“Do you have lots of friends?” people back home keep asking. “What’s the social life like?” “Where do you go in the evenings?”
I must sound incredibly dull to my UK friends, whose idea of LA is party, party, party, hanging out with the beautiful people and devouring burgers as big as your head.
But the truth is, since my arrival a month ago, I’ve lived a fairly quiet life. I came here to write, and that, apart from daily trips to the gym, is pretty much all I’ve been doing. I’m never in bed beyond 6 am (in fact, 4 or 5 am is generally closer to my rising time) and I usually fall asleep on the sofa in front of another episode of Law and Order (can there be any that I haven’t yet seen? I seriously doubt it) mid-evening, before surrendering to bed at around half 10.
Back home, I was never in bed before midnight, but then I never drank carrot juice by the bucket-load in Cardiff, either, so I am embracing all kinds of new experiences.
Since you ask, yes (I can hear the laughter even from here), I really like carrot juice. I tried to drink it in the UK and bought a top of the range juicer to make my own, but soon lost interest when I quickly discovered that you need to buy four sacks of carrots to extract just one tablespoon of juice. Even as someone who has rearranging my cooking spices in alphabetical order on my list of work-avoidance tasks, this was extreme.
Los Angeles, though, is like one vast convenience store, and I can buy my fresh carrot juice just half a dozen doors away in Wholefoods, even if it doesn’t come with the virtue of burning off 18000 calories a throw in the effort and time it takes to squeeze it.
But there is more to life than work and carrot juice, as everyone keeps reminding me, and so this week I started exploring the possibilities of widening my social circle.
There is, for example, a language school in Canon Drive, the next block along from where I live, and I spent several days drawing up rotas for the various classes I intended to take: furthering my French that I spent seven years in Paris never learning; continuing the Spanish that, in four years half-living in Spain, has given me a vocabulary of “Hola!” and “Agua sin gaz”; and even starting Russian, a language that I love and in which I have acquired the ability to introduce myself and say one four letter word beginning with C in English and P in Russian.
Don’t ask me how I learned it . . . Oh, all right: it was in Spain, chatting to some Russians over lunch. They had no English, Spanish or French; I had all three, in limited quantity; but we found common ground in the C/P word and, incredibly, spent a very enjoyable three hours on the strength of our shared knowledge. I love languages.
However, I spent so long planning my LA lessons, I missed the start of the new term and didn’t see any point in wasting money for something that wasn’t going to be the full whack. I also remembered the last time I attended a language course with Americans, in the Berlitz School in Paris. There were only three of us in the class, and the Americans took two days to understand that the teacher was referring to the past tense.
“Je suis . . . “ they kept saying, the present first person that they insisted on using in response to every single question about what they had done the previous day. “Non, no, non, HIER,” the teacher kept repeating, attempting to engage them in the activities of yesterday. In the end, I screamed: “SHE’S TALKING IN THE PAST TENSE, FOR GOD’S SAKE!” which endeared me to no one.
Neither did my own attempts to explain how many bottles of wine I had drunk the previous night: “J’ai bu trois bouteilles Saint Emilion.” The teacher simply thought I did not know the word for glass. “Non, non,” she smiled. “Trois VERRES.”
“Uh, non. Trois bouteilles.”
“Non! C’est impossible!”
Now that I don’t drink, it sounds fairly impossible to moi, too, but the unhappy memories of language classes was clearly the unconscious motive behind my missing the opening week of classes in LA.
Friends back home suggested I try out the private clubs, and so I went to the website of the most famous and one of the closest to me, the LA Country Club.
There is very little information about the Club’s activities on the website, but the hefty section devoted to dress code soon reveals why: by the time you work through what you can and can’t wear, you’d be too exhausted to do anything else.
Let’s take the men’s attire, for starters. Shirts, for example, must have sleeves and collars and be “worn inside one’s trousers” (Eh? The whole shirt? Sleeves and collars, too? Perhaps “tucked in” might have explained things better, or maybe I am missing some very “in” LA fashion statement about stuffing your lunch-box to the seams).
Their slacks must be of “a tailored nature” (they would be, given the way they pack those lunch-boxes) and any caps (although none are allowed indoors) must be worn “with the bill forward”. As I have no desire to meet any man who wears a cap of any sorts, the idea that they might even be hanging around is enough to put me off.
But not as much as the women’s rules regarding attire do. I swear that fighting for my country in Afghanistan would not require so long a list of rules and regulations. The one that immediately put me off was the one about no tops that “expose the midriff” being allowed. Well, that’s it then. I can presume from this that I wouldn’t be allowed to get my tits out for the lads. Cardiff Blues Rugby Club it clearly ain’t.
However, “Formal or evening strapless attire is permitted.” This seems a bit hypocritical to me: no tummies, so no going UP your top for the multitude of groping men that are always a feature of private clubs, but it’s totally acceptable to go DOWN your top, minus the inconvenience of straps, provided it’s after 6pm.
Skirts must be “no shorter than 4 inches above the knee”, which rules out my entire wardrobe going back over 30 years; and slacks “must be tailored and within 6 inches of the ankle.” What on earth does that mean? Six inches in circumference, length, or 6 inches when lying beside you, after you’ve taken not only your top of for the lads, but your trousers, too?
Now, here’s the killer: “Ladies’ (sic) may wear brimmed hats coordinating with their outfits." Well, for starters, I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that doesn’t know where to place its apostrophes; and two, where the hell are you going to find a hat to go with the kind of outfit that takes ankle distance into account?
As a general rule, slogans or printed materials unrelated to the manufacturer are not permitted. That’s another killer for me, as it instantly rules out the “Jaci’s Box” T-shirts I had made when I purchased my hospitality box at Cardiff Blues Rugby Club, complete with slogan “I’ve been in Jaci’s Box” emblazoned across the front.
I’ve now turned my attentions to the Beverly Hills Country Club instead. They have invited me for lunch to take a look around, and I also see from their website that they hold Singles evenings. I am shortening my hemlines even as I write.