Thursday, May 28, 2015

Bank Holiday USA

This last weekend was a Bank Holiday in America, although it’s not actually called a ‘Bank” holiday, just a holiday.  It’s important to know that a holiday weekend is just one day off, it’s not a holiday as we know it because there’s no such thing as a holiday in America, that would be a vacation.  Also, Christmas is called “the Holidays.” Confused yet? [*frown*].  Oh and if the ‘holiday’ falls on a Saturday or Sunday, then you don’t get a day off in lieu like we do in England.  Unfortunately, this year July 4th is on a Saturday, so we won’t get an extra day off.

Anyway, back to last weekend.  It was Memorial Day which is a Federal holiday to remember the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces – a bit like poppy day, if you will, only there are no poppy sellers on each corner (which I miss actually).

Memorial Day is also the official start of summer so the roads are typically packed with people trying to leave for a short getaway.  (A bit like trying to get to Margate on a bank holiday weekend).

This year, the weather was a bit crap and overcast (just like England) so we didn’t really do much until Monday, when the sun came out a bit. [Yes, I really do live in California, honestly]  First off a little car trip up the coast to a famous restaurant, Neptune’s Net.  Well, I think it’s famous, the amount of people there certainly led me to believe that it is.  Packed, it was.  We did manage to get a table eventually and sat down to this wonderful plate of spicy, peel your own shrimp.  
Very yummy.   A lady sitting near us decided she couldn’t manage to drink her whole bottle of wine and offered me a glass, (a plastic cup actually) and who was I to say no?  Topped of the meal nicely, thank you very much!
A bit nippy
Party Poopers

We spent a little while watching the surfers freeze their bums off and soaking up a tiny bit of sun, which had decided to come out for a little while, then it was off down the coast to Venice Beach.

I’m not really sure what I can say about Venice Beach!  Some people call Los Angeles LaLaLand and I think Venice Beach is the reason why.  In fact, there’s even a sign to say so.
Definately LaLa Land
The very best of everything crazy can be found at Venice Beach.  The boardwalk (although there are no boards, but you do have to walk) is chocablock with “artists” selling their crazy inventions, artwork and knicknacks.  There are bands playing (sometimes out of tune), drum solos can be heard, an old Indian man on Rollerblades playing the electric guitar is always there.  [No pictures please, without paying, of course].  The sights, sounds and smells (burgers, pizza, patchouli and/or possibly marijuana) make it all a bit surreal.

Busy Boardwalk
Welcome to Venice

No trip is complete without stopping at the Freakshow – yes, they have a real freakshow (obviously). I’ve never been inside, but you get the gist of what you would be seeing as most of the time one or two of the “freaks” are hanging around outside tempting you in.  There’s the bearded lady and the wolf boy (very hairy he is). There’s a two headed terrapin and then there’s this man….
I have no words
You think you’ve seen it all, until you walk to the end and reach the famous “muscle beach” where men and women alike strut and puff their muscles. This day there was some sort of competition going on.  Competitors young and (very) old were strutting, preening and displaying their muscles in bodies that had so much fake tan, I was worried California was going to run out of the stuff.  This one even looked like he had used wood stain he was so dark...
That's a LOT of fake tan
You can only watch these shenanigans for so long, so we had an ice cream and went home.   All this, and not a bloody stick of rock in sight!  

Oh Brighton, how I miss you (okay, not really).

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What is a Crumpet?

How do you describe a crumpet?  I’ve been asked what a crumpet is so often and it really is one of those questions I can never answer – a bit like “what does Marmite taste like?”  It’s one of those things you know, but there are no words to adequately describe it.

What do we know about crumpets?  Well, they’re round with a flat bottom and holes on the top.  You eat them with butter and sometimes in our house we would have them with baked beans and scrambled eggs on top - kind of like a toast substitute.  They’re not sweet, but they’re not particularly savoury either.  You can eat them for breakfast and for tea.  Confused? Yes, and so is everybody I try and describe them to.

So I did what any sane person would do – I Googled it.

Wikipedia says:

“English crumpets are generally circular roughly 8 cm (3") in diameter and 2 cm (0.8") thick.
Their shape comes from being restrained in the pan/griddle by a shallow ring. They have a
characteristic flat top with many small pores and a chewy and spongy texture. They may be 
cooked until ready to eat warm from the pan, but are frequently left slightly undercooked so 
that they may be cooled and stored before being eaten freshly toasted. They are often eaten
with a spread of butter or some alternative spread on the top of them, such as jam, honey or
yeast extract.”
So there you go then, or not…  

Not a crumpet
The next question is usually “Oh, so it’s like an English Muffin then?”  Well, no actually.  An English Muffin is not even a thing in England.  They were invented in America around 1880 by a Samuel Thomas (aka Thomas’ English Muffins), a Brit who moved to America and opened a bakery. Maybe that’s where the “English” in English muffin came from.  I had actually never eaten or even heard of an English Muffin until I moved here.

Muffins are kind of bready, and crumpets are certainly not, they are kind of rubbery, if truth be told. A bit more research (umm, googling) led me to this:
  • Crumpets are always made with milk, but English muffins are not
  • Crumpets are made of batter; English muffins are made from a firm dough.
  • Crumpets are made using baking soda; English muffins are made with yeast
  • Crumpets are cooked only on one side (presumably when you’re making them, ‘cos I always put them in the toaster and that would mean both sides are cooked); English muffins are toasted on both sides
  • Crumpets are served whole; English muffins are split before serving
So there you have it, the definitive definition of crumpets. (*sigh*)

I think I will just start carrying a picture of each one around so I don’t have to explain.  But then I would probably be asked what they tasted like.  I would just say “Bloody marvelous!”

Then I would hope nobody asks what a "nice bit of crumpet" is, because that would open a whole other conversation.

Monday, May 11, 2015

What a Scorcher!

We’ve been told in California that there is a drought this year and we need to conserve water.    There will be fines, they say, if people are seen wasting water and apparently if their neighbours dob them into the authorities (lovely).  

The thing is, we’re told that every bloody year in California.  Ever since I’ve been here, going on 21 years now, there’s been a drought warning.  And every year, the state goes up in flames.  Just last week, there was a fire close to us and this is what we could see from the house:
A bit scary, no?
The next morning, everything was covered in ash, big huge chunks of the stuff.  This is what happened to our swimming pool.  I didn’t really fancy swimming that day.  
That's not fish
It’s one of the hazards of summer in California and you tend to get used to it.   100+ degree weather will do that.

Which reminded me of the famous (infamous) British Drought of 1976.  Anyone remember it??  Of course you do.  It was the most exciting time of my childhood, I think - water pipes and all.

Although we all remember it as the hottest year ever, in fact the 'heatwave' only lasted for three months, June, July and August.  Temperatures averaged 95 degrees to 96.1 degrees with the absolutely hottest day being July 3, 1976 when it reached a staggering 96.6 degrees.   It was deemed the hottest year in 350 years (although who was keeping those records, may I ask?)

Britain went without rain for 45 days in a row, which is a flippin’ miracle.  Forest and heath fires broke out and crops were destroyed.  I don’t actually remember the fires, but I vividly remember how new and exciting it was to queue up for water in buckets, bottles, cups or pretty much anything you could carry.  Water rationing was a big thing.  So were instructions to “Put a brick in your toilet tank” to save water and to “Share your bath.” (Eww)
Water standpipes were a thing
That summer was one of the best ever if you were a child.  I remember the adults were moaning and feeling hot and sticky, while we were pretty much left to our own devices, playing in the garden until all hours of the day.  The longer we were out of the house, the less water we used, I think.  There was no worry of skin cancer back then and we all ran around “as brown as berries.”   

Of course, it all came to a grinding halt and back to reality in the last week of August, ironically, just after a “Minister for Drought” had been appointed.  According to Wikipedia, thunderstorms continued throughout September and October, although, for the life of me, I don’t remember that.  

There have been heatwaves since, but I don’t think anyone remembers those as much as that glorious summer of 1976.  [And now I've made myself seem very, very old]

Back here in California I will continue to live through the yearly droughts, I will not water my grass and I will not wash my car.  I will watch the firestorms and hope they don’t get too close to my house, but in the back of my mind I will always be saying “This drought is not as bad as the one in 1976” 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Homesick *BLUES*

It’s funny how homesickness can suddenly sneak up on you at the weirdest moments.  Sometimes even when you are in a good place.

This weekend, for example, I had the worst case of homesickness I’ve had in quite a while.  Usually, I get it around Christmas because (*cough*) America just doesn’t know how to do Christmas right, in my opinion. It’s also a time when you want to be with family and as mine are back in England, Skyping on Christmas day gets you all gooey and tearful.

Sometimes, when life gets on top of me, I fondly think of life back in Blighty and wish I was there (usually while looking through rose-tinted glasses as I know it’s not really how I remember it).

So yesterday morning, while sitting in my pyjamas, watching Chelsea win the Premier League Championship, seeing all the celebrations at Stamford Bridge, it hit me hard.  Such a massive surge of homesickness made me bawl.

Looking cool(ish)
I spent a lot of my youth and early 20’s at Chelsea.  I began supporting them back in the early 1970’s, mainly because my best friend’s family supported them… I was very (very) young and impressionable at that time!  

When I was around 17 or 18, I managed to snag myself a job selling programmes at the ground and that, as they say, is when I really fell down the rabbit hole.  

Every Saturday I would be there, home or away, almost every game. Rain or shine, actually a lot of rain, I would be on the terraces (or in the West Stand benches, or in Gate 13 in the East Stand). Every game, without fail.  

It wasn’t like it is today though.  I remember going to games where there were less than 3000 people in attendance.  The ground would echo, it was so empty.  Chelsea were then in the old Second Division and if you supported them, you really supported them.  There were no bandwagon jumpers in those days.   There were bad times and there were… well, worse times.  Not many good times at all.  But the camaraderie  was second to none.  I made so many friends during that time, some I still keep in touch with.  There were games in the snow – usually up north!  That didn’t stop us though.  We used our Persil coupons to get cheap tickets, if we didn’t go on the Supporters Club train, that is.  [Or maybe that should be called Supporters Club Cattle Cart, dirty drafty things that they were].

But there was that one season - the season everything went right and Chelsea earned promotion to the First Division.  What a celebration that day was!  Obviously, I was there…. The club put on parties and a brilliant time was had by all.  Just look….
Yeah, we knew how to party!!
(I am actually in this picture - can you see me?)
The last game I went to before we left the UK was the 1994 FA Cup Final against Manchester United.  It was not, much to my dismay, a wonderful going away present.  Chelsea lost 4-0, I was sitting by myself in the Man. Utd end and it absolutely bucketed down!  Hmmm…..typical!

As we all know, Chelsea have gone from strength to strength since I’ve been away (and I’m hoping it’s nothing to do with me).  Now they are once again Champions of England!  So Sunday was bittersweet for me. I will admit, I was extremely happy, but also it was a poignant reminder of what I miss most.  The celebrations were so few and far between back in the day.  But at least I can watch live on the telly now, not like in 1994 when we got here.  [that will possibly be a subject of another post].

So I would just like to say a big BLOODY WELL DONE CHELSEA!   Even though I’m in the good old USofA, when a football team is in your blood, its there forever.  

Oh, and I was happy to find this 'old school' car sticker the other day, which I actually put on my car on Sunday.  [**smile**]
Going Old School on my car!