Lunch with Steinbeck, dinner with Forrest

Chats about California today reminded me of this. Would love to go back and spend more time out there.

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On the drive down the coast from Santa Cruz to Monterey the scenery was stunning, most of the time. The last few miles, we headed inland along Highway 1 across flat, fertile plains, dedicated to agriculture. The fields were full of people hand picking artichokes and sprouts. We saw signs advertising kiwis and strawberries too. These fields stretched out as far as the eye could see, between the sea and the mountains. Despite the obvious fertility, there was something else, the vastness, the intense human labour. This was a place where people worked the land by hand. Unlike the vast corn fields, that glow in the sun, this was not a place of beauty.

I had not then made the link between this valley and John Steinbeck. He was born and raised in Salinas, the town sitting in the middle of this plain. He sometimes worked the land to earn some…

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Eat, Drink, Sleep and a Cup of Kindness on Hollywood Boulevard

IMG_2874Hollywood Boulevard is not all fancy theatres, red carpets and stars. Much of it is pretty run down and has a lot of adult shops and a lot more homeless peopleIMG_2737

Going through my notes that I made on my travels (not as many as I wished that I had) I stumbled across the account of a time I spent in a cafe on Hollywood Boulevard. My husband was having his hair cut in The Fade Inn Barbershop so I went for tea at Sabor y Cultura while he got himself groomed. I was the only person using pen and paper, and the oldest one there by at least 20 years. It was the music that made me feel that this was the place for me. Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head; Love Potion Number 9; Under the Boardwalk; You Were Made for Me; Downtown and McArthur Park. I could have stayed there all day.IMG_3127

Customers were mostly 30 something white and male and unlike most of the other people we met in LA did not appear to be resting actors. One guy was meticulously sticking pictures on to small cubes, others mostly seemed to be freelancers using the cafe as their office. They may have escaped corporate life, yet, as there were very few communal tables, had exchanged a cubicle for a table of one’s own in a cafe with free wifi.

As an older woman I was invisible to them so it was easy to people watch and make up lives for them. Indeed a place I could write a novel.

There was art for sale, laptop leads trailing across the floor, a hum of creativity. Lots of herbal tea and coffee. The notice board carried ads for charity walks and live music events. It may have been full of 20 and 30 something geeks, but these guys were just like the people I hung out with in the 70’s. Just a lot more geeky. With tech.

I liked it there, the 70’s was my era, and, if you are ever on Hollywood Boulevard step away from the bright lights, head towards Hollywood and Western and stop off at Sabor y Cultura and support this indie. Fortunately this place has not changed since I was there, unlike the best diner we went to in LA (see below).

Along this stretch there were a few good Thai restaurants, and further up past Hollywood and Western you are in Thai town, 5 minutes south you are in Little Mexico. The food at all of these was incredibly cheap and very good, lots of motels around her, some seedier than others, yet I never felt unsafe. IMG_3130

On our first day there we were so scared of LA we thought getting to Starbucks for a nasty tea and muffin without being mugged was a bonus. After 5 days we were living like locals eating bacon and eggs and pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast at Angels Restaurant. Family run, excellent food and as many coffee refills as you can take.

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Having just looked this establishment up it seems that Angels is no more. It is now known as 54Twenty and linked to the Dixie Hollywood Hotel next door.

While they have retained the 70’s diner look (it looks as if everything is brand new) it has fancy food on fancy plates and no doubt the photograph of the fountain used in Friends has gone too. IMG_2883Such a shame. The area was having a clean up when we were there but this is not progress in my opinion and makes me quite sad. Change isn’t always for the better and I cannot believe how much this has upset me.IMG_3013

This is where the real people live and work on minimum wage, not 10 minutes walk away from the fake glitz and glamour of the Chinese Theatre where wannabes dress up as Darth Vadar and charge punters to have photos taken with them (we got this one free). Real people like Bon and Brian who worked at Coral Sands Motel, who sent most of their wages home to family they had left behind in the Philippines.  They were so kind to us when we had our own Hotel California moment. We could check out, but due to the grounding of the Qantas fleet, we could never leave.

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The Coral Sands Motel, was opposite a clinic where addicts queued each morning and next to a shopping mall with Starbucks and a supermarket.  It was undergoing renovation when we were there in October 2011, yet they seem to have kept the mirrors at bed level. Can’t think why!

What seemed to be a disaster at the time became an opportunity thanks to these guys. Brian drove to the airport so we could return the hire car and get a lift back to the motel with him. The manager gave us a phone for our room, at no extra charge, so we could call Qantas 24/7 to see when we could fly to New Zealand . They all suggested places to visit which we had not covered in our original whistlestop sightseeing LA tour.

We travelled on the clean, safe and unstaffed Metro, got to see Union Station and explored Little Tokyo. And the icing on the cake being in town for the West Hollywood Carnaval. We got to Santa Monica Boulevard by public bus (only poor people use the bus) yet that night as the streets were closed, carnaval goers took the bus too. I was sat next to Marilyn Monroe and opposite 3 witches. I may even have seen Elvis. We had many interesting experiences in California but this was definitely the most memorable.

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I will never forget their kindness and understanding. There are kind people all over the world. Even in LA.

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And it wouldn’t be Hollywood without a cheesy picture.

Have you been to LA? Did you visit Angels and hate the idea that it has now been ‘made over’? What is the best American diner you have been to?

9 reasons not to travel

Staff at the local travel agents will never recommend any where that they are going on holiday to me and my family. This is because they know about our track record for holiday disasters.

These are those I recall off the top of my head, in no particular order.

  1. Andros the sinking pedalo, when we are rescued by a speed boat
  2. Ibiza lilo adventure, when Tim floats out to sea and Phil has to scramble over a rough sea bed to save him
  3. Majorca: the Thomson Dream nightmare, planes are grounded because of a volcano and we endure a 48 hour journey home by boat and coach. The boat is over crowded and there are no cabins left, or so they tell us……
  4. Grand Canaria, thieves who stole a camera and cash from our coffee table, while we were in the same room
  5. The Hotel California experience, trapped in LA by Qantas grounding all planes in October 2011
  6. Florida, losing a 9 year old daughter in Church Street 
  7. Dalyan, an earthquake and a very near miss by a lightning strike
  8. Egypt Nile Cruise, the holiday that never was due to the coup and playing the waiting game to get a refund from the travel agent
  9. Fiji, evacuated from Bounty Island in a cyclone. This was the only time on our RTW trip that the FCO contacted us.

From: suvaconsular@fco.gov.uk

> To: coral
> Subject: Tropical Depression affecting Fiji

> Date: Tue, 24 Jan 2012 23:51:20 +0000

>
> Dear British Citizens,
>
> A severe flood warning remains in force for major rivers, streams and low lying areas of Western Viti Levu This has caused major flooding and has closed roads paticularly in Nadi Town and left both locals and tourists stranded.
>
> Should you wish to seek urgent consular assistance or know off any british nationals in need of urgent assitance please do not hestitate to contact us on the telephone number (679)3229100 or (679)3304746.
>
> In light of this adverse weather conditions, we will be grateful if you can confirm yuor safety and well being in Fiji. The Consular team would like you to monitor the latest situation on the Fiji Meteorological Service website: (www.met.gov.fj) or http://www.ukinfiji.fco.gov.uk for further update.
>
> Kind regards
> Consular Team.

Of course this won’t stop us travelling. Off to Dalyan again in 2 weeks time. The mission to take Mom to all the places she loved, begins.

PS just back from Dalyan. We had another earthquake. This prompted us to recall other holiday disasters….

10. The shoe bomber incident which meant we could not bring the wine we had bought in Kefalonia  back to the UK. We sold it around the pool and gave it to the reps.

11. The hurricane in Kefalonia that kept us in the hotel all day. I love storm watching so this was a treat for me but lots of moaning from others that they couldn’t sunbathe or use the pool.

Life Begins after Normal

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Let me introduce you to Monkey Man, who is well known in Kings Heath.

I had never heard of him until a couple of days ago, yet he appears to be a much loved character in Kings Heath (a suburb of Birmingham UK). As he was waiting to cross the road drivers pipped their horns and pedestrians called out ‘Hey Mr Monkey Man!’ His response was to treat us all to a little dance.

I think we need more people like this in our communities to bring some happiness into our lives. He certainly brought a smile to my face. I guess there are some that may make some derisory comments about how it is not normal to behave like this, yet what is normal?

We are programmed into being a one size fits all society. Go to school, pass exams, go to uni, get a job, get married, get a mortgage, have kids and work till you are too old to enjoy your pension if you are lucky enough to have one. We are defined by the job we do. And if we haven’t got a job that is a bad thing. The government want us all working, and punish those that can’t work and make life a misery for job seekers.

I am not saying that working hard and wanting a home and a family is a bad thing. It just seems to me that when you choose to live differently, press the stop button on the treadmill of life and decide that a walk in the woods is more your thing, you may be treated as if you are a little bit odd. And if you don’t know which path you will take till you get there, those who are pressing the go faster button on their own particular treadmill, seem to be threatened by what they consider your alternative lifestyle. They (as I was in the 80’s) are consumed with worry that if they don’t toe the line, they won’t get the promotion to afford get into more debt to buy a bigger house to fill with more stuff to show the world how successful they are.

When I begged to be made redundant in 2011 my boss just didn’t get it. I could have extended my job for another 6 months. This is the same boss who when he met me for the first time asked what pay scale I was on. He was baffled that I didn’t know or care. So it was no surprise that he could not understand why I would leave all this ‘success’ behind in exchange for a rucksack and a plane ticket. I suspect if he saw the Monkey Man he would run in the other direction.

Earlier this week I discovered that there was a Loch Ness Monster Man. Steve Feltham set up home in a campervan next to Loch Ness after selling his home in 1991. His mission is to spot Nessie. I am determined to go up and meet him. He lives in a converted mobile library, how cool is that?

In Santa Cruz I came across a man who lives in this.

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Of course I had to meet the person who owned this weird and wonderful contraption. Never got to know his name, so I call him Campervan Man. He was so interesting to talk to. As his van proclaims, ‘Life Begins after Normal’.

Works for me.

What the Asparamanser said

My daughter was a guest at a Hen weekend recently where they were all asked to bring stories about dating disasters. The bride to be was to guess the person the story was about. My daughter story began with the words ‘I was at my mom’s Christmas Party’ and the bride immediately shouted out my daughters name. It seems that amongst my daughters friends my house parties were legendary.

Now one could think, how cool that your daughter and her friends enjoy your parties. I would like to think that too.

130So I will tell you another story. When I was on the Whit Tour with the Jockey Men’s Morris in May 2011 I had my asparagus read at The Fleece Inn. For this you are given a bunch of asparagus and drop them randomly on the table. One stalk slipped out of my hands before I dropped the bunch and I got a knowing look (more of that in a moment). This Asparamanser told me two things. One was to get all my affairs in order as I needed to make sure all the plans were in place for a long journey. This was a bit uncanny, as I was, as readers of this blog know, going to be embarking on the round the world trip in October 2011. I had only just that week announced to my work place of my intention to take redundancy in order to travel. Nothing was booked.  A  few close friends knew I planned to travel. The asparagus reader could not have known that. Then she came back to the asparagus that had got away. This indicated, apparently that sometimes after a drink or two I may be a bit loose with my words and say things I may regret, and I needed to be mindful of that.  On the coach after lunch we all shared what the asparagus reader had told us. When I mentioned  the bit about the loose tongue at parties, all my friends burst out laughing.

So I have appear to have a reputation of giving and enjoying parties. Which is fine. Except that my parties include lots of wine. And beer. Well I have friends who are Morris men so naturally there is beer. All in the safety of my own home. Well sometimes in other peoples houses. And always lots of lovely home cooked food and samosas and music and people enjoy themselves. They must do because they keep coming back.

We scaled back on parties this year, we were recovering travellers and had lost the house party mojo. There was no decent weather for a BBQ and now no young kids around to want a firework party. At Christmas we held a poker party and a vinyl night. Close friends and family who played poker, listened to vinyl,enjoyed shared food and well yes some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, craft beer and organic cider.

IMG_7232Our round the world trip was on reflection a journey to new world wine growing regions. Paso Robles California (they keep the best); Marlborough, New Zealand and the Hunter Valley and Margaret River in Australia.  We enjoyed our wine responsibly, most of the time. We also discovered the delights of a Sunday sesh in Melbourne (thanks to What’s Dave Doing) at Riverland Bar and a post, cooling drink, after a very warm day trip to Williamstown relaxing with craft beers, food and ChloeIMG_5541This is the view from our seat in Chloe’ s Room overlooking Federation Square and the Christmas Tram.

And this is the lovely food we enjoyed.IMG_5533

In SE Asia we drank beer, as it was cheap and we were hot. In the last 11 days of travelling I lost about 12 pounds in weight, due to a combination of beautiful healthy freshly prepared food, the heat, and no wine. We did save a lot of babies but that is another story. I had already lost about the same amount of weight in Fiji for the same reasons, despite spending most of the day sleeping in a hammock.  I was slimmer and healthier than I had been for years when I returned home.

Back in the UK I soon slipped back into bad habits.  At first, because we were broke and had no jobs, and had enjoyed the cleansing diet in SE Asia,  we ate healthily and drank occasionally. A year later, and the bad habits had crept back into our lifestyles. I had the ill health of my mom to contend with, unemployment, and lots of other stuff that is life. I put on weight. I decided to start running to combat the weight and my low mood, then got ill so had to stop.

And now it is almost Lent. Traditionally people give up things. Some people give up chocolate or wine. And some people take something up for Lent. A food bank charity has suggested that people donate what they save at Lent to them. One year I read of a family who lived on the minimum wage during Lent. They wanted their children to be able to reflect on how privileged they were, so had to forgo cinema visits and ballet lessons. They didn’t eat out and cut back on grocery bills. And donated what they saved to some charity. what a good idea, I thought. Then I read  ‘this excludes our mortgage payment’ and that made me very angry indeed. The smugness of living a comfortable life and let’s pretend to be like poor people mentality infuriated me. I have lived on Income support and know what is like to have only a pound in my pocket to feed a family of four. And that same smugness creeps into Live Below the Line, which is why I blogged about that too.

However, it has made me think, could I, should I give up wine for Lent?

Oh and I have just read this blog about the Asparamanser so there seems there is a pattern in her predictions……

Go travelling. While you can.

DSCF2609I have been putting off writing this for days, weeks even as every time  I think about it I find myself getting tearful. Yet I need to do it. While I can.

Last year I made a major decision to go travelling. I have wanted to visit New Zealand for longer than I can remember. I had an old uni friend in Melbourne who I wanted to visit and wanted to see some kangaroos and koalas and Sydney Harbour.  My husband has always wanted to visit California and drive the Big Sur and slowly we built  a bucket list  round the world itinerary.

And we knew we had to do it sooner than later as we both had 79 year old moms who had had a few health scares. It was agreed that our children would update their grandmothers on our progress as we intended only to keep in touch on line. No phone calls. No post cards.

Despite having failing eyesight my mom was at the time relatively digitally engaged. She was on Facebook and used email regularly to keep in touch with friends she had made around the world on her own travels. So that she could still use her computer she had invested in all sorts of gadgets and software.

The mom in law, on the other hand thinks computers are the work of the devil. She also thought going off round the world at our age was a teeny bit selfish. It wasn’t. It was very selfish of us. That was the point. After 30 years of doing jobs that sometimes we loved, often hated, a combination of at least 7 redundancies between us (we stopped counting) living below the line when on benefits and bringing up two children, we decided that it was time to do something just for us. While we can.

So here’s the thing. If we had put off travelling when we did, because of all the excuses we had made for the past 26 years we may never have gone. So many travel bloggers say don’t put it off, because you have kids, you have a house, you have a good job, you don’t have a job, you are scared, you have a boy or girl friend who doesn’t want you to go, it’s not the right time, and they are right, none of these are good enough reasons not to go.

In July 2011 I was offered another 6 to 9 months contract in my job. If I had accepted I would have been unhappier than I could imagine, doing a job I no longer loved. I had achieved everything I had set out to do and needed a new challenge. I begged to be made redundant. I told my stunned boss that there was a plane ticket with my name on it and now was the time to use it.

The day I accepted my severance package everything else fell into place. The Melbourne visit became a house sit for 6 weeks, we found perfect tenants for the house, and the airfares were exactly the same amount as the enhanced part of my redundancy pay. So we booked our flights and did it, while we could.

Mom was delighted when I told her we were going. And actually she is the only person who, on our return, was genuinely interested in where we had been and what we had done.

In the past 3 months my mom has become more or less housebound as she has to have oxygen 24/7, can barely walk across a room without becoming breathless, has to have  a carer come in to get her out of bed and wash her and has had a stair lift installed. I could not go off on a 5 month round the world trip now as I want to be near to my mom. Having a mom who is blind and wheelchair bound, is a reason not to go. Mom doesn’t want to be a virtual prisoner in her home she wants to be boarding a plane to go somewhere warm to escape the cold and rain in England. She wants to be in Luxor or Bangkok or Singapore or… well anywhere but home.  But that is unlikely to happen. So what she talks of now is a short stay in Switzerland.

So do it while you can.

This is my mom. As I know her. Not the frail woman I hardly recognise. Thank you mom for giving me the travel bug.

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Friends. The one about Social Media

Over a year ago I blogged about how social media is a useful tool to keep in touch with friends. I was in Fowey and had hosted lunch for Cornish friends we had met in Turkey. Social media was the way we had kept in touch for a couple of years. Also at the lunch that day was a friend of my mom, then aged 77, had also met in Turkey and yes, kept in touch with via Facebook.

When I was travelling, being able to chat to my son on Christmas day via Facebook was one of the things that helped combat a rare, but extremely painful bout of homesickness. Indeed the iPad  was passed around the table and he had random conversations from our hosts family and friends.

Now back in the UK  Phil and I have stayed in contact with a few of the people we met on our travels. Through Facebook.

Barb and Pet who were brilliant hosts on Christmas day in Melbourne, who completely scuppered my Skipping Christmas plans.

Tim and Jo Ann in Wellington who we met in Northlands taking photos of this view. They casually suggested we could park on their property when were in Wellington before we crossed to the south Island. What they meant was, stay in our beautiful home and we will treat you to a slap up meal at Cocos, a film at The Roxy Cinema and a glimpse of all things Hobbiton, and a  few Oscars.  We are still pinching ourselves!

And of course the wonderfully warm and funny Sean and Kelly from the USA. Musical theatre as therapy in Thailand. Who knew? We saved a lot of babies on that trip and I did my fist duet in a karaoke bar because that Sean he is bad!

And now I am reflecting a lot on what I was doing this time last year and how my life is now.

All the friends I have made since retuning home have all been via social media. Through twitter I met people living in my neighbourhood via #BearBeers. Though Facebook I met so many lovely people on The Bearwood Page, mainly because of the bid to become a Portas Pilot.  These are not just Facebook friends. They are real friends. I have been out for meals and drinks  with them, had fabulous dinner parties in their homes. Even had one to stay at my house during renovations in her own home.

I would not have met any of these people if it were not for Facebook.

The downside is that I have encountered some trolls. They are not my Facebook friends, just keyboard cowards with narrow lives who will never be at my dinner table.  Interestingly the ones who are now in my life have all travelled further than the end of the road. Taken risks with their lives. Have a bigger picture of the world. And like good food. A bit like me really.

And that is why I guess they are my friends.

Round the world with my kagool

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The one item of clothing I lugged around the world that I do not regret taking was my trusty kagool or kag in a bag. It was well used in New Zealand when we went on a wine tasting tour … Continue reading

The Streets of ……

Wherever we were in USA we saw homeless people. A shelter for the homeless is on the tour bus route in San Francisco. This is where Will Smith filmed Happyness. That may have been fiction. But it is real.

Realty is that in SF, Santa Barbara and LA, I saw too many homeless people. I haven’t seen that anywhere else. On every street. Not sure why. And people just accept it. I overheard two teenagers discussing the pros and cons of being homeless in NY or Santa Cruz. Their view was that at least it’s warm in Santa Cruz. i.e. better. They thought that that’s was all that mattered. Being warm.

I have a friend who has a homeless man who lives on her doorstep. Her children step over him to get into their home. They don’t ignore him, they have tried to help him. But…. Well maybe my friend will comment.

Happy Hollywood Halloween

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West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval