Merchants in Houston - Chapter 7

It has been a quiet week in Memorial Northwest. Last Friday a painful goodbye was said to Boyfriend No 3 after 88 very happy days; on Saturday it was the turn of ex Boyfriend No 2 and, on Sunday, soon to be ex Boyfriend No 1. On Monday the Merchant women kept to their beds, whether in deference to the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr or in mourning over recent departures is not recorded but several spirit-raising expeditions were mounted in search of tea, chocolate and Judging Amy. On Tuesday the Man from Champions Pest Control cameth - and sprayeth - hopefully pre-empting any further encounters of the Chapter 6 variety. On Wednesday Angela ventured out to Leif's Hair Studio and emerged some couple of hours later looking rather less (as secretly hoped) like the lovely Agnethe, late of Abba, and rather more like an escapee from Noggina the Noggess, the feminist revival of the famous (but only to readers of a certain age) Norse saga animation. On Thursday a little light retail therapy was required to smooth ruffled feathers (or loosen the helmet) and by Friday the Merchant household had regained its equilibrium with all members happily planning their respective escapes to California (Daughters 1 and 2), Mexico (Angela and Brian) and Middletown (Daughter No 3).

Preceding weeks had been far from quiet, however. Days of indulgence followed nights of riot and debauchery with monotonous regularity as verified by photos attached. As predicted, we were 8 for Christmas and, a surprise to all but 1 of our party, 9 for New Year, a former East Dulwich flatmate of Daughter No 1's having apparently been invited and then conveniently forgotten about until a couple of hours before he was due to touch down at Bush. Leaky airbed notwithstanding, Flatmate No 1, a real young English eccentric in the making and thoroughly good egg, proceeded to enjoy himself hugely, both in Houston and Austin whither he and eldest daughter removed themselves following their co-conspirator's departure for Calgary. I'm sure you don't want a list of all our Xmas/New Year activities but some things were simply too good not to mention:

1) The Choir in the Christmas Tree: A visit to Old Town Spring, once a major rail junction and more important than Houston, now something of a (very picturesque) Victorian ghost town given over mostly to antique and tea shop(pe)s, afforded us one of the best surprises of the Holidays. A parking attendant told us that if we stayed till after dark there would be lights on the Christmas Tree and "some singing" - the understatement of the century so far. Earlier in the day we had observed the Tree and been both puzzled and disappointed by the fact that, although an impressive 30ft tall, it was a) artificial and b) strangely flat at the back, supported by a substantial metal frame. At 6.30 pm all became clear when a choir of perhaps 30 people proceeded to ascend the tree by a hitherto unnoticed ladder and arrange themselves in tiers in front of hidden microphones. And this was only the start: we had (wonderful) singing, teenage dancers (both sexes) of ballet to rock n'roll, a full blown Nativity featuring all live participants from baby to camel, a tribute to the military, videoed personal testimonies to the benefits of letting God into your life (some of which appeared, interestingly, to be financial), a Shirley Temple lookalike lisping her way through "Happy Birthday, Jesus" and, of course, superb fireworks. We were spell bound; it was amazing, moving, funny, cringe-making, thought-provoking, exhilarating and 101% American. We couldn't have asked for a better start to Christmas week.

2) Fishes and Fairies: The following day we all donned best bib and tucker and somehow (thanks to Lucy, our resident pocket Venus) squeezed 8 into the good old Mountaineer for the trip Downtown and Houston's famous fish restaurant, Landry's Aquarium. There, courtesy of the parents of boyfriend No 3 we dined in great style against the backdrop of a 3 storey fish tank, the provenance of its inhabitants expertly explained by our waiter. More than replete, we then tottered across the road to the Wortham Theatre, home of the Houston Ballet and their seasonal performance of the Nutcracker - another magical experience.

The actual Christmas days passed in a haze of eating, drinking, hot tubbing and slumping in front of videos, interspersed with the occasional foray to open mic venues etc. Then, on 30th December we had the bonus of:

3) Old School Friend No 2's (22nd) Birthday: Just the excuse we needed to open more booze and order in one of those magnificent "enrobed" confections from HEB, a chocolate and strawberry bombe. The early evening saw us ensconced in the Macaroni Grill for an excellent Italian meal complete with more (complimentary) cake and a personal serenade for the Birthday girl. And to round off the occasion, a visit to Frank's (karaoke) Club where, I'm proud to report, the party from "lil ole England", with no help whatsoever from their elders, stole the show from the natives whose lugubrious renditions of "Sweet Home Alabama" and the like were blown out of the water by Flat mate No 1's once seen, never to be forgotten Mick Jagger impersonation and Daughter No 1's tribute to Madonna which won her the competition and a $50 bar tab, still burning a hole in her pocket.

4) New Year's Eve: Indisputably the high spot of our festivities, plotted and planned for in advance with the laying in of copious amounts of tequila and fresh limes, Shiner Bock (beer) and champers, the acquisition of a box full of 1920's party gear and, at vast personal expense and soul searching on the part of mine host who has now all but given up the fight to save the planet single handed, the heating of the swimming pool! At five o'clock we invited three sets of immediate neighbours for drinks and were amazed to discover that none of them knew each other, even the 2 families who had lived in the houses since they were built (10 years ago). Once they had departed for their various family celebrations, it was a quick supper, then off with the clothes, on with the hats and out to the hot tub, there to down the cocktails of choice, reflect on our good fortune and think up some very silly games centring on the now gently steaming and totally irresistible floodlit pool such as relay races, synchronised swimming displays and ducking competitions. I am ashamed to say that we continued in this fashion until just before midnight when we repaired (still in swim attire) to the front street to let off our modest arsenal of fireworks and watch our right hand neighbours launch enough mortars to subdue a small town in Iraq within a couple of feet of several parked cars (not their own) - a time honoured American New Year tradition now outlawed within Houston city limits (we live just outside).

So that was then, what about now? Well, I have joined a book and film club at our local library and Daughter No 3 and I are half way through a course to become ESL tutors, also at the library. Apparently there is huge demand for this service (voluntary) and we are looking forward to being assigned some (adult) students soon. Daughter 1 and 2 are off to California next Thursday for 2 and 31/2 weeks respectively. They will fly to San Diego and then make their way up the coast to San Francisco where No 2 will meet up with boyfriend No 2 from Brighton. Daughter No 1 is due to return to London mid February to resume her teaching career !! Our social life is slowly evolving. Brian and I have been asked to make up a party at the International Valentines Ball - an excellent opportunity for some very necessary retail indulgence. We have also been very kindly invited across the road for a SuperBowl party on Feb 1st which I hope involves eating lots of potato chips and guacamole and fear may mean a lot of cheering and arcane, chest beating rituals (I'll let you know). And then there is the cleaning. It is slowly dawning on me that this is really our home and not a prolonged holiday let. After almost a dozen folk have passed through over the last few weeks some serious housekeeping is now in order and I need to pay attention to all those tedious TV ads about an infinite variety of Clorox based products with which to restore the sparkle to my kitchen and bathrooms. Suddenly, all those white tiled surfaces don't seem such a great feature after all. However, to quote that most pragmatic of Southern Belles, I won't think about that just now. Tomorrow is another day and I think I just spotted the final series of Dawson's Creek in the TV listings!

Best wishes, and a belated Happy New Year to anyone we haven't written/spoken to since Jan 1st.

Love from Angela xx

PS Talking of the TV, I was most indignant the other night to find that the new Judging Amy had been removed from the schedule in favour of live coverage of the State of the Nation address by one George W Bush. On second thoughts, I decided it might hold some entertainment value of the Radio 4 news satire variety but was sorely disappointed. He has been coached; not one comic non sequitur or mispronunciation in nearly an hour and it all sounded strangely familiar. Iraq - a lot of back slapping and a couple of raspberries for France and Germany; Education - standards, literacy and testing; Health care - who's going to pay for it? Tax cuts - can't afford them and so on. Has Tony been doing George's homework?

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