Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Local Pheasantry

Rural Pennsylvania on an early spring day. Getting lost along country lanes.

Red barns under scudding clouds.

Silhouetted silos

And the locals enjoying the sunshine.

It could have been Yorkshire.

Except the sheep looked different.

Though some of the houses were very English.

In a pretty graveyard

We discovered we had company

After making fools of ourselves dodging around gravestones, trying

 to get

a halfway decent picture,

we got back in the car and realised that, a little way up the lane there were more and more of them..

I see, that's why.

Now there was I thinking a hunt club was something to do with horses .....
If I were a pheasant I would scarper the !*$%^&** out of there but then I'm not a pheasant.

Monday, April 28, 2014

In A Field In Pennsylvania

From the site of an old, nobly lost battle to a modern one.

On a cold, windy, sunny early spring day I looked down the stark walkway that marked the doomed path of United Flight 93, one of the four planes hijacked on September 11th 2001, incredibly, more than twelve years ago. Thanks to the gallant intervention of passengers, United 93 never hit a target (meant possibly to be the Capitol or the White House) but crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.
In the niches along the walkway, people had left souvenirs and tributes.

I wonder how this numberplate came about.

At the end of the walkway, simple white blocks displayed the victims' names.

Through the bars at the end, you could look towards the place where the plane finally ploughed into the ground.

Now marked by a boulder.

I couldn't look at their faces without tears.

When it happened, I was working for the BBC World Service in London, running a department that, among other things, put together news features and sound clips for the BBC's newsroom and foreign language services. I don't think I slept for two weeks. The young assistants processing the material had to wade through so much desperate sadness - the phone messages from the towers will always be etched on our minds. We were offered counselling but of course what we went through was nothing to the tragedy for the victims and their families. I remember a few days later  going to the second last night of the Promenade concerts in the Albert Hall. It was Verdi's Requiem - selected far in advance of events but so appropriate. The conductor dedicated the performance to those who had died. Everyone in the great auditorium was crying. Another battle where we were truly on the same side.

I like the way they've done the memorial. It's simple and surrounded by beautiful views. They plan a grove of trees to commemorate the dead. The only sound was the building work on the new, obligatory Visitor Centre but let's hope we'll be spared kitschy souvenirs and Flight 93 T-shirts.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Fort Necessity

 Yes that was its name - put up in 1754 in what's now Pennsylvania by an inexperienced young soldier boy called George Washington, who was expecting an attack by the French.

This isn't the original but a reconstruction - since the French won the battle and burned it down. Despite calling it "A Charming Field for an Encounter",  Washington made a lot of mistakes, for example building the fort too near the trees

and in a boggy spot - see below.

And it didn't help that, unlike the day sister-in-law and I visited, it poured with rain throughout. Still, it was an interesting construction while it lasted.

 There was a promising sign to a pub.

But unfortunately it was closed.

But there was a children's playground.

 With a smaller version of the Fort.

 And the usual rules and regulations, which always make me wonder how our generation ever survived.

There was also a Visitor Center (sic), where we watched a video. They were very excited to meet someone from Britain. For my part, I remarked that it was good to visit a battlefield on American soil where we were actually on the same side.
  The sign seemed a little ironic under the circumstances.

As I was hearing all about the "French and Indian Wars" I realised that this was actually what we in Europe call the Seven Years' War. It resulted in Britain getting Canada and India and eventually becoming Top Nation.  The skirmishes around Fort Necessity were what sparked it off.
  Also in the Center was a facsimile of the surrender document the French made Washington sign. In doing that, he made another mistake. Because his interpreter didn't translate the French word "assassin" correctly (I'd have thought it would be pretty difficult to get that one wrong) Washington didn't realise he was admitting to the assassination of the French commander in a previous skirmish. Just shows you should read documents before you sign them - and pay attention in your French lessons.

 Washington claimed he couldn't read the document because it had been raining and it got soggy and the ink ran.  He of course went on to greater things and it's my theory that he learned some valuable lessons from his mistakes at Fort Necessity. If he hadn't, the world might now be a very different place.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Coming up....

Just where and what is this?

Actually, it changed the world.  Find out in a couple of days. Watch this space.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Happy Easter!

From friends in Pennsylvania 

and our Western New York neighbour

And our first crocuses

The road trip saga will continue next week. Watch this space!

Friday, April 18, 2014

In West Virginia Coal Country

We drove a fearsome mountain road, hairpin bends, rocks on one side, sheer drop on the other. 

And some potentially interesting situations.

I wouldn't get too close behind this one...

Old mine works by a babbling brook. Locals call the valley, the "Winding Gulf". It's now the "Coal Heritage Trail".

There's still plenty of mining here, though not as much as there used to be.

and little mining villages with houses strung out in rows, nestling against the hill. Signs read "Coal Keeps the Lights On."  If there was no more mining in West Virginia, one lady we met said, "New York City would go dark." Whatever the rights and wrongs,  without mining, what would happen to these people?

Well people do say it's a bit like the Hunger Games around here.

An appropriate scene for Good Friday.

Another appropriate scene for Good Friday.

Downtown War.

"Mama Jess" seems to be popular around here. That must explain the graffiti on the town sign.

A little wooden church. An earlier one we'd passed had a sign in pink letters, "A Nice Place to Go to Church"

Local heroes -  the "Rocket Boys", led by Homer Hickam, were schoolboys who designed their own rockets and went on to win prizes for them at the 1960 National Science Fair. Homer eventually achieved his ambition and went to work on real rockets at NASA.

Another interesting bit of history, near the town of Welch. This railway car was sent by grateful French citizens after the Second World War. Local West Virginians had helped in humanitarian relief.  Those were the days when the Winding Gulf was known as the "Smokeless Capital of the World." The car was apparently filled with French perfume and other luxuries and ended up abandoned in a field. It doesn't say what happened to the perfume.

They could probably have done with some.

A stately-looking building we thought at first was a church turned out to have a basketball court behind with razor wire around it. Something, I believe, to do with Law Enforcement.

A mural in Welch showing bygone (and possibly more prosperous) times.

Sadly, nowadays,  there's all too much of this sort of thing.

And this.

Though the odd yellow forsythia

or flowering tree popped up with a little reminder of spring

....Or maybe


Though I didn't manage to get a pic of the giant, inflatable Easter Bunny. There's always something to cheer you up.