No, I haven't disappeared off the face of the Earth just yet. I've been on holiday, and I've been way too busy to blog, as you'll see in a moment. So much has happened in the last couple of weeks that it will take some time to write up and at present I've only managed to document my adventures as far as the end of July. The rest is on the way, and normal blogging will resume just as soon as I can get round to bringing things up to date.
Why so hectic? In the last three weeks I've been to California, Washington, and British Columbia and I've had an absolute blast. Read on to find out more about what I got up to...
It's another hot and sunny day here in Vancouver. This morning I wanted to get a photo of the Inukshuk on the beach up the road from the hotel. Judging by the tourist stuff I've seen here it's one of the obligatory postcard shots of the city, but sadly at the moment it's fenced off like Minjun's sculptures to protect it from the fireworks crowds. I did the best I could, but I felt the photo I ended up with was somewhat set off by the seagull perched on the inukshuk's head...
First on the plan today was a visit to the oriental mall in the Aberdeen centre in Richmond. I drove down in the car with Mr P and on the second attempt we eventually found the right place (again, road signs in Vancouver aren't the best in the world...) Amazingly enough this was the only mall I visited in my entire trip, and it wasn't your average shopping palace. There was a Sanrio shop selling nothing but Hello Kitty merchandise, a business called Taiwan Dried Foods, and a Lamborghini dealership. There were also some more restaurants to explore. In one of them we met up with the rest of the gang for a traditional sit-down Japanese lunch.
I had a bento box with some delicious eel, prawns, chicken and salmon together with Japanese vegetables, wasabi, soy sauce, pickled ginger and some other stuff I didn't recognise. Needless to say it tasted very good.
It was also very filling, and it was a struggle getting up from the table to put my shoes back on! After the picnic yesterday I am feeling extremely sore, particularly where I elbowed myself in the ribs when I fell over trying to catch a frisbee throw I should have let go past me. As I laced up my boots again I felt a bit of an old crock, but as I walked around the mall staring at all the exotic things on sale (and a giant Lego model of Hong Kong) I started to feel a bit better. We headed back to the car and drove back to the hotel to get ready for the evening's birthday celebrations.
Tonight was the main event of #IAMBRAVUS2012 - Louis and Emilie's birthday party. Even though it was really too hot to do so I dressed up with a jacket, shirt and tie before meeting the others in the lobby, then we all walked through Stanley Park to the Vancouver Rowing Club. It was a lovely evening - still very warm, and not a cloud in the sky. When we got closer to the club we heard sirens, and the cause became clear: there had been a three-car pile up on the road through the park. Traffic was backed up all over the place and I was very glad we were on foot. When we got to the venue we realised most other people were caught up in the jam, and it took a while for the other guests to arrive. The bar was open, staff were wandering around offering us food, and the view from the balcony was spectacular as a full moon rose over the city skyline...
It was going to be a memorable evening. We made ourselves comfortable in the Trophy Room's armchairs as the guests began to arrive and the birthday couple turned up shortly afterwards. As I've come to expect when a large group of friends from the WGB get together, everyone was very friendly and the room was soon buzzing with multiple conversations. And as is also to be expected at a board event, everywhere I looked I saw people taking photographs of each other...
Sitting in the Rowing Club with the windows open was very nice, but I realised at some point during the evening that I had been unconsciously scratching my leg for the past ten minutes. The room was full of mosquitoes and they had obviously taken a liking to me as my legs were covered in bites. I suffered for the rest of the week, even though I was taking an antihistamine tablet several times a day. I found out I was not the only one to suffer, either; several of the group complained about the same thing over the next few days.
When the cake was brought out we all sang happy birthday. Louis and Emilie gave very nice speeches (in English and French) to thank everyone for coming, and opened their presents. Emilie ended up wearing flying goggles and a bone dome, and, being Emilie,she looked fabulous. Team WGB gathered together with our illustrious patron and Dr GD took some pictures of us all to commemorate the occasion. Naomi, of course, stole the show:
At the end of the evening Deborah took a picture of me with Bill. My inner SF fanboy was exploding with glee, but I think I managed to keep my act together...
As the night drew to a close the Sylvia contingent said our goodbyes and strolled back to the hotel. The walk back turned in to something of a nature trail; I saw a raccoon trot across the footpath in front of us and outside the Sylvia itself there was a skunk trotting off into the night. It had obviously sprayed something recently and its distinctive smell was lingering in the air. I smelt the same thing several times over the next week, and each time I recognised it instantly. It's not a smell you'd forget, believe me.
And so that was July. It's been an extraordinary month, and my holiday isn't over yet. Next month I have even more adventures planned, and I'll be blogging about them just as soon as I can get some time to fire up the laptop. Stay tuned!
Monday morning dawned bright and sunny; the weather here is just like that in California, although the locals assure me that it's not usually this good. I woke up early this morning with the sun streaming through a gap in the curtains. After surfing the web with the laptop for half an hour or so and uploading some of yesterday's photos to Facebook, I joined Mr P for a coffee; our usual haunt was packed out so we went over the road. It was okay, but the coffee didn't really hit the spot like the stuff at Delany's does.
After coffee we ambled over to the beach at the front of the hotel. Set up on an area of grass were some sculptures by the Chinese artist Yue Minjun. Sadly, they were fenced off (to protect them from the crowds who gather on the beach to watch the fireworks) but even from a distance, they are somewhat unsettling pieces of artwork. Minjun's work is based around a distorted self-portrait, but the expression on each statue's face, while at first sight appearing to happy, hints at something much darker. People don't always laugh because they're happy...
Back at the hotel it was time to pick up the car and drive over to the other side of town where we were meeting the rest of the WGB members here for a picnic in John Hendry Park. Vancouver is full of green spaces, and they are easily accessible with plenty of parking. This one included a lake, called Trout Lake; Scott explained that nobody seems to know whether or not there are actually trout in the lake, but there were notices warning of high bacteria levels (they were on some of the beaches too) and nobody was going in the water. We made our way to the bandstand-sized picnic marquee and met Brian, a local WGB lurker who had taken some time off in his lunch break to see what we were up to. Scott and Deborah arrived soon afterwards, as did the Arkans, the Limuli, Olga, Peter D, Martin, and - once again - Mr Gibson himself.
I was prepared this time, and had brought a small gift with me - I'd managed to track down a battered copy of one of my favourite books: The Frank Muir Book (an irreverent companion to social history) which my dad owned and which I loved dipping in to. I was delighted when it turned out to be a good choice.
We spent the afternoon eating pulled pork sandwiches ("this is prime old man's food - you don't need teeth for this," Mr G observed) as well as trifle, chocolate cake and lemon cheesecake, all prepared by Deborah together with sausages and other snacks brought by the rest of the gang. It was fantastic food, which we then worked off by playing boules and Frisbee on the grass. That was the idea, anyway. It would have worked better when I was younger, but after tripping over at one point and elbowing myself in the ribs I felt distinctly sore. I'm too old for this stuff - or at least 20 years older than the folks I was playing with...
Once again, it was great to hang out with fascinating people and listen to interesting conversations. It was also highly amusing watching Jerome stalking the local crow population in an attempt to get a good photo of them; the crows were far more interested in nicking Deborah's chocolate cake.
After the picnic finished we drove back to the Sylvia. In the evening I met up with Mr P, Jerome and Mano in the lobby and we headed out to find somewhere nearby where we could grab dinner. After perusing the menus in a number of places we ended up at Kingyo on Denman Street. This turned out to be one of the best meals I've had in a long time. The staff were great (and the waitresses incredibly attractive) and the atmosphere, where the staff enthusiastically shouted a greeting to everyone who came through the door, was unlike anything I've ever experienced before. And the food? Well, I went for the daily special: Udon Death Noodles. "Are you absolutely sure about that?" the waitress asked me, looking concerned. I told her that I was. When our food arrived, mine took slightly longer; was this part of the performance, I wondered. But when the dish turned up it was well worth the wait. The noodles had a blindingly spicy flavour, somewhere between a vindaloo and a phal, and tasted exquisite.
I'd emptied the bowl in about ten minutes, much to the surprise of our server: "You're all right?" she asked me, with a note of disbelief in her voice. I asked why she found it so hard to believe that I'd actually enjoyed them. "The first time I ate those I sat down and cried for half an hour," she told me. I cooled things down with some green tea ice cream for dessert, and that was delicious too. As we walked back to the hotel Mano said that Woodrow likes this place too, which didn't surprise me one little bit. The next time I visit Vancouver I will be going straight back there for another meal.
Before turning in we walked down to the beach. As we looped back to the Sylvia, Mano spotted an animal wandering around on the beach, and started walking towards it - presumably to pet it. A couple sitting on a bench nearby started to shout at her, "No, no!" "Oh, is it yours?" Mano asked them. It wasn't; they were trying to warn her, as the animal was a skunk - the first one I have ever seen in real life. Luckily we escaped without being sprayed, but after the stories Andy and Anna told me last week about one of their friends who wasn't so lucky, I will be keeping a wary eye out for the rest of my stay here. After all the excitement it was time to retire to the hotel. Most people had already turned in so I appeared to have the WiFi connection to myself and spent the next hour and a half uploading photos. By the time I got to bed it was half past one. Ah well; I can sleep when I get home...
We sauntered towards Chinatown and everyone was snapping away like mad; the place is incredibly photogenic.
I was suffering a bit from sunburn after yesterday, and this morning I'd made sure to put on some sunblock. When we came across a shop selling t-shirts I dived inside and bought a very nice baseball cap with an inukshuk on it to keep the sun off my bonce. I picked up some very cool t-shirts, too: at 5 for $20 they were an absolute bargain!
Our first tourist spot of the day was the oriental garden dedicated to Dr Sun Yat Sen. We all took lots more photographs, but it was also nice to just stand in the oasis of calm (at least before the first busload of sightseers arrived) and watch the turtles and carp enjoying the sunshine.
By the time we'd explored a little more of Chinatown and taken hundreds more photographs we were all feeling a little peckish. Fortunately, we were ideally placed to go for some Dim Sum (I could easily make a habit of eating Dim Sum on Sundays).
Although it wasn't quite as good as last week's meal it was still far better than anything I'd get at home and we put away a vast selection of delicacies from steamed pork dumplings to octopus, washed down with lots of green tea - and I learned from Peter that if you want the teapot filled up again, you turn its lid upside down; useful tip!
After all that Chinese food I needed to walk it off, so we headed out on foot to visit the Jimi Hendrix Shrine on Main Street. The building used to be a tiny cafe owned by Jimi's grandmother and the current owner has decorated it to commemorate the guitarist's roots. Unfortunately, the decorations aren't that great; it's probably kindest to call them amateurish although several other words sprung to mind when I saw the place. Let's face it, if you're commemorating one of the greatest ever players of the Fender Strat, you should at least commission an artist who can draw one for your mural...
We rapidly left Main Street behind and walked back through Chinatown, heading west. Mr P discovered a shop selling tea and we followed him inside. It was quite an experience and the packets of tea on sale ranged in price from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. The shop smelled incredible, too. Just up the street was a shop selling bags, and I ducked inside to pick up something to put my camera and shopping in. I'd toyed with the idea of bringing my messenger bag with me but had decided against it. Once I got here, I realised I'd made the wrong decision but I was able to pick up a decent JanSport bag (or at least a convincing knock off of one) which was just what I needed.
Shopping concluded, we continued our stroll towards our next destination: the Vancouver neighbourhood of Gastown. Gastown is the site of the original settlement that grew into the vibrant city of Vancouver, and it's full of quirky shops and interesting buildings. As a result, it's a prime site for location shoots. No wonder it all looked vaguely familiar! Gastown also has its own local landmark, a steam-powered clock that hoots every quarter hour to mark the passing of time. The first few times I heard it I wondered what on earth the noise was. It sounded like a drunken busker trying to play the five note sequence from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But it's a striking piece of machinery.
The day kept getting hotter and eventually we'd had enough, diving in to a coffee shop to stop for sustenance. Suitably refreshed, we made it as far as the Convention Centre, which is the final home of Vancouver's olympic cauldron, as well as a fantastic sculpture of a killer whale that looked for all the world as if it had been made out of Lego:
By now the day was drawing on, and we were planning on meeting up with some more folks from the board, including Olga, who had just arrived after a marathon journey from Greece by way of Heathrow. When we got to The Union they were waiting for us on the street outside. We all dutifully filed inside, and when I sat down I was extremely surprised to see a familiar face sitting at the end of the table:
I owe William Gibson a huge debt of gratitude, not just for being a generous and graceful host, but also for enabling me to become friends with all the incredible people that frequent his website. And today I have spent the whole day in their company. I spent the rest of the evening listening to a bunch of extremely intelligent people having fascinating conversations, although my hearing struggled with the level of background noise in the place. The food and drink were excellent, too: a big bowl of singapore noodles washed down with ginger-flavoured beer (as opposed to ginger beer, which would have been something else entirely). We stayed at the Union for a couple of hours but eventually people had to leave. I caught the bus back downtown, and headed back to my room at the Sylvia. I was so keyed up by all the cool stuff we'd done today that I didn't get to bed until 2am. I was much too wired to sleep so I spent the time uploading stuff to Facebook and Flickr. It's been a very long day, and there's still a whole week of this left to go!
This morning I began my first day in Vancouver by meeting up with Mr P in the hotel lobby. He told me that Louis had been in touch, and we had been invited to "go and have breakfast with Elvis." This sounded intriguing, so we jumped in the car and drove over to the Kitsilano area of town where Louis lives. Elvis's place turned out to be the Sunshine Diner http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/14/181728/restaurant/Kitsilano/Sunshine-Diner-Vancouver on Broadway, near Trafalgar Street. We found it without any trouble at all and when we parked up Elvis was standing outside, together with Jimmy Dean and Marilyn Monroe:
Inside, the decor was pure 50s Americana - we sat on a huge bench seat that was equipped with Cadillac tail fins rather than arm rests. There were photos on the wall of Hollywood actors and actresses from days gone by. The only anachronism was the huge flat screen TV, which was showing the Olympics from London. The food was excellent - I followed Louis's recommendation and had eggs benedict BC style, which meant they came with smoked salmon and onions. Once again, I was plied with an apparently infinite amount of coffee and once again I was shaking by the time we'd finished. After all that food and caffeine it seemed like a very good idea to get some exercise, so we walked down to the beach. It was only at this point that I realised how strong the sun was - Vancouver is a couple of degrees further south than the UK and not only had I not bothered to put any sunblock on, I wasn't wearing a hat. As we made our way back to the house I could feel my skin burning.
When we got back to the house, Louis checked arrangements with the rest of the board and we found ourselves heading straight back out again to meet up with Scott and the Limuli for lunch at a restaurant in Kitsilano called Chewies. Louis told me what to order: Belgian waffles and fried chicken, drizzled with maple syrup. Not a combination I would ever have considered, it has to be said, but to my surprise it was delicious.
Kitsilano lies on the opposite shore of English Bay to the Sylvia, and you can see the hotel from the beach there...
Like the rest of Vancouver, it is blessed with a huge variety of food shops and bars - I have never been anywhere with quite so many restaurants. It also has plenty of green spaces, and in one of them I found myself admiring a hundred-foot-high Totem pole, erected by the Kwakiutl Nation as part of Vancouver's centennial celebrations in 1998:
We walked east past the Maritime Museum until we arrived at our destination for the afternoon, the striking H R Macmillan Space Centre.
After admiring the striking giant crab sculpture in the fountain outside, we headed indoors to take advantage of the museum's air conditioning and sat down in the Planetarium for a fascinating show about "The Constellation Builders" - which explained hew astronomers and anthropologists had worked together to establish which civilization had been responsible for giving names to the constellations. If you're in the area, you should go and see it - I'm not going to tell you who it was!
After wandering round the museum's exhibits for a good hour, practicing landing the Space Shuttle and touching a piece of moon rock, we filed in to a lecture theatre for a talk about the end of the world. It was, more accurately, a lecture about the likelihood of an asteroid colliding with the Earth, and fascinating, if rather basic from a science point of view. The presenter explained how painting half of an asteroid white could help to deflect it from a collision course and I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to remember the name of the effect which this approach relies on (I eventually gave up, but a minute with Google has just reminded me that it's the Yarkovsky Effect.)
We headed back to the Arkans' place for tea, which was takeaway sushi. While we ate, Louis put on the TV, which was showing the Olympic opening ceremony. I liked it - particularly the Chariots of Fire sequence with Rowan Atkinson and Sir Simon Rattle.
Once it got dark we wandered back to the beach where we'd been this morning to watch the fireworks display. Vancouver stages a competition every year where teams from different countries compete to put on the best fireworks display and this week there are displays today, on Wednesday, and next Sunday. Tonight's efforts were quite spectacular, even if they were so far away the sound was way out of synch with the visuals.
Once the fireworks had finished we walked back to Chez Arkan. There was no point trying to get back to the city immediately, as the streets downtown were closed for the fireworks. This wasn't surprising, as we heard a few days later that more than 300,000 people had come into town to watch! Instead, we sat around and watched some more of the Olympic opening ceremony on the TV. However, time moved on and after midnight we decided we ought to get back to the hotel. We managed this without any trouble and I parked up back in the underground car park. I needn't have worried about finding room, as there were plenty of spaces.
Paul and Nancy both had the day off today, so the pace was leisurely - which suited me fine. The three of us went out for breakfast at a local diner and I took a traditionally American approach to the first meal of the day: pancakes, sausage, bacon and eggs, served with a never ending supply of coffee. It seemed like every time I put my cup down, the waitress filled it up again and I ended up wired for the rest of the day. I have drunk so much coffee since I got here that, rather than my shakes getting better, they've got worse. The difference is, for the moment I'm enjoying getting into this state.
When we got back to the house, Paul and I retired to his den - another typically American convention that I wish we had in the UK. Most of Paul's room was devoted to music; like me, Paul was heavily into rock and blues when we were at school. In fact, we discovered that we'd both started our record collections with the same two albums: Pictures at an Exhibition by Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. We talked about Black Dog, the band that Paul and some friends had formed (and somewhere in the house I still have a recording of their first gig) and Paul told me how he's continued playing guitar ever since, gigging regularly with a number of bands in the area (and finding himself playing on stage with all sorts of interesting people as a result, including a singer by the name of Robert Plant!) He had a lovely collection of guitars and a bunch of other instruments as well, including a very spiffy Korg music workstation. I started playing around with it, just playing whatever came into my head when I heard the sound of each patch, and needless to say we ended up jamming. It was huge fun.
I'd originally planned to head back to Canada in the early afternoon but I was enjoying myself so much I ended up staying until the evening. The three of us went for dinner at a local restaurant called Anthony's and sat watching the ferries crossing Puget Sound while we ate wonderful seafood. When we got back to the house I started packing up my stuff. As I did so, I heard an old plane go over: Paul told me it was a B-29! It would be well looked after around here. The largest employer in the area is Boeing; much of the landscape when I flew in is devoted to Boeing's manufacturing facilities and Paul and Nancy both told me what a great company they were to work for.
By the time I set off, it was seven pm. This worked in my favour, as traffic had died down on the interstate and the queue when I crossed the border back into Canada was just five cars long. I didn't get lost at all on the way back to Vancouver, and I was just beginning to wonder if I'd make it all the way without going astray when I noticed a red neon sign in front of me: I'd arrived. I pulled in to the Sylvia's car park at ten pm and checked in. I'd arranged to meet one of the other WGB members in the bar and so I had a very welcome beer with Mr Push who, being teetotal, had a large jug of coffee. One drink was enough for me and I retired to my room. After half an hour setting up the laptop to talk to the hotel's WiFi network and catching up with my online friends I'd had enough and crashed out.
Early this morning Anna took me to San Francisco Airport so I could catch the morning Alaska Airlines flight from San Francisco to Seattle/Tacoma. Once again, the airport was quiet and my journey through the terminal was hassle free. The security guard thanked me for wearing a green shirt - people wearing green clothes almost always passed through the TSA's infamous scanners without triggering anything, he told me. I spent a few minutes browsing the airport shops but nothing caught my fancy, so I headed out to the gate where the 737 was waiting. SFO was foggy, but as the plane climbed away from the runway we soon broke through into sunshine and I could see California slipping away behind me. Even though the Alaska Airlines staff were attentive and efficient, I felt sad. Every time I leave San Francisco, it's a wrench - some of the sweetest people I have ever met live here and I don't get to see them often enough. A week every ten years really isn't sufficient to keep in touch with everyone, and I need to do better than that.
I got chatting to the chap sitting next to me who told me in no uncertain terms that when I got to Vancouver, I would want to live there. My heart sank, because I feel that way about San Francisco, too.
But for the moment I was heading into unexplored territory - for me, anyway. To start with I didn't get much exploring done. My stay at SEA-TAC was very short, as I had to catch a Horizon air flight up to Vancouver and the schedule barely gave me time to peruse the shops in the terminal and buy yet another t-shirt and baseball cap.
On the flight to Vancouver I was busily taking pictures out of the window when the passenger sitting next to me mentioned she'd just bought the same camera, and asked me what I thought of it. I told her how great it was - it's been an invaluable asset on this trip and the quality of the pictures I've been taking with it has been remarkably good. I can't believe the power of the zoom, either. The camera has a focal length equivalent to 24mm to 840mm on a 35mm film camera, and managing all that with a single lens has been a revelation. The pictures I got through the window as we flew over the Seattle area were pretty good, and I was delighted to get a shot of the Tacoma Narrows bridge:
I can remember learning about the current bridge's predecessor, Galloping Gertie when I did physics in school. The film of the bridge shaking itself to bits is spectacular and "Wind-induced torsional oscillations" is a phrase that will probably stick with me til the day I die.
The Horizon Air flight wasn't very long at all, but it was the only flight on my entire trip where clearing immigration and customs took more than five minutes; in fact it took longer than the flight itself, as I was queueing up for more than an hour. Eventually I found myself outside the airport building and made my way to the car rental agency, where I picked up my car - a black Ford Fusion which had a "powered by Microsoft" sticker on the dash. I wasn't sure whether this was a good thing or not. The car didn't have GPS, which I regretted almost immediately. The navigation systems in Andy and Anna's cars were superb, and going back to relying on a paper map (or in this case a printout from Google Maps) felt like a real step backwards. After negotiating Vancouver's road system somewhat tentatively (signage is nowhere near as well-thought-out as it is in the UK) I eventually found myself on highway 99 heading south. The car turned out to be typically American in its performance: you put your foot down, and the engine makes much more noise, but nothing else seems to happen for about five minutes. I didn't mind, as I wasn't hurrying anywhere. I found a classical radio station to listen to and made steady progress down to the US border. Compared with an airport arrival, US immigration by road was simple and straightforward and the crossing guard was very good-natured. The whole process, including queuing up on the road, took less than quarter of an hour and I didn't even have to leave the car.
So it was that on a Thursday afternoon in July I found myself driving down i-5 in Washington State, gazing at the trees and mountains to my left and the never-ending stream of lakes, malls and casinos on my right. After a couple of hours (and getting lost once thanks to the bizarre practice of giving roads the same name to the north and south of a city, distinguishing them solely by the suffix on the end) I arrived in Edmonds, just north of Seattle. I was here to catch up with a mate from school and I hadn't seen him for 35 years. Edmonds is a suburb of the Seattle area and the neighbourhood where Paul lives was hilly - verging on mountainous, heavily wooded, but just a couple of minutes' walk from the water. There were people walking dogs, and squirrels scampering up the trees. It was incredibly beautiful and remarkably quiet. When I arrived, Paul and his wife Nancy had gone out to dinner but texted me to say they were on their way back. They arrived five minutes later. When Paul got out of their car it didn't feel like three and a half decades since we last met. We went to the same schools together, and memories of those times all came flooding back. It was really good to see him and he had a big grin on his face, too. Paul's wife Nancy said "oh look - twins!" as we both have the same haircut (or lack thereof) and white goatee...
Once I'd said hello to their dogs who were literally bouncing up and down with excitement, we spent the evening chatting. There were lots of "whatever happened to" and "do you remember..." moments, lubricated very nicely by beer from the fridge. When I heard a strange bird calling outside in the twilight, Paul explained that it was a bald eagle - there is a family of them nesting in the neighbourhood. All too soon it was time to turn in for the night. Not surprisingly, I went out like a light.
This morning we had visitors: my friend Leah drove down from Novato with her children Nicole, Randy and Ellie. I've never met her kids before as the last time I saw Leah and her husband was before Nicole was born. In fact, we figured out that it must have been 14 years since I last saw Leah and her husband Bill! It's scary how fast time flies by, and we had a lot of catching up to do. It was another lovely day so we headed down to the local park where the kids could play in the sunshine and run around to their hearts' content.
It was nice to just sit on a bench in the sunshine and chat - we spent the morning talking about life, music, and putting the world to rights. For lunch we went to the In-N-Out Burger in San Carlos. I'd heard lots of good things about the chain that is gradually spreading up the West Coast from Los Angeles and I'm delighted to say it more than lived up to expectations. I had a double double cheeseburger, animal style - which meant that the burger was covered with grilled onions that were nicely caramelised, so the flavour was pretty intense. The burger was served with baked french fries rather than deep fried ones, which made them much less greasy. The end result tasted delicious, especially when eaten in the open air back at the park. For dessert we headed over to the park's ice cream van and Leah introduced me to the delights of San Francisco's "traditional ice cream snack" the It's It. I suddenly flashed on the Faith No More track Epic as now I understood what Mike Patton was singing about in the chorus when he sings "It's It! What is it?" FNM are from San Francisco, of course.
When we got back to Andy's house, Sophie had returned from camp. She got on very well with Leah's kids and the four of them were soon hurtling around the garden. Randy discovered a bunch of snails on one of the trees at the front of Andy's house and the kids were soon collecting handfuls of the things in an ice cream container. It was nice to see kids that aren't squeamish about bugs and stuff - Ellie proudly showed me a snail slithering across her hand! They even insisted that Leah take a collection of snails home with them - Andy didn't object too strenuously. :-)
When Leah and the gang had left, I fired up the laptop and checked in online for my flights to Vancouver. I was chuffed when I managed to book a window seat on both legs, as that meant more pictures for my photostream. The laptop has been incredibly useful on this trip and I've been uploading stuff to photo sets on Flickr and Facebook while I've been here; Andy gets speeds of over 30 Mb/s download and 6 Mb/s upload, so it's ridiculously easy to do. Things will seem very different when I get home, I'm sure.
In the evening Andy, Anna, Sophie and I went to the Higuma Sushi Bar and Restaurant on El Camino Real at the north end of Redwood City. As I've come to expect, the food was very good and reasonably priced. I particularly enjoyed the eel, which had an amazing, smoky flavour. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but the first time Andy ever suggested we go out for sushi, I wanted to go somewhere else - what was I thinking?
This morning Andy took me into San Carlos station in the car. As we drove down El Camino Real, he said "There's a duck ahead." I was looking for a small bird and as a result I failed to notice the dancing man in a bright yellow duck costume, holding a placard advertising a local business until we were driving past him. I was so taken aback I didn't even take a picture...
Once I'd arrived at the station I took the Caltrain service northbound train to San Francisco. As far as I can remember this is the first time I've ever ridden a train in the US, and it was a very pleasant experience. I sat by the window and watched the world roll by, listening to that evocative horn blow every time we went over a level crossing. I was fascinated by all the houses and businesses that backed on to the tracks; at one point I was amazed to see a car dealership with a row of two dozen Fiat 500s lined up, ready to go. They look tiny compared with most American cars but they are the latest car to have, it seems.
Once I arrived in town I hopped on the N train of San Francisco's light rail system heading towards Embarcadero Station, and twenty minutes later when I climbed the stairs from the station and emerged into the sunshine by the Hyatt on Market Street, this is the sight that greeted me:
I'd forgotten how much I love this city. There's a dynamism to it that I've never felt anywhere else, and the people you meet are so different to the folks back home. They're friendly and polite and seem genuinely interested in making your day just a little bit better, even if they've never met you before in their life. I wish the UK shared that philosophy.
Roz arrived shortly after I did and we headed towards the Bay and the Ferry Building, which has changed significantly since I was last here.
It's had a very fine, Ghirardelli-style makeover (Ghirardelli was the model for many renovation projects, including London's Covent Garden) and is full of shiny new food shops and restaurants. Outside in the sunshine there was a farmer's market under way, with dozens of stalls selling amazing local produce from cheese and meat and fruit to jewelry and pottery. If I hadn't got to carry it all back to the UK in my luggage I'd have bought all sorts of stuff! Instead, we dawdled around all the shops (although I did buy a bunch of espresso-making paraphernalia at Sur La Table) and then had a burger at Gott's Roadside; I had a Texas Burger with avocados and melted cheese. For dessert,, Roz had bought some Italian pastries from one of the stalls in the market and we sat in the sunshine eating them, watching the world go by. An enormous butterfly was flitting around the tables and starlings and pigeons sneaked between the feet of the customers, picking up anything that dropped to the floor. By 2:30 the market traders were beginning to pack up so we walked along the seafront towards Fisherman's Wharf.
Suddenly, I realised that everything looked much more familiar, and it took me a few moments to figure out why: I was walking through the setting of one of the Tony Hawk skateboard games I used to play. I don't remember there being a Starbucks in the virtual version, though...
The weather was spectacularly good with blue skies and blazing sunshine. I was glad that I'd put sunblock on, and that I was wearing a baseball cap I'd borrowed from Andy. Roz said the weather had been much greyer and colder for the rest of the week so I'd been lucky. As we headed along the waterfront, I spotted lots of familiar landmarks. And the typical San Franciscan humour even shows in the graffiti; look how the tagger here has matched the layout and the arrow at the bottom of the sign...
That's Coit Tower on the top of Telegraph Hill. Elizabeth Wyche "Lillie" Hitchcock Coit was an aficionado of the City's Fire department (her nickname was Firebelle Lil) and when she died in 1929 she left a third of her estate "to be expended in an appropriate manner for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city which I have always loved." The results were indeed beautiful; the tower, which I climbed the last time I was here, is nearly two hundred feet high and the views from the top are pretty special.
As Roz and I walked further west towards Pier 39, we heard a strange whirring noise across the street. It turned out to be the latest thing in guided tours:
Yep, you can now ride a Segway around the city. I don't know if the tours tackle any of the hills in town, as throughout the day I only saw these guys on flat terrain. I guess making your way up California Street would drain the batteries pretty sharpish, even if you did get some charge back through regenerative braking on the way down the other side. As for us, we kept walking, and soon we'd got to where we wanted to go: overlooking the floating pallets on the west side of Pier 39, which are home to some of San Francisco's noisier residents, the California Sea Lions:
Mind you, there weren't as many as there used to be. There were only three or four pallets occupied; last time I was here they were all full, but in November 2009 the sea lions left. They ended up hundreds of miles up the coast in Oregon, but I was glad that at least some of them have returned. They're fascinating animals to watch and the males are impressively large. And noisy. Sadly, the afternoon drew on and Roz had to head off, so I headed back the way we'd come. By now the fog was rolling in, and the temperature had taken a noticeable dip. "You can never have too many hooded sweatshirts," Roz had told me earlier, so I bought one in one of the gift shops in Ghirardelli Square and then walked back to the Maritime Museum and east along the waterfront back towards the centre of town.
Things were really getting busy as I headed back, as there was a Giants game at AT&T park tonight. Everyone was dressed in black and orange and when I caught the light rail back to the station the train was packed. A lot of folks were coming to the match by Caltrain, too - the station was heaving. But by 7:30 the rush hour had died down and things were pretty quiet going in the opposite direction. I sat upstairs on the way back; California trains are double deckers.
Anna and Sophie were waiting for me at the station and back in San Carlos the weather was as clear and balmy as ever. Andy had made some very nice pork chops for tea and I was glad to sit down for a while. I felt like I'd been walking for miles.
Tomorrow is my last full day here. I can't believe how fast the time has gone, but I've enjoyed every minute of it. It's only since I got here that I've realised quite how badly I needed a holiday and I can feel the good vibes from this place seeping in a bit more every day. It's well over ten years since I was last here and I must make the effort to come back over here more often.
I stayed up to upload the latest bunch of photos to Flickr, and kept on hearing a noise behind me that sounded like somebody dropping something into a bin. As everyone else had gone to bed, I couldn't figure out what it was. I've just figured it out: it's the ice machine in the refrigerator. Phew!
It was only 75°F outside this morning, so things are cooling off a bit. It's still lovely weather, of course, and there's hardly a cloud in the sky. I could get used to this. I really feel like I'm beginning to unwind a little, although I still haven't slept right through the night. I surfaced a bit later this morning, so I reckon I may have broken the back of the jet lag.
I spent the morning on the laptop, typing up the activities of the last few days. I'd already uploaded a bunch of photos and the stats on my Flickr stream have gone through the roof since the weekend, but I wanted to get some of the blog written before I start forgetting things. Outside, it's noisy. It sounds like some of Andy's neighbours are having extensive building work done, and the machinery is beeping and roaring at regular intervals. Any vehicle that goes past rumbles like a prehistoric beast by comparison to the cars back home. Engine sizes here are much larger and the exhaust note is correspondingly deep. Motorcycles sound like a small rockslide is going past the window.
At lunchtime Andy drove us down to Redwood City to the Lobster Shack...
This is a "naked" lobster roll, served in a very doughy, sugary bread that reminded me of the dumplings at the Chinese restaurant we went to yesterday. It was sweet and sticky and I was expecting it to be incredibly filling, but it wasn't. It was just as good as it looks, although I left most of the melted butter in its tub. This was washed down by a cold glass of root beer, which I haven't had for at least ten years. I wish it was more readily available in the UK, as I really like the taste and it's just what you need on a hot day.
In the afternoon I was typing away on the laptop when I heard someone tapping on the window. When I looked up I was expecting to see one of Andy and Anna's neighbours, but instead it turned out to be a small bird, tapping on the window to let us know that the bird feeder needed filling up! Sophie is away at camp during the day every day this week, but she comes home in the afternoons. Andy and I walked down to the school to pick her up. I was struck by how much of a community there is around here and of course all the parents know each other. People were standing around on the sidewalk chatting while they waited for the buses to arrive; "You'll hear them before they get here," Andy told me, but I didn't really understand what he meant until the big yellow school buses pulled around the corner a block away. All the kids were singing and chanting! We spent the evening at home, with Andy doing the cooking on the grill in the yard. Grilled chicken with barbecue sauce, roast potatoes, asparagus and green beans goes down very nicely. After that, it was time to fire up the PS3 and play SingStar. For some reason Anna and Sophie decided fairly rapidly that it was time for them to go to bed; I didn't think Andy's and my singing was that bad...
It's Sunday today, and this morning we all headed into San Francisco. As we drove north on 280 past Crystal Springs, Anna told me to look to the right to see one of the Bay Area's more unusual residences, known as the Flintstone House. You can see why it got the name...
We'd gone into the city for dim sum at the Hong Kong Lounge on Geary Boulevard in the Richmond district. It's got a good reputation - one of Roz's colleagues (who comes from Shanghai) reckons it's the best Chinese restaurant in SF right now - and its reputation was obviously spreading, because the line to get in went off down the street! While we were waiting for our table we headed over the road to grab some elevenses at Royal Ground Coffee. I was intrigued by one of the options on their menu: the Keith Richards. This turned out to be four shots of espresso in a single cup; that'll wake you up all right. It sounded right up my street, and a few years ago I'd have tried it without a second thought, but not today. I have enough trouble sleeping as it is. Besides, I remember blogging about Jasmine Willis back in 2007 when she ended up in hospital after drinking seven double espressos, and I don't fancy that at all.
An hour and a half later we were sitting down for our food. Was it worth the wait? Yes, it was. The baked pork dumplings in particular were delicious, as was the Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce. All of the shrimp dishes we tried were succulent and tasty and I really enjoyed myself. I think the others did too.
After lunch we headed over to the deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park. The first time I went to the de Young was back in 1984 when Roz and her mum took me to see an exhibition of the paintings of Grant Wood, including his most famous work, American Gothic. Twenty eight years later and I didn't recognise the place. The building I remember is long gone, demolished after the Loma Prieta earthquake and replaced by a strange construction of copper and stone that towers over the park. Some things haven't changed, though: Roz was waiting for me when I got to the main entrance to the building. I don't get to see her very often these days, so I really wanted to spend some time catching up. But once we got inside the museum and started looking around the exhibition of Jean-Paul Gaultier's work which is on at the moment, we spent most of our time just gawking at the amazing exhibits. They were introduced by a somewhat unsettling rendition of the man himself...
Each mannequin's face was a video projection. It was very disconcerting making what felt like genuine eye contact with an inanimate object. And Monsieur Gaultier's face wasn't the only one that looked familiar...
The costumes were stunning. Many of Gaultier's most iconic works were on display and there were photos and videos of famous people wearing them: Madonna (of course) as well as other fashion icons such as Kylie, Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, Depeche Mode, and er, Chris Rock:
It's a shame they didn't have more of the costumes from The Fifth Element on display, but they did have some of the design sketches. The thing that struck me most about Gaultier's work was how much of an engineer he is. Jackets are cut and padded and braided and cantilevered and there is a lot of very clever construction going on in order to get the outrageous shapes that are such a feature of his designs. Think about it: you really don't want your cone bra to develop a droop, do you? We spent a couple of hours wandering around and chatting but when the museum started to close it was time to head home. After dropping Roz off we drove back along the coast, stopping to watch the pelicans and hang gliders at Fort Funston and then headed back to the noticeably warmer climes of San Carlos.
In the evening we were all a bit tired, and so we chilled out watching science documentaries on the TV. After Anna and Sophie went to bed Andy and I stayed up for a few races on GT5. The last time I raced against Andy I was at home in Charfield, so it was nice to be competing against someone in the same room for a change. I have been trying to stay up late to force my body clock to reset, and it was going up for midnight when I went to bed tonight, so I think I'm succeeding.
I had a good night's sleep. I woke up once or twice but I had no difficulty getting off to sleep again, even though it turned out to be a very warm night. But this morning we had an early start as we were collecting Sophie from Summer Camp. She was staying up in the forests in Scotts Valley, about five miles north of Santa Cruz. I've been familiar with the American practice of summer camp for decades, but this was the first time I've ever seen one in real life. The children all seemed to be enjoying themselves, and Sophie had been riding minibikes, practising archery, and all sorts of other exciting things. She described being woken up every morning not with an alarm clock or a ringing bell, but with the camp counsellors bringing an armful of kittens into the room. I think this could catch on as a concept. Posh hotels ought to offer this as an option.
On the way back to San Carlos, we drove past an iconic road sign, another memory from my first trip here back in 1984:
I could actually see the accelerator on the other side of the road, but it's not the most photogenic of subjects. When we got back, it was time to play with some of Andy's toys...
Sophie headed off to play with one of her friends, so Andy, Anna and I walked from the house down to the Laurel Street in San Carlos - their local high street - for lunch at a place called Refuge, which served a selection of very tasty beers and some extremely impressive pastrami sandwiches. I had mine with some garlic fries and garlic and chilli mayo and my mouth is watering right now just remembering how good they tasted. To go with the food I had a glass of PranQster, which is brewed up the coast by the North Coast Brewing Company in Fort Bragg. It was a Belgian style wheat beer and at 7.6 % it had a real heft to it; it was so good, in fact, that I had another one. Having two beers at lunchtime probably wasn't a good idea and by the time we got back I was ready for a nap. A cup of tea soon put that right, though.
I don't usually find myself in Heathrow's Terminal Five at 11:30 on a Friday morning, but this wasn't a usual Friday morning...
The reason I didn't go to Latitude this year is that I was taking the best part of two and a half weeks off almost immediately afterwards to travel to the US and Canada. These days I don't do "big" holidays very often; the last time I went away for a proper vacation was way back in 2009 when I spent a week learning about landscape photography in the French Corbieres. But this year I really needed to take a decent break and it started today. I arrived at the airport at 10:30 and I'd checked in my suitcase by 11:15. Heathrow was busy, but things seem to be moving along smoothly. As I was leaving from Terminal 5 I headed over to Wagamamas for a glass of orange juice and their kedgeree, which I have every time I fly from here.
I was travelling from Heathrow to San Francisco on a British Airways 747. I was going to be on the plane for over ten hours, and there was no way I was going to spend that time sitting in economy class, so I'd spent a bit more money on my seat. It turned out to be the right thing to do and I had a very comfortable and enjoyable flight. I knew things were going to go well as soon as I had a gin and tonic in my hand... Best of all, I had a window seat and the views were spectacular once the clouds disappeared. I could see the West Coast of Scotland sprawled out below:
The island on the right is Jura, and that's Islay above it off to the south. Prime whisky country, that's for sure! Pretty soon we'd left the mainland behind and were flying over the islands, which looked very pretty in all that sunshine...
After that it was time to pull down the blinds and investigate the delights of the aircraft's in-flight entertainment. The technology has changed out of all recognition since I first flew to California on a Jumbo Jet, 28 years ago. Back then, the films were projected onto pull-down screens at the front of each cabin section. You watched the same film as everybody else, and you watched it through a haze of cigarette smoke being generated by the other passengers (yuk). These days there are dozens of things to watch and the video is streamed to the screen at your seat on demand - it starts when you want. The first thing I found was an interesting documentary about Philip K Dick, presented by none other than Ridley Scott, which made me smile given the amount of time I've spent writing about them both over the last seven or eight weeks! After that I finally got to see the last Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, but it was a bit of a disappointment. I thought it was confused and disjointed, and even the chase sequences seemed half-hearted and predictable. Daniel Craig is still very good as Bond and Judi Dench is great as M. After that, thought, I couldn't find anything else I really wanted to watch. The other films on offer were ones I'd either seen or wasn't interested in, so I ended up reading a book instead. I even managed to take a brief nap, although I can't say I was completely asleep - I've only ever managed to sleep on a transatlantic flight once, and that was after a very busy fortnight working in Atlanta. Usually, as today, I'm just too excited to get any rest.
While I was watching the film and reading, we were making our way across the Atlantic. The route was much further south than I'm used to, passing the southern tip of Greenland and then coming in over Northern Canada and the Great Lakes before passing south of Mount Rushmore. As we left Minnesota, vast stretches of fields gave way to more interesting country. There were mountains and sinuous rivers...
...and lots of salt lakes in Utah.
We turned slightly south to fly over Nevada and finally crossed into the eastern side of California just past Tonopah.
As the 747 approached the Bay Area we flew over Moffett Field and NASA's Ames Research Center (spot the airship!)
We were on the ground in San Francisco at around 5:15 pm local time, and the place was incredibly quiet - there were no queues at all for any of the immigration or customs desks. I suspect that this will not be the case when I return to the UK next month.
When my luggage finally appeared I headed out into the terminal to be met by my brother. SFO has changed a fair bit since I was last here, and it barely took five minutes to get out of the airport and on to the freeway, although we almost immediately ground to a halt because there had been an accident. I didn't mind - we were talking nineteen to the dozen and I was content to just sit in the passenger seat and soak up the California sunshine. The weather here is glorious with blue skies and temperatures in the 70s (Fahrenheit, of course - the US doesn't do Celsius). We were soon home in San Carlos and I could catch up with Anna (Sophie is away at summer camp until tomorrow). It was lovely to just sit in their back garden with a beer and chat, and while we did so, hummingbirds flitted backwards and forwards from the feeders stuck to the windows:
I was amazed how good I felt, considering I'd been up for so long. With the warmth and the sunshine I felt better than I have done in months. In fact, when I did finally head off for bed I'd been awake for 25 hours.
When I first discovered the joys of playing music I was in my early teens. With some piano lessons under my belt I fancied myself as a keyboard player and as it was the early 1970s I was lucky enough to discover three amazing rock artists who were busily pushing back the boundaries of what keyboards could do: Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, and Jon Lord. All three were gifted players, and all three were also gifted composers.
I was lucky enough to see Jon Lord play both with Deep Purple and with Whitesnake, and it's fairly safe to say nobody could get a heavier sound out of a Hammond. I was very sad indeed to hear that he'd died yesterday at the age of 71. He was an inspiration to me (and countless other musicians, I am sure) and from the stream of tributes coming in today it's clear that he was also a nice guy.
The remaining two-thirds of my keyboards triumvirate were amongst the first to pay homage. Rick Wakeman told the BBC ""We were going to write and record an album before he become ill. His contribution to music and to classic rock was immeasurable and I will miss him terribly." Keith Emerson posted a message on Facebook which said "Farewell To A Gentleman. Jon has left us now but his music and inspiration will live forever. I am deeply saddened by his departure." Keith's colleague from ELP, Greg Lake summed things up: "I am very sad to hear about the passing of Jon Lord. Apart from being a lovely person he devoted his entire life to music and made a huge contribution to the history of rock and roll being one of only a small handful of people who truly defined the sound of the Hammond organ. He will be missed."
Media organisations around the world are gearing up their coverage of the Olympic Games. As far as Der Spiegel are concerned, they're not expecting things to go well.
FXGuide have an interesting feature on their site explaining how WETA Digital achieved the astonishing realism of computer-rendered skin (and much more besides) in Ridley Scott's movie Prometheus.
Lots of people have been tweeting about the Arctic
Ready website, believing it to be a social media experiment by the
multinational oil company Shell that has gone pear-shaped. It isn't -
a spoof site run by Greenpeace
and The Yes Men and you've only got to read the site's home
page to realise it's a very clever wheeze: "For hundreds of years,
explorers have battled the Arctic.
Today, we’re finally winning."
I'm amazed (and also impressed) that Shell are wisely taking a hands-off approach to this and letting us all enjoy the fun. It's a sign of just how deeply weird the Internet can be that this sort of thing goes on and nobody bats an eyelid. Sadly, nobody bats an eyelid when companies start drilling for oil in the Arctic, either. One of these things has to change.
Read how science fiction author Roger Zelazny and legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby started work to develop a movie of Zelazny's classic Hugo-winning novel Lord of Light - complete with associated theme park - to help the CIA extract a bunch of diplomats from Tehran. Nice work guys, but I really want to see the movie!
Augmented vision system inventor visits McDonalds, gets assaulted by staff. I won't be buying another Big Mac. Ever. The promotion of corporate Brandthink that has utterly and completely poisoned this summer's events is just one string to their bow, obviously. As for me? I'm leaving the country for a while.
It's the 17th South Cotswold Beer Festival this weekend so I spent yesterday evening standing in a field drinking beer. Most enjoyable it was, too - and the rain stayed away until just before we left. For the most part I stuck to some old favourites this year, sampling halves of the following:
- Acer (3.8%) from the Bristol Beer Factory
- Dark Side of the Moose (4.6%) from the Purple Moose Brewery
- Ginger Tosser (3.8%) from Skinner's Brewery
- Jaipur IPA (5.9%) from the Thornbridge Brewery
- Lakeland Gold (4.4%) from the Hawkshead Brewery
- Luverly Jub'lee (4.2%) from the Severn Vale Brewing Company
- Summa That (5.0%) from the Branscombe Vale Brewery
- Wobbly Bob (6.0%) from the Phoenix Brewery
Apart from the Acer, which was much too citrussy for my tastes, I could quite easily have spent the entire evening drinking any one of the above. In particular, I'd really like to spend a session drinking Skinner's Ginger Tosser (and it did have a slight gingery aftertaste which I rather liked), but in the event I went back to the Luverly Jub'lee for another pint, as I'd enjoyed it a lot before it very rapidly ran out at the Charfield Fete last month.
Have some more photos - these are from last weekend's Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford. All the folks I know who went were singing the praises of the Korean display team, the Black Eagles.
Thanks to Andrew for pointing me at the Bristolian Dictionary.
This morning I watched the third disc in Mark Cousins' epic fifteen-hour documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey. If you haven't seen it, and are at all interested in how cinema developed as a medium and as an art form, I highly recommend it. Cousins travelled the globe, visiting locations where classic movies were shot, talking to people who helped to create them and filming his trip on high definition video which he then narrates in a lilting Ulster accent that I could listen to all day. Cousins is a director, and the series is full of quirky shots; we see the view from the windows of trams and trains, panoramas from hotel windows. We take in noted locations from famous films, interspersed with deserted street corners and bustling cities. From Iran to Japan, Hollywood to Moscow, New York to Paris he talks us through the theory and the practicalities of film, showing noted examples along the way. One sequence that made me smile today was where he takes Kubrick's shot of the stewardess walking up the wall in 2001: A Space Odyssey and counter-rotates it so we can see the shot as the actress experienced it... Watching the documentary makes me want to shoot video when I travel. With my new camera, I will be able to do just that.
I seem to have regained the desire to watch television again. Last night I ended up watching Mildred Pierce and The Big Sleep - which means I've watched more telly in the last twenty four hours than I normally do in a fortnight. Is this related to the fact that I picked up new spectacles from the opticians on Friday? That's very likely.
...how unbelievably frickin' cool Mr Ron Perlman is? He recently went through the four-hour process of donning the Hellboy make up once again to help the Make-A-Wish Foundation make one small boy's day incredibly awesome.
The sparrowhawk was back again yesterday. I looked out during the afternoon to see it sitting on the fence at the back of the garden with something feathered in its talons. I didn't take any photos this time, you'll be relieved to hear. Despite the presence of predators like the sparrowhawk, the amount of birdlife in the garden continues to increase. There was a jackdaw in the bird table this morning and magpies are becoming regular visitors to the bird bath (they have learned to drop food into the water to soften it up, leaving it for a minute before eating it.) I'm pleased to say that the greenfinch population seems to have recovered, and I'm now buying black sunflower seeds by the 12 kilo sack. As I type this I can see a couple of collared doves, a woodpigeon, a couple of sparrows, a chaffinch and a dunnock all feeding happily. It's lovely to see.
Most amusing part of yesterday's Higgs discovery? The bitching on Twitter about the fact that CERN scientists were using Comic Sans for their PowerPoint slides. HAL was not impressed. Best of all, though, was when the font's creator Vincent Connare joined in and sent a tweet to Professor Brian Cox (who is a friend of his...) Brian responded from the press conference.
I might be wrong, but I think today is the first day for a couple of weeks when it hasn't rained. I have therefore taken the opportunity to get the back lawn cut. Best part of gardening? The pint of lager and hot bath I have afterwards...
He genius! He designed your bin!
This website changed significantly today.
They may have accidentally let the cat out of the bag last night, but this morning we heard it officially: CERN have announced that their experiments have produced results consistent with predicted mass of the Higgs. The wording is important: these are preliminary results indicating that the research teams have found something that has about 125 times as much mass as a proton, which is the same as the standard model's prediction of how much mass a Higgs Boson should have. It's a five-sigma result- five standard deviations away from the results you'd get purely due to chance - and in scientific terms that criterion is used to say "there's definitely something there."
But there are lots of other parameters that have to be measured before scientists can say that this something is the Higgs Boson, and not something mysterious that just coincidentally happens to have the expected mass. There's a chance that something else is happening, so there's a lot of work still to be done. But it's still a historic discovery. Peter Higgs shed a tear or two, and said he expected his family to have a bottle of champagne in the fridge for later. He thoroughly deserves it.
Yesterday after I'd finished writing the last entry on my 30th anniversary examination of Blade Runner I ended up watching the film once again. As I said last month, I still notice something new each time I watch the film and last night was no different. Why does Bryant need all those microphones on his desk?
Rob texted me yesterday to say he'd thoroughly enjoyed reading my Blade Runner reminiscences. I remember showing him the movie for the first time a few years ago while his mother and sister had gone out, and realising with delight that it was making as big an impression on him as it had on me when I first saw it. I can also remember his reaction to seeing the Blu-Ray release a few months later: curiously enough, his reaction consisted of exactly the same two words as Ridley Scott uttered when Jordan Cronenweth shone the xenon spotlights through the windows of Deckard's apartment. Thanks, Rob!
Just in case I haven't already said so, let me state for the record that James Hong (the eye manufacturer Chew in Blade Runner) is one of the coolest guys on the planet.
My close-focus eyesight is not what it used to be; for the last six months or so I've found myself staring down my nose at my computer display in an effort to bring it in to focus. I need glasses to read the cooking instructions on the food that I microwave for supper. So last week I decided it was time to go and get my eyes tested again. My long-range vision was pretty much the same as ever, but for near sightedness I now need a stronger prescription. I am really looking forwards to Friday, when I pick up a new pair of glasses and (hopefully) bring the world back into focus.
As I sit here typing this, it's chucking it down outside. I haven't done any gardening this weekend at all. In fact it's been the wettest year to June for 250 years. What a shame - I will have to stay indoors and do geeky things with computers and musical instruments instead...