Thursday, August 28, 2014

Will Gardner is Not Dead . . . In My Dreams

The Good Wife returns to CBS on 21st September and, while I could not be more excited about the brilliant David Hyde Pierce joining as a regular, I am still grieving for Will.
I don’t believe that any actor, when they leave a series, does not, at some point, wonder if they have made the right move: not least on Monday just gone, when Josh Charles, who played the now dead Will Gardner in The Good Wife, saw his co-star Julianna Margulies pick up an Emmy for her role in the show as Best Leading Actress in a Drama.
Will’s death was a real GASP! moment, cleverly kept under wraps by cast and crew until the second we saw it on screen. But, for me, it is not too late to bring him back, and I appeal to the writers to put their heads together to do so.
In the 1985-86 finale of Dallas (doubtless the writers of The Good Wife were not even born then), Bobby Ewing died. Oh, we screamed! Not Bobby! The beautiful, divine, gorgeous Patrick Duffy, who was the only reason any of us females were watching in the first place.
Patrick, or the producers, or Bobby – whoever really knows the truth of these situations – decided that a horrible mistake had been made (plummeting ratings being an influential factor) and Bobby had to come back.
But: how to do this? They alighted upon a year’s episodes being nothing other than a dream of Pam, Bobby’s gorgeous wife who never took her make-up off before bed time in the entire show’s history.
One morning, having endured Bobby’s death, funeral et al, et al, she woke to hear the water running in the shower and a glistening Bobby emerging from it. I imagine that an even bigger relief was that the dreaded Oil Barons’ Ball (always a drunken disaster) had never taken place. That feeling was doubtless soon tempered by the realisation that it was still to come.
The show carried on as if nothing had ever happened, the only problem being that while Bobby remained alive and kicking on Dallas, the sister show, Knots Landing, continued to grieve him, with estranged brother Gary forever bemoaning the fact that Momma had never gotten over Bobby’s death (while Momma, by the way, happily continued barbecuing over at the Southfork ranch, sharing ribs with Lazarus Bobby).
I reckon that The Good Wife could bring Will back in much the same way and carry on as if his demise had never happened.

SCENARIO 1: Alicia decides to watch Psycho, falls asleep and, in her dream, pulls back the shower curtain to discover not multiple stab victim Marion Crane, but Will, surrounded by his briefs (geddit?). She wakes on the sofa to discover that the DVR has not recorded the ending.

SCENARIO 2: Will is naked in the shower. Sorry, but I haven’t got any further with this thought. It’s just something I want to see.

SCENARIO 3: Peter Florrick is in the shower with Carrie Fisher (keep up, I’m, mixing my genres here) and, upon hearing unusual water sport activity, Alicia decides to check it out. She walks to the bathroom, pulls back the shower curtain and comes face to face with a naked Chris Noth, who says “You’re the one” (I told you I was mixing my genres). Luckily, she wakes and realises she is in the middle of a deposition with Will.

I could go on. And on. And on. Because, the truth is, I want Will back, and he has barely been away yet. When James MacPherson, who played DCI Mike Jardine in Taggart (the UK Scottish crime drama) died, I was distraught for months (actually, I still am). I stood sobbing with the rest of the cast at a summer party, consolable only when the lead actor reached him on his mobile, to assure me of his mortality.
I don’t like change in TV, and Tweeted wildly, advising against Harver Specter’s relationship with Scottie, who, at the beginning of the latest series, was his love interest, after vowing to change his ways. Quiet why anyone ever thought this was a good idea is anybody’s guess, though I sense a delicate female’s fingerprints all over it. Whoever it was, thank heavens they dropped the idea very quickly. Totally out of character. Totally out of sync with the backbone of the show.
So, I don’t care how you do it, dear writers of The Good Wife. I love you more than life itself, but you really need to perform a Lazarus and bring back our dear Will. Call me psychic, but much as I adore David Hyde Pierce (who is a genius), I don’t feel I’m going to be getting into a lather about him in quite the same way as I did about Will.
Which brings me back to that shower theme . . . Come on, Will. Get yer kit off. 

Even if all turns out to be a dream.


Loving Jaci's Box

What a great week. 

Standing in for the Mail on Sunday’s TV critic (a job I once held for nearly 10 years – and you can catch my review in this Sunday’s edition, btw!), I was reminded again of why I love the medium and why, despite difficulties elsewhere in life, when it comes to work I have never doubted the path I took. I am truly blessed in loving what I do and, by whatever chance (and, despite the hard work, at the end of the day it really IS chance), being given the ability to do it.
Monday night’s Emmys had to have been the strongest line-up of shows ever to feature in an awards ceremony. How do you even begin to choose between House of Cards, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, or Kevin Spacey, John Hamm and Bryan Cranston? Category after category had me gasping in awe at the quality of the shows and nominees on the screen and, while I didn’t agree with all the results, everyone deserved to be there (and you can’t always say that about British awards shows - nor the Oscars, come to that).
I never watched much TV as a child, apart from when I was sick. Then, my favourite screen event was watching the second hand on a giant 60 second clock dispense with individual white lines as it counted down to the next show (I was easily pleased). I quite liked Tales of the River Bank (fluffy animals), hated Dr Who (too scary) and never saw Peyton Place because my parents went into moral panic overdrive and frantically sent me to bed every time it came on. I preferred living in my imagination and rarely left my bedroom.
As a teenager, my parents used to tell me off for being in my room working, always with a pen and paper in hand. “Why aren’t you downstairs watching television with the rest of the family?” was an ongoing admonishment. These days, the refrain I say to myself is: “Why aren’t you sitting at that desk working, instead of watching another Law and Order: SVU marathon, with shows you have seen a hundred times before?”
I once had a tax inspection and, in the interview, was asked to run through my average day. To summarise: I get up, watch TV; then I have my lunch and watch Diagnosis Murder, even though I am not reviewing it. Then, I watch more TV. Then I write about it. Then I watch TV . . . “ You get the gist of it? The tax man flicked through my accounts and looked at me suspiciously: “Do you have a boat?” A boat? A flamin’ boat? When would I have the time to run a boat, and why would I want to, when I can watch them on A Place in the Sun and not have to shift my backside from the sofa?
The first time I recall being overwhelmed by the power of the moving image was, in fact, from books my parents gave me: old copies of Maurice Speed’s Film Review. My favourite picture was of a woman tied to the railway tracks in the path of an oncoming train. I recall feeling thrilled, terrified, all my senses alert to the excitement and danger of the situation – and I also recall the relief when I read beneath the picture that, for those of us of a nervous disposition, we need not worry because the train stopped in time.
I always found it easy to live in my head and, as an adult, that hasn’t always been a good thing. I see high drama where other people see the mundane. I always have. I remember when Durham Road Junior School was broken into when I was eight and, lined up with my class in the hallway outside the crime scene (you see what I mean?), remember the thrill of seeing a jar labelled “POISON” in the cupboard. Had the thief planted it there? Was someone already dead? Were we all about to die?
I think I watch TV to take me away from the drama and chaos that is the long-running, never-ending series in my head. There are very few things I could not live without, but PG Tips and TV definitely top the list. My worst nightmare would be to have my TV taken away from me. Never mind that Law and Order are making programmes at a faster rate than I can watch them, nor that I have seen every episode of Frasier at least 20 times (and still watch at least two a day). This is my life. And, when reality sucks, as it has done of late, it’s my world.
While there is Suits on the telly, there is hope.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

NYC vs LA - the Battle Continues

They say that you can get anything 24/7 in New York City, and, what’s more, have most of it all delivered to your door.

It’s just not true. You can’t, for example, buy a decent bottle of wine (either in store or by delivery) after 10pm, when most of the liquor stores close and you have to be dependent on a supermarket’s Californian cooking wine (my wine consumption has inevitably dropped as a result. To every cloud and all that). 
You can’t get the cable and phone service Verizon to answer the phone. Ever. And you certainly can’t get cleaners to swop their eco-friendly products that leave a tide of dirt on everything, for your politically incorrect chemicals that leave everything sparkling.
In my area of West Hollywood that I recently left, there is a wine store and delicatessen where you can buy a really great bottle of wine up until 2am; you can even drink it on the premises for a corkage fee. In LA though, drinks are whipped off every table on the dot of 2am because of the licensing laws, and, being a night person, the 4am closing hours of NYC suit me better, even if I have to be content with water as an alternative to ghastly Californian Pinot Grigio (NYC, bars, like those in LA, are incapable of grasping that there are wines other than this one; in most places, they can barely get their heads around white and red).
In Paris, where I lived for six years, you really can get decent wine 24/7, and if the idea of a champagne breakfast suddenly strikes, you are spoilt for choice even before the birds start chirping.
The drinking culture is the first thing one notices in looking for the differences between the two cities. I don’t drink cocktails, having once been the victim of a Vodka Martini in Nick’s Bar in LA’s Beverly Hills. Almost unconscious on the street after just one, I returned to the bar the next day, insisting that my drink had been spiked and demanding to know what proportion of Martini there was to vodka. They looked at me, incredulous, explaining that I had consumed pure vodka, with “a touch of Martini around the rim of the glass”. It must have been the equivalent of about 12 UK measures. Never again. Contrary to what people may think, I don’t drink to get drunk; that’s just an unfortunate by-product.
Cocktails, however, seem to be the drink of choice among most people in the more upmarket bars in both cities. In LA, the “mixologist” is now king of cocktails, and NYC is trying to match this by introducing a whole new concept I discovered this week – the “bar chef”. In Cardiff, where I am from, we still have barmaids, and a very good job they do, too.
I already have my favourite hangouts in NYC, just as I did in LA. They say that no matter where you go in the world, you quickly find your triangle: the place where you are staying and two other points of reference. I live on 45th St and 10th Avenue; my first point of reference is 43rd and 10th; the other, 46th and 7th – at a push 49th and 9th (ok, so it’s a triangle with a bit on the side). The generic name is Hell’s Kitchen and suits my personality down to the ground, even if I tend to be The Only Straight in the Village.
I’ve been to Brooklyn once, and I might as well have gone to Canada for all the effort it took me to get back to Midtown on a Sunday. I joined the Guggenheim but have yet to go there. I look at Google maps, print out the directions, but each time I get as far as Bed, Bath and Beyond at Columbus Circle on 59th, I can’t resist going in and buying $300 worth of stuff I don’t need because I have my 20% Off voucher on me.
Maybe all this will change when I sell my UK house and feel more settled. I am desperate to go to Coney Island because I love rides; I want to do more walking and gazing at what, to me, are exquisite buildings that, in their varying shapes and sizes, turn the very sky into a changing architectural sculpture of its own on a daily basis. I want to see more shows, listen to jazz.
There is, undoubtedly, a lot more to do here, and everything is a great deal more accessible than it is in LA where, if you don’t have a car, the no 4 bus that takes an hour from West Hollywood to Santa Monica, soon loses its charm.
On September 4th, my brilliant Welsh artist friend, Harry Holland, has an exhibition here; I am going to take Argentinian tango lessons; I am considering a photography course to make use of that smart Nikon D300 I bought when I thought I was going to be the next Robert Doisneau – and would have been, had the iPhone not improved its camera and made me think “Sod that Nikon palaver for a bunch of soldiers”.
I miss my LA friends but am making new ones; I don’t miss the LA weather yet, as NYC has been so much better than the rare humidity that hit LA when I was last there. I miss the show-business bollocks of Hollywood, especially yesterday, when I hadn’t been able to make it to LA for the Emmys.
Both cities are great places and I love the bi-coastal existence. Hopefully, by the end of the year, I will be able to afford it once more. Because, to be honest, winter in NYC does not beckon. 

Not unless someone can deliver mulled wine to my door, 24/7.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Happiness Phantom of the Oprah

Ok, I’ve tried. I’ve really, really tried. 
On July 23rd, when Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra invited me to discover the key to happiness through meditation, I was less than enthusiastic about the idea. Twenty one days is a long time in contemplation, and I just wasn’t sure that I would be able to concentrate, knowing that if I had a tenth of their money, I am pretty sure I would be a lot happier.
“Dear Oprah and Deepak,” I thought about writing. “Much as I recognise the benefits of meditation, I feel that if you were to send me some cash, I would cheer up in an instant and I could spend the next three weeks happily spending, rather than sitting silently, pondering where it all went wrong.”
In the end, I decided to go for it. Although I learned how to do Transcendental Meditation some years ago (and nearly got myself killed rushing to buy a handkerchief for the initiation ceremony), this one sounded more specific. I like the idea of happiness, even though it is sometimes elusive; maybe they knew something that I didn’t about how to hold on to it for longer periods of time, even if, in Oprah’s case, that usually meant hitting the cookie jar a little too often.
So, on day one, I sat comfortably and listened to the pair’s soothing voices, informing me of the great transformation that was about to take place in my life. I’ve always been a big fan of Deepak, and am an advocate of the Ayurvedic principles on which much of his work is based. I’m just not very good at sticking to them. I have a “Pitta” personality – sharp/clear voice, light sleeper, intelligent, clear memory, jealous, ambitious, sexually passionate, lover of luxury, and a dislike of hot weather – and my daily dose of the hottest chilli papers I can find is the worst thing to inflame a Pitta dosha. But when you put Ayurveda into practice, it produces results and balance. Or so Deepak’s book, Perfect Health, tells me.
As I’ve had a stressful and less than happy time of late, it seemed a good idea to give Deepak another try, especially as the 21 day meditation was free. The pair have done many other transformational DVDs, which you can buy online; the down side to this is that you will then spend the next three weeks meditating on the fact that Oprah and Deepak are now even richer than they were before you sent them your credit card details.
And so, to happiness. The basic message is that happiness is a natural state of being and lies within us. If you thought that this person, that bottle of vintage wine, your new house/holiday etc. etc. were things that contributed to your happiness, you were wrong. Happiness does not lie externally.
That’s the gist of it. Okay, I got that bit. On to the meditation, which each day has a different mantra to repeat silently, while sitting quietly thinking about Oprah and Deepaks’s millions . . . I mean, the spirit of happiness. After an intro by Oprah, next comes Deepak to lead you through the meditation, at the end of which he tells you to let the mantra go but carry its message throughout the rest of the day. I am peace. I am love. I am playful. That kind of thing.
Let me tell you now: that just doesn’t go down well on the streets of New York, where I am currently based. “I am peace, I am peace, I am peace”, I sweetly uttered as I left my apartment block and headed for 10th Avenue – a mere 30 seconds walk away, which is all the time it took for “I am peace” to turn into “You stupid moron, can’t you see you’re jumping a red light?”
Maybe I would have better luck with I am love. “I am love, I am love, I am love”, I kept saying, between bouts of yelling down the phone at Fresh Direct, who had taken double payments from my bank account.
I am hope. That was on day six, by which time I had no hope whatsoever that any of this was going to work.
I missed day seven because I was having a housewarming and, then after five days, the meditation disappears and you can retrieve it only by coughing up and ordering it. Once I’d missed one, I lost the impetus and now, on day 11, I don’t feel ready for today’s message: “Kindness expresses the gentleness of the soul.”
If that’s true, Oprah and Deepak, I’m going to return to my original point: if you would be so kind as to send me some money, that would bring you gentleness of soul.
Maybe yogic flying might be more up my street. 

In the meantime, I’m heading out to my local bar. 

I am thirsty. I am thirsty. I am thirsty.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Crap Therapist - the Internet

The Internet is good for many things. 

Finding out the elephant population of Africa, Kim Kardashian’s current weight (considerably less than an African elephant, should you be remotely interested), the latest sports results – all good stuff, and if you ask Google a question, you can usually find the answer. It might not necessarily be the factually correct answer, but at least it gives you the illusion of real communication.
What the Internet is not good for is dealing with life’s emotional problems. Thank you for all of you who have expressed concern during what has been something of a difficult time for me, and my apologies for having been off the radar. But sometimes, hibernation is necessary: a time to reflect on life’s sadness; a time to beat yourself up and, realising that you are not all bad, build yourself up again. 

During my emotional self-flagellation phase (sadly, it’s one of the symptoms of depression – see previous blog), I sought help from the Internet when something called “Chakra Healing” caught my eye. That’s it, I thought: my chakras are out of balance. That’s what’s made me a horrible, unlovable human being, who does and says all the wrong things.
So, I filled in the online form to see where it was all going wrong and check out which chakras were closed, weak or strong. The results came back within minutes.
First, the good news: “Your Root Chakra is Strong.” Hoo-flamin'-ray. That was the best news I’d had all week; I was feeling better already. But what did it mean? Well, apparently: “Everybody envies you for your uncanny ability to make, save and invest money.” Friends who know the history of my financial astuteness are doubtless already being attended to by paramedics. It went on: “You always have more than enough money to go on holiday and buy what you want.” 

I certainly go on holiday and buy what I want, the only proviso being that I never actually have enough money to do so; that just never stops me, though.
There, I am afraid, the good news about my chakras ends. Let’s go through the results of the other chakras.

FOOT: weak. I feel confused about my life path (Never).

SACRAL: weak. I rarely have the inclination to have sex (So wrong. Don’t go away, paramedics; my friends might expire from laughter at this point).

THROAT: weak. I am known as the “quiet one” in my professional and social circles (Oh, YEAH? REALLY? D’you wanna go outside and argue about it?).

INTUITIVE: weak. I am indecisive, uncommitted and unconfident of the decisions I make (My bank manager so wishes this were true).

PERSONAL POWER: weak. I struggle with self-esteem issues and feelings of unworthiness. This is more like it. Spot on.

Now, here’s the icing on the cake. 

My CROWN chakra is CLOSED! Closed. Shut. Silent. I feel little or no connection to a higher power. No shit, Sherlock. You’re dead right on that one, and very grateful I am for it. Apparently, my anger that my higher power has abandoned me is what is giving me migraines and tension headaches (I haven’t had them for 30 years).
And here’s the double icing: my HEART chakra is also closed. I sabotage relationships with anger and distrust. Well, yes. But being attracted to people who fuel those insecurities is the real problem. What’s going on with their damned chakras, eh, Ms Chakra Expert Carol Tuttle?
As always, in times of distress, it is best to turn to one’s friends, who love you unconditionally, who can look at a situation objectively and point out that you’re only human. They are also able to point out that while you may think you are the most dreadful person in the world, others are not so perfect either, and you might not be 100% the maker of your own misery when you want to crawl under a stone and die (Actually, the stone idea didn’t appeal; I was thinking more of jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, but was too nervous to take the subway there in case I jumped under a train en route, which would have made me a very ugly corpse with my chakras all over several yards of track).
And so, thank you to my lovely friends who have been listening to my blubbering, and I apologise if I alarmed you. And if there is a writing chakra, I can be confident that I still have that, no matter how much chaos might have been operating elsewhere.
But coming through the other side of any black hole is ultimately refreshing, and, as one song goes, I Can See Clearly Now. 

And, as the Bee Gees sang: “And the rain will fall.” 

It will. But not forever. 

The sun’ll come out tomorrow. 

Ok, that’s enough singing.



Surviving Despair


From the Latin sperare: hope. De-sperare: without hope. 

It’s a word I’ve been thinking a lot about the past couple of weeks. We were affected by a suicide in our family shortly before Robin Williams took his own life. The circumstances of the death had vague similarities and neither man left a note explaining his actions. A friend of Williams said that his suicide was a “spontaneous” act, as he had been talking to him only the day before about future projects. Yes, Williams had a history of depression, but what was this? A moment without hope? Despair. De-sperare.
Readers familiar with my writing in the UK will know that I have never made any secret of my struggles with depression. I was a happy, although often melancholy child who, in my late teens, started to suffer from crippling migraines and overwhelming blackness of spirit. It continued for many years until, about eight years ago, I had terrific NLP therapy that helped enormously. For reasons I won’t go into (not least because “reasons” lends the condition a logic I can’t even begin to understand), I fell back into a dark place around four years ago and have been there off and on for some time.
The view from the outside is that I have a wonderful life. I have a great family and many fantastic friends, I am well travelled, I love my work and am in good health. What’s not to love?
That’s the logical part of the brain speaking. Sperare. On paper, it is a life filled with optimism and hope. So where does the “de” aspect begin? The undoing of hope?
There are many practical reasons I could list that I know have caused me great stress and anxiety over the past few years. Financial worries hit when I lost a lucrative job after my newspaper dropped their TV coverage. That, in itself, although logically knowing that this was beyond my control, resulted in a massive loss of confidence and self-esteem that continues to this day.
As a woman hitting 50, I also felt on the scrapheap of life. Single women of advancing age are never that popular, either professionally or socially. In the States, I find that they respect experience far more than they do in Britain. While I had a very easy menopause, the sidelining of women seen to be past their sell-by date is something that screams out in so many areas of British life.
But despair goes beyond practicalities. And, in the weeks I’ve been off social networking sites to which I am somewhat addicted - trying to “sort stuff”, as I described it - the best I can come up with is that de-spair, is to feel de-loved. Sorry that is not something more monumental, but it’s the best I can do.
I know that I am hugely loved by the people around me and, in turn, I love them. I try to do as much as I can for others, and I have in my close circle several people I can call at any time, day or night, for support.
But despair is a cruel thief that creeps up on you unannounced. In an instant, you feel robbed of love: gazing on the happiness of others, while being emptied of the hope of ever finding it yourself. A couple, holding hands, can induce resentment; a group of people laughing can feel like a door being slammed in your face; overhearing a telephone conversation ending with the words “I love you” can stab at your heart. It’s the feeling of being on the other side of everything that is real, and not having the first clue of how to get back to the other side. It’s probably in that moment that the option of backing away and closing the door forever feels easier than going forward.
I am not about to do anything drastic and, for me, trying to make sense of life in writing will always be my salvation. But, as a society, we really need to address depression for the illness that it undoubtedly is, and those who talk of suicide as a “selfish” act really do not have the first idea of how the love thief operates.
In despair, there is no emotion: no ability to rationalise one’s state of being. The best you can hope for is memory: the surfacing of something you remember as love and, while temporarily suffering the inability to experience it, knowing that it is still there and will, at some point, return.
Stephen Fry, who has suffered from depression his whole life, and who has done so much to raise public awareness of the condition, has been a good friend to me in my moments of despair, as have countless other people. But keeping silent – out of shame, guilt, embarrassment, general lack of sympathy – is, sadly, a major component of the condition.
If the death of Robin Williams can teach us anything, it is that we need to be more aware, to tune our ears to the tiny voice that is actually screaming for help.
Some of Williams’s friends expressed astonishment, saying that they had not realised he was in so much pain. Without hope. But there is help out there. 

While there is breath, there is hope.