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Monday, 5 September 2011

No sore head. That’s today’s good news as far as I’m concerned. I like a drink, but I hate hangovers, so I have become very careful over the years. Mainly, I take great care not to mix my drinks; but I got off to a bad start yesterday. I arrived at the party with a couple of packs of American beer in cans and a grim determination not to touch anything stronger. I was immediately pounced on by a young man who knew where I was from and wanted to tell me about the cooler full of bottled English ale he’d brewed at home and brought with him. So there I was, ten minutes in, Mister Cautious, with a glass in each hand, engaged in earnest conversation about the ideal serving temperature for beer in our respective climates. At least he got it. Most Americans, when I tell them that we enjoy our brew at 53 or 54 degrees, pull a face.
This guy was interesting – and his home brew wasn’t half bad. He was a refugee from California, the one place in the US of A where people have been rude to me; so we were able to trade stories about how obnoxious they can be down there, and I was able to expound my theory that it has to do with the weather: namely, that there isn’t any. Anyway, this guy had moved to Colorado, gone through college in Fort Collins, graduated with a degree in... well, I forget, but it had nothing at all to do with banking. So off course that’s where he ended up – in a bank in Gordon, working for his uncle, I believe, who just happens to own the place. Clearly he got lucky. Not once, but twice, because along the way he found himself a charming young gal – wife, girlfriend, he never said – who hails from the Ukraine. And as soon as I started talking about what I’m doing here, which of course didn’t take long, she told me that she works in a nursing home in Gordon and guess who one of her charges is? The lady whose words I was quoting the other day, Caroline Sandoz. She insisted that I ought to call in and see her, and I think I will. I can’t say that I will do so without a degree of trepidation, because I know that these conversations can be pretty one-sided; but I think this in an opportunity not to be missed. At least I can take with me the book she gave me back in `96, with her inscription in it. It may jog her memory.

I need to re-wind briefly. Yesterday was an outstandingly lovely day: refreshingly cool, with a sky as clear as you could wish for. On the way into Ken’s place I stopped to admire the collection of skulls – mostly cattle, I think – which he has piled on an old wagon, not far from the house, and the archway built of antlers which you pass under on the way into the yard

I got to talk to a lot of people, and was surprised at how many I already knew. There was the guy from the body shop down town, and his brother, fresh back from Scotland with a flat cap stuck on his head; one of the ranchers I’d been talking to at the State Fair a couple of weeks back, in company with the lady who sells me mouse bait; one of the gals from the gas station with her husband and baby daughter; the crop farmer from south of Gordon whose place I visited recently, and a number of other people I’ve been introduced to over the past few months. We talked about their lives and travels, about mine, and we strayed into the two areas I was always told to avoid: politics and religion. Now that I’m barely four weeks away from leaving here, I may as well say how relieved I am – hugely relieved – by the religious scepticism of most of the folk I’ve met. And that’s all I’ll say.

As the sun went down the temperature plummeted. One or two people started drifting home, and it was soon time to light up the big old stove in the barn where people were starting to gather.

I should’ve snapped a picture of the stove, which is a relic of old Fort Robinson. Goodness knows how it ended up where it is, but it’s found a good home. By this time I had succumbed – as one always seems to – to Ken’s insistence that I try something from his collection of malt whiskies. I’ve grown very fond of malt in recent years. Well, you fall for a Scottish woman and what do you expect? As I sat and sipped – and sipped some more, and realised that this was going to take some time, it occurred to me that if for some reason I had to buy my host a Christmas present I would get him a measure; maybe one made of some precious metal, that he wouldn’t be tempted to throw out. 

Good food, good drink, great company – and, as I say, no headache this morning. That’s what I call a party.

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