Tell me how much to pay!

Dear all,

I write to you from the Deering Banjos factory in San Diego, California. It is the birthplace of my banjo who is currently getting a bit of love and attention from people who know how to build, repair and maintain instruments as opposed to…me. The Deerings are a great family who’ve been very good to me so it has been a pleasure hanging out with them for the last few days, even taking in a visit to San Diego zoo.

The gigs here have been a real joy this time. Not that they weren’t last time, but whether it’s just I feel rather more relaxed because of no visa problems or whatever it is I feel like the gigs have been particularly good here and I am feeling really happy. Special thanks to everyone who has hosted a gig, put me up, fed me, given me a drink, ferried me around and come to a gig (or any combination of the above). To bring you up to speed:

Soquel – what a cracker of a first gig! Lovely audience and great to get a jam in there with the bluegrass trio who opened the show
Modesto – one from last time and again it was a belter with lovely people and not remotely spoiled by the mosquito…Cindy has also been a mighty star I should add and even took me to see beautiful Yosemite
Occidental – a far out place but a lovely arts center lurks therein and the audience here were delightful
Berkeley – Sally is a wonder! This was her legendary house concert and once again it was brilliant. Sally’s ongoing support in this country has been well beyond the call of duty to put it mildly
Willits – a cracking little pub and appreciative people
Arcata – stunning scenery and a superb gig
Nevada City – a long if utterly spectacularly beautiful drive (see below) but my word was it worth it. Possibly the pick of the tour this one – lively and wonderful!

Davis – cracking house concert this one and some lovely conversation!
San Diego – after a flight that was an hour late (WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?!) and the most enormous portion of food I have ever been served came a rather lovely gig to round off the tour. JT is another person who goes far beyond the call of duty!

And so it’s onto the Midwest Banjo Camp to teach alongside some of the top American banjo players…exciting stuff. The US might make it bloody difficult for me to get here but it is pretty great once I manage it!

Like all countries, the US has its good and bad sides. As it’s me I thought I’d focus on a little rant – sales tax. Now in the UK, whatever’s its faults, when you see an item on the shelf and it says £5.67 (no idea why I chose that price) you know that your items costs £5.67 don’t you? You head to the till, they scan it, they tell you it’s £5.67 then you scramble in your pocket to see if you have change, see you have absolutely loads and can’t be bothered to count it then give them a tenner and accumulate more change. That’s usually the procedure isn’t it? Well here it’s different. Here, tax is added. So you look at the price, it says $5.67 and you head to the till. Then they say it’s actually $7.86. You say in the most polite non-confrontational way you can manage that it said $5.67 on the label but they tell you that’s without tax. Without tax. So in order to know exactly how much you’re going to pay you have to guess how much the tax is going to be and here’s the nub – apparently it varies everywhere as well! I mean for god’s sake, I don’t go into a shop to play ‘guess the cost of my item’. That’s normally how it works! While we’re at it, the same goes for petrol stations. Again, in the UK it’s dead easy. You head to the pump, fill your car, swear at how much petrol is under your breath then pop in and pretend you don’t mind how much it is and pay it. In the US…you locate your pump, go into the shop and guess how much you’re going to spend on petrol. Then you go back to the car, fill up and however much you’re wrong by you can go in and claim the change or pay for more. The experience of finding out how this system worked was somewhat painful. Don’t attempt to fill your car first if a policeman is standing by…