Foggy Frisco

Guidebooks are designed to be helpful and, while I’ve not made massive use of my Dorling Kindersley Guide to San Francisco (other guidebooks available), owing to other adventures, it has given me one very valuable piece of advice: “Never refer to San Francisco as ‘San Fran’ or ‘Frisco’. To locals it is ‘The City’ and anything else is offensive.”

Eddie Izzard helpfully explains this cultural nicety in this video, during which he also reflects upon another San Franciscan phenomenon: fog.

We were moved to watch this clip on Sunday night while driving back to our ocean view base. Almost as soon as the words “We could drink a glass of wine while watching the sunset over the ocean” had been uttered, fingers of fog began to creep over the hills adjacent to the freeway. Actually, they didn’t creep – to quote Eddie Izzard, the fog really ‘shifted it’. Within minutes visibility was minimal – there was absolutely no possibility of watching the sunset.

The fog in the San Francisco area is unlike anything I’ve ever known before. On my very first night, my view of the city en route from the airport was obscured by fog – on Monday, the iconic Golden Gate bridge was barely visible through the clouds. Goodness only knows how the Americas Cup yachtsmen manage to sail in it. Oh, and the weirdest thing is fog during daylight hours when it can be hot too. Hot in fog? That’s virtually unheard of in British meteorological conditions!

Over the weekend, we spent four nights staying in a friend’s holiday home in Pacifica – a town on the coast that adjoins the Pacific. (Could you have guessed that?) Honestly, it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stayed (most of the most beautiful are connected in that they involve the Pacific), and the view out of the bedroom window was simply incredible.

On Saturday morning, I awoke to the sight of the ocean, with what seemed to be black seals frolicking amongst the waves. On closer inspection, I realised they were surfers…

Saturday morning surfers, Pacifica

But on Monday morning, the view was a little different:

Pacifica fog

Somewhere in amidst the fog is the beach (and probably more surfers). It was seriously bizarre because the temperature was just as high as it was on Saturday when I’d even braved the ocean for a swim! Obviously, because we are British (or because 2 out of the 3 of us are British and the 3rd has lived there for nearly a decade) we have developed an obsession with the fog, and can give you a rundown of what the temperature has been on each of the days we’ve been here (in both Celsius and Fahrenheit). But it’s ok, because we fit in with the locals – like the British, they are also obsessed with the weather, because it can change so dramatically between different parts of the region. Today, for example, it’s a full 10C difference between Concord (where we’re currently based) and ‘the city’. In the Bay Area, everyone instructs you to take a cardigan with you…

But don’t go thinking that it’s a negative thing – the fog of San Francisco is in many ways a positive. What else would give the city its mysterious quality? Who wouldn’t want to cross the bay and watch wisps of fog rush in? And quite frankly, Just Like Heaven wouldn’t have been half the film it was without it…

Golden Gate disappearing into fogGolden Gate Bridge beginning to disappear into the clouds. 

Lessons learnt in the heat wave

Officially, THE HEAT WAVE broke yesterday in a cacophony of thunder. In reality, we’re still enjoying temperatures in the mid 20’s – still something of an English heat wave, but less extreme than nearly 3 weeks of weather during which I covered my arms just once.

Doing my best to maintain the belief that the British are obsessed with the weather, I will share with you what this delightful period of time has taught me…

1. Never under-estimate the power of a humble gel ice pack, especially the small ones. You can tuck them practically anywhere – from a cool box to a handbag and even down a bra. Yes, a bra. Hot in the evening thanks to a Victorian building that retains heat? Cool down with one or two gel packs secured in your bra. Honestly, it works a treat.

2. The up-do is essential. Stupidly, I forgot this lesson at the wedding I went to, but ever since that horribly hot, sweaty hair day, I’ve ignored my own vanity and put the hair away. The best one involves two french plaits, intertwined with hairpins securing them. It looks awesome (IMHO) and people think it’s a lot more complicated than it actually is.

Hot up-do

3. Make the most of the time when it’s coolest. In my flat, I’ve been awoken by the sun in my greenhouse of a bedroom at 6.45am every morning. For several days last week, this provided an ideal opportunity to clean – an activity that was unthinkable in the heat of the evening. (Even with gel packs in place.) It’s amazing what you can achieve by 9.30, when a sleepy looking teenage lodger appears…

4. Take care when choosing where to sit in the park. Living the classic London life of no garden, I have to make the most of local parks and squares. Thing is, some very strange people also do the same. Like the man a couple of weeks ago, who spent several hours in Lincoln’s Inn Fields wearing just a pair of very unattractive white pants. Why? Why?? WHY???

White Pants ManI was respecting his privacy & your eyes by not zooming in. At times he was facing towards me – too, too much!

5. Sleeping becomes a chore, not a joy. What with the heat and the early, strong sun, sleeping has not been easy or fun – which is sad, when you like your sleep as much as I do. The Guardian suggested putting your pillow in the fridge, but mine (like most sane people’s) was too full of cold beverages and vegetables.

6. Specifically, my fridge contained cans of Diet Coke and jugs of iced tea (Suki tea’s Mango Tango, to be precise). The worst part of a heat wave is the inability to imbibe caffeine in its usual hot form, thus cold, refreshing alternatives need to be sought.

7. Ice your traditional summer beverages. I have developed a Pimm’s slushie – like the traditional jug, but icier. It’s super simple: make your Pimm’s & lemonade mix; pour it into a ziplock bag; place in freezer; remove a few hours later and bash it a bit; serve with fruit, cucumber & mint. I also had some divine frozen G&T at a friend’s house this week – it’s a little more complicated as it involves sugar syrup, but worth googling.

Pimm's SlushiePimm’s slushie. 

8. Find a beach, soak up the sun and drink some cold wine. I chose Wapping. Yes, Wapping…

Canary Wharf from the beachFor the two hours preceding low-tide, there’s a viable beach at the bottom of the river steps next door to my friends’ building. They’ve been enjoying wine there for weeks – Monday was my first visit. It did not disappoint. 

9. Ensure you have some excellent friends with whom to have fun in the sun. Fortunately, I had lots – both fun and friends.

Statue Game dung beetleStatue game fun at Zoo Lates.

10. Finally, make the most of it. You’ve no idea just how long a heat wave is going to last. I’m hopeful this isn’t the last we’ll see of temperatures around the 30C mark, but you never know…

Dedication to the cause

Nothing says commitment to a cause like enduring adverse weather conditions for the sake of a passion/obsession – especially in Britain. Rain is a common enough occurrence that to stay at home in the hope of avoiding it would mean missing out on a heck of a lot.

Take Saturday, for example. Miserable weather was forecast, but our plan for the day (fixed up at least two months ago) was to enjoy West End Live in Trafalgar Square, possibly attend a barbecue and then watch Legally Blonde (again) – two out of the three activities required being open to the elements. Thing was, the day dawned bright and sunny, so it was hard work persuading our minds to be sensible and to don practical clothing that would also be suitable for a night at the theatre. Tantrums were thrown in the Met Office’s direction and arguments were had over the reliability of different weather iPhone apps.

The forecast didn’t keep the musicals fans from Trafalgar Square – they were there in droves, ready for all possibilities. In the space of half an hour I must have removed and replaced my cardigan four times; opened and closed my brolly twice; and spent a significant amount of time shielding my eyes from fierce sunshine (couldn’t see the performers properly sans glasses, so sunglasses would’ve hampered my enjoyment). Looking down towards Big Ben, we could see the clouds moving towards us at speed so were at least assured that whatever the weather threw at us wouldn’t last for long.

The showers were annoying – not least because the unfurling of umbrellas obscured our view of the stage somewhat (and a member of our party revealed that he had a paranoid fear of being poked in the eye by one, so found the whole thing rather traumatic), but it certainly wasn’t enough to send us under cover. We had come for free musicals and free musicals were what we were going to see! Then came a true test of our resolve – the Jersey Boys set began (ok, yes, so the jukebox musical is a test for all our resolves…) and as they did so the heavens opened and rain poured down…

…And down, and down. There was a brief pause, then it began again. The water level in the square began to rise (they may need to look at its drainage), and I began to search for higher ground. But the crowd stood firm, determined to stay put and enjoy themselves. Then the rain turned to hail – and still we stood firm. Sure, it was uncomfortable and unpleasant, but while we could see a spot of blue in the sky, we believed that hope was not lost.

See, Morv was not happy.

The crowd standing firm – but damp.

Eventually it stopped – I say eventually, the sun returned before the Jersey Boys had finished their set and we happily watched Mamma Mia excerpts while drying out in the sun and deciding where to go for lunch. As a result of the experience, I think we learned a few valuable lessons:
  • Sandals are appropriate footwear in such circumstances. Yes, I may have looked (and felt a bit cold) but my feet dried super quickly and I did not have to spend the rest of the day in damp shoes.
  • If you’re carrying extra, warm clothing with you, it’s best not to keep it in a fabric bag – in torrential rain it won’t necessarily stay dry. 
  • Shorts & leggings were a good idea – again, because leggings dry quickly. Denim shorts on the other hand, not so sensible – like jeans, once damp it takes forever to get dry (and there’s little worse than an afternoon with a soggy bottom). 
  • Shaking yourself dry may look ridiculous, but can be effective…

Bruce & Morv ably demonstrate the shaking technique.

Oh, and the ultimate post torrential rain warmer-upper is this beauty:
That would be a dark chocolate & rum milkshake with added Oreo bits.
It’s practically an entire meal – and a cocktail, in a glass.

The perils of creative ideas

You may not have noticed (particularly if you don’t actually live in Britain) but we’ve had a little snowfall recently. This morning, I opened the front door to nearly a foot of soft white stuff – infinitely more pleasant than the icy stuff that’s greeted me over the last two days. It’s a lot less dangerous to walk through too…

At a meeting a couple of days ago, a task had been allocated to me for Thursday’s lunch break (relating to my inability to suppress either creative ideas or sarcastic, flippant remarks) which involved not just going outside in the freezing cold, but also foraging for something [precise details of the foraging and its results to follow later]. It wasn’t an attractive prospect today, but the idea of taking photos in Regent’s Park did appeal, so I went for it.

Unsurprisingly, the park was stunning. The pond was frozen, the trees laden with snow and its fields virtually deserted of its usual lunch-time runners and tourists. There was also a lot of wildlife – pigeons, herons and the like – as well as lovely squirrels.

I’m a fan of squirrels. When I was young we had a lovely one that lived in our back garden and sometimes came and sat on our back step when the kitchen door was open – I named him Spike. I was rather impressed that the squirrels were letting me take some pretty good photos of them today, clearly Regent’s Park’s inhabitants are cockier than most.

Getting on with my foraging, I paused occasionally to take more photos, increasingly amused at the squirrels’ tenacity and their apparent fascination with the purple wellies. Some tourists behind me were getting very excited about them, but I carried on my search amongst the snow drifts. After a few minutes I paused to organise my findings on a nearby bench [sorry, this sounds ridiculous without explaining what I was up to – I’ll explain soon – promise] and the squirrels followed.

Out came my camera again, amused that one had sat on my foot. Amusement soon turned to shock and horror as the creature proceeded to run up my leg! Urgh. They may be cute from a distance, but up close they’ve got sharp claws and look rather rat like. After shaking my leg viciously and squealing like the girl that I am, I walked briskly on, continuing my mission.

Immediately prior to the incident – you can tell the squirrel’s plotting something. 

The squirrels followed. This time, I vowed not to be distracted, or to make eye contact with them.
My stalkers did not get the better of me again.

There was another peril of this winter-time adventure – the sheer cold and specifically, its affect upon my extremities. When one arm is devoted to carrying a pile of something, it doesn’t allow much circulation to the fingers and even if they’re glove-covered, they can get very cold. Very, very cold. On returning to the office the pain was so intense that all I could do was pace my office moaning “ow, ow, ow” until it subsided. Over an hour later they were still tingly, though apparently because they hadn’t turned black or snapped off, no permanent damage was done – good to know.

Practically perfect in every way (Plus bonus photo)

Friday was an excellent shopping day. Not only was an entirely appropriate dress for the Christmas carol service acquired (we have very strict colour instructions, with no two people in the same section allowed to wear the same colour – honest!), but I also found a new handbag (bliss) and later the same day made a rather impulsive purchase…

I don’t really have a good record with impulse buys – especially ones that begin with a friend ringing to tell me about the amazing bargain they’ve just found. It nearly always ends in disaster, I can be very easily led at times. However, I never thought that impulse buying would take place in an outdoor clothing shop. Make up, bags, random articles of clothing and at least one item per visit to Primark – yes, Mountain Warehouse – really not so much.

My friend (Morv, of fellow musical geek fame) had acquired a new ski jacket. Fairly practical as she lives in the far north and had just the day before had to contend with her first snow of the season. Sometimes, she even goes to Scotland to ski. When I met her and another friend we’d found in London, we headed back to the shop so she could show us her bargain [you’d have thought she’d have simply lifted it out of the carrier bag, but no] and within seconds I was trying on one in a different colour.

The three of us stood there contemplating jackets. I seized upon mine describing it as “cute”; Ali liked the look of one that was practical (she’s an engineer); Morv wanted something “mature” [those that know Morv will appreciate that this is the last word with which to describe her]. Is cute the wrong thing to look for in practical outdoor clothing? Should I really have been comparing waterproofing and stitching rather than colours?

Anyway, I ended up with a purple jacket (with contrasting pinkish bits) that came with integral phone holder, generic mp3 player pocket and ski lift pass flap (possibly useful for Oyster cards?). I had to laugh when the man at the checkout asked when I was going skiing – had he not heard the weather forecast, or even gone outside into the biting temperatures? I do not ski, despite skiing lessons aged 16, and don’t intend. I do, however, have parents who live in Ireland and also have an intense hatred of the cold, so it will get plenty of use off the slopes.

Getting it home, I suffered a little buyers’ remorse and kept the receipt safe, just in case. The next day dawned just as cold and it seemed sensible to wear it out. After less than an hour of wearing it I realised that there is nothing better than a jacket that’s effectively a duvet with a zip – £47.99 well spent I feel (reduced from £119.99, FYI).

Today, on day three of consecutive ski jacket wearing, I managed to inadvertently co-ordinate my outerwear outfit. Purple jacket, purple scarf (ok, the scarf was intentional), purple inside of glasses’ frames, purple gloves, purple hat (ok, may also have been a conscious decision to wear purple hat instead of black one) and complimentary denim skirt with blue tights. Actually, what amused me most was that two men commented upon the co-ordination, rather than women. (I will ignore the fact that C laughed at me wearing it at the office…) Thinking about it, if only it had been snowing – I could have worn the purple wellies too!

Wait, what’s the forecast for tomorrow? Would it be a severe weather warning for heavy snow in London by any chance? Indeed it would. Looks like tomorrow will involve a practically perfect outdoors outfit, in every single way.

I felt this post needed a photo – so I took one.