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The Life of P

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Love Trumps Hate

Dear Liberal America,

You’ve woken up with one hell of a post-election hangover and piecing the night together is beginning to feel pretty horrific. There is a lot to process. You feel like a stranger in your own country. You feel worried about the future. You can’t work out whether you feel sad or angry or disappointed in your fellow citizens. I know this because we have just gone through the same thing following the shock result of our own Brexit referendum. As a result, several friends have asked me how on earth they deal with this, when it seems like there is no way to move forward. Here are some tips from our experience.

Love Trumps Hate

Do not go to sleep and assume it will be better in the morning. I promise it will be a little more bearable the second morning, but it is going to suck for weeks.

Surround yourself with like-minded friends right now. Alcohol helps. Drink together. Cry together. And laugh together.

Laughter is important. In the darkest of times, we humans are capable of finding humour. The alternative is despair and that leads nowhere good.

Understand why people were willing to vote this way. This may be the most important thing. The easy response is to dismiss them all as bigots or racists or misogynists. But we are talking about millions of people. It’s complex and a lot has led to this. People have felt disenfranchised and hopeless (just as you do right now) for decades. We need to address this to prevent this from happening again.

People will tell you to move on, you lost. This time they are wrong. Understand that this was not just another election where half the country feels upset. This was something much starker, which reveals far more about the depth of division within your society.

Be ready because this result will leave a minority of bigots and racists and misogynists feeling vindicated. They will spew hateful bile in the next few days that you never expected. But it will be finite. They are not going to win and we are still moving in the other direction. If you are lucky enough to be white or a man or heterosexual, do not allow this behaviour to go unchecked. Remind every minority that, whatever Trump may say, your society does not accept hatred as normal. They remain welcome. They remain one of you.

Seek unity. It will seem hard right now but, like it or not, you are all in this together for the next four years. Hillary suggested you give Trump a chance to lead and she is right. Division only makes you weaker.

Above all, remember that one man and one election does not define your country or our society. You all do. It is a struggle that goes on.

This is all I can offer. I hope it helps a little, that it ignites a spark of hope. And, if it does, share that hope with others.

With commiserations,

Your Transatlantic Cousins

Manel Traylor, 1954-2013


Whilst I have continued to write Shards (and thank you for all the comments they have received), I have avoided regular updates for some time, in part because it has been a difficult few months. The biggest jolt came at the end of September when Manel, my aunt in the States, died unexpectedly and without warning at the age of 59. Although there were some things I might have said here, my immediate focus was taking care of my family over there (and I was lucky that those with whom I work were so good about letting me do so). Growing up, my family would travel to Louisiana to see the Traylors every other year, for two or three weeks at a time. It led to the incredibly close ties which mean that in the last ten years I have visited the States about as many times. I often talk about the months I worked in Louisiana before university, but most people do not know that I also spent a summer living with Manel and her family after my GCSEs.

Her children’s words at the funeral captured her perfectly: the teacher, the mother, the animal-lover, the rebel, and — at least in passing — the personal neuroses that gave her the unique character that we all grew to love. There is little I could usefully have added but I did have some thoughts at the time that I would still like to share.

Every trip, the five children from our two families would all await one inevitable occurrence: Manel chewing out a service industry worker for some shortcoming or perceived sleight. Mostly it was warranted, if not the viciousness with which she took to the role. We would typically shy away embarrassed whilst secretly enjoying the spectacle.

For Manel, I knew, one’s chosen work was a vital part of life and laziness was anathema to her. She held others to the high standard she held herself. Jenna mentioned her slight jealousy of all those pupils whose foibles Manel knew almost as well as her own children, and a sadness that Manel’s grandchildren would miss out on that personal attention. She immersed herself in her work and, as she saw it, so should everyone else.

But there was more to it that I did not realise for many years. On a trip to Las Vegas, my family and I returned to our room after breakfast on the day of check-out, only to have an irate cleaner burst in and tell us we should not be there. She had, presumably, seen no luggage and assumed we had already left so she could begin work early, only for us to return and (minimally) undo her efforts. Puzzled, we tried to explain but she decided to pick up the phone and call security. We only heard her half of the conversation but I remember the end vividly, “Do they speak English? Yeah, a little.” Being British, I could only find the hopelessly faulty attempt at derision laughable and, bemused, we related the bizarre event to the rest of the family later. Manel was not amused. She was furious.


I visited alone a year later and one day Manel went digging through papers and returned proudly with a letter that she presented to me for inspection. It was from the hotel manager, in response to a complaint she had sent, apologising for the incident and — rather ominously given Vegas’ history — stating that “the employee in question has been terminated”. “Terminated,” Manel repeated with her mischievous cackle, and I began to realise this was not simply glee at the firing of an unforgivably rude employee (nor her potential mafia-style burial somewhere in the desert). She wanted me to understand how important we were to her and this letter was her proof. She was always incredibly protective over those she loved (to a fault, her children might argue, if they ever wished to swim while the sun was out) and, for the few weeks we spent with her at a time, she wanted to guarantee things were perfect.

It took years of being embarrassed to realise someone just wanted to protect me and to show me I was important to them. And in that, I suppose, she really was a mother to everyone for whom she cared.

The Girl with the Green Hat

Once upon a time there was a girl. This girl had a special power. She could create magical hats from the softest threads that glistened with vibrant colours in the sunlight. She made herself a hat in rich shades of green, streaked with gold if you looked at it just right. It was soft, it was comfortable and, of course, it was magic. Her two evil cousins were jealous of her hat and they each plotted to steal it for themselves. The girl, being a generous sort — and not at all evil unless she had not been fed — decided she would craft another hat. This hat, she explained, would be given to the winner of a contest.

For you see, the source of the girl’s powers lay in her secret addiction to a witch’s brew which could only be prepared with ingredients from a far-off land over the oceans. The winner of the contest would be the first to journey to the Wise Wizards of Whittard to obtain these ingredients and hand deliver them to her. The girl knew the task was almost impossible for, although her cousins lived close to the Wizards, they had only recently made the Great Journey to see her, and it would be many moons before they could afford to undertake the perilous route once again. Unfortunately she had not accounted for their cunning.

And so it was that some weeks later the girl received a strange parcel addressed to her in spidery handwriting. Surprised and intrigued the girl set the box upon a table in her kitchen and opened it. Peering inside she let out an unholy scream, horrified to discover the ingredients she craved along with a dismembered hand!

People’s first question is, unsurprisingly, “where on Earth did you get a dismembered hand?” The answer: Amazon marketplace. They seriously have everything there. Following the facebook discussion which inspired this endeavour, I had a hand ordered by 3 o’clock and it all felt rather Lebowski. The hardest part was keeping it all under wraps once it was boxed up and in transit. Admittedly I was slightly curious as to whether the package would arrive at all, what with these crazy restrictions about not sending body parts through the mail. Prior to posting it, naturally I had to take some shots of the hand around the flat, which I can now share with you in a little gallery called After The Outbreak.

USA 2010: the photo guide

The USA 2010 photo album is now up but, since I haven’t really discussed the trip in much detail, I thought a quick summary of what we got up to so that the photos have some context. Some ground rules: no kicking, no biting, and absolutely no pointing out that half of these photos were technically taken in 2011.

A week late, I arrived in Baton Rouge around 9:30pm on Christmas Day. Jenna was at work (she agreed to work Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve in order to get the rest of the holiday off) so, after meeting their newly “aquired” dog, Jeff and I attempted to stay up, fuelled by Zombieland. Sadly Christmas Eve in the bar of the airport Hilton followed by 20 hours of travelling caught up with me as soon as the credits rolled; I was asleep and unstirrable when Jenna returned.

We soon made up for lost time, heading to Natchez in Mississippi to spend time with her parents (and mine). While there our exploration took us to Windsor Ruins, the handful of columns being all that remained of a once grand house, the Schafer House where the first shot was fired in the Battle of Port Gibson during the Civil War, Jefferson College, a former military academy, and Longwood, a sadly never-to-be-completed octagonal mansion.

We returned to Baton Rouge for a single night to catch the musical gang Jeff, Jesse and Matt playing their weekly gig at family restaurant Appleby’s, where Jesse is a manager. I’d seen the guys casually jamming at the house a few days earlier, which took me back to an evening I spent with Jesse and Jeff years ago, when they played a rather haunting acoustic cover of Tool’s H. I also finally met Morgan because, Jenna explained, it was vitally important that I meet Morgan and how had this never happened before? (Presumably this meeting has now averted a future world-threatening, space-time paradox; it felt like it was probably that sort of meeting.) Post-gig I disappeared with Jane and a friend of hers (apparently creating gossip) to what I shall affectionately describe as a karaoke dive. A stunning (female) rendition of Rush’s Tom Sawyer made the night though.

Jenna and I had the day to ourselves on her birthday, so we decided to go photographing together. We grabbed our cameras and ended up at Circa 1857, an old vintage/antique/art store. Also, they had hats. Lots of hats. On my final evening we built a wagon that had been bought as a Christmas present and took the kids to a nearby basketball court and playground. Although I nailed my first basketball shot in years, ultimately I think I confirmed it’s probably not my sport.

For those with access, there is a fuller rogues gallery of the people involved up on Facebook. Now that Facebook’s image quality has been drastically improved, I don’t mind putting photos up there quite so much, though this site will still be the first place to look.

Someone Else’s Life

Typically I update sporadically from the States but, having already lost a week to the snow, I decided to shelve writing or posting photographs until my return so that I could maximise time with people there.

Returning from holiday is always a slightly unsettling experience, captured beautifully by Dido’s Sand in my Shoes. The USA in particular leaves my head in a slightly weird space: happy to have seen my family over there and yet distressed by the gaping chasm of their absence, which naturally feels more immediate than before the holiday. This time has been particularly bad, however, and I think I know why.

Although we moved back and forth between Baton Rouge and Natchez, this was no travelling holiday. Essentially I just moved in with Jenna and her family, in a city that I know well from having lived there for several months (at least half a year in total). Rather than doing the typical holiday things we just lived together: cooked food, had friends over and mixed cocktails, watched DVDs, listened to music, watched British TV shows, looked after the kids, took them to bookstores, picked them up from school, read bedtime stories when they couldn’t sleep. Recovering from a holiday can be a little hard. Recovering from briefly living another life can be gut-wrenchingly painful. And yet, if the many-worlds interpretation is correct, I can at least take a little solace in the fact that — somewhere out there — there are other versions of ourselves who all live much, much closer. I certainly hope so.

The new camera got plenty of use and the results will be up as soon as I can get through them. I am slightly delayed by the fact I only got halfway through reading The Graveyard Book to Karleigh and need to finish it off. Unfortunately the time difference means Skype isn’t ideal, so I’m open to recommendations (both for recording and sharing).

Creative Travel

With a typically pathetic British response to snowfall, Heathrow’s closure means my flight to the States to join my family has been cancelled. Unsurprisingly flights are fully booked and the earliest slot they could find is on the 25th. On the plus side, that means my Christmas Day will be six hours longer than everyone else’s. On the down side, pretty much everything else. It’s not exactly a great day to spend travelling alone but I’d still much rather travel that day and see everyone sooner. Three hours of Christmas is better than zero, after all. In the meantime might I suggest Heathrow removes the incendiary “making every journey better” tagline from its website?

I suddenly find myself with a great deal of free time and in need of distractions to stay upbeat. Currently I’m compiling a list of creative alternative methods to reach the States. Please do suggest your own. Thanks to Maurita for inspiring the first and third.

  • Steal a Duck Tours amphibious bus
  • Tunnelling (no SSH puns, please)
  • Use Channel Tunnel boring machine to start tsunami, ride it in
  • Go UP. Admittedly, this would require taking the entire block of flats with me but who doesn’t want an airborne adventure?
  • Surfing / Silver Surfing
  • Contact Oans / Guardians of the Universe, borrow power ring
  • Terragate. Like a Stargate, only not interstellar.
  • Acquire Child’s Play Portal Gun. Will require shipping portal gun to the US to create exit portal.
  • Spontaneous Combustion. Look, it works for the Human Torch and I’ll give anything a try. Flame On!
  • Build wings from wax and feathers. Take care not to fly too close to the sun. Forget to worry about wings freezing. Fall.

What Else Happened In Tennessee?

Jeff's dinner: lamb

Dell will be sending out an engineer to replace the screen on my laptop. In the meantime hooking it up to a monitor has let me extract the remaining photos. I’m hoping to go through them swiftly but with nearly 900 from the trip (excluding those already deleted) I’m not even going to try estimating. Instead this post will give you a few final photos before the full gallery is prepared (and in the meantime check out the set on Facebook). Jeff cooked a great meal one evening and since Jenna has been exploring food photography recently, I decided to try out the new 50mm lens on gastronomic imagery. Some of the results are below, along with scenery from the trip.

One of the other issues with the Mammoth Cave tour related to the tour guide himself. On being asked the age of the caves he explained it was around 8000 years old, before following this up with a response on their formation that geologists believe it took around 2 million years to form. Anyone else notice a minor discrepency there? It didn’t bother me since he was pretty open about his obvious bias, although one could feel the entire room “start to squirm” as Jenna put it. Perhaps more worrying is that he backed up his own view by explaining he used to teach geology in school for many years. That’s Kentucky, I guess.

Taffy machine

Although it is traditional to bring chocolate back for the office, there’s no way I was going to buy Hershes or American chocolate in general for that matter. This left a void which I decided to fill with taffy. For those unfamiliar, taffy is a generic name for chewy sweets like Starburst or Chewits that are stretched to make it “fluffier” before being rolled and cut into pieces. The store in Gatlinburg actually handmade it on-site, allowing visitors to view the process (and giving out free samples which always helps make my mind up).

And in other news it appears Telltale games have now picked up the Monkey Island franchise. For the most well-known adventure game title to fall into the hands of the most successful current developer in the genre could not be more fitting. The first episode lands July 7. I suspect I’ll be insult swordfighting all week to celebrate. General comments on E3 news once it’s new, but suffice to say the return to its previous over-the-top glory is certainly warranted.

What Happened In Tennessee?

As you may have picked up from other sources, a screen failure in my month-old laptop prevented updates in the second half of the trip. Hopefully getting it repaired won’t be too stressful. Having returned I only have access to around half my photos at the moment, so a full gallery may take a little time. I have put a fairly comprehensive set of smaller images up on Facebook.


So what happened once we reached Tennessee? Aside from hanging out in our 3-floor, 5-bedroom cabin the mountains, we went on several hikes, explored the nearby town of Gatlinburg, and embarked on a couple of longer road trips to Nashville and Kentucky. Nashville included a bizarre recreation of the Parthenon and the country music spectacle of the Grand Ole Opry which featured some fantastic performances and was quite an experience. Kentucky was primarily for the Mammoth Cave (although an obligatory stop at the original KFC was a given). While the huge caves are a beautiful sight, the way the place is run makes it difficult to recommend. A strict no-bag policy will confound photographers who wish to carry multiple lenses, and the whole tour felt rather rushed, being generally picture unfriendly. Alternative tours such as an introduction to caving might be better options.

Karleigh blowing bubbles

A couple of nights in, we decided to dust off the outdoor hot tub and spent several hours soaking, drinking beer and chatting. Jenna’s unforgivably early departure clearly required retaliatory action. Knowing that the simplest punishments tend to be the most effective, she inherited the nickname, radio callsign, and every conceivable conversational reference to “Quitter” for the remainder of the trip. She finally escaped the title only after staying up with me until 3am on our last night together, as we shared photos and watched several hours of British comedy.


Cobra 2-way radioThe trip to Tennessee proved to be the typically fun and eventful roadtrip that these extended family undertakings always promise. With 12 of us on this trip we split into two vehicles for the journey, the bulk in the 15-seater van, back seats loaded with luggage, and just two in the more intimate car, which had been packed like a mule. Communication between the two was facilitated by two-way radios I bought to equip each vehicle (during a traditional midnight trip to Wal-Mart with Jenna). Jeff and I took the car, sharing music and chatting for several hours until the first stop.

Energy drinksAt this point, realising it had been several years since I last had an energy drink, I decided to make things interesting. Meanwhile Dwain decided to make things even more interesting by jacking our car when Jeff inadvertantly stepped away with the keys in the ignition. Initially a hostage, high on a range of American-strength energy products I swiftly switched sides and we ended up hurtling down the highway in our “jacked” car, blaring Shania Twain in some bizarrely twisted parody of the Southern criminal.

Karleigh playing pool

Our woodland “cabin” is more lavish than most houses I have seen recently, and on arrival Caleb and I cracked open the beer and played pool. Karleigh became curious and asked about the game so I explained the rules. Despite the fact there were no cues even vaguely small enough to fit her comfortably, she threw herself into the game wholeheartedly. Her persistence suggests with practice we could have the makings of a great pool hustler (who’d say “no” to such a cute girl?) so frankly I view the time spent as an investment.

Foam Weaponisation

This post is primarily to share more photos from the last few days, since the summary of what I’ve been up to is basically “hanging out with Jenna, Jeff, Karleigh and Clark”. In pretty much equal amounts this trip, which has been nice. Last night, Nic, Jane and her boyfriend Nick came over for dinner which, as it got later, gradually degenerated into a fun, wine-fuelled session of friendly insults and ribaldry.

We spent today running through a list of errands Jenna had compiled that needed to be finished prior to the Tennessee trip. Naturally I felt the need to contribute to this list of goals. World domination seemed appropriate. In practice that meant buying a replacement belt for mine which broke a few days ago. As Che Guevara said, “you can’t have a revolution if your trousers fall down” (okay, he probably didn’t say that, but I’m sure he’d have agreed with the sentiment).

Nerf BlasterWhile shopping I came across the Weird American Product of the Day (WAPotD?). The Nerf N-Strike Switch Shot EX-3 is a dart blaster into which you can also slot in a Nintendo Wiimote to turn it into a peripheral for the console. Because foam weaponisation is clearly what the Japanese had overlooked. Which is sort of surprising. Incidentally this picture is top-secret evidence smuggled out of Wal-Mart after I was accosted by security guard for photographing a couple of their products. I understand they may be wary of undercover documentaries, but the store wouldn’t even have earned a mention had they not felt the need to interfere…

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