Saturday, 31 March 2012

Length and breadth

A fine start was made to my trip with a full English breakfast (including black pudding) at a cafe near my sister's house.  My parents popped down for the morning, and the sun kept shining!  Apparently it's not going to last, but then it never does.  I waved them goodbye soon after and pointed my Fiat Panda northwards.

The road was seven hours long, but the petrol crisis seems to have calmed down after a poor lady accidentally set herself on fire in her kitchen.  Still quite jet-lagged I sat in several long queues, but in one I was next to a bus that had wi-fi so could amuse myself as the traffic clogged.  I listened to an Adele CD that Emily lent me, and then there was an appropriate reading of The Waste Land on Radio 4.

I'm practically in the Arctic Circle now!  I caught up with the Weekses for a Pizza Express dinner (accompanied by American candy), and then with Mat and Alana and Alana's new dog Meg.

Family breakfast!

This is how every day should start.

I catch up on the latest news from Britain's most reliable paper.

Up in Durham.

This used to be my baby.  Now look!

The modern world arrives in the North East of England!

But the old world is still here too.

Another attempt at capturing a family photo of David, Harry and Charity.  The eldest is embarrassed by the rest, if you couldn't tell.

Even more reason to eat baked beans!

A gas station offer that caught my eye, although I'm not sure what California smells of.

Alana and Meg.

Mat obviously enjoys Alana's heavenly minestrone soup.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Britain bound

I have arrived back in the mother country!  I'm whizzing around for three weeks visiting everyone and dispensing US goodies.  Hannah is staying in the paradise of Walnut Creek, but shortly being joined by her sister.  Hmmm...maybe I should head back early to keep things under control...

The journey here was quite an ordeal, as two rows behind me in the plane was a two-year-old who managed to scream for eight out of the ten hours.  I've known a good few angry children in my time, but this was like something out of The Exorcist.  I was stuck between sleep-deprived righteous anger and a grudging respect for the effort involved.  I made sure I got a look at this force of nature as I stepped off the flight, and she was three feet tall, blond with a turquoise hair clip, cuddling a fluffy purple kitten, and smiling.  She'd just learnt that if you tantrum long enough you always get what you want.

Anyway, the UK has already offered up some choice occurrences.  There are record high temperatures, the government has managed to manufacture a petrol crisis even though there is no crisis by telling people not to panic, and they're about to put a tax on the pasty, the British national dish.

Luckily I escaped the madness by heading straight to Hannah's parents in Dorset, who gave me a wonderful lunch to make up for the plane food, and a tour around their new house.  It's in the process of renovation, and is going to be pretty amazing when it's finished.  It has a fantastic back garden, perfect for a water slide for the grand kids, but that is not apparently part of the plans.

From there I got to Southampton to see Emily, where we decided to experience the news in real life by trying to buy petrol.  From our sample of one petrol station, yes, people are panicking.  And the real petrol strike isn't due until Easter Monday.  Luckily my hire car is so small I think it might be clockwork.

Hannah's parents' new house!

They're going for the brutalist/minimalist look.

In the bathroom too.

The view from the top of the garden.

Emily has made sure I'm well-stocked for my trip.

Yep, looks like the news.  (And, US readers, that price is in Great British Pounds, and per litre).

Emily is shocked that we finally got to the front.

I've got the gas!  Quick!  Drive!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Singers and dancers

If you're anything like me, you've often dreamed of donning a pink tutu and dancing on stage while a full house of adoring fans clap and cheer.  That didn't quite come true today, which would have been the best blog post ever, but I did get close when we watched Hannah and Sofia Singer dance in their bi-annual ballet school show.

The program showcased the full range of students, from pre-ballet up to the top men and women.  The quality was pretty high, and Hannah danced a nice routine to "The Lonely Goatherd" from The Sound of Music, maintaining superb form and head position throughout.  Yet the high point for most was when the three and four-year-olds toddled on (accompanied by their teaching assistants).

There were certainly some prima donnas among these pint-sized proteges, with a number of girls coming right to the front of the stage to receive the full applause from the audience.  The most difficult bit was getting them all to leave when their routine had finished - the phrase "herding cats" should be replaced with "herding three-year-old ballerinas".  It was all super cute, and Sofia was the star of her "Tick Tock" dance.

Unfortunately there was a no photo policy in the theatre.  What's the point of these performances?!  Anyway, we had to reenact the best bits back at the Singer's place, with some...err...enthusiastic assistance from me and Elliot.  Back to practicing my plies.

If you see these three together in Palo Alto, run.

Sofia Ballerina.


Hannah Ballerina.

First position.


Second position.


Third position.

Compromising position.

Sadly the girls refused to return the favour.

Ballerina sisters together, getting ready for the afternoon performance - yep, two in a day!

The amazing performing Singers!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Oh, take me down to the sea again

Amanda and Jack's time in the USA grows short.  With their naval placement to Japan looming, they've rented a house for two weeks and everyone (literally) they are related to or know is invited to visit them.

Wanting to stay somewhere you can see Japan from - if you have good enough eyesight - they've found what might be the most incredibly-situated property in California.  Step into the living room and your breath is taken away by the Pacific crashing a few tens of feet below the window.

We arrived on Friday in glorious sunshine in time to see Jack throwing live seafood into a paella, in honour of us and possibly also one of Amanda's senior work colleagues who popped in with her husband for dinner.  The next morning the weather was not quite as lovely, but we had the best view of the storm approaching of anyone on the this coast.

No amount of wind and rain could deter Jack, now that his thesis on ocean meteorology is complete, from firing up the barbecue as the Burshtein-Tichons and Raz-Lissaks arrived for lunch.  Hannah and I could not, however, convince anyone to join us for an after-lunch stroll.  As we pulled on our waterproof trousers to laughs of derision I tried to explain that if visibility is over 10 feet it counts as a summer's day in England.  Well, their loss.  Shauli even took an umbrella into the hot tub later that evening.

We left on Sunday morning, in sun once again, and after spending that time beside the pounding surf and crashing waves Walnut Creek does look a little pedestrian by comparison.  And will, at least until I head out to the shops again.  Thanks for the invitation Jack and Amanda, and I hope your last two weeks will remind you why this is indeed the Best Coast.

The living room view.  Told you!

The supplies for the coming army are squared away.

Look what swam past the window!  Whales were continually passing by, putting to shame our previous attempt at spotting them. 


Some more sea life, although this one's fate was different.

There he is!

Amanda is ready for her Saturday morning coffee in the hot tub.

Enjoying the view.

Outside the dining room window.

Jack brings all his forecasting tools to bear.

And these are what it was all for.

Shauli takes in the sea air (and water).


Jack returns, and it was worth it.


Family meal.

Ah, it's the summer holidays.

Perhaps not quite as inviting for swimming as yesterday...



Yep, typical holiday shot.

This is how old Hannah and I were when we got married.

Sagy had the great idea to take a long exposure photo of the crashing surf, but he left before it got dark enough to do it.  So I did in his absence, and now take the credit, as usual.

Men, hot tub, red wine, umbrella...everyone's happy.