Lost::MikeGTN < Lost
It's a beautiful way to get lost, all you need is a bottle and a few nagging thoughts...
News - The Honeymoon Effect
Sunday 26/05/2013 20:07
I've never used this blog as much of a spot to impart personal news. Which is odd really, as the various dull records of my walks and trips hint continually at the personal, at what is happening in the foreground of my life. But somehow, making this the background and placing the commonplace centre-stage has been curiously rewarding, almost therapeutic perhaps? As I've trawled around the UK - and more recently the US - taking imprints and recording little snippets of found existence, I've been almost pushing my own realities back out of picture. Years ago, the Daylog recorded the dull, everyday things because it was a new way to do just that. I was blogging before the verb was coined in some senses. Then, it became a frenzied travel journal - the railway map providing structure in a world that often had none. The real life of financial troubles, romantic disappointments, work struggles replaced with a neat but sometimes illogical web of lines and stations. This all culminated last summer in a series of almost demented dashes around London - I often picked the hottest, driest days in the midst of Olympic or Jubilee fervour to make these insane pilgrimages. Something had to change...

And it did... The astute will have noted that 'unmarriageable' disappeared from my profiles and About pages. I got married to the most amazing person. Just like always, it wasn't simple - and in some senses it appears to have been against all the odds. But, if this site has seen sparse updates of late that's exactly why. Life is busy with complication, and time is preciously spent elsewhere. But there is a sense of place evident in the very arrangements for this seemingly - to some - unlikely wedding. On a sunny Friday in glowing sandstone buildings in the Old City of Bristol, then a scud across green valleys to Wraxall, with wonderous views across the wide flat plains of North Somerset. Then south again, by rail naturally, in wonderful summery weather to Devon. We paused at a familiar pub in Newton Abbot and read an old Bradshaw's guide which alerted us to the dubious "Daddy Hole Plain" and after fine beer, pressed on to Torquay. Passed endlessly on trips to Paignton at the end of the line, but never quite visited. The riviera tag proven - palm trees and acres of stucco shining in the sun. The taxi climbed to Wellswood village and our hotel - The Gleneagles!

Lyme Bay from the Gleneagles
Lyme Bay from the Gleneagles

This period piece from the 1960s could be a distant cousin of the Edgewater - and though the rooms are a little tiny and dated, the sea-facing balconies provide wonderful views across Lyme Bay. It had one other draw - it was the inspiration for John Cleese and Connie Booth to write Fawlty Towers. The character of Donald Sinclair, the former military man who ran the place back then, is contested - but nonetheless it led to a comedy which had played a weirdly big part in the proceedings which led to the wedding. We had a superb meal and relaxed watching the sun setting over Anstey's Cove, the little private beach path leading down to the shimmering water. We took to water ourselves the next day with a boat ride to Brixham, still active as a fishing port, but tiny and rather surprisingly preserved. A statue marked the spot where William of Orange set foot in the UK to set aright the monarchy and destroy Anglo-Irish relations for centuries to come. The day got hotter, so we retired to Paington for beer and sunshine before heading back to Torquay.

Brixham Harbour
Brixham Harbour

It seems unlikely - almost undeserved in some uncertain moments - that life has changed quite like it has. But, pinching myself awake in the morning proves that it has indeed. Times are challenging - there is much to do, and resources are tight. But not facing things alone feels so very, very different. This blog will change along with life here. But I'll never ever lose the urge to travel. After all, look where it got me...

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News - Roll On, Columbia...
Thursday 28/02/2013 12:38
I've written elsewhere about how I ended up on my voyage of discovery across the UK... An early US trip based around music took me to places which were, it's fair to say, off the beaten track for most transatlantic tourists. But, as a result of making that epic - and in retrospect, pretty brave - jaunt across the sea I realised that I knew little of my home country despite poring over maps since childhood. So, twenty years later I found myself with a strange, unexpected connection to the Pacific North West - an area which had always intrigued me, and which was now important in so many ways to my future. Having visited twice before, this trip was a mixture of the comfortable assurance of knowing my way around Seattle to some extent, and discovering new things entirely. One of these discoveries was to be a jaunt into the eastern reaches of Washington - beyond the Cascade Mountains, into the dry and sometimes bleak hinterland which stretches endlessly inland. The area dominated by the mighty Columbia River - until now little more than a romantic notion in folk songs and dustbowl ballads. As ever, it started with a train ride...

Near Wenatchee
Near Wenatchee

Departing King Street Station heading north was a new experience, and once out of the tunnel the tracks swung onto the waterfront alongside Alaskan Way. The grey afternoon reflected in Puget Sound, giving the scene a quiet, wintry beauty which oddly reminded me of Scotland. It was strange - and more than a little emotional - to look on this scene which had signified so much which was new and different about these past few months, and to consider how things would soon be changing again. The tracks hugged the coast through Ballard and Mukilteo before swinging inland at Everett and starting the long slow climb into the Cascades. The scenery shifted - a rural patchwork of farmland not dissimilar to home in Snohomish County which became sparser, tougher country as we climbed through Monroe and Sultan towards the Cascades Tunnel. Suddenly, in the darkness outside the dining car there was snow beside the line. Deep, thick, virgin snowfall which was unlike anything I'd seen before. I was entranced. As we curved and twisted through the mountains, navigating Stevens Pass at ear-popping altitude, we chatted to a family heading home from a week in Seattle. We told them our plans, and once again we found a genuine happiness in strangers' responses which warmed the heart despite the cold outdoors. Our destination was Wenatchee, and we alighted at Columbia River station late in the evening. As the car drifted along the city's streets I recalled my first evening in the USA, looking out at the passing strip-malls and eateries of Granite City, Illinois - this was oddly similar, save for the looming mountains on the horizon. I felt comfortably familiar with this middle-American scene.

Cashmere, WA
Cashmere, WA

Waking to sunshine and mountains was a surprise after the usual slate skies in Seattle, and as I began to make sense of the surroundings I also began to rather like this little outpost of a city. Yes, it carries all kinds of emotional burdens for people close to me - and it shares my own former home town's ability to wind me back in time to a bored, ill-fitting teenager at a moment's notice. It's also an oddly conservative colony - a distinct contrast to things west of the Cascades - but in its little eateries and dusty corners, there is something here. History, events that were inconsequential at the time, but lead up to now - and my own entanglement in the story.

A day or two into the trip and we head out in the car to Yakima. It's a three hour drive across the plains of central Washington, largely following the valley of the mighty Columbia River and it's dams. The mountains loom on both sides of our route, but here between them it is flat, dry and empty. The river snakes in and out of view, running slow between its reservoirs now. Appropriately, the scene opens out at Vantage - the river a long, broad lake between steely ranges of rock. The highway swings west, across a low bridge which leads towards another climb. The sky feels closer here somehow. I'm moved to silence, taking in the broad-angle view. I've never seen anything quite like this before - never appreciated scale in quite this way. The midwest is a bit of a distant memory now, but it lacks the reference points which the mountains offer, and which dwarf the tiny strip of highway rising into the western sky.

At Columbia River station absurdly early and just a few mornings later, we're boarding the train back to Seattle. It's not been an easy visit for many reasons, but it has placed more markers in my mental map of the state, and in the timeline which stretches back. I think of my historical links to the area - the endless letters launched overseas to obtain music, the curious kinship of the low-tech labels. It's truly strange how the strands of the story should re-entangle here in this little gap in the mountains...

Movebook Entry

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News - A Flood of Festivity
Tuesday 25/12/2012 21:22
It's become almost customary to write a little update at this time of year. Partly because, despite my cynicism and dislike of many aspects of the festivities, the time spent with my family over Christmas is often a calm, quiet and pleasant interlude nowadays. It has been fun to watch two excited boys, both now more able to fully appreciate the occasion, looking forward to the day's events. I'm also usually anticipating getting back to my travels after a hiatus forced by the closure of the railway system. But this year is a little different...

So, I find myself scanning weather reports and trying to determine just how badly the floods will affect travel when the network grinds back into action. With two days of almost no trains, it's impossible to gauge the disruption as there are no reports to evaluate. I'm anxious, nervous almost - the worry about getting to Heathrow on time tumbling into the concern about a first visit to the UK and what impression it will make. This past few cold, wet weeks have been hard going - separation and distance becoming acute and painful to bear. Looking forward there are travels - as ever at this time of year - but they'll have an entirely different significance of course.

At this time when people are coming together and I'm normally standing disdainfully off-camera, perhaps I suddenly understand all this a little better?

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News - Portlandia!
Saturday 24/11/2012 22:47
From the second we checked into the remarkable Ace Hotel, it was clear that Portland was just a little different. I'd absorbed the back-story previously - a generation of hippies who clung to the counter-culture had moved here, it stayed young and hip, and now it's a jungle of ironic facial hair, unashamed liberalism and democracy. Some of that is real, some of it is mild mocking by a national that doesn't always seem to get this place, but isn't prepared to entirely write it off as some den of Communism - at least only in the most right-wing of circles anyway. Because, it turns out, it's in fact very, very hard not to love Portland. The city core is old - largely un-reconstructed, squat low-rise brick buildings which hark back to the early 20th century and which face each other across wide streets where the car isn't quite king any more. A couple of modern, but largely quite confusing Streetcar lines shuffle across downtown - but don't seem to head anywhere too useful as such. It's an incredibly comfortable city to sink into and become part of very quickly, when one can walk comfortably and pause aimlessly without appearing too strange or alien. For me, this is a very good thing indeed.

From our temporary home on Stark Street, Powell's World of Books is not far away. A city-block sized store across four floors and several crazily confusing sub-divided areas, this is a truly remarkable place. With used and new books filed alongside each other, there is a wonderfully Portland-like sense of being offered a fair deal here. The selection of books, the range of subjects and the surprising depth of the range is astonishing. We set out with a basket which increasingly filled - not just with books but with smart, well-chosen arty cards and suchlike. Eventually, after several hours here we paused and common sense descended. We had to weed out our purchases carefully. We found a spot and showed immense restraint in selecting a few choice things to purchase. Oddly, here in this mecca of books, it didn't feel painful to have to surrender a title or two - being surrounded by books you could never hope to purchase seemed to assist in that.

Voodoo Donuts, PDX
Voodoo Donuts, PDX

The remainder of this short visit seemed to involve lots of food and beer - both of which Portland is pretty good at supplying. But a special place will always be reserved for Voodoo Donuts. We'd talked about this place and it was an essential visit. Forget the antics of Heston Blumenthal - this place has been making giant donuts for years, and has dabbled in the absurd by including pepto-bismol fillings and crushed aspirin for the badly-hungover. With the rain blown away by a Pacific wind, it was a bracing but perfect walk down Burnside towards Voodoo. We'd been warned off walking this way at night - and while it was fair to say this was a colourful neighbourhood of adult cinemas and empty lots, it felt no worse - and far less menacing - than many cities I've passed through. Finally we found Voodoo by virtue of it's line - even this early on a weekend morning there was a queue around the block for this local institution. The gaudy pink building with it's Alice-in-Wonderland like diorama of giant donuts and paraphenalia was hot, dizzying and smelled strongly of melting sugar and hot dough. Our purchases in hand we slipped over to the adjacent coffee stand which was doing equally brisk business with the sugar-sodden masses. The return walk was via the outdoor market and Chinatown, the iconic ironwork of the bridges in the background. The older buildings in this neighbourhood had achieved state protection - perhaps a rarer status here than at home, but welcome. It seems that here, redevelopment is at least a little bit more sensitive than elsewhere in the US.

Chinatown
Chinatown

One last trip before we left the Ace, and indeed Portland, was to the line of tiny boutique stores along the street adjacent. Among these was Tender Loving Empire - a record label, distributor of local artists' work, and generally surprisingly packed with strange and wonderful items. The store was busy, bustling with people - and not just hipsters. We browsed the music - listened to Loch Lomond which completed a circle right back to Song, By Toad in Edinburgh, my blogging exploits and Scottish links. In fact we almost missed the train back to Seattle in our leisurely browsing. But finally after a haphazard cab ride to Union Station we settled into the seats and watched the Columbia River slip by as we began the journey north. For me, it was the beginning of a longer journey home too in some ways - and with the novelty of just $14 between us, we celebrated with overpriced beer and watched darkness fall on the Pacific North West. The couple of days we spent in Portland were an eye-opening, intriguing rush through a city that I'm certain I want to revisit.

Movebook Entry

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News - Thanksgiving on The Cascades
Thursday 22/11/2012 23:26
It's fair to say that this site hasn't had much in the way of regular updates for a while. There are some valid, and happily very positive real life reasons for that - which are hinted at strongly in recent entries of course. But the simple truth is that a change in financial priorities has meant I've travelled far less in recent months. This leads me to consider why I've spent the last eight years on an obsessive mission to conquer the railways of the United Kingdom, and if this was really just diversionary activity? I'm thinking not - because, finding myself here on a surprisingly clear winters afternoon in the Pacific North West I'm almost childishly excited to be boarding Amtrak's Cascades service from Seattle to Portland. Again, it's also fair to say that there are lots of reasons aside from the rail trip to be enthusiastic about this journey. Not least its very impossibility just a few short weeks ago. Having crossed the Atlantic twice in quick succession, I find myself oddly, and almost disconcertingly comfortable here in Washington. The pace of city life in Seattle is a gentle ramping up from my norms rather than the dramatic shock which my early visits to the US entailed. Setting out yesterday morning on foot I didn't feel edged out of the city like non-vehicular traffic can so often be here, instead I took a tentative walk on the shining sidewalks of Pike Street, crossing the interstate and heading down into the city just emerging after a bout of rain. Puget Sound shimmered in the middle distance, beyond the landmark sign for the market. For a while I inhabited that wholly liminal position of being neither native nor tourist. I was here, unusually in my travels, with a purpose and an intent - but I was still exploring and discovering the city. On the corner near City Target, I encountered a yelling mob - which was no more than an over-enthusiastic conversation lifted direct from a Jerry Springer universe. But it demonstrated the tight zoning of the compact core of Seattle - this corner feels mildly menacing, a little edgier than the cross-streets which intersect. But it's at the heart of the retail area which bustles with European style energy. I press on to my target in the business district - the heights of an office tower which affords me unparalleled views over the cityscape. It's hard not to love this place for many reasons - and it's hard to leave for many more.

Seattle Skyline
Seattle Skyline

The train to Portland is a new experience - fusing the frustration of air travel with the familiarity of railways. We check in and get assigned a seat, then wait in the booking hall which only hints at the grand opulence of the under-reconstruction King Street Station. When called we shuffle out to the train - a strikingly modern Talgo set hauled by an EMD locomotive which yings just like their products do here in the UK. It's a comforting sound in some ways, and reminds me I'm about to hit the rails for the first time in this vast continent. Sure, I've done light rail systems all over the place, but this is my first intercity journey. It's a strange sensation at first to be travelling on the 'wrong' side of the formation - but I'm soon distracted by the novelty of double-height containers in stockyards, endlessly long trains of soy bean hoppers, and more immediately the luxury of settling into my seat in company - something which has almost never been a feature of my travels. Certainly, it's never been like this - and I don't want the journey to end. The route turns west to call at Tacoma, then hugs the coastline of the Sound under the Tacoma Narrows Bridge - veteran of science documentaries about harmonics, the iconic image of it swinging and bucking now replaced with a sense of awe at its fragile grace in the half-light. As we approach Olympia we retire to the Dining Car to sip beer and look at the water shimmering under the silver sky. Rakes of evergreens march up the hillsides away from the tracks, as we turn south again and head inland.

Inside Union Station, PDX
Inside Union Station, PDX

Between here and the Columbia river is something of a haze of warm, comfortable travel in rare company. It seems all too soon that we're clattering over the gridirons and bridges which dominate the northern flank of Portland, passing into previously uncharted Oregon in the process. It's early evening - a little before six - but it's dark and the city twinkles invitingly beyond the illuminated tower of Union Station. Crossing the tracks to enter the building, we're the last passengers to leave because we've been taking photographs. The grand hall of the station is a surprise - a marbled palace of generous proportions, with remarkable similarities to some of the stations back at home. We head out into the chilly, dark evening and line up for a cab to the almost painfully hip but cleverly decorated Ace Hotel - and what will be my first ever Thanksgiving. I can't help but think our way of celebrating, a long way from everything which is usually associated with this resolutely un-British occasion, will be far from traditional. As we shudder our stop-start progress through the traffic lights of Burnside and Stark, and catch the first sight of the exterior of the old hotel I recall reading that it was once The Clyde. I'm never far from Glasgow, even when I'm truly a long way off. I can't help but hope that we get to cross the other Clyde very, very soon indeed.

Movebook Entry

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News - Going Global
Tuesday 23/10/2012 15:30
Lots of things have been changing over the past few weeks. Subtle at first, then strange and rapid - I've found myself plunged into a very different world. At first it felt tenuous, unlikely and fragile - but now, after a 10,000 mile round trip and a magical weekend, it's all making a reassuring but still incredible kind of sense to me. Lazy, hot walks along Olympic waterways have solidified thinking which seemed hazy and indistinct at first, and a damp morning pacing the grounds of Birmingham Cathedral cast the die. Things have changed beyond belief.

Somewhere during the last twenty-four hours, between leaving SeaTac and departing from Schipol, I realised that life was suddenly moving much faster. After a long period of treading water in a comfortably pleasant way - maybe even years of it - I was being challenged. There's every likelihood that up to now, I'd have let the opportunity pass by like many others. But this time, I know I can't. This is far, far too important...

Movebook Entry

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