Say Goodnight

She gives a smile when the pain comes

 

15th December 2010

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After yesterday's excesses it was always going to be a struggle to wake up no matter what time it was this morning but it was torturous having to get out of bed early for our 8:40am pre-booked transfer to Universal Studios!

We only made it by the skin of our teeth as we stumbled outside the hotel with a minute to spare. We stood half asleep, leaning on each other for support. Right on time the Starlines mini bus arrived. We were the first pick up. As we drove along Sunset Boulevard we got chatting to the driver. He had a slight Geordie accent tempered a little by the Californian sunshine. He had married an American and they moved out to LA five years ago. He used to be in the British Army and then he landed the prestigious job of a Beefeater, ceremonial keepers of the Tower of London. On the front seat he had a folder filled with photographs, one of which was him dressed in the tights and frills of the beefeater state uniform standing just behind Queen Elizabeth II. There were also a few pictures of his rather glamorous wedding day.

He was a really nice bloke and we chatted all the way to the Starline main office on Hollywood Boulevard where we got off the mini bus. This was a little confusing as we were expecting him to take us all the way to Universal Studios but the people we had picked up along the way were all going to different places. We had to get off and go to the office with our transfer vouchers to then get given a bus number and departure time for the Universal bus.

"It would have been easier if we'd made our own way there" I huffed as I joined the back of a long queue outside the office. I don't do queuing very well. "Maybe" added Julie "but we'd probably still be in bed if we hadn't arranged a pick-up!" She had a point.

It was over half an hour later before we left the bus depot. At the time the delay was a little frustrating but when we reached the gates of Universal Studios and were still one of the first to walk through the turnstiles then all was forgiven.

As we strolled down the main street we picked up a park map from this member of staff in colonial fancy dress. He launched into this spiel about Universal Studios.

There was something quite disconcerting about him. I don't know if he was just a terrible actor with his wooden delivery of his script or was he brilliant and got the creepy character down to a T.

He just went on and on droning whilst forcing out a sinister smile. It was enough to make your skin crawl. He would be better working in the House of Horrors rather than greeting people at the gates.

I wanted to say "Just give me the bloody map" but I didn't. Out of politeness we stood and listened as scores of people rushed past us. He did at least draw our attention to the Daily Shooting Schedule which said that Desperate Housewives and Parenthood were being filmed today.

We were both excited at the prospect of seeing a star or two from the show. Desperate Housewives is one of Julie's favourite TV programmes.

Half way down the main street we came to a stop as the first wave of people (us included) gathered around to listen to some more information this time delivered in the style of a circus Master of Ceremonies.

We were all getting a little restless wanting to start the fun but we had to listen to this guy explaining that "when you see the signs that say 10 minutes wait that means that you may experience a 10 minute wait". Seriously!?!?

He repeated in Spanish which was fair enough but then someone else appeared from his pocket (or so it seemed) and gave it to us all in Mandarin or Cantonese, I can never tell them apart.

Finally they stepped aside and over the loudspeaker we heard someone call "and .... Action" and we were off.

We made a b-line for the legendary Studio Tour.

I was surprised to see how high up on a hill we were. We could see below us the filming lots of Universal and a short distance across the valley were the studios of Warner Bros.

We walked down a lot of steps and some escalators to the Studio Tour boarding area and were pleased to get onto the first trolley of the day. It must have rained overnight as all the seats were wet. In fact the weather this morning was decidedly more British than Californian, that glorious chance of experiencing winter, spring, summer and fall within the same day. It must be why we talk about the weather so much.

Once we wiped our seats dry and sat down our guide appeared on a small TV screen in our cart, the third and last carriage of the long Studio Tour tram. She was an overly cheerful young woman who was sat at the front of the first trolley.

We soon set off, snaking our way down the hill along the curiously named Bob Marley Avenue and into the soundstages of the front lot where inside these large warehouses so many famous movies have been filmed over the years.

Every so often we had Whoopi Goldberg narrating a video montage about the history of the studios.

We passed Stage 28, the oldest stage here, which I found odd as I expected the oldest to be stage 1! Anyway, stage 28 is known as the Phantom Stage because it's home to some of the original sets of the "Paris Opera House" made for the 1925 Phantom of the Opera film.

Trundling on we passed Stage 31. It was strange to think that they were actually filming scenes from Desperate Housewives inside. We stared at the walls but couldn't see through them.

Following the road out along James Stewart Avenue we came to the famous backlot where a complete city of balsam wood buildings stood. These large scale film sets have been used for countless films. The most obvious one was the easily recognisable Courthouse Square from the Back To The Future trilogy.

Two sides of the square and most of New York Street and New England Street were damaged by fire in 2008. They were still busy working on rebuilding the incredibly realistic facades.

We looped around and went up to Universal's latest attraction, the King Kong 360 3D.

Whilst it's the newest installation it was housed inside a familiar structure. Memories of watching my father's cine film of his West Coast roadtrip in the seventies came flooding back as we drove towards the entrance of this dark cave.

I remember seeing the exact same scene from his super 8 footage. I use to spend hour splicing together the numerous three and a half minute reels and then adding a soundtrack.

I harboured ideas of being in the film industry at that age.

I don't know what attraction it was thirty years ago but today it represented Skull Island from the Peter Jackson movie about King Kong.

Inside, in the darkness, we parked up. Suddenly with our 3D glasses in place we were transported deep into the jungle, immersed in lush greenery. Just as we were starting to appreciate the 360 degree all-round view of the plant life we were surrounded by menacing raptors.

We needn't have worried about the skinny dinosaurs, it was the pack of incoming T-Rex's that was going to be our problem. No sooner had they arrived had they chewed up the raptors and then turned their attention to us.

They swung their tails and banged their heads against the tram. We felt each knock as we were rocked back and forth by the force of their virtual blows.

Then from stage left this gigantic gorilla came crushing through the under growth to save the day. We shook and shuddered violently, caught in the centre of an epic struggle between King Kong and the three T-Rex's. The jolting wasn't the only fourth dimension to the ride. I don't know if someone sneezed in my face or we all got showered in fake dinasaur spit but there was spray involved. Then suddenly the tram tipped over and we fell down a vine filled ravine. We hung in the balance tangled up in vines staring into the abyss. Then in a true Hollywood ending and not a moment too soon the great ape swung to our rescue and lifted us back up to safety.

I'm not a big fan of 3D and sometimes I feel like it's a real strain on my brain and my eyes go all funny, as if I'm looking at the screen through Julie's prescription glasses but this was pretty dramatic stuff.

We popped out the other side of the Skull Island cave and rolled past a row of cars used in the movies and on TV like Jurassic Park SUV, Back To The Future DeLorean, Magnum P.I.'s Ferrari, and KIT the Knight Rider car.

It didn't float my boat. I'm just not into cars.

The vehicular theme continued as we then pulled into a small enclosed arena to see a special effects display.

Two cars were sent hurtling through the air blown away by a huge explosion and carried on a carefully planned trajectory by huge hydraulic arms. We could feel the heat of the pyrotechnics from where we were sat, some 10 metres away.

After fire came water and a lot of it.

In another flashback to my father's super 8mm film we pulled up in a sleepy Mexican village where the sky opened and the heaven's poured. Hurtling down the hill towards came the 40,000 gallons of floodwaters from the Rio Grande.

This has been washing down Isla Nublada for the last forty years without any sign of erosion. Amazing.

Moving on we drove around the Wild West (which was apparently built to 7/8 scale to make the actor's appear taller) and then through the cobbled streets of some town in middle Europe.

There was apparently some filming going on in the backlots.

On several occasions the tram slowed down as we entered 'Quiet Zones' and our tour guide switched to incommunicado mode whilst we drove through the sections closest to the filming locations.

Despite her saying how lucky we were to be in the area we actually saw nothing, no one, not even a camera man.

She did say that for $119 you can buy a VIP studio tour ticket and get some 'backstage' action.

That sounded a very inviting proposition.

For your money you get access to areas that are usually out of bounds to the regular customer. It would have been such a thrill to have seen some real stars and some proper filming instead of just the empty backlots.

Anyway, up next we starred in our own disaster movie as we pulled into what looked like a New York subway station. It was inside one of the soundstages that used to be the home of the Battlestar Galactica attraction.

Not unexpectedly the tram shook aggressively from side to side, sparks flew, columns fell, fires broke out and the whole place flooded as we experienced an 8.3 magnitude earthquake. The Big One was all very exciting stuff.

Our next destination was a small port on Amity Island, New England, the location for the Jaws story.

In the middle of the lake a dungareed local was merrily fishing from a small boat oblivious to the shark's fin heading towards him.

In a flurry of water he and his boat disappeared beneath the surface.

We followed the fin as it circled around and came towards us.

It felt like we to tip a little towards the water just as the enormous Great White came lunging out of the water, jaws open, showing plenty of teeth, almost smiling for the camera.

I'm sure if you were eight years old it would be frightening but the mechanical rubber fish didn't have the same scariness as it did the first time I saw the film.

Once we moved on the waters calmed and the mannequin and his boat re-appeared complete with his baseball cap firmly in place, ready for the next shark attack.

Just around the corner from the Jaws Lake was Wisteria Lane, the location for the hit TV show Desperate Housewives. . Julie was greatly looking forward to this, so was I, especially as they were filming here today.

We entered the quiet zone and the anticipation built. We turned a corner and .... almost missed it!

Julie was so disappointed.

We buzzed past in our nippy battery powered tram not even slowing down. We just very briefly caught a glimpse of wisteria growing outside a house, 4348 Wisteria Lane. It wasn't even a main character's house.

Not one sighting of a Scavo, a Van de Kamp, a DelFino nor a Solis just a large black truck blocking the entrance to the lane.

If missing out on seeing Wisteria Lane made Julie feel gutted the next scene we arrived at made her feel physically sick. It was the wreckage of the plane crash from The War Of The Worlds.

The scene was one of utter devastation. A piece of the fuselage lay on its side, the rows of seats inside were visible because the top had peeled off like a sardine tin. The carnage was so realistic is was extremely unsettling.

The debris was strewn over a large area. One wing and a still smoking jet engine were found in the back garden of the house that Psycho built.

Psycho is probably Alfred Hitchcock's best known film, it's the one with the infamous shower scene.

I have to admit that I wouldn't have recognised it as the house from the film but I have only watched it the once and that was a very long time ago.

Up close the house on the hill was just a simple wooden structure with a porch. It's amazing how good cinematography could make a house look so sinister.

Norman Bates, the owner of his self-titled Bates Motel lived in the scary house on the hill with his "mother", overlooking the chalets below.

We rolled down to the motel car park where we stopped for a few more nuggets of information about the film.

The role of Norman Bates was played by Anthony Perkins but it was actress Janet Leigh's performance as Marion Crane that capture everyone's attention. It earned her an Oscar nomination. The film was also nominated for best director, best cinematography and best art direction but won none of them.

Looking towards the grim cabins of the most memorable movie murder scene we couldn't help but smile when we noticed the wacky curly swirly shapes of the Grinchmas set behind.

Suddenly, distracting us from the juxtaposition, Norman Bates himself appeared, stepping out of the room nearest the office carrying a corpse wrapped in a shower curtain. He placed the body in the trunk of the car and then began to walk slowly towards us, pulling out a very large knife.

Our tour guide who will never make it in this town as an actress feigned panic and then relief as we pulled away.

We looped around and entered a winter wonderland of original sets used in the filming of the Dr. Seuss story 'How The Grinch Stole Christmas'.

To celebrate the holiday season the town of Whoville had been reconstructed with tonnes of fake snow and all sorts of weird and wonderful props from the film.

Apparently we were getting a sneak preview of Universal Studios' Grinchmas attraction. It wasn't due to open until December 18th. We had noticed as we walked down Main Street earlier a huge twisting Christmas tree in the middle of a snowy fantasy world. They were still busy working on it.

We slowly made our way uphill towards Mt. Crumpit, ignoring all the warning signs like 'Buzz Off!'

Our final warning came from the Grinch himself. Dressed in a Santa costume he warned of our impending doom if we continued any further. I expected it to be an animatronic mechanical Grinch but it wasn't, there was a real actor behind the green rubber mask.

Of course it wasn't Jim Carey but that didn't detract from the thrill of seeing the Grinch up close and personal. It was such an impressive piece of make up, it looked almost realistic especially how the mouth moved when he spoke.

Having ignored all the humorous warning signs we ended up disappearing down a rabbit hole. It must have been a bloody big rabbit.

In a wonderful optical illusion we found ourselves spinning down the hole, rolling over and over again. It was very disorientating which Julie didn't enjoy one bit.

Then we were thrown into darkness; we had reached the end, the end of the hole and the end of the Studio Tour.

It had been enjoyable despite the cold weather and not seeing much of Wisteria Lane.

Back up on Main Street we walked past the Simpsons ride where a seven foot Homer, Marge and Bart came to say hello. "Go on, have your photo taken with them for the boys" encouraged Julie. So I did.

Homer put his arm around me. Marge seemed to take a shine to me, stroking me like a pet dog. I felt strangely flattered to receive attention from the lovely and beguiling Mrs. Simpson.

After some confusion over our choreography we linked arms and smiled for the camera.

I shook Homer's hand and gave Marge a good hug before realising that inside was probably a 6ft bloke called Chuck. Not to be left out Julie posed for a photo with Bart.

We weren't too sure what to do next so we wandered around aimlessly, stopping for a cup of hot chocolate to warm ourselves up against the cold weather.

The first attraction we came to was the Special Effects stage and as it happened a performance was just about to begin.

It turned out to be not that special. We sat down inside enjoying the shelter more than the show as they divulged the not-so- "secrets behind Hollywood movie making" with examples of CGI, stop motion and 3D technology.

To be fair they tried their best to make not feel like a lecture but it wasn't that interesting.

A little hungry and still cold we stopped for lunch.

The choices of eateries at theme parks aren't usually that great nor is the food and our low expectations were met as we shovelled down a slab of greasy vegetable topped pizza. At least did the job it was intended for, it filled a hole and warmed us up.

Looking at the studio map we planned our next move. We'd already seen the front lot and back lot on the Studio Tour. The remaining attractions were spread over the upper lot (or entertainment centre) and the lower lot (or studio centre). It made sense to go to the furthest point of the 415 acre site and work our way backwards.

On our way down, transported along a cascade of escalators known as the Starway, we looked out over the studio soundstages. On Avenue H in between stages 36 and 37 we spotted a rare sighting of some real life actors having a break from filming.

At first we got excited and hoped for someone we recognised . Zooming in with my camera we tried to make out a familiar face but dressed as Musketeers, covered in a mop of long hair, a bushy moustache and large feathered hat, they could have been anyone. According to the daily shooting schedule the TV series Parenthood was being filmed in stage 37 today but even if they were stars of the show we wouldn't have recognised them anyway.

Down at the lower lot they had a small "interactive exhibition" where props, wardrobe and artefacts from the studio's long history were on display. Universal was founded in 1912 by Carl Laemmle and three years later he bought a chicken ranch on this site.

There wasn't much memorabilia on display from those very early days. Most were from the fifties onwards. My favourite item was a genuine Oscar, won for Best Picture 1973 for The Sting.

After five minutes we had seen all we wanted to see.

The idea of having a museum was excellent but I thought Universal could have done a far better job of it. I'm sure they have enough props to fill a museum a hundred times larger. Anyway, moving on; down here in the lower lot were two rides, Jurassic Park - The Ride and the Revenge of the Mummy - The Ride.

We walked towards the dinosaur themed attraction but once we saw the raft splash into the water after hurtling down an 80ft slide we decided it was too cold to chance getting a soaking.

Julie also decided to sit out the Revenge of the Mummy. She's not a big fan of thrill rides, even the spinning tea cups send her into a tizz.

So whilst I set off inside the large converted soundstage she sat at a table outside the Panda Express - Gourmet Chinese.

I could have been gone a long time queuing and I had visions of her tucking into a chicken chow mein when I returned but as it turned out I was back in a flash.

There literally was no queue. I couldn't believe it as I walked straight through and onto the rollercoaster. I sat down next to a complete stranger who smelt a bit of rotting potatoes and we pulled down the safety bar across our lap. Without warning we shot off into the darkness.

We raced around in the obscurity, tore around corners, plunged down unexpected drops, came to a sudden stop and then reversed our way around most it again. I can't remember seeing much and yes, I did have my eyes open.

Julie would have hated every second of it.

I was only gone for five minutes in total. At least that was one benefit of being here on a damp December day. When I got back to Julie she was on the phone to Hannah. All the kids, Rory, Tyler and Freya were asleep.

In a strange coincidence they had just been watching Scooby Doo before going to bed and Hannah and Tim were also about to have a Chinese takeaway. And there we were; sitting outside a Chinese restaurant watching Shaggy drive past in the The Mystery Machine van.

Zoiks!

It was a shame we didn't see Scooby. The boys would have loved a photo of him. I looked around for Daphne but she must have been in the back of the van with Fred and Velma.

With the lower studio centre completed we rode the only ride that Julie was comfortable with, the Starway escalators, back up to the entertainment centre.

Next up on our list we tried the Shrek 4D where we experienced the first queue of the day.

We were a little early for the next showing so we had to stand in the reception area for what felt like ages. Little animated figures tried to keep us entertained.

Eventually we were allowed through into a large cinema where we watched a Shrek short story in 3D wearing our "Ogre-Vision" glasses.

The fourth dimension was added by the vibrating seats and sneezing donkey squirting in your face. It was great fun.

Moving on we walked down what appeared to be a British High Street complete with a pub, red telephone box and postbox and a tattoo studio. There was even a mock 1950's theatre just around the corner. Although that was more Las Vegas than Llandudno.

At the end of the street was the Terminator 2 3D or was it Terminator 3 2D ? Anyway, we were once again held in a reception area for about ten minutes bored silly waiting to be allowed to enter. We all read messages being fed to us along an electronic ticker tape board. They tried to crank up the excitement by saying we should prepare to enter a restricted access zone but I'd completely lost interest by then.

The show was trying to be spectacular but I sat there with my arms folded waiting for the amazement to hit me and it never arrived. There were too much explosions and shooting to hold my attention. Those type of films always bore me stupid. Some of the 3D monsters towards the end were quite good but we left generally unimpressed.

We were equally disappointed by the House of Horrors. Even scaredy-cat Julie who jumps out of her skin with total fear at the slightest of things didn't feel it lived up to its promise.

I didn't help that we were at the back of a group walking through the cobwebs, so whatever evil that was lurking in the darkness ready to pounce and shout "Boo!" had already revealed themselves by the time we arrived at the scene. I'm sure if we were on our own tip toeing through the darkness it would have been a totally more frightening experience.

One did catch me out. I can't remember if he was dressed like a zombie, a werewolf or Frankenstein's monster but he lunged forward towards my face. I instinctively reacted with ninja like speed and clenched fists. I parried his attacking arms with some force. I must have hurt him.

For the final ride of the day we returned to The Simpsons Ride. It warned about sudden movements so Julie sat this one out. I went alone through the gates of Krustyland Theme Park, down the stairs to the holding area.

The sign said fifteen minutes queuing time.

It could have been tedious waiting in line but episodes of the famous cartoon family made it such an entertaining quarter of an hour I was almost disappointed when it time for the ride.

Eight of us were let through into a small waiting room where the door swung shut behind us. We watched a safety video hosted by Itchy and Scrachty reminding us to keep our arms in and not stand up on the rollercoaster in case we got decapitated. With all the health and safety issues taken care of in classic Simpsons style another door swung open and we entered the room where our carriage awaited.

After a quick dash securing a front row seat the anticipation was building up nicely. I'd not read a thing about the ride and really didn't know what to expect.

The ride began with the small TV screen in front of us loosing signal and Sideshow Bob taking control of the broadcast. He cackled madly and switched the ride setting from Thrilling to Killing and the whole carriage elevated upwards through the ceiling.

We entered total darkness but rose rapidly towards the light high above us. We emerged from the void into the clear blue skies and engaged onto the tracks of a rickety old wooden rollercoaster. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. We had entered a whole virtual cartoon world.

It was jaw dropping spectacular. My eyes widened with amazement trying to take it all in. I had never seen anything quite like it before in my life.

My entire field of vision was filled with the view of Krustyland Theme Park. I looked left, right, up and down. I could only describe it as actually being inside a cartoon.

 

Projected onto 80 foot IMAX screen and wrapped in Dolby surround sound I was completely immersed in the ride. The incredible definition and clarity as well as the perfectly matched motion of the hydraulic simulator made for the most real of virtual experiences.

The ride itself was both thrilling and very funny as we hurtled down the sabotaged rollercoaster closely behind Homer, Marge, Bart & Lisa in the car in front.

I wasn't long before we shot off the tracks landing out of control in a waterworld attraction and then somehow ended up flying over Springfield in our rollercoaster cart.

A gigantic super-sized Maggie, the dummy sucking Simpson baby was involved somewhere along the way.

The ride ended as we found ourselves on a "death drop" ride crashing back down to earth. After which Krusty the Clown takes our photo which we could purchase of course from the Kwik-E-Mart outside.

I couldn't stop smiling, I absolutely loved the ride.

When I returned to Julie I was buzzing with so much excitement about what I had just experienced that I tried to persuade her to have a go.

"You've just got to try it." I said "it's just like being inside a cartoon"

I didn't go into anymore detail as I didn't want to ruin that initial wonder and astonishment of seeing it for the first time. I didn't even explain that it wasn't a real rollercoaster.

She made me promise that there weren't any terrifying moments in the ride, which I did, so she agreed to give it a try.

She sat nervously in the rollercoaster car, gripping the lap bar tightly, apprehensive for the ride ahead. Then we entered the cartoon she let out an "Oh my God" .

I turned to look at her and saw a face of sheer joy. Julie was blown away by it just as much as I was. We couldn't stop talking about it for hours after it had finished!

After The Simpons Ride we decided to leave. At least our visit to Universal Studios had ended on a really high note. Our shuttle bus back to our hotel wasn't due for another couple of hours which would have given us enough time to enjoy the City Walk area just outside the studio's gates.

There we could have shopped 'til we dropped and then recovered in one of the many restaurants including another Hard Rock Cafe.

Conscious of the time and my appointment at High Voltage Tattoos at 6pm we decided to leave so that we were a little nearer Fountain/La Brea. We didn't really know how long it would take for us to find our own way back.

It turned out to be very straightforward. We caught a free bus down the hill to near the LA Metro. I didn't know before coming here but there's been a subway rail system in Los Angeles since 1990.

All the lines seem to start/end in the Downtown area, which would be very convenient if your staying in that district. Not so useful if you're not. The coverage is nowhere near comprehensive as say London but we found it to be smooth and efficient.

One stop down the line and we got off at Hollywood/Highland, emerging right next door to the Hard Rock Cafe. It had hardly taken us fifteen minutes since leaving Universal.

With a bit more time on our hands than we thought we opted for supper in the Hard Rock Cafe. Their always reliable veggie burger (except for Munich where it was definitely contaminated with meat fat) was delicious and filling whilst Julie loved her pulled pork and chicken combo sandwich so much that that she would have married it if it were legal in California.

We left the HRC with half an hour to make our way to the corner of Fountain and La Brea. We walked all the way and were surprised that it only took us 15 minutes.

We stepped inside tattoo parlour and were greeted by Adrienne who we recognised from LA Ink. She courteously yet typically unsmilingly took down my details and called over the tattooist.

He introduced himself as Kevin, Kevin Lytle and asked me to give him a few minutes to prepare the image. So Julie and I sat in the window seat and waited, entertained by the steady flow of people coming in just to have a look, probably hoping to catch a glimpse of Kat Von D. (But she wasn't in.)

One German couple, around our age, walked in and the woman described this tattoo design she wanted. It was a large star shape and she wanted it high up on the neck.

Adrienne gave her a piece of advice and told her to go away and think about it. It was quite hard core to have a huge tattoo on the neck as your first.

Kevin came over and showed me the design. I hadn't really given him much scope for artistic expression. The image from the Black Crowes Warpaint album is what it is.

He explained however that he was going to deviate from it slightly, on two points. Firstly he was going to remove the small crow on the top left because with it being scaled down to fit on my forearm it probably would loose its definition and look more like a splodge. He also said that he wouldn't try and attempt the star in the forehead for the same reason.

I was more than happy for him to continue, so I was permitted to step beyond the red cordon that separated the curious from the clientele and I sat down at his workstation. He prepared the area by shaving the hair and wiped it clean with an antiseptic solution before transferring the image of the slightly menacing bird onto my arm.

The positioning looked bob on so he pulled on a pair of black rubber gloves and we were good to go.

Some say that you could get "addicted" to tattooing. I don't know about that (although this is my sixth) but I must admit to a rush of adrenalin when I heard the tool click and then hum into action.

And so we were off as the needle began pushing ink beneath my skin. He followed the outline of the design.

We got chatting. He told me that he's been alternating between LA and Detroit over the last few months. (He's from Detroit. The High Voltage web page listed him as a "guest artist". ) The conversation moved on to his interest in Nordic & Finnish folklore. He was a very knowledgeable guy. I mentioned the classic Welsh tale of the Mabinogion which he had heard of. I went on talking about the standing stone of Branwen, the main character of the medieval tale.

"One day I would really like to go to Europe and visit these ancient sites" he said. I did my part for Anglesey tourism and told him about the many burial chambers and standing stones on the island and its connection to the Druids.

Being of Irish decent he was even learning to speak Irish. The guys in the studio were joking that all it meant was learning to speak English with a Dublin accent and picking up phrases like "Top of the morning to ya".

He noticed that I kept on glancing over to the window where Julie was patiently waiting and realised that she was with me. He called her over to sit by my side for the final part.

It was taking shape now with most of the outline completed. All he had left to do was to fill it in without going over the lines. This he did very well. He had obviously done this sort of thing before!

"Does it hurt?" asked Julie. She's been thinking about getting a tattoo of my name across her wrist but hasn't quite built up the courage to do so yet.

"I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt but it soon numbs over" I explained trying to be truthful without completely putting her off. She didn't look impressed.

Throughout the session there was a miniature pig roaming around. It was the cutest of things. Apparently someone's sister had asked for it to be babysat whilst she was out of town. Julie uttered the inevitable "I want one!"

"That's it. All done." said Kevin. And so it was. I walked up to the mirror to have a look and was very pleased. I almost said "That's awesome" because that's what they all say around these parts. Everything's awesome this and awesome that. I just smiled. It was exactly how I imagined.

We handed over the $250 balance, thanked Kevin and left before Julie could shove a pigmy pig up her jumper. They kindly called a taxi for us to arrive in fifteen minutes which gave us enough time to pop to Ralphs supermarket for some tattoo aftercare stuff.

We scoured the aisles for antiseptic Vaseline and clingfilm but couldn't find them anywhere. With the clock ticking we became increasingly frantic like a scene from Supermarket Sweep getting very excited when we stumbled across "food wrap". We couldn't find Vaseline though. "Perhaps the American's don't do Vaseline?" we concluded.

The next best we found was a Cocoa Butter moisturiser. "At least you'll smell nice" said Julie.

On the way back to High Voltage we peered into Wonderland the store next door which was Kat Von D's new venture. There was someone inside sitting on the floor sorting out some paper. "Oh my God, is that her?" wondered Julie.

It looked like her, really looked like her. We could have just walked in and said hello but we came over all starstruck and all giggly. She then lifted her head up and I don't know whether it was relief or disappointment but she looked nothing like her.

We quickly lost interest and walked back inside High Voltage. "Where have you guys been?" said Adrienne abruptly "the taxi's been and gone" She seemed quite pissed off.

"Oh? We're so sorry" I apologised. Her hard face softened immediately as she said "It's no problem" and she phoned for another one. Within five minutes we were picked up and on our way back to our hotel.

Before calling it a night I gently washed my tattoo, smothered it cocoa butter and then rolled my eyes in despair as I opened the Reynold's Wrap to find that it was kitchen foil! I couldn't wrap my arm in foil that would have been ridiculous.

It wasn't late but as we were leaving Los Angeles tomorrow by car we decided against partying tonight. Not that either of us could even if we wanted to, we were both shattered.

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