Tag Archives: Somerset

Notes from a Broad: a ticket to Paradise. March 2016

I inadvertently do things which seem normal to me but which immediately mark me out as being different. Today I walk to the supermarket. In a culture where the car is King, this in itself is sufficient to cause people to stare. The only other pedestrian is Safeway’s resident beggar. Every supermarket in town has them. Usually a disabled veteran with no Federal benefits, or a young, haggard Hispanic woman, old before her time. More often than not a small child or a dehydrated dog features in the tableau. It occurs to me, rather ironically, that they are more a part of this society than I am; my visa is expired and I have no legal status in this country until the Department of Homeland Security decides to grant me residency. I am not allowed to leave the country until this process is complete; I am a stateless immigrant.

I am gradually getting used to the differences between American supermarkets and those in England. American stores are more reminiscent of the English grocery shops I remember from my early childhood, in the days when self-service was still a novelty. Food is more expensive, and the concept of the ‘value’ brand and fifty varieties of baked bean has not yet arrived. The jars of ‘Pigs’ Feet’ and piles of fresh cactus hold no fear for me. Potatoes are carefully arranged individually on display, as if they are rare fruits, which I suppose is what they are here. They are expensive, and of poor quality. The desert is not good arable country, and anything requiring a large amount of water to grow is a luxury item.

As I pay for my goods, Angie on the checkout offers me a third carrier bag which I refuse, explaining that I have to carry the shopping as I’m on foot. She looks at me as though she doesn’t quite grasp the concept. ‘You want a ticket to paradise?’ she asks. For a moment I wonder if Angie is going to turn out to be some kind of checkout evangelist, but it turns out she is just handing me my lottery ticket.

Being English and coming from a very rainy part of the country I am used to hurrying everywhere, coat buttoned to the chin and head down against the elements. The image of America I used to have in my mind was one where everyone is in a rush. That may be true in the cities, but here in the high desert, no-one hurries. It’s too hot, for a start. Today, in early March, shortly before lunchtime, it is just shy of 70 degrees, and that means a slow walk home. Arizona even has its own time zone. Imagine that in Somerset.

When I arrive home, hot and sweaty in the underwired department, I discover a note left wedged in the doorjamb, left by the Jehovah ’s Witnesses. Last time they came to the door I patiently explained that I was a Quaker and very happy with that, thank you very much. Again this prompted a look of bafflement. ‘Well, we get folks claimin’ to be all sorts of weird religions’ one of them said…the words pot and kettle sprang to mind, but I was too polite to say so. I unfold the leaflet, to find an invitation to a ‘free public event: You Will Be With Me In Paradise’. Superfluous capital letters aside, I spend a moment pondering on being with Jesus in Paradise, Paradise being apparently located at the Adult Center of Prescott on a Wednesday evening. If I attended, I was assured that I would hear ‘an explanation of how his death can benefit you and your family’. Trust the Americans to turn crucifixion into a development opportunity.

I feel brighter today, deciding to revert to good old British cooking making the most of the limited local resources. I improvise Cornish pasties with ready-made pastry cases and frozen veg. I’m not homesick exactly; there are not enough wild horses in England capable of dragging me back to the Somerset Levels, but I miss something of the familiarity of the land of my birth. So, I set about making familiar comforts: jelly with fresh Californian strawberries suspended in glorious, artificial ruby red nectar. I shall produce them from the fridge at teatime, as if by magic, and transport the two of us back to childhood Somerset. This will break all the food rules of the house, of course, this orgy of disodium phosphate and Red 40, and as I whisk it up I am almost drunk with the powdery candyfloss aroma of crystallised gelatin. I breath it in, and decide this is what Paradise smells like. It smells of red, and jelly and ice-cream, and candyfloss.



A trip on the canal

It all seemed so simple. Get fit, save money, save the planet. So when my recently-departed ex asked me if I was interested in buying an electric bike that a work colleague was selling, I leapt at the chance. The father of my children assured me that the bike was almost new, in excellent condition and a bargain at the asking price.

I really should have spotted the warning signs. The first being that an estranged partner does not necessarily have his ex-wife’s best interests at heart, or at least, not necessarily have thought things through in the most practical sense. The new bike arrived – shiny, modern, and…with a very high crossbar. I’d just parted with £400 for a man bike that would be fantastic had I been a 6’ bloke. As a 5’3” overweight 50-something female, this would present a new challenge.

Not to be deterred, I welcomed my new mode of transport into my home. Parked in pride of place in my lounge (it’s a very small house) I read the manual cover-to-cover; charged the battery and set off along the canal towpath for my first six-mile ride to the office. It was heavenly. I saw swans, I saw bunnies. I bade a cheery ‘Good Morning’ to dog-walkers and fellow cyclists alike. The bike was a tad on the large and heavy side, requiring a severe tilt to the left to dismount, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I felt quite virtuous as I arrived at work slightly hot and sweaty but feeling as though I’d made a proper start to my new fitness regime.

So why should my journey home that evening be any different?

Now it’s difficult to get lost on a canal. One route, along one path, beside one waterway. It’s reaching the right bit of the waterway that set the tone for this particular journey. I am a woman who gets lost even with a Satnav; who can read a map, navigate in a car, but not both simultaneously. After some to-ing and fro-ing around the river Tone and it’s neighbouring parkland I eventually got back on the right track. It was heavenly. I saw swans, I saw bunnies. I bade a cheery ‘Thank you’ to dog-walkers and fellow cyclists who let me pass with a ‘Ting’ of my shiny new bicycle bell. Only one more mile to go!

And then I fell in the canal.

Don’t ask me how it happened. But I’ll tell you anyway. The towpath along the Bridgwater-Taunton canal is, in the most part, a good path for cycling. It is well-maintained and in places surfaced to provide a smooth ride. It’s just that in other places it can get rather narrow. I had negotiated my way under the bridges most carefully; the paths narrow considerably and it’s only sensible to show caution. However, my downfall came at a point where a gate closes off all but a very narrow twist in the towpath, and as I slowed down to a snail’s pace and tilted the bike to place my feet on the ground I realised too late that I was setting down on the very edge of the grassy bank which was just a couple of inches lower than the rest of the path. Not a problem, doubtless, for the mythical 6’ fit bloke who would hop off in a trice. In my case, it meant a desperate grab for a piece of fence which eluded my grasp, and the subsequent slow, if not entirely graceful, head-first descent into the very murky, weedy water. I just had time for a quick expletive before disappearing briefly to emerge with a mouthful of canal and one shoe floating off downstream.

Footwear rescued, I pulled myself out by hanging onto that two-faced, sneaky fence which had let me down only a minute earlier, and stood, dripping and covered head to toe in pond weed, next to my bike, which fortunately had remained, unlike me, on the towpath. After a quick mental checklist: ‘No broken bones. Bike OK. Backpack intact. Pride severely bruised’ I couldn’t decide if I was glad or disappointed that no-one had witnessed my unintentional dip in the surprisingly warm primordial soup. In a stoical way that would have impressed my mother I got straight back on my bike and soggily pedalled the remaining mile home, to be met by a welcoming committee comprised of my neighbours and the local farmer, who had just been commenting that he had yet to meet the new occupant of the end cottage. Bearing in mind that I now closely resembled the monster from the swamp, I wiped the pond weed from my face and attempted a weak smile by way of a casual greeting, remembering just in time that he probably wouldn’t want to shake my hand as it would quite likely cause a major outbreak of cholera in the region. ‘I seem to have just fallen off my bike’ I said, limply, as if that explained everything; which it probably did. ‘That’ll be all round the local pub tonight’ grinned my neighbour, as the farmer looked at me suspiciously and took one step backwards before practically running for the safety of his Land Rover.