Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Morbid curiosity

Taking your parents to Houston's National Museum of Funeral History might be considered not the most diplomatic of moves, but my Dad was insistent.  So we jumped in my car, which is certainly not a hearse, and drove north.  Using the freeways around here is always dicing with death but we arrived in one piece.

The museum, like so many of these sort of American places, is a tribute to one person's passion, in this case Robert L. Waltrip’s "25-year dream of establishing an institution to educate the public and preserve the heritage of death care."  And he certainly delivers, with a sprawling tribute to all things mortal - hearses, coffins, funeral programs...you name it.

Highlights include the Mercedes Benz that drove Princess Grace of Monaco to her final resting place.  The vehicles are the stars, really, although there's also the Popemobile His Holiness used on a trip to Britain (a white Range Rover, of course) and a Batmobile.  It was $5 to sit in it, which I judged a bargain until I discovered it was a replica and was never driven by Adam West.  There's a tribute to the recently deceased West too.

You may think this would all be a bit morbid.  And you'd be right!  I mean, the whole thing is about death, so, as my mother pointed out, I probably shouldn't have been surprised.  Although I did spot one major factual inaccuracy: they claim that Elvis is dead!  #elvislives!

We left, having discussed coffin designs, celebrating our not-dead state.  Hopefully the undertaker will stay away for a good few years yet, although as I've just discovered that my Dad opened my pack of chocolate Hobnobs without asking, then left the packet open so the top one went stale, perhaps we should take nothing for granted.

Family holidays, a chance to make happy memories together.

Mum standing on the "selfie spot" in front of the Presidential hearse.  Respectful.

George Washington's funeral bill, a bargain $11.25.  Take note, parents.

Moving through the cheery exhibits.

Wait, you use a machine for embalming?  How does...no, on second thoughts...

A lock of Abraham Lincoln's hair, cut from his corpse.  Nice.

Cupcakes for Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday.  He was dead by then, but they added his favourite jelly beans anyway.

I'll sleep when I'm dead...on a nice adjustable spring mattress.

A triple coffin.  There's a story attached.  Which I'm not going to go into.

You can't take it with you!  But you can try.

A hearse of an entirely different colour.

This one will do - nothing too flashy.

A "tribute" to the Marlboro Man.

I'd better watch out when I turn 27.



And, the Pope.

Comedy coffins, to lighten the mood.


Exit through the gift shop.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Third generation Texans

My parents have arrived!  Which means that, for a short while, chocolate Hobnobs exist in eastern Texas.  My Mum and Dad decided that the heat in Britain had got a bit much so needed to get away for some respite and time with the grandchild.

Texas is, in many ways, a lot like Somerset.  We have cows here too!  And there's a suspicion from the rest of the country that we're not quite as bright as them, due to speaking more slowly and with a funny accent.  Yep, my parents will fit in fine.  Now let me turn on the air conditioning and make a cup of tea.

Grandpa on holiday (and most other days).

Mum arrived with these.  What, you don't know about the insanity sweeping the UK?  Many thanks to Janet and Mandy for being willing enablers in Mum's quest...but we still need 009, 021, etc.

The Petes enjoy watching some of the America's Cup from Bermuda.  If Britain and Sir Ben Ainslie had got into the final Dad promised me a trip out to watch.  Sadly we didn't (again).

Mum's here, better open the rosé.

Saturday, 10 June 2017


When you move around a lot you have to stay flexible, and nowhere is this truer than in the sporting arena.  In Berkeley we attended many tailgates for the Golden Bears.  Moving to San Francisco we became avid Giants watchers and celebrated with the millions when they won the World Series, and even attended an Oakland A's game or two.  Up in Vancouver you couldn't find more dedicated followers of the Canucks, and in DC the Nationals enjoyed our full support.

So now we're in Houston, and Hannah in her Chevron way managed to pick up free tickets to the baseball.  The team here are the Astros (going back to that Houston-first-word-from-the-moon thing) and they play in Minute Maid Park.  Pete seems to be very into baseball at the moment - I'm hoping it's a gateway sport for cricket - so a Saturday afternoon game was perfect.

It's hard to be a fan when you lack any outward signs of your dedication but a quick trip to our local T.K.Maxx remedied that for bargain-basement prices.  "The family that Astros together stays together," commented a lady we passed on our way to the stadium.  We felt good.

Given it's always too hot to play sport around here, the Park is completely enclosed and fully air conditioned.  They pay for their extortionate energy bill by charging even more for beer than other baseball venues; when you're in the free seats you don't mind splashing out a little.

The Astros are the winningest team in the league this year, and duly crushed the visiting Angels of Anaheim 3-1.  We left before the end because we may be superfans but we didn't want to have to queue for the bus home.  On the way we stopped to try our local Mexican restaurant where we discovered they serve avocado stuffed with cheese and barbecued meat...which is then breaded and deep fried.  It's called "el canonball".  Will wonders never cease?

We will now be wearing our Astros gear proudly around Houston and cheering for all local teams and, indeed, Team USA, until we move to the next city when we will flexibly shift our lifelong allegiance to them.  Unless we move to Australia, because when it comes to real sport there's only one team that should ever win The Ashes.

Look!  Look!  We're dressed like you!  We are friends!

On the ball.

Go out to the game, stay inside!

Fully representative.

Let's go Astros!

Dinner on the way home.  It was a lot more appetizing than I managed to photograph, honest!

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Under the bonnet

In this country you usually have to get out into the empty spaces to find the really odd stuff, like the pyramid at the center of the world, or the Miracle of America Museum, but thankfully Houston has its own share of weird and wonderful well within the city limits.  Is this because we're in Texas?  I couldn't possibly comment.

Every year there's a grand procession of automobiles through the centre of town: The Houston Art Car Parade!  It's an opportunity for people to do anything they can think of with/to/for cars then drive them around, and it's not even sponsored by Chevron.  Sadly we have to wait until April 2018 for the next one, but a tiny Art Car Museum exists to keep the motor running in between.

"Car" might be a loose way to describe what was in here.  I mean, there was one made of spoons.  There were also more traditional, hand-painted and hand-welded examples, with bat wings and monster heads, and a video about someone's wrought iron VW Beetle.

I've been amazed by what Houston drivers consider to be legal manoeuvers when out on the roads but even the most Texan traffic cop might raise an eye (or maybe just a gun) if one of these drove by.  Best stick with the Ford Fiesta for now.

Pete decides to check under the bonnet of "Spoonozoid".

Reflecting on it all.

Look out behind you.

Still a bit fancy for my liking.  I think I'm happy with our coat of "Magnetic Grey".

Saturday, 3 June 2017


At this fractious time on our planet it's good to remember what binds us together as a species, and that is meat wrapped in dough.  From the Cornish pasty to the Chilean empanada, the Chinese xioa long bao to the New Zealand meat pie, we humans love nothing better than pastry or bread wrapped around parts of an animal.

So it was with joy and a healthy international spirit that we embraced Houston's own bread-and-meat combo: the kolache.  Of course, like virtually everything in America, this is an import, all the way from the Czech bit of Eastern Europe and now available throughout the south, although fittingly it is only in Texas that meat is the main filling.

It was hard to choose where to buy our first kolache.  The Kolache Factory?  Olde Towne Kolaches?  Mornings Kolaches?  All only open until noon - the kolache is a morning ritual.  We settled on the Kolache Shoppe, despite the dubious (and fake British) way of spelling.

I can report that the merchandise was every bit as yummy as every other worldwide version of this treat, innards dripping with scrambled egg and bacon, sausage, cream cheese...you name it.  We ate a lot, and celebrated our proficiency in finding carnivorous bakery goodies anywhere on the planet.  What the world needs now is love, sweet love, and kolaches.

Give me the kolaches!

Round one: meat.


And for desert?  Kolaches!