Whoever told me that jet lag ain't so bad going backwards wasn't entirely on the ball. Or maybe they didn't take into account almost a lifetime of not flying and then undertaking a mammoth 10-hour flight to the other side of the planet practically via the Arctic Circle! Add to this a natural dose of genetic anxiety, worry, and post-9/11 fear and it's quite surprising that my co-traveller Mat didn't wallop me one. Still, as a pilot himself, he probably had perspective and understood my attitude.
As it was, the flight was spot-on, helped by Virgin Atlantic's cool on-board entertainment. I finally managed to see In The Loop, so happy there. Take-off and Landing weren't the experiences I feared they would be, and you can forget the "humourless immigration official" cos they were quite pleasant and friendly and have no objection to Jaffa and Battenburg cakes being brought in. Hour and a half, tops. Then came the reunion with my close mate and host Andrea and a drive to her gaff in Irvine, Orange County.
A chilled Chai at the local Starbucks in the OC nighttime humidity preceded a pre-sleep chill out at our digs, combined with a chat to the family. Lovely people. Although booze and snacks were avoided due to the general feeling of my internal organs being in the wrong places. Nighttime didn't bring much sleep, only basic rest, but helped until I got a decent night the night after.
A "lumberjack slam" at Denny's was the official breakfast - basically an American fry-up with pancakes and toast. It successfully defeated me so I know my limits for now as I work on expanding the stomach further. The rest of the day was spent heading to the coast. Stopping off first at a cove in Corona Del Mar, near Newport Beach, to get my feet's first taste of the Pacific Ocean and a climb over rocks that would not be permitted in Margate as we can't actally look after ourselves. I didn't recognise anything from "The OC" initially, but no doubt we'll be back.
This was then followed by a 6-mile coast drive to Laguna Beach to marvel at the hideousness of the seaside Hollywood so emphasised by the god-awful MTV show. Except it wasn't. Yes the rich swines' houses are easily spotted on the surrounding hills, but the beach and centre were just awash with happy families and all sorts. A cool mix of affordable boutiques and art galleries, Laguna Beach was quite pleasant.
The drive home was via those aforementioned hills, so it felt like a California version of leaving north from Brighton through the South Downs. After a steak meal at Chilis compete with the most gorgeous garlic bread ever, we headed to the Irish-themed pub, The Auld Dubliner, for a Guinness.
Today, we're off to San Diego for the Comic Con. I will no doubt elaborate further on this whole experience and the culture shock a bit further down the line.
And if you're wondering about the giraffe, his name's Stephen and he's another co-traveller. I'll explain later.