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Feb. 1st, 2015

This IS me (by schwitters)Default

San Francisco, Day 6: Get Furry (16/01)

This was the first day of San Jose-based furry convention Further Confusion. Howard and I had the excitement of a double-decker train, the Caltrain, to take us there from San Francisco, and amused ourselves by spotting places we'd passed on our bike trip.

The con got off to a sticky start when I spent half an hour in the wrong registration queue then lost my badge within ten metres of picking it up. A Subway lunch and the discovery that the reason I hadn't found my badge was that it had been super-efficiently whisked off to Lost & Found before I noticed its absence cheered me a little, but it was still like being in a strange parallel universe where everyone looked like someone I know, but I didn't actually know anyone.

Then, as we prowled around the back of the Dealers' Den, someone said "Are you Huskyteer?" I gave a cautious affirmative and learned I had been collared by Alopex of sofawolf, who have been kind enough to publish several of my short stories. (Asked how he'd recognised me, he said it was the hair.)

Once in the Den, I met the rest of the Sofawolf crew then said hello to the other furry publishers, FurPlanet and Rabbit Valley. Then it was time for my first panel of the weekend, the Furry Writers' Guild Meet & Greet.

The idea was to introduce potential new members to the idea that there's an organisation for furry writers, but it was also a chance for members to meet each other offline. I was delighted to meet Mary E. Lowd (you should read Otters In Space. Yes, all of you), along with some long-established fandom writers like Watts Martin and Michael H. Payne, and newcomers Franklin Leo and Sasya.

Once we'd all finished fangirling and fanboying each other, we gave a talk of sorts.

My next Nice Thing was running into the_gneech. We've been LJ friends for...over a decade, now, but never met in person, and it was lovely to rectify this at long last. Howard and I ended the day by going out for a Thai meal with Mary Lowd and her husband Daniel, where we talked writing, travel, and capybaras.

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Jan. 31st, 2015

Alice Street

San Francisco, Day 5: Scoot! (15/01)

We'd been a little anxious about leaving the Harley overnight, but not only had it been neither ticketed or stolen, someone had parked a GoldWing pal next to it! Having returned it to EagleRider, we were a short walk from the headquarters of Scoot Networks.

I ran across Scoot when I was googling scooter hire in San Francisco, and dropped them a line in my capacity as freelance motorcycle journalist (which I totally am) to ask if I could pop round and do an interview.

The Scoot system, in which you sign up as a member then pay a small fee to borrow an electric scooter, do your journey, and drop it off at one of many approved locations, is positively utopian: run by smartphone and powered by goodwill. I was disappointed not to be offered a go on one, not least because it broke our streak of using a different mode of transport every day (so far: BART, Muni, cable car, tandem, Harley), but hopefully my eventual writeup will be of interest to someone.

We spent much of the rest of the day cruising around Haight Street, shopping or hanging out in the Magnolia Pub, where I had a pomegranate cider (or 'hard cider', as it is called over there). When it got dark we wandered back to the apartment, only for Howard to leave again on a beer run. This took him a surprisingly long time, and when he returned it turned out he had been deep in discussion with the shopkeeper about the best kind of jalapeño crisps to buy me.

Powder Hound


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Snow Fun


I happened to wake up around 5, and because I am a big child I thought I'd look out of the window on the off chance it had snowed. To my excitement, an inch or so of powder coated everything in sight and a large fox was padding round the car park opposite, going WAT DIS?

Now I'm up properly it's almost all gone, so I'm glad I had a brief glimpse of Wonderland.

Jan. 30th, 2015

Dangerous Curves

San Francisco, Day 4: Electra Glide in Burgundy (14/01)

When I asked Kate, by email prior to the trip, where she would go if she had a Harley for the day, she named Half Moon Bay. So I worked out a route along the coast, followed by an inland leg with some twisty bits.

We returned to 8th Street and collected our steed: an Electra Glide in pinstriped burgundy, bristling with chrome and technology. I climbed into the armchair on the back, Howard swung the huge beast out into traffic, and a few minutes later we were flying south down the freeway.

Riding pillion was a very weird experience, less like being on a bike than like being in a car with the windows down. We left the 280 for Highway 1, and suddenly the Pacific was glittering away on the right and we were starring in our very own road movie. Howard played with the cruise control and the radio, while I watched the yellow line down the middle of the road flash past, or gazed out to sea.

Lunch was at San Mateo Airfield: café walls lined with aviation memorabilia, and a friendly server who said "Roger!" when I ordered my corned beef hash with scrambled eggs and "Prepare for takeoff!" when he brought it. He was a mine of information about both the airfield, used for bombers in WW2, and the local area, so when he recommended Pigeon Point Lighthouse as a nice spot we made it the next stop.

This was a good call. The sky was deep, deep blue, and the views were spectacular. We saw none of the advertised whales, but did make out half a dozen harbor seals, lolling about on a rock. (You have to go further south for elephant seals, alas.)

We headed back inland up the 84 towards La Honda, through farming country and at one point presumably past Ken Kesey's residence, although I didn't spot it. The road gets twisty as it runs through the forest around Redwood City. Howard ploughed through the curves, steering the huge bike smoothly and managing not to scrape any low-hanging parts, while I felt slightly carsick.

At the intersection of 84 and 35 is Alice's Restaurant, a biker haunt I was keen to visit for several reasons. We had a drink and got our photo taken by a nice guy on a V-Strom who said he'd been to Europe and his local roads were better, but we didn't linger too long, as it was getting dusky and chilly.

This part of Highway 35 is called 'Skyline Boulevard', so I had high hopes for the views, but the height and girth of the trees prevented any amazing panoramas (we tried stopping at 'Vista Point', where you can just about see a bit of view if you stand on one of the picnic tables). As the road descended to the freeway, though, we were suddenly given a sighting of the lake far below.

Manhandling a Harley in the stop-start San Francisco rush hour was hellish, but this was nothing compared with the gradients, corners and hill starts of the city, all while following the onboard sat-nav. At last we were parked without incident. It had been a fun day, but we decided we maybe didn't want to do a Big American Road Trip after least, not on that bike.

Alice&quot;s Restaurant

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Jan. 29th, 2015

Orange Vespa Huskyteer

San Francisco, Day 3: Two Up (13/01)

This was the day I rode a tandem over the Golden Gate Bridge. No other comment is necessary, really.

We fortified ourselves beforehand with brunch at the Pork Store (very authentic; the coffee came with free refills and lipstick on the mug). I enjoyed a Southwest Scramble, consisting of scrambled eggs with chipotle sausage. I knew that biscuits were like scones, but hash browns actually looking like grated, fried potato rather than deep-frozen brown triangles was a new experience.

Then we headed down Haight to hire ourselves a tandem. As we waited our turn at the bike shop, a man cycled past pursued by a terrier painted lilac in patches.

It had been a while since I'd ridden a tandem, and I'd forgotten both how tricky they are to ride and how terrifying for the person on the back. We did well through Golden Gate Park, with a stop to admire the bison, but were soon defeated by the hills on the coast road. And once you've stopped to push for a bit, that's it for that hill, because coordinating a hill start to take off again is next to impossible.

At last we reached the bridge - so red! - and cycled across its mile and a half. There's a separate lane for bicycles and pedestrians, so we were free to admire our surroundings.

On the other side is Sausalito, whose name always tickles me for some reason, and it's downhill almost all the way. We caught the ferry back to the city, with chilly but golden-lit late afternoon views of Alcatraz and the Bay Bridge. We were ushered off the ferry by a very brisk official ("Put your wheel on the ramp sir, then your partner helps push. Push, partner, push!"). Then we had 45 minutes to get the tandem back to Haight Street.

It was dark, and we got a bit lost, and despite a cheerful hail of "Tandems rock!" from an overtaking cyclist we were feeling dispirited. If we missed the 6 o'clock deadline, when the shop closed, our alternative was another branch which closed at 7...back at the ferry port, which wasn't a pleasing prospect.

We were ten minutes late, but luckily the owner hadn't yet closed up, and we disposed of our albatross. My next stop was the soda shop a few doors up, which I'd had my eye on for days. Fizzy pop never tasted so sweet.

We had dinner with Kate and Tom at a nearby French restaurant, Zazie, where I had the signature dessert: a large cup of melted chocolate topped with marshmallows. I managed to eat less than half of it, despite wanting to eat nothing else for the rest of my life.

Southwestern Scramble, The Pork Store

Bridge by tandem

Bay Bridge and boat

Flag, bridge, Alcatraz

SF approach

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Jan. 28th, 2015


San Francisco, Day 2: Kinky Coffee (12/01)

Our first mission of the morning was to visit EagleRider and enquire about hiring a motorbike later in the week. As we strolled down 8th Street, pausing for a photo opportunity at the junction with Howard Street, we passed Wicked Grounds, which advertises itself as a cafe and kink boutique, just sitting there in a neighbourhood otherwise dominated by car dealers and workshops.

All right then, San Francisco.

Concluding that nothing particularly sinister could be going on at half past ten in the morning, we cautiously entered. My latte and Everything Cookie were to die for, although the barista either forgot my request for the former (a sign on the counter read 'All drinks can be served in a dog bowl') or they suspected that I wasn't taking things entirely seriously.

We moved on to the hire shop, sat on some bikes, and selected a Harley-Davidson for later in the week, at Howard's insistence that we could ride nothing else in California. I asked if there was anything we, as foreigners, needed to know about driving in the States:

"Well, over here we have this thing called 'road rage'..."

I told him that I ride in central London, where at least one person shouts or hoots at me every single day.

"Oh. No, it's not like that," we were assured.

The rest of the day was devoted to tourism: we took a cable car along Market Street to Fisherman's Wharf, where we ate shrimp and chips. We toured the submarine USS Pampanito, and learned that American submarines are named after fish, their number including the USS Wahoo. After shopping for socks and beer at Pier 39, we watched sleepy, yawping sealions in the dusk for a while before heading home.


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Jan. 27th, 2015


San Francisco, Day 1: Golden Gate Park (11/01)

Kate conducted us to a cafe on Haight Street for the first of many enormous brunches, in my case a 'Denver crepe' (eggs, ham, onion, peppers, topped with orange cheese). The guy ahead of me in the queue was ordering the cheapest available glass of red wine ("I don't need to taste it, man, I just need to drink it", while the one behind was accompanied by a tiny and immaculately groomed dog.

If this was Haight-Ashbury on a quiet Sunday morning, I couldn't imagine what it would be like in wilder mood. A homeless man walked past the window with a cardboard sign reading "JUST WANT A COLD FUCKIN BEER", and as we walked back to Kate's apartment a group of youths carrying musical instruments admired my Doc Martens and instructed me "You rock out today!" We paused to admire a red Mini with the licence plate I♥BDSM, which put us in the perfect spot to see a man strolling down Ashbury in nothing but a gold sparkly pouch.

We wandered into Golden Gate Park, where I got excited about the signs warning of coyotes. We didn't see any, of course, but did spot a hummingbird. We weren't interested enough to pay for entry to the art museum, but the kind guard on the door informed us that going up the tower was free, so we got in the lift to enjoy a panoramic view of the city.

The park is vast and we didn't even make it halfway, finishing at Stow Lake where we hired a pedal boat (instructions: "Have fun! Fun is mandatory") for an hour of vigorous exercise and waterfowl inspection. On the way out we passed an ice cream van and I had a handmade organic natural cone which was not dissimilar to a Mr Whippy.

Kate and Tom were out for the evening but had recommended a pizza place, so we ventured out into the San Francisco night to Escape From New York Pizza for a takeaway.

Dog, Haight-Ashbury

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Jan. 26th, 2015

Husky Airways

San Francisco, Day 0 (10/01)

We arrived at Heathrow in good time, thanks to our discovery that airport parking, at least in January, isn't as ruinously expensive as we had assumed.

I like flying, and also enjoy the luxury of being forced to sit down and do nothing for ten guilt-free hours, as well as the regular intake of snacks, so the time passed pleasantly. I got a little writing done, read an entire novel (kyellgold's Out Of Position, at last), and watched Scooby-Doo: Wrestlemania Mystery (the sight of Scooby in a wrestling mask lying on a prone, topless Shaggy is not one I will easily forget).

Meanwhile Iceland passed beneath the port wing, and Howard and I craned our necks to goggle at it while wondering why everyone else on board was so blasé.

Once landed and spat out of border control (things I was afraid I might get turned back for: wearing Doc Martens with Union Jack toecaps; staying at address in Haight-Ashbury; general undesirability) we followed my schoolfriend Kate's instructions and hopped on the BART to the Civic Center. Here Kate met us (I forgot to warn Howard she has pink hair) and took us the rest of the way by bus. The San Francisco afternoon was warm and golden, and we were in that happy first-day-of-the-holiday state where everything is new and exciting: look! a real American fire hydrant!

The USA doesn't seem to have Twelfth Night, so there were coloured lights and wreaths in many of the windows down the charming street where Kate is living with her husband Tom and two tabby brothers called Horace and Monty. After we'd met everyone, we managed to stay up until 9PM before calling it a night.

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Jan. 9th, 2015


Nothing But Good News

Good news the first: my contract has been extended until the end of March, with a pay rise! But it's going to stop for two weeks and then recommence, because:

Good news the second: I'm going on holiday!

Tomorrow Howard and I will be flying to San Francisco, a city I visited in 2004 and fell in love with, to spend a week with an old friend of mine from school and another week with a friend from the scooter forum who's moved out there.

In the middle, I'll be attending Further Confusion in San Jose. This will be my first furry convention outside the UK. I'm very excited about meeting online pals old and new, and also about:

Good news the third: I have a short story in Fred Patten-edited anthology The Furry Future, launching at the con. Maybe I'll get to sign copies! *packs orange pen*
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Jan. 8th, 2015


Go Ro

If you give blood in the UK, you'll know that something changes pretty much every time you go along: they're using a different kind of bandage, or they've taken away the Tuc sandwich crackers, or introduced yet another opportunity for you to recite your name, date of birth and postcode.

At last night's session, the Donor Carer who was hooking me up looked at my form and said "Oh - I just need to get you a label." She popped off for a moment and returned with a brown luggage tag, as if I were an evacuee. It read: 'RO'.

She explained that this was a new system they were trying, and I had a component in my blood that made it suitable for people with sickle cell anaemia.

"So you're going to help someone with sickle cell!" she said, which made my evening.

At home, I found this news release, which explains things in more detail. Turns out I have the Rhesus subtype Ro, which is often a match for people with conditions requiring regular transfusions.

My blood group is A positive, the second most common type, so it's cool that I have a rare subtype, and that from now on I'll know where my donation is most likely heading.

Another neat thing.Collapse )

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