Wednesday, March 14, 2007


It's over!

Fifty-nine days, more than twenty cities, tens of thousands of miles, and Peter May's World Tour of America Part II is finally at an end.

Now I can afford to lift my eyes to the finish line, and let my legs buckle just a little. Last night was our last in a strange bed. Tonight we board an airplane at JFK in New York and fly to Paris. Tomorrow night we shall sleep in our own bed for the first time in over two months.

Yesterday was a hectic last day in New York City. Signings at three bookstores at opposite ends of Manhattan - in Greenwich Village, Tribeca and the Upper East Side. That followed lunch with Ruth Cavin, my editor at St. Martin's Press, at a charming Spanish restaurant in 22nd street called Bolo. Ruth is the doyenne of New York editors. She is eighty-eight years old and still going strong. She is a delightful lady, sharp and observant, with dark, twinkling eyes.

St. Martin's Press, one of the biggest publishing houses in the States, is based in the nearby Flatiron building - so-called because it is built in the gushet (or triangle) between converging roads.

We walked from there, La Patronne et moi, down into Greenwich Village, then ventured further into the labyrinthine network of subway tunnels that so characterises transport in this huge city, navigating our way south, then north and east, for a meeting with my agent, Emma Sweeney, before the final booksigning of the tour at the Black Orchid.

Then Korean barbecue in Little Korea, and a smiling Korean waitress. When we asked for two vodka tonics and a couple of glasses of red wine, she tipped her head to one side and said, "Oh, you like to drink!"

Actually, I think we earned it.

Nothing more to be done. Nothing more to be said.

It's over!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Incredibly, Spring has now followed us to New York. Outside our hotel window, the Empire State Building towers overhead in brilliant sunshine.

We flew in yesterday from Pittsburgh, and from the clearest of blue skies had a fabulous view of Manhattan, tall buildings sprouting from a narrow strip of island that looks like it is anchored to the mainland by the bridges that span the waters to east and west.

The Statue of Liberty stood on her rock off the southern tip of this most densely populated of cities, and made me think of home - it was the French who gifted this powerful symbol of freedom to the Americans.

This is the final stop on our extraordinary two month adventure which has taken us from Seattle to San Diego, from Phoenix to Vegas, from Houston to Denver, from Minneapolis to Pittsburgh.

On Sunday we drove through the heart of Pittsburgh, following downloaded instructions from the internet, to the small town of Oakmont on the city's southern fringes. There, a gathering of fans had "Afternoon Tea with Peter May" at the Mystery Lovers' Bookshop. In fact we all sat around chatting, and I talked for the last time about where I had found my inspiration for both the China and French series.

La Patronne and I were pleased to see the store's owner, Mary Alice, looking so well after her recent illness, and delighted to hear that she and her husband, Richard, are hoping to come to France this fall.

Then it was back to our hotel with carry-out barbecue ribs and a bottle of wine,

And now to, NYC, where last night we met our American friend from France, artist Ellen Shire. Several paintings from Ellen's spectacular summer 2006 exhibition at Castelnau, near Bretenoux, are currently hanging in our house in France. Ellen had problems of storage for the winter, and having large, empty walls available, we offered our services as temporary keepers of the art - until the next exhibition or, even better, sale. It will be hard to let them go, come the time.

We had a great curry at the Indus Valley Indian restaurant on the upper west side with Ellen and her brother Peter - another artist. We negotiated our way there and back via the New York subway, our first attempt to navigate the island's subterranean transport system. And, well, the only thing we got wrong was swiping our cards too slowly - guess we're not up to speed yet.

So today is packed with signings and appointments. Three drop-by signings, lunch with my publisher, and a meeting with my agent. And tonight we'll spend our last night in a bed that is not our own. The draw of home is now nearly irresistible. Two months is a long time to be away.

A wave of fatigue washes over me when I realised that, well, we're going to have to do it all again next winter. And, of course, there is no rest for the wicked in between. A Paris radio station wants to do an interview with me on Thursday morning as I transit between airport and train station en-route for home. The following weekend I will be back in Paris for the salon du livre, folowed by a rencontre at a Paris bookstore. Then the weekend after that, it's the salon du livre at Limoges...

When will I ever find the time to write!

Sunday, March 11, 2007


From a cold, but brilliantly sunny Sunday morning in Pittsburgh, a tall cup of Caribou coffee in my hand, I'm looking back over the last couple of days.

For all our fears of heading north and east and back into winter, the weather has really been with us. Spring has followed reluctantly in our wake to Denver, Minneapolis, and now Pittsburgh. It's warming up everywhere, and looking at the weather back home in Puymule, I see that it is sunny and warm, with temperatures getting up to 19 or 20 degrees centigrade this week.

Let's hope that winter has issued its last icy exhalation.

The sun just never stopped shining in Minneapolis, and the several feet of snow dumped by the previous week's blizzard was melting to send rivers of water running down the streets. Which was treacherous at night, when temperatures plunged to freezing and water turned to ice.

But it was in brilliant sunshine that we went with Elizabeth and Tom to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to revisit our hippy pasts in an exhibition called San Francisco Psychedelic - a photographic record of the bands and vocalists who populated the Haight-Ashbury era in the late sixties: Big Brother and the Holding Company; Country Joe and the Fish; Grateful Dead; Janis Joplin; Jefferson Airplane; and many others.

These were great pics that really captured an age, and a generation many of whom are now dead. And, God, did they all look so young! I suppose we all were, then. And thought we would change the world.

Guess we got that one wrong!!

I signed huge piles of books at Uncle Ed's mystery bookstore around the corner, and preached the gospel acording to St. Peter (that's me, in case there was any doubt), at Once Upon a Crime, signing more piles of books in the process.

Then it was off for a meal at the Rainbow Chinese restaurant with Tom, Elizabeth and Sophie, followed by fabulous late night ice-cream at Sebastian Joe's ice cream parlour.

The sun was still shining as we headed out early Saturday morning to the airport for our flight to Chicago, and connecting flight to Pittsburgh. A wet day there cleared up for our arrival, and as we drove out of the airport in our rental car, the sun made a brief appearance before dipping beyond the horizon.

We then spent a frustrating hour cruising a huge, sprawling and poorly lit mall near our hotel in search of a meal. All the restaurants were full, with waiting times of up to an hour. We ended up in a cut-price supermarket buying smoked salmon, tortilla chips and dips, and then cruising for another half hour to find a wine store. We finally returned to our hotel room to sip on Spanish wine, stuff our faces, and slip off into a sleep that would, in a few hours time, be cut short by Daylight Savings.

In those last moments, before I drifted off, I recalled a conversation we'd had in the car on the way to the airport that morning with Tom and Elizabeth. For some reason we had got to talking about sore backs, and I mentioned that I had first injured mine twenty-five years ago.

"How did you do it?" Elizabeth asked.

"I was heaving sacks," I told her.

She turned, wide-eyed with shock. "What?"

"Heaving sacks," I repeated.

I saw her exhale with relief, then she burst out laughing. "It's your Scottish accent," she told me. "I thought you said you were having sex!"

I should have been so lucky!

The Carr family...

With Sophie and La Patronne...

Friday, March 09, 2007


We're time travelling again!

Ping-ponging about the time zones of the US. We've been from PST, which I think is Pacific Standard Time, one hour backwards to MST, or Mountain Standard Time, in Phoenix, then forward one hour to Mental Time in Vegas, then back two hours to Central Standard Time in Houston, then forward an hour to Mountain Time again in Denver, now back another hour to CST in Minneapolis.

Are you still with me? I'm not sure I am. I'm not even sure I've got any of that right.

Then there's feet above or below sea level. Newport Beach, of course, is right at sea level. Coming back from Phoenix and Vegas we hit 275 feet below sea level in Death Valley. Houston, Texas, is about or below sea level. Denver, Colorado, is nearly 6000 feet above.

Today we dropped a dizzying 5250 feet to Minneapolis. And plunged from springtime in Denver to snowbound winter in Minnesota.

Okay, so we were up at 6am this morning in Denver, which was 7am here in Minneapolis. We flew two-and-a-half hours north and east, and found ourselves sitting at 7pm this evening in the concert hall of a Catholic school, listening to schoolkids playing drums and brass and woodwind instruments.

What were we doing there?

Well, if you'd told us at 6am that this is where we would be thirteen hours later (no, hang on, only twelve hours later - 'cos we lost an hour), I wouldn't have believed you.

But, in fact, there is a perfectly logical explanation, which goes like this...

We're staying in Minneapolis with the daughter of our friends the Jensens from Beverly Hills, Los Angeles - our old neighbours from France. Still with me? Okay. So the lady in question is Elizabeth, and she and her husband Tom, kindly offered to put us up (or put up with us) while we were here. Tom and Elizabeth have a daughter, Sophie, who is sixteen-and-a-half, and a huge fan of the China Thrillers.

Elizabeth had lined up a dinner party for our arrival, inviting a friend of Sophie's who has ambitions to be a forensic pathologist, along with her parents. Also on the guest list, were Sophie's boyfriend, Nolan, who has a Chinese father and American mother. They, too, were invited. So all the character elements of the China Thrillers would have been present.

Then it was discovered that there was a school band concert that night. Nolan plays the drums and had to be there. Sophie, of course, wouldn't have missed the concert for anything - even me. And her friend who wants to be the pathologist was also in the band. So naturally, her parents wanted to go and see her perform. Then Tom realised he had a conference that day and wouldn't be home until nine.

So you can see how Elizabeth's best laid scheme went completely agley. It left just she, me, and La Patronne. So we all went to dinner and had a great time in a Minneapolis restaurant called Tryg's, wolfing down ribs and chicken and calamari, and killing a bottle of Pinot Noir, before going to the concert to pick up Sophie, and meet everyone we would otherwise have met at the dinner that never was... if you follow.

Anyway, this is where we are now. Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the heart of the midwest. Seven hundred and fifty feet above sea level, in Central Standard Time, with two book events tomorrow.

That's before we lose another hour flying into Eastern Standard Time in Pittsburgh on Saturday!

Except that on Saturday night, they're switching to Daylight Savings Time three weeks earlier than usual, because someone in Congress read a thirty-year-old report that said money and energy would be saved on electric light. No one told them, apparently, that companies would have to spend millions re-programming their computers, and that people get up earlier these days - and since it will be dark, will be burning electricity.

And I suppose it means we'll lose another hour. Or do we gain it...?

Oh, I give up!

Elizabeth and La Patronne in the snow...

Nolan by the big bass drum...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I figure we've been dragging Spring in our wake.

Warm Spring weather is pouring over the Rockies from the west, after one of the severest Colorado winters on record.

Since we arrived from Texas, the temperature has risen nearly twenty degrees farenheit. It was around sixty degrees yesterday, and we were shedding some of the winter layers we had put on for our arrival.

Right now I'm sitting outside Starbucks, two blocks away from Charles and Marilyn's condo. It's my third morning sitting here watching the world go by. The first day was really cold. Yesterday, the air was quite soft. Today it is positively balmy, with real heat in the sun.

I like this life. A stroll down the treelined boulevard at seven in the morning, squinting at the early morning sun with a hot grande caramel machiato in my hand, watching the world go by. And it leads me to the realisation that I am not the only creature of habit. In just three days I have begun to recognise faces - a daily procession, a morning routine, a visit to Starbucks for that first infusion of caffeine. The guy with the dreadlocks and the husky dog. The tall blond with the sharp business suit. The mom in jogpants, two bright-eyed kids in the back of her pick-up, waiting impatiently to be taken to school.

It makes me think of France - the routine, not the people. The difference is that I would have been sitting on the terrasse of a cafe in the town square with a grande creme and a croissant, and there would almost certainly have been some old farmer at the bar with a glass of wine in his hand.

Charles told me that Colorado has the least number of obese people in the US. And sitting here, my eyes bear that out. People seem leaner, fitter here. The air is cold, and crisp, and clear (we are very slowly acclimatising to the lack of oxygen), and the streets are full of folk running, or cycling, or power-walking. They wear shorts and tee-shirts and perspire a lot - earning the right to that sweet, milky coffee in the morning.

There's a nice laid-back air about Denver. Yesterday we lunched in a nouvelle cuisine Vietnamese eatery. Spicy, delicious food in a relaxed and informal restaurant called Parallel 17. Then drove through the old Denver downtown area, brick buildings and warehouses converted into bars and lofts. We pulled up outside an old-fashioned store called "Savory" , whose shelves groaned with the most fabulous array of exotic spices. They grind their own spices there every week, and so they are just about as fresh as you can get them.

This is Charles's home from home. He spends hours here, prowling amongst the jars of cumin and coriander, searching out new flavours with which to spice his fabulous curries - one of which he and Marilyn had prepared earlier for a dinner party that night. Their apartment was infused all day with delicious smells, wafting almost direct from the Indian sub-continent.

Which was what we had to look forward to after the book event at "Murder by the Book". We had another good crowd, and as they always do, the store had ordered a cake with a representation of the book cover in coloured icing sugar. Only, in this case, two covers. I've never tasted such good books.

Then came the curry, washed down with a Malbec wine from Argentina. Malbec is the principle varietal of the wines of Cahors. This one was nearly as "black", but with much less tannin. It was round and fruity, but lacked the distinctive liquorice qualities of the Cahors. A nice wine all the same, and robust enough to stand up to Charles and Marilyn's spicy presentation.

Now a day of rest, gathering our energies to drag this beautiful Spring weather north and east as we head to Minneapolis, and back to winter - and all those layers that we have been wheeling around in suitcases for the last two months!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


We were in the "HIgh Crimes" bookstore in Pearl Street, Boulder, in the shadow of the Flatirons. There was a great turn-out. I was talking about genetically modified foods, and one biotech company's attempts to create a freezable tomato by inserting a gene from a flounder (which can live in extremely low temperatures on the sea bed).

A handsome lady in the front row, who had read all my books, leaned forward and said, "I thought for a moment you were going to tell us they had inserted a flounder gene into our present administration." There was a round of hearty laughter, and I knew then why they call it The People's Republic of Boulder.

Of course, as an "etranger" in their midst, it was not for me to comment.

But I like Boulder. It has the feel of a self-contained community, a vibrant university town in a fabulous setting. We went into the Hotel Boulderado to view the fabulous arched ceiling of coloured glass in the lobby. We walked through elegent streets which, though modern, still retain something of the original character of the place. There remains a sense of its history and heritage.

The lady who made the flounder remark was there with her husband. I was flattered to learn that he had bought her "Extraordinary People" for her birthday. Then, apparently, she had been disappointed to learn that it wasn't the next book in the China series. She is writing a book about China, and France did not have the same appeal. But she'd read it anyway and, I'm happy to report, was won over. She is now looking forward enthusiastically to the next.

In Boulder, one is spoiled for choice when it comes to restaurants. But we went, with Charles and Marilyn, to eat in the same place we ate the last time I was here. "The Mediterranean". And I got just about the best pizza I've ever had - wafer-thin parma ham, and fig, and garlic... Hmmmmm. All washed down with a Penfold's Shiraz. Urgggghhhgurgle.

And so we headed back through a clear night, towards a full moon rising, snow-capped peaks glistening away to the west. This had been Day Fifty. Tomorrow it's "Murder by the Book" in Denver, followed by Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and New York City.

We're on the home straight, with the finish line in sight. But our legs aren't buckling yet. Because it's still fun.

Addressing the good people of Boulder...

Monday, March 05, 2007


As expected, the day began with a final breakfast at Cafe Texan. There is, on the wall above the serving counter, a sepia photograph of an old cowboy with abundant whiskers and a huge stetson. It looks like it might have been taken a hundred years ago.

But in fact, that old cowboy still takes his breakfast in the Cafe Texan every day. He looks, if such a thing is possible, even older than his photograph. I took pictures of both. But since I didn't want to invade his privacy (who knows, he might have pulled a six-shooter on me), I snapped him from a distance, so the clarity is not great - but good enough to make the comparison.

We said our farewells to Dick and Michelle, and their delightful four-year-old daughter, Sophia. This has to be the most widely travelled child on earth. She has been to at least fifteen different countries, and counting. They include China, as well as several countries in the continents of Africa and South America. She'll be a real heartbreaker when she grows up. We're all in love with her already - blue eyes, and an ever-ready, constant, and beguiling smile.

A young man with a woollen hat pulled down over his ears took us to the airport. Andrew Link, from Palestine, Texas. He had about him, a military air, lean and fit and alert. "Yessir!" he kept saying to me. It's a long time since anyone addressed me as "sir". That military air might come from his expertise on terrorist bombings in Iraq. Still a student at the College of Criminal Justice, he is participating in a college-sponsored project which tracks terrorist activity around the world. His speciality is Iraq, and he provides the FBI with weekly briefings.

He is just one of a whole generation of law-enforcement students nurtured by Dr. Ward (Dick). They are as fiercely loyal to him as he is to them. To enter into Dick's inner circle, you have to be pretty special. And they are all pretty special kids. "It's like planting flowers and watching them bloom," he told me. "Of course, there are always a few weeds, but for the most part they really flourish. It's hugely rewarding."

And so it was that we took our leave of Houston and Texas, some 500 feet below sea-level, and took a two-and-a-half hour flight to Denver. Colorado, which is 5000 feet above sea level. In addition to losing an hour (we're starting to feel the disorientation of ping-ponging around the time zones), we also felt the loss of oxygen. Breathing is just that little bit harder, everything takes just a little more effort. Of course, one adapts to the change, but I'm not sure we'll be here long enough to fully adjust. On Thursday we head towards the frozen sprawl of Minnesota.

We were met at the airport by our old friends Marilyn Munsterman and Charles Berberich, who have a summer house near where we live in France. But Denver is their home, and their condo has a guest aparment which is to be our home for most of this week.

Although it was cold, the sun was shining, and we were greeted by the sight of the snow-covered Rockies on the western horizon, looking out over the endless dry plains below. As the sun set behind them, we drove out into surburban Denver to the home of Charles and Marilyn's good friends, Fred and Laura, who had laid on dinner for us. Other guests were Harold, who works for the famous Denver bookstore, The Tattered Cover, and his partner John, who works for a publishing house.

Good food, good wine, good company, and by ten we were ready to fall into bed, still in the grip of oxygen starvation, to sleep soundly in the shadows of mountains, anticipating our bookstore event in Boulder on Day Fifty, and another back in Denver on Day Fifty-One.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


After turning into a few one-way streets the wrong way, and missing the odd turn-off, we finally made it to the lobby of the CBS Radio/CNN650 building in downtown Houston to meet up with John DeMers for my live appearance on his Saturday morning "Delicious Mischief" show.

John is a colourful character, originally from New Orleans, whose show focuses on his twin passions of food and drink - with a little bit of mystery thrown in.

His other guest was a lovely big guy called Bear Dalton, a stetson-wearing cowboy whose passion is wine. Over the years he has become something of a cult figure around the vineyards of Bordeaux where he makes wine-tasting trips in full cowboy regalia to find new vintages to stock his SPEC's Liquor Stores in Houston. He had brought four bottles to taste on the show.

Happily, when he finished, he left them for the rest of us to drink. A glass or two of Californian red oiled my vocal cords for the twenty minute interview which lay ahead. Actually, it seemed like just five minutes, and then we were heading out again into the sunshine.

Our stay here has passed in a blur.

We had a strange moment of homesickness when we lunched in an Indian restaurant (the Indian food in Glasgow is just about the best you'll find outside of India).

Then on to "Murder by the Book", where a sizeable crowd turned out to hear my talk. One reader, Steven Sill, arrived with a sackful of my books, which he had acquired from various sources. He had read the entire China series, and wanted each and every one signed. Another reader, Fred Forschler, had bought all the books direct from us via the website, indulging in a lengthy exchange of emails with La Patronne in the process. He almost pinned me to the wall, demanding a follow-up to the sixth China book. "You can't just leave Li and Margaret like that," he said. "There has to be more."

The tour has been punctuated by similar requests, and along with the hundreds of emails I've had on the subject, I might have to return to China one of these days - just to see what has happened to the hapless pair since we last encountered them (I fully believe they have been getting on with their lives in my absence).

I finally met Barbara Douglas, who is quoted on the back of "Extraordinary People", describing it as her favourite book of 2006. The store's Dean James, a member of the committee which decides the prestigious Edgar Awards, puts it in his top five for the year. "Murder by the Book" had sold more than 100 copies in advance of my appearance there, and I signed a great many more during the course of my visit.

Our long-suffering minder, the incomparable Ginny Wilson, drove us back through a spectacular sunset and partial eclipse of the moon, to a barbecue dinner of grilled ribs in Huntsville, before dropping us off at the university hotel to pack and prepare for our flight tomorrow to Denver.

We will have a farewell breakfast at the Cafe Texan with Dick and Michelle in the morning - a last taste of Texan hospitality - before embarking on the home stretch of this long, long tour.

With staff and readers at "Murder by the Book"...

Typical Texan dining instructions at the Huntsville rib joint...

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Life is crazy. It takes you to unexpected places at unforeseen times, stirs interesting thoughts, and throws up unanticipated events.

Like, for example, going through security at John Wayne airport in Orange Country, California. We were headed for Houston, Texas, and had allowed plenty of time at the airport - because the man with the kilt is always subject to special attention going through security, as regular readers of my blog will know.

I stripped down to essentials, as usual, and stepped through the metal detector. Not a peep. No alarm, nothing. I couldn't believe it. The buckles on the kilt always set it off. Always!! I almost said, "No, hang on, I'll go through again, it's bound to go off this time." But I didn't.

The female security officer looked at me sadly and shook her head, leaning forward to confide, "I was really hoping the alarm would go off. You know, the male security guys get so embarrassed when they have to search a guy in a skirt."

Okay, so we're travelling Wednesday, because our scheduled week in Huntsville, teaching creating writing at Sam Houston State University has been cut short. No one signed up for the course. But Dr. Richard Ward, former Dean of the university's College of Criminal Justice, still wanted us to come. He is an old friend and mentor, and the man who made the writing of the China Thrillers possible because of his contacts inside the Chinese police.

He is now the university's Associate Vice President for Research and Special Programs, and had arranged for us to give a talk to creative writing students at The Woodlands campus of the University of Houston. So we spent a couple of hours chatting with the students in a classroom in a space age building in the woods of Conroe - less than a mile away from where the denouement of "Snakehead" takes place.

Actually, that scene was set at Dick Ward's ranch just outside Huntsville, but for the purposes of the story I'd transplanted it to Conroe. Dick has never forgotten my description of the chaos inside his garage. Nor forgiven it. When we went to the ranch for dinner the following night, I discovered he had made a concerted effort to tidy it up for my benefit. His good lady wife, Michelle, had told him to bring us in the front door. But I sneaked around the side to take a peek in the garage.

It was... well, nearly tidy. Good job, Dick!

Dick is an extraordinary man of exceptional energy. He has made more than sixty trips to China, training the top five hundred cops there in the latest Western policing techniques. He is constantly globe-trotting, making connections, raising funds, placing students. Most of the major law enforcement agencies around the world are now populated by his former students. Talk about being well-connected!

Being around Dick is never dull. He sent one of his students to the airport to pick us up. A lad with a good Scots name, and sound Scottish heritage, Duncan McCallum. He was, however, a little nervous at driving the university's brand new white Ford Expedition with which Dick had charged him. He would not, he said, be able to face his mentor if he were to do it any damage. "If we have a wreck I'm afraid you're going to have to come with me to Mexico. I will simply have to disappear."

Thanks to Dick, we found ourselves, Thursday afternoon, at the George Bush Presidential Library, on the campus of Houston A & M University at College Station (popularly known as "The Aggies"), about an hour from Huntsville. I'm not talking here of George W Bush, the current President, but of his father, George Herbert Walker Bush, the former President.

Interestingly, I had been in the house set up in Beijing by Bush Senior when he was made special envoy to China in the 1970s. It is now the home of the US Ambassador, and I set a scene there at an ambassadorial party in "The Fourth Sacrifice".

I'm not sure I had ever really formed an opinion about George Bush Senior, but I found myself impressed, and even moved, by the public exhibit at the library. An eighteen-year-old war hero who flew bombing missions over the Pacific during World War Two - when he was shot down and very fortunate to be rescued; a father who suffered the tragedy of losing a daughter who was only four years old; a man who handled the rigours of running the CIA; a man with the wit and intelligence to make powerful speeches off the back of handwritten notes made minutes before getting up on the podium.

Both La Patronne and myself were moved, almost to tears, by a letter he had written to his mother reflecting on the loss of his daughter, and another written to his children on leaving Kennebunkport.

This is a man in his eighties who still makes parachute jumps, who lives by the old fashioned values taught him by his parents - values that seem all too scarce in today's society. I arrived at the library with an open mind, and left with the impression that here, perhaps, was one of the most unsung Presidents of recent times. A decent man.

Thanks also to Dick, we found ourselves today at the Houston Space Centre - chauffeured by our old friend, Ginny Wilson, a student of Dick's who had been assigned to babysit us during our last visit, and who was doing a wonderful job of babysitting once again. She is small, but perfectly formed, and has trouble reaching the pedals of the Expedition. But she is equally fearless and throws it around the freeways and the streets of Houston like a veteran truck driver.

It would probably not have occurred to us to visit the Space Centre. But I'm glad we did. They had the space capsules actually flown by astronauts of the various programmes that led, eventually, to the moon. Numerous artefacts of that extraordinary time of ingenuity and invention. How basic it all seemed. Clocks that told the time with mechanical counters, dials and knobs and switches that looked like a mock-up on a fifties film set. And yet it was all real. In unbelievably cramped conditions, brave men took extraordinary risks to push back the boundaries of space, with what was then cutting-edge, but untried, technology.

We looked at rocks from the moon, dust collected from it's surface, and touched a piece of moon stone more than one-and-a-half billion years old. We frolicked in the Sky Lab, and "flew" the shuttle. We ate the ice cream of the future - frozen granules that stuck to the palate.

And we wondered what had become of that spirit of adventure, the insatiable desire of man to push forward into the unknown. Somehow it seems to have turned inwards, got stalled by greed and complacency, in spite of all the technological advances.

In his speech given at Rice University in 1962, President John F. Kennedy said, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win." Fine words that launched a fabulous adventure that reached its conclusion a mere seven years later.

But that was nearly forty years ago. One wonders where the impetus and inspiration will come from to kick-start that ambition. To re-launch the great adventure. And it seems unlikely to come from today's crop of mediocre leaders.

I am reminded of a famous quotation, "Two men look out from behind the same bars, one sees the gutter, the other the stars" , and I can't help thinking that we need to lift our heads again.

The "Cafe Texan" where we breakfast with the Wards...

An interesting logo in this typical Texan cafe...

Dick's "pet" long-horned steer...

The Ward ranch...