I'm stranded in Los Angeles thanks to the carry-over from volcano K15 as the newscasters are calling it here (K plus 15 consonants). To be fair, not even the Icelanders can pronounce that volcano but watching too much American TV has made me realise that they are as bad at it as we are. I'd always assumed that it was something that we specialised in – a kind of nonchalant racism disguised behind comic confusion. Admittedly, the names of certain Sri Lankan cricketers have always been fairly tricky but nothing that a phonetic instruction and a couple of practice goes couldn't sort out.
Over here, the very hint of an un-American name and they're floundering. Weirdly, the exceptions are Hispanic and Russian names as they represent quite a sizeable American demographic. Italian names however, despite being plentifully represented here, are nearly always shortened so as not to confuse the commentators. So Giuseppe Buttoffocco become Joey B. A Frenchman, Jean Charles de Clingacourt becomes JC. It's just a lot easier. I do love it though, when one actually has a go. He invariably murders the name Gustav Von Hausternhampternzig before everyone in the commentary box falls about laughing and he reverts to Gus Haus.
One of the only sports I've seen going on in this one-note city is surfing. It's a peculiar pastime to say the least. One thing they don't tell you about California in the ads is that the sea is incredibly cold and nobody swims in it except for large groups of Mexicans. All those shots of people frolicking on the beach in Baywatch – was just that – people in swimming trunks playing beach volleyball and that weird game with two big wooden bats and a ball. Then they sunbathe and then they get into their cars and drive away. Nobody swims. The only people in the water apart from the Mexicans are gangs of surfers in wetsuits waiting to catch the big one...
Surfing seems like a very time-consuming sport. First you have to get the board. Then you realise that the board doesn't fit on or in your car so you have to get a bigger car. Then you set off for the beach, park your car, and take your board into the water. You paddle out and wait for a "breaker". The problem is that it's really cold and so you paddle back to shore, get back into your big car and go buy a wetsuit. By the time you get back to the beach, everyone has headed of to the burger bar and the sun is setting.
So you come back the next day, with your big car and your wetsuit and your board. You paddle out and wait for another "breaker". Then you realise that there are rules to the sport. You can't just grab any wave. There's a queuing system and woe betide you if you try to jump it... man. Surfing appears to be a lot like Charlie Watt's famous comment about being in the Rolling Stones – "twenty four years of hanging around and one year of playing''.
All the people that I saw doing it on the beach, just past Point Dume where Baywatch was actually shot, seemed to be very content. I'm not sure whether the actual process of surfing does that to you or whether the sort attracts that kind of person. What I long to see is a really stressed out surfer, on his Blackberry and screaming at somebody that's cut in on his wake...
At least commentating on the sport presents very little challenges. For a start there's not that much to say – "he's standing on the board, he's on a wave, he's riding the wave on his board...Even better however, is that surfer names all tend to be incredibly simple (not unlike surfers, an unkind person might say). They are all called things like Bodie and Dave and Ryan...these are not names that are going to cause even the most Spoonerish of commentators any hassle.
I imagine that the surfers of LA also scour the weather channels for news of volcanic activity. Not, because they want to fly to London or Brussels, but because they secretly hope for news of a tsunami approaching the city. Then they can all paddle out and ride the ultimate big one until they land in Nevada. Actually, canny surfers might consider buying in Nevada. Someone was selling property there listing it as "future beachfront" once the big one comes and knocks LA into the sea.
* Meanwhile, the seemingly endless game of basketball is still going on American TV. Every bar you go into and it's going, 24/7. The score is about twenty million to twenty one million. I don't know or care who is playing but they must be knackered...Reuse content