Sunday, 29 March 2009

Earth Hour 2009

We're a free-wheeling, environmentally conscious lot here in Berkeley, so of course something as bleeding heartedly liberal as Earth Hour is going to appeal to us. This is where lights are turned out all over the planet for one hour at 8.30pm local time. So the Sydney Opera House went dark, as did the Pyramids, the Olympic stadia in China, and the Eiffel Tower (but only for five minutes - don't get me started on the French).

Luckily for us we'd invited ourselves over to Loren and Tamara's for dinner (what were we going to do for an hour in the dark on our own?) We were polite enough to bring the food, and had a great evening chatting by candlelight. There was so much to talk about we managed two-and-a-half hours of planet saving! I won't calculate the damage caused by all the hot air that we generated...

Friends provide light in even the darkest places. Candles help too.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Home (not) on the range

We're back!  Hannah's air ticket was invalid due to her last-minute internship interview, but we managed to bluff our way through check in ("how do you think we got here?" etc.)  We were even served a free meal on the plane, a great luxury in this day and age.

So now we're home in California where the food portions are half the size, the temperature and humidity half as intense, and there's not a cowboy in sight (apart from me).

A few final piccies...

What obesity crisis?

Sadly nothing in my colour.

Hannah enjoys an ice cream from Amy's - the best in Texas (i.e. the world).

Friday, 27 March 2009

Austin space

We asserted our democratic rights today with a trip to the Capitol Building in Austin.  Being Texas, they decided to make it just a little bit bigger than the one in Washington DC.

The access to elected officials, and the process of government in general, is amazing compared to the UK.  Hannah and I could wander into viewing galleries, up to Senator's office doors, and all around the building.  Huge tour parties of school kids passed us by.  Politics has never been so welcoming.

After a tasty Mexican lunch we pottered along to the Texas State History Museum.  Here we discovered that everything Vince has ever claimed (that the US begged Texas to join the union, for example) turned out to be false.  But the museum did an excellent job of laying out the political, industrial, and human history of one of the greatest states in the country (I'll give you that, Vince...)

It was then on to Claire's first Austin happy hour, a long-planned event that drew people from as far away as Fort Worth.  The grey mist of the morning had totally disappeared and we sipped margaritas on a sun terrace on 6th Street.  The afternoon was slightly marred by Vince beating me at shuffleboard.  For the first time ever.  But as the rules of the Yorktown Cup state that competitions have to take place within the state boundary of California, I'm still keeping that trophy.

We'd planned a big country dancing finale for the trip, but having returned to the house to put Claire to bed we collapsed like the old people we now are and instead enjoyed a quiet meal and glass of wine.

Many thanks to Dick & Anne and Cheryl & Peter who have put us up on this trip, extra special thanks to Christine & Vince for arranging it all, and huge extra extra special thanks to Claire for being soooooo cute.  Yes you are!  Yes you are!!

God bless y'all.

Democracy here is very similar to the type they use up in DC, only bigger.

Annexed to the Union in 1846...

Judge Davies sits in the Texas Supreme Court, and declares all those silly laws since 1776 to be null and void (until a security guard asked him to move on).

The senate chamber.

Feeling a little bit Texan.

Claire wants to get her hands on mum's Bloody Mary (and it's only lunchtime!)

Where are you from again, Vince?

Later, at the shuffleboard table, he does his state proud.  For the first time ever.  Did I mention that before?

Ladies at happy hour.

She's excited!

If you order guacamole they make it at your table!  This one had orange juice in as well as lime.

Vince carefully pours his margarita into a manly glass.

Finally, some civilisation in these strange lands.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Texas weather

Well, the storm finally arrived y'all.  For us it was thunder echoing around the hills of Austin (somewhere in Texas has hills!) but further north they had hail.  Scary hail.

Rain is difficult to photograph.

This is the swimming pool, after it began to die down.

And this  is what was falling a few miles north at Dan and Marie's house (saints who looked after Vince through many a uni holiday).  Hopefully the weather stays fair for the rest of our time here...

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Down in Austin

Most of today was spent packing up and then driving down to Austin through hot, flat, dusty Texas countryside.  At one point there was a storm warning on the radio ("hail the size of nickels") but unfortunately it was several miles north of us.

Now we're happily lodged in Cheryl and Pete's house, Christine's friends from way back when she lived in Tulsa.  They have two Rottweilers who turn out to be friendly when bribed with dog biscuits.

Claire is less friendly, being unimpressed with several hours in the car.  To cheer her up we're about to try to find some of the live music that Austin is famous for.

The houses are big in Texas.

As are the pools.

And the dogs.

Big country

I was born in rural Somerset, so I feel far more at home in Fort Worth than I do in Dallas.  OK, we didn't have that many longhorn cattle or ranches the size of Belgium where I grew up but  you get the idea.

The Stockyards area of Fort Worth is where they used to load thousands of cattle onto trains for the long ride up to the slaughterhouses of Chicago.  It was still a big livestock market up until the mid-80s, but now it has been redeveloped as a heritage area and (of course!) shopping mall.  If you want a Stetson and boots, this is the place to get them.

They also boast "the world's only twice-daily cattle drive".  I'm not sure "drive" is the right word to describe the 20-odd longhorn cattle that ambled down the road with mildly concealed boredom.  But there were cowboys there, so I guess it counts.  After all that excitement we retired to Booger Red's for another of their giant margaritas...

This is cowboy country.  Or actors-pretending-to-be-cowboys country, at least.

Know your cattle drive!

The latest inductee into the cowboy hall of fame.

I had enough barbecue for lunch, thanks.

Hannah's gone all Texan.

A cowgirl!

They're God-fearing folks here.

Do not pass go.

Ahhhhh - stampede!

Big Jake the bull.  $5 to sit on him.

Two shady characters.  Maybe this really is the wild west!

Vince's mum and dad Dick and Anne (whose wonderful hospitality we've enjoyed all trip!) with their small margaritas.

Local decorations.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


Fort Worth is home to the Bureau of Engraving & Printing Western Currency Facility.  This is where half of all the paper money in the USA is made (the other half is made in Washington DC) and, like everywhere else, it's a tourist attraction.

Except that it's a very secure tourist attraction.  No phones, cameras, or other electronic paraphenalia are allowed inside, something they check with airport-style security.  They tell you a bit, but not exactly everything (like how they ship it out of the facility), about how money is printed.  A lot of the viewing areas were blacked out while they're designing the the new $100 bill.

The tour was made more interesting by the two MBA students (Hannah and Christine) who began asking questions about seignioragehyperinflation, and money supply.  All this education is making them so clever!  More worrying was the gift shop selling four $1 bills for $15.  This and the fact that the facility working 24 hours a day is able, in one year, to print only a third of the amout of the AIG bailout.  I'm sticking to British pounds.

As close as they let you get with cameras.  Is that the vault I can see...?

Vince is happy with his newly minted currency.

Mine seems to be defective - where's the Queen's head?

P.S. If you look at a US banknote and, on the side with the portrait on, over on the right a third of the way up it has a tiny FW then your note was printed here!  If not, it came from DC.  Cool, eh?


Nothing is Texas is fake.  In any other state where we had lunch would count as a Texas-themed barbecue place, but here it's real!  Chopped brisket in a bun with a side of barbecue baked beans was the order of the day, and filled the gap between Vince's dad's home-made pancakes for breakfast and the Mexican feast we had for dinner.  Weight gained so far this holiday: 7 lbs.

Fully integrated into Texas society.

This is where to get the good stuff.

OK, maybe it is a little fake.

Hannah tucks in.

The happy Texan family at lunch.

Christine and Claire.  Baby's growin' up!


Monday, 23 March 2009

Davieses do Dallas

I knew our Texas t-shirts would be trouble.  "Are you from Canada?" the lady in the gas station asked.  "Well I guess I'm not from Mexico," I replied.

Christine dropped us in downtown Dallas at lunchtime and after a quick sandwich we headed to Dealey Plaza, site of the John F. Kennedy's assassination.  It was very surreal, standing in a place that I'd seen so many times in photos and films.

The sixth floor of the book depository, from where the (alleged) shots were fired, is now a permanent museum about JFK.  I was expecting something a bit morbid, but the displays were an excellent historical record of the administration and an honest appraisal of its legacy.  It was a little soft focus (I seem to remember the US agreeing to withdraw missiles from Turkey in exchange for the ones disappearing from Cuba, rather than Kennedy bravely facing down the communist threat as reported here) but everything was dealt with, from botched police investigations to the many commissions, reports, and conspiracy theories that have come out since that fateful day.

After that we attempted to wander around, but Dallas is a working city with little time for a couple of tourists (even ones as obviously dressed as us).  We gawped at the tall reflective buildings like the out-of-towners we are and then caught the air-conditioned train home.  I think tomorrow we might get back to our country roots in Fort Worth.

Always the way.

Dealey Plaza - x marks the spot.

The book depository.

A shadowy figure on the grassy knoll.

Hannah and some big, shiny, oil-money buildings!