...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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May 30, 2005 || 3:39 pm

A peaceful Monday morning after an action-packed weekend. Definitely the most fun festival of the season so far, the Acoustic Cafe meant a band competition lost due to incompetencies among the judges(!) but a weekend of lots of fun and great music. Dread Clampitt and the awesome Red Stick Ramblers played on stage and then lived up to their party-loving reputation by jamming with us till the sun came up two nights in a row, in a state of glorious, riotous drunkenness, yowling Cajun harmonies and slapping basslines between swigs on the bourbon bottle.

Back now to Greensboro and the arrival of another English visitor has meant the arrival of highly uncharacteristic grey, rainy weather. Somehow this always seems to happen when my guests arrive...

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May 27, 2005 || 2:49 pm

The end of the football season and, oh joy, the start of Test cricket. Bangladesh are currently letting us run all over them as a warm-up for the Ashes, but more importantly, I can get the true sound of England beamed to Alabama through Test Match Special. Joy. For all you Americans who don't understand us Brits, just listen to Test Match Special for the next few months and maybe, just maybe, you may get an insight into the English psyche that will explain everything...

I'd been missing the smack of leather on willow, to use the time-honoured cliche. Over at the Guardian over-by-over commentary, the readership are delightedly reacquainting themselves with each other and looking forward to a summer of pretending to work while really just clicking 'refresh' and sending in silly emails. I've got a lot of work to do so I'm banning myself from the Guardian site but one can, I think, listen to TMS while working...

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May 25, 2005 || 10:23 pm

Another incredible afternoon of football. I left my laptop to go to a meeting with the contractor who will be building the next iteration of our house, to come back and find it 3-3...the tension! the excitement! what a comeback!!

For luck I played the John Peel mix of the commentary to that previous famous Liverpool goal in the 1981 European Cup which intros his last Fabric Live CD...calling on his spirit to enable a repeat...but none was forthcoming...

And then, twice in a week, I have to endure a penalty shootout, and twice in a week, what a result!

This is, obviously, so much bigger than the FA Cup. I'm so happy for Liverpool. They deserved this (and, let's face it, we really didn't...) It's huge and historic, exactly what football is about and I'm feeling it. But now, I've got to shoot off to go give a fiddle lesson...

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5:47 am

I've had another dive into researching a part of the world I know nothing about - China and Australia. All I know about the one is the stereotype of billions of skyscrapers being built every year and the onrush of a scary form of urbanism while peasants in villages still live in hovels. All I knew about the other, until a few hours ago, was Glenn Murcutt and his disciples. Now I've trawled through virtually the whole archive of the journal Architecture Australia I know something more - at least, some sense of orientation in the world of Australian architecture, its concerns, priorities and strengths.

There was some surprisingly good writing in the journal, especially compared to the sycophantic British rags - a sense of genuine debate and questioning about the direction or architecture and urban design, some actual criticism (god forbid) of the buildings and schemes featured, and some more polemic essays on a variety of themes from how to design for/with Aboriginal communities to a fairly serious critique of the masterplanning of the major cities.

I found some potentially good projects and some practices to follow up on, but still I need more leads...anyone out there with any suggestions for Chinese or Australian projects, email me now!

Meanwhile, from the serious to the ridiculous. Check out the cybernetic parrot sausage, but not if you are feeling easily grossed out. (Thanks to Boing Boing, who else, for bringing this to the world's attention...)

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May 23, 2005 || 8:12 pm

Hooray! someone with a digital camera sent me a CD of their pictures of Alabama - and when that someone is a trained photographer, this results in a very flattering picture of my very small house on Pig Roast day, so those of you who've been clamouring to see the results of my labour (or labor), here it is...



(Thanks, Justine!)

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May 21, 2005 || 5:46 pm

YESSSSSSSS!!!!!!!! YESSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!! YESSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!

YESSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!

The grand fromage who confidently told me that he'd be heading back to Highbury on the team plane with the cup, well it didn't look like he was going to be right, but YES! that's the way it goes. Oh, the joy. I can't believe it. That's too much wracked nerves for before midday. Thanks to the Guardian reader who pointed those of us in internet limbo to the live radio commentary on (of all things) MUTV which ensured that I heard every minute of the last half and nearly had several coronaries in the process. But WE WON IT!!

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3:28 pm

It's FA Cup final and I'm sitting in Gooner hell - that is in my kitchen with no radio, no TV, no nothing remotely live except the BBC and Guardian online commentary. I listened joyfully to the pre-match commentary streamed live from Radio 5, and then it all went silent, as the FA ban on live streaming to overseas browsers came into effect. Damn them! So here's me, having just finished my good English fry-up breakfast, pot of tea on the side and resisting the urge to have a beer seeing as it's 9.30am here...I've got to do some work later, regardless of the result, and I know a beer would be highly retrograde...

On the pitch it all sounds like it's getting intense. I'm totally jealous of friends who I know are a) there at the stadium and b) in a Gooner pub in London (unless he's testing himself, as he often does, by watching the game with his Man USA-supporting best mate...)

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3:00 am

Only in Beacon Street...

A wren has started to make a nest in my bedroom, inside an artwork by Butch! He (or she) found the gap between a seashell, a pickled snake and an election flier for George Wallace and thought it would make a perfect secluded spot to bring up kids. Now I don't know what to do! I feel bad for them if I shut my door, and it's rather amazing seeing how they build a nest, but still, much as I love my feathered friends I'm not really sure if my bedroom is the best place for them...

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May 18, 2005 || 2:57 am

After yesterday, which was a full day of real work back on site, today was more in the mode of last week - a half day of work followed by a half day of sitting with my laptop trying to get back into the swing of the whole book research thing, and not be distracted by the fact that I've finally got myself a RSS feeder which is supposed to stop me being so distracted by constantly reading blogs and online news but obviously, as a new toy, has done precisely the opposite today.

Trying to find more projects in areas we have gaps in is surprisingly difficult when it comes to, of all places, France. Why the dearth of imaginative, participatory projects here? One article I read online posits that it is as a result of political culture favoring uniformity (egalité) over participatory, and therefore idiosyncratic and unequal, decisionmaking processes. But again, with a highly funded arts scene and plenty of artist-run spaces and so forth, aren't some of those artists getting out into the street and working with their communities to help articulate and address their problems, aspirations and needs, as has been happening in neighbouring European countries? Or maybe I'm just a really crap researcher. Anyway, suggestions for projects are welcome, i.e. desperately needed...

Meanwhile, for your musical delectation, a link to a great mashup (thanks to, of all people the Observer blog. Aren't I sad.)

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May 17, 2005 || 7:38 am

I'm not a regular reader of archinect, a site whose aims I applaud but whose occasional degeneracy into the worst depths of architectural gossip, self-congratulation and preening about subject of utter irrelevance to the real world is an inevitable consequence of its aims. However, for some obscure reason I ended up on the site this evening and found myself reading the truly awful discussion forum on the new head of the AA. It's an awful comparison, but is this situation not akin to the whole Malcolm Glazer/Man U debacle? a whole bunch of fans moaning their heads off and trying to predict the future, taking up lots of airspace without realising that most of the rest of the architecture world doesn't give a damn what happens to them because they think you're irrelevant and arrogant (and that's being polite), and the longer you stay with your heads in the sand, the better.

Sorry - I do wish the AA the best possible future. But until it loses its Man U (or, more aptly, Real Madrid)-like arrogance and starts to realise, as Jeremy Till quietly pointed out in his submission (which seems to have been completely overlooked by all the students) that architecture, like football, isn't about galacticos but about teamwork, true creativity, and social and political responsibility, then unfortunately the school will still continue to turn out a lot of the whizzbangs that give architects a really bad name in the rest of the world - the Beckhams in expensive Japanese clothing who proclaim their genius without building more than a whimsical pavilion, whose obscure pseudo-theory is so much easier to ape than the real job of architects, which is to build decently yet beautifully, responsibly yet radically and without self-indulgence.

(A bit like the Arsenal play football? oh no, enough now...)

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May 15, 2005 || 4:57 pm

Church slogans of the day:

HOW TO CUT A LONG STORY SHORT - DON'T TELL IT

THE BEST VITAMIN FOR A CHRISTIAN - B1

[geddit? Actually, it's all rather confusing because if you are already a Christian, you don't presumably need to B1...]

And what footballing traumas today. I'm rather sad, actually, as I was rooting for Crystal Palace to escape relegation due to my fondness for Iain Dowie, his truly committed team and the fantastic pseudo-blog of Aki Riihilahti. My next choice would have been Norwich and I would also have preferred to see Saints survive as I'm fond of Harry Redknapp and his chipper wheeler-dealering. So that West Brom, of all boring Midlands teams, might make it through was not what I wanted at all. And then Birmingham manage to beat us 2-1!

Apart from that, yesterday was another bluegrass festival at Blackwater - not as much jamming this time as we'd hoped for, partly due to a rainy interlude, but some good bands on stage, and it's always fun to get out and listen to music in the open air. We arrived back in Greensboro just as a mighty thunderstorm hit and had our last drink of the night watching the lighting and the torrential rain with the back barn doors open.

(Oh, and on a side note - never get your oil changed on Friday 13th. To add to the saga of my previously reliable vehicle, I drove to Parker Tire with everything working fine, got out of the car so that Scott [aka Squirrel] could drive it up the ramp, he started it and went forward 3 feet and then the damn thing died and wouldn't start up. Apparently I need a new fuel pump. Grrr.)

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May 13, 2005 || 1:51 am

Church mottoes of the day:

DUSTY BIBLES LEAD TO DIRTY LIVES

A SHUT MOUTH GATHERS NO FOOT

Life is slowly returning to normal after a month of visitors and events, which is both a relief and a little sad. It's great to have friends come to see what life is like here, not to mention new company, and seeing one's boyfriend for a week every three and a half months is pretty welcome too...but driving three times to Atlanta within a week makes me not want to step in my car for a good bit of time.

But onwards we go, tidying up loose ends with the house and, for me, restarting work on the GPA book. And suddenly the weather has got really hot. Summer has arrived, the little air-conditioner in my room is on for the first time this year, and the mosquitoes are out in force...

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May 10, 2005 || 3:23 am

Just surfaced from PIg Roast weekend, which was a fitting ceremonial end to the year (though of course none of use are going home and our projects aren't finished...)

The day began early with breakfast under the Great Hall at the Morisette House provided by the good ladies of Newbern - cakes and coffee. The best surprise at this early point was seeing Fred, one of our longstanding inmates who got out on parole a few months ago, returned and standing spruce and happy at the foot of the steps. After the prize for the best 2nd year effort in their watercolour class (such skills still alive and strong in Alabama) and Big Dave's presentation on his work during the year as the Architectural Ambulance, our little house was first on the tour. Mrs Phillips of course stole the show, moving the crowd to tears when she said a few words as we'd asked her to do, and then, after everyone had gone, unexpectedly starting to cry herself, big tears falling down behind her glasses; she's suddenly very sad to realise that we'll all soon start leaving her. I gave her a big hug, trying not to cry myself. After all the ups and downs with the house, with her reaction to the house and the slow growth of our relationship with her, it was hugely humbling to stand with her on the steps of her new porch and see her so happy, proud and sad at the same time.

Then it was on to Mason's Bend to see the second years house and the thesis 'dirt house' (they are using hybrid adobe made with the red Hale County dirt). After a strange interlude of German dancing by the administrative staff at lunch (don't ask - we didn't witness much as we actually snuck off to have a catfish lunch at a nearby diner rather than the PBJ sandwiches provided), it was on to Marion, with a minor car trouble hitch as my fan belt broke on the way. This meant we missed the school building's presentation and went straight to the park, to the site of the birding tower where nothing is in evidence yet, but soon will be - they have disassembled the tower that has been donated and will be reassembling it on site soon.

Then back to Newbern, to the firestation, then riding on hayrides and (oh joy) the firetruck round to the amphitheatre for the roast pig itself and musical accompaniment by yours truly and a few friends, while a friendly light airplane circled overhead dropping confetti all around. Then, as dusk fell and the local black cowboys appeared in full regalia around us, the speechifying (and the most bizarre spectacle of all, some strange tableau vivant involving the Queen of England, Colonel Sanders and Princess Di - the admin staff really are completely insane), the presentation of our certificates, etc etc and then the real partying began - band first (with, again, yours truly co-opted somewhat against my will into playing along), then our local and lovely DJ Sweet P behind the Morisette till the early hours (or so I hear. Us oldies felt the need to get to bed, would you believe. Blame it on the boyfriend...)

Then a lovely and much-needed lazy Sunday with breakfast outside in the Alamo, a picnic by the Black Warrior River, and an afternoon at the baseball in Newbern - one of the most fantastic community events, with the whole black population parading in their finest, shortest and tightest clothes and their most ornate and fabulous hairstyles, drinking beer, eating fried chicken and catfish, occasionally watching the baseball and more often shouting teasing comments to the visting team of white rednecks from West Blocton. And we all were especially proud to see a Rural Studio tradition renewed with the debut for the Newbern Tigers of Sam Currie, thesis student and star of the day for his champion pitching in the last two innings. We thrashed the rednecks 13-7 or so.

And finally, a special treat for y'all: our 86-year-old client Miss Phillips singing I'll fly away. You're allowed to cry. There's a movie that goes with it that I'll try and get up on here too sometime. In the mean time, I'm also giving you a picture of our breakfast in the Alamo

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May 06, 2005 || 5:41 am

Update: this photo says it all about this utterly despicable man, and my new MP.

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4:49 am

Another election, another Labour win - though the share of the vote speaks eloquently for the urgent need for a reform of our first-past-the-post system. How a 4% majority in the share of the vote can (at the time of writing) translate into a majority of nearly 25% more seats than anyone else is truly undemocratic.

And, on a personal level, I'm hugely depressed that in my home constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow George Galloway has won, through a hugely manipulative and destructive campaign aimed at the most underprivileged and ill-informed sections of the population, and undoing so much good, quiet development of a truly mixed and mutually respectful multi-cultural area. Much as I wished that Labour would not win this election (though no other alternative was really imaginable in any sense) in this one constituency - whose former black, Jewish and female MP encompassed everything the Labour Party could hope to symbolise for one of the most ethnically diverse and forward-looking areas of the country - I wished for a Labour victory to prove that my community could not be swayed by calculating and misleading rhetoric that is the exact mirror image of Mosely's blackshirts rallies through the area in the 1930s. Having not been organised enough to vote by proxy or post, I also regret my non-participation in the process, and my shocking lack of awareness of the campaign which led me to not realise that my home seat was such a battleground until it was too late to do anything about it.

Hey ho, another 12 hour day on site, with tired feet and chapped hands. It's been an exhausting week and I can't wait for a rest after Pig Roast...

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May 05, 2005 || 2:29 am

Church slogan of the day: EMOTION IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR ACTION

With relevance to which...we finished off all our siding today. We have nothing left to do to the outside of the house! (well, until we discover a f***-up.) Onwards and upwards, next task I'm trying to get done are the kitchen cabinets...

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May 03, 2005 || 1:51 am

A good full day on site today - a week from the Pig Roast and we're nearing completion, which is exciting. Today we put up the tin siding on the back of the house, a subject of some nervousness among the team as we were worried about how it might really look once in place - but luckily even the greatest doubters were converted when we saw it - shiny but not too shiny, surprisingly sophisticated-looking and lovely in the afternoon sun. All the inside of the house is painted now, and we're doing the fiddly stuff like putting up light fixtures and so on. It's exciting to finally see the house come to fruition and how all our paper ideas translate in reality.

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May 02, 2005 || 3:43 am

One thing I keep meaning to blog about is the plethora of amazing aphorisms found on the signs outside churches. For those of you who have never been to the South, nearly every church (and there are a lot - Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Catholic, AME Zion, Jehovah's Witnesses, Church of Christ, and more) has a sign outside it similar to the ones found outside Burger King, a diner or a gas station - backlit with black letters that you can rearrange to spell everything from 'TRY OUR ULTIMATE WHOPPER $5.99' to 'JESUS SAVES'. I've been trying to keep track of some of my favorites:

PRAYER CHANGES THINGS

HEADED THE WRONG WAY? GOD ALLOWS U-TURNS [by the side of the four-lane highway]

LET HIM TAKE THE FREE GIFT OF THE WATER OF LIFE

TRY JESUS HE'S ALRIGHT

There are so many more, so this is to be continued...

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3:23 am

Back today from a lovely weekend of classic Alabama - bluegrass and telling stories at the top of the mountain at Horse Pens 40. And all the better for the arrival of the boy, rather culture-shocked from moving between hectic metropolitan life in London to slow-talking, banjo-playing Alabama. It's a transition that doesn't sound that extreme in words but experientially is one of the most shocking changes.

The people are mostly old and slightly less old bluegrassers from all over the state who consider themselves fairly normal but are eccentric characters of the first order, telling stories about their geriatric wanderings in their RVs and their past lives from uncles who did their housepainting wearing three coats because the instructions on the tin said 'put on three coats', through to WWII on a battleship in the South Pacific, through to how to get completely bewildered by the English system of roundabouts. The music is jamming with a 13 year old and an 85 year old at the same time (and the 13 year old is singing a song about moonshine), or standing at midnight around a campfire playing songs about how running over a possum meant food on your plate for a week. The speech is slow and Southern and you drink your beer out of a plastic cup as alcohol is technically prohibited. The landscape is huge and endless, mountains covered in virgin woods and sacred Indian rocks. The camper vans are huge motor homes with all mod cons, but where the breakers trip all the time as the power hookups can't cope with a microwave and a hairdryer at the same time.

This all makes for what I, having gone native, find one of the most pleasant ways to spend a weekend. And boy, don't I realise how native I've gone when I have two English visitors at the same time looking around with bewildered eyes. Suddenly I feel like a scraggy-haired sort of Rip van Winkle, exhibit no. 1 of 'How a Londoner can lose their civilisation'. And, having gone Southern, I don't give a damn what anyone else thinks of me, I'm proud of it.

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