Wednesday, 30 December 2009

You get a tan from standing in the English rain

The Hammonds live by the sea, so it would have been a waste not to visit the beach while we're staying with them. As the icy breeze from the English Channel cut us in two I thought "what does California have that we don't?"

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside.

Rebecca, wellies filled with freezing water, is supremely unbothered.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Up and away

This evening, strange lights appeared in the sky over Dorset and for a few moments this sleepy corner of England resembled a sweltering night in South East Asia, minus the sweltering, in what may become a new annual family ritual (if the police don't find out who did it).

Suspicious goings on in a dark field.

Hello hello, what's all this then?

Hot air (never in short supply when the Goodall family are together).

Away she goes!

Higher and higher.

Drifting away into the distance...and a date with air traffic control.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

It's all fun and games until...

Boxing Day, another interesting one in the annual Christmas calendar and a fine public holiday for all of us that live in the Commonwealth of Nations. It's a little like Black Friday but (obviously) far more refined.

For my family it means one thing - lunch at the Hollands, a nice long walk, and several board games in an attempt to prove (usually unsuccessfully) that the Davieses are the preeminent family of Frome.

This year Becky cooked a delicious meal that included smoked salmon mousse and Normandy chicken (a traditional British dish...) and we played Carcassonne and Perplex City. Hannah and I even won the second one!

Chef Bec does the hard work in the kitchen.

It's still the season of crackers, party hats, etc.

30 years ago, one of us was found in a bundle on the doorstep.

Mad cat Saffy.

Becky chooses carefully where to play her cloister tile. Could this rival Settlers in our board game affections?

Suitable for ages 2 to 102.

Friday, 25 December 2009

So this is Christmas

Christmas, like so much else, was actually invented in England. All those happy traditions - overindulgence, petty family squabbles - were once again on display as we enjoyed dinner at my parents.

The truth is we had a wonderful day, with church at Hannah's and then a dash across Salisbury Plain to Frome (missing the Queen's Speech - shock!) where the Smiths from across the road came to lunch. There was present opening (an 11-hour DVD boxset of cricket from my Mum), sherry, paper crowns...the photos below are to prove that we weren't lying.

Hannah and her presents.

Crackers - check. Silly hats - check...

A spot of horseraddish with the roast.

Kerry and Emily, after one sherry too many.

My parents, making me proud as usual.

Jack tries to avoid getting set on fire by the flaming pudding.

Evening entertainment - one hour down, ten to go :)

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Rain, dear

What could be more magical at Christmastime than going to see Santa? Going to see Santa and his reindeer, of course. With our curiosity well and truly piqued by the sign we saw yesterday we had no choice but to head down to Stewart's Garden Centre and get in on the action.

It was raining, of course, but we wrapped up warm and traipsed along the country paths of rural Dorset, passing thatched cottages and ancient hedgerows. Soon we were at our destination, happy to be back in the warm and dry.

We wandered around, looking at the array of glittering trees and tacky ornaments (maybe we'll revisit in the post-Christmas sale...) until a member of staff wandered up and told us that the place was shutting in 15 minutes. So much for our cup of tea in the adjacent cafe after sitting on Santa's knee.

In a slight panic we looked around until we found a sign to the grotto, and followed an arrow pointing to somewhere in the outdoor plant section. In we rushed to find...nothing! A metal enclosure surrounded a large straw-covered corner. But mystical Christmas animals? Nowhere. The stable was, quite literally, bare. And the cafe was shut.

The walk home was a bit colder and damper, a little less sparkly than the way there.

This way to fun.

Classic English scene (including rain).

Not real.

Not real.


If they're invisible they're even more dangerous.

These were as close as we got. Pretty exotic for the English countryside, mind...

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Grey Christmas

The British weather gave up on its arctic pretensions today and the natural order of things was restored: rain. We drove through downpours and puddles to Hannah's parents and then (because we're English) decided to go for a walk. We ended up...well, where else?

A couple of locals unimpressed with the weather.

And another.

This way to fun! Maybe tomorrow...

More like it! The rain looks nicer from inside, by a fire, with a cheeky half of cider in your hand.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Travel broadens the mind

San Francisco to London, 5371 miles, ten hours. London to Frome, 112 miles, TWENTY HOURS!

Yes, public transport in less developed countries is often unreliable. A brief synopsis of our journey from London: one hour waiting for luggage, 40 minutes waiting for a bus before being told it was cancelled, travelling across Heathrow airport by train, buying tickets for another bus that was cancelled, jumping on a bus to Bristol, spending eight hours on that (for a 2.5 hour journey), staying in a hotel overnight there, catching another bus this morning, meeting Mum and Dad, getting home and having a nice cup of tea.

To be fair to all transport operators, the snow was deep and crisp and even. And the ploughs and gritters got stuck in the same traffic jams as everyone else. 3000 people were stranded in their cars overnight, so I guess we were lucky. Then again, our journey was so long that we actually got chatting to another passenger. America has changed us...

Heathrow at Christmas. Pretty.

A British motorway. After 30 stationary minutes the bus driver got out and started chatting to other motorists.

Dinner time, 11.30pm.

Snug as a bug (finally).

Monday, 21 December 2009

On the ground

Hello from the impressive marble floor of London Heathrow. Watching the same bags go around and around on the carousel has a strangely hypnotic effect. We've been here for an hour and no sign of anything from SFO (for us or any of our travelling companions).

Our "welcome" to London from the pilot included a warning about the temperature (2C) and the precipitation (rain turning to snow). As we're making our way to Bath on public transport we shall see if the weather has the final say...

Hannah on board, searching for that elusive first G&T.

First class travel!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Tonight, we fly

In a few short hours we will be leaving baking California (where the weather is a little different than on the East Coast) and heading for England (where it's more similar). Clothes and Christmas presents have been packed into three suitcases - BA has a generous luggage allowance...when they're not striking. It also seemed like a good moment to clean the flat for the first time this semester.

Pack it in!

Hannah lets a particularly irksome fingerprint feel her wrath.

Voyage of discovery

Christine picked up free entry coupons to the Bay Area Discovery Museum in a charity auction, and because she's so kind (and they run at the end of December) we had a family outing there today. The amusement of calling Vince "Dad" will never grow old for me...

Unfortunately the real child on the trip was a little too young for some of the exhibits, but Claire did have a wonderful time in the big soft play jungle and swamp areas. Having mastered walking in the last couple of months she was a little perturbed at the strange squishy water-bed/lily pond that we kept encouraging her to play on. In the end the best discovery was the nice, cheap restaurant in Sausalito where we had lunch.

Mother and toddler playtime.

One little speckled frog, sat on a speckled log...

This is more fun.

Hannah decides she has to get in on the act.

As does Vince. "Daddy, this is MINE!"

Cave pixie.

Leopard shark, Hannah.

The Muckers inside the aquarium. They escaped.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Wow (in 3D)

What's the greatest film ever made? Citizen Kane? Gone With The Wind? The answer is obviously Aliens. This 1986 masterpiece from James Cameron is the simple and heartwarming story of a woman, her adopted daughter, and the countless hordes of nightmarish creatures that want to burst out of their stomachs.

But the uber-director might have outdone himself with the $230m, 12-years-in-the-making epic that is Avatar, released today.

Sagy, a fellow Cameron aficionado, and I headed down to our local multiplex where (after arriving an hour early to queue) we settled into our seats for the full IMAX 3D experience, complete with funny glasses.

And what an experience it was! The aliens are the good guys this time and the bioluminescent wonderland of the moon on which they live was incredible. Floating mountains, glowing flowers, flying dragon was all perfect! Sagy and I both left speechless. I'm going again with Hannah tomorrow.

Me and a big, blue, friendly alien.

The end of the line.

Sagy and me, in 3D!