Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - The Police live at the Hollywood Bowl
Went to see The Police in concert in their present reunion tour last night. The first night myself and Elina have had out by ourselves in months.
We planned to leave home at 6PM to get to the Hollywood Bowl venue in time for the 7:30 start as Elvis Costello was the opening act. But of course the best laid plans of mice and men.........
At 4:30 my boss decided to hold a conference call to announce to everyone that a colleague from our team was terminated. This put a dampner on the evenings proceedings just over an hour before we were due to leave as it's never nice to hear someone has been 'let go'. It's been on the cards for a while and of course you consider if you will be one of the next on the list given the present economy. As I said not exactly the kick-off I was looking forward to for a fun night out.
Then the babysitter issue. We arranged for our neighbors to look after our kids for the evening. We rarely go out together but rather as a family or seperate activities for myself and Elina to the gym, pub, movie etc. So we felt the young couple next door would be a good choice. He works in a restaurant and is a musician, she works in a resturant but has had few shifts so we thought it would be nice to give her some extra money. We had arrnged it 4 weeks ago and just discussed it within the last day or two. Our planned departure time of 6PM came and she was a no show. We had no choice but to leave the 2 boys with him only. He's 30 but kind of like a big brother figure as he's an easy going California musician hippy type and our kids like him. I was a bit annoyed that she had flaked as I felt I was doing her a favor, paying her $12 an hour and had discussed it only 24 hours previously after planning it well in advance. She showed up about 1/2 an hour after we left and just seemed to have flaked as she was not even working that day?? But now we know for any future dates she is not reliable. She did take the money when we came back, despite her partner doing the bulk of looking after the boys..................... anyway.
It took us 2 hours to get to the Hollywood Bowl which should be about a 45 minute drive in standard LA busy-ish traffic. This and our delay in departing due to our flakey babysitter meant we missed seeing the opening act Elvis Costello. We made it to our seats during the intermission just before The Police came on. The crowd was a weird mixture of young 20 something Hollywood rock and rollers drinking beer and smoking weed to upper middle-aged ladies eating pasta from a homemade picnic they had brought, as you would when attending a classical concert at the Bowl.
The Police were pretty impressive, seemingly accomplished musicians in their own right but the main thing that struck me was the amount of high-tech lighting and lasers that accompanied every song. This was not just a rock-and-roll concert but a highly choreographed spectacle of a show. The amount of technology involved was pretty amazing. One example was that the stage turned a bright neon schoolgirl pink during the song 'Don't stand so close to me'. A large flashing warning beacon was emitted from Sting's projected image on the enormous backdrop TV display during the chorus, as if to rebuff any unwanted teenage advances. Every song was choregraphed in a specific mood, color and speed in quite a breathtaking production. Stewart Copeland, the drummer had a few high tech solos and an intimate verticle percussion session on one particular track using cymbals, horns and other items hung on a wire while using various different drumsticks, finishing the track on a xylophone. Although I have to admit Andy Summers was not zoomed in on as much, he being the older member of the band complete with numerous double chins which amused Elina and I at times.
All in all a pretty entertaining concert, not just 3 guys playing guitar and drums but more of a Las Vegas type Cirque du Soleil music show with complex musical numbers, lights and lasers............................... it also helped that I was as high as a kite.
Got 'one of those calls' today from home. As an expat a long way from my birthplace in the UK many immigrants will know that 'one of those calls' means the news of the death of a loved one back in the old country.
Less than a month after the death of my Grandad I heard the news that his son my beloved Uncle Harry had passed away suddenly today.
When he was very young it was discovered he had retinal blastoma, he overcame this and went to school in London. Like many other partially sighted/blind people he excelled in other areas, in his case he played wonderful piano.
When I was a kid growing up in Brum my Mom's younger brother was our Uncle Harry. At the time he lived in York, being that Birmingham is so far from the sea ( at least in UK terms) we would visit Uncle Harry once or twice a year. Uncle Harry had a big house and a caravan in Yorkshire. He was always generous to us as kids, loved his grub and would join in the fun and games. I have very fond memories of visiting York as he had a little French polishing, paino sales and restoration shop just across from Clifford's Tower in York.
Long before the internet I remember being fascinated by his ham radio hobby, he had an large radio mast in his garden and I recall looking at the radio dials and needles as he chatted with people around the world.
Uncle Harry's son and daughter were visiting from the US and Denmark as his daughter had came from Denmark to get his Grandson christened in Scotland, where Uncle Harry had lived for quite a few years after relocating from York. My Mom had flown over for the Christening last Sunday. He was at home today with my visiting Mom and his wife, not feeling well and listened to The Archers as he did for years, after which he slipped away.
Obviously I have many other personal memories. This entry is not particularly well written, I just wanted to make an entry to note his passing. I spoke with my Mom today, who is understandably upset after the loss of both her Father and only brother within the space of a month.
Thanks for everything Uncle Harry, you were an Uncle from schoolboy novels, unique, kind and generous. I will never forget you
A week ago I went to lunch with a client. I see them about once a month and know them on a formal basis. The main guy I deal with is in his early forties, there was also an older gentleman with us in his late 60's. I have only met him a few times and had a few discussions with him about business, as well as family and personal topics
After being seated at the restaurant and being served appetizers and drinks we engaged in what started out as light conversation. The discussion turned to what movies I had seen. I mentioned I had recently seen 'Away from her' with Julie Christie http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0491747/, the subject is a Canadian lady, the relationship with her husband and her descent into Alzheimers. The movie features some poignant passages of the old man reading to his wife from W.H. Auden's Letters from Iceland. I'm sure many movie goers remember Auden's poem 'Funeral Blues' from the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral.
As soon as I mentioned Away from her it was immediately at this point that I recalled the older gentleman had a wife with Alzheimers that he had mentioned in a previous conversation, I could feel a rush of embarrsessed blood start to raise in my cheeks and wanted to crawl under the table.
He asked me what happened in the movie. I can't even remember what my answer was as I danced around the subject as best as I could.
The younger guy shuffled around in his seat and tried to switch the uncomfortable subject matter and inject some humor, but the older guy was obviously pensive. I had noticed the older guy was wearing oversized sunglasses over his regular spectacles and did wonder why as he had not been wearing them on the few other times I had met him, and it was winter here in California.
The older gentlemen then started discussing his wife's death, which I was unaware of as she was receiving care the last time we spoke about her, within the last year.
The discomfort I felt became replaced by feelings of embarressed empathy as I realized the man was obviously grieving, hence the sunglasses and his meandering thoughts during the initial greeting.
He continued to open up and share his feelings including a statement about how difficult it was to have sex with someone in her condition and how he had cheated on her during this difficult time with a prostitute. He then moved on to her last moments and how upon the moment of death her head had shook violently. Which he interpreted as her sprit leaving her body, but also knew it was a final death spasm.
We then moved onto the subject of her cremation. He had asked the attendent if anyone opened the coffin after the cremation and was assured he would be the last one to touch her remains. He disclosed he had then slipped a letter confessing his discretions with the prostitute(s) and a single rose. He then explained that after the cremation the body is not completely ash and ready for the urn, it is but in a bone crushing machine and pulverized into dust. He was invited to view the full buring from a side view and had declined, seeing her slip away behind a curtain. The other guy in our company interjected that he was sure any gold teeth and rings would be reclaimed by the funeral attendant, I got the feeling he was trying to say something helpful as we both sat there unsure how to deal with a grieving man looking for absolution and admonishment of guilt.
I wanted to write this down before it slips away from my mind, it was a week ago and has been preying in the dark recesses of my mind ever since. Auden's poem seems appropriate with the gender changed from the original.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message She is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
She was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Saturday, November 17, 2007 - LA Auto show 2007: In pictures
Yesterday I went to the Los Angeles Auto show at the convention center in downtown. It's only about a 15 mile drive to the convention center from where I live and the entrance was $8 with a coupon from 7/11, plus $5 parking. Not a bad day out looking at the various cars on show. There were cars you see on a daily basis such as Toyota, Nissan, Ford, BMW, Mercedes. The problem with living in LA is that it's so affluent that there is nothing at the car show that you haven't seen driving along on a pretty much daily basis, especially on the West side where I live. Hummers, top of the line Mercedes, BMW, even Bentleys and Ferrari's are quite commonplace here in Los Angeles. I guess you do get to sit in many at the show, apart from the concept vehicles and vehicles over $100,000.
For me the vehicle that stuck out was the Chrysler Nassau, it just seemed so innovative compared to the regular Hondas, Fords and Chevy's. Conversely the new Jaguar XF was just as disappointing in real life as the pictures I had seen. No sleek lines, innovation or style. Jaguar has neither tied it's design back to older classics nor have they pushed the envelope with something that looks new and exciting. The result is a boring little car that looks like a cross between a Ford and a Saab.
As an Englishman I also noticed the 'new' Mini Clubman, The Mini booth was quite busy espcially with the launch of the Clubman. Quite annoying that British industry had to hand over an icon of 60's British design to BMW and 'The Germans'.
After about 4 hours looking around and since I am not currently in the market for a new car I finally had enough. As I departed I could not help think to myself that beneath the polished exteriors, sleek displays, marketing and some very pretty spokeswomen that were literally model material...................... $25,000 or $200,000 a car is a bloody car.
Everyone has heard of Chicago for one or all of many reasons, Al Capone, John Dillinger,The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, The Chicago fire, The Blues Brothers or ‘Da’ Bears and ‘Da’ Bulls, as was parodied some years ago on one of the few vaguely humorous sketches on Saturday Night Live.
I visited ‘The Windy City’ last weekend for four days and found a city full of great architecture. Art Deco and neo-gothic abound, as do numerous goliath glass structures and Irish style bars. Downtown Chicago's magnificent skyline is dominated by overwhelming skyscrapers such as The Hancock Bldg, The Wrigley Bldg and The Sears Tower, not to forget the oldest surviving structure of the Great Chicago fire, The Water Tower..
I found the city not as phony and pretentious as Los Angeles, but not quite as grand as New York. A city proud of it’s blue collar grass roots but not without a great deal of old money sophistication.
During my stay I enjoyed some fine restaurants. Steakhouses such as Morton’s or Hugo’s Frog Bar and Fish Bar, which despite the name contained swanky décor and ceiling fans operated by a series of belts and pulleys, which almost brought you back to a 1930’s speakeasy. Tree lined streets in the historical district, the smart bars and restaurants of Rush Street were amongst my favorites.
I spent half a day on a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. The Art Institute was not as impressive as the Metropolitan in NYC, the layout was a little clustered and irritating, many galleries contained a mixture of furniture on small plinths or stages behind which were displayed the paintings. The layout meant that close inspection of some works was impossible, without tripping an alarm if you got within 3 feet.
A current exhibition of Jasper John’s (which I thought was awful) meant that Hopper’s Nighthawks was temporarily unavailable, which was also a little annoying.
People in Chicago love their booze, ciggies and cigars, steaks and pizzas which adds to the atmosphere of warmth, especially when the windy city lives up to it’s nose biting weather reputation. Visiting from L.A I found it a refreshing change that people proudly order a large slab of meat, washed down with copious amounts of booze, then perhaps a nice smoke afterwards, few order salads in this town, unlike my West Coast home.
It got quite chilly on my last day but it was a wonderfully familiar feeling to see the autumnal changing of the season through the many deciduous trees throughout Chicago’s many parks. Walking through the crunching multi-colored leaves adorning the sidewalk brought back English childhood memories, unlike the beaches of Los Angeles with their omnipresent palm tree foliage.
Chicago's notorious criminal 1920's and 30's American gangster past can be viewed if you know what you are looking for. The site of the infamous Saint Valentine's Day Massacre is a parking lot now however The Biograph Theatre where John Dillinger was ambushed by Federal G-men after being betrayed by the 'Lady in Red' can still be seen. The English style Red Lion pub just opposite the site serves Old Speckled Hen on draught.
I passed Soldier Field over by the lakefront and observatory, Soldier Field is home to The Chicago Bears football team, some of my favorite NFL footage is of old Bears games played in the bitter cold where steam escaped the human Titans mouths like ghostly phantoms. I had hoped to maybe see a Bears game on the Sunday, but it was an off week and I had a considerable hangover after 3 days of binge drinking English/Chicago stylee…..
The phrase that best describes the town for me is probably one that ironically I saw in a cheesy T-shirt and souvenir store;
Friday, September 14, 2007 - It was 20 years ago today-ish
Well after 20 years of permanent residency in the US today was the end of the road for this immigrant. This morning during a cermony at the Los Angeles Convention Center I was sworn in as a US citizen.
The ceremony start time was listed as 8AM and I arrived just after 7:30 paid $15 rip-off parking at a lot just opposite and proceeded across the road with my approval papers and green card in hand as requested. The night before and early that morning I had mixed feelings. I feel British and have never really wanted to be American, however with 2 sons born here I thought it was the practical thing to do, especially if I ever wish to leave ironically.
There was already a very large crowd gathered outside the convention center and I wondered if that was the correct place or if there was a conference, turns out there is a morning and afternoon ceremony held once a month in Los Angeles and there was 4507 people attending the morning one and another 4500 people scheduled for the afternoon.
Outside I chatted with Obi from Nigeria who asked for my help to fill in his form with his name, address, city and state where he signed it. He seemed to be unable to read English which was a little surprising and amusing given that the ability to understand English is part of the N-400 test. Nice guy with those tribal marks scarred into his cheeks. Another Asian lady asked for my advice what name she should use on her form as she was in the process of changing it.
It took an hour to check all 4507 people into the hall where we surrendered our green cards and took a seat in front of a large American flag with a stage below it. On the seat where a booklet on US history and famous naturalized citizens such as Einstein, John Paul Jones, Alexander Hamilton, Igor Stravinsky and even Knute Rockne, a welcome letter from George Bush and the White House. There was also supposed to be a little American flag, but curiously half my row had theirs missing, it almost seemed like some kind of omen as I looked around at the people waving their little flags during the ceremony, apart from me and a handful of my neighbors out of thousands of people.
At about 40 minutes the actual ceremony was 20 minutes shorter than it actually took to get the people into the hall, it consisted of a judicial ceremony, speech about American values, pledge of allegiance, someone singing the national anthem, a short welcoming video from George W. Bush and a cheesy pop video about America.
Interestingly the stage person read out the number of people attending ( 4507) and the top 5 countries for people being sworn in during today's ceremony, which were;
2. El Salvador
3. The Phillipines
After the ceremony we collected our Cerificates of Naturalization complete with ugly passport type photo and I took the opportunity to register to vote for the first time in my 42 years. All that remains now is to apply for an American passport, then I'm sure jury duty will beckon.
Monday, August 27, 2007 - Made my name and fame and boodle ( nearly)
So after leaving the shores of the motherland 20 years ago, the journey is almost complete. It's something I have'nt rushed into, and for a brief time thought might not happen, due to some youthful exuberance that came back to haunt me. Next month in a ceremony in downtown Los Angeles I will become an American.
I applied for citizenship last December and after biometrics on the 26th of December ( that's Boxing Day to you Britishers) was summoned for my interview and test in July 2007.
I was mostly concerned about the US goverment and history test which is part of the interview, so I diligently downloaded the 100 questions, of which 10 would be asked , and revised for the month or so after I got my notice.
I was under the false impression that I needed to get 8 out of 10 correct, it's actually 6. When was the constitution adopted? Who is the current Attorney General?
I actually got 10 out of 10 correct on the actual day of the interview, the lady was a quite nice Chinese American who confirmed my name, social security number, made sure I was not a habitual drunkard or a member of the communist party and various other questions. Then came the question, have you ever been arrested? No, I confirmed confidently.
The lady looked puzzled and informed me that I had been arrested and convicted of an infraction some years ago, my case would be placed under review and I would need to send a copy of the court documents and police record of my arrest from LAPD, before they would consider my application.
I scratched my head and remembered a vague incident where I had been taken to the police station after someone I was a passenger in a car was pulled over. The cop had given me a hard time after I got out of my seat despite him ordering me to stay put. After getting the wrong information from immigration who sent me to LAPD I was informed it was actually a CHP ( of Eric Estrada fame) arrest, the records had been destroyed as it was a minor infraction in 1993 that I had been fined the sum of $31 for resisting a police officer, which I had totally forgotten about and also thought I only had to list felonies, of which I have non beleive it or not.
After 3 days of misinformation between Immigration, LAPD and CHP I sent the required documents back to immigration and last week received a congratulatory letter confirming my acceptance for U.S. Naturalization with a zee. I have an oath ceremony to attend next month just shy of my 43rd birthday after arriving a fresh faced 22 year old some years ago. I'm mostly doing it for practical purposes as my 2 sons are born in the US.
Thanks Uncle Sam, I guess? Oh yeah and it's 1787 and John G. Roberts
I've been a soccer ( football) player since I was about 6 years old and like many British men have always had interest in the sport, both in a playing and watching capacity.
About 4 months ago I stepped in a pothole while playing and twisted my ankle, I didn't play on it for a few weeks and let the swelling go down and hoped the ankle was okay. 3 weeks ago I suffered a recoccurence of the injury, again while playing soccer.
I was a little frustrated as I was playing 3 times a week and my fitness and conditioning seemed to be getting better in addition to trips to the gym.
Realising that my playing days are probably numbered considering that I am 42 and have a few injuries including my hamstring in addition to the ankle ligaments I decided it was time to do something I have been considering for a while, take a coaching coarse with a view to teach kids. I also have 2 little boys who I hope will get into the game when they are ready, they are both a little young at nearly 4 years and 21 months.
I decided I'd take a CalSouth course which will give me a California license to coach kids, the license starts with an 'E' license and increases in stature with a D, C, D and the highest level A license which is a FIFA national license.
This weekend I spent Saturday and Sunday at a California college at my course learning the tactics, rules, mehods and philosophy of a game that I thought I knew well. The instructor on Saturday was a South African and Sunday's instructor was English, the class was composed of about 35 men and 5 women from all over Southern California and included a couple of Irish guys and another Englishman. The lessons were at a college about 40 miles inland from the cooler beach climate that I live in and am used to and consisted of two 8 hour days with amixture of class instruction and field training sessions and the tempereatures hit nearly triple degrees Farenheit, however I thought I was quite used to the sun as I play often.
After getting homefrom Saturday's course after being in the sun for a few hours I came home with very burnt, red sore legs which were very uncomfortable at today's course but I did find the lectures and clinic very useful in how to get players used to thinking about the tactics and dynamics of a game that I thought I knew quite well.
So I'm now a fully licensed football coach after a weekend of learning in addition to much suffering and pain. All I have to do now is find some young minds on a willing team so that I can impart the vast knowledge gleaned from watching the football powerhouse that is Birmingham City.............. and wait for my legs to heal, pass the aloe vera please.
My office is based in Pasadena, CA of the Beach Boys 'Little Old Lady from Pasadena fame.
I have been taking the same route to work for about a year now and had noticed a Union Jack at the front of a row of cottage style shops near old town Pasadena, it has never really been obvious to me what the store sells that displays the flag, I have been curious as signage does not make it immediately apparent.
Today the store was displaying a 60% off sign underneath the Union Jack, I wondered 60% off what exactly as I drove past for the umpteenth time. Having some free time I parked nearby and discovered a business called Rose Tree Cottage at the back;
The store was kind of a weird mixture of collectibles, water colors, tweed clothes, china, books and a general array of stereotypical British faire, as if a set designer from Masterpiece theatre had arranged it.
Further inside the store was an area selling British food, I was met by an English gentleman called Edmund, who greeted me with an air of smug disdain which made me feel a little uncomfortable. He then went on to tell me the store was closed on a Monday(today), which confused me as the door was open and there were people walking around inside, he did later explain they were freinds. Edmund informed me I could peruse the items and pointed out Heinz Baked beans , which I don't really care for. He also informed me there was a tearoom and that the establishment made their own scones. Edmund had the obsequious appearance of a cross between a servant from the old Upstairs Downstairs TV show and also reminded me a lot of the tailors from The Fast Show as he called me Sir at what seemed to be the beginning and end of every sentence.I informed him that I could get scones at the English bakery a few blocks from my house whereupon Edmund informed me "they're not the same sir " in a curt scornful manner, yet offered no explaination why his scones were superior. At this point I felt like bursting into an impression of the tailors from the Fast Show, but better judgement steered me against it, but it was a close decision.
Whilst Edmund was talking with two Miss Marple types inside the store about hedgehogs, trips to Africa and various other English colonial subjects I noticed his accent slipped from an upper class Anthony Hopkins type bultler accent to cockney type London undertones, another issue I had to bite my lip to restrain the laughter within.
I'm not trying to knock the store, reading the website I'm sure that they've worked very hard over the years to build the business and I admire that. I'm sure it would be of interest to many British/Anglophiles who might find themselves in Pasadena. The anachronistic snobbish persona of the 'proprietor' as it says on his business card almost makes it worthwhile by itself.
It was just one of those comedy moments I had by myself with no-one to take the micky or appreciate the humor with, perhaps it's just me ?!?!?!
Friday, March 30, 2007 - I'm a neurotic nut, but you're crazy!
When I first came to the US in 1987 I needed an apartment, not having much money I had to share an apartment with a couple of roomates, one was a Mexican guy called Jaime, who I never really got along with, the other was an American called Mark.
Mark and I got along for the most part , being in our early 20's we went out drinking together and got into quite a few episodes, as well as the occasional disagreement as most roomates do I'm sure. Eventually Mark met a Scottish girl around the same time I met Elina, we went our seperate ways. Elina and I moved in together as did Mark and his wife to be. Mark and I still liked to party, however I gravitated more towards the Santa Monica English crowd, while he preferred the local American sports bars. I always got the feeling that Geraldine never really cared for me, I think part of that stemmed from my Northern Irish protestant roots in addition to me being English of course, and her being a Scottish catholic. I was called an Orange bastard on more than one occasion. There was also an element of her having the impression that I was leading Mark astray much like the Bob and Terry characters in 'Whatever happened to the likely lads'. Eventually they moved to Oregon and had a kid and we all moved on with our lives.I kept in touch with Mark occasionaly and last saw him about 10 years ago with his little baby son on a visit to LA.
When I had my first son 3 years ago I called Mark to tell him the news, Geraldine answered and informed me that Mark was in rehab due to alcohol and cocaine abuse. I left my number and never really heard from him despite calling a few times.
Last week Mark called me out of the blue, he was going to visit LA with his wife to see some freinds and take their son to Disneyland, he didn't want to go to Disneyland for 2 days straight so asked if we could get together which we did yesterday for the first time in over a decade. He's put on a lot of weight and looks a little older, but I'm sure he thought the same about me. We strolled down to the Sidewalk Cafe in Venice Beach, laughed and chatted about the old days over a few beers and some nachos, talked about family, finances, careers and old times.
Mark always was a penny pincher so I was left to pick up the tab, he asked me how much tip he should leave and I suggested $7 on the $40 bill that I paid, he left $5. On theway home we stopped off at the English pub, instead of Mark being courteous and reciprocating the favor I was also left to pay for the bill there too. I just smiled to myself and thought how he was still the same old Mark I knew 20 years ago. It was a small price to pay to see an old freind.
All in all a fun day reflecting on old times and freinds, bringing each other up to date, two guys from different countries and backgrounds brought together by financial necessity just chatting and drinking beer like the old days............................