Well, finally I am able to get into the site. It has taken three days and countless long distance phone calls and emails, but I think we are there. Here’s hoping.
It’s 10.10am my time, 6pm your time.
I’m forever counting eight fingers to find out what time it is back home.
I am nearly over my jet lag. My homoeopath gave me a remedy which I keep popping. I wake at 1.15am (9am in blighty) – then at 3.15 then 7.15. This morning I got up at 6.30 and called Jim. He told me to stop ringing him. I called B who told me stop ringing her. I called my mother who said ‘Hello, goodbye!’ And then I hung up. My hosts have a deal with a telephone company so the bill is tiny.
The journey out on Thursday morning could not have been simpler. Jim kicked me out of bed at 6.30. I was all packed, if a little nervous. Oh, come on… it’s a trip to a retreat thousands of miles away with nobody to talk to and no bread to comfort me. Jim waved me off. I felt like I was going off to a new school, which I suppose I am.
The driver was a fascinating Algerian geezer who spoke French, English, Algerian and a lot of sense. As we sat in a traffic jam on the way to Heathrow, we talked about exile, cooking and the Sahara desert. He told me about the Bedouins, their hand-crafted shoes to keep their feet cool in the sand, and the exodus of the young into the cities.
Bob Hoskins has a story he tells of his travels. The incredulity of the Saharans when he blew his nose into a handkerchief then put the offending article back in his pocket, his incredulity when they emptied their nostrils into the sand.
By the time we reached Heathrow, I promised I would visit Algeria. He promised to drive safely and off I went to terminal 3.
The place was heaving. I took my e-ticket receipt and went to an automatic machine. Not great, since I am a technophobe and was terrified of losing my ticket.
Danielle, one of the air stewardesses, with red glasses and a French accent, assisted me. She hit a few buttons and then she turned to me and said
‘You know Steve Woollie, don’t you? ‘
To which I dropped my passport and everything else in my blue plastic travel wallet. Of all the people in all the lounge, I had bumped into her. Fate was on my side.
‘I do indeed’, I replied. ‘He is the father of AJ B’s best friend’
‘Well, give him my love’, she said, as she sashayed back to the check-in.
‘Ask for Maryanne, and bon voyage’, she said as her black case disappeared out of sight and she melded back into the crowd.
Into passport control, through the gates, beepless hurrah, and then up to lounge G, where I sat reading my paper and texting thirty thousand people to tell them I was away for a month.
It did occur to me that I was travelling United Airlines and that I had just watched ‘United 93’ a terrifying disaster movie, but a tomato juice and cereal bar steadied my nerves. A very posh voice on the PA told us to go to gate 35. So, along with some extremely well heeled Americans I walked the red carpet until we reached the desk. I handed over my boarding pass and was seated in business class – 8e. Thank you, Danielle.
On my right sat a man who was reading the twelve step plan for alcoholics. He chewed his nails and kept scratching his groin. I tried not to watch. On my left sat a man who had been to Wolverhampton talking about aerospace. He had a lisp and put my bag up in the locker.
Trying to be cool with seasoned travellers around was not easy. The chair had three settings on the left, one setting on the right and a panel of finger-tip buttons which turned on lights, played videos, played audio, revealed the map of our destinations and, I swear, would have read my weight if I could have got the hang of them. My lisping companion told me to ‘Thettle down and thoon the therwadeth would athithed me.’
I was up and down like a jack-in-the-box, although each time I tried to make it look as nonchalant as possible, putting my bag into a cupboard, taking my bag out of the cupboard, removing my pillow, putting it back, taking my shoes off, putting my socks on, taking my bag out of the cupboard to get my pen and writing pad, putting it back. The poor recovering-alcoholic next to me nearly asked for a drink. I knew I was driving him mad.
And then for the last time, I promise, I went into the cupboard to retrieve my BOSE headphones. The cans are meant to cut out all external noise, which they do. They also have an adaptor which fitted into the headphone slot in the chair. I got my extension lead caught round my glasses and the catch of my next door neighbours chair. His scratching became quite acute. I tried to adjust my seat and ended up almost vertical with my headphone wire round my neck. Then the air hostess told me to put my seat upright until we took off. My lisping companion pulled the required levers and I retuned to an upright poothition. I was exhausted and we hadn’t even left the ground.
I was feeling emotional, so I put on the radio. Mariah Carey was singing a song I had taught B when she and her friends had an acapella singing group. Fatal. I had to get up and get a tissue from my bag. Only I couldn’t because the seat belt signs were still lit up. I used my sleeve. The Saharans would have been proud of me.
Then the trolley arrived pushed by a woman and her good looking swarthy male companion.
They talked to me, but I had my headphones on which cut out all extraneous noise so I couldn’t hear a word they were saying. After pulling out every lead I could find, whilst lip-reading, I eventually responded. They were offering me water, champagne or orange juice. The water looked damp, the orange juice sweet and the champers was Cava. I declined but the male trolley-dolly gasped, leant forward and breathlessly asked ‘Are you Jeni Barnett?’
Bearing in mind I was wearing comfortable travelling trash and no make up, I was surprised he recognised me. But as always I thought I had done something wrong or that the AA man had shopped me. ‘Yes, I am she.’ I said a little defensively. Rod, the steward, squeaked, and throwing his hands to his face revealed very loudly that he loved me, and GFL, and had watched the last programme and had cried along with the rest of us and that please, please drink some champagne and ‘Oh! My God’, he couldn’t believe it was me, and ‘OMG!’, I spilt my bubbly over the AA’s trousers. Sorry, pants – we’re in the USA now – then started I to cry along with Rod, who gave me another plastic glass of Cava and said he would come and talk to me later.
All of a sudden it hit me – that the reason I was going to San Diego was because the show had been pulled and that I am a has-been and an old fart. But I could now blow my noise on the tissues with the Cava, and despite what the Beduions would have said, I felt an awful lot better.
‘Charlotte’s Web’, ‘Miss Potter’, ‘Happy Feet’ (all of which made me cry), a meal of incredible blandness, one botched Sudoku, a long sleep, cheese biscuits and a surprisingly good cup of tea later we arrived in Los Angeles.
I had filled out all my forms, waited ages for my case on the carousel, then stepped through the customs carrying a bottle of Cava that Rod had given me as a gift. There was my long-standing friend waiting in the 80 degree Californian sunshine. I was jet-lagged but not so much that I didn’t see the palm trees, the road signs, the side-walks and the CNN satellite dishes. And then we arrived at our destination. I unloaded my bags and we had a walk with Lacy, the furry dog. I was told all sorts of stuff but it went right over my head.
The house is round the corner from Antonio Banderas’s pile, near Walt Disney’s old house, up the road from The Fonz’s happy home, and practically round the corner from every single Hollywood landmark that you can think of. The house itself is full of flamingoes. Not literally, but my hostess has been nutty about them from the moment she saw her first pink bird in San Diego zoo. Ever since then, everybody she knows has given one. (Behave!)
We watched ‘Are you as clever as a fifth grader’. I think that’s the name of a TV programme which had an ex-Iraqi soldier answer questions of fifth grade level so that he could win his wife and himself a lot of money. The whooping and hollering did my head in so I went to bed with him accepting $250,000 dollars.
My bed is high and soft. As well as several flamingos I am surrounded by 4million books and a revolving ball that is attached to the telephone which prints out in red neon exactly what time it is, what day it is, who has called and I swear if I could re-set it it would be able to give me my blood pressure reading.
I awoke several times the first night, popped some jet-lag remedy and slept until 7.30 (my time 4.00am)…oh, alright – you have your own fingers.
Yesterday we had a fab lunch somewhere near the Hollywood sign, which I can see in the hills. Maggie, my hostess, took me to ‘Needless Mark-up’ (their name for the overpriced department store Saks) to look at the big dress sizes. Bearing in mind we are in the land of 00 zero clothes, the big sizes start at 14! There was make-up bonanza in the foyer, where at least five very pretty men did makeovers with Yves San Laurent products. I fought for them not to touch me. I have just had five years of being a painted lady. A woman doing the questionnaire shared with us that she was 68. She had porcelain teeth, dyed black hair, a ladle-spoon of Yves San Laurent foundation on her flawless face but she still looked older than my mother who is 85.
Last night we went to the Chinese Theatre and I had photos taken of me with my hands in Sophia Loren’s hands, Jim’s fave Joan Crawford (another bitch from hell whose hands were the same size as mine), Shirley Maclaine because of her beliefs, Sidney Poitier for Clarence, Jack Nicholson for Jim – all of which came out weird because my hostess’s hands shook.
Then we had the most disgusting meal of hamburger, chips, onion rings and cola, because I am in America and that’s what you do. And then back to bed.
Beverly Hills suits Posh Spice. It looks like a film set.
And now we are back to where I started. We have just come back from the Farmers market where I filmed for GFL all those years ago. I have had to take three antacid tablets after my breakfast crepe (which my host tells me is not made with real cheese – what the bloomin’ hell do they make the cheese out of then if it’s not real?).
They are hanging out the duvet which Sam the cat sicked up on last night and… SCREAMS !
Sam the same has just brought in a gheiko – or is it ghekko or gekko, whatever. Sam has bitten off some of its tail so I’m finishing writing this with my feet in the air.
We are going to Venice Beach, where I am told I have to wear sun block as the UV of the Californina sun is higher than in the UK because we are nearer the Equator. Ugh! I think I can see the tail. Cul8t.