Monday, 25 May 2009

Live fast and play dirty

The green flag went down and the low grumble of the 900 hp engines swelled to a roar as the trucks rounded the corner into the straightaway. The race was on! A dozen mean machines bounded over bumps, skidded around the corners and bashed each other's bumpers as they hurtled around the dirt track. Up in the stands, we jumped up and down as we cheered on our chosen drivers to the finish line. The once-shiny trucks got muddier and muddier, the track got more and more littered with broken-off pieces, and the competition got more and more intense until finally the chequered flag waved and the winner went into his victory spin.



We'd been downtown on a Thursday evening when Graham noticed some powerful trucks standing by the kerb, and went over to have a look. One of the drivers answered some of his questions and then produced a voucher for four free tickets to the Traxxas TORC race at the Texas Motor Speedway that weekend.


So it was that I found myself doing something completely new - sitting on a plastic seat watching five bulldozers move mud around on a Saturday night. It had rained all day and they were frantically trying to get the track in shape again for the evening's race. The time for the practice race passed, then the time for the first race. The sun went down. We'd seen the sponsor's ads about 10 times each, and could sing the jingle backwards. Finally it looked like something might be happening.

We stood, somewhat bemusedly, through a prayer thanking the Lord for the joys of dirt-track racing, and through the obligatory rendition of the National Anthem. Then came the brrrrrrmmmm that really got everyone's hearts going!



Picking a truck definitely made the races more exciting. I managed to get a winner for the first one - the driver's first win, too, so I'm sure he was a lot more excited than I was! Graham somehow managed to find the crazy ones, including a truck that executed a spectacular flip right in front of the grandstand and had to be towed out of the race.

A brief three races later and it was all over. The winners received their laurels from Miss USA 1999 and the fans poured out of the stadium - with a couple of new ones among them. BRRRRMMMM!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

On the home front

This blog is turning out to read rather like a travel journal, full of all the places we've been. We do stay in the apartment occasionally though. Here's a few snaps of what's happening around here.

The balcony is turning into a miniature jungle, helped out by the rainforest-style weather we've been having lately. The tomato plants are shooting up so quickly I'm sure you could see them growing if you watched them for half an hour. They're just starting to look like flowering, so hopefully we'll have a crop soon!

The lettuces are kind of floppy but starting to look more lettuce-like, rather than just a random collection of leaves. The habanero plants, after producing tons of flowers and next to no fruit, have obviously found a pollinator - practically overnight they sprouted about a dozen little peppers!

Just outside, we have a couple of barn swallows nesting in the stairwell. They're smart little birds, with a pink waistcoat and blue tailcoat, and they live in a mud nest plastered onto a beam up by the ceiling. We found one tiny blue egg on the floor one day, but hopefully there are more in there and we'll get to see some chicks soon! These aren't the best photos, but the birds seemed a bit camera-shy, and I didn't want to keep them away from the eggs for long.


Finally, I was out for a walk yesterday and got a big surprise. Going up some concrete steps a few minutes away from our house, I suddenly noticed a snake sprawled across them in front of me! It stretched all the way across the steps with its tail hanging off the edge, so must have been a good 4 feet long. I retreated a few steps and took a good look, then, not being so keen on stepping over a snake that large, took an alternative route. I'm pretty sure it was a Texas rat snake, which according to this site is nonvenomous but ill-tempered, so I'm glad I didn't disturb its afternoon nap.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Fun and festivals

The area around DFW is never short of a few festivals, it seems, and we made it along to a couple more this weekend. We had originally hoped to go canoeing but there was a distinct chance of thunderstorms. These never materialised, though Saturday evening was rather cool with a bit of rain, which wasn't ideal for listening to music on an outdoor stage; conversely, Sunday was very warm and muggy, which didn't look fun for all the people dressed in full Renaissance costume!

So, first up was Taste Addison. Addison is a well-to-do area north of Dallas, and this festival was a chance for the local restaurants to have a stand and sell snack-size portions of their wares for around $5. I tried fish & chips (not quite up there with the British seaside version, but not bad), chilli and gumbo (much more American) and spring rolls (double size portion because it was almost the end of the festival). For dessert there was a very delicious honey flan with fruit. This is the Mexican version of flan - not a pie-type affair but a kind of baked custard, something like creme caramel.

Music was provided by Bowling for Soup and Foreigner.


Bowling for Soup: local band, fun music, crazy way-out-there banter between songs - and where did they get that name from, anyway???


Foreigner: rock band which I'd seen once before in conjunction with Bryan Adams; I liked them a lot better this time, though whether they actually were better or it's just that my ears have got attuned to rock music since living with Graham, I don't know! They're better known for their more mellow stuff than the rockier songs ("I wanna know what love i-i-i-i-i-s....").

On Sunday Graham and I, and a couple of friends, Dave and Amie, headed down to Waxahachie (great name) for the Scarborough Fair Renaissance Festival. I was somewhat unprepared for the sheer scale of the thing - 38 acres of mediaeval-style buildings, wrecked galleons, a castle, stages and jousting area. And more people in costume than you would ever believe possible.


We were intrigued by the concept of turtle racing, but it turned out to be much less exciting than it sounded, with a white-haired guy doing a lot of patter about the World Turtle Racing Federation and such like and only about two minutes of actual turtle action. Three of the turtles just sat there and the littlest one made a run for the edge of the stage and was pronounced winner. Thrilling.

The falconry exhibit was a lot better. We admired a couple of owls and a bald eagle, and saw some nifty flying by a hawk chasing the lure. The display was put on by a charity which cares for injured birds of prey, so they provided a lot of information about bird conservation as well, and a chance to chat afterwards.


The bald eagle, proud symbol of America.

Jousting was a grand production, attended by King Henry VIII himself (and one of his queens). The baddie was suitably rude, and died in a very dramatic fashion, and the winner, fighting for Sir William of Whitehall, retired to loud huzzahs from the crowd.



There were shops selling all manner of things, from bows and arrows and chain mail to fantasy art and wooden goblets. Orange and strawberry sorbet mounded onto half an orange provided a cool relief in the heat, but Graham was laughing at my orange lips for ages afterwards.



We rather liked the hanging chairs and hammocks. This is Dave and Amie looking relaxed:


and I could get used to this life!

I wonder why he seemed so reluctant to buy me one...