Thursday, 29 November 2012

At your convenience – and other folk

           On Sunday Cal Guy Jnr was distinctly unwell: he was running a high fever and just wanted to cling to one parent or other.

            Cal Son came up with an idea: Why not drive towards Palomar Airport at Carlsbad -and watch the aircraft movements on the runway from the outdoor Starbucks lounge at Loker Avenue West? What a good idea!  Cal Guy Snr and the Captain got aircraft talk, Boatwif got a new view and a sky fast brightening from early sea fog – and Cal Gal got a Starbucks peppermint vanilla bean frozen drink. How convenient was that for aircraft spotting!

            Later a trip to Boomers was announced.  Along the 78 Freeway westbound the Captain bowled, with instructions from the rear seats to watch out for the Volcano...  What a convenient, if a trifle tacky, landmark. There it was, right beside the Freeway, hole 9 of the Miniature (UK: Crazy) Golf Course. Fun was had: Cal Guy Snr and Cal Gal won 9 games each while Boatwif won one – having flicked the ball into deep and inaccessible water early on during the match. Wistfully Boatwif watched later as the younger generation took to water, squirting spray and bashing each other with the bumper boats. But is the water in the pool really 30ft deep – watch your decimal places! (See photo 3)

            Other conveniences: Just look at that view (photo 4) – Boatwif had no-one of the same gender to share with her the breathtaking view from the Women's Restroom last week: on Point Loma a set of conveniences looks directly over the Pacific Ocean. Is this the best view ever from a cubicle window...?  A star mention, too, must go to the Restrooms at the Carlsbad Outlet Mall. Has any other Restroom /Convenience designer been so thoughtful as to provide a railed-off shelf behind the toilet for handbags and purses? What a sensible idea!  Nearby a security officer was on patrol, mounted on a Segway – very convenient on smooth surfaces...


            The USA may be predominantly English-speaking but there are times when it is reinforced that you really are travelling in foreign parts.  There was the Senior on the cash till at the bookstore last week: "Oh, I once lived in Sheringham, in Norfolk. My Dad was in the US Air Force..."

            At Spanish Village (the area in Balboa Park for artists and artisans) an effusive gallery attendant oozed: "Why, can I help you?" (Squeal of pleasure)  "Is that an accent I hear... Australi...?"  There was a rapid reassurance that this was a British accent...

            On Tuesday, unaccompanied by the younger generation, there was a last visit to the Escondido Barnes and Noble bookstore. Conveniently, there is a Starbucks concession within the store. The Captain located a road map, then baled out to seek some coffee. As Boatwif, browsing finished, moved across the store to relocate him, strident words could be heard:  "There are two S bends in the tunnel..." The Captain was regaling the tale of Cleddau's conquest last summer of the Standedge Tunnel. But who was he speaking to? Strange, non-American accents were on the receiving end. And there in Starbucks were two Rotherham folk, ex-Sheffield steel workers, long term retired and great fans of the USA. They'd been through the 32 foot mobile home phase for about 15 years and now have an alternative life style, living in a San Diego motel for five months over the winter. A local travel card allows them easy bus and train travel - and for $35 dollars they had improved their motel kitchen facilities by adding two non-stick pans and a toaster!

            But now the Cleddau crew has relocated to the Anzo-Borrego Desert, in eastern San Diego County. They are the only guests at a desert inn, except for one - and he is quite exceptional. He arrived by bicycle this afternoon, cycling coast to coast, Florida to San Diego.  We conversed, he a German resident of Munich who speaks impeccable English. His trip will take two and a half months, he rides about fifty miles a day and cycles about six days a week... but wait! This is his ninth solo cycle transit across the States... Here, a rest stop in Borrego Springs will help him prepare for the four thousand feet climb through the mountains before it's downhill to the coast...

            The last interesting person of the day was the waitress at the local diner last night. She was a fast-talking one-time Los Angeles girl, who had relocated a couple of years ago from a 300 person town up in Nevada to Borrego Springs. She has absolutely no wish for her two teenage girls to have any experience of urban life.  One daughter is a trainee welder, the other wants to be a baker. The population here in summer (low season) is about three thousand and in winter (October to March) it swells to maybe nine thousand.  She has, of course, two jobs, one as an evening table server and the other in the shopping mall.

            Bedded down now in an adobe lookalike building, rather like those pictures of South Western housing in the geography textbooks; desert exploration begins on Wednesday...

Sunday, 25 November 2012

It’s winter

Wednesday 21St - Saturday 24th November

"It's winter," said Cal Son as Boatwif remarked upon Christmas decorations at a shopping mall a week ago.

Well, it's winter now," said Cal Mom on Wednesday, as discussions were under way about how hot, how cool or how cold the bowling alley would be. It's the original bowling alley, 40 lanes for play, first opened in San Marcos about fifty years ago. In the event temperatures were comfortable at T-shirt level and the air conditioning was switched on. (As for the results: well Cal Mom topped the board, and Boatwif beat the Captain in both games!)

Thanksgiving Day dawned, blue and warm after a chilly mid-forties night.  Mid-morning Boatwif offered to take the younger two down to the park – to let off steam and to work up an appetite. Races over and play equipment tricks demonstrated, short of both water and steam, the trio returned to the house. After a delicious Thanksgiving lunch out again came the USA jigsaw, there was a first chess lesson for Cal Gal and then questions for adults on the US civics lessons.  Have you tried answering the sample questions found on-line for a would-be British citizen? The combined efforts of four British-born and educated persons achieved just 75%...

Black Friday follows Thanksgiving Thursday: many folk go shopping but the Cal Clan headed about a dozen miles further east. "Fire country," proclaimed Cal Son, gesturing at the dry scrub covered hillsides and he told tales of a friend who lives in these parts and how he defends his house in times of fire.  At the San Diego Safari Park all party members were lathered in sunscreen .The queues were building up and well before 11am shade was being sought. There was the Condor Trail to be followed and from high up over the San Pasqual Valley views over the arid and savannah-like areas below are striking. Next find the elephants: see the littlest one scuttling beneath its mother. Lizards and bats, cheetahs and rhinos, antelopes and giraffes, gorillas and gibbons... A shady table was sought at lunch-time. The temperature was 83F ("feels more like 85," ruminated local resident, Cal Son). Queues for the African tram (tourist land train) were long so there was chance to play in the playground. Hot and thirsty refreshments were needed. "It's a hot winter's day," remarked Cal Son as we scuttled towards tables in the shade while refreshing ice-creams were downed.

Traffic was heavy in Escondido on the way home – had everyone been Black Friday shopping at the sales? The car radio was turned on for local traffic news. A Christmas carol was being aired. (Well, it's winter...)

There was a long delay on red traffic lights: another car fed into the lane ahead from the right, a large Christmas tree poking out from its boot (US. trunk). By 5pm it was completely dark; the car pulled up on the drive – and the next door house was a shining wall of Christmas lights!

It's late November, but the beach is tempting. The lifeguards are gone but the sea is still there. Wave jumping is a great sport: there were Ticklers and Ankle-grabbers and Bottom-bashers and Back-slappers... "How do you know about all these waves, Granny?" asked Cal Gal. Best not to launch into how growing up in Cleddau land and a few doses of Roald Dahl brings out these names.

Shadows were lengthening, the moon rising in the sky, a sail boat bobbed behind the pier back to harbour and a school of wetsuit clad surfers honed their skills. The sun was dipping towards the ocean as the car sped past the Top Gun house, turned right and headed back inland. "...Dashing through the snow," came from the radio, there were sandy feet in the car, more holiday lights adorned people's houses, temperature is due to  fall to 75F tomorrow: remember, here in California IT'S WINTER!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Boy time

       Trains and Boats and Planes goes the first line of Burt Bacharach’s 1965 song. Well, Trains were ticked via the Coaster ride on Sunday, since which there have been various sightings of the local light railway train, the Sprinter. This serves the communities between Oceanside and Escondido (along a route of about 25 miles) and whose station for the Cal State San Marcos university campus is right at the bottom of the hill. Boats and planes?  Cal Guy Snr proclaimed his day out on Monday the best ever – and certainly the day included a lot of both. First stop was Point Loma, a headland that guards the northern entrance to San Diego’s magnificent natural harbour. It stands about 400 feet above sea level, is home to the National Cabrillo Monument which commemorates the first European landings in California and also has a lighthouse, the light keeper’s cottage and outbuildings now serving as a museum.

There is an excellent viewpoint right outside the Cabrillo Visitor Centre. Cal Guy Snr unpacked his telescope and mounted it on his tripod. There was much to see. From the North Island air base opposite naval helicopter (V22 Ospreys) and F18s were on operations or doing training circuits. Periodically commercial aircraft were taking off or landing at the international airport on the city side of the harbour. Down below there were boats of all types. Sailing boats (US: sail boats), Coastguard cutters of two different sizes, a huge barge being towed out to sea, a tanker entering the port, a naval cruiser USS Antietam leaving.  There followed a stroll up to the seaward side of the Point for views over the Ocean. Cal Guy Snr enthusiastically explored the lighthouse, climbing as far up the tight spiral staircase as possible.

Next stop: Balboa Park over in the city for the Air & Space Museum. The Satnav lady (“Keep the American voice, it reminds me I am in America and to drive on the right!”) did a splendid job of guiding us back down to sea level, across the waterfront and inland to the park. Several little city cars outside the museum were on battery charge. Inside it was hard to know what to look at first – the Spirit of St Louis flown across the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh in 1927 – or the Apollo IX space capsule! There was moon rock and a tribute to the RAF in World War 2. Cal Guy Snr headed for every simulator possible and consequently “flew” a helicopter, the Wright Brothers Flyer and an F35. After lunch and inspection of the fish and turtles in the reflective pools in front of the Botanical Building  was time to head north for family swimming lessons at Carlsbad, pausing to inspect the sand dredging operation. (How the beach had grown in the last four days!)

On Tuesday Cal Guy Jnr had a date at the Civic Center with his ABC class: letter names, letter sounds, trace the shapes, play with toys, sing a song about “our letter D, sounds duh,duh,duh.” Next came a  whizz round the library, Cal Guy Snr choosing 6 books, all about aircraft and space, then on to the park...swing, swing, swing, race from tree to tree, feed the ducks, have a picnic lunch..

Wednesday afternoon is fast approaching. Cal Gal, who has gone to school in her pyjamas (US: PJs) with soft toy and blanket (last day before Thanksgiving), will be picked up at lunch-time and there’ll be a bowling expedition. “Kids against the grown ups,” Cal Gal has declared. Results will be duly posted...

Miscellaneous additions:

Cal Son has put out a press release: BRITISH GRANDMOTHER ENJOYS FIRST BEEFBURGER EVER! (This is to record his amazement a) that Boatwif chose a beefburger and, b) that she obviously enjoyed it ...)

Heard on the radio (cheerfully): “Temperatures in the 80s, but the highways are in a mess...”

Photo opportunities Boatwif missed:

A guy and two boys, all in wetsuits, each one carrying a surfboard, strolling across a pedestrian crossing from apartments directly to the beach. (Carlsbad)

A notice in the Civic Center multi-storey car park: “Violators will be cited” (parking fines for over staying? San Marcos)

Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of yellow school buses on a parking lot beside the 163 Freeway (San Diego)

Monday, 19 November 2012

Sights, sounds and tastes in San Diego County

Thursday: bodies and brains were in a jumble – it isn’t easy to adjust to an eight hour time difference. From previous visits to California the Captain and Boatwif have devised their own (if only temporary) antidote to jet lag, lunch at the Pannikin.  A 25 minute drive south west from San Marcos cuts through the hills to the coast. There on the Pacific Highway 1 stands a wooden railway halt, now an indoor /outdoor café. It is totally unglitzy, unglamorous, contains no plastic, has old wooden floors, odd engineering equipment strung from the rafters  - and it provides just the right sort of food. No dithering over a menu, the order is always the same, two Greek eggs and two large mugs of coffee. Food, cooked to order, arrives swiftly; the scrambled eggs are flavoured by minutely diced tomatoes and peppers with toasted bagels and fresh orange slices – remarkably curative. The notice board is still entitled “Stuff”, the occasional sparrow darts into the building, artwork is still displayed on the back wall and even the customers seem unchanged. There was a female student with open laptop and pages of notes; there were two cap-wearing women, taking post-exercise refreshment; there were two Californian stick women who have mastered the art of eating very little, very slowly while talking very earnestly about career development... How to eat, but not eat, a muffin!

There was time to return via the coastal route. Just a couple of miles further on the highway runs beside the Pacific Ocean at Carlsbad State Beach. Offshore by about a hundred yards was a ... a what? A boat? A tanker? No, a sand dredger. The tides here never seem to expose much sand and the sandstone bluffs behind the beaches are soft and subject to erosion by wind and water. Emerging at the water’s edge was a huge pipe, fluming out sand and water which was being pumped up offshore by the dredger. Along the beach rumbled earth moving equipment ready to spread out the newly acquired sand. Two camera crews were filming the action and a sleekly dressed spokesperson was giving interviews. Oh how both the Cal Guys would have enjoyed the scene...!

Friday was Thanksgiving Performance Day for Cal Gal. The youngest children performed a song Ten Little Indians; the 2nd and 3rd Grade class narrated a story about turkeys, pilgrims and Indians while the oldest children performed a comically jazzy number promoting vegan festivities...Pupils, staff and audience then enjoyed a festive meal (non vegan) and the turkey was excellent! Why can one live for months in the UK without a thought of apple pie but here it proves absolutely irresistible?

Saturday saw another culinary delight. “We must take you to this new place for lunch,” urged Cal Son and Cal Mom. Over the hills we bowled, towards Encinitas, drawing in to a mall decorated by prominent holiday banners and gift ribbons hanging from the lamp-posts. This restaurant prides itself on its totally organic ingredients. For menu think of a multiple choice test paper:

SECTION 1: choose from beef, chicken, turkey or vegetable for your burger and whether it is to be served in a roll or with salad.

SECTION 2: choose from 8 cheese types.

SECTION 3: from a list of about 20 toppings choose any four.

SECTION 4: from about 8 dressings choose any one.

SECTION 5: if a roll is chosen select which type of bread.

There was a SECTION 6 – perhaps that was the bit which requested customer’s email address...

Advice was readily available from the waiting staff, ticks applied to the chosen boxes - and the result was a really tasty and moist burger... As for the environment the décor was in cool shades of grey plus brown, there was diner seating indoors and out as well as at a long bar, behind which large screens relayed college football games.

    Later, at the favourite Escondido book store, no reader could miss the displays of Thanksgiving books.


Sunday: Just twelve months ago Cal Guy Jnr fell in love with trainsSince then Cal Guy Jnr has discovered Thomas the Tank Engine – and saw him a couple of weekends ago up in Riverside County. His bedroom door is a gallery for train pictures. Now Cal Guy Jnr wanted to ride on a bigger train... The Coaster is a double decker train that runs the fifty odd miles down the coast between Oceanside and San Diego. Great white lights and that distinctive air horn sound heralded the train’s arrival. Such thrill for Cal Guy Jnr: a massive train, another on the next track, great views from the upper deck, passenger announcements and that air horn again and again and again.

        What on earth was Pennypickle’s Workshop?  Cal Gal was charged to explain it since she had been before. Up the Interstate 15 to Temecula (a 45 minute drive) to what is a children’s science museum.  Supposedly “The Professor” has stashed his house with his inventions, and the result is an amazing array of displays covering time travel, electricity, earthquakes, music, and so on. While excited children investigated the displays and completed quiz sheets the Captain drooled over ancient valves and transistors...

        Monday: it’s just starting. Perhaps today may justify the “Boatwif” label. There are plans to head downtown with Cal Guy Snr to do some serious aircraft and ship spotting from Point Loma, a grand viewpoint which overlooks San Diego’s vast harbour and naval air base. “Look out for the submarines,” advised Cal Son -or might they all be out of sight underneath the water...