Jojo Moyes’s diary: Why flying to LA is no longer a joy

Too much has changed since the pandemic—most of all me
January 27, 2022

Back from Los Angeles; my first trip abroad in two years. For the 10 years prior to the pandemic, I travelled the globe relentlessly, my British Airways gold card brandished like a talisman—or perhaps a perverse totem of self-inflicted masochism. I’m a good traveller, the veteran of numerous book and film tours: I can pack a suitcase in 20 minutes, I know my way around a dozen hub airports, I can pick the best flights to minimise jet lag, and I often fall asleep during take-off. I had looked forward to it for weeks.

Reader: I missed my flight. Having shepherded my family through Omicron isolation, nerve-wracking PCRs and a tentative Christmas, I was undone by a traffic jam. I bit my nails through two and a half hours on the M25 and missed it by two minutes. I cried hot, unembarrassed tears at check-in. “Why are you so late?” said the check-in woman, and I fought the urge to hurl myself over the desk, fists first.

Why was I so late? It’s hard to fight the suspicion that I am no longer a good traveller. I find myself daunted by endless forms and tests. Jet lag felled me despite my usual tricks. A steward on the flight I took the next day said that cabin crew struggle more too, whether it’s down to mask-wearing (her theory) or the fact that our bodies have simply become used to a slower pace of living. I loved being in LA; reconnecting with friends—the visceral pleasure of hugs instead of Zooms, taking meetings in person, the sun on my face. But two days after I returned, I concluded that I no longer wish to be global. In two years too much has changed: the guilt of climate change, the pandemic and its weighty bureaucracy, but most of all me. I think I like being mostly still.

As if to reinforce my own misgivings about climate change, I arrived in LA to three days of uncharacteristic torrential rain. LA is not good at rain; even a light drizzle causes drivers to swerve on freeways, and prompts comments at meetings of: “you drove in the rain? You’re so brave!” In the Hollywood Hills what would be considered a miserable day in Britain caused a half-day power outage. I stood in the deluge balanced on a stepladder, befuddled by lack of sleep, checking the outside fuse box before a text informed me it was not just my house. The following days were spent chasing emergency water pumps (sold out) and laying traps to stop the trails of fire ants that had decided that inside the house would be preferable. “Oh the moisture ants are worse,” said my friend Pam. “When it gets really hot they burrow into your dirty laundry to suck sweat from the armpits.”

Because I am 52, and divorced, and have possibly spent too much time in LA, I have spent a lot of the last few years in therapy. And like many people, I am struck by the number of those who I now see as having narcissistic personality disorder (not my ex-husband, this is not me throwing shade, as the Angelenos say). It seems to have become a watchword of the day. But once you see it, you cannot unsee it. And watching the behaviour of our current government it made me wonder whether there is a correlation between those who end up in power and those who have NPD. How else to explain the unutterable belief that one is always right, the smirking disregard for others, the striking lack of empathy? The saddest thing of all—for us citizens, mostly—is that it is an incurable condition. And one which the afflicted will never recognise in themselves.

By the time this is published, I will hopefully be in receipt of a new pair of eyes. Not literally (although that would be fun; I’d go for two colours, like David Bowie), but I have been cleared for a new type of laser surgery. Five hours of tests for a 10-minute procedure, which friends describe as life-changing. “Aren’t you frightened?” said one writer friend. And oddly, for a habitual worrier, I’m not. I’m weary of stumbling around blindly trying to locate glasses, forever pushing them up my nose or wiping them with my jumper. Or squirting drops into my eyes surreptitiously during lunches to avoid contact lenses drying out. Mostly I’m tired of standing in the shower and squinting at bottles trying to work out if I’m about to wash my hair with body lotion. The pandemic has had many unexpected side-effects; in me it’s a greater trust in medical practitioners, and a consciousness that a working body is everything.

January is a time for resolutions. And for me a time to break my online auction habit, cultivated in lockdown, and responsible for a collection of paintings of varying quality, age and value curated under the umbrella heading: Women Who Have Had Enough of Your Crap (their exasperated expressions make me laugh daily). But my final purchase was my favourite: an inch-high pre-Viking bronze couple reaching for each other’s genitals in what my friend describes as “a fond hold.” This tiny, battered token apparently once passed for erotica. I write stories about clumsy, imperfect love for a living. It’s a good reminder that things never really change.