All the Days Since the Last Post!!

Whilst the spirit has been willing (after all, there has been a certain amount of time to sit and contemplate the world in a blog on some coach trips of truly epic proportions in the last few days), the technology has been decidedly weak, so I find myself with rather a lot of catching up to do, in a very short space of time. It is just before 8am and the boys are currently observing a boys’ choir rehearsal at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, before we jump on the coach (again), for a tour of what looks to be a very exciting city.

I think I’ll work backwards, so, yesterday was completely uneventful, consisting of a ten-hour coach journey across wilderness in pretty much all its forms: arid desert, endless plains, lush green hills, more arid desert…with the odd comfort break and an old episode of Midsomer Murders, entitled ‘Death in Chorus’(yes, really), in which the Dean and Chapter get up to all sorts of dastardly deeds and half the choir die horrible deaths, much to the boys’ amusement! There; you have the measure of our journey between Palm Desert and San Francisco…..

Some of this road-trip was inevitably spent recounting events of the evening before. Palm Desert is a strange place in many ways, with the name being a very accurate description; it is a large, elegant city of palm-lined avenues and fountains, chic boutiques, resort hotels and gated communities, plonked in the middle of the most desolate environment you can imagine. Its luxury lifestyle and climate (in the nineties during our brief visit) inevitably appeals to a certain section of society; our arrival reduced the average age of the population by a considerable amount, even allowing for the advanced years of some of our lay clerks…. I would say that, the boys and David Newsholme aside, I was probably the youngest person at the concert, by a few years at least. The church was rather lovely, with picture-windows giving onto mountain scenery, and a beautiful garden with humming-birds! The concert was very well received and, albeit to my inexpert ear, sounded pretty perfect. After the concert and a champagne reception, we were whisked away to what were, by all accounts, amazing hosts. Next morning’s stories seemed to have a certain swimming-pool/hot-tub theme!

Los Angeles has 17 million inhabitants and traffic and pollution to match. Fortunately we were spared much of the latter by virtue of the fact that we arrived on a Sunday, amid relative calm, blue skies and a cool breeze. We were given a tour by an English guide called Nicola, and although L.A. was not my favorite place, I could nevertheless see what had managed to lure her away from Redditch, which on balance probably says more about my opinion of Redditch than anything else (I’ve never actually been there, so I’m happy to stand corrected, if anyone feels inclined to try and persuade me otherwise). We admired the ‘Hollywood’ sign from a rather odd shopping mall, which had an Egyptian theme going on, although quite why enormous stone pillars covered in hieroglyphics were topped with gigantic white plastic elephants is anyone’s guess. We trod, literally, in the footsteps of stars such as Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie, and had our photos taken with Michael Jackson and Superman look-alikes, whist Mrs Knight was stalked by Darth Vador! Then it was off to Beverly Hills (frankly, Cartier, Chanel and Louis Vuitton stores are the same the world over, aren’t they? (She said nonchalantly!!)) Lunch was found on Santa Monica Pier, with enough time to admire the Pacific, though not to actually dip feet in it. It looked rather chilly anyway. I have to stop, as we are off now, so this WILL be continued at a later date…..


Days Three and Four

I’m tempted to sum up the last couple of days as a sort of watered-down version of ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, entitled ‘Two Concerts and a Head Cold’; I think even objectively speaking, yesterday was, for the most part, rather un-blog worthy, but that’s obviously my personal view, seen through streaming eyes! The boys seemed happy enough though, after the hard work of the day before (which resulted in an extremely successful concert and two standing ovations) to watch Apollo Thirteen on the five-hour coach journey from Houston, and discover the delights of our roadside diner (amongst which ice cream covered in jelly babies and southern fried chicken, not necessarily, but quite possibly in that order), at an eat-all-you-want hot and cold buffet. There was healthy stuff too….. American Diners have an odd pricing system which charges adults almost twice the child rate. This is seemingly based on the distinctly dodgy premise that children only eat half as much as adults, but we quickly blew that assumption out of the water, with the exception of a couple of lay clerks who shall remain nameless, but they know who they are, and I don’t think we carry a stock of spare cassocks in larger sizes….

After a bus tour of Dallas and the spot where John F Kennedy was assassinated, we made our way to the concert venue, rehearsed, played a bit of football, ate a Texan barbecue dinner provided by our hosts, and waited for the church to fill up, which it duly did to more than capacity (many extra people came on the off-chance that there might be returns, and the concert had been very well publicised, including a radio interview with Dr Flood). After the concert, it was back to the bus (when we eventually found it), and a half-hour drive to Fort Worth, and our hosts for the next couple of days. The roadside scenery, in this part of Texas at least, is nothing short of unremarkable. It is extremely flat, with retail outlets of every description lining the entire route. If shopping for a rug, say, is on your agenda, this is probably quite useful, but also a bit dangerous, because, surely, the perfect one, and a bit cheaper might always be at the rug-outlet a few miles further on….. One could not only end up spending far more than the difference in price on the extra petrol involved, but, in my case anyway, perhaps end up in a completely different state altogether into the bargain.
If you remember the opening credits of ‘Dallas’ (even if you are unwilling to admit you do…), they were rather misleading. I think the same skyscrapers must have been shot several times from different angles, but downtown Dallas really isn’t either large or awe-inspiring. However, the buildings do take on a little more charm by night, as many are lit up in inventive ways. After a personal total, by my calculations, of about 10 hours’ sleep in the previous 72, I was euphoric at the prospect of a comfy bed and a later start this morning.
Today has been all about Fort Worth’s stock (animal, not financial) history, and we have admired Longhorn cattle at close proximity, before consuming the end product, in the shape of burgers, just a few metres away, in a cafe run by long-time acquaintances of Dr Flood. Such first-hand experience of the food chain makes you think! After lunch there was time for an hour in local gift shops, so many of the boys are sporting natty cowboy hats,  which they now have to get through another flight tomorrow unscathed.

An early start

Today started at 2am local time, when many of us woke up and just couldn’t get back to sleep – all that advice about staying up until a respectable bedtime in order to acclimatize just resulted in another night with 4 hrs sleep; not an auspicious start to a long day with serious sightseeing to pack in even before lunch! However the boys were on fine form when we caught up with them this morning over fresh fruit, bacon and egg wraps and doughnuts (I think they thought that doughnuts for breakfast were the ultimate in cool!) Then we left for The NASA Space Center, on one of those banana yellow school buses that we’d all seen in Disney films, which, given that it looked as though no significant design features have been updated in the last forty-odd years, was really quite comfortable.

NASA was quite simply one of the most awe-inspiring places I have ever been, and it was not long before we began to realise how very lucky we were, to be allowed access, for example, to the actual old mission control center used for the Apollo 13! While we had everything explained by clearly knowledgeable, but more strikingly, passionate, guides and research experts, we were able to push buttons and levers on something akin to an old fashioned language laboratory. It is amazing to think of just how much the human race managed to achieve without all the technology we take so much for granted now. We had our bodies scanned by laser, to explain how computers make models of astronauts, in order to make space suits which fit accurately, and handled sachets of special dehydrated food, while we learned about how the space station can support double the number of staff, now that all liquids – um, and I do mean ALL liquids are recycled into drinking water! Come to think of it, that’s not so very different from down here, except we don’t really, have to think about it, I mean, and I suppose that when there are only six of you, at least the recycled water stands a fighting chance of being your own….. I’ll stop there. Now it’s rehearsal time for the choir, before supper at the church, and the first concert, of which more later. Apparently the concert in Dallas is sold out!

Canterbury to Houston, Texas

4pm -Well here we are – I’m not absolutely sure where ‘here’ is, partly because we have all been up since 4 am, and partly because, having eventually negotiated a lengthy immigration process, for now it appears to be a singularly uninspiring freeway, principally notable for its number of scrap metal yards and the Reliant Stadium, which apparently has – wait for it –  a retractable roof! (I think it must be a boy thing.) If I tell you that the most diverting entertainment of the day (the in-flight system kept crashing, much to the boys’ frustration) so far, has come in the form of two lay clerks going to the wrong coach pick-up point and several failing to complete the correct documentation at various junctures; (no mean feat, when you consider the sheer length of the day in question,) you will gain some appreciation of the tedium…… 

7:15pm -Things are looking up! Along the freeway, frequent billboards urged us “Seize your future by the horns!” At 4.30pm this didn’t seem like a very realistic prospect, but, following a very warm welcome from our hosts at St Thomas’ Church, and a magnificent spread of very tasty and supremely child-friendly Tex-Mex food, we are feeling restored, with the possible exception of the lay clerk who came to Houston via Qatar! All things considered, the boys’ behaviour has been nothing short of amazing – as our hosts have in fact just commented, whilst serving us the most incredible home-mixed Margaritas… All you need is Rose’s lime cordial, Tequila and Triple Sec, in a tall glass, on lots of ice – try it… yum! And so to bed….