Sunday, 27 February 2011


23rd - 28th February 2011

By road to Charleston, the original capital of South Carolina ( until 1865 ); a touristy place but good fun. It is ( quite ) famous for a) being established by King Charles 11 and given, along with all Carolina, to his supportive cronies in 1670, b) the first shot of the Civil War was fired here by the Confederates at a ship resupplying Unionist held (by Major Robert Anderson) Fort Sumter in April 1861, c) Hurricane Hugo, which flattened the place in 1989 and, I suppose, d) for inventing a rather silly dance.
It is in Cherokee country and the setting, along with Georgia, of the  'Gone with the Wind' story and film. There are many old cotton and rice 'plantations' ( now defunct ), mansions, Rhett Butler lookalikes and freed slaves around the place. Extraordinarily, it has 137 churches and no building is allowed to be built higher than the highest church spire. These Yanks, whoops sorry Rebs, love their churches.
 There are also loads of organised 'tours' by bus, boat and horse or mule drawn carriages. Tours to plantations, mansions, Fort Sumter on a man-made island, around the town, the slave market ( closed ), an aircraft carrier, a Civil War ( first ever ) sunken submarine ( the Hunley which sunk after destroying a Yankee ship ),  etc. etc.

Below right: the 'rainbow houses' along one of the smart streets. Most of the old houses have 'earthquake bolts' through them to hold them together during an earthquake.

Below: One of the many mule towed guided tours. Rather more fun if they had races with them, in my opinion.

Below below: The Palmetto tree ( a smaller leaved palm tree ) which forms part of the blue South Carolina flag. The trunks of this tree are very tough and resilient and they reinforced the original city walls with them. They withstood all the British cannon fire in the War of Independence, and thus became iconic to the Charlestonians. Charleston was the capital at the time.

I took a bus tour ( reckoned it would be quicker than the horse drawn variety ) and therefore give me more time to tour their bars and restaurants of which there is a plethora. Yes, lots of quaint and colourful historic old houses and sites from the 'Gone with the Wind' days. There is a  large and old fashioned open City Market which sells locally made produce, including the ubiquitous 'sweet-grass' woven baskets made by the indiginous 'Gullah' folk. The Gullah culture consists of black people with traditions and a strange 'patois' language that extends down the east coast of the Carolinas and Georgia. I think I heard someone talking it, and it was impossible to understand. Or maybe they just had a speech defect.

Right: a knob's house in Charleston. The plantation owners kept these places to 'entertain' in Town. They all have two converging entrance staircases, one for the men and one for the ladies. They were rather conservative in those days.

Left: a tour bus.
Below right: One of the many 'sweet-grass' basket weavers/sellers' I think she might have had a few left over at the end of the day. I didn't buy one.

Below:...... and, of course, the mandatory Oirish Fenian 'Bear' serving Guiness and, surprisingly, Newcastle Brown Ale in which the 'Woild Rovarrr', inevitably, was played endlessly as well as a new one on me, a song which contained the lyrics " ..Moi Faathor was a hampstor.." No, I didn't get it either. Must be a local variation.

I visited another fairly strange institution here. The "Citadel'. This is a quasi-military/academic establishment with some weird 'initiation' rites and traditions. The students all dress in a sort of Westpoint style uniform. Freshmen ( 1st year students ) have all their hair shaved off, cannot walk on the pavements and have to walk 'at the double' ( ie run ) wherever they go. Some drop out after a couple of months. The 'course' lasts 3 years and they pay $23,000 per year for the priviledge.
Most do not join the services but they get, apparently, a good education. It must be like the first term at Sandhurst, but tougher and you pay for it! They put on a military parade every Friday afternoon. I went. Photos below.

Left: the Citadel flag. They have a museum which I visited. It was rather dull.

Below: One of the imposing 'blocks' which make up the Citadel. Every building has a US flag flying from it. I counted 36 all told.

Below: The Parade. There were at least 1000 on parade. They have a Scottish Pipe Band, with their own tartan, as well as a normal 'oompah' one. For the life of me, I can't work out what the connection is between South Carolina and Scotland. I'm sure someone will enlighten me. Did they have Scottish plantation owners? Or slaves, maybe?( I don't think Hamish would have made a very good slave.." Whaat Baas? Weel yoos can just f**k off yoos sassenach c**t" ).
Their drill seemed mainly to consist of very long, loud and unintelligible words of command followed by, as far as I could see, not much! They eventually marched off and most of them were in step.

The 'Pipes and Drums' were OK, but I suspect any self-respecting Scottish Regimental Pipe Major would have had a fit.

Below: The pipe band in action.

Of course I had to see a plantation and duly went on another 'tour' to the Boone Hall Plantation just North-West of the town. It was rather a pleasant place, horses in the paddocks, Scarlett O'Haras in the tea rooms and has been used as a backdrop for various 'movies' which demanded that theme. The life of the owners and slaves was well explained, "yas Baas etc." The place grew rich on growing cotton, indigo ( hadn't heard of that before ) and nuts. And in the winter, to keep the boys amused and occupied, they made bricks.

Left: Boone Hall, where the 'toffs' lived. They always kept their kitchens separate from the house because they ( kitchens ) often burned down and they didn't want the houses to go up with them. Wise.

Below right. Slave alley huts, just along the drive approaching the main house ( this was a 'status' thing, just to show off how many slaves you had ). Actually, these brick-built ones were comparatively luxurious.

Below: A slave's bedroom. Eat yer heart out Tracy Emin! I was told a 'family' of up to 16 people lived in one hut.
Does't look to bad to me. I've known worse. They probably weren't in it for very long anyway.

 The 'living' oak ( they always have leaves on, new ones pushing out old ) lined drive to the hall. The grey stuff that always hangs down from these trees is called 'Spanish Moss'. 'Spanish' because the Indians thought it looked like the beards that the early Spanish invaders wore. It is not a moss.


As I mentioned, there is a great variety of bars and restaurants in this town, as indeed everywhere in the country, but I have yet to get the hang of the food and drink in the US, in general. The photo on the left is of a typical bar/restaurant. Firstly, I was introduced to 'Grits', an apparently popular southern delicacy. My advice is; don't. It is a sort of gooey porridge made from sweetcorn. The sort of stuff you might feed to a sick calf. Secondly, all their meals seem so complicated and are always covered with lots of different and equally disgusting 'goo' or 'toppings' as they call them. To give you an example, I will quote from a menu for a typical 'appetiser'. I always just order 'appetisers' because the main courses are usually big enough to feed a normal family of 4 for about a week. Anyway, this appetiser ( and I couldn't make it up ) was described as...."Sauteed calamari tossed with capers, orange zest, tomato, basil pesto and shaved fennel served over wilted spinach with salsa cruda and jack cheese quesadilla"... probably with a choice of bloody 'toppings'!  I mean........whaaaat?! Is this a description of food or some sort of culinary masonic coded message? It cost $10. Cheap. And, whatever you do, resist the temptation to ask for their recitation of the 'Specials'. This involves a brilliantly rehearsed soliloquy which goes on for a solid 5 minutes without breath being taken. After the first word, chicken say, the rest might as well be in fluent Martian. One is left with eyes wide and mouth open, comprehending zilch. You just say "can you repeat that" and do a runner. My advice, which will not be taken, is that US meals should have 1/2 the ingredients,  1/2 the quantity and be 1/2 the price. I suspect my search for 'fish and chips', or 'beans on toast' will be entirely and hopelessly in vain.

OK, that's my compilation for the last week. Moving on tomorrow. Where to? As someone once memorably said around here " Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn..."
Hang on in there.......I will communicate again sometime soon.

PS. Nearly forgot, the Charleston was invented here by an orphanage black band called the Jenkins Jazz Orchestra in, about, 1890. Look it up on 'youtube'. There is only one recording of them left.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


21st - 23rd February 2011

Long ride in the 'Wriggley Tin' ( 10.5 hrs ). I took my own 'refreshments' with me this time. I'm learning. Train was packed due to a public holiday. It was President's Day, apparently, whatever that entails. The train left Washington at 3.00pm and I was squeezed into a seat in the front of a carriage next to drawn curtains. I pulled the curtains back and, guess what, no bloody window! I ask you. So I didn't get much of a view before it got dark. Haven't a clue what we passed or where we went. South I suppose. I gathered from an Amtrak magazine that this month is 'Black History Month'. I had no idea! They ( Amtrak ) were advertising the 'Leroy R Fergus Jr' award, to be given to the person who contributes most on this 'historic' occasion to the rail system. I was thinking of donning a bit of 'black and white' minstrel 'slap' and, because it was next to nigh impossible to sleep, polishing up my rendition of " Camptown Racetrack 5 mile long, doo-dah....etc'. It would surely amuse the passengers, win the award and help pay for my travels. Perhaps.
I made it, alive, into Columbia Station after another 'ride 'em cowboy' journey ( 1 platform, and only 2 trains a day ) at 0245hrs. Straight to hotel; 'Springhill Suites by Marriott'. Excellent place for about $100 per night. Tip here, for anyone who may be interested; I have so far discovered that 3 chains provide relatively inexpensive and good quality accomodation across the USA ( there are undoubtably more ), namely: Springhill Suites, Courtyard ( both Marriott subsidiaries ) and Hampton Hotels.
Met later that day, after a good kip, by an old school friend, 'T'. He and family have been living in Columbia for 25 years, or so. I was taken on an excellent tour of the City. It is the capital of South Carolina. Charleston was originally, but it was moved to Columbia after the Civil War. Interesting to note that South Carolina is 1/3 the size of UK and has only 4 million inhabitants ( size and space again! ). The place was attacked and torched by Gen Sherman's ( Unionist ) troops towards the end of the Civil War. The State Capitol building was shelled and where the shells hit has been marked by bronze 'stars'.

Below: view of the State Capitol Building. Note the Confederate Flag flying in front. Maybe it's a bit small to see in this wee photo. It was originally on the 'dome', but this displeased the Federal government, so it was moved to it's much more prominent position at the front! The State Capitol in each State is a sort of mirror image, at State level, of the Federal arrangement. It's where the State Governor hangs out.

  Left: State Capitol building plus, forefront, Confederate flag.

Right: T standing in front of some hero soldier of the American/Mexican War


Left: George Washington at the front.

             Right: one of the bronze stars, 6 of them in all, mark where Sherman's shells hit ( repair work subsequently done ).

Left: Inside on first floor. Elegant?

Below: State Congress debating chamber. There are about 150 Congressmen representing the counties in the State. I think they have a 4 year term of office.

Below: State Senators debating chamber. There are 47 Senators representing, proportional to the population within them, the counties. They have a 6 year term of office.

The Congress chamber is 'opened' for business by a Mace ( very old and valuable ) placed across the front of the Speakers dias, which completes an electric circuit and illuminates the lights on either side.  The same is done in the Senate by a sword. The present sword was donated by Lord Halifax ( made by Wilkinson Sword... hello Oxbridge! ), who was the Brit Ambassador in 1951, after the original had been stolen.
The concept of US Federal Government and State Assemblies ( they make the State laws ) is, from what I can see, remarkably similar, in essence, to that espoused by our beloved European Union. The US States are equivalent to EU member nations, and the US Federal Government is equivalent to the EU Commission in Brussels. With one notable difference! The US population elects their President and national government, whereas the EU President ( that funny little Belgian non-descript 'HermanVan Rumpelstiltskin', or whatever he's called ) and his team of over-paid lickspittle shysters are not elected by anyone. Hey ho! Incidently, for our tour of the State Capitol, T and I joined, with their permission, a group ( red spot team ) of Grade 5, Elementary School  pupils from Greensville ( average age 12 ). We two were undoubtedly the worst behaved in the group.
A point I noted in Columbia, and other places, is the great number of very large and shiny chromed Harley-Davidson motorbikes on the roads; no doubt brought out by the sunny weather. Those riding them rarely appear to wear crash helmets. The law says you must, but they don't. All credit to them in my opinion! Another thing I note is that US light switches, in default position, are 'on' when up, and 'off' when down. The opposite to Europe. Also, they mostly have an illumination on them when 'off' so you can find them in the dark! Another lesson to be learnt here, I think.

Left: Hey, this is interesting! Seen in a Columbia bar/restaurant window. WOW!!! I can't wait. I expect the over 85 yr olds in South Carolina are now 'binge drinking' and causing havoc. Maybe I can forge an ID.

There is a very smart and prestigious University in Columbia. It has some beautiful buildings and was started in .... ( bugger, I've forgotten....but a long time ago ). I was shown around a bit. My host, T, had studied there. The old library was deserted, probably because it was warm and sunny outside, but lots of students were lying around on the grass of what is known as the 'horseshoe' and I looked and they really were studying text books! I suspect they take their University education rather more seriously here. If they don't get good grades, basically, they don't get a job!

Left: the Old library at Columbia University. It's rather cosy. They also have a much more modern one ( ground floor then 7 floors underground, elsewhere. )

Below: The Horseshoe, surrounded by University buildings where, believe it or not, many students were actually studying.

Left: My host and hostess waving good-riddance.
Very good drink and nosh. Thanks T and B.....and Crispin.

And onwards..........................................Perhaps next to Charleston.

Monday, 21 February 2011


19th Feb 2011

Driven first to Arlington to be shown the cemetery. This is no ordinary cemetery; for a start it is vast. Can't remember the acreage but about 300,000 people are buried there and going up at a rate of 100 per week. The place will be full by 2030, I think the guide in our 'Tourmobile' said. There are strict rules about who can be planted here. You have to have served in one of the military arms, or be a spouse or unmarried son or daughter of the planted, up to a maximum of 4 per family, and dead of course. ( something like that anyway ).
Naturally all the political and military big-wigs are buried here, with several 'sites' devoted to particular
groupings, and lots of memorials and elaborate monuments. The Kennedys are in the most prestigious spot ( JFK and Mrs, and two children ) with Bobby and Edward buried about 30yds away.

Left: simple plot for Bobby K and, right, the more elaborate 'tomb' of JFK and his family, with a burning thing at the back.

On the hill-top is the splendid Arlington House. This was the home ( up to the Civil War ) of Gen Robert E Lee. It was, eventually, returned to his family. We had a look around it but it was undergoing extensive internal renovations. A good view over Washington from there if nothing else.

Left: the front of Arlington House.

Below right: the view over Washington from the front door. Not sure what the white table thing is. Maybe for eating 'al fresco' or perhaps where his cats are buried.

The next thing we witnessed was the 'Changing of the Guard' at the tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

This is a 10 minute ceremony performed every hour. The tomb is, apparently, guarded by a Marine 24 hrs a day, 365 days a year  regardless of weather conditions, according to the guide. I believe him.
The guard change-over involves a SNCO Marine giving orders to the other two ( but first a gruff instruction to the viewing public to remain silent during the ceremony and show due respect ). Lots of slow ponderous marching, elaborate inspection of the new guard's rifle ( take 'is name Sarn't, rusty barrel ), clicking of heels etc and unintelligible words of command. The most noticeable feature to me was that the marines wore
dark sunglasses! Good heavens, I can just picture my Sergeant Major at Sandhurst's reaction to that! ..." Mr Sample, Sir, what the blinkin' 'eck are those things on your face?...Do yoo think yoo are goin' on 'oliday in the bloody Ba'aamas? Well I've got news for yoo, Sir!.. yor goin' on 'oliday in the bleedin' Guardroom !!!! Leffriteleffriteleffrite.."

  Left:The Changing of the Guard, Marine style

   We set off down to Washington. Again, I was thoroughly impressed by the wide open and clean spaces, the grand Official Government buildings, the imposing memorials and monuments, ultra-smart and expensive hotels and restaurants and the general air of affluence and elegance in that part of the city. It certainly has a 'wow' factor, but then I suppose it needs to, to impress visiting VIPs and Heads of State.  What I was told, but did not see, is that over a half of the city consists of run-down and dangerous black ghettos with an appalling crime rate and squalid poverty. I can't comment because, as I said, I didn't see it.
The Lincoln Memorial is quite imposing. Photos below:

 Left: Abraham Lincoln. ....but apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Right: His Gettysburg Address. A very long one, if you ask me. Presumably this was an early form of a Telepromp Screen.

Other memorials, the Washington and Jefferson equally grand, plus the Washington Monument ( which we didn't have time to go up ) and, of course, the White House were viewed. Also the Vietnam Memorial Wall, on which are engraved the names of the 63,000 ( I think ) killed in that war. Another quite interesting statistic ( and my figures may be a little out );  approximately 230,000 soldiers were killed in the American Civil War ( 1861-1865 ) and a total of ( approx ) 250,000 US soldiers have been killed in all the other wars put together that the US has fought in. The Civil War must have been incredibly nasty.

Above: the Vietnam Wall Memorial. The guys in yellow jackets are Vietnam 'Vets'.

Right: Monument to a night out in the Apocalypse Club-a-Go-Go in Saigon ( District 1 ). Dreadful place. I know how they feel.

There were other, many other, sights to see.  Time ran out because Mr K and I were feeling a bit peckish so we went for a rather smart 'late lunch' at some luxurious emporium next to the Willard Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Left: view from the Lincoln Memorial steps ( remember Forest Gump ? ) over the 'reflecting lake' to the Washington Monument. The lake was empty due to renovations. Vietnam Wall to the left and Korea memorial to the right.

Right: The Capitol building.

Last, but not least, the White House (left). We were watched with intense suspicion by a heavily armed lady policeman in the car in front. She got out to tell us to go away. I didn't look suspicious!

OK, not quite last because I had this pic of the Washington Monument hanging around.
So, back to Washington Union Station to catch the 1500hrs Wriggley Tin train south ( 10.75hrs ) to Columbia, South Carolina.
More to follow..................eyes peeled! Troi Oi, as they say in 'Nam.

Sunday, 20 February 2011


13th - 19th February 2011 the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, on the Trail of the Lonesome Pie..eeeeeeeen......!

Sorry ( to those few who read this rubbish ) for the slight hiatus since leaving the 'Big Lemon', or whatever it's called, and arriving in the Confederate State of Virginia. I was met by an ex-army friend who entertained me so well that I have scarcely had time, or been  sober enough, to fire up the old computer.
I left from Penn' Station ( under Madison Square Gardens ) on the Amtrak train to Washington DC ( 3.5hrs ). Very efficient and simple internet system to get tickets for these rail journeys. Curious trains; the carriages are made out of 'wriggley tin'. Much more space inside than the British cattle trucks ( I suppose they cater for a 'different sized' human than elsewhere ), but the food served at the buffet is both expensive and indescribably awful. Also, I don't know who built the railway lines, presumably drunken Chinese navvies, because the ride you get is seriously bone-shaking. It's almost impossible to read a book ( or, fantastic bit of kit, Kindle ), and don't even think of writing. The beer is foul and watery, and most of the stuff I tried to drink ended up over the fat 'Hispanic' lady overflowing in the seat next to me. She didn't appear to notice. She was a large land-mass.

Left: 'Wriggly Tin' Amtrak train

Right: Penn' Station/ Madison Square Gardens

        Left: a 'different sized' human being.

    We passed through 'New Joisey', which was rather desolate; stations like Liberty International, Metropark and snow and ice covered dirty industrial wasteland. Through the dismal township of Trenton which, on a large signboard, boasted 'Trenton makes...the World takes'. I think it has now all been took.
On past Philadelphia which looked pretty grotty ( and I was subsequently told that 'grotty' was only the best parts of the town ), Wilmington, over the end of Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore and into Washington.
Fantastic station at Washington ( these US stations all appear to be magnificent).
             Right: Washington Station

Picked up by aforementioned ex-army friend, K, and driven in his frightfully smart Merc to his Farm, at Flint Hill, about 60 miles SW in Rappahannick County. Rappahannick boasts of having absolutely no traffic lights. It is true, and the system works marvellously. Another lesson to be learnt here, I feel. So much space, and glorious hilly wooded countryside and the Blue Ridge mountains did look a hazy sort of blue. This is all part of the Shenandoah National Park. K ( who has not become any less mad with age.....does anyone from Omagh remember him picking up the D(WRAC).. a fearsome bossy female a Sioux helicopter dressed as a WRAC Corporal, skirt above the knees and all? I don't think the D(WRAC) will have! ). The farmland is home to lots of horses and cattle. Riding is done in a very English way with fox-hunting popular ( and no fear of it being banned there ), point-to-points, Hunt Balls, 'hunting' deer ( stalking ), trail riding, fishing and lots of other 'country' activities. There is a multiplicity of wildlife. An extraordinary variety of creatures live there; lots black bears in the woods ( they were kipping at this time of the year, thankfully ), raccoons, white-tailed deer, vultures, buzzards, eagles of the bald-headed variety, skunks ( which were mainly apparent as 'road-kill') , snakes of great variety and venomosity and, rather tediously, things called Stink Bugs. These pesky critters are about the size of bluebottles, have a somewhat ugly prehistoric look and fly sluggishly and infest houses. If you squash them they give off a rather curious smell. They cling to the folds of curtains and get on clothes, everywhere, and are, apparently, immune to any form of pesticide ( a fortune to be made here perhaps?). Maybe I will bring some back to UK to show you!! There are bound to be some in my bag.

 Above: K. Does anyone recognise this guy?

Pics below of K and his missus' farm and general area to give you a general impression.

The houses in the area are predominantly of the 'clapboard' wooden variety ( pronounced 'clabberd' ). See pic to left. They are very pretty and, obviously, robust because the weather in winter can be severe: snow and ice and wind, and in summer blazing hot. We are at 39 deg N, same as Lisbon, Portugal. The villages and towns are picturesque and clean, with housing well spaced out. It is this very aspect of 'space' and lack of crowding and traffic which is so pleasant and, indeed, impressive. And the number of churches! Each village, it seems, has at least 3 if not more churches. Flint Hill ( pop 300 ) has 4. There is always 1 Baptist ( White ), 1 Baptist ( Black ) and 1 or 2 others, maybe Pentecostal or some other whacky religion ( ever heard of the 'Holy Rollers'? ). It should be remembered that Virginia ( as opposed to West Virginia ) was, and if truth be known still is, one of the leading Confederate ( secessionist ) states in the Civil War. The first battles were fought around there. Gen Robert E Lee lived near Washington ( Arlington ). Whether you like it or not there is still a noticeable 'segregation' of black and white, especially in the country areas, but of a totally voluntary nature on both sides. They live, play and worship happily apart. The blacks are affectionately referred to as 'boons'. It is extraordinary, from what little I have yet seen, that the Unionist/Confederate divide is still very much there, under the surface.

Left: Typical architecture, but this place, called 'The Inn' is a very plush and expensive restaurant in a nearby town.

The village had a great 'Pub', called the Griffin Tavern which struggled to emulate a British establishment. It sold Boddingtons. K and I went there one evening to join in their equivalent of a Pub Quiz. I joined a team of 4 locals and, believe it or not, we won! $15 each and maybe a mention in the Rappahannock Times. I think I knew the answer to one question. It was 'King George VI'. I would have shown a photo of the place but it was out of focus.

I was taken to a nearby site of one of the Civil War battles, indeed the first; at Manassas in July 1861. It was a resounding victory for the 'Rebs' ( Confederates ). The Unionists thought it was going to be a push-over and families even went along to spectate. They thought it would be the beginning and the end of the 'uprising'. It was where Gen Jackson gained the monica 'Stonewall'. History records that one of the Confederate Officers shouted to weary dispirited troops " Rally behind Jackson, there he stands like a stonewall". It is thought, in reality, something somewhat more robust was said.

Left: Statue of 'Stonewall' Jackson at Manassas. The guide told us ( we were the only 2 tourists there ) that a lot of artistic licence was used here. Gen Jackson was a lanky rather scruffily dressed character riding, badly, a 13.2 hh pony. He has been 'beefed up' for posterity.

I visited several towns in the area and they were all pleasant and the locals unfailingly charming, helpful and embarrassingly polite. Culpeper was notable, as was Front Royal, where we went to check on trains at their rail-station. You don't get them ( or the staff ) like it in UK. Again, I expect this is a function of space and lack of crowds.

Left: Culpeper station ticket office.

For those with an equestrian interest, I have a couple of photos ( below ) of the local pt-to-pt course. Sadly there was not a meeting on while I was around. There are many such attractive courses with races over timber, hurdles ( lowish brush fences ), flat and pony races. The format and 'social scene' is very similar to the British set up ie. lots of car-boot picnics and people 'tripping over bloody molehills'.
All splendidly amateur and fun.

Local course. Just to give an idea of the 'empty' layout ( a good galloping 1.5 mile circuit ) and an example of one of their timber fences ( 6 per mile ). Not too high but totally unforgiving! ( no wings ). I'm told other courses have 5 barred ones, and more ambulances.

Another interesting aspect of daily life: The Gunshop. They are as common as 'Macdonalds'. This one, inside of which the photo below shows, was in a lay-by near a highway and completely isolated. It sold everything from shotguns, to .50 cal. sniper rifles via pistols, automatic rifles and virtually any weapon you could think of. Unreal. There was a big emphasis placed on 'home defence', and instruction manuals and 'family' courses advertised. I asked if he sold tanks. Apparently not. ( no demand, probably due to increased price of 'gas' ). Anyone can carry a weapon, provided it is not hidden. That's naughty.

Above: K putting in his weekly order for ammo.

This system seems to result in remarkably few home burglaries, but a surprisingly high number of pub
fights with AK47s. It would not go well down at The Grapes! ( you there Barbara?)


The small horse, left, is an American 'Quarter Horse', down on K's farm. They have a pleasant nature and move very fast over very short distances. A bit like me, really.

The couple, right, are Amish. This lot are based mainly in Pennsylvania but there are quite a few in Virginia. Originally from Germany or maybe Holland, they are a 'Menonite' religious sect who live a rather 'fundamental' life-style but have good skills in woodwork, building sheds and leather ( saddlery ) and , by the look of it, false beards. You do not see many of them in the Griffin Tavern, or Las Vegas for that matter. The other 'grouping' which travel around the area are the 'Hispanics'. "Arriba arriba!! Pow Pow, dance Gringo". They are the guys who do all the casual labour and are much employed in that way. Apart from a very good lunch in a 'Pancho Villa' diner, I did not see any Hispanics. I was treated to several 'shots' of Tequila, but I don't think it will catch on at the Morpeth Pt-to-Pt.

 K and his wife ( who does horses ), living in great style in Virginia. I attach a vid below, which probably won't work. It's an experiment; in any event, he wouldn't say anything!

OK, now off to Washington for a semi-conducted tour before catching the 'wriggley tin' train down South to Columbia, South Carolina ( 10.5 hrs ). Onwards and downwards...... more to follow....

PS I seem to have screwed up on these vids! There's one at top and bottom and I can't get rid of them! Grin and bear it. I suspect they won't work anyway.