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Service Not Included

​I love going to restaurants and while I am not a ‘foodie’ I do have some basic requirements that I thought were des rigueur, until I experienced a whole new dining experience. It was one of those minimalist places; wooden screens, architectural lines and tables in booths behind bamboo screens you know the kind of thing. The décor was similar to sushi places I’ve been in except for one detail. In the center of each table there were mini barbecues sunken into wood. At first I thought they were there for ambience, a take on a pit fire, but it turned out to be more prosaic than that; the food they serve you is not actually cooked.

​I’m still struggling here. Isn’t the whole idea of a restaurant that they get to cook the food and we get to eat it? That’s why they’ve caught on surely.

‘Do we get to do the washing up as well?’  I wondered.

This is broadly how it works. You pick from a menu, then the waiter brings you little packages of meat, fish, vegetables, whatever you’ve ordered, wrapped in aluminum. They tell you what’s inside each parcel and after that you’re on your own.

By the time our packages arrived I’d had a couple of glasses of sake and was getting into conversation. I kept unwrapping and tossing my prawns onto the grill then forgetting to fish them out again. My onions all turned to charcoal and I completely lost the asparagus because it shriveled and dropped through the mesh. I was also lathered in sweat from leaning over to rescue things and as we left the restaurant had indigestion and an assortment of hot sauces and pickles down the front of my shirt. It wasn’t cheap and I was confused when my friends started working out the tip. Surely service was included.

Judging from the delighted expressions on the faces of other diners, I can see this method of eating probably answers some primal hunter-gatherer impulse. Certainly it’s the closest people on the west side of LA are likely to get to foraging for food.

What is it about sushi? I’m not convinced that uncooked fish wrapped in seaweed or a tasty treat of raw egg topped off with sea urchin is a delicacy. I also like to be comfortable when I’m eating. Call me old–fashioned but I appreciate a regular chair at table height. Balancing on a stool trying to grab a plate as it jigs along on a conveyor belt is not my idea of relaxing, especially when the additional challenge of chopsticks awaits when you’ve finally located your food. No. YOU are the restaurant. YOU do the work.

If this trend continues there’ll be ‘do it yourself’ hamburger kits at the local grill and we’ll be making our own iced vanilla, one-shot, sugar-free latte in Starbucks. I now have a whole new appreciation for the service at our favorite French restaurant. Come back ‘fine dining’ all is forgiven.

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Au Revoir

I’m not clubbable. Like Groucho Marx said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”

The only club lounge I’m interested in is the First Class one at the airport. Also like Groucho I have spent a day at the races. I’m sure you’ve seen photos of the queen at Ascot. ‘Ladies’ Day’ in the royal enclosure is all about the hats. I was keen to check out the dress code in LA. What would be appropriate here in a guaranteed eighty degrees of heat? I wondered. I Googled The Turf Club and saw they had strict guidelines and made no concessions to the weather.

There were to be ‘no jeans, leggings, stretch pants, short sleeve or zipper sports coats, baseball caps or visors.’ Ladies (including children), were to wear a dress or suit, skirt or slacks with a matching jacket or tailored blazer. Gentlemen’s attire stipulated a jacket and slacks but ties were optional. Hello. I thought. If I’m going to be channeling my inner flight attendant, I want my man trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. As there’d been no mention of leopard print or sequins, I had my outfit down.

That’s the thing isn’t it? Clubs are all about homogeny. On the rare occasions I’ve been to golf clubs I’ve been surprised to see so many men wearing the same pink monogrammed sweater, striped shirt, khaki pants and polo shirt. It’s like a game of ‘Where’s Waldo’ trying to pick someone out at the bar.

I do understand the urge to blend though. I was musing on these things as I packed my suitcase today for my trip to Europe and the Middle -East. Next week in Paris it’ll be navy sweaters and a trench coat. In London I’m favoring the knee -high boots and sweater dresses. My greatest challenge on this jaunt will be Dubai. Never having been to the emirates before it presents a new challenge. I’m not fond of headscarves and I don’t own any Louis Vuitton. Ah! Well I have time to figure it out.

A bientôt my friends.  See you on Instagram and Facebook. I’ll try to keep in touch by posting from the other side of the pond.

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Once Bitten Twice Shy

Some memories are indelibly burned into my psyche. Rural living would be one of them. I mean let’s face it you can’t wear Louboutins in a field can you? At one point during our thirteen-year sojourn in the British countryside, my family wanted a dog. I wasn’t keen on the idea but you know when you’re outnumbered.

With hindsight I should have insisted on a purse-sized mutt; a spaniel or a Chihuahua, because Sandy, the hyperactive border-collie that came to live with us turned out to be mad. It’s as simple as that. He was a stark-raving-insane-out of control-lunatic. I have a hyperactive thyroid, but this dog made me feel like a sloth on Valium.

It may seem obvious, but if you don’t have sheep, you don’t need a sheep-dog. Sandy the dog, had a pathological need to round things up. I fully expected to come home one afternoon to find the postman and a couple of visitors corralled in a corner of the garden. I was getting up in the dark at five o’clock in the morning in the dead of winter to race around fields with him because I couldn’t risk the kids being dragged across a main road or have him break loose and cause a pile-up on the freeway. I’d come back from these marathons and he’d be leaping up and down as if the previous two hours had been a warm up.

I wasn’t free to leave my own house. I’d open the front door and he’d charge over and mug me. One day it took three complete changes of outfits before I finally managed to sneak out the back door to work.

In the end I called an emergency family meeting.

“Either that dog goes or I do.” I told them.

There was a pause, a little too long for my liking, before everyone agreed that we would all be happier, including Sandy if we were to find him a more appropriate home. He lived out his days happily on a farm. Although by that stage I would have happily seen him roasted on an open spit in the medieval banquet hall at Warwick Castle.

We also bought two guinea pigs around that time, which we were assured were both female. Twelve more guinea pigs later we realized our mistake. I think the chickens may have overlapped with them. My memory is not reliable here, I’ve blanked out a lot from this period of our lives would need trauma counseling before the full details could emerge. I do remember discovering Sandy the dog with feathers in his mouth and that being the end of the fresh eggs. By the way if you ever buy chickens don’t get Bantams. They look really cute, but the eggs are about the size of a pea and you end up knee deep in chicken shit and still have to buy proper eggs from the supermarket.

Of course in California we have ‘Doggie Day Care,’ a service that to the best of my knowledge is not available in England. Here you get a daily report on what your dog had for dinner, which other dogs they spent time with, their mood and general progress. You can check them into The Club in Beverly Hills for an afternoon of grooming and massage treatments while you pick out a seasonal wardrobe for them. You can send your pooch on a mini-break to Paradise Pet Resort a facility designed for the more privileged of canines.

You can keep a dog in LA and have absolutely none of the work that goes with it. A dog-walker’s no problem. You can book house calls to shampoo, manicure and pedicure your pooch and there’s a neighborhood ‘Dog Poop Removal Service.’

Here I could have a sanitized live accessory. It might even be fun, but you know what they say – “Once bitten twice shy.”

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Out With the Old

Walking down our street yesterday I noticed a hole in the ground where there should have been a house. It took a moment to register that it was the site of a “tear down,” a concept unfamiliar to the English. We love nothing more than to renovate, but rarely from the ground up, we like to have something to work with, we strive for what the French call ‘benign neglect.’

I’ve always fallen in love with the potential of a place rather than the reality of it. I would gaze fondly at a derelict cottage, mentally transforming it into four pages of Homes and Gardens. We always ran out of money half way through our project, usually at the point where we’d put on a new roof, replaced all the plumbing, rewired the electricity and were about to embark on the fun stuff. Pictures of our kids are set against open plaster and exposed brickwork. There are very few baby photographs where they aren’t covered in a layer of dust.

We were purists. We’d spend entire weekends bringing an original Victorian fireplace back to its former glory, stripping paint from banister rails and lovingly restoring old moldings and original features with reclaimed genuine artifacts. The paintwork was all Farrow and Ball mixed to the exact original shade of the oldest part of the building. The new window frames were individually carved to the same design. The kitchen with its flagstone floor and open fireplace was a work of art. By the time we sold our nineteenth century country house in Stratford it was worthy of a profile in Architectural Digest.

It took us exactly thirteen years to finish it and exactly two weeks for the new owners to rip it apart, close up all the fireplaces and tear out the original features, though the building still stood. By then I was past caring, ensconced in California where people just build their dream homes then tear them down when they fancy a change.

In our street there are medieval castles, Spanish Haciendas, bungalows, ‘English’ cottages, Tudor and traditional houses, all sitting happily side by side without an authentic brick between them. Hey it’s California. It’s out with the old and in with the new.

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New Year? Not So Fast …

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This New Year’s day I will not be trying to moderate Sancerre consumption, cut back on Nicorette gum, exercise more or aim to finish my next book by Easter. I have decided to postpone all resolutions until February 19th which according to the Chinese calendar is the ‘ Year of the Sheep.’

This has several advantages. While many of you are writing checks to your local gym, juicing your carrots and celery and forgoing your gin and tonic, I shall be partying on for several more weeks, secure in the knowledge that almost one and a half billion people will also be ignoring the first of January.

A review of last year’s resolutions has demonstrated that this is wise. If you see the old year out with gusto and Auld Lang Syne the new one in with several glasses of bubbly, the chances of bouncing out of bed at six am all wide eyed and bushy-tailed on the first of the month are seriously reduced. In fact experience has shown that the only way to get a glimpse of the dawn is not to go to bed at all.

No, this year I shall not be beating myself up by the weekend. Our holiday lights will stay up through January. I have accepted that a calendar date has failed to deliver a new improved me over the years. Let’s face it, January can be bleak. Why make yourself more miserable by attempting an overnight personality transformation? As they say –  “Always be yourself because the people who mind don’t matter and the people who matter don’t mind.”

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Extended Lunch

Waitressing is like riding a bike. You never forget how to do it. I recently served full English breakfasts to guests who were staying at my friend’s 15th Century Highway Inn in Burford England. I loved every minute of it. Something about the calm polite exterior needed to deal with the public, combined with the frenetic activity behind the scenes speaks to my personality. It is becoming something of a theme. Years of experience have shown me the inherent dangers of combining wine with shopping and so the other day I took the precautionary measure of hitting the Fred Segal store before lunch and left my purchases to be wrapped while I went to Café Mauro. This stylish restaurant, at the front of the store, is as close as you’re going to get to Café Flore without flying to Paris.

It was during lunch, at around the second glass of Sancerre, that I fell in love with a graphic print on the wall and around the third glass when my husband, unbeknownst to him, bought it for me as my Christmas present. Complimentary champagne was sent over to the table and much merriment and bonhomie ensued. While the print was being wrapped I collected my bags from the store and took them to the car.

Returning to the café, replete with the spirit of Christmas and feeling goodwill to all men, I noticed a gentleman waving his check in the air. My inner waitress kicked in and I helpfully took his Black Card across the room to the till. Black cards are made of anodized titanium and weigh a ton, which is why I noticed what it was. When the real waitress returned it, and explained why there was so much hysteria, he took it in good part and joined our table.

After the café closed at 6 o’clock, we stayed on with the lovely owner, the pastry chef and the trio of Italian men who had been at the next table. Much merriment and dancing to The Stones ensued. We Ubered home at gone past midnight, after what turned out to be the longest lunch of 2014.

I love shopping. I love the holidays and I love LA.

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The Pineapple Express

As you may have noticed, the holidays are upon us with a vengeance and as mentioned in a previous post I am doing my level best to live up to the challenge.

Last week saw five days partying in New York, taking in a Bob Dylan concert, The Rockettes Christmas Extravaganza and The Book of Mormon. I enjoyed several dinners and lunches, in between some Sancerre-fueled shopping.

Back home last night I partook of libation with friends and wound up playing pool in a gay bar ‘til the small hours of the morning. I am not gay and I don’t know how to play pool, so you may ask the obvious question, to which I have only one answer -“It’s the holidays.”

Rain is forecast. Actually The Pineapple Express is surging our way. Rain in LA unnerves us. Californians have a pathological fear of getting wet unless we’re at the ocean or in the pool. We have mudslides and flooding, but you will rarely hear that from us. It’s similar to childbirth, the minute it’s over we don’t want to think about it.

We have no clue how to drive in the rain. People aquaplane down the Pacific Coast Highway as if they’re on the Roaring Rapids at a water park.  But after months of wearing tshirts even the slightest precipitation gives us the welcome opportunity to dress in Uggs and raincoats and wooly scarves.

For the kind of deluge that’s battering its way to us we know to cancel everything and hole up like Armageddon. It’s extreme. I mean I’ve even been known to postpone a root touch-up knowing the hairdresser will be staying home too.

Still, our holiday lights are battery operated. The fridge is stocked with festive fare. The fire is lit. I can do no more… guess I’ll see you on the other side…

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‘Tis the Season

As many of our friends come from different cultures, in LA we celebrate all of the holiday customs with fierce enthusiasm. In our house it’s one huge smorgasbord of Christmas trees and Hanukkah candles, tofu meatloaves and turkey roasts. We have our wreathed doors shut against the occasional draft. We are grateful when it goes dark and we can pretend it’s winter.

The celebrations come hot on the heels of Halloween and Thanksgiving. I know it happens every year and yet it always takes me by surprise when those first cards arrive and I realize through a hangover haze that maybe I should go buy some.

We live far away from many of our beloved family and friends. We keep in touch all year round by email, phone and Facebook. Of course it’s great to hear from people you’ve lost touch with over the years, but then sometimes when you get their circular letter you’re reminded why you lost touch in the first place. They’re so impersonal aren’t they? It doesn’t really help when you know they’re sent in the name of efficiency. If you feel the urge to share the highlights of your 2014 in a lengthy circular letter may I make the following suggestions based on a few letters we’ve received over the years?

  • It is the HOLIDAY season…as in merry and jolly and peaceful. This is NOT the time of year to announce the death of a family member. We feel empathy. Don’t have us crying into our mince pies.
  • Remember not everyone has summered in Italy, wintered in the Alps or scaled Mount Kilimanjaro. If 2014 has been our ‘Annus Horribilis’ you will only make us feel worse.
  • The announcement of your recent wedding may spark a range of emotions if we weren’t invited.
  • Avoid flowery writing. If you feel the need to describe  ‘the jacarandas of startling purple’ why not get yourself a blog?
  • If you personalize your ending with a handwritten note try not to make it generic. Yes we are all well thank you and yes we hope 2015 will be a really great one for you too. We really do and please feel free to contact us at any point during the New Year.
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If You Can’t Do It in High Heels I’m Not Interested

I absolutely love the holidays. They totally validate my endless appetite for dressing up and shaking a tail feather, something to be indulged all year round, but in the festive season there are so many more opportunities to boogie.

I love a party so much, that if there isn’t a social occasion I’ll throw one just for me.  I pour a glass of Sancerre, turn on the music (Stones) and bop. This often involves use of my mini- trampoline. It’s a habit developed in the English countryside when the kids were small. We were broke and overworked and the most you could hope for by way of a social event was a cup of tea in the village hall. Since arriving in LA I’ve made up for lost time and then some.

Perhaps these tips, gleaned from extensive personal experience, will help you navigate the festivities with aplomb.

  1. While getting ready for a party it is never a good idea to treat yourself to two glasses of Veuve to get in the mood. This will only result in you turning up minus mascara and with your hair pulled back in an unflattering pony -tail.
  2. While at a party it is inadvisable to invite everyone you meet over to your house for Christmas. This will result in you having to hire a marquee and caterers and not actually recognizing many of the people who turn up.
  3. Do wear trousers if there is the slightest risk you will be overtaken with the urge to show off your latent gymnastic skills and leave a venue walking on your hands.
  4. Do try to resist agreeing to take part in a charity fire walk and committing yourself to it by getting sponsors around the room. This will seem less of a good idea the following day.
  5. Demonstrating your pole dancing skills is inadvisable in the presence of iPhones. Videos may be shared in social media and your son’s friends may come across it.
  6. You can have this tip after the weekend – sorry. Must dash, am late getting ready to go to a Thanksgiving party…
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A Low Brow Post

One of my favorite things in the entire world is sleeping. I could sleep on a washing line. Nine straight hours is an absolute prerequisite and believe me, you do not want to be the person who disturbs my nocturnal hours.

You’ve no idea what your subconscious is going to throw at you while you’re asleep and the thrilling part of dreaming is that you’re directing your own movie with a limitless budget. You can go Technicolor, with a cast of thousands and theatrical staging. The galaxy is at your disposal, you can time travel, plummet the depths of the oceans and be back on dry land in seconds. You can have celebrity guest appearances and uncensored sex. The dream world is your oyster.

So, given these infinite possibilities I am wondering why I spent last night dreaming that my left eyebrow had dropped off and agonizing whether I should shave the other one to match and have them both tattooed or just  color – in an eyebrow shape and hope nobody would notice. I still hadn’t resolved the dilemma by the time I woke up.

Clearly, not for me the mystical visions of William Blake with his “tree full of angels” or of Joan of Arc who heard the voice of God two or three times a week directing her to go to France and “raise siege to the city of Orleans.” I am getting no such guidance (despite my desire to go to France and lay siege to the bars of St. Germain).

In the absence of divine intervention, my subconscious has elected to focus on a curious and somewhat obscure form of eyebrow alopecia. Presumably this is why I am writing a blog post rather prophetic poetry. I’m sure Mr. Blake never worried about his eyebrows…although come to think of it…maybe he should have.