Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wake Me When the Earth Moves 4/25/09

One of the many things they don't tell you when you start dating is that if you are hoping for the earth to move, your best chance is to move over 5000 miles east across the Atlantic.

It looks as if this much awaited experience might finally happen for me, as I get my act together for what the posters in Beverly Hills call "Earthquake Preparedness Month." I am slightly panicky, as EPM is billed as April and, although I arrived on the 1st of the month, my earthquake cupboard is somewhat bare.

Although the earthquake is not a dead cert, everyone assures me that after last year's 25 second quake in central LA, and the promise of a monster one in 2010, I can expect something over the coming months and should Be Prepared.

My local hardware store, Pioneer, offers computer repairs (including Apple), handymen, knife sharpening and, I noticed, "earthquake kits". When I went in to see one, I was told that I could put together my own, although I was in such a state at having to have one at all, I didn't really listen to what I might need and came away with a Le Creuset casserole dish.

One friend, who grew up with the threat of earthquakes since he was a child, has been instructing me as to where I should head, if the seemingly inevitable happens. He says it is good that I live just one floor from the top of my building, so that the other floors will not come crashing down on me, and that in an emergency I should on no account leave the building, where I will undoubtedly be hit by low-flying rooftops.

My best bet, he says, is to head for the door-frame; failing that, I should take refuge under a table. I have a better idea: as he is well over six foot, how about HE stands under the door frame or goes under the table, and I take refuge under HIM? I have yet to put this idea to him.

I have become mildly obsessed with the earthquake problem and today, when I checked out the sister gym of the one I go to in Beverly Hills, the floor was shaking so badly in the Ladies, I thought my big moment had come. When I went to reception, she explained that the trembling was as a result of the various cardio-vascular machines operating on the floor above; I just pray that I am not in the gym when the earthquake strikes and be subjected to a double whammy of terror.

It was a bit of a nerve-racking day all round at the new gym. Shortly after the non-earthquake in the Ladies, there was the most almighty roar of an alarm that sent me reeling from the treadmill. Thinking that it must be an earthquake warning (I told you I was obsessed), I ran to the other side of the building, only to find three lots of men playing basketball in the Magic Johnson gym.

The hooter was sounding for reasons I have yet to work out, and related to timings that flashed on a board above the court; it all meant nothing to me. But if you want to die among fit men (in both senses of the word) when the earthquake strikes, then the Magic Johnson basketball court is your place; well, it'll be my place.

As if the hooter was not terrifying enough, a man on the step machine next to my treadmill made me think that all my earthquakes had come at once. "AAAAAAGGGHHHH NOOOOOOOOOOOO! PLEASE NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! WHAT'S HAPPENING . . . !" He wasn't just sweating, he was a geyser of open pores, all of them spraying in my direction. "What is it? What is it?" I squealed, frantically looking for the nearest door-frame. "Baseball," he panted. "Sport. It's important."

The television screen above his machine was showing a baseball match (at the moment it appears to be both basketball and baseball season - as well as earthquake season! Aren't I the lucky one), and someone on the team he was supporting had apparently just done something incredibly stupid.

He told me he was rooting for the Boston Stranglers (or some such ridiculous name - I could hardly hear through the downpour), and that their opponents the Yankees were evil. Half an hour later, he was still on the machine, but a lot calmer. "I was getting worried for you," I said. "Hey!" he replied. "You should see my marm." Blimey. What does he do to her when his team is losing? Knife her?

On my way back to Beverly Hills in the bus (just $1.25 to go just about anywhere, incredible), a man opposite smiled and said "How ya doin'?" He was in conversation with a young man who had just moved to LA, but really wanted to be in New York. "Yeah," said my new friend. "You can't fault the weather here; just the people."

He didn't want to be in LA either, he said, but was on "high risk parole", so he had to stay. Something told me he wasn't talking about the department he worked for in CSI on the telly. "I have to get me a woman to sort myself out," he continued. Oh, no. Why me. I averted his eyes and kept them fixed on Wilshire Boulevard, where the earthquake posters en route had suddenly developed an enormous fascination for me.

Yes, I still dream of the earth one day moving; I just don't want it to be with someone booking our honeymoon on Death Row.

US vs UK 4/24/09

Having been here for just over three weeks now, I feel safe to start comparing life here compared with life back in the UK. It's a time when the honeymoon period is pretty much over, life has settled into some semblance of normality, and I can read UK newspapers online and watch UK TV on Slingbox on my computer without feeling as if I have left another planet.

They certainly have better mayors here - well, if the LA Mayor is anything to go by. I met Antonio Villaraigosa at the opening of Britweek (a celebration of the Brits' contribution to southern California) on Tuesday night and thought he was a bit special. Not only did he speak eloquently and with passion (it's his Latino nature, I suspect), he looked like a film idol. In the UK, our mayors tend to be at least three stone overweight and waddle around like those sweaty women who make it to the final of the annual Crufts dog show, trying to keep up with their Chihuahuas.

Antonio is rumoured to be running for governor of California in 2010, and I will be right there behind him (oh, okay: hanging on to his coat tails for grim death, but you get the general idea). I have started re-watching all of Brothers and Sisters, just to see exactly what Kittie did in her support of Jack in his race to be governor and finally pull him. It certainly wasn't down to her family, and although I suspect Antonio has much bigger female fish to fry, I will be happy to be a minnow in my new pond.

Tony Blair was also speaking at the dinner, although it was hard to listen to his declaration of the humanitarianism we need to express in relation to the world's malaria problem, given his history on Iraq. Tony received not just one, but two ovations: they went wild, and I mean really, really wild, for him. There was a queue to shake his hand and be photographed with him. I resisted, having met him on a number of occasions, when he was perfectly charming and very enthusiastic about my keeping in touch (I didn't; you know where I live, Tony). He spoke well, though not as well as my new best friend the Mayor, and he is nowhere near as good looking (his suit wasn't as nice, either, but now I'm being picky).

If the Mayor is streets ahead of our own specimens in terms of high public office (sorry, Boris, but Antonio beats you hands down), the post office workers are right down there with our own levels of slowness. I swear I had three birthdays standing in a queue to buy one stamp this week. Just when you think you are getting to the front, a sign goes up saying "CLOSED", just like it does in the UK. Always, there is someone in front of me (do they get them from Central Casting, I wonder, just to annoy me?), packing a parcel with the kind of precision needed when constructing a very complex bomb.

Throughout the whole laborious procedure, they have to chat. Endlessly. I live near what we unceremoniously in the UK call an old people's home (I think they call it something like Very Nice But Very Slow People in the 5 Star Last Chance Saloon here), and everyone, everywhere, likes to make the residents feel as if they are very special to the community. Which they are, of course. Except when I want to buy just one bloody stamp to send a letter to the UK.

Outside of post office hours, it is refreshing to be in a place where the service industry is so revered and which places so much emphasis on customer care. Initially, it took some getting used to, as I thought everyone was joking when they approached me in the store to see if there was anything they could help me with. The first time an assistant loomed up behind me when I was pondering the vitamin shelves in Wholefoods, I screamed.

In addition to great service, there is so much that I love here: the clean streets, the choice of food, the fact that restaurant meals arrive hot at the table (something that Europeans did away with sometime back in 1983), the airmail that arrives more punctually than any of my post in Cardiff (although heaven knows how, given the rigor mortis in the post office), the choice of teas, so much great telly (and so many amazing drama series, all fantastically well written and produced).

But there are things I don't like, too: the cost of stock cubes, the lack of Heinz baked beans, the time it takes for the white illuminated man to appear on the roadside, telling you it's safe to cross, the red numbers that count down too quickly when you are halfway across the damned road.

Then there are the men. British women keep asking me whether American men are any different from those in the UK. Well, no. They are nuts here, too. All except the lovely Antonio, naturally.

The American (Wet) Dream 4/20/09

Of all the things I was expecting upon arriving in what I have traditionally come to believe is the Land of Plenty - steaks the size of three Welsh cows, saturated fat by the pint - the American obsession with BWH (Below the Waist Hygiene) was not among them. Already, my writing about furnishing my small vaginal house from the pharmacist Rite-Aid, has attracted a lot of attention from women in the UK, whose complaints about their shortcomings in the downstairs flora and fauna department have been met with dumbfounded astonishment by the UK's National Health Service.

If you don't have an infection and all your tests come back negative, the NHS basically doesn't know what to do with you, short of offering you a peg to place on your nose every time you go to the bathroom. Now, thanks to Rite-Aid, I am receiving e-mails from my friends in the UK, asking for advice, and I have become a sort of one-woman show for feminine hygiene.

But it's not just women who can benefit from the BWH obsession. This morning, in my gym, there I was happily watching Las Vegas on the TV as I hit my fourth mile (Tom Selleck has taken over the casino, by the way; he smokes fat cigars and has yet to get his kit off), when a commercial caught my attention and instantly threatened to usurp problems of the female kind for one of a more general nature and which I might also be able to share with men.

Overactivebladder.com was really the wrong ad for me, as I generally have to leave the treadmill every half mile to relieve myself of the three cups of tea I have before leaving for the gym in the morning. Having always claimed to suffer from a "weak bladder" and constantly been told that, no, I just have a small one, maybe this problem (Over-Active Bladder - it sounds so much better in American), like so many others, was also about to be miraculously solved by my moving continents (or incontinents, whichever way you like to look at it).

I learned from the website that people with OAB rush to the bathroom a lot (yes, that's me), and get up to go to the bathroom in the night. When I was drinking, I never used to get up in the night, as I was generally comatose ten minutes after arriving home; if I did get up, it was only to check out the other side of the bed to assess the kind of monstrosity I might have brought home with me. These days, though, I do get up, but that is generally because for every glass of wine I used to drink, I now have three mugs of tea before going to bed.

I took the test on overactivebladder.com (something tells me that title is never going to make a movie), and, apart from my having to leave the treadmill and Tom Selleck every ten minutes, don't think I have the condition. Something that did interest me, though, was the news that, in terms of discomfort, men scored 6 and women scored 8, meaning that men have a higher threshold for bother.

Really? Go to a rugby international, stand behind the beer tents and see how high their bother threshold is there.

But at least I am assured that there are some products I don't have to buy from Rite-Aid, and that, in my continued pursuit of the American Dream, it doesn't necessarily have to be a wet one.

Groundhog Sunday 4/19/09

Today was the hottest April 19th in Downtown LA since 1914. In all other local areas, bar one, it was the hottest April 19th for over 50 years. The Americans are just as obsessed with the weather as the Brits, and apparently there is more heat to come tomorrow, but rain on Tuesday, and cooler weather mid-week. You see? You can take the girl out of the UK, but . . .

The weather didn't stop Sunday from being the usual kind of day that it has always been back home: waking late (after a dream about Ian Lavender, who played Pauline Fowler's lodger in EastEnders - where on earth did that one come from?), drinking four mugs of tea, reading (Alice Munro at the moment - she really is wonderful), doing the washing, and debating whether to go to the gym or eat a plate of spaghetti (the pasta won, at least for a few hours).

At home, I would normally trek down to the Cameo Club in Pontcanna at this point and have a couple of glasses of Rose with friends, but as I am not drinking, I tend to avoid bars. Instead, I downloaded some software to sync my i-Phone's contacts with my Blackberry and then decided to do some work on my screenplay.

Well, I say work: I unwrapped a lot of cards (some lined, some plain, and three different sizes) I bought in Staples, laid them out in piles and rows, rearranged them, decided which colour pens to use for different characters' stories, changed my mind, decided that Post-Its are hopeless, ripped them up, positioned my storyboard on a chair, stuck in four rows of coloured pins in preparation for the 40 scenes Blake Snyder's Save the Cat recommends, rearranged the four rows of coloured pins . . . It was the most productive writing afternoon I have had in years. I was so exhausted, I had to have a carrot juice.

I finally got to writing some things on the cards and, by early evening, had turned the board into a sort of mobile Staples store. I decided that I really didn't like one character, and on page 85 she is therefore gone. Terminee. Exterminated. Banished, Falstaff-like, from the lead character's life. What was it Henry IV said when he decided that it was time to put away such foolish things as his friendship with old Fatso. "I can; I will", I think it was, as Falstaff begged him, bewildered, not to let him go. I haven't quite decided how Miss Green Ink (for it is she) will meet her end, although in the library, with the lead piping, seems as good a place as any.

Finally, I made it to the gym, only to find that it was closed (funny, that) and so went to the Beverly Wilshire for a "regular water" (cheap). The music was too loud, so I checked out the new Thompson Hotel at the bottom of my road. Dark? You need a miner's lamp just to find the staircase. You can use the bar at the top of the hotel only if you are a resident, but that may be because no one coming in from street level would be able to adjust their eyesight sufficiently in order to find it.

I suspect that should you be so lucky as to find the bar in the first place, the only way you could successfully orchestrate your way out would be to abseil down the side of the building - certainly it would be safer than trying to navigate yourself back to the foyer in an environment that has clearly been designed with bat conventions in mind.

I always feel a bit sorry for myself when conducting the repetitiveness of Sunday life, but at least it's only one day a week, and at least in the US there is great telly on all day, every day. Today, I tried to resist watching any House or Law and Order: Criminal Intent, but the gym was open in my apartment block when I returned from the hotel, and so I watched a couple of episodes then, feeling less guilty about my TV addiction as I was burning calories at the same time. I also learned that the gym is open 24 hours a day, so envisage my new size zero jeans hanging off me by Friday.

Incredibly, I also managed a whole day without going to Wholefoods and spending about 80$ on little more than a pint of milk and a packet of beansprouts (my supper for the next month).

Gradually, I am getting the hang of things, albeit slowly, in my new life, although I feel like a child starting school: trying to stick to a routine, feeling proud of every new achievement, getting a bit weepy when it all seems a bit overwhelming, finding out who the real friends are, and, of course, playing with coloured pens and sticking pins into bits of paper, all in the name of creativity.

90210: Location, location, location 4/1/09

In London, I lived in NW3 (Hampstead), W1 (the West End) and SE1 (the South Bank). In Paris, it was 75006 (St Germain des Pres). So there was no way, when I came to Los Angeles, that I was going to stick myself in some suburb where I could only see the HOLLYWOOD sign on the hill on Google Earth. It had to be the right postcode, instantly recognisable to people in the know, and, only knowing one, it had to be 90210, after the TV series created by Sex and the City's Darren Star, Beverly Hills 90210 (recently re-branded 90210).

It was where I stayed when I first came to LA about 18 years ago, when the now defunct newspaper Today put me up in the Holiday Inn in Burbank. Warner Brothers, bless them, were so horrified, they moved me to the Beverly Wilshire at the bottom of Rodeo Drive, and it was there I returned when I re-visited the city in November 2008.

The aim had been to do a screen-writing course run by Hollywood scriptwriter Blake Snyder, whose book, Save the Cat, I had read, and whom I contacted regarding what was going to be my Hollywood blockbuster (he suggests, on page 19, that you get in touch if you have a great idea, and my bag was packed quicker than you could say, well, save the cat). I booked my Virgin Upper Class flight, but owing to my not knowing that OR meant Oregon, I arrived in the wrong city altogether, with no Blake, no course to go to, and two whacking great bills to pay to Virgin and the Beverly Wilshire.

But I still had a ball (you can read about my exploits in the blog titled LA November 2008) and returned in March, when I finally did the screen-writing course (which was brilliant) and decided that I wanted to spend more time here. That, then, is now where you find me: still writing for the Daily Mail, working on two books and a screenplay, and living in an apartment in Beverly Hills 90210.

For some reason, they love the English here (I am Welsh, but this gets you nowhere, so to all intents and purposes I am from Wales, a town in England), not least for our humour; well, one comic, to be precise. John Cleese. They love him. They loved Monty Python (you would think it only came on screen last week, the way they talk) and also Fawlty Towers. Robert, who runs my local hardware store, Pioneer, calls John the God of comedy, and when I tell him that I have met his hero a couple of times, I get four light bulbs thrown in for free with my order. He tells me that John lives not far away in Santa Barbara, and I feel him angling for an invitation to his house for tea, should I decide to further my acquaintance with the great man.

The hardware store is a great asset to my area, which also includes a Wholefoods, where I can buy one stock cube for $3.99 . I have joined Sports Club LA, where my exercise regime has already meant that I can squeeze into a pair of size zero jeans from Gap (I can't get out of them again, but you can't have everything), and when I am not burning fat off, I am acquiring it sitting in front of the telly watching back to back Law and Order and House. I swear they make another five of each in the time it takes me to watch one.

It's very different from Europe here: everything runs so smoothly - apartments, bank accounts, paperwork of any kind - and after France, where they are still dotting the Is and crossing the Ts in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, it is a blessed relief.

Talking of blessed relief: I have never seen so many remedies for cleaning out one's innards. Online, in pharmacies, TV commercials - you could lose a stone every half hour if you so chose. And as for feminine hygiene products, ye gods! They take up a whole aisle in my local Rite Aid store. I was in there for at least three hours on my first visit: it was like furnishing a small house. A small house in 90210, let's not forget!

LA: To Go Or Not to Go, November 2008

To Begin at the Beginning . . . The plan was simple. I would go to LA, do a scriptwriting course, sell my movie, make my fortune, buy a pair of binoculars and rent a house right next to my idol Simon Cowell in the Hollywood Hills. “Blimey, you don’t waste any time,” said my friend Phillippa. “He’s only just broken up with Terri.”

When I spotted the course I wanted, I booked my hotel and flight before you could say Oscar Here I Come. Alas, the course turned out not to be not in LA at all, but Portland, Oregon, but by then it was too late. The credit card damage was done, and I had also used every air mile in my collection to get some money off what was my big reward to myself – flying Virgin Upper Class and staying in a 5 star hotel in Beverly Hills. Ah, well. It would be some comfort for my travelling to LA for what was now no reason whatsoever. Little did I know that what my trip failed to provide me in scriptwriting classes, it would more than make up for in writing material.

DAY ONE

I check in at the hotel where everyone thinks Pretty Woman was filmed: the Beverly Wilshire, at the bottom of Rodeo Drive, which houses all the best designer shops. In fact, the interior scenes in the movie were done on set; only the outside of the hotel appeared on camera. I discover this only when I ask to see the room where Richard Gere shows Julia Roberts that fantastic necklace. But never mind: at least I can see Rodeo and the Jimmy Choo shop from my window. My credit card begins to burn a hole in my pocket.

DAY TWO

I have recovered sufficiently from the time difference to go to my hotel’s Side Bar. Tina, a tall blonde straight out of every American series you have ever seen, sidles up to the first men she sees and talks to them like long lost cousins. Freezing cold in the air conditioning of the hotel, I pull up my roll neck sweater as the women around me parade a silicon valley of cleavage that I defy even the most professional crampons to venture into.

I join Tina, who turns out not to know “these guys” at all; they just so happened to be the first ones she came across (anyway, she is married to Brad, who is, according to local sources, very, very rich). I learn my first lesson. “So, what’s your name?” I ask, lurching towards a rather handsome blonde called Ken. Several drinks later, he pays my bill. Thank you, Tina.

DAY THREE

I decide to shop. The streets are lined not with glamour models, as I had expected on Rodeo Drive, but rather casually dressed men and women in “sneakers” (ie trainers – I was learning the language fast). So, my first stop is NIKE.

“Gee, we lurrrrrrv your accent,” they tell me. “You’re from England?” “No, Wales.” “Aw, gee, thasso cude. Is thad in England?” Look, just give me my flamin’ trainers and let me pay the bill. But no. Every request takes ten minutes, as they call down to the store-room, checking on availability and quizzing me on another aspect of my heritage. “You hairve a nice day now,” three people call as I leave – only the thousandth time I have heard that, and it’s only day three.

Armed with my new trainers and air of casual chic, I venture into jeweller’s David Orgell, a few doors down, to try to match a tennis bracelet I bought in Turkey with a necklace. “How much is that one?” I ask, pointing to a long string. “175,000$,” says the salesman. “It’s platinum.” “Do you have it in white gold?” I ask, not moving a facial muscle. “Yes, Madam. That would be just $75,000.” Blimey. That would be at least three villages in Wales in the current climate. But I keep my nerve. “I like diamonds,” I quiver. “Then you’ve come to the right place,” he replies, clearly having learned from Pretty Woman that you should never judge a book by its cover (although in this case, he should have).

DAY FOUR

I am back at the Side Bar in the evening, alone, listening to some very welcome English accents (already the American ones are really getting on my nerves). A man walks up to me and says: “Hello, I’m Liam. You’re that woman off breakfast TV.” “Yes, I am,” I say, glad of the company. We talk about the time I spent on This Morning and he says that he agreed with so much of what I said. I ask what he is doing in LA and he says: “A bit of radio, a bit of TV. I’m here with the band.” “Oh, who’s that?” I ask. He tells me he is with a band called The Races and, totally ignorant of them, I nevertheless feign knowledge. “Yeah, I think I’ve heard of them,” I say.

At this point, an English woman walks up, barely able to contain her excitement, and says: “You’re Liam, aren’t you!” Pe-n-ny be-gins t-o dr-op. It’s only Liam Gallagher from Oasis! Ohyegods! I genuinely don’t recognise him, so flattered am I that someone recognises me. I am already travelling first class on the LA ego trip.

We talk about TV, music and our terrific mothers. I adore him. His seriousness; his intensity; his humour. I meet his mates, who tell me that on their flight over, they drank the onboard Virgin Upper Class bar dry. I tell you, I am so excited and rocked up, I go back to my suite and nearly throw my TV out of the window.

DAY FIVE

Every American man I meet asks “You from England?” and I quickly find that “Yes” makes them pick up my tab far more quickly than a response of: “No, we are the put upon race that had our language stolen from us and continues to be oppressed . . . “ Yep, what the hell. I’m English and I’ll have another Margerita, thank you very much (in my hotel, it’s about 1,000 air miles a glass, so I accept everything on offer).

I meet up with my friend Paul, who moved to LA two years ago, and he talks the place up so much, I decide that I have to live here, and go back to my room to start looking up rental properties on the net.

DAY SIX

Off to the Warner Brothers tour at the studios, where some of America’s most popular TV shows and films are made. There is some wood standing up against a wall. I see where The Perfect Storm was filmed. It is a large, empty warehouse. More wood. I decide that the movies are not very glamorous, although I see one man in a doctor’s uniform come off the ER set, where the last series is being filmed.

I move on to the Universal theme park nearby, which is great fun, even though the three rides are very disappointing and not a patch on those at Barry Island funfair in South Wales.

DAY SEVEN

I make an enemy of a local hooker, who asks me at the hotel bar how old I think she looks. I think 55, but say 45. “I look 29,” she says. “Trust me,” I have to say, “you don’t.” “All my friends say I look 29.” “Well they’re lying to you.”

Her breasts compete for attention with the very fine place settings in the bar and I ask where she had them done. She tells me they are real. Yeah, right.

She is furious with me, but I am more furious with her, because there is a Jimmy Choo glass tree in the hotel foyer and, if you guess the value of everything in it, you win a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes and two nights’ stay in the hotel. As a guest, I am allowed one entry; she sits there, filling in one form for every room in which her various gentlemen friends reside. I complain to the management and promise them that, if she wins, there will be war.

DAY EIGHT

After lunch on a rare couple of glasses of wine, I find myself in a potential rental flat – sorry, I mean apartment - just off Sunset Boulevard: so much so, that I give them a $200 deposit to reserve it. Saleswoman Misty (think Dynasty’s Alexis Carrington with bells on) snatches my cash like a hungry squirrel storing nuts for a bad winter; the property market is as unstable in the US as it is in the UK.

I am thrilled to be moving to Hollywood. I go straight back to my hotel to phone my friends. Julia, who has known me since we were toddlers, is in shock. I can hear her hyperventilating. When she suggests that I might be rushing things a tad, I declare that if I don’t do it now, I never will. Paul tentatively suggests that I should make a couple more trips before deciding. I am adamant. I e-mail the Daily Mail, suggesting that I become their Hollywood correspondent. I e-mail the University of California to try to get on their two-year writing course. I phone my mother to tell her that I am moving over 6000 miles away from Bristol, where she lives.

DAY NINE

The effects of the wine wear off. I remember why I stopped drinking completely in April and why I thereafter drank just the occasional glass. That “Oh my God, what have I done!” moment I remember so well from my heavier drinking days hits again. What was I thinking? I can’t move to Hollywood. My life is in the UK, where I have my family, friends and work. My house. I have my rugby there. Sky Plus. Quick trips over to Paris on the Eurostar.

I have to get to the Real Estate agent to get my money back in the 72 hours they give you to change your mind. I start telephoning Misty. It goes to answer-phone. Ten times. The hours tick by. Still, the answer-phone. I finally reach Misty and tell her I am on my way over. When I get to the office, she counts out my dollar bills with quick efficiency and all but kicks me down the stairs.

DAY TEN

I am in the hotel restaurant having lunch, when I spot Sidney Poitier on a nearby table. Sidney flamin’ Poitier: star of To Sir with Love; the man to whom Lulu sang the song of the same title. I don’t know how introductions are made in LA, so I leap over: “Mr Poitier I am such a fan and you were great in To Sir with Love and I really love you and you still look so great and how important was that film now with Obama and all that and you must be so pleased and do you ever see Lulu and sorry to disturb you but I had to come over . . . “

I don’t stop. Not only do I not stop; I re-visit the table another three times to do more non-stop talking. The man is gracious, polite, sweet. “Which was your favourite film?” I ask. He starts a gentle speech about not being able to say, because there have been so many actors, producers, directors, blah blah blah. Yeah, whatever, Sidney. “To be honest, I don’t give a damn,” I tell him. “I’m only going to be writing about you and me.”

DAY ELEVEN

I go to the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Greg, the waiter, tells me I am doing the right thing ordering tap water because it has more fluoride in it than bottled. “It’s what the dentists never tell ya,” he booms, moving from table to table, even less subtly than the incredible Hulk might do, auditioning in a loud voice and being a fount of information on everything. “Soooooo good ter see yer. Really hope ter see yer again soon,” he says, to every departing guest. No, you don’t, Greg. I know about life. Real life. And you’re lying.

I assume Greg is a writer, producer or director, not least because everyone I meet is, but he claims to be “just a waiter”. I am impressed – except when he forgets to bring me my water. If he can’t remember what I asked him for two minutes ago, how is he going to remember those guests?

Sitting at the next table is Jennifer Angel, astrologer for the New York Post, the editor of which I used to work for in London. She is sitting with Lana, one of the LA in-crowd, and they are the two most glamorous women I have met all trip.

“So,” says Lana, to me and Tatiana, one of the many new best friends I have acquired. “Whadderyerthink o’ the Urrrrrrban?” I’m sorry? “Obaaaaaaaama. Urrrrrrban.” I decide to put political correctness aside and ask what Lana does. “Nothin’.” She turns to Tatiana. “Whadder you do?” “Me?” says Tatiana. “I do nothing, too.” I can’t ever remember a time when I have been in a room with two women in competition about the nothingness in their lives.

Unnerved, I turn to Jennifer, who tells me that there are changes ahead for Scorpios (dear God, please not an LA apartment), but I don’t hear much more because I feel shallowness overwhelm me when I star-spot Jean Michel Jarre across the room. Oh, give me some oxygene. I leap over to get his autograph and tell him I am a huge fan etc. etc., even though I’m not.

By now, I am so aversed to Hollywood bull, I can do it in my sleep. Talk, talk, talk. Apart from the Brits, who all seem gainfully employed, that’s all anyone seems to do.

DAY TWELVE

Great drama at the hotel. The local hooker throws a drink over a resident who calls her a hooker. On his way out, she throws a dish of wasabi nuts at his back. The next thing I know, the LAPD are there, handcuffing her and whisking her away. The hotel assures me she can say goodbye to the Jimmy Choo prize, and my shoes are as good as in the box.

DAY THIRTEEN

It’s all over and I must leave my star-studded, celebrity lifestyle to return to a cold autumn in the UK. I have had a ball and I return with many happy memories, but realise that, at heart, I am very much a European. I remind myself that not every holiday has to end with my returning with a lease in my suitcase, and when I get home I sit down to watch Sky Plus with a joyous heart: Desperate Housewives, CSI, Law and Order – all great American shows. But at the end of the day, just planks of wood standing against a wall.