Friday, 29 August 2008

Running trips.

A student from Durham has died after suffering an attack brought on by a heart condition. It appears that she had an attack previously when on a school trip was taken to the doctor but the parents were not notified at the student's request. This is line with the Gillick Principle that says teachers and doctors should not reveal medical information to parents if the student tells them not to. The parents are now suing the council despite the law being followed heaping more stress and pressure on the individuals involved. As someone who leads trips I will take full responsibility for anything that happened if I am responsible (such as the teacher that decided to take a group of students next to a railway line) but someone has advised the parents poorly as they seem to seek someone to blame. In many opinions the law maybe wrong or at least misguided but don't pressurise those people who have to follow it.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Fun Olympic stories

The Iceland men's handball team got to the final, everyone had the day off and cinemas were showing it for free. They lost but got only their fourth medal ever.

Du Li who allowed her nerves to get the better of her and instead of winning gold ending 5th, broke down on national TV and had so many letters of support. A few days later she won gold in her next event.

Sally McLean won silver when the leader in the hurdles fell over and in the post race press conference all three medalist were laughing and giggling about how lucky they had been.

Matthias Steiner who had an argument with the Austrian Weightlifting Federation, he moved to Germany and whilst waiting three years for citizenship to come through met and married a local lady who in the run up to the games was sadly killed in a car crash. He won gold by 1 kg

Matthew Emmonds blew the lead in the shooting for the 2nd successful Olympics. In Athens on his last shot he fired at the wrong target and scored 0, this time he needed to get 7 or better but he got the shakes and could get 4.

Steve and Christophe Guenot who won medals in wrestling by practice on each other and their father, mother and uncle who are also wrestlers.

Togo winning a gold in canoe slalom.

The Olympic Ideal tarnished?

I have enjoyed a lot of the sport in the Olympics but the whole thing has left me with a few concerns.

1. The way that China approaches sport through the setting up of sports factories to mass produce athletes to compete, taking young children and putting them through a gruelling program until they are either the best of they break (physically or mentally). I am not bothered that the two Chinese gymnasts might have been under the age of 16 but rather when interviewed they admitted having not talked to their parents for over a year and not being home for 5 years. China seems to have missed the point, after all its not the winning but the taking part. Apparently after the star Chinese hurdler pulled out with an injury the state media was broadcasting reassurance that it was okay to still support him despite the fact that he had failed.

2. Some of the judging is set up to fail. By placing a judge in each corner of the ring/ mat so at least one will not see each punch /move/ throw and these leads to some wild inaccuracies in the scoring. The TV coverage is so good and general from a good angle that the judges often are better off watching the TV.

3. The lengths that the Chinese were prepared to go to enjoy success. The fabrication of passports for athletes, sentencing old women to hard labour for protesting that they were not paid for the compulsory purchase of their house, arresting people who went to the official protest area they had set-up, the forced clearance of residents from various areas and all of the other various issues that have arisen makes it questionable whether the decision to locate the games in China was a good one - despite the quality of the sport.

4. Selling a lot of tickets to sponsors who then don't turn up leaving half empty arenas while real fans can't get tickets. Why not re-sell any seats that are not filled 10 mins from the start.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

UK Olympic medal table

1 China Gold 46 Silver 15 Bronze 22 TOTAL 83
2 USA Gold 29 Silver 34 Bronze 32 TOTAL 95
3 Britain Gold 17 Silver 12 Bronze 11 TOTAL 40
4 Russia Gold 16 Silver 16 Bronze 19 TOTAL 51

US Medal Table.

1. United States Gold 29 Silver 34 Bronze 32 TOTAL 95
2. China Gold 46 Silver 15 Bronze 22 TOTAL 83
3. Russia Gold 16 Silver 16 Bronze 19 TOTAL 51
4. Britain Gold 17 Silver 12 Bronze 11 TOTAL 40

Interesting yet subtle difference. to show yourself in the best light.

The A-Z of the great adventure

Jess came up with a really good idea and as a teacher I am used to borrowing/ stealing good ideas and adapting them for my own use so thank you Jess and next time I see you I will get the beers

A is for Airshow. The Chicago Airshow provided a big tourist event when I was beginning to flag even if the Blue Angels were anti-climactic.

B is for Beer. In 1908 a canal was dug to change the course of the Chicago River so it took all the pollution away from Lake Michigan into the Mississippi River, when it got to St Louis it was then bottled and called Budweiser

C is for Commercialism. Everything in America is sponsored but my favourite was providing money to sponsor the fact the next TV program had less adverts then normal.

D is for Dogs on planes. In one airport the travel box had to go through the x-ray machine and will the dog was out it got loose and caused chaos.

E is for Environmentalism. The high price of petrol means that all the car adverts are not about how good the vehicle is but how efficient they are.

F is for Filipino Day - a rather lack lustre parade in San Francisco with a number of odd floats.

G is for Greyhound. I am glad that I noticed that the long distance coach was first come, first served as the people at the back of the queue did not get on as the bus was full and had to wait four hours for the next one.

H is for Honesty. The number of people asking me directions (with a broken sense of direction) or to take photos (usually wonky) was high. Must be the honest face.

I is for Information. After the loss of Internet through the damaged laptop I found that I was addicted to information especially when GB went from 2 to 11 gold medals and I could not find out who had won them.

J is for jogging. Jogging is good for you but a lot of people do it right next to main roads where pollution decreases its benefits somewhat.

K is for killing. In Chicago someone fired some shots into the air close to the hotel (within earshot) the police arrived swiftly and shot him dead. It did not make the news but the concierge told me about it.

L is for Latter Day Saints (Mormons) who approached me on three separate occasions asking questions like if god answers prayers and is life pre-determined?

M is for Mazda. The second hire car had a semi-automatic gear box which was much better and allowed me to choose when to change gear.

N is for Nathanael Starbuck - when away for a long period good books are needed and this series by the writer who created Sharpe were very good.

O is for Olympics. Glad to be back to BBC coverage.

P is for Phelps. Even after he had won eight gold medals Phelpsmania was in full swing. Three days after his final win what he had for breakfast was the first news story (seriously). They also tried to link his name to every situation so for instance Barack Obama was described as having to do a Phelps ( i have no idea what they meant either).

Q is for Quality. One of the best hotels provided free gin and tonics, another gives lifts to the airport or metro stops, a third had free afternoon tea. Also if you just arrive they will usually check you in anyway. The earliest I arrived was noon and they had a room ready.

R is for Richard the tour guide. A very amusing Brit who did the tour round LA and was an aspiring actor.

S is for Star. When in Hollywood Brooks and Dunn where getting their star on the sidewalk (no I had not heard of them either). Apparently to get a star you have to have been famous for five years and pay $15,000. Not as glamorous as it seems.

T is for Taxi Drivers. Why are you asking me where it is? You live here or are you taking me round the houses to inflate the fare?

U is for Undignified. Trying to take a large suitcase through a narrow turnstyle in a metro station and I pretty much got stuck and had to try and climb over the whole thing. Made me look like I was fare-dodging.

V is for Variety. I went by jet, turboprop, train, coach, car, bike, trolley (tram), trolleybus, metro, cable car, weird vertical tram thing, foot, and boat.

W is for Water. Tap dancing in water seems tricky and adds to the probability of slippage but they were very good.

X is for Xylophone. At a performance in Chicago they were using the Stradivarius of xylophones.

Y is for You are now arriving in Houston. No we were not, the attendant appeared to be on the wrong flight.

Z is for ZZZZZZ. If you are travelling from US to Europe then get the very last plane (9pm or later), board as the very last person and head for a bank of empty seats so you can lie down and sleep. Both times the plane has never been more than 25% full.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

New photos have been added all the way back to the 8th August

The Bean

In a park in the centre of Chicago is this piece of sculpture which reflects the skyscrapers that surround it.


Thursday, 14 August 2008


On Friday I have to take a taxi, to catch a bus to get to a tram stop to get the air-train to the airport that will fly me to a new city where I will have to take the Metro so I can walk to the hotel. Can't see any problems in that plan. I will also have to repack my suitcase in the middle as there is a limit on the weight of suitcase (but not hand luggage)I can carry on the bus but this means my hand luggage is to heavy for the plane where the suitcase limit s higher.

Avenue of the Giants

California redwood (sequoia)is the tallest tree in the world. All the words in the world can't describe what it is like to walk under their boughs and more impressively see the roots and trunks of those that have fallen. I suspect that the pictures won't do them justice either.


Sacramento and San Francisco are about two hours apart but what a contrast. Sacramento is hot (around 99 degrees) while SF was around 80. Sacramento is till and humid where SF was windy and fresh. Sacramento and the surrounding valley are exceptionally flat from horizon to horizon whereas SF is famous for its hills. Sacramento seemed quiet to the point of desertion whereas SF was heaving and finally Sacramento is a perfect grid whereas SF has a diverse street pattern.

The stupidity of people

The cable car system of San Francisco is proof positive, if it was necessary, that a high percentage of the people in the world lack common sense and should probably be sterilised shortly after symptoms show themselves. The cable cars pass close together and if you are standing on them there are signs up saying turn backpacks inwards and wear them on the chest so they don't stick out too much. Click here to see a picture.
On my journeys around the system I saw a woman with a kid in a papoose arguing that it wasn't a backpack somewhat missing the point. A range of items people also thought were suitable include a large pushchair/stroller, a cello and three suitcases. How the gripmen keep their sanity and don't shout humourous suggestions is beyond me. Oh yeah they don't and are pretty scathing. The system reaffirmed that Italians don't really get queueing/ standing in line.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008


Last night there were two excellent swimming races in the Olympics. I was in a sports bar and was watching as the US swimmer took a big lead and the commentators were fawning over how good she was, except that she was outkicked by Rebecca Adlington who brought it home for the UK and the gokd medal. Everyone in the bar was unhappy except for me. This went on for about five minutes until Michael Phelps started an improbable relay win. Find them on the BBC or NBC website if you have time.


I think that San Francisco might be one of the most scenic cities in the world. The bay, hills and oceans are naturally attractive and the islands in the bay add to this. The city is built on a number of hills and the views towards the bridges are spectacular. The variety of architechture adds to this. In the distance the sea frett (fog) plays with the hills so the view you had five minutes ago is all different when you look again. The view from the top of Lombard Street is amazing as you will see when I can post pictures.

Monday, 11 August 2008


It is interesting to see Olympic civerage from a different perspective. There was an intersting article in one of the newspapers asking if the coverage was too biased towards the US but from what I have seen it is no better or worse than the UK. There has also been some controversy as NBC paid over $500 million to move events from traditional timing to suit US prime time, hwever, in the West they have employed a time delay thus Michael Phelps winning his first gold medal was on all the news channels (and there are a lot of those) as well as the Internet three hours before it was shown "live" on the West coast. The coverage also seems to be a little more personality based than the UK - you must watch this because Phelps, Torres, Bryant etc is in. It also lacks some of the analysis as that time is used for adverts. My main issue is that if their is a heat with no US swimmer then apart from cursory commentary, the commentators mainly talked about what was happening next rather than what was happening currently. The mix of channels and sports is interesting. Firstly some sports especially team sports get more coverage in the US than individual sports (volleyball (beach and indoor) especially). Also some channels with a more masculine demographic have been given more masculine sports (boxing) presumably due to linking sponsorship to demographic while more feminine channels have got dressage!!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

San Francisco

San Francisco is a good place to visit and it has some interesting places to see. My only caution would be to bring a detailed amp of the public transport. There are cable cars (think funicular railway), trolleys (trams), metro, buses and light rail but I honestly couldn't tell you where each goes or where they stop as the maps provided is a huge tangle of similarly coloured lines that bear no relationship to the roads above.

Big City Improv

In Union Park there is a little booth that sells half price tickets to the theatre that evening. I went to see Big City Improv (think Whose line is it anyway) and they were really good. For one of the sketches they picked a name out of a hat and of course it was me so I got to go on stage. The aim was to tell a comedic story one word at a time with two of the cast. It was really good fun and after it was over one woman asked if I was a plant in the audience so I must have been quite good.

Friday, 8 August 2008


Staying tonight in Monterrey as it is thew first big place North of Big Sur - going to take the scenic route into San Fransisco tomorrow. I know it is called the Econo Lodge and the price is low - but it id d not have to be this bad!! Always check that the hotel you are staying in is not under the flight path of an airport.

Driving in the US

1. As noted earlier by Sarah other drivers are not very polite and at times i thought they might have been trying to steal my suitcase they were so close to the back of me.
2. Driving on the right hand side of the road is definitively the wrong side as if I need to active the controls in the centre then I have just my left hand on the wheel which is weaker and this is therefore more dangerous. Most of the population are right handed.
3. Automatics suck. The problem isthat as I was going uphill a slight increase on the accelerator did not have any effect tehn all of a sudden with no warning the car would shift and accelerate suddenly forward towards what ever might have been there.
4. RV (Winnibago) towing a Jeep, with four canoes on the roof, a moped and three bikes strapped to the back.
5. Being overtaken by two semis - one each side at the same time is scary as the car shakes.
6. Only scared myself once as the angle of the mirror made me thing that the car behind me was to the side of me.

Big Sur

It was a dream to drive along Highway 1 through Big Sur in California and one that I have now completed. Words cannot do the view justice surfice to say that the scenary was fantastic, the roads were twisty, windy with hairpins, sweeping corners and tight turns and the rental car was a brick. Oh for either my car or at least a clutch pedal.

Santa Barbara

If you had to design a tourist resort from scratch then you would probably end up with Santa Barbara. I was not going to come here but wanted to go somewhere out of LA were I could rent a car so ended up in Santa Barbara. It has palm tree lined esplanade running along the sea front mirroring the mountains in the background, all of the buildings are white walled with a red tiled roof (Spanish style), it has beautiful beach with a cold Pacific Ocean sending good sized waves up the beach. There were a number of good restaurants including a fish one that is to die for. In fact Santa Barbara was everything that LA was not and it was no surprise that a large number of the celebrities forsake LA for Santa Barbara. It should be noted that there was an earthquake in 1925 and they did plan it from scratch.


Travelling by train in the US over long distance is a bit like travelling by plane in that you have to check in you luggage and they load it for you. So I would like to publically thank the guard who threw the suitcase across the room to the carousel and thus damaged the wireless Internet connector. The laptop was in my bag but the connector was not. She asked if there was anything valuable in there - not anything fragile!!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Mad dogs and Englishmen

I wanted to go the La Brea tar pit museum (and very interesting it was to) but a touch inaccessible. I took the Metro to the nearest point and then pounded the sidewalk for the two miles to the museum. After having a good look around I walked back but as I was walking down Wiltshire there was little shade because it runs East/ West. Doing this in 85 degree heat was not the best idea but it did give me a chance to view LA culture up close from a couple of handy coffee shops. 50% of people seem to be working, whilst the other 50% indulge in cafe culture and try looking as glamourous as possible (both men and women). There are a large number of attractive people in LA but thy also seem to know it and act accordingly with little concern or courtesy for those around them, especially sweaty ones like me.

Going to Santa Barbara tomorrow (Wed), hiring a car on Thurs and driving to San Fransisco stopping in Monterrey on Thurs night. At the start of the trip there were three objectives. Don't get arrested, don't test the medical part of my travel insurance and have fun. The driving gives me the biggest chance of the first two so need to take care as my instincts might be backwards. California also has a habit of just leaving large areas of concrete with few markings in lieu of junctions. By leaving from a small town I hope to avoid roads such as the eight lane freeway the tour took yesterday. Going to try and add pictures to previous posts.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

An earthquake

Los Angeles is a beautiful area. The Santa Monica Mountains are gorgeous and provide spectacular views across both the San Fernando Valley and you should be able to see the ocean but for the smog which overlays the area providing a haze that obscures things in the middle distance. I had the opportunity to go to Dodger Stadium and watch a game and I was looking out and admiring the view of the mountains I could see when the smog lifted and there where more mountains behind them and a smudge which might have been more more clouds or mountains but it was tough to tell. The smog is a function of a large amount of exhausts, onshore winds trapping the air against the mountains and warm, stable air.

The morning tour in a number of famous sites. Starting downtown and taking in some building such as Walt Disney Concert Hall and the original area around which Los Angeles started. We then went to Hollywood Bld with the stars in the pavement, some hand and footprints and the Kodak Theatre where the Oscars and held. It had the kind of tacky feel that I associate with Leicester and Times square. This was in contrast with Mulholland Drive with spectacular views of the Hollywood sign and the whole city. From there we went to Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills. There were some stylish buildings but when it comes to cars there were some that were gaudy (red and yellow panelled Rolls Royce anyone). We then finished at the Farmer's Market for lunch.

In the afternoon it was Universal Studios which has an excellent tour, although sit on the left if you can. They show off a bit like experiencing an earthquake of an intensity of 8 and some of the sets from famous films such as Jaws. There also some 3D rides and shows which are good any through a fast pace, good planning and a ruthless attitude to others children managed to see most of the things I wanted to.

Le Brea tar pits to start with tomorrow.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Did you wake up this morning?

Prescription Medicine Ads on TV are very funny and go something like this

Did you wake up this morning?

Did you need the loo?

Are you going to die in the future?

Then you might have Condition A.

You might need new prescription strength Wonderdrug

Wonderdrug has been clinically proven to stop all wars, cure all diseases and make you a cup of coffee in the morning

Wonderdrug will not cure you if you have a serious illness

In a quieter voice -

Wonderdrug should not be taken if you are male, female pregnant, have high blood pressure, have low blood pressure, have two legs, have one leg, have parents, eat food on a daily basis.

Wonderdrug can have the following side effects - dribbling, dizziness, tiredness, drowsiness and possibly brain death. Consult a doctor for more information.

You start of feeling you might have the symptoms and end never wanting to see a doctor again.


LA is a frustrating place to visit.

It has a Metro system but it does not go anywhere near many of the famous places (The Hollywood sign, Rodeo Drive etc.) so I had to bite the bullet and buy a ticket on a tour and whilst I prefer to operate at my own pace I can live with that so I actually get to see things.

An example of this was my trip today to Medieval Times. It is a bit preposterous in that all the serving wenches call you sire and they will sell you a real sword (don't think I would have got it through customs) but the show was really good with excellent horsemanship, fighting choreography and drama. The tension was built nicely with a clearly defined baddie to boo (although not chivalrous) and hero to cheer. The jousting was not quite at full pace and they used tourney lances (designed to break) so the sense that they might get really hurt wasn't there. The frustration was that I could either sit on a bus for about three hours to get there or take Metro, train and taxi combo to get there. Sure it was next to the freeway but the idea you would not come by car did not occur so to see a 2 hour show took from 11am to 7pm. The section I was in were supporting the red and yellow knight who looked like he was dressed in the Spanish flag and was holding the flag of Albania but he was very skilled. There were other things on show such as falconry and dressage skills from lovely Andalusian stallions. Well worth a visit.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

San to LAX

As the train leaves San Diego it goes through an area of hills with some valleys and is quite slow. The area is quite spectacular in a bleak and barren sense. The vegetation is similar to Southern Spain away from the coast, a misture of dwarf trees and xerophytic shrubs, mainly brown with areas of green where there is water under the surface.

It is this type of chapparal vegetation that is causing so many problems in Northern California currently with a number of wildfires. The area has not had fires for along period and any that start are put out. This means a lot of dead material builds up and subsequent fires are worse. A lot of the vegetation requires fire to stimulate regrowth. The area is inacceable and lightly populated so I would change the policy. Let the fires burn and open up a state run insurance people pay into which pay out if there houseis destroyed by a fire.

After this the railway finds the flattest part of the countryside, along the sea front. There are a number of lovely houses and towns in this area as well as some really ugly buildings as well.

After this the train crawls for over 40 minutes through the LA suburbs which are a mixture of attractive, modern areas, morerundown areas, strange looking industrial areas and rivers that are channelised running through high concrete banks (picture the car race in Grease or thelorry/motorcycle chase in Terminator)

Thank you for the supportive emails. To claeify an experience shared is an experienced doubled as you then have a common point of reference from which stories or jokes can spawn.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

San Diego

San Diego is worth a couple of days of your time especially if you have children an a car. Some of the attractions such as SeaWorld and San Diego Zoo are world famous but I did not go to them as the most of the animals I have seen before although the SeaWorld shows are pretty spectacular. It was not a good use of the time that was available and both are tricky to get there from the San Diego Trolley (Tram). Instead I spend some time at the Marine Time Museum which has four lovely ships including the Star of India and a replica of HMS Splendid (used in the film of Master_and_Commander with Russel Crowe). I also went to the area called Old Town where the original settlement of San Diego was which has some reconstructed buildings that are from the appropriate era and apart from a bit of over-commercialisation was fine to sit in the shade (80 degrees, blue skies, nice breeze, not to humid) to read. The most disappointing area was the Gaslight Quarter which had some nice buildings from the Victorian Period and is well lit by the eponymous Gaslights but there are no information boards, visitor centre etc. and is choked with traffic.

Friday, 1 August 2008


The rising price of fuel seems to have had a number of effects but the one I like the best is the idea of a Staycation. Stay at home but go out and visit local attractions, museums and galleries. Save money but do things that you won't not normally do. A good idea and a new word all in one go.

Not the best day

Not all of a holiday can be great and today was not a great day. I don't mind travelling alone and don't feel lonely but today reminded that it is always best with someone to share the experience with. Part of keeping a blog is to remind me of what I have done and also to share some of the experience. It is always sad to say goodbye to someone that you might not see for a long time. It is also sad to say goodbye to someone who I can beat so convincingly at cribbage. The 2 point victory was just a small measure of the dominance that I enjoyed as I scored a number of crushing victories all by huge points scores. It was also was a travel day which means a lot of hanging around. San Diego looks good but I am staying about 20 mins South in a place called Chula Vista which should have nice views of the sea but instead has views of the Highway. The hotel looks like one that women go to in films when they and the children are leaving abusive husbands although inside the rooms seem alright. The major downside is the speed of the Internet which at 5mbps is slower than dial up. I also had a lasagne that was basically a huge tomato and my aversion to that fruit is well known. Not the best day but lots of exploring to do tomorrow.

More airport things

1. Feel sorry for the Army Officer in the airport. It must be a rule that they travel in uniform as there are lots around. This officer was very smartly dressed with lots of bits of metal all over his uniform and maybe in him as well. Try as he might, he just did not seem to be able to take off enough clothes to stop the metal detector beeping.

2. Why at point of landing can you make phone calls but not listen to an Ipod - and should I be worried that a music player can affect the navigational features of an aeroplane.