Sunday, March 25, 2012

Marc's Cherry On The Cake 3/25/12

Nicollette Sheridan’s Edie Britt did not stick out like a sore thumb on Desperate Housewives; it was more of a sore torso.

The final series of what has, for me, been one of the most brilliant TV dramas ever, is ending with more than a touch of controversy (and I don’t just mean Mike’s inability to buy a change of shirt). Nicollette Sheridan has been in court, suing the show’s creator, Marc Cherry. She claims that he got rid of her for reasons other than those he claimed (you will have to read up on this elsewhere; I don’t want to enter the legal minefield), and it’s allegedly all heading back to court.

Obviously, I know nothing of any of this, other than what I have read about the court proceedings, but as a TV critic, I was always 100% behind Sheridan’s departure – in fact, as passionately as I was against her arrival in the first place. To me, her character never worked; she just sort of landed on Wisteria Lane with about as much at-home-ness as ET arriving to address the Senate.

It wasn’t just that she was new. The central four – Gabby (Eva Longoria), Bree (Marcia Cross), Susan (Teri Hatcher), Lynette (Felicity Huffman) – have made relationships with several newcomers, including, among my favourites, Katherine, played by the sensational Dana Delaney (now the star of Body of Proof).

I could just never get to grips with who Edie was supposed to be. She was a vamp, certainly, yet without the charm of vampishness that Vanessa Williams has brought to the part of Renee – who, despite outward appearances, still has layers that often expose her vulnerability. By comparison with both Renee and the foursome, Edie was . . . well, very one-dimensional and predictable.

I’ve been pondering these matters today as I’ve sat indoors, despite it being a beautiful sunny day outside, catching up with the series – the eighth, which will be its last. If you’re in the UK and watching Channel 4, don’t read on if you don’t want to know what’s coming up (even though some papers have already ruined the surprise).

I’ve been weeping uncontrollably at Mike’s funeral, as characters’ flashbacks of him steer them in different directions in their lives. If you are still reading, you would be well advised to stock up on Kleenex as you prepare to say goodbye to this wonderful character – and Hatcher delivers her best performance ever.

Yes, yes, I know that it will be the end for everyone soon, and I have stocked up on tissues for that day, too (anyone on for a DH end-of-life party, by the way?); but Mike’s death took me by surprise.

I don’t know how I’m going to live without the show. Eva Longoria’s beauty and Gabby’s hilarious selfishness; evil Orson and his determination to destroy Bree, the wife who spurned him; the gorgeous Tom, who has yet to realise that Lynette and he belong together; Susan as grandmother, supporting her daughter as she prepares to become a mother – I have loved every minute (even the daft bits).

It’s a shame for everyone that it’s ending on such a sour note and in court; but for some of us, Ms Sheridan’s exit really was the Cherry on the cake – literally and metaphorically.

Ready, Steady, GOOOOOOO! 3/25/12

The selection of teams during games lessons probably ranks amongst the most humiliating experiences of anyone’s school life.

In Brynteg Comprehensive in Bridgend, not once was I ever chosen to be a captain and do my own picking; no, I was always among the last four – not the bottom of the barrel but the dregs under the barrel - and praying that I would never be last and have to witness the disappointment on the faces of the golden nuggets who had been snapped up first.

They were Susan, Alison, Mandy, Caroline – the girls who smoked in the toilets during break and mitched off lessons when the Radio 1 Road Show came to town. How they ran out of the school gates when news of Tony Blackburn’s arrival spread.

But their naughtiness counted for nothing when it came to the last double lesson on Friday afternoon, when teams were chosen and hearts broken.

It had nothing to do with how good you were at sport. I was a very fast runner and a pretty good hurdler, too. I wasn’t too bad at the long and high jumps, and I also remember scoring three goals during one hockey match and thinking that surely this would be enough to get me cherry picked first next time.

But not a bit of it.

I remember Mrs Davies saying to me, after my glorious hockey triumph: “You’re too competitive”. I was very competitive; I still am - but to me it has always been a virtue. I’m not saying that I missed my chances at the Olympics, but the only day I’ll hide my light under a bushel is when I’m six feet under – and even then, I wouldn’t count on it.

Was it a lack of competitive spirit that gave the Welsh rugby team their third Grand Slam in eight years?

Is it a lack of belief that has taken Cardiff City to both the FA and Carling Cup finals?

Is it reticence that is driving Swansea City up the Premiership when everyone predicted they would be back down in the Championship at the end of the season? Of course not.

It is competitiveness of the highest order that lies at the heart of each of these team’s successes and, at the helm, managers and coaches who know how to harness that competitiveness in something that we often lose sight of – team spirit.

Apart from Craig Bellamy, I couldn’t name one player who has played for Cardiff City, but I follow the team’s progress and still cried when they lost the Carling Cup penalty shoot-out.

I can’t name even one player in Swansea City but rejoiced when they beat Manchester City.

I can name all of the Welsh squad but think of them as an extraordinary collective whose closeness as a team is one of the keys to their success.

Being a team player is tough.

While you bring your individual skills to the table, you also have to know how to use those skills in order to best bring out the skills of others.

You have to know when to pass the ball – literally and metaphorically – and you have to be there for each other on the bad days as well as the good.

I was in New Zealand when Wales went out to France in the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup. When Sam Warburton was sent off, the stadium went silent; at the end of the game, we left like one massive funeral procession, our hopes and dreams already a distant memory.

The next day, I happened to be in the same bar as several members of the team, who turned up to watch the All Blacks/Australia semi-final. They were cheered when they entered and enjoyed celebrity status as fans gathered round to have their pictures taken.

They were dignified in defeat, humble in the limelight, and they were undoubtedly the team of the tournament. It felt good to be Welsh.

It still does. These are incredible times for Welsh sport and, in particular, Welsh teams. We know that young people hero worship sports personalities and now they have three teams to look to for inspiration.

Each one is a great symbol of hard work, dedication, self-belief and, in aiming to be the best, they show the importance and true meaning of competitive spirit: great team work.

During the two and a half years I spent in LA, I witnessed at first hand such a positive attitude among the people I met. They were undoubtedly competitive, in a town in which so many are competing for the ultimate accolade of living the Hollywood dream.

To me, if you don’t aim high, you’ll never know how high you can reach, yet back in Cardiff, I am constantly reminded of the adage with which I was brought up when growing up in Wales: Never hang your hat higher than you can reach.

Thankfully, and goodness knows how, I managed, and continue to manage to ignore it and, for me, I will always not just hang but throw my hat as high as I can, always in the belief that I will be able to leap to catch it even before it begins to fall.

You can never be too competitive.

Finally, in Wales, our sports teams seem to have woken up to that.

Now, they just need to spread the message to everyone else.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Escape From Alcatraz (The TV Show) 3/13/12


It’s one of those words that sends a shiver down your spine.

It’s that movie you vaguely remember about a bunch of blokes who swam away from the horrible guards on a rock in the middle of an ocean no one had ever heard of.

Well, it seemed like that when I was growing up in Wales at the time. But then the biggest excitement our parents allowed us in Newport was a Cadbury’s flake sticking out of a Mr Whippy cone of a Sunday afternoon.

I saw Alcatraz "The Rock" last year. I was living in LA at the time and, as everyone told me how much I would prefer San Francisco, decided to head up there for the weekend.

I hated it. If I tell you that Alcatraz was the highlight of my SF week-end, that will give you an indication of quite how much I loathed it. And I didn’t even get to Alcatraz. Just the view of it was enough to make me feel better after the horrors of SF.

No restaurants serving after 9pm, an attitude to women dining alone that was positively prehistoric, and by far the scruffiest, dirtiest place I had ever been in the US.

Apart from that, I loved it. Ha!

But I will go back. If only to visit Alcatraz. Which is more than I can say of the TV drama. That, I hope never to visit again.

It promised so much. Big hype, big sets, dramatic music . . . but ultimately never delivered. A better example of style over substance it would be hard to find, and in the absence of a decent script (barely any script, come to that), it relied on stereotypes against a glossy background (grey, of course – apparently, it’s the new black, amongst people who know about such things).

So, we had the unshaven hunk with a mysterious air; closely followed by the petite, pretty, blonde, female cop, whose partner had (of course!) been killed; and then the proverbial Fat Bloke who, quelle surprise, got on rather well with said blonde, when she declared that she wanted him to be her new sidekick.

He could hardly contain himself (actually, that’s a lie: he looks as if he could contain not only himself but at least three families of refugees and a multi- storey car park). I predict his sad demise round about episode eight, series two, all providing the doughnuts and the Big Macs don’t get to him first.

Then there was the proverbial Bad Guy, who turned out to be running what appeared to be a cryogenics spaceship and . . .

To be honest, this IKEA showroom killed it for me at the end of the episode, because by then I really didn’t know where I was and, more importantly, didn’t know whose side I was supposed to be on.

For me, it’s important to know for whom you are rooting at the very beginning of a show, and Alcatraz didn’t have a clue. The hunk who drew us in turned out to be a nutcase and, worse, a nutcase convict from another era.

They missed a trick here and they should never have made him a killer in the pilot episode. There was just too much happening and they over-egged the pudding to such a degree that we had – and still do not have – any idea who the hero is.

Any show, TV or film, must address the fundamental question that any viewer or cinema-goer asks before their seat is even warm: whose side am I on?

After episode one of Alcatraz, I’m on the side of . . . well, any side that isn’t the channel it’s on.

Not only is it the poor man's Lost; it's the poor man's Lost behind bars.

A sad case of not getting my Rock off.

Or this jailhouse not rocking.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

LA's Part In The Killing Of The Stuff Monster 3/6/12


It’s everywhere.

Books I bought but never read over 35 years ago when I went to university; clothes I have had since my teens, in the belief that I will one day grow into them again; an Apple computer cemetery in my loft, full of information I no longer need and probably never did in the first place.

I feel as if I am in an episode of Dr Who, as the Stuff Monster comes to get me from the moment I rise, to the moment I go to sleep. Then, often in the night, the Stuff Monster wakes me to tell me that there is Stuff I haven’t dealt with: bank statements, credit cards, mortgages . . . I can spend two hours in the small hours, moving money around online just to keep my head above water. Yet still I wake drowning in the Stuff mire that has become my life.

So, this week, I made a momentous decision: I am going to kill the Stuff Monster. I don’t want an interest only mortgage that I will never be able to pay off, yet have to spend the next seven years worrying about what happens when the bank comes knocking for payment in full when the term is up.

I don’t need John Fowles’s A Maggot, a book to which I gave a scathing review many years ago and have no intention of reading ever again; I don’t need the broken Apple laptop that now I am too embarrassed ever to declare that I owned, let alone be seen with in public.

I do not need the eight ladles in my cutlery drawer, evidence of my having lived, at one point, in four different countries at the same time. I don’t need the pine warehouse that is my entire downstairs – furniture bought in Camden market when the man I was going to live with told me how much he loved it and was looking forward to sharing when he left his live-in girlfriend after she lost enough weight so that she would “be attractive enough to meet someone else” (in summary: he didn’t, she did, and then he decided she was attractive enough to be worthy of him, after all).

I don’t need the drawers full of single ear-rings, the lone partner of a pair I once loved and thought that maybe, one day, I might happen upon, despite it having been 30 years since its sister disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Likewise, the single black Chloe shoe, whose partner disappeared on a Cardiff street after a rugby international under circumstances I have never fully been able to explain.

The recession has hit most people hard, some very much harder than others; and yes, I know that I still have a better life compared to most people in the world, let alone the country. But all changes in circumstance have to be addressed, and often we miss the obvious and lose sight of what it is that really matters: it’s not Stuff, it’s people.

We cling on to easily replaceable Stuff, mortgages included. In Paris, hardly anyone owns a property, and the rental market thrives. Many years ago, I made money on a property I bought at the bottom of the market and sold at the top; but property is not the sure-fire investment it once was.

When I sit down and really think about what gives me most pleasure in life, it is my friends and family and, a lot of the time, meeting new people. After two and a half years, I recently returned from Los Angeles, where I met so many people from around the world, all with different stories to tell. I loved the experience of living in a country that wasn’t a European one – much as I love our Continent, I had always wanted to experience the United States. While LA is not typical of the States as a whole, I thrived on the energy of a city that has been built on what I love most: film and television.

It has been wonderful to be back amongst the people I have known for decades, but of course there are things I miss about LA, not least the weather. But there are other things LA gave me that, being back full time in the UK, have made me realise that the life I had carved out before I left may not fit as well as it once did.

I am now 53 years old. I am single, have never married and have no children. I am a veritable tiny purse when it comes to relationship baggage. But as a woman of my age in Cardiff, the city in which I was born and which has developed to become a truly cosmopolitan European city, I find little to occupy me socially.

While I have many friends here, most are in partnerships and have children or grandchildren, and their schedules are hectic. After 28 years in London and also six in Paris – both cities that cater wonderfully for the single person of any age – I find booking meet-ups with friends a month in advance (and invariably having them cancelled half an hour before) extremely tiresome.

I know that people have lives and I am glad that they are content in living them to the full, having entered new phases of their lives; it has made me realise, however, that I, too, have entered a new phase and must look to what I do to enjoy whatever remains of my life.

Two weeks ago, a friend said to me: “Let’s say you have 25 years left; you have to decide how you want to spend that time.”

Twenty-five years. I recalled how quickly the last 25 have gone and how I regretted not having done so many things – learnt a couple of languages, travelled more, written more books.

It was a Eureka moment for me.

I don’t want to spend the next 25 years waking in the middle of the night to do sums and then spend the rest of every day worrying about why those sums don’t add up. I don’t want to be sitting by myself in a restaurant or bar, wondering what might have been if I had made different choices. I don’t want to die in a whacking great big house in Cardiff and nobody know I have gone until my editor questions why there is a blank page in the paper.

So, I am selling everything. When I announced it on Facebook, my friends reacted with horror, wondering how I could sell such a lovely house. But all I am selling is bricks, mortar and Stuff that has been clogging up my life for longer than I care to admit.

I made Stuff my emotional fortress, but it’s time to burn the drawbridge and return to concentrating on my first and only true love – my writing. My friends and family are still there, irrespective of whether that Etam dress I bought for £17.99 in 1973 goes in the bin.

It is time to shed skins and brave the world once more.

What’s the worst that can happen? I’m not even going there.

At the moment, I just think I have nothing to lose but my chains.