Thursday, May 28, 2009

Buddhism on Trial 5/28/09

It’s a thin line between being a Buddhist and being a serial killer: that’s what I’ve learned this week, in my quest for that LA spiritual enlightenment that everyone is seeking here.

If in doubt, buy the book: that’s always been my motto. I’m not someone who buys the book, puts it on a shelf and forgets about the messages therein. I buy them, devour them, and put them into practice within the hour. Hence, I bought Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Drinking, and stopped drinking. I bought Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat! which is about screenwriting, and came to Hollywood to put the tools into practice.

Okay, so I don’t do things by halves, but please keep me away from that section of the bookstore titled Bonsai for Beginners, as I really don’t want to spend the next 10 years fiddling about with small trees in my kitchen sink.

A mini personal crisis led me to believe that I needed to live a calmer life, so off I went to my local Borders bookstore this week in search of things that might help me. I drank my “Calming” Yogi tea beforehand, which stressed me out a bit, because no sooner had I set out on my walk than I needed a bathroom.

I had also taken my calming herbal Kava Kava pills, which have replaced two bottles of wine as a means of soothing my nerves, and although I could feel them regurgitating in my chest, thought about the good they were doing me and just breathed deeply: calm, calm.

Then I arrived at the store and wanted to knock the head off the small child who was screaming for sweets. Why do parents take small kids shopping when it is clear to anyone with half a brain (not to mention no kids) that they absolutely hate it and are always going to kick up a fuss about something?

But calm, calm, I said, as I headed towards the spiritual/new age religion section and chose about 20 books that were to be the foundation of creating the new me. I stocked up on some more movie books, too, and a few novels and travel books. I was feeling very good in my new skin.

Two hours later, I took them to the cash register, deposited them and told the assistant I was headed for the restroom (you see how American I have become? I no longer “go to the loo”; I am now “headed for the restroom”). He assured me that my books would be fine and that I could pay for them upon my return.

So, ablutions completed, I went back downstairs, only to discover that my two hours’ worth of research had all been put back on the shelves. “Where are my books?” I squealed. No, if I’m honest, I screamed. Louder than the child. “Oh for goodness sake you turn your back for one minute and your life’s ruined and if I wanted this kind of shit I’d have stayed in Britain and whatever happened to customer service and look at the time . . . “ Calm, calm.

Two hours more again, I had pretty much recouped my selection and re-grouped emotionally. I returned to my apartment, sweaty, with, I am sure, high blood pressure, and set about reading Buddhism for Dummies.

The little I knew about Buddhism, I had always liked, although, with my new 7 stone 7 lb frame (yes, more loss – and please stop e-mailing checking on whether I have anorexia; no, I don’t), the weight thing might be an issue. You know: did I have to turn into an overweight, squat person in order to practise Buddhism? I have always suspected that the reason the obese Buddha sat down, cross-legged, to meditate, was because he was too fat to stand, and I’d been down that path enough in life to know that it wasn’t where I wanted to return.

Some years ago, I learned Transcendental Meditation and adhered quite strictly to Ayurvedic principles (an Indian philosophy that really does reap physical, emotional and spiritual benefits in day to day life). I read books by Deepak Chopra, a well known proponent of Ayurveda, and it was through re-reading him that I had become interested in Buddhism again. I also bought Chopra’s novel, Buddha, but thought that Buddhism for Dummies might be an easier way in.

It was. As I made my way through Chapter 1, I instantly took to my new philosophical path. I liked the non-dogmatism and the easily applicable principles: creating the right kind of mental attitude in order to bring about a better quality of life. I was on the floor and crossing my legs before you could sing Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameleon (I wonder if Boy George got the idea for that song by reading Buddhism for Dummies?).

By lunchtime, I had Buddhism sorted. So much so, that I booked Judaism for Dummies to consume with the next day’s breakfast. Off I went to the bank on Wilshire Boulevard, singing along to Mika, the happiest I had been in some weeks.

Now, despite the efficient service I have found everywhere in LA, the one thing my bank has difficulty with is the transfer of money in and out of Europe. The idea that Europe would be in anyone’s minds in the LA climate is something of an anathema to them here, and this transmutes into the bank staff’s lack of enthusiasm for dealing with another ontinent.

Had I asked my guy to pilot the next space shuttle, he could not have looked more terrified, nor been slower at working out what went where. Already late for an appointment, I wasn’t so much tapping my fingers as putting them through my pockets in search of a handy weapon that might speed things along a bit.

One of the fundamentals of Buddhism is that pain and suffering are caused through our attachment to permanence, which is, in reality, only an illusion; and that when we let go of that pursuit of permanence, we will be happier. Try telling that to a would-be convert when a bank clerk is permanently stuck on the $ to £ conversion key on his computer.

No longer able to stand it, I did what any self-respecting citizen would do and took action. By now, I am sure the LAPD will have got there to untie everyone in time for the weekend. Me, I’ll be reading The Krays' biography.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Eva Longoria Parker, My Body Double 5/21/09

Would Eva Longoria Parker eat it? That is the question I ask when confronted with every snack or meal in the size zero city that is LA’s Beverly Hills.

When I arrived here on April 1st, I was eight stone eight pounds (or 120 pounds, as they say here), which is not gross, but still too heavy for my five foot frame. Despite my having lost over a stone a year ago, largely by firstly cutting out and then drinking just a little alcohol, the pounds had started to pile back on, and I found my cheekbones once more starting to compete with my second chin.

So, coming to the supremely health-conscious LA seemed a good place to begin again, and, at an exquisite size four (UK size) and the same height as me, the American size zero (or double zero, I suspected) Desperate Housewives star was the woman I looked to for inspiration.

To date, I have lost another 14 pounds by following my plan (no food, no drinks, no leaving the treadmill) – a whole stone! – and now weigh 7 st 8 lbs (106 lbs! Sorry, but it really excites me).

A plate of crisps arrives at my table in the five star Beverly Wilshire Hotel (still my favourite place and where I stayed before I found an apartment) and I look at them longingly before asking: Would Eva Longoria eat them? Well, no. You don’t get to be and maintain a size zero, not to mention acquire a perfect mouth that looks as if it has just had a lipstick manicure, by ramming a plate of deep fried potatoes down your throat.

So, it’s farewell to the crisps. When they bring my English breakfast tea, it arrives with a long dish of Italian sweetmeats and biscuits. Would Eva Longoria eat them? Only if you chloroformed her first and force-fed them.

I apply the same rule to all bars and restaurants. This week, I went for lunch in Il Fornaio: a lovely, friendly Italian establishment on Canon Drive, and looked longingly down their list of pastas. Spaghetti Calamari and Broccoli, Fusilliani alla Trentina, Tarte Con Argosta – all unusual dishes that I had never seen on Italian menus in the UK. And, as I went down the list, I asked over and over: Would Eva Longoria eat it? No, no, no. Just a black espresso for me, please.

Asking the question is a guaranteed way to lose weight, and I believe that I have inadvertently stumbled upon the perfect diet: because the answer to the question “Would Eva Longoria eat it?” is always going to be No.

I suspect that Eva, like every other thin woman in LA, enjoys playing with the occasional leaf – without dressing (are you crazy?) – and, to this end, I am now perfecting the art of steering a leaf around my plate, without ever consuming it, while giving the impression that I am stuffing my face. Over the radish, under the yellow pepper, slalom over the red onion – I can make a leaf’s journey around my plate last longer than a Grand Prix. And, by the end of its course, it really does look half consumed.

Another technique sure to bring about this apparition of greed is to place the weight of a cherry tomato in the middle of, say, a mound of rocket: it flattens the centre of the display to such an extent, your dining companion might be tempted to tell you to slow down, for fear of your developing indigestion through over-eating.

Or, you can achieve the weighing down technique by moving all your rocket to the side of your plate, taking a piece of bread (obviously, without eating a crumb), ripping it in two and squashing it down at each end of your rocket pile, thereby giving the appearance of real over-indulgence – carbs, heaven forbid: the woman’s a pig – yet leaving the restaurant thinner, albeit starving.

Beverly Hills restaurants are very tolerant of the non-eating diner. My lunch in Il Fornaio lasted three hours, during which both my guest and I ate not a morsel and consumed just two bottles of water. One of my British friends, also new to LA but still keen on her food (how quaint – she’ll learn) bemoans this aspect of the culture. She says she gets invited to breakfast meetings where there is no breakfast, and spends the whole time wondering when the bacon and eggs are coming.

Of course, I knew before I came here that drinking in public was pretty much a no-no, but especially so during the day. If the answer to Would Eva Longoria eat it? is No, the answer to Would Eva Longoria drink it? is: You must be insane. Glass of champagne? 150 calories. Dry white wine? 120. You don’t shrink to the kind of shape that gets blown away in an LA earthquake by consuming empty calories.

So, with my new Eva Longoria eating and drinking plan, my weight is once more heading in the right direction, and this week I bought my first (of many, I hope) size zero jeans.

Eva Longoria, eat your heart out.

Oh, I forgot: you can’t. Too many calories.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

It's a Bloke Thing 5/17/09

Did I really need to travel 6000 miles across the Atlantic to learn that being a complete dickhead is not confined to men in the UK?

I’ve now had the opportunity to observe the male species operating in England, Wales, France and Spain, and now the US – all places where I have lived and, in the latter’s case, am living – and I now feel the same about men as I do about snow flakes: yes, every one is, as they say, different. But let’s be honest: an awful lot of them are pretty damned alike.

I really like men. I have great male friends, some of whom are exes, some of whom are future exes because I haven’t got my claws into them yet. Others are exes I never want to see again, and others are on hit lists (including mine).

But really: despite the number of men in my life, I am no closer to understanding a damned thing about them. In each of the countries listed above, I have, however, investigated the men who offer themselves up on internet dating sites and been able to draw some generalisations.

In Britain, for example, if you are a woman over the age of 30, it is pointless putting your real age on a site, as most men think that 28 is really pushing it – irrespective of whether they are 20 or 60. Large breasts are much in demand, as is blonde hair and no baggage. The men invariably have more baggage than a Louis Vuitton warehouse, but as a woman you won’t be considered unless you can fit yours into an overhead locker and still have room for a multi-storey car-park.

French men set more store by brains than breasts, and dating sites offer far more esoteric social activities than those on offer by their British counterparts. In Paris, I attended an evening where the subject was “So you think you know about love”, and for three hours everyone joined in the conversation without making a hit on anyone else. When the evening finished, it was not to the most obviously physically attractive women that the men flocked, but to the ones who had made the most intelligent contribution to the debate.

If there is a singles scene in LA, it has so far eluded me, hence my signing up to yet another internet dating site. I thought I would narrow my search to LA and, had I been able, would have narrowed it further to the distance between my apartment and the Jimmy Choo shop on Rodeo Drive, such is my reluctance to purchase the car everyone assures me I will need.

Television commercials informed me that 20,000 people a day join the site I signed up to (whose privacy I will protect, pending any lawsuit I might bring for the “guaranteed” matchmaking part of their pitch that I suspect will not happen); and, after filling in my details and adding some pictures, I waited for the computer to go into meltdown.

Now, what I’ve never understood about internet dating, is that when you specify you want a non-smoking, slim, health-conscious, funny, creative guy over 6 feet tall, every chain-smoking, overweight, alcoholic, humourless construction worker straight out of midget school, thinks that he is just the man for you. Oh, yes, and although you have narrowed your search to LA, they don’t think that their living in Texas will be a problem.

When they are keen, they are very, very keen. One man had recently moved to Washington but was all set to come to LA, if I just gave him the nod. Another contacted me from the UK, saying that he had decided to cast his net further afield (and then targeted the only single, British, LA-based woman on the site – weird, that. Big net. Fear of fish.).

Having also said, in my profile, that I did not want any heavy religion in the life of my soul-mate, I appear to have attracted the attention of every Catholic in America and, suddenly, “saved” men, who all but ask if it’s okay if the Lord comes along on our dates. I already feel a line about there being three people in our relationship.

This being health-conscious LA, there are dozens of men stressing their love of the outdoors. To be honest, I don’t like any place where I can’t see a Marriott sign just by standing on a small box, so I have pretty much ruled out what seems like 90% of the city.

Also on the health front, I foolishly ticked a box, indicating that I lifted the occasional weight. This has somehow become translated into something much more impressive than it actually is, and many men appear in my “Interested” box with the headline “Like you, he enjoys weight-lifting”, which isn’t quite the same thing as taking a couple of baked bean cans off the supermarket shelf a couple of times a week.

Compared to the UK, there is generally less emphasis on female physical attributes on the US site, and also the men seem more open to meeting women who fall within a much wider age bracket. But then some of them can’t be choosers, I imagine. Where, for example, is the man whose profile bangs on about “North Pole region warming” going to find a woman – well, apart from in the North Pole, obviously?

Only one man I contacted, and, afterI directed him to this blog, should he require more information about me, he declared it to be “WAYYYYYYYYY” too much; he also recommended that I “rethink” suggesting the link. I had “almost” had him, he wrote, adding: “Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Hilarious! One, that he thought he was so great a catch that he stood a snowball’s chance of getting me that easily (no one else has managed in five decades; I’m no pushover). And two, that he was criticising me even before the first date! Even British men wait a couple of weeks before doing that.

The great thing about the internet, though, is that you can find such things out about people very quickly; now, I won’t even have to go through the bother of dressing up and leaving my apartment to establish that the guy’s a nobhead.

Instead, I can stay in, watch more wall-to-wall House, and keep singing that jolly song that won Saturday's Eurovision Song Contest: I’m in Love with a Fairy Tale.

Unfortunately, it’s true.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

To Shave or Not to Shave, That is the Question 5/13/09

Do men like women with beards? I’ve been looking in the magnifying mirror this week and have noticed some dark hairs below my bottom lip, and it has me seriously worried.

We’re not yet talking Brian Blessed here, but I’m more than a little worried by the hint of Cyrano de Bergerac. At least he had the nose to distract from any unwelcome attention onlookers might give to his face, but for me it’s the hairs that seem to stand out.

I think it must be my age. I’ve always had an excess of upper lip hair, which nobody has ever seen, owing to the fact that I whip it off roughly every three hours. Friends have told me that I could get it cosmetically removed and, in Beverly Hills, I am in the best place to get both it, and everything else done, but it would mean growing the hair first. And if there’s one thing that a 90210 postcode definitely doesn’t need, it’s a moustachioed woman in the street, frightening the horses.

But I’m not quite sure how to deal with the chin issue. I’ve been busy plucking away for the last half hour, and when I turn my 7x magnifying mirror round the other way, you can’t see one hair, let alone the forest it has become in my mind.

So, if I can’t see it, it is unlikely that any man will, which is my real worry. It’s not the kind of thing men inspect on a first date (unlike women: I’ve been known not to stay past the hors d’oeuvres if I notice a man hasn’t even been bothered to squeeze the blackheads in his nose before the date); but, still, I don’t want to take the risk.

Not that men are exactly queuing at the door. Honestly, you have to be really quick to nab one between the office and the gym. Once they’re on that treadmill or lifting those weights, women are the last thing on their minds – well, short Welsh birds, anyway; they seem to manage to take a breather when a blonde, 6 foot streak of sinew walks past, so it’s just like being back in the UK in that respect.

Beard aside, there are other imperfections I’ve been looking to correct, and they, too, seem to magnify when I view them alongside the perfect figures and faces of the women I see around me.

I’ve been considering a breast enlargement for some time, but am now worried that with all the exercise I am doing, they might get in the way; I’m going to take two melons with me next time I go and try to negotiate them along with the controls for the machine, TV and my Apple headphones, and see how it goes.

I recently considered a tummy tuck, too, but now that I’ve lost weight might not need one. Maybe I’ll just eat a bit more to justify one.

The weight loss is great in one respect, in that I am healthier and fitter, but it has given me a whole new set of problems. When I was well over nine stone, I had a really great backside: firm, rounded and, though I say it myself, rather appealing. Now it’s tiny, with lots of folds of skin where it meets the top of my legs, like rows of worm hills on the beach, all queuing up to be washed away – by, in this case, liposuction, I think.

My eyelids could do with a tiny lift, but I don’t want to look Korean, as people tend to do after this procedure; and I’m saying no to Botox, too. I’ve seen too many post-Botox, expressionless people to go down that path. I swear that you could go up to all of them, tell them your entire family had been wiped out in a plane crash, and they would not be able to wipe the stunned look of smiling joy from their faces.

I might consider getting the floppy skin removed from my upper arms, although it seems to be tightening up with the weights work I am doing. My teeth, which I started having done in the UK, are nearing completion and have been bleached and partly veneered. I say partly, because I’m having only the front two re-done, and they each came back a different colour, the one now revealing the black behind it that was the whole reason for covering it up in the first place. With my black tooth and beard, I fear mothers will be rushing to shield their small children from me in the park.

I’ve also been reading about an operation in which you can have your legs broken and bits inserted to make yourself taller; that one may be a bit further down the line, too, and I’m going to wait to see how much I shrink in the LA summer sun before resorting to such drastic measures.

But for the moment, I’m just concentrating on my beard and taking lots of natural hormonal supplements to keep it in check. There’s a saying that a man with a beard is a man with a secret (Ha! Show me a bloke who isn’t hiding SOMETHING!), and the antithesis has to be that a woman with a beard is a woman without a razor.

I’m not sure how much longer this plucking can go on, so it might have to be a Gillette job after all. My only comfort is that if and when I finally get to date a bloke, he’ll be so busy trying to unfold my arse, he won’t notice the audition for Captain Hook taking place on my chin.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Anyone for Tennis? No, Thanks 5/9/09

“Do you have lots of friends?” people back home keep asking. “What’s the social life like?” “Where do you go in the evenings?”

I must sound incredibly dull to my UK friends, whose idea of LA is party, party, party, hanging out with the beautiful people and devouring burgers as big as your head.

But the truth is, since my arrival a month ago, I’ve lived a fairly quiet life. I came here to write, and that, apart from daily trips to the gym, is pretty much all I’ve been doing. I’m never in bed beyond 6 am (in fact, 4 or 5 am is generally closer to my rising time) and I usually fall asleep on the sofa in front of another episode of Law and Order (can there be any that I haven’t yet seen? I seriously doubt it) mid-evening, before surrendering to bed at around half 10.

Back home, I was never in bed before midnight, but then I never drank carrot juice by the bucket-load in Cardiff, either, so I am embracing all kinds of new experiences.

Since you ask, yes (I can hear the laughter even from here), I really like carrot juice. I tried to drink it in the UK and bought a top of the range juicer to make my own, but soon lost interest when I quickly discovered that you need to buy four sacks of carrots to extract just one tablespoon of juice. Even as someone who has rearranging my cooking spices in alphabetical order on my list of work-avoidance tasks, this was extreme.

Los Angeles, though, is like one vast convenience store, and I can buy my fresh carrot juice just half a dozen doors away in Wholefoods, even if it doesn’t come with the virtue of burning off 18000 calories a throw in the effort and time it takes to squeeze it.

But there is more to life than work and carrot juice, as everyone keeps reminding me, and so this week I started exploring the possibilities of widening my social circle.

There is, for example, a language school in Canon Drive, the next block along from where I live, and I spent several days drawing up rotas for the various classes I intended to take: furthering my French that I spent seven years in Paris never learning; continuing the Spanish that, in four years half-living in Spain, has given me a vocabulary of “Hola!” and “Agua sin gaz”; and even starting Russian, a language that I love and in which I have acquired the ability to introduce myself and say one four letter word beginning with C in English and P in Russian.

Don’t ask me how I learned it . . . Oh, all right: it was in Spain, chatting to some Russians over lunch. They had no English, Spanish or French; I had all three, in limited quantity; but we found common ground in the C/P word and, incredibly, spent a very enjoyable three hours on the strength of our shared knowledge. I love languages.

However, I spent so long planning my LA lessons, I missed the start of the new term and didn’t see any point in wasting money for something that wasn’t going to be the full whack. I also remembered the last time I attended a language course with Americans, in the Berlitz School in Paris. There were only three of us in the class, and the Americans took two days to understand that the teacher was referring to the past tense.

“Je suis . . . “ they kept saying, the present first person that they insisted on using in response to every single question about what they had done the previous day. “Non, no, non, HIER,” the teacher kept repeating, attempting to engage them in the activities of yesterday. In the end, I screamed: “SHE’S TALKING IN THE PAST TENSE, FOR GOD’S SAKE!” which endeared me to no one.

Neither did my own attempts to explain how many bottles of wine I had drunk the previous night: “J’ai bu trois bouteilles Saint Emilion.” The teacher simply thought I did not know the word for glass. “Non, non,” she smiled. “Trois VERRES.”
“Uh, non. Trois bouteilles.”
“Non! C’est impossible!”

Now that I don’t drink, it sounds fairly impossible to moi, too, but the unhappy memories of language classes was clearly the unconscious motive behind my missing the opening week of classes in LA.

Friends back home suggested I try out the private clubs, and so I went to the website of the most famous and one of the closest to me, the LA Country Club.

There is very little information about the Club’s activities on the website, but the hefty section devoted to dress code soon reveals why: by the time you work through what you can and can’t wear, you’d be too exhausted to do anything else.

Let’s take the men’s attire, for starters. Shirts, for example, must have sleeves and collars and be “worn inside one’s trousers” (Eh? The whole shirt? Sleeves and collars, too? Perhaps “tucked in” might have explained things better, or maybe I am missing some very “in” LA fashion statement about stuffing your lunch-box to the seams).

Their slacks must be of “a tailored nature” (they would be, given the way they pack those lunch-boxes) and any caps (although none are allowed indoors) must be worn “with the bill forward”. As I have no desire to meet any man who wears a cap of any sorts, the idea that they might even be hanging around is enough to put me off.

But not as much as the women’s rules regarding attire do. I swear that fighting for my country in Afghanistan would not require so long a list of rules and regulations. The one that immediately put me off was the one about no tops that “expose the midriff” being allowed. Well, that’s it then. I can presume from this that I wouldn’t be allowed to get my tits out for the lads. Cardiff Blues Rugby Club it clearly ain’t.

However, “Formal or evening strapless attire is permitted.” This seems a bit hypocritical to me: no tummies, so no going UP your top for the multitude of groping men that are always a feature of private clubs, but it’s totally acceptable to go DOWN your top, minus the inconvenience of straps, provided it’s after 6pm.

Skirts must be “no shorter than 4 inches above the knee”, which rules out my entire wardrobe going back over 30 years; and slacks “must be tailored and within 6 inches of the ankle.” What on earth does that mean? Six inches in circumference, length, or 6 inches when lying beside you, after you’ve taken not only your top of for the lads, but your trousers, too?

Now, here’s the killer: “Ladies’ (sic) may wear brimmed hats coordinating with their outfits." Well, for starters, I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that doesn’t know where to place its apostrophes; and two, where the hell are you going to find a hat to go with the kind of outfit that takes ankle distance into account?

As a general rule, slogans or printed materials unrelated to the manufacturer are not permitted. That’s another killer for me, as it instantly rules out the “Jaci’s Box” T-shirts I had made when I purchased my hospitality box at Cardiff Blues Rugby Club, complete with slogan “I’ve been in Jaci’s Box” emblazoned across the front.

I’ve now turned my attentions to the Beverly Hills Country Club instead. They have invited me for lunch to take a look around, and I also see from their website that they hold Singles evenings. I am shortening my hemlines even as I write.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Home Alone 5/5/09

I’ve just returned from the UK after my first visit there since de-camping to LA at the beginning of April. I get very emotional when I fly. For nine years, fear of terrorist attack stopped me from going near a plane, and then, ironically, along came September 11th 2001 and I thought: what the hell.

Now, I love flying, especially long haul between the UK and LA, where I am guaranteed 11 hours without my phone ringing and where, yesterday, I managed to get 5000 words written of my new book that I am convinced will make me very rich indeed.

I had the idea on the treadmill at the Marriott Hotel in Swiss Cottage (or the Regent’s Park Marriott, as they cleverly call it – trust me, there’s a difference). Most of my good ideas come on the treadmill these days, in pretty much the same way that they used to come to me in bars, when I was drinking. The difference is that when I leave the treadmill, I can remember them.

I was in London for Blake Snyder’s fantastic Beats course (any budding screenwriter should take it – you will leave a different person from the one who went in, I guarantee it), which I had taken in LA, albeit in a different form. In LA, a group of 12 worked on their individual projects; in London we worked in groups and, by the end of the two days, had five workable screenplays between us.

It’s a long time since I worked in any sort of group, and they are fascinating: a place where everyone exposes their strengths and weaknesses in unison; and what usually happens is that you see that people’s weaknesses are their strengths pushed to the extreme. My strength, for instance, is that I have loads of ideas; my weakness is my passion for them and, as a result, my reluctance to let them go (or, heaven forbid, allow other people to develop them and try to claim half the credit).

I loved meeting Kim, a fiction editor with Mills and Boon, who, I think, will be a lifelong friend. As I am 20 years older than her, “life” won’t be quite as long in her case, but at least it’s someone else who can say nice things about me at my funeral. I was revealing my innermost secrets to her by the end of Sunday afternoon and, as happens among women, we were soon laughing hysterically about rather painful issues of the heart.

Of course, I don’t want my funeral to take place for a long time and, God willing, it won’t. I don’t think much about dying these days, whereas when I was drinking it was on my mind pretty much every minute of every day. I suspect that was because I knew, deep down, that every drop of alcohol propels you two steps towards the grave, and one is already too quick in my book.

It may be a tiny drop you imbibe (and I am not critical of anyone who chooses to drink – it’s your funeral, as they say); it may be a lot; and, of course, many people are able to drink in moderation. But it’s still a poison and, while life is often undoubtedly more difficult without it, it’s better – or, if not always better, different, and exciting for being so.

But I’ve been thinking about drinking a lot the past few days: not because I want to revert to it, but because of all the places you expect to be able to avoid it – ie on a plane, over the Atlantic – this proved to the place where I was most exposed to it.

On the way to the UK, I flew Air New Zealand Business Class, where if I had been given a pound for every time I was offered a glass of wine, I could have paid for another return flight. It was the same on Virgin on the way back. Luckily, I detest New Zealand wines, and Mr Branson’s selection, as I learned last year, is no better, so temptation was never an option. But even had they had a Petrus, I would still have been able to say no.

I have gone from someone who says “I’m not drinking at the moment” to someone who says “I don’t drink”, and I genuinely don’t think about it – most of the time. But when someone is waving a bottle of champagne in your face and saying “Are you sure you don’t want a glass”, it’s hard to avoid the subject.

What not drinking does is leave you more time: thinking time, and because exercise has replaced the time I used to spend chatting in bars, I do a lot more thinking these days. The Marriott pool at Swiss Cottage has to be the most stupidly designed of any in the world. At its deepest, it is one metre; the shallow end is 0.5 metres. What they don’t tell you is how dangerous this can be when you’re swimming a length and suddenly your arm goes over in a crawl in the deep end, only to crash down on the bottom of the pool in the shallow end.

Luckily, I am a bad swimmer and keep my head above water, so I always know what’s coming, be it a shark or the shallow end; my friend was not so lucky and, with head below the surface, first knew of the change when he cracked his skull.

There is nothing quite like running or swimming to give you thinking time (squash, for example, doesn’t work on this front), and on Sunday morning, I sat in the shallow end of the pool (it was good for some things) and just cried and cried. Tears like I haven’t shed in years (although had I been in Cardiff on Saturday and watched my team the Blues lose out in the semi-final of the Heineken Cup on the first ever penalty kick-off against Leicester, I think I would have cried then).

The intensity of the creative process on a writing weekend inevitably brings things to the surface (a bit like the Marriott pool, really) – good and bad – and resurrects old wounds, alongside the formation of new friendships and ties. And, flying across continents, I think I was crying not for home, but because I’m not sure where home is anymore.

Having spent the last few years between the UK, Paris and Spain, and now being based in the States, there is nothing like sitting alone in the middle of an empty pool to reinforce the metaphor of aloneness.

Feeling a bit vulnerable, before boarding I became terrified again that I would never land and started texting my friends. Now, one of the pieces of advice everyone gives you when you’re pissed is: Don’t drink and text. I think that one of the biggest surprises to me when I gave up is that being sober doesn’t stop you. It’s not alcohol that drives you to bare your soul on your mobile; it’s just you!

It’s another reason why I, and my friends, are happy when I embark on another 11 hour flight. In space, nobody can hear me text.