Friday, October 29, 2004


Last Friday we took the ginger car out to the central Oregon Coast. I got back from work around seven and loaded the car whilst Rachel downloaded and watched that night’s Eastenders. We then took the highway about a hundred miles South to the outskirts of Eugene, checked into a Motel 6 and got supper at Denny’s. Of all the chains, I love Denny’s best – it’s good “old fashioned” diner cuisine, like you see in the films. We got the appetizer selection (hot chicken strips, onion rings and deep-fried mozzarella – with dips of course) and split a veggie burger between us. Mmmmm, road food. The motel – in proper Motel 6 tradition - was about 100 feet from the highway with virtually no sound-proofing, but we both slept like logs and woke refreshed.

First stop Eugene, a college town and Oregon’s second largest city. 150 000 people but it feels about the size of Lewes – but even less happening. Still, there was a very pleasant hippyish market downtown where we bought a hat and a ring for Rachel (the latter from a man dressed as a leprechaun – no I don’t know why) and hot-chocolate for me. We then drove West and had lunch in Florence, by the seaside. The entire state had been forecast rain for the whole weekend and – unlike our previous trip to the seaside - we were well equipped with waterproof jackets, jumpers and so forth. Then something a bit miraculous happened: the sky cleared and the sun came out.

Florence marks the northern extreme of about fifty miles of sand-dunes which run to the south along the coast. We parked the car at a scenic-overlook and hiked down over the dunes. Between dunes and sea there was a narrow strip of low-woodland; emerging on the other side the sun was shining brightly and the sand stretched as far as you could see in both directions. The beach seemed to hardly slope at all, so the waves were reduced to mirrors as they moved in across a hundred feet of wet sand that reflected the sky so that if you looked north or south the horizon disappeared and everything was just bright and blue.

And we were the only people there.

the beach South of Florence

I stood just where the strongest waves would break and walked along the shoreline whilst Rachel looked for sand-dollars. There was a tranquility and uniformity to the scene which made it seem like however far you traveled you were always exactly where you started, and that this wasn’t at all frightening but instead rather liberating, as if your soul had just melted through your boots and out across the sands and into the sky, so you were no longer there and at the same time you were more there than you had ever been anywhere else. It really was the most wonderful place and time that I can ever imagine.

the beach South of Florence

And I suppose this is romantic, though Rachel says I never am.

About five-o-clock we stomped our way back across the sand dunes and drove up to a very small seaside town called Yachats, where we spent the night in a hotel overlooking the ocean.

View from the hotel, Yachats

On Sunday morning we went to the sea-lion caves – a place so famous for its sea lions that they have built a lift into the cliff so you don’t have to inconvenience yourself to commune with the creatures. Unfortunately when we got there we were informed that the sea lions were out-and-about that day, which really was rather thoughtless and selfish of them. So we headed north and went to the aquarium in Newport instead; rather a fun little place with plenty of quality sea creatures: seals, puffins, sea-otters, an octopus, jellyfish, sea-dragons. Everything that is cute or exotic, light on the generic fish. Then a wonderful surprise, we drove to the seafront to get some lunch and an entire colony of sea-lions had taken up temporary residence on the quayside and nearby rocks. They are very big, slightly furry creatures who like to bark. A lot. And when there’s about a hundred of them, that’s a lot of barking. Despite the delightful novelty of it all I have to say it gave me a bit of a headache - though Rachel couldn’t get enough of the giant furry things and would probably still be there now if I hadn’t insisted we get something to eat etc

sealions in Newport

Then the longish drive home, stopping briefly at K-Mart to buy a handheld vacuum cleaner for the ginger car, which after only one week of ownership was half-full of pine needles and sand and had about 800 miles on the clock. And when we got back, Linda, Leon, Julie and Ben were there to surprise with an anniversary dinner.

It really was a perfect weekend.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Leaving party pics

So here, not before time, are some pictures from our leaving party...

Darren, Briony, Rachel and Darren's squeeze whose name escapes me - sorry.

Darren, Briony, Rachel and Darren's 'squeeze' whose name escapes me - sorry.

The wonderful Sophie and Craig.

The wonderful Sophie and Craig.

My lovely sister, as the blue alien from star-trek, apparantly.

My lovely sister, as the blue alien from star-trek, apparantly.

Monkey boy. I mean Nick. Sorry.

Monkey boy. I mean Nick. Sorry.

Craig and Andy of course.

Who are these handsome fellows? Why it must be fellow LSE alumni Craig and Andy of course.

Rachel and Linda

Rachel and Linda, radiant as ever atop the fashionable balcony.

Some actual 'news' to follow shortly...

Friday, October 22, 2004

Scratch that...

So the survey on the house was not good: there were serious drainage issues and problems with the foundations that would need to be addressed in the near term. Already one of the walls was slipping slightly and because of this two windows were pinched and couldn't open. Quite a lot of the foundations would need renovation or replacement. Not only would this be expensive, it was my feeling that you can never really be sure that everything will be right in the end e.g. you could make it structurally sound, but what have you thrown out of place by so doing? So we decided to walk away from it.

So we'll have to slum it at the lakeside villa a little longer. And this may be a good thing as various solicitors are still procrastinating over the sale of Green Wall. And there are worse places to be. But poor Conker is really filling out; we really need to find a place for him to run around in freedom before he crashes through to the floor below.

Rachel and I will be taking the ginger car to the windswept coast this weekend for our anniversary. Loads of love to you all!

Sunday, October 17, 2004

A half-million in the hole

You can dunk your doughnuts, you can mispronounce your entire vocabulary, you can sing the star-spangled banner; but you’re not even half-way to acclimatising yourself to the American way of life until you are up to your eyeballs in debt. The economy is pivoted on this principle; you can’t buy anything on credit until you have a credit-rating; you cannot get a credit-rating without purchasing something on credit. Still, we haven’t let a little thing like that stand in our way.

Yesterday we bought a brand-new car – something I thought I’d never do. For readers who like cars, it’s a Mazda 3s hatchback with a 2.3 litre engine and all the extras; check it out at if you’re really that interested. Yadda, yadda yadda. Point is, it’s ginger. Orange. “Of the purset ginge”. That is all you need to know.

our ginger car (Mazda 3)
The ginger car

Here they pronounce Mazda, MARZda, Jaguar, JAGwah, Celica, SELLika, Hyundai, HUNday. Madness I tell you. The long ‘a’ in the American pronunciation of Mazda sounds quite affected to my ear.

Oh yes, so that was the first twenty g.

Then we had our offer accepted on a house we were interested in downtown. It's really gorgeous. It’s also enormous – probably about the size of the Kitch manor down on Southover. I made it very clear to Rach that if we were going to get that house we would have to take in a couple of student lodgers; not so much out of financial necessity, but because otherwise we’d be bouncing off the walls. And because extravagance on that scale is obscene. Rachel’s folks are agin it of course: interestingly, most Americans are very tied to the one house one family mind-set. Bed and breakfasts are rare here. But I’ve grown up with strangers padding about my house and frankly I think its fun. So, that’s the deal. Don’t worry however, with 5 bedrooms, there’s one for us, two for lodgers, a study and still a spare room for you whenever you want it. The house is late Victorian and has much of its original character; the kitchen is simply amazing – it almost sold it to me on its own. There are also two staircases up to the first floor. One for us and one for the staff. And at $455 000 a mere snip! (I mollify myself with the though that it’s about 260 grand UK, which really wouldn’t go so far in Brighton)… So anyhow, to underline the point, please do come and stay whenever you want: there’s plenty of room! Am I sounding needy and desperate yet?

Of course all this hinges on our buyers solictors back in Blighty getting off their porcine asses and closing the deal.

Today we went to the art gallery downtown. It’s really pretty good and not so big as to be daunting.

Rachel’s been wading her way through her postal ballot for the upcoming election. It’s proper democracy here (at least when they bother to count the votes) - not only does she have to select the next ruler of the world, she has to select a position on no less than twenty constitutional amendments then vote for sheriff, DA, mayor etc. Election fever grips the country at large, or at least the media, which can focus on no more than two issues at a time. This week it’s Bush vs Kerry and Yankees vs Redsocks. Thus, in common with everyone else here I have next to zero knowledge of anything that may be happening beyond America. But hey. Bumper sticker of the week: “Keep Portland weird”

Amen to that.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004


Mount St Helens has been steaming and stuttering over the last week; some say it’s about to blow, some say not. This unpleasantly active volcano is situated about 50 miles from Portland, which means we’re completely safe from lava, flying debris etc but, depending on the wind, ash could descend on the city. If that happens, breathing masks will be de-rigeur. That said, no-one seems too bothered, though warnings have been distributed lest we sue. I keep thinking: that thing over there: it’s a volcano. As backdrops go, it pisses all over Mount Caburn. Not necessarily in a good way of course.

Rachel’s got a job! She starts next Monday at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) as an assistant to one of the deans. This is great news and has been a good excuse for us to celebrate even more than usual.

It also means we’ll need to buy a car because we’re still down in Lake Oswego and we’ll both need to drive to work (Leon and Linda only have three cars between them – peasants). We will of course need a car of our own eventually anyway.

Thus I spent last Saturday test driving cars. About eight of them. It takes a while to get into the selection process because – apart from a few German / Swedish models – the options are completely different. I’ll eschew the pseudo-Clarkson column I was going to write; after having driven several sporty coupes I experienced an epiphany: I am an adult. I had conjectured that there may be a racing driver in me waiting to get out. Not so. The actuality hit home about the time I took the Hyundai Tiburon’s 185 bhp round a 15mph bend at 45, egged on by the salesman, a warm-hearted Hispanic nutcase who’d had his license revoked after one illegal street-race too many. “Take this baby into the shop and you can get it chipped and tuned to 350 bhp.” I was supposed to feel exhilarated, but I was already several stages beyond this point: I was scared. It was a pale shadow of my former self that shakily drew a glass of water from the cooler back at the showroom. It’s true that you can have a lot of fun in such a motor; but only by risking your neck and/or deportation. The final nail in the coffin however is their impracticality; the back-seats are only good for children, not friends with suitcases or shelving units from “home depot”. That said, I’m not quite yet ready for the saloon experience (or sedan, as they say over here). So thoughts are currently circling around the Toyota Maxima.

Leon and Linda have been away on business, so we’ve had the German fleet to ourselves in the meantime and have – given the above – done our best to take advantage of the hardware whilst the sun shines (which largely it has been). On Sunday we took the beamer to the beach at Lincoln City. Stopping at the casino on the way, of course. Emile: get your suitcase packed, there’s a 24/7 poker room.

the beach at Lincoln city...

Lincoln City has a long sandy beach which stretches on for miles. The seaside is usually about 5-10C cooler than the city and misty too. Sunday was no exception, though this seemed to come as a surprise anyway and we were forced to detour after lunch to pick up windcheaters at Walmart. About 3pm the mist lifted and was replaced by clear blue skies. The beach was empty and the sand was soft and we saw pelicans – yes, pelicans I tell you. It seems like the maddest thing in the world to go to the beach on Sunday and the beach is on the Pacific Ocean and when you look due West, next landfall is Japan. I still can’t quite believe it, can’t quite be sure I’m here.

see - pelicans I tell you!