Thursday, June 30, 2005


As you'll have noticed, if you still care, I've got a bit behind on the photo processing and indeed pretty much everything else lately, apart from the novel, which is going swimmingly. So this note is primarily to demonstrate the fact I'm still alive. Also to provide some excellent news in that Rachel's latest scan remains clear (now seven years out of chemo)!

Now imagine for a moment that you're Pamela Anderson's agent. Is it an act of extreme cynicism, or in actual fact some kind of mad genius, that would cause you to set your star-vehicle sit-com in a bookshop, just so you could title the series "Stacked"? Meanwhile Ronald Reagan has been voted the greatest American of all time. And Dubya made the top ten. Perhaps you have some alternative suggestions? I was thinking Mark Twain, as I believe he was rather fond of cats.

Now, one of the many things I didn't expect to learn about when I moved to Oregon was tea. This was blind prejudice of course, since I actually knew nothing at all about tea, despite having consumed a guesstimated 10 000 cups of PG in my lifetime. All this was before I discovered the Tao of Tea. Obviously everyone's heard of green tea and black tea, but who knew about white tea and red tea? After a bit of experimentation and some very helpful advice from the resident tea gurus, I've discovered a particular penchant for second-flush darjeeling and assam varietals. Sometimes I even go a little bonkers and blend the two together... that's life on the edge, eh?

With regards to the novel, I am now half-way towards my completely arbitrary word-count target of 80 000. I'm not actually sure if I'm half-way through the story or not, nor indeed whether this is at all relevant. But it really is a most rewarding diversion and I would heartily recommend it to anyone else without anything better to do.

Road-trip photos to follow shortly, I promise!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Vacation Part One

"It's all gone quiet over there" - no doubt that's what you've been chanting from the terraces (those of the you in Britain, that is) as everyone knows you are no more than a bunch of soccer hooligans and minor royalty. And royalty. Yes, I have been a bit quiet, it's true, but mostly because I've been having fun. Apart from three weekends ago, when I was tidying the house in anticipation of forthcoming fun and Jason and Jane's extremely welcome visit to our shores. Since the week that followed marked my only full week's holiday for the year, I intend to draw out the explication for at least two entries. But here's the summary: we had a fantastic time!

Jason and Jane arrived very late on Friday night following a delayed flight from Chicago. I think that made it about eight in the morning their time. The next day we got them up for a spot of breakfast at "No Fish! Go Fish!" - our favourite local restaurant.

Actually, this is an opportunity for a minor diversion. That same weekend we were tidying the house I was actually celebrating being thirty-three-and-a-third. I had decided that I would dress up smart because I have a lovely suit that never gets to see the light of day. We headed up the street to the Sapphire Hotel for dinner. Everywhere was deserted because it was the start of the Portland Rose Festival and most of the city was downtown. No-one has ever worn a suit on Hawthorn Boulevard before (except for a natty retro model of course - they seem quite trendy), so I must have looked like I was going to a fancy-dress party. For "dessert" I ordered the Port and Cheese sampler which I think is supposed to be shared by several people. About 6oz of blue cheese and three large glasses of Port later Rachel directed me back down the street, stopping at the aforementioned "No Fish! Go Fish!" for drinks on the way passed. A stroke of fortune: the charming manger Brooke was rejigging the house cocktail list for Summer and seemed happy to leverage my practiced alcohoism to perfect her recipes. After much trial and error I recall coming up with something involving Gin, Rum, lime-juice, plain syrup and champagne; given the British (gin and lime [I'm a limey, remember]), naval (rum and lime) and aristocratic (champagne) ingredients, I suggested the name "Captain Horatio Hornblower" which is a bit suggestive in the way of all the best cocktail names as well as being the part played by Stewart Granger as a British Naval Captain of yesteryear in those films of the fifties. We have not yet returned to see if it actually made the menu however...

Anyway, they serve a handsome and piquant eggs benedict. Following brekkie we drove down to Rachel's parent's house for Leon's patent speedboat tour of the lake. It rained pretty hard and we had to shelter in a coffee shop in town before embarking on the return voyage. Then we did a little shopping downtown, played a little pool, sampled some local beer and went over to Julie and Ben's to celebrate Ben's graduation from Portland State University.

Jason and Jane prepare to embark on a high-speed and rather damp tour of Lake Oswego.

Look how they smile, despite the jet-lag and inclement weather. I suppose it must be love, the poor naive young fools.

A spot of pool at Ringler's, the downtown McMenamans pub underneath the Crystal Ballrooms. Just like home, except the beer is too cold and fizzy, according to Jason.

On Sunday we loaded up the ginger mazda and departed on our road-trip. Day one involved a long and mostly dull drive down Interstate 5 to Ashland, which is a charming little town nestled in the uplands of Southern Oregon and slightly famous for its ongoing Shakespeare festival. No photos here for some reason. Jane and I saw Richard III in the evening which was well done but clearly not one of his better plays. I could have done with a family tree. The drive and the lateness of the hour and hastily guzzled vino (absurdly short interval) made it a bit of an endurance test through no fault of the cast. I was quite happy to see the princes despatched. There was a whinging crone who overdid it a bit, she seemed to be related to just about everyone but sadly was one of the few people not to die. Anyhow Richard killed just about everyone else and then got his just desserts. I hope I haven't spoiled it for you.

I photographed this a bit late in the proceedings. American diners produce the best breakfasts in the world, taking all the best cholesterol enhancing efforts of the british and adding fat, fluffy pankcakes, french toast (that's eggy fried bread to you), oodles of syrup and an endless supply of super-caffinated coffee.

So it's breakfast at Rock-n-Rogers in Salem, Oregon (our state capital no less). And it's one of the best. Look how our guests continue to smile!

And here's Rachel and me, outside. That's all she wrote for this week, I'm afraid, as I need to catch up with my beauty sleep. Next up: California, here we come! But will Jason and Jane still be smiling? Tune in next week to find out!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


So I was cycling up to Starbucks this lunchtime, as is my custom, when I was greeted by the sight of a woman running very quickly towards me, dressed in a full-length white medical gown, as if in flight from the operating theatre - the scene of some macabre incident, no doubt. It was only when I got much closer that I realised she was wearing some kind of avant-garde rain-gear which would have looked more at home in an episode of Buck Rogers. I expect we'll all be wearing them soon. At least we will around here if the rain keeps up. Despite about three days in the nineties last week, it's been one of the soggiest Springs on record in what is already one of the soggiest parts of the world.

On the weekend before last, Rachel and I fled the inclement weather for a weekend in Bend, a small city located about 200 miles to the South-East, on the far side of the Cascade Mountains. You really begin to appreciate how unpopulated this state is when you take to the roads, just four million people in an area larger than the UK. I have grown particularly fond of American place-names and also their willingness to recycle same; our journey took as through Sublimity, Detroit, Sisters, Madras, Zigzag and Rhododendron to name but a few...

It's really quite incredible how different the climate is on the dry side of the mountains, in the region they call the High Desert; all red soil and pale, patchy scrub grass and cloudless vistas, rather like the Outback when compared to the green, forested valleys to the West. We stayed downtown in a hotel that had been once been a school and where they'd thoughfully converted the gym into cinema, then bolted on a Turkish Bath, various bars etc. Bend is something of a resort town, a base camp to explore the many natural wonders of the area. I'm guessing it's Oregon's fourth biggest city, which makes it about the size of Haywards Heath, only - thankfully - more interesting. Indeed I found an Australian outlet store where I succesfully purchased a packet of Tim-Tams, somewhat of a delicacy down-under. Basically they're a bit like a penguin, or a chocolate covered bourbon, if you prefer, unremarkable in themselves but nevertheless an essential component of the Tim-Tam-Slam, which many believe to be the ultimate biscuit dunking experience. I'm happy to report that this antipodean practice lives up to its reputation, although, like so many of the best things in life, it is over far too quickly.

And now some photographs, far too many of which were taken at the Peterson Rock Garden, a truly bizarre and some would say pointless piece of Americana just North of the city...

The rather impressive Smith Rock State Park. It was very hot and, coming from Portland, we were completely unprepared for sunshine, hence the hastily arranged sunhat.

We went for a stroll along the river, leaving the infamous "Trail of Misery" for another occasion.

As you can see we went to New York for the weekend.

Or of course that's what that stunningly rendered analogue of the Statue of Liberty would have you believe. But no, we are actually located in a strange world built entirely from volcanic rock.

more nonsense

I like a doughnut, even if it's misspelt. Here I am outside a popular vendor in Stayton. Rachel ate some ridiculous concoction, an enormous cinnamon roll, deep-fried and covered in chocolate. That was pretty much all she needed to eat that day.

We've been playing a lot of scrabble lately. You probably think you're pretty tasty, but would you take on the grand master (above)? I think not.