When I started this blog I was determined not to litter it with the mundane aspects of life like going down to the supermarket, or hoovering the house. I wanted to post items that might be interesting to the reader, provoke debate, or deliver amusement. Any regular visitor to this blog (if there are any left!) will have noted that I’ve not posted anything for a good while. This is partly because recent life has been taken up with the day to day stuff that isn’t interesting copy, and when I’ve had subjects I wanted to write about, it’s been an effort to find the time. The reason for the sustained activity and lack of time is what leads me to be sitting in an appartment in Jacksonville Beach Florida writing this now – what I nicknamed “Operation Jax”.

Don’t worry, it’s not some covert operation to threaten world peace, but a determined and organised plan to spend six months living with Tina in Jacksonville to see how our relationship progressed. It has seen much saving of the pennies, obtaining a career break at work, a mortgage payment holiday, visiting the US Embassy in London, and selling the car. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say I had about a eight or nine page project plan by the time I’d finished. There’s so much to think about, more than you initially imagine. The US Visitors’ visa is a particuarly complex process, and while I’d expected potential issues at work, my line manager shocked and delighted me by agreeing to my career break within seconds of the request leaving my mouth, something I’d feared might be far harder to obtain. Maybe that says something about how much they’d actually miss me! Most people at work seemed more concerned about whether I was throwing a leaving party or bringing in goodbye cakes! ;-) No it’s actually quite humbling how many people seem genuinely pleased for me that this has come off, and the best wishes I’ve received from so many people is rather touching. It’s taken longer than I’d hoped but I think it will be worth the wait and the modest sacrifice.

So after one final night at my parents’ house, on the morning of Tuesday 19th May we set off to Manchester Airport for my flight to a new chapter. My churning stomach wasn’t helped five minutes into the journey by a surprise tailback on the A500 caused by an accident. A quick diversion round the northern towns of the Potteries, and the scenic route along the A50 through Cheshire saved the day and had me at the airport with bags of time. An emotional farewell later I was at my gate when the ex-footballer and manager Graeme Souness appeared on some stairs, wandered straight past me, urging his companion to hurry up or they’d miss the plane. There’s something about plane travel and me seeing celebrities, I can add Souness to Angus Deayton, Lisa Stansfield, and Paulo Wanchope as people either seen in departures, or actually on the plane. The rest of the journey to Atlanta was fairly uneventful, I couldn’t sleep so watched two excellent movies of differing genres, the moving “The Reader”, and the simmering “Gran Torino”. Clint Eastwood back in top form.

The real drama started in Atlanta. The Customs & Border Protection Service have a laidback attitude to processing the queues of new arrivals, our side of the hall had three officers, while the other side appeared to have three times as many, despite supervisors patrolling the floors. The result was a long wait to see whether I was going to be granted my six months permit. It turned out to be a longer wait than I initially thought. Eventually arriving at the usually routine passport and fingerprint check, I was informed that my “processing” (sounds painful!) would be completed in another office, my documents were placed in a large yellow trimmed transparent folder, and I wandered disconsolately with them to the double doors I’d been directed to. In this back office I waited around an hour to be seen with a wide range of visa / residency seekers of all nationalities. The whole plan came down to what was decided in the next few moments. A bit like a football team’s season resting on a penalty shootout. After what seemed an age my time came, and a friendly officer questioned me for some while, and eventually was satisfied that my story was truthful and didn’t even wish to see my supporting evidence, the presence of them piled on the table was enough! With a smile, a warning to behave myself, and a “good luck” the officer granted me the six months visa and let me out back into the main hall to collect my bags. The plan had taken into account this possibility, I’d factored in a four hours layover between flights, so I still had two hours to make my connection – easy! A huge falafel and hummus wrap later I was boarding the plane to Jacksonville.

Apart from the fact the weather was awful and the landing was a tad fraught, that journey passed easily with the anticipation of seeing Tina. I ran the last few yards along the arrivals route so we came together like the scene from a romantic movie – I think black and white film and a steam filled railway station would have been most appropriate! ;-) So I’m here, and I’m here for a while. I hope to make regular posts if I have things of interest to report. As I complete this the rain has seemed to have stopped for the first time since I arrived. It’s been heavy showers all the way so far. A quick sprint from the Regency Mall to the bus stop yesterday resulted in a right soaking I can tell you. I am getting used to my new surroundings, and the fact that I’m not off back after two weeks this time, there’s drawers for my clothes and I’m no longer living out of a suitcase. Hadley and Molly in a rare moment of peace Hadley Cat is also adjusting to me being here, she doesn’t like disruption to her routine, while Molly Cat is quite the opposite, delighted to have another outlet for her particularly cute brand of attention seeking. Tina is now at work, and the cats are having a moment’s peace after a session of grappling and hissing. I think the sun is trying to burn through the haze, and it’s now time to leave this, shower and get out of the house for a while. More to follow soon.

PS A huge thanks to family and friends who have helped this all to come together whether it be looking after the house, my scooter or whatever. You know who you are and I’m grateful beyond words. Thank you.

Last night I attended a local Green Party monthly meeting. These are open to all, not just party members, and they take the form of a brief presentation followed by a discussion. The topic yesterday was “Civil Liberties”. Martin who delivered the talk took Naomi Wolfe’s “Ten steps to Fascism” as his central theme for the discussion, and very thought provoking it was too. Wolfe argues that Fascist and totalitarian regimes almost have a shopping list of ten things they must achieve if constitutional freedoms are to be snuffed out by the would-be dictators. She draws parallels with the Bush administration but it doesn’t take much of a leap to see how a similar picture is developing in the UK. But then again as Matt Johnson opined on The The’s excellent “Infected” LP, we are the 51st state of the USA.

Read Wolfe’s full article but the 10 steps to Fascism are;

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
2. Create a gulag
3. Develop a thug caste
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
5. Harass citizens’ groups
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
7. Target key individuals
8. Control the press
9. Dissent equals treason
10. Suspend the rule of law

Almost right on cue, a day after writing this the BBC report on the worrying increase of surveillance in Britain today. See here: warning over a “surveillance state”..

Stoke City 2  Arsenal 1 - all you need to know!

“Are you Tottenham in disguise?” sang the Stoke fans to the visiting Arsenal fans. Cruel. But the scoreboard above says it all. A most unlikely scoreline, Arsenal’s millionaires and artistic expressive talents defeated by determined effort and a more direct approach. A report to follow soon, but for now here’s some photos of the event. Click them and they grow…

Fuller waits at the back post to flick in Delap's throw
Fuller waits at the back post to flick in Delap’s rocket throw-in

Pulis and Wenger
Who would have thought the one on the left would overcome the one on the right? Not me!

Delap - strikes fear into Premiership defences
The architect of Arsenal’s downfall. Delap strikes fear into Premiership defences