Monday, May 27, 2013

Jetlag - it's the pits

It's 4am London time, and after 4 hours in bed of trying to get to sleep, I've given up.  Time for a wee small hours whinge.

First piece of advice - DON'T fly Virgin airlines.  The staff are unfriendly and minimalist in what they provide, the food was absolutely awful, the choice of in flight entertainment was sparse and didn't kick in until twenty minutes after we left the ground, and that was only after having to endure endless advertising about how fabulous Richard Branson was and how fabulous the Vero in flight entertainment was.

I didn't really sleep at all on the the 9 hour flight because there are no foot rests, your knees are jammed up against the seat in front of you, and you can't recline back when there is a solid wall behind you.  Besides which when Amy finally decided to get some sleep she also decided to use me as a bed instead of her father and squirmed and elbowed me for three hours.

I awaited eagerly the breakfast since I was so parched with the cabin staff not even bringing cups of water regularly through.  Even then it was a measly packaged muffin thing and a muesli bar that was all sugar and not much else, and a mingy glass of juice - you should have seen the look of contempt I got when I downed that and asked for a glass of water aswell!  Clearly cattle class aren't entitled to be properly hydrated on long haul flights when you fly Virgin.

James and Amy slept through breakfast (wisely) and when we finally arrived and got ready to clamber off the plane James informed me that he had put his wallet in my cabin bag when we went through security.  A thorough inspection of my bag having to take everything out while everyone else was pushing past us to get off the plane established it was not in my bag, therefore James announced it was lost.  A major panic then ensued about how this could have happened, including a search of James' bag by James and the floor and luggage compartment, no result.  On no sleep I really couldn't cope with the fact that James had lost his work and personal credit cards and got a bit titchy shall we say.  Eventually James re-searched his cabin bag and found his wallet was there after all.

Most people were off the plane now, which was just aswell, since Virgin announced that anyone [stupid enough] to ask them for special assistance had to wait until most people had got off the plane.  Well, most people HAD got off the plane but that didn't stop them insisting that we wait until absolutely everyone had gone, and then keeping us waiting a further 10 minutes until nobody was in sight before wheeling Amy down to customs and baggage claim.  We should have guessed this was the treatment we would get, having had to wait half an hour after we checked in at San Francisco for them to send someone with a wheelchair to get Amy through security.  It would have been fine there as it turns out a we didn't have to walk far, but at Heathrow we always need a chair for Amy because you have to walk miles and she is tired after the long flight.

So anyway we got out and off to where we were staying via a very long and expensive taxi ride to pick up keys and then go to our digs.  Amy kept trying to lie down to sleep and it is really hard keeping a child awake when you are exhausted yourself.  James insisted we had to stay awake until the evening to time adjust and so we eventually went at 3.30pm to have lunch at a pizza place where the service was crap, the pizza was cold and my family complained.  Then we dragged ourselves over to Regent's Park to sit in the sun, where Amy was happy on her ipad, but James was falling asleep, so then I went walking around with him to keep him awake and left Amy on her own because she can't walk indefinitely, got ignored by James who always has earplugs in, then dragged ourselves back to the flat, then dragged ourselves out for dinner at an Italian restaurant we had seen (much better than the on earlier).  Downed a bottle of plonk and a good meal, put the second load of laundry I had washed up to dry, after having made up all three beds for everyone earlier.  Had also got in groceries from the local dairy after finding Sainsbury's closed early on a Sunday - Amy was unhappy because she couldn't get Jaffa Cakes to eat for dinner and breakfast.  Finally fell into bed around 10pm feeling really proud of myself for getting through the day awake and going to sleep at the right time.  Except that my daughter didn't want to go to sleep and kept shouting and making noise and arguing with her Dad, who,  for all his directions about beating the jetlag, didn't come to bed himself for several hours. I finally dropped off, and then we all woke up at 3am!!!!

I did everything I could think of to get back to sleep for two hours.  Amy was cold so I climbed in bed with her to warm her up and when I thought she'd dropped off I went back to my own bed, only to find she had woken up again.  Eventually she dropped off, and then James went to sleep, while I was still lying awake at 5am.  Final straw was when James started snoring.  At that point I admitted defeat and took a sleeping tablet - BIG mistake.  After another half hour listening to James snoring I fell asleep...and woke up at 1pm!  Round 1: Jetlag - 1, Katherine - nil.

So let me see, James had woken up around 9 and been out for a walk when Amy and I were dead to the world.  Tired to rouse me several times - no chance of that with the knockout drugs still in play.  When I woke it took me an hour to wake up properly and get moving becuase I was so stiff and sore.  James was hungry and wanted to go out for lunch.  Had he got any groceries in?  No.  Amy didn't want to get up, and shouted at us that the day was ruined and it was our fault because we had let her sleep in and she had wanted to go shopping. We finally got out at around 3 and had a couple of semi civilised hours after much more shouting and cursing.  Bought very expensive ie full price tickets to see Mamma Mia that night - what Amy wanted to see.  James wanted to see Once but amy didn't want to see that.  I want to see The Hothouse but we need a babysitter for Amy for that one (good luck with that).  Then we took Amy to Hamley's heaven and James to Apple heaven and I bought a new watch to replace the one I smashed on the pavement in America when it fell off my wrist.  Bought some nice Belgian chocolates which somehow didn't make it into my bag after I'd paid for them, or got lost on the way home - either way, gone by 11pm when we remembered em and couldn't find em.  Walked back to flat, changed and back to Charing Cross, found a place that could feed us in 10 mins because that was all we had time for and went to Mamma Mia, which Amy and I thoroughly enjoyed and even James smiled at a couple of times...or perhaps he was only wincing.

Great I thought,  Amy's been to her favourite store, and now seen this wonderful show, she'll be happy for a while.  But no, as we were walking back to the tube station, it was "what show are we going to tomorrow night?"  My response "it was very expensive to go to this show - we can't go to shows every night."  Amy "Will I get to see Matilda?"  Me "Not tomorrow night".  Amy "When?"  Me "Don't know".  Amy "When can I skype Livvy again".   And so the insatiable appetite to be entertained continues unabated, and my two companions travel the rest of the way through their day listening to the contents of their respective ipods and ignoring me.

When we got back at 11pm I asked Amy no less than 6 times to get ready for bed, which she failed to do and then lost my temper again. Asked James to chase her up while I fought to book the London hotels for pre and post Russia trip that James has been nagging me about for two days, fighting with the internet connection that dropped out every two minutes and took two minutes to come back on before dropping out again.  Meanwhile James had not got Amy off to bed.  When I finally went to bed myself at midnight my husband was still on his computer and my daughter was still complaining about not being able to get to sleep.  After her fidgeting around, turning lights on to read and generally disturbing me, I sent her to the lounge to read.  An hour later when I was still cold and not sleeping James came to bed, and tried to get Amy to come to bed too.  That only succeeded in waking me up just after I had dropped off, at which point I suggested to James that he put Amy and her book and her duvet in the lounge so she could read and then go to sleep and we could at least have the lights off and have a chance of going to sleep ourselves.  I could not get back to sleep, Amy eventually came to bed, leaving the lounge and bathroom lights on so she didn't have to be in the dark, and then she and James both went to sleep and James started snoring again - at which point I gave up again and got up to write this blog.

Just after we got back to the flat this evening after the show, my sister-in-law skyped me.  She said something about how nice it is for people who go away overseas on long trips and have a wonderful time, while everyone else just stays at home and do the usual boring things.

People always think the grass is greener, don't they?  Yes, parts of the trip have been wonderful.  And parts of them have been hellish.  I'm in the hell zone right now, and I can't see an end to it in the near future.  We've got two more days to adjust to London time then we've got another 3 hour change for Russia and then a three hour change coming back to England a week later.

Just because I'm having a fabulous time seeing the world doesn't mean my life is better or happier than someone else's.  Wherever you are, there is still washing and housework to do, travelling to negotiate, scratchy family members to try and accommodate, and we'll still have a new mortgage to pay when we get back racked up from being away, and I will have to find a job to help pay for it.  Every single day I am travelling I still have to figure out how we can best get around with one family member who can't walk long distances, and that's not easy in a place like London.

Right now I would just like some rest and some time to myself, and not have to deal with everyone else's problems as well as my own.  But Mum's prerogative always seems to have to be to fit in with the  others, until I get so run down I totally lose my marbles and they go into shock and start being nice to me for an hour or two, until they think I've calmed down enough for their concerns to come to the fore again, be it "I'm bored, I'm hungry, I'm tired, I want something now" or "I'm useless, I've fucked up, I should have worked today, I should just give up" "I'll get fired and then how are we going to eat?"
Sorry, but it's hard to enjoy an overseas trip when this is the sort of script coming from your travel companions almost every waking moment when they are not tuned into some electronic gadget or other.

I hope noone bothers to get to the end of this rant - it really is just a rant.

But I still awake and it's five o'clock in the morning again and I have no hope that today is going to be any better.  This a is bit of the trip I definitely wish I could fast forward to get to a better bit.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

North American drivers and general manners!

[GOVERNMENT WARNING: To all individuals of certain nationalities, this post comes with a health warning: do not read if you are likely to suffer individualised insult, offence or paranoia when reading statements below about persons of your nationality.  The blogger wishes to advise that statements made below of an overgeneralised, biased and unbalanced nature are in no way aimed at, referring to, or representative of any individual friends or acquaintances she has of said nationalities.  Poison S2 - not to be taken personally!]

North American drivers.  Well I guess I'm one of them for the time being so before I start dis-ing them I should acknowledge this.  But this post has been coming for a while, and though I'm tired I'm gonna get it off my chest.
(Gonna - see I'm already talking like an American!)
Firstly, Oregon drivers.  Very considerate, especially of pedestrians.  I could not get used to cars waving to me to cross at uncontrolled intersections where in all my past experiences, you would be mad to step in front of a moving vehicle.  These drivers seemed to think I was loopy if I didn't.  A good way to out yourself as a foreigner in Portland: stand on the sidewalk and wait for a break in the traffic!

Seattle drivers: a little more fast paced than in Portland, but still pretty courteous.  Also doing the give way to pedestrian thing.

British Columbia, Canada, now here was my real shock.  After years of stereotyping being drilled into my brain ie US Americans are loud, arrogant, belligerent and think they own the world, and yet I met with unfailing courtesy in the US states of Washington and Oregon, both in and out of cars.  Compare with the stereotypically more gentle, refined Canadians, who were always more than slightly piqued when I met them in New Zealand and mistook them for Americans (like NZer's being mistaken for Aussies, but we're just used to it).

Anyway, we don't even get across the border into Canada before meeting the "Canadian uptight" - starting with the Canadian customs guard.  He was dressed in black.  His interrogation of James when I stupidly said he was going to Canada for work not a holiday was a case in point.  He didn't smile.  And I thought Canadians were supposed to be the friendly ones! (mind you, I'm sure it was Canadians who told me this before I went there).

Now, as an aside, I have long suspected that the general personality type of the the human inhabitants of a country can be inferred by observing their native birdlife - specifically, their vocalisations.  So in New Zealand, you have sweetly tweeting, self effacing little creatures that are easily preyed upon and aren't too great at sticking up for themselves. In Australia, well, you get Galahs, Cockatoos, Kookaburras, Rainbow Parakeets, and Currawongs, to name a few, and all are loud and raucous and strident in their viewpoints, like many Aussies I came across in my time in Sydney.

So, it was interesting to test this theory in the US, where on day one I saw some lovely quiet, polite, medium voiced ducks and scaup.  But then there were all these big loud, overbearing, honking things.  Canada Geese.  Hey, that can't be right, I thought to myself. Canada's birds must be the quiet demure ones surely, if my theory of birds and their respective nation's human personalities are to be believed.

Then I drove in Canada, and discovered not only their geese honk. Those Canadian drivers love to lean on their horns at every opportunity.  Even the slightest provocation ie sitting one nanosecond at an intersection when a light has gone green is sufficient to attract a parping from behind.  These drivers were stressed.  They were in a hurry.  I was holding them up.  Again and again.  They could not even wait for me to park in a quiet suburban street for two seconds without giving me a blast.

Then on the other hand maybe it was because I had Oregon licence plates.  Maybe they thought I ought to know better.  Maybe they hated me because they thought I was American.

But in any case, I saw several grumpy, stroppy Canadians.  When did I realise I was back in the US?  When people started giving me a cheery, unprompted "Have a nice day" at the end of every human exchange.

So all my stereotypes about north Americans have been turned upside down.

California driving is something else again.  As James said, he wanted me to drive somewhere else before I drove in California.  All I can say is, if I had taken my first turn at the wheel on the wrong side of the road (and by this I mean, the right side of the road, which is the wrong side for me) on an LA freeway, I think I would have freaked out completely and refused to drive for the rest of the time in North America.  It's not hard, exactly...the roads are all big and wide, and you can go really fast on them most of the time.  But what you realise is that on this smooth, elongated, intertwining series of on ramps and off ramps that get you from A to B over however many hours you drive, one momentary lapse of concentration, and at the speed you are going, you a going to make one hell of a mess, and you are dead.  One tiny swerve, one moment of panic, one stray into another lane in your blind spot - you're dead.

It is incredible to me how thousands upon thousands of people drive all these freeways day after day and that it isn't just carnage.  In a way it is easier to drive fast and smooth on these big roads.  It is easy driving.  But it is also extremely boring.  It is totally unlike any driving in New Zealand, where almost no roads have that number of lanes, and where they do, they are so busy, and/or run for such short periods of time, you can't get into that mesmerising rhythm of autodrive.

So what I've learned in the US is that driving fast feels safer than driving slow, and keeping out of the lanes where people don't keep even speed makes the driving much safer.  It's the turkeys who keep putting their brakes on that put people in danger.

And speaking of turkeys, there have been a few moments with a few North American drivers.  Like the ones who change lanes right in front of you without signalling.  And so far, I've had one person try and change into my lane on a freeway, obviously not seeing I was there, and another just today in a suburban boulevard where the driver just drove into my lane as if I wasn't there.  Then there was the turkey yesterday who sat on his horn because he was trying to cut into the freeway from a slip road when I was already on it, with someone else overtaking me and coming into my lane from the other side - like, where else was I supposed to go?  I was there first, you guys!

So far, the best drivers have been in Portland, the most aggressive drivers have been in Canada, and the most dangerous drivers have been in Southern California.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mt St Helens

With much anticipation, I ventured closer to Mt St Helen's last Saturday with James and Amy, en route from Portland to Seattle.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a bit of a fan of disaster movies,  and the bigger and more spectacular the Acts of God and general carnage, the better!  I'm not sure where this fascination with spectacles of this kind comes from: maybe it's the huge scale of forces beyond our control; the visual power of nature at work ahhhh, blagh sounds so cliched.... Let's just say big bangs, major explosions, massive natural events like earthquakes, storms, volcanoes, plane crashes, tsunamis, space disasters a la sci fi, Mt Doom crumbling and Barad Dur collapsing when Gollum drops in with the ring... I love it all and will watch it again and again.

I've always felt a bit guilty about this love of chaos and destruction (which it usually is in some form), because of course I am aware that real time events of this nature involve a huge amount of human suffering on a large scale.  I don't at all enjoy the prospect of that in real time, although I do find the stories of bravery, challenge and near misses quite interesting.  There's some kind of disconnect goes on in my brain I think between the visual spectacle and the human impact which allows me to enjoy one for its grandeur without it being tainted by the reality of the result.  The same cannot be said for me of disasters and human tragedy that I have experienced in human terms - eg I still cannot bear to watch any kind of hospital drama by way of recreation.  I don't begrudge those who love their weekly fix of Grey's Anatomy, House or Shortland Street or whatever, but such programmes will never be recreational for me, I think,  and I imagine it's the same for others who have experienced a natural disaster in human terms.

Anyway, back to St Helens.  I remember as a child being in awe of the drama unfolding when Mt St Helens erupted on 18 May 1980.  So an opportunity to go and see the mountain and find out more was an exciting prospect, made even more exciting by discovering in the Lonely PLanet Guide that there was an observatory right on the crater with a lot more scientific and geological information - also of great interest to me.  My original information suggested this centre on the crater did not open until 1 May - a bit of a problem since our original itinerary had us leaving the area a few days before that.  Then our plans changed and i could see a window of opportunity - we could go from Seattle on 1 or 2 May!  Until we were told (bucket of icy water experience for me) that it was a four hour trip from Seattle back to Mt St Helens and therefore not realistic.  And when I got to Portland myself and realised that I could see Mt St Helens from there and it was obviously closer to Portland than to Seattle, and that  going to it from S would involve severe backtracking (something my logical, linear brain abhors when travelling) I resigned myself to going to the visiter centre that was open en route to Seattle, and to getting as close to the mountain as I could.

Well. the big day I had been waiting for and anticipating for months came, we left Portland and drove to the turn off to Mt St Helens.  The cloud was thickening and temperatures dropping gradually as we drove north, and by the time we got to the pretty much deserted Sliver Lake Visitor centre it was quite grey and cold.  The mountain was in view, but only just, crouching under a thick mantle of lowering grey cloud.  We went into the visitor centre to be greeted by some what i can only describe as complete airhead cashier staff who clearly had no interest or enthusiasm for the subject of their job.  one of them blithely informed me that the Johnston Ridge Visitor Centre would not be opening until 18th May!!  I was very glad that I had not driven 4 hours back from Seattle on 1 or 2 May to discover this, but I was still very disappointed to miss this because of being too early in the season.  Still, I went in and saw the extremely dated video and got my "fix" wandering around the equally dated and (in some cases) broken exhibits.  I had the chance to read up about the event itself and what happened to the mountain in geological event terms, and spun it out to about 2 hours reading everything (James and Amy got bored after about half an hour and went back to the car).  At the end I asked the attendant how close you could get, and she basically languidly replied I could drive another hour up to Cold Creek, but the road was closed from there because there was still snow, and it wasn't worth doing because the cloud was thickening and obscuring the mountain.

So, all in all, I was disappointed.  This of course often happens on trips - something much anticipated turns out not to be as great as you expect.  However, this is more than compensated for by the unexpected delights that you didn't know were awaiting you.  That was pretty much my experience of lots of things in Portland in the first week.  And as a result, my favourite day so far was the one up at Pittock Mansion and the magnificent views of Mt Hood, which has now taken place of Mt St Helens in my affections for US mountains!

SO, if I was writing a Lonely Planet guide post, I would say something like - make sure you go in summer, when you can get past the tired, dated Silver Lake Visitor Centre Exhibition and go to the Johnston Ridge Observatory which sound like it is much more contemporary and fresh.

A final note on fantasy piggy backing on reality:  I have always loved the (now dated lol) Dante's Peak - the time when Pierce Brosnan was young and supple!  I am sure that movie must have been inspired by the Mt St Helens disaster - so many similarities.  It seems to take about 10 years or so with American sensibilities to get past a tragedy enough that making a dramatisation of it is not distasteful - so the timing would be about right with Dante's Peak being produced inthe early '90's.  Ditto 9/11 films that came out about 10 years later.

People seem to be a little less 'nice' about disasters in other parts of the world - eg only took 9 years for the Boxing Day tsumani movie The Impossible to come out. I wonder how long it will be before Nz makes a movie about the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

But for anyone that has dragged themselves to the end of this post, I'll leave you with a selection of my favourite disaster movies I'd recommend to anyone with the same proclivity in this direction as myself:

Dante's Peak: volcano a la Mt St Helens - Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton

Air Force One: Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman - plane disaster thriller

The Day After Tomorrow: Ice Age inducing storm for top half of US - Jake Gyllenhaal

Deep Impact:  BIG comet hits earth

Titanic:  Yes, the corny Kate Wincyette one - apart from the ship disaster thingy, my favourite pay off in this one is Leonard De Capricious getting frozen to death every single time!

Of course, there are also some really bad ones to be avoided if possible:  Armageddon - Ben affleck say no more; 2012 - complete crap.  I didn't like Independence Day much either, though I can't remember why!