The Nashville Diaries, part II

Sunday

Sunday morning the coffee-making travails continue, as, having laboriously ground the beans, and successfully decanted the resulting grounds into the basket thing, I then accidentally catch the edge of the basket and flip the whole lot onto the counter-top.

Ryan saves the day by producing a sheet of paper (quality cardstock, none of your cheap 75gsm stuff) and I brush the grounds onto the paper. Then, curving the paper, I get most of the grounds back into the basket. Katie helpfully points out, somewhat after the fact, that it would have been easier if I had used the paper in portrait orientation instead of landscape.

Later I visited Wholefoods. Picked up some Maine Root Sarsaparilla, and Maine Root root beer. Plus some A&W at Kroger.

(4) Maine Root Root Beer. Decent but unspectacular. A little bland even. 6/10.

Ryan disagrees, but this is my blog so it’s getting a 6.

Monday

Monday morning the Robinsons’ sweet children involve me in one of their games, which involves Jude (3) chopping off many of my body parts. He starts with the arms and doesn’t stop, at anything, really, naming each body part as he goes, and it turns out his genital vocabulary is pretty extensive.

I am relieved that we’re only pretending.

Every time I come to the States I get a temporary sim from Zip Sim. On activating it, I get assigned a US number. Two years ago I was given a number that had clearly belonged to someone who had signed up for daily parenting advice texts.

This morning, at 09:26 I get a text from an unknown number

GET YOUR ASS IN HERE!!!!

I am unsure where I am to get my ass in to, so I stay where I am.

Tried to have a Maine Root Sarsaparilla but couldn’t get the top off. Nearly shredded my fingers before I conceded that it probably wasn’t a twist-off cap. Searched for, and failed to find, a bottle opener. So I have one of the A&W cans instead. It’s ok.

(5) A&W root beer. Really not that bad. 7/10

Tuesday

Get a text at lunchtime:

“Who is girl next to Patrick. Have not been here since break”

I research the area code of the text-sender, which is 267 – the same as my temporary number for the week – and it belongs to Philadelphia. Which is funny, because I am currently reading Silver Linings Playbook – set in Philly – and watched Creed on the plane on the way over, also set there. I am feeling a lot of connection to Philadelphia right now.

I drive back to Franklin, swinging past the Drake Motel, where I stop for a quick selfie to send to Nicola, as it features in the film Wild Rose, of which she is a fan.

Then onto my old haunt the Jam Coffeehouse. The sat nav takes me down South St, and on impulse I hang a left into my old neighborhood. It’s radically transformed from when I left 5 years ago. All around are brand new houses and condos, with boats in the driveway. The house immediately beside ours, which at the time belonged to a local drug dealer, has been pulled down and some tall construction is going up in its place. 

On arriving back in Franklin, Ryan shows me where the bottle opener was, so I could finally try the Maine Root Sarsaparilla, and then opens the bottle for me by twisting it off with his fingers anyway. I feel weak and unmanly.

But the MR Sarsaparilla is good, really good. Sarsaparilla, whatever it is, seems to be the thing. In discussion with Ryan, we concur that the Sioux City was marginally better, so this one gets an 8.

Maine Root Sarsaparilla. Pretty excellent. 8/10

The Nashville Diaries, part I

Thurs 9 May

After a pleasant and comfortable flight from Heathrow which was just a little longer than three feature films laid end to end, I landed at BNA, and was met by the full Robinson family. Well, I would have been, if I had come out on the level they expected me to, but I didn’t, and so we found each other in the car rental section instead.

Their sweet kids are holding Welcome Quinn signs, adorned by hand-drawn pictures of aeroplanes which do look slightly like they’re on fire.

I pick up my rental car. This year I opted for the “Compact” size, one up from “Mini”. Any concerns I had about the size of my transport are eased when I get to the car and realise that “compact” is American for “generously-sized family saloon.”

Ryan and Katie have organised a ‘welcome back’ party for me for Saturday evening, on their back porch. I am excited to see lots of old friends, and just to have a party on a back porch, which is not something that happens too much at home.

I have a breakfast date early tomorrow morning in Nashville, so set my alarm for 7:15am. 

Fri 10 May

7:15am was always hopelessly optimistic. Woke up at 4am.

Descended to the kitchen around 7am and made myself breakfast. Found milk in the fridge. I always check the expiry date on milk before using, ever since going camping with Ickle Bef. The milk in the fridge will expire on 24 July. American use-by dates scare me.

A sweat-soaked Ryan appears in the kitchen, returning from a run. We strike up a root beer conversation.

Each year I come and stay with the Robinsons, and each year, Ryan and I conduct extensive research into which root beer is the best. Never, though, have we taken any notes on our findings, and we forget from one year to the next, so every year we have to start all over again. 

This year, Ryan’s preliminary grocery store trips have indicated that a vastly-reduced range of root beers are available. I blame Trump. It wasn’t like this before he took over.

“Have you had a root beer?” Ryan asks.

It’s 7:30am. I do not feel the need to dignify this question with a response.

Instead I make myself coffee with my Cafflano Kompresso. Ryan is intrigued by this process, especially when I have to lean bodily on the plunger to force the water through the grounds.

“I think I packed the coffee a bit too tight,” I explain, through grunts, as a single bead of espresso finally drops into the clear container at the bottom. Some minutes later, I have a double shot of espresso with the most incredible crema, slight shortness of breath and a round mark imprinted on my right pectoral muscle.

Ryan looks bemused. He doesn’t drink coffee, he wouldn’t understand the lengths one has to go to sometimes.

Later that evening, I have my first root beer of the trip. It wasn’t good.

(1) Kroger Private Selection with ginger. Weird. Why add ginger? 4/10

I followed it up with a Sioux City. Made with cane sugar. That was pretty fine.

(2) Sioux City. Pretty fine. 7/10

The forecast tomorrow is for thundery showers, so we postpone the party to next Saturday instead.

Saturday

Saturday morning, I am leaning on my Kompresso and grunting again. Ryan comes into the kitchen.

“Looks like you packed it a little tight again,” he observes.

“It needs to be 9 bar of pressure,” I explain. “To produce genuine espresso.”

“Looks like you’re getting at least 11 bar there.”

I console myself that the great artists in history probably received criticism for their finest work too.

The other noteworthy thing that happened on Saturday is that I had a Sioux City Sarsaparilla and it might have changed my life. The label proudly claims it to be the Granddaddy of all root beers. I believe it.

(3) Sioux City Sarsaparilla. Proper good. 8.5/10

TOWIE

I’m seriously considering renaming this blog “I apologise for the lack of blogging recently.”

It’s not a very snappy title for a blog, I grant you, but might set expectations appropriately.

This week finds me back in Nashville and Franklin, visiting old haunts. With last year’s experience still fresh in my memory, I gave careful thought to the timing of the shoe-to-flip-flop transition. Anticipating an arrival temperature of 34C/93F, I decided an early transition was called for. I made the leap in Heathrow, while the feet were still relatively fresh.

Heather, Jacq and I were flight pioneers on this trip, taking an almost-brand-new flight route direct to Nashville from London Heathrow. I had slept badly the night before we left, due mainly, I think, to a certain amount of childlike excitement at the prospect of coming back to Nashville again. 

Both of our flights went off without incident, although my carry-on bag took the dreaded diversion down the inner track at security screening. 

Do you mind if I look through the bag, sir?

Absolutely, I said, brimming with confidence that a mistake had been made. And besides, what’s the alternative answer to “yes” for that question?

Minutes later, the nice security lady was holding up a large Phillips screwdriver, in the now tension-filled space between us.

Uh. I’m so sorry.

No problem sir, I’m afraid you can’t take that on the plane as it’s a tool.

Yes, yes, I understand. I’m so sorry!

I’m going to lay – fairly and squarely at the door of sleep deprivation – the blame for failing to take that out of my bag before flying.

What’s slightly more concerning is that this happened in Heathrow, which means the nice security people at Edinburgh didn’t pick it up…

Once on the flight and getting settled in to our seats, it became quickly apparent that we were co-pioneering with a great cloud of Essex-ness. 8 or 10 of them. Their exact origin was a subject of some post-flight conversational dispute. Jacq reckoned London. Whatever, they were loud, not overly-endowed in the self-awareness department, and had the energy to maintain their volume pretty much throughout the flight. 

I quaffed a plastic cup of orange juice with ice, and being in bulkhead seats, placed the empty-but-for-ice-cubes cup in the stretchy pocket fixed to the bulkhead at floor level.

I made good use of my custom IEMs to drown out the Essex noise, and managed to claw back some of my lost overnight sleep.

But not for long. I was rudely awakened by someone kicking my cupful of ice over my bare feet. Coming to, slowly, from a distant and pleasant place, I realised a few important things:

  • There was no-one standing or walking nearby
  • I must have kicked the cup myself
  • I had done a decent job of distributing ice cubes around the cabin, including over the large gnarly bearded dude sitting across the aisle.

I apologised. In the light of near constant loud Essex-ness, I actually don’t think he minded the ice shower all that much.

Never managed to regain that distant land of sleepfulness.

First morning in Franklin meant a visit to the Factory was imminent. My three year old host Jude, on learning I was going to the Factory, immediately wondered if I was going to have a bowl or a donut. By “bowl” he means an Açaí bowl from the Franklin Juice Company. This is a bowl of frozen fruit sorbet, topped with organic granola and fresh fruit.

Donut means a 100-layer donut from Five Daughters Bakery.

Which one do you think I’m going to get Jude?

With a sidelong glance at my profile, he replied without too much consideration

Donut!

That’s right Jude, that’s right. Nailed it.

Back in the Six One Five

Well, my flight from the nest lasted approximately two weeks, whereupon the builders moved in to replace our bathroom, and I moved back in with my mother for the second time in my adult life.

Mercifully (for all parties) this latest visit also only lasted two weeks, whereupon I returned to a flat with a shiny new bathroom. Two weeks later, I packed my bags and caught a flight to Nashville. For two weeks.

Sunday was travel day, and my travelling companion was my friend Heather. A more amenable, lower-maintenance traveling companion you are unlikely to meet. Heather didn’t mind which seat she sat in, which meant she got the centre seat, with me in the window seat.

In the air, en route to New York in an old American Airlines aircraft with TV screens down the middle, just out of sight of anyone in a window seat, we were informed of the new automated passport control system in place at JFK. Heather expressed some concern about this, and the prospect of immediate deportation on the pressing of one wrong button.

As for me – I was no more nervous than I usually am on approach to the USA, having had dramatically varying experiences at US Customs in the past. Maybe a fraction more nervous than usual, given the perception I have that Mr Trump is not all that fond of non-Americans.

Ironically, Heather aces the automated system, whereas I fail to get past the first hurdle – getting it to read my passport. The machine metaphorically rolled its eyes, and displayed a message instructing me to go find a human being. Which I did, but it seems system failures of this kind are rare, because said human being wasn’t equipped with the requisite paper customs form.

Fortunately there was a semi-completed form – in Spanish – lying discarded on the counter (fate of the Spanish-speaking semi-completer unknown), and by ticking some boxes beside sentences I didn’t understand, and signing it, I had completed the paperwork required to enter the US. That, or I had signed a confession to some unknown crime. But what’s life without a little excitement?

In an oddly-quiet JFK, I noticed that the post-Trump America has sunk to new lows, selling white cheddar popcorn in a Union Jack-emblazoned packet. White cheddar popcorn is an abomination. Never have I come across such foul-tasting popcorn in the UK. Ascribing such a vile combination of foodstuffs to the UK is slander of Special-Relationship-threatening proportions.

Speaking of cheese… while waiting in the lounge for the Nashville flight, I went to the restroom to swap my shoes and socks for flip flops. I was on holiday after all, and about to hit a Tennessee basking in 30C sunshine.

I returned to my seat in the lounge, and gradually became aware of a gently insistent stench. I initially convinced myself that it wasn’t anything to do with my newly-liberated feet, but it was a hard sell. I moved on to trying to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad.

We boarded the flight to Nashville, narrowly avoiding getting on the Montreal flight instead. The aircraft on the Nashville leg was a tiddler, as always, with just two seats per row on one side of the cabin, and only one on the other. Heather didn’t mind which seat she sat in, so she got the window this time.

The single seat across the aisle, empty when we boarded, was soon filled by a girl clutching a large pizza box. The box was clearly occupied, judging by the sweet meaty fragrance emanating from it. Still, this wasn’t enough to mask the aroma from my feet.

I enquired of Heather. “Can’t smell anything,” she said. Like I say, a great travelling companion.

I glanced left towards Pizza Girl. She was wearing an actual face mask, such as those seen on cyclists in smog-ridden cities. A mild over-reaction, I felt.

I retrieved my emergency pair of socks from my hand luggage and put them on, trying to do my bit for the environment, and concerned for the welfare of my fellow passengers.

Some time later I glanced left again. Pizza Girl had bolstered her defences by putting a white cloth over her head.

As the plane began its descent, a nervous glance revealed that she had the face mask and the white sheet on, and was slumped forwards over her tray table. Somewhat miffed, as I thought the sock approach was working quite well, I decided that she was making something of a meal of it all.

With a sniff and a mental toss of my head, I threw some Drew Holcomb on the iPod, as the Cumberland River and the Batman Building hove into view through the starboard window.

On disembarking the plane, Heather kept a respectful non-associative distance from me as we waited for the checked hand luggage to be delivered to the air bridge. Not because of the smell, but since the unplanned wardrobe change during the flight, I was now breaking new fashion ground by wearing socks and flip-flops.

Meanwhile Pizza Girl stood a good few metres even further away, presumably because of in-flight wounding and an unwillingness to forgive and move on.

Four days on, things are going well. I have a temporary SIM card for the two weeks I’m here, to allow easy communication with my American friends. This is working well, however it appears that the previous owner of my American number had signed up for parenting advice via daily text messages. So I now know that it’s good to let one’s child serve themselves, and it’s ok if they spill a little.

In a week’s time, armed with 11 days of text-borne advice, I expect to be a bona fide expert on parenting, and will be ready to share my expertise with any of my parent-friends.

You’re welcome.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas….

“Let your heart be light… Next year all your troubles will be out of s-i-i-ight…”

Every frickin year Jane McDonald promises me that all my troubles will be out of sight. Next year. Every year.

Clearly Jane McDonald has not invested any time and money in watching England play cricket, or she wouldn’t be making such rash predictions.

A shade under one month ago I sat down in front of my laptop, all excited that I had managed to secure a way of watching the Ashes online from Australia. My happiness was only enhanced by the time difference, which meant that the day’s play in Oz didn’t start at midnight (as it does in the UK), but at 6pm. Perfect tea-time viewing.

My American room-mates observed my nightly rituals with mild amusement, and gradually absorbed that each day’s play was not a match in itself, but a continuation of a single match stretching over five days.

And aside from the occasional question along the lines of “Wait, what now? They’re taking lunch?” we all got along just fine, until I lost the appetite for watching (usually around Day 3), and by extension the desire to explain what was going on.

“This isn’t going so well, is it?” would be met by a defiant explanation of how, if England’s batters were to perform to an acceptable international standard, England could still be in the game here.. and then within a few hours the same question would be met with a shake of my head, and a resigned grimace.

Within a couple of weeks my joy at being able to watch the Ashes had been severely dampened by actually watching said Ashes.

Well done Mitchell Johnson. I didn’t think you had it in you to perform consistently for more than one match in every five. Apparently you now do. If you had discovered the secret to bowling that well earlier, I suspect the results in the 2009, 2010/11 and 2013 series would have been different.

Anyway, on to cheerier subjects. Like my car, which has been in for repair three times since I bought it in September, and quite separately from those issues, fails to start some mornings. All these failings I could live with, if the horn didn’t sound like a toy bugle, thus rendering me utterly incapable of expressing my displeasure of others’ driving habits in any meaningful way.

Last week, we had a significant snowfall in Nashville. It fell late on Monday night/early Tuesday morning. Probably a whole inch. Immediately the schools closed. The program at Grace Center that I help out with cancelled the morning’s activities. What else was I to do but head to the Jam? The Jam is my favourite coffee shop in Nashville. It’s run by a lady and her three daughters who moved here from California a few years ago. They serve great coffee, and what’s more they’re so close to my house that I can actually walk there when I come over all European, or (more commonly) when my car doesn’t start. Walking there provokes great astonishment in the Jam Girls, roughly equivalent to the dismay they experience when the sun momentarily disappears behind a cloud, or the temperature drops below 75F.

The place has become a regular hangout for me and several friends. Much along the lines of the Central Perk in Friends, I am informed by younger friends who are more in touch with popular culture. They started making a flat white for me at my request, and have even added it to their menu. Apart from that they regularly heap abuse on me for spending so much time in there.

So, imagine my disappointment when around 8.30am I pulled into the parking lot to find the Jam closed. Clearly Momma Jam and the Jam girls were so dismayed by the snow and the cold that they had not ventured beyond their comforters that morning. Sometimes I don’t wish they all could be California Girls… 😉

Life in Music City

 

My good friend Kat emailed me from Edinburgh back in mid-February.

Subject: Good beards
Message: Avett Brothers @ Bridgestone Arena on 18 May

On seeing the subject I thought she had caught sight of my facial hair (an ill-advised experiment earlier this year) on Facebook and was writing to compliment me. It seems not. Kat has her finger on the musical pulse and goes to more shows than anyone else I know. She even knows the upcoming shows in Nashville, and emails me when she sees something coming up which will enhance my musical education.

I had never heard of the Avett Brothers, which is pretty much par for the course where her musical suggestions are concerned.

There is an abundance of live music in Nashville, as you might expect. But more than that, music pervades the culture, in such a way that they have guitars slung on the walls (and decent music playing overhead) in the grocery store. Overheard conversations at coffee shops will frequently reference technical aspects of record production. At any given restaurant your waiter or waitress is probably an exceptionally talented musician or singer waiting for a big break.

This can make life interesting for touring bands. My roommate informs me that artists hate playing Nashville, sometimes avoiding it altogether, because at any given show in the town, a significant proportion of the crowd will be professional, semi-professional or good amateur musicians, who stand with their arms crossed, and an attitude which screams “Go on then, impress me!”

And that makes sense.

But the enormously refreshing thing is that at church (at least at Grace Center) that attitude doesn’t seem to exist. At least not within the worship team, in my experience. I have never before come across a place where there was such a proliferation of phenomenally-talented musicians who were still excited by playing music and yet apparently indifferent to their own skill and achievements.

Last night was a case in point. Before our midweek worship service, the bass player, a former member of Sonicflood, recently back in Nashville after playing for several years with Jason Upton, and about to depart on a tour of Asia with Don Moen, asked our guitarist if he listened to bluegrass at all.

Our guitarist drawled “Yeah man, that’s mainly what I play.”

Bass player: “Ricky Skaggs? Man I grew up on that stuff.. Kentucky Thunder..”
Guitarist: “Yeah man, I played in that band for a year”
Bass player: “Whaaaaaaatt?!?”

And he starts looking around for a piece of paper and a pen to get his autograph. Half-jokingly. Conversation turns to Ricky Skaggs’ recent collaboration with Bruce Hornsby and the live album that ensued.

Guitarist again: “Aw man, I’m on that record somewhere.”
Bass player: “Are you SERIOUS?!?”
Guitarist: “I had no idea they were recording the shows until I got a cheque in the post and thought ‘What’s this?'”

Meanwhile the drummer, a successful recording artist in his own right, is sitting quietly on the sofa minding his own business. Looking on is the worship leader, a songwriter with several worship albums under his belt. And I am standing off to the side, (last musical achievement: Grade 7 piano twenty years ago), wondering “WHAT AM I EVEN DOING HERE?”

But here’s the thing. This is worship, and not just music performance. And so although these guys operate in a different musical stratosphere from me, I can still contribute. It’s taken me a while, but after a year and a bit of teaching on it and exposure to it, I’ve learned the reality of the supernatural/spirit realm and how my actions and words can have an impact there as well as in the earthly, visible realm. And for that matter, how the spirit realm can have an effect on my thoughts. And so I understand that when I play, it’s heard in heaven and not just in the room on earth where I happen to be. And people in the room are not just hearing the notes and chords but are being ministered to by the Holy Spirit.

I realise that this is an ‘out there’ concept, but am fully convinced that the supernatural realm is just as real as the wind, while being just as invisible to most of us, most of the time.

Overheard conversation between the sound engineer and a guy I only know to be a car park attendant as I left the church..

“You have a demo tape?”

“Yeah”

“Ok, well, we’ll probably do the drums in the morning..”

Worship

 

So, I am now the proud owner of a car. I managed to get hold of a car with a manual gearbox, and have been re-acquainting myself with the art of the clutch. Has proved extraordinarily difficult to translate many *cough* years of left-handed gear changes to the other side. Couple of times I have tried to change gear with the door handle. Several times, usually at intersections, I have stalled, which is not a failing I can blame on the location of the stick. The gearbox seems a little clunky at times, especially when going from first to second, even after a few hours behind the wheel. But it’s been fun.

Point of note: it’s intriguing that with nothing more than a driving licence acquired through making a couple of turns and stops in an automatic transmission-equipped car, I can, perfectly legally, drive off into heavy traffic in a car with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Worship times at church have been fun too. Not least because our worship leaders insist on singing songs several keys higher than I’m used to. And that’s just the male worship leaders. The song “In Christ Alone” which has made a few appearances recently, I have always played and sung in Eb. Here we have twice sung it in A. One of our worship leaders in particular seems to be possessed of a voice pitched high enough to minister to dogs and bats. Accordingly mass harmonies break out in the room during worship. At some points I am unsure if there is anyone left in the room either capable of, or willing to sing the melody. It should be said that this is Nashville, there is a significant number of talented musicians and singers in the room at any one time, and mass harmony would probably be breaking out anyway.

Apart from the appearance of songs like “In Christ Alone”, which has been around a while, most of the songs we sing are fairly new, if not brand new. Most days we will sing at least one song that has been written in-house. I have learned a few new songs here, although I’m not sure I’ve learned the melody.

There is a tendency in the most recent worship songs to include a chorus or bridge which consists entirely of “oh oh oh oh” or “whoaaa whoaaa”. I’m not going to lie. I love this. There was a time when I would have wondered about the theological profundity of such a sentence, if oh x 4 can be considered a sentence. I would have given it a short amount of thought, and decided that it scored quite low on the theological profundity scale. Probably zero, on a scale of one to ten. And dismissed it as yet another inane modern worship song.

But here’s the thing. In worship we sing songs to our heavenly Father. And God isn’t, as far as I know, impressed with our lyrical eloquence. Were I a father, and my child came to me and told me, in a childlike and grammatically incorrect way, that they loved me, would I correct their grammar, or would the sentiment of their expression move my heart?

I think the latter. And I think God’s heart is moved when we come to him worshipping with our heart rather than our head. Further, I now think “whoaaa” is a deeply profound expression of worship. And much more versatile than most words. It can express wonder, awe, love, adoration, mystery and more. When the Spirit moves you (sometimes physically) in worship, or when God takes you by surprise with a revelation during worship, “whoaaa” is probably the only apt response.

Jesus said that unless you become like a little child you cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven. God has been reinforcing the importance of this to me, and I have discovered new levels of childlikeness recently. I am learning new things about the Kingdom every day. I’m still only moving from first gear to second, and it’s still a bit clunky, but I’m getting there.

The bed, the car, and the bad-ass boyfriend

So, I am now the proud owner of a bed. A Queen bed (please, please restrain yourselves), if you will, which it would appear is the American equivalent of a kingsize bed in the UK. The British double bed is apparently called a ‘full-size’ even though it’s only one size up from the smallest, which is itself called a twin. Of course it is. Nothing could be more obvious.

I test-drove a car at the weekend, which was a lovely experience. After driving for a bit in the gathering dusk, I realized I hadn’t yet switched on the headlights, which instilled a whole new level of confidence in my passenger. This was the saleslady, called Tammy, and she had this lovely southern accent. She also had a great way of phrasing things, such as “you can turn right here” which meant “take the next left.” And right there, if you’ll forgive the play on words, is another British-US difference, not that this blog is meant to be a list of our cultural and linguistic differences, although it might continue in that vein for bit until I run out of steam, or differences, or get bored, or forget what Britain is like. A Brit would say “take a left at the lights”. An American, particularly, I feel, in the South, might say “you can go ahead and take a left at the next intersection”. A few weeks ago, or, perhaps more accurately, before I visited Nashville for the first time in May this year, I would have thought this a terribly extravagant waste of syllables and energy. Now it just seems like a more deliberate way of engaging in conversation, and reflects the joy which is taken in even the smaller details in life here. Of course, I should really point out for the benefit of my American readers that not all Brits are as culturally and linguistically repressed as me, that would be unfair. But some of them are. Oh yes.

But back to that left turn. I did feel Tammy should really have put a comma after ‘turn’, thus:

“You can turn, right here” which would have clarified her meaning somewhat, given that only a left turn was available. If I had a copy of “Eats shoots and leaves” I would have presented it to her there and then, or possibly after I had safely made the turn. I can’t remember if this incident was before or after I had come off the interstate onto the off-ramp, and was remarking how good the car was in the corners.

“Yes. It gets a little twisty here.” she replied.

That I took to be an invitation to go right on ahead and find out how good the car really was in the corners, and so I think I might have accelerated into the “twisty” bit. Oops.

“Can you tell I was in a wreck?” she enquired, her voice possibly rising in pitch just a fraction.

“Uh, I’m sorry?” I asked.

“This bit is quite TWISTY!” she continued, in a crescendo towards fever pitch, banging on my arm with a rolled up.. sales schedule, or something. I got the point and went ahead and slowed right on down.

Turns out she had been in quite a bad car accident a few years back, which instilled in me a new level of respect that she would ride shotgun with potential car buyers trying to find just how grippy their prospective purchase was in the corners. She mentioned her ex-husband in the conversation, and I wanted to ask her had she not thought about standing by her man, but being a model of self-discipline and restraint, I didn’t.

But back to the bed, so to speak. I found it (or rather AJ did) on Craigslist, which is the US version of Gumtree. Or vice versa. Anyhow, it was in search of this bed that I found myself driving into a dark deserted industrial estate in East Nashville tonight. I pulled up to the entrance of what might have been some sort of furniture storage facility, had I been able to see it properly in the dark, alongside the seller’s pickup truck, and was shown the mattress and box spring by this girl and her bad-ass-looking black boyfriend. There was no hip-hop pumping out of the pickup’s speakers, but there might have been. I had visions of me being found lying face down on said mattress with a single bullet hole in the back of my head, but perhaps I’ve watched too many of the wrong type of movies. Real life was, as ever, considerably less dramatic (I’m grateful), and twenty minutes later the pickup pulled up outside my new house in Nashville, where I am about to start renting a room. And so my brief sojourn in Franklin is almost at an end. Alyn and AJ, who probably didn’t find it quite so brief a sojourn, are looking to take on another lodger who would be willing to pay rent in root beer, cream soda and M&Ms.

Am quite excited about my move into Music City itself, and the resulting proximity to the live music scene there, not to mention some great indy coffee shops.  Cannae wait, like.

Driving tests and diapers

 

Following my successful foray into driving theory last Thursday, I booked my road test for the following day in a small town called Jasper (approx 3000 inhabitants), about 2.5 hours drive south of Nashville, close to Chattanooga and the county borders with Alabama and Georgia. You might think that it would be more convenient to take the test in, say, Franklin, or Nashville, or Canada, or really anywhere closer than Jasper, but I couldn’t find a test centre nearby which could fit me in any sooner than late October.

The ladies in the DMV place at Jasper were very sweet. I think perhaps they were pleased to see someone they weren’t related to.

I can’t begin to tell you how different this test experience was compared to my UK driving test in 1991. I was a little worried that the nice examiner lady would be put off by the stash of spare nappies/diapers and discarded root beer bottles in the back, but she seemed unfazed. She also declared that I would have no problem with the test. I can only presume that she took one glance at my “distinguished” appearance and realised I had clocked up a few miles behind the wheel, and was disregarding the fact that I would be driving an unfamiliar vehicle, on unknown streets, on entirely the wrong side of the road.

She was proved right though. The test consisted of a few turns at junctions. No reversing at all, never mind into a parking space, no hill start (bit redundant with an automatic box), no emergency stop. Perhaps just as well, or we might both have been wearing the diapers, so to speak.

Looks like I did just begin to tell you how different the driving test experiences were after all.

So, with Tennessee driving license in hand, the thoughts turn to what kind of car to buy. At the school we’ve been learning how to hear God’s voice, so I asked him what he thought of my idea of getting a massive twin cab pickup truck. He said he thought it was a little OTT for my needs.

So I found a reasonably priced sensible-looking car online, before discovering it didn’t have electric windows. I mean, seriously, this is supposed to be America. Can you imagine the tangle I’d get in at a drive-thru if I had to actually wind down the window first?

So, finding a car and a house are the remaining jigsaw pieces to put into place in order to settle into life here with a degree of independence, and thus reduce my sponging from my hosts and Charlene. Although living with Alyn & AJ has been, I feel, of mutual benefit. I get a roof over my head, food, a minivan (with multitudinous cup holders and spare diapers for emergencies) to drive when Charlene’s car is at the garage; they drink my root beer and get to reach their broadband supplier’s data download limit 3 days before the end of the month. Alyn is particularly pleased about this last benefit. I blame ESPN for streaming live cricket from Sri Lanka. And then there was the Ryder Cup…

Breakdowns come and breakdowns go

(so what are you going to do about it, that’s what I’d like to know…)

“I only crave this stuff when I’m pregnant,” declared AJ, as she swigs on another bottle of (my) root beer. On my first visit to Wholefoods, shortly after my arrival here, I decided to buy a 4-pack of Virgil’s to see what all the fuss was about. Wiseman was always going on about the stuff (he does go on about things sometimes), to the point where I reckon he might have considered moving to the US just to have it on tap. However, he wouldn’t want to be moving in with Alyn and AJ, for several reasons I suspect, but principally because every time he came home he would find the refrigerator ransacked and his supply of rather fine root beer decimated.

Well, purely speculatively, that’s what I suggest might happen. Fortunately this week at the School has been entitled “Healing Life’s Hurts” and I’m here to tell you it couldn’t have come at a better time. Alyn & AJ have not only been teaching this at the School, but helping me work it out in practice, bless them.

This morning was spent back at the DMV, taking my driving theory test. Being of a certain age, I never had to take a theory test in the UK, and so this was a new, and largely unwelcome experience. Although some of the questions did at least provide some humour, like 

Continuous hard braking on snow and ice often:

(a) helps you stop sooner
(b) heats up your brake pads and stops them freezing

I forget what (c) was now but I went for it. Anyway, the theory successfully negotiated, I booked myself a road test for tomorrow. My wheels for this auspicious occasion have been loaned to me by the very kind Charlene, who is able to lend me her car since she is currently driving a car belonging to a rock’n’roll friend who is currently away on tour. Ah, Nashville. Now, Charlene, I mean no disrespect, and I am enormously grateful for the generous loan, but it does rattle a bit, this car. I’m not entirely sure that the shock absorbers are currently absorbing anything. Had I been driving it in and out of pot-holes in Edinburgh, as one is wont to do there, I would have booked myself into the dentist by now. But apart from that it’s a fine car, if you don’t mind the deer-shaped void where the front grille used to be, and the cable tie keeping an undefined part of the engine attached to the chassis. 

And lo, did her car not break down this very afternoon, even while I was in Starbucks (I knew that judgement was coming). Shifting the stick into Reverse or Drive was simply not enough to persuade the transmission to engage. 

The nice Tow Truck Guy that appeared after a short wait drawled that there was nothing with the transmission (buddy), and with a reckless disregard for the consequences, detached the cable tie from the engine part and attached it to another engine part. Having checked that the transmission now engaged successfully, he drove off and left me shortly before the car broke down again. Distance travelled: 12 feet. A quick phone call to Charlene saved the day and helped me open the hood/bonnet (not as straightforward as you might think), whereupon I reattached the thing back to the thing, minus the cable tie, which had fallen off, and hoped I would not be repeating the process every 12 feet for the 3 mile trip to the garage.

Tomorrow’s test will now be taken in Alyn & AJ’s minivan. Maximum credibility awaits.