Thursday, 26 April 2012

Occupy Albany

When you've occupied New York, Oakland, Walnut Creek etc., sat in trees in Berkeley, sold racist cupcakes, where do you go next?  Anywhere you can find, apparently.  It turns out that a little field next to University Village is the one spot left in the East Bay that's ripe for occupation.

When we lived in Albany, this area was used by the University to test scary new varieties of corn.  Some people claim to have seen plants grow from seedlings to six-foot sheaves overnight.  Others say that, if you walked past in the dead of night, the vegetables would watch you pass and whisper amongst themselves.  Either way, we didn't ask too many questions about what was happening there, and when it was announced that a Whole Foods store would soon be opening on the site there was much rejoicing.

But not from everyone!  A few days ago a group of radical gardeners broke the locks, wandered in with their tents, equipment, seeds and scarecrows, and set up shop.  They've been hard at work ever since, clearing whatever was growing there at the moment (nothing sinister, it seems, just weeds), laying out neat cultivated rows, and engaging the local media to spread their message of "a future of food sovereignty, in which our East Bay communities make use of available land - occupying it where necessary - for sustainable agriculture to meet local needs". is their website.

I decided to take a look but, being a little fearful, enlisted Anat and Arbel to protect me.  The plan worked, with Arbel charming everyone while I snuck photos.  Well, it wasn't really that dramatic.  They seem to want anyone to come and help them till the soil.  The University has cut off their water supply, which is unfortunate.  Perhaps they'll go for a cactus garden.

Anyway, everyone involved seems to be in a jolly mood at the moment, at least until the police and pepper spray turn up.  Uni Village hasn't seen this much excitement since that time we played Risk at Vince and Christine's games night, and this gathering is far less likely to descend into violence.  We'd been talking about going camping for the weekend but Hannah doesn't think that this is the right site for us...

Back when we lived here, all this was just fields.

The occupiers' manifesto.

Agriculture in Albany.

The sign claims that this is the children's play area.

Arbel and I are ready to work the land!

There's livestock here as well.

And a scarecrow.

Yep, this is where we used to live.

Here are the current plans, weather and law enforcement providing.

And here's a photo of Arbel, because he is SO cute.

Ok, here's another cute photo of him too...

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Back to life

The last four weeks have been about the busiest of my whole life!  Flying back-and-forth, travelling around a foreign country, flying away again the day I land, and then partying with my sister-in-law after that.  Sadly it all came to an end today when we waved off not only Katharine but also Jack and Amanda, who have been staying for a few days as well.

Since coming back from San Diego, Katharine has been filling her days with shopping, eating out and reading in the sun on the balcony.  So trying to copy my life, basically.  There were some tricky moments this morning when it came to weighing her suitcase, and some hand luggage had to be quickly improvised from a Trader Joe's bag to take the extra.  It's been wonderful to see Katharine, and even better (dare I say it?) to see her away from the kids.

As if to rub salt in the wound, Jack and Amanda's flight left within five minutes of Katharine's!  They were travelling in the opposite direction - out to Japan, where Jack has been stationed for the next couple of years.  He's about to embark on a six month expedition on the USS George Washington, where he'll be using his recent meteorological qualifications to tell them where best to sail.

A little-known fact about Jack is that, in 13 years of service, he's managed about three weeks on a ship, and that's only because his helicopter couldn't take off to bring him back to a cozy land-lubber bed.  Pretty impressive.  So to aid him on his way his close friends held a little party and put together a "first time at sea" kit, which included a rubber ring, a copy of Titanic, some pee to spray on jellyfish stings...and several other items which I won't list on this blog.

So goodbye Katharine, it was so nice to have you here and take our love back to rainy England, and goodbye Amanda, our first Berkeley friend, and Jack: keep the world safe and try not to get into trouble.  See you guys in Japan!

Arbel lines them up.

Sisters together!

The party food of choice: Zachary's Chicago Pizza!

Amanda shows off her new cook book.  She's a long way from the frozen-food eating girl we met all those years ago.

Jack receives his supplies.

Amanda is not fully impressed with all the contents.  Hey, you've got to keep morale up!

Checking the freshness of the jellyfish sting cure.

Hand luggage only.

Sunday, 22 April 2012


As previously noted, jumping on another plane six hours after arriving from London and flying south to spend a jet-lagged weekend sharing a room with my wife and sister-in-law was exactly what I wanted to do after three weeks in England.  So lucky for me that our destination was San Diego, another city by the bay but one with a little more warmth than beloved SF.

We've spent the last few days walking our socks off; around the harbour, through the Gaslamp district, and to Old Town.  We've inspected lots of US Navy ships, dreamed of owning one of the houses with a boat moored out the back, and enjoyed some fine dining (pizza and burgers, mostly).

The best bit for me was the tour of Old Town, the "birthplace of California".  The city was founded inland in 1769 around the first mission of the 21 stretching up the Californian coast, but as the harbour became the most important bit the the original buildings were abandoned and later turned into a tourist attraction and state park.  We took a free walking tour with Al, and I'm always amazed how great these are.  Muir Woods, Alcatraz, Yosemite, Mt Diablo...these docents (a new word to me when I arrived) are always top notch, and Al was no exception.

The only slight disappointment has been the weather.  It's the Pacific Coast, so I suppose fog should come as no surprise, but it is a little vexing to see that NorCal has been enjoying 30C while we've been hovering in the teens.  A shame, as I was hoping that these few days would dry me out from my varied British weather of drizzle, showers, mist, downpours, and storms.  No matter, I will be back in the warm embrace of the Creek (and the first night in my own bed for a month) very shortly.

I'm not sure what's easier - looking after my four nephews and nieces, or these two.

Look, it's my wife!  I vaguely recognised her after so long.

They're big Bob Hope fans here, and San Diego is home of the "national salute" to him.

Striding out.

Strict rules at our hotel.

Next day.

Chevron branding.

San Diego Old Town.  Now a themed shopping mall!

What's the spikiest thing in this picture?

An Italian sausage frittata for lunch.  Delicious!

Remember the Alamo!  Or was that somewhere else?

Al, our excellent docent.

Part of the local workforce (historically).

It was all a bit much for poor Katharine.

Friday, 20 April 2012

It's Thursday, it must be San Diego

Welcome to the longest day of my life.  Yesterday, or maybe two days ago, I waved goodbye to the Hammonds as they went into school.  There were kisses, hugs, and many tears, all from me, and I was quickly told to leave the playground as I was embarrassing them.  Then it was a case of packing up after my week long "work placement", as Hannah called it, during which Buckley followed me around like...well, a lovesick puppy.

Before that, I'd done my best to keep in my nephews' and nieces' good books, mostly by feeding them generously.  Even Buckley started listening to me now and again using this tactic.  I did take them bowling too (without the dog), where I was humiliatingly beaten by 5-year-old Rebecca.  She used a ramp, which is unfair.

Having found record high temperatures on my arrival, then snow, of course a hurricane blew onto the south coast to wave me off.  I drove to Woking for a final night with Ian and Ellen through intermittent torrential rain, hail, and sunshine.  This is April in England, so what could I expect?

Then today, or maybe yesterday, I was up with the dawn to return my car to Green Motion (ethical car rentals) and catch the Hotel Hoppa into Heathrow.  Ian was kind enough to make me a final cup of British tea, and Meg bounced downstairs to say goodbye in her irrepressibly gymnastic manner.  The M25 remained horrible even at 6.45am.

I was rumbled for my excessively heavy hand luggage this way, to the tune of 40 quid!  Most of it was Diamond Jubilee goodies.  Should we be penalised for being patriotic?  But it was a fair cop, given I'd got away with carrying 18kg of US candy on a 6kg limit on the way in.  I had an empty seat by me, and nearby children screamed to a far more acceptable extent than on the way.  I managed one film before my entertainment system (and, it seemed, only mine) broke, and played the new Florence and the Machine album on repeat for the next seven hours.  I kept dipping in and out.

After an hour in the immigration line, which is more LAX than SFO, I was on the BART with my correct bags and soon home where, after a quick cup of tea and a pizza made by my wonderful sister-in-law, I was back on the BART.  I'm now typing from 33,000 ft on a Virgin America flight to San Diego because the devil makes work for idle hands.

So my time in England is over, sadly, because it was wonderful.  Thank you to everyone who entertained, fed, clothed, and bathed me.  Thank you to Hannah who let me go for three weeks, and who I'm VERY happy to be back sitting next to, and who was very happy to see me.  Or was it my case full of chocolate?

Bowling with the Hammonds.  Somewhat chaotic.

Daddy shows us how it's done.

Then: food.

Buckley and his ambitious stick.

The finely-named pub that I met Mum in for lunch.

A classic English view of the village cricket pitch in Iwerne Courtney (next to pub, obvs).

Ok, a final picture of Buckley, because he is SOOOO cute.

When I started to relax.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Antipodean ale

This blog has been the start of big things for a number of people.  Virtually all of Hannah's MBA colleagues that I've featured now have jobs.  Several couples who appeared here have had babies.  I'm not making any extravagant claims, but the evidence is there for all to see.

The latest in this line is Dan, whose home-brewed beer has been featured in these pages.  Since then a couple of things have happened.  First, Dan's Sierra Nevada clone won a medal in a Hamilton brewing competition!  The second is that he has been featured on another blog!  I was shocked to find that I'm not the only blogger in the world, and also that Alice's Beer for A Year represents a somewhat more focused approach than me.

Dan's Pale Ale is number 244 in her year-long odyssey, and she judged it similar to one she brewed but with "a stronger malt backing a better mouthfeel and a vastly superior head".  Now, I'm not one to take credit where it isn't due, but I was the one who sent him the book on how to make the stuff in the first place know...anyway, many congratulations to my antipodean (and I'm happy to use that word correctly, currently being in the UK) alcoholic alchemist amigo.

It's official!

And now famous!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

In the Weymouth of Madness

Another ambition came true this week when I became a mummy!  Of four children!  And a dog!  Well, only while real mummy Katharine is away, but I'm making the most of it for the two days of school hols when Scott is at work.

Katharine, in a happy piece of symmetry, has taken advantage of my absence from California to go and see Hannah.  I've been receiving daily email updates of the shopping they've been doing, and have a close eye on the bank account.

On the colder side of the Atlantic I've been instructing the children in etiquette, maths, politics and philosophy.  They don't listen to me of course, preferring to play something called a Wii, listen to rapping music, and tweet their friends on the facebook.  It's all a little confusing for someone my age.

But aside from that, Oliver has cooked lunch for two days running and helped me make a cheesecake.  Bethany, Jacob and Rebecca have been tidying and cleaning like stars, and even rehearsed and put on a show for me this afternoon.  My Mum and Dad and Mat and Alana came to visit on Thursday, and school starts again on Monday.  But it's all much harder than it sounds.

Oh, and I've been hoovering too.

This is Buckley.  He is simultaneously the hardest and easiest one to look after.

Lunch out on Weymouth beach.  The sun was out, so it must have been summer!

Devolving responsibility.

Dad was fairly worn out by the experience.

I caught them trying to escape.

That's not rain, it's just some dampness on the window.  We're going out for a walk!

Scott: one man and his dog, and his four children.

B, R and J's show, which descended into anarchy around the 20 second mark.

One of these two knows his times tables.