Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Thing 39, Japan, about to begin

I know that I haven't finished writing up my American Road Trip (or even uploading the pictures to Flickr), but time has rolled around, and tomorrow I leave for Japan! In fact, I leave home tonight as am staying at girlfriend's this evening as she lives closer to the airport.

It may be three weeks until I blog again, unless I get something down while I'm travelling. As with the USA trip I will be writing notes as I go, so there will be a series of posts when I get back.

So, until the next time I'm back, I hope you take care, keep well and do amazing things!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Thing 65: Done!!!

It's only in completing this goal that I realise just how straightforward it was, I mean, 101 pictures is not very much, right? But consider: before this I would only ever take my camera with me on a holiday. I would never think to take it on a night out, and I certainly wouldn't think to take it out with me during the day time, what would the point of that be?

Now my camera is part of my mental checklist, part of the kit that I try to remember to have with me when I am going out. It doesn't mean that it is always in my bag or my pocket, but I am getting better. And I'm really excited about sharing photos with people! I'm not sure that I would ever get so far along as to have a super-fantastic amazing camera, but I think that I will be taking photos more and more as time goes on. Perhaps for my next 101 things my goal will be to take 1001 pictures and share them on Flickr?

Enough about the future, I still have to try and accomplish as many of these 101 things as I can. For now, I hope that you enjoy my photos over on Flickr, my photostream can be seen by clicking here.

That makes 19 things done!

Road Trip: Colorado to Nevada, Part 2

It was a few moments after the fact that we realised we had crossed the border into Arizona; we had started the day by breakfasting on corn dogs and other savouries that we were able to get from a nearby gas station, and so neither of us was feeling in a particularly great mood - perhaps that is why we were suddenly so surprised to be in Arizona. As we realised it we tried to rack our brains, but neither of us remembered passing a sign announcing the different state.

No matter though, we were headed for Flagstaff, our old friend the I40 and Historic Route 66!

Like Utah, Arizona surprised us with its beauty. How did we not know about the beauty and majesty of the deserts and rocks before we left? Were we that clueless, or was it that we were so fixated on the "landmarks" and "destinations" on our trip that we really hadn't thought about the places that we would be driving through? It's a shame to say that due to our lack of knowledge, we spent many drive days just chatting along the way, stopping every few hours to stretch our legs while walking around a shopping centre or outlet mall, when there were probably many lovely natural attractions that we could have seen but for our ignorance.

Once again, our supply of coupon books helped us out when we arrived in Flagstaff and we found a good price at a Howard Johnson. It was a nice room, but we hadn't paid as much attention to our surroundings as we perhaps should have. Why was the restaurant next door (which incidentally served a great dinner and breakfast) decked out with so much train stuff? Again, we were clueless, and the answer made itself known loud and clear half an hour after we checked in, as a cargo train went past on the trainline not thirty metres from the motel. The trains that ran on the line were so long that we stopped counting the cars after a few minutes. At least they stopped running through at about 11pm...

...only to start again shortly after 6 the next morning...

Oh well. After a hearty breakfast we set off along Route 66, trying to soak up the atmosphere of the many travellers who had gone before us. We stopped in Seligman at the Roadkill Cafe for a quick drink and two games of pool (both of which Dave won easily), and then went on to Kingman, our goal for the day. The motel was basic, but comfortable enough, and although we could find nothing noteworthy to go and see in the local area there were plenty of shops! (of course)

We passed the afternoon looking around various malls, and Dave spent a happy half an hour in a 'Boot Barn' trying to decide just how cowboy he really wanted to go. Again we rested up in the evening, because although the next day had comparatively few miles for us to drive we would be spending some time at the Hoover Dam before heading on to the number one place that we had both been looking forward to on the whole trip, Las Vegas.

The day started well with a delicious IHOP breakfast, and though Dave and I might have disagreed about quite a few things on the trip there was one opinion on which both of us are agreed and will not be swayed from: we need International House of Pancakes to establish itself in the United Kingdom. The drive to the Hoover Dam was fine, although of course it was very busy when we arrived there. The size of it, and reading a lot of the information at the visitors centre, one can appreciate just how incredible a feat of engineering it really is. Sixteen tons of cement dropped every ninety seconds for two years!!! Wow. We stood and gawped with the masses for some time, but the siren song of Las Vegas was calling us, and so we set off again.

Traffic was busy, and I know that it took a few hours, but it seemed like no time at all that we were hanging a right on to the Strip, and driving past all of the sights and sounds that we knew so well.

We had arrived.


Road Trip: Colorado to Nevada, Part 1

Fort Collins had been a lovely stop for both of us, but we were both eager to get on the road to Las Vegas, and our proposed stop for the day was Grand Junction - no short distance from Fort Collins. After a hasty breakfast and a quick jaunt on the internet to book something very special for the end of our time in Las Vegas we were on the road south to Denver again.

The changes as we were driving through Colorado were sometimes abrupt; one minute we were headed towards this city sprawl, a sudden right turn to get on to the interstate that we wanted and we were going past mining areas; ten minutes more and we were headed uphill, uphill, uphill... The scenery was quite literally breathtaking at times - mind you, the altitude that we were at might have had something to do with that impression. At the highest point that was marked with a sign, we were at 11,000 feet above sea level, and at that point we noticed that the car was struggling to do over 40mph; for a moment we were very concerned, but then looking around we noticed that many other drivers seemed to be having similar difficulties.

Winding our way along with the Colorado River, me frequently nervous about cliff faces and Dave frequently moaning about not having the opportunity or time to go rafting, we saw so many amazing rock formations and areas of natural beauty that it made me wonder why I had never ventured into the USA before. Already we had seen so many amazing and wonderful things on the trip, that I knew (sadly) I would never be able to remember them all, and yet there was still so much before us.

Grand Junction was a great place to stop at for the night, not far from the border with Utah, not least because we had had a long drive that day (over 300 miles). Once again we were blessed as the motel had a restaurant (meat loaf, mashed potatoes, beans and gravy, served with their 'famous' - and delicious - flowerpot loaf), and breakfast was included in the cost of staying at the motel too. We were exceptionally lucky the next morning too, as shortly after breakfast the power went off in the area. From our room we could see people wandering around the street outside to different gas stations, trying all of them to see if they had power, and looking increasingly confused when the answer was "No" every time.

After the previous day's wonderful scenery, we were really just looking forward to making our way to Bluff, Utah, our proposed stopover point for the night, We thought that desert driving would be pretty, sure, but nothing compared to the wonderful mountains and rivers of Colorado. How wrong we were...

The deserts of Utah, long hot roads and incredible valleys, were totally different from Colorado, and beautiful, indescribable in comparison to the sights that we had seen the previous day. And Utah had mountains too! And rivers! We were spoiled for choice that day in our drive down to Bluff; the scenery was so spectacular that we cut short our afternoon in Moab so that we could take our time driving from there on.

I don't know which one of us noticed it first, but after a time we noticed some storm clouds ahead. The road veered this way and that, but it soon became clear that we were going to be driving right through the middle of it. Ah well, no matter, it didn't look that bad, not like on the TV with all of the hail. It was, however, to be one of the strangest moments of the trip... Utah is really hot, and the digital readout on the car had been sitting at about 105 degrees since late morning. I happened to glance at it.

"Look Dave, we're down to 95! The cloud cover must be really thick..."
(remember, dear reader, that we had the air-con maxed out here, so we couldn't feel the external temperature)
And a few minutes later, after we had been talking, I happened to glance, did a double take and exclaimed:
"Dude! The gauge is down to 80!"
Dave and I looked at each other, both of us had said only a few days earlier how much we liked The Day After Tomorrow.
And a minute later:
In the space of ten minutes in total, the temperature gauge dropped over 40 points, eventually settling on 59 degrees for five or ten minutes as we cleared the rest of the cloud cover, before steadily climbing back up. The rain itself wasn't even that heavy, but the incident made quite an impression on us, and was something that we were both still talking about when we got to San Francisco.

Bluff is a lovely town, small, but with a lot to offer. The Desert Rose Inn was not cheap compared to many of the motels that we stopped off at on our journey, but its log cabin style and wonderful setting made it one of the nicest places that we stopped at on the road. Dinner was taken care of by the Cottonwood Steakhouse just up the road, and we felt great at the end of the night.

We slept well and rested up: the next day we would head on into Arizona.


Tuesday, 8 September 2009

New Moon & Eclipse

The second and third books of the Twilight saga took me four days to work my way through, which is a strange way of putting it because at no time did it feel like a chore or hard work to be reading them. Not that the books are "easy to read," as Meyer is doing some quite interesting world-building in her books, mixing a real world setting which jumps out at you as real with supernatural characters that walk off the page just as naturally as the Washington State setting.

Romance is the order of the day, and in case there is someone reading this who hasn't read the books and is spoiler-phobic, I'll try to stick to plot points that don't give too much away. As with Twilight, Meyer continues everything from the first person perspective of Bella, and for the most part this works wonderfully; Bella is a real person, full of passion and emotion and contradiction - she changes her mind, she wants one thing one moment and then the next her mind is in turmoil as she realises what that means. In some ways she is not a very likeable character, and it's to Meyer's credit that you continue to feel so engaged by her heroine.

New Moon and Eclipse build to a love triangle between the lead and her two beaus, Edward and Jacob, who are on opposite sides of a feud started long before Bella was born. This has developed some way in New Moon and by the start of Eclipse you can see the storm clouds gathering on the horizon, and know that someone is going to end up hurt, no matter what happens. Running parallel to this, and for my own taste perhaps not shown enough, is a conflict that is brewing all the while; it takes a long time to come to a head, and even then I was left feeling perhaps that not enough was done with the continuing plot thread from Twilight regarding the vampire Victoria. But as I said at the start of the previous paragraph, romance is the order of the day; Meyer doesn't neglect the action and suspense, but you are in no doubt from the start as to where her focus lies.

Books two and three of the Twilight saga in no way diminish from what has gone before in the first book; Eclipse especially is a fantastic read, really drawing you further into the supernatural world that Bella has found herself belonging to. I don't have the fourth part, Breaking Dawn, but I know that I will read it before too long. Given the ending of Eclipse and the plot threads left dangling I have absolutely no idea where the story is going to go, or what is going to happen, but I am sure that it will be an entertaining and interesting read whatever happens.

Haiku, early September 2009

And finally haiku from the last week; this takes the total up to an even 50, halfway through my personal haiku goal. I've decided to put them altogether into some kind of pdf or something at the end, and maybe there'll be between six and twelve that are half decent!

The difficult choice,
To do it on the morrow
Or to stay up late...

The rain keeps falling,
Vanish, like my tears, an

We preen and we pose,
For what? Life comes to its close
And nobody knows...

Evil moth sits and stares,
Pretends not to notice that
I have noticed it

Dumb dickhead chav kids,
Riding bikes and swearing lots
Because it's 'clever'

Funny smell on train,
Oh, but it's not me again;
Hmm, what is that stain?

As the train pulls in,
I think about pulling out
And what that could mean

I catch the train (just)
All out of puff, and shiver,
Then count my blessings

Haiku, August 2009

All but the last of the following were written while I was in San Francisco; a particular group, easily identifiable by their content, were written while I was waiting (momentarily frustrated) in the lobby of the Renoir Hotel.

I sit deflated,
Tired; am I sick? Hope not!
Have lots still to do.

And you lie to me,
And I let you, sweet smile,
Heart still skipping beats.

I circle your mouth,
Gently stroking and touching
With my fingertip

your hand is in mine -
I feel it - over here
in another land

In San Francisco,
I wait for the computer.
My sunburn tingles.

I know he's paying
But does he have to type slow?
And print out so much?

He left it at last,
But shut it down! Sigh - and sigh! -
The log off is fine

the power to change
how others make me feel
mine, and mine alone

Haiku, June and July

It's some time since I have shared haiku that I have been writing, actually since before I went on my road trip; but that doesn't mean that I haven't been writing them, far from it. In the next few posts I've collected together some of the haiku that I've been jotting down in my Moleskine over the summer, and eventually ending up in the first week of September. As ever, let me know if you like them! I'm not always sure that I do by the time I come to share them, maybe one in ten stands out at me as something neat or interesting.

A note: some of these are quite specific, and were obviously influenced by things going on around me at the time, so I think I might add some commentary in the comments at a later date (but one not too far in the future).


She always teases,
Pointing out my shortcomings.
I laugh, but she's right.

It is not a dream;
I never want to forget
This wonderful day


The mirror cracks wide,
I can't see myself inside,
The old me has died?

Fingers go walking;
It's spring down in the valley
I can't help myself.

Your nails rake me,
The sensation makes me gasp!
Your soft lips delight.

So... The Blue Man Group?
Or David Copperfield?!
But... Jerry Seinfeld!

An Angus Burger
Is dirty, but Taco Bell
Is really much worse...

(the latter two were written while I was in Las Vegas)

District 9

It seems like only yesterday since I said that Inglourious Basterds was my second favourite film of the year after Star Trek (oh wait, I think it was yesterday, and if I didn't say it in so many words that was what I was thinking). But that was until yesterday evening when I saw District 9, a film whose premise had captivated me since I first heard of it earlier in the year.

I didn't see much of the viral campaign for the film, although when I was in the USA I saw plenty of signs (especially in Los Angeles) on bus shelters advertising the fact that they were for humans only, and by this point I knew a bit more about the film's story. Nearly thirty years ago a spaceship stopped over Johannesburg, seemingly broken down and unable to move. The aliens onboard were relocated to the ground, and now all of those years later are being forcibly relocated to another settlement camp, while they and their technology are being exploited by a shady multinational...

District 9 does many things that one might expect from a sci-fi film if you have narrow expectations of the genre: there are aliens and ray guns, explosions and technology - but there is so much more. It's a story of a man, genuinely changed (physically and spiritually) by what he sees, when he is forced to look at the world that he now lives in. It's a story of oppression, and how both sides view that. For a film with a fraction of the budget of something like Star Trek or Transformers 2 it has special effects which go beyond being special - the alien creatures never fail to convince, never fail to not seem real - and the bonus that it has over many of the summer blockbusters that I've seen this year is that it has a genuinely fascinating, original and brilliant story.

Star Trek is still warping ahead of the other contenders in the field, but District 9 is a great film, highly recommended from me to you, and well worth your time and money to see.


There are several of the goals on my list that I'm actively working towards, or at least have stuff getting ready in the wings. A big one of these is my Japan trip, but I'll write about that separately soon - now I'm just going to concentrate on a few others.

Thing 9: Address Book
I bought an address book a while ago, and have slowly been populating it with names and contact details; I dropped the ball before I went away by accidentally deleting someone's address when they sent it to me and not writing it in the book, so I don't think I have the right to claim number 9 as completed yet. But soon.

Thing 12: Fill Terramundi
The piggybank, which I've been filling with one and two pound coins is really heavy now, and getting quite full. I'm not sure how much there will be in there when it is done, but it feels good to have been casually saving this money by putting the odd pound in every few days.

Thing 44: Sci-fi Convention
I don't think I mentioned before I went away, but I booked tickets to go to the SFX Weekender in February next year! Very excited about this!

Thing 45: Ico
After the memory card failed I did start to replay this, but then got sidetracked with working on the Career Skills Workshop in June, and of course I then went to the USA. I'll have to get back on to this soon. But now that I think about it, soon might not be until after I get back from Japan.

Thing 65: Flickr
I've been uploading pictures from my USA Road Trip to Flickr, and consequently that brings the total number of pictures that I've uploaded to Flickr to a total of 94. It won't be too long before I upload more pictures that have been taken since I started my 101 things, and so I don't think it will be too long before this goal is achieved.

Thing 95: BookCrossing
I signed up with BookCrossing a while ago, but never got around to leaving books anywhere! I have lots and lots of books in my own personal collection, so there's no reason why this can't be done some time soon. Perhaps I can combine this with thing 101, spending a lazy afternoon in a bookshop with friends...

Thing 99: Done!!!

Quite a simple one this, but the occasion never really presents itself, you know? And I forgot to report it a week ago! But anyway, on Saturday 29th August 2009, while enjoying a day out at Lyme Park I completed Thing 99 on my list of 101 things, namely to have a picnic.

And it was lovely, even if it was a bit windy.

So that makes a total of 18 so far, with a few more nearing completion! Time to pick up the pace, but I can and I will. Just over halfway through the 1001 days, but I've never felt so energised and ready to do stuff as I have lately. So just watch this space!

Road Trip: Fort Collins

We were almost at the mid-point of our trip, and it was time for a day of rest and relaxation. For myself, that meant walking around the small-town charms of Fort Collins, talking to local people and writing postcards in the sunshine; for Dave that meant over four hours trekking around a golf course, burning his head in altitude sunshine, but having fun.

He left early, and so I had a lazy start, writing in my journal and texting my girlfriend, before setting off in a taxi to Fort Collins; I had thought about walking, but realised after getting the scale right on the map that we were quite some way out of the city. The taxi driver was really friendly, and dropped me off near to the local tourism centre. They were also great, and gave me some pointers to where I should go - more than anything I needed stamps and postcards, as I had decided that that day was going to be one for writing to people, so my first stop was to find the local post office.

As I walked around and saw all the local businesses something started to occur to me, there was something about the area that was trying to grab my attention and I couldn't figure out what it was. And then there it was, really obvious: in the centre of Fort Collins there were no chain coffee shops or fast food places. There wasn't a Borders or even a Subway (which really are everywhere in the US), the city was bereft of chains.

I loved it. As much as I love a good Starbucks tea, it was brilliant to find one place on the trip that seemed to be untouched by the creeping horror of the 20th century. I stopped in several shops which sold art and jewellery made by local artisans and picked up quite a few pieces for family. After lunch and a call back to the UK I stopped off at an independent bookshop, Old Firehouse Books, where I bought some science fiction anthologies that would have cost me a lot more in the UK; I then went to the fabulous independent comic shop Hailley's Comics and had a good long chat with the owners (a middle-aged couple who had been high school sweethearts) an bought some comics as I was missing my weekly fix of comics.

The end of the day, after a lovely walk, was slightly weird, but also very good. The local tourist centre were really helpful in giving me details to call a taxi to take me back to the motel, but then the taxi never showed up. I waited for a long time, and had a really good long chat with Dave, a hot dog vendor, about travel and the world. As I walked away to try and rendezvous with Dave my travel companion I realised that I had not taken a single picture in Fort Collins, I had simply sat back and let the relaxation of the city-that's-a-small-town wash over me; walking down the small streets and residential roads to meet Dave I realised that I had found somewhere very special.

Both of us were very tired, and one of us was quite burned from playing golf in strong sunshine, so after a quick wander around a local mall and Walmart to pick up supplies we went back to the motel to relax. Both of us had had a great day off, each according to his own preference, but we would need our sleep.

The next day we would be starting another long five day drive, to the one place that we were both eager to reach: Las Vegas.


Monday, 7 September 2009

Road Trip: Tennessee to Colorado, Part 2

Heading into Kansas was nice, and while people talk about endless fields they neglect to mention just how beautiful the country is. It might get a bit tiring after hundreds of miles of the same, but it is beautiful all the same.

On our first day in Kansas we stopped in Wichita for lunch, then spent a long time trying to get out of Wichita. Lots of detours and not much to see, we were a bit perplexed by Wichita, like perhaps we had missed something. We drove on to Salina, where we stopped in a lovely motel, a Quality Inn; I was able to get my laundry done, and we had a great sit-down meal thanks to the motel having a restaurant as well. A massive burger patty served between two pieces of rye toast, with cross-hatch fries and salad: I ate it all and felt by the end that perhaps I had eaten far too much. We chilled out watching Poker on ESPN, and all-in-all had a fantastically relaxing evening.

Our second day of driving in Kansas was a long straight road to Goodland, past seemingly endless fields of wind turbines and crops. It was a lovely day though, and there were two reasons for that. The first was "Prairie Dog Town", which we started to see adverts for more than fifty miles before we reached it. "The World's Largest Prairie Dog!!!" As the miles ticked over we started to wonder what we might see. How big could this prairie dog be? The size of a dog? A pig? Of course, all was not what it seemed, and the prairie dog was an enormous statue! However, Prairie Dog Town was quite charming: lots of animals, although the rattlesnakes (boxed though they were) did give me the jitters, and kind of quaint. Given the kind of jobs and businesses that my family have had several generations back, it felt kind of right (more on that some other time maybe).

The second reason that the day was good was the fab motel that we stayed in, fifty dollars plus tax, exercise equipment and a Chinese restaurant. As soon as we checked in we thought, "Score!" Dave went for a swim, I worked out and we had dinner, while a storm that bordered on the apocalyptic raged outside. Televisions kept cutting out as the emergency weather broadcast came on to report tornadoes that had been sighted less than twenty miles away, along with "baseball to grapefruit-sized hailstones". At least we had a delicious meal to eat, and after working out I felt fantastic.

I had a workout again the following morning, which really set me up for the day; we were heading in to Colorado, and weren't far from the border. The plan was to stop in Denver for a few hours before heading to Fort Collins, and we had a mostly uneventful drive, apart from getting into Denver itself. We had a surplus of maps, but these hindered as much as they helped, as we were constantly shifting between different versions to find the streets that we were after. Denver was lovely, and reminded me of Manchester in some ways in terms of its layout, and while we had a pleasant afternoon there we left late and it was nearly 7pm by the time we reached Fort Collins.

For the first time on the trip we had problems in finding a motel room for the night, and it was only at the fifth motel that we tried that we were able to get a room for the two nights that we would be staying in the area. Most of the motels that we tried were quite apologetic that they had no rooms free, although at one place - which wasn't in the best condition - we were faced with a particularly snooty woman who looked down her nose at us when we asked if there was a reduction for staying multiple nights (the price was quite steep). As she turned away I was amused to see a prominent love-bite on her neck, and for the life of me I still can't understand why it amused me so much.

After settling into another Days Inn, we relaxed over a McDonalds dinner (Angus third-pounder with mushrooms and swiss cheese, they do them better in the USA) and talked about what we would each be doing the following day. Dave was bouncing off the walls at the prospect of playing golf, and meanwhile I was looking forward to a lovely day strolling around Fort Collins.


Road Trip: Tennessee to Colorado, Part 1

After a good night's sleep in our rundown motel, we set off early into Arkansas (after a brief diversion to a post office; I sent over 50 postcards from my trip in total) and headed for Little Rock. We had originally thought about stopping there for the night, but it was only 145 miles from Memphis to Little Rock, and we had some days coming up which had some serious mileage attached, so in the end we decided to spend the afternoon in Little Rock before moving on.

Little Rock was a lovely city, and we only saw a tiny part of it. The attraction for the day was the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, which was an amazing archive describing all of the great things that he did while in office. Dave and I mused on this afterwards, that President Obama is touted as being a great man and someone who will get things done, but somewhere in that I think people are forgetting just how much Bill Clinton did while in office. We had lunch in a lovely food court nearby, and I picked up a souvenir Air Force One tshirt from the library gift shop, and then we set off again, eventually settling in Russellville for the night at a Budget Inn. Very basic, pretty cheap but it did the job.

Like many places that we visited along the way, Russellville was like one big street near the interstate with lots of shops and fast food places. There was a Walmart, and we went once again to have a look around the cookie-cutter shopping experience; dinner was our first taste of Taco Bell, which can't be good for you, but was just too tasty not to repeat later on in the trip (cheesy potato and bacon burrito with tacos, yum!).

The next day we set off again, detouring from our original itinerary to head north via Oklahoma City instead of Tulsa; there wasn't anything in particular we had been looking to see in Tulsa, and once again by detouring we were getting ahead of ourselves so that the mileage in days to come would not be so severe. We stopped at an honest-to-goodness independent business for lunch that day, Robertsons Ham Sandwiches, which was delicious, two pieces of bread with a big wedge of thin-sliced ham inbetween. Dave's sandwich was even bigger, even more meat! A lovely place, run by two older ladies, and sadly, as we drove off, I couldn't help but think that in a few years it would be gone, replaced by a Subway when the ladies could no longer manage running it.

We stopped for the night in a regular motel, nothing special, nothing terrible, but the laundry room was busy, and I had to really search my case to find clean clothes for the following day. Things were getting desperate... But not me and Dave, we had settled into the routine of travelling quite well after a week on the road, and were keen all the time to keep pressing on. We were looking forward to reaching Colorado and enjoying the road inbetween, but at the same time we were also quite conscious that Las Vegas was the destination that we were both looking forward to most, both eager to reach. Dave had booked a round of golf at Fort Collins, and I was really happy to spend a day exploring there - but first we had to cross Kansas...


Inglourious Basterds

Since Jackie Brown I've seen all of Quentin Tarantino's films at the cinema; it's always great to have them on DVD to watch afterwards, but given that the man is so in love with cinema it's always great to watch on the big screen. In a way, you know what you're going to get when you go to see a Quentin Tarantino film: you know not to take things at face value, you know that you're going to get some astonishing dialogue and you know that you're going to be entertained.

Inglourious Basterds did not disappoint. I've been meaning to go and see it for a few weeks now, carefully storing up the pleasure that I knew I would get from it. It's difficult to know where to begin... It is a brilliant film, a fantastic piece filled with great performances, the greatest being Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, the 'Jew Hunter', a really wonderful, charming and evil creation - a performance that had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up every time that he came on screen. Brad Pitt is hilarious, his accent and delivery as the leader of the Basterds is pitch-perfect. The plot is faintly ridiculous, and as time goes on we realise more and more that this is not quite the real world - more than being a fiction, it is not a fiction set in the real Second World War - but the dialogue draws you in more and more, the tension in many scenes being so high as to be near unbearable (a scene where two of the Basterds and an undercover British agent try to evade the suspicions of an SS Officer is a high point).

The best film of the year for me is still Star Trek, but Inglourious Basterds now runs a close second for me - I'd been looking forward to it since Tarantino first started talking about it years and years ago, before Kill Bill came out I think - it wasn't what I was expecting, but a new Tarantino film never is. The first viewing of a Tarantino film is a rare and wonderful pleasure; while his films always reward repeat viewings, there is nothing that beats that exhilaration of seeing them for the first time, and if you haven't seen Inglourious Basterds yet then I would urge you to see it soon.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Road Trip: Tennessee, Part 2

The drive to Memphis was fairly uneventful, although finding our way around to a motel was a bit of a difficult prospect. Before we even got to our destination we found ourselves humming "in the ghetto" more than once, especially as we searched for a motel. The coupon booklet lead us to a chain that we had visited before; previously we had had a good experience, staying in a fantastic motel that was well set out and had many good points.

This iteration of the chain was, well, shall we say, slightly lacking by comparison... But no matter, it was a room with two beds and AC, shower etc, and who cares that the included breakfast was the worst on the whole trip? We were in Memphis, and we were here for one thing and one thing only: Graceland.

Graceland was really easy to find, and we had already decided in advance that we were going to purchase VIP tickets so that we could see everything that it had to offer. We had no other plans for Memphis, and from what we had heard it definitely wouldn't hurt to put all of our eggs in one basket. It was a rainy day when we set out to the former home of Elvis, but the VIP tickets meant that we went straight to the head of the queue for buses that were going across the road from the Graceland visitors centre to the house itself (our guide, on hearing that we were from Liverpool, informed us that one of her best friends in the world was the 'fifth Beatle'; we were just happy to be recognised as being from the UK, something that not many people had understood the first time that we had spoken to them, or the second for that matter), and so we were out of the rain fairly quickly.

If a timeline of photos taken against time was laid out for my trip, then by far and away the greatest concentration of images would come from that one morning spent walking around Graceland: considering that one of the prevailing images in my mind of Elvis is his Vegas residency, I expected Graceland to be a bit gaudy. Instead I found a perfectly preserved, tastefully decorated mansion from the 1970s. I knew Elvis previously from his music, but this was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the man, and the sort of style that he had, and what came through - from the audio tour and from the way that the house was furnished - was that he was a man who loved his family and his friends, and would go out of his way to make them feel as comfortable and at home as possible. Considering that today we see so many "celebrities" on television with their hangers-on and false friends, it was really beautiful to see in so many exhibits and pictures just how close Elvis was to his friends, and that they really were his friends as well and not just out to make a quick buck off of his celebrity.

By this point we were a week and a half into our trip, and while the constant travelling around hadn't become a feeling of normality yet, the surreality of what we were doing had faded somewhat. Graceland and its many exceptional exhibits and snapshots of one of the greatest icons of the last century in some ways helped me realise again that what Dave and I were doing was something quite special, that not everyone goes and travels as we were doing.

Something that was less special to us was downtown Memphis itself; we followed some of the directions from the various guidebooks and tourist leaflets we had picked up, and this lead us to a mall that was only half-open, many of the shops empty. A walk through the surrounding neighbourhoods had us heading back to the car after only half an hour, which then took us back to our motel. Memphis itself might have been slightly disappointing, but the day had been a high point of the trip so far, and in our minds would come to be a high point of the trip as a whole.

We headed back to our disappointing motel, and got some sleep; tomorrow the open road was before us, as it was for several days after. We were headed for Colorado, and had many, many miles ahead.


Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Road Trip: Tennessee, Part 1

Crossing the border from Virginia into Tennessee, it was like we hit a wall made of heat: the humidity began at the state line, I'm sure of it. Shortly after that we spotted a sign for a state visitor centre, so thought it might be a good idea to stop there and see if there were any cool things we could go and see or do.

Stopping at the visitor centre was good for two reasons:
1). We found here - and found subsequently - that many state tourist centres give out free booklets of vouchers for motels; we think we saved a small fortune in using those booklets for the road trip.
2). Had we not stopped, we would never ever have thought to go to Pigeon Forge for the night, where we saw Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede.

The Dixie Stampede was cheesy, but brilliant, watching a horse show and being fed large amounts of food (a whole roast chicken!). Dave and I rolled our eyes at a lot of the over-the-top patriotism that was on display at times, but watching the stunt riders and the theatrics was really entertaining.

From there, after a very good night's sleep we moved on to Nashville for two nights. The motel we stayed at was fantastic, a really great, well-situated Quality Inn which was the first place to offer a cooked breakfast and which also had a great Italian-influenced restaurant just around the corner. Dave took off for a few hours to replace Betsy the Second (whose tracking was wrong) with the sportier Betsy the Third, a car who served us well for the rest of the trip.

Nashville was a beautiful city, and we immersed ourselves in the history of music in the city. The Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Theatre (original home of the Grand Ol' Opry), the new Opry Mills Mall and new Opry - none of it disappointed, and this was after starting the day by taking a tour around the State Capital building and then the Frist Art Gallery. The history that we learned about at the State Capital was very interesting, tales of divison and re-union, of shots fired and people honoured. The Country Music Hall of Fame was brilliant, incredibly interesting and a home of research for country music today. The Ryman Theatre was a lovely place, and one can see right away why it means so much to so many bands and music lovers around the world.

Opry Mills Mall was nice as malls go, but still just a mall: we had a look around a small museum about the history of the new Opry, but it didn't have the charm of the original Opry. After going to see Bruno (amazing to see a woman leading two small children out after five minutes; I don't understand the thinking behind the US movie certificate system at all) we headed back to the Quality Inn to sleep after what had been a fun and full day. We would need our sleep, for the next day we were driving on to somewhere that would prove to be a highlight of the trip for both of us: Graceland.