Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

February 2006

Photography and TravelMonday, February 27th, 2006, (8:52 pm)

My friend Will came up for the weekend just gone and we decided to shake things up a little and head off way up North… to Scotland! The Scottish border is only about 200 or so miles from here, though I never go up there because it takes too damn long and when gas is $8 a gallon it’s expensive!

We headed up there on Friday afternoon. Got to Glasgow sometime after dinner, stopped at an Indian restaurant where we had some real nice food while watching raunchy Bollywood music videos – I never knew Indian culture could bump and grind with the best of them!

After that we found a soulless motel and settled in for the night with a view to getting an early getaway in the morning. We tossed a coin for the double bed, I lost so I got the stupid sofa-bed thing which was uncomfortable to say the least. The entire experience was made worse by Will’s snoring which kept me awake most of the night.

We didn’t get the early getaway on Saturday morning that we had kind of planned to do. We’d sat up have the night drinking tea and talking so we just headed out late morning instead. But we didn’t have a plan, so we weren’t behind any schedule or anything.

The picture below was taken on the road by Loch Fyne. The weather was trying to decide whether to rain or not. In the end the clouds above us just went about their business like great ships with unseen cargos for destination I could only imagine.

The picture above was taken on the way to Inveraray. And below is Inveraray castle which sits majestically beside the loch in the little port-side town. From there we headed slowly North along winding roads that weaved their ways alongside the vast lochs. We’d stop to get out take pictures and generally take in the surroundings.

As the evening began to draw to a close we drove by Stalker Castle which stands on a small island in Loch Linnhe. The sun was setting behind the hills and mountains of the Mull of Kintyre. I’ve always wanted to see one of these kind of castles but had I not been looking back at the setting sun as we drove, we would have missed it entirely!

We eventually stopped in the town of Fort William and found ourselves a little bed and breakfast beside the loch. It was owned by a lady from Chicago, her husband was a former Chicago cop and years ago they opted for a chance in pace and lifestyle so they moved to Fort William to start the little guest house.

The next day we headed to the highest point in the UK, Ben Nevis mountain. It’s a climbers mountain, so lazy tourists like Will and I choose instead to go up Anoch Mor (pictured above) some 2100 feet to look across at Ben Nevis. It was awesome to stand there in the snow and look across at the snow capped mountains around me. This was a real thrill as I rarely see snow where I live. All the snow I’ve seen in recent years has been in America!

We decided to head back home at a leisurely pace through the Glencoe Valley which was spectacular. We stopped again in Glasgow and spent some more of the Scottish money we’d acquired buying over priced food which was only forgivable because of our sweetly beautiful waitress who flirted the perfect amount to earn herself a decent tip. It’s always easier to tip when the money looks different – Maybe she knew that?

It’s been over ten years since I was last in Scotland, but I won’t be leaving it another ten years to go back that’s for sure!

GeneralThursday, February 23rd, 2006, (12:27 pm)

I have to fire my cleaner. She’s a terrible racist for a start, but quite apart from that she utterly sucks at her job. She didn’t use to, but familiarity breeds contempt they say, and over time she has gotten into the habit of spending less and less time here, speeding up the time by taking grubby shortcuts.

My cleaner, or housemaid as an American friend once referred to her, calls black people “nig nogs” and when I talked to her about raising money for African aid she went on for ages about how she “doesn’t give money to black charities.”

That conversation was deeply offensive and I should have just fired her right then and there I suppose. However, every time I’ve decided to fire her something awful happens in her life. First, her little boy had some terrible medical problem that restricted his breathing. Then her marriage hit the rocks. Then her father died a slow and gruesome death from cancer.

Each time I’ve been ready to fire I then learn of the latest disaster and I just feel like I can’t add to that. In the last two years, you can see the stress of her life has taken its toll. She used to be a larger lady, but worry and stress have meant she’s lost pounds, and now she’s slim. (There’s something to be said for stress and dieting perhaps?)

But the last time she was here she pissed me off by going on for ages about me getting married.
“You need to find yourself a good woman Simon, settle down and get married, have a family, that’s what you need to do.” She said.
“Really?” I answered, “Do I seem unhappy to you?”
“Well no, but you’re getting on a bit now and so you should get married, start a family, settle down, and all that.”

I felt like saying something like “Oh yeah, good idea, I mean that’s worked out so well for you!” But I resisted.

“Well okay then,” I answered sarcastically, “I’ll go out this afternoon, down to the wife shop and I’ll find me a nice wife then.”
“You know what I mean.” She said in an annoyed tone.
“Well, I’m not sure I do. I think you’re implying that we’re not complete unless we’re married, and that I have somehow reached my ‘due date’ and that if I don’t get married this year or very soon then I’m a big ol’ loser.”
“All’s I’m saying Si, is that you’re not getting any younger,” she said.
“Well gee, aren’t I? I am glad you pointed that out, see cuz I thought I was,” I answered with a laugh.

I was happy to leave the conversation there as I turned back to my keyboard and carried on with work. But typical for her in a situation like this, she just couldn’t put it down, and instead decided to push the subject a little more.

“Well all’s I’m saying is that you can’t be single forever Si.”
I couldn’t help myself. I had to respond. “Oh, you can’t? Who says? Is there a law that I am unaware of?”
“For happiness I suppose is what I’m saying.” She explained.
“Oh, happiness. So what you’re saying is that I need to hurry out and find myself a nice wife because if I don’t I’ll not continue to be happy?”
“Well Si, you’re not getting any younger. Girls won’t look at you when you’re old.”
“Tell that to Sean Connery,” I replied.
“Well, he’s got money,” came her perhaps predictable reply.
“So let me get this straight, the only thing that makes girls find Sean Connery attractive is the fact he’s got money?” I asked.
“Well, it helps.”
“So, by your standards, I need to hurry out this afternoon and get a wife from somewhere, any old wife will do. Then I need to bring her back here, marry her, impregnate her, buy a fucking ford escort, and this is the key to a happy life that I cannot possibly attain unless I follow those steps. Because one day I’ll be old and gray and unless I have money I won’t be able to find a woman who would want to spend any time with me?”
She laughed and said, “Well something like that.”

Maybe I should have just stopped there, but now I was angry. So I decided, rather unfairly I suppose, to continue.

“So Wendy. Marriage is the key to happiness then? So how come your marriage is so unhappy? I mean you’ve said before that you hate Steve [her husband], so how does hating the person you married lead to this happiness you’re talking about?” I asked.
“Oh eh Si, that’s a little unfair,” She responded.

She was right of course. It was unfair, but I listen to her go on like this week in and week out and I usually just nod and let her go on but today I wasn’t going to let this deeply unhappy woman preach to me about how much happier I could be when I feel like I have a great life, and if marriage is around the corner then sobeit, if not then sobeit too!

“Why is it unfair Wend? When have I ever told you I am unhappy? When have you ever got the sense I might be unhappy? When was the last time I told you how the weight of life is getting me down? I think you’ll find I have never done that. Yet you’ve probably never once come here without telling me something that’s shit in your life. You’re always facing some tragedy or some disaster and by your own admission, your marriage is a joke! So you’ll forgive me when I get a little irked that you feel justified in giving me advice about how I might obtain the happiness that you don’t have.”

She was kind of stunned. She put her hands on her hips and said “Well say what you think won’t you Si.” Then I realized I had probably just really hurt her. So I backpedaled a bit saying I didn’t mean to be nasty but that I am actually very happy in life.

She shrugged it all off and changed the subject. Outwardly she’s made of nails, but inside I think she’s falling apart, and as she went on her way I felt bad that I’d just said what I had.

Part of me wishes I could have been more diplomatic, but then she’s my cleaner, not my friend, and had she not said anything to me about how I might be more happy we probably wouldn’t have gotten into that whole thing anyway.

So how the heck can I fire her now? I feel bad about what I said, no matter how true it was. If I fire her it’s going to seem very personal, when really it is mostly because she’s a crap cleaner! The problem comes in that I would still see her once a week as she cleans the hairdressing salon downstairs, so when she cleans the conservatory I often see her.

Maybe I’ll give it two or three more weeks. But in that time you just know there will be an all-new disaster in her life.

GeneralWednesday, February 22nd, 2006, (12:25 pm)

I’ve been going through some of my photography of late, and while going through my pictures of America from last summer I was reminded of the time Erin, Jon and I went to WallMart somewhere in Houston and decided to goof around putting on hats and ties and all kinds of other things we could find.

Jon was taking off an English accent, claiming he was “Pip, sir.” or “Nigel.” So I decided to take on a Southern accent of some description, and walk around the store talking in that accent and generally being a fool.

I’m not sure I’d make a great cowboy really. I’d have to find the right hat for a start. And I’ve not had the best success whenever I’ve tried to ride horses. One damn near kneecapped me when it decided to go through the space between two trees without considering the fact it was carrying me on it’s back and my legs made it that bit wider.

Anyway, I’ve had these pictures for ages, and as I know a lot of people who read my Xanga know Erin and Jon, I thought I would share the pics and the silly little video we made too. I should explain that in England suspenders are NOT what you call suspenders, it always makes me laugh when I hear Americans talking about firemen in suspenders. I hadn’t shaved for some reason, so I look like a dodgy cowboy that might try and sell you a three legged horse of something. Word to the wise, never trust a British cowboy!

GeneralTuesday, February 21st, 2006, (1:38 pm)

The other day I was checking out Google Video when I happened upon a movie of a little girl in the United States firing a huge machine gun. The video was produced by Cousino’s Firearms of Ohio who, from what I can work out, made it at some kind of ‘trade show.’

Now I guess it’s just a cultural difference between the UK and the USA, but to see children with guns, especially heavy artillery machine guns, makes me shake my head in disbelief. It seems kind of obscene to me to put such a weapon in the hands of one so young.

I’ll grant you that guns can be a lot of fun. I have fired a gun, a rifle in New Hampshire, it made a wickedly loud noise and gave me a real rush. I’d fire another given a chance, if for no other reason than to just experience that really loud bang again. But firearms and children, well that just doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe I’m old fashioned when it comes to firearms. But I just can’t seem to divorce them from there lethal potential.

I don’t want to be judgmental of the man who shows the little girl how to fire that weapon in the video. Maybe it was just harmless fun in a very controlled environment and that’s hard for me to understand given the fact that not even the regular cops here in the UK carry firearms. And when I do see a cop with a gun (there are a rare few) it sends a chill through me.

I find the scene of this young girl in America with the machine gun no less shocking than the pictures of child soldiers fighting wars we never hear about in places we can only identify as ‘far away.’

Aside the video below check out this TV and cinema ad that is currently showing here in the UK. I don’t know whether it would be shown in America. It’s a very funny shopping channel spoof about the AK47, but really plugs into the British relationship to guns and how they are an entirely alien thing to us.

Few Brits will have ever seen a gun up close, let alone fired one! ALL hand guns and automatic weapons are illegal here, and there are extremely tight controls on who can now a rifle and where they can keep it.

Watch the British TV and cinema commercial and see the other video I mentioned below.

GeneralMonday, February 20th, 2006, (1:36 pm)

A few friends and I were chatting the other day about TV and the shows we grew up watching as kids. We were laughing and exchanging our memories of the stuff we thought was cool and the TV stars we used to think were hot.

The conversation was sparked by my desire to try and find a DVD of some old episodes of the classic show “CHiPs”, which followed California Highway Patrol motorbike cops, Ponch and Jon, as they rode those sunny highways in pursuit of cars and justice. It was a show that had more cheese in it than the Tillamook cheese factory, but for me, as a little boy, those sun drenched freeways, the cool sunglasses and uniforms, the Kawasaki motor bikes and the car chases, were irresistible TV lures. I think that it was CHiPs that first gave me the idea that one day I wanted to live in California. I dream I achieved just days after my 21st birthday.

There isn’t a DVD of “CHiPs” available at the moment, but I understand one is due out soon. Proof, perhaps, that the generation who grew up watching car chases on Californian highways (that invariably ended up in a fireball without injury or loss of life) have grown up and now want to remember those days again. I caught a couple of episodes on cable a year or so ago, and even though they were truly awful, they made me smile and took me right back to those late Saturday afternoons sitting on my turtle shaped cushion far too close to the TV, but close enough so that I was right there with Ponch and Jon in California, chasing down bad guys on shiny motorbikes wearing cool shades.

It was a long night of remembering the old names of our old hero’s. Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar man. Hannibal, Murdoch, Ace, and Mr T of the A team. Michael Knight and K.I.T from Knight Rider. There were so many. And as we sat there enthusiastically exchanging stories of how happy we were to get the action figures and annuals, we entertained each other as we mimicked those old familiar theme tunes that we could all recall with almost no effort.

We amused each other recalling who we considered to be hot among our TV heros and heroines. I dare not even think how old I was when I had a crush on Wonder-woman who always looked amazing in her get up that seemed like the salvaged remains of a wardrobe collision between Miss World and a Soviet soldier. Or Jamie Sommers, the Bionic Woman, with her flowing blonde hair and soft focus skin. Charlie’s Angels was a favorite too. Three of the most beautiful women in the world hanging out with one of the most average guys in the world and working for a guy who only ever appeared on a big old speaker phone.

Then came Baywatch, a show where the shabby acting, the terrible script, and the presence of a hairy chested David Hasselhof might have otherwise spelled a televisual catastrophe, but for one thing… babes in bikinis gratuitously filmed in slow motion!

It wasn’t the first beach rescue based TV show I’d ever watched. An Australian show called ‘Chopper Squad’ pre-dated ‘Baywatch’ by more than ten years and was once as highly regarded by me as ‘CHiPs’. It followed the adventures of Australia’s helicopter Surf Rescue and featured girls in bikinis that were extremely skimpy for their time. But back in 1976 I simply never noticed them of course, instead I just saw the cool helicopter and the dramatic rescues.

Maybe I shouldn’t get ‘CHiPs’ on DVD. Maybe it’s better to leave the show back where it belongs, in the long summers of the school holidays when my bike was the only thing I needed for adventures and my feet didn’t quite reach the floor when I sat at the dinner table. But then maybe it would be nice just to have that little bit of history back? Something that might serve as a small reminder of more innocent days.

General and PhotographySunday, February 19th, 2006, (6:49 pm)

Somewhere in your daydreams you probably have places you’d like to call home? Your very own ivory tower. We’ve all looked at places and thought “Wow, I’d like to live there.” Well, this is one of those places for me.

Surrounded by the foothills of the Berwyn and Snowdonia Mountains in Wales, is Lake Vyrnwy (Llyn Efyrnwy in Welsh). What makes this lake one of the most enchanting places in Wales for me is the knowledge that under these still waters lies much of the village of Llanwddyn. The residents of Llanwddyn were relocated and in 1881 the Corporation of Liverpool began work on the huge masonry dam. It took nearly seven years to complete and two years to fill.

Llanwddyn was reclaimed back in the 1870s to make way for the formation of the lake which was to supply water to the booming English port of Liverpool. While the dam was being built the villagers went about their daily routines in its growing shadow. Their village was made up of two chapels, three inns, ten farmhouses, and 37 houses, much of which was knocked down shortly before the lake was filled, but some buildings, including the church, were simply left to the mercy of the water.

The Tower of Vyrnwy would be my home, though as beautiful and awesome as it is, it would probably be a lonesome abode. Like something from a fairytale, the iconic building is set out on the lake in solitary magnificence and linked to the shore by an arched bridge. Though this is no home, it is instead the old victorian watch-tower where guards and engineers would watch over the lake and the machinery hidden below the tower which filters the water and sends it on its way to Liverpool, even to this day.

Of course, no one uses the tower anymore. The machinery has been updated and automated and is now controlled from a computer terminal in South Wales. But such facts, though interesting, matter little when one lets the mind wander. This place would be such an interesting home, or maybe just a retreat from a busy life that could afford such a luxury? And maybe one day I’d go diving. Diving to the old homes of the village that’s been underwater for more than 100 years. I wonder what is left of it. What secrets it holds, what tales it could tell?

I took these pictures yesterday when Posh and I put the roof down on the car and went out for a drive, enjoying the crisp February air and the welcome blue sky. Afterward, we had dinner in the converted stables of former Bishop’s Palace, Soughton Hall. As a huge open fire burned and the sunset, we drank local wine and ate the seasonal local cuisine. I had the wood pigeon and Posh had the duck. I can honestly say I’ve never had wood pigeon before, but it was one of those things I felt I had to try once, like frogs legs in France, or Raki in Greece.

The history of Lake Vyrnwy
Visit Wales
Soughton Hall

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