Monday, 31 August 2009

Sunday 30th August 2009 - Uptown Girl

Preparing for my return contest with the government has to be taken seriously. Last time it was at their place, and they took me down in the first. This time it will be on my territory, so I have to be in peak condition.

I have discovered, I must say rather to my surprise, that documents can be transmitted across the world in original form in the flicker of an electronic eyelash. None of your rotten old faxes these days. I've decided that that's the way I will transmit documents in future.

But it is a terrible fag having to sit about collating it all, and chasing up sources, when I could be out having fun.

One day, I dream, I will have the US Government at my mercy. I will, of course, do the right thing, but, my goodness, will they have a lot of inconvenient hoops to jump through.

Later that evening, I had dinner with an 'Uptown Girl'. I've been humming Billy Joel to myself ever since. No matter that she had her very own Uptown Boy with her. My imagination can surmount trivial obstacles like that.

Uptown is one of the 'posh' bits of Minneapolis, where the best choice of restaurants and entertainment is. We found a restaurant which served the inimitable SNPA (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) on tap. And she listened attentively to my stories and laughed in all the right places. Who cares about the government, eh?

Even later, I sneaked off to the local Irish bar specially to sample the local brew, Summit. And it's surprisingly good, up there with SNPA. So it's not "inimitable", after all.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Saturday 29th August 2009 - Meet Me at the Fair

I am now busy assembling my case to prove to the US Government that I am who I am, and  I'm doing what I'm doing.  I can see why I failed last time: one, it's all rather undignified, and a blow to one's pride and self-esteem (a bit like the famous old Goon Show joke "What are you doing in the bath, Henry?"  "I'm not doing anything in the bath, Min"); and two, it's all more trouble than is necessary.

For example, the lawyers think I ought to have a budget, to show I can afford to do this.  Didn't need a budget to prove I could do it for six months, need one to prove I can do it for a year.

I did, of course, being me, have a budget.  It was this: I'm going to spend much the same in the US as I spend in the UK, except for hotels.  I've let my apartment, so I only have to try to keep the hotel costs the same as the apartment rental, and I can go on forever.  I can check once a month, and judge whether I'm within budget, or have to consider a correction, or putting the excess down to an actual 'holiday' cost.  Any kit I buy I can separate into acquisitions, as assets I would have bought anyway, and will bring home with me.

Because I'm doing this once a month, and I am using only a UK credit and debit card, I can do the sums almost in my head in sterling.  Certainly back-of-an-envelope stuff; couldn't be simpler.

Now, of course, I'm in spreadsheet country.  So I'm pulling figures out of bank statements, to the exact penny, setting up columns to add up by themselves, putting in a conversion factor to convert it all to dollars.  And making sure the cells all have the correct formulas (no, dear, in English you make a plural by putting an 's' at the end) in them, so that when I try to drive myself mad by getting it to look 'pretty', at least I won't have to do all the sums again.

And all this information will tell me less than the original process.  Come to think of it, I suppose that proves every cloud does have a silver lining: perhaps it will tell the government less.  (Maybe that's why governments never seem to know what they're doing, or whether they've done it or not.)


I just had to escape to the wonderful  Minnesota State Fair, to re-establish contact with reality: farmers polishing pigs and sheep and cows, and corn and potatoes and beans, and and and and and and.  Real people doing real things; with tens of thousands of spectators; and food on a stick.

There were a couple of black spots. 

The beer actually cost more than I was prepared to pay.  There is a point where even the softest consumer has to show price resistance.  And this was well beyond it.

            The other black spot was a huge catapult-like device, fashioned from two of those telescopic cranes, which fired people about two hundred feet in the air.  Clearly, now the CIA has got it in the neck for waterboarding, etc., they are experimenting with new devices to instill fear into the heart of suspects.  Or perhaps the immigration service is trying out new ways of sending unwanted immigrants home.  I'd better get back to the budget.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Friday 28th August 2009 - The Root of All Evil

          It is unfair to tar all of government with the same brush. Even the Immigration Service are only trying to do their job. It's not their fault the legislators gave them an impossible job to do. Although it is worth noting that some do it well, and some do it badly.
          Nor should we forget the likes of the Park Rangers out in the Mohave, who were devoted to their job, and went out of their way to help me with my stupid little project.
There is no getting away from the fact, however, that the government has got me in a corner, and is about to bundle me out of the ring, if I don't do something about it.
          Which brings me to the subject of money. Funny stuff, money: there are quite a lot of definitions of it. What I mean is the common-sense definition, what I've got in my pocket, and in the bank: what economists call "M0". Or is it M1?
          I had to get myself an American bank account to pay for Rozzie. I had to make an arrangement with currency brokers to transfer that much into dollars.
But I've settled into using my Nationwide credit and debit cards, which is by far the most efficient way to convert my pounds into dollars. And it's also the best exchange rate I can get, by a long way.
          Imagine my disappointment, then, when I find out my lawyers are too posh for plastic. They want to be paid in good old-fashioned paper. I am, in turn, too posh to thrust wedges of cash at them(maybe cash is 'M0'?), although I'm sure they would manage to stiffle their embarrassment and accept it.  After all, they specialise in US Immigrations problems: there must be a fair bit of that business conducted in the cash economy.
          So I have to go back to topping-up my American bank account. And it turns out that my currency broker is too posh to deal in the piddling sums that my lawyers want (I hope my lawyers aren't reading this).
          In the end, in this electronic, computer era, I'm reduced to toddling down to the ATM, extracting as much cash as it will give me in a day, then slipping nervously into the bank and putting it in my other bank account.

          Funny old world, init?

Friday, 28 August 2009

Thursday 27th August 2009 - High Powered Meetings Concerning the Direction of Government

          I have a gift for timing: or so I like to think. Nothing to do with me, really, some kind of gift of nature or nurture. I can sometimes turn up to pick someone up, not just at the appointed hour, but when the last of the Greenwich pips is issuing from the car radio; without having made any particular effort to do that. I expect if I tried I would be markedly less successful.
          I had set up my meeting with my legal advisors to give me plenty of time to rehearse and get there. Needless to say I was late. My advisers were most understanding, but I was very cross with myself. It's just another example of nothing going right this trip; I hope it is not an omen.
          I had parked at the Mall of America (that's quite a name, isn't it) to get the tram (Metro Transit) up to town. The on-board map gave an estimate of the time between the stations. A quick sum told me I had to phone and admit my error.
          Recent experiences in huge car parks, particularly in Las Vegas, ensued that I wrote down where I had left Rozzie. Otherwise I might never see him again.
          The point of the meeting was to persuade me that this course of action was worth taking. I was predisposed to do it anyway, since government telling me I can't do something which is manifestly reasonable just bring out the anarchist in me. There were definitely cheaper solutions, but none that might be this much fun (of course, there's a subjunctive there: I've never tried to take on the newest branch of the richest government before).
          I started by asking about why I shouldn't just take the cheap option. Well, they said, this is the age of the database, and you've already marked your card (an unkind and unnecessary reference to my earlier failure to achieve what I was hiring them to do.) They might now notice the object of your cheap solution.
          Anyway, I said, as you've just so ungraciously pointed out, you're only going to do what I've already done. Ah, they said, but we'll try to do it right this time.
         Don't hold back, I thought, don't try to spare my feelings. So they asked me for a retainer. And all done, as the late Kenny Everett used to say, in the best possible taste.
         The outcome was that I had a whole lot of things to do, as quickly as possible. If I want to stay, I have to provide the most concrete proof that I want to leave.
         Ah, the paradox. Suddenly, it makes sense. As I left the fine Lumber Exchange building in downtown Minneapolis, I felt that I might manage this.
         Then I had to get Dulcie out to tell me which way to the tram: and then my notes to tell me which way to Rozzie.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Wednesday 26th August 2009 – Back to Square One

         Before television, which was not so long ago, sports fans had to rely on radio to follow their team's fortunes.  I have it on good authority (I do!) that the BBC divided the football field into a number of squares, square one being the one where play restarted.  But none of the references so readily available online these days accepts that as the origin of the phrase, although they accept the BBC did indeed divide up the filed like that.  They offer Snakes and Ladders, and Hop Scotch as alternative sources.

But wherever it came from, we all know what it means: coming back to the beginning and starting over.  Which is what I am doing now in Minneapolis.

So I've had a day of getting documents ready for the lawyers, and making sure I've thought through as much as I can to get the most out of the initial meeting.


The last part of the journey up from Cedar Falls was uneventful.  Except that Cedar Falls is in Iowa, so it was raining heavily.  I stopped a lot, 'cos I didn't want to get here.  I even stopped in Chester, right on the Minnesota border, to post a letter.  If I'd had a library book, I would have stopped to change that.


The brewery at Cedar Falls sold large jugs, which they called "growlers", over the bar.  They were rather fine jugs, made of glass, with aluminium handles and spring tops, like old pop bottles.  They hold 64 ounces.  I bought one full of Pale Ale, and we consumed it later that evening.  It travelled very well.


As I mentioned before, the Glasgows after whom the Missouri one and the St Louis Village one were named came originally from Delaware.  The information at St Louis Public Library said they were from Christiana, Delaware.

         Google claims to alert me every time the word "Glasgow" is mentioned on the web.  (There is, of course, no way I can check this claim, although I've no doubt experiments could be devised.)  Anyway, yesterday it told me that a motorcyclist was injured in Glasgow Delaware, and that he was taken to Christiana Hospital.  So I looked it up, and they are very close together.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Tuesday 25th August 2009 – North to Organise the Troops

It is time to sort out the Immigration Service, so I have to head back to Minnesota and get the lawyers briefed.  It is not what I want to do, but it has to be done.  I shall try to be brave and grown-up, and face the problem, and not just avoid it by keeping going till I get to Canada.

This involves passing the two Glasgows in Iowa.  I can't help feeling I could have planned this better.  But I didn't.

I'm travelling the road I used leaving Iowa a few weeks back.  I can't say I recognise it, since last time it seemed to be underwater.

I stop for a break at Hannibal MO, home of Mark Twain.  I get to stroll down by the Mississippi, and look across at the beaches and islands, and imagine Tom and Huck running away from home on their raft.  I reflect on the fact that I ran away from home on the Queen Mary 2, a far more civilised thing to do.


         I decided to stay overnight at Cedar Rapids, since I hadn't been there before.  When I get checked in, I come out later that night to find a brewery next door.  And very good beer it was too.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Monday 24th August 2009 – It’s That Man Again

St Louis, it has to be said, is a remarkably spacious city. Downtown provides very little shade for the sun-shy like me. It has a recent addition, "the Arch", which is a remarkable piece of engineering. When I was in Columbia, at the U of Mizz, looking for old documents about the man for whom Glasgow MO was named, they had a photo exhibition showing how the Arch was constructed, which held me fascinated for hours. It dominates downtown St Louis, and there is a city ordinance that nothing will be taller than it, a bit like Washington, dc, and the Washington Monument.



All men are, in some way or other, jealous of their father. William Glasgow, jr., seems to have been jealous of the fact that his father (James) had a town named after him. When they all came back to St Louis, the family seems to have become a considerable influence in the town. William married the mayor's daughter. He set up a research farm and called it "Glasgow Place". When he sold it off (it's known as the "Glasgow Addition" to St Louis, one of the streets became "Glasgow Place". That's now part of a park, but Glasgow Avenue survives.

He seems to have bought land at the very northern tip of the city


(if you can make out the name nearest the bend of the river)

Around 1930, the family, William presumably being long dead, platted this, and named the new street "Glasgow Drive" (you saw a picture of it yesterday). The plat for that reveals that the area was known as "Glasgow Woods". There can be little doubt that the rest of the original plot, outside the city in St Louis County, when it was developed around 1950, got to be called "Glasgow Village" after him.

So it wasn't named after the same Glasgow as the one on the Missouri River, it was named after his son. They were both born in Delaware. And there is a Glasgow in Delaware too. Do you think it might be possible that that one was named after the Grandfather? That would be quite remarkable, wouldn't it?

Later that night, having previously vacuumed up all the beer in the house, I tried to do penance by replacing some. But then I vacuumed that up too.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Sunday 23rd August 2009 – Another Kick on Route 66

I like old bridges. Well, I like things that have been carefully engineered, and have stood the test of time. There is such an object in North St Louis, called the Chain of Rocks Bridge. It's one of those standard American steel truss bridges. I assumed it was, or used to be, a railroad bridge, but I was assured it was a road bridge. And when we got to it, it was not only a road bridge, it was THE road.


I had breakfast on route 66 on Jackson in Chicago some time ago. Then I drove out to Baker CA on a bit of it at the other end. Now I'm going to walk across the mighty Mississippi on it. This is a lot safer than buying a Harley-Davidson, etc.


We were actually in north St Louis to see Glasgow Village. Which exists, and is (sort of) thriving


and proud of its history


There is an "important" village meeting on Tuesday, so there is an active community life. There are two schools, a fire station and a police station. And the remains of a shopping centre.

There is actually a Glasgow Drive, with brick houses which are clearly older.


It might be the case that it is the origins of the later development. This bit is actually just within the city limits.


Later that evening, I was invited out to watch the European Grand Prix. It had been recorded at some ungodly hour of the morning, but, this not being an American sport, there was no chance of finding out anything at all about it before watching the recording. Actually, that's not quite true: if there had been a really horrendous accident, and everyone had been killed, or bizarre weather had rained it off in Valencia in August, we might have heard about that.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Saturday 22nd August 2009 – South to St Louis

Many years ago, in Washington DC, I think, I was taken to a basketball game at a fine new stadium. They were televising the game, and the TV picture was being shown on a giant screen above the playing area. In no time at all, I was sitting comfortably watching television, oblivious of the fact that the reality was taking place just underneath the screen. Such is the insidious effect of television.

_____I was reminded of this the other evening while watching baseball in a bar. The sound was off, of course, but someone had turned on the subtitles (called "closed captioning" here). Before I knew where I was, I was reading the subtitles, which were talking about a game I could only partly see because of the subtitles.

Baseball programs provide a caption along the top which shows, pretty well, what the state of the game is. The subtitles were partly obscuring this. What really upset me was not that someone had put up the subtitles, but that I had caught myself reading them instead of watching the game. Such is the insidious effect of television.


_____Friday involved getting Rozzie a lube job (oil change), and doing the laundry, so it wasn't of much interest. Suffice to say there are any number of specialist establishments vying for my lube business, so it cost almost nothing and was done in almost no time just round the corner.

_____I've also just worked out that it's a bad idea to arrive somewhere new with a pile of dirty laundry. Far better to do it just before depart, when I have found out where the laundromat is, rather than have to search one out straight away.


_____So I was up cleaned and refreshed, with Rozzie newly lubed, to be on my way south on Saturday.

Dulcie turned out to be rather emotional about our departure, because as we got ten miles south of Jacksonville, she suddenly changed perspective, and put "Glasgow" on the bottom of her map: what a nice gesture.

As "Glasgow" drifted off the bottom, I got a startling reminder of Ana (remember? The tropical storm?). I was coming up to a house which looked as though it had been abandoned: the front half had collapsed, and there was a big blue tarpaulin tied over the collapsed bit.

Then I noticed the corn field opposite was flattened. And then I noticed that two grain elevators were lying several hundred yards into the field, split open like tin cans (these grain elevators look a bit like tin cans to start with).

This neighbourhood must have experienced a tornado, and it must have been truly terrifying.

And so it was into St Louis, in search of Glasgow Village.


Later that night, in search of some local brews, I found myself in front of an array of taps. As I was working out that I was going to have to put my glasses on to see what was on offer, a young lady came to my rescue. She claimed that, despite her youth, she was an expert in the brews. I asked her opinion on my favourites, and she passed the test. So I followed her advice and had an enjoyable evening, with Schlafly's and O'Fallon's which were very good.

They were doubly enjoyable, being from St Louis itself, which I'm sure you know is the home of the Anti-Christ, An-whatsit-Busch, the American arm of InBev, an intergalactic company based on Sirius 4.

I asked the young lady if she fancied a master class later. She said she could think of nothing she fancied more, but, unfortunately, she had to go and change her library book.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Thursday 20th August 2009 – Male Strippers and Crabs

I spent a day racing round in circles, from the Morgan County Courthouse, to Winchester Library and Glasgow itself. But there are no obvious signs, like land ownership, of why it got its name, and nobody I could find who remembers why. So I will have to just accept what the history books said in the first place, that it was in honour of James McEvers. But it gave me a chance to show off to the nice grown-up lady county clerks and librarians, so it was by no means a wasted day.

I found McEvers gravestone, in Glasgow Cemetery, among a great many other McEvers. They say he's buried somewhere else, but the stone is there now. That strikes me as an odd thing to have done, because now they don't know exactly where he's buried.

I spent a day racing round in circles, from the Morgan County Courthouse, to Winchester Library and Glasgow itself. But there are no obvious signs, like land ownership, of why it got its name, and nobody I could find who remembers why. So I will have to just accept what the history books said in the first place, that it was in honour of James McEvers. But it gave me a chance to show off to the nice grown-up lady county clerks and librarians, so it was by no means a wasted day.
I found McEvers gravestone, in Glasgow Cemetery, among a great many other McEvers. They say he’s buried somewhere else, but the stone is there now. That strikes me as an odd thing to have done, because they don’t know exactly where he’s buried now.

But the stone does claim he was born in Scotland, and one has to assume it was in Glasgow, otherwise there is no link at all to the present name. As you can see, he fought with the colonists against the British, so perhaps he wouldn’t have been grateful for the town getting a British name.

Later that night, I had a heavy schedule.
First there was the crab racing. One of the hostelries downtown runs crab races on a Thursday night. I couldn’t stay there long: it’s too far to walk, so I had to drive. But it was a fascinating experience. They are hermit crabs, the ones that look as though they live inside a seashell. The owner has a tank of them, and you get to rent one for the evening. The process of getting them into action involves putting them under a bright light to warm them up, and, if necessary, lubricating them with water (I assume it was water) to help them out of their shells. They scuttle to the edge of a circle, and can be excitingly indirect. The first and second get through to the next round, the rest are returned to the tank. I didn’t get to stay to the end, but I guess the winning ‘owner’ gets some proportion of the rental money.
Then it was on to the main event. One of the local bars has a group of male strippers every Thursday. I was told the audience was a wonder to behold.
When I arrived, an earnest young man told me I had to go to the back bar. I assumed at first he had concerns for my morals, but when I asked him, he said it was “company policy”, so I guess it was a safety issue: perhaps males in the audience might be in physical danger. The audience was still visible from the back bar, so I was happy enough.
How times change. Not so long ago, it would have been lady strippers, dirty old men in the audience, and ladies definitely excluded. Now it seems to be pretty well the opposite. Although this audience seemed distinctly more enthusiastic than I ever remember the dirty old men being.
I had assumed that the audience would be mainly jaded and frustrated ladies of a certain age, but they all seemed quite young: perhaps it was really some sort of anatomy lesson.
At the end of the show, the MC shouted for everyone to get on-stage, and I wondered, just for a moment, if I should take up the offer, and show these silly girls what a real man looks like.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Wednesday 19th August 2009 – The Plat Thickens

Mike Seeger, a half-brother (I think) of the more famous Pete and Peggy, died last week.  He was one of the founding members of the New Lost City Ramblers in the late fifties, early sixties.  I had the privilege of hearing them in London, courtesy of the State Department, somewhere about six or seven years ago.  Part of the concert was by the original band, rejoined by Tom Paley, who had left the group to go and live in England.

          The band did much to capture and re-popularise original old-timey music.  Mike Seeger was a very erudite exponent of many styles on many instruments.  The Smithsonian (no less) is about to issue a fiftieth anniversary collection of their recordings. 

All of which means that Public Radio is taking a keen interest.  And that means, with the wonders of the internet, I can listen to them again whenever I like.  Which is what I've been doing.


The histories I've read of Glasgow IL have it that it was named by James McEvers in memory of Glasgow Scotland.  Now in any good story, you've got to get the timeline straight.  Glasgow was 'platted' in 1836: by Ashford Smith.  McEvers died in 1829.

          Perhaps he was the pioneer, the first landowner?  Perhaps the area had this name before said Smith arrived on the scene.  Perhaps Smith was just some sort of agent.

          The Illinois Public Domain Land Tract sales are now available on-line.  So you can look it up from both the owners and the parcel descriptions.  The original owner of the bit of land that became Glasgow was John Peck (or Peek, which is indistinguishable in the copperplate copies of the time).  And the bit next door was pioneered by Joseph F McGlasson.  McEvers's nearest parcel was a half a mile away.

So if he was dead and not even in the neighbourhood, how did he get into the story?  I shall have to go back to the courthouse(s) to try and trace the land sales of these principle players, see if they connect.


Later that evening, I got into a rather frightening conversation with a grown-up lady.  She was in a heated conversation with a man behind the bar, when she suddenly turned to me and said "have you got a gun?" 

          Just to be clear, I was wearing neither cowboy boots nor hat.  So what could have made her think that, of all the people in the bar I might be the one to have a gun (I thought there were a lot more likely-looking candidates)?  Perhaps it is my savoir-faire, my international-man-of-mystery accent; or the fact that I always wear a jacket (or coat, as they say here) indoors, because it's so cold.  She couldn't possibly have thought I was a policeman, that's just too ridiculous.  I can readily imagine beautiful femmes fatales mistaking me for an IMofM.  In fact, later in the evening, I often do imagine just that.  But I refuse to be mistaken for a policeman in any of my stories.

          Perhaps she just wanted to drag me into the conversation, and eject him.  If those were her aims, she was very successful.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Tuesday 18th August 2009 – Town Halls and Their Architects

The weather continues to hound me. There are moments driving in town when I simply have to stop, because I can't see anything at all. The natives look guilty and claim it's very unusual. But it gives me a lot of opportunity just to sit about and read.

.........I was sitting about reading when I heard the barmaid say she was back at college. I asked what she was studying, and she said biology: because she wanted to work with primates. "A bit like this job, then", I said.

The bar reeks, every-so-often, of old, wet floor mop. Apparently there is something wrong with the sewer (needless to say, it's a new building), and negative pressure is sucking the water out of the s-bend of the floor drain. When the smell appears, the barmaid pours a big jug of water down the drain and it goes away for a while. This is the only bar in the neighbourhood that sells draft ale, but it's a high price to pay.


There is something about nineteenth century town halls that brings out the grandiloquent in architects. Or perhaps they were just following orders. The town hall in Glasgow, Scotland (they like to call it the "City Chambers") is so grand that movie makers have been known to use its interiors in place of the Vatican. American counties, created about the same time, were no slouches either. Here are a couple of local examples:


This is Morgan County Courthouse, Jacksonville, currently being renovated.

..........Glasgow was in Morgan County when it was created.

..........Jacksonville is a big town, but the custodians were still prepared to look after my Swiss army knife till I came back out again


and this is Scott County Courthouse, Winchester. Glasgow is presently in Scott County.

..........Scott County only has about 5000 inhabitants.

..........We just don't do it like that anymore.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Monday 17th August 2009 – A Quiet Day in the Library

The weather is not conducive to a day out, the residue of tropical storm Ana is still lurking around the neighbourhood. So it seemed like a good day to spend in the library. Winchester Library, that is. Scott County itself doesn't run to a library, but the one at Winchester is celebrating its centenary next year.

I tell the nice lady librarian what I'm after, and she takes me to a quiet corner and shows me what she's got.

There are two histories of Scott County written in the last thirty years or so, and they tell me all I want to know.

There are also some old atlases. Well, actually, they are, thank goodness, photocopies of old atlases, because the originals are too fragile to use. I spot an error. The nice lady librarian thinks that, since it was published in 1875, there's probably not a lot of point in passing it on to the publisher.


(it is, in fact, Township 13 in range 12, and not 15, as it says)

Glasgow appears to have been named by James McEver, who was Scottish by birth, born in 1755. Why he called it Glasgow no-one says. Perhaps he had the Gaelic, and "Glas-cu" fitted. The atlas certainly marks out this particular township as the best farming land. It was (is?) just short of the 'bottoms' of the Illinois River, and must have been very green.

Oddly, nobody comments on the fact that Glasgow was laid out in 1835, but McEver died in 1829. So he must have named the place, rather than the town.

Even more oddly, Scott County came into being in 1839, so the records of land transactions are going to be elsewhere. In Jacksonville, as it turns out, because it's the county seat of Morgan County, which Scott County was carved out of.

One of the histories even tells me which Deed Book and page to look for at Morgan County Courthouse.

Sitting in a library looking through old books really is a very pleasant way to spend a day.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Sunday 16th August 2009 – Down the Mississippi

… down to, well, Quincy, actually, Quincy Illinois. Then across to Winchester, Glasgow, and Jacksonville, in that order, to find somewhere to stay. I have a fall-back address in Jacksonville, which is where I think I will end up, but Dulcie's not seeing it just yet. Although the various motel searchers held out no hope of anywhere closer, I'll have a look on the ground before I give in.

.........The weather, all the way down Iowa and Missouri, and halfway across Illinois is simply appalling. It is really heavy rain, interspersed with even heavier thunderstorms. I now know how they take those pictures of lightning: it isn't gone in a flash, it hangs about for quite a while. The sound on the roof is deafening, but I can still hear the thunder when it's close. Some of it seems very close.

I abandon plans for the side roads, and stick where possible to the interstates. I would have to stop on a normal road. Even on the interstate, I have to slow down to fifty (I only put that in to reinforce the prejudices of some people: they know who they are).


On one of my trips to New York, back in the 70s, I went up to Niagara Falls for a weekend. We did the "Maid of the Mist" boat ride into the middle of the spume, and took the lift down to the cut-out at the back, where you can see the falls from a short distance away.

This weather brought these memories, if you'll forgive the choice of words, flooding back to me. I can see where the Mississippi comes from now.


I now manage Dulcie by revealing the route to her bit by bit. I'm getting quite good at it. I set up all the places before we start, and then, just when it's too late for her to try her own way, I cancel instructions and set a new destination. She does a lot of sotto-voce "recalculating", but she plays ball.

By this subterfuge, I get her to take me across the Mississippi at Quincy. I haven't seen the Mississippi since Minneapolis, back in April: what a river! The weather doesn't permit much sightseeing (or even seeing) but it's still quite a sight.

I can see why Dulcie likes the interstates: "Continue for 94 miles", she says, than curls up for a nap. She hasn't noticed the weather.

When we get to Winchester, I drive out of town in all directions, to see if there are any motels hidden away. As I go south, I see a sign:


(I didn't get out of the car, I just put the windscreen wipers on delay).

So I went down and had a look. It's actually there, a nice little village.


Then it was off to Jacksonville, to the address I first thought of.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Saturday 15th August 2009 – Only for Tax Purposes

Having done the library and courthouse work, I went back to Glasgow for another look. Well, a first look, really, since the last time I looked somewhere else. And it isn't there. There are a few houses dotted about, particularly where the railroad depot was, but that's all.

..........It being Saturday, there were a couple of people in the yard (that's American for garden). I asked them if they knew where they lived, which they must have thought was odd, but I didn't want to lead them into saying anything particular. I got a variety of answers: "Glasglow (sic) Edition"; "Farm Edition"; and "Farmer".

When I prompted them, they knew it was "Glasgow": "Oh yes, that's what it says on the tax bills". So "Glasgow" only exists for tax purposes.

But a bit of it was built. And it's still there. The tram stop was built (actually, they all say "trolley" or "street car").


(It's much too substantial to be a shelter, so it must have been an electric sub-station)

So it was a 'rapid transit' system. It ran from Cedar Falls, through Waterloo, and up to Waverley. They thought it was called "CF&W Northern", but they weren't absolutely sure.

The oldest inhabitant, whose family has farmed the area for generations, remembered travelling on the trolley. He thought everyone called the place "Farmer", but he couldn't remember whether it said that on the station or not. He remembered that there was a store, and an ice house.

So this Glasgow was another railway invention which never made it. Which is a pity, because it would have been very popular now. One of the people I talked to worked in Waverley, and his wife worked in Waterloo. If the trolley had survived, some developer would have made a killing, with it being already platted.

But it was not to be.


The oldest inhabitant told me where Mount Vernon Cemetery was; told me where to find his gravestone. I was a bit taken aback, but the invitation was irresistible. So I went and looked at his grave. The stone has only one date on it, so it is possible to fault his planning just a little. I've been to one or two cemeteries on this trip. I've seen stones with only one date on them quite a few times. I'd always assumed that it was never finished, for some reason. But now I know better.

..........He didn't think there were any Glasgows in the cemetery, but he was wrong: there were a whole set of them. But the names and dates suggested they were not related to the one who first settled where his house is. When he talked about this, he mentioned another cemetery nearby where he said there was quite a fancy monument to "the pioneer", by which he meant the original settler. So maybe those would-be developers in 1902 called it "Glasgow" in honour of the 'pioneer'. Perhaps that was the proper thing to do.


Later that night, in downtown Waterloo, I heard the barman ask a young lady "would you like a tongue in your panties?" I was a little taken aback: it sounded overly frank, even for young persons.

.........."I hope you wouldn't ask grown-up ladies that", I said.

.........."Why not?" he said,.

.........."Well, you wouldn't have to ask, would you?"

..........It turned out to be the name of a cocktail. But I guess you were way ahead of me.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Friday 14th August 2009 – It’s All Down on Paper

Today is Courthouse day. I like visiting courthouses: they're full of old books and papers, and helpful grown-up ladies. Although it's a very hot day, it's only a short walk, a couple of blocks on the other side of the Cedar River.

Unfortunately, Waterloo is a big town, and this is still the 'court' courthouse. So there are men, mercifully without guns, keen to look up my bottom with machines. I know the ropes: I ask if they can look after my swiss army knife. They can't, but they suggest hiding it outside: seriously, that's what they suggested; "lot's of people do it", they said.

I find a nice spot in the flowerbeds with heavy wood bark mulch, and push it underneath. I'm under a row of darkened windows: for all I know, the Sheriff and all his Deputies are watching me burying a knife outside the Courthouse. I could be arrested any second.

But I'm not, and I now pass the door tests. I'm in and on my way to the Recorder's office.

The Plat Book is no problem, and, believe it or not, the Glasgow plat is page 1. It was filed in 1902, the survey done by an assistant engineer of the "WCF RT RR", which I take to be the Waterloo and Cedar Falls Rapid Transit Railroad. But it is owned by a group of people all called "Cass", I guess two brothers and their wives. They describe themselves as "proprietors", and declare the platted land to be "hereafter known and called Glasgow". So it looks like the railroad was picking landowners along the route and setting up some sort of commuter town plans, to generate business.

The land deeds were harder to find, despite knowing, from the library, the exact date of the first purchase. The grown-up ladies are unable to find the required book. They make all sorts of attempts to sort it out. Someone is sent to the basement to look at the actual objects, instead of the neat rows of microfilm.

Eventually, after many phone calls, the right book is found. I try to hide my embarrassment: it is book "H", and I realise immediately that the book "26" I sent them off in search of is just me misreading the court clerk's copperplate. I confess, and am forgiven.

The book is a disappointment: since it is the original government sale, I was hoping there would be a copy certificate, as a quick way of making the copy, but it is the usual laborious copy, in poor copperplate, of the whole document. Because the seller is the United States of America, it is a patent, rather than a deed. William Glasgow bought 400 acres for $1.25 per acre. He bought it on November 1st 1854, got his patent June 15 1855, but didn't file it with the court till April 31 1860.

So Wm Glasgow is undoubtedly the reason the Casses decided to call their planned town "Glasgow". The patent identifies him as being from Erie County, Ohio.

I felt I had had a very productive and enjoyable day. Later that night, it being Friday, young people decided to ruin the day by playing loud, sometimes very loud, music everywhere. Except for the place where they were karaoke-ing. They asked me to join in: "No", I said, "I can't do Karaoke, I'm too good a singer".

Friday, 14 August 2009

Thursday 13th August 2009 – Bringing History to Life

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) entry for Glasgow, Blackhawk County, Iowa, describes it as "historical", and classes it as a Railroad Station.  The Railroad Station bit wasn't there when I looked last year.  But it proved to be the lever which prised the whole edifice loose.

Blackhawk County real estate records are available on-line now, probably for purposes of tax, etc.  Looking at the empty spot the USGS points at for Glasgow reveals a long thin strip of land.  Given the Railroad clue, I followed this strip south, and found it curved down to the next section of the township, where a number of plots appeared together.  Looking at the details of these plots revealed that they were all called "Glasgow" in their legal definitions.

The computer system permitted quite substantial enlargement, so it was possible to investigate the details of this curving strip of land on it's own.  And in places, it turned out to be owned by the Canadian National Railway.  Canadian: how did Canada get in to it?  I guess they bought some local Railroad, and acquired its lands: but which Railroad?  More likely the local railroad was taken over by another one, and so on, until it ended up as part of CNR.

It is possible to see, fairly clearly, from these on-line records, that there was, or was going to be, a small town here, with the station in the south-east corner (nowhere near where the USGS has it).

It was almost a whim that brought me here.  I was within an ace of heading off straight to Illinois.  "No", I thought, "don't cut corners.  Take a quick trip up there and take a picture of this field, just for the record.  It won't take too long".  And here I find a proper, legal entity.

I have to go back and look at the other spot.  But I don't want to waste time.  It's Thursday, and I need to go to the Library and the Courthouse.  So another visit will have to wait till Saturday.  Come to think of it, people are more likely to be home on Saturday anyway.


The Library was very helpful.  I thought I wanted to look at local Railroad histories, but the problem with Railroads in America is that there are so many of them.  Without some idea of the date, it was just too difficult.

Anyway, people who write histories of old railways really only want to show pictures of locomotives and bridges.  Unfortunately, I like to read things like that, so I spent far too much time looking at irrelevant glossy pictures, and enjoying it.

But the "Local History" shelves did offer up a lot of material.  The most useful was one showing township maps of the original land patents issued by the United States Government.  And there, just where I expected to see it, was a big parcel of land bought by one William Glasgow in 1855.  Interestingly, the same book also had road and historical maps, and these (on the two pages immediately following the patent map) showed Glasgow exactly where the USGS had placed it.


Later that night, as I was enjoying a beer or two with some CNR workers (no, they had no idea, they had never been here before), what I can only describe as a herd (they were all clinging on to each other) of extremely grown-up ladies came thundering into the bar.  They looked quite distraught.  "Have you any ice cream", they cried, "she needs ice cream".

Well-brought-up gentlemen always defer to extremely grown-up ladies, but this seemed a test too far.  We all looked anxiously at the barmaid, mentally crossing our fingers: surely there was no ice cream available here?  "No, no", said the barmaid, "try the restaurant on the corner".  The herd turned abruptly and did a speed-shuffle out the door.

Now I know diabetics sometimes get there medication wrong and need urgent ingestions of sugar, but is there a condition, perhaps specific to extremely grown-up ladies, which requires urgent consumption of ice cream?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Wednesday 12th August 2009 – A Green Place

It is on American Highways that you get the real sense of the spaciousness of the place. If it's a divided highway, the central division is wide enough not to require crash barriers. And the shoulder has an emergency lane, and quite a bit of spare land along the side. Usually stretching off as far as the eye can see.

The surface is usually made of concrete. So driving along it has a similar feel to old railway lines, as the tires regularly slap the joins between the sections. Along Iowa 27, the road up from Mount Pleasant to Waterloo, a fair amount is being updated with asphalt.

You often hear, in books and films, Americans refer to the highway as the "blacktop", but where I've been, it's mostly been grey. I'm told the concrete is susceptible to serious damage in high temperatures (and I experienced that in Arizona), so perhaps further south they use more asphalt. Concrete roads certainly crack a lot.

One of the joys I find in travelling he highways is there's almost always a choice of public radio to listen to, with at least one talk and one classical station. FM stations only last twenty to fifty miles, but when one starts to fade away, another has usually appeared nearby.

I went straight through Waterloo, and on six miles up US 63 to get this Glasgow over with. From Multimap satellite pictures, it appears to be a notional point in the middle of a field.

You probably know that America, for the purposes of land ownership, is divided into mile squares. They're grouped into six-mile squares, known as 'congressional townships'. This township is known as Mount Vernon. The mile squares are known as 'sections'. I've told Dulcie the exact co-ordinates of this Glasgow. There are gravel roads around the sections here. When we get to the appropriate point on the gravel road, Dulcie silently mouths the words "Off Road".

It is a field of corn. I contemplate continuing on foot, but then I remember it's the Glorious Twelfth: I don't want some toff mistaking me for a partridge. Anyway, almost all the movies I've seen where someone goes into a cornfield, they end up regretting it.

So I just took a quick picture from the road:


I think Glasgow used to be dead ahead, just about where that line of trees is. Not exactly 'dear', but certainly a 'green place'. ("Glasgow" is thought to be derived from Gaelic words meaning "a dear green place")

There is a house at the south end of the trees. I contemplated knocking and asking if I could walk up, but then I thought what I'd think if the roles were reversed, and decided against it.

I cruised round Waterloo for a bit, and sussed out an area of motels and bars: all my needs catered for. Well, there was also, I noticed later that night, a 'Gentlemen's Club'. But I'm old and wise enough to know that Gentlemen's Clubs are never worth the price, even when they're free. I passed it later, when it was emptying out, and there was not a gentleman in sight (or, for that matter, a lady, grown-up or otherwise).

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Tuesday 11th August 2009 – A Last Look Round

It's a funny thing, memory. Well, I don't actually know that, I just know my memory is a funny thing.

When I was talking to the old Glasgow resident yesterday, he drew a few maps, saying where this and that was: "of course, the church is gone now", he said. Gone? I remember seeing it!

So I thought I'd better go back for another look. His lifetime of memory was better than my glimpse: the church was indeed gone.

Opposite where the church used to be is the cemetery, which is now, and probably always was, the biggest thing in Glasgow. It is easy to see where the burials began, where the oldest stones are.

There are a small number of graves of young men who died between 1861 and 1865, presumably in Civil War battles. There is also a monument to the dead of the Civil War:


It wasn't easy to photograph in the prevailing light. The rather startling epitaph says "In memory of the heroes who saved our country from the unholy rebellion of 1861-5". No pulling punches there, then; or perhaps just a reflection of a small rural community with three churches, which might have been stoutly abolitionist, and had lost a few young men. But not the sort of post-war conciliatory attitudes we see nowadays.

I decided on a last adventure: I pointed Dulcie at one of the grey, gravel roads north of Glasgow, and made her take me back that way. And what an adventure it turned out to be.

As I finally turned onto the road that led to US 34, called Varnishtree Avenue, a car backed out of a nearby house. I could see them stop to look at the way I was going. Pretty soon, it turned into a dirt road: "Minimum Maintenance", the sign said, "Travel at Your Own Risk". Although it had been raining a storm for the past couple of days, the road seemed dry enough. And I could always turn back if necessary. I kept an eye in the mirror, to see how deep my tracks were.

"Stream Crossing Ahead" said the next sign: Oh dear! But I was gripped by some perverse need to follow the plan through. Dulcie was stonily silent: no need to recalculate this one; perhaps she was hoping I would learn a lesson, be more obedient in future.

The sign repeated a little later, and we started to drop down gently. What if I can't back up, I thought. Then I came to a steeper slope, and a sign reading "Do not Cross if Under Water". Oh, dear, what was driving me to this stupidity?

I came round a bend and saw a concrete crossing in the stream and it wasn't not under water. I speeded up enough to be sure of getting up the other side, and I was across, and away.

Pretty soon, the road was semi-gravelled, and then I saw the stop sign warning, telling me the highway was just ahead: got away with it.

Well, it seemed like an adventure to me!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Monday 10th August 2009 – In Memoriam

I met a man who grew up in Glasgow in the 40s and 50s.  He told a lot of entertaining stories.  But he had also left as a young man, contributing to its decline.

I think he probably had quite a hard time.  In 1941, all the young men went away to war.  So very young boys were pressed into work.  He would only have been about seven or eight, but he had to help with cattle and horses.

He remembered pleasanter moments.  He remembered that the travelling cinema came every other Thursday night.  He remembered playing cards for nickels round the pot-bellied stove in the store.  He remembered the names of all the storekeepers.

He remembered the mail came from the next town and was left in a row of mailboxes beside the store.  People had to come into Glasgow to collect it.

He remembered that the men met in the lodge above the store.  He remembered there was no bar.  He remembered that when the store finally closed, a local man, a good Baptist, he said, bought it and the lodge and pulled it down because he feared someone might buy it and turn it into a bar.  (He sold off the lumber and sold the lot to the next door neighbour, so he may have had mixed motives.)


He didn't miss Glasgow very much, and he didn't think any of his childhood friends would either.  He went back a few times a year to visit his parents' grave.  He couldn't remember the name of the people who bought his father's house.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Sunday 9th August 2009 – Secret Goings on in Fairfield

I find a lot of rock music quite aggravating.  I can block out things I don't want to listen to, but I often fail with the crude driving rhythms of some rock music.  I then find myself in a vicious circle of concentrating on something I don't want to listen to because it's annoying me so much.

          Such was the case last night.  And as I focused in on the annoyance, it dawned on me that not only was there the irritating drummer, the background was clearly a profane use of the pipes.  The Juke box offered up the name of the group and the track, which I noted down for later retribution.

          I looked it up with Google, and got a YouTube video of it.  The group is called ac/dc, and in this video they seemed to have taken a small group of pipers hostage, and were parading them round the town in a truck, making them play along with the group.  They were clearly unaware of the subtle retaliation of the pipers, who were secretly sending out distress calls with their pipes.

          Come back "Mull of Kintyre", all is forgiven (well, maybe not all, but some).


I have cracked one of the secrets of the Grown-up Ladies: they are running an unmarked saloon in downtown Fairfield, where ageing gentlemen can sup draught ale, watch sports, play thirty-one, and do the many other unmentioned (not to say unmentionable) things that gentlemen do in these circumstances.

          My spies had identified it for me quite precisely, but even knowing the street number (to the nearest half!) wasn't quite enough.  I walked past it several times before I noticed a small sign on the door, denying access to anyone under twenty-one: I knew that had to be it.

          It took a little bit of courage to go in, because when I opened the door, it was so properly lit inside that, just for a minute, I couldn't see a thing.  I could have been stepping right into a Shuffleboard Team committee meeting.

          But there it was: with ale on tap, and a grown-up lady who could carry out an empty barrel, and carry in a fresh one; who gave thirty-one lessons; and took bets on the outcome of Nascar races.

          Speaking of Nascar racing, this week was Watkins Glen in New York, where they run what they call a 'road race'.  This is not the terrifying speed ballet on the oval, but ducking and diving on what looks like a F1 circuit.  The view was that this was much more dangerous, but of course it isn't, since they are going so much slower.  They managed to bang into each other regularly without the awful consequences you see on the oval.

          Later that night, the congregation was much younger, but they played pool with some skill and passion, and seemed to be the sort of young people who might grow up to be proper grown-up people.

          The barmaid put my drink in front of me and waved away any payment: "No, no", she said, "my mother bought you that".  Now you know you've arrived in society when that happens to you.