If you’re going to San Francisco

…be sure to…have a passport photo that looks like you. As I discovered after being detained by US Immigration for two hours when I arrived last night – just what I needed after 21 hours of travelling. The problem is that my passport is nine and a half years old. On the photo I have long blonde hair…but it’s still me! People do get hair cuts after all. But then the plastic over the photo is bubbled (and always has been) but I suppose it does look a bit dodgy. Anyway, after the first immigration man looked backwards and forwards between me and the passport for a good ten minutes he sent me to wait in the Immigration with the visa-less students, the Polish who had told the first official she was getting married in the US then suddenly couldn’t speak English anymore, the Arabic woman and her toddler who were getting deported, and the British family whose father had an expired Green Card. For the first 45 minutes or so it was quite interesting, just like one of those Airport! programmes on TV. But after another 45 minutes I was just tired and close to tears…..what if they actually didn’t let me in? But after looking at my passport, along with my driving license and student ID, the immigration officer finally decided to let me in – after thinking about it for another half an hour. Welcome to America!

Luckily, arriving at my hotel more than made up for the drama of getting in. I’d booked it online with minimal research so I was delighted to discover it was exactly what I’d hoped for. The Hotel Majestic is the oldest hotel in San Francisco having survived the great earthquake and subsequent fire of 1906. It’s old, and a bit shabby round the edges, but full of character and with the friendliest staff. My room even has a canopy bed and a roll top bath.

After beating the jet lag (which I know isn’t that hard in this direction) by staying up with a couple of glasses of wine until 11pm local time then sleeping until 10am, I’ve had a great first day in San Francisco. I’ve walked all over the city, miles and miles up and down its famous hilly streets. I started off walking over to Telegraph Hill, which as the name would suggest is a hill, it’s got a tower on top that you can go up for great views of the city (when it’s not shrouded in mist!). On the way I stumbled on the Cable Car museum which was tiny but cool and you could see all the big wheels and pulleys actually running the cables. I love walking everywhere in cities because you do just happen on stuff all the time.

Before I went up Telegraph Hill I went to the Beat Museum and to the City Lights book store, made famous by the beat poets. I don’t really know that much about them, apart from reading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road when I was 19 and thought I was cool, but I love that era.

You can drive up Telegraph Hill but the are also steps cut into the steep sides, so after a mercifully short climb to the top I took the elevator up the 210ft Coit Tower. From the top there are panoramic views of the city and despite the mist it was pretty impressive. You could just about see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, and Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz island below.

After I came down from Telegraph Hill I walked back downtown through the Financial District then to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). I’m loving still having my student ID because I got discount here and at the Beat Museum. SFMOMA was great – some really cool photos in an exhibition called The View From Here and a new exhibition with some Andy Warhol stuff that was interesting to see in real life.

Right, nearly there, after SFMOMA I walked west to Alamo Square to see the ‘Painted Ladies’ – old Victorian houses painted all pastel colours. I wanted to see them anyway but also, just before I came away, my sister-in-law said I had to take photos of the ‘colourful houses’! I’m absolutely loving all the San Francisco architecture; there are so many different styles and colours and weirdly shaped buildings designed to fit on the steepest of ‘Frisco’s hills.

From Alamo Square I headed back to my hotel, and bought a new ukulele on the way!! It’s a concert uke (the next size up from the soprano which I already have), solid spruce top and it’s lovely…and only $99, which I think is quite cheap but I’ve not quite figured out the exchange rate yet.

After a quick pit stop, I went out for a delicious burger to a diner that’s in an old cable car carriage. And now I’m back at my hotel drinking raspberry cider in my room and watching the World Cup. I think tomorrow’s plan is Golden Gate Bridge and possibly the science museum, then Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz on Sunday. And Monday morning I pick up my car and leave this city…although I’m bit terrified of driving for the first time in America on these crazy city streets!

That’s all for now – Tune in next time for more of Sarah’s Adventures in America. Coming Soon!

Good Morning America

So it’s finally here, almost… tomorrow I’m finally going on my long awaited trip to America. It’s going to be a long day of travelling. My friend is picking me up at 7.15am to give me a lift to Edinburgh airport, I’m flying down to Heathrow, have a few hours to wait there then fly to San Francisco at 2pm and like magic will arrive, 11 hours later, at 5pm! At which point I have to try and stay awake until normal bedtime and then that should be that. Like my Dad, I don’t really agree with jet lag. Luckily, I’m very good at sleeping so I plan on doing plenty of that on the big plane (I’m very excited about the big plane – I’ve only flown long haul once before…) and I reckon I’ll be OK.

I’m in San Francisco for 4 nights before picking up a hire car and driving down the Pacific Coast to LA, then East along some of the old Route 66 (and yes I have several versions of the song to listen to while I do) to Arizona and the Grand Canyon, before finishing my trip with 5 nights in Las Vegas and all the fun of the skeptic conference that is TAM 8.

I’m looking forward to meeting up with a couple of my Twitter pals (@monasmith and @wickedlibrarian) whilst I’m away. As much as I enjoy travelling alone it will be lovely to see some familiar faces in the foreign land.

So that’s me, I’m nearly all set – I’ve mowed the lawn, I’ve cleaned the flat, my Sky+ box is empty, I’ve almost packed (well there’s lots of stuff on my spare bed – I just need to put it in a bag), the fridge is empty and I’ve put the cat out. Is there anything I’ve forgotten?

I’m going to try and blog while I’m away; as a record so I don’t forget things and so I don’t come back and bore everyone with a massive blog post of ‘then I went here, then I did this..’. I’m sure I’ll still manage to get on Twitter a fair bit too…you don’t get rid of me that easily. But for now, I bid you adieu. 

See you on the other side.

Bring Me Sunshine

Morecambe; the one-man play based on the life of ‘National Treasure’ Eric Morecambe, rather than the run-down seaside town from which its most famous son took his name, first appeared at the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe to rave reviews. A longer version, with the same cast and creative team is now nearing the end of a national tour and as I hadn’t managed to catch it in Edinburgh last year I was delighted to find out a few months ago that the Carnegie Hall in Dunfermline would be one of the dates on the tour. And so it was on Friday night, that I took my seat in the theatre to find out what all the fuss was about.

I wouldn’t say I am a massive Morecambe and Wise fan, after all Eric died in 1984 on my 6th birthday. However, I grew up with the Christmas Specials which it seems were eternally repeated and I certainly have the same affection for the inimitable duo that any member of the British public over 30 has. I was certainly enough of a fan to be aware of the silly walks, the regular gags, and the paper bag trick which all appear here.

This play (now running at close to two hours – I wonder what has been added to the hour long performance of the Fringe?) is not simply a two hour long impression of Eric Morecambe. Bob Golding bears an uncanny resemblance to Morecambe as soon as he sticks his head round the curtain, with trademark black glasses and pipe and he certainly has the voice and mannerisms down, but he inhabits the character and gives him such a warmth, and goes so much deeper than the Eric of stage and screen that we already know, that you really feel it’s the man himself there on the stage.

After beginning with the BBC announcement of Morecambe’s death in 1984 (he died of a heart attack after coming off stage in Tewkesbury), the play goes back to the beginning of the story and follows the progress of John Eric Bartholomew from a school boy song and dance act playing the clubs and hotels of Lancashire with the support of his mother Sadie, to his meeting with Ernie Wise (or Ernest Wiseman as he was then) and the creation of their double act in 1940, through to their successes on both stage and on the small screen, and the happiness of his private life. The play doesn’t only focus on the successes though, we are also taken through the more difficult times in Eric’s life; how he and Ernie were called up for National Service – Ernie to the Merchant Navy and he as a Bevan Boy in the coal mines of Lancashire, and how he was invalided out of the service by a heart condition that would eventually contribute to his death. From the duo’s appearances in the seedy ‘variety’ shows of Soho where the audience were more interested in watching naked girls than their jokes, to the failure of their first appearance on television – after which one reviewer wrote that TV would become ‘the box they buried Morecambe and Wise in’, a review Eric carried with him for the rest of his life. How Morecambe and Wise never managed to crack America, despite a few appearances on The Ed Sullivan show, but their success in Britain more than made up for this.

Bob Golding really is fantastic in this role, and not only as Eric Morecambe but as all the other characters he brings into the story (Ernie appears on stage throughout the play but I won’t give away how this is achieved – Eric and Ernie even sing together several times). His job is surely made easier by the pacey script from writer Tim Whitnall which zips along for the close to two hour running time taking the audience from laughs one second to tears in the eye and a lump in the throat the next. The play is also a credit to director Guy Masterson who has got the very best from script and actor, while working with minimal set and staging.

But the really star of the show has to be Eric Morecambe himself – the boy who took his name from the Lancashire town of his birth and made his name in a partnership that lasted over 40 years. This play is a fitting tribute and celebration of the life of a man who really was ‘Britain’s Best Loved Comic’.

Get busy living. . .

It’s been a funny old week in my world. Last Saturday my friends Claire and Dave took me out for dinner for my birthday then I stayed over at their house – because although it’s not very far from where I live, it’s easier to sleep over than get a taxi home. I drunk rather a lot, and stayed up drinking, watching TV and chatting on Twitter after they had gone to bed. It was all good fun and nice to hang out with Claire and Dave, having not really seen them for a few weeks.

But on Sunday morning after they gave me a lift home I felt inexplicably glum. And that feeling of having a dark cloud hanging over me didn’t really leave me all week. And I did what I always did when I was feeling miserable. I ate. I was meant to be trying to lose the couple of pounds I’d put on during my week in London but instead I was back to ordering pizza and eating massive bags of giant chocolate buttons and whole tubs of ice-cream. This eating to try and make myself feel better was one demon I thought I’d conquered but clearly not. But of course it didn’t make me feel better, to be honest it didn’t make me feel anything at all. I didn’t feel angry, or guilty, or even sick. I just felt…nothing. And I think that has been part of my trouble this week.

I should have been happy this week. I have now completely, and officially finished (and passed) my teacher training. I am the proud holder of a Post Graduate Diploma in Education. But somehow I just don’t seem to be that bothered about it. I think maybe because it seems to have gone so quickly, it doesn’t really feel like that’s it. But it really is. I did it. And I know I should be feeling proud of myself but I don’t really feel like it’s an achievement somehow. 

I’m properly on holiday now, until I start teaching properly on 16th August. And surely the prospect of that amount of time off, with so many exciting things and trips planned, would make anyone happy but even thinking about that didn’t seem to help. Maybe, the thought of having permission not to do anything at all if I don’t feel like it is part of the problem. Maybe I need a purpose, something to do with my time. 

So you see, I should have been happy and I wasn’t. I didn’t even go on Twitter for four days because I didn’t want to publicly whinge and moan about how grumpy and how shit about myself I was feeling. And me staying off Twitter for that long is virtually unheard of these days (in fact I really don’t know how I’m going to cope with limited access in America – I just hope I find plenty of free WiFi), so it was definitely a sign of how bad I was feeling. Also, I found out on Wednesday that I will be going back to the school I did my first placement at for my probation year. And that wasn’t exactly the news I wanted to hear. I did get on well with all the teachers there, but it’s 45 minutes drive away, which is a pain. I’m not that bothered about the travelling time itself but it means I’ll have to spend a lot more on petrol than I would if I was at a school nearer to home. And the school is in quite a deprived area, which is fine, but they also have no money, the buildings are falling down and they have hardly any resources, which all just serves to make my job harder.

But then on Thursday the cloud just seemed to lift. I know this sounds really clichéd but I actually did think of the line that Morgan Freeman’s character Red says in The Shawshank Redemption (although also clichéd, it is one of my favourite films); ‘Get busy living, or get busy dying’. And I decided I needed to have a strong word with myself, stop moping, and get busy living. There’s nothing I can do about the school I’ve been given so I just have to make the most of it, and I’m going to show them how much I’ve changed since my first placement and that I am a good teacher. And I’ve only got another 11 days at home before I head off on my big trip and there’s plenty to do in that time. Starting with painting the bathroom tomorrow.

And perhaps most importantly, I making a big effort to control my eating again. I’m not ‘dieting’ as such any more. Just trying to find a balance of eating good food, and things I like, and still maintaining this healthy weight I’ve worked so hard to achieve. I know there’ll be hiccups along the way but I just need to really try not to let myself head down the road of eating uncontrollably whenever I feel a bit down.

I’ve got so much to be happy about, and to look forward to and to (mis)quote a certain Mr Tim Minchin – Some people have it a whole lot worse than I. I need to stop feeling sorry for myself and get busy living. And that’s exactly what I intend to do.


After last night’s mammoth blogging session I think I’ve caught up on all the gigs I went to during my week in London but I did lots of other things too and thought they deserved a quick round up. 

I had been staying at my brother’s in Essex (it might be Essex but it is still handily on the Central Line) until Sunday but seeing as he was away in France and I had several late nights planned I had decided to splash out on a hotel for the remainder of my trip. So on Sunday I went and checked in to the hotel which was conveniently situated between Holborn and Russell Square tube stations. To kill some time before seeing Mark Watson that evening I went for a bit of a wander round the shops and to scout out a location for the following day’s iPod handover.

After the Mark Watson gig on Sunday night I went back to the West End to meet up with some fellow Twitterers (Audrey: @aMeady, Jason: @mixmasterfestus (who I had met before), Louise: @magicnose and Charlie: @Charlie_w_).  Meeting up with people I’ve only spoken to on the internet is becoming quite a common occurrence for me now but what was a bit unusual about this meeting was that I didn’t actually follow Louise and Charlie on Twitter so I hadn’t even spoken to them online before! However, they were all lovely and we had a few drinks before heading home.

Monday afternoon was the iPod handover, but with some time in the morning I actually managed to make it to the Grace Kelly exhibition at the V&A which I’d attempted to go to the last time I was in London, but it had sold out. I’m never to sure whether the exhibitions you have to pay for are going to be worth it, but it was only £4 with my (luckily still valid) student card. The exhibition is really just displays of Grace Kelly’s clothes, and a film showing old news footage, but I liked it. I also found a new bit of the V&A that I hadn’t seen before; the Theatre and Performance gallery, which I really liked. So a morning well spent.

After handing over the iPod that afternoon, I hung out with my friend Simone for a while which was lovely. I often go to comedy gigs with Simone but there isn’t always much opportunity for talking so it was really lovely to have a proper chat. And we went to what is fast becoming my favourite place in London; Ed’s Easy Diner, for milkshake and cheese fries. I can’t wait to go to America at the end of this month just so I can find a genuine diner to satisfy all my milkshake cravings!

So that was Monday. On Tuesday, I made a bit of an error of judgement. We’d been having lovely weather, but Tuesday was grey and rainy. I decided to walk to the newly refurbished Museum of London but I had forgotten one vital piece of information; this week is half term. And it seemed half of the country’s parents had decided that the Museum of London was an ideal place to take their noisy, rude, ill-mannered children on a rainy Tuesday in half term. Suffice to say my patience wore thin fairly quickly and I didn’t spend quite as much time at the museum as I would have otherwise. Still, it looks like they’ve done a good job with the new galleries, and I might make another trip sometime…just not on a rainy day during the school holidays! (Although, seeing as I’m going to be a teacher, I’m pretty much going to have to do everything during the school holidays from now on. Arrgghhh!). 

Anyway, after the museum, I walked down past St Paul’s to cross the Thames at the Millennium Bridge and had a quick look in the Tate Modern. I walked from there right down the Southbank to Westminster Bridge (only stopping on route for some of my favourite apple crumble ice cream, which I’ve only ever seen at a little café under the OXO tower). From the Houses of Parliament I walked through St James’ park, past Buckingham Palace, up Constitution Hill and right up the edge of Hyde Park to Marble Arch where I got the tube to White City and TV Centre. Walking all over London is something I’ve taken to doing on my last few trips and I really like it. That walk on Tuesday was 6 miles, and not only do you get to see lots of things you miss on the tube but that 6 miles goes some way to burning off all the milkshakes, ice cream and cider that I seem to consume on my trips to London. It’s also really interesting when you start realising where places are in relation to other places. On Monday night I walked back to the hotel from Highbury and Islington, which as it turns out, isn’t that far, and I never knew that before.

I continued the walking theme on Wednesday by walking up through Regent’s Park to London Zoo. I don’t know if I’ve ever been to London Zoo before, I think maybe I did when I was really little but I can’t remember anything about it if I did. Now I know going to the zoo on a sunny day in half term perhaps seemed a little foolhardy after the museum experience but the difference was this time I was mentally prepared! And the zoo is big and outside so there is much less chance for the charming children to be annoying. So, the zoo was good – I especially liked the penguins and the meercats. And I was a little bit scared of the butterflies – pathetic I know, I just don’t think I like flying things very much. 

After the zoo I walked to Primrose Bakery where I bought….cupcakes of course! I couldn’t resist trying the different varieties so I ended up with four, two of which became my lunch and two of which I barely remember eating when I was a little bit drunken after the Los Quattros Cvnts gig (I know, and so will you if you’ve read my blogs about being fat and the rest, that I’m meant to be controlling my eating and not binge eating…but with the walk to the zoo and back through Camden, and walking to the LQC gig and back I walked 8 miles on Wednesday and after the 6 miles on Tuesday I think I’m allowed a little cake. Perhaps not four cakes…but we’ll work on that for next time!). Anyway, they were delicious!

So finally to yesterday; I’d originally booked my flight for 20.50, thinking I’d be staying at my brother’s and he’d be able to take me to the airport after work. As it turned out I was tired and hungover and had to check out of my hotel at noon. So I decided just to head to Stansted and see if I could get on an earlier flight. With EasyJet, if you want to change a flight in advance, you have to pay any difference in the fare you paid originally and the current fare, plus a £25 amendment fee. However, if you just turn up early at the airport as long as there is room on the earlier flight, you don’t have to pay anything at all! So I managed to get on the 15.50 flight which was much better and meant I could take a detour on the way home via the Tempting Tattie in Edinburgh to get a delicious baked potato for my tea. There seems to be a lot of talk about food in this blog, but seriously, if you’re ever in Edinburgh you should definitely go to the Tempting Tattie on Jeffrey Street. Their potatoes are just about as good as baked potatoes come.

And now I’m home. I’ve got three weeks before I go to America and apart from a couple of jobs (painting my bathroom for one) I’m looking forward to doing not much of anything. I need to make sure my batteries are fully recharged because once I go to America I really don’t stop until I start back at school on the 16th August. It’s going to be one hell of a summer.