Thursday, January 31, 2008

Everyone knows it's Windy

Today I leave the Hotel Chez Penny. Oh man will I miss everybody. David has not been about much but it's great when he is, Penny is a Goddess, Clara is a hoot and Chloe and Ben are incapacitatingly adorable all the time. Hopefully I can visit again someday.

Before I head out I get Clara and Penny to do a quick photoshoot with me. The light is dicey but oh well.

Penny and I strike a silly Kitchen pose.

Clara is demure. I cannot even approach it.

Penny has a work lunch in London today so we take the train in together. We part ways at Marylebone and I book it to London Victoria to catch the Easybus to Luten Airport. The rain is hurtling out of the sky and the correct bus stop is not obvious. Easy this bus is not. But I make it nevertheless.

Despite the pouring rain, the bus ride is remarkably pleasant and the view out my window is not dreary, merely gorgeous and tinted grey. We arrive at Luten and I discover that the bus ride took more than half an hour longer than it was meant to. Oh Crap.

I barely make it to the flight: I am the second to last person to board. I find a seat eventually in the very back row between a charming young man who seems roughly my age and an impossible older man of about fifty or sixty. The flight is beyond turbulent. It attains (and maintains) roller-coaster status with a speed and consistency heretofore unimagined by me. Due to the extreme turbulence the flight is running an understandable fifteen minutes or so behind schedule.

We arrive in the Scotland skies and immediately after announcing our descent the pilot (who, of course, has a thick Scottish accent making him only barely intelligible to me) comes back on the loudspeaker to apologize. We cannot actually make our descent just yet, as the extremely heavy winds have blown out one of the windows of the air traffic control tower at Glasgow International. Oh Ye Gods. The Pilot explains that they are moving the air traffic controllers right now and it should only take five or ten minutes. We proceed to circle the Glasgow skies for more than thirty, during which time I get to know the cute Glaswegian on my left. He is returning from London, having been there on business, renewing his certification for some computer thing which I instantly forget. He and I share a great sense of humour about our predicament. People are bouncing around, children are crying and the man to our right keeps pursuing some domestic argument with his wife and stewardesses have to keep rushing over to ask him to sit down. We laugh and chat; I'm not actually frightened but the ceaseless turbulence is really starting to wreck havoc on my stomach.

We finally descend which brings momentary relief, Callum has probably been waiting for an hour by now dammit. But then the turbulence drastically worsens and the descent seems unending. Moments before we land I completely lose my cookies, attempting to do so as quietly as possible. I have a package of kleenex and wipe my mouth just as the wheels touch the ground. The Glaswegian turns to me, eyes twinkling, and says "Welcome to Glasgow! What do you think of it so far?"

We wish each other luck and head off in our separate direction, I am too embarassed to introduce myself so I don't actually know his name ::sheepish laugh:: ah well, so it goes.

I find Callum walking through the airport door, it seems the traffic was so bad he only just arrived, he was worried I was waiting. Oh the Irony. In the Morrisette sense.

We head back to Lucy and Callum's flat in Glasgow which is AMAZING! I take a blissful shower and change and then we head to The Rock (a pub about a block away) for Thursday night pub quiz and real pub grub. Lucy has warned me that the food is only so-so at The Rock and assures me that we'll get better dinner tomorrow. WHATEVER! I order Bangers and Mash, which is served with gravy, Yorkshire pudding and mushy peas. (No really...the mushy is apparently a feature, they're listed on the menu that to me.) I get my food and Lucy is so wrong, it's Great! She also warned me that Scotland does not serve American sized portions. Wrong Again! I get THREE Sausages, TWO Yorkshire puddings and a MOUNT EVEREST of Mashed Potatoes and Peas. So Unbelievably Tasty!

I chip away at my delectable trough of food throughout the pub quiz. I contribute only two answers: The first Queen of Henry the 8th to be beheaded and the President during the Civil War. Actually that's better than I typically do at pub quizzes in the U.S., so yee haw. I also meet a large slice of Lucy and Callum's circle of friends, all of whom are awesome and really nice about how often I have to ask them to repeat what they say.

After the pub it's back to the amazing flat. And the amazing guest bedroom. And the amazing bed.

Good night!

Coming soon: Every Good Girl Deserves a Castle and a Tapas Bar when in Scotland.

Notes: Go Left

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It Is Too Cold For Punting Today

But Cambridge is immune to such setbacks. At Cambridge they OWN old school cool and they know how to rock it.

For starters, they all go to school in castles.

In the awesome-er still department, Sarah did her Post-Grad work at Trinity College (how amazing is that, I think if I applied I would barely be qualified to sharpen their pencils), so she has a school ID and can run us around all kinds of places mere humans are not allowed to go. First she gets all four of us into King's College Chapel for about £3 (Four normal adults would be about £20). Absolutely Ridiculous. Undeniably Sweet. Were I religious in the slightest I would be unable to settle for any other college's worshiping facilities. I mean come on:

The Ceiling.

The Windows.

The Doorways.

And Mother Mary's lookin' pretty good too.

Oh man, I SO want to come back here and go to a concert, apparently the acoustics are glorious cubed.

Next, we wander more of Cambridge, mostly for my benefit as Ruth and Karen have already gotten the grand tour.
Gates leading from one college to the next. SFSU so shafted me.

We go "backstage-ish" at Trinity, Sarah's former college, where a meticulously dressed porter spots me taking pictures and immediately chews us out for being where we are. Sarah is thrilled, we have now been "verbally abused by a Trinity porter ", so we can truly say we had the full Cambridge experience.

The courtyard at Trinity.

After Trinity we embark on our Major Mission of the Day: Having postponed it two days in a row, there WILL be High Tea. Sarah has polled her Cambridge pals and been told that a good cream tea with trimmings is served at the Garden Court, walking distance from Trinity etc. We begin the "Trekking to Tea" tesugi with Sarah in the lead.

The walk is Scenic, and the capitalization is much deserved.

If heaven doesn't look this good, I'm not going.

Several minutes later we reach The Garden Court. Oh. Um. I see. It's actually the Garden Court Hotel. And it is Unspeakably Posh. Huh. We are dressed like tourists. Not even. We are dressed like Student Backpacker Dorky Folk. Charming in our waywardness, but in no way Dressed For Tea. We all shrug. What the hell. We receive a few concerned looks as we enter but we get a table by the window (behind a lovely screen, though, teehee) and particularly once it is clear that we are each doing a full tea service, everyone is extremely attentive. Ruth and I decide to be absurd and share a glass of champagne as well.

The Tea is magnificent.
Oh Rapture, thy name is English Tea-with-Stuff.

Your key to the three tiers: the first tier is cucumber, egg salad, and smoked salmon sandwiches; the second tier is piping hot scones with Clotted cream, preserves and a strawberry; the top tier a slice of chocolate mouse cake and two cream puffs. Oh God in Heaven!

After wallowing in tea consumption until we are in danger of explosion, we hop in the car and make our way to the train to see one more bit of West End Theatre. This will be my last night in London, as tomorrow I fly to Glasgow. My last two nights of theatre have been really great deals and so I opt to pay more to try to get into Billy Elliot, for which no discounted tickets are offered at this time. Ruth, Karen and Sarah decide to hit tkts to look for less expensive tickets to something else. I recommend "The History Boys", and we part ways at the tube, vowing to hang out again as soon as we are all back in the Bay Area.

I go to the Victoria Palace Theatre and pay way too much money. I do get my favorite seat though, dead center, third row of the first balcony. The show is as just as good as everyone says it is. I basically cry like an idiot the entire time.

I have a really funny cabdriver from High Wycombe to Penny's front door, for £2 less than I paid the night before. Sweet.

Sleep is mine at last.

Coming Soon: I Don't Die on the Flight to Glasgow, But it's Pretty Wild Just the Same!

P.S. I am hereby starting a notes section at the bottom of each post, to try and prevent them from being eight hundred years long. Once I am home you can ask me about the notes if you like, there are more stories there. So, for today:

Notes: Cambridge Pants and the Black Cat

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wee Wycombe, Loony London & Classy Cambridge

So, Re: My Broken Camera, Ruth suggested last night that I might have killed the battery on my camera and not realized it. I'm positive that the battery said nearly full but whatever. I charge the battery all night, get up in the morning and test it. It Works! I LOVE RUTH! and oh man am I retarded. Apparently there is a battery icon that represents how much battery power remains and ANOTHER battery icon representing how full of pictures the camera is. Kinda Silly. But my camera works!!!

After Ben and Chloe wake me up in the morning, I have cereal in the kitchen with them and go with Clara to take them to school. I take the picture I wanted to take yesterday.

The. Cuteness. Is. Killing. Me.

After we drop the kids off, Clara shows me around West Wycombe. We drive up the hill from the school where there's a really old church and mausoleum. It's a bit creepy in the misty photographs but it was actually really beautiful to be there.

Gravekeeper 2 Location Anybody?

Wycombian Countryside. Lovely.


These graves. They're just so...pretty.

West Wycombe=Ridiculously Cute. Clara=Cuter.

England is so PRETTY everywhere!

Does anyone actually believe this is a Saloon Bar?

Clara and I also check out all the funky tiny Wycombian shops. I forget to take a picture of the real English Candy Store. Danger Will Robinson!

Everyone. Be very happy I did not buy you these. Eeek.

After I've worn Clara out running around West Wycombe, she drops me at the train and I speed into London to meet Karen, Ruth and Sarah for more adventures, after which we will all head to Cambridge and I will crash on their friend Leo's floor, so they can show me Cambridge tomorrow.

After some fairly ridiculous setbacks, we all finally meet at (of course!) Monmouth Coffee Company, my new favorite London coffee shop. We get our fabulous coffee to go and sit on a monument in the middle of a little roundabout to have our late breakfast.

Ruth and I Rock the Monument.

Then we decide to try and squeeze in a ride on the London Eye before doing the V&A Museum and the Museum of Natural History, where Sarah's friend Maria works and will give us a backstage tour.

In case anyone didn't know what I was talking about: The London Eye.

Becca on the London Eye. WHEEEEEE!

Ruth, Karen & Sarah on the London Eye.

And, of course, the view:

Simply Spiffing!

After the Eye it's off to Museumland! First stop: the Victoria & Albert Museum!

Emboidery is Sexy.

Robynne so wishes she was in England right now.

Whoa Nelly.

Detail of Nelly's Embroidery.

Things which are not clothes are cool too.

Then we head to the Museum of Natural History and meet Rose and Maria (who everyone calls "Bat"... or possibly "Bats"...odd...) and they take us all around the Museum. We see several things which are not on dispay to the public, in addition to a bunch of really awesome displays which are. However, despite having worked there for some time, Maria leads us on several wild goose chases, so, presumably due to the maze-like layout of the place, we also see quite a few empty corridors and dead ends, making it a particularly disorienting backstage tour.
At this point there is no space left in my camera, but imagine the Natural History highlights as they should have been:

Skeleton of a Giant Sloth! I smoosh you in a lump!
In the precious stones exhibit: Alexandrite changing color under the light.
More Skeletons!
More Rocks!
And an Animated Dinosaur!
And then we head back to Cambridge.
We make it back just in time for Ruth's 7pm phone interview for a Really Cool Job in San Diego and I immediately forget what it is. After the interview Sarah guides us to The Maharajah for a decadent Indian feast! Woo Hoo!
After dinner we wander cambridge (really cute) and end up having dessert at a cafe decorated with tons of clowns (really weird).

Back at Leo's we hang out and chat and about midnight Leo comes home! I actually get to meet the person whose hospitality I am enjoying! Excellent!
Coming Soon: Porters may be prickly but still qualify as smooshable. (It's the way they dress, you see...)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ruth and Sarah and Karen. Yes!

Today I completely oversleep.

Well, technically Penny and her adorable entourage wake me at 7:30am, as per our agreement, but I am feeling so poorly I go back to sleep and don't get up until noon. I still feel icky but I have plans to meet Ruth in London for high tea today so I force myself to get up.

After much phone hoopla attempting to arrange things with Ruth, Clara agrees to drop me at a train station, after we retrieve Chloe and Ben from school. Their school is absolutely precious, I snap a few photos and then try to get a funny photo of the kids in front of the school. And my camera dies a horrible death just as I frame the shot. Noooooooooooooooooooooo! The kids think it's really funny but I am devastated. No more pictures! No Fair!

I pull myself together, pack up my frozen-open camera and Clara, Chloe & Ben take me to the High Wycombe Train Station. As we approach, Ben points and shouts "The train!!!! There's a Train!!!" and Clara immediately begins to negotiate with him about the parameters of their train seeing for the day. Apparently, Ben is a train connaisseur. "It's so hard" Clara explains, in her priceless German accent, "he just wants to watch the trains go by. He'll do it for hours if he can!"

I bid them goodbye, hop on a train to london and meet Ruth, Sarah and Karen at the National Gallery. It's basically too late for a real tea service so we opt for dinner and a show instead. About my new travelmates, for those who do not know them already: Ruth is the one I know best, she is part of a social group that parties every week, primarily (it seems to me) in the South Bay. She has, what, 27 advanced degrees (?) so it is super fun to talk to her about STUFF. And she's just Cool. Karen (likewise Cool) I know through Ruth and (of all things) She Works for BART! And went to England! And rode the Tube! And took photos of the trains tracks and everything! (I am not excited. Really.) There is hope for the human race! At least as relates to Public Transit Systems! Sarah I have only met today. She is a Real English Native. Well, Ex-Native. Now she works for NASA in Mountain View (?) but she did her Post-Grad in God-Knows-What at Cambridge. Rockin'. Anyhow we now have plans to all band together and Do Things while we are here.

Discussion and a tkts visit ensue. Show chosen: Absurd Person Singular. Reasons: Karen's not much of a musical girl, we all feel like comedy, and it's Jane Horrocks starring in a play by Alan Ayckbourn. What could be funnier? (Or more British?).

As she is our native guide, Sarah chooses dinner a mere five minutes walk from the theatre, opulent Chinese Feast-of-Death! Sweet! I have never heard of Prawn toast: They take huge prawns, season them, split them open, smash them onto buttery-toasty-toast, cover them in sesame seeds and bake them! This is what Chinese food is in England? Bloody Brilliant! We eat until we can barely move and then limp over to the show.

We have chosen well. Those who prefer realism should not see this show. But over-the-top insanity suits us.

After the show we stand outside in front of the show billboard, Ruth snapping pictures (my camera is still broken...pout), but I want Ruth IN the shot so I search the crowd for someone unstuck-up enough to be roped into playing photographer. I spot a man in a very small kilt and decide he's my guy. Oh man can I pick'em. I've just got a knack, I guess. He wields the camera while holding a lit cigarette in one hand, is afraid to push the button down hard enough to make it go, and all the while all WE can think is that he must be freezing to death, when he finally shoots the picture. He's gone before it occurs to us that we should have gotten a picture WITH him but oh well. The picture is a gem: every one of us is mid-"you just push it down all the way" and so we all look singularly absurd. How fitting.

I'll post the pic when Ruth sends me a copy. Watch this space for hysterically-awesome-four-person-London-photo-op!

Coming Soon: Three England Cities: A sketch!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Road to Wycombe

Today is Sunday, and my last morning in Faversham. No more Sarah, Helen and Simon?!!! I am going to miss them terribly, they have been so endlessly accommodating and such great fun besides. I feel so incredibly lucky to have begun my trip with them.

My sadness at leaving Faversham is mitigated only by the fact that I will be spending time with Penny and her family this very evening!

I have my last morning in the living room with Helen, Sarah, coffee and cats, and ask if I can get a picture with them. They laughingly refuse but my obnoxious begging eventually wears them down. Simon has left to work on the house and there is no one to play photographer, so I do what I can.

I look pretty fang-tastic but Helen and Sarah are so adorable it is impossible to care.

We say our goodbyes and Sarah wisks me away to a train station that will get me to High Wycombe with maximum speediness for a Sunday.

The train ride is lovely and my two transfers go so smoothly that I arrive at the Maidenhead Station early. Penny picks me up with her two children in tow (awesome!) and we head for the hills. Literally. Her house is up an exquisite tree-lined path perched on the side of a hill. I promise myself I will take copious pictures once I've settled in.

Penny expresses her plan to make " a real English Sunday Roast" for that evening-I offer to be her sous chef- and within an hour a chopping and prepping extravaganza has begun. Penny's two children Chloe (nine years) and Ben (four years) come in sporadically, basically to say adorable thingsand then leave, mostly Ben naps and plays with his cars and Chloe plays a car racing video game. I sit down for one race against Chloe but I am so bad that she can't stop laughing at me so I admit defeat and withdraw to the kitchen for more chopping.

Soon Penny's husband, David, returns from golf and Clara, their au pair, returns from spending her day off at Oxford, and we all sit down to dinner.

Dinner is absolutely, overwhelmingly magnificent. Penny's "Sunday Roast" rivals the magnitude of a Thanksgiving dinner. I am CERTAIN the English do not eat this well every Sunday. Crazy Wonderful Penny. Unworthy Lucky Me. Dinner is Roast Beef, Carrots, Brocolli, Sweet Corn on the Cob, Beef Gravy, Roast Potatoes, Roasted Yams & Parsnips, AND Yorkshire Pudding. AND THEN THERE'S PUDDING. (Which confuses me until it is explained that that's what they call "Dessert" here...suddenly Pink Floyd makes much more sense...) For our Pudding tonight Penny has made fresh Apple Crumble which is served with Hot Custard that you pour on top and Ice Cream. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PENNY!!! Everything is Amazing. Over dinner we primarily discuss the awesomeness of the food (Clara and I have fun rolling our eyes in taste-ectasy at each other across the table) and David helps complete my Cricket education. What an excellent end to an excellent week.

Coming soon: Bay Area Vagabonds do Absurd Person Singular!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Europe IS Where the History Comes From

It's Saturday morning and, though I did manage to set my alarm properly the night before, I still sleep until noon. The system clearly is in need of fine tuning. And, what's worse, I am missing out on Sarah and Helen's Day-Off-To-Spend-With-Me! I get ready as fast as I can and over coffee we decide today is better spent closer to home than in London, so we settle on Dover Castle and plan to hit Canterbury briefly before making it home in time to have dinner with Simon.

In less then a half an hour we are driving up the hill to the castle. We pay the entrance fees, round the bend and I catch my first glimpse of my first real castle.

Super Sweet!

After parking and making reservations for the 3pm Tour of the "WWII Secret Underground Tunnels" we wander all over the Castle grounds and the Castle itself. Displayed all over the place are various cool artifacts and historically educational displays.

Okay Laura, You win. *

A Super-Cool Cannon.

Is it just me or is making a weapon this fancy a bit impractical?

Entrance to the "New Barracks", a later addition to the castle grounds c. 18coughmumble.

Standing on castles is so SWEET!

We eat in the restaurant on the premises (simple boxed sandwiches and tea), and go to take the tour. Amusingly enough, our tour guide is actually from New Zealand (a fact which I identify immediately, having seen "Heavenly Creatures" about thirty times in High School, Thank You Jo), but whatever her accent, her tour-giving skills are excellent. The content of the tour is too large to recount here, the underground tunnel system is perhaps most famous as the naval headquarters which planned and excuted "The Miracle of Dunkirk" which is pretty damn amazing. Check it out.

Sunsets at Dover Castle. Yum.

As we head out I attempt to catch a photograph out the car window of the legendary White Cliffs of Dover. Helen is driving, and I snap several pictures before I realize that the reason they look so good is that she has slowed the car to a snails pace on the highway to try and assist me. Everyone here is too nice! (And the cars in back of us must want to kill us...Did I mention it's a one-lane highway? Oy vey.) So, upshot: cliff pics are rockin' in the free world and Helen is the reason why.

The White Cliffs of Dover. I. Actually. Saw. THEWHITECLIFFSOFDOVER!!! Ha!

So then we head to Canterbury and park at Tim and Danica's (They aren't home this evening) to walk to the Cathedral. Since I forgot to get a picture last time, I snap a shot in front of their house.

So Bloody Cute!

It's getting late and there's not much light to photograph by. Blessedly though, the nightime illumination at the Cathedral itself still makes for a few memorable pictures.

No Words Necessary.

Cloister Ceiling Detail.

After traipsing about all over the Cathedral grounds (it's closed by the time we arrive...stupid me for oversleeping) and checking out several of the darling shops in Canterbury, we head back to Faversham to have dinner at home with Simon.

Dinner is Sarah's Chicken-Vegetable-&-Noodle Stir-Fry with a glass of red wine. Divine. After dinner we have chocolates and tea in the living room, surrounded by cats, and Sarah explains English bellringing to me. I do not catch on quickly at all and eventually she shows me a youtube video. Fascinating. And Sarah actually can DO this stuff, she bell rings most Sundays apparently, though not tomorrow, dadgum it.

After Sarah and Helen so to bed, Simon gives me a nearly complete Cricket rules and culture education. Boo Ya Grandma. All "Sports Night" fans bow down before me! Thank you Simon!

Coming Soon: There's a Rugged Wycombe!!!

*Technically, Brendan wins. The pic is photoshopped. The sign actually just reads "Water Works" but it was too good a joke to pass up.

All London. All The Time

Today, I decide to embrace my tourismocity. I have heretofore attempted to be surreptitious in my taking of photographs in the hopes that I might possibly be able to avoid the disdain of the locals by not being the uber-tedious-tourist getting in everyone's way. This morning I awaken to the realization that any aspirations I have toward that goal are patently ridiculous (I am always tedious and in someone's way, even in America). Today, I decide, I will revel in all the kick-ass stuff I can find and photograph it with abandon.

To begin, having had several disappointing cups of coffee yesterday at local London joints, I painstaking search more that a square mile of the West End to find an acceptable latte.

After much examination, I discover the haute couture of lattes (beautiful, but also very good) at Caffe Vergnano 1882 on Charing Cross Rd. As witness:

::sigh:: Coffee...

Even more bizarre than it's extreme attractiveness, my Latte is made using an "Elektra Belle Epoque", an obsessively crafted handmade Italian espresso machine, which, as Giles Correa says in the review on their wall, looks for all the world " Flash Gordon must have crash-landed it here."

As you can see, what he says is true:

Freaky, huh?

Personally, I think it looks disturbingly like R2-D2 and C-3P0 had a baby. Yeesh.

Anyhow, later in the day I find even better espresso nearby on Monmouth Street, in a charming little place that roasts their own beans in the back. I get it to go, in a small, unassuming white cup, but it's quality of taste is absolutely as good as "Julie's" back home. For £1.70.

So, I proudly present "The-Best-Coffee-Shop-I-Have-Found-So-Far-In-England".

Freakin' Cute

Although part of my smitten-ness with Monmouth Coffee Company may be their choice of window dressing.

What he has to do with coffee I have no idea, but he certainly gives the place character.

Then I proceed to walk from Picadilly all the way to the London Eye, gawking at everything and taking a bazillion photographs, but as the light is very poor, nearly all of them are hopelessly out of focus. But a few look okay:

Bob, can you make my windows look like this? Please?

Looking up while standing on a random street corner, a typical view.

It's just so weird. Basically NOTHING is ugly. What is that about?

They have whole wacky little bridges just for pedestrians. I heart the English!

I check out the the scene at the London Eye but decide it is just not the sort of thing one does alone. (Ruth? Whaddaya think?) So, I have a quick bite at Yo! Sushi just as a test (utter failure, there was not one person working there who was not caucasian, and the fish was downright rubbery) and hop a bright red, double-decker bus (that takes an Oyster card ::squeal::) back to Victoria. At Victoria I merely stroll across the platform and board a waiting train to take me back to ye olde Faversham.

Originally, the plan was that Helen and I were to have a Primer Party at her newly plastered house, but on my return to Sarah's I discover there has been a Change Of Plans. To Simon & Helen's mid-remodel abode we will go, but several of Helen's friends are coming in from London so, instead of covering ourselves in paint, we will fill ourselves with wine, food & conversation. Beter and better!

I arrive last, and am introduced to Rose, Zoe and Dave, whereupon we eat decadent chicken fajitas, courtesy Helen. The fajitas are decidedly the best meal I've had thus far (and I've not eaten badly at all), they have this amazing mushroom-and-onion-marinated-chicken-filling a la Helen which is simply divine.

Helen, Simon and their friends are wonderfully entertaining and are terribly patient with my frequent failure to understand their accents. We discuss and compare jobs (Rose is in Neuroscience, awesome), Politics (Simon thinks America really needs Obama at the wheel...Weg: you must really come meet Simon one of these days) and cooking (Zoe made Helen a fabulous & chic looking birthday cake!). Wait. Wait. We're celebrating Helen's birthday???!!! I don't even realize whose birthday it is until they sing her name. Oh the shame. I AM THE ONLY ONE WITHOUT A PRESENT! I really need to pay better attention. And send her something nice from California when I'm home. Good God.

As Helen has recently become a homeowner, her presents are imminently practical, even amusingly so. When she says, "O excellent! It's a peg caddy" I am utterly flummoxed. What on earth? Ah...I is an elegantly perforated, small, plastic bin to keep clothespins in, and it comes with a large number of matching plastic clothespins. Not that there is anything wrong with this gift, I also could not possibly have made it up.

Eventually everyone heads homeward. Sarah's is so close that Helen, Simon and I walk home and are there in less than five minutes. Brilliant. A bed. I hereby collapse.

When I next have a moment: Tomorrow Sarah and Helen have the day off! Cool Stuff to do!!!!