Hurray for Holly-wood…

Book the limos and roll out the red carpet. It’s screening day at the New York Film Academy (Los Angeles)! We drove back to 3500 Riverside with the top down, for the last time. We shall miss this little commute with the wind in our hair every morning. Tom usually sits in the back where there is a bit more wind available and looking in the rear view mirror it looks like his hair is alive and very excited about something.
They show the films made by all the 10-13 year olds film school for the previous two weeks; beginners and intermediates. There was, shall we say, a range of quality available and its here where I reach for the classic Jerry Seinfeld episode to say that some were truly breathtaking. Tom’s commercial (which you can see on his blog: got big laughs. Everyone got the joke and it was one of the best received in the hour long presentation. He was disappointed that he didn’t get enough time to film everything he wanted for his second piece, but it actually told the story without the need for the full plot and everyone liked the visual trick he played with the lead character. Well done Tom!


After photos and email addresses and goodbyes we drove home to confront the reality that we are actually leaving tomorrow. P locked herself in the bathroom shouting “no, no you can’t make me” and had to be enticed out with the promise of lunch somewhere nice. That turned out to be Little Dom’s Italian in the Los Felice neighbourhood. It has a sort of posh fifties feel, with curved banquettes and Formica tables edged with rippled stainless steel and menus where you can’t quite picture what it is you are going to get. We were trying to work out why it couldn’t quite be in New York or London and decided that what set it apart was the clean bright light pouring through the big windows. The food was interesting and nicely put together and Philippa’s was big enough for sandwiches the next day too…
Just up the road from Little Dom’s is Griffith Park and the observatory. It is such a lovely spot with commanding views over the city and the San Fernando Valley. The downside is the traffic which c r a w l s  up the side of the mountain to get there. After spending twenty minutes getting to the start of the ascent we pulled into a space and walked the rest of the way, passing most of the cars that were ahead of us. Satisfying!
The Observatory is a venerable and popular institution and was humming with visitors. We got tickets for a planetarium show and lying back in the seats looking at the vast domed roof, P and I were on the edge of sleep. It’s a great show though, swooping through the stars and back through the history of astronomy. We exited into a wall of sunshine.
At the front of the observatory amateur astronomers had set up their telescopes and we squinted at a hazy crescent moon and flares of gas burning on the sun. It struck me, standing in the ninety degree heat, that its astonishing when you consider how far away the sun is, that just moving a little bit closer to it on this planet can make such a difference.
And home again in the late afternoon sunshine to finish the packing before our final excursion. We had vowed that THIS time, we would see the Hollywood Walk of Fame and all the madness that goes with it. We walked through the lanes on the hillside after sunset, with our tower receding into the distance and the Hollywood sign coming into view around the ridge. When we got to the Walk of Fame it was completely packed.

People were having their photos taken next to the pavement stars of their favourite celebrities, street performers dressed as people’s favourite celebrities were trying to get in on the act for a tip. Michael Jackson mingled with Chewbacca, and Spiderman teased a Minion about who was getting the most business. There were glow sticks and hot dogs and buskers and neon all along the pavement.

We found the area in front of the Chinese Theatre with the handprints and footprints and “Thanks Sid” on most of the older ones in tribute to Sidney Grauman who brought Hollywood to Hollywood. His were the original handprints but I looked in vain for them.

Last stop was Mel’s Diner, a Hollywood institution for decades in a building little changed since the forties.

Tom had a mighty milkshake and we looked back on our Hollywood experience. We will be sad to leave. It’s always nice to live a life with few responsibilities and a lot of sunshine.

 On the walk back we paused at our garage to fetch something from the car and discovered the door wouldn’t open. Given that we were leaving at six the next morning this was an issue… I rang the agent and fifteen minutes later Douglas pulled in in his Tesla. After replacing the battery in the door lock with one raided from a smoke detector in the house, we had the door open again and Douglad and I chatted for a bit. He’s a tall good-looking guy who said he’d left Vancouver to do some modelling in California and stayed, becoming a Real Estate agent. “This is a boom city at the moment” he said. “It’s planning on a population increase of 38%. There are property developers coming here from Vancouver to develop Downtown. New Yorkers used to come to LA and sneer. Now they want to move here.” I know what he means. You can feel the industry in LA; cars belting along packed freeways, frenetic pavements and cafes packed with execs and hipsters. It’s laid back, but it’s also all business…

Hollywood Bowling

After walking and driving for about 29 hours yesterday, we decided today was going to be quieter. Not for Tom obviously who we shipped out to Film School in short order ready for a full day while we sloped back to the house. By 8.30 we were sitting in the shade of the side-deck by the kitchen with cups of coffee, novels (her) and this blog (me).

 And so the morning progressed, with little more movement than sliding the chairs out of the sun when it got too hot. We had thoughts about a hike somewhere, maybe a bit later… And wasn’t there that gallery..? And we could always go back to the Huntingdon..? but in the end, here was where we stayed.

This house was a great find, and it seems that we will be the last people to rent it for a holiday. It’s being leased long term from now on. This area really does have a distinctive atmosphere; a little pocket of 1930s charm quite hidden from the rest of Hollywood, as much of it is inaccessible by car.
We feel to have been let in on a secret. Michael Connolly lived in one of these houses while he was writing one of his crime novels set in Hollywood. Bette Davis lived down the lane too.
After extracting Tom from the excited bubble of boys bent over their screens outside Film School, we went back down that lane to the Hollywood Bowl. It’s been magical to be so close; to have the big spotlights over our house every night and the musical performances drifting over the ridge and in through the window.
We heard Gladys Knight belting out her hits the other evening. We have tickets tonight though, to the LA Symphony which is playing Tchaikovsky under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel who has become something of a celebrity here.
We walked down the hidden lane after sunset; by clapboard porches strung with fairy lights, crisp modern cottages with manicured gardens and the sad, sagging wooden house where the architects of Grunge once lived.




Slipping through a wrought iron gate at the bottom of the hill into the Hollywood Bowl parking lot we joined the happy tide of people heading to their seats. Anna and Coll and the girls met us inside and we snaffled down a picnic (along with everyone else) before the concert began. Well mostly anyway. Tom and I had just helped ourselves to a handful of chips and dip when the concert suddenly started. That would have been fine apart from the fact that the opening performance was incredibly quiet and subtle and we had mouthfuls of the crunchiest snacks known to man. We finished them by chewing in slow motion and then quietly retired the Dorritos.
The Hollywood Bowl is a really special venue. Sitting in on its wooden bench tops under a darkening sky, with the arched stage area subtly lit in front of you is an experience all on its own.
The concert was terrific and for the finale – the 1812 overture – a marching band joined the orchestra on stage for extra oomph, and then fireworks over the stage brought the whole thing to a booming crescendo. A magical night.


Mostly about walking

Philippa has no hiking boots. Which is a problem if you are, as we are, about to head to the hiking Mecca which is the Canadian Rockies. We’ve been trying to find some boots for her, but our first “outdoors shop” was actually mostly about killing things outdoors with guns. The only boots they had would have made Philippa look like she’d joined a militia. Other places we tried had only trainers, so she found a North Face on the internet that was half an hour’s drive away and off we went.
I suppose we should have realised that the Beverly Hills North Face may have been less about grunty hiking and more about looking good at your ranch in Wyoming and sure enough they had precisely one pair of women’s hiking boots complete with purple accents. But we’d had enough by this stage and they fitted so she bought them.
We’d also booked spaces on a two hour walking tour of downtown LA. So back across town to the park and ride by the metro near home where we found that while you could ride, you couldn’t park. Nope, not a single space. So we drove home parked and walked fifteen minutes down the hill into Hollywood proper with the stars on the pavement and in everyone’s eyes, and got on the metro there. Incidentally this is the second time we’ve stayed in Hollywood and we still haven’t done all that Walk of Fame stuff yet so we’d better get a move on…
 At Pershing Square downtown, we rejoined the surface world and grabbed a fish taco at the old covered market which was packed with people eating many things, from many stalls.
Across the street was the old Angel’s Flight incline railway – the shortest in the world, it says. But the trip is particularly short now that mechanical issues have kept it closed for several years. Here was where we met our guide. Neel Sodha was born in Swansea and moved to the US when he was five he said. Presumably, not on his own.
His ears pricked up when we told him where we are living. “Only thirty homes have access to that elevator key” he told us. He now lives downtown and is hugely enthusiastic about the area. He was a fount of knowledge; explaining that LA is mostly fairly low rise because after the first thirteen story block went up in the early 1900s, the city shuddered and said it did NOT want to be another New York thank you very much, and capped the height limit, which remained capped until 1956.
Other zoning regulations and fear of earthquakes kept the biggest skyscrapers at bay until relatively recently. Now though, says the LA Times, they are set to soar with abandoning of the requirement that they must all have helicopter pads on the roof.
Our walk took us past some of the many old but little used movie theatres downtown including one formerly owned by Charlie Chaplin.
This area we were told, was actually where the Oscars were invented and awarded and where movies premiered.
One of Sid Grauman’s first movie houses

Sid Grauman established his first LA movie theatre downtown, but eventually relocated the Oscars to his Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. He was an interesting chap having gone as a child to the Yukon with his father during the gold rush. They didn’t find any gold but the they became successful putting on entertainments for the miners and that experience in the Yukon lead directly to the red carpet hoopla we know so well today.

In the 1980s the downtown “Skid Row” area was a ghetto for the homeless. Other cities were sending their homeless people to LA on buses and the centre of the city had no commercial life. But the city began to regulate the situation, confining the homeless to a specific area and offering low rents to pop-up art galleries, which brought people back into the city, which brought all the things hipsters like: coffee places, funky eateries etc, which eventually got people interested into turning some of those 150′ buildings into apartments – a process which continues today.

But LA still has one of the largest homeless communities in the US – around forty thousand people live on the streets and in tent cities all along the roadside in Skid Row. The transition to gentrification still has a long way to go.

Some streets are little changed from the 80s with destitute men hanging out in front of cheap store fronts, in buildings where the upper stories are all empty. There were lots of interesting places that we’d like to go back to though and it is a part of the city which still has a defiant, distinctive character about it. Incidentally, “Skid Row” was originally “skid road” where loggers pushed tree trunks over greased skids towards the river, and hung about “on the skids” waiting for work or for a ride back to the logging camp.
The Russians are coming
There were lots of little titbits on the tour – including an old Cold War air raid siren, and the metal rings embedded in building walls which used to hold up the tramway power cables. There were once 20 lines and more than 1200 trolleys but Firestone Tyres, Standard Oil and General Motors got control of the operation and replaced it with buses. All the tramlines were ripped out.
The Clifton where you only had to pay if you could afford it. Neel told us it served a million free meals during the Great Depression.
The Bradbury Building, where bits of Blade Runner and The Artist were filmed. It’s stunning and was saved from demolition in the eighties.
Our best spot of the day was the old Warner Theatre in the diamond district. We went through glass doors into a modern looking retail area and walked to the back where some of the stall holders had set up on the floor of what was once a grand theatre. No photos were allowed amid the diamonds but the theatre boxes were still in place along with the beautifully painted and gilded interior, soaring over the rather shabby stalls below. It too was like a scene from Blade Runner.
    The “Liquid Shard” installation at Pershing Square
Back at Pershing Square we said goodbye to the ever-enthusiastic Neel and got the metro home. Tom had pleaded for a Drive-In movie and it seems that LA has just two of these places left. Both a notional half hour from home. Not at rush hour though. We crawled through the city and two hours later we were the first into the giant lot at the Paramount Theatre, armed with too much pizza, bought from a well regarded local place a few blocks away which was just about to close as we got there.
The Paramount had been closed for twenty five years until renovated and re-opened fairly recently.


(More people did arrive eventually…)
We put the top down, put fleeces on and ate too much pizza while watching Jason Bourne do his stuff on the big screen in a blur of editing that was way too fast for the human eye. If you haven’t seen the fourth movie in the Bourne trilogy, we’d suggest the new Star Trek instead…
It took half an hour to get home though the Freeways are always frantic, even at 11pm.

The Queen Mary

Back in October 1967 the RMS Queen Mary arrived in Southampton having completed its last transatlantic crossing from New York. Among the passengers disembarking was a two year old me. My mother recalls other passengers taking anything they could get hold of with “Queen Mary” written on, as this voyage was really the end of an era. Cheaper air travel meant that ships were no longer the transatlantic transport for the masses they had once been. The stately liner’s next journey, to Long Beach California would be its last. It is now permanently moored there as a hotel and tourist attraction.  It was on either the Queen Mary, or on the Queen Elizabeth on the outward crossing that I absorbed my earliest memory – standing on deck and being overwhelmed by the sound of the ship’s horn. Long Beach is about forty five minutes from Hollywood (sometimes…as we would discover…) so we pointed the Mustang south and hit the road. 
You still need tickets to get onto the Queen Mary but the friendly young guy at the booth gave me the 25% discount I had found online. He looked a bit nonplussed when I said I had been on its last sailing to the UK. I could forgive him for that though because the Queen Mary is truly from another age. Even I could scarcely believe it was possible that I had sailed on it.  It’s as if someone said you had been one of the last generation to travel by stage coach. Or use a rotary dial telephone…
I got goose bumps going back on board. It felt oddly familiar somehow with its endless promenade deck and nineteen thirties flourishes. Here and there were photos of all the stars who’d travelled on it; Laurel and Hardy, Fred Astaire, Bob Hope.
We passed the children’s playroom where I must have played once,


Up to the bridge more or less everything needed to drive the thing was made of brass.
The only tour which had places left was the “Haunted Queen Mary” tour, which neither of us was particularly enthused about, but it was lead by a lugubrious guide with a deadpan delivery who was clearly a frustrated standup. “I have never seen a ghost on this tour. If I do see a ghost on this tour I will be the first to leave you behind.” He pointed out staircases where people had fallen to their deaths in rough seas, and the third class lounge where two of the cleaners will no longer go after seeing a woman vanish.
That room incidentally had two large glass-fronted bookcases which, back in the day, would have had items from the Queen Mary shop in them. Third class did not have access to the shop so items were left in the cabinets and if you wanted one, you asked a steward to go and buy it for you. The Ship’s Historian believes it was where the term “window shopping” originated. Of course, other shops have windows too but it was a nice story. P and I kept stopping to take pictures and at one stage we lost everyone. We looked up from our viewfinders and found the entire “Haunted Queen Mary” tour group had vanished…
The one place that tour goes to that the others don’t is the swimming pool.


It hasn’t been restored and was dimly-lit and slightly creepy.
It had diving boards when the QM first sailed, but they soon realised that allowing you to jump from a height into a pool where all the water may just have slopped to the other end as you completed your second somersault and prepared for re-entry, was asking for trouble. They replaced it with a slide.
And that was the end of the tour. We rode the lifts down to see the mighty engine room and the ghostly propellor visible below the waterline.
It was, from 1938 – 1952, the fastest liner across the Atlantic. The legend is that it was meant to be called the “Queen Victoria” in keeping with Cunard’s tradition of giving all its ships names which ended in “ia”. Officials approached King George V to ask permission to name the ship after “Our greatest queen…” and he said his wife Queen Mary would be delighted. That story falls under the category of “Too good to check”.
One other story. In December 1942 after conversion to a troop ship, it was carrying a record-breaking 16,000 American soldiers from New York and was hit by a freak 90 foot wave. The ship came within three degrees of capsizing and the incident inspired Paul Gallico to write “The Poseidon Adventure”. Parts of the film were shot on the QM which is still used for film shoots today.
We had a lovely day on board. Some of the Queen Mary’s innate grandeur has been eroded by the many tourists in shorts and t-shirts like ourselves, slopping about on its teak decks. But the ship is a fabulous time capsule and retains a certain dignity.
Those three angled funnels are still iconic of a time when crossing the Atlantic was a proper adventure, and not just seven hours staring at a seat-back screen.
The forty-five minute journey back took an hour and a half in treacle-like traffic so Tom was beginning to wonder if we had abandoned him by the time we got to film school.


Arroyo Seco

‘Given that the temperature today was going to hit no more than about 95 we thought it a good idea to head into the hills for another hike. Because if you don’t have to carry your own body weight in water, well really what’s the point? This time though our destination was a wooded canyon with real actual water flowing in the bottom of it, to complete the illusion that it wasn’t so hot after all. So back to the racetrack, heading towards Pasadena and the last space in the parking lot, with the scrubby slopes of the Angeles National Forest rearing up ahead of us. 
The first part of the trail is on a closed asphalt road which goes past the blocky grey buildings of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The leading centre for the robotic exploration of the solar system, says its website. It IS rocket science…
The road then follows the Arroyo Seco Creek into the mountains.
The road is legacy of the 1920s when no part of nature was considered unconquerable. If you wanted to build yourself a holiday cottage in the mountains, why go ahead! And a road to get there? Yes of course! Now the bungalows are long gone, with just foundations still visible among the trees. The road soon turns to dust, though the bridges over the creek are still there. At this time of the year it is a thin, cold stream flowing over smooth rocks, winding between white alders, sycamores, Douglas firs and oak trees.
They are raucous with bird life – especially woodpeckers which we could hear hammering away almost continually. One dead eucalyptus was particularly popular with five red-headed woodpeckers competing for the same patch of trunk.
The water brings the walk to life in a way we hadn’t experienced on other trails. We sat in a rock and watched portly hummingbirds drink from orange blossoms while floaty yellow butterflies dipped about. Later we surprised a big-eyed deer, and there were warnings of rattlesnakes and mountain lions.


We saw SO many mountain lions that we didn’t bother to take pictures. Yawn. 
It was lovely walking in the shade on a gently ascending trail by a trickling stream and we found we’d done three miles in the first hour.
Then, abruptly we started switch backing up the canyon wall in searing sunshine, looking out across the trees which hid the river below. We climbed for ten minutes or so before descending back into the trees and what was now, confusingly, a dried river bed.

We were aiming for a primitive campsite but at the point where it was supposed to be the trail was unexpectedly closed and we had to turn back. It was noon. The sun was high and shade was harder to find on the trail on the way back, but winding through the trees was just as lovely. When we hit the start of the asphalt again, we discovered that while we’d been in the canyon, someone had actually extended the road by several miles. There was no shade and we were both feeling a bit spacey by the time we got back to the car. We’d done just over eleven miles. I insisted that we drove to Bob’s Big Boy for medicinal lemonades which we drank down almost in one go.

After supper that evening we had a walk around our exclusive little neighbourhood, along the paths between modest but beautiful hillside houses, bougainvillea spilling over carefully maintained fences. One large house had been built in a Japanese style and clearly abandoned for some years. The back porch had almost completely fallen off and the garden was unloved. I looked through a window onto hardwood floors and sliding screens either side of a large fireplace. It was gorgeous. I searched for it on the Internet when we came back and discovered it had been briefly home to the King and Queen of grunge rock in the nineties, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. It was hard to imagine them using our elevator every day – but apparently they did (when they could find the key according to what I read).  Lovely house though. P and I decided we would buy it and fix it up because it is almost certainly very affordable.
It would be lovely though…


Car Talk

Dedicated readers of this blog will know that I have a TVR Vixen sports car, which was made in Blackpool in 1971. It is incredibly fast (ahem) and very, very handsome – at least in my head anyway. Only a few hundred 2500 Vixens were made and nearly all of them were exported to the USA. From time to time when I throw a question about my car into the Internet, I get an answer from someone in the USA. Someone like Terry Stewart in fact who has been turning his own Vixen into a fire-breathing V8-engined Tuscan track car. He generously offered me some bits of TVR that he no longer needed and as he lives about an hour away from our eyrie in the Hollywood Heights we went to see him and his brother Haven.
Terry’s house is a hop and a skip from Ventura, at the top of a steep hill. He and Haven were warming up their TVR when we got there. We pulled in and there were handshakes all round before we got to the serious business of looking at engines.
 They have completely rebuilt their TVR, replacing most of the dodgy British sixties engineering with modern American know-how. They’ve done all the work themselves and at the back of the garage were all the tools and equipment you could ever need including a lathe. Jealous? Well only a lot.
As well as the TVR, the garage also contains a single seat Ford Royale racing car, which Terry had offered me a drive in at Willow Springs Raceway over the weekend when we were in Catalina.
Thanks Terry…another time. Sigh. P and I had to make do with sitting in it and marvelling at the tiny steering wheel. I say sitting in it but actually you have to sort of pull it on, like a snug shoe.
Then it was time for a drive in the TVR. After strapping me into the harness, Terry fired up the V8 and reassured me that he had considerable racing experience… Needless to say with a V8 engine, his TVR is quite a bit faster than mine… In a straight line on a road with a 45 mph limit, we hit…a solid 45 and absolutely no faster officer (though the engine noise might have suggested otherwise). Returning up the hill on a snaking road Terry revealed that his car is really quite good at going round corners too…
Then it was Philippa’s turn. Haven drove her and she had a big grin on her face as they pulled away. While they were sedately touring the local area, Terry found me a box of bits including a couple I have been looking for for ages…thanks again Terry.
Haven pulled up with P grinning even more broadly and he scolded Terry for the burnt rubber marks on the road from earlier. “That was in 3rd” said Terry proudly. He is a true racer at heart and a brilliant self-taught racing engineer. It was great to finally meet. We had a terrific time with them and took them out to lunch at a newly refurbished cafe/diner down the hill. By the time P and I said our goodbyes and set off back to LA it felt like we were all old friends.
We picked up Tom from film school, popped home for supper, and went back out to the AMC at Universal to see “The Secret Life of Pets”. It was fun and sweet and had some good set pieces though we all thought it was channelling Bolt, and Bolt was better. The cinema won big brownie points though as all the seats were La-Z-Boy recliners. A great day and P and I went to sleep with the sound of a grumbling V8 still ringing in our ears…


Not quite Universal…

There was one thing we absolutely had to do in LA, because we did it two years ago and it was one of the most important events in Tom’s young life; a day at the Universal theme park. It has to be said that actually, we all enjoyed it the first time around.  The rides are terrific and the whole thing is just so well done that we knew we would be shovelling cash their way again on this holiday. 
There is a new area based on the Harry Potter books this year and that came with good news and bad news. The good news was we could enter Harry Potter World park at 7am, an hour before the rest of the park opened. The bad news was that we could enter the park at 7am…  That jet lag cushion has looong since lost its stuffing and after a busy day on Catalina island, that 6am start felt early. And I felt somewhat discombobulated with a woozy head and gripy stomach. But still, we were among the first into Universal and made straight for the Harry Potter section which was truly spectacular; a great recreation of Hogwarts school up on a mountain and the twisty streets of the village, all with fake snow on the roofs.
There are two roller coasters in the Harry Potter World and as there was no line whatsoever we did the little one first – twice – which left me reeling a bit… Then we went to the main new attraction: a Harry Potter ride which combines computer effects with good old fashioned swooping about on a hydraulic chair. Walking to it through through the Hogwarts buildings was terrific. They have recreated the book’s moving oil paintings very cleverly, so that you can be looking at what looks exactly like an oil painting and then after a few seconds it blinks, or the head moves. Some of them talk, some don’t and it was fascinating.
Eventually we were strapped into the chair and off we went, swooping as if on a broomstick through the grounds of Hogwarts at great speed. It was as we banked through the arches of the Hogwarts castle while Death Eaters snapped at our heels that I began to feel Not At All Well. Head spinning, stomach churning and general nausea. From here on I really couldn’t care less whether we got caught by the Death Eaters or not. In fact I would have stopped my broomstick and handed myself over to them if there was a chance that my head would have stopped spinning. 
It was a walk to the next stop – the Transformers ride that we all loved last time. It’s all CGI and hugely dramatic through the 3D glasses. My head had cleared a bit but once we got going I realised this was a big mistake… I have rarely felt so sick. P and T were whooping and laughing and I was turning green, longing for it to stop. Thankfully there was nothing that required a cleaning crew (nearly) but I couldn’t get out fast enough and had to sit out the next couple of rides.
We all met back up for the Universal Studios tour which is a firm favourite. The tram took us first down the street where Tom had been filming a few days earlier and then around some of the iconic locations like the Bates Motel.


We went past Hitchcock’s old office and the Jaws tank and the 3D King Kong tunnel and it was all great fun.


Tom’s favourite was possibly The Mummy roller coaster which swoops about in near darkness, stopping at a crest and doing it all again backwards. He went with P first while I was, erm, indisposed, and took me in it later.


We spent ten hours riding, eating, getting soaked, riding something else and getting soaked again. Philippa’s tracker said we walked four miles while we were there. The temperature was in the nineties and when we could take no more we staggered out to cool off at home, and have supper looking out across the city.