Arriving Home From Home

Texas was so lovely. Mesquites gently jostling their frond-like leaves of light green seem innocent at first sight, unique, but hide the spear-point thorns the rancher mostly hates. Moving along serpentine back roads interconnecting on my route from Llano to Fredericksburg via The Willow City Loop was as stunning as ever.

Fredericksburg’s Main Street is about four times bigger and more congested than when we lived there and ten times more crowded with the meandering hoards. It’s lost more than it’s gained, but I think tat is where consumerism thrives and is supposedly ‘good economics’. I understand how that works, but then there are things that don’t change, mostly things that man has less to do with, and one of those things is the Willow City loop where I used to live and have my workshop.

The Loop is quite remote even for Texas. It’s one of the two loveliest places I’ve ever lived in terms of peace, quiet, beauty and such, the other was further south in the Hill Country north of Uvalde: ‘the land of a thousand springs.‘ I didn’t make it that far this trip but next time I will fill in the blanks by extending some time down there.

Whereas Texas, and other states too will always give me fondly familial memories and ties, I was surprised at my sense of feeling home when the Dreamliner landed at London, Gatwick. The flights, both there and back, were flawless. I remember flights in and out of the USA after nine one one were very different when airport security was less defined and impossibly shaped by its temporariness. ATS hired anybody with a driver’s licence and treated everyone abruptly or even abrasively for a couple of years. I avoided Philadelphia as the worst hub the US had to offer as a result. ‘Texas friendly’ has always been just that. It’s hard to beat walking down any street when half the people nod a ‘Howdy!‘ as you pass – even in today’s hectic culture. It’s such an antidote to the toxic isolationism I see in other parts.

Driving to Oxfordshire was pleasant enough but arriving in Abingdon really comforted me. I slept for just an hour and couldn’t wait to get on my bike and investigate the nature changes on paths where I cycle. The air was heavy with the scent of Hawthorn and of course everything was fully clothed with that lush green that seems so able to absorb the excesses of life.

A profusion of forget-me-nots (myosotis) skirted by bluebells, red campion and a dozen more have blocked out spheres of vibrant colour. A new batch of ducklings swam alongside their mamas and papas, oblivious to the teeth of pike beneath them. They scurry this way and that in aimless loops, twists and turns, herded by their mother to stay close in a tight huddle now and then. Can she count? Inevitably I will see five mallard chicks one day and four later in the week. Such is the nature of life in the wild. Not being a TV watcher the hotel cafeteria programs bombarded me for half an hour by Stateside news espousing on European issues. It’s as if they had no issues of their own, and then advertising for health care products to take care of what’s easier taken care of by simple diet change and exercise. Not everything of course. Being a long term diabetic I understand my reliance on insulin and so too do others rely on meds. The breakfast menu was laden with pork so I stuck to oatmeal (porridge), fresh fruit mostly.

My bike ride renewed me. I ended up at the new house and organised some of my tools, swept the shavings I had left on the floor in my rush to the airport. One place I would truly recommend to eat if you fly out of Austin’s Bergstrom airport is The Peached Tortilla.

I ate the Cauliflower version, a veggie option, and it was the very best tortilla I ever tasted bar none. I ate two!

25 thoughts on “Arriving Home From Home”

  1. “Not being a TV watcher ”
    I understand there are so much silly shows.
    Although, one I would recommend is “back in time for XXX” on the BBC
    where XXX would be “for dinner” or “for weekend” etc.
    It is quite instructive especially for younger generations who have no idea of how was life in the years fifties and sixties.
    I have looked at the série “for dinner” with my daughter who was born in 87. Pleasant discussions.

    1. Paul, welcome back. Since I’m an avid aviation fan I try to know something about each airline company around the world. Norwegian Airlines paint scheme is unique the flight crew and their Plaid uniforms seems different. But with all the bling and sales pitches I could’ve wait to stretch out.

      1. Stopped in middle of the blog to finis my work projects. But with all the bling and sales pitches I couldn’t wait to get off the plane and stretch out. I see that you enjoyed certain airports and avoid others. How did you enjoy having to purchase food and beverages before your flight and by credit card at your seat and little to no rapport with the flight attendants?

  2. This is a lovely write. A great way to begin my day; having been in around those places if not those specifically, the scenes drawn through scents and nature brought memory back in a super visceral way.
    I never watch television either, the occasional movie is good or theater experience for a play or such is better. Television always makes me feel that there is something else I need to be doing and the constant shifting scenes are epileptic.

  3. The amount of ducklings can decrease very rapidly. I recall being on vacation about a decade ago with friends and seeing a long line of ducklings following mama-duck. My friends’ son was at the age where he was exercising his newly-found superpower of counting; everything that came along had to be counted. I quickly counted the ducklings myself then asked him how many there were. He said 13, which struck me as odd because I most definitely counted 12, so I counted again, and again 12. He counted again and arrived again at 13. Turned out he included mama-duck too, whereas I wasn’t….

    To the point: next day there were 5, the day after 3, which was the last day we were there. I can only hope mama-duck didn’t keep count….

    As to watching TV, the less I watch the better. I’ve lived for a decade without a TV set, I own one again now but it’s mostly used for watching educative videos. Nowadays the TV only gets turned on Saturday evening for half an hour of Dad’s Army, even though I have all the episodes myself, but the BBC subtitles them which is nice. The only reason I still turn on the TV in the morning is to read Dutch and German teletext news. Pity the BBC have stopped their teletext (news) pages in order to cut costs. But I miss the BBC Worldservice even more.

    I started listening to the BBC Worldservice on Medium Wave radio (648 kHz – a frequency I’ll never forget) at age 13 in the mid-’80s because I couldn’t fall asleep at night. 5 minutes of actively listening to the BBC did the trick. Next week it took 10 minutes to fall asleep, and so on, until I could listen all night and the sleeping-trick didn’t work anymore. As an unintended side effect my English skills increased dramatically. I had been a regular listener since age 13 until they stopped their broadcasts on Medium Wave in 2011 for (supposedly) budgetreasons. It’s the only mass-medium I really miss.

    1. Reagan Herman

      Coopers is one of my favorites!

      Paul, If you ever find yourself in the middle of nowhere in the panhandle of Texas, stop and see me! Not as pretty as the hill country but there is still beauty on the high plains.

  4. Wonderful, reading your post I felt as if I was with you … and biking in England, when you got home to England: That is a life-long dream of mine. Also, we have lots of friends and relatives living in Texas here in the US.

    I have a cousin that lives south of London in Surrey and my son and I went over visit on the occasion of his High School Graduation back in 2003.

    I was captivated by the pedestrian paths that crisscross England and spent a morning with my cousin’s wife walking along some of them from their house to a pub in a nearby town. To say I am an unapologetic anglophile is an understatement.

  5. I love good tortillas. Interesting fillings for a taco. I guess a lot of these newer restaurants have “fusion” of styles and ethnicity. I’ll be heading to Houston next month, unfortunately not to Austin.

  6. Marvin McConoughey

    We have never had a TV and have thus gained many hours of time to do other activities. I did watch the Nixon-Kennedy debate on TV over a college owned television set. That was quite some years ago. Thanks for a great trip review. Marvin

  7. My wife and I live in New Braunfels. We drive the willow city loop every year. I’ve never seen the wild flowers as vibrant and plentiful as they were this year.

  8. “I avoided Philadelphia as the worst hub the US had to offer “. We found it to be also.

    You mention the nodding and people walked by. I nod a lot to people as I walk. When I was younger people would nod or say high back. Not most people turn their head or look down as they pass. It is a shame. I am not the most social person in the world, but I do find it troubling that most people are like this anymore.

    1. Daniel Hopwood

      Back in the 1960s folks in AL, TN, & MS and probably some other states would always wave as we drove down rural roads, if they were outside.

  9. Spring in south and central Texas is the best time of the year to visit. Having been raised in San Antonio and my mother’s passion for gardening, our family always made the wild flower excursions on weekends. I miss living in south Texas except for the summer. Summer in Texas is oppressively hot!

  10. Well, Paul, quite a convergence of wood related craftmanship, with you landing smack dab in the center of the world’s greatest barbecue, the product of old world methods, based on a quasi-apprenticeship system of great pitmasters (with Totsie Tomanetz at Snow’s BBQ, the “master” does not only refer to men) passing on their skills to the next generation, all the while depending on the humble Texas post oak tree to fire the smokers, and patient attention to detail. I attain a rough approximation of the great Central Texas brisket by using my red and white oak cutoffs in my smoker.

  11. I like the picture of the Norwegian 787, I build those in Everett Wa. Good chance that my mechanic skills worked on that airplane. By watching you my woodworking skills are getting better, Thanks Roger.

    1. My son is one of the RR design engineers who worked on the Rolls Royce Trent 1000.

      1. I’d like to see a father/son collaboration one of these days. Maybe Joseph on the design and Paul on the build… or 50/50 – the Sellers dynasty.

        1. I am with phill. I am considering some luthier projects and am sure myself and others could pick up some useful techniques. For myself, prepping the thin material is the most daunting task. If I must resort to a thickness sander, I see no reason to proceed.

          1. Paul Sellers

            I think most luthiers today would and do balk at the idea of thinning by hand but mostly because they no longer or never did develop the hand skills to work the wood by hand to a controlled thickness. Many violin makers use a mini router to groove for purfling and guitar makers mostly use routers for the binding on their guitars and such. It’s practical but not the same. And they mostly will not know that because they never knew the alternative as is the case with most furniture makers who have only had a very brief nod at hand tool methods in college somewhere where the instructors themselves know very little about the methods I use and may well never have used them in actual production because most teacher/lecturers only had a brief skirmish in the real world of making and are mainly trained to use mass-making methods instead of using skilled hand work. Not all of them. Just the majority. I think ever graduate I know from renowned colleges and universities that I have seen working has been quite intimidated by hand work for even the simplest tasks. One I know set up an elaborate system to recess two 2″ brass hinges using a powerful power router because, “I feel so scared of recessing by hand!” He wanted a guaranteed risk free system that took him half a day to set up for what should have taken only 10-15 minutes.
            What we are doing online is making a difference and of course skills like the ones we promote are now being passed on globally to woodworkers who are becoming skilled through our distance learning offerings. One day colleges will of course become redundant. people will see through the high costs and find they can indeed learn much more if they are able to filter through to find the core teachings of woodworking (and many other crafts) online. Sad though it may be they seem unable to move with the changes in education even to meet the needs of industry itself. I think it is true to say their real value, if it is a value, and I doubt even that, is that they offer industry a sort of filtering system to employment for commerce. It is unfortunate that they became the very poor substitute for true apprenticeships and that’s mostly because parents preferred their teenage children to pursue a degree course rather than a mere apprenticeship.
            In fairness to commercial enterprises such as guitar manufacturing, I must just say that the industry is highly competitive and cost saving in terms of skill and time will affect both price and output quality. Mostly they look for a compromise to keep prices favourable. In my view the tone of an instrument will differ between sanded surfaces and hand planed ones, especially surfaces inside the chamber where sanding slows down the movement of air. This can be good or bad depending on the tone you want from the instrument.

  12. Steve Longley

    Paul, I wish that I had known that you were in the TX. Hill Country. As one of your former students from Dallas – now relocated to Cherry Mountain, TX (8 mi – 13 km) north of Fredericksburg – I would have loved to have taken you to lunch or dinner while you were in the area.

    Where in Willow City was your shop located?


  13. Paul,

    In my early 30s I lived somewhere else for 4 years that I absolutely loved (Puget Sound Area in WA state). The job market was such that I had to leave the area and move back to the San Francisco Bay Area (where I grew up). Professionally I’ve thrived by moving back but I still at times terribly miss WA state.

    Did you encounter anything like this when moving back to the UK from Texas? If so, did you find any rationalization that helped? I’m not in need of a professional counselor or anything like that.

  14. Yes Joe, there is no where as friendly, or more beautiful than the Pacific Northwest. Especially the Olympic Peninsula. A really great thing is we have Edensaw Woods, for timber and lumber, you name the specie, and they have it.

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