Sunday, 16 May 2010

Destination UK

Saturday 15th May

A relaxing start to our final day saw us all pack up our suitcases for one final time at our individual hosts homes before heading off to rendezvous at Tom's house. We all placed our bags on the scales and repacked and adjusted accordingly so that each bag would weigh under 50lbs, that's 23kg in European money.

Onwards to the airport courtesy of Margie, Charlie and young Dillon (very many thanks to you all) and the shenanigans started again. The automatic check in didn't work so we queued up and once again Steve wasn't on the ticket and seemingly not booked on the flight which was a little cause for concern. Meanwhile everyone else swapped more stuff from suite case to suitcase to make the weight according to the official scales. Eventually everyone including Steve got checked in and we all cleared security and settled down to wait for our flight.

Just prior to boarding, Andrea decided to do a bit of shopping (as is a woman's prerogative) and just managed to make the gate before it closed!!! Safely on board we ended up waiting around while the suite cases of a number of travellers were removed from the hold because they unfortunately arrived at the gate too late!!!

A detour around Irish air space due to the volcanic ash saw us delayed a little further and at approximately 09:30 we landed in 'chilly' Manchester and reunited with our families. Alec and Derek our guardian Rotarian's also greeted us and for the very final time we all stood in a line and posed in front of a lens.

Our American adventure was finally over, it's going to take some time for it all to sink in and it somehow seemed strange to be going our seperate ways after spending so much time together (without a single cross word may I add! just in case you were wondering) over the last month.

However, were only half way through our year long GSE experience so stay tuned for updates as we spread the word amongst the Rotarians of District 1050

Saturday, 15 May 2010


Friday 14th May

This was to be the team’s final full day in Georgia and we were let loose on Atlanta with our trusty guide Chris who just happened to appear out of nowhere; however he had a spring in his step and a look in his eye that said no one knows the drinking scene better in Atlanta than him!

We set off the big city just after 10am and our first point of call was to be the Martin Luther King memorial centre where we were able to learn a little more about one of Georgia’s most famous residents.

The heat was already starting to build up during the morning, so after our brief tour, it was suggested that we head over to an unusual shopping place called Underground Atlanta. Which is exactly as it sounds, underground – a subterranean shopping and entertainment centre.

On the drive over we were able to see a little more of the Atlanta street scene which we could see had quite a vibrant, cosmopolitan feel about the place.

Underground Atlanta was quite different, a long row of shops and stall holders, perhaps mainly aiming for the tourist market, however this gave some of us the chance to stock up on a few gifts for friends and family, whilst Steve and Chris searched out a local watering hole, where the only thing lower than the prices were the waitress tops! Needless to say that Roy had to be eventually dragged out kicking and screaming.

We made our final purchases all met together and decided that the next order of the day was to get some lunch. As this was our last full day in the USA, we decided we should do the sensible thing and have some good old fashioned American food.

The suggestion from friend turned City Guide Chris was a place named the Vortex, it sounded charming so we jumped in the bus and we were off.

On Arrival we realised that we were in the more bohemian part of town named Little five points. The restaurant itself was something a little different but the food was very tasty. We all had a variety of different burgers, we’re not sure how many cows died to make each one but they certainly left us full for the rest of day.

Later, Chris took us to his local Bar where he had his own place in the corner with a brass plaque with his name on it. Seems like he’s spent many an evening entertaining ladies and spending his hard earned here! Almost everyone knew him.

After too many Margarita’s we left Atlanta and headed back to Conyers old town once again where we sipped our drinks and reminisced about our time in Georgia and all the good friends we’ve made along the way.

Photo's to follow

Motorbikes, Trucks and Court

Thursday 13th May

Early doors felt like the previous nights freight trains were thundering through our heads on a constant loop as we made our way to Logansville to deliver our penultimate presentation. On arrival we discovered the place locked and nobody home although we were only waiting 10 minutes before the first of the Rotarians arrived. This was to be our smallest gig yet with only around Ten people in the audience however it was one of the most moving as a guest to the club Eva Smith told us the story of how she lost her husband to a drunk driver. Eva works closely with Mothers Against Drink Driving M.A.D.D.

Please check out their website here –

We then headed back to Conyers Old Town (scene of the previous nights shenanigans) and met up once again with Gary Moore in his office. Gary took us to the local courthouse where we were introduced to the Georgia legal system and were witness to a number of civil divorce cases and criminal prosecutions. This was a fascinating experience for the whole team and one which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Next stop saw us deliver our final presentation to the Rotary Club of Rockdale County and the team cheekily decided to be ever so slightly economical with the truth regarding some of the facts and figures. For example, did you know that each year the local Eskimos visit the Chill Factor in Manchester to build the largest igloo north of the north pole? Or that Manchester was the location where the first scientist travelled faster than the speed of light? Yep all these things happened in Manchester according to the teams presentation this afternoon.

However unbeknown to the team there was an ex Georgia Tech graduate who had studied Einstein’s theory of relativity so we were rumbled during the Q & A that followed. Oh well, we tried!

The afternoon saw Steve dropped off at the local Harley Davidson Dealership for a test ride. ‘Take your pick from any machine in the shop’ said Malcolm the Kiwi salesman. ‘In fact, pick two’! Mmmmm If Carlsberg did test rides.............

A $20,000 V-Rod Muscle was the weapon of choice and Steve eagerly rode off towards the mountains with Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell ringing around in his head.

Meanwhile the rest of the team headed off to the Georgia Driving Academy where they specialise and heavy goods vehicle training and we were to be shown just what it takes to become an all American trucker.

We were given a tour of the facilities and found out that there is more to being a truck driver than you might think. We all had a go at the driving simulator to begin with, which is to allow the trainee to become familiar with gear changes of which there are many, in both ‘high and low’ ratios.

Anyway after we had proven that we were quite terrible on the simulator we were briskly moved on and introduced to one of the instructors who gave us a quick drive around on the open road so we could feel just what that was like.

Certainly one of the highlights of the drive was when we all were given the chance to pull the cord for the horn and yes it was loud!

After that we arrived back at the training centre where we all were given the chance to drive one of the articulated trucks. It was automatic and the plan was just to go forwards and then backwards. It sounds very simple, however there were cone fatalities a plenty, we were all quite happy with our effort, although based on his performance Roy has promised that from now on he won’t drive anything bigger than a shopping trolley.

In the evening we were taken out to Wales Barksdale’s farm, where dinner was to be provided courtesy of the very entertaining Gary Bridgewater of Jim & Nicks BBQ in Conyers. The food was some of the best BBQ food we’ve had throughout the trip and it was it in the beautiful surroundings of the farm land, complete with roaming cows and even a few mules, one of whom tried to crash the party!

Roy was missing this evening as he had an opportunity to do some football coaching, the rest of the team and all other Rotarians and non Rotarians who attended had yet another great evening, we really would like to thank the Conyers Rotary club for their hospitality, they really worked hard to offer us a more than pleasant stay and we really have enjoyed ourselves with the people and the place.

Photo’s to follow

Rockdale County

Wednesday 12th May

Bright and early we were once again reunited. This time, we gave our presentation to the Rotary Club of Rockdale County at the local hospital. This is the home club of our wonderful GSE coordinator Gary Moore and the dedicated early morning Rotarians numbered about 42.

We have been informed that Rockdale County is the second smallest county in Georgia and was so named because it was comprised of all of the unwanted rocky land from surrounding counties when it was originally founded. It is far from unwanted now however as the town of Conyers is lovely with some beautifully restored buildings and public spaces with independent and individual shops, restaurants and bars which the team is hell-bent on experiencing (just to support independent retailers and local economies you understand).

After our presentation (15 down, 2 to go...) we were sent out on individual vocational tours. Steve toured around Conyers Fire Department, Gareth visited City Hall, Roy enjoyed a tour of Rockdale Youth Soccer Association and Allison was met by Harriet who showed her the old Goal house, Railway Depot and historic district. Andrea also visited the Rockdale Cares and Medically Fragile Children Facility. Thanks to all who showed us around.

At 12.30pm lunch was served at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. This historic Cistercian monastery can be traced all the way back through time to 1944 and houses around 40 Trappist monks who come here to live a more spiritual lifestyle. To dedicate themselves to their cause they have restricted themselves to one hour per week of television and unlimited internet access. To finance the monastery they run a number of businesses from this site including a popular retreat for people and groups in search of peace, quiet and contemplation, a bonsai nursery, a ‘green’ burial ground (eco friendly), a stained glass manufactory and a bakery which produces some heavenly fudge! The meatloaf was pretty good too.

After lunch and the tour of the Monastery Steve and Allison went to update the blog whilst Andrea, Roy and Garth saddled up and rode off into the sunset (for an hour or two) at Linda’s Riding School.

After meeting up again at 5pm the team requested that rather than go back with their respective foster parents to rush around getting ready for the evening meal, they should be allowed to sample the delights of Conyers and relax in the sunshine. Our request was granted and the feeling of freedom rushed through our bodies as we rushed towards the nearest bar and immediately ordered a round of Tequilas on the rocks. Three or four rounds later we were happy in the haze of a drunken hour, pleasantly soaking up the beautiful, early evening ambiance of the Old Town.

Our hosts picked us up at 6.30 and led us to a wonderful art gallery which was opened up especially for us. We were then led just across the street where we were treated to a Mediterranean style restaurant run by an Asian fellow. Here we were introduced to a young man named Cory Ruth who was raising funds for his campaign to run for US Congress. Not quite sure what his policies were but he seemed a pleasant enough chap!

Onwards to a local bar saw the team slam a few more Tequila’s (as the freight trains thundered by horns honking) before receiving the news that they had to be on the road wheels turning by 6am the following morning. Deep joy!

Photo’s to follow

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Carpets, Guns, BBQ and Magic

Tuesday 11th May

Our final morning in Dalton saw us visit a factory that this city is famed for, who ever thought that carpet manufacturing could be so interesting? We were given a guided tour by Howard who has a Phd in Chemical engineering and has worked at the factory for 25 years. His knowledge of the carpet manufacturing process was second to none and he wasted no time at all in passing this on to the team during the tour. Andrea slipped away early to go and visit the North Star Educational and Therapeutic Service and was given a guided tour by Debbie Cook. This service provides education for children from kindergarten to 12th grade who have severe disabilities and behaviour problems and although it aims to be a short term treatment facility the students often end up staying for long periods as it is the most suitable placement for them. This was a fantastic opportunity for Andrea to exchange information about therapeutic interventions and Autism, she even managed to get involved and help resolve a (bad - Ed) behaviour incident. It seems that even the most challenging children like the sound of the English accent! Whilst all this was going on Roy took the opportunity to coach soccer skills to a group of young girls from Dalton High School.

Lunch time saw us once again deliver our presentation, this time to around 90 members of the Dalton Rotary Club where Steve managed to strike up a bet with an over confident Mark Marlowe.

Mark seems to think that the USA will beat England in the Football (soccer to our American friends) World cup on 12th June. The gauntlet was thrown down and the looser will donate $100 to Polio Plus.

We once again hit the road and headed back along the busy interstates that weave their way through Atlanta sometimes 8 lanes wide in both directions at the pace of a snail. We met Doug the USA team leader at Conyers, Rockdale County and he whisked us away to a law enforcement firing range where the team got the chance to fire a huge range of weapons including Swat team M16s, 12 gauge shot guns and a Colt 44 magnum the most powerful hand gun in the world which could blow your head clean off! We also had about as much fun posing for photos as we did shooting! So you you’ve got to ask yourself one question, “Do you feel lucky? Well do ya, Punk?!”


Joking aside for a moment, we (the team) felt it was important to mention a painful event which occurred last Saturday here in this town of Conyers. A young police officer was shot and killed in the line of duty. The funeral is today (Wednesday) and the town and fellow police officers turned out to honour and pay their respects to him and his family. This brought home to us just how dangerous and deadly those weapons we were ‘playing’ with yesterday are and we would like to offer our condolences during this sad time.

After our afternoon activities we headed to a magnificent house and a wonderful BBQ (Southern style).

We were once again treated to a fantastic reception and met many lovely people. Fellow Georgian GSE team members Doug, Melissa and her husband James were there...

......and guess who else? That’s right! Chris.

We had a good chat, some more magic tricks were displayed (move over Paul Daniels) and we discussed what we could expect and enjoy doing in Atlanta on Friday – our last day! Sob sob.

Finally, Doug whisked us off and we met our respective host families in Conyers and eventually drew the line on a very busy but fulfilling day.

By Steve and Allison

Carpet City, Burning Buildings and Bitzi's BBQ

Monday 10th May

The team were once again donning their presentation regalia for the morning meeting of Carpet City Rotary club.

From where we were taken around the local fire station and met the staff and fire fighters that serve the city. This was to be an exciting morning as Steve was to be taking part in one of the fire departments training exercises.

We were taken to a different location owned by the City of Dalton Fire Service in which they have facilities including building to simulate building fires and rescuing people who maybe hanging off the side of a structure, both demonstrations we were going to see today.

Steve got suited up in his protective clothing and was ready to fight fires UK style! Steve did his employers proud and managed to put the fire out swiftly and safely, it was poetry in motion.

From here the team travelled to Dalton High School for lunch with the rest of pupils followed by a tour of the school facilities. However after lunch, Steve returned back to the fire station as his afternoon was to be spent ‘brainstorming’ and sharing ideas between UK and US departments.

After our tour of the school the remaining group members split off for some vocational visits, Gareth went to Dalton City Hall for a meeting with the Finance Director, Cindy Jackson. Allison was taken to Crown Archives and Hamilton House, Andrea attended one of the classes for children with learning difficulties and Roy was able to find out that the following day he could participate in some football coaching.

When our various tours we’re over we were taken back to our host families for a quick change of clothes as the weather had turned a little cooler and wetter and the plan had been to have an outside BBQ at Stuart & Bitzi’s McFarland’s house.

There were over 60 guests expected and by the time many of them had arrived (including ourselves) the rain had stopped and we were able to take our food outside and dine al’ fresco with our Southern supper!

One highlight of the evening was a surprise visit from local cowboy and Georgia Power employee Waylon. He rode up to the house with two extra horses for any other potential cow girls and boys to have a canter around the lawn.

Stuart and Bitzi were fantastic hosts and really pulled out all the stops for everyone. We left that evening having had a good night. However because of the rain, the McFarlands cream carpet was left several shades darker than when we started, perhaps it could be a new style for the Carpet Capital of the World to embrace.

By Gareth
Photo's to follow

Mothers Day then on to Dalton

Sunday 9th May

Mothers Day in the USA saw team have a relaxing start to the morning before all but two of them headed off to the ‘Cracker Barrel’ for brunch. Unfortunately the rest of Georgia had the same plans for their ‘Moms’ and all of the local eateries were jam packed to the rafters! Where to go now? A local Waffle House of course where Gareth enjoyed and the res endured breakfast . Meanwhile Steve ‘Took one for the team’ this morning and missed out on the greasy artery clogging delights, choosing instead to grab the opportunity to update the blog whilst the valuable and rare opportunity of wifi access and free time afforded itself. On the other side of town, Andrea tucked into a healthy home cooked omelette courtesy of Capt Mike and Major Indira who were wise to the fact that every eating establishment would be full.

The team then settled down for a four hour drive to Dalton ‘The Carpet Capital of the World’, stopping off half way at our favourite healthy eating establishment ‘The Varsity’ where ex District Governor Gary More kindly introduced us to Atlanta’s finest restaurant. Here we met Stuart and Bitsy from the Dalton Rotary Club who kindly chaperoned us to our destination at the foothills of the mountains.

We were met at Bitsy’s house by Bill who is a local historian of the Civil War and a keen metal detector enthusiast. He took us hiking in the mountains and showed us where the Confederate Army held back the Yankee soldiers of William T Sherman who were trying to invade Georgia. Bill showed us his collection of bullets, buttons and other military memorabilia left over from the war which he had discovered in these hills.

Andrea poses as a Confederate Soldier

That evening the team split up once again and had dinner with their individual hosting families before turning in early in preparation for a breakfast club presentation the next day.

More Photo's to follow