Sunday, 27 September 2015

Off my trolley

I've long been a fan of trolleys*.  Safeway trolleys are usually pretty good, as are Target trolleys, but my favourite are in Ikea where you get a choice of several flat-bed or upright numbers.  Fascinatingly, North American trolleys have fixed back wheels whereas European trolleys have all four wheels rotating freely, giving high maneuverability but no control over which direction they go in.

So imagine my disappointment when the National Capital Trolley Museum featured none of these.  Instead it was filled with what any civilised person would refer to as "trams".  My complaints about mis-selling fell on deaf ears.

The streetcars on display kept DC moving through the first half of the 20th Century, the lines extending as far as Baltimore, before politicians and planners agreed it would be far more sensible to clog the capital with cars, mostly containing one driver apiece.  The museum has trams from as far away as Berlin and Toronto, and one very special one shaped like a boat that's from Blackpool!  The destination sign on this one was stuck somewhere between the tower and the pleasure beach - it's got a long way to go.

The main attraction is the specially laid track that takes you for a 30 minute ride out into parkland and woods.  Any trolleys that are in working order can be brought out, and today it was the turn of the Haagsche Tramweg-Maatschappij (HTM) 1329 which hails from The Hague, and is sunshine yellow.

The journey was bumpy but entertaining, including a stop and a talk by the driver (the whole place is run by very dedicated, trolley-loving volunteers), and I amused myself reading signs instructing me to "bij nood deur open" and "geen uitgang" and wondering what I should be doing.

Sadly our little holiday to the Maryland countryside was quickly over as we pulled back to where we started; back to the present, back to congested DC streets, and pretty soon back to pushing that other kind of trolley around Safeway completing the weekly shop.

* For American readers this translates as "shopping carts", but then my ingenious and hilarious wordplay would obviously be lost...

"I control everything!" says Pete.  "Just like at home."

Trams allowed.  Trolleys should be renamed.

Inspecting cars in the trolley hall.

A pretty good metaphor for the state of DC transit today.

All the way from Blackpool!

Where the trolleys live.

We "inganged" through the "kaartverkoop".  The "stempelautomaat" was shut.

Troublemakers taking the back seat.

Our driver and guide.

Sadly the actual stops were the end of the line and then back to the museum.

After a tiring day, Emily offered to take on the hard work of entertaining Pete before dinner...

Thursday, 24 September 2015


Hannah couldn't join our trip to New York as she had things to do in Washington DC.  Specifically, the Pope had come to see her, and as he'd traveled all the way from Rome (with an annoying layover in Cuba) she thought it would be rude not to be in town.  The private audience was held at the White House - just her, the Pope, the President, and 15,000 others.  It was all arranged through Chevron because, although Pope Francis has come out very strongly against fossil fuels, no one gets to tell the US government which companies can or cannot exert undue influence over it.

She had a good time with el Papa despite having to get up at 5am and stand around for three-plus hours.  There was much flag-waving and national anthem singing, a few speeches, and free water and granola bars.  The fact that we're Anglicans and, you know, don't actually believe in the Pope didn't seem to faze her.  Anyway, she got the full blessing, which I think means we can skip church for the next year with no repercussions.

Just a normal 6am in central DC.

All these people came to see my little Hannah?

Um...I think you're missing the Welsh flag up there somewhere.

"Excuse me!  Coming through!  Here to see the Pope!"

"...and Hannah Davies."

The state flags were marched in, following the order in which they joined the Union.  So well done Delaware!  Hard luck Hawaii.

At the White House someone is always watching you.  Usually with a sniper rifle.

There he is!  Look closely.

Who are those blokes with Hannah Davies?

I don't like to boast, but this is back when I had my audience with John Paul II at The Vatican.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Lady Liberty

Emily has never been to New York and (after I complained about vast American distances) it turns out it's only three hours' drive away!  I bundled her and Pete into the car and we set off up the coast.

Sometime later, and somewhat poorer after paying for the unavoidable toll roads (seriously - it was $16 to cross one of the bridges!  Suddenly driving over the Severn into Wales seems very good value indeed), we pulled up outside Elad and Daphny's apartment in Brooklyn.  It's been a few years since Berkeley but very little has changed, except for a little boy called Ollie who they gave birth to.

On Tuesday we took the subway into Manhattan.  Never again will I complain about the elevators in DC Metro stations.  In New York they just don't bother with them, and my aging body and growing child meant several aches and pains from carrying a pushchair up and down the stairs while we hit Times Square, Battery Park, then walked all the way up past the World Trade Center site to West Village.

There we met with the other member of my family who abandoned Welsh roots to find fame and fortune in the New World.  My cousin Katherine has done a bit better than me, given she's a curator at The Guggenheim and married a film director, and she has a new little boy too, who's called Orson and stays still about as much as Pete.  It's fair to say Pete didn't really understand why a baby was constantly grabbing him and knocking down the blocks he was building but, given how certain members of this family get along, I'd describe this first meet-up as a great success.

This morning we filled up on gigantic pancake breakfasts in a 24-hr diner.  A classic experience, including a New York waitress getting into a huge shouting match with a customer, only drowned out by the rumble of the subway trains passing underneath.  We made it home, stopping at the amusingly-named Delaware Welcome Center motorway services.

What did Emily think?  She admitted that the sum total of her New York knowledge was from films and TV shows, and the real thing didn't disappoint.  Was she overawed by the huge buildings, the hectic pace, and the sheer number of human beings crammed into a towering city?  No, she said, but then she does live in Bristol.

Some things never change - Elad stays up too late, I end up sitting there talking about how we should have formed a band.

Pete sizes up Fry the cat.  And the other way around.

And Noozie's here too!

Daphny likes having her photo taken as much as she used to as well.

Emily fulfills one of the classic aunt roles.  Push!

This is their Statue of Liberty pose, they tell me...

Looking at the skyline from a pier in Brooklyn.

And then heading in!

Times Square (although we found none of the famous body-painted women).

Orson, who could power all those big screens with his energy.

Cousins playing together.  Sort of.

A little pre-dinner drink.

Katherine, Rob and Orson - my closest relatives.

A quick run around the amazing Prospekt Park before our drive home.

Boys' adventure.

Ollie!  If I wasn't so friendly with Elad and Daphny I'd have just kidnapped him.

Emily didn't want to go hungry on the journey.  Or for the next three days after that.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Black sheep

It's been three years since my sister was taken off the terror watch list so she's allowed to travel internationally again.

"Emily's coming to see you," Mum told me.

"What?" I gasped.  "What if she has another of her 'episodes'?"

"I've spoken to her doctors," my mother said, "and they assure me they've tripled her medication."

"That's what they said before," I reminded her.

"Look," my mother sighed.  "If the worst happens, just leave her outside the British Embassy.  I'm sure they'll get her home."

I remain unconvinced, but things have been ok so far.

Peas (or maybe that's bees) in a pod.

Look out, Hannah!  She's having one of her funny turns!!

Thursday, 17 September 2015

They go up, tiddley up up

As I was trawling the Maryland Internet for destinations to take a 2-year-old (I was bored of always having to play the stationary crane in his train set - it's so unfair!) I discovered we have a fun-sounding place just east of us - College Park Aviation Museum.  Admittedly this was just swapping one form of transportation for another but at least we'd be out of the house.  Off we went not expecting much.

Well, on arrival we discovered that College Park just happens to be the oldest airport in the whole world!  The Wright brothers - those ones who invented flying - turned up here in 1909 when the US government gave them some money to see if aircraft could be any use to the military.  The Wrights, who had funded their early flight efforts by repairing bicycles (it's true) were relieved to actually have some money and plenty of army people crazy enough to fly their inventions.  The hospital was the most active building on the nascent air base.

But once they'd sorted out a few kinks the airport racked up a number of firsts including civilian flights as early as 1911, the first place a woman took to the air as a passenger and then a pilot, it's where they invented airmail, and where the first modern helicopter took off.  It was probably the first place a passenger tried to jump the queue before their seating group was called then stuff a way-too-big case into an overhead locker, but the historical notes didn't mention that.

Alongside all this history the museum is also massively interactive, in a way you can only fully enjoy if you have a toddler with you.  Pete and I dressed up in our hats and goggles, continuously crashing on the simulator and constantly pretending to fly to see relatives in planes you could climb into.  I've always seen myself as cabin crew material rather than a pilot - "chicken or fish, madam?" - but Pete seems ready to take to the cockpit.  The simulator suggests you should wait to buy tickets until he gets a little more experience.

"The captain has illuminated the no smoking hold on tight!"

They had an animatronic Orville Wright - you pressed a button to make him talk and move.  This freaked Pete out completely.

This is an incredible reconstruction of the Wright brothers' "Model B" from 1910.

And this was the extent of the safety equipment on board.  They didn't even have flat-screens in the back of the seats!

Cranking the propeller.

A little more practice needed on landing, I feel.

Chocks away!

I own a car, and now I'm off to buy an aeroplane.

I don't know the collective noun for propellers.

Wind tunnel (i.e. something else with switches and buttons that I can play with!)

I wasn't going to let Pete have all the fun by himself, was I?