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Episode 17

Before you read any further, or indeed at all, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Thank you.

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Paradise Koh Yao – the hotel was booked on a whim. I had seen no details before arriving, my mind being more preoccupied with improving my chipping in golf having gone over 100 at the premier course Laguna. I was reminded that it was in 30 degrees and 90% humidity, but that really did nothing to alleviate the guilt of disastrous close to the green golf. Guilt was also the emotion that Jo was experiencing as we managed to cling on to the hand rails of the flat back taxi as it bounced its way through a national forest come rugged rubber plantation along a rutted, potholed track worthy of any off-road 4×4 competition. This is the track that Jeep could well use in their next commercial enticing us to leave the tarmac for a more adventurous drive. An important difference here being that it wasn’t a Jeep, I have no idea of the make of the vehicle, probably a homemade pimped ride, although that conjures the wrong idea. Nothing pimped about this little jalopy, and the other important difference…. I wasn’t driving.

In addition to guilt, Jo, now 25 minutes into this off road jaunt, was feeling like a hostage. She kept muttering to me, between seat departures, of our impending doom at the hands of Thai bandits. I made efforts to calm her by insisting this guy knows a short cut to the hotel and that it couldn’t be the only road in. There was no one going in the other direction, or indeed was there anyone else going in our direction. I could see how Jo came to the swift conclusion that we had suddenly become a prize and worth a substantial amount of Bahts.

Forty minutes into the unplanned, unexpected excursion, I was irritated. I had had enough. I kept peering through the window that separated us from the anonymous driver, expecting to see a clue as to where we might be, but the view was plastered with information inviting us to check the indentity of the driver. Too late for that I thought. And was that a gun on the bench seat next to him? The vehicle slowed to a halt. A chap in uniform and holding a clip board came to the back of the taxi. “Name please?” He said. It felt like checking into a Japanese POW camp. Not that I know how that felt, but that’s the power of the moving image for you!

After the bahtering over the taxi fare and finalising it we duly turned to witness, finally, a symbol of western civilisation, the golf cart or buggy as we might say in Blighty! Driven by a young Thai, in the same uniform as the chap previously, loose fitting turquoise trousers and a white T-shirt, carrying the Paradise logo. Relief. We shall not be witnessing each others demise at the hand of a crazed Thai kidnapper. The young driver placed his hands together, in front of his face, and bowed in reverence to our presence. We both responded with our own versions of hello and thank you, and so joined the ranks of pathetic brits abroad!

The cart loaded we took to the winding narrow path between the purpose built cottages. Some single others two storeys. Deep in the jungle vegetation I was reminded of Patrick McGoohan in the Prisoner series. I know that was filmed in England’s SW but it had that feel, although not now, a few days later, this is very much a jungle hideaway. We arrived at reception to more praying hands and bowing heads. I do like it and would want to take it home, but fear the intolerance and lack of understanding.

Once sat in the deep cushioned bamboo chairs with a glass of alcohol free cocktail I knew this place was special. I checked with the receptionist. She confirmed that our road was indeed the only road to the hotel. Special. The only other route, by boat. Special. There was a quiet serenity which enveloped me. No canned musac. No crying children. No loud guests. No phones blurting unwontedly. Was there a rule about noise pollution that we were about to sign into?

It was actually – peaceful.

With paperwork concluded our quiet buggy and allotted driver took us the short trip to our room. The road twisted and turned through the jungle. It was too quick to appreciate the myriad of plants. Later, perhaps. Our man opened up a new world for us. Special. Passing through the door, on our right, outside, stood a large vase with water, floating flowers and a coconut shell handle for dousing down your feet, following time on the beach. The air conditioning was on and the wall of coolness came as some relief. The four poster bed, was romantically draped with white netting. Presumably, to ward off mosquitoes. Hadn’t seen or heard any since we had arrived!

This was a delightful room. With the colour scheme of the uniform being echoed in the rooms, alongside faded blue and driftwood, naturally, the ambience created was once again Special. The shower was of particular interest to me. Situated down a couple of steps, it opened to a, what one would call nowadays, wet room. The biggest difference, which was the interesting point for me, was there was only three walls. You could, if the mood took, and it just did with me, take a shower, essentially in the open. There was a fourth wall, for all you theatre buffs out there, which folded out to separate you from the open patio with table and swing chair, if you declined the opportunity for exhibitionism. I actually felt quite safe as each cottage has a certain degree of heavy foliage and large leaved plants and trees to conceal such moments of holiday bravado.

The beach is a crescent shape, with pier at one end and yoga room at the other. In between is housed three small restaurants, two bars, infinity pool, dominated by folk who love to throw their towels down at first light, massage huts, a wonderful spa, activity centre, large lily pond, palm trees, beach furniture, bamboo hammocks slung randomly between trees. And that is it. Essentially, one way in and one way out. Long tail boat. This is an idyllic situation. A haven. It is called paradise, and aptly named. Whilst I contend that paradise is a state of mind and not a holiday resort, whoever conceived this spot to be what it is, the careful planning, design; interior and exterior has moved me towards that intended state of mind.

I would recommend, unreservedly, this as a destination for a complete short break. I am here in June, the off season. The weather has been very kind, naturally humid, but sunbathing and swimming has been the agenda every day of the four.

We are fully rested. All four core aspects of a healthy life have been touched, rejuvenated, enriched and enlivened. At this point, I must mention the Thai massage I had on the beach. Just the best thing ever. I was tight in places, stiff neck and aching back. Today, 24 hours later, I feel as loose as soup through a fork!

Thai’s can undo those knots!

Episode 16

Los Angeles is best experienced with your back to it and waving from your open top rental crawling along route 405 towards the Pacific Coast Highway Route 1. Nothing would take me back except perhaps a film role! The Pacific Coast is quite a spectacle. The ocean is a moving majesty. The rolling breakers curl into glistening foam as they find their temporary home on the shore. The route weaves in and out around the coves and finds occasion to be interrupted by settlements. Morro Bay is a pretty place which has a claim to fame, that being, it has an extinct volcano in the centre of the bay itself. It stands proud and as you stare at the fallen moulted rock down its side from the store-littered board walk, the chorus of elephant seals provides a constant fanfare.

Further along the coast, one is tempted to turn right and visit America’s castle. High on the ridge towering over all below, stands Hearst Castle. The unfinished dream of media giant William Randolph Hearst can be seen from PCH 1. It’s majesty, designed by Julia Morgan, and conceived by Hearst on his travels to European castles, matches the ocean over which it looks, in San Simeon. A trip there would take too much time out of our day. Suffice to say a glimpse in awe paid due respect to one man’s dream.

The coast road is so inspiring that stopping and starting can be an issue in achieving travel progress. Our GOal (I use two capitols by choice – no typo) for the day was downtown San Francisco but the beauty and spectacle revealed at each bend in the road had us leaping out to embrace such perfect little moments, all to often. It was decided to be more selective, erring on perhaps, perfect bigger moments, affording the time to make the required progress and enjoying the perfect littler moments from the vehicle.

One of those bigger moments was discovered soon after San Simeon. Thousands, yes thousands, of elephant seals formed an up-turned carpet of shiny blubber. The sight was amazing, shocking, surprising, spectacular. Most of all it was Nature, close to. The seals, huge, by the way, basked belly-up in the Californian sunshine. This was their territory. This is where they played, chased, rested and it was obvious some were breeding too. The noises were that, that you might hear, if you collected thousands of grandads, swung them in hammocks, to sleep, side by side in a row, about half a mile long, having first given them all a couple of pints of Guinness. It was actually a comforting sound. A carefree sound. A most natural and wonderful experience. Moving….which is what we had to do. This stop represented a perfect HUGE moment and as such we had invested more time than perhaps we should. But what an investment!

We arrived at Big Sur, in the characteristic mist, only to discover the road north was closed due to several land slides and heavy rain. It would not open until next year. Next year, my inner voice screamed! Having filled the tank and bought the obligatory “sticker” for Jo’s marvellous scrap book, we were informed the only way to reach our intended destination, at a sensible hour, was to travel back, south, for an hour, east for an hour, and north to San Francisco for a further four hours. How many perfect little or larger moments might we need to ignore to keep to the schedule?

Driving was easy, is easy, is enjoyable.

We reached San Francisco during, in-aptly named “rush hour”! Twelve lanes of motorcars dawdling in both directions is a stark reminder of how we, as humans, are living. What are we doing? What a total and utter waste! Something has to give. I reflected on the carefree lives of elephant seals. A horn blasted. Am I in the right lane? Good question.

San Francisco, much like its counterpart, from whence we came, was full. Filled with people, cars, skyscrapers, noise, smoke, steam, heat, commercialism and the race to survive. We did it in a day basically. Enough is enough. Cities and me are not friendly bed pals. Open spaces allow you to breathe, reflect and invest time in thought. The boat trip on the bay allowed some well needed respite. The sun, the sea, the spray, the easy movement through the waves. We motored under the Golden Gate, around Alcatraz and back to more elephant seals honking at the dock. A rather splendid hour, followed by a rather splendid meal at the Hard Rock, before bed and an early start back the LAX for the flight to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong gone.

Well what a place! The high-rise capital of the world, I would suggest. The city of over 7.5 million people, all of whom seem to be on the streets or on the MTR (underground) and so probably the most densely populated city on the planet. It is literally a 24 hours a day rush hour. Add to that the relentless heat and humidity, the curious absence of green spaces, the curious absence of space even, and one could be left with the distinct feeling of “Help! Get me out of here!”

The towering blocks of boxed apartments appear to compete for the ever diminishing ground space and so reach for the sky. Acres of the highly priced real estate are crammed with ever increasing multiple digits of domesticity that gasp for air with very new level of rented accommodation. Look anywhere, turn in any direction and you will see row upon row, block upon block of bland concrete monoliths each celebrating symmetrical , and yet untidy and busy patterns, of windows with clothes randomly hanging out to dry. This never ending sight was bewildering. I became transfixed with the vision of “so many”. So many. So obviously, many.

This “so many” transferred its presence to the Mass Transit Rail; their rather splendid and highly efficient underground system. It is probably the best way to travel around the entire area, Hong Kong, Kowloon and all stations north south east and west. It is quick, clean and and comfortable. No food or drink is allowed on the MTR. At first thought, my feelings greeted this law. Upon reflection, I wondered about it’s significance in the wider spectrum of the society. The stations are long, very long, multi-levelled, eminently signed, colourful, architecturally interesting and always busy with “so many”. The “so many” find their way around with great ease. They seem to navigate the escalators, platforms, twists and turns of passageways and stairs using a onboard navigation system as, just about all of them, have their heads down with faces glued to a small screen and thumbs twitching rapidly connecting with another world. Everyone travelled at the same speed. No one rushed. The multi headed monster manoeuvred reassuringly to its multi various destinations. Calling it a rush hour, which I did earlier, was a little in appropriate, that was by virtue of numbers, not the haste, hustle and bustle associated with the rush hours of London, Paris or New York. This was more an enlightened hour, or dare I say, a conditioned hour? The total reliability and efficiency of the system is expected. The service is expected to work. There is no need to rush. If you rushed it might appear that you are bucking the trend, you are not grateful for the service and the people who run it. The stations and platforms are littered with uniformed staff, gesturing with open palms and hand held signs, the direction to follow, ensuring your pleasant and safe, unencumbered journey.

An enlightened way to travel, perhaps.

Big Buddha sits 34 metres high. Made from bronze, the most impressive sculpture guards its people by looking north over China, high in the mountains on Lantau island. Situated at the Po Lin monastery, the dignified manner of the Buddha, whose hand is raised in peace to all, is perhaps a reminder that all will be OK. Peace. Have Faith in your God.

Our travels continue as the UK enters a scary time in it’s history. The country is home to a divided nation. The wrong result today will cause further division, anguish, dissatisfaction and deep social unrest. Should anyone be reading this, be reminded of Big Buddha’s right hand of peace to all.

Episode 15

Come Monday, when Chelsea just about clinch the title for this year, by winning over Middlesbrough, it will be three weeks to our departure from Fairhope, Alabama, USA. Curiously, those who know me well, just a few, will know that I challenge the concept of “hope” as being anywhere near a positive and helpful emotion. Rather it gives up on human potential and resorts to “fingers crossed”. Well we know ourselves to be far better, far richer in potential and abilities, than crossing our fingers to ensure something we want or need to happen, actually does. We can actually make it happen, whatever the it is. WHATEVER, THE IT IS. We can cross our fingers too if we believe that might have an effect. Why not? The Bible tells us we can “ask to receive” and yet, even more curiously, that very same book is riddled with “hope”….fingers crossed!

Anyway, the idea of naming a town called Fairhope is interesting to me. It actually sounds quaint, on the romantic level, but on another level it sounds quite disappointing. Contrary to that, however, my time here has been quite awesome. And I must say, I like awesome.

I wholly recommend extended stays, anywhere.

The time and space of being an a-responsible person is highly liberating. Being able to leave the humdrum of normal life and to experience a new life with new visions, in a different time zone, a different culture, a different climate makes way for new thoughts and quite exciting possibilities. It is rather like that tall wardrobe with the top shelf out of reach, you eventually fumble around in the dust and detritus and rediscover personal possessions. You give them new light, a polish-off, a clean-up and they become better than before.

It is happening here, to me in Fairhope. My spiritual self has been moved from that dusty old shelf and plucked into a brand new world, where it is going crazy. It loves the freedom and the disciplines of thought.

Many years ago I purchased a book by Norman Vincent-Peale. He was a man of the clergy who professed and evangelised from the rooftops of America THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING. I read that book over and over, highlighting quotes and sections until the marker ran dry. It seemed the answer to my problems, the worlds problems, everyone’s problems. My efforts soon took me into a new world of looking at “things” differently. My curiosity, however, was not satisfied. I wanted what I perceived to be personal power. Upon reflection, it became much too hard. Life in all its negative forms kept bombarding me, everyone, and so the results of what I had set out to achieve did not materialise. I looked at the martial arts and discovered I should repeat to myself  “the power of the universe” when punching a block in two. It would give me the power I needed to forget the pain and succeed at the block-punching. How stupid! My very good friend and I laughed at the very idea. Power of the universe indeed!

My search for personal power, success, wealth and so on, continued. I bought more “self-help” books. Book shops have row upon row nowadays. There weren’t so many, back then. Emile Coue, Napoleon Hill, Zig Ziggler, James Allen, and many other authors found their way to my shelves. Even the Bible was not overlooked as a wonderful source of inspiration, and still is.  What is quite absolutely wonderful is, they all say the same. But it was still too hard for me to actually practice what they all preached. Life, the world, the media was way overpowering in negativity that I caved-in and resorted to simple, as far as possible, positive thinking. I use phrases such as “Success Comes in Cans”, which folk attribute to me because I use it so much, but it was one Joel Weldon, an American Keynote Speaker, who created that. One of mine is “There is only one IF in life, between the L and the E” followed closely by another of mine “Results Not Excuses”. More recently, perhaps over the past 2 or 3 years, I have resorted to a simple statement “All News is Good News”, which, generally, doesn’t go unchallenged and discussions ensue. However, for me, it encapsulates a wholly positive and sunny outlook, and what is wrong with that?

Well, here in sunny Fairhope, Alabama, USA, I can report Positive Thinking doesn’t come close to what I have discovered. I admit thinking positively is a useful tool towards battling the negativity with which we are bombarded, however, positive thinking is very much a reactionary attitude. We are hit with situations, daily problems, and we react positively to them. That provides us with a wonderful way of handling them, turning them around into opportunities, just like all the positive thinking books advocate. But how cool would it be to actually NOT be a receiver of life but the creator of life? Not be a reactor to life but a pro-actor of life? To be able to create the life you choose? To have the control? To have that power? That inner power to create whatever you choose? This is not something saved solely for the wealthy elite, not by any means. And this is not pie-in-the-sky stuff either. This is very, very real and boy am I excited.

I think you would agree, we are, and our lives reflect, the sum total of our thoughts and experiences. We have to be, who else can be responsible? With that said, I am in my second month here in the US, with just three weeks to go, before jetting off to Hong Kong, Phuket, Thailand, Sydney, Australia, and then New Zealand (North and South Islands) for a further four months. It didn’t just happen. The thoughts have been there for sometime, finding the way for it to happen.

What I have discovered and what I continue to be amazed about, is that which my friend and I laughed about all those years ago. I am thankful, now, I have rediscovered that power.

 

Episode 14

If you believe that you are responsible for everything that happens to you, and I do, and that your life is the perfect reflection of your thoughts, again I do, then I am not sure what I was thinking when I was pulled over for speeding, apparently doing 64mph in a 45mph zone. Easy to do I might add, on these roads. Looking back at the series of events that occurred moments earlier, I now know why it happened and I should have known.

I was driving Hayley’s car, a black thing, much like my Honda at home. We had collected Jake from Steve and Kathy’s house. They had been looking after him whilst Jo and I did some gallivanting around Gulf Shores. We had taken the day out to visit FloraBama, a pub on the border of Florida and Alabama. A rather splendid establishment bedecked with bras and bikini top’s donated by willing customers, I presume. We did stay for a drink and I make the observation that we were not there long enough to witness the number of ladies attire increase. Or if it did, I must have been looking out to sea, across the wide expanse of beach, bathed in beautiful sunshine. The guy playing live on stage, to a limited number of audience, I hold responsible for our early departure. Even my lean knowledge of music enticed me away. The potential sight of a bra donation could not keep me in my seat any longer. One final long slurp of the ice-cold “bushwhacker” and we were gone. Next stop Alabama Point, a long strip of sand dunes and beach-head with the intention of it being host to our backs  for a spell of sun worship. To arrive at any beach, it seems, having parked the car, is along a boardwalk. Most meander their way across dunes, reeds and possible swamp to the desired soft and fluffy sandy beaches. Life is made easy to go to the beach. Some of these beach board walks have foot showers, full showers and even changing rooms and “bathrooms”. This current boardwalk, didn’t. It was just boards and we were walking. We found a flat spot OF sand near the water’s edge. Unfurled our Chelsea blanket, made from about 12 Chelsea flags, and nestled into the peace of the environment. And it was peaceful. Despite quite a few “others” the space was enough to accommodate at least a million more people. The gentle rhythm of the sea became mesmerising. I put my head down for tanning and mind work, mildly cursing the failed muso at the pub for clashing with our visit! All news is good news.

Laying in the sun is not, perhaps, a recommended pastime.  The benefits of vitamin D, however, are undoubtedly recognised, and this was an ideal opportunity to indulge in a little of what is good for you. My regulation factor 50 for forehead and nose was applied, whilst my torso and limbs quite happy with factor 15. The gentle breeze, the lapping of the waves, the warmth of nature enveloped me. I was at peace, both physically and more importantly, mentally.

Time has a tendency to be still on such hedonistic moments. The minutes passed with some ease and the enjoyment lingered through until it was snack time. A homemade sandwich of cheese, turkey and salad accompanied by some very tasty Chex Mix, all washed down with a bottle of the most recent Evian, a classic vintage option for lunch in the sun.

After a tad more post snack sun worship, the time had arrived for us to vacate our temporary heaven. Collecting our beach-clobber together we found our way towards the meandering boardwalk. En route, in an unpopulated area of beach, we found ourselves being unofficial witnesses to a beach wedding. The bride and groom stood side by side, in beach apparel, facing their chosen, just as casually dressed, “pastor”. He stood in front of a small table which was home to three jars, two filled with sand and one without. Flanking the table were two large lanterns. Not showing any signs of flame-life. Well it was mid afternoon on a blisteringly hot day on a beach covered with a cloudless blue sky. The lanterns were decorative. Not so their 9 year-old son who was in attendance, but busy playing in the sand at their feet. No guests. No-one else but us Brits…oh and the female photgrapher.

In reverence to the moment, we stopped and put our junk down and became involved in the romance of the occasion. We could not hear the words clearly but the actions of rings to fingers and the symbolic pouring of the two measures of sand into one told us what was happening. They kissed. We spontaneously applauded and cheered. It was indeed very special. We entered their ceremonial space and congratulated them, explained how romantic it was and how privileged we felt to be unexpectedly a part of their, what turned out to be, elopement. We wished them well and would love to find them on Facebook in due course.

Our smiles were as long as the beach. The sand-walk was made so much easier to the boardwalk. We were still smiling, 30 minutes later, as we arrived at Steve and Kathy’s house to collect Jake before heading home to Fairhope.

We naturally retold the story of the wedding ceremony before we loaded the boy into the car seat for the trip home. Chatting to Steve prior to departure, he asked how I found the roads and the driving. I explained how easy I found the transition and I felt “just like a local”. It was this phrase that determined the next passage of approximately 10 minutes. That very thought. That single thought, steeped in emotion of confidence, wrapped with the emotion of joy previously evoked by the wedding, dictated the next 10 minutes of my life.

Believe me, if you don’t think that your thoughts determine your destiny, change your thinking, because they do. Short and long-term.

There was a sense of urgency as I crossed the freeway at the lights, needing to be home before Jake woke up. I was being a local. I felt like a local. I was enjoying the feeling of being a local as I saw, on the other side of the road, a police patrol car travelling towards me. I didn’t think to check my speed, but as we passed each other, in the rear view mirror I saw him, I assumed it was a him, turn on the intimidating red and blue flashing lights as he swung the “black and white” around in the road to be on my side. He was now travelling towards us. Gaining on us. My immediate thought was, as I slowed down, that he had a call to attend a local incident, and he would sail by me and the sirens would make that change of sound noise as they pass. No. I was wrong. He was tailing me. This was a real life scene from some American TV series. It is rather strange that without any verbal communication, just the sight of a police car behind you, with its lights flashing and quick single whirrr of the siren is enough to halt you at the next convenient spot on the road. In this case, just past one of the many churches that litter this area. No help there, I thought!

I was parked, engine running, eyes focussed on the shadowy figure in the police car behind me. He hadn’t moved. Eerie. Threatening. Running checks? I stayed in the veeHicle, as one is supposed to do, according to Hollywood. He’ll like me. I’ll use my best and proper English accent, just enough to let him know that I am English, rather than Australian, which is a popular guess around these parts, and not too much to insult him.

It seemed ages. Time does not have the tendency to be still on these far from hedonistic moments. He finally made his move. His door swung open. He had found out what he needed to find out. He had the advantage. The knowledge. His steps were slow and deliberate. He moved to the passenger side of Hayley’s car. I fumbled for the swtich to send the window down. It went with the sound and speed of tension. And there he stood, sideways on, gun holster away from the car, right hand ready to move for it, left hand leaning on the door, straight armed.

“Did you know this was a 45 mph road, sir, and you were doing 64 mph?”

“I had absolutely no idea officer, I am so sorry.”

He then requested driving licence and insurance. With those in hand he returned to his car for another endless few minutes. During that time the air was rich with different scenarios about what would happen next. Instant on-the-spot fine? A warning? Ignorance can fuel imagination. Had we done enough to play the English card or was it a spell in Shawshank?

The square-shaped, powerfully built, black police officer, strode back to the passenger window, still open, engine running, keeping the AC blasting with cool, cool air, in this hottest of moments. Some papers flapped in his hands.

He assumed his previous position against the car. I noticed his name badge, Officer Martyn Nicely. He spoke again, clear and informative, with no room for discussion.

“Sir, I’m gonna let you off this time. Please read this before you set off. Enjoy the rest of your journey. Have a good one.”

He strode back to his patrol car. I watched him sink into his seat as I returned the window to up, putting a close to this event.

Martyn, nicely done. I salute you.

 

Life? Tornado? War?

I have realised, yet again, that life, and the way it is lived, certainly in the Western world, and by Western world, I mean the Capitalist society, is all about face. The time that I have been afforded to do what I am doing, has been earned, by virtue of the investment of energies and skills which has been compensated by a certain level of wage. An income; money, which I am free to spend on what is required to sustain mine and my family’s life. I am 68 years of this earth and to quote the Bible: –

“The days of our years are threescore years and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore years; yet is their pride but labour and sorrow; for it is soon gone, and we fly away.”

So, to be blunt, my time is nearly up. What I am doing now, I should have been able to do with my family as they grew, not now, without them. The vagaries of a capitalistic society constantly make demands of us, big demands, heavy demands, unhealthy demands. Such demands require sacrifice and ultimate compromise, unhealthy compromise. Consider flipping it on its head. Consider a society that welcomes new life, embraces birth and actually rewards that patter of tiny feet in the form of a state bursary enabling the new recipient, when old enough, to explore the world, experience LIFE, on the understanding that the experience is reinvested in the state to complete and continue the cycle. Dream-on you might say. I do. I do indeed. Learning everyday just how important “dreams”, as some folk call them, I call them thoughts, can be. I will delve into this issue later and reveal some wonderful news.

The beginning of this week saw a tornado watch. All very exciting. The entire media keep the communities wholly informed about the proximity and potential danger of any eventual tornado. I am pleased to say, although I think I would have preferred the experience of a tornado, that it came close, but not close enough. There was rain and hail and strong winds, and thunder and lightening and flash- floods but not the jewel in the storm’s crown. Hey ho, I feel sure there will be more opportunities.

Today we visited a civil war battlefield – Blakeley. I was emotionally moved as I entered the actual field. It was flat with forest at one end and at the other a fort, protected and encircled by pointed wooden stakes set into the ground at a 30 degree angle, points aimed at the approaching aggressors. I stood for a good five minutes and imagined just what might had happened on that day, April 9th 1865, when the union forces decided to break lines and attack the confederate strong hold. I saw men falling, screaming, shouting, dieing. Guns firing, canons exploding, orders being yelled over the din, counter orders shouted back, Choas. Noisy fatal chaos. My five minutes was quick to reveal my solitude. I stood alone. Totally alone in this vast space of human suffering. I saluted the dead and wounded. This was not about winning, it was about beliefs. It was still. Silent. Not even bird song lightened the emotion. The skies above slowly greyed over and the rolling thunder might have been the canons roar from that fateful day. I turned collected my camera and found the trail out. I was safe, but felt the horror behind me living on.

This is US…well me anyway.

Sitting by a secluded, sculpture pool, with cascading water over rocks, palm trees, a gentle breeze from the Gulf of Mexico, just a few steps away and in 70 odd degrees, Kent life seems a million miles away. It’s not that I have forgotten it, rather I have been consumed by other thoughts, actions and experiences, whilst being here. Fortunately, and I think I mean that, there has been no mention of the President. (I nearly used a small “p” then, but felt the need to recognise the importance of that office) Life down here goes on. It is holiday season and so there are many folk going about there pleasurable business; I guess, leaving politics “at home”.It is a sensitive subject of course, since it was so close, somewhat like the Brexit issue back home. There, we can laugh about it, and I think that is because, from where I am now, quite a small issue. The enormity of this country, reflected by the size of everything in it, including a rather large couple, probably XXXL, who have just arrived at the waters edge, which I trust they will admire rather than enter – my bag, close to, is not waterproof!!

Wait.

Yep we’re OK for a while, at least.

So what has distracted me from Kent life? So many things. It is difficult to keep my mind tuned to the idea that this is not a normal break, but rather an extended adventure which will take us to three continents, all of which, I am currently imagining, to be quite different. So the idea of having to return soon, isn’t in the equation. September 4th is the return flight date from Auckland, ages and many miles away.

America is immense. Apart from the fact that I was a cowboy in a previous life, and so lived and died here – by an Indian arrow, I am loving this experience. Not just because of the poolside environment, although, as I approach “the big one” such living does have it’s appeal.

There is so much more, so much more of everything. And with “apparent” time to enjoy this “more-ness”. I suspect, and despite efforts to avoid the holiday mentality, it is likely to be the case, to some extent. I am on holiday yes, but with baby-sitting, grass cutting, window cleaning and many other numerous chores, that one wouldn’t necessarily enjoy on holiday, more the jobs of being at home, it feels more like actual retirement. And I would certainly look to have a home here. One particular community, Magnolia Springs, which scatters itself along the banks of the many creeks and tributaries to the Gulf of Mexico, has an individual charm. It’s houses ride atop flood water stilts. All architecturally diverse and with their own walkways and jetties, which house their boats, hoisted above water level, to be lowered at the whim of the owner for a water-jaunt, with or without friends, but with the customary beer. Cold beer that is, in the customary huggie, from the customary cooler (cool-box to you and me). Should I win the American lottery tonight, around $120m, then tomorrow I shall be looking for the second Mulberry Croft. Gambling is illegal in Alabama. Our trip yesterday, took us into Florida, we purchased a couple of tickets in the first available liquor store. By the way, the liquor store was quite an eye-opener. Never in the field human imbibing has so much been stored for so many by so few. Colours, shapes, sizes, variations on so many themes, all looking delightfully enticing. We made do with the tickets, Jo gave-in to a gallon of brandy and a regular size Wild Turkey for yours truly.

Food is very much at the centre of American culture. Like the liquor store, crammed with booze, the over wide streets are home to every manner of food-type, and thankfully McDonalds, is nowhere near as obvious as at home. This might be because of that ubiquitous feature – SIZE. Their restaurants are lost among the multitudinous, other restaurants and their HUGE signs.

The weather is all rather conducive to an outdoor life. And boy, do they live it. It really is the great outdoors – where anything and everything is possible. There are boats galore, planes forever zooming around, jets skis, fishing, swimming, volleyball, tennis, golf, RV’s, and their parks, hiking, cycling, jogging, horse-riding, softball (that rings a bell), baseball.  Folk here relish their environment. They embrace it with an energetic will to enjoy what is on their doorstep, and dare I say it, with an immense gratitude for what God has provided them. They do feel blessed. As I do, currently. I shall be checking the lottery in the next few days and will start the search for that property to ensure a longevity of connection with this style of living.

Everything is possible here. Do you have an idea that might turn a profit? A skill that the people here will embrace? A scheme that will enhance the lives of folk here, even more? Then all you need is the will and belief to make it happen. People will cheer you, encourage you, applaud you, support you (with no ulterior motive). Folk embrace entrepreneurs – it’s what folk do. It’s the culture. It’s the way.

Should you, however, not be the adventurous type, you can always sit-in and watch someone else’s ideas that have come to fruition on TV. And I would certainly recommend, should it make the UK shores, THIS IS US. Just a wonderful series about a family, it roots, its timeline, its ups and downs, the pressures and tensions. And most of all, about how “family” takes priority over all else. The style of production and quality of acting engulfs us and the viewing becomes compulsive. We recognise ourselves, we witness our lives, we are empathetic, we are sympathetic, we become the family; we say – this is us. We cry, we laugh, we applaud, we love  and we move on.

Thank you. I appreciate your time.

3Circle Church

Living, albeit temporarily, in the bible-belt of America, it would be a rather improper gesture of ignorance to avoid going to church. There are, however, so many Churches from which to choose. I would actually submit to seeing more churches than McDonalds. Which, I also submit, to being a good thing. The idea of feasting on a healthy, calorie-free, sermon has far more appeal than sinking ones teeth into a juicy quarter pounder with cheese and fries, plus the compulsory banana shake. Doesn’t it? Well I was about to find out.

We, me, Hayley, Aaron and Jake, made the right turn at the light. I saw a glimpse of flashing blue lights as the car joined the line of traffic. An accident, I thought. The traffic was bad and right opposite the huge shopping mall. The parking lot was packed with Sunday morning shoppers. Wrong! The line of traffic was church-goers. The cars in the car park belonged to church-goers. The blue flashing lights belonged to the local sheriff who was directing the church-goers cars. The shopping mall, was in fact the church. This sight filled me with trepidation. This was a congregation, the like of which I have never seen before. Nor have McDonalds! This was a mass of people. Is that where term “mass” comes from, in religious circles? This was a gathering that any theatre in the West End would be proud.

The trepidation came from the vastness of this event. My church going, in recent years, has seen the choir bigger than the congregation, so you will understand my stage-fright. Nevertheless, I entered the space. With no real concept of what to expect, even my last 25 years involved with theatre, one way or another, did not prepare me for this auditorium.

The theatre opened up before me, the countless semi-circular rows of seats, high overhead, multi-various lighting bars in grid form, the raised stage with a six-piece band in place, a 12 person choir raised higher on another platform, large twin screens either side for projections, which displayed I AM, the current theme of churches teachings. I was about to experience something entirely new. I like new experiences. And this was no exception. The band struck up the first of four religious beats to whet our appetites, standing throughout to enable us to move, sway and clap along. This was the warm-up for the main act, the Lead Pastor of 3Circle. We were ready. Our feet tapping. Our hearts warmed by the lyrics and fully oxygenated blood – we finally sat and he made his entrance. He made us laugh, at death curiously. He made us listen. He made us think. He made us question. And whilst I could not concur with everything he expressed, most importantly, he engaged me in the bible’s teachings. He made some things clearer and understandable, in a way none of my catholic teachers had been able to do in the past. (Sorry Mum and Dad) This, ordinary looking man, had stage presence and a charisma that reached the back row and beyond. Well-rehearsed and obviously knowledgable, he was passionate and committed to his role.

This was Sunday morning theatre and if you accept the idea that “theatre” has a responsibility to entertain and enlighten, then 3Circle Church does just that. And with a total of five performances that day, to similar huge crowds, this show is destined for a long run.

I now understand the concept of bible-belt. That is exactly how they tell it.