Discuss longhaul
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Crabby Crew Blog <$BlogRSDURL$>

Travel is the most private of pleasures. There is no greater bore than the travel bore. We do not in the least want to hear what he has seen... (Vita Sackville West).

Sunday, August 22, 2004

The crew and their craft
Nervous flyer
Above the abyss
Canyon poseur
Evening over the canyon
Well, I made it to The Canyon as the pictures will prove. Five of us hired a people-carrier and drove the four and a half hour journey north from Pheonix with one of our pilots in the driving seat and myself as navigator. For two of us it was our first ever visit to the Grand Canyon, but no-one had ever flown over it in a helicopter before and that was what we decided should be our first view of it.

Several small private companies operate flights around the edges of the canyon and I harried everyone into going with the cheapest (still ninety-eight dollars). This meant an older, smaller and less sturdy-looking chopper and a pilot from Korea who spoke a version of English none of us could understand. My advice, should any of you ever get to the canyon yourselves, is to go with the more expensive companies with the new, flashy, tank-like helicopters, because it was one of the most frightening things I have ever voluntarily done and being in a more solid craft would have helped considerably.

Everything was fine as we flew across the flat plains around the rim. I was next to the pilot up front, being the lightest of us. Surrounded by flimsy-looking glass, even at foot level and with nothing to grab onto except the controls or the pilot (I managed not to), the stomach lurching horror as we went over the edge of the canyon and the ground just dropped away below was one of those horrible moments when you realise that something isn't going to be anything like you expected it to be and that you have not prepared yourself for it sufficiently. (I hate certain fairground rides too and this was far worse).

For the next twenty minutes I was terrified. Sometimes I had to just shut my eyes and clutch at the glass and I don't think I have ever noticed myself gasp before. (Think about this. People only gasp in books usually). It was a ridiculously long drop to the canyon floor and it all looked like a hard and craggy mass and extrememly painful to crash into. I was convinced we would crash sooner or later - the rotor blades whizzing above us didn't seem much to bank on saving us when faced with the vast nothing below and around. The only thing I can like it to is the feeling you would have if you dived off the top board into a swimming pool and realised as your feet left the board, that someone had pulled the plug out and let the water run away. To feel this unsafe for twenty minutes is not something I can recommend. The scale was all wrong. We were like an insect above a vast quarry expanding away in all directions. I now know what nervous passengers must feel like. If you are scared of flying, do not ever try this.

Every now and again we hit a buffet of wind or an updraft and veered horribly sideways or worse, lurched a few inches downwards. If I could have reached a colleague I would have grabbed their hand. Thoughts about not having made a will and how many minutes of consciousness I would experience before oblivion as we plummeted to a sticky end charged around my brain, but of course, like thousands of others before us, we made it back to base in one piece despite our flimsy craft and the mad Korean at the joystick.

After this you would expect it to be rather tame viewing the canyon by foot from around the rim but it isn't. I've never been faced with such a vast gaping and staggering void before. It is what you are not seeing which is so odd. A huge huge hole with rocky sides and promonteries. You stare into an abyss. It must be the only place on earth where this is possible and it isn't really beautiful so much as overwhelmingly weird.

Still, in case you think I didn't enjoy it, of course it was wonderful and we had to keep reminding ourselves and each other that we were officially at work. Yes, I do know how lucky I am....... and I hope you are all jealous.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Long lost cousin Ben
Sitting room going from green to off-white
Kitchen and stairs - colour changing soon

Monday, August 16, 2004

An exhausting five days down in Somerset. I am almost looking forward to going to work for a rest. The new home is a work in progress. It will still be some time before I can actually say I'm living in it as the kitchen is indeed such a disaster that even my Dad said we need to rip it all out. Some temporary measures will be put in place in the meantime but at the moment there is still no fridge or washing machine and the cooker is filthy and has no grill tray. All good fun. I spent the past few days hanging out in B&Q and painting as if my life depended on it. I'm pleased to say that this has certainly brought instant improvements to the overall feel of the place and after the first two days of despondancy and general falsely-bright conversations between Dad and me, real enthusiasm and confidence has burgeoned.

Apart from the house's naturally appealing olde worlde charm (Bakelite switches and ancient old doors and fireplaces), the thing that has reassured me about it the most has been my fantastic neighbours. It is the end terrace of four and a fairly communal atmosphere prevails round the back of the properties as we all share a footpath to our backdoors and you can't realy sneeze or cough without eveyone else knowing about it. This would be awful if you didn't like the other residents, but luckily for me, I hit it off with my immediate neighbours in particular who are a couple, Leanne and Nia from Wales about my age and on my wavelength. Already we have had a lot of fun together and dinner in their back garden over wine and laughter. It is a massive relief and makes it all seem more welcoming. They moved in this year too as did the next man along - ex RAF person. It is a good atmosphere because everyone is willing to be helpful and forge good relationships. I have already been offered home-grown beans from Leanne and Nia's garden and Roy on the end came round to borrow a hairdrier. All good bonding stuff....and then there were the drains blocking up - an excellent way to meet the neighbours over drain rods and solidified sewage. Mum, Dad and I were obliged to spend three hours heaving buckets of water down the toliet pan, standing watch over the open sewer pipe and grovelling in the blocked drain whilst watching released turds hurtle past - like poo sticks but with real poos.

The insanitory condidions meant I was forced to turn down visits from some of my first potential guests who I didn't think would appreciate having to hold onto the contents of their bladder all afternoon or have them revealed to public scrutiny. But I did still get a visit from my long lost cousin Ben who doesn't get back to the UK much, being a teacher in Japan. A few photos will go up to give a general idea - none involving the drains though - don't be scared.

Off to Phoenix tomorrow for five days and possibly a visit to The Grand Canyon if I'm lucky.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The jelly bean
Blurry but rare shot of uniformed self and pals
Just a quick update as tomorrow I have to head off down to Somerset to tackle the new abode with brushes and cleaning products. I completed on Friday so am now a homeowner although that has yet to sink in. Visitors welcome. Come equipped for a camping holiday. There is no furniture, no fridge, no food, nuffin.

Chicago was great fun. For once I had the sort of trip I think people who don't do the job imagine we have all the time. Our boss had been dragged in for sexual harrasment in the past and trusty BA grapevine ensured that we were all fully briefed about his within five minutes of boarding the plane. Every time one of his hands wandered (which they certainly did) much womanly spite and humour rumbled up and down the aisles at his expense. Mutiny escalated over the five days and there was a proper old row on our way back home. Much enjoyable drama.

Meanwhile, the most senior "stewardess" (aged fifty-two and a gigantic wobbling woman) ended up in bed with the captain so we all got the low down on that. And in the rear galley we amused ourselves by revealing our personal neuroses and comparing cleaning regimes in our respective homes where it became clear that I don't have that female gene which wants to tidy, dust and live in immaculate surroundings. They all did. One of them changed her bedlinen every three days! Anyone else do that?

Chicago itself was definitely one of the better US cities to spend a few days in and the weather was also beautiful. Check out the pics to take a look at the Frank Gehry "Jellybean" sculpture in Chicago's Millennuim Park. There is a also a water sculpture nearby by the same woman as has designed the Princess Diana memorial in London (I can't remember her name and have not had time to check my facts before writing this bulletin). Anyway the whole public space worked brilliantly with both architectural wonders drawing crowds and enthusiam, especially from the children who just stripped off and got wet in the sunshine. A very uplifting place.

I wandered in a back entrance of the Art Institute of Chicago and followed my nose and the sound of music round a few corridors until I emerged onto a balcony above a large auditorium where some grey-haired chap was making a speech. It transpired I had stumbled across the 2004 Conference for the National Peace Corps and that the man speaking was Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, a group I have actually heard of from the dim and distant past. (I am told they were responsible for Puff the Magic Dragon if that makes the bells ring clearer for anyone).

Anyway, it was very sad really as Peter Yarrow talked all about the long struggle they had all had trying to make the world a less violent place and then he got everyone to sing along with him to "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?". All these grey, hunched figures in the audience below me murmered the words and a few wept out loud. On the stage was the American Flag. I was struck by the futility of trying to persuade the human race to end all wars as this baby boomer generation had evidently done. They all looked old and tired and yet they must have been the same bright young things who were at Woodstock in The Summer of Love and who marched against Vietman. There wasn't a kaftan among them these days. They could all have been kitted out by Marks and Sparks easily. All in all, it made for an unhappy spectacle and I escaped back out into the sunshine.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Building in the historic centre
Not pretty, but typical of the old city area
The next generation learn about the civil war
Amish or Mennonite girls in the market hall
A bit of healthy rebellion lives on in Philadelphia
Planning permission goes to pot

Friday, August 06, 2004

Just a quick bloglet. I have just been to Philadelphia again for the second time since February. On my first visit I didn't oan a digital camera, so I took some pics this time which should follow this post shortly.

Having slated Philly rather a lot after my first visit, I discovered I felt glad to back there and really quite fond of the place on my second visit. The fact that it is a city bult on hard graft throughout the few centuries it has existed gives it a real and gritty feeling which I quite like. Even the miles of chemical works and industrial grimelands between the airport and the city have some kind of appeal for me and it all rubs off on the inhabitants, who are all at one kind of societal level more or less, just simply getting on with life.

Unfortunately I was there on the wrong day for the Amish market yet again, but I did spot a few Amish nonetheless and took a few sneaky pictures. (They don't like to be photographed, seeing the result as a graven image). There is a good website about the Amish and Mennonite people at www.800padutch.com We even had two Amish women on the plane but I couldn't believe thats what they were as I had not supposed that air travel was allowed. If you look at the website you'll see it is not that simple.

Another good thing I saw was an exhibition of Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post covers at the city museum. I had not realsed what a huge icon Rockwell was and found his vignettes of American life very engaging. I'm sure there must be stuff on the web for anyone interested but now I must go as I am off to Chicago for five days.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Friends 1
Friends 2
Friends 3
Friends 4
Friends 5
Friends 6
Friends 7
Friends 8
Friends 9Friends 10

Monday, August 02, 2004

Yesterday and most of the weekend I have been with the Cardiffians and associates in London. Thus follows some beautiful pictures of my beautiful friends. We had a beautiful time with lager and chips on The Southbank, although everyone apart from me had also added to their cultural credentials by visitng Tate Modern and the Hopper exhibition. I walked across The Millennium Bridge for the first time in my life and found it an utterly beautiful structure framing St Pauls at one end and The Tate at the other. It's a fine addition the capital's attractions. Sometimes life is just beautiful.

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