Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I Got By with a Little Help from my Friends

When I posted the blog earlier today about the past year and the year ahead, I said that when I thought about how much I had fitted in, the year seemed very long. It got me thinking about all the people who have passed through it in one way or another, and I just wanted to say thank you to them. I am sure there are people I’ve missed out and will add to the list as I remember. Please forgive me if you’re not on it, but I’m working with very bad jet-lag. They are, by the way, in alphabetical order! It puts a lot of things into perspective in writing such a list. I realise how truly blessed I am to have so many amazing people in it. So, I would like to thank my family and friends for/for being . . . . .

Paul ABBOTT and Larkin HALL – the kindest, most supportive and encouraging friends a girl could wish for
Maggie ALDERSON – one of my long-standing friends and always, always making me laugh and being such a support of my writing
Phillip ARRAN – there in oh, so many ways, and becoming a very close friend I love very much; and for understanding that there will be light
Alex BANNISTER – Daily Mail Managing Editor with a heart (albeit a tough one!)
Susan BOYD – an incredible person, as well as a dear friend. Your success is so deserved and I know how hard you have worked and how much support you have given to others, too, myself included. You should get that husband of yours William to do some writing, too
Lisa BOFFO – my new LA friend, whose unconditional support while going through very tough times herself, never ceases to amaze me
BUTCHER’S ARMS – always being there and just as welcoming when I return home
Richard BRANSON – always being an inspiration and providing the best airline travel in the world
CAMEO CLUB – a stalwart in my Cardiff life
John CHAPLIN – the most understanding man in finance in the Daily Mail (thanks for listening to the whingeing)
Simon COWELL – a friend, albeit one who never gave me a house
Sandy CUPP JAMESON – one of my favourite Twitter friends, whose intelligence and humour have brought me immense pleasure, even if she is a love rival for Judge Alex
Paul DACRE – the best editor, from whom I continue to learn 20+ years on (creepy of me? Probably, but still true)
Judge Alex FERRER – a great TV personality, legal brain, and a newish but great friend who tolerates, if doesn’t totally understand, Welsh insanity
Richie FRIENDLEY – making me feel welcome in Hell’s Kitchen
Stephen FRY – the kindness during the low times and the laughter during the good
Charles GARSIDE – Daily Mail Managing Editor, whose always sound advice stopped me from taking everyone to court when I felt wronged
Alex GAUTHIER – a friend, always
Matthew GRAHAM – a great support and a brilliant laugh from a long distance. Great writer, too
The GROUCHO CLUB – being you
Dany and Martin HAYMAN – the love and support during a very difficult year
Ian, Victoria, Emily and William HISLOP – my second family for many, many years, and for always including me in your lives (ps when are the next parties Emily and Will?)

Chris HARVEY – sorting out my insurance mess so efficiently
Carolyn HITT – a brilliant journalist and a sensitive, kind and supportive friend – and great company in New York
Chrissy ILEY – a dear friend, who knows what is right for me long before I know it; who is mega funny, bright, entertaining, even when she is going through tough times herself. Miss you every day!
Melissa IRWIN COYIER – one of my favourite Twitter friends who always makes me laugh – despite being yet another Judge Alex love rival (we’re all going to have to fight this out y’know!)
Tracey JACKSON and Paul WILLIAMS - writing Gratitude and Trust, and changing the way I see the world
Rhys JOHN – the friend I call my Life Coach, who has the ability to take my ramblings, sort them into a cohesive whole, and deliver the best advice possible, while still having the grace to laugh at all my jokes
Julia LEWIS – one of the funniest people I have ever met; always sensational company and have known for well over 50 years
Diana LJUNGAEUS – runs the LA Press Club with incredible verve and skill, and shows immense patience with my inability to fill in the forms properly
The MALIBU FISH GRILL – a fun, regular LA haunt with some fabulous staff
Barbara MARTIN – my always adored and adorable aunt, whose love I never doubt

Debbie MATTHEWS and ARCHYTAS for saving me from financial ruin and giving me the best advice
Beth MCDONALD – a great Daily Mail Weekend sub-editor (the best) on my column and someone I can also have a laugh with along the way
Heather MCGLONE – my editor on Weekend for a long time, and for the advice and support
Zoe MCINTYRE – the best press officer on the planet and a dear friend with whom hysterical laughter is never off the agenda
MR BIGGS – my favourite New York haunt, with lovely staff who always make me feel welcome
Cynth and Terry MURPHY – my “adopted” aunt and uncle who have known me since childhood, and who I see but once a year, but always love it
Maggie O’RIORDAN – an editor beyond compare (Daily Mail, Femail) with the biggest heart in the world, whose support this year has given me not only a new friend but a whole new outlook on life
Leisha O’SHEA – always the best friend anyone could wish for. Smart, hilarious, perceptive, and a brilliant mother of three year-old twin boys

Theo PAPHITIS – giving the best comfort and advice, both practical and emotional, when I was at my very lowest

Steve and Penny PARSONS – great, supportive friends and the best company, long after we departed our seats at Cardiff’’s Millennium Stadium
Karen PRICE – a fantastic arts journalist and wonderful company in LA
Liz and Ronw PROTHERO – friends who are always there and with whom I laugh non-stop. Fantastic in their TV work, too, as I know, having had the privilege of working with them – and hope to again
Nick PYKE – one of my contacts on the Mail on Sunday and always a joy to work with
Tim RICE – for still being a friend whose voice I never get tired of hearing (talking, not singing)
Susan ROBERTS – the hardest working PA (on Daily Mail Weekend)
SOHO HOUSE – your many brilliant houses around the world that always make me feel welcome, wherever I am
Robbie SAVIN and Ace HOOD – the most entertaining gay duo in New York
Val, Nigel and Kim STEPHEN – my wonderful family: Mum, brother and sister-in-law. Always there for me
Mary and Liam SULLIVAN – friends I know I could call at any hour, from anywhere in the world. Always there with love and wise words. Wonderful parents and grandparents, too
Nadia SWANWICK – still great fun and a great friend, despite the gaps in time between meetings
Shelley THOMAS – my oldest school-friend, who, despite our disparate paths, is still there as we see each other through good and bad, just as we used to
Elizabeth TIMMS – still there and a dear, loved friend, despite the long gaps
Janie and Mike TOMLINSON – the most amazing friends who look after many aspects of my life practically as well as emotionally
Laura TOPHAM – on Daily Mail Femail, and being such a support since your arrival. You instilled in me new confidence
Bradley TUCK – a good friend when I am in LA. I miss you

TWITTER/FACEBOOK -  all the friendship and kindness I received on social networking from people who don’t even know me
Mark WAREHAM – such fun to work with on the Mail on Sunday when I do my TV reviews
Jon WORSNOP – a colleague on Daily Mail Weekend, and having such an astute eye when I get things wrong
VAUCLUSE – my favourite place in West Hollywood. You’ve worked hard, and continue to do so, to make this a success. I just know it will go from strength to strength

VIRGIN – the best airlines (Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America) and the best credit cards. Between the lot of you, I face certain penury. But it’s been fun while it lasted

A New Year - the Same, Only Different

Another year over, a new one just begun, as John Lennon sang. 

I can’t believe 12 months have, yet again, flown by; and yet, looking back and seeing what I’ve managed to fit in, the year seems to have been very slow and long. That’s one of the contradictions of time: feeling versus fact.
   
It was a year that saw me spend most of my time in New York, where I had always wanted to live. Before I moved to LA, it had been a toss-up between the two places. LA won over because of its concentration on the TV and film industries, but I saw that gradually dwindle as producers and stars took the financial opportunities offered elsewhere (not least, in Canada) to move filming. Even New York has benefited from the LA exodus.
   
I have loved the move. It is much easier to make friends in New York, and Manhattan is beautiful. I love the architecture, the pure blue skies between buildings, sunsets over the Hudson. And, as a single older woman, I do not feel, as I am often made to do in the UK, on the scrapheap of life. Everywhere I go, there are dozens of women at ease with themselves sitting alone, often working, and, unlike most of the ones I saw out and about in smart places in LA, they are not on the game.
   
This year saw my finances shrink considerably, for reasons I have already detailed, but I learned the value of friendship in the support I received and many offers of practical help, as well as emotional. I have faith that it will change (although not necessarily in my lifetime!). But it’s tough for most people out there at the moment; I learned that I was not alone.
   
It was a great year for law on TV, with Law and Order: SVU, The Good Wife and Suits being the highlights of my viewing schedule. It was also a traumatic year for law when Judge Alex came off the TV, thereby ruining not only my lunchtime schedule of pasta, red wine and hot guy, but the handcuff fantasies I had enjoyed for so many years. Judge Judy just doesn’t do it for me in the same way.
   
Like anyone’s year, mine featured the usual run of births, marriages and deaths – although I didn’t give birth, avoided marriage (not hard in New York) and didn’t die, which always has to be a bonus.
   
And so, to 2015. I wish my friends and family a happy, prosperous, safe New Year. We’ll have laughter, we’ll have tears, but remember, in the words of the song Smile: when there are clouds in the sky, we’ll get by. The rain will fall (as the Bee Gees sang), but the sun always rises.
   
Here, then, are my thoughts looking back at 2014, and those for 2015. 
   
20 THINGS I LEARNED IN 2014

1.       Money doesn’t grow on trees.
2.       Being closer to 60 is much scarier than being closer to 50.
3.       Almost everyone I know is dead.
4.       New York DOES sleep – between 4am and 6am, goddammit.
5.       There are way more people worse off than myself than I had realised.
6.       There is always a Macy’s sale on. No need to rush for that bargain.
7.       I would be lost without my circle of wonderful friends.
8.       Every man in New York is gay.
9.       When you grow your hair, lesbians stop trying to pick you up.
10.    They are making episodes of Law and Order SVU at a faster rate than I can watch them.
11.    The NoNo does not remove facial hair; it is nothing more than an electric chair for the face.
12.    Suits, Law and Order: SVU, and The Good Wife are the best programmes on TV.
13.    I should have been a lawyer.
14.    I would not be safe carrying a gun.
15.    One should never be too proud or ashamed to ask for help, either financial or emotional.
16.    Bricks and mortar are meaningless compared to people.
17.    Britain and America really are two countries separated by the same language.
18.    You have to run very fast to stand still in rip-off Britain.
19.    I will never marry George Clooney.
20.    The only thing that explains my lifestyle is that I am, unbeknown to me, working for the CIA.

AND 20 THINGS I’M GOING TO CHANGE IN 2015

1.       Become a CIA agent – WikiHow has told me how to do it.
2.       Make buying toilet rolls a priority.
3.       Find a straight man in New York.
4.       Get therapy for my addiction to Law and Order: SVU.
5.       Spend less time on Twitter and Facebook.
6.       Write my way out of my financial mess (I doubt my CIA salary alone will get me out of it).
7.       See more of my friends.
8.       Exercise more (yeah, right).
9.       Refresh my French and learn Spanish.
10.    Learn Mandarin. China is apparently the future.
11.    Consume more Chinese food when the Mandarin is going nowhere.
12.    Have at least one day without reading about a Kardashian.
13.    Smile though my heart is aching, smile when my heart is breaking . . . There may be a song in that.
14.    Stop checking online in the hope that people who tortured me in my youth have become fat and unhappy.
15.    Stop stalking federal judges (yeah, right again).
16.    Get that Green Card application in (maybe the CIA will give me one automatically? Did I mention my new job?).
17.    Stop hoping that a UK rugby team will win the 2015 World Cup. They won’t.
18.    Seriously start to consider plastic surgery.
19.    Try to live in one residence for the whole year.
20.    Write a best selling book about my work with the CIA.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

I'm Dreaming of a Wet Christmas

Let’s get this clear at the start. I love dogs. 

I really, really, really love dogs. I love their big soppy eyes, their ridiculous wagging tails, and their unconditional love and affection that becomes even more unconditional the more you feed them.
   
But what I can’t stand about dogs is their inability to distinguish between grass (toilet) and cream carpet (not a toilet).
   
My mother and her Bichon Frisé, Maddie, came for Christmas, and it was wonderful to see them both after my having spent months away. Maddie has been very ill recently, and after fears for her health she has returned to her usual bouncy self. She wet herself with the usual excitement when she saw me (I wish I had the same effect on men), then raced around the living room, once again delighted to be in the home where she knows she gets a gravy dinner if she goes outside to empty her bladder.
   
Because of her recent illness, doggy gravy dinners were off the menu this year, and it was doubtless this change in routine that confused her, resulting in two puddles on my bedroom carpet, one on my dining room carpet, and a monster of a river in the hallway that I slipped on, sending me flying and injuring my hip.
   
That wasn’t the only injury I sustained. On Christmas Eve, after being let into the garden for her last ablution before bedtime, she decided to go walkabout – or, rather, hideabout. She gets very upset every time she sees a squirrel running across my wall, and the non-stop barking serves only to entertain said squirrel, who runs up and down in the knowledge that Maddie cannot climb walls.
   
But on Christmas Eve, Maddie decided to try another route and found a part of the garden that might gain her access to her new playmate. It took me half an hour to find her hidden amongst a clump of bushes where holly and nettles and all manner of wood and mud had somehow congregated to make a climbable mound.
   
Coaxing her out of there was the difficult part. I finally managed it by calling “Treat”, which she knows to be a reward in the form of a biscuit. When she emerged in the small clearing  and excitedly sniffed at my hand, she knew she had been tricked not treated, and was straight back into the forest. I returned to the house to get a real treat (a piece of ham) and a large umbrella to battle my way into the woods.
   
“Treat! Treat!” I called. No way. She had been caught on that ruse once and wasn’t going to be fooled again. As I beat about the bushes with the giant golf umbrella, I fell off the mound and injured my already bad back and started to bleed after being attacked by a holly bush.
   
“She’s back, she’s back!” called Mum from the house. Well, good for her, I mumbled, pulling branches from my ears.
   
Back on the sofa, she did everything a dog can do to try to apologise, but I ignored her. For all of five minutes. Then she blinked those big brown eyes with such pitiful love, I melted yet again.
   
Until the alien. You remember the scene? The one in which a gross creature leaps out from someone’s stomach? That was Maddie, except the alien emerged from her mouth.
   
I am not great with human vomit, but doggie vomit isn’t too bad. I had already cleaned up a yellow, frothy one from the cream carpet (how she loves that carpet) a couple of days earlier and, as she hasn’t been well, my only concern was for her health. But after her safari, she returned to project a veritable snake of a thing that bore no resemblance to anything I have ever seen come out of any mouth. Ever. And I know a lot about horrible things in mouths. You’ll just have to trust me on that one.
  
“No, don’t eat it!” yelled Mum, when Maddie started sniffing at her installation.
   
I made Mum clean it up. I really couldn’t. Turkey, gravy and grass. Solidified. I am heaving just thinking about it.
   
They both went home yesterday and I am resting my injured hip and back. I’m already missing them. The house is strangely quiet without the echo of my voice shouting “No, Maddie, NOOOOOOOO!” The squirrel looks a little bit lost without its companion. The installation is an empty space, as if the work of art that once stood there has been moved to another gallery.
   
Weeing and vomiting dogs are, I suspect, like childbirth. It’s hell when you’re going through it, but the long term benefits far outweigh the bad. Maddie is, at the end of the day, the cutest dog on the planet. 

And certainly a worthy successor to Alien: Resurrection.
  

   

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

For the Love of Snow

It’s happening again! 

Outside my window, even as I write. With my desk side-on to the window (I have a feng shui obsession about not having my back to the door), I was suddenly aware of the flurry of their presence once more. Snowflakes.
   
It is just under two weeks since they were here last, when I woke on Thanksgiving morning in New York City and took in what has always been to me a wondrous sight: the world as we know it, coming to an end temporarily, as the movie of white moves in, emptying the grey and darkness of reality.
   
That is why I have always loved snow. As a kid, I loved the arbitrariness of snowfall: going to bed at night, my head packed with the images and emotions of the day, and then, waking, to the white of transformation. Everything gone. The clean slate. Everything new. The opportunity to start again.
   
My greatest heartbreak was if I was ill when snow fell. My mother would never risk my catching cold, and however much I said I was feeling fine, there was always that damned thermometer being stuck in my mouth, telling a different story. So I would watch from my bedroom window, sadly observing the other kids playing on the street and, yes, weeping about the cruelty of nature that had deprived me from one of life’s greatest pleasures.
   
I was, and remain, mystified, when people say that no single snowflake is the same as any other. Okay, but come on: a lot of them have to be pretty damned similar, don’t they? I’m all for the sentimentality of beauty, but let’s not over-egg the pudding or, in this case, over-ice the (snow) cake.
   
The inherent sadness of snow is that it doesn’t last, but then nothing does (except death, but that’s another morbid story altogether). No sooner do you wake to perfect, still white, than the first footprints appear – the human trek through nature that immediately puts a stain on the landscape. 

Then there’s the thaw – the knowledge that nothing remains the same, and that the passing of everything is inevitable. 

Then there’s the mess as the solidity of ice turns to brown mush, and the horror of what lies beneath shows through again. 

Before you know it, you’re back to reality, just as if it never went away – which, of course, it didn’t; but, for a brief time, we basked in the white of perfection.
   
It’s what makes snow the perfect metaphor for life, and it’s why I love it. So many flakes, so little time. Some are rushing, some are falling slowly, others are coming up to my window as if hoping for refuge; but, in the end, they’ll be gone. Whoosh! Life is short. It evaporates before you know it.
   
When I was seven, I went to ballet school, and, at for the end of term concert, the 32 strong company was to do a snowflake routine. I was so excited. Being a snowflake meant donning a tutu in addition to our pink satin pumps. Unfortunately, after a term, my pink satin pumps had taken on the appearance of a couple of pigs’ tongues after a heavy day’s hogging at a dirty trough, and I saw my snowflake dream evaporate like . . . well, snow. 

Of the 32 girls in the company, 26 were to play snowflakes; the remaining six were cast as fishermen. The snowflakes were to wear their white tutus and tights, and trail their arms delicately through the frosty air. They had to tread gently on tip-toe and raise their eyes heavenward in the hope of joining forces with their snowflake cousins. The fishermen were to chuck nets and wear brown gingham.
   
I was a fisherman. There wasn’t even a discussion about it, and no amount of reassurance regarding the exclusivity of the fisherman’s role could convince me that being a snowflake wasn’t the better deal. My brown shorts were a generous fit and provided plenty of space for my flesh to work up a healthy sweat on the impending march. The gingham top had an elastic waist and elastic puffed sleeves, which pinched my skin. My rod was a piece of bamboo with a pocket of green net on the end. And my feet boasted a hideous pair of brown sandals that could have passed for calipers. 

I have no recollection of my fellow anglers, but guess that our combined body weights equalled that of the rest of the company put together. I can still, however, recall the perfect features, bodies and buns, of every girl in a tutu. It’s not true when they say that no two snowflakes are alike; I recall 26 of the damned things, indistinguishable from one another.
   
Our routine – or “dance”, as they rather generously called it - was a kind of march that had all the grace of an out of control political rally. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, it wasn’t; a dance, it wasn’t. The whole thing had clearly been concocted to make use of six plump seven year olds, who didn’t have what it took to be snowflakes. And we knew it. Our performance lasted all of a minute; the snowflakes were on stage for what felt like three winters. 

It was small comfort that I walked away with a costume I would be able to wear all summer (as my mother excitedly told me, in one of her many “value for money” speeches), while the snowflakes knew that a tutu would look very silly on the beach; this was humiliation, and I wanted to die.
   
So yes, when I see snow, I am excited. I see all of life flash before me, including my own: the one I could have had as a snowflake. But still. Maybe life hasn’t been all bad as a fisherman. There are always plenty more fish in the sea. 

Just as there are snowflakes in the sky.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Coast to Coast - A Guide to LA and NYC

My bi-coastal life has seen me spend most of the past few months in New York City rather than Los Angeles. Unusually, apparently, it was an uncharacteristically non-humid summer in NYC, followed by a mild and dry autumn. There has been just one day so far on which I felt the need to wrap up very warm. I am assured this will soon change and that nothing short of sitting in a hot bath for two months will keep me warm during the harsh East Coast winters.
  
I am better in the cold than the heat. When I departed LA in July, the humidity was unbearable and I was glad to escape. Last week, I was back there, and it was still too hot for me. I suspect this will not be the case when I return in January.
  
It’s not only my body that has to adapt to the changes in circumstances. Each time I swop cities, my diet, emotions, mindset, spirit and behaviour transform, along with my temperature. Should anyone be considering an East/West existence, you would do well to heed the following in order to prepare yourself fully for what lies ahead.

ROAD SAFETY

NEW YORKERS
Pedestrian crossings are there only to show pretty lights – white and red. White means you can cross to the other side; so does red. If anyone ahead of you does not understand this basic principle, it is acceptable to shout “Hey! Move it, people!” and shove them into oncoming traffic in order to save yourself three valuable seconds.

ANGELENOS
Don’t even think of getting to the other side of the road until you have made at least three phone-calls, while forgetting that you are required to push the button on the crossing to bring up the pretty lights. And specially don’t think of crossing on red. This is considered an act of civil disobedience and will get you an on the spot fine, or instant incarceration from a vigilant policeman who has seen too much NYPD Los Angeles on the telly.

DIET

NEW YORKERS
If it stands still long enough, chuck it in your gob or, preferably, straight down your throat, bypassing tongue and teeth. The idea is to gain at least seven pounds from the moment you start eating to when you call for the check. Always keep at the forefront of your mind that there could be a pizza famine at any moment.

ANGELENOS
Never under-estimate a leaf. There is a lot you can do with it. Lift it to your mouth and put it down again. Slalom it around your plate as if it is engaged in the annual Lettuce Grand Prix. Chew on it 20 times in order to create enough saliva that acts as a filling beverage to accompany your meal. All of this will give you the impression that you are gorging to your heart’s content. Should you feel too full after swallowing said leaf, you can rush to the rest room to put your fingers down your throat.

SERVICE

NEW YORKERS
Contrary to popular belief, New Yorkers are not rude; they are just very direct. Expect to be chased down the street with a very sharp fork if you don’t leave a tip, and expect to be greeted like a long lost relative on your next visit if you leave a large one. Make sure you tip according to normal prices when paying Happy Hour prices – this will elevate you to the kissing greeting amongst staff.

ANGELENOS
Everyone’s a failed actor. Finding a waiter who is doing it for the love of the job will take as long as it did Steven Spielberg to win his first Oscar (a long time, since you ask). Expect to be asked for ID everywhere, even if you look 103. Never expect to be remembered – unless you are in the Boulevard Bar of the Beverly Wilshire, where they not only remember you, they remember what you like to drink two years after your last visit.

DRINKING

NEW YORKERS
Timing is everything. From two hour Happy Hours to all day Happy Hours, plus 4am closing time, expect never to find anyone 100% sober, unless they are in AA. “Will you do a shot with me?” is a familiar phrase delivered with such an air of melancholy, it seems rude to refuse. If you are a regular and tip well, expect to enjoy a complimentary drink. Sales people for new drinks are also forever promoting their wares in bars, which means you need never have single vision again, should you so choose.

ANGELENOS
Expect to go on safari to find a decent Happy Hour and never, ever expect a free drink, unless you are a hooker hanging out at a hotel bar. If you are, by the way, the technique appears to go along the lines of: you arrive at the bar at 5pm, drink tap water for anything between one minute and three hours, and then, when a potential client turns up, decide that nothing short of six $25 cocktails is going to quench your thirst.

SEX

NEW YORKERS
There isn’t any. But maybe that’s just me.

ANGELENOS
There isn’t any. But maybe that’s just me.