Thursday, February 2, 2023

The Random European Clearing House

Returning to France

One must remember that our vehicle is French, and our license plate is French, so that “F” denotes to the world that we are French. We are constantly confused for being French. We open the car door in Serbia and someone says, “Bonjour!”. I got a parking ticket in England and some nice man walked up to me to apologize in French. Since everyone treats us like the French, even though we're not French, our return to France, was in some ways . . . a homecoming of sorts. When your last memory of driving in the UK, is the M25 and your first experience after setting foot in France Is the A1 you are in love with France. I guarantee it. The roads, the food, the wine – I could be French. 

But I do miss the British Isles. Travel is the stitching in the fabric that blends it together and generates new hybrids of joy. English apple butter smeared on a French croissant – se magnifique!

Then I went to The States and Aleja went to Colombia.

Christmas with Cousins! Bill and Linda Orr

Can your brother do De Niro?

Has your girlfriend mastered pet impressions?


I reconnected the batteries & the water system in Encore and we unpacked our goodies from our respective countries. Going home is nice. Returning is nice. Change is nice. There was no mildew and no pipes burst in the freeze of winter. Encore forgave us for deserting her and we sped south for the Spanish border and hopefully some warmth.

Today is our 1-year anniversary of moving into our beloved Encore. We chose well and are very happy to live in this Freedom Machine. Here’s a visualization of our previous 12 months

Feb 2 2022 - Feb 2 2023

And Without Further Delay – The Unrequested Random Clearing House

Not every idea I have fits cleanly into a topic thesis, or supports a through line of thought. Here are those left-over orphaned ideas and half-baked musings.  They are the underdeveloped notions that refused to play nice with others. Let’s just acknowledge that not everything can be an anecdote, but, for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to abort these zygotes with the delete key. Congratulations folks, it’s another unrequested episode of Bobby’s Random European Clearing House. 

The Height Of Civilization

If you had to distill it down to just one question, and one question only, to determine if a culture was civilized. I think it would have to be “how do they treat their pedestrians?” In parts of Europe the citizens don’t even look up before stepping into the crossing walk, let alone pause and look both ways. Their culture has made them so supremely confident in their right to be treated safely as a pedestrian on the roadways that they trust blindly. And so far, I’ve never seen the results of a collision.

In Denmark, the bike lanes were so big and wide that I almost mistook them for being a frontage road and turned onto them with Encore, and she would have fit! That's what prioritizing a healthy lifestyle looks like: bike lanes the width of roads. Kudos Denmark!

More Indices Of Civilization

The duck stairs of Haarlem almost knocked me over. This photo below might prove that the Dutch are the most righteous humans on the planet (As if they really need the extra superlatives - they are already the tallest, most attractive polyglots.). This was not a one off. I saw many of these duck stairs. Maybe the 1 question to ask should be 2 questions: “How do they treat their pedestrians and their animals?”. The other obvious giveaway is the hydrating dog bowls you’ll find at most restos in Europe. 

These stairs allow the ducks to enter and more importantly exit the canals

On The Subject Of The Dutch…

This is direct from my journal: “Got to Amsterdam yesterday. Parked. Plugged in. Headed off on the e-scooters. They buzz along at 25kph. The Dutch do an amazing job accommodating two wheeled vehicles. We blazed through farmer's fields on an Olympic quality track and crossed canals with young Dutch sunbathers partying on their boats. Naked full breasts everywhere. By the time we got to the free ferry to cross the river and enter the city center I was already in love. We shared a bottle of wine with my friend of 30 years ago and had a fine meal. Then got whacked on space cakes and wheat beer and raced 45 minutes back to Encore. This is urban paradise. I'm strongly considering buying a boat for these endless canals and living on it until I grow barnacles or learn the language. Either way, by that time I’d be too old and spoiled to leave.”

The Dutch all ride bikes. They probably learned how to ride a bike the day after they took their first steps and they ride fast, real fast. Force is the following formula: “Mass of giant Dutchman x Acceleration of bike.” You look both ways or you die in a bike lane.  

The Dutch people are so tall that I have to stand on my tiptoes to use the urinal. Try to pee on your tiptoes. Go ahead. It's not easy.

The Dutch conversation is a lot of spitting and sore throats. Small price to pay to hang out with the world’s finest people. Who could give them a run for the title? Only the Scandinavians. There – I said it. My tribe didn’t even make the top 3. I’ll let you guess at third place. 


Are the Belch just watered down Dutchies? And can we call them Belch? 3 out of 5 dentists say we can. We loved Belgium, but these cobblestones are making it almost impossible to ride on two wheels with a beer in my hand. I think maybe this Lifestyle should be called "Chasing Beauty". We went to Ghent and then drove 30 miles to Brugge. Chasing beauty.

Ahh – The Cuisine

Europe is the height of civilization and I am embracing her varied and storied cultures with vigor. Along the way - I may have noticed something. There seems to be Food based cultures and Economic based cultures. Germans don't emphasis cheese and wine like the French. Yes, they are excellent at beer, but wine takes time and their wine misses the mark. Could they be a little impatient? They have the biggest economy in Europe and they worked hard for that. However, their food hasn’t matured. It’s less imaginative with fewer ingredients, but . . . it gets served on time. Have I found an inverse correlation between productiveness and gourmet food? 

“I Like To Sweat And Swat Mozzies”

Euros and their funny ideas about air conditioning. Would you like uncomfortably high heat, with sweltering humidity and mosquitoes, or do you like cool dry and bug free? An air conditioner is a dehumidifier that makes for cool deep sleep and doubles as a white noise maker. The Euros choose the former and smirk at us for choosing the later. I’ll never understand their rationale.

Global Ne’er-Do-Well

I have a great affection for directionless leisure. Some would say I excel at it. 

                    You know you have too much free time when this is of interest

We spend a lot of time being lazy on the shores of a lake with our toes in the sand, writing in journals, flying the drone or throwing the fishing magnets. “It's 3. Should we start dicing fruit for the sangria?” It’s a languid existence on the periphery of society. I commented earlier about civilization, and though we hold valid passports, we don’t really belong to any specific culture. We’re international voyeurs coming to a city nowhere near yours. “No thanks, just looking.” And then we’re gone. Societal parasites flitting about the continent taking notes and smiling widely. And Europe is weird and wild enough to take us in. Thank you, Europe. 

I've lived in Europe now for a year, which... pretty much makes me European. Yeah, I'm European now. I drink Aperol spritzers, I smoke cigarettes, and I support a premier league team. No. None of that is true. But after a year, I might have a slightly better understanding of Europe, but only slightly. I believe the prudent choice would be to continue the research for many more years. And that’s just what we’re going to do.

Your man on point….

Captain Bobby 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

The British Isles Part 3 Finale

The Republic Of Ireland

Ireland. What a place. So much optimism and wit but always a sad ending. These people know they've suffered, and they’ve smile thru it. Their humor carries them. Ireland is fueled on dreams, tragedy and peat fired hearths (peat smells like a cross between an electrical fire and how every fishing trip begins: digging for worms). They’ve spent lifetimes clawing at the soil that the English kings of old yanked from them, and when they couldn’t steal it away, they tried to starve them out. It’s an old land with regal peasants and a buoyancy that can’t be drowned. Try to keep me away. I’ll always go back. 

The Wild Atlantic Way

This majestic drive along the entire western coast of Ireland runs for 2,500 KM and varies from absolutely stunning to starkly violent. The sea is always trying to destroy and makes a dramatic showing of it. We couldn’t possibly have driven every bit of it so we didn’t even try but we covered a lot and we can always return. 

Twas an easy stroll home after a hard night at the pub

Those wee windy towns on the coast reward those passing through with unique pubs that feel as friendly as your grannies living room and look about the same.  

Met a Galway girl – but she was from The Ukraine:

"Trouble in transit. Got through the roadblock. We blended in with the crowd.

We got computers. We're tapping phone lines. I know that that ain't allowed" 

- Life During Wartime -

The Irish are so dedicated to drinking that they get panicked if their current beer drops below 50% and they order a second to wait on deck. I did some nervous drinking myself after listening to her stories. A night with Olena and perspective becomes a little more focused. Lordy - do we have it good.

Your 14 seconds of dead castle Irish zen

The Leak

Came home from the pub to find a fast-paced drip coming right out of the middle sunroof. Goddammit. I bragged about being leak free. Awoke the next morning ready to deal with the leak only to find out my leisure battery was dead. When it rains it pours. It was a busy day. I bought a new battery and installed it. Dumped the black water toilet (we have to do this every 3 days. The most disgusting thing you can imagine) found a place to park for the night with power. That's not easy now that most campgrounds closed November 1. Woke up at 6:30 to check the weather. Now’s my chance! I’ve got a dry break in the Irish wet. I suited up in my hostile weather suit and climbed up on the roof with my emergency "can be applied wet sealant". Got the job done and I'm now waiting for the rain. See.... Just like living on a boat! 

I need you to know #VanLife isn’t all sunsets on beaches with sand castles and pina coladas. The umbrellas aren't in our drinks. They are real and we need them over our heads

November In Ireland

I embrace science and I've run the experiments. Our duvet clad comforter begins to lose the fight for heat retention at 40° F. It's at this temperature value that the Seal Pup of Love moves from the column of thermal liability to thermal asset. Said differently, "the girl runs hot". In the summer months it's difficult to even hold hands because she suffers from a medical condition that's clinical referred to as "child paws", due to them being sticky hot and wet. We have to use the tropical grip in which only our pinkies are intertwined. Life comes with its own set of challenges when a woman is a smoking hot stack pack rated at 30,000 BTU. Croatia in June, and families mistakenly ask the waiter if they can be seated further from the kitchen, when in reality it's just the Cocoa Bear flaring like a super nova.... But lord does she shine in November in Ireland!

We completed our lap around Ireland and made landfall back in Scotland. It was a quick drive back to England.

The Lake District

“As leaves pour down, Splash autumn on gardens, As colder nights harden, Their moonlit delights” – The Lightning Seeds -

Beautiful, and approaching pristine in its cold fall colors, we drove the scenic roads and collected mud in the tread of our shoes while hiking the streams.


I came to see my old friend Fraser Mummery with whom I used to work at the “chippy” back in Edinburgh all those years ago. We stood next to each other for long hours in our white doctor smocks serving fried everything. The grease so thick it hung like a mist in the air. 

The 2nd reason I was there was for my yearly bloodwork and physical. I laughed out loud when reading the British recommendation regarding limiting your alcohol consumption to less than 14 units per week. That’s 2 drinks a day every day and that’s coming from the health officials. Cardiovascular diseases affect over 7 million people in the UK, and are responsible for more than 1 in 4 deaths. Makes you think twice about that deep fried Mars bar and the can of soda. 

Aleja asked, “why do you think they have so many defibrillators in the UK?” Obvious... 

Not a phone booth. Look closer


We met Max and Jolene when we swapped phones at a waterfall in Croatia to take pictures of each other. The typical, “Want me to take that so you can get in there with your family?” He returned the favor and a couple days later he saw the photo he had taken on Instagram. We’d been in touch ever since and met up in their hometown as we were coming south. It was a nice cultural experience to watch the US vs. England World Cup match in a small-town men’s club with fair drink prices and loads of friendly comradery. I’ve been an Anglophile for decades and would go to sea with the Brits any day. They are jovial, full of pluck, and mostly correct upstanding citizens. I will always have real estate in my heart for the English hamlets and her people. 

2 Cultures Separated by a Common Language

There are hundreds of English accents but they can all be broken down into 3 categories: 1.) Nothing but “Sss” (The King’s English. The only group on the planet who can whisper and mumble at the same time) 2.) The Cockneys (difficult to understand more than 3 out of 5 words. If bulldogs could speak) 3.) Then there are the Northerners. . . .

If you stuck a needle in my tongue and filled it with Novocaine I’d sound just like a Cockney (It’s like they have a dead fish in their mouth), but now let’s move north to Leeds - So much worse! Is it really an accent, or is it a cultivated speech impediment? If you are from Northern England, you are nearly unintelligible to begin with, but when you have a tongue piercing you just further handicap yourself to the point of being non-communicative. I love them, and it is true that they are friendlier than the Southerners, but come on Northerners – don’t pierce your tongues.

Let’s review - The English invented English, the Northerners have screwed it blue, and the Americans perfected it. German is the language of evil and no one contests that. Vietnamese is the ugliest language. It will make you stick an icepick in your own ear. Arabic makes you want to buy a sympathy lozenge for the sore throat of the speaker . . . . Are we clear?


We’re going to have to go back. Even though I saw lots of pretty countryside and enjoyed the few days we were there…I have nothing yet to contribute regarding a cultural epiphany. More research is warranted. 

Sick And Driving To The Ferry

Our time was winding down. We had the ferry to France booked and airline tickets home for Xmas. The drive from Aberystwyth to Dover was one of self-imposed isolation with lots of flu meds. It was an anticlimactic ending to a wonderful lap around the British Isles. I’m fortunate to have so many British friends and I’ll always return. Now here’s where I insult you all:

Here's the deal - buy a meal, park for free behind the pub. Pay a couple quid extra and
you can plug in for 240 volt and run your space heater. Take water if you need it, leave waste if you got it. Pub culture is even better in a Moho!

“Pop down to the shops”

Scanning the main street of any UK town you would have to believe that the economy runs on tanning salons, hair stylists and dog groomers. The latter are identical skills, just practiced upon different species. Add to that fish and chip shops and I think you’ve seen the cornerstone of the British economy. I’m sure the ruling class would chortle at my reductionist notation but I’m guessing the working class might be smiling. 

Enormous privately owned castle on the Scottish border. This thing is owned by one man

The English

I rubbed elbows with the ruling class but spent the majority of my time sharing meals, drinks and general conviviality with the working class. Their drinks and eye contact are stronger, and that’s appreciated. The other difference is the biodiversity. The ruling class traded in strong genes for hemophilia. That's what you get for 1000+ years of inbreeding. The caste system remains and I’ve chosen my side. Give me a commoner any day (minus the chav).

These people ruled the world for centuries and they still can't figure out that a single tap with a mixer valve is better than this. In what bizzarro alternate universe does this make sense? "Too Cold. Too Hot. Too Cold. Too Hot." - As you jerk your hands from one side to the other

Arnica – they don’t pronounce the “r” and they think it’s the cure for bruises and will get the job done in 72 hours. Hell – bruises fix themselves in 72 hours. It’s the English equivalent of Tiger Balm. I can’t believe they’ve been so duped.

The Brits love to put the four-letter word "slow" all over the roads. And when we first got here, I was constantly slamming the brakes, but gradually it became the little boy who cried wolf just ignore them. Now I don't even see them anymore. I must drive over 30 a day. They're trying to warn you when you go into a corner, I guess. But you know what works better than the single word “slow”? - A posted speed limit with a definitive number! Slow is meaningless. What I consider slow isn't what you consider slow. Give me a number please.

The Irish

If the Irish accent didn't exist, some YouTuber would invent it since it's so pleasing on the ear. That accent goes a long way in forgiving the eye sore of an Irish girl with her 2-millimeter-thick makeup that’s 50 % built-in bronzer. It’s as startling as the glued-on eyelashes they’ve special ordered from China. None are larger. I believe they do eyelid weight training to support them. Add to that... wearing shorts in Nov, and no one is better at looking like a cheap tart than an Irish girl in a dead-end town.

I fear someone has been molesting Molly Malone
The Scottish

I’m a huge fan and Edinburgh is my favorite British city. I lived there once and I hope to live there again someday. For that reason, I’m going to hold my tongue regarding their silly accent and life shortening cuisine. Damn. I guess that slipped out. Freedom!!!

Your man on point,

One more picture of Edinburgh
Bob Friedman - The Ugly American

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The British Isles Part 2


We took the first ferry of the new day from Cairnryan Scotland, to Larne Ireland. We pulled over next to the Olderfleet castle ruins, and finished breakfast. I listened to The Pogues sing Dirty Old Town... Twice, and then we drove south and into Belfast.

Carrickfergus Castle that guarded the approach to Belfast. Originally built by a
Norman adventurer in 1177 AD. 

You can see where the guards sharpened their spears and swords in the rock
It certainly makes history come alive when the day to day moments are visible

Remember Jimmy Robinson? 

He and I were hitchhiking north in 1991 and were stuck on the side of the road in the pouring rain holding a cardboard sign that read “Drumquin”. A truck driver pulled over, and though he wasn’t going to Drumquin he promised he would drive us there on his day off. He cussed a lot and we couldn’t understand much else, but we were wet rats and he was offering a warm place to stay. We jumped in the lorry and headed to Belfast. 

It was the early 90's. Can we get a break on the fanny packs?

Sean Cullen

We must have stayed at Sean Cullen’s house for about a week. One day there was a knock on the door. 2 thugs blacked out the daylight and demanded to see Sean. He stepped outside and closed the door behind him. A few minutes passed and the door opened again. “Give me your passports.” “What for?” “Give me your fucking passports!” It was the IRA (remember – this was 1991 and the heart of the troubles in Northern Ireland) and they wanted to know who these 2 strangers were staying in their neighborhood. The USA passports proved it wasn’t our fight and we were allowed to be voyeurs.

Our kind benefactors from 30 + years ago: Jane and Sean (AKA: JJ) Cullen

Their daughters Anna and Jacqueline throwing us a 4th of July party

True to his word, on his day off Sean made the long drive to Drumquin in County Tyrone to help me find my family roots. On the way he said, “Look lads, I’m a Catholic and we are headed to a Protestant stronghold. If you call me Sean, I’ll never make it out of there alive. From this point on, you only call me JJ. Start practicing.” JJ it was, and we all made it back safely. But what we found in Drumquin would stay with me. 

Drumquin 1991

James and Lena Patterson were my great grandparents and they immigrated from Ireland to the USA in March of 1914. Lena was about 8 months pregnant with my grandma Mae. 

That's my gramma Mae, who is the oldest of 8 kids. Her brother, my great uncle Jim Patterson fought in WW2 and lived to be 101. He died last year and was the last of them all. Photo taken about 1930. Lena and James had been in the USA for about 16 years

In 1991 there was no internet so JJ’s brainstorm was to find the postmaster and ask him about my family names, since he’d know where everyone lived. It worked. We found Bertie Gordon and he showed us the old cemetery and the houses that James and Lena were born and raised in. We finished the day in the pub and I have the pictures to prove it. 

There's JJ on the left (as he's known in the Protestant districts) behind the bar with the lads

L to R: Bertie Gordon, Jason Thompson, Harry Hemphill, Me & Jimmy Robinson

See the lad with the silly hat? That’s Harry Hemphill. Bertie saw him on the other side of the bar and explained to me that he was thinly related to me as well. We called him over and I changed his life for good. Before we parted I gave him my mom’s address in Phoenix and we then drove back to Belfast. 

About ten months later our European adventure was over and I was working in Westminster California selling Indian jewelry in a mall – worst job ever. My mom called me and said “2 Irish boys showed up at the house. They say they’re our relatives and now they are staying here. What’s going on?” That Drumquin afternoon came rolling back into my mind. Sorry mom. They came out to California, stayed with me for a couple nights and I never saw them again. 

We’ll get back to Harry in a bit.

Belfast 2022

Aleja and I parked in a motorhome camp on the outskirts of Belfast and took the bus into the city center. I was hoping to find the Cullens but I didn’t have much to go on. It had been 31 years and all I remembered was that while Jimmy and I were staying at their place a bomb shook the ground and we felt it very strongly. It had exploded at the Mountpottinger barracks. I remembered that name. I knew they couldn’t be too far away from that police barracks. 

Black and white Belfast during the troubles. This is the Mountpottinger Barracks

I thought it was odd that I couldn’t find it on Google maps. On the bus I asked an older guy who explained that it had been torn down with the Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998. But he remembered it, and said that it was located in a part of town known as the Short Strand. We got off the bus and walked into it. I saw a nice lady helping kids across the street and approached her. 

The jackpot crossing guard who made my month

I thought it was a one in a million but I had to start somewhere, “Excuse me, this is going to be a very strange request but I was here 30 years ago and a very nice lorry driver picked me up and took me to stay with his family. His name was Sean Cullen. Is there any chance you’ve heard of him?” “Oh sure. You’ll find him on the second street on your left. Just walk to the end and back up 3 doors.” There’s no way it can be this easy. I explained that maybe it’s a common name and we aren’t talking about the same man. She rattled off all his kids and I’ll be damned if we didn’t nail it on the first try. 

3 of Jane and Sean's 6 kids

Jane Cullen answered the door and I explained that my friend and I stayed here 30 years ago after Sean picked us up hitchhiking. We were invited in for tea. As we waited for Sean to come home, 3 of the kids came around to say hello. They all work together in the family business and are doing quite well. It was great to catch up on the long gap in-between. 

Back to Drumquin 2022


I found Harry Hemphill because the grave diggers were his school mates

“Sure we know Harry. We all went to school together.” 

I tracked him down and I’ll let Harry Hemphill tell the story himself

He lived in the USA for 12 years completely illegally and loved it. He finally got caught and had to go home. He convinced his younger brother to come while he was still there (instead of joining the army while the troubles raged) and after 30+ years he still lives in California (legally). Harry is disabled now due to a bad heart but says with fondness, “I got 12 years in California and it was wonderful.” And all because I scribbled down my mom's address on a scrap of paper in a drunken haze.

Basil McCormick

Even the grave diggers said that Basil McCormick would be the crux to understanding who was related to whom and if anyone was still living. I knew the last name McCormick was related to us somehow but I didn’t know exactly. I almost missed catching him but before the daylight dimmed too much, we saw a car in his drive that wasn’t there before. His wife invited us in and Basil regaled us with the following story: 

“In 1980 when I was 31, I made a trip to Nebraska to see the relatives who had immigrated. I went to church one Sunday and the pastor introduced me. After the sermon a few people came up to me to meet this stranger in their town. I felt a hand on my shoulder and a nice old white haired lady asked me where in Ireland I came from. I told her County Tyrone, a town called Drumquin. She lurched a bit, I saw her shoulders shake and she broke down in tears. She was your granny Lena.” 

I did the math. She would have been about 85 that year and she was 18 when she left Drumquin, never to return. Chokes me up to think about how emotional that must have been for her. 

Basil piled us in his car and we set out to see the old farms before the sun dipped lower. He took us to where my great grandfather James Patterson was born and raised. The farm has changed hands many times since 1914 and the house that was standing when I took this picture in 1991 has been replaced by a barn that you can see in the second photo

He also took us to Barravey (I realized I had been spelling it wrong all these years which is really embarrassing since I named my boat after it: Barraveigh), which is the farm that Lena Gordon was born and raised on. The Gordon’s still own it but the house you see below in the first picture from 1991 is now uninhabitable and just used for storage

Bertie Gordon and I in 1991. Sadly - he's no longer with us

Barravey the ruin. The home where my great grandma was born.
She used to play where these bails now lie

We then went to Basil’s old farm and he pulled out the one flow chart that would finally make everything crystal clear. Turns out some distant relatives from Nebraska, who I haven’t ever heard about came to Drumquin and laid it all out for Basil. He was kind enough to share all he knew with me

Please let me know if anyone knows these people. Maybe my Nebraska relatives can help. The bottom row of the flowchart might be a clue

Here’s the flowchart. You can see Lena right in the center

Lena was born a Gordon and her mother was Margaret, and was born a McCormack. 

You can see that both Basil and I are direct descendants of this man: John McCormack who was my great great great grandfather. Wild huh!!!

Most of the people in that era had a 6th grade education and spellings changed. It's why McCormick is spelled a couple different ways. Sometimes Patterson was spelled with only 1 "T". Maybe this explains why I thought it was spelled Barraveigh? Maybe I saw it printed differently 31 years ago? 

Just to balance it out - this is the gravesite of my great great grandpa Patterson

One More Stop

It was 9pm and nearing the end of a very emotional, yet fulfilling day. I was exhausted, but the phone rang and it was Harry Hemphill who said we should put our shoes back on and go to the O’Cahan Arms for a pint to see what the town is like in the evening. Upon walking in I announced, “"I know our accents aren't the same, but my family dates back to this town from hundreds of years ago." All heads turned and then the barkeep, whose family has owned that pub since the 1700’s asked for my family names. I proudly announced with my newfound knowledge: “Patterson, Gordon and McCormick” there was general nodding all around. Patrick, the kind barkeep took an old ledger down from a shelf and brushed off the cobwebs. After a few minutes of searching, he showed me this from 1913. 

That’s my great grandfather’s brother’s tab from 110 years ago. Isn’t that incredible? I bought the pub a round and thought I’d never make it home with the returned hospitality that was flooded upon us. A sweet old man even offered his card and said if we needed any help, he was just a phone call away. Who doesn’t love the Irish?

Your man on point,

Irish Bobby