Friday, July 30, 2010

Time To Go Home? 7/29/10

I once told Steven Spielberg that ET was the greatest film ever made.

I had managed to crash a post BAFTA Awards party by crawling through the legs of people queuing to get into the venue. Once inside, I hovered by the late, great Bill Cotton, who introduced me to the director, who had just won an award for Schindler’s List.

“I know you’ve just won an award for another film,” I said, “but I have to tell you that I think ET is the greatest film ever made.”

“Gee,” said Spielberg. “D’you know, I was thinking about that film last Friday, and I think you could well be right.”

I maintain that it is still the greatest. It has all the monumental themes: separation and loss; life, death and resurrection; survival, friendship, science versus the heart, and, in its final denouement, the need to belong: ET, phone home; ET, home, home, home.

“Come’” says ET to Elliott, as they stand beside the waiting to depart spaceship.

“Stay,” says Elliott. In those two words, you have it all: we want to hold on, we need to let go.

That scene remains, for me, in just two words, the greatest in cinematic history.

I’ve been thinking about it again this week, as the pull of home grows strong once more. I’ve been here 15 months, and each time I go back to the UK, it is harder to return. I see family and friends, spend time in my house, surrounded by my familiar things, and never does my identity feel so strong as it does when back in Wales.

Usually, my mother comes to stay with me when I return, but this time I visited her. She lives in the house in Bristol, where she and my father moved after my brother and I left school. My Dad died a little over 20 years ago, but there are still signs of him everywhere: photographs on the mantelpiece and the wall; the Capodimonte Romeo and Juliet his firm gave to Mum when he died; the G Plan dining room suite my parents were so excited to buy decades ago, and which still looks perfect.

Walking up the stairs is to climb the family tree. My brother and I are there in our university caps and gowns; the beautiful face of my dear cousin Sarah, who died at just 34 nearly five years ago, looks out with her mischievous smile; aged aunts and grandparents stain the wall in their sepia colours.

In my bedroom (we still call it “mine”), the oaky smell of the square wooden jewellery box in which I stored my first trinkets, still permeates the room; the white bedroom furniture that arrived over 40 years ago and thrilled me so much with its in-built electric light, is still standing (and operational).

In my mother’s office, there are the books I left behind. A Course in Miracles; a poetry compilation the size of two bricks and whose title I cannot see, as neither my mother nor I will ever be able to reach it; dog-eared cookery books.

Downstairs, I go through the LPs that I want to load onto a memory stick from the system Mum bought me for Christmas. Richard Burton reading Under Milk Wood; the Misa Criola and African Sanctus, which Mum played incessantly when she returned from a drama course at Barry Summer School; Elvis and the Beatles; Roy Orbison and Tom Jones; Shirley Bassey and Abba. Our family’s past, imprinted in vinyl.

Mum cooks me dinner (a “mam” dinner, as we call it – real food, with gravy) and we drink tea from two of the many mugs she used to buy from Ewenny pottery, always insisting that we stop off there on our way back from the beach (beach, two hours; pottery, four – that sort of thing).

It was a miracle there was even room for the purchases, given what she used to pack for our weekly trips to Southerndown, near Bridgend, where I grew up.

Beach chairs, table, Lilo, Floatina, wind-break, lounger, deck chairs, towel wraps, Tupperware containers of squash and sandwiches, flasks of tea – the tide was so far out by the time we reached the coast with our second home, we needed a compass to find it.

I think of the many dinners Mum used to cook – meat and two veg, plus a pudding every day – all of it coming back in the rise of the steam as she tips the potatoes into the colander. And I think how much I love my mother and the life she and Dad gave me and my wonderful brother Nigel.

And suddenly I know that much as I try, much as I am energised by my new life, I cannot start making a new history, especially in a country that barely has one of its own, and that I miss the history of which I am already a part: a history still in the making, with friends and family celebrating new ventures and achievements, and children (many of whom I have known since they were babies) growing into adults and just starting to make their way in the world.

But also people close to me, young and old, falling sick, suffering; some dying. I don’t want to regret not being there to spend whatever time any of us have left together.

There is so much to love about California. I admire the spirit of optimism, the belief that anything is possible and, of course, I adore the weather. As a writer, I try to cram in as many experiences as I can, and this, despite heartache along the way, has been one of the best. I have also completed two books here, one of which will be a compilation of these blogs.

I have made good friends and I do not rule out keeping on my apartment. But at the moment, the longing for the homeland that the Welsh call "hiraeth", tugs at my heart. Who knows, if I had crawled through enough legs, Hollywood might have held more allure, but I have found this small part of the city, with its detritus of mostly broken Hollywood dreams, a little sad.

Next week, it is a year since my good friend and mentor Blake Snyder, who was so instrumental in my coming here, suddenly died; and that, too, has been a salient reminder of how quickly everything can be snatched away.

I divide my life now into BB and AB – Before Blake and After Blake, and I am not the same person who came here in April 2009.

But in the words of the song about that great hero of my youth, Andy Pandy: Time to go home, Time to go home.


  1. Going home, says it all. Wonderful.
    Some time, soon hopefully, I'll drop by for a pint of Brains & a "Clarksie"

    your cousin T (or A?)

  2. What a poignant note - love your blogs Jaci..! :-)