Friday, January 31, 2014

Welcome to Hermosa Beach

Well, we made it. We are here in lovely Hermosa Beach, a few days into our househunt and readjusting to life in Southern California.

Thanks to a half empty plane, and an enormous bag of snacks and toys, the flight was not too painful after all. Lady P's body clock has not caught up with the time zone change yet, and we're enduring some 4am breakfasts and long, shouty nap fails. But we're hoping it won't be much longer till she chills out and rolls with the SoCal vibe.

It'd be hard for her not to, because Hermosa Beach (and neighbouring Manhattan Beach) is all about with the chilled out SoCal vibe.

The holiday flat we're staying in is covered in surf and beach themed knick knacks. Judging by the number of houses we've passed with 'this way to the beach' or 'beach house' signs on their exterior, I think this is the way people round here decorate.

The local corner shop is adorned with surfboards, sells wax, and specialises in surf-friendly smoothies.

People are jogging, skate boarding and beach biking along every sidewalk. (Yes, I said sidewalk. When in Rome.) There are bowls of water for dogs outside all the shops and cafes. People smile and say hi when they pass you on an early morning coffee run. It's almost like being in Saltburn, for friendliness.

Apparently the kids at Hermosa and Manhattan Beach schools can opt for surf as one of their Phys Ed choices. The pier has a 'Surfer Walk of Fame' on it.

The beach is dense with volleyball pitches and Baywatch style lifeguard stations.

I could go on, but I think you get it. It's a nice place to live. In fact in many ways it reminds me of Saltburn: a small, friendly community by the sea.

Now we just need to find somewhere in it to actually live.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hands across the ocean

We're off, taking our tiny tyrant on a long flight to the land of perfect teeth and endless summer. Last night we crashed at our dear friends, the fabulous e-tailing entrepreneur (is that a word? Let's make it so) and her family.

The Fabulous One and I have been close co-conspirators since we met in our first grown up jobs. We've bridesmaided for each other, and once visited a ropey strip joint together. So you know we're fast friends. And for most of the time we've lived at opposite ends of a large city, a country and a continent and whatever you call the girth of the USA and the Atlantic added together.

The Fabulous One lived in Dubai for a spell, and a few years later in Tallinn, while I was firmly embedded in the NW5 comfort bubble. We quickly devised a method of emailing chat where we'd answer each other's questions in CAPS LOCK: to the outside observer it looks like shouting but we knew it was just the fastest way to answer important queries about fripperies, tittle tattle, TV shows and so on. We used to post each other magazines, complete with post-its and scribbles ('LOVE these boots!', 'Thinking of getting my hair cut like this, whaddaya think?') to recreate the feeling of flipping through a glossy while in the same actual room. And we were early Skype adopters. I made a few trips out to see her overseas, too, back in the days when I was footloose and financial-responsibility-free.

When I first moved to the US with TLOML, she was one of those friends I took for granted it was 'au revoir', not goodbye. We bridged the gap with emails and Skype, again. Despite the much longer flight, and the fact she had two lovely daughters to leave behind, her and her husband visited us in Malibu for a priceless few days of constant chitchat.

So it felt fitting to spend our last night in London with people whose friendship has already survived plenty of time spent apart. I calculate that we've lived in different countries for over a third of our 18 years of friendship. And I'm sure that in another 18 years we'll have just as much to say to each other, as we reconvene over a G&T and a Harper's Bazaar somewhere in the world. The same is, I know, true of friends like my WonderTwin, and my favourite little sister.With Skype on our phones, and most importantly, the willingness to swap idle chit chat whenever the opportunity arises, I know we'll still be besties even though we're far apart.

Thus fortified with friendship, I head off on my voyage. Au revoir!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Friendly skies

Up until about a fortnight ago, Lady P was a notably chilled out baby. You might almost have called her placid. Sure, she has her moments of wild giggling. And she loves to stampede about on her hands and knees. But she's one of those babies who will lie in her cot chatting away to her toys for a good 45 minutes in the morning. The kind who doesn't squeal if you take away, say, the iphone she's got her hands on, so long as you replace it with a rattle.

More to the point, she was a baby who would sit on TLOML's lap in a cafe, quite content to play with a sugar packet or pepper grinder while we enjoyed a relaxed coffee. And she honestly enjoyed sitting with a book. I'm not sure she fully appreciates the narrative ark of 'That's Not My Lion' but she loves turning pages, saying 'oh' at each turn, and touching different parts of the page in wonder. Her mealtimes were leisurely, if messy, affairs as she worked her way through a range of flavours with interest. She made her own amusement, fairly quietly, in many a confined space. So you can imagine we weren't too worried about travelling with her.

That was up until about a fortnight ago. Now it is a different story. Now she shrieks like a pterodactyl* if anything she wants is not immediately placed within her reach. Mealtimes are a rollercoaster ride of pleasure - when she finds something she likes - and terror, when more of that thing isn't instantly provided. Books are for shouting at, bashing and throwing on the floor. And her favourite game is moving at pace into a place of danger, shouting and shrieking on the way.

They say babies change quickly and everything is 'just a phase'. Please pray that this phase is a shortlived one. Or pity the poor sods who are on an 11 hour flight with our tiny tyrant in a few days time.

*Actually we don't really know what a pterodactyl sounds like. But if you close your eyes and imagine a high pitched, repetitive shriek... well, you get the idea. It's what we imagine a prehistoric angry bird sounds like.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Househunting, again

We are househunting, again. Actually, we've been househunting for months. Ever since a return to LA was a glimmer in TLOML's eye, we've both been quietly surfing real estate porn. I'll admit I am often distracted by the high end, 'if we won the lottery tonight', stuff in Malibu for real, droolworthy surfing. But for the most part I am trying to stay focused on somewhere to live once our temporary accommodation ends.

So we're both constantly plugged into Zillow, Trulia, Hotpads and Westside Rentals. Not to mention Craig's List, which we will always favour because it's how we found the place we had on the beach in Malibu. Sigh. Anyway, sketchy surf shacks are no longer going to work for us. Nor will rabbit hutches, nor will cockamamie flats.

We need a proper, tidy, sweet little family home. With a grassy yard, or at least a decent patio. Preferably a shortish walk to the beach.
I'd like to live here

Or here

But do we need somewhere with 'nice energy'? That particularly Californian turn of phrase crops up on quite a few property listings. Call me a sceptic but I'm okay with just average energy, to be honest. And how about 'fully executive ocean views'? Seriously, one place really did claim such a feature. And so far as I could from the listings, they didn't mean a view of the skyscrapers of Downtown LA. Weird, and definitely not something that made the list of 'essentials' for our next house.

You'd think we'd have learned, from our NY experience, about the perils of househunting from afar. (We viewed about a dozen flats only to rent one we'd never seen, which turned out to be unimaginably small). But we've wandered the streets of Manhattan and Hermosa Beach on Google Maps Streetview so many times now I feel I know the place like the back of my hand.

Of course, there are real limitations to looking online. One of those is psychological - I know it's daft but I just can't get excited about any property with a grey sky behind it. So those streets which were photographed after the hazy marine layer lifted, and have that classic Californian bright blue sky in the background, shoot to the top of my list.

This time next week we'll be looking at these places in person. Yikes! I might delay any face-to-face appointments to the afternoon, when the marine layer has lifted and the sun is shining.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Like all good middle class parents, we eschew television for tinies, knowing it isn't helpful for her development. Much better for Lady P to have a fun singsong or look at a book or a toy with us. (Or, failing that, look at the toy on her own while I sit nearby playing on my phone).

Predictably, we're as fussy about food too. Almost everything she eats is lovingly handmade, from scratch, using low sodium, organic, ingredients. Except the Dairylea, but that's really just a treat for special (yikes, we're out of carrot soup) days. Oh, and the Aptamil. But let's not get into that again.

So far so wholesome. I even make her banana pancakes at the weekends. It's idyllic, honestly.

But now we are moving, and our stuff has been shipped today. So we are camping, with limited kitchen kit, until we leave on Monday. TLOML and I will work our way round our favourite Saltburn takeouts, a sort of victory lap for our final week. But Lady P is not so easily fed. I could scramble her an egg, and provide her toast and porridge and fruit. But the days of elaborate stews, soups and bakes are over. For now.

So I've stocked up on Ella's Kitchen: the acceptable face of convenience foods for babies. I hope she likes it. Actually, part of me hopes her first words are 'no, I prefer mummy's cooking'. But then again, she'd get awfully hungry this week. So yes, I hope she likes it.

As for the TV rule... well, ten hours in the air is a lot of time to kill with singing and books and toys. The TSA rules won't allow enough space for the amount of toys it would take to keep her amused for ten hours. And yes, she might sleep. But on our last transatlantic trip she napped for a total of an hour, during 20 hours of travel. Ouch.

So I've downloaded a series of In the Night Garden for her to watch. And we've ordered some ridiculous baby headphones in case she wants to hear the sound - so she can really appreciate the full narrative arc. I suspect she won't have much of an attention span for the iPad but I also know we'll be grateful for every 3 minutes of waking time that is not spent wriggling, grumbling or bothering other passengers.

How fitting that as we leave wholesome Yorkshire for a new life in LA our baby gets to watch her first TV and to eat her first convenience foods. Welcome to America, Lady P.

And if these strategies succeed, and she enjoys eating food from a packet and watching a screen instead of interacting with us, the next question will be - how do we wean her off the telly and the convenience foods and get her back on 'Dear Zoo' and my home cooked shepherd's pie?

Monday, January 20, 2014

The cull

It's always nice to have a clear out and get rid of some clobber. Having moved 4 times in the last 4 years we have had that opportunity plenty. Still, stuff accumulates. So before the packers came this morning to pack and load our stuff up, and before we pay through the nose to have it all shipped out, we did a quick cull.

This is partly about throwing out possessions that have outlived their usefulness. Clothes, old baby things, books that have been read and aren't worth keeping, that sort of thing. But there's also a category of possessions which are perfectly useable - but we just won't need to use them.

Some of the things we won't need in California are:

  • My large collection of Oyster card holders, including this limited edition gem from an old Arts Council promotion. We're not going to need a lot of public transport accessories where we're heading.

  • Our little milk pan (scratched and worn from overuse). We use it for warming TLOML's milk for coffee, as we don't have a microwave. And we have a special freezer-friendly plastic bowl we use to store ice in, since we don't have an icemaker. It's actually against Californian property law to rent out a property without an icemaker. I think. So both of those items can be left behind.
  • Socks. When we last lived there I think I wore socks for a few weeks out of the year. So any substandard, slightly worn out, fall down too easily pairs are going to go. Best socks only make the cut.
  • Coats, gloves, and hats too.  When you don't wear a coat every day for months on end, you don't need a few options to rotate. So I'm waving goodbye to the older, less favoured coats. We'll keep some for when we go away. After all, we're visiting Saltburn again in June. Just kidding: I was bare legged and sleeveless all summer this year. I'll really only need winter clothes for travel: winter visits to cooler cities, July jaunts to San Fran, and that one week of the year it's actually a bit chilly in LA and everyone gets excited about being able to light a fire. For the rest of the time we'll be like everyone else in LA, and keep our winter warm layers mothballed in the attic.
  • All stationery items designed for standard ISO paper. As in, the paper size system that is used across the whole rest of the world. You know, the perfectly logical system where an A0 sheet folds down to make A2, A3 and so on, and all our envelopes and folders match up. North American favours a quirky system of two competing and very similar sizes of paper ('Letter' and 'Legal') and so all my C5 envelopes and A4 folders are being culled. American paper sizes is one of the things of the things that makes me sad about America (along with gun control laws and the religious right. But I'll keep politics out of it).
  • All the little plastic drawers and wire hanging trays I've bought to supplement our bathroom and clothes storage in our rented places here. Even the most basic US rental will have proper built in closets, and a bathroom with a decent storage. Of course, that's because they were all built within the last 50 years. For what it's worth, I'd always happily trade in convenient closet spaces for characterful period properties. But as characterful period properties are in short supply in California, I'll embrace the spacious, many-shelved closets of the 1980s bungalow instead.
  • This parking disk, for use in a scheme beloved by those who run Yorkshire's market towns. 'Free disk parking' signs completely baffled TLOML when he first saw them, though I'm proud to say he adapted as quickly to disk parking in Northallerton as I did to valet parking at The Grove.

It's almost a shame we are culling this stuff, as in our new, walk-in closeted, two-car-garaged* lifestyle we'd actually have room for all the crap we've thrown out.


*This is the kind of house I picture us in, purely fictional/ aspirational at this point pending actual house hunt and lease signing.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

English Understatement

One of the many things I know I'll miss when we move to the US is English understatement. American enthusiasm is often welcome, and I do like that Californian sunny sensibility that leads people to be overwhelmingly positive about even fairly mediocre things.

But there are times when a spade needs to be called a spade. The people who write the labels at Sainsbury's Basics know it's true. I meant to write a blog post about this a couple of months ago, when I noticed that their cat litter packaging bore the legend 'Does the job'. Brilliant. No high faluting claims about odour control, clumping, environmental impact, and so on. It's just cat litter.

They've updated the cat litter bag now but here are some other prime examples.
'A little less tidy' is a genius way to make lettuce snobs question their prejudices.

'No lookers', so don't come complaining that they're all outlandishly big and have gnarly black eyes all over them

Someone had a bit of fun with this one, didn't they? It's a nice little pun which makes it okay that their 'peeled' tomatoes actually might not be peeled.

Just tuna, innit?
'Takes your breath away' - I'm guessing this won't be one of the more subtle garlic bread experiences

'Some broken'. Oh well. Tastes the same, eh?

'Not quite as soft' / scratchy as heck tissues. 'Still handles a sneeze', after all, you're only wiping snot, what do you need it to be soft for?

My favourite. 'For the table, not the cellar'. If you're buying wine to lay down, maybe steer clear of the £3.50 bottle.

I thumb my teeth at your fancy packaging! Piffle to it! My big bar of chocolate only cost 30p!

We only started shopping at Sainsbury's since we moved to Saltburn, so I read a sort of Yorkshire drollery into these labels. They're the exact opposite of all those overstatements, the pretensions, puffery and hype I used to post about under a Emperor's New Clothes tag in New York. And the chances of seeing anything as dour in the land of year-round sunshine and megawatt smiles are slim to none.

So I'm enjoying them while we're here, taking special misty-eyed detours round the aisles to soak up any labels I haven't seen yet. Yes, I know that's weird. I'm getting sentimental, indulge me.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My sister

My sister and her family are away enjoying the pistes of Courchevel this week, and I am bereft. I miss them!

I miss her boys rushing in to our house, loudly announcing 'it's only us', followed with shouted news along the lines of 'I've got a sticker!' or 'I saw a helicopter!'. I miss stopping by on my way home with Lady P to have a cuppa with her and her lovely husband, because I haven't seen them 'since yesterday'.

I miss her popping in to use our printer, or drop off some outgrown baby clothes, or me popping in to borrow a lemon. Sometimes twice in one evening. Often three or four evenings a week. She is the master of the 'I'm not stopping' chat.

I miss her texting me saying 'I've got the baby' half an hour before I'm due to collect Lady P, because when my sister picked her boys up from the childminder, Lady P 'insisted' on going with them. She loves a bit of Lady P baby talk as much as I love a bit of train talk with her boys.

I miss those days when we swap emails, see each other after work, chat on the phone after dinner, and then one of us still pops in to see the other on some errand or other. And TLOML says 'Your sister, again?!'. But he is only kidding, because he likes it too. And after all, she is my sister. In fact, I think she's my best friend too. Ah, I miss her when she's gone.

They're home on Saturday, so don't worry, I'll see them then. And a couple of times on Sunday, on Monday, and so on for the next week. But then we're off, to sunny LA, so very far away.

It's silly to mind this. After all, we were never going to live in Saltburn forever. I can't work from here, so living on the same street as my sister was always temporary. I couldn't have anticipated quite how very much I'd like it, though. Moving back to London was going to be hard enough. But moving to LA, a 10 hour flight and 8 hour time difference away - ouch! We'll get by with Skype and emails of course. But I'm already looking forward to our month back here in the summer and settling back into our high frequency, high contact ways.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Logistics and lists

I've got so many lists I need a list of the lists. There's the list of utilities we need to cancel. A list of stuff we're going to courier out, as we can't live without it in the six weeks it will take our shipment to arrive, but we don't want to fly with (like some of Lady P's toys, or my work wardrobe). A list of stuff to sell or give away. A list of things to organise, like childcare and carpet cleaning, and shipping insurance. A list of things we need to borrow in the few days after our stuff gets shipped and before we leave.

So I could spend all day making these lists. Or, better yet, doing the things on these lists.

And yet, I find myself sorting out a massive box of 'spare' coathangers into piles: good ones, mediocre ones, poor ones. Or putting 'This Book Belongs To' stickers in all Lady P's nicest books. Or writing blog posts about how I'm writing lists and not doing the stuff on them.
Category C coathangers. Phew, glad I got them sorted

I think it's called procrastination.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Goodbye London, Hello America

We got it! We got the Green Card! I aced the test. Fully prepared for a full Mr and Mrs-style quiz, I was disappointed only to be asked a couple of questions about TLOML’s family – where they live, how many siblings he has, that kind of thing. Easy.

Perhaps TLOML didn’t share my confidence, as he actually stepped forward to answer the first question himself.
‘Where in the States is your husband from?’ asked the officer.
‘Well, I’m originally from –’ TLOML began, until I interrupted him with a sharp dig in the ribs.
‘I think the question is for me, darling’, I said.
The officer chuckled and I think pretty much got his big ‘DEFINITELY MARRIED’ stamp out there and then. It didn’t even matter if I got the answer right, there was something in the way I cut my husband down that demonstrated beautifully the strength of our relationship. (Also I suspect having your baby with you helps. Plenty of people get married just for a visa, but I don’t think anyone goes through pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood to secure a Green Card.)

We celebrated with an expensive Mayfair hotel bar lunch. Lady P especially enjoyed depositing mashed up banana and semi-masticated breadsticks on their leather chairs and clean carpet. And then we hit the road north, before they could issue us a bill for carpet cleaning, leaving London for the last time until we fly out to LA.

Fittingly our last weekend in London was spent staying in my old manor, in Lady P’s godfather’s NW5 flat. So TLOML reignited his relationship with Chicken Shop and E.Mono, and we had a good afternoon with old friends at a quality NW5 boozer. I also managed to squeeze in a little drinkin’ and dancin’ with my Wondertwin at an old friend’s 40th, in a brilliant old pub in Kensal Rise. On the way home she wrangled with the taxi driver to put Magic on, which reminded me, hazily, of many nights out in our misspent youth. All in all it was a very good reminiscipackage of a weekend.

Good job we got the Green Card. It would have been a bit embarrassing to have to tell everyone we said goodbye to that ‘we’re still here’. As it is we can fly out to LA in a couple of weeks feeling like we gave London a decent farewell.