My Father and his Garden

My Father with his Roses, c.1960

My Father with his Roses, c.1960

For Father’s Day, I decided to post a photo of my own father alongside his “pride and joy”, which was the large garden that he cultivated at the house in Scarborough where we grew up. He lavished many of his leisure hours on that garden, growing all kinds of plants, including the rose bushes shown. The photo was taken c.1960, before he suffered his first stroke. After that, he was no longer able to do the physical work required to maintain the garden, which then gradually deteriorated (although my mother did pitch in to maintain it until we moved away in 1970).

There’s no doubt that the results he achieved while still healthy were spectacular, as shown in the photo below of the two of us sitting by the frog pond in the back garden.

My Father with Me in our Back Garden, 1963

My Father with Me in our Back Garden, 1963

Naturally, having nothing else against which to compare it, I took it for granted that everyone had a huge garden like ours, with a pond and a stream running through it, and that working on the garden was a necessary part of every adult’s life.

It was only as I grew up that I came to realize that, not only did some people not have large gardens, but that some city-dwelling types actually didn’t have their own gardens at all!

Decades later, when I moved to California, I made the further discovery that all that gardening effort is something of a British peculiarity. Some Americans do take pride in maintaining beautiful gardens, and some take an interest in cultivating roses or other specific types of plant. Nonetheless, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone here say that their hobby is “gardening”, which would be quite common in Britain.

Large Garden: Small House

It was also common for British suburban houses to be built with large surrounding gardens, even when the homes themselves were quite small.

Now, both the homes and the gardens are becoming small; the smallest in Europe, according to this article. Nonetheless, there are still many older houses that still have the large gardens with which they were built.

According to current aerial views, the garden of our Scarborough house has now been largely built over, so there’s nothing left to see of all my father’s hard work.

On Second Thoughts

Having grown up enjoying that immense garden, I was convinced that I, too, wanted to create and maintain something similar. It was only when we moved into a house with a garden that I realized just how much time and expense was involved! It seemed even less appealing because we were renting that house, so all that effort was going into someone else’s garden.

As a result, I dialed back my gardening ambitions very substantially! Now, I’m quite happy to have a small, well-designed, garden, and pay someone else to maintain it, even though I own the property. The photo below, showing our home’s front garden a few months ago, shows the modest level of my requirements!

The Front Garden of our Home in Santa Rosa

The Front Garden of our Home in Santa Rosa

Recapturing his Childhood

In my father’s case, I believe that he had some specific, tragic reasons for wanting to create a large and luxuriant garden. He had been born into a relatively wealthy (upper middle class) family. His father owned a textile mill in Leeds, and they lived in a large house in the suburb of Roundhay, with a complement of servants.

Unfortunately, for various reasons, the mill went bankrupt, probably in the late 1920s, and because the business was unincorporated, they lost everything. My father’s garden was probably thus a way of recapturing a lost aspect of his happy younger days.

Royal Weddings & Royal Wars

 

The Dordogne River, France, from Chateau de Beynac

The Dordogne River, France, from Chateau de Beynac

I took the photo above, looking down onto the Dordogne River in France, from the ruined battlements of the Château de Beynac.

I was reminded of this view now because of its perhaps-surprising place in English history. As I’ll explain below, my thoughts were prompted by the recent media coverage of the forthcoming British Royal Wedding, which will take place on the 19th May. Given that I was born in Britain, perhaps some would imagine that I’d be enthusiastic about such an event. After all, as Canadian actor Mike Myers said of his own Liverpool-born father a few years ago (and as reported in the Liverpool Echo):

There’s no-one more English than an Englishman not living in England

Well, I’m sorry to have to admit that I don’t fit that stereotype, at least if it applies to a fondness for royalty and certain other British institutions.

I can’t say that I’ve ever taken any great interest in the activities of the Royal Family. When I was starting my engineering apprenticeship at Ferranti, back in 1981, the nation’s attention was focused on another “fairy tale” royal wedding; that of Charles and Diana. There’s probably nobody in the world who doesn’t know how badly that “fairy tale” ended, for all involved. Sadly, from what we know now, the whole business seems to have been a fraudulent façade from the start.

When I came to live in the US about 30 years ago, I was rather surprised by the level of interest shown by the American media in British royalty. Didn’t they fight a war to free themselves from those overlords? Of course, I now realize that most of the interest really stems from the unhealthy practice of celebrity worship, and not from any actual desire to be ruled by the House of Windsor!

In the latest case, things already seem to be going ”off the rails”, according to reports like this one (from the San Jose Mercury), indicating that the bride’s father is causing embarrassment and confusion.

English Royalty or French Royalty?

I’m not sure how many people outside Britain realize that what’s now the Royal Family traces its roots to William I, a prince from Normandy (France), who in 1066 famously invaded England, killed the English king, and claimed the country as his own.

William then embarked on a ruthless campaign to suppress resistance throughout the country, removing many of the former English lords and replacing them with his own supporters. The Harrying of the North was so cruel that many areas were left uninhabitable for decades afterwards.

Given that William also reigned over lands in what’s now France, his conquest of England led to centuries of strife over the rulership of the territories. This culminated in the Hundred Years War, by the end of which the King of England lost most of his French principalities.

At one point during the Hundred Years War, the border between English and French territory was the Dordogne River. In the photo above, the land from which I took the photo was at that time French, while the land that’s visible on the other side of the river was English.

The photo below shows the Château de Beynac from below. The road from which I took the photo runs along the North bank of the river.

Beynac from the River Bank

Beynac from the River Bank

The photo below shows an evening view of the central plaza in the commune of Domme, a few miles from Beynac. Domme is a bastide like Beynac, but, being on the opposite bank of the Dordogne, was in English hands during the Hundred Years War.

The Mairie of Domme

The Mairie of Domme

Off with their Heads!

One notable (if unsurprising) fact about those medieval wars is that nobody ever asked the populations of the disputed territories who they would prefer to be ruled by. The pretenders to the thrones, and their personal armies, simply fought among themselves, and it was taken for granted that the populace would accept the outcome.

Ideas of government have certainly come a long way since then, and (despite some major shortcomings) one of the world’s most successful experiments in democratic government must surely be the USA.

Unfortunately, in contrast to the US case, many attempts to overthrow monarchies and replace them with democratic governments have not been successful. Amid all the current Royal Wedding fuss, it’s easy to forget that such a revolution once happened in England, as the outcome of the English Civil War. In 1649, the English monarchy was bloodily terminated when King Charles I was publicly beheaded. Unfortunately, the dictatorship that replaced him (led by Oliver Cromwell) was so unpleasant that the monarchy was eventually restored by popular demand!

Thus, while I’m no fan of monarchies anywhere, I’m well aware that the alternatives may sometimes be much worse!

Becoming American (in Oakland)

Stage of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Stage of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Last Thursday, I officially became a citizen of the United States of America, after living here for about 27 years as a legal Permanent Resident. The photo above shows the stage of the Paramount Theatre, in Oakland, which was where the swearing-in ceremony took place.

(I mentioned in a previous post that I had passed the US Citizenship test at the CIS offices in San Francisco, and was waiting to be called for this event.)

Given the number of new citizens being admitted, there was a large crowd at the event. There were 1,018 people being sworn in at that ceremony, and everyone had been invited to bring family and friends, so there were several thousand people in the theater.

Prior to the actual oath-taking, there were several speeches, videos, and even a choir! The photo below shows California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, speaking to the audience. Padilla himself is an immigrant from Mexico.

Alex Padilla Speaking at the Ceremony

Alex Padilla Speaking at the Ceremony

At the end of the ceremony, everyone takes the Oath of Allegiance as a group, and then Certificates of Naturalization are distributed to each individual. After exiting the auditorium, we were invited to register to vote and to apply for a US passport. This turned out to be quite chaotic, so instead of trying to get a photograph of me in the theatre, we went to the coffee shop next door, where Mary took the photo below. The flag in my hand was given to me at the ceremony, but I’ve owned the tie for many years!

A New American!

A New American!

An Art Deco Masterpiece

The Paramount Theatre was built in 1931, by an affiliate of Paramount Pictures, and was constructed in an opulent Art Deco style. Thankfully, after decades of neglect, the building was saved and restored to its current condition.

The photo below shows the theater’s lobby, with soon-to-be citizens entering from the street in the background.

Lobby of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Lobby of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

The exterior of the theater is equally impressive, as shown below.

Exterior of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Exterior of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Next door to the theater is another spectacular Art Deco survivor, the former I Magnin store, clad in beautiful green terracotta (and also built in 1931), now converted into offices and a coffee shop. This coffee shop was the one in which Mary took the photo of me, above.

In the photo below, the queue around the building is formed by people waiting to get into the theater for the next swearing-in ceremony, which began almost as soon as mine was over!

Former I Magnin Store, Oakland

Former I Magnin Store, Oakland

It’s a great credit to the City of Oakland that at least some of its architectural gems have been saved in this way, and their presence comes as quite a surprise in the midst of so much “urban blight”.

Hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow

The ceremony started quite early in the morning, so, to avoid the rush hour traffic, we decided to stay over in Oakland the night before. We stayed at the Z Hotel, Jack London Square. The photo below shows the hotel and its parking lot after dark.

The Z Hotel, Oakland

The Z Hotel, Oakland

As the song “Walk Like An Egyptian” goes; “If you want to find all the cops, They’re hanging out…” at this hotel, apparently. The Buttercup coffee shop at the hotel is open late, and the location is close to the Oakland Police Station, so it seems that this has become a regular meeting place. The “police presence” certainly made us feel safer while staying at the hotel!

The impressive floodlit building below is situated on the opposite side of 3rd Street from the hotel, but it took some time before I worked out what it actually is. It is the former depot of the Western Pacific railroad, whose trains stopped on street tracks in front of the depot until 1970.

Former Western Pacific Depot, Oakland

Former Western Pacific Depot, Oakland

This photo on Flickr shows a WP California Zephyr train waiting at the depot. You can see the depot building on the right, and on the left is the motel that is now the Z Hotel.

Although there are no longer any railroad tracks down 3rd Street, they are very much still in place on Embarcadero West, only about 2 blocks away from the hotel. This line is still heavily used by both passenger and freight trains. The photo below shows the tail end of a freight that had just passed the crossing on Broadway.

Freight Train on Embarcadero West, Oakland

Freight Train on Embarcadero West, Oakland

We could hear the train horns quite clearly from the hotel, although fortunately they do not sound in the middle of the night.

The Heron at the Pool

As mentioned above, the Z Hotel itself is a former motel, and still features a swimming pool. The following morning, while we were getting ready to take a shuttle bus up Broadway to the theater, the pool’s sole user was a Black-Crowned Night Heron, which was hoping in vain to catch its breakfast there! The photo below shows the pool area and a closeup of the bird.

Black-crowned Night Heron enjoying the Pool

Black-crowned Night Heron enjoying the Pool

When I open my wallet now, it seems strange not to see the Permanent Resident Card that I was required to carry for 27 years! This is due to a legal oddity; non-citizens are required to carry proof of their residency status, but citizens are not.

Easter Blossoms in Railroad Square

Tree Blossom at the Railroad Depot, Santa Rosa

Tree Blossom at the Railroad Depot, Santa Rosa

We’re enjoying perfect Easter weather in Santa Rosa, and yesterday afternoon I visited Railroad Square, where the trees are blossoming. I took several photos, including this one of the former Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad depot (which is now Chevy’s restaurant).

As you can see, the depot’s name is still visible (although usually unnoticed by passers-by) in the wrought ironwork of the balcony, which is above what was the main entrance of the Spanish-Colonial-style depot when it was built in 1927. Its survival is quite remarkable, given that passenger services on the P&SRRR ceased in 1932. The building’s appearance has recently been improved by new paintwork. The photo below shows the full façade of the building. On the other side of the blocked door is the restaurant’s bar.

Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad Depot

Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad Depot

Those familiar with Railroad Square may be surprised that I didn’t start with a photo of the more familiar North Western Pacific railroad depot. That building also is currently surrounded by blossoming trees, as shown below:

Former NWP Depot, Santa Rosa

Former NWP Depot, Santa Rosa

The reason that I didn’t choose that as my header picture was because, as you can see, it’s impossible to get a composition without its being spoiled by all the cars parked around it!

This railroad depot achieved fame by being featured in the 1943 Alfred Hitchcock movie, Shadow of a Doubt. There’s a well-known photo of the entire cast and crew in front of the depot. Perhaps the building’s more impressive achievement, prior to that, was that, along with most of the other stone buildings in Railroad Square, it survived the 1906 earthquake, which did far more damage per capita in Santa Rosa than it did in San Francisco.

It’s heartening to be able to report that passenger trains are once again stopping at this depot, for the first time since 1958. Yesterday, as I arrived at Railroad Square, a northbound train was paused at the station, as shown below.

SMART Train at Santa Rosa Station

SMART Train at Santa Rosa Station

The Snoopy statue on the right in the photo above, which stands in front of the former Railroad Express Agency building (now a coffee/ice-cream shop), is painted as a SMART conductor, shown in close-up below.

Snoopy as a SMART Conductor, Railroad Square

Snoopy as a SMART Conductor, Railroad Square

Immediately beyond the railroad depot stands the La Rose Hotel, which is visible in the photo below, behind the huge monkey puzzle tree.

La Rose Hotel, Santa Rosa

La Rose Hotel, Santa Rosa

The Real Significance of Easter

In my Easter-time post of last year, I mentioned that I’m very glad to be free of the macabre, ignorant religious nonsense that afflicted this time of year during my youth, in nominally-Christian Britain.

Instead, I’m now able to enjoy the real significance of Easter, which is the seasonal regrowth of life in Northern climes.

Of course, I’m aware that the festival occurs at this time of year because it originated in cultures of the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, it makes no sense at all, a simple fact that seems to have been completely unknown to the supposedly-omniscient gods!

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.

Yellowphone

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.

waxwingRobinCright

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.

CardComp5x7Cright96dpi

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!