Saturday, 30 November 2013

Sensory overload

           The Cal Clan’s home is about 30 miles north east of San Diego. Many times there has been a landing well after dusk, a shuffle through Immigration, Baggage Reclaim and Customs, followed by a courtesy bus trip to a car rental company and delays while paperwork and car allocation is made... This year the agony of fatigue and driving an unfamiliar vehicle at night was avoided.
          “Eleventh floor,” said the hotel receptionist. “Your room overlooks the city but there’s water both sides.”
From the room’s tiny balcony pinpricks of light could be seen arcing over the water across the Coronado Bridge. The sound of water cascading filled the air, feature fountains playing far below. As the balcony door was closed the haunting sound of a train’s air horn pulsed across to the water front from the train line that runs south from Los Angeles to Mexico.
           Sleep came quickly that night – though did not last long. The body clock dictates – and the body found itself vertical all too soon. It was nearly 6am and the city was stirring. Traffic hummed – and the sky was a blaze of deep oranges and yellows.
Could anyone not be moved by the sheer drama of daybreak
over a skyline like this?
           Full sun came – the city was properly awake. Aircraft engines roared as movement resumed over at the airport. Then a single bugle call floated up from across the harbour: Reveille. It was start of day for the Marine Corps; a brass band played The Stars and Stripes and more bugles replied. From the lighthouse out on the Ocean’s edge came the long low blast of a foghorn, its note deep enough to rattle your ribcage.
            And on TV, with tales of Thanksgiving holiday traffic being disrupted because of bad weather and of One Direction's Central Park show was Good Morning, America. With the sun warm on the skin, with bushes and shrubs still showing blooms in vibrant colours, it was indeed Good Morning America.
            A recent chance encounter with a Lists book played on the mind. ‘See the top ten attractions in San Diego’ had shouted the page in a glossy coffee table book on display at a garden centre. Balboa Park? TICK. Coronado Island? TICK. Gaslamp Quarter? TICK. Old Town? TICK... But there was one place not yet encountered. So, before heading north to see the Cal Clan, there was a diversion to the San Diego Mission.
Here in 1774 the first of the 21 Catholic Missions in California was established. There is a museum to the mission’s history,
a church still in active use, a large area of land for vineyards, orchards and gardens, and a Native American shelter.

            Then to head north. After stints on several freeways, an unplanned excursion through suburbia, the security of the familiar was reached, Highway 101. There was a caffeine boost at the old railway halt, the Pannikin,
a sniff of Pacific Ocean salt air
overflown by a pair of pelicans, some mountain shots from Double Peak viewpoint
– and then the best sensory assault of all. Arrived in the Cal Clan’s neighbourhood – where Cal Guy Jnr tore down the street, leapt in the arms, gave a hug and a squeeze, wriggled free, then sang Twinkle twinkle little star all the way through, while simultaneously doing paired feet jumps up and down on the sidewalk!  Such glee... Sight, sound, hearing, touch – what a great welcome from  America, from California and from family all in a few short hours...

Thursday, 28 November 2013

It’s Thanksgiving season

Let us be thankful for – engines.
      Overnight on Sunday had come a message from Cal Son: The children are very excited that you are coming, it said, they have been de-toying your room.
      Courtesy of a friend, the Academic, the Captain and Boatwif were sped round the motorway towards Heathrow, there to catch a flight to San Diego.  The engine of the Academic’s car purred sweetly, protesting not one jot when the M25 Orbital became too congested and a diversion past Denham Film Studios was taken. What a triumph - off loaded at Terminal 5 there were but two minutes to wait before the desks opened for baggage drop.  The Academic returned northwards, promising a pick up in a few weeks’ time. Thank goodness for her red Renault (?), which safely conveyed three adults, a large amount of Cadbury’s drinking chocolate and several hefty suitcases the sixty odd miles to Terminal 5.
     Once through security checks glitzy shopping opportunities assault the eye. Passengers, some scurrying, some dawdling,  crowded the shopping areas.
Those who can resist perfumes and handbags and Duty Free spending opportunities can gaze out of the window at the ranks of aircraft drawn up,
ready to convey passengers to Manchester or Munich, San Diego
or Sydney...
      5,478 miles separates Heathrow and San Diego airports. Just after 2pm the twin-engined Boeing 777 lifted into the air above west London, the aircraft climbing steeply away above the lakes and reservoirs
that surround the busy airport.
      A joy for the Cleddau crew on such flights is the Moving Map technology. Onto the screen set into the seat back of the row in front is projected a constantly updated computer generated map of the aircraft’s position.
Over Runnymede the aircraft climbed, above the Cotswold Hills, heading west for Cardigan Bay and Ireland. Aberystwth appeared on screen, the Spanish version of the map writing it as Alberto Lea...
      It was bumpy over Ireland’s west coast, there were distinct ice floes just off Greenland.  It was -60 degrees Fahrenheit outside and a slew of ice crystals peppered the porthole window. Then came the long slog above Canada’s frozen tundra, over Hudson Bay, next across the Great Lakes. 
      The aircraft’s bearing swung, heading now south as well as west. In clear skies the view was through a shimmer of water vapour from the port side engine. Below lay snow-topped heights, ridges and rifts, cruising over the Black Hills and Devil’s Tower.  There’s an aching vastness about it all, this huge terrain stretching endlessly below. Just as on the boat there is a compulsion to know through which county we pass, here the compulsion grew to know which state we flew above... Wyoming, Utah...Then at 1600, with an hour to go, it was Arizona. The Grand Canyon and Las Vegas appeared on screen.  The sun was losing its height, west facing hill ridges throwing off a rosy glow; the aircraft began to descend, over the Colorado River, across the Salton Sea,
the roads across the desert’s salt flats ruler straight. Non-American place names flashed up on screen – Acupulco and Caracas. Light in the sky was nearly gone, but city illuminations twinkled below. There was the Pacific Ocean, the sweep of Coronado Bridge, the naval dockyards, the high rise blocks.
      At just after 1am GMT on Tuesday, 5pm Pacific Coast Time Monday, the aircraft landed – and as the engines were switched off there was a glimpse of two Alaskan Airline planes and a row of palm trees...  

      Engines... inspection by the Captain last week up at Stoke Boats (reached via fast Virgin train from Milton Keynes to Stoke-on-Trent) revealed Cleddau’s empty engine bay,
her old BMC 1.8 now on the boat shed floor
with the new Beta Marine 43 in its crate alongside,
awaiting installation.

      You see, there are reasons to be thankful for engines...!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Friends and Cleddaus revisited

What a difference between two Fridays!
          Last Friday (25th October) good friend Les Biggs was still a patient at Watford General Hospital. There had been a very major operation, as regular readers of his and Jaq’s blog will know.  Last Friday he was attached to all sorts of medical paraphernalia - and I was witness to Matron’s deep discomfort.   A storm of protest had erupted overnight after Jaq had recounted to friends and family the terrible saga of Les’s post-operative “care”.  That day Jaq’s poise and passion was remarkable; as the interview with Matron and Ward Sister wore on Matron’s face darkened and her list of issues to investigate grew longer and longer…  
            Now, one week later (Friday 1st November), Les is safely back on board nb Valerie, able to reflect on how conditions had improved post the protest storm. He’s tired, of course, there’s a lot of missed sleep to catch up on and weakness to overcome. But Jaq - nutritionist, catering manager, nurse – will support and nourish him, physically, emotionally and mentally.
With all our hearts we wish them both well. Boaters galore have rallied to offer help and support in all kinds of ways, the boating community linked by the love of the waterways and the power of digital connections.
          It was great to see you yesterday, Les, may your recovery be swift and steady.
         Then there’s the Cleddaus revisited too: last week (23rd October) there was a return to Stoke Boats. A tug tractor was manoeuvring a boat from the slipway.
It came close, very close… we pressed ourselves back against the car, then gazed around. Cleddau? Where was Cleddau? Not at the slipway; not on the hard-standing. 
          Into the office.
           “We’ve come about our boat - Cleddau.  Err - where is she?”
            In the middle shed, apparently.
            There she was, out of the water, balanced on blocks.
There was much talk of ballast and waterlines. Two of us, Boatwif and the Cheshire One, crept up the step ladder at the stern to peer inside. Gone was the bedroom, gone was the glory hole (utility area).  A plastic bowl was positioned to catch any watery droplets from the radiator in the one-time airing cupboard. Red cabin sides were evidence of rust-proofing treatment.
 It’s spray foam insulation next. There’ll be another checking out on progress in a week or so’s time.
           Time passes…
           There was a Sunday dash out west, families to catch up with in west and mid-Wales. When you drive for five plus hours across country to a west –facing coast you want to check it out. On Sunday afternoon there was the Cleddau Bridge, a road bed high above the grey choppy waters.
 In the foreground was Hobbs Point, an angled access slope for marine craft.
 From here, in the fifties and sixties, Cleddau Queen
and Cleddau King used to transport cars and foot passengers across the Haven to Neyland. “Ferry was late, Sir,” was a not infrequent call from the three fellow pupils who travelled to school “from across the water”.
            Pembrokeshire suffers in westerly gales: those alive in November ’53 have not forgotten the falling roof slates, the shattered glazing, the upturned trees, the paralysed roads.  After a storm locals are inclined to grab cameras and windproofs, and head out to the Atlantic-facing beach.  There still is the small hut, where local women would dry the seaweed before dispatching it to Swansea to become laver bread.
Debris left by the tide can be put to all manner of uses,
but this place is finest when wind-whipped spume dances and bounces along the shore,
when a salt haze hovers over the waves, when spray crashes upward against the cliffs,
when the roar of the waves
is an inescapable soundscape.
            Back in land-locked Beds now…