At the Car Wash

I thought I had stayed relatively British during my 15 year stint in Los Angeles. I Iost count of the number of times people commented that I hadn’t lost my English accent, I insisted on packing my bags at the supermarket and I still had a roast dinner, complete with Yorkshire puds on a Sunday. But on my return to the UK it became apparent that I had become a little ‘LA’ when living there.

I’m pretty sure the smartly dressed man outside the National Trust property didn’t appreciate me tossing my car keys at him when I mistook him for a valet and I’m convinced the owners of the local petrol station think I’m a complete idiot.

So much so I’m too embarrassed to go back there.

I’m used to driving a big car…but on big roads. I had a couple of prangs in Los Angeles but I still blame the fact I honestly couldn’t see over the steering wheel.

But for the majority of the time I could navigate the five lanes of heavy traffic on the 101 freeway – it just turns out I can’t navigate my way around a village petrol station – specifically I can’t drive my way through a car wash.

I was so excited about taking the kids through one – yeah, I know I said I was going to find fun and trendy things to do in the countryside, but I was having one of those days. Automatic car washes are far and few between in LA – mainly because when you valet your car you get the option for it to be washed too – so I figured it would be fun.

The problem was it had been a LONG time since I’d used one. I sat in the car and actually googled “how to go through a car wash”. Then to make doubly sure I did it right I went into the petrol station shop and spoke to the lady behind the counter.

I carefully explained – much to her amusement – that I was basically a foreigner and because I’d lived outside of the country for 15-years I wasn’t 100% sure on how to use a car wash.  It was my kid’s first time and I didn’t want to mess it up.

She kindly gave me instructions that basically amounted to “line your car up, turn off the engine and the machine will do the rest”.

I still managed to mess it up.

Five minutes later I was stuck inside a dark car wash, with a pair of petrified children. I couldn’t get out because my door was wedged up against the oversized brush I’d somehow managed to get way too close to and I had to make my exit via the passenger door. Sheepishly and covered in soap suds –  with the kids still screaming blue murder inside the car I might add – I had to go and explain myself to the woman.

She took one look outside the window, looked back at me and called her daughter in to take a look at what I’d done. “Look, look” she said pointing her finger at the disaster zone outside. “We haven’t had anyone mess up this badly in years!”

Oh how they laughed!

She then picked up the phone to call her husband!

“Why not call your mum too while you’re at it,” I said, because by this point I was not only red-faced but also painfully aware my children were still stuck out there.

Turns out she was only calling her mechanic hubby to come and help. I then had to stand there as they marvelled, along with a few rubberneckers, at “how the hell I’d managed that.”

After a lot of manoeuvring, tutting and shocked shaking of his head he broke my vehicle free of the brush that had got caught underneath the wheel arch of the front wheel.

I thanked him very, very, very much and went to jump into the car to make a speedy and shameful getaway, when they asked; “Don’t you want another go? Your car is only half clean.”

At first I was convinced they were only asking so they could catch another failed attempt on camera and flog it to ‘You’ve Been Framed’ for £250.  But then the husband thwarted his wife’s plans by leaping into the driver’s seat of my car and positively INSISTING he drive my car and crying kids through the car wash.

Had this been in LA they would have probably forced me to pay for someone to come and fix the car wash and then sued me for damages. In the countryside however, they not only gave me my second £3.50 wash for free, but they also threw in two chocolate bars for the kids.

Lucky for me the English rain has kept me from having to go back and show my face, and terrible driving skills, any time soon! I knew there was a reason to love this weather.

The Dangers of Rural Living

The other day a friend asked me if I felt safer living in the British countryside rather than in LA and I didn’t know what to say.

I lived in a few different neighbourhoods, as they are called there, during my life in California but the majority of it was in a historic (1938) – which by Los Angeles standards is ancient –  block of lofts in the heart of Hollywood.

Lofts at Hollywood and Vine

Friends used to visit and be bitterly disappointed because they’d assumed I lived in a mansion in Beverly Hills and that my local supermarket was on Rodeo Drive.

While there was an abundance of celebrity filled restaurants and trendy hotels,  sex shops, smoke shops and tattoo parlours were dotted between them too.

My dad used to make me laugh when he’d try to look at the positives, and point out that “it’s nice that they’ve got so many individual and non-chain shops here”. I’m not sure the ‘Adult Warehouse Outlet’ or ‘The Pleasure Chest’ were really franchise material!

Perhaps it’s pretty apt that my apartment block featured on the start of the movie ‘Pretty Woman’ and is regularly zoomed in on for the crime show ‘Bosch’.

Hollywood on Bosch

There’s a reason Hollywood was often referred to as Hollyweird, I mean among other things I did witness two grown men dressed as Spiderman being arrested for having a turf war, like a couple of prostitutes.

But I grew to love the city and all it’s quirks.

My daughter has always been able to sleep through pretty much anything, and I believe thats thanks to the police helicopters and ambulances that used to fly over and race past every hour of the day.

Sounds horrific to many I’m sure. BUT I did feel strangely safe.

Now, when I moved to the countryside, I was still excited not have to worry about earthquakes, roaring traffic and the other obviously perils of city living.

But it turns out I can’t get away from it all and when it comes to driving here, I’d take a major 5 lane freeway any day!

I’m not good behind the wheel anyway and it’s been pointed out that the majority of the time I actually breath in when I pass a car and practically crap myself when I see a tractor headed my way.

small roads countryside
This photo did the road justice!

Case in point, I’ve just returned from a little holiday to Cornwall with my FLF (food loving friend), you may remember him from a former blog post.

I was in charge of driving and much to his dismay we had to abort a mission to get into a local village when the roads became so small I feared I’d meet my death wedged between, what was admittedly a beautiful Rhododendron and the way-too-late sign post that indicated ‘narrow road ahead’.

I had to do an ‘Austin Powers’ style 25 point turn to get out of the corridor – because I swear to God the route between my kitchen and bathroom is bigger –  and drive out of the village with sweat pouring down my face as my daughter pointed out repeatedly “daddy’s right, you can’t drive”.

Then there are the insects. Going for a hike in Los Angeles meant avoiding rattle snakes or the occasional cougar – both the animal and the older lady seeking a younger man variety.

Here it’s become apparent that it’s the smaller things I should be concerned about. My anally retentive and arachnophobic  – slight exaggeration – husband informed me he’d purchased a ’spider catcher’ after he claims he saw “one with teeth, hiding and ready to pounce” underneath his towel.

I had visions of this Spiderman inspired device that shoots a net out to gather up the critters faster than lightening. Turns out the ‘spider catcher’ is just a ridiculously expensive Black and Decker hand held vacuum cleaner.

My dad leaving the hedge cutter in the kid’s sandpit drew way less concern than when I thought my son had a tick! I flipped out even more than when I believed I saw a flea in his bed – hedgehogs carry them you know – and I may now have scarred him for life.

hedge cutter in sandpit
“It would have been very difficult for the kids to turn on” said my mum

I had him pinned down in the garden as I argued with my husband over the best way to remove it. I knew from having a dog decades ago that you shouldn’t just pull it out and you needed a special device, but the wireless didn’t stretch from the house and there was, as usual, no signal in the garden, so Googling was out of the question.

Lyme Disease raced through my mind as I stood there arguing with my spider fearing husband about who and how we were going to pull this disgusting thing from my, by now, terrified child’s leg.

It was perhaps a tad overkill, because when I gritted my teeth and took the plunge I discovered it wasn’t a tick after all, it was just a leaf.

There’s also a sheepdog, who has a reputation for being a biter up the road and there’s a pack of cows who saw me dive head first into some brambles to escape, what I believed was, an inevitable stampede the other day.

But wilderbeests, creepy crawlies and ridiculously small roads aside, I’m happy to say we do feel safe here!

If I could just get this mosquito out of the bedroom to ease my fears of catching West Nile virus, I’d be able to sleep just that little bit better.