Monthly Archives: February 2014

Flicking a v

A year ago today I landed at Heathrow for a ten day trip home and I haven’t been back since. How did that happen, where did that year go? It feels too long since my feet were on English soil and so now I’m having a yearning-fest about things I miss.  I don’t mean my friends and family, or my work or the specific detail of my home because all of that is particularly mine to miss (oh, and I do) and everyone has there own ‘particularly mine’ stuff that is to do with the who they’re without more than the what and the where to compare. So I’m meaning and dreaming of the things which are everyone’s there but no-one’s here. I’m sure there are loads, and you certainly won’t all agree with me, English or not, there or here or wherever you are, but here are four things on my list that might surprise you.

Flicking a v. Here, it’s up yours, giving the finger – the middle one, to be precise – but I think we all know that, it’s a universal gesture, or universally western perhaps. But flicking a v, that’s ours. You make a v with your index and middle fingers and stick it up provocatively, palm inwards, almost the same but opposite way round to the peace or victory sign. It means fuck off, of course,  but it’s only good to give if you know it’s going to be understood. Recently I went with my pal M [you’re in M :)] to see Jake Bugg playing in Houston. He’s from Nottingham, England and one of his songs is called ‘Two Fingers’, by which he means holding up two fingers, flicking a v, saying fuck off.  The audience swayed hippyishly giving the peace sign as he belted it out, and oh how we laughed knowingly, M and me.  I’d not given it much thought till then, but since have been missing using it, in jest and in anger and in sarcasm and in defiance and in all sorts of possibilities in between.  (It’s an ubiquitous flick of the wrist on the roads – as a cyclist, as a driver, as a pedestrian even – a dismissal of annoyance, minorly aggressive but in an ok sort of way – but which I couldn’t possibly use in even the slightest of road rage here just in case the sentiment were to be clearly understood and I found myself facing a gun.)

Ice cream vans. We all know the British Summer is often cold and wet (and, yeah, I know I know, last Summer was the hottest for ten years, I missed that too) but that doesn’t ever stop the beat. Apparently you get them here in the US (‘ice cream trucks’) but I’ve only ever seen hot food trucks. Or maybe I have seen one and just not noticed because it’s too appropriate, but I don’t think they drive round the houses and sit outside schools, and I’m absolutely sure you won’t come across one when it’s chilly. There’s something enticing, nostalgic, in your bones about the promise of an ice cream cone that the tune sings out whatever the weather, despite the weather.  Many a 99 (Cadbury’s Flake in a Mr Whippy basically) with raspberry sauce has been consumed in horizontal rain on the sea-front or in low cloud and drizzle at the end of a damp and miserable walk up a hill and down again.  Because in England there’s always a van there, just in case the sun does come out. And it might be a weedy, reedy, thin jangle piping out, but it was enough to get you worried as a kid that you’d see it disappearing round the corner as it wafted its way in and out of your local streets, sticky coins still in your grubby hands.  I’ve just had a little google, and apparently there are about 5,000 ice cream van chimes available in the UK! In my mind, it’s always Greensleeves – which, it turns out is one of the most popular along with Match of the Day and O Sole Mio (of course! Just One Cornetto!) – but not ever as soothing  and melodic a version as any of these examples. As I said, weedy, reedy and thin, and played way too fast. But there, and pleasing all the same.

Shopping trollies. Not supermarket shopping trollies/carts, but little trollies for the local shops that old ladies (never old men) pull along the pavement/sidewalk as they pop into the butcher’s to buy two rashers of bacon, a fabric basket on two wheels with a long handle. Occasionally you might see quite a trendy one and I have one myself, actually, purchased from the Eden Project in Cornwall, all eco-friendly and everything. Marvellous for transporting home the massive four rib of beef or what have you, even if your kids disown you as they walk right on by. I love mine (trolley that is). Or rather, loved it, symbolic as it and all the ankle-catching, door-jamming tartan ones being steered erratically by our mothers and grandmas are of the delightful if mundane pleasure of walking to the local shops, idly chatting to whoever you might bump into, chewing the fat, being the community.  And although I don’t love those see-through plastic rain … scarves? hoods? … head coverings, worn by same old ladies and just as redolent of neighbourhood life, yet even these, provincial and old hat (sorry) and unstylish (like the trollies) as they are, are familiar and missing (though not from my head you’ll be relieved to know).

Meat pies. Of course I could make my own and I have done so a couple of times. But I don’t really mean the home-made meat pies that feed a family for dinner with gravy (that’s dark brown, meaty meaty meaty gravy) and buttery boiled spuds and peas, although that’s to die for too, isn’t it? But no, actually I mean the little meat pies for one that you get from Gregg’s or petrol/gas stations (neither of these the best but pervasively on the high streets and roads of the land so there when you need them) or preferably from whatever little bakery you can find. Chicken & mushroom, steak & ale, steak & kidney, chicken & ham, ham & cheese, spicy lamb & potato.  I’d count Cornish pasties, sausage rolls, cheese & onion as well even though that’s veggie. Oh and pork pies, salty jelly and gooey pastry inside, crusty out.  Savoury. Meat. Not sweet. Not fruit. But meat. Pies.  I flick a v to ‘pot pie’ upstarts. You need pastry on the bottom too.

We heart holidays

A day or two ago I was having to watch the NBC coverage of the Winter Olympics because my VPN wasn’t connecting. [This means, in layman’s terms, no access to BBC tv or radio. Aaaaaaah, think Munsch’s Scream. I Screamdon’t know what it means in technical terms.]  Having watched two weeks of the London Olympics on NBC [swimming, swimming and more swimming, featuring American swimmers winning, winning and more winning] I was pleasantly surprised at the balanced coverage of Sochi. This is probably because there aren’t that many American competitors in the running for medals, and no one discipline is dominated by them but, hey, who cares why. And they even seem to be embracing the Canadians – there was a lovely back story about Alex Bilodeau and his inspiring brother Frederic.

Temporarily less panicked about my inability to watch or listen to the BBC, soothed by the slice of blade through ice and the dazzling performances, skies and whiteness, it was, sadly, too good to last, of course, this being America and that being American telly. Yeah, within five the ads interrupted. And then five minutes more, on they came again. And again. And again. And so on. How do the Americans stand it? If anyone American is reading this, can you tell me?  I know you can record what you want to watch and fast forward through the breaks but to my mind that’s just as disruptive, and in any case we haven’t got a recorder, and it’s not an option when you’re watching live sport either.

Somehow it’s become completely acceptable. To the point where the commercials during the Super Bowl are just as eagerly anticipated as the game itself, and take up more time – literally, actually, more time – than the 60 minutes of play. I mean, honestly!  And they were, by and large, mediocre – I know, I watched them, all 62 of them.  But hours and hours of media energy has been expended – before, during and after the game – on what they’ll be (yes, there are even sneak peaks) and which ones bombed – like it’s important to anyone but the food, finance and car companies paying for them.

So, anyway, there I was watching the snowboarders dropping in slope style  on NBC (get me, it’s all about the lingo this snowboarding thang), and on comes a car advert. I’ve actually forgotten which one  – think it might’ve been Chrysler, or was it Chevrolet, so probably one beginning with ‘Ch’ then? – but that won’t worry them because I’m definitely not their target market, not when I found it hilarious instead of being stirred to my soul as I think I was supposed to have been.  Get this: the premise of the ad was that it’s because Americans only take two weeks’ holiday a year that they get great things done, like landing on the moon and, well yes, building fab cars like the one being advertised.  There was a direct mickey-take of Europeans for taking “the whole of August off. That is OFF!” [I can’t promise to be quoting accurately but that was pretty much the line and the emphasis.]

Let’s just spend a min or two analysing this shall we, and then we can laugh together?

Now we all like a bit of a work ethic, I think, don’t we?  But it’s a big leap from working hard at whatever McJob you can get for 50 weeks of every year for a pittance to getting great things done as a nation. Of course not every job in the States is a poorly paid, manual, service one, but here more than anywhere in the developed world millions of these lowly-paid subsidise our cheap burgers, cheap processed food and cheap clothes through their below-the-living-wage incomes without much of a break. That’s a work ethic gone a bit mad.

Even if you’re adequately or well recompensed, there’s something called work-life balance that is quite a widely accepted thing for the rest of us non-Americans  to aim for as part of the whole package: that means some basic stuff like not just reasonable maternity leave but shared maternity/paternity leave choices, unionised workplaces which stick up for the workers in the face of the overwhelming power of major conglomerates. Oh yes, and enough time off so that we can get away for more than a long weekend at a time, don’t all have to crowd the beaches and shops and state parks at once, or stick our kids in holiday camps for 12 weeks. You might call it maintaining perspective, enjoying the fruits of one’s labours, staying sane, embracing life, all sorts of things that are wholly positive.  Plus I’m certain there’s some research somewhere that proves there’s a point at which work stops being efficient no matter how hard you try – maybe something like 40 hours a week for 46 or so weeks of the year?

Then there’s Detroit to have a little think about.

And then there’s the really funny bit.  We might not have made it to the moon, but between us Europeans we have managed to build the first submarines, cameras,  cars,  jet engines, thermometers, phones, radios, telescopes, fridges, gas turbines, trains, subways, and on and on and on I could go.  Of course the Americans have done loads, but so have we. And the Brits and the French – we built Concorde. Even though the French are particularly keen on lots of holidays.  Just saying.

There are many great things about the USA but its television coverage (of anything) is ruined by commercial breaks (too many) and the commercials themselves (usually rubbish, sometimes patronising, occasionally funny for the wrong reasons).  It’s really quite obvious, methinks:  the American people need more breaks, just not commercial ones. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)


This is 47

A friend on Facebook liked a blog recently by someone I don’t know called Emily Mendell, titled This is 45. As you might expect, it’s her take on being 45. Have a read, it’s very good (read the rest of this first though in case you get distracted and forget to come back). But it did make me wonder if I’m not that nice a person – is everyone as thankful and sympathetic as her? Probably not, but do you even wish you were? (You see, there I go, cynical and a bit sneery and not very kind.)

I really like her analogy that 45 is “the eye of life’s storm” – I can feel that calmness a bit in my soul, now I’m four decades in, my kids are grown and nearly flown and just fine, bobbling along in contentment with Mr N, our lives on the threshold of a new stage, good and bad stuff from the past all just here and part of me and us, acceptance (in principle anyway) that there’s likely a load of shit to come linked to old age, happy ignorance of anything worse that might hit.  But even this sounds a bit smugly saccharine  to me; nothing’s ever perfect and often, having a good day means just not thinking about the stuff that would spoil it. In my case, that means my poor Mum, in a nursing home of my choice and my making, with fury in her eyes, losing her mind and so very very cross with me without knowing why any more.

And some of Ms Mendell’s other stuff is way too benevolent  to recognise in myself. Take this para of hers:  “At 45 your tolerance for mean people hits rock bottom. Life is too short to spend any energy on bullies. They are easier to eliminate from your life, while also easier to understand. You can’t help but pity people who hurt so much they have to make others feel badly, but you are smart enough to do so from a distance.”  MEAN people? My tolerance for quite a lot of other sorts of folk has hit rock bottom – fools, bigots, Sun readers, anyone who is my age or younger and who voted for Thatcher (obviously that lets off anyone who isn’t in the 44-47 age range and British), anyone who voted for Tony Blair and Dubya after the invasion of Iraq (only Americans and Brits count here), people who have opinions on nothing, people who have opinions on everything, people who are always late. Oh, I could go on. Of course no-one likes a bully, but I don’t think you have to wait until you’re 45 to realise that, and you can do more than just pity them from a distance, you can tell ‘em outright exactly what for when you get to my age.  And as for mean people, well it all depends on what you mean by mean, but I think some of them can be quite entertaining can’t they?

So, for what it’s worth, here’s my take, though obvs as I’m two years older, this is 47:

It is embracing schadenfreude. It’s really funny when something crap happens to someone  you don’t like, as long as it’s not a painful or tragic kind of thing that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, if you had a worst enemy. But, it’s likely you won’t have a worst enemy, because being 47 is accepting that pretty much everyone you know is not so unpleasant that you’d actually describe them as an enemy.  In fact, on the contrary, it’s knowing that, mainly, people are fundamentally ok and just trying to get on in life as best they can, and the ones that aren’t usually have a deep-seated and horrible reason from their upbringing that explains it.  You don’t have to like all these ‘fundamentally ok’ people though.

Forty-seven is being mature enough to recognise that, although you do believe strongly that you’re usually right in your opinions (because after all you’ve had long enough to get informed), so does everyone else. It’s about enjoying the arguments, playing devil’s advocate, sometimes admitting you’re wrong (which you also now know is an inconsequential and easy peasy thing to do) and, when you can’t admit it, agreeing to differ.  And it’s about loving that difference – but only with those you want to, sod the rest who you don’t even have to talk to, let alone listen to their points of view if you don’t want to.  How much richer my life is for my friendships with two of the Ls in my life – yes, L(1), dyed-in-the-wool bloody Tory even though she’s a Brummie lass who should know better (lord knows we’ve tried to educate her), and L(2), who weirdly took a train from Derbyshire to London for the day to cry with a load of strangers and put flowers outside Kensington Palace when Diana died!!!  My precious, cock-sure, supercilious self at 20 would never have believed I’d be friends with people who behave like this.  By 47, you’ve long climbed down off your high horse.

At 47, I acknowledge that I’m a hypocrite.  I tell my kids not to be judgemental but I find myself judging people’s choices, personalities, politics, ethics, on the flimsiest of evidence, I can’t help it; my upbringing, my nature, my experiences all collide to colour my own and how I view others’.  I rant at bad drivers, then swerve past someone wildly or put my foot down to beat the red light.  I dislike hypocrites, I am one, I like myself. Life’s just not black and white.

Altruism = empathy + self-worth. I volunteer with the homeless, but my motives are mixed; it’s not just about ‘putting something back’ and feeling sorry for them, it’s just as much about not being seen to be idly privileged and superficial because that doesn’t fit my own idea of what I am. Forty-seven is being able to fine-tune who you want to be (at least when you’re idly privileged) and for that I am thankful.

There’s no denying it, 47 is way too near 50 and it makes you vain. It means never, ever again hanging upside down (I’m not sure why you would want to, but try it anyway and look at your face) and, for the same reason, avoiding going on top too often from now on.  It’s really not about dressing down, quite the opposite I think (sorry to disagree again with Emily).  For most of my life, certainly up to my 30s, I barely looked in the mirror, hardly wore make-up, ran my fingers through my hair to style it and dressed like a boy.  Now, I make much more effort with how I look, in and out of the house. When I face the mirror – overly frequently – I see every bulge, wrinkle, droop. Where once a couple of days without lunch would make a difference, now nothing does except a constant, relentless regime of exercise.  Forty-seven is accepting my lot, knowing that, to keep enjoying my food and drink, this is what has to happen. It comes to us all, fit or fat. By 47 you’ll probably have chosen one way or the other, but either way you know what you like and you’re gonna keep on doing it, guilt-free.  And if that means dancing to the Scissor Sisters, the kids will have to lump it.

Being 47 brings realism.  So, you weren’t a millionaire by the time you were 30, didn’t make the Man U first team or write that best seller, but you know now that you were never going to and it doesn’t matter any more (that was for the mid-life crisis a few years ago). No regrets, just an easy admission that luck, talent and effort all play their part and you probably just didn’t have enough of all three and that, anyway, 50’s the new 40 and you can set your sights anew, pragmatically lower this time round. Or not. Que sera sera.

And finally, it’s time for periods to stop.  After 34 years, less about four and a half for pregnancies and breast-feeding, every effing month for something like 354 months, who knows how many ruined pairs of knickers, and three grown children, just don’t need them any more. Had enough. Period. (Yeah, came on today.)

This is 47.


Making the most of it: here’s five ways how

My friend J (that’s the J in Houston not the J in Derbyshire) has got this ex-pat thing, well, off-pat.  She’s lived in about 10 countries in 15 years (I exaggerate, but not much) and she knows the deal. So, because all oil and gas roads lead to Houston at some point, she already had loads of friends before she’d even set foot back in the place (she’s lived here before, like every other person I’ve met) and had armies of them sorting her life out for her from afar – helping her choose which house she should buy, that kind of inconsequential thing – and within weeks of arriving at the end of Summer, she had the pool dug out, the landscapers in, the kitchen remodelled, and the house redecorated and furnished to her – it has to be said – exquisite taste. Gob-smacking, really.  We, in contrast, who have been here now for 18 months, live in a farrago of landlord-owned, rented and Ikea furniture, accessories and decor, none of which is particularly nice and some of which – the excess ofIMG_1288 occasional tables and the shield and swords fixed abidingly to the wall in the alcove in the hallway (see for yourself, right) particularly spring to mind – are downright horrible. Obviously, although I do like her, J can never be allowed to set foot in my house.

Her ferocious but fantastic home-making has, however, set me thinking about how to make the most of your time in a place and frankly, there’s no getting away from it, you need to make a bit of an effort.  Of course J is not the only one who’s bought (or even rented) a house and made a lovely home out of it, because that’s a really solid, anchor-dropping way to get started with your new life.  But there are other important things too.

If number one is nesting, then I would put getting out of your comfort zone at number two. For the kids and the working spouse, that sort of happens automatically –  they have to hit the ground running in a new school / new workplace with strangers for friends and colleagues. For those of us trailing in the wake, the easy thing to do is schlepp around with like-minded people and lunch out a lot, but getting a job yourself or volunteering takes you to situations in the company of folk that you wouldn’t otherwise readily reach.  Personally, I have had one or two of the funniest as well as eye-opening as well as scariest experiences (think big fat security man who has loaded gun in holster in plain view of a desperate, down-on-their-luck, hungry and possibly out-of-their-minds clientele, and who couldn’t possibly run fast or react quickly if someone who was, just say, pissed off or paranoid, jumped on him) while helping out at Search. I’ve also made two good friends from there, one of whom owns four guns, is a raging Republican, who has twice lent us her waterside Lake Livingston house (and speed boat!!) for the weekend, and whose wedding I’m invited to. Not bad at all.

Number three in my book is socialising with the locals. Whether that’s with Susie, above, or the bunco belles, or our nextdoor neighbours, I’ve done a bit of that, though it’s not so easy to meld in when your kids go to an international school so I only get half a tick for this one.  Pals with kids at American schools get pulled into the social whirl of sports and play dates and holiday cook-outs more easily, and there’s nothing like it for getting under the skin of your community. I’m a bit envious.

Next would be, I think, embracing the culture. Undoubtedly, meeting and getting along with your  kids’ [American] school friends’ families is a great way to get going. But for those of us without easy opportunities to do this, then we’ve just got to bravely take a bite – literally and metaphorically. Here in Houston, you could just about stick with fish and chips if you wanted to, but with the world’s cuisine at every possible price and quality range available, why would you? And even if you don’t much like brisket and steak and bbq and Tex-Mex, and brunch with bacon and maple syrup options, you gotta try eating it out and cooking it at home. Oh yes, and the Velveeta and Miracle Whip and Twinkies and a corn dog (retch) at least once. And then there’s the sport (high school, college, national) you can watch, the live music scene, the galleries and museums, theatre, cinema, church/temple/synagogue (doesn’t matter if you don’t believe, in fact I would say it’s probably better that way) and – here in Houston at least – a bit of two-stepping, dance, opera, and a full-blown symphony orchestra.  We’ve done some of these things, but in particular as a family have developed a serious cinema habit – because we can eat a meal and drink beer and wine at our seats, and not only that, we can delight in the very American and unselfconscious out-loud oohs and ahs and exclamations and applause  that doesn’t quite happen in the same way at home.  Same films, different reactions.  I guess I should lump in TV  and radio here with getting culturally submerged, too, but have to admit that  we’ve been a bit crap when it comes to US telly (of course, excepting all the fabulous stuff we already watched and/or can get on DVD or Netflix like Madmen and the consummate Breaking Bad). Although we pay the equivalent of a mortgage for our Comcast ‘bundle’, I still can’t find my way round all the channels without the help of F and R and, when I did find the latest series of Madmen, any smug enjoyment I got from being on it a full series and six months ahead of Sky in the UK was quickly killed by the hideous intrusion of the adverts.  We’re a bit better about the radio now I’ve found the Houston NPR station (talk radio, nearest equivalent to Radio 4) but we’re mainly hooked up to our vpn and our beloved BBC and nothing else can compare.  [Sorry, hands over ears, la la la la la, not listening to anyone who says otherwise; in this opinion I’m blinkered and unmoving.]

On to my number five, then: take part in an event. Between us, we’ve kayaked in the Buffalo Bayou Regatta, cycled several road races and two big fundraisers, and run in two half marathons, one five-miler and one relay.  We haven’t necessarily performed at our peak (I speak for myself at least) but my, my we’ve shelled out in entry fees and sponsorship, witnessed first-hand the flag-waving, chest-thumping, Star-Spangled-Banner-belting patriotism, warmed to the generous and open crowd-cheering support [“good jarb”], felt the weight and quality of our finishers’ medals and t-shirts, and been amazed at the slickness, style, swirl and scale of the organisation. This is what Americans do well! (In the UK, no-one gives a monkeys how you’ll get you/your bike/your boat back home, your medal’s lightweight and plastic, your t-shirt’s baggy, cotton and only good for wearing in bed, and you most certainly don’t get beer a mile before the end and an ice-cream sandwich at the finish line.)

So that’s it, my get-along-in-Houston philosophy: to make the most of a place you’ve got to embrace the difference; to embrace the difference you’ve got to know the difference; to know the difference you’ve got to get off your lazy arse and find it.  But then when you’re done, you’ve got to be able to come home in it, whether home is yours and perfect, or borrowed and imperfect. We might not quite have managed to do that bit so well as others (a load of books and board games, a few photos, pictures and knick-knacks which came with us alongside a couple of new prints, a chess set and a funky glass fruit bowl – which, frankly, is actually very nice – doesn’t quite wash) but the BBC helps with our homeliness and we’ve ticked or half-ticked some of the other boxes so it feels like we’re getting on ok, to me. But that doesn’t mean J can cross my threshold yet.


Is this the way?

Given that I’m 47, I really don’t care too much how many likes I get for my Facebook posts. Honestly, I don’t, I am old enough and mature enough to be able to judge my own worth – good or bad – in other less transient, more steadfast ways, such as how many lunches I get invited to in a week. (Joke.) No, no, seriously, I mean, I have friends I can count on (and in more than one country!), I could earn myself a decent living if I had to (yeah, I know I don’t actually do that just right now but I would and will again), my children are pretty well-balanced and amiable and capable of conversing with adults and have friends, Mr N and I still get along.  That kind of real life thing. But it does suck you in a little bit, this social media lark, doesn’t it?

So, let me tell you about my most liked post to date.

It was this picture, with the caption ‘Is this the way?’.  If you’re from the UK, or you’ve lived there any time recently, then you won’t need any explanation so skip the rest of this paragraph (unleIs this the way?ss you can’t resist clicking on the link below for a singalong… oh go on, you can’t help yourself, can you..). The song “Is this the way to Amarillo” has been a hit for Tony Christie twice – first time round in about 1971 but second time around MASSIVELY in 2002 as part of that year’s Comic Relief. Quite how it – and more precisely the accompanying video featuring Peter Kay – captured the zeitgeist bang on and took the whole country by storm is difficult to express in a mere sentence. But it did. Everyone was not only singing the song, but marching idiotically to it too, everywhere. (Watch the vid.) And oh, how we laughed when Ronnie Corbett fell off the running machine.

Now, two things are interesting about this. One is that the video features, among very many other people, Jimmy Savile, since dead and disgraced as a rampant paedophile, so you’ll have noticed, if you’ve watched it lately, that there’s now a paedo warning – yes, for this, the nation’s favourite schmaltz-fest!  Alongside all our fave Coronation Street stars, children’s presenters, has-been comedians,  ventriloquists and their puppets – Rod Hull and Emu, Keith Harris and Orville the Duck, I mean, I ask you? – and even Mr Blobby. We really don’t need to be warned off, this is quite simply a visual metaphor for a country gone a bit loopy and proof of Britain’s deep-seated attraction to trash, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. Just wrinkle your nose up in distaste for the few moments when Savile’s strutting his stuff (ew, that tracksuit!) but don’t let it spoil the tripey joy of the rest of it.

The second thing is that, despite Amarillo being in Texas, I’ve not met a Texan yet who’s ever heard the song. (I have marched and sung several times to uncomprehending stares.) I thought it was a world-wide smash! And I thought Tony Christie was American, possibly even Texan to boot! It was on the basis of these meagre and fallacious facts that my boys and I dreamed up our visit to Amarillo.  So before we knew it, the day was dawning on a Texas Sunday morning, some time late last year, when the pull of the song became too strong, and off we set on our mini road trip.

Ten hours’ driving time – with, along the way, an overnight stop in Abilene (home to Frontier Texas!, an acclaimed museum which was closed), lunch in a diner in Lubbock (birthplace of Buddy Holly, death row for culture), and a night in a cabin in Palo Duro Canyon State Park (a bit of a wow – a sudden slash of red out of the flat blue sky and brown land for miles around it and, indeed, the second biggest canyon in the States)  – we got there.

At which point, and only then, we wondered why.  Turns out, Mr Christie’s a Brit, and the only reason he sang about Amarillo was because it rhymes with pillow.  Hmm, should’ve checked beforehand maybe? A brief summary of the Wikipedia entry for the city kinda says it all:  there’s a public library, it used to have a thriving theatre which is now a parking lot, and Route 66 ran through before it was removed from the United States Highway System back in the 80s. Now it has Interstate Highway 40, alongside which we were staying for what turned out to be a very long evening and night in the Big Texan Steak Ranch Motel, right next to the Big Texan Steak Ranch itself where, overlooked by a vast model T-Rex with cowboy boots on its short forelimbs, if you want to you can eat a 72″ steak, and if you manage it within an hour you get it free. We didn’t try.

To be fair, we had quite a fun time in Amarillo – there is the Cadillac Ranch just on the outskirts – also next to the I-40 – and a quirky little free RV museum which Trip Advisor helped us out with – and we got a bit hysterical holed up in our motel room reading out the Wiki highlights.  We can say we’ve now been to the Texas Panhandle.  As well as the canyon on the way there, we squeezed in a stop in Dallas on the way home too. So back home and all things considered, we agreed, my boys and me, that our little adventure was a success.  And not least (for me) because it proved the source of my most popular Facebook post yet.

High hopes, then, have I for our forthcoming Breaking Bad road trip on the basis that this time, the whole world will get it. Not that I care or I’m counting of course…