Thursday, September 22, 2005

Okay, so where the hell am I? I'm really starting to get confused. Way behind here. No time to blog till now.

So, if it was Tuesday, it must have been San Mateo. Oh, yeh, it's all coming back to me now.

It's Susie's birthday. Sister Kathy comes round with a great present from her and husband, John. It's a sound station for the iPod. And it sounds great.

But I can't tell you what birthday it is, because Susie is three months older than me, and so you'd know my age, too. And that's almost as closely a guarded secret as Gilbert's.

Eric, Susie's business partner, appears. He has offered to drive us the hour-and-a-half to San Mateo, which is in the Bay Area, just south of San Francisco. I have a book event there that night. But first we go to lunch at a Chinese restaurant that seems to have changed hands since the last time anyone ate there. Not a Chinese person in sight. No rice bowls. These people have no idea how to eat Chinese. La Patronne gets yellow dye from the Lemon Chicken on her fingers, and they are still glowing in the dark. Woah! Nuclear MSG! Shakin' man!

So then we head over to Capital Public Radio, Sacramento, where I am doing a live interview with a guy called Jeffrey Callison. And it turns out he is Scottish - a former actor, now hosting a five-days-a-week afternoon show. He is devoting two-thirds of his hour to me.

He gets me to read from the book, and then we chat about China, and about Scotland, and about "Take The High Road" and Mrs. Mack, and weird Scottish cultural things that I'm sure probably mean nothing to a Sacramento audience. But we have a good time, and it's a great plug for the book. And afterwards everyone tells me I have a great radio voice. I'm sure it's just my sinusitis.

Then into the car and we head south across the great north California dustbowl, clouds gathering over the Coastal Range, Susie writing software in the passenger seat, me sleeping in the back while La Patronne listen's to Eric's guide to State history and topography - as well as his kids' schools. He is lovely man, but very demonstrative, and compelled to point out landmarks left and right. From time to time I wake up and wonder why he doesn't have his hands on the steering wheel.

The sky gets heavy as we climb through the hills, and the Bay Area spreads out before us, coastal fog rolling in from the Pacific and spitting rain at us. Flat, leaden water stretches away to our right, a great sprawl of connurbation clustered arounds its edges. Bridges span off into the haze.

We turn on to the San Mateo bridge and see a squall tracking across the bay towards us. Mist rolls down the hills on the perimeter like smoke. In the distance we see San Francisco crowded around the tip of the southern peninsula, the Golden Gate Bridge disappearing into the gloom.

San Mateo is all wet and shiny, like it's just been painted. A charming little community. We find the "M is for Mystery" bookstore, but we're early and so kill time in an Irish bar drinking Californian Chardonay. How cosmopolitan can you get?

The store's owner, Ed Kaufman, is the nicest man you could hope to meet. It is our second meeting. The first was at Bouchercon - and I can't even remember now how long ago that was. He greets me and introduces me to the small band of fans who turn up to hear me speak. They are a lively group and we have a good session. After it, Ed tells me he has pre-sold fifty books, which he gets me to sign. And then some. He expects to sell a lot more. He really knows his business.

Afterwards, we tip out into the night and eat Shabu-Shabu at Shabuway (very similar to Mongolian Hotpot), a Japanese restaurant, and are the only non-Japanese in the place, before beginning the long, weary trek back to Sacramento.

It is almost midnight when we get to bed, but not before making sure that Susie doesn't lock herself out in the courtyard. It is, after all, still her birthday. Just.

No pics, I'm afraid. Forgot to take my camera!

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