Well hello there!

Wow, I have absolutely neglected this blog, haven’t I? And you may ask, why is that? Well, wonder no longer, dear reader.

Since my last post, things have changed quite dramatically. The main reason the posts dried up is because I got work authorization, and quickly found a job. Well, a job found me; my resume got noticed by my current boss, and after a quick interview process, I started work in April 2016.

If you’re interested, I’m an Administrative Manager for a staffing company, and I still work there to this very day. It was kind of weird at first, because I hadn’t worked for so long, and working for a university in the UK is incredibly different from working in a corporate environment in California. Whodathunkit?! There were even moments when I considered quitting, the change was so dramatic and traumatic. But thanks to my incredibly supportive husband, and a great deal of working-class guilt, I stuck it out, and have made a real impact at the company (even if I do say so myself).

However, a couple of months after starting my new job, I found out I was pregnant. Now, this wasn’t entirely unexpected. Will and I had decided to start “trying”, or as I like to refer to it, “boning with purpose”, in early 2016. We just didn’t expect for things to happen so quickly. I have some funny stories about this period, but that’s for another time. Most of them involve me not being able to aim when I pee.

I spent most of 2016 growing a human, not drinking, and working. Again, I’ll write about this in more detail some day, but I really enjoyed being pregnant. I had morning sickness a grand total of once. Turns out you don’t get a medal or anything for that, but you definitely should. And, you know, for the other stuff involved with having a baby.

Mary-Katherine Rose Thompson arrived on the morning of February 4th, after three hours of pushing and an intervention from Henry the Hoover. She is currently sat on my lap, missing one sock, and chewing on a monkey. She is hilarious and wonderful. And American! That’s weird.

So that’s what’s been happening. I’m now a working mother, wife, and green card carrying California pernament resident. Over the last six or so years, amazing things have happened, through a combination of bloody hard work and fortuitous circumstances. And now Team Thompson is stronger than ever, with a tiny little lady MVP. Bloody brilliant.

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An Open Letter to Alan Bennett

Playwright Alan Bennett.  Photo by Cato Lein.

*Warning – contains minor spoilers for The Lady in the Van*

I gather from your work that you don’t have a lot of time for sentimentality, so I’ll try to keep this mostly stern and brief. I may fail in this effort.

I moved to California last summer. For my first thirty years, I lived pretty much exclusively in northern England, mostly recently in Manchester. So while I love it (read, prefer it) out here, there are certain, specific, mostly art-related things I miss about England. The proliferation of your works being amongst these. So I was incredibly happy when the little independent cinema within walking distance of my front door announced they would be showing Lady in the Van. I have just returned from a screening, and felt compelled to jot my thoughts down.

I have admired your writing for about twenty years. I am forever grateful to my high school English teacher, Mrs. Marchant, for showing Talking Heads to a largely indifferent group of thirteen-year-olds. The monologue in question was Lady of Letters, and I was gripped by the dark humor. I was always considered a little strange in school, and quietly laughing at some of the lines didn’t exactly win me any credibility points. But I didn’t care; I had literally never seen anything like it before.

Another vivid memory associated with you is reading a copy of Talking Heads 2 at the bus stop near my sixth form college. I avoided the school bus, as my aforementioned strangeness often drew negative attention. I’d just started my A Level English course, and was handed a copy of Talking Heads 2. So propped up against a fence, a safe distance from pre-pubescent cries of “goth”, I quickly began devouring the monologues I wasn’t already familiar with. One of these was Playing Sandwiches. I will never forget reading the line… “So I took her in the bushes.” I don’t think I’d ever read anything so dark. To this day, both Talking Heads 1 and 2 are amongst my favorite pieces of literature. I revisit them every six months or so, and I always find something different.

While watching The Lady in the Van today, I was reminded of my teenage isolation for various reasons. Sitting amongst twenty or so elderly Californians, I was alone in laughing at jokes concerning M&S, MOTs and stairlifts, but my laugh was loud and proud. As I’ve got older, I’ve learned to embrace my weirdness, and it has won me some wonderful, lifelong friends, not to mention an incredible husband.

The film is a great adaptation. The story, of course, is beautiful. My heart soared every time a former History Boy appeared, and I have to admit I shed a little tear at the shot of the National Theatre (which remains one of my favorite places in the world). But when you wheeled up on a bike at the end of the film, it was like seeing an old friend. Your work has been with me throughout my adult life, and I’m glad you’ve been so prolific that I will probably never stop discovering new things.

I love my life in California. I have the opportunity to explore my capabilities, and start an entirely new life for myself. And as someone who sincerely wishes people “a great day”, I’m received pretty well over here. But today, for a couple of hours, I was reminded of who I used to be, and how my love of your writing has helped me to develop into a woman who northerners might describe as “alright, you”. I would love to thank you in person, but I don’t imagine you Skype very often. And that’s one of the many things I love about you.

With eternal gratitude,

Tracey

Photo by Cato Lein

A Positive Tuesday

imageI had an immensely positive day yesterday, and I just wanted to briefly share my experiences with you.

As some of you may know, I’ve been tutoring a Korean student in English for a while now. Just before Christmas, she had an unexpected death in the family, and I didn’t see her for a while. However, we’re back into the swing of things now, and yesterday we had a lesson I’ll remember for a while.

In the previous lesson, my student had been explaining some Korean Christmas and New Year traditions to me, which included some board games. So this week, she brought some games along, and explained them to me. Then, she pulled out a long piece of looped string to show me something. I could tell what she was going for, and I took it from her hands and started the game that a lot of people have unknowingly stored in their minds, Cat’s Cradle. My student was totally shocked that I knew how to do it. But then, a library staff member came over and commented how she had played it as a child, and joined in! So we had a Korean, a Brit, and an Italian American sharing an almost-forgotten childhood game that requires no words. It was a really lovely moment.

But after that, my student said she wanted to speak about the aforementioned family death, as she was now ready to talk about it without getting emotional. I won’t share the details, but she spent over an hour speaking about what happened, and I was incredibly happy to listen and make the occasional comment. She mentioned how she was so happy to have me to speak to, because she doesn’t have too many friends out in California. It was a very moving experience, and I feel very lucky to be a willing pair of ears to this wonderful woman.

And if that wasn’t enough, I didn’t have to correct her English once. She didn’t stumble, she knew what she wanted to say, took her time, and was confident. That was especially rewarding for me, as it seems I’m not a terrible tutor!

Volunteering was something I rarely did in the UK. There isn’t really much of a system that enables people to do it easily. But thanks to fantastic sites like Volunteer Match, I’ve had some of the most rewarding experiences of my life in the last few months. I’m not saying it’s something that everyone should do, I’ve just really enjoyed my time helping others. I’m sorry I didn’t make the time for it before.

Book Blog!

I’ve decided to shift all my book-related mumblings to their own little blog. It’s called California Reading (do you see what I’ve done there?!), and there’s a link below.

California Reading

Give it a quick squizz, if you fancy.

I’ll still be popping stuff on here, and hopefully continuing my 26 Foreign Films project (I let that one die quite quickly, didn’t I? Awful).

Bye!

Things From My Trip Back to the UK for Christmas

  • I will never fail to go to pieces in the presence of comedy legend Chris Morris (spotted in the National Theatre, wearing shorts. I didn’t say anything).
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens is amazing. The moment when I got completely consumed by excitement was (SPOILER ALERT) when Poe and Finn stole a TIE Fighter and did a runner from the First Order. I had a manic grin for the rest of the film.
  • I spotted Cara Delevingne in the BFI lobby. A quick Google would suggest she is 5 ft 8. I’m not saying that this may be untrue, but I didn’t have to raise my head to look at her iconic eyebrows (I’m 5ft 2 on a good day).
  • My young nephews are developing wonderful personalities. One is turning into a mini evil genius, the other a reluctant superhero. They’re bonkers and I love them.
  • Christmas weddings are lovely. Especially so when they involve a young friend tying the knot with a gorgeous woman. I was very honored to be part of such a beautiful day (thanks, Barry and Cat).
  • Mother of aforementioned groom commented at the wedding that I haven’t changed since I was a teenager. Not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.
  • Manchester is basically the same as when I left it. Well, maybe a little bit more damp (RIP, the Mark Addy).
  • My friends are still absolutely amazing, and are doing incredibly exciting things. Thanks to you all for making time to see us.
  • Byron Burger isn’t as good as everyone says it is.
  • I was very excited to be reunited with Monster Munch, Vimto, and Jaffa Cakes. They weren’t as amazing as I’d remembered. I didn’t even end up bothering with Jaffa Cakes.

This final part deserves a bit more explanation. Will and I spent Christmas Day with Will’s mum, Pauline, and her partner, John. We were very well looked after. However, Pauline shared a story about how her and John had recently been to Denmark, to meet up with one of John’s old school friends. This school friend had moved to Denmark a few decades ago, and found quite a unique job. Below is a picture (he’s the one sat on the log).

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Turns out, John’s schoolfriend has found a great deal of success dressing up as a chicken on a low-budget kids TV show in Denmark. It’s called Bamses Billedbog, and if you fancy a laugh I’d highly recommend checking it out on YouTube (the one I fired up around the kitchen table had the unsettling title of “Bamses Billedbog Baby Kylling“. Not even the frightful description could prepare me for the horrors within).

Happy New Year, everyone!

Our Thanksgiving, and How We Nearly Died

We weren’t too sure what we were supposed to do at Thanksgiving. Most of my knowledge comes from various U.S. sitcoms, and the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles. But what it did mean was a four-day weekend, so we weren’t complaining. So we had lots of awesome food, booze, and fun.

To follow one Thanksgiving tradition, I’m grateful for the following things:

  • My husband’s ability to make a smashing roast. He did pork; turkey is rubbish. Plus there is a rafter/gang/posse (I Googled the collective noun) of wild turkeys that keep appearing in our parking lot, and I feel an affinity with them. They pick fights with cats and squirrels.
  • Funyuns. I have weekly pangs for a bag of Monster Munch (usually when hungover, when I also especially miss Vimto and Jaffa Cakes), and this is the closest thing I can find.
  • Livermore Public Library. Yes, I know I blather on about it, but I do love the place. It’s crazily well-funded, and has such a huge selection of books. It is also the place that enables my tutoring. I attended a meeting for tutors a couple of weeks ago, to share ideas and experiences, and it was so much fun. I feel like I’m part of a great community.
  • The fact that I have a fantastic life.

Which brings us to…
How We Nearly Died

I mentioned this incident briefly on Facebook, which started a wealth of bovine puns from the ever-amusing Martin Crawley (cheers dude). But it was so dramatic is warrants a full blog post.

In brief, we got caught in a stampede. No, we didn’t try and brave the mall Black Friday sales. We went to Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park for a hike, and got on the wrong side of some cows. Actual cows.

We were having a lovely hike in the sunshine, admiring the bits of green that are slowly appearing on the ground, minding our own business. There are lots of cows dotted around the park. Earlier that day we’d walked very closely to a couple of them, and I possibly said something patronizing about their lovely eyes, and word got round.

So we carried on walking, when we came across some more bovine bastards. One cow rammed another, and I obviously laughed because it was hilarious. I asked Will if he’d seen it, and he sensibly suggested that we just keep walking. Quickly. Then, the aforementioned aggressive cow let out a very chilling “moo” (if you can imagine such a thing. Ask me for a demonstration next time I see you). Then the main cow and her crew ran across the path we’d just walked over, and up a small hill, where there were yet more cows. Will commented it looked like a turf war, and we carried on walking.

Then we noticed the sound of running hooves was getting gradually louder, and turned to see what can only be adequately captured by the following stills from The Lion King (imagine cows instead of antelope, and my face instead of little Simba).
I’ve been scared quite a few times in my life. I once walked out of a film because I couldn’t cope with the weird noises (La Casa Muda, still haven’t seen it all). But I’ve never felt an actual, seemingly inescapable  threat. You can at least attempt to reason with psychotic clowns luring you down the sewer. But this was real fear. I don’t care to experience it again.

Luckily, there was a little ridge that the cows would have found it difficult to traverse, so Will and I quickly made our way up there until the stampede had passed. Which, thankfully, it did. We obviously lived to tell the tale, but now I’ve got a fear of cows. Which, according to Will, is perfectly reasonable. Apparently, an average cow weighs about 1,500lbs. That is more than 10 times my weight. That’s a battle I would not win without a very pointy stick. And I didn’t have one to hand.

I’ve just had a quick gander at what one is supposed to do in this situation. Apparently, cows rarely aim for people, and their eyesight is quite poor. One site suggests “making yourself big”, but at 5ft 2, I’d find this quite challenging. One of the lovely ladies who works in our local also suggested making a lot of noise, which I’m extremely capable of. So, while I won’t be embracing cows anytime soon, I will proudly wear my leather jacket while chomping on a burger, safe in the knowledge that those violence buggers could one day end up in my sandwich.

Road to Lake Tahoe

Last Friday was the one-year anniversary of my marriage to Will. Here are some couples that we’ve already outlasted:

– Lisa Marie Presley and Nicolas Cage (I don’t even remember this happening)

– Drew Barrymore and Tom Green (really Drew?! Were things really that bad?)

– Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock (ugh, really?! Yikes.)

We have very happy memories of our wedding day, and I will be forever grateful to those who attended, and especially to those who helped out (I can’t list you all here, but you know who you are).

Anyway, I’m sure you’re all dying to hear about what Will and I did to mark our small victory over minor Hollywood celebrities. Well, Will did a fantastic job of arranging a long weekend in Lake Tahoe, which he managed to keep completely secret from me until we were in the car loading the directions.

We stayed at a place called The Landings, which was amazing.

Yeah, it was pretty awesome. This was our view.

IMG_0050 We did a lot of drinking, eating, chilling, reading, and sleeping. We visited the spa and got an amazing Swedish massage. I never realise how many bits of my body are a bit knackered until all the dents are being hammered out.

Places we ate/drank at that I would definitely recommend:

Jimmy’s – The amazing restaurant in The Landing. Great food, fantastic service, and the view is breathtaking.

McP’s Taphouse – Lots of different beers, great atmosphere, and pub food. You can’t go wrong.

Stateline Brewery – They make their own very tasty beers, and the food is pretty awesome too.

Will also had his first experience of a Nevada casino (Lake Tahoe is right on the state line between California and Nevada. You literally cross the road and end up in a different state). Did we win thousands at Blackjack? Did we hit the jackpot on the slots? Hell no, we found House of the Dead 3 and killed some zombies. Then we got the heck out of there because it was very, very seedy. I forgot how much a dingy casino floor can drain one’s life-force.

I’d never been to Lake Tahoe before, and it was amazing. It was the off-season, so it was pretty quiet, which was nice. However, on our final night, it snowed, which made for a very cautious drive back to Livermore, but everything looked magical. It was also a little crazy how within a three-hour drive, we went from inches of snow to pretty warm sunshine in Livermore, yet we didn’t leave California. Madness.

Will did a great job of organising an unforgettable weekend. I have renewed my subscription to his services for another year.