Tuesday, 30 October 2012


Ever since I was a young boy I played the silver ball.  From Soho down to Brighton I must have played them all, but I ain't seen nothing like the Pacific Pinball Museum.  Set in an unassuming shopping street in Alameda, this place houses 80+ pinball machines from the 1930s up to the present day, all working, and all with unlimited plays!  Combine that with the recent discovery that our library gives away free museum tickets and you have a heady recipe for cheap retro fun.

The youth of today, or at least my sample of it, was very impressed, interestingly favouring the older machines over the newer ones.  It is pretty amazing what they managed to do with just a few levers and switches, and we were soon busily entertaining ourselves on the "Mystic Marvel", "Dragonette" and "Sweet-Add-A-Line".

Out the back was where the 80s happened in all their candy and coke (that's Coca Cola) fueled excess, with enough flashing lights, electronic voices and thumping music to induce ADHD in the calmest individual.  I enjoyed "Twilight Zone", which included magnets under the table that threw your ball in interesting directions, while the star of the show was "Indiana Jones", complete with blaring film score and so much in the case that it was actually hard to spot the ball.  We racked up scores in the tens of millions.

After a good couple of hours of entertainment we pulled our last plunger, hit our last bumper, and said goodbye to another new, strange, now-added-to-my-tour-route venue.  As we left I mused: like life itself, all the bells and whistles are merely ephemeral trappings, and everything eventually tends downwards into a deep, irretrievable hole, despite our best attempts to flip it back up to the top.  Happy days.

Lining them up.

David on one of his faves: Egg Head.

Hand-eye uncoordination.

David poses by the star machine.

Another of his favourites - a pinball with a screen attached.  It was pretty good actually; you could squish the aliens onscreen by hitting them with the ball.

"The first commercially successful pinball machine."  Punters were easily amused back then.


Every day is an education, especially if you did a degree in theology and then go to a science museum.  The last few days have brought two such museums - the Chabot Space Center, where Hannah was volunteering as a "science ambassador" for Chevron, and then the California Academy of Sciences.

Chabot was pretty good.  We looked through a special solar telescope at the sun as it travelled around the earth, and learnt about the heretics Copernicus and Galileo.  There was a cool planetarium that zoomed all the way out from Venice to the farthest reaches of space ("we don't know what's beyond the edge of the universe," said the narrator.  Ummm...heaven, I think you'll find), and Hannah assisted in various flash mob science activities, none overtly linked to oil.

Today David and I made it to Golden Gate Park, where the Cal Academy tries to lay out some of the counterarguments to intelligent design.  The planetarium here showed a film all about earthquakes and their causes without mentioning human sin once, and we wandered through the aquarium and rainforest before David found what he described as "the best hot dog ever" in the cafe.  That was a miracle, given his fussy eating habits.

I think I've shown our young visitor how important it is to keep an open mind by exposing yourself to new ideas, no matter how outlandish.  As I batted away his objections and questions I reflected on what a gift it is to be able to guide an inquiring soul towards the truth.  Which is, of course: "because I said so".

Hannah puts all the bits together and then prays that it works.

Clear evidence that the moon landings were faked.

Hannah searches for intelligent life.

David looks at the sun.


Finishing with bribery.

Next day: into the city.

Frances and Clare hit one of the unmissable tourist spots.

Experimenting with electricity.

And light.

Hello Kitty!

A spot of biology at the Cal Academy.

Apparently we're related to this guy.  I'm certainly not, but maybe David is.

This is meant to be another ancestor!  Actually, it does look familiar...

Monkey in the treetops.

The prize hot dog.

These guys aren't for sale in the cafe.

And after all that we experimented with our own human endurance (and intelligence) by going for a swim.  On 29th October!  It was...not warm.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Preparation, preparation, preparation

At least someone will know what to do.

Friday, 26 October 2012


Hallowe'en comes early in Walnut Creek in the form of Trick or Treat in Downtown.  This annual, Friday-before-the-big-day event sees scores of appropriately attired toddlers wandering from shop to shop, snatching candy from storekeepers in multicoloured chaos.

Hallowe'en in the US has lost any kind of association with All Saints' Day, evil powers, etc.  It's just sort of an excuse to dress up.  Babies and toddlers tend to be animals of some kind, girls are princesses and boys are superheroes of choice.  Luckily David decided he wanted to stick to scary, and found a "Flesh Stalker" costume in Target this morning.  He got lots of compliments, and more than a few worried looks from princesses.

I went as a British zombie hunter, complete with tie and cricket bat.  As no one here has a clue what a cricket bat is I think I was mostly just mistaken for someone who works in an office (a bizarre and fantastical idea, so quite fitting).

David managed a large haul of candy but wasn't too impressed with the unfamiliar American varieties.  I did check to see if Tiffany's had thrown in a small and sparkly surprise but sadly not - just a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.

A common sight around the Creek.

David finds a soulmate.

The chaos.

Spectral pianist.

The haul.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Strangers from the outside

Frances and Clare are attending a conference in SF (on public health!  Very socialist...) and brought young David along to enjoy a short break in California.  David, who used to be known as "baby David" when we both inhabited the same island, is Charity's younger brother and shares her love of the finer things in American life (frozen yogurt, barbecue, the swimming pool).  It should be a good week!

David interacts with some Creek art.

Socialists attract socialists.

Confident planning!  I'll see you there.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


This is my one thousandth blog post!  Writing a post about the amount of posts you've written may seem a little self-indulgent, but "blog" and "self-indulgent" are synonyms, so it's fine, and it's not like I'm just updating my Facebook status to tell you what sandwich I'm eating (on the Internet there's always someone to look down upon).

What started out as a simple way to let my parents know what I'm up to has become...well, actually it's still that.  But now times a thousand!  If only I'd put so much effort and focus into other areas of my life I might have become something cool, like a stuntman.

According to the nice statistics that Blogger gives me, my most popular post ever is הבלוג של ראש השנה, which presumably means I show up on various Israeli search engines.  The only other ones in the top ten that do not feature babies (I know my audience) are about our RV trip and dogs that dress up in costumes.  Yes, I hold a mirror of searing intelligence up to contemporary American culture.

I found a site that analyses your blog to map your brain and find your personality type, and discovered that I am "entertaining and friendly...especially attuned to pleasure and beauty...rarely allowing conventions to interfere with their lives, they find creative ways to meet human needs".  That makes me sound really annoying; there must be something wrong with their algorithm.

So thank you, dear reader(s), for sticking with me.  In a million years, when digital fragments of my blog are the only extant records of early 21st Century civilisation, it will have all been worth it.

My brain on blogs.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Maternal life

Pregnancy isn't a blessing, it's an industry.  Hannah's ongoing expansion requires the purchase of maternity jeans, maternity tops, maternity business suits...I'm waiting to be told she needs maternity jewelry.  ("Look out for the maternity house and maternity car," my wise, father of two, two-SUVs-in-a-double-garage friend James warned).

I don't begrudge Hannah any of this, of course, and to prove it I spent the weekend driving her around maternity consignment stores in the South Bay.  A consignment store is like a thrift store except without the good cause - they sell stuff on your behalf and give you the money.  Of course, increasing your own wealth is the good cause in a capitalist economy, but enough about my ethical socialist principles.

What's good about these maternity stores is that they tend to feature lots of baby stuff too, and because they have slightly higher standards than charity shops you find weird and wonderful things that prospective parents bought and then never used.  Now they've passed them on for other new parents to redundantly buy, but at a lower price.  All this baby hardware, the preserve of the father-provider-protector, serves to keep me and others of my gender well entertained, although no one has yet made the obvious step of attaching a maternity store to a bar.

Things have come a long way since I was wrapped in a safety-pinned rag, the only entertainment the sound of my own crying.*  First up was Cheer for Me! Potty, a miniature commode that says affirming things like "way to go", and claims to offer "realistic toilet elements mixed with fun rewards and encouragement".  Presumably the boy version gives you bonus points for putting the seat down after.  There's even an upgrade available in case your craving for the smell of urine isn't satisfied by the time they're trained.

Other products ranged from the practical-but-questionable (the Babykeeper - a harness that lets you hang your baby on a wall) to the annoying (the iTummy - "Welcome to the Musical Womb") and the exclusive (have your baby's first shoes cast in bronze!  Hard wearing, yes, but probably uncomfortable for the newborn).  My best find was the breast-shaped bottle!  Fill one of those with beer and one of my greatest dreams would have just come true.

Needless to say we didn't actually buy any of this stuff but it's comforting to know that when our parenting skills fail there are plenty of things out there to fill the gap.  As with all problems, infant care can be solved by throwing money at it in a comfortable cycle of retail happiness.  Time to shop some more (after a beer in my new special bottle).

* In the interest of my mother ever talking to me again, this sentence is completely false.  We only did that with my younger sister.

No need for encouragement with the amount I've been drinking recently.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The economics of freedom

The best things in life are free.  Therefore, anything that you're giving away must be amazing!  This seemed to hold true for the people of San Ramon today as I watched 3000+ free Chevron backpacks disappear in little over an hour.

Hannah informed me earlier in the week that I had been volunteered to help at an annual half-marathon/walk/fun-run down by HQ.  She waited a few days to tell me that I needed to get up at 5.50am on a Sunday to enjoy this honour.  So in the misty morning we found ourselves by the start line, putting up branded tents and laying out the aforementioned backpacks, because the way to get the public to love you is to give them a free bag.

People weren't meant to take them before 8am, to allow actual runners to benefit rather than just spectators, but policing this was close to impossible.  I saw one middle-aged lady wait until she thought no one was looking and swipe one...before walking to the other corner of the tent and swiping another!  We eventually had to fold the Chevron-branded tablecloths over the goodies so that people could no longer see what amazing, empty, string-strapped, thin nylon, logoed sacks they could make their own.

It was when we were given the go-ahead to distribute them that hell, quite literally, broke loose, with the deadly sin of greed probably being the main one on display.  All-comers grabbed three or four bags, and stuffed them into another one, for easy carrying.  Directions of "one per runner" seemed to be interpreted as "one per visit", with multiple returnees nabbing as many as they could.  Let me just reiterate: these were incredibly thin, cheap, Chevron-branded bags, being given out in probably the richest community in the East Bay.

We were not alone.  People seemed to take Whole Foods' handing out of fresh fruit to competitors as an excuse to skip the weekly shop.  A lot of our bags were taken from us and then filled to bursting with bananas and oranges, possibly saving people two-to-three dollars.

We ran out of stock just as the 5k runners returned.  "Have you got any bags left?" was a constant question, usually from people who were already wearing one.  On hearing we'd been cleaned out, more than a few walked around the back of the tent to check in our empty boxes.  I mean, really people?

By the end I knew how the wheat field feels when it has met the locusts.  Are we no better than animals?  I considered this as I pulled off my free Chevron t-shirt, and helped myself to a third Starbucks coffee and muffin that Chevron had laid on for volunteers, before catching a taxi home, paid for on the Chevron credit card, in time to attend another free dinner at a fundraising gala where Chevron had sponsored a table.  People are strange.

Team Chevron: ready.

If you love us we'll give you this.

A cold start for the runners.

A fraction of the initial offering.

And they're off!

Hannah strictly enforces corporate policy.



Another win for Team Chevron (I didn't exert any physical effort myself, obviously).

Saturday, 13 October 2012

My gourd!

Driving the space shuttle Endeavour through downtown LA?  Easy!  Driving a massive pumpkin at 70mph along the 280 in San Jose?  Hmmm.

How many dirty pumpkins could I make out of that!?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Dirty pumpkin

"Dirty pumpkin" isn't just my pet name for Hannah, it's a fine drink I discovered in Bishop, CA, on my recent road trip.  It's a mixture of all the best things in life - coffee, chai tea, and pumpkins.

I decided to follow my Marxist principles and take ownership of the means of production.  By coincidence, Hannah was baking some pumpkin bread so I had a source of pureed gourd.  I already owned the rest and went about constructing the concoction in a highly scientific manner (chuck it all in a mug, see how it tastes).

The result?  Well, I needed three times the pumpkin I originally thought, and still it didn't taste that strong, more of a velvety texture.  An unfortunate side-effect was a thick, caffeinated, orangey-brown soup at the bottom of the cup, but I was brought up on Horlicks and so these things do not surprise or scare me.  In the end it wasn't completely unlike what I'd been served on the other side of the mountains but more experiments (and pumpkins) are needed.

Coffee, hand-ground.

Pureed pumpkin (or maybe Hannah is already stocking up on baby food, I'll have to check).

Nectar of the gods.

There's nothing like a perfectly pulled shot of espresso, and this is nothing like a perfectly pulled shot of espresso.

In vitro combination.

Drink, enjoy, repeat, avoid sludge at the bottom.