Fire in Santa Rosa

Clouds of Smoke over Santa Rosa

Clouds of Smoke over Santa Rosa

The photo above shows the view from our bedroom window at about 8am yesterday morning, when I was getting ready to go to work. Unfortunately, the “threatening clouds” in the distance are not rain, but smoke. I was to discover a few moments later that I wasn’t going to be able to go to work, because my employer’s offices are within the evacuation zone of the fire causing the smoke.

As many of you have probably heard on the news, we have had serious fires in the Wine Country since Sunday night, and some are still burning. Shockingly, fire even spread into some parts of urban Santa Rosa, destroying many homes, shops and hotels within the city.

It is ironic that, in my previous post, I mentioned how, during the week of my return to the UK from my first visit to California, thirty years ago, there was a hurricane-force storm in Southern England. Now, thirty years later, these fires in Wine Country were fanned by hurricane-force winds that blew in this region on Sunday night.

I usually get up on workdays at 7am, but on Monday when I woke up it was so dark that I checked the clock several times, thinking that I must somehow have got up too early. It was only later, as I was preparing to go to work, that I discovered why the sky was so unusually dark.

Parts of Santa Rosa Still Evacuated

Much of the northern half of Santa Rosa has been under mandatory evacuation orders since early Monday, and thousands of people are in temporary shelters as far away as Marin county. Most of the evacuation orders are still in force tonight (Tuesday).

Fortunately, our house is not (currently) in the evacuation zone, so we’re still at home. The only inconvenience for us at present is that I cannot get to my employer’s workplace.

Only the media and emergency services are being allowed into the evacuation zones, so I cannot get close to devastated areas (and nor do I want to). Therefore, the only photos I can obtain currently are from a safe distance.

Hilton Hotel burning, Santa Rosa

Hilton Hotel burning, Santa Rosa

I took the photo above from the West side of the US101 freeway. It shows smoke still rising from the Hilton Hotel, on the hill in the center background. The tall building just visible across the freeway on the right is the Kaiser Hospital, which was evacuated and is still closed.

Smoky Sun

Later in the day on Monday, I drove my normal work commute route, to see how close I could get to my employer’s offices. The photo below shows the closest I could get, Chanate Road near Hidden Valley Road. The sun is so shrouded by smoke that it looks like a hazy sunset, but in fact it was only about 3pm.

Smoke-shrouded Sun

Smoke-shrouded Sun

Destruction in Larkfield

From 2011-13, we lived in Larkfield, a community just north of Santa Rosa, and outside the city limits. Parts of Larkfield were burned by the Tubbs Fire on Sunday night, and unfortunately that included our favorite restaurant in that area, Cricklewood.

Cricklewood Restaurant was named after the suburb of London, having been founded by a British expatriate. As shown below in my 2015 photo, above the bar was one of the name signs from the BR railway station, in its original London Midland maroon color.

BR Station Sign at Cricklewood Restaurant

BR Station Sign at Cricklewood Restaurant

Sadly, I doubt that the owners had time to save the sign when the building burned, and that probably was not their top priority anyway.

We don’t yet know whether the house we lived in in Larkfield was destroyed, but we hope not.

Status Updates

For updates on the constantly-changing situation, the best source seems to be the Santa Rosa City Emergency web site.

It was Thirty Years Ago Today

Unusual view of Downtown San Francisco, from the Legion of Honor

Unusual view of Downtown San Francisco, from the Legion of Honor

It was almost exactly thirty years ago today—on Friday 9th October, 1987—that I first set foot in California.

On that occasion, I had come to the US only as a temporary visitor, to attend a job interview. It was a truly “temporary” visit, lasting only 4 days.

Until then, I had been anything but an experienced international traveler. I’d never been to any part of the USA before, and in fact I’d only been out of Britain three times during my life (and one of those trips was to Guernsey).

Broadening My Horizons

Ever since my undergraduate days, the idea of “working abroad” had been floating in the background as a vague possibility.

In 1986, I even went to Munich for a day, for a job interview with Siemens, but, even though they seemed keen to hire me, I did not pursue that possibility further.

Certainly, the idea that I might one day find myself living and working within sight of the Pacific Ocean never entered my head. It wasn’t until after I’d already moved here that I remembered that we had spent an entire term studying the state as part of our high school Geography course! I had basically ignored the course because it seemed to have no possible relevance to my life.

The Lure of the Dollar

As an Imperial College undergraduate, I began to hear stories of graduates who were obtaining what seemed like spectacular jobs in the USA, straight out of college. The starting salaries for these US jobs were apparently many times those that were offered to even the best British graduates. The figures seemed even more impressive because the dollar and pound were close to parity at that time. Nonetheless, the jobs I was told about were all on the US East Coast; in New York or Maryland.

My goal in getting an EE degree had been specifically to obtain a job with the BBC, which I did on graduating, so initially I felt that the die was cast and I’d already achieved my ambition.

However, my subsequent experience with the BBC and other British engineering employers was a huge disappointment. It seemed that not only were graduate salaries low, but conditions were poor and employers were either inefficient or unstable. I began to think once again of those tantalizing tales I’d been told about the wonderful jobs that were supposedly available in other countries!

The Window Opens

In 1987, I was working as a video systems hardware design engineer for a small company in Berkshire. One of my employer’s competitors was an American company, but had a European operation based in Reading. Word got around that I was looking for new employment, and the competitor contacted me to ask whether I’d be interested in working for them in Reading.

I declined to consider working for them in Reading, at which point they asked whether I might instead be interested in a job in California. Ah, now it’s getting interesting

Following several international phone calls, I managed to arrange an interview appointment at the company’s offices in Northern California. I had to obtain a B-1/B-2 visitor visa just to enter the USA, which meant that I also had to make a trip to the US Embassy in London before departing the UK.

San Francisco or Suffolk?

The plan was that I would arrive in San Francisco on a Friday evening, then have the weekend to do some sightseeing and recover from jet lag. My formal interview would be on Monday, then on Tuesday I’d fly back to Heathrow.

I would obviously have to take some vacation time from my job, but I felt that my current employer would not believe that I was going to California for a holiday just for the weekend! Therefore, I decided to tell them that I was going to visit the US air base at RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk. My mother had an American friend who was a teacher on the air base, and I’d visited her there previously, so it wouldn’t seem out-of-the-ordinary.

It was important to bear in mind that there was no guarantee that the company in California would actually offer me a job. I needed a plausible cover for my actions, so as not to jeopardize my existing position.

Offered the Job

To cut a long story short, I was offered the job in California within a few weeks following my interview. Somewhat to my surprise, my new employer was eager for me to start work there before Christmas, so I began the process of arranging to move myself and all my worldly possessions some 5500 miles.

Nonetheless, I would only be working in the US on a temporary, three-year E-2 visa, so there was always the possibility that I would choose to return to Britain (or might have to do so when the visa expired).

Way Out West. The Pacific Ocean from Pillar Point

Way Out West. Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from near Pillar Point

Return to a Hurricane!

I arrived back in the UK on Tuesday, 13th October, and went back to work the following morning as though nothing unusual had happened. Later that same week, however, the Great Storm of 1987 occurred.

On the night of October 15th, I didn’t hear the weather forecast, so the first I knew of the severity of the storm was when I set off on my 40-mile commute from Andover the following morning, and began noticing that tree branches were down everywhere, even blocking some roads.

[Update: On 15th October, the London Evening Standard published this article about the storm.]

Devastation in Brighton

In those days I was the Treasurer of the Southern Centre of the Royal Television Society, and, prior to my jaunt to California, I had volunteered to help out at the Society’s booth at that year’s International Broadcasting Convention (IBC), which was always held in Brighton. I traveled to Brighton the week after the storm, to see that many of the city’s trees had fallen, and a massive cleanup operation was underway.

It made me think that perhaps the country I’d been born in was itself becoming unrecognizable, so my life was going to change anyway, whether or not I emigrated.

Living by the Sea

 

Ice Cream on Scarborough Beach, September 1963

Ice Cream on Scarborough Beach, September 1963

The photo above shows (from left to right) my mother, me and my brother enjoying ice cream cones on the beach in September 1963.

I generally don’t give much thought to the fact that I’ve spent most of my life living in coastal areas, in homes which, even if some did not have a direct view of the sea, were only a few miles from it.

This wasn’t entirely a deliberate policy on my part, and things just seem to have worked out that way. Nonetheless, I’m very glad that things did work out that way!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my parents and my grandparents all came from Leeds, and they used to look forward to annual vacations in Scarborough and other coastal Yorkshire towns. (They usually seemed to choose Yorkshire destinations, although my grandparents did occasionally venture further afield, to such exotic locations as Grange-over-Sands!)

In those days, the air in coastal towns was much cleaner than in inland industrial cities, so there was a clear health benefit to living by the sea. The photo below of Scarborough Harbour, which was also taken by my father in 1963, shows smoke rising from buildings, a nuisance that was much worse in inland locations. The image also includes various other nostalgic features, such as a fleet of fishing boats and a commercial cargo ship in the Harbour!

Scarborough Harbour, September 1963

Scarborough Harbour, September 1963

In 1972, while still living in Scarborough, I bought my first copy of Railway Magazine. Given that the magazine has been published continuously since 1897, there was nothing momentous about that event, except for the cover of that edition, which didn’t mean much to me at the time.

Railway Magazine, September 1972

Railway Magazine, September 1972

As shown, the cover featured the famous locomotive Flying Scotsman, which I recognized, but I was completely oblivious as to the location. I knew that the locomotive was touring the USA, but that was all. In fact, it shows Flying Scotsman at a far-away seaside location, near Fisherman’s Wharf, in San Francisco. How prophetic for me!

(The astonishing subsequent story of how Flying Scotsman’s owner went bankrupt during its US tour, leaving the locomotive impounded at Fort Mason, can be read about here.)

The sea often featured in my childhood paintings, as in the image below, which I produced at school, at the age of 14. It purports to show a British flying boat over New York, although at that time I’d never seen New York except in pictures. (The cheap paint used in the picture has decomposed over the years. Originally, there was a calm moon shining over the sea, but now it seems to be exploding!)

Flying Boat over New York, as imagined when I was 14

Flying Boat over New York, as imagined when I was 14

A Very Significant Sea Change

In November 1987, I arrived for my new job in San Mateo, California, and found myself once again in a seaside location, albeit on the opposite coast of a different continent. I was initially quite confused, because I hadn’t been aware of the existence of San Francisco Bay, so, living on the Peninsula, I wasn’t sure whether I was looking west at the Pacific Ocean, or east at the Bay!

Nonetheless, I soon figured out the local geography, and settled down to live the remainder of my life by the sea! The 1996 photo below shows a view over San Francisco Bay from the kitchen of our house in San Mateo.

San Francisco Bay from San Mateo, 1996

San Francisco Bay from San Mateo, 1996

Mount Fuji: The Right Place at the Right Moment

Sunset on Mount Fuji, Japan, November 2007

Sunset on Mount Fuji, Japan, November 2007

I took this photograph of the sun setting on Mount Fuji as we were flying towards Osaka, in November 2007.

Looking back on my life, there have been several occasions where something happened to me that was simply the result of being “in the right place at the right time”. These occurrences were not the result of any great skill or prescience on my part. This photograph was one such instance.

As a Flight Attendant, my wife Mary typically worked flights to Japan, and occasionally I was able to accompany her on those flights. For me, it was a short vacation to a fascinating place.

Mary elected to work a flight to Osaka over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2007, and I went with her. We spent an enjoyable few days there and avoided all the travel hassles in the USA.

As we were approaching Osaka to land, the sun was setting. I happened to look out of the airplane window, and saw the view in the photograph above. It was hazy, but the low rays of the sun were just breaking through and catching the top of the volcano. I’ve never seen Mount Fuji like that again!

Toji Temple, Kyoto, 2007

Toji Temple, Kyoto, 2007

During our stay in Osaka on that occasion, we made a special journey to the grounds of Toji Temple, Kyoto, to visit a flea market. Mary wanted to buy a bead from Japanese beadmaker Akiko Isono, who had a regular stall at the market, and that was exactly what she did.

 

Covent Garden: Then & Now

Covent Garden after the Rain, 1982

Covent Garden after the Rain, 1982

I took the color transparency above in Covent Garden, London, one afternoon in 1982, just after a short rain shower. Even though the buildings were against the sun and mostly in darkness, the wet cobbles reflected the sunset and created a fantastic lighting effect. It really was a case of being in the right place at the right time, and with the right equipment.

I’d actually been inside the London Transport Museum, which was immediately behind me in the photograph. While in the museum, I heard the rain on the roof, but couldn’t see it because of the building’s high windows. Soon after the rain stopped, I noticed a brilliant orange glow reflecting onto the ceiling. Thinking that this might be a great opportunity, I rushed outside, and I wasn’t disappointed. Ever since then, I’ve been glad that I impetuously cut short my visit to the museum that afternoon!

Yesterday’s pointless atrocity in London brought to mind this photo, and the terrorist threats that always hung over us, even back when I lived there in the 1980s. In those days, most of the threats came from the IRA (or people claiming to represent them), but only a very small number were real.

As a student, I worked as a Sales Assistant at Selfridges store in Oxford Street during some of the university breaks, and sometimes on Saturdays. As part of our training, we received specific instructions as to what to do if we were notified of a bomb threat, because the store received such threats almost every day! Fortunately, while I lived in London, all the threats at Selfridges were hoaxes, but there was a car bomb at Harrods during Christmas 1983, and I had worked at Harrods only the previous Christmas.

Covent Garden in 2001

Covent Garden in 2001

In 2001, I returned to Covent Garden, and took the photo above from almost the same position as the 1982 photograph, but in obviously different weather conditions. (It’s true that a further 16 years have passed since I took the “Now” photograph!)

At first, everything seemed to be just the same as it had been in 1982, and it wasn’t until I compared the two photographs that I realized what had changed.

The building that was originally Covent Garden market hall is still visible on the right, and it’s as popular a destination now as it was then.

In the earlier photograph, there’s a multi-storey building on the left with many rooms obviously lit by fluorescent strip lights. By the time of the later photograph, this building had been completely replaced. Had that happened a couple of decades earlier, it’s likely that the entire street would have been razed and replaced with examples of “modern architecture”, but fortunately lessons have been learned since then. Many modern redevelopments at least attempt to blend with the surrounding architecture.

Evening in the Valley of the Moon

Sonoma Mission with Full Moon

Sonoma Mission with Full Moon

We had an excellent dinner this evening at the Depot Hotel Restaurant in Sonoma. After all the rain in California during the past few months, this weekend’s weather was perfect.

The night-time view above was snapped with my phone, but it does just show Sonoma Mission on the left, with the full moon visible as a bright dot! (The word “Sonoma” was thought to mean “Valley of the Moon” in the language of the local natives.)

The photo below shows the Depot Hotel from First Street. As its name suggests, the hotel was adjacent to Sonoma’s railroad depot when that was in use. To the left of the hotel, you can see where the tracks crossed the road. The trackbed has now been converted into a cycle trail, and the depot itself still exists in replica form.

Depot Hotel, Sonoma

Depot Hotel, Sonoma

Given the beautiful weather, we sat outside for our meal, in the pool area at the back of the hotel. Here’s the view from our table.

Depot Hotel, Garden Area

Depot Hotel, Garden Area

Thank you,  Mary, for a fantastic birthday dinner!

Signs of Spring

Daffodils and Tulips on Fresno Avenue

Daffodils and Tulips on Fresno Avenue

While out walking on Fresno Avenue on Friday evening, I noticed these daffodils and tulips blooming underneath one of the small ginkgo trees there.

In England, the appearance of crocuses and daffodils (or “daffs” as my mother called them) heralded the approach of Spring. Here in California, the flowers bloom earlier, and of course there’s not such a marked change of seasons.

The tall cypress tree in the background of the photo used to stand against the stockyard building, until that was demolished last year. In fact, there were two such trees, but one blew down in windy weather a few weeks ago. The fallen tree can still be seen lying behind the standing one.