Sunday, January 15, 2017


Dear CBS Radio

While looking through the CBS jobs list today, I came across the post for Social Media Manager. I am passionate about social media, I happen to be very good at it, and was fascinated by the section in which you list the PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS for the post. Let’s go through them.


1.     STAND. Yes, I can.

2.     WALK. Ditto.

3.     SIT. Ditto, again.

4.     USE HANDS TO FINGER, HANDLE, OR FEEL OBJECTS, TOOLS OR CONTROLS. Now, here comes what (forgive me) I found a little weird. Number one: with what else, other than hands, would I be using to finger anything? If I have artificial arms/hands/fingers, would I still qualify? You do not specify whether said hands must be of the flesh variety which, given the detail of everything else, is a little strange. Should I deter my good mate the Bionic Man from applying?  

     Number two: exactly what objects, tools or controls would I be required to finger or handle? I have both handled and fingered many things in my life, but again, I feel you need to specify more clearly. 

      I recently grew my nails and do not wish to be fingering anything that might require me to book a manicure, should the fingering be of a grubby nature (maybe we could come to an agreement about nail-cleansing, post fingering sessions?). Do you mean “tools” euphemistically, or am I required to do a carpentry course prior to the starting date? And, for controls, are we talking a car steering wheel or are we in the realm of Thunderbird Two (which is very complicated, by the way)?

5.     REACH WITH HANDS AND ARMS. I see that we are still on limbs, which are clearly of particular importance. For what am I reaching, pray? Coffee cups, light bulbs? Don’t you have people for that sort of thing? I reach for the stars; that is surely all you need to know.

6.     CLIMB STAIRS. I presume, at this point, you were hoping to rule out Daleks, who, in addition to not being able to finger anything within arm-reaching distance, you think cannot climb stairs. Well, you’d be wrong, because the new generation of Daleks can do precisely that. Nice try, but as far as I can see, Daleks are still in the running for this very complicated sounding job.

7.     TALK OR HEAR. Here’s the killer bit. The prospective job hunter must be able to “talk or hear”. I think you’ll find your grammar is a bit off here. I think you meant to say talk AND hear. A radio job in which someone can talk but not hear is a little odd, don’t you think? And one in which one can hear but not be able to use talkback is almost as strange. 
      So, my first job would be to finger correct your grammar; and, while we are at it, your excessive and incorrect use of semi-colons in your advertisement would also be subject to my expert fingering. I can talk and hear, incidentally: so much so, that I have heard your message so loudly and clearly, I am going to tell everyone through social media about it. You see how suited I am to this post?

8.     LIFT AND/OR MOVE UP TO 10LBS. Of what? Again, I need specifics. A new-born baby I could just about manage, but Rosie O’Donnell’s snacks, I couldn’t.


The truth is, CBS, that short of saying “Disabled people need not apply”, you have tried to cover all bases with this offensive listing. I can do all the things above, but would never want to work for a company whose prejudices towards the less fortunate in our society disenfranchise them even more: people who have overcome many disabilities and disadvantages and hold fantastic jobs at which they excel, and not only in the media.
Your final point makes a mockery of everything that has gone before.


Shame on you, CBS. Truly. Shame on you.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


I am banging my head with my fists. DUH DUH DUH DUH DUH!

You’d have to be here to see and hear the commotion. It’s not the first time it’s happened. In fact, it’s the fourth. Because every time movie producer extraordinaire and total genius Harvey Weinstein walks into a room and I have the chance to meet him, I turn into a gibbering wreck. You see? I’m doing it again and he’s not even here. And every time, the day after, I turn into a Harvey Headbanger.
Let’s go through the script of my idiocy. Right. The late Blake Snyder, who wrote the screenwriter’s bible, Save the Cat, was my friend and mentor and the reason I came to LA in 2009, when I took one of his extraordinary workshops. Talking about pitching your movie, Blake said that you had to think of it like this: you are in an elevator and Harvey Weinstein gets in; you have just seconds to pitch him your idea (they call it The Elevator Pitch in Hollywood). 

Blake could not stress enough the importance of taking advantage of those few valuable moments with the god of movie making. I tell you, after that I hung around so many Hollywood elevators, people thought I was a Schindler engineer.
And then, just before the Oscars five years ago, I am in the private members’ club, Soho House, in LA, and in walks Harvey. Now, if you’ve never seen Harvey enter a room, it’s like Moses’s parting of the Red Sea. First, there’s silence; then, people fall in mercurial waves to either side of him. Jaws drop. Mouths gawp. Awesome doesn’t even begin to describe it. 
Enter me. Stage front. Spotting my opportunity, I lurch forward between the waves, an errant Israelite ready to throw myself at the feet of the master. 
The next thing I remember is “I’m from the Daily Mail”, followed by something along the lines of “I’m your greatest fan” (a line I’ve embarrassingly used on Bill Clinton and Al Pacino, to name but two) and then noises such as gurgh mnn drss gnagh sonb – at any rate, it was a language I had no idea I could speak. It might have been Russian. Or Polish. The point is: it was not a pitch for my movie. Harvey says “Thank you” anyway, and continues through the divided Red Sea, where gasping onlookers, stunned and horrified at my audacity, are now receiving treatment from paramedics.
The day after, I go for lunch at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. Banging my head at my missed opportunity, I dive into a melon cocktail, weeping at my stupidity. And in walks Harvey. Silence descends upon the terrace. He turns to each and every person, smiles and says “Hello”. Even me. I stand up in a strange kind of posture that wouldn’t look out of place in a production of Richard III. I think I might even have curtsied. But Harvey’s already disappeared to the shrine they doubtless reserve for him by the pool. DUH DUH DUH DUH DUH.
Okay, on to scene three. It’s the launch of the movie Philomena in 2013. It’s Hollywood again (of course) and Harvey, the producer, is there. This time, my Russian has improved slightly and I tell Harvey I love the movie. Next, I ask if I can shadow him in the build-up to the Oscars (oh, lordie, here I go again), to which he replies: “You have to be kidding” (no, Harvey, I’m not; this is my opportunity and I’m not going to screw it up). Then, I deliver my killer blow: “Oh, go on, Harvey. I know Simon Cowell and even he’s afraid of you.” This goes down spectacularly well. I’m in! “So he should be,” smiles Harvey. But then he’s gone again. So close, and yet so far. I’m out.
And so, to yesterday. It’s the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) annual Golden Globes tea party. I am so excited to meet Justin Hartley, a brilliant actor in one of my favourite TV shows, This Is Us, which is up for its first Golden Globe tonight (I’m praying it wins; it’s extraordinary). Not only is he a star, he is a lovely, lovely person, and hanging out with him and his friend Colin makes my day. The occasion is marred only by Ryan Gosling’s henchman being vile to me (these “minders” can be such bullies; it’s so unnecessary. They’re not protecting Jesus, for goodness sake). 

I’m a big fan of Gosling, though I can’t bear La La Land, the movie that will probably clean up during awards season. Maybe it’s just as well I didn’t reach Ryan in case my Russian suddenly became fluent and I managed to splutter the words “I really hate your latest movie.”
Then, I spot Harvey. A very slimmed down Harvey, I have to say (he’s clearly been taking the stairs, not the elevator, of late). Now, I say to myself. NOW! And up I go. “Hi, I’m . . . ” Who am I? The name has just gone. Seriously. Who the hell am I? “I met you at the movie that I loved . . . uh . . . uh . . . It was . . . Phil . . . Philip . . . Philistine . . . ” Nope. Nothing, again. Every proper noun in my vocabulary has disappeared into the ether, along with all the elevator pitches of the great movies I am writing. 

I cut my losses and say “Can I have a photo, please . . . ” I think I might also have added “I’m your greatest fan” (again). He kindly poses for a snap in which I am smiling manically like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Harvey looks more than a little scared.
And that’s why, today, I am again hitting my head in disbelief at another golden opportunity wasted. Double and triple DUH DUH DUH DUH DUH! 

So, if this should happen to reach you, Harvey, No, I am not a lunatic. I am a damned good writer who would like nothing more than to meet you and manage more than three coherent sentences. And in the hope that this might happen, I’m going back to stalking elevators. 

See you on the mezzanine level. I’m going up. And I’m taking you with me, Harvey, whether you like it or not. 


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Don't Drink and Dive - EastEnders' Christmas Message

Ongar. EastEnders have put it on the map, only, cruelly, to take it away again with the deaths of Ronnie and Roxy Mitchell.
Having had a festive break, I’m just catching up with the TV I’ve missed, and the spooky, watery death of R & R puts paid to any thoughts the pair had about the new life they were planning in the civil parish in the Epping Forest District in Essex.
There, you see? I Googled it. Twenty miles north east of London, there is a railway station and, um . . . well, to be honest I can’t see much else. Ongar. The name makes me giggle. I have no idea why. It means “grass land”, and quite why Ronnie had chosen to start her married life there is anybody’s guess (did she know how many Albert Square residents have been buried in that forest?). Every time the word came out of her mouth, it sounded as if she didn’t really understand it, either.
EastEnders can’t resist a bit of festive rigor mortis; it’s sort of their trademark. The sisters’ death – the worst kept secret in the soap’s history – was particularly dramatic. First, they were drinking too much while sitting on a ledge in the building where Ronnie had just tied the knot with the divine Jack. Alas, instead of hopping into bed with his beloved, Jack was forced to read a bedtime story to . . . I don’t know . . . some sleepy kids (to be honest, I lost count of whose kids are whose in the show years ago). 

The week had already seen Lee contemplating suicide by jumping from a ledge, too, which makes me think there might have been a writer of the Christmas shows just trying to conquer his/her acrophobia.
Anyway, Lee didn’t jump and decided, instead, to confess all to Mick about his part in the robbery of the Vic. Mick was not happy. In fact, if there had been a ledge, Mick would have pushed Lee off it.
But back to the sisters. So, having survived the car journey in which viewers thought their fate was sealed; having survived the slip on the ledge with bottle in hand . . . what do they do but nip off to the pool for reasons that were even less comprehensible than Ronnie’s sudden love for Ongar.
One minute, Roxy was laughing; the next, there was silence. So, what did Ronnie do but dive into the pool to save her sister – the sister who had already ruined the wedding day and was set to ruin Ongar, too, with Ronnie insisting that she move with them.
To be honest, that dress was always going to be the pair’s downfall. Not since the Andrex puppy went berserk in the bathroom have I seen so much flotsam and jetsam just crying out for a disaster. Jumping into the pool to save her sibling, Ronnie couldn’t cope with the frock six feet under, and, if you were looking for a murder weapon, it was the dress wot dunnit. Oh, Ronnie, Ronnie. Don’t drink and dive.
Had the pair gone in a car crash, there would have been two livers that would undoubtedly have been ripe for Phil, who had been languishing in hospital waiting for a transplant. But another donor had already turned up for him and, post-operation, the job lot of yellow make-up the show had been reliant upon to display Phil’s jaundice was suddenly surplus to requirements (does the yellow colour really fade within minutes of the anaesthetic wearing off? Just a medical query. I worry about these things).
I was always a tad concerned about the way that car crash story might have gone, though. Livers are like buses. You wait for ages for one to come along, then three come along together. Luckily for Phil, in the end he didn’t have to choose. He wouldn’t have wanted Roxy’s, anyway – a liver I suspect was in an even worse way than the one that had already given up on him.
And so, the double whammy brings to an end the age of Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber, the sisters who never realised there was anywhere else to go on holiday other than Ibiza and for whom Ongar was the Downton Abbey of their whole miserable existence.
At least it leaves Jack a single man again – and for that, I suspect, he will be eternally grateful. No more Ronnie. No More Roxy. 

More to the point: no more Ongar. 

Praise the Lord!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My Phobic Christmas

The festive party season is upon us. People, music, balloons, dancing to Slade’s Merry Christmas, Everybody. Unless you happen to be me.

’Tis the season not to be jolly.
Let me say at the outset that I love Christmas. I don’t subscribe to the Scrooge ‘Bah! Humbug!’ philosophy and, while I find the festive season stressful with all the preparation, it’s still a joyous time of year. I just hate Christmas parties.

I especially hate Slade, by the way, because Alison and Mandy in my secondary school loved them and they bullied me. Noddy Holder’s wife once asked me why I had it in for her husband every time I mentioned the band and I told her the truth. It’s not him; it’s them. But I digress.
Christmas parties bring my worst phobias (and other conditions that usually lie dormant) to the surface. Claustrophobia (too many people), misophonia (literally, a hatred of sound, which I have all the year round but have developed techniques to control it) and Globophobia – a fear of balloons. Yes, it is a real fear. And I have it by the airload.
I am in very good company because, apparently, Oprah Winfrey suffers from Globophobia, too. So, while all of you are out enjoying funny hats, streamers and liaisons over the office desk at the Christmas party, Oprah and I will be indoors, cowering in a corner – because we both can’t be within screaming distance of balloons (although, in Oprah’s case, I suspect it might have more to do with a fear of ballooning).
I also suffer from Coulrophobia – a fear of clowns – but then what sane person doesn’t, if they’re honest; worse, though, I have severe Metamfiezomaiophobia – a fear of mime, clowns and people in disguise. I used to think I suffered from basic Maskaphobia (which speaks for itself) and it’s very common among young children, but the triple whammy is a whole new ball park. Let’s just say that my worst nightmare would be a Marcel Marceau concert. The only comfort would be that it would keep my misophonia in check. But at what cost?
I really can’t go near anything that has its face covered or distorted in any way. I can’t date men with moustaches or beards; my fear of the dentist has nothing to do with the drill and all to do with the dentist’s mask; I have never and could never attend a masked ball (masks and balloons; dear lord, call the paramedics). I’ve had it from a very young age and it’s one of the reasons I never go out on Halloween or New Year’s Eve, where balloons occupy more space than people, and painted faces and masks are the order of the night.

Balloons, though, are undoubtedly the worst, and if I go to a party, wedding or other special event, the first thing I do is case the joint; it’s one of the reasons I love funerals because you sure ain’t gonna find balloons there.
Most globophobics can’t touch, feel or go near a balloon for fear it will pop (although, technically, that is phonophobia); I just have a fear of balloons in general. To me, they are a sinister, unpredictable presence, like spiders (don’t even get me started on my arachnophobia); their hideous colours bob along the floor like buoys in the sea, pretending they are stable but all the time plotting to approach you when you are least expecting it.
Apparently, it’s not very common, although my mother tells me that, as a child, I had a recurring nightmare when I would wake crying, insisting that my room was full of balloons. There is just something about the texture, the tightness and the meanness of a rubber balloon that sends my heart rate and blood pressure racing.
I’m okay with foil balloons, but that’s probably because they deflate at their own rate; I don’t rush screaming into the house if I see a hot air balloon (although you would never get me into one without resorting to chloroform). I’m ambivalent towards bubble gum, though, and that bulbous oral uterus genuinely makes me feel sick.
Christmas is a very stressful time for people with phobias. It’s a dreadful time for people born in the festive season for example, if they suffer from Fragapanophobia (fear of birthdays); and for anyone thinking of substituting turkey for duck, spare a thought for anyone coming to dinner who might be suffering from Anatidaephobia, which is a fear that one is being watched by a duck.

I didn’t think I suffered from the latter, but now I come to think about it, I suspected something was watching me when I went for a walk in St James’s Park this week; I had just assumed it to be human.
So, happy partying all. I’ll be celebrating with you – from a distance.

With my new best friend Oprah, of course.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Day One in Trumptown

And so, it begins. 

Fifteen months ago, I was talking to Justin in my local bar, Mr Biggs, in New York, and I told him it would happen. “He won’t even get past the first vote,” he said. Then, Trump did. And beyond. Next, he was the Republican candidate. “He’s going to do it,” I told everyone last week. And then . . . well, the rest is history (literally).
He was not my choice. I cried when it became clear what the outcome was going to be. I woke today in shock and disbelief. President Trump. The very words stutter from my tongue as if in combat with a serpent on their way into the ether.
But it’s happened. And we must accept it. For whatever reason, a self-confessed pussy grabbing, tax-avoiding racist has acquired the top job in the world. I will never understand it, but I have to live in hope that the disturbing rhetoric The Donald employed to land the gig will quickly dissipate once the reality of what’s involved sinks in.
The actor and rights campaigner John Barrowman posted a wonderful clip on Twitter this morning. In bed with his husband, Scott, he called for the hatred on Twitter to stop. While not liking the outcome of the election, he appealed for calm; for the continuance of people standing up for what they believe in; for the need to move forward.
My heavy heart of yesterday is no lighter today, but I will not lose friends over the chasm that lies between us in relation to this. One of my closest friends and even my mother voted for Brexit; I was, and still am, in disbelief that they did. But it’s their right. I was also genuinely interested in their reasoning, however insane I thought it to be.
Because that’s what we do. Or should. We are the only living species that has the capacity to voice our thoughts and feelings in words (and before all you Chihuahua lovers out there tell me that your pooch talks; barking doesn’t count. It really doesn’t); but we are often so busy listening to the sound of our own voices, we forget that we have another great skill. Listening.
I spent last night in the same bar in which I predicted the outcome of the election and shared what seemed that very same distant memory with Justin. It’s not the result either of us wanted and, apart from two people, it wasn’t the result anyone else wanted there, either. It’s a gay bar, and the horror of Mike Pence, Trump’s deputy, recommending electric shock therapy to “cure” gays is, of course, abhorrent. As is so much else of what has come out of these men’s mouths.
But a democracy is not about one day, no matter how historic that day might be. It is about having a voice that continues to be heard until it dies – and in so many forms, not least literature, long after that.
I want to come back to ears, though. We hear but we do not listen. Every day, we have the chance to learn from others, no matter how different their opinions and beliefs might be from our own. Even as I write, I am conscious of the gift of sound. I hear a police car siren racing along 11th Avenue in New York, my keyboard tapping, my refrigerator making ice, a car horn blowing, my mouth slurping at the glass of bubbly I had put by yesterday in anticipation of a celebration today (ah, well; it’s got be drunk, no matter what the occasion). Listen. Words are our armour and our anchor.
One of my favourite songs the brilliant Iris Williams sings is Sondheim’s Children Will Listen and I’ve had the privilege of hearing her perform it on more than one occasion. I’m not a huge Sondheim fan, but the lyrics of the song always move me: yes, children will listen. Adults don’t. 

At what point in our lives do we lose the capacity to listen? Is it when we begin to form opinions different from those our parents instilled/indoctrinated? Is it when we realised that some people are just vile? Is it because we live in fear of not having our own views of the world validated? Is it simply a terror of thinking that we invested in something that might turn out to be wrong?
I have no idea. But I do know that although we hear so much, we have lost the capacity to listen. Today must not be a day of mourning; as John Barrowman said, the sun is still shining (although it’s not in New York City, it’s bizarrely pissing down for the first time in weeks, but you know what I mean). We must all, no matter what our beliefs, listen and try to understand – that is the only way of conversion.
I will never understand attacks on any human being, whatever their sexual persuasion. I will never understand racism. I will never understand intolerance.
But we are complex beings who carry baggage and gather more as life goes on. This, however, I do know: we progress only by understanding, or at least trying to understand. As I said in yesterday’s blog, quoting Ephesians: Be kind to one another.
Today, I cry tears of disappointment – and, yes, fear. But onward. Upwards.

It is what it is. 

And I’ll say it again. Be kind to one another. 

This is all, at the end of the day, that truly matters.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Day of the Frackle?

FYI:  FRACKLE: an unnamed monster from The Muppet Show

Eight years ago, on the eve of my 50th birthday, I was standing in front of a TV screen with tears streaming down my face. I was consumed with joy that, in my lifetime, I was about to see the first black man elected to be President of the USA.
It was a sublime moment in history: a massive step for man, an even bigger one for mankind. The racism Barack Obama endured then and has endured since is a disgrace; but he, and his extraordinary wife, Michelle, have come through two incredible terms of office in which so much has been accomplished. There will be many who disagree with aspects of Obama’s policies, but when I decided, on that historic day, to come to America, I can honestly say it is a better place today than it was back then.
Although I have spent, and continue to spend time in the UK, it is America that I love with a passion. I am fortunate to be able to split my time between Los Angeles and New York, and, in the latter in particular, I have found extraordinary warmth and friendship in people from all parts of the world. America’s great strength is its lack of history; it’s what lends it a rather lovely innocence. But conversely, its great weakness is its lack of history, because it has few benchmarks that might have proven to be invaluable lessons along the way.
Because today, alas, I am one of many who awaits the result of an election that might see the very antithesis of Obama elected. Donald Trump. A man whose racism, misogyny, ignorance, tax evasion and bullying is being celebrated by millions. A man who, by his own admission – proudly - admits to all these things. A man who intimidates the vulnerable, exploits the power of money, cheats on his wives, loudly spouts drivel because he is preaching to the deaf. A man who has all the characteristics of a sociopath. A man who is, quite frankly, not a man.
There are many men like him. But there are millions who are not. There are millions of women who, bizarrely, are attracted to the monstrous behaviour Trump displays at every turn. I find it inconceivable that any human being in the civilised world would vote for him; but I find it especially offensive that any self-respecting woman would.
More than ever, in the chaos of our modern world, we need to stress, on a daily basis, the qualities that make us human: compassion, love, acceptance of our differences, tolerance, a belief in the need to strive to be better. In essence: goodness.
While I do not hold the religious beliefs I once had, I still maintain that Ephesians states that message beautifully and succinctly: “Be kind to one another.” That’s quintessential goodness.
Nothing that I write is going to change anyone’s mind about the way they vote today; truthfully, it never was, though I have been doing my bit in the vague hope of making the stubborn blind see. But if this election has taught us anything, it is the lesson about what it means to be a decent human being.
I am not saying that Hillary Clinton is squeaky clean (what politician is?) but I have studied her over many years and seen how she has championed the weak in her work as a lawyer; celebrated womankind both publicly and privately (and she has done so much for young girls and education that has conveniently been forgotten); and, whether you think she was wrong or right to stand by her erring man, Bill, she did. It’s called marriage. It’s called loyalty. It’s called staying power.
I sit here today, genuinely scared about the outcome of the vote. I am not alone. Saying yes to Trump is casting a vote in the ballot box of stupidity. For what sane person would want to live in a world that has, at its helm, a person who is openly contemptuous of everything we hold dear in society? It boils down to humanity versus inhumanity, and, cliché as it is, my heart feels heavier today than it has ever done.
This is no Brexit. Not even close. 

Here’s the thing: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Adolph Hitler. He also said: “It is not truth that matters, it’s victory.” Sound like anyone you know?
Today is either going to turn out to be one of the greatest in American history, or one of its saddest. One can only hope that sanity will triumph.
Until that moment, I’m uncorking a bottle of fine wine. 

This could be our last day of freedom. 

I want to remember it.