Friday, May 31, 2013

Foggy Morning Views

The mist rises over the lake at the top of our lane..

And the valley at the bottom...

Like thick cotton wool...

Or candy floss (cotton candy, the Americans call it, to make sure you don't use it to clean your teeth).

And as the sun starts to shine through...

Walking up the line is a little like entering a tunnel to Heaven.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Quality Gardening Time

Do I hear a hollow laugh? Yes, it's coming from me. Before we went away, this used to be a flowerbed.

 Oh Lor'.  I wish I knew what those Western New York weeds are on. As winter recedes, usually around mid-May, there's suddenly a phenomenal growth-spurt and if you don't get on top of it right away, or happen not to be around, before you know what's happened, you're fighting your way through a choking jungle, with grass a mile high everywhere but in the lawn.
  I read somewhere that you can now rent a small herd of goats for a few days. They come complete with a portable fence and all you need to do is give 'em water. I suggested this to hubby but this time the hollow laugh came from him.
The pilfered periwinkle is flourishing though and spreading nicely from the shoots I surreptitiously grab from the roadside as I'm walking up the hill.

And the creeping phlox is holding its own, though the rest of the rock garden is a train-wreck, as the Americans say. I think I'll just dump some more rocks on top of the worst offenders and let nature take its course.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Pitfalls of a Transatlantic Marriage

Memorial Day is when you put up your flag, on which more at a later date. Suffice to say that every self-respecting Western New York house has some kind of flagpole. Now normally we fly the Union Jack as well - to my chagrin custom dictates this has to go underneath the Stars and Stripes. But yesterday hubby put up only the American flag, his favourite one, which is the original Stars and Stripes with only 13 stars for the first 13 colonies. Being a Son of the American Revolution, with an ancestor who fought in it,  he is rather attached to it. "Where", I asked, "is MY flag?"  Hubby looked a trifle smug. "Memorial Day", he said, "honours soldiers who fought in all America's wars, including the Revolutionary War. The Union Jack would not be appropriate in this case."  I am evaluating my choice of response.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day Western New York Style

   Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, is for honouring those in the armed forces  who died for their country,  a day for taking flowers and miniature American  flags to decorate cemetery graves, a day which marks the start of summer, after which, in the past, well-bred American ladies could venture out in white shoes.
   Last year, I pointed out to hubby that I’d never been to a Memorial Day parade. He had always insisted that, when he was a boy – admittedly in a much larger city than Olean,  the Memorial Day parade was unmissable. He made it sound like Trooping the Colour with tanks and big guns thrown in and thousands of people standing six-deep, jostling for a view.
   So, appetite whetted, I said I’d go with him to the Olean parade on Union Street.    There was also, we were confidently informed, going to be a fly-past. The weather was violently hot and humid. Not like this year at all. I dug out some white sandals and off we went.

   Well, first of  all, the  people on the pavement  weren’t exactly six deep.  More like one deep, with gaps. Definitely no jostling.   And although the parade started promisingly, with some local colour in the shape of a bunch of hairy bikers on their Harley Davidsons, Stars and Stripes flying out behind, things rather petered out after that.  The High School band did its best with what could have been “Yankee Doodle”, followed by the boy scouts, not quite in step and assorted little kids tottering on tinsel-decorated bicycles.  A dog trotted along, sporting a red T-shirt, a toddler in a miniature police car wove in and out, getting in the way,  there were a couple of fire engines and a vintage tractor and that seemed to be it.

   “This used to last forty-five minutes in the old days!” sniffed a disgruntled older lady, “The town’s too cheap to pay for it. Blame the unions, I say”.    
  There was still the fly-past to come and we craned our necks and squinted skywards, listening for the roar. Sure enough, along came a lone military transport plane that waggled its wings and was off again into the distance. The Red Arrows it wasn’t.
   But then I got to thinking. At least some people had showed up in the heat and a fair proportion brought their children.

  And after a wreath had been poignantly thrown into the river,  quite a few of them made their way to the old cemetery on the hilltop. Soldiers’ graves there date from the Civil War. There’s even one for a solitary Confederate, who somehow ended up in this far northern town.   The High School band wheezed its way through “America the Beautiful”  and  got a sporting round of applause. An “Honor Guard”, silhouetted on the hill, fired off a gun salute and as they raised the flag back up from half-mast, a bugler played Taps, the American equivalent of the Last Post.

     The lady Mayor made a speech,  the Deacon from St Mary’s church said a prayer and then a General in the Air Force Reserve spoke tenderly, if a little optimistically about Olean,  about its “Sense of gratitude” , its  “virtues, wholesomeness and neighbourhood values” . How it was a  “microcosm of America”. How the ideals which made it great, “propel our great nation and indeed the free world”.

      Suddenly, a  flag accidentally toppled over.  Letting the Stars and Stripes fall on the ground is one of the worst things you can do in America.  Several people took off like sprinters through the heat to rescue it.
  It wasn’t quite like the old days but at least some people do still care.

Good for them, I say.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Did I Really Say That?

 That we'd be coming back to warmer weather? What a joke! It is freezing here. There's a north wind blowing and in the supermarket car park (aka parking lot)  it was literally sleeting.  I had resolved to come back to some quality gardening time, if that isn't a contradiction in terms but I am finding all sorts of excuses not to venture outdoors.
  One is that we were of course delayed, as is par for the course, particularly when flying through Chicago and ended up going to bed around 2am British time. I am talking about the day before yesterday. Yesterday would have been a vastly different story, with Heathrow being shut due to the plane-on-fire saga. We would probably still be in Chicago now. So we have to count or blessings.
    Still, we did have our minor frustrations. We arrived in Chicago over an hour late and as we left the plane, got instructions on a card that would allegedly help us get to our Buffalo flight in time. Proceed to Terminal One,  it said and give this card to a person wearing an orange jacket, it said, who will then wave a magic wand to speed you through security.
   En route, we had a small problem in that the Global Entry machine, that useful fast track through Immigration, which works brilliantly when it works, rejected both of us, hubby (he thinks) for accidentally bringing in a small tangerine last time around and me (I think) because I didn't look at the camera properly when negotiating the machine and the resultant snap made me look shifty. American bureaucracy being extremely egalitarian we were both given the full smuggler treatment, our suitcases searched to the bare bones by three pairs of latex gloves. Sadly for them, they found little of interest; hubby was worried about the Waitrose Rich Tea biscuits but they weren't.
    That wasted just enough more time to get us panicking. You have to claim and recheck your suitcases and the lady there told us we weren't in fact to go to Terminal One but to Terminal Two. We just had to trust her, so rushed for the train.   At Two, the queue for Security stretched into oblivion. There was,  of course, no one in an orange jacket. Hubby brandished the card to a blue-shirted security man, who looked puzzled and said he didn't know what hubby was talking about and sent us to queue with everyone else. The trick here is not to get angry, as these people wield extraordinary power. The queue edged forward at a snail's pace. The agent on duty was an affable fellow, who wanted to have a conversation with every traveller, which normally would make a nice change but in this case was the last straw. I couldn't stop myself yelling, "Please, we've got a really tight connection!" But he just said, "Too bad, you should have got to the airport two hours before your flight, as you were told." Hubby put his hand over my mouth.
  We did get to our gate with time to spare and wouldn't you know, the Buffalo flight was delayed by 30 minutes, par for the course again. Buffalo is way down in the pecking order. I amused myself charting the course of the plane we were due to take, which you can do if you go on the United Airlines website and is a salutary lesson in how American domestic flights operate. Our little Embraer Regional Jet had, apparently, had a busy morning. It had started out early from Chicago,  then gone to Newark, New Jersey, then to Raleigh, North Carolina, then to Moline, Illinois. Somewhere along the way it picked up an hour-and-a-half delay, respectively explained by "aircraft servicing" and that catchall, "Air Traffic Control". I even found a map with our plane pictured, like a tiny spider, inching its way laboriously to Chicago. There was no way it would be taking off in half-an-hour, as they were telling us. And I was right of course.
  So by the time we got home we were very tired.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Goodbye to England

Off back to Western New York tomorrow, so we won't be seeing much of this for a while....

Nor indeed this, which just happened to be parked by the village green opposite the Dog and Pheasant at Brook, near Haslemere.  I thought I was seeing things. For the benefit of my American friends, this is what country buses used to look like. Except I fear Americans may  not know what country buses are. There aren't many in WNY. To be fair, there aren't that many left in Britain either. 

We'll miss the pub lunches, the bluebells, the view from Waterloo Bridge, the smell of the Tube and our friends but we won't miss the weather. Things have come to a pretty pass when you have to go back to Buffalo to get some sunshine.


Desperately sad for those poor people. We are exceedingly lucky not to live in "tornado alley" - these ugly brainless natural phenomena don't mind where they strike - in open country, knocking down a barn or two (usual) or in a city killing schoolkids. But they don't much like hilly country. though occasionally we've seen unexplained swathes of downed trees in the forest. A small tornado perhaps or a violent gust of wind but whatever it was, it gives a tiny idea of what these monsters can do. A relative was living in Texas when a tornado lifted off the roof of his local supermarket. And his neighbour's washing machine landed half a mile away. Small fry compared to Oklahoma ... but still.
 Odd to hear about all this while we're in London and watching the British weather forecast, "Don't worry - it won't happen here". And a Londoner remarked yesterday,  "In Britain we complain about the weather but the weather isn't usually lethal". America is different. It may be a superpower but it's powerless against the forces of nature, which is a humbling thought.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dambusters and Politically Incorrect Dogs

   A flashback to thursday, when the last remaining airworthy Lancaster bomber, along with a Spitfire, flew down the Hope Valley in Derbyshire in a 70th anniversary tribute to the Dambusters, who used to practise over nearby Derwent Reservoir before their daring 1943 raid on the Ruhr dams.

The weather had been terrible for a few days but amazingly that morning the sun came out. We were at Chatsworth, the stately home of the Dukes of Devonshire (note to my American friends - the Devonshires live in Derbyshire and you might be interested to know that the previous Duke's brother married JFK's sister)  and heard the planes would be flying over. What a bit of luck.

  I got pretty excited about the  warbirds in Venice, Florida but I got much more excited about this.  The Lancaster's roar is like no other sound on earth and as it thunderered overhead, banked and returned twice more, I wasn't the only person in tears. I have a tenuous link to the Dambusters, in that I wrote a book of interviews with Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, who succeeded Guy Gibson at 617 Squadron. They went on to do even more intrepid things but nothing captured the imagination like the dams raid, with its bouncing bombs. If you haven't seen the old film with Richard Todd, you haven't lived. These days, when the film's shown on TV, I've heard that Gibson's dog's name, "Nigger" is bleeped out. There's been talk of dubbing it over with a name like Rover but maybe that's an apocryphal story... It would be difficult, as "Nigger" was also the code word  to announce the first dam breach. Nigger himself, a black lab, was sadly run over just before the raid. His master arranged for him to be buried at midnight.  As he prepared for the perilous mission, from which so few returned, Gibson mused that he and Nigger might well go into the ground at the same time. This also explains why there's always a dog in films about wartime flyers - well there was one in "Memphis Belle" anyway.
  I may have been imagining it but there seemed to be rather a lot of black labs among the crowds of enthusiasts watching the planes at Chatsworth.  I didn't dare ask what their names were.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

In the Wilds of Derbyshire

The Peak District, where we've been staying, could almost be Western New York

though I say "almost" because there are a few differences. For example, we were woken up by baaaas not moos, or the sound of spring peepers. The family outside our window are having a lie-in....

There are stone walls.....

Ruined barn Peak District Style

Ruined barn Western New York style 

And the people call you "luv". And live in cottages like this.

But the weather is currently better in Western New York. Much better. But of course it's going to get colder as soon as we arrive back.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Service Resumes Tomorrow

Coming soon:
Derbyshire and Western New York compared......(in which I discuss whether it's better to wake up to sheep baa-ing or cows mooing, blackbirds singing or cardinals squawking, in a clapboard house or a stone cottage and so on and so forth....) And do the Dambusters over Chatsworth have the edge over the Warbirds in Venice?
Watch this space.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Short Blogging Hiatus

  Because we are off for a few days to the wilds of the Peak District, where we may or may not get internet access (it's all those stone walls, I'm told). And it's going to snow, which will make hubby feel right at home.  "Derbyshire", I'd told him, "will be beautiful in May."  Huh.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Things You Definitely Don't Get in Western New York

... Or the whole of the USA. Hubby agrees, "This could never happen in America - there's no concept of a sports team with such a national following*."  (Or international, in the case of  Man United. ) And can you imagine Americans getting so excited about "soccer"?

Championes Championes!!  And I was there! Old Trafford, Manchester, the Theatre of Dreams, now much poshed up from the days when you had to hold your nose against the smell of sulphur wafting over from the factories, all replaced, these days, by futuristic lofts and art galleries.  Oh sadly happy day! And guess what - we sang what we wanted to sing - not what was up on some electronic board, which is the unfortunate case at American sports events. ("Woo Hoo!" it goes, "Woo Hoo!" yells the crowd. The whole crowd. Boring. ) The hot dogs might be a little better in America, though. And the fried onions. Or at least they smell better.

I finally got a pic of the great man himself which didn't have a red flag or my finger across it....

And here's RVP taking a corner...

And in America I wouldn't take a train back home to London, past cottages and canals and old stone bridges,  a train full of people in red, nostalgically reminiscing and debating with the sagacity of football fans the world over what next season might bring.

Americans just don't know what they're missing....

*with the possible exception of the Green Bay Packers, from Wisconsin, whose legendary 1960s coach, Vince Lombardi, was perhaps a teeny bit like Fergie or maybe Sir Matt Busby.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Things You Don't Get in Western New York

dateline: London SW19...

Bluebell woods....Nothing like them anywhere in the world, although we do have a nice carpet of yellow trout lilies behind our WNY house. Hope there'll still be some left when we get back.
  One interesting thing though. For the first time I can remember our springs are level. Tulips in WNY; tulips in London. The Brits must have had a hard winter - they should be way ahead of Cattaraugus County by now.

...and things you do get

Some of our neighbours appear to have migrated to Wimbledon Common. Well it's making hubby feel at home.

I do think that British blossom has the edge.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Alas and Alex

   Things just won't be the same without him...
  When I first came to live in America, I wondered how I would cope in a country that called the World Cup the "Men's World Soccer Championships". Actually, there have been advantages. Subscribing to the right soccer (sic) channels has made it possible to watch almost all United's games live, which is more than they can do in Britain. That's because soccer (sic) is of course a minority sport in America, played mostly by women and children. (The half-time commercials are all for Western Union money transfers and cheap international phonecalls). The US does have a feisty national team but I'm rather sorry for them. No one much cares. In fact the whole concept of international team sport is rather alien to Americans, who play their ice hockey, baseball and football (sic) mostly among themselves and the Canadians.A shame they are the only country in the world that just cannot grasp the beautiful game. Remember when, in a despairing effort to popularise it,   the World Cup came to America and we joked that they'd want to widen the goalmouths to make for more goals and cut the halves into quarters to make for more commercials. That's not such so crazy - they'd have done it if they could. Last season,  I took hubby to Old Trafford. He enjoyed the match, though he was a little bemused at times. Only two goals and he missed one of them because someone stood up in front of him.
  At least, as I hear today's momentous news, I am among people who understand, even if we're in SW19 and most of them support Chelsea.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

That Darn Paperwork....

  6am at Buffalo Airport and a beautiful sunrise. Not exactly a puddle-jumper but a small prop plane to get us to Washington in time for our connection for London.
  I then make the big mistake of saying to myself, "Wow, could it be that we are going to have a trouble free journey?"
  At this point, as we are sitting in the London plane on the tarmac, we hear the announcement.that there is a small maintenance issue but it has, ladies and gentlemen, been resolved and the maintenance people have gone away with the paperwork and they have not yet returned. It'll just be a couple of minutes and then we'll be on our way.  Ha.  I am by now a seasoned-enough traveller and I know that a couple of minutes is invariably a euphemism for something much longer and more complicated. Well, let's not beat about the bush;  it's invariably a bare-faced lie.  So we sit there and sit there, on the tarmac and in glorious sunshine too. I wonder, idly, where the maintenance man has absconded to with  our paperwork. The Bahamas perhaps?Or the Turks and Caicos?  Or Newark because United has now merged with Continental, causing some confusion.
  A stewardess we haven't seen before sashays, smiling, down the cabin. "I just wanted to see 'hi' "  That is ominous. I always remember my aunt telling me about flying home from Canada in 1958 and the plane engine catching fire and the stewardess sashaying down the aisle smiling and saying 'hi' and drawing the curtains, which they had in those days, as she went. (They made it.)
   "This plane", says hubby, "has been sitting here since last night. Why do they have to do the maintenance at the last minute?" (This is a mystery I have often pondered over. Like that time on Air Canada when a bit fell off the plane and they only noticed when we were about to taxi off. )
   An hour later, another "couple of minutes" announcement. Half an hour after that we start moving backwards very slowly. Then we stop. We stop for a long time. Then we start moving forwards very slowly. "What's the betting we're going back to the gate?" says hubby.
  Well we do take off eventually and we don't make up any time and arrive at Heathrow just before it closes for the night. And the only thing stopping me awarding a Flying Turkey Economy Plus to my friends at United Airlines is that the food was, for once, rather good (barbecued chicken and they heated up the cheese-and-turkey sandwich for tea)  and they did give me a free miniature of wine.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Almost Heaven Western New York

A hazy moonrise the other morning. And the spring peepers are peeping again in the pond across the road.

Who needs Amsterdam when you've got Cattaraugus County?

And the blossoming trees have travelled up north.

This is a little wonky as it was taken out of the car window on the way home from the village Post Office.
  Of course, the downside of the better weather is that they're digging up the roads everywhere and the demon excavator has been going up and down our lane. His job is, apparently, to clear the ditches and the verges but he usually succeeds in massacring umpteen innocent baby trees that looked so sweet springing up along the roadside banks.  I once challenged him and he claimed he was told to clear stuff so the deer had nowhere to hide by the side of the road. A pitiful excuse. That's not going to stop the deer crossing where they've always crossed for generations. It'll just make them run a bit faster.

This is all rather poignant as I am writing from an airport hotel in Buffalo. It's probably the last I'll see of those tulips.  We are bound for a spring visit to England.  This time we're chancing it with changing planes in Washington, a connection that doesn't always work.  I hope I don't have to award any Flying Turkeys.  Watch this space...