Pub quiz

Day 24. Pub quiz! Oh I like a good pub quiz. An excuse to chat to friends, an excuse to win some booze. A good pub quiz has that twofold effect. If you have a retentive brain for odd knowledge you can drink for free, and maybe make friends. Over time many good things have come from them for me. In Forest Hill about 8 years ago my flatmate Nathan and I began a conversation that would lead to the two of us being immortalised as the voices of Charlie the Caterpillar and Stanley the Snail for a range of children’s toys. That was at a pub quiz. I had a first date at a pub quiz once and the two of us won so much alcohol there we stayed together for years and I’m still friends with her. There is something about the idea of trading esoteric knowledge for free alcohol that satisfies anyone who has been told as a child “You’ll never profit from reading all those myths”.
My friend Emma messages me on whatsapp to throw me in the way of some friends of hers. Kimberley apologises for being British and meeting at a pub quiz. I’m thrilled. It takes place in EB’s Beer and Wine which is an open bar that forms part of a farmer’s market on the corner of third and Fairfax. As I sit down Kimberley says “Welcome to the centre of the British part of LA. You can walk around here.” I got an uber there and I am getting an uber back, but this appeals to me. I love to walk as you may have gleaned if you’ve got this far into my mumblings. I’ll have to explore this area sometime.


My first realisation is that I have accidentally come out without any means to pay. I had to take the dogs out for a pee and Rocko spent so long playing the “screw you I ain’t peeing” game that I was in a hurry by the time I got him inside and got in the uber and I didn’t think to check my card was in my wallet. Not that it makes any difference. The people I’m with, despite being strangers, are extremely generous and when they hear that I’m writing about my time here they have many suggestions of things I should do. Our mutual friend Rhik does this sort of thing for a living and when he came out to LA they took him to some places that sound wonderfully ghastly. I make lots of mental notes.


Sadly we do not win. The only round we win hands down is THE DRINKS ROUND. Identifying musical instruments. We got them all. Well, when I say “we” it was Andrew with some encouragement from the team. Andrew is a one man quiz team sitting modestly to my right drinking restrained amounts. His name might not be Andrew. But he remembers things better than … some of the other people on the team…

But we ace the drinks round 100%.  Which shows where our priorities are. For the rest of the time we are just not rigorous enough. But I can see this is a good team. Not winning comes as a disappointment to them and I am concerned that on my first ever night with them we only come third. I owe them some beers now. I hope they’ll have me back next Tuesday. Can you name all the instruments?


And this was the only thing I did today outside of work and writing this. No time for big thoughts. I have a lot to do, more than I would have liked, too much, and I’m on a timer. I’ll likely explain in a future post if there comes a day when I literally do nothing but research and emails. But at least today I got to the quiz…

Death and life

Day 23. River Phoenix was 23 when he had a speedball. I remember it well. The first celebrity death I cared about. I was a teenager. At the time I had experienced very little death first hand but in the next ten years I was to lose both my parents. Death was such a dark, untouched subject that losing my father felt almost stigmatic, losing my mother shameful. I missed meetings for her funeral without explaining the circumstance to my agent, and lost care and focus in my work. I felt I should have done something to prevent it. I didn’t really have a frame to make sense of it. My mother chose alcohol as the means to end her pain, whatever that was. I followed into the same means to numb mine. I had a period where I was obliterating myself, and when I emerged from it, some of my friends were still there, but I had lost momentum and had to remember how to function. The last few years have been clawing myself back to something close to where I was when it all went south. Then Jamie my half brother died, and I reacted to that with this excursion to LA. To seek life rather than to obliterate. To move forwards somehow. 

When Cara suggested today that we go to the Museum of Death and then to a graveyard, I said “sure, why not.” We need to talk about death more in the west, that’s for sure. It’s one of the only things that we all have in common no matter our politics, no matter our religion, no matter how wealthy we are, how powerful. It’s the great leveller. We’re all going to die, kids, and short of orchestrating it, we can’t choose how or when. This is something to be grasped with both hands. It’s the driving force for much of human endeavour. But it’s a reality that we’re protected from, certainly in England. People die all over the place all the time in London and the speed at which it is covered up or fenced off has the twofold effect of making it feel both dirty, and rare. It’s not dirty and it’s not rare. It’s normal and it happens all the time. If someone we love dies we haven’t done something wrong. Unless we killed them.


That said the museum is a slog. I’m feeling drained and heavy by the time we are halfway. Horrible letters and worse photographs, videos of genocides and army killings and police shootings and accidents. Frequent visual reminders of how quickly it can all stop for people. A reconstruction of a Heaven’s Gate bunk room, a room devoted to the Mansons, another to cannibalism. This feels a museum to brutality as much as to death. By the time I leave I am very happy to be out of there. The energy is dark. We leave and go to the Hollywood Forever cemetery just down the road. A different side of death, dealing with how we want to be remembered.

It’s a beautiful resting place, and one which often speaks of the celebration of many many lives. The plethora of drawers in the many huge mausoleums continues the day’s reminder that death is happening all the time all over the place. Some were very young, some were very old. Children are next to adults, religions are often mixed in with each other, there is a large Jewish section, a Buddhist part, many christians. I see few if any Muslim graves. Some people I have never heard of have vast mausoleums. Other people I have heard of have small modest graves. I think about the messages they are leaving, spoken or unspoken. “I was really rich” is one message that lots of people leave. “Love your life” is another. Love your family. Love your friends… I think about what I might put. I wonder how many of these people set their own message, and how many were surprised in the end by the inevitable and had it done by loved ones.


We walk home much of the way down Hollywood Boulevard, past the stars and to the hand and footprints. I spend a bit of time matching feet and hands to people I admire. I find Robin Williams, and my shoes fit perfectly into his imprint. Another one that took himself off early. Suicide. After touching so many lives with his happysadness. What a desperate shame.


This day has been long and thoughtful, touching the shortness of life, the pointlessness of vanity and the difference between perception and reality. Tomorrow it’s back to work. Carpe diem.


Day 22 is much more than day 22. Day 22 is SUPERBOWL SUNDAY. It’s the big game, everybody! The Patriots vs The Falcons. People vs Birds. New England vs Atlanta. North vs South. I can’t decide who to support. I have a friend from Georgia, but I’ve never been there and I’ve been to New England. I go to The Pikey on sunset as I know they’ll have a big screen in the back. But there are only six people in there and none of them want to tell me who they’re supporting. They don’t seem to care. They’re all very downbeat. Why are they even watching? This is the Superbowl, dammit! I weigh my team options. Falcons would eat you if you were chained down. But patriots justify hate and violence with tribalism. So I suppose I have to support the Falcons as a bird would never use an idea to justify an atrocity. They’d just eat your eyes, but they don’t know any better. 

I’m good at knowing about sport. I sometimes watch the Barclays FA league finals. I like it when they kick the ball and do the running. Despite this vast expertise, I would have liked to have found someone who knows about this game and could explain the nuance to me so I can properly appreciate it. But I’m on my own. I’ll have to concentrate.


Enter Trevor. He sits next to me just as the game starts. My saviour! He suggests I join him in the happy hour special. He’s also supporting the Falcons, and he’s willing to explain the intricacies of the game to me. Win. He says: “You gotta start with a Pabst and a shot of bourbon for eight bucks. It’s happy hour.” I’ve heard of Pabst Blue Ribbon. It’s what people drink in films before they beat their wife. Well, I broke sober last night and it’s still the weekend. Last night I was the oldest guy dancing in some teenybopper club, before going to Soho House in an attempt to pretend I was in London, leaving my bag there because I was in the sort of state you have to be in before you think it’s a good idea to go to Soho House, and staggering home in the early hours causing the dogs to lose their shit. I am not going to make a habit of this because beer now = nothing to eat in a month. But it’s the Super Bowl.


And I’m surprised by how good a game I find this. There’s some real skill, some real athleticism, some real detail in these plays. And the Falcons quarterback has the same name as the friend of my business partner whose Harley I was hoping to be able to borrow while I was here. So I like him even if the bike didn’t work out. It’s enjoyable, if you have a vague understanding of what’s happening. There’s some artistry in the play. At half time the Falcons are winning comprehensively. Go Falcons etc. I watch Gaga put on a great spectacle in the interval. There’s a lot of money in this event, a lot of expensive adverts. It’s such a clear Falcons win that shortly into the second half Trevor calls it and leaves. “Enjoy watching the Falcons win bro.”


Trevor is replaced by Michelle. She’s a New Yorker. Grizzled. Cigaretteworn. Brilliantly uncaring. She’s in the minority here, rooting for the Patriots – in particular their 40 year old quarterback. “Tom Brady’s got this,” she confides. “He’s like Napoleon. What are you, English? He’s like David Beckham. You watch. He’s got this.” I quietly think she’s backing the wrong horse but she is a one woman Brady appreciation society. And guided by her eye I watch the guy work miracles, as she gleefully cheers louder and louder against the room, which having been so quiet earlier have now all come out in support of the Falcons. She is enjoying educating me about the game and Brady. She shows me cellphone photos of her interviewing him. “I told you, I told you! He’s like, he’s like Napoleon. He’s in control of the whole team. He’s got a fisherman’s mouth. But he’s going to win. This is huge. This is Super Bowl history.”


The Patriots do win, against the odds. This ain’t Waterloo. Everyone is shouting “His knee was down.” at the final touchdown. But it doesn’t seem to affect things. Michelle is ecstatic, screw-you ecstatic, in a very New Yorkian way. Her against the room. Streamers and music. Celebrations. 


I like this game a little. I think because beforehand I had no sense of the layers of it. It was just big men jumping on each other. I thank Michelle and leave. I doubt I’m going to turn into a fan, but that was a good final and a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.


21 days in and I have multiple friends descend on this town simultaneously. I’ve got a car so naturally I slip into the mode of Barclay the chauffeur despite pokey insurance coverage. This involves waiting around the airport lots, driving round in circles lots, and not drinking. The not drinking bit should be easy since I’ve been doing that for the whole time I’ve been in LA. But these friends have little truck with such behaviour, as I am to find out. 

First of all we are wholesome. Robyn is a Buddhist and there’s a lot of Buddhism to be found in Los Angeles. We go to both of the centres in Santa Monica. She wants to buy something and the first one doesn’t have it. When we get to the second we go in and chant for a good while. Good to get something spiritual done, knowing what’s going to happen later. I drop off Robyn and head across town to the W Hotel. I’m going to the Lego Batman premier party.


Of course it is round a pool. Of course it involves a free bar and nibbles. I’ve taken the precaution of driving myself there so I know I have to drive myself back, which means I won’t rinse the free bar. It’s nice to go and get lost in a great industry party in LA. Nobody jumps in the pool which surprises me. In fact everyone is really lovely. I have a good conversation with Rosario Dawson with no idea who she is. I then have a better conversation with her uncle, who is a dude, lived in Basildon for a while, and loves making theatre. I know a bit about being a cool uncle. Natch. After a while I feel the lack of business cards. I never want to be that guy, but a couple of people ask. And I tend to do my business by meeting people so I think they might be a handy investment. Especially since the longer I spend out here the more I think I would like to try to come out here for three years on an 01 VISA and just change it up. It helps that I’ve spent much of the day with friends as it reminds me that travel is possible and that moving here won’t mean saying goodbye to them forever as if I was going to Mars for Elon Musk. Perhaps if I find a way to subvert the wankiness of the card, built into the design of the card…


I need an agent in the UK who also has a branch over here, or at the very least some contacts, so I can make this visa thing real and have stuff to go to once it’s sorted. Top priority. I will try to reverse engineer someone from here, but my friends are in London. If anyone has a mate who is an actor’s agent in London, even the bottom of the pile at a place with transatlantic connections, link me in with them on email or talk to them or something and I’ll send them my stuff. By Pm. It’s time time and past past time for a change.


At the party everyone stands around a pool talking to friendly arty strangers. It’s a good way to spend a day. And since Cara had had plenty of wine it’s easy  to persuade her to have her photo taken with me and the poor people in batman related flumpsuits. I know all too well what it’s like inside those bloody things having done Pudsey the Bear once and almost spewed in the helmet while children were hugging me. Even if you’re dying you still have a smile on your face. That’s probably a metaphor for how I’ve lived my life for the last 14 years. But I was boiled, sweating, crying and suffocating. And people were shouting PUDSEY and bundling on me with all their weight and warmth.

I have now just dropped my car at home and I’m getting an uber back to Sunset Boulevard. I’m never going to catch up to Cara but I can allow a couple of drinks since it’s Saturday night, and my other UK friend is also at a party, also on Sunset Boulevard, 2 blocks down. Since I spent the morning attempting to make my energy resonate with the universe in a Buddhist centre, a coincidence like that is not one I’m willing to overlook. So yeah, the universe wants me to to have this drink, okay. And who am I to fight the will of the universe. Glug glug glug.


20 days out here and finally I’m mobile. I have a car. You need a car in this city. I have it for the weekend only. Can’t afford more than that as they skin you alive for insurance if you don’t have a good credit card. But it’s a start.  

I want to see something green, and walk and think. I find a big park. It looks very green on the map but I’m suspicious. Not the most alluring name: Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. The drive is a little scary as I have paid for super basic insurance which means the only thing covered is the person I hit. And it’s raining. Everyone in town will be in a museum or working. It’s SuperBowl weekend. If I have a crash the other guy is probably drunk so he’ll be liable…


Back in the day, there was a lot of oil in this area. I’ve been told that the city was built around the oil industry as much as film, and that the terrible public transport is a byproduct. One guy told me darkly “They bought the trams, the trains, all that. The oil men bought them and shut them down. Force people to drive. Now they’re trying to build trains but it’s too late. You gotta have a car.” Such a strange thing to have shaped an area, the drilling of black gold. Made out of dormant plant and animal matter coagulating over hundreds of million years. Who would have thought that this potent sludge could have shaped not only the geography of the world we live in, but also the geopolitics. A byproduct of great extinctions past, driving a probable great extinction yet to come. What does 150 million years even mean? Like the infinity of space, it’s too big for our monkey brains. We can try. We should try. But we’ll probably only scratch at the edges, so our instinct is to avoid thinking about it.


One of the first things I stumble upon in the park is a dinosaur. Slow, vast, deliberate, contemplative, it drops its head to the earth, up again, down again, up again. There’s loads of them. I feel like the kids in Jurassic Park confronted with the diplodocus. “Wow!” This is a relic on my time scale. A modern dinosaur. A working oil derric. A herd of them.

The park is a reclaimed oil field, but parts of it are still active. So you walk alongside a sculpted ornamental river stocked with fish, active with ducks, thriving, and through the trees, in drab mud, dozens of huge rusted metal monsters dip and suck, dip and suck relentlessly pulling the history out of the ground to be burnt in engines. Like the one in the car I’m so pleased to have. Surely this field will run out soon. Maybe it’s already run out and they’re only for show? 


The park is named for Kenneth Hahn, the councillor who determined that the land stripped of oil should be repurposed as a park. I walk around an exhibition celebrating him, and sadly listen to a recording of Martin Luther King quoting and dissecting The Bill of Rights.


I leave the park. I don’t like it. Even in the prettiest places you can see those things behind the trees and they both fascinate and unnerve me. And there’s no nature here, just poured concrete paths and picnic tables. Nature in a box.


I drive a short way to Culver City, and walk up and down a long flight of stairs a few times. The stairs are uneven, and seem to have been haphazardly jammed into the side of a hill, scrubland either side. This helps bring me back to earth.

 It seems to be the thing to do here at Baldwin Hills. People at all stages of fitness are using them as a free gym, even on a crappy rainy day like this. And they’re talking and laughing and out in the cold improving themselves just because. The stairs feel happy, and the derrics feel oppressive. Do things take on the character of their use?


I stop at the top as the sun goes down. Nobody else has stopped. I watch the foggy skyline and smile. A scab has been pulled off today.  The past can be burnt as fuel.

Hockney and cats

Day 19 and after a morning’s work I’m restless. I’ve been sitting editing with the dogs in the garden but it’s cold. So I go to a nearby David Hockney retrospective. Hockney is 79. He is from Yorkshire, near Bradford, and has spent many years painting and working in Los Angeles. He’s a legend. He has recently released a new book, Sumo, a journey through the bulk of his art, retailing at $2500. Taschen, the publisher, has some copies on display not far from where I am. And the man is in the news tomorrow so it seems like the perfect time to celebrate his works.

I spend some time absorbing his life’s work. At one point he said he paints because he knows that the world is deeper and richer than the one we can capture in a photograph. His paintings are often wonderfully celebratory, and sometimes deeply human. He is playful. And he works hard. Properly hard. Twelve hours a day. I feel guilty taking time off to see them on a weekday. But it’s galvanising stuff. Wild bright colours, the colours that things really are before our eyes before our expectations mute them. Bodies with heft and movement. I’m captivated. And he’s a cheeky bugger. He’s accepted a commission to paint the masthead for The Sun tomorrow. He’s done a spectacularly naive job, and released this as a public statement : ” I was delighted to be asked. Once I thought about the idea it didn’t take me long. The sun and The Sun. I love it.” If anybody thinks that that is anything other than a brilliant troll of the naïveté peddled by that paper, they’re barking up the wrong tree. Good on Hockney. Take the money and spend it on good things and good people. I love it.
As I leave the exhibition I get a video sent to me by a friend. It’s advertising a place called “Crumbs and Whiskers” which is a café come cat sanctuary, where you can get a latte and sit in a fluffy room full of cats. It’s only twenty minutes away on google maps, and my friend is sad so the least I can do is go and spend some time there. She can’t. It’s essentially a convivial version of Battersea Dogs Home filled with overexcited single people running around grinning like idiots. I join them. It’s a great idea.

All the cats are from sanctuary and all are up for adoption. They have a tally on one wall of how many cats they’ve found homes for. Considering cat sanctuaries are often free but you donate, this is actually pretty expensive. You have to pay a minimum of 9 bucks to get in, and coffee is also more expensive than anywhere else. Essentially they are using customer cash to help rescue animals live with a much higher degree of comfort than they would in a sanctuary, and simultaneously raising their chances of adoption. It’s the sort of business model that should take off, both over here and in London.
I play with the idea of setting up a Dog cafe in Hackney, before coming back down to earth and realising that I’ve got a lot of catching up to do with Hockney regarding hours put in to my acting career. On the way home I fantasise about having a Hockney picture. And a cat. And a dog. In my big house in Larchmont that I’ve paid for with a working career.


Day 18 and after far too long editing cutting and chopping my script, (it ain’t over when you submit) I’m in need of some fun. Thankfully Debbie from the Griffith Park day has invited me to a soirée. It’s at a place called “No Vacancy”. Starts at eight. The way that my body clock is wired that’s already pretty late for me. I was up and out for 7.30 this morning. So I get there on time. It’s in a parking lot, with a neon “No Vacancy” sign. Looks like a dive, and it isn’t open when I arrive at 8. There are three lads sitting outside talking about the Superbowl, and an oily guy in a suit industriously moving around some velvet barriers in order to appear busy. When I ask him if I’m in the right place, he indicates his walkie talkie. “My girls ain’t ready yet. You just gotta wait.” I wait. The lads are being very laddish. I don’t sit with them, I walk around the parking lot. It’s not hot tonight but it’s manageable.


At quarter past eight he says “ok lads. You can go in. Welcome to the oldest bawdy house in California.” I follow the lads up the stairs to a corridor full of doors. They all go in one door, and I almost follow them before noticing that it leads to a small room with a woman sitting on a bed. For I moment I back off. “Er… I think I might have…” I trail off. “No, it’s alright.” She says. “Yeah this is right,” says one of the dudes. His energy is not that of someone about to pay for group sex. And her energy is a performers energy. Having been a little slow, and genuinely worried, I wise up. I shut us in the room. The five of us together. “Welcome. I am the madam.” *eek* “The rules are, no flash photography.” *phew* And then THE BED OPENS AND THERE IS A STAIRCASE. This is awesome. I go down. Not like that.


It’s a bar, dressed up like an old prohibition era whore house. Lots of open fires, loud music, expensive drinks. I know I’m not drinking but I think this might call for a whisky. My friends aren’t here yet so I take a shot of bourbon and sit by the fire. Somewhat perplexingly the first place I sit smells of… well… could it be a Bradford pear? Or is that just my overactive imagination? My friends haven’t arrived yet so I move  back to the bar, nurse my bourbon and write this.


I like the fact that the look and feel of basic currency hasn’t changed in this country for as long as I’ve been alive. British currency has changed frequently, enough that it would be totally unrecognisable in its current form to someone from the ’70s. Here I’ve got my roll of dollar bills, and if the music wasn’t a bit shit I’d be able to believe I had traveled back in time.


And then suddenly everyone in LA film descends on me, and I’m having animated and fun conversations with interesting diverse people. A room full of producers, all of them lovely, and it helps that one of my best mates is a producer as I know the dynamic. Inevitably some of us end up in a photo booth. 

One guy, the only other actor, says “how the hell did you end up at this party after only two weeks?” I say I have no idea, because I don’t. Although probably because I’m just here to have fun.


But there’s a crash coming. I’ve slept very little in the last few days, and drunk nothing in weeks. That bourbon was all very well, but I’m at a point where it’s either drink five more or get an uber. I choose the latter. I say farewell to this remarkable bar, the last surviving Victorian townhouse in Hollywood. I get home, have a shower and then have to coax the sleeping dog from my coat. She always sleeps on my coat. But then she farts. Let sleeping dogs lie my ass. Out you go, Janey.

Writing about writing

Day 17 and my friend and business partner rings me up from Indiana. He’s out there doing Shakespeare with Actors From The London Stage. They’re a beautiful creative actor led company that has been touring for 50 years. The two of us did Much Ado with them two years ago and it’s a very happy memory. When he rings I’m in full Hemingway, sitting writing in the garden with my shirt off, surrounded by dogs, eating an orange just plucked from the tree. 

I can hear the cold in his voice. He’s popped out of rehearsal to touch base about some of the work we’re making. It’s good to hear from him but crazy to think that we’re in the same country and he’s freezing. But then this country is vast. And Trump is president of all of it. We talk for a while. It’s good to talk to a friend. Eventually he has to go – his hands are getting cold. I contemplatively munch my orange and get back to writing. It’s great to know that there are plans afoot already, and when this excursion comes to an end I’ll have things I can get stuck into in springtime London. 

As I write to you I’m extremely relieved. Today is a red letter day. I managed to submit, on time, my first draft of my first ever screenplay. It’s for the spoof Oscar night I’m doing, and it’s a parody of Denzel Washington’s Fences. The films were chosen randomly out of all the Best Picture nominees. I used FadeIn to do the formatting. It’s free, which is great, although it forces you to use Dropbox to export. I had a choice with the script between playing it safe and getting in something I knew would pass muster but wouldn’t amuse me, or playing it fast and loose and putting some of my humour into it, while taking some risks with tone. I chose fast and loose, of course, and sent it off with my heart in my mouth thinking “they’ll hate it they’ll hate it.” It was written in 2 days with very little time to review, consider or plan, so it’s never going to be Citizen Kane. To be honest I had no perspective left on it. I just had to finish it and send it. As soon as it was submitted I switched off everything and went to yoga, and when I came out I didn’t have lots of hate mail. Namaste. I think I’m going to be using a lot of that software going forward.


The only other thing of note I did today was record a pop video on my smartphone… One of my old friends is releasing a video for Valentine’s Day and wanted to have a mishmash of all her single friends lip syncing along to her voice. Obviously I’m game, but Mark was in cooking dinner which meant I couldn’t sing along in falsetto like I wanted. So it’s me, mouthing along with my huge fluffy beard, and her high pitched gospel soaring out of the speaker. Once it’s edited I’ll work out if I can post it on here.


The last two days have mostly involved me writing, which doesn’t make for good blog action. I’ll do my best to get myself into some scrapes tomorrow.