Merchants in Houston - Chapter 10

Dear All

I wasn't sure if there was going to be a Chapter 10, let alone a Chapter 12, where, you will be relieved to hear, I have always intended to rest my pen, so to speak. Usually, a day or two before I sit down to type something will pop into my head which I feel a pressing need to share with long-suffering friends back in Blighty but not this month. I think it may have something to do with our enjoyable but not very noteworthy 50th Birthday trip to Cancun or rather the return therefrom which made it clear to me that Houston is now very much "home" and therefore our daily lives here seem perfectly normal and consequently less worthy of special comment. If the weekly (sometimes daily) visit to HEB is still not quite the chore of shopping in Sainsburys or Tesco, it is certainly no longer a voyage of discovery. Driving is still a bit of an adventure but suddenly I know where everything is and can plot a route, even to Galveston, without recourse to our beloved Keymap. The weather no longer amazes but is sometimes irksome, especially the torrential rain and violent electric storms which we have endured in Biblical proportion of late. The other day a friend and I were trapped Downtown in just such a deluge but somehow I managed to insinuate the Mountaineer (for which I daily thank Goodness and my dear husband) across 4 lanes of stationary traffic on the Loop and on up the 290 through the ubiquitous potholes now masquerading as bottomless lakes to the hoped for safety of the NW suburbs only to find them crouched under the threat of a midnight black mushroom cloud. Racing the threat along the single track Spring Cypress Road, we made it back home to find the pool full of alien matter namely two patio chairs and 83 (I counted!) earth worms, a "killer" hanging basket smashed on the concrete (thus proving what goes around...) and all my pretty flowers pounded into the mud (we have been on tornado alert so often lately it is becoming a bore even when they land, or whatever, just 5 miles up the road). Gardening is a thankless task over here; if the rain doesn't kill your plants the humidity will. I now understand the predilection for pine trees, rhododendrons and other hardy ever greens. I'm afraid we all take our house and all its space for granted, ditto the Pool man, Pest man and Postman in his little white Toy Town van. We didn't even bat an eyelid (well, maybe one) when the FBI rang our doorbell yesterday tea time wanting us to dish the dirt on some neighbours who had moved away before we even arrived (Yup, that the US Secret Service for you - always ahead of the game!) Brian and I managed to eat out 7 nights in a row last week, partly courtesy of visitors from Middletown and Louisiana, consequently I have almost forgotten how to cook but have had to get to grips with our Heath Robinsonian video system so as not to miss out on the very last ever episodes of Friends and Frazier and the season finales of ER and Judging Amy. I have also now taken in every back episode of these dramas at least once, plus NYPD Blue, Law & Order and Dawson's Creek but have plenty of displacement activity lined up in the shape of regular visits to the "Y" (how American is that!), ESL tutoring (I love it!), and the little matter of swotting for my Texas driving test (do I really have to?!)

To return to Cancun (not likely), we chose in haste and nearly suffered the consequences although at least one trip to that particular Central American resort seems almost mandatory for Houstonians, honorary or otherwise. Only 1 hour and 20 minutes from Bush, it is an extremely popular Thursday to Sunday destination for groups of office buddies, bachelor parties and Spring Breakers (High School seniors and college students) seeking to let their hair down. We were saved from the enforced enjoyment by proxy of these excesses by an unexpected upgrade, owing to an unfinished building project, to a 5 (Mexican) star sister hotel a couple of miles up the peninsula from the fleshpots of Downtown where we enjoyed the freedom of 4 "international" restaurants and numerous bars enabling one member of our party to satisfy his new found craving for Pina Coladas and Bahama Mamas at all hours of the day and night. Our favourite restaurant took some finding (no check-in orientation) secreted as it was beneath the main swimming pool terrace but the uninterrupted view of the gorgeous azure Caribbean and the Mediterranean style cuisine were well worth the trek. Not that there weren't a few anomalies on the menu - Mad Cow survivors or not, the "laminated" beef got a wide berth from both of us while I allowed myself to be persuaded that "Cat of the Day" was the fault of an incompetent typist rather than the innate barbarism of our host nation. My absolute favourite, however, were the "Plats de Resistance" (if this is an accepted culinary term, I've never heard of it) which conjured up visions of a smugly stolid dish of Germanic origin, say Wiener Schnitzel, sabotaged by a taste explosion from a cunningly hidden clove of extra strong garlic. The sea, beaches and scenery were lovely, we made some interesting and well conducted trips, indulged in a little birthday shopping and generally enjoyed a very relaxing break and welcome change of scene. I'm sure Mexico and Central America in general have a great deal more to offer and, after more extensive preliminary investigation, I dare say this will not be our only trip "south of the border...".

Some family news: Daughter Number 1 moved into Number Two's house in Brighton some weeks ago and is currently, to her credit, working as a general tutor at a local PRU and may join the permanent staff as art specialist in September. To date, she has proved a great hit with the specially selected clientele although my suspicions that her methods, although obviously effective, were somewhat less than orthodox were confirmed when she blithely recounted how she kept the attention of 3 prize specimens by helping them to make clay "bongs", a task justified by its use of important basic ceramic techniques such as thumb and ring pots. Please, no one tell Sussex County Council - we need the money! In mitigation, one lad did make a modification to his design and pronounced the resulting artefact duly transformed into "a daffodil holder for me Mum"! Daughter No 2 has begun a 6 month admin post with a well known women's charity, combining it with one day a week at the Brighton Art Gallery and Museum where so far she has been chiefly occupied in assembling items for inclusion in "reminiscence boxes" for the use of local nursing homes. Daughter Number 3 returned to Houston at the end of April after a mixed 4 week stay in the UK. Not everything about her visit went according to plan but her gig and recording were successful and she was very grateful for the help and support (both moral and practical) of good friends. We are still waiting for the final mix of her new CD but she continues to attract attention on the Houston music scene and has been asked to open for Southtrak, a trio of very agreeable 30 somethings, at a venue in Rice (University) Village - her first proper Houston gig. Since her return she has also been appointed Assistant Coach to our local swim team ("Pump it up, Pump it up, Keep that Marlins' spirit up!!") where everyone wants to work with the "cool English coach". Brian and I went to spectate at the first home meet of the season. It brought back memories of the many, many hours spent at Middletown Swimming Club events although the proceedings were somewhat shambolic compared to the professionalism and strict adherence to ASA rules we were used to with Moms unwittingly diluting the chlorine with the dregs of their Diet cokes as they lean over the side of the pool to shout at youngsters valiantly swimming breaststroke in a freestyle relay. Following her unexpected break up with Boyfriend No 3 (last heard of getting stuck into some manual labour on a Japanese farm in the company of a couple Swedes - that's people, not vegetables, or so I understand) our youngest daughter is now dating Travis, a genial Houstonian permanently attired in the uniform of every young red blooded male Texan under 35. No, not the stereotypical cowboy boots and Stetson It's baseball cap, knee length shorts and flip flops - an outfit increasingly favoured at weekends by a certain Brit of a certain age, I might add. On a break from studies at the University of Houston, Travis is something of an entrepreneur with fingers in pies as diverse as sound recording and the wholesale firewood business. This connection has happily resuscitated Number 3's all but moribund social life with visits to the beach house, the (base)ball game and various hip Downtown bars where she admitted to drinking an illicit beer - this age thing is really problematic. It's nice to see her having a good time even if it's with someone who considers "Hey, wo's up, Baby!" an appropriate greeting - given he didn't expect Mom to pick up the phone.

I'd better sign off now and see how things are progressing in the yard. For those of you who, like me, enjoy the occasional satisfying sip of Schadenfreude we have been having problems with the pool of late. In addition to the plague of worms, we were also the chosen venue for the mass suicide of a swarm of flying ants yesterday but all that was as nothing compared to the disastrous mix of chemicals introduced by the pool man on Wednesday leading to a "magic porridge pot" reaction of epic proportions. Our first pool boy, the shy but hard working Josh, disappeared under mysterious circumstances, possibly as a result of the combined effects of relentless interrogation from Brian and a charm offensive from the women of the house. I have never taken to his replacement, Walter, who wears sinister mirrored sunglasses and works one handed because the other is permanently clamped to his mobile phone. Anyway, he has successfully deprived us of the use of our pool on the first rain free weekend for 6 weeks and therefore heads will roll when the office opens on Monday!

Hoping all is well with you,

Love from Angela

PS In case you think I am becoming/have already become a shallow pseudo-American only interested in the size of my house and car, I want to tell you that I had a lovely dream the other night. It was about a cat and in my sleep I felt him jump on the bed beside me. When I woke, as so often in the past, I put out my hand to touch his soft, warm body but the bed was empty. The disappointment was awful and I cried. Sometimes even life in Paradise sucks!

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