Monday, July 31, 2017

Friends in high places

Oxford is apparently a springboard into positions of great power. Although I didn't read PPE, 'the degree that runs Britain', I have some friends who did. I should have a network to serve me well for life. So I've been waiting since Michaelmas term, 1993, to feel the benefit of having friends in high places. In over twenty years, not once have I been given the nod for a seat on a board, or a cushty Civil Service position.

Now, the reality of life in the South Bay is biting and I'm discovering exactly what kind of friends, and in what kind of high places, I should have been nurturing all these years.

First of all, the friends on a walk street. Walk streets, for the uninitiated, are idyllic blocks where all the houses' front yards butt up against a wide pavement, with no cars (the garages behind the houses open onto an alley). Kids play barefoot in the street, neighbours sit in their front yards drinking sundowners, and sometimes they have block parties. The long running 31st Street Chilli Cook Off being a good example.
Residents set their stalls out in front of their houses and compete for Best Chilli and Best Booth by serving up good food and friendly vibes. There's a petting zoo and a bounce house too.

It's a pretty great block party and fortunately, I have a good friend who lives on 31st Street so I got to pretend I lived there too, for a day.

On the subject of good block parties, friends on any street which hosts good block parties are a must. Our street is both busy and steep: not conducive to any kind of party. Thank goodness then for our good friends who live on a wide, leafy street in Manhattan Beach's tree section. Their Fourth of July block party featured two bounce houses, a taco stand, and water bombs. And a neigbourhoody vibe which we, cuckoos in the nest, enjoyed.

On the theme of real estate, let's not forget our dear friends with a pool. I'm not sure I'd want the maintenance of a pool (even if our yard was more than 10 feet long), but I'm certainly glad to have friends who are already doing that maintenance, and are happy to share the benefits once in a while.

Then there's the Manhattan Beach Country Club. TLOML has been quietly hankering to join for a while, so he can swim there and P can play there and we can all just hang out there on days with nothing else to do. I'm not so keen (I'd rather walk to the beach than drive to a concrete club) but am very very happy to spend an afternoon there with friends who signed up.

Until we can spring multi-millions for a walk street home, or want to invest in Country Club membership, or a yard with a pool, we will stay very close to our friends in high places. But what can we offer in return?

I'm starting to pour Pimms, properly served, to friends when they come over. It's unusual, only Brits serve it (and know how to do it right), and of course, it's intoxicating. Perhaps if I serve enough Pimms they'll forget to answer that question 'what did they ever do for us?' and think, instead, 'those guys are fun! we should have them over to the club/ walk street/ pool party'.

Meanwhile all my Oxford education brings me these days are pale-faced house guests who use all the sunscreen and need 'tacos' explaining. Just kidding, love you guys.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

On reading to dogs

Last Saturday P read to a dog. We were at the library and there some dogs waiting to be read to, so she read to a dog.

Only she can't really read, so I did the reading, with her supplying the occasional word.

Also, the dog was sitting on the other side of its person, a kind-faced older lady, and P was sitting on the other side of me.

So rather than P reading to a dog, what happened was that I read to a stranger with a dog sitting nearby and P supplying the occasional word.

A sceptic might have wondered about the point of having dogs in the library. I'll admit, I did. But apparently dogs make an ideal, nonjudgmental, calming audience for children to build their confidence in reading aloud.

P does not lack confidence, although she is occasionally shy. And while she can't really read yet, she's perfectly happy to pretend she can. She 'reads' her toys stories most nights. On our recent trip to the UK she turned pages and babbled in Minionese to a rapt three year old who later told me 'Penelope can read'.

We're clearly not the target audience. So I'll shelve my scepticism. Kudos to the kind people of the Beach cities who bring their dogs to libraries so nervous kids can enjoy reading.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Dirt colored houses

Dirt coloured houses are popular in Southern California. I don't mean dirt in the US sense, as in, soil. Although soil coloured houses are quite popular. I mean dirt as in the color of grime, or dust. Sludge is a popular house paint choice too. So is clay. Also bile. Oh, and anything that suggests putrefecation.

Don't believe me? Here is a truly random selection of homes within a mile of our place.

Our house was the colour of dirt when we bought it. Dirt with a grubby blue trim.


This picture is a little bleached out but in reality the colour of the stucco wa akin to the colour of dirty sea scum after a heavy rain. Or the wax and sea salt layer on top of TLOML's surfboard.


Uncanny, isn't it?

Well, our grimy days are over. We just repainted. White! Clean, coastal, soft white.
TLOML was a little concerned that it will show the dirt. But I think we can all agree that even a dirty white house is preferable to a house the colour of actual dirt.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

In Hermosa you can do any sport you like! (Except one).

You can do all sorts of sports in Hermosa Beach. It's the sportiest little beach town I know. For a start there are the obvious SoCal activities: surfing is huge, and Hermosa hosts several volleyball tournaments from the serious to the sublimely silly. There are runners, cyclists, skateboarders and rollerbladers carving up the Greenbelt and the Strand all day long.
There's a yoga or pilates studio on every corner and at least two Crossfit boxes. If you want to go old school there's a 24 Hour Fitness, and the resolutely gritty Yard gym for pumping iron. A quick count on Google maps gives me at least 25 gyms in Hermosa. That's a lot of options for a town of that's less than 1.5 square miles.

Then there are the less obvious options. Beach Tennis isn't troubling too many volleyball courts just yet but the Sexy Beach Tennis people are recruiting aggressively (hence the name, I imagine). Rather less beachy, right smack in the middle of town, between the baseball field and the hall where they run Jazzercise classes, stands Hermosa Beach Lawn Bowling Club.

And now, Hermosa has found a space for Pickleball - apparently the fastest growing sport in America. Pickleball, for the uninitiated, is like tennis - but played on a court half the size, with a plastic balls with holes in and wooden paddles. The courts have been busy pretty constantly since they opened, even on a quiet Wednesday afternoon when the tennis courts are deserted. So they must be on to something.

Given all there is on offer in this sports-mad town, it makes the obvious gap even more bewildering. Believe it or not there isn't a public pool. In fact, there isn't even one in a private gym - although members can drive a couple of miles in either direction to use the Bay Club pools in Manhattan Beach and Redondo. High school students can use their school pool. TLOML drives to Hawthorne to train with his South Bay swim team. P swims at her Montessori, obvs. The shining ones who are happy to splash out $15k or so to join the Manhattan Beach Country Club can swim there. But for non-members, there's nothing.

Okay, there is the Pacific. It's big and it's free. But it's a little sharkey and rather too swellful for me. Good job I have running, crossfit, and a rusty old bike to keep me busy.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Adventures in foreign food

Not usually the most adventurous eater, I wasn't sure how P would cope with all the strange foreign foods she'd be faced with on our trip to the UK.  How would she fare when we spend time with children who eat such exotic foods as salmon, shepherd's pie, and pizza with actual pizza sauce on. I expected to be slightly embarrassed as she stuck to the plain pasta, toast and eggs that make up much of her staple diet.

But to my delight she tried a lot of new foods. She even liked some of them.

Sadly it wasn't asparagus, Dorset crab, rhubarb, cucumber sandwiches or even scones (too many raisins). In fact I'd have been happy if she got a taste for Heinz baked beans.

Here she is one bite into her first scotch egg, trying to decide if she likes it.

 She loved it.

Other big wins included my mum's egg salad sandwiches, broccoli (amazing what peer pressure will do), proper pizza, and proper French bread. Any variation on sausage meat and eggs, and anything breaded or battered, and fried also went down well. So sausage rolls, fish and chips and scampi were hits.

Now I'm not really sure what good this does me. As I said, I was hoping for rather more new vegetables - in which category I include baked beans. I suppose egg salad and proper pizza (i.e. not a homemade cheese-only version) are welcome additions to the list of dinners I can prepare in 15 minutes. But scotch eggs and sausage rolls are not available at our local grocer (and I'm not sure I'd trust them if they were). Nor is decent French bread.

And so it is that I find myself breading and frying scampi for her dinner.
What a faff...

...and an oily smelly mess
Just don't expect to see me making a scotch egg or a goddamn baguette from scratch anytime soon.