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- grey, bleak 'new town' in north-east England, overrunning original village
- backdrop for Government Girl and plot element in the Houseboat
- very real city, which I had the good fortune to visit late in 2001

So… early in November 2000, I went to San Diego for a FrameUsers' conference and had the great pleasure of making Steve Murphy's acquaintance. We turned out to have a fair amount in common, kept in touch by e-mail once I was back in Belgium, and in March 2001 he came over to spend a week with me and Chris. November 2001, I paid the first H&N return visit: by myself, as while we'd been discussing dates Chris had been offered the chance of a useful Webbery course in London, but we're already looking forward to a second visit together.

Visiting Washington DC, in the present circumstances and in the company of a man who loves his country and knows his history, was sobering; and during the stay my kindly, thoughtful host showed me sights including the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Smithsonian, the Pentagon – one side a building site after the September 11 attacks – and George Washington's estate at Mount Vernon. It changed my perception or prejudices, and insofar as it can be meaningful to claim a "mental picture" of a continent-sized country and its inhabitants, I hope mine is now more nuanced, less certain and more questioning than it was.

All sorts of other pictures to remember, naturally. The National Cathedral – huge, of course, so new and clean as to look extruded and with the most magnificent modern glass I have ever seen; the (ordinary) supermarket offering ingredients for a tasty breakfast of bacon substitute and egg substitute on gluten-free toast spread with fat-free butter substitute; the obelisk of the Washington Memorial seen in the Reflecting Pool; the colourful neatness of my first-ever sushi lunch in its black lacquered box; PCC cars sleeping in the car-barn at the trolley museum; the boat-house and the formal gardens at Mount Vernon –

Second visit

My next chance to see Washington came when I managed to factor in a break of journey each way en route to Texas. I stopped with a friend of Steve's, who made me very welcome despite never having met me before and took me sightseeing. We visited the Smithsonian, where there happened to be an amazing exhibition of early biblical mss: did you know one sect traditionally depicted Our Lord with red hair? Unfortunately, their ms had since fallen into the hands of another sect who overpainted Him in a more traditional brown. We visited the Library of Congress, where there happened to be an amazing exhibition of about a manuscript bible for the new millennium. And in grateful return for these cultural riches, I was at least able to introduce Mike to porter, at the microbrewery next to the Old Post-Office.

Still don't think I'd want to live there, but it's a great place to visit!

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