Saturday, April 26, 2008


Jim and Liz, a walk in the country

I am staying with Jim and Liz Donaldson at their home outside Franklin, North Carolina. Jim is a young 69 and retired. Liz teaches school in Georgia, a four hour drive. Why? To retain medical insurance. Liz rents a studio apartment close to the school. She and Jim spend weekends together, either in Georgia or at home, and the school holidays.
Insane? Of course. Health in the United States is insane.
McCain, Republican Presidential nominee, asked an audience whether they would rather enjoy the freedom of choice and excellence of the American system, the best in the World, or suffer British socialised medicine and wait months for an operation. McCain forgot to mention that we Brits have private hospitals for those who chose to carry private health insurance – or he deliberately deceived. Unlikely. McCain is an American hero.
However he is old and naturally forgetful of inconvenient facts...Whilst we Brits are in agreement with our European neighbours in our belief that medical treatment for all is a hallmark of civilized society.

Friday, April 25, 2008


I am meeting a biker today. Jim Donaldson is more than a biker; he organizes biker meets. We first made contact via an Internet biker site. He has read my Blog and I talked with him on the telephone from Galveston. He advised me to ride the Natchez Trail – excellent advice. He and his wife have invited me to stay at their home outside Franklin, North Carolina.
But who is he? What is he?
Were he a Brit and we were back home, I would have picked up clues.
I am lost in the United States. I don't possess a social map.
Is he a Hell's Angel? A racist? A Red Neck? A Right-wing Bushite Republican? Supporter of the United States Occupation in Iraq?
Is he insulted by my oppinions?
Will he swill Budweisers and bash me over the head with a bottle...Or throw me out of the house in mid-discussion?
I am a little nervous as I circle the south west tip of the Appalachians. Athens to Franklin is a short ride, no hurry. I stop for lunch at a diner.


With a population of 15,000, Athens, Tennessee, is a small, quiet, pleasant town situated at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains. Tennessee Wesleyan College is a small liberal arts University – less than a thousand students – and provides that archetypal American amalgam of God, sport, education and the American flag. The 40 acre campus is two blocks north from Athens town square. Buildings are of red brick with the obligatory white pillars and surrounded by lawns. Old College Hall was built in the 1850s and is referred to as historic. Architecture is inoffensive.
I stay at the DayInn motel on Interstate 75. The motel is run by Gujarati and is equally archetypal of the United States...As is the diner specialising in barbecue chicken wings.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Spectacles mist in a light drizzle. A narrow lane passes a clutch of small houses with sagging porches. Weeds clamber up rusting trucks and tractors, abandoned refrigerators, cookers, washing-machines. I am reminded of a road-side gypsy encampment.
Three dark curls in a field are Latinos harvesting spring greens. In Herefordshire they would be East European and legal. Here they are illegals. Get rid of them is a popular cry. Truck farms would close. Rural economies would collapse...And from where would the US import fruit and vegetables? I stop at a diner and eat fried catfish served with fat fries. Three overweight women belly-bulge from belted jeans, drink colas and eat fried food. One woman raps instructions in Spanish into a cellphone. I listen as she organizes a squad of cleaners. Cleaning is Latino work. Surely Tennessee is part of the South. I had expected Afro-Americans.


I am due in Franklin, North Carolina, tomorrow. Franklin is the far side of the Appalachian mountains. Today I ride east from Nashville on country lanes that dip and twist through green hills topped by woodland. The countryside is similar to my native Herefordshire. Cattle are the same breed: Herefords. Locals call them White Faces. Even today's weather is a reminder of home with low cloud and spits of drizzle. Lack of hedges is the prime difference; erecting fences is quicker; as is building in timber as opposed to brick or stone.
The houses are pretty when freshly painted, yet, to European eyes, lack permanence. Agriculture has changed. As at home, dairy herds have been superseded by fruit and vegetables. Our brick barns are converted into luxury homes. Here, out of use, they rot. As do houses and trailer homes.