One of my favourite photos of Molly. Typically exploring, typically posing for the camera. RIP precious angel with fur.

One of my favourite photos of Molly. Typically exploring, typically posing for the camera. RIP precious angel with fur.

The 24th June was a painfully sad day for our family. Our beloved Molly cat was so ill Tina and I had to make the heartbreaking decision to have her put to sleep. She was only three years old and the illness came as a huge unexpected shock.

Only noticeably unwell a few days before, we took her to the vets on the Saturday morning, and were advised to admit her to animal hospital that afternoon so she could be put on a drip. Overnight she worsened significantly rather than improved, and the tests suggested her kidneys had failed or her bladder had ruptured. The tests required to ascertain a full diagnosis were unavailable until the following day, and the results would have been the day after. If it was kidney failure the prognosis was very bleak. Molly was in great pain and failing fast. She was swelling up with the fluid retention as she could not pass urine. It was unlikely she would make it until the Tuesday’s results. We felt it better to end her suffering and let her pass away in the arms of her loved ones rather than most likely alone and scared in the hospital.

It was one of the most horrible and saddest moments of my life. Molly was like no other cat I’d ever encountered. We used to say there’ll never be another Moll-Moll and it was so true. Incredibly affectionate, so full of life, demanding of near constant attention, Molly seemed more dog-like than a cat. She was a right character, with her own personality. Not a day went past without her making us laugh at some crazy antics. Sometimes I’d wonder whether she was daft and not quite right, but then other times it seemed more like she knew exactly what she was doing and successfully gaining our attention. When Bevan arrived she was certainly jealous of any fuss he received. Molly liked to get into bed with us, and curl up in her “cave” purring like a motor. Naturally inquisitive she loved sitting in the window watching the world go by, and when she could she loved to hang out in a sunny backyard. When I laid some turf in the front yard Molly decided it would be fun to join in, rolling around in the earth, and coming in absolutely filthy. There are so many happy memories of her and we can draw consolation from the fact she was rescued at 3 months of age from the “kill list” in a Jacksonville animal shelter, and she had three years of a happy life in a very loving home. At the same time we felt robbed. We knew one day we’d have to say goodbye but we never expected it to be so soon.

We brought Molly home curled up in a blanket, looking like she was just asleep. Bevan, who always desperately wanted to be Molly’s friend, was incredibly upset when he saw her. I’m sure he mourned for several days afterwards. Hadley cat, who despite some evidence of affection only ever really tolerated Molly, and gave the same reaction as when they had first met when Molly was a kitten – she hissed. Molly was laid to rest in a favourite sunny spot in the backyard, buried in a whicker basket that had been the cats’ toy box in America. We bought a white dwarf rose bush and a cat garden ornament in her memory.

Tina and I felt raw for several weeks. The house seemed quiet without Molly, the balance didn’t seem right. While outwardly affectionate and demanding of fuss from both of us, Molly had always been a “daddy’s girl” where Hadley always preferred Tina. So I was particularly affected by Molly’s passing. But we had no intention of getting another cat at that point, it seemed disrespectful to Molly’s memory and we were still hurting too much. We missed our Moll-Moll immensely. There was always something to remind us of her and set us off crying again. Plus Hadley actually seemed a lot happier. Maybe a one cat, one dog home was the right mix. Life however throws up surprises, and after the tragic one losing Molly, a more pleasant one occurred.

Amelia on her first day in her new home

Amelia on her first day in her new home

Tina at this stage was still working for MyPetStop and caring for RSPCA animals. She was particularly fond of Mario a beautiful grey rescue cat, although any chance of adoption was out as he could not be rehomed with other cats. One day when I collected her from work Tina took me to the RSPCA apartments to meet Mario. Wandering around I spotted a cute bundle of fluff climbing up the mesh on its apartment door. It was almost at chest level. Like Molly this cat was white but had black and calico splodges and tail. It was like a cross between Molly and Hadley. The kitten was named Imogen by the RSPCA and had been brought in after it had followed another cat home in Bramley. She looked small for her age. She was in with another kitten of a similar age called Miles who was a tearaway, running around having fun while Imogen looked on. I held her in my arms, and on my lap, and against my shoulder and she was so calm and relaxed, purring away. It felt right. I wanted her to be ours. I did wonder a little whether the timing was good, or whether she was just a “rebound cat”, but that feeling subsided when I held her close. We went back several times, and each time that bond felt stronger. At first it seemed like we wouldn’t be able to adopt her as the RSPCA wanted both kittens to go to the same home even thought they weren’t siblings. However the adoption was approved and on 5th August Amelia, as she was now renamed, came home with us.

Bevan meets his new sister cat Mimi

Bevan meets his new sister cat Mimi

Bevan was delighted with his new sister cat. From the start Mimi (as Amelia gets shortened to) was confident around him and happy to play. Bevan is gentle and very protective of her. Mimi likes to provoke him into a chase, hide, then sneak up on him to provoke him again when he gets bored looking. They happily curl up together in Bevan’s bed. Hadley so far is less impressed with the new arrival. Mimi doesn’t seem to be intimidated by Hadley like Molly was, and despite being much smaller puts up a fight. Normally scared stiff of Hadley, Bevan will actually stand up to her if she’s threatening Mimi.

Mimi will never be a replacement for our special Molly that we still miss so much. Yet Mimi is special in her own way and has already captured our hearts. Like Molly, Mimi is very affectionate without demanding attention. She is sweet natured and full of mischief, giving us plenty of smiles and laughter. Mimi loves human company and shares Molly’s tendency to get into bed under the covers with us. Quite early on Mimi decided to perch on my shoulder, and this is now her preferred method of travelling around the house.

Amelia settles in on her first day home

Amelia settles in on her first day home

She is definitely another “daddy’s girl”. Furthermore she is lovely with Bevan and he now has the friend he wanted so much in Molly. Although she does try to steal his dog treats! I never expected to get another cat so soon after Molly passed away, but I feel Mimi was meant to be with us. She has brought balance back to the home, and helped us heal the pain of losing sweet Moll-Moll.

Last sight of Jacksonville, the airport window mural It is hard to believe but it was one year ago today that I last set foot on American soil. One of the last things I saw of Jacksonville was the graphic on the airport window shown here and so it seemed a suitable header for this post. I had been over in the USA again to break up the seven months of separation that Tina and I faced before she arrived in the UK, to take over evidence for her visa application, and to help its completion. This final visit was bitter-sweet. It was wonderful to see Tina, the boys, cats and her family again, and good to know that while still a few months away, the next time we saw each other would be over here ready to start a life together. Yet it was sad to say goodbye to an area that had provided great friendships, and had been a happy home for six months in 2009. There was the uncertainty of when I might see Jacksonville Beach again.

The “Shack”, as we called the apartment on 10th Avenue North in Jacksonville Beach, looked a forlorn shadow of its former self, many of Tina’s possessions now packed away ready to travel back with me. During this final visit I took a lot of video footage of that place and made it into a short film, a record of what was our first home together. It was a poignant moment when I set off for the airport from it for the last time. There are times when I miss it, times when I have a flashback, and I hear the breeze through the window blinds, the swish of palms trees swaying outside, and the comforting creak of the front door as it closed behind you. Having the ocean so close was something we never tired of or took for granted, and I certainly benefited from the warm climate and near guaranteed several hours of sunshine throughout the year. In the last few months I have taken up cycling to work. While the weather and environs bear no resemblance to Jacksonville Beach whatsoever, and I don’t envisage ever travelling to work in shorts, t-shirt, and flip flops, I pull up at the bike locker at my workplace and it reminds me so often of locking my bike in the rack behind the Shack having just done a grocery run. I’m transported back there.

Another important thing that six months in the Shack gave me was friendship. Living in that apartment block and having the communal garden at the front introduced me to many great people who shared the residence and became part of my life there. Life is good for Joey and Agent FangI miss them all but the two main characters of the piece were Joey and Michael, and I confess that I haven’t kept in touch as much as I’d have liked or should have done. That’s something I need to work on, and can only apologise for. Joey’s occasional emails are no substitute for the amusing notes under the door and the banter that followed, while Michael’s thoughtfulness and generosity were matched by his fine company up the Ritz bar as we supped $2 beers. I hope one day they might visit here so I can return the hospitality.

But overall I’m not sure I could have taken to life in the USA. Their concept of society is far more individualistic than here, and other than the weather and close proximity to the beach, Tina and I felt we would have a better quality of life in the UK. It was for that reason that on 15th July 2010 Tina and two of her boys arrived at Manchester Airport complete with nine suitcases and the important Fiancee Visa. Hadley and Molly cats had arrived in the UK a couple of weeks before, enduring a transatlantic trip and a near four hour drive from Heathrow. Initially frazzled by this ordeal, by the time Tina and the boys arrived the cats were settling in and seemed happy with their new home. The boys were soon settling in too and making friends in the back streets. We made some day trips to the Lake District, Wales and the east coast, and eventually got them into local schools.

The main event of 2010 though was of course at 4pm on Wednesday 8th September when Tina and I married at Temple Newsam House in Leeds, and had an exceptional reception at the Queens Hotel. I have to say that going drinking the night before with the Best Man, Maid of Honour, and Tina’s nephew Joey was not ideal preparation for the big day. I felt decidedly unwell until around 2pm, and was still writing my speech at midday. The Happy Couple - photo by S Finney Putting on the suit was an epic struggle, and the journey to Temple Newsam was a tad fraught, arriving about 15 minutes before kick off, and only a few minutes before the bride! Still it left little time for nerves, the service went perfectly, and we had such a glorious location for our photographs. We were joined too by wonderful guests; family and friends, including Tina’s Mum, Dad, Step-Dad, eldest son, nephew and best friend Paula. All who attended contributed to an amazing day, one I shall never forget. But there was no rest for the newly married couple as the following day we hired a mini-bus to take the American contingent to my parents’ house to see the area I was raised (cut short by a huge tail backs on the M6), then the next day we took a tour of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District. We squeezed in a trip on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway and an afternoon in Howarth before the last of the American party left these shores, and I returned to work the next day completely knackered and in need of another holiday! (Alas my next decent holiday actually came almost six months later).

It’s been a year of other firsts. First family Christmas all together in Leeds. The first time the boys have seen snow. The first Valentine’s Day Tina and have actually spent together. Thankfully another stressful application form and visit to the UK Border Agency in Sheffield ended well, Tina and the boys being granted an “extended leave to remain” residency permit, allowing them another two years in the UK, and permission for Tina to work.

Away from the personal life things have got busy in my political life. Discussions started in October about forming a city wide Leeds Green Party. As someone who had the trust of both Farnley & Wortley and Headingley Green parties I was asked to be Acting Chairperson while these meetings took place. After some deliberation over the new party’s constitution, we eventually held the Inaugural Meeting of the Leeds Green Party on 24th February 2011. I had the honour of being elected to the position Coordinator & Chairperson, a member of the Executive Committee. It’s currently all hands to the pump as local elections approach, aiming to retain one the Green councillors, and add some more if possible. Once the elections are over I am looking forward to helping the Leeds Green Party progress, get involved with campaigning, and recruiting new members to the cause. Caroline Lucas Green Party Leader and IA couple of days before the Inaugural Meeting I attended a photo opportunity arranged by Cllr Ann Blackburn with Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas, as she passed through Leeds on her way to an event in Huddersfield. I was the “photographer”, but had the unexpected privilege of travelling to Huddersfield with Caroline, which included an opportunity to speak to her alone for quite a while before the train arrived. From watching TV appearances I suspected that Caroline would be approachable and without “airs and graces”, but you never know whether a party leader is gong to have a bit of an ego or attitude. I am happy to say Caroline was as friendly and genuinely interested in people as she comes across in the media, and it was a memorable and enjoyable few minutes with her discussing the situation in Leeds and the formation of the new party. I wouldn’t expect Messrs Cameron or Miliband to travel without an entourage, or to engage so comfortably with a complete stranger. The speech she delivered in Huddersfield was also a passionate and articulate piece of reasoning, and seemed to be supported by the majority of the attendees. All in all a day I won’t forget in a hurry, particularly as it was so unexpected. Now it’s back to the bread and butter, the graft of leafleting in Farnley & Wortley ward.

Family, work, and Green Party commitments make time very precious these days. Writing a blog has been pushed down the order of priorities. I don’t expect that I will be able to post with the regularity of past, or as much as I’d like, but I intend to get back into blogging. It is something I enjoy, and I hope others do too. Watch this space for any future noteworthy events and commentaries on life.

Molly curtain call

A year ago this month Molly Cat came into our lives. A lady who saves cats from the “kill list”, i.e. those that cannot be found homes by animal charities and are put to sleep, had rescued Molly and her siblings and was displaying them outside a pet supply store to try to find them new keepers. When Molly reached out and put on an act, Tina’s heart melt. She phoned me and asked if we could get another cat. I was not convinced. I feared that Hadley Cat might object to sharing her home and there was all the extra expense. But I caved in because ultimately I knew I was fighting a losing battle. There was no way Tina could walk away from that cute three months old bundle of fluff.

Now I can’t imagine not having Molly around. After seeing the photos a year ago I was anxious to meet the new addition to the family. My six months in the USA from last May onwards gave me plenty of time to be with Molly. I had no choice really, she adores me and follows me around demanding attention. I missed both cats badly when I returned to the UK. Molly has identity issues – she chirps like a bird and acts more like a dog. She will play fetch, likes constant fuss, wants her tummy tickled, and loves sweet foods. Less refined than her “sister” Hadley, Molly was happy to sleep in the litter box, a plant pot of soil (having killed the plant), and she shreds any paper that is left lying around in view of her mischievous eyes. If she is not sleeping on a cushion next to me, or playing with her toys, then Molly is usually found in the window sill watching the world go by. So here’s a recent photo of our daft as a brush Molly in honour of her first year with us.

Naughty Molly
Caught in the Act Part 1:
“This table may be out of bounds, you might remove me from it countless times a day, but up yours, I’m having a cat nap whether you like it or not”

Naughty Molly
Caught in the Act Part 2:
“Who knocked over my toy box? It wasn’t me Guv, I was asleep, honest”

I'm cute too
“Never mind that young upstart, photograph me – I’m cute too!”

Sofa so good

I’ve been here a month now and so far so good. The last week or so I’ve been mainly in the house doing DIY chores and spending a lot of time riding to hardware stores. It’s not all beach life you know. In fact since the day I was crab spotting I have not been back for a sunbathe mainly due to letting the sunburn recover! There are a few photos to upload from a few hikes and trips downtown, plus some more from around the beach. There’s no time for that now so I’ll just leave you all with this typical sofa scene – a good book and two doting cats.

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.

It’s a few minutes into 2009 and I sit on my sofa back from a New Year’s Eve party I attended almost out of a sense of compliance because to be honest I don’t particularly enjoy New Year celebrations. However 2008 was such a remarkable year personally that I feel it deserves some moments of reflection. It was a year of many highs, a few lows, but it was never dull, and provided some very special memories.

The year 2008 actually started in a sad way. After spending a wonderful couple of weeks around Christmas with Tina over from the USA, 1st January 2008 was the day I had to take her back to Manchester Airport for her flight home. We didn’t know when we would next see each other, although it was likely to be late March or April when my Annual Leave entitlement was replenished. December had marked the flourishing of our relationship to something stronger than just “friends with benefits”. On the way back from the airport I tried to cheer myself up with a trip on the East Lancashire Railway, but the drizzly day, and the feeling of missing someone special beside me prevented a real upturn in spirits. The house seemed empty, I felt like a part of me was missing, and the year was off to a bad start.

Yet there were plenty of highs too. I lost almost a stone in weight, getting myself fitter and leaner for when I next saw Tina, and making myself feel more positive about my appearance. I started being mentored by our Head of Department in February and the first session alone went a long way to raising my confidence and increasing my positivity. In early March I obtained a worldwide recognised qualification in software testing, and later that month the wait was finally over – I was heading to Florida to see Tina. Those 17 days opened my eyes and I went from showing general disdain for all things American to contemplating a whole new lifestyle for myself over there. Tina and I did some touring around, some highlights being the Ocala National Forest area with Juniper Springs, the JFK Space Center, and walking in the Apalachicola National Forest.

I enjoyed myself so much that I returned home and immediately booked to go back in June. In the meantime I went to Coniston in the Lake District and was taught how to drive a 7.5 inch gauge steam locomotive for the first time, something I’d continue to do regularly for the rest of the year. Furthermore I had a fantastic trip to Brussels in April, meeting fellow Stoke City message board users who have since become friends, and with them experienced the quite surreal moment of being introduced former Stoke manager Johan Boskamp. A week later I was in Scotland walking in the Cairngorm mountains when news trickled through that Stoke City had won promotion to the top flight of English football for the first time in 23 years.

May was finished off by a trip down to the South West walking in Exmoor and Dartmoor with my friend Jen, and taking in two preserved steam railways during the Bank Holiday period, while the final Saturday of the month presented a beautiful day in the Lake District walking up 4 peaks around Buttermere. Then came another trip to Florida in early June. Another Stoke message board name became a face as Tina and I met Calvin and his wife Margaret for the first time, and another friendship began, while again there were road trips to see parts of Florida neither of us had seen before. I also met a new addition to the family – Hadley the kitten – and Tina’s youngest son. The trip was enough to make me decide I wanted to spend much longer in Florida, so plans were made to rent out my house, ask for a sabbatical at work, and spend several months with Tina to see how the relationship developed.

This is where the year took a bit of a nose dive. A new boiler and double-glazed windows were needed to get the house up to scratch to rent it out, and I hoped this work might be done by August and October was suggested as a best case scenario for my arrival in Florida. However delays with projects at work, the complexities of arranging finance and the availability of the contractors meant that the house improvements were finally completed at the end of October! I still had decorating and minor DIY work to finish too. I was not in Tina’s good books. The excitement of meeting Johan Boskamp again when he brought his team FCV Dender to a friendly game at Leeds Utd, plus Stoke City starting their first ever season in the Premiership punctuated the downturn. But when it became obvious that Tony Pulis was going to deliver his usual brand of negative football, it took the shine of things. The obstacles in the way of an extended stay in America seemed to becoming more difficult to overcome, leading to a growing malaise and a growing waistline as I put back on the weight I had previously lost. Still I did turn some of my energy to positive things like discovering my political activism again, joining the Green Party and attending an anti-war demonstration in Manchester. Overall the tail end of the year was bleak, and I was angry with myself for not achieving what I had set out to do. Self doubt had returned.

Yet the year ended on a positive note. Tina secretly arranged a wonderful gift for my birthday in November – a ticket to see Leonard Cohen live at the M.E.N Arena – and I also decided to spend Christmas in Florida, luckily managing to obtain a cheap fare. How can anyone complain about a year that saw three trips to Florida?! The final visit in many ways was the best of the three. There may have been no road trips but there was plenty of quality time with Tina and two of her boys, seeing Calvin and Margaret again, and spending time with Tina’s family. It reinvigorated my desire to spend some serious time over there, and strengthened my belief in our relationship at a point where I was beginning to wonder if it could actually work.

The year 2008 has been memorable. I have been exceptionally lucky to experience what I have. Only a perfectionist like me would pick fault with it. Despite the achievements and experiences I still feel a certain disappointment about not being able to see though all my plans and not completing what I intended. This coming year has a lot to live up to, but if I do manage to achieve those dreams then 2009 will be equally memorable. Now it’s time to strap myself in and enjoy the ride however choppy.

Yesterday was a bit of an odd day with tension in the air from the outset. I think I suffered from not getting up and having a bike ride. There’s not much else to report. even Hadley Cat seemed in a funny mood and was relentlessly after my feet trying to bite them. So I spent part of the morning looking up kitten behaviour on the Internet. However normal service has resumed today. I had a ride out early on and took a few photos. Here’s one of Jacksonville Beach pier. There’s a couple more in the gallery.

Today has been washing day. Hanging up the clothes in the spare bedroom made me think how ludicrous some things are over in the US. Here’s a brief list:

1. Sunny hot weather yet you are not allowed to hang up washing outside, expected to tumble dry instead.
2. Moaning about gas reaching $4 a gallon yet driving huge 8 mpg SUVs.
3. Too lazy to park and get out of cars there are drive-in banks, chemists, and other stores as well as the fast food outlets.
4. The Presidential Election system.
5. The high cost of medical insurance and the large quantities of sugar rich foods.
6. Arriving at the cashier and paying more than the shelf price because tax is then added.

Rant over. I feel better for that. I also feel better now I’ve booked the hotels and car for our road trip next week :-) Oh yes and it’s an “economy” small car not a SUV!

No doubt sensing the nervous tension in the air, Orlando Cat chose the morning of my departure to the USA to do a runner. Her usual tour of the backyard takes about 20 minutes before wanting to come back in for food and ablutions. However she’d been gone for around one hour and I was just getting to the point of frantic panic looking down the back alley under cars, in neighbours’ yards, when she turned up at my front door. She never ever turns up there. I’m surprised she knew it was my house. So it appears that the trademan’s entrance around the back is no longer good enough for her Ladyship.

This unscheduled part of yesterday morning unsettled the strictly planned regime and I missed my intended bus and subsequently the airport train. Despite fearing the worst and filling my head with potentially woeful scenarios, it proved not too much of a problem as I got the next train saving me from an extra half hour hanging around Manchester Airport’s Departure Lounge. It also meant I checked in at the same time as the footballer Paulo Wanchope who was on my flight to New York and in front of me in the queue. The full extent of Orlando’s disruption became apparent when Security emptied my hand luggage and I realised that in the kerfuffle I’d left my reading glasses on the dining table. I had at least packed my prescription sunglasses. An initial period of cursing and calling myself all sorts of names for my stupidity was replaced with the resolve to live with it as there was nothing I could do, just forget it and move on. In the great scheme of things in the concept of what is going on around the world, it was no great disaster.

My flight was uneventful, I managed to catch a bit of sleep to add to the previous night’s five hours, and I saw nothing more of Mr Wanchope until Immigration as I assume he was enjoying the comforts of First or Business Class and not in with me and the rest of the proles. I wasn’t looking forward to five hours at Newark Liberty Airport having done it to death on my last trip, but this time I got the mild excitement of going on the monorail between two terminals. Having bought USA Today to read the latest on the Obama v McCain tussle, I settled down to kill some time with simply the largest veggieburger I’ve ever seen bought from the rare mirage of an airport wholefood cafe. I wasn’t sure whether to eat the burger or thrust a flag into the top and claim it as some remote British outpost. It was too tall to actually get into the mouth without breaking a jaw so I set about it with a knife and fork, although I might have been better equipped with an oxyacetylene blowlamp.

Now replete with carbs and feeling alive again I spent the time until my Jacksonville flight reading the paper, listening to Northern Soul on the iPod, and chuckling at “It cracks like breaking skin” a series of short stories set in Stoke-on-Trent written by fellow Stokie, the novellist and manbag carrying Stephen Foster. It was a godsend and helped the time to pass quickly. The chapter called “Bubblegum” was a particular masterpiece which had me laughing out loud resulting in quizzical glances from the person sat next to me.

Finally we boarded and thankfully the flight was actually early arriving in Jacksonville and Tina was there for an emotional meeting. Bags squeezed into her two seater sports car we headed back through the humid night to Jacksonville Beach. At 10pm it was still around a sticky 80′F something I’m going to have to get used to but will struggle with I’m sure. As I sit and type this it’s just around 9am on Sunday, and it’s already quite oppressive in here. Tina has gone to work and I might head out soon to get some “groceries” before it gets really hot. I’m cat-sitting as I can’t escape mad felines, Tina has just taken in a 5 week old kitten abandoned at a friend’s vets. Hadley the kitten is very cute, and has taken a shine to my feet, biting them mid-typing. How anyone could dump an animal beats me especially one as cute as Hadley. I’ll leave you with a photo from this morning, me bleary eyed and Hadley full of beans doing her impression of a parrot. See y’all later.