Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My Phobic Christmas

The festive party season is upon us. People, music, balloons, dancing to Slade’s Merry Christmas, Everybody. Unless you happen to be me.

’Tis the season not to be jolly.
Let me say at the outset that I love Christmas. I don’t subscribe to the Scrooge ‘Bah! Humbug!’ philosophy and, while I find the festive season stressful with all the preparation, it’s still a joyous time of year. I just hate Christmas parties.

I especially hate Slade, by the way, because Alison and Mandy in my secondary school loved them and they bullied me. Noddy Holder’s wife once asked me why I had it in for her husband every time I mentioned the band and I told her the truth. It’s not him; it’s them. But I digress.
Christmas parties bring my worst phobias (and other conditions that usually lie dormant) to the surface. Claustrophobia (too many people), misophonia (literally, a hatred of sound, which I have all the year round but have developed techniques to control it) and Globophobia – a fear of balloons. Yes, it is a real fear. And I have it by the airload.
I am in very good company because, apparently, Oprah Winfrey suffers from Globophobia, too. So, while all of you are out enjoying funny hats, streamers and liaisons over the office desk at the Christmas party, Oprah and I will be indoors, cowering in a corner – because we both can’t be within screaming distance of balloons (although, in Oprah’s case, I suspect it might have more to do with a fear of ballooning).
I also suffer from Coulrophobia – a fear of clowns – but then what sane person doesn’t, if they’re honest; worse, though, I have severe Metamfiezomaiophobia – a fear of mime, clowns and people in disguise. I used to think I suffered from basic Maskaphobia (which speaks for itself) and it’s very common among young children, but the triple whammy is a whole new ball park. Let’s just say that my worst nightmare would be a Marcel Marceau concert. The only comfort would be that it would keep my misophonia in check. But at what cost?
I really can’t go near anything that has its face covered or distorted in any way. I can’t date men with moustaches or beards; my fear of the dentist has nothing to do with the drill and all to do with the dentist’s mask; I have never and could never attend a masked ball (masks and balloons; dear lord, call the paramedics). I’ve had it from a very young age and it’s one of the reasons I never go out on Halloween or New Year’s Eve, where balloons occupy more space than people, and painted faces and masks are the order of the night.

Balloons, though, are undoubtedly the worst, and if I go to a party, wedding or other special event, the first thing I do is case the joint; it’s one of the reasons I love funerals because you sure ain’t gonna find balloons there.
Most globophobics can’t touch, feel or go near a balloon for fear it will pop (although, technically, that is phonophobia); I just have a fear of balloons in general. To me, they are a sinister, unpredictable presence, like spiders (don’t even get me started on my arachnophobia); their hideous colours bob along the floor like buoys in the sea, pretending they are stable but all the time plotting to approach you when you are least expecting it.
Apparently, it’s not very common, although my mother tells me that, as a child, I had a recurring nightmare when I would wake crying, insisting that my room was full of balloons. There is just something about the texture, the tightness and the meanness of a rubber balloon that sends my heart rate and blood pressure racing.
I’m okay with foil balloons, but that’s probably because they deflate at their own rate; I don’t rush screaming into the house if I see a hot air balloon (although you would never get me into one without resorting to chloroform). I’m ambivalent towards bubble gum, though, and that bulbous oral uterus genuinely makes me feel sick.
Christmas is a very stressful time for people with phobias. It’s a dreadful time for people born in the festive season for example, if they suffer from Fragapanophobia (fear of birthdays); and for anyone thinking of substituting turkey for duck, spare a thought for anyone coming to dinner who might be suffering from Anatidaephobia, which is a fear that one is being watched by a duck.

I didn’t think I suffered from the latter, but now I come to think about it, I suspected something was watching me when I went for a walk in St James’s Park this week; I had just assumed it to be human.
So, happy partying all. I’ll be celebrating with you – from a distance.

With my new best friend Oprah, of course.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Day One in Trumptown

And so, it begins. 

Fifteen months ago, I was talking to Justin in my local bar, Mr Biggs, in New York, and I told him it would happen. “He won’t even get past the first vote,” he said. Then, Trump did. And beyond. Next, he was the Republican candidate. “He’s going to do it,” I told everyone last week. And then . . . well, the rest is history (literally).
He was not my choice. I cried when it became clear what the outcome was going to be. I woke today in shock and disbelief. President Trump. The very words stutter from my tongue as if in combat with a serpent on their way into the ether.
But it’s happened. And we must accept it. For whatever reason, a self-confessed pussy grabbing, tax-avoiding racist has acquired the top job in the world. I will never understand it, but I have to live in hope that the disturbing rhetoric The Donald employed to land the gig will quickly dissipate once the reality of what’s involved sinks in.
The actor and rights campaigner John Barrowman posted a wonderful clip on Twitter this morning. In bed with his husband, Scott, he called for the hatred on Twitter to stop. While not liking the outcome of the election, he appealed for calm; for the continuance of people standing up for what they believe in; for the need to move forward.
My heavy heart of yesterday is no lighter today, but I will not lose friends over the chasm that lies between us in relation to this. One of my closest friends and even my mother voted for Brexit; I was, and still am, in disbelief that they did. But it’s their right. I was also genuinely interested in their reasoning, however insane I thought it to be.
Because that’s what we do. Or should. We are the only living species that has the capacity to voice our thoughts and feelings in words (and before all you Chihuahua lovers out there tell me that your pooch talks; barking doesn’t count. It really doesn’t); but we are often so busy listening to the sound of our own voices, we forget that we have another great skill. Listening.
I spent last night in the same bar in which I predicted the outcome of the election and shared what seemed that very same distant memory with Justin. It’s not the result either of us wanted and, apart from two people, it wasn’t the result anyone else wanted there, either. It’s a gay bar, and the horror of Mike Pence, Trump’s deputy, recommending electric shock therapy to “cure” gays is, of course, abhorrent. As is so much else of what has come out of these men’s mouths.
But a democracy is not about one day, no matter how historic that day might be. It is about having a voice that continues to be heard until it dies – and in so many forms, not least literature, long after that.
I want to come back to ears, though. We hear but we do not listen. Every day, we have the chance to learn from others, no matter how different their opinions and beliefs might be from our own. Even as I write, I am conscious of the gift of sound. I hear a police car siren racing along 11th Avenue in New York, my keyboard tapping, my refrigerator making ice, a car horn blowing, my mouth slurping at the glass of bubbly I had put by yesterday in anticipation of a celebration today (ah, well; it’s got be drunk, no matter what the occasion). Listen. Words are our armour and our anchor.
One of my favourite songs the brilliant Iris Williams sings is Sondheim’s Children Will Listen and I’ve had the privilege of hearing her perform it on more than one occasion. I’m not a huge Sondheim fan, but the lyrics of the song always move me: yes, children will listen. Adults don’t. 

At what point in our lives do we lose the capacity to listen? Is it when we begin to form opinions different from those our parents instilled/indoctrinated? Is it when we realised that some people are just vile? Is it because we live in fear of not having our own views of the world validated? Is it simply a terror of thinking that we invested in something that might turn out to be wrong?
I have no idea. But I do know that although we hear so much, we have lost the capacity to listen. Today must not be a day of mourning; as John Barrowman said, the sun is still shining (although it’s not in New York City, it’s bizarrely pissing down for the first time in weeks, but you know what I mean). We must all, no matter what our beliefs, listen and try to understand – that is the only way of conversion.
I will never understand attacks on any human being, whatever their sexual persuasion. I will never understand racism. I will never understand intolerance.
But we are complex beings who carry baggage and gather more as life goes on. This, however, I do know: we progress only by understanding, or at least trying to understand. As I said in yesterday’s blog, quoting Ephesians: Be kind to one another.
Today, I cry tears of disappointment – and, yes, fear. But onward. Upwards.

It is what it is. 

And I’ll say it again. Be kind to one another. 

This is all, at the end of the day, that truly matters.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Day of the Frackle?

FYI:  FRACKLE: an unnamed monster from The Muppet Show

Eight years ago, on the eve of my 50th birthday, I was standing in front of a TV screen with tears streaming down my face. I was consumed with joy that, in my lifetime, I was about to see the first black man elected to be President of the USA.
It was a sublime moment in history: a massive step for man, an even bigger one for mankind. The racism Barack Obama endured then and has endured since is a disgrace; but he, and his extraordinary wife, Michelle, have come through two incredible terms of office in which so much has been accomplished. There will be many who disagree with aspects of Obama’s policies, but when I decided, on that historic day, to come to America, I can honestly say it is a better place today than it was back then.
Although I have spent, and continue to spend time in the UK, it is America that I love with a passion. I am fortunate to be able to split my time between Los Angeles and New York, and, in the latter in particular, I have found extraordinary warmth and friendship in people from all parts of the world. America’s great strength is its lack of history; it’s what lends it a rather lovely innocence. But conversely, its great weakness is its lack of history, because it has few benchmarks that might have proven to be invaluable lessons along the way.
Because today, alas, I am one of many who awaits the result of an election that might see the very antithesis of Obama elected. Donald Trump. A man whose racism, misogyny, ignorance, tax evasion and bullying is being celebrated by millions. A man who, by his own admission – proudly - admits to all these things. A man who intimidates the vulnerable, exploits the power of money, cheats on his wives, loudly spouts drivel because he is preaching to the deaf. A man who has all the characteristics of a sociopath. A man who is, quite frankly, not a man.
There are many men like him. But there are millions who are not. There are millions of women who, bizarrely, are attracted to the monstrous behaviour Trump displays at every turn. I find it inconceivable that any human being in the civilised world would vote for him; but I find it especially offensive that any self-respecting woman would.
More than ever, in the chaos of our modern world, we need to stress, on a daily basis, the qualities that make us human: compassion, love, acceptance of our differences, tolerance, a belief in the need to strive to be better. In essence: goodness.
While I do not hold the religious beliefs I once had, I still maintain that Ephesians states that message beautifully and succinctly: “Be kind to one another.” That’s quintessential goodness.
Nothing that I write is going to change anyone’s mind about the way they vote today; truthfully, it never was, though I have been doing my bit in the vague hope of making the stubborn blind see. But if this election has taught us anything, it is the lesson about what it means to be a decent human being.
I am not saying that Hillary Clinton is squeaky clean (what politician is?) but I have studied her over many years and seen how she has championed the weak in her work as a lawyer; celebrated womankind both publicly and privately (and she has done so much for young girls and education that has conveniently been forgotten); and, whether you think she was wrong or right to stand by her erring man, Bill, she did. It’s called marriage. It’s called loyalty. It’s called staying power.
I sit here today, genuinely scared about the outcome of the vote. I am not alone. Saying yes to Trump is casting a vote in the ballot box of stupidity. For what sane person would want to live in a world that has, at its helm, a person who is openly contemptuous of everything we hold dear in society? It boils down to humanity versus inhumanity, and, cliché as it is, my heart feels heavier today than it has ever done.
This is no Brexit. Not even close. 

Here’s the thing: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Adolph Hitler. He also said: “It is not truth that matters, it’s victory.” Sound like anyone you know?
Today is either going to turn out to be one of the greatest in American history, or one of its saddest. One can only hope that sanity will triumph.
Until that moment, I’m uncorking a bottle of fine wine. 

This could be our last day of freedom. 

I want to remember it.

Monday, October 10, 2016

No Room at the (Marriott) Inn

Apparently, I am still hot enough to be mistaken for a hooker. 

The weird thing is, I have never been mistaken for one in my entire life. 

On November 5th, I will be 58, so I suppose I should be flattered. The idea that any man might want to sleep with me at 58 is pleasing; the idea that I might be missing out on a commercial venture, though, is slightly distressing.
So, I was on a brief trip back to the UK to see my mother and friends. I’ll be spending Christmas by myself in New York this year (post-Brexit, I just can’t afford to travel on key dates) and it will be only the second time since my father died in 1990. Having sold my UK house, where Mum and (in the past ten years) her dog Maddie have spent every Christmas with me, it will be a little odd. 

But I’ll be fine. Who knows: maybe Macy’s will be holding one of their rare 365 days a year sales.
But I digress. So, being a fan of the Marriott group and collecting their points, I booked into the Cardiff Marriott, where I have always found the staff to be among the most pleasant of any hotel in which I have ever stayed. On Thursday, having checked in, I went out in my new black, zip up the side trousers, red sandals, and felt thrilled to be back in my home city.
I had such a great night, meeting up with friends, and returned to the hotel looking forward also to catching up on jet-lag following my flight from New York.
I arrived at the door and was greeted by security. 

“I’m staying here,” I explained, as I attempted entry.
“ARE you?” said the burly man, blocking my path.
“Yes, I’m already checked in. I’m a guest.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes, I’m in room 915.”
“Are you really ABSOLUTELY sure about that?”
“Yes” (slightly hysterical by now).
Finally, I was allowed in, following checks that would not have been out of place had I been a terrorist wearing an ISIS issued hoodie.
Excuse my language, but this is bloody appalling, Marriott. I know that hotels have “problems” with prostitutes and was told by a member of staff that this has been an issue of late; but to assume that any woman in high heels and out at 2.30am is on the game is upsetting, offensive, sexist, rude, and a ton load of other adjectives I have called you since it happened.
So, I’m a hot chick?! Am I not allowed to dress up at 58? Am I not allowed to stay out late? Is it okay now to bully women who don’t fit the “norm”, whatever that is in Wales these days?
I spend a lot of time in New York, where, as an older woman, I am treated with nothing other than respect. I can hang out at bars, stay out late, have a laugh with whomever I choose, and nobody bats an eyelid. Men and women can sit by themselves, talk to each other and not be considered social lepers. I can wear tight jeans, short skirts and flaunt my spiky hair without anyone thinking I am a hooker.
By the way, I have nothing against hookers. Men and women want sex and both sexes are prepared to pay for it when they want to or need to. Hotels would go out of business were it not for the expensive cocktails hookers ask for from lonely people coming into town. Pretending that it’s a “problem” is hypocritical in the extreme (and I am not referring to any hotel in particular here, but you know who you are).
But I am offended. And upset. It’s been distressing and has cast a shadow over my visit. I will never stay at the hotel again; I might even strike Marriott altogether off my list. Because, you see: not only did they mess up on day one, there has been no comeback, despite their knowing what took place. No bottle of wine. No chocolates. No recompense.
I’m a really tough cookie; I’ve had to be as a woman in a predominantly male industry; it takes a lot to upset me. However, what I’ve noticed as I get older, there is a bullying that I never experienced as a kid. As a woman in Britain, you are considered on the scrapheap after . . . well, I’d say 35 . . . but certainly after 50 – and, more to the point, as a single woman. And, heck, I’m hurtling towards 60 now. 

Still single. Never been married. Never lived with anyone. No kids. Not gay (not that there is anything wrong with being gay – it’s just always the final question people head towards when confused by my unconventional life, so I just clear it up to save them the stress).
There is a sense of people questioning what right I have to be dressed up, staying out late, having a laugh, travelling . . . Like I say, NEVER in New York.
I think I might be done with Britain. 

There is so much I love about my home country. 

But, as a 58-year old woman still thoroughly enjoying life, it seems there is very little it loves about me.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Stop Taking the Piss!

My urine has disappeared. 

Of all the conversations I imagined having in relation to my Green Card application, the discussion regarding the location of my bodily fluids wasn’t up there in the top ten.
I’d learnt/learned (according to where you live) the national anthem; I know the names of every American President and the years they served; heck, I’ve even started to learn Spanish, which is the language I hear more than any other. My course, however, is very fond of teaching me how to say “The turtles drink milk”, but that’s the subject for another blog.
So, back to my wee. Now, not all my American friends know that the phrase “taking the piss” is quite common in Britain. Basically, it means “Stop messing with me”, “Don’t try to get one over on me thinking that I don’t know what you’re doing”, “Don’t . . . take the piss!”
But my piss has, quite literally, been taken. I am in the very lengthy process of applying for a Green Card in the category of “alien of exceptional ability”, which brings with it a National Waiver if I am deemed to be of national benefit to the USA. Clearly, my urine is of truly exceptional ability, as it has gone; or, as they say in Spanish . . . okay, I’m not that advanced yet, but Las tortegas beben leche.
When you want to take up permanent residency in the USA, you are required to have a medical – and jabs. I have this week discovered that I don’t have TB but I might be a measles risk. Oh, yes; and let’s not forget the flu. So, I have had a flu jab, an MMR booster, and just needed the pee to make sure I am not carrying any female related sexual infections (fat chance).
But when I turned up today to get my results, the devastating news was that my wee has gone walkabout. The clinic has no idea where it has gone. This means that my lawyer now has to change another set of forms because my last date of entry into the USA will be different from the one that’s currently on record.
Reader, I cried. I sobbed. “But where has it gone?” I blubbed to the very nice doctor who clearly thought I was certifiably insane and should never get within sniffing distance of a Green Card.
The thing is, the sample had been very hard to obtain. I have the tiniest bladder and can normally empty it in a nanosecond, should the occasion require it; but ask me to pee on demand, and everything clenches up (you know who you are, guys . . . but that’s another blog, too). So, I was in the clinic rest room with my little plastic pot, thinking of the Hudson, the Red Sea, running taps, Noah’s Ark, submariner Gordon in Thunderbird 4 . . . and I couldn’t summon up more than a teaspoon of the stuff. 

A man in blue, shaking his head, took the pot away and returned with it saying that they didn’t have enough. He could not have looked sadder had I told him he had three minutes to live. He gave me about two pints of water as encouragement and then, just as I was finishing the last drop, he returned to tell me that they had sufficient urine after all.
Happy days – well, apart from having to spend the afternoon in the loo getting rid of all the redundant liquid. But now, horror of horrors, it’s gone, and today, I had to go through the whole process over again.
I’d never realised how hard it is to pee into something with a two-inch diameter. “As much as you can” was the instruction given to me, which of course meant that my bladder went into stubborn mode, refusing to play ball. I also got a bit hung up on where the liquid was coming from. I always thought I knew, but two soaking hands, one wet floor and dripping toilet seat later, I’m not so sure now. I delivered them ten drops, at most.
Where is my wee? I feel a little violated, knowing that it’s out there and not where it should be. Has it been swapped in a lab with that of some poor sap hoping to get out of a DUI (good luck with that, mate; you so picked the wrong person)? Is it sitting lonely in a UPS store, pondering the body it left behind? Has it been abandoned, dropped, ignored? Have las tortegas opted to drop their milk diet in favour of something a little more salty?
I’m just suddenly feeling rather possessive of my little pot; only it and I know what we had to go through to get that far, just to have all our hard work snatched away.

So, whoever you are, closet psycho urine thief, stop taking the piss! Literally.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Matt Bomer Actor Shock - Again!

Now, there is outrage once more, following Mark Ruffalo's decision to cast Bomer as a transgender in his movie, Anything. The horror, the horror! What is the world coming to?
Heck, it’s like a man who can’t walk on water being asked to play Jesus. 

If I were writing a film about the Son of God, I would insist that the casting director check out the individual’s credentials for the role. After the walking on water bit was established, I would insist that he fulfil other criteria essential to convince us that he is Jesus. 

Was he born in a stable? Was his mother a virgin? Can he turn water into wine and wine into blood? Can he transform a couple of sardines and a baguette into a feast for 5000? Can he persuade a dozen fishermen to leave their families and go on a road trip? Most important of all, can he rise from the dead? 

Unless the actor’s life completely resonated with the character I had written, he would not get the part.
Robert Powell would never have landed the part of Jesus had he not displayed all these qualities at the audition, and the fact that he is still with us is evidence that he really did rise from the dead. Rumours of a Second Coming have, however, been greatly exaggerated.
Similarly, Daniel Radcliffe had obviously served a long apprenticeship as a wizard before he landed the role of Harry Potter. How else could he have mastered all those tricks? And if bicycles were not really able to fly, what would be the point of watching ET?
The importance of art mimicking life to the letter provides a particularly pertinent point when it comes to casting gay men as straight and vice versa. Could David Hyde Pierce have delivered so convincing and hilarious a performance, lusting after Daphne in Frasier, if he were gay? Of course not. It was clearly something that only a full-blooded heterosexual hunk could have mustered.
Would How I Met Your Mother be remotely funny if it contained gay people purporting to be straight, all in the name of entertainment? How ridiculous would that be?  
If people start pretending to be people they are not, where does that leave us as a society? It’s like telling someone they have licence to be a chameleon, casting a spell over the lives of others to help them suspend their disbelief. What sort of a world would it be, if everyone went around kicking reality in the teeth?
Before long, you would have special schools set up to teach people the art of this deception. People might start paying to go and see it, even. They might start giving out awards for some people doing it better than others.
So, Mr Bomer, the first time round, I found it inconceivable that, having returned to New York to continue your work with the Feds, you could have convinced me that you spent your days in a basement, constructing wooden crucifixes on which to fix women with ropes and chains.
That is a job for a man with psycho tendencies. Someone who might conjure up the image of a hungry rodent in a woman’s vagina, feasting on her sexual organs to induce a slow death, for example. But you would have to ask Bret Easton Ellis about that.

Now, in this latest turn of events, I am supposed to believe that you are a man who has become a woman?
Whatever next! If this deception thing called acting ever takes off – stranger things have happened - I have no doubt you will be able to pull it off brilliantly, just as you would have had you been given the part of Christian Gray, and I will continue to pay good money to see it. 
For the record, Mr Bomer, I think you would make a great Jesus.

You can turn water into wine, can't you?