Thursday, 16 December 2010

Bout of the Blues

"You have lot hair.....Gonna take lot time......"
I lie motionless and wait for her punchline,
"You Italian?"

So begins most visits to the salon whence I trim up my groucho brows. I know it works because after his wife was done attacking my face husband beautician pronounced I looked better. "As opposed to gorilla style earlier I ask?" swapping any frail attempt at a femminist discussion for defensive sarcasm. He laughs. Then another lady swoops in and I open my eyes again, sensing someone else in the room, to find six eyes smiling down at me and my hair. They chat in quick Vietnamese. I hope they are just discussing waxing techniques but can't shirk the feeling they are actually having a good ole laugh at my hairy genes. Took me back to a gynaecological visit some years ago, where I agreed to students being allowed into the room before I had time to actually realise that within a breath they would swarm in, ten eyes scrutinising me. Very very closely. Geesh. Oh I'm not gonna beat around the bush (beg your pardon), I'm feeling sorry for myself. Tail between my legs. Shuffling about with that look on my face. Surprised the boys haven't kicked me out yet. There's always tomorrow...

I put it down to several things. One, boy is running a fever. He is still head-standing, jumping from sofa to sofa, then alternately cuddling up against me, clinging on for hugs and generally looking at us puppy-dog-feed-me-chicken-soup. Last night I checked him for the nth time sticking a man-sized thermometer into his ear and being aghast to find it creeping steadily towards 103 and above. I watched his delirium as his glassy eyes opened and his hands played with some invisible something or someone just before him. I sat, his hot little hand in mine, till the fever broke and he sweated himself back into sleep. Hour later he is sat bolt upright, one liners to dad who has just come home, ordering a marmite slathered tortilla please mum. We sat there we three, picnicking in bed (dad on the chicken, mum on the houmous, boy on the marmite) till just past midnight, when thankfully we all fell into slumber easily. This morning fever was a distant memory until lunchtime when it came back angry once again for attention. We trotted down the way to urgent care where a kindly nurse welcomed us, stuck a swab down the boy's throat receiving an evil look from him in return, "Doctors don't usually do that!" he hissed making absolutely no effort to mask his venomous expression. I have a chilling flash-forward of teenage tornados. We wait for a little while for the doctor. He enters, a small, slight chap, all Arkansas drawl, slight Dickensian hunch. With a little too much enthusiasm he offers 10 days worth of antibiotic for the boy as an injection instead of a week or so's course. I politely decline, erked somewhat by the glint in his eye, but more so by the detrimental effect I know it will have on Boy who forgets almost nothing, including the type of toothbrushes we were using in Detroit last february. To have an injection today would make it an uphill battle to ever return I know this for a fact. We opt for the slow and steady approach. Sam strikes up conversation with him, specifically taking care to inform him that everyone in the show is taking turns to be ill. He is not off the mark. Now that news of Sam's strep will be bandied about everyone will positively avoid us like the plague. Actors and their throats. I can say that because I am one of those hypochondriachal types who sniffs and sprays and burns every natural lotion and potion she can get her hands on. Especially when I am working. I think I remember how to do that.

So long has it been that I have been beavering away in my evening solitude that I feel the beginnings of stirrings and yearnings for a home. Dad and I realised, that some weeks ago, this town was to be our last before heading to upstate new York for christmas and then Blighty to start our new year. A few weeks ago this changed when husband accepted a final contract that will take him to mid May. Boy's and my plans are still uncertain though I imagine a certain amount of backwarding and forwarding to london town will be on the cards. I think it may be about time I contribute to the household and get myself one of those job thingies. Groupie-hood must have a sell by date at some point, even if, on tour to date, I have written the most in my life, have half a show of my own and a bit more of a novel I set out to finish. Who would have thought it would take so long already? I have found I work much better with deadline. I like to harrass Cory by seeing how close to my column deadline I can get every tuesday. This week, with husband at sound check and interviews, I avoided confrontation with Boy by enlisting his help in editing my thoughts down to 600 words (he is a whiz on that ole delete button). It was worth it. At the end, when I had read it to him he turns to me all chocolatey earnest, "That was good mum. Really really good mum. Sooooo good." In the end it seems, my ego is still of a healthy size and kept in check but barely. Hey ho. I suppose a pat on the back is not always a bad thing. Especially when the crick in your neck is still throbbing and you keep getting waves of viral weak-at -the-knees feeling.

But enough of the moans already, if your idea of a main street includes a used/out-of-print bookshop, a good coffee haunt and a tasty Mediterranean ma n’ pa joint then Fayetteville, Arkansas, our home for this week, is for you. Two flight day took us from Durham North Carolina through Dallas Fort Worth - stopping there just long enough to inhale a surprisingly good Tex Mex. Landing in North West Arkansas, four sidesteps to the left takes you to baggage claim, four to the right to rent-a-car. Quietest airport in the country. Not a roar of an engine. No impatient taxi horns. Just streaming sunshine casting luminous country idyll across the parched yellow grasses of the surrounding rolling hills. Driving down Healing Springs Road, through the hamlets of Cave and Elm Springs (population 1,044) we carry on along cow, horse and sheep lined country roads to Tontitown (say that after a few). At University of Arkansas’ campus we catch their huge football stadium open on the road side - the sight of it full, likely to rouse even the un-inclined into a sporty frame of mind.

First stop? Walmart. The educated know that the mega chain started right here in Arkansas. According to two fellow Brits we luncheoned beside, Walmart is responsible not only for importing large numbers of visiting British workers but also for the significant funding of the thriving local arts centre.

Highlight of our first foray at the Walmart Super Centre (open 24 hours for insomniacs and night workers) was a brief interchange with a young gal looking not much older than 20, behind the counter of McDonalds, who tells us her children are affectionately nick named Mc-Babies on account of one of them almost dropping out of her by the fryer three months early. Her sing song swooping Arkansas twang and sleep-deprived free skin, belies the fact that she lives with four of these said children - all under six. Instead she smiles, twinkles at Sam, brings our snack to the table. Back on the floor mothers heave over-flowing Christmas trolleys about and we spy one dad with a hang over moustache, loading up with potatoes, five young blonde boy ducklings swimming behind him in equally descending height.

Back home watching Burt Ive’s Rudolph, our eyes dart from screen to Boy’s, alternately boggling out of his face with delight and terror, and wonder whether we had underestimated the effect a felted abominable snowman puppet from 1964 has on the four year old psyche.

Next morning, Dad out on a last minute TV interview, I play soccer mum to Boy, Chrysler mini van no less, negotiating his barrage of questions whilst trying to remember how to drive on the wrong side of the road and read my phone’s map at the same time. Just past Shagbark Boulevard (one for the Brits) we arrive at Williams Center and befriend Lynne-Lee (5 going on 40) who tells us her life story in those lilting Fayattevillian tones. Post gym we scoff Armenian grilled delights downtown then spend an hour trawling through antique books on Dicken’s street, hefty chunk of our weekly budget used for a copy of Life Magazine from 1928 with a special on Vaudeville, amongst other delights. Boy described everything in every book he leafed through loud enough for Canadians to hear. Now back at home, his armless Shakespeare plastic toy is a race car driver in a convoluted story - think Miami Vice meets King Lear.

It's not all down and out in our little cave. Christmas tingles at my toes, pinkish sundown glow at our window. Secret santa gifts to wrap and exchange before greeting snow capped Walworth for the holidays.

Gluevine anyone?

Saturday, 11 December 2010

From Disney to Durham and a Little In Between

We're back on the old honey elderberry elixirs on account of several members of the troupe falling prey to seasonal bugs. I put it down to mourning the loss of the Floridian sunbeams, which, in truth, were unsesaonably milder then usual last week. Stop us it did not. We took on Orlando with gusto flanked by Sam's godparents who travelled across the seas to see us and make like family for a week or so. In our time together we squeezed in a little bit of everything, even whizzed them up a dinner or two with the Bimbo just to unabashedly show off my camping prowess. Godmama celebrated her birthday propping up the bar with Head of Props who force fed several (generous) shots of tequila which to her delight affected her not in the slightest other than broadening her already broad grin. Underestimate not the joy of watching your son beg you to wake up parents number two of a morning, and watching them, all bed-head smiles delighting in their son-for-the-week. If they had been worried he might have forsaken them for his new family on the road the first fifty higs and kisses soon allayed any doubts.

On our first day out on the prowl we hit Gatorland stopping to buy our tickets from the kindly Anne, who after a few interchanges with Mr. Sam gave us a 20% discount and a wrist band wotsit to let us ride the train around the park as much as we wanted. Chuckling infectiously at her own jokes she points to her name badge and proudly announces that the country named below it, is not, as in neighbouring Disney, the place where she comes from, but indeed the place she would like to go (England). Now the discount makes sense, Sam has wooed her with his British twang (which to my ears is still horrifically mid-atlantic) and promised her a space in his suitcase no less.

Any trace smile left on our faces dissipated upon setting our eyes upon the Gators. Mentally they might haunt me for some time, jaw dropping was the sight of them lounging, in vast numbers, motionless prehistoric predators basking in the Floridian heat. We walked above and beside them on raised wooden walkways, gaps between the boards just big enough to catch the odd scale through or a blink of those all consuming eyes. On more than one occasion we all found ourselves protectively inching within arms reach of the boy as the gator gliding through the murky waters eyed him carefully as mid afternoon snack though it had just gobbled half a chicken moments earlier and was behind glass. On most of the journey through the park, the parameters between human and reptile was a matter of feet separated by short wooden railings and woven netting. These are some of the sensory memories of Gatorland, just a few miles down from Holy Land on route 4. Turns out $25 can buy you a quick jaunt to Jerusalem and get you back for lunch. A trip had been tentatively planned but for now we enjoyed zooming by just slow enough to catch the scaffolding holding up the “ancient” sets, and the bell tower, whose bells were painted murals atop it’s wooden tip.

The following day we took it easy. That is to say, godmama and I took a whistlestop of local spas and hairdressers, where my white wire hairs were painted radioactive chestnut by a Puerto Rican gentlemen who managed to talk more than me. Also without punctuation. Plenty of slinky hip action, in between him flirting with gentlemen customers passing through the salon. I now know the name and reputation of every club in downtown Orlando, none of which I will be gracing for the mere reason of not being nearly half fashionable enough. Even with the luminous locks. As I made to leave he hands me a card with my "formula" scribbled on. To my mind it appears to be a jumbled list of nonsensical algebra, but apparently in the hair world it's like smuggling emeralds form a Brazilian drug baron, which, he has also done, oh wait, was that Columbia? He blurred me with all his tales already, or maybe that was the peroxide.

With floucy poofy hair we flounced and pouffed our way to join the boys and headed to the almost local gym where Sam was put through his paces under the guidance of their pre-school governess. The gym, whose name on advertisements is often abbreviated to O.M.G, as in Orlando Metro Gymnastic, or Oh My God look at the size of this place. Her long blonde tresses high in a ponytail cascading passed her bottom in 1970s curls. From the back she looked every inch the teenage Olympian, if it were not for her booming voice that blasted her pre school class into bemused attention. And several of the parents, us included, into mild uneasiness. When the class was seperated in two and Boy was taken by another teacher the far end with several others we sighed with relief, only to have governess' ducklings booooomed at right in front of us near the end where we were sat, several parents striking into applause every time junior did a trick. I suddenly feel guilty of British reserve un reluctant am I to clap at Sam's every move. My joy is watching him enjoy doing it for the simple joy of doing it. His haminess is perfectly ingrained. I don't feel compelled to train him for the big finish or bow. I am more English than I suspected after all. I look over at Sam's two dad's (godpa and Pa) and their brows are furrowed deep with irritation at Ms Longlock. I wonder what Mr. Puerto Rico would have made of her platinum dye. In the distance Monkey monkeys about with his new friends, around him three or four different classes taking place in the hangar, including one lone 13 year old practicing her five hundred summersault tricks. Again and again and again. My eyes darted from lithe athlete to the next aghast at their focus and stick-to-it-ness as they pumped out gruelling excercise one after the other. My transverse ached just loking at them. And yes I do know where they are. Roughly.

Next day we attacked Disney. Armed with cynic-free shields and loaded with sugar ready bellies we stepped through to the other side. Well, drove, then hopped on a golf buggy, then hopped on a mono rail to be exact. Then got smuggled in for free by a kindly man who pretends to be Tigger and several animals in the Lion King down the way, a friend of one of the troupe. Once in, ready to pay for the boy, a perfect stranger gives us her spare coupon for a free ticket, originally given only to folk who had agreed to participate in the filming of Main street later that day. Once through to Magic land, our friends clued us in the secret ways of the Disney. Fast tracks, top rides, tips on where to go and not. How we would have navigated it without them still baffles me.

Mickey reminding us to “believe in our dreams” during his afternoon show as we left to catch the monorail then triple length golf cart ride back to our rental car, parked in Pluto’s section of the mammoth car park large enough to accommodate the entire nation’s automobiles should they decide to flock in on the same day. Luckily for us rare in early December. Back of the mickey-mobile, me wiping off my moustache plastered on for a speedy clip of my Mariela character getting down and groovy to the swelling Disney string anthems blaring out of speakers hidden in the character topiary and the stage atop the steps of Magic Kingdom’s castle. One eye carefully on the Disney “police”, men and women lining the pavement, dressed in uncharacteristically sombre uniforms, legs wide, feet planted firmly on the immaculate tarmac keeping visitors from crossing main street on account of a film crew’s work at the other end.

Between four self confessed ride-o-phobes, (Sam’s godfolk, husband and I) we barely mustered enough courage to accompany Boy on Aladdin’s genteel magic carpet ride, which, under his piloting, elicited the kind of screams usually heard from 300 m.p.h roller-coasters. Think of our terror then, when my best friend and I boarded what we though was Sea World’s log flume ride later in the week, only to discover, post 60 ft drop, that it was in fact a roller coaster. In pitch black. Exiting, drenched from five bucket loads of water lobbed at us for no good reason as far as I could tell, quivering from adrenalin and cackling at our obvious gullibility. Nothing sticks of chocolate dipped strawberries from the Christmas market, dotted along the palm tree lined lake, couldn’t remedy. Or gawping at the vaudeville prowess of their sea lions. Dolphins and killer whales lacked not in star quality either. Top prize however goes to Donald Duck’s turn in his 4-D movie. Magic glasses let me touch his feathers, smell of cherry pie pumped into the theatre, water splashed our face all to match the action.

No sooner had we done all this, as well as braved the outlet malls strewn with disbelieving British tourists laden with christmas shopping taking advantage of the prices it was almost time to bid them farewell. Not before a quick ride in a cab with the words Disney written on it's roof in multicoloured drawing pins, or being conned into paying $10 for a $3 journey by a cabby who did not switch on his meter. That'll learn us for being lured toward TJ Maxx. I also had the delight of watching my mate run the aisles of the Dollar store, where yes, everything is a dollar. Mops to chocolate to plastic popcorn holders to wooden bird boxes. Ode to la Chine! Both she and I also thought the lady's suitcase ahead of us in the line was included in the price, and, at seperate times asked her which aisle for the Samsonite luggage? Give an inch. Needless to say the lady laughed us off as if we were making jokes, but on seeing our perfectly serious expressions explained she had bought it across the road, for significantly more than, ahem, one dollar. Dollar stores maketh monsters, even if they are a secret obsession of mine.

Scrunching our belongings into our cases, including a space hopper or two for the boys for christmas from the godfolk, we bid teary farewells and headed into the skies for North Carolina. "First in Flight" written across most of the number plates here. Southern drawl to match. I never tire of being propelled into ever changing landscapes. From those swishing palms to the majestic fir and pine tree lined country roads of Durham. I handed in my mother’s license back in the fall at Costa Mesa, CA, when I massacred my son’s bangs. On our first day here, I turned in my wife’s license for poisoning my husband. Whilst gazing at said trees outside our Durham hotel home, husband holds up a small water bottle on the other side of the room and asks whether it’s free to drink. Absent mindedly I nod a yes only to feel the dreadful realisation hitting me in the chest, as he gags his way to the bathroom sink, that it is in fact dishwashing soap I had siphoned earlier. Frantically Googling advice I contact poison control who reassure us it is not life threatening. The throat burning sickly sensation is clearly painful. Ear Nose and Throat appointment to check the chords booked. Literally just scurried back to the computer from a crazed dash to newly acquired hotpot which I left heating up some milk for the patient only to subsequently burn the bottom. One of those days, on his first night no less.

The days that have followed have essentially been a time of hibernation with mini jaunts here and there to get a dose of that Carolinian twang pierced to memory. Especially from the meticulous postal worker who, very, very, very slowly, explained why my christmas card must be accompanied by a customs form on account of it's thickness and potential to be an object rather than mere correspondence. Did I mention slowly? Or that I had allowed only a quarter of an hour for my postal trip which might have expanded to half my day had I not, with as much politeness as I could muster begged his pardon and excused myself with a promise to return at a later date. With a customs form. For my hand made card.

We had a gym to get to you see. For our flipper. Who, by all accounts, made his dad's heart flip when he bounced his way down the inflatable tumble track only to leap about four feet in the air and flip himself round almost back to his feet. I know this is accurate because, unlike his wife, Cory is not pre disposed to exaggeration. Wife was, at this point, shopping the local mega mall for presents for her secret santa gift-ee. This year at the theatre names have been drawn, and unlike back home where one joke gift is exchanged on christmas eve during panto season before a sherry or two, here, many mini gifts are trickled through to the recipient, with the final present due to be exchanged next week in Arkansas before the week off for christmas. So far I am the proud owner of a rudolph Pez candy wotsit, a diary and a slinky. The latter nearly took Dad's eye out this morning and then mine when said Dad lobbed it out of his face from under the covers where Sam had dangled it to wake him up. Cory has been given a ginger bread house to be assembled and gorged with sugar and m&ms, a whoopee cushion and bean-o. For those Brits who may be trawling through these ramblings the latter is a food enzyme tablet which one takes should one be consuming gas causing fruits and veg. Personally I like to keep track of where my food is at all times and have a quiet appreciation for said gasses. Obviously, working alone a lot this disturbs no one but myself. In Cory's case his gastro activity is very much shared, on and off stage at every opportunity. It even warranted a mention in Whoopi Goldberg's biography in the chapter about her time on broadway with whom he performed in the early nineties.

Our hamper has been almost completely packed up, only two more sleeps till the wagon train moves on again. Not before squeezing in a whistle stop jog of the local civil war trails museum whence we got to witness real dressed up re-enacters re-enacting. Civil war style-y. Lady in big 1860s dress was twirling about her huge hearth, bacon bubbling in one corner atop a small pile of coals, pumpkin pie filling reducing in the over hanging kettle, onion soup filling the tiny, cold, wooden cottage with luscious smells, ham simmering in the far corner to boot. She, all farmer's wife vim and vigour took a moment to step out and talk with the men, who sat, sipping a dark whiskey looking something or other, talking with ancient drawls and taking turns to turn the Hog's head burnishing on the fire, sardonic grimace across it's face. We took a moment to spy their tents, play with old fashioned toys and run back to the hotel just in time to leave for the matinee. There, in the back waters of the theatre boy made one with Dad's whoopee cushion, farting his way through both acts. Pizzas have been inhaled at Mellow Mushroom, next the tobacco factory both of which this area is well known. After a slice and a bit via pesto covered lips, boy was dreaming in my arms. He lies in my view now, just over the top of the computer, tucked up in the middle of our bed, cradled in sheets.

I am about to light a candle in memory of my aunt Patricia, who three years ago today left us. It still feels so utterly recent and confusing. Someone, who, in all intents and purposes, appeared to be the kind of woman who sprints well into their nineties with unswerving vim. My second mum. I miss you as I always will. I feel you as close as I always did. Your Sam is growing into quite the little boy. He is going through a growth spurt and eating me out of house and home. He is at the age when you might have enjoyed hearing him truly appreciate your cooking. I practice as best I can, cooking I mean, your cooking bit I relay in detailed stories to him, though I fear some thirty years may have to pass before I can earn your cooking stripes.

And so it is. Another year whizzed by. This time last year Mum, Sam and I were huddled in a downtown Chicago church with lilting hispanic hymnals being sung heartfelt to the heavens. Now, on a cold, wet and windy night in Durham North Carolina I send you a little prayer of thanks from a quietened hotel room.

Wheresoever you may or may not be.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

I do run-run

Well by George I did it!

Yes, me, my very expensive trainers and I got themselves through the 6.2 mile course without stopping, panicking or jumping off any of the bridges we crossed. In one hour, 9 minutes and thirty seconds to be precise. To say I am proud of myself would largely be a mis-representation. I am more or less still in a state of shock, coming out of the training tunnel that was my preparation. Blindly hitting 5 mile runs on countryside courses without stopping to wonder why or how or why again. There you have it. I knew my stubborn streak would surely come in handy one day.

Thursday morning saw all five of us (four from the show one travelling wife-groupie) hopping from foot to foot amongst the mangled crowd of gazelles and wannabe gazelles that are running fanatics. I on the other hand was doing my best impression of a stuffed turkey, in keeping with the thanksgiving theme of course, by wearing my Team Young Frankenstein tshirt over several layers including a thick water proof number. We huddled together for warmth having braved the early morning downpour. Further along inside the inner sanctum of Brown's stadium were the serious panther types, stretching their lithe limbs an extra foot or so this way and that before they glided past us to start at the 6 minute mile post. We, on the other hand, having looked for an 11 minute mile post and failed rallied around the front of the walkers instead, who were placed just in front of the hard core runners with strollers no less. One of our team even spied a family, 3 children one dad, doing the course whilst taking in turns to push the youngest and run. That's dedication for you. Cattle like we herded together at nine o clock slowly inching our way to the starting line, me feeling more 5 ft nothing than ever before surrounded by bodies jiggling with anticipation. And then, we were off.

Pounding conservatively amongst walkers and zip zappers I concentrated utterly on keeping a rhythm and fighting that in bred sprinter mentality to get ahead and do my best at winning. Quickly. Genetically speaking I am more pre disposed to shot put and yet here I was jogging my way into oblivion. Or back to the stadium at least. To my surprise and huge relief there was actually more space between all of us than I had imagined. In my mental run throughs I had envisaged people clambering over one another like wilder-beast at a watering hole. In reality there was a very pleasant, almost laid back feel to our herd. All shapes and sizes. All ages. A myriad of styles. And if there were any chance of flailing spirits there was always the three piece brass band on our first corner, pumping in deep baritone puffs the famous tune from Rent the musical. The song and it's style an unusual choice for the women playing their chosen instruments, somehow making the catchy soft rock theme sound like a marching band anthem. They got a cheer none the less. So did we, when we past on through to Kentucky, by a couple of locals ringing bells and shouting congratulations at us. Pink ladies passed me, gossiping on the way, I am half tempted to join in but think better of it. A lady in her late sixties over takes me as does a man whose feet caress the ground, head barely bobbing up and down. I wonder how his quads will feel after he has completed 6 miles in demi plie. Then I hit the hill of the last mile long bridge at mile 5 and knuckle down and concentrate on finding air. On the last stretch I hear a cheer from some other show folk who have come down to rally us on and my step and spirits perk up just before I pass the ambulance and it's crew tending to a runner prone on the tarmac. That last .8 mile the hardest, especially as the course took us passed the finish line only to double back again in order for us to actually reach it. In between the bodies I spy another luminous shirt and pay attention to catch up with it. Mr. Vargo (of Birmingham tea fame and a swing in the show) and I then neck and neck it to the finish line, trying our best to find our sprint whilst intuitively staying in synch. He teases me later for beating him by 2 seconds. Obviously I gloat. Every. Second. Counts. The boys catch the moment on video, joining me just before the finish line. I look demented. No surprises there then.

What better way to earn yourself a proper slap up thanksgiving feast than doing that 10K? Come five o clock, after a nap, some bucks fizz, much peanut butter and a shower the family and I re spruced up and at em. We head down and join the gang at the Hilton, where the company is hosting a dinner for us all. At the end of the ballroom is a huge table with most of us gaggled about it. The buffet, in the other room has all manner of delights and meats and seafood and deserts. And ice sculptures. And chocolate fountains. And a baby grand with old standards being tinkled on it by a man with a moustache and a toupe. Just like at front desk here at the hotel. The toupe I mean, not the piano.

The other night I had the good fortune to meet all the guests of our place when the fire alarm sounded. I was more terrified of the recorded voice that announced the forthcoming alarm, thinking, as you do, that paranormal forces had turned the radio on in the other room. Scooping boy out of bed and stopping only to pick up our winter coats (it was a freezing night) we were relieved to find it almost a false alarm. Someone had thrown a barely extinguished cigarette into a bin in the alley behind the hotel and the smoke had drifted into the basement here and triggered the alarm. In the lobby we find one of the dancers and her fella, she nursing a kidney stone, and a boyfriend of another actress in the show who holds my coat whilst I carry a confused Sam. A lady sat in the lobby seats is nervously crocheting her nerves away and gives Sam her coat for a duvet. It takes a moment for him to click into party mode and launch into delirious stories from his days, real and imagined. When we get back upstairs it takes a little convincing for us both to relinquish to sleep. Dad comes back all a fluster and wakes me again for a low down. I am drunk with tiredness, and, at the time, pre race nerves for it was the night before the big day.

Now I sit nursing tight calves and sorrowful quads squeaking my way around the place as if I had never done a minute of exercise in my life. A quick visit to the local craft show soon put a stop to that. Austin, head of props, of travelling bar fame, and who had run with us the day before invites me to join a few of them (fellow runners to be precise) on their visit as his ma has her leather goods stall set up. She whisks us in for free and we marvel at the hand made wares (and their price tags!). In truth I was just as interested in the sellers and the vast array of fascinating moustaches on show. Not for sale, but on show nevertheless. Curled, full, pencil. All manner. And gesticulation to match. What a colourful collection of characters. Austin explains that we are walking through his childhood. Happy are his memories of going from stall to stall amongst his mother's artist friends. I can see why. One lady even comments on my felting work (I am wearing a woollen jacket I attacked earlier in the day). It would have put a skip in my step if only my calves could actually stretch enough.

When Cory comes back in between shows today we pack up our hamper together, unusual for it's remarked lack of bickering. Then again we are both in an exceptional frame of mind; my best mate and her husband are in Orlando waiting for us and packing a day earlier than we need to makes us feel closer to being with them. In all intents and purposes they are Sam's second parents. As I type they are returning from shopping spree. We haven't seen them since their wedding in May (flashback to green card quandry) and their trip has been long anticipated. Course our apartment now looks like a mini tornado has torn through it. Hey ho.

The clip clop of Cincinnati's horse drawn carriages below me on the street, the hum of the heaters, Sam's barely audible murmurings during his dreams are the sounds about me. Felt to be put away, swimming costumes to pack and summer clothes to bring back to the top of the case. We're going to the tropical land of magic mice and travel day can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Felts, Films & Happiness

I have been needle felting for the past hour. I put this uncharacteristic behaviour down to pre race nerves. Two sleeps till I prove to myself I can finish a 10K course with good form. Oh alright just finish. Apparently sticking a needle into felt to create colourful woolen pictures is the way to go. Or perhaps, having been surrounded by the gilded serenity of Cincinnati's waldorf school where Sam was attending nursery, their whole earth loving artsy craftsy vibe has been absorbed by this impressionable Brit. Sam has revelled in his time there, and with it being a hefty cab ride away, I have chosen to hang out round the community table with other parents to sip good coffee and organic baked bits and pieces till the end of his morning sessions. That way I get to eavesdrop on discussions about the use or non-use of candles at the lantern festival come december seeing as the fire department has banned open flames from campus. One mum describes an "angel" from last year passing out over a couple of lit candles and of another waldorf school that has gone up in flames twice over. This is after I have joined in the morning sing practice, coughing, spluttering and doing my best impression of a strangled chicken through winter inspired peace spreading songs. The day before I was invited to the book club to join in with the discussions of a book, which I had not read, but enjoyed participating in none the less. One mum even gives boy and I a lift home. Along with her triplets. All in all the magical welcome we have received has been affirming to say the least. Hang around enough organically plant dyed silk scarves and natural fibre dresses and you too would consider needle felting.

The country roads training is sadly behind me. Now I tred the Cincinnati streets, dodging various characters that line the streets. The city is scarcely populated, in a period of significant transition from what I have observed, with new loft style living developed to entice life back onto the streets. I notice shop fronts being renovated alongside Victorian homes that in their day would have been echoes of European splendour. Like the promenade that runs the centre of Garfields Place a church at the end no less-in photos there would be nothing to say you weren't in a small German town. They certainly left their mark here. We have hibernated somewhat this past week. Recovering in part from the whirlwind that was our stay in upstate New York surrounded by wonderful family and friends but which left us nonetheless in need of recharging.

That said, our past week has been a whirl of celebration. Last Friday, come 10 0’clock, our doorbell rang and on opening we found a golden key, a hat and a clue. There began a birthday treasure hunt around the hotel, stopping in several of the troupe’s rooms whereupon they read boy more clues and gave out more keys till we were lead back to our room and “magically” the birthday fairy had left a treasure chest with his gift inside. Slippers. Rainbow coloured. Hand knitted. Few days earlier he told me that he really wished for slippers - his teacher has told him he ought to have them for pre school. I tell him to wish hard and maybe, just maybe, the fairies might deliver. Fast workers. Silently I thank my stars, secretly dreading him asking for something more garish and expensive. Post hunt troupe sips mimosas and scoffs cup cakes back in our room, all celebratory smiles and hugs despite them nursing severe hangovers from downing shots and riding mechanical bulls at Cadillac Ranch round the corner the night before. The crew present Sam with a luminous orange bike, complete with pads for every bony part of his body. They joke about giving him one every birthday, shipping out a motorbike for his 21st. He almost flips with excitement. Then nags me for the rest of the day to go out and ride it.

Moments later however we are all bundled into a coach, boy grinning for having been allowed into the “actor-bus” and a mystery journey begins. Twenty minutes later we are in Kentucky and pulling into the parking lot of a small cinema. I spy a red (plastic tablecloth) “carpet” stapled to the pavement leading up to it’s back entrance, roped off no less, flanked by two huge stand up posters for Harry Potter. Six folk from the troupe stand with flashing cameras (including a thirties-style prop one from the show) posing as paparazzi. Everyone cheers. At my feet a Hollywood star stuck to the concrete with my name. Birthday boy’s next to it. I am an uncharacteristically speechless leopard coated person, cheeks aching with grin. Twenty minutes into the movie, my face fills the screen. The troupe whoop and holler and applaud at the end of my two minute turn. Surreal. I quietly burst with gratitude, wondering how I will ever fall asleep that night.

I do in the end. Apparently you can't stay in a state of elation for twenty four hours straight. I catch sight of my grin in the morning reflection beyond my bed head though and realise it's one special day that will stay with us for some time.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Running Towards Winter

Underestimate not the comforting power of freshly baked brownies of a wet and blustery November day. So was the scene at my sister in law's earlier today. I have married well. Two of my sisters in law are master bakers, whipping up a myriad of baked, pickled and roasted delights with the same effortless perfection with which my mother procures her prize winning garden.

This morning I awoke in a Patricia frame of mind. That is to say, I whipped up breakfast lunch and dinner within half an hour and before the sun rose. Boy sits in sleepy confusion asking why we have woken up at night, and isn't that good and shouldn't we do that all the time. I do my best to convince him otherwise and that we are but for a short time on school schedule and that at no other time must night be taken for day. Worth a try.

We sip our tea, scoff our toast and ease ourselves into the autumnal day. Our four month long Californian summer is very much at its end. After I drop off boy (skipping) at pre school where his teacher suggests I bring in treats next week as an early birthday celebration before we pick up sticks, I take a quick jaunt to the local TJ Maxx for a brief turbo turn about the shop. Under the shower of cold rain I drive towards Webster, a town whose sign tells me is where "life is worth living" just next to the two or more vacant retail spaces up for lease. Along the way I pass a cemetery with a large "Now Leasing" sign above it. Took me a moment to realise the luxury apartments it was publicizing appertained to the apartment block nestled at the far edge of the graveyard rather than roomy coffins.

My father in law is glued to a shopping channel in the background as I type with a chef that looks and sounds like a made man if I ever heard one. He is making chicken soup and I am hungry all over again. I am blaming it obviously on my new running regime. Up to about 4.5 miles and resting on my laurels. Till tomorrow that is when I am attempting to do it all over again. 6 miles due by Thanksgiving. Boy oh boy oh boy. Least Ohio is relatively flat. I am training on the undulating landscape that is Walworth. Even bought me a bit more gear which is slightly worrying to me as my self equipping usually heralds the abrupt end of a new pursuit.

After school we chowed a roast chicken (almost but not quite as good as my late aunt's)and entertained the local pastor. In Italian families the equivalent would be being host to the priest which is one step away from meeting a saint and involves as much kow-towing as is possible. Not that the priest necessarily has a God complex as such,(beg your pardon) but more that the hosts are prone to showering the special guest with honours. Pastor Jenny however arrived in a cheerful outfit, smiles and plenty of time to listen to our son's ramblings through various universes. She is my age roughly, a runner, passionate about sailing and has travelled. I find it challenging to relate to her as another woman my age without fearing to appear too familiar. Catholic schooling is more entrenched than I had supposed.

Tomorrow antiquing is planned with my sister in law whilst boy cavorts with his uncle and cousin. After the excitement and adrenalin of last week a little retraction is just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately boy's body reacted a little more violently to this need by delivering a brief dose of croup in the witching hours of sunday night. After a moment of indecision dad and I decide to brave the country roads for the hospital in Rochester to have him checked out by a doctor. Twenty minutes later he has been checked over, been fed a popsicle after a steroid dose, been sat infront of a television screen showing Toy Story, a magazine, crayons and stickers in hand. Dad and I looked at each other wondering whether the whole thing was not just a little bit too much like fun to make him want to make a habit of these late night escapades. When we return, boy buzzing somewhere above reality on steroids and E-numbers he announces that it is his waking time and he has decided this is his new morning time. Dad and I exchange looks judging silently who will stay up for the twilight rants. Luckily Napoleon is delirious and sleep overcomes before we can say goodnight.

In the morning monkey is jumping off the walls. I fear he may have inherited his mother's reluctance towards stillness. Perhaps I ought to send him out running. Nothing seems to quieten my mind like pacing these country roads. Not so for the two or three squashed racoons rigor mortis at the side of the roads. Next the squished frogs. And headless pigeon. Opposite side of the road corn husks rustle in the wind under the heavy grey fluffs of cloud. Occasionally a car passes me, swerving almost onto the other side of the road to give me space. I wonder whether I ought to take offence to this, then another hill hits me and I can think of nothing but surviving the climb to the top. I passed hushed homes, moulding leaves, Sherburne cemetery huddled under the leafy shade of ancient trees. Warning signs of tractors and later those of deer leave me wondering with each huff and puff what I will do if a Doe suddenly crosses my path. Or a buck for that matter.

Last night as I returned from the dance studio where Cory's dance teacher suggested Mariela take class and be filmed, I notice me clutching at the wheel a little too tightly as I weave through the countryside lashing with rain eyes wide for crazed wildlife I might harm by mistake. In the darkest stretches wondering whether a UFO might pay me a visit. The corn fields lining route 441 seem perfect for some such visitation. Watched too many movies.

As I squirrel towards winter I watch about me the frenzy that is voting season. Much disquiet on the home front. Frustration at the democrat voters many of whom, disillusioned with Obama have not turned out to vote and permitting Republicans to regain some power. A general malaise with the state of the country, from most of the folk I have met along the way. When I read home news my heart tightens when I read about yet more arts cuts. It certainly dulls any yearnings for home turf. Besides which, my home turf came to see me instead. Spending time with the folks was a great tonic.

I hibernate now whilst dad is out strutting Milwaukee, taking in beer tastings along the way (the emailed video of the troupe caterwauling in harmony was perfect). Soon he will head back new york state way, he and his hump entertaining half of his childhood.

Country living for just one more week. Think my mind will be well and truly cleansed in the deer trotted air by then. And if not, there's always the turkey trot come Cincinnati.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Vaudevillian Halloween

There has not been a performance in Ontario’s Masonic hall since the closing days of Vaudeville, or so the story goes. That was until husband had the bright idea of hiring it for the day in order for us to try out my one woman show for the second time. Our first attempt was in a tiny space of Detroit’s downtown run by the almost toothless Chris and his kindly one man-one eyed crew. His 100 seat venue home to my moustache’d Mariela chortled at by the 50 or so audience of cast and crew of Young Frankenstein.

This time my producer (I call him husband for short) had coerced 40 or so Walworthian friends and family into giving up their Friday night for a dose of my Sardinian creations. He laid out pizza before hand. They thanked us for our generosity post-show. I was quick to explain the food and beverages were merely bribes to make them laugh.

The “brother” who showed us around zealously described his ghostly encounters in the place. I clock myself checking over my shoulder more than once during rehearsals, wondering whether any vaudevillians would watch my show from the wings flanked perhaps by the apparition of a small Victorian child from the days when the hall was a school house.

Come “opening” night my nerves were such that I had little energy to expend on looking for spooks, spooked enough as I was by my own terror. Boy struts to the front of the stage and booms out the introduction, preceding my first entrance which was greeted by the sorts of confused-repulsed looks I had been frightened of. When husband runs back stage to help me with my quick change into the main character’s daughter (a crazed vision in muddy wedding dress and pregnant belly) I tell him I ought to quit now. He tells me the audience is enjoying themselves, keep up the good work, chin up and get on with it. I do.

By the time I make my entrance as sheep-woman (bunny girl meets lamb chop) their reassuring laughter means I actually begin to enjoy myself. At curtain down (you know you’re doing a one woman show when you have to operate it yourself) I delay crowd-greeting by de-rigging the hung bed sheet and flag “set” till I have summoned enough courage to go out and thank everyone. I am greeted with warm embraces and giggles and find myself grinning with gratitude from beneath my painted facial hair.

At the English family reunion next day, husband is unsurprisingly mugging at the camera as a four year old ham in the projected 16mm home movies. Boy discovered the joys of trick or treating following day, at the end of the legendary Englert’s long darkened drive, where he sang full voice to earn his candy (full size!). So the tradition goes. British Halloween is half hearted in comparison. Our November 5th celebrations often upstage, commemorating the day Guy Fawke’s plot to blow up the houses of parliament in 1605 was foiled. Every year it is customary to “burn the Guy”, literally throwing a patched together dummy on a bonfire. We even let off fireworks. Sort of like building two cardboard towers and throwing burning toy planes at them for a September 11th party in the year 2401. Sardonic British humour isn’t infamous for nothing.

Pa is in Milwaukee, my folks have returned to home turf and ma n’ boy recover from their week of theatre making. Just hoping I did those Vaudevillians proud.

On The Run

Running through the early morning mists wafting above the rolling hills of Wayne County is a beautiful way to start the day. Burnished golds of the fall about me a perfect distraction from my huffing and puffing up the inclines of Gananda Park. I have succumbed to peer pressure and, after Nicole (spotlight operator) and her convincing rhetoric, I too have joined the ranks of the Young Frankenstein troupe who will be running Cincinnati’s 10K Thanksgiving run.

I maintain my training whilst on our quick jaunt into New York City last week. Boy, Ma, Leopard Skin Coat and I strutted into Penn station of a Tuesday morning leaving Dad behind upon the beautiful Proctor’s Theatre boards in Schenectady. On day two I set myself the challenge of crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, joining the army of lithe disciplined New Yorkers overtaking me, speedy cyclists in the opposite lane racing to and from Manhattan. I dodge the tourists committing the bridge and it’s views to digital memory. The autumnal sunshine dancing on the waters of the Hudson, Ms Liberty in my peripheral and beyond, Ellis Island, whence my great greats moored ashore all those years ago. Here I am, sweating to Brooklyn and back for a slice of their dream.

Back at TriBeca HQ I find grandma on ground control patrol trying her best to make sure our son’s incessant mid air flips are executed with safety. Boy delighting in watching his upside down world swirl about him. I continue my blossoming love affair with the city; playgrounds, shops, more shops, more playgrounds - things to keep a three-something and sixty-three something happy. My Leopard Skin Coat and I fitting in perfectly with the uber trendy mamas and papas of downtown. My father arrived mid week, and, after a few minutes on the maze that is Google we tracked down an old friend from 40 or so years ago. Within ten minutes we had found his contact details, sent emails and left messages. A beat later and our day in New Jersey with him is planned.

Next morning I watch, moved by the warm reconciliation of two dear friends who have lost touch over the years. There are hugs, stories, the feeling, as with true bonds, of having been apart for a heartbeat not years. Turns out the man in question has done incredibly well, even been nominated for Man of the Year in England against the mogul Richard Branson. He explains that I am to contact him should I need help of any kind. Not the first time on our travels that kindly folk like this have openly reached out with helping hands. He questions me about our plans, citing the importance of stability for growth. I listen carefully - the man is paid highly by huge corporations for consulting work. When he describes his own life long yearning for a home, being a child of traveling parents, I turn to our boy, mouth covered with ravioli, holding court at the other end of our lunch table and consider.

Next day, surrounded by visiting former cast friends, back in daddy’s Schenectadian dressing room, boy twinkling with delight, reunited with both his dad and once-babysitters, I reflect upon how our journey is nurturing this bright young soul. We will give stability a whirl for the next few weeks - though I would argue the true meaning of the word does not necessarily mean living in one place. Sam is in pre school. Mama will be warbling with the choir.

Time methinks for a run at real life. Not just those photogenic hills.

From a Sardinian Corner of Miami with Love

The deco delights of South Beach are as delightful in all their wedding cake pastels as I had hoped. Easy to imagine this town in it’s roaring twenties as the American Riviera. The villas lining the back-waters, complete with private moorings, odes to Italianate grandeur. One family homes, once uber modern apartments blocks with alternate angular and undulating deco lines. In stark contrast, the new sprawling towers on the opposite side of the street jutting up along the oceanic landscape, resorts and condos, sparkle like urban dinosaurs in the bright Miami sun.

South Beachers are partiers. By lunchtime a palpable lilt to the promenaders, many of which clad in little more than incy wincy teeny weeny bikinis. After inhaling half a chicken wrap big enough to feed a family (South Beach diet anyone?!) I slunk into the granite bathrooms of The Clevelander, to transform myself into my Sardinian alter ego, a comedy character I am developing into a one woman show, filming her American adventures alongside ours. I catch a pair of sun lizards lounging poolside in their shimmery two-piece beside DJ’s podium where revellers will likely welcome the dawn. Back at the table a nearby customer excuses herself, explains she is nosey (takes one to know one) and asks me what on earth I am doing and why. I describe my project then coerce her and her holiday attired girlfriends to be filmed making friends with my strange Sardinian woman.

My boys and I (big on camera one, small on camera two) hit the streets coercing other revellers to dance, hit volleyball, throw football and generally cavort. South Beach-ers are good sports. One chap, Jamaica cool in tight white vest and ironed jeans insisted on taking several photos amongst the passing rollerbladers. A veiled muslim lady gives me a complicit nod of recognition. I think she has mistaken my headscarf for a veil. I feel like a fraud. At the waters edge it took no more than a moustache’d grin to persuade the lifeguards to pose. Just before I dove in. Fully clothed.

Later I strip down to my swimsuit, wipe off my painted facial hair and take in my surroundings, boy flip flapping in my peripheral at the feet of the mostly African American/Caribbean crowd. Much as it saddens me, I have never been around a group of Caucasian women so obviously happy in their skin. Of the gamut of body shapes I spy none tugging at their suit, hints of negative body image leaking out of their movements. Instead, laughter. Lots of it. Carefree beach behaviour I find deeply affirming. The Caucasians, inconspicuous not so much because of their taut frames (some on that diet after all), but more for the way they carried those frames along the beach.

Boy and I then make a mad dash to dad, who is holding up traffic on Ocean drive, jump into our car (along with half the beach) and pick up grandma at the airport. I waited eagerly at the arrivals window, my hair doing a fine impression of seaweed, whilst she patiently sat behind me, farcically looking in the opposite direction. Family tradition. Off Dolphin expressway, we then stop to snap a picture of Dad outside Joe Allen’s (favourite London/New York haunt) and stumble across a Sardinian restaurant on the opposite corner. Antipasti, pasta and myrtle liqueur later we have our Mediterranean fix. I have decided to take me some of that Miami buzz in my case to upstate New York next week. Along with as many mangoes as care to fall at our door.

The Playoff's the Thing

Playoff season heralds several things. Husband is permanently distracted, engineering our movements on the basis of where he will be able to catch the game. Luckily for him this appears to be almost everywhere, from the Mediterranean bistros lining sunny Las Olas boulevard Fort Lauderdale, to the local bar in our new home town of Schenectady. Secondly, perhaps more disturbingly, I too on several occasions have found myself clocking the scores on TV screens, thus beginning a complete immersion into the culture that has welcomed this Brit.

Friends back home wonder whether I am missing the British eccentricity. The kind of quintessential madness that can only be truly comprehended, loved and loathed by native Britons. Waves of this warped nostalgia are easily washed away when we meet people like Pedro, the half Belgian half Spanish waiter at our favourite haunt in Fort Lauderdale. Over our seafood linguini Pedro spoke at us for roughly half an hour (without commas) about his journey to Miami, becoming an accidental antique dealer. His first container load, of what he described in his Hispanic gesticulation and thick Flemish twang as 1960s Belgian junk, sold for $15,000 more dollars than which it cost him. Several years of similar sales and he was living the American Dream. Not so for Palm Man, as grey in pallor as Pedro was suntanned, hair clinging melancholically to the sides of his head baseball cap stuffed with the rest of the nesty locks, who comes to our table and begins a demonstration. Two folded palm leaves later, now looking remarkably like roses, we learn this gentleman has copyrighted the alphabet. On the back of “E”-sure and Ebay launches he set about securing rights for the rest of the letters. Must be a long term investment plan, what with the palm tricks supplemental income.

These folk are in the pink sun-setting distance. We have propelled through time into upstate New York’s fall. Descending through the clouds, hazy glimpses of rainbows, rolling forest covered hills undulating below us, rusty coloured fall foliage glowing in the late afternoon rays. The smell of crisp woody autumnal air greeted us at Albany airport, where driver Bill, took us through a stand-up version of Schenectady history. I have a new found joy in travel days surrounded as we are by bon vivant actors - bleary eyed on account of a middle of the night dip in the sea, crew – propping up the bar next the gate and wide eyed three year old - magicking the furniture into pirate ships. Troupe suddenly burst into a perfectly harmonised rendition of Happy Birthday to honour the company manager, spontaneous applause from all the nearby passengers at the final flourish.

On our first tip toe around Schenectady, deserted of a Monday night but for the odd passing SUV, we found a restaurant/bar on a picturesque main street. The brick buildings in their terraced turn of the century glory a world away from the swishing palm tree lined bungalow streets of last week’s tropical lands. Boy is now getting his beauty sleep, grandma much the same, husband has those worry lines upon his brow (top of the ninth and the Yankees are struggling) and ma tries to make her deadline before heading down to the big smoke tomorrow. We are deserting husband for the Big Apple because a. it is but a three hour train ride away (boy is very very excited) and b. my ma looks like she would enjoy a spot of shopping.

Have also, under oath, promised to bring husband back a Yankee win.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Lederhosen to Lizards

The crickets in the fern brush outside our white shuttered windows are singing their hearts out to the Floridian moon. Beside our front gate a mango tree is heavy with its dangling fruit. There are oranges on our license plate. So begins our stay in the sunshine state, so far very much living up to its name.

Arizona has been left in its dust. The last few days a flurry of fun filled days highlights including the ubiquitous Oktoberfest - the only one in the world to my knowledge that takes place in the middle of desert lands in an unforgiving 40 degree heat - and the Hawaian pool party thrown by the crew.

Cory arrives after work to announce the theme. I scrunch up my forehead looking at my colourful but Hawaiian free wardrobe then he throws me his palm tree shirt with the retro bikini clad ladies posing on it (given to him by one of the local stage hands in Michigan) I pop on some leggings and heels no less, scoop up our sleeping boy and head downstairs. Next the pool is Nicole's room in which she has made space for the Sam-man to rest whilst we mingle with the crowd. As we reach the pool we are garlanded. Cory is fitted with a coconut bra. Ukelele player croons out tropical ditties and chicken is on the grill. At the other end Austin's travel-bar is lit up and pumping out cocktails faster than you can say zombie on the rocks. I stop drinking after one seeing as by the end of it my heels suddenly feel very high. And wobbly.

When we take it in turns to check on the boy we intermittently find a slightly delirious chap who insists I return to the party and asks me why I have Dad's girlie shirt on and the plastic flowers. On my final visit in I find him sitting up singing and he launches into a middle of the night stream of consciousness at which point I scoop him up and bring him out to the party. It takes a minute or two before he lands into our reality but when he does he is the life and soul, right up until mum is thrown in the pool, fully clothed at which point he looks down from the edge, a mix of worry and excitement until he sees me smiling reassuringly back at him. Then it is a matter of minutes before he decides he will go in also, urged on by those of the party still bobbing about in the water. The crew gather around him and help him onto a huge inflatable turtle and takes it in turns to glide him across the pool to each other. Dad is dripping dry nursing a caiprinha at the waters edge. Mum is beginning to flag under the weight of dad's drenched shirt. We eventually make it back to bed around three after a hefty midnight snack for the boy who is convinced it's his breakfast.

If someone had told me that come the weekend I would be clinking steins at Oktoberfest in the midst of the surrounding desert lands of Tempe I would have accused them of delusional behaviour. Come three o’clock that Saturday afternoon however, boy and I were doing the polka (well one of us was, the other was doing an impression of a jumping bean) to the umpahs and yodels of The Sauerkrauts - German musicians squeezed into authentic lederhosen crooning mountain serenades, show stopping cow bell solo to boot. About us German looking descendants nodding their heads to the beat sipping their gallons of once cold beer. Even the rubber ducks at the carnival were suitably attired. Almost totally reduced to a puddle of sweat I lead boy to the splash park of Tempe Beach Park (minus beach on account of a leak and subsequent empty lake) where, demented with delight, he slid, splashed and cavorted in the water. Mum held out, like most of the grown ups, demurely side stepping the water, till I could bear the 106 heat no longer. Calling boy to watch our bag I put my fully clothed self under a suspended bucket and gasped with relief as it spat its contents down on me – and the gaggle of screechy five year old friends about me. Once drenched, my brain rebooted.

As the park cleared around what I presumed to be Arizona siesta time (only mad dogs and Englishmen stay out in this afternoon sun) I notice a couple of brothers brandishing huge plastic water versions of fire arms. The father, a Mexican fella with a pencil moustache and the kind of brooding gaze perfect for Westerns, approaches Sammy and offers him one to play with. Coaching session ensues, teacher and student fierce with concentration, the latter dwarfed by the sheer enormity of his chosen weapon. Water war breaks loose, up until Sam gets it straight in the face and bursts into tragic tears. I almost resist a live-by-the-sword-die-by-the-sword speech. When Dad joins us after his matinee we inhale Bratwurst, all the way from almost German Wisconsin and then polka once again. Sun dips down into the horizon and we notice the malevolent green grey clouds looming towards the festivities taking our cue to leave. Hopping into the first rickshaw at the exit a heavy-set African American chap has the tough task of cycling us home. I keep him talking on account of his velveteen accent and learn he is the sixth child of thirteen, born and raised in South Carolina, currently an ASU football scholarship student. He explains his strengths are his size and, surprising speed. Knowing he is of an athletic mind lightens my guilt for asking him to go on an almost 2 mile ride to the hotel under the ever darkening skies, wind shaking the gangly palms, flashes of lightning illuminating the heavy clouds. I catch sight of an African American busker dressed in a cowboy’s Sunday best, letting rip with almost country tunes on an electric guitar amongst several salubrious characters drifting about the sidewalks with that faraway look of folks who have spent too much time in the desert. Much like the man who sold me his homemade incense at the farmers market the other evening.

Desert living at its end, I write from our Fort Lauderdale home. When we first arrive at the bungalow our landlords greet us and show us about. The words lizards and racoons are bandied about. I perk up waiting for alligator and snake but thankfully in vain. Our new pad is a glorious two bedroomed home complete with a big kitchen, cosy living room, two bathrooms and all the amenities of real life living. The tiled floors, the shutters, the coconut trees swaying in the warm breeze set the scene for our tropical stay. On our first evening we drop our bags and despite a four hour flight, we are high on our usual first night excitement and head to Las Olas boulevard to soak up the street buzz about the open air restaurants and cafes. Moments later we are inhaling wood fired pizzas and sipping chianti. Homemade gelato finishes it off. Nothing about the street suggests anything but a Mediterranean summer's eve. Mafioso type (sssshhhhh) on the table next to us makes conversation, heavy new york accent, hard of hearing I supposed on account of his booming voice and the way he craned forward with a forehead of strain every time I spoke. He and his columbian wife, glittery in baby blue rhinestones tell us we are have our handfuls having a scorio boy. I would never have assumed the man to be interested in astrology. Just goes to show, you never can tell.

When the boys leave for the loo I notice a local leaving the establishment, high five-ing the brazilian waitress on his way, ironed jeans and thinning but highly coiffured red hair swept back. I find myself inadvertently edging forward on my seat as he negotiates the steps somewhat shaky on his feet. Then he totters on down to his enormous rolls royce and with a few manoeuvres safely makes it onto the road. The rest of the parked cars are of a similar style. The streets surrounding this main drag are lined with the kind of homes to match. And yachts. Hundreds and hundreds of them, each bigger and sleeker than the next. Prize for most foreboding goes to the oversized black number moored beneath a huge block of upscale condominiums. Something Batman would sail made entirely from black fibreglass and darkened windows. As we drive our heads tennis match from each side of the street three of us competing in volume with our ooos and aaahhhs. After dinner we did a brisk supermarket sweep on account of our bodies believing it was late afternoon and eventually we slipped into sleep.

Not for too long for the following morning mum had found a gymnastics class around the bend in Holiday Park. Sam, his usual easy going self was barely awake but at the mention of gym sprang into action like a limber chimpanzee. Miss Kelly and Miss Katy put the gaggle of three year olds through their paces. Sam tumbling down and around with gusto. After refuelling at home boys take off to the park and leave ma to reach her column deadline and catch up with her ma on skype. When they return they both have the woods about them, boy's face smeared with muddy fun, tales of pretending to be monsters with a gang of boys spilling forth at the rate of a caffeine junky on his tenth cup of the morning.

They wash up and we spruce up n' out for dinner at the 15th street fisheries, somewhat of an institution around here for, well, fish specialities. Opting for the "full dining" experience upstairs we take a window seat and sit back while the waitress presents an oversize framed menu which she perches on a tray stand for us to peruse. Rattling off the specials of the day, she relays colourful details of what "chef" does with one such thing or another and it all sounds fishy and delicious. Tastes fishy and delicious too. Amongst the delights were a rock shrimp chowder, crab cake, red snapper and mahi mahi. Boy sucks in taglitelle with shrimp and mum sips an apple martini.

The sea laps beside us and after some homemade vanilla ice cream with ganache and peanut brittle we catch the sunsetting rays dance on the water. Our faces pinkish purple with the closing light we make a dash for the beach. When we get there the waves are rolling in, the wind is whipping up the sand but our family soldier onto the shore and dip our feet, screaming of course, into the ocean. Warm as bath water. Hopping from foot to foot we cling onto each other lest the undertow carry us out for good. Beside us another family are doing much the same thing. As darkness creeps in we watch our silhouetted boy swing up and around the playground towards the street. A few other families similarly squinting in the twilight keeping their eyes on their climbing off springs. When even squinting is useless we take our cue to head back home. Eyes open for lizards and fallen mangoes when we arrive.

Following morning dad leaves for press engagements and boy and I hit the park just in time for several school groups coming out of the children's theatre on the other side. They swarm the playground, though I have little trouble keeping my eye on the boy on account of his incessant and incredibly loud singing and train impressions. Certainly does nothing by halves. When dad finally rejoins us I am mid natter with local mums who tell me glibly about Alligator alley, aka interstate 595, as well as a few nearby coves, perfect for children to splash about it. They tell me about the unusual weather they are having, revelling as they are at actually being able to breathe and be outside without looking like they had just stepped out of a washing machine. Usually this time of year is plagued with the tropical muggy heat for which this part of the world is famed. I try to gracefully receive the compliments on my accent, which my friends keep reminding me is being tarnished every day. I ask them whether I ought to do the day cruise to the Bahamas $80 round trip, food included? They nod energetically in the affirmative.

After lunch mum has the bright idea of heading to the beach for an hour or so of watery frolics. The first clue I missed was the fact that the turquoise water's edge was utterly void of human life. The second clue was the speed of the waves. When we finally reached the beach it took but a breath before the force of those winds was fully realised. Sand whizzed across needling any exposed flesh. Sam steps out of his flip flops but they are almost thrown away on the wind. In between the screams, this time of terror not delight, we coax ourselves towards the shore but the erratic waves criss crossing our feet are more rabid than inviting. We can't hear ourselves think over the boy's passionate protestations. Or the wind. Or the beautiful, wild seas, and so beat a swift retreat, stopping only to pick up a piece of dried out sea sponge which Sam nurses all the way back home announcing it will be a gift from him to our landlords.

Back at bungalow HQ I throw myself into unpacking and the boys kick a ball about. Tea is brewed and spirits are restored. When dad hits the hay for his regulation siesta (first night tonight!) I turn around to find boy draped in every chunky ethnic necklace I own (and I own quite a few). I watch him climb onto an armchair, lean back and shut his eyes. He holds out his palm towards me, and, still with eyes shut asks me to guess what type of coin he is holding. My cackle bubbles out. He joins in. Any attempt for me to gently point out that him shutting his eyes and holding the coin out for me to clearly see undercuts the aim of his invented game somewhat, falls on deaf ears. And I am glad. And overcome with a wave of love for this little chap sat, bejewelled, cross legged, smirking with closed but smiling eyes, looking like a cross between a psychedelic chief and colourful buddha. Later he asks me if chiefs take their jewels off to sleep. I tell him I am not so offay with the intimate nightly rituals of such men but for the sakes of our hut he might think it wise to do so.

Now its just me and the overhead fan whirring into the night. My producer will be home in an hour or so, cracking the whip. Tells me as he leaves for work tonight that a venue is almost secured for the Mariela extravaganza once we reach upstate new york and I'd bloody well have a show fit to fill it in three weeks time. That clammy palm feeling all over again. We worked late into the night yesterday throwing around ideas and then both went to sleep happy in the knowledge of having made a good start. Whichever way you look at it however, 15 extra minutes of show that includes a short film and two new characters is no short order. Then there is the task of inviting friends and family to come and laugh (hopefully!) at me in the hopes that my material does not offend to infinity. I suppose if you decide to live the vaudevillian dream you really ought to put in the work too no? It's not all cocktails and shutters and quick escapades on the beach in real life is it?

Or is it?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Desert Diary

The few days we have spent in Tempe Arizona mean that I have an acute understanding of what a rasher of bacon feels like under the grill. There ought to be a more superlative adjective to adequately describe Arizonian heat other than "hot". I suppose if you are still in that slightly groggy first day in a place and will insist on heading out to stroll around looking for a cafe in the midday sun you have but yourself to blame for not lasting more than five minutes. Sauna. Oven. Furnace.

We left our hotel and headed on towards the Arizona State University campus just across the street. A sprawling mini city of desert coloured concrete buildings home to almost 60,000 students no less. Palm trees dot the main avenue. Cactus line the walkways between the various departments zig zagged with students, golf buggies, skateboarders and enough bikes to make you feel like you are on a busy street in Shanghai. Boy has now become accustomed to being on of them, though, thankfully, his mother has finally worked out that if they leave early in the morning there is less chance for collisions with tardy students dashing for their lectures. Most of which do so upon the retro style Schwinn bikes, in array of pretty pastels, high handle barred glamour bikes. A world away form the bikes fellow students had when I was back at college. Aside from survivable heat around 8 in the morning it also provides the perfect opportunity to breathe in the perfect lull before a place wakes up.

As I do my comical speed walk to barely keep up with boy I take in the courtyards that branch off of the main strip some with trickling fountains at their centre others strewn with heavy concrete (desert coloured) tables under the shade of trees. Students cramming in information. Similarly when we take our ride towards early evening, whilst dad naps before his show I take a moment in between sprints, to bask in the laid back rhythms of a closing day. Vast skies overhead, desert sunsets humming with a pink purple glow beyond the arched walkways in between buildings, palm tree silhouettes gently swaying in the breeze.

Last night we went to Phonecia for dinner. Without time travel. On one of our boy-bike mum-sprint jaunts we came across a crossroads just after the main department buildings with a different place of worship on each side. A couple of churches, a performing arts centre and a mosque. Out of the four, the latter least ubiquitous, especially with the craggy (desert coloured) hill jutting out beyond it. The temple's white walls, blue tiles and gold detailing gleaming in the morning sun. From the courtyard beyond the walls sounds of children playing. Later we see them returning to the classrooms on the upper level via thick white stone steps. I enjoy imagining I am in North Africa or Arabia for a moment. When I notice the grocery store next door I escort biker boy in and touch every exotic box I can find, feeling a pang of nostalgia for the turkish and arab shops of home. I buy a pack of spices because the name on the label reads something unfamiliar. We take a baklava home for the dad. Next night I take the boys back to feast on their homemade houmous and falafel. We order an Ultimate Combo from the fast talking waitress - a one woman show in the making - and take the next hour to chomp through a feast of freshly grilled, perfectly seasoned delights. If it hadn't been so hot (even at 5 in the evening!) I would have sat outside on the white stone benches inlaid with those same blue tiles.

In stark contrast to my day dreaming of Arabian lands the day before had seen us decked out in our best for a bit of Puttin on the Ritz at The Ritz. As part of the publicity for the show, Jeffery the effusive tea maitre d' (yes there is such a job) at The Ritz throws parties in which the visiting casts come and chat with locals who partake in tea and conversation. And scones. With proper cream. Very kindly Sam and I were invited too. Boy, somewhat under the impression that it was a show we were going to watch, refused to leave his regency sofa seat until the end. In practice it meant we were, in all intents and purposes, watching our new family move between tables to mingle with the guests. After a scone break (all breaks should come with scones like these) they broke into a snippet from the show accompanied y the resident pianist who throughout tea was playing a jazz background version of all the characters main songs. We drank green tea on account of Frankenstein and all. On leaving we were presented with a bear who is dressed in the image of maitre d', also named Jeffrey. Sam has christened him his baby girl and we have made a theatre out of the cardboard box he came in. Whilst the paints were out Sam attacked the hamper lid with Pollock gusto. On the balcony. Wearing nothing but his y-fronts like any new wave painter worth his salt.

Tonight we explored the Urban Garden market, next door to my favourite mosque. It is a corner plot of land given over to the nurturing of veggies. Lump in our throats looking at the raised boxes. Our babies at home are doing great, my folks sent us a picture of the grape and apple harvest and Cory almost cried. He actually did cry this afternoon when playing Sam an excerpt of The Sound of Music. It was his first film he remembers watching with his mama. There he was now sharing it with his boy. I'll tease him later.

Down at the market mum feasted on everything she could get her mitts on, from fresh, award winning salsa (now in my fridge) to raw honey from cat's claw plants. I now own a propolis cream and have eaten half a packet of raw flax seed crackers. I also bought homemade incense from an Arizonian hippy who told me that I ought to burn the pine one when in need of mental clarity and money. When I am going to the casino he added. Or, if sharing a dorm place in a drawer to not overpower fellow students. I decided, whether or not this was his intention, that I would take the last comment as a compliment. Though he may have thought me a mature student but hey.

In an hour or so dad will be back from the theatre across the street. An impressive building by the late Frank Lloyd Wright, one of his last. Originally designed for Baghdad as their opera house, but a regime change meant whoever had commissioned the job was fired and so the plans were kept by Mr. Wright. Tempe decided to snap it up and are now proud owners of a something that looks, from the outside, like the cross between a wedding cake and the Colliseum. Desert coloured. Of course. I look froward to exploring inside on the weekend.

Although the magical lands of Sedona are likely to remain elusive to us on account of time constraints, we do look forward to a day with our friend's mum tomorrow. Her daughter took our headshots last week. It is always wonderful to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar place. Then there's the Meet the Crew Party, poolside in an hour or so. Cory and I had planned to party in shifts with one of the cast offering to sit in with the boy later. I have just had news however that our friend in the crew has a room right next door to the pool and Sam might just sleep there whilst we party within earshot. Plan Stan. Infinitely better than our original one of piling cushions into the hamper and laying him on top to then wheel it down. Not even we will go to those lengths just for the photo and the story. Maybe.

In truth I have been feeling the twinge of homesickness rear its head again over the past few days. Our new family is very lovely, personable, friendly - we had a great travel day with ma and boy getting to know everybody. I suspect the feeling is compounded by the fact that I received my first rejection from a literary agent and threw myself into a moment of self-bashing for what I perceived to be self-aggroindesment on my part. I worried that I had fallen into that ugly trap of being someone who enjoys writing a blog for pleasure and then, like thousands of other would-be writers, decides to pursue a future in books. My tail is a little in between my legs. Lasted just up until Sam launched into one of his complex imaginary journeys in which he was skateboarding down Orlando beach (?) and would I please call him on the phone as he is heading home now thank you. Always good to know what job is really pressing. Pat on the backs or lack of them pail into insignificance when there's a three year old to nurture.

Going to dive into that salsa, burn me some sandalwood and lather myself in lavender propolis for the occasion. Glad rags. Spot of blusher. Get to know our new friends. That's what the homesick doctor ordered. And she doesn't even charge a $350 fee.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Tea. Sea. Me.

I ought to be finishing up the packing. Instead I am sat here in the air conditioning, reminiscing on our last week in Costa Mesa. My better judgement tells me to keep the sliding glass door open instead for real fresh air but I think better on it, seeing as last week, after a wasp nest was fumigated upstairs one of the poisoned blighters found it's way into our room, crawled across our pillows and stung the boy in the dead of night. Least we're hoping it was a wasp. It wasn't until the morning that I realised his fussing over his hand wasn't just me sleeping on it. The pharmacist, on inspection of the huge red swelling on the fleshy base of his thumb told me it looked like a bite and to keep an eye on it. If, after a spray of Benadryl, it started to spread into a rash or if boy developed strange feverish behaviour I was to take him immediately to ER. I think this is Californian for "it may be a bite of a venoumous spider such as the black widow, keep your wits about you."

Me, a self confessed arachnophobe am now having to deal with my fear head on. Well, up until I shut every door and turn on the air con that is. Our friends who we visited with on Cory's day off breezily told us about the infestation of these creatures and their regular extermination bills. That was after the lady of the house laughed off finding a snake in the back yard and her husband then sharing the story behind the dried rattle snake skin hung by his desk in his home office. The gentleman in question tells me he came across the unlucky snake one day whilst hiking. He had appeared to be in an aggressive temper (the snake I presume he meant) so, for the sake of fellow hikers, our friend's husband decided there was room for only one of them on the planet. I absolutely know I would not like to be on the wrong side of this fellow. Or snake for that matter, even if it is just a skin. Our journey to this friend's house took us through the largest expanse of tomato fields I have ever seen (some people do grow more than our Neopolitan neighbour down at the plot), onwards past a huge army base with the Pacific to our left for the entirety. I gawp up at the mountains to our left having the sensation of familiarity, Cory then tells me this is where they shot parts of MASH. The images of one of my favourite childhood shows flash before me. We start singing the theme tune. Obviously.

On arrival at our friend's home, we meet their adorable little two year old girl, who takes an instant shine to what she calls our "baby boeeeey" and he, in turn, takes on older brother role with gusto. Holding her hand at all times. Showing her how to do everything. Take turns and so on, just so long as he goes first. At least until she scrambles off for something new with him a breath away. We drive to a local burger joint round the corner passing a sign for the upcoming "quiet" auction. Oh to be a fly on the wall.

As we park my eye is drawn to the van next to us advertising Girl-Ease products, specifically disposable bra liners. For sweaty ladies. I think we call them nursing pads back home. I silently count myself lucky I have never encountered problems of the sweaty boob variety. Then again, if I lived in California rather than under the English drizzle I too, may develop this unfortunate problem. Especially if I filled them with silicone or wot-not I spose. The car park is full of entrepreneurial car advertisements I notice. Once you have mopped up your sweat you can then purchase advice from the van owner across the way who will teach you to grow your veggies at home. Failing that, you could always buy the self-watering self-fertilising garden boxes advertised for sale (delivered no less!) on the wall of Costa Mesa's The Lab. More of that later.

After our scoff, and during the young lady's nap, the family and Cory's friend head for a nearby park to do a spot of posing. Our hostess has recently been branching out into photography after a decade of more of astonishing dancing that took her onto Broadway and all over the world. She was happy to take our headshots as a favour, and to build up her portfolio. We must have looked quite a sight. Boy, customarily fedora'd, Dad in a suit (!) and mum, hair blow dried to infinity and our friend all 6ft something gorgeousness, slim as a bean but for a very taut baby bump. She is due in less than a month but I betcha you can still see her eight pack down the sides. It is lovely to be around such a radiant preggo, zip zapping about us with her lens capturing the afternoon light. I catch Cory in my periphery, shaking his head in wonder at my unashamed readiness to launch into poses. I little tilt of the head here, a half smile, full smile, serious glare, silly face. I am appalled at how easily I fall into the negative stereotype of our industry. Hey ho. The shots she sent through afterwards were pretty lovely, not so much of the poser, seeing as she looked, well, a little posey, but the boys look great. Especially the one in the tree with the hat and those big brown eyes.

Heading back to Costa Mesa the following day, we made time to frolic the beaches at Carlsbad on the way. Sounds like a German spa town but looks about as German as a bowl of Udon soup. The wide expanse of ocean glistening in the afternoon rays begging for us to jump in it. So we did. A lot. Got wet. And cold. And very very happy. Especially since our bellies were full of Ruby's delights. It is a chain of burger joints decorated in red and white retro decor. Waitresses wear a forties get up but somehow it manages to stay the right side of gimmicky, and the folk working there seem genuinely happy to be there. Food's good too. Especially if you like the kind of milkshakes that line your arteries in 0.4 seconds. On our way out boy asked for a toilet stop which would have been fine, only the lady waiting to go in next, whilst boy waxed lyrical about the size, shape and odour of his waste matter, was of a certain age, in a neck brace, with a walking stick, and clearly about to wet herself. She calls over the door,
"You nearly done in there?"
"Yeah!" I fib watching my son's face grimace for round two.
"I don't mena to rush you only - "
She cuts off and I wonder whether she has had an accident. In the end I choose to rush the boy. I have a change of clothes for him. The lady on the other hand, probably doesn't have another pair of slacks in her handbag. That I can tell. After our sandy frolics we drive back home. Boy is out to the world after the first few miles and stays that way till morning, with but a brief delirious wake up around midnight for a banana after which he promptly returns to his dreams.

The following day we continue our beach holiday with a trip to Laguna. The name itself oozes the kind of crystal turquoise waters we found there. Hopping onto route 1 we curved in and out of the rugged coast and after a turn or three the expanse of Pacific rolled out ahead of us, gentle mid morning waves reaching the vast shores. We come off the highway around Crystal Cove whereupon we stumble across jaw dropping ocean homes. Spanish styles, uber modern glass constructions and a world of unique beauty in between. Eventually, along from the main drag we arrive at Laguna Beach.

More cove like than the sweeping beaches I have come to associate with California it is a child's paradise. Not only because of its shallow, for the most part calmer waters or its proximity to the frozen yoghurt shop but also for the playground literally constructed on the sand. Boy cavorted between water and ladders and slides gathering and saying goodbye to friends along the way as the locals came and went. Mum got lost in a book. Dad got buried in the sand.

The following day we stayed inland. This time on a trip to the city of Orange. For the name alone really. And yes, Oranges do grow there. In the main square actually. Which is in the middle of a roundabout. With gardens, all Italian styley. Fountain and everything. From this centre, main streets crossroad out, lined with antique shops and cafes. By the time we arrived, after boy's gym class, we hit the lunchtime rush and followed our noses to The Filling Station. With all the outside tables taken we were ushered into a booth inside and were served by a rockabilly lady all tatooed and retro spectacled. Sam took an instant shine to her. I blame it on her smooth timbre. And the way she wore those glasses like she actually was from that time. On this vein boy turns to us and asks if he was in the olden days? I say I don't know was he? He says he wants to be. Later he absent mindly tells me he is practicing for yesterday. I think we are entering a quantum phase. I hope he stays there and helps me figure out my reluctance to be tied down to the supposed linearity of the universe. Incidentally I have been driving Cory mad recently. Every time he talks about the sun setting or rising I feel inclined to differ seeing as its us doing all the turning. "Fine" he tells me each time I offer up my point "come up with a different way of saying it." At which point I invariably stumble. It is a bit medieval though when you think about it? In Italian the term does not appertain to the sun's movements as such. Just a random thought is all.

After lunch we trawl main street, first off spending all of 30 cents on three "penny" sweets at the candystore and then oggling $3,000 tables at George's antiques. I tell Cory that if we ever did live here, I would miss the reasonably priced "antiques" from home. I never came across 1920s secretaire at home that cost $1,000+ even if it is in good nic. With only a few minutes to spare before the event that is tap class we take in the fountain. When we arrive Sam runs around a little two year old lady named Dahlia. Cory follows the kids and I make small talk with her dad. Turns out her great grandfather was quite an influential member of Orange and several generations of the family still live there. When his wife arrives, heavily pregnant but resplendent in Californian beauty it takes me a breath to figure out that this hormonal lady is none too happy with the fact that a strange man is watching her child whilst her husband chats about nothing and something with a lady. I put her at ease as best I can (I, of all people know not to set a preggo on the wrong foot) with questions about Dahlia and baby to be. Before long she is sitting, almost comfortably, in the shade and I take away a little slice of Orange life away with us.

Back at Team OC HQ Cory and I sit with the moms. Amongst the group another heavily pregnant lady (I wonder if it's contagious?!). We coo at our offspring and laugh at their antics, which, to be fair, are not too wild (shame) seeing as Miss Michelle has them under a tight ballerina grip. Least that's what we figure from through the glass. I would like to say that my eyes never left the boy only the mums started talking about a show which they were sure I would know. It took most of the ballet combination for me to figure out what they were talking about. For a while there, I really thought someone had come up with a show called Naughty. A sort of drum your kids into good behaviour via a tv screen jobby and never mind what happens around it sort of thing. When I took the cotton wool out of my brain it turns out Naughty translated into Brit is Noddy. There was I thinking I was getting the twang down.

This time when Miss Michelle (I love the Vaudevillian way the teachers are called Miss and then their first names) turns the lights out and the mirror ball starts turning I notice Sam's prop of choice is a glittering gold top hat number which he whips around him like a wannabe Gene Kelly, his feet stomping spasmodically trying to keep with his imagination. I feel my grin starting to make my face ache. At the end of class I do a bit of shameless swan necking of another mom's book. Before long we are entering into a lively conversation about her culture diversity studies. It is part of her training to become a social worker which, by the by, she is doing concurrent with mothering three children. I love the way conversation ripples through our days so effortlessly over here. The travel is allowing us such time to really engage with people so free are we of rigid schedules. Half an hour later or so, we have exchanged views on our experiences of different religions and cultures. She tells us of her embarrassment at becoming aware of Sikhs and Muslims only later in life, and at a fellow american who had unashamedly asked whether she had been scared going into a mosque for the first time. Prep-for-Princesses teacher wipes by us to begin her class. Seems like last week was the supply teacher. This lady's age, bleach blonde hair, ample (almost real) bosom and teeny tiny waist give altogether quite a different impression than the sardonic retro gal of last time. Wannabe princesses don't appear to mind in the least.

The following morning we head out into the sunshine for the last time to bask in the waters of Newport Beach, about ten minutes down the road. I scour the shore for incredible shells and boy goes loopy in the waves. We all reduce our inner noise to bare minimum, hushed into relaxation by the fresh air, rippling waters and the screeches of an elated three year old. After a cup of gelato we head reluctantly back to the hotel, escaping reality for as long as possible with a pit stop into the Lab. An eco conscious strip mall dotted with surfer urban warrior type stores. The day before we had inhaled a chilled blended coffee drink wotsit at Milk and Honey. A world away from the pink shop down on Golders Green High Road this was an all wooden affair complete with a sofa outside on their little slither of Japanese style garden. On the gravel were also a couple of tables, just enough for lone lap top writers to set up virtual shop of an afternoon. That is, until the internet cut out and I noticed them having to engage in conversation like old fashioned coffee houses used to be, only without the cigarette smoke. Next the coffee hang out is the intriguing 118 degrees restaurant. I walk in, to ask to look at the menu and the lady asks me if I have ever been before. When I answer in the negative she proceeds to educate me on their particular culinary art, which, essentially involves, dehydrating the organic locally sourced veggies, at, well, 118 degrees precisely to retain the mineral and nutritional value. After a browse over the menu where words like Kamut, agave and pistachio pesto jumped out at me I convinced the boys to come in. The food arrived, utterly wheat free, dairy free and almost taste free but for the punchy pesto lining the homemade paper thin coconut wrap stuffed with a crate of thinly sliced veggies. Having ordered two appetisers and a main, I did, in truth feel slightly duped by the fact that everything ion the menu could essentially be translated into home made paper thin wrap and veggies. Butternut squash ravioli, was, well, extra thin wrap over a raw butternut squash puree. Similarly the thai rolls we ordered. I sipped coconut water out of a coconut. Boy slurped electrolyte enhanced lemonade with agave nectar. That is until his dad tried it and made such a face of mild repulsion and then he went off it altogether. The ladies at the table next to us remarked at how nice it was to bring children so young to places such as these. They must have assumed we were on a well meaning educational kick. Little did they know it was purely mum's curiosity and desire to sample some genuine Californian crazy diet first hand. In fairness the veggies were uber fresh. All the super slim yogis feasting on leaves around us thought the same. I think a class had just dismissed from the Bikram studio at the other end of the strip. That's the strain where you do a class in, I think 118 degree heat, and come out looking like Madonna after 30 consecutive days of practice. I tried it in New York City one year, but I got really angry with the teacher wearing a microphone who, having found out I was a Limey, told me to stand upright like Big Ben. It was a standing posture admittedly but I could barely breathe at the time.

We left 118 degrees, small one still hungry, and stopped into Milk and Honey for a luscious pomegranate Iced tea and a bagel. Wheat-free schmeat-free. I am on a tea kick, which, for some would seem inevitable in view of my British upbringing, but it urks me that some of the best tea I have tasted has been over here. First off in Hartford at Jo-Jo's coffee house run by the coffee and tea obsessed Vietnamese guy who knew my regular cup of Java favourite after only one visit. Now at a recent discovery called Teavana. Wherein one will find horrendously overpriced but gorgeously laid out tea temptations. My favourite is the tea packers ritual when prospective buyer approaches the counter. It involves passionate and thorough descriptions of the teas and their properties from people who appear to live for the stuff. Your eyes dart across the multi coloured tins behind them, and, like in the olden days, your goods are weighed and served over the counter. If, like me, you a novice to their specialities, kindly ladies will run the gamut of cha to educate you. On our first visit I tell the lady I like the sample I drank at the doorway. She pulls down a purple tin, and, lifting the lid, she proceeds to waft it over the contents so all its fruity white tea goodness swirls about us on the wind. Sam and I breathe it in with a smile. Then she selects companion teas to mix. Wafting is then done with two lids, holding them cymbol-like. I can only wonder what happens when they get a greedy customer who inquires on a mixture of three types. After ooohs and aaaaahs we do buy some of the stuff. Balk at the price and hurry home to start steeping with our bamboo handled strainer, tea ensconced in our japanese paper covered caddy.

Back at The Lab we walk the long way round back to the car taking in the fat white font on the parking spaces that read, "Tofu", "Say Hi To Everybody", "Eat Your Greens", "Laugh Everyday" amongst other nuggets of new age wisdom. We carry onto the chrome Airstream caravan parked round the back laden with delicate succulent arrangements in drift wood, air plants hung about the place, art work and smelly candles. Boy, energy high on bagel strikes up thorough conversation with the shopkeeper on why and how her cash register is, in all intents and purposes a table and not a checkout. Much of our week has involved shop role-play. I think it pleases him to see his makeshift world is as bonefide as he had suspected. Onward we stroll past a sort of camping, world wisdom type of shop with a fat sign illuminting "Ideas Farm" on its upper level. I think I may have found my calling. We just have time to take in the Native Food Cafe, Cory remarking on the smell of barbecue. I glibly suggest they may be cooking the little 'uns who did not make it to the teepee after all. Utterly inappropriate. Made him laugh. Obviously.

Now I sit, with the clutter that is belongings all about me, chomping on a birthday cookie the man has brought home from work on account of it being a lady in the cast's birthday. In truth I am slightly irked by the fact that our birthdays fell outside of the wonderful tradition for buying cakes within the touring group. Once you have received a birthday offering (this case choc chip cookie creation with psychadelic icing) it remains to you to buy the next person's cake and so and so forth. The sugar high should see me through the next hour or so of bag filling. And into my dreams. Which most likely will envolve nightmarish images of the lady of a certain age who was parading around the stage at the mall today dressed as a pirate doing a show, on exacty whta I don't know, with her assistant, most likely in her late seventies, behind her checking her watch in between little yawns. That was before the Billy Elliot type boys came on to dance and the teenage orchestra played like semi-pros.

Or perhpas I will dream on Arizona, tomorrow's destination. My first memory of that place is arriving at our friend's house outisde Phoenix, to spy a terracotta coloured thing on the hallway floor only to find, on closer inspection, that it was a scorpion. Our friend's mum squished it like it was an uninvited ant. Hmmmmm. Irrational (maybe) insect fears to be allayed for now. Cory is home and I am wishing I had finished the packing before he got home. Nothing sets the scene for comedy and bickering than the two of us dancing about each other trying to stuff the many many shirts off our backs into our cases.

He won't miss that other half of cookie cake now will he?

too late....