Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Retrieving my heart - in San Francisco.

I'm in the aircraft loo, changing out of my jogging bottoms back into my jeans, when we fly over the Golden Gate Bridge. "Epic fail," say the boys when I return to my seat, "you just missed it." I peer out of the plane window. San Francisco is sprawling beneath us: high-rise buildings, bridges, sparkling sea, dusty brown hills in the distance. Tears prick my eyes.

"But did you see it?" I say. 

They did. That's all that matters.

I've been reading my mother's journal of the journey we did when I was a kid, from Vancouver to Mexico. She mentions tears filling her eyes too, as we drove across Golden Gate Bridge into the city. I remember that moment and I was only nine. I want my children to have similar moments to remember, even if they are coming a bit late in the day, and are only a fraction of what my parents were able to give to my brother and me.

We're flying United Airlines, which we think might be a drag... but fortunately turns out not to be, in fact it's a breeze. I read a whole book, listen to two albums, watch a movie, sleep and eat. I don't feel remotely tired when we land, or for hours afterwards, and neither do the boys. As Eldest says: we're wired.

A friendly 70-year-old Iranian taxi driver speeds us into the city, weaving in and out of the traffic like he's Ayrton Senna on caffeine. Downtown skyscrapers loom before us, glorious in the Californian sunshine. 

Crossing a raised concrete section of highway that resembles the one in the opening sequence of La La Land, I feel like jumping out of the car and doing the dance routine right there and then. The boys feel the same: they're euphoric. They've seen lots of Europe - we left the Isle of Wight and Devon years behind some time ago, when we finally had funds to take them further afield - they've also been to North Africa and the Caribbean. They've visited the ancient ruins of Herculaneum in the shadow of mount Versuvius, a 2000-year-old Roman city where the charred bones of its unfortunate citizens still lie where they perished on the bay of Naples, which blew my mind, but nothing has enthralled them like this. "We're in America!" they keep saying, like it's the coolest place on earth. If anyone thinks the States is losing its grip on Britain's youth, one that began some years back with a love affair with rock and roll and Elvis, they're wrong.

Eldest rushes out the minute we hit the hotel to a grocery store opposite. "They look foreign but they speak English!" He informs us, returning with a Hershey Bar (which you can get in London). Then he declares it crap - "poor quality chocolate."

After showering at the hotel we head straight out again to eat, to Chinatown. The guy at reception suggests we try House of Nanking. The restaurant is lined with old wood paneling interspersed with tiles and buzzing with life. "What do you recommend?" I ask the patron. He says to leave it to him, so we do. Dish after dish arrives, the best Chinese food we've tasted, all piping hot - noodles with peppery watercress, tender pieces of beef with crunchy pak choi, battered prawns with fried apple (we think).

"Jamie Oliver came here," he tells us, bringing yet another plate and pointing at a framed photo of Mr Oliver on the wall. "He said the food here is pukka! Pukka! I thought he meant poker, like the game."

"It's an Indian word," we tell him.

"Ah!" he says. "He can cook and he speaks Indian!"

We walk on through North Beach. Eldest is beside himself. This is the best city in the world. This place is so cool. He wants to live here. 

He has his 1978 Nikon camera round his neck, snapping away. "Nice camera," says a guy walking past. "Nice dress!" shouts a girl out of a car window, at me.

We turn left heading back to the hotel before we get to Fisherman's Wharf - saving it for tomorrow - and start an ascent. There's a glimpse of view behind us, shimmering sea in the bay, an island in the distance with a building: Alcatraz. By now it's three o'clock in the morning (for us) and we're climbing Nob Hill in the sunshine, a 1 in 3 gradient.

"What's that movie?" I ask Eldest, "you know, San Francisco, that guy, the one who...."

"Milk," he says.

"Yes!" I say. It reminds me of that, and that reminds me to ask for milk at reception when we get back to the hotel, for our tea. They laughed when I packed that travel kettle and those tea bags. They won't be laughing when I can make a nice cup of tea first thing in the morning.

We hit the sack at 8pm local time, 4am for us. When I wake later the room is cloaked in darkness and the street below is silent. I'm back in San Francisco after 42 years, it's 4am local time. I get out my laptop and write: "retrieving my heart."

Love E x


P.S. Have a nice day.

The loveliness of Paris seems somehow sadly grey
The glory that was Rome is of another day
I've been terribly alone and forgotten in Manhattan
I'm going home to my city by the Bay

I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill, it calls to me
To be where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars
The morning fog may chill the air, I don't care
My love waits there in San Francisco
Above the blue and windy sea
When I come home to you, San Francisco
Your golden sun will shine for me

Friday, 21 July 2017

What is a holiday?

What is a holiday to you? A holiday, in my book, is taking some books and going to Italy and doing not very much at all except reading and eating. A holiday is a flight and a hire car, hot sun and a cold pool, a lazy saunter to the village shops to buy provisions, which must include some of those giant creased tomatoes that look like they've been injected with steroids, then later attempting to cook those provisions for lunch on an unfamiliar hob, invariably one of those God-awful induction ones that require you to hold down the invisible buttons in a random sequence until something eventually starts to heat up and then the next time you come to do it you can't remember the sequence, because you stumbled across it randomly, so you have to go through the whole rigmarole all over again.

A holiday is taking the anti-mozzie plug-in thingies, then forgetting to plug them in on the first night because you were past yourself with exhaustion (as they say in Yorkshire) because you just did a 13-hour door to door journey (and you were only flying from Gatwick to Pisa) so you get bitten and spend the rest of the 13 nights with your arm under the table at dinner, scratching that bite on your ankle that swells up like a boiled sweet and leaves a welt that scars you for the whole of the rest of the year, as a souvenir.

A holiday is letting your younger kids have pizza and ice-cream and coke at every meal and your older ones drink alcohol and then not bothering to tell them to brush their teeth when they go to bed and leaving them to sleep until lunchtime, because you can.

A holiday is sitting on the sun lounger for so long reading a book that only the front of your legs get tanned.

A holiday is working out which place has the best bread and when the fried fish van comes to town, on the penultimate day.

A holiday is meaning to go and see that amazing thing in the local museum/art gallery/next town but never actually getting round to it and then on that last day saying, shall we go and see that thing? Nah, can't be arsed, we'll be travelling all day tomorrow anyway.

A holiday is using the barbecue precisely twice and then having to spend twice the time it took to cook the sausages scrubbing the thing clean and getting sprayed with burnt-on black bits, on the last night.

A holiday is the deafening sound of cicadas, church bells waking you on a Sunday morning, a row about using the sat nav ("either follow its instructions or turn the damn thing off!"), Boots Soltan Factor 30 you've had in the back of the bathroom cupboard for five years, fishing insects out of the pool with a net, the local market full of foreign tongue, both to listen to and to eat, a tatty old sun hat, a fancy pair of wedges you pack to wear in the evening and then never do because they're much too impractical, sand in the bottom of the bath when you get out, someone else's scratchy sheets and too hard pillow, buying salt and pepper then finding the rental supplied it already, supermarkets with whole aisles of lovely crockery you want to stuff in your suitcase and take home but you know that you can't so you just get one pretty bowl and when you get back home someone puts it in the dishwasher and most of the pattern comes off. THAT is a holiday. And is that what we're doing this year? No.

This year we're not going on a holiday at all, we're going on an adventure of a lifetime to the west coast of America to embark on a road trip because I once did something similar as a child and last year we came into a bit of money that will finally make it possible and if we don't do it now our kids will have gone off to live their own lives without us, for good.

This year there will be no house, no pool, possibly not a lot of hot weather because the pacific northwest is not exactly known for it, just me and my four males, of various sizes and degrees of smelliness, in a 30 foot metal box on wheels, travelling from San Francisco to Seattle then ditching the RV and going on to Vancouver by train, then hiring a car to take us into the Rockies, before flying back from Calgary. And am I complaining? Of course I'm not, I'm lucky as hell and I know it.

Love E x


P.S. Watch this space...