Saturday, 22 April 2017

Because they arrrrrrrr!

It's undisputed that the British are the greatest seafaring race.  We're surrounded by water!  We have to take a ferry to go on holiday!  We don't just have a navy, we have a Royal navy!  Further unnecessary proof was offered this weekend when we went on an open-deck cruise down the Potomac while gale force winds blew rain horizontally and brought visibility down to zero.  Yet we endured!  The Americans that were with us did alright too, no doubt inspired by our display of stalwartiness.

Piracy was the name of the game, an Urban Pirates cruise that Hannah had booked for us and the Muckers.  I was doubtful that we would launch, given the intense nature of the elements, but our ticket said they'd run rain or shine and they weren't kidding.  While all other guests/prisoners hid away under the poop deck Claire, JJ and Pete threw themselves wholeheartedly into this high seas adventure.  It was especially cute watching Pete try to sort the make-believe from the real.  Were we really on a pirate ship?  Is that really a treasure chest?  Are these real pirates?

While the kids ran about in the lashing storm, and we adults tried to keep sheltered by holding umbrellas at various angles, the "pirates" put on an incredible show when - frankly - no one would have criticised them for giving up and chugging home to harbour at the earliest opportunity.  There were pirate games, pirate dances, a limbo competition... At the start of the trip I had sighed in irritation at the captain's request to "please remember your crew" when the tip hat was passed around at the end.  By the time we were back in port I was ready to drop in all the cash and cards I had.  Such dedication to soggy piracy was breathtaking.  We squelched off to warm up on Bloody Marys and beer with the landlubbers at the local brewery.

Everyone's excited to be here!  Except Vince, but then he's in the army rather than the navy.

Make your best pirate face!


Our ship.  Incidentally, "Relentless" is the word Claire's parents use most often to describe her.

JJ was a willing volunteer for the safety demonstration (safety on a pirate ship!?  Pah!)  Note the colour of the sky in the background.

Lovely weather for the time of year.

It takes more than a little rain to discourage these buccaneers!

How low can Vince go?  Always lower.

We were then attacked by Mad Dog Mike.  The conflict was short (probably because he didn't need any more water thrown at him) and we recovered our stolen treasure.

Our victorious pirate dance!  Christine is having the best time.

And now some treasure for the little pirates!

And, finally, a reward for the adult ones.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Relative obscurity

When I reflect on my cousin's visit - boxing, cheering President Trump, going to a NRA shooting range - there's no doubt who the bad influence in this family is.  Sadly I now must return to my goody-two-shoes best, as we waved goodbye to Mark, Liz, Lewis, Ollie and Freddie this morning.  It's quiet around here, in the same way it was quiet after an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs.

We finished their stupendously fun stay with a final trip into DC which included spending an eye-watering amount on souvenirs.  I'm not sure how many stars-and-stripes tea towels make it to west Pembrokeshire every year, but there are going to be a few more now.  They spent so much they got a free photo in a fake Oval Office around the corner, and you can't say fairer than that.

"I miss them so so much," said Pete at tea tonight.  "I miss it when Mark lets me fight him."  Indeed.  Luckily we'll be in Wales in August, and maybe I'll let Pete enjoy an extended stay with his cousins.  What's one more notch on the Richter scale?

These three in charge?  We might be in even more danger than now.

Their highlight was Shake Shack, where we returned for one final lunch.

Oh, and then had one final breakfast from Dunkin Donuts.

Mark is embarking on a 200-mile charity cycle ride shortly after he gets home.  He's storing up the calories now.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Friendly fire

The Second Amendment - the right to arm bears - is one of the most contentious in the Constitution.  To me it seems obvious that "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" is the founding fathers telling us that everyone should be allowed to buy assault rifles without background checks.  Others disagree.

My cousin grew up on a farm and has shot his fair share of foxes and magpies (and the family cat, but that's another story) so wanted to see how they do things over here.  And would you know it?  The National Rifle Association has a museum and shooting range just down the road!

The NRA used to be about gun safety and sport shooting, but somewhere along the way transmuted into interestingly-funded lobbying and propaganda.  To say I was suspicious about visiting is an understatement.  My cousin and nephews had no such worries.

The museum had guns.  Lots of guns.  Some actually interesting, from the first historical attempt (a metal tube with a wooden end from 1350, fired by people in armor) to several carried around by John Wayne in some of his many westerns.  Slightly more offputting were the examples of big game hunted by the museum's founder, Robert E. Petersen, including bison and rhino.  You don't see many of them on West Wales farms.

From there we went to the range: "the premier family friendly indoor shooting facilities in the country!"  Thankfully for all involved you have to bring your own gun, so my nephews didn't get to inflict the damage they're always threatening to each other.  The range manager, who studied for his degree in England, gave them all hats and stickers and then we left, which brought my heart rate and blood pressure down significantly.

There was a disappointing lack of gun propaganda, although the gift shop did have a selection of bumper stickers to leave those driving behind you in no doubt.  But I guess a gun range is somewhat self-selective, given you need to show permits and licenses to turn up, unlike those taking advantage of the Second Amendment for crazier ends.  Like my cousin and nephews.

Welcome to America, boys!

Liz - always the romantic.

This is Herman Goring's hunting rifle, as captured in WWII and presented to Eisenhower.

Guns and beer!  Perfect!

The Charles and Di commemorative shotgun.  Shotgun wedding?

Now let's see what happens when we add an axe to a gun.

Ready, aim, Fred!

An original teddy bear, named after a soft president.

A man's gotta do...

Laser guns too?!

Well Hannah, if you want to fit in in Texas.

And now for a more healthy pursuit.

Don't worry Pete - Davieses always grow up taller than Reeds in the end.

Monday, 17 April 2017

You gotta roll with it

As you know, I am a man of unimpeachable ethical standards and unshakable political conviction.  Until someone offers me a free ticket somewhere and then I'm like "whatever".  Which is how I found myself standing on the White House lawn staring up at Mr Trump himself as he regaled us from the balcony at the annual Easter Egg Roll.

This isn't the first roll I've attended.  Back in 1983 I got to go with Dad when he was over here for a government thing, and waved to Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan as he took a walkabout through the crowd (see?  Trump might be the least qualified man to hold the office but he's not the only unqualified man).  This time we were on VIP oil tickets, proving business and government both care for the common people.

Unlike 1983 I had to hold back and let the kids do all the fun stuff; we took Pete and Virginia (whose mum couldn't get a break from the DC Chevron office) and they ran around chasing bunnies, posing with fancy-dress characters, and eating hard boiled eggs on sticks (amazing!)  We were then told that the leader of the free world was about to address the crowd.  "The Queen's here?" I asked, but they only meant Donald Trump, who confirmed that this was the biggest and best egg roll ever.  Hannah opted to take the kids to decorate cookies while he spoke.  No sense of history.

First family.

Who ate all the eggs?  The very hungry caterpillar, that's who!

Ready to roll...

...and off they go!

We weren't the only British impostors.

Official photo.

Easter egg hunt!  You've missed a big one.

Boiled egg on a stick!  Because everything's better on a stick.

Something about chickens.

Who's that up there with the Easter bunny?

A kickaround with DC United.

Press secretaries are looking younger and younger.

And our collector's item.  Maybe Schwarzenegger will be president next time I get to attend.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Fight night in America

They're active, these Welsh boys.   By around 7.15am every morning they're ready to head out and throw/kick/punch a ball around, stopping only for food.  Luckily the perfect opportunity to combine all their interests came on Wednesday when the Washington Nationals baseball team offered cheap tickets to a game with $1 hot dogs!  I booked immediately.

At the ballpark I did my best to explain the rules ("they hit the ball then run") and got a pleasing "how many?!" from the hotdog server when I asked for fourteen.  Mark was kind enough to buy the beer ($10 a plastic cupful - I'm not daft) and I left having educated my nephews about a game that's like cricket but not as good.

The sporting action didn't end there, as the brand new MGM National Harbor casino they've built nearby was hosting world-title boxing!  My cousin used to be a bit of a boxer himself and as I've never been to a match before - mainly due to passing out at the first sign of violence and/or blood - I thought I'd treat us to a sample of the big time.

It was...interesting.  There were a lot of fights, including a number of local Baltimore boys who got huge receptions from the crowd.  Some fights were over quickly (40 seconds), one went the distance (junior featherweights Dezurn vs Davila, certainly the best of the night) but the title fight was a straight Russian victory as Dmitry Bivol (he was born in Kyrgyzstan!  Even his country of birth sounds tough!) took apart Samuel "The Main Event" Clarkson in four rounds.

I didn't faint, which was a personal victory, and the most entertaining element was undoubtedly the crowd, most of whom were happy to dispense plenty of advice to the boxers in the ring about what they should be doing.  "It's Rocky 4!" the guy behind us kept shouting.  Except this time Rocky lost.  Mr Bivol now gets to fight a Welsh boy so maybe I'll keep up with pugilism a little longer.  But the beer was even more expensive than at the baseball, and we spent $5 on the fruit machines and lost it all.  When in a casino...!

In between we've been going to museums and having picnics, but the fighting between the four boys has been strictly amateur and heavily refereed by all parents.

Well hello, Mr Lincoln!  With one of the mascots at the Nationals game.

Welcome to the cheap seats.

But the view wasn't bad.

Liz carries the free box we got with our hotdog order.

Back into DC the next day.

More obligatory family photos.  You'll look back on these fondly one day, boys.

The Shake Shack (here the one at Union Station) has been the real highlight.

At the casino.  The last time Mark and I had a boys' night out was when he took me poaching on the local trout farm when I was nine.

High roller (25c machine).


The winner!

Enjoying a British-style picnic the next day (i.e. freezing temperatures, gale-force winds).

And then a spot of boating.

Why are we going around in circles Fred?

Joining the tourists in state capital Annapolis.

Pete enjoying his ice cream.

Liz enjoying her strawberry margarita.

Mark enjoying his steak.  I told you we only stop for food.