Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Streets of...

I'm back from San Francisco. I loved it. England seems very cold and flat in comparision.

I wondered if there were would be enough for us to do over a week but it really wasn't long enough and despite a packed schedule, I'm sure there is so much we didn't manage to do and I'd definitely go back - tomorrow if I didn't have to work!

As it was our first visit, we did a lot of tourist sites, which has resulted in the obligatory cliched photographs:

Cable Car turning around
My new favourite mode of transport. Yes, its expensive, slow and chilly, but I loved it.

Lombard Street
Really who thought it would be a good idea to build a city where there were so many hills? My feet still haven't recovered.

I feared it would be tacky but it wasn't. It was fascinating. As its now a national park, they were keen to stress that there was more to the island than the infamous prison, but that is still what most people wanted to know about.

City Lights Book Store
The shop associated with The Beats. We stopped by and bought a few books, despite the OH's mutterings that Jack Kerouac was the most over-rated writer ever.

Haight Ashbury Sign
It had to be done, even though the old Sixties hangout is dominated by shops selling tat.

Coit Tower
An exhausting walk uphill and up stairs to reach the tower, which apparently gave the best views in the city. But with so many high points, the view weren't really that much better than from anywhere else and after the Alcatraz boat, I felt like the tower was swaying. so we didn't stay up there for long.

The Bay Bridge at Night
The less famous of the city's bridges, it apparently won't withstand another earthquake.

Wine Country
I don't normally like the countryside but even I loved it here. Unfortunately we couldn't really bring back any wine but I did sample plenty and lots of gorgeous food too.

The Golden Gate Bridge
Regular readers may recall that I don't like bridges. I made it a little way across this one before I thought I was going to vomit. The fact that there had been a ten car smash up the day before didn't help. It really would be a good idea for them to put something in between the two directions of traffic.

And some perhaps more unusual pictures:

A Man with a Basketball for a Head
We went to watch the Golden State Warriors play Houston. This was my third basketball game and I really enjoyed it this time.

A Giraffe
Not native to California - we went to the zoo! The OH said that the giraffes reminded him of me. I'm taking that as a compliment.

Giant Broccoli
A plant in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. It looked just like my favourite vegetable.

The Jefferson Airplane section of a secondhand record shop
My favourite 1960s San Francisco band. We'll gloss over what they went on to become.

Warning Sign
Good advice found on the wall of Vesuvio bar.

The only bad thing that I saw (apart from those gradients!) was that the city seems to have a terrible problem with homeless people. Living in London, I thought was used to seeing people begging, but I've not seen anything on this scale before. It was really very sad and I wondered why all of these people had come to be in that situation and if it was similar across over US cities.

As the old song goes, I did misplace my heart there but I think my body clock is still somewhere over the Atlantic as I'm keeping very strange hours. At 4am this morning I watched the end of a Discovery channel documentary about the 1906 earthquake in SF which ended with a very grim warning for the future. So I'm glad I went when I did and that I didn't see the documentary before.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Be Sure to Wear a Flower in Your Hair

I'm off to San Francisco for a week.

See you soon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Variations on a Theme

It often seems to happen that little things in my life with coincide so it feels like a there is a theme. What I mean is that I will be reading a book about something and then quite by accident (or perhaps sub-consciously) I will watch a film or read a newspaper article on a similar subject. It happened a few months ago when I was watched Little Miss Sunshine and read Miss Wyoming, while the Miss World Competition was happening in the real world.

It has just happened again. Last night I went to see a film “The Inheritance”, that turned out to be a Scottish road movie (neatly coinciding with my weekend post). During the film I was contemplating the idea of a road movie in our small country, that you can really drive from one end to the other quite easily in a day. The film got around this by slowing the journey down by a) having a slow driver who wanted to take in the scenery, b) a useful navigator so they kept getting lost and c) a clapped out old camper van that broke down every so often.

Then there was a bit of dialogue in the film about Greggs. Greggs for anyone who doesn’t know (which means you definitely aren’t northern) is a chain of bakers. It started in the north where it is ridiculously popular – the high street of my hometown (which comprised about 40 shops) had 3 branches of it on that one road, plus a few others around the town. Pasties are their big thing. So these two brothers in the film, one who lived in London, the other who’d stayed in Scotland mention Greggs and I realised that Greggs is a huge subject in the north-south divide.

When I first left the north, I was horrified to find there were no Greggs in Norfolk. What was I supposed to eat? Babies in my town are fed Greggs pasties as soon as they are old enough to hold them. There were no Greggs in London when I first moved here either. So this became a valid topic of conversation, both with Southerners and with my family and friends on returning home, where I would have to gorge myself on their Cheese & Onion pasties every visit. Then a few years ago, they expanded and now there are quite a few in London. But here is the thing, they aren’t the same – the pasties are a different shape down here, smaller and of course, more expensive. So I never eat them down here, but now “the difference between Greggs in the north and south” has become a new topic of conversation when I return to the north.

So I concluded (during the film last night) that the issue of Greggs is the crux of the North-South issue.

This morning, I started reading the book “Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North” by Stuart Maconie. It was a present from my friend who has never left the north as she thought it would be appropriate for a “northerner in exile”. Its easy enough reading, amusing but not life-changing. I felt that I could have written something similar myself. Within the prologue, he discusses whether a road trip is possible in England and Greggs the Bakers. Actually so far, I feel as if I have written it already.

So there it is, the common themes in my life at the moment are UK road trips and what a chain of bakers means to regional identity.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Autocue Millionaire

I’ve never liked Jonathan Ross. I find his interviewing style awful. He’s either too sycophantic or downright rude, but always its more about him than the interviewee. I except that all chat show hosts are going to have large egos, and I suppose I thought of him as being the sort of person you either love or hate.

Then yesterday, I decided to watch Film 2008 on playback. I know it has Ross as the presenter, but I’m interested in films so thought it couldn’t be too bad. I was wrong.

Here is a man being paid millions each year by a public funded organisation that is making cuts to the jobs of proper journalists. I’ve always thought this was a disgrace and cringed at the defence’s use of the word ‘talent’. But yesterday, he surpassed my expectations in how bad he was.

Whilst his interviewing technical is awful, his presenting skills weren’t even professional. It was the worst case of blatant autocue reading I’ve ever seen. He was staring straight at the autocue, reading without blinking. Every statement was a personal response or opinion on the subject matter, but he sounded so bored and as if the words had no meaning to him. I’m struggling to think of an analogue because I’m sure someone reading out a shopping list would put more feeling into it.

Perhaps I caught him on a bad day, but for so many millions, he shouldn’t be having bad days.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Heaven and Hell Part 2

Last night was the Heaven and Hell Party.

Out of laziness, I went as an angel (if I was really lazy, I'd have gone as sloth I suppose). I wore a white dress, feathery wings and halo and then struggled most of the day to decide what shoes to wear. It was raining outside and my most angelic footwear just wasn't practical.

At the party, the house had been decorated, with the lounge-dining room divided into heaven and hell with fluffy white clouds hanging from the ceiling in heaven and a video of a fire showing in hell. Apparently there were two types of punch too but I missed out on those, but that is probably for the best. There was also spooky, crypt-like music playing in the loo, giving the impression that you might be joined for Vincent Price at any moment.

On the costume front, I needn't have worried about being unoriginal as there weren't really any very imaginative outfits. There were a lot of devils (is there a collective noun for a group of devils?) and about three other angels (my wings were the best, but one of the other angels had a nice tutu). There was also a grim reaper, a nun and priest and someone dressed as "The Devil Wears Prada". For reasons that were never explained, someone had come dressed as the Easter Bunny.

The most effort had been made by a man who came as a fallen angel. He had black feather wings and had painted himself entirely black, which we weren't sure if that sort of thing is a bit unpolitically correct these days. Besides the wings and paint, he was just wearing black undewear, obviously something of an exhibitionist. Since I was wearing all white, I spent most of the night avoiding him anyway for fear that some of his black stuff might come off onto my dress!

Towards the end of the evening, my wings started to droop so I knew it was time to go home.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Many people declare themselves to be francophiles and occassionally I've heard people claim to be anglophiles, but today I've realised that I am a Scotophile. (Or is a Jockophile? Probably not)

Putting aside the cuisine (the very idea of haggis scares me), so many of my favourite things are Scottish. So I thought I'd make a list:

  • Primal Scream (no huge surprise there as I have mentioned them umpteen times already and they have their own category on the blog!)
  • Jesus and Mary Chain - I saw them again this week and they were still brilliant
  • Malcolm Middleton and Arab Strap
  • Belle & Sebastian
  • Teenage Fanclub
  • Deacon Blue (uncool but I love them and could happily singalong to the first two albums)
  • Simple Minds (again not at all fashionable but who can deny the power of "Don't You Forget About Me)
  • The song "The Second Summer of Love" by Danny Wilson
  • Even The Proclaimers are better than most English pop
  • The Loch Ness monster
  • Glasgow
  • Edinburgh
  • Invereray
  • Edwin Morgan - I've just discovered him (I'm somewhat out of the loop with poetry these days). He's way better than our poet laureate and his poem "When You Go" can reduce me to tears
  • Ian Rankin, the man as well as his books
  • "The Wasp Factory", "Complicity" and "Espedair Street" by Ian Banks
  • Trainspotting, the book and the film
  • The film "The Flying Scotsman" about cyclist Graeme Obree
  • Jonny Lee Miller when he's pretending to be Scottish (as in the above films)
  • Sean Connery
  • Taggart
  • Robbie Coltrane in Cracker
  • This album "Ballads of the Book" which combines music with writers and poetry and looks fantastic and is on my 'to buy list'

I even like their politicians. While my Amercian colleague lusts over Alistair Darling (I kid you not), I have a bit of a thing for Alex Salmond and the SNP could have my vote.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dressed To Be Killed

I was never a Goth. Let’s get this clear from of the offset. I didn’t dye my hair black, wear heavy black eye make-up, listen to the Sisters of Mercy and go on pilgrimages to Whitby. But in my youth, I was often accused of being a Goth by people who didn’t know any better.

I had naturally dark hair, pale skin and I favoured black clothes. I didn’t mind a bit of The Cure, but I was more interested in music from the past. Besides the black, my typical attire was flowery dresses or 1960’s shift dresses with woolly black tights or flared jeans and beads, always finished off (much to my mother’s horror) with DM boots.

Apart from the footwear, my appearance really hasn’t changed all that much and its hardly the most revolutionary style. But in a backwater northern town, where the fashion of choice for the rest of the female population was citrus coloured lycra mini dresses with cut away midriff areas and white stilettos, it was enough of a statement to get the occasional bit of name-calling at the bus stop.

Thankfully it was only ever teasing, but it was enough that the story in today’s paper about the girl beaten to death for being a Goth struck a particular cord with me. This poor girl and her boyfriend were attacked by a group of thugs and she died a few week’s later. I’d read the story briefly a few weeks ago, but today the paper gave details of the 999 call placed by an onlooker, who was unable to stop the attack. It was so harrowing.

They attacked her boyfriend first and then when she went to tend to him “cradling her boyfriend's head on her lap”, they turned on her. The tenderness of her action against the brutality of the gang hit me most. All she was guilty of was looking different but that was enough to get her killed.

What monsters this society is producing and it isn’t the people wearing black clothes and listening to allegedly depressing music.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Best in Show

I find it impossible to be unhappy whilst watching Crufts. No matter how low I might be feeling before, once those dogs come on the screen, my heart lifts. Yesterday, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, mainly due to the wash out of a week, but then a dose of canines sorted me out.

And this is despite the fact that the BBC's coverage of the event is woeful. Never work with children or animals is well worn motto, but I'd like to add Ben Fogle to that list too. Is this really what passes for being a television presenter these days? Does anyone still find that Hugh Grant-esque bumbling toff routine endearing? Even Hugh Grant stopped doing that years ago. And did we really need to see the presenters tasting doggies treats? Of course they taste awful - they are meant for dogs, not humans.

Photo PA Photos/Rui Vieira

But this aside, its been great viewing. All the classic elements have been there; the owners who like their dogs, the tear-jerking 'Friends for Life' section and the OH's inability to not laugh every time a female is being judged, due to the use of phrases like 'I love that bitch' 'What a beautiful bitch' etc.

Last night's show was particularly good. I was pleased to see a win for the Giant Schnauzer in the Working Dog group and the Pastoral Dogs Group provided a host of big but fluffy dogs to coo over. But the most interesting part was a feature on Neapolitan Mastiffs. These are hulking, slobbering great beasts, not the sort of thing I'd want as a pet, but awe inspiring. They were fighting dogs from ancient Rome and artifacts show them fighting lions. Very impressive.

Tonight it is the Hounds and Terriers Groups, and then the big prize. So that's my evening's entertainment.

The Hard Sell

The OH's channel-hopping, annoying as it is, does at least shield me from the worst advertisements. But being off sick has exposed me, repeatedly, to some shockers this week.

Worst offender is the advert for Foxy Bingo. Proof that you can find anything on the Internet, the ad is on Youtube, so here it is for anyone who has not seen it, so you know what the hell I'm on about.

A fox, dressed in a louche velvet suit, intices housewives and ducks to his bingo house, parading down the street to the tune of 'We are Family'. The ruination of a good song is bad enough, but it is the Fox that disturbs me the most. There is something very sexual in his manner that perturbs me. Ducks have no interest in playing bingo, and yet he is luring them along with the women, which makes me suspect his motives.

He is a predator, make no mistake of that. Perhaps it is actually a cautionary tale about online gambling.

Which brings me onto the next awful advertisement - Ristaurante Pizzas. This is one of those European adverts, made cheaply and dubbed into every language. Soft focus candlelit dinner for two, where pizza is being served. The voiceover describes authentic Italian pizzas as made in real Italian restaurants. They sound good - the goo being served on screen looks less appertising, but then subtitle comes up to inform us that it was 'Made in Germany'. As if anyone really believed these pizzas were being made in an Italian restaurant, boxed and sent to Asda! It being a German product doesn't put me off (I was never buying it in the first place) but the manufacturer's name alone should have sufficed - Dr Oetker is not an Italian restauranteur, he sounds like a scientist and this is something he has cooked up in his lab.

This typifies the new honesty in advertising. It seems that controls are getting stricter on advertisements. Advertisers are no longer allowed to sell us the dream without pointing out that it could turn into a nightmare. On the one hand, more honesty is good but on the other, do we really need to be treated like babies? If we can't learn to take advertising with a pinch of salt with having it spelt out for us, what hope is there for us making more important decisions in life?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Phantom Tonsils

I managed to get through the whole of the winter without getting a cold and then it turns March, and I'm hit by a bug. I'm woozy of head, hot of forehead and sore of throat.

Yesterday, my throat was so sore, I was convinced it was my tonsils. Which is strange because I had them removed when I was five. It involved a few nights in hospital and I remember my grandfather visiting me and us eating ice cream together.

I thought removing them was meant to cut down the throat infection thing, but yesterday, I swear they were hurting. So either I'm a medical curiosity, born with two sets of tonsils and they left one pair in. Or I can still feel pain in them like war veterans can still feel pain in amputated limbs.

More likely, it was just a regular sore throat and having escaped a winter cold, I've just forgotten how sore it can be.

So I'm at home today on the OH's orders. I hope I'm well enough to return to work tomorrow - not that I have any great love of the place, but if I see another advert for a stairlift I might just buy one.

Monday, March 03, 2008

I wandered lonely as a cloud

I’ve not posted much recently as I was busy with something else. Or rather, I was busy trying to avoid the something else. Very little has happened recently – I’ve been frozen in the headlights of life, trying to avoid thinking about anything too much and failing.

The highlight of my weekend was going for a walk in the park.

Walking round the park on your own feels a bit conspicuous as the park is dominated by families, who the parents of whom look suspiciously or pityingly at lone women. I felt that if I’d had a dog with me, it would be given my amble some validity, but nonetheless I wandered about with my camera and ipod, trying not to look as if I was there to mend a broken heart or steal a child (which I wasn’t).

There is a small “zoo” in our local park. I’ve put zoo in inverted commas because it seems too grand a term for a collection of ducks, pheasants, guinea pigs, goats and sheep, with a bit of exotic added by the rhea (a bit like an ostrich) and the mara (like large rabbits with short ears!).

I had gone with the main intention of visiting the pygmy goat, who was very friendly and curious but separated from me by two sets of fence and proved difficult to photograph in his full glory.

There was a sign by the guinea pigs that made me feel sad as people have obviously been dumping their unwanted rodents into the enclosure. Surely it isn’t too much of a commitment to look after a small guinea pig, and (without wanting to be too harsh), they don’t exactly live for a long time, so surely people can just put up with them? But apparently not.

I indulged myself with a rum & raisin ice cream. There was quite a queue for ice creams considering it had just turned March and wasn’t exactly warm. But as everyone else seemed to be having one, I thought I’d treat myself too. It was only after I’d bought it, that I realised other people were buying them for their children, not themselves, but I don’t see why ice creams (like swings) should just be the domain of children.

I tarried a while, eating my cone and photographing the ducks and pheasants, before the cold got the better of me and I headed home.

I was going to post what I was listening to during this, but my ipod seemed obsessed with alternating between Bob Dylan and Beth Orton, depsite having hundreds of other artists to choose from.