had yet to cross off... On the 9th of May we headed for the St. Albans' hamlet of Markyate and The Man's brother and sister-in-law for the night. As usual they had generously invited other members of the family to join us for dinner. The next day we travelled to the not too distant Brentford, to spend the night and to have a pub dinner at The London Apprentice, which is located on a picturesque setting along the Thames. We were also very happy to be spending a second evening in the company of the newest member of the family, our grandson, Bertie. Seen here all of 9 months, studying the menu!

Earlier in the day, we had experienced our the only disappointment of our trip. Because it was the middle of the week, The Man had thought he could drive into London because he wanted to cross Southwark Cathedral off his list! Four frustrating hours later we headed back to Brentford having failed in our quest. Another day, with bus passes at the ready! Do. Not. Drive. In. London...

 On Friday the 11th with the sun shining brightly, albeit cool and breezy, we headed for the Salisbury plain. Once upon a time, in 1993 I had almost crossed Salisbury Cathedral from my To Do list. However, The Man decided, in his wisdom, that 3 pounds Sterling was too much to pay for parking -- I'd been rankled ever since! This time, he didn't hesitate ... We drove into town, found a parking garage and before I knew it, were through the Cathedral doors. Finally ...


 







The trouble with iconic landmarks is that when you get there, it is so difficult to take it all in! There is the size, the history and the age. There is a wonderful model of how the Cathedral may have been when under construction. I absolutely loved reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett,  which does an amazing job of explaining how important these building were to the people of the time, the dangers inherent in the construction, the intricacies of construction -- so much was learning as they went. The physics of these structures was not understood. It is hard for us to imagine how the sight of these Mammoths of man's talent and ingenuity must have appeared to the men, women and children of the 13th  century, never mind earlier than that. 

But I was on Salisbury Plain! The Cathedral is a mere youngster, compared with the next stop on my 'knock-off' list: Stonehenge!

Sunday, May 06, 2012

"It's late and I wanna go home ..."

With great trepidation, to say the least, I followed the young woman to her immediate supervisor over at the gate desk. She took one look at my passport and declared that she could not possibly authorize me to board the plane. She would have to have her supervisor make the final decision.

My plane was due to take off at 20:40. It was 19:50. I had bought a  'choice' seat which meant that I was among the first to board. The woman called the final authority, who was conveniently on the other side of the airport. She was on her way. In the meantime ...

I was reduced to a  very nervous, almost, but not quite snivelling little old lady. "I've been using this passport for the past two and a half years", I whined -- hating myself as I moaned and feeling intensely panicky. The thought was going through my mind that if they would not let me on I would have to get a new passport and God only knew how long that would take ... Ten minutes of turmoil later I asked where this supervisor was -- "She's coming, it takes a while to get her from the other side of the airport" didn't help my frustration and fear. The time wore on and my breath became more and more bated.

A voice in the back of my head told me to stop acting like such a ninny. My behaviour was not helped though, when I was asked, "Have you checked luggage?"

"Yes, but but but"... Nothing would stop her. She ordered my bag to be taken off the plane. At that point I almost broke down. "You don't have to do that, this is ridiculous." She then told me that if I got to England and immigration wouldn't let me through, the airline would have to fly me back "on their dime'! I felt as if my goose was cooked ... However, I assured her, still whiny, that they were not going to do that. I was after all a resident, I was married to a British subject... She wasn't impressed.

Oh, she was sorry, but the bag had to come off and be put aside in case I was allowed to fly. More minutes passed by. A man appeared who was in charge of luggage and got the number attached to the bag and went off to carry out the deed.

In the meantime, minutes had passed, the plane had boarded and still the Final Authority had not arrived. "Where is she", I groaned -- amidst moans of  "What am I going to do, (sniff, sniff) what am I going to do?" All this steadfastly ignored by the woman at the desk. The man came back, the luggage was off the plane. Time was marching on. Twenty minutes, thirty minutes past. I complained that her supervisor was intentionally taking her time to make me miss the plane! She assured me this was not the case. My heart was pounding. At this point she called again the Final Authority who again claimed she was almost there.

The "stop acting like a ninny voice" was getting louder in my head as it became more and more evident that the plane would take off without me. I took some deep breaths. I asked the girl would she be able to get me on a plane back to Hartford that night. She said she could. After all I had lots of family and friends in the States to turn to -- I was not alone in a foreign country. "Right" I decided, "I'll call Bill (my brother) on his cell phone and he can meet me in Hartford and then I'll be able to call The Man (this is all his fault) ;-) and then we'll figure out the next step. It helped to have a plan.

The baggage guy appeared wondering what was what. He was told we were waiting for the 'Final Authority' so he should stand by in case I was allowed on board. Less than five minutes before the plane was due to leave the gate. Finally way down at the end of the hall, the woman at the desk saw her coming. "I'm going to meet her half way!" She exclaimed -- and off she went. Then I could see her -- the two of them. No 'effing' wonder it took her forever to get there with those spiky heels on her feet! The Final Authority looked at tthe passport. Said a few words and handed it back to the girl.

"You can fly!" She exclaimed. She got back to me, got her walkie talkie out and told the man to put my luggage back on the plane, rushed over to the gate and handed me my passport with a new boarding card. I rushed onto the plane to be greeted by the Attendants with "How are you?"

"Pretty shaky" I said. As I made my way to my seat I heard the pilot apologising for the delay and explaining it was due to security issues! I was shaking with relief as well as embarrassment. The steward was very kind and helped put my hand luggage in the overhead compartment. There was plenty of room. In fact, I was blessed that I had the two seats to myself. As soon as the plane was in the air and dinner was being served, I gave in and spent $7.50 on a small bottle of Chardonnay -- it helped (a bit).

But -- what the hell was going to happen when I went through immigration in the UK? The plane landed. The Man informed me by cell phone that he was almost at the airport. I didn't bother to explain that I didn't know if I'd be allowed through or not. After all if I wasn't he'd find out soon enough. So I got off the plane and the walk to immigration control seemed longer than ever -- I was near the front of the line -- only three people ahead of me. My turn came...

I handed my passport to the immigration officer. He looked at the passport, opened it up -- went to scan it. In a very weak voice I said, "It won't scan". He punched in some numbers, stamped the passport and handed it back to me -- without a word...

The nightmare was over. I was Home -- with a capital H!

Can you guess my new project?

Saturday, May 05, 2012

What Happened on the Way Home

It all began so well -- my trip back to the UK. There was a caveat going around in my head though. The trip to the USA had been so perfect in every way -- right to the very end when my brother was there waiting for me and so was my luggage. We all suspected it was probably going to be problematic on the return journey. And it was.

The day started off just fine -- everything went almost like clockwork -- should have been a warning. The first niggle was very minor -- merely a mix-up in time for lunch. We were meeting a very good friend for lunch in Kent, Connecticut -- a 40 minute journey from my mother's place of residence. We had Noon as the time -- she had 12.30 -- wasn't a problem, could have been avoided -- but lunch was still fun and we made it back with Mom in plenty of time for a tiny shopping spree and fond farewells. The plan was for me to follow my sister back to the airport. That all went fine. Car turned in -- no problem. Caught the bus -- so far everything was one, two, three.

I had had difficulty the night before when I logged on the night before to get my boarding pass -- I suppose that was the first sign that there was "Trouble Ahead"... my reservation kept going around in circles and I was advised to 'call this number'. Which I did and was able to book my 'choice' seat. But I could not print my boarding passes. Which meant that I would have to do this at the airport. However, I could not use the machines installed there for this purpose -- because my passport cannot be scanned...  not for two and a half years. For a very good reason.

Two and a half years ago after a trip to the States I had left my passport in the pocket of my vest/waistcoat and it went through the laundry! Have you ever seen a passport that went through a washing machine?



When this first happened two and a half years or more ago, I wanted to get a new one -- even though it does not expire until June 2013. This is after I read on the US Embassy website that damaged passports should (not must) be replaced.

The Man was of the insistent opinion, once it had dried out and stuck back together, that there was no need to spend the money get a new one. The only reason I went along with him then was that if I sent it in to the Embassy they would no longer accept it as proof of my identity. I would have to start the application-for-a-passport process all over again. This meant getting an official birth certificate from the State of New Jersey where I was born. When I tried to do this by contacting the authorities in the town where I was born I had so many problems with being put on hold and disconnected that I gave up and decided to see what happened if I used the laundered document in my possession. No problem! All that officials ever said to me was -- 'it got in the wash, didn't it?' -- or similar words.

Now, I must admit that while I was home I noticed some additional deterioration of the passport in that the cover was beginning to separate:

Unable to get my boarding pass online the night before, the first inkling there might be a problem came when the woman at the airline desk saw my passport and didn't think it was in a suitable condition.  Somehow I did convince her by pointing out I'd been using it for 2 and a half years and had never had a problem with immigration officials. Reluctantly, she got me my boarding passes and I took my bag over to the security fellows. Off I went to Security. The official there looked at the passport, made the customary 'laundry' remark and stamped me through to Security. I boarded the plane to Philadelphia without a problem.

Plane left 20 minutes late, but I still had plenty of time to make the flight to Manchester. Passengers were called to start boarding -- I was in Zone 2 so was among the first to board. Had my boarding card and passport opened to the appropriate page and handed it to the girl at the gate. She took one look at the passport and walked away and said, "Follow me" ...
(To Be Continued...)

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Summing Up


It's the end of April and my visit is soon coming to an end. Thursday morning, 'the good Lord willin' and the crick don't rise' I will be back in Southport and soon it will seem as though I'd never left. As I sit here typing away with 'Wheel of Fortune' in the background -- Oh my goodness, she won $100,000!

It is a good thing to get an injection of American life every year. I don't always enjoy it and a lot of the time I feel somewhat 'out of the loop', but it is where I grew up and it will always have some sort of hold on my psyche. Later on tonight I will start packing because tomorrow I have another task to take care of -- but more about that anon...not today.

When I get back to the UK I will be investigating the course of events I can take toward achieving my goal of citizenship. (Excuse me, but the television is on entertaining others -- did you know that Katherine Jenkins is competing in the American version of Strictly Come Dancing? She just danced the rumba to the Pacabel Canon... it seemed a bit odd) Yes, back to citizenship. I must investigate further The Man's investigations as written about here. I will also be writing about a different aspect of my journey toward this goal. For there was a long period of feeling estranged from my new country, when I felt very angry and felt that I would refuse to ever return. I am not sure exactly why I changed my mind. But something happened that made me look again with different eyes. Who knows what we will discover when I begin to write again about that time.