Travel Archives

Drifting Part Two

Area we got stuck

Before we get started, here’s some rules about canal boat conduct:

  • Always pass other boats on the right.
  • Always pass other boats at walking pace.
  • Do not intentionally ram other boats at top speed.

And while we’re at it, here are a few facts about the boats themselves:

  • They are long and narrow. Kind of ram-shaped.
  • They are bastard impossible to steer. Impossible!
  • They have absolutely NO BRAKES. NONE.
  • They hate you.
  • They want you to die screaming.

Putting all that together, you might gain an insight into the first few minutes and hours of our boat stewardship.

A more accurate accounting might go something like this:

*See a boat approaching in the opposite direction*

Canal view 5

They’re coming right for us! No, wait… We’re coming right for them!

Tony: They’re on the right! How can we pass them?

Roo: Tony, that’s the left. They’re on the left.

Tony: Then why are we steering towards them?

Roo: I dunno? Your Dad’s driving…

Tony: Dad! DAD! We need to go RIGHT!

Ian: *Smiles and waves*

Tony: SHIT! He can’t hear me!

Roo: He’s 19 metres away, and standing on top of a massive diesel engine. Of course he can’t hear you!

Tony: I’ve got to warn him! *Edges his way along tiny wooden ledge fastened to outside of boat* Dad! Go RIGHT!

Ian: I’m trying! Look! *Gestures at rudder, which he’s pushed so far over he’s almost hanging off the boat*

Tony: Shit! But we’re still going to—

*CRUNCH!*

Cue swearing…

Skipper in the distance

CAN YOU HEAR ME? No, of course you can’t!

Basically, what you need to know (should you be planning a canal-boating holiday) is this: you need to decide what direction to steer the boat in, in advance. Like, WAY in advance. Before you leave home, ideally.

The slowness of the boat, the pull of the current, and the fact that you’re fighting an entire canal full of water with a rudder the size of a tennis racquet, all combine to make the boat rather slow to respond. I tell you what though – it doesn’t seem slow when you’re heading straight for another boat, and the blissfully unaware holidaymakers sipping champagne on the back of it. Poor bastards never knew what hit ‘em…

Well, they did. Because they could still see us for the next fifteen minutes, as we made our agonisingly slow escape around the next bend.

Narrow Corner

Shit! Stuck AGAIN!

And while we’re on the subject of bends… What in the holy hell is the need to have so many of the buggers? It was like navigating a children’s’ drawing of a wiggly wiggly worm. The corners were so steep, it seemed impossible to get around them without getting stuck. It was like… trying to pilot a nineteen-metre-long turd around a series of increasingly-tighter u-bends.

I’m sorry. That was a shit analogy.

View canal 2

Another beautiful curve…

The first hour of our ‘relaxing’ boat journey was spent with Roo standing at the front of the Henley trying to holler directions back to Ian at the tiller, while Tony crabbed his way along the 10 centimetre-deep side ledges to convey the messages.

Roo on front

Roo took her job very seriously!

Tony on side

As did Tony…

Typically, by the time an obstacle had been spotted, it was already too late to try and avoid it, as the boat took an ice age to respond to the helm. The words, “Shit!’ and ‘Oops!’ and ‘Sorry!’ got rather a lot of usage.

And then came the bridges.

Lots, and lots of bridges.

canal view 2

Look! A beautiful bridge!

bridge 2

Jeez, that’s a bit narrow…

Bridge 1

Holy fu-

They were barely wider than the boat – by which I mean, it could get through without lubricant. But only just. And every one of them was on a tight bend, meaning any attempt at lining us up correctly resulted in us getting wedged in the curve. Threading the needle, we called it – only, the guy doing the threading couldn’t actually see the needle. And he was trying to thread it with ten tonnes of wood and steel that only obeyed his directions if they felt like it.

Tight squeeze through tunnel

Breathe in everyone!

By the time Ian surrendered the helm, he was exhausted – and Tony, taking over, looked terrified!

The hire company had told us we’d be able to make it to the nearest pub on the first evening. And we did! Thank God, because we were all in need of a drink. We’d bounced off boats, banks and bridges, but we seemed to be getting better at steering.

Now all we had to figure out was how to stop.

Because we’d arrived at the pub! Other boats lined the bank, making the canal even narrower. Bashing into these boats would be even worse than hitting ones sailing – because we’d be spending the night tied up next to them…

Canal view 4

You know you’re at the pub, because the canal gets even narrower…

So, here’s how we accomplished it:

Step 1 – Ian experiments with turning the tiller to bring the bow (front) close enough to the towpath so Tony can jump out.

Step 2 – Roo throws the bow rope to Tony who then hauls on it with all his might. Possibly because the boat weighs ten tonnes, this achieves precisely nothing.

Step 3 – Ian experiments with reverse to try and slow the boat down and pulling on the tiller to bring the stern (back) close to the towpath instead. This succeeds in stopping the boat, but causes the stern to drift all the way across the canal.

Step 4 – Roo waits until the bow is close enough so she can jump onto the towpath and then runs along it, as Carmel throws her the stern rope.

Step 5 – Other boaters on the towpath witness our complete cluelessness, and form teams to haul the boat into the bank, hand over hand.

Step 6 – The help evaporates back to the pub, leaving us staring blankly at the hooks and stakes which are to be used for securing the boat to the bank…

Tying boat

Solving a knotty problem.

But it was all good. After a bit of work with a sledgehammer and some truly creative knot-work, it was time to relax. Tony collapsed into a chair with a sigh of relief. “Mother of God, that’s hard work!” he exclaimed. There was a chorus of agreement all round. “I’m too old for this shit!” he added. Ian and Carmel exchanged long-suffering looks and went to make the tea.

Beautiful scenery and Tony

STILL TO COME… Abandon Ship???

Drifting – Part One

Side-of-boat

Four adults on a relaxing, 4-night canal boat cruise. What could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately, when three of the adults are Slaters, things are bound to get interesting…

It’s always been a dream of ours to try living aboard a narrow boat, and drift along the English countryside on the canals, occasionally winding a lock up or down. It all sounds so relaxing…

WineOClock

This sums up what I had in mind…

So when Tony’s parents, Ian and Carmel, had some time off while we were in the UK, we decided to go for it. We booked an out-of-season, midweek, 4-night cruise with Anglo-Welsh Canal Boats, as it was the cheapest possible option: £750 between all of us.

None of us had ever been on a narrow boat before so we turned up at the wharf in Middle of Nowhere, Wales, with no idea what to expect. We were quite surprised to see eight boats tied up together under one bridge. They really did look narrow…

Carmel-Tony-and-Roo

Here’s trouble…

To get onto our little boat, the ‘Henley,’ we had to climb over and across the boat closer to the towpath… and we had to do that A LOT, as we started unpacking the cars and loading the boat. To be honest it was quite embarrassing the number of trips we made… the other boat was ready to be off long before we’d loaded everything, but with us being tied to them, it was hard luck, really.

Getting our stuff distributed around the Henley was pretty tricky, because the peculiar thing about narrow boats is this: they’re narrow. The Henley was an amazing 19 metres long – but only 2.2 metres wide! You had to climb across the first boat and take the short step to the ladder from Henley’s stern, descend 7 steps, squeeze around the first double bed, wait for the person coming towards you to duck into the toilet so you could carry on squeezing down past the second double bed, to where the front of the boat opened out into a small kitchen and sitting area. This living room was wide enough for two easy chairs, leaving just enough space to walk between them and get through the front door onto the bow.

Inside of boat

NARROW! And full of all our crap, which doesn’t help.

Once we had locked up the cars we received our official Boat Handling Instruction. Now, I don’t know if you’ve met the Slaters, but when they’re nervous they have a habit of making jokes to lighten the mood… so our course on how to prime and start the engine, use the tiller and keep the batteries charging was full of quips about how we were totally grown up enough to handle this, it couldn’t be that different to a car, and HELL NO, we would never sink the Henley… honest!

Our instructor had the option of taking a $1000 safety deposit off us, but must have been convinced we were mature enough to be careful. It might have helped that Tony mentioned having been a professional sailor before. And that he neglected to mention he’d ‘worked’ on precisely one yacht – and it sank.

The dude from the boat office promised to accompany us across our first obstacle to be sure we had the hang of things… and we were glad about that. Because our first obstacle was the longest, oldest and highest aqueduct in the world! The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – no, don’t bother trying to pronounce it, because it’s impossible – is basically a giant tin bathtub that’s 307 meters long, standing on a series of massive stone arches that stretch 38 meters down into valley below.

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

“I bet I can hang off it!” Tony boasted. After a few seconds of stunned silence, this was met with a three-throated chorus of, “NO!”

We cast off our ropes and finally freed the other boat from the yard (sorry guys!). Ian took the helm and set us off on a slow cruise towards the start of the aqueduct. Amazingly, there were no other boats queuing to go over it.

Quick! Faster!

No.

Because the boat’s top speed was 4 miles an hour. We crawled towards the aqueduct at the same speed ice-caps recede, praying no-one would reach it from the other side first. The aqueduct is exactly as wide as a narrow boat, so it’s one-way, single-file. If a boat gets to it before you do, you’ve got to wait for it to cross the full span. If six boats reach the far end while the first is still crossing, and they follow it, you have to wait for every one of the buggers.

Across the Aqueduct

Fantastic views over Llangollen Valley

Ian and Carmel were at the stern (back) controlling the Henley, while Tony and I were miles away at the bow (front), taking pictures and videos of our extreme height above the valley. It felt like we were floating in mid-air. Hang on – we WERE floating in mid-air! Literally. No guardrails or barriers separated us from the drop – one step is all it would take for a quarter of a mile free-fall. Not a great place to be drunk! Halfway across the aqueduct, the yard bloke decided we knew enough. He hopped off onto the narrow towpath and strolled casually back towards the yard… We were on our own!

We felt like professionals as we chugged slowly along the aqueduct, smiling and waving at the tourists walking along the towpath. But then we reached the other side and all hell broke loose…

Tony Sticks Out

Tune in next weekend for Part 2 – Will we survive?

House Goals!

It’s strange, but the more we travel the more we actually aspire to own our own home! Maybe we are sick of packing everything we own up into boxes in my poor Dad’s spare room, or maybe we’ve just been to so many amazing properties. We are constantly collecting cool ideas for our future.

Dover Castle Inner

If only we could live in a castle forever… :)

And lets be honest, Dover castle is the pinnacle of permanent safe home ownership! The castle has stood for 800 years and counting! And the medieval earthworks began as an iron age hill fort before 1000 ad! We spent 6 hours exploring Dover castle and we’ve decided September is the perfect time of year because the weather is still warm and cloudy/sunny yet the crowds won’t bowl you over the turrets.

On the site of the castle on top of the tallest mound is an ancient Medieval Saxon church from 1000 AD which has been rebuilt in the 17th century, and believe it or not an actual Roman Lighthouse! It was built in AD 43 when the Romans invaded England and is one of the best surviving Roman Lighthouses in Europe.

The Saxon Church and Roman Lighthouse

The Saxon Church(100AD) and Roman Lighthouse(45AD)

We did the Dynamo tunnel tour, and as the film Dunkirk came out recently it was great timing to hear the real story of how the British forces managed to evacuate so many soldiers. Dover Castle is the largest castle in England and was totally unbombed by the German forces because Hitler put an embargo on damage as he wanted to own it for himself!  The castle had to prove itself in a war situation in 1216 when a few hundred men defended it from Prince Louis of France after King John reneged on Magna Carta.

In the late 18th century, during the Napoleonic Wars, Dover Castle’s defenses were upgraded again. More gun positions and platforms were added, and the roof of the keep was replaced with bricks so that heavy artillery could be used from the top of the keep. If you go into the Gallery inside the Great Tower (the Keep), you can stand above the King’s throne, but you can see how the roof was rebuilt in a curved brick design which does cover the top part of the gallery windows.

A series of tunnels were constructed as a garrison for troops during the Napoleonic Wars. About 2000 used the underground barracks, you can explore some in the Hospital and Dynamo tunnel tours, but most of them are closed off.

During World War II, the tunnels were used as air-raid shelters and then as a secret command center and military hospital. There are over three miles of tunnels, and many parts of the underground system have not yet been fully explored. WE would totally have offered to do some exploring on English Heritages behalf… don’t think they trusted Tony not to go into any dangerous areas! 🙂

Tony doing the Superman at a deserted Dover Castle

Tony doing the Superman at a deserted Dover Castle, September is not too crowded we highly recomend it!

To read more about the history of Dover castle please follow this link to the English Heritage page http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/dover-castle/history-and-stories/history/

We definitely needed more than 4 hours to explore the castle complex fully, we took 6 hours because we stopped to explore lots of the gate houses and walked along the walls a lot. While wandering around the The Constables Gate area we discovered that you can rent rooms from English Heritage and stay in the castle walls overnight… wish we had known this earlier because although our self catering apartment in Dover was a great location for walking to town we would FAR rather have slept in a castle!

The Constables Gate

Looking inwards towards the Constables Gate, Check out the vines/trees growing up the walls!

As the entry fee for Dover Castle is around £20, we decided to join English Heritage for £40 each a year in the hope that this will make us visit more castles and historical buildings in our time in the UK. We really enjoyed ourselves and have had a great time in Dover, and we have aspirations to build our future home around a courtyard design.

This blog will feel quite different to Tony’s style of blogging, however I had to take over because he is down to the final edit of book 6 (Which will be called “Don’t you know who I am?”) We just have to finish the front cover and format it, so fingers crossed you can all be reading his prequel in a fortnights time!

Next week we will be living aboard a canal boat in Wales so check back on the blog to see what happens there (Hopefully we don’t sink into the depths of a welsh aqueduct!)

 

The Great Tower

This is the Great Tower as they call the Central Keep here in Dover, it was built by Henry the Second in the 1180s.

 

Roo walking towards castle

Lead me to safety!

Tony on the walls

Not a bad defensive wall to protect against zombie appocolypse…

The stained glass

The stained glass in the chapel inside the Great Tower.

Tony and Roo in front of castle

Can we please live here? 🙂

The Great Tower

The Great Tower (The Central Keep)

Yummm

Having a sneaky drink from a wine barrel… 🙂

Standing on the battlements

Standing on the battlements , that’s the ancient Roman Lighthouse and Saxon Church behind us! (And France even further in the distance.)

Royal Bedchamber

Inside the Royal bedchamber….Dont wake the King!!

The Royal Potty

The Royal Potty…

Down the Medieval Tunnels

Down the Medieval Tunnels, these were built in the 1200s!

Roo sitting on the wall

Roo sitting on the wall.

Modern weapons

The big guns from the 1939 defences!

Abandoned Mess Hall

This entire huge building was the Officers Mess Hall but is abandoned and sitting derelict because it would cost so much money for the English Heritage Trust to renovate it to safe use standards.

Looking back towards the castle

Looking back towards the castle from the carparking area.

Medieval Saxon Church

Medieval Saxon Church built in the 1200s. You can clearly see the Roman Lighthouse on the left, this was built in 45AD!

Graffiti on the walls of the Great Tower.

Graffiti on the walls of the Great Tower.

Gorgeous Day

We had such a gorgeous day to explore Dover Castle!

The Port of Dover

Looking from the Signal Bunker towards to Port of Dover, you can see the white cliffs at the left side.

The Throne Room

Its good to be King… 🙂 Tony sitting on the throne in the Great Tower!

the view from the roof

The view from the roof of the Great Tower looking towards the Church and Roman Lighthouse, and beyond towards the shores of France!

Postcards From The Edge

A picture tells a thousand words, right? Well, let’s hope so. Because I’ve run out of words! I’ve been talking so much these last few weeks that I am literally losing the ability to expel new words from inside of me.

So what I’ve decided to do is dazzle you all with the photos we’ve been taking – ones that have missed the cut so far, and not made it onto Facebook or the blog. Partially this is because I don’t post photos as often as I should, and partially it’s because I take pictures of really weird sh*t that amuses me, and somehow it doesn’t seem nearly as funny five days later when I find the photos…

It’s a context thing. That’s my excuse.

So in celebration of that, I will attempt to give you a brief context for each picture. You may even gain some insight into the inner workings of my mind… in which case, BEWARE! It’s not a particularly wholesome environment in there…

Paperwork

I’d like to begin with a salute to the sheer amount of paperwork I brought with me on this trip. Having struggled to get into the US a few times before (see ‘Don’t Need The Whole Dog!’, for example) I needed to make SURE they couldn’t refuse us. So I bribed the boss at work in Perth for a letter saying we’d be coming back, I printed out bank statements, offers of accommodation from 200+ people, our schedule, our flights, our train tickets, the receipt for the car we were buying… even a screen grab of my Spider book at the top of the charts, in case they had any doubts about what I was up to here.
And you know what? The bastards didn’t look at a single page of the stuff. So I’m including this picture to illustrate the anguish I felt when I had to abandon all this in a nameless motel room, on the grounds that it was making my rucksack over a kilo heavier. DAMN IT!!! (The many hours all this took to create is part of the reason why the rest of this trip is so badly organised…)

Shower slimed

And this is what I mean by taking photos of weird sh*t. This is actually the results of a slight accident I had whilst taking one of my first showers in the USA. I slipped (I’m known to do that) – and I liberally decorated the walls in shampoo in the process. This amused me, of course, because I have the mind of a twelve-year-old boy. (It’s in a box in the car). What amused me even more is that I refused to clean it off, and left it for the cleaners to find the next day. I like to think I was giving them a laugh, too. Or spreading the love, as I call it 😉

What Road?

Next we have a road sign we passed on the way to Las Vegas. I know it’s the middle of the desert, but come on! Someone was taking the piss when he named this road. I can just see him putting it forward to his very bored superiors, and them cracking up over the thought of people trying to pronounce it…

Large Mantis

Next up is this rather large preying mantis sculpture, which we discovered on the far end of Fremont Street in Vegas. It’s over 40 feet long, articulated, and it blows fire from its antennae. Well, of course it does! This is, after all, Las Vegas. But the weirdest thing was being told by the giant mantis, in a Star Trek-style computer voice, to “Take lots of selfies, and upload them to Instagram,”. Whilst blasting massive gouts of fire from its deely boppers to reinforce the point. If you’ve never been commanded to take selfies by a 40-foot tall fire-breathing mantis, then clearly you’ve never been to Vegas…

Down Sign

Next we have a rather self-explanatory shot from my Amusing Signage folder. Does it surprise anyone that I have an amusing signage folder? Really? Anyway, this one had me in stitches – quite possibly because I was very drunk at the time – but I’d LOVE to know who decided that the direction ‘down’ was so confusing to customers that it needed pictorial explanation. Roo had to physically restrain me to prevent me adding, “No shit??” in biro. My poor stupid head is already abuzz with potential Facebook memes for this one… anyone else want to have a crack?

Bowl of Baby Heads

Here we have a photo I call ‘Bowl of Baby Heads’ – for reasons far too complicated to explain. Suffice to say, I found this selection of decapitated dolls’ heads for sale in possibly the best Antiques Store I’ve ever been in, in Astoria, Oregon. In terms of Halloween decorations, this is right up there with those severed limbs you can get for hanging out of your car boot – but personally, I’d just like to have this sitting around on the coffee table, as a conversation piece. Or stopper. Imagine showing in guests… I’ve never wanted a house-warming party so much in my life! Or a house, come to think of it.

Alas Poor Yorik

“Alas, poor Yorik!” What can I say? The frustrated actor in me just couldn’t help it.

Not Dairy

Next we have something far more scary than a bowl of baby heads! It’s the ‘milk’ they provided at a hotel buffet, for putting into my coffee. I damn near did it, too, before realising that it was ‘Not a Dairy product.’ But… WHAT THE BLOODY HELL IS IT, THEN? A closer inspection reveals it to be a concoction of soybean oil, corn syrup, three kinds of acids, four kinds of salt, and ‘Artificial Colors’ for good measure. So, much healthier than that awful cow’s milk crap people have been drinking for decades! Honestly, why do we even need dairy in our diet, when we can so easily replace it with man-made chemicals? Perhaps all those non-dairy folks have got the right idea after all. I mean, compared to the shocking and well-known side effects of drinking milk, what possible harm can come of replacing it with this?

Anyway. Because this blog has mostly been me moaning about or laughing at the general stupidity of this world, here’s a bit of relief from all that, in the form of one of Roo’s photos. Because they say you should always end on something cute. Well, assuming something cute will still let you, if you’re so close to the end…

Anyway! Enough of such nonsense. Here’s a racoon. Enjoy! And don’t forget to leave your comments in the box that’s named after ’em  😛

Love from Tony.

Racoon

Leaving Las Vegas

Right, where were we?

Next stop was on our grand USA adventure was Death Valley Junction. We checked into the only motel anywhere near there, finding it delightfully knackered and ‘quaint’. The ladies who ran the place were very friendly, but as we were leaving the next day they were reporting a guest to the police. An older man, staying in one room with a young girl – when the cleaners went in, they found her long hair had all been cut off and left in the sink… Definitely something strange going on there!

Death Valley Motel 1

We spent that evening exploring some awesomely creepy abandoned buildings over the road. This was an activity Roo called ‘testing the low-light capabilities of my new phone’ and I called ‘breaking into shit’. We’ve since agreed to call it ‘Urban Exploring’ – and to do lots more of it 😉 

Death Valley Buildings

In Death Valley we had a slight mishap. Roo wanted to get a closer look at Twenty Mule Canyon, so veered off the road onto what she thought was a lay-by. In fact it turned out to be a one-way 4×4 track, which we ended up following for 20 minutes, along a crazily twisting, narrow rocky track. Eventually we came to a steep slope down, covered in sand and gravel, bristling with hairpin bends between rough outcrops of rock…

“Uh… No friggin’ WAY!” we said in unison, and Roo managed to turn the car around and head back – praying the whole while that nothing would come the other way. As we made it back to the road, we noticed a VERY SMALL warning sign, suggesting this might not have been the best track to follow…

Warning Sign

By the time we arrived at Badwater Basin, the lowest (and hottest) spot in the continental US, the sun had already set. Which was probably for the best, as it was still 118 degrees F (48 degrees C) – at 8pm!

We walked out onto the salt flats, and I had to find out whether or not it really WAS salt.

Licking Salt

It was!

And it was rough, too – I even cut my tongue 🙁

Still – one hell of a beautiful, desolate place. Roo couldn’t help herself!

Badwater Basin Sunset

See? Told ya so 😉

Our next reader visit was Dave in Simi Valley, just north of Hollywood. Dave and his daughter (and her boyfriend) took us on an epic hike into the hills, looking for a hidden cave full of graffiti artwork, where sometimes there are giant ropes nets to hang out in.

Simi Cave

The ropes were gone, but due to a slight wardrobe malfunction, I did enough hanging out for all of us… particularly for Dave, who was walking directly behind me. He now sees my flabby white bum-cheek every time he closes his eyes…

Split Shorts

By the sight of mine ass, thou shalt remember me…

Sorry Dave!

The next exciting event in our lives was the arrival of our car – which we still haven’t decided on a name for! All suggestions gratefully accepted 😉

The car, a bright red Nissan Versa, cost us a staggering $10,000!!!

And no, before you ask – I don’t have ten thousand dollars. Not even close. So I bought this car entirely on a credit card, and am very much hoping that when we sell it, I’ll be able to pay the card off. Otherwise it’ll be beans on toast for dinner when we get back to Perth. For at least a decade…

Beepi Car

As we travel around the US, I’m planning on doing talks about my books, about writing, about self-publishing, and about traveling in general, to writer’s groups, university classes, in pubs… anywhere they don’t shut me up quick enough!

My first try was at Anacapa Brewing Company in Ventura, organised by Lily, one of my first readers. It was a rip-roaring success, with a sell-out crowd of almost ten people…

It was the perfect opportunity for me to practise my patter without the stress of a large audience. I promised to talk until people started throwing fish – luckily, they weren’t serving fish that night, so I managed to get through my entire act.

First talk

My notes guided me through, and were written several minutes before the talk on a piece of cardboard that Roo tore off a box. People sometimes ask how it’s possible to be so unbelievably crap at organising things, and now I can cheerfully point to Roo and say, “Well, that’s HER job…”

Speech notes

Yes – that’s the box from a Star Wars windscreen cover my speech is written on…

We had a pleasant stay in Ventura, running on the beach with Lily’s dogs. Evidently there’d been some kind of party there the night before – ever feel like you’ve just missed out on something truly weird?

Beach Chair

And there are these cool little tunnels under the highway. I REALLY wanted to come back an explore some of them with a head torch, but apparently the homeless people who live in them can be a bit rude to visitors…

Creepy Tunnel

And on that note, I’ll end yet another update! I’m struggling to find much time for blog writing, what with all the homeless people’s tunnels I’m invading (amongst other activities) – but I promise to get the next one up soon 😉

 

Catch you in a few days!

Tony

USA Trip Update no. 2!

Hiya folks!

It’s time for another USA Trip Update!

First up, I’ll admit I’m playing catch-up here. This trip has been so much more awesome, and so much more demanding, than I could have imagined. I’ve been hiding from Facebook lately, as even without posting anything I find myself drowning in over 200 notifications per day. I know what you’re saying! Somewhere there is a tiny violin playing just for me…

In all seriousness though, the mountain of emails and messages I put off daily is keeping me from my real job – which is putting off writing blog posts! So in an abrupt turnaround, I’ve taken a day off to do all of the above.

(Incidentally, Roo is also taking this day off. Only she gets to spend hers sunbathing by the pool!).

To make you all feel better, I will be drinking THIS intriguing concoction:

Cheap Booze

So don’t feel TOO sorry for me. And apologies in advance if this blog gets a bit weird by the end…

Anyway, to get you all up to speed with our adventures so far, here is a potted pictorial history of our USA trip to date:

Before we left, we had one absolutely vital task to complete – yes, you’ve guessed it! Like any seasoned traveller, I made damn sure my wife was completely rainbowed-up. This particular dye job took 5 hours to accomplish, and has received on average three to five compliments per day from random strangers. This is working wonders on Roo’s natural shyness…

Roo Hair Dye

Our first stop was in downtown LA. Actually our first stop was in the airport, where the cash machine refused to spit out the money it said it had given us… What IS IT with me and cash machines, anyway?

Downtown was a trip. Homeless dudes pushing shopping trolleys down the middle of the road, street bands drumming up a storm, homemade art markets on the sidewalk, and more people walking around at 11pm than I’d see in Perth on Saturday at lunchtime! We also got to visit an AMAZING book shop, called (ironically) the Last Bookstore. As the publishing industry falls to its knees, this could never have been more appropriate. But the shop itself was incredible, with sculptures made of books (like a tunnel, windows, and the counter itself) – and displays like the ‘Horror Vault’ and the shelves themselves, which were arranged into a labyrinth! 

Last Bookstore

Our first visits with readers Eliza and Sue saw us sneaking under the Santa Monica pier… (no-one obeys those warning signs, right?)

Under Santa Monica Pier

…and exploring the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Sadly we weren’t there when someone built a tiny wall around Donald Trump’s star, but we did find this conveniently empty one…

Tonys Star

I knew we’d be a bit stressed at the prospect of the tour stretching out in front of us, so I squeezed in a couple of days off over our 5th wedding anniversary. Naturally, we chose to spend them in VEGAS, baby, YEAH!

Our hotel/casino overlooked the famous Freemont Street Experience – well, actually our room overlooked an alley full of skip bins and what looked suspiciously like the Thunder Dome from Mad Max…

Alley View

The dome turned out to be a multi-million-dollar canopy which projects sound and light shows all night – I even had a go at zip-lining underneath it all, as a birthday pressie from Roo’s family (thanks guys!)

Fremont Canopy

This is what the canopy looks like! I sailed under it in the ‘Superman’ position, which was (according to Roo) “bastard impossible to catch a photo of!”

We spent three days in Vegas, and we didn’t gamble a dime. The inside of the casinos, though awash with lights and abuzz with a bewildering array of people and machines, still seemed kind of sad. Almost no-one in them looked happy – some wired with adrenaline and booze, some driven, some suspicious… I understand the mechanism of addiction by which gambling works, but I couldn’t figure out what made them all want to do it in the first place. It certainly wasn’t glamorous, despite the fact that all the croupiers were sexy chicks in their bras and panties… It probably says something about our budget that we ended up in the only hotel staffed entirely by strippers.

Casino Girls

We explored the famous Las Vegas Strip quite thoroughly. It hadn’t occurred to us just how far it was between the big casinos, and we ended up walking for five hours straight. We still only saw half of it, so had to come back the following night to check out the crazy castle and the fake Statue of Liberty…

Vegas Landmarks

And I’ll leave it there for now! My biggest fear (apart from going bald) is boring you nice folks with too much waffle. So next time I promise there’ll be thrills and spills… well, I’ve been drinking a lot of milkshakes, so there’s bound to be at least one of the two  🙂 

Until next time!

Tony

USA Trip Route

Hi folks!

It can’t have escaped your attention that Roo and I have, in fact, made it as far as America.

Us In VegasOh yes! We are here, in the big US of A, doin’ what we do best!

Which mostly involves screwing up relatively simple things, like using cash machines at the airport. Seriously – don’t get me started on this one…

So when it comes to complex things, like the buying, registering and insuring of motor vehicles… suffice to say, we were meant to be in it now. First they couldn’t process my credit card, and then they could, and then they couldn’t deliver in time, and then they could, and then they couldn’t again… to say nothing of the trouble we’ve had getting our phone to work over here.

But you don’t care about that! What you want to know is, where are we now, and where are we going? And those questions are easily answered by this short video  🙂 

For those of you who can’t be arsed watching us fanny around with maps the size of bed sheets, here’s the skinny:

We’ve started out in mid July, in southern California. Here’s how we progress from here…

Up to San Francisco by the end of this month, then on up to Portland, Oregon by August 5th. We press on up to Seattle for a week, leaving there around the 14th. We cross back down diagonally through Idaho around the 20th, arriving in Colorado around the 25th.

A brief stop in New Mexico is next, followed by a long drive across Texas, stopping in San Antonio and Houston. We make it to New Orleans by September 10th, and hope to make Florida by 16th.

We’ve got a sneaky little holiday scheduled in Miami around the 25th, after which we’ll be heading back up the East Coast through Georgia and South Carolina by the end of September.

October follows a steady progression north, through NC, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. A day or two off to explore New York, then we’ll be back on the road through Connecticut, Massachusetts (which I have finally learned to spell!) – and finishing our trip in New Hampshire around the end of the month.

Then all we have to do is figure out how we’re getting home…

Oh, and well the car, of course. A car which, at this point, we haven’t even got, yet…

AND THAT’S IT!

Me with US map

No, I’m NOT naked behind there. Or am I…?

Roo also wants me to mention that I now have a shiny now official MEDIA PAGE on my website. We’re trying to drum up media attention as we go, so any interested interviewers or other parties can be directed to this page: http://tonyjamesslater.com/home/media/ – from where they can download the awesome Press Kit that took me three days to create.

This is the definite downside to being your own boss…

Roo thinks the page lacks a little professionalism, on account of the octopus, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Oh, and before I go, I’d just like to say a quick, yet heartfelt THANK-YOU!!! To all of you, for following my travels, and for opening your homes to Roo and myself. It means the world to us (or at very least, the continental US) – and this trip simply wouldn’t be possible without you.

Roo and I will be blogging as we go, as will as trying to keep Facebook, Twitter and Instagram updated. If that sounds like a lot of work, that’s because IT IS!!! So hopefully you’ll understand if we fall behind here and there.

For anyone who fancies staying in touch on these various platforms, here’s the skinny:

https://www.facebook.com/TonyJamesSlater/

https://twitter.com/TonyJamesSlater

https://www.instagram.com/adventurewithoutend/

Please do get in touch however you want, let us know when we’re coming into your area, and if anyone hears of a newspaper that might like to interview us, a radio station that is getting desperate on even a late night TV channel that no-one watches – please send them our way!

That’s all for now! Catch you folks soon…  🙂

Tony (and Roo too)

USA Take Two!

Hi folks!

So, some of you may have noticed that I have a new book out!

Shave My Spider Cover

I know, I know. FINALLY! Yes, well, after taking me almost a year to write, ‘Shave My Spider!’ turned out to be a monster at over 180,000 words. That doesn’t seem to have deterred people though, and at the moment, over a month after its release, ‘Spider’ is still hanging in there at no.1 in all its Amazon categories.

Bestseller Screen Shot

Look! Proof! Because no-one believes me when I say this stuff!

Now, I don’t want to give any spoilers, but the book ends with my death Roo’s brilliant idea that we should go to America, visit some of our readers, and explore as much of the place as possible.

Aha! The eagle-eyed amongst you may recognise this proposal as the genesis of my now-infamous Secret Plan™ which I blogged about HERE.

And a damn fine plan it was! Alas, real life intervened in the most horrible way possible, and we ended up not making that trip. On the upside, we did get to spent five months playing with my two tiny nieces, Hazel and Holly!

Holly Hazel Combo

Hazel, ready for her digger lesson, and Holly wondering why she’s been christened Baby Spice…

And now, almost exactly a year after we originally planned to invade America, we’re almost ready to try again.

So – once more, this is my rallying cry! If any of you American types fancy hosting Roo and myself for a pair of nights, feeding us a bit, and listening to me waffle on about the adventures too boring to make it into the books – here’s what to do:

  • PLEASE DO send me an email! Last time it got SO complicated, with people replying on blog comments, Facebook posts, private messages and emails to 3 different addresses, that a strange, mucus-like substance started dripping from my ears… That’s almost never a good thing, so emails, please, to: Tony@TonyJamesSlater.com
  • PLEASE DON’T offer us a place to stay if you just want to eat us and wear our skin. You know who you are! Unfortunately I don’t, so this is bound to happen at least once…
  • This is where the plan gets so sneaky you could put a wig on it and let it run for president: I’d like to spread the word about my books in each place I visit. That way I might actually sell a few, and we’ll be able to afford to eat when we get back to Australia! So please let me know if there’s a local paper or radio station that might be interested in doing an interview, or a local library, book club or college that might let me do a talk. Eventually I’ll have to ask you to get in touch with them, because if I do it they call it ‘advertising’, and try to charge me for it… But for now I’m just keen to know what the options are  🙂
  • Also, let me know if there’s anything cool, unique or interesting we’ll be able to do/see/fall off/accidentally damage near you. Ideally not expensive attractions, as Roo and I tend to travel on a pretty minuscule budget. Likewise, fine dining is out I’m afraid – well, unless you’re willing to pick up the tab!
  • AND THAT’S IT! Once I have a big list of people and places, I’ll whittle it down by… ah… trial by combat? A day-long rock-paper-scissors marathon? Honestly, I dunno. I’ll figure something out. Last time it took me three weeks to do it – which coincidentally is exactly how long we have before our flight to LA…

I do still have a list of folks who offered to let us stay the last time I asked. You’ll all be getting an email from me to check that you haven’t come to your senses! Feel free to reply with creative excuses. I won’t mind – after all, you hadn’t read about our Asia trip when you made those offers…

Oh, and you might want to check your insurance will cover this visit.

Nah, I’m only kidding!

It definitely won’t.

😉

I look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,

Tony

An Unexpected Journey

Roo and I have been back in England for a couple of weeks now, and I still haven’t managed to write anything about our month in Wanaka. I guess because the memory is still so sharp; our time there was, to misquote a popular novel, the best of times and the worst of times.

Well, mostly the worst.

As many of you may know, the reason that Roo and I changed our plans at the last minute and flew to New Zealand was because Chris, my sister Gill’s husband, was starting to lose the battle against pancreatic cancer.

Chris Ice CreamIt’s hard to believe that less than six months ago I was writing a book about his wedding; he wore blue, insisted that I wore blue too, and looked like the happiest man alive as he stood next to Gill in the gardens of Polquhorn Fort in Cornwall, and said “I do.”

Gills Wedding

Gill and Chris – as happy as I’ve ever seen either of them.

And now… well, six weeks ago we laid him to rest in a wickerwork casket, in a narrow plot in Wanaka cemetery. Chris passed away on the 29th of May, aged just 38 – leaving behind not just my sister, but their two beautiful daughters, Hazel and Holly, aged 18 months and two months.

Even now, as I sit here writing this, tears are falling freely onto my keyboard. That’s been happening a lot lately; I might have to invest in some kind of rain cover for my laptop…

Anyway, it’s not like me to be so doom-and-gloom, and I’ve always prided myself on finding the positive in every situation. And here in Wanaka, the positive is impossible to ignore – it’s all around me, everywhere I look.

Because Wanaka is, beyond shadow of a doubt, one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Wanaka Beauty

It’s beautiful alright – this is the view from our hostel. Which is in the centre of town.

Even Chris has a spectacular view. If I had to spend eternity contemplating one particular vista, well, I could do a lot worse.

Graveyard View

We laid Chris to rest overlooking the town where his girls live, and the mountains he spent his life on.

We’ve visited Wanaka before, of course. Back then Hazel was just a baby, and Wanaka was in the grip of a deadly epidemic – of drive-by knitting?!?!!? It’s still the town’s biggest mystery – no-one knows who is responsible, or when they will strike.

Knitted Tree

Random bits of the town are regularly discovered wrapped in colourful knitting. Truth!

That kind of says it all about Wanaka. It’s a placid place, like something out of a fairy-tale; stupendous mountains, incredible scenery, friendly folk, healthy and wholesome almost to a fault. People here don’t lock their doors. Even when they go on holiday. It would be a thieves’ paradise… except, there aren’t any thieves. Which is ironic, really, as it’s one of the most expensive places on Earth to live!

And the only downside? Well, other than a loaf of bread costing $5? The town is the central hub for three of New Zealand’s most popular ski resorts. So every winter, scores of penniless ski bums just like Gill and Chris show up, taking jobs on the mountains and living anywhere they can – three to a room, sleeping on floors, in vans, in garden sheds… and the town becomes party central for the next six months solid.

So, you know, major bummer  🙂 

Wanaka Dawn

They get plenty of snow here – this is the view we woke up to on our second morning in Wanaka.

Yes, it’s fair to say, I like it here. As for Roo, well… if you’ve read anything about our time in Canada, you’ll know that anything even remotely involving snow turns Roo into an eight-year-old.

Roo Kissing Snowman

Obviously I wanted to make a giant sculpture of a penis, and leave it in the middle of the park – but Roo demanded we make something she could kiss.

Gill and Chris had just bought a new house when we arrived, so we moved into it on their behalf. Predictably, I broke at least one thing per day, so that by the time Gill set foot in the place there was already a lengthy maintenance list…

Broken Shower

Welcome to your new house Gill! Here’s your shower door handle…

Broken Knife

I have no idea how I broke this knife. Just don’t know my own strength, I guess…

Broken Table

And I’m sure this table isn’t supposed to look like that… I also broke a shelf in the fridge 🙁

I try to take something, some message or life-lesson, from everyone I know who passes on. From Chris, I have taken a timely reminder of something which is all too easy to forget, especially for a struggling, self-published author.

Chris wasn’t about money, not in the least. He was happiest fixing skis, barely scraping by, and many times stated that life was not about abstract concepts like success, or the accumulation of wealth.

It was about fun. That was why he left a promising career in genetics to spend his life ski-bumming around the world, earning sub-minimum wage, and loving his life in the snow, and his growing family.

So the next time I find myself obsessively checking my sales, or carefully weighing out the financial cost of an adventure, I’ll remember this: life is too damn short to be stingy.

You never know, ladies and gentlemen, whether or not you’ll live to spend it, so take a piece of advice from me, and – posthumously – from one of the cleverest people I’ve ever known: enjoy what you’ve got, while you’ve got it. Money is only as good as the enjoyment you can get out of it, so squeeze every last drop of fun from those pennies! Because you never know when it’ll be too late.

Mum Sky Dive

Grab life by the balls! This is my Mum, doing her first sky-dive – at 62 years old. Apparently, it’s never too late!

Anyway, to conclude the tale, we all retreated to England to spend some time together as a family, helping Gill with the girls and hopefully giving her a safe space to grieve. It was a fairly daunting prospect – taking one baby and one toddler on a series of long-haul flights totalling over 24 hours in the air – but amazingly, we came through it all unscathed. It wasn’t until after we’d landed in Heathrow Airport that Hazel decided to projectile-vomit, Exorcist style, emptying her stomach of everything she’d eaten since we left Singapore. Made a fair mess of the landing gate, I can tell you.

Happy Holly

Baby Holly, on the other hand, rather enjoyed the flight!

But we did it! And now here we are, in England! Facing the same journey back again in just over six weeks’ time… Like I said – life’s all about the fun  🙂

And while we’re on the subject of fun, I’d like to take this chance to invite everyone else who is in England to a ski-event we’re holding in Chris’s memory. It will be at Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre on the 29th August, from 8-10pm, and we’ll be raising money for pancreatic cancer research. The plan is to try and make 1977 runs down the ski slope (Chris’s birth year), so we’ll need all the help we can get. Entrance costs £40, including 2 hours on the slopes, ski/snowboard gear hire and a meal at the restaurant. Non-skiers are welcome, and there’ll be a sledging slope set up for a bit of fun. Let me know if you fancy coming along! And for anyone who’d like to contribute without getting their asses cold and wet*, Gill has set up a Just Giving page – all proceeds go directly to Pancreatic Cancer UK:

https://www.justgiving.com/robinsonskichallenge

Hope to see you there!

*Snowboarders have to sit down at the top to fasten their boards on. This is why my ass gets wet, NOT because I’m so afraid that I pee myself – no matter what you may have heard.

Leaving Nova Scotia

So, the time has come to leave our little bolt-hole in Nova Scotia, Canada. We’re flying out to New Zealand, postponing our US trip slightly for personal reasons. We’ve really enjoyed our time here in the Bay of Fundy – home of the world’s highest tides, and… um… ah…

No, sorry, that’s it.

But man, is it ever beautiful!

Nova Scotia Cabin

When we arrived, the whole place was still buried under a thick blanket of snow – much to Roo’s delight. She set about building a snowman, then hollowing out a snow cave… you know, the kind of stuff that non-Australians generally get out of their system by age 10.

Roo Snowman

Meanwhile, I settled in to write about Asia. It was a little odd, filling my head with scenes of steaming jungles and sprawling concrete metropolises – only to look out of the window at the pristine snow every time a car drove past our cabin. Which happened roughly three times per day…

Nova Scotia Deer

We had plenty of other visitors though!

Most days, we took a stroll down to the beach – a rugged and dramatic location, the sand black beneath the white snow, and strewn with boulders and great chunks of ice. An awesome place for photographs; sunbathing, not so much.

Icy Beach

Overlooking the beach was (and still is) my favourite house in the area – a delightful little cottage with a bay window and panoramic views over the bay. Snow ramped up, covering the front door, and we could tell that no-one had visited the cottage in months. It was obviously a holiday home, and one I was rather jealous of.

Port Greville Cottage View

In a tantalising twist, we happened to be walking past it again a few days ago – just in time to spot a real estate agent, taking photos of the place. The owner had taken ill, and put it on the market; “Needs a bit of redecorating,” he admitted, “but it’s in great shape!”

Port Greville Cottage

The price? $98,000. That’s Canadian dollars, by the way – putting the UK market value at a tad under £50,000. (It’s HERE if you’re interested!)

“It’s the view,” the lady who runs the local shop told me. “Any house with a view like that shoots right up in price.”

She was right – a quick check of the estate agent’s website revealed a house on 7.5 acres for sale nearby – for $30,000 (£15k). That’s the price of a decent car in Australia…

And speaking of the shop, there is just the one; a tiny place that sells bread, milk, eggs… and not much else. Not much of those either, to be honest – in the last two months we’ve bought three cartons of eggs from them, all from the same batch. They expired shortly before we bought the first lot, and by the time I bought the last pack I had to point out to the owner that I was now paying full price for eggs that were two entire months out of date. She apologised, and nipped out the back – returning with a pack that was only one month out of date. Score!

The shop also has one of those Kuerig coffee machines that posh people have in their kitchens. This has become a bit of an addiction, and I make an excuse to go there every couple of days to buy one. But, other than that, we haven’t been to a single shop – groceries or otherwise – in eighteen days.

I think that’s a personal record.

So, yesterday we borrowed our landlord’s car, for the third time since we got here. It’s a knackered old wreck, squeaking and shuddering the 20km to the nearest town – but it’s still a lot better than walking.

Buried Camper

Nova Scotia winters are seldom kind to vehicles…

Roo and I flipped a coin for the driving privileges, and I lost, which meant it was my turn. My first, actually, and as Roo pointed out, I was badly in need of the practice. Roo and I will be sharing the driving on our US trip – so far that’s in the order of 10,253 miles, split evenly between the two of us! But so far, I’ve never actually driven in this part of the world. Or in an automatic.

It took me a while, getting used to that auto transmission – bunny-hopping down the road with one foot on each pedal, while Roo gently reminded me that I was still on the wrong side of the road. I suffer left-right confusion issues, which to be honest doesn’t stand me in the best stead to be a driver. Or a navigator. In fact, it begs the question, “What the hell good I am going to be on a three-month road-trip around America?!” I frequently find myself driving on the wrong side in England, and I’ve never had any continental experience to confuse me… just my crazy old brain, up to its usual tricks.

Left Right Hands

I used to do that thing where you make an ‘L’ with your left hand – until I noticed this…

So we made the first turn (there are only two turns on this 20 minute journey), and Roo convinced me to move over to the opposite side of the carriageway. I started to speed up, and amidst the myriad clangs and squeals of tortured suspension, I was sure I could hear the regular thud thud thud of a flat tyre.

Roo was also listening to it. “Might just be a stone in the tyre,” she said.

So we carried on.

Then we came around a bend in the road and saw, in front of us, a police blockade. One cop car, lights flashing, on either side of the road, and a handful of vehicles queuing through the gap in between them.

Roo and I exchanged a look of horror.

“Thank God you’re driving!” she said. Because her license had expired a month ago. The new one was still en route from Australia, and hadn’t arrived yet. This hadn’t stopped her driving on our last trip to town, but thankfully this was the first time we’d seen a police car in Nova Scotia.

“We still have a bit of a problem,” I pointed out. “This isn’t our car. We’re not insured to drive it. I don’t know if it’s even registered. Hell, I don’t know if it’s even roadworthy…”

It was a long, dead-straight road down the hill to the cops. No way out. I fumbled on the back seat for my jacket, groped in the pocket for my wallet, and gave it to Roo while I slid my licence out of it. Then my hand twitched; the license fell from my nervous fingers, clattering down the narrow gap between the passenger seat and the centre console – the single hardest-to-reach place in the entire car.

“CRAP!” said Roo, “You’ve got to be f’ckn’ kidding me!”

I pulled up behind the driver who was currently talking to the cop.

The voice inside my head was going, “SHIT-SHIT-SHIT-SHIT-SHIT!”

When it was my turn, I inched towards the cop, leaving an almost suspiciously large gap between myself and the car in front.

Just don’t hit the wrong pedal, I told myself. Don’t kangaroo the damn car right past the guy. That almost always looks bad.

The policeman was inspecting the tyres of the car opposite me, which didn’t bode well.

“Morning sir,” I said, as cheerfully as I could manage. Roo dug my license out just in time and I held it out before he could ask for it. This was because I was terrified he would ask – like every traffic cop in every move I’ve ever seen – for my “license AND registration.”

I had no idea where the registration was, or what it looked like, or if there even was any – and if there was, it sure as hell wasn’t in my name.

The officer was frowning at my UK driving license. “You don’t have a Canadian license?” he asked.

“Ah, no, we’re just on holiday,” I explained, “staying back there in Port Greville.”

The officer winced in sympathy.

Port Greville Beauty

Don’t know why he wasn’t keen – Port Greville may be boring, but it’s absolutely stunning!

Then he walked around the back of the car, studying something. He bent down for a closer look, then reached for his radio…

I was braced for a shout of “Step out of the VE-hicle!”

But it didn’t come. He just handed back my license, wished us a pleasant day, and let us go.

I don’t think I’ve moved off as carefully as that since the day of my driving test.

But we made it.

My fears of being stranded beside the road, several hours’ walk from our landlord’s house, with no phone to call him – and him with no car other than the one we’d just had impounded…

I was suddenly reminded of this moment:

Droids meme

“I can’t understand how we got past that trooper,” I told Roo, “I thought we were dead!”

Roo got the reference straight away, because Roo is awesome like that.

“The Force is strong with us,” she explained. “I just hope they’re not still there on the way back…”

* * *

Right well, that’s enough waffle from me! Next time I promise we’ll have Roo back, and you can look at some of her stunning images instead of reading my rubbish. 🙂