Monday, May 22, 2017

TOO MUCH FOOD FOR THOUGHT

What are tournéed vegetables? What is a “green apple gastrique”? What’s fregola? A farro salad?

These and several other questions confronted me when I sat down to Delta’s Business Class menu on last week’s Los Angeles to New York flight. Now, before everyone gets worked up into their usual tizzy because I am even deigning to comment when not flying cattle class, I have thousands upon thousands of points acquired through daily living that enable me to travel this way. In fact, these flights invariably cost me less than Economy; and, anyway, #NYGB (Not Your Goddamned Business).

I always look forward to the meal: the laying of the cloth, the arrival of the tiny salt and pepper pots that house about eight grains between them, the wine cart that invariably gives you the choice of three different ranges of c**p.

Beverages and food are always a hit and miss affair. Virgin Atlantic currently has a terrific Spanish red onboard, while Delta has a selection of totally undrinkable wines. 

The Italian sparkling is drinkable enough, but even I, a huge Champagne/Cava/Prosecco lover, can’t manage a six-hour marathon of bubbles.

Virgin’s tomato and basil soup is my favourite starter, especially during my current vegetarian phase (although I’ve never been a big meat or fish fan). But, horror of horrors, on my UK to LA flight last week, there had been a catering mix-up and there was no soup. I know! Third World Problems, or what?

Luckily, the crew quickly spotted that my greed for Air Miles is far greater than my greed for two tablespoons of soup (I have eye baths bigger than Virgin’s soup bowls) and promised me a five-figure sum of miles as compensation. In future, I think I might enquire in advance, just to discover what’s not available and then ask for it.

I declined the alternative two cold starters. There were chicken skewers or a butternut squash salad. First, if I wanted bits of wood in my food, I’d go camping, not wait until I’m 30,000 feet in the air for that dubious luxury; second, squash looks like a slightly larger version of what you always throw up after a night on the tiles.

I can’t remember what I had as the main course, but I recall that it was a hot dish that arrived cold, as it always does. It was also on a plate barely bigger than a saucer and, at the first stabbing, I lost half of it as it journeyed across the aisle.

Delta, which is now a partner airline with Virgin Atlantic, has the same job lot of plates. Now, I know that space is limited on an airline, but if you are going to be serving “Herb-Crusted Lamb Chops with saffron quinoa, tournéed vegetables and green apple gastrique”, at least put it on a plate from which the lamb can’t escape before it hits the fork.

Unlike Virgin Atlantic, Delta doesn’t serve Port with its cheese plate, and the “acacia gourmet cream crackers” were even less appealing than a packet of Jacob’s cream crackers in the desert. 

Here's the other thing: the menu said the cheeses were "offered" with fresh fruit and the crackers. 

Hang on. "Offered" with? Does that mean I can take the stuff, or I can't? There's a bit of an "If you must, Madam, you greedy bitch" in the word "offered". In any case, there were only a few grapes. The cheeses were excellent, though: “Cyprus grove midnight moon” (don’t ask, I have no idea) together with “kaltbach gruyère and buttermilk blue affinée

Alas, my computer will not allow me to put any space or punctuation after the last word in the previous paragraph without removing the accent; suffice it to say that I learned more French from this menu than I have during the past 20 years of lessons.

Within the past two weeks, I have also flown on British Airways, as they threatened to take away all my points if I didn’t fly with them before June 3rd (they thought they had already done me a huge favour by giving me a three month extension). So, I took a flight that I didn’t want, to a place I had no need to go (Paris – much as I love it, it was an unnecessary trip), all in order to keep Air Miles on an airline I never wish to fly.

It was horrible. Despite being in Business, the knees of the man behind attacked my lower back throughout the flight. They ran out of the first food option after serving just two people and I had to take the afternoon tea, which consisted of stale sandwiches and a scone that looked more suited to a moon landing than an oral consumption.

I’m grounded for the moment (physically; emotionally will take a lot more work), but am worried that I have become slightly obsessed with flying and collecting Air Miles. I always have to have one obsession in life – it used to be property or a man; now, it’s Air Miles. At least if I’m in the air, it keeps me away from putting deposits on my credit card for the former and pursuing the latter. Above clouds, I am safe.

Hang on . . . there’s WiFi on board and my credit card is in my hand luggage. And that guy in 14A is quite cute.

And I’ve just hit 300,000 Virgin Atlantic Air Miles. 

Triple whammy, or what?!


     

Friday, April 21, 2017

TRANS-TALL - AND STANDING PROUD

There is outrage In South Africa – not for the first time, one has to admit. Now, though, it is over the arrival of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman lecturing mostly black students about her struggle with her “authentic black identity”, despite being biologically white. Ms Dolezal, you may recall, was outed by her white parents and has now even taken a Nigerian name – Nkechi Amare Diallo – to back her claims. Comparing her experience to that of trans-gender Caitlyn Jenner, she has pronounced herself to be “trans-black”.

This revelation is now forcing me to come clean about my own situation, and I am just hoping that I will be met with understanding. Despite the apparent appearance of my being just five feet, I am, in fact, trans-tall.

Yes, all of you who called me Bridget the Midget when the song hit the charts when I was in school can laugh the other side of your faces now. The others, who addressed me as Titch (after the so-called comedy act, Titch and Quackers) can get lost, too. I am a very tall person who is short only in public perception, and Ms Dolezal has finally given me the courage to come out regarding my true identity.

My life as a Lilliputian will henceforth no longer be known as Jaci and the Beanstalk; instead, I am registering a name far more suited to my trans-tall state: Longfellow Giraffe Brobdingnag.

I am not short, nor have I ever been. I have a T-shirt saying that I am a tall elf, but even that I find offensive. Why do people assume that the body into which you have been born is the one in which you live in your head? Just as Ms Dolezal had her hair frizzed up (as it were) to suit the soul with which she most identified, so I am having leg extensions to comply with the being I know I am. 

Unfortunately, it involves having my legs broken in three places and having a set of circus stilts implanted from my ankles to my thighs, but this is who I am, right? You see? I am already adopting the lingo of my new tall persona.

Being trans-tall comes with so many advantages. I can shout “Oi! I was next!” while standing at a bar, without the person behind me being served first and spilling a pint of Stella over my head. I can jump queues by saying “I’m on the list”. I can put luggage into the overhead rack on a plane without having to stand on the seat and look helplessly to a man to give me assistance. I can reach every magazine on the top shelf. None of this would be possible if I had been content to languish in the body that was imposed upon me since birth.

I confess to having had a great deal of therapy before coming to terms with my trans-tall self. People always assumed that I was just a raucous Welsh bird who laughed too loudly and partied too much. Now, they will know the truth: I was a tall person trapped in a small woman’s body, and there was just too much of me trying to contain itself in the tiny frame for which I was never meant.

Like Ms Dolezal and her blackness, I still identify as tall. Ms Dolezal admits she was born to white parents but she still identifies as being black. I get it! I was born to short parents (Dad was five feet six, Mum four feet nine and a half), yet I still identify as tall.

As one of Ms Dolezal’s supporters said: she has chosen to self define and what’s wrong with that?

Yes, I have chosen to self-define, too.

I am trans-tall. 

Live with it. 

Step on me at your peril.

   

THE HEART OF THE MATTER

The announcement of a General Election on June 8th sent me into meltdown.

Having endured months of people arguing and falling out over Brexit in the UK, followed by the same over the establishment of Trumptown in the US, I just felt politicked out. I have never fallen out with anyone over their beliefs, and, indeed, one of my closest friends voted for Brexit, while I am a passionate Remainer. It hasn’t dented our friendship one iota. I haven’t lost any friendships in the US, either, but that’s because not one single person I know voted for Trump. If they did, it’s not the kind of person I want in my life anyway. 

A party that is so obviously (even proudly) intolerant, sexist, racist, homophobic, ignorant (to the point of stupidity - do check out White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s briefings) and increasingly dangerous - how could anyone with an ounce of humanity get behind them and their claims to be for the “ordinary” man and woman? Not least while their leader takes every photo opportunity in front of a gold-plated backdrop and threatens everyone he doesn’t like with bombing the shit out of them?

As the countdown to June 8th begins, I felt I couldn’t face another seven weeks of aggro. While I love social networking as a tool, it quickly becomes anti-social when people seem incapable of accepting anyone whose views differ from their own. Personally, I am always open to new ideas (I DID listen to Trumpites, by the way, but my opinion didn’t change) and I encourage debate rather than ranting. 

One thing is evident, though: people have become more aggressive as they have become more selfish. It now feels that the dominant mentality is every man/woman for him/herself, and sod the rest of you.

But before you go to the polling booth, ask yourself just one question: what sort of human being do you want to be?

For me, there is no contest. We are all in this life together, and it is our moral duty to support those who are weaker than ourselves - the frail, the sick, the mentally ill, the young and vulnerable, the elderly (also vulnerable) and in fear . . . I could go on. It’s called having a heart.

I consider myself blessed every day. Although I have been through tough times that I’ve written about (depression and financial worries, to name but two), we all go through the mill at some point in our lives. But I have a roof over my head and I have my health. 

I also have a support network of people whom I trust and love, and we are always there for each other. If we are lucky in life, friends and family pull us through every time; yet surely the State has a duty to us, too - it’s what we pay our taxes for.

I am not married. I have no children. As a single person, I am discriminated against in so many areas (read The Solo Pound about my gripe about never being able to have the Chateaubriand “for two”), but I don’t resent for a second my taxes supporting those struggling to bring up families on little income, or being used to provide decent education for future generations. I’m not sick, but I don’t resent my taxes supporting a free NHS. I’m not in a wheelchair, but I don’t complain about councils spending money on ramps. And so on.

Hate crime against the disenfranchised in our society is on the up - disturbingly so. It seems that anyone in a vulnerable minority is a target and it makes me desperately sad. It’s cruel, reprehensible and inhumane. We need not only to stand up for, but show that we are standing up for, the Everyman (or woman).

Jeremy Corbyn would not have been my first choice as Labour leader and he has come in for a lot of flak since he was voted in. Everyone is predicting a landslide for Theresa May as a  result. Her decision to call for an election doesn’t surprise me or horrify me as it has so many - she’s a politician, for goodness’ sake; of course she’s going to protect her plinth in whatever way she sees beneficial. 

But let’s not write Corbyn off. He’s a good man - someone who really does put the disenfranchised before his own interests. His lacklustre performance over Brexit did him no favours and one can only hope that he gets the wind behind his sails in the forthcoming weeks.

You may have already decided against him. You may have decided to take the coward’s way out and not vote at all. You may have resigned yourself to the possibility that there will never again be a Labour government in your lifetime. Maybe the world really has changed into one in which people really don’t give a damn about anyone else.

I like to think not; and the millions who continue to serve others in so many areas of life - medical, social, psychological, educational - so many, many areas - lead me to believe that this is the case.

So, wherever you are in this decision making moment, please, before voting, consider that one question I asked earlier: what sort of person do you want to be? 

And, also, what sort of person do you want to be seen to be?




Friday, April 14, 2017

A LOAD OF HOT AIR

I think I am going to have to stop travelling; it’s just all too stressful. Every day begins a new battle with an airline or hotel whose staff seem incapable of listening to, or correctly reading the simplest information.
   
The past week alone brought the promise of three hours’ hold on the phone to Delta, an ongoing British Airways situation, a problem with Accor Hotels, and numerous other things too tedious to mention. I am bored with hearing about my travel woes and feel genuinely sorry for anyone else who comes across them.
   
Let’s begin with Delta, who recently became a partner with Virgin Atlantic. I have very few quibbles with the latter. I love the airline, the crews, the Upper Class lounge at Heathrow, and it is only their dreadful new website that continues to let them down.
   
Delta are another matter altogether. I set my alarm for 5am while in the US to try to avoid the three hour wait, and even at that hour was on hold for 22 minutes. When I finally got through to change my flight, I was charged several hundred dollars to do so, event though I could see on the website that I was changing it for one of exactly the same value (the website wouldn’t let me change it myself). Exhausted, I paid - using my credit card’s old address, as Delta’s system still refuses to acknowledge the address I have had for four years.
   
The confirmation came through: wrong flight. I had been correct - there was no extra charge on the flight I had asked for. I rang again. Another 20 minute wait. I spoke to a lovely lady who was very sympathetic, booked me on the correct flight and spent half an hour trying to get hold of her supervisor to arrange for my refund, which was duly done. Hoo-flamin’-ray.
   
The new confirmation came through: right flight, wrong month. Booked now for April instead of May. I had to phone again. FINALLY, I have the right flight and the right day. Delta on Twitter said they would waive my original change fee of $200, but now they tell me I have to talk to Reservations to get that done. And so the whole terrible cycle begins again.
   
Now, to British Airways. I was booking to go to Kiev at the beginning of May and, when I tried to cancel, was told that my Avios Air Miles had expired - by eight days. I had received no notice that they were about to do so (and I have EVERY bit of correspondence from BA, going back two decades - they still haven’t responded to any of it) but was told that if I booked a flight within three months, I could keep my miles and would be refunded the outgoing part of the flight for which I was eligible, as I had paid full price. But where to go cheaply within three months? I enquired about a one way flight to Paris. After a lengthy phone call and a long e-mail they wrote, explaining my options (both Club Europe and Economy), I said that I would like to check out the Economy fare, thereby saving the bulk of my refund.
   
I will not bore you even more than I already have with what transpired through BA on Twitter, but they kept telling me that they could do nothing until the Fares department came back with their calculations. This morning, I went online, and not only are both Kiev flights still there, they have also booked me on the expensive Club Europe flight to Paris. I have not agreed to this. I did not confirm anything. All I have had are the very adamant BA Twitter people telling me that nothing can be arranged until Fares get back to them. So why the heck have they gone ahead and done it?
   
Let’s get to Accor. Since I stayed at the Francis Hotel in Bath last year, I have been trying to get my points accredited. I booked through my membership number, I checked the hotel had my number, I wrote to the hotel, I wrote to Accor - but still nothing. Now, this morning, they tell me I should have claimed my points within six months of my stay. AGGGHHHHHH! I DID! Several times!
   
I really am at the end of my tether. Travelling is stressful enough (just ask poor Dr Dao, dragged off a United Airlines flight this week), without having to jump through so many hoops. Virgin Atlantic will tell you that I am the calmest and nicest passenger. I get on with everyone and always give praise where praise is due. Contrary to what people believe, I do not use Twitter to complain all the time; mostly, I use it as a means to thank people for their service - and I always take names so that I can add a personal touch.

   
But Delta and BA, between them, have led me to the brink. I’m just going to have to stop travelling, because my blood pressure really can’t take it.  Or I’ll just have to stick to going everywhere that Virgin Atlantic goes, which limits my options; but at least I get to talk to those lovely people in the Swansea centre for whom nothing is ever too much trouble. Yes, I love you Virgin Atlantic, with a passion that grows each day that every other airline screws up. 

See you on the Psycho 7! Sorry, folks - in-joke. We know what we’re talking about though, eh, Virgin?

EASTER BUNNIES AND MORTALITY

I loved Easter when I was young. 

We had Good Friday off school and the first task of the day was to walk to “Jean the shop” in the village of Coity, Bridgend, to pick up the freshly baked hot cross buns. They were still warm by the time I got them home, and having them for breakfast in place of regular cereal is a treat I remember to this day.
   
Then there was Easter Sunday and all that chocolate. I recall a year when the mother of Bev, who worked in my mother’s salon, brought me a white rabbit, stuffed to the gills with chocolate bars; my brother had a blue dog with the same. Always we had around eight eggs. I recall the excitement of the brown cellophane bag of brown discs inside the Buttons egg; the first crack of that thick outer rim of an oval chocolate bowl; the wolfing down of the Sunday roast, desperate to enter combat once more with this rare brown, sugary feast.
   
And afterwards, the stress of Easter Monday - sitting for hours in Bank Holiday traffic and arriving at Southerndown beach just in time to see the last of the tide disappear over the horizon, before heading back home, lucky if we made it in time for News at Ten.
   
The church part of Easter I found infinitely depressing: all those hymns about old rugged crosses and bleeding limbs, and Bible tales about being force fed vinegar. It’s actually quite disturbing to a young mind, and even the “joy” of the resurrection story was a little frightening. Dead people coming to life always worried me. I recall the picture of Lazarus in my Children’s Bible, leaping up from his open coffin when Jesus decided to raise him from his rigor mortis; the locals looked more terrified than thrilled. 

I also couldn’t help feeling that they must have felt a bit miffed that Jesus had singled out this man; if he could do one, couldn’t he go along to the local graveyard and perform the same trick on everyone else? My theory is that Lazarus wasn’t really dead at all, just in a heavy sleep - like those people today who are pronounced dead and wake up just as the embalmer is rolling up his or her sleeves.
   
So I felt the same sense of creepiness and disbelief when Jesus allegedly escaped from his tomb - or “rose from the dead”, if that’s your thing. I was indoctrinated by my Christian background to accept this version of events and I have no problem with anyone who wishes to believe that this momentous event was to save mankind from sin. 

Now, though, I think it no less ludicrous than Scientology, although I acknowledge that living one’s life according to the Christian principles of goodness and truth is the best way (leaving aside the bits about crusades and killing everyone who disagrees with you, not to mention the lunatics who think the Bible is one book, it’s a pretty good philosophy).
   
I just don’t believe that we rise from the dead. I don’t even want to. It’s a nice comforting through to help humans deal with the fact that our breathing stops (all religions have their version of this), but that doesn’t make it true. I feel joyous in the knowledge that we pass things on while we are living, so many things that influence the lives of future generations; that, to me, is everlasting life, and I take immense pleasure in its simplicity. And, to be honest, there aren’t many people I ever want to see again; I’m done with most of you already.
   
These days, I don’t get any eggs, but usually treat myself to a little something. A couple of weeks ago, I bought a Lindt bunny when I was back in the UK. I also bought some newspapers and magazines and, at W H Smith, was asked for ID when I tried to pay with my credit card. 

“I’m a British citizen!” I cried, with the kind of indignation usually used for the subject of weapons of mass destruction, not chocolate bunnies. Unless there was an arsenal of guns hiding inside bunny’s stomach, I could see no reason why I had to provide ID. The poor lad on the cash register looked flummoxed and the manager had to be called to sort out what was clearly a very complex operation.
   
I was not manhandled to the ground, unlike the poor passenger dragged from the United Airlines flight this week. I hope he sues them for a fortune. The time to bump people from a flight is at the gate, not when they are sitting on a plane, ready for take-off. I know, from personal experience, that when things do not go according to plan, panic sets in. 

The revelation of aspects of Dr Dao’s past has been despicable, as nothing is relevant other than the way he was mistreated at the hands of the over-zealous thugs who abused him so appallingly. He will be spending Easter in hospital, recovering from concussion and nursing a mouth missing its front teeth, and a broken nose. My eggless weekend fades by comparison.
   
It’s going to be a very quiet Easter. I have work today and am seeing friends tonight. I’ll watch bonnets and parades on TV, grateful that I am not caught up amongst the ribbons and bows.  I won’t be listening to any services churning out dirges about death, and I won’t even be eating any chocolate as, in all honesty, I don’t really like it. I can make a Kit Kat last a month.

   
So, a Happy Easter to you all, whatever your beliefs or disbeliefs. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die . . . Or maybe not.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

FOOD FOR THOUGHTLESSNESS

Mastication is the curse of the American people. 

Seriously, is there one person who can go a single minute without chewing, guzzling, biting, swilling and, finally, swallowing?
  
I’ve never been in a country where its citizens have a pathological obsession with keeping their mouths full every second of the day. Chips, fries, coffee, burgers - and that’s just the stuff people are eating on the streets. As someone who was brought up never to snack (two meals a day: school lunch, and then meat, two veg and a pudding for dinner), this constant need for oral gratification continues to astonish me.

Was everyone deprived of breastfeeding as an infant? Is it just greed? Do people have so little to say to each other that the only other thing they can think to do with their mouths is to stuff them at every given opportunity?
  
I rarely eat out, not least because of the high salt and fat content that plays havoc with my blood pressure and cholesterol (should you be worried, I had a full blood count two weeks ago and everything came back normal). I cook mainly at home and, in recent years, have enjoyed (or endured, depending on the airline) a huge amount of airline food. It’s invariably cold, served on a tiny plate, and is edible only if accompanied by a pint of red wine. Sometimes, it’s fantastic (my favorite airline, Virgin Atlantic, is currently going through something of a food renaissance in the food department) and sometimes it’s as if someone has raided the hold where they keep the dead bodies on board and decided to serve up the rotting remains.

I know it’s a privilege to be able to fly and - as I often do as a result of having acquired so many Air Miles - to have the good fortune to fly in a more comfortable class than Economy. When I complain about food on social networking, some people respond as if I spend my days frying small children, but my view is that I deserve a certain standard for what I’ve paid for (by the way: I often call in the food - always more spicy - from Economy, when the dishes are too rich for my liking).
  
Unfortunately (as I have documented on several occasions), I suffer from a condition known as misophonia (literally, a hatred of sound) and one of the things that particularly grates is the sound of people eating and drinking; it’s why I can rarely be in the company of others eating, unless they are wearing a silencer. I can’t sit in a hotel breakfast room, where the sound clattering cutlery and people scraping their yoghurt pots and cappuccino cups drives me to distraction.

“It’s finished!” I mutter, a little too loudly. “Just get another one!”. It’s another reason I need my own space when flying; stabbing someone with their noisy fork at 30,000 feet is never a good idea (unless you are flying United which, after this week’s debacle, I suspect might be something they encourage).
  
Those hungry, widescreen Texans in Vegas really bug me. Who starts queuing for the All You Can Eat Buffet at 5am, for goodness sake? I tell you, they are going to consume every last morsel they can if it kills them. Forget building a wall to keep immigrants out, President Trump, just transport an army of buffet-bound Texans to the border; I guarantee no one will be able to get past them.
  
We are blessed to live in an area of the world that has more food than we could ever consume, and yet we continue to stock up as if we will never see a crumb again. Already, in preparation for the Easter weekend, people are clearing supermarket shelves as if preparing for spending the next three weeks in a war bunker. Is it really necessary to by enough French sticks to feed a bird sanctuary for a year? 

There is not one major food or wine shop, either in the US or UK, that I know is going to be closed over the forthcoming break; yet the terror of being without for an hour consumes the population with an appetite even greater than the one that makes them bypass tongue and tastebuds as they throw their food down their throats.
  
Food advertising on TV, particularly in the US, makes me feel physically sick. Everything is orange, as if it’s gone to the same tanning salon as President Trump. Everything is a bargain and comes by the bucket or, for a family size portion, by something resembling a truck. And everything is meat, meat, meat. Farmyards of the stuff.
  
I am largely vegetarian, which makes eating out difficult anyway (or even ordering in, come to that) - in New York, it’s Pizza Margarita, or starve. I don’t like eating anything that has a face (men aside) although I indulge a little in turkey at Christmas and Thanksgiving. But then to me, a turkey doesn’t have a face: it’s vulva on legs.

I’ve always hated the texture of meat (and increasingly so, with advancing years) and loathe the smell of fish (heck, I’m a woman: if I wanted to smell fish, I’d just take my panties off). So, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing: lentils, no snacking - and, most importantly, no solids at lunchtime.

Are you nuts? That really is insanity.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

IF YOU CAN'T BEAT THEM . . . KEEP TRYING

It’s funny how things come back to you.

In my last blog, I mentioned a memory of having been a runner-up in a Cadbury essay writing competition when I was eight. The fact that I didn’t win still weighs heavily on my heart (yes, I am that competitive). A Facebook friend joined in, having remembered that she, too, won a prize.

Like her, I can’t quite recall if it was chocolates or biscuits, although I do remember boycotting Cadbury for some time, and my taste for chocolate never returned. To this day, I can make a Flake last six months (You see, Cadbury? I can be mean like that. Your loss).

I have never been a good loser and have no idea where that comes from. My parents were not over-pushy and did not punish me if I came home without the trophy for winning the egg and spoon race on school Sports Day (I, by the way, was in my bedroom, ready to commit hara-kiri at the humiliation of not coming first).

Most of my youth’s social activities centred on ballroom dancing, where competitiveness was all. I still have the photo of my first competition, in which, with my partner Kerry (girls could dance with each other until the age of 12), I am holding a medal. For sixth place. Sixth place! Are you serious? Kerry had to go. I then partnered Janette and we won everything. My smiles could have eclipsed planets.

When I was clearing out my Cardiff house last year, I came across a book called Girls’ Stories that my grandmother had given me around the same I lost the Cadbury writing competition (did I mention that?). The inscription is a reward for something (certainly not being a runner-up), though I can’t quite remember now, as it’s in storage.

But anyway, what’s interesting is that every single girl in the book is a winner. Bullied at school? Girl rises above it and moves on to friends in pastures new, having learned a valuable lesson. Would-be jockey? Against all odds, she wins the local gymkhana. The lesson in every story is that any girl can do anything, be anyone, achieve anything.

I must have believed it.

Was that where the seeds of my competitiveness were sown?

Or was I born with a gene that makes the ache of losing inevitable?

That’s why I was so impressed with Jordan Horowitz during last week’s Oscars (see previous blog). To be holding that trophy in his hand and be able to hand it over so graciously when he discovered there had been a mistake . . . would that I were able to acquire an atom of his magnanimity.

Personally, I would have been in jail very quickly, leaving Jessica Fletcher pondering an Oscar statuette embedded in someone’s skull.

I was brought up in education with the Henry Grantland Rice adage: "For when the One Great Scorer comes/ To mark against your name/He writes – not that you won or lost/ But how you played the Game.”

Well, stuff that for a bunch of soldiers.

Much as my mother tried to foist the spirit of the poem upon me, along with Rudyard Kipling’s If, I was going to reach for those stars if I had to break my back doing so.

That was never encouraged in my secondary school. I once scored three goals in hockey and I remember Mrs Davies sternly telling me: “It never pays to be too competitive in life.” Apparently, she was very upset when I told the story on the radio three decades later.

Back of the net, Mrs Davies!

I recall another teacher throwing my satchel (complete with flask of soup my mother had lovingly prepared) over a balcony because it was about three inches from where it should have been. “I strongly object,” I informed her, only to be ushered aside and told: “It never pays to strongly object to anything in life.”

Ah, so many “It never pays” lessons. It’s just a pity those teachers hadn’t applied the same ones to the many teachers involved with pupils in that school, because, let me tell you, it never pays to be the victim of a powerful man abusing his position and devastating the lives of vulnerable schoolgirls. But when that Great Scorer comes to write against their names . . .

Maybe it was the knowledge that I was a writer – I never doubted it – that instilled the confidence and surety; and yet, as everyone who knows me would attest, I have been wracked with personal insecurities all my life. Maybe it was those that sharpened the edge of competitiveness?

I was never part of the “in” crowd – maybe that, too, had something to do with it?

But as I sit now, on a sunny spring day in New York City, overlooking the Hudson, I count so many blessings: most of all, my family and friends - because, without them, I wouldn’t have made it this far.

And, because of them and their love and support, I will always feel like life’s luckiest and biggest winner.