If you came around the house over the last couple of weeks, you might have found us wearing sackcloth and ashes lamenting our summer in England coming to an end.
I drew this view of St Uny Church in Lelant while reminiscing about our trip to Cornwall. It's one of our very favorite spots on the planet.
It's always sad to leave England at the end of the summer. Leaving this time has been made a bit worse for a few reasons. Foremost is that I will not be back next summer. It is the beginning of the quest we shall not mention.
Also, it's the end of an era in Stevenage Old Town. We found out earlier this summer that the Waitrose store close to our home will be closing on the 27th of October for good. There was much consternation and copious gnashing of teeth when we heard the news.
Waitrose is the kind of store that makes service a priority. At least the store in Stevenage sets itself apart with top-notch service.
If you want to find your way to the fresh potato chips and ask someone stocking the shelves, rather than grunting and pointing the boney finger of the grim reaper, they'll get up and walk you to the right area of the store and help you find whatever you're looking for. If they can't find it, they'll call out the cavalry and track down someone who will know.
It's the kind of store that replaces items bought or gives a refund with no question asked. "Excuse me, I got this and didn't like it."
"Why certainly sir, would you like to substitute something else or have your money back?" No problem, no hassle, no worries.
Not only that, but if you buy something and it has somehow gone off, you bring it back, and they will give you your money back AND get you a fresh whatchamacallit right away or a thingamabob if you'd rather. You may even walk away with a voucher or two in the process as an apology.
That's something special in England. I'm not trying to be unkind, but service in the United States is just different than England. The English just aren't comfortable with overly cheery helpfulness and sycophantic servitude. It kind of creeps people out here.
There's even an advertisement on television for Enterprise Rent-A-Car (Care Hire) that kind of acknowledges there is a difference. They say it's UK car hire with US customer service!
I think it's funny. Give it a gander. Ya might be glad you did.
I think the people at Waitrose and Partners really care about providing top-notch service. They're called partners because each stock clerk, each cashier, every person working in the store from the manager to the meat counter rep are partners. They are each part owners in the business and that, in my mind, makes a big difference.
Their people are always friendly. I'd say, "English Friendly." Warm and helpful without being overly familiar. It's a little more formal friendly.
Waitrose is also the kind of place where you'd go to do your shopping and then stop for a cup of coffee or to read the paper.
You'd see people from the neighborhood picking up a few things after work. I wouldn't say it was a gathering place, but it was a place you could see people you know and wouldn't necessarily see otherwise. It's nice to see people you know out and about.
People from the neighborhood would often make a trip out of their shopping as well. I know we'd go for lunch at a cafe around the corner called Flower Power, then pick up something from Symonds Bakery (lovely Belgian Buns, bread, scones, or something yummy), and make Waitrose run all at the same time.
It's not the least expensive store, but there is something civilized and comforting about walking into Waitrose. You feel like you matter. I don't get that feeling from any other grocery store around here.
I found it extremely pleasing to walk in after being away in St. Thomas for several months. It's like stepping back to civilization. Fresh food, clean floors, and helpful staff make a huge difference. They make life more comfortable to live. It's quite a contrast from the dingy, half-lit, half expired produce, bugs, and staff that couldn't give a flying Frito Lay if you were happy with your experience on St Thomas.
Waitrose may not be the perfect store, but it is a familiar part of the makeup of this town, having been here for 41 years. There's a cachet to having a Waitrose in your neighborhood. It raises the standard of living, and thus the raises the value of your property.
There is so much good about the Waitrose here in Stevenage Old Town. That's why it's so sad that it's going.
It also brings up the elephant in the room. What in the world will be taking its place?
There are already more than six Indian restaurants in the old town, so I hope it isn't another Indian restaurant. There are at least 15 proper restaurants, there's Pizza Express, Dominos Pizza, Perfect Pizza, Bingol Kebab and Pizza, Papa Johns Pizza, and Pizza Hut. Please, no McDonald's or Burger King.
There are more than 12 pubs and bars up and down the High Street, by a conservative estimate. The place becomes a bit of a zoo after dark. Immature women tottering on heels the height of circus stilts combined with over-drinking, underthinking hormonal young men bebopping up and down the town is a recipe for disaster. We need no more bars.
There are lots of things the Old Town does not need. But the worst of them all of them are the three betting parlors, Betfred, Ladbrokes, and William Hill are blights on the town. God, please don't introduce any more shops where people slink in and slink out devastating their family's livelihood.
I hope any business would need to apply to the Council to trade on the High Street, but I have no confidence in the Stevenage Borough Council to make the right decision.
The gaping void left in the High Street by Waitrose will be hard to fill. I'll try to be optimistic. I'll try to be upbeat. I'll hope for the best.
In the meantime, I'll wait and wonder with everybody else what new force will fill the void.
I look forward to seeing my friends in Dayton, but I'm still a bit somber about leaving England behind.
We'll be back in December.
Until next week, my friends, I wish you peace.
Trail - 207 DAYS
This week, I'd like to present an artist that does some very creative and intricate drawings.
I first saw John Kennedy, aka Jedika, on the Colour in Your Life program. His drawings and his process caught my attention. I go back and watch that video periodically because it provides me with some motivation to loosen up my work as well.
I like how he starts with the image of a face and that image of the face is the jumping-off point. He starts his drawings and lets his mind discover the images that come out of the scribbling. I'm sure he has a direction that he wants to follow, but he discovers different things in the process.
As he goes along is images become intricate montages with abstract and surreal connections.
He is also an art teacher of fine art at the Levers Art in New South Wales, Australia.
I hope you'll go check Jedika out. You can find him on:
Now go out and make some ART!
Since starting to receive my updates, I think you've learned a bit more about me than you knew before or perhaps even more than you ever wanted to know. I'll leave that up to you.
For example, I can draw a strange and obscure abstract critter like the Hare I included in this weeks update.
Also, some of you might also know that I'm a decent cook. At least I think I am. I like all the parts of the cooking process. I love the prep, the assemblage, the spices, the seasoning, and the application of heat.
The only part of cooking I sometimes don't enjoy are the comments from the peanut gallery. I can hear her ladyship now,
Regardless, I like it all. I even love the peanut gallery.
My favorite part of the process is the prep. I love slicing and dicing and prepping the food. I ended up with the job by default cause Andrea keeps mentioning she'd much rather instead stick needles in her eyes than chop vegetables.
I like it because there's something methodical and meditative about it - at least the way I do it. Let's call it, "Mindful Chopping."
When I was a young Marine I was put on Mess Duty (KP in the Army) for a couple of months as a sort of punishment. I was put in a room chopping vegetables for eight hours at a time. I pealed tons of potatoes. I chopped onions until my eyes were raw. I sliced carrots for hours at a time. I ended up loving it. I was a bit disappointed when my time was up.
Today, I get up every morning and cut up kiwis, strawberries, oranges, mangos, and flat peaches. I add raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. I love my fruit in the morning. For me, it's made even more special by the prep.
I'm not like one of those TV chefs whose knives fly around like whirling dervishes at lightning speed. Their knives appear to have a mind of their own. It even looks like the knives are in control and the chef is just holding on waiting for the flurry to end. I watch those programs in complete awe. If I tried to move that fast, I'd leave bits of myself on the cutting room floor - and nobody wants bits of Scott in their sushi, especially Scott.
Aside from the meditation, what I like about doing the prework is using a very sharp knife. I've been told when you use a dull knife, you're more likely to fillet your finger instead of the fish.
I've acquired what can be described as a slight obsession with sharp knives. I love sharp knives, of course, but I also love the process of honing the steel to a razor-sharp edge. I find the feel and sound of slowly drawing the steel against the whetstone extremely pleasing. I get a shiver up my spine just thinking about it.
You also might know that I'm a bit of a bull in a China shop. When I do walk into a China shop, it's like the honky-tonk where the piano stops, it becomes very, very quiet, everybody in the joint slowly turns, and looks at the door.
I've been called Shrek more than once. It's also been said that I should carry a medic-alert tag warning others of my clumsiness.
My story begins one sunny day when I grew tired of the old knives in the house. Some of the knives were only sharpish because the rust had pitted the blades at strategic positions. Time to buy a new knife.
We headed up to the Hitchin Kitchen Shop. I'm sad because that particular shop no longer exists. Harumph.
I walked in and stared meaningfully at the knives for a long time. I was studying each of the options behind the counter thoroughly before I chose my blade.
I could see a slight look of panic in Andrea's eyes. She said, "Pay attention and be very careful now."
I said, "I know. I know. I will. I will. Don't worry. Don't worry. No, really, don't worry. I am not a freaking child"
I asked the shop assistant if I could please take a look at that shiny, sleek, curvy thing in the glass case behind her. She carefully pulled it down from behind the glass and handed it to me.
I could see beads of sweat forming on Andrea's forehead as the knife came across the counter.
I put my glasses on to look at it more carefully.
Slight inhale from Andrea's direction.
I ran my finger down the side of the blade.
Andrea bit her lip.
I ran my finger down the blade again.
I felt a shudder from the peanut gallery.
I turned around and said, "Yup, I think this is the one."
Just then, I could see the little rivulet of blood approaching my sleeve.
Andrea planted that, "I told you so!" look firmly on her face as the shop assistant rushed back to get a bandage.
There were some choice words hurled in my direction. I think it was something about my being an idiot. I'm sure the words, "You irritating man!" were used somewhere in her soliloquy as well.
After leaving my DNA on the knife, I couldn't very well let the knife be bought by someone else, could I? I had to have it.
"That will be 56 pounds, twenty pence."
Another sharp intake.
The transaction was done. Knife safely in the box and the box safely in the bag. There was no imminent chance of destruction, at least for the time being.
Since that day, I have taken outstanding care of my blade. It lives in its special box in a special drawer. It's as sharp today as it ever was, and I look forward to visiting the sharpening stone regularly. It gives me that peaceful, easy feeling.
Sure, if you combine my fondness for very sharp knives and the fact I don't tread lightly on this earth, you might question the wisdom of my slight obsession with very sharp things, but I love a finely crafted and perfectly honed tool.
I do pay very close attention when handling the knife, and it pays very close attention to me. I happy to report no body parts have been deposited on the chopping block, and for that, I am truly grateful.
Apparently, I AM a bit of a child. Sigh.
Until next week, I wish you peace.
Trail - 214 DAYS
I thought, this week, I would introduce you to someone who can really help you learn how to draw with pencil and pen. Drawing is an important part of making art that people recognize.
I realize that's not always the objective, but in case you want to create recognizable drawings (I realize that isn't always the objective) you can not go wrong by looking up this next artist.
His name is Alphonso Dunn. Alphonso was born in Jamaica and moved to the United States when he was 17 years old.
I first spotted his instruction on YouTube a few years ago and his instruction has been fundamental to helping me practice my drawing.
If you want to learn how to draw I would recommend watching and studying Alphnoso's YouTube Videos. Here's one to encourage you to draw every day.
He says his YouTube Channel, "is dedicated to helping you deepen your understanding of the drawing process and helping you develop and refine your drawing, pen and ink, and watercolor painting skills and techniques."
I think he does a great job.
If you want something you can put on your shelf and refer to often he has two books out now "Pen and Ink Drawing: A Simple Guide" and "Pen and Ink Drawing Workbook."