Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Life's A Beach 9/28/10

A month is a long time in Hollywood.

There I was, all set to go home, waxing lyrical on September 6th about my family and friends, while declaring my LA life over, and yet here I am. Still. And, what’s more, in a different apartment, with another signed lease, engaged in an enormous writing project.

I can’t divulge the details just yet, but it is hugely exciting and, as I need regular access to the subjects, whose biography I am writing, have decided to stay on, rather than conduct the whole thing via e-mail and phone from back home.

No, I have not emigrated, and will still be back in the UK on two extended trips before Christmas, for all the reasons I detailed in my last blog. But I am yet again going to be an East/West commuter and sharing nights out with my flight crew chums from Virgin and Air New Zealand.

My mother in particular is being incredibly understanding. She knows what a tough year it has been, and this project could really transform my life. She is used to my changes of fortune and also my changes of address, and I could not wish for better support. My friends, also, while probably thinking I am insane, are excited for me.

But I have moved. After 18 months of living in Beverly Hills, I decided to try a different area. In recent months, I have been going to Santa Monica’s ocean front several times a week on the bus: a journey that took over half an hour. Much as I have enjoyed the exclusivity of Beverly Hills, it can hardly be called real life. The nearest supermarket was over a mile away; buying a pint of milk at night was harder than keeping a cow in the bathroom. Although there was a Whole Foods two miles away, I could no longer afford their prices. My screams at the checkout were beginning to frighten the locals.

Having looked at some dire places near the sea front, I decided upon a very high spec, modern apartment about a five-minute drive away from the coast. My new landlord owns the spectacular kitchen store below, so I now have the appliances I have always dreamed of. My fridge is like a second home. I could take in a couple of lodgers in the oven and never bump into them.

Close by and within walking distance, is the store Smart and Final, which is cheap, cheap, cheap; and, a few doors from that, the Star Market, an Oriental store with hundreds of spices and exotic fruits. The Wine Expo one block away has as good a selection of European wines as I ever saw when living in France; on Saturday, they are opening their very nice wine bar. And, opposite, there is Busby’s Sports Bar.

I’m not sure whether I will be a regular in Busby’s, which is a real All Guys Together sort of place - the kind you see in movies, before reaching for the remote to see if there is a rom com on another channel.

The clientele is very tall, they shout at screens showing games that, to me, have incomprehensible rules; they high five each other when someone scores (which appears to be often); they wear baseball hats and drink beer, while wolfing down plates of chicken wings the size of small poultry farms.

Luckily, I don’t hear any of the noise from Busby’s in my apartment, which, being far set back from the road, is unbelievably quiet, and I already feel very settled. I had everything unpacked and in its place within 48 hours, including my alphabetically ordered books – and spices. And I have already been to a cheese and wine evening at an apartment, where my new neighbour was introducing a line of beauty products.

I have also been to the fabulous Wine Lounge at the top of the new Santa Monica shopping mall, and again to my regular haunt the King’s Head, the British pub close to the front.

And who should I see in the King’s Head, but David Beckham. Sitting at the opposite table, in his baseball cap and vest, having lunch with his three kids. I could barely swallow my fries.

It was all rather sweet. David cut up the younger boy’s food and was openly affectionate with them, like any normal doting dad. And what well behaved children. Polite, friendly to the staff, they were adorable and stood patiently by as other diners, clocking the star, moved in for photos and autographs as the party stood up to leave.

Okay, yes, I was one of them. Having seen David in my gym, where Victoria regularly works out, too, I was playing it cool. And then couldn’t. So there he is, on my Blackberry, in a very blurred photo (the female fan taking it was so excited, she was shaking uncontrollably), with me looking like a Lilliputian tucked under David’s well muscled arm.

They were all going next door to the Tudor shop where, joy of joys this week, I was able to buy Heinz baked beans. And proper Irish sausages. And a chicken and mushroom pie. Real British food. You can take the girl out of Wales, but . . .

It is still easy to get around on the bus, which goes from right outside my apartment block, and yesterday I went to West Hollywood, where I saw yet another sports superstar - Mike Tyson, sitting right across from me in a hostelry. I decided not to venture forth in quite the same manner as I had with David. I value my ears. Not to mention my . . . Well, we all know the boxer’s history. He was laughing uproariously with some friends, with his mouth wide open and baring his teeth. All he was missing was a lion tamer.

So, another chapter begins, and the roller-coaster at the end of Santa Monica pier beckons. It’s an appropriate metaphor for the fortunes of my strangely ever-changing life.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tony Blair - My Part In His Book's Downfall 9/6/10

Technical failure, terrorism, another BA strike – we are beset by so many fears in the age of modern flying; and yesterday, I was able to add another to my list. The low-flying book.

I’d been reading extracts from Tony Blair’s memoirs on the train on my way to Heathrow. Leaving his sniping about Gordon Brown aside, his excessive use of the exclamation mark and the awful title, A Journey (living in LA, I am so sick of everybody’s bloody emotional and spiritual journeys), I thought there was enough of interest to warrant my buying a copy for the long flight back to LA.

The problem was, that as it is number one on the WH Smith bestseller list, it was on the top shelf. Not being one for girlie mags, and being a semi-dwarf, I have never been over- familiar with the top shelf, so I took what seemed like the easiest route, stretched up with a kind of little hop, too, and tried to grab a copy.

Big mistake. The book I grappled with flew off the shelf, crashed onto my face, cut my cheek open and left me with a whacking great bruise and in rather a lot of pain.

It’s a big book. Well, it’s a big book for a small cheek and rather delicate cheekbone. It was a veritable weapon of mass destruction, to be honest, and an attack that left me having to fill out a personal injury form while pressing an ice-pack to my face.

I really wish I’d paid more attention to those TV ads fronted by Billy Murray, who used to be in The Bill and EastEnders; he’s now on screen telling you how to get a lawyer to sue the arse off people who piss you off. I vaguely recall that his ads are for criminal lawyers, and I’m not entirely sure whether a book would technically qualify as an assailant, but I’m sure it’s worth a call.

In the Star Alliance lounge, where I went to recover from my attack, John from WH Smith and Susan from Air New Zealand administered to my needs, and the staff on board ANZ checked on my wellbeing throughout the flight.

As for Tony’s book, I never even opened it. It stayed in the overhead locker for the entire 12 hours, as there was no way I was going to risk another mid-air collision with the thing.

I can never decide what to do for entertainment on the plane. I usually buy half a dozen books but never get to read them, because most passengers pull down the window blinds within minutes of being airborne, and leave the cabin in relative darkness.

I’m running out of films, too, as I have made the journey so often (that’s journey with a small “j”, Tony! And that’s the way to use an exclamation mark, by the way!! And that's not.).

The Lovely Bones and My Sister’s keeper had me sobbing so uncontrollably throughout, I though I would need paramedics to resuscitate me on arrival. Dying, or already dead young girls are not the stuff of in-flight entertainment, I have decided.

I loved Ricky Gervais’s The Invention of Lying, which has an immense profundity at its comic heart; and yesterday I really enjoyed Sex and the City II, along with The Juliet Letters.

Mind you, it was hard to concentrate on either, as the woman in the opposite aisle was laughing so much throughout the episodes of Only Fools and Horses she was watching, I thought she would have to be sedated.

I’ve been making the journey regularly for nearly two years now, and this one, the penultimate one before returning to the UK at the end of the month, was an emotional one.

I’ve made quite a few friends, both among passengers and staff. I’ve travelled with celebrities – Sharon Osborne, La Toya Jackson, Mel B – and chatted to many writers and producers.

I’ve eaten both great food (ANZ) and not so great (Virgin). I’ve travelled in a wheelchair to the plane when I did my back in, and I’ve lost a hugely expensive tennis bracelet that I still can’t bear to think about.

I’ve seen more films than I ever would have managed to do on dry land, and written thousands upon thousands of words of my book.

I’ve cried when travelling to or from a funeral or memorial service, and I’ve travelled with great excitement when knowing I am going to see family or friends and share in more joyous activities in their lives.

Most significantly, perhaps, the fear I once had of flying has completely disappeared. It certainly feels a lot safer than trying to cross the road in LA.

True, that fear has been replaced by a fear of low-flying books, but you can’t have everything.

I’ll miss the long haul flights, not least because I can’t imagine any other circumstances in which I would have the joyous experience of being forcibly separated from the non-stop ringing of my mobile phone for 12 hours.

But I can again look forward to nipping over to Paris on the Eurostar; the short flight to southern Spain, where I still have an apartment; the easy train access to London’s vast cultural experiences.

And as people keep telling me: LA’s not going anywhere and I can return anytime I like. In the words of Tony Blair . . . Well, I’m not sure I’ll ever find out what they are.

But as journeys go, mine’s been a great one.