Homeward bound

We are in the terminal waiting for our overnight flight to London after one more precious day in California. After packing up and leaving the house we went for breakfast at “Linda’s” which could not have been nicer. Its such a popular place that they serve you coffee on the benches outside while you wait for a table.

Tom, the Film Student, spent some time composing this picture and talking about the need to “respect the rule of thirds” and so forth. Terminology, which of course went completely over our heads, not having been Film Students.
Then, Highway 1 for a slow mosey up the coast with stops whenever we saw an attractive stretch of coastline to walk along…
…or in.
There was a flurry of tiny State Parks with nature walks which buzzed with dragonflies while surf crashed off in the background
There were stops in Pescadero and Half Moon Bay too for snaps and messing around…
But all too soon we got to the airport. Tom just said “Its coming to a close” and he is right. They are calling for us to board. Its been brilliant and we have been so lucky to have had this time together.

A day in Santa Cruz

A lively drive from San Francisco Airport over the mountains last night – all last-minute curves narrow lanes and concrete medians – brought us to Santa Cruz and this lovely house that we found on AirBnB. Its gorgeous inside and cost less than a hotel. Sadly the tandem promised in the spec was not available for some reason, but it was only a twenty minute walk to the famous boardwalk.
Among its many attractions is the Big Dipper (in the background) which has been there a very long time and which, of course, we were going to go on…
Tom was very gung-ho about it, even if in the queue, he began to think rather seriously about whether it was something he really wanted to do…
But it was great fun; a proper slam-you-around Old School rollercoaster which starts in darkness and rockets over the rails at breakneck speed until you are exhausted trying to hold on. It was a great start to the day!
P took him on the Haunted Castle ride and we discovered that Tom can do death-defying as long it involves physical risk. When the threat is purely a result of ghostly lights and your imagination, he’d really rather not look…
And the rides that made me want to heave of course, he wanted to do again. I was fine with that as long as he did it on his own (though we had thought there might be someone else on this ride too…)
There were very few people around with no queueing for anything. At the end of the pier was a classic end-of-pier snack place with a really friendly Latina waitress who got us smoothies and iced coffees and acknowleged that yes, the summer was pretty much over as far as they were concerned. We are keenly aware of our holiday coming to an end too.
Honking beneath us were these guys. They are a fixture on the Santa Monica pier and I remember them from spending an evening here when I was a student travelling around on Amtrack.

We walked back to the house along quiet streets in bright, late afternoon sunshine. Its a really pretty neighbourhood and P and I could both very happily live in Santa Cruz.

Time for one final meal out; at a local Italian recommended by the owner of the house. We got spifffed up to celebrate our month away. We’ll really miss being able to spend so much time together once the treadmill of school and work starts back up again next week.

The final premier

We are all keenly aware that our time in LA is coming to an end, and one of the marker points for this is the premier of Tom’s second and final movie. He’s been extremely focused on it for the past few days and was nervous about how it would be received as we set out for a screening room in the Warner Brothers complex. 
Only four kids did the two week course which meant that they had a lot of personal instruction from the teachers doing directing, screenwriting, camerawork and editing. Last week’s movies had no dialogue, as the aim was to use the camera to tell the story, but this week they each had to write scripts too before storyboarding the whole thing, so it was a lot of work for all of them and there was a buzz of anticipation in the screening room.
Each director had to write the story and script and then take charge on set during filming of their own story; directing the camera operator and actors, and only doing the camera work on the other kid’s movies. All the movies were a step above last week’s, with the extra learning and experience coming through on screen. Tom’s film: “All the Best Intentions” was about a slightly blundering lad trying to help a friend raise some money to pay off a debt. It was astonishingly good. A sweet story that was really funny, quirky and well paced. It had the best reception of them all and the audience roared with laughter. He was so thrilled. Everyone came up to congratulate him and he was quite overwhelmed.
The trainers went up to speak after all the movies had been shown and a couple of them mentioned Tom as an example of how impressed they had been with the way the kids took control on the set and how they had a really had a strong grasp of what they were trying to achieve. 
Tom was beaming. They all got certificates and we all took photos. Hugs and email addresses were exchanged and we emerged from the building into brilliant sunlight, everyone smiling.

To see the movie, click here: All the best intentions and make sure you watch it on full screen.

We had a surprise in store for Tom at this point. When we first went to Universal City we saw the “I-fly” experience, which is basically skydiving on the ground with the help of a giant fan. Tom didn’t know it but I’d got tickets for all three of us and he was speechless when we told him – result!! We all got suited up and learned the instructor’s commands (arms out, legs bent, chin up etc) and soon we were on the bench waiting our turn.
Tom was first in and soon hovering in mid air, floating on a hurricane force wind. The instructor who stays in with you was really expert in making sure everyone stayed the right way up and in mid air and on the second turn they boosted the fan and he took each of us up about twenty feet. Thrilling!
Next stop, the California Science centre across town where we had tickets for the 1.30 Imax show and not quite enough time to get there. It turned into one of those farcical journeys involving the first leg of a Metro ride followed by several minutes of confused walking around the block looking for the next line we were supposed to take, the friendly but mostly incorrect advice of various Angelinos, a bus stop and ultimately a cab which got us in our seats four minutes before the start of the show. It was worth the effort though. The film was about various extremes of nature including an earthquake in Turkey that P and I had reported from.
The Museum also houses the Space Shuttle Endeavor, stlll satisfyingly scorched and grubby from its final foray into space. It seems like a proper, big rocket ship close up. There was a terrific movie that was part of the exhibit, showing it being driven through the streets of Los Angeles on the way to the museum, on top of a huge transporter. People lined the streets as it went – I would have gone to see it too.
The trip home was somewhat more straight forward than the trip there given that we had now discovered what metro line we were supposed to be on and that it stopped about two hundred yards from the museum…
In the evening we went back to the Ca Del Sole Italian restaurant we’d been to before.  We met Coll there, who’d left the family holiday in Peru a few days early to start a new job. The table was in the busy courtyard, the air was warm and it was a terrific evening: lovely food, some fine Californian wine and a great deal of laughter. Tom talked Film with our waitress Jessica who (of course) was a drama graduate and acts in stage musicals.
Tom: “Would you like a part in my next movie?”
Jessica:”Of course!”
Tom: “Well talk to my agent…”

Sandstone Mountain

So today was all about conquering the highest peak in the Santa Monica mountains and by God it should consider itself well and truly conquered!

Once off the white-knuckle racetrack that is Highway 101 and into the mountains, the drive there was exactly what you rent a converible Mustang for: endlessly twisty, narrow, patched blacktop spiralling up into the mountains with no other cars in sight. There was only one other car in the parking area and we set off along a track lined with juniper and sage which smelt like a herb garden. It was a hot dusty climb but after scrambling up a ridge we found what will go down in the family annals as one of the most spetacular lunch stops of all time.

Below us were the lower peaks of the Santa Monica mountains and beyond them, flat green cultivated fields, then the ocean with Santa Catalina island basking in the distance. A cool breeze took the edge off the sun and we didn’t want to leave.

The peak of Sandstone Mountain (3,111 feet) had 360 degree views down to the satellite communities around LA on one side and the small peaks and ridges we had climbed on e other. The logbook concealed in a drawer was completely filled with the thoughts and exclamation marks of other hikers but we found a space on the back cover to record our triumph. We route-marched back down, passing a large group of exciteable teenage hikers – perhaps 30 of them – adding their own distinctive sounds to the quiet rustlings of nature.

Thanks to NPR we discovered that the 101 was the most congested freeway in southern California due to various accidents so we took the scenic route through LA suburbs which was far more interesting anyway, with gaudy sixties streetscapes and realworld businesses. “Organic headlice removal” was one that caught P’s eye. Not that she needed their services I hasten to add. That was all a long time ago. Joke!

We got back just in time to pickup Tom who had texted to say “filming could not have gone any better!” We’d helped him make various props last night and this morning and he seemed to think his filming (in the “Old Europe” area of the Universal backlot) had gone well. The traffic was so dense by the time we picked him up that we beat a hasty retreat to Bob’s Big Boy Diner and ate far too much. Again…

The Getty Villa

The satnav breezily informed us it would take 25 minutes to get to the Getty Villa but the entire population of the region seemed to be on the same road and we stop-started virtually all the way down to the coast and the most extraordinary art museum anywhere. It took almost two hours and we almost missed the turning but I’m glad we didn’t.

J Paul Getty was for a while reckoned to be the richest man in the world having built his fortune with Getty Oil. The company boomed after he leased some apparently barren land in Saudi Arabia, and spent four years and thirty million dollars turning it into a highly profitable oilfield. He learned Arabic to negotiate with the Saudi royal family himself.

Getty was an interesting character who looked a bit like Alfred E Neuman would have done if he’d ever grown up.

Neuman                                                                     Getty
He was divorced five times and once said he would have given away all his money for one happy marriage. I’m not sure he really would have done though. Getty was famously mean and the word philanthropy was not apparently part of his vocabulary. He initially refused to pay kidnappers for the release of his teenage grandson, only relenting when he received the boy’s ear in the mail. Even then he beat the kidnappers down to a sum closer to the amount he could write off against tax. He loaned the balance to his son, with interest payable. The grandson died young having never recovered from the trauma. 
Getty bought sixty four acres of land in Malibu in 1954 to build a beach house. He filled it with art and showed it to his friends, then opened a wing of it to the public a few afternoons a month, As his collection grew he began to run out of space, so came up with the idea of re-creating a magnificent villa discovered at Herculaneum.
It is that building that stands on the slopes above the sea today; a huge recreation of a palatial Roman Villa found at Herculaneum, complete with all the marble, frescos, mosaics, pools and gardens such a villa would contain.
Getty was minutely involved in its construction and the budget – even refusing to pay for electric pencil sharpeners for the architects team, arguing that hand operated would be just fine. Ironically though, he never actually saw the building for himself because the man with more money than he really knew what to do with and the pick of the world’s beauty spots to call home, chose to live in….Guildford. His English architect racked up some quality airmiles commuting between his estate there and the Villa in California. It was opened to the public in 1974 and Getty died two years later, never having set foot in it.
We did and it is pretty gobsmacking. It is home to the Roman, Grecian and Etruscan treasures first collected by Getty and now by the foundation he left all his money too. I think its it least as interesting for the building as for the exhibits, but I never tire of seeing for myself just how brilliant many of the craftsmen of two thousand years ago were.
Mind you, if I were Greek and exploring the Villa, I would be wondering just how so much of my heritage came to be on this Californian mountainside. ‘Twas ever thus I suppose. Elgin Marbles anyone..?

Sweat and sawdust

Well that was a big day. After dropping T at Film School, P and I crawled on the highway down to Malibu Creek State Park. It would probably have been easier to take the car but we needed the exercise.

With its walks through sage lined canyons and along dusty ridges with views the park was nice enough, but the reason I wanted to go was because it is also where they used to shoot MASH. It takes a good couple of hours to get to the spot but when we did I felt the hairs creep up at the back of my neck. We rounded a corner and there was the shell of one of those familiar 4077 ambulances.
They’ve left a couple more vehicles too, now collapsed and rusted in place, slowly being consumed by nature. The park authorities have put up a few info boards with photos of the filming in the positions where the shots were taken.
It all felt completely familiar, though actually the set was a lot smaller than it seemed on the TV. All the locations were bunched fairly tightly together and some they had staked out so you could see where the operating theatre was and the “Swamp”.
The helicopter pad is still there and I really felt the ghosts of that series there too. We hummed the theme tune as we left.

Having read that Paramount still has a Wild West set in those hills we struck out for it, hoping we could get there without having to double back on ourselves. We walked along the road that the MASH producers had built to get the filming location, but the main road it used to link to is now blocked off by an officious landowner who had fenced his property off and posted warnings that tresspassers would be hung drawn and quartered etc. We took a fork in the trail to the next bit of residential road and began the much longer walk to get to the Paramount set along hot roads which had some shade and a bit of a breeze but not quite enough of either. I could sense that P, walking behind me was Not Impressed with my gung-ho attitude to striking out for Paramount in the blazing heat but when we got there, rather red faced and dessicated, we found that there was an actual movie under way (“Boonville Redemption 1906” starring Pat Boone and Ed Asner). The first indication was the extras in full-on western gear riding horses out of the little town they’ve built there.

Then we saw the lights and screens and more extras in big hats and waistcoats clustered outside the saloon.
A producer type told us we were welcome to wander around but if they yelled “action” we should get out of the way. We sat on a stoop and watched the action going on in front of us, incuding a short tempered director yelling at a couple of extras that he wanted to be closer to the building where they were filming. “We’re here to work! If I can’t see you, I can’t use you.” That’s an aspect of the job that Tom possibly hasn’t been focusing on in film school.
The park ranger came over for a chat and was amazed how far we were walking; “In this heat?” A few minutes later a big guy with a cream cowboy hat and a toothy smile brought us over a couple of ice-cold orange sodas which were exactly what we needed. I drained mine in practically a single gulp, When they finished at that location and called for a lunch break we wandered over to the mess hall and I was amazed by how many people were in there, All the crew and a large number of actors dressed in 19th century western gear. Probably around a hundred people.
The walk back was quicker, but hotter – in the mid nineties, We discovered that we had walked almost ten miles when we got back to the car. There was a refrigerated soda machine in the car park and we put a dollar in and found three cans deposited in the tray. P left one of them for someone else as “good karma” I wanted to drink it and actually I still feel constantly thirsty.

After a quick pit stop for showers we went to collect Tom and headed back tto the Griffith Observatory where we failed to find a parking place amid the frenzy of visitors last Friday. It was still busy but we got there in time to see a presentation in the vast planetarium. It was a new show about the history of the universe which combined the usual projected star maps with fantastic – and vast – animations of Ptolemy at work and Galileo’s study and various other illuminating scenes. It was really effective, I can still hardly believe that it takes billions of years for the light from the furthest stars to reach us, We are very very tiny but as Carl Sagan said, “we are all starstuff”, which is comforting.

After more poking about in the Griffith and learning that the outer surface of the sun is composed of glowing granules, each about six hundred miles wide (!) we walked the mile back to our car and off to an Italian place recommended by the owner of the house. What a lovely evening. We sat outside between tall trees in a busy, buzzy courtyard. The food was terrific and Tom was full of, er, beans, talking intensely about some of the things he’s been learning: using different lenses to get across a feeling of intimacy when you film people, and how dialogue can only ever be a small part of what the scene you are shooting is trying to convey. He’s taking it very seriously. He has had to come up with a new film as the wonderful idea he wanted to shoot which had a series of scenes linked by a flying football wouldn’t work because balls are banned on the Universal backlot! His new idea is a good one though and we are looking forward to seeing its premier on Saturday. Right now though I am looking forward to bed…

Some LA thoughts

LA is saturated with cars. They are a dominant feature of life here. We have taken the metro train and its great, but it probably won’t get you to where you are going. You do need a car and you have to get used to driving on highways with six to eight lanes going in your direction. Hurtling along a densely packed freeway today I suddenly realised why Americans like NASCAR rather than Formula One. NASCAR is driving Americans can relate too – its the LA driving experience on steroids. A pack of cars travelling together at roughly the same (high) speed on wide smooth roads. F1 is much more of the European driving experience, all sharp corners and small buzzy cars.

We, of course, still hanker for our beloved ’67 Corvette and our ’78 GMC motorhome so we get the whole American cars thing. At Bob’s Big Boy diner in Burbank we got our classic fix on Friday night when all the car lovers fill the parking lot and show off their chrome. There was a yellow version of our Corvette there and its still about the handsomest car ever made in America (though no picture…)

Every branch of civilian law enforcement has to have a helicopter it seems. If the state library network has an enforcement unit for overdue books, you can bet they will have a chopper on the roof. On the beach at Malibu at least three different agencies (coastguard, sheriff’s office, state police) buzzed the shoreline about two hundred feet up at regular intervals. It struck me that they posed a far bigger threat to the people playing beneath them than anything in the sea. Twice we have been woken up in the wee small hours by police helicopters circling low over our neighbourhood for fifteen minutes or more. The first one had a spotlight on someone and they were using a PA system to tell him not to move. All very exciting but I really hope whatever he had done was worth waking everyone up in the entire community.


Blimey. Everyone has one. We’ve seen them on skateboards, carried along hiking trails and and paddled around the canals of Venice Beach.