Wednesday, 31 December 2014

My review of 2014

For once, I am glad to be able to post this on the last day of the year.  As usual, let me begin with a list of the books I have read during 2014:


1) The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha – ISBN 978-0-330-50480-5 – © NR 2009 - PAN Books p/b 353 pp – a gripping crime thriller about an apparently open-and-shut killing – the perpetrator is sentenced to die and after 19 years on death row the execution looms when the family of the victim go through a crisis of conscience and one of them embarks on a mission to learn the truth about what happened with all kinds of complications – well written but not brilliant  (5/10)

2) Marching with Nyerere: Africanisation of Asians by K L Jhaveri – ISBN 81-7646-091-5 © KLJ 1999 – BRPC (India) Ltd, New Delhi – 230 pp – political memoir of a distinguished lawyer and close associate of Nyerere, unedited, could have done with professional guidance  (6/10)
3) Dancing With Destiny: Memoir by Urmila Jhaveri – ISBN 978-1-4828-1042-4 – Partridge India p/b – 295 pp – © UJ 2014an utterly absorbing autobiography (companion and complementary to her husband`s, 2 above) (reviewed separately in April, scroll down) (9/10) 

4) Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse – ISBN 978 1 4088 4716 9 – Bloomsbury h/b – © LW 2014 – 276 pp - overhyped family thriller in contemporary mode (yuppie types navigating the mundane details of their ultra-tech lives and preoccupations in London and NY – where British author is resident – with a mass of mundane detail to impress the reader – ultimately amounting to nothing much - boring  (5/10)

5) The Cuckoo`s Calling by Robert Galbraith aka J K Rowling – ISBN 978-1-4-87-0399-1 – Sphere h/b – 449 pp © RG 2013 – an overly long thriller set in contemporary London – an ultimately fairly simple whodunit is overlaid with our current preoccupations with celebrity culture, captured in minute detail, when a one-legged army veteran private detective with a complicated personal history embarks on a murder investigation that unravels a complex tale involving an array of damaged or dysfunctional characters with the exception of his office temp …. a bit overdone  (6/10)

6) A God In Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie – ISBN 978 1 4088 4720 6 (h/b – Bloomsbury) © KS 2014 – 310 pp -  historical fiction based on sound research in the form of a complicated tale of ancient connections between Greece, Turkey and India explored through archaeological expeditions at the onset of the First World War involving an interesting collection of British, Indian and European characters whose lives and actions intertwine, culminating in a crucial turning point fifteen years later in the chronology of the demise of the British Empire. The sheer depth and breadth of the saga is reminiscent of Kamila Shamsie`s earlier `Burnt Shadows` but even more impressive is the technical brilliance of her portrayal of the war scenes and the involvement and treatment of the Indian soldiers, equalled by the unravelling of the events surrounding the 1930 massacre of innocents in Peshawar.  And throughout, the triangular English, Turkish and Indian personal interactions, some with an undercurrent of nuanced romance, form an integral part of the narrative ... (7/10)  

(note: she made a brilliant presentation of the book on 2 April at the RFH and I was fortunate to engage with her during Q & A)                                 

7) M G Vassanji: Essays on His Works ed by Asma Sayed – ISBN 978-1-5507-996-3 (pbk) Guernica - © 2014 AS+Authors+Guernica Editions Inc – a superb collection, especially AS`s interview with MGV & MGV`s own `So As Not To Die` – to be reviewed separately later - 9/10

8) The Dinner by Herman Koch (translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett) – ISBN 978 1 84887 383 4 (p/b)Atlantic Books London – © HK 2009 (original); SG 2012 (translator) – an intriguing thriller with a dubious moral undertone – 7/10

(note: the film `Our children` based on this novel was shown at this year`s London Film Festival)

9) Three Continents by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – ISBN 0-671-66362-3 pbk – Simon & Schuster – © RPJ 1987 –  as noted on the inside cover, I had bought this at Jasailmer, India, in Dec `96 – took me a long time to finish it at last – having dipped into it intermittently through the last couple of years as it lay on my bedside table - excruciatingly long and complex narrative of an American family seduced by a Maharishi type trio of Hindu tricksters in  vogue during the 1960s and 70s hippy era – `Jhabvala`s most ambitious and impressive work` is how Newsweek described it, while another reviewer on the blurb encapsulated the book as a `mesmerizing, icy tale of the progress of valueless youth into self-destruction` and yet another as `{a} penetrating psychological study` - all so true and ending in a predictably tragic denouement – thank goodness the (western) world is wiser now!    6/10

(post-script: reading a review of `Empty Mansions`, about the life of American billionaire heiress Huguette Clark in The Observer New Review of 13 July 2014 it struck me how the fictional portrayal of the rich American family at the centre of Jhabvala`s novel resembled the real life story of this wretched woman whose life was a total waste)
10) The Railway Man by Eric Lomax (originally published 1995 – this Vintage p/b 2014 – ISBN 9780099583844 - 322 pp - with intro by producers Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson of the film based on the book – © EL1995)an absolutely riveting true story told by the author of his torture at the hands of the Japanese during WWII during the Siam-Burma railway building period – it is also an autobiographical account of his life and more particularly of the devastating effect his wartime experience had on him in the subsequent 50 years during which he nursed a deep-seated desire to confront and kill his tormentor, culminating in a dramatic  meeting with him half a century later on location – the last two chapters make a gripping, emotional finish – a lesson in truth and reconciliation   9/10

(note: as it happened, later in the year came the award of the Man Booker Prize for 2014 to the Australian writer Richard Flanagan for The Narrow Road to the Deep North based on his father`s life as a survivor of the Burma Death Railway, as graphic and painstaking as The Railway Man)

11) The Midwife`s Daughter by Patricia Ferguson – Penguin p/b – ISBN 978-0-241-96275-6 – © PF 2012 -  391 pp –an absolutely brilliant novel set in the Cornwall region of England in the early part of the 20th century climaxing during WWi - the daughter of the title is of mixed-race and therefore a novelty, a social pariah, an object of racial stereotyping, prejudice and much more besides – the author`s training and profession of a nurse informs her meticulously detailed descriptions of child-birth, medical procedures and treatment, hospital and doctors` routines and rituals attendant upon treatment and nursing care of characters at the centre of the story – above all she brings alive the period setting superbly – the narrative has a thriller-like quality and keeps the reader engrossed and wanting to end in a certain direction with unexpected turns – all in all coming after the previous one a thoroughly satisfying read  9/10      

12) The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier – Harper p/b – ISBN 978-0-00-735035-3 – © TC 2013 (Map © John Gilkes) 386 pp – Again, an absolutely brilliant novel … this one set in 1850s America – to quote from the blurb, “Honor Bright is a sheltered Quaker” who migrates to America from her native Dorset to recover from a failed engagement.  “Opposed to slavery that defines and divides the country, she finds her principles tested to the limit” against the reality of slaves seeking freedom through the `Underground Railroad` … a tense and beautifully rendered narrative with a cinematic ending  9/10    

13) The Dog by Joseph O`Neill – Fourth Estate, London – h/b – ISBN 978 0 00 727574 8 – © JN 2014 -241 pp – from the author of `Netherland`, which I had enjoyed and extolled so much a few years earlier – the `dog` in the title could best be described as the `dogsbody` of the rich and powerful foreigners who dominate the Dubai financial and business scene – the narrator is the one who executes and performs the orders and whims of his masters but as an expatriate remains ultimately vulnerable – we get more than just a glimpse of the ugly realities of life in Dubai  8/10 

14) Fourth of July Creek – a novel by Smith Henderson (ISBN 9780434022779 – W`m Heineman h/b – 467 pp – had taken this book on my trip to America because of its setting in Wyoming and Montana – which we travelled through on our road trip to Mt Rushmore and back via Yellowstone, with such place names as Missoula, Livingston, Great Falls, Butte appearing there, but gave up after some 200+ pages because it was such a bore … about the minutiae of low lifers` shenanigans with no rhyme or reason  2/10

15) Take Me With You by Brad Newsham – a Bantam Book p/b – edition 2002 – 0 553 81448 6 – © BN 2000 – 377 pp - a moving true account of the author`s journey through the Phillipines, India, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe in search of a suitable person whom he could invite to come to America at his expense to see and sample a way of life there otherwise not accessible … his travelogue of this extraordinary trip that he made sometime in 1989  8/10  

16) The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway -  ISBN 978 1 84354 741 9 – Atlantic Books p/b – © SG 2008 – 227 pp - a novel about the siege of Sarajevo that lasted from 05/04/92 to 29/02/96 as told from the perspective of a number of fictional characters based on facts on the ground, so to speak, as they dodged the bullets of snipers from over the hills – grim and moving is an understatement … 7/10

17) Sea Otters gamboling in the wild, wild surf - ISBN 9780099490739 (from Jan 2007) – Vintage p/b – © JB 2006 – 260 pp – a delightful romp by a 16 year old awaiting his A level results who embarks on a round the world journey in quest of a mysterious statue depicting a bestial sex act that arouses his curiosity and hormones … the adventures of this angst ridden teenage boy are a fantasy indulged by the author for his readers ………….  7/10
18) Canada by Richard Ford – ISBN 978 0 74759 860 2 (Bloomsbury h/b) © RC 2012 – 418 pp) – a bit like the `Fourth of July Creek` (above), set in Montana (Great Falls etc) and Saskatchewan in Canada – a genuinely gripping, though melancholic, tale of what started out as a typical American family in the 1950s and then turned out to be dysfunctional, full of tragic twists and turns as the young narrator navigates his misfortunate life through adolescence, adulthood and maturity into the eponymous Canada of the title also serving as a metaphor for its semi-detached environment, like America, yet different .. 7/10
19) The Children Act by Ian McEwan – ISBN9780224101998 (h/b – Jon Cape – © IM 2014 – 213 pp) – a characteristic McEwan masterpiece - exploring the personal and professional life of a High Court judge of the Family Division dealing with a whole spectrum of matters involving divorce, custody and the eponymous Children Act; how she gets drawn into the case of a young A level schoolboy nearing 18 when he and his parents refuse blood transfusion in a life-threatening scenario – a really superb read, for me the meticulous construction of the semi-collegiate institutional setting of the Inns of Court made    perfect sense  9/10

20) Revolution by Russell Brand – ISBN 9781780893051 (a Century h/b – © R B 2014 – 372 pp, incl an Index) – contemporary Britain`s enfant terrible giving full vent to his manifesto for a social and political revolution ... his ideas are worth a serious consideration, even if trenchantly and characteristically outrageously expressed ... but his solutions are not always rational or produce a symmetry of idealism ... amusing, provocative, incisive, controversial – all these adjectives fit ... but what a year to end on, to finish this on the last day of 2014! .... 6/10 

This year`s collection, as varied and eclectic as ever, was quite satisfying. Not included there are ones which I have formally reviewed (eg. Sultan Somjee`s Bead Bai which can be accessed atખોટા-મોતી-ના-સાચા-વેપારી--by-Sultan-Somjee    though the one edited by Asma Sayed which I am in the course of reviewing has been listed.) As always, it all represents my bed-time reading, interspersed with a nightly persual of current issues of the London Review of Books. And again there are books that I would have liked to read but couldn`t for lack of time or availabililty.  Right now, the question is, what book/s will I take to read on the cruise to South America that we will be going on in a fortnight`s time. Last year, I was thoroughly engrossed in Gandhi Before India by Ramachandra Guha. This time, I am thinking of taking Mandela`s Long Walk To Freedom, a literally heavy one to pack, so will see. 

Films, Plays, Concerts etc

1) Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom - ok, not in the `Gandhi` league - 7/10)

2) 12 Years a Slave - superb performance, brilliant narrative - 9/10   

3) Even the Crows: A Divided Gujarat – film documentary by  Sheena & Sonum Sumaria of Guerrara Films – about the trauma of the 2002 riots + Q&A - 8/10    

4) QEH Concert – The Works(hop) of the Orchestra of the Age of Environment – Vivaldi Concerto for Violoncello da Spalla in D, RV403 + Bach Brandenburg Concerto  No. 3 in G - 6/10   

5) BVBhavan Indian Concert - Guru-Path – Sitar Concert by Anoushka Shankar - 8/10     

6) The Lunchbox (absolutely delightful - separately reviewed in April) - 8/10   

7) A Small Family Business - revival of Alan Aykborn`s 1987 play – rubbish, time & money waster   

8) The Two Faces of January (dir: Hossein Amini, based on novel by Patricia Highsmith - Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst & Oscar Isaac – enjoyable thriller  set in Greece circa 1962 - 8/10       

9) An Autumn Afternoon  (dir: Yasujiro Ozu – Japanese with Eng sub-titles) (this 1962 classic of the Japanese cinema has retained its artistic appeal – 9/10

10) Belle (dir: Amma Asante; Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido) – ok, mixed reviews but we found it absorbing, focused, with a consistent narrative thread and so there was an integrity in the production as a whole, even if liberties were  taken with some historical facts - such as how far Dido was able to influence Mansfield`s judgment in the civil case involving the dumping of slaves into the sea –        there was however a distinct lack of lightness in the performances but then maybe that was more a reflection of the social norms of the period - 6/10
11) Sweet Charity (dir Bob Fosee  - USA 1968Shirley MacLaine) revival- this time very much dated -  5/10      
12) RFH – Gather together … a tribute to Maya Angelou (hosts: Jon Snow & Moira Stuart) – excellent presentation, smooth, superb - 9/10

13)  TITLI  - Indian entry London Film Festival (LFF) = Dir: Kanu Behl – 2014 – Shashkant Arora in the title role – set in the badlands of Delhi + criminal family of brothers + joint family dynamics + dysfunctional relationships – very well acted, with stomach-churning footage of serial episodes of graphic bodily violence – grim, realistic and sickening at most of the time – as a film however well done - 9/10  

14) The Bride -Turkish `Gelin` entry LFF = Dir Omer Lutfi Akad – 1973 – very much like an old-fashioned Indian joint family saga of an   oppressive mother-in-law and other in-laws making married life difficult for the bride of the title, though she and her husband had been married for some time and even had a son, upon their return to live in the family – with mundane domestic rituals spelt out in minute detail – a depressing tale with many complications and nuances of lower class Turkish life in  the 1970s - 7/10

15)  Exit - Taiwan-HK entry LFF – Dir Hsian Chienn – 2014 – life of a garment worker in her mid-40s after she loses her job, looking after a hospitalised old mother, estranged from her only daughter who rejects all attempts by her to connect, coping with loneliness, begins to care  for another long-term patient in the same ward as her mother – minutely observed social and domestic routines – near to breaking point – radical from a cinematic perspective - 7/10

16) Gone Girl (2014 - Dir: David Fincher – Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pyke) good but forgettable -   7/10 

17) RFH – Philharmonia Orch: cond: Krszysztof Urbanski) Smetana from Symphonic Cycle; Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor; Dvorak Symphony No. 9 in E minor, From the New World)8/10  

18)  The Imitation Game (dir: Morten Tyldum – star: Benedcit Cumberbatch) – good, enjoyable, superb acting - 8/10 

19)  RFH  – Philharmonia Orch: cond: Jaime Martin; Colin Currie, percussion – Kodaly (Dances of Galanta); James Macmillan (Percussion) Concerto No. 2 – UK premiere; Mendelssohn (Symphony No. 3) - 6/10 

Lectures, Talks, Events etc

1) 16 Jan – RSA - `The End of Power` (Moses Naim – ch: Matthew Taylor) 
2) 23 Jan – RSA - `Re-thinking Strategy` (Lawrence Freedman – ch: M Taylor)   
3) 06 Feb - RSA - `Does The News Do Us Any Good?` Alain de Botton (ch: M Taylor)
4) 14 Mar - Senate House – Institute of Com`wealth Studies: Decolonisation Workshop  
5) 02 Apr – RFH Level 5 - `Kamila Shamsie: A God in Every Stone` - one-to-one  
6) 23 Apr – QEH - `Letters Live` - a `World Book Night Event` - various contributors
7) 28 May – IALS – Russell Sq - `Tanzania: Corruption & Human Rights` - Seminar   
8) 17 Jun – Senate Hse – IALS Conference on Legal and Judicial Legacies of Empire 
9) 24 Sep – RSA (1-2 pm) – Francis Fukuyama on `Political Order and Political Decay`
10) 14 Oct -  Royal Asiatic Soc - `Researching Gujarati Identities: Current Perspectives`
11) 04 Nov – Chatham Ho:`Statelessness: Impact of International Law ...` etc
12) 27 Nov - RSA: `Command and Control` (Eric Schlosser + Rodrick Braithwaite)
13) 01 Dec – QEH – Liberty Human Rights Awards (various + Shami Chakrabarti) 

(RFH = Royal Festival Hall; QEH = Queen Elizabeth Hall; RSA = Royal Society of Arts; IALS = Institute of Advanced Legal Studies -- also the end ratings 0/0 are just for my easy evaluation)


Another year has passed and looking back, as always, it is amazing how much one has done (or not, as the case may be) and how long ago some of it seems to have been!  This exercise in reflection on the past year also helps to concentrate the mind on contemplating what lies ahead, as well as sifting what matters or does not.  One is conscious of time passing, of getting older and becoming less active, as it should be.  Of course there are private regrets, for not doing the right thing, no matter how long ago, or for losing the enthusiasm or vigour to do more now, but then this is the way it is going to be, so tough luck!

(c) 2014
Surrey, England 


My American Odysseys

The year is coming to an end and I have yet to post a blog here since the last one in April.  A lot has happened in the last eight months, but what shall I write about now?  My recent visit to North America?  Why not broaden it out to include past trips, with a focus on driving there?  Well ok, but let me start with what prompted the latest. 

In Alfred Hitchcock`s North by Northwest (NNW), the last 20 minutes or so are set in and around the spectacular Mount Rushmore monument in South Dakota. I first saw the movie in December 1959, as an 18 year old student at a cinema in London`s Leicester Square during my first winter in England.  Even as a teenage moviegoer, I had become quite a fan of Hitchcock, and so it was hardly surprising that I was enchanted by NNW.  The thought of seeing the place some day probably entered my mind then, and it was to grow over the next fifty years during which I saw many repeats of the film.  Well, I did get there at last, just over three months ago, and thinking about it since has brought on a whole kaleidoscope of memories of our (my wife`s and mine) many trips to North America over the last 4 decades. 

It was in January of 1973 that I first visited Canada, travelling from coast to coast (Victoria BC to St John`s Newfoundland) in the middle of a severe winter when it snowed everywhere, but that was a different experience altogether. It was after another six years that we as a family crossed over the border into the USA.  But after that my wife and I became regular visitors to one or both of these countries, on average once every two to three years.  We would fly in to the west or the east coast or somewhere in the middle and take to the road.  Mount Rushmore however remained elusive, because it is in what I call a god-forsaken corner of the US, not easy to get to by road or air en route to somewhere, and so we just missed going there.  Then early this year I asked Vijay, a friend in Calgary, if he would be willing for the two of us to drive down to South Dakota in the fall, and he agreed.  And that is how what many in our respective circles thought of as a crazy idea came about, but more about that later.

And what of my driving experience in North America?  Over more than thirty years, I have driven in, around or through a great many cities there - Washington DC, New York, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas in the States and Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal in Canada - and crossed the border between the two countries, including at Niagara Falls, at different points and different times, but always with my wife as companion and navigator, as she never drove herself.

There were occasions when we would pick up a rental car at the airport and drive on.  At other times, we would first visit friends or family and then take off on our own.  And every time it was traditional maps that we relied on.  In the early days, there was no GPS technology, and it was only in 2012 that we used it when our host in Calgary lent his sat-nav device for a round trip to Edmonton via a couple of days` detour through the Rockies.  So all our driving was guided by geographical knowledge, friendly advice and a study of tourist literature supplied by the AAA and CAA, without even a cell phone in case of emergency.  There were plenty of payphones around and using them was not an uncommon sight.
My first proper driving stint in North America was in the summer of 1981 during a prolonged family holiday visit to Vancouver, from where we took a 5-day fly/drive excursion to Los Angeles.  At LAX airport we picked up our rental car and I then drove to our motel in Anaheim with our eleven-and-a-half year old son sitting in the front passenger seat.  The trip was a treat for him really.  By the late `70s and early `80s, such hit American tv series as Hawai Five O, Kojak, Starsky & Hutch, CHiPS, The A-Team, The Waltons, Dallas, Dynasty and a whole host of others had already made a huge cultural impact on British society.  This was the era of low cost transatlantic flights and holiday packages popularised by Laker Airways, and the beginning of the British love affair with America which has remained largely undiminished since.  Our son had studied and mastered the layout of the complex network of freeways across greater Los Angeles, and was able to guide me around during our stay there.  It was thrilling to be coasting along those roads that had become virtually so familiar.
Well we got to our motel without any mishap.  After settling in, we went for a leisure drive, and guess what happened?  While turning at a cross roads, I collided with a municipal bus – it was a minor crash.  I had misjudged the length of the bus, and perhaps even the size of the car I was driving (everything is so big in America!) and run into the side of the bus. The damage was minimal. Within literally a minute or so, a police patrol car came along, and that actually made the whole procedure quick and simple.  There was no fuss. I produced my documents and the police took down details. While all this was going on, unknown to me, a relief bus had come along and an orderly transfer of passengers had taken place.  The whole process was so quick and efficient that in no time we were able to carry on, as my car was still driveable.  Fortunately, it remains the only accident I have had in all these years of driving in North America.

Out of my 20 trips to North America to date, 14 have involved my driving somewhere.  Driving there is something of a passion for me.  I suppose at one level it has the feel of the old western, with the automobile taking the place of the horse: one is kind of free to wander here and there in the vast wilderness of the two countries.  The prime attraction is the combination of the rolling countryside, the wide open and generally un-crowded roads, the easy-going orderly traffic – all of which are such a contrast to the conditions in Britain.  Unlike in Britain, one doesn`t have to drive aggressively to get anywhere, and in any case the visibility or the lurking presence of police patrol cars on American roads makes for disciplined driving.  One can`t get away with traffic violations there. 

For us, it was always fun to look for a motel to stay, and to negotiate the rate even.  Gas, Food, Lodging signs by the roadside were always welcome in the countryside, as were shopping malls in cities.  Americans are constantly on the move, and all the amenities are geared to the needs of the travelling public. Tourist spots are always well managed and signposted, and everywhere there are public washrooms – unlike here in Britain where they are fast disappearing!

What trips stand out?  In October 1989, after a weekend with friends in Washington DC, we drove down to Charlottesville, to sample and savour the tranquil old-fashioned way of life and beauty of Virginia.  From here we set off on a long haul journey to Boston, naively thinking we could make it in one day, which of course was a stupid idea.  Anyway, we got on to the I-95 (the busiest interstate route on the eastern coast) and stopped for the night at a sleepy little place called Elmsford in Westchester County.  At some point during our search for a place to eat (ending up at a McDonalds) and stay, I must have lost my wallet (it had probably dropped out of my pocket) but we were able to check into a hotel using my wife`s credit card.  Later, after searching in vain for my wallet, I decided to report its loss to my credit card issuing companies here in Britain, which meant the cards were invalidated and we were effectively left without one, with only a small amount of cash in hand. The next morning, I thought it prudent to report the loss to the local police as well and called them from the hotel.  The guy who answered the phone told me to wait, saying he would come along, which he promptly did in his patrol car!  He took down details and gave me a copy of the report.  Now this is something that simply would not have happened in Britain – such a trivial incident would not have warranted this kind of service.  Actually, this otherwise quite simple episode was to turn into a long and complicated story. 

One of the credit card companies was good enough to arrange to send us a replacement card, for which I gave the address of our hotel in Boston where we were booked in to arrive a couple of days later.  When we got there and enquired, we were told there was no mail awaiting us.  A phone call established that an attempt had been by the courier firm (FedEx, I think) to deliver a package but that it had been declined by the hotel as there was nobody by the name of Shah registered or expected there!  What had happened, we later discovered, was that our reservation (made by phone by another set of our friends who were going to join us) had been recorded in the name of Shaw and not Shah and so the hotel receptionist on duty had simply not made the connection and studiously refused to accept the package.  FedEx, to its credit, however did try to locate where the non-delivered parcel was in its logistics system, which meant my having to phone them several times while we were out and about, only eventually to find out that the abortive delivery had been treated as a `no show` and returned to the sender!  Our friends` arrival did however relieve us from the worry of not having any credit cards (though I would rather not go into the other mundane details of what was fast becoming a bizarre saga).  At any rate we had an otherwise enjoyable couple of days in Boston in the company of our friends who had flown in from Milwaukee. That was my first experience of driving in and around Boston (repeated subsequently twice or thrice) at a time when the centre of the city was undergoing some major reconstruction works and the roads were all skewed up.  Anyway, we then flew back to London from there, after returning the rental car (the lost credit card had already been swiped in Washington DC and so did not need to be produced again).  We then had the replacement credit cards safely delivered at home and life got back to normal.  Apart from and despite all the above, this trip was also memorable because we saw the full glory of the New England countryside at its autumnal best.

But that is not the end of the story for one day, nearer to Christmas, the post brought in something that looked like junk mail.  I was in no hurry to open it but later when I did I found that it contained another envelope inside, bearing the IBM logo.  Out of it came my lost wallet, somewhat battered but with stuff inside – some British money, my lawyer`s Id card, library card and other bits and pieces, but minus the credit cards and US bills.  There was a typed and well written accompanying letter from a resident of the area who explained that he had been out walking when his dog picked up the wallet from the bush.  He unpicked its contents and could work out that it belonged to someone over here. He was a senior executive used to visiting Britain.  He therefore sent the package to the IBM`s UK office, for them to forward it to me.  It appeared that whoever had found the wallet in the first place had emptied it of the credit cards and the US cash, and then thrown it away with the rest.  The credit cards had not been compromised though, as I had reported their loss more or less immediately, any attempt to use them would have failed anyway.  I still  have the police report and the letter from the IBM executive, though I think I was amiss in not informing the Elmsford Police about the recovery of the wallet.

What other experiences?  Well collectively there have been many but some stand out more than others.  For example, our trip to California in November 1990 was memorable because it was fun to drive through the city, and in particular the ups and downs of the scenic route - the signposted Presidio trail.  It reminded me of the famous chase scenes in Bullitt, another of my favourite movies, with Steve McQueen.  We visited all the major tourist attractions of course: driving over the Golden Gate bridge into Sausalito and the red wood forests there, taking a boat out to view Alcatraz from the Fisherman`s Wharf, having a picnic in the Golden Gate Park and so on.  From San Francisco we drove up north to the Yosemite Park, whose splendid peaks were menacingly overpowering!  I could have organised that trip better: instead of returning the car to San Francisco and flying from there on one-way tickets to Vancouver, I should have arranged to drop it off at Seattle, which is where we were to fly back to London from, as the nearest point to Vancouver.  It is one of those things that you learn to do better the next time!

In 1992, we did actually fly in to Seattle, picked up the car there, and drove across the border to Vancouver – something we have at two or three other times as well.  On that trip we also crossed over to Victoria on Vancouver Island by ferry and visited the Bouchard Gardens.  In our 1995 visit, we explored a bit more of British Columbia outside Vancouver, and did some more ferry crossings to nearby islands.  In 2002, again flying in to Seattle and picking up the car there in the middle of the night, we crossed the border at something like 2 o`clock in the morning!  I still remember with relish the coffee and doughnut that I then had at a nearby all-night diner.  But every time, on our return, there was always some tension as we crossed over back into the States on account of any delays at the border. Then, having crossed the border, we would still have to find our way to the airport.  On one occasion, my wife missed a sign for the correct exit to the airport, and we had a most nerve-wrecking run-around before getting there, with barely minutes to spare to complete the return rental formalities and then running to the airport check-in desk. These scenarios were always fraught with potential problems.  On the 2002 occasion, I was particularly concerned as that was after 9/11 and the US authorities were already beginning to tighten up their procedures, but we had no difficulty, as indeed we had none when we had entered the country at Chicago airport on arrival.  From Chicago we had picked up a rental to drive down to Milwaukee, for another wedding and friends` reunion, and it was from Chicago that we had flown to Seattle, arriving there in the middle of the night because of a missed connecting flight at Minneapolis St Paul!

Then there were the couple times in quick succeeding years that we were to visit Niagara Falls, in 1999 and 2000.  The 1999 trip was really most exciting.  We had first gone to Calgary to attend a friends` son`s wedding (and another reunion with the old gang).  From there we flew to Montreal, where we picked up our rental car for a fortnight`s round trip, which took us down to the southern outskirts of Toronto and onwards to Niagara.  At Niagara we stayed on the Canadian side, from where the view is really most stunning, but crossed over to the other side and back without any hassle. Then from there we drove via Syracuse and Albany to New York City, for a 4 day stay at Pelham Manor. From here we would take the local commuter train (reminiscent of Pelham 123) into Grand Central.  New York was basking in record high temperatures during a very hot spell that August and that made our sightseeing most uncomfortable, and so we were happy to leave for the final leg of our tour – into New Hampshire where we were having another long weekend reunion with yet another set of friends at Amherst.  From Amherst we drove through Vermont to Burlington, crossed Lake Champlain by ferry into the northernmost part of New York State and into Canada, to arrive back in Montreal.  All through this trip, we stopped for overnight stays at various points, driving through the most rural and scenic parts of that region.

On our 2000 trip, we drove from Baltimore MD across Pennsylvania again to Niagara, this time staying on the US side, and from there through upstate New York to Amherst, flying back to London from Boston.  On the western front, we have crossed the Rockies from either Calgary or Edmonton to Vancouver at least three times, and it has always been pleasant.  Another memorable trip was to Las Vegas, where we had fun driving up and down the Strip, and visiting casinos at various hotels.  We then drove out to the Grand Canyon, stopping at the Hoover Dam, but this was in the middle of February and we had to beat a hasty retreat after two days because of heavy snowfall for which we were ill-equipped.  Fortunately, we had had a beautifully sunny day`s outing to the Canyon itself.

And so on, but let me return to the latest trip, to Mount Rushmore. So what did it involve?  From Calgary to Rapid City and Mount Rushmore, was a distance of some 1400 km, spanning Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota.  We did that in two days, spending the first night at Billings, Montana.  The next overnight stop was at Keystone, where we arrived in the middle of the afternoon.  We then drove up to the monument for our first visit in the early evening.  It was still daylight and the long view of the Presidential figures on the top of the mountain was a magnificent sight indeed.  The peak holiday season had passed, so it was not crowded but there were plenty of people around.  There was a historical audio-visual presentation as night fell.  At the end of it serving or retired members of the US armed forces present were asked to come forward for a formal flag ceremony and a surprising number of some 200 of them came up on the platform!  Each of them introduced themselves and they were greeted by the audience with a warm applause.  The whole tenor of the programme was a celebration of American military might and power.

Then next morning, before leaving the area, we went back to the monument for a stroll along the walkway skirting the bottom of the monument, and more picture shots. Then from there, we drove westwards to the Yellowstone National Park, staying the night at Cody – a delightful holiday spot.  The next day we spent in Yellowstone, going from geyser to geyser, on to the Old Faithful.  Here there was a festive atmosphere and a great many tourists.  By the time we got there, the Old Faithful had already erupted, so we waited for the next one.  When it came, the growling got louder but the climax was a bit disappointing, in that the eruption did not occur with full force; it sort of fizzled out.  We learned that this could and often did happen; it was a matter of luck.  We then left the park and drove through a snowy landscape (because there had been a heavy snowfall that had trailed and then caught up with us) back across Montana to Bozeman for the night.  The next morning, our fifth day, we set off from there back to Calgary, crossing the border at Sweet Grass and Coutts.  I was driving as we did so, and the Canadian immigration officer put the standard questions to me, perhaps wondering what these two guys were up toSmile!   Anyway, when I told her that this was probably the 20th time I was entering Canada, she seemed satisfied.  We then drove back to Calgary, stopping at Lethbridge for lunch.

All in all then we did some 3000+ km (= 1850 miles).  Of course we shared the driving, though it was Vijay`s car and he drove much more than I did. Was it worth it?  I suppose so, if only to get it out of my system!  Anyway, this is where I will end for now. To recall and document all our other trips would make this into a very long travelogue. I have done a few train and bus journeys also.  All that will have to wait for another time, when I will also touch on my take on America from a wider perspective; we will see.

(c) 2014
Surrey, England