Ten years in Orkney – now what?

Ten years ago Kathie and I moved to Orkney. By coincidence we arrived on 16 April which is St Magnus Day – he is the patron saint of Orkney.

And so each year we go to St Magnus Kirk in Birsay, not far from where we live, for the annual St Magnus service which also serves for us as a marker in our personal journey. But not this year.

Nothing much changed in our first ten years in Orkney and then, last month – everything changed for everyone in Orkney and beyond. Well, yes and no.

If I spend a little time reflecting I realise we have experienced more change since April 2010 than I imagined at first. Most of the change has been gradual, making it harder to notice, with an occasional sudden, often bad, impact.

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View from our house on St Magnus Day 2020 (image: Graham Brown)

We enjoy a wonderful view from the front of our house across the landscape of Orkney’s West Mainland – and now there are a few extra buildings in the view; our “field” (it’s an enclosure, really) next to the house now has a stone wall all the way around it; inside our home we have decorated and improved some rooms; and we have Roscoe, our rescue Border Collie, who joined us in 2012.

Some change has been less welcome – Kathie’s musical inspiration and friend Keith Emerson died suddenly in 2016, and before his funeral was held my father also passed away unexpectedly. Last year we lost my Uncle David and here in Orkney we have mourned people we knew in our community.

On the positive side, Kathie had a major operation in 2018 which massively improved her mobility and fitness, then in late 2019 released her first album of music in ten years, Facing The Falling Sky.

We both became RSPB volunteers soon after moving to Orkney, and I have ended up as a (very) part-time member of staff. I was privileged to help mark the centenary of the loss of HMS Hampshire, which sank in 1916 off Orkney. I am a member of Harray & Sandwick Community Council. And Kathie and I are both managers, ie committee members, at Quoyloo Old School which is our village hall.

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Kathie and me during the Sound Of Music coach tour in Austria (image: Graham Brown)

In between we have enjoyed several visits to Scotland’s Central Belt, getting to know Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as visits to Orkney’s beautiful islands, to the in-laws in California and then, after they moved, to Northern Arizona. And Kathie and I spent marvellous holidays in Italy (Bologna) and Austria (Vienna and Salzburg).

All this now seems like another world, before coronavirus, or BC. Already I find myself at home saying something like “do you remember before coronavirus when …?”

Kathie has underlying health issues which mean we mostly avoid the shops. We are lucky that we can get deliveries from our excellent village shop, Isbister Brothers.

We are fortunate in a wider sense because we have my regular pension income. Kathie has managed to carry on teaching her piano students using Skype.

In some ways, for Kathie and me, and I am not making light of this crisis, life does not seem very different. We typically spend time at the house, Kathie working upstairs in her studio and me in my downstairs office. We live in the countryside so we can take Roscoe for his morning walk without meeting anyone.

But then the awfulness of this pandemic – the deaths, the sick, the brave and tired NHS and frontline workers, the closed businesses – will suddenly dawn on me, or Kathie. The radio, TV and online news, rightly, is full of Covid-19. It is important to be well-informed but we avoid watching the TV news just before bedtime to aid a better night’s sleep.

Her Majesty The Queen made a skilfully worded address to the people of the UK on Sunday 5 April, it was moving and reassuring. Later that evening we heard that the Prime Minister had been admitted to hospital with Covid-19 symptoms, then the next day he was moved to intensive care. It was shocking news whether you voted for him or not.

The virus is in Orkney, of course, and at the time of writing it has led to two deaths. We think of the families and friends who are grieving, and unable to hold the funeral they would wish, whatever the cause of their loved one’s passing.

There is a request show on BBC Radio Orkney each Friday evening, something of a local institution, each week for 50 minutes at 6.10pm. Since the lockdown the programme has expanded to fit in the greater number of requests being submitted, starting at 6.00pm and going on beyond 7.00pm.

And now, sadly, folk have started sending dedications to remember their relatives who have passed away – something I do not remember hearing on the programme before. In the absence of a public funeral it is a way to mark their loved one’s passing.

In comparison to the above it hardly seems to matter but like everyone our travel plans are on hold, particularly disappointing for Kathie who wants to visit her elderly parents.

Big events which many of us were looking forward to watching on TV, such as the Eurovision Song Contest, the Olympics and football’s Euro 2020, will not be there.

On a local scale, our monthly village quiz finished early before its summer break. We are not alone, of course, here in Orkney, like the rest of Scotland, the UK and much of the world, everything is off.

In fact, all the markers of a typical Orkney year are gradually being cancelled, such as Orkney Folk Festival, Orkney Nature Festival (along with all RSPB events), the St Magnus International Festival and Stromness Shopping Week. Who knows whether the Orkney County Show and our other agricultural shows, such as the West Mainland Show near us, will go ahead?

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One of my favourite pictures: Roscoe and me on the Brough of Birsay (image: Kathie Touin)

When we finally come out of this, whenever that will be, what will be different?

How many Orkney businesses, reliant on tourism, will survive this? There were more than 150 cruise ship visits to Orkney in 2019 – will we ever see so many visiting again? Do we want to?

The environment will have enjoyed some relief from humans, will we build on that to create a greener future? Or will we turbocharge oil, aircraft and cars as we rush to rebuild economies?

What about the NHS? Will it receive greater funding? Or will people – and I’m afraid this is particularly true of some English people – go back to their old ways of wanting great public services along with low taxes. Spoiler alert: you can’t have both.

Will we look again at our UK immigration policies? Seeing the tragic losses of NHS staff it is noticeable how many have backgrounds outside the UK.

Where will Scotland and the UK be politically after this? Will Brexit still seem like a good idea, assuming anyone gets time to organise it? What about Scottish independence? What other unexpected political movements might flow from this?

It is as if the ground is shifting under us, like some giant slow-motion earthquake. The aftershocks will go on for years to come and none of us know what they will throw up and where we will all be at the end of this.

Ten years in Orkney – much has changed. For all of us.

Thank you to everyone working for us at this time, whether in the NHS, the care sector, shops, the postal service, local councils, emergency services, wherever – thank you.

Stay safe if you can.

And let’s keep an eye on the future: let’s see if we can make it better than it might have been.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Covid-19 advice from the Scottish government – https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19/

More information from Orkney Islands Council – https://www.orkney.gov.uk/

Please don’t come now but you would be very welcome if you wish to visit Orkney in the future – https://www.orkney.com/

Update (17 April 2020)

A few hours after I published this blog entry it was announced that all six of Orkney’s agricultural shows have been cancelled for 2020. Here is a report from The Orcadian – https://www.orcadian.co.uk/orkneys-six-agricultural-shows-cancelled-for-2020/

2020 vision

So, here we are in 2020. What will this new decade bring? Will it be the Roaring Twenties, as it was 100 years ago? Or another Jazz Age? That would be nice.

More seriously, though it can be foolish to make predictions, I imagine much of the decade will be – or should be – dominated by the climate emergency and mankind’s faltering attempts to tackle it. We are not helped in this by the current fashion for populist political leaders who play fast-and-loose with the truth to suit themselves and their selfish interests.

An aside here for pedants, like myself: I know the First Century began with year one and so the first decade was to year 10, the second decade from 11 to 20, and so on, meaning the new decade does not really start until 2021. But after two thousand years, conventions grow and change – sometimes, not always, it is best to go with the flow (yes, Mr Byrne, that’s you).

To be honest, it was only in the last week or two of 2019 that I realised we were about to enter a new decade. I think this is because decades have not been such a big deal since the turn of the 21st century.

In my lifetime we have had the Fifties, the Sixties, the Seventies, the Eighties, the Nineties and then, err… Did someone say the Noughties? Does anyone really like or use that name? And, as for the 2010-19 decade, I don’t recall ever seeing a name attached to it.

The 20th century was the same: the first decade was known, at least in Britain, as the Edwardian era, and the second decade was so dominated by the Great War that no name seems to have been attached to it.

Besides, the labels for decades are arbitrary and only capture a small part of the time period. For more on this read my blog about the Sixties which, I believe, for most people was nothing like the cliches portrayed in TV documentaries.

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The last sunset of the old decade seen from our house (image: Graham Brown)

Anyway, for Kathie Touin (Mrs Brown) and I the decade just ended was hugely significant because it was when we moved to Orkney, nearly 10 years ago in April 2010 (more about that later this year). Suffice to say we made the right decision and are very happy here – with our Border Collie, Roscoe, who turned 11 in 2019.

And the year just ended? The highlight of 2019 has to be the release of Kathie’s new album of music, Facing The Falling Sky (see my previous blog). Let me say again, it is a super collection of songs produced in a novel way.

Since my last blog it has been included by DJ Steve Conway in his 8Radio show Conway’s Christmas Gifts – 17 albums he loves and would gift to a friend. He selected, among others, Kate Bush, Paul Weller, PJ Harvey – and Kathie!

Travel in 2019 took Kathie and I to Arizona in February to see the in-laws and I made two trips to Edinburgh, one in May on my own to see Gretchen Peters in concert then again in November with Kathie.

I failed to write a blog about the second Edinburgh visit so here’s a summary. The trip was originally planned because Kathie wanted to see guitarist Steve Hackett in concert. After booking tickets we spotted that, two nights later, Mark Lewisohn (an expert on The Beatles) was presenting a show to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of the Abbey Road album. So we booked that as well.

Both shows were great, we even got into the Steve Hackett meet-and-great before the concert.

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Kathie & I meeting Steve Hackett, a gentleman (image: Graham Brown’s smartphone)

Mark Lewisohn spoke (with musical and archive clips) for nearly three hours about Abbey Road. You might think this sounds overlong but if, like Kathie and me, you are a fan of The Beatles it was fascinating at every turn.

We kept up The Beatles theme by taking a day trip by train from Edinburgh Haymarket station (opposite our hotel) to Glasgow Queen Street. Then a short bus ride to the wonderful Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum to see an exhibition of Linda McCartney photographs.

Linda McCartney was a fantastic photographer with an eye for detail and an unusual angle or take on a subject. Her subject matter ranged from international superstars to intimate family portraits. The exhibition, Linda McCartney Retrospective, finishes at the Kelvingrove on 14 January but transfers to the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, where it is on display from 25 April to 31 August.

I would highly recommend a visit and allow plenty of time, there are lots of photographs to admire and you will not want to rush past them.

Our big holiday this year was an 11-night stay in Austria, split between Vienna and Salzburg. I should have written a separate blog entry about this but on return from the holiday we went straight into a hectic period preparing for Kathie’s album launch and the blog was never written.

We had a wonderful time – the people were friendly and helpful, the food was excellent, the cities seemed cleaner than those back in the UK and there was evidence of Mozart everywhere (he was born in Salzburg and lived in Vienna).

Highlights of our trip included the wonderful paintings in Vienna’s Albertina and Kunst Historisches Museums; seeing the River Danube and the fairground wheel from the Third Man film; a brief visit (for me) to Austrian broadcaster ORF; the Spanish Riding School (I went once, Kathie went twice); seeing Mozart’s Requiem performed in the beautiful Karlskirche, Vienna; cathedrals in both Vienna and Salzburg; looking down on Salzburg from the castle, Hohensalzburg Fortress; our Salzburg river trip; and our Sound Of Music coach trip. (NB: lots of pictures coming soon – promise – on my Instagram feed).

Ah, yes, the Sound Of Music coach trip. I was not a big fan of the film but before leaving home a friend said we should do this – I think up until then I was not aware of the film having been shot around Salzburg. When we arrived in the city I thought, why not? And we booked the trip.

It was four hours or so of great fun, travelling in and around Salzburg and then out to the beautiful lakes in the mountains which we would not otherwise have seen. Our tour guide was friendly and enthusiastic, without being pushy, and as the coach travelled between stops we all sang along with the soundtrack of the film.

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Julie and me – a stop on the Sound Of Music coach tour (image: Graham Brown)

I found myself curiously moved by the music. I have been a fan of musicals since living in London – when my parents came to visit they would inevitably want to go to the West End to see a musical and I also came to love them.

But somehow the Sound Of Music was associated in my mind with seeing the film as a youngster when it seemed very unfashionable compared to the pop music of the day that I was listening to. All that changed on our coach trip, perhaps I was emotional thinking of my late parents on that day, but for whatever reason I was hooked.

Incidentally, on that afternoon out we also spotted a Bristol Lodekka. Most of you will have no idea what that is, I imagine. It is a double-decker bus, of a type that regularly came past our house when I was a child on Eastern Counties’ Peterborough to Cambridge service. Sometimes in the summer holidays Mum and I would take the bus to Cambridge for a day out. The one in Salzburg was being used to transport tourists.

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A Bristol Lodekka – in Salzburg (image: Graham Brown)

They were called Lodekkas, I understand, because the lower deck was step free once you were on board. The person to ask all about this would have been my Uncle David, an expert on buses who has had books of his historic bus photographs published.

Sadly, David (Burnicle) was one of the folk we lost in 2019. He was always engaging company and lived an inventive, loving and productive life – though, of course, that does not make his passing easy for his family. Here he is as a young man, a photograph taken in the year I was born…

http://www.hhtandn.org/relatedimages/1537/hartlepool-lads

Many, probably most, of us will have suffered loss of some sort in the past year – just in the last days of the year came the unexpected death of Neil Innes, one of Britain’s most talented, funny and modest songwriters. To his family the loss will be greatest. Thankfully, his wonderful music will live on.

Who knows what will happen this year and who will still be standing at the year’s end when the Earth’s cycle has taken us around the Sun one more time?

So in 2020 let us enjoy life whenever we can; celebrate each other’s creativity and foibles; spread love to family, friends and to those we don’t know, in our own country and abroad, of our beliefs and of others; and let us work for a better world.

Graham Brown

P.S. Here’s Kathie’s New Year blog…

https://kathietouin.wordpress.com/2020/01/01/farewell-and-thank-you-to-2019/

To find out more

My (so-called) Instagram account – https://www.instagram.com/grahambrownorkney/

My blog: The Sixties – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/swinging-sixties/

My blog: Kathie’s new album – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2019/12/17/facing-the-falling-sky/

My blog: Arizona February 2019 – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2019/05/02/arizona-take-three/

My blog: Edinburgh Spring 2019 – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2019/06/24/spring-into-summer-via-edinburgh/

Steve Hackett website – http://www.hackettsongs.com/

Mark Lewisohn website – https://www.marklewisohn.net/

Linda McCartney website – https://www.lindamccartney.com/

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelvingrove_Art_Gallery_and_Museum

Walker Art Gallery – https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/

Vienna – https://www.austria.info/uk/where-to-go/cities/vienna

Salzburg – https://www.austria.info/uk/where-to-go/cities/salzburg

Wikipedia: Bristol Lodekka – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_Lodekka

Neil Innes website – https://neilinnes.media/

Arizona: take three

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The open road in Arizona driving from Tucson to Phoenix – wide carriageways, big skies, big trucks and big trains (image: Graham Brown)
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This isn’t Orkney – roadside cactii as we drive from Phoenix to Cottonwood (image: Graham Brown)

By The Time I Get to Phoenix (I will be quite tired)

Earlier this year, before the better weather came to the UK, Mrs Brown (Kathie Touin) and I jetted across the Atlantic for our third visit to Arizona.

Kathie’s family lives in Northern Arizona so that is where we spent most of our February visit, but we also spent a few days in the warmer south of the state in and around Phoenix and Tucson.

This is not a big complaint, I know we are lucky to travel to such an interesting part of the world, but it is a tiring journey – from getting up at 5am to catch an early flight from Orkney’s Kirkwall Airport to Aberdeen, then travelling on to London Heathrow, followed by a third flight to Phoenix, then getting through customs and immigration, finding the mini-bus to the hotel and eating dinner, well in all that’s 24 hours gone.

Mind you, coming back against the seven-hour time difference was worse, particularly as there were stressful delays transferring from Heathrow Terminal 3 to Terminal 5, and more delays at Heathrow passport control – lucky our Heathrow to Edinburgh flight was delayed, otherwise we might have missed it and our connection to Orkney.

It’s not always hot, you know

Some folk have an image of Arizona as entirely made up of blistering desert. Phoenix can certainly get incredibly hot, there have been occasions when airliners could not take off from the city’s Sky Harbor Airport because the warm air was too thin.

However, when we were in Phoenix and Tucson it was pleasantly warm in the daytime, though cool at night.

At Kathie’s parents’ home, in Cottonwood, Northern Arizona – elevation 3,300 feet – it was not so warm. To be fair, it was cooler than expected for the time of year. We experienced a mixture of sun, rain and light snow.

We came across some tourists who had come dressed in shorts thinking Arizona equals very hot. Well, not always, particularly further north in the state.

On the day we were due to leave Arizona we had an evening flight from Phoenix. We planned to drive down from Cottonwood during the afternoon, it is only about 100 miles but… a big snowstorm was forecast.

So it was decided we would have to leave Cottonwood 24 hours early in our rental car (Nissan Sentra, a saloon, or sedan in US terms) and drive south of the predicted snow line. It was a good move.

There is not much between Cottonwood and Phoenix but we found an old-fashioned-style motel in Black Canyon City – the Mountain Breeze Motel – you know, the kind where you drive your car up to your chalet accommodation.

Black Canyon City is said to have a population of more than 2,500 but it did not feel like that, it seemed to be a series of businesses strung along what would have been the main road at one time before it was by-passed.

But we found a friendly local store, an excellent restaurant and – the following morning – a jewellery and souvenir shop where Mrs Brown spent some time (and money).

The “city” is at 2,000 feet but it was out of the way of the heavy snow which duly fell further north overnight, closing roads we had used the day before.

And even further north in Flagstaff (6,900 feet elevation), where Kathie’s niece lives, there was a huge snowfall which completely covered over her parked car so the roof was just a small bump in a snowdrift.

We watched some of the local TV coverage of the storm – on Arizona’s Family 3TV CBS 5 – and, as you might imagine, they were having a field day* with reporters out and about describing the falling snow in excited terms.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – and musical instruments

We visited some fantastic museums in Arizona. Well, I thought so, though I guess it depends on your interests.

First, the Martin Auto Museum in Phoenix, a collection of beautifully restored cars, including Ford Mustang, Shelby AC Cobra, Ford Model T, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray – and a Duesenberg Boattail previously owned by gangster Jake the Barber, this car cost $25,000 when new in 1930, about $380,000 in today’s money. It is a fabulous collection – a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are some…

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Duesenberg Boattail at Martin Auto Museum (image: Graham Brown)
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The Duesenberg’s engine (image: Graham Brown)
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I found a British car in the museum – me and an MGB GT (image: Graham Brown)
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DeSoto in the Martin Auto Museum (image: Graham Brown)

I could say the same for the Pima Air & Space Museum near Tucson, which boasts 150 historic planes indoors and many more sat outside. They include a selection of Harrier jump-jets, a TWA Lockheed Constellation, a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress (complete with a veteran of bombing runs to Berlin telling his stories), a Douglas Liftmaster used by President Kennedy, a Lockheed Electra (similar to that flown by Amelia Earhart when she disappeared with her navigator Fred Noonan). We were under instructions to take lots of photographs for Kathie’s father, an aircraft enthusiast who flew in B-17s when he was serving his country. So we did, here are a couple…

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Lockheed Constellation airliner at Pima Air & Space Museum (image: Graham Brown)
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Kathie Touin with a TWA tractor and trailer – Twa is Kathie’s family name (image: Graham Brown)
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Me and a Douglas aircraft used by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson (image: Graham Brown)
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Boeing Superfortress at Pima Air & Space Museum (image: Graham Brown)
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Consolidated Liberator at Pima Air & Space Museum – donated by the government of India (image: Graham Brown)
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Boeing Flying Fortress – the man in the red hat is a veteran of bombing runs to Berlin (image: Graham Brown)

Trains? Well, we did not go to a railway museum as such but the strangely-named Clemenceau Museum in Cottonwood has a fantastic model railway.

The museum is named after France’s First World War Prime Minister because of his friendship with James Douglas who founded the company town of Verde, later re-named Clemenceau to avoid confusion with other towns called Verde, and eventually incorporated into Cottonwood.

The museum, in addition to the marvellous model railway, is full of local history in photographs and artefacts.

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The enormous Musical Instrument Museum – here is the Lesser Antilles display (image: Graham Brown)

Back in Phoenix we explored two other museums, first of all the Musical Instrument Museum. We arrived late one morning expecting to spend a couple of hours before moving on somewhere else. By 5pm we were exhausted and we still had not explored all of this fantastic collection.

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The piano on which John Lennon wrote Imagine (image: Graham Brown)

It has displays of musical instruments and costumes from every country in the world, pretty much, as well as displays of instruments and clothes belonging to the famous – John Lennon’s piano on which he wrote Imagine, one of Johnny Cash’s black stage suits, one of Hal Blaine’s drum kits, and so on – plus a room in which anyone can try out instruments for themselves. There was also a fascinating temporary exhibition about the history of the electric guitar.

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One of Roy Orbison’s guitars (image: Graham Brown)

Finally, in Phoenix, we went to the Hall of Flame Fire Museum – yes, a museum of fire-fighting. This might not immediately appeal but it was well worth a visit and there was a fantastic display of restored fire engines. The older examples, some originally horse-drawn, more recent ones motorised, were beautifully painted and lined.

Another nice mess

While we were in Arizona we went with Kathie’s mom to the cinema to see Stan & Ollie. It is a funny, moving and nostalgic tale of friendship.

Just in case you do not know of Stan & Ollie, it is about the comedy film actors Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and one of Ollie’s catchphrases was: “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”

In the film (US: movie) they are played with love and uncanny precision by Steve Coogan and John C Reilly. A word also for Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson who played their wives beautifully. Here is the US trailer for the film…

Speaking of a nice mess, we ate some pizzas and got gooey fingers in a most unusual restaurant. It is in Phoenix and is called Organ Stop Pizza. But nice as the food is, that is not the main point of being there…

The venue boasts the largest Wurlitzer organ in the world, originally installed in the Denver Theatre in 1927 and much added to over the years. The organ, and the organist, appear through the floor – just like they did in cinemas years ago – and disappear back again at the end of the set.

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The largest Wurlitzer in the world – with instruments and pipes suspended above and spread from left to right – at Organ Stop Pizza (fuzzy image: Graham Brown)

If you are not familiar with a Wurlitzer organ, it has pipes, something like a church organ, but the organist is also responsible for playing, through the organ’s numerous keys and controls, a wide array of percussion and other instruments – all are live, not electronic.

It was a feelgood venue, in which the audience – many in family groups of all ages – sit with their food on benches at long tables. Kathie and I got into discussion with the guy sat next to us who was visiting with his wife, daughter and grandson.

Wasting – and admiring – the Earth’s resources

The United States is big – I mean, really big – and it is not all alike. The scenery, the people, the attitudes, the beliefs, vary widely – often, but not always, according to geographical location.

We noticed in Arizona that newer ideas about plastic waste are yet to take hold (though I suspect they have done so in neighbouring California). It was almost impossible to shop at a supermarket without being given numerous plastic bags – because the staff usually pack for the customer using plastic bags from a carousel next to their till.

But worse was our breakfast experience staying at Holiday Inn Express in Oro Valley, near Tucson. It was a pleasant hotel with a self-service breakfast area. But all the breakfast cutlery (US: silverware) was plastic, as were all the plates and bowls. It created large bins full of non-recyclable waste every day. And, as Kathie said: “I feel I am back in kindergarten eating with plastic.”

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Our Nissan hire car with a light covering of snow (image: Graham Brown)

Of course, fuel (US: gas) for your car is much cheaper in the States. We filled up our hire car and were amazed to discover it cost less than $25, in other words less than £20. At home to fill up our cars, neither of which is large, costs around £50 for mine and £60 for Kathie’s.

But walking is available. A popular spot on the edge of Cottonwood, where Kathie’s father likes to walk, is the wonderfully-named Dead Horse Ranch, a state park with lakes, walking trails and camping.

A number of the Arizona birds we spotted were seen at Dead Horse including red-tailed hawk, ring-necked duck, great blue heron, American coot and pied-billed grebe.

Our bird list for the whole holiday included the spectacular vermilion flycatcher (in a supermarket car park), white-crowned sparrow, various hummingbirds, and vultures, Brewer’s blackbird, ladder-backed woodpecker, dark-eyed junco, cardinal, (US) robin and – perhaps our favourite – the great-tailed grackle which we saw in large numbers in the Cottonwood Walmart car park, squawking, cackling and generally showing off.

We’re S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G

Ah yes, Walmart. We made a number of visits to this enormous store which sells pretty much everything. Kathie’s parents know someone who likes daily exercise and, if the weather is not good, walks up and down Walmart instead. My purchases included jeans and an MP3 player. And some pants! (Pants is a family joke).

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We did not buy everything we saw – these are in Food City, a chain selling Mexican food (image: Graham Brown)

Kathie is always on the look-out for Native American and Mexican-style crafts and decorations – as well as Mexican foodstuffs – and there was plenty in our suitcases from various shops when we came home to Orkney.

We made our traditional visit to Larry’s Antiques in Cottonwood, which is full of treasures, at reasonable prices in the main. Good to see the skeleton is still there in the rusty car by the entrance.

And we visited some of Cottonwood’s thrift stores (UK: charity shops). I picked up some CDs (inevitably) and a teddy bear who was looking at us out of the window of one shop as we arrived. We have named him Good Will (the shop is the Goodwill store) and back in Orkney he sits on a small wooden stool at the bottom of our stairs.

Not everything is new

It is easy to dismiss the USA as being short on history as the country is less than 250 years old. But there is older history.

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Exploring the Sunset Crater lava flow (image: Graham Brown)

With Kathie’s sister and her family we visited two National Monuments – Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano – north-east of Flagstaff.

Sunset Crater erupted some time between 1040 and 1100. Today it is possible to walk in the strange landscape created by the dried lava flow and the trees that have grown in it.

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the 12th century Wupatki pueblo village (image: Graham Brown)

And nearby we visited the remains of two pueblo villages – Wukoki and Wupatki – created in stone and mud in the 12th century, around the same time that St Magnus Cathedral was being built in Kirkwall, Orkney. Wupatki had more than 100 rooms in its day and a large ceremonial ball-court. The people grew corn, beans and squash.

Today the uninhabited pueblos are atmospheric and boast great views of the rugged landscape. But the Hopi tribe believe those who lived and died there remain as spiritual guardians. A nice thought.

Back home

When we returned to Orkney after our trip I experienced a strange feeling. Kathie, of course, had to tell her parents back in Arizona that we were home safely. But I realised I did not need to tell anyone. As you may remember, my father died in March 2016 and my mother way back in August 2001.

Since then Kathie and I visited Italy in June 2017 and perhaps I got this feeling at the end of that trip, but I do not remember it.

Do not worry, I am not depressed by this. What happened has happened and I look back on happy memories of my parents. In fact, there was something strangely liberating about this feeling – now I am grown-up (finally) and do not need to tell anyone what I am doing. Except Kathie of course.

“Yes, dear, just coming…”

* Field-day: according to my 1913 edition of “Dictionary of Phrase & Fable”…
Day of business. Thus, a clergyman loosely calls a “kept festival” his field-day. A military term, meaning a day when a regiment is taken to the fields for practice.

Graham Brown

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One of the beautiful fire engines at the Hall of Flame Fire Museum (image: Graham Brown)

My previous Arizona (and Italy) blogs

https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/its-2016/

https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/arizona/

https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2017/07/30/12-days-in-northern-italy/

To find out more

Cottonwood (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cottonwood,_Arizona

Black Canyon City (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Canyon_City,_Arizona

Martin Auto Museum (website) – https://www.martinautomuseum.com/

Jake the Barber (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Factor

Pima Air & Space Museum (website) – http://www.pimaair.org/

Clemenceau Museum – http://clemenceaumuseum.com/

Hall of Flame (website) – http://www.hallofflame.org/

Organ Stop Pizza (website) – https://www.organstoppizza.com/

Dead Horse Ranch (website) – https://azstateparks.com/dead-horse/

Great-tailed grackle (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great-tailed_grackle

Wupatki National Monument (website) – https://www.nps.gov/wupa/index.htm

Sunset Crater National Monument (website) – https://www.nps.gov/sucr/index.htm

St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Magnus_Cathedral

It’s 2016: relax and spread love

So here we are in 2016 and with it comes many questions. For example, how far can we go into the year and still say “Happy New Year” to each other? Let’s keep going for a little longer yet, and spread positive feelings.

When I was young 2016 would have seemed part of some impossible far-off future with flying cars and jet back-packs but it has arrived and, though much has changed, much has not. And I’m still waiting for my flying car.

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Our Roscoe enjoys a New Year’s Day dig at Newark Bay, Orkney (images: Graham Brown)

Kathie Touin (Mrs Brown) and I enjoyed a quiet Christmas and New Year seeing friends; eating a traditional Christmas meal of turkey and the trimmings (more than once); we attended a service of carols at St Magnus Kirk, Birsay with readings by school children; and we were at a Hogmanay get-together with fellow villagers in Quoyloo’s Old School – complete with a slightly drunken rendition of Auld Lang Syne at midnight.

There are big, and worrying questions in the world at large which I will not go into here. You will all have your own thoughts. But remember when the Berlin Wall was opened in November 1989? It seemed like the end of history, and we would all be living in a safe and happy world. Well, it didn’t work out like that.

I read a New Year blog by Mary Strong-Spaid which struck a chord. Mary wrote: “We must not let the ‘mainstream media’ (with all the negative news) give us the impression that there is no good left anywhere. In countries around the world, there are bloggers uniting in impassioned requests for peace…”

Mary is right – and it not just bloggers. Most people in the world want peace, good health and a decent quality of life for their family. Let’s try to spread love and understanding this year.

For myself, I am not making any big New Year resolutions and creating impossible targets and broken promises. Kathie and I have begun 2016 by clearing some of the junk from our home to give ourselves, figuratively and literally, more room to breathe and so focus on what is important.

I hope to be more relaxed, less stressed, less worried about unimportant trivia – and I hope most of the rest will take care of itself.

Of course, my simple ideas will not work if you find yourself spending the New Year in a refugee camp or with a flooded home. Our thoughts are with you.

In my last blog of 2015 I said I would, before the end of the year, write about our trip to Arizona. I failed to do this. But, in my first blog of 2016, here goes.

Arizona 2: The Return of the Visitors

Regular readers of this blog may have read about our 2014 trip to Arizona – Arizona Dreamin’ – and my impressions then still hold good.

For new readers, we visit Northern Arizona because Kathie’s family moved there to get away from the expense and overcrowding of Southern California. Her parents live in Cottonwood, and her sister’s family is about 30 minutes away in Rim Rock. As DJ Steve Conway remarked on Twitter about Rim Rock: “that place name sounds like a very specialist genre of music!” Indeed.

Our journey from Orkney – off the north-east coast of Scotland – involved three flights, Kirkwall to Edinburgh, then on to Heathrow, and then a direct British Airways flight to Phoenix (Sky Harbor International Airport – what a great name).

Arizona still retains some of the rebellious atmosphere of the Wild West and a do-what-you want attitude. For example, you are allowed to carry guns openly and motorcyclists do not have to wear a crash helmet. It is clearly a very religious place, with numerous churches and church schools dotted across Cottonwood.

Anyway, here are a few memories of our 2015 visit in late October and early November.

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Sunset viewed from our room’s balcony at the Ghost City Inn, Jerome (image: Graham Brown)

We spent a night in the Ghost City Inn in Jerome, a settlement publicised as a ghost town. This is because the town fell on hard times, and most people left, after the copper mining finished. From being a ghost town, ie empty, it has somehow changed to being a ghost town with supposedly haunted buildings. Oh well, it helps bring in the tourists.

Jerome is perched on the side of Mingus Mountain, overlooking – among other places – Cottonwood where we were based for most of our trip. In fact it is only a 15-minute drive from Cottonwood but at 5,000 feet it is nearly 2,000 feet higher and we felt like we were away from it all.

From our room’s balcony at the front of the hotel we could see the red rocks of Sedona, miles away in the distance. We watched a glorious reflected sunset on the rocks – the sunset was actually behind the hotel – and in the morning we were up early in our pyjamas to see a beautiful sunrise.

The town reminded us, in some ways, of our Orkney home. The light has a special quality, rather like Orkney on a fine day, and we came across many talented artists creating beautiful work who have made their home there. There are many historic buildings being preserved which, in a busier place, would have been swept away long ago. So, in some ways, just like home.

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Liberty Theatre, Jerome (image: Graham Brown)

I particularly enjoyed the Liberty Theatre – a 1911 cinema, the balcony of which is being restored as a film theatre (downstairs is a clothes and souvenir shop). The old film posters and projection equipment give it a great atmosphere.

Opposite our hotel we found a strange leftover from the past – a Standard car, very like the one my parents owned when I was small in the early Sixties. It is a make of car you do not hear much about these days when the word standard is almost a negative. It was a right-hand drive vehicle which makes me think it may have been brought over from the UK in later life. Sadly, it did not look like a runner but perhaps one day…

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A right-hand drive Standard car waiting for better days (image: Graham Brown)

Just outside Jerome is the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town, a quirky tourist attraction. Based around an old gold mine, the owner has collected old buildings, cars and trucks which are spread across a large site. Some of the vehicles rust gently in the sunshine, others are beautifully restored. You can also see a 1914 sawmill and a 1928 Studebaker Indy race car (with a school bus engine). It is a fascinating place to spend half a day.

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A few of the many vehicles at Gold King Mine Ghost Town, near Jerome (images: Graham Brown)

The weather for our visit was pleasantly warm – at least it seemed so for us, coming from Orkney – so we mostly wore short-sleeves. There were a couple of cooler, rainy days and one spectacular thunderstorm with lightning flashes and a tremendous fall of hail. Kathie has some sound recordings of this for future use in her own music.

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Scenes from our visit to Yavapai Broadcasting Corporation. Bottom right, General Manager David J Kessel (images: Graham Brown)

We had a fascinating visit to the radio station in Cottonwood, arranged via our brother-in-law who seems to know, or speak to, everyone. To give the station its correct name, it is Yavapai Broadcasting Corporation (Yavapai is the county name). The General Manager, David J Kessel, was generous with his time in showing us around the various stations operated out of their facility – including KVRD Country 105.7FM, Q102.9 (hot hits) and 100.One, Arizona’s Adult Alternative. We also saw historic exhibits, such as old microphones and a transmitter, their OB vehicles and their community recording facility. It was a great visit and we were sent on our way with T-shirts and souvenirs – thank you to David and everyone we met, you are a great crowd.

Other highlights of our trip included Larry’s Antiques Centre in Cottonwood, an enormous collection of antiques, collectibles and second-hand material stored both inside and outside. One of the stalls had a sale and I was able to get a pair of nearly new black cowboy boots for $30, or £20. Bargain!

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Young bears sleeping in a tree at Bearizona (image: Graham Brown)

We spent a happy day at Bearizona, a wildlife park where the animals are given plenty of room to roam. Many of them have been rescued. You drive through the land with the bears and other large animals, then walk through an area where you get close to smaller creatures and the younger bears – some of whom were sleeping in the trees while we were there.

Bearizona is further north from where we were staying, between Flagstaff and Williams on the historic Route 66, so we were at an altitude of about 7,000 feet and there was snow on the ground.

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Amazing what you can buy – Star Wars stormtroopers on sale at Walmart, Cottonwood (image: Graham Brown)

The main store in our base of Cottonwood is Walmart and we made several visits there to buy inexpensive (to us from the UK), jeans, shirts, socks and underwear. In the end we had to leave some stuff behind to make the weight limit for our bags on the return flight but for our next visit we have clothes waiting for us in Arizona.

We had a big tail wind for our return flight from Phoenix to Heathrow so that, at one point over the Atlantic, the information on our entertainment screen was showing that our Boeing 747 – or Jumbo, as you may know them – had a ground speed (not air speed) of 730mph.

Incidentally, there are fewer Boeing 747s to be seen these days, I guess it will not be many more new years before they have disappeared from Heathrow.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Mary Strong-Spaid’s New Year blog – http://storieswithnobooks.com/2016/01/01/wordpress-worldwide-family/

My previous Arizona blog – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/arizona/

Wikipedia on Cottonwood – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cottonwood,_Arizona

Wikipedia on Flagstaff – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flagstaff,_Arizona

Wikipedia on Jerome – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome,_Arizona

Wikipedia on Williams – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williams,_Arizona

Bearizona – http://bearizona.com/

Gold King Mine Ghost Town – http://goldkingmineghosttown.com/

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

Planet Earth (image: courtesy of NASA)
Planet Earth (image: courtesy of NASA)

And so that was Christmas, to mis-quote John Lennon – “And what have you done? Another year over, and a new one just begun” as he actually sang on Happy Christmas (War Is Over).

Well, we know one thing for sure, war and violence is not over. If anything, terrorism seems more unpredictable and brutal than before.

And, like any year, the world of 2014 was full of misery, poverty, illness and accidents – this year’s litany including, but by no means restricted to, Ebola, the Ukraine, lost airliners, the suicide of Robin Williams, desperate refugees in overcrowded boats, Syria, Palestine, more cases of historical abuse of the young in the UK coming to light, the list goes on.

Closer to home, and equally painful for those involved, many folk had personal tragedies. I know two women who unexpectedly lost their husbands this year at desperately young ages.

Sometimes I muse on the world, and human beings – is it essentially evil and hopeless, or essentially loving and positive? Your own answer might depend on your perspective, your beliefs, or on what happened to you in 2014.

I tend to think we are overwhelmingly loving and positive – perhaps I am kidding myself, perhaps I’m a hopeless optimist – but most people get through most days without inflicting violence on others, perhaps do a few good deeds, and at the same time appreciate the beauty of the natural world around them. At least I hope so.

Leaving aside the tragedies of 2014, it has been an interesting year politically – and if, like me, you live in Scotland it was fascinating and exciting. The referendum on Scottish independence ignited the political debate like nothing else has done for years.

What of next year? Well, only fools make firm predictions but it seems unlikely any one party will get an overall majority at the UK General Election on May 7. It also seems likely that the SNP – despite failing to gain Scottish independence – will make considerable gains at the expense of Labour. Meanwhile the Green Party and UKIP will probably get large numbers of votes but may struggle to translate them into seats at Westminster.

Will we have another coalition government? Perhaps, though the various parties concerned might not be so willing this time around. A minority government? Maybe more likely. Minority governments are, of course, more unstable so that could lead to another election in quick succession.

So having moved the Scottish Parliamentary elections back a year, to 2016, to avoid the General Election, we could still end up with both elections in the same year. We shall see.

One outcome of the Referendum was the resignation of Alex Salmond as Scotland’s First Minister, to be replaced by Nicola Sturgeon, the first woman to hold the post. And, like her predecessor, she is far more capable than most if not all Westminster politicians – someone you would want on your side, whatever your political beliefs.

Here in Orkney the reassuring rhythms of the year continue (see my blog: The Rhythms And Markers Of An Orcadian Year) but even in our sometimes apparently cosy world there have been losses, of individuals, of people’s jobs, of dreams and schemes.

During the year Orkney’s commercial so-called community radio station closed. Sadly, the Super Station Orkney was a missed opportunity, not really a community station, more a jukebox with adverts, something I wrote about in a 2011 blog (Where Is The Super Station In Orkney?). Not only that, the station’s management handed the licence back to Ofcom without giving local folk the chance to take it over and create a genuine community station.

Fortunately here in Orkney we have The Orcadian, a proper and detailed local newspaper, and excellent programmes from BBC Radio Orkney, an opt-out of BBC Radio Scotland which fulfils many of the functions of a community radio station.

Orkney in 2014 has also seen some exceptional weather. Despite what a few folk in the south of England believe, we are not in “the frozen north”. Yes, it is frequently wet and windy, and sometimes stormy, but rarely frozen. We have milder temperatures than the Highlands of Scotland, for example, because we are surrounded by water and because we benefit from the Gulf Stream.

However, towards the end of this year we had a large number of thunder storms, and numerous lightning strikes. Some people lost chimneys, and many folk lost telephone lines and their internet. In fact, on New Year’s Eve BBC Radio Orkney reported this: “BT say that more than 300 lightning-related faults remain outstanding in Orkney and it will be well into the New Year before the backlog is cleared. Additional engineers from Inverness, Glasgow and the English Midlands are being drafted in from next week.”

We had some lightning strikes in Orkney last year as well – and one family lost their home in a fire as a result – so we all hope this will not become an annual event.

What has happened on a personal level this year? My wife, Kathie Touin, has had some excellent musicians and artists pass through her Starling Recording Studio. And as the year ends she is working on her own recordings – listen out in 2015.

During 2014 Kathie acquired her first grand piano, so realising a lifetime ambition – see Kathie’s blog for more on that (My Life In Pianos).

We enjoyed trips to northern Arizona, where Kathie’s family now lives, and closer to home – but still two flights away – to the Isle of Wight and London. More about these trips in previous blogs as well (Arizona Dreamin’; London Calling, And The Isle Of Wight Too).

Our rescue Border Collie, Roscoe, continues to amuse and entertain us, and more than repay our time and vet’s bills.

We both continue to volunteer with the RSPB and I now find myself on another committee – this time working to restore Orkney’s Kitchener Memorial in a way that better remembers the more than 700 men who died when HMS Hampshire sank, a couple of miles from Orkney, in a terrible summer storm.

The centenary of this event is 5 June 2016, less than 18 months away. It will be a timely reminder of how fragile and precious life is.

I will close with the words I posted on my Twitter account in the early hours of 2015: Happy New Year, one and all. Keep relaxed, cherish your loved ones, be kind to those you know, smile at strangers.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Wikipedia on The Gulf Stream: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream

Kathie Touin

Starling Recording Studio

The Orcadian

BBC Radio Orkney on Facebook

Kitchener Memorial on Facebook

Kitchener Memorial on Twitter

Arizona Dreamin’

The author in Holbrook - on Route 66 in Arizona
The author in Holbrook – on Route 66 in Arizona

Yes, I know the The Mamas & the Papas’ song is California Dreamin’ – incidentally, a great song and, according to Wikipedia, number 89 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

But California Dreamin’ is now off limits and it’s Arizona for me. Let me explain.

My wife Kathie Touin is American and hails from Southern California. So visits to Kathie’s family took us to that part of the world. But last year the family moved – parents, sister, her daughter and husband, all of them – to two locations in Northern Arizona.

And so for the family visit we’ve just undertaken to the States it was Arizona for us. And, I must say, we enjoyed our visit very much.

I love California but the southern end is pretty crowded, busy so-called freeways, countless new housing developments, seemingly endless suburbia.

But in Arizona – at least the part we visited – we found small, friendly communities with space between them. And spectacular scenery.

The Grand Canyon - it's big, really big.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona – it is big

Do not worry, I am not going to give a blow-by-blow account of what we did each day, or make you sit through all our holiday photographs, but I’d like to share some of the impressions I took away with me from our stay.

Incidentally, geography fans, Arizona is to the east of California and the west of New Mexico, while to the south is Mexico itself, so the state is land-locked.

We were based with Kathie’s parents in Cottonwood, a small town with a population in the 2010 census of less than 10,500, according to Wikipedia. I must say, judging by the number and size of the shops alone it seemed a little bigger than that.

The town sits at 3,300 feet above sea level – at home in Orkney we are just above sea level – and during the week our travels in Arizona would take us up to more than 8,000 feet.

The Petrified Forest, Arizona - wood turned into stone
The Petrified Forest, Arizona – wood turned into stone

The first impression has to be the heat, particularly for us coming from Orkney. It is dry. Really dry. After a few days your skin dries out. Leave your washed t-shirts out to dry and they are ready in about half-an-hour or so – the air just sucks out the moisture.

A familiar image on Arizona tourist souvenirs is a skeleton in the desert with the caption, “It is a dry heat”.

The temperatures were ok for us, heading towards the 80s, which was fine in the dry heat. We were there for the last two weeks of April, but now in late May temperatures are edging into the 90s in Cottonwood and further south in Phoenix – where our plane landed – over 100. That would have been too hot for us.

One side effect of the dry heat is the static electricity. My wife Kathie Touin and I were constantly getting shocks from everyday objects and each other.

There was one day of heavy rain, coupled with wind whistling around my in-laws’ house, then later sun, rain again, and even some hail. It was rather like an Orkney day.

Their neat, single-storey house – much larger than they would get for their dollars in California – reminded me of visits to southern Spain, with tiled floors and ceiling fans to keep the heat down.

Red Rock, Arizona
Red Rock, Arizona

By contrast my sister and brother-in-law live in Rim Rock, a scattered community about 20 minutes away, where they have spectacular views out to the mountains and a home which is a major restoration and re-building project – but that is the way they like it.

Out and about we noticed lots of old cars – as my brother-in-law pointed out, they do not rust in the dry atmosphere. However, some of the paintwork has clearly faded in the hot sun.

We saw many solar panels, placed to take advantage of the sun. There was a school, close to where we were staying, where solar panels had been built on concrete stands above the car park thereby creating both a solar panel farm and a shaded car park.

Water is, of course, important in the heat. We even spotted in Cottonwood a store called Water Mart which seemed to sell just water and water containers, up to enormous proportions.

"More tea vicar?" "No, that's plenty thank you. Is this real tea?"
“More tea vicar?” “No, that’s plenty thank you. Err… Is this real tea?”

Of course, here in the UK we always joke that everything in the USA is bigger – the cars, the food, the roads – and to a certain extent that is true.

Food and drink portions in restaurants are generous and Kathie noticed the supermarkets now sell many products at supersize. The roads are wide – if you go the wrong way and the rules allow, performing a u-turn is easy, there’s no need for three-point turns.

I also noticed the railway trains were huge. Several times we crossed or drove alongside a railway line which seemed to run roughly parallel to the old Route 66 Chicago to Los Angeles road. My niece, who is at college in Flagstaff, Arizona, tells me there are occasional passenger trains on the route. But mostly they run enormous freight trains, typically hauled by two, three or even four diesel engines. The trucks usually carry shipping containers, sometimes two per truck, one on top of the other.

Double-headed train in Flagstaff, Arizona - there were two more diesel engines at the rear
Double-headed train in Flagstaff, Arizona – there were two more diesel engines at the rear

While we were in Flagstaff we had to wait at a crossing while one of these freight trains trundled through. This one had two diesel engines at each end to power it. I had wondered aloud earlier that day about the length of these trains and my niece, bless her, counted all the trucks through – 134 on a single train. On a rough calculation of each truck being 30 to 40 feet long, the train was easily more than a mile long.

A train more than a mile long rumbles through Flagstaff, Arizona
The train – more than a mile long – rumbles through Flagstaff, Arizona

Arizona is a Republican state and the people there still seem to have something of the spirit of the Wild West. Unlike in California – and I would imagine most places in the USA – you can ride a motorcycle without a crash helmet and riders mostly do so.

More startling, coming from the UK, you are allowed to openly carry guns in Arizona. Not many people appeared to do this but we saw a few men exercising their right to bear arms, openly – including one retired man who came to the breakfast diner with his pistol in his holster.

Ready for departure on the Verde Canyon Railroad
Ready for departure on the Verde Canyon Railroad

Arizona is a big attraction for tourists and we saw countless out-of-state cars, ie cars with non-Arizona registration plates. People had travelled from the neighbouring states of California, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada but also from much further afield. We saw plates from, amongst others, New York, Florida, Washington and Alaska.

I guess it helps for your US road trip that fuel is much cheaper than in the UK. A typical price for a US gallon of unleaded seemed to be $3.47. Admittedly a US gallon is only 3.8 litres, compared to an Imperial (UK) gallon of 4.5 litres but even so it seemed a bargain to me.

It is no longer true that US cars are much bigger than European ones – sadly, gone are the days of endless chrome and large tail fins. American vehicles look very much like the ones we see at home – as Americans have moved to slightly smaller vehicles, we in Europe have moved to bigger ones. And, of course, car manufacturers want to make “world vehicles” that can be sold anywhere, so reducing their costs.

Towed trailer at Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Towed trailer at Dead Horse Ranch State Park

But you can still see some exceptions. We spotted a Phaeton camper at a petrol station, sorry, gas station, which was enormous – it was the size of a luxury coach. And at the wonderfully named Dead Horse Ranch State Park, on the edge of Cottonwood, we saw a towed caravan that you would be hard-pressed to manoeuvre on European roads.

Being loyal members of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) we also did some wildlife spotting while we were there. I expect Kathie will write about this in detail in her blog – as she was in charge of identification and the all-important list of what we saw – but it was great to see colourful birds like cardinals and orioles, as well as birds of prey such as turkey vultures rising high above us on the thermals.

And, of course, we did some sight-seeing while were there.

The Grand Canyon, Arizona - I mean, really big.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona – I mean, really big

One of the highlights included the Grand Canyon. It is big. Really big. I was reminded of the wonderful Douglas Adams quote about space from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

It is hard to capture the Grand Canyon in photographs but, of course, like every other tourist we tried. The guide books tells us it is 277 miles long, a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide.

Other highlights included the beautiful scenery in Red Rock – aptly named – the Painted Desert – also aptly named – the Petrified Forest, driving the scenic route through the tall trees of Oak Creek Canyon, the spectacular ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad, and visits to the Route 66 towns of Flagstaff, Williams and Holbrook.

The author at the giant Meteor Crater
The author at the giant Meteor Crater

And, also big, really big, was the giant Meteor Crater – rather like the Grand Canyon, it was impossible to get a real impression in photographs but we tried. The crater was created by a meteor which landed at a speed of perhaps 40,000mph. We are told the crater is large enough to hold 20 football pitches – American football, presumably – and the banking created would hold two million spectators. Amazing.

Of course, we enjoyed eating out at establishments including Mexican restaurants, a steak-house, diners (breakfast out is a particular treat) and a very cute tea shop.

And we went shopping. Despite saying we would cut down on this visit we still had to pay excess baggage to get one of our cases onto the airliner leaving Phoenix for the return to the UK.

It wasn’t all expensive stuff – well, Kathie’s cowboy boots were not cheap – but we also discovered the joys of the charity shops, or goodwill shops as they are known. I’m particularly proud of my “You’ve been goosed by the mongoose” t-shirt, which celebrates a radio station in the Virgin Islands.

Well, I must stop. It is difficult when trying to describe a new destination. Is what we saw typical of Arizona? I think so. Of the USA? Up to a point. Is it different from what we saw in California? Yes. Is that because the United States itself has changed since our last visit two years ago? In part. But also because Arizona is different in itself.

It was a great trip and we look forward to a return visit.

PS Don’t forget to look out for Kathie’s blog when she has a free moment from her Starling Recording Studio.

PPS. All photographs in this blog taken on inexpensive smart phone. More images on my Instagram page: http://instagram.com/grahambrownorkney

The Painted Desert, Arizona
The Painted Desert, Arizona

To find out more

http://www.arizonaguide.com/ – Tourist guide to Arizona

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cottonwood,_Arizona – Wikipedia: Cottonwood, Arizona

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arizona – Wikipedia: Arizona

http://az.gov/ – The Arizona state website

http://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm – National Park Service webpages about the Grand Canyon

http://tiffinmotorhomes.com/phaeton – Want to buy a Phaeton?

The Mamas & the Papas – California Dreamin’ –

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Dreamin’ – Wikipedia: California Dreamin’

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hitchhiker’s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy – Wikipedia: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

https://twitter.com/starlingorkney – Starling Recording Studio, Orkney on Twitter