Friday, 28 November 2008

Are we out of control?

Fair enough. I'm the first one to admit it: I'm a bit (ok, a lot) of a control freak. I like things a certain way, I like to be on time for shows and meetings, I like to know where I'm going and how I'm going to get there. And I like my routine. Don't worry, I'm getting better all the time... I'm learning. Learning to let go, learning to accept change and surprises as positive things, learning to enjoy new and slightly scary experiences.

Now for a retrospective of 2008 so far. (There's only one month or so left to go. Who know? Maybe it'll be really quiet and uneventful...) What is going on? Working back from today: minister from shadow cabinet is arrested and questionned for 9 hours with no warning (cries of police state! and fascists! from the excitable LibDem and Tories. The more cynical think it might be a parting shot from Sir Ian Blair.), Mumbai is under siege for 3 days and counting, house prices are in free fall, Madonna got divorced, big brand names have disappeared or disappearing: GM, Ford(?), WHSmith, Lehman Bros, MFI, the Americans have elected a black man as president, the pound is not worth much anymore, the Aussies have a quiet genius as prime minister, LORD Mandelson (need I say more)... the world is going to pot. I'm a follower of the conspiracy theory that says it's all because of the Hadron Collider - don't know if it all started when they switched in on or when it imploded but there's definitely a link of some sort. Watch this space.

And to think that in 2006, all we had was Alexander Litvinenko's radioactive sushi in London. And we thought THAT was outrageous! (Incidentally, his family were allowed only recently back into their flat which has finally being decontaminated... that's not going to help them sell it.)
So whether you're a free spirit, or a control freak, the fact is, the world is turning on its head: no one knows what to expect, we're all stuck on the planet for the ride so let's just run with it, and see where it takes us. We are spinning out of control, like a top, perhaps heading to a better place? Or a worse place? Who knows?

What's certain is that it's 33 days till the new year. So give up your diets, trying to stop smoking, Xmas shopping for people you don't even care about, buying the latest this or that. It's all nonsense! Look where it got us. Instead, try something new. Change your job, your hobbies, your routine. Do the opposite of what comes naturally. Ask her out! Ask him out! Dump him! Leave her! Learn how to juggle. Dare to dream.

You'll never know till you try it.

Get it out of your system - all of you! - and we can all go back to normal in 2009.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Going cold turkey.

Today is Thanksgiving in the US. It's a big family holiday there. Bigger than Christmas. Ideal for Euro-American couples: no fighting about whose parents you go to at Christmas (there's that excuse out the window...). And like Christmas, the traditional meal consists of turkey with all the trimmings. Oversized turkey (that doesn't fit in conventional European ovens). And cranberry sauce. A real nightmare for vegetarians. Apparently. (The turkey, not the cranberry sauce. Obviously. Although the whole thing's probably an even bigger nightmare for the turkey itself. Except for the one that's pardonned by the President of the United States every year.) Weird. But tasty!

I'm very grateful to all the American families who welcomed me into their homes and families for Thanksgiving those years when I lived in the US on my own. It was nice not to be left out in the cold.

Well, I'm not celebrating Thanksgiving today. I'm having miso soup with seaweed and tofu (don't pan it, it's yummy). But to all the Yanks both at home and abroad, gathered as a family, or on your own: here's a little thought and prayer for you all.


Oh what the hell? Gobble gobble!!!!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Is two really better than one?

You see all sorts on the internet (especially when you're not busy with loads of auditions or doing your taxes). And dismiss most of it instantly. But this headline really caught my eye and my imagination. I think it was an ad on Facebook. I've seen it before, in different guises: the Hollywood diet, the diet of the stars, the diet of the supermodels etc.... It keeps coming up on my page, maybe they've earmarked me as a fatty! Now how would they do that? I don't know. Maybe they can deduce my body mass from the pressure that I put on individual keys on my computer keyboard. Is that paranoid enough for you?

Anyway, this headline was different. It went something like: "How combining 2 diets will help you lose weight twice as fast." And I have to say, that for a moment, I though: EUREKA! Then I thought about it a bit more a realised it was probably a load of twaddle. Then I checked it out. It was a very well crafted piece of hard sell, complete with testimonies urging you to give it a go. All very tempting.

I can't believe that there's enough room left in my consciousness to contemplate this sort of thing when we are apparently flushing ourselves down the deepest financial hole ever, Africa is imploding from massacres and starvation, the environment is on the blink, and welcoming sunny Thailand is on the brink of a military coup! And Christmas is in 29 days.

Time for some comic relief. Of sorts. (Open season on Americans ends Jan 3rd...) The BBC showed some footage from Bangkok airport, quite tellingly interviewing stranded passengers but apparently not the protesters. One of the men being filmed was a middle aged American tourist who was harranging a rather dismayed Thai Airways representative. The following words actually came out of his mouth: "Tomorrow is a big holiday in the US [Note: The holiday in question is Thanksgiving. Europeans don't celebrates it because we don't celebrate ethnic cleansing.] and now loads of people are going to miss it because of your cockaminey little protest over here." Yes, he actually called the public disorder that could lead to the overthrowing of the current Thai governent "cockaminey". Puts the invasion of Iraq in perspective. Thank goodness for Obama.

Have a nice day!

The double diet was Acai Berries and a brand of Green Tea promoted on the Oprah Winfrey show. Now you know.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Is this getting a bit stale?

No audition for the past two weeks and I'm feeling the strain even though I know it's normal: some weeks you get auditions every day, other times you can go for weeks without the phone ringing. And November always turns out to be a rather quiet month for me.

Still, I've been up and about: I was in Paris for a long weekend. It was cooler than Dubai and I didn't have to sell my soul plus I got to eat a lot of home made cakes (there was a family birthday celebration). On the train trip back to London, we heard this old trout saying to some young guy with headphones: "You're not going to have this on the whole trip are you. I simply couldn't bear it!" And he turned the volume down immediately.

Ageing Baby Boomers: 1, Youth: Nil.

After we'd settled into the relative silence of the carriage, I gorged myself on free newspapers and magazines (we had a cheap deal in Leisure Select) but to my dismay somehow failed to complete any of the SUDOKU puzzles or quick crosswords. I wonder if was the onset of cerebral ageing or the effect of too much insulin raging through my veins to mop up my vertiginously high blood sugar levels...

Anyway. I digress.

What I meant to talk about is that as an actor, (I prefer it to "actress", it somehow sounds more serious...) I have a profound aversion to reality TV and talent shows. Rightly or wrongly, I assume that they reduce the amount of money and air time dedicated to drama... and therefore my acting opportunities. So I'm always intrigued and amused when I find the audience spontaneoulsy subverting these shows' format- somehow signalling that they've overrun their course and their welcome in people's living rooms.

It started with "" which encouraged viewers to call the American Idol phone lines and vote for the worst candidate. It carried Sanjaya to something like 7th place in the final 2 years ago. And he was truly an appalling singer poor fellow, especially his hair (it didn't sing but it was appalling too). Now it's the turn of Strictly Come Dancing with John Sergeant defeating all the odds and threatening to plunge the competition into (more) ridicule by winning it! Was he pushed? Did he jump?

At any rate, his peroxide blond Russian partner seemed rather peeved at the press conference. I'd stay away from the sushi if I were him. Especially if it glows in the dark.

So I propose a toast to good quality programming (especially on the BBC!), to the proverbial underdog, a good sense of humour, and romantic travel!

As they say in France: "Chin Chin!"

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

It’s all getting a bit puritanical.

I've been watching Sky News and its live broadcasting of the BBC's grilling by the Media Select Committee. Oh the delicious irony! It's a wonderful piece of theatre. Democracy at work - beats watching a public stoning or a hanging. But I can't help thinking that it should be Ross and Brand sitting there squirming, in their silly haircuts, rather than these two dark suited executives. One is drawn and balding and losing his rag. The other grey haired, calmer in appearance, but getting progressively redder in the face. High blood pressure probably. He looks like he might pop like a balloon. But that's unlikely.

Behind them, row upon row of journalists (one woman, unaware that she is on camera, is actually sleeping!) And in front of them, in a squared U shape, the committee itself: some members are soft spoken and apparently supportive (there's nice Scottish middle aged lady who talks common sense), and some are frankly out to get some scalps. Most are talking in my name: "The Public". It's all a bit Spanish Inquisition, minus the Monty Pythons and the funny hats.
What is it all about really? The fact that Ross is paid £6 million a year (at a time when so many people are tightening their belts)? The fact that Brand is a potty mouthed buffoon who attracts a seemingly endless stream of young models to his bed? (How does he do it? I'd like to be a fly on the wall.) The fact that they were crude? That it was in poor taste? That they questioned the virtue of a young woman? That the recipient of the call was an old man? The fact that we all have to pay a license fee which pays for this drivel?

Not sure. But I can't help feeling that it's to do with the strong wind of puritanism blowing over the country. They've been quite a few recent examples of people being hung out to dry over rather insignificant matters (in the scheme of things). It started with the whole Mosley/Nazi party scandal, now Drogba being called into account for throwing a coin (aimed at him) back into the crowd, the Brand/Ross fiasco, the Osborne/Mandelson Russian Yatch scandal... Then there's all the nannying by the State: the smoking ban (I support it but there is something sinister about it), the war against obesity, the attempts to curb excessive drinking, etc... But some obviously don't think it goes far enough: the Editor in Chief of the Daily Mail has accused the Government of hampering his duty to "report deviations from decency and acceptable behaviour."

Who made him Chief Inquisitor? And why isn't he wearing a funny hat?

Where's all this coming from? It used to be the kind of thing that only happened in America. And it used to make us laugh and feel superior, somehow more sophisticated, you know? We were Traditionalist Liberals not Unblushingly Louche (unlike our Continental cousins, The French). We liked a bit of spanking, we had Oscar Wilde (even though we killed him), we liked cross dressing, we'd even accepted our future king's mistress as his second wife.

So what has changed? Is it the painful awakening at the end of 10 years of easy money and prosperity? Is it really the financial crisis that's making excess and deviation from the norm unacceptable? To whom? Us, the Public? Have we been asked our opinion? I certainly wasn't.
So who's dictating this? The tabloids trying to run the country? (I feel like I know Murdoch because I graded his current wife's homework when we were at Yale.)

A friend yesterday - who is in his 60's - joked that "they" were probably planning to bring back the death penalty. We all laughed but rather nervously. It didn't sound quite as far fetched as it should. But what can I do?

I know.

I'll say a little prayer for Baby P.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Me and the dry cleaners

I believe I have the best dry cleaners in East London. He doesn't charge too much (it's cheaper if you don't need the overnight service), he gets the job done beautifully and quickly, and he doesn't mind if you pay him in small change. He's also a warm, urbane and charming man and we have wonderful little philosophical chats whenever I drop-off and pick-up.

In keeping with British etiquette (bearing in mind that he hails from Pakistan and I was raised on the Continent) we still don't know each other's names but I know he's a muslim and he knows I'm an actress and that I own several pairs of Thai trousers (the ones that are open on the sides and wrap around and tie in the front and the back). We talk about all manners of things: the weather, London pollution, fabrics...

Over the last few years, I've learnt all manners of things about the dry cleaning business: the machines make the building very hot and humid so working conditions are worse in the summer time because you can't cool things down by leaving the shop door open. Winter is good for business because when it rains people get the back of their trousers splattered. London pollution (in particular on the tube) leaves a greasy film on clothing which means more frequent dry cleaning. English men's habit of not carrying an umbrella means that they ruin their suit jackets when they get soaked. Apparently it warps the padding and wrecks the shape - especially around the shoulders - and it's pretty much impossible to fix.

Today, we talked about the weather (which has been steadily improving since the horrendous downpours of Monday) and the weather forecast (fair for the next 2 days) and came to the conclusion that an optimistic weather forecast is probably the only bit of the news bulletin that we still believe in. Everything else being the result of spin, propaganda, and bias. I told you, it's philosophical chat, not chit chat.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

So Big and Yet So Small

In these complacent and apathetic times, anyone who has the gift to give hope to millions of people and make them want to stand up and be counted deserves to win the role of leader of the free world.
I'm not sure about "deserves": being the leader of the free world sounds like a pretty fraught position. Especially after 8 years of appalling incompetence and willfullness. Not sure I would wish it on my worse enemy, let alone on someone worthwhile. But there you are. Something historic happened in America last night. In one fell swoop, the country has shown a desire to atone for its past (and more recent) sins - and a desire for a brighter future. I wish him, and his country, well.

But for all this hope and talk of history being made in America, desolation and horror still dominate in other parts of the world. I was watching a segment on television yesterday, showing a hospital ward in India, for children suffering from severe malnutrition brought on by poverty and the rising food prices. A 3 year old little girl who was so tiny that she looked half her age. A little child on a respirator (he wasn't strong enough to breathe on his own) and high vitamin drip who stared unblinking at the presenter and then grabbed her finger in his little fist and squeezed it tight. And another one whose mother explained that her husband was a rickshaw driver who earned the equivalent of £1.20 a day which wasn't enough to feed her family of four. Most of the children will go home once their health improves, but will most likely end up back on the ward as their diet at home takes its toll again. Imagine growing up eating only rice and milk. No iron, no meat. Imagine having your growth stunted for life. Where's the hope in that? Where's the atonement?

I wish President Elect Barack Obama every success, because my future and the future of many others on the planet depend on it.

Just for today, can we dream, can we hope for a brighter future?

Yes we can.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

I'm not doing that, it's too cheesy.

They say everyone has their price, and their limit. I still don't know what my price is but I sure can tell you what my limit is. I walked smack into it yesterday evening, at a casting for a cheese commercial, on the outer edges of West London, zone 2.

When I say cheese, what I mean is processed, squeezed out of a tube, comes in 4 flavours including prawn (I know!) kind of "cheese".

Unfortunately, the commercial (and therefore the casting session) called for a fair bit of eating of the product.

I'm proud to be in recovery from eating disorders but there are still a few things that make me unconfortable and downright loopy. Having to gobble processed cheese is one of them. Having to wait my turn for 45 minutes with the growing realisation that I'm going to have to gobble oodles and oodles of the stuff is another.

By the time I walked into the casting room, I was vibrating with anxiety. Almost levitating with stress. We did the idents (name, agent's name, rigth profile, left profile). Then I got briefed by the director (a woman): You (and before you ask, yes, "you" is another 40 something mum) are digging into the the stuff looking like you're being submerged by waves of flavour and delight.

Come again?

But then again, I am an actor. Surely I can adjust to any request from a director? Taking my clothes off, fine. Appearing with no make-up, fine. Looking unattractive and/or fat, fine. But I'm sorry - I draw the line at eating prawn flavoured anything that you have to squeeze out of a tube.

The director gave me last minute directions (prepare the "canapes", eat, enjoy, look delighted etc...) for the first take and said we'd try something else afterwards.

So I took a big breath and then I fudged it. I ended up eating a few bare pretzel sticks instead of the cheese. My throat was so dry I even struggled with those. I didn't make it past the first take.

I should've felt pretty crushed to be so obviously placed in the "reject" pile, but I couldn't wait to get out of room. Having retrieved my coat and brolly, I fairly skipped out of the building, after a minor freak-out when I accidently walked back into the casting room (through another door) instead of the front door.

I walked back to Kensington Olympia tube station (and it was raining pretty hard) and I felt like a freak. That was the worst bit about the whole experience. I felt different from everyone else: somehow not quite right in the head. All the other women had gone in, done their stuff, and come out wiping their fingers and smacking their lips. And I'd gone in and freaked out (technically, I'd gone in freaked out). Over having to eat some squeezy prawn flavoured cheese.

I know it's fantastic material for my next show.

And now I know what my limit is.