Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Night at the Oprah 23/7/14

So here I am, about to go to bed in LA. It’s 12.39am but, as I flew in from New York last night, I am on Eastern time, which means it’s 3.39am.
I had a busy day and also managed to update my blog, so was feeling very content, just relaxing with a glass of wine before another hectic day tomorrow.
And then: just as I was about to turn off my computer, there’s flamin’ Oprah Winfrey on my screen, asking “Are you happy, Jacqueline?”
Okay, I signed up to the meditation course a while back, but geez, Oprah, that was ages ago. Now, I’m just knackered, but you’ve set my brain racing again, pondering the nature of happiness, so I’m a darn sight less happy than I was two minutes ago before you popped up asking me unanswerable questions.
The question I want to ask you, Oprah, is: are YOU happy? I mean, I know you have money and a TV station and a magazine etc. etc. but you’d still trade it all in just to be very, very thin, right? Or maybe I’ve been misreading the subtext in everything you have ever said and done.
Anyway, up pops Oprah with Deepak Chopra, a man I hugely admire, having read all his books and signed up to Transcendental Meditation some years ago, because he told me to (they see me coming a mile off, these gurus). It was a very positive experience, apart from the fact that it nearly got me killed.
The TM initiation ceremony required participants to take along a few flowers and a clean handkerchief. If you have ever tried buying a handkerchief at 10am in London’s Oxford Street, here’s a bit of advice: Don’t go there. In a rush to make my life-will-be-peaceful-for-evermore session, I all but assassinated the queue ahead of me in Marks and Spencer, just to get a six inch square piece of linen. Then I was nearly mown down by a black cab running for my meditation.
But back to the present. This year, Deepak teemed up with Oprah to do some online meditations and, as they were free, I signed up. Well, I say free, which is technically correct; but, when you start clicking, it turns out that meditation number one (the free one) is as nothing compared to all the others, for which you have to pay. A lot.
I’ve been very suspicious, although stayed signed up, but now Oprah is really starting to bug me. “You were born to be happy!” she and Deepak beam from tonight’s missive. No shit, Sherlock. You mean I didn’t emerge from the womb with a razor blade in hand, just waiting for my first wrist-slashing sessions from the local depressive?
The latest series of meditations is offering to “Expand your happiness” over a 21 day meditation experience, and comes with several endorsements from happy clients. I’d be more impressed if Deepak looked even remotely happy in the promo pic. But Oprah is there, looking like a young Diana Ross, while Deepak looks like a young Einstein with an unconvincing hair weave. Or Joe 90. I haven’t quite made up my mind.
But the point is: I now can’t go to sleep because I am contemplating the nature of happiness. I consider myself a fairly happy person most of the time, but, like most people, have my moments of sadness. Most people probably think I am an open book, but the reality is, that although I wear my heart on my sleeve, I keep my soul well hidden. Maybe that’s true of most of us. There is a Woody Allen film (I can’t recall which one) in which the voiceover at the start says something along the lines of once you realise you can never really know another person, life is easier. I believe that. It’s probably why I don’t have a partner: because in the not knowing lies distrust.
You see what’s happened? I’ve had a perfectly pleasant day, and now Oprah and Deepak have got me all sad and depressed by asking me whether I’m happy, which I was until they bounced up on my computer screen.
And so, Oprah, I’m not going to “Register Now” for your 21 days of happiness depressive meditation, nor am I going to invite my friends to join in what seems might turn into a collective online suicide watch.
I’m going to upload this blog, go to bed and turn off my computer, praying that before I do so someone else doesn’t pounce on my late night insecurities and set me off on another philosophical contemplation to keep me from sleep.
In the meantime, are YOU happy, Oprah? Because you know, honey? I still don’t think you are. 

Now you try sleeping on that. 

Sweet dreams.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Penis vs the Furry Cup 23/7/14

Raquel Briggs. 

I have no idea who you are, but you turned up today, courtesy of Facebook, offering to have a relationship with me.

Where do I begin in telling you that this is never going to happen. Here’s just for starters, dear Raquel.

1.       I know that, for some inexplicable reason, you have accidentally stumbled upon me in this bizarre virtual world that we all now inhabit. But I did not invite you, so I can only imagine that, given your attire, I must have Googled something along the lines of “tarty, cheap, slutty, skimpy underwear” in the past and, strangely, that led somebody to believe we were a perfect match.

2.       I could never be with anyone who writes so ungrammatically. You state that you have just “broke up” with your boyfriend. No, you HAVE broken up with him, or you broke up with him. “I’ve just broke up with my boyfriend” is just wrong, love; you can’t have it all ways.

3.       I am not surprised he left you, as your ill-fitting, hideous pink and black bodice is the kind of garment that would have even moles running for more cover, and your suntan would not look out of place at an Independence Day barbecue.

4.       Why do you call me “sweety”. For a start, the correct endearment spelling is “sweetie” (I can see I am going to have to get you post haste to those English classes!), but, as we have never met, how do you have any idea regarding my gradations of sweetness? Trust me, Sweety, I am anything but.

5.       You say “I don’t want a serious relationship at the moment.” So, what made you pick me? For all you know, I might spend my weekends immersed in bridal magazines and fantasising about how my life might change, were I to go on Millionaire Matchmaker.

6.       Now, you ask do I want to go out and have some fun with you? This is a bigger philosophical question than it might appear. There is so much I would need to analyse in that sentence before giving it even a second thought. Going OUT? What if it’s raining? In which city would constitute “going out” mean? New York in January (No), Spain in August (No)? And what do you mean by “fun”? I am not optimistic. Fun to me is staying in watching back to back Gabriel Macht as Harvey Specter in Suits. With a curry. And a bottle of Rioja. You, Raquel, look to me like the kind of gal for whom “fun” means “Three licks and where’s my 50 quid?” Forgive me if I am out of touch with inflation.

7.       You say you have seen me on Facebook, and that it is this that assures you we can have “some great time together”. It’s the “some” that bothers me here most, Raquel. How are you going to measure it? I already feel judged. Only SOME time? Are you already thinking of other women? You see, I have a very jealous nature, and I am already not happy about sharing you. Also, what do you mean by a “great time”? How do you know what I like from just a cursory glance at Facebook? Trust me, I have been over my page many times since you sent me your very enticing offer, and all I can ascertain regarding the “great times” I enjoy are that I like dogs, wine, curry, and obsess about Gabriel Macht and Judge Alex on the telly.

8.       Which brings me to my next point, dear Raquel. You are not Gabriel Macht or Judge Alex. All your gaudy bodices, fake tans, sultry looks, and invitations for me to sup with you at the furry cup cannot compensate for the one thing that will always be missing in our relationship: a penis. Men have many faults, and I have endured many of them, but, for me, they will always have that trophy between their legs that makes it all worthwhile.

And so, dear Raquel, it is with deep regret that I must decline your offer of a fun time. Saddened as I am that you have “broke up” with your boyfriend, if he is at a loose end, please feel free to give him my details. He will have a darn sight more luck than you ever will. 

When it comes to the furry cup versus the penis, for me there is no competition. 


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Netflix is the New Black 20/7/14

Netflix is brilliant. Netflix has transformed the television industry. Netflix has made the major networks sit up and take note.
These are the words on the lips of industry figures and viewers alike. At television festivals, Netflix is the buzzword that appears in every speech and debate. At last year’s Edinburgh Television Festival, Kevin Spacey said that we are entering a golden age of television, and he credited the viewers as the people who now hold the real power. We do. Increasingly, we can have what we want, when we want it. And Netflix is leading the way. Once an uncertain predator lurking in a very overcrowded forest, the success of House of Cards and Orange is the New Black (to name but two), has ensured Netflix’s emergence as a serious player in the broadcasting firmament.
Or has it?
Let’s look at the upside first. There is no doubt that the Binge Viewer is the new couch potato. Forget the image of the sloth getting fatter on the sofa, the BV is an altogether more glamorous concept: a highly motivated, high energy, enthusiastic viewer, who doesn’t just love and watch TV but needs to share his/her views with others who have enjoyed the same experience. Where the couch potato was a loner, the BV is out to show just how much they are capable of consuming without tiring, and to out-rival all viewer competitors in that consumption. The BV is a greedy creature, but can chew TV up and spit it out at an alarming rate. Binge viewing is the new black, and although, according to reports, 90% of people still watch TV in real time, increasing numbers of us are taking advantage of entire series being made available in one great feast, and gorging ourselves over hours, days, and even weeks.
The box set never quite managed that, despite having been around for a long time. It was the thing people bought before Catch Up and On Demand, when they wanted a permanent memento of shows that had already been aired. Some bought box sets because they had missed key episodes and wanted to experience the narrative from start to finish.
But the trouble with box sets is that they are what they say on the tin: boxes. Having only just recently dispensed with my video library (what were those bricks all about, eh?) and replaced them with DVDs in boxes, I now find myself consigning them to the scrapheap too, in favour of storing everything online and running it, through a feed on my laptop, to my 50 inch TV screen. The pain in the neck is having to keep getting up if I wish to pause viewing, as my sofa is on the other side of the room from the equipment, but I’m sure there’s a geek working on that even as I write (the magic tool might even already be out there).
Box sets were undoubtedly the first generation of binge products, but Netflix leads the new generation of bingers.
I was one of many who watched Kevin Spacey in Netflix’s first original series, House of Cards. Based on Andrew Davies’s original UK 1990 series (based on the Michael Dobbs novel), starring Ian Richardson as ruthless politician Francis Urquhart (changed to Underwood for the US version), it is a feast of massive proportion. I watched the first eight episodes on my laptop from my bed one Saturday and the remainder via the feed to the TV the day after (it is now, of course, available as part of my regular TV package).
Binge viewing is a bizarre experience. When immersed in the process, I don’t want to talk to anyone, go anywhere, or do anything else. I can’t even be bothered to cook. In the case of House of Cards, the production consumed me, not only for its extraordinary quality and Spacey’s breathtakingly brilliant performance (the man can do no wrong in my book), but because I lived within my own little bubble throughout, feeling protected from the horrid things going on in the real world.
It could be said that the box set can deliver the same, but there is something very different about opening a box, putting on a DVD, and the seamless, altogether more fluid experience of bingeing. I then watched another Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black, set in a women’s prison, and no sooner did one episode finish than a caption came up saying “Your next episode will start in 10 seconds.” And so, I was hooked. What the heck, I reasoned, now that it’s started, I might as well watch another one. I was finally falling sleep at 5am, having found it impossible to tear myself away.
It is the sharing experience, however, that makes binge viewing different from the old box set viewing. I can count on one hand the people I know who bought box sets, but the former has caught something unique: it is obviously not the shared experience as TV in real time, but in its intensity, it creates the sensation of being part of a global viewing audience. Traditional viewers continue to talk about big entertainment shows such as The X Factor the morning after the night before; but the discussions about House of Cards are ongoing. The proliferation of satellite TV largely removed that collective viewing experience – the “Did you see?” factor. Netflix has resurrected that experience, but in a different format: now, the collective experience is talking about bingeing the morning after the entire weekend before.
So far, so good. But at present, to me, Netflix cannot deliver in the area that matters most to viewers – ongoing quality. Where, for example, broadcasters such as CBS (The Good Wife, NCIS) and USA (Suits, White Collar) produce top quality drama that just gets better and better each season, both House of Cards and Orange is the New Black have under-delivered on their second series. The performances remain brilliant in the former, but the stealthy rise to power that characterised series one is something that would have been better suited to a run of at least five series before the protagonist achieved his goal. Francis did, quite simply, arrive too soon, and while his ambitious wife Claire (Robin Wright) has taken on Lady Macbeth type qualities, there is only so much a character’s staring into the middle distance a viewer can take as an alternative to more substantial content.
As for OITNB, the first two episodes of series two are not just inferior to their predecessors, they are downright bad. Number two is dire. Woolly writing, poorly constructed, weak storylines (not to mention the absence of the lead character, Piper (Taylor Schilling), it will be a triumph of force over desire that gets me to episode three.
Does Netflix have what it takes to sustain quality over at least half a dozen series, or is its fundamental skill hitting the ground running and making a loud bang before fizzling out? Is it, in essence, the Myspace of broadcasting, treading water until the Facebook of the industry topples it from its throne?
Netflix and binge viewing may be the new black, but there is more to innovation than being the new kid on the block. There are always smarter kids snapping at your coat tails. 

Just ask the Winklevoss twins. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Remembering Deborah Rogers - and Rushdie's Rotten Dancing 13/7/14

It’s strange what you find out in the early hours of the morning, toying with social networking and Googling people from your past.
At around 2am this morning in New York, I was thinking about my literary agent friend Jonathan, who committed suicide . . . When? That’s what I was Googling. We were very close friends and I think of him often, and it distressed me that there was no mention of him online. He had a great brain and was a very funny man, but he was also very troubled: something he put down to the fact that his parents sent him to boarding school when he was seven. Remembering that I met him through the literary agent Deborah Rogers, where he worked, I Googled her and discovered that she died in April this year. Although she has not been my agent for over two decades, I felt incredibly saddened.
When I moved to London, in my mid-twenties, it was she who first reached out and asked to represent me. I subsequently appeared in Faber’s Introduction 9, the fiction series devoted to promoting new young writers. I will leave aside the subsequent loss of a manuscript on a motorcycle, and also the landing me in Paris with no money, shouting to the rooftops in an empty courtyard for Rupert Everett – she had faith in me when it most mattered.
Deborah was renowned for the lavish parties she threw in West London. Anyone who was anyone in the world of London’s literati attended. It was there I met Salman Rushdie, who was incredibly rude to me and, during a conversation, accused me of rambling (I was incredibly nervous in this kind of crowd in my twenties). “Ha! That’s rich,” I replied, “coming from a man whose books you can’t even read further than page three” (I became a great deal less nervous when picked on). I saw Salman again, not long after, at the Jonathan Cape Christmas party (the other hot ticket in town). The fatwa had been declared on him and he was in hiding, although he seemed to turn up everywhere, and we all knew he was coming because his bodyguards who turned up in advance had become familiar faces on the party circuit.
Being a very experienced dancer, I wanted to take to the floor when a jive was played over the loudspeakers. Salman was at the floor, clearly itching to get up too, so I asked him to dance. He seemed delighted, but within a minute left me on the floor alone because I wasn’t doing the jive to his liking. Quite frankly, given his circumstances, he was lucky to have a pair of legs to dance at all. I never read a word he wrote after that, and I can’t say it’s left a gaping hole in my life.
I also met the novelists Julian Barnes and William Boyd at Deborah’s. Julian was a sweetheart. I had communicated with him briefly following his appearance at the annual literature festival in Lancaster, where I was doing an MA in Creative Writing. It was he who told had me I should move to London, although he added that I should not mention the MA – “I already hear the sound of ice not being broken.”
William, too, was adorable, and he and his fabulous wife Susan, herself a successful writer, have since become very good friends – against all the odds. The first time I met Susan was at a Julian Barnes launch party, where I insisted she was the EastEnders writer of the same name. She insisted she wasn’t. I was having none of it. She told her husband that she never wanted to see “that dreadful woman” again. Thankfully, she did, and we have shared many a fine lunch and dinner with much laughter. She is one of the brightest, funniest people I have ever met. Twenty-five years on, I hope I am less dreadful.
Writing about that time today, it seems as if it all happened just yesterday, and yet when I think of everything that has happened since, it seems like aeons ago. Following the Faber publication, I went on to publish a novel with Hutchinson (and that really is aeons ago) and pursue my career in journalism. I have also been through many agents since, none of whom has ever sold a word I have written.
The ability to self-publish hasn’t put agents out of the marketplace, but they don’t have the power they once had. Deborah Rogers wasn’t just an agent, she was a star to be revered and respected, and to be on her books was to know that you had made it.
As an unknown Welsh woman arriving in the capital and living on a £17 a week dole cheque, her support and encouragement is something I will always treasure. Her death leaves the world of books a sadder place, but she leaves many grateful writers and happy memories. 

Apart from Salman – who, by the way, really can’t jive.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Alexis, Judge Alex and Feral Cats 12/7/14

The Managing Editor of the Daily Mail, where I am a columnist (sorry, George Clooney) is called Alex; Judge Alex Ferrer is my friend on Twitter and someone who I finally met when I interviewed him last year; Alexis is a brilliant young writer who I met on Twitter, largely through our communications with and about Judge Alex.
Then there’s Alix, my best friend in Paris; Alex, who runs a Paris rental agency, Alex my Oscar winning costume designer friend, Alex the son of a close UK businessman, Alex the TV producer . . . there are heaps of them, and I won’t even start on the number of people whose names come up when I type in just “Al” (Gore is not among them, should you wonder). So, my apologies in advance, if I write asking you for a pay rise, Judge Alex; apologies to my Managing Editor if I Tweet about how hot you are; apologies to Alexis, if I write to congratulate you on the exquisite piece of French lace you found for your latest award-winning movie.
It’s the last Alex – Alexis – I want to write about here, though. I have never met her, but we communicate publicly on Twitter and privately in e-mails. She is a brilliant writer and, clearly, a great scholar who is off to medical school in the Fall.
This week, she has been very ill and has been relying on her father’s secretarial skills to write her blog (The Banes of my Existence ). It is, as always, very funny, but also seeing her father’s leaping to his own defence in relation to criticisms Alexis has made about her family in the past, has added a dialogue element that has intensified the narrative.
Alexis has been asleep most of the week and, I have to be honest, I found Dad’s input a little strange. Don’t get me wrong. I was very grateful for the update of Alexis’s condition, and it is clear she is much loved; but I’m not sure about the ethics of raiding your unconscious daughter’s blog in order to put forward your case as a defence witness for what has previously been written. Anyway, I am sure they will have many discussions about that, but on the positive side, what was incredibly touching was the manner in which her father thanked her “friends” on Twitter for their support.
With few exceptions, those of us who connect most regularly have never met, but there is an undoubted community and friendship we have created in the social networking marketplace. It may have begun with our collective obsession with/adoration for Judge Alex, but our once jealous little group has bonded like a Witches of Macbeth coven, intent not only on protecting our precious judge, but each other.
That support to me has been invaluable. For the past few weeks, I’ve been in a bit of a meltdown, trying to sell two places in Europe, trying to decide where I want to live in the US, selling one pile of stuff, buying another etc. It’s not as drastic as facing a major health issue, I know that, but trying to do it all without any help can be stressful.
Alexis reached out to me on Twitter to check how I was and, after reading one of my blogs, left an e-mail of incredible support. It wasn’t just supportive, though. It was intelligent, witty, poignant, and incredibly wise. It moved me to tears. It was all the more remarkable for knowing that Alexis is just 19 years old. So, yes, Alexis’s dad, she may, as you wrote, become “immature” when she is ill (so does every male of any age, by the way – have you ever been around a “man cold”?) - but I can tell you that she has a maturity that is way beyond her years and one to which I could only ever humbly aspire.
Alexis’s father thanked her Twitter friends (including Judge Alex and myself) for understanding her “feral cat” mentality, even though he acknowledged that she is no longer in that phase of life. To me, “feral” is better than boring. It’s better than “normal”. It’s better than being chained by the constraints of religion, the unjustness of a society obsessed with outward appearances, money and class. It’s better than living a life of no real feeling, hemmed in the mores of a culture inflicted upon one from outside forces. Feral is good. Feral is great.
And so, as I wish you a very hasty recovery, Alexis, I want to thank your dad for keeping you in touch with us. 

But I also beg you to hold on to that feral part of your soul. 

It’s what makes you an individual; a brilliant human being.

It’s what makes us love you. More than you know.
Keep walking on the wild side.

Macy's Part in my Financial Downfall 12/7/14

They don’t call America the land of the free for nothing. 

Because when there is anything free going, I tell you, the frenzy feeding of the 5000 has nothing on it.
Well, I use the word “free” loosely. What I really mean is that there are non-stop sales, coupons and vouchers, and Happy Hours that can last all night. For me, and my less than skilful ability to handle money, this translates into: being conned into breaking my neck running for the Macy’s one-day sale, thinking it won’t be back the other 364 days of the year; stocking up on things I neither want nor need because there is 20% off; and drinking crap drinks because they’re cheap.
I’ve never been good with money – or, rather, I’ve never been very good at hanging on to it (as readers of my forthcoming book, Broke: A Life of Small Change, will soon see – I am just putting the finishing touches to it). When I earned a lot more than I do now, I liked to share my good fortune (heck, what’s money for, if not to make life better for as many as possible – that’s the utilitarian in me). 

Now I earn less, I have to budget. Instead of buying a new pair of Jimmy Choo shoes when a pair gets a scuff-mark, I have all my shoes repaired. Similarly, with clothes. At the Bafta garden party a few weeks back, I wore a dress from Next that I bought when I was 23 – over 30 years ago. I have never had so many compliments. The fact that I could still get into it was especially pleasurable.
I have recently decamped from LA to New York and, as the cost of shipping furniture is extortionate, have decided to leave it in storage in California, not least because if I ever earn decent money again (ie when all of you buy my book on Amazon), I’d still like to spend half the year there.
But this has meant a whole new apartment to furnish, and I really have to do it on the smallest of budgets – which means IKEA.
I once kitted out my Paris apartment with a ton load of IKEA and it served me very well. The only problem was that I saved so much money by shopping there, I thought it was okay to go out and spend £1800 on a designer chair (See what I mean? Money just leaps from my fingers). Much of that stuff is now in LA storage, having travelled to three countries in as many years, so I thought I’d go the same route in New York.
I hadn’t had much luck with Amazon (air-bed – returned; suitcase – returned; sofa – returned), so went back to my trusted IKEA. And this is where I am: out of 35 items, 12 are sitting boxed up in the apartment ready to go back.
I swear I could have made a better sofa out of a log and a couple of handkerchiefs than what arrived from them. Poor quality doesn’t even begin to cover it (a bit like the sofa cushion, which couldn’t have supported a Chihuahua) and, I discovered, IKEA is not as cheap as it used to be. So while the prices have gone up, the workmanship has gone down. I was pleased with my 18 piece dinner service for $19.99 . . . Well, I would have been, had I not already spent a heck of a lot more on the far superior Gordon Ramsay Royal Doulton collection that I picked up in the Hurry Down to Macy’s Independence Day Sale for my 15% off.
Bed, Bath and Beyond have so far served me well – except for the fact that they don’t sell beds, which I thought a bit of a misrepresentation. They don’t sell baths, either, but anything you want to go with said bath or bed (that you have already sent back to IKEA) is there. You just won’t have anything to put it in or on.
I am very pleased with my ironing board, even though it nearly decapitated me when I tried to erect it; and the Gordon Ramsay Royal Doulton collection is fabulous (okay, I admit it: I had to supplement the Macy’s two persons setting box – I had my Bed, Bath and Beyond 20% online voucher, after all - in case I have a dinner party with the dining table I managed to assemble from IKEA. Oh no, I forgot. I can’t have a dinner party because all the dreadful IKEA chairs are packed up ready to go back to the store).
So, at the moment, I am sleeping on an IKEA sofa-bed (24 hour assembly on my part) with a mattress topper (purchased at the Hurry Down to the Macy’s 4th July Sale) and my air-bed (number two from Amazon) is serving as a sofa in my living-room because I can’t be bothered to swop them round again in the light of IKEA-gate.
I think I deserve a reward, and where better to head than to Rudy’s, my local dive bar that offers a beer and a Jamesons for $4, and you get a free hot dog, too. I don’t drink beer, don’t drink whisky, and don’t like saveloy hot dogs. But heck, it’s only $4. Look what I’ve saved!

And with what I've saved, I might just head over to the Macy's Super Saturday sale.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

New York, New York - The Case For 5/7/14

Earthquakes or hurricanes. 

As I contemplate whether I prefer living on the East or West Coast of the USA, the extremes in weather cannot help but influence my thoughts. Do I want to die buried alive amid a heap of building rubble, or be swept away by the elements?
For the past couple of weeks, Los Angeles has been unbearably hot, with a humidity I haven’t experienced in over five years of being here. In New York, where I was due to fly back for July 4th Independence Day celebrations, there were storms following Hurricane Arthur that swept in from North Carolina.
People tell me I won’t be able to bear August in New York (too hot, plus mosquitoes – I have already seen one the size of a bat), nor January (too cold). California, for the most part, is the same all year. When it spits six drops of rain here, it makes national headlines, and for days afterwards people stop you in the street to ask how you managed during the “storm”.
European weather has prepared me well for the horrors that apparently await me in New York when I decamp there (more of that anon, for those of you have expressed curiosity). In my home town of Cardiff, it rains pretty much every day of the year (or so it seems), and it’s hard to imagine that anywhere could be colder than Paris (where I lived for five years) in winter. I once sat through a rugby match in the national stadium, and I swear it took my head four hours to de-frost. So bad was the cold, I never went to a match that wasn’t under cover ever again.
But I have been assured that in the New York winter, you can’t walk a few yards without having to take refuge in a shop for comfort. It never happens in the black and white films, where women wearing little more than a thin overcoat happily carry their hatboxes out of Macy’s department store and wander the streets for hours under the glare of Christmas tinsel; but then I’ve always had more faith in what I see on screen, despite reality’s constant attempt to prove otherwise.
And so, to my decision to leave LA - at least, for a while. At first, I was going to do the bi-coastal thing, but quickly discovered that all I was doing was arriving at one apartment, cleaning it, and then heading to the airport to fly back to clean another. I felt like the world’s most expensive domestic. The cost of two rents, plus flights, seemed a waste, when one place was always empty.
I have been in LA five years, and I love it here, but I’m bored. For a woman of my age, it’s tough socially. Sure, you can sit at a bar by yourself, but take drink out of the equation (which I regularly do) and what have you got? Sitting alone at home with a box set of The Good Wife – and now that Will’s dead, even that’s no fun anymore.
I have managed perfectly well with buses, cabs, and sometimes, walking, in LA, but the distance is a deterrent to people venturing further from their own front door. This makes them very flaky when it comes to arrangements, which they constantly break. And everyone wants something from you. I can count on one hand the number of times anyone has asked me a question about my life. They just don’t care. It’s a “What can you do for me?” culture – and the expat Brits are the worst.
I am probably in the honeymoon period in New York, but Manhattan is a far more friendly, outgoing place. I have always said that LA may be full of bullshit, but as bullshit goes, it’s the best in the world. Now, however, I’m enjoying the bullshit free culture that is much more akin to London mentality. While I have never liked London much, I love the intelligence, humour and general vibrancy at the heart of my industry that prevails there; likewise, New York, where, as an older woman, I am not made to feel like a parasite whom the rest of society wishes would fall off her perch and make room for the younger generation (and, to be honest, I pretty much feel like that in the UK these days).
Everyone – and I mean everyone – talks to me in New York. My armour – iPad, two phones, reading glasses – that I take to restaurants and bars quickly becomes redundant among people hell-bent on personal communication. I also love the 24/7 culture - being able to buy a pint of milk at any time – and not having my drink whipped off the table on the dot of 2am. I like the ease of travel – subway, walking or cabs – and everything I want to do being within close proximity from where I live.
The stimulus of seeing so many people from different walks of life, together with the incredible architecture (it is the most extraordinarily beautiful city), can also only be grist to any writer’s mill.
And, yes, there’s the weather. I hadn’t realised how much I missed rain until I gazed from my living room window at the forked lightning hitting the Hudson River. Utterly beautiful. I had forgotten the calm that watching the beauty of a sunset over water can induce (yes, I could have that in LA, but over an hour’s bus ride away). I had forgotten how much variety fuels creativity. Constant sunshine is great, but it really does become boring.
New York is also much closer to the UK, so I will be able to visit family and friends more often at half the cost. Heck, it’s so close, I feel I might even try swimming there.
Maybe, at the end of the day, I’m just ready for a change. I’ve always been the same, although I’m keeping my stuff in storage in LA - just in case.
However, if ever you read here that Miami has won me over, please feel free to have me sectioned. 


Friday, July 4, 2014

My Part in American Independence History 4/7/14

July 4th is embedded in my memory as the date that nearly got me my first job in television.
I had moved to London from Wales in the mid-Eighties and applied for a researcher’s job on The Six O’Clock Show, a light-hearted, evening entertainment show for London and broadcast by London Weekend Television.
I was unemployed and receiving state benefits that amounted to £17 a week, which was as little then as it is now. I kept my belly full by gate-crashing events and smuggling chicken drumsticks from the buffet into my empty handbag.
My knowledge of television was limited; my knowledge of what constituted research even less. Still, I made it to the final rounds, when applicants were required to put together ideas for a show that would be broadcast on July 4th. Luckily, a friend pointed out that it was American Independence Day (until that point, in my ignorance, I had gathered a rather feeble offering about British summers), and off I went.
To my surprise, I made it to the final six and was invited for an interview at LWT’s offices and studios on the South Bank. As I gazed at the huge tower overlooking the River Thames, I fantasised about the great future on which I was about to embark in the glamorous world of television.
Alas, it was all downhill from there. The frivolity of The Six O’Clock Show had not been much of an indication that it came under the banner of Current Affairs, and that what they were looking for was a researcher who could move on to Panorama, the high brow, mega-serious programme that revelled in exposing the foibles of institutions and individuals.
As someone who does not like confrontation unless pushed unjustly, the idea of door-stepping a CEO to find out where he was stashing his employees’ pension funds and the like, was never going to be my thing. At the interview, however, I had no idea that I was a bad fit and so answered every question with the flippant, throwaway humour I had seen in the show.
The lowest point was a question about my views on The Peacock Report, the subject matter of which was the financing of the BBC. Apparently. Unfortunately, I had never heard of it and came out with: “There’s not enough sex in it.”
“Did you mean that in a pejorative sense?” asked a stony-faced producer. I had even less idea what pejorative meant than I had knowledge of the contents of the Peacock Report, but in a gallant attempt to save face, I expanded upon the sexual aspects I felt could benefit its findings.
The only other thing I recall was saying that I was looking to be a TV presenter and writer, but was met with the response: “Television is not the place for creativity and talent.”
I didn’t get the job, but had a very nice letter saying that they felt Current Affairs was perhaps not my forte, but they thought that the Arts department could make use of my “undoubted talent and ability”. I didn’t get a job there, either, but I battled onwards and upwards, a chicken drumstick kleptomaniac for some years after, until I got my big break as TV Critic on the London Evening Standard.
So although, today, I am not a US citizen, I celebrate not only anyone’s ability to gain independence from the English (I wish Wales could do the same), but the date that set me on the writing and broadcasting path I finally pursued.
My first television launch as a critic, by the way, was for a programme about Aids, produced by Mr “Pejorative”. I gave it a stinker. I can be mean like that.
Subsequently, we started dating. Well, I say dating. We had one Indian meal, over which he announced that he was a manic depressive who spent six months at a time in a darkened room, and he was about to enter that phase now. I had barely taken a bite out of my first poppadom.
The development of that relationship is another piece altogether, but every July 4th I remember the course of events my little programme plan put into motion.
So, Happy Independence Day, America! In the tiniest of ways, I feel a part of your history, and it gives me immense joy that I am able to spend so much time in your country, where I have become something of an expert on the subject of your Current Affairs.
Basically, there’s not enough sex here.