Monday, 30 November 2009

Surprise reprise

Thank you Dana :)

More on her blog.

Tour #17

Today it was a trip (like Jelly Belly) that I never mind repeating - Marin County and the Golden Gate Bridge. We took in the trees of Muir Woods, the ocean views of Muir Beach Overlook, the stunning engineering of the bridge, and the last-minute Black Friday bargains of Emeryville (we left Dad to nap in the motel for that one). It was all polished off with a fine dinner at the Pyramid Brewery.

And that's it! Dad and Em return home tomorrow, Premium Economy via Virgin Atlantic. Their stay has flown by, with a jaunt to Vegas, celebrating Thanksgiving, and lots of food. Dad already has his next stay booked for May, Emily might be allowed back for her 40th...

Lining up for a ranger talk.

The apples haven't fallen far from the tree.

Picnic by the Pacific.

Sunlight and ocean.

Feat of engineering.

The shadow of the bridge.

One for the road!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Long in the tooth

What is the true measure of maturity? Getting married? Having your own children? Putting your parents into an old people's home? (Not long now, Mum and Dad...)

Or maybe your little sister turning 30! Thirty!!

It was on this day in 1979 that, at the age of three, I was rudely awakened and quickly dressed in my favourite red weatherproof jumpsuit, hustled into my Dad's Mini, and we all raced to the hospital. We left Mum there, in the 'Geriatric Maternity' ward - that's the truth - and drove home through the night. The wind had a biting chill to it, and a wolf howled. I knew my world would change forever.

And here Emily Jane Davies is, thirty years later, still haunting me even though I've moved a continent away! Her big birthday started with pancakes cooked by Hannah and continued with a trip into SF for a Segway tour with Dad. Hannah and I rendezvoused with them as they were given 'free time' to race up and down one of the piers. The day finished, as all the best do, at The Cheesecake Factory.

So happy birthday Em! Thank you for the best 30 years of my life (I don't remember much from the first three, so they can't have been that great), from a very proud brother.

Birthday breakfast.

Dad negotiates SF public transport. There's a reason he only has to pay senior rate...


Birthday chocolates in Ghirardelli.

Ticket for the tour.

Here they come!

Speeding by.

A natural.

Two generations.


The celebrations continue with drinks and cheesecake.

And finish outside Macy's Christmas window. You're never too old for some things.

Friday, 27 November 2009

North and south

The party split today. Hannah and Em went in search of Black Friday bargains (although they considered a 4am start a little too crazy) and Dad and I caught a ride with Jack, Amanda and the Muckers up to the valleys of Napa, Sonoma, and Russian River.

Our first stop was a fun tour of Pride, then (after a pause for - what else? - fish and chips) it was on to Sunce and then Chateau St Jean before washing everything down with some Zinfandels from Cline. The Brits were, shockingly, somewhat outclassed in the drinking department by the Americans. What happened? But Dad picked up a few bottles to sneak back into the UK.

The sun shone (it rained on the shoppers...)

Lining them up.

Crossing the Sonoma/Napa line that runs down the middle of Pride Winery. Convenient for tax purposes...

In the cave.

One day son, all this will be yours.

Jack's happy.

And this is why! Just like home. Except for the Ranch Dressing.

Definitely over your luggage allowance.

Wine making in California. Nice.

Only one person in this picture is sober enough to drive.


Thursday, 26 November 2009

Letters from the Pilgrims

Last year the Thanksgiving meal was preceded by Vince explaining what it was all about. This year I joined him for the task, reading out some differing accounts we found of two brothers who undertook that first crossing on the Mayflower...
Dear Mother,
The adventure on which we are about to embark is wonderful. After years of oppression and mistreatment, we put our lives in God's hands to find a land to call our own. The monarchy has become unbearable, and our religion and faith will lead us as the Lord intends.
I visited our ship today, the one that will lead us to religious freedom and prosperity, and it is magnificent. The Mayflower is remarkable. While merely a cargo ship, you can feel the Lord's grace emanating from within, and it will surely be the vessel that leads us to providence.
God Bless You,
You loving son, Lord William of Budweiser

Dear Mum,
I hate travel. But apparently we have to leave because of the king, blah blah. So we’ve bought an old ship called the Bluebell or something, and now we have to travel to Southampton to get on board, and my luggage allowance is only two tabards and a codpiece.
They tell me that there’s a New World out there, but what’s wrong with the old one? Are they going to have the same familiar comforts we enjoy here – fish and chips, afternoon tea, and Tuberculosis? And it’s going to take us two months to get there! There’s only so much shuffleboard you can enjoy.
Hopefully it won’t rain as much there.
Your loving Son

Dearest Mother,
The trip has been long and difficult, but surely it is merely God testing our resolve and mettle. We shall not be overcome by the insignificant trials of hunger and sickness. Surely the iron fist of the evil throne is horribly worse. Though the sharing of accommodations has been difficult, the freedom that will ring at the conclusion of our journey will be comfort enough.
On aside, we've been having some discussions on how we shall govern our new home. One of our first discussions was the impact of language in our society. We've decide to rid ourselves of all extraneous 'U's, as the obviously serve no purpose. Also, just to demonstrate our contempt, we shall favor the right side rather than the left. That will show them!!
Your dearest son, Lord Will

Dear Mum,
I hate the sea. The weather has been terrible – when it hasn’t been raining there’s been no wind. I’m sure we’ll run into pirates before long, if a sea monster doesn’t finish us off first. And the tea has been so bad that I’ve been tempted to throw it overboard!
Don’t get me started on the accommodation. It’s three to a hammock on a good night, and there’s a rumour that at least one has bedbugs. The food? There’s only so much weevil-filled-bread that you can stomach. If we eventually find land I hope to see no weevil, hear no weevil, and speak no weevil.
Anyway, must go because it’s my turn to be sick again.
Your loving Son

Dear Mom,
What's up? We've found it!!! Home, at last!! We might have missed Jamestown, where we intended to land, but that was obviously God's will.
The land here is raw and rough. Upon hitting land, we were all issued a firearm to hunt for food, defend ourselves from the wild, and to generally just look cool. We've taken to shooting at rocks for entertainment. It's great fun.
You can't believe the freedoms we've begun to enjoy. Just the other day, I saw Mr. Standish walking around with his top button on done. Amazing that something so scandalous on the old island is so welcome here. And would you believe that the women were allowed to eat first? I guess not everything over here is perfect.
Your Boy, Bill

Dear Mum,
I hate the winter. The rain was pretty bad, but then the snow came along. Apparently the trip organiser forgot that we needed to grow stuff to eat and so left all the farmers behind. But that doesn’t matter, as the sun has been out so little that nothing would grow anyway.
But hey, now we have freedom of speech! Mainly because there’s no one around here to talk to. We have bumped into some locals, but there must be something wrong with them because they don’t speak English! Mind you, I expect in a few years we won’t be speaking English any more. Or, at least, it will be some strange version where we’ve mixed up words and say them in a funny accent.
Y’all take care now,
Your loving Son

Hey Ma, how's it hangin'?
We ran into some Indians the other day. It was fantastic. They brought great food, and we've already made an agreement that they'll be working for us for free. We gave them a bracelet, or something.
Dinner the other night was lights out. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce in an odd cylindrical shape. It was fantastic. Nothing like this ever existed back on the island. Before hand, we allowed the kids to play the old soccer game from back home with the Indians. Unfortunately, the cold weather forced the ball into a misshapen mess. We managed though...with a few adjustments.
Well, I'm so stuffed at the moment, I can barely roll over. But the eggnog looks delicious. That's a long story on how that came about, but Uncle Billy is already passed out as a result of the stuff. I better get to bed, as we're waking up early tomorrow - I hear tomorrow is a very special day of hunting. There's a Wal-Mart opening up down the street that we're very excited about.

Dear Mum,
I hate turkey. I suppose I shouldn’t complain – the locals have finally brought us some food. They brought us some beer too, but it tasted just like water. It’s a relief that they’re friendly, there had been talk of introducing a crazy law that allowed us all to carry guns to protect ourselves. Who knows what’ll happen if that ever gets passed.
Some people wanted to challenge the natives to a game of football, but with the language barrier it was hard to explain the rules. They kept picking the ball up, throwing it…it was chaos. I can’t imagine what they might do to cricket.
All the usual diseases made their seasonal appearance. After the dysentery it was almost a relief to get Syphilis. Either way, all this is very bad for the constitution.
There’s already talk of turning this into some kind of yearly tradition, but we’re such an upstanding moral bunch that eating and drinking until you can’t move will never catch on.
Until next year,
Your loving Son

With a joyful heart

Thanksgiving came around again! As with last year, the American minority in the village put together another superb day of celebration. We remembered those first starving pilgrims by gorging ourselves on appetizers at our flat, main courses at Christine and Vince's, and desserts at Amanda and Jack's.

Then, in our own yearly tradition, we decamped to Elad and Daphny's for a Rock Band session. Whereas last year involved limping through some very easy numbers, this time around we were able to form as many super groups of expert-level drummers, bassists, guitarists, and (sometimes) singers as there were songs to play. There might be video evidence of Hannah and Amanda's reprise of Roxanne. Watch this space...

A friendly hello.

This was before lunch.

An Anglo-Israeli table at Vince and Christine's.

Vince gets to work.

Jack mixes it up.

And it's all back to Elad and Daphny's to rock out.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Jingoism at its best

The European Business Club isn't one you hear too much about, but tonight they pulled out all the stops to organise one of the best Haas events we've been to!

The evening was a showcase of Old World food, wine, and racial stereotyping. Delicacies were on offer from all over Europe (including tea, crumpets, and beer from good old Britain) and we finished with a Euro-themed 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' quiz. My team lost, but Hannah's won so I even got a share of (real, French) Champagne.

It's true! The tax rate inside the event was much higher than outside.

The incoming president greets us.

Britain put in a manful effort...

...but the French table proved more popular. Can't think why.

Europe: still overpopulated.

The closest Vince may ever get to visiting.

Quiz time! Final answer: Belgium.

Three winners: Hannah, Heather, Renita.

Saturday, 21 November 2009


They've been before, but it's always good to reacquaint yourself with your surroundings. So we took Dad and Em to the seaside then on to the retail Mecca that is Target. The walk tired them out, but after a restorative cup of tea (and a nap) they were ready for a trip to that other centre of Albany, the Hotsy Totsy.

Dad and daughters.

Ascending to consumer heaven.

A quick cup of tea, then time for beer.

Sibling-in-law rivalry.

Two out, two in

Our futon isn't even cold and two more guests have arrived!

John and Laura are safe in the UK, enjoying the winter, and Dad and Em touched down yesterday. They've already had five days in Boston so are more than prepared to burst into the Californian experience.

That experience started, as all should, with a breakfast trip to the Gilman Grill. Now they're sat with a cup of tea, planning the campaign. Jelly Belly?

New North Face importing business.

Go to work on an egg.

Or pancakes and bacon swimming in syrup.

Oooooooooh yes! Bring on the Hob Nobs.