Its been over a year since I posted on my blog, but today I woke up and really felt the need to communicate. Why you might ask? Well, I have been working extremely hard over the last year, raising capital, choosing and configuring software, working on the vision. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, it has been very exciting. It has also been a very strange time for us all, and I have been thankful that I have had something to keep me focused whilst staying safe cocooned at home with my husband.
The brand new website will be launching soon, and following on from that the service will be launched. I have been talking to lots of people too and am delighted to be able to announce that we already have some amazing mentors who will be available as soon as we open for business. Women and men from different sectors and from business and creative walks of life, all excited to be taking part in this new service.
As part of my business planning, I did a lot of research into the need for women to be mentored. I thought it would be good to share some of that with you today.
There is a significant climate to increase the number of women in the Boardroom in the UK. Organisations like the 30% club are making a difference and have a very successful mentoring programme, it is limited to the businesses which buy into the 30% club and is specific to women looking to get into the C-Suite.
When looking for other organisations that provide mentoring, they are generally industry specific and limited in their reach. There is no general place where a woman can go to find a mentor. Mentoring is of course only one aspect of support women need to gain the confidence to be empowered and inspired to move on with their careers, others are having a sponsor, good line management and development opportunities . Whilst mentoring is an aspect which adds real value to women’s careers it does not need to be tied to, or provided by, the workplace.
The “Leaders and Daughters” Global survey in 2017 established a number of significant differences between women based on the country they lived and worked in and the age group they belonged to. The survey, first of its kind by this organisation, looked at the lives of 7000 women across seven countries, Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India, the United Kingdom and the United States. The report makes very interesting reading and certainly shows the UK lacking in areas of mentoring.
Some of the key points are:
The full report can be found at www.egonzehnder.com
The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship – identifying barriers faced by women when starting a business was commissioned by HM Treasury September 2018 and published in March 2019. This is another significant area that needs to change and the report details that mentoring of these women is a factor.
“From our detailed research we believe the biggest opportunities to help female entrepreneurs fall in three areas:
The Prince’s Responsible Network, Business in the Community provides Cross Organisational Mentoring Circles, but the focus here is on Race, with Race champions leading work on mentoring for diversity. The have a number on interesting fact sheets on their web site, Women and Work, the facts. It was created in 2013, and it would be interesting to know how much had changed in the last 6 years.
Whilst mentoring is often viewed as an in-house function, a lack of available mentors, and certainly a lack of female mentors in an organisation can make this impossible. There is no reason why an external mentor would not be able to fulfil the role equally well, also providing additional benefits such as impartiality, a view of how other organisations work and different experiences.
Mentors may sometimes be expected to act as sponsors, but the roles are not related. Sponsors are equally important for women to be successful but like mentors they need to be changed as women move through an organisation.
Access to a mentor at an early stage in a woman’s career is essential to a successful future. Women have less informal mentoring available to them, and interestingly in the Egon Zehender paper under the section relating to career influences, which was extremely short, it stated:
“Who influences women’s development most? Overall, most women report that no one has been the greatest influence on career ambitions and choices. Mothers (17 %) are the second greatest influence, with fathers and husbands tying for third at 14%. However, we saw drastic differences based on age. Younger women were far more, likely to say their mothers had been the greatest influence on their careers, whilst older women were likely to say nobody.”
This clearly demonstrates what we have seen in the change of working culture over the last fifty or sixty years, with women taking their place in the workforce and striving for success regardless of the obstacles and wishing the same and in fact better for their daughters. I personally count myself as one of the women who had no influence on my career ambitions and choices, and indeed was born in an era where career was not even an expectation for me. Yet I know in my career I have been an influence on many younger women.
Mentors for Women provides a unique service for women to grow and build their confidence helping to improve the diversity of the workforce.
Mentoring is only one element of what needs to change to make the most of a what is large percentage of the workforce. Sponsorship and management buy in is also key, but this service provides a fundamental building block. Women often do not know what they need be able to achieve the promotion they desire.
The briefing below shows what an important element of the workforce women are.
The House of Commons Briefing paper Women and the Economy
“15.3 million women in the UK aged 16 and over were in employment in October- December 2018. The female employment rate was 71.4%, which is the highest it has been since comparable records began in 1971. The male employment rate was 80.3%. 9.0 million women were working full-time and 6.3 million were working part-time. 41% of women in employment were working part-time compared to 13% of men.
The most common sectors of employment for women are health and social work (accounting for 21% of all jobs held by women at September 2018), wholesale and retail (14%) and education (12%). 79% of jobs in the health and social work sector and 70% of jobs in the education sector were held by women.
617,000 women aged 16 and over were unemployed at October-December 2018, compared to 746,000 men. The unemployment rate for women was 3.9%, slightly less than the unemployment rate of 4.1% for men. 5.33 million women aged 16-64 were economically inactive in October-December 2018, 25.7% of women in this age group. This compared to 3.31 million men aged 16-64 who were inactive (16.6%).
There were large falls in the female inactivity rate over the 1970s and 1980s before a more gradual decline over the 1990s and 2000s. The rate has been falling more quickly again since 2010 in part due to increases in the State Pension age for women.
22% of women worked in high-skilled professional occupations in 2018, compared to around 19% of men. Around half of women in professional occupations in 2018 were employed as nurses, teachers or other educational professionals. However, a higher share of men than women were working as managers, directors or senior officials, with 13% of men in these roles compared to 8% of women. “
I am excited about launching the new service and making a difference to the lives of women from all walks and at all stages of life.
Balance for Better - a personal reflection
For those of you who don’t know me and are new to my blog, I retired from corporate life in June 2017. Well I say retired, it was more of a throw my toys out of the pram and walk away. The first thing I did was to go travelling for six months, which was when I started blogging. Two things I never thought I would do in my life, travel and write. For the first time in my life I had space and time to do something different.
Before I left the corporate world, I had been asked to give talks to some of the more junior women in the organisation I worked for. This led me to spend some time reflecting on both my life and my career. It had never really occurred to me how much change there has been for women in my lifetime, change which is still ongoing.
Starting work at the tender age of sixteen, the expectations and rules were very different. I met my first husband at work, and I had to get a new job, because married couples could not work in the same organisation. It was always the woman who had to move, because they just had a job, not a career. Then the expectation was to have children after two years. We were very young when we married 18 and 20, so it wasn’t too surprising that we chose not to have children within the normal timescales. We were divorced ten years later, no children and I started to grow as a person, become self sufficient, retrained in IT and suddenly out of nowhere I suppose I became a career woman.
We have reached an age where anything is possible, well almost anything. We still don’t have equal pay, neither do we have access to the Board Room as easily as we should. Research shows that women’s expectations change over their life time, and it varies hugely from country to country. Younger women expect to have a successful career and reach Board level. Women in their 50s and 60s are more likely to have accepted they won’t make it and settle for something less, and often work life balance is more important to them. Many, like me, have spent their working lives juggling with childcare issues, managing expectations in relationships and fighting to be seen at work. Often following the advice of various successful women in how to get that promotion and being encouraged to act like a man.
Mary Portas has written a great book called Work like a Woman and she has changed her whole organisation to reflect the needs of working women. It’s a great read and reflects my experience of working life. I saw her talking at the Women Mean Business conference recently and she has become one of my heroines. She really wants to change the way women work and for women to stop trying to act like men. I applaud that.
My last year of corporate life was spent in Edinburgh, where I became friends with a neighbour who lived in the ground floor flat. She was exactly twenty years older than me, I was 63 and she was 83. On the day I arrived I had a heavy suitcase to carry up two floors of a very grand staircase. I was recovering from an operation so not at my best and she had a bad wrist from a fall, but she insisted that she should help me carry the case upstairs and simply would not take no for an answer. We became friends and on a couple of evenings over a glass or two of wine, she told me her life story. She had gone to university and then got a job in the Oil Industry as an Oil Economist. She was a successful career woman, who bucked the trend. She was sent for an interview at the Oil company but refused to accept a job as a secretary and what’s more didn’t wear a hat or gloves to the interview. When she said she was looking for a role that wasn’t secretarial she was sent for a second interview. The man who employed her wanted a woman on his team, can you believe it, a forward-thinking man all those years ago, she fitted the bill. She married not long after getting the job and had two children, she juggled it all, working full time, part time, full time and she became a partner. So maybe things haven’t changed quite as much in my lifetime as I think they have.
So now my life is different again, I have managed to engage in all sorts of pursuits, as well as working on a couple of projects and setting up a new business. I feel in control of my life and know that anything is possible. I am excited about the future, I have time to think and to be and I can balance on one leg!
Today I went to the doctors to have my booster vaccination, which means I am now covered for travelling to all those places again for another 25 years. Which if I am still gallivanting around the world at the age of 90 I think it will be a small miracle, but you never can tell what life is going to put your way. I have been very mindful of the fact that the anniversary of my departure was coming up, and reflecting quite a lot on the past few months and the space I find myself in. I realised that I have missed blogging quite a lot and out for dinner with friends last night talking about my plans, my hopes for future travels and what I am up to at the moment, it was suggested to me that I should be blogging again. So here goes.
It’s been a funny old time I have to say, I arrived home, and everyone was pleased to see me. I had already planned a couple of trips, one to the Liverpool and Lytham St Annes and the second to Newcastle and Scotland. In amongst all of that frantic activity my eldest son was preparing to move into his first owned property, with his lovely girlfriend. So there was lots of decorating and I taught him how to wallpaper. He managed to do half of his hallway alone, after an afternoon working with me on the other half of the hallway. It was not an easy space to wall paper, especially as a first wallpapering job. They then had a new kitchen and bathroom installed so I was on hand for a bit of advice and guidance, and I did some curtain alterations together with some blackout curtains. It was all a bit frantic because they were expecting an addition to their family, in the form of a mini Dachshund, named Arlo. Now everyone who knows me knows I am not a dog person, but as I know I have mentioned previously I met a lot of dogs on my travels, the result of which I finally have come to appreciate them a little more. Needless to say I fell in love with Arlo and when he comes to visit me his little tail wags immediately he sees me, so I guess he likes me too.
So their little family was getting settled, and it was time for me to get on with some work. I have to admit here after all the good work I did exercising and eating well whilst I was on my travels, all the gadding about and meeting up with friends, eating and drinking, really took its toll, and I found the big roll around my midriff reappearing with a vengeance. Deep joy.
My husband and I were off to France for the month of June, I suppose that kept me quite buoyed up, I was looking forward to it enormously. The holiday was a complete disaster for so many reasons, it was literally so bad that after 5 days there we knew we had to think about coming home. So we booked a flight home two weeks early, it was the best decision and such a relief to get home. Thank goodness that hadn’t happened whilst I was away is all I can say.
I had made great progress in writing my story and had started thinking about how to publish it on the web site, when I was reminded that that wasn’t my highest priority if I wanted to get mentors for women up and running. So I changed tack and started to work on slide sets and business plans etc. it was really at this point that I started to feel the impact of no longer being employed. All the excitement of my journey and the subsequent travels had meant it didn’t really hit me until I had been home for about three months. Before I went way last year I had started a new exercise class called Barrecore, it’s a combination of Ballet, Yoga and Pilates. They had a challenge on when I got back from France to attend 25 times in a period of six weeks. I thought this will be perfect to get me going again and try to remove that midriff bulge as we used to call it many years ago. I attended four sessions in a week and was really loving it but then disaster struck, I fell down the stairs, yes fell down the stairs. I really hurt my back.
The next two months I was in pretty much a state of despair, the pain moving from one place to another, every day I felt a little better but it was a long hard road to recovery. I have to say I became very depressed, I tried to exercise a bit, but started to comfort eat and drink too much wine………………………………. Which of course meant I put even more weight on and in turn became even more depressed. I did make a bit of progress on plans with my sister in law. But when even sitting in a chair is painful it becomes a very tedious process to get anything done.
Another friend of mine came to visit, and we were chatting about this and that. One of the things that I was fed up about was I had always planned to move to the south coast when I finished working 9-5, but the property market has been so depressed that selling the house has been a problem. So I was trying to come to terms with staying put for another year, but I wanted to do some new things and its difficult where I live to find anything exciting/interesting to do. My friend was an absolute star, she found me a therapist nearby to help sort my back out, and she found a community choir I could join, which is run by the Royal Opera House. I also decided it was time it take my weight in hand and made a decision to join Slimming World and again a young friend of mine inspired me to join, as she has been logging her Slimming World journey on Instagram and has transformed herself. Also I was not sleeping well at all, and I decided to go to the health food shop for something to help me to sleep and something to help lift the depression.
So after four weeks I can report that three sessions of Bowen Therapy have made me virtually pain free, I have gone back to my Barrecore class and also done a couple of sessions of Yoga there. I am on my second week of slimming world. I lost four pounds in my first week. I have been on my bike this week for the first time in months, and although it wasn’t easy it was a start. I am aiming to do some form of exercise every day… well maybe every other day. Of course, you can count digging the garden as well as exercise , and I have been doing a bit of that too. I went for my taster session with the choir and really enjoyed it, although it’s really scary because I can’t read music and it’s all operatic choruses in different languages and you have to learn it off by heart for the performances. Eek.. anyway I decided to go for it.
Yesterday I was up early and at my desk by 9, I worked on business plans and research all day and then went into London and did my first full Barrecore class, not a light one, without collapsing into a heap and then out to dinner with friends eating within the limits of my diet and drinking only one and a half glasses of wine. I felt on top of the world, and the last time I felt like this was when I was travelling. Long may it continue.
I have never had a yearning to travel to New York, in a conversation with a girlfriend some years ago she was quite shocked that I hadn’t been. But then again I had never had a yearning to travel to any of the places I had just spent the last six months wandering around, so what changed, what made me do it. A sense of needing time and space to process the end of my career working in a corporate environment and what happened during those last few years. A time for myself after years of motherhood, and being a wife, looking after everyone else and being at the bottom of the list. A time to think about what’s next and decide on whether or not I had the energy to do it. New York was the final stop the last night before flying home, and I was lucky to be sharing that with my good friend Wilma who was also travelling home to see her family.
We had booked a hotel not far from Penn station which was on a direct line from Lancaster, no changes. But I am getting ahead of myself a little, we had had quite a late night the day before, Wilma working and me keeping her company whilst watching some silly reality tv program. So we both slept late the next day and awoke with less than two hours to get ready before we had to leave. We were already mostly packed, I cooked us a good breakfast and was going to make us some lunch to take on the train, but simply did not have the time. The Uber was ordered and I was juggling with phones, my American one had run out of money the day before, I had tried to top it up but was unable to because I didn’t have an American zip code that would work, obviously! Why do American systems always think you have an American address. Anyway, having booked the Uber I was trying to get in touch with him to confirm where we actually were and failing miserably, so I was standing on the doorstep looking for him when I neighbour ambled past and asked how Wilma was. Well not quite in those terms, I know the lady who lives here, where is she... I explained I was a friend from England and had been staying with her. So then I was quizzed on my opinion on the breaking news about the Russian diplomats being asked to leave after the poisoning of a Russian man and his daughter in the U.K. Did I think Theresa was doing the right thing and then he started to tell me that she had got it all wrong. I started sticking up for our Secret services and Theresa, thinking I could do without this, when along cane Mr Uber, saved by the Uber, I was so thankful.
We loaded all our stuff into the cab and took the short trip to the station, took the elevator to the platform area, and waited for the time to descend to the platform. We had to walk through to another carriage once on the train to find a luggage holder as we simply were not going to be able to lift our cases into the overhead rack. A step too far, anyway we found an empty luggage rack and a seat nearby and spent an easy three hours traveling. Almost in New York I was trying to get the skyline on camera, but it was an impossible task, so disappointing, every time I thought I had an opportunity something would get in the way. Anyway here are the results.
Finally we arrived and got off the train, tried to find a lift with all the luggage, stairs were not a real option, which took some time, and then trying to find our way out, such a huge and confusing station. Made even more difficult by pulling luggage around. Finally we found a way out and were treated to the sight of the Empire State Building, we had google maps open to work out how to get to the hotel, it turned out it was five minutes by cab and five minutes to walk, so we decided we would walk, and walking through the hustle bustle was really quite exciting, very different vibe to London which I am very used to having lived and worked here for more years than I care to remember. How is it different, I suppose it doesn’t have that English reserve, people seem more individual and they are definitely louder. The streets were packed and the roads jammed. Well that was my first five minute experience view of New York.
Once in the hotel, we had been upgraded to a room on one of the top floors, but it had a double bed, so we asked for a change to a room with two singles, and moved down a few floors, much to my relief. The room was bigger too, which was good, you don’t get much floor space for your money in New York. Wilma was still working on conference calls etc., and we had arranged to meet one of our new friends from the weekend at the Roots and Blues festival, David Fleming the harp player, that evening. So first of all we decided we needed to eat something, Wilma found a little Italian around the corner, great place and I had a fabulous plate of spaghetti with clams, so good, service was just great, wonderful vibe.
Walking to the restaurant I realised I had been to so many cities in the last six months, that in a way the New York which I had maybe been a little afraid to visit, was just another city. Every city has its own vibe, all different, some better than others, but it just hadn’t occurred to me until that moment just how far I had travelled in so many ways. Physically, in terms of miles and in terms of steps, emotionally in terms of reviewing my life, revisiting difficult feelings of loss, feeling thankful for my wonderful family and especially for my boys, hopeful that I would be able to make a new life when I return home, and start a new adventure, energised, relaxed and happy.
We were able to have a little rest before getting ready to go out, Wilma decided to join us a little later. I met David in the bar downstairs and got my first taste of New Yorkers in the bar, the woman next to me trying wines because they were no longer selling the one she wanted, and not being satisfied. I ordered a glass of Merlot, and then David arrived, we chatted away over a drink, and then he took me in a cab to the lower east side, to his favourite place to eat, which was a hot dog place. Inside there was a telephone kiosk which you went into and lifted the phone to try and get access to a speak easy next door. So the place was filled with suits hanging around waiting to get in next door, and non suits eating hot dogs. I must say the dogs were great. We then went to a bar where there was going to be some live music, and were joined by David’s young lady, Mystie and Wilma. We listened to a couple of great sets and then they took us to a punk bar, for cocktails, which was much fun. Finally we got a cab home, a bit the worse for wear I have to admit and crawled into bed around 1 am.
Our plan for the morning was to go to MOMA but we were just too tired, so after much indecision we packed went down to reception and checked that our late checkout was still ok. No, they hadn’t sorted it out the day before, but they brought our bags down and we went out to look for something to eat. By this time a late breakfast was really a lunch. We were going to go to a bagel place but the queue was enormous, so we found an Irish Bar, good place to be, after all the next day was Paddy’s day, yes I am married to an Irishman, so I am allowed to call it that. The bar was well decorated in readiness. We had a good lunch and a couple of glasses of something, and made the decision to get a yellow cab to the airport. I couldn’t use my Uber account any more because I had been unable to change my telephone number back to my English phone, and the issue was still with Uber tech support, had been for over 24 hours. But we discovered that a yellow cab to JFK was a fixed price. We couldn’t face the train, because we would have to change and we just had too much stuff. So eventually back to hotel and they found our luggage and got us a yellow cab and I would like to say we sped off to the airport. But no we crawled through traffic, although I must say the cab driver was amazing at cutting through, changing lanes and reducing the time the journey could have taken.
We were both leaving from different terminals and I was dropped off first for my Delta flight, once Wilma was checked in she came back to my terminal, to try and get us into the Delta lounge, but no joy as she wasn’t travelling with Delta, even though she was a member of their points system... the things we do for a free drink!
So we said our farewells and I settled down to wait for my departure. Reflecting on my amazing journey and looking forward to seeing my family, but not looking forward to the final leg of the journey when I got off the plane as I had told them not to come out to Heathrow to meet me. The journey was easy, but the plane a little smaller than the other transatlantic flights I had been on, so not as comfortable as usual. I had a delightful lady to chat to, she was off to visit her daughter in London to help her move house. We both slept fitfully, as usual my sleep was very limited, my mind full of what next. How could it be over so soon.
As we landed at Heathrow it was starting to snow, yes snow, I think in the last six months I had only experienced snow twice. Once in Colorado and once in Lancaster. I had hoped that I would be coming home to spring, and had been so thankful I had missed one of the worst winters the U.K. had experienced in many years. Snow, snow. No please. No thank you. Arrgghhh. I know I am from Iceland but I hate snow. Oh well.
I made my way through the airport, it was great not to have to stand in a long queue at Passport Control for once, and my luggage arrived in one piece. Incidentally it weighed in at 20 KG, how about that for a result. As I reached down to pick it up, I felt my back go a bit, amazing that never happened whilst I had been away. It wasn’t too bad but I thought oh no, now I have to get two tubes and a train and then walk from the station with all this stuff and my back is in danger of hurting big time. I was, I have to say, feeling quite sorry for myself on so many levels by this time. I walked through the doors and had a quick look around in case the old man had come to the airport despite the fact that I had told him not to. I didn’t have my glasses on for some reason, but my eyesight isn’t that bad, then I spotted this big white board, which said at the top Wanted. I thought that’s a funny thing to write on a board looking for people, it must be a list of people they are picking up. The next line I read was One Mother, oh I thought, next line was Recently Retired, then I looked up and saw my son Ásgeir and his girlfriend Tayla, laughing. What a wonderful surprise, we had the biggest hugs and I was whisked away home via the M25. The old man had bought me lots of flowers and was very pleased to see me, and Ásgeir cooked a lovely family dinner, I did have a small nap to get me through the day.
Of course that’s not the end of this story, the story goes on. I have been very busy getting my house ready to sell, and helped Ásgeir and Tayla move into and decorate their new flat as they start a new life together. I have spent a week in Liverpool visiting family and friends. My house went on the market yesterday and tomorrow I am off up to Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow for a week of meeting up with more friends. A lot of activity in the five or so weeks since I have been home, plus of course I have been trying to catch up with as many people as I can which has included trips to Art Galleries, lunches, dinners, a retirement party and much more. One change in me which I was quite surprised about is that I am seeing things more as a traveler now, not taking for granted where I am and moved to take photographs wherever I am. I am very much enjoying that change, but I suppose it is also about having and taking the time for myself.
I am going to set up my Mentoring business and have lots of ideas and plans, so watch this space. My next task is to publish my story which I talked about a few months ago. Now the house is finally straight after being in a transient state with my son moving all his stuff in and out as he prepared to take possession of the first home he has bought, and my house went up for sale yesterday. I have as I was once taught, cleared a space to make a place for the new things that are coming into my life, the things I am so excited to be working on. I have to also admit I have now got the travelling bug, I am planning another trip to Australia and Bali, I want to spend some proper time in New York, and we are going to France for a month in June. Fingers crossed that the house sells and I can move to my landing place soon.
If you are interested in mentoring or being mentored please get in touch through my contact form. It will still be a while, but plans and ideas on how and what and when and why are formed and will be implemented soon.
On a sadder note, my good friend Ira Nottonson passed away on March 27th, it was not unexpected and I am so thankful I got to visit with him one last time in Colorado, and to rekindle my friendship with the wonderful Sam his partner for over fifty years and meet Sam’s daughter Kelly, precious memories.
Rest in Peace Ira, we will all miss you.
I do hope you have enjoyed the ride so far and that you will stay on for the next part of the journey.
My flight to Philadelphia was very easy, the plane wasn’t too full and the weather reasonable so not too many bumps. I was meeting my friend Wilma at the airport. I have known Wilma for as long as I have know Phil and Derek, who I visited in Nelson, can you remember that far back? It almost seems like a lifetime ago to me now. Phil, Wilma and I all worked together for a company called Personal Computers Ltd, a PC dealership, it became a plc whilst we were there and was eventually bought by one of the big wholesalers. Anyway we formed a bond many years ago, there are two other women from that time, Christine who now lives in Italy and Louise who lives in Glasgow. Even though we are spread out across the world we try to meet sometimes all together sometimes one on one, to me they are very precious friendships. Anyway I digress. Wilma is currently working in the US and away from her family most of the time, and is based outside of Philadelphia in a small town called Lancaster, about an hour and a half driving time. Wilma was flying in from Toronto where she had been working for a couple of days. She arrived just ahead of me and my flight was early, so through the wonders of modern technology we managed to find each other and had a big hug in the airport, trying to remember the last time we saw each other, I think I was working in Edinburgh, and she came for a flying visit.
Anyway we managed to find our way to the car park and even found the car without too many issues, and set off on our drive. It had taken Wilma quite some time to find a place to live when she had been asked to take on this role, and she settled on Lancaster because it reminded her very much of an area of London she had lived many years ago, I think it was London Fields, but I may have got that wrong. Quite up and coming, and charming. There is a big Amish community there too. When we finally arrived there, having passed a few Amish carts, we stopped off for some lunch and then the obligatory visit to the supermarket for a few bits. The licensing laws in Philadelphia are different and alcohol can only be purchased in one or two supermarkets and there is a limit of three litres per visit. Generally you have to buy it at the government owned outlets, very much like the system in Iceland. So we visited one of those too, to get a couple of bottles of wine.
Then home to the house where she lives, a brick built terraced house, with a big back yard and parking space behind that. The ground floor is made up of a big kitchen dining room at the front, hallway and stairs and two rooms at the back, a living room and then another room behind that which was probably a later addition to the house, but is also a good size, the fire in there makes it a very cozy place to be. Squirrels and birds are all in the back yard and I spent some time watching them during the days. The squirrels were of course very adept at helping themselves to the bird food from the bird feeders Wilma had put up, practically hanging upside down at one point.
That was were I would usually spend my mornings especially if I was writing. Upstairs are two large bedrooms and a bathroom and then there is a second floor which has a huge loft room. So plenty of room for the family when they came to stay. The house is also very central, within five to ten minutes walking distance of the town centre. Just the sort of place I would choose to live too. Wandering around the town there are lots of interesting buildings, and many of the houses have porches on their frontage complete with chairs. I went into the graveyard of one of the churches one afternoon. As I was walking back home and was looking at all the gravestones of the founders of the church. All the old service men had the union flag on their graves, usuLly placed there on Independence Day every year. It was only a small cemetery and I was making my way out when I saw someone locking the gates, I was lucky I didn’t get locked in.
We had a great evening catching up with each other, and then the following day Wilma went to work and I had a day of pottering around. As you probably know by now I like to do little after a travel day unless I am pressed for time. This leg of my journey has been rather fast and furious to say the least, so it’s good to know I can unpack and settle for a couple of weeks.
That evening we were going into Philadelphia by train to see an Ice Hockey match, if was a corporate event Wilma had been invited to and I was her guest. I used to play hockey at school, that’s a few years ago, but have never experienced the ice version, boy was I in for a surprise. The Amtrak train takes about and hour and fifteen minutes to get into Philadelphia, it’s quite a comfortable train, and it wasn’t too busy. We arrived in the station which was a beautiful building, these old stations in the USA are quite palatial. Very high ceilings and large ornate pillars. Then into an Uber once we had worked out where the pick up area was and on to the the Wells Fargo Centre Arena where the game was. Traffic was quite heavy but we made it in plenty of time and found the VIP entrance, collected our tickets and made our way to the box where we were being hosted.
It was an amazing view of the ice hockey pitch, we were offered food, drinks and did some socialising and then we settled down to watch the game. There were a couple of young boys there with their Dad and they were getting into the spirit, it was wonderful to watch them. The game is split into three sections and even within each section there are breaks. They wheel all sorts of stuff out at the breaks including a car in one break. They also have a team of people who come and sweep the ice, on skates of course, and various opportunities for crowd spotting and congratulations. All good fun. The Hockey was fast and furious but the Philadelphia Eagles did not fare to well against their opponents I am sorry to say. The young boys asked their Dad if he thought they could score enough to win in the last 10 minutes and were quite deflated by the negative response. The goal keepers were funny, they wear great big leg pads and go down in their knees with the lower part of their legs splayed out in order to prevent the puck getting in. I tried to photograph it, with limited success. Finally the game was over and the exodus began, it was pouring with rain, and very cold, trying to find the place for the Uber pickup was a bit of a challenge, the traffic was awful with everyone leaving the stadium, so we were waiting for quite a while. Finally we were in the warmth of the cab, and on our way back to the station where we got a coffee and waited for the platform to open to get the return train home. It was very dark, and Wilma wasn’t very familiar with the route, the announcements were also very difficult to decipher. I was trying to count the stops, because I thought I knew how many to Lancaster. But we were also watching out for other people going there by listening to conversations with the guard. Successfully exiting the train at the right stop and a five minute drive back to the house and bed. Great evening, we both enjoyed it enormously.
The following day I went to investigate the local market, housed in a huge high ceilinged building, which was full of all sorts of lovely things from fresh veg and bread through to ready made meals, and cheeses. Some of the vendors were women from the Amish community wearing there long skirts with aprons and some form of head gear. I often wonder seeing women from different communities, religions, countries wearing the uniform required of them whether they yearn to be able to be more individual. Not that the majority of women dress as individuals as they are often influenced or restricted by fashion, age and budget. I myself can’t imagine the not having the freedom to dress the way I want to dress, and am currently enjoying dressing in denim after years of corporate dressing, anyway I digress again. I bought some bread, a crab soup and a couple of limes for gin and tonics. We had bought the gin bought so far failed to find any tonic water. I went on a bit of a mission looking for some, there didn’t seem to be any small supermarkets in the town centre, there are a few corner shop type places, but no luck there. Then I went to the local garage store. They must have had every drink under the sun, but no tonic water. I asked at the counter and they didn’t know what I was talking about, I said you know you put it in gin, oh seltzer you mean, no, not seltzer. Hilarious, it is one of the staples in the U.K. in any small shop or garage, anyway I failed, no g and t for us today.
The next day we decided to go for a walk, there was a big park area and we were hoping that it would be a good place, sadly whilst quite nice, there were a number of trails, but not really what we had hoped for. We opted to walk one trail which was mainly along a road, but it served some purpose of getting us out of the house and taking a bit of exercise, but we didn’t get the feel of being in a country park.
The following day was a big day out, back to Philadelphia for the Museum of Arts and then to see the Harlem Globetrotters show at the Wells Fargo Arena the same venue we had seen the ice hockey. The weather wasn’t too bad, but I have to say I was missing sunshine. We caught an early train, but later than we had hoped because I had managed to misread the timetable, for some reason I couldn’t get the Amtrak app working on my phone, and Wilma was having problems downloading it, so I had relied on Google and clearly not specified Sunday. Oh well. Finally we were on our way,
We got an Uber to the art gallery. It was walkable but we needed to be careful with the time we had. The cab driver told us that there were roadworks because a bridge had been closed and it was causing mayhem. Anyway we arrived with a plan of exactly what we were going to see which was quickly abandoned, we walked in and saw the most amazing display of a temple which had been installed in the first room we came too. It completely took us by surprise, and was so beautiful. Then there was another, a Japanese Tea House which had been installed not just the original house but the surroundings too. Clearly a creative team at the Museum the way these buildings had been installed. All the rooms with period furniture, of which there were many, were also set out beautifully, breathtaking if the only way I can describe these rooms. We managed to find all the pieces we wanted to see and I have to say I was extremely impressed by the museum.
The steps which lead to the Art Museum at the front entrance, we had come in through a different entrance, are known as the Rocky Steps, they were used by the character Rocky in the film of the same name, to train by running up and down them. So when we came out of that entrance, although it took a bit of finding for some reason, I then had to have the obligatory photographs taken, not of me running obviously, just stationery half way down.
Then off to see the Harlem Globetrotters, they are doing a world tour with what is really a show. They play the Washington Generals, a team which was dissolved because it was failing so badly but has been reformed. The game breaks up every once in a while for a bit of showmanship of sorts. It was highly amusing. Things that surprised me were that there were two women in the team, and that’s not a new thing, and even though they were very short by comparison to the majority of the male players they were not short on skills. The team as a whole were real performers in every way. Clearly it was a set piece, but so well done and a drama in its own right. Towards the end, a nail biting finish with Washington in the lead, a couple of the Harlem guys climbed up onto the hoops and were causing all sorts of mayhem and doing mad tricks up there. Particularly the one who decided he couldn’t get down. Very very funny. I would highly recommend going to see them.
It was much easier to get away this time, the traffic was not nearly as bad and no rain. We got back to the station and were both hungry because food was a little on the too fast side at the venue, so we hadn’t had much and we discovered a bar in the station which did food, only burgers, but they were really good. There was a bit of excitement in the bar, a woman who had left without paying on a previous occasion had come in and was trying on the same stunt again, but the staff recognised her, they called the police. Of course you never realise in the moment what is going on and only sort of pick up the pieces after the fact, perhaps as well. Off to catch the train and not quite as stressful in terms of knowing when to get off this time.
Monday of course is back to work for some people, sorry Wilma, I had a relaxing day doing this and that. During the week I had a beauty appointment, and we went out for dinner a couple of times, and even had a takeaway. I explored a bit and wrote a bit, I had a lot of catching up to do after my whistle stop stays. It’s difficult to know where the time goes sometimes. But we were both looking forward to the weekend because we had booked weekend passes for the Roots and Blues festival in downtown Lancaster. I had spotted this tiny poster in a window the week before, and we decided it would be fun. So Friday night came and and we wandered into town and went to see J J Grey, he was amazing, it was in one of the main halls. So a big audience and it was bouncing.
We got home quite late and a little the worse for wear and the next day we were off again, this time we were going to see the Phil Gammage Quartet in a little club. We got settled in at the front standing by the side and once again had a great time, some people were dancing and it was a lot of fun. So much so we decided to stay for their second set which was on an hour or so later. We were definitely reliving our youth that night, we laughed so much. We got talking to the band afterwards and then made friends with Phil and David Fleming the Harp player, don’t ask me why they call Harmonica players Harp players, I did ask but didn’t get and answer. If anyone out there knows please let me know. After their second set we want on to a couple of other places and finally we were queuing to get into the only place with a gig still playing, but the queue was too big, so we decided at midnight it was time to call it a day and go home. The following day we say another couple of really good acts, including the Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones and the Blues Doctors, such a great festival, we met some fun people. The Festival is, I think, only in it’s sixth year but I would definitely go again
The next few days were spent in the usual sort of routine, with Wilma working, I was starting to prepare myself for going home. I was flying home from New York and Wilma was also booked to fly home that weekend too. Unfortunately Wilma had a small car accident on the way into work one day, so was relying on being picked up and dropped off. Fortunately she wasn’t hurt in any way, and also fortunate that we had already made the decision to travel to New York by train. We were going the afternoon before our flight home, in order to experience a little of New York night life. So a busy week for Wilma preparing to travel and working.
The day of departure arrived all too soon. We were catching the train at about midday and Ubered, is there such a word now I wonder, to the station in plenty of time to board the train for the final stop of what has been the most amazing adventure.
See you in New York.
The final Greyhound bus ride was a very easy one. The bus seemed to be only going from Kansas City to St Louis, an early afternoon start coupled with just over four hours on the bus made it a breeze by comparison to some of the journeys I had taken. The ice and frost had all gone too, so although not warm at least it wasn’t freezing anymore. This bus journey was most definitely the only incident free journey of them all, no babies, no convicts, no teeth brushing, no people being left behind. It was almost a delight.
Arriving at the bus station in St Louis I was met by Brenda, Peggy and Jake, Peggy’s partner, and whisked off for dinner at a location near to where they live. It was just about a year since we had seen each other and there was an awful lot of family stuff to catch up on. The most important thing for me was to have some quality time with both Brenda and Peggy, because last years visit was under very sad circumstances and there was no real time to get to know the girls.
I have talked before about how important family is to me, before my trip here last year, I was in St Louis only once, and it was a very long time ago, when my cousins were quite young and I spent a most of my time with Ásgeir, the eldest of my cousins, who showed me all around St Louis and took me into the iconic Gateway Arch and water skiing. Sadly we lost him in 2006. The four younger cousins don’t even remember my visit. Last year when I was here I didn’t meet Emil, as he was working on a cruise ship and as I mentioned when in LA during the first part of my adventure, we lost him too. So it seems we were never destined to meet as adults.
So a great evening out and back home for another glass of wine or two and off to bed. But I must here mention the dogs, two boxers, very amiable, a boy and a girl. I think after all the dogs I have met on my travels both domestic and wild, I can honestly say that I have got over my fear of dogs.
The following day Peggy and Jake had to go and visit Jake’s recently widowed mother and Brenda had the day off work, so we went for a walk. We went to a park called the Cliff Cave park on the banks of the Mississippi River. We elected to do the short circuit rather than the long circuit, which would probably have been too muddy, but we did the circuit a couple of times to get 4 kms in. Once home we had a lovely dinner cooked by Peggy.
The next day Brenda was working so Peggy, Jake and I went to see the Civil War museum which is very near to where they live. It was absolutely fascinating, my knowledge of the Civil was only extends as far as ‘Gone with the Wind’, an epic book and film starring Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. It’s a must see movie with the famous line, ‘Quite frankly my dear I don’t give a damn’. The Museum is in one of the buildings that formed Jefferson Barracks, which was a very important U S Army installation from 1826 to 1946 during which soldiers where brough here to train and be prepared to be sent to all the major wars until the end of the Second World War. Many of the buildings have now been sold off. This building and at least one other was bought and turned into a museum. There is a great park nearby with a good walking trail. Also nearby is the JB Cemetery where every soldier who has served in the US Army is entitled to be buried. More of that later. There are a number of films on as part of the exhibition, and I watched each one of them. For the first time ever I understood how the country was split over slavery and how eventually slavery was abolished after the war and a number of changes in the law. What surprised me more than anything else was that the stories of soldiers coming from Kansas to kill the men in St Louis and steal from their houses and often burn down their houses. It got to the stage that once a rumour started that they were on their way the whole population of a village or town would simply flee leaving everything behind them. After the war was over, this practice continued, by some of the historically well known outlaws like Jesse James and Bloody Bill. A really worthwhile place to visit if you are ever in the vicinity. We all really enjoyed it.
After the museum we had lunch in a local pub, even my salad was too big a portion, and then walked it off on the trail in the park by the museum. The sun was far more prominent this day, the day before had been quite cold, there were lots of walkers out. We did a couple of circuits to get to 4Km which included a wander down to the good old Mississippi to look at some very famous gates which had been moved there from the Old Arsenal. I was really pleased with this walk because we did each KM in less than 11 minutes. That’s what happens when you have a good pacemaker with you, doesn’t it Peggy. I had been doing the odd sub 11 minute Km, but this was a consistent performance. I have come along way since I’m started walking in Utah.
Back home Peggy made us a delicious chicken curry, not just any old chicken curry, this was to a recipe that both of our Mothers used. I think I have it in my Icelandic cookbook, and I am definitely going to have to start making it. I had forgotten just how good it is.
The following day Brenda wasn’t working so we went back to the Jefferson Barracks park and did that walk again, this time we were lucky enough to see some deer, not just in the wooded area but at one point almost in the open. They are obviously used to humans being around that they are not particularly phased by them.
Brenda and I also went to visit my cousin Ásgeir’s grave in the Jefferson Barracks Cemetery. I was staggered by the size of the cemetery as we drove past it the day before. being in the area we had seen a number of funerals en route to the cemetery and whilst we were there that day there were at least two funerals happening. Anyone who served in any capacity in any war has the right to be buried there and it costs the family nothing. There is a huge deference to serving soldiers in the USA, for example when you get on a plane, they are allowed to board earlier than economy passengers. Then you see the size of this cemetery, I found it quite overwhelming. You go to a computer terminal and enter the name of the person you are looking for and it give you a print out with a map and and the location letter and number of the grave. So we did this and then set off, but the place is so big and the writing on the map so tiny that it’s a real challenge, but we got there in the end. Getting out though was a completely different matter, I think we went around in circles at least twice. It was very funny. Brenda was saying why aren’t there any exit signs? Quite right too, onlly when you start to be in the proximity of the exit do you find signs.
Brenda and I had also booked to go and have our hair done together on her day off, which was fun. It was a very old fashioned salon and her usual man wasn’t around, so we had two ladies and we had quite a laugh. They did a really good job and I felt quite glamorous once again. That night we went out for dinner to a local place and I made the mistake of having the Monday special which was grilled prawns. I almost asked are they breaded, but decided it wasn’t in the description so I was sure it would be ok. They were breaded, such a disappointment, I just don’t understand why they have to bread everything, anyway moving swiftly on.
The following day Peggy had the day off and we had a very lazy morning and in the afternoon we went to the Nail Salon for a manicure and pedicure. So now I was feeling much better about myself I have to say. We went out for dinner again that night to a place a bit further out, and we three ladies all chose a spaghetti and seafood dish, which was absolutely delicious. I think it was the only meal I had eaten in the US where I actually managed to eat the lot, it was simply too good to leave.
Then it was over, I had a very early start the following day, 5:30 the taxi driver from across the road was coming to pick me up to take me to the airport for my flight to Philadelphia. The whistle stop tour was over as the next destination was my final stop and I was going to be there for over two weeks. In retrospect I think I should have taken a month for these four stops, to do them real justice, but the timetable was the timetable, I could have easily stayed another month in Bali too, and I didn’t do the North of Australia. Maybe I should have gone for a year.... oh well it is what it is. Thanks for having me ladies and Jake, it’s been great to spend a bit of quality time together. Hope to see you in the not too distant future.
Early start for my last long bus ride to Kansas City, where I am going to stay with my long lost cousin Örn Fry. Until last year when we met under such sad circumstances, we hadn’t seen each other for far to many years to record here. I remember my sister Helga and I playing with him and his older brother Ásgeir as children in my Auntie Anna’s house in Reykjavik. I think I was about six at the time. Sadly both Ásgeir and Helga are no longer with us to help corroborate this and Örn has no memory of this. So it is great to be able to spend a little quality time together and start get to know each other. They were probably a little older than they are in the photograph below. The second photograph is that of the five cousins together last Feb, Peggy, Elisabet, Me, Brenda and Örn.
Once again my bus wasn’t too full and I had to change after about an hour. Whilst waiting for the second bus in Little Rock I noticed we had two ex convicts in the waiting room together with a correctional facility officer, waiting to be boarded onto the bus. Both were ill prepared for the cold that was going to meet us later on that day, one wearing a short sleeve t shirt and the other a long sleeved cotton shirt. Both holding a brown paper bag which I presumed was holding their meagre belongings.
This time it wasn’t a Greyhound bus, and it wasn’t properly announced, I just noticed people had suddenly moved towards a door, so I followed and found that it was my bus. When I boarded I saw a very small child, just over a year old in his baby chair on the front seat. It turned out it was the drivers baby. All was well for a while, then the little boy started to get really distressed. He wouldn’t stop crying and one of the women on the bus tried to help, but couldn’t soothe him. Eventually the driver took him on his knee and that quietened him, and he continued to drive like that for some time. Another woman then offered to put him back in his seat and as she did he started crying again. So back to his father he goes. After the next stop he was settled into his seat and was as good as gold for the rest of the day. I am sure I don’t have to tell you all the things which were going through my mind during that trip. It transpired he had asked for the time off as he had no child care that day, but they couldn’t give him the time off so he brought the baby. There were two legs to the drivers journey Kansas City to Little Rock and back, with the baby. Nightmare.
Anyway I arrived into Kansas City and snow, yes snow. I was hoping that by the time I did my return journey across the USA spring would have sprung so to speak, little did I know what an awful winter this was going to be for so many. Whilst I was lucky enough to be in the sun for most of it I am still not happy that I am having to put up with this. Fortunately I have enough bits and pieces to keep myself reasonably warm, including an Icelandic wool hat, and a waterproof jacket, so I am able to layer up, but I only have trainers and sandals. Doesn’t look like I will be able to dress up much if the weather carries on like this. I’ll be wearing jeans and jeans of and jeans. Oh well.
I few photos of the journey, difficult to take through the bus window, but you get the idea. The lorries, or should I say trucks are very very long. There was quite a lot of water on the way, it looked like fields were waterlogged.
Örn was outside waiting for me and he whisked me away in his chariot, stopping off for a bite on the way. When we got home his lovely wife Janie was there waiting for us. We spent a lovely evening chatting over a glass of wine or two, and then to bed. The following day we braved the ice and went for a drive and Örn took me to see the plane he is building, clever man. It’s called a Legal Eagle and he has manufactured the majority of the components. He still has to make the wings, but he has everything else. He has also learned to fly, even though he hates heights, must run in the family, I am looking forward to seeing the final product and hearing about his flying escapades. It turns out that Örn is a very good car mechanic and actually pretty good at working on anything mechanical as well, I would class him as an engineer. Of course our Uncle in Iceland is the same, Aðalsteinn has been rebuilding and fixing American classic cars for years and has a whole workshop full of them. Must run in the family, that and Bass playing... but that’s another story. The photograph below gives you an idea of what he is building and going to fly in, clever and brave man.
Janie was out at work, but when she got home she made us a great steak dinner, and we had another great evening together. These times connecting with my family are so precious to me, I just can’t tell you how much, having suffered so many losses over the last few years as a family and being spread so far apart, it is time to close these gaps.
The following day we had a busy morning sorting one or two things out and chatting and then Janie was home early, so we had lunch and then we all went to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. I had been missing my art fixes, the last one was in Perth, so it was much needed.
It’s a huge museum and has some interesting shuttlecocks in the grounds, huge shuttlecocks plus a couple of great sculptures of crowds of people on outside too and a great sort of water feature, looks like a big lake. There were a couple of special exhibitions on, the one we made it into was the Picasso, which not only showcased some of his work, but also some of his own art collection which had been an influence on his work. There were a lot of African pieces, it was curated in a way demonstrated the influences, so an African piece by a Picasso. His range of work is huge, I have see some really different art works whilst travelling, from beautiful sketches, amazing sculptures, classic work and some of the works he is better know for. This particular exhibition is only being shown at this gallery in the states and in France I think, so I was really lucky to see it.
Some of the Picasso below
Another special mention will have to go to a beautiful wood carving which took a year to restore, we were all a little spell bound by it, it was very intricate, I can’t imagine how long that took to make.
Some other photos of some of the pieces I liked. There was a wonderful collection of American Indian artefacts as well.
It was a wonderful gallery, a real joy to visit, next stop dinner, I was being treated to a BBQ dinner, something I had not yet experienced on my travels. After some support I chose some ribs, delicious.
The following day I was moving on, on this whistle stop tour, to Saint Louis to see my other two cousins, Brenda and Peggy. For a change it wasn’t an eight am start, so I had the morning to repack, or should I say reorganise my now messy suitcase after all these quick stops it needed sorting out. Spending the last few hours with Örn and Janie and then off to the bus station. Thanks both of you for such a good visit. Hope to see you in Iceland or England or even both ! I am sure I will be back too. I want to see you flying in that plane. The ice had finally gone, so a short and easy trip back into town and we said our goodbyes, and I boarded my very last Greyhound bus. See you in St Louis, wait a minute isn’t that the name of a film.
Tennessee is such a wonderful name, I don’t know why, it just sort of rolls off the tongue. My journey to Memphis was by Greyhound bus, and after my earlier experiences on the bus, I really was not looking forward to it, but I am very much in countdown mode now, only three more bus journeys to go, after this one, one long one and a very short one, so I keep telling myself I can cope.
I got to the bus station by Uber, I had managed to grab a quick bite at the hotel, and then was whisked away in my chariot, saying goodbye to the lovely city of New Orleans. I just wished I had had more time to really get to know it better. Maybe one day I will come back, who knows. I got to the bus station in good time to get my bag tagged etc, and got in the queue. The first part of the journey was to Baton Rouge, and only about an hour and a half so not too bad, and the bus was quite full, but I got myself settled in and before very long was in the waiting room at Baton Rouge waiting for my connection. The next bus was virtually empty, what a difference it makes when the bus isn’t crammed full of people.
However it was a little scary getting onto the second bus, I had noticed two police officers standing near the ticket office, and just before boarding I noticed one of them had put blue plastic gloves on! As we boarded they approached the queue and were watching everyone. Once aboard they too boarded the bus and reminded everyone that it was a federal offence to carry any weapons on a bus and also mentioned that drugs were also forbidden. Then they said they wanted to search our bags and interview us and we might need to provide identification. Good job I am a good girl. My bags were both searched and all was good. I did find the whole thing a little disconcerting, it was as though they had had some sort of tip off, but no one was arrested or turfed off the bus.
After that excitement the journey was mainly uneventful. Just quite long. I arrived at Memphis and my host had offered to pick me up at the station, which was extremely kind. A great lady called Heidi, who loves travelling and has a very old VW Camper. Her house was fab, very eclectic and my room was extremely comfortable. I was starving so we ordered chinese food and sat chatting in the kitchen for an hour or so. One of those times when you just click. Fairly early night as tomorrow’s plan was Graceland and possibly the civil rights museum which was highly recommended. Then going to Beale Street for some blues with Heidi in the evening.
Arriving at Graceland was a bit strange, all the local businesses were named after Graceland, which was quite amusing and then we pulled into the entrance way, which is actually across the road from the house which is Graceland, although you don’t realise that at the time. His two planes are right there at the entrance and of course you can to pay to see them, but I had been advised not to bother with the planes.
So I make my way to the main entrance, and pay my fee to get in, and then we are all shepherded into a little cinema to watch a film. From there they move us outside to catch a little bus across the road to Graceland itself, and we are given headsets and iPads to hang around our necks. Very chic! NOT. They also took out photographs and later tried to charge almost 40 dollars, no thank you. It was horrid. We were instructed on what to do with the iPads, but to be honest they were a bit of a pain, whilst they gave you a commentary, they often moved on to the next room before you were able to so I was constantly forward and back to get to where I needed to be, the iPad that is not the house. Although there were not many of us on the bus, there was a VIP tour being taken around and of course we were not allowed to be near them, so it was a bit painful looking around the house. The grounds were easier though. The house was a bit of a mish mash of styles, and of course quite outdated, given that Elvis died in 1977 and in some places it was most definitely over the top.
It is quite a big house, but not as big as people imagine it is going to be, the front entrance is into quite a nice hallway, and there are some customised stained glass pieces in the window around the door.
From there you can look into a number of rooms. The main living room leads onto a music room with a white grand piano, the decor is all white, black and gold with some more stained glass between the main living room and the music room. An elegant room, but a little dated.
Then you can look into Elvis parents bedroom which is downstairs, with some of his mothers clothes hanging behind glass in the wardrobe. A very simple but elegant room. The staircase is cordoned off as upstairs is still used by the family.
The next room is the dining room which they say is still used by the family. It has a television and Elvis used to watch the television when eating his dinner. Every room has a television set. Again another quite elegant room, but this does look less dated. There are photographs everywhere of the family. They talk a lot about how happy he was here with his family, but don’t talk about what happened later, did he still continue to live there when he had divorced from Priscilla. The marriage was only short lived, about six years, after an eight year courtship. From the dining room you get a glimpse of the kitchen which was very big, and in constant use by all accounts.
Then we are led downstairs but only a small number of people are allowed at a time, down there are the Den and the Billiards room. The den again is all white and gold, and the Billiards room has fabric ruched covering all the walls and the ceiling.
Back upstairs now to get a glimpse of the jungle room with a green shag pile carpet, and the furniture is pretty way out too.
After that we are led outside, firstly into the offices and then past the paddock where the horses are and then into a gallery with some paper memorabilia. Then out past the swimming pool into the remembrance area, where much to my surprise Elvis is buried with his mother, father and grandmother. Apparently they had to move him from where he was because of all the fans
We were then bussed back across the road, and I had paid for the full experience, so was allowed into another area. This was made up of a number of rooms, firstly all his cars, and a film running of him in his films with some of the cars which were on display.
Another area had all his costumes, mainly from the later years when he used to wear the one piece outfits.
There was also an area related to his time in the army, and a whole setting of Sun records. By the time I got there I had started to fade a little, it would have been good to have seats in each area because it was set up well with a film running of what happened in each room, but I couldn’t stand and watch each of those, even though I would have liked too. I finally made it out of there and into the cafe set up like a 60s place, for lunch and to rest my weary feet.
The place was really quite empty, but I had come early in the morning, but still I was surprised by how few people seemed to be there. The other thing that I really struck me about the visit was that there was no talk of the bad times, only the good. I think his story should be told in full, they way they talk about the marriage and everything it’s as though it went on forever. As we all know he died of some sort of drug overdose, and was addicted to prescription drugs. My Uber driver on the way back to my Air BNB said he went to school with the daughter of the doctor who gave him his drugs, small world. My question is why are we not telling the world of the addiction, in this day and age when the drug scene is much bigger and we are losing so many young people especially in America, why aren’t we telling these stories as they were instead of sugar coating the reality. That doesn’t mean I was not glad to go and see the place, but I just feel we should be telling people particularly our young people the truth and not just idolising those who have been lost to drug abuse. I felt myself coming away with more questions because it was a long time ago and I couldn’t remember. I do have one more thing to say though, he was such a good looking young man!
I decided that the civil rights museum would be too much, so had a rest and caught up with a bit of writing. That evening Heidi and I went out to Beale Street, she is a big blues fan and chose to live in Memphis partly because of that. Unfortunately for us it was some sort of public holiday so none of the usual bands were on, so we finally found somewhere to listen to a set having walked the length and back of Beale Street. I had another early start the next day, so back to the house and in bed at a reasonable hour.
I arrived into New Orleans airport about 18:30, the stopover in Austin was long enough to find a yoghurt and banana and briefly hear the band that was playing in one of the bars there, a common occurrence in this airport I heard. I had very little distance to get to my gate, and was sitting quietly, as I am sure you all know I do, when a woman sat next to me and said she loved my pink hat. I was at this point still carrying it about by hand, it now resides in my suitcase when I travel. So I was telling her where I had been and it turns out she is a bit of a traveller for work, running seminars for the Church of Scientology. Interesting, I had a momentary panic that she was going to try and convert me but then it was time to board.
As I mentioned earlier I spotted a sign for a shuttle service to the French District and it was half the cost of an Uber. So I bought my single ticket and trudged outside to find it. When we were all aboard the driver took us into the city and once we reached the French Quarter told us a few facts about the place. I was about the third person to be dropped off and my hotel was made up of a number of houses on both sides of the streets. When registering the receptionist told me I had been upgraded to a suite, that was a first on my travels. My suite was across the road, through a little gate, my own front door was in a little alleyway which opened out into a sweet courtyard just beyond my door. The rooms were all named after famous musicians. Mine was Professor Longhair, he was Henry Rolland “Roy” Byrd a New Orleans Blues singer and pianist. Once in the door there was a set of stairs and at the top a beautiful large room with a seating area on one side and the other side was the bedroom. There was an enormous bathroom with a bath with jacuzzi and a shower.
I was quite hungry by now, but it was a getting on in the evening so rather than look on the internet or just go wandering off I went back to reception to ask where I could get some good simple food. She told me about a place called the Clover Grill which was about two blocks away. So I followed her directions but when I got there I saw a hamburger joint and that was the last thing I wanted to eat. It was on Bourbon Street which was alive with people wandering around drinks in hand, I started to wander down there in the hope I would find a little restaurant but soon realised it was all bars, one guy asked me twice if I would like to buy him a drink, I said no thanks, I am ok thanks, and made my way back to the Grill, took a deep breath, went inside and sat at the counter. I ordered a burger with mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, mayo but no cheese or chips, and a cranberry juice. Yes I did say cranberry juice, there was no alcohol available. The burger was absolutely delicious, probably the best burger I have every had in my life. I admittedly don’t eat many so I am probably not that good a judge, but I enjoyed every mouthful.
Back to my suite and hoping for a decent nights sleep. The 14 hour time change really wasn’t helping me at all. I had a pretty broken night to be honest, I was really all over the place, but I got up early for breakfast, and tasted my first biscuits, which are really scones. But I passed on the grits which looked quite bland. Then back to my shelter and I was just so tired that I had to just rest. Finally about two pm I ventured out, I found the Armstrong park which I had seen on the bus coming in and had a wander around there. It wasn’t an enormous place, but quite a few nice statues and sculptures.
Then I made my way down Bourbon Street which is one long party, with bars in almost every building and everyone wandering down the street with drinks in their hands, no glass is the rule, so they give you plastics in the bars and people move from one bar to another. I was stopped by a man who gave me a ticket for walking down Bourbon Street without a drink. I pleaded clemency on the basis of jet lag... to no avail. The objective was to sell me something to support youngsters with issues, which was fine by me, we had a great chat, and he said it’s not often he gets the opportunity to talk to someone like me who is travelling. I moved on and found a place for some lunch, sitting outside in the sunshine, lovely salad, followed by a naughty pudding, very nice too. Then I took a walk down to the Mississippi, I was thinking about doing a jazz boat excursion, if I could easily find the office or the quay where it went from, which I couldn’t. I did only have two days, and decided to just make the most of the on shore entertainment. I had booked an evening ghost and ghouls walking tour, but spent the afternoon wandering around the bars of Bourbon Street listening to music. I spent quite a while in one bar where there was a live band, very enjoyable I have to say, although not jazz or blues which I was really hoping for. I finally found a place with some jazz and was there for a while. Then I made my way back to my hotel to get changed ready for my walking tour.
I arrived at the meeting point to find a big queue of people, and there were three guides, and we were quickly split into groups and we set off a little early. We were told many tales of ghosts and black magic and taken to a number of houses were the events happened. One particular house had a very scary history. The woman who lived there had lost two husbands not long after her marriages and was extremely wealthy as a result. She had a lot of slaves and no one ever saw the same slave twice. She married a third time to a much younger man, and they had many parties, and one day whilst there was a party on the attic caught fire, and a lot of slaves were found in a very bad way. They had been subject to significant torture and maltreatment. She fled the house that night and the house is said to be haunted, no one has been able to live there since, despite the fact the the property has changed hands a number of times. So owners have stayed there during the day and then gone elsewhere to sleep. There was another story about a house that had eventually become a restaurant. There were always things flying around, they then decided that the ghost was unhappy and started to lay a table for him every night, and after that the haunting stopped.
The tour was a couple of hours and very enjoyable I have to say, after that I went back to the hotel via the Clover Grill for a hamburger to take back to my hotel for dinner and then much needed sleep.
The following morning I found I still wasn’t in a fit state to go out early, so I had breakfast and stayed in my room for a while and then set off to go to the Carousel Piano Bar, a recommendation by my friend Wilma, I found myself a seat and ordered a Gin cocktail and Beignets, a local speciality, they are little cake type morsels, but I had ones with crab and prawn and they were extremely yummy. I had heard that the best place to go and listen to jazz was on a street on the other side of the French Quarter, a bit of a hike from where I was, and intended going later on. I first called in at a venue to listen to some jazz piano, a soloist playing, and I was enjoying it so much I stayed for the whole set, and had something to eat, and then bread pudding, which I had been told I must try. It was so good, I was expecting it to be like bread and butter pudding from the U.K. which I am not really a great fan of, I like the egg custard but not much else about it. When I was a little girl and went to visit my Grandma and Grandpa, if Grandma made Bread and Butter pudding she always made me a separate egg custard, a very cherished memory of being spoilt. Anyway I digress, this was nothing like that. It was delicious and no doubt loaded with naughty calories but you have to try these things, I might never have a chance to try again.
I took another wander down Bourbon Street and went in a couple of places, and then decided I needed to go to bed, still struggling. The next day I was off to Kansa City so I had to get packed and be up early for the early Greyhound bus.
I think I was a bit overwhelmed by the party atmosphere, I had just missed Mardi Gras, but under the circumstances that was most likely a blessing. I also think it’s quite hard to be in a place like New Orleans on your own, I am glad I went, and wished I had had time and the energy to go to the other area for music, but I liked the town as a whole and the streets and houses in the French Quarter are so pretty. So that’s all from New Orleans, see you in Kansas City.
I had reached the airport and the first leg of the journey was with Virgin Australia from Denpasar to Sydney. I was sitting with a family of five, Father, baby and older daughter on the other side and mother and middle child, a very sweet boy with me. The baby was tired and fractious but eventually settled down. It was a seven hour flight, no inflight entertainment unless you have downloaded the app previously on your handheld device and no food or drinks unless you qualified in some mysterious way, which the family sitting next to meseemed to have. Neither of us understood why. It wasn’t that I was hungry, but flying for 21 of the next 24 hours on a round the world ticket I thought I would have qualified for some food. Just makes me wonder how these things are managed. It was late at night so most people slept. I tried and managed a little sleep. But not much really.
There was a four hour layover in Sydney and I didn’t have to worry about luggage, I was so glad I had checked in my rucksack as well as my case and was fairly free, just my heavy handbag, heavy because it holds all my electronics and jewellery and essentials. I know I can survive for a night as long as I have that with me. The transfer area was easy to get to and I filled my time with reading. The time had moved forward by three hours so it was 8:30 in the morning when we landed and I was flying at 11:30. I was sitting minding my own business when I thought I heard my name over the tannoy, but I thought no it can’t be, then a short while later there it was again, definitely me. I didn’t quite hear the gate so I went to the one I thought I had heard and that was the wrong one. It was a bit of a hike to the correct gate and all the time I was wondering what on earth I was being called for. I finally made it and was first interviewed by a young security girl about why I was going to the USA, then through to ground crew only to answer all the questions I had to answer before I got on the plane in Bali. Oh we don’t have access to the data was the response to why am I being asked this all again. Anyway. It wasn’t long to boarding now and I was in the right place so I just sat down and waited for that.
I was hoping that I was going to get three seats to myself, when I chose my seat there were three empty seats and this was a fourteen hour flight. The longest flight I had taken so far. Anyway I got on and was alone for quite a while. Everyone was being super vigilant about empty seats looking for space. Finally a group of five young men got on and took two of the three seats in front of me, two of the three in the centre aisle alongside and the third in my row. So it wasn’t too bad but I wasn’t going to be able to lie down. The other young men were teasing the one sitting in my row because he was clearly nervous. In the end I told them to stop it, that it’s not funny being afraid of flying. Appalling bullying behaviour I just couldn’t sit and listen to it any more, I know exactly how it feels to be afraid of flying. I am lucky enough to have been able to overcome my fear over the years. Having said that there are still times when I can panic whilst taking off and if the flight is very turbulent I can get easily agitated. The take off was quite turbulent and I was, I have to admit, a bit disconcerted, when I looked over at the young man and he was in a bit of a state, so I engaged in conversation with him, talked to him about air pockets and the reason for the bumpy ride, and we chatted about this and that for a while, the flight calmed and so did he. I really felt for him, and his friends clearly thought he was fair game. I really wanted to tell him to take no nonsense from them but didn’t get the opportunity. It never ceases to amaze me that people don’t realise that they are bullying their friends with behaviour like that. I am still cross about it and it’s a considerable time after the fact.
I managed to get a few quite good shots of Sydney as we took off. And we soon settled in to the 14 hours, I watched a few movies and tried to sleep as much as possible. But sleep didn’t really come, I had a little nap early on, but after that it was just impossible. Of course it was the middle of the day for me.
Finally we landed in Los Angeles and I tried to find a Verizon dealer to get my phone working, but they don’t have them in the airport. The information people called the hotel shuttle for me, which was very helpful as good old Vodafone would have charged me £6 for that call! I was booked to stay in Los Angeles for one night before I moved on to New Orleans the next day. This had been the biggest single leg of my journey home, and I was beginning to get a sense that I am travelling home. My journey across the USA this time is eastward, LA, New Orleans, Memphis, Kansas City, St Louis, Lancaster and finally New York. Flying home on the 16th and arriving in London on the 17th.
Arriving at the hotel they kindly offered me breakfast, but I declined and went straight to my room for a bit of a rest. My cousin’s daughter Elizabeth who I spent time with on my first LA leg was coming to meet me so we could spend a few hours together. To be honest I was a little worried about how I was going to survive as the lack of sleep was now starting to make itself felt.
Elizabeth arrived and we made our way to the Aquaruim of the Pacific in Long Beach but the first stop was lunch at a restaurant across the road, Bubba Gump Shrimp, from the aquarium, which gave me some energy to get moving. The restaurant had a theme of Forest Gump and we had to answer lots of questions about the movie before we could be served our dinner, I begged for clemency on the basis of jet lag and a 14 hour time difference from where I was the day before, that didn’t stop him, fortunately he gave us lots of clues Nd we managed somehow to answer the questions, I don’t think I have even seen the whole film! Then on to the main event of the day. There was a huge variety fish and we saw a display of sea otters where they were fed their food in a variety of different containers, which meant they had to work out how to get the food out. It’s was fun to watch but almost impossible to capture on film, but I will give you what I got anyway. It was great after hours in the air to watch all the fish and sea creatures moving through the water, beautiful colours, smoothly moving shoals sticking together in huge tanks, big fish at the bottom, smaller fish at the top. Peacefully gliding through the water. There were a few birds, but mainly behind wire which meant it was difficult to capture them too. But Elizabeth and I were laughing at some of the strange behaviours going on.
Eventually the tiredness really hit and it was time to go back to the hotel and say out goodbyes once again, it was good to catch up again, great to be making real friendships and relationships with the next generation of our Icelandic family.
Dinner in the hotel and bed, much needed sleep. Another early start the next day after breakfast I took a walk to the nearest Verizon store to get my American phone working again. It has an hour and a half before I had to check out and get the shuttle back to the airport. I had decided to get the 11 am shuttle even though my flight wasn’t until 3:30, just to get rid of bags and find a space to sit and write for a while.
Having arrived at the Verizon shop I discovered it didn’t open for another half an hour, 10am, so next door for a coffee. Then out to make sure I was first through the door only to discover someone else had beaten me to it. We had a chat and eventually I told him I was on a tight schedule and he kindly said I could go first, there are gentlemen in the world it seems. Only kidding I have met a few on my travels. The guy in the shop was ultra efficient and I was out of the door in super fast time, and walked back to the hotel just in time to get my bag and get on the shuttle back to LAX.
Once I got into the South West Terminal I tagged by bag, once I worked out how to use the machine, and took it to baggage drop. The good news is I am now managing to get my suitcase consistently under 21kgs, 2 kgs less than the limit, I can finally stop worrying about it. Anyway the attendant said, oh your flight has been delayed by three hours! Oh No and I am here so early, which made her laugh. She immediately said let me see what I can do for you, and within five minutes I was in the security queue to catch a plane in less than an hour to Austin, Texas and change there to New Orleans. I have to say that was amazing service, with a smile, and I arrived in New Orleans earlier than I would have done on the flight I was booked on. I managed to find a shuttle straight to the French Quarter where I was staying and so sadly Uber got the elbow. That’s all for now folks, next chapter is all about the still heavily jet lagged woman trying to party in New Orleans.