The last time we came here…

There were no mobile phones, or cell phones as they call them round these parts. We were met then by Derek, a friend who’s ambition was to live in the States and be a hot shot lawyer, who could have blamed him then, it was the 80’s and he was from Nottinghamshire. His girlfriend Carol was a Californian who wanted, and did achieve, a quiet life in the UK, turning her back on California.

Like us, at the time, or a little before in his case as he’d already settled over there, we had been living in the same house in Shepherd’s Bush, London, hence the connection. One of those big old regency houses near the BBC, a bit gone on the edges and divided into so called ‘flats’. I had the top floor and Derek and Carol were my neighbours in a small bedsit on the floor below.

Derek’s new ‘Condo’ in the Santa Monica area of LA was, to say the least, a little different, being the size of a junior basketball pitch and with, even for the 80’s almost every conceivable mod con. A big improvement on a front room in Shepherd’s Bush with a kitchen in the corner and a Baby Belling. ( Remember those? Small cookers that were used a lot in bedsits, that could heat up to nuclear fission temperatures and presented an almost unthinkable fire hazard. Common in the 70s and 80s )

I can still remember the pervading smell of gasoline when we landed at the airport, LA was suffering one of those petrochemical smogs, that we don’t hear about much these days. Derek had forgotten what time he was due to pick us up, we had no means to find him apart from a pay phone in the airport, he wandered into the terminal eventually with an apology, and off we went. No texting or ‘whats apping’  in those heady days. I’ve no idea what became of Derek, he probably did become a hot shot lawyer, he was driven enough. Carol became a potter in East Anglia.

I remember also from back then the hundreds of TV channels with little worth watching and a plethora of ads, some of the oddest ads I’d ever seen on TV. Cowboys recommending medicines for constipation was a particular one that lingered far too long in the memory. It’s changed a little, there are dozens of ads for the fattiest foods you could possibly imagine, and the strangest ads for medicines that have a litany of what harm they can do to you if you happen to have other medical issues. In fact they go on so much about the side effects you wonder why they are still in business. There’s a whiff of lawyers around for these ads. Wonder if it’s Derek?

We went out, treated by daughter, the other night, for a sushi dinner. I’m familiar with only sushi Sheffield style, where my son takes us when we go up there. Yorkshire sushi is a slightly different to LA sushi.

The place was in an unassuming parade of shops not far from the 101 Freeway, not dressy, just casual with simple seating. Quite noisy from people chattering, thankfully no music, service was quick and friendly, but as daughter said ” Can’t take that long to put raw fish on a plate”, which was a little on the harsh side as it came looking and tasting great, and not all of it was raw.

We got there by Uber taxi, the journey there silent, the journey back we were driven by a guy who’d been Michael Jackson’s driver for a short while. This journey  peppered with conversation about all the places he’d been, he made us very welcome in LA, while being interrupted by the lady giving him directions to the house on his cell phone. How taxis managed in this huge town before Sat Nav and Uber is baffling.

To get an idea of the size of the place you could take a trip to the Griffith Observatory, from where you can see the whole of the city spreading out before you, with the straight roads narrowing to the horizon. We had a little outing up there. It’s also where James Dean was filmed in “Rebel without a Cause”, so they’ve put up a statue of him there to celebrate. I have to say, not the best piece of sculpture of James Dean, it’s a bust, and makes him look in his late 50’s, he was only 24 when he died, and I think it needs to be a full body statue to get that particular slouchy look he personified.

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The unutterable glamour of flying.

Travelling long haul is exactly that, a long haul. I’m not convinced of the glamour. We took to the skies by the so called trendy Virgin Atlantic to Los Angeles to visit family who’ve gone there for a while. It was, I suspect just like any other airline, the planes are the same, and the seats not a lot different unless you pay a King’s ransom to fly anything other than “Economy”. We thought we’d gone one cheaper still by flying “Economy Light” until I discovered that the light meant that you could not take any clothes with you to Los Angeles that would not stuff into a case small enough to fit an overhead locker. It’s probably popular as I’ve discovered since being here, that you only need a change of shorts and t shirt, and my wooly socks and jumpers could have stayed at home. It cost me another 90 quid to bring those woollies with us.

Stuffed into a seat with a telly in the seat in front for nearly 11 hours is not recommended for good back health, or for the digestion. And to help you along they bring what appears to be “meals on wheels-like food”. It was not as bad as The dream and the reality…  and they had made the effort, but after such a meal I’d have liked a good healthy walk in the fresh air rather then being cooped up in a metal tube. I suppose I could have walked up to first class to see how the other half live. To be fair they looked as raddled as we did after 11 hours and US customs to deal with. I felt like and probably looked like a badly wrapped parcel.

We’d started the journey in England with a coach ride to Heathrow which added a frisson of tension to the journey when the driver took a detour to avoid traffic jams on the M4 by heading south onto the M3. Visions of missed flight loomed but only briefly. His insistence of regaling us with every single safety advice, which was then repeated on a recording after every stop was enough to drive you to distraction, but his creative route taking enabled us to keep moving and get to the airport on time. So we forgave him.

We’ve been here in La La Land for a few days and the sun has not stopped shining. This massive sprawl of housing and roads stretches for miles, with glamorous areas cross-fading into the more down at heel within a few blocks. Criss cross street plans make it easy enough to get around, heaven knows how drivers from the USA manage on our roads. I doubt there is such a thing as a car without automatic transmission. The people are friendly, and chatty, unlike our British reserve. In a supermarket to pick up a Rug Doctor carpet cleaner a guy nearby volunteered that he found it so hard to do he’d just “got a guy to do it for him”. Daughter replied pointing to me: “He’ll do it for me”.

So here we are and I’m cleaning carpets five and a half thousand miles from home. I brought an apple and orange on the journey only to have to hand it in before I reach US customs. High mileage fruit is not welcome here, and they even have sniffer dogs to seek it out.

More tales from La La Land will follow, if I can stop the sweat leeching through the keyboard.

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Here’s a house with a roof like a thatch, except it’s tiles!

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