Sunday, 10 December 2017

Early Christmas present

In a blatant attempt to copy what's happening in Houston, London decided to cover itself in snow.  Sadly it went a little far and now Heathrow airport is closed, or the bit of it that my parents' flight was going to land on, at least.  I was greeted with a big "CANCELLED!" on their flight status page, followed by a similarly-worded email to my mother's inbox.  All I can conclude is that Pete's been a very good boy and that Santa has listened closely.

Thankfully Houston still gives me plenty to keep my restless parents entertained.  We visited the Weiss Energy Hall again, where Dad (as a lifelong BP shareholder) was happy to learn about black, sticky energy.  Then, after our own snow melted, we traveled to Sugarland and its outpost of the Children's Museum.  Speaking of sugar, we've been ingesting plenty of it; pancakes and syrup for breakfast and nitrogen ice cream as an afternoon snack.

Now, even as I enter my third hour on hold, the clipped English tones of the lady on the British Airways recording remain charming.  I've actually come to believe that all of their agents are genuinely busy, that my call truly is important to them, and that they honestly will talk to me as soon as possible.  If not?  Well, there are some wonderful retirement communities in Texas that I'm sure have Christmas availability.


Taking the Geovator down into an oil field.

Helping Grandma deliver crude by rail.

Three generations under a drill bit.

They brought the weather with them.

Taxi drivers are looking younger and younger these days.

You never stop being a mechanical engineer.

Fake diner.

Real diner.

Back to sunshine, the proper Houston weather.

Clouds at the liquid nitrogen ice cream cafe.

Don't get too comfortable!  Oh, too late...

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Back from the coast

After all the excitement of hitting the jackpot on the casino boat, it was time to ease into a more traditional style of beach holiday - paddling, sandcastles, skinny dipping, etc.  The tranquility was only interrupted by a couple of things such as Pete getting a raging ear infection, and lots of rain.

But first it was Hannah's turn to have some fun, so she took us to an oil rig.  The Ocean Star is an old offshore drilling rig that is now permanently moored in Galveston harbour, where it has become a museum and education centre.  As with many "education centres" hereabouts, the educational content is about how great oil is.  No big surprise, given Galveston's economy, and it was fun to clamber all over the hulking superstructure.  Hopefully the Chevron Christmas party is on a real one.

Then Dad displayed his uncanny ability to sniff out warships wherever he goes.  This particular one was the USS Cavalla, a submarine that served in the Second World War and is now the main exhibit at the American Undersea Warfare Center in Galveston.  We wandered belowdecks, inspecting the torpedo tubes, diesel engines, and the like.  Dad complained that US submarines are always bigger than British ones (but of course!) and I mused that every minute I spend on a submarine makes me thankful I don't have to spend actual time on a submarine.

While we indulged in this naval pursuit, Grandma spent the day in the hotel with her poorly grandson; though I felt slightly guilty for this I did note that most of her friends are often lumbered with sick grandchildren with little-to-no notice or thanks.  We were just giving her the full grandparental experience!

All too soon our beach retreat was at an end, and a return to real life beckoned.  Well, not completely real life, as my parents are here for another week...

Beach life.

And some more.  In December!

The perfect place for a family outing.

Black gold!  Or just gold gold.

Up the gangplank.

One day son, all this will be yours.

The Chevron halo effect.

How do you get onto a rig?  In a basket!

Spot the parents.

Time to teach Grandma "Sleeping Queens"...then making it interesting with some $$$s involved.

Early morning trip to the beach.


WW2 relics.

Permission to come aboard?

Inspecting the torpedo tubes.

Down the hatch.

The hedgehog!  A British invention, stolen by the Yanks.


Well, it wouldn't be a British beach holiday without the rain.

But, as I always say, when life hands you a hurricane, fly a kite!

Another fine rainy day activity.

Dawn, foam, driftwood.  Goodbye Galveston!

Saturday, 2 December 2017

International waters

It's been a few weeks since my parents spent time with their grandson, so of course they're back.  To celebrate we've come down to Galveston for a few days.  

Galveston doesn't have the best reputation.  People in Texas say "ugh - Galveston."  People outside Texas say "ugh - Texas."  But they're all wrong, because Galveston is exactly the seedy seaside town we Brits enjoy, with the added bonus that you don't get hypothermia when you take your shoes and socks off.  But then, being a British gentleman, I never remove my socks in any circumstances.

The other thing that the seaside has is boats, so Dad and I decided to explore Galveston's naval heritage when we heard about a small ship called "Jacks Or Better".

In order to bypass the arcane gambling laws around here - I can't even place a wager on England winning the Ashes! - this boat takes 1.5 hours to sail nine miles off the coast and into international waters, where the fruities are switched on and the covers pulled off the blackjack tables.  Three hours of gambling ensue before the boat turns around to sail back.  While you're gambling, all the alcohol is free.  And they give you vouchers for booze on the way out.  I may have already used the word seedy.  But given this combines my ex-navy father's two great loves of seafaring and roulette, how could we pass up the opportunity?

The boat has been emptied and transformed into a two-level casino, complete with imposing cashier's cage and beefy pit bosses, leading me to wonder who would attempt to knock over a floating casino.  A team of corrupt Olympic swimmers, or a seriously cut-price Bond villain with a submarine perhaps.

None of this mattered to Dad and I, who loved it.  Dan The Singing Dealer entertained us on the top deck on the way out and the free booze guaranteed a lively time, which combined with the sun and gentle motion made the loungers the perfect venue for an afternoon snooze later.

In between we gambled.  Or Dad did.  I don't gamble on principle, the principle being that I always lose.  But I was an enabler, placing the chips where my high-rolling father directed me to.  We left one permanently on his birthday, 22, and - as ever - just as I thought our chips were exhausted, 22 came up and we eked out another half hour of slowly losing money.  I didn't turn away the cocktail waitress when she kept offering drinks.  Living the dream!

All too soon it was time to U-turn, through the rigs and tankers that line the Gulf of Mexico, and even past a submarine and some dolphins.  The party raged on upstairs but we opted for the more peaceful, now closed casino floor, where jaded gamblers cradled their empty wallets.  If only they could see the truth: everyone's a winner in Galveston.

None too shabby a view from the hotel balcony.

Breakfast time for the Petes.

Our 5-star cruise ship awaits!

But what's inside?  Bankruptcy.

Up on deck.

Leaving the coast approximately 9.1 miles behind.

Dad is unmoved by Dealer Dan and his dancers.

OK, now the real fun begins.

Goodbye inheritance.

"And my son will cover my debts..." Dad tells the pit boss.

Time to dream up another roulette strategy.

Cashing out as the boat turns back.

The party continues on deck.  Drowning sorrows?

Land ahoy!

"And then the naughty gambler came home to his wife who locked him under the stairs and he promised never to do it again..."

Friday, 24 November 2017

In-laws and outlaws

On a normal Thanksgiving we'd be filling up on carbs and alcohol with the Muckers, but they have inconveniently decided to stay in Virginia rather than relocate to Texas.  So this year we decided to replace them.  With ourselves.

Christine's dad Jim lives near Austin, a few hours' drive from us (in Texas we measure distance in hours).  To beat the holiday traffic we drove out into hill country on Tuesday night, arriving late, putting Pete straight to bed, and then jumping into Jim's hot tub.

We enjoyed his resort-style retirement for all of Wednesday, wandering along his lakefront, going out to his clubhouse for lunch, playing bocce ball at his house.  In the evening he took me to his local karaoke night.  They had both kinds of music - country and western - but there was no way I could compete with a bunch of Texas retirees rocking the hits.  I cradled my G&T quietly in the corner.

On Thanksgiving morning we drove over to Vince's parents.  The Mucker Snr. house was even fuller than the Mucker Jr. one.  I'm not sure I was introduced to everyone, but after a few drinks it didn't matter.  We ate a gigantic turkey dinner and watched a lot of American football; this is actually the dictionary definition of Thanksgiving.  Later I was able to trick everyone into watching the cricket from Brisbane, although much translation was required ("the pitcher bowls six balls, and then the batters have to run between the bases, and you get six for a home run...")

We drove back to Jim's this morning, having discovered that the legendary In'n'Out burger has restaurants as far east as Waco!  Waco and not Houston?!  An animal-style cheeseburger with fries and a neopolitan shake was just what I needed after waffles for breakfast. 

Now we're back at Jim's for a final night before the return to Houston tomorrow.  Everyone agreed that we were a big improvement over Vince and Christine so, like Thanksgiving, it looks like we could be an annual tradition.

Jim has a seven-person hot tub.  Or a one person hot-tub, according to Hannah.

At Lago Vista lakeside.

And then lunch.  It's a tough life.

Out the back of Jim's property.  This is real Texas.

A little afternoon refreshment.

And then bocce ball!  Which is boules.

Ah, time for some proper sport.  It's not tradition to watch The Ashes at Thanksgiving, I was shocked to discover.

The Muckers got in a few drinks for our arrival.

"So if we can come to see you in Houston then we won't need to go to cold, rainy Virginia anymore to see...what was my youngest son's name again?"

Precision turkey cooking.

Hannah was very engaged by the football.

Pre-lunch G&T.

The usual chaos of the family dinner.

Why is Pete laughing?

Because his new friend John Paul is doing this.

A quick snack on the way home.

Walking off the calories.

Hill country sunset.

Aaaaannnddd just one more dip in the hot tub before we leave.