IT was in Las Vegas I actually achieved something that would appear to be the ultimate aim of every motel user. I managed to park in front of my next-door neighbour's room.

On such a high note we left and, while my wife dozed, I drove down towards Joshua Tree, a national park containing remarkable trees and desert flora.

En route, I spotted a sign for Peggy Sue's Authentic 1950's Diner. It was some 50 miles ahead and proved to be an emporium for 1950's tat and memorabilia as well as an eating house. It was a marvellous journey back in time and we spent more than an hour in the large shop before heading for the authentic 1950's food.

The diner "There's no finer diner" had been built in 1954 and the waitresses wore outfits more consistent with American Graffiti than the modern era.

There we could have a Cisco Kid chili cheese omelette, a Rita Hayworth cheese omelette, a Doris Day plain or a Micky Mantle mushroom and cheese.

These could be washed down with Elvis Presley shakes and malts and a side order of James Dean fries or Jane Mansfield fries (with cheddar topping).

Alternatively, there was a Patti Page tuna melt, a Gary Cooper club sandwich, a Big Bopper bun or a Frankie Avalon Philly steak sandwich. There were so many name-checks, complete with a Buddy Holly bacon cheeseburger.

It was odd to hear the cooks confirming: "One Fabian French Dip and a Lana Turner (tuna salad)."

A sign at the counter advised: "If your order is not ready in five minutes, it will be ready in ten or 15 minutes. Relax and enjoy."

While I was spreading seedless boysenbury jam on my sour-dough toast, I noted another notice.

"We reserve the right to refuse to serve; whoever you are, whoever you think you are, whoever your daddy is and however much money you make."

I enjoyed a helping of 1950's nostalgia and, back in the car, we slipped on the first CD from the four CD, 84-track album I bought there. So we eased into teenage days, well, my teenage days, when life and the music seemed fun and upliftingly uncomplicated.

Throughout the holiday, on television, radio and in every shop it seemed, there were plugs for Father's Day. It became our running gag. "Is it Father's Day soon, do you reckon?" or "When exactly is Father's Day".

Kids have no excuse in the States for missing Father's Day. It was to fall on the last Sunday of our holiday and, with five daughters thousands of miles away, I had lucked out.

Unknown to me, my wife had made a surreptitious purchase at Peggy Sue's.

On Father's Day, she presented me with a black sweatshirt. I haven't had the guts to wear it yet but Graham Taylor can eat his heart out because on the front is a full length Marilyn Monroe.

And here am I, knocking Vegas for being tastelessly over the top.

We moved on, travelling through desert and past mountains we all but ignored, because we had seen bigger or better, but knowing fully well if they had been sited near Welwyn, it would have been a different story.

There would have been coaches from the length and breadth of England bringing sightseers to look at them and a whole load of food and tat emporiums springing up.

Perhaps, because there are so many sights in the States and some well-regulated as state or national parks, the commercialism is minimal, and far more restrained than in England.

But then, I never did understand why, if you take a summer's trip to a Cotswold village, some businessmen think you might feel inclined to buy a Fair Isle wool sweater. The logic always escaped me.

Instead of coach parks round these mountains, there was desert and a few strange, one-storey buildings dotted about every 30 miles or so, with the family cars from the last 20 years quietly sinking in the back yard.

So, we said goodbye to the desert and farewell to those fantastic trains. No wonder train-drivers wrote folk songs and you could hop a ride to anywhere on the rail. The highest total we counted was a 49-coach train, which was approximately a mile long, and travelling round ten miles per hour. There were scores of them creeping across the desert vistas, constant companions on the inter-states.

We progressed down towards the sprawling mammoth that is Los Angeles. On the way, we called into Palm Springs, which is essentially an anodised town run largely for the benefit of the retired.

It was somewhat dull, if pleasant, where the radio announcer informed us the most popular colour shorts for men is cackey (khaki).

We lost our way trying to find the inter-state and stopped to enquire, coming across a somewhat different road-naming culture from our previous experience in Arizona.

"You go straight up Dinah Shore, until you come across Gerald Ford. Hang a left, go across West Buddy Rodgers and then take the next right up Bob Hope until the intersection with Gene Autry, turn right and then left into Frank Sinatra and you will see the inter-state ahead."

My mind tried to conjure an English equivalent of naming these "boulevards".

You could not imagine a man in a new English town giving such directions as: "Go straight up Lulu, until you come across Ted Heath. Hang a left and go across Michael Aspel and then take the next right into Tony Hancock, until the intersection with John Thaw, turn right and then left into Cliff Richard and you'll see the M25 from there."

No, it doesn't work. Only in America, I suppose.

The traffic grew as we moved closer to LA and you could smell the fumes increasing.

Fortunately I had received a good tip from a friend in Sarratt, to avoid staying in LA and head for Santa Monica.

Venice Beach, as I have mentioned, provided an instruction course in Americana and also afforded my wife another opportunity to go shopping.

In the town, they had some good book shops and the pedestrian precincts were full of street entertainers, including Chinese harp-playing, break dancing, mime statues, balloon-making and a woman on a bed of nails and razor blades.

It was by far the best area in the LA district.

We did the LA City tour and admired the style of Rodeo Drive, where the shop and office girls seem to have style, grace, are well-dressed and I would have willingly have offered them a part in my film.

The coach took us spotting stars' homes, which were not that impressive, although clearly that particular area of Beverly Hills was the pick of the conurbation. Don't get me wrong, the houses are big and often stylish but not staggeringly so.

The most easily visible was Gregory Peck's, who is happy for tourists to peer at the front facade of the house, presumably because he is always out the back. But the touching thing about his house is that he instructs the gardener(s) to keep the hedge low so as the trippers can see the building. His reasoning is simple: "Where would I have been without fans?"

We saw the stars handprints in the cement, the Hollywood sign, the Mexican quarter, Universal City and the city buildings with rubber in the joints to limit earthquake damage. We noted the smog cloud overhead.

We had our first Indian meal in the States, amazed to see something we have never come across in England: a chicken Charlie, a meat Charlie or a prawn Charlie.

The next day, we went out to Malibu and were singularly unimpressed and then headed for Long Beach, which appeared a simple journey but involved us in some of LA's many tentacles.

Long Beach is long and the beach is boring. Small wonder they drafted the Queen Mary in as an attraction.

It is moored there, repainted in its original colours, but truly we found the area unimpressive and most of LA comprises a tedious succession of boring districts as I said previously, end-to-end Neasden with a Loudwater thrown in for contrast.

We spent a day, which we really felt was wasted, confirming we would never want to go back, which caused us to wish we had spent another day with the good ol' boys in Fort Verde or more time in Monument Valley and Mexican Hat.

On the final day, we drove down to Venice Beach, behind a car that was plainly dawdling. By that time, I had taken on board the American laid-back attitude to driving, with their 15, 25, 35 mph limits, which they seem to obey to the letter.

Anyway, there was no point in hooting him to hurry, because he had a sign displayed in the back window: "You can't scare me, I've got kids".

They go for these signs. You see such in cars as "Husband and cat missing reward for cat" or "I still miss my ex but my aim is improving".

Probably there is road-rage in California but I found the driving hassle-free and, if you hesitated at an inter-section, your confusion was not added to by a chorus of horn-hooters.

By then, I had almost forgotten our initial surprise in that the cars are much smaller in the States now. In the 1970's, I hired a car and it seemed like I was driving my lounge about. This time round, they were English-sized.

The drive is towards economy and this was exemplified when I sustained a puncture one morning and was surprised to see the spare tyre looked more like a motor-cycle tyre.

It fitted and I drove tentatively to the garage where it was explained these tyres are a response to the government's urging to lighten weight and reduce fuel consumption.

Energy remains a big issue there.

During our stay, there was even talk about a black-out in LA as a result of shortages. Some 1200 miles from LA there is a range of hills or mountains, covered with literally hundreds of new three-blade windmills.

I digress, for eventually we made it to Venice Beach for a farewell, and although the season of the really big waves was still some way off, there were a few people surfing on the beach. As some did not have boards, I decided to have a go. I kept hurling myself into the waves and was propelled forward. After a few minutes I experienced the thrill of catching a wave and being carried onward, almost helpless, to the sand.

When you pack so much in to 17 days, you seem to have been away for ages. It was time to reflect and the highlights of San Francisco, Yosemite and that big ol' sequoia stood out as the best of California. As for the Arizona/Utah leg of the trip, the bar-dance at Fort Verde, Monument Valley, the Indians and the Grand Canyon were tops but the ghost town of Oatman and Peggy Sue's Diner were novel experiences.

We both felt at ease in America and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. A close friend of mine was posted to California in 1974 and was then switched to New York state. He is still there and told me he could never contemplate coming back to England to live.

I had once toyed with the idea of living in San Francisco but it was not more than a fleeting thought, about as sound as a teenage holiday romance.

Later, comparing notes with someone who had been in the States for three weeks this summer, I found myself in full agreement. He and his family had a great time, found the Americans were so friendly and helpful.

"But I wouldn't want to live there and, as much as I have thought about it, I still can't tell you why. There is something missing and I can't explain what it is," he said.

I had the same feeling but it is there to be enjoyed and I did so, as I spent an hour in the sea, hurling myself into the waves and loving every minute of it, while the melody of the Beach Boys' song Catch A Wave ran through my brain.

In a sense, it was a perfect end to a holiday. For a brief period in the sea, I felt as if I was 18 again.

It was either the sea or the holiday, but either way, feeling that way, I had to say it appeared to have done me good.