Friday, 26 February 2010

Troy. Michigan-Style

I think I have just about reached my snow limit. No offense intended dear Michigan, but really, the weather you greeted our arrival with has much to be desired. It is also playing significant havoc with our healthy eating. With nothing more than snow and more snow and that cold sharp sleet thing going on outside all I want to do is get cosy with my bimbo and pump out baked delights. And I don't even like baking. Till this week that is.

I am now on my fifth day of domestic pirouettes in the kitchen. That's what you get when you move into a ground floor apartment that looks like one of the Golden Girls just moved out and left the furniture. 1988 gold wall clock included. Also plastic fauna. Lots of them. We have a fat sofa, many lamps, a full size dining room table, an army of closets and two bedrooms. We are, it would seem, playing house. I have taken on my homebody role with gusto - for three weeks that is. I always throw myself into my roles, this much I knew already, and, as with all acting jobs, the end is very much in sight. Now, if this whole cookie baking, brioche braiding had an indefinite nature I would be running up frozen trees and wailing like an imprisoned banshee. That's why Cory sits back, scoffs what he can (roasted a chicken 10 litres of chicken soup created yesterday). He knows these waves are intense when they come and dissapate as quickly as they rear their, mostly garlicky, heads.

I spose there is something to be said about really experiencing an entire winter. When I woke this morning around 5ish, and found myself lying next to Sam in his bed, and had a. the sudden remembrance of his 11pm bedtime having had a fat nap late afternoon and b. the pleasure of taking a moment to look out of the window and notice the tall fir tree being blown by mists of snow flying through the air off the roofs in the midnight blue of a pre dawn wintry sky. It was beautiful. A watercolourist's delight. Not so beautiful was the sound of the glass pane in our bedroom knocking against the frame in the gusts or the whistling of the wind through the tiny gaps. I have been doing my P90X bouncing around there and I fear I may have caused some irrevocable structural damage. I'll send the bill to Tony Horton (he's the man with triceps whose name is synonymous with this three month extreme fitness malarky).

The highlight of my week was most definitely finding out that my family and I were about to move into the city of TROY. Yes sir, for but a few hundred dollars you too can time warp yourself back into that tumultuous era and hide yourself in a wooden horse. I have insisted Cory call me Diana for our stay. Turns out the town isn't so ancient after all. Our complex is much more 80s AD. Still love to look at the sign when we drive down West 14 Mile Road. 14 miles to where? Nobody seems to know.....

Our travel day was as long as predicted. After two flights we arrived at Detroit, grabbed our 700 suitcases and then via several elevators finally found the rental car shuttle. Kind driver then mounted our 700 suitcases into said shuttle and shuttled us, with information blurb to rental car office. All 700 suitcases made it onto the pavement whilst Cory signed bits of paper and looked serious. Car arrived, eventually (we had to ask for one that would hold all 700 cases) and we piled 700 cases and us into it. 45 minute later we had shifted all 700 suitcases into new home, whilst boy, in true travel day style, slept it off in his car seat. Quick about turn and we were on the road again to meet our cousin Jess (you may remember mention of her back in Chicago's November) at Sweet Lorraines. It is always so great to see a familiar face when you are utterly new in town. We scoffed in true weary traveller's style. You'd think we were notching up calories for a marathon the next day. The best bit about the place was the fact that it has been owned and nurtured by the same family team for 25 years. After a jaunt around their varied menu we finally settled on a veggie Jambalaya, rainbow tilapia and tuna fajitas. Our boy uncharacteristically opted for the peanut and jelly sandwich (when in Rome) and gobbled up the home made corn bread and houmous. Mum had a sip of wine. Espressos capped it off. Happy people went home for fat sleep.

The next day we ventured out for a Grocery Shop. It becomes very much an event when you don't know where you are really. Having been presented with a full size kitchen, I will be the first to admit I went a little overboard. Or, as I prefer to think about it, bought exactly enough for three weeks, thank you very much Cory's raised eyebrows! Sam was in overdrive packing the bags, he hasn't seen me shop like that since a tesco run before our farewell barbecue at the flat in London back in August to which about 40 people came. The irony was that after this enormous shop we were all hitting a major sugar low and had just enough time for lunch before Cory had to go in for sound check and so ended up eating out. On the strip mall closest our apartment (the main road is littered with them) we came across a Medittarranean grill. Basically this means stepping in from the cold and into a be-lanterend middle eastern taverna just like the ones down Cricklewood back home. Double dose of what the homesickness doctor oredered. There was nothing more comforting to me at that moment for some proper homemade marinated chicken Kebabs with authentic homous and freshly made rice, with the little noodles in it, just like uncle Pierre makes back at the cafe. I don't even eat it that much at home but on our first day out it was just perfect. Even the waitress looked Polish (until she spoke that is) just like in the bakery by the number 16 bus stop opposite the Crown pub, stuffed daily with pastries and huddles of Arabs and Irish putting the world to rights. And the odd, post dance class Anglo-Yank family inhaling amazing coffee and oversized buttery-ness.

Back to the present....since our shopping foray, we have been very much homebodies, our days spent enjoying the space and dipping our toes out in the snow. I did take the time to discover an Aveda Institute however and took myself in for a haircut. This was quite an event. Being a school, the prices are seriously low and I was asked to sign a form which stated that I understood that the services would be given by senior students and that I would not be tipping. Call me British. Call me English. Call me stingy. Call me a gal from Golders Green. All I know was that for $33 I had be a chic new crop and eyebrows that no longer looked like Mr Groucho (I also bid farewell to the kind of facial hair that reveals my close relation to the ape but I am too vain to mention that in the blog). Course with that fat saving I had to go and splurge on a few of the products. Sucker yes. Or maybe just human. They're all plant based organic goodies, post consumer recycled plastic and all the other check boxes that co-erse you into guilt free spending. Enough already, suffice it to say that the place was quite an experience. I don't think I have ever seen so many hair stations in one room. There were literally thirty or more young women all with Hair Do's shimmy shammying with hairdryers and combs and scissors. The young lady who snipped me was very sweet even if she did cut every hair individually. As did the waxer. When both had finished they called their supervisors to get the A.Ok. My hair inspector opened with "Hi! Oh you're hair looks so cute!". A few minutes earlier I heard her colleague say the same to the girl next to me. With exactly the same tone. That's what I call training. The lady who inspected my face was a little more discerning, so much so that she shoved a flourescent magnifying mirror into my chin and, with the forced calm and slightly hushed tones of a surgeon mid eye surgery, explained to her student that there was a very wirey short white hair still embedded in my skin. She continued the rest of the operation without anasthetic deftly bringing the culprit to a tidy end. Phew. Don't want to be sporting a white wire on the end of my chinny chin chin now do I when we go to the theatre tomorrow?

This is the plan. Sammy and I are going to Anne Frank it in Cory's dressing room, a term coined by colleagues who have smuggled various friends and partners in their rooms after the half hour call. I know Sammy is the mascot and all but we both fear burning of bridges seeing as the gestapo, I mean company management office, is literally next door to Cory. We're taking the chance. Lets hope for the best. The theatre has already been hot with upset this week,wouldn't want to compound it. Roger, who had to fly to L.A for a screen test was replaced by his understudy, this has caused a great deal of commotion. After two nights of understudy 1, understudy number two is going on tonight. The undercurrent to this is the ominous air hovering over the crew with growing unease rooted in various issues. Our flyman Squatch jumped ship some time ago for a better deal elsewhere and for a few weeks there has been a palpable malaise about the merry band over and above the tiredness that a month of one weekers brings even the most energetic soul!

Tonight I plan on finding out about what Detroit can offer a 3 and 33 year old of a (snowy) saturday afternoon. We won't be going ice skating that's for sure, mum made the very wrong choice of hiring hockey skates this morning because the figure skates were gauging a hole into her ankles. I couldn't even stand up on the ice. What happened to my best olympian impression I had down pat last week in Kansas City?!!!! I am looking forward to our city jaunt. It is only 16 miles away, but the little snowy Michigonian bubble we have been floating in makes it seem so very far away to me. Perhaps I have connected to 3 year old sense of time and space. Not a bad place to be I spose.

We're living the suburban dream people! Yihaaaa!...I mean, cookies are up boyssssss!

.........If I start to mention frilly aprons you can call in the heavies

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Blogging or The Art of Avoiding Packing

Cory has just come back to our pad and nonchalantly told me that we have a taxi booked for a 7.45 pick up. AM. Turned my laissez faire attitude to packing into a turbo blasted frenzie of clothes and what-nots. That'll teach me for letting myself get distracted by Hava Naghila on ice, brought to me by the Israeli champions. The ice skating olympians accompanied me through the drafty evening with various shades of surreality. I watched Russians pretend to be aboriginals (I use both terms loosely) and Americans give their best Bollywood turn. This is my parting memory of our last night here in Kansas City.

We have made the most of the latter part of our week. We played - and lost - poker in our living room with a handful of crew, ice skated, ate at a diner that delivered extremely fast fast food to our tables via overhead miniature trains (we placed our order via table top telephone and wore train driver hats) and took ourselves on a date to hear some bone fide city Jazz. After a few deserted streets we hit upon the Phoenix, a red brick, fairy lit corner venue. A laid back bassist, enthusisatic drummer and head swinging pianist were blasting some Ray Charles as we walked in. Tempted as we were by the bar that encircled the trio we opted instead to sit a little further back where we might be able to hear one another speak. Too loud, too old, yes I know. A few business men from Nebraska were giving it some whoops from atop their whiskey glasses whilst a couple in the corner swayed in each other's arms. Cory, ravenous from the show polished off three baskets of tortilla chips. Kitchen had closed whilst we were chinwagging with Brad back at the hotel who had agreed to babysit. When I was reminding Sam that Brad would be in the living room should he need anything whilst mum and dad were out, he turned to me, all earnest puppy dog eyes and announced that, should he indeed wake, it would be a nice idea perhaps to take uncle Brad to the restaurant downstairs. I half expected to see the two of them propping up the bar when we returned. In the end tykey didn't wake at all, much to the disappointment of our friend. So there we were, mid g&t's when in walks John Mark, one of the props team. A quiet, retiring keeps-himself-to-himself sort of fella, but away from crowds of loud actrines and crew he happily joined us for a cider. Over the following hour he educated me on the history of Kansas City and its inability to fully recover after the depression, especially after the stockyards closed, the overall conservative nature of the folk round these parts (he grew up not far from here) and life as number 7 of 7 brought up in Parson, a little known pit stop for mafia bosses who would smuggle prohibited alcohol and dead bodies from Chicago. He, particularly drawn to the occult, then came back with us to feel out our haunted hallways. We left the dimly lit Phoenix behind us in the night mists, under the heady aroma of roasted coffee embedded in the wet air from the Folger's factory around the corner, passing a handful of ghostly 1920s hotels and a curio store of hardware displaying a plethora of antique tools in the shadows of its original windows. Probably a favourite with the godfather's of old no doubt.

Now a little weary from two socials in a row (I have got to build up endurance people!) Sam and I opted to spend the following afternoon at the theatre, more, in truth, for mum's sake. Tiredness shared is tiredness halved right? The boys left me to my X-ing and ran riot around the back alleys of the theatre on Sam's bike. I caught up with them at the half hour call and ensconced myself in Cory's sweltering concrete dressing room and received a few hours worth of friendly visits from his colleagues who took it in turns to chat with Sam and mama. The weekends are when homesickness sweeps by me in general and company was much needed and enjoyed. His room is very close to the wings and whilst the show played overhead on the tannoy it seeped up and into the room from the wings also. Sounds ringing about us as if floating in from a past. Boy had fun calling out the names of who was speaking. Most of the afternoon he had that far away look of concentration. By the time we left for dinner, he looked rather exhausted by it all, compounded by the fact that dad's room was next to Schuler's, who plays the monster. Much energy was consumed repeatedly asking me whether he would suddenly run into daddy's room. I wondered whether I had made the right decision to bring him in. The fear passed as quickly as it descended especially however, when Sammy was introduced to a real, bone fide, Maggie.

Let me explain. As part of the intricate web which is Sammy's Mr. Gee show is a character by the name of Maggie who is good friends with one Bo-Bo and is, I quote, a "summersaulting kind of girl". According to the creator she looks like a girl on the tide detergent bottle - a cute little brown haired twinkly eyed little thing. So when the real version, a brown haired twinkly eyed little thing showed up, boyo was beside himself with a dream realised. He called out to Maggie from Cory's mezzanine to come look at his bike, daddy's dressing room, his hump, his helmet, his bike, his bag, daddy's dressing room, his bike, his bike, daddy's dressing room. She played a little hard to get but by the time we had finished dinner at the hibachi grill round the corner they were playing all over the place, including a brief stint of boy being chaffuered around the space in his pushchair with M piloting. Between the new friend and the theatrical fire-loving chef flicking his knives and spices about in between throwing food into our mouths boyo was hovering ever so slightly off the ground. The three others who sat at our grill, a red faced man, his prim wife and what I presumed to be their adult son fell under a cloud of dour silence induced most likely by the mottley crew about them including a man in Igor make up and two beautiful dancers plastered with stage hues. Needless to say bedtime was a little like taming a crazed baby orangutan after a pint of M&M ice cream. Praise be the lie-in this morning then. Any parent will vouch for the joys of their child waking them with a kiss and exclaiming "It's nine-oh-three mum!" Aaaaaaaaaah. Now if he could just get the coffee making thing under his belt we would have the whole ritual sorted.

We were all rested then, for our sunday matinnee outing preceeded by Sammy's Sunday Bagel Brunch. We suggested (decided) that he spend some of his winnings with those who had helped him become a rich three year old. You may recall some weeks back he had won $100 on dollar Friday. Its a sweepstake tradition where players put in a dollar with their names on and the one pulled out wins the pot. Dad had come back with a fat wad much to the bemusement of our son. Anyhows, a few splatters of paint and we made ourselves a poster invitation of which Sam was infinitely proud. Bagels were delivered around 11 and we had ourselves a party by noon. After scoffing was done the boy and I sprinted through the underbelly of the pit and out into the most magnificent 1930s theatre I have ever been in. What struck me most was the preserved state it was in, every detail was beautifully intact, from the chrome backlit signs to the gorgeous geometric light fixtures and over-size murals. In all its concrete splendour it seemed to have lost nothing of the uber modernity of its day. We dashed to the ticket office, mum open mouthed at the refined style of it all enjoying the stark difference to the older houses we have visited so far, narrowly avoiding the temptation to pull down on eof the signs for our bathroom at home. Even Sam squealed with delight at the diminutive doors of the bathrooms, so low that even I could just about look over the top (turns out people used to be my height) and at the circular mirrors illuminated from inside over the sinks. It was a 1930s collector's paradise. I felt utterly underdressed without my white gloves and hat. Sam enjoyed the show, especially whispering to the friendly folks behind us that his daddy had just come on stage. Time will tell how this Brooks exposure will shape the memories of our little boy. His questions (interrogations) about the show are becoming more specific, drawing on certain lines, usually throw-aways that intimate to something crucial to the plot. I haven't broached the dead back to life issue, but perhaps, in his little head, he has already filed this for another day, waiting for when he intuits his mum and dad know how to explain it.

And yet again, another goodbye. I won't lie to you. My bones are happy to leave the 20th floor in the near distance. Tonight the old sash windows have been rattling with the whistling wind snaking through the cracks and the stairwell next to us has been clanging with activity like a horror movie soundtrack. Perhaps I ought to have taken a leaf out of our neighbour's book of tour survival (Cory's colleagues) and brought our own light bulbs with us in the bottomless hamper, to change a hotel's unforgiving blue flourescence for a flattering warm glow. For those of you out there who are keenly aware about my own obsession with lighting and getting it just so in our home (much to the desperation of all around me) you will be pleased to know that not even I will go to these lengths. Turns out I am a failed lighting designer after all. I have heard stories about vaudevillians taking their own set of gels for the lighting operator to use for their acts. Things haven't changed so much after all I spose.

And so, with the obsessive compulsive bejewelled cleaners - sorry olympic curling contestants - in my peripheral and a pile of dirty clothes to be smuggled into our luggage I make my way reluctantly back to the task at hand. On the news there are weather warnings on snow and people persuading folk to stay off the roads. I spare a thought for the truck drivers trekking up through the night on the highways to the Michigan straits hauling the heavy sets to Detroit's opera house.

A two flight, 30 mile drive travel day is on our own horizon.

Better pack me some Patience pills and a double dose of good humour.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Ghost Town

Kansas City is a ghost town. Or, moreover, a town of ghosts. Between the first travellers, the jazz prohibition revellers or many of those who fell foul of the mafia's bloody hands the city has been through a plethora of upheavels. We have arrived during one of its most recent resurgence, as one city of Power & Light. I can see the official red neon sign from our window. The new downtown area's Miltonesque title gives it an air of industrial triumph over adversity. The development is impressive and not unlike much of the architecture we observed over the developing UK cities we visited on The Producers tour. Metal abounds, funky colours, uber trendy watering holes all designed to attract the young professional. In line with this is a huge food market, (supermarket, Brits) minutes from our hotel that stocks everything from milk to toasted seaweed sheets, just in case you were in the mood for rolling your own sushi. Put me in a place like that and to buy just enough food for a week is a huge challenge. Especially with the Cory man giving me his raised eyebrow look every time I add a different herb or such into our over burdened trolley disguising itself as my aunt's larder (the one she stocked when she fed 100 people daily at the nursing home that is). Our first night in the new old place restored our weary souls with a fantastic night's sleep. On the second night however, after Cory left for work and the Sam man was ensconced in bed I started to get the hibbee jibees about the place. I attempted rational thinking, an uphill fight at the best of times. I dismissed my goosebumpy fidgets, attributing them to the cold blue light the shades give out from their unforgiving energy saving flouresence making us all look like we are all perpetually in a scene from a David Lynch movie. Didn't help that the only channel that held my attention was the one about ghost hunters and child psychics. The bumps, creaks, rumbles up from the street I tried to note without judgement. The way I kept looking over my shoulder as if I were being watched I chastised myself for. That was all, until Beth gave me a call this morning to borrow one of my P90X dvds having left hers at the theatre. She asks me what floor we are on and when I tell her she gives me an "...oh...".
"Oh?" I answer
"You guys are on the special floor."
"What are you on about?"
"You know..."
"Talk to me when you get here."
When she does comfy herself on our sun lit sofa with Sammy pottering around her feet with her trains, me sweaty from jumping about to dvd number 2 and Cory cosying about in his grey morning cardigan (its a deep held tradition) she relays the fact that our floor is the most haunted in the hotel and the one where the housekeeping team have had the most experiences of the paranormal sort. I don't prod for details, this is enough for the little hairs on the back of my neck to deal with. Add to this the fact that one of our troupe, James, the dance captain had felt someone hug him tightly in bed (not his room-mate either) so much so he could hardly breathe and my imagination and I are putting me through an uncomfortable rollercoaster. In fairness, James' mother had a similar experience last week and they both feel it may have been his late father contacting them. Either way it's got me spooked. When Cory texted me after the show asking me whether I'd preferred him to come home rather than go on to the opening party, I tried my best to text a nonchalant, "go on if you are feeling social if not head back and we'll have a cocktail. Either way cool." He was at the door with a singapore sling within 15 minutes. Turns out he had had the feeling I would have been a little antsy. I am not proud of this you must understand.

Anyhows, the feeling followed us through town today and was perfectly channelled during our visit to Union station, site of the massacre of 1933 in which four law enforcement officers were killed whilst gang members tried to free the prisoner they were transferring to the city prison. The building is grand as they come in that lofty marble gorgeousness of old stations. The ceilings intricate and bold, chandeliers hanging, echoes floating. Our eyes swept the space, and past the glory of the shafts of sunlight cutting across the expanse we quickly noticed the emptiness of it all. Underscored by the grand piano at its centre playing itself. Quite impressively I must add, the phantom pianist was giving it some serious musical interpretation I must admit. It entertained Sam no end. So there we were, drowning in the deserted-ness of it all and hunger struck. We opted for the retro diner rather than the Steak house, both harkening back to the station's hey day. In we stepped, its bright white triple height ceilings dwarfing the enormous booths. All around us on the walls were black and white prints of trains and the diner back in the day. Waiting rooms lined with well dressed travellers, some looking out at the camera and down towards us inhaling our sandwiches, begging to be unlocked from their historical freeze. Our effervescent waiter was a walking sit com. My personal favourite amongst the classic one liners bubbling off his lips was his throw away to a couple of blind people heading across the diner, "Long time no see!" Moments later he is complaining to someone sitting at the bar that the guide dog had attacked him without provocation and that the owner would do well to consider retiring him. Hmmmmm....

We take a stroll around one of the wider corridors at the centre after our lunch, marvelling at the stunningly preserved sliding deco doors to what woudl have been the platforms I assumed, some flanked by original signs for the 8.40pm Katy Flyer to Texas via Coffeyville and Waco or the daily 9.30pm Flying Crow to Pittsburg. We walk on by the waiting room, seemingly unchanged since the 30s, as was one of the three customers sat on the long wooden pews. After several visits to the marbled bathrooms with boy we take our leave of Kansas City's quiet spot (most likely a train arrived minutes after my observations and all the closed shops and coffee bars suddenly sprang into life) and head for the rink.

Once little fella heard about ice in the city he has been nagging us to hire a miniature set of boots to let him slip slide about. $10 later, big and small boy were doing the laps weaving in between a large group of exciteable teenagers, who, I noticed, flung themselves about the space in a similar way to the five year olds I had watched a couple of weeks back in East Lansing. Sam begun by clinging to the dad, but half an hour later was pushing his father's help away and sliding his way to self sufficiency. It was like watching him learn to walk all over again. I belly laughed with excitement from under my thick hat and sunglasses, wiggling myself into warmth. There were 3 year old tears when it was time to go. Up until hot chocolate was discovered at the cafe round the corner that is. We defrosted, headed back, had a family bimbo-meal (fresh pesto rotini thank you very much with bimbo-d turkey burgers, George Foreman'd for fat free delight), dad left for work, boy left for dreams and mum has olympics in the background and blog in the foreground.

Just little ole me now, and the light and power of the city that twinkles about me from the skyscrapers surrounding our twentieth floor.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Wintry Wonderlanding

I am weary from a serious blast of winter wonderland fresh Minnesotan air. Half an hour's drive out of the cities and we arrived, with Scott and Nicole from the crew with whom we hired a 4x4 (yes you read right) at Preston's family friend's hideaway. Turning five minutes down a hidden birch arched drive way, we were greeted by a chocolate box fairy tale log cabin. Enormous trunks, cut down from their some 80 acreage had been cut and crafted to create the sort of house Hansel and Gretel would not have looked out of place living in. Add to this a couple feet of snow all round, bright blue sky, unabashed February sunshine and a truck load of musical folk high on fresh air and you have yourself a great day out. Boy was set from the start, managing to describe all fifty of his imaginary gang to Nicole in great detail. He now, apparently, has "five thousand children!" Anyhows, no sooner had we arrived and had the grand tour of the jaw dropping woody loveliness of the place so tastefully pieced together (eyes out for the odd bit of branch left poking out of the larger timber) than it was time to do some serious bundling up and head out for a quick drive onto the ice. There could be almost nothing more counter intuitive on so many levels than the image of me, in the boot of a 4x4 being driven onto a frozen lake. But so we did. And it didn't crack you will be pleased to hear. You see, Preston, his dad and his dad's mate Chris had gone "scouting" earlier, and armed with their mega ice cutter and fish finder and general wonders of the technological world had already pitched geometric vision of tents and drilled 12" diameter holes all over our little camp. On we trod, most of us gung ho beginners, sniggerring and sliding about in the morning sunshine. Chris talked Cory and Sammy through the details of the ice fishing challenge. I relinquished the rod for documentation purposes (somebody has to be in charge of the camera right?) but, after watching the two of them jiggle and struggle I couldn't resist a moment by the icey hole. The art of fishing, is, I have come to find out, rather addictive. There I sat, warm but for my toes tingling with the beginnings of frost bite glaring eagerly at my bob, or bobbit, or, thingamig what the bait goes on. I wondered on the whole notion of my excitement of the prospect of my hook going sharp into some unsuspecting fishes mouth. Turns out they got wise pretty quickly to the novice up top. That was until the lovely Chris came into our little hut, all hunting gear and viking weathered skin. With a knowing hand he fiddle faddled with my bait and such, gave me a few instructions in his Minnesotan twang and lo and behold there was a fish. A sun fish apparently. Cute little thing. Looked at him just long enough to give a quick apologetic smile and in he was thrown back down to his icey abode to eat some other bait. I was in such shock at actually getting something I didn't even shout out to Cory and Sam. They missed the whole thing having gone out of our little tent to try and re-engage their circulation or something like that. Outside most of the troupe were huddled around various other holes alternately hurumphing with frustration and elation. When lunchtime rolled around we all drove back across the water (Jesus jokes abounded) and stuffed ourselves with home made chicken and wild rice soup with a hearty side of tangy pulled pork sliders (so called for the ease with which they, well, slide down). All the other children were there for the day (canine variety), folks cosied on the fat sofas whilst others hit the trail. Snowmobile trail. Motorbike on skis basically. Boys were delighted. I rode on for experience. Every time Cory hit 15m.p.h my legs involuntarily squeezed the blood out of his sides. I believe he still has the bruises. There was something quite elating about charging across the countryside and at the same time so terrifically out of synch with that which we were enjoying. I think I lacked the subtle boyseyness to appreciate the whole petrol speed fuelled cross country jaunt. No dog sleds in modern America after all I guess. It probably would be time I moved with the times but I remain somewhat unmoved and a little bemused by the whole motor on the snow thing. I am not a speed demon. This is probably at the heart of it no doubt. Or maybe, riding at the back with the fumes floating you ever so slightly beyond reality might also have something to do with my non-committal to the diversion. Does bring a zing to the cheek though and a thoroughly outdoorsy glow to the best of us. Needless to say we all fell asleep on the way home - boyo almost made it through the night from 4.30 in the afternoon! He had played hard. With everybody. We laid low the following day, still all a bit winter weary and rested up for our matinee weekend. On the one week stops this generally involves me rallying up all patience reserves for doing copious washing and packing whilst trying to encourage Sam to mantain his top helper status. I take two Patience pills every four hours or more if needed. Least that's the plan. It was made easier this time round by a visit from our cousin Lynsey who is studying at Carelton College just under an hour away. Her much anticipated arrival topped off with a t-shirt of her college for Sam and her involvement in Sam's bedtime little rituals. With great pride, and voice, he recited our little blessing and then urged her to join us for his bed time books. In we all snuggled under the covers, Sam finally drifting off, gazing into Lynsey's eyes to the sounds of Mrs. Tittlemouse getting busy with her hedgerow storerooms. We topped off our Mineapolite stay with our matinee outing. Having filled the hamper, Cory's dresser Debbie took us under the stage and straight out into the front lobby. A beautifully renovated house, which had been one of the most important Vaudeville haunts in its day, still with the original silver gilt domed ceiling. Chandeliers cascading all about, the audience tingling with anticipation. It was a warm house, though apparently not as raucous as the saturday version. My highlight was Cory ad libbing with the signers down right. House loved it too. The over all highlight of the trip to the theatre however was my tour with Dave, the otherworldy looking house operations manager. Cory dropped me off back under the stage at an area loaded with an antique metal menagerie whilst he and Sam carried on a bike ride to the orchestra pit. Come to find out what I was looking at were old cash registers, an original spot light form 1920 complete with coloured gel aparatus, a chandelier, various old electrical motors and instruments all used in the theatre and some fabulous original billboard and line up signs from the venue's hey day. Dave then took me round the corner to his storeroom and pulled out an array of framed vaudeville prints, signed by various perfomers and addressed to his grandparents who had been head of the wardrobe union and carpenter in this very theatre. Dave's father had been a sound man, his brother also, and he himself worked his way up through the ranks; from coal man to manager. I snapped pictures of the motley crew of folk he presented images of, including his great aunt Irene in mid comedy pose, my imagination doing back flips and listening for the applause they might have enjoyed. After the last print was put back into his locked store I pushed him for stories of the ghost kind. "Well," he says to me with a kind of shrug to the heavens, "I don't believe in all that stuff really." I am, obviously, not put off. Never better a ghost story told than by someone who doesn't believe. Minutes later he casually tells me about strange happenings on most of the opening nights of the various travelling shows, and he has seen plenty of them, having worked at the theatre under its 8 different owners, including almost a decade under the leadership of Bob Dylan. He tells me that at he opening night of Phantom he came down to the boiler room to find every single belt having been removed from all of the motors. When Julie Andrews premiered with Victor Victoria a sink blew off from the wall. When we are moving towards stage door he throws back to me over his shoulder, the story of him shovelling coal over night to the sounds of someone tap dancing on the stage above. "Folk on the stage door would be running around with all sorts of equipment trying to trap the darn ghosts. Gotta be a rational explanation I say. I just listened. Nothing more." A few breaths later he also adds a quick story about how two constructions workers during the renovations had heard opera singing on stage on several occasions. No better way to experience a new theatre than in the company of the Dave-man. It will be a cherished memory of the place. And, so it came about that travel day, was, once again on the horizon. We packed the bags and braced ourselves for another two flight day.

Here I am, typing in our roomy Kansas city hotel suite. We are on the 20th floor of a tastefully renovated art deco building which basked in the limelight of its roaring hey day, when the city was given the title of Paris of the Plains. When we landed the rolling plains struck me as the perfect backdrop for the canvas wagons we have come to associate with this part of the world. Our views from our new nest spread across the city. One of our desks (yes you read right) looks out onto the skyline. All I need is a pair of those thick rimmed glasses, a noisy typewriter and I will be a bone-fide writer. We have two bathrooms, one which has been converted into a kitchen/bimbo room (by the by I have discovered some evangelical users this side of the pond who have devoted entire blogs to the thing!). We are back to the kind of luxury I am scared I will get used to, and once again, wondering at the gift that this adventure is to all of us. Sam was stoic throughout our nomading today, through our dinner downstairs where the maitre d' took him on to help her with taking menus over and drinks to others from the troupe, unpacking and p-j-ing with only a very brief melt down before a few calming pages of Dr. Seuss sent him off to dream land.

Cory has his feet up on our retro sofa, a black and white documentary on the Kennedy's is on. I, blog into the near distance and set up our little map of the states ready for Sam and I to draw our next red line marking our progress so far. The blistering cold of Minneapolis is behind us, ahead of us only the promise of some true mid western barbecue delights....

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Minnesota Nice

After a one and a half hour drive to Detroit from Lansing on route 96 passing Jolly Road, a dance school in a barn and a small sign reminding drivers that killing or injuring a co-worker leads to $7500 fine+5 years, an hour flight to Chicago and a 6 hour delay waiting in the windy city, our second flight finally left for Minneapolis. In we rolled to the snow hidden city, tiny lights flickering on the ground as we looked down from the night sky and screeched onto the frozen runway, enormous banks of snow on either side of us as far as you could see. The wintry mists so different from the sunny afternoon skies we left behind over in Michigan, racing down the runway passengers giddy from the flight attendants delivery of Southwest's airline safety patter that would have given the best stand ups a run for their money. Amongst the favourites are instructions on what to do should the flight "turn into a cruise", a word to passengers with children - "what were you thinking?!" and directions on the use of masks should cabin pressure change - "if you have two children, now's the time to choose favourites." Our heavily harisprayed attendant had us rolling in the aisles as we took to the sky - the troupe at the back taking down notes for future comedy character studies. This travel day, a test of endurance, was really when the tour's mascot came into his own. An Audience With Sam was very much the title of the day. James, the dance captain from Bristol (England, the old one) taught Sam about theatre managers (he was given a detailed description of the Gee show), vitamins and cashmere hats (!). He also escorted Sam around the terminal as the tyke straddled a trolley and drove it as his pretend snow mobile. The dancers delighted in his sprite routine (running about on tip toes). Brad (office Kemp) bought a happy meal from the Mc place just so he could get the free toy for Sam. Plenty of snacking and books in between. Thus the time, but not us, flew by. Especially for Beth who was pale grey from a stomach bug that hit hard the night before and had caused her to miss a show. In recompense Sam and I had got to see her understudy perform - the dazzling Melina, Roger Bart's lady. It was a fantastic turn. Much credit to the art of understudying. Back at the airport, things started to get exciting when the company manager (who introduced Sammy to the McDonald fry) called us together and explained she was considering hiring a last minute coach to drive us through the storm overnight to make sure we got to the city in time for Tuesday's opening. A blizzard was on its way to Chicago and we had a tiny window of fast slipping away time to get out of the soon-to-be closed Chicago and get to the even snowier Minnesota-land. Nothing like arriving at a new place at 10 at night, in a Cadillac SUV I might add (oh how things change) sliding over the foot deep in snow sidewalks with luggage and now, very much sleeping, boy in car seat, to make you feel like you are earning your ride. We celebrated our arrival with some grilled fish salads and a glass of red to share. The next morning, when tykey woke up before seven (eek), I was surprisingly full of the joys of a sunny winter. He came out bleary eyed into our living area and exclaimed with great zest various sounds of delight at the fridge, sofa and microwave of our new home. Nothing like a little bit of 3 year old enthusiasm to remind you how lucky we are. And so, with our renewed sense of wonder we both trotted downstairs for mama's coffee fix (no coffee pot here you see). Back to the Starbucked land m'afraid, but the ladies behind the counter was so lovely it made it all better. Minnesota Nice is alive and well I have noted. That is a phrase for which the state is well known especially here in the Twin Cities. Our driver from the airport told us about the differing overall characters of the cities, Minneapolis a metropolitan restaurant and culture littered place as opposed to St.Paul, the state capital just over the otherside of the Missisipi river more of a blue collar, suburban feel. All I notice in the first few hours is that slight Fargo accent and the kind of resonance in the voices typical of cold place folk, though interestingly the city has an ever burgeoning Somalian community. We passed a lady when we rode the Light Rail, her dark veils flapping in the winter winds over the bright white snow drifts. Couldn't get more polar if you tried, in all senses. On the metro we both noticed the wonderful diversity of the place despite an overall Nordic feel to the tall blonde folk that strut the streets. Sorry did I say streets? I meant Skyways. Yes, here the deeply frozen place the folks have invented glass tunnels that connect pedestrians midair allowing them to arrive at their destinations minus the need for 79 layers of clothing. The down side is that you end up going through a heady neon filled journey of consumerism. At one point we realised we were being walked through the menswear section of Macy's in order to reach the metro stop. One way to encourage shopping I spose. Enforced entry. When we arrived at the other side the three of us looked a little dazed and confused. A sort of post mall fatigue glare to the eyes. You know the one. We managed in 15 minutes what people shop all morning to achieve. How's about that for speed ha?!

So there we were, shivering in the morning minuses, having figured out the ticket machine whachahoochie and mid freeze jig when Cory notices a button. Press for Heat it says. We do. It does what it says on the tin. We defrost under the overhead halogen sunrise. Whilst we wait we press another button and one east coaster's views of moving to viking country are amplified around the glass shelter. The distant ting of a bell (like the old fashioned sort but synthesised) heralds the arrival of the light rail, gliding along the road. It's immaculate, fast, smooth and feels very European palette inside. It takes us on a ride across the city, past the snow drifted homes and onto......THE MALL OF AMERICA.

The place needs Capitalising because it is simply huge beyond comprehension. In fact, its so big not even its website fits on the screen - you literally press options and the thing zooms out, slides across and zooms you in, at speed of course, to your chosen category. Its so big that it refused to play on my iphone. Its so big it houses and entire amusement park at its centre with three level of shops around it plus four major stores at the apexes. Recipe for parent and child info overload. Luckily we had agreed on a three our stay max. $10 later Sam has been braceleted and is ensconced in a train ride in Nickleodeon Universe (you getting the big thing?). Half an hour later and he is riding the mini trucks for the third time. 45 minutes later and mum and dad are doing a marvellously artful job at discouraging him from riding the bumper cars (there's only so much push and shoving us old folk can stand) and luring him out and into a lunch place. He recovers with a stroller nap on the way home.

The following morning he and I go uptown to the local commune to recover. We arrive, in true mother style about half an hour early. Fine if its actually above zero and you can stay outside and breathe at the same time. I send a wish to the heavens and, looking up, it is granted. Nothing better than to see a bright red retro neon sign with the letters C.O.F.F.E.E lighting up the distance is there? Onward we trek on the narrow widths dug out from the drifts and enter a java lover's heaven. We enter "Spyhouse", all bundled up foreigners to the inviting coffee aroma and toasty hang out. On each of the mis matched tabled circa 1956-63 there are one souls waking up with enormous pots of the black stuff gazing dreamily into their macs trying to wake up and finish writing their novels, or graphics, or blogs perhaps. There is an arty intenseness to the place. Everyone is in mid thought. And sip. Oh the sips. If there was anything to remedy the shock my system is struggling to deal with that is the Minnesota cold it was this smooth, perfectly brewed cup o' lusciousness. The waitresses flirted with Sam, fed him a muffin, and mum woke up. Finally. Caffeine overload perhaps not the ideal state to be in when you are going into a room of new faces and uber calm Waldorf teacher all pastel pins and nepalese bell charm around her neck. She immediately made us feel very welcome and the sofa littered mix matched lamp illuminated space for what they call the "little sprouts" was very comfy indeed. Sam chopped real veg, built a house, cooked some not so real "breakfast" found a few friends, listened to songs and cried when we had to leave. And go to pee.

When we left he insisted on walking through the two feet high snow. Giant leaps and falls and snow faced later he finally relents to the side walk and we continue via bus as two michelin men waddling downtown. I make the mistake of a wrong turn and nearly end up in the middle of a small wood, which would be fine if either of us could feel our toes. Or cheeks. Or nostrils. Finally we find a little bit of lunch and take away an aray of buttery deliciousnesses for our afternoon guest. An old friend of Cory's is about to move to London for the foreseeable future and has fitted in a pit stop with us. His mum is a Brit. He paid a fee, got a stamp and now he is one of us. Oh if only the green card were so simple!

We drink tea brewed in our own non travel sized teapot (this tickles our guest no end) and Sam monopolises him at every opportunity. That's what you get I explain, when you have the same name as half of his imaginary friends. Sam's best buddies are Blue Ian and Silver Ian. Green Ian and the rest of the spectrum make an appearance during other more exuberant moods but the first two are constants. They are perpetual perchers on his shoulders. I get on with them well for the most part except for when they challenge me directly by having something I have told Sam he can't have at that moment, or going a place Sam knows he will have to wait. Usual invisible behaviour. Sam shows (real) Ian his "props" for the show and explains he does a big finale number called "Guttin on the Gitz". Difficult to know where he got the idea for that one. Ian (real and pretend) is laughing hysterically, but when the little boy refuses to understand that our new friend must not be interrupted at every comma, I pull out some books and Sam is asleep by the time Mrs Tittlemouse gets to her parlour. I hear him talk in his sleep now. Could be a long night...

So there's our little life in the twin cities so far. Smiles all round, if glistened with icicles. I don't think I will ever complain about the English cold ever again. I may even wear my short shorts in November just to prove my point. Few more weeks of P90X is in order before I subject my lands to that vision. For now, I plan on heading back to the Spyhouse and keeping my eyes peeled for a surprise tumble into Prince on the sidewalk. It is his, as well as the beloved creator of Peanuts, Charles Schultz's home town. I had planned on marrying him (Prince that is) when I was about 15 you see and I do feel a little guilty for pulling out of our pact. Even if he didn't know about it. I have some integrity. Must be the Minnesota Nice is rubbing off on this London gerl...

Friday, 5 February 2010

Zen & the Art of Ice Skating

The roar of the rumbling freight train, by the sounds of it of some considerable size, heralds in the East Lansing night. It's a busy one it would seem. From our window you can see nothing but tall pine trees still dusted with snow, and our snowman, named Mr. abominable by the young one. Perhaps it is a ghost train after all? We have never come close to seeing it though it has punctuated our stay here so far. It sounds like those trains you hear in the old movies. It must be an american train thing, it takes me back to our first few weeks of the road and our little dwellings in Hartford Conneticut. Well, whatsoever it may be all I know is that is quite a romantic soundtrack to a cosy night in recovering from our poker night. Note to self, playing after 3 o clock when you know you are on the early shift is never wise, unless you make a pact with yourself not to clear out your healthy stash of winnings in the last few hands because of tiredness. That was just shoddy sportsmanship. Only hours before I had earnt my stripes as bone fide poker player, then I go and let my guard down in a few hasty moves. Everyone brought snacks - big ones - and we had enough beer there for a party of 100 rather than our cosy group of 8. Cory left the game around 2 to relieve the two dancers from the cast - Britt and Lara - who were baby sitting. I stayed up with the boys till I lost royally and left them thrashing it out for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places. My parting gift to them was a nip of my cousin's homemade chocolate raspberry port. Sweetened the blow.

In fairness I had missed almost the first hour of play on account of kindly receptionist burning pop corn in the microwave she was heating as a gift to the game. When it started smoking it set the alarms off on the entire complex. Our friends had just arrived and we were almost leaving when we suddenly found ourselves wrapping up a now sleep walking Sam to get him and us out into the snow. Only when we had finally managed out the door do we find out it was a false alarm. Sam was then in that happy half state, neither waking or sleeping but managed a quick pet of Britt's toy poodle (living not plastic I must be clear) and a short exchange about him forgetting the name of the "other fluffy puppy...what's his name? mmmm oh yes Toby!" I ushered him back into the bedroom lest he start using so many exclamation marks to wake himself up in earnest. Britt had earlier lamented to Cory that the only downfall of babysitting so late would be they couldn't actually get to chat with the little fella. I suspect she rigged the alarm. Anyways, 45 minutes later and Sam had finally relinquished to sleep, his last words ring in my head, "Don't go to play cards mum." He is after all of Baptist stock, this much we know after our Atlanta history trail.

Did my losses, both of sleep and money wreck the following day? Strangely, no. As is customary, I often find the first night after a social is usually highly productive. I did a Patricia turn in the kitchen producing sauce, risotto, burgers and marinades out of the bimbo in under two hours whilst playing shop with Sam. That is truly impressive for me. I am a self confessed failed multi tasker. I always shirked this term. If it means half doing five things and stressing everyone out around you then, yes, I qualify. But really, is this something women, or indeed the meandering (I mean that derogatorily in terms of attention not otherwise) sex, should really be aiming for? No offence meant Cory dearest.

After my kitchen twirling, and a quick blast P90X stretching (I knew I had Hamstrings back there somewhere) we took off the ice rink. Not something I am accustomed to doing of a Friday morning. We simply couldn't resist going back after yesterday's proceedings, whereby our son found his skate feet. It happens to be, like everything else we have found, just across the road. I arrived towards the end of the public skate session - one man - senior, Cory and son. That's it. Just metre-age of ice and a little boy and his dad wobbling their way to skill. Of sorts. When I turn up what I first notice is a contraption that boyo is pushing along. It is in all intents and purposes a walker, akin to those in hospitals or elderly homes, but in miniature. He wouldn't look out of place as a wizened old villager in Gulliver's Travels. His little size 7 boots go clackety at a pace along the rink. His expression one of serene focus. By the time we drag him off, with much artful coaxing, he is sliding all around the space without a look back for Dad at all. When we see that there is a pre-school session the following day we sign up. More out of curiosity than anything else. We get to the rink early, Preston, one of the cast who grew up on the ices of Minnesota, Kelly who does magic to the wigs in the show, and Nicole the spotlight operator join us. The first two twiddle and glide around the ice, smooth and playful like the children they were when they first donned their boots. I, having made an absolute pact to myself to Let Go Of The Wall and am happily surprised at my ability to do this (thank you ladies). Amazing what a little peer pressure can do. Nothing like your three old two day skater son overtaking you to make you want to bite the bullet already. Around and around we go, troupees fawning over the boy, helping him up when he knee slides, usually just after a little girl, who he befriends, does so. They form an instant mini friendship and he, tries to help her up only to hit the deck for the nth time. On they skate, up and down, figure eighted around by his new troupee family. I try to remember to breathe and bend my knees. I'm sure they do bend. Least they did half an hour ago. Now, not so sure.

We retreat to the warmth of the changing area to refuel and defrost son. He starts chatting with one Nate and others and I barely get a banana and cracker in him before he is waddling off to join the children back on the rink. Cory takes him to meet the teacher who is effortlessly gliding between all the little ducklings taking to the frozen water. She explains to Cory that the thought behind the session is that the props and games (pretend hockey puck, balls and hoops) literally distract the children from merely skating and by focusing on the play, their bodies get on with the rest. By the time she reaches this part of the explanation Sam has skated, unaided, to pick up a mini ice hockey stick. It was quite something to watch. My aching arches and I stood on the side, taking photographic evidence and marvelling at the little people's resilience. Each of them skating or skate walking, or running for some, falling effortessly. Without thought simply pulling themselves back upright. No embarrassment. No self judgement. No ego. Just getting on with the job at hand. What a beautiful attitude towards life. Simple. All the effort going in the right places. I could learn a thing or two here.

Certainly for an apparently quiet place our little winter retreat stop has offered Sam a wealth of experiences. After our ritualistic croissant and coffee at the asian run Chapelure that is consistently spotless, welcoming and serving the most beautiful sweet offerings clearly made with great pride and love. Non-starbucked. Non-snobby. Family run. Sincere smiles all round. Amazing what a well placed raspberry atop a little tart does to me. Of course, its simply a little desert, but look closely and the care someone has taken to offer their creativity for other's pleasure is something very moving to me. After our decadence (for the record I would like some pats on the back for managing to be satisfied with genteel tastes of the boys sweets rather than inhale a whole mega croissant to myself. My P90X teacher keeps telling me to "Bring It" so I thought, for value for money, I ought to listen. Just about) we walked past a little dance studio, and being a son of hams, Sam-boy immediately asked if he could join in. The teacher kindly allowed him into two classes, one tap, one ballet and he lapped up his time with the older women. 5 is the new 10 don't you know? What a marvel to watch him copy the teacher intently, and then, in every spare bar or breath, punch the air with his own little improvised elf moves. Jack Frost meets Martha Graham. Pure entertainment. I don't know of anything that can quite match the delight we feel in watching the sheer joy that pumps right to the ends of his fingers and toes for moving, for the music, the undivided attention of the teacher and other pupils. The boy was in his element. Oh boy. We're headed back there tomorrow. In between laundry and packing and preparing for the next tap in Minneapolis.

It has been a welcome gear change old East Lansing. I feel like an elastic coiling back ready to spring into city living action again. There is something about being surrounded by trees and having the local haunts being so very local, low key and relaxed that makes it very easy to write and think and generally re-charge. Sam asked when he saw them swaying at his window whether it was a tree or a monster? Perhaps not the same effect on him ha? Onward with a matinee weekend. After the high of the Atlanta crowd, the troupe is a little like a pack with their tails between their legs. Apparently Mel Brook's humour is not eaten up so ravenously up here in the colds of the north. Georgia seems like a whole world away from these frozen parts, in more ways than one.

Well folks, that'll be a Michigonian goodnight from me....

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Fabulous Farewells & Hopeful Hellos

So it was almost farewell to Atlanta, the birth place of two significant contributors to the american psyche - Coca-Cola and Martin Luther King - as Sam and I took our places at the saturday matinee performance. The Fox theatre is not called Fabulous for nothing. It really is a jaw dropping vision of Middle Eastern lusciousness with a generous dollop of 20s excess to boot. As you walk in under the canopy past the brass stand alone ticket booth (think Islamic Dr. Who tardis) and on through the deep red carpeted foyer you could feel the buzz in the air. On past wall mosaics of various depths of Morrocan blues we found ourselves by the entrances to the orchestra seats. The lights were almost off completely but for the dim flicker of the numerous low hung glass lanterns. I didn't know whether I was in a large Rhiad or a theatre. Between the sand coloured textured stone walls down to the detail in the mosaic water fountains (complete with brass lion spurts) by the restrooms, sorry "lounges" the whole experience was truly about taking the spectator to another world in all senses. Even the souvenirs had panache without, surprisingly, huge price tags. The enormous push to save the theatre after a fire some years ago, when AT&T put in a bid to turn the landmark into, wait for it, a car park, had helped to produce the beautiful oversize book on the Fox throughout the years as well as some funky retro style t-shirts with "Save The Fox" message across them. Sam and I settled for a $10 mug with a picture of the stage on it whose curtain "lifts up" when you put your hot drink into it. Small things please small minds. Mine, not his, of course.

We found our seats and stared up at the midnight blue ceiling canopying over us with tiny "star light" twinkling behind the subtly projected moving clouds. Later when we looked at the house from the stage you could see the silhouette of turrets giving the illusion of the whole auditorium being within thick walls of an open roofed palatial courtyard somewhere at the foot of the Atlas mountains. It really was something to see. And the audience, more than matched up to their surroundings. Not since the opening night of The Producers back in Drury Lane theatre in London, October 2004 have I heard roars like these. The 5,000 seat house echoed with laughter. The moments that in other places have provoked a slight wry sigh of a giggle were treated to belly laughs here. When Putting on The Ritz began it almost stopped the show. That was before any of the tricks. And I can be sure the whole audience was not made up of Mel Brook's die hard fans, who are usually the folks who make the most noise at this point, being as it is, a highlight of the original black and white movie. This was something else. By the time the creature is performing the shadow routine it felt like everyone was ready to get up and dance. I always delight in the way every audience, be it the slightly sardonic Chicago crowd or the reserved hoy poly of the DC area always let the guard down at this point in the show. You can be wordy as you like, witty as you please, but give a crowd a simple illusion, a good oldy and everyone is a kid again. I'm talking about the bit where the monster is alone centre stage, giving it some welly with the old tap shoes, and behind him, on a white cyclorama is his "shadow". The shadow is actually one of the dancers performing in front of a light to give him great size. The gag comes when the shadow flashes out some extra funky steps when the monster has stopped. That is it. Just pure and simple theatre stuff. We lap it up. The whole build up of the five minute routine means that when it is time for the finale, a kick line of the whole company, the audience is about ready to jump out of their seats. The kick line, in itself is no where near spectacular. In fact the kicks don't even reach 45 degrees which, for the limber dancers would be like us mere mortals simply walking. Every week I have watched the show, this is undoubetedly the point when the audience comes alive, and where I always have my love of theatre re-affirmed. There is something about the simplicity of this moment that thrills me. The actors, all the company together, the audience now also performing as one, gives me a renewed faith in humanity. Its just a show I hear you say, but for me, in that moment, there is a wonderful sense of connection and that is really what it is all about isn't it? What a rare fleeting moment - in this case about 8 bars or less - that always is, but for me it comes close to what leaders of any kind of organisation yearn for, be it church, school, government, home. It is quite simply a great achievement for a large group of people to be present in the same present even if for a few seconds. A bit like when you're team scores a point, except in this case there is no opponent, other than reality perhaps. A shadow play, a kick line, top hats, canes, song and dance folk. I am living the vaudevillian dream my friends, without doing much of the hard graft I might add, save a few written musings from the illuminating stance of the outsider, privy to adventures thrown our way.

The following monday, having, almost, come back down to earth from our weekend foray, and not having found enough time to corner Bernard, the stage door man, to extracate precise details of the numerous ghostly goings on in that place, it was time for us to hit the road. We passed the "World Changers Ministries" bus along the way, and one of the final fleeting images I will remember of that airport in Atlanta is being in a bathroom stall and a little ballet pumped foot finding its way into my peripheral. On top of her foot the word Michael was tatooed in elegant script. There's an upside of the whole short door thing I spose. I spent the next five munites wondering on that story, underscored by the cheery attendant who was singing If You're Happy and You Know It with the lilt of someone idling away summer sun on a picnic'd meadow. Off into the skies again leaving forest surrounded Atlanta far behind us down there somewhere. We managed this trip without any sickness incidences which was a treat. Getting rather blase we took Sam onto our laps for a little while just in time for him to knock over a full glass of icy water down onto my seat to freeze my derrière. I arrived in Detroit looking like I had an incontinence problem. Pushing the stroller anyone might have thought it was a product of a difficult birth. Through the trippy underworld of Detroit's uber modern airport. The moving walkway to another terminal took us under a glass lined white tunnel onto which a spectrum of coloured lights was projected undulating passengers through their memories of the womb into the light at the end. A voice spoke from an echoey distance, the sort you hear in portals in sci fi movies. Cory and I were open mouthed and instantly calmed from our travel day raised shoulders, if a little surprised. Sam couldn't wait to reach the end. Hey ho. I guess it was a big kid thing.

The flight that followed for Lansing will always be rated as one of my favourites. Not only because it was in one of those small jets, the ones not even I can stand up straight in, but mostly because it lasted all of, well, 16 minutes. That really is my kind of flight. Boyo fell asleep moments before take off and stayed in that blissful state of repose through putting him into a stroller to baggage claim and then into the car seat all the way up the stairs of our new home. He woke just in time for us being ready to head out for dinner. Monty, who arrived to pick us up, a proud local took the time to take us on a quick detour of the university campus' "ancient" buildings as he called them (circa 1890s), which is at the heart of this town. The renowned Michigan state university doubles the town's population of around 40,000 whilst school is in session. I went to a well respected university but I have never seen anything on this scale in my life. The school has a 70,000 stadium on campus next to a full size hockey rink. The beautiful old buildings did fill me with a yearning for learning I have to say. Students jogged by us, others biking in the gentle snow flurry. We reached a junction where "Sparty" the spartan stands proudly, his chest puffed his gaze up towards new horizons. Apparently during the football matches especially when this university is playing its arch rival University of Michigan students take it in shifts to guard him for fear of him being deficated with the opponents colours. The juxtaposition of the modernity of the university's architecture with the ancient emblem they have of the Spartan struck me. The sprawling campus was totally unexpected and a world away from sunny Atlanta. On we drove, past a few factories that have been redeveloped into luxury lofts, passed homes and snow dusted tree lined streets to our little complex of newly built apartment blocks. Not disimilar to the modern developments that are mushrooming around London these days. Sam is delighted with having his own big little room.

First impressions of the place did not immediately lead us to believe there would be a cosy, and un-Starbucked coffee shop just around the corner in the strip mall (no its not that kind of place Brits) flanked by a Charity Poker Club (?), Dance studio, Sushi haunt and Sultan's - a "Medittarranean" bakery and diner, where we ate a years worth of garlic for lunch today. For a week's stay could you possibly need anything more I ask you? Especially when you have no car and no access to busses or trains come to think of it. Off we wrapped ourselves up, travel weary but filled with our now weekly excitement of arrival into a new place, where expectations are always low and any find is always welcomed. Turning a chilly corner we pop into Sansu and head for the "traditional" tables. We sit, with the illusion of being on the floor. In actual fact the floor has been raised and we are sat in all intents and purposes as if on a normal chair. It feel like you are being Japanese without the back ache. Utter delight on boys face, topped off by kind, (but severly back ache'd) waitress who gave him children's chop sticks. Think normal chopsticks with a little rolled up paper and elastic at the top to join them for japanese eating training. The sushi rolls were delicious if cut a little on the gargantuan side. Not a first date place. Cory and I took it in turns to look like we had a whole chipmunk in our mouths. We ate rice out of a oven heated stone bowl, topped with different roes and seaweed goodness. Sammy grappled and then succeed to down his cucumber sushi roll and edamame with his tongs (if we were Japanese that sentence would not sound nearly half as pretentious by the way) He insisted on eating his breakfast (left over rice) and dinner (mashed potatoes with beans) with them. On the video I took, you can't make out the elastic so it looks like he is managing it completely on his own. A source of never ending hilarity to daddy and me. Sort of excruciating to watch him eat one bean at a time granted, but I look on it as a double dose of Patience training. For the both of us. Amazing what patience a three year ld can find when doing something off his own will isn't it?! I spose its the same perseverance used to harrang parents when in a particularly attention starved (god forbid!) moment.

When I unpacked our shopping this afternoon I realised I had misread a price tag. Please don't tell Cory, he is forever nagging me to be more precise when it comes to funds - incoming and outgoing. I have a tendency to be round up or down as it were, at least that's his version. Turns out the $2 can of British Heinz Baked Beans was actually a $7.99 can. That'll learn me for buying foreign goods. At home I'll pay all of, about 80cents. The trip was made blog worthy by our driver from Tenessee who spent most of the ride to the store on the phone getting directions to where were going and most of the ride back telling us how his twin brother and he drover 240 miles out of their way when they went back home for a trip some years ago, "Never mattered Ok? We had no place to be going ok?" Over the course of our, somewhat elongated journey, we found out that he runs three different business and likes to lie about his age to girlfriends. "I say I'm 55, they don't think nothin'. I'm 77. No mater ok? Only thing, when they know you have some money, it's asking for loans here and there, a car breaks, then a washing machine needs fixing. You know the sort of thing ok? Always asking for something ok?" Everything was indeed "ok" apart from the small detail of him not knowing where he was going. His being somewhat lacking in the hearing department didn't bother us as much as it did Sam as he desperately called out "excuse me?" waiting patiently for an answer before he began his questioning. I enjoyed the - loud - country music he was playing on the radio, a lively back drop to the snowy Michigonian church dotted landscape. We drive by our turning. Cory asks him to turn back please and then cracks up into hysterical laughter. "Where were you going anyway?" he asks. Our Tenessean answers that he doesn't know exactly but "Figured you would tell me when to turn and like, ok?" Little had he realised we had been here for all of, what, 20 hours and most of those in the dark. He sits in the car whilst we unload our shopping in the light snow shower, just as he did at the supermarket earlier.

Quick pause here whilst I take half sleep walking boy to toilet.......

Ok I'm back. And there we have it. Our first day in chilly East Lansing, a world away from its Sussex sea side British counterpart. Poker night is planned for tomorrow. The troupe will be partying with the local hoy poloy, sorry theatre donors, later tonight. I will get back to etching away my novel and generally spreading ourselves out to make our little place feel like a home. For five days at least.