DEPENDING what time you’re reading this, I’ll probably be staring out of the window of one of those big, gas-guzzling American pick-up trucks, rolling out of California across the stark expanse of the Mojave desert.
Every time I make that trip I’m awestruck by the fact that men and women in covered wagons crossed that scorched, rattlesnake-ridden hellhole.
I’ll be with a few snaky blokes myself – old rugby pals, and our bags in the back of the truck will be squashed among several ice chests, packed with beers.
If you’re a Saturday reader of The Press, then the odds are I’ll already be in Las Vegas – toss your own coin for whether we’ll be in a bar or casino, or (in daylight hours) watching the IRB rugby union 7s tournament out at the Sam Boyd Stadium.
Us and 60,000 others over the weekend. Union is big over here.
I’m writing this at about 37,000 feet above somewhere the American midwest, 14 hours into the journey and still five hours out of LA. For someone who loves to travel, I confess that the getting there and back can be a pain in the wotsits.
And although it’s a long trek just for a week’s visit that’s okay because I’m going ‘home’ and tonight (Monday) as you’re all tucked into your beds, I’ll be raising a schooner of beer in Long Beach with a couple of my best friends.
Still, despite this being a barebones flight from Philadelphia to LA and the large lady in front of me having body odour that could make a skunk gip, this journey is luxuriously drama free compared to the trip that first brought me to the USA in 1982.
On that occasion I’d gotten myself beaten up by a knife-wielding Greek pimp, done a midnight runner off the island of Crete, and spent three days traversing Europe on a freezing, ramshackle bus with just a bag of bread and cheese, bottle of water and my new American girlfriend.
We fairly crawled into my mum’s flat in Westtown after that December exodus – although youth being the natural rejuvenator that it always has been, I recall we did make it down to ‘the Zoo’ for a few pints of Tetley’s (the Zoo was the familial sobriquet for the George Hotel in Boothroyd Lane, now Dave Diskin’s Beer Street, one of the staunch, remaining redoubts of Dewsbury’s pub trade).
So excuse me if we give Cameron, Clegg and Miliband’s meaningless verbal diarrhoea a miss for a week.
I’m sure your blood pressure will benefit as much as mine from a break from railing against the various idiocies of the clowns at Kirklees Council or the Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust.
The bloke who’ll be driving the truck is my old roommate Steve Gates – a joiner from Hemel Hempstead who came out to California when I first did, except that he stayed.
I’ll be staying tonight with Phil Sarris, another ‘emigrant’ in the early 80s to the land of endless sunshine, even though Phil only came from Boston (as in Massachussetts, not Lincolnshire) and before that from Greece.
Both blokes and their families have been to Dewsbury over the years, had pints in the Woodman and curries at Sammy’s.
Another of our rugby comrades, Andy Costin – also English – who we met as an opponent on a rugby field in Pasadena, accompanied me to a fancy dress party at St Paulinus Parochial Hall on a similar flying visit, fell in love at first sight of my ex-junior school classmate Angela Collins, and married her.
Funny little world, isn’t it?
Andy won’t be with us in Vegas this weekend, but I am as chuffed as a new dad that some pals I haven’t seen for nearly 25 years will be ñ some of them travelling hundreds of miles on the strength of Locky making the trip.
I DARE say one or two of you raised a quizzical eyebrow at my reference to ‘going home’.
Dewsbury born, Dewsbury bred, I still own property here, my businesses are in Batley and almost all of my extensive family is still in the district.
But apart from anything else here in States, it’s nice that half the people I know don’t want to smack me in the teeth rather than shake my hand.
In fairness I’ve called a lot of places ‘home’ over the years, with varied memories of them. Some I’d only raise a glass to if the bulldozers were going through the front door. The four druggies who put all my windows through after we’d slugged it out in St John’s Walk at 6am one morning weren’t neighbours I miss much.
I can’t say I hanker for a return to what Sackville Street or Queen Street in Ravensthorpe have become, or Parker Road in Thornhill Lees, whatever dewy-eyed nostalgic memories I might have had of my years there in the 1960s.
I’ve never been out for a quiet drink in California and had a young buck I wouldn’t know from Adam come up and pick a fight, just because he doesn’t like the job I do. Seven hours in a police cell and a trial next week – very homely. Not.
But whatever’s kept pulling me back to Dewsbury over the years, whether from jobs around Britain, or America and Australia, there seems to be some fatally umbilical connection.
It’s a different attachment to this place, where in so many ways I ‘grew up’; a country and community with no safety net of a family network, where when you got knocked down by life you had to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and move on.
I hope my kids find it in themselves to discover what life’s about in such a fun and adventurous fashion – even if it’s been tough to the point of frightening at times.
I’d recommend it to every young person. Heck, I’d force it on them. It’s been nearly five years since I was back in Long Beach and Belmont Shore and I’m sure one or two familiar names and places will have altered. Nothing stands still.
But wherever I lay my hat this week, I can assure you I’ll feel right at ‘home’.
With just a nod to some of Britain’s issues of the day, it’s interesting to note the USA’s attitude towards immigration – remembering this is a nation of immigrants.
In its infancy America only decided to adopt English as the national language (over German) by a narrow vote.
Long Beach has a mosque now, which was new on me, although I’ve yet to see a single person in traditional Muslim dress of any kind, let alone the full Zorro kit. And it’s nowhere near as big or impressive as the nearby First National Church of Samoa. The city also has a new neighbourhood – Cambodiatown – with some great restaurants, reputedly.
Across the district there’s Little Korea, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, Little Saigon ... no nickname for the hispanic areas though, unless you count ‘Los Angeles’ itself.
People of Mexican heritage are a massive proportion of the Californian population, but there just aren’t the religious or cultural issues that an ideology like Islam brings with it.
America remains the land of opportunity and the world communities that establish themselves here might find strength and support from within, but it’s pointless trying to change the ‘American way’ to suit their preferences.
One, they’d get short shrift and a boot up the backside all the way home, but two, that’s not why they came in the first place. There’s only England where we hand everything on a plate, then for good measure prostate ourselves to be used as doormats by manipulative dregs who can’t believe their luck. Madness.
I’ve finished writing this sitting up on the fabulous sports fields at Long Beach university. A couple of lads from Hertfordshire are kicking a football about nearby, studying here on a year out.
“Like it?” I asked. “Just working out how we can come back for good,” they said.
I don’t think I’ll be back here for quite some time, but if ever I do return, the astonished immigration officer might be confronted by a white Anglo Saxon man claiming asylum from the Islamic State of New Britain.
It could never happen? Go live on one of the streets I used to call ‘home’ and tell me that.
For now the sun’s cracking the flags and Locky’s pasty legs are dying to get some sand between their toes.