...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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March 31, 2005 || 5:45 am

What I was going to post about today was the events of the last few days - going down to Mobile and Dauphin Island and swimming in the sea and sunbathing on a deserted white sand beach, going to Atlanta and ending up in an Arsenal-supporting bar showing the England U21 game, etc. But somehow how, I don't have the heart.

A huge thunderstorm is breaking overhead, the rumbles shaking the floor of Beacon Street. The sky is mourning Charlie with torrential rain and sheets of pink lightning.

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5:16 am

Tragedy

I have very sad news to report to the blogosphere. Charlie the duck is dead.

Myself, I can hardly believe it. My parents had arrived barely three hours earlier, Charlie had been introduced, he had run up to them in a friendly fashion, and then, after dinner, disaster struck. Johnny Parker and his dog Doofus came round and while I was chatting to Johnny, the dog wreaked death upon the duck. By the time I raced out screaming to try to rescue him, it was too late, although I didn't realise it at the time - I thought the duck was merely in shock. But then my father went out to look and he came back looking solemn. I cried a rather embarrassing amount. I screamed at Johnny and I kicked Doofus, to whom I will never lavish any love or kindness ever again.

Charlie was by far the most affectionate of my feathered charges. He would eat out of my hand and follow me around the back yard. He would let me stroke him and every morning he nearly exploded of over-excitement when I would come out to feed him. He was conflicted in some ways - he would take a huge dislike to me whenever I would think it necessary to put him in a cage, and it would take some time for him to thaw - but compared to the diffidence of the chicken and rooster, he wore his heart on his sleeve, which endeared him to me and vice versa. I shed an unexpected number of tears at his untimely and violent death, and still am somewhat in shock. Somehow, to know that tomorrow morning he will not be there to greet me with an orgy of quacks makes my heart heavy. I miss him hugely.

Johnny has sworn to buy me two new ducks.

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March 27, 2005 || 4:11 pm

This week's lack of blog entries has again not ben anything to do with a lack of events, but because I've been having Company to stay in the palatial shed of Beacon Street. Which means we've been running around, cramming in all the possible activities in West Alabama into a few short days and combining that with drinking a lot of beer and a lot of late-night conversations. But it has been a lot of fun, especially given the blissful weather over the last few days - a hot, sunny spell that ended in a huge thunderstorm last night.

We had been at my bandmate Brian's house picking and eating hotdogs, because his parents were in town and they'd never heard the band play, and afterwards we decided to go out to Perry Lakes Park to see the Rural Studio projects there together. We got there as the sky was darkening and incredibly bright, jagged flashes of pink lightning sheeted across the sky. By the time we finished walking round the projects, it was dark and the first drops of rain were beginning to fall. So what to do but to take our moist selves to the Shack, to sip beers and play dominoes for hours while the rain catapulted down outside and the TVs played endless tornado and severe weather warnings, their brightly colored doppler maps showing the storm circling around us. There is something rather wonderful about being holed up in a bar in weather like that, the click of the dominoes and the terse game-related conversation. By the time we left, six hours later, only a few drops were still falling.

My feathered charges are growing at a rate of knots. On Wednesday my rooster crowed for the first time. He'd been trying to learn how, with the occasional thwarted cluck, but finally a full cock-a-doodle-doo rang out across the yard and I felt terribly proud. The duck is growing his adult feathers and when I go out to feed him in the morning, he makes a terrible racket when I take his bowl away from him to fill it up. He eats out of my hand. The chick is, as always, the sultriest and moodiest of the lot, which is why I named him after Debbie Harry who to me always seemed to embody the sort of 'I'll be moody if I want and I don't give a damn' feel I get from the chickling.

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March 23, 2005 || 3:10 am

I'm sure everyone in the architecture world is writing about this, but I read today that a City and Guilds survey shows that architects are the unhappiest profession. Well, what can I say...those of us who are avid readers of the rags like BD and the AJ (yes, they even are sometimes spotted in Alabama) already know that architecture firms have a bad long hours culture, are underpaid, and put off women by the macho building culture and by being horribly un-family friendly. This always amuses me because people from outside of architecture always say how they wish they could be architects, how well-paid we all are, and apparently, how attractive, given the number of surveys which name architects as the ideal marriage material.

To all the moaning architects, I would say, just do something about it. The majority of you work for yourselves, or for relatively small firms. It's not like you're a civil servant in the faceless halls of bureaucracy, unable to change your job description or influence your bosses. If you don't like how you work or what you do, it's absolutely up to you to change it. Get involved proactively in projects that engage and interest you, whether or not you are asked to. Work in your communities, offering your manifold skills to groups that need them. You can look for the kind of partners (let's stop calling them clients, you archi-whores) that you want, not just wait for them to drop into your lap, and you can manage your relationship with them so that you are respected and not just a yes-man who jumps when they tell you to (or in our case, redesigns the toilets every week). If you're bored with AutoCAD, or dull house extensions, or faceless office refurbs, you really don't have to be doing them, because there are plenty of projects out there that desperately need to be tackled and you can be the ones to initiate and realise them.

I know that sounds rich from me, coming from somewhere cheap and lacking in planning officers or building regulations. But the Rural Studio and many other projects like it [cue plug for impending book] show that it is possible, even in places with planning officers and a high cost of living, to really engage and use your skills (who else can boast such a variety?) in useful, rewarding and unconventional ways. More than that, I would say (in my small soapbox moment) that it is the absolute responsibility of architects to take the initiative in making the world a more varied, stimulating and generous place. Our buildings will be shaping the lives of others for long after we are forgotten. Jut get off those swivelling chairs and stop complaining.

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March 22, 2005 || 12:40 am

Apologies to my regular readers for a lack of posts! this is not due to nothing happening here - quite the contrary - but rather my having to impose some self-discipline in order to get my book research done for GPA.

But there have been many things to blog over the last week - a misty, drizzly day driving around on slightly failed missions, listening to Tom Waits while watching the landscape of the Black Warrior slide by; the Doonanny where much fun was had by all in the Woods of Wonder; the continuing growth and development of my animals, who also came to the Doonanny due to a lack of babysitters in Greensboro. Me and the chick and the duckling in the green jeep with bluegrass on the iPod, driving through a blissfully warm and sunny Alabama set the weekend off to a perfect start. Long-lost friends from England, playing the blues in the sunshine, folk art and cold beer...I almost forgave Butch for getting too sentimental to butcher his pigs Oxford and Dictionary which he had been raising for the occasion.

And today I let the duckling (who has graduated to living outdoors) out of his cage for the afternoon to enjoy the sun. I'm trying to introduce him to the rooster and get them to cohabitate happily, but so far have refrained from putting them in a pen together as the rooster has been tending to try to peck at Charlie and the poor duck runs around looking rather scared whenever Lucky crows or sticks out his neck. But tonight I came home shortly after dark to put the duck back in his cage, safe from possums, and he was curled up almost underneath the rooster who was standing protectively over him, with only the wire mesh of the pen separating them. Very sweet.

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March 14, 2005 || 10:43 pm

OK, so now and then, like any blogger, I check my hit counts (not that impressive, sadly) and it's always funny to see why people came across my blog. Now, which of you out there googled "loftus nightlife pictures" and got me? is someone really that interested in how I look in Club 28, or rather where is Loftus the town/city?

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4:06 am

For your delectation, I reproduce my first ever fan mail. Check out the redneck spelling. I'm proud.

HEY GUYS.SAW YALL AT THE ABMA SATURDAY NIGHT.YALL WERE AWESOME.IT WAS THE FIRST TIME WE HEARD YALL.ALL OF YALL WERE GREAT.HANA IS ONE THE BEST FIDDLE PLAYERS IVE HEARD IN A LONG TIME,AND ALSO ONE OF THE PRETTIEST. IF
YALL HAVE ANY CDS FOR SALE I WOULD REALLY BE INTERESTED IN PURCHASING SOME.
(name and address withheld!)

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1:11 am

Yesterday was, in its simple way, a perfect day in West Alabama, the kind of day that makes you nostalgic for it before it's even over, that makes me not want to leave here, ever.

After a Friday night grilling steaks and playing late-night pool at the 28 Club with Chip (in its way also rather perfect), it was up in the morning for a day of bluegrassing at the ABMA showcase in Bessemer. It was a beautiful sunny day, clear blue sky, no humidity, a warm breeze. Up we drove to the Bessemer Civic Centre, where the showcase (10 hours, 20 bands, jam sessions upstairs) was being held. It being too beautiful to go inside right away, we started out playing under the acacias in the car park, attracting a few onlookers and greeting fellow musicians as they arrived.

Then it was inside to start the jamming in earnest, taking up residence upstairs with Ted's father George and some of his band members, including their wonderful and absolutely poker-faced mandolin player. They say of him that you know when he's getting into it because he does the 'chicken thing', closing his eyelids half way. We completely missed lunchtime, amazed when we realised it was 3pm. Chip was doing magnificently on two hours sleep and I was also going strong despite not much more.

Our slot in the showcase was at 4.30, and having already played solidly for five hours, we were obviously good and warmed up. It went well. We had a lot of fun on stage, the audience loved us and applauded every break, we goofed around a bit enjoying being in costume, and then as we were leaving the stage, the compere grins at us and whispers 'Sam Jackson wants to see you.' Sam Jackson? who's that? He's a promoter, someone says, he books bands up in Nashville....Nashville?? the Kudzu String Band suddenly have visions of fame. People are coming down the hallway to the dressing room saying nice things about us and we are in our little bluegrass heaven.

And sure enough, Sam Jackson turns out to really be a promoter from Nashville. And he wants our promotional pack. Watch the stars in our eyes as we sit out in the car park having a post-gig Crown grinning and giggling, while Ted goes inside to talk to him for what feels like a rather long time. He comes back and tells us that he may want us to play at Bean Blossom. Now this is the ultimate. We can't believe it. Bean Blossom, for those of you who don't know, is the oldest bluegrass festival, started by the great Bill Monroe himself. Apparently Sam Jackson said that's where the Reel-Time Travellers got their break, and now they're on the Cold Mountain soundtrack! Even if it never happens, that giddy feeling of pride and excitement - the four of us like five-year-olds dreaming of glory - will be savoured for a long time.

So of course, now we're high. More whisky, then back inside for more jamming, upping the pace with some Cajun tunes, giggling to ourselves at how well we did, savoring the compliments, before leaving to go back down to Perry County, via some food and more giggling. Beers in the car on the way home. What are we going to do now? We can't sleep, hell no. So we pile down to Chip's place and he's come up with a plan. We're going to make a bonfire and sit out and get drunk and see the sun come up. But this is West Alabama, and making a bonfire involves a bulldozer. So, at around midnight last night, I was riding around in the cab of Chip's 'dozer, going down the highway from his jobsite to his house, across a few ditches just for the hell of being able to do it, and scooping up a few felled trees to douse with gas and make a bonfire. Riding a dozer in the dark is probably one of the most fun things I've ever done in my life.

And then we sat out under the huge starry sky, told stories, drank beer and whisky, lost some members to the irresistible pull of wives and sleep, listened to Django beaming out from the car stereo. We went to Waffle House in Selma to assauge those late-night cravings, talked about the state of the world and the state of Alabama, and watched a perfect dawn break over the quiet, still fields, before driving home in the clear pink morning light, watching the sun rise in my rear-view mirror, and through sleeping Greensboro to my bed.

You can't have days like that in London.

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March 10, 2005 || 11:22 pm

My small ornithological charges continue to grow at an astonishing rate. Charlie the duckling knows how to swim, which I suppose shouldn't surprise me, but seeing as he'd never been in water before I tried him out in our tin cattle trough, nevertheless filled me with motherly pride. As does the way he follows me around when I let him out of his pen. The rooster can also be lured out anywhere if you call his name and shake the bag of feed in his direction. They all eat and shit an amazing amount.

My latest new skill is wiring. I now can wire up outlets, lights, and switches! a small victory.

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March 09, 2005 || 11:32 pm

OH NOOOO.....we're out. I'm actually rather glad I'm not in England for this football season. Next year, going by how we generally do, should be way better. One day we'll manage to string two good years together...

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4:43 am

Hanification now registers on Google (along with some stuff about China that is obviously not nearly as important.) The OED will surely follow...

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March 07, 2005 || 1:48 am

Yesterday was another good civic function in Greensboro which passed off to the accompaniment of the Kudzu String Band - the 175th anniversary of the Episcopalian Church, which they were celebrating with a wine-and-cheese do from four to six, followed by a catfish fry. It was quite bizarrely civil, taking place in one of Winnie Cobbs' B&Bs which are all antique furniture, portraits, drapes and impeccably clean crystal. If you can tell a lot by someone's bookshelves, make what you will of 'Confederate Currency' nestling with Simon Schama's 'Citizens'.

The crowd was rather like a drinks party in Suffolk - everyone very jovial from the wine, the upper and middle classes making conversation in their buff jackets and floaty scarves, the rather jolly vicar (sorry, preacher), deacon and bishop trotting around with pink cheeks. I saw only one black face, which belonged to an elegant but aloof older woman. One could have been oblivious to the fact that this is one of the most poverty-stricken areas of the country. But you know you're in the Black Belt when the room falls silent for the bishop to bless the catfish, before it's doled out onto polystyrene plates with baked beans and slaw. It's one of the oddities of the South that every class and race eats exactly the same food and claims it as their culinary heritage.

Afterwards we ventured out to a rather similar event but of a different generation: a party out at the camphouse of a family who, in the words of a friend, own all of the county except the few bits on their map that are marked 'out'. There the younger generation of the old white families was partying hard, having roasted a pig, drunken most of a keg of beer and hitting the bourbon to the accompaniment of music blaring out of someone's flashy SUV. Despite the muddy dirt road leading to the seventy acre lake, the few girls who were there were in little black dresses and sharp heels. It was fun - most of the kids are friendly and harmless, and it's always interesting to meet new faces and observe the Black Belt in action - but, of course, strange to see behaviour that oblivious to the ironies of their position.

Earlier in the day I had taken Chip around some of the Rural Studio projects and we'd discussed a little of the race relations in the area. And it's true to say, as he did, that it's slowly changing, and that the younger generation are not carrying the same level of prejudice. But still, these kids would never have thought it was strange that there was not a black face among them. And one of the strangest comments I heard late into the night was that 'well, I'd rather hang out with a black from round here than a white guy from North Alabama.'

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March 06, 2005 || 7:47 pm

I know it's a cliche, but I do find it quite wonderful that I can sit in the back yard of an abandoned auto garage in a forgotten small town in Alabama, with my bare legs in the sun and my chickens pecking around, and do useful work for a cutting-edge UK company by surfing the web from my laptop. Inside, some friends make huge papier-mache puppets for a short film they will shoot with a pocket DV camera and edit in iMovie.

How did we ever live without this stuff? It is ultimately liberating, enabling a lifestyle choice that questions every convention about where we need to live and why. Why do I have to return to the UK? well, the only reason really seems to be that the US government requires me to have one of those old-fashioned visas, and my perfect lifestyle choice unfortunately doesn't qualify me for a green card. Though if they'd ever find me in Hale County, I don't know...

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March 04, 2005 || 2:56 am

Well, so so many exciting things to report, I hardly know where to start. Lots of things have arrived at Beacon Street in the last few days.

A new laptop! I'm writing this at my spanking new G5 powerbook, bought at great crippling expense to myself to replace old 'bruised and battered', my faithful friend, whose battering (as seen in previous posts) finally got to be too much. The joy.

Animals! I am the proud custodian of a 6 month old rooster and a baby duck, bought from the egg-man himself, Jimmy Jones of Marion. This has been a whole learning curve since 4pm yesterday when we carried back Lucky Ducky the rooster (who shat in Carol's car on the way home) and Charlie the duck, along with a very small baby hen-chick.

The first, and saddest part, is that Charlie turned out to be a bit of a bully despite his young age. He nearly drowned the chick in the water-bowl we gave them (thinking they could share) and then pecked it to death. So, tragedy came early but we hope that the chick's successor (to be purchased this weekend) will grow up (in a separate pen to the duck) to be strong and healthy and lay me lots of eggs.

The next part of the learning experience was that we made a temporary pen for Lucky in the yard, without a roof, and this morning when I went out to feed him he wasn't in it! Alas, I thought, another loss to the Beacon Street community, he's flown off back home. But no, this afternoon he was found strutting in the street in front of our house. So he does already know where his home is and we will make him a pen with roof and little hut to nest in soon.

Bad news! Evil George W has axed the federal loan programme (Rural Development 502) which was going to enable our house to be built for all the needy of Hale County. But hope remains that the fledgling Greensboro Housing Office is going to continue to provide a loan with the same criteria, funded through other, independent, sources. This may actually mean more people qualify for it, as we won't have to insist on exactly the same criteria for credit, land ownership etc.

And last but not least, I played fiddle last night with the famous Snuffy, old bricklayer from Marion who is quite a wonderful fiddler despite his knarled hands. He is also the reason that my band formed, being the catalyst for the introduction of Ted to Chip. It was really wonderful to play with him, with all his old-time fiddler grumps, airs and anti-Baptist jokes (because the strict religious people round here used to think that the fiddle was the devil's instrument as it apparently inspires its listeners to lasciviousness and frolicking).

So, excitement all round. I'm off to play with my new toy, accompanied by the peeping of my little duck (living in my warm bedroom for the time being...)

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