Thursday, 3 September 2015


I had a chat with the Ranger at the Old Faithful Visitor Center.  From a huge window, he had a  view of the most famous geyser in the world but was suitably impressed when I told him that my own office vista encompassed a Norman Castle.  'Now we don't have those'.  he said.

Historic buildings in the US are really young when compared to ours in Europe.  For the last two nights of our stay in Yellowstone, Louis and I were privileged to stay in one.  Construction on the Old Faithful Inn began in 1903.  A mere baby in architectural terms but nothing like I've ever seen before.  It is breathtaking in its difference to any other hotel I've ever seen.  There's no Premier Inn uniformity here. The public areas, a huge lobby with a big stone  four sided fireplace surrounded by balconies, are a mass of knotted wood that reach seven stories up to a Crow's Nest at the top.  Sadly only the bell hops seem to go up there to raise and lower the flags.   Louis was only able to scamper up to the second floor.
Here's our room.  Living in a Box by Living in a Box sprung to mind.  So much wood!  This is one of the original guest rooms. Wings were added to the hotel later in the 1910s and 1920s but apparently they lack the rustic-ness.  As I've mentioned already those windows had a premier view of the entire Lower Geyser Basin.  It got really steamy out there at dawn.

Plumbing was limited to a very pretty and efficient wrought iron radiator and an old wash basin. Having a bath necessitated a trip to one of the tub rooms with their claw footed baths. I took sleepy middle of the night wanders down the corridor for noctural wees!  Those dressing gowns came in very handy.

Here's what all the fuss is about and why people come here in the first place!

And to finish a view of the huge dining room from one of those gnarly balconies.  Musicians used to entertain the guests from here.  I know they'd been there as their names were carved into the wood!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Being with Beehive!

Wow! What an amazing six days in my favourite place in the world. Louis says that it comes second after home. Apparently its Dad's house that comes first at the moment. Apparently mine will not pass muster until all those boxes are unpacked. Something to aim for when I get back to Brixham then.

Awe is the word that sums up our feelings about the world's first National Park.  We can't imagine how it must have been for those intrepid explorers who first came across this place that holds so much natural wonder.

Our wolf count was zero.  They seemed to be always five minutes ahead.  I didn't see a bear either.  Louis spotted one from the car but I was unable to stop to bag that one myself.  But no matter.  We've eyeballed elk, bison and a lone pronghorn antelope baby that just has to rate among the cutest thing that we've ever seen. Louis pointed out a pica sitting in a hole near Old Faithful. They're like a little rabbit with round ears if you're not familiar with them.

From our window in the Old Faithful Inn, our historic home for two days we could see the cone of my favourite geyser Beehive.  It's more impressive than Old Faithful when it goes off but less predictable. There's a nifty clue that let's you know when it's just about to erupt though.

We were staring out of the window of the other morning taking in the view.  'There's Beehive'.  I pointed out to Lou.  'And there's its indicator going off!' replied Mater Sharp Eyes.  He'd spotted the tell tale sign.  A smaller spout to the right of the geyser lets you know when it is about to go.  Lou dressed with haste.  That sweatshirt is too big because it's mine.  We ran and got there in time to hear the roar of the water coming from deep underground and then the eruption with thousands of gallons of water shooting into the sky.  Forget those big meat eaters. They can wait for another trip.  We're already trying to work out how to save the pennies to return.  Call me a geeky geyser gazer but this is the one that I really wanted to share with my son!

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Lending to the Library

If you were to visit my house you wouldn't take me for a bookworm.  I have no floor to ceiling shelves filled with everything that I've ever read. A nosey parker might eventually find the cupboard where my recipe and craft books are kept. There's a few inspirational volumes by my bed and whatever I'm currently reading  sits there too.  That's all.  I'm not really a re-reader so once a book is finished it leaves the house, given to friends or donated to charity.

In a further canny space saving deal, all my textbooks are kept at work.  Let the NHS bear the cost of their storage. On the flip side they've become a resource that my colleagues and passing students can share.  There was uproar recently when the swanky but cash strapped Birmingham library asked for book donations.  But I think that it's a great idea that could be rolled out nationwide.  In a country where the survival of our libraries is threatened this could be one of the money saving schemes that put a halt to closures.   And once a person has donated a book it doesn't mean that they wouldn't be able to read it again.  All they'd have to do was pop along with their ticket and borrow it!

Saturday, 29 August 2015


Whilst I'm in the largely Internet free zone of Yellowstone I thought that I'd share  some pictures from that time a few days back when I was having difficulty downloading photos. They're reminders of moments spent with happy kids. Now in Pike Place Market there's a very famous fishmongers stall. Each time someone makes a purchase the stall holders throw the fish around and sing.  There's also a rubber monkfish on a wire.

My boy has a decidedly mischievous streak.  I admire that in him. He found the wire back here and had a lovely time startling unsuspecting tourists.  They'd come up close, that fake fish would flap and they'd start shrieking.  Lou found that hilarious.  I have to say that I did too.

There's all sorts in Pike Place: food stalls, souvenir shops, weird exhibits.  The kids didn't want to pass by the opportunity of seeing the shoe worn by Roberts Wadlow Pershing, the World's Tallest Man, ever.  He was killed by a blister on his ankle at the age of 22.  And there's a thing.  None of us really know what is around the corner for us, good or bad.
After Pike Place we walked along Seattle Waterfront.  It's fascinating. There's touristy stuff and wharf and jetties that  have an important role to play in keeping this huge  working port alive.

Our walk ended  at Seattle Center and the Space Needle. Yay!  The most iconic of Seattle's landmarks that we kept ending up at.   We never made it to the top as it's an expensive old trip and would probably have turned out to be a short stay.
And there was more!  The evening was spent at our very first baseball game watching our new favourite team, the Seattle Mariners getting well and truly trashed.  The best fireworks ever compensated for this!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Bees Hold It In!

Catch up time!  Seeing as I might be out of e-contact with the world whilst in the pristine wilderness of Yellowstone I thought I'd schedule some posts ahead.  Here's a little pictorial tour of our trip to Science World from the first day of exploring Vancouver.  It had to be the best interactive museum that we've ever been to.  The people that run the place have a similar fascination to all things lavatorial to my one. There's poo and fart fact on the loo doors in the wash rooms.  And we came across this sign near the bee exhibit.  For a tiny creature their turds are enormous.  They must be suffering  severe abdominal pain by the time that they make it outside to powder their little noses on a sunny day.

'Ultimate Dinosaurs' is one of the temporary exhibitions running at the moment. Here's my kid next to a enormous leg of one of the beasties. His zombie like expression is down to my bad photography rather than being fearful.   I think he was rather too nonchalant.  'It's okay - this one was a vegetarian' he said. Bejesus!  If that thing had stepped on you!

Here's a rather toothier exhibit. The Gigantosaurus with an eery green glow.  As well as dinosaurs we also watched the Hidden Universe, an gobsmackingly amazing IMAX movie with incredible footage from the world's most powerful space telescopes and the story of how these images are taken.  In my next life I want to be a space scientist.

There's lots of hands on stuff to do at this place.  I was too busy playing to take loads of photos.  My better judgement must have been working just fine when I decided to forego the challenge of fitting into this small space even though I'm a bit double jointed.  Oh the indignity of having to be prised out!

A moment of peaceful reflection.  Until 14 September there's an exhibition of work by Norah Borden called Planet Earth.  I was bowled over by the beauty of these acrylic paintings.  Texturally they're wonderful and so evocative of the natural world.  Norah invites people to take a selfie with her work and post it to Twitter.  Here's mine.  Now you'll have to follow the link to Norah's website to look at this one properly.  Someone's head seems to be right in the way!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Driving Angst

Mostly over the last couple of weeks my mind has been in chilled holiday mode.  Of course this is v. good.  It needs a break from all that thinking it has to do at home.  And I really do notice a slowing down of thought processes.  My reasoning is less acute, it's harder to formulate arguments and things like performing simple arithmetic are way more tricky.  This really seems to happen. Trust me!

However there been a niggling fretfulness over the last couple of days that's disturbed this state of semi-shutdown. When this post pops up we'll be in a Yellowstone  campsite in our hire van that will be our home for the next six days.  This will be nothing quite as fancy as Klaus the Knaus' set up. We will be using the vehicle as a tent with its back seats removed.  It's because I don't fancy sleeping under campus in Grizzly territory even though I want to get a good look at those beasties from a safe distance.

Why I'm nervous is because I've never driven anything without a manual clutch before.  That's a stick shift to you Northern Americans. 'Oh but it's way easier' y'all will say.  You see I'm picking up some Americanisms grammatically too.  What if my left foot gets tetchy doing nothing?  What if I throw it into reverse by accident or press that accelerator too heavily and go flying of into a hard wall?  I'm sure it will be fine, much less tricky than when I drove a six metre left hand drive motorhome on British roads for the first time.  But being rational hasn't stopped that anxiety.  As that book title says, there's nothing for it but to feel the fear and do it anyway.  I'm sure it will be fine.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Brace Yourself Rodney

If you plan a holiday down to every minute you miss up opportunities to be spontaneous and perhaps discover something unexpected. 'You must see Chihuly Garden and Glass' messaged my East Coast friend the Second Martha Stewart.  That was not on my original 'To Do' list for Seattle but I'm so glad that we saw this inspiring attraction.

Dean Chihuly started out as a glass blower in his own right.  Now he has a team of people doing the hard work with hot air.  I was particularly taken by the chandeliers.  They were huge and would touch the floor in my home.  I watched a video of them being assembled and, being arty and highbrow, couldn't help thinking of that most memorable scene from Only Fools and Horses.  Thankfully nothing untoward happened even though people were throwing bits of blown glass around in a rather alarming manor.

I've chosen my favourite snow white exhibit but this doesn't really reflect the overall vibrancy of the amazing installations.  The colours were technicolour and truly stunning.