Thursday 26 April 2012

Fantasy Mansions on Tiny Plots of Land


A few images from my recent wanderings around The Woodlands, Texas. This part of the township is probably amongst the highest priced real-estate in the area, situated close to the lake, and within a short distance from the mall, the business area, and a couple of miles from the interstate, for the commute to Houston or access to the airport. 
Like many places in the U.S, this whole township was founded, by my terms, approximately yesterday, it rings to the sound of saws and hammers, crews of hispanic workers were eating their lunch in whatever shade they could find as I wandered by with my camera. For some reason, I didn't take many photographs, though I was fascinated by the mish-mash of styles. One moment you're wandering past a New-England sea-captain's house, full, I'm sure of sea-chests, carved narwhal tusks, and paintings of whale ships hunting Moby Dick.
Next you're passing a hacienda, in which flamenco dancers whirl to the sound of a gypsy guitar.
And then, in the blink of an eye, you're in the antebellum south, plantation houses with white pillars and shadowed porches. You can almost hear the mournful sound of slaves singing as they haul their heavy sacks of cotton.
Across the water, rectilinear houses straight out of sixties futurist architecture, old english cottages, absolutely no coherence whatsoever on terms of overall architectural vision. My impression is that I've stumbled accidentally into a secret Hollywood movie lot.
Apart from the construction workers, nobody's on the street. Every house looks perfectly professionally decorated and furnished. Where are the people? Where are the children playing? Where are the elderly folk, stopping to chat with a friend? The householder pruning a rose?

Nowhere here looks like a home.

If I had the money at which these mansions are priced, would I want one?

I like land around me. A small house is fine by me, but when my neighbour sneezes, I don't want to have to wipe my windows. I'm modest in my needs.

This is more my style!
near the Colorado River, in Bastrop, Texas.

(More about Bastrop very soon. Posting this week has been interrupted by fatigue. Returning from my stay with Red Dirt Girl, ( her latest post about our travels here), I was plunged back into the chaos which is my normal work life, so much had piled up awaiting my return, and my sleep patterns were slow to readjust, so I've tended to get home, eat, shower, and fall into deep sleep, awakening just before midnight, then a fretful night of drowsing and waking, watching the curtains become paler as dawn breaks outside, I'm tired... Tomorrow, I plan to leave work early and start driving south toward Wales. The weather forecast is for unrelenting rain, not perfect as the family meets to scatter half of my mothers ashes on the cliffs where she walked in her youth. 
The drive's about five hours. We'll see how the tiredness goes. If I'm in a mental state of decrepitude by the time I get to Hereford or thereabouts, I'll seek a cheap business-type hotel, and continue early. 
The route I'll use is via the Brecon Beacons, but I suspect all I'll see of that beautiful countryside is rain and grey cloud.
I doubt I'll get time to post more until maybe monday....
Posted by Picasa

Sunday 22 April 2012

Mounted Police on Sleepy Horses, Stopping Mad Dogs and Englishmen


The Woodlands, Texas, is not misnamed at all. It's a largely invisible city,you can drive from end to end of it pretty much unaware of any buildings. Everything is screened and blanketed by trees. Running, cycling and walking paths criss-cross it, residential neighbourhoods are small enclaves, yet not physically far from village malls. Yes, I know, village/mall= oxymoron to we brits, but over there, in a city that started a few heartbeats ago, it's not so strange. 
 As in most of america, there are a confusing number of different law-enforcement departments. I've never understood it and probably never will. Sheriffs departments, police  Mounties?

Around and about, you see these guys, the mounted police, they clip-clop through the mall car-parks, they roam the jogger-tracks. I like them. I like the fact that they're out there, cop and horse, not cop in a tin box.
One of them stopped me, as I was wandering from the Woodlands Mall toward the area of fantasy housing neat Lake Woodlands. Where was I going? There was an initial touch of suspicion, possibly by the fact that I'd stopped at the roadside and clearly tossed a mental coin as to direction.  A true Texan would of course be in a car. Or a huge truck.
But as soon as he heard my accent, he smiled and became my pal.
Update : They're not actually Police, they're a private mounted security company, Alpha and Omega.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen
 Go Out In the Mid-Day Sun

In tropical climes there are certain times of day
When all the citizens retire,
     to tear their clothes off and perspire.
It's one of those rules that the greatest fools obey,
Because the sun is much too sultry and one must avoid
     its ultry-violet ray --
Papalaka-papalaka-papalaka-boo. (Repeat)
Digariga-digariga-digariga-doo. (Repeat)
The natives grieve when the white men leave their huts,
Because they're obviously, absolutely nuts --

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The Japanese don't care to, the Chinese wouldn't dare to,
Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one,
But Englishmen? detest a siesta,
In the Philippines they have lovely screens,
     to protect you from the glare,
In the Malay states there are hats like plates,
     which the Britishers won't wear,
At twelve noon the natives swoon, and
     no further work is done -
But Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

It's such a surprise for the Eastern eyes to see,
That though the English are effete,
     they're quite impervious to heat,
When the white man rides, every native hides in glee,
Because the simple creatures hope he will
     impale his solar topee on a tree.
Bolyboly-bolyboly-bolyboly-baa. (Repeat)
Habaninny-habaninny-habaninny-haa. (Repeat)
It seems such a shame that when the English claim the earth
That they give rise to such hilarity and mirth -

Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The toughest Burmese bandit can never understand it.
In Rangoon the heat of noon is just what the natives shun.
They put their scotch or rye down, and lie down.
In the jungle town where the sun beats down,
     to the rage of man or beast,
The English garb of the English sahib merely gets a bit more creased.
In Bangkok, at twelve o'clock, they foam at the mouth and run,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen, go out in the midday sun.
The smallest Malay rabbit deplores this stupid habit.
In Hong Kong, they strike a gong, and fire off a noonday gun.
To reprimand each inmate, who's in late.
In the mangrove swamps where the python romps
     there is peace from twelve till two.
Even caribous lie around and snooze, for there's nothing else to do.
In Bengal, to move at all, is seldom if ever done,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Noel Coward, 1931 
"Coward wrote the song while driving from Hanoi to Saigon "without pen, paper, or piano". "I wrestled in my mind with the complicated rhythms and rhymes of the song until finally it was complete, without even the aid of pencil and paper. I sang it triumphantly and unaccompanied to my travelling companion on the verandah of a small jungle guest house. Not only Jeffrey , but the gecko lizards and the tree frogs gave every vocal indication of enthusiasm"."

Bath Room Tissue

This stuff is deeply flawed. When I tore off a few sheets to wash with, in the bath, the moment they got wet, they collapsed into pulp. And then, when I emptied the bath, they blocked the plughole.

If I see a sign that says "engine-room", I know there's likely to be an engine in there. Or that a "store-room" will be used for stores. But I can fairly well assume, in America, that most bath-rooms don't have baths. Unless that low thing, with a seat and a pool of cold water is a foot-bath. 

It's not just America: here in Britain, though to a lesser extent you'll find euphemisms in denial of excretory functions. Especially where it concerns facilities for the ladies, they'll retire to the "powder-room" (powder-rooms, historically, supplied bags of gunpowder for loading cannons).... no, well powder-room's a bit archaic, most likely to be found in old hotels which are firmly stuck in the nineteen-fifties. Women still do say "I'm just going to powder my nose." men might say " "I'm just going to see a man about a dog"....
Cloak-rooms.. Who do you know who wears a cloak these days? How many superheroes are likely to need to pee in your local hotel? Whereas, in some countries, Finland, I know for sure, there's no shame whatever in saying you're just going for a shit and will be back shortly.  And why should there be? We all do it, every day, so why, oh why, is there such a conspiracy in our world, to pretend we don't. Ever.

And girls don't fart.

Posted by Picasa

Saturday 21 April 2012

Blow, Whistle, Steel Rails, Keep on Humming! (Kyle, Texas).

Our British trains are not so big as Texas ones.  On our travels, the nights were punctuated by those evocative whistle sounds, and the distant rumble of freight trains. I managed to ambush a typical one in Kyle, Texas, and film it as it restarted.

View Larger Map

I apologise for the wobbliness, it's pretty much the first time I'd ever used the video mode on the camera, and I'd only just rushed into position, moments before the train started to roll, frantically hitting buttons on the camera menu. The video is actually two videos spliced in the middle, I admit, I got tired and switched filming off for a while, as about half a mile of freight cars rolled by, so the train is actually several magnitudes bigger than my video suggests, though the clue's there in the five locomotives assigned to moving it, four headers, and one on the tail.
Yes, four headers. Count again, if you're muttering "there were only three!"....
 (Three yellow and one blue.)

Iron Lion

Now I've been an engine driver all of my days
That's the only thing I can do
I hold a good head of steam everywhere I'm seen
Wherever my wheels roll through
Wherever my wheels roll through

I was nearly shut down in a Midwest town
Her hair was red, her eyes were blue
But the wheels on the track kept calling me back
So I bid that girl adieu
Yes, I bid that girl adieu

Blow whistle, steel wheels keep on humming
Hold on darling your engine driver's coming
He's coming through

Some day I'll have to give up the iron lion
And then I'll know just what I will find
I'll find me some shack by that old railroad track
So I can hear them motors whine
So I can hear them motors whine

Blow whistle, steel rails keep on humming
Hold on darling your engineer is coming
He's coming through

I've been an engine driver all of my days
That's the only thing I can do
I hold a good head of steam anywhere I'm seen
Anywhere my trains roll through
Anywhere my trains roll through

Blow whistle, steel wheels keep on humming
Hold on girl, your engine driver's coming,
Coming to you.

Kyle has about the largest thrift store I've ever seen, in the old library building down by the tracks. But really, ladies, would you buy "pre-owned" underwear? At any price?

Kyle has some officially (in my books) cool characters. Here's one of them. He was advertising a garage sale. And he's cool.

And what more can an Englishman want of a little town in Texas at lunchtime than a cool little tea-room?  Olga's Tea Room, at The Motley Menagerie, an eclectic little store in a 1905 vintage minty-green and purple house. The home-made soup and fresh-baked bread were wonderful, as was that soothing tea.

It's hard to believe, but this place that looks like a junk-store/Antique Emporium is actually a hair salon in Kyle. Hair Topic Etc.

Fire Engine. Boys love fire-engines, I'm no exception. Clean and gleaming in an equally clean and gleaming new looking fire-house. And my respect to fire crews everywhere. I have friends alive now who would not be, were it not for guys like the ones who crew this truck.
The Old Rail Depot, Kyle.

The Old Caboose, Kyle. Sadly, a little vandalised.

Come on guys, fix the gutter, it's a pretty old building, it deserves a little care.

An old  caboose would just suit  as a bed'n'breakfast by the tracks.

A peppermint-coloured house with an old rusty tractor. Love it.
We had been told Kyle was not worth stopping at, just a place to pass through en-route to the Hill Country. I disagree, Kyle's a pretty little town, and those few people we met were friendly and smiling.

Thursday 19 April 2012

It's Been a While Since I left to Seek My Fortune as a Floozy-Wrangler...


And it's been eventful.

I had  planned to post frequently, but hey, I've never been very self-disciplined. Besides, all that whipping hurts.
Where was I? Oh, far from my usual haunts, with every day a thing of strangeness and wonder. Of which more later.
Maybe not quite every day, nor was it all as planned, because I got jumped by the streptococci, who went, as they do when cornered, straight for the throat. It would have been on a thursday, the one before easter weekend, the Red Dirt Girl was at work, and I'd spent the day feeling tired. I had a bit of a sore throat too, which I put down to the unaccustomed and relentless dehydration of air-conditioning. (in my world we use the standard-issue air, full of whatever damp it comes with).
So I stopped off at a pharmacy place, bought some antiseptic lozenges that tasted of something like paint-stripper. And also, as I was a bit tired, I bought some of those little bottles of caffeine and taurine and other muck that claim to give you an instant five-hour energy boost. No problem, I thought, as I read the instructions... "Drink half and within ten minutes you'll be as alert as an alert thing." So I did, then I drank the other half too, so I'd be able to fly like an eagle.

And I sucked a paint-stripper lozenge.
About half an hour later, I ambushed RDG as she left work, and handed her the car keys.
I was clearly not looking too bright because she pressed a cool palm against my forehead and frowned.
The fog in my brain thickened, and by the time we were back at the homestead, I was a full-on zombie. I had to tell her youngest that I doubted I'd be able to keep my promise to take him to NASA's Spacecenter, Houston, the following day.
I'll spare you the full story, but suffice to say a misdiagnosis wasted most of a week, and left me with a throat that felt as if it had a ball of broken glass jammed there, unable to eat or drink, and furthermore wasted a considerable lump of money on inappropriate medication.

Both before and after this, I had a great time.  And I'll be posting pics and thoughts as time goes on.
Travelling back here took forever. And freezing rain greeted my t-shirted self.

Just flying north from Houston, it's about five hours before the plane's course takes it out over the ocean. That's forever, when you don't really want to be flying at all. Too hours at the airport in Houston, 9 hours to Amsterdam, then nearly five hours wandering around Schiphol's terminal, before boarding the cityhopper back to England. An hour or so on that. No sleep. I decided early-on that I didn't much like the couple in the other two seats. Too slickly dressed and stylish, to start with. What man boards a plane with his sunglasses pushed up on the top of his head?
All the time they weren't sleeping, they were arguing, in an unknown language. I thought they looked prosperously central/south american, but the language, no. My best guess is Romanian, it was a latin-based language, but not italian, french, spanish or portuguese.
Anyway, they argued with a quiet ferocity, violent looking hand-gestures, occasionally she wiped tears, and spat back at him with some cutting remark. Seriously, if I wasn't reasonably sure homeland security had confiscated their nail-files, I'd have feared being stabbed as collateral damage.
And in between times, the guy was farting, filthy stinking sulphurous eruptions. And he kept accidentally hitting buttons on the handset stowed in the armrest. First time he did it, his overhead light came on in the gloom of the night cabin, it startled him, he sat bolt-upright, staring accusingly at me. I had to show him the button he'd pushed, and demonstrate on, off, on, off. Otherwise he'd have stabbed me with his only weapon, a plastic spoon.
I like a window seat. But this time it was not much help, cloud blanket below most of the way. On the final leg of the flight, I had to chuck a ukrainian girl out of my window seat. So I got to watch the pretty and somewhat artificial-looking landscape of Holland as we climbed out of Schiphol, and the ships waiting to get into Rotterdam, and finally the cold rain-streaked yorkshire hills around my own home-town.

Since I landed, I've been mostly asleep. My boss has begged me to go into work to help him tomorrow.  I'd rather not, rather have another day to re-set my gyroscopes, but I suppose I should show willing. Especially as I'm going to tell him I plan to move to Texas within the year.
Posted by Picasa