Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Last night Ed and I went to the Hillsdale shopping centre to buy Ed a new suit - we had come to the realisation that his old one was not really up to scratch at the 80's party a few weeks ago. Ed had worn the jacket with the sleeves rolled up and, upon our arrival at the party one of our friends exclaimed "brilliant! I LOVE the shoulder pads!" - Ed and I just looked at each other and went with the flow, but, since no shoulder pads had been added, we decided that a new suit was in order!

Anyway, we went to one outlet where a very helpful, but incredibly camp gentleman called 'Chris' tried to persuade us that we wanted to spend $1800 on a designer Italian suit... it was very stylish, but we decided to keep looking...

In Macy's we found a suit that was similar to the one we had just tried, only it fitted Ed better and was reduced from $500 to $250... 'bargain' we thought, and headed for the till...

When the assistant scanned the bar code, a further discount had been added, so it was now somewhere in the region of $150... Ed and I were thrilled BUT to our amazement, the assistant offered to 'take another 10% off' - we weren't going to complain but THEN, just as it was about to go through, another assistant came over, told us that suits were his department and that he should therefore be conducting the transaction. He rebuked the other assistant since we should have been given an 11% reduction!

In the end, we paid $138... we can't believe that either of those 2 will be getting employee of the month - surely the idea is to try and sell things for as much money as possible?!!!
Keeping on the driving theme... the other day my Sat Nav stopped working. I had no idea where I was going, so I pulled off the Freeway and stopped in the nearest car park to wait for 'Cindy' (that's the name we've given the American voice) to work out where we were. It took a few minutes, but eventually Cindy pulled herself together and we were ready to go... or so I thought... after one frantic trip around the car park, I realised that the entrance I had used was now shut with a large, gate blocking my escape! I had inadvertently entered a private staff car park for AT&T employees - I must have followed someone in without realising!

There was no public entrance to the building and no reception... in fact, although the lights were on, there was no sign of anyone around. In a bit of a panic, I started hammering on the door...

After a few minutes 2 burly looking security guards came rushing out bristling for a fight (they had obviously thought I was some 'youth' causing trouble), they looked shocked when they saw me and erupted into fits of giggles when they heard what had happened.

To my relief, they explained how to open the gate and at long last, Cindy and I were on our way again...!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I (Ed) also just passed my California driving test. I had to intentionally roll through a Stop sign so I would incur two minor faults and so not out-do Nicci. We wouldn't want that... I'll be pleased when the license arrives in the mail. You can use it as your main piece of ID here (e.g. for domestic air travel). On Tuesday I had to fly to LA and the security lady didn't see any likeness between me and my UK Passport photo. She looked up and down from it to me a couple of times, called her colleague over, asked if I had any other form of identification... and finally just about bought that I was who I claimed to be from the photo on my PADI open water diver card and concluded that the photo in my passport must have been taken a long time ago as I look much older. The cheek of it! (It might be premature ageing induced by too much California sun!)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Today I took the behind-the-wheel part of my California driving test.

My appointment was scheduled for 3.20pm but I didn't meet my examiner until after 5pm.

I would have had a longer wait had the examiner not been a young Mexican bloke (complete with dark sunglasses which he lowered in order to peer at me over them) who spotted me in line behind a spotty teenage guy and made some lame excuse (which the spotty teenager's Mum was STILL ranting about when we got back... oops!) in order to take me out!

This amused me... and as the test progressed, it became clear that he was more interested in making conversation than actually watching me drive! It states in the handbook that examiners will speak, only to give directions about where they want you to go, otherwise they will 'remain silent'...! My guy chatted THROUGHOUT the test! Brilliant.

I only got 2 minor errors (which he couldnt explain - I guess you have to have some!) and passed with flying colours!

I guess there are advantages to being blonde!

Ed has his behind-the-wheel test tomorrow morning - let's see how he does!

Monday, June 8, 2009

The curious incident of the Englishman and the Arborist

For those of you who remember the curious incident of the Mazda and the tennis court, you'll love this...

This weekend, Nicci and I went with a group of about 80 people from the Central Peninsula Church 'Twenties' group to Westminster Woods, which is a couple of hours north of San Francisco in the Redwood forests. It was a great opportunity to really establish some of our new friendships, get to know some new folks and to get some good meaty bible teaching.

We were billeted in single-sex cabins each holding around 8 people and I, having been one of the first to check in, nabbed one of the top bunks. It was a sleeping bag-type arrangement, and the beds were quite narrow and the mattresses were plastic-covered (probably waterproofed as the same cabins may be used by kids on summer camps who may not yet have nailed down their potty training. Not a nice thought....) But anyway, sleeping isn't necessarily the main focus of this sort of retreat, the aim being to get just enough so as to be able to function the following day. On the first night we played a great Capture the Flag wide game in the dark, and then later a small group of us went on a short night hike up to the top of one of the nearby hills (in spite of the possibility of meeting a mountain lion!) and enjoyed the clear nighttime skies, picking out constellations and praising the God who made it all.

The first night's sleep wasn't great. Unfortunately I wasn't there when Leon, a dear brother in the Lord, was handing out earplugs to the rest of his cabin-mates. They would have been very useful. I had turned in before he had but nonetheless (and don't you just hate it when this happens?) Leon managed to fall asleep before I did. As if to rub it in, he then proceeded to snore so loud it shook the foundations of the cabin! At times like this, you can only be pleased for that person, to know that they are getting the rest they need... (And I love that he thought to bring earplugs for everyone!) At one stage in the night I lost my pillow down the back of my bunk, but was able to reach down and retrieve it, and after some more tossing and turning I did finally manage to grab a couple of hours kip.

Saturday was a great day. My French language skills were really pushed to the max as I attempted to simultaneously translate the talks to Florent as the speaker was speaking. I'm not sure I did a particularly good job, but I hope he got the gist of the message! There was a fair amount of free time during the day. I played a bit of 'touch football': a game which, in spite of what you might think, doesn't involve your feet. It is very hard to re-program your brain when it is used to thinking in terms of Rugby so it times a team mate would call "block for me", an action which in Rugby would be a penalty offence, but it was fun all the same. Basketball in the afternoon I was a bit more familiar with but, again, I think there is some sort of positional awareness around the court that you acquire when this is a game you play all through your life, and I was somewhat off the pace - but again, had a good time. Later in the afternoon we chilled out by the pool, trying to swim as far as possible holding your breath underwater and pulling off death-defying stunts from the diving board. That doesn't sound too much like chilling out, but there was plenty of lying back, chatting and soaking in the sun too.

After dinner was the evening group session, and then we had a great campfire out in the woods and sang songs and were introduced to 'smores'. I had toasted marshmallows on a fire before, but smores take it to a whole other level. With a smore (and I may be spelling it wrong), the melted marshmallow is just the glue that keeps a cracker and chocolate sandwich together. Calorie counter overload. The setting was like something out of the Ewok's village in Return of the Jedi: beautiful tall trees, star-studded skies and the fire roaring. After the singing, it was great chatting with Art and others around the fire. But eventually, as with everything else, all good things had to come to an end and I headed off to bed.

Perhaps it is the fact that I am more advanced in years than most of the others in the Twenties group (the name of the group refers to how old you are meant to be, but Nicci got us some fake IDs and we managed to sneak in without any worries) - but I was the first to turn in. Coming back from the wash room block I was startled by a couple of raccoons rummaging around in the rubbish bins. They are a feisty creature, and apparently rabid, some I'm glad they didn't attack.

Anyway, I got ready for bed, turned out the light got into my sleeping bag and my wretched pillow disappeared off the back of the bed again. There was no head-rest and the bunk bed was bolted to the floor 8 inches away from the wall, and with the slippery mattress there was always the chance of that happening again. Anyhow, as I had done the night before, I went down after it to retrieve it. The pillow had fallen a little lower than Friday night and as I stretched that extra inch to grab it, my slippery sleeping bag slipped on the slippery mattress and I went a little further than I had planned. I managed to stop myself falling further, but couldn't see any way back out the way I had come, so decided the best play was to slip down further towards the floor and get out round the side. However the bed post was only six inches from the wall and, having slipped down to the floor, upside down and legs now trapped in the sleeping bag, my chest got wedged stuck between the wall and the bed post. I took a brief moment to reassess my options (and bear in mind: I am alone in the cabin):
- could I shake off the sleeping bag? No. Zero maneuverability given the narrow 8-inch space, the inherent lack of wiggle-room in sleeping bags and the fact that the top of the sleeping bag was wedged with me behind the bed post...
- could I push myself back the way I had come? No. I was stuck, my right arm was out but, with my chest wedged, there was no way I could twist my shoulders to push back up. And having been this way for a minute of two, my arms were getting a bit tired...
- could I...? No. Swallowing my pride, I knew there was nothing else for it...

"HELP!!" I yelled, hopeful that the thin wooden cabins would allow my voice to travel far enough to be heard. "HEELLLPP!", a second time - and, thankfully, a timid knock on the door and Ethan and Des'ree: "are you OK?"
"Turn the light on", I said.
"What's wrong?" said Ethan.
"I'm stuck", I said. And as the light came on, the full glory of the situation was revealed: an Englishman trapped upside down in his sleeping bag, wedged between a bunk bed and the wall.

Action stations. Word got around and within seconds other keen but bewildered folks came to the rescue. They tugged at me, they tried to yank the bed away - but to no avail: the bunks were bolted both to the wall and the floor. They tried to lift me up, but I was well and truly wedged, now becoming more L-shaped as my legs were still in the air, my chest stuck behind the bottom right bed post, head visible round the side but the rest of me unable now to keep straight. Jordon had the presence of mind to push his leg through the bottom bunk to give my side some support as Ethan, an arborist / tree surgeon, ran to his truck to get his tools. (He had suggested using a chainsaw, but the consensus (wisely) was that perhaps that might be a little risky and best not....)

Out in the woods in an area with no mobile phone coverage, people were sent in search of Jen, the girl with the walkie-talkie and our only contact with the outside world. Chinese whispers being what they can be, I'm not sure quite what the details of the message were that got around - but at the end of the day it didn't matter as Ethan returned to the scene with a saw and set to work sawing away at the side bar of the bottom bunk in an attempt to cut me free. It was a hack-saw designed for cutting through metal and not perfect for the job of sawing through a block of wood six inches wide by two inches thick - but he stuck with it. And all the while I, still upside down and wedged behind the post, was breathing in the sawdust as Ethan got closer and closer to the final break through and as the other 'helpers'/spectators looked on. When it came, it wasn't too hard to get me out. The whole operation since my calling for help must have taken around 10-15 minutes.

The next morning at breakfast I had become something of an overnight celebrity. (Indeed, "get me out of here!" would have been quite appropriate given my situation the night before.) I wasn't sure whether or not everyone knew already quite what had taken place, but clearly some rumours were abounding. Nicci hadn't had a clue about it - but in our final group get-together on the Sunday morning I got to recount to story in full detail and to rapturous applause.

I told Leon (the snorer) that I was worried I was going to be known for ever more as 'the guy who got stuck upside down in his sleeping bag behind the bunk bed'. He reassured me: "No. You won't be known as that guy. You'll be know as the guy who got stuck upside down in his sleeping bag behind the bunk bed from England". Alas, I may have forever damaged the way the Americans view us English. Ah gee....

Monday, June 1, 2009

During the French Open Ed and I have taken to watching a few sets of tennis over breakfast... this morning we couldn't stop giggling as we watched Federa play Tommy Haas... the French Umpire's pronunciation made it sound as though Federa was playing 'ass'... 'advantage, Ass!' etc provided a source of unceasing joy! Oh the childish delights of a silly sense of humour!