Day 12: Sunday Cook-out #KentuckyTour2014

cook out, bbq, kentuckyEveryone’s up early for breakfast that is hosted by Ellen’s aunties, which is closely followed by the Chelsea-Liverpool title decider.

We soon order cabs to take us out into the countryside for the last hoorah; a traditional southern cook-out laid on by Molly and Becca and their two husbands Bull and Ryan. The ranch is now home to Molly and Bull, and the place is littered with dinner tables, garden games and the vast majority of the remaining wedding guests.

“Wow, look they’ve got a keg, and everything!”

Bill brought me a signed copy of his book too, and took me through some of the characters he’d been fortunate enough to meet over his career.

After a few days of fast pace, this was exactly what everybody was after; sun, beer, beef, ribs,cook out, bbq, kentucky, winchester chicken and corn hole.

Corn Hole? Right, a lawn game consisting of two teams of pairs. The pairs stand opposite each other, at a rough range of 30ft, each trying to throw bean bags on to each others wooden platform (1pt for landing it on, 3pts for getting it in the hole). The first to 21pts is the winner – though of course as interest peaked we reduced this to 11pt.

Right about now, I’m pretty certain my Dad is midway through constructing his own version, smashing up some old chest of draws in the process.

corn hole, kentucky, summer, bbq, cook out, USA

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Day 10: A rehearsal to end all rehearsals #KentuckyTour2014

Up early, and on form, to head to the church with the rest of the wedding party for the wedding rehearsal.

I’ve always taken a Gary Linker approach to warm-ups and rehearsals; why waste a goal in the warm-up?

Though given the Greek twist to it (such as Luke having to wear a crown), a run through is essential. A crown? Liza is quick to ask that that we don’t succumb to childish laughter during the actual ceremony, which lets face it is quite a big ask when somebody has to wear a ceremonial headpiece.

The rehearsal dinner itself is at Bodley-Bullock House in downtown Lexington, a 3-storey town house built in 1814. The 70-guest dinner was in the main room, though the house itself was a pleasure to explore. The Bullock’s snuff bottle collection a must-see, though unfortunately we only found out about it once the night was over. The house is used by the Junior League of Lexington as their headquarters, but is also a popular spot on local ghost tours.

After drinks and photos in the back garden we head back in to the main room to join the other 70 guests for dinner. Followed by some speeches.

I think it’s fair to say I paid the price for my stance on rehearsing when it came to my turn to play the role of after dinner speaker. Cautious few people ever really want to hear about somebody else’s day, I decide to keep it quick, managing to stagger through some stuff about me and Luke staying up all night writing unreadable novels and unsellable sitcoms, having a new cool sister and our introduction to Grits and the Waffle House via Mrs C.

On the otherhand, Mum’s was brilliant. A perfect combination of anecdotes of a much younger Luke, and context around his departure to New York. And also, quite rightly, pointing out that Ellen has far exceeded the expectations of a Daughter-in-law.

Ellen and Mrs C both touched on Luke’s ability to master human qualities that are often hard to maintain simultaneously. In that he’s both “well liked and well respected” and “interesting, and interested”. If you can pull both of those off, you’re pretty much sorted.

All three also mentioned the very special loved ones that weren’t present at this special occasion.

Dad went for the instant crowd pleaser, orchestrating the cheering crowds as he called out the places that people had travelled from. From Los Angeles to Singapore and everything in between. Of course going East to West.

It was just great catching up with lots of old faces from the last time I was on the East Coast back in 2009. Second cousins Caroline and Susie, and their mum Rita and auntie Eileen. This lot gave me a tour of Philadelphia on that trip and are hugely popular amongst our family in London. Not least for their ability to appreciate puns and regurgitated Tommy Cooper jokes from the 70’s that we pass off as our own – “just like that”.

And Ellen’s old school friends Molly, Bull, Rebecca and Ryan – I’ve not seen this quad since the latter two kindly let me sleep in their attic when I was in Washington DC for Obama’s inauguration.

And nothing’s changed since that 2009 trip – I’m sure Obama’s legacy team would like to hear otherwise, but I refer to how familiar everybody seems. Though of course social media probably has something to do with that.

Also from that trip, and more specifically my stay in New York with Luke, is Casey a very talented photographer. And her boyfriend Josh, who had a tattoo of that Octopus that can open a jar of pickles; a decade of engineering undermined by a billion years of evolution. And also her good mate Kateri from Harlem, another whizz with the lens.

I’ve never been one to question the “meaning of life”, as it always seemed futile to ponder something that can be answered by a novelty T-Shirt slogan, but essentially this must be it; a series of coming togetherness to celebrate the love of people we know and love.

You don’t need to be some 19-year old philosophy student to get down with that.

Joe definitely has the same curse with technology that has seen me go through a number of laptops and software virus’ over the years, as his plan to surprise the room with a selection of video messages from home takes a hit when the projector and sound fail to work. After messing around with the cables, we get it up and running. But the wait (and the corresponding red sweaty faces) is well worth it, when everyone from my Grandparents to our local shopkeeper are beamed on to the main wall to wish Luke and Ellen well.

“Isn’t that Mistry from the Pied Piper?”

“Yeah, he’s been getting ripped off on the pick ‘n’ mix since 1974”

Who needs luck when you’ve got Church Lane’s finest on your side!!

So after the rehearsal, we make the short walk in town for more laughs.

Ellen is rightly concerned that Luke will continue to lead the party crowd late into the night, a Pied Piper of Lexington. Afterall, the wedding is tomorrow, and everybody needs to be on form after a good solid year of planning. A whole lifetime depending on which way you look at it.

Given the track record of the Oliver Brothers, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be the first to leave a party. History will dictate that we’re there until the lights come on. It’s not necessarily a symptom of our lust for life, just merely an irrational fear of missing out.

Myself, Joe and Kate didn’t find it hard to persuade Luke however to get a relatively early night at 1am, he knew the score. But Kate suggested (just for the craic, ya’know) we send Ellen a photo of the three us lying down next to some black bin bags. So, we do.

Of course Ellen knows the score (everyone knows the score nowadays), but she was probably still be a tiny bit concerned that despite the jest intent, we were still drunk enough to think lying face down in some alleyway wearing our best clothes is somehow a good idea.

I’d actually stopped taking notes for this trip some time after arriving in Lexington. Since arriving it’s been non-stop. It’s been hotel bed to shuttle bus, shuttle bus to designated event, designated event to afterparty.

All these events are just the headlining acts. But in between they’re filled with serendipitous lookalikes, quick pints at the hotel bar, good solid handshakes, generous word play, film references, looking for plug adapters, applying quotes from The Office, charging iPhones and everything else that is worth writing about but not worth jotting down at the time.

And everybody has been up early, and on form. Though the beer is evidently fresher and lower in alcoholic volume, I think it’s more to do with adrenaline and the enthusiasm that every day demands of us. This is a once in lifetime trip, and we cannot afford the luxury of staying in till ‘noon with a dry mouth and a banging headache.

At some stage of this trip we’ll crack on with some Moon Shine from the Appalachian Mountains, digesting the strawberries that have been preserved in alcohol for a number of years…but that’s a different story for a different time.

Day 8: Back to Lexington #KentuckyTour2014

lexington, winchester, hellenic, bluegrassRight, enough pissing around; let’s get up to Lexington for what promises to be the wedding of the decade.

But in all seriousness, the State of Kentucky has impressed me massively. Prior to this trip, telling people my plan to spend two weeks in Kentucky was often met with looks of disbelief, eyes searching for an explanation and/or a punchline. Me too, I was quick to justify it with “my Brothers wedding, he’s getting married to a girl from there” before making sure that they understood “they both live Manhattan, New York”.

But I’ll say now, and I’m rarely wrong about these things, add this State to that US roadtrip you’ve got penciled in.

So we jumped on the motorway and set off, cruising past the signs to the birthplace of Colonel Sanders. And no, we didn’t stop.

We gathered our thoughts at a Cracker Barrel on the outskirts of Lexington, before making the final leg of the journey to our hotel, the Hilton. But first we popped into the nearby town of Winchester where the actual wedding was taking place. Winchester is where Ellen’s Dad grew up, and was also the location of her Grandparent’s restaurant that was famous for its Irish stew for over 60 years. It’s still fondly remembered by locals, with the site recently being honored by the Hellenic Ideals Program of the Bluegrass. Now here stands a metal plaque to mark the spot where “4 Greek Immigrants served the public from 1909 to 1973”.

The first person I bumped into at the hotel was Johnny and his girlfriend, one of Luke’s oldest mates. The last time I saw him was at Kilburn tube station? Or was it the Claddagh Ring in Hendon last Christmas? Eitherway, this is Kentucky and the rest of the London gang come pushing through the doors to check-in; Andy, Lou, Gary, Orla, Patti, Lawrence, Martin, Jimbo (another expat living in the US), James K, Sheryl, Conor and Tara.

Then Mum followed by auntie Maureen and Michelle; a Nolan Sisters tribute act if ever I’ve seen one. The two aunties flew over with uncle Patrick and auntie Paula this morning.

Mum has been in Lexington since Sunday, staying with Mrs C and helping with the preparations aswell as heading out to the Woodland Reserve distillery with Joe and Kate. Her roles have ranged from the essential (driving to the civic center to get wedding licenses) to the essentially thoughtful (helping the A-team put together the wedding buckets).

Wedding buckets? Civic Centre? Two terms that may suggest traditionalism is on its way out. But no, wedding buckets were the carefully put together welcoming gifts that everyone received when they checked in at the hotel. A large KFC bucket, filled with goodies including a can of Ale-8-One (bottled in nearby Winchester since 1926 and the only soft drink invented in Kentucky still in existence), local guidebook, local history book, an apple bearing the “I love NY” logo sticker and a pack of Walkers crisps. Also the wedding itinerary that included an illustration by their friend Jason, featuring Luke and Ellen outside their New York flat flanked by landmarks from both New York, London and Kentucky. In addition to the big names, it also included several personal sites of specific interest including the place they met and The George pub in Kingsbury.

Later the family headed out to the suburbs of Lexington, to Mrs C’s house for the first night of the wedding. A perfect first night over nibbles and beers in Mrs C’s lovely house, getting to know the family more and more on a minute-by-minute basis.

Ellen is one of three triplets. On one of the walls was a framed newspaper cutout from The Lexington Leader (dated 4th Sept 1981) with the headline “Triplet threat… Parents think thrice about it” accompanied by an image of the three children, which went some way of describing their uniqueness. Ellen, Liza and Foster were local heroes according to 1980s folklore.

I’d met Liza way back in 2009 when I was last in New York but she’s since moved down to Washington DC where she manages a designer shop. She’s got one of the biggest roles of the weekend as the Bride of Honour.

I’d never met Foster, her brother, but heard nothing but great things. I’d tried to glean as much from Facebook as I could pre-Kentucky, but was none the wiser. Would he index highly as the All-American hero, or higher as a Pee Wee Herman? Truth is, he was neither, but simply an original nice guy.

After having a read of the article, Luke took Joe and me down to the basement, where the rest of Triplet Mania memorabilia from the 80’s could be found.

“Wow, it’s the actual triple seated baby carrier from the actual front page photo!”

It was this same night we met Angie and Paul, Ellen’s Auntie and her boyfriend from Columbus, Ohio. It’s fair to say you don’t meet truly good people everyday. But today we’ve met a batch of them. I’d thought today’s quota had already been exceeded by Foster and the waitress at breakfast who let me pocket an extra bottle of syrup. But then these guys too!

We headed to a bar called Cheapside in town to meet up with the rest of our family, Luke’s London friends, Luke’s New York friends and any other person who’d just arrived in Lexington for the wedding.

Day 2: Ticking all the right boxes #KentuckyTour2014

Breakfast with Mrs C.
lexington, bardstown, waffle house, kentucky, all-americanMrs C is Ellen’s mum. Ellen is the soon to be married fiancé of my soon to be married Brother. Luke and Ellen have yet to arrive from New York, but we get up early to catch Mrs C for breakfast before hitting the road.

She’s already with Joe and Kate in the hotel lobby, who both met her when they visited New York last Christmas.
“Robert, Robert, Robert” she welcomes me in with her cheery southern lilt.

We head to the nearby Waffle House for the all-American breakfast. Even this early in the trip I know the phrase “all-American” will be used as a lazy expression to describe anything that we’re familiar with solely from the world of Hollywood films.

Breakfast with Mrs C is just what we’re after, as she fills us in on the wedding plans and what to expect at the upcoming event of the year.

Given we’ve got suit and shirts which would have little chance of surviving a pre-wedding weekend tour in a suitcase, she’s kindly offered to look after our wedding get-up until we’re back in Lexington in a weeks time.

We head out to Bardstown, a town where time has stopped. Very much like the fictional Castle Rock from Stand By Me. In fact we’ve been overcome with comparing everything to films on this short drive from Lexington. Every passing farm barn is the one from Jeepers Creepers, every white picket fence is from a range of US suburban films. Even the option for “grits” at breakfast stokes memories of My Cousin Vinnie.

We also make an effort to see Fort Knox. It’s an inaccessible security vault, famous for barbed wire fencing and “no photo” signs. Kind of surprising why it’s a tourist attraction at all really? But still we did the 50mile detour, as it apparently featured in a James Bond film none of us had ever seen.

Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace memorial

Next on the hitlist was the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, which is just south of Fort Knox and accessible via Elizbethtown. Here you’ll find a beautiful woodland area centered around a memorial building that encases a hut similar to the one Lincoln was born in.

In 1894, a New Yorker purchased Sinking Spring Farm and moved the log cabin that he believed to be Abraham Lincolns here. He believed that former landowners had initially moved it, and this was the original spot. In the late 1800s it was dismantled and taken on tour by a travelling road show, before ending up in New York where it was deconstructed and left in somebody’s basement. It was then bought back by the Lincoln Farm Association after a huge fundraising mission, with the cabin being scaled down to fit inside the memorial building.

In the latter years, tests proved that it was highly unlikely to be the actual hut of Lincoln, but sod it, don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Kentucky produces the world’s bourbon, the finest racehorses and the most unique countryside. But so far we’ve mainly concentrated on a few old barns, a giant safety deposit box and a reconstruction of a mud hut from a travelling circus.

I just hope that one day somebody will reconstruct a suitably sized version of Edgware Maternity Ward to mark by early beginnings.

Cave City

White picket fences. Rolling green hills. Clock towers. What’s not to love about crazy golf? And where better than Cave City to satisfy this need. It’s home to several courses. People may say “but you can do crazy golf anywhere”. But really, when was the last time you played?

Cave City is a tourism town that sits just outside of the Mammoth Cave National Park. It’s mainly one long road that is flanked by fun-for-all-the-family institutions and fast-food joints. For a bright and sunny day the strip is extremely quiet. There’s supposed to be a Cowboy shoot-out when we arrive but eerily there’s no sign of any existence. Why aren’t the crazy golf courses open? I know it’s a Thursday afternoon, but where else can you play 9-holes with your Grandma in under an hour? And so we look for alternatives, though unsure we really want to step out of the car into this town.

At one end of the road sits Dinosaur World. The other, atop a slight hill, the Haunted House amusement ride. Not sure what 150 life-sized dinosaur models would bring to our trip, we decide to head up towards the house.

Despite the ‘open’ sign, The Haunted House is obviously closed for business. Though perhaps looks scarier than the original designers had ever imagined it, laying here in the afternoon sunshine.

Cave City Kentucky alpine slide Next to it is a chairlift, which has evidently succumbed to rust and a lack of interest. The sign suggests visitors can take this up the mountain where they can then slide back down via a ¼ mile alpine slide. However, while most of the chairlift is in place, there’s no evidence to suggest any fun as been had here in years. The last recorded evidence can be found on this family video footage (c.2008).

After a closer inspection of the Haunted House, I notice a truck from a parking lot further down the hill creeping up towards our car below, the sunlight reflected from his front grill catching my attention. Not keen to get blocked in, we head back down to the car. The drivers keen to know what the hell we’re playing at, but is okay when he sees we’re tourists.

According to him, the main attractions have been through hardship of late. The last owners went bankrupt following dwindling visitor numbers, however he’s optimistic that when summer comes, so will the paying public. He’s owns a small convenience store on the main strip.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Having given up on good organized fun, we pulled out of Cave City and delved into the Mammoth Cave National Park to check-in to our hotel, the Mammoth Cave Hotel. After dumping our bags off just after 6pm, we head to one of the entrances of the nearby caves to do a bit of bat spotting, but are a tad too early.

After dinner at the hotel we head back out to Cave City where we’ve been told, according to one of the local rangers, sit a few decent hotspots for a nightcap. We’d anticipated an all-American tavern complete with pool table, neon Budweiser signs and a big hairy biker grinding his younger biker chick. But what we got was El Mazatlan, a Mexican restaurant chain, one of only two restaurants/bars in Cave City with a liqueur license. Though actually this is no huge surprise given local voters only passed a referendum allowing bars and restaurants to serve alcohol in November 2005. Providing they meet certain criteria, restaurants were able to serve alcohol for the first time in 50 years.

So we decided best to head back and get an early night for the cave tour tomorrow.

Day 1: The deltas between an Airline and an Airway #KentuckyTour14

carole disalvo, american airlinesThere’s been a mix up and it turns out that my flight to Lexington (KY) has been moved to just after 12noon, whereas brother Joe and girlfriend Kate will be on the later one. Not a particular major problem. However being switched from a British Airways plane to an American Airlines one is.

We’re heading out for my Brothers wedding in Kentucky.

I was instantly startled by the dated interior of the aircraft. It appeared to be near identical to that of a film set inside a long-haul flight. The seats were well worn with an ever-present gloss of dandruff to them. There was no inflight magazine detailing the film listings, nor was it even possible to select and be in control of the few films that were present. That really threw out my flight entertainment schedule (a Frat Pack comedy sandwiched between the year’s cult film and an episode of Curb). And not even a Super Nintendo controller wedged in the recess of the armrest!

I was a bit annoyed, but not enough to cause a scene. But then again with Twitter, even the lazy and apathetic can get in on the action. And so, I tweeted both airlines for an explanation whilst still sitting on the tarmac at Heathrow.

“Our cabin staff will do all they can to make your trip an enjoyable one” came the quick reply from AA.

Problem being that the staff weren’t actually the problem. In fact they were the one redeeming feature. An incredibly attentive fleet of airborne dinner ladies who made sure our glasses never remained dry for too long.

My personal favorite was Glenna, as stated by the stitching on her apron. Though could’ve been a random apron she picked out of the lost property box given all the staff had various apron designs, from London Buses to Disneyland Paris. She told me I looked like a young Tom Cruise and then called me Tom for the rest of the flight. I’ve still got it. But still no cocktail.

I watched American Hustle and had a little nap (sod your inflight films and poor sound system) using the pillows that resemble little puffs of air coated in that flimsy material that line your pockets. And drifted away.

big book of british smiles, bad teeth, british teeth, american smileThe Comfort Suite hotel wasn’t too far from the airport, on the outskirts of Lexington. There wasn’t much to see or do amongst the neighboring retail units in the adjoining power center of big box retailers and strip plazas, but I did visit an impressive pet shop and paid homage to a Liquor Barn. Here I was given a one-on-one wine tasting session by Kathleen, the all-American sweetheart with good chat and an even better smile. Her flawless row of pearly whites reminded me of a seamless row of Georgian town houses. A stark contrast to mine, that bore the same characteristics of dilapidated council terracing in need of a lick of paint and change in energy supplier.

She was studying at the University and had the whole Amanda Knox look going on, minus the euro-murderer edge.

Then back across the highway to the hotel for a few laps of the indoor pool and an accidental piss in the Jacuzzi.

I’ve always thought the travelling salesman and roadside hotel life would suit me down to the ground. But I’m pretty bored come 6pm, eagerly awaiting Joe and Kate in my hotel room when they arrive just after 9pm.

Tomorrow we set off for our Kentucky Tour, with Mammoth Caves National Park the next stop. Before meeting up with more family in Nashville. From here we’ll take the long route back up to Lexington for the wedding in 10 days time.