Married as I am now to a lovely Japanese lady, I have come to meet many of her friends, and to visit many Japanese shopping centers (and sushi bars) in and around Los Angeles.
I have visited, dined, and shopped with Miyuki at locations within a stone’s throw of Hollywood where I live, suburbs like Torrance, Gardena, Costa Mesa, Tustin and of course close-by Little Tokyo, and on the West Side the Sawtelle area.
At retail businesses I’ve been to, such as Nijiya, Marukai, Mitsua, and Weller Court (among many) can be found any and all imaginable Japanese-made goods.
Occasionally, we visit other places of ethnicity. China Town comes to mind, and Korea Town, and Thai Town and Monterey Park. And in fact Sweden (Town?) in Burbank with its estimable Ikea store, huge.
What brings on this post is that today I got mad when I read in the Los Angeles Times several separate articles recounting the hilarity, quaintness, eccentricity and oddness of we Brits, and, frankly, it pisses me off, and in a way they are correct.
Readers here are told in these articles that in California we go “outwardly native”, are “fiercely competitive cricketers batting sixers” (sic), in small quaint groups playing the “stultifyingly dull” British game before no interested spectators just for our own pleasure, and the downing of numerous glasses of Gin and Tonic with the sun high up in the sky.
It says we make lush water-thirsty oases of English Gardens in the middle of the desert, good only for a couple of spring months of flowering (mad dogs of Englishmen of course!).
Here in America, my adopted country, the press creates worshipful icons of British media stars. The newspaper refers to that, says “Michael Caine – that’s Sir Michael to you”, and the thoroughly British David Hockney, who painted the bottom of the pool at Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel. Patronizingly, in general, we amusing plebes “deserve our place in the sun. Why? Two words. The Beatles.”
Another article today headlines “THERE WILL ALWAYS BE AN ENGLAND as long as the beer doesn’t run out.” Then, we are all “expats“, gathering at watering holes such as Santa Monica’s King’s Head pub to watch the football.
Now, I’m all for poking fun at anybody who deserves it, including Brits, and including shallow Americans (they hate this, especially Jewish shallow Americans, which is not acceptable unless you’re Jewish). As a director, I’ve always maintained it is important to not take oneself too seriously, but that the work is what matters, is in fact everything.
But there is an undercurrent of seriousness to this post.
What’s missing – in that all important work department – is the complete absence of a serious British presence. Sure, there are scattered cottage type enterprises; Rolls Royce and sports auto dealerships, struggling British and Irish boutique import shops which usually go belly up in a couple of years, the Virgin establishments, British pubs which abound, and the British Consulate, many of whose parties I attended for the questionable pleasure of shaking the likes of Prince Charles by the hand.
Meanwhile, what do I do when I want to buy an English pork sausage that bursts when you fry it, or a can of straight Ginger Beer, or Somerset hard cider, or Devonshire Cream, or Tate & Lyle treacle or Bovril, or a batch of wine gums, or liquorice allsorts, or a proper kipper, or a spotted dick, or the British inflected versions of Heinz mayonnaise and tomato sauce, or a British woolly cardigan, or a video of Black Adder, or some drinkable tea, all of which can be loaded on to a 747 VA cargo flight, a mere 12 hours away?
Well, for the tea, I will go to Rose Tree Cottage in Pasadena, whose owner will serve me in full butler dress and white gloves. For my favorite Idris Ginger Beer I will go to the tiny Irish Shop importer on Vine. For a decent banger, they are really not obtainable the way I remember them from back home (here made with a rusk binder instead of bread – ingredient problems with the inspectors of such things), and as for smoked kippers, I might get a poor frozen copy imported from Canada, and the same for the only candy that’s edible, in my opinion, again from Canada, but not the right flavor by any means. As for my English videos, I can hang around to tape them from the BBC America channel. For an English vegetable marrow, or purple edible gooseberries, or red currents, or commercially packaged suet to make those wondrous puddings, just blank stares. For a spotted dick, you’ll get sent to West Hollywood (joke).
Very very occasionally, I will get the real thing from the old country, sneaked past customs at LAX by some brave enterprising break-the-law friend.
So, in a way, the expats get what they deserve.
What I am saying is that it is not enough for me to know that in fact Great Britain is the biggest investor in American industry of any foreign country, underground and well disguised, as though ashamed to be recognized.
It is time that the mother country took its head out of the sand, stopped acting so damned superior whilst feigning modesty, stopped acting the court fool, and proudly built one or more centers of British Businesses and retail shops, and tell the world that the British Isles boasts superior flavors in many of their foods, superior quality in much of their clothing and furniture design, the best original household antiques, and fly atop the Union Jack.
I mean, where are the Sainsbury’s? The Harrods? The Marks and Spencer’s? The Lyons Corner House? The Simpson’s in the Strand? The Cook’s Travel Services? And you name any number more. All content to sit by while the Americans make faux copies while we just smile and nod knowingly in our maddeningly aloof way?
They’re online you say? Well, screw you. Last time I tried to buy a cardigan from Marks & Spencer’s, I was told (by computer default) it was not available.
At the very least, it would be a bunch of well spaced three-story malls with parking below, elevators, and a host of British shops under one roof. If the Japanese can do it, if the South Koreans can do it, if the Chinese can do it, if the Swedes can do it, so can we. We might even let in the Irish and others from our days of empire.
What we need is a British pro-active entrepreneur with a broad world view, answerable to no boardroom executives, sailing against the wind, and not a figure of fun. He would form a new independant company, and plunk down a few million dollars, and start this thing off with an invitation to get others to join.
And who comes to mind?
Why, the ultimate British internationalist leader, billionaire Richard Branson, of course. That is if his attention can be got, between his world ranging journeys of eccentrically intrepid adventure.