Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Danny DeVito vs Judge Alex - the Jury's NOT Out

FACT. There are no decent, available men out there. Anywhere. In the world.

And here’s another FACT. There never have been.
Trust me: I’ve been out there for over four decades now and have trawled five countries and three continents (so far), so you can’t say I haven’t tried. But it’s a wasteland. A wasteland littered with penises (or should that be penii?) of so many shapes, sizes (and smells: let’s not beat about the bush – although many have tried), but trying to land one accompanied by a brain, humour and even average good looks, is an impossibility.
My first date was at 14 with a police cadet (the astute among you will already have noticed my lifelong obsession with law enforcement and uniform). His name was Kevin and we went to see The Sting. He kept kissing me/dribbling over me at all the key moments, which, with my already being a lover of film and television, was a real drag.
My first boyfriend was called Pete. He was very nice and wanted to marry me. I was 16 and he was 21 and there was no sex. We went to Barry Island funfair in his car (registration number NBX 693H – maybe you’re getting to see why I’ve never found a man?), where he attempted to put his hand down my top. My screams drowned out even those of the people on the roller coaster.
A bad relationship with someone much older set the pattern for me to make bad choices for the next 30 years, but there was fun along the way. Most of the guys are dead now, anyway, or at least on their way out, so I must have done something right (or wrong, depending on your way of looking at it. Hey, ho. I’m still standing).
Concentration on my career put any thoughts of a regular relationship on the back burner; I also love freedom: deciding to take the train to Paris at a moment’s notice; moving to Los Angeles when I had gone there only for a holiday (okay, I was in pursuit of a man. Sadly, not interested. Even sadder. Dead. After only five months of knowing me. See what I mean? But you’ll have to wait for the book on that one).
I don’t like being answerable to anyone. I specially don’t like certain aspects of coupledom – in particular, when one person (usually the male) wants to stay at a party, the other (invariably, the female) doesn't, but the party pooper insists on their more exciting other half leaving with them, thereby removing them from my tentacles.
But in recent years, I decided to dip my toe back into the dating game.

I wasn’t optimistic. The last time I tried it, when I moved to London in my twenties, I went to an Easter party at a singles club in London’s West End. A man dressed as a rabbit kept trying to force his carrot on me. Then I tried Dinner Dating and sat next to what seemed like a very nice photographer. He fell asleep. In his soup. At the next dinner, I sat next to a horologist during the starter but called time on him and moved seats for the main course. Man number two was a urologist, but after exhausting the subject of my tiny bladder and the origins of the phrase “a piece of piss”, gave up.
Dating in Paris, where I lived for seven years, would surely be a . . . well, a piece of piss. It was rumoured to be the most romantic city on Earth, after all, although my experience had been anything but. My one time boyfriend and I sat drinking at a wine bar in Montparnasse, where he told me: “You are the most funny, clever, brilliant woman I have ever met . . . I just don’t fancy you.” He was no Serge Gainsbourg, let me tell you. He’s probably also dead now (along with Serge), but I no longer care.
Paris also brought me a saxophonist, a banker, and a Grand Master who kept groping me under the chess table every time it was time for me to make my move on the board. At least, that was my excuse for never losing to him in over four moves.
The dating club was a disaster. With my limited French, I was never going to fit in with the philosophical tone of their events. While I can ask for a beer and offer a blow-job (“Une bière et voulez-vous une pipe, monsieur?”) in most languages, it doesn’t get you very far in a discussion about the nature of love according to Stendhal.
Clearly, it was Europe that was at fault, not me, so when I moved to the US, I thought I would try again. It’s a big country; there had to be ONE man there, didn’t there?
I tried a couple of dating agencies and was very specific in my requests. Tall (I’m only five feet, so I want a man who can protect me from a bear), funny, smart, kind, slim, mentally stable (I was so done with unstable) and generous. I had my diamond tennis bracelet nicked a few years back, so this was important. I had also paid for every single thing for every man in my entire history, which had left my bank account somewhat diminished (don’t even get me started on David the money-grabbing, short, fat, ginger bore, who went off with Bonny the nurse from Boston).
And he HAD to be a non-smoker who lived not more than 30 miles from Los Angeles, because, although I drive, I don’t have a car here.
So what do both agencies send me? Every overweight, chain-smoking, unemployed, clearly psychotic dwarf from Wisconsin.

Having given up with dating agencies, I inadvertently found a matchmaker. I hadn’t intended to, but ads kept appearing on my Facebook page along the lines of: “Bill the fireman is just five miles down the road from you and really wants to meet”.
I managed to resist. Bill the fireman might look all right at the moment, but what would he be like after his next job? I didn’t want to be a fireman’s wife, swabbing Bill’s disfigured face over breakfast every morning. I didn’t want to be a fireman’s widow, either (although that might be preferable to the disfigurement scenario).
But once you click, they’ve got you, and the matchmaker pursued me. I decided to fill out their form, but changed my mind halfway through. Then the phone-calls started. Non-stop. And so I found myself in Brentwood, in an office, being assured that there was a veritable plethora of men out there who would be “perfect” for me.
These people, I quickly discovered, operate like Timeshare merchants. They shut you in a room to do the form-filling and then, when you get them face to face, they show you pictures of how your life could be if only you were to surrender everything about the old you and hand over everything to them – which, in this case, was $8000 for “the 12 man package”.
Pictures of overweight, smiling couples in hideous wedding gear adorned the room, and already I wanted to run. If Bill the fireman was going to be a pain in the arse, imagine being married to George the overweight salesman in a pink shirt for the rest of my life.
I was asked about my dating history and the type of man I liked. I specially stressed tall. Over six feet. Apart from David the plump ginger cheat, I had never been out with a man under six feet in my life, nor did I intend to start (have you seen how many wild bears there are out there?). The interviewer tried to stress that sometimes life could take you by surprise and you might go for someone entirely different. This did not bode well. At this point, I knew they had absolutely no man over six feet who wanted a short, dark, brilliant, funny and (allegedly) unfanciable Welsh bird.
What about Danny DeVito, she asked. Wasn’t he an example of an attractive short man? Nooooooooo, I screamed. She pushed me on the subject. Wasn’t there ANYONE under six feet I might go for? At a stretch, I reckoned James Spader (Boston Legal – lawyer, albeit acting one). I could do Mark Harmon (NCIS – cop, albeit acting one), too. Or that lovely Latino bloke from Law and Order: SVU (cop – okay, another acting one). 

She looked slightly relieved. Finally, she thought she was getting somewhere. But I still want Judge Alex, I wailed (TV courtroom show, but real life ex-cop, lawyer, Judge – and an ex-pilot, too. Uniform. Tick, tick, tick, tick). Tall, dark, handsome, clever, funny. TALL! Are you listening to me, woman? Her sigh shook the building.
I negotiated them down to $2000 for the 12 man package (don't believe them when they tell you fees are not negotiable - they are), although they told me that I could have more dates, should I need them (trust me, a dollar a man was not even going to come close to their being able to find me what I wanted – I could already see that).
After several weeks, they sent me the details of an interested man. Five feet seven. FIVE FEET SEVEN! That's not a man, it's a hobbit. The bear could eat him for breakfast and still have room to consume an entire McDonald’s chain. Not only that, he was living in rented accommodation – at the age of 60 – and spent our phone-call moaning about how unhappy he was in his job (that’s another thing I can’t stand: people who hate what they do and do nothing to change it).
So, I find myself, in my mid-Fifties, pursuing a company for having taken $2000 from me and misrepresenting what they could offer - a disgraceful $1000 for the interview and $125 for the hobbit "intro".

I might take the case to Judge Alex. Even being a litigant in his courtroom has to beat planning Danny DeVito’s diet.

Or Bill the fireman’s funeral.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

My American Lobotomy

Phew. So I got through Valentine's Day in Paris. Alone.

It was a darn sight better than the few occasions I have ever been here with a bloke in what is purported to be the most romantic city in the world. One man, a journalist, sat with me at a wine bar in Montparnasse and told me I was the smartest, funniest, quickest and most brilliant woman he had ever met. He just didn't fancy me.

Just find me the nearest Metro, mate, and throw me under a train.
Another disaster was the guy who would eventually go off with a nurse from Boston (he was so determined to get that Green Card). He was a disaster from the start, if I am honest. I once sat bemoaning my fate to a friend and said: "He's too short, boring, unattractive, overweight, not funny, he doesn't find me funny and the sex is crap." "Then dump him," said my friend. "But he's 37 and single," I wailed. My friend: "But it doesn't mean he's the right 37 and single."

It didn't and he wasn't. The nurse is welcome to his ginger pubes (oh yes, that was another thing. Ginger, FFS. What was I thinking?).
And so, I am in Paris, the city I lived in for seven wonderful years and where I managed not to get arrested (how memories of the rue Bonaparte sidewalk at 4am are flooding back).

It is, as ever, a city of exquisite light and fine wine, and it is good to catch up with old friends, most of whom I met when making my TV series, Star Suppers. The format was that celebrities came to my apartment and cooked for me, while I sat on a stool drinking and interviewing them. Great format. Don't know how I thought of it.

Most of the celebrities were rat-arsed. The Royle Family's Sue Johnston lost her passport and her wig fell off. Emmerdale's Sam Giles (who plays Bernice) and I had a giggling fit. It took us 17 takes and two bottles of champagne just to do the intro "Welcome to Paris, Sam." She had been drafted in at very short notice after Sue Johnston had arrived at the airport to discover her passport was out of date ( what is it about that woman and passports?).

The point of the show was that people chose a signature dish that held some meaning for them, but owing to the lateness of the booking, we had to come up with something simple for Sam. "Seafood risotto," said the director, Julie. "But what's the story behind it?" asked Sam. Me: "Just say you had an Italian boyfriend." Sam: "Okay, just I don't ask me what his name was."
Red. Rag. Bull. "So what was his name?"
Roberto (as he came to be known) acquired a whole history, complete with cousins, grandmothers and variations on risotto we didn't even know existed, and we just could not get through the greeting segment in which the guest filled me in on the details. "Okay, there is no Roberto, no family, no Italy!" yelled Julie. "It's just a seafood risotto."
Still no luck. Julie, getting increasingly irate, thought that maybe it was the word "seafood" that was now setting us off. On and on. We just couldn't do it. The final cut went: "Welcome to Paris. What are you cooking?" "Rice dish."

I had to eat raw grains for the final shot.
When I lived here, I hated the demanding Americans in restaurants. Nothing was ever good enough, fast enough, cheap enough, clean enough. Now, after nearly five years in Los Angeles, I discover I have become one of them.
Ugh, look at all the chewing gum like myriads of tiny, glutinous stars on the sidewalks. How long is it going to take for that waiter to notice I am here? What do you mean, you don't have 18 different kinds of tea? And will you hurry up with that Croque Monsieur! And no, Mr Beggar, I don't have any spare change because I have just been charged a sodding fortune for a bottle of wine I could have bought in Trader Joe's for $4. And what’s this? You’re not even packing up my groceries for me? Now, take me to the airport. Oh, I forgot, Paris taxi drivers don't actually like to drive anywhere.

I am not enamoured with everywhere I have been in the US. I loathed San Francisco and really dislike Miami, not only because everything is so expensive there, but because on every occasion I have been, I get robbed - twice in one day last week (see previous blog). But I have a love of Los Angeles that goes very deep.
As a writer and a passionate lover of film and television, there is nowhere else on Earth that lives and breathes the industry like this city. The energy that emanates from every poster screaming about a new series never ceases to thrill me as I walk along Sunset Boulevard (even those two words make my marrow shiver).

Far from being the shallow culture that the outside world believes the city to be (in any case, every city has a shallow side), I see serious people doing serious work. Bright, smart, clever, funny people, at the top of their game. And, unlike Brits, they reach out to help newcomers further their careers in a ruthless industry. It is, without doubt, the most creative environment I have ever encountered.
Who knows. The scales may fall from my eyes, the stardust fade. But sitting here in Paris, the city I once swore I would die in (I still might; the weekend's not over yet), I am mentally packing up ready for my return to LA in time for the Oscars.
Who will top the Dead People part of the ceremony this year?

Will Philip Seymour Hoffman knock James Gandolfini off the top spot?

I can hardly wait.

Call me shallow.

Call me happy.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bandits, Scaffolders and Apple's Part in my Financial Downfall

There is a team of bandits that follows me around the world, intent on robbing me of my possessions at every turn. They are, I am certain, in cahoots with the team of scaffolders, who also follow me everywhere, intent on destroying any peace and quiet I might be hoping to get.
The bandits have robbed me in the cinema, on trains, in shop dressing rooms, on the London Tube, in taxis, in hotels, at conferences, on cruise liners, in my own home while I was in it . . . In fact, it would be easier to list the places where I haven’t fallen victim to their antics.
The bandits are specially keen on following me when I go to Miami. When I went in January 2013, they stole my phone at the airport. When I returned in March, they took my bag, complete with iPad. The day before yesterday, on my arrival back in LA from Miami, they surpassed themselves by robbing me twice on the same day.
The first was upon arrival at the carousel. Thanks to American Airlines in Miami not allowing me to place my slightly overweight bag in the hold (all other airlines, I find, offer a little leeway for First Class), I had to transfer a pile of stuff at the check-in desk to my Carry On bag, and then they told me to check in the two bags into the hold. It was all so rushed – the officiousness of AA check-in staff never helps - I forgot what I had placed in the Carry On bag for safe keeping. But that relates to robbery number two, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
So, with my disrupted routine, I left the plane with a large handbag, plus a shoulder bag that contained an iPad (the new replacement from last year), my laptop, several DVDs, computer leads and chargers, plus my new Tommy Hilfiger glasses (to replace the ones stolen in the bag at Miami before). It also contained about 20 pages of personal information – bank details, credit card numbers, codes, subscriptions, every password to every aspect of my life. I always travel with the hard copy but it is usually in the hold bag. I just had a lot of admin to get through while waiting for my flight.
I stood at the carousel with my bags, and somewhere, during the process of getting my luggage, the shoulder bag was swiped. I didn’t realise it until I was in the taxi leaving the airport and when the driver told me he had loaded just the two cases, I asked him to turn around and zoom back. The bag had gone and had not - and has not - been handed in.
Naturally, I started hysterically sobbing, much as I had in Miami last year. I finally made it home and opened my case to discover, yet again, as has happened on almost every internal US flight, a leaflet in both cases from security to say my bags had been opened and inspected. All my jewellery had gone.
Yes, I know not to put valuables in cases, and I never have; but the hassle at check-in made me forget what was in there. I don’t normally take so much jewellery, either, but I had just cleaned it all with the pot of silver cleaner Mum gave me at Christmas, and it all looked so sparkly and new, I thought I would take the lot.

So sparkly and new, obviously, that the baggage handlers thought that they would take the lot, too.
It’s heartbreaking – not just the monetary value, but the sentimental one: loads of pieces that Mum has given me over many years; oh, the irony of her getting me the stuff to clean it all that proved the catalyst for its disappearance.
My house insurance says they stopped allowing me items covered away from home last year after my Miami claim (they reckon they wrote to me; they didn’t). My travel insurance does not cover hand luggage, but I am covered for a smallish amount on the hold baggage. American Airlines’ response was, basically, tough luck: our small print tells you to carry valuables - yes, but if you hadn’t made me change everything. I also stressed to them that if I had had a better flight over and got some sleep, I might not have been so exhausted. The crew had talked loudly throughout the whole red-eye flight, even through the safety instructions (“We’ll try” was their response when I asked them to keep it down so I could hear the info), and very rudely informed me it was what they had to do to stay awake. Really? At disco levels of conversation?
Every time I get robbed, I learn something new and try to do it all differently, but you put your finger over one geyser, only to find that the problem springs up in a different form elsewhere.
I am pretty streetwise and very careful. At Marbella airport, two men pretending to be cops tried to make me take my luggage under the stairs so that they could inspect it. I told them I would open it in full view of everyone – well, that’s a slight exaggeration. In my limited Spanish, I just kept shouting “Aqui!” increasingly loudly while pointing at the floor.
I never carry a purse and keep my money in a zip up compartment in my bag (Got that, bandits, for when I next fly?). I do the same with my phones. I don’t leave things unattended. I never carry large sums of cash. I never draw cash from a machine if someone is close by.
Yet here I am again, robbed not just once, but twice on the same day. How and when I took my eye off the ball, I don’t know. Tiredness, stress (the travelling team of scaffolders arrived at the apartment building I was staying in, too, so no sleep and restricted work), the excitement of seeing old friends and new friend Judge Alex again; who knows what precipitates it (come to think of it, though: Judge Alex has been the common denominator in the Miami thefts; that’s suspicious).
You can only do what you can; the bandits will always find a new way to screw you.
What has got me through, however, has been the amazing outpouring of love and support from friends on Twitter and Facebook – some of them complete strangers, and many with offers of practical help. 
It’s heart-warming to know that in a world of crooks and thieving bastards, the good people in one’s life still outnumber the bad – by a long way.
And, at the end of the day, it’s only stuff.

Nobody died, nobody got pregnant.

I just got a little bit poorer and, with my replacement equipment, Apple a little bit richer.

I suspect it won’t be the last time.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

My Oscar Winning Performance on Judge Alex

My life’s work is complete.

Yes, finally, I have made my debut on American television.
Harvey Specter’s love interest in Suits? Will’s love interest in The Good Wife? Judge Alex Ferrer’s love interest in Judge Alex?
You will notice in my list of hopeful projects that I have a certain penchant for law and lawyers. I always have. In fact, so enthusiastic has been my desire to fight for justice, my insurance company stopped supplying legal insurance because they found that the people who took it out were the most litigious. Well, one person in particular, to be precise. Faulty goods, stolen bicycles, bad repairs – there is very little in life that I cannot meet with a response of “See you in court.”
In Los Angeles, I took a landlady to court for withholding a ridiculous chunk of my apartment deposit. I won. My obsessive addiction to the court show Judge Alex had not been in vain.
At present, I am embroiled in heated discussions with a matchmaking agency who simply did not deliver what they said on the tin. I specifically said I wanted a tall man – I have never been out with anyone under six feet, despite being only five feet myself. I told them I wanted a man who could protect me from a bear. They hooked me up with a hobbit.
So, if and when I was going to appear on American television, it was inevitable it was going to be in court in some capacity, and hopefully not in front of Judge Judy when Judge Alex took out a restraining order against me.

And, at last, there I was, on Friday, on screen, in the front row of the audience at a taping of Judge Alex in Los Angeles. A Facebook friend posted a still of me, sitting behind a litigant. A very large litigant, actually, who kept blocking my view of my hero. My expression is all but screaming “Get out of my way, bitch!” although I managed to resist being thrown out for contempt of court, even though contempt for the orange eyesore is etched all over my face.
Alas, this is the last series of the show, so I feel I am now part of television history. Readers of this blog will know how upset I was when my iPad was stolen and I thought I had lost the interview I conducted with the Judge in Miami (actually, “conducted” gives me an air of respectability I recall not having had on the day; the interview I “drooled” might be closer to the truth), so the cancellation of the show was always going to be a hara-kiri moment. Every time I see the Fox logo now (it is they who have pulled the show), I spit blood.
Now, I’d like to tell you that my courtroom performance was an award winning masterpiece, but apart from the whiplash I suffered as a result of locking my neck at a 90 degree angle to keep the Judge in my line of vision throughout, I was strangely unmemorable. It was, however, a performance of sublime control. No rushing up to the Bench and trying to rip the Judge’s robe off; no trying to bribe Mason the bailiff to get me closer; no begging the litigant to swop places with me; no begging the Judge to handcuff me.
Maybe someone will spot my talent. Maybe Suits will call and hook me up with Harvey; maybe The Good Wife will get in touch, realising that Alicia should never have been Will’s love interest and that what he needed all along was a short, dark, Welsh TV critic.
Or maybe someone will offer me a role in a movie as a hobbit. If all that fails, trust me on one thing: this will not be my last court appearance.

I’m betting my bail money on it.