Sunday, 30 May 2010

The grape outdoors

This weekend we went camping on a vineyard, with the wine maker, and got to drink lots of his wines too (I don't mean to sound smug...but I do feel a little smug). Sean is the wine maker for Clos de Bois, and being from New Zealand is part of Dan and Fiona's Kiwi mafia contacts. Together with Sean's family and several other wine friends (who brought various wine's they'd made for La Crema and Jordan wineries) we all packed up and headed off to a secluded field in the Clos de Bois vineyard, down by the Russian River that runs through Healdsburg.

It was your usual English-style camping weekend, except without rain, mosquitoes, and family in-fighting. Late on Saturday night I lay in a field, looking up at the stars, feeling I'd indulged perhaps a little too much, but very happy with life.

Things got even better on Sunday with the arrival of Ronald from South Africa. With so many ex-colonies represented a game of cricket spontaneously broke out (lucky that I'd brought the cricket bat then!) I felt that my fielding - i.e. running around in the long grass chasing the ball - was my standout skill. Hannah and Fiona watched from the shade of the trees, drinking Pimms and clapping politely.

The campsite.

And the view.

Planning the layout. Most important question: where to put the barbecue.

Chez Davies.

Fiona and Hannah, smiling the smiles of no-more-homework.

Down by the Russian River.

Turkey, basting, men.

While Fiona takes care of other needs.

Cheers from a happy Hannah.

Vines in the late afternoon sun.

The dining room. We really need to upgrade our camping equipment to keep up.

My picture of the night sky. It seemed much more impressive at the time...

Sunday morning, heading down to the river.

Hannah braves the depths.

What's this? A typical Sunday afternoon match.

Dan demonstrates the Kiwi style - smash it with no finesse.

With an English batsman at the crease, it becomes a game of blocking and attrition. True excitement for the cricket purist.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Honourable discharge

Following the all things must pass theme of my blog at the moment, today saw the final day that Major Vince Mucker had to report to his current perilous command of Assistant Professor of Military Science at the University of Santa Clara. He has done well there, winning the award for best recruiting officer in the world (i.e. the USA) and getting another nice medal for meritorious service. Strangely he seemed to want to get away from Santa Clara quicker than from Iraq...

A crowd of us met up at the Pyramid Brewery to toast his new lifestyle, which includes a stint learning Russian in Monterey, a couple of years abroad, an army-sponsored masters degree in the US and then a posting to Moscow (or possibly Turkmenistan) as a high-level military diplomat.

Vince Mucker and diplomacy - words you don't often see written that close together. But when you live with Christine and Claire I guess these skills become second nature. I have no doubt that Russo-American relations will soon be in very good hands. Either that or we'll all be incinerated in nuclear armageddon. Probably stemming from an argument about the Chicago Cubs' chances of ever winning a World Series.

Retired from teaching, but always happy to give a lecture.

One of these two will soon be defining US foreign policy.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

And another one gone

It's thinning out around here. Today we waved a sad goodbye to Daphny. She arrived late to the party (together with dog Noozy) and is now heading back to Israel for a few months to write a tv series about fostering. I'm looking for big bucks as a story consultant.

Daphny's immediate future is very bright, having landed places to study script writing at AFI in Los Angeles, and Columbia and NYU in New York city. The current bets are on New York, and if that's right she'll be flying straight from sunny Tel Aviv to NYC in September.

In her time here Daphny has wowed all comers with her baking skills, in-between steady showbiz work from Israel. She has also excelled at Rock Band and sushi eating - both of which we celebrated last night with a trip to Tataki in SF followed by a rock session that went on way past my bedtime.

Happy travels!

A long time ago, at a freezing birthday party.

Friday, 21 May 2010

First in, first out

A while ago Hannah met an American girl with a soft Southern accent and the homely ways to match. After knowing her for all of five minutes she asked "could you help me move my furniture into my apartment?"

Now, years on (it seems) Amanda is moving out, off to Monterey to join her husband Jack as a military spouse, albeit one who also works as a consultant at Accenture. Once again my furniture moving duties were called for, although this time there were a lot more of us to do the labour. Building a strong network - what business school is all about!

There will be lots of these spotted around the village in the next few weeks...

Wow! This time Jack and Amanda actually lift some of their furniture themselves! (And is Amanda really that small?)

The workers take a break.

If I stay here, maybe I'll get a free trip to Monterey.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Home alone

Wow, it's kind of quiet around here.

Yesterday Hannah's parents jumped on a plane and were England-bound through ash and strikes. Apparently there was very little food on board, but apart from that they made it. It was great to see them, and their stay shockingly included some bits of SF we had never seen before! With all the political instability in our home country,we know they'll be back soon.

Rubbing a lion (brings good luck).

We obviously haven't been feeding Mum well enough.

Spot the tourists.

Later, in the aptly-named Buena Vista park in Haight-Ashbury.

Short breather at the top.

And the fog rolls in through the Golden Gate.

Holidays over! Back to my usual daily activities...

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Under the weather

Ash clouds and strikes unfortunately could not force my parents to extend their stay with us. Today, after a wander around Golden Gate Park and Haight-Ashbury, I dropped them off at SFO. Hopefully they've taken the English weather with them too. Come back with sunshine soon!

Outside the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers.

Sheltering under a convenient fern.

Sheltering under a convenient umbrella.

New exhibits at the Cal Academy of Science.

Dad is shocked at the discrimination against ice skaters.

At the People's Cafe in Haight-Ashbury, remembering days as a 60's revolutionary.

In the airport queue, shortly before waving goodbye :( But they did get to fly World Traveler Plus.

Meanwhile, on the other side of San Francisco...

Yep, rain here too.

Nice weather for ducks.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Mission impossible

New vistas of San Francisco opened before us today as we visited the Mission and Castro districts. These are to the south of the city, away from our usual safe haunts of Union Square (Macy's, Tiffany's, The Cheesecake Factory, etc.) The Mission is famous for its thriving public art community, and Castro for being the gay capital of the world!

First off, it was the 99th Bay to Breakers race - a sort of fun run where most people are drunk and in costume. Or naked. We shared our BART carriage with a hot dog, his friend a bottle of ketchup, and several girls in their underwear.

Having breathlessly arrived, both Districts lived up to expectations. Hannah's Dad fully embraced 'street culture' by photographing everyone he met, while the rest of us followed twenty paces behind. We looked around Mission Dolores, the oldest building in SF (one of the only survivors of the 1906 quake) and famous for it's appearance in Hitchcock's Vertigo. Now that was a pilgrimage.

After lunch at a small deli, opposite a cafe where a tall pink transvestite waited the tables, we wandered the Castro. This is San Francisco as it's envisaged by most people around the world: colourful, vibrant, and very gay. We stood at 'the gayest corner in the world' (according to the guidebook) and left feeling a little more stylish and outrageous than when we arrived. But it's all relative.

Some of Hannah's Dad's new friends (yes, he took the photo).

Balmy Ave, in the Mission.

Dad admires the art.

Earth mother #1

Earth mother #2

In Dolores Park, by the Mexican Liberty Bell (they had one too!)

Mission Dolores, outside.

And in.

I've been there!

Over in Castro, Hannah has started a new business (see what an MBA does for you?)

The gayest corner in the world - 18th and Castro.

When you're in this district, you expect to see a queen or two.