Made in America Buck Williams, Williams AZ

2019 Grateful 47: Made in America

Wandering around Williams AZ shortly after 8 am on a Friday morning, I spotted a rare sight. A man smoking. It was such a novelty that I went to join him. We’d been stateside a week and he was maybe the third person I’d seen with a cigarette. Ah no, you say, you’re not back smoking? I’m not, but I have the odd one when I feel like it. And sure amn’t I on my holidays. Anyway, this particular cigarette would prove to be the most interesting one I’ve ever had.

Made in America, Buck WIlliams and his shop in Williams AZ

He put his out and then stuck it into a hole he’d bored into the street sign outside his shop. He uproots the signpost and empties it when it gets full. One day, he said, he put a half-lit butt inside and the others caught fire. Smoke started seeping through the hole. He told a concerned tourist who happened to be passing that it was nothing to worry about, saying the town was built on volcanic geysers and this was just a vent. He laughed heartily when he thought of the 20 minutes the chap spent taking pictures of it.

Buck Williams was born in Ohio and grew up on a working ranch in Alabama. After a stint in the Marines, he spent three years as a deputy sheriff in his home state, twenty with the LAPD, and six as a US Marshall in California. All this before spending 15 years as a train robber in Williams, AZ. Sharing the same last name as the town, his wife decided this was where they’d retire. And they did. About nineteen years ago. When you’ve spent as long as he has upholding the law, it made a change to break it. Williams was part of the staged train robbery put on for tourists travelling on the Grand Canyon railroad. Today, he’s the local gunsmith and the man to go see if you want to learn to quick draw or use a bullwhip.

He was telling me that many old Arizona laws, while not always enforced, are still on the books. If I parked in front of his signpost and he came along and wanted to tether his horse, guess who’d have to move? And if I beeped my horn at his horse, I’d be fined. And if I scared him, I could be arrested. The horse, that is. Williams would take a lot of scaring.

Lots of international tourists come to Williams, stay overnight, and then take the train ride up into the canyon. He himself has a massive Chinese fan club, thanks to being featured in a book on Route 66, written in Chinese. It went down so well, that he’s due to be featured in a second by the same author on cowboys. He’s also nabbed a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for both his fast draw and his bullwhip. He can draw a gun in 2.5 tenths of a second. I asked him why he didn’t write his own book. ‘I’m in the middle of doing nothing’, he said, ‘and I don’t want to start another project until I finish this one.’

He gave me the rundown on Williams and suggested where we should go for lunch. Himself had taken off earlier that morning to see the Grand Canyon. I’d stayed behind to feed my Route 66 memory bank. I asked Williams, given that he’s been around for a while and has lived an interesting life, what advice would he give someone starting out today. He didn’t have to think for long. ‘Learn to be responsible for yourself.’ Too many people these days take for granted what they’re told. They don’t fact check or research. They believe what their friends believe.

Just about that point in the conversation, a woman came in to mail a package with UPS (Williams is an agent for them). Her stepson was in jail in California and the only parcels they can get are from vendors. She’s tried to send it via Amazon but it came to her instead. The Amazon guy, [‘a middle-eastern fellah’, she whispered, behind the back of her hand] had emailed her a barcoded label that only UPS shops, not the franchises, had the wherewithal to read. Williams told her she’d have to drive the 40 miles to the nearest UPS in Flagstaff. They chatted, her animatedly, he calmly. She didn’t want to make the drive and had come in royally ticked off with Amazon and her stepson both, venting her spleen, but she left smiling. All in the space of two minutes.

Made in America, Buck Williams, Williams AZ

Williams took a framed photo from the wall and proudly pointed out his son. He was in the US Coastguard and had been an honour guard for four years when Clinton was in office and spent 17 years as a rescue swimmer. A life so very different from the stepson in jail.

Aside from his love of cowboys and guns, Williams has a love of words. He told me how easy it was to understand modern-day politics – poly meaning many, and tics, meaning blood-sucking pests. He recited one of his cowboy poems for me that knocked me sideways with the punchline. I wish I’d been able to record him but traffic was picking up and his regulars were popping in for coffee. He keeps a coffee pot on the go and it seems like anyone’s welcome.

Made in America Buck Williams, Williams AZHe put on his hat for another photo and went on to tell me how to read a cowboy hat. If it’s white or light-coloured, they work somewhere sunny and hot. If it’s high-domed, they work somewhere that gets rain and/or snow. If there’s a cord around the crown, they’ve been in the armed forces – the different colours represent different sections. And his, he said, told me that he was right-handed. This stumped me until he pointed out that the left side of the brim was slightly higher than the right – this was from tipping his hat to the ladies. His right hand would always be on his gun.

And tip his hat he did. I was ma’amed a lot and I loved it. Buck Williams was made in America. He’s a real character who says that if you leave his shop without a smile on your face, it’s because he’s thrown you out. I left laughing. If you ever find yourself in Williams, AZ, pop in and say hi. Buck’s Place. 117 W Route 66, Suite 145, Williams AZ. You’ll be glad you did. And I’m grateful that I had that cigarette. Thanks’ Buck. You’re a gem.


For more on the Grateful series, check the blog.

For more on travel in Arizona, check out



2019 Grateful 48

It’s Sunday night. I’m sitting at the table in the Jungle Mansion. One of their 13 friendly local racoons is messing around outside. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s an unseasonable California. The talented SRP is playing the piano. She’d asked what my favourite piece was. I didn’t have to think. Panis Angelicus. She’d not heard it before, but went online, downloaded the sheet music, and played it. Beautifully. Such unpretentious talent is humbling.

Getting a glimpse into how other people live their lives is a privilege not to be taken lightly. I’d not seen my mate J for more than 25 years and had never met S, although I’d been following the Facebook posts since they’d reconnected some years ago. Social media has a lot to answer for. It creates a virtual familiarity that’s so real that when you meet the person for the first time in real life, it’s straight to hugs and chats.

I remember being in Geneva a number of years ago and telling a colleague how well they looked, commenting that it’d been a while since we’d met. They reminded me that we’d never actually met, other than online. I was shocked. It had all been so real. Coming back to Torrance after all these years, reconnecting with old friends, well, it’s been a tonic.

Visiting (and having visitors) can be hard work. It’s hard to tell how comfortable you’re going to be, and how relaxed they’ll be with you around. But not an hour into the visit, I was helping myself to milk duds from the fridge. ‘Nuff said.

They asked what I’d missed about living in SoCal. I said In’n’Out. We went and got burgers from the family-owned chain that has been a feature on the California fast-food plate since 1948. And they still taste as good as they did all those years ago. The next night, himself had a craving for some decent Mexican food. We went to their local, La Capilla, another family-run venture with four restaurants to their name. I liked this local feel, this sense that America is more than multinationals and multi-state conglomerates.

We sat around and chatted, swapping stories of what we’d been up to in the years since we’d last met, moving inside and outside as the sun permitted. As the stories ebbed and flowed, stories that don’t make it on to Facebook or into blogs, the years melted away. We talked of movies and music (I hadn’t much to contribute to either conversation but thoroughly enjoyed listening to the accounts of happenings that made screen names real.) I came into my own when the scrabble board came out. They recorded me reading The Wonky Donkey for the first time – the first time I’ve read it or recorded it. [If you’ve not heard it before, this Scottish granny knocks great craic out of it.] After we’d eaten some home-made Australian meat pies, S played some more piano and the lads sang.

Evenings like these are what memories are made of. At the end of what’s been a mad week that saw me touch down in six countries, it’s nice to feel at home. I’m grateful that friendship can survive years and years and still be as strong as back in the day. And that it can multiply.


2019 Grateful 48 – Fr Hilary Tagliaferro

January has been a busy month. I was in Hungary doing communications/public speaking workshops each Tuesday and then doing the same in Ireland each Thursday. My brain is addled. I’m now in Malta gearing up for more of the same. I’ve been preaching the importance of vocal variety, eye contact, body language, facial expressions, gestures, pauses, voice projection and the myriad other elements that go into good communication and watching participants improve week on week. All very rewarding.

In my layperson’s capacity, though, I’ve marvelled at how professional preachers don’t do justice to the time they’re given. Each Saturday or Sunday, they have anything from 3 to 15 minutes in front of a captive audience – and for the most part, in my experience, that time is wasted.

A few years back, I got so teed off by this criminal waste of face time that I recorded sermons I’d have given were I a priest or a vicar or a pastor. No longer than three minutes each contained what I liked to think of as relevant stuff.

I’m a regular mass goer. I’ve had mass in a host of different languages. And while I might not understand what is being said, so much can be gleaned from said eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, body language, and so on. But it would seem that it’s my lot to be constantly disappointed. Apart from a mass in Geneva some years ago, one in Bangalore a lifetime ago, and one in the village late last year, I can’t recall any that have been close to riveting, let alone relevant.

When in Malta, I stay in St Julian’s. It’s handy for pretty much everywhere. I stay in the same hotel close to Paceville. I have three churches to choose from and on Sunday, I chose Imqaddsa Marija, Omm tal-Parir it-Tajjeb (Our Lady, Mother of Good Counsel) as 11.30 mass was in English.

They had an MC, a chap who came out on the altar and explained that the large screens would show the order of the mass so that people could follow along. It was a very international congregation and I noticed more than one person glued to the text, perhaps, like me, having difficulty quickly spoken Maltese-accented English. He pointed out the crying room and suggested that parents with young children, parents who were concerned the children might disturb the congregation during mass should use is (a relief).

The priest, an energetic man in his eighties wearing a headset mic, owned the altar. He asked us all to say hello to those around us before he began. He then talked briefly about how it’s enough to want to be a better person, to try to do good, to be kind. In two short minutes, he nailed the rapport, established who we were, and gave us a reason to care.

The second reading was from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, one you’ve no doubt heard if you’ve ever been to a church wedding. This he focused on his sermon.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I’ve heard that passage a million times but until Fr Hilary Tagliaferro re-read it in his sermon, its meaning had never quite sunk home. I’d always equated it with romantic love – not the commandment of love, not how I treat everyone I meet, every day. In an arresting performance, he asked if we were ready to live it. To try at least. He made it all so relevant. He spoke with a passion and enthusiasm that’s been missing from my church experience for a while.

Fr Hilary Tagliaferro

I was so taken with this model of excellence when it comes to public speaking – he had form, content, engagement – that I asked the lady next to me who he was and then I went to Google. I discovered that Fr Hilary Tagliaferro used to be a sports journalist and was a great friend of Brazilian footballer, Pele. And that he ministers at my favourite church in Malta, The Millennium Chapel, open 24/7 in the heart of Malta’s nightlife (Paceville) – known locally as a pit stop for inner peace. I can see why he’d be popular with the younger contingent. This wasn’t a rote performance. He wasn’t going through the motions. Every word he spoke during the entire mass was imbued with a faith that was palpable.

At the end of a long month, I’m grateful that I got to hear Fr Hilary Tagliaferro in person. He was quite the tonic.

For more on the Grateful series, see the first post from 2011.

Interesting reads

Love in the Bible: From God’s love to the most romantic scriptures

Mass times in Malta

Fr Hilary Tagliaferro

St Brigid, a busy patron saint

I have fond memories of learning how to make St Brigid’s crosses when I was in primary school. The best part was finding the swampy grounds where the reeds grew. Growing up in Co. Kildare, St Brigid (aka Mary of the Gael) was a household name – our very own saint. Patron saint of the county and patroness of Ireland, she had quite the life.

The story I remember is that her dad was a pagan chieftain in the province of Leinster, her mother a christian. Brigid herself was born in Dundalk, Co. Louth, about 450 AD. She was a great fan of St Patrick, the chap who inspired her to become a nun, and is supposedly buried with him in Downpatrick (minus her head, which is buried in Lisbon). Brigid wanted to join a convent, but her dad was having none of it. He’d already married her off in his head to a rich local and had gone so far as to promise her hand in marriage to a bard. But Brigid pulled a fast one. She prayed to God to make her so ugly so that this chap wouldn’t fancy her. God did as she asked and her father gave in. And when he did, and she took her vows, God gave her back her beauty, and then some.

Brigid wanted land to build a convent. And she wanted to build it in Kildare. No idea why – perhaps because it’s so flat. Her dad, generous chap that he was, said he’d give her as much land as her cloak would cover. So she spread it out on the ground and miracle of miracles, it covered the 5000 acres that today form the Curragh of Kildare.

St Brigid’s well was a fixture on our school trips. There are sacred wells scattered all around Ireland, sites of great healing. Tradition has it that you should dip a clootie (a rag) into the water and then wash your wound. Then you should tie the rag to a tree as an offering. The faithful are healed. Other well, like Fr Moore’s, require you to walk around and across the water while reciting the rosary. I’ve worn my weight into those steps in my time. We’re a funny lot, us Irish.

Other than making crosses in primary school, St Brigid’s day, 1 February, went by unremarked. But apparently this year is different. According to an article in the Irish Times, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs is using the day to

showcase women in the Irish diaspora, and build a programme of international events offering an alternative celebration of Irishness to St Patrick’s Day.

Apparently, celebrations took place today in six European countries (Ireland, UK, Belgium, Poland, France, and Germany) and five US states, including Washington DC.  Looks like the woman, patron saint for babies, blacksmiths, boatmen, cattle, chicken farmers, children whose parents are not married, dairymaids, dairy workers, fugitives, infants, mariners, midwives, milk maids, poultry raisers, printing presses, sailors, scholars, travellers, watermen, and creativity scholars and poets, is finally coming into her own.

How to make a st Brigid's cross



Quantum woo and the power of observation

I learned a lot this week, such is the nature of my work. During my workshops, I listen to short presentations from people on topics of their choice – and that choice can range from keeping a hedgehog as a pet to the role of network slicing in artificial intelligence and just about anything in between. On occasion, the presentations give me pause for thought. One on Young’s double-slit experiment sent me on a track this week that uncovered the concept of quantum woo, i.e., the justification of irrational beliefs by an obfuscatory reference to quantum physics. While I may have been accused of being irrational when I was younger and more prone to flights of fancy, my name has never, to my knowledge, been mentioned in the same breath as quantum physics. I simply don’t have a science brain. But I do have a strange relationship with the whole conscience thing. And I was intrigued.

Make yourself a coffee and come back and watch this. Read more

2019 Grateful 49 – On Being Right

Yup. Sometimes I hate being right. It doesn’t happen often, but happen it does. And when it happens, when I hate being right, it’s usually because the universe has smacked me in the face with a wet fish and told me to wake up and start listening to myself. The last time I ignored my inner voice, it cost me my wallet.

Many many moons ago, I fell ill. No one knew quite what was wrong with me. I spent a couple of weeks in Cherry Orchard (built as a fever hospital and where contagious diseases and such were treated). Anyway, released with a clean bill of health and no diagnosis, I resorted to faith healers. On the advice of a friend (long since dead) I went to visit a nun in Drogheda who was a diviner. She told me that I was suffering from metal poisoning and that I should replace all my metal filings with porcelain ones, never wear jewellery around my neck or in my ears, and watch what I ate. For the latter, she told me to get myself a crystal and work with it. She warned me against using it for anything else though – sure that’d be against my religion.

I hightailed it to Temple Bar (before it was Temple Bar) to what was probably the only crystal shop in Dublin and I bought my crystal. I’d buy a second many years later in Palm Springs. And I usually carry one or the other with me.

I’m not asking you to believe what I believe or to do what I do – I’m simply telling you this for the sake of my story. I have a crystal and I use it regularly to find things or decide whether or not I should be worried about something or to see what is making me ill.

Late last year, I went through the mind-crippling experience of buying new glasses. I opted for two magnetic dots – one on each lens – to which I could attach my sunglasses. The sunglasses were cut to fit the frames and at around 27 000 ft, weren’t exactly off-the-shelf cheap. I last saw them on the 4th of January. I had lost the hard case they’d come in but had the glasses, now packed in a thin, soft, felt envelope. I didn’t need them for a week or so and it wasn’t until the 10th that I went looking for them. And they were nowhere to be found. Three of us spent an age turning over the flat. I’d already turn the house upside down to no avail. I checked shoes, bags, and coats. I looked in boxes, in presses, in drawers. I even checked the freezer having once found my car papers stuck to the bottom of a tub of ice-cream. I emptied bins, sifted through rubbish, double-checked the car.  But nothing. Nada. Nincs.

So I brought out my crystal.

It told me that my sunglasses were in my office on a shelf. I looked. And I looked. And I looked. I took down books. I lifted journals. I leafed through papers. Nothing. But it insisted.

I had a decision to make. My crystal said I should wait – they’d turn up. I was running out of time. I’d need them for February but wouldn’t be in town to get new ones unless I ordered them last week. I said aloud, on more than one occasion – The minute I get the new ones, the old ones will turn up. As I was passing the optician, I rang the lovely PE who comes to clean my flat once a week.

Did my glasses turn up? I asked.

Not a sign of them, she said.

And this from a woman who cleans out toasters and dusts between the radiator and the wall. They were gone.

So I dropped into the Opti, shelled out the money, and ordered a new pair. She’d have them tomorrow, she said. I was flying that afternoon but I’d live without them till I was back. But then she called, a couple of hours later, and said she had them. I went to pick them. Got back to the flat. Started packing for my flight. Went to take my screen cover for my laptop from the shelf beside my desk and what did I find? THE BLOODY GLASSES.

I was right. Not quite to the minute, but near enough not to matter. And I hated being right.

That was last week. It’s taken me this long to get over the bruises I got from kicking myself. I’m grateful for the reminder to be more patient, to listen to my inner voice (amplified by my crystal), and to be more mindful about where I put things in the first place.


Walking in Circles

2019 Grateful 50

About a year ago, on a flight from Munich to Malta, I did the unthinkable. I tore out a couple of pages from the inflight magazine. I’d come across a poem I really liked and wanted to have a copy of it to reflect on later. Which I did. Fast forward to November and I received an email from the poet, Giulia Privitelli, who had come across my blog. The book of poetry I’d mentioned – Walking in Circles – had finally published and she kindly offered to send me a copy. I thought no more of it. Until it arrived. It was waiting for me when I got back to Budapest in late December.

Walking in Circles is an ‘illustrated poetic journey’ that started in 2017. Privitelli teamed up with illustrator Steve Bonello to work on the project. Both pilgrims, they ‘intertwine their life experiences and art forms as they reflect on art, nature, childhood, growth, death; on feelings and thoughts that we cherish, question, and fear in a landscape that looks the same but is forever changing’. It’s a beautiful collection of poetry that is my go-to read as I travel around the city, each poem a tonic of thought and reflection that grounds me while at the same time freeing me from the limits of my reality.

But even more than the book, fascinating though it is, was the letter that accompanied it (reprinted, in part, with permission).

Dear Mary,

Once again, I thank you for sharing one of my poems on your blog. Even simply knowing that you took the time to read it on the plane gives me a certain sense of glee; to have ripped it out of the magazine, reflected upon it, and allowed it to reach into your own memory and experience…well, that is to have gone one step further. And that couldn’t have made me happier.

It might see like an (awe-fully) small thing to get so excited and giddy about, but it has always been the small things which get me all excited and giddy. The poems were written that way, too – one small observation, curiosity, episode – small things which trigger an unexpected avalanche of words, rolling into each other, forming something that resembles a poem. Just like your own blog, “there was no plan”. One brief moment becomes the memory of a day, that day becomes the memory of the week, the week becomes that of the month and the month becomes that of the year, and so on, year after year, for every moment we experience. Smallness has great potential, don’t you think? And it quickly becomes overwhelming. Small things may be shared because they are light; they allow space for an exchange to be made, for movement, for others; small things bounce off each other, shape each other; they cannot impose; they contain as they too are contained; small things, the smallest, may be part of anything, they can lead to anything. They are relatable. Small things may be so easily overlooked or discounted, but when discovered they can just as easily be fully absorbed, fully known and therefore fully appreciated; they build up towards a whole. And we, in our smallness, are part of it.

Jokingly (but also seriously)  what is the spectactular if not an imperceptible number of tiny, different specks coming together? This is how I would rather look at our world because, honestly, I cannot think of anything more exciting, more beautiful, more necessary to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture! My eyesight isn’t the sharpest, but I hope to spend a lifetime looking for and discovering small things, just like you have when you opened the inflight magazine. […]

Warm wishes,


What a lovely, lovely message to end one year with and begin another. Perhaps the answer to the absurdity and chaos in which we live, perhaps the way to deal with the preposterousness of the players on the world’s stage, is to delight in the small things. To find that brief moment that becomes the memory of a day. Perhaps if we concentrate more on these small things, they will indeed lead to something – a calmer, saner, more hospitable, more considerate world.

I don’t recall ever asking you to share a blog post – but for this I make an exception. If this resonates in any way with you, please consider sharing. If we can all refocus on the small things, and delight in the ordinary, perhaps our collective tomorrow will be one to look forward to.

To buy the book, Walking in Circles



A flight from hell

Way back, many lifetimes ago, when I was young and inconsiderate, I took a flight from Scottsdale to LA or was it from Las Vegas to Seattle? I can’t quite remember. I know I was stateside and going home to wherever it was I called home at the time. It was back in the days when you could still smoke on a plane. And yes, I’m ageing myself there. I’d been separated from my mate as we hadn’t booked together and found myself in the back row of the plane sitting beside an Irish priest. We had a whale of a time. We talked, we laughed, we drank, we smoked. We sorted out the world and then some. No one would have thought it was 3 pm or whatever it was over whichever state we were flying. But for others it was a flight from hell.

Back then, I was living with a TV so I spoke more loudly than I do now. I have a theory. Those who live with TV speak louder than those who don’t. They have to, to be heard above the background noise. So ours wasn’t just a conversation à deux; all of the adjacent rows got to hear it, too. When the plane landed, a woman sitting a couple of rows ahead of me turned back to me and said:

Someday, you’ll experience the flight I’ve just had. Remember me then.

I hadn’t a clue what she was on about. Then. But the bones of 25 years later, she’s come back to haunt me.

Travelling from Dublin to Budapest last week, I was on the flight from hell. I had the misfortune to be on a less-than-full flight. You know the ones that offer plenty of scope for musical chairs? I sat in front of an Irish lad and a Hungarian girl. She had the window. He had the aisle. He had two mates. She was on her own. His mates soon moved to the adjacent aisle seat and the middle seat between the two. And for nearly three hours the four of them kept up a non-stop flow of conversation. And they were all TV people.

We had the usual what do you do, where do you work, how long have you been living in Dublin (from them). And what do you do, where do you work, and is this your first time in Budapest (from her). It wasn’t long before she discovered that her mate Rosie used to work with one of them in London. It’s a small field, apparently. I can’t tell you how amazingly, mind-blowingly, gobsmackingly awesome this was. Only about a 100 in London all told and they all know each other. Some sort of monopolies economists. As the cans of beer popped open, more than froth came to the fore. Old stories of Mr in the Middle (a film director) stealing knickers for his girlfriend from a shopping centre, stories he hotly denied. My boy on the aisle had been unemployed for ages (ex-Microsoft) but had finally gotten a job last May and was off probation. The economist on the adjacent aisle told us four times why the marketing book he was reading was such a good read. In between times, herself filled them in on all what was to be seen in Budapest. She works for Air BnB in Dublin. Been there years. Great English.  I had my doubts though when she was telling them that palinka is a type of vodka and I had to hold myself back when she started recommending places to go – all obvious tourist traps. Szimpla Kert and Szechenyi baths – really?

On a flight that lasted just shy of three hours, we had seven minutes of blissful silence. Seven minutes. Then they regrouped, rehashed, and repeated all that had gone before.

I couldn’t hear myself think. I tried proofreading some text and had to resort to reading aloud in an effort to keep focused on what I was doing. The Serbian chap beside me must have thought he’d died and gone to English-language hell. How much worse could it get. I tried reading but kept losing my place. I tried sleeping but that wasn’t happening. I watched the chap in front of me turn around numerous times and glare disapprovingly but to no avail. They were oblivious to everything and everyone.

I was them once. On a flight to LA or Seattle. With a priest. I was inconsiderate, loud, and full of self-interest. I didn’t care who I was disturbing because I simply didn’t realise I was disturbing anyone. My world was all about me. When the chap next to Mr Adjacent Aisle got up and moved, they engaged in an all-too-brief moment of self-reflection, wondering if it was something they’d said? Hello! I wanted to scream Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was everything you said so loudly. But I didn’t.

I was tempted to turn to them when we landed and pass on yer woman’s words:

Someday, you’ll experience the flight I’ve just had. Remember me then.

No. Better to cut that karmic thread off at the seam. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And while I finally see the value in headphones, I’m a little disturbed by my unwillingness to engage.



2019 Grateful 51

I caught some form of crud during the week, a nasty chest infection that seems to have moved in and taken over.  Not for love nor money could I face getting up this morning at 7.20 to make it to 8 o’clock Mass. I figured the good Lord would forgive me but as the day wore on and I finally did surface to see the light of day, himself figured it would be a shame to waste it. My time in the village is limited this month to two weekends – I needed to make the most of them.

We headed into Balatongyörök around 3.30 pm to catch the sunset over the lake while enjoying a cup of coffee and a pastry at the lovely Promenád Kavéház. Judging by the lone slice of banana cake, the couple of chocolate wedges, and the handful of macaroons, we weren’t the only ones to have had this idea. The offer was thin but the view was amazing. Looking out across the lake over to Fonyód was like looking across a massive pane of glass. Blue sky. Calm water. Crisp air. Lovely stuff. Back around 1900, Charlie thought so too. He’s quoted here as saying something along the lines of ‘I’ll never forget that moment when I saw this fairy country… I stopped as if my feet were roots.’


It was cold though. At least I was feeling the cold until I was beset by a hot flush. They’re the bane of my life these days. I never know what to wear and seem to spend my time taking off and putting on my clothes. It’s a pain in the proverbial. I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night or managed to stay in one room for any length of time without having pop outside for a breather. I’m wishing it would all be over. Menopause is proof in my mind that God isn’t a woman. Still though, in cold weather, said same flushes can be a blessing in disguise. And true to form, on the walk around the viewing point, I was nicely warmed.

We popped into Aldi to pick up a few things before getting 6 pm mass in Keszthely. Wandering the aisles with plenty of time to spare, I was all happy … until I flushed again.

Sweet mother of divine Jesus, I cried. Just give me two flush-free hours and I’ll be happy.  Just two. Surely that’s not too much to ask!

I was more than a little pissed off. Dehatting, descarfing, degloving and then unzipping and derobing is a major inconvenience, especially as it all has to be put back on minutes later.

We headed over to  Magyarok Nagyasszonya templom (Our Lady of Hungary church) for 6 o’clock Mass. Waiting for the priest to show up, it felt like the coldest church I’d ever been in. Not a radiator or electric heater in sight. It was so cold that I could see my breath.

I’d had a near missing coming into the place. The full complement of lights don’t go on till 5.45 but we’d mistimed it and got there five minutes earlier. I opened the main door and stepped in – and down. I ask you, what sort of idiot architect puts a step at a door threshold? I went sprawling but managed to right myself before I hit the floor and better yet, managed to contain the inevitable expletive to a whisper.  Just as well, because the acoustics were good.

At 5.55 pm, there was only ourselves and two old dears in the congregation. I was beginning to doubt there was Mass at 6. But then the crowd appeared, all of a sudden and all at once. We caused some consternation as of all the empty pews in the place, we’d sat in one that had regulars. I was too cold to move or care and as they squished in regardless, the element of body heat wasn’t lost on me.

The priest was late. It wasn’t until he made an appearance at 6.05 that the seat pads were switched on. I’ve only ever seen this in Hungary. The seat pads are heated – like electric blankets. The rest of me might have been frozen solid but my bum was nice and toasty.  It’s the weirdest thing.

I borrowed himself’s hat, thanking the protocol that frowns on men covering their heads in a church but encourages women to do so. I figured I’d have no more than 15 minutes before a hot flush kicked in and then I’d be nice and warm. Himself was thinking the same. I radiate heat when it happens. Some not in the know might take it for a miracle of sorts. But nothing. Not a damn thing. Then I remembered the prayer I’d uttered aloud in Aldi. It’d only been gone and answered! The luck of it all.

After a week that seemed like it would never end, I’m grateful to have been cautioned – I need to be more careful what I pray for.

If you’re in Keszthely, the church is worth a visit as it has some spectacular old frescoes. But watch the step.




car wash delight in the ordinary

2019 Grateful 52

The first month of the new year isn’t even in double digits yet and already I’m beset by a feeling of foreboding that just won’t go away. I can’t quite put my finger on it but 2019 has none of the hope or expectation that its predecessor had. It’s not like anything is wrong; it’s more a feeling that things could be heading for a downswing and the chances of avoiding or averting whatever’s in store seem small, if non-existent. I’m not depressed. I’m not paranoid. I’m not even fatalistic – I’d be more than happy if I’m wrong. It’s just a sense I have that it’s going to be a year to remember and not for any good reason.  Only time will tell. It’s been a while, years in fact, since I’ve felt this way and thankfully, I know from experience that I have a coping mechanism that works. I need to delight in the ordinary. I need to lose sight of the big picture and concentrate on the little things.

A few weeks back, I took the car for a spin through the local carwash. The last time I’d been there, the chap in charge all but pulled out what few hairs he had left in desperation at my stupidity. Am sure that his account of ‘that idiot woman’ kept the local pub entertained that evening. Okay. My bad. But no, I didn’t for a minute think that the car had to be out of gear and the handbrake had to be off for it to move – wasn’t that the whole point of automation? Of course, in retrospect, it’s completely sensible. The car has to be free to move through the wash; it doesn’t just get up on a track and trundle along unaided. But who would have thunk it, eh? My Hungarian wasn’t quite up to understanding the finer mechanics of the workings of a carwash but after a few shouts, yells, and wild gesticulations, I got the message. Finally.

And he remembered me. I left an impression. I could see the universal upwards eye-shift that screams – oh, no, not her again. But then he spotted himself beside me and relaxed. All was well. I had a man in the car who’d tell me what to do. How was he to know that I don’t need to be told twice? Bless him.

Anyway, as I sat looking out at what was going on, it struck me that way back whenever, some bright spark sat down one day and dreamed up this idea. It’s a spectacular piece of work really. The rollers, the runners, the hoses, the jets, the pipes, the pullies, the nozzles, the water, the suds, the foam, the drying columns, the fans … each piece playing its part in an operation that had my car looking like new in a matter of minutes. Harmony in motion. I wondered who was behind it.

It seems there are a number of contenders for the title.

Back in 1914, in Detroit, MI, Frank McCormick and J.W. Hinkle opened what they called an automatic laundry. But the only automation going was human. As the car went through a tunnel (being pushed by a few chaps, no doubt), one guy soaped, another rinsed, and a third dried. It wasn’t until 1940 in Hollywood, CA, that someone had the idea to pull the car through the tunnel using a winch. And it was later again, in 1946, that Thomas Simpson came up with the sprinkler idea, but still, some poor sod had to do the rubbing and the drying.

Here’s where Google divides. One site says that Paul Maranian, opened Paul’s Auto Wash in Detroit  – the world’s first automatic car wash – in 1948. But a second says it was the Anderson brothers of Seattle, WA, who finally went fully automated in 1951. Archie, Dean, and Eldon didn’t have the benefit of social media to spread the word and it would appear that in 1956, some parts of the USA still hadn’t gotten wind of their invention. Dan Hanna, from Portland, OR, which is really only down the road from Seattle, while on vacation in Mexico became fascinated with the workings of the local carwash. He went back home, got his mother to mortgage the house, and opened his own Rub-a-Dub in Milwaukie, OR. By 1959, according to the Hanna website, he had a working model of ‘the first mechanized car washing system’. Automated vs mechanized. mmmm….

That took me off on a whole other tangent.

According to those in the know, mechanization saves the use of human muscles whereas automation saves the use of human judgement. Now, I’m the first to admit that I’ve failed repeatedly and spectacularly when taking aptitude tests where cog A turns in one direction, cog B turns in another, and I’m supposed to figure out which way cog C goes. I’m damn near useless with any sort of instructional diagram. I need it in word format. My brain simply doesn’t interpret diagrams, but even with this limitation, surely mechanization would come before automation?

It doesn’t matter a whit to me, really, which came first or who gets the credit for what. I’m grateful that my coping mechanism still works and that I can still be distracted if I find delight in the ordinary. Who knows what I’ll learn this year!