Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Nearly a New Year

We arrived back in Laguna Hills on Tuesday evening after a great couple of nights in San Diego.

Before that though we played nine holes of golf on the San Clemente municipal course, highlighted for Ben by having a buggy. His driving of the buggy was almost as good as his driving on the course, but he soon got the hang of it. We were paired off with two local guys, who fortunately were not low handicappers!

Saturday evening was spent around the family table, playing games again. Always a good laugh at this time of year.

On Sunday, Sarah drove us about 70 miles south to San Diego, and we spent the afternoon at the Zoo, where amongst other stuff, we saw pandas for the first time ever, for real. The only disappointment was thay you always expect them to be very black and very white. These were in need of a wash and one spent all its time sleeping in a bush. Still, we had a good time. In the evening, after dropping bags at the Marriott on Coronado Island (which Sarah booked for us at $42 a night!!! - cos she does part time work for Marriott) we went into the Gaslamp District which was alive to the sound of San Diego Chargers fans enjoying their team's win to take them into the Superbowl play-offs.

We ate at Croce's - a jazz bar/restaurant owned and run by the wife of the late Jim Croce. So the place was stacked out with memorabilia. Lovely meal, great ambience. Later, Sarah took us to her favourite ice cream parlour called Ghiardelli's (I think the spelling is right).

Next day we took a walk around Coronado, and then Sarah collected us to show off where she lives. After a few Wii games, we went bowling. My best EVER bowling score is 155, so you can imagine I was not cuffed to get 141, yet Ben beat me by 1.

In the evening, we were splendidly entertained by the Benham family. Their daughter Celeste stayed with us, with Sarah, 18 months ago, and to show their thanks they shared their home with us for the evening. The highlight for Ben being use of their brand new, custom made pool table. The highlight for me, a sampling session of Phil's collection of fine tequilas. He gave me a bottle to bring home....and it's not a Jose Cuervo!

Onto Tuesday, after breakfast we went over to see the Hotel del Coranado. Now you learn something new everyday....on this occasion, that scenes from the Monroe/Lemmon film "Some Like It Hot" were filmed there made, which for an interesting nosey around. At $500 a night for the cheapest rooms, I can't think we'll ever stay there.

Then we went back into town, and visited the USS Midway, a retired aircraft carrier, and we did the audio tour. I love those things, and though Ben and Sarah hit their boredom threshold, Ailsa and I did pretty much the full tour.

To wind the day, Sarah wanted to take us to Benihani Restaurant. It's best described as a Wagamama, but where they cook the food actually on a huge hot plate on the middle of your table. It was exceptional, and it's high time this company came to the UK! We had special fried rice, shrimp, steak, grilled Japanese veg.....washed down with a nice drop of wine, plus the chef who cooked for us was entertaining; juggling his spatula, flicking shrimp tails into his hat. A top man, was Juan.

Then we came back to Laguna Hills and played Mexican Train (dominoes) again, until 1.30 a.m. So we decided a lie-in was appropriate ;-)

Tonight, we are going out to friends of Peter and Margaret to a New Year party. Sarah has gone off into LA to meet friends; Samantha is taking Ben to the movies.

The weather in the last week, has been MUCH kinder than when we first arrived, so today, it is about 68 degrees. Tomorow has the makings of a lazy day, but Friday we'll be going to the Ice Hockey at Anaheim.

We have kept in touch with people via e-mail and Facebook, plus not only reading news and sport on the BBC website, but watching Premiership games on the Fox Soccer Channel.

It's now 3.20 pm in California so less than an hour to New Year back home.

So ..... Happy New Year to all our reader! (s)

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Late on Boxing Day .......

...actually, it is just turned midnight so it's the 27th, and we're having a great time. The Nash family have treated us to some great hospitality, a lovely Christmas dinner, and unlimited use of the house.....and laptops ;-)

It has been fun keeping in touch with everyone via e-mail and Facebook, as well as enjoying the Californian lifestyle for the Festive Season.

Ben has been spending holiday money and has just about cleaned Macy's out of Calvin Kleins, whilst the best I have mustered is buying a couple of CDs for our hosts.

We are hoping to play golf tomorrow in San Clemente and then we're off to San Diego on Sunday for two nights.

We managed to watch three Premiership games today and have been keeping in touch with UK news via the BBC website.

The tune of the holiday so far is without doubt Black and Gold by Sam Sparro, which keeps bobbing up everywhere, including, bizarrely, on RADIO ONE!!!! which Margaret has on trial in her new car. It literally went "Pete Tong" at about 4.00 pm LA time - midnight back home - 8 hours and a bit ago.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy those we love

Now is the solstice of the year.
Winter is the glad song that you hear.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Have the lads up ready in a line.

Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.

Join together 'neath the mistletoe,
By the holy oak whereon it grows.
Seven druids dance in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.

Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.

Praise be to the distant sister sun,
Joyful as the silver planets run.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.

Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.
Ring on, ring out.
Ring on, ring out.

Christmas time....mistletoe and wine

It's Christmas Eve, 7.00 pm in LA, so it's Christmas day in Britain. Yesterday we went to Knott's Berry Farm with Samantha and went on some excellent rides, including the Silver Bullet, which throws you all over the place. We also went on the Ghost Rider, which is a good old fashioned wooden rollercoaster.

We're looking forward to a good ol' Christmas dinner tomorrow, and on Friday and Saturday, looking forward to eating out with friends of Margaret and Peter's.

At the same time, thinking of our relatives whereever they may be.....Rainhill, Shropshire or on a boat in the Atlantic. Love to you all.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Twenty past six there, twenty past ten here

We arrived in the USA to the usual welcome from homeland and all the other non-Americans, queueing ages to be allowed into the land of the free. So it was great to finally see Margaret here to collect us in the new family Honda bus!

The flight was a bit late out of the UK, but the good news was we got upgraded to Business Class (different class ;-) Fully reclining seats, loads of space, and the in flight entertainment was good too. Enjoyed listening to Elbow, Coldplay and The Script as well as watching a couple of films and doing the usual Independent sudoku. The fish pie was ok, and the service was impressive. The flight hardly seemed to last the 11 hours that it really did.

One thing that struck me at LAX was a total lack of anything that told you it was Christmas, but Margaret, Peter, Sarah and Samantha have more than made up for that with lots of festive decorations. There were no decoartions at the airport at all. And few that were visible on the drive down to Laguna Hills, but once we got amongst the houses, plenty were decorated with lights.

We are aiming to go to Knott's Berry Farm on Tuesday, which is a theme park, but we may cancel if it is still raining. It's not too bad, but a bit disappointing for the time of year. It promises to be better later in the week.

First time we visited the USA, in 1988, you felt totally out of touch with the rest of the planet. What a difference the internet has made. I just checked my e-mail, had a look at the BBC website, and read messages from familiar faces, which is nice. We also watched Sky Sports News at 5.00 yesterday (1.00 in the morning UK time) so we caught up with all the Sunday footy.

We spent Monday morning shopping in the mall at Irvine. We bought a few things to put under the tree, and had coffee sewrved by some grumpy girl who didn't say "you're welcome" or "have a nice day"...not even once.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Paper boys

Ben took up a paper round in April 2007 and after just one week, already was getting help from me; help I freely offered by the way, with Saturdays and Sundays. The papers are just so big on those days.

Today is Ben's last day on the round before we leave (we'll be off to Heathrow "when we're ready") so I collected the papers in the car and we delivered without the bikes today. Ben's picked up some nice tips, but better still, I think, after we persuaded him to send his customers a card, he has had some nice ones back, with his name on.

It's not bad doing the papers. the early start's a pain somedays, but you get to feel you are a link with the stories of the outside world for many.

No-one gets the Independent Though (apart from me). Nearly all Mail and Telegraph readers near us.

We are almost ready to go now. Bags packed and printed....and we'll be on our way to the hotel near the airport, and flying at 10.15 am in the morning.

Later edit.....the trip to Heathrow didn't quite go as planned as we thought it would be nice to start the holiday off with a bite to eat at Pizza Express in Huntingdoin High Street. But we got there just after 5.00 to find they were booked up. So Plan B was a trip to Tesco's where we bought butties, drinks, and more loose tea to take for Margaret, along with more sweets for Sarah and Samantha, to go with the loose tea, mustard powder and chocolate digestives we already had in the suitcases.

We had booked a night in the Sheraton at Heathrow for the pleasantly inexpensive amount of £59.00 for the room, to include parking for the two weeks; a cost cheaper by £13 than what we paid to leave the car at Stansted for just a week, in August.

We ate and shot back to the room to see who won Strictly Come Dancing.

Almost the longest day

The winter solstice is the name given to the shortest day - or longest night - and if it ISN'T that today, then it is round about now. The word solstice always puts me in mind of one of the best Christmas tunes - Jethro Tull's Ring Out Solstice Bells....but today I have two tunes going round in my head and both of them are because of other people.

Firstly, my mum and dad are fans of a series called Early Doors, and I was persuaded to watch an episode last week at their house. I really enjoyed it, not knowing dad was watching my reactions to it, and ordered my the boxed set, which was a nice gesture. But he'd already had me on a Google hunt for the words to the theme tune - a track by Roddy Frame from his 2002 "Surf" cd.

The track is Small World and I can't remember the last time my dad recommended a piece of music I was so attracted to. The chorus goes

Rushing through the stars,
Captivated by the worlds beyond
So far...... unknown.....
Floating in a car
Past the gates of

You aren't alone
It's a small world and you've grown

The next piece of music, totally different, is by Half Man Half Biscuit, and a result of an e-mail swap with Ian Kay. Just a question from Ian if I had any of their music.

I hadn't.

So, selected purely for its title alone, I bought "For What Is Chatteris" from the iTunes store.

Musically, miles away from Roddy Frame.

Lyrically, very clever and incisive

Like a game-bird reserve short on pheasants
Weavers’ cottages devoid of tenants
A market town that lacks quintessence
That’s Chatteris without your presence
Three good butchers, two fine chandlers
An indoor pool and a first class cake shop
Ofsted plaudits, envy of the Fens
Crick barriers at both ends

But what’s Chatteris if you’re not there?

Well, Ailsa won't be there for two weeks, and not will her work colleagues, as they are now on Christmas shut down, but my workmates, the Pro-Spray people, will still be at it until Wednesday.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Friday 19th December

Well, it's almost Christmas 2008, and this year, Christmas will be very different because we're leaving the UK shores for the first time at Yuletide. On Sunday morning, we'll be flying with BA from Heathrow to Los Angeles International.

Gotta be honest, right now, I haven't got my head round the concept of not being in the UK for place like home, and all that. But Ben's making up for my current lack of adrenalin.

The last week or so hasn't been the ideal preparation though. We have all had a bug of some sort. Bad chest and coughing, me. But it's getting finger's crossed.