Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Getting the news back to the homecountry.

So here we are on a RV site in Denver. Tomorrow we leave for England. It has been a fantastic holiday and to finish up I am going to put up a few photos of our best times. Apologies for no special pics for my sons, Paul and Jake. I did have one for you Paul but I bottled it cos someone was there. I may get another chance yet.

This is a pic of me filing my dispatches back to the homecountry

This second pic is for my daughter Kate. We took this one in Lyons just to show you it goes on all over.

This is us with Mark. I have to say for the record, I have never rode as well as I rode that friday afternoon. Wonder what my horses are gonna make of me when I get back.

This next picture was taken for my sons Henry and Josh. We were in Sedona, a sort of US version of Glastonbury, and I took the opportunity to record Sarah wearing the Argyle Tshirt commemorating the winning of the Division 3 play off final 1 - 0 against Darlington at Wembley in 1996.

This photo was taken by Sarah. There is an artistic side of Sarah that I don't know about- it's an amazing picture isn't it, and guess what I was thinking, 'huh, that'll never work'! It is a picture of the mud on a dried up river in Wickenberg.

A picture of Wickenberg - what a sweet little town. We liked it because it had a middle and a car park, kind of like English towns do.

These next two pictures are for my daughter Frances who has a cafe in Newquay, Cornwall. This is a kind of 'hippy' ish cafe we found in Wickenberg. As usual with us, once we have found somewhere we like we went every day for coffee while we were there.

This next cafe is in Taos. It was just lovely. Run by the sweetest people. Even smaller than your cafe F.

And here I am with Kelly - my SL partner for the last year. It was so good to meet her for real. I know I have already used a similar photo - it's the only one I have.

Here is a photo of us with Harry. I am so glad we got down to meet him - what a guy!

And to round off the show, the best photo I have taken on this entire tour - Sarah and Harry

The End

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

From Taos to Colorado City

To me this photo says so much about America. Something almost beautiful that has turned into an unsustainable nightmare. Something so romantic, that now only lives on in the American mind. Once there was such excitement as the huge spaces and opportunities opened up before the people. But the American Dream is over folks. You can feel and see the evidence of that dream but it has gone. Now the people are living in huge soul-less estates, or in trailer parks, or vast barren reservations. They are a million miles from their ancestors who must have felt so close to life as they fought to survive in this whole new world.

We left our RV park early and had coffee in a little 'peace' cafe. Then we popped out and checked out a few gift shops - we've had it with gift shops. We just get overwhelmed by the endless bits of junk that make it all so meaningless. What's that saying - something along the lines of 'the more you have the less it is worth'. In the 60s Taos was a huge centre for the 'hippy scene', and there is still evidence in the form of old hippies round the place.
Sarah bought me a book about the Taos hippy commune scene in the 60s. The forward is written by Ed Sanders who used to be a hero of mine when he was in The Fugs. Pretty much since I arrived in the US I have been singing (out of tune of course) my favourite Fugs song, 'Belle of Avenue A'. It is about a 'Big Mack' truck driver who picks up a hippy chic only to get his mind blown when she reads in the cards that they are destined to fuck each other. So when I found the forward in the book I got very excited indeed - Ed Sanders is a cool dude, as were many of the people around at that time.
So here are two pics of Taos, famous for its Adobe buildings. The whole place is done in this stuff - it is really pretty special. I just love the care and the artistic approach that has gone into these buildings, and it's not just one or two, it's 100s - they are everywhere and getting Sarah to stop photographing them was quite a job.

We left Taos and headed out to the bridge over the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande is the third longest river in the USA, rising in the Rockies in Colorado and in its latter stages forming the border between the US and Mexico.
We arrive at the bridge just as a few old hippies set up their stalls selling touristy stuff - makes a change from Native Americans I guess - same old stuff though.
Neither of us had really thought this through, but as soon as we saw the bridge we both realised at the same time that we were in trouble - vertigo big time was on us before we even stepped out there. We got to the middle, God knows how, and I took a couple of 'poor' photos, from about a metre away from the rail, and we scooted back as fast as we could go. But then a truck came along and as soon as it hit the bridge it sent this huge shock wave that I swear rocked the whole thing like an electronic wave. Before we got back a couple more vehicles, including the obligatory 'Big Mack' stormed over, and to be honest all I could think about was that awful bit of film where that bridge goes into major vibration and collapses.
When we got back to 'safety' one of the old hippies assured me that the bridge is designed to withstand 6" of vibration - phew, that made me feel so much better I'm sure!
That's me on the bridge, and below that, is my 'poor' photo of the river. I'd say it was considerably deeper than Cliften suspension bridge, but I'm not sure - I didn't stay long enough to find out.

And so on and on towards our goal. We drove along yet another scenic route through Cimarron Canyon state park. After lunch we dropped down into Cimarron and there I found the one thing I needed to complete my set - a great big scrap yard.

I told Sarah to pull over pronto and off I went to get the shots I needed. After I had taken a few pics this guy drove up and jumped out of his car. Uhoh, I thought as I gave him my friendliest greeting. I saw the smile come on his face and I knew I was on a good one.
'Nice collection of trucks you've got here' I said.
'Now if you're into trucks you'd better come down the yard and look at my best ones' he said.
So that's how we ended up in this shed taking this photo of his 1957 Big Mack truck, all restored down to the last detail - it was a beaut!

While I was in the yard I sneaked a couple more shots. Below is a 1947 Chevvy Rescue truck, still in use.

and a 1963 Big Mack awaiting restoration.

And then we drove on and there was this herd of bison. For God's sake will we ever get to Denver.

Monday, October 29, 2007

From Phoenix to Taos

For the last two days we have driven 600 miles across Arizona and into New Mexico. We have spent our time talking about horses, philosophy, life, USA, home, our business, being in the moment, the people we have met in the USA, horse trainers, knowledge, teachers, kindness, and other topics of equal worth. We have one CD that works - Beggars Banquet, which we enjoyed yesterday. We have a copy of the White Album that the CD player is telling us is faulty - Grrrrrr. We have one CD of Prem Rawat which we enjoyed listening to this afternoon.
I promise that this is the last picture of me looking out at rock formations. I guess some of you from Devon are thinking why has he put this pic of Kingsteignton quarry up - well guess what, it's actually the Petrified Forest national park.
And here is Sarah getting her kicks on the legendary East/West route across America.

And here she is checking out an abandoned car on that very same route.

We stayed the night in Gallup - another of those unbelievably characterless US towns spread out for 4 miles along a road, with about two hundred 'Trading Posts' all offering varying discounts on all sorts of touristy goods. To be fair we never gave it a chance. We are suffering from tourist overload right now. I am pissed off about Gallup - there was a great picture and the camera batteries failed me. When I went back there was someone there and I lost my nerve - thought I might get beat up or arrested so I nonchalantly walked on by.
We set off this morning to cover miles. Stopped at mid-day and cracked open two cans of organic black bean soup for lunch. We've still got a bit of the 100% loaf we bought from Wholefood Market so out came the peanut butter and jam for pudding, mmmmmmmmmmmm.
Then we set off for Taos. Wow what a place, but first the journey.
We have driven through some amazing country, amazing canyons, you name any rock formation and I guess we have probably seen it. But the road from Santa Fe to Taos was I reckon, the nicest so far. A beautiful full river in a narrow grey rock valley, with mellow yellow trees and grasses. It was so soothing after all the red.
I stopped to take a picture of this bridge. The whole valley is full of small settlements. It was colonised in the 60s by the hippies and the vibe is still there. Below is the house that this bridge accesses. It is a tiny two story wooden shack. Notice the garden - quite a rare sight so far on our travels.

And here is Sarah in Taos. One of the most historic and beautiful places in the whole country.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

An American Weekend

The last few days have been full on American - it's been fun.

We left Harry's and drove to Kelly and Brian's. Kelly is the girl in charge of my avi's second life partner, Rosie. We met up face to face a week ago and kind of got to know each other a bit, but actually we knew each other quite well already - we have been partners in Secondlife for over a year. I don't know if I mentioned it before, but for some reason I assumed Kelly would weigh at least 20 stone - see a lot of secondlifers have these really hot avis to make up for themselves not being so hot in Real Life (not me, of course). In fact Kelly turned out to be one of the smallest Americans we have seen. Not only is she a normal size, she is a normal person (I get the feeling sometimes that that is unusual for second lifers). We, that is me and Sarah, and Kelly and her husband Brian, all had a great weekend.

Me and Kelly - see, we're normal

So much happened this weekend, so I'll just cover the highlights for now - the in depth psychological stuff between me and K and our avis will be appearing shortly in the book I am currently writing about my year in Secondlife.

My favourite bit of the weekend was watching an American football game on telly from beginning to end - it lasted four hours. It took me about half an hour to suss the rules but once I got into it, it was really quite exciting. We all trooped round to Brian's son's house to watch the game and it was doubly good because their team, the Arizona Devils won.

Me and Brian watching the game

The previous night we had attended a full on American halloween party at the same house. This included me and Sarah both wearing fancy dress (no photos available as yet, but see artists impression below) and for me, consuming vast quantities of beer and jelly shots (some form of alcohol in lumps of jelly - really easy to eat but quite intoxicating).

I have got quite fond of the American people on this trip. They have made us very welcome and actually, even though their culture is obviously completely and ridiculously consumerist and totally unsustainable, I think the wealth and the vast spaces they live in does give them a bit of a feeling of lightness and freedom. We have mainly mixed with the wealthier middle classes and we haven't been near the cities, guess there we would see a different story. The party was unbelievable - about 100 guests all in over the top fancy dress, and the house was decorated beyond anything I have ever seen. There was an artist to do our portraits, a DJ, a free bar, stacks of food, and as far as I could tell, absolutely no dope at all (when I have a few drinks I always revert to my old ways and crave a smoke or two later in the evening).

I spent quite a lot of time talking, or maybe listening to a 'nail technician', the most fast talking person I have ever heard. In the end I had to get her to practise her english accent to slow her down enough for me to understand her. We also had a nice chat with Brian's daughter Jenny and her husband Mathew. Mathew is a philosopher, or should I say that is what he qualified as, and he is in the process realising that there aren't so many vacancies for philosophers right now. Anyway what I am getting to is that the conversation gave Sarah the chance to throw in her only philosophical quote, 'life is nasty, brutish and short', correctly spotted by Mathew, as having been an observation of the seventeenth century philosopher Thomas Hobbs.

And yes, we also went to Walmart. And now I am going to tell you why we are coming home from America in three days time - cos I don't want my sweet wife to end up looking like this.....

Thursday, October 25, 2007

An Englishman’s guide to Rodeo (from a sample of two)

Bareback Riding

This is some event – I never realised about the bucking strap – it is quite tight around behind the horse’s belly. As soon as either the rider gets bucked off or the eight seconds is up, these other two guys ride in and get the strap off as fast as they can. It’s impressive riding. Their job is also to go in alongside the bucker and allow the rider to grab them and pull himself to safety.
So how do you stay on these fearsome buckers – well it seems to me that these guys hold on real tight to the girth strap and somehow, god knows how, keep their centres of gravity right with the horses. They lie back along the length of the horse and hang in there. They get extra points for raking their legs along the horse to try and get extra bucks out of him.

Calf Roping

Well, if I got a shock with the bucking strap I got even more of a shock with this event. This little calf runs out of the pen and the rider chases it, lassoes it, it kind of gets mightily jerked over backwards. The horse just stands holding the rope taut while the rider gets off, grabs the calf and ties three of its feet together so it can’t move. The whole event is timed and the winner is the quickest to get it done.

Breakaway Calf Roping

Pretty much the same event except it’s for the cowgirls. The calf runs out of the chute, gets chased and roped and then the rider stops and a string breaks to release the rope from the saddle horn. Again quickest time is the winner.

Saddle Bronc Riding

I really enjoyed this event because generally speaking, the guys managed to stay on and give a bit of a show. It’s the same as the first event but with a saddle. And yes, the bucking straps were there too. For any over-sensitive limeys in the crowd, the MC did explain hat these horse’s do eight seconds work a week, and I am going to add to that, some of them are damn good at their jobs. There is a real feeling of respect for the really good buckers. To win the competition it really helps to get a good draw. A horse that helps you give a good performance is the one to ride – It’s more about performance than staying on.

Calf Scramble

All the kids under twelve get in the ring and they release five calves with yellow ribbons on their tails. Any kid who gets a ribbon wins $5 – They’re keen!

Steer Wrestling (Bulldogging)

They say this is one of the most dangerous sports. There are two guys working together – one is a hazer who keeps the calf in line and the other is the catcher. The catcher has to ride alongside the calf, grab the horns before he dismounts, and then get off the horse and turn the calf over. One thing is for sure, it ain’t easy. Only about three guys out of the entry succeeded, and it was damn difficult to get a photo of too.

Barrel Racing

Another event for the cow girls and hell couldn’t they ride. Timed with an electronic timer they rode round three barrels in a clover leaf formation. Amazingly out of a dozen riders they all timed in with a couple of seconds of each other – I think the winner’s time was 17.1 seconds.

Team Roping

The calf comes out of the chute and one guy ropes the head and the other guy ropes the back legs. I was stunned by the first one I watched (have to say subsequent ones weren’t quite so dramatic). This calf was just running along and suddenly it was suspended mid air between these two ropers. God alone knows how it survived – if that had happened to me it would have broke my back.

Bull Riding

Yes, what we have all been waiting all evening to watch, and boy, this is exciting stuff. Basically mad people getting on mad bulls and trying to stay on for eight seconds. Success rate – very low. The bulls are fondly described as each rider prepares to go. ‘No-one has stayed on this guy ever’, or ‘champion bull at the National Rodeo’ etc etc. One pair was described as the pairing we have all been waiting for, the champion bull with the champion rider.
The one that no-one has ever managed to ride took about two seconds to get rid of his rider – it is fearsome stuff. One bull ran right across the ring and chucked the rider into the fence right by us. He did his eight seconds but got up and looked like he had no idea what was going on.
Absolutely riveting stuff – I loved it.

And by the end of it I have to say, Yes, I am a bit of a fan of Rodeo.

Day three at Harry's

This is a picture of Harry riding a young mustang. It settled down almost immediately when Harry got on – he makes it very simple for the horse.

Day three at Harry’s and what can I say. I am actually quite confronted by how much he can get done with so little physical effort. Harry is quite willing to get in there and work with the students’ horses. Sometimes he volunteers and sometimes they just ask him to and he does. It is great watching him work – like something out of the old days, a bit how I imagine it must have been watching the Tom Dorrance or Ray Hunt (obviously I’ve not seen either so this is definitely in my imagination only). When he rides he talks what he is doing – it is just incredible. The horses love his clarity – he makes them feel so good.
When students ask questions the answer is so often, ‘well maybe, or maybe not’ - not those words but the sentiment of ‘well it depends on so many things’, prevails. It’s funny because I can see some of the students desperately looking for technique and formula, but boy it’s not really there. Not to say Harry isn’t effective, because he is very effective indeed. A lot of the actual horsemanship is almost identical to Mark’s, but it is presented to the students in a different way. Mark is way more workmanlike and ‘get the job done’, which I really like, but Harry really emphasises the importance of the way it looks to the horse too.
The clearest thing to come across, and the thing I really want to take home with me, is that the horse’s feet follow his thoughts. Direct the thought and away you go. Watching Harry set this up on the ground and seeing the horse begin to work in this way, you can really see how this could start to come through in the ridden too. The horse starts to look for the thought you want instead of the threat of what might happen if he doesn’t move – I can see that it could be very cool indeed once it becomes established.
So that’s all the good stuff, well obviously not all of it. But the most confronting thing for me has been all the round pen work that Harry does. I guess because we became so disillusioned with ‘Join Up’ and all the marketing and hype etc that goes with it, we maybe threw the baby out with the bathwater. Not totally convinced by this actually, but it is obvious Harry thinks you can set up changes in the pen that are useful for you and the horse. What Harry does is nothing like Join Up, but he does get the horse following the owner, and actually today he sorted out a ‘draggy’ leadrope problem in this way. It took a long time but I can see that it was quite effective – there was no doubt the horse changed its mind about things and kept up with the handler no problem after the session.
I must say I am not so sure about doing loads of groundwork, which all the students seem to take as read that has to happen, but some things I’ve seen this week have been really good. Watching Harry get the horse to do small circles on the leadrope was excellent, and as I have already said, the ‘following the thought’ stuff was brilliant too.
Loads of good stuff really, could go on and on. If any non-horsey readers are still with me, well here is something for you. Me and Sarah are still together and still love each other Awwwwwwwwwwwwww. Yuk how sick-making!!!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

God Bless America

One thing I have learnt about working with horses is that it works better if you don’t worry about what might happen. If you really want to see this philosophy in action then take a trip to a rodeo – these guys have balls. When they lower themselves down onto the bulls in the bucking shoots they know they are going to be chucked off. They know even if they last the eight seconds they’ve still got to get out of there somehow – it’s a high stakes sport.

So the guys riding in the rodeo, probably more than anything I’ve seen so far, represent America for me. We’re not going to ‘talk this through’, we’re not going to consider the consequences, we’re just going to go for it. On our journey from Colorado through Arizona I have spent a lot of time thinking about how all these people ended up in this country. Over the last 300 years all the white guys streaming over the Atlantic to the east coast and spreading out over this vast area looking for opportunities to make a living. Little homesteads everywhere, mining towns, mountain passes, railways, settlements in the middle of nowhere – it’s a fantastically rich history all crammed in to a very short time.

And when the white man got here he only found out that someone was already here. The native Americans had this place working pretty well up till then – they must have got quite a shock seeing these desperate whiteys pitching up on their patch.

All my ideas of the history of the USA have come from the movies, so they’re probably pretty wide of the mark. But just meeting the people you get a picture of a fairly unsettled past. Pretty much everyone you meet is only too ready to tell you their history – half Irish, half Scottish, Scandinavian, Italian. Then there are the Black guys who I have hardly come across on this trip through the mid-west. And then there are the Indians – I only talked to one so far and he was trying to blag me for $8 to help get his wife and kids back to Albuquerque – I just bullshitted back to him as hard as he was bullshitting to me, but I watched his next client shell out what I guess was a $10 bill. And now there are the Indian Indians who have moved in on the motels and the convenience stores. For sure it is a multi-cultural society and I love that part about it.

One girl from the deep south was telling me about a phone call she had from her mother last weekend. ‘Well honey, do you know on Sunday a black came into our church. I got up and left, of course’. But generally speaking, at least around where we’ve been, they’re all getting along not too bad.

One thing that draws a lot of these people together is the horses. A lot of the rodeo riders are Indians, and a lot of the spectators are too. And at the second rodeo we went to in Salome there was a long line of Mexicans up against the rail, all the same size, about 5’ 6”, and all wearing base ball caps, and all with moustaches. I missed that photo, don’t know why.

And through it all is woven this really crackpot idea that somehow this is God’s country, and Jesus is looking after us all and so on. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with god – I actually believe in god myself, not the god most of these guys are envisaging, that’s for sure. This absolutely bizarre idea that America, the nation, is some special thing on this planet – where the f*** did that come from? When you listen to the prayers at the beginning of the rodeos its almost pathetic some of the stuff they are saying. Praying for ‘our boys out there in the middle east, fighting for freedom, so that they can come home and enjoy the rodeo, like we are privileged to be doing right now’. Were they always this bonkers or was it the twin towers that sparked off this crazy jingoistic crap?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not everyone, and even those that are caught up in it are nice enough people. I hope I’m never going to let stuff like that stop me from enjoying someone’s company. Funnily enough the only two times I really had to walk away from anyone in my whole life were when I ended up talking to religious fanatics. One was a fundamental christian in a tiny town in Wales, and the other was a fundamental muslim on a pavement in Manchester – I couldn’t find the heart in either of those guys.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Some technical difficulties

Hi Everyone (Vicus and Janey), No broadband here so posts may be sporadic this week. I will write them as I go. Been to two rodeos, met my cyber fiancee, and am now at Harry's. So much to tell - just need time and a connection.
Watched Harry work all day today with six horses and their owners. Interesting to watch his round pen work, especially after being involved with the Monty stuff a few years ago. Also because we are pretty specific about the purposes of our groundwork these days it is quite thought provoking to watch 'hooking on' and so on, not having done it for years ourselves.
Meeting Rosie was mind blowing, sweet lady - we are going to a halloween party with her and Brian, her husband, at the weekend.
As for the rodeos, I have loads of photos and am planning an englishman's guide to the 'greatest sport in the world' (their words not mine).

Friday, October 19, 2007


It's hot in Arizona!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ghost Town

We stopped for coffee in Jerome. It used to be a thriving mining town on the mountainside, but for several reasons the mining finished in the 1950s. The population dropped from 15,000 to a few hundred virtually overnight. Now it is populated by artists and writers, and pretty much all the shops are aimed at the tourist trade. It is a sweet place and we were happy to hang around there for a couple of hours.

We sat on a terrace and drank our coffee. I chatted to Ingrid, the owner of a kind of new age gift shop. She was about my age and she talked with a thick eastern European accent. It turned out she was from Budapest. I asked her what it was like living in Jerome. She explained to me that 800,000 people live in LA (I’m sure it’s more than that) and only 400 live in Jerome – there has to be some reason for that.
Ingrid’s philosophy of life was that whatever, life is difficult, and to live we have to learn survival strategies. I explained to her that my philosophy is that if you are alive it’s because you got lucky – sure life can be difficult but try to enjoy it best you can. She didn’t really buy into that but she did give it some thought.

I have been doing most of the driving and I am in need of a break. It is fun cruising along but also tiring. I wanted to press on to Wickenberg and pitch camp for a few days before we go to Harry’s. We pulled in to the tourist information (it saves so much time as they swamp you with leaflets, maps and ideas of what to do and where to go) and got details of the rodeo action here this weekend. Whahey, two rodeos to go to, plus other stuff too. This town is about mining and horses. There are tack shops everywhere. Tomorrow we are going to the rodeo grounds to try and get schedules so we don’t miss stuff.

Just to prove we been there

Doesn't show up so well in the photo, but it's Bedrock City. We didn't go in - I guess that's their loss, not ours.

Well we were passing so we had to go look. I absolutely freak at organised tourism, and guess what, this was no different. Thousands of people all ticking off the seventh wonder of the world in their 'Places I have been' books. Sarah wasn't well either so after about 15 minutes I was ready to punch someone.

We quickly retreated to our RV before I spoilt anyone else's day, and headed out into the glorious open space of America's highways. There is a kind of freedom that you feel 'drivin' down the highway'.

Anyway, ended up in Sedona on a beautiful quiet site with trees and shade. This part of Arizona is just beautiful. By the way, we saw our first cactus today too - it was an Opuntia Robusta, I know that cos I used to collect cacti.

Does anyone else find this progam irritatingly crap. I can't move this picture down so apologies for that. See now I can move it Grrrrrrr. Seeing the Indians has been a powerful experience for me - of course as I have already said, I am aware that is in large part because I have been carrying round a load of emotional stuff about them since I was a kid. So I wanted to get some shots of how they live now, mainly in scruffy little shacks in scruffy little settlements, but we left their land before I had the chance. Anyway, here is a shot of how they used to live - nice isn't it!

On our way back through New Mexico we will be travelling through Indian territory again - I will try to get the shots I want there.