How Mary and I Met

Mary & David in Scarborough, 1990

Mary & David in Scarborough, 1990

The photo above, which is one of the earliest of my wife Mary and me together, was actually taken in Scarborough, England, in 1990, during the occasion of our first joint visit to my family there. At that time, we weren’t yet married, or even engaged, but that all was to change within a year following the visit.

Given that Valentine’s Day occurs this week, it seemed like an appropriate time to post an article about how we came to meet. Since posting previous articles about how I emigrated from Britain to California in 1987, there seems to have been some interest in how Mary and I got together. One event definitely did not follow immediately from the other, and I certainly hadn’t come to California with any expectation of “finding love”.

Resources for Dating

In a previous post, I described how, having moved from Britain to California to live and work, my new answering machine message began to attract completely unexpected attention from anonymous women, who apparently liked to call and hear my “cute accent”. I’d never really considered my accent to be of much interest to anyone, although my original Yorkshire cadences had changed somewhat as a result of having lived for a few years in Southern England.

Those expressions of possible romantic potential eventually led me to think that it might be worthwhile to try dating again, which was something I’d given up on several years previously. However, that was easier said than done in a new country, because I had been sponsored to come to California by my employer, and I knew absolutely nobody in the state except the people I worked with.

Although there were some young women working for my employer, most of them seemed to have the (probably wise) attitude that they didn’t want to date men with whom they worked. For their dates, they seemed to rely on their own family contacts, or friends with whom they’d grown up at school, and of course none of those resources were available to me.

I began to look at various “dating agencies”, but in general these seemed overpriced and of questionable value. Some seemed to be outright “rip-offs” that tried to employ high-pressure sales tactics to get what they seemed to regard as “losers” to part with their money! (I’m pleased to say that such tactics didn’t work on me.)

There was, however, one relatively cheap service that, in my case at least, produced a spectacular result, albeit via a rather roundabout and initially unpromising route.


There was no internet dating in those days, of course, so I eventually found and joined a San Francisco-based telephone dating service called Yellowphone (now long defunct). When using this service, I called in to a central number, entered my personal ID, and then listened to voice messages from prospective partners who were “compatible” with me. (Mary said that her experience of using the service was different, but that was what I did.)

You couldn’t see a picture of the person speaking (which might actually have been a good thing, since it prevented people from making snap judgments based on looks), so all you had to go on was their voice and their descriptions of themselves.

I did contact several of the women whose messages I listened to, and, although I had some pleasant dates, I felt that I just didn’t have enough in common with any of them to make a successful relationship. I’ve sometimes wondered whether I may have been giving too much emphasis to that factor, because my experience of the opposite sex at that time was very limited (and spectacularly unsuccessful). On the other hand, maybe my emphasis was correct, because when I did finally meet someone who seemed to have some views and interests in common with mine, it worked out well.

Not a Match

One morning in early 1989, when I would normally have been at work, I was instead lying in bed in my apartment with some kind of flu. The phone rang. It was the lady who owned Yellowphone, calling to tell me that she had a client who would like to meet me, but was not really a match for me, so she wanted to get my permission before giving out my details.

The problem, apparently, was that Mary was a few years older than me, which wasn’t considered a match for my preferences. Nonetheless, her description otherwise sounded interesting, so I agreed that we should meet.

It turned out that Mary had been told the same thing; that I was not a match for her! She had been a member of the Yellowphone service for a while, without any particular success. Finally, the owner asked her if there were any particular types of men she’d like to meet. She mentioned that perhaps a British man would be interesting, because she’d visited England a few times and liked their sense of humor. The owner responded that I was a member of the service, and offered to contact me to see whether I would permit my details to be given out.

A Great First Date

Mary and I did exchange details, and we got together for a first date. It all seemed to go very well; we went for afternoon tea at the King George Hotel, then to the Champagne Bar at Neiman-Marcus [Edit 3/1/18: Mary tells me that the Champagne Bar was at Nordstrom rather than Neiman-Marcus; I don’t remember!], and finally ended up going to see a particularly appropriate movie (“A Fish Called Wanda”).

I mentioned in a previous post that I had interviewed one of the stars of that movie—Michael Palin—while at university, and of course I told Mary about that at the time.

The Scene of part of our First Date, much later in 2014

The Scene of part of our First Date, much later in 2014

I think that, by the end of our date, we had both decided that we’d like to see each other again, although I think we both had some reservations. One very good sign was that, during our date, conversation didn’t seem to lapse, as it had often done for me on other dates. The two of us seemed to have many experiences and pastimes that were of interest to the other.

The photo below of me was taken in a famous (albeit foggy) location by Mary, during one of our early dates.

David at the Golden Gate Bridge - with hideous Mullet!

David at the Golden Gate Bridge – with hideous Mullet!

We dated for over a year before deciding to get engaged, and we were married in early 1991.

We chose a date in early January for our wedding, which I realized in retrospect was a poor choice, because it was so soon after the holiday, and the weather in more northerly climates was too severe for some of our family members to be able to attend.

Making It Last

So that was the start of what has to date been a twenty-seven year marriage.

Of course, it hasn’t all been “smooth sailing”, and we’ve had our share of problems. Nonetheless, through it all, not only have we both continued to love each other, but we are also friends, and I think that those factors have helped to preserve our relationship during difficult times.

Lessons to be Learned?

Incidentally, I’m not offering this article in any way as “Dave’s Tips for a Lasting Relationship”! My experiences of relationships are quite limited, and my personal history has been relatively unusual, so I doubt that my concerns and decisions would be applicable to the personal situations of others.

However, one thing that has become obvious to me, in retrospect, is the importance of not being too restrictive in advance about who may or may not be a “match”. In our case, not only was the owner of the Yellowphone service wrong about our suitability, but I myself would have had serious reservations, earlier on.

I explained in a previous post that, if someone had accurately predicted the course of my life when I was a teenager, I would have laughed at them and dismissed their claims.

Similarly, if someone had told that young undergraduate engineer entering Imperial College in 1981 that, within 10 years, he’d be marrying an “air hostess” (as they were then called) who lived in San Francisco, he’d have laughed at that too! After all, engineers just didn’t do that, and what would we have in common anyway? (Mary would probably have felt the same way about the idea of marrying an engineer!)

Happy Valentine’s Day

I hope you have an enjoyable Valentine’s Day this year, wherever you are, and whomever you’re sharing it with!

Our Twenty-Seventh Wedding Anniversary

Mary and I in Yosemite, January 2001

Mary and Me in Yosemite, January 2001

On January 9th Mary and I celebrate our Twenty-Seventh Wedding Anniversary. The photo above shows the two of us celebrating our tenth anniversary, in Yosemite, which was also where we spent our honeymoon.

Meeting Mary was undoubtedly one of the best things that ever happened to me! I love you, Mary, and I look forward to many more happy years together!

New Year’s Eve: Then & Now

New Year's Eve, 1977

New Year’s Eve, 1977

The photo above was taken exactly 40 years ago, on New Year’s Eve, 1977. The location was the War Memorial near the summit of Oliver’s Mount, in Scarborough, which as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, was a prime spot for sky and cloud photography.

According to my records, this particular photo was taken at 3.05 that afternoon, indicative of the shortness of days at that time of year. The sky that afternoon seemed to me to be heavy with a sense of foreboding, which turned out to be appropriate, because many tumultuous events were about to occur in my life during the ensuing few years. In retrospect it seems like an incredible and very scary roller-coaster ride, ending only ten years later, in 1987, when I found myself spending my first New Year on a different continent, here in California.

The Birds Just Won’t Pose

Yesterday, a flock of Robins and Waxwings appeared in the ornamental pear trees in front of our house. This is a fairly common event here during Winter, but it was the first time this year that I’d noticed the two species together in the trees.


Robin & Waxwing in a Pear Tree

I mentioned in an earlier post that these scenes formed the inspiration for the design of our 2017 Yuletide Card, titled Sonoma Winter Birds.

One advantage of being able to draw, and so create my own artwork, is that I can pose my subjects in whatever way results in the best composition. For the card design, I was able to position the two birds close to each other, striking exactly the poses that I wanted. For the robin, I knew the pose that I wanted, but was unable to find any reference material showing one in that position. Nonetheless, understanding something of the anatomy of birds meant that I could create a convincing pose from my imagination, aided by images of similar species, as below.


Sonoma Winter Birds

Back when I was learning to draw, the usefulness of that skill in this age of photography was sometimes questioned. Why spend hours creating a realistic image, when the camera can achieve equivalent or better results in a fraction of a second? It has since become clear to me that natural history subjects are one area where drawing skill continues to offer an advantage over photography.

No matter how good their equipment, photographers do not have the luxury of being able to conjure up a scene from their imaginations. When shooting natural history subjects, they must be content with whatever poses their actors choose to adopt. My own photo above shows that, even though the birds were together in the same tree, they were never close enough to each other so that I could capture them in the same frame. Instead, I simply created a composite bitmap of 2 photos.

Even so, there’s no doubt that the abundance of photographs of any desired subject provides a treasury of reference material that was simply unavailable to earlier generations of illustrators. I’ll have more to say about this in a future post.

Happy New Year 2018!

My best wishes to all of you for a joyous and prosperous 2018!

Happy Holidays: at Home or Away

David Hodgson and Nikki, at the Cypress Inn, Christmas 1994

Me and Nikki, at the Cypress Inn, Christmas 1994

The photo above shows me spending one Christmas/Yuletide away from home, but nonetheless with all our cats! It was taken in 1994, on one of several occasions when we were staying at the Cypress Inn in Carmel, California, along with all three cats. The cat shown is our eldest, Nikki, who was hanging out with Mary and me at the hotel bar. The bartender eventually served Nikki a saucer of milk, as shown below!

Mary, Nikki & Me at the Cypress Inn bar, Christmas 1994

Mary, Nikki & Me at the Cypress Inn bar, Christmas 1994

The reason that we were able to have our cats stay with us in the hotel was because the Cypress Inn is owned by movie star Doris Day, who has been a life-long benefactor to animals. Pets are thus welcome to stay at the Cypress Inn, and, for several Christmases, Mary and I transported our three cats with us to stay at the inn for a few days.

Waxwings with Happy Holidays Message

At this time of year, I’m often asked whether I’ll be spending the holiday “at home”, or “going away”. I’ve enjoyed both alternatives in the past, but then of course that brings up the question of where “home” actually is. If my “home” is where I was born, then in fact I spend every Christmas away from it, and have done for decades.

Nonetheless, recent events have made me realize that I shouldn’t necessarily take it for granted that I’ll always have the luxury of being able to spend the holidays in my home.

My First Independent Christmas, in a Rebuilt City

As I mentioned in a previous post, the first time that I lived in any location away from my birth home in Scarborough was to attend university in Coventry, in the West Midlands of England.

Until then, I’d always been a child who was very nervous about the idea of living away from my parents, even for a short time. I was extremely distressed when it was suggested that, due to the difficulties that my mother was facing with my invalid father and grandmother, the local Social Services felt that I might need to be moved into a care home, but, later the same year, I did indeed find myself living independently for the first time.

When that day came, I quickly came to wonder what I’d been so worried about. I loved living independently, and was very excited about my new freedom and the possibilities that it seemed to offer.

Of course, I suppose that the desire of children to be close to their parents is an evolutionary adaptation. Children who preferred to wander away from their parents’ protection would be less likely to survive than those who stayed close, so an instinctive desire to remain with parents has been selected. Nonetheless, there comes a day when every well-adjusted child must make the decision to leave home and live independently.

In December 1978, I found myself wandering around the streets of Coventry, doing my Christmas shopping. The photo below shows my view of the “Upper Precinct” shopping centre in Coventry, suitably decorated for the holiday.

Upper Precinct, Coventry, December 1978

Upper Precinct, Coventry, December 1978

Coventry is of course internationally famous because its city centre was almost completely destroyed during the Blitz bombing of 1940. On one night in November, 1940, some 4300 homes were destroyed in Coventry.

By the time that I lived there, most of the city had been rebuilt. The Precinct shopping centre above was part of the redevelopment, although the spire of Coventry Cathedral in the background is medieval, and survived the bombing. (The remainder of the cathedral is a ruin, with the modern replacement cathedral alongside.)

New Horizons

I lived in Coventry for only about one year, then returned to Scarborough, where I ended up working at an engineering company for nearly two years.

Nonetheless, that first taste of life “away from home” set wheels in motion for me. I finally realized that there was a whole wide world out there, beyond the limited horizons of life in a small Northern town, and I couldn’t wait to begin exploring it!

Don’t Take “Home” for Granted

I mentioned above the mass destruction of homes in Coventry many decades ago, something which I hoped I’d never have to experience during my lifetime.

However, the events in Sonoma County during the past few months have been a painful reminder that we can’t necessarily take it for granted that we will have a home in which to remain. Tragically, even now, some who lost their homes to the fires here nearly three months ago are still living in hotels, as described in an article in today’s Press Democrat newspaper. It’s a Christmas away from home for them, but not one that they wanted.

It seems appropriate that those of us who are lucky enough still to have homes to stay in should try to make the most of them this holiday season.

Whatever your reason for celebrating this season, we hope you manage to have an enjoyable time, wherever you stay.


Christmases of Yore

Natural History Museum, London, at Christmas, 1981

Natural History Museum, London, at Christmas, 1981

This rather dark and blurry photo may look like the interior of some European cathedral, but in fact it’s the foyer of the Natural History Museum in London. I took the photo during my first Christmas in London, while a student there in 1981.

On the right, you can just see the dark outline of part of the huge Diplodocus skeleton (Dippy) that was a permanent fixture in the museum’s foyer in those days. You would be unlikely to see such a thing in any church!

Unlike most students, I didn’t go home to my family during the Christmas break from university, but instead stayed in the student dorms (paying rent, of course), and worked as a Sales Assistant at Selfridges on Oxford Street. (During Christmas of 1982, I worked at Harrods, but I found Selfridges to be the better employer.)

I knew that, if I were to go back to my home town of Scarborough for the Christmas break, my only employment opportunity was likely to be as a waiter at one of the town’s hotels. While still at Scarborough Sixth Form College, and then after returning from my first term at Warwick University, I’d worked as a waiter at the Red Lea Hotel over Christmas, and that was not pleasant work. The pay was very low and the hours were unsociable. Not only that, but, since I didn’t own a car, I had to walk there and back, or wait in the cold for infrequent buses. Working in London, at Selfridges, was considerably pleasanter, and I was able to take the relatively cozy London Underground tube between my lodgings and my work.

Piccadilly Night Ride

At that age, I really enjoyed spending the Christmas holiday in bustling London, where it felt like it was “all happening”. In retrospect, I must admit that I just remember the place as being noisy, dirty, cold, and dangerous, but I didn’t mind all that at the time.

It really was quite dangerous. There was always the threat of an IRA bomb (which did actually happen outside Harrods in December 1983). Apart from that, simply negotiating the traffic could be hazardous, as I discovered one evening when leaving Selfridges. As I was crossing Oxford Street, the heel of one of my shoes broke, causing me to fall backwards. My head landed only about six inches from the wheel of a passing taxi.

I also took the photo below during Christmas 1981, showing traffic crawling along near Piccadilly Circus.

Traffic in Piccadilly, London, Christmas 1981

Traffic in Piccadilly, London, Christmas 1981

Looking at this photo again now, I can almost hear the noise and smell the diesel fumes!

My reflections in this article should not be mistaken for nostalgia. Although I preferred Christmas in London to Christmas in Scarborough, I don’t miss those days! The Yuletide season for me now, here in California, is much happier than it ever was in Britain.

Our Yuletide Cards are On the Way


Sonoma Winter Birds

Sonoma Winter Birds

All our Yuletide cards are on the way to their recipients, as of Wednesday.

This year’s cover design is called Sonoma Winter Birds, and features a Cedar Waxwing and an American Robin. I took inspiration for the design from something that’s a common sight in our area at this time of year. Wherever there are trees with berries, we see mixed flocks of waxwings and robins descending to feast on the fruit.

The painting was produced with ink and watercolor. For the robin’s breast, I used Japanese-made vermilion sumi ink, which provides a strong festive highlight for the image (and happens to be just about the correct shade of orange-red!).

Robins for Christmas?

In a previous post, about a year ago, I discussed the popularity of Eurasian Robins in Britain, as a seasonal icon on Christmas cards and other holiday decorations. Apparently, that tradition is limited only to Britain, and doesn’t extend to other European countries.

When I was discussing the design of this year’s card with Mary, she pointed out that, in the more northerly parts of North America, some robins migrate south for Winter, and are thus less likely to be seen in the seasonal landscape. In those areas, some people even look out for the “first robin of Spring”, although the idea that there are no robins around in Winter seems to be a myth, according to this article.

Here, in more southerly climes, our resident robins not only stick around for Winter, but the numbers may actually increase, because of birds migrating from the north. Their behavior also changes, presumably because of variations in the food supply. During the warmer months, robins forage alone, or at least not in organized flocks. It’s only in Winter that they travel together with birds of their own species and other species.

QR Code Link

This year, for the first time, I included on the card a QR code that, when scanned, takes you to a landing page in this blog ( We’ve always included a printed copy of our letter with the cards we send, and sometimes people ask for a PDF version of that. Now, people can just navigate to the online letter, and print a version for themselves in PDF, or any other format, if they wish.

Of course, to scan the QR code, you need a scanner app for your smartphone (or similar device with a camera). There are many such apps available free, and I’m not recommending any particular one here. However, the app I use in my Android devices is the Kaspersky Labs scanner:

A nice feature of the Kaspersky app is that it warns you if a QR code is malicious, which is always a risk, because the web address to which the code points is not human-readable.

Our New Production Plan Succeeded

Following the card production problems that arose last year, Mary and I agreed on a new “division of labor” for the various tasks. I’m pleased to say that the new arrangements seem to have worked very well, with the unplanned result that we’ve been able to send out the cards earlier than ever before.

We also avoided the atmosphere of “last-minute panic” that has sometimes accompanied the task on previous occasions!

Yuletide “Backup” Artwork for 2017


Waxwings & Berries

Waxwings & Berries

The picture above is not the artwork for our 2017 Yuletide card, although our cards just arrived back from the printer yesterday, and I’ll be sharing the actual artwork for that as soon as we send out the cards (which I hope will be during this week).

When I began working on a painting for this year’s card, I was painfully aware that the possibilities for messing it up were rife. (In fact, that’s one major advantage of creating artwork digitally instead of via conventional methods; with digital artwork you can always hit Undo!) When working on a conventional painting, it only takes one slip of the brush, or perhaps one drop of spilled coffee, and the whole project is ruined.

Therefore, I decided to create a simpler piece of “backup artwork”, which I could use for the card if some disaster befell the main painting. Thus I created the vaguely “Charley Harper” style design shown above, using Corel Draw.

Fortunately, I didn’t mess up the main watercolor artwork, so I didn’t need to substitute this design. Nonetheless, I realized that I could easily adapt it for use as a decoration for our return address labels, so that’s what I did.

I mentioned on another page that I had decided to stop producing “Asian New Year” designs for the return address labels of our cards, because the time taken to do that detracted from the creation of the card itself. Thus, things worked out well for me this year!