No more costumes for this year

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And I was just getting used to being a Time Lord, too.
Photos to come!

Final Cupdate

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Final Cupdate 1
Originally uploaded by Badger Mushroom.
After a lot of work, Badger Mushroom finished the finest architectural achievement since the Colosseum in Rome earlier today.

Congratulations BM, I'm sure we'll all be watching proudly in the wings when the knighthoods and TV invitations are being handed out.

The Aubergines Can Wait

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Okay, so an ongoing enigma for me as a newcomer to these shores is tied up in the aubergines, or eggplants, of the city. I nearly have all the photographic evidence I need, too.

But that can wait.

There is so much here I don't understand, or I simply don't know. It is by turns invigorating, challenging, interesting, and a cause for despair.

I have learned that a 'twin' bed only holds one person, that a biscuit is a sort of soft bready scone, that there are commercials between the end of a programme and the credits, that Bart Simpson has been eaten by a middle-aged actress, that cake is cheaper than bread, and that medication manufacturers can advertise prescription drugs on TV and are forced, by law, to list all the possible side-effects while the actors on screen laugh and play happily in the sunshine, in complete contradiction to the lengthy list of chronic and socially-repulsive ailments that could crop up from popping any of their pills.

America is, after all, a different country.

Earlier, I walked to an office to register for a Social Security Number. It is a beautiful day in New York. There is a tiny amount of very thin and wispy high ice cloud, which really only serves to offset the brilliant blue of the open sky above the city and the clinically bright sunshine. It is, in short, the kind of Autumn day that there can never be enough of and which echoes deeply of all the other days in other years that had the same crispness of air and light.

And I wondered what this Autumn was like in Ventnor Botanical Gardens. My Dad and I used to go hunting for conkers there. There is a little kidney-shaped green tucked away in the middle of the parks with two enormous horse chesnut trees which produce a slippery carpet of five-pronged leaves on the path, and a healthy crop of green-shelled and spiky fruit. Dad and I used to spend a few hours throwing sticks up at the still-laden branches, hoping for the big ones to fall, before trooping home through drifts of wet leaves and threading shoelaces through the conkers and having fights on the garden path.

And I have that memory, and it is good and fine and made me smile, but the point is that I don't know how it is this year. I don't know what has changed about those old gardens. Whether they got around to opening the Tropical House, if there are still llamas in the fields out along the cliffs to St. Catherines, how things are changing throughout all of the places I have known.

It isn't homesickness as such, but an awareness that I have left one thread of life and picked up another one. I am learning about how things are done here in the US, and I'm sure that one day I will be nearly used to it all. I will be able to file tax returns, tell the difference between Monterey Jack Cheese and Vermont Cheddar, or know what kind of bird has just landed on the telephone line outside the window.

You see? I don't even know THAT stuff. All the background. Okay, so I can't tell the difference between the jokes told by Jay Leno and David Letterman (can anyone?), but what is the purpley-grey bird sitting out there on the wire? Is the little spider spinning a web on top of the air-conditioning unit a regular house-breed, or is it a vicious killer? I don't know. I've never SEEN one before.

Sorry. I was saying how one day I'll know, or be comfortable with, all of this. But then what will it be like going back to the UK? Will it be like watching an episode of a soap opera you used to follow? Will I be asking all the equivalent irritating questions?

Who's that?
Why is he kissing Deirdre Barlow?
Why does anyone kiss Deirdre Barlow?

Where are all the llamas?
What happened to Shanghai Lil's?
How are the residents of the new swanky seafront apartments coping with the fact that there's an enormous amusement arcade two doors down called 'The Gaiety'?

Hmm?
Dwelling on this as I was, another thought hit me. So I wouldn't be able to follow all the changes in the UK...soon I will lose that thread. But if it will be like trying to pick up what's happening in a soap opera, then maybe it will be like the UK's favourite Australian soap; Neighbours, where things are so obvious, so blatent, and so remeniscent of similar plots with near identical characters from way back when, that a gap of several years is no impediment to understand the intricacies of the plot after a few minutes' watching.

This made me smile, and I strolled up through the rising street numbers of Astoria, listening to The Streets in the sunshine.

That said, I'm off to take some photographs of aubergines.
Take care now.

A Vision of Happiness

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Our wedding party, the wedding at City Hall, and the honeymoon pictures.

There you are. You don't have to take my words for it any more. There is photographic evidence.

On other fronts, in a few minutes I'm off to register for a Social Security Number. Depending on how long the queue is at the Social Security office, I may post again later.

The aubergines of New York City have been confusing me.

The fresh-faced and chirpy breakfast television presenter rose from her seat and picked up a book from the coffee table in front of her.

"Now, also this morning we're going to talking to someone who has put together a plan to make yoga accessible for both parents and children."

She walks off to the right of the coffee table setup in the studio into an area where the floor is covered with light blue mats. Waiting for her are a thin, grinning man and a small boy looking around him bemusedly, two fingers in his mouth. Both of them are clad in lycra. The presenter takes up station next to the man and assumes a similar easy grin.

"So, Jim," she says, "tell us what is so different about your approach."

"Well Katie," he replies, unsuccessfully attempting to talk and grin manically at the same time, "I've taken the elements of yoga and changed them subtly so that children and parents can do the exercises together. As you know, yoga helps to limber the muscles, increase flexibility and reduce stress, and these are things that children can really benefit from."

At this point my mouth drops open and I have to put my coffee down. Children? Stressed? I frown, chewing.

"So," says Katie, holding it up to the camera and smiling brightly, "tell us the name of your book."

"The book is called 'My Daddy Is A Pretzel'."

I choke on my muffin.

Rings Around The World

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Krissa and I are married.

Apart from some sort of surfie pendant when I was 19 and a St. Christopher up to the age of twelve, I've never worn jewellery of any kind before, and I am very aware of my wedding ring. Not that this is a bad thing, you understand - it is a constant reminder.

The last week or so has been truly wonderful, and I mean that without any sense of literal fuzziness - each day has been a cause for wonder. Last Saturday Krissa and I had a party at our apartment. It was a brilliant evening, splashed with speeches, sangria and samba, and then, on Monday the 18th of October, we drove downtown to the buildings and offices of New York City and had the ceremony.

Since then, every time I have looked at her, it hits me. I love this woman, and we have already started our lives together.

I've never been this happy.

The honeymoon was wonderful - we went up to Bar Harbor in Maine, and for as much of the journey as we could, we took Route 1 - the first US Highway - which runs from Florida all the way up to the Canadian Border. For our trip section it is now mostly eclipsed by the faster, wider, more direct Interstate 95, but a wonderful drive in Autumnal sunshine. New England really knows how to throw an Autumn. The trees were colours I've never seen before - stark bright yellows, rich and full golden oranges, and, well, er, green, which is a perennial favourite as far as trees go.

Bar Harbor was wonderful - a small town enveloped on all sides by Acadia National Park; rising grey stone islands topped which the autumnal trees were dotted around the coast. Our Bed and Breakfast was exquisite. The bedroom had an open fireplace and a bed so large that in the depths of night on a couple of occasions I gave Krissa up as lost.

We joined a lobster boat on a trip around the harbour and the surrounding offshore areas, spotting seals and picking lobsters and crabs from the ocean, taking photographs of palacial mansions perched on clifftops amidst the trees, and drinking in the seascape, the rushing wake of the boat and the mountains against the sky.

We took the car into the National Park and explored the country, laughing and joking in accents and jokes and songs along the pathways under the trees and beside the lakes.

En route we stopped over at Krissa's parents' house, and it has been wonderful (there's that word again) to be getting to know the new family I have joined.

The only thing lacking from the last week has been the presence of the rest of my family - my sister Jemma and her boyfriend Tom, (hi there kids, hope Gumbo is okay!) Mum and Dad. Although I know it isn't the same, through video and photographs and telephone, they were there, and here, with us. I miss them.

We are married, and the rest of our lives together start right here, right now, and stretch off as far as the eye can see, like the neverending horizons full of trees in New England. Like those trees, they are an enormous range of bright, brash, rich and deeply beautiful colours.

Having been married a week, some might say it is too late for cold feet.

I, on the other hand, may point out that winter is a cumen in, and I forgot to pack my slippers.

Krissa and I, it has to be said, are revelling in the sheer magnificence of being around each other without a looming deadline where one of us has to head to an airport.

New York and I, on the other hand, are circling each other warily, like people at a party who recognise each other across the room when they're mingling, but neither of us is quite sure of names, how we know each other, or how to proceed. We are all smiles, all courtesy.

Well, I'm all courtesy anyway.

I have to admit I am wandering around the place with my mind on anything but the mundane, because even the everyday routines of food shopping and crossing the road are new to me, and a small part of my brain is sitting up with its chin on its hand looking at everything thinking, 'How does that work?', 'Why does that happen? and 'How much is that in real money?'.

Americans: be not offended, for I am but a mere newcomer, and wish to articulate my confusion and surprise at a few things...

Brits and everyone else: Check this out:

The prices on the shelves aren't what you pay at checkouts. The tax is added onto the total price afterwards. It is as though the shops think you'd be scared to find out the real price, and want to entice you into a decision so that when you get to the till you'll be terribly embarrassed and too afraid to turn around and change your mind. Bargain racks of nice round numbers...$1! $1!...become a change-scrabbling $1.09.

It'll be one of those things you get used to, I imagine.

The process for crossing the road in New York goes as follows:

Approach interchange. Observe the status of the crossing sign and take action accordingly.

-White walking figure: Cross the road, being careful to avoid all the traffic which is turning into your road and aiming at your legs. This is, apparently, when it is 'safe' to cross.

- Flashing red hand raised in 'stop' motion: Cross the road with a vaguely brisk loping walk to give the impression to any watching motorists that you are proceeding with expediency to everyone's benefit, despite the fact that no traffic is moving anywhere on the interchange.

- Red hand raising in 'stop' gesture: Cross the road, taking care to look left and right before stepping out into the street to avoid traffic, which traditionally moves slowly enough to allow pedestrians a sporting chance a la Frogger. If you pull off a particularly impressive crossing, you will be rewarded with a free hot dog or knish by the nearest street vendor.

People look at me oddly in shops. Sometimes I get the impression staff keep talking to get me to speak again, and each time they throw me a glance that says, 'Is he taking the piss, or is he serious?'. I have already moved away from the phrase, 'Much obliged,' due to the severity of the looks from checkout staff and passersby, who look at me with the kind of distrust I think you only get in a country so beset by reality TV. I'm some sort of entertainment. Mind you, the service at bars, restaurants and corner vendors is much better than average. One guy even called me 'my good man' with a wide grin. I refrained from poking him with my umbrella.

All in all, New York is amazing. I could happily wander around all day with my mouth open if I didn't think someone would shove a flyer into it, and getting used to this town is something I'm looking forward to and already enjoying.

Krissa and I are getting married on Monday.

The View From Queensborough Park

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Queensborough Park View
Originally uploaded by Kidsturk.
On Friday night Krissa and I took a stroll down to Queensborough Park, on the river. It was late evening, and the lights of Manhattan were slowly rising as the sun went down. It was the first time we'd been out of the apartment since my arrival the night before, and watching the windows across the river light up, and the lights of the cars and the ads on top of the taxis rolling up the FDR beneath them really brought it home. I was standing on the banks of the Hudson, and the girl on my arm was the love of my life, and I was here to stay.

(New cameraphone, hee hee!)

I am here...which is relative, I know. I apologise.

I am in New York, I am with Krissa.

That was nearly seven months of separation, and the last stint was over two calendar months. That was less than fun, all told.

So I live here now. The last few days have been glorious - glorious in repose, glorious in the startling lack of crippling jetlag, glorious in love...

I arrived on Thursday night, and was shown through immigration control with humour and decency, and the long-awaited uncertain ground about temporary work permits was cleared up. The impression Krissa and I had from different accounts and hearsay, the majority of it through the encyclopaedic and friendly Visa Journey, was that the issuing of work permits at JFK, the only airport that issues them at the point of entry rather than leaving it to the two-month-long application after marriage, was rare and becoming rarer. Not wanting to seem crass, I approached the subject with British tact, reserve and in a roundabout way.

"So I hear that you do a small line in work permits here?"

"Yeah, why, do you want one?"

"Yeah!"

So that's good.

Because I had been delayed through immigration, all my wonderful fellow passengers (including the sweet-looking yet violently flatulent grandmother who sat next to me) had hightailed it with all the baggage trolleys. So after playing the bumbling Englishman to speed through customs (I know I said I wouldn't, but come on, I was tired) I had to struggle through a couple of pairs of double doors before rounding into a long white corridor.

There, at the end of the thin polished marble floor stood the love of my life, my future wife, and she started to walk towards me. I put down all of my bags as she reached me, and we kissed.

We were reprimanded for kissing in the arrivals channel by a big woman who stuck her head out through the doors behind me, but we didn't care. We stole a trolley from the flatulent grandmother when she wasn't looking (not really), and ran off to get a cab back to Astoria.

The last few days have passed in a haze of coffee and kissing. Yesterday we left the apartment for the city and took a trip to the second floor of Tiffany's to buy our wedding rings.

My parents are getting used to waiting five hours after a civilised weekend waking time before calling us.

Today is my twenty-fifth birthday.

En Route

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The train from Portsmouth was heading for Waterloo. It had no baggage racks. I asked after this rather glaring omission as the train staff began some glaring of their own as I hove into view dragging rather more than the proverbial polka-dot knapsack on a stick over my shoulder. They looked over my bags sneeringly.

"It's not designed for baggage."

"Sorry?"

"Yes, well."

They walked off. I spent the journey encamped in a hopefully South-West Trains staff-proof fort of my own construction between the buffet and the disabled toilet.

At Woking I jumped train and caught the coach to Heathrow, where I disembarked at the Terminal Krissa and I have come to know and love; good old Terminal Three. This was sadly an empty and pointless gesture as mere seconds after the coach had pulled away I noticed that the flight boards were curiously devoid of anything to do with my own conveyance to pastures new, and that I should have got off at Terminal Four.

Once I had the correct terminal, it was a simple matter of waiting five and a half hours for my flight to leave. It is a sad truth, but I really don't trust the public transport in this country, and the safety margins which I had sensibly allowed on paper had metamorphosed into a seamless and perfect series of catching earlier and earlier versions of the various modes of transport I needed, meaning I had checked in by 1.15pm for a flight which leaves at 6.30pm. One bonus was that I avoided the conventional check-in, and my guitar, in its epic hardcase, was waved aside as a frippery and passed as hand luggage rather than being checked into the hold for the princely sum of 60.

Score!

Right, I'm not buying duty free, but there's no way I'm being tempted by the Costas and Starbucks, and not sleeping on the flight. No way.

I love Heathrow. The last call for a flight to Cairo has just gone out on the tannoy, and my excitement is mounting minute by minute.

At this rate I'll need to stock up on duty free to help me sleep on the plane...

Happy Landings, people.

There was a moment, in that backpacking summer five years ago, when all of the planning and worries about missed connections and hostels and excitement drained away. It left the core of romanticism and child-like glee of travel and I remembered for the first time the theme tune to Michael Palin's TV show, Around The World in Eighty Days, which is part of what whet my appetite for that sort of thing in the first place.

I was sitting on a lurid orange plastic liferaft box on the top deck of a Greek ferry, thickly painted yet still rusting brown around the blue and white edges. We were pulling out of Iraklion harbour at sunset. The waves inside the harbour walls were docile, flat and oily, but outside a cool strong breeze exaggerated a hefty swell. Above the grey stepped and scattered buildings of the town rose sienna hills specked with rich olive green, and steep faces of scored rock, which caught the light of the setting sun after the town had descended into twilight and the street lights had come on.

As the ferry began to pitch in the waters outside the harbour, we were setting off. It felt more of a beginning than leaving England two and a half months before.

When I was a child in this town, I used to daydream about just leaving everything behind and starting again. There were relationships which could have run better courses, frustratingly there were things which hadn't worked out, people who had the wrong of impression of me, things I wanted to do but couldn't...to that little me, running around the playground, starting completely afresh seemed a great idea.

Maybe that dissatisfaction with the lack of perfection in personal relationships and personal situation also manifest itself in part in the desire to travel; I don't know. I can't remember a time when I wasn't excited by the prospect of travel. According to my Mother I used to love the bus even as a baby and toddler, straining from her lap to see out of the window.

Standard middle-England reading fare and the awesome literary legacy of my Dad: a near-full set of Eagle Annuals, Boy's Own Annuals and exciting 1960s books with titles like, 'The Wonder Book Of Daring Deeds' only exacerbated my enthusiasm for distant climes. Before family holidays as a child I would get so excited that my immune system would shut down completely and we would leave the country with me sickening for something which would sadly put me out of action for the first week.

So when we left England for that European trip five years ago, I was excited as all hell, but at the same time there was an element of escape, of freeing myself from the daily round of imperfect relationships and personal circumstances which is conventional modern life.

The beginning of that ferry journey was something else. We were setting off, and it felt like an epic beginning, worthy, in a media-twisted romantic way, of that Eighty Days soundtrack. It was the first time in two and a half months, that we were turning towards home, and it didn't feel like returning, of being forced back from escape. Gemma and I were heading home, to our loved ones, to our lives which were starting in earnest with university a few months away. It felt as though I had to be away from it a while to realise that that frustration at imperfection or misconstrued impressions dragging out to form day-to-day relationships was a motivation towards improvement, that life wasn't something to escape from but something to work at, that life wasn't there to be escaped from, but that life was there for the taking.

So now my eight-year-old self has his completely fresh start, but he's standing there looking around him with his mouth open (as he is apt to do) realising that escape isn't the order of the day.

I am leaving Britain tomorrow, for love and New York. Family members are still squabbling lightheartedly over who actually gets to take me to the Catamaran terminal at the end of Ryde pier, but other than that everything is organised and set. Nothing about these past few days has been anything like that one orange-golden moment on the deck of a ferry in the Aegean, but this morning, when I was up to my ears in old photographs and books and coffee, and my Mum was petitioning me for the right to take me tomorrow, I remembered what it felt like.

The beginning of a journey towards life, with a different, stronger and happier set of heart and mind.

I love you, Krissa. I'm coming.

Tee Four Sixteen Thirty

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Well, at this time on the day after tomorrow I'll be on my way to, if not already at, Heathrow.

I've spent the last couple of days running around in a blind panic and a dressing gown getting absolutely everything together. I've given my parents my coffee machine, about which they are politely unenthusiastic, cafetiere enthusiasts that they are, and offloaded a lot of those old clothes I was talking about before. I've given the old laptop to my Mum, some crockery and a steamer to my sister and her boyfriend, and miraculously found room for all the surplus books on shelves all over the house.

This afternoon, as luck would have it, a professional photographer is visiting the school where my Dad works, so we're all trooping on up there to have a family portrait taken. Afterwards I'll be coming home and packing my suit.

To make sure I comply with the baggage limits, tomorrow I'll be dragging my bags down to the local chemists to weigh them on the scales.

The atmosphere in the house is mixed. Everyone is by turns charged and excited and then upset...but one thing is true - my parents are being absolutely brilliant about all this...all of it. Travel arrangements, my growing irrational worries about surplus baggage charges..they have even bought me a hard case for my guitar as an advance birthday present...they're taking it all in their stride.

Knowing how I feel about suddenly being an ocean away from these wonderful people, my parents, I am in awe of their composure.

It is a beautiful, sunny, blustery day on the Isle of Wight.

Sunday Rain

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I moved out of Hatfield without hitch, I'm sure you'll be pleased to hear. I myself feared an emotional mob equipped with the standard pitchforks and flaming torches crying, "Don't leave, or we'll kill you.". In the deep personal darkness of about three in the morning, anyway.

The landlord made a bit of trouble. In his eyes he was being perfectly reasonable - some things had been damaged in the time I'd been in the house, and so to save the hassle and fractiousness caused by an investigation into who was responsible, he was simply going to charge us all to save the trouble, okay?

Um, no. Not really.

Having put a rather upstanding and righteous case forward, whilst claiming responsibility for the cracked hoover attachment (I was the only one in the house who used it) I refuted blame for the ripped-off oven door handle (it was the housemate I dubbed The Luddite, rolling drunk) and the glass cupboard door (The Luddite again, and let's just say he'd had a few), and managed to make my landlord feel, in his words, "super guilty". Which I thought was fair, as he was, after all, trying to rip me off.

In his knot of super-guilt, he reduced the amount he was going to charge by 10. Watch the Vatican news boards for his impending beatification, kids.

Home is home is home.

The flight's on Thursday...which all of a sudden is damn close.

Bring it on.

I miss Krissa terribly, especially at weekends. In the weeks before this one, I was working and the mornings flew by, but at weekends her wake up call (which can be at any time after 2pm UK time) takes a long time to crawl around.

Next weekend will be different, after all.

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