Tuesday: I am not enjoying driving on the freeway- there are about eight lanes, everyone drives on the wrong side of the road and the lorries are very, very large. Fortunately that doesn’t last too long and we go to a place called Ojai where we eat ice cream before venturing off on the Maricopa Highway across the mountains. I am not a very mountainy kind of guy – I have never been to an alp or gone skiing or had much in the way of craggy experience so I was looking forward to this very much. It did not disappoint- lots of amazing rocks, this year’s Yucca flowers and the ghostly skeletons of their recent ancestors. There were tiny lupins and clouds of Ceanothus, we even saw an eagle (although it might have been a Condor). There were hairpin bends and steep drops- everything you need but without the inconvenience of snow and cold.
16:00: We arrive at a place called New Cuyama which is journey’s end. It is a tiny settlement on the long straight road to St Luis Obispo which runs through vineyards, pistachio orchards and fields of alfalfa. Today about 5000 vehicles a day pass through the town and as a result there has always been a stop of some sort here – today there is a shop selling everything from motor oil to falafels and a motel which has recently been spiffed up. There is also a scattering of houses (originally built for the employees of an oil company that thought it was on to a winner here but were sadly mistaken). The houses are tired with lots of old trucks and boat trailers where the tyres are flat and perished. It looks as if it has seen better days.
It is here (on the old airstrip) that my brother Robert is getting married to Meg.
I am here in a double capacity- firstly as a brother (I am accompanied by my sister, my elder son and my daughter in law) but secondly (and possibly more excitingly) as the celebrant. It is my job to conduct the wedding and,in order to do this I have become ordained into the Church of Universal Life.
You may refer to me as the Rev. or, ideally, Your Eminence.
The ordaining took about three minutes on the internet but, having done that I am now fully qualified to marry people in the state of California so form an orderly queue..
So, all things being even, that is precisely what I shall do tomorrow.
7:00: Wednesday: Early morning walk with my brother and sister. There is a long straight road that leads about four miles into the hills and then stops by a large gate into a slightly sinister looking oil refinery.pumping thing. There are occasional identical white pickups that emerge and drive away very fast. It could be Blofeld’s lair. We return and eat pancakes.
Next we pootle off to go and get extra wine four the wedding from a place called Condor’s Hope. Five acres of beautifully kept vines and olives looked after by two retired College lecturers of advanced years. They get 15” of rain a year (between November and March) and manage to retain most of that moisture in the ground by disturbing the top three inches which then acts as a mulch to insulate the wet layer at root level. Effective (I dug a hole to see for myself) and very clever. There is a vast commercial vineyard down the valley that survives by pumping vast amounts of water out of the rapidly dimisishing aquifer. This way is better for the world and produces much more flavourful fruit and, therefore, wine.
Then it is all about loafing until about six o’clock when we convene on the airstrip for the wedding. All goes well, I get my lines right and fifteen minutes later Rob and Meg are married and a party begins. The temperature drops very quickly in the desert and soon everyone is happily huddled in blankets eating stuff around blazing fires.
Next is Karaoke.
I have never done this before but, in the spirit of showing the world that Brits can embarrass themselves before strangers as well as other nations I pile in. Archie, my elder son, and I do a spirited and tuneless version of Islands in the Stream (the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton classic). I feel that it would not be doing anyone any service if I were ever to post the video of that performance on this site or anywhere else. There was more singing, a conga line to others singing the Locomotion and stodgy cupcakes before bed.
I am listening to the sound of younger people cavorting in a hot tub. The picture is of a Nodding Donkey oil well in the desert.