Saturday, January 21, 2017

LOOK FORWARD IN ANGER - THE PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION

What an angry week this has been. 

Americans, Brits and pretty much people all over the world shouting at each other about the Inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, Donald J Trump.
   
I followed the build-up to the campaign with enormous interest. It was eight years ago that I decided to come to the USA when Barack Obama was elected President. I felt enormously proud to be living in a world in which a black man could, and had, reached such high office. I sat in from of my TV crying tears of joy.
   
This year, on the night that Hillary Clinton conceded defeat to Trump, I cried tears of despair. Racism, sexism, the language of intolerance, anger and hatred that would not have seemed out of place at a Nuremberg rally – I was not alone in thinking that we are living in dangerous times. The fact that Trump’s ongoing message is shrouded in what many believe to be the language of safety, caring and sharing makes it all the more frightening. 

Who are these voters that can be so hoodwinked by empty rhetoric and cheap sound bites? Well, they are the same people who turned up yesterday to hear and cheer more of the same. True, there were (refreshingly) huge empty spaces on the streets and in the stands from which people watched the Inaugural Parade, and Trump comes in with the lowest approval rating of any President in modern times. He also lost the popular vote in the election by over three million votes.
   
But he has the gig and we must live with it. We can protest and shout and make sure that the voices of the people for whom he does not speak (in Vice President Mike Pence’s case, vociferously speaks against) are heard, over and over.
   
Whatever your politics, the bullying, both online and personally, is something that depresses me hugely. It happened with Brexit and is happening all over again with Trump. Yesterday, I posted a comment about enjoying the Inauguration on CNN. I also commented on the quality of the speakers. 

You’d think I had suggested joining ISIS, so aggressive were some of the comments in response. In fairness, some were calmer and stating facts, but everyone missed the key thing: CNN. I was not saying I enjoyed the Inauguration per se (although I was hugely impressed by the military parade); I specifically referred to CNN. I am a TV critic; watching TV and writing and talking about it is what I do. I looked at all the stations and decided against Fox, which elevates my blood pressure to life-threatening levels, and I rejected Sky on the strength of Kay Burley’s puffa jacket. The BBC blew it when a black woman emerging from inside was described as "Not Michelle Obama." 
   
CNN is always my first choice for news in the USA, and the award-winning Anderson Cooper is one of many jewels in an already glittering crown. Trump has been attacking the station of late and, yesterday, went out of his way to praise Fox News (no surprises there).
   
My enjoyment of CNN was ignored completely on Facebook. Maybe the very mention of the word Inauguration was enough to induce temporary blindness in people reading. Quite why anyone would think my talking about TV coverage means that I endorse Trump is anybody’s guess. If people had bothered to read my comments and articles over the past 18 months, they would have seen that I have done nothing but give my support to Hillary.
   
There was another kind of bullying, too. One person criticised my choice to live in the USA and wailed “I don’t know what you’re looking for.” I don’t have to defend my choices to anyone, but I want to point out (1) I am not “looking” for anything. I found everything I could ever want when I could first hold a pen and knew, without any shadow of doubt, that I was a writer. Not wanted to be one; it’s what I was (2) I love experiencing life on a daily basis, rather than saving up all year for a two-week holiday in Ibiza in August (3) It’s nobody’s goddamned business.
   
I have lived in England, Wales, France, Spain and, now, the USA. I love to travel, meeting new people and exploring new cultures. It’s something I didn’t get to do when I was younger as I spent many years studying and then working my way up the media ladder during many difficult years in London. When I hit my mid-forties (I am now 58), I found that the UK is not kind to older women. The TV presenting jobs dry up, one becomes a social leper if there is not a partner in tow, and any lifestyle that differs from the norm is considered suspicious.
   
In the States, I have found that being older is no deterrent to living life just as enjoyably as I did when I was in my prime (by British standards) in the UK. Paris, too, is kinder to older people, and I loved the six years I spent there. Spain looks after its elderly in the most beautiful complexes and has excellent health care. But in the UK, I started to feel that people were resenting me even for being alive. I don’t mean my family and close friends, of course, but I was tired of being asked whether I was married, had kids, or was “courting” (as they continue to say in Wales).
   
I truly am tired of the attacking nature of many people on social media; it’s why I sometimes take the decision to come off it. I’m glad I don’t have children, but I am extremely close to many of my friends’. If that’s what you enjoy, great. None Of My Business. I have friends who live all over the world. One moved to Thailand because she loves the lifestyle and the scenery. Personally, I would never live in a place that exploits and trafficks both children and adults for sex. But again, None Of My Business. And as for my lifestyle choices, here’s the thing: None of Your Business.

   
I am all for sharing ideas and enjoying discourse on social media, even with (especially with, often), people who hold different opinions from my own; I like to learn and see life from different perspectives. 

But please, try to stay nice – and, most important, read what people have actually written before taking up your swords and hollering your war cries. 

Yesterday, the world as we know it changed. As yet, we really don’t know what that will mean long term. 

And now, I’m going back to watching CNN. 

Live with it, people.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

LA COMPAGNIE - SINGLES UNINVITED

La Compagnie. They are bugging me again. The relatively new, allegedly low-cost, business class airline between New York and Paris just can’t seem to get it right. When I tried to book back in June, I couldn’t, because the sign-up process offered me no option as a woman other than to tick “Mrs” (see earlier blog, Single Supplements Extra).
Now, ever since I mentioned them, their ads are taking priority on my Facebook page – and I realize, alas, that in mentioning them again, they are destined to be in my life forever.
So, their latest crime comes in the form of an advert announcing “Lovebirds offer for two”. It’s a special Valentine’s Day deal, return New York to Paris, Business Class, for $3000. “What’s not to like?” it perkily signs off.
Where do I start, Frantz Yvelin, hot-shot CEO and founder of the airline? First, you make me feel like a second-class citizen by refusing to allow me to be anything other than a “Mrs” (heaven forbid that a single woman would, or could, travel Business Class without a man on her arm), and now you compound it by offering a deal to couples only.
I wrote in my Singles blog about the things given to couples but not to solo travelers – the Chateaubriand or paella “for two” in restaurants – and the extra charges that singles are forced to pay. The response I have had has been phenomenal, and I sense a rising tide of anger and resentment towards companies who exploit and, inherently, criticize the single lifestyle.
Some people are single by choice; many are divorced; many are widowed. And when companies reinforce one’s feelings of aloneness with their advertising geared towards what they perceive is the “norm”, it can be not only upsetting but downright offensive.
Everyone is also missing a trick. Let’s call it The Solo Pound (and please, share your stories @TheSoloPound on Twitter as well as on here). Everyone has heard of The Pink Pound or, as it is called in the US, the Dorothy Dollar. It’s the name given to the enormous sums of money the gay community spends, estimated to be around £350 billion per annum. That’s an awful lot of Judy Garland CDs.
So, The Solo Pound works like this. It’s easy: single people who have never been married, don’t have kids and hold down good jobs have money to spend. Lots of people who are alone as a result of other circumstances also have money to spend. It’s not rocket science. In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the US reported that 124.6 million Americans aged 16+ were single – or 50.2% of the population, compared to 37.4% in 1976.
In the 1980s in Ohio, the National Single and Unmarried Americans Week was founded in recognition of singles’ contribution to society, and the celebrations continue to this day. So why, as the numbers of non-conformists become the norm, are single people still discriminated against and even made to feel guilty for their lifestyle choices or circumstances?
Let’s go back to La Compagnie. I happen to think they have the potential to provide a great service that could compete with the larger airlines providing TransAtlantic routes. I also have nothing against Valentine’s Day – any celebration of love between people is fine in my book.
But it’s the exclusivity that is offensive. It screams “I have someone, you don’t!” Not only do you have no one with whom to share your Chateaubriand or paella, you have no one to share an exclusive bargain business flight with because, guess what, in the antithesis of the L’Oreal slogan, “You’re not worth it.”
I’ll be interested to see how many couples take up La Compagnie’s offer. To be honest, $3000 is still a heck of a lot of money, especially when traveling to what has become what seems to be one of the terrorist targets of the world. If you have that kind of money anyway, the chances are you’re going to spend it on a major airline, go First Class, and enjoy all the treats of the lounges each end.
And if you don’t have that kind of money and decide to treat yourself on the airline, upon reaching Paris you’ll discover that your spare change won’t buy you more than a baguette and an espresso (between two – you can forget that Chateaubriand). Trust me. I lived there.
There are plenty of companies offering events for singles to enjoy on Valentine’s Day, but they are very much geared towards the younger market. La Compagnie had the perfect marketing opportunity to target the singles market and they blew it. So, Mr Yvelin, as a single “Ms”, I won’t be able to take you up on your, er, enticing $3000 offer.
Maybe, next time, you could throw in a man who could pay for me. That seems to be in keeping with the spirit of the airline.
Bon voyage!

OLDER, NOT DEAD YET TRAVELS - INTRODUCTION



Just to introduce you to my new blog, Not There Yet Travel, which can be found at notthereyettravel.wordpress.com. Follow me on Twitter @NotThereTravel

INTRODUCTION

A few things start happening to you when you hit 50.

In your head, you're still 28, but to the outside world, you're 98. The normal pitch of talking you have enjoyed for five decades is replaced by people shouting to within two inches of your face, and a slowness of pace usually reserved for foreigners who don't understand a word of English. Age, it seems, carries with it the assumption of deafness, if not stupidity.

Nowhere is the change of attitude more apparent than when traveling and this is why I have decided to write this blog, soon to be followed by a website (Not There Yet Travel), dedicated to the older traveler (I will be keeping to mostly US spellings throughout, so please, no admonitory missives).

Note: NOT OLD. I am a healthy, sprightly 58, yet when I hit the big Five O, I went from being "Miss" to "Madam" on airlines; ordering a pint of lager at an airport bar was greeted with looks of disdain; being an older, single woman, traveling alone, I was perceived as someone who (A) was lonely (B) had never been able to land a man (C) had managed to kill one off, or (D) was very rich as a result of either B or C.

Heaven forbid that I should enjoy my hard-earned money spending it on the thing I love most - traveling the world; meeting new people; sharing food, wine, experiences, and learning about other cultures. The horror, the horror!

Post 50, particularly in the UK, one is expected to crawl into a hole and wait patiently for death (the people waiting for it to happen wait impatiently, of course). It's less true, I have found, in the US, where age tends to equal experience, which is valued (I've also found the same in France and Spain, both countries that revere their ageing populations).

I refuse to become one of life's moles. Within the past eight years, I have traveled more than I ever have. Recently, I became mortgage free and intend to travel a great deal more in the future. At the start of my 50s, I met a woman on a cruise (I was writing a feature for a newspaper's travel pages) who said: "You should travel while you've got your health." That comment hit home like no other, and I have been on the move ever since.

The average age of retirement for Americans is 63, which is incredibly young by today's standards, and there is a lot of living to be done, even at the end of one's working life (alas, in the UK, the age appears to rise).

And so, I'm going to be writing about my own adventures and welcome the opportunity to hear about others', too. Walking, climbing, sailing, flying . . . The world is still waiting; the waiting room can wait.

We may be getting older, but we're not dead yet - and where there are Air Miles, there is life.

Beam me up, Scotty.




Sunday, January 15, 2017

CBS - MANAGE THIS, SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER

Dear CBS Radio

While looking through the CBS jobs list today, I came across the post for Social Media Manager. I am passionate about social media, I happen to be very good at it, and was fascinated by the section in which you list the PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS for the post. Let’s go through them.

WHILE PERFORMING THE DUTIES OF THIS JOB, THE EMPLOYEE IS FREQUENTLY REQUIRED TO:-

1.     STAND. Yes, I can.

2.     WALK. Ditto.

3.     SIT. Ditto, again.

4.     USE HANDS TO FINGER, HANDLE, OR FEEL OBJECTS, TOOLS OR CONTROLS. Now, here comes what (forgive me) I found a little weird. Number one: with what else, other than hands, would I be using to finger anything? If I have artificial arms/hands/fingers, would I still qualify? You do not specify whether said hands must be of the flesh variety which, given the detail of everything else, is a little strange. Should I deter my good mate the Bionic Man from applying?  

     Number two: exactly what objects, tools or controls would I be required to finger or handle? I have both handled and fingered many things in my life, but again, I feel you need to specify more clearly. 

      I recently grew my nails and do not wish to be fingering anything that might require me to book a manicure, should the fingering be of a grubby nature (maybe we could come to an agreement about nail-cleansing, post fingering sessions?). Do you mean “tools” euphemistically, or am I required to do a carpentry course prior to the starting date? And, for controls, are we talking a car steering wheel or are we in the realm of Thunderbird Two (which is very complicated, by the way)?

5.     REACH WITH HANDS AND ARMS. I see that we are still on limbs, which are clearly of particular importance. For what am I reaching, pray? Coffee cups, light bulbs? Don’t you have people for that sort of thing? I reach for the stars; that is surely all you need to know.

6.     CLIMB STAIRS. I presume, at this point, you were hoping to rule out Daleks, who, in addition to not being able to finger anything within arm-reaching distance, you think cannot climb stairs. Well, you’d be wrong, because the new generation of Daleks can do precisely that. Nice try, but as far as I can see, Daleks are still in the running for this very complicated sounding job.

7.     TALK OR HEAR. Here’s the killer bit. The prospective job hunter must be able to “talk or hear”. I think you’ll find your grammar is a bit off here. I think you meant to say talk AND hear. A radio job in which someone can talk but not hear is a little odd, don’t you think? And one in which one can hear but not be able to use talkback is almost as strange. 
     
      So, my first job would be to finger correct your grammar; and, while we are at it, your excessive and incorrect use of semi-colons in your advertisement would also be subject to my expert fingering. I can talk and hear, incidentally: so much so, that I have heard your message so loudly and clearly, I am going to tell everyone through social media about it. You see how suited I am to this post?

8.     LIFT AND/OR MOVE UP TO 10LBS. Of what? Again, I need specifics. A new-born baby I could just about manage, but Rosie O’Donnell’s snacks, I couldn’t.

9.     HAVE SPECIFIC VISION, INCLUDING CLOSE VISION, DISTANCE VISION, COLOR VISION, PERIPHERAL VISION, DEPTH PERCEPTION, AND THE ABILITY TO ADJUST FOCUS. Is that just a long-winded way of saying Stevie Wonder is not in the running?

The truth is, CBS, that short of saying “Disabled people need not apply”, you have tried to cover all bases with this offensive listing. I can do all the things above, but would never want to work for a company whose prejudices towards the less fortunate in our society disenfranchise them even more: people who have overcome many disabilities and disadvantages and hold fantastic jobs at which they excel, and not only in the media.
   
Your final point makes a mockery of everything that has gone before.

10.  MAJORITY OF WORK DAY WILL BE SPENT SITTING AND USING A COMPUTER.

Shame on you, CBS. Truly. Shame on you.



Sunday, January 8, 2017

HARVEY HEADBANGER - MY DOOMED PITCHES TO MR WEINSTEIN

I am banging my head with my fists. DUH DUH DUH DUH DUH!

You’d have to be here to see and hear the commotion. It’s not the first time it’s happened. In fact, it’s the fourth. Because every time movie producer extraordinaire and total genius Harvey Weinstein walks into a room and I have the chance to meet him, I turn into a gibbering wreck. You see? I’m doing it again and he’s not even here. And every time, the day after, I turn into a Harvey Headbanger.
   
Let’s go through the script of my idiocy. Right. The late Blake Snyder, who wrote the screenwriter’s bible, Save the Cat, was my friend and mentor and the reason I came to LA in 2009, when I took one of his extraordinary workshops. Talking about pitching your movie, Blake said that you had to think of it like this: you are in an elevator and Harvey Weinstein gets in; you have just seconds to pitch him your idea (they call it The Elevator Pitch in Hollywood). 

Blake could not stress enough the importance of taking advantage of those few valuable moments with the god of movie making. I tell you, after that I hung around so many Hollywood elevators, people thought I was a Schindler engineer.
   
And then, just before the Oscars five years ago, I am in the private members’ club, Soho House, in LA, and in walks Harvey. Now, if you’ve never seen Harvey enter a room, it’s like Moses’s parting of the Red Sea. First, there’s silence; then, people fall in mercurial waves to either side of him. Jaws drop. Mouths gawp. Awesome doesn’t even begin to describe it. 
Enter me. Stage front. Spotting my opportunity, I lurch forward between the waves, an errant Israelite ready to throw myself at the feet of the master. 
   
The next thing I remember is “I’m from the Daily Mail”, followed by something along the lines of “I’m your greatest fan” (a line I’ve embarrassingly used on Bill Clinton and Al Pacino, to name but two) and then noises such as gurgh mnn drss gnagh sonb – at any rate, it was a language I had no idea I could speak. It might have been Russian. Or Polish. The point is: it was not a pitch for my movie. Harvey says “Thank you” anyway, and continues through the divided Red Sea, where gasping onlookers, stunned and horrified at my audacity, are now receiving treatment from paramedics.
   
The day after, I go for lunch at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. Banging my head at my missed opportunity, I dive into a melon cocktail, weeping at my stupidity. And in walks Harvey. Silence descends upon the terrace. He turns to each and every person, smiles and says “Hello”. Even me. I stand up in a strange kind of posture that wouldn’t look out of place in a production of Richard III. I think I might even have curtsied. But Harvey’s already disappeared to the shrine they doubtless reserve for him by the pool. DUH DUH DUH DUH DUH.
   
Okay, on to scene three. It’s the launch of the movie Philomena in 2013. It’s Hollywood again (of course) and Harvey, the producer, is there. This time, my Russian has improved slightly and I tell Harvey I love the movie. Next, I ask if I can shadow him in the build-up to the Oscars (oh, lordie, here I go again), to which he replies: “You have to be kidding” (no, Harvey, I’m not; this is my opportunity and I’m not going to screw it up). Then, I deliver my killer blow: “Oh, go on, Harvey. I know Simon Cowell and even he’s afraid of you.” This goes down spectacularly well. I’m in! “So he should be,” smiles Harvey. But then he’s gone again. So close, and yet so far. I’m out.
   
And so, to yesterday. It’s the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) annual Golden Globes tea party. I am so excited to meet Justin Hartley, a brilliant actor in one of my favourite TV shows, This Is Us, which is up for its first Golden Globe tonight (I’m praying it wins; it’s extraordinary). Not only is he a star, he is a lovely, lovely person, and hanging out with him and his friend Colin makes my day. The occasion is marred only by Ryan Gosling’s henchman being vile to me (these “minders” can be such bullies; it’s so unnecessary. They’re not protecting Jesus, for goodness sake). 

I’m a big fan of Gosling, though I can’t bear La La Land, the movie that will probably clean up during awards season. Maybe it’s just as well I didn’t reach Ryan in case my Russian suddenly became fluent and I managed to splutter the words “I really hate your latest movie.”
   
Then, I spot Harvey. A very slimmed down Harvey, I have to say (he’s clearly been taking the stairs, not the elevator, of late). Now, I say to myself. NOW! And up I go. “Hi, I’m . . . ” Who am I? The name has just gone. Seriously. Who the hell am I? “I met you at the movie that I loved . . . uh . . . uh . . . It was . . . Phil . . . Philip . . . Philistine . . . ” Nope. Nothing, again. Every proper noun in my vocabulary has disappeared into the ether, along with all the elevator pitches of the great movies I am writing. 

I cut my losses and say “Can I have a photo, please . . . ” I think I might also have added “I’m your greatest fan” (again). He kindly poses for a snap in which I am smiling manically like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Harvey looks more than a little scared.
   
And that’s why, today, I am again hitting my head in disbelief at another golden opportunity wasted. Double and triple DUH DUH DUH DUH DUH! 

So, if this should happen to reach you, Harvey, No, I am not a lunatic. I am a damned good writer who would like nothing more than to meet you and manage more than three coherent sentences. And in the hope that this might happen, I’m going back to stalking elevators. 

See you on the mezzanine level. I’m going up. And I’m taking you with me, Harvey, whether you like it or not. 
  

   


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Don't Drink and Dive - EastEnders' Christmas Message

Ongar. EastEnders have put it on the map, only, cruelly, to take it away again with the deaths of Ronnie and Roxy Mitchell.
   
Having had a festive break, I’m just catching up with the TV I’ve missed, and the spooky, watery death of R & R puts paid to any thoughts the pair had about the new life they were planning in the civil parish in the Epping Forest District in Essex.
   
There, you see? I Googled it. Twenty miles north east of London, there is a railway station and, um . . . well, to be honest I can’t see much else. Ongar. The name makes me giggle. I have no idea why. It means “grass land”, and quite why Ronnie had chosen to start her married life there is anybody’s guess (did she know how many Albert Square residents have been buried in that forest?). Every time the word came out of her mouth, it sounded as if she didn’t really understand it, either.
   
EastEnders can’t resist a bit of festive rigor mortis; it’s sort of their trademark. The sisters’ death – the worst kept secret in the soap’s history – was particularly dramatic. First, they were drinking too much while sitting on a ledge in the building where Ronnie had just tied the knot with the divine Jack. Alas, instead of hopping into bed with his beloved, Jack was forced to read a bedtime story to . . . I don’t know . . . some sleepy kids (to be honest, I lost count of whose kids are whose in the show years ago). 

The week had already seen Lee contemplating suicide by jumping from a ledge, too, which makes me think there might have been a writer of the Christmas shows just trying to conquer his/her acrophobia.
   
Anyway, Lee didn’t jump and decided, instead, to confess all to Mick about his part in the robbery of the Vic. Mick was not happy. In fact, if there had been a ledge, Mick would have pushed Lee off it.
   
But back to the sisters. So, having survived the car journey in which viewers thought their fate was sealed; having survived the slip on the ledge with bottle in hand . . . what do they do but nip off to the pool for reasons that were even less comprehensible than Ronnie’s sudden love for Ongar.
   
One minute, Roxy was laughing; the next, there was silence. So, what did Ronnie do but dive into the pool to save her sister – the sister who had already ruined the wedding day and was set to ruin Ongar, too, with Ronnie insisting that she move with them.
   
To be honest, that dress was always going to be the pair’s downfall. Not since the Andrex puppy went berserk in the bathroom have I seen so much flotsam and jetsam just crying out for a disaster. Jumping into the pool to save her sibling, Ronnie couldn’t cope with the frock six feet under, and, if you were looking for a murder weapon, it was the dress wot dunnit. Oh, Ronnie, Ronnie. Don’t drink and dive.
   
Had the pair gone in a car crash, there would have been two livers that would undoubtedly have been ripe for Phil, who had been languishing in hospital waiting for a transplant. But another donor had already turned up for him and, post-operation, the job lot of yellow make-up the show had been reliant upon to display Phil’s jaundice was suddenly surplus to requirements (does the yellow colour really fade within minutes of the anaesthetic wearing off? Just a medical query. I worry about these things).
   
I was always a tad concerned about the way that car crash story might have gone, though. Livers are like buses. You wait for ages for one to come along, then three come along together. Luckily for Phil, in the end he didn’t have to choose. He wouldn’t have wanted Roxy’s, anyway – a liver I suspect was in an even worse way than the one that had already given up on him.
   
And so, the double whammy brings to an end the age of Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber, the sisters who never realised there was anywhere else to go on holiday other than Ibiza and for whom Ongar was the Downton Abbey of their whole miserable existence.
   
At least it leaves Jack a single man again – and for that, I suspect, he will be eternally grateful. No more Ronnie. No More Roxy. 

More to the point: no more Ongar. 

Praise the Lord!
  
   

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My Phobic Christmas


The festive party season is upon us. People, music, balloons, dancing to Slade’s Merry Christmas, Everybody. Unless you happen to be me.

’Tis the season not to be jolly.
 
Let me say at the outset that I love Christmas. I don’t subscribe to the Scrooge ‘Bah! Humbug!’ philosophy and, while I find the festive season stressful with all the preparation, it’s still a joyous time of year. I just hate Christmas parties.

I especially hate Slade, by the way, because Alison and Mandy in my secondary school loved them and they bullied me. Noddy Holder’s wife once asked me why I had it in for her husband every time I mentioned the band and I told her the truth. It’s not him; it’s them. But I digress.
 
Christmas parties bring my worst phobias (and other conditions that usually lie dormant) to the surface. Claustrophobia (too many people), misophonia (literally, a hatred of sound, which I have all the year round but have developed techniques to control it) and Globophobia – a fear of balloons. Yes, it is a real fear. And I have it by the airload.
 
I am in very good company because, apparently, Oprah Winfrey suffers from Globophobia, too. So, while all of you are out enjoying funny hats, streamers and liaisons over the office desk at the Christmas party, Oprah and I will be indoors, cowering in a corner – because we both can’t be within screaming distance of balloons (although, in Oprah’s case, I suspect it might have more to do with a fear of ballooning).
 
I also suffer from Coulrophobia – a fear of clowns – but then what sane person doesn’t, if they’re honest; worse, though, I have severe Metamfiezomaiophobia – a fear of mime, clowns and people in disguise. I used to think I suffered from basic Maskaphobia (which speaks for itself) and it’s very common among young children, but the triple whammy is a whole new ball park. Let’s just say that my worst nightmare would be a Marcel Marceau concert. The only comfort would be that it would keep my misophonia in check. But at what cost?
 
I really can’t go near anything that has its face covered or distorted in any way. I can’t date men with moustaches or beards; my fear of the dentist has nothing to do with the drill and all to do with the dentist’s mask; I have never and could never attend a masked ball (masks and balloons; dear lord, call the paramedics). I’ve had it from a very young age and it’s one of the reasons I never go out on Halloween or New Year’s Eve, where balloons occupy more space than people, and painted faces and masks are the order of the night.

Balloons, though, are undoubtedly the worst, and if I go to a party, wedding or other special event, the first thing I do is case the joint; it’s one of the reasons I love funerals because you sure ain’t gonna find balloons there.
 
Most globophobics can’t touch, feel or go near a balloon for fear it will pop (although, technically, that is phonophobia); I just have a fear of balloons in general. To me, they are a sinister, unpredictable presence, like spiders (don’t even get me started on my arachnophobia); their hideous colours bob along the floor like buoys in the sea, pretending they are stable but all the time plotting to approach you when you are least expecting it.
 
Apparently, it’s not very common, although my mother tells me that, as a child, I had a recurring nightmare when I would wake crying, insisting that my room was full of balloons. There is just something about the texture, the tightness and the meanness of a rubber balloon that sends my heart rate and blood pressure racing.
 
I’m okay with foil balloons, but that’s probably because they deflate at their own rate; I don’t rush screaming into the house if I see a hot air balloon (although you would never get me into one without resorting to chloroform). I’m ambivalent towards bubble gum, though, and that bulbous oral uterus genuinely makes me feel sick.
 
Christmas is a very stressful time for people with phobias. It’s a dreadful time for people born in the festive season for example, if they suffer from Fragapanophobia (fear of birthdays); and for anyone thinking of substituting turkey for duck, spare a thought for anyone coming to dinner who might be suffering from Anatidaephobia, which is a fear that one is being watched by a duck.

I didn’t think I suffered from the latter, but now I come to think about it, I suspected something was watching me when I went for a walk in St James’s Park this week; I had just assumed it to be human.
 
So, happy partying all. I’ll be celebrating with you – from a distance.


With my new best friend Oprah, of course.