Monday, June 6, 2016

Dirty Laundry

Scary. Very, very scary. 

That’s the only word that describes it. For the first time in 40 years, I have been in contact with the L word. I am now in bed, contemplating the experience and recovering from the stress. Where is Valium when you need it?
Launderette (and yes, I am sticking to the traditional spelling, so if you don’t like it, you can wash off): the establishment I frequented so much as a student in the late Seventies. That made me cry when I didn’t have enough 2p pieces for the dryer, because I had used them all up phoning home from the red telephone box at the end of the street; that lulled me into the false sense of belief that I would meet the love of my life while watching the turntable of my undies; that returned my few clothes to me, shredded like the grated cheese I could never afford in Marks and Spencer when I went in for my one small can of chicken in cream sauce (luxury).
So, I am in Paris and, as I am travelling for two weeks, have to find a way to wash my clothes halfway through my trip. Luckily, in the 6th arrondissement, the launderette is just two doors down from my favourite bar, Semilla, which makes life a lot easier, even though the wash and dry now costs me two glasses of wine at 6 euros apiece (can anyone tell me where the euro sign is on a US Mac?), in addition to the 4 euros for the wash and 2 euros for the double dry.
It’s very stressful. There are buttons to press, hash-tag symbols to follow, coins to enter; and then, returning 38 minutes after the 25 minutes the machine tells you it is going to take, seeing that there are another 18 minutes to go.
I am stressed because my Issey Miyake Pleats Please collection is in the wash. I don’t want somebody taking it out and putting it in a dryer because it will all be ruined. I once had a cleaner in Bath who, thinking she was doing me a favour, ironed £2000 worth of the Pleats collection. When I arrived home from London, she greeted me with the words: “Those clothes were very creased; I had such a problem with them.” My screams could be heard beyond Swindon.
In case you don’t know the Pleats collection, think of ironing an Aero bar: those bubbles are never going to come back.
So, I make it back after two glasses to rescue the Pleats and put my stuff into the dryer. Now, though, it’s the same button and hash-tag process all over again, but you can dry only for 10 minutes at a time.
Dear God. It’s never like this on EastEnders, where no one, despite earning a ton load of dosh, ever washes their clothes at home. Does anyone even own a washing machine? As far as I can make out, people go into the launderette, listen to Dot pontificating about life and Hey! Presto! Their washing is done (although I have yet to see anyone actually leave with any).
This is the first time I have been back in Europe after selling my house, and it feels very odd. Normally, I would have gone straight to Cardiff, thrown my stuff in the washing machine and disappeared to London, Paris or wherever to see friends and family, knowing that I had my secure base.
I do not regret for a nanosecond the decision I have made, but I have been very tearful at feeling so rootless. I’ll be fine once I get back to the US, where I love my life and have my things around me and am surrounded my so much love. I am in the UK, too, but there has been a severance that feels more palpable now that I don’t have the security of bricks and mortar around me.
I am living out of a suitcase and am desperately homesick – for the US. I miss my sunsets over the Hudson in New York; I want to spend time in my indulgence, my new apartment in Los Angeles. I want to sit at my desk and get down to real work again, after months (and, leading up to it, years) of stress, dissolving my UK existence; I want to start enjoying waking up every morning without having to do four hours of sums, wondering how I am going to make ends meet.
So, the dryer has three minutes to go now, and I am thinking about the nature of my old life: washed away, finally, and spinning to who knows where. 

I watch the final 35 second countdown to zero and take out my clothes. I fold them, press the creases as best I can, and return to my hotel to pack them, ready for the final stage of this trip. 

New laundry. New life.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Ali - Greatest Man on the Box

Muhammad Ali was my childhood hero and one of the reasons behind my lifelong love of television. 

He was the first thing I remember seeing and thinking Wow! The confidence, the physicality, the verbal dexterity. Obviously, I didn’t express it in those terms as a kid, but the huge impact he made on me was the belief that yes, it’s ok to acknowledge when you have a talent – but you have to put in the groundwork to maintain it: only then can you be proud of your success.
The thrill of being allowed to watch an Ali fight lived with me from the first second I saw – and heard – him. My parents would put my brother Nigel and me to bed early and, if we agreed to sleep, they promised to wake us up and bring us downstairs in our pyjamas to watch the boxing (they did the same with the Miss World contest, which was also thrilling, but in a different way).
It instilled in me a love of the sport, and when I was 13, in secondary school, and Joe Frazier beat Ali in what has been called the “fight of the century”, I was devastated. It was a unanimous decision that handed Frazier the Heavyweight title, and I went to school with a heavy heart that grew heavier when I arrived to see classmate Cerys writing “Well done Frazier” on the blackboard.
A couple of years ago, she got in touch via social networking, and I reminded her of how she had hurt me on that famous day. Naturally, she thought I was nuts even for having remembered; but I knew we could never be real friends, even so many decades on.
In 2013, I went to see Shane Mosley fight Floyd Mayweather in the MGM in Las Vegas. It was the greatest sporting event I had ever attended – not because of the main attraction (which wasn’t great, despite the hype), but because Ali was there. I didn’t get to meet him, but the cheers with which his name was greeted when the announcer said it (they single out all famous attendees) was a very emotional moment. 

He truly was the greatest, and when I witnessed the appalling way the Mayweather camp treat everyone (the Mosley camp were adorable), I realized that while Mayweather might currently be the world’s greatest boxer, true superstardom is that extra something that he will never have.
I wasn’t a very political child, and I’m not a very political adult, but I recall it being a big deal when Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay. My parents were shocked, and I remember it was a big talking point. The sense that he had let people down was palpable; to me, it just seemed glamorous, and I loved him even more for his ability to change his identity.
He was not only the first modern athlete but the first TV star, and there has been no one since who made such an impression upon me in the medium that was to become my life. He was a self-publicist with a genius of a talent, unlike today’s reality stars whose only skill is taking their kit off in front of the cameras and behaving like slobs. 

He had a sublime gift that was truly beautiful to watch, and it was heartbreaking to see the 32 years of suffering as Parkinson’s ravaged his once beautiful body.
I don’t believe in an afterlife, Ali, but today I wish there was one, because there are oh, so many people there whose lights I’d like you to punch out.
Goodbye, my hero. 

You are one person I would love to have met. 

It may be the final bell, but your legend and humanity will live on for many rounds to come.