Thursday, 15 January 2009

Do more with photography...

In response to my dear friend who suggested a way for me to 'do more with photography', thank you. I have started a new blog ( on which I intend to post pictures I have taken over the week. It is in its infancy, but if you wish to drop by, check it out and leave me a comment, I would appreciate it!

The idea is for me to practice different types and styles of photography and although I promise to try and vary my subjects, I warn you that it may well be cat heavy. Although I'm guessing that by now, that shouldn't surprise anyone.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Road trip: San Francisco – Oakhurst

We have breakfast with Our Gracious Hostess at Stacks – American diners for breakfast are such a treat for me! I love the eggs, the pancakes, the waffles and the endless cups of black filter coffee. I have huevos rancheros which are delicious – I’m getting my fix of Mexican foods.

We call into a Barnes and Noble (not so counter my principles in their own country) for a new diary and another book that I’m pretty sure I don’t need. There is an entire industry here – part of me loves it (books are beautiful) while part of me is slightly saddened at the thought of middle-aged women (the major book market) using bookmarks, catalogues and inspirational quotes to fill their otherwise empty lives. And yes, I am part of that demographic.

Setting off on our adventures, the first thing we encounter is a child abduction notice on the freeway with the make of the car and licence plate numbers up on the overhead signs. We drive from San Francisco through to Yosemite noticing oddities along the way such as Halloween decorations, which are everywhere – this is clearly a very big deal here. Pumpkin patches support giant, mutant pumpkins.

American radio plays a variety of music: one channel plays an homage to New Kids on the Block; another plays Linken Park and other X-Games music. There is jazz, blues, classics (which appears to be The Beatles and Chicago), Spanish fiesta music (which sounds like Captain Pugwash), climb-every-mountain anthems, and a lot of country. Just like the television – so many channels; same old shite. Quantity does not equal quality.

Every pick-up in town is parked outside Cost Less Liquors. Other shops include House of Beef Steakhouse, Whiskey River Saloon, Feed and Seed, Long’s Drugs – Drive Thru Pharmacy (if you’re too ill to get out of the car, should you really be driving?), Buckston’s Western Gear (get your Stetsons and spurs here), Claim Jumper Outpost (‘free soda with fill up’), Tie Dye Jerky – elk or buffalo. All of these are to be found at Big Oak Flat, elevation 3,000ft, population 200.

Just past the Mark Twain/Brent Hart trail is 49 acres of barren scrubland for sale – it probably comes with free rattlesnakes. There are trailer parks (sorry, mobile home camps) and motel rooms for $49.95 next to a ‘gentleman’s club’. Nice. I’d be surprised to see a gentleman here at Chinese Camp.

A town advertises itself with the draw cards of food, espresso, clean bathrooms and raft trips. Groveland features the red earth and saloon doors of gold mining towns, complete with the Iron Door General Store. The roads are supported by an Adopt-a-Highway programme, which makes sure the road verges are kept litter-free. Sponsors include Dave and Son Automotive, Buck and Bunny, and the Coronary Improvement Programme.

We check into a motel in Oakhurst – the Yosemite Inn is ‘the last hotel in town’ and boasts ‘free HBO and breakfast.’ We walk to a Mexican restaurant for dinner, clinging to the side of the road as lorries hurtle past – this is obviously not a walking area. The food is okay (I discover tamales are stodgy corn-flour steamed nastiness) but I have a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale which is very tasty. It is a light gold colour with lazy bubbles and a decent head at first which quickly dissolves into a dishwater scum. It leaves a sediment behind but tastes perfectly balanced between bitter hops and sweet malt.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Day tripping, San Francisco

Parking in San Francisco is an (expensive) experience. At the one parking lot we find with a space (that isn’t reserved for the disabled), the bloke takes our keys and our money, says he will park it, and to come back by 5.45pm. I am a little bit dubious and ask a young woman (who has just done exactly that) if this is normal procedure. I use my best English accent to say, “We don’t do this where I’m from”.

She laughs and is very garrulous – she’s not from round here either and she thought it was weird when she first arrived, but she parks here every day and there’s no problem. “I know these guys and they’re really trustworthy.” Having cautioned us to remove any valuables from the car if we are worried about them and telling us to have a nice day (and she actually sound like she means it!), she walks off clutching her oversized coffee cup.

Breakfast on Pier 33 consists of ‘breakfast sandwiches’ – scrambled eggs, tomato, bacon, and mushroom with ‘applejack’ cheese on an English muffin which is twice the size of any muffin I ever saw in England. This fortifies us for our trip to Alcatraz (see previous two posts).

Back in San Francisco we set out to explore the city but we are feeling peckish and try to find food. You wouldn’t think this would be so hard, but it seems that everyone just grabs and goes in the city. There are places where you can sit for lunch, but they are all Starbucks, and I’m not going there! We walk through the financial and shopping districts, through Union Square surrounded by Tiffany’s, Gucci, Prada and all the big names.

Finally we find Louis, an American diner. Him Outdoors has a big burger and chips while I have a bay shrimp salad. American diners are frozen in the fifties with the juke boxes, stylish cars, vinyl booths, neon lights, and Marilyn Monroe and James Dean prints – from the decade where they proved consumerism was king and they ruled the world.

We walk through town to find Haight Ashbury. We find Haight Street and walk past cafes and rainbow shops with names like ‘Love and Haight’. There is some peacenik graffiti and people with long hair, kaftans, beads and sandals, but mainly it looks like any student area. The houses were once gorgeous villas with bay windows, turrets and steps up to the doorway, painted in elegant colours. Now they seem to be rundown and subdivided. Maybe there is more to this area that we don’t see, but I was expecting something different (maybe more momentous) and am a bit disappointed.

Racing back through town, we realise this is further than we thought, so we get marching so as to be back in time to pick up the car keys from the parking lot. We pause briefly at the top of Alamo Park to take in a view of the city with those elegant wooden villas in the front and the skyscrapers of commerce behind. Later I discover that this particular aspect has been photographed so often it has come to be known as Postcard Row.

Our quickest route takes us back through Tenderloin – a fairly unsavoury district known for its drugs and gunshots. The windows of the houses have bars on them, and the teenagers on BMX bikes discuss on their mobile phones to which tunnel they are heading – what will they do when they get there, I wonder? When two men in sharp suits emerge from a BMW we quicken our pace. It’s no worse than Hulme, but it’s just a question of what you get used to.

Once through this district, Him Outdoors runs back to the car to make sure he arrives on time. The attendant is all locked up but he is waiting, waving the keys and laughing, ‘That’s alright – I was waiting for ya!’ Meanwhile I negotiate the end-of-workers, the down-and-outers, and the plain nutters who mumble and laugh to themselves, dressed in several layers and listening to a transistor turned up loud. Transients have moved on from plastic bags – now it seems they push their meagre belongings around in shopping trolleys.