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Three things happened in July. Firstly, I took a ‘vacation’ to Lake Arrowhead. The week unsurprisingly involved a lot of wild swimming in the glittering mountain waters, and as I revelled in the feeling of nothingness beneath my feet and my heart pounding with each stroke; somewhere in the back of my brain I started wondering why on earth I hadn’t been to a swimming pool once since I moved to Los Angeles. The same week, my mum accidentally attended the celebrations of David Hockney’s 80th birthday in our shared hometown of Bradford and she kindly sent me a photograph of the giant birthday cake that was made depicting one of his vibrant acrylic swimming pool paintings. Finally, my dear Kerry started sharing photographs of her regular visits to Bramley Baths in Leeds. The Edwardian baths have been there in some form since 1904, and are a now a Grade II listed building. Amongst these occurrences, an urgent desire burned for me to revisit a thread that has run consistently through my life and last weekend I finally because a member of the The Culver City Municipal Plunge.
1. Shipley Swimming Pool
I started swimming lessons at a very young age. I had an amazing terrycloth swimsuit that was bright blue with an orange goldfish on the front; that I’d enviously watched my older sisters wear before me, and was crushed when I too grew out of it. I splashed about in the baby pool working towards my Watermanship Badge. I can very clearly remember the terror of ‘jumping in’, the excruciating rub of pulling armbands onto dry skin, the ‘lightbulb’ moment when I thought that if I just walked along the bottom of the pool, but did the correct arm movements, I would fool everyone into thinking I could swim (clearly forgetting that the pool water is, in fact, transparent) and the heavenly taste of the raspberry slush puppy I was allowed after each class. I was an instant water baby and threw myself into taking as many classes and exams as possible. I quickly worked up from regular classes, to underwater skills during which I remember a misguided test that involved picking a brick off the bottom of the pool whilst wearing pyjamas. I moved onto my 10 metres, 25 metres, 50 metres, 100 metres, 200 metres, and eventually so many metres that I did a charity swim for OXFAM where I swam for three hours without stopping. Next it was time to take the bronze, silver and gold certificates and after that my Saturday morning routine, which had existed for half a decade at that point, was ending. With no more classes to take, I had two choices. I could specialise in either diving or, synchronised swimming. I am pretty sure I took one look at the high-board and figured I would rather spend my time in the water than standing 10 metres above it, most likely paralysed with fear.
2. Belle Vue Swimming Pool
I’m smiling to myself as I type out the name, as I am guessing that Belle Vue means Beautiful View and there was absolutely nothing aesthetically pleasing about this building or the part of Bradford that it existed in. I tried to find a photograph but went down a Google rabbit hole and can only assume it’s long since been demolished; which would not surprise me. My secret life as a synchronised swimmer began at the age of 11. I can’t even tell you how UN-COOL ‘synchro’ was in the mid ’90s. There was none of this kitsch or quirky association of the now-Olympic sport; it was something I could not admit to anyone that I did. I went to great lengths to hide my swimming kit on practise days, and was forever having to scuttle off to the pool from school before anyone could ask me to walk home with them. My time as a synchronised swimmer was my one and only experience of competitive sport and having a coach in anything. I was part of the “City of Bradford Synchronised Swimmers” and would participate in meets and competitions around Yorkshire. It was quite a shock to the system. I arrived at my first lesson to be directed to a white board that had written on it: 20 x breaststroke, 20 x front crawl, 20 x back crawl, 20 x butterfly, 20 x sculling – which is the arm + hand movement that you do during synchro to keep the rest of your body looking completely still on top of the water. Yes, 100 laps was just the ‘warm-up’ before we even began doing our routines and positions. No wonder my body resembled a spaghetti strand at that age.
I wish someone had the foresight to make a documentary about pre-teen synchronised swimmers in Bradford in the nineties. The stranger-than-fiction lengths of bitchiness that a group of competitive pre-teen girls will go to is staggering. Tickling feet mid group-routine, hiding nose-clips before a big competitions and endless vying to be the one that was selected to perform a ‘solo’ routine at the next competition. I enjoyed the training and the craft, but back before the sport was taken so seriously there was still a strong ‘beauty pageant’ element to any competition. We wore ridiculous matching sequinned outfits, vaseline on our face to stop the caked-on make up running and our hair was covered in yet-more-sequins, flowers and then set with gelatine; which you could only remove after with near-boiling water. Each swimmer would perform various positions and then have a panel of judges hold up scores. It’s a tough age to receive a wall of 1’s for your wonky ballet leg. My one and only solo routine featured a self-selected musical accompaniment of East 17, Ace of Base and Eternal. Oh and The Power by SNAP! and you can just imagine how special that was for everyone. The clearest memory that stays with me from these days is the way the music vibrated through your body and cued the various moves. You couldn’t wear goggles, so vision in the deep water was pretty murky and it was the beats that guided you. As I slunk into my teens and puberty crept in, I started to buckle under the pressure to stay a certain shape that my body just wasn’t blooming in to. The previously harmless in-fighting took on a darker body-shaming tone, and I was absolutely sick of training when all my friends were ligging about watching telly or shopping at Bay Trading Company or planning sleepovers.
3. Central London YMCA Club
In my early-twenties I finally made the move from Yorkshire to London that I had been craving since my teens. My timing could have been better; as a week or so before moving, we found out that my mum had a serious health issue. She was still adamant that I go, and of course I did, but my heart was very much back home with her. The big smoke is a tough, rough and gritty city. I do adore it, but I am pretty sure nobody gets out of their first year unscathed. I had my chirpy, friendly northern edges quickly rubbed off. I missed everyone back home like crazy. I was in a disastrous house-share with two friends in a black hole part of Streatham that was nowhere near any form of transport; clocking my commute up to over an hour each way. I was working in my first high-pressure ‘career’ job, for ‘expenses only’. Looking back I was just completely clueless and bumbling through each day as best I could. It was at this time that I retreated back to old habits and spent every spare minute I could under water. I found a swimming pool at the YMCA just off Oxford Street, that was under a ten minute walk from my office. It’s not an exaggeration that I would sometimes go there morning, noon and night; re-using the same soggy costume after a quick blast with the hair dryer. The swimming pool at the time was in the basement of the building. You accessed it from the changing rooms by taking a long spiral stair case deeper and deeper until there was no noise and no natural light, which was as creepy as it sounds. The stairs led you to a dark dingy pond-pool that was actually demolished (there’s a theme to these stories!) later. In all my memories, I am alone in the swimming pool. This seems absolutely impossible with hindsight; as it was a busy central London facility. Why wasn’t there even a lifeguard for company? Maybe it really was that unappealing? Or maybe it was the fact I was probably there on a Saturday night when most people were spilling out of pubs. When I look back to this time, it has that sepia nostalgia film of un-realness. I think I owe those hours spent slowly-pruning, for transitioning me through that first foreboding year and into a London life that I loved.
I wrote a short story called ‘Chlorine’ at the time, about this swimming pool. I desperately want to edit it as it feels so clunky and cheesy now, but that would be cheating.
The shock of the air against my damp skin caused a blanket of goosebumps to sprout across my arms and chest. The swimming pool was empty, and I was alone apart from the echoing of my wet feet slapping against the tiles. An hour of monotonous lengths and playing chicken with my lungs, as to how long I could stay under the surface, hadn’t helped to clear my mind. The watery salvation absent that usually comes with tracing my fingernails along the lines on bottom and starving myself of oxygen until a thousand sparkles swarm my vision. Instead I ripped myself from the stillness that always looks such an enticing aqua marine from the edge. The stench of chlorine followed me as I stood at the top of the staircase back to the changing rooms. The one that twists and turns in spirals that seem to last forever, forcing you to spend an excess amount of time out of the water lusting for the hot soapy shower waiting only moments away.
Your figure shocked me as I turned the last corner. My swimming costume clung and creased into an itchy second skin. I told you my eyes were scarlet due to the chemicals that make the water that tempting toxic blue. You knew I was lying as you reached a long arm around my tiny frame. The one that shrinks and shrieks since I moved to this stupid city. Crevices appearing where softness existed before. Bruises sprouting on corners of my body that protrude instead of retreating coyly. The walls sang back the drip drip drip from our soggy embrace and our bones creaked as we broke away.
4. The Culver City Municipal Plunge
My last blog post talked about anxiety and taking control over unwieldy thoughts and feelings. Well I think it’s evident that there has been quite a key location missing in my life. Every night that I now pack my swimming cap, towel and locker padlock in advance of a morning dip, I feel some of the days stresses and strains just melting away. I’ve made no secret that moving countries and re-setting life has it’s ups, and it’s downs. When we first moved here I actually bookmarked the swimming pool information, but instantly found the prospect of working out when I could fit in going, what the membership fees were and just not knowing the etiquette of lanes and lessons completely overwhelming. I’m angry at past-me for giving up so quickly and taking nearly two years to fall back on what is clearly such a tried and tested method for my brain. On my first trip there, everything was a disaster. I paid the wrong fee (I should have got a ‘resident’ discount) and I misjudged the lanes so badly that I got into the fast lane, and was instantly yelled at by a butterfly-ing man. And it was FINE. I retreated to the medium lane and basked in the fact that I can swim outside, in an unheated pool, all year round. My view from doing backstroke is palm trees, and bright yellow diving boards. I like to do my laps underwater, watching the the sunshine dancing on the tiles and the bubbles from my nose obstructing my view.
I get into the swimming pool with questions, and I leave with only answers.
And this time around, I get to do it inside a real-life David Hockney painting.
Tags: Belle Vue Swimming Pool, Bloggers, Bradford, Chlorine, City of Bradford Synchronised Swimmers, COBS, Culver City Municipal plunge, David Hockney, Like a skeleton key, Los Angeles, Nineties, Nostalgia, Shipley Swimming Pool, Short Story, Swimming, Synchro, Synchronized Swimming, YMCA Central London
Since moving to Los Angeles I’ve written a grand total of two blog posts. That’s one post every 9 months, and it strikes me as ridiculous that it is taking me a human-baby length gestation period to get any words out of my buzzing brain and into this nook of internet. It frustrates me on a daily basis, as I know this is an experience I should be documenting in a more meaningful way than photographs of sunsets on Instagram. It’s not that I’m not inspired, it’s not that I don’t have creative juices flowing and it’s not a case of writers block. It’s just that taking your whole life as you know it and plonking it down again 5000 miles away is an experience that I just find impossible to translate into words. I wrote last year about the pressure I felt to be living the dream and box away the shell-shock that came with my newly-wed, new-job and new-country triple whammy.
I’ve had a few moments recently that have led me to realise the only comparison I can make to my Los Angeles experience is that it’s like being in a new romantic relationship. I haven’t met a new beau since the age of 27 which was way back in 2012 when a boy called Nick asked “Excuse me, is your name Bee?”. He dazzled me in that moment and we’ve spent the next five years facing our formative late twenties and transition into thirties hand-in-hand. We’ve explored, we’ve danced in the kitchen, we’ve had to look some of life’s biggest fears in the eyes and we’ve never been able to say no to an adventure. We’ve matured together; adapting and adjusting ourselves like tree roots growing around each other and tightening their grip.
Los Angeles feel like the start of something very similar. Firstly, in a familiar way, I am falling fiercely in love. Everything is rose-tinted (literally, with the California natural ‘filter’) and I’ll hear no criticism of the city or the ways it could be bad for me. I want to bask gloriously in the ways which is it making my heart so full. Perching at the top of Baldwin Heights as dusk settles over the sprawling cityscape and lights begin to wink knowingly at me. Driving down the freeway with a car full of friends; laughing and singing and weaving through traffic. Always having the Hollywood sign in my peripheral vision. Being able to leave my desk, and have sand between my toes within half an hour. Small talk with my neighbours. I’m trying out new ways of being me, to people who have never known anything different.
Then you creep out of the honeymoon period and into the intimate stage. Where you open yourself up and share your slant on life, your hopes, dreams and terrors. It feels like Los Angeles is challenging me on a daily basis to revisit everything I thought I knew about myself; and ask why it is that way. If I hadn’t moved from England and my comfortable slope into a future I pretty much had mapped out, I can’t imagine I would ever have analysed myself in this way. It’s something I feel like is only possible when you’re ripped away from people who’ve known you forever and the only society you’ve ever known; especially when in your home country and adopted country that society is seriously going through the wringer.
Moving to LA has also been like jumping into freezing cold water. Every day my heart is racing. Sometimes I am gasping for air, because it’s too overwhelming. But I am kicking my legs and I am determined to keep my head above the waves because this city is demanding that I be the best version of myself. It’s teaching me to demand the highest standard. To be braver than I knew, to be kinder than before and to ask myself, in an experience that is giving me so much; what the hell am I giving back?
When Nick and I first met; we talked endlessly about how neither of us had ever felt ‘at home’ in any city or country we’d lived in. (Between us we’d racked up Bradford, Southampton, Sheffield, Norwich, Leeds, Toronto, Melbourne and London) This was a big part of our decision to travel the world. There, we checked-in with a further sixteen countries and still we’d closer our eyes each night with a feeling of not quite belonging. Then we moved here and it was like someone turning a key and everything clicking into place. We both are thriving here; individually and together. So keen to clutch to this new found sense of certainty we decided to adopt a dog who’s breed means we can never move back to the UK whilst we own her.
Make of that what you will. I think we might finally be home.
When I was 17 years old, I had a lot of feelings.
I was also fortunate enough to be in the possession of a newly minted driving license and semi-regular use of my dads bottle-green Vauxhall Corsa. When anxiety crept through my veins, cruel words skittered around my brain or sadness started seeping through my thin skin; I had a solution. I would get in my car armed with a teetering tower of cassette tapes. I would drive, and I would drive, and I would drive. As I travelled further from my stifling attic bedroom and out into the wider world, I wouldn’t stop until I had put enough distance between myself and whatever had got me tied in knots.
I only had a car for two sweet years of spontaneous 2am trips to service stations, daring the boys at college to ‘race’ (cheers Ryan Gosling) ordering a hundred McDonalds Apple Pies through the drive-through window and the myriad of novelty car-uses you can find in the heady days before full-time employment and any sort of responsibility. Then I moved away for university and my name was removed from the insurance policy, never to return.
Since then I’ve never lived anywhere that would warrant having a car. Cut to… actually let’s not count the years as there are many; I have settled in a city that is defined by just that. Whilst it’s an urban myth that it’s ‘impossible’ to live in Los Angeles without car, it certainly makes it easier to navigate the 503 square miles of city. After not driving for so long, I had to start the process pretty much from scratch. Muscle memory isn’t too reliable when you learnt using manual gears, and driving on the opposite side of the road. It’s like viewing everything in a mirror and my first year here has been dominated by sweaty palms and second guessing if I’m really on the right (wrong) side of the road or not. I also had to take a test to legally drive with a state issued driving license. 17 is the perfect age to revise road theory and take long Sunday lessons with patient parents. 32, plunged into a foreign country with a full-time job, is not the perfect age to revise road theory that refers to the British ‘pavement’, as sidewalk and the British ‘road’ as… pavement. Confused? Welcome to my world. It’s also not the perfect age to practise driving on your precious weekends when you could be at the beach or the mountains or doing something that doesn’t fill you with the sinking suspicion that everyone is trying to kill you.
But, as I ticked over into my thirteenth month here I took my practical test and passed. Highlights included my examiner asking me to point out where the window defroster was (there is no frost in LA, ever) and the part where practically the whole test route was dug up for roadworks and the nice chap barely seemed to know where he was going, let alone how to instruct me. Oh and I got tooted three times by drivers who didn’t appreciate my ‘actual stop’ at the red diamond signs, far preferring the iconic ‘California roll.’
On Friday night, I was home alone. Nick was out of town. I was battling the germs that come along with the first rain of the year, because I am a soft Angeleno these days. I was feeling gloomy. And then I was in the driving seat before I knew it. And I drove, and I drove, and I drove. The sky above me was water colour blooms of burnt, bronze and blush. Neon signs, twinkling headlights and sparkles in the sky that could be stars or planes or something else entirely. Silhouettes of birds, and the metro rumbling over head. It’s truly impossible to feel lonely when you’re in LA traffic. The comfort of person after person making their own way in the world, but on the same stretch of road as you.
I may have switched skylines from the mill chimneys of Bradford to the palm trees of California… but I’m so happy to have rediscovered the peace that can be found in a dusky drive to nowhere, anywhere and everywhere.
If you read my recent accounts of my Los Angeles adventures (part i & part ii) you will have gathered that I recently went on a work trip to America; where I spent 1 week working from the West (Best?) Coast and then jetted over to New York for another week. Obviously my initial reaction when finding out about this trip was WAHOOooooooOoOooOooooOOo! However, my second instant reaction was, what the HECK am I going to pack for 2 weeks, 2 cities and 2 entirely different weather systems (not to mention an itinerary of formal work presentations, tourist treks and bar crawling)?
After weeks of jotting down outfit plans in Evernote and hours of frantic trying-on sessions which resulted in my room looking like it had been burgalised on more than one occasion; I finally had a suitcase filled with lessons learnt on how to pack for two VERY different climates. In LA the weather hovered around 28-30 degrees with blazing sunshine; although out on the coast there was a wind chill to contend with. In NY there was a blizzard to welcome my arrival and the weather barely crept over zero degrees, mainly sticking to the minus section of the thermometer. I found it really tough to adapt by the time I reached New York as I had got so used to just skipping out into the California sun every day, so on my first lunch break in NY I eagerly packed up my bag and embarked on the 4 flights of stairs down to the street in just my cardigan. I had got so used to the bliss of no-coat living. The second I stepped out into the frost bitten city streets I realised my error and skulked back up 4 flights to retrieve my coat, scarf, gloves and did NOT make that mistake again!
It’s the classic mum-advice whenever you visit a different climate and if it’s good enough for mums worldwide you just know it must be wise owl stuff, and it definitely is the first rule of thumb for packing for multi-climates. I would have a basic outift, then a multitude of others bits and bobs that I would carry around in a tote bag ready to layer on as the sun set or the snow set in. I sound smarter if I make it look mathematical:cardie cardie + hoodie cardie + hoodie + scarf cardie + hoodie + scarf + leather jacket cardie + hoodie + scarf + leather jacket + coat cardie + hoodie + scarf + leather jacket + coat + knit headband cardie + hoodie + scarf + leather jacket+ coat + knit headband + bobble hat
Even when I was beach-bumming around Malibu I still had a few emergency layers stuffed into my bag for when the sun set. You can see from this photograph, taken on the same day, I could wear a short-short dress and cardy during the day, but by dusk I had added my trusty American Apparel hoody, pink cotton scarf-snood and a pair of Uniqlo thermal leggings. Which takes me neatly onto…
I have been a fan of thermals ever since you could only buy them M&S and they were of the frilly/holy/granny variety. Luckily nowadays thanks to the kings aka HEATTECH Uniqlo and their subtle, fashionable thermal collection, life for chilly boned bods like me has vastly improved. In fact the latest tie-up between Uniqlo & Orla Kiely produced such thermal beauties that they were begging to be worn for the world to see, rather than buried beneath winter woollens. For my trip I took a camisole, vest, t-shirt, long-sleeved and legging versions of the Uniqlo thermals. I also took thermal tights; which you can pick up in Primark and are so thick they don’t have a denier. They are like leggings with feet! Finally, I took my trust thermal socks. If you have survived winter without making the discovery that is thermal socks with all your toes intact, I want to shake your hand! Thermal socks are the worlds best invention. They are fluffy, furry and take the heat you create whilst walking around and circulate it around your hoofs leading to toasty, happy feet. Mine are from Primark but I have spotted higher-brow versions in Fat Face.
03. Key Pieces
The skill of any great packer is an eye for key pieces. There is nothing worse than chucking a bunch of stuff in a bag and arriving at your destination to discover not one item matches! I have been guilty of this myself; usually when I’ve been travelling somewhere on a Saturday and just one drink after work on Friday turns into staggering in at 2am and up-ending a drawer into my weekend bag and hoping that the items somehow miraculously turn into outfits en route. They never ever do. One of my key pieces for this trip was my cream lace midi dress. It’s comfortable, work/fun friendly and they main reason is; it looked lovely in LA with just bare legs and sandals. It also looked as lovely in NY with tights, clompy lace-up boots and all the layers listed above. I used a snazzy Stylight board here to highlight what I mean, I could spend hours on Stylight making boards. It’s certainly captured my cut & paste/mood board interest where Pinterest failed.
Here is another good example of a versatile outfit pick. I’m obsessed with this birdcage tropical River Island T-shirt (a steal at £15!) and in the Cali sun I matched it with a denim highwaist buttondown skirt and sandals and a leather jacket for the evening. In NY it worked just as well with thick tights and my boots and a woolly cardie.
04. A good excuse for SHOPPING
Now lets just get this straight. You don’t want to pack toooooo well, as if you have a few items missing it’s the perfect justification to hit the shops. By the tailend of my second week on the road, life was getting stale. That musty aeroplane/suitcase smell was wafting after me like a cartoon cloud and I was thoroughly sick of the same few choices. So, I scuttled to Broadway and spent the last of my precious per diems in Forever 21, Madewell & American Eagle. Was I sensible in my picking up of warm weather supplies? No, of course I got dazzled by the stocks of spring/summer/sunny offerings so shivered my way through the final weekend and am now seriously hoping we get a glimpse of sunshine so that I can debut my results of New York foraging.
I will be posting all about my Big Apple antics this week, but in the meantime I wanted to say thanks Shopping Unlike for picking Like A Skeleton Key as a highlight on their blog this week and giving it this write-up. Shucks.
Tags: Bloggers, Clothes, Fashion, Heattech, Layers, Los Angeles, New York, Packing for hot and cold climates, Packing for hot and cold holidays, Packing for hot and cold weather, packing for sunny and snowy holidays, Primark, River Island, Shopping Unlike, Spring, Stylight, Stylight Boards, summer, Thermal Socks, Thermal Tights, Thermals, Uniqlo, What to pack for hot and cold weather, What to pack for sun and snow, Winter
When I landed into LAX, I was so fortunate to have a seat on the right-hand side of the plane and one away from the window, with a slender slumbering passenger next to me so I could lean right over and shove my nose up to the glass (plastic?). As we swooped down over the city, I had the perfect birds-eye view of the Hollywood sign which had me giddily bouncing about in my seat. I’ve since learnt that this aeroplane sign-spotting is extremely rare. The day before I flew in, LA had something almost unheard of… rain! This meant the stubborn smog, that would usually entirely blot out the view of the sign and the Hollywood hills, had lifted for a few days and the air was temporarily clear and crisp. By the time I headed up to the Griffith Park observatory just a week later, the soupy smog was well and truly back and although it created a dramatic Gotham-city style effect it really did highlight just how terrible the pollution problem is, especially for a city so otherwise obsessed with health and well-being.
Do you know the story of the Hollywood sign? It’s well worth a read here if you don’t. I had no idea that it started life (appropriately for Hollywood) as an ambitious outdoor marketing campaign for a suburban housing development “Hollywoodland”. Long after the housing development firm had disbanded, the land was removed leaving the sign that still stands today. It’s had a typically Hollywood life; with a drunken driver ploughing through and destroying the H, a suicide of a rejected-starlet Peg Entwistle (who in an ironic twist, mere days after her suicide would have received a letter offering her the lead role in a play… about a girl driven to suicide) and near total destruction as weather & no maintenance took it’s hold. In 1978 numerous donors bought a letter each at $27,777 a pop and the sign was renovated. Hugh Hefner owns the Y and Alice Cooper bought the second O in memory of Groucho Marx. Whatever your views on Hollywood and the culture, I would challenge anyone not to feel moved in some way when they see that sign in the flesh!
Now where was I? The rest of my week followed a similar path of working away during the days, then escaping into the dusky evening to explore Los Angeles whilst I could keep my eyes open. On the Wednesday evening I was fading fast so took a night off tourism and just explored Sunset Boulevard with the sole intention of snapping up a feast and retreating to eat it in my hotel bed like a massive slob. I discovered a little Mexican take away (sorry take-out) called Poquito Mas where I ordered a shrimp taco, which you can see below was about twice the size of my head (and stomach, but that didn’t stop me!). I also called in at the liquor store and bought a Mike’s hard lemonade. I first discovered wonderful Mike in NY a few years ago, and it’s perfect for people like me who don’t drink alot and aren’t overly fond of the taste of beer. It comes in a few flavours but black cherry is by far the yummiest.
You’ll notice a theme in this post… FOOD. After a strong start to the year of running, swimming, pilates-ing… all rules went out of the window for a fortnight of gluttony. One night after work Nora kindly chauffeured me back to Malibu as I was desperate to get some more beach time. First we stopped off for sushi (where we could sit outside; a prospect which seems ridiculous now that I’m back in the UK in head to toe thermals, woollens and 3 pairs of socks) and I devoured spicy seaweed and blue lump crab and various sea-lurkers I’d never even heard of, before proudly tucking into an authentic California roll IN California, ho ho. It was during this meal we were sat next to a boy of about 14 on a date with a similar aged girl, and I overheard him loudly exclaim “well I asked my agent, my manager AND my publicist…”which was my one ‘only in LA’ experience. Well that and crossing the road with Joshua Jackson. After sushi we hit Malibu Frozen Yoghurt, and I made Nora laugh/cringe by insisting on saying Mu-Bu-Fro-Yo-Yo-Lo the whole walk there. Mu-Bu Fro-Yo is obviously the #1 teen hangout so I felt like I an extra in Beverly Hills 90210 whilst I sat surrounded by impossibly skinny teens in cut off shorts, scooping mountains of peanut butter frozen yoghurt with crushed Oreo toppings into my gob!
I’m lucky enough to have a cousin, David, who lives out in LA with his girlfriend Katie, so I had a second set of tour guides to introduce me to a whole different part of the city. They live in an area called Echo Park, which along with nearby Los Feliz and Silver Lake are certainly up-and-coming and becoming increasingly appealing neighbourhoods. I can see why; Echo Park is a wonderful mishmash of diners, trinket shops, dive bars, diners, all walks of life, all cultures, street art, lakes, green spaces and there is also 826LA; one of Dave Eggers-inspired non-profit writing & tutoring centres. If you haven’t seen one, then you can seek out the Ministry of Stories in Hoxton. All of the centres have a fictional shop-front hiding the volunteers and students from prying eyes. In Hoxton its a Monster Suppliers store, Pirate Shop in San Francisco, Super Hero Supply Co in New York and 826LA in Echo Park has a Time Travel Mart. Behind the shopfront, there are classrooms and seminar rooms where children and young people up to age 18 from the local community can go and work with volunteers to improve their writing skills and explore their imaginations. I’ve always wanted to volunteer in London, it’s definitely on my permanent to-do list. On my night in Echo Park we sought out the Gold Room dive bar, where a beer & tequila are served together as a rule, and I enjoyed giant pint of Californian beer that came served with a peel of orange curled into it, served with a bowl of shell-on peanuts.
Friday night rolled round and I could breathe a sigh of relief at my office hours ticking to a close. To celebrate Nora took me for a unique LA experience. We headed down to the Upright Citizens Brigade, which I’d highly recommend if you ever find yourself in NY or LA, as it’s not something you’ll read about in a rough guide or tour book. The UCB Theatre puts on nightly comedy improvised & sketch shows featuring various local comedy troupes. The troupes consist of some of the best comedians out there, who still perform together as quite often this type of improv production is often where comedians are discovered and begin their career. Despite the show being ticketed, my one piece of advise it to arrive 30 minutes early as you still have to queue in advance as each show is massively over-subscribed. I was lucky enough to get a great seat to watch Diamond Lion who specialise in musical improv. They launched on to the stage and asked for a word at random from the audience (“plaid”) and then performed various skits inspired by this word, entirely created on the spot AND set to music?! I can’t comprehend how one person could be so sharp, let alone a group of 7 people all working instantly in harmony and feeding off one another’s talent. It’s at the UCB that skits for Saturday Night Live and various other big American entertainment shows are tested out and based on the audience reaction; shelved or written up! I wish there was something similar in London because I have to admit I find stand-up comedy tedious and contrived, and really enjoyed the unpredictability of improv; some of the funniest moments were actually when a joke didn’t work and the whole thing unravelled.
On my last day in Los Angeles David & Katie ensured I saw everything that was on my quirky hit-list. The only thing we didn’t get time for was the Museum of Jurassic Technology (alas) but I know Nick would have been a green monster if I had, so am quite happy to wait for a return trip. First up we drove around ‘Old Hollywood’ and saw some incredible Victorian Psycho style houses, including one that had been set up by a film shoot to have a garage sale outside. Two doors down a real family were having a legitimate garage sale, so I couldn’t help but think the crew could have saved some time and budget and just filmed that! As a David Lynch fangirl I was desperate to see the spooky Sierra Bonita apartments from Mulholland Drive so after a quick ‘scared face’ tourist photo shoot (as people actually live in them… jealous) we sped off up the road to inspect John Marshall High aka Rydell High from Grease. It was surreal to see the bleachers and race track where they sing ‘Summer Lovin'” which still look identical for the students who attend there today. The school seems to be used as a standard high school in most movies, including Nightmare on Elm Street.
We then drove up the actual Mulholland Drive towards Griffith Park and the incredible observatory there, which again I recommend and it’s FREE. The park itself is a vast amount of green space and in an isolated corner David has even spotted a mountain Lion! After a steep climb to the top, you are rewarded with 360-degree views over the whole of Los Angeles. Everything is visible; the sign, downtown, the stacked hill houses and the mountains in the distance. See what I mean about the smog though…
En route to downtown we called in at Scoops. Again Americans just seem to go bigger & better and the flavours were pretty mindblowing. I resisted temptation to opt for the brown bread or hot sauce options (!) with my sweet tooth winning out and gorging myself on Guinness Chocolate (it was St Patricks Day eve after all) and Oreo Cheesecake. I also appreciated the unlimited toppings so I could go nuts with the nuts. Downtown was my absolute favourite part of Los Angeles. If someone had driven me there blindfolded and dumped me out of the car, I would have sworn blind we weren’t in LA anymore. It had such a different vibe and look; skyscrapers tower over with those distinctive NY-style fire stairs and the sun is shaded out by the staggering buildings. It’s a little slice of NY in LA, with the best of both cities. Although to be honest anywhere that is home to a bar that serves cocktails in bespoke copper tankards is bound to win my heart. The tankards at Cole’s are so precious that you have to hand over your ID as a deposit, and they definitely made my 3pm Moscow Mule taste 100% more delicious. The bar itself obviously had it’s hayday in the roaring 20s and still has the most incredible decour, oh and a sign in the men’s toilets (David reported back) that says “Charles Bukowski pissed here”! If you want to know what downtown LA looks like; watch (500) Days of Summer as the majority of it is filmed there. I also was very proud of my own personal Hollywood tour – I spotted the parking lot that the kid in Kick Ass gets stabbed in. Downtown LA used to be the heart of Hollywood, and this is evident in the grand, plush theatres that still dot the streets; although they are mostly abandoned or now house 99-cent stores or dodgy gold pawn shops beneath. It’s quite heartbreaking and eerie.
I didn’t need a Zoltar wish as I’d had the best possible time in Los Angeles and was about to be whisked off to New York, so already plenty lucky enough. Thanks to my generous tour guides and their infectious enthusiasm, my perspective of LA has been entirely changed and I would definitely class it as a favourite place with so much more to still investigate and discover for myself. It’s much more than just the hall-of-fame stars on the strip.
Tags: 826LA, Beverly Hills, Dave Eggers, David Lynch, Diamond Lion, Drink, Echo Park, Food, Gelato, Gold Roo, Grease, Griffith Park, HIstory of the Hollywood Sign, Hollywood, Hollywood sign from the plane, Hollywoodland, inistry of Stories, John marshal high, LA, LAX, Los Angeles, Los Feliz, Malibu, Malibu Frozen Yoghurt, Mulholland Drive, Observatry, Pacific Coast Highway, Poquito Mas, Scoops Westside, Sierra Bonita, Smog, Sunset Boulevard, The real Rydell High, Time Travel Mart, Tourist, Upright Citizens Brigade, Where to eat in LA, Where to go in LA, Where to visit in LA
The day I left London it was the classic big smoke weather than makes you feel like you’re in a Charles Dickens novel or Sherlock Holmes story. Drizzle dampened my coat and my case and spooky mist hung heavy, clutching me as I marched around Paddington station seeking out the Heathrow Express. 11 hours of tossing, turning, munching those ridiculously bad/good cheese pasties you always get as part of inflight ‘snacktime’ and watching a few movies (The Perks of Being a Wall Flower, The Silver Linings Playbook & The Girl; all of which I really enjoyed. Perfect dozy aeroplane picks.) and I was landing in LAX.
I spent 8 days in Los Angeles, working from the West Coast branch of my employers. Despite still managing to sicken all my Facebook friends and family with photos of me larking about in the sun; I did actually work ten hour days and had to do daily presentations for over 100 people (mega eek) as well as pretty much hourly meetings and keeping up with all my standard work-load. So I promise, I earnt that sunshine, as I spent most of the time hunched over my laptop gazing at the palm trees and blue sky from my desk! But you don’t want to hear about that, and I’m happy it’s over and went well, so lets focus on the fun bits of my LA adventure which I crammed into every evening and weekend moment.
Before I start rambling… I HAVE THE CURE FOR JETLAG! Which obviously I have to share. I was so anxious before; because I have always been struck with the worst jetlag on previous trips. Even flights to Toronto & NYC which don’t have massive time-zone differences have left me groggy and grizzly for days. For my best friends wedding in Vegas, I was so jet lagged that I fell asleep for 20 minutes during her reception (I had also drunk 3 pints of a dive bar cocktail named ass juice which might not have helped) and earnt myself the title Maid of Dishonour. So you can imagine I was dreading this trip as I knew that I needed to bring my A-Game (totes learnt this phrase in LA, obv) and could hardly do that if I was a drooling mess PLUS I have given up caffeine so knew that I couldn’t even indulge in comically-big Starbucks or multiple Diet Coke fixes to aid me in my zzz battle. I spent half a day googling jet-lag cures/preventions and couldn’t find anywhere that said the same thing, but one advise kept popping up which was… stay hydrated. Water water water. So this was my tactic:
1. Drink as much water as possible. They are stingy on flights so take on a couple of big bottles. Yes you will spend most of the flight queuing or in the toilet but at least you pass the time. Maintain this once you arrive. I drank 4 giant Evian bottles in my first two days there.
2. No booze! Actually that’s a lie, I had one Baileys on the flight over. I think the key was no getting baked (like I did on route to Las Vegas; the plane actually ran out of alcohol…) and definitely NO drinking on your first two days in the new time zone.
3. Don’t nap. Just don’t. I’ve always succumbed to arriving at the hotel and regardless of the time, crashing out for an over zealous power nap. This time I arrived at about 3pm (11pm London time) but gritted my teeth and stayed awake until 9pm having a proper dinner and then sleeping through the night. I also left the curtain open meaning I woke up with the sun (not the alarm) which sounds hippyish but really helped too.
And there you have it. I wasn’t jet lagged at all during my trip, in fact I felt more energised than in London! I applied this strategy again on Sunday when I flew to NY (LA > NY is a meant to be even more brutal than LDN > LA) and have found again that I have totally defeated the jetlag beast, and can get by on using Cheetos as a caffeine replacement for my long hour days. I have probably turned my insides orange!
Having no jet lag meant I could bounce out of bed and go meet my dear friend Nora, who was to be my trusted chaffeur, companion, tour guide and fancy frolicking fun date buddy for my trip. We started off with brunch at The Hart and Hunter and honestly if you are ever in LA you need to eat here. In fact, even if you live thousands of miles from LA, you need to go drool over the menus. After an impossible amount of perusing the options, I settled on the fried green tomato & crab egg benedict with herb hollandaise. I ate an actual fried green tomato! It was the best brunch of my life and no doubt a foodie highlight of the year. With our bellies full, we zoomed off to Malibu. Nora spent some of her childhood growing up there (she went to Malibu High School; surely the name of an actual TV show?) so knew every nook and cranny and the absolute best places to take in the view. We drove along the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway into Malibu and I saw a dolphin glistening & larking about in the ocean. I didn’t even know dolphins existed in this part of America so though it was a mirage until Nora assured me it was real, they are quite common. We stopped in at a mall complex where I indulged in a spot of Sephora digging (I was restrained and limited my purchase to the Pantone Emerald colour of the year nail polish) and then we went to Grom for some of the finest Italian-in-California Gelato, which was so good I’m going to have to travel to the other side of Manhattan and seek out the NY branch to feed my addition.
We passed Mel Gibson’s house which has a GIANT house-sized white wooden cross in the front garden, visible for miles. We then drove up the winding roads, creaking around hairpin bends and tummy-flipping hills to get the the Wild West as Nora phrases it. It’s an area of Malibu where you can climb craggy rocks and wade through cacti to basically get a birds eye view view out over the valley (home of Kim Kardashian…), the hills & the coastline. The whole world felt tiny from up there, and it re-enforced just how beautiful LA can be; it’s not the plasticky concrete jungle I was expecting by any means. From there we drove down to Zuma Beach, which was as idyllic as you’d expect; just a little gusty with a coastal breeze which had the gulls (and PELICANS!) whizzing around in the wind currents.
After all that fresh California air, we needed something else to munch on. For months since Nora knew I was coming out to LA, there was has been two words on her lips and those are fish burger! I had no idea what a fish burger even was, and was imagining some sort of upmarket fillet-o-fish but oh boy was it more than that. We headed to Neptunes Net which has a famous history, as it was used for the exterior of restaurant that Hollywood twin-brats Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen ate religiously at in their show So Little Time, which I sadly/proudly haven’t ever seen as it was before my kids TV career days. Nowadays however, there isn’t an Olsen in sight, in fact you are most likely to be greeted by a mob of bikers and Hells Angels! It has a huge biker community as it’s on a popular motorcycle route. Inside it was chaos, happy people everywhere chowing down on all seafood imaginable. We opted for the holy fish burgers, fries & a side of shrimp, and sat out in the blazing sun in happy greedy silence. I can see what the fuss was about – a fish burger might be my new favourite food; so how cruel it’s not available in London! (Or if it is, I doubt the Thames-fish are quite so tasty)
We ended a perfect Malibu day with a drive to Point Dume, where it honestly felt like we were in a fairytale. I can see why so many music videos and films are shot here; including Destiny’s Child – Survivor (I know right, what a jip… they weren’t really on a desserted tropical island). We walked through fields of head-height yellow flowers that were glowing in the pre-sunset golden light. We scrabbled down craggy steps onto the beach, and sat watching climbers coast up & down the huge rock face. Finally, we sat back and enjoyed a perfect Pacific sunset as the sky burnt from yellow to pink to orange to purple. Oh, and drove home via Cher’s house. Hi Cher!
A few other highlights of my first few days living as an LA-er were definitely the time I got ASKED for directions by actual authentic Americans. I felt it must have meant I didn’t look so rabbit-in-the-headlight dazed tourist and perhaps this was a sign I’d made it in Hollywood! Also nifty Nora busted me out of work one lunch time to indulge in the ultimate must-eat when in LA: In-n-Out Burger. Have you heard the urban legend/true fact story that apparently once Lily Allen flew all the way from London to LAX in her private jet just to get In-n-Out then flew straight home? A 22 hour round trip just for a burger! I can see why though, they are something special. My first time in LA I didn’t know about the secret menu (not on the boards instore, only visible on their website) so this time I was all set to order my fries and burger Animal Style like a true know-it-all. This means they come covered in special sauce (thousand island I’d call it) and fried onions! Also by some freak occurrence and fangirling, I wore a tee covered in Palm Trees so fitted perfectly with the branding.
On the drive back to the office, we had our windows down and hair whipping in the wind. We pulled up next to a van driver who was doing the same, but was also blaring out Boys of Summer on his music system, which we did some serious car-dancing and appreciation to. At the next red lights we pulled up next to him again and THIS time he was playing Smells Like Teen Spirit. What a playlist, it was such a surreal moment that will really stick with me.
So that was a brief recap of my Malibu & Hollywood adventures. There is a sequel/part ii to this blog coming soon about exploring Echo Park, falling in love with Downtown & of course… getting up close to the THE sign.
Tags: Animal Style, Beverly Hills, Burger, Drink, Fish Burger, Food, Gelato, Grom, Hollywood, In-n-Out, LA, Los Angeles, Malibu, Mel's Diner, Neptunes Net, Pacific Coast Highway, Pantone Color of the Year, Point Dume, Sephora, Tourist, Where to eat in LA, Where to go in LA, Where to visit in LA, Zuma Beach