Friday, 31 December 2010

Get me out of here! (Dec 23, 2010)

It’s snowing at Heathrow. Let’s get this right: it snowed at Heathrow, all 5 inches of it, and now all the planes are stuck to the tarmac. By the looks of it , so is my airline’s website: can’t rebook our flight, can’t change our flight, can’t speak to a human being (connected to the airline) in London (or anywhere else in the UK, we’re not precious) or in the whole of China. Result: we’re not leaving Beijing on the 20th as planned. We’re staying indefinitely...

Or so it seemed until someone (ie me) had the bright idea to make use of our one consular contact. It appears the words British Embassy are the modern equivalent of Open Sesame. Within a few minutes of our call for assistance, the airline’s entire Asian operation it seems were ready to meet our every need (as I mentioned before, we’re not precious, we only had one need, to get home, preferably before Christmas day, or else, as he puts it: we’d have Peking Duck for Christmas Dinner).

I’m not complaining, compared to those who had to camp out at Heathrow over the weekend we had a lovely time. We got to stay in our nice hotel, we had a chance to revisit the Forbidden City (how many people can say that?) and we even went back to the Great Wall (a different bit of it this time: Mutianyu, it’s further away from Beijing than Badaling but well worth it). As I said, I’m not complaining about that, but there was something strangely unsettling about being stranded in limbo in a foreign city so far away from home with only a credit card between us and homelessness and starvation. Thank goodness for credit.

They got us back three days late but in the nick of time. With a day to spare. We’re very grateful. Especially for the upgrade which was devoutedly wished for but unexpected.


Note: This happy ending is the final blog entry for 2010 - wishing you all a very happy New Year and plenty of serenity and good fortune for 2011! See you then.

Just press the Magic Button (Dec 19, 2010)

We're having an amazing time in Beijing, it's an amazing place: tough, futuristic, steeped in history, dynamic and moving inexorably forward on a wave of hard work and industry, determination, and a sense of destiny. This is were the future is at. This is the future. Wake up! Over 1.3 billion people here are wide awake (usually all at the same time because the whole of the country is on Beijing time, or GMT + 8), and we're still dreaming.

Speaking of dreaming. let me tell you about the Magic Button: you press it and all your wishes come true. At least that's what the Hilton's in-room literature claims and guess what? It's absolutely true. These people are amazing. Now, there are 3 Hiltons in Beijing, and I can only vouch for the one we're staying in, the one in Wangfujing. The Magic Button is a key on the phone pad, and if you need anything: fresh towels, a tidy-up of your room, a massage, book a car, or a new pet cat, or whatever else you might fancy, whoever answers the phone will make it happen.

So far so good, the advertising strategist in me figures this is just a good bit of marketing, well implemented by local management. But there is more...

The Hilton Wangfujing has a unique asset called Elvis. Elvis is Chinese, speaks perfect English, has travelled extensively around Europe and is as far as I can tell the closest living thing to Jeeves. His manners, his carriage, his tone are perfect. From the moment Elvis raises an enquiring eyebrow as you amble through reception you know everything will turn out for the best. We're on first name basis ever since Elvis escorted me to the Bank of China for a spot of translating. We wanted to go to the Great Wall unaccompanied by a guide? Elvis made it happen. We wanted to go to The Summer Palace by public transport? Most hotel staff are horrified by the thought of non-Mandarin speaking tourists taking anything other than a comfortable chauffeur driven car or at the very minimum a taxi ordered by the concierge. But not Elvis, he told us which stop to get off at, told us it would be a 5 minute taxi ride from there, and wished us a lovely outing.

Elvis makes you feel that whatever it is you want to do, no matter how strange it may seem, it's all going to be fine.

So Elvis is the ultimate Magic Button. We'd like to bring him home but given that the Hilton charge $2.50 if you want to take home the Hilton purple rubber duck that greets you enticingly in your tub every day, we figured there was no way we'd be able to afford Elvis.

Well done Elvis. Well done Hilton Wangfujing. Just press the Magic Button...

It’s Peking Duck Season... (Dec 13, 2010)

I fell in love with Shanghai but a few hours ago we stood in the middle of Tianamen Square and something in me stirred. We felt a bit overwhelmed by the symbolism and history, marvelled at the scale and admired the imposing double vista of Mao’s Mausoleum at one end and the Forbidden City at the other. It was bitterly cold - minus 2 degrees Celsius - but the sun was out lighting up a beautiful crisp winter’s day. Our first full day in Beijing.

The first thing about Beijing is that it is vast. We switched hotels this morning to avoid the 30 minute taxi commute into the town centre. Even though we can see the Forbidden City from our hotel window (yes, it’s that kind of a hotel) it’s still a 2km walk to its entrance.

We felt contrary and had Japanese for lunch (and Brazilian Barbecue the night before last – let me ask you: do you eat Western food at every meal?)

On the fanbase front, they seem to appreciate me just as much here as they did in Shanghai. And this appreciation is by no means limited to the local population. As it happens, Croatia's Miroslav Blazevic, the newly appointed coach of China’s National Football Team was on our plane from Shanghai (and before you get the wrong idea, he was travelling economy – or ordinary class as they call it here – just like us.) A very dashing and well preserved 72 year old (he looked 50) he seemed rather taken by me as we waited for our luggage around the carrousel. It must have been my faux-fur coat and Paul Smith glasses that did it because I’m sporting the brightest red nose this side of Rudolf, courtesy of my first Chinese cold. But there you have it.

Tomorrow, we are having a private tour of the Forbidden City and The Great Wall. We couldn’t be more excited if we were being flown to the moon.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Up the Creek without a Paddle (Dec 10, 2010)

9:30 am. The map in the guide book made it look like a short walk from Suzhou train station to the Bei Ta (Ta means Pagoda), the first of the many sights we had planned to take in on our first day trip outside of Shanghai. Lulled into a false sense of confidence, we had hopped off the bullet train after a 25 minute ride and stepped into the gigantic, ultra modern, state of the art train station of Suzhou – an industrial centre some 60 miles South West of Shanghai also home to some lovely temples, traditional Chinese gardens and tastefully renovated neighbourhoods dotted with canals. We walked to one end of the station and then to the other, no sight of the Pagoda, not even in the distance to give us a sense of direction. All the signs were in Chinese pictograms (no pin’yin, the roman alphabet transliteration that gives Westerners the illusion of familiarity even if you don’t understand it) and no one spoke any English other than the dozens of hawkers and beggars: “lady” “map” “taxi” “guide tour” “money”. It appeared that in spite of its already impressive scale, the station was being extended so we had trouble finding the taxi rank (we never did) let alone the bus station.

With a combination of determination fuelled by the thought that we might have to spend the day holed up at the station until our 5pm train back to Shanghai, and sheer luck, we found out the bus number we needed to take into town, the exact fare, and how to pay it (in coins when you got on the bus), and most importantly, we found the bus station itself. And after wandering all the way back into the train station looking for something to purchase to make some change and after a while realising that he already had plenty of change in his pocket we headed back out to the bus depot and boarded the number 103. Unless you have been to China you cannot comprehend the notion of vast which dwarfs even American standards of scale. This place was larger than most airports.

After much staring and giggling by the locals (he’s a 6 foot tall red head who’d elected to wear a Cookie Monster t-shirt – but I was getting most of the attention) – we alighted at the Pagoda. We had another Bill Bryson moment involving him realising his sunglasses were missing, running after the bus, getting back on the bus, ferreting behind our seats miming sunglasses at the bemused and amused locals, not finding the glasses, hopping back off the bus and finally discovering the glasses in the flower bed in which they had fallen in the first place. The day progressed fairly normally after that.

We had lunch (we pack a turkey and cheese whole meal bread sandwich every day - it’s not Chinese but it’s Dukan) in the Chinese rock garden behind the Pagoda and surprised more than one local with our near perfect pronunciation of the greeting “Ni Hao” (hello) but absence of any other vocabulary with which to engage in conversation. We proved to be a great source of mirth of which we were rather proud.

We walked for 5 or 6 hours. We managed to buy some “bottled” water and small cakes (not Dukan but needs must have – we were falling off our proverbial perches) as well as ask for our change in coins in anticipation of the bus trip back to the train station. We even went to the Zoo. We saw many Chinese tourists but not a single other Westerner.

The trip back was rather uneventful, we felt like old hands by then, even braving the Metro back to the hotel on the cusp of rush hour.

Next week: Beijing. Zaijian! (Goodbye.)

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

China Moll you’re my Doll (Dec 7, 2010)

I am typing this rather gingerly fresh as I am from the nail salon and sporting some rather well groomed upper extremities (dark blood/square nails). I passed the little salon of which there are hundreds in Shanghai as I walked from Sun Yat Sen’s former residence in the French Quarter. For 5 pounds sterling, this lovely young woman shaped my nails, trimmed my cuticles, massaged my hands and expertly painted my nails at speed and with great precision. Our verbal conversation was limited to (me) “ni hao” and “xiexie” (hello and thank you) and (her) “manicure?” and “be careful” (nothing sinister: my nail polish wasn’t completely dry by the time I left). I think I’ll go back tomorrow for a spot of waxing – their extensive menu includes “full face” and “The Hollywood” (me too, I had to look that last one up on Wikipedia – they have some rather graphic photos - and apparently it’s the same as a Brazilian.) Not sure what or who the full face is for (they have both male and female clientele) but I think I’ll settle for a nice tidy-up. And they even played me a film with Brooke Shields and that fellow who played Tarzan who ends up rather sadistically tormented by a bunch of local wildlife intent on foiling his plans for a housing development. It was subtitled in Mandarin and rather hysterically funny relative to watching paint (or in my case nail polish) dry.

I am still loving Shanghai. It’s the most amazing place. I love the old bits, I love the new bits, the glitzy bits, the tatty bits, even the tourist trap bits. Food, taxis, metro and manicures are dirt cheap – everything else is eye-wateringly pricey. I don’t care – I’m in my element.

This morning I paid a visit to the Shanghai Museum. I’m going to sound like a broken record but you have to get yourself over here and experience the place for yourself. They have a superb collection of Ming and Qing Dynasty furniture, calligraphy, jade, porcelain, painting etc... These people were carving exquisite shapes out of jade when we were still knocking flintstones together. And in spite of our colonial ancestors’ best efforts to convince us otherwise, I don’t think we’re ever caught up – or ever will. It’s no big deal but as I prefer jade to flint, I’m planning to learn the lingo and move here – eventually. In the meantime, here’s a little factual interlude to dazzle with at the office Christmas party: Ming era furniture is made of simple pure lines, very modern looking. Qing is ornate over the top with jade and ivory inlays and carvings.

Where was I? Oh yes, it’s a fantastic place and having walked about a fair bit over the last four days I’ve finally found my bearings and can navigate without a map in the centre of town. It’s a big place though: a good 15 minute walk between Metro stops. I’ve even got used to the traffic turning on a red light business. It’s not chaos, there is a rule and this is what I think it is: traffic can turn on a red light even if it means cutting across 3 lines of traffic. Simples! Some motorcycles and bicycles appear to ignore red lights when riding in specially marked lanes. Some cycle on the pavement. (I still haven’t figured that one out.) Pedestrian crossings remain a dicey business for me (and I’ve noticed for some locals too) but it no longer appears like a random dance with death – more like playing those old video games with the frog trying to cross the road. Crossing: tick! Manicure: tick! Yoga classes at the hotel: tick!

And finally - and I’m fully aware that this is going to sound both shallow and pretentious but... bite me! - I seem to attract a lot of admiring looks here. I don’t know what it is: my eyes, my skin tone, my Tintin hair style, my oversized Paul Smith glasses... I really don’t what it is but they like me here!

One more reason to move.

Shanghai Surprise (Dec 4 2010)

Good morning Shanghai! Or rather good afternoon. We landed at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport after a rather deconstructed trip through Heathrow Terminal 5. Have you been to the new Terminal 5? I don’t mean travelling business class (as I did flying to New York last Summer – hard work but someone has to do it) which is rather grand whisked away as you are through Fast Track Service and the bountiful luxuries of the British Airways lounge. Apparently it’s even better if you’re travelling first class though he tells me that Virgin Airlines Upper Class will actually check you in from the chauffeured limo that they send to pick you up... but these are all useless in terms of experiencing the full, authentic T5 experience as designed by Satan’s evil little helpers. For it, you need to travel cattle class, also known as Economy.

Firstly the layout at the newly built T5 is dastardly convoluted and designed to be impenetrable... I think to distract passengers from various flight delays (it’s the snow, it’s Gatwick’s closure, it’s the de-icing on the wings that can’t be done for another 20 minutes, it’s the taxiing now that we’ve lost our departure slot...)

Then there’s the obstacle course of the security checks: take your shoes off, take your coat off, take your belt off, take your jewellery off, take out your lap top, and if there’s anything left on you to set off the alarm when you go through the security gate, you get frisked within an inch of your life. I didn’t set it off for once as I was naked (just kidding) but the man next to me did set it off and let’s just say that he had a close brush with the law. They pat you down all over, and I mean all over... down there, front and back. I guess it’s the legacy from Mr. Almost- blew-up-my –pants-on –Christmas-Day: they’re just making sure you’re not some joker trying to smuggle a fire cracker down your briefs.

So the plane was late taking off, late landing, and they’d forgotten to load the landing cards at Heathrow so we had controlled pandemonium as we all got off the plane and tried to fill out the cards whilst jostling for position in the queue for border control.

This is my first visit to China and the first blog entry of many chronicling my visit. So let me just set the record straight: this is an amazing place, with amazing people. It hits you from the moment you step off the plane: it’s going places. Everything is spotlessly clean, modern, on a huge scale, and super efficient (whilst your passport is being processed, there’s a little machine with 4 buttons (very good/big smiley face, good/small smiley face, not so good/frowny face, very bad/angry face) and a note inviting you to rate the service you are getting. We pressed “very good”. Twice.).

After the 11 hour scheduled flight plus the hour and a half delay we decided to be bold, daring and adventurous. Why take a taxi? (Other than because all our money was in Chinese Yuan travellers cheques which only the Bank of China can exchange for cash. I’m exaggerating; we had just about enough for a taxi ride from the airport to the hotel). We wanted to experience the Maglev which sounds like some Russian import until you realise it stands for Magnetic Levitation and is the name of the super fast train shuttle that zips between Pudong Airport and Pudong (the newly built ultra-modern quarters across the Huang Pu river from The Bund – more on that later.) When I say super fast, how fast do you think we’re talking? First of all, it goes so fast it’s in kilometres per hour, no one uses miles here so if you’re a Yank or a Brit and still use the Imperial system, get with the programme and learn metric because you are being left behind faster that you can say China is where it’s at. 100km/hour? Faster. 200km/hour? Faster! Try 300km/hour and there’s even a small digital display that shows you the speed at which you are travelling.

After a brief Bill Bryson moment attempting to convince ourselves that we could find our way on a map covered exclusively in Mandarin pictograms, we managed to purchase 2 tickets (at a 20% discount because eagle-eyed me spotted the sign that mentioned the discount for those holding an airline ticket... as well as a whole set of very clearly laid out instructions in English with which we could have avoided the Bill Bryson moment), put our luggage through the x-ray machine and board the Maglev.

Having successfully navigated our way through the first level (was watching Inception on the plane, my mate Tom is in it – it’s full of levels...) we cranked it up a notch and purchased some Metro tickets to take us to the station nearest to the hotel. All 8 stops of it. We even made a little friend along the way. She was in her third year of a Bachelor’s degree in marine biology. Her English was quite good if limited. I’d been playing with her hand (I thought it was his hand but he moved it when I wasn’t looking and the poor girl didn’t say a word. Luckily he noticed after while and pointed out I should probably stop stroking a complete stranger’s hand before I got arrested for soliciting.) We talked for a few stops... “Where are you from?” she’d asked, and as most of you know, there’s no straightforward answer to that question where we’re concerned. Then she got off at People’s Square and cheerfully waved good bye.

Talking of lovely, the hotel is beautiful. In full faux Christmas regalia replete with grilled chestnut vendors, a choir of Carol singing little schoolgirls and hotel staff in Santa Hats handing out Christmas fare around a ginormous tree. Like our Christmas, only bigger, better and with more spirit. And Christmas isn’t even one of their national holidays.

After our second Bill Bryson moment of the day when we discovered that the Bank of China, the only place to exchange our travellers’ cheques was now closed until Monday morning (today is Saturday) -thank goodness for credit cards even if they charge usurious fees abroad... we took ourselves to Din Tai Fung where we had the best ever Dim Sum (Shanghai style not Hong Kong style for the aficionados amongst you). We’ll be back. One word for you: xiaolongbao. Google it. Could come handy in a game of Scrabble too. And if you can, get over here and try one for yourself: they’re soup filled dumplings.

Then we walked to The Bund, the main historical tourist drag across the river from the futuristic Pudong skyline. Nice walk. Lots of lights (it was dark... all of China is on Beijing time, some 8 hours ahead of London). Big crowds. The only downside? Pedestrian crossings that will make foreigners twitchy. Consider this: in spite of traffic assistants who’s job it is to blow their whistle and prevent anyone intrepid enough from even thinking about J-walking (on the spot fine of ¥50)... every time you cross a road, you imagine that you could be taking your life into your own hands. Why? Because although the majority of drivers respect traffic lights, some taxis have a tendency to go around corners without slowing down regardless of whether you have a friendly green walking light or not so then you start to think that at any moment, a car could run you over from left, right, back or front, or possibly some other dimension you have failed to notice and that there’s no safety in numbers either.

Still we made it safely to and from. (We cheated and took a taxi home.) Now typing this entry immersed in my oversized hotel bathrobe. We’re checking out the nightlife courtesy of Shanghai City Weekend magazine and just came across the following listing: ERSHOUMEIGUI “Second Hand Rose”, a transvestite comic folk band from Beijing that blends Beijing rock with sing along folk tracks. They’re playing tomorrow night. What a relief! That’s our Sunday entertainment sorted.

Be Careful! That's my best china...

Ni Hao! Just got back from 3 weeks in China (it was only supposed to be around 2 but then it snowed a bit at Heathrow). Although I wrote several blog entries over the course of the trip, I was unable to access Blogger, so now that I'm back in London, here there are in installments.

And by the way, Merry Christmas!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Drama Queens and Shooting Stars

Bear with me, I am transcribing this blog entry from the back of a flimsy paper napkin from Ray's Jazz Cafe (or Cafe at Foyles as it's now called) in Soho. The napkins may be flimsy (recycled actually) but the place is nothing but. It's great, try it sometimes.

So which is it going to be? The question being: would you rather be a duty bound and iconic royal or lead a short and dramatic but glitteringly captivating life?  For my part, I'm more Queen Elizabeth II than Queen of Hearts. As much as I'd like to be the one who arrives late for everything, for whom planes are held up, I'm more likely to be the one reorganising the tea bags , killing time in the British Airways lounge - or reheating left overs in my Tupperware. A Queen Elizabeth type of person shows up on time for appointments, early for flights, sticks to the rules, is reliable, dependable, genuine, caring and compassionate of others, and not a source of embarrassment for her immediate family. Drama Queens on the other hand don't know the meaning of time, run late as matter of course, and although extraordinarily caring and compassionate with  orphans and total strangers, are odly dismissive of and sometimes harmful to their close ones.

And yet, who doesn't want to be a shooting star? Who doesn't want their moment of glory (even if it was playing the 3rd sheep from the left in the school nativity play, 20 years ago). Everyone wants to shine like Marilyn and sing like Billie Holliday. Don't they? Or is it just me?

Like most things in life, it's a trade-off: an easy conscience and respect and approval of the chattering classes OR scandals and rock-bottoms and loads of designer freebies. I mean, broadly speaking. The exception to the rule, and there is always an exception is Kate Moss. She is iconic, notorious (she's the cover for Roxy Music's latest album Olympia) and will probably still model flimsy underwear age 120. I make no bones about it, I'd like to be Kate Moss. There is one drawback: you never or rarely hear her speak.... I would struggle with that.

Last night was the cast and crew screening of the first 2 parts of Any Human Heart which premiered on Channel 4 last night in the UK. I'm in part 4 which will air December 12th at 9pm. Now you know. Now you don't have an excuse not to watch it. So when you do, give me my Diana moments by fawning over my FaceBook page and telling me how great I was and how fantastic I looked (especially if you haven't actually watched it). Otherwise, Queen of Hearts or not, I'll make a big drama about it...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Bear and the Hungarian Princess

I wish I was a bear. Let me elaborate and broaden this statement. I'd like to be any type of hybernating animal. Why? Consider this: in the Spring and Summer, you frolick around in the lush grass of the meadows, stuffing yourself silly with berries and other wild fruit and honey (if you're a bear that is - and I'm quite partial to honey, especially since it's excluded from the Dukan Diet, hence my preference for bears). You get as fat as you can. Then, when the days start to shorten and the leaves start to fall from the trees, after a last meal of gorgeous hazelnuts you bury yourself deep underground in an accommodating and comfy den and then sleep for months. Then, when you wake up, it's Spring and - here's the best part - you're skinny!

Look me in the eye and tell me that you don't want to come back as a bear next time around... (of course, make sure to specify what kind of bear... you  don't want to come back as a panda and be stuck in a zoo eating bamboo leaves and being encouraged to copulate with your panda mate that you don't fancy one bit.)

Now on to the Hungarian princess bit. Kate Middleton and Prince William are engaged to be married and of course everyone is very very happy for them... but the BBC seems very keen on pointing out every five minutes that she is a "commoner". How progressive! Hey, at least she's English, she's not a benefit fraud, she's not a divorcee, and she's even from the Home Counties. What more do they want? Actually she's from good middle class stock and apparently a 15th cousin of Prince Williams so there's a bit of aristo in her. And unlike journos her grammar is near perfect...

Speaking of perfect grammar. What passes for my British accent overseas disturbs the English. I don't have an accent: no regional twang, no social class twang (genuine or affected), so they can tell I'm not from here. I'm tired of having to justify my accent to everyone from Taxi drivers to call centre workers...  Did you ever watch "My Fair Lady" ? When Professor Higgins takes Eliza Doolittle's to a very posh reception as a final test? One of the guests is heard commenting: "Her accent is too perfect... she must be a Hungarian Princess!". More of that please, and less "Where are you from?".

Moving on, I had a casting today for a well known chain of eyewear. It was right behind Oxford Circus and I'd never been to that particular studio. I arrived early, rang the interphone and duly climbed the stairs, all five floors, to the casting studio. I whiled away the time chatting with a fellow actor as we waited our turn. Me: "Boy, it's a long way up! I'm pretty fit I think but I was starting to struggle there towards the end. You wouldn't want to come up those stairs if you had a dodgy ticker!." Him: "I don't know, I took the lift..." I hadn't realised there was a lift... Anyway, his name was Toby and he was about 6 foot 2 and we auditioned together standing side by side which must have looked quite hysterical. He was really lovely and warm and I wish him all the best.

So here's to happy couples, long royal marriages, Hungarian Princesses and hungry bears!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

You're middle aged and I want you to cry your eyes out.

I love my agent! Their (my agent is actually 2 people) belief in me is unswerving. They believe I can play anything: any age, any nationality, any social group. Of course, most actors believe that and the theory is that yes, with training and dedication and a lot of research a good actor should be able to play a wide variety of roles.

That's what drama school is for. In the real world, unless your name is Johnny Depp, it doesn't work like that. Why? Two words: casting directors. Tell me, why should a casting director go through the trouble (and risk) of casting a 25 year old fresh faced ingenue to play an embittered post menopausal harridan when they can cast the genuine article? Why would they cast a Londoner to play an Irish country wench? (This second rethorical question is not being asked at random... more on that later.)

But my agent believes that Johnny Depp aside, there is an exception to this golden rule of casting... it's called "The Interesting Choice". It's not a technical term, I've never actually heard anyone else use it. Actually, I just made it up.

Let me explain: you are a film director (please indulge me, sit on the director's chair, for goodness sake, it's even got your name printed on the back) and you are about to shoot a hilarious script that involves an older (45-50) plain looking secretary, who erupts in floods of tears at her long time boss' leaving do (I told you it was a hilarious script). One more thing, this is world cinema so you are shooting in French, with a French cast. As the casting director, you are going to look for French middle aged looking women who can put on a good cry. But that's rather obvious isn't it? I mean, anyone can do that. What if, you bring in someone a bit different, not likely to get the part because they are neither middle aged, nor plain, but someone who would make "an interesting choice". That way, everyone can feel good about hiring the real life middle aged plain secretary without feeling that they lack imagination because they did afterall consider "the interesting choice".

I am that "Interesting Choice". Very often. A bit too young for the role, a bit too different looking, dare we say a bit foreign? (As my agent always tells me: don't worry, the English HATE all foreigners.) So I was not surprised to receive an invitation to a casting session on Monday morning for a French ad campaign asking me to come in as a middle aged plain secretary who can give a good cry. (I'm very good at crying. I can cry - convincingly - on demand.)

I arrived - after a brief panic when I couldn't figure out how to get their front door open and had the entire reception desk staff miming "push" "bigger push" at me through the glass (apparently it had to do with the timing of the release button) to find a room full of middle aged but  relatively attractive and slender women (well, they all had to be Native French speakers...) and a few younger looking ones. I didn't stand out quite as much as I have in some other casting sessions, so I thought I might be in with a chance (especially when I heard one of the so called Native French speakers speaking in French in her best David Niven accent. Shame on her! The English may hate all foreigners but that pales in comparison with what us foreigners feel about Brits impersonating our nationality.)

I was in a foul mood: Brits passing themselves as native French speakers! Snooty French actresses being, well, French! One woman had even brought in her badly behaved toddler! (He wasn't badly behaved poor little mite, it's just that his mother had absolutely no authority over him whatsoever.) The heating was on too strong and I had my back to the heater! The waiting room was in a basement! I was being asked to play an ugly spinster with an unrequited crush on her boss! You get the picture, but I resisted the urge to run out and instead did my Alba Emoting breathing exercises (you can recreate any emotion through a particular set of breathing patterns and physical postures - hence my ability to cry on demand.) I did some neutral breathing, some happy belly laughs, and a bit of "erotic love" for good measure.

Everyone was auditioned in pairs (one younger one older). To be fair, the script did also include the part of a slightly younger woman who is seen consoling the older one. The last pair went in and I found myself alone in the waiting area. 20 minutes went by. "Excuse me?" The casting assistant, a pretty blonde who'd had the time of her life at a Halloween Party the night before (I heard her chatting to her mate about it on her mobile phone), looked up from her papers. "I'm afraid I have to leave at noon at the latest..." (It was 11:40, my casting call was for 11:20.) "Oh..." She knocked on the door to the casting room and asked if they could see me now on my own as I had to leave and they said yes!

And then the magic happened: I crossed that threshhold and felt happy and easy going. I had a nice chat to the casting director, and then we got on with it: I got to play the crying secretary twice, once without tears, once with, all the while improvising in French with the casting director improvising back in English... Then I left and went to Byron's in Covent Garden for a super double burger with fries (it was my celebration meal). For dessert, I headed over to Maison Bertaux at the bottom of Greek Street and had an almond croissant as big as my head.

And then I did what you should do after every audition: forget all about it. That way, if you don't get the job it doesn't matter, and if you do, it's a nice surprise. It's not as hard as it sounds, especially with a mouth full of almond croissant.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Emperor and the people on wheels

The Emperor of Exmoor, a red dear and the largest wild land animal in the UK, was killed by a licensed hunter early this week. It reminded me of the scene with the stag on the Balmoral Estate in  the film The Queen: it too was shot dead by a licensed hunter, a finance type from the city. What can I say, I side with the wild beast everytime. It may be romantic and sentimental and misplaced but I believe that when something beautiful and strong is destroyed, a little piece of our humanity dies with it.

While I'm on the subject, I also think that Tate Modern's decision to close access to Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds 2010 exhibit on health and safety grounds (the exhibit, made up of millions of hand made sunflower porcelain seeds was designed to be walked on and interacted with... now you can only view it from the platform or from behind a rope) is sad, deeply unpoetic and small minded in the way that only administrators' decisions can be. There goes another little piece of our humanity.

How do you eat an elephant? Even a really large one? One little piece at a time. Same goes with our humanity. Every day a little piece of beauty, of poetry, of enlightment, of love disappears - lost for ever. Some new ones are created: random acts of kindness, charity, mercy - but there is a deficit. And one day we will wake up and all our humanity will be gone. And we will be very very sorry. So here's what you can do: look up. That's right: look UP. Can you see the moon in broad daylight? Is it full? Is it a beautiful crescent? Is there a rainbow? A lovely sunrise or sunset? A flock of geese? Can you see the North Star? Look up and create your own little piece of humanity.

On to cyclists. I'm a pedestrian. Sometimes late at night or early in the morning I am a driver. What I am not is a cyclist although two of my friends are cyclists... Anyway, it turns out that it's not just cab drivers and everyone else who hate cyclists, it turns out... wait for it... that cyclists hate other cyclists too! Imagine that. This is what I have been told, second hand, so don't hold me to it:

Apparently, there are four main cyclist tribes:
The Daddies who dress any old way, as long as it's warm, waterproof, and provides good coverage. They ride upright bicycles with baskets/saddle bags and sometimes sport a child seat.

The Newbies in their 30-40 who, having not ridden a bike since the Thatcher era, have just experienced some sort of undiagnosed mid-life crisis and resolved it through the purchase of a brand new and expensive bicycle which they are now riding gingerly and nervously, paranoid about hurting it or hurting themselves, or both. They're a jumpy bunch, easily spooked and therefore both unpredictable and of a stroppy disposition.

The Freebies are the ones who have signed up to London's free bike scheme sponsored by Barclay's Bank; they ride around on these very sturdy bikes which can be picked up and docked from any of the hundreds of stations around London. The bike's design means that it is very slow and their rider's movements are eminently trackable and predictable: you are not going to get one of these beauties sneaking up on you or making a dash across the intersection through a red light.

And finally, there are the Triathletes: they ride carbon fibre bikes, wear "ridiculous lycra outfits", and race from traffic light to traffic light as part of their hard core training.

And here's the thing, everyone hates or despises everyone else! There is a class order too: the Triathletes at the top of the pyramid look down on every one else.The Daddies despise the Newbies for their lack of confidence. Everyone hates the Triathletes (including, I suspect other triathletes... they're a competitive bunch) and everyone despises the Freebies or worse, dismisses them as pedestrians on wheels. 

Friday, 15 October 2010

Playing Doctors and Nurses

We’re having a bit of a medical week. I had some inoculations yesterday for my planned trip to India (by planned I mean I know I’m going, at some point, like before the end of the year, but I’m not sure where to yet, or for how long). There are some nasty diseases out there: I got two jabs one for Hepatitis A and tetanus, one for polio, typhoid and diphtheria. The GP, feeling egalitarian in this age of fairness and austerity, gave me a jab in each arm – this morning I woke up feeling like I’d done a thousand bench presses in my sleep. And of course tomorrow is first my yoga class in two weeks as yoga George is back from holidays. I cannot bear to miss it but not sure how many chatarangas I will manage. Or headstands, or arm stands for that matter. Oh the irony!

Feeling rather contrarian, I requested some anti-malarial tablets (I am the poster child for Mosquito Tourism) but declined the offer of the seasonal flu jab. 

My right calf is sore too, courtesy of the man from the armoured car who was in such a rush to get to the Boots back office to collect the day’s takings that he ran me over with his incredibly heavy cart. I hollered in genuine pain and surprise but he never stopped. A case of pharmacy hit and run. Cursing quietly after him I hobbled to the chemist counter. The nice young man (notice how they are always nice and young when you find yourself in distress?) took me to the consultation room and treated me to some ice spray followed by a heating spray. “Tell me if this hurts.” “Ow! Ow! Just kidding.” It stopped him in his tracks and made him giggle. I guess I didn’t look the type to joke about.

I’m sporting a nice big purplish bruise today that only hurts if I press on it. So I try not to.

Today’s medical requirements are a little more serious. We are having a small hernia operated on and as I won the toss I get to play nursie rather than the patient.

It’s a very nice hospital, out West near Harrow, which means we had to leave at 6:15 this morning for our 8am appointment. We got here in plenty of time. Would have got here even earlier if I hadn’t entered the wrong postcode into the GPS. Luckily the other hospital was also near Harrow. I got called a “nong” for my efforts (I'm told it’s an Australian term of endearment) but I got off easy all things considered.

We arrived laden with food (a hernia operation is no excuse to abandon the Dukan diet) but conscious that we were “nil by mouth” since the night before I refrained from eating until the patient was wheeled off to the operating theatre.

It’s been a while since I was in a hospital. And boy have things move on. Have they ever! They make you were disposable underwear, the hospital gowns tie at the side, you are given a bathrobe to further protect your dignity and some fetching anti-deep vein thrombosis stockings. And a physio comes in with some simple deep breathing, toe wagging, and gentle coughing exercises for your post op recovery period. Genius.

I’m a bit jealous. I like general anaesthetics: the deep satisfaction of profound sleep. And the one week course of post op pain killers. Never mind. At least I got to enjoy the delights of the single and very well appointed bedroom whilst the patient was been operated on (in the theatre obviously, not the room).

... Three hours later, I had exhausted all available distraction available including but not limited to finding my way out of and back to the endoscopy ward, having breakfast, writing this blog, writing a couple pages of my novel “The Shy Exhibitionist (TSE)” – more on that soon – and doing all the puzzles in today’s Daily Mail – badly – and having a minor breakdown in the bathroom when I couldn’t figure out how to turn the tap off (you turn it all the way to the left). I was about to launch a rescue party for the patient when the phone rang. “Hello, this is the nurse in the recovery room. Everything’s gone really well but... (oh dear, what? WHAT?) he’s not breathing as well as we’d like. So we’re going to keep him here with us a little while longer before we bring him back up to the room. He’s fine really, he’s all talkative and telling jokes (oh, really? I am so relieved) but... you don’t happen to know how many breaths he normally takes per minute?” Unfortunately, I did not. But believe me, I’m going to find out for next time.

An hour later, they wheeled him into the room. A little pale and groggy but no worse for wear. With the daddy of all pressure bandages (to avoid excessive swelling and bruising for those of you not versed in surgery) on his tummy. Apparently, I’m going to have to yank it off in the morning. Lucky he’s going home with painkillers.

Turns out he is extremely susceptible to morphine: they gave him a tiny amount and he was out like a light. It took them an hour to bring him round.Turns out he’s some sort of non-breathing record holder... had the entire nursing staff on high alert because he was only taking 6 breaths a minute.

I told you I should have been the patient: I don’t mind morphine and I haven’t been training for any free-diving competition.

Anyway, he ‘s asleep now. Had some water and some food (lovingly prepared the night before – did I mention that we had to leave home at 6:15?) felt nauseous, rang for the nurse who never came, stopped feeling nauseous, saw the surgeon, had vital signs checked three times, did the physio’s exercises – that on top of a big incision on your belly is bound to wear you out. No need for morphine.

We’ll be going home soon. As soon as he can sit up and walk around a bit and all that. The nurses are all very friendly – like they just happened to stop by rather than actually working there on shift.

So all is good. The only cloud on the horizon is having to drive us back to and through London. I have to do it – he won’t be in a state to drive for a week or so. And I don’t drive through London very often – other than very very early in the morning or late at night – when there are no other cars around. Still. Small price to pay for spending an entire Friday playing doctors and nurses in a real hospital.

Monday, 4 October 2010

I come bearing gifts

Battling the rain, with my mock-Chanel sloppy trousers rolled-up around my ankles to avoid the tell-tale splatter, I picked my way around the puddles to the Tube station (that's what they call the London Metro/Subway). My destination? Kings Cross Station - or rather St Pancras International (or St Pancreas... as I like to call it) home of the Eurostar. I was heading home to Paris for the weekend. I'd packed rather light, in my wonderful Kitsch Kitchen bag. After some agonising sartorial decision making, I'd plumped for the school girl meets Chanel look which involved soft layering, slouchy trousers, long necklaces and charm bracelet, and a lot of pink and purple. (Sorry, I've been gorging on the freebie fashion mags on Eurostar - it's either that or Sudoku).

I'd even painted my nails "Rouge Seduction" which only the most dedicated of readers will remember as "the Woman" nail colour in Desire. That was a bit of a gamble: not only is this season's deep iridescent purple more "on trend" but there was a risk my mother would disapprove of the clash with my pink and purple colour scheme. (Note: as it turns out, she disapproved of the rather natty bright red lipstick that I put on to detract from my no longer black but mauve and green eye.) The other bit of gamble was borrowing a character's physical trait - but she was bold and feminine - a good talisman for a rare family visit. As it was a rather last minute decision, the top coat got mussed up - so I diligently repaired the damage when I got to the Eurostar lounge, but on that later.

Now for the "bearing gifts part". I'd already purchased some short bread, a favourite of my favourite aunt and godmother who is now 80, full of beans, and who developed a penchant for short bread shortly after my first stay in England in the late 1970's. (Kidmore Road, Caversham Heights if you must now.) Now I had to find something for my parents.

I got to St Pancras very very early. After retrieving my ticket from the self-service machine (which always involves a Continental frisson of  the "will-it-accept-my- booking-reference-number-or-will-the-computer-say-no" variety) I headed back out into the shopping arcade in search of TPP: The Perfect Present. They have loads of lovely things and I flirted with the idea of getting my dad the latest John le Carre hardback but decided against it as I was pretty sure he hadn't enjoyed the last one I'd got him. I looked at some costume jewelry and pretty scarves but my Mum has always eschewed frivolity and bright colours in favour of her very own brand of monochrome minimalism (head to toe black with the occasional flash of brown, tan, grey or white). Votive candles, incense sticks or house fragrances from Rituals? My mother doesn't tolerate lit candles or incense sticks... apparently the soot in the smoke blackens walls and ceilings.

So I walked into Neuhaus, the Belgian chocolate people. Everyone likes chocolate. Especially my mother. After a shortlived  "should I get the 40 or 60 piece" debate between my instinct to be generous and the voice in my head telling me my mother might think it wasteful, I went for the box of 60. Eat your heart out.

Not for the first time in my life I wistfully thought how I would have liked a mother who loved receiving presents, any kind of present, rather than a mother with impeccable taste. Luckily, therapy and a dedication to my personal yoga practice have made me rise above such considerations. Even if it still makes present hunting that little bit more challenging.

The lady in Neuhaus wrapped a nice ribbon around the box, and after paying for my purchase, I went to take part in the obstacle course which Eurostar generously provides free of charge to all passengers and which they amusingly call "security and passport control". Ha.

Actually it was fine. I got flirted at by a security lady with a Heidi blonde hairstyle (but not body searched) and I got a searching look from the French police official who was too polite to ask about my black eye.

Having reached the main lounge (as opposed to the lounge for business and first passengers which is off limits to the great unwashed) I sat down for the rather long hour wait until the scheduled boarding time and was treated to the most fascinating floor show - set to an Andrew Lloyd Webber catchy tune, it could have given Les Mis (Victor Hugo must be spinning in his grave) a run for its money.

Act 1: Bloody Jonathan. A rather tall and plump American business man called Jonathan had apparently tripped and hit the floor with his left brow and was now sitting rather dazed, blood pouring down the side of his face, attended to by Eurostar personel. They were diligently wiping his face clean with copious amounts of paper towel and a glass of water (!). They eventually wrapped a huge crown of gauze around his head before two medics showed up with some more impressive medical kit and - I think - gave him a few stiches. A few moments later, sans the gauze, he was escorted off presumably to his train? Goodbye Jonathan.

Act 2: The Mail Order Bride. An other American sat down next to me on my right. He was the domineering type who spoke in affirmative statements ("Swiss Rail Passes are a waste of money!") and his partner was very nervy but acquiescent. I nicknamed her the mail order bride. Totally not PC. Totally inappropriate. But he was getting on my nerves. And I wanted to kick her. I wanted to kick him too.

Act 3: Don't go anywhere. To distract myself I turned my attention to the lift well on my left. A Eurostar employee was wheeling a sweet rather frail looking elderly lady holding crutches towards me. He stopped by the lift and left her with a rather concerned sounding plea: "I'll be just a minute, please don't go anywhere!" She and I had a nice chuckle over it. "What on earth does he expect you to do?  Go scooting around the place?" "I know! I know! But isn't he sweet?"

Act 4: The Ballet. Then the real action started. Due to the late arrival of one train (from the depot! What happened? Was someone sleeping?), both the Brussels train and the Paris train (not mine, I was on the next one, I got there that early) boarded simulaneously. I watched wave after wave of people launch themselves across the lounge and then squint desperately at the most badly designed boarding screens and then perform a little jig, left - right - left until they finally spotted some unfortunate Eurostar Staff at whom they brandish their ticket in a desperate flourish only to launch themselves all over again in the direction in which the finger was pointed, trailing scarves, small children and luggage.

Act 5: The Trick. Like most things in life - is all about timing. You want to be standing close to the entrance to the platform from which your train will depart so that you can walk up the ramp ahead of the crowd, find your coach, find your seat, have room for your luggage near your seat, snaffle the freebie papers and mags and get yourself all settled in. The challenge is that the platform number is not announced until boarding commences, about 20 minutes prior to departure time. The trick is to spot the clues. Be alert. 25 minutes before departure time, I spotted a very pregnant lady with a stroller being directed towards gate 7. I took a gamble. Leaving the domineering American and his yes girl behind I followed the pregnant woman. And sure enough, the doors opened and after flashing our tickets, up the escalator we went. Cool.

We left on time. The journey passed without incident.

And my mother loved the chocolates.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

I'm knock-out drop-dead gorgeous!

Well, the first two at least... sporting as I am a rather smarting (if not smart) black eye this morning, as a result of walking into my bedroom door last night (obviously I thought it was open). Unfortunately no one was on hand to film it. It would have made a hell of a youtube video and turned me into an overnight star - which only adds insult to injury.

I can however confirm the following:
1. my bedroom door, unlike King Cross Station's platform 9 1/2 is not a portal to the wizard world (either that or Dobby's up to his old tricks again)
2. Evolutionary speaking, eyebrow ridges are vital. Right now, I wish I had a more Neanderthal prominence but mine seems to have done the trick, protecting my eye socket and not caving in...
3. Arnica and ice and ibuprofen work a treat.
4. Purple is still my favourite colour but not all over my (left) eye.
5. I should not be left alone overnight - ever.
6. An unexpected bang to the head can really help put life in perspective and make one more appreciative for small mercies ie no broken nose, no broken teeth, no stitches, no blood
7. and more grateful all around: Hey! I can - afterall - sleep on my back for an entire night. Who knew?

Of course, the timing of this self-inflicted injury (which the French mysteriously refer to as "black butter eye") is dreadful: I am due to see my parents this weekend. But as I keep telling myself, you can't really notice it, unless you look closely... I mean unless you look at my left eye. It's more swollen than bruised - from the thick layer of cream that I buried it under overnight. And it barely hurts when I touch it. So I'm in a good place.

Apparently, none of this is my fault. Many studies show that hormonal variations during a woman's cycle can lead to poor coordination and fuzzy thinking. I have quite a history in that department: various bruising, gouging and burns. Walking into doors however is a new one on me. So I must admit it rather took me by surprise. Let's just say I didn't see it coming. It's ok, you can laugh. I am!

I think it was the Universe punctuating my life and announcing that a phase was coming to an end and that today, on the last day of September, on this beautifully promising sunny autumn morning, a new journey is beginning.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Frothing at the mouth

My toothpaste project has come to an end which means a well deserved rest and the prospect of renewed vigour on the creative front - and no more pangs of guilt at the bathroom mirror for using a competitive brand of toothpaste. Life can be so simple when you let it be!

I embraced my newly found freedom this morning by setting out early to run some errands: groceries, drop-off at Oxfam, exchanging hair dyes at Boots (my rule is if you find more than 4 white hairs in one go, don't yank, dye. But I'm still quite new at this and I wanted the nice smelling 10 minute version with a comb, not the nasty amonia one that you have to leave on for 45 minutes which I picked up last Wednesday). I did them all. And then some. All the way into Covent Garden and back. On foot. In the driving rain. Wearing make-up and my new Tom Ford thick rimmed glasses. If you're going to do something, do it well and do it in style...

So now what? This is the deliciously uncomfortable bit: all options are open, nothing is certain, the road ahead is virgin territory. Where am I going? What will I encounter on my way? Will it work out? (Obviously, things have a way of working themselves out, and the day that they don't is the day you die and then none of it matters anyway.) Will I be successful? (This is a dangerous one: focussing on the outcome. And anyway, success is relative.) Will I be happy? (I am happy! Long may it continue.)

So watch this space...

Thursday, 9 September 2010

I’ve been touched by Midas

This week, it’s certainly starting to feel as though I have been turned – quite literally – into gold by old King Midas when you consider the small fortune I’ve managed to spend on my eyes and teeth.

It all started with an impulse buy on Monday night: “I’m going to pop into Optix for some new glasses.” To be honest, the getting new glasses wasn’t the impulsive bit – it was kind of overdue; my sunnies are 15 years old and my regular glasses 11 - but the bit about shopping at Optix was.

Optix are on Broadgate in the City (London) and they consistently have some very appealing window dressing and an attractively understated and stylish exclusive look about them. And the week before last they were advertising a storewide sale.

But the week before last I was in Paris and last week I sat in a workshop in the countryside. Of course, this week the storewide sale is over but the sunglasses sale is still on. So I went.

Let me rewind a bit. Remember the pencil skirt I brought at Primark? (Yes, the size 8 number that I wore in my last play.) I thought it would be a good idea to get a second one and about a month ago popped into Primark again and bought another one, without trying it on until I got home. It was too big! After a few surreal seconds during which it flashed through my mind that I had quite possibly dropped another dress size… it dawned on me that the wrong label had been sewn into the garment (!!!) and that it was most likely a size 10 in disguise.

I made a note to return it. But then I got busy (NY, Paris) and didn’t get back to Primark until Monday afternoon, by which time the 28 days grace period had expired as the good lady at the consumer service desk kindly explained. So I couldn’t get my money back but I could get the equivalent value in other store merchandise. All 5 pounds of it.

I looked and I looked… of course those pencil skirts are no longer in stock… and I could not find a single item – not a single item people! – that I wanted. Long story short I spotted a young woman with a friendly attitude who looked like she might be a size 10, gave her the skirt (and receipt so she wouldn’t get in trouble) and refused her offer to pay the 5 pounds for it. A bit of good karma - I thought - never hurts.

So now let’s jump forward to me in the Optix shop gagging to spend a small fortune and being guided though my shopping experience by Chris. What a talent! He was in turn funny and knowledgeable and made me feel like we were on the same level… He sold me a pair of Tom Ford black rimmed retro glasses and gave me a pair of gold rimmed 70’s glam style glasses - that look surprisingly attractive on me - FREE OF CHARGE (it had been part of the now finished sale – my good deed in Primark was paying dividends sooner than I expected) before we moved on to a pair of big Paul Smith sunglasses.

Shall I let you in on a secret? When it comes to glasses, big frames are IN, logo-less glasses by top designer are IN. And statement glasses are IN... if you’re big enough.

Then - and here is the best part people! - I had my eye test. It turns out my eyesight has actually improved since my last prescription: all astigmatism has disappeared and my short sightedness has lessened. Feeling rejuvenated, I chose the lenses for my new frames - half tinted, ultra thin, laser cut… (it means ultra expensive in Chris talk) and then went to pay the bill with my bank card.

Of course the bank put a hold on the transaction, demanding confirmation that I was indeed the one making such an outrageous and out of character purchase (I rarely spend money on anything other than topping up my Oyster card or grocery shopping… oh and the occasional 90 minute massage in NYC.) We duly obliged the bank and after revealing my age, the name of my first pet, and my astrological sign to a disembodied voice at the other end of the phone, they gracefully waved the transaction through.

Skip to a few days later. I am sitting in the dentist chair… everything’s fine but some remedial work could be required. (My dentist is the equivalent of Chris the glasses salesman for the tooth business but he’s the best so I oblige him by showering him with money in exchange for him brutalizing my pearly whites but ultimately making them look gorgeous so that even strangers comment on them.)

By remedial he meant: have the work done and you should be set for the next 10 years and those ugly black fillings on your molars will be a thing of the past… of course you could chose to do nothing but if and when things do deteriorate you could be looking at root canal surgery and jaw bone infection and other nasties. So which is it going to be? Shall we do all three molars at once? You won’t be able to talk for a week and it’s going to cost you the earth but then you will look so pretty and your teeth will be safe for another decade.

So I said yes to the remedial. Yes to handing over the money. Yes to letting him molest my molars. (Not least because it turns out that those ugly fillings we are getting rid off are OLDER than the dental assistant who sat prettily blushing in the corner. And no amount of rejuvenated eyesight can make up for that kind of devastating information.)

To offset the rather vertiginous collapse in my savings I acquired another bit of good karma. As I sat in the dentist reception waiting for my appointment with the Sally the good humoured hygienist (I love that bit. I floss daily and use an electric toothbrush. I am the hygienist's poster girl.) a call came through. Some poor woman had obviously come to her senses and got cold feet and was desperately trying to cancel her two hour dentist appointment for this Friday and it sounded like unless they could fill it she would be charged some outrageous late cancellation fee. So I offered to take up the appointment for my three molar extravaganza. I mean, why wait?

Why wait indeed. At least I’ll be doing it in style. A call just came through to say my new frames are ready for collection.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Cleopatra Complex

I've been feeling rather smashing lately, what with my recent all expenses paid trip to NY, my current assignment, the discovery of Scoop Gelato on my doorstep, and the amazing results of the Dukan diet (American size 2, people! size 2! Mini kilts! Skinny jeans! Madonna arms 'but nice' as a friend recently put it...and I still eat as much as I want - eat your heart out or better eat the Dukan way). And yet - or because of it - I am about to revisit some well trodden ground so if you're male, fit, and under 30, look away now.

Why?

Because you're not going to like what you see.

?

Apparently, you're not in my fan base.

?

According to my research, young attractive men under 30 do not like me, do not get me, do not want any part of me. (I didn't mean that to come out quite so literally, let me rephrase that last bit: just don't get me.) Now, if you're a woman, or a man over the age of 50, or a small child, or a cat, then I'm your poster child.

Go figure.

But it's a good thing. Isn't it? At least as far as fan bases are concerned, mine is pretty broad, and let's face it, at least I won't have to worry about ageing and losing relevance among young men (a fickle group if there ever was one) and having everything lifted back up to there and botoxed within an inch of my life.

Well isn't that's a relief.

But why is it that this particular group is at such odds with me? And more importantly why do I care (enough to write about it)?

Because it makes me feel all over again like the awkward teenager: unattractive and definitely not part of the cool crowd. Because part of me secretly wants to be Pamela Anderson in Bay Watch or in that interview with Ruby Wax. There I said it. I want to be the blond straight haired long legged big boobed teenager that all the boys liked in High School (and I didn't even go to High School; I went to a Lycee with intelligent kids with a highly developed individual sense of style and identity: think GaGa rather than Britney Spears). Well I'm not Pamela but I don't really mind.

Not really.

Well, I do mind, a bit! No one likes being ignored by Cleopatra's brother (if you're not getting the reference, read the serendipity entry from last month and catch up!) But then even when she was with Anthony (the original young fit male) Cleopatra still held Julius Caesar as the true original. Not sure Anthony would have appreciate the naked and rolled up in a carpet bit, or bathing in asses milk. But anyway it all went horribly wrong and she ended up ordering an asp in her fruit basket. As any actuary worth his salt will tell you, young men can be such a health hazard.

Where was I?

Oh yes. So I'm not flavour of the month with the young turks. I'm the coffee to their vanilla, the rabbit terrine to their Big Mac, Orangina to their Bud. I'm the nougatine to their roll-ups, and Casablanca to their Mafia 3...

... and that's a pretty good thing!

Isn't it?

Monday, 6 September 2010

I'm a 4 Scoop Kind of Girl

Forget everything you have ever come to associate with ice cream. The vans, the music, Magnums (full size and mini), Cornettos, Haagen Dazs, vanilla tubs, 99 Flakes, even Ben & Jerry's (even the chunky monkey variant), forget Baskin Robbins, Rocky Road.

Now, go to Brewer Street in London's Soho, walk into Scoop, ask the smiling young Italian lady to give you a taster of all of their gelato flavours (one after the other obviously), then order a large cone (dipped in chocolate and rolled in toasted nuts) and 4 scoops to fill it up. I had chocolate (so dark it was almost black), pistachio, hazelnut/praline and coffee.

It took me 20 minutes to lick it and eat it. It was divine. It was my dessert for this week's celebration meal on the Dukan Diet. Multiple yums.

But don't take my word for it. Go there. They do take away in tubs. They have another outlet in Covent Garden. If you live abroad, sell your house and move to London.

It's that good.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

When Cardboard Boxes Make You Cry

My youngest sister has been tasked with removing all our childhood things from my parents' flat. (For those among you of a more sensitive disposition please rest assured that my parents are alive and well - they just want more room for their own stuff.)

Which is how I found myself last weekend rummaging through cardboard boxes in my sister's Paris living room, coming face to face with my early childhood and feeling rather choked up. They weren't just memories you understand, but actual objects that had populated my early life. Like the 4 jigsaw puzzles of stylised scenes from Les Fables de La Fontaine (aka Aesop's Fables) and a miniature china tea set (which shattered when my sister's 2 year old dropped it - but that's another story).

I selected a few mementos to take away with me back to London: a small brass bell with an Alpine landscape painted on one side, a pair of tiny white gloves with a big red heart sewn over each hand passed down from one sister to the next over on our successive first skiing holiday, and my (small) collection of skiing medals.

The mere act of holding them unlocked long forgotten feelings of longing for the first flat we ever lived in, for my life as a 5 year old, for the way things were before they became complicated. I distinctly felt the remnants of the proverbial umbilical cord snapping, like old rubber bands, and a sharp pain like ripping off that last bit of a band-aid. I dealt with it by resorting to an old family favourite: when it doubt, tidy up. I sorted out the junk (old biros with dried out ink and inch tall chewed up pencils) from the treasures, knowing some would go to the next generation, and others would find a good home, eventually, via Emahus and Oxfam.

The pain that had come out of these boxes stayed with me over the next few days as a dull ache that ebbed and flowed. But I felt strangely elated, light, and liberated from the bind of personal history and tradition. Somewhere between the lego sets and Jacques Cousteau hardbacks, I had cut loose from my moorings, from keeping a foot in the past, from subconsciously resisting a full commitment to the future, to growing up, to becoming - well - me.

And this is how it came to be that one afternoon, in Paris, late August, a bunch of cardboard boxes set me free.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Walk like a Parisienne...

We're in Paris for the day, treating my four (and a half) year old niece to a grown-up lunch. First we picked up her mother from work and took them both to Brasserie Bofinger (it was plan B. Turns out plan A, a neighbourhood caf near La Bastille was shut for the month of August - a typical occurrence amongst French businesses).

The Brasserie was everything you'd expect and more: beautiful art nouveau design, first class service (they didn't bat an eyelid at our casual appearance nor did they react to the diminutive stature of  the fourth guest in our party) and the food was great. More about that in a moment.

My niece was treated to a child's menu, complete with crayons and enough games to keep her amused on a transatlantic flight. After lengthy deliberations with her mother (salmon and string beans are a staple favourite at home so she wanted to branch out gastronomically... this is a child who asked to sample our bressaola last night and declared it "délicieux") she settled on an "assiette du terroir" consisting - I kid you not - of smoked ham, foix gras de canard on Poilane slices, and terrine de campagne (a jellied concoction with bits of cooked offal). Meanwhile, I ordered Escargots de Bourgogne (that's snails for the back of the class) as a starter. She ate everything on her plate - minus the terrine - with relish. When the waiter brought my  6 snails, her eyes lit up so being a good aunt I offered her one. Precariously perched on its chunk of bread, the snail (out of its shell), in its garlicky parsley coating (it tastes of garlic bread - get over yourself and try them sometimes) made a bid for freedom bouncing first onto her plate and then her lap. It was reminiscent of Steve McQueen on his motorbike in The Great Escape - except the snail was succesful and eventually landed somewhere under the table, never to be seen again. My niece was mortified and it took her a few red faced minutes to compose herself.

We proceeded with snail number two which we shared without incident. However, not to be outdone in the snail flicking context, I promptly let shell number three fly out of my grasp into a dazzling pirouette. It landed on the pristine starched tablecloth in a flourish of parsley butter splatter that miraculously spared both our party and our rather prissily attired neighbours. A lucky escape. I had a main of Andouillette (that's tripe sausage to you) and some chips (celebration meal of the week on the Dukan Diet...). Yum.

Then we took her for dessert to Les Deux Magots in St Germain des Prés where she sampled the delights of a thick hot chocolate and chocolate ice cream. I had a Mille Feuilles. Double triple yum.

Now, nursing the aftermath of a stonking sugar rush, I am slowly peeling myself off the ceiling.

Vive la France! See you on the other side.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Losing my panties and falling down

I dropped my black yoga panties just outside the 5th floor lifts this morning. And although they were there for no more than 30 seconds, there was a (male) witness when I snatched them back up. Luckily a perfect stranger (hopefully not our CEO whom I get to meet on Thursday... but who else would have been in the otherwise deserted office at 8:30?)

I guess I owe you an explanation.

Let me take you through my new morning routine: I power walk to work in my gym clothes, take the lift to the 5th floor, and change into my work gear in the spacious loos (which are strategically placed on the other side of the lifts from my desk) and then carry my damp gym clothes back to my desk to air dry. Hence the yoga panties (it's ashtanga tonight) dropping (what were the chances of my yoga top slipping instead?) onto the floor unnoticed for the 30 seconds it took me to walk over to my desk...

Now about the falling down. That's just a play on words for dramatic effect. It's about the fact that although it's another 8 days before it's officially Autumn (or Fall in American English... Get it ? Get it?) and despite the fact that today is a rather glorious day in London - it no longer feels like Summer. Something about the air, and the light and the angle of the sun. If I were a bird (which technically speaking I am in English parlance... that's what they call girls here) I would be planning my trip home to sunnier climes right now. If I were a swift for example, preparing to fly back to Africa. Swifts are very common in France (or at least they were when I was growing up. When I was a kid, endangered species were exotic animals like tigers and pandas... now endangered species include sparrows and hedgehogs. What's the world coming to?) and harbingers of Spring. They used to build these very distinctive nests under the roofs at my school and my first teacher took the opportunity to tell us about how they fly all the way to and from Africa. And to me Africa was a bit of desert with yellow sand and a palm tree (an oasis really) or rather a date tree full of dates as food for the swifts.

Life was simple then. Unencumbered. I was 5 years old in first grade. My biggest dilemna was struggling out of my dungarees to go to the bathroom. Like I said, life was simple.

Back to Autumn if I may... about 5 weeks ago, it was a lovely Summer's afternoon as I walked through my neighbourhood but there was something in the air... the smell of browning leaves, the faint smell of burning leaves, a particular golden light and I remember thinking to myself  "that's Autumn coming." And the next day it went back to being Summer.

August is a funny month that way... you think it's the middle of Summer but if you look around there's back to school promotions, and fashion magazines are full of autumn/winter clothes... August is the beginning of the end of Summer. In the same way December always sounds like it's the middle of Winter and that somehow, come January, things will warm up. But no! December is the end of Autumn. Winter starts in earnest in January. They don't tell you that because they don't want to depress you and put you off the January Sales. But now you know.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Gimme a New York Minute!

My New York visit is finally coming to an end and I'm about to board the plane home with mixed emotions (not least because I discovered at the last minute that due to a typo, I had been booked on tomorrow's flight instead of tonight's - so a big thank you to the people of BA Club World  for sorting that out.)

I love New York and all of its idiosyncrasies and it makes it hard to leave. Especially in the summer time: the warm humid air - like hopping into a hot bath - and the repeated thermal shocks from the icy blast of air conditioning. The streets filled with light and reflections, the rhythm of traffic, the crowds that move with purpose. The mix of the old - circa 1950 - with the new. Everything in flux. All of us alone yet together.

Still, 9 days is a pretty decent amount of time and everything must come to an end. The people I work with booked me a private car to take me to the airport. My driver was Ron, an impressively very large man. 55 and an ex NYPD detective (he hinted at some dark and mysterious legal goings-on surrounding his early retirement - apparently Mayor Gulianni was involved. I figured he got shot on the job and they didn't want him to sue) it turns out Ron is a romantic soul with a life plan. 10 years ago, he bought a house in the mountains on a lake in New Hampshire and next year he and his girlfriend will be retiring there, leaving NY and their whole life behind. He wants to enjoy his old age the old fashioned way: nice and slow and peacefully. There's a man with his priorities straight. There aren't many like him about. Are you a Ron? I know I am.

I'm writing this as I sit in the sad little time warp that serves as the BA lounge at Newark Airport. Nothing wrong with it: it's air conditioned and they have free food  and drink - although nothing I can eat on the Dukan diet - so  I've drunk enough Diet Sprite to fill a bath tub.

They're calling my flight: time to board. So it's a New York goodbye for now.

A last gulp of Diet Sprite: here's a toast to Ron and all the kind people who made my stay such a good one.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Take me to NOBU baby!

Last night we went to NOBU. It was a business dinner. Another golden opportunity to make an impression (perhaps not the best one) on the new Clients with my Dukan Diet dietary requirements.

- Why?
- It’s the stabilisation phase… I’ll be able to go back to eating normally in a few months, but for now it’s about not putting back on the weight that I have lost.
- But why?
- Why what?
- Pardon me for saying so but you don’t look like you need to lose any weight.

Bless their little hearts.

- Well, I’ve lost the weight now. I like the way I look now. I was bigger before. One if not two dress sizes bigger.
- But you don’t look fat.”

Oh for goodness sake…

Still, there I sat in NOBU. The original one down in Tribeca. (Notice how that rolled off the tongue like I’ve lived here all my life.) I had the sashimi. It was very nice. I was real hungry (we’d been in a meeting from 9:30 to 5:30) so I also had the shredded radish and even the mint leaves decorating the plate. Those were real nice too. Oh and all the picked ginger and most of the wasabi. Like I said, I was real hungry.

Didn’t spot any celebrities. (Sorry.) It was an odd combination of business types and young-ish couples out for a nice dinner. Like I said, it's was lovely, and you couldn't fault the service (except for the eagerness of the waiters to wisk away food platters before people were done picking at them), but - and I'll say it at the risk of sounding like I'm channelling some MidWest farmer's daugher - you can’t beat the Outback Steakhouse for the friendliness of the staff... and the prices of course.

(Apparently it’s a chain… the people I work with have helpfully pointed out the one that’s around the corner from the office. They think it’s tragic that I frequent such a low brow establishment but I think they want to keep me happy.)

Monday, 16 August 2010

The Slow Motion Panic Attack

The past week has been a breeze – I’ve been in the zone – things have been taking care of themselves: dinner at Serendipity, finding a bathroom in Central Park, purchasing a size 2 (!!!) pair of skinny stretch pants (trousers) from Ann Taylor for $12.99 (I’m wearing them right now and boy it caused no end of rubber necking on my way to the Subway – American men are so much more obvious about it) and an immaculately cut wine coloured sleeveless shirt for under $9. And last but not least, the discovery of a friendly little steakhouse around the corner from my hotel that caters to my Dukan Diet requirements (grilled shrimps and sirloin steak for $20). It’s called The Outback Steakhouse and although the menu was speckled with pseudo-Aussie terminology the TV screens and the waiting staff were decidedly American and very friendly in a small town in the Midwest kind of a way. It was strange but endearing. A bit like Elle Macpherson’s accent.

I liked it so much I went back a second time. And here's the thing: the waiter from the night before (Carlos) came over to say hello… I’d ordered the same thing with the same requirements (no salt, no butter or oil, no seasoning, no nothing…) and he'd recognised my order when it was called out in the kitchen! We had a nice chat. Like I said, they’re real friendly folk. That means a lot when you’re alone in a big city.

Anyway, all that good feeling, that was last week.

This week may turn out a bit differently. For one, the weather’s turning. That unsettling combination of high UV and overcast skies, with violent showers hovering around the edges of town and the relentless return of the humidity. Add to that the fact that it’s Monday morning and the rather anti-climactic rescheduling of a client meeting from early this morning to this afternoon, and there you have it: the classic set up for doing things the hard way, wrestling control from the universe and feeling small and anxious. Because although all bad things come to pass, so do all good things.

What can I do about it? Nothing. That’s the whole point. All I can do is sit pretty (in my Ann Taylor skinnies, white sleeveless top and red patent leather shoes) and let the times roll…

Bring on the day!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The hands-on approach and the laws of Serendipity

Today is Saturday. Still sitting pretty in the Big Apple. Treated myself to a  "Hallucination Deep Tissue" 90 minute massage at H Spa on 34th Street and as the song goes "I'm feeling goooood..."

Like all the best things in life, it was completely unpremeditated. I was actually looking for a post office. In this land of plenty, in this town of late night opening hours, they have a rather quixotic approach to their post offices: they just don't have any.

What's the matter? Don't these people write? Are they all on Facebook? I walked over one hundred blocks today and zilch, nada, zip. I vaguely remembered one in the Meat Packing district but couldn't find it. Nor did I see any of the mobile post office units that used to line 5th Avenue in Midtown.

Why did I need a post office? Because I had diligently purchased some postcards of NY to send back to friends and family and I wanted to avoid the usual I'll-just-mail-them-from-London trick - which always runs the risk of people thinking that maybe you didn't go on a trip afterall and that you're just pretending. (Worrying about what people might think is a Middle Class trait - I've tried to replace it with the "I don't give a damn" attitude of the Aristocrat but for now the Bourgeoise in me won't allow it. It's a work in progress.)

At Union Square I asked a traffic cop for directions to the nearest post office. She looked rather bewildered. (Why on earth would anyone be looking for a post office? Why indeed...) "Well 34th street is the closest... (we were at 14th street), but that's really far!" I reassured her that my intention had been to walk to Central Park (which starts around 58th Street), thanked her profusely (I always overdo the politeness with NY cops, I don't want to get arrested) and made my way uptown in search of the elusive post office.

Turning onto 34th Street,  a sign caught my eye. It was for H Spa, at Club H Fitness. I walked in, checked their Spa menu, spotted a 90 minute deep tissue massage and asked if I could make an appointment for - well - now. I figured if the Universe meant for me to have the massage, they would accommodate me right then and there. Summer (for that was her name) checked her computer, booked me in and - before I knew it - I was wrapped in a towel and sitting in the steam room. 20 minutes of aromatic bliss with steam billowing around me. Then a shower. Then a walk down to the treatment room, dressed in an oversized terrycloth lined robe to await my massage. With Andrew. He pummeled and stretched and poked every inch of available tissue. I must have grown at least 2 inches taller. Then before I knew it it was over. I got dressed, paid for the treatment (which was more painful than any of the poking of my pressure points - especially with tax and tip added onto the total)  and retreated to their outdoor terrace to lounge about in my newly relaxed body. For the girls out there, it was like I'd had an all body Brazilian blow dry. (No, it's nothing to do with waxing the nether regions, it's a hair relaxant treatment that leaves your hair permanently straight - like a perm but in reverse.)

You'd think this was the highlight of my day. You'd be wrong.

As I left Club H, rather reluctantly, I wanted to get my money's worth... could have done a free yoga class at 6 but didn't have my gear with me... I started walking home, up 3rd Avenue.

Guess what I found around 50th street? That's right, a post office! It was closed of course (shuts at 4 o'clock on Saturdays. Just thought I'd mention it - you never know when that kind of information might come in handy) but... and here's the beauty of it... they had an automated post office annexe and it was open! I played with the touch screen for a while in a mindless fumbly Bill Bryson sort of a way and finally managed to purchase 6 stamps worth 98 cents each to mail my postcards to Europe.

Then just when I thought things couldn't possibly get any better, they did...

As part of the Dukan diet, consolidation phase part 1, I can enjoy a celebration meal once a week. This meal does not have to adhere to any of the diet's restrictions. I can have what I want as long as the portions are reasonable and I don't have second helpings.

I fancied a hamburger and chips.

There's a place not far from where I'm staying called Serendipity 3. It's on 60th and 3rd Avenue. They're best known as a surreal grotto of ice cream sundaes and for their ridiculous policy of keeping people waiting for anywhere between 1 and 3 hours before they can get a table... even though once you're inside, the place is pretty much only half full.

For the second time today, I put myself in the hands of the universe: if I could get a table right away, I'd have a cheeseburger with French fries and a banana split. I walked in. "Can I have a look at the menu please?" "Are you on the list?" (Honestly, it's not like it's the hippest club in NY, it's a place where mothers who lunch take their daughters and posses of elderly women come for the gastronomic equivalent of a quickie with the gardener in the potting shed) "No. I just want to have a look at the menu." "OK." "I'm on my own." "Oh, in that case you can have a table right away, no waiting."

And this is how I found myself sitting in the grotto of ice cream sundays, next to a rather kindly man. All this acting malarkey has improved my social skills no end and so we had quite a pleasant chat about waiting times and the yummy desserts until his girlfriend came back from the bathroom. She glanced at him as she sat down and then got that look on her face. You know the look: "hands off bitch, he's taken." Honestly, I was just making conversation, he was kindly but really not my type. Not anyone's type really. Just a nice sunny personality. So I desisted from making polite chit chat and promptly ordered my celebration meal. My waiter - now that's a different story - he didn't have a such a sunny personality, seemed rather fed up if you ask me, but none of that mattered because if Cleopatra had a brother (she did actually, had several - I just googled it - one of them was called Ptolemy), then my waiter would play him. That's all I'm saying.

I had to wait for my meal for quite a while. Got me rather restless... don't like things standing between me and my food but put the time to good use by doing some people watching. There was a stunning couple (it turns out they were Haitian) who looked as though they had stepped out of the pages of a glossy upmarket magazine. There were 3 generations of Upper East Side women: grandmother, mother, and child (I guess about 6) accompanied by a 4th woman who turned out to be the mother in law. She was rotund and chirpy. The child and its relations were skinny, neurotic and they drove Cleopatra's brother to distraction with their off the menu requests and substitutions.

I had 3 enormous glasses of ice tea whilst I waited for my meal. Testy doesn't begin to describe it. I think word got back to the kitchen that the brunette in the hairband on table 3 was about to go nuclear because my cheeseburger suddenly materialised. Yum. And then my banana split arrived. Double Yum.

The couple (no, not the beautiful one, the mousey one with the kindly boyfriend) had finished their meal and got up to leave. They were taking pictures of the place and of each other. I took pity on them and offered to take their picture. It turned out pretty well. And she was delighted. All was forgiven. Lucky she didn't see her boyfriend turn back with a big grin and wave goodbye.

I ate my banana split with commendable restraint. Taking pauses. It's a bit of a shock to the system let me tell you when you've been pretty much living on salad leaves and turkey slices. But I perservered and polished it off.

I left Cleopatra's brother a decent tip and emerged full of renewed optimism and love for my fellow man onto 60th Street. I love this town.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Going Native

I love my new job. Seriously. Well especially the bit about having to spend all this time in New York.

Life here is easy, you know? Just finished my grocery shopping and it's 8 o'clock at night and all the stores are open and they sell everything you could possibly desire or hanker after and then some. And people look happy, floating on a combination of contentment and a total absence of awareness of the outside world.

There's money here, lots of it. And a sense that if you work hard you'll succeed. No matter who you are or where you come from. There's a sense of expectation and of a greater purpose - we're all going somewhere on the great ship of life, and it's going to be great!

I find myself floating too, and smiling with a sense of relaxed detachment which is decidedly pleasant. But that could be the effect of the jet lag. I don't even seem to mind the prospect of having to work this Sunday. Do you think maybe they sprinkle prozac in the tap water in addition to the fluoride? Healthy happy teeth (oh dear... did I mention that my job involves working on a wellknown brand of toothpaste?) courtesy of the NY City Water Supply.

I don't know. But that's what happens to me every time I spend any length of time in the States (and I lived here for 7 years during my formative years). A kind of assimilation into the Borg of Capitalism.

In Europe, the sound of an American accent (usually from a whinning middle aged tourist complaining about things not being "like back home") can raise my hackles. Their politics appear simplistic if not downright bigoted. Their societal woes echo the final decades of the Roman Empire.

But hop off that plane, run the gauntlet of immigration, retrieve your luggage, brave the tedium of the queue (they say "line" here) for a cab (they say "taxi) into town, settle into your hotel room, unpack, take a shower, step out for a bite of dinner and presto! you're home. Except it's better than home. It's bigger, cheaper, with more options, and if you can't finish your meal, they'll give you a doggy bag.

I don't think it's universal. Two blocks from here I walked past a homeless woman who was crouching on the pavement. She seemed to be in opiate-induced semi coma. Her wordly possessions distributed into two of those stripey canvas bags. She held her hands out. Everyone ignored her. Not in an embarrassed I'd-rather-look-the-other-way fashion. No one seemed to see her. The invisibility of the dispossessed and the unlucky.

No wonder it's such a happy place. They can't see the monster within. Well, with the exception of Lady Gaga who embraces all monsters with gusto and generosity.

Me? All I know is that  - right now -  I'm feeling good.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Suck my toes!

I may be developing a toe fetish. The jury's still out... But you've been warned. I was walking down 5th Avenue this morning - did I mention I was spending some time in New York? - and my gaze alighted on the painted toes of the woman standing beside me at the crossing.

They wear a lot of open toe shoes in Manhattan this time of year. A lot of flat sandals. I guess it makes easier to get around. The fashionistas answer to the trainers and socks over pantyhose horror combo.

But I digress.

Her toes, burnished just the rightly judged shade of brown - the tan of the wealthy rather than the tanorexic's - were lacquered an exquisite cream colour. And it got me thinking : what does your choice of nail polish colour say about you?

Here's my theory:
Cream to mother of pearl is wealthy, pampered, elegance. Big flat in town or townhouse.
Hot pinks to bright reds: young, dynamic office worker to professionals. If they can afford to live in the city centre, it's a small flat.
Dark red to Chanel Black: Upscale burlesque dancer or suburban housewife.
Traditional Pastels: romantics, lovers of nature
Unusual pastels (white, mint green, baby blue etc... ): students
Metallics: artists, free spirits, originals
Odd colours: older women using their daughter's experimental nail polish to fight the insecurities of inpending middleage.
French Manicure: young secretaries who aspire to be WAGS (aka and girlfriends of football players, ie Posh Spice)
No polish: likely to wear cotton briefs, unlikely to sport a Brazilian

So what am I wearing? Fushia pink. Why? Because it matches my Havaiannas colour scheme (fushia strap with white sole) and the piping of my favourite yoga top.

Make of that what you will.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

To happy endings and new beginnings

5 performances left for Desire/Desig. One day, I will tell you all about it. One day but not today. (Oh all right, I'll tell you about how last Saturday, someone from the next show at the White Bear thought it would be a good idea to use an electric saw to cut some wood... in our dressing room... it was like Pompeii meets the Termites World Fair...)

Today I want to talk about endings. As someone who aspires to live in the moment, I find myself most often projecting into the future (in an "oh my god what's going to go wrong?!" kind of way) or reminiscing fondly about the past (have you noticed how it's almost always summer in your childhood memories?). It's not a satisfactory state of affairs but I keep reminding myself that it's a work in progress.

So endings then - they are bitter sweet... the fear of the unknown has already lifted replaced by the sweet tide of  nostalgia. "I don't want it to end!" Oh well, it is bloody well ending so get used to it, and get a move on!

What exactly is ending? The play I've been in, the routine I've developed over the last few years (I'm big on routine, me), the tentative baby steps. It's all ending this weekend. As of Monday morning, a new chapter will start writing itself.

No, I'm not leaving town, or changing my name, or even my hair colour (although the rouge seduction nail polish will probably go)... I've just reach my ideal weight (remember the Dukan Diet... about to start the next 50 day phase) and am changing day jobs. Oh, and I'm having my hair cut at the end of the week... a small earthquake of its own (will it look good? Luigi at Sulis has only been cutting it with style and flair for a couple a years... who knows he could surprise me with something really unsightly...!)

I might as well be contemplating diving from a 20 meter cliff!

I find it terrifying... there are no markers... not yet at least. Will I have time to go to yoga classes and Zumba? What if I get asked something and don't know the answer? What if they don't like me? What if I don't fit in? You see what I'm doing? Projecting into the future with apprehension and growing panic. Why can't I think positive things, like... I don't know...

Sometimes I think that life should end on a high... I wish there was a service that would come and wrap you up carefully like some valuable antique and put you in suspended animation after a particularly good run of things... and there you could float on a bed of ether, content, looking back on a job well done. A bit like those who die doing what they loved but without the sudden and shocking ending... control freak to the last, I would want to schedule my exit into temporary suspended animation. And then be brought back when things looked particularly exciting and rosy.

How strange! That's material for a sci-fi novel maybe (although not a very good one), but more importantly: who would want to live their lives like that?

Well me, for one.

But why?

Life isn't about pressing the pause button, or fast forwarding, or rewinding for that matter. With life, someone presses PLAY and you're off! Until that same person presses STOP, or you run out of tape, (or more likely these days) memory space.

So how about it? Why not hop into the next circle of light illuminating my path and trust the Greater Universe in all its wisdom and age old compassion? Especially since I asked the said Universe for a clear sign guiding to the next step and it delivered an almighty neon lit all American Brass Band, Red Arrows flying overhead sign that said "GO DO IT!"...

So what am I waiting for? Another sign?

It's time for lift off.

Get, set, go...

Major Isabelle to Ground Control...