Hello Enemy Camp!

Alison: I’m delighted to introduce you all to the beautiful Jewels, AKA Julie Anne Rhodes, who is my soul sistah from another band. Talented, brave and gorgeous, she is gracing my blog today in lieu of feeding me cake and coffee as she usually does at Christmas when I visit Los Angeles. It took the ex wives club to get Duran Duran and Culture Club on the same page after 30 years, but here is Jewels with the story of how we reconnected, along with her own Christmas memories.

Julie Anne: Hello enemy camp! Well, that’s how Alison describes the relationship between Culture Club and Duran Duran back in the day. I remember the odd bitchy comment in the press but I certainly never felt that way. While we only met a few times in passing, I was always quite fond of Alison and Roy.

Fast forward 25 years and a mutual friend urged me to read a searing commentary on fame (now the Moth to a Flame chapter in her book) that Alison had penned on Facebook. I sent her a friend request that night and was blown away by how eloquently and accurately her words described a phenomenon I still can’t fully fathom, let alone describe. What caught us both off guard was how parallel our lives have been for past few decades. Both now exes of keyboard players, both long distance mothers, both writers – she is my twin sister born into a different band. How did we function without each other all these years?

That cyber reunion cemented a fast and fabulous friendship. For the past couple years we’ve managed a face to face reunion at Christmas time when she’d come to LA. Alas, she’s not coming this year so we decided to exchange Christmas blog posts instead.

My fondest memories of Christmas as a child were of visiting my maternal grandparents in Kansas City. I couldn’t wait to see the fairytale wonderland of Spanish buildings on the plaza all intricately detailed in lights. My Auntie Vera and I would make cookies for Santa, who by the way liked a shot of Dewers in his milk, and put carrots out for the reindeer. I was then tucked into bed, and threatened that if Santa caught me awake – he wouldn’t leave a present for a naughty girl. I would race down those stairs at the crack of dawn to see if Santa had indeed enjoyed his treat. There would be a few crumbs left on the plate, an empty milk glass, and most exciting of all – the chewed up ends of the carrots!

Christmas in England was equally magical. It was always spent, no matter where in the world we were touring previously, back in England at Nick’s parents place in the countryside with a gaggle of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. I would inevitably be stuffed to the gills from the huge roast beef with Yorkshire pudding dinner my mother-in-law would make, yet I still managed to cram Cadbury’s chocolate in my mouth nonstop while watching the Queen’s speech in front of the fire. What? It was the one of two days per year I allowed myself to pig out (the other being my birthday), and dag nappit I was going to make the most of it.

To this day I am a big overgrown kid when it comes round to this time of year, although I was going through a mini melt down two years ago. I had just been diagnosed with a congenital birth defect that required open-heart surgery. Vain creature that I am, the scar concerned me much more than the threat of impending doom. I might as well have a neon sign emblazoned across my chest screaming, “past her sell by date,” I lamented. Only Alison, with her typical extraordinary wit and wisdom, could turn my gargantuan pity party into howls of laughter with, “well, you can’t hide it so you might as well flaunt it – tit bling, that’s what you need!” A few weeks later she showed up on my doorstep with the solution – a bevvy of stick on gems for my cleavage. What better Christmas present could a girl ask for? Especially one called Jewels.

Alison: You can see my blog for Julie Anne here:  http://julieannerhodes.com/2011/12/orange-you-glad-its-the-holidays.html   and also buy her newly released book Party Accomplished, browse her blogs and sign up for her brilliant Personal Chef Approach™.

Pink Prose the book at http://www.alisonlouisehay.com

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Shaggy Fog Stories

Winter is sneaking in and with it an overlay of London fog that makes damp ghosts of houses across the street and reduces cars to rumbling, blurred dots of light.                      The most haunted place in the UK is purportedly Borley Rectory in Essex, built in 1863 and pruned back to a ruin by arson in 1929. Upwards of seven ghosts have been reported there, including a phantom horse drawn carriage, a nun and a liberal sprinkling of poltergeists.                                                                                                                                       As teenagers, my brother Robin and I lived for elaborate, if harmless pranks. As we became mobile with clapped out and mottled second-hand cars the jokes ranged further afield. Whereas before our group of friends limited themselves to pestering long suffering neighbours with midnight jaunts of swapping out washing hanging on garden lines and such, with transport we were more ambitious and liable to plant rowing boats on town hall roofs. So it was, one evening, at a loose end with too much energy that a dozen of us decided to haunt Borley Rectory. It says something – I don’t know what – that such an idea would occur to us more readily than liberating trainers from storefronts.          Reconvening after hastily cobbled together costumes, we heaped into battered and seat-less vans and cars and formed a convoy for the forty-mile trek into the countryside.   I can’t say the outfits were on a par with Night Of The Living Dead; there were a suspicious amount of sheets with holes for eyes, some of them with floral patterns.     Having established that the rectory ruin would not necessarily be a tourist magnet at 11pm on a November Tuesday it was decided the best course of action would be to loom out of nearby bushes at sporadically passing traffic. Pleasing us no end was the special effect of a dense fog rolling in to enhance the spookiness.                                                                Predictably, the only reaction from locals heading home after a pint was either irritation or confusion at a gaggle of numpties flapping across the road shrouded in flannelette. Disconsolate and cold after an hour of crouching in the undergrowth, we repaired to our ramshackle convoy to head home but by then the fog had thickened to such a degree that visibility was at two feet. The last laugh was on us as we crawled home nose to tail at half a mile an hour.

****

I used to have no idea where Strasbourg was, having had scant reason to be there. Now it’s a notch on my travel belt, I still haven’t, forgive me, the foggiest idea and there is no excuse really, one could Google it and be reliably informed that it grandly presides over the European Parliament but you’d have to have an imperative rationale to go there and unless you are a European politician I can’t think of one offhand. I couldn’t even tell you with any certainty what it looks like because it was clouded with fog the morning our tour bus crawled in for a gig in 1984. Luckily we didn’t have far to go from the hotel to the sound check and the weather was so debilitating that we decided to stay at the venue until show time rather than risk another hazardous round of pin the tail on the donkey to locate the town.                                                                                                                                         The tour had been progressing satisfactorily; enthusiastic crowds of 15,000 were packing out stadium venues at the same time that European charts were being conquered and the mood was buoyant. The entourage had expanded from one (me) with the band in a borrowed transit van to me, the band, session players, backing singers, a manager, a tour manager, a travel agent, promoters, agents, assistants, makeup, a photographer, video technicians, lighting crew, sound crew, roadies and drivers. Although upwards of sixty people can comprise a tour it becomes an extended family, a close knit group of Brits in foreign lands, bringing our own set of ‘in jokes’ and sensibilities to wherever we found ourselves. For us, the parental roles were filled by the band manager and his wife, Tony and Avi Gordon, consummate navigators of social minefields, well traveled, worldly and sage. The part of distant alcoholic relatives you were obliged to see at Christmas was awarded to the roadies and drivers, who invariably kept different hours to the rest of us and often stayed in less salubrious hotels nearer to the gigs unless they were driving the equipment onwards to the next location overnight, in which case they slept on the buses. In order to imbue their brief stays with a touch of home, they had a small potted plant and a welcome mat they would station outside the door to the bus wherever they landed.    Most infamous among the drivers were Ted, otherwise known as ‘Lead Foot’ because of his propensity for propelling a vehicle of several tons down the narrowest of roads at reckless speed, and Clive, perhaps not one of the more sensitive of citizens ever to emerge from the West Country of England. For those of you unfamiliar with what a West Country accent sounds like, you may have heard it portrayed with authentic inflection by the American actor Sean Astin in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was the trademark accent of Samwise the Gardener and as it happens, Clive the Drive.                                                                Having had the foresight and luck to arrive at the gig with the day to spare, avoiding the necessity of negotiating fog bedevilled mountain passes, the same cannot have been said of the potential audience. Instead of the expected thousands, only a scant hundred made it through. Once the shock was overcome, jokes abounded of the audience consisting of three people and a dog and a lively debate ensued on whether or not the dog had been charged for a ticket. For a while after the disastrous turnout, any slightly under attended gig became known as ‘a Strasbourg’.                                                                                                 The next morning, even though the fog had lifted, our spirits hadn’t, and we trouped aboard the tour bus dejectedly, ready for the long haul to the next and final destination, Nice.                                                                                                                                              Clive, rotund, denim clad and resplendent with the obligatory Seventies footballer shoulder length perm and moustache, was already installed behind the large wheel of the vehicle and eyed us all through his own fog of a hangover as we clambered up the steps towards our seats. Spotting Roy and I he cheerfully announced he had been assigned the room next to ours in the hotel with a breathtaking lack of diplomacy.                                                 “’Eard you two at it last noight!” he crowed, to a resounding, infuriated silence from Roy and I and the sound of jaws dropping from the other occupants of the bus.                   However, Clive was yet to reveal his finest hour.                                                                        In the city of Nice we were installed in the grandest hotel on the Promenade des Anglais, the 1912 Baroque confection of The Negresco. Everything from the elaborate plasterwork to the antiquely uniformed staff in their 18th century red plumed postilion hats exuded an air of expense and faded gentility. Our suite was housed in the iconic dome at the top of the building. The art on the walls was original and valuable and the bedspread was made of mink. From the stone balustrade balcony we had a fine view of the beach and also of the French hookers plying their trade along the seafront. A friend of ours had joined us for the last gig, having driven our car down to the South of France to meet us, so we would be able to motor off after the tour wrapped and grab some much needed R&R. Parked out front, our Jaguar became the hotly contested backdrop to display tart wares upon; sprawled over the hood of the car they would seduce a customer and disappear, only to be back some fifteen minutes later, presumably stickier than before, ready to be commandeered all over again. Affronted, we took to lobbing grapes from the complimentary basket from the height of the roof at the ladies of the night until they reluctantly moved towards less fruitful ground.                                                                                                                                              To celebrate the end of a successful tour (discounting Strasbourg fog) it was decided that the band would host dinner for all, including roadies and drivers, at the esteemed Negresco Chantecler restaurant, recently restored to its Regency style splendor.                             Like the kids table at Thanksgiving, roadies and drivers sat separately from the band but had graciously been informed by their bosses they could feel free to relax and order whatever they wanted from the extensive menu. Social etiquette in those situations usually dictates that you don’t abuse the hospitality of your hosts but we were genially prepared for a rather large bar bill emanating from the crew table. Roadies are not known for their abstinence. We hadn’t factored in Clive, however.                                               Seated eagerly, napkins readily tucked in to collars like bibs, they pored over the haut cuisine French menu with furrowed brows. Grumbles reached our ears at the dearth of burgers, fried egg & chips. Abandoning the insurmountable task in favor of drinks, it was Clive who broke the stalemate.                                                                                                     He beckoned over the headwaiter, a Master Sommelier, resplendent in a tuxedo with his small, chased silver wine taster on a long chain around his neck, befitting his status.        “Oy. Garson. Come ‘ere,” he bellowed.                                                                                       The Sommelier glided forward and peered down his lengthy nose with an air of thinly disguised distaste. “Er…yes…Monsieur?”                                                                                  Came the fabled line since cherished by us all.                                                                            “Oi want a crate o’ beer,” he stated with quiet menace, stabbing the pristine white linen on the table with a grimy finger for emphasis, “And oi want it fuckin’ now.”

****

Fog, something London has been famous for excelling in, evinces melodramas from what used to be termed Penny Dreadfuls, the forerunners of comic books that an eager Victorian public lapped up. They were spiced with tales of murderers vanishing, top hatted and sinister, into the mysterious cloak of mists formed by a combination of weather and the pollution of a burgeoning industrial age. Fogs so dense that they gained the nickname of ‘pea-soupers’ due to their impenetrability. Nowhere is the image more prevalent than Spitalfields and Whitechapel, legendary stomping grounds of Jack the Ripper.                     I’d always assumed the name Spitalfields derived from spit, or spittle, which is an even less salubrious thought. Turns out it’s an abbreviation of Hospital Fields, from the establishing of St. Mary’s Hospital in 1197. Before that it was the site of a Roman cemetery. Roman nobles were still popping out of the ground as late as 1990 when the marketplace was being remodeled.                                                                                                                                      The very fashionable market now prevailing as the anchor to the region had its roots from back then too, but I wanted to explore the spectre of Dorset Street at the heart of the area, which for centuries held the dubious distinction of the ‘Worst Street In London’ due to its appalling poverty, overcrowding, prostitution and crime. It was also the address of two of Jack the Ripper’s victims.                                                                                                         Dorset Street itself has been entirely erased, paved over. The silk weavers houses with the rooftop skylights to enable them to work until the last dying light of the day, the terraces of the French Huguenots, the Jewish workhouses filled with Russians fleeing from Pogroms and rat infested slum tenements that held four Irish families per room are all but gone now. On the north side are warehouses and to the south is the back of a multi-level car park. It no longer has a street name at all. I walked along it to see if any whisper of it lingered, but if it did, it was only in being able to see some of the same views that long ago residents must have been familiar with.                                                                                     Facing the location of Dorset Street, as testament to timeless design, is the newly restored and elegant Christ Church, designed in 1714 by John Hawksmoor, protégé of Sir Christopher Wren. The area and underground station Whitechapel derives its name from the soaring, tiered exterior that spikes into blue sky, set back from Commercial Street. Rumours abound circling Wren and Hawksmoor’s allegiance to Masonic laws that has the church sitting squarely on a cross hatch of Satanic ley lines. It was the ley lines that perversely sprang to mind when I’d spent an afternoon wandering Spitalfields only to find my house had been burgled when I returned home. In the preceding month it had been on the stone pavement of Lamb Street, opposite the church, on a freezing December evening, that I had been informed of the death of my father.                                                                Beside the church on Commercial Street remains the Ten Bells Pub, first established in 1752, to this day serving the London Porter Ale and gins that Mr. Ripper might have partaken of, seeing as he murdered someone just behind it in 1888. It appears to be sporting its original paintwork too.                                                                                             Two popular occupations in the 1880’s were costermonger and prostitute, born out of the proximity to the market. If you wanted a flea-bitten floorboard to bed down on of a bitter winter’s night your working day had to generate a few pennies for gin and a three more to bribe the door keepers to let you inside their disease ridden houses of squalor. Sanitation ran to one bucket between thirty people. You begin to understand Lionel Bart’s optimistic summation in the musical Oliver, written in 1960, where he depicts the degradation of Dickensian London with the song, ‘It’s A Fine Life’:                                                                 “Small pleasures, small pleasures, who would deny us these?                                                 Gin toddies, large measures, no skimping if you please…                                                         …If you don’t mind having to deal with Fagin, it’s a fine life.                                                  Though diseased rats threaten to bring the plague in, it’s a fine life.”                                                                                                                                                       Gin, more commonly known as ‘Mother’s Ruin’, was the least expensive road to oblivion available then, a vital component of the cycle of poverty, theft, prostitution, rape and murder that blighted the crumbling facades.                                                                                Jack the Ripper culled his easy prey from the ranks of prostitutes that were commonplace to the rabbit warren of soot stained streets that were the first port of call for waves of immigrants looking for cheap accommodation and the company of their compatriots. The influx of the late 20th century has been Indian and Bangladeshi, imprinting their own stamp of culture on the area just as thousands have before them but remnants of Old London is everywhere you look.                                                                                         Speculation upon Jack the Ripper’s identity has ranged from Victorian royalty to a German sailor. Such is the morbid grip of the unsolved crimes that they have spawned an industry, termed ‘Ripperology’. There’s even a monthly magazine.                                                       Grisly artefacts from the most notorious felonies in the history of policing, including The Whitechapel Murders, can still be viewed in The Black Museum, run by today’s Metropolitan Police. Indeed, just around the corner from the site of Dorset Street you can view the decorative tiled frontage of Peel House, former tavern, named for Sir Robert Peel who created the world’s first police force, a constabulary that in its fledgling infancy was charged with hunting down the Ripper with practically no experience in crime solving at their disposal. The subsequent gathering of evidence was the birth of criminal detection. It’s a wonder that any evidence survived at all, but they had the forethought to photograph the victims and save letters written by a man who claimed to be the killer. Photography, also in its early stages, was only employed because it was thought that information on the last scene or person the victim beheld might be stored in the pupils of their eyes. What wasn’t photographed, but hastily scrubbed off the wall adjacent to the second victim by diligent ‘Bobbies’, was a phrase purportedly chalked by the assailant. Subsequent forensic examiners have lamented the lack of foresight ever since.

In 2008 I offered to pitch in to oversee George’s clothing venture, B-Rude, comprising of a small shop in Shoreditch, right by Spitalfields. Looming ominously out of the fog upon my initial inspection was the three storey blackened brick Georgian building originating from the early 1700’s, around the same time as St. Leonard’s Church (upon whose grounds it borders) although there has been a church on the site since Saxon times over a thousand years hence. Because the grounds surrounding the church predate both buildings, the cemetery contains many Elizabethan luminaries, including James Burbage, the first nationally known actor and founder of the earliest pre-Shakespeare playhouse in England and later, James Parkinson (b.1755) after whom the disease Parkinson’s was named.        St. Leonard’s also has a starring role in the ancient nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’, as the lines goes,                                                                                                                              ‘When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch’.                                                                      The frontage of the B-Rude shop bore the title ‘The Clerk House’, conjuring up staid images of bewigged gentlemen poring over hand-written ledgers of accounts for the parish. In the very back of the shop was a tiny, dank stock room where I spent many hours attempting to make sense of the jumble of old stock and materials, mulling the possibility of the pared back brick and mortar walls retaining echoes of generations that lived or died in the rooms. I never felt at ease there. Only later did I learn that the house’s original purpose was to serve as mortuary for the church and it was in that very space that the body of Mary Kelly, comely brunette and fluent Welsh speaker, fifth victim of the Ripper, was laid out for two days before her burial in Leytonstone, East London.                        Nicely dovetailing into the myths of the East End, my lunchtime smoke one afternoon was enlivened by four policemen sifting the contents of the storm drain outside the store for a murder weapon, thought to have been discarded the night before. With a specially adapted truck designed for drainage and filtering they appeared to be better equipped than their Victorian counterparts but still came away empty handed.                                                       In keeping with tradition, the aforementioned parking lot where Dorset Street used to stand is currently the titleholder of ‘most crime-ridden car park in Britain’, confirmed by my hairdresser David, who relayed that he was mugged there last year.                                 Try as I might, I couldn’t get him to appreciate the honour of being part of living history by being robbed and bashed on the same spot that robbing and bashing has been rampant for nigh on a thousand years.

 

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Scary Monsters

Halloween looms; the time when we conjure up all things ghoulish. I wonder how easy it is to genuinely scare the Bejesus out of today’s children, being used as they are to images that would have sent us quivering under the bed covers for months at their age. One of my vivid memories as a small child is of sitting at the dining table with the family during dinner and bawling in fear: my brother Robin had me convinced the Loch Ness Monster dwelled in the hallway of our three-bedroom semi. I had no firm concept of what a Loch Ness Monster might entail or be capable of, enhancing its reputation and elevating it to Unknown Dread.                                                                                                                             It’s fine though – Robin has been paid back handsomely over the years and also earned an immediate parental cuff round the ear. He would have picked up scare tactics from our older cousin Rory, who had my brother sobbing at the age of five with a tall tale of Daleks on the tracks during an unscheduled train stop between stations. What goes around.             Nowadays I’m less afraid of intangibles although I’m prone to an involuntarily shriek if a person walks into the room unexpectedly. This is particularly frustrating for anyone unfortunate enough to live with me, who should (not unreasonably) expect to enter a room as a natural component of getting on with their life without the unwelcome side effect of having their eardrums perforated. Although my propensity for screaming is an everyday hazard for those close to me, there have been occasions it has caught others off guard:

Backstage, Wembley, 1984. It was the sixth and final night of a run of Culture Club gigs at the famous London venue and the hospitality area was awash with well-known faces, including Ringo Starr, Stephen Fry, Elton John, Herbie Hancock, Paul Young, Meatloaf and Bob Geldof. I was having a delightful and smug gossip with George Michael, due to an unwittingly canny move two years previous to that, whereby Roy and I had chanced upon a newly formed band by the name of Wham at a nightclub opening. Like most at the time, Roy had gravitated towards the vivacious Andrew Ridgeley, assuming he was the power and creative force behind their first single that was nibbling at the edge of the chart. I had immediately engaged the underdog George Michael in conversation at a time when he couldn’t get arrested, if you’ll pardon the phrase. We had been locked in conversation for a couple of hours. George M was shy and overwhelmed at having to promote himself publicly and I gave him a motherly pep talk that was characteristically presumptuous, considering I was a 20-year-old non-mother. Thus when I had extended a hand at Wembley and introduced myself to the megastar he had become, George M laughed, “Don’t you remember me? We talked for two hours at the Embassy!” I was mortified at forgetting, but he couldn’t have been sweeter.                                                                                              An idea had been put forward earlier in the day to attempt to recreate the Band Aid Christmas single as a finale to the last night of the tour but George M also wanted to seize the chance to perform a live version of Culture Club’s song ‘That’s The Way’, something he had long been an admirer of. It hadn’t been included in the set list but at his suggestion, Roy had thought it a splendid notion and sped off to alert Other George. He returned with the nod on the proviso that he could go over the chords to familiarize George M in a brief rehearsal rather than gamely debuting to 13,000 people and cocking it up completely. There wasn’t much time. George M grabbed my hand and we began to dash from room to room, giggling and flinging open doors, searching for an appropriately quiet space to practice. Stymied, our hopes were high on reaching the last door along the corridor and I burst through it hopefully, only to be confronted by the lush sight of Mr. Loaf in his entire splendor, with his underpants around his ankles. Meat & Alison let out simultaneous blood-curdling screams, although his was far more melodic than mine. Frankly, the picture of it is seared upon my memory for evermore.                                                                                   Both songs were later performed flawlessly to the rapture of the audience but I was too traumatized to think of anything else but Meat’s Y Fronts.

In the late ‘90’s I’d been pleased to host George for a flying visit to LA where he was due to put in a solo appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Even for a seasoned veteran of television, Leno is a daunting prospect, going out as he does to millions of homes across America. George was uncustomarily nervous in the hours leading up to the taping. Typically, he will limit the amount of people he can bear to be around as he readies himself and only a trusted few will have access to his dressing room. Eschewing a make-up artist, George was doing his own, but was getting increasingly agitated as a few beads of anxious perspiration kept threatening to dent his exquisite handiwork. He was in a flap, banning everyone from the room but myself. It became my task to calm him as well as field the continuously interrupting knocks on the dressing room door for ever more disingenuous reasons. One of the Tonight Show staff wanted him to sign the illustrious guest book. Someone else wanted to fit the radio mic. A man arrived with towels. A secretary needed a Performing Rights slip filled. Snacks were offered.                                                         Unbeknown to the two of us, Leno visits his guests before taping, unlike David Letterman, who allows his staff to badly research facts then attacks on air to ambush his interviewee to maximum effect, having grandly had nothing to do with them until the pivotal moment. He likes to emerge as the victor at someone else’s expense. Jay, ever the gentleman, makes a social call to disperse the nerves he understands may occur when not just on air but meeting him for the first time. He would never acknowledge the magnitude of his own celebrity; it is unspoken. He uses the social call to graciously discuss in advance a few anecdotes he might prompt the guest to share, leaving no nasty surprises when in front of cameras and a live audience.                                                                                            Nevertheless, on the seventh knock at the dressing room door, George was at boiling point and instructed me to tell whomever it could be to fuck off and leave him in peace. I cracked the door a fraction, distracted and a little impatient, and Jay Leno’s head popped through suddenly. Instantaneously, I screamed in surprise and dismay almost slamming the door on his face. Quick as you like, the lovely Jay smilingly responded with, “Wow! Am I that ugly?” before introducing himself to me modestly – as if he needed to explain who he was.

My phone just emitted an innocuous bleep to indicate full battery charge, provoking a faint cry of alarm from me. I’m more nervous than a badger in a brush factory. Mostly this is due to last week’s Spider Incident.                                                                                              The quite rainy summer has, according to news reports, made for ideal spider growing and although my house gets cobwebs I rarely see one – until last week. I was watching TV when an enormous one ran out from under the living room curtains and crouched by the VCR. I thought to myself, I’ll ignore that and pretend I didn’t see it. I was hoping it would sidle off behind the TV stand and both the spider and I would be happier, but no. For reasons best known to the giant spider it decided to gallop straight towards me at 50mph across the wood floor. I really hate this because it means I’ll have to deal with it. I whipped off a slipper and thwacked it hard but then was obliged to stare at the slipper for an hour to make sure it didn’t limp out from underneath. The slipper sat for 3 days, in the middle of the room, until I got the courage to lift it up and dispose of the mangled carcass. Damn thing. I was walking around with one slipper on.                                                                        No sooner had my anxiety subsided than one evening I entered the kitchen, snapped on the light and there, pulsing malignantly on the counter, was its parent. A spider the size of a bagel. My scream harmonically resonated at such a high sonic frequency that I set off a passive burglar alarm in the next room. The next room.                                                  Putting aside the disconcerting thought that a burglar alarm coupled with screaming failed to rouse the concern of the neighbours, I was faced with the bald fact that the insect spray resided in the cupboard directly beneath Shelob. With the slow and cautious precision of a bomb disposal expert I levered the cupboard doors open with the longest implement to hand: a bread knife.                                                                                                                         No spray. I was all out. A noise escaped me that can only be described as grizzling.          However, here’s where initiative comes in handy. Under there I also accumulate mounds of plastic recycling bags that get tossed onto my doorstep weekly in an optimistic gesture that I will avail myself of them. They are orange, and are bound in long, thin rolls about two and a half feet in length. I suddenly had a vision of myself, clad in flowing robes, wielding a roll with both hands in the manner of a Jedi Knight. They are ideal weapons, although I’m fairly certain that was far from the goals of the Local Council’s Green Initiative when they were first imagined.                                                                                                              Gingerly liberating one with my foot, I lined myself up with the spider and prepared for an incisive Vader lunge. You only get one chance before the jig is up and efforts descend into a frenzied chaos of panic battering.                                                                                                Got it in one. The Force was with me. But then it was days before I had the courage to confront the corpse and suction it up with a vacuum cleaner extended by several hoses. I’ve since spent cowardly hours lifting the edge of anything not nailed down in the event a domestic monster has claimed habitation rights.

So I’m not best prepared for Halloween and my nerves are on a hair trigger. If anyone shows up at my door dressed as Meatloaf, Leno or a bagel-sized spider, be warned. I have plenty of festively orange recycling bags just itching to be useful.

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High Crowds

“We are say-ring…passing high crowds…”                                                                                Roy and I listened politely to our host, Muraki Kanso the artist, as he mangled the Rod Stewart classic on his guitar. We were settled into the Gothic castle style lounge of the house he shared with his sleekly blonde American wife Sally. As a couple they lived very comfortably; the art commanded respectable prices and Sally was at the top of the executive ladder at Christies Auctions. Although Muraki’s cherished ambition to become a rock star had so far been hampered by the small and inconsequential snag of a complete inability to carry a tune, he was not one to be held back and was pleased to grasp the chance of a jam with a fellow musician.                                                                           Indisputably though he excelled in his career as an artist, painting window sized and detailed Art Deco tableaux of beautiful women, adding his own Japanese flavour to the style of them. I longed to own one and hoped he might bung one in our direction but instead, on a tour of his home studio, he’d decided to execute a simple Japanese line drawing of a woman with a guitar, which he gifted to Roy. I couldn’t say it wasn’t a pleasure to see him masterfully capture an image with spare, well-placed dashes of charcoal. I also couldn’t say I preferred it to one of his full-scale prints but I tried not to be churlish and kept my trap shut for once.

Muraki had a seemingly permanent houseguest called Lars, who despite his touted Swedish ancestry was tall but with unruly black curls topping his wide face. He claimed to be availing himself of their faux Bavarian guesthouse only until his foreign millions came through to American accounts. Meanwhile, he lived in a style he vowed he was accustomed to, splashing out on bottles of Crystal champagne and ordering lavish take-out meals from expensive restaurants. Lars immediately latched on to Roy upon meeting him and became a fixture at our rented house at weekends, showing up in ever more exotic cars, bearing gifts from prestigious Beverly Hills showrooms and laden with sushi platters to feed at least a dozen people.                                                                                                                               One night Lars took it upon himself to treat a large group of our friends to dinner at the hottest new nightclub; the tab must have run into the hundreds with the vintage champagne he ostentatiously ordered. When the check came he confidently slapped down a platinum Amex, quickly waving it away though not before I’d clocked that the name on the card was Sally, Muraki’s wife. Catching my sideways glance, Lars assured me that he had been added to the account. I filed the information away, not placing much significance to it.

In the summer of 1987 we had been renting a three-bedroom house in the Hollywood Hills thanks to a Loni Anderson look-alike realtor who unashamedly revelled in the name of Mary Christmas and drove the cheesiest Seventies car I ever saw, bedecked with mirrors and a burgundy velvet interior. (Relevant to nothing, but you know how I love a digression).                                                                                                                               Tucked away behind trees, the one story house had a rock-surrounded pool and airy rooms decorated in Californian ivory linen tones and generic Spanish tiled floors, although we’d begun to tire of the frequent problems with the aging plumbing. Dealing with the landlady was frustrating. She seemed to be a frail and frizzy haired remnant of the Sixties who had taken one too many acid trips and she swung from outbursts of vehemence to spouting absent minded nonsense, losing the trail of a conversation mid sentence. If pressed to be responsible for house maintenance she’d claim all her money was being funnelled into the big cat sanctuary owned by Doris Day, who happened to be her mother-in-law. It was several weeks before it dawned upon us that her husband, therefore, was Terry Melcher, infamous for producing the music of Charles Manson. When we unearthed some hastily scribbled sheet music in the piano stool annotated by ‘Charlie’ we had a middle England meltdown, clutching each other in light hysteria and flapping about in a panic. My nerves had already been shredded by several encounters with scorpions who conspired to hove into view every time Roy left the house, stranding me whimpering with legs drawn up on the coffee table until such time when he would eventually return with his good stamping shoes on.                                                                                                             Thus when Lars offered us a rental belonging to a friend of his just off Sunset Boulevard we were ready to leap at it. The story was that Lars had been poised to move in but selflessly would give us first refusal instead. However, the house failed to materialize within the promised week and I was uncomfortable with what seemed to be a very laissez faire attitude to any formal agreement. Roy told me I was being obstinate; it would save us three thousand a month. Sensing the deal falling through, Lars hastily supplied another option. His best friend owned a house in the flatland of Beverly Hills that could be ours if we wanted it; the occupants wouldn’t be using it until later in the year when back from touring Europe. If we liked, we could have a look around and see if we thought it would suit us. We arranged to meet Lars at the house one afternoon.                                                        It was a handsome 1940’s Spanish style mansion, three storeys and six bedrooms, surrounded by tall trees that gave it privacy and shrouded it in pools of dark shade. The garden stretched back beyond the house, which sat imposingly on a corner lot encompassing a tennis court. Roy fell in love with it on sight. Having met us outside, stepping adroitly out of an Aston Martin DB5, Lars sheepishly admitted that he had forgotten the keys but if we waited, he knew the combination to the garden door in the alleyway and would let us in forthwith. In no time at all, he bounced to the front door and welcomed us into the vast, beamed ceiling entrance hall.                                                       Inside, it was apparent that the last time the house had seen an interior decorator had to have been 1971. Shabby emerald green carpets clashed with orange walls and musty brown tartan couches. Although I’d been expecting the condition to be rental ready, clear of personal effects, photographs and clothes, it seemed as if the owners had just stepped out that morning; the desk in the heavily panelled study was cluttered with papers and food lay on the counters. Lars explained that he sometimes used the place and occasionally house sat, and if the lease were approved, the house would be cleaned and bare in three days. He certainly knew his way around as if he lived there. I pulled Roy aside and hissed in his ear.                                                                                                                                            “I don’t like this at all. It’s creepy,”                                                                                         “Shut up. It’s great,” he said briskly. “We can tolerate the furniture if it’s saving us thousands. It’s got spare rooms for recording equipment and there’s tennis – you’re just looking for something to complain about, as usual,”                                                           Digging my husband in the ribs, I said we’d have to think about it before making a decision. Alone with Roy later in the evening, I voiced misgivings about the venture and said my instincts were yelling no. I didn’t like the lack of paperwork and thought it sounded risky but was reluctantly persuaded to have another look around the next day after an exhaustive hour of argument. Lars later broke the news on the phone that due to our hesitation the owners had expressed second thoughts and decided to lend it instead to a family member who was in town, causing Roy to fume that I’d blown a really good deal and refuse to speak to me for three days. I didn’t care. The house had given me the willies.

We stayed where we were. Our last few months of renting passed by quickly enough until we headed back to England to pack up our home before the final permanent move to LA.                                                                                                                                               Slouched in front of the television one evening in our Essex house, Roy answered the telephone. It was the Beverly Hills Police. It was a mystery how they’d managed to hunt down an unlisted number for us in England but their reach was long and alarming. Lars had been arrested in a stolen Mercedes and cited Roy as being the owner. However, the police had, by their own tracking methods, been able to establish that the owner of the car was none other than Sylvester Stallone and the detective demanded to know why we were claiming it as ours. Lars was also under investigation for credit card fraud and an impressive pile of other felonies. Sally’s platinum Amex sprang to mind.                     Satisfied for the time being that we were absolved of collusion, the detective rang off, warning us that if further infractions came to light he’d be back on the phone if it seemed likely we’d had some involvement. We quaked for days with the unshakeable sense of impending arrest you get when you’ve done nothing wrong, with melodramatic visions of the first recorded extradition from Billericay to Beverly Hills going down just as we innocently headed for bed with hot cocoa.                                                                                Now the potential rental property made sense. Far from forgetting the keys, Lars had merely barged into an unoccupied house, his largesse at showing us around nothing more than a front for common burglary. Doubtless he had been hoping we would stump up three months rent in advance which he would then ‘pass on’ to his friends.                                We’d had a narrow escape from a glib and practiced con man. Not so lucky had been Muraki and Sally, who were out to the tune of thousands on their American Express bill. Possibly Muraki was already gently weeping with guitar. I could picture him strumming. “Passing high crowds…to be near you…to be flea…”                                                      Providing subsequent hours of idle entertainment for us was Mr. Stallone, as we wondered what he’d been had for, aside from, of course, a brand new Mercedes but what happened to Lars remains in the dusty annals of Beverly Hills Police records.                                           We never did find out.

 

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Fanbloodytastic

Jumping in at the deep end, I’ll start with a name drop. I love them. Shame on me, but I do. UK news broadcasts now include the warnings, ‘Caution, this segment contains flashing images,’ (although I can’t help but wonder how many unfortunate epileptics are bracing themselves in their armchairs around the country – six? Ten? And do they reach for sunglasses or peep through their fingers?). I hardly need warn you that I season my writing with celebrity names as liberally as I do swear words. I’m worse than Roadies, who would needlessly apologize for their language in my presence before they realized I outshone them in the cuss department. What can I tell you – my father was a sailor, about the only profession further down the scale than Roadie for abuse of the spoken word. It wasn’t a love of the sea I inherited.

So. My good friend Chrissy Iley, (Hooray!) veteran of more celebrity interviews for The London Times than you’ve had hot dinners (with apologies to my three friends who are Raw Food proponents…actually, no, fuck ‘em, they are deeply weird) once said to me that the secret to writing was to tell your story exactly as if you were writing to your best friend. Spill all, especially the juicy gossip. No holds barred.                                                        I don’t write fiction. I share the inner workings of my cluttered and shabbily disintegrating mind on the page. It’s very personal. Now that a great deal of it is out there in the world for strangers to read I find myself having to come to terms with the concept of people I’ve never met knowing me quite well, or certainly feeling they do. I write, hopefully, in the way that I speak and I have, as do all of us, a pattern and style that is my own.                Watching an actor’s work for decades will familiarize you with a large part of who they are, because they can’t help but insert their own mannerisms, inflections and facial expressions into a part and it leads to the feeling that you know them at least as well as your Auntie Doreen. Likewise musicians, who have the added secret weapon of music to evoke an emotional response in the listener that I’ve always envied. However, once you have spent some time on the other side of the celebrity fence and had the myth of glamour dispersed you become less likely to place anyone on a pedestal even if you understandably admire their body of work. Have I fantasized about getting stuck in a lift with someone who’s work I adored and letting them know that yes, yes, yes, I identified completely with their emotional revelations and also, ah, I’m a really interesting person that they’d get along with like a house on fire given that we think so much alike, if they only got to know the real me? Of course I have. So have you. But the reality of being an artist is that the real gift you imbue your work with is the ability to strike a familiar chord with your audience, in the same way that a comedian stumbles across a great joke of human foible. Something you imagined was your private and unique habit being a trait we all identify with, such as moving speedily away from a fart in a small shop, hoping against hope that the remnants won’t cling to you like a large arrow. I know, I know. I might have chosen a loftier example. Heartbreak in a song. There you go. The trick is to recognize and be aware of falling into that trap. Be yourself and live your own life creatively and who knows, you may end up on the other side of the fence for it (even if you still love a name drop) instead of being the persons recently discussed in the Michael Jackson trial who gathered outside the Staples Center to speak with him then raced to his house through the traffic to get there first to speak to him all over again.

I’ve been on the frenetic side of the fence too, I might add, and I’ll tell you how.            1984. Not wishing my marriage to fall apart due to my husband growing and becoming distant due to a lifetime of extraordinary experiences that I hadn’t shared with him, I was accompanying Culture Club (Huzzah! Got another one in) on their massive North American tour.  There is an adrenaline rush of acute fear and heightened excitement that comes with running the gamut of a hysterical crowd upon arriving at an airport or hotel. It can go horribly wrong, such as the time Roy and I got separated from the band in Sydney airport and had to take refuge underneath the desk of a travel agent’s booth in the terminal rather than run the risk of having our hair torn out and clothes shredded. That really happens in uncontrolled mob frenzy. It’s dangerous and frightening and you worry not just for your own safety but also for theirs.                                                                                              Anyway, anyway, (I am gesturing in vague dismissal; I gesture a fair amount when in full flight, be glad you’re nowhere near me with a replenished glass of liquid) we were preparing to plough through a vociferous crowd of several thousand by the time we arrived at a certain Toronto hotel. The local radio station had been helpfully giving a blow-by-blow commentary on our precise location. Oh, thank you so much.                                                 We geared up for the duck and sprint and piled out of the mini van that had ferried us from the airport but in the melee of arms and legs my hand was ripped out of Roy’s firm grasp and a surge of mania quickly put a dozen people between us. I was swallowed up in a sea of screams and yelled out my husband’s name in desperation and panic. It suddenly dawned upon me in one ghastly and delightful second that everyone else was doing the same thing with identical intonation. “ROY!! ROY!!”                                                                             Damn. Like getting caught in a January Sale rush, along with everyone else I was fighting to get near the band. Well, I could fight harder. Plunging in with determination I met with the immoveable force of a six foot four security guard who stuck out his arm just as I dived for success. He clotheslined me and I went down faster than a Detroit Lions Quarterback.   Roy could only watch in dismay over his shoulder as he was carried away by a tide of police bent on protecting their primary targets and only once inside did he manage to alert them to let me through the front door. Breathless, dishevelled and scraped I dusted myself down on attaining the sanctuary of the service elevator with the band and various personnel. I was aggrieved in a very 21-year-old working class Essex way:                                        “Some complete cunt just decked me!”

I couldn’t believe he admitted it, but from the corner of the elevator, an immense and stoic security guard broke his silence with an incongruously timid voice. “Uh, sorry, ma’am. That was me.”                                                                                                                              Right you are. Awkward.

 

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Home Is Where The Hearth Is

 

There’s an old joke that goes, ‘How do you turn a cat into a dog?’

My love of cats has been likened to fanaticism. I’ve been dubbed The Cat Whisperer and accused of manufacturing an over air-conditioned bedroom to resemble a ‘cat-infested igloo’ but still, the answer to the joke, ‘Pour on gasoline, ignite, and Woof!’ makes me grin.

It has to be said though, that cats and fireplaces are not ideal bedfellows. All that flammable fur and ready-made incendiary is a nightmare waiting to happen. Worse then, if your cat suddenly decides that the fireplace is the safest refuge in the house.

I have a theory that once a cat has reached Alpha status among several others, he assumes the responsibility of defending his territory against all comers. Your cat is Tony Soprano. Hostile sorties are his burden to action or preside over and all is fur in love and war. Very good. But where they come unstuck is when the interloper is human. Faced with a six-foot adversary, it’s the Alpha cat who will be the one heading for the farmhouse in upstate New Jersey faster than you can say Cannoli.

Such was the Modus Operandi of Dennis the polydactyl, who having proved himself the champion of the house after a fraught year of battles with Kitten the Incumbent, would sprint to the fireplace as soon as the doorbell rang. His determination, combined with a good dose of panic, was so intractable that nothing could stand in his way – not even a roaring fire. He hesitated for a microsecond before once plunging into the flames and up the chimney, to my horror. Lucky for him it was a gas fire, with fake ‘Hollywood’ logs and I was able to instantly switch it off but never again could we enjoy a fire if visitors were expected.

When I moved him to an apartment that had no fireplace he was forced to make alternative arrangements. They generally included the back of the closet, or in a pinch, the hall cupboard. The marvellous thing about it was he’d worked out the appropriate times to hide. If the phone rang once, it was a social talk, a regular telephone call. If the phone gave two rings it was a call from the front desk of the building to announce visitors to me. Even though it would be a full five minutes before they made it to the front door after negotiating elevators and hallways, Dennis’s finely tuned paranoia made the connection that twice meant eventual strangers and he’d be off.

While renting a house in the Hollywood Hills in 1987, I agreed to cat sit for a passing acquaintance, a single guy called Glen who was going to visit his family in Connecticut for Thanksgiving. His luxuriantly long haired pure white Persian, unsurprisingly called Snowy, was a spoiled and pampered only feline but since my own brood had yet to make the trek out and were sequestered in England I thought it would be nice to have some purr therapy around the house for a few days.

Snowy was picked up from Glen’s high-rise apartment accompanied by miniscule cans of special diet food, multiple grooming implements and an unending selection of favoured toys. Glen was waved off with assurances that Snowy would be treated like a king.

Snowy took to his new surroundings like a duck to the Sahara and after a low slung and rapid reconnaissance of the building opted for rocketing up the chimney as the best defence he could muster in trying circumstances.

He was budging for nothing. He’d found a ledge and was unreachable. Several hours of coaxing with open cans of special diet did nothing to influence his conviction that he was safest where he was and I conceded defeat for the night, hoping that he’d be down in the morning.

He had been down, to wolf the food, but by daybreak was back on his perch. I didn’t ask what his bathroom arrangements had been.

“How is he? Oh, he’s great. Don’t you worry. He’s settled in wonderfully, doesn’t miss you a bit. Has he what? Yes, he’s been playing with all of his toys. Oh yes, he’s had a can every morning and one a night, just like you said…Right! He won’t want to come home at this rate.”

The hell he won’t. Glen was due home the next day, presenting two problems. The first was how to dislodge Snowy from his new address of Chimney, Woodrow Wilson Drive, Los Angeles, 90046. The second was how to explain being given a white cat and returning a jet black one.

Ever practical, I got Dickensian and made my three-year-old child, clad in a plastic sack, stand upright inside the narrow fireplace and rattle a broom in Snowy’s vicinity. Round one to me, although in his hasty evacuation Snowy had trailed a swathe of soot across twenty yards of rented ivory carpeting. Round two went to Snowy from the kitchen sink, who steadfastly, and not without a modicum of violence (and it has to be said, spite) refused to turn anything but a dusty grey.

I can’t say I missed Snowy’s negligible contribution to the household atmosphere when I sped away after delivering him but at least the fireplace was back to being fully functional, albeit with a suspicious trace of eau de catpiss.

Those of you who have read my writing will have quickly deduced that my most marked characteristic is failing to learn from experience and so it was that I involved myself in the disappearance of Monkey.

Monkey was a robust ginger and white tomcat belonging to my friend Melanie who lived high in the winding hills surrounding the Hollywood reservoir. In contrast to being in a fireplace, Monkey had availed himself of a golden opportunity to dash out of the house while tarps were being spread on the carpets before the local chimney sweep arrived.

Mel was beside herself with a worry that is all too familiar if you have ever lost a cat in the hills. Coyotes ensure they do not survive for long.

I trudged the steep hills with her, stuffing missing cat leaflets through mailboxes and stapling his picture to telegraph poles. In desperation we’d even called upon the services of a cat psychic but a week passed and there was no sign of Monkey. Mel was inconsolable.

Then, driving over to comfort her one afternoon through the countrified snaking lanes, there he was, sitting right in front of someone’s garage. Monkey! I’d found him and it was miraculous! There’s a warm inner glow that comes from heroically solving someone’s problem so spectacularly and my mind raced forward to the happy reunion. I hit the brakes and pulled over to the side of the street, hoping against hope that the noise of the car wouldn’t frighten him back into hiding. I left the car running and the door wide open. Monkey regarded me implacably as I edged closer to him, softly calling his name. As soon as I got the feel of fur under my fingertips I grabbed the scruff of his neck, hoisted him in the air and ferried him rapidly to the car, flinging him onto the back seat and shutting the door in one graceful movement.

On arrival at the house I was jubilant but hardly dared to breathe until I got him safely inside. With my hands under his front legs he dangled precariously as I ran but we made it.

“Mel! I found him!”

Melanie stared at the confused and understandably traumatized ginger cat.

“Uh…that’s not Monkey.”

Solemnly I drove the poor animal back to where he’d been minding his own business until he’d been unceremoniously catnapped.

And finally, just a fireplace – no cats this time.

Life at George’s Gothic mansion in Hampstead barely went a week without an invasion from a journalist, a photographer or a film crew and my standard response was to make tea for everyone and discreetly retire to another part of the vaunted house for the duration of whatever was going on. As well as a documentary on his life in general that blocked out around three days a week there were also crews filming for international music shows and the like.

Often they chose the living room as their preferred backdrop, being the most impressive room in the house. The carved oak ceiling is original to the Grade II listed building, designed in 1872, as is the enormous oversized stone fireplace that reaches up to meet it but the hand painted walls depicting delicate antique musical instruments are George’s own addition.

The director of the shoot had the idea to position an ornately carved chair in front of the imposing fireplace and interview George sitting on it.

However, not being a fireplace that generally sees a lot of use, instead of a grate or a guard the cavernous interior housed a giant flat screen TV. The pair of mossy green couches, the only other furniture in the room, faced the TV in the fireplace and it was from the couches we would watch Eggheads or Question Time, George yelling comments from one, me from the other.

Only a minor annoyance, we managed to unplug the cables and shift the TV to one side, replacing it with the chair, and the interview proceeded with no further ado. Fortunately there were plenty of hands to help with putting the heavy flat screen back when they were done.

Some months later I am alone in the house while George is fulfilling tour duties in South America. I see the documentary is due to be aired and I think to myself, oh, I’ll watch that.

On it comes. However, I am now in George’s living room, watching George who isn’t in the living room, but is on the television (which is back in the fireplace) sat on a chair in the fireplace.

He is in the fireplace in the fireplace.

There’s only one response to that kind of slow-motion horror story sort of parallel universe and you’ll be proud that I executed it. I ran from the room screaming. Thank GOD he wasn’t there. I sincerely feel my head would have exploded.

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These Hands

These hands let your tiny fingers curl around them on the day you were born. These hands changed, fed and bathed you. They stroked and supported your head, when your head was so small it fit into one of them. They rubbed and patted your back after every feed and gently jogged you to sleep over a shoulder. These hands pointed out each word and picture in the books of bedtime. They enveloped yours in safety in a parking lot and hoisted you out of a car seat. These hands guided you over the threshold on the first day of school, clapped and took proud pictures. They dabbed away scrapes, buttoned your front, applied band-aids to your knees, rinsed soap out of your eyes, did up your laces and brushed your hair every morning and night. They built plastic castles, placed candles in cakes, fed coins into rides and shovelled sand into buckets. These hands filled out forms, wrote letters to teachers, held you fast during shots and unwrapped candy afterwards. They tickled you, itched you for hours just the way you liked it and massaged cream into your skin. These hands decorated cupcakes, carried ingredients when your homework demanded it, glued costumes, painted your nails and sponged on make-up. These hands traced the routes on maps and drove miles to see you, laden with comforts from home and changing snow tires in mountain winters. They scribbled long, supportive letters and gripped the phone to hear your plaintive, faraway voice begging to come home. These hands lit and stubbed countless fretting cigarettes on long nights wondering where you were. They bandaged the sores on your feet, bathed your bruised body and washed your street torn clothes, seeking their last few dollars at the bottom of a handbag to hold out to you.

These hands covered a face and soaked up wounded, desperate, impotent tears when they led you away in chains, screaming my name in a courtroom. They held your baby son up to bulletproof glass for you to see on visits and wrapped parcels full of precisely folded clothes and frivolous treats. These hands painstakingly mended heirloom jewellery, adorned you with pearls, and interlaced tightly with the fingers of your father on the day you were married. They brushed stray hair from your face and scrubbed your kitchen clean. These hands foraged for food to give and wrung with pleas in the small hours of a morning. They scoured the net, clicking on your booking number and address and pushed fat letters full of the stories they typed through post box mouths. These careworn, lined hands sit empty and idle, missing their child.

These are your mother’s hands.

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Tiny Triumphs

This one is for Harry A with love and self indulgence.

 

I don’t know why I light a cigarette right at the beginning of commencing an attack on the keyboard when I know it will only end in ash between the crevices. My blighted keyboard has been bashed upside down too many times, creating a gentle rain of ash snow on the desk, which then has to be corralled into a receptacle. I spend far more time dealing with this than I do writing. It might have a familiar ring to it, if you are a fellow smoker. Then there is the coffee to hand, necessitating yet another bathroom break just when I was about to say someth…that I can’t remember. Merely another version of walking into a room and forgetting why. Then…oh. No. Wait, yes. If I had a stalker who was filming secretly from the shrubbery all they’d have would be hours of baffling and useless footage of me turning circles in doorways. Part of me hopes that being aware of it will somehow stave off the madness aspect until someone else is happy to highlight another foible that I wasn’t aware of. Apparently, I stand aimlessly staring at supermarket shelves for inordinate lengths of time and also punch people in my sleep. Or so I’ve been reliably informed.

“You are a genius and I stand in ovation to you along with many, many others who have been waiting to devour your marvelous words and begin to know your excellent, evolved mind.” Diane Meyer Simon. Co-Founder, President Emeritus, Global Green USA

I’m not often, in fact never, told in the course of a day that I’m a genius. There are plenty out there in the vast who would virulently disagree, having seen me unfailingly go for the wrong side of a car every time or, as my brother would testify, calling my own cell phone and insistently dialing the wrong number. Although launching a large metal fire truck at his head when I was three may have understandably coloured his judgement somewhat, he correctly labelled me as a giant idiot in 1962 and has been provided with no evidence to alter his opinion thus far. Imagine my unconfined joy last week to be able to point out a typo on his glorious and much vaunted new website.
Such tiny triumphs are all too rare in life and I was reminded this week of my only other which I’ll share with you if I may.

Beverly Hills 2001. I’d just been cheated on and dumped by the love of my life for the previous five years. I’ll call him Joachim, because that’s his name. He was due back at our apartment, which had been cruelly stripped of everything ‘he’ owned, including the car, which was leased in his name that my deposit paid for. On top of this, he’d managed to work into a conversation that his chiropractor had set him up on a date with a pageant winner. Miss Inland Empire Cunt of The Year or something. Anyway, on the same day my dear friend Donnie had promised to teach an un-named friend and me how to scrabble a living from ebay. The friend would handily deliver Donnie, chair bound, up the multiple steps to my apartment, thus killing several birds with one stone. Donnie’s friend was after selling old pictures of himself, and I was thinking to flog the last of any ex-husband memorabilia to enable me to eat that week. As the doorbell rang, I prayed for two things: Firstly that Donnie would get there first, with friend, and secondly, please, oh please, let the friend be good looking.

So in rolls Donnie, followed immediately by the most perfect and impressive specimen of manhood you ever clapped eyes on. Playgirl Man of The Year, no less, trumping Miss Inland Empire in spades.
Thank you, God. Angels are singing through rays of sunlight streaming from a parted cloud.
I say, “Look, I know you just met me three seconds ago, but would you be kind enough, when the next man walks through the door, to pretend to be my boyfriend?”
He amiably agrees, to his credit, and busies himself spreading out his chiseled, naked modelling shots all over the coffee table. I dash into the bedroom, rumple the bed a bit and (nice touch, I think) place a wash bag, some spare change, a comb and a new toothbrush on Joachim’s ‘side’.
Joachim arrives and is introduced to the specimen by a cheerful and conspiratorial Donnie. He circles warily, being polite but it has to be a challenge to overlook nine inches of cock on the coffee table.

I suggest we adjourn to the bedroom to privately take care of some unpleasant break up paperwork, like the car lease. Adonis casually waves me off, embroidering his moment by motioning a kiss.
Of course I ignore the artfully strewn bedside evidence, not calling it to attention, but Joachim doesn’t miss a trick. He turns to me, hissing, “Are you dating this guy?”
I say, “No. I’m just fucking him.”

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We’ll Meet Again

A recent post by a friend on a chance encounter with a long lost acquaintance set me thinking about synchronicity, serendipity and good old fashioned coincidence when least expected.
I once picked up the phone to call a friend only to hear her voice on the other end already. I’d grabbed the receiver before a single ring had a chance to trill and immediately there was the exact person I wanted to speak to.
However, here following are the sort of strange encounters that make life an occasional thing of marvel.

Los Angeles. 2004.
I couldn’t get the tune out of my head. For days I’d been suffering a replay loop of a few bars of…something. Usually I can pinpoint a song, a lifetime of absorbing lyrics has meant that there are words to thousands of them logged in my brain. Not just a chorus – the whole thing.
In some ways it’s a curse. I can’t remember why I walked into a room or the name of the person I spent six weeks with in 1992 but everything musical is ingrained. A Fairy Liquid jingle 1968. The fifth verse of the second to last track on a Traffic album. The contents of four decades of the top forty. An obscure Roy Ayers ballad. Carly Simon’s B Sides. 1920’s pub ditties. The top fifty songs I most hate. All the ad-libs that came out of the mouth of Luther Vandross and the vaguest Motown harmony. Hymns last parroted when I was six. One hit wonders. Every single word.
But jog my memory as I might, two bars of a Seventies bass line was not reaching the natural conclusion of the lyric or chorus and remained tantalizingly incomplete. It’s the sort of internal ephemera that crowds the mind naturally on a daily basis that we all learn to ignore like so much white noise.
Of no consequence, it could very well reinstate itself if I didn’t concentrate on it and I had other things immediately on my mind, such as taking a friend to the airport and facing an unwelcome goodbye.
On arrival to LAX International it was clear we were in for a long wait, untidy lines of luggage snaked around the building and my friend joined the end of a few hundred suitcases with a resigned air, gesturing me to sit on the sidelines.
Forty minutes ticked by as she edged closer to check in and an unprepossessing middle-aged woman plopped down next to me on the hard steel bench with a tired sigh. We commiserated genially in the way that strangers do and on quickly assessing she was English, always a conversational gambit abroad, I asked her if she was a resident or a visitor. Like myself she was a long-standing denizen of LA transplanted from England and was seeing off a friend. The next logical question was where are you from? She mildly surprised me by naming the town where I was born.
So there I was, happening to be sitting 8000 miles away from Grays in Essex, with a Homie, which is delightful but then we were at an airport next to the line of passengers heading back to the UK so it wasn’t so earth shattering, just a serendipitous coincidence that brings a smile. It transpired we attended the same Roman Catholic convent school, she graduating ten years before me.
She introduced herself as Sonja and explained she’d moved out to America decades before to pursue a musical career, having had hit records in the Seventies with a band called Curved Air.
I had a firing of the brain where synapses connect and in a split second the elusive bass line, followed instantly by the lyrics, clicked into place. The song I had been mentally groping for all week was Back Street Love and I had inadvertently stumbled across the only woman on earth that sung it.

Los Angeles. 1994.
Roy had gone to a business lunch on Sunset Boulevard one gloriously sun filled afternoon but it had run on far later than he intended because he’d had trouble parking. The usual parking lots behind the restaurants on the Strip had been choked with cars and to his annoyance he’d had to trudge a long way down the hill to find the last spot at Tower Records, with the hope that nobody from the store would spy him walking away instead of shopping there. He made a guilty mental note to at least have a browse on the way back.
Lunch accomplished, he strolled back down the street to claim the car, hoping he hadn’t been towed. A couple who were window shopping at a leisurely pace in the opposite direction stopped in their tracks and called his name out in disbelief.
Roy was stunned to find it was Colette and Francois, old friends from Paris. We’d last seen them in 1984 when they had generously made us dinner in their brilliantly creative apartment. Francois was one of the earliest computer artists and Colette a furniture designer and they had stamped their inimitable home with flashes of unconventional colour genius and quirky, self built storage solutions.
They were on their honeymoon and had taken three weeks off work to drive across America. They happened to be best friends with Alain, who was the young and ambitious new head of Virgin Records France and it was through Alain that we had gotten to know them, all of us stepping outside of the usual professional connection and sharing red wine soaked evenings, with the French contingent graciously conversing all night in English and sweetly applauding our terrible grasp of their own language.
Here they were on Sunset Boulevard, ten years later.
Roy quickly asked how Alain was faring only to be informed that he could ask Alain himself if he liked. Such was the strength of their friendship they had decided to go on Honeymoon as a trio. The thought of leaving behind their best friend on their dream road trip had been too much for them.
Alain had lingered in the famed Duke’s Coffee Shop, a mere four doors away, soaking up its musical history while his friends went for a wander.
Here was the thing that floored Colette and Francois; the night before, while motoring along the California coastline towards Los Angeles, talk had strayed to discussing lost friends and in particular, Roy and I many years ago. They had speculated on how we were doing and where we had ended up. They had no idea we had moved to LA but here was Roy right before their very eyes. They could hardly believe it. Alain had spoken his name not nine hours hence, for the first time in a decade, and as if by magic, there Roy was.
The plan was hatched to surprise the Frenchman, who was sitting at a far table, head buried in the LA Weekly gig guide. There was a delicious interlude of the anticipation of savouring the synchronicity.
Roy sidled up and slid himself into the opposite seat, getting no response from the engrossed record exec until his casual, “Ça va, Alain?”
It took Alain an hour to get over the ghostly shock and at least that long before Roy stopped laughing.

Dubai – Los Angeles. 2007.
It was August in the Middle East, the hottest month of the year when temperatures regularly climbed to 50 degrees Celsius. Usually it was the ideal time to escape somewhere cooler on holiday, contrary to the normal vacation mindset, but then contrary frequently applied to living there. For instance, in the summer, it was customary to shut off the hot water heater – the sun would superheat the cold-water tank on the roof and what was regularly a cold tap would gush forth steaming. As the boiler worked inside the house for hot it was fairly insulated and remained a passable lukewarm that had to muster for cold water.
I had used up my precious vacation days avoiding the blistering heat on a trip ‘home’ to Los Angeles to meet my newly born grandson, taking along my partner Jeffrey, affording me the ideal opportunity to introduce him formally to all the family I had there. We’d had a busy few weeks meeting up with people for lunches and dinners and only once had managed to steal away for a quiet romantic dinner à deux, and we’d chosen Mandarette, the Chinese restaurant on Beverly Boulevard where my new in-laws had taken us the week before. It hadn’t been a regular haunt of mine when I lived there, but we’d be introduced to their eccentric but wonderful Strawberry Shrimp and hankered after them once more before leaving.
It was a marvellous trip full of old friends and newfound family and my heart sank on the first day back at work in Dubai, so very far from them all.
In fact, Dubai happens to be located on almost the exact opposite side of the globe to Los Angeles, with a twelve-hour time difference from the Emirates to the West Coast; it took an epic 36 hours to get there and then 36 hours back, with one flight change each way. Not a journey to be undertaken lightly or often.
Plenty of colleagues were off to Australia, South Africa, India, the Philippines and sometimes England to visit their own kin but typical me, I had to have originated from the furthest location from Dubai it was possible to achieve and lose the most hours to flying, taking a large bite out of precious time off just to languish on a plane.
At work, they all knew where I’d been. I’d naughtily set my automated out of office email reply to, “I am currently unavailable and reclining with a cocktail poolside in Hollywood.”
On my first lunchtime back I fielded the usual convivial enquiries as to how my vacation was and was mildly surprised when Khalid from Shipping, who I rarely had call to interact with professionally, did the same but I assumed he’d seen my email status and was being kindly.
“Oh…Actually, no.” he rejoined, to my considerable astonishment.
“You were having dinner in Mandarette with your partner. I saw you sitting inside by the window as I walked past. My brother lives on Beverly Blvd.”

Ran into me on the opposite side of the planet and didn’t say hello.
“I didn’t want to disturb you,” he said.

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