Familiar Things 1

Now that I’m back, and my body / brain have more or less got over the fact that it’s really 11pm and not 5am, I thought I’d share some of the things I found I missed whilst Over There.

Carrying a gun:
Of course, that’s streng verboten in Britishland, but as I’d been staying out in Hardy Country for most of the time, I hadn’t really missed the 1911 or backup S&W 637 on my hip. However, when Doc Russia picked me up at DFW, he dropped the S&W into the seat divider with the casual comment, “Thought you’d want this.”

…and he was right, of course: as I slipped it onto my belt, it felt at once familiar and comforting.
Also, I like driving with guns in my car without that feeling of paranoia that the fuzz are going to get shirty with me just for doing so. One one occasion, Mr. FM and I were traveling north to the shooting range, carrying the usual assortment of rifles in the back of the Land Rover, when we had to stop at a supermarket en route to get supplies. I offered to stay in the car to look after the guns, but Mr. FM pointed out to me that if the rozzers were to find me in a car with guns that weren’t licensed to me, I’d be arrested — in other words, it would be less hassle just to let some criminal asshole steal the guns. Ugh.

BBQ and coffee:
Most of the time, I didn’t bother buying or ordering BBQ while Over There  because, well, I live in Texas. It would be like Mr. FM ordering a lamb curry or steak pie in Dallas: not the same, and most likely inferior. Last night I went to dinner at Bone Daddy’s with the Son&Heir and Canucki Girlfriend. I have three words to say: “burnt ends” and “brisket”. Welcome home, taste buds.
Likewise, I missed my Keurig, big time: as Longtime Readers know, I favor Krispy Kreme Light Roast in my K-cups, but wherever I stayed, my hosts had Nespresso machines with super-strong coffee in pods. Fortunately, I found a way round the problem, simply by making two cups from one Nespresso pod, using a big coffee mug to mix the strong and weak brews. Curiously, though, now that I’ve come back to my usual coffee, it seems quite weak by comparison — but I’ll get used to it in a while because it still tastes better.

Left-hand drive (LHD) cars:
…and their companion, driving on the right. Remember that I grew up in South Africa, and drove RHD cars in the left lane for a dozen years — so driving in Britishland was no big deal, just requiring a little muscle memory and perception change. However, I’ve been living Over Here for thirty years so I’m really more familiar with our system — and by the way, it sure is good to drive on wide, multi-lane suburban roads again in my VW Tiguan. On that topic, I rented two cars while in the UK, a Hyundai I-something and a Ford Fiesta.

Both are tiny cars [5,000-word exposition on getting my burly fat ass in and out thereof omitted], but no matter how small the car, most country roads in Britain are not two-lane, but 1½ lanes wide (and often less than that). I cannot tell you how often I held my breath as another car would pass me by, missing my wing mirror by what seemed like millimeters. (Even cheap rental cars Over There have the electric “folding wing mirror” feature, and it’s easy to see why.) Mr. and Mrs. Free Market, of course, drive their Land Rovers and Range Rovers with the knowledge that, as Mr. FM casually puts it, “he’s going to lose this one”, so oncoming cars generally get the hell out of their way; when you’re in a weenycar, not so much. And don’t get me started about trucks…
All that said, however, I have to say that it was a pleasure to drive among polite, courteous drivers who don’t mind yielding right of way and who don’t take it as a personal insult that you’ve usurped “their” position in the lane. Most of their asshole drivers seem to be in BMWs or Audis, but that’s pretty much the same Over Here in north Texas.

Opening hours:
Good grief, British retailers are lazy. Out where we were, supermarkets closed at 4pm on Sundays (!) and only re-opened at 6am on Monday. On weekdays, they closed at 9pm, on average — and this was true of Morrisons, Waitrose, Sainsbury, Tesco, whover. It didn’t seem to help their stock situation, though: lots of gaps in the shelves meant that even Waitrose was often out of stock of popular items much of the time, despite their long closing hours. (London, of course, was different, for obvious reasons.) The night before last, I realized that I’d run out of a couple of necessities, so at 11pm I went off to the nearby Kroger — and had to wait in line at the checkout.
And don’t get me started about pubs. Good grief: I have no idea why Brits accept the fact that landlords can dictate the hours wherein one may order food (generally, 12:30pm to 2pm for lunch, and 4pm till 8:30pm for dinner), as opposed to the Stateside attitude of [gasp] letting customers eat when they’re hungry. Some pubs advertise “Food Served All Day” on chalkboards outside, but let me tell you, they are few and far between. On several occasions I’d feel peckish, but after a while I got sick of going to pubs which weren’t open for food service — and I’d end up finding a Greggs instead (a national bakery chain which serves excellent sausage rolls, by the way); meaning, of course, that I also didn’t buy a half-pint of bitter, either so a double loss of revenue for the pub. Idiots. (I have a story from Mr. Free Market on this topic, but I’ll save it for another day because it’s a long one deserving of its own post.)

When I arrived in Britishland, it was steaming hot — I mean, close to Texas temperatures, in the mid-90s. When I left just over two months later, summer had already turned into damp, chilly fall — temperatures in the mid-50s and much cooler at night — while back in Texas, it’s still summer, of course, and I’ve been doing some Turkish-bath schvitzing just while walking from car to supermarket. Ugh. Mr. FM hates the British climate after summer; I have to say that on balance, I think I prefer it. My very first purchase Over There (after 6X and pies of course) was a fleece waistcoat, which is needed even on summer evenings:

I left it at FM Towers because I’m not going to need it until my return, but it’s going to come back with me in January, oh yes it will. I generally find the Texas heat oppressive and now I’ve been through a mild (by comparison) British summer, I dislike the heat even more. We’ll see how I do in the late fall and winter Over There, of course, but that’s typically been the time of year when I’ve traveled to Europe so it’s not an unknown climate to me. (And I used to live in Chicago, so cold weather doesn’t frighten me.)
Oh, and by the way, it’s really good to get back to temperatures measured in Fahrenheit and not that Celsius bullshit.

More familiar things as I encounter them.


Back In The U.S., Back In The U.S., Back In The U.S.A.

I should have been arrested.

Mr. Free Market dropped me off at Heathrow yesterday, after taking me on a long, meandering drive through Hardy Country which just made me glad I’ll be back at the end of October for Part Two of Sabbatical 2017. For the record, I was three hours early for my flight — which was a good thing, as you will see.

For reasons unknown, I hadn’t been able to check in online so I went to the check-in kiosk to do so. The message was “Fuck off, Yank” (not worded quite like that, but that was the gist of it) so I had to go and see an actual person, who checked my luggage (no overweight baggage charge, even though I was coming back with more than what I’d left with — strange) but unusually, she asked me all sorts of questions about where I’d been staying, why I’d been in the country so long, and so on. She was an airline flunky, not a security person, so I said curtly, “I was in Wiltshire to inter the remains of my late wife,” which brought forth an immediate apology and a quick check-in.

So: on to the security line. Remember, this was not my first rodeo, so I knew the drill: laptop into its own bucket, empty pockets, remove belt, boots, etc. — i.e. not a single suspicious thing on my person remained… and yet I still triggered the alarm which got me a full-body search and pat-down by, it should be said, a very polite, even apologetic Brit-style TSA guy who had, interestingly, an Arabic name. All this took ages, and I started to steam slowly; but just when I was about to open my big mouth and start asking pointed questions, the search came to an end, and I was free to wander around the maze of shops and such in Heathrow’s Terminal 3.

I bought a few things: newspaper, road food for the flight (I don’t touch airline food because ugh), and decided to grab a meal before I went to the gate. “The Curator’s” restaurant (quoi?) seemed decent, so I went in and got a (wait for it) fish ‘n chips along with a couple pints of bitter ale — not 6X, but not bad for all that — and had a long, leisurely read of the Telegraph. Eventually, I finished up and strolled down to gate 31 — of course it was a long walk down, did you even have to ask? — but when I got there, things got ugly.

I got flagged and pulled out for another random search — this time of my carry-on bag, which held all the office paraphernalia to do with my laptop. This agent was an Indian guy — complete with singsong accent — and he checked my bag like a ferret sniffing out a rabbit, as well as swabbing down everything with that little explosive residue-detector swab thingy. Then he turned his attention to me: again with the belt, again with the boots off, again with the pat-down, and this time I got swabbed for as well, just for good measure. Of course, I didn’t have any explosive residue on me — which seemed to surprise Mr. Patel — but I was nevertheless still close to one of Kim’s Deluxe #1 Explosions of Rage, but once again, the examination ended suddenly and I was able to board the plane.

I am convinced that I was profiled for close scrutiny long before I even got to the airport — hence the difficulty checking in online, the interrogation from the ticket agent and the two intensive searches by airport security.

Anyway, the airliner wasn’t full to the brim with people — in fact, I had an empty seat next to me so I could sprawl, manspread and lean away from the aisle so I wouldn’t get nailed in the shoulder by the fucking drinks cart every time it passed by (which had been my experience going over to Britishland).

This restored my good humor somewhat, so I flirted with the flight attendant, offered her my assistance should she have any unpleasantness with an unruly passenger, and also offered translation services in French or German should the need arise — all of which resulted in some primo service from her for the duration of the flight. I even managed a couple hours sleep.

Doc Russia picked me up at DFW and brought me back to his house where we adjourned to the Smoking Terrace and proceeded to drink pints of gin & tonic. (Seriously: G&T in pint glasses.) I stayed up to try and get my internal time-clock readjusted by staying awake until midnight (6.00am GMT), had the usual excellent chat with Doc, and went to bed to sleep.

Didn’t work. Four hours later my body said, “What the hell are you doing, still sleeping at 10 o’clock in the morning?” so I woke up and started to unpack my carry-on bag…

…and discovered a six-inch screwdriver which I had forgotten about and which had somehow escaped the notice of two security checks.

I could have been arrested.


As you read this, I will have reached the end of the first leg of my sabbatical in Britishland, and I’ll be boarding the craft which will wing me back over The Pond to Texas:

…although, to accommodate my somewhat errr enhanced bulk (thank you, Wadworth 6X, steak pies, fish & chips and Full English Breakfasts), the airline should really be using one of these:

Regular blogging (whatever that is) should resume tomorrow.

And lastly: a huge, enormous thank-you is due to Mr. and Mrs. Free Market for their unbelievable hospitality given me during my stay Over Here. When I come back in late October, I’ll be staying elsewhere — details to follow — but, as they say, words cannot express my gratitude to these wonderful people because, quite graciously and with absolutely no fuss, they saved my life. I am not worthy.

Half An Ale

Continuing on the saga of my expanding gut, I was amused by this little thought from James May:

…and ordinarily, his sentiment would be correct. The correct measure is indeed the pint:

However, I have learnt a few things about this pint business. I tend to prefer my beer in said quantities, as evidenced by this pic of my breakfast beer in Edinburgh:

(Explanation: I had arisen from my hoggish slumber too late to be served breakfast, and the pub hadn’t yet started serving their lunch menu. I was in dire need of some sustenance but my knowledge of local brews was scanty, hence my selection of Tennant’s, the Edinburgh lager, which is absolutely dreadful. No wonder the Jocks are always fighting each other if that’s what they have to drink. I didn’t even finish that glass.)

Anyway, my normal choice of ale taken in pint units is somewhat compromised by the stiff DWI/DUI laws they have Over Here. If I’m walking (e.g. in Edinburgh) or being driven (e.g. to Blenheim), I can freely imbibe from pint glasses, and I have. But if I’m driving, then I have to drink in smaller quantities, e.g. this half-pint of local brew Exmoor (ugh) taken in Salisbury’s Haunch of Venison pub:

(I know, a half-pint looks ridiculous in my giant paw. Whatever.)

You might think that this is counter-productive, in that I would just drink more half-pints to achieve the desired state of inebriation, but actually (and this has been scientifically timed by The Englishman), I tend to drink a full pint (especially of 6X) in about the same time it takes me to drink a half-pint — ergo, I end up drinking half the normal quantity, and thus is P.C. Plod kept off my fat, beer-loving Texas ass.

Call me Mr. Responsible.

(And for those who are about to get all scoldy on me, don’t bother. Like so many of my writings on suchlike topics, this post should be taken with a ton of salt.)

Shootingham, U.K. — Part 1

So last night I spent the evening with The Englishman and Reader John M., doing pints of 6X, plates of fish & chips and in general doing what I’ve become accustomed to doing of a Friday night, with the usual consequences.

However, my trip back to Free Market Towers was by a different route because of road construction on the normal one. That I got back at all was a miracle, because The Englishman’s sole directions were:
“When you get out of the village, turn right till you get to the main road; then turn right, and keep turning right until you get back to Devizes.”
Reader John’s suggestion was equally helpful: “Watch out for some of the corners.”

Okay: a trip in pitch darkness along unfamiliar, narrow country roads, no map/GPS, half-inebriated. As it happened, both sets of instructions were brilliant, because I drove straight home without getting lost once. (That might be the first time ever, along a strange country road in Hardy Country.)

At Free Market Towers I encountered Mr. FM, back from a few days’ hard work of evicting widows from their ancestral homes followed by demolition of the latter and construction of glass-walled skyscrapers in their place. (I think that’s what he does for a living, but there’s also some terrorizing of subordinates and glad-handing of Chinese tycoons in there, so I can’t be exactly sure.)

Anyway, I was greeted with a glass of whisky and the words: “We leave at 10 tomorrow. Okay?”

I had forgotten, in my evening’s carousing, that he’d scheduled a day’s shooting for today. Oy.

So this morning I woke up, only mildly hung over, and off we set off in the Range Rover, along the standard leafy lanes of outstanding beauty and vistas of… oh hell, you know the rest.

On and on we went, through various counties, villages and towns until we finally arrived at our destination:

I’ve never been to Bisley before, and I didn’t really know what to expect. What I never expected was to find myself in a massive area (several thousand acres, Mr. FM estimates) devoted entirely to shooting. In other words, Kim’s idea of heaven. To give you an idea of the extent of the place, here’s a map which shows most (but not all) of the ranges and buildings (open in a new window to get the full-sized pic):

The problem, of course, is that Bisley isn’t open to just anyone — you can’t just stroll in there and ask to be given a slot on any of the ranges: oh no, that wouldn’t be British. Instead, you have to belong to a shooting club (approved by the Home Office, don’t get me started), and they will then schedule you a day, time and slot where you can shoot with other members of your club. Being British, of course, each club has an exclusive club house of varying degrees of grandeur, starting from 1930s-era Kenya-style mansions:

…and Shanghai-type establishments of the same vintage:

…all the way down to modest cottages:

…and there are even rental trailer-homes where one can spend the night if doing more than a day’s shooting:

Bisley is almost, in fact, a self-contained town — hence the title of this post. There are restaurants, parks and, of course, gunsmiths/shops such as Fulton & Son and William Evans:

…which contain the usual items of gunny exquisiteness:

But on to the ranges.

There are lots of long-distance ranges (one out to 1,300 yards), and I’m not going to list them all; but here’s one, just to give you an idea. A club was shooting at the 1,000-yard mark:

There are .22 ranges, medium-distance ranges, Olympic-distance ranges, shotgun ranges, and so on — all over the place, and all of which made a certain visitor’s trigger finger itch. Which is why after a quick lunch of bacon-and-egg sandwiches, Mr. Free Market took us off to where we would be doing our shooting — clay pigeons, as it turned out. Here’s the road we drove down:

…and tomorrow I’ll give you part 2 of this adventure, at Long Siberia.

Better Things To Do

I was not here over the weekend. Feel free to follow the link to find out why. Okay, here’s a hint:

Also, this.

Nor, for that matter, was I here. Another hint as to why:

Instead, I was over at the King’s Arms with the Englishman, listening to a local band performing on the pub’s lawn:

No police presence required, no obnoxious displays of flesh, no loud noises (other than the occasional burst of laughter from Yours Truly back in the pub); just families having a good time on a gorgeous summer’s day. Catering was likewise discreet:

…and provided locally-made hamburgers and sausages:

Altogether, I think you’ll agree that I had the better time of it.