Monday, March 2, 2015

Wales: Land of my Fathers - and my Friends

This has been a very Welsh week for me, despite the fact that I am living in New York City. 

First, a reception on Friday lunchtime for Wales’s First Minister, Carwyn Jones, at the British Consulate; the next day, major celebrations at the Red Lion, where, along with the Minister, we watched Wales beat France in the Six Nations on the giant TV screen; and, finally, yesterday, St David’s Day at Mr Biggs Bar and Grill in Hell’s Kitchen.
   
Mr Biggs is a local hostelry where a group of Welshies meet every Sunday when our friend, Phillip Arran, briefly escapes from the Norwegian cruise liner on which he is performing in two musicals. Yesterday was particularly lively, with an eclectic mix of other nationalities celebrating our patron saint, St David, under our national flag that the bar agreed to hang on the wall (thank you, Richie and Scott).
   
I always get very sentimental when I am around my countrymen and women. Even though my Welsh friends and family live in different parts of the world, when we get together there is a bonding of the heart that just isn’t explainable. The longing for one’s homeland is “hiraeth” in Welsh, and some other nations have their own word for it; but, as far as I know, there isn’t a word for that stirring of the heart that occurs when we are among our own.
   
I have always been very proud of my heritage. Cultured, erudite, artistic, fun-loving – I never have less than a great time among the Welsh. But more than anything, I love the Welsh sense of humour. At our Sunday brunch, we enjoy two hours of non-stop laughter – something that other diners stare at with something approaching mystification.
   
What is it that lies at the heart of Welsh humour? To me, it is multi-faceted. There is a quickness of wit, an ability to engage in self-deprecation (so much so, we have turned self-deprecation into an art form), an openness of spirit, a genuine enjoyment of the physical act of laughing . . . It’s hard to analyse (as humour tends to be).
   
But I think, ironically, what makes the Welsh so funny is their seriousness – the kind of seriousness that often lies at the core of very funny people. The lack of confidence that comes from having been an invaded nation, even, at one stage in our history, being denied our language, instils a desire, a need (a real necessity, in fact) to rise above conflict – and laughter really is the best medicine.
   
More than in any other country, I also think that humour in Wales is classless. I have met very funny people from all walks of life in my homeland: some educated, others considerably less so, but that has never stopped disparate groups of people enjoying themselves. That is probably in part due to the fact that we have more things that unite us than divide us – not least, singing and rugby – and a sense of pride that, at its roots, was bred amongst working class communities of the valleys.
   
I know some very funny people – Americans, English, Irish, Scottish, French (yes, really; sharing a rugby day with the French is the best) – and humour is obviously central to most people’s lives. It’s what gets us through the mire; it’s what uplifts us when we are low and carries us through and beyond pain, both emotional and physical. Humour is what wipes our slates clean: it consigns yesterday to a box and carries us to the unknown and the expectation of better times tomorrow.
   
But while I love the humour of so many people in my life, the world over, there is nothing that quite beats the all-consuming hilarity of a group of Welsh people: the laughter that is born of the same history, the same insecurities, the same passionate love of one’s roots.
   
And so, thank you to all my Welsh friends who shared this fabulous week – and special thanks to my Cardiff friend, Catrin Brace, Wales’s fantastic ambassador in North America, who includes me in the magnificent Welsh events that take place throughout New York on a regular basis. 

   
I’m a European. I feel part American. I feel like an international citizen. 

But, in my heart, body and soul, I will never forget that I’m Welsh. I remain very proud of that. 

And this week was a salutary reminder of who I really am.   

Monday, February 9, 2015

It's a Dog's Life - Literally

What a strange week. A blizzard, a massage that almost involved the police, and saving a dog’s life.
   
The blizzard that hit North America and promised three feet of snow in Manhattan turned out to be little more than a flurry. I was out walking the streets in it and it was really rather beautiful. That didn’t stop New Yorkers adhering, to the letter, to the Mayor’s State of Emergency declaration. Supermarket shelves were emptied, the transport system shut down, and bars and restaurants closed early.
   
My social networking communication went into meltdown with worried family and friends from the UK checking to see if my head was still above snow level. No amount of reassurance on my part – that New York is a very big place, that Connecticut is not in the next street, and that I’ve seen worse weather in Wales (on an almost weekly basis, come to that) - gave them confidence that I would survive the blizzard of all blizzards.
   
I happened to be out in it as I had just had lunch courtesy of my good friend and brilliant lyricist Sir Tim Rice, who was in town on business. We went to a local Italian and, despite his efforts for his taxi to get me home, I decided to hoof it in order for him to get to his next meeting on time.
   
There is something incredibly invigorating and exhilarating about walking in falling snow. Put it down to childhood memories of Christmas, or the memory of unexpected days off school, or just the sheer wonder when one’s world turns white, it’s just a weather condition I have always loved.
  
The massage was supposed to be just as enjoyable, but very nearly wasn’t. I have been suffering from lower back pain for over a year now, not helped, I am sure, by lugging enormous bags around various countries of the world. This week, though, the pain was so bad I decided to go for some deep tissue massage at a venue advertising itself as a spa specialising in certain kinds of Chinese body work, rather than one of the places with dirty net curtains and a luminous red sign saying MASSAGE in the window.
  
My masseur looked like a Sumo wrestler, but I had very deep knots and, if anyone was going to unravel them, it was going to be this guy. So, I lay down in the little cubicle, relaxed and prepared my body for attack.
   
From my area, I could hear another voice from beyond the curtain – a man’s voice wanting a massage. In the cubicle next to mine, I heard him ask first if they had a shower, then if they had a hot towel. Then he asked for a hot towel again, shortly before the words “Don’t touch me!” came from the screaming masseuse.
   
I’m not sure what happened next, but my masseur apologised and left, there was some discussion with the touchy feely man, and what was clearly an altercation with the threat of the police being called. “Sorry about that,” said Sumo, returning, followed by the masseuse, who then insisted on showing me exactly what had happened, grabbing my hand from where I was lying on the couch, and pressing it to her leg and rubbing it up and down. Yeah, yeah, I get the picture. Now get back to my knots.
   
Now, to my new role as the New York Dog Whisperer. One of the reasons my knots had been worse was because I had agreed to be a dog walker for 10 days when my good friend and neighbour was away, and one of her regular dog walkers was no longer available. I took the lunchtime shift, but on walk number three noticed that Keela was limping. She had great difficulty walking and kept falling over, until she finally gave up and sat on the sidewalk, her back right leg doubled up under her body. I had to carry her home – and, at 16 kilos, that was never going to bode well for my knots.
   
I have grown up with dogs and told the holiday carers they should call the vet. “She wasn’t limping this morning,” was their response, making me feel like the dog abuser of the scenario.
   
I know a dog in pain when I see one and, after contacting the owner (who, quite rightly, worships this adorable dog), the carers were instructed to take Keela to the vet the next day if the situation hadn’t improved overnight. It didn’t, and she was whisked into doggie emergency.
   
It transpired the poor little thing had a herniated disc, which required urgent surgery by a neurologist. They didn’t think she would survive it (I learned that she was paralysed when she was taken in) but, thankfully, she did. I have been to see her in the hospital twice and she greets me as the mighty saviour I undoubtedly am.
   
It’s heartbreaking to see animals in pain, and I feel quite wrecked, having gone from abuser to saint in the space of just a few hours.
   
I’m hoping for a less eventful week today, although there is the promise of more snow. In Manhattan, it ain’t gonna happen, trust me. 

It’s not only dogs I understand.

I’m the New York Weather Whisperer, too.       

    

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Trial of Mr Biggs - Witness for the Defence (Me) Speaks Up

I’ve never been what you’d call a big committee person. 

Don’t get me wrong. I like committees; I just don’t like anyone other than me being on them. It’s why I wouldn’t like to be on a jury. I know I’d enjoy the law side of it, but unless I was the foreman (do people say forewoman? You see? I’m arguing already), I’d have to plead sickness, else go for a quick “They must be guilty if they’re in court in the first place” approach that would get us all out of there damned sharpish.
   
But last night, I found myself part of a very big committee indeed – well, a “community board”, to be precise, CB4, which represents the Hell’s Kitchen area in which I live. I’d been asked to attend by one of my favourite local bars, Mr Biggs, as the owners want to open another place close by. They asked those of us who are fans to support them and, if possible, speak.
   
I never need any encouragement to speak, especially when it’s in public. In fact, so much do I enjoy speaking, I am sure I will be punished in my next life by being sent back as a deaf mute.
   
The meeting took place in a conference room at Mount Sinai hospital and I immediately signed up for opening my gob on the subject of opening a bar. The only subject on which I could ever be even more vociferous would be that of never closing a bar.
   
There was a lot to get through before the rent-a-gobs got to take their place at the microphone. I learned a lot about free astronomy courses at the Intrepid museum (oh, please stop me from rushing out to buy a telescope before I’ve even tried a class), and even more about stairwells in new apartment blocks. They now have to be wide enough for eight people and, I discovered, the World Trade Centre had stairwells that were wide enough for just two.
   
Several people who appeared to have signed up to Stairwellgate declared that they had put their names on the wrong form (why would anyone want to talk about steps when there are bars to be opened?). Then, a woman who had signed up properly for something else decided that she had rather a lot of say on the subject of stairs – so much, to be honest, that had there been a nearby flight, I would happily have pushed her down them. 
   
Another woman was very unhappy that a building was going to be pulled down; another that a building was going to be put up. Geez . . . it was going to be Last Orders at Mr Biggs at this rate. Move it, people!
   
We were called in groups of five to the microphone and, as always happens in these circumstances, I had to stretch my neck to giraffe like proportions to reach it. I said my bit – fulsome praise of the bar, the owners, the management, but nerves encouraged some really weird things to come out of my mouth. Come on, it was the first time I’ve ever spoken in the US, and while it might not be Congress, it’s a start (give me time).
   
At one point, I found myself saying “Of all the worlds I’ve lived in . . . “ before realising that I have, as far as I know, lived in just one. The correction provoked a laugh, and I talked about the importance of a woman (and one of a certain age) feeling safe in a bar environment. 
   
Loads of other people spoke up in favour of Mr Biggs. Heck, it was so encouraging, I thought they would be granted permission to build a hundred new bars, let alone convert just one. 
   
Then the women with cardigans got up. I know from the UK that where there’s a woollen cardigan, there’s going to be trouble. Suddenly, there was an army of cardigans. Would there be cabaret? What about the noise? How would local residents sleep? Could they enforce a 2am rather than 4am closing time (even the latter is waaaaaay too early for this European)? I tell you, I reckon we were a hair’s breadth away from talking about how wide the stairwells would be.
   
I left the meeting before the vote and went to Mr Biggs where, it turned out, I later learned that the application had been turned down. I hope it wasn’t because the committee didn’t think they wanted aliens from other worlds inhabiting their planet.
   
It was incredibly disappointing for the owners, who really are a great bunch of guys who, given the success of their other places, I, and their other supporters, know would do a terrific job.

   
I’ve no doubt they’ll take it to the next level, at which time they will have to put their case to the State. Just point me in the direction of that microphone. 

Failing that, just tell me who I have to sleep with.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Life is for the Living, Not the Dying

I grew up watching my grandmother go up and down flights of stairs all day long when she and Grandpa ran The Old Globe pub in Rogerstone, just outside Newport in South Wales.
   
Her stamina always amazed me. She carried crates, served behind the bar, and, the thing I remember most, rose at 5am every morning to make fresh Cornish pasties for pub lunches.
   
On the one occasion I stayed with her, when Grandpa was ill in hospital, we shared the same bed and I recall three things: the false teeth she put in the glass at her bedside before retiring (I was fascinated – I thought only dentists removed teeth); her kneeling on the floor at the side of the bed to say her prayers; and the early morning that was ‘pastie o’clock’. She had barely been in bed five minutes after cleaning up after last orders.
   
She had always been the same. At 14, she gave up her job as a photographer’s assistant to wash clothes for the huge family of nine. To me, knowing this when I was young, it was a slavish existence. She must have worked eighteen hours a day until she retired when Grandpa died in 1971. Fifty years. That’s well over 350,000 hours. At least.
   
I lay there one night, on a sleepover when Grandpa was in hospital, listening to the mixer (good old Kenwood) stir the potatoes and onions and, when I finally got out of bed, I marvelled at the rows of golden, ribbed Cornish pasties on their steel trays that Grandma carried down to the bar to put in the ‘snacks’ container that kept them warm on the counter. And at 64, when she retired, she was still bounding up and down those stairs like a youngster.
   
When we, as a family, visited every weekend (Mum helped out behind the bar), I collected tops from the Courage beer bottles – numerous bright colours (orange, blue, yellow) surrounding a cockerel in the middle – and was ecstatic when Grandma gave me an empty cigar box in which to put my collection of plastic jewellery. I still have the Babycham glass she gave me with Bambi prancing across the front.
   
On Bank Holidays, Dad would take us to the temporary fair in the field opposite the pub. Dad always won a coconut and, one afternoon, won two goldfish – one for my brother Nigel and one for me. Nigel’s fish, Fred, died, when Mum fed him eight oxygen tablets when he appeared to be struggling to breathe. In the end, I suspect it was the wind that killed him.
   
My fish, Horace, had an inauspicious start in life when the bag we carried him back in burst, and he spent a good few minutes drunk as we tried to scoop him up from the spilt Guinness on the pub floor. At least he lasted longer than Fred, so it must be true what they say about the benefits of stout.  
   
I remember every Saturday afternoon, when Nigel and I were deposited downstairs, emerging from the terror of the living room where we had to watch Dr Who in the dark (apparently, it saved electricity), to be offered our choice of chocolate from the sweet counter in the bar.
   
I have thought of Grandma so many times since her death in 1989, a short while after her eldest daughter, Audrey, and a short while before my beloved father in 1990. I recall never hear her once complain, though her life was non-stop work, morning till night, seven days a week. She brought up three daughters, including my mum, Val, the eldest, and the youngest, Barbara, through a war, looked after Grandpa when he was dying of cancer, and dealt with horrendous money problems not of her making, following his death.
   
When I started out in my late twenties in Fleet Street, writing five TV columns a week “live” (this was in the days before videos and DVDs), living on five hours’ sleep a night for four years, I always had at the forefront of my mind that to survive in life, you had to have a strong work ethic, and nowhere had I witnessed it more powerfully than in my grandmother. 
   
To this day, that work ethic, and her fortitude and spirit are central to what keeps me going when times get tough for me (and I work just as hard now as I did when I started out). She had it tougher; she really did. But she loved her work, loved her family, and, despite the hardship, loved life.

At her funeral, the minister said: ‘Some people live dying; others die living.’ Grandma was the latter. And, thanks to her, I will do that, too. 

Hopefully, not for a while yet.  









Saturday, January 3, 2015

It's Not Easy Being Green

New year, new fad. 

The papers and magazines are full of them and, as someone who has a Toad of Toad Hall approach to life (“Crazes. He always has crazes”), it was inevitable that I embarked on a couple more this year.
   
In LA, I embarked on them on a weekly, if not daily basis; on every street corner, there is someone offering you a better life, usually at a cost of thousands of dollars. In New York, it seems easier to set one’s own routine for considerably less. Maybe it’s because of the competition.
   
So, I began with cleansing my digestive system. I drink a reasonable amount of carrot juice anyway (I love it, but am careful not to overdose on Vitamin A – not good), and thought that Daily Greens sounded more aggressive. So it was spinach, kale, celery and lemon juice, accompanied by a banana and, my weakness, two cups of Tetley tea (my supermarket has run out of PG Tips; I am heartbroken and very shaky from withdrawal symptoms as a result).
   
It’s hard to say what Daily Greens tastes like, but lets just say that the barium meal I had 30 years ago when I was tested for an ulcer was better. I certainly heaved a lot less on it. Individually, I like all four components – spinach (in Delia’s spinach, rice and cheese bake), kale (stir fried), celery on its own or in my vegetarian Bolognese sauce) and lemon (gin and tonic). Together, however, it tasted like a frog that had overdosed on . . . well, other frogs. Other frogs with bad very stomach upsets. It looked like Kermit after a severe road traffic accident.
   
I tried coconut water instead. This is the juice from young green coconuts (maybe the frog had overdosed on those, too?) that apparently aids digestion, helps weight loss, and lays claim to being the very elixir of life, alongside water. It tasted like cat’s pee, albeit sweet cat’s pee. I decided to stick to my carrot juice and what comes for free out of my tap.
   
My diet, however, is going well. Fresh fruit and veg, very little or no alcohol, and two fingers of Kit Kat if I fancy something sweet (which I rarely do, anyway; I am lucky in never having had a sweet tooth). But then I’ve always been quite a healthy eater. I used to spend all my pocket money on health magazines, which is why I now know everything about bowel movements but couldn’t name you a number one hit single from the past 50 years.
   
But now to exercise. Again, I’ve always been quite good on this front. I used to be a dancer, I walk everywhere, and I have frequented many gyms, where I do a good cardio workout and a bit of muscle training on machines. Last year, I also had a personal trainer twice a week, and this year I have added boxing cardio to my routine – something I did years ago before hurting my knee when trying to compete in “boxercise” classes with young lads who actually boxed for a living. Very foolish.
   
This year, I thought I’d try something different - yet another yoga class. My friends who do yoga look amazing and seem to have knocked years off their ages. Personally, I’ve never got on with it. No matter what class I attend, I always seem to be behind the person who, in Downward Facing Dog, has a veritable wind farm operating from his or her backside.
   
Yesterday, I decided to try yet another form of yoga. Although it has been around for some time, “hot yoga” is increasingly popular owing to the likes of Andy Murray and Gwyneth Paltrow doing it. As I don’t want to win Wimbledon, or be “consciously uncoupled”, the celebrity aspect of it wasn’t what appealed; instead, it was the fact that the exercise takes place in a room heated to over 105 degrees, which is supposedly better for muscles and makes you sweat more.
   
As with all yoga classes I have previously attended, I quickly dislocated my neck trying to see what the teacher was doing. Then I twisted my groin by being too competitive and trying to stretch further than people half my age. Then came the dreaded Downward Facing Dog. Over and over again. There was an “Up” dog, too, and something I have never experienced before – “Happy Baby”. This one I struggled with, so much so that the teacher had to come over to show me how to do it, and I still couldn’t master it. Come on. How was I supposed to know what a happy baby pose was? The last time I was in one, I was a baby for goodness’ sake!
   
For those not in the know, Happy Baby involves you lying on your back and cupping your right foot in your right hand; then your left; then both feet together. Small wonder I couldn’t get it. Happy baby pose to me was always, I am sure, stuffing my face and sleeping it off.
   
I have to say, though, that the lower back pain that has been plaguing me for months had completely gone this morning. I was able to leap out of bed without pain and there is not a hint of the soreness that has been making life so difficult. Maybe it was the Daily Greens, maybe the coconut milk, but I suspect it was the hot yoga.
   
Did I enjoy it? No. Do I want to go again? No. Will I go again? Yes. It’s worth it for the back relief alone. And in a New York City winter, I know I’m going to need all the 100 plus degrees I can get. 

Even if I do have to suffer a rectal wind farm to get it.

   

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I Got By with a Little Help from my Friends

When I posted the blog earlier today about the past year and the year ahead, I said that when I thought about how much I had fitted in, the year seemed very long. It got me thinking about all the people who have passed through it in one way or another, and I just wanted to say thank you to them. I am sure there are people I’ve missed out and will add to the list as I remember. Please forgive me if you’re not on it, but I’m working with very bad jet-lag. They are, by the way, in alphabetical order! It puts a lot of things into perspective in writing such a list. I realise how truly blessed I am to have so many amazing people in it. So, I would like to thank my family and friends for/for being . . . . .

Paul ABBOTT and Larkin HALL – the kindest, most supportive and encouraging friends a girl could wish for
Maggie ALDERSON – one of my long-standing friends and always, always making me laugh and being such a support of my writing
Phillip ARRAN – there in oh, so many ways, and becoming a very close friend I love very much; and for understanding that there will be light
Alex BANNISTER – Daily Mail Managing Editor with a heart (albeit a tough one!)
Susan BOYD – an incredible person, as well as a dear friend. Your success is so deserved and I know how hard you have worked and how much support you have given to others, too, myself included. You should get that husband of yours William to do some writing, too
Lisa BOFFO – my new LA friend, whose unconditional support while going through very tough times herself, never ceases to amaze me
BUTCHER’S ARMS – always being there and just as welcoming when I return home
Richard BRANSON – always being an inspiration and providing the best airline travel in the world
CAMEO CLUB – a stalwart in my Cardiff life
John CHAPLIN – the most understanding man in finance in the Daily Mail (thanks for listening to the whingeing)
Simon COWELL – a friend, albeit one who never gave me a house
Sandy CUPP JAMESON – one of my favourite Twitter friends, whose intelligence and humour have brought me immense pleasure, even if she is a love rival for Judge Alex
Paul DACRE – the best editor, from whom I continue to learn 20+ years on (creepy of me? Probably, but still true)
Judge Alex FERRER – a great TV personality, legal brain, and a newish but great friend who tolerates, if doesn’t totally understand, Welsh insanity
Richie FRIENDLEY – making me feel welcome in Hell’s Kitchen
Stephen FRY – the kindness during the low times and the laughter during the good
Charles GARSIDE – Daily Mail Managing Editor, whose always sound advice stopped me from taking everyone to court when I felt wronged
Alex GAUTHIER – a friend, always
Matthew GRAHAM – a great support and a brilliant laugh from a long distance. Great writer, too
The GROUCHO CLUB – being you
Dany and Martin HAYMAN – the love and support during a very difficult year
Ian, Victoria, Emily and William HISLOP – my second family for many, many years, and for always including me in your lives (ps when are the next parties Emily and Will?)

Chris HARVEY – sorting out my insurance mess so efficiently
Carolyn HITT – a brilliant journalist and a sensitive, kind and supportive friend – and great company in New York
Chrissy ILEY – a dear friend, who knows what is right for me long before I know it; who is mega funny, bright, entertaining, even when she is going through tough times herself. Miss you every day!
Melissa IRWIN COYIER – one of my favourite Twitter friends who always makes me laugh – despite being yet another Judge Alex love rival (we’re all going to have to fight this out y’know!)
Tracey JACKSON and Paul WILLIAMS - writing Gratitude and Trust, and changing the way I see the world
Rhys JOHN – the friend I call my Life Coach, who has the ability to take my ramblings, sort them into a cohesive whole, and deliver the best advice possible, while still having the grace to laugh at all my jokes
Julia LEWIS – one of the funniest people I have ever met; always sensational company and have known for well over 50 years
Diana LJUNGAEUS – runs the LA Press Club with incredible verve and skill, and shows immense patience with my inability to fill in the forms properly
The MALIBU FISH GRILL – a fun, regular LA haunt with some fabulous staff
Barbara MARTIN – my always adored and adorable aunt, whose love I never doubt

Debbie MATTHEWS and ARCHYTAS for saving me from financial ruin and giving me the best advice
Beth MCDONALD – a great Daily Mail Weekend sub-editor (the best) on my column and someone I can also have a laugh with along the way
Heather MCGLONE – my editor on Weekend for a long time, and for the advice and support
Zoe MCINTYRE – the best press officer on the planet and a dear friend with whom hysterical laughter is never off the agenda
MR BIGGS – my favourite New York haunt, with lovely staff who always make me feel welcome
Cynth and Terry MURPHY – my “adopted” aunt and uncle who have known me since childhood, and who I see but once a year, but always love it
Maggie O’RIORDAN – an editor beyond compare (Daily Mail, Femail) with the biggest heart in the world, whose support this year has given me not only a new friend but a whole new outlook on life
Leisha O’SHEA – always the best friend anyone could wish for. Smart, hilarious, perceptive, and a brilliant mother of three year-old twin boys

Theo PAPHITIS – giving the best comfort and advice, both practical and emotional, when I was at my very lowest

Steve and Penny PARSONS – great, supportive friends and the best company, long after we departed our seats at Cardiff’’s Millennium Stadium
Karen PRICE – a fantastic arts journalist and wonderful company in LA
Liz and Ronw PROTHERO – friends who are always there and with whom I laugh non-stop. Fantastic in their TV work, too, as I know, having had the privilege of working with them – and hope to again
Nick PYKE – one of my contacts on the Mail on Sunday and always a joy to work with
Tim RICE – for still being a friend whose voice I never get tired of hearing (talking, not singing)
Susan ROBERTS – the hardest working PA (on Daily Mail Weekend)
SOHO HOUSE – your many brilliant houses around the world that always make me feel welcome, wherever I am
Robbie SAVIN and Ace HOOD – the most entertaining gay duo in New York
Val, Nigel and Kim STEPHEN – my wonderful family: Mum, brother and sister-in-law. Always there for me
Mary and Liam SULLIVAN – friends I know I could call at any hour, from anywhere in the world. Always there with love and wise words. Wonderful parents and grandparents, too
Nadia SWANWICK – still great fun and a great friend, despite the gaps in time between meetings
Shelley THOMAS – my oldest school-friend, who, despite our disparate paths, is still there as we see each other through good and bad, just as we used to
Elizabeth TIMMS – still there and a dear, loved friend, despite the long gaps
Janie and Mike TOMLINSON – the most amazing friends who look after many aspects of my life practically as well as emotionally
Laura TOPHAM – on Daily Mail Femail, and being such a support since your arrival. You instilled in me new confidence
Bradley TUCK – a good friend when I am in LA. I miss you

TWITTER/FACEBOOK -  all the friendship and kindness I received on social networking from people who don’t even know me
Mark WAREHAM – such fun to work with on the Mail on Sunday when I do my TV reviews
Jon WORSNOP – a colleague on Daily Mail Weekend, and having such an astute eye when I get things wrong
VAUCLUSE – my favourite place in West Hollywood. You’ve worked hard, and continue to do so, to make this a success. I just know it will go from strength to strength

VIRGIN – the best airlines (Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America) and the best credit cards. Between the lot of you, I face certain penury. But it’s been fun while it lasted

A New Year - the Same, Only Different

Another year over, a new one just begun, as John Lennon sang. 

I can’t believe 12 months have, yet again, flown by; and yet, looking back and seeing what I’ve managed to fit in, the year seems to have been very slow and long. That’s one of the contradictions of time: feeling versus fact.
   
It was a year that saw me spend most of my time in New York, where I had always wanted to live. Before I moved to LA, it had been a toss-up between the two places. LA won over because of its concentration on the TV and film industries, but I saw that gradually dwindle as producers and stars took the financial opportunities offered elsewhere (not least, in Canada) to move filming. Even New York has benefited from the LA exodus.
   
I have loved the move. It is much easier to make friends in New York, and Manhattan is beautiful. I love the architecture, the pure blue skies between buildings, sunsets over the Hudson. And, as a single older woman, I do not feel, as I am often made to do in the UK, on the scrapheap of life. Everywhere I go, there are dozens of women at ease with themselves sitting alone, often working, and, unlike most of the ones I saw out and about in smart places in LA, they are not on the game.
   
This year saw my finances shrink considerably, for reasons I have already detailed, but I learned the value of friendship in the support I received and many offers of practical help, as well as emotional. I have faith that it will change (although not necessarily in my lifetime!). But it’s tough for most people out there at the moment; I learned that I was not alone.
   
It was a great year for law on TV, with Law and Order: SVU, The Good Wife and Suits being the highlights of my viewing schedule. It was also a traumatic year for law when Judge Alex came off the TV, thereby ruining not only my lunchtime schedule of pasta, red wine and hot guy, but the handcuff fantasies I had enjoyed for so many years. Judge Judy just doesn’t do it for me in the same way.
   
Like anyone’s year, mine featured the usual run of births, marriages and deaths – although I didn’t give birth, avoided marriage (not hard in New York) and didn’t die, which always has to be a bonus.
   
And so, to 2015. I wish my friends and family a happy, prosperous, safe New Year. We’ll have laughter, we’ll have tears, but remember, in the words of the song Smile: when there are clouds in the sky, we’ll get by. The rain will fall (as the Bee Gees sang), but the sun always rises.
   
Here, then, are my thoughts looking back at 2014, and those for 2015. 
   
20 THINGS I LEARNED IN 2014

1.       Money doesn’t grow on trees.
2.       Being closer to 60 is much scarier than being closer to 50.
3.       Almost everyone I know is dead.
4.       New York DOES sleep – between 4am and 6am, goddammit.
5.       There are way more people worse off than myself than I had realised.
6.       There is always a Macy’s sale on. No need to rush for that bargain.
7.       I would be lost without my circle of wonderful friends.
8.       Every man in New York is gay.
9.       When you grow your hair, lesbians stop trying to pick you up.
10.    They are making episodes of Law and Order SVU at a faster rate than I can watch them.
11.    The NoNo does not remove facial hair; it is nothing more than an electric chair for the face.
12.    Suits, Law and Order: SVU, and The Good Wife are the best programmes on TV.
13.    I should have been a lawyer.
14.    I would not be safe carrying a gun.
15.    One should never be too proud or ashamed to ask for help, either financial or emotional.
16.    Bricks and mortar are meaningless compared to people.
17.    Britain and America really are two countries separated by the same language.
18.    You have to run very fast to stand still in rip-off Britain.
19.    I will never marry George Clooney.
20.    The only thing that explains my lifestyle is that I am, unbeknown to me, working for the CIA.

AND 20 THINGS I’M GOING TO CHANGE IN 2015

1.       Become a CIA agent – WikiHow has told me how to do it.
2.       Make buying toilet rolls a priority.
3.       Find a straight man in New York.
4.       Get therapy for my addiction to Law and Order: SVU.
5.       Spend less time on Twitter and Facebook.
6.       Write my way out of my financial mess (I doubt my CIA salary alone will get me out of it).
7.       See more of my friends.
8.       Exercise more (yeah, right).
9.       Refresh my French and learn Spanish.
10.    Learn Mandarin. China is apparently the future.
11.    Consume more Chinese food when the Mandarin is going nowhere.
12.    Have at least one day without reading about a Kardashian.
13.    Smile though my heart is aching, smile when my heart is breaking . . . There may be a song in that.
14.    Stop checking online in the hope that people who tortured me in my youth have become fat and unhappy.
15.    Stop stalking federal judges (yeah, right again).
16.    Get that Green Card application in (maybe the CIA will give me one automatically? Did I mention my new job?).
17.    Stop hoping that a UK rugby team will win the 2015 World Cup. They won’t.
18.    Seriously start to consider plastic surgery.
19.    Try to live in one residence for the whole year.
20.    Write a best selling book about my work with the CIA.