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.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Is That A Truncheon In Your Pocket, Or . . . 7/20/10

You know you’re getting old when the policemen start getting hornier.

Maybe it’s the warmer weather, maybe it’s the fact that the LA cops just all seem to have walked out of the movies, but they really are a pretty hot bunch.

Until I came to LA, uniformed cops never really did it for me; I simply have too much of a terror of authority to be able to think of the police as anything other than people who will put me in chains for getting out of bed the wrong side (I once woke my parents up in the middle of the night, devastated that I had forgotten to pay my three-pence to Brown Owl in the weekly Brownies meeting, which gives you an idea of how law-abiding I have always felt the need to be).

Doctors, yes (love the white coats and any man in scrubs); firemen, yes (although mainly for their props – sliding pole, hoses, that sort of thing); but never coppers (despite their truncheons).

Well, unless you count actors who play coppers.

My first job as a TV critic coincided with the launch of the ITV show The Bill and, being in my twenties, it was hard not to be drawn to these rather fit young men who launched the series.

Now, the actors are 103, the show is being axed, and everyone wants to see real life coppers in reality shows, which to me isn’t the same thing at all.

But there is just something about the Beverly Hills cops, who will rush to your aid in about 30 seconds flat, no matter how small your problem.

Hilton Hotel too noisy? Call the cops. Nasty man in Vodafone shop, threatening to come back and shoot everyone because his SIM card doesn’t work? Call the cops.

They are pretty strict about road etiquette, which can be a bit scary (do not, and I mean do NOT cross unless the white man is showing on the lights), but their constant patrol, both on foot and in cars, makes you feel extra safe which, for a woman walking alone in a big city (yes, I am still the only person who walks in LA), is always a good thing.

I suspect, however, that the real reason I am fancying the cops is the ongoing absence of any decent men here. The arrogance and rudeness of most blokes I meet makes even the most misogynistic of Brits seem like groupies in the Germaine Greer Appreciation Society.

The guys with money treat you like dirt because they just want a piece of eye candy on their arms (which they know they can get); the high end business guys can’t bear it when you’re not impressed with their status; and the tough guys . . .

Well, I have to be careful what I say about them, for obvious reasons. I haven’t met many, but when I was told that “the real life Tony Soprano” had entered one establishment I frequent, naturally I was curious.

Tony Soprano? The guy looked as if he had eaten three Tony Sopranos for breakfast and still had enough room for three small cousins. Initially friendly, he and his mate then decided that sometimes guys just had to be guys and women got in the way.

As they high-fived each other in their mutual appreciation of each other’s wit (I use the world very loosely), I was yet again left wondering where the smart, creative men hang out.

Having now lived in five different countries (Wales, England, France, Spain and the US), it’s fairly safe to say that I’ve given the male species more than a good onceover.

I have really close male friends, so I don’t have an anti-man thing going on. But all those men were nabbed long ago, and even those who broke up with their partners were quickly snatched up the second or third time around.

Really, you have to start looking in August if you’re hoping to have a date on New Year’s Eve (take note: Windows 2011 is just around the corner), although I suspect that all the men I would really like to meet are so busy working, they have to schedule the pulling of a Christmas cracker three years in advance.

Meeting a man was never my aim here; I came to work and, having just about finished my book (writing, not reading), am pleased with the progress I have made. But some male company along the way would have been nice.

I have met some wonderful Europeans, all really into their work and loving the LA lifestyle. I have met great women, too, both American and European. But the American male is a species I just don’t understand.

People tell me that the East Coast is very different, so, who knows, maybe that’s where I’ll head next.

Or maybe I’ll just aim for a wild party in LA at the end of 2010, have the cops called in, and see in the New Year in handcuffs.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Cleanest Bottom In Hollywood 7/5/10

Wolfgang’s toilet.

They’re not two words I ever expected to write in the same sentence, but the receptacle of which I speak has to be one of the seven great wonders of modern technology (on a list that includes the Eurostar and the i-Pad).

Wolfgang’s Steakhouse is one of my favourite haunts in Beverly Hills: a large steak restaurant with a long bar down one side, and delightful staff that never make me feel less than hugely welcome.

It has the lovely Adolpho on the piano, some really good European wines (difficult to find in LA, with its excess of California plonk, which I loathe), and a sociable clientele who make it easy to make friends if you’re sitting by yourself.

But the toilet. Oh, the toilet.

The first thing that strikes you is how warm the seat is. It’s like going back to the womb; that in itself makes you reluctant to get off.

But then there are the various dials to your right on the wall: the first two say “REAR CLEANSING”, with five small vertical dots under the one, and four dots and the word "SOFT" written under the second button.

Next comes “FRONT CLEANSING”, with two sets of four dots in a diamond shape underneath. Then you have “PRESSURE” and “POSITION”, with a plus at the top and a minus below. I tell you: the place is a veritable theatre.

I didn’t know which bits to wash first, nor (not having entertained myself in this manner before), how much pressure to go for.

Was it like an Indian restaurant, where you ordered the Vindaloo and then realised, too late, that you had over-estimated how strong your constitution was?

Then there was position to consider. Did you have to take the size of your rear end into consideration when deciding whether to sit more towards the front or back of the seat? Or did the position button take care of all that for you?

In the time it was taking me to weigh up my options, a lengthy queue was doubtless forming outside the door, impatient customers who had yet to discover what an adventure the emptying of one’s bladder and bowels could be.

In the end, I tried all options. I could take the Vindaloo force on front wash, but had to take it easy on non-soft rear wash, which, on full pressure, made me feel as if an elephant had decided to empty its trunk into my back passage.

Front cleansing was an easier and far more pleasurable operation altogether, but then that was something I had already learned long ago.

The only thing I didn’t manage to do was flush the damned thing. When I put the lid down, the array of lights and paraphernalia turned the bowl into the Star Ship Enterprise. I pressed, I tapped, I looked in vain for a flush, but nothing.

When I questioned Ron the manager about this (adding my compliments to the plumber) upon my return to the restaurant (days later, it seemed, and a lot cleaner than when I had gone in), I was assured that even if you haven't managed to work out the logistics, it flushed automatically once you left the cubicle.

It wasn’t until I got back to my seat that I realised I hadn’t actually done the very thing I had gone in there for – namely, the evacuation of my supper; there were just too many other things to do.

Quite what governor Mr Schwarzenegger would think of it all is anybody’s guess. California has been suffering from a water shortage for some time now, and if the entertainment offered by Wolfgang’s toilet starts attracting bigger audiences than it already does, that shortage is only going to worsen.

I suppose they could try using the same water, recycling it and purifying it in some way, but I suspect that would probably negate the “cleaning” part of the operation.

I’m also curious as to what goes on in the men’s room at Wolfgang’s. Presumably, they have the same bowl and dials for longer performances, but I’m curious as to what their urinal is like.

Is there a small shower for testicle cleansing, a foreskin wash, added pressure for the less sensitive circumcised organ? Do men have to change position according to the size of their anatomy? Do very large penises have to be done in shifts?

There are so many unanswered questions about Wolfgang’s toilet, but at least I have information about the most important one – can I get one installed in my apartment?

Apparently, they only cost about $1500, which, when you compare it to the price of going to the theatre, is a really good deal, considering how many toilet performances you are going to attend in your lifetime.

I’m going to ask my landlady to look into it and try to convince her of the benefits of having the cleanest tenants on the block.

And when it’s installed, I might invite my 25 year old Italian next door neighbour to the premier. Maybe we can share a Cornetto in the interval.

Ready for my close-up? You bet. I already feel flushed with success.