Tuesday 26 October 2010

Close encounters of a celebrity kind......

I'm sick ........I feel like death, I look like death, it all hurts......I've got a horrid cold, as a woman I don't do flu. It came from nowhere, out of the dark, about 6ish on Friday evening, bit of a sore throat that was all. I was shopping for food I was going to cook for lots of people to eat. And I was doing this for a friend. I couldn't say no, the show had to go on. And it did. Of course once the Lemsip and the red wine kicked in I felt fine. However, there's no such thing as a free dinner and on Saturday I felt pretty rough. But again, I was committed to an event and it's only a cold for godsake. So, heavily medicated and wearing a fat, red jumper, eyes misted in mascara, a hint of delirium in my demeanour, I gently sweated through another evening. Could have been fever, could have been a hot flush, who could tell? By Sunday I was practically hallucinating.

Of course the meds only mask the symptoms, what I need is a hot water-bottle and bed. Instead, I forge on in a gentle fug, everything seems a little other-worldly which isn't bad, in fact, it feels like Christmas, traditionally the time I fall ill. However, this feeling of being out of it does not just preclude the use of heavy machinery, opportunities can be lost too. Once, way, way back in the early 80s, mid-way through a summer cold and heavily medicated, I was seated at a cramped table in a subterranean London restaurant: Food For Thought, a popular emporium of fine vegetarian cuisine ..........still in Covent Garden ..... it might have been a storage cupboard in a former life. A woolly-haired man with a big nose and glasses sat down opposite me. He wore khaki shorts and a khaki T-shirt with the words 'Temple Of Doom' emblazoned across it. He unfurled a large copy of Variety, looked straight at me and said:
I glared wearily back, nodded politely. Being unfamiliar with such familiarity I continued to peruse the listings pages of my Time Out whilst working my way through a large bowl of unevenly cooked brown rice. I was far more interested in a devilishly handsome boy at the adjacent table who bore more than a passing resemblance to a young Michael York. The boy was deep in conversation with a small, elderly man who had something of the Einstein about him: his old piano teacher, his Latin master, Oskar Schindler? I would never know. By now the nods and smiles of my wannabee, khaki-clad, lunch partner had increased quite alarmingly and he'd begun to irk as I felt the space between me and my spicy tofu being invaded. My blatant staring at the boy next door (a subtle technique I employed to attract members of the opposite sex in my youth) had gone unnoticed. I lost interest and turned my attention to the nodding man in khaki. But by now he'd given up on me. He shook his Variety for the last time, smiled, and bid me farewell. I looked again, said good-bye, vague recognition flooding my mind. As his sun-kissed limbs gambolled up the stairs the light dawned...............it was Steven bloody Spielberg. Like a moment from a movie the lights flared, the violins soared and I basked in the reflected glory of a close encounter of a celebrity kind. If only I'd engaged in conversation, smiled, tap-danced, just acknowledged his existence ........ who knows what might have happened. At worst a trip to the 'Temple Of Doom' set, a glance at Harrison Ford? At best a few million in alimony. If not for that cold I could have been Amy Irving........

I have subsequently discovered we've all got this cold, well almost all of us, certainly everyone in London. Friends are coming forward with their own favourite cures, I'm currently swigging All In One during the day and doing the hot toddy by night in order to complete the gruelling schedule of work and entertainment. I feel so out of it now, for all I know I could be better. Last night I went to a screening of The Kids Are All Right which was excellent. I went to bed with hot whiskey and lemon, thinking about lesbians but dreaming of the ex-that-broke-my-heart ......... looking remarkably like the lion in The Wizard of Oz ........ what a nightmare.

To tip: Laugh and cry in The Kids Are All Right......oh Annette do I hear the sound of Oscars?

Thursday 21 October 2010

I know when to go out....

But I want to stay in. 8 things in 7 nights: two movies, one gig, one play, one film festival thing with eminent actor/director/writer, one dinner party and a pub quiz at the Union Chapel.......and there's more, there's always more. This is just the nighttime stuff, things happen in the daytime too. Don't get me wrong, I'm got complaining.......well maybe just a little bit.....I love living in one of the most vibrant, happening, stupendous, read-all-about-it cities in the universe. But London is also a tube-crunching, elbowing-out-of-the-way, salt-in-the-wound, late-night, kebab-in-yer-gob, city of extremes, and it can be exhausting. Not to go to the many and marvellous galleries, museums, theatres, cinemas, cafes, bars and restaurants, with all their equal opps, ethno-diversity would be churlish and quite honestly a waste of a perfectly good city. So out we go. Otherwise we'd be in Dorking.

But the thing is....... maybe it's an age thing, maybe it's a seasonal thing..... I just want to stay home, under the duvet, on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, anywhere with a TV, watching winter telly. Because even with modern science allowing me to watch whatever whenever, it's hard to keep up. And everything makes me cry, whether it's Ann Widdecombe (clearly getting the Michael Portillo make-over and fast becoming a national treasure lite), almost whirling around the Strictly dance floor, or Dame Maggie scoring points over Penelope Wilton in Downton Abbey, ITV Sunday 9pm, which I'm loving for all it's stand-aside-madam, pre-war-Sunday-night-pomposity and the excellent Jim Carter whose nose must have it's own agent by now, entering ever room as it does, several minutes before anyone else. And now I have a supersized crush on Hugh Bonneville to deal with too. Not to mention Single Father, at the same time on BBC1, to which I have now become hooked. Is it just me, or is David Tennant rather vulnerably cute? I think he's very good, who knew? I missed what I believe was his masterful Hamlet, opting to see Jude Law instead when they were both strutting their stuff upon the stage (there is only so much Hamlet anyone person can take....) which I now rather regret. Jude's was OK, from the squat school of acting, as in he would randomly squat down on his haunches to deliver any given speech as if eyeing up a particularly tricky boules movement. And then of course there's Mad Men, Don Draper what are you doing? So many shows, so little time.......

Top tip: stay in and listen to Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service, 6 Music Sundays 4pm

Saturday 16 October 2010

French without tears.......

I lay on a lounger, canopied by twisted vines, knotted through with climbing roses, my bare legs and pale toes warmed by the hot autumn sunshine; I am in France, enjoying the last of the pink wine ......... not now of course, now I'm back home, swaddled in winter woollies, playing catch-up with the sky plus (oh the anxiety of trying to get through Mad Men and Downton Abbey before they roll round again......). But, for a few days, I was away.

'Do you like chestnuts?' asked my friend.
'Yes I do,' I said, 'I love them.'
I had decided some time out was needed. So, armed with a ludicrously cheep return flight to Rodez (honestly, it cost more to get to Stanstead and back.....) I'd packed my ryan-air-sized-suitcase and wheeled off to the Aveyron, in south central France, to stay with an old friend and her young family.
'Right then, lets walk up the track and get some,' she said, 'kids....'
Entente cordial reigns supreme in this multi-cultural home, made-up as it is of a German, two from Vietnam, two from Mali and a Brit..... all abroad. Really, it's like visiting the UN. I stuffed first my pockets and then the children's, with the shiny, fallen chestnuts and we trudged back to the house: an old stone farmhouse, beautifully restored over the many years they have lived there, with the creative eye of a real artist.

'Do you not prick the nuts first?' I asked.
'No,' said my friend, 'I don't think so.'

And so we sat in the heavenly kitchen, hand-painted, patterned walls, strung with chandeliers and the kids' artistic endeavours, listening to the sound of exploding marrons, buried deep beneath the embers of the range. And drank the pink wine.

It wasn't a long trip and I have never visited so late in the year before, but a change, as they say, is as good as a rest. We picked the last of the red tomatoes and yellow courgettes from the vegetable patch, all part of the beautiful garden, it's winding paths and stone steps leading to hidden treasures buried amongst the flora and fauna (gardening: an unknown skill my friend developed after leaving London 20-odd years ago, with enormous success) and we ate soft cheeses and ripe figs sitting in the sunshine. This is an area silenced but for the sound of rutting bulls and the squawk of force-fed geese, this is peace and quite on a grand scale, no roads rage or sirens whale, just the occasional whine of a moped and the bark of a distant dog. And the crunch of gravel under foot as more pink wine is brought to the table.

I ate thick slabs of moist date and walnut cake, baked with the walnuts collected by the children, and stirred the quince jam made with the quinces that hung heavily from the tree close to where we sat and ate, which would fall suddenly with a thud; their heady, perfumed scent still haunts my nostrils. I slept soundly in a large, attic room with a small, single window, waking every morning to a view of butterscotch-coloured cornfields and undulating, French-green, countryside, studded with ex-pats. It was good. Could I live there? Without my sofa cinema, theatre, openings, private views? No, not right now. But I can still eat, drink, play........

Top-tip: go see 'The Social Network', so, so entertaining and absolutely why I've never done Facebook.......

Friday 8 October 2010

A girl's best friend..........

'Wow' I said, pointing at the diamond ring on the third finger of my girlfriend's left hand, 'You never mentioned ....'

'Oh no,' she said, 'It's not an engagement ring.'


'Well it is an engagement ring, but it's not mine. It's my Great Grandmother's.'

It was a beautiful, princess cut, several carat classic.

'And you're wearing it why?' I asked.

'Apparently,' she said, 'It's a bloke magnet.'

'Really?' I said, 'How so?'

My friend then went on to explain that wearing the ring suggested you were already desirable as someone desired you, also you could be flirtatious without being seen as a man-hungry-desperate-singleton, commitmentphobs would see you as a non-threatening flirtation and the adventurous viewed you as a challenge and ........ it's a waste of a finger not to use it, it looks pretty and made her feel loved; you're never alone with an engagement ring.

'But if you're not actually engaged,' I said, 'wouldn't that be starting things with a lie?'

'You look lovely tonight could be a lie and that's kick started many a romance.' Came the reply. She had a point. An imaginary fiance........ could this be the answer to the home-alone-unhappy-singles?

'Are you sure about this?' I asked, 'Fake engagements, is this what we're doing now?'

'Look,' she said, 'It works in the same way as little kids with a bloke are a babe magnet.'
She definitely had a point there. I remembered how my American ex had taken my son (not his ..... that's a whole other story) to the park on a bonding mission when he was about three and couldn't believe the reaction he'd had from the women he encountered. And one particular male friend of mine always used to take junior off to play football, when he was little, with the express purpose of meeting girls. They thought he was a kind, caring, non-threatening Dad and so would chat away with ease. If he liked them he would then explain that the little lad wasn't actually his, he was just helping out a single-mum, at which point he appeared to be even more kind and caring. Bingo! It is another one of those unfair gender laws that blokes with babies look cute and women with babies look...... like a liability. Hey-ho.

'What about a wedding ring?' I asked.

'No, no, no. Not married. Never married, just engaged.' she said, 'Don't rule out possibilities. Engagements can be easily broken off.'

It sounded like the beginning of a convoluted romcom.

'And it's not really a lie, I will be engaged.' she said, 'Eventually.'

So when is a lie not a lie? A longtime-married friend of mine has recently been flirting for England. She loves her husband and her two young children but 18 years is 18 years and she is, well...........bored. So she has been having an imaginary affair with a very real college she only sees randomly. He has a girlfriend she knows about, she has a husband he knows about. However, last time they had a drunken work related 'meeting' she told him she and her husband were having 'problems' to see how he'd take the news. He was very concerned. Result, now she and her husband are having the best sex they've had for years. Win win? Or playing with fire?

So, I don't know, I do have a beautiful engagement ring, three sparkly diamonds in a row, that belonged to my Grandmother, languishing in the bottom of my jewellery box. Maybe it's time to make use of the ring finger........

Top tip: wearing a beautiful ring can brighten any day......on any finger.

Friday 1 October 2010

Tim nice but.....not really a rock star....

'Let us pray' said Tim Robbins, pulling on his guitar.
Last week Tim Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band performed what I believe was their one and only London gig, at the Union Chapel in Islington, and I went. He was looking very well for a man in his early 50s: dressed in black jeans and black frock coat, the sort usually favoured by the gambler in wild west movies, a couple of stone lighter than when I used to see him and his sons mooching around the West Village when I lived in New York (trailing after someone going in the same direction as you doesn't constitute stalking ..... surely?) Now, I should declare I am a bit of a fan, but most of my fandom is based on fancying him (tall, full head of hair......) and, well, even I have to admit this twist in his career is a vanity project of enormous proportions. And of course being someone who worships at the alter of Susan Sarandon, him being shacked up with her did lend him a certain cache. He has now said his remark about this being his midlife crisis album, made to Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs, was just a joke. But, to be honest, although he can definitely hold a tune and play a guitar ....... and has obviously spent a lot of time in his bedroom writing songs ........... there is a reason why Tim Robbins is an actor.

Don't get me wrong he's not awful, sort of Warren Zevon meets Johnny Cash by way of Joni Mitchell, except not as good. He sang a mixture of covers and his own compositions but the lyrics were a tad cheesy. I'm nothing if not a sucker for a cover version and he did them very well which only served to highlight the differences, like they were the proper songs. It didn't help when his were prefaced with things like: 'this is about Nelson Mandela, who I had the good fortune to meet......' The biggest part of the evening, quite literally, was his crouch. Honestly, framed by the curve of his guitar, I couldn't take my eyes off it. Nor could my companion. Or the posse of ladies inappropriately dressed for this time of year, sat in the front row. Actually, I expected the whole congregation to be made up just of women of all ages but it was about 50/50 male and female, albeit almost all middle aged and many were obviously husband and wife combos. Personally, I believe only the French can pull off the cross-over thing. Act, sing? Sing, act? Mais oui, they're all at it. Somehow they can get away with it, possibly because French rock & pop is so ludicrous it doesn't really matter. But the rest? Forget it. Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Madonna, Sting ..... need I go on?

Still, Mr Robbins received a standing ovation from the devotees, who then clamoured to buy the CD on sale at the back of the church. The male midlife crisis may be a bit of a cliche but cliches come from truisms and I don't think it's a coincidence that at 52, and newly single, Tim has decided to fulfill his dreams of rock stardom. Apparently, wielding a guitar and reaching for the mic is now as popular as sports cars, motorbikes, leather trousers and shagging the secretary when men hit that certain age. And why not unleash your inner Bono? It's certainly a lot safer than hurtling down the Dorking Bypass on your Suzuki. However, not everyone needs to immortalise themselves on the front of a T-shirt...

Top tip: Winter's back and so is Nigella ...... stay home and watch food porn, Thursdays, BBC2, 8pm