Tag Archives: Travel

Mo-Town, and other stories

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I have finally – with the help of back-to-back Alias episodes and a pretty indecent amount of Phish Food ice cream – finished sorting out photos from the last week of our trip. So here goes!

We drove from Ashland to Salt Lake over the course of a day. We figured it would be easier to handle a road trip than another flight with the boys – I mean, if you have any conception of how often H needs the loo, this is pretty obvious. But actually, this was one of my favourite days. We stopped at three-hourly intervals for petrol, snacks, ice cream and to stretch our legs, and in between listened to Roald Dahl and Harry Potter, sang very loudly, and saw some magnificent scenery. Somewhere in Nevada we spotted a sign for ‘Deeth Starr Valley’, and thought ‘hey, nice Star Wars tribute; shame they couldn’t spell it’. Turns out Deeth and Starr Valley are two separate places, but next to each other. If they don’t get together for a sci-fi film festival every year this life means NOTHING.

The last part of the journey, before it got dark, ran through the Utah Salt Flats. We hit them just at sunset. Excited to see family and entering the twelfth delicious hour of binging on M&Ms. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling.

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Then Utah! Another place I’d never been but was excited to see. After so many distant horizons it felt very odd to sit in a valley entirely ringed by mountains. The sun rises in the morning behind them, so by the time it peeks over the top and into your living room it’s hot and full, all of a sudden. We were there for my brother’s wedding at the end of the week, so that was the most important thing, of course. But there was plenty to see, too, especially for a 30-something Mormon who’d never been before.

The first weekend was General Conference for our church. Which we normally watch under blankets in our living room, with plenty of M&M’s on hand. Since we were actually there this time, we went to the real thing. It was very surreal.

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Guys, you do not know how much I am praying that some of those mother genes have come this way.

Lots of other lovely buildings around Temple Square, including the eponymous temple.

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We were staying with my brother and sister-in-law – and their cat, Moses, much to the boys’ delight (Moses could not be reached for comment. I think Ted’s demented ‘Where is Moooooseeeey’ rallying cry is still ringing in his ears). We took up so much of their space and ate their food and terrorised poor Moses night and day, and they were the absolute BEST for putting up with us. I kind of want us all to move into a commune now; could this happen; let’s try.

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After the weekend we paid a visit to the Museum of Ancient Life, otherwise known as the BEST dinosaur museum you have been to in your liiiiiiiife. There are more assembled dino skeletons than I have ever seen, including the really cool ones like the supersaurus, taking up an entire hall by itself, and a triceratops, and that gnarly one with the bone crown on its head that it uses to fight with (you know the one). There were mammoth skeletons and sabre-tooth tiger skeletons, huge terrifying prehistoric fish skeletons in abundance, lots of interactive exhibits, and – best of all – a bit at the end where they could dig out a fossil for themselves in a big sand pit. I’ve gone on about it too much now, but we are pretty much breathing dinosaurs in our house at the minute, and the boys were beside themselves.

They both got a dinosaur toy from Grandma at the end. ‘I’m going to call mine Chomp!’ said H.

T wanted to copy (standard) but misheard (also standard).

‘Mummy, listen! Listen! Mine called Jump too’.

We had a free day mid-week, so took a road trip down to Moab and the red rocks. Oh my. We took our lunch down a kid-friendly trail, scrambling through a canyon and dislodging irritated lizards. It was the kind of day where you keep saying ‘look – will you LOOK at that?!’, even though you know it’s getting annoying. I couldn’t stop looking. We could’ve spent a week there. Maybe one day we will.

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On the way back we drove through a dust storm, in a valley like wide, flat bowl. There was a raised railway line just to our right, and all of a sudden a big flock of tumbleweeds came rolling over the top and down past the car. Some of them were as big as armchairs. I like to think those were the alpha mamas of the pack, and they were leading them all off to a better life. Before we went home we spent the evening with some lovely friends, who used to live in our town years ago, before they moved back to the States. They had not only a dog but ROOMS full of toys the boys hadn’t seen, and I feel like between us we nearly died with happiness.

The next day, in between various wedding errands, we hiked up to the big Y on Y Mountain, in Provo. (The story of why there’s a giant letter painted on this mountain is a weird, torrid saga involving forcible head-shavings and heat exhaustion.) We managed to get up there without anyone shaving their head, though we took the pushchair halfway up, and pushing it nearly gave Tim a heart-attack. Good views, though. Excellent views.

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Then a wedding, a wedding. I love a good wedding, and this (we hope!) was our last one. The service was in the morning, at Provo City Center temple – a gorgeous brick structure with turrets and arched windows and stained glass in abundance.

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My brother, we all agree, got astonishingly lucky. We love this girl.

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We had a lunch not long after, including root beer floats for dessert and some speeches and games afterwards.

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Then we finished the day with an evening reception. Waffle bar, photo booth, first dance, tears. A dance party afterwards where we all jostled together and everything felt hilarious. We saw them off with confetti. We said goodbyes that were too brief and too sad. And we left. After all this time, it never doesn’t suck.

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So concluded the trip we christened #Whereismosey2016. We don’t usually take big travelling holidays, and the whole time we kept pinching ourselves that we were lucky enough to do this one. It was so good for the soul. Come back, come back! You were such a good one.

*rips open Phish Food*

Oregon pie

I have spent much of today folding an Everest of clean clothes into drawers and playing Judge Judy – wisely, gracefully, then with increasingly snarkiness – in the boys’ endless toy arguments. After a mid-afternoon meal masquerading as lunch, I got a respite. T in bed for a nap, H and Tim watching that terrible Ice Age film with the dinosaurs for the millionth time. No need for me. I took the hint and scarpered upstairs with a book and a bar of chocolate. So now I have finished both (I get a terrible itch in the last quarter of a book, and can’t focus on anything till I’ve finished it), and am at peace with the world, and this is a good time to tell you about Oregon. Then I will make sausage pie, with fat sausages, apples, sage and crags of puff pastry. This has been a good Saturday after all.

The morning after the Chin Disaster, 2016, we packed up the hotel room, jammed all our stuff into a rental car, and set off through SF traffic. Tim driving, me shrieking gently whenever we seemed to be going too close to a traffic barrier. A pattern that would be repeated often over the next few days. The boys fell asleep just before we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, so (thinking that H at least would be peeved to miss it) we woke them both up on the other side. Look how delighted they were.

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The drive to Oregon was astonishing. Our first introduction to the mind-boggling space in the States, something so utterly foreign to small-island people used to being boxed in by hedgerows. We would be driving on a road, and I would look left and right and see hills just visible on the horizon on either side, and nothing – nothing – but farmland and the odd rare building in between. Imagine living in a house like that, with miles of emptiness around you. It makes me shiver. Do you not come out of your front door in the wide afternoons and get flattened by the sky?

There are mountains in northern California. We didn’t know. Mountains, and forests of pine trees, and tiny hidden lakes with mist thick on the surface of the water. ‘Watch Out for the Stag’ signs every few miles (we never saw one on the roads). A white-topped dormant volcano named Mount Shasta. The roads swirl up and down and between the hills like trails of fudge on ice cream. It’s a weird, untracked world. Once, we stopped at a rickety old gas station so I could use the loo – and I use the word ‘rickety’ advisedly, as the wooden boards on the deck buckled under my feet on the way to the door. I went in to the little shop and cafe, and found a woman behind a counter, chatting to a big man at a table. I asked the way to the bathroom and she nodded towards a corner door. I went in, and found not only the blessed toilet, but a bath, in which lay a fully dressed mannequin with a brown bob and an insouciant expression. The head had been turned so she watched you while you peed. I hope I screamed quietly.

When I came out, having spent the entirety of my bladder-emptying in a nervous staring contest with Ms Bathtub, the chap at the table belly-laughed. ‘Good one, eh?’ he chuckled.

‘Yeah’, I smiled, trying to look appreciative and unmurderable. ‘Yeah, good one’. And then I ran-walked to the door, and the next mountain road. An hour later we were in Ashland.

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My friend – one of my favourite people in the whole world – works at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival based in Ashland, and lives there most of the year. Their house is halfway up a mountain, all windows and views and extremely beautiful.

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Since Ashland is a town whose economy is built almost entirely on the drama festival, it keeps an eye on the sort of people who’d come somewhere for a week in order to see two plays a day. Fancy restaurants, little cafes, quirky shops, gorgeously designed parks. A big university, and (of course) the big theatre. And lots of mountains. It was lovely.

We spent the first day wandering a trail near the house – ask the boys what we did in Oregon and they’ll reply immediately ‘WE SAW A SNAKE’ –

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– and meeting my friend after she finished work for a sneaky tour of the indoor and outdoor theatres, and the rehearsal rooms for the actors. On the outdoor stage, the boys ran immediately to the back row of seats and sat down. ‘Are you going to play something for us, then?’ H yelled. Like a true Elizabethan.

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A personal challenge.

On the second day, we spent some time meeting my friend’s marvellous parents, who let the boys charge around in a big red wagon and embodied every last one of my When I Am Old dreams, then went to find the playground at the big park. Then we found a cafe that did both lunch and ice cream, and where the waitress didn’t blink when we ordered ‘the PB and J – ooh, but actually he doesn’t really like peanut butter, so could we just have…a J?’ for Teddy. That night, we tucked the boys into their matching beds and ran off down to the theatre to see Twelfth Night. Which was wonderful. Charming, hilarious Viola; sympathetic and weirdly dignified Malvolio. It’s been so long since I went to the theatre I felt like an escapee from a previous carefree life.

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The next day we left on the Long Drive. More about that tomorrow. It was a very long drive, and I have sausage pie to make, and Oregon to miss.

About this Dear Diary situation…and San Francisco

I don’t often use this blog as a diary anymore. I had a big no-one-is-interested-except-you-and-your-mum kind of crisis about it a while ago, and since then I’ve tried to be as inclusive as possible. Sometimes, holiday photo posts on other blogs, especially when they’re impossibly curated and lovely and I’m looking at them sat in holey pyjamas and covered in other people’s nose effluent, make me a bit ragey. Out of respect for your rage and your nose effluent situation, I tend to shy away from posting overly about prettified activities, on the grounds that the subtext might come across as Look At Our Glorious Selves, Peasants.

There are some things in our day-to-day that I do record. I hope the boys will read what I write about the minutia of our daily lives and their milestones, when they’re too old to remember it or to jostle over wiping their noses on my shirt. And I want to write about every single holiday we ever take with my family. They will never be able to swing by their American auntie’s house after school for a chat and a biscuit, anything over a few thousand miles being a basically unswingable distance. So these holidays are now and will be what holds their relationship together. Big, messy, lively, loud holiday relationship glue. I want them to know that we were making the effort to do this since before they could remember.

So I’m not attempting to turn the next few posts into Seven Cool Things You Can Do In San Francisco, If You Want. Bear with me. This is for us (and if MANY holiday photos aren’t your thing right now, as they sometimes aren’t mine, you may cheerfully mute me with a guiltless heart; I love you; you look miles better than you think in those pyjamas). Ironically we didn’t even see my family till the week after this, but I can’t do the whole holiday in one post or we’d be here till Michaelmas.

SAN FRANCISCO THOUGH.

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BAM, in with the photos immediately. No waiting.

Does anyone really call it ‘Frisco’ in actual fact? Because it seems to hover on the line between Dorky and Too Cool For Me To Attempt, as so many things do, like for example playsuits.

Once we arrived, and struggling with three suitcases, two car seats, one pushchair, four carry-on bags and two small children hopped up unbearably on free aeroplane pop, we took a cab through the city to our hotel. The sky was blue, and we weren’t wearing coats, which made the pastel-coloured wooden houses perched on hills even more exciting. We didn’t do much that first evening except sleep, except for Tim, who ran off his jetlag with a half-marathon around the city (WHAT KIND OF METAL IS HE MADE OF). The next morning we attended an hour of church – our first sweaty experience with pushing a pushchair up those hills, argh – and then came back afterwards to change and catch the bus.

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A wonderful thing about the under-fives. You think it’s public transport: seedy and a bit stressful. They think it’s magic. We stayed on the bus all the way to Golden Gate Park, a long and unpleasantly-scented journey if you’re an adult rubbing your face in someone’s armpit, but a lurchy rollercoaster of joy to a toddler. When we got off they were already buzzing. So we went to the California Academy of Sciences.

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Which was ace! A bit like the Natural History Museum in London, but with live animals as well as stuffed ones. We’d been lured there with the promise of a T-Rex skeleton in the foyer, but there was also a rainforest dome, a pretty extensive aquarium, and an albino alligator lounging all casually in the back.

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I know it’s standard Instagram practice to say things like ‘We found Nemo!’ when you visit aquariums. But they had actual Nemo and Dory fish IN THE SAME TANK, and we lost it a bit.

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Then we popped across the road to the de Young Museum, which is artsy and a bit beyond (beYoung?) them, but which does have an excellent observatory you can visit for free. It was jaw-dropping.

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Superman.

Superman.

We finished the afternoon at a huge playground, and then headed back for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. We were seated in a booth, separated from an outside table by a sheet of glass. T was sat next to the sheet of glass, and took the opportunity for some jetlag-drunk mime. They were not amused. But the food was excellent.

Next day! Miraculously and beautifully, a good friend of mine from university happened to be visiting her aunt at the same time we were there. So we met up for breakfast at a little cafe called Savor. Classic rookie mistake: forgetting how big American breakfasts are. ‘Of course we want one each!’ we chortled. Then the plates arrived, and the boys could have used one of the pancakes as a Professor Quirrell-style turban. We were all grateful that they didn’t.

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I should’ve put something else in here for scale. Like my head.

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We made it back across the city and then up to the pier by tram – cool in itself – and had a picnic lunch with another dear friend. Attention: SF buses have audible timetables at all of their stops, read by robot men. If you happen to be in a public place where a small child is doing something very annoying – like, I don’t know, pressing the Audible Bus Timetable over and over – then it’s because they could be doing something even more annoying and/or dangerous, and the parents are picking their battles. Signed, the mother of the toddler pressing the Audible Bus Timetable over and over.

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Then came the disaster. Poor T, perched on the end of the pushchair with his hands in his pockets, fell off with a distinct, meaty crunch and split open his chin. Cue blood, an ambulance, a swanky children’s hospital, a long wait, a sedative, a very bad reaction to a sedative, more sedative, and finally five stitches put in while no less than four doctors held him down. When we got back to the hotel nine hours later he was still too dozy to walk and I couldn’t eat anything because I was sick with crying and the smell of his blood in my nose. How does Adam Dalgliesh cope?!

Five minutes before It Happened. Much prettier.

Five minutes before It Happened. Much prettier.

Anyway, my friend was marvellous, finding me a tissue and the right people when all my brain was doing was ‘there is blood. So red. Very blood’, and cheering H up round the aquarium with Tim once we’d gone. And San Francisco, you have FANTASTIC nurses. Sorry for all the kicks to the face. (It’s healed really well, and he’s fine. Despite pulling out one of those hard-won stitches the next morning *face palms till death*)

Thank goodness we’d already booked tickets for a boat cruise, and H got to do this as a cheer-up measure:

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GAH, I love him

I’m only a little bit jealous.

Tomorrow: across that mildly famous bridge and onto Oregon!

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The desert, and other stories

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You are in Arizona. There is something odd about Arizona. A huge, open valley ringed with mountains you never reach. Burning heat. It feels like the ends of your hair are crisping up, like every tiny part of your skin sits under a magnifying glass held by a curious, ant-killing giant.

The intense flatness of the vivid blue sky: no clouds, no sense of perspective. Beautiful, and pitiless.

The Aztec-style decorations on bridges and highways: spirals and lizards etched out in chalk.

The cacti loitering by the freeway and in people’s gardens, playing it cool, like it’s not the weirdest thing ever. You text home. ‘THERE ARE CACTI ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, ALL CASUAL. Like we’re in the Wild West or something?’ ‘Um, you ARE in the Wild West’, they text back. Good point. Where else would it be but here?

The knowledge that every plant has been put there on purpose, because almost nothing grows spontaneously except those enormous lordly cacti. Then seeing how the city planners got carried away with the plant thing and started disguising non-plant items as plants, like mobile phone masts dressed up as palm trees. It feels like a sixties Bond film. Are there Russians dressed up as palm trees too? It’s brilliant.

Citrus fruit trees, with their trunks painted white to stop them shrivelling. The flash of acid yellow lemons between the leaves looking as foreign as anything you’ve ever seen.

The dust in the back of your throat. The point at which your winter-ready English feet get tired of sandals, so you take them off, and last about half a second before you have to leap for some shade, soles singeing.

Hunting for scorpions at night on the wall. Watching them glow blue under torchlight. Spending some time afterwards imagining scorpions leaving the wall for a jaunt into your bed. Sleeping with the duvet tucked in.

The m.e.x.i.c.a.n f.o.o.o.o.o.d. (Pause for sobbing.)

The family whose conversation you slide back into like you’ve seen them every day for the seven years they’ve been gone. A wedding full of lovely details. A ceremony you cry through, a reception where you eat burritos until your dress is straining, and then dance hard and hilariously, sweating into your hair, through the orangey evening and into the night.

Walking out into a city anchored onto desert, and never being able to forget the desert just a few feet underneath, hustling around the edges, whipping into your hair and mouth on the back of a hot wind.

The wind always hot. Even at night. When there’s any wind at all.

There is something odd about Arizona. You belong back with the tangled weedy hedgerows and narrow roads, the drizzle and the dry humour. As soon as you land you feel the rightness of it. But you miss the desert.

You are in Arizona, and then you are not, and you don’t think you will ever get it out of your head.

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2014 06 James and Hannah's wedding

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All you need is a good umbrella

Rain, and rain, and rain.

Good effort, summer. I can see you’ve really stretched yourself.

When it’s grey and fuzzy like this, I just want to curl up under the billowy duvet and sleep. Not so for Timothy, who doesn’t believe in daytime naps and has instead gone to climb Snowdon for the weekend. It’s important to let men be men, and sometimes men want to hike up a mountain, eat chilli peanuts and fist bump. Even in the rain.

I hope it won’t compromise his masculinity, sleeping in what I’ve just noticed is called a ‘two season mummy bag’. Um, what? A two season mummy bag sounds horrifically like what I’ve been toting around on my chest since Henry and milk had the big falling out.

While the men do the peanut-mountain-fistbump thing, the women’s weekend will involve popcorn, movies, blankets, a generous amount of apple cider and, coincidentally, a rather larger number of two season mummy bags.

[end of boob jokes. You can come out now.]

Happy happy weekend, you marvellous people! Have a good one. Get out your umbrella.

Camera, action

I tend to insist on too many photos. I want to capture what I can see in case I can’t remember it in perfect technicolour afterwards. I tried so hard in New York not to be an irritating tourist, and spoiled it all with the big black camera banging on my chest. There does come a point at which I’m more concerned with recording the moment than being present in it.

But look.

Whenever I see this, yesterday afternoon will come back to me all at once: the breathtaking vibrancy of the flowers, the deliciousness of Timothy’s striped t-shirt, the heat, the buzzing, the paddle steamer, the happiness.

Alabama in the spring is well worth it, if you’re around. Those azaleas really know how to show you a good time.

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