Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Tarot Reading

As some of you know, I am a part-time tarot card reader. You may recall I was interviewed for a piece in the blog Cindy's Country Corner a while back, and one of the questions I was asked was about my readings. After this, Cindy asked me to do a reading for her, and asked if I would mind if she did another article, this time about the reading.

I agreed, and I am glad I did! The article has been published and it is very fair. Actually, I would expect nothing else, since Cindy was once a newspaper editor. I'd go even further and say I was thrilled with the article, since it provides a real-life demonstration of what I do, and an excellent critique of the reading itself.

If you have considered having a tarot reading, but are a little hesitant, please check the piece out. Even if you are just a little curious, I recommend it as an entertaining read.

A Tarot Reading (Cindy's Country Corner)

Tarot Readings by Foucault (My Tarot Website)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rumpole of the Bailey

When I think of the British Justice system, I cannot help thinking of a TV show from my youth, Crown Court. This was a daytime show that showed the British courtroom in all its glory, wigs, gowns and all. I should imagine many other people think of the long-running TV series, Rumpole of the Bailey, when they think of British courts. That is no doubt true even in the US, where the series was shown on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service).

Rumpole started life in a BBC Play for Today in 1975. It evolved into a series, which ran from 1978 to 1992. Leo McKern played the part of Rumpole throughout. The screenwriter of that show, author and ex-barrister John Mortimer, died recently, as covered in my blog post John Mortimer - A Great British Treasure. I had only read a couple of Mortimer's non-Rumpole novels, and barely remember the TV series, so I thought it was about time I read one of the Rumpole books. The books were based on the TV series. I chose The First Rumpole Omnibus, which contains three books: Rumpole of the Bailey, The Trials of Rumpole and Rumpole's Return. These cover the first two series of the show, plus a special.

Horace Rumpole always acts for the Defense, and believes strongly in the foundation of British law that one is "innocent until proven guilty." He never pleads guilty. He prefers to appear at the most iconic of all courts, The Old Bailey, and wears a wig "bought second hand from a former Chief Justice of Tonga" in 1932. An older gentleman, he often mentions winning The Penge Bungalow Murder Case, in his heyday. He is an expert on bloodstains and typewriters. He often appears, much to his chagrin, before Judges Bullingham (who is usually sympathetic towards the prosecution) and Vosper. He frequently quotes passages from The Oxford Book of English Verse (The Arthur Quiller-Couch edition). He usually visits Pommeroy's Wine Bar for a glass or two of "Chateau Fleet Street," before heading home to his Wife, Hilda, who he refers to as, "She who must be obeyed."

The first part of the anthology, Rumpole of the Bailey, contains short stories, each describing a case. Some cases Rumpole wins, some he loses. The same is true of the second book, The Trials of Rumpole. However, the second book comes to a climax with Rumpole, seemingly railroaded into retiring by his family and colleagues. The third book, Rumpole's Return, sees Rumpole and his Wife living with his son, a professor at the University of Miami, Florida. This follows an unlucky run of ten losses before Justice Bullingham, and a decision to retire. After receiving a letter from one of his ex-colleagues, Rumpole decides to return to his old chambers, where he takes on a seemingly unwinnable murder case. The accused and the victim were seen on a platform on the London Underground, and the accused was found in the possession of a note seemingly written in the victim's blood.

The book is a tremendous read. Rumpole is a very sympathetic character, and the wonderful stories are written very well. Clive James, writing in The Observer, is quoted as saying, "I thank heaven for small mercies. The first of these is Rumpole." I could not agree more!

Do you remember Rumpole? Are you familiar with the books? Please post a comment and let me know what you think.

Monday, May 11, 2009

An Englishman in San Diego - The Home Stretch

Once we had moved to the Sheraton Hotel and Marina for my Wife's conference, my daughter and I were alone during the day. I decided it was time to relax and not try to do quite so much each day. The first day (the seventh of our vacation), we had a lazy day at the hotel, watching TV, reading, playing and so on. We went down to the hotel lobby for a while, so I could take advantage of the free Wi-Fi there (it was $12 per day in the room, despite the entire marina area having a free Wi-Fi service, which the Sheraton blocked).

In the evening, once my Wife had finished for the day, we headed out to San Diego's Old Town district. This historic area has lots of restaurants, many of them Mexican, and many interesting places to see, especially in its Old Town State Historic Park. The park contains period buildings, some in their original locations and some that were moved in. Old Town also contains The Whaley House, supposedly the most haunted house in the United States. We were in the area to soak up the atmosphere and eat Mexican food.

The next day (Tuesday), my daughter and I spent time at Balboa Park. This beautiful and expansive park contains 15 museums and many other attractions. Many of the buildings in the park were originally built as temporary structures for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition, and have since been rebuilt. Upon arriving there, we discovered that the day you visit is extremely important, if you have specific things you want to see. I had heard about the narrow-gauge railway and the carousel, and hoped to take my daughter there, but upon arrival, I found that they were only open on Sundays. A local Mom I spotted there suggested that my daughter might enjoy The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, so that is where we went next. This museum, with its many interactive exhibits, was a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it. After we ate lunch, we headed for the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, which we discovered closed on Mondays and Tuesdays! Still, the park has a lot to offer and it is worth spending the entire day there.

My daughter and I spent the day before we were due to leave, relaxing in the marina area and the hotel. We had breakfast at Papanani's Deli at the marina, where we discovered the antidote to the hotel's expensive offerings. The food was delicious and the people were friendly. They put on children's TV for my daughter and I had unblocked access to the marina's free Wi-Fi!

In the evening, the family went down to Seaport Village for our final San Diego dinner, this time at Buster's Beach House & Longboard Bar. This fun bar and restaurant has a Hawaiian theme, and the food and beer are both great. I ate (and thoroughly recommend) the Pork Luau and Macadamia Nut-Crusted Chicken. I enjoyed Firehouse Pale Ale, brewed by firefighters who use the proceeds to support the widows and families of firefighters and to provide equipment to local firehouses.

That wonderful meal marked the end of our San Diego vacation. By six the next morning, we were reluctantly on our way to the airport, for the smooth and trouble-free flight back to New Jersey. Thank you San Diego, for making us feel so welcome.

I hope you have enjoyed this little series documenting the wonderful time we had in San Diego. Are you familiar with the area? Would you like to visit? Please do post comments or questions - I would love to hear from you.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

An Englishman in San Diego - Birthday, Beasts, Burritos, Backstage and Beer

The fifth day of our San Diego vacation was also the day my four-year-old daughter turned five. This day was all about her. We spent the day at the world-renowned San Diego Zoo. I remember being excited to visit this zoo the last time we were here, because I had heard so much about it. I also remember being very slightly disappointed, perhaps because my expectations were set so high by what I had heard. San Diego has been at the forefront of many advances in zoology, such as breeding programs and animal enrichment (providing enclosures, items and activities to stimulate their minds and bodies). The facility itself seems just a little old-fashioned compared to some of the other zoos I have been to. Nevertheless, I do recommend a visit if you get a chance.

For my daughter's birthday dinner we went to Fred's Mexican Cafe in The Gaslamp Quarter. This area of San Diego, with its bars, restaurants and trendy shopping, is full of activity, especially during the evenings. Fred's Mexican Cafe is a lively bar and restaurant, offering Mexican favorites with a healthy California twist. It is also the place that my daughter, then two years old, first discovered a love for Mexican food. During our first visit here, I remember her asking our server for "Mexican Food" when asked what she would like to order. When pressed for what kind of Mexican food she would like, she got quite agitated, asking for "Mexican Food" again. We ordered for her that time. This time, there was no such confusion. My daughter confidently asked for a black bean and cheese burrito as we sat out on their front terrace, watching the world drift by. Fred's combination plates are a good way to sample a range of different Mexican items, and they have draft Dos Equis Ambar, which is always a good thing. The food is delicious and ideal for the budget-conscious.

That marked the last day of our stay at The Dana Hotel on Mission Bay. On Sunday, the sixth day of our vacation, we had to move hotels. First, we went to SeaWorld again, this time for a behind-the-scenes tour. We visited areas not usually seen by the public, including the medical facility and places where they rehabilitate sick, injured and orphaned animals. We saw pregnant dolphins, kept in quiet areas away from the public, and we saw birds such as flamingos and parrots, which have jobs as "animal ambassadors" for SeaWorld.

We went straight from SeaWorld to the Sheraton Hotel & Marina, where my wife's conference was being held. It is a lovely hotel, with luxurious rooms, and our room came with a balcony overlooking the marina. However, it is also on an artificial island (built on the by-product of dredging the shipping channel around the San Diego Coast), which means they have a captive audience for their overpriced restaurants and bars. Guests either pay inflated prices, or pay for a taxi to take them to a more reasonably priced location. While the bar offered a good selection of local brews on tap (I greatly enjoyed Stone Pale Ale), I was paying nearly twice as much for the pleasure than I was at our previous hotel.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

An Englishman in San Diego - Ocean, Mountains, Desert...and Dessert

Our fourth day at San Diego was spent exploring many different terrains. An early start took us out to Point Loma, the home of the Cabrillo National Monument, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery and various naval installations. We were there to explore the renowned tidepools. Hitting this place at around low tide (in our case, a little after 10am) revealed a rocky landscape, full of little pools, containing an abundance of small sea-life, such as crabs (including hermit crabs), limpets, barnacles, mussels and abalones. If you ever come here, bring waterproof shoes with a good grip. It is slippery!

California has many State parks. Two adjoining ones, Cuyamaca Rancho and Anza Borrego, were next on our itinerary. Cuyamaca Rancho is very mountainous. When we went, we did not see much evidence of wildlife, but mountain lions (pumas) have attacked hikers and bicyclists on trails in the area.

Right next door to Cuyamaco Rancho is Anza Borrego National Park, and even without the signs, it is easy to spot where it begins. The terrain becomes more sparse with flat plains among the mountains and various cacti dotted around. It is a desert, but at this time of year, and after plenty of rain, the area looks more green and lush.

I was talking on-line a while back to a work-colleague of mine, who used to live in San Diego, and asked her about places I might visit with my family. After I told her that we were considering visiting Cuyamaca Rancho and Anza Borrego on one of our days here, she recommended that we stop for lunch at Julian, a small town in the area. She said that we must try the apple pie there. On our way, we stopped at a small antique market just outside of Julian, and after we had looked around for a while, the proprietor struck up a bit of a conversation with us. We mentioned to her that a friend recommended that we try apple pie in Julian, and we asked her where she would recommend trying it. She recommended The Julian Pie Company.

Julian is a small town, with lots of little shops along the main street, many of them catering to tourists. You can take a horse-drawn carriage drive up and down the street. In addition, of course, there is pie! The place has a nickname of "Pie Town." Although we did not try pie anywhere else, The Julian Pie Company must be at least one of the best places to sample this quintessential American food. Unlike many other places designed to accommodate tourists, this place offers great food at great value. We had a sandwich, potato chips, drink and a honking big slice of delicious pie for just under $8 each and sat out on the front deck watching the world go by. This family-owned and run business even grows their own apples!

Before setting out on our vacation, my Wife had discovered that an old friend had moved with her family to San Diego. Up until early evening, we had planned to visit them for dinner after our day out. Unfortunately, we felt the effects of the swine flu panic again. There was a confirmed case at the school one of their daughters attended and it was immediately closed. The school advised that contact with others should be limited until after the incubation period had passed, so we had to call off our dinner plans and eat alone.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

An Englishman in San Diego - Whales, Seals, Sea Lions and Fish & Chips

We spent our first full day in San Diego at SeaWorld. While the thought of animals in captivity, performing whales, dolphins, sea lions, etc., may put some people off, it is undoubtedly a lot of fun for the little ones, not to mention educational. We went when we were in San Diego two years ago, and while it is still fresh in the minds of my Wife and me, our daughter, who was two at the time, had completely forgotten about that first trip.

We thoroughly recommend Breakfast With Shamu, a very good poolside buffet breakfast. Poolside, referring to one of the smaller killer whale pools. One or two of the whale trainers put one of their whales through its paces right next to you as you eat. Shamu is a collective and trademarked name for any of the performing killer whales (orcas) at all of SeaWorld's various locations. We were introduced, as we were last time when we were here, to the 45-year-old and very gentle female named Corky. I actually prefer the Breakfast with Shamu experience to the big whale show they put on at SeaWorld, but there is no doubt that Believe, featuring many of the whales here, is quite a spectacle. If you are with an enthusiastic four-year-old, prepare to have to sit in the "Soak Zone," anywhere in the first 20 rows or so around Shamu Stadium. In addition to getting wet when the whales jump, one of the tricks they do is to splash the audience with their tails.

The next day, we went on a two-hour cruise along the San Diego coastline. Arriving at the harbor area, we were surprised to see several huge cruise ships in dock, many tourists milling around, and TV news crews interviewing people. We are, of course, in the middle of a panic about swine flu, and San Diego is in very close proximity to Mexico, its current epicenter. Two cruise ships were originally scheduled to go to Mexico, but the swine flu scare had caused them to divert to San Diego, resulting in many more people than usual in the vicinity.

San Diego is known for its connection with the US Navy, and our more modest cruise took us first under the Coronado Bridge, showing us many of the Navy ships stationed here. When we turned around and headed in the opposite direction, we saw more naval activity, including Navy SEALs in a training exercise jumping out of helicopters into the water, and dolphins being trained for special operations out of small boats. We also saw many wild California sea lions. Upon our return to the harbor, and in the interests of research for my readers, we ate some very good fish and chips at Anthony's Fish Grotto (in the quick-serve "Fishette" section, where you can sit out by the water).

As some of you may know, I work for a company that offers on-line education. The company is based in Temecula, California, not that far from San Diego. For the first time in the ten years that I have worked for them, I managed to meet in person, one of my work colleagues. Ending the day, my colleague joined us with her husband for a pizza dinner at Escondido, a city about halfway between San Diego and Temecula.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

An Englishman in San Diego - Football and Beer

The family and I are currently vacationing in San Diego, California. My Wife was due to attend a conference here, so we decided to extend the trip and make a vacation (or a holiday, for the benefit of my British friends) of it.

One thing that may surprise some is how long it takes to get from one side of the USA to the other. We live on the East coast (New Jersey), and San Diego is on the West coast in California. It takes almost as long to fly from Newark Airport, New Jersey to San Diego, California (about 6 hours) as it takes to fly from New Jersey to London (about 7 hours).

There is also a three hour time difference, so while we arrived at our hotel at about 6pm local time, it felt like 9pm to us, so we were feeling pretty tired and hungry. The first thing we did was head for the hotel’s bar and grill, known as The Firefly.

I have written before about some of the responses I get when people hear my English accent. I got a rare one at The Firefly. The greeter, a small Mexican man, sat us at our table and after a bit of small talk while he was making us comfortable, turned to me and asked if I liked football. I had assumed he was talking about American football (which I generally refer to as “rugby for wimps” due to the wearing of all that body-armor), and thought he was going to offer to change the channel on the television to some big game. However, he had noticed my English accent, and was asking me whether I followed what they generally refer to here as soccer. I hated to disappoint the poor chap who, it turned out, was a big Manchester United supporter, but I have never really cared much for that game either. I figured that he probably did not get many opportunities to talk about British soccer with a real live Brit, so I tried my best to fake it a little. He seemed satisfied when I told him my home team was Luton Town, a team that once was moderately successful, but who I believe have not done that well in the years I have been in the US.

If this Englishman knows embarrassingly little about football, I do know a good pint when I taste it, and I was not disappointed with the selection of beers on tap. The Firefly prides itself on offering a good range of beers from local microbreweries, small independent companies handcrafting their own brews. If you are ever out here, I thoroughly recommend Red Trolley Ale, a red ale that I would describe as “hoppy and hearty.”