Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Travelling Tadpole 11/9/11

So, it’s 7.39am and I’m wondering whether to have another dish of the spaghetti Bolognese I had just under 12 hours ago.

Normally, at this hour, I’m craving pizza – or, rather, I’ve eaten the pizza at 5am and am contemplating having a nap before going to the gym.

I don’t know what time it’s ok to have a glass of wine – 7.39am in LA is, after all, 11.39pm in the UK, which makes it reasonable if I’ve been having a long supper, UK time.

But if I wait until cocktail hour at 6pm in LA, that’s 10am in the UK, which makes it decidedly unacceptable.

When I fly LA to London on a flight that lands in the morning, is it frowned upon to have a champagne breakfast, even though it’s last orders time in LA?

When my afternoon tea of a scone and clotted cream is delivered flying into LA mid afternoon, is it any wonder I want to throw up when it’s only 7am in the UK?

Yes, the long haul flying is finally getting to me. I’ve managed it for three years and, when I first moved here and was staying put for up to three months at a time, it never bothered me.

But in recent months I’ve been returning to the UK every few weeks, and I really don’t know where I am waking up each day. Back in Europe, I have also been visiting Paris and Spain, and the first ten minutes of every morning after I’ve been travelling are now spent in a panic as I find myself in another strange bed, reaching out for a water glass that turns out to be a telephone, and something I realise only when it is halfway down my throat.

It could be worse, I suppose. At least I’m not reaching out to a man and trying to make telephone calls from his chest. Or his handset.

As I have said before, I never used to be much of a traveller, so it’s still all relatively new to me; hence the tiredness, I suspect.

The longest journeys I took when I was a child were to:-

(1) Rumney village to my Auntie Cynth’s for Sunday tea.

(2) Weston Super Mare.

(3) Belgium, where my parents were so appalled by the shabbiness of the room, they contemplated driving straight back to the ferry. It was only my tears at the thought of having my first trip abroad so cruelly halted that I believe stopped them.

And let’s not forget:-

(4) Pwllheli, when my mother insisted on stopping at every single gift shop between Bridgend and North Wales (I swear I had three birthdays in the time it took us to get there).


(5) Cornwall, where, for some reason, at the height of summer, my parents thought it much more exciting not to book any accommodation in advance. “NO VACANCIES” is a sign that brings me out in a sweat even to this day.

So, I’m not sure where my recent new-found love of travel has its origins; but I do know that, for the moment, I’ve had enough of it.

I loved returning to my house in Cardiff for my birthday, different trees shedding pellets of autumn on my driveway. One friend wanted to sweep the pieces of autumnal debris away; I insisted that they stay, loving the reminder of seasons after such a long spell in the monotonous, albeit mostly glorious sunshine of California.

My rhododendron bush was flowering in the back garden – five months early, a sign of the warm weather I have missed (when, bizarrely, California was enjoying a less warm spell).

I opened my sweater drawer and put on my red cashmere for the first time in three years.

My mum and her dog came to stay.

I saw so many friends, in London, Paris, Spain and Cardiff.

I went to the 21st and 18th birthdays of my friends’ children and loved talking with young people, embarking on their adult lives, so full of hope and promise.

I bought food in a market in Paris and remembered how great things could taste outside the blandness of California, where a tomato could be a pomegranate for all the difference in taste.

I woke to exquisite sunrises in Spain and felt thrilled once more to be so close to the variety of truly glorious European cities.

There is a wonderful Alice Munro (the Canadian genius – and it’s not often you hear those two words in the same sentence) who wrote a story about some children, trying to re-locate tadpoles from one part of a pond to another. They successfully managed it, only to return in the morning to find that all the creatures had returned to the place from whence they came.

I still love travelling and am fortunate to have seen so many great spectacles in so many different countries.

But sometimes tiredness alone makes you just want to be a tadpole again – and eat pizza at the time it was meant to be eaten.

Eight pm. In front of the telly. At home. In my sweater.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Happy Birthday To Me 11/5/11

Today is my birthday.

I’ve had a lot of them, so I now know what to expect.

It’s very different from what I could expect over four decades ago. Then, my party guests would arrive not only with a present but a box of fire-works, which my father would set off in our garden after the sausage rolls and party games (which I had to, and did, win).

During the gunpowder part of the proceedings, I was the child hiding under the table in the dining room. I wanted everyone to go home so that I could play with my presents.

I also hated fire-works. I still do. When it’s the main noise that greets you on your first day in the world, it’s hardly surprising. I’ve never really understood the appeal of standing around in the cold, eyes streaming standing next to a roaring bonfire, watching a pretend man being roasted alive and having your ears invaded by loud bangs.

Decades on, the friends I once invited to parties usually cannot come to mine now because they are going to their own children’s bonfire events (and that’s what they are now: events. Unless you can reproduce The Towering Inferno on your lawn, it seems you are nothing these days). The most I can hope for is friends who are divorced and it is their year to do Christmas with their children, which frees them up for Bonfire Night. For ME. To every cloud and all that.

The last few years have been ruined by the All Blacks playing Wales in autumn internationals. Three years ago, I sat at a table I had booked for 20 in the Indo Cymru in Canton in Cardiff, with just five people: one was my mother, two my brother and his girlfriend, and another couple I suspect I might have hired off the street. I choked through tears on my Biriyani.

I remember my big birthdays very clearly. On my 18th, I had a hairdo that could have competed with the Taj Mahal as one of the world’s great free-standing structures. I had a turquoise top and trousers that has been in fashion at least five times since.

On my 21st, I was dressed in a long brown crimplene frock. My grandmother came for tea but I remember the day mostly for the hysteria in our house trying to keep Emma the menstruating poodle off the sofa and away from my grandmother’s nice suit.

I have had three birthdays that I recall as being the happiest days of my life. The first was my ninth and I had been given a gorgeous cream plastic tea-set decorated with brown flowers. As usual, I couldn’t wait for my friends to leave so that I could get it out of the box and play with it.

My 40th, in Soho House, the central London private members’ club, was extraordinary. Surrounded by colleagues and friends, I had never felt more loved. My brother had tracked down Ricky Valance, who sang the number one hit Tell Laura I Love Her. I was a big fan of his, not for that song, but Movin’ Away, which I used to sing into a hairbrush in front of a mirror in my youth. Ricky had recorded a message, which my brother played to the room; I also had a framed signed photo.

My mother also threw a family party for me near her home in Bristol and that, too, moved me to tears.

I wanted to celebrate the last day of my 40s with people I admired. I visited Simon Cowell in his smart London office and, in the evening, went to the theatre and shared a glass of champagne with Kenneth Branagh in his dressing room after the show.

I had three 50th birthdays: one, for close friends in the Bleeding Heart restaurant in London. Most people there had been at my 30th, too (apart from my therapist – if you haven’t had one by 50, you are so not of the NOW), and I felt blessed to have acquired – and kept – so many wonderful friends.

The second was at my Cardiff home, where I cooked for 70 and brought together many new friends with older ones who had known me since childhood.

The third was in Paris with friends I had made during my decade in France, and there were also new ones from the Paris/Welsh society. The last departing guest was lifted away, unconscious, by the pompiers, who were not happy, shouting that it was not their job to take away drunks of an evening. Ha! You want to be in Cardiff on a Friday night, I called back – or would have done, had my French been better and I did not harbour a fear of being beheaded.

I love birthdays. With each passing year, I am reminded that everything changes – and, yes, some things stay the same, and that is no bad thing, either. If I go tonight, I have still had a better life than most people in the world, let alone the country.

Age is not something that should frighten us, and the passing of days is not something we should mourn. Time is an ongoing period of learning: we have our successes and we have our failures. But we pass our wisdom – and our regrets – to others, who hopefully learn a little from both.

For me, it is the true meaning of everlasting life. Today, I celebrate it.

And, if you see me, you can celebrate it with me too.

Triples all round!