Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Just a Normal Day in the Forest

Worryingly, just as I am thinking about returning to London, driving on the 'wrong' side of the road is feeling 'right'.  I am getting used to baking without using kitchen scales.  I know not to bother with the brown paper carrier bags with hopeless handles at the supermarket.  I say 'call' instead of 'ring'.  I say 'cell' instead of 'mobile' and 'soda' rather than 'fizzy drink'.

My family and friends are going to think I have been taken over by an alien (those that hadn't come to that conclusion already of course).

I was mulling this over on the way back from the supermarket.  As I heaved my shopping out of the boot (trunk), I saw something rather lovely.  Tiger the cat was walking down the path to meet me, closely followed by his new best friend, a wild fawn.  Poor Tiger only has one eye, and the fawn had those gawky 'Bambi' legs, sticking out at all angles.

I felt my heart melt.

Earlier in the day, I had been sitting on the veranda for 'Golden Hour' with a peach I had picked off a tree.  'Golden Hour' is at around 5pm, when the sunlight comes down at a particular angle making everything glow.  The broad leaves seem to turn a translucent emerald.  The dragon flies come out and dart hither and thither.  Deer slowly emerge from the forest to graze, and birds start twittering about.

I might have got used to some things here, but I still have to pinch myself to check I'm awake sometimes.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Post Office Box

I have always wondered what a 'post office box' looks like.  They have a mysterious cache, suggestive of spies dropping off 'dead letters'.  I also remember them from school girl comics, when fan clubs gave their addresses.  I expect the 'Bay City Rollers' needed sacks, rather than boxes.

It was rather a good opportunity to see one for real here in California, when I went to collect the post.  I had the code word mnemonic in my head and a set of hastily written instructions on how to enter the letters (alphabet ones, not ones in envelopes - this could get confusing).

The post office here is very smart, with a tall flagpole with the Stars and Stripes waving in the breeze.  The boxes covered a wall.  They were quaint, in decorated brass with little windows so you could get excited about the contents.  This had an inherent danger of causing jealousy, if you sneakily looked into other people's windows and saw more exciting mail, possibly even spy related messages!

I started twizzling the knob in different directions, getting the pointer lined up with the appropriate arm of the embossed star.  It felt like I was breaking into a safe, I remembered all the old cowboy films with the hero pressing his ear to the dial.

Rather like breaking into a safe, it was proving very difficult to open the door.  I twizzled and twizzled, this way and that.  I tried different combinations of the code in case I had made a mistake writing it down, but there was no way the little brass door was going to relinquish its booty.  A man came in and retrieved his post, and offered some advice, but as I couldn't give him the code, and still couldn't get the door to open, it didn't help.

Eventually I gave up and went back to base, where I was asked whether I had twisted the other 'door' knob after entering the code.  I felt a bit stupid.  The next time I went, I was able to 'break in' quite easily, although the knob needed spinning counter intuitively, so it still took a couple of goes.

I think I have uncovered the fact that I have a 'thing' about post offices (probably from the toy kit I was given as a child) as well as fire engines.  Maybe I'm regressing, and turning into a 'kidult' here in California!

Postscript:  I have always wanted to type the word 'mnemonic' but have to confess to a bit of a struggle on the spelling front for this!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

When you look for something... always find something else.

This happened to me today.  I had been sitting on a log on a sandy beach, watching the pelicans breaking off from their squadrons and diving dramatically for fish.  The sealion king was atop his rock, master of all he surveyed.  As I walked back, I scanned the water for otters, but couldn't see any.  I was just about to give up when a school of dolphins broke the surface and cruised along.

'That'll do' I thought, 'That'll do nicely'.

Downtown Santa Cruz was hosting a Mexican fair, which was buzzing with people and infused pleasant cooking smells.  I drifted in, and decided to try some Mexican food.  I'm not familiar with the cuisine, so when asked what I wanted, just said I'd have what the woman in front of me had gone for.  A pile of mystery items, and sauces was presented to me, so I took it over to the stage area where there was an exhibition of traditional Mexican dancing going on.  Lots of swirling ladies in brightly coloured skirts and men doing what looked like a cross between Scottish country and tap dancing in over-sized straw hats.  I chomped into my lunch and started to feel like a volcano was erupting in my mouth.  I didn't want to laugh when the man dressed as a cactus ran across the stage, in case blood seeped out.

The show became a rather laden down with multiple translations, a bit like the Eurovision Song Competition so I moved on, past the bucking bronco and the face painting stalls, which seem obligatory at these events.  There is always a miserable child propped up in a high chair, being turned into a lion.

While all this was going on, I couldn't help notice THE HUGE FIRE ENGINE driving round the streets again.  I know why now, it is to hose down people's mouths when they have been too adventurous at the food stalls.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Is there an artist in the house?

Today I went to see some art exhibitions, dotted around the area.  It was really interesting, not just for the art, but to see what houses round here are like.  The first house had a display of pretty amazing, 'fused glass'.  There were brightly coloured trays and plates and candle holders in all shapes and sizes.  Some were in a fabulous turquoise, reminding me of the sea, perhaps the mermaid in the sequinned dress could use them in her underwater lair.  The artist's garden was dotted with large, ceramic figures.  One looked like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, but the cat nearby wasn't smiling insanely enough to be from Cheshire.  A coiled serpent with raised head brought back a couple of memories from India.  The artist had cleverly manicured her piece of forest real estate so the trees looked deliberately spaced out (not the Santa Cruz type of spaced out, silly).  Her house looked magnificent, made from redwood and with panoramic windows with jaunty angles build in.  I felt a tinge wistful that I didn't 'live in a house like that'.

The next house was full of nudes (the framed type, honestly, what are you like?).  They had been computerised in ingenious ways.  I am not totally in favour of computerised art, I think it loses some of the soul, but what we saw was good in its way.  I think the models for this sort of thing must be very brave.  Not only do they have to disrobe to be drawn, but risk hanging forever on someone's wall in their birthday suit.  If you don't like the image, it's hard luck, forever.  I wonder whether Venus de Milo went 'ugh, it makes my bum look big' when she saw herself, immortalised in stone for millennia.

I digress.  The next house we went to had textiles and wicker work.  The textiles were very good, but some of them were beautifully made pot holders.  The art seemed too good to be used for such mundane purposes.  The wicker work was intricate, conch shell shapes woven around curving twigs, and a large torus ring.  The ring was fully enclosed and must have been very hard and complicated to weave, but it would be tricky knowing where to put your shopping.

The last house we went to was complicated.  An extensive art display had been combined with the artist trying to sell his house, so as you went round there was live music, lots of paintings, and a realtor wanting to show you around.  Now this house was something very special.  I had felt wistful in the first house, but this one was like standing in paradise.  It was perched on the side of a deep, tree covered ravine.  There were several deck areas overlooking the gorge, and as we stood there, humming birds hovered taking nectar from the buddleia and hefty dragonflies darted to and fro.  The humming birds managed to make the butterflies look dull.

There was a swing that dangled you daringly over the precipice garden, an outdoor kitchen, a waterfall, a pond with the most bloated carp you ever saw, a hammock strung between two trees and terraces of beautiful shrubbery falling away beneath you.  I sighed.  Then the realtor took us indoors.  The carpets were so thick it was like wading through sand (luckily I am well practiced in this) - it became quite tiring dragging one's feet through high density shag pile into each amazingly well appointed room. Each, of course, filled with inspirational artefacts and images.

In a weak voice I asked the realtor how much this little piece of heaven would cost.


I asked the current owner where he was moving to, and he said he was thinking of buying a camper van and going on an adventure.  He also said there was a mountain lion lair nearby...........

With this news I almost felt relieved I couldn't afford the house, but I like the idea of motoring into the sunset in an RV.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Essential Tools for the Would-be Dictator

I love the Californian fire trucks.  The ones in Santa Cruz can't be beaten for pure shiny, showoffiness, but you can imagine my excitement when I went swimming and this lot were parked outside!
It was a relief to see that the pool was neither on fire, nor drained of water.  I was so impressed by the engines, that I was tempted to don a yellow hat, high visibility jacket, pick up a clipboard and join them.  I also had to resist the urge to climb on board and ring the bells.  I think I am in danger of releasing my inner child.  Presumably this can be put down to currently reading 'I'm OK, you're OK'.

Talking about clipboards, I think they are under-estimated.  There is a lot of latent power in a clipboard. If you want to be the authoritative person in any exchange (or 'transaction' - oooh, get me), holding a clipboard can do the job more efficiently, and less expensively than a pair of designer super-high heels and 'statement' jewelry.  I carried one recently, while checking there was enough bleach for a cleaning team, and they almost visibly cowered at the sight of me, pen in hand, looking like I was jotting notes. This was in spite of me still working the 'hippy' look in my clothing selection that day*.  It made me realise the combination of a 'Paddington Hard Stare' over the top of one's glasses, with a clipboard is strongly recommended for the power hungry, but insecure.
Essential Toolkit for the Power Crazed

I think world peace could be achieved, just by giving all dictators everywhere a clipboard, pen and pair of glasses (faux-horn rimmed for preference) in exchange for their arms (no silly, not their real arms, they wouldn't be able to hold the pen).

Oh, and a fleet of shiny, red fire engines of course.

* Any cheeky suggestion they might have been cowering over my choice of outfit is sooo not appreciated!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Big Basin State Park

Today I went to Big Basin State Park.  It is a very wonderful place, with redwood trees taller than I have yet seen.  They go up forever, and you can't see the tops.
The walk went through different landscapes, forest and open heath, with lots of gorse.
The views at the top were wonderful.  The Pacific Ocean was in the distance, covered with a swirling mist.  It looked like we were standing miles above the clouds.

I was wearing my Loch Lomond baseball cap, which I intend wearing when I get to the 'real' Loch Lomond next month.  It has the embroidered image of a mountain lion, which I think will delightfully confuse the locals.  Having been reassuring myself with how unlikely it is I will ever see one of these scary beasts, my walking companion today told of the time when they were walking alone in a forest. They heard the give away crunching of leaves alongside their path.  When they stopped to listen, the crunching stopped.  When they started again, the crunching started again.  A bit further down the path they were confronted by a mountain lion, staring them in the face.  Fortunately, it responded well to a bit of a chat, in a firm tone, and turned and walked off along the path.  My companion sensibly decided to turn round and walk back.  

Today I realised there had been another threat that I had filed away deeper in my mind.  It came to light when trying to throw away my icecream stick.  The bins were 'bear proof'.  

Yes, 'bear proof'.  

There was a cheery cartoon of a bear paw print to press the point home.  I was rather glad we were on our way back, and felt quite relieved to get back in the car in one piece.  

I shouldn't be surprised by the thought of bears, after all, I did grow up with Yogi Bear, and I think he lived somewhere round here.

Friday, 19 July 2013

A Million Tears Ago

The Egyptian Museum in San Jose has some fascinating and thought provoking displays.  In one part of the museum, there are ancient, tiny phials for collecting tears of the bereaved.  The explanation read that when the container was full, it was put in the tomb with the body.

In another area is the mummified body of a four year old girl.  Her coffin has elaborate decorations, including some gilding.  The striking image of her face is marred by what look like smears of dirt or earth across the forehead and one cheek. This is in sharp contrast to the gold leaf underneath.  The text explains that this 'dirt' is the remnants of perfumed oils the parents would have poured over the coffin at the child's funeral.

This physical link to the last act of love from distraught parents made the grief almost palpable.  Quite incredible given she died some two thousand years ago.

Not only had the mummified remains found a form of immortality, so had their love.


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

San Jose

Everything here is tinder dry at the moment.  The conversation on the bus today was about how the conditions are the most worrying for some years, from a forest fire point of view.  I spent the rest of the journey trying to remember where all the fire hoses and extinguishers were on site and realised I need to take a walk around to refresh my memory.  Living in a wooden apartment in the middle of a forest is not the most reassuring place to be under such circumstances.  Being a bit bored on the bus, I started fantasising about having to crawl into a drainage channel and sit in the stream while flames played at each end.  I would end up being rescued by the fire brigade, and would wipe away a stripe of soot from my face as everyone applauded my bravery. 

In reality, I would more likely have to be scraped off the floor a blubbering wreck, as I am hopeless in an emergency.

The bus was taking me to San Jose.  I was going to cram in some more culture.  There were palm tree lined boulevards and some impressive buildings.  The Tech Museum was fun, I know a lot about the Monarch butterfly, migration habits thereof, which were played out on an absolutely massive, domed screen.  It has to be said there was something disconcerting about having a caterpillar the size of a tube train hovering over your head.

I also created a heart out of pretend pixels:

Someone had sculpted DNA from books:

The art gallery was also brilliant, with a fantastic exhibition of photography by Annie Leibovitz.  It was especially good for someone from another country, as it explored some American history, with things like Abraham Lincoln's gloves and Elvis' Harley motorbike.  Strangely, there were some photographs of the Isle of Wight - a counterpoint, I suppose, for the Niagara Falls.

A good day, and no smoke to be seen - phew!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

I'm a Lumbarjack and I'm OK....

I have been getting very interested in the local history of this area lately.  As a result, I have found myself watching some strange choices of video on YouTube, and sitting in the library in the town perusing old newspaper cuttings.  Unexpectedly, I have found the logging industry to be a fascinating topic.  The short film 'Redwood Saga' from the 1940s was full of useful information.  I had been wondering why some of the tree stumps round here had letterbox sized notches taken out of them.  Now I know (because I have been so busy improving my mind) that the lumberjacks needed to insert planks into the sides of the tree, about six foot up, to stand on to start chopping - they didn't want the knobbly bit of trunk at the bottom.  'Grease monkeys' were the men who had to grease the log slides, and 'Bull thwachers' the men who goaded the animals along. There was a photo in the museum of about 12 oxen, yolked together in pairs, pulling a long chain of redwood trunks down an incline.  The redwood trunks went back as far as the eye could see.  The oxen had a type of stairway made with thinner logs as treads to stop their hooves slipping, but these had to be greased regularly to keep the logs moving across them.

Log flume was also something I thought only existed in theme parks (you can tell I really am a townie at heart).  In the library I saw photographs of a real flume from the turn of the century, several miles long that the logs were shifted on.  One enterprising millionaire had ridden this flume, which must have been extremely terrifying, given the height and the fact it looked only just wide enough to take a log (don't look doooooooooooooown).

Another YouTube film showed men in boats nudging logs in the river to keep them moving downstream.  Like a lightbulb going on, I realised this is where 'log jam' comes from. If the men in their boats didn't do their stuff, the whole river backed up with what looked like tens of thousands of logs.

The sad side of all this is that the terrain looked awful after the trees had been felled.  It reminded me of photographs of bombed landscapes just after the First World War.  It is quite amazing that in the space of just over 100 years the new growth is as magnificent as it is.


Sunday, 14 July 2013

Come on Baby, Light My Fire....

California has the most amazing fire engines.  They are incredibly shiny, huge, with lots of possibly unnecessary chrome and loads of bright red paintwork.  While sitting outside a cafe in Santa Cruz, a red shininess would cruise (Cruz) past, several times.  There was no emergency to be seen, no smoke rising from anywhere.  A local man said they needed to drive around to get used to the streets.  It did occur to me that they might just be showing off.  One of the trucks was so large, it took ages to go by.  (Sorry it's not a better photo, but the fire department photos are all under copyright).
After my coffee I watched a bizarre Balloon Man entertaining the kiddies.  I think 'Crusty the Clown', typifies everything I feel about children's entertainers, or maybe Stephen King got it right.  Whichever, they worry me.  Maybe it's the painted on perma-smile, which would still be there even on hearing the news that nuclear warheads had been launched.   However, later in the day I was to be rather thankful to the Balloon Man.

In a side street, waiters from local restaurants were racing each other round tables, slalom fashion, carrying glasses filled with water on trays.  They had to complete different tasks at each table, such as wrapping cutlery up in napkins.  It was a very jolly atmosphere, and everyone loved it, especially when the glasses went flying.

An antique fair was on in another side street, and it was fun to see all the American paraphernalia on display - a 'Sweeney Todd' style barber's chair, and Native American style goods.  The old lunchboxes had scenes from baseball matches or cowboys on them.  Further round  I was jolted back to thoughts of the UK by a poster
because I used to live very close to the Elephant and Castle (area of London near a pub of that name). Odd to note that Des O'Connor is still going strong.............

After this, I found myself in the Museum of Art and History.  I only meant to cast a cursory glance round, but was so absorbed in the displays, I stayed a couple of hours.  I think this was because my first recollection of being taught about America was from primary (elementary) school, where we learned about the Gold Rush and logging.  I remember being fascinated by the lumberjacks riding on rafts of logs down swirling rivers.  The other interesting and sad thing to learn about was how many disasters have hit California.  There were the earthquakes of course, but also several very severe episodes of flooding.  The earthquakes mean that bricks and mortar structured buildings went out of favour.  It's the opposite of the situation in the UK, where timber buildings are the ones hard to get mortgaged.

After this overload of culture, I was ready to head back, but was distracted by a modern art gallery near the bus station.  I drifted in (it was that sort of a day), and started laughing almost immediately with the witty sculptures.  One was made from the metal burner covers from ovens, which were hung in an arc along a wall.  There was an American payphone booth which had been turned into a water feature, and a fountain in memory of Steve Jobs.  This had a half melted Mac at the top with Apple logos and Steve Job's photograph arranged around a doric pillar.  A beautiful (real), red speckled bird was sitting on top of the Mac having a drink.  Inside were guitars made from toilet seats and all sorts of clever combinations of every-day items.

Maybe you had to be there.....................

Eventually I made it to the bus (with clever bike rack on the front):

I could tell people thought I was strange photographing our bus, but hopefully not as strange as Balloon Man who embarked just after me.  He was carrying balloon kit on a frame and was wearing a stripy rainbow hat, knee high stripy rainbow socks, harem pants with diamante detail and lots of draped scarves, along with the lurid, rictus grin.

The bus was driving along, and I was watching the world go past, but after a bit started to worry I was on the wrong bus, as the shops looked unfamiliar.  We had gone past the Pied Piper sign alright, but now we were somewhere strange.  Meanwhile, Balloon Man had walked to the front of the bus (it wasn't possible to tell whether he was worried) and was having a chat with the driver, who burst out laughing.  The bus then swung round fast in a 180 turn and we started heading back to the Pied Piper.

Walking back up the hill was helped by listening to my 'Ground Rush Party' play list on my iPod (quiet thank you to Steve Jobs).  I was singing along to Donna Summer (Love to Love Ya Baby - long version, who says I'm not up to the minute with my music?).  As I walked, I thought about how my childhood impressions of America had been formed by those lessons on the Gold Rush, but also by watching the 'Top Cat' cartoon on TV.  This must be why I am enamoured by street furniture, including fire hydrants (people thought I was strange photographing this too - thank goodness the Balloon Man had lowered the bar for strangeness):

The most shocking news of the day though, was this:

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Anarchic Cafe

Today I visited an 'Anarchic Cafe'.  I was drawn in by a rather shady garden, with crooked tables and chairs scattered about.  As I waited for my clover infusion to brew I was able to peruse leaflets on subjects such as 'Why We Hate the Police'.  The cafe felt like a strange mix of hippy friendliness and barely restrained anger.

I took a seat under the tree and sipped the tea.  A young man came up to me, with a black eye and several teeth missing. He also had 'Property of Jessica' scrawled on his arm in thick, angry letters.  He asked, quite politely, if I would ring his girlfriend's number which he held up, scrawled on some tatty cardboard.

I passed my mobile across the table to him, and was relieved to see he sat down with it.  My mobile costs by the minute, so I said I would appreciate it if he was brief.  He noted that I wasn't from round here, and when I said I was from London, he talked about his upbringing in Galloway, Ireland.  No-one answered his call, so I said, 'Jessica not in then?'.  His jaw dropped open and his eyes were as wide a saucers.  'How do you know?' he asked, in amazement. I toyed with the idea of saying I was psychic, but just said, 'it's on your arm'.  He gave me a rueful smile and returned my phone. After a friendly-ish conversation relating to England's repression of Ireland he ran off.  As he disappeared round the corner, my phone rang.  I guessed it would be Jessica and decided to 'reject'.

More interesting people came and went.  A couple of men who were suitably bearded to wear a red suit, black boots and carry a sack in December, a nervous couple who didn't understand where to get the coffee and a young woman with a puppet theatre made out of two bicycle wheels attached to each other horizontally and covered in material like a circus tent.  As she went past, I noticed a toy rat, swinging from a noose inside.  A short while after, a shabby camper van drew up.  It had black bin liners where the doors should be and a standard sitting room sofa in the main part.  It disgorged its occupants onto the pavement, and the driver started to assemble a tricycle with a large sign on it saying 'people power'.  Then a druid walked into the garden and lay down next to a dog on the concrete.

On the way back the bus went past a large, illuminated sign outside a pest control business.  It was of a life sized Pied Piper, dancing along followed not by mesmerized children, but one representative of each of the creatures of our nightmares.  Maybe he was going to start a new Noah's Ark, or maybe he was going to the cafe, to join the circus.


Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Parking Attendant

Today I was being a parking attendant, California style.  I was a very happy parking attendant being at the top of a hill in the middle of a temperate rainforest, in the sunshine.  A few people were sitting cross-legged on the grass behind me strumming mandolins and guitars, and it sounded sweet.

There was a low density of cars appearing over the brow of the hill, so I took the opportunity to practice some of my latest dance moves.  These had been learned while in the audience at a Beatles tribute band concert, downtown.  Everyone had started dancing straight away, and the floor was packed, mainly with Santa lookalikes (proving my theory that they live in Santa Cruz).

However, one person stood out from the crowd, wearing a tie dye shirt (I instantly knew we would have Karma), and a hat (I feel your concern, there were other clothes as well).  He was throwing some amazing shapes with his hands, while stretching up and then crouching down.  I knew I had to do this, the dance style would certainly go with my tie-dye shirt and friendship bracelet, so I asked for a lesson.

It was hard to keep up, but I got the hang of figure of eight movements with one hand curved over the other.  The move that went behind the head and round past my ears, at speed, was harder.  I wasn't too sure about the flicking moves, which might make people worry I was suffering from a fit of some sort, or that I had a swarm of bees around me.  My new friend encouraged me to 'be like water' with my hands.  So I tried.  He told me he had some lights in his bag, but needed the right tune to get them out, like 'Lucy in the Sky'.  Just as the words left his mouth, the band started up with, yes, you've guessed, 'Lucy in the Sky'.  He rushed to his bag and came out with his hand torches and flung himself energetically into his routine.  At the end he needed a break because the music was so overwhelming.  It was very good, but I suspected he had taken some additional help before the concert to be overwhelmed.

My new friend said it takes three weeks to perfect this dancing style, which is why I am now practising at every opportunity, including while being a parking attendant.  I did have to be careful to stop when I heard a car engine as I didn't want to alarm the drivers (this was tricky as there was a high ratio of Toyota Priuses which would sneak up on their electric option just when I reached the cascading water move).  

Not only am I learning to talk the California talk, but I am nearly able to walk the California walk too.   

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Breaking News - California's Latest Bridge

It's true!

California has a new bridge.

It is infinitely superior to the Golden Gate Bridge (so like, yesterday).

There are low maintenance costs as it only takes one person a very short while each year to keep it safe. It doesn't need painting either.

It is cheap because there are no tolls, no rummaging around in your pocket for loose change before you can cross.

The bridge is also ecologically sensitive - no cars are allowed, and it made out of a material sympathetic to its environment.  Wait a minute, it is so sympathetic, it is made from material actually harvested in its environment (no supply air miles either!).

The embarkation and debarkation destinations are far more pleasant than anywhere in San Francisco, and you can get from one side to the other in much less time, leaving you free to enjoy yourself.

There is also the occasional swirling mist to keep snap-happy tourists coming back for more.

Being a little lower than the Golden Gate Bridge you have a better view of the water below, when there is any.  

You will not have to share the bridge with other commuters, only the occasional deer, as they make their way to the Fawn Trail.

There have been no reported incidents of road rage either, so do come and use......

 ...........................................THE BEST BRIDGE IN CALIFORNIA.


Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Sorry, I'm Washing my Hair

One complaint I have about California (apart from why it isn't closer to England), is that stuff costs a lot in the shops.  The other week, I had a few perfunctory items in my basket, and the cost was about double what I would have expected to pay in the UK.

Today I went shopping in a store that is best described as a cross between Waitrose (supermarket chain in the UK where people with 'staff' shop) and an upmarket health food store (I'm thinking of that place in Kensington, where Biba used to be).  I decided to buy some shampoo.  I had suffered a traumatic incident while last in the bath tub.  My shampoo that had come with me from the UK was a trendy bottle that you keep upside down, so the 'pro-nutrient vitagel' will come out easily.  Sadly, it came out too easily as I hadn't put the lid on properly.  The next time I ran a bath, I was confused by the white lake round the plug hole, and then realised what had happened.  So, almost needing to take a small mortgage out, I bought some shampoo from the smart store.  I didn't have my glasses on, but I am quite adept at recognising the shape of the word from many baths were I have felt frustrated by the small print on the bottles, and squirted conditioner on first.

By the time I had climbed back up the hill to my apartment in sizzling heat, I needed a shower, so thought I would test drive my new shampoo.

This is the moment for my second complaint about California, the packaging on everything is so thoroughly sealed you need a chainsaw to get at them.  I thought the chainsaws were for the trees, but no, it is so you can release your exciting new product, wrapped in plastic and sealed with the same stuff barnacles attach themselves to ships with.  So I'm standing in the shower (a bit cold because it seems to take forever for the hot water to come down the pipes, which must go to the UK and back), and realise my new shampoo needs a screwdriver or similar to get through the foil seal.  I'm gnawing with my teeth, usually a successful method, but no, I ended up clawing and poking with my finger nails until I finally made a hole suitably sized for the release of shampoo.

Or so I thought.

The shampoo was so viscous it was the consistency of tar.  I was genuinely so confused, I thought I might have bought carpet shampoo by mistake.  Not having my glasses and thinking the smart shop probably didn't mix 'wholegrain hummus for hippies' with ironmongery, smeared it on my head.  It was quite odd.  It was more like trying to ice a cake than wash my hair.  I let the luke warm water sort it out for a while, but it was a strange experience.  Annoyingly I realised as I got out, that the bottle I had thought was 'make your bathroom so shiny you don't feel embarrassed when visitors use it unexpectedly' was in fact shampoo, that would have saved me all the bother.

I have noticed the roads in California don't have potholes, it must be due to disillusioned hairdressers pouring the shampoo onto the road.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Loch Lomond

Just to clarify, that's Loch Lomond, California.  Not Loch Lomond, Scotland.  They are both very beautiful, but I have to say California wins, but only because of the weather.  I have been to Loch Lomond, Scotland, many times, but I have never seen it in dazzling, undiluted sunshine.

Sorry Scotland.

'Och aye the noo, 'tis fair bright today'

I took the opportunity to go rowing.  I have missed my rowing so was looking forward to having a go in the tourist boats.  However, it only served to remind me how spoiled I have been, skiffing in traditional, finely honed crafts with even the sculls cut on the twist to help you along.

Sadly, the boat I was in was more reminiscent of a bath tub, and the sculls were very basic sticks with paddles on the end.  There was no foot board to move against, so it was a rather difficult to get any leverage.   The wind was getting up too, and the boat tended to crab on the water, and sometimes refused to move, even when I was pulling hard.

There were dragon flies and other pretty things flitting about.  I had been put off landing on the far shore, as apparently that is where the mountain lions congregate.  I know deer, horses and cattle can swim, I didn't want to find out about whether the puma still needs water wings.

The wind twice blew my hat into the water, which necessitated complex maneuvers to rescue it.  This meant I was exposed to the sun for longer than was sensible, but I did feel pleasantly cool as I put it back on and water trickled down my face.  I had obviously been without it too long, as someone back on land called out to ask me 'whether I had been in the sun'.

We had a lovely barbeque, in more sunshine, and were able to take in the fantastic views.  Even so, I have to confess that a little part of me yearned for the ethereal mist on the Thames and the gentle creaking of a proper, wooden rowing boat.