Sunday, 13 February 2011

Tears Before Bedtime

The first time it almost happened was by the pool, husband dangling a giggling boy in mid air. Second was whilst packing up in preparation for Clearwater - a red moon night drive away. The third time, parents finally succumb to a tear or three. On aisle four of the grocery store. Dad started it. Walked to the crackers and threw me an apologetic look. I almost hold it together, sobbing softly till the eggs nearly fall splat on the floor at check out and I snap back to present. Soppy pair. In under a week I am taking our boy across the seas to London town for a little while whilst Dad carries on his humpy struts across his country. Faced with the prospect of a couple of months of one week stops, in chilly climes, or a stint back home with the promise of a commune, sorry, nursery for the boy and a little home comfort for the old lady, mama opted for the latter. Six weeks is not a life time, many are the parents who are faced with far harder sacrifices than this. We have been utterly spoilt for sixteen months, spending time as a family that most people only fantasise about. As a wise man told me, a family needs a base from which to spring board off of, and I think the time has come for me to address my irritating mid Atlantic twang in a town where the sun shines intermittently and the folk are obsessed with tea.

The last matinee in Palm Beach fell on Superbowl Sunday. Time for an impromptu party for the game before the night bus takes cast and crew to the next venue. Come five o’clock a group of us are on a last minute sprint around the aisles of the store all pre game jitters, impulse buy laden trolleys. By six o’clock I am elbow deep in Bimby, rustling up turkey tacos with meatball burgers on the foreman. Actors fill our bath with ice and beer, Sam haranguing them to enact The Three Pigs. They comply. Many are the Mariott guests who have been privy to the troupe’s improvised genius as Napoleon directs a medley of fairy tales poolside, hurling dialogue cues in his sprightly tones. The football game opens with star studded pomp, it’s rules something I fear will always escape me. Can’t even ogle the players like soccer because they’re wearing so much bloomin’ armour. Unless the whole long haired black greasepaint look is your cup of tea.

Jaw dropping luxury of the Palm Beach waterfront villas in our sun drenched past. Now we brave the windswept pristine beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. Till our return to reality the serious work of play – in my periphery Boy is jiggling from foot to foot like a restless imp to the manic crooning of Spike Jones and his City Slickers. Empty laundry basket over his head. His version of Puttin on the Ritz from dad’s show is something I ought to sell tickets for - if you’re into passionate interpretive tap that is. Husband meanwhile at opening night sound check, a sign on the call board warning that feeding or wrestling with the alligators in the lake next to the theatre will incur a $500 fine. Something to remember if I feel tempted to wrestle any of those world weary Londoners.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Me & The Ewings

I am in a Southfork stupor. North of our homestead, towards Plano, pass several mega churches amongst which is Heaven’s Glorious Embassy, take a right onto Farm to Market road and you arrive at the Ewing’s ranch. Make sure you don’t double back onto Virgo or Jupiter road because that will land you at the gun safe spa shop or the bullet range, or, perhaps worse still, Twin Peaks “super fine dining”, it’s billboard splayed with a lady and her own ample twin peaks.

Underestimate not the influence those power hungry, materialistic gloss licked soap opera chicks and cowboys had over me as an impressionable young lass. I tred the terraces sponged into my childhood memories then sing the theme tune skipping down that drive way, up until young Bailey, who had sold me my ticket, zipped by in her golf buggy at which point I pretend to be humming a tune into my sleeve. I join the house tour with a Belgian flight attendant, listening to the kindly John, imbuing his story telling with well rehearsed improvisation and mellifluous tour guide tones. Stewardess and I tip toe around the house past the huge portraits of all the main characters and the rooms devoted to each. None of which appeared in the show, but still. All interiors were shot in California, several months after the summer Texan shoot when they would have to recreate all those shoulder padded strops as if they had just happened. Skill.

Apres noseying, John and his wife Adele, self confessed anglophiles, ask me whether it is customary for all folk who live in mansions to have formal dinners every night? I answer in the affirmative, for what else are ball gowns for than an impromtu spaghetti dinner? “Is there no place to curl up with an ice cold beer?” Adele asks with a twinkle. “But of course,” I reply, “only we call them gin and tonics.”

On the balcony I breathe in the ranch, the surreality of seeing my boys holler over to me from the stables in a view I knew so well, tickling me more than I had expected. Fifteen months of travel makes the idea of playing house utterly irresistible which is why we are spending the show’s lay off week here. I think I have single headedly kept the food and house mags in profit this week, indulging in my nesting fantasies. I recreate signature dishes of the folk back home. The comfort of eating my “aunt’s” food is priceless especially when the heart strings begin to pang ever so softly for home soil, and the aunt passed over three years ago.

Besides, fortification is needed, after the week which saw our boy spike a fever that rose to a delirious 103 on the same day that mama came second in the Miss America Barbie project runway at the theatre. I allowed myself to be coerced into entering the competition by the wardrobe department, then observed myself, without some concern, encrusting a doll with sticky rhinestones completing the evening dress with collaged train made from black and white print outs of iconic moments in American history, pretentiously channelling my misplaced creativity.

Craving escapism? Head to Park lane. Gargantuan mansions line the back ways, French “chateaux” “renaissance” villas and “English” tudor side by side in a frenzied Texan oil-funded utopia. Reality, a tenuous concept at best, will have to wait. We’re ensconced in our own sliver of Texan vacation hideaway. Till Florida comes a calling that is.


I write from New-York-on-Sea, or, as the locals like to call it West Palm Beach. It is a little like what Costa del Sol is to Britons, only with a few less criminals (I think) and a lot more dosh. Mega bucks. Bit of a tropical idyll in one way, with many of the homes and condos built in those pastel shades, architectural echoes of hispanic villas and Carribbean oppulence. Then there's that 26 degree heat, humidity at it's peripheries just enough to comfort rather than drown and you've got yourself a little slice of how the other half live.

Took the boy to strut around the block earlier to absorb the rays, and, having searched for a humble little place to trim my brows and failed, succumbed instead to the closest available spa. Turned out to be the most glamorous one in the state, uber sparse and white with five different women greeting me each with a clipboard of their own and taking me their five steps to the next clipboarded colleague. Boy and I gawp and are ushered into heaven's waiting room. I don't mean that in a cruel way for the reputation this town has for being wealthy ageing New Yorker's last stop before St Peter, or whomever they choose to meet. No, I mean the small, white room was luminous as one might imagine in an episode of Quantum Leap just before he reaches the golden gates. We scoffed a few dried blueberries, mum sniffed the whole leaf teas on offer, even got a look at the owner who I then realised was on every one of the hundred framed magazine cut outs in the lobby, dyed hair, surgically adjusted features, fake tan, marathon runner arms, mid sixties at a guess.

After a while we were escorted on through, where a lady bemoaned the butcher who last attacked my brows and began a half hour's worth of direction on their maintenance. Amongst other things it included mention of eye brow gel (?!) and pencil instructed with enthusiastic diagrammatic direction executed like a da vinci pausing to illustrate angles and mathematical relationships between various parts of my face with a mascara wand, just before she stuffed my nose with a glob of wax and tore out half my nostril hair. Boy, suitably alarmed looked at me expectanatly. "The lady found a forest in my nose!" I joke. He takes a moment to decide whether my humour will cut it. Thankfully it does. Until she does the other side that is.

Back on the street, nose bristling, we take a meander back to the hotel via the Italian gelato store and a quick about turn on the diminutive rail way run by an older chap who I think is going to give us a discount on account of the boy wearing his dad's Yankee cap. At least it gets a grin from the train man, no such luck with the Texan folk of the past month.

I don't mean to give the Dallas lot a bad rep, and, in thinking about what I am about to write I realise I may offend some folk, but the "Dallatude" as an upstate New Yorker friend living in the city for the past twenty years put it, is something I will not miss. I am talking specifically about the phenomenon that is the Dallas dweller, not the Texan. The former, in it's most affluent state, appeared to exhibit the kind of behaviour we had expected of the LA folk. On the oil end of town, there was more plastic surgery and plump lipped mamas than we ever saw in California. Many of whom, appeared to be doing their very best impression of barbie dolls. Unlike most of the citys we have visited most barely met eyes with anyone they did not know, hard was it for us to ease into conversation in our usual way, an opinion seconded by many of the folk we spoke to who had moved down there for work from the north east.

I suppose our introduction to the place via the former Miss Amercia's roach ridden apartment skewed my opinion of the place, as did the uber trendy hotel we stayed in in the interim before moving to the corporate palace we found thereafter trying to be a yuppies haunt but lacking finesse in the details, like playing two different televisions and the radio at full volume in the lobby for example, of forgetting to fit the doors with pneumatic hinges so that each time anyone came in and out of any of the common areas they were punctuated with unintentionally angry door slamming.

Certainly, having talked to folk who have moved here, there is a definite feeling to the city of a place where people come to make a quick buck. The arts, for example, is booming and invested in hugely, though I feel obliged to point out the sponsors, powerful families in the area, are also quick to point out how their money is used. Backstage for example, at the theatre where the show played, the sponsors, aghast to find crew in the green room one day requested that the space be used for the artistes and artistes only. Since that day the door has been locked meaning neither camp has a communal space to convene in, usually one of the best bits of a backstage, a historical leveller. It is the only theatre we have visited on the tour who has the donor's name's illuminated at the foot of the stage right up until curtain up and immediately at intermission. Just sayin...

If you travel half an hour out of the city however, it is a totally different story. I am a Brit, when I come to Texas I want to see cowboys. Real cowboys, that work with cows, not the sort that rent out cockroach ridden apartments or those at the airports yesterday who offered to help with bags even though I was at the wrong terminal thereafter coercing me to finish check in - for a tip.

No, I mean leather belted, fat buckled be-booted and shirted cow boys. And girls. Down on Fort Worth stockyard’s cobbled streets that’s what I find, amongst the western garb stores enough to make vegetarians wince and leather fiends quiver with excitement. If you have around $1,000 spare that is, which is what you’ll pay for a decent pair of boots. Least the purple ones with a decade’s worth of stitching all around it that I had my eye on. If you prefer intricate leather work think in the region of $4,000. I touched, smelt and gawked. Then bought mini versions for the boy instead, from a sleek Texan saleswoman who ran the gauntlet for our cowboy and filled our bags with a complete outfit before we could say yeehaaaa, including a personalised CD made by her daughter with Sam’s name edited into the songs. Spooky. The latter, a present from Cory’s high school friend who lives in these parts who had the honour of watching me narrowly escaping decapitation trying on hundreds of boots, “Best sit”, says sales fella, gesturing to the bench after my second fall.

Boy swaggers ahead delighting in the clomp clumping of his boots upon the cobbles when we come across a horse drawn carriage. $35 dollars later we are aboard, Joe at the reins, taking a right turn and beginning a genteel trot. Through an empty parking lot. At the main road he double backs. Through another empty parking lot. On the other side.

Returning, we catch long horns sauntering down the street, tourist weary eyes, led by hollering owners upon horseback. Holding up the rear an African American cowboy cracking his whip. Husband sings the theme tune from Blazing Saddles. I stare at my shoes. Returning to main street we pass the skinny chap who has been walking his dog around the cross roads since we arrived, collecting tips from the visitors, whilst a cat is balanced on the canine and a rat atop of that.

Through the golden sun setting rays to the last boot shop on the strip, darkened windows, door jamming onto the sidewalk as you struggle to open it. Inside, under the peeling ceiling barely a foot square of free space amongst the hanging alligator skins, leather off cuts, straps, scraps and Ronald Reagan’s supposed boot shaper next the small framed picture of him inch thick with dust. From behind the mounds of supplies through the wafts of polish and glue a rotund Mexican looking craftsman makes his entrance, apron and glasses askew taking half a second to read us as the curious passers-by that we are. He explains his boots are all custom made to order, my eye darts to the pair just behind him with a Madonna stitched on the front, adding prices start at $650. We leave empty handed but for a picture or three of his wizened face.

Texan days are done. I type from our new Palm beach room, nursing away post travel day sniffles watching the palm trees sway in the afternoon breeze. Boys on the hunt for supplies. Mama considering a sponsorship deal with Kleenex. And counting her lucky (Floridian) stars.