Thursday, November 8, 2018

TRANS-TALL AND STANDING PROUD


So, a Dutch “positivity trainer” has filed a lawsuit to have his age officially lowered by 20 years. He’s currently 69, so I’m baffled why he wouldn’t want it lowered by 40 years, as men of 49 are, by today’s standards, really past it. And try being a woman of 60, as I now am; we are now considered past it barely after reaching puberty.

Emile Ratelband has compared the change to those wishing to identify as transgender. Talk about hijacking an already overcrowded bus.

Do you remember Nkechi Amare Diallo, who wished to identify as black? She’d changed her name from Rachel Dolezal – which she had already changed from her birth name, Rachel Moore. 

Comparing her experience to that of trans-gender Caitlyn Jenner, Nkechi declared herself “trans-black”. And subsequently appeared everywhere on our TV screens, parading her trans-blackness with a perm that looked as if it has eaten Michael Jackson’s bouffant for breakfast, lunch and dinner - the kind of hair crying out not for a stylist but a topiarist (she was charged with committing welfare fraud earlier this year, by the way).
But listen up: a curly perm doth not an African American make, any more than changing a piece of paper to knock years off your age won’t disguise the fact that your body isn’t keeping up with your brain.

However, I must now confess that these inspirational stories have had a profound effect on me and are forcing me to come clean about my own situation; I am just hoping that I will be met with the same understanding. Despite my diminutive appearance and the fact that I am biologically just five feet, I have decided I wish to identify as trans-tall.
   
All of you who called me Bridget the Midget when the song hit the charts when I was in school can laugh the other side of your faces now. The others, who addressed me as Titch (after the so-called comedy act, Titch and Quackers) can get lost, too. I am a very tall person who is short only in public perception, and Nkechi and Emile have finally given me the courage to come out regarding my true identity.
   
My life as a Lilliputian will henceforth no longer be known as Jaci and the Beanstalk; instead, I am registering a name far more suited to my trans-tall state: Longfellow Giraffe Brobdingnag.
   
I am not short, nor have I ever been. I have a T-shirt saying that I am a tall elf, but even that I find offensive. Why do people assume that the body into which you have been born is the one in which you live in your head? Just as NAD subjected her hair to electric shock therapy to suit the soul with which she most identified, so I am having leg extensions to comply with the being I know myself to really be. 
   
Unfortunately, it involves having my legs broken in three places and having a set of circus stilts implanted from my ankles to my thighs, but this is who I am, right? You see? I am already adopting the lingo of my new tall persona.
   
Being trans-tall comes with so many advantages. I can shout “Oi! I was next!” while standing at a bar, without the person behind me being served first and spilling a pint of Stella over my head. I can jump queues by saying “I’m on the list”. I can put luggage into the overhead rack on a plane without having to stand on the seat and look helplessly to a man to give me assistance. I can reach every magazine on the top shelf. 

None of this would be possible if I had been content to languish in the body that has been imposed upon me since birth.
   
I confess to having had a great deal of therapy before coming to terms with my trans-tall self. People always assumed that I was just a raucous Welsh dwarf who laughed too loudly and partied too much. Now, they will know the truth: I was a giant trapped in a small woman’s body, and there was just too much of me trying to contain itself in the tiny frame for which I was never meant.
   
Like NAD and her blackness and Emile and his age reduction, I will continue to identify as whatever I wish: namely, tall. While NAD eventually admitted to having being born to white parents but identifying as black, I confess that I was born to short parents. Dad was five feet six, Mum four feet nine and a half; yet I still identify as tall.
   
As one of NAD’s supporters said: she has chosen to self define and what’s wrong with that? Emile, too, is self-defining in a bid to combat age prejudice. I get it! Why let biology get in the way of a good delusion.
   
Yes, I have chosen to self-define, too.
   
I am trans-tall.
   
Live with it. 
   
Step on me at your peril.
   




Friday, November 2, 2018

MORE REFLECTIONS ON MY 60TH


The countdown to my seventh decade began last Tuesday, when my dear friends Loraine and Kerrianne took me for drinks and dinner in Bath. 

I have a checkered history with the city, having lived there first for 11 years and another year when I rented a house there in 2017. It’s close to my mother in Bristol, and I have some close friends there, among whom I now count Loraine and Kerrianne, who are two of the most kind-spirited, generous, big-hearted and thoroughly wonderful people I have ever met. Loraine (who is an MBE) used to be the city’s mayor; how I wish we had managed to touch base back then when the only social life I knew was the local pub quiz (and I’m still arguing over who invented the rhyming couplet).
   
Next stop was Cardiff and my dear friends Liz and Ronw, who treated me to a stupendous night of tapas and wine at Curado Bar. I regard their entire family as my own; their four girls are beautiful, clever and extraordinary young women. Our greatest adventure was when we accidentally became embroiled with the Mafia in Spain, when we innocently thought these sweet guys genuinely wanted to set up a TV station. In all fairness, it was already in existence; we just didn’t know, as we went in day after day, pitching programmes (leaving Liz and Ronw’s poor children parked in McDonald’s), that it was a front for money laundering. There is still an international warrant out for the arrest of the ringleaders.
   
On Thursday, my friends Janie and Mike took me lunch in Café Citta, a family-run restaurant that is never less than a joy, and the same is true of my friends. They were nearby neighbours, who, during my 10 years living in Llandaff until 2016, pretty much ran my life when I was away from home. Always entertaining company and very funny, they are breathtakingly kind and supportive.
   
And so to Saturday: my party at the Dean Street branch of Soho House, where I had booked an upstairs room that was a perfect mix of drawing room and bar. I had the lights dimmed (but not too dark); Fifties and Sixties music playing (but not too loud); and wine flowing . . . and flowing. I decided to forego food, as I reckoned adults know how to eat and would be more grateful for free wine rather than one glass and two canapés of something they’d be looking for a bin to spit them into.
   
Though I say it myself, it was an incredible party. I have never felt so loved, and I have never felt so loving. The age range was astonishing: from 18 to 80, and it was an eclectic mix. I didn’t want to have a “works” do, and having people there who have been in my life for so long – my first university friend, Helen, from 40 years ago, for example – gave a cohesion to the evening that made me feel cocooned in a bubble of gratitude and humility. 

For all the hardships along the way – and none of us is immune – I felt truly blessed to have come to a point, after six decades, surrounded by the people I saw before me: family, friends, work colleagues past and present, my dentist and hairdresser (yes, really!).
   
When I made my speech (has to be done), I felt overwhelmed by life – so much so, that I didn’t even recognise one of my oldest friends, Tina (twice!), who I saw just three weeks ago. I greeted one couple at the door like long lost relatives, only to suddenly clock their confusion when they realised they were at the wrong party.
   
Everyone genuinely had a great time, and I was particularly touched by the young people in their early twenties, who said it was the best party they had ever been to. I wish my mum, who has been incapacitated following an accident a year ago, could have been there; also, my dad, who died not long after my 30th. But my brother Nigel and his wife Kim were there and it was wonderful to spend time with them – something we rarely get to do, given the distance between us. It’s something I vow to change in the future.
   
Inevitably, it’s been a week of reflection – on family, friends, the past, the future – and, as I’m now in the three day countdown to the day itself (November 5th), I’ve been thinking about how I marked each decade. 

Ten: a bit sad because, being born on November 5th, I didn't really understand why I was being given explosives rather than toys as presents. 

Twenty: no idea. I was so miserable and depressed I didn’t think I’d see another year, let alone 10.

Thirty: Chalk and Cheese restaurant, run by my friends Liz and Ray, in Chalk Farm. I made everyone play “The Shoe Game”, which nobody understands even to this day. I remember throwing a shoe at one of my friends who was chatting up my sort-of boyfriend though. 

Forty: Soho House in Greek Street. I have always said it was the happiest day of my life, which, until then, it was. 

Fifty: a dinner in a London restaurant, a party in Cardiff, and also one in Paris, where the last guest, unconscious on the stairs, was carried out by les pompiers, yelling at me in French that this wasn’t their job.
   
Sixty (almost): Soho House, 76 Dean Street – the happiest day of my life. Love and thanks to everyone who was there and made it so.
   
So now I find myself in New York, where my cousin Debbie (daughter of my father’s favourite brother Ray, neither sadly no longer with us), is flying in with her friends on Monday; also, my friends Mary and Liam (Thursday) and Howard (Friday). I’ve planned a dinner, a boat trip and, on 10th, a celebration at Mr Biggs which, as anyone who reads my posts knows, is my second home in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen.
   
I have no idea what the next phase of my life holds; for better or worse, none of us do. But while we have love and breath, life’s atrocities can never defeat us. 

That’s not something I always say, but heck: it’s my party and I’ll smile if I want to.
   
See yer all in 10 years.
  
  

Thursday, November 1, 2018

REFLECTIONS ON THE LAST WEEK OF MY FIFTIES


Mozart’s Requiem and the Adagio of the clarinet concerto
The majesty of Klimt’s dancers and the delicacy of his field of poppies
Toulouse-Lautrec’s dancers, now in the partying shadows of Paris’s Musée d’Orsay, for fear of daylight tainting their delicate ribbons
The genius of Rilke and the comfort he gives on every page of Letters to a Young Poet
Brahms’s violin concerto
The sculptures of Isaac Cordal in urban environments, speaking to the destruction of the world
The sonnets of Shakespeare
John Keats’s uplifting, heartrending letters to Fanny Brawne
The amphitheatre of Rome
The Eiffel Tower
Huddling over a hot mulled wine at the foot of the Champs- Élysées Paris Christmas market
Eurostar, effortlessly making it through 17 miles under water, linking England to Paris
The smell of the Nutella crêpe stall as you emerge from Paris’s St Germain des Prés Metro into the chill of Boulevard St Germain
Dusk falling on the mountains of southern Spain on the road from Marbella airport to the coast
Seeing a real Picasso for the first time, breath shooting of your chest with the punch of something “other” – and you really don’t know what
Rodin’s The Kiss in Paris’s Musée Rodin, the figures emerging from their marble, as if for the first time, out of duty for every tourist, then sinking back into rest, sure of their eternal togetherness
Oysters and champagne at Bofinger at the Bastille on a Sunday morning after a stroll through Paris’s 4th Arrondissement
Sailing around the Mediterranean, salt, wine and laughter editing the shoreline out of sight
Lighting a candle on the Island of the Dead in Venice, even though you don’t believe, but want to pay tribute to the children’s section of these souls forever young
Sharing a bottle of Greek brandy with a stranger in Crete, high on a visit to this country’s exquisite islands
The French Impressionists
Warsaw’s silent celebratory streets after Solidarnosc in 1983
Beethoven’s Fifth
Mahler’s Fifth
Mahler’s First, Second, Third, Fourth . . .
Mahler
Mahler’s gravestone in the Grinzing Cemetery in Vienna – ‘He who seeks me, knows who I was. The others do not have to know.’


I know who I am and am so proud to have seen, heard, witnessed and know about all of these things. I am a proud European who, every day of my life, celebrates everything to which Europe has exposed and given me, and I will defend it to my dying breath.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

HOW TO BE . . . A MINORITY IN AMERICA


Let me say at the outset that I have the utmost respect for the LGBTQ community.

I have seen too many lives destroyed by issues surrounding sexuality, gender and identity not to have the utmost sympathy for those who struggle and face prejudice and hatred every day of their lives.

The lack of empathy with those who are different from the norm is truly terrifying, particularly in government. How can anyone profess to being Christian when they ignore the basic tenet of that religion? It’s simple: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving of one another” (Ephesians 4:32). Irrespective of whether you believe in God, how hard can that be?
  
But the LGBTQ’s growing inclusiveness is rather hijacking the alphabet; and so, before the movement takes up any more letters than the near quarter they have already monopolized, I want to draw attention to a hitherto little discussed group to which I belong: SOFMI. Straight Old Female Minuscule Immigrant.

I feel a march and a placard coming on – albeit currently a march and a placard with a supporter of one.

But give me time. Who knows, I might even take more letters as the popularity of my movement grows. Perhaps, A (I am very Ambitious – not something people particularly warm to in women); P (people like Poor even less); S (Sexy – okay, I’m lying a bit now, but you have to grab these letters while they’re available and before the LGBTQ alphabet-jumpers steal any more).
  
I find myself in a minority in just about every area of my life these days. News headlines are dominated by those whose voices have previously been denied – and that’s how it should be; life is hard enough negotiating buying a pint of milk (try standing in line in Food Emporium on Friday nights), without having to argue the case for simply being who you want to be.
  
However, that doesn’t prevent my feeling constantly out of the loop, in no small part due to living in a country that is more foreign to me than France (where I lived for seven years). Britain and the USA: “two nations separated by a common language – attributed to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, sometimes both. So, let’s go through my minority status letter by letter.

1.     S. I am straight. Nearly everyone I know is gay. I’ve lived in Soho in London, West Hollywood in LA and am now reside in Hell’s Kitchen in New York’s Manhattan. If you’re not familiar with these areas, just think Liza Minnelli meets Liberace meets Sarah Paulson/Ellen De Generes (fill in the gaps with any living lesbian for these two). I love my gay (mostly male) friends, but gosh, they like their drama. I try to subtly suggest that maybe they’d be happier if they didn’t end every night stressed/crying/hitting each other, went home and just watched Netflix with a pizza.
2.     O. Old. It seems I am officially old now. Days away from my 60th birthday, my phone does not stop ringing with people trying to ease my journey to the grave. “My name is Carol and you are on a recorded line. We notice you are of an age when you will need hearing aids and we . . . ” “PARDON?” Yep, just for the hell of it. Stair lift sales people have also started bombarding me. “My name is Jim and you are on a recorded line. We notice you are of an age when you will be having a lot of falls . . . ” You bet. Because I keep going to the bar to get over the stress of your harassment.
3.     F. Female. Yes, I am. I was born with female genitals, to which I have become particularly attached over the years. Apart from a brief time in my childhood when I identified with an imaginary character called André (my own invention – he was rather terrific, actually), I am and have always identified as a girl/woman. I know, I know, it’s weird, but there it is. I don’t want to be referred to as “them” because there is only one of me; in fact, I’d prefer “it,” which at least is grammatically accurate.
4.     M. Minuscule. Yes, I am a small person. I am only five feet tall and, on most days, weigh between 112 and 117 lbs. You have no idea how that isolates me from the rest of American society. I don’t hold coffee cups on the street; I don’t share my lunch on corners with rodents and large birds. Call me old-fashioned, but I have things called plates, knives and forks in my apartment. And, heaven forbid, a dining table to put them on. Did you know, by the way that Americans eat 20% of their meals in cars? I don’t even have a car, so I’m going to add C for Carless to my list (watch out, LGBTQ, I’m coming for your letters!).
5.     I. Immigrant. Yes, I am. I came to the USA through official channels, qualifying as an Alien of Exceptional Ability. That’s a minority, too, by the way (*smug expression*), as is Alien of Exceptional Ability with a National Interest Waiver (*smug broadens*). The former explains itself, although my Master’s Degree was a huge plus (actors, incidentally, are Aliens of Extraordinary Ability – okay, it’s a rung down - just sayin’). The latter meant that I could be here without a job, so long as I could prove myself to be of some benefit (it can be economic, cultural, social etc., but the goalposts are constantly changing).
6.     Carless. I just added that. Ha! That’s another letter you can’t kidnap, LGBTQ!

The truth is, though, I’m okay with it: minority or majority status. I’m grateful to be alive; let’s be honest, so many aren’t. People say, with ageing, that they wish they’d known ‘then’ what they know ‘now.’

I’m the opposite. I am so glad that I lived (and still live) the fun and the laughter; that I endured heartbreak and job loss; enjoyed heady years with no commitment to property; that I smiled, cried and came through it all to be living in New York, which I regard as the greatest city in the world.

I’m just human, but I was always on my way to you, New York.

In the lyrics of Cody Johnson:

All the boats I’ve missed
All the hell I’ve caused
All the lips I’ve kissed
All the love I’ve lost
I thank God for that
I guess he always knew
I was on my way to you

And to quote that other great lyricist, Bernie Taupin: I’m still standing.

Chair lift sales people, take note.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

TEARS FOR TIERS

The race is on. 

Amazon Alexa has just informed me that there are 83 days to December 31st. I have 720 Tier Points on Virgin Atlantic; I need 1,000 if I am to maintain my Gold status and keep the benefits of no change fees, extra Air Miles, and numerous other benefits I will never need, much less use.
   
I’m stressed. Last year, I went to Boston on Delta Airlines for dinner to garner the extra 80 points I needed. Delta is now a partner of Virgin, so it pays to travel internally to clock up the points (internal travel in the US is relatively cheap) and then use them on a transcontinental flight.
   
Feel free to stop reading now. Air Miles are my obsession and, specifically on Virgin Atlantic, Tier Points.
   
So, I’ve been to Vancouver (160 Tier Points) and Toronto (140 Tier Points) recently, just to boost my chances of staying Gold (and I really hate Canada – that’ll give you an indication of my desperation). Now, let me explain the discrepancy: I know you’re all on the edge of your seats about this.
   
There are different categories on Delta. Class ‘A’ gets me 20 points, class ‘P’ gets me 40. But is it worth paying the extra for ‘P’?
   
I also break my journey because that then classes as two flights. So, for example, breaking my journey to and from Vancouver was 40 x 4, whereas one of my Toronto journeys (also with a break) was an ‘A’ (keep up, people!) and three ‘P’.

If you book early enough, you can get 160 Tier Points for under $1000, whereas trying to clock them up on Virgin Atlantic will cost you over £3k to get 200.
   
Yes, those calculations are based on First/Upper – not because I can afford it but because I am very savvy with collecting Air Miles (I also need to have a bed on a long flight because of my ongoing rib and back problems, by the way). I have friends who travel in Economy who pay more than I do. I buy miles in the sale, and, until MBNA scrapped the Virgin Miles programme, I put everything on my credit card. Alas, that scheme has ended and I am now almost destitute of miles. 

I know. Third World problems, right?
   
I’m heading back to the UK for my 60th birthday celebrations, but Christmas will have to be in the US. Virgin’s stupid new scheme re-sets my Tier points to zero on December 31st, and the Heathrow taxes (irrespective of what class you fly) are ludicrously expensive compared to internal airports).
   
Now my dilemma is how I get up to 1,000 Tier Points in 83 days. I have two flights booked to and from LA (out of New York) that will take me to 880 (‘P’ category, breaking journey at Minneapolis on the way out and Atlanta on the way back – still with me?); but I’m still left with a shortfall. Boston is by far the cheapest and closest, but even in ‘P’, that will get me only 80 as there are no breaks on the short flight.
   
This is now occupying my every waking hour. Las Vegas is always a good option because, out of LA, it’s cheap as chips on Delta, and only a 45 minute flight; in fact, I could do it three times in one day and still be home for dinner.
   
The Christmas sale of Air Miles will soon be upon us and I will hungrily purchase everything I can in order to fly to and from the UK relatively cheaply. But it’s these damn Tier Points that keep proving the problem. What I really need is Lifetime Gold Membership, but I need to fly another 823,199 miles to get that, or to have another seven years as a Gold Card member. 

Gosh, my life is complicated.
   
The fabulous team in Swansea who chat to me nearly every day of life are like my closest friends; in fact, I speak to them more often than I do members of my own family. I’m thinking of inviting them all to New York for Christmas dinner.
   
Yesterday, I got Rob, who remembered having spoken to me before. He told me that when I come through on another line, he tells them that I’m lovely. I am. I specially like chatting to them after midnight Eastern Time, when they have more time to listen to me pontificate on my latest scheme for banking miles.
   
I also have to say that the Virgin Atlantic crews are the best of any airline I have ever flown with. They really cannot do enough for you, and if the plane went down, I’d be dying very happy (nevertheless, praying it doesn’t).
   
It’s only the website and Customer Service that let Virgin down and, since they installed their new system nearly two years ago, I’ve seriously considered switching to another airline/rewards programme.
   
But I’m hooked now. Tier Points are my drug of choice, and I would have to spend at least three months in Air Miles Rehab to wean me off the scheme. My only hope is that Sir Richard Branson might read this and, for the sake of my health, give me a Lifetime Gold Membership as a result of the acres of free publicity I continue to give him and his airline.
   
What a lovely 60th birthday present that would be for me, Sir.
  

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

FRENCH KISSES


Writing about flying this week got me thinking about the happy years I spent in Paris, a city for which I feel a greater affinity than any other in the world. It’s my soul mate, and every time I return feels like the first time.
   
As I said in the last blog, I went there following 9/11 when, thinking about what my one regret would be, had I been on one of those doomed planes, it was that I had never lived in Paris. A week later, I was on the rue des St Pères in my apartment.
   
I had been in the UK putting together a TV show for the new television channel UK Food. It was very simple: celebrities would be invited to my apartment and cook for me. I would sit on a stool, drinking wine and interviewing them (I wonder who could have come up with that format, eh?). 

The channel was launching in Paris in the same week as I found an apartment and, when the producer came to see it, I said: “Let’s do the show right here.” Literally. And we did: 15 programmes in 21 days. Celebrities flew in, we shopped for the meal, had drinks or lunch in a hostelry, then returned to the apartment for drinks and a meal.
   
It was hilarious. Sue Johnston’s wig kept falling off as we argued over how much chilli to put in the pasta sauce. Julie Peasgood had a complete giggling fit when I was under-impressed with her dessert. Basically, she melted some butter in a pan, threw in some bananas and marmalade, and . . . er, that’s it. “What does it taste like?” she asked. I said: “It tastes like you’ve thrown some butter, bananas and marmalade into a pan.”
   
Sam Giles (currently Emmerdale) was the funniest. She’d been a last minute replacement for Sue Johnston, who had (Take One) arrived at the airport to discover her passport was out of date. Guests were required to explain the significance of their dish, so we had to hastily throw a story together for Sam, who had to cook a seafood risotto (all TV is fake, people). “Just say you had an Italian boyfriend who made it for you,” I said, time being of the essence.
   
“Okay, but whatever you do, don’t ask me what his name was.”
   Red. Rag. Bull.
   Champagne cork popped. “Welcome to Paris, Sam” (handing her a glass). “What are you going to be cooking for me today?”
   “Seafood risotto.”
   “And why is that?”
   “I once had an Italian boyfriend who cooked it for me, so it’s a very special dish.”
   “WHAT. WAS. HIS. NAME?”
   “Errrrr . . . J . . . R . . . A.”
   
Then, we were in complete meltdown. The more the director told us to get it together, the less we were able to perform. Sam’s story expanded with every take. Now, Roberto (as he was now called) had a grandmother who had come to his house one Christmas and . . . ” On and on. My back was to the camera and with every new detail, my eyebrows reacted with wonder at Sam’s extraordinary narrative.
   
We decided that maybe it was the word seafood that was setting us off. Or maybe risotto. Whatever, we just couldn’t do it. Three bottles of champagne and 17 takes later, we had it in the bag.
   
“Hello, Sam. Welcome to Paris. What are you cooking for me today?”
   “A rice dish.”
   
You had to be there, really.
   
It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had in a city that never loses its magic for me. 

The warmth and smell from the Nutella crepe stand as I ascend the steps from St Germain des Prés metro, where the posters are nearly always advertising another performance of Mozart’s Requiem; the Hausmann influence of Boulevard St Germain, where the buildings never cease to awaken a sense of history, their gentle curves smiling like friends who are always glad to see you; the scent of rain and the flash of a red umbrella that turns the city into a work of art; the cliché of traditional waiters at Les Deux Magots – no place in the world, for me, awakens the senses like Paris.
   
I always felt I belonged there. As a child, my imaginary friend was called Andre – actually, not so imaginary; I WAS Andre. Despite never having been abroad or had any experience of France, even from reading books, it was my world. When I first landed there, many years before 9/11, I wept uncontrollably, as if my spirit was crying in relief that I had come home.
   
Even today, and loving my life in the USA, I feel as if I am merely on leave of absence from Paris. A bit like Gertrude Stein: “America is my country and Paris is my hometown.”
   
As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I remember those who lost their lives on that truly terrible day in world history; but I also give thanks for the gift of Paris it inspired in me. 

No regrets. 

To leave one’s life saying Non, je ne regrette rien is what I hope for. 

It’s a cliché, but La vie est courte. 

You see? Even Life is short sounds better in French.