Friday, December 21, 2007


Jet Lag Memoir

Some of us (Craig, Graeme, Charlotte and Robin) have just returned from L.A. I thought we had got back jet lag free until I lay awake in bed at 2am this morning before finally getting to sleep and not waking up until 1 pm this lunchtime. So
this entry comes with a WARNING – it may contain some middle of the night, overtired, sentimental content.

We are standing on the lookout ledge at the Getty Center. The sun has gone down. There is almost a tear in my eye, my stomach skips a beat - the whole of Los Angeles is below us, and ahead of us and to the left of us and to the right of us. It’s the biggest view I have ever seen. I saw it last year but this year it somehow seems bigger – maybe it’s because it’s night time or maybe it just is bigger. It is as they say inn the USA – “awesome”. There are two rolling, meandering rivers of cars below – one white, one red; one heading north, one heading south. In LA it is possibly true that 1 car = 1 person, like 1 grain of rice = 1 person in Of All The People. Millions of headlights, millions of tail lights. I can practically hear strings swelling in my ears to accompany the grandeur of it all and a drummer gentling marking the tick tick tickety tick of tyres on the concrete joins in the freeway with a cymbal. Who are all those people below, in this city where you expect to bump into a face you recognise every five minutes? Are they going to work on a night shift or are they going home? Who are they returning home to? Are they lonely? What radio station are they listening to? Where were they born? Are they famous? How many languages do they speak? Whose photographs do they have on their wall at home? What is their religion? What is their favourite food? Who are they missing? Do they keep a picture of their children in their wallet to show a new found friend? Are they driving to catch a plane? Are they returning from the beach? Where did they live before they ended up here? How long are they staying? What’s their secret?

This is the city where some dreams are made and others don’t come true, where some their faces on billboards so big that they can probably be seen from space but where others sleep on the beach or work 14 hours a day as a security guard to pay the rent or fund their education or bankroll their dream.

This visit LA felt both huge but also smaller than when we came last year. We had cars – so new places came within our reach and we could get to them more easily. We lived on a street where we could actually walk to the shops, we drove to work along a palm tree lined boulevard with our elbows out of the window and up a winding hill. This time we noticed the mountains more and the houses built out on stilts some which seemed more out of hope than structural integrity. We saw fire scarred hillsides, looked at stars (universe ones) through the Griffith Park telescope, watched the fiery sun sink into the sea and night come as quickly as if someone had flicked a switch and turned studio lights off. We went to gigs onn Sunset Boulevard, saw magic in a castle and thought we saw people we recognised. This time we noticed the mountains more and the houses built out on stilts some which seemed built more out of hope than structural integrity. We saw fire scarred hillsides, looked at stars (universe ones) through the Griffith Park telescope, and put our bins out every Tuesday night.

At the Skirball we were returning to a venue we knew and were greeted by all as returning friends. They met us every morning, with warm smiles and a joke. Audiences were friendly, inquisitive and switched on again. We felt at home in the Skirball and the City of Angels.

I am glad to be home for an English Christmas. But it the sky seems very grey and cold and the trees and plants seem very dead. Everyone has their head down on the way to work or looking for Christmas presents and the windows on the bus are steamed up and some idiot has the volume turned up on his phone so that we can all listen to his bloody awful taste in music. I am glad to be home for an English Christmas but I miss the people we have left behind in L.A., our friends old and new and I miss the city and the times that we all had together there.

There. I told you it would be sentimental


Wednesday, December 19, 2007


The Golden Envelope

Rumours flew back and forth but finally, on Friday, news arrived of our proposed funding settlement with Arts Council England. We were both pleased and relieved to discover that we have been recommended for a significant increase in support.

At the same time similar envelopes containing different news were arriving with arts organisations across the country. We have been variously shocked, saddened, relieved and nonplussed by the unconfirmed reports (rumours by another name?) we are getting from other companies. It is difficult to tell who has done well out of the whole reappraisal. I suspect, like us, in deference to those who have been cut, those who have gained are being a little cagey. It is easy to imagine that money is being taken from Company A and given to Company B and there is an appeals mechanism for Company A so identifying yourselves as Company B isn’t great politics.

Politics aside, if you’ve been concerned about the future of Stan’s Cafe, don’t be, we found high ground.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Radio Dayz

Sunday was Hanukkah and so a big day at the Skirball. Away in the Getty Gallery, at the far end of the venue, things were relatively quiet. We got the show moving on and made some good decisions as to how it could shape up from here. There were a lot of bright kids coming through with great questions and ideas.

On Mondays the show is closed but I still have two interviews and shopping to do before flying home. The first interview is in Santa Monica, and though I don’t get to see the sea it’s still a new part of the city to get a flavour of. I’m recording a segment for a cookery programme to be aired later in the week, fortunately I’m not asked for any recipes so all goes smoothly.

I particularly enjoy radio interviews; the challenge of making my answers concise with a clear start and finish, trying to say all that needs to be said whilst still addressing the questions. Ultimately trying to speak engagingly with energy and convincing listeners they may want to investigate the show a bit further. On the way home Mia explains that the radio is big in L.A. because everyone spends so long in their cars.

Trips away are always more relaxed once postcards are completed and in the post, more substantive trips, like this, I feel require presents. Jo’s tipped me of about a store that should do the trick. I spend far too long there, get stock blind, panic, pick up loads of stuff, much of it inappropriate, spread my horizons too wide, think “Christmas!”, fail to put anything down and assume the mighty pound will triumph over the feeble dollar. I spend far too much money.

My last duty is in Pasadena, a freeway trip in another direction. Pulling out onto Ventura a vast cream 4–Wheeler rears up out of nowhere and fails to slow. It’s going to hit us, the question is just where and how hard? I’m scared for Dorothy. It’s looking very bad before the swerve, in the end the blow is glancing, we’re jolted – no more, our front bumper goes spinning, plastic shrapnel flying and the cream tractor rockets on out of sight.

We pull over and get out looking bewildered unhurt. Bystanders stand by shaking their heads, “it’s a hit and run, you need to report him”. Moments later a woman pulls up in a slightly less vast machine, she’s on the phone and in fast verbal flow, talking to us in the gaps. She’s describing the car, which didn’t have plates, and is travelling East down Ventura. A black and white squad car shoots past with lights and a siren. A man pulls up and steps out wearing huge Dior shades. “I chased him for a bit but he was jumping red lights, and I lost him. I saw it all”. Now the woman has someone at her pitch to bounce back off. She was already on the phone to the police about that driver when hi hit us. She’d beeped him at some point I never quite fathomed and he threw water then a bottle at her and intimidated her physically. “you’ll hear it on the 911 tape, I’m saying “he’s a menace, he nearly hit two pedestrians he needs to be stopped” then I saw you, I say “OHMYGAD he’s just hit a car!” you’d hear it on the tape”. Dior shades leaves his number and goes. The squad car returns and pulls up, now we’ve got LAPD on the scene, though their enthusiasm for the suggested APB is less than luke-warm, just another incident in a long day to log. Dorothy’s too professional, I finally persuaded her that my interview really isn’t that important, she’s getting married in a few weeks and this is the last thing she needs. Before long all the paperwork is done, the LAPD have my cell number, the mutilated bumper is in the boot, the boot’s lashed closed and we’re off, shaken, to Passadena.



Monday, December 03, 2007



Graeme and I opened up on Saturday to do the early shift and field a radio interview, then it was off in the hire car.

Mulholand Drive passes right by the venue’s entrance so we swung onto this and up into the hills, round the tight curves, screeching to halt at lookout points, gawping at views of The Valley or across the city to the Ocean. At the final vantage point we hit pay-dirt, the bleachers of Hollywood Bowl directly below, in the distance the high-rise spectre of Downtown, further round, Griffith Park Observatory and ultimately, the Hollywood sign.

This place is so car orientated we manage to drive stress free to Hollywood Boulevard and find metered parking a couple of blocks away from the Chinese Theatre. I couldn’t imagine what appeal The Walk of Stars holds and still don’t. Graeme was more engaged, amused enough at seeing Kenny G ‘immortalised’ to take a photo. Exploring film star’s hand and footprints embedded in cement was predictably far more engaging. My left foot may now dance like Fred Astaire’s.

With the sun starting to sink there seemed to be no better time to cruise west along Sunset Boulevard. It’s clear when you’ve left Hollywood and hit Beverly Hills, there’s a big sign, but there are also suddenly big fences, bigger houses set further back and immaculately kept lawns all around. Swinging off Sunset through an ornate gateway into Bel Air we both laugh, wrong footed by the adrenal rush of our sudden and inappropriate proximity to immense wealth, privilege, seclusion and armed guards. The roads are narrower, the fences higher, the houses invisible way back. We felt uncomfortable enough to cut our detour short, a fame-spotting tour bus is rolling in as we’re out.

There’s a rendezvous arranged at the Getty Centre. You park your car underground and are taken up the ridge, above the freeway, on a monorail. With sharp shadows and the building’s elegant curves glowing orange in the dusk against a dark blue sky in the still cold air the place feels magical. Gazing around and down we spot Charlotte, Jo and Robin in the Cafe’s vast windows. Craig, Karen and Jake soon join us and when we’ve eaten together, the whole team walks to the far most promontory and gazes east, back over the city, mesmerized. Conurbation doesn’t cover it; this is extraordinary. The lights stretch away and away and away, grid blocks emphasise perspective and Downtown gives us depth. Up and above countless aircraft take the place of stars. Thick, unbroken bands of bright red and white light cut through it all and the whole thing swarms in a gripping slow motion.

We gaze, hypnotised by the horror and the beauty, compelled by this sight that no one should see. This extended moment will stay with me for ever.


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