Saturday, August 31, 2013

Courting Judge Alex

Not since I met David Essex 25 years ago have I been this excited.

It was an interview that never made it into the paper because the tape was unusable. When I played it back, there was just non-stop me: “Oh I saw you in Godspell when I was 13 and you signed the cork from the wine bottle you opened on stage and then I saw you in That’ll Be the Day and I loved you and I used to kiss your poster and you were a great Jesus and I love you and will you marry me” . . . On and on and on. Over a two-hour interview, David’s voice surfaces barely more than six times: “Thanks”, every 20 minutes, in response to my adulation.

So, I am in Miami for NATPE (National Association of Television Programme Executives), billed as a conference in which "creativity meets connectivity and commerce". I'm thinking that as the smartest, funniest (and, let's not deny it, most handsome) person on television, Judge Alex Ferrer (@judgealexferrer), host of the nationally syndicated daytime court show, Judge Alex, fulfils the creativity part of the equation. If I could meet up with him, that nails connectivity. Then I can sell the piece. There's the commerce. Bingo! 

Prior to meeting my idol, I sit in Caffe Abracci in Miami’s Coral Gables, and laugh to myself over my favourite TV show. Now taped in Los Angeles, it first aired on September 12th 2005 and next week begins series nine.

When I moved to Los Angeles in April 2009, it was my daily fix: a bowl of pasta, a glass of Rioja, and Judge Alex on the telly. Mega-bright, quick witted, hilarious and very, very handsome (did I mention that?) with great clean teeth (I like a man who flosses), he was compulsive viewing and became a regular feature in my blogs, as did fantasies about admonishment and handcuffs. So,  it was always exciting to hear him get to the sexual nitty-gritty in which the other judges showed relatively little interest.

Let’s say you stole a vase from your ex-boyfriend’s mother’s house. Within seconds, Judge Alex would manage to extract from you exactly how many times mom and pop had had sex before they bought the vase (and in which positions), where said vase was on the dresser the last time they had sex before it was stolen, and even whether the vase was used for any improper purposes before it took up residence in the new (illegal) home.

If I were to choose anyone to sit down and watch a porn movie with, it would be Judge Alex. Fully robed. Briefly. Then I would want him to handcuff me, put me behind bars and make me beg on all fours . . . Well, you get the picture. And if you don't, apparently it's illegal for me to send it on the internet.

He took my enthusiasm in good spirit and, if you look at his Twitter account, the legions of women fawning over him must have made it quite easy for him to accept the gushings of just one more, especially one at a comfortable five hours’ flight away.
Clearly, he hadn’t bargained on my expert use of Air Miles, and that’s why I’m in Miami. But don't worry: it’s a very thick line between a stalker and a de-robing fetishist.
My spaghetti (clearly, Judge Alex and spaghetti are forever entwined in my consciousness) is already a junction of knots in my stomach that is making me feel physically sick: a condition that is a mixture of trepidation, excitement and ridiculous nerves. As I wait in the courtyard of Books and Books close by (I rejected his suggestion that we do the interview in Starbucks; I didn’t want the smell of burnt coffee beans to be forever associated in my mind with a sex god, for heaven’s sake), my hands start to shake. When he approaches and smiles, my entire body goes into a Salvador Dali melting clock; I appear to have lost touch with the centre of gravity.
He is even more gorgeous in the flesh than on TV, and he looks very scrubbed (I don’t like grubby men). Great eyes, great smile, beautiful hands (as good in real life as they are on camera), deep voice - very Alpha Male, but with a hint of boyishness in a laugh that has a touch of the childlike giggle about it. You just know he has a great, probably naughty, sense of humour. I also sense a strong moral core, as clearly witnessed by his career first in the police force (at 19, he was the youngest cop in Miami), a career as a trial lawyer and then ten years on the Bench, nine of which were spent in the criminal court (he was also the youngest circuit court judge in Miami and went on to be the judge who oversaw the trial on which the recent Pain and Gain movie was based). His parents, he says, instilled in him a strong moral code and work ethic.
“My parents gave up comfortable living in Cuba – my father was an executive at an American Corporation there – and when you got to the United States, you started over from scratch. My father’s first job was unloading railroad cars full of plantains, which I thought was kind of ironic as it’s not even a staple here. My father brought me up to work hard. He had two jobs and because my mother had learned English in Cuba, she was able to get a job as a legal secretary. At lunchtime, she would run to a shoe store and sell shoes for an hour to hopefully make another buck.”
His parents “did what they had to do” as they moved from the very bottom when they arrived in the US to the middle class suburbs, where they were finally able to develop a comfortable lifestyle. “I got to see them claw their way up and it basically taught me that in America, if you’re willing to work hard and apply yourself, you can do anything, especially if you get an education.” It really is the American Dream.
Judge Alex started his first job at 15, when he would go to high school till two, and from three to 11 work at a gas station, where he also worked on weekends from eight to eight. When he graduated from high school, he decided he wanted to be a pilot – “which was crazy, because I got sick every time I flew.”
He became a licensed pilot at 18, but meeting a lot of cops at the gas station had fueled (as it were) his interest in the force. He also had enormous respect for his grandfather, a cop in Cuba who had refused, even under threat of death, to work for Castro’s regime; but when Alex asked to join the police academy, he was discouraged by the police chief. With braces on his teeth (they certainly worked – “Great teeth”, I tell him), he looked more 16 than 19. The academy finally relented and he went on to win the award for most outstanding recruit.
Also influential during his formative years was the loss of his two brothers. His older brother, Tony, suffered from diabetes from childhood and died at 23, when Alex was 15. His brother Eddie, who was just a year older than Alex, died of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Did their passing increase his desire to do good in the world?
“I can’t say, because I’m not very self-analytical; I’m really horrible at that. But I know it changed my relationship to my family. I used to always be the clingy one. If someone came to the house, I’d be the one who’d run to the door and hug them, even if I didn’t know who they were. My brother Eddie was reserved. He would just sit back and if he wanted me to do something, he’d be like ‘You go, do this, go ask him this, go ask him that’. When Tony died, Eddie and I sort of switched personalities. I became more distant from my family and he became closer and more clingy. I didn’t notice it, but my mother and another relative said they saw those changes.”
He talks movingly of how difficult it must have been for his parents to lose two sons, and I wonder whether it has made him fear his own mortality more, especially now he has passed the big Five-O (he is 52 – 53 in October, a Libran. Scales of Justice! Spooky!).
“Am I not going to hit 60, is that what you’re telling me? I mean, you could break it to me gently.” There’s that gorgeous laugh again. It’s so gloriously childlike, you can almost see the little boy with his satchel and sandwiches in the schoolyard. “Thirty didn’t bother me, neither did 40 or 50, but I’m pretty sure 90 is going to bug me if I make it. But up until now, no. I think one of the things it did was it made me accept death in life. I don’t want it, but I don’t fear it.”
It is highly unusual to tackle The Grim Reaper during any interview. Most stars want to publicise their wares and get quickly away to the next promotion (my last Hollywood star meanly allotted me 15 minutes – 14 too many, as it turned out). It is a tribute to Judge Alex’s professionalism, charm and politeness that he does not. He is relaxed, friendly, but very focused, and, despite him enjoying a glass of wine, I know that the chances of getting him to crack with a DUI (Drunk Under Interview) indiscretion are nil. He apologises when his phone beeps (and he has to check messages for personal reasons, so is entirely forgiven); he says “please” and “thank you” to each waiter who approaches to ask what we want; and he stands every time I leave, or arrive back at the table (although, given my tiny bladder, I suspect it is something he may be regretting). My father did the same every time a female left or arrived back in the room, and I find it charming and the height of good manners. Judge Alex could be old school British, were he not so good looking.
Judge Alex left the police force for the law courts and saw the worst criminals pass before him. Nevertheless, the first time he was offered TV, he turned it down.
“It wasn’t that I wasn’t ready to do it, but television is a vicious industry. You can give up your career as a judge and do a TV show that lasts one year, then they cancel you; then, you’re not a judge and you don’t have a show. I loved being a judge and I wasn’t ready to just give that up and do something else on a whim, so I passed. But for two years, I kept saying 'You know, you should have done it', because I like to try different things.”
When the opportunity came around again, it was a “fork in the road” moment.  
“I’d spent nine years out of my ten on the Bench in the criminal court, and that gets to you – it’s like layers of paint. Every day is 'Who raped their neighbour', 'Who killed their sister', and it really gets to you, so I was ready for a change and put my name in for the Appeals court, which is very sought after. The competition is very stiff and there were 60 applicants for, unusually, three places that year, and the Governor had a penchant for appointing minorities because the courts are under represented. I came out of the commission with nine unanimous votes.”
While awaiting an interview with the Governor, TV came knocking again, and therein lay the dilemma.
“On the one hand, you have the Appeals court, which is the pinnacle of any judge’s career, and on the other hand you have television, where they eat their young for breakfast. They told me eight out of ten new shows get canceled, which is true – and that’s people in the industry, who know what they’re doing; I didn’t, so it was a very tough decision. My kids were getting close to college age, and the money was certainly going to be much better. The taping schedule would also leave me a tremendous amount of free time to spend with them. So I talked to them about it and I said if it lasts it lasts, and if it doesn’t, it’s still an opportunity for me to spend time with them before they go off to college and start their own lives.”
He decided to take the plunge after talking with his good friend Marilyn Milian, host of another daytime court show, The People’s Court.
“I knew she enjoyed it and so when an approach was made two years after the first by 20th Television (the syndication branch of Fox), I took the plunge and we hit the ground running. We were the highest rated launch since Dr Phil had launched three years earlier, and we beat every daytime launch since then to become the highest rated new daytime show in syndication.”
It was a decision that undoubtedly enabled him to forge a great relationship with his children to whom he is extremely close (“My biggest fear is something happening to them”), although he stresses the need for a moral upbringing.
“The way you instil a moral code in your children is by example. I see parents who steal cable, tying up the line to their neighbour’s – and then expect their kids not to be thieves. Or they get high in front of their kids and tell them not to do drugs. It’s ridiculous; your kids are not going to follow what you say but what you do – although, hopefully, they’ll follow both. But you need to do it by example. I was strict. I’ve spanked my kids just a couple of times in their lives and it all happened when they were 2/3 years old – a little pat on the bottom, because I’m one of those who believes that you instil the consequence at the beginning and they learn that there’s a consequence for bad actions. And if parents don’t discipline their kids when they’re young, I’ll have to do it for them as a judge when they’re older, but it’s going to be a lot worse. My kids are wonderful and they learned early on that if you punch your sister, you’re going to get punished. My son did it one time and never again.”
At this point, I’m sort of listening to the morality stuff, but that spanking reference and pat on the bottom has distracted me somewhat. I’m now looking at those hands in a different light. Anyway…
Television fame has brought Judge Alex praise not only for his wit and repartee. He was once voted the second most trusted face on daytime TV (behind Dr Oz) and made People Magazine’s Sexiest Men edition as Sexiest Judge. He is suitably modest about the praise, though admits to being “flattered”. After 26 years of marriage to his artist wife, Jane, he thought she would be most pleased by the trustworthy label, but “She didn’t think anything of it. But ‘sexy’, she was bouncing off the wall, calling everyone she knew.”
It’s hard to find a crack in the armour of a man who seems, from every angle, loyal, loving, bright, funny, and brilliant at his job, appearing on countless TV shows when major cases are broadcast live. Piers Morgan, Fox, HLN – he’s done them all and, during the recent George Zimmerman murder trial, was never off the air. I love his work, but my main criterion in any man is whether he would save me from a bear in the forest, and yes, I think he would do that, too.
He admits to having flaws and claims his wife would say that his worst fault is that he always thinks he’s right (I say go with it, Jane – you never know when a bear is going to alight upon you).
He seems pretty perfect to this critic of 30 years’ standing, and Judge Alex is still the best show on TV. When he leaves the interview (he has another appointment), he offers to come back to answer any more questions, and I quickly agree, although point out that some more wine might be consumed in his absence.
“So, what else do you want to ask?” he says, when he returns an hour later.
“Will you marry me?”

Damn. And I had been doing so well.

Blame it on the DUI.


FOLLOW @welshjaci and @judgealexferrer on Twitter


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Drains and Radiators - When Friendship Ends

Do people get nastier as you get older? Or do you just naively stay as trusting as you were before you knew what the world was really like?
Let me say at the outset that I have some truly wonderful, loving and supportive friends, many of well over 30 years’ standing. And, in recent years, I have made some terrific new ones: clever, smart, successful, funny people whom it has become a privilege to know.
But this week, an extraordinary thing happened with a so-called friend – let’s call him Bill (not his real name) - that left me reeling.
He is someone I have known for years but have got to know more recently in LA, where he has had many ups and downs, both personally and professionally. I have been hugely supportive, as he is great company and, I think, very talented.
We met in Hollywood, where he brought along a close friend of his, whom I had also recently met on a plane from London to LA. I had thought her funny, bright and we spoke a lot on the journey.
On this particular evening, I again listened to a lengthy analysis about Bill’s personal relationship, while managing to share very little about my life (again). Bill has always been critical of my friends (whom he does not even know other than by the briefest of acquaintances) and attacks some of them for being “leeches”, “vipers” and "vampires". On this night, I admit to expressing upset at his comments, but know that he is wrong. These are mostly people with whom I am developing work projects, but he knows nothing of these because, quite simply, his dismissive judgment prevents him from asking. And, in any case, they are my friends, and I show as much loyalty to them as I expect in return.

I like helping people when I can. We all have different talents and it’s my belief that life works more harmoniously when we each share and spread around what we have been given. I’m an altruist at heart, but that doesn’t blind me to commercial potential and I try to assist people professionally as well as personally, with the skills I am lucky enough to have been given.
During our conversation, it became clear that things I have said in a light-hearted manner over many months, Bill has taken quite literally and he now took this opportunity to throw them back in my face. It was a bit of a shock. I am a writer. I say all sorts of things all the time: I am fascinated by the world and people. I can seem a bit mad at times, but I am incredibly grounded and focused. Always have been. I wouldn’t be where I was if chaos had ruled.
Anyway, off I went to the rest room and left my iPad on the bar counter, where it was on Voice Memo record. Call it instinct. When I returned, I pointed out the recording function and lightly said that whatever had been said in my absence I would be able to hear on playback.
If there was ever a moment when you could hear the colour drain from two people’s faces and hit the floor, this was it. Silence. “It’s ok,” I said, “I’ll listen to it when I get home.”
“I’ll tell you what we said . . . “ began Bill, as he started to piece together a few bits of the conversation I had missed, trying to inject an empathetic tone into the proceedings.
“No, it’s fine,” I insisted. “I’d rather hear it in full.”
They practically sprinted out of the bar.
What I found on the iPad was extremely disturbing, not to mention hurtful and upsetting: nasty, judgmental, vicious comments that tore into so many areas of my life and me personally; I felt stunned. I can’t even put it down to drink (and we’ve all done and said things we shouldn’t under the influence) because Bill is tee total. When he e-mailed later, he apologised, expressing mortification,  and said that it was only because he cared. 

Really? Caring about someone is not waiting until their back is turned and assassinating them in the presence of someone else.
Gosh, they managed to get a lot said in five minutes, and it wasn’t the tone or content of people who cared. Trust me, I know the difference.
I have had very few friendships that have ended on a sour note – just two, to be precise. One had never really worked from the start and, if I had been honest, we had always been incompatible: she was very controlling; I don’t like to be controlled.
The other – a ten-year friendship – ended overnight when her lodger told her a pack of lies about a particular set of events and she believed her. Everything I did to try to get her to see sense failed, so my guess is she probably wanted out anyway – she had met a bloke, quelle surprise, something that often propels women into dropping their mates.

Strangers can be pretty vile, too. A few months back, I had a major upset with some people who had invented a pack of lies about me that threatened to damage me professionally. I was all for suing but knew I couldn’t afford (either emotionally or financially) the stress.

  My friends on Facebook (many of whom really are close friends in real life) have been incredibly supportive of me in the light of this latest betrayal. If there are three things I require from friendship, they are loyalty, loyalty, loyalty, and I am blessed to have it from so many.
I am nowhere near perfect by any means and have many faults, and I recognise that we are all human. But I would never, ever speak of a friend in the way this pair spoke about me.

Somebody once told me that, in life, people fall into two groups – drains and radiators. It’s true. And life works best when there are two radiators.
What I heard on my iPad was no radiator; it was a veritable igloo of affection.
After the initial shock, I now feel strangely liberated. I will feel the loss of someone in my life whose company I enjoyed. But when trust is broken, for me that’s it. I am a typical Scorpio. It’s not a sting in my tail, it’s the knowledge that if somebody stings me once, they will certainly do it again, and I won’t take the risk.
Besides, how could I ever risk leaving the room to go to the loo again?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Eva Longoria, Me and the C Word

It wasn’t a word I ever thought I would hear being emitted from the perfect mouth of Hollywood actress Eva Longoria – not within the first minute, anyway, should I ever have the privilege of meeting her.  In fact, as we sat down to talk, I merely referred to a complicated, pre-interview situation in which I said, as a passing comment: “Too many cooks” (as in “spoil the broth”).
Not understanding my accent, she looked aghast and repeated what she thought I had said. “No, COOKS!” I corrected her. It was an ice-breaker – of sorts. Then, remembering that I had promised to pass on “a big kiss” from a well-known US TV personality, who is a friend of mine and an admirer of hers, I inadvertently said: “And X sends you a big cock.”
It just came out (unlike his, which, for the record, I have never seen, so can’t even comment on centimetre/inch/foot accuracy, alas) and what they call a slip of the tongue (I wish) that Eva took in great spirit.
Now, I must confess to having fantasised about this individual’s anatomy more than once (X, not Eva), as I started to explain by way of apology (Geez, if I’m in a hole, why don’t I stop digging?), but then I think a great deal about a lot of men’s anatomy. It was just that once the C word and this particular individual’s name were in the same sentence, my brain joined them together in a synergy that seemed totally natural, and the words “big kiss” were doomed never to air.
I also put the incident down to extreme stress. Having been promised an “exclusive” with Ms Longoria when I met her UK PR in Portugal, I had delayed my flight back to LA from London, and at my newspaper’s great expense travelled to Spain, where I hung around for a week, awaiting the constantly changing arrangements.
The much-anticipated event would take place on Friday. Then Wednesday. Then Thursday. There were interviews and photo-shoots to be done, people to see, rehearsals to take place for the Eva Longoria Foundation event, which was the reason I was there – to give publicity to her. For her charity. For the poor and under-privileged young women and children she helps the world over. Not only was she guaranteed a double page, 2000 word spread, the paper was going to make a substantial donation to the charity (which the Foundation managed to get substantially increased in return for our “exclusive”).
The negotiations that followed would bore a mortuary, so I will be brief. Contracts between the star’s representatives and the paper went back and for, and a time was negotiated up from 30 minutes for both the pictures and me -15 each - to 15 for him and 30 for me. I tell you, electing the House of Representatives could not take longer. When the party arrived (having kept us waiting for well over an hour while Ms Longoria did a shoot for the hotel), her people effectively set the timer and told me I had 15 minutes.
“I only ever do interviews of 15 minutes,” she sweetly explained, as I spluttered disbelief. Really? Fifteen minutes, for 2000 words?
I all but shoved her out on the balcony for the photo shoot while I tried to negotiate more time, but it was all to no avail. Nine hundred seconds was my lot. Take it or leave it.
There are two things to do in these circumstances: you politely make your excuses and leave, knowing that the piece will never make the paper, or you take what you’re given and hope that the star lets their guard down and reveals that they are dying of a terrible disease and/or pregnant. Or you can waste five minutes of the 15 you have been allotted on the subject of BCs – which is what I had already done.
I had been trying to amass as much information as I could that I was clearly not going to get from her verbally. She is undoubtedly beautiful. So, so beautiful, I began to think that I might renounce BCs of every nation for all time and become a lesbian. However, a few deep breaths and a few good memories (although, not that many, come to think of it) quickly brought me to my senses.
Great skin, long eyelashes (albeit false – I just knew I was wasting my money on those eight tubes of Million Dollar Lashes she advertises for L’Oreal), long dark hair, eyes of coal, teeth in which I could see my reflection, a tiny waist, exquisitely dressed, beautiful manicure . . . Oh, God, just give me a one-way ticket to the Empire State Building, so I can throw myself off. Interestingly, though, she is not what I would call sexy. Charming, funny, gorgeous, but it feels like something turned on for the camera, which, given the limitations of 15 minutes, it has to be.
So, here I am, sitting opposite the Desperate Housewives Hollywood actress and superstar, who is in Marbella to talk about her philanthropic work through the Eva Longoria Foundation. From the moment she opens her perfectly lip-glossed mouth, she speaks with a fervour and energy that is not only inspired but inspiring. I want to rush out of the penthouse in the five star Gran Melia Don Pepe hotel, where the interview is taking place, and live on dried beans in an African shack and teach English for the rest of my life. Well, not quite, but she makes helping others sound as exciting and gratifying as receiving an Oscar and barbecuing with the Spielbergs on Independence Day.
Longoria was one of my heroines when I first moved to LA in 2009. Given that she is just two inches taller than me, I looked to her for my inspiration to acquire the perfect Hollywood shape. I inform her of this and my belief in what I came to call The Eva Longoria Diet. “Really?” she says, eyes orbing into space and smiling like a kid on Christmas morning. “What was it?”
It all comes flooding back. A plate of crisps arrived at my table in the five star Beverly Wilshire and I looked at them longingly before asking: Would Eva Longoria eat them? Well, no. You don’t get to be and maintain a size zero, not to mention acquire a perfect mouth that looks as if it has just had a lipstick manicure, by ramming a plate of deep fried potatoes down your throat. So, it was farewell to the crisps. When they brought my English breakfast tea, it arrived with a long dish of Italian sweetmeats and biscuits. Would Eva Longoria eat them? Only if you chloroformed her first and force-fed them.
I applied the same rule to all bars and restaurants and looked longingly down their list of pastas. Spaghetti Calamari and Broccoli, Fusilliani alla Trentina, Tarte Con Argosta – all unusual dishes that I had never seen on Italian menus in the UK. And, as I went down the list, I asked over and over: Would Eva Longoria eat it? No, no, no. Just a black espresso for me, please.
Asking the question was a guaranteed way to lose weight, and I believed that I had inadvertently stumbled upon the perfect diet: because the answer to the question “Would Eva Longoria eat it?” was always going to be No.
I suspected that Eva, like every other thin woman in LA, enjoyed playing with the occasional leaf – without dressing (are you crazy?) – and I perfected the art of steering a leaf around my plate without ever consuming it, while giving the impression that I was stuffing my face. Over the radish, under the yellow pepper, slalom over the red onion – I could make a leaf’s journey around my plate last longer than a Grand Prix. And, by the end of its course, it really did look half consumed. And if the answer to Would Eva Longoria eat it? was No, the answer to Would Eva Longoria drink it? was: You must be insane. Glass of champagne? 150 calories. Dry white wine? 120. You didn’t shrink to the kind of shape that gets blown away in an LA earthquake by consuming empty calories.
None of this I could tell her, though, because we were already well into the 15 minutes, so I just said “Move a leaf around a plate”, which seemed to be the gist of it.
“Oh, no,” she said. “I eat. I eat a lot. I really love my food.”
Dear Lord, I swear we were now well over halfway through my allotted 15 minutes, and we were still no further on than men’s anatomy and lettuce.
I managed to excavate the fact that Longoria has used her high profile as an actress to draw attention to the plight of the underprivileged through the Foundation. The Global Gift Gala in Marbella was one of seven events that aim to profile the plight of young women and children around the world, and the tireless efforts not only on the part of Longoria, but of her two friends and business partners, Maria and Alina, have helped so many the world over. The Foundation has two arms – entrepreneurial and educational – and it is, as Tony Blair once said, education, education, education, that is the driving force behind Longoria’s philosophy. She believes that it is this, rather than looks, that is the key to today’s young women. Looking like she does, I am tempted to say: “It’s all very well for you to say that.”
She gets most excited when I break the news that Simon Cowell is about to become a father, although she adds that she would keep any daughter of hers away from The X Factor. “I got my education first and had my bachelor’s degree before I became an actor, so I would say that for anybody – woman, young woman, young man. I’m sure Simon will have a unique situation because he’s Simon, but . . . I LOVE Simon, I think he’s an amazing man. I love him.”
We were now pretty much at 14 and a half minutes, and there was no news of any pregnancy or break-up, and certainly no offer of a free L’Oreal mascara so that I could turn overnight into Eva Longoria.
In terms of non-interviews, this was about as “non” as it was possible to get, and I learned nothing that I could not have already gleaned from the internet and other interviews; unsurprisingly, the piece was never published: looking for 200 words, let alone 2000, was a real push. My paper also dropped the contribution to the charity as a result of the alleged breach of promise (I wonder how many children/women lost out as a result?). There was a bit of comfort in hearing that she liked me and told her people: “I’ve never met a woman shorter than me.” Maybe. But then I’ve never met a woman who finishes in under 15 minutes.
At least I got to hear Eva Longoria say “cock”, though; and, I suspect, among interviewers, that probably already puts me at the top of the league.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Take a Hike? No, Thanks - My Canyon Adventure, Part 2

Reader, I managed him.
Yes, two and half hours after planning to take my first LA hike up Runyon Canyon, I have returned home and am enjoying a well-deserved cold beer.
Thanks to Google Maps, I was led up some very dangerous, bendy roads with no pavements – all uphill. I may even have been in Canada for all the time it took me to reach the summit.
I stopped to ask two women – the only people I saw en route – if I was anywhere close, and they shook their heads with sorrow, informing me that I had at least another hour to go. Or was it a day? Or a week?
Anyway, on I trundled and knew I was heading in the right direction when a sign warned me to beware of oncoming reindeer. I knew I had arrived when another told me to beware of rattlesnakes.
I saw none, but then I saw no celebrities, either, which had been the point of my going in the first place. No Gerard Butler, no Colin Farrell; not even any celebrity lookalikes.
The place was like an overheated Fraggle Rock. Fat people, mad people, loud people, hideous people . . . all humankind was there. And every dogkind, too.
It was the dogs I felt most sorry for. All of them were dragging their bodies along, panting, and looking, for all the world, a wag away from rigor mortis. One woman was insistent that she and her companion stop to give their dog some water. “She doesn’t need water!” he yelled. “She’s just being lazy.”
All the fears I expressed in my earlier blog were realised. I have two barbecued arms. My bladder nearly burst with the strain of carrying this morning’s tea over seven miles. Yet I am dehydrated.
Don’t get me wrong. I love exercise and I can walk up to 15 miles a day, and regularly do. But not in the sun and along a dirt track with no refreshment truck and no public conveniences.

It’s not often that I look longingly towards Downtown LA in the smog, but each time it materialised into view on my trail, I sobbed with relief.
Having done five miles uphill, the last two were all down, and when I hit Hollywood Boulevard and spotted the sign for the 217 bus that takes me almost to my door, I wept with relief.
I like the buses here. They are not overheated. They don’t give you pains in your back and legs. And you are never more than a couple of stops away from a toilet. Or a beer.

Thanks a bunch to those people who told me to take a hike; after today, I’m telling you to do one, too. Because yes, my hiking days are over, before they have barely begun.
And now it’s lunchtime, I am going to settle down in front of the telly with a bowl of home-made spaghetti Bolognese and a glass of Rioja.

I’ve already burnt the calories off, after all.

Maybe I’ll have seconds.

To Hike or Not to Hike - That is the Question

Okay, today is the day. It really is.

After four years of living in LA, I am finally going to do a hike.
There are many people who, I am sure, wish I had done a hike in a very different context; some have even told me that to my face.

But ever since I got here, people have been begging me to walk to Runyon Canyon Park where, I am assured, the views over LA are spectacular.
Now, to be honest, I am dubious, as they have very strange ideas about what constitutes a great view here. I come from Wales, where the sea and mountains provide breathtaking views that could easily compete with the best in the world, But here, your friends can drive you two hours to see something they have told you is amazing and then, when you arrive, it’s an average sized rock sitting in a puddle.
“Isn’t it amazing!” they cry, staring at the thing barely bigger than a carbuncle. I go on to tell them about Snowdon, Pembrokeshire, the waves crashing onto Aberystwyth sea front on a windy day – but no, they are very happy with their rock, thank you very much, and why would they leave America anyway to travel to a place where the national sport is dragon-slaying.
So, I am not holding my breath for any great revelation at the top of the canyon, especially as most reports inform me that whatever view there is will be hidden under the familiar LA smog.
But I have been promised something else, something far more important than any view.

Runyon Canyon is the place, especially on Saturdays, where celebrities apparently flock in their smart leisurewear to work their butts off – literally. They don designer gear, full make- up (and not just the women) and Gucci sunglasses to take to one of the three trails – relatively easy, medium, or hard.
Already I am stressed, wondering which trail I should take in order to see the most celebs, but think I had better start off with easy, as this will be my first time.
I am also worried about what I should wear, as I don’t have much casual gear, and I am not sure that anything in my Issey Miyake Pleats Please collection will survive the sweat that will no doubt be issuing from my every pore.
I’m also worried about toilets. I have a very small bladder and once had to empty it at the side of the Brontes’ house in the middle of the Yorkshire Moors, owing to the lack of rest room facilities.
And where will I rest along the way? There are apparently no bars and restaurants en route, just a table with a few snacks and water. Won’t I even get a beer for my efforts?
Then there’s the issue of the number of dogs who inhabit the place. I am a huge fan of dogs, but large dogs frighten me and I have a pathological hatred of stepping into doggy-do, of which I understand there is a great deal along every trail.

Even the thought of bumping into Gerard Butler is not incentive enough for me to do anything that involves my having to excavate poop from the bottom of my trainers for the next three days.
And what if the sun comes out? I have very fair skin, and even wearing Factor 50, I burn easily.
Will I be able to get reception on my iPhone up there? I recently went to a celebrity wedding where, because it was being filmed for TV and photographed for a magazine, they took our cell phones from us at the gate. I had such a panic attack, I had to leave the reception at 9pm.
Anyway, so far (and it’s only 8.15am, at the present), I am showing willing. I have dyed my hair, which was cut yesterday, and am currently in the process of bleaching my teeth. Very soon, I will be putting on my make-up and choosing my costume.
Or I may just keep writing this and decide, after several hours, that I just won’t go.
Too tired, too hot, too much to do, too stressed, too much on the telly. Too can’t be arsed.

I’ll let you know.