...in the bottom drawer
I knew I'd lose it so I put it in a safe place, and now I can't remember where it is.

currently stashed in: Cheshire Street, London
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January 30, 2005 || 10:45 pm

It's been a party-full and action-packed weekend, for a change! which is just as well, because the grey weather was definitely not condusive to sitting in Beacon Street for hours on end.

On Friday it was Carol's birthday, which of course meant Club 28 action... It was cowboy boots and bourbon all round for our first 'nightlife' outing of the New Year, kicking off for drinks at the Muckle House, followed by dinner at Buck's (exactly what it sounds like) and Club 28, all accompanied by three second-years that we'd drafted as our sober drivers due to the fact that they're all too young to drink - perfect!



Then it was driving cross-state to Butch's for an amazing seafood extraveganza (blogged in full here, courtesy of his brothers who had turned up for some partying. It's always such an amazing break to go to his house which manages to be inimitably homely and relaxing (strangely like my parents house in Suffolk in some ways!) We ate and drank copious amounts, sat around a fire telling stories and fiddling and dancing. And there was late-night brotherly arm-wrestling as well, like someting from a Tennessee Williams play. Very surreal and Southern! but luckily no broken limbs this time.



In the morning it was time for a leisurely breakfast and feeding of the pigs with last night's slops, before getting back on the interstate and driving home on a rather English day, grey overcast sky taking over from brief flashes of soft sunshine in the morning.

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January 28, 2005 || 1:01 am

Well, we got our first wall up today! the step-by-step process, including f***-ups...

We build the wall flat (sorry, no photos of that bit). Optimistically, bouyed up by last weeks advice by some Chicago architects who told us we could, we prepare to lift the whole 44'x10' thing up in one bit.



Obviously, this doesn't work. It's real heavy. That means it's time for Johnny to cut the whole wall in half with the Sawzall.



So, we get one half up! cheers all round.



We get the second half up! Hooray!!! (for those of you wondering where the windows are, don't worry, it's just that we don't cut out the OSB straight away so it's stronger while we lift it up).



Oh dear. Someone (Mr Freear) didn't actually line up the first section perfectly so we have to move them both so the wall fits onto the platform. After we've hammered loads of nails into it. to hold it down. Cue crowbar action. Cue more hammering.



Hooray! it's done. We cover it up with our tarp and put it to bed (with Larry demonstrating how to shim up a 2x6)



Day's work done, time for a beer.

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January 26, 2005 || 3:10 pm

We got the exciting news today that more $20,000 houses are going to be built this spring, through now work of our own but through the work of Pam Dorr, the ex-outreach fellow setting up the housing office in town. One will be built by the family of a man whose house burnt down and who's currently living in a cockroach-infested trailer, and one will be built by three thirteen-year-old boys! They came up with the request for some kind of after-school activity and were keen on buliding things, and their parents were keen for them to learn some new skills, and so it came about, in the health-and-safety-less world of Hale County...they will of course have supervision, and possibly some adult volunteers. A fourth house may be built by prisoners through a scheme being set up by Habitat by Humanity.

So suddenly things seem to be moving fast. It's great to have the opportunity to test out different versions of our prototype, and Lowes have agreed to give 50% off all the materials we buy from them, with the remainder of the cash being raised by churches and other donations. We're pretty psyched.

Meanwhile, our competitor the double-wide passed through Newbern today, complete with its carpets, pelmets and furniture already in place...

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January 23, 2005 || 7:48 pm

Well, my first exposure to the American stage at the Tannehill Opry has been survived...It went off fairly well, I think, although I didn't play nearly my best. The Opry is an extraordinary experience in itself - an industrial shed in the backwoods, absolutely spit-and-sawdust, with metal chairs in rows and large signs proclaiming 'NO ALCOHOL ALLOWED'. Various generations of listeners drop by (it's free entry) to eat hotdogs and listen to the bands, ranging from us (by far the youngest outfit) to dubious gospel bands and ancient old men playing old-time bluegrass and country with wonderful crooning voices, picking fantastical breaks with absolutely stone expressions. Children run around being endlessly petted and fed sweets by the old ladies with gravity-defying bouffants. All rather utterly wonderful, seeming unchanged in all it's strangeness from circa 1955.

The audience are all regulars and hugely appreciative, so it was a great warm-up for our other gigs in the spring. My foreign nationality was quite a novelty, of course! Sadly my camera died so I have no photos until I steal some from my fellow Kudzus, but I'm sure I will be returning to jam/play there again soon...

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January 22, 2005 || 4:18 am

The bit of exciting news I forgot to mention is...as a celebration of getting the money back from when I was defrauded of my debit card details, I got an iPod!! finally...it's joyful. I get to listen to non-country music in my car. I've mastered the click wheel.

It reminds me of my very first Walkman, bought in duty-free on the ferry to France with my school exchange trip when I was twelve. The joy of being able to listen to my taped versions of my father's Beatles albums on the train. Stereo sounds in my ears. I'd forgotten how great music sounds beamed straight into my head. I can listen to it in bed and everything.

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2:03 am

OK, I've been totally lax in posting. But now it's above freezing (in fact, today was pleasantly sunny and t-shirt warm) I can update the world on events in Alabama...

We've been building! having started this week with merely our foundations and all-important termite shields, we've managed to get nearly our whole floor platform done. It's starting to look like a house might actually happen. Everyone's understandably very excited about the progress we've made, though in my impatient way I still think we could have done it faster. But then, we all know very little about what we are doing, and we do keep nearly making stupid errors, so perhaps less haste, more speed is an apt proverb.

Building a house here is a bit of a spectator sport - everyone with any relation to your client comes round to visit, add their tuppence-worth of advice and help out a bit. Larry Junior (her 17 yr old great-grandchild) has been a regular presence, coming after school to talk about hip-hop, hold the end of a 2-by and occasionally wield a hammer. Perry and Larry Senior also come round nearly every day. Not to mention other Rural Studio folks, visiting critics and general traffic. There's nothing worse for your hammering skills than having a local redneck who knows how to do everything breathing down your neck while you try to toenail a joist, but it does make it feel like a communal enterprise and it's good to be making progress so they can se that we're actually doing something...

I've been alerted that some of y'all want some pictures of me in action so here's us, nailing our girders, and my jeep , being filled with random stuff at Hale Country Supply, and our platform, as of 5pm this afternoon.







We probably would have got all our floor sheathing on today if it hadn't been for a lunchtime gathering in honour of Fred, one of the inmates who works on day release at the Rural Studio, who is getting out on parole and thus leaving us. It was grilled sausage and burgers and cake and icecream all round (and a sneaky beer) and somewhat delayed the start to our afternoon session.



Well, tomorrow's my big day in terms of our gig at the Tannehill Opry House, so I'd better leave off and get practising my fiddlin'...

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January 18, 2005 || 3:10 am

I spent the weekend doing odd errands and driving around Hale County with Johnny P talking shit generally, which is always fun. I found out all sorts of funny things about him, which I'm not at liberty to divulge online... ; )

Now it's gotten super-freezing cold, so blogging has been curtailed as it involves sitting in my sub-zero 'living room' (aka big tin warehouse). But we've got a wireless hookup on order, so soon I'll be able to blog in bed. Sweet.

Despite the rather English temperatures, it's still absolutely beautiful here. Amazing light, clear blue skies and the catfish ponds reflecting the light like raw silk. Our house got some girders today, too. It's actually the perfect weather to work outside, as in the daytime it's not too cold and yet not warm enough to work up a sweat. Our client continues to reveal more and more of her off-beat and very old-time Southern sense of humour - ribbing us about our skills (or lack of them) and teasing her great-grandchild, who's started to come over and hang out with us.

Meanwhile, it looks like I'm going to have some visitors from over the pond in the next few months! Better get the 'spare room' cleaned up...

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January 15, 2005 || 12:15 am

It's been neck-down work this week as the new intake of second-years are inducted into the ways of the Rural Studio. This means we all work in big mixed-year groups on various projects, mostly helping with maintenance of existing Rural Studio buildings or doing work on some of the bigger in-progress projects that are currently on the go. So yesterday, I was cleaning the 'glass chapel' in Mason's Bend and today I was on the firestation in Newbern, helping the thesis team from last year complete this mammoth project. It's quite fun doing neck-down; as the name implies, it doesn't involve much thinking and you get quite a lot done. And in between, you get to lie about in the sun, eyeing up the men in a pleasing reversal of the usual roles.



Apart from that, I'm getting ready for my first gig as an old-time fiddler, next weekend at the Tannehill Opry. Practising hard, and tomorrow I've got to go shopping for a gig outfit...

It's exciting to play on stage again for the first time in years, but scary too, given the presence of a microphone. The natural loudness of a fiddle compared to the other instruments is bad enough when playing unamplified, but the idea that a whole venue will will be subjected to my miserable caterwauling is quite enough to terrify me into practising my scales.

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January 12, 2005 || 3:50 am

The new Apple mini is a really bad deal for UK consumers if the prices quoted here don't change. $499 should cost around £270 at current exchange rates, not £339 as it's going to be sold for. £270...that would be less than what a 40GB ipod costs in the UK. Hmm... [spirals off into many more geeky thoughts about pricing policies and relative worth]

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3:34 am

When were you last in a car with three convicted killers? for me, it was this afternoon, taking the two inmates who work on day release at the Rural Studio back to the prison cattle ranch where they 'live', driving with the ex-con who now works full time with us. A strange thought, given I would trust any of the three with my life. Two of them I can't imagine hurting anyone. (One I can, sort of, but know he would never do anything like it again. A lesson learnt. Plus he's fiercely loyal to those he likes, like me, luckily.)

One of our inmates came up for parole and was passed. He's going to be leaving in a couple of weeks and we're trying to get him a job with the mother ship back in Auburn. It'll be sad to see him go, but hearing their funny-but-sad jokes in the truck on the way back to the ranch about life inside, I know that such feelings are ultimately selfish. Like they said, the ranch looks like a country club from the outside, but you should never judge on appearances.

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January 11, 2005 || 1:44 am

OK, I'm convulsing with laughter. Check out Query Letters I love (thanks to Crooked Timber for the link).

And while you're at it, in today's long overdue browse through the blogosphere, I found the delightful and utterly true joke of DirectionlessGov, this extraordinary news (no more shopping at Waterstones - how can they be so humourless? is it just the Scots branches?) and, if you want to get really really angry, or as I did, dither between giggling hysterically and destroying my computer as I dithered between thinking it was a great spoof and all for real (it's all for real, sadly), look at God Hates Fags. How can something so utterly damnable and sick also be so funny?

I also found SlowLab and I can't decide if it's too well-meaning and soppy for its own good or might possibly be onto something. Trouble is, they haven't actually done anything yet.

It's too warm here. There are mosquitoes. It's January, they should be dead. What's going on?

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January 10, 2005 || 11:39 pm

Gradually we get back to work. After a morning of errands and bill-paying, we went down to our site after lunch. Miss Phillips greeted us with a call of 'I've got a beating for y'all!' from her porch. 'I'm gonna get y'all a beating, you've been away too long!'

We stripped off the cardboard sonotubes, knocking off the lumps of excess concrete around the outside with a hammer, to reveal our concrete piers. Thankfully, all intact, none cracked despite pouring on the coldest day of the year, not the prettiest of sights but solid - as Andrew put it when he came by, a row of elephant's feet. Our house should not be going anywhere.

Then we sat around on the stumps chatting about our holidays and our plans for the coming months. Everyone seems to have the same conversation over the holidays: what they might do next year and how their boyfriends might fit into it. I guess it's that typical Christmas conversation, though thinking this far in advance to me is very alien. But still, I've had that conversation and am thinking those thoughts, trying to balance up what and where I might be after my visa expires out here.

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4:01 pm

As an aside that I should have blogged about earlier, just before I left London I met up with a friend from Bam, Iran, scene of the previous Boxing Day quake that everyone's forgotten about. Pretty interesting and sad listening to him talk about what's happened there in the context of too much money being pledged to the tsunami effort. Basically, everyone's still in inadequate temporary housing, not much rebuilding has happened and the town's population is moving elsewhere as the pace of change is slow. I don't remember the world's leaders queuing up to outdo each other with 'generosity', or collecting boxes in every village shop, when 25,000 died and 60,000 were made homeless in an 'axis of evil' country. Given Indonesia's supposed Islamic militant links, the double standards and the 'politics of giving' make me, well, uneasy, let's say. When the hysteria has died down, are we allowed to ask why this level of competitive giving can't be diverted to, say, AIDS drugs in Africa or poverty in our own back yards? the good folk of Hale County, Alabama could sure do with seeing a bit of that money invested round here. But then again, given that most of the aid that was promised to Bam never materialised, maybe we should wait and see how much we really end up giving.

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12:26 am

I went for a drive this morning to re-acquaint myself with American roads. It's all fine until you reach the sprawling strips on the outskirts of most medium-sized towns (my example being Tuscaloosa) where you have a 6-lane road with exits left and right and every store is set back miles from the road with a huge carpark so it's really difficult to know which tiny little exit road leads to which store. You end up cruising in the middle lane going too slow while people in the outer lanes whizz by, as you scrutinise the signs on either side and test your powers of 3D deduction to the extreme. And then, if you're like me, you get stuck driving round the loopy suburban residential streets behind the big stores with no way of getting to where you wanted to, which in any case is some miserable mid-American excuse for a shop that sells nothing you want and makes you feel obese and stupid even if you aren't.

Much nicer is getting mildly lost on the county roads, navigating by instinct, enjoying the sunshine and listening to country on the radio. Except that today wasn't my day, as when I got pleasantly lost I was also running out of gas. I made it, luckily, but it rather detracted from my enjoyment of the fantastic weather and landscape.

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January 09, 2005 || 3:18 am

It's back to Bama after the break, via a night in Atlanta with my housemate, who used to study there. A last breath of 'civilisation', in the form of wine on the porch with friends and hip-hop at MJQ's, the classic Atlanta club full, on a Friday night, of black b-boys from the 'ghetto' inner-city neighbourhoods, bling black girls, and white wannabes and hipsters. Driving though Atlanta reinforces what a perverse and typically American city it is; wealthy white students living in heavily gated communities in 'hip' (ie mixed-race and a bit on the wild side) neighbourhoods, miles of run-down black neighbourhoods without a white hipster to be seen, trendy graffiti-art cafes and a magazine called Creative Loafing, horrible new gated developments springing up everywhere, aping 'dense' and 'urban' block types but with no street access except through two sets of alarmed gates. Warehouse developments for hip, left-field young professionals, who in London would be vying with each other to live in 'edgy' parts of town like Dalston, are similarly fortified, and these bright young things never walk the streets, only drive.

And, strangest of all, a tribe of black cowboys riding the sidewalks on a Saturday lunchtime.

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January 05, 2005 || 9:17 am

I got in an Arsenal game before returning to Alabammy! and what a cracker. Missed shots, great saves, always nerve-wrenching, a salvaged draw. Great football but shame about the result. Having also seen art (Gwen and Augustus John, the 100 Artists See God show at the ICA), gone to the movies and gone to a club (alright, DJ bar) I have now had the full spectrum of London cultural experiences during my brief trip. Though maybe I might try to squeeze in a bit more art before I leave...so many good shows I've still not seen, as is always the case.

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January 04, 2005 || 10:43 am

So many things to report after the holiday blogging lull (too busy eating and drinking to be nerdy). Back in England seeing lovely English friends, walks in the countryside, lovely old pubs, big New Year's Eve party in the barn in Suffolk. About 20 good friends of mine and some neighbours, lots of lovely food and masses of red wine around tables in the barn (see below for the 'pre-party' shot), big bonfire and champagne at midnight out on the marsh, with Big Ben's bongs supplied by a portable radio, watching all the fireworks go off at all the villages around the estuary. Magic, seeing them explode silently, reflected in the water, under a bright moon.

Then back to the barn for crazy coloured cocktails courtesy of some friends bringing a cocktail-bar-in-a-basket, angostura bitters and all, teaching my mates (and my mother) to two-step to some good ol'time bluegrass, much whirling and twirling and giggling and drunken violin-playing and chewing the fat with friends I haven't seen for months, ending up around the kitchen table at around 5am.

The next day, it was bacon and eggs and coffee all round as people gradually emerged from sleeping bags all around the house, then a brisk walk on the marsh among the fat-tailed sheep and putting everyone back on the train to town. Leaving me and my boyfriend to mooch around for another day before ourselves wending our way back up to London town...

It's the first time I've had a NYE party in Suffolk but it was much fun, I think for everyone. Better than hectic and expensive London with everyone trying to have the best night of their lives. Just really good friends (and some newcomers to spice up the mix), a big barn to play around in and no worrying about the neighbours.



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