Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Apple Cemetery

I’ve had to take a break from book culling. 

Having spent yesterday being ruthless in my decisions to keep some books and not others, I started unculling them today. 

What if I woke up one morning desperate for Seamus Heaney and I’d already chucked him? Hmmm. But then I met him once in a Soho pub and he wasn’t very pleasant (he actually slapped my face – not hard, but it was a shock), so he can stay culled. And, having decided to dispense with all poetry (apart from my mate Tony Curtis) on the grounds that I can Google it anytime, suddenly I find myself slowly adding poets back to the “Keep” pile. 

Even though I’m the only person in the house, I’m doing it very furtively, like an alcoholic smuggling a bottle of gin under the sofa in the hope that nobody will notice. I’ve had to uncull Tony Harrison, because I met him once, too, and he was lovely . . . oh, dear – after all that, I’ve just unculled Heaney, on the grounds that the books might be worth something. So I have to stop before I decide that I can’t live without Proust.
   
I’ve now moved on to the Apple Cemetery that is my attic. Almost every Apple computer since the company started is there. Black, turquoise, purple; desktops the size of houses, laptops like handbags, laptops heavier than suitcases – Steve Jobs must be smiling in his grave.
   
It’s made me think how much technology has changed my life. When I began my career as TV Critic on the London Evening Standard in the late Eighties, I had to watch TV live, write my copy longhand and then phone it in to a copytaker at the paper at 7am. Today, I spend most of my time in the States, where I am able to watch TV on anything with a screen just like anyone in the UK, and I’m able to e-mail it straight to the editor.
   
I remember the first time somebody asked me “What’s your e-mail address?” and I berated them for being ridiculous, insisting that such a silly idea would never catch on. Today, when I get on  a plane, at 30,000 feet, I am the voice screaming “Whadderyermean, yer don’t have WiFi?”
   
The uphill task that awaits me in the Apple cemetery is taking the information off the hard drive before I sell the computers. Some of the hard drives are broken (you know who you are, Big Purple Mac), but others store some of my earliest writing. Maybe it’s time to let go of that (like so much else), too.
   
It’s not only the computers in the cemetery. Every piece of software known to Apple mankind seems to there, too. And then are the Dummies guides to those software programmes. Did I ever open one of them? Of course not. Mac OS X Leopard was dead almost as soon as it could run.
   
My electronic life has shrunk in the technical wash. These days, I download more books than I buy, and when I’m travelling (which is a lot), I watch TV and movies on my iPad. Paramedics have to be called when I go into panic mode if I can’t find my iPhone (it’s invariably right next to me, as the bartenders keep pointing out. Thank you, Justin Sigda at Mr Biggs in New York, for being my full-time Apple minder).
   
Bizarrely, while the products have shrunk, the packaging has grown. I could build a church alongside the cemetery with the empty boxes for iPhones, iPads and laptops that still lurk like Mrs Rochester in my attic, ever a fire risk even though their presence has been forgotten long ago. Why did I hold on to them all?
   
Easy. Because they, like Apple products themselves, are works of art: the stiffness of the cardboard, the exquisite print, the slightly bitten Apple logo – every box a tiny eco coffin, a new sculpture to keep safe the perfection within. Alas, my bank manager doesn’t quite see it that way.
   
I’ve been putting the boxes into green recycling bags, from where they look back at me through the transparency with a silent cry of “Why? Why me?” begging for release. When I sealed their fate with a double knot and took them outside ready for refuse collection, it was like saying goodbye to my family, emigrating to the other side of the world.
   
If I’m like that with the boxes, what am I going to be like when it comes to the computers? Maybe I could re-cull Heaney and keep just one small iPhone box? Would that be so very indulgent?
   
No, no, they have to go. But I can’t pretend that this is easy. Everything I touch is a slice of life, good or bad, and already I’m emotionally exhausted. Still, at least I have a computer on which I can play in order to avoid the real business of packing. 

By the day of completion, I suspect I will have a book. Which I can then download to my new iPhone. Oh, come on. You didn’t really think I wouldn’t start making plans for another cemetery, did you? 

Steve Jobs may be dead, but my Apple body count lives on.

   

Pining for Love

Men and pine furniture: the two things responsible for my habitual moving. 

It was the purchase of this small forest that set the ball rolling, and I was doomed never to recover. If I hadn’t bought that damned pine furniture, I wouldn’t have had the quandary of where to put it when I broke up with Carl, wouldn’t have moved it to Soho and had my heart broken by Phil, wouldn’t have moved it to Cardiff and started up with Steve, and wouldn’t still be stuck with it by myself in Cardiff over 25 years on at the age of 57, hoping that pine, like avocado-coloured bathroom suites, might make a comeback.
   
I was living in Belsize Park, in my first mortgaged home, and Carl was a fellow critic on a national newspaper and had been living with his girlfriend of seven years, Jane, who was trying to get pregnant. Carl didn’t like the fact that she was so fat and said that he would like to have a child with me. We were talking about a seriously unavailable man here.
   
I was still hung up on Alan, a manic-depressive who went into hibernation for six months at a time. I knew it was over when, adopting the Florence Nightingale approach during one of these dark periods, I sent him, by taxi, a spinach, rice and cheese bake (Delia Smith recipe) I had baked for him, a bottle of Burgundy, a cone of Swiss chocolates I had bought for him during the Montreux Comedy Festival and, for reasons I have yet to understand, a 12 foot inflatable skeleton. I paid the driver an extra £20 for his trouble, although he had to leave everything on the doorstep (including the fully inflated skeleton) because, he informed me by phone later, there was no reply at the door. The day after, I received a message on my answer machine, in painfully flat tones: “Hello, this is Alan. Thank you for my present. Goodbye.” 

This really isn’t going anywhere, I thought.
   
I thought I was in love with Carl and the intensity was extraordinary: endless phone-calls, incessant declarations of love, the strange comfort of late afternoon fog, hand in hand, walking his dog on Primrose Hill; fingers clasped across dining tables, resentful of the cutlery that separated them even for an instant. And I remember the seeming timelessness of passion.
    
There were only two down sides for me (apart from the obvious one of him living with someone else). One was the hideous green and yellow jug in the shape of a duck that Carl gave me for my 30th birthday. A china duck is not romantic. 
   
The other was that I had to keep hearing different versions of his columns. I would receive a phone-call in which he gave me version one, then he would arrive at my apartment with version two, then I would get a phone-call with version three before he filed it to his newspaper. He once dragged me out of bed when I was sick with tonsillitis to have me sit on his lap while he read me his column straight off the computer. On the one occasion I went to his house, I had to hear not only his columns, but every piece of music he had ever written; I was even required to admire the enormous Heal’s table on which said his music was composed. Then he started to bring me tapes of said music, too.
   
He also became ill, still claiming that he wanted to leave Jane, but never knowing the right time to tell her. We met almost every day, in restaurants and bars all over London. Carl acquired a facial rash as a result of the stress and, sympathetic as I was, dermatology wasn’t an aphrodisiac as far as I was concerned, and neither were the flakes of skin he used to leave on my pillow. So after just five months, we decided that we wanted to put an end to the trauma and be together. Before he told Jane, we went apartment hunting, Carl expressing a need to have his own study and also a garden for his dog. 

Quite why I put down the entire deposit myself and also one month’s advance rental on the place we chose, is anybody’s guess. Carl also said he liked pine furniture, and off I went to buy up half of Camden Pine (again, without him contributing a penny towards the woodpile money). Having rented out my own apartment and moved into the three-bedroom maisonette we found in Hampstead’s Steele’s Road, I waited for Carl to inform Jane that he was leaving her. I predicted that she would ask him to stay for three months to try to work things out.
   
She did. Bells started to ring when he told me that he still intended to leave, but he thought it decent to hang on to give her time to lose enough weight so that she would be attractive enough to meet someone else. This was the Notre Dame of bell-rings.
    
It ended for good on 3rd March 1989. Carl told me that there was a lot more low-fat yoghurt in the fridge and that he had started to feel closer to Jane again. I was upset but relieved. I didn’t want to hang around for three months in some kind of diet reality show. I put down the phone in the middle of the conversation after telling him so.
   
I could no longer afford the new rent and so when the tenant in my own apartment did a runner, I returned there. One problem: there just wasn’t room for the pine. So, having always harboured a desire to live in Soho, I rented an apartment in Brewer Street: not for me to live in full-time (Belsize Park was still my main residence) but to house the pine furniture. Having bought it for such a ridiculous price and also feeling it held a certain sentimental value, I could not bear to part with it. Renting a second little home for us both seemed, strangely, like the more cost-effective option. 

It would prove to be just one of many bizarre twists of logic I would apply throughout my life in relation to moving.
   
As it happened, the pine - or, rather, the location of the pine - proved to be a sexual magnet for my next conquest, Phil, a TV presenter. And so began another romance in the brown shadows which, by now, had cost me around ten grand. 

As I look around the Cardiff house I am selling, I know that it’s finally time to chop down the pine forest, along with the the grain of every man in it, and send it to the great wood chipper in the sky.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Culling the Library - Part I

What stays? What goes? How do you decide? 

Do you go with sentimental value, or the ones you are most likely to open again?
   
The first day of what might well be the last major move of my entire life began today with my book collection. My second floor large office, which has three sides of floor to ceiling bookshelves, in addition to two attic storage rooms, six bookcases apiece, plus three bookcases downstairs, was daunting. So many pages, some going back to the first days I could read, some I bought just last week: emotional bookends of a life that has reached 57 years old.
   
And, in the filing cabinet, my diaries: the rather disturbing evidence of 40 years plus, showing that despite all these words, all these pages I have consumed, I have learned next to nothing. I still choose the wrong men and cry over the ones I can’t have. I continue to worry unnecessarily about the small stuff and the potentially big stuff – my health. I have the same anxiety over money and am far too trusting of too many people. 

As I stood before these towers of life experience and advice, what, I wondered, was the point of it all if I am still essentially the same creature I was the moment the first hard covers were placed between my tiny hands? Blimey – and I hadn’t even started on the ‘A’ section yet.
   
The cull foreplay was anxiety inducing. I knew there was no point in keeping my ‘A’ Level and university textbooks, but as I looked along the shelves they still had meaning, if no longer any value in terms of passing exams. Blake – gosh, I hated Blake, but Gwyn Ingli James, who lectured on the poet at Cardiff University, was an inspired and inspiring teacher. I could have married Blake when I left Professor James’s lectures, but then I had to read the stuff. Instant divorce.
   
Would it be sacrilege to dispense with the Shakespeare textbooks? Terry Hawkes, another inspiring lecturer at university, was apparently brilliant, but someone who was to be feared because he was a “Structuralist”  (Yegods! A word uttered in hushed, sinister tones, to newcomers in 1977 – a bit like people declaring themselves members of UKIP today). 

Norman Schwenk, John Peck, Martin Coyle, Peter Garside, John Freeman – all of these lecturers were linked to the books and, 38 years after I went to university, they were still so strong in my memory. To throw away the books would be like throwing away that part of my life – and their contribution - wouldn’t it?
   
But I had to make a start somewhere and so, I’m going to work through the cull alphabetically over the next few days and blogs (feel free to miss letters), beginning, obviously, with ‘A’ which, on my top shelf, had Welsh writer Dannie Abse in pride of place.
   
Oh, God. Well, obviously I can’t throw away all my Dannie Abse because he’s a countryman. Not only was he one of the greatest Welsh writers of all time, he was a lovely man. I once had dinner with him in the Groucho Club in London, and the hot soup caused a blister at the back of my throat. I went into panic mode, convinced I was going to choke to death, but Dannie, being a doctor as well as a writer, calmly told me to breathe and not panic. When my blister subsided, I remember flirting with him outrageously. I think that was the moment he went into panic mode.
   
I recalled another moment when, at the 2008 Welsh Book of the Year awards, Dannie was shortlisted for his memoir, The Presence, about his wife of 54 years, Joan, who died in a crash in the car in which Dannie was driving (Dannie told a friend he wished he had died). At the awards ceremony, Heritage Minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas misread the card and announced runner-up Tom Bullough as the winner. 

It was a dreadfully embarrassing moment, and Bullough, on his way to the stage when the mistake was rectified over the microphone, left. I always thought it a credit to Dannie that he said he wished they had just left it as it was.
   
So no: all the Abse had to stay.

Next on the shelf was Kathy Acker (whatever happened to her, I wondered - then remembered that she died);  Dave Allen (easy cull: never found him funny); Woody Allen (we know what happened to him); and a whole pile of Amises, senior and junior, all of whom I was happy to leave where they were. Not because I didn’t enjoy them at the time, but because I knew I’d never touch them again. I did, however, keep Erix Lax’s biography of Woody Allen, which I have never read, 25 years after buying it. 

Still, there’s a bookmark at page 60, so I know I made the effort. What distracted me, I wonder?
   
You see, that’s another thing I discovered: so many bookmarks in tomes I began and then left. Why? What story took me away from the printed one? Real life? Page 60, by the way, bangs on about Woody’s clarinet playing and when he went to New Orleanszzzzzzzzzzz. Yep. I get it now.
   
After dispensing with the Amises, I discovered that I had wrongly catalogued A Alvarez’s Night, placing it after Martin Amis’s Money. Al (his first name – I love that) is now 86 and I first came across him after reading The Savage God, his book about suicide, which I enjoyed (I use the word loosely) when I was going through my Sylvia Plath phase at university. 

Now, here’s a weird thing: The Savage God has totally disappeared from my collection. It should be in the section that also houses (amongst others) Suicides (Jean Baechler) and Depression (Dorothy Rowe). It remains to be seen if they make the next phase of my life as they are on the non-fiction shelves after Zola.
   
A J Ayer has mysteriously disappeared, too, though I remember he was once married to Nigella Lawson’s mother. I have yet to decide on the Domestic Goddess (she’s in the lower floor section).
   
Tomorrow, it’s your turn Julian Barnes, Saul Bellow, Alan Bennett and William Boyd. Be afraid. Be very afraid. 

On the plus side, you’re competing with Samuel Beckett – and Blake.

   

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Ax Taylor - Vanderpump Really Needs to Rule on This

There is one area in which every reality “star” (and I use the word very loosely) eventually falls down: when they start to believe their own PR. Never has a more glaring case of this been more obvious than in the case of “Mr Jax Taylor” (I’m using his inflated Twitter name), who is one of the central characters of Vanderpump Rules, a spin-off starring the magnificent Lisa Vanderpump, from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
   
I have long been a Lisa fan. She has no idea that I know a lot of people from her time back in the UK, where she made her name (with husband Ken), not only as an extraordinary and exceptionally hard-working restaurateur, but a great businesswoman and, most significantly, a really good, fair boss. I met her when I was living in LA and, two weeks, ago, again in Cecconi’s in West Hollywood, where we spoke about my writing a piece (I write primarily for the Daily Mail) about Vanderpump Rules.
   
I love that show. I know the constraints and the tricks of reality TV (I’ve appeared enough in it myself), but I love the drama that VPR produces week on week, season after season. I’m always bemused that all the young people fancy each other so much when most of them are, at best, a B-rating (apart from the exquisite Scheana, who is so mega stunning, and doesn’t realise how even more stunning she is without make-up). I love Kristen, who knows that she has to be an ongoing nightmare for the show to work – and boy, can she work it.
   
I’m fascinated how anyone can go by the name of La-La and expect to be taken seriously. I’m disturbed by James’s ongoing, reality TV suicide meltdown and his need to talk about sex in order to try to validate himself in the cultural wasteland in which, as a Brit, he finds himself. I’m constantly amused by TT Bros – the two Tom boys, who are so dull, uninspired and uninspiring, I am surprised any woman has ever wanted to have sex with either of them. Ever.
   
Lisa is an exceptional puppeteer, who orchestrates reality TV to promote her business empires, and she is brilliant at it. In both shows in which she appears, she never exposes too much about herself or her family – she gets the gig, but she also values her private life.
   
But, back to Vanderpump Rules, and Monsieur Le Jax (oh, come on – let’s make him even grander than he already thinks himself to be). Today, his Twitter account posted a picture of Lisa’s husband Ken, following the wrap of the current series, with Monsieur LJ holding one of the family dogs and a drink. I posted a comment asking whether he had stolen dog and/or drink. 

Given that he has just returned from Hawaii, where he was, courtesy of the show, on a freebie, and ended up being arrested for stealing a pair of sunglasses, I thought the comment was fair game. Instantly, I was blocked, and told that this was the outcome for any negative comments posted about him.
   
Well, for a start, it wasn’t negative; also, it’s easy to follow anyone on Twitter through another account, as any self-respecting PR person should know. But they should also know that it is through what they call “negative” comment that people get to learn. Le Monsieur is not a god; he is a criminal. He has narrowly avoided jail. He has already exposed himself to be a liar and, according to people on the show, a thief, on other occasions. But hey, people - have some fun with it! Use your different accounts and get all your followers to say something, too! It works! His PR people have been on a blocking blitz this afternoon. It's hysterical! It's the guaranteed way to get him out of your life!
   
Lisa has said that she does not think Jax is a bad person – and I agree. I think he’s misguided, he drinks too much, and thinks through his trousers. He’s starting to look like an old soak (as we say in the UK – ask James, who, alas, is heading the same way, if he’s not careful), and it’s rather sad.
   
But what Le Monsieur needs more than anything at the moment is better PR: not PR people who block light-hearted banter from those on his side (I genuinely have no problem with threatening or vile people being blocked); PR people who look at his life and ask where he’s going next when this carousel comes to a stop (which it will); PR people who look at what else he might have to offer in an ever overcrowded marketplace.
   
Lisa Vanderpump has his back, as she does so many people with whom she works. But I’m afraid that unless something changes pretty quickly, we’re looking at Ax Taylor – and I suspect there’s very little else for him out there if he allows his people to continually throw him under the PR bus.
   
Vanderpump Rules. Yes, she does. But it’s also time that Le Monsieur started to apply some rules of his own. And number one? Change your PR. In my opinion, it’s ruining Lisa’s brand, it’s ruining the show, and, worse, it’s ruining you, Jax. Do something before it’s too late. Because I really do think you’re heading for the chop. And not one you’ll be able to consume in your increasingly disturbing sweaty, overweight face.
   
Grow up. Seriously. And get some good people around you. 

It’s a thin line between people wanting your dick and calling you one.


Friday, February 19, 2016

I Wanna Be Free (The Monkees)

Finally, after nearly four years on the market, my Cardiff house is under offer – funnily enough, to the couple who saw it the very first week but have had the same problems selling theirs. I always felt it was their house. They loved it – quite rightly, it’s beautiful – and I have resented all the nit-picking, critical people who have walked through the door since. Yes, I am selling for a lot less than I paid for it, and I have taken another hit on the asking price, but this feels right.
   
It hasn’t been the easiest decision and I have been through many moments when I thought that maybe I should hang on to it. But for what? I spend so much time in the States; I want to travel more; I don’t have anyone to leave anything to, and, as I have written (and talked about – thank you all for listening), the financial stress after losing a lucrative job in 2008 has been intolerable. When I was hospitalised before Christmas with stress-induced hypertension, resulting in a 36 hour nosebleed, I knew that life had to change. I’m not ready for the final wooden house just yet (or cardboard, depending on my finances).
   
Yesterday was nevertheless very emotional. I had a struggle to get the words “acceptance” and “offer” out there. I was born in Cardiff, went to university there, it is where my closest, dearest friends are . . . and it’s where my stuff is. Yes, my stuff.
   
In the garage sits the wooden desk my parents had handmade for me when I was about seven. It still has JEFF in purple nail varnish on the top – he was my schoolgirl crush who ended up dating my best friend and it broke my heart. My shelves are full of books I haven’t touched since I was at university – every Shakespeare textbook you can imagine – and books that date further back are all meticulously catalogued and priced. 

How did I decide upon 12/6d for Maurice Speed’s Film Review – my first introduction to the movies and passed on from my parents? Why is The Monkees album 10/6d? My entire house is in alphabetical order, from the books right down to the spices. Now, disorder threatens it all with the biggest move I am ever likely to make.
   
The worry of where it’s all going to go is a new stress. The job lot of pine I bought when in a relationship with someone I thought I would be living with forever is all going. It has followed me around for nearly 30 years, and I took it with me to each new city that marked a new man in my life. In fact, the pine forest is my longest relationship ever.
   
But I want to wake in the morning not worrying about money. I want to get off a plane and think, at the airport, when seeing the Departures board, “Ooh, that looks nice” – and get straight back on another flight for a new adventure. I don’t want to have to go another week with not even enough money to buy toilet paper (yes, I’m afraid the toilet paper famine hit me twice last year). I don’t want to have to walk three miles because I have no cash for any other means of transport. I want to be able to enjoy a glass of wine without thinking what I will have to go without in order to finance it (okay, you guessed it: the wine won out over the toilet paper).
   
I cried yesterday because I felt like a failure: the house that I had worked so hard for was going. What did I have to show for so many years of hard work and stress?
   
I’ve written about this before and know that what I have to show for it is a life well lived and, for the most part, hugely enjoyed with wonderful family and friends, who are loyal, trustworthy and the centre of my world. But we attach ourselves to things, mortgages, as if they define us. We know, in reality, that they don’t, but they give us a sense of everlasting life: we may not live forever, but in passing our stuff on, we have the illusion that we live on, too.
   
I have never regretted not having children, although I adore my friends’ children and am very close to so many of them. I like being the cool, eccentric “auntie” who disappears to far corners of the world at a moment’s notice. I like being the woman they love who hasn’t told them to eat their vegetables and do their homework. I like being the naughty, grown-up child they think they want to be.
   
My house has been my security. Irrespective of how often I went back, knowing that it was there has always felt like a solid foundation, literal and metaphorical, when so much around me was crumbling.
   
But although, yesterday, I cried, thanks to the support of my friends who have gathered on Facebook and privately, it’s time to find a new security. Financial stress has been a ghastly inhibitor for so long, I can’t remember what it is like to live without it. How will I feel when I hand over the keys? Sadness, yes. But, most of all, relief. And what will I do that night? Check into the Marriott in Cardiff City Centre. Or go to Heathrow and get on a flight to Florence. Or go to my dear friends Leisha or Mary (you’ve got my room ready, right, guys?). I have no idea. 

But this I know: my new security is freedom.

   

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

My Heart Belongs to Telly

It’s the Marmite of the movie world: you either love it or you hate it. 

Never have I heard a movie going audience so divided; and never have I laughed so much in the face of Marmite lovers. So, here goes. Are you ready? 

I hate Marmite. 

I hate The Revenant.
   
The Irrelevant (yes, I hate it that much) has a lot of grunting in it. I am not averse to grunting per se, especially if said grunter is Leonardo di Caprio, but I just want something more. Yes, I know the movie’s allegorical, the bear’s great, it’s shot in natural light, blah-di-blah-di-blah, but just because a few actors got cold during the making of it doth not great art make.
   
For me, it hasn’t been the best of years in the movies. Every week, I see truly great art on TV – Suits, Law and Order, The Good Wife, Billions – and feel so blessed that we really do live in the golden age of television. But when it comes to the big screen, I am invariably disappointed.
   
This year, it astonished me that Aaron Sorkin’s adapted screenplay Steve Jobs did not make it on to the Oscar shortlist, whereas Grunthog Day looks all set to clean up in almost every category. The first half of Room was extraordinary, but then turned into something that made it seem as if the director had left that room and made room for an entirely different species altogether. In an instant, we seemed to go from Bergman to Danielle Steel.
   
I adored Brooklyn, not least because the struggle between one’s roots and one’s ambition is, for me, coming from Wales, something with which I battle my whole life. I really liked Spotlight, and, although it was no All the President’s Men, it made a gripping detective story out of a well-worn theme. The Big Short was watchable but incomprehensible (despite the patronising “star” inserts), and The Lady in the Van was just okay. If you like ladies. And vans.
   
Many years ago, I crawled through someone’s legs to reach Steven Spielberg, who had just won an award for Schindler’s List. I wanted to talk to him about another movie, though. After being introduced, I said: “I know you’ve just won for another movie, but can I just say that I think ET is the greatest movie ever made.” He replied: “Thank you so much. Do you know, I was thinking about that on Friday, and I think you could well be right.”
   
It remains my favourite movie of al time. It encompasses all the big, great themes – love, loss, friendship, separation, power, despair – and has the greatest cinematic moment (again, for me) ever. Those bicycles. The moment of transcendence: leaving the old world behind. Magic. Everything’s possible.
   
And then. Coming back to Earth. Literally and metaphorically. ET: Come. Elliot: Stay. And there you have it: the great human dilemma and the greatest story that can ever be told. I want you to come with me. I want you to stay with me. And it can’t, for whatever reason, ever happen. I am crying just writing about it. Ouch. Ouch. I’ll be right here. WAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!
   
I just don’t feel moved like I used to in the cinema, whereas TV regularly tears me apart. When Will Gardner (Josh Charles) died in The Good Wife, I howled. I never got over it (neither did the show, which CBS has just axed). I get very stressed every time something bad happens to Gibbs (Mark Harmon) in NCIS, and I bite off all my nails when Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) in Suits sails too close to the wind (often - I have to move on to my toe-nails every time they threaten to put him back together with the totally unsuitable Scottie).
   
Television has been my life. It still amazes me that this 52- inch slice of black in the corner of my room consistently delivers such unspeakable joy every single hour of every week. When people say, trying to impress, “I don’t watch television”, I have just one response: Yes, it shows (cue sad face).
   
So, while I am sure that The Irrelevant will be picking up gongs, come February 28th, my heart belongs to telly.

   

Friday, February 12, 2016

Be My Valentine? Fat Chance

Okay, it’s confession time. 

I’ve never seen Game of Thrones, I don’t like Downton Abbey, and I’ve never listened to an episode of The Archers. 

And, here’s the killer blow: I’ve never had a date on Valentine’s Day. No, not one. Ever. I almost had one when I was 16, when my 21 year old boyfriend bought me a huge satin card, but the evening came to nothing because I finished with him when he seemed about to propose.
   
My disastrous love life in the subsequent 41 years might well have been my punishment for that fateful non-romantic day. Surely Cupid couldn’t be that cruel? If he is, it means he’s been operating not with a bow and arrow but a veritable arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. All aimed at me.
   
I feel about Valentine’s Day the way Scrooge felt about Christmas. Bah humbug, I scream, when yet another card from Interflora pops through my door, asking me to send flowers to my loved one. Bah humbug to the red hearts, ribbons and grinning teddy bears in every shop window. And especially Bah humbug to the paella or the Chateaubriand “for two” (that restaurants bizarrely insist upon, making singletons feel alone on every other day of the year, too).
   
Like Scrooge and the visitations from his Christmas ghosts, this is the time of year when I am visited by the Ghosts of Men Past, the Ghosts of Men Present, and the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come.
   
Where do I begin with the Past? The older man who ruined 30 years of my life (and counting) and whose shadow still looms in an unconscious damaged by what I now know to be a disturbed and disturbing predator? 

The broadcaster on a diet, who brought his Lean Cuisine for supper but decided to eat my food as well (no surprise he never lost any weight)? The journalist who was going to leave his girlfriend for me but decided to give it three months “so that she can lose enough weight to be attractive enough to meet someone else” (yes, at that point, I decided he wasn’t for me, after all). 

My Australian Hungarian Jewish dentist who said “I’m falling for you in a big way”, then came out in a facial rash and dumped me? The ginger, boring graphic designer who once bought Bollinger for women he fancied at another table (on my tab) and left me for a nurse (that’s all over, too, and his life’s a mess. Karma)? The Liverpudlian who claimed to be in the SAS based in Hereford and robbed me (How was I to know? He had a one-way rail ticket from Hereford to London; that seemed good enough evidence for me)?
   
The Ghosts of Men Present don’t fare much better: the journalist I started seeing 30 years ago and still have the hots for (it’s just a pity his hots extended to so many other women); a writer in the US who promised “I’ll take you to a wonderful place and treat you to the best meal you’ve ever had”, which quickly became “Shall I pick up a salad and bring it to your apartment?” 

My crush on yet another man I can’t have (married, and wouldn’t want me even if he were single). And, would you believe it, the graphic designer, who contacted me after 15 years, bemoaning his now terrible life on the grounds that I might “understand”.
   
Small wonder that I’m not optimistic about the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come. But that’s the thing about love: its inherent optimism continues to survive its own history, no matter how bad it might have been. It’s emotional childbirth: it might be tough when you’re going through it, but the memory of what love might be again resurrects itself and is what keeps us going.
   
At the end of every relationship, I always say: “I won’t make that mistake again.” I may not, but, being human, I’ll just make different mistakes.
   
And I’ve learnt from most of those mistakes. I say no to salads when I’m expecting Chateaubriand for two at the Ritz; I don’t lend men money; I also no longer believe anything that comes out of their mouths. Men are rotten liars, and I’ve learnt to trust my gut, which is what I should have done years ago. But hey, ho, hindsight and all that.
   
This, alas, is the problem with the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come. The Past is a wasteland of distrust and pain; the Present would be that, if I were not finding it all so hilarious; the Future, despite the survival of good memories, is inevitably tainted with everything that has gone before. Suspicion, doubt and insecurity are inseparable triplets.
   
But I love my life. I am surrounded by wonderful family and friends and there is never I day I wake up when I don’t love my work. I have always known I was a writer, and being what I actually am, rather than harbouring fantasies about what I wanted to be, is a blessing every day. 

The Ghosts of Men Past have gone; the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come are unknown (just as well; who knows what monsters are lurking in the shadows). The present is all we really have, or can ever hope for. So we might as well live it and enjoy it while we can.

So, Happy Valentine’s Day to me. 

Now, where’s that Chateaubriand?