Tag Archives: Travel

I Wear My Wartime Coat In The Wind And Sleet

My friends Brian and Stacy are away from Hollywood at the moment. They’re on their delayed honeymoon, which for them is to fly to England, retrieve their scooters from storage, and then do the things and have days. You know, ride to the Isle of Wight, Paris, the Ace Cafe (now scooter-friendly, apparently), all under the banner of Vespastics. An irreverent name, to be sure, for an irreverent club. It’s had a rocky history, but they’re back on the road, picking up where they left off, and they have a new wesbite to prove it.

When Brian found out I dabbled with this web stuff, he asked how it could be done, and I immediately recommended WordPress, my platform of choice. He kick-started his webspace, checked the domain was still there, and set me loose. A few short hours later, they were back online, and recreating the alliances that make the scooter subculture so strong. As a result of my help, Brian tells me that I’m an honorary member – I’m very flattered to accept.

I used to own and ride a Piaggio Zip 50 in the first years of the 21st Century, not the most stylish of scooters, but pretty nifty. It sipped petrol, which was useful during the 2000 fuel protests, because one tank lasted the whole period. 

 I used to get comments from my collegues at work about not having “a proper bike”. My response was that being only 28, I wasn’t old enough to have a mid-life crisis and squeeze my aging flabby carcass into some ill-advised leathers and buy a Harley. That shut them up. Well, it didn’t, but they kind of blinked and smiled and moved away.

Scooter culture in the UK got a bit of a boost in the dread post-Britpop world of Paul Weller hero-worship which made it actually OK to actually like Ocean Colour Scene. Lambretta clothing became popular, named after the popular scooter brand, but not associated with the scooter company. Just branding. Ben Sherman, already a big name, rode the wave as well.

I eventually got rid of the scooter after it became clear I was going to die on the road if I didn’t. People in South West London, not the most concsiencious drivers, were after my blood. I would be challenged to races from stop lights by bunches of twats in hatchbacks. Certain areas of London allowed motorbikes to ride in the bus lanes, other did not, but it was unclear which. This sometimes meant you were riding in the centre, out of the bus lane, and this made some car drivers very angry. They would accelerate around you, sometimes on the inside, and deliberately come close to knocking you off. All that, and the weather, led me to get a car.

It was worth it for a while though. It was cheap and fun. Perhaps a faster, more powerful scooter could have kept up with the traffic and not hurt the poor car drivers’ delicate feelings so much.

Should I get a scooter here in San Diego? Wait, I’m getting a message; it says, “NO”. Perhaps an Ape. This one’s nice.

Pacific Train Thoughts

~ from notes found on my laptop, dated several weeks ago ~

Early evening, coming out of Santa Fe Depot. 3 hours away from Los Angeles. I’m on the
Pacific side of the train, but I don’t know if I’ll see much of the ocean. At the moment
there’s a hill in the way. The sun will be dropping over the course of the journey. According to my calculations, it will set at about 30 seconds after 8pm.

I’ve lived in the United States of America for nearly 3 weeks. The various pieces of the
critical path jigsaw are slotting into place (must have this before that, then that
number goes on this form). What do I know now that I didn’t before the move? Not much
that’s quantifiable. Little things. How annoying it is to have a newsreader trying to
emote and react to the news instead of just reading it.

Landscape so far is scrub, rock, orange soil and grasses, hilly and rough. A few palms
springing up from scattered buildings. Telephone wires.

And after a break in the hills, we are now riding right along the shoreline, overlooking
the narrow beach with a few scattered walkers and surfers, floating in and out of the sun
on the water. Then over another estuary as we pass the racetrack inland outside Solana
Beach, and a large crowd board the train. Glad I got a seat when I did. Also glad to see
the train is so popular, although it is Friday evening.

The people on the beach wave at the train, while they stand around the concrete fire pits and crack open a beer, something I’ll be doing as soon as I can.

A New Timezone

On Saturday I flew to Los Angeles International Airport, with two heavy cases and a carry on (and what a carry-on it was! oh ho!). I arrived after an uneventful flight in a comfy (and doubly expensive premium economy) seat. The thing is, I didn’t have a return ticket. That’s right, folks, I’ve finally made it over here. It’s been a hectic few weeks, and sadly it doesn’t look like I’ll be getting a rest any time soon.

I certainly didn’t on Saturday. I went through immigration, nervously clutching my folder of visa application papers, but that was quite a simple process. The guy asked me where I would be working, checked the papers and that was all. I was expecting to be taken aside at the very least. It would have at least reduced the amount of time spent waiting at the baggage carousel. Those things are depressing. They should at least play the Waltz from Carousel as in this video clip. It should be on a loop, and have the whistling in the background. Guaranteed to keep the waiting crowds happy.

Once my stuff came trundling round, I was able to escape into the fresh clean air of LAX Arrivals, and the parking structure beyond. I didn’t see Cassie waiting, so I walked out into the SoCal sun, where I was politely asked to move aside into the designated waiting area. Cassie emerged after me, asking why I hadn’t seen her, and clutching her dog Gordon, who was gratifyingly glad to see me.

So here I was again. I’ve been through this airport six times now. I don’t know when the next time I arrive at LAX will be. More about the first few days soon.

A Cigar Tube At 35,000 feet

This post was written on March 26 2008 while trying to doze off on allergy pills. Warning – contains introspection, fractured sentences and fear.

This is being written on my EeePC while listening to the new Sigur Ros CD in the in-flight system over the coast of Greenland, approaching Godthab. I’m in a Boeing 747-400, in seat 51B, I have my earphones in, but they don’t block out the baby crying.

I’m flying to Los Angeles to visit Cassie. It was nearly a year ago that I flew to see her the first time. In fact it was exactly a year ago.

Turbulence is a bit rough, and the guy in 51C can’t write in his logic puzzle book. I can’t type either, but that’s nothing new.

So I’m going back now to spend more time with Cassie, and while I’m here I’m flying up to San Francisco to meet a guy about a job. This job would involve me moving to San Francisco to live. Long term. It would mean packing my life, sticking some of it on a pallet, and shipping it weeks away. I would rent my flat in London out to a young professional couple who want to enhance that segment of Tooting’s demographic.

So am I moving to be with Cassie? Yes, partly. To be more accurate, we want to check if we want to be together. Seems a bit drastic for something uncertain. That is, I’m certain I want to be with her. It’s taken on a life of its own now, really. Lots of momentum, if that’s the word.

Turbulence really hotting up now.

Some people say inertia when they mean momentum, but I’m not sure momentum is the right word either. Kinetic energy? That’s potential, isn’t it?

My Mum hated flying. She would be crying right about now. She once got some Valium to knock her out before a flight. She took it before boarding, then the plane was delayed by 7 hours, during which time she was conked out on a plastic bench in the airport. She came around just in time to board and fly. Poor thing.

I’ll be seeing Cassie’s parents again this time. Dinner. They’re very nice. Cassie said it’s a shame that she and her parents will never meet mine, and I agree. I’ll have to get Simon and Jacquie and their families over there. We’re also seeing Don, Cassie’s brother, and his family. Also very nice. Christmas with them was great. Three cute nephews.

Am I ready to make this change, this move? Who knows. I’m financially and physically ready. I’m able and capable. I’m inclined and encouraged. I’m more than inclined, I’m positively hopping to get there. Suck it and see I guess. Nothing that can’t be undone. To trot out the joke I’ve been boring everyone with, if things with Cassie don’t work out, the ratio of straight guys to straight girls in SF is well in my favour (me being a straight guy).

The turbulence has settled, I’m going to nap.

Basic Rail Rant – First Group Must Go

Here’s a nice simple rant about the train services in and around London. I get the train from Tooting, which used to be run adequately by Thameslink, and is now run by the sick joke of the industry, First Group. Several stations on the line are still called ______ Thameslink, highlighting the stupidity of the entire Infraco/TOC system, as forced into place by the Tories. Every time you change the TOC, you should change the station names. It’s like a sports stadium that changes it’s name each time it gets a new sponsor – one day it’s the Lockheed Martin Velodrome, the next it’s the Imperial Tobacco Velodrome, and all the maps and street signs have to be changed. It reminds me of a Southern Water telemetry station I worked on in Hampshire that was referred to in the database as “Tesco Car Park”. The problem was it didn’t say which town in Hampshire it was in, and it also didn’t say that it was no longer a Tesco – Asda had taken the site over, in line with the general decay of the area.

Anyway, I went to the station today to find 3 queues where there is usually only one. One for the ticket window, one for the ticket machine, and one for the guy with the portable ticket selling machine they had parachuted in. I chose the machine queue, waited, and bought a return ticket for Victoria. I normally get a travelcard, but I’m only working one day this week, because I’m off to LA again tomorrow.

I got on the train, zoned out for half an hour, then got off at Blackfriars. Going through the barriers, the machine swallowed my ticket, leaving me unable to get on the District Line to get to Victoria. I asked the First Group plc Revenue Protection Officer why it had done this. I showed him my return ticket and he said it was becasue the ticket was from Tooting to London Terminals. Blackfriars is a London Terminal, therefore my journey was at an end. I said I had bought a ticket to Victoria. He said I would have to buy an extra ticket for the tube, then claim it back from Tooting Station.

So the problem is that First Group’s ticket machine is programmed wrong. In total, then, rather annoying. Not as bad by any means as some horror stories you hear and read, especially on my old route out to Godalming on the dread South West Trains. But my mind is clear. All the TOCs should lose their franchises, and ideally suffer some form of public corporal punishment. The bosses should also be tagged and branded, and banned from ever owning any kind of property again.

Another thing. The new style of ticket barriers are badly designed. They open after a slight delay, and slowly, so you think they aren’t going to open. They beep when you place your easily hacked Citizen Movement Tracking Card, sorry, Oyster Card on the reader, to let you know that the barrier has read it. But you can’t tell which barrier has beeped, because the whole row of barriers is beeping as the morning rush comes through. The old display of a black background with large bold words and numbers that light up clearly has been replaced with an LCD which shows small plae grey characters against a bright green background. Impossible to read at a glance in passing, because of the viewing angle when standing by the barrier, the colours and the text size. So all the feedback from the barriers is gone. Didn’t they test them? What moron could have approved the design? The Factory Acceptance Test? The Site Acceptance Test?

Here endeth the rant. Cheers.

Head In A Burrow, August 2007 – The Third Day

Saturday

the caledonian riviera I needed to buy some shoes, so K and I braved the rain and crowds to sample the retail. No luck. Then we ‘caught’ as I believe the term goes, we ‘caught’ some proper theatre…

The Bacchae

This wasn’t on the Fringe, but was rather a proper play from the Festival at the Kings Theatre, with red velvet and staircases and the like. Very swish. K got the last two tickets, seated at opposite ends of the theatre. K got one almost within knicker-throwing distance of the stage, whereas I was content to skulk around at the back.

Curtain. The first thing that we saw was Alan Cumming’s arse. He was lowered onto the stage by his ankles, with his backside to us, wearing a gold number with a short skirt and no knickers. The lowering mechanism wasn’t used for the rest of the production, so it was obviously included because they wanted to start with a bang, or at least with a bum, to get the audience giggling and goggling. It reminds me of a production of Romeo and Juliet I went to see on a school trip. It was set in the 1950’s or 60’s or something and so the party sequence had lots of rock’n’roll dancing (but not ceroc thank feck – I cannot stand that shit. “Try it Matthew! You’d enjoy it!”. No, I won’t.) and it ended with a splash as the star-crossed lovers jumped into a little pool that had been created at the side of the stage. The pool had no purpose. It was used once, just for spectacle. Then the poor dears had a bitch of a costume change before they were on again. I suppose what I’m saying is if you’re going to have spectacular effects, don’t make them look so obviously tacked on.

The rest of the play was fine – very stylish, lots of bloody murder and bacchic excess. One Scotsman got another Scotsman to dress up as a women, who was then decapitated, that sort of thing. But as a whole the production annoyed me.

I don’t have a problem with Alan Cumming – in fact he was excellent in The High Life, which was like Father Ted but Scottish and on a plane. That Cabaret he did was by all accounts awesome, and I’m sure his perfume smells nice. No, my problem is with people’s reaction to him. In this case, it was the fact that the majority of the crowd were hero-worshipping middle-aged women who couldn’t resist squawking at his every utterance. Mainstream naughtiness to cause cheap blushes.

I’m not mad keen on gospel music either.

Lunch – David Banns

Dee-licious, and pricey with it. But K did her sommelier bit and picked out a lovely bottle, which turned into 3 bottles in the end. Can’t remember if it was red or white, or much else about the meal.

Guide to German Humour

I liked this a lot, with the two hosts and their different styles, one grinning wildly as his performing garden gnomes performed, and the other (with an accent like Stavros, strangely enough) deconstructing what is and isn’t funny to a German. Failure is not funny, for one thing. Also, an excellent use of the phrase, “Prince William and his half-brother Harry”.

Fuerzabruta

This was rather spectacular, and I enjoyed it very much. Google it. See if Youtube has any videos. Big black tent in the rain, bottles of beer in my pockets, amazing sounds, lights, and sets, framing some wonderful dance and physical theatre. Huge choreography. Even the fact that it was a promenade performance didn’t detract.

Best Of The Fest

Then a rush through, and standing in, the rain to catch the Best of the Fest, which was debatable, but fun. A large auditorium, lots of late-night drunk people, various comedy and cabaret acts. I enjoyed the Japanese double-act – can’t remember what they were called.

Sunday

We tried to get home on Sunday. We did make it, but after GNER kindly left off one of their carriages, and threw out all the reservations, we were lucky to get seats. Bloody morons. I played Lego Star Wars or whatever its called on the way back, on K’s PSP. Good fun. Tired, hung over, but we had leg room and seats, so snoozing was also possible.

LA Story – October 2007 – Sunset / Silver Lake

the streets of silverlake More reminiscences of LA from last October

One day (17/Oct if you must know) I decided to take a stroll around the locale and see what kind of place Silver Lake is. I walked down Descanso, then along to Millies cafe, a friendly and quite famous diner with nice food, and outside tables perfect for dogs. One Devil’s Mess later, I wandered over to the row of hyperexpensive/exclusive/empty boutiques to check out the fashions and furnishings. It’s slightly embarassing walking into these places with no intention of buying anything – because you’re the only customer, you get all the attention. Some amazing stuff for sale – a concrete coffee table with tiki-kebab-style inlays – $4000. Actually, with the exchange rate, that’s pretty reasonable…

After some heavy-duty browsing and fobbing-off, I went to Good for an Alaskan Honey Beer. Good is not as good as it would like – slightly sticky tables and a distinct whiff of beer snobbery. It used to be a classic diner-style place, with counter service and red leather booths, but now it’s open plan, and the service isn’t as good as it was (so I’m told). But because of this, it seems you can always get a table on Saturday morning, unlike everywhere else. After that I popped over to the Mexican-goods/headshop for some incense for C. Then further up Sunset to more gift shops and the Army Surplus place. There are some great little shops, full of interesting stuff, but it’s the same stuff I could buy in London. I don’t buy it here, why buy it there? The shop full of cocktail paraphernalia (classy stuff too, not the “musical bottle opener” crap) was particularly good, and tempting. The Surplus shop was just like the UK equivalent – survivalist owner by the door, displaying his collection of badges, hats, knives and knick-knacks, and then the Dickies workwear, green rucksacks and orange boiler suits at the back.

I finally sat at Intelligentsia (wear your attitude on your sleeve, why don’t you?) and drank a cup of good coffee. I counted at least 3 people with MacBooks, and I had my Moleskine, so I felt cool and at home. I could do this. I could do this.

LA October 07: Flesh and Wood

Before my recent trip to the US, I was asked by Friend James to provide an analysis of that seminal* piece of Americananana, the corn dog. While shopping at the Glendale Gonor-sorry-Galleria in Los Angeles, I took the opportunity to try one and document the experience.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about corn dogs. The article links to Hot Dog On A Stick, a famous chain of corn dog stands. And it was from a HDOAS stand that I bought a regular HDOAS, and a regular Lemonade.

I ordered the stuff, and the server grabbed a Not-Yet-Hot Dog On A Stick from the fridge, dipped it in the thick pale yellow batter, and plunged it into the hot oils. While it was cooking/heating/sterilizing, she filled a cup from the big clear plastic dispenser containing ice and lemons. Then she removed the dog from its golden bath**, laid it in a printed card tray and presented me with my meal.

HDOAS 1

Let’s examine the components more closely.

Hot dog: Standard turkey frank, pre-skewered.

Batter: I thought it was going to be corn bread, but it turned out to be corn-based “party batter”, into which the dog was dipped before deep frying.

Stick: Wood (unknown species).

Dressing: Heinz ketchup and Heinz mustard from large pump dispensers, in classic “wavy line” pattern, or at least my interpretation of it.

Lemonade: The traditional lemon juice, water and sugar mixture as sold by children from trestle tables underneath pecan trees. Tangy and sweet – very nice.

HDOAS 2

I took a bite.

HDOAS 3

The batter was hot, and sweet, with the grainy texture of polenta. The hot dog was a hot dog, but didn’t really go with the sweetness of the shell. But I bravely carried on, until nothing was left.

HDOAS 4

I have now eaten a corn dog. It was OK, I guess. I like hotdogs – not as much as Christopher Walken, mind you, but I like them. But combined with the sweet flavour and graininess of the batter, I have to say I wasn’t so keen. It wasn’t disgusting, but neither was it a taste sensation. Maybe next time I’ll try one with the meat replaced by cheese.

Next up, the deep fried turkey, with a side helping of Pork Brains in Milk Gravy, washed down with Bud Light. On second thoughts, that would be disgusting. Bud Light, yechhhhh.

* I’m not sure I like the dual meaning here.

** Or here.

LA Story 10 – Tuesday 3 April – The Last Full Day

More old notes. Nearly there…

~

After the revelations of Monday, and as the time to go back to London approached, Cassie and I realised we couldn’t waste any time. So we had an extra-busy day on Tuesday.

It started, as had become customary over the few days I was there, with a walk for Gordon in the dog park. Coffee, sunshine, standing around in the yellow dust, talking. Met with Heather, Cassie’s friend. She’s really nice, and since I came back to London, it turns out she is going back to her native New York, so I may not see her again. A real shame, because I could do with as many friends as possible over here. As the coffee took hold, we though about what else we wanted to do. First up, lunch.

As Cassie’s Mum (or should that be ‘Mom’?) was still around, and offering to buy, we went to ‘Home’ again, which does a nice line in erm, food. Another nice time, I can now call Cassie’s Mum Joan, so inroads being made, eh?

After thate Cassie took me to the celebrated Amoeba records, where she used to work know people who worked here. Great place, huge independent record store. I bought some CDs (Spacemen 3 and Meat Beat Manifesto, if you must know) and reflected on how much new music I am completely unaware of. I never know what to buy in these places.

Later in the evening we made an effort and got dressed up for dinner. Well, I made as much of an effort as I could with my limited suitcase wardrobe. I looked less like a sack of shit than usual, put it like that (Cassie looked gorgeous).

We went to Cliff’s Edge, which strictly speaking is walking distance from the apt, but this being posh night in LA, we drove and got the car valet parked. The outdoor veranda area was done up like a tree house, which in effect it is – all suspended in a tree, with huge tropical plants shielding you from prying eyes, and traffic. We ate, drank, talked about my next visit (!) and so on. After a delicious meal, we drove downtown for a cocktail in the Hotel Buenaventura Bonaventure where we drank Dirty Martinis (apparently not a macho drink) in the famous rotating bar, with it’s amazing views of downtown LA, full of skyscrapers and lights. Apparently the foyer of the hotel was used as location for parts of the film ‘Logans Run’, which I can well believe. Curved surfaces and beige.

A wonderful last night. But the next day brought sadness…

LA Story 8 – Sunday 1 April – Lunch With Charlie

And still they come…

~

I met Charlie when he was a member of the Carlton Dramatic Society. He moved to LA a few years ago, because he had met a girl over there, fallen in love, “dated” transatlantically for a while, then they got together and both moved to LA. He’s really happy, it would seem. I knew the basics, but the details I got over lunch at ‘Home‘, an open-air cafe bar in Los Feliz. I’d arranged to meet him for a chat about old times, stage stories, you know. I ended up getting the full story. He was curious why I wanted to know the details – so was I at first. I kept asking him about how easy it was to fit in, and what the visa situation was, and so on. Then I started to realise that it looked like I was following the same path. I’m not one to write about emotions here, but there’s something going on here alright.

I am considering figuring out how to possibly spend conceivably more time in Los Angeles with Cassie, because I am of the opinion that spending lots of time with her would be a nice experience, and I am informed that she shares this opinion. I don’t think I can be any more candid than that.

Anyway, after that little revelation, and the hilarity and enthusiastic congratulations it spawned, we strolled around the cool shops in Los Feliz. I bought a Silver Lake t-shirt, which I can’t actually wear in Silver Lake cos that would be naff, second only to wearing a “BROO(zip)KLYN” hoodie that you bought in Peckham, where you live. Skylight Books were good enogh to supply me with some PK Dick and Ender’s Game for the flight home.

Of course, no visit to a major city is complete without a MoFi meetup. So it was that I went to mandyman‘s place where we met Space Kitty, Space Kitten and a gang of other banana-munchers. Mandyman had cooked up some great food, we had ‘some’ wine, and we generally arsed around for a few hours. Great fun – so much so that the traditional shout-outs were a pretty rushed and shoddy affair. And for this I apologise.

~

Nearly as shoddy and rushed as this blog, in fact.