America the Beautiful – Take Two.

usa april 2013 064Other people’s holiday snaps are merely things which test your acting ability and your vocabulary as you search for synonyms for ‘lovely’, ‘nice’, ‘how interesting’ and so on. So the fact that I’ve already droned on about our recent trip to the USA and here I am extending it even further is a good reason for you to stop reading now and leave a comment consisting of one or more of the synonyms. Anyway, this is our friends’ house and we stayed in their cottage, which is out of picture to the left (yawn).

If you’re still here, I’ll make it worse by telling you that one of the evenings was spent with my eyes full of tears because I was laughing so much. I won’t name those responsible but they know who they are and one of the topics that came up was the direction my writing career should take. Taking the success of Fifty Shades as their starting point, they began to plan what my next novel (or, better, series of novels) should be. They had the title of the first and kept trying out various pen names of which the least offensive was Ophelia Groyne. The title itself came in for some close textual analysis when the original suggestion – Under the Scotsman’s Kilt – was refined to Under m’ Scotsman’s Kilt and then Under da Scotsman’s Kilt. You see what I mean? This was just a tiny fragment of what genuinely was a hilarious evening but on the screen, it just looks embarrassing.

usa april 2013 044usa april 2013 072So, let’s get back to the snaps. We were a couple of weeks too early to get the full pleasure of the Azalea/Rhododendron Garden near the URI campus but I’d really love to build a replica of its Moon Gate in my own garden. (Here it is, with our friends framed in it. YAWN.)


On the other hand, while I was fascinated by the extraordinary column in Providence made of guns concreted together, it’s a bit sinister and too much of a reminder of less attractive aspects of life in the USA. But, on the other side of the road there’s a great restaurant called Parkside, which had terrific food, a great ambiance and cost far less than I’d have to pay in Aberdeen for rubbish.


My wife and I have come to an agreement about shopping. She won’t let me come with her – ever. Her reasoning is that she can’t look around, compare styles and prices and things without being aware of my glowering, resentful presence. My reasoning usa april 2013 075is that she’s absolutely right. I hate shopping (unless it’s a hardware store full of interesting things whose function isn’t clear but which I want as soon as I see them). But in the USA, it’s different. I know we have malls, but they have MALLS, and the one in the middle of Providence is the biggest I’ve ever seen. It’s like being in a Star Trek set without the Klingons. (Here’s my wife and our friends looking out from one of its cathedral-type floors. Zzzzzzzz.)

Finally, though, another visit, to a beautiful place in Connecticut called Mystic Seaport. It’s much more to my liking because, as its name suggests, it’s

usa april 2013 019about the sea and boats. It has a great collection of figureheads and I got talking to 3 of the volunteers there who act as guides and general sources of information and enthusiasm about the maritime history of New England. I told them I was planning a sequel to The Figurehead and that I had a couple of problems about the accommodation offered to passengers who were emigrating from Scotland to the USA in the 1840s. I wanted to know how conditions in steerage could be improved and one of them simply told me to visit the Charles W Morgan, the last wooden whale ship, which was originally built in 1841, the year in which my novel will be set, and is being restored and preserved at Mystic. He told me to go aft to the officers’ quarters and look for some particular features. I did and found not only what I was looking for, but things that would be of special interest to the woodcarver in my book. Without the guide’s directions, I would never have noticed them. That was just one of the serendipities of the trip. As you can probably tell, I had a great time.

usa april 2013 017

OK, you can stop pretending to be interested now..


  1. No pretence Bill. I enjoyed this part of your tip to USA, expecially since I have never been myself. Loved the picture of the Moongate. When you have written and sold your Ophelia Groyne series, and made your fortune of course, you can come and hire a man from this area who does amazing things with stones. Your own enjoyment is evident.

  2. Thanks, Gwen. As you’ll have gathered, I can’t recommend a visit highly enough. The place and people are marvellous. As for the Moongate, I want to build one myself. Anyway, I could never get used to being called Ophelia.

  3. Lovely. (Yawn).

    No, really, Bill, I enjoy these little blogs. They’re not just a ‘slide night’ (remember those?) You add interesting little details, like that pillar – and the figure heads etc. Makes me wonder if I should write the Catalpa story as a proper historical. Whaling boats, New England and all, see.

    I reckon you could build that moon gate. Or get Coco to do it for you.

    1. It’s a rich source of material, DrDx (I assume). And the gate would be a great challenge. It would also make an interesting approach to the Shed, with a pathway between sculptures leading between the two. See what Coco thinks.

      1. “Crivvens!” and “Help ma Boab”, ejaculated Coco, smacking his ‘Sunday Post’ down on a passing feline and glancing over his Selenium-rimmed lunettes at ourselves. “Some anonymous pusson has utilised our canine identities to pass themselves off on Uncle Bill’s Blog! Well, I’ll be hornswoggled!” “Nae by me,” retorted DrDx, “but I certainly enjoyed the stories and photographs from Bill’s trip to Amerika. You don’t suppose he made the whole thing up, though? I mean, did he sail over there in some ropey stearaginous foc’sle?” (At this point the narwhallative breaks off, for it be tea-time…)

        1. Oh dear. I suppose I’d better own up. T’was I, dear Bill. Don’t tell me Coco is considering writing a Catalpa story? Crivens, indeed. Pipped at the bleedin’ post. And by a chocolate lab.

          1. The Catalpa Redemption
            In which a hairy Fifer, Ophelia Groyne, digs a tunnel from Sydney Jail to Buenos Aires in order to escape from an evil gang of Scottish Fundamentalists, who insist on playing country & western on the badpipes, drinking whisky & whale-oil until 8pm and wearing kilts a la Geronimo. Ophelia’s labrador, Catalpa Biggun, follows in a skiff (a kind of tartan sarong). Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Ophelia’s chum, Tiny O’Toole, discovers his mother-in-law’s second cousin, Lolita Humbert, his inamorata (a kind of dermatologist) in flagrante (a type of grappa) with the foreman of the Groyne family’s subterranean illicit sperm-whale farm, Leapin’ Jack Kwala-Bare, Oh wuffkit, sez Coco, let them make it up for themselves, they already know what’s going to happen.

          2. Greta, I’m rather proud to say that, after reading the anguished cry from Donnie (but not from the laid-back, philosophical Coco), I worked out that it had to be you. The Catalpa reference made it easy of course but the talents of Messrs Ross and Coco are so extensive that they’re capable of anything, including historical fiction, so with them, nothing is certain.

            As for you, DrDx, all has now been revealed, so consider your timbers unshivered.

  4. Your post demonstrates a writer is never ‘off duty’, Bill. I do hope you adopt some of your friends’ suggestions for your next novel (or series). They sound VERY interesting!

    1. Some of them could also get me arrested, Myra. But how about setting them on Bute? You’re welcome to add them to your own series.

  5. Love the serendipity of that whale boat discussion, Bill – every writer’s dream to actually see what you’re trying to describe in words. Your enjoyment of the whole holiday comes straight off the page.

    1. I had a long, fascinating chat with them, Rosemary, and it rekindled all my enthusiasm for the period and the subject. But I’ve only written down a fraction of the pleasures. After the visit, we sat for over 2 hours in the sun on the deck of a restaurant called The Oyster Bar overlooking the water eating seafood, drinking a beautiful wine, being served by entertaining waiters and generally being glad to be alive.

  6. Amen to your wife’s sentiment about a man going along on a shopping trip. But since I hate shopping so much it’s pretty much a non issue. What a fun time. You should have a sound recording of the Scotsman’s Kilt book discussion. I wanted to hear more. Love love love that cottage. Looks so inviting. That area of our country is one of the few I haven’t seen. If I didn’t want to go back to the UK so badly, I’d make that my next trip.

    1. Good to hear from you again, Livia. I know there are lots of beautiful things in your country but you really must add New England to your list of ‘must see’ places. Make it a stopover on your way here.

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