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Great American Railway Journeys

I’ve been on a few scenic railway journeys in my life. I have done one of the greatest train journeys of them all in fact. Back in 2003 I boarded El Chepe at Los Mochis. The very name Los Mochis sounds like some sort of sizzling hell hole from a Star Wars movie, inhabited by bandits and home to all sorts of illegal trades and generally skullduggery. And, quite frankly, it is as bad it sounds, or at least my experience of it was. The train ride to Creel, though, was magnificent. I’ve written about this before, more than once.

In a couple of months I have another  great railway journey lined up. It’s a very special trip on a special train that will travel along tracks through countryside that has been made famous in all sorts of movies. It’s often voted as the greatest railway journey in the world. I’ll have to wait and see if there is any truth to that. Hopefully there will be more fabulous railway trips over the coming years. One of the big benefits of my job are the travel benefits afforded not only to myself, but Mrs P too. We get free use on the network I work for, and a 75% discount on the rest of the national network. In August, once I’ve completed a full year of service, those benefits will extend across Europe.

I’ve always liked rail journeys. Even other people’s rail journeys. There’s a programme I watch regularly that reminds me of life in Mexico City. Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys. He used his early 20th century Bradshaws guide to tour the UK on the train. I spent many hours on the metro or in cafes watching his television series. And now I can recreate them for myself. He’s also done a series on European travel. But now he is back with yet another series. If you haven’t yet guessed where, then you didn’t read the title of this post very carefully. Perhaps you’d like to join him on his trip? Someone has kindly, and probably rather illegally, uploaded the series onto YouTube. Enjoy it while it lasts. 


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Rapist in Chief

I view politics very much through a British looking glass. You wouldn’t expect anything else. This means I’m inevitably going to be viewed as a commie by our American cousins and a capitalist pig by our Russian ex-friends. Both are simplistic labels proferred by simplistic minds. My political line of thought is easily summed up. If it’s too big to fail, essential infrastructure, a matter of national security, a social service or where human decency overrides the need for profit, it should be government run. Otherwise, we the people should be left to get on with it. There’s the ‘left’ and the ‘libertarian’ in me in in two shortish sentences. Of course, those two sentences are wide open to interpretation. You can have a crack at this quiz, if you care to. It’s pretty low brow, but still…

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With this in mind, you can probably imagine how I view US politics. Obama is not a socialist. Sanders is not a communist. Neither are even close. You guys really need to meet Jeremy Corbyn, our new-ish Labour leader. Some people would suggest Sanders is an American style Corbyn in many regards. I like Corbyn. He’s principled, decent and in the politics game to try to make a difference, rather than for his own furtherment. His analysis of real world politics and issues is spot on. Probably because he lives in the real world. Yet, I probably won’t vote for him. As things stand, I’ll vote Liberal. Because Corbyn is a weak leader whose specialty is protest not policy.

He’s a good guy in the wrong job. But he is not Britain’s Sanders. He is our Trump. You might not see how such a comparison works if you look at their respective policies and opinions. They couldn’t be more different. But policies don’t matter one jot if you don’t get a shot at the top job. What Trump and Corbyn do share is the ability to tear their own parties apart, to alienate the key floating voters and to gift their opponents the next election. This is the main reason behind my opposition to Corbyn.

My assumption, though, is that Trump will fall down in the primaries. He’ll get to the blue states, who’ll pick a moderate Republican and send Trump back to the tower. His tower, sadly. Not ours. We no longer behead crooks anyway. Trump is nuts. Despicable is not too strong a word.  He most definitely doesn’t live in the real world. It’s worrying that anyone who does would offer him their support. Frankly, Ted Cruz is no better.

You couldn’t make a parody of Trump. He is a walking talking parody already. Where does one even begin to list his misdemeanors? He’s figuratively raped the bank accounts of Americans and other citizens and governments around the world for decades. But perhaps more of a concern is the literal rape of his ex-wife. Is this just being ignored in the US? Have I missed something? Seriously, what’s the deal? There’s been no conviction, as is oft the case with this particular crime. But dear old Ivana was pretty clear in a statement under oath. He raped her. Then he gagged her through the courts. One of the joys of ‘freedom’. Can I get a hallelujah?

Nowadays, she says that he didn’t literally or criminally rape her. What does that even mean? He had her permission to rape her? Isn’t that sort of activity more commonly known as consensual intercourse? Is this just a British / American linguistic anomaly? Help me out guys. But I guess, more importantly, help yourselves out. You are the ones with a vote to cast in this election, not I. Don’t swallow the audio-visual Rophenol soundbites he’s throwing your way. Don’t give this guy your consent. He will shaft you all if he gets the opportunity.

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Lincoln

Things come in threes. Usually, but not always. In the mid 1860’s we nearly had one unwelcome trilogy – all out war between Great Britain and the United States. The Unionistas and Confederales were battling it out in the American Civil War, whilst the British sat as an itchy fingered spectator. The public and majority in parliament were generally against the original War of Independence – it wasn’t popular at all back home. And when the US civil war rumbled into being, most people sided with the Yankees. But common interests aren’t always very common, and there were plenty of people whose best interests would have been served with a victory for the South. And yet others who would have profited from the war rumbling on a few years more.

Britain declared neutrality, but tensions were tetchy. A pair of Confederates were plucked from a British ship. Perhaps not a smart move. The Royal Navy was put on a war footing and plans to take New York (again) were drawn up. But a chap with foresight had second thoughts, and returned the Confederates to the Brits with an apology. A quick look at the chart below, detailing sea power over the last 150 odd years reveals why. There were a few more tantrums along the road, but nothing that couldn’t be resolved with diplomacy. There was no third US – UK war, and nor, I’m sure, will there ever be. As peoples we are similar, with ideals and goals that are largely shared. We’re the most natural of allies. War in the 1860’s would have served no purpose* for either country, both of whom had more important matters to hand that needed dealing with.

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It might seem that I’m providing a history lesson. Given that my stats tell me most of my views come from the other side of the pond, I’d be preaching to the converted. I am providing a history lesson, but perhaps not the sort you’d imagine. What I’ve just imparted is pretty large chunk of my total knowledge of the US Civil War.  Add in the Gettysburg Address, Generals Lee and Grant and the fact that victory came, after much spilt blood, to Lincoln’s Union army from the north. And that’s the lot. It’s just not a greatly taught war this side of the Atlantic. Jeez, we have more than enough wars of our own to learn about to start getting into other nations turmoils.

And yet Lincoln remains one of the most iconic, popular presidents for Brits. He has a high rating here. Real high. Being assassinated helped, it always does. There’s little to no controversy over his character, decisions and life in general. But there’s something enigmatic about him too. I could tell you he’s smart. Determined. Righteous. Fair. Decent. I couldn’t really tell you why though, other than he fought a war to free the slaves**. He was also the guy I referred to earlier who had had second thoughts. Oh, and he had a heck of a beard. Only Abe could pull that one off. Not that he always sported such chic facial grooming. I found a set of CC photos of him on Flickr in the Library of Congress Collection.

[Abraham Lincoln, candidate for U.S. president. Half-length portrait, seated, facing front] (LOC)

So what has me warbling on about Lincoln and the Civil War? The movie of course. Steve Cotton gave it a thumbs up, and he’s generally a good guide – his review is here. I’d have wanted to see it anyway. Do I give it a thumbs up? I did find it a fascinating film. It dwells on the issue of slavery, and leaves the actual blood and guts of the war out of sight. Out of sight, but it’s deathly breath hangs ever present in every scene. The costumes and scenery are superb. The acting is top notch. Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln shone in particular. For me, anyway. Did Americans mind that an English actor played the role? But then Lincoln was descended from an Englishman. I was a little surprised to find, given that the US had existed for less than a century, that you had to go as far back as his great, great, great, great grandfather to find the last English born Lincoln.

But I digress. Back to the movie. Storyline, costumes, scenery, acting, all a thumbs up. Script and production? I’m a little more reserved. I like epics. But I didn’t think Spielberg put enough meat on the bones of this script to warrant a film lasting two and a half hours. But even having said that, it remained utterly watchable.  If I spoil the end for you by telling you that Lincoln is killed, I apologize. But seriously, if that’s the case, get down the library and read a book. You’ve already spent too much of your life in Blockbusters methinks***. I did think the end lacked the drama of the occasion though. It was, like (I think) Steve suggested, it became a little overly messianic. Overall, I’ll give it a thumbs up. A seven out of ten.

Which president will next get the movie treatment? You’d have thought it’d be JFK. It’ll soon be the 50th anniversary of his infamous killing. But I’ve heard nothing of a film in the works. I’ll just have to watch the 1983 three parter starring Martin Sheen that I have on DVD. There’s also another new J Edgar Hoover movie to watch. But I’d really like to learn more about the US Civil War. Despite my professing ignorance, I did many years ago read a book, but anything I took in has long since departed. Can anyone recommend a really decent history of the war? Especially one available on Kindle. To finish this rather long post, a YouTube video. I first found it quite some time ago. I found it fascinating. You feel you can almost touch distant history when watching it.

*As an aside, I found this encouraging, given the state of today’s world – financial crises of the sort we’ve seen in recent years are almost always followed by war.  Back in the 18060’s, we imported 40% of our corn from the US – famine may well have followed a confrontation. On the other hand, a full British naval blockade and the destruction of US coastal cities wouldn’t have done the people of the US much good. An early form of mutually assured destruction. Both countries were economically dependent on one another to a large degree. A large enough degree to see to it that common sense reigned over inflamed passions. The world today is far more integrated economically, so perhaps for once we can get through economic turmoil without shooting the crap out of each other.

** That might be a point of controversy in the US, but not here.

***If you’re a Brit, you might not long have the option to choose between the two. How refreshing that the publically owned option isn’t the failure! 🙂

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Pros and Cons

Moving back to the UK has its pros and cons. Moving anywhere to anywhere has its pros and cons of course. The UK offers greater money earning potential, providing I can find a job. I’m focusing on retail management and online community manager positions. Wish me luck.

With greater earning potential comes the ability to re-gadgetise my life. New computer, cell phone, LED television and Xbox 360 are all high on the list. And after that, maybe some new lenses for my Olympus E-PL1. I could go on for quite some time on the electronic products I’d like to own.

There are downsides too. I’ll have greater access to better international cuisine, but good Mexican food is harder to come by in London than it is in Mexico City. Not so surprising really, I guess. And then there’s the weather. How on earth will I cope with the cold. I’ve forgotten what cold is. It’s something that happens to someone else, like all those other diseases and disasters.

But overall, the pros outweigh the cons. And I can ‘prove’ this. If It Were My Home has all the stats I need. Although, perhaps oddly – depending on your preconceptions, moving to the UK from Mexico isn’t as positive as moving to the UK from the United States. Go figure. I suspect that these sort of graphs which include social themes will always make a nation with socialist policies look good.

And go tell all the Mexicans jumping the border. Although they’d really have to up their swimming skills if they want to head east. The Atlantic is much more of a challenge than the Rio Bravo. On the plus side, any Mexicans making it would I am sure be greeted with open arms and granted immediate citizenship. We host the Olympics next year and will welcome anyone who has the talent to win a medal. So I assume anyway. It’s been the case in the past

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Chicago

I love my laptop! Here I am at 35,000 feet on American Airlines building my website en route to Chicago! It has it’s drawbacks though…..while I have been absorbed with typing my journal out, Paola has taken advantage and eaten my chocolate in my in flight snack pack.

Anyway, we had a pretty hectic evening. Despite the fact we had just a few hours to pack, Paola insisted that we clean the house first, even though we won’t be in it for 4 weeks! It’s Latin madness I tell you! And even after all that, I was awoken by her dad re-cleaning the floor at 6 am. Man, a dog has to crap on the carpet at home to convince me to get a hoover out, and even then I would be tempted to leave it in the hope one of the other dogs will just eat it!

I am going to have to buy a spare battery for my laptop though, because they don’t hold their power for long enough. Not long enough for me anyway!

So Chicago next stop, in about 3 and a half hours!

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