Saturday, 18 November 2017

Texas Tea

Sometimes I forget that the USA is actually 50 countries smooshed together, but I was reminded of it today from both ends of the spectrum.  At one extreme, I received an email from the naked hot springs Hannah and I visited many years ago.  Goodness knows when I wrote down my email address for them - where would I have been carrying a pen?  Anyway, the owner was advertising his new book: Psychedelic Medicine: The Healing Powers of LSD which, among other things, explores 'the intersections of politics, science, and psychedelics...and the efforts to restore psychedelic therapies'.

Only in Northern California, I chuckled to myself, fondly remembering the fun times we had there.  At least, those times I can recall, when I wasn't hallucinating significantly, having taken magic mushrooms to shift a mild headache.

At the other end of the scale was our visit to the brand-spanking-new Weiss Energy Hall at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  Energy is, of course, ever more important, with an expanding population and the ravages of climate change, so it's a good time to open a fully updated, enlarged version of this gallery.  What new and alternative technologies are out there?  What can we do to safeguard our planet?  What does the future look like?

Well, if you're standing in Houston, the future looks black, sticky, and you spell it with three letters.

Even Hannah - yes, even Hannah - thought the whole thing was a little weighted towards oil, in the sense that a supertanker of crude is a little weighted towards oil.  There were fabulous displays on drilling technology, 15-ft-high videos showing Precambrian animals turning into barrels of black gold, and touch-screens on hydrocarbons to keep even the most hyperactive 4-yr-old occupied.

The highlight was certainly the motion ride that took you deep into a dried-up well.  "Nothing down here but broken drill bits and disappointment," complained our deeply-Texan robot guide before showing how fracking can solve the world's energy problems.

There was a small display about imaginary alternatives like solar or geothermal or fusion, but it didn't have cool graphics or move or talk, so we skipped that part.

As a family up to our necks in oil I can only applaud Houston's pride in the stuff that built - and continues to build - the city, and then imagine what the demonstrations would look like if the California Academy of Sciences opened a similar display in Golden Gate Park.  Conversely, I doubt that Dr Miller will be selling many psychedelic healing books down in this part of the world.  We're too busy drilling so the rest of y'all can fill up y'all's cars to drive to y'all's protests.

Yes, Texas has a different perspective on reality.  So does California - hallucinogens vs. hydrocarbons, if you will.  Corralling these and the 48 other realities into one whole is almost too much for the brain - certainly the brains of anyone in government.  So where do we go from here?

I can tell you where I went.  I went for barbecue.

One of the fun craft activities on the members' preview night.

Roughnecks on the rig.

Who knew hydrocarbons were so cool?

Under the drill.

A fracking good time on the motion ride.

The pipeline display!  Hannah's at home, and thankfully Chevron's never leak.



Who put those ugly turbines near that beautiful rig?

Thanks, Chevron.

I found this scrawled on the toilet wall.  So, you know, balance.

Here are some things that were too lazy to become oil!

The mother country.

Hottest couple in Houston.

Can you win the wildcatter lottery?  Hannah did, in the museum and in life.

Exploring the ocean depths.  Who puts oil in such annoying places?

Reflecting on hydrocarbon molecules.

The list of generous sponsors!  No strings attached.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Gone to the dogs

When Dante descended into his Inferno he passed through nine circles before meeting Satan.  Had he kept going down, he'd have entered the secret tenth circle of hell known as PAW Patrol Live!

PAW Patrol is a children's animated entertainment in which a 10-yr-old called Ryder commands a number of talking puppies that have been augmented with mechanised gear and perpetrate rescues, usually of recurring characters such as Mayor Goodway and her pet chicken Chickaletta or Cap'n Turbot and his friendly walrus Wally.  It's made in Canada, but that's no excuse.

PAW Patrol Live! brings this central conceit to the stage, each dog rendered larger-than-life by an actor who is sort-of riding them.  The plot, though I use that word loosely, is: after rescuing Chickaletta from the top of a pile of pumpkins on a train track the puppies are tasked with winning a race around their hometown of Adventure Bay (sorry: spoilers).  The effect is dizzying and disorientating, like medieval torture.

I wouldn't claim to be the target audience for this kind of thing.  That said, the classics of children's entertainment are defined by a cheeky wink to the parents, an understanding that many watching are suffering through this for the sake of their little ones.  Bagpuss has the genius folk stylings of Gabriel and Madeleine, The Clangers spent a lot of their time swearing, and I worry that I use Pete as an excuse to watch Danger Mouse, Shaun The Sheep, and Hey Duggee.  Hell, even Peppa Pig throws you a couple of sly jokes per episode.

There's none of that in PAW Patrol, which is so cringingly wholesome that I actually left the theatre a worse person to compensate.  While sitting there, in the dark, I tried to determine if there was some deeper meaning to the madness.  Is this an allegory of our exploitation of animals?  An analysis of modern feudalism?  An elegy for the demise of Marxism at the hands of technology?

Surprisingly, my project proved fruitless, mainly because I was distracted by a thousand screaming children loving every minute.  Pete stated that PAW Patrol Live! was the best thing that had ever happened to him in his life.  "The path to paradise begins in hell," said Dante, but did his path ever take him through PAW Patrol Live?  It did not.

Someone is excited (and pleased with the free pompom we got on entry).

Welcome to the cheap seats.

It begins.

The Chickaletta Cheerleaders showed up to do...something.

You'll believe a dog can fly.  But probably not.

Surely a metaphor for something!?

Did any of the crazily happy fans care for the pain of the man in row M, seat 3?  What do you think.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Due South

Like Texas, Canada is a country loosely connected to the United States, so it was a pleasure to welcome Jane here for her holiday from Vancouver.  Unfortunately she brought the Canadian weather with her.  It's been freezing, and by freezing I mean it was actually pleasant to drink coffee sitting outside.

Jane was here for a week, which meant we packed in the cultural excursions, historical outings, book shops, barbecue meals and breweries.  Lots of breweries.  On Thursday, thanks to a visit to Platypus Brewing, she managed to get into double figures of local beers sampled!  Impressive, but understandable given she's a subject of Her Majesty, like us.

Everywhere we went, locals seemed surprised but pleased that someone would choose to holiday in Houston, and the conversation would inevitably turn to how this city is a well-kept secret, and how hopefully it will remain that way to keep house and living prices down.  I didn't let on that the millions of tourists who will inevitably descend after reading my blog and/or talking to Jane will skew things economically.  Enjoy it while it lasts Houstonians.

Calamity Jane?  Not at all!  This was an accident-free Davies Tours International trip to George Historic Ranch.

They also have a sign that reads "Beware of alligators and snakes" but this one is more terrifying.

Just chilling on the porch during her holiday.

Things were a little more hectic at home, when Jane was roped into endless games of "diner" by Pete.

See?  Coffee outside without suffering from heatstroke.  How Canadian.

Want to view some cutting-edge contemporary art?  Because here in Houston we have everything.  I'm not sure what this actually is, but it's part of the everything we have!

Come back and see us again, Jane!  Here are six reasons to.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Fightin' Aggies

It's all about sport around here at the moment, as Vince and Christine flew down from Virginia and invited us to watch an American football game with them at their old university - Texas A&M.

Unlike Britain, college sport is the big thing over here, much more than cheering for your favourite professional, city-based team.  College stadiums are often the biggest, and A&M's football coach is the highest paid public employee in the state.  So the fans take this all very seriously.  And Vince and his parents are serious fans.

It's a short drive from Houston to College Station where the university is situated, and the weather decided to lay on its Texan best with 90F heat and 110% humidity.  I had a teacher who claimed that the British Empire was built on the fact that Englishmen could survive in any conditions, given our country's capricious climate, and this proved to be the case as the Americans among us disappeared for long stretches to recuperate in the stadium's air-conditioned depths.

The game wasn't very good, I'm told.  There was a lot of stopping and starting, although I believe this happens anyway, with the coach constantly shouting at his clueless players what they should be doing.  Basically like every rugby lesson I ever had at school.  A&M lost, which meant that the post-match drinking was to drown sorrows rather than celebrate.  When you're with the Muckers the cause might be different but the outcome remains comfortingly the same.

We thanked everyone for popping down to visit us in our great state, and suggested that if they wanted to see what winners look like they might want to relocate to Houston.  Let's go Astros!

The indoctrination begins.  Don't believe it kids - studying theology at St John's College, Durham, is the most guaranteed route to success.

If you get lost, look for the lady in the maroon shirt.

Here comes our team!  And by our team I mean their team.

There was also a lot of singing, of a far more polite variety than at an English football match.

A game's started somewhere down there, I think...

Now this was impressive: the A&M band at half time.  They were a lot more coordinated than the football team.

T for Texas!  All while playing their instruments and not bumping into each other!

A happy Aggie, pleased with the game or something else...?

Refueling next morning.

Some of these people are not Texans, but we let them appear in our photo anyway.

Friday, 3 November 2017

World Series Champions!

It's the greatest sporting event in the world, the two best teams on the planet battling for the ultimate trophy, with only bat and ball as the weapons.  Millions watch to see which among these titans will survive, and players grasp at the chance for immortality in a glorious shot, a stunning catch, an outstanding throw.

But enough about The Ashes.  The USA very kindly served up the light appetizer of baseball's World Series while we await the events Down Under to begin (Thursday Nov 23rd, Brisbane Cricket Ground).  And this time the games were actually interesting as our home team, the Houston Astros, were taking part.

Now, I'm not claiming cause-and-effect, but wherever we live, that team wins.  I went to two San Francisco Giants victory parades so I was quietly (or less-than-quietly) confident that we'd get to witness another.  And, indeed, the Astros won, in the seventh game out in Los Angeles, so we did.

They shut downtown Houston - and extended the parade route - as one million of us Texans turned out to cheer on the team that has delivered victory to H-town after a definitely less-than-good year of much waterlogging.  We spotted fans in their folding chairs six hours before the parade began as we dropped Hannah at work, and by the time the floats rolled by there were people lining every parking garage, bridge, and signpost.

It was great, a sea of blue and orange, the sort of outpouring of victorious happiness that only sport can induce.  Now imagine the party they're going to put on when England wins the cricket!

Excuse me!  Coming through!  Can I just get to the front...?

Boom!  Confetti.  Someone must be approaching.

If that's the size of the ball they used, no wonder they hit so many home runs.


And tubas.

The World Series trophy.  I've seen it before, thanks.

The fire department kindly transported all the players.  In a less-than-safe manner, I have to say.

Houston Strong, that's us!

And after it all finished, Coca Cola was there to hand out free cans.  Because it wasn't chaotic enough already.