Sunday, February 11, 2007


It's funny how something you can't see gets blurred.

I'm talking, of course, about time. I'm sitting here, Sunday morning, in Newport Beach. And it's raining! The last time I wrote, I was in San Francisco. And it was raining. In between there has been MORE rain (huge amounts of it in Northern California), sizzling sunshine in LA, a birthday dinner, a VERY drunken night, a brilliant review of "The Fourth Sacrifice" in Entertainment Weekly...

"May exposes Beijing's dirty charm in a country grappling with modernity. The fast-paced second half is strongest, but the love-hate tension of the romance captivates throughout."

... and two great book events.

Already, it's all blurring into one fuzzy lump. So I'll get it all down before I forget.

Thursday we went to the home of Susie's sister, Kathy, in Sacramento. It was her (I'mtoopolitetotellyou'th) birthday, and we all drove up with her daughter, Gillian, to the little town of Auburn where Susie and Kathy grew up in the halcyon days of the sixties. There we met her mom and went to a restaurant for Kathy's birthday celebration.

Kathy's husband, John, was in Toronto on business, and her twelve-year-old son, Sean, had gone to a dance to chat up girls. His friend, Eric, was a head shorter than Sean, and complained that he was the fourth smallest boy in his school. La Patronne told him not to worry, it meant his head would be in perfect alignment with the girls' boobs. Which sent the boys off into paroxysms of giggles, and Eric went off to the dance seeing the world from a whole new happy perspective.

We drove back to our hotel through a downpour, and headed off the next morning through even worse rain to the central Californian coastal town of Santa Maria (near Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch). But first, we traversed those huge plains of the state's vast featureless interior, the Californian breadbasket. Crop fields stretch off to endless shimmering horizons. Occasionally, in the very far distance, you catch sight of mountain ranges washed pale in the dusty haze, and crop-dusting bi-panes swoop and dive like demented birds.

We passed whole orange groves damaged by frost in January. Dead leaves. Ruined oranges hanging from lifeless branches and gathering in drifts on the hard earth. One-and-a-half billion dollar's worth of ruined crop. The frost had killed just about everything, and the land was a dead, straw brown.

The hills of the central coast area were greener. They were nearer the ocean and had been protected from the frost. We checked into a hotel in the little beach resort of Pismo Beach where, Susie revealed, she had lost something very valuable many years before. I wondered if it wasn't too late to go back and look for it. But she assured me it was long gone.

The Pacific Ocean lapped at the balconies of our rooms. It was dry here, and warm. But we didn't linger to enjoy the view. We had an appointment at Susie's winery - Ambullneo (which stands for New American Bulldog - a breed of dog which is the passion of Susie's partner and winery owner, Greg Linn).

The winery has been fashioned from an old barn, and sits in the lee of Scottish-looking hills which have been planted with hundreds of acres of vines (the climate here is somewhat different from Scotland where only pine trees would grow). This being "Sideways" country, the main varietal is Pinot Noir.

Greg proudly gave us the grand tour, and then we spent the next couple of hours barrel-tasting the 2006 wines - many of which were still in malolactic fermentation. A young South African lad called Dieter, leapt nimbly among the barrels with a large pipette to siphon off chardonays and pinots for us to taste. Of course, you are supposed to spit - but, well, it does seem like such a waste.

It was dark by the time we finished and wobbled out into the night for a hairy drive through early evening traffic to Greg's extraordinary home near the coast, where New American Bulldogs frollicked and snuffled about our legs, and Greg's beautiful wife, Jana, produced trays of hors d'oeuvres to be washed down by champagne.

This was a fabulous house, with a dining room like a banqueting hall in a mediaeval chateau. We ate beef ribs marinated in Ambullneo's best vintage, and drank from the full range of Ambullneo's 2005 wines - glasses lined up in front of our plates like plump little monks tempting us with the produce of their cellars. Fabulous!

I have to say, I don't remember much about the journey back to the hotel. I think we got lost a couple of times. I do remember waking in the middle of the night with a thundering headache, and got up to drink copious amounts of water.

The morning arrived in a haze of grey pain, and I had to get into the kilt for the long drive south to Los Angeles. We were going straight to The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood, LA, for a book event at 1pm.

As we headed south, so the skies cleared and the temperature rose. By the time we got to LA it was 24 degrees centigrade and still rising. We had a small, enthusiastic crowd at the bookstore - there was a couple there, the Toppens, who had read the entire China series, having bought the books directly from us over the internet when they were living in Arizona. The bookstore's owner, Bobby McCue, had huge piles of books lined up for me to sign before we got back on the freeway to head north again to the valley community of Thousand Oaks, where a large and enthusiastic crowd was already gathering in the "Mysteries to Die For" bookstore - even although we were half-an-hour early.

It was a really great event - and a good way to end a hectic first week. It's hard to believe that in under ten days I've been to Seattle, Sacramento, Davis, San Mateo, San Franciso, Auburn, Santa Maria, Los Angeles and Thousand Oaks, giving five talks, a radio interview, meeting an old friend from thirty years ago, and covering well over a thousand miles in the process.

Now I'm looking forward to a few days of respite (the good weather is forecast to return this week, with temperatures soaring to 25 and 26 degrees centigrade), a chance to finish revisions on the new book and make a return visit to the dentist, before starting all over again next Saturday with a trip to San Diego..

There's nae rest for the wicked!


Anonymous said...

Speaking of your Entertainment Weekly review, I discovered your work tonight from exactly that. Your China Thriller sounds absolutely fascinating, and I'll be sure to check it out.

Good luck with the rest of your tour.

Carol and Chris said...

And you have the cheek to say that all we do is eat and drink!!!

C x