Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Chugga-chugga choo-choo!

Midway through the eight hour train journey with my 3-yr-old I realised that, at some point, I must have thought "this sounds like a good idea."  But luckily Grandma was on-hand to provide all the entertainment necessary - I wandered down to the buffet car, where I would have bought a drink if it wasn't $16 for a glass of Chardonnay.

This trip was all about Grandma, actually.  She and Grandpa flew into Boston last week, where he's going to the World Figure Skating Championships (watching, not competing).  My brilliant plan was to fly up there with Pete on Monday, pick up Grandma, and then catch the train back down to DC on Tuesday.  What an adventure it would be!

And, to be fair, it was.  I thought Pete might spontaneously combust with excitement, his only pressure release being to repeatedly sing "we're going on the Amtrak train" non-stop from 6.20am when he woke up until 11.15am when stepped on board.  The train was magnificently on time, chugging romantically past New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore on its way down through forests and coastlines.  Coffee was only $2, came in an Amtrak-branded paper cup, and was not awful.

The journey may have been more enjoyable if it was an hour or two shorter but the constant stream of surprises from Grandma's suitcase (Peppa Pig magazines, chocolate buttons, a magnifying glass) kept the child very happy.  I got a good workout lifting her bag up and down from the overhead luggage rack, and when we eventually got to our house I realised why the workout was so good.  Hob Nobs and bottles of duty-free Baileys weigh a lot.

Aeroplane one day, train the next.  Can life get any better?

This was our lunch at the airport.  It's pretzel pieces with pizza inside!  Yes, daddy was in charge of meals today.  Hey - real cheese!

Pete enjoys the in-flight entertainment system.

Daddy enjoys something to take the edge off.

Boston.  What's with this weather?

Grandma's here!  Let the reading commence!

Grandpa enjoys the more technical side of things.

A quick trip to the lake for some stone throwing.

Next day, at Boston South Station.  Now where do I want to send them?

So exciting!  For the first 15 minutes of the journey.

Time for a wander.  There are lots of buttons to press on trains, but the designers thoughtfully put most of them out of children's reach.

It's a shame that trains don't have entertainment systems.  Oh, wait...

Down the coast.

Sleeper car.


We made it, Grandma!  And didn't Daddy do well.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Theological pick'n'mix

Pete's Jewish daycare was closed again.  Honestly - I'm thinking of converting so I can get all these extra holidays.  And then moving to France, for the same reason.  Anyway, today was Purim, celebrating the events of the Book of Esther, which is in the Bible.  I think Anglicans believe in the Bible so the holiday is, you know, kosher.

But what to do with an excited 3-yr-old on a holiday that we don't observe?  I decided to go to the zoo, because it's large, fun, and free to get in.

We drove up fifteen minutes before it opened, and proceeded to sit in a traffic queue for the next thirty to get into the car park.  After walking the mile from the nearest space to the entrance, we had to wait in the huge line to get our bags checked before we were even allowed in.  Who knew that everyone in DC was Jewish?  Except they're not as it turns out to be DC school's spring break, and every parent picked this exact day to take their own kids to the zoo too.  And a zoo official was telling everyone who was querying the lines that they only check visitors' bags over the Easter weekend because...I have no idea.

Peter has always leaned more towards the physical and chemical side of the sciences, and the wealth of fauna (human and animal) on display did nothing to sway him.  His main interest was the manhole covers, although a few concrete slabs that he could climb on did punctuate that.  "Look Pete, a hippo!" I would exclaim, to no response, as the crowds surged around the two of us crouching over a manhole.  The only time he acknowledged the animals was when he asked why the bison weren't flying.  I didn't have a good answer.

A couple of hours of that was enough so we came home to make Easter nests, proclaiming the resurrection of Christ by melting chocolate, mixing it with cornflakes, and placing eggs on top.  Almost half the mixture made it past Pete's mouth and into the cupcake papers!

Thankfully school is open again tomorrow, which is why they call it Good Friday.

Wandering through a quiet corner of the (fake) Amazon.

A concrete slab with manhole covers in it!  It's like Christmas, at Easter.

He was slightly interested in the elephant, although wanted to know why it wasn't making more noise.

Oh yeah, and these were good, because you could open and close them with a bang and stuff.

A cheetah!  C'mon Pete, a cheetah!

Back home, and ready to cook.

Sampling your ingredients is one of the most important aspects of baking.

Happy [insert religious festival of your choice].

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Southern Pines

And so it was that our holiday, like all good things, came to its end.  But not before we got to play with some chickens!  Our last night was at Tanglewood Farm in Southern Pines where we were the only guests that didn't turn up with our own horse.  This was rural North Carolina at its best; a little off the beaten track but worth the detour, a family-owned horse farm and B&B where you could get a cosy room and a paddock for one easy payment.

After that short commune with nature - nature with wi-fi and breakfast, that is - it was back on the road for the final hop to DC.  And, inevitably, the last bit was the worst, with traffic congealing the closer we came to the capital before grey clouds rolled in and rain started falling.  It was almost like coming home to the UK.

So our southern sojourn is ended.  And the South really is a different country.  The bit of the East Coast we moved to was always going to feel familiar, with New York and Washington recognisable from any number of movies and news reports.  But stray a little way down and you're in a place where some still think there should be a rematch of the civil war; where I finally saw "Vote Trump" bumper stickers and yard signs; where you can order grits, collared greens, and fried tomatoes; and where they do actually say "y'all" an awful lot.

Now we're back where politics equals civilisation.  Hmm.  Hannah's off to make sure that the oil industry hasn't fallen apart in her absence, and I get to send Pete to school with a bag full of kazoos...

Pete got on very well with the free-range chickens.  "Sometimes we eat chickens," I told him.  "We only eat pretend chickens," he assured me.

Hannah desperately clings to a last few hours of holiday-novel-reading free of distractions.


Beautiful Southern Pines.  I think I could easily live on a horse farm, as long as I didn't have to do any work.

Pete and the farm dog bonded over a shared love of sticks.

Ah, the happy sight at the end of every holiday.

But the good thing about a family road trip is that you can share the driving.

Friday, 11 March 2016


Housing more than 200 kazoo-related items, The Kazoo Museum, within the Kazoobie Kazoo factory, is quite simply the last word (buzz?) in all things kazoo.  Where else could you find a 24-carat gold kazoo?  Or the kazoo featured in an episode of The Partridge Family?  Or a rare vinyl copy of Ringo Starr's You're Sixteen featuring an unforgettable kazoo solo by none other than Paul McCartney?

Nowhere, that's where, which is why we were so lucky to find ourselves spending the night in Beaufort, South Carolina, where this factory/museum ships out over a million kazoos across the globe each year.  That sort of success, my friends, is the American Dream in action.

Our tour guide Tara, who also runs the gift shop, and makes kazoos, started us off with an educational video about the kazoo's humble origins, in which every historical figure was played by a kazoo.  No, I'm not making this up.  The men responsible were Alabama Vest and Thaddeus von Clegg (I'm not making that up either) who took their invention to the Georgia State Fair in 1852 where everyone ignored them.  But they persisted, and now people like us can visit a kazoo factory on a family vacation.  Tara continued by demonstrating a massive range of different kazoos.  The material they're made from really does make a huge difference to the sound, running the whole gamut from deeply annoying to utterly unlistenable.

Pete loved it - boys and noise, of course, but I did refrain from purchasing an item in the gift shop claiming to be the world's loudest kazoo.  You get a free kazoo as part of the tour, to your own colour specifications, and so having walked in as a simple family of three we left as a kazoo trio!  We also picked up a bag of kazoos for Pete to give to all his school friends, because I don't like his teacher.

If music be the food of love, we're going hungry.

What's the plural of kazoo?

A copy of the original kazoo patent, and one of them!  It was originally known as the Down South Submarine on account of its shape.

Does a day go by when you don't read about a kazoo in the news?

More proof that Ringo was the best Beatle.

How fancy do you like your kazoo?


When the kazoo first went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1965 the performance was accompanied by booing and shouts of "Judas!"

What could be so funny?

Ah yes, the history of the kazoo, as acted by kazoos.  And, if you notice, these kazoos are playing smaller kazoos.  It's all too much.

In the factory, where the magic happens.

The ingredients to a great kazoo.

And now the tricky bit of choosing our kazoo colours.

This machine applies the pressure to push the resonator housing into place.  I'm not sure you need that much pressure, but anyway.

Tuning up.

The traveling Davieses!

Ah, the beautiful South Carolina night, spoiled only by the neverending sound of *$!)&*@* kazoos!!

Thursday, 10 March 2016

I should cocoa

"It's my holiday too, you know," was a constant refrain of my mother's when I was growing up.  As with most things my parents did, I only appreciate them now I have a perfectly-behaved child of my own.  And Hannah expertly played her my-holiday-too card today when she announced that we were going to a chocolate factory.

When we arrived in said factory it didn't look much, stuck at the back of an anonymous Orlando strip mall, but inside it certainly smelled the part.  Chocolate products adorned every available surface, and they were even trying to grow their own cocoa plants in a greenhouse.  The trees only thrive 20-degrees north and south of the equator so Florida is too cold to have them out of doors.  I learned that on the tour.

The factory tour was - as we've always found in this capitalist country - excellent, and our tour guide was very perky.  Super-perky, high school cheerleader perky, which was impressive as a) she admitted to having conducted this tour around 5000 times, and b) because me, Hannah and Pete were the only three people there.  I thought of taking her aside and explaining that we were British and so naturally had low expectations but it didn't seem fair.

The tour included an extensive history of chocolate, tons of tastings, a dragon that you fired marshmallows at, a chocolate river, and a customised chocolate bar at the end.  All very exciting, and Hannah was in heaven which is good as it's our last day here.  Tomorrow we drive north and spend the night at a town that has a kazoo factory you can visit!  It's my holiday too, you know...

A kingdom, a factory, an adventure.

Cocoa plants, but no pods yet, or for a while by the look of them.

Enjoying an Aztec hot chocolate on the tour.

Castle, river, chocolate.

Firing marshmallows...

...at a dragon with a moustache.  I'm not sure about the relevance of this but the tour guide was so perky about it I let it pass.

Turning roasted cocoa beans into nibs and then chocolate!

Pete, unable to deny eating chocolate, and looking strangely like my Grandpa.

Hannah's personalised chocolate bar - marshmallows, cranberries, pecans.  Its existence was short and eventful.

As if you needed reasons.

Pete takes a photo.  Not long now and this blog is his responsibility.