Categories
Home Life

The phoenix rises

Forgive me blog-readers, for I have sinned. It’s been 6 months since my last blog entry.

There are some (partially) valid reasons for this and none of them are related to us disappearing off the face of the earth.

I can’t go into detail about what they were but it was related to work and whether we should move back to the UK or not. Developments this month mean that we’re staying for the foreseeable future.

So…what’s been happening outside of work in these six months ?

Well, January saw my birthday come around again. The arrival of another year is always welcome. When that stops happening, I’ll get worried. This year’s festivities was an entertainment-packed weekend. Thursday (birthday proper), Rachel and Joanna paid for me to go to the cinema and see Happy Feet. They bought popcorn and drinks with their savings. This year, unlike last, I stayed awake throughout the whole film. Friday took us bowling in Pacifica and Saturday had the Kelly family ice skating.

The ice skating was more a bonus than anything else. A couple of weeks previously, we were invited to a birthday party at a local rink for one of Rachel’s school friends. The rink had booked the party room from 2:30 to 4:30 and the price included skating for everyone. What the rink had failed to tell the mother was that there was an ice hockey game on the same rink between 2:30 and 4:30. Quite what they expected the children to do in a party room the size of a small cupboard is an explanation I’m waiting to hear. Still, after some heated negotiation, we all got free skating passes and I got to use them for my birthday.

I was quite impressed that I was able to stay on my feet all the way around. It might have had something to do with Rachel and Joanna clinging on to us like limpets and slowing us to a crawl. The only dilemma is what to do in the occurrence of a sudden ice-to-butt event. Do I fall first and catch child next or do I throw child to the ice so that my landing is cushioned ? We’ll leave that question to a game of Scruples.

February is a short month interrupted only by Valentine’s Day. This is another Hallmark holiday overrun by political correctness at school. No child is allowed to send just one card. They have to write out a card for each of their classmates so that nobody is left out. When are they ever going to learn that life is just a series of rejections and you move from one disappointment to the next ? Maybe the reason why you don’t get a card is because you’re ugly and nobody fancies you. (cue blurry dissolve into flashback of school life at Alderman Callow School and Community College)

March was Rachel’s birthday. Because she enjoyed bowling on my birthday, she decided that she wanted a bowling party at the same alley. Enough of her friends turned up to make sure it was fun but there were 553 reasons why we’re not going to be doing that again ! We weren’t allowed to bring our own food and a couple of fruit trays that we ordered ( through the alley ) came to at least 90 of those reasons. I’m not sure where all the other reasons went. Rachel came away with a genuine bowling pin signed by all her friends.

April and May have been a bit of a blur. Work got incredibly busy and World of Warcraft even more so. I’m going to blog separately on my current WoW status so that the uninterested amongst you don’t switch off.

I was trying to work on a couple of audio-visual experiments. The first was to finally complete editing on my father’s birthday experience video. When they visited the UK back in 2004, he made use of the glider voucher we got him for his birthday the previous year. We videotaped the whole thing and the intention was to make a DVD for him to watch. 3 years later and I got the camera working to the extent that I have the files on disk now and I’m playing with a video-editing suite to turn it into something respectable. It’s time-consuming and I’m sick of hearing the Thunderbirds theme tune that I thought was really clever at the time but now it’s driving me crazy.

The second experiment was to turn this blog into a podcast and have my dulcet tones ( along with the rest of the Kelly clan ) coming out of your speakers. I’ve got as far as recording an introduction 🙂

It’s obvious I have a lot to learn and I need to spend more time on these things. Maybe spending less time on WoW ?

Other significant events this year…

Rachel was one of 5 students in the school to achieve GATE (Gifted And Talented Education) status which means she’s currently going to summer school to keep her mind oiled and working. This status, apparently, sets her up for bigger and better things in the future. I’m hoping that means full scholarship at university 🙂

Both Rachel and Joanna achieved more swimming distinctions at La Petite Baleen swim school. They both got their next level ribbons and continue on to aquatic glory. They’ve achieved so much since joining the school that they’re confident in the water, although Joanna looks like she’s doing controlled drowning at times. They can also both dive in from a standing position which we would never have seen them do back in the UK.

We’re into the second or third week of the summer holidays here and Sam was going crazy not having a car. So, last week I bought a 1997 Saab 900s convertible with the assistance of those nice people at Addison Avenue. Sam and I both love it but the girls are not sure because they don’t like the roof down. We drove down the freeway at the weekend and they had their heads down and hair flying into their faces.
I guess they’re going to be walking everywhere from now on.

Categories
Home Life

Busy, busy, busy !

The end of October saw another Halloween and, this time, I went trick-or-treating with Sam and the girls and, it seems, the rest of California.

There is a street in Millbrae that everyone seems to go to. The fun thing is that everyone in the street sits out on their front porch with a big bowl of sweets and all the kids go from house to house lining up to get a Tootsie Roll. Some houses really get into the swing of things. There was one house which had decked out their garage like a spooky diner with UV lights, brains, worms and smoke. We did a lot of walking that night and the girls managed to fill their cauldrons with sweets. It’s amazing how ungrateful children can be. They had a cauldron full of sweets and were still complaining when some houses didn’t answer the knock on the door !

The best bit was that, because we were out trick-or-treating, we’d turned off our porch light and nobody came knocking on our door. Consequently, I have two $10 bags of sweets sitting next to my bed that I’ve been dipping into while I’m sitting in bed watching Family Guy 🙂

I was chuffed with myself this year because I managed to carve 3 pumpkins in 45 minutes. That’s not going to break any records but, considering that I’ve only had one pumpkin carving experience since we moved here, it’s an achievement and everybody was impressed.

My costume this year was a Frankenstein-like affair complete with green face and head scar. We went to a Halloween party the weekend before and I was introduced as “really a serious business man underneath all that make up” to all of the guests. I think I frightened off one little pirate because we turned up at the same time as he did. The look on his face was basically “there is *no* way I’m going in there with *that* (pointing at me)”. His parents couldn’t convince him to come in so they left without stepping foot over the threshold.

The party was fun and I ended up getting wrapped up in toilet roll along with a pirate father from next door.

November 1st saw us greet Sam’s mum and step-dad. The house hasn’t been this clean since the arrival of the last visitor from the UK. We rented a Dodge Grand Caravan (MPV) for the two weeks that they are here so that we can ferry them around. They stayed in a hotel in the city for a couple of days so that they could get over their jet lag and we picked them up again and brought them back to us to stay for a week. They’ve been getting into the American lifestyle which, apparently, consists of coffee mornings and shopping. Sam’s mum is loving it, Sam’s step-dad is taking the opportunity to relax at our house whilst not participating in coffee mornings and shopping.

We took them to the Golden Gate bridge on Saturday morning but the fog was very low so they couldn’t get too many pictures. They were still impressed with the scale of it all but a little disappointed they couldn’t see everything. The Exploratorium is close to the bridge so we took them there as well. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned the Exploratorium before but it’s a fantastic place with lots of science experiments that everyone can play on. To make sure that we get a chance to play on everything, we have to elbow a lot of little children out of the way but all’s fair in love and war.

The best “experiment” is a room with a fluorescent wall and a bright light that flashes every 20 seconds. When the light flashes, the fluorescent wall leaves persistent shadows. This means you can make lots of silly shapes and see them on the wall. Hours of endless fun and we also get a discount for being members of AAA (American Automobile Association). What more can you ask for ?

When we left the Exploratorium in the afternoon, all of the fog had burnt off so I took everybody back to the bridge so they could take more photos. This time, we went to the Marin headlands which allows us to get a better view of the bridge from a higher angle. That made Sam’s step-dad’s week.

After the Saturday tour, Sunday saw the girls, Sam and Sam’s mum go to the girls’ swimming class while the men went to Frys.

The swimming school is fantastic. It’s in Burlingame which is only 5-10 minutes from the house and it’s a very popular place. Sam’s been trying to get the girls into the school at the same time so that it’s easier for us all to go but in the interim, Rachel got into a class. They’ve come on in leaps and bounds ( or should I say strokes and breaths ? ). The school has a ribbon system to mark their progress. Rainbow, Green, Blue, Red, Purple and Gold. Rachel got her blue ribbon within 3 weeks of joining and when Joanna finally joined she skipped Rainbow and got her Green. The school has a deal with the local Baskin and Robbins to give the kids an ice cream when they get a ribbon which gives them an incentive to keep swimming.

The trip to Frys was an eye-opener for Sam’s step-dad and we spent a good hour or two just browsing the store. I finally relented to Apple and bought an iPod with an iTrip which broadcasts the music on an FM channel so that it can be picked up by the car radio. Quality is very good but I need a remote control to allow me to change tracks while I’m driving otherwise I’m going to have to put my cellphone down.

Categories
Home Life

Happy Birthday to me…

Another year older and, as someone reminded me, another step closer to 40.

The birthday fairy brought me a vast assortment of presents and cards from around the world for which I am very grateful.

I took the day off to veg out for the day. Joanna always finishes at 11:50am and, on Wednesdays, Rachel finishes at 1:30pm. This allowed us to go to the cinema in the afternoon as a birthday treat.

Apparently, the definition of birthday treat has changed since my day. A birthday treat in this day and age means that you have to drive yourself and pay for everybody else to go and watch a film that they want to see. Suffice to say, I had a senior moment for about an hour and woke up just as the film was ending. I’m reliably informed, it got exciting about 5 minutes after I closed my eyes.

We got home this afternoon and the girls decorated my cake. Sam used candles that permanently stay lit.  So we watched as a large number of candles melted themselves into the chocolate icing. Note to self: buy tweezers. Wax aside, the cake tasted very nice.

Categories
Home Life

Road Trip

Yesterday saw the Kelly family decamp and head to Roseville to see Dug. He’s ex-HP, current-Samsung and British. He’s been very useful during our migration as he’s been able to give me pointers as to where I can go wrong and what to avoid.

Good fun was had by all. Sam got to visit a new mall, I got to buy a new TV for the bedroom (a tip is to measure the opening on your car boot before you buy the TV otherwise you may find yourself in the parking lot having to take everything out of the box and rotating your TV to get it into the car), the girls got to play with Dug’s energetic dog called Chloe and Dug got to buy lunch 🙂

This is the first trip outside of San Mateo/San Francisco counties for Sam and the girls and it was good to see that the car survived the journey.

This week sees my birthday arrive after another year. I’m being pestered to think up some presents that I might want. I’m busy clicking my way through the Fry’s on-line shopping site, desperately looking for ideas.

Categories
Home Life

Bullets over Millbrae

There’s interesting…

We’ve been having some damp in our bedroom and Rachel’s bedroom. Our landlord arranged for someone to come and look over the place and he went on to the roof for an inspection.

The guttering around the house has checked out but the inspector couldn’t find any immediate reason why the damp is happening. However, while he was on the roof, he made a discovery.

We’re now in possession of a genuine bullet. It’s been on the roof, with accompanying bullet hole, for a couple of years or so he believes. I have no idea where it could have come from. There aren’t that many drive-by shootings in Millbrae and East Palo Alto is over 20 miles away. This will have to remain an enigma for some time to come.

Still, it gives me something to write about.

Categories
Home Life

Season’s Greetings

‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la la la la la.

So, this is going to be our first December 25th in our new land.

I can’t call it by the C-word because it’s very non-PC for risk of offending other religions and cultures. Apparently, the whole world has gone completely crazy and decided that this is how it’s going to be. President Bush hasn’t sent out a single card which wishes the recipient a Merry C…….s. Even Cliff Richard is getting in on the act and complaining about how London will be switching on the Winter lights this year and not the C…….s lights.

I say: Right on, Cliff ! We’re behind you all the way with this one. Unless you sing Mistletoe and Wine again. If that happens, you will have lost any respect you may have garnered.

Throughout the year, PG&E (the gas and electricity company) have been on the radio urging people to keep their energy bills down by switching off air conditioning and lights when not required etc. but, because it’s yuletide, most of our street has taken complete leave of their senses and are generating more light pollution than San Francisco airport. It’s very pretty to see but, now, Sam has decided that I have nail some lights to the garage. So, we’ll go to the local hardware store and buy some animated reindeer and maybe a few icicles. I have no idea where we’re going to power them from. I checked some houses and most people are running extension cables from the garage to the grass where they have about 5 or 6 other cables spidering off that. There is no covering for the sockets and we’ve been having a little moisture in the air recently so I’m expecting blue sparks from most people’s houses in the near future.

I had a close shave this evening because Rachel came up to me and asked me if I believed in Father Christmas. Apparently, the other children at school say that it’s your Mum and Dad that puts the presents under the tree. I explained to Rachel that we couldn’t put all the presents out under the tree so somebody must do it and who writes a letter to Rachel and Joanna every year ? Who eats the mince pie and nibbles the carrot ? Who drinks the glass of milk ? It can’t be me or Sam so it must be someone else. Straight off the back of that question came another one about the tooth fairy. The other children at school, once again, say that it’s Mum and Dad that put a dollar under your pillow. I asked Rachel where she thought the tooth went if it was me or Sam that did it. No answer for that one so I think the crisis is averted for another year.

That bloody school is destroying the tissue of lies that I have taken nearly 8 years to carefully build up based upon the trust that a daughter has for her father to tell her the truth. How’s she going to believe me in the future that the biker she wants to go out with is a no good beatnik who isn’t even fit to shine her shoes ?

At work, we’re having an office party for the whole family. We’re going to be bringing in a gift and everybody will be taking part in a Yankee Swap. I don’t know if this is a genuine tradition but the US version of The Office has a funny example of it going completely wrong.

If my usual standard of keeping this journal up-to-date is maintained, I won’t be adding anything until the new year so I wish everybody felicitations.

Bollocks to being non-PC. Merry Christmas, one and all !!

Categories
Financial Home Life

Capitalism…

This week, the news has been good.

Thanks to the efforts of our CFO, the Addison Avenue credit union are going to lend us some money. I’m an official American 🙂

This is a major relief because we will no longer be handing over large amounts of money to Enterprise for the rental.

That said, the other night I was grateful we still had a rental because of a stupid mistake.

Sam’s sister has been here for a few days with her boyfriend and we took them around the tourist traps at Pier 39 and did the cable cars and horse rides etc. etc. We spent a long time there and a good time was had by all. After the evening meal at a restaurant ( making sure they validated our parking ticket ), we headed back to the car park only to have me tap my pockets and realise that I didn’t have my car keys.
We’d been all over the city that day so there were any number of places they could have disappeared. When we got to the car, I peered through the window to see the keys sitting on the back seat. Why the car hadn’t been stolen, I don’t know. Maybe the 294m Americans are more honest than we thought. I won’t test that theory.

The car has manual locks (it’s a Dodge) but there were no doors we’d forgotten to lock so I needed to call Enterprise Roadside Assistance. I spoke to a couple of operators who both asked me how I was. “Fine”, I replied, “except for the fact I’ve locked my keys in the car”. They both laughed weakly. We then proceeded to try and define my precise location.

“Do you have a zip code, sir ?”.

[ At this point, I only know 2 zip codes: the office and our house ( and maybe Beverly Hills 90210 ) ]

“Sorry, I don’t know the zip code.”.

“That’s OK, sir. Can you tell me where you are ?”.

“I’m on level 4 of the parking garage directly opposite Pier 39 in San Francisco”.

“What street is that on, sir ?”.

“I have no idea. Embarcadero, I think”.

“How do you spell that, sir ?” (They start to sound like Marcie, Peppermint Patty’s friend in the Charlie Brown cartoons).

“E-m-b-a-r-c-a-d-e-r-o”.

“Sorry, a-r-c-e-d-a-r…?”

“No, E-m-b-a-r-c-a-d-e-r-o”.

“Thankyou, sir. What’s the nearest cross street ?”.

“Again, I have no idea. We’re opposite Pier 39. The biggest tourist trap in San Francisco. If you send someone out who’s local, they’ll know where I am”.

“I understand that, sir, but I need to write something down on the form”.

“OK. I’ve just looked on our parking ticket and there is no address. Do you have a map in front of you ?”.

“Yes sir”.

“Can you find Taylor ?”.

[ Pause ]

“Yes sir”.

“If you go North on Taylor, you’ll hit the water. When you get to the water, work East along Emarcadero until you see Pier 39. We’re in the parking garage directly opposite”.

“No, I still can’t see it, sir. Is that San Francisco in California ?”.

[ This time I pause ]

“Yes it is”.

I breath a sigh of relief as she decides that is all the information she needs about the location.

She asked me whether the car had automatic locks or an alarm. It’s a Dodge, it has nothing. So, now she has the make, model and registration of my car and the fact that she could break into it at any point.

The mechanic turned up in about 30 minutes, got out of his truck, jammed a wedge into the driver’s window, thrust a coat hanger through and opened the lock. All in the space of about 2 minutes.

Remind me not to buy a Dodge Neon when we go car shopping.

This week has been very short due to the Thanksgiving holiday. This is taken more seriously than Christmas as it’s an all-encompassing holiday because it’s non-religious ( unless you count the bit about the pilgrims ). Like Independence Day before it, all of our friends and work colleagues have asked us if we’re going to celebrate it.

My usual answer to Independence Day is that we will celebrate the time we got rid of the colonies. For Thanksgiving, I usually tell them we celebrate the forced take over of land belonging to the Native Americans. Surprisingly, most of them agree.

We’ve been invited to our neighbours’ house for a meal. They are Swiss and Venezuelan so they’re just looking for an excuse to eat and get drunk.

What more reason do you need to celebrate ?

Categories
Financial Home Life Rants

Happy Halloween

October 31st is the time of year where everybody takes leave of their senses, dresses up in various costumes and then goes around the neighbourhood demanding candy with menaces.

Yes, it’s Halloween.

We were invited to a neighbour’s party and we all dressed up. I managed to get a Grim Reaper outfit from somewhere and made my face up to look deathly pale ( no change there you might cry ). At the appointed hour, we all arrived at the door and I found out that it was a kids’ party where most of the parents were in civvies and I looked a right eejit.

Halloween itself was an interesting night. Sam took the girls trick-or-treating with some friends and they all went to the rich part of town where people decorate their houses and distribute big handfuls of candy. The whole city seemed to have descended on one street and, by the sounds of it, it was a real melee.

Rachel and Joanna came back with buckets full of sweets, desperate to eat them all at once. We’re rationing them so they won’t be finished until Christmas 2006.

My evening was such that I wasn’t allowed to sit down on the sofa with a cup of tea without the doorbell ringing and either some cute four year-olds dressed as giraffes or Dracula holding out pumpkin-shaped buckets or a group of teenagers in black eye shadow and lipstick holding out a pillow case. Luckily, we ran out of candy and I had to turn off the porch light. After that, nobody bothered us and I got to drink my tea 🙂

This week, we went to see BofA to talk about a car loan. Last week, we applied to borrow some money for cars because I’m paying a ridiculous amount of money to rent a car monthly. We mistakenly thought that, although the interest rates were not as competitive, the fact that we had an account with the bank, they have a relationship with Barclays in the UK and we spoke directly to the person who set up our account in the first place, it would hold us in good stead.

Not so.

The person who set up our account is the Branch Manager. She has the title Vice President but this means absolutely nothing. She is not able to make lending decisions on her own, she has to refer them to the loans department. The first thing that the loans department did was to credit check us :-S We were rejected because of the usual story, i.e. no credit history. Usual frustrations, usual banging of heads on walls.

I ended up speaking with my CEO. Our CFO has contacts with a credit union and arranged for me to speak to the Branch Manager there. She sounded encouraging saying that lending to overseas visitors is something that they have done before. It’s likely that this means we will part company with BofA so we can bank with the credit union but I’m sure that neither BofA or I will be shedding any tears over that. We have our fingers crossed that we can work this through.

It seems that it’s not just us who are having financial difficulties. The school keeps sending begging letters to the parents for donations of $25 to $40 per child for art material or reading material or to be able to pay for someone to come and read the children stories. The financing of schools is a big topic and Californian schools are not well funded which is why they keep tapping the parents for cash. The problem we have is that the PTA stated that the membership fee ( which equates to $100 per child per family ) is to assist the school for funding certain projects. One such project is called Art In Action where the children get to learn about different art forms. According to the PTA accounts, $8000 has been spent on this project. However, at least in Rachel’s class, the volunteer parents are teaching the lesson. For free. This week, it was Sam’s turn to teach the lesson. She had to explain about cave paintings in Lascaux and discuss the techniques being used. Excuse me ? Sam is well-versed in a multitude of skills but I don’t remember going to her graduation ceremony at Art college. The teacher was sat at the back of the class. How is it possible to spend $8000 if you get someone to teach for free ? I don’t believe that they spent $8000 on wax crayons.

This weekend, it hit home about how far we are from the UK. My best friend got married and we weren’t able to attend. So, a big congratulations to Neil and Carron. We managed to speak with them the day before and the day after and it all went well. We’re just waiting for the pictures of the day.

And in other news, I obtained minor celebrity on the BBC News website at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4392080.stm#captions

Categories
Home Life Medical Rants

October update

You people are never satisfed. You complain that I don’t update this journal as often as you’d like but when I ask you if you’ve seen my latest update, you admit that you haven’t been reading it that often. Make your minds up.

Any road up, things have been ticking along slowly here apart from the obligatory busy weeks at work.

Sam, according to the medical profession, still has TB. We went to see the director of Disease Control at the local hospital last week to get some information. Both doctors we have see so far have been presenting this as if Sam was a ticking timebomb of TB germs ready to explode at any given moment and infect the whole planet with disease. All because the skin test comes up positive. The X-Ray is clear, the blood results are clear, all her vital signs show that she’s healthy. If she hadn’t have wanted to volunteer at the school, she wouldn’t have had to go through all of the tests and would have gone through the next few decades never even wondering about TB.

According to the medical guidelines, the next step is to put Sam on a 9-month course of drugs called INH. According to the medical guidelines, this drug has been proven to prevent the development of TB in mice (and a few of hundred human subjects). But, the effectiveness of this drug wasn’t tested by taking a skin test before the drugs and then one after. Oh no…the effectiveness was deduced by the fact that none of the test subjects developed TB symptoms after taking the drug. So, Sam will go on the course (did I mention that they have a potentially hepatoxic side-effect ?) and that’s it. No test afterwards. Any skin test will always come up positive because of the BCG. For crying out loud, make the connection. Think about it. We’ve come from a country where the occurrence of TB is considerably lower than, say, Asia where a lot of immigrants into the Bay Area come from. We’ve come from a country where they regularly vaccinate children during their school years with the BCG vaccine. One fact that they keep coming back to is that the skin test came up larger than usual. We put this down to the simple fact that although the test guidelines state that the skin should not be covered with a plaster, the nurse did it anyway. Rachel and Joanna, when they had their tests, were told that they shouldn’t have a plaster.

My brother mailed me the following link from the BBC News website which states that a new study has shown that the BCG vaccine may actually be more effective than previously thought.

The doctor has said that, because Sam doesn’t fit into any of the categories that would normally mean a strong need to go on INH and she is perfectly healthy, he will support us if we decide not to take the medicine.

OK, enough about TB.

As I said, work has been busy. Sam continues to volunteer at the school and has had a bit of a shock about the state of the education system. Both Rachel and Joanna are covering work that they have already done in the UK and we’re starting to get concerned about whether it’s enough to keep Rachel occupied. Joanna’s teacher doesn’t seem to have the time to cover much during the lessons and both Rachel and Joanna’s teachers are in their first year of teaching. It’s not filling us with a great deal of confidence. Still, we’re getting the education system we’ve paid for. In the meantime, Rachel and Joanna are making friends and it’s good to get them into the routine. It’s great that they’ve settled in easily ( as we thought they would ).

A minor note of interest…regular readers of this blog may remember the dancing lady at the Social Security Office. I had the good fortune to see her in our local supermarket the other day. She was harassing one of the assistants about the quality of the watermelons. Again, I avoided all eye contact and backed away slowly.

We went to see Wallace and Gromit last weekend. A good time was had by all. Even the Americans were laughing at it. I found out that the only thing they had to change was the word “marrow” and replace it with the word “melon” because nobody here knows what a marrow is.

This weekend was the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin festival.

Halloween is celebrated big time here. All of a sudden, you’ll find shops festooned with spiders, Freddy Krueger and costumes. We’ve been invited to a fancy dress party. Rachel is going as a vampire, Joanna is going as a pumpkin, Sam is going as a mediaeval serving girl. I’ll probably go as an out-of-luck, depressed support engineer. All the supermarkets have been stocking bags of sweets ready to give to kids who are trick-or-treating. Apparently, the standard practice is that you leave your porch light on if you want visitors. I may be taking the bulb out.

Half Moon Bay is on the coast. There seems to be only three ways to get into the town. The whole of the Bay Area was using them. It took about 90 minutes to go 10 miles.

Along the same road to get into Half Moon Bay, there are a couple of pumpkin farms which have pony rides and celebrations. We stopped there for an hour and played. The girls had a ride on the ponies and we all got a hay ride in the back of some 1950s truck. It was an interesting experience because we were sharing the truck with a Mexican family. It felt like a border crossing but without US Immigration waiting at the other side with rifles.

Finally, an amusing misunderstanding ( based on our accent ) while we were waiting for the pony rides…

There was a lady standing close to the queue but we weren’t sure. “Are you queing ?” we asked.

“I’m not Cuban. I’m Columbian”.

Categories
Home Life

A moment of reflection

It’s been just over 3 months since we first landed here and I thought it was about time to laugh at a couple of the more mundane aspects of the American lifestyle.

#1 – American radio

Unlike the UK where radio stations are sporadic across the frequency spectrum, here the radio waves are jam-packed with stations. It’s difficult to pin down a particular station to enjoy because they cater for all tastes.
The station that our alarm clock is tuned into is Star 101.3. It’s output is mindless pop to the extent that I firmly believe that they got a “Now That’s What I Call Music” compilation CD for Christmas last year and can’t stop playing it.

Repeat tunes are “Hazel Eyes” and “Since You’ve Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson, “Let’s Get It Started” and “Don’t Phunk With My Heart” by The Black Eyed Peas, “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go” by Soft Cell which is usually preceded by the jingle “Bay Area Classic!!!!”

This has been going on for 3 months since we tuned in.

They have “Whatever” weekends where, it appears, they load up a playlist on to their iPod, hit the shuffle button then bugger off to the beach for the weekend until someone comes back in on Monday to reset it.

The morning DJ is called Don Bleu. He’s been doing this for over 25 years and it shows. He thinks it’s hilarious to keep doing what Noel Edmonds finally figured out, years ago, was a pointless waste of time: the crank phone call. In Star 101.3-land, it’s called a “Bleu-per” (blooper) call.

Oh how we laugh as Don pretends to be an official who’s intent on winding up the recipient until he reveals his true identity at the end. It’s like Clark Kent. Nobody realises he’s Superman until he takes his glasses off. This man has a distinctive voice and when the reveal happens, everybody knows who he is so how long does it take them before the penny finally drops ?

#2 – Mobile phones

This country is in serious need of a wake-up call.

Yesterday, I saw a woman pull up to a stop sign with a child in the back seat. The woman had one hand holding a mobile phone and the other brushing her hair.
We’ve seen drivers of huge trucks turning corners with a cell phone tucked under their chin.
The aforementioned Star 101.3 runs adverts (sorry, commercials) for the California DMV which states that you shouldn’t use your cell phone in a construction zone (road works). Does this mean that you can use it in any other place down the freeway ?

#3 – Dangerous dogs / news reporting

The local TV news channel runs regular reports of the latest person to be attacked by a pit bull. The most prominent case was a 12 year old boy who was mauled to death by the family pit bull. That in itself is a tragic event (and still is). What is slowly revealed over the course of a a few days is the following…

The mother of the boy explains to reporters that the dogs are family pets and have never harmed anyone before.
The mother of the boy had gone out to work/get groceries leaving the boy on his own.
The mother of the boy had locked the boy in the basement before she went out.
Somehow the boy had managed to get out.
The family had 2 pit bulls, one of which was female and in heat. The other was (hopefully) male and not neutered because they were hoping to breed puppies.

So we’ve gone from a random, seemlingly inexplicable, mauling to reckless abandonment, incarceration and a dog protecting his mate.

San Francisco is currently at the point that the UK was in about 1991 just before the Dangerous Dogs Act came into place. The media want to hunt all pit bulls to extinction.

I’m reliably informed by my father, in Perth, Western Australia, that a very similar thing happens there when someone gets bitten by a shark. Everybody wants to go out on boats until there are no more sharks left. What’s unsaid is the fact that there are approximately 10 – 20 fatalities worldwide from shark attacks. Work it out for yourself (or as we Americans say: you do the math).

On the lighter side of the news, a reward is continually increasing for information on the man who deliberately ran over 12 ducks at a local car wash (being recorded on CCTV).

#4 – Sports

This country is obsessed with sport. It’s very alienating to be caught up in a conversation with people continually quoting statistics at you. See the explanation for batting average on one such statistic. When you start going into decimal places, it’s time to worry. I think the only reason why all these statistics are being compiled is to generate sales of Top Trumps.

It’s also the case that people will inquire about your cable or satellite offering to find out which sports channels you can receive. DirecTv is the leader in satellite broadcasting and, if you’re an avid sports nut, you get that.

For the most part, going to a sports bar and watching 20 different screens simultaneously is a favourite pasttime. It kills the conversation stone dead, but there’s nothing like going to a bar with your friends and not talking to them for a couple of hours.

#5 – Kids’ meals

A favourite topic of Sam’s.

All of the restaurants we’ve been to are family oriented. When we’re taken to our table by the host or hostess, the girls are given some crayons and something to do while they’re waiting for the meal to arrive. This is a great idea because it actually distracts them if they are hungry.

Choosing the meal is really easy in the fact that I think there is only one company in the Bay Area that provides children’s meals for all the restaurants. The choices are: Macaroni Cheese (or Mac and Cheese as it’s called here) and fries, Corn Dog or Hot Dog and fries and Chicken Nuggets and fries. Every single restaurant. Every time. We almost pre-order the meal before we get there.

It’s the same mentality that makes advertisers tell us that Peanut Butter is a healthy sandwich for your children to have.

Some places offer a vegetable side dish to go with it but who really wants to eat broccoli with a corn dog ? TGI Fridays served mandarin orange segments with a hot dog last night.

What’s the difference between brussels sprouts and bogies ? You can’t get kids to eat brussels sprouts.

(Drum roll – hi hat)

You’ve been a wonderful audience. Try the veal, I’m here until Thursday.