Rhythm Nation

I recently caught this BBC documentary on Janet Jackson on iPlayer, and it has made me rediscover her early work. I was 12 when Rhythm Nation came out and remember one of my school friends raving about it. I loved the video when I saw it on MTV all those years ago. Thirty years on, the song has once again become an earworm for me for the past few weeks. Incredible music, incredible dancing.

The documentary pointed out that the main sample on Rhythm Nation comes from a Sly And The Family Stone song, Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). I’d never heard this before; it’s a complete beast of a tune and has been in my ears just as much.

When I get into a song or an album I tend to obsess about it. YouTube is such a great resource for ‘going deep’ and finding other performances and versions. This drum cover of Rhythm Nation from Cypriot drummer Anna Koniotou is brilliant — I love the way she’s smiling and clearly enjoying herself throughout the song, and the fill and stick throw at the 1:15 mark is so much fun to watch. Fantastic.

This sign has been messing with me every time I walk past it. Like an unsorted spreadsheet. I’m itching to rearrange it.

Great to hear Dick Moore give an interesting talk on emotional health and wellbeing at our primary school last night. Very well-attended by parents from lots of local schools. An excellent speaker who really got me thinking about how well I’m doing as a parent, in every sense.

Feeling terrible about having forfeited yesterday’s Learned League match. Woke up in a panic but I was too late already. First time forfeiter and hopefully last time too. Apologies to my opponent. Consoling myself with the fact I would only have got one correct answer anyway.

Really thoughtful random gift from a colleague today. My boys and I will get a lot of joy from dipping into this.

Thoughts on a two-week holiday in California

It’s my first day back at work today after two weeks spent visiting and travelling up the California coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Before it all gets lost in the mists of time I want to capture my thoughts to look back on.

  • Virgin Atlantic’s ‘automated’ check-in process at Heathrow is abysmal. It felt like a flashback to the early days of self-service checkouts in supermarkets, albeit in a much more stressful time-sensitive situation. The ‘job to be done’ of a check-in assistant isn’t just to review your passport and tag your bags, it is also to resolve any situations that come up such as overweight luggage and relieve the tension of the airport a little bit. Replacing this with machines is a bad idea, but I am sure there is no going back. The staff that were on hand weren’t too happy about it either.
Checking in, all by yourself

Checking in, all by yourself

  • The exchange rate is terrible. With credit card fees taken into account it wasn’t too much of a stretch to just change the $ sign to a £ and be roughly correct. Great for mental conversions between the two currencies, not so great on the wallet. Despite our plane tickets being mostly paid for by airline points it was still on balance the most expensive holiday we’ve ever had. We joked that each meal consistently cost us around £50-60 for two adults and two children, unless we went out for something special in which case it was more.
  • There’s not much point in going to upmarket restaurants when travelling with young children. It’s not worth trading a slightly better dinner and larger expense for battling over trying something new. I know I was much worse than my own children when I was their age (they at least eat vegetables, which I am not sure I did!), I just have a newfound appreciation of it now.
  • Never underestimate how much the kids love a swimming pool of any kind, and how many hours of joy it will bring them.
  • I am so grateful that in the UK our retailers have to advertise an ‘all in’ price for consumers. It was horrible to think you were paying X but then finding out at the checkout you were actually paying X + Y% in tax and sometimes with multiple additional taxes, expecially in hotels. Blazing Saddles in San Francisco added a 4% ‘convenience charge’ for using a credit/debit card, “kind of a tax” as the lady told us. How convenient!
  • There is zero consistency in paying for stuff. Tap your card here, key your pin in there, swipe for this one and sign this screen/bit of paper. Occasionally, do more than one of those things. Sometimes you get an automated detailed email of your transaction and other times you don’t.
  • The California coast is exceptionally beautiful and surprisingly sparsely populated. We tried to travel up State Route 1, along the coast, as much as we could and were consistently treated to gorgeous scenery and wildlife. We really got a feel for just how big the state and the country must be.
  • Criticism of Americans for not having passports and travelling internationally is unfair. There is so much to see in their own country that there is much less of a reason to go travelling abroad. We were sweltering in 30C heat in Los Angeles and this dropped by 10 degrees when we travelled a little north. We were marvelling at how we could need hoodies in the evening whereas a couple of hundred miles to the east of us in Death Valley they had temperatures of 51C.
  • Cambria was a personal favourite for me. Deserted beaches, wild, crashing waves, elephant seals, a quaint town and a wonderful boardwalk. We saw Emilio Estevez there too, who happened to be holidaying in the same hotel.
  • Hearst Castle had the best outdoor swimming pool I have ever seen. Apparently it is still used by the Hearst family, but closed to the public. We were itching to take a dip.
The outdoor pool at Hearst Castle

The outdoor pool at Hearst Castle

  • Disneyland is so much fun, even with older children. I was very glad that we paid the $15 each on top of our ticket prices so that we could book our place in the speedy queue for the next ride. Hyperspace Mountain (formerly Space Mountain, now rebranded to be more Star Wars) was punch-the-air awesome and there are loads more great rides to go on. The Star Wars land was incredibly well done, with even the cafes and toilets fitting in with the theme. We started walking home down Main Street USA when the evening finale started and it was a great spot to watch the amazing show; fireworks, acrobatics, lasers, fake snow — it was contrived but it was still breathtaking.
Star Wars land

Star Wars land

Star Wars canteen

Star Wars canteen

More Star Wars canteen

More Star Wars canteen

  • Universal Studios was great, but for me it wasn’t quite as good as Disneyland and definitely not worth the eye-watering admission price. I was lucky enough to visit as a small boy in the 1980s and some of it hadn’t changed — the Jaws and ‘subway station in an earthquake’ sequences on the tram studio tour was just as I remembered and it was cool to have them scare my kids just like it scared me back in the day. The War of the Worlds set with the destroyed jumbo jet on the tram tour was incredible, as was the 3D glasses Fast and Furious sequence. With the notable exceptions of the Jurassic Park-themed gigantic flume ride and The Mummy-themed rollercoaster, all of the other rides were simulator-based which got a little tedious towards the end of the day.
A crashed plane from _War Of The Worlds_

A crashed plane from _War Of The Worlds_

Krustyland

Krustyland

  • The Harry Potter-themed land at Universal Studios was unbelievable in its size and scope. You felt as though you could enter many of the little shops and houses, and with a lot of them you could. The snow-covered rooftops didn’t fool us in the hot weather but we were grateful that the park had fans with water misters littered everywhere to cool us off.
Hogwarts, I presume

Hogwarts, I presume

  • Breakdowns on the rides and shows seemed to be surprisingly common. We started to get a little used to audio notices that the ride was being held and would restart shortly.
  • For such historical places as the Universal Studios lot and Disneyland there was a surprising lack of history that you could go and find out about. Universal Studios didn’t have a book store, although the person I asked said there used to be one, which is probably a sad take on how peoples’ interests have changed over time.
  • I get car envy every time I travel abroad. Our car is so dated and low-spec whereas our rental cars seem to come with all mod cons. The Nissan Pathfinder we rented had some amazing features such as indicator lights near the wing mirrors to let you know that someone is in your blind spot, and an overhead parking camera that I still for the life of me cannot work out how it functioned.
  • Americans really know how to do ice cream. We fell in love with McConnell’s in Santa Barbara and progressed from there. It’s going to be tough to break the ice cream-a-day habit.
McConnell's marvellous menu

McConnell’s marvellous menu

  • The drive along Big Sur is just as stunning as everyone says. We had to stop ourselves from parking up every few minutes to take pictures.
  • Monterey was probably my favourite place of the whole trip. Big enough to have a good selection of paces to eat, tons of wildlife on the doorstep — we saw humpback whales and kayaked with seals and sea-lions — and a beautiful place to wander around in.
  • Neighbouring Carmel was gorgeous but we just stopped there for lunch; if we had more time I would have liked to have spent it there. Monterey’s car week had attracted tons of people to the area and it was by sheer luck that we managed to park there.
A car in Carmel

A car in Carmel

More cars in Carmel

More cars in Carmel

...and more

…and more

Beautiful old Porsche in Carmel

Beautiful old Porsche in Carmel

The most disgustingly-decorated BMW I've ever seen

The most disgustingly-decorated BMW I’ve ever seen

  • I could never get used to the warnings that I was in a Tsunami Hazard Zone.
Tsunami Hazard Zone in Monterey

Tsunami Hazard Zone in Monterey

  • Monterey, Carmel and Salinas are well aware of their heritage with regards to John Steinbeck. Reminders of him are everywhere you look. I was in my element. The highlight of the National Steinbeck Center’s exhibits is the original Rocinante which Steinbeck had built for his journey across America with his dog, Charley. It was wonderful to see it.
Inscription in the Carmel Bakery

Inscription in the Carmel Bakery

Mural on a wall across the street from the National Steinbeck Center

Mural on a wall across the street from the National Steinbeck Center

Steinbeck's _Rocinante_

Steinbeck’s _Rocinante_

  • San Francisco was much less ‘techy’ than I thought it would be. We saw more artisanal sandwich bars than evidence of technology companies. From reading articles on the Internet you would expect not to be able to move on the pavements/sidewalks for scooters and other forms of personal transport. Yes, we saw them, but they weren’t any more ubiquitous than the ‘park anywhere’ bikes in London. I also hadn’t appreciated just how far away Cupertino and Mountain View are from the city; we drove past them on our way there and they are completely separate places. The city felt like New York with more hills and slightly less people.
A typical San Francisco street scene

A typical San Francisco street scene

  • We’d been told about the amount of homeless people to expect in San Francisco but it was still shocking to see. So many people seemed to have complex mental health issues too. I’ve not knowingly walked past human faeces before but did so multiple times as we wandered around the city.
  • San Francisco smells a lot like Amsterdam did when I visited 20 years ago. The sweet smell of cannabis wafts past you on a regular basis as you walk around. What we didn’t see was many places selling it, whereas in Amsterdam it seemed to be for sale everywhere.
  • Alcatraz was worth seeing and the audio tour was fantastic, but I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by it. Maybe its reputation is so big that it would always disappoint. There was a lot of history revealed on the tour but I clamoured for more. There were teasing bits of information about some of the inmates and what they had done to be put there, and some sideways mentions of the amount of people incarcerated in the US and what that might mean today, but short of buying a book there wasn’t a way of digging deeper. I remember visiting Ellis Island in the early 2000s and being fascinated by the searchable database kiosks where you can look up details of immigrants to the US. Something along the same lines on Alcatraz would allow you to explore things more deeply, but there wasn’t anything outside of the book selection in the gift shops.
  • San Francisco really know how to do recycling. Everything seemed to be compostable and they went to great lengths to get waste sorted at the point of disposal. Really impressive.
Compostable plastic cup, which felt more solid than most that I've used in the past

Compostable plastic cup, which felt more solid than most that I’ve used in the past

Typical recycling in a restaurant

Typical recycling in a restaurant

  • Getting an extra seat on the way home was a massive blessing. It wasn’t a great night’s sleep for anyone, but it was a lot better than it otherwise would have been.
Sleepy time

Sleepy time

A wonderful holiday with lots of great memories made. Despite the miles we covered it still felt as though we had scratched the surface. You could probably holiday in California for years and not visit the same place twice. One day we may be back.

I can’t recall many times that I’ve come home from a summer holiday to find it much hotter than where I left. San Francisco had turned chilly whereas it is sweltering at home. The boys are struggling with their jet lag and decided it was time for a meal at 3am today.

The Golden Gate Bridge from Alcatraz. Everything around was in beautiful sunshine but the bridge was almost totally obscured by mist.