I like a good road trip, especially when I haven’t been more than 10 miles from my house in too many days.

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So when the boy sent me an IM at 9:30 last night asking me to come rescue his tortoise, I eagerly accepted the mission. Ok, the tortoise didn’t really need rescuing. It was more that the boy decided he would sneak a pet tortoise into his pet-free student accommodation. He figured, since he only has another 3 months of uni left, he could get away with hiding his tortoise from his landlord.

Well, the game didn’t quite pan out the way he expected. He got busted because his tortoise busted out of it’s cage and was roaming around the apartment free when the landlord turned up unannounced while the boy wasn’t home. Naughty landlord (he’s suppose to give 48 hours notice before turning up to the flat). Naughty boy (he should have had a more secure cage).

It looks like we are tortoise sitting until June.  Anyway, I got to see the boy, so it was a good trip.

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I was meant to go see the Led Zeppelin tribute band,  Whole Lotta Led tonight, but my buddy bailed on me. Normally I would have carried on and gone anyway, but I made the mistake of stuffing my belly full of chicken fried rice and Kung Po chicken. I’m stuffed and like a lion after eating a gazelle, I just want to lounge in my Lazyboy recliner and do nothing, except of course editing pictures and writing this blog post.

Is this what life has become as an old man? Sitting in on a Saturday night hanging out on my computer? Oh where is my Dylan Thomas poem?


I dusted off my Canon G16 to document my trip down to Cheltenham and to do a little street photography while I was there.

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Peace, my friends,

Clay

Soundtrack:


Many months have pasted since my last trip to the hills.  My work schedule hasn’t been that permissible this year.  It’s kind of a hard sell to the wife to be away all week only to come home unpack your suitcase and then pack your rucksack and head back out the door.  That doesn’t tend to go down well.  But as it happens, the project I’ve been working on has come to an end, so I now have some time to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

I spent the day out in the peak district with a couple of mates.  We decided we’d do a 12 mile hike to take in some of the various scenery the peak district has to offer, from dales to Jurassic Park style river valleys.  We couldn’t have asked for a better day – blue sky, sun, very warm with a cooling breeze.  And because we left early, we had the trails to ourselves for most of the day.

Now I am back home.  My muscles ache and my bones are tired.  I have missed the outdoors and the hills and mountains specifically.  I feel inspired to do more hiking and get back into my outdoor routine.

I’m back in the UK after a week of pure R&R in Spain.  We literally did nothing except hang out by the pool, hang out by the beach, eat, read, play PSP, and sleep.

OK, one day we did go on a little trip to find the famous salt lake whose mud supposedly contains powerful healing powers.  I personally didn’t partake in covering myself in mud, but the rest of the crew did.

My holiday reading list included the second half of John Updike’s Couples, Jay McInerney’s, Bright Lights, Big City and also his new short story collection, The Last Bachelor.

I found Updike’s Couples to be a fascinating exploration of the interpersonal dynamics of marital relationships, infidelity and the conditions that lead couples to stray into the tumultuous world of adultery, wife swapping, and boredom within a committed relationship like marriage.  I love his description of adultery as “a way of giving yourself adventures…of getting out in the world and seeking knowledge.”

I found McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City an easy and fascinating read in the second person.  Like Updike, McInerney’s favorite subjects are sex and adultery.  McInerney aslo adds in a lot of drugs and dying of cancer in his subject matter.  Bright Lights, Big City paints a portrait of living in New York City in the 80’s, full of cocaine and all night parties and trying to get laid.  The Last Bachelor covers much the same territory only this time it’s post 9/11 New York City and somewhere in Tennessee of all places.  The fact that McInerney lives in both New York City and Tennessee probably give a clue as to why.  I like McInerney’s writing style and look forward to catching up and reading more of his work.

And now we are settling back into life as normal – laundry, dishes, housework, getting ready for work, and work proper.

It’s funny the many roles we play in a day.  My train mate (stranger sitting across from me) is a female business woman.  From her notes, I’ve gathered that she is a manager of some sort for HSBC.  She is preparing for a team meeting.  In the space of an hour, she played many roles.

When we first sat down, she brought her loose notes, and her notebook, and her laptop.  Intense and focused, she poured over her notes, made more notes.

Time passed.

She pulled out her blackberry.  I thought she was making a business call, instead she called her daughter to make sure she was ready for school.  Soft voice, mum’s voice… ‘I love you’ at the end.  Phone down, back into business manager role plugging away on the laptop inputting her notes.  In the midst of this transcription, she pulls out her nail file and moves into girly mode and starts doing her nails.  Then back to business manager.

Notes finally finished, she pulls put her iPod and relaxes to some tunes and does the soduku from the morning Metro.

Even her look suggests a women of a thousand guises.  She is wearing a black suit jacket, but underneath is a pink terry cloth top with a white t-shirt that shows just above the rim of the pink shirt.  She is has a small silver cross hanging neatly against her cleavage.  Her hair, short and spikey.  She sports a hard won tan and face that looks as worn a leather glove, not ugly, just haggard.  She is wearing opened toed shoes, pink painted toenails.

I reach my stop, which turns out is also her stop.  We get off.  She has three bags – a laptop bag, her handbag, and some large overgrown back that looks like may contain presentation gear.  Another role, that of the traveler or perhaps the wandering saleswoman…

I wonder how many other roles she will have to play before the end of her day.  Which leaves me to wonder, how many roles do I play in a single day?   And when, if ever, do I get to be just me, no roles, no masks, no walls or barriers?

I’ve been slow to post these past couple of weeks, mainly because I’ve been out wandering and enjoying a little time off of work.  Over the weekend, I was out wandering the Derbyshire Moors with my good friend Ed, of Nak-ed-ape.  As usual, we past the walking time putting the world to right and philosophizing about this and that.  One of the questions posed was why do I like spending so much time outdoors in the hills and woodlands?  My short answer was because the outdoors, especially the mountains, are my spiritual home.  Going to the mountains for me is like going to church.  It is my place of worship.  I am guaranteed to be more centered and grounded after a day’s walk in the hills.

This particular trip, we did a 7 hour hike starting from the Moorland Centre in Edale, north up the waterfall, then northwest to Kinder Scout (there is meant to be a trail through the moorland here, but inevitably you loose the trail and end up picking your way through the trenches and mud sinks until you find firm dry land).

At Kinder Scout, we turned South and followed the Pennine Way back into Edale (I think at some point in the not to distant future, I will walk the entire Pennine Way which is 289 miles going from Edale to north going through Yorkshire Dales, up into Northumberland, across the Cheviots, and right up into the Scottish Borders).  Then today we did a 12 mile cycle around the reservoir trilogy of Ladybower, Derwent, and Howden reservoirs.  And now I am totally knackered!

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We are off on a little mini break – some sweet time with the misuses minus the kids. We like exploring different parts of the country from time to time, so I suggested we check out Canterbury, partly because it gave me an excuse to reread Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and also because I wanted to visit a few other places that have been etched in my memory since studying military history at West Point. One of those being battlefield at Hastings.

I’ve been living in and out of hotels since January this year, so Friday night I had to drive home from Essex, unpack my bags, do my laundry, and repack for our 5 day mini break. I know I am a last minute kind of guy and this was about as last minute as you can get! All good though, we weren’t under any time pressures really i.e. no planes, buses, or trains to catch. Our last couple of trips together have been ‘let’s make it up as we go along’ trips. So this was no different in that respect. We had a general destination of Canterbury. The rest we would make up.

We set off at a reasonable time on Saturday morning. We thought the roads would be packed full of cars considering it is a Bank Holiday weekend. But actually, the motorways were fairly clear. We made good time down to Folkestone, which was going to serve as our base of operations for the trip. We would have stayed in Cantebury, but all the hotels and B&B’s were booked. Instead, Ruth found a spartan little B&B in Folkestone called the Rob Roy run by an old couple named Sue and Alan. It’s about a mile away from the town center on the A260. Not the most picturesque place, but we didn’t plan on spending much time there anyway, apart from sleeping.

We picked up a bunch of leaflets from the tourist information center as soon as we arrived in town. I hadn’t realized how much there is to see around the Kent Downs. We decided to spend the rest of Saturday kicking around Folkestone. Now I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems that in the area of Folkestone where we are staying, all the locals look like they got a bit of sea-dog in them. A fall out from being a harbor town I guess.

We set out to explore Folkestone by bike. A quick flick through the leaflets and we found a place that looked interesting – The Lower Leas Coastal Park. We could take in some sea and woodlands. Apparently, landslips in 1784 created the park’s basic formation and then in 1829 some enterprising nobleman decided he could make some cash, so he built a toll road to provide an “easy” route between the harbor and and the town of Sandgate. The park has evolved since then as a place for people to come and relax underneath the shade of pines, holm oaks and sycamore trees, or to lie out on the pebbled beach.

We cycled at a leisurely pace through the park stopping at several landmarks like the Leas Lift, which is the second oldest water powered lift in Britain, and the Zig Zag Path, which was built in 1921 as a new attraction and to provide work for the unemployed.

Beneath the Zig Zag Path is an amphitheater. I don’t know if it used for shows or anything, but it provided a nice grassy area to lie down on and take in some sun. We cycled through the park and onto Sandgate before turning around and finding a route back to Folkestone. It was nice to be next to the sea, rolling along watching people and ducking from seagulls.

In the evening, after we recovered from our ride, we found a nice all you can eat Chinese buffet called Kalala. The service was quick, the staff friendly, and the food was delicious, what more could you ask for from a buffet. After dinner, we were both pretty beat, so we headed back to the B&B to call it a day, play a few games and then hit the rack. End of day one.

He walked up to the roof of the hotel to get some fresh air and watch the night sky turn to dawn.  The time between dusk and dawn is meant to be a time of magic.  At the precise moment when it is neither night nor day, the gods can be summoned.  He has never seen a god before, maybe today will be his lucky day, but he doubts it.  The gods abandoned man a long time ago when we decided we no longer had a use for them apart from killing each other in the name of one god or another.

The cars in the distant stream by like shooting stars.  He moves closer to the edge and looks down. Edges make him feel uneasy.  He always feels compelled to jump.  He struggles for reasons why he shouldn’t.  Lately he has found it harder and harder to find a reason that’s worth a damn.

He hasn’t said good bye to his wife.

He steps back from the edge.  Maybe tomorrow he won’t be so lucky.

Poor human hearts pounding everywhere, lying in their beds, walking their dogs, worrying about their future, dwelling on how their life took a wrong turn as they ride the bus to work in the morning.  I’m lying here in my hotel bed.  No other guest are stirring at this hour.  The dull roar of distant traffic reminds me that the poor human heart pounds 24 hours a day.

My past is a distant memory.  Who I was before no longer matters.  I resist thoughts of the future; they only bring anxiety born of uncertainty.  My crystal ball is full of thunder clouds, the clouds of unknowing.  Not being able to see the distant shores makes me seasick. I ground myself in the present with Jack’s words.  On my nightstand is last night’s entertainment, the Portable Playstation, Burnout Dominator crashing into cars to earn points, a fantasy of the human heart pounding of road rage.  Dark Resurrection, a hero’s quest to claim an unknown prize.  The prize doesn’t matter, what matters is the adventure along the way.  I long to feel my human heart pounding with the anticipation of unknown trails, dangerous trails, where the capacity of one’s own wit and resourcefulness determines life over death.  Adrenaline becomes my addiction, instead of cheap whores and booze.  An addiction that prowls like a hungry wolf on a cold desolate winter day looking for his next kill to keep him from Death’s steel jaws, the circle of life, the pounding of human hearts beating to different tunes on their iPods.

I close my eyes.  I’m on an empty beach watching her stand with her feet in the sea.  Her peach colored Spanish dress pulled above her ankles, she is dancing with the waves.  I feel lonely in this empty bed of fluffy white blankets and pillows listening to my poor human heart pounding.

Driving down the motorway at 5.30 in the morning, I can’t help but think we are little more than sophisticated ants.  The central government plays the role of the queen ant.  We play the role of the workers, warriors, and consorts.  No one asks if you want to belong to the system.  You are born into it, and you either learn and accept the rules or you perish.  It is as simple as that.  Of course they dress it up, give it some clothes, and tell you that you have choices and that you’re opinion matters, but the reality is you don’t and it doesn’t.  Get in line and do your part for the system like everybody else.

I am sitting in a greasy roadside diner.  The smell of cooked fat sits heavy in the air.  I know that when I leave here, the smell of grease will have crept into every fiber of my clothes.  People will think that I work in a kitchen. I try to convince myself that sitting close to the door might help keep the smell off of me.  But I doubt it will really. If food is hot topic for men, sex is an even bigger topic.  There is a piece of research out that suggests that the biggest regret in life men have is not having had enough sex.  They did a survey of old men who statistically didn’t have a lot of time left.  70% of the old men surveyed said that they regret not having had more sex.  They said they didn’t want more kids, mind you, just more sex.