Sunday, 13 February 2011

Tears Before Bedtime

The first time it almost happened was by the pool, husband dangling a giggling boy in mid air. Second was whilst packing up in preparation for Clearwater - a red moon night drive away. The third time, parents finally succumb to a tear or three. On aisle four of the grocery store. Dad started it. Walked to the crackers and threw me an apologetic look. I almost hold it together, sobbing softly till the eggs nearly fall splat on the floor at check out and I snap back to present. Soppy pair. In under a week I am taking our boy across the seas to London town for a little while whilst Dad carries on his humpy struts across his country. Faced with the prospect of a couple of months of one week stops, in chilly climes, or a stint back home with the promise of a commune, sorry, nursery for the boy and a little home comfort for the old lady, mama opted for the latter. Six weeks is not a life time, many are the parents who are faced with far harder sacrifices than this. We have been utterly spoilt for sixteen months, spending time as a family that most people only fantasise about. As a wise man told me, a family needs a base from which to spring board off of, and I think the time has come for me to address my irritating mid Atlantic twang in a town where the sun shines intermittently and the folk are obsessed with tea.

The last matinee in Palm Beach fell on Superbowl Sunday. Time for an impromptu party for the game before the night bus takes cast and crew to the next venue. Come five o’clock a group of us are on a last minute sprint around the aisles of the store all pre game jitters, impulse buy laden trolleys. By six o’clock I am elbow deep in Bimby, rustling up turkey tacos with meatball burgers on the foreman. Actors fill our bath with ice and beer, Sam haranguing them to enact The Three Pigs. They comply. Many are the Mariott guests who have been privy to the troupe’s improvised genius as Napoleon directs a medley of fairy tales poolside, hurling dialogue cues in his sprightly tones. The football game opens with star studded pomp, it’s rules something I fear will always escape me. Can’t even ogle the players like soccer because they’re wearing so much bloomin’ armour. Unless the whole long haired black greasepaint look is your cup of tea.

Jaw dropping luxury of the Palm Beach waterfront villas in our sun drenched past. Now we brave the windswept pristine beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. Till our return to reality the serious work of play – in my periphery Boy is jiggling from foot to foot like a restless imp to the manic crooning of Spike Jones and his City Slickers. Empty laundry basket over his head. His version of Puttin on the Ritz from dad’s show is something I ought to sell tickets for - if you’re into passionate interpretive tap that is. Husband meanwhile at opening night sound check, a sign on the call board warning that feeding or wrestling with the alligators in the lake next to the theatre will incur a $500 fine. Something to remember if I feel tempted to wrestle any of those world weary Londoners.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Me & The Ewings

I am in a Southfork stupor. North of our homestead, towards Plano, pass several mega churches amongst which is Heaven’s Glorious Embassy, take a right onto Farm to Market road and you arrive at the Ewing’s ranch. Make sure you don’t double back onto Virgo or Jupiter road because that will land you at the gun safe spa shop or the bullet range, or, perhaps worse still, Twin Peaks “super fine dining”, it’s billboard splayed with a lady and her own ample twin peaks.

Underestimate not the influence those power hungry, materialistic gloss licked soap opera chicks and cowboys had over me as an impressionable young lass. I tred the terraces sponged into my childhood memories then sing the theme tune skipping down that drive way, up until young Bailey, who had sold me my ticket, zipped by in her golf buggy at which point I pretend to be humming a tune into my sleeve. I join the house tour with a Belgian flight attendant, listening to the kindly John, imbuing his story telling with well rehearsed improvisation and mellifluous tour guide tones. Stewardess and I tip toe around the house past the huge portraits of all the main characters and the rooms devoted to each. None of which appeared in the show, but still. All interiors were shot in California, several months after the summer Texan shoot when they would have to recreate all those shoulder padded strops as if they had just happened. Skill.

Apres noseying, John and his wife Adele, self confessed anglophiles, ask me whether it is customary for all folk who live in mansions to have formal dinners every night? I answer in the affirmative, for what else are ball gowns for than an impromtu spaghetti dinner? “Is there no place to curl up with an ice cold beer?” Adele asks with a twinkle. “But of course,” I reply, “only we call them gin and tonics.”

On the balcony I breathe in the ranch, the surreality of seeing my boys holler over to me from the stables in a view I knew so well, tickling me more than I had expected. Fifteen months of travel makes the idea of playing house utterly irresistible which is why we are spending the show’s lay off week here. I think I have single headedly kept the food and house mags in profit this week, indulging in my nesting fantasies. I recreate signature dishes of the folk back home. The comfort of eating my “aunt’s” food is priceless especially when the heart strings begin to pang ever so softly for home soil, and the aunt passed over three years ago.

Besides, fortification is needed, after the week which saw our boy spike a fever that rose to a delirious 103 on the same day that mama came second in the Miss America Barbie project runway at the theatre. I allowed myself to be coerced into entering the competition by the wardrobe department, then observed myself, without some concern, encrusting a doll with sticky rhinestones completing the evening dress with collaged train made from black and white print outs of iconic moments in American history, pretentiously channelling my misplaced creativity.

Craving escapism? Head to Park lane. Gargantuan mansions line the back ways, French “chateaux” “renaissance” villas and “English” tudor side by side in a frenzied Texan oil-funded utopia. Reality, a tenuous concept at best, will have to wait. We’re ensconced in our own sliver of Texan vacation hideaway. Till Florida comes a calling that is.


I write from New-York-on-Sea, or, as the locals like to call it West Palm Beach. It is a little like what Costa del Sol is to Britons, only with a few less criminals (I think) and a lot more dosh. Mega bucks. Bit of a tropical idyll in one way, with many of the homes and condos built in those pastel shades, architectural echoes of hispanic villas and Carribbean oppulence. Then there's that 26 degree heat, humidity at it's peripheries just enough to comfort rather than drown and you've got yourself a little slice of how the other half live.

Took the boy to strut around the block earlier to absorb the rays, and, having searched for a humble little place to trim my brows and failed, succumbed instead to the closest available spa. Turned out to be the most glamorous one in the state, uber sparse and white with five different women greeting me each with a clipboard of their own and taking me their five steps to the next clipboarded colleague. Boy and I gawp and are ushered into heaven's waiting room. I don't mean that in a cruel way for the reputation this town has for being wealthy ageing New Yorker's last stop before St Peter, or whomever they choose to meet. No, I mean the small, white room was luminous as one might imagine in an episode of Quantum Leap just before he reaches the golden gates. We scoffed a few dried blueberries, mum sniffed the whole leaf teas on offer, even got a look at the owner who I then realised was on every one of the hundred framed magazine cut outs in the lobby, dyed hair, surgically adjusted features, fake tan, marathon runner arms, mid sixties at a guess.

After a while we were escorted on through, where a lady bemoaned the butcher who last attacked my brows and began a half hour's worth of direction on their maintenance. Amongst other things it included mention of eye brow gel (?!) and pencil instructed with enthusiastic diagrammatic direction executed like a da vinci pausing to illustrate angles and mathematical relationships between various parts of my face with a mascara wand, just before she stuffed my nose with a glob of wax and tore out half my nostril hair. Boy, suitably alarmed looked at me expectanatly. "The lady found a forest in my nose!" I joke. He takes a moment to decide whether my humour will cut it. Thankfully it does. Until she does the other side that is.

Back on the street, nose bristling, we take a meander back to the hotel via the Italian gelato store and a quick about turn on the diminutive rail way run by an older chap who I think is going to give us a discount on account of the boy wearing his dad's Yankee cap. At least it gets a grin from the train man, no such luck with the Texan folk of the past month.

I don't mean to give the Dallas lot a bad rep, and, in thinking about what I am about to write I realise I may offend some folk, but the "Dallatude" as an upstate New Yorker friend living in the city for the past twenty years put it, is something I will not miss. I am talking specifically about the phenomenon that is the Dallas dweller, not the Texan. The former, in it's most affluent state, appeared to exhibit the kind of behaviour we had expected of the LA folk. On the oil end of town, there was more plastic surgery and plump lipped mamas than we ever saw in California. Many of whom, appeared to be doing their very best impression of barbie dolls. Unlike most of the citys we have visited most barely met eyes with anyone they did not know, hard was it for us to ease into conversation in our usual way, an opinion seconded by many of the folk we spoke to who had moved down there for work from the north east.

I suppose our introduction to the place via the former Miss Amercia's roach ridden apartment skewed my opinion of the place, as did the uber trendy hotel we stayed in in the interim before moving to the corporate palace we found thereafter trying to be a yuppies haunt but lacking finesse in the details, like playing two different televisions and the radio at full volume in the lobby for example, of forgetting to fit the doors with pneumatic hinges so that each time anyone came in and out of any of the common areas they were punctuated with unintentionally angry door slamming.

Certainly, having talked to folk who have moved here, there is a definite feeling to the city of a place where people come to make a quick buck. The arts, for example, is booming and invested in hugely, though I feel obliged to point out the sponsors, powerful families in the area, are also quick to point out how their money is used. Backstage for example, at the theatre where the show played, the sponsors, aghast to find crew in the green room one day requested that the space be used for the artistes and artistes only. Since that day the door has been locked meaning neither camp has a communal space to convene in, usually one of the best bits of a backstage, a historical leveller. It is the only theatre we have visited on the tour who has the donor's name's illuminated at the foot of the stage right up until curtain up and immediately at intermission. Just sayin...

If you travel half an hour out of the city however, it is a totally different story. I am a Brit, when I come to Texas I want to see cowboys. Real cowboys, that work with cows, not the sort that rent out cockroach ridden apartments or those at the airports yesterday who offered to help with bags even though I was at the wrong terminal thereafter coercing me to finish check in - for a tip.

No, I mean leather belted, fat buckled be-booted and shirted cow boys. And girls. Down on Fort Worth stockyard’s cobbled streets that’s what I find, amongst the western garb stores enough to make vegetarians wince and leather fiends quiver with excitement. If you have around $1,000 spare that is, which is what you’ll pay for a decent pair of boots. Least the purple ones with a decade’s worth of stitching all around it that I had my eye on. If you prefer intricate leather work think in the region of $4,000. I touched, smelt and gawked. Then bought mini versions for the boy instead, from a sleek Texan saleswoman who ran the gauntlet for our cowboy and filled our bags with a complete outfit before we could say yeehaaaa, including a personalised CD made by her daughter with Sam’s name edited into the songs. Spooky. The latter, a present from Cory’s high school friend who lives in these parts who had the honour of watching me narrowly escaping decapitation trying on hundreds of boots, “Best sit”, says sales fella, gesturing to the bench after my second fall.

Boy swaggers ahead delighting in the clomp clumping of his boots upon the cobbles when we come across a horse drawn carriage. $35 dollars later we are aboard, Joe at the reins, taking a right turn and beginning a genteel trot. Through an empty parking lot. At the main road he double backs. Through another empty parking lot. On the other side.

Returning, we catch long horns sauntering down the street, tourist weary eyes, led by hollering owners upon horseback. Holding up the rear an African American cowboy cracking his whip. Husband sings the theme tune from Blazing Saddles. I stare at my shoes. Returning to main street we pass the skinny chap who has been walking his dog around the cross roads since we arrived, collecting tips from the visitors, whilst a cat is balanced on the canine and a rat atop of that.

Through the golden sun setting rays to the last boot shop on the strip, darkened windows, door jamming onto the sidewalk as you struggle to open it. Inside, under the peeling ceiling barely a foot square of free space amongst the hanging alligator skins, leather off cuts, straps, scraps and Ronald Reagan’s supposed boot shaper next the small framed picture of him inch thick with dust. From behind the mounds of supplies through the wafts of polish and glue a rotund Mexican looking craftsman makes his entrance, apron and glasses askew taking half a second to read us as the curious passers-by that we are. He explains his boots are all custom made to order, my eye darts to the pair just behind him with a Madonna stitched on the front, adding prices start at $650. We leave empty handed but for a picture or three of his wizened face.

Texan days are done. I type from our new Palm beach room, nursing away post travel day sniffles watching the palm trees sway in the afternoon breeze. Boys on the hunt for supplies. Mama considering a sponsorship deal with Kleenex. And counting her lucky (Floridian) stars.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Dressing Room Doodles

I type from the corner of Dad's dressing room. Boy is off in the land of nod in the corner, stretched out on the equity cot, a canvas fold out number. Above me the close of act two blaring out. It's a good house tonight. I can hear the laughter rolls out from the crowd caught by the actor's mics. It has been an entire day of music and theatre. We began with our weekend stop in at the Suzuki music school, where the three of us are being put through our paces in a parent student class. There are much drums involved, and songs, and a cheery lady on a grand in the corner. And a parachute at the end. Everyone loves a parachute. After a lunch a la ma' boy and I were given free tickets to Drowsy Chaperone from a local chap who had interviewed Cory earlier in the week for a local tv station and after chatting, invited the family to his show. It was, thankfully, an amazing show. Small house. In the round. If you can pull off a music in the round you have achieved much. We even squeezed in a half hour at the local hippy hang - finally I managed to follow my nose to the coffeehouse end of town where they take their beans seriously seriously. Just the way I like it.

Bow music. I have only moments to get my thoughts down before we pack up for our 10 mile trip home. The burbs are great for a growing trampolining sort of boy but whenever I get in the mood for company we make sure we take ourselves out to the theatre with pops. Besides, nothing beats being snuck into a box for the close of act one just to have your actor family wave and do little special improvised dances for you. Or Mr. soundie taking boy to the sound desk for his daily check. Then there are stage management duties to fulfill such as calling the actor's to their places at the appropriate time. In a loud voice. Over the tannoy. Tonight he was christened with headset for the length of the show. He has been speaking to imaginary crew for the past few hours. With a serious crew expression. THere's the last chord. They'll all be back again shortly, a quick about turn and we;ll do our late night drill of me dressing boy in outdoor clothes (still sleeping) then lug him into car, still sleeping, into car seat, still sleeping and up into his bed, yup, you guessed it, still sleeping. till about three o clock of course, that witching hour, in which he will call out for one or other of us and eventually worm his way into our bed. It's fine when there is a king sized bed enough for five of us short lot. Last night, in that no-place place between awake and dreams, I had a full conversation with my late aunt, who told me that returning to London with the boy for a little stint would be a fun break for all of us. It felt absolutely real up until the point that Sam called for me and I realised I had been sort of asleep or thereabouts because I was conscious of waking up. Stranger still was the feeling that I had honestly been talking with her. I stopped myself in my tired stupor from looking behind the furniture to see if she was hiding out for me.

Nothing brings you shuddering back down to earth with an almighty thump however like those three little letters “T” “A” and “X”. Any chance of us loosing ourselves completely to our vaudevillian fantasies is ushered on its way by our annual scramble to get up to date and pay ourselves out of debt to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Brows furrow, receipts confetti about us and we add and subtract till our pea brains ache.

Much the same this year only this time it coincided in the week that saw us search for a home, lug our cases across Dallas several times, underscored by a fat dose of my lunar hormonal rollercoaster that I’m sure always leaves husband wondering whether he oughn’t to have stuck dating those English roses of our drama school he dallianced with before I.

From roach land we have defected to the burbs. Apart from the distinct lack of an ash blow dry and those teethy Texan mega buck smiles, I have for all intents and purposes donned my soccer mum guise once again. Have a fat Japanese SUV (something I promised I would never do back home), a flurry of classes for our boy to which I am ferrying him to with wit if not grace. I barely see over the blinkin steering wheel. And I’m on the wrong side of the road. And I seem incapable of becoming one with my iphone GP-wotsit. Trips to the grocery store become a mini safari with no compass.

Thank goodness the gym is within walking distance. Boy gazes out of our window and asks whether it is gym day today. Every day. Luckily for him we have squeezed in as many classes as is healthy for a four year old Olympian. Coach Cody, all broad shoulders and Texas swagger tells me after class that Sam is a typical boy and needs his attention captured with something akin to sergeant major commands. Obviously in my sleep deprived state I immediately wonder whether this inherent army based relation to boys has dire consequences, especially in this part of the world. But, as quickly as he declares this, he adds, that he too was a challenge to stay focused. Folk’s perceptions of children’s behaviour reveals much more about their own upbringing and adults relations to them as children than the child themselves. And yes, Sam was ping ponging around a little more than his usual ferocious concentration on the straddle at hand. Coach in Orlando’s one critique of the gymnast was he erred on the serious.

Leaving Dad at home in Tax purgatory (I’m too kind) we ventured to our local YMCA to find out who really lives around here. Nigerian soldiers apparently - I was eavesdropping on a conversation between two African body builders, obviously, several Porsche driving neighbours and a pack of senior weight lifters who were showing me how it’s done. Children play one side of the gym, parents pump iron. Boy figured out a puzzle or three, force fed his babysitters pretend food then chatted all the way home. We sit, at our bar height table, all corporate cool, and inhale a quick carbonara made with one hand whilst I type with the other. Will tell coach Boy is picking up those bad habits from his mother who promises to exhibit unswerving focus to onethingatatime. Staring tomorrow.

The post show hubub is in full hustle, doors opening and closing, farewells, hellos, soundie's round up of mics, costumes being ferried to the laundry, wigs whisked to the hair room and Vicky, Cory's dresser a-busy with her evening rituals. Special mention needed for these folk. A unique breed. The best ones, like the one in question, are the caring, funny, jovial back bone of theatre. Vicky has been on the road most of her life, her father was a stagehand, and, as is the case with many behind the sceners, the tradition and passion is handed down. She and her colleague crochet outside dad's room and ruminate on Sammy's future. So far they have ordained him actor par excellence, though his fancy moves with the headset this evening have put their judgement into doubt. He may be behind the scenes after all they agree. We'll leave it to time. He is after all, just a few months into four year oldom.

Older than most americans for a first trip to Chuck E Cheese. Think trocadero meets disney and you are half way there. We bought token upon token, and the troupe that joined us there, on their insistence and proud to be at this monumental initiation, decided that nothing would stop them from saving up 3,000 of those ticket jobbies to get Sam a mini basketball net for the dressing room. They managed it too. Whilst teasing me about my bemused expression watching the animatronic Chuck E Cheese at the end of the room, whilst boy plays with the television camera lined up with a small blue screen so that dad and friends can cavort in front and be projected on the giant screens. We go home with said net. And sparkly bracelets with what's left over. And a candy or three. Good times.

Now I really have to get my skates on. Folks are doing saturday night out on the town planning. Boys and I should really pack up. There is a saturday night chat to transcribe, sound department debating at the doorway on what saturday night is all about anyway. One says he is going to listen to a good band the other teases that weekends are for single folk and boring for those already attached.

Boy has his eyes a little open in true Sardinian fashion. We are in cowboy country after all, best keep your wits about you. We intend to find ourselves some bonefide types in the coming weeks down at the stock show and rodeo. Till then I will just have to dream up some, head out into the Texan night for some shut eye, past the grand piano room at the end where someone is rehearsing for the cabaret this monday night off.


Thursday, 6 January 2011

Thoughts From the City of Palms

From: Times of Wayne County

After cruising behind a truck on route 75, it’s owner offering cures for “ugly pools” beside a PT Cruiser whose registration plate read “BOMB” beside a disabled symbol and a support our troops magnet, we arrive at Fort Myers, Florida. The start of our day as far removed from this city of palms as you can imagine - waddling out to my sister in law’s baggage laden jeep under the midnight blue skies of pre dawn, wind wafting snow drifts, tinkling at my in-law’s haunting wind chimes.

Escaping the north eastern storms leaving most of the troupe trapped in NYC we arrived in Tampa. Route 275 is a bridge fetishist’s heaven. First an almost bridge, more of a barely raised highway, teetering at water’s level giving an uncanny sense of literally driving on the turquoise sea. Onwards to a modern take on a suspension undulating steeply skyward as if we were headed straight into the clouds. Sea stretching out luminous in the morning sun on either side of us. A man dressed in a gator costume (who knew they were so smiley?) waves towards the traffic as we approach civilisation, luring them towards Alli Gator’s bar and grille. I hope he’s not on the menu. Onwards past signs for Arcadia I fail to convince husband (still 5am dopey eyed) to stop in at St Petersburg for a Russian tea. He just rolls his eyes heavenward and overtakes a huge RV home on wheels trailing a mini cooper behind, whilst I point out McGregor’s Baptist church across the way whose services can be caught online 24 hours.

We unpack our Christmas gifts, doing our best impressions of weebles on account of the holiday over-feed. I took a master class at my sister in law’s a few days before Christmas eve, as she and her mother churned out cookies in industrial quantities. Boy was sugar dusted and chocolate coated, tasted everything, generally insisting on being second fiddle to whomsoever would hire him for the job. Underestimate not my nerves having been put in charge of a new cookie recipe. It involved a little more than melting chocolate in the microwave and then mixing peanuts into it so I was understandably cautious.

Highlight of yuletide Walworth-style was warbling alongside the sopranos during the Christmas eve service. I even offered to read, and volunteered for a passage about Mary. No surprise at the little lump in my throat, when, getting to the juicy bit, I look up at the congregation and spy our boy draped over husband, sound asleep in daddy’s arm cocoon, proud grandpa beside. Moments later the lights are dimmed, the candles lit and the crowd line the walls. The organist fading out his accompaniment so that the sanctuary hums only with the voices’ dulcet version of Silent Night. Husband and boy are motionless at their pew. Tender and mild up until husband whips out the iphone to record the moment for posterity. I swallow a tear or three, send a prayer out to my family, those on earth and departed. When the pastor wishes everyone a merry Christmas we stand, candle light flickering on our faces, hesitant to blow them out or leave.

In response to boy’s hopeful scrawl, Santa did find a cape (reversible!), indispensable to rookie superheroes. Even the hot wheels track from Uncle Craig, which, when presented in its box boy declared impractical for travel, made it to the sunshine state. Dad and I make house and ready ourselves to ring in the new year. Floridian style.

Home For the Holidays

From: Times of Wayne County December 23rd

The comedy that is tree decorating has begun. I have skulked down to grandpa’s den, where he watches baseball and Bo nanza beneath his fairy lit Hess truck col lection. A deer head looks out longingly from the wall beside me towards the rela tives he left behind. Won’t mention some may be closer than he thinks, up in the freezer of the next room. That would just be cruel.

Nothing says home for the holidays like the snow covered countryside of Walworth. Or a freezer full of Venison for that matter. Or the twinkle of lights strewn across the white yards of route 350. The tree is hauled into the living room and Sam declares we are setting up a Christmas show. All I know is whilst we were choosing our fir this morning down the lane at Keymel’s farm, juddering on the benches along the flat bed trailer be hind Roger’s tractor, boy was in true ham form, eagerly posing for his public.

Great to see both my boys back to wards their usual vigor. Latter part of our stay in Fayetteville, Arkansas was marred by seasonal viruses of the strep variety which saw Dad home bound and missing several shows, utterly out of character. Left to me then, to single handedly pack our belongings in the hamper. I usually assume the photographer role, much to the frustration of husband. Now I have new found respect for his knack of cram ming in a family’s worth of belongings into that 3 x 3 box. Painted every colour of the rainbow.

To join in with the “streppys” I devel oped a hefty crick in my neck and, after holding off for fear for around a week, finally succumbed to a chiropractor’s hands. He, a tall bendy yogi type of a fel la, and his wife, a wafty calm acupunc ture- y type of lady, restored us to health whilst boy made friends with their kids. I express my nerves to chiropractor adding that the cracking of bones to cure a spasmodic neck is utterly counter intui tive. He tells me that it has been around for years. So did foot binding and pub lic hangings I think to myself. Half an hour later I am buzzing with endorphins, clinked clonked and rattled to alignment. As I finish up a cinnamon tea husband shuffles out in a post needle stupor.

No surprise we counted down the days to get back home, involving a two flight day through Chicago, notorious for weather delays. Spent 7 hours play ing pretend snow plough with a trolley alongside 50 cast and crew last January, desperately waiting to get to Minneapo lis in time for the following day’s show. In the end we made the last flight out of O’Hare narrowly escaping the blizzard and into the winter wonderland that was Minnesota.

As we drive along the roads that trained me up for that 10K a month ago, it’s im possible not to be hushed into a wintry reverie. From the full, pre-eclipsed moon that guided us towards Rochester airport yesterday luminous in the purple clouds, to this morning’s bright blue skies about the fluffy (3 foot) snow drifts. Espe cially gorgeous if admired from the in side. With family capers going on in the background – I catch husband directing his ma on the use of his iphone camera. From the sounds of things not the most patient of teachers. Then there’s the cat mistaking the baubles for toys. And the perennial mystery of the malfunctioning string lights. And the mum not helping but writing instead. Happy chaos. What holidays are all about. Right?

Dallas Dejavu

On January 3rd 1999, Cory English and I officially started courting. Our return from London’s Heathrow Airport to his then student pad was greeted by a vision of hedonistic decay. Pans lined with month old mould stacked upon the counters, sink overflowing with crusty dishes left by his occasionally sober roommates. What we had planned to be a romantic roast chicken kind of a night, turned into a flurry of industrial strength team cleaning. Happy New Year.

Twelve years later to the day, husband, boy and I re-enact a similar scene as we move into our Craig’s list apartment in Dallas’ Uptown. The cosy pad in the pictures turned out to be a dust haven pungent with candles almost covering the stale trace of garlicky cooking. Family weary from a very long travel day involving several hour’s delay at Atlanta, turned a blind eye, went round the corner for a fajita and returned for a good night’s kip. After swapping boy’s rust coloured stained pillow for one in our room, and sifting out the white sheets with faded stains he drifted off whilst husband and I rolled up our sleeves for the Big Clean.

I looked beyond the inch of dust on the window ledge, the rolled up belongings stuffed under the bed, even the hairbrush full of hair on the vanity unit. I almost refrained from gagging at the toilet remains of remains splattered inside it’s bowl. When I vacuumed around the large terracotta pot of compost in the corner of the living room spying several water bugs rigor mortis along a rug I lay down my weapon and declared surrender. Husband rubs his brow, ageing five years for the next half hour as we bicker and laugh about what to do next. We sleep. A bit. Squeezed together on Sam’s futon unwilling to share a night on the yellowing mattress in the other room. By 8.30 next morning I have corresponded with several other home owners via email, who dangle gorgeous pictures of their pads before us like evil carrots then negating to return calls as promised. We stop for coffee, boy bleary eyed, dad ringing in a telephone interview for a local station in character. Then we shrug home, lug cases down three flights and move into the company hotel. Tails between our legs. Red coat retreat. Cory puts in an apologetic call to our landlady (a former Miss USA no less!) then crashes down for a pre first show nap.

Real life cowboys not so alluring after all. Unless of course they appear in the Trucker mould, a kindly giant whom we met today in the park whose 2 and a half year old daughter follows Sam into make believe land. We, husband and I, all five foot of us, stand looking up at our playground chum and drill him on the wheres and whyfores of cattle farming. I listen wide eyed and tell him it sounds just like the soap, he agrees the show is pretty accurate except for most of it, you know, the killings, kidnaps, trists that sort of thang. That, and coming down all wossy at closer to seven in the morning than I should like to the lobby only to find two bonefide cowboy types propping up the reception desk made my day. Aswell as tracing the local suzuki academy, hidden in a corner of an Alamo style enclave of the suburbs (spanish tiled an'all) where we are introduced to a lady who not only grew up minutes from Cory's hometown but also trained a teacher I had been introduced to some years ago in London. Sam boy, eager to get his mitts on a violin is invited to make music with new friends this saturday. Grandma will be please to know that the young ones starting out, learn first with a box violin till the teacher feels sure they are ready for the real deal. Violin beginners get such bad press don't you think? We are packing up tonight, fleeing the city and this uber trendy hotel on account of our stay being more than five minutes. Gonna try our hand at suburbia instead, three weeks is probably my limit, and indulge in some home comfort luxuries: kitchens, space, bedrooms. There is even a little outside nook for us to grow a few culinary bits and pieces. Basil I mean. Not chicken or pigs. Yet.

It won't be too hard to bid farewell to this urban too-kool-for-skool enclave of downtown. It's wonderful knowing the troupe is all around you and running into folks in the lobby for a natter here and there, but, call me old fashioned, I cannot keep any semblance of order or normal-ness without at least one little drawer to put our clothing in. Granted there are four hangers each in the closet gadget they have, looking like something you would find in one of those japanese tunnel capsules businessmen sometimes sleep in, but as far as neatly storing absolutely anything else? No chance. I feel so drastically uncool for even letting these clutter ready thougths fetter my brain, but in 15 months of visiting hotels I have never seen one so absolutely theatrical to the eye and screamingly impractical. Boy looks up at the concrete patches on the ceiling and tells me it is peeling off ready to fall. I tell him it's style. One of Cory's colleagues managed to gt a room with a sofa. Placed under his tv. Boy look sup at the concrete patches on the ceiling and tells me it is peeling off ready to fall. I tell him it's style.

Poor Dallas, giving it bad press and I’ve only known her for five minutes. Give me time already. The sunshine ain’t half bad, the accent is rather appealing, and yes, there are folk wearing proper cowboy hats. Even spotted a Lucy lookalike (my idol from the 80s soap) in gentrified Uptown, her blonde locks bouncing in the sun whilst her muscle bound boyfriend beams somewhat astonished at his catch of the day. Now I type in the lobby of a hotel uber trendy in it’s concrete loft bare brick styley, club music pumping at every corner. Boy looks up and tells me the ceiling is peeling off. I tell him it’s style. I blame our recent rollercoaster on that solar eclipse. No matter, boy is busy with the scrabble game beside me trying to rope in the friendly 7ft receptionist (everything’s bigger in Texas) and I’ve still got wits enough to write and counting my blessings. Give or take a roach or two.