Thursday, 18 May 2017

First Brits on the Moon

It was time to take a break from unpacking and have a look at what Houston has to offer.  I'd also managed to slice the top off my finger while trying to remove some staples with a kitchen knife.  "I ain't got time to bleed," I declared, and then decided to take a break to recover from my severe man-injury.

But what to do?  "Hmm...what was the first word spoken from the Moon?" I thought.  And then I remembered!  It was "Houston"! (Although probably not).  My mind was made up: let's go to NASA.

NASA is big around here, with the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center being the 1,600 acre hub of all the US manned space flight that has gone on for half a century.  The land was kindly donated by an oil company (of course) and today you can visit it and take a tram ride around, waving at real scientists and engineers, who presumably love tourists rolling by their windows while they're trying to do...whatever it is scientists do.

There's a fantastic visitors' centre, with all the interactive treats that Pete could imagine, and out the front sits a space shuttle on the back of a jumbo jet!  The tram tour takes you across the massive campus to the very room where they commanded all the space missions and heard the word "Houston", from the Moon and famously followed by "we have a problem".  The modern command room for the International Space Station is downstairs so this one has been restored to its former 1960s glory, and visitors sit in the actual seats the dignitaries sat in all those years ago (although thankfully with less cigarette smoke).

Unfortunately, as with our visit to the Kennedy Space Center, there are several mentions of the lack of an active manned space program; all the shuttles are now only tourist attractions.  Surely breaching the final frontier is the noblest, most evolutionary, most imaginatively successful thing we could do, soaring from our planet and guaranteeing the continuation of our species!  But no, it seems this country (and most others) would rather increase spending on ways to kill people.  Oh well, so much for my 50th anniversary trip to Mars.

Thankfully Pete and the myriad other children there were utterly entranced by all the ideas, and though like every parent I sometimes wish I could shoot him into space, this time I meant it in a loving, human progress kind of way.  I guess I'll settle for a postcard from Mars when I'm in my nursing home.

Anyone want to help me steal a space shuttle and see if we can get it flying again?

A faked Moon landing.

Touching some Moon rock.

Ready to fly.

My main wish to be an astronaut stems from all the buttons I could press!  Woo!

Sadly, Daddy failed.

A little short to be a space man.

In training.

One step from greatness.

Welcome to the futuristic 60s.

You need a big rocket to get into orbit.  If scientists could hurry up inventing teleporters, things would be more efficient.

The pizza slices in the cafe were of galactic proportions too.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Down in the big country

I woke up and I was in Texas.  I knew it was Texas because when I lifted the top of the hotel waffle machine my waffle was in the shape of Texas.  I told the hotel clerk we were moving here from Maryland.  "Maryland?" she asked.  "Where's that?  Is it in Texas?"

Fortunately our delivery driver knew the way and arrived outside our house in an 18-wheeled juggernaut.  Having done this moving thing a few times I have to say that this was the best yet - no breakages, fewer scratches and dents than usual, and only a teapot lid and some reusable shopping bags missing.

The movers unpacked as well, although this just means that things get taken out of boxes and piled up rather than being left in said boxes.  It's a race against time putting things away so as not to suffocate under your own junk; a karmic experiment in materialism.

Hannah, who doesn't like tidying and isn't stupid, starts work tomorrow, and me and Pete...well, we're gonna start hard on becoming Texans!  Y'all.

A waffle the size of Texas.

Are you sure you brought a big enough truck?

After seeing all our stuff we're going for the minimalist approach from now on.

Phew - they remembered to deliver the child.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Paradise regained

We finished off our beach holiday and drove back to DC, on our way to Houston.  Not the most direct route but there was some complication with getting our car picked up here so we could then fly down.  It all uses oil, so Hannah's happy.  

Far more importantly, our circuitous route allowed us to go to Claire's first communion!  As we'd been at her birth in Berkeley (almost) and her christening in Texas it seemed only right, as good brother and sister Anglicans, to make sure her Roman Catholic progress continues.

This was my first first communion, and it might have been because it was American but it was large!  In numbers and also in outfits - dozens of eight- and nine-year-old princesses in snow white dresses, most with tiaras and veils, some with gloves, at least one with an ermine shawl.  Only the priests were dressed more fancily!  The poor boys looked smart in their mini suits but couldn't compete.

Claire, of course, outshone them all, opting for a simple laced dress with floral detailing that would have made Audrey Hepburn proud.  She was focusing on spiritual matters; her namesake St Claire of Assisi would approve (patron saint of eye disease and laundry, among other things).

Afterwards there was a lot of cake and then present opening back at the Mucker house.  Claire got some wonderful jewelry and a version of the Bible in comic form (who could have given her that fantastic gift?)  Now we're looking forward to the next life event of Claire's we'll attend.  Confirmation?  Graduation?  Inauguration?

Getting ready for the big occasion.

 A vision of heaven.

A vision of hell...?

A flock (?) of first communicants.

Claire, standing out from the crowd, as ever.


Processing in.

After party.

VIP guests got to the buffet first.

Lining up in ascending height/holiness.

Many blessings!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

See you later

After the madness of moving house, all this relaxing-on-holiday stuff has left me feeling a little unstressed.  With nothing exciting to do like dusting or cleaning my heart rate hasn't been elevated in days!  It was time to put that right.  It was time to go alligator hunting.

Of course, you don't hunt the alligator, the alligator hunts you, especially when you choose to go with a kayaking company called Gator Bait Adventure Tours.  We rolled up to their jetty in Waccamaw River Wildlife Refuge with high hopes of some reptilian action.

The area is certainly swampy, with all the houses built on stilts and the sound of banjo music drifting softly through the air.  The safety talk was, however, slightly underwhelming, as we were repeatedly told not to scare the alligators.  It seems South Carolina gators are not as forward as their Florida kin, and they'll scarper even if you just bang the side of your kayak.  Given I was sharing mine with Pete, the most fidgety four-year-old in the world, chances of a close encounter were not good.

But the waterways were calm, the sky clear and sunny, and messing about in boats is always a superb holiday activity so off we went.  If judged as a safari, things were...underwhelming.  We saw three turtles, two storks and a squirrel, but the excellent guides kindly emailed me a picture of an alligator that I could copy below and pretend that we saw.  I guess I'd better get back to cleaning and dusting for my excitement, although my sister did send me an article about some large fish they've just spotted off the coast here...

The bait.

The beautiful Waccamaw (which means "happy") river.

Happy on the happy river.

A turtle.  Look closely.

Off into the narrow channels of the swamp!

Lots of teeth, no gators.

The one we didn't see.

Shhh, Pete!  Stop scaring the locals!

We didn't see this either - a brown water snake,

The scariest moment: letting Pete paddle.

Back to some livelier lakes at the hotel.

The majestic sight of a Hannah effortlessly entering the water.

Babies stay with their mothers until they mature (at least 30).

On holiday we like to do crazy exciting things.  And by crazy exciting things I mean read books.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

No fixed abode

We Davieses are, by nature, a migratory species (we don't breed in captivity) but even I have been left dizzy by a fourth different bed on a fourth consecutive night.

It began when the movers arrived on Wednesday to spend two days packing up our stuff.  "Can you leave the mattresses out so we can sleep here tonight?" I asked.  "No," I was told.  "We're packing everything today."  After I'd recovered from my panic attack - which always happens if things don't go exactly the way I'd planned - I found a hotel we could stay in.  Not the same one as we'd booked for the next night as they were full.  "Pack everything, I've booked a hotel," I told the movers.  "Didn't you get the call?" they asked.  "We're not packing everything today now.  Do you want us to leave the mattresses out?"

Hahahaaa...Pete and I went to the hotel anyway.  Where was Hannah?  Oh, she'd conveniently found meetings in Houston she had to fly to while the madness went down in Maryland.

Different movers arrived the next day and filled their van.  "We'll deliver this to Houston on Wednesday," they told me.  "Um...we're not going to be there until a week on Sunday," I told them.  "You'd better speak to the office," they said.  "Bye!"

Hahahaaa...we were in a different hotel that evening.  Hannah snuck into the room at around midnight and started snoring.  It must have been a hard few days for her down in Texas.

The following morning we scrubbed the Maryland house from top to bottom, repainted a wall that had half its paint stripped by Pete's "easy-peel" decorative stickers, let a carpet cleaner in to do his stuff, then left the keys inside and pulled the door behind us.  "Did we remember to flush the toilets?" I asked Hannah.  Whatever.  The new owners might have a surprise when they move in in three weeks.

Last night we were at the Muckers, who plied us with therapeutic cocktails and let us lie around on their sofas and watch TV.  That's what friends are for.

This morning we got up and drove seven hours south to Myrtle Beach.  This is our family holiday, planned long before Hannah got all ambitious and landed the new job down in oil capital.  Pete slept for a big chunk of the journey, worn out by constantly having to calm Daddy down.

But now we're here, and it's warm and sunny and there's mini golf and five pools, one of which has a bar.  I am a man of simple needs, and I believe I get to sleep in the bed here for more than one night in a row before I have to get in a car again, drive to an airport, fly to Texas, and find all our belongings have been piled up outside our new house for the past week.

Yeah, I don't really mind staying in hotels, says Pete.

Finally in Myrtle Beach, floating down the lazy river.

Hot tubbing (cocktails optional).

Maybe Pete is getting a little too comfortable with this hotel living, but what can he do?  He takes after his dad.