Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fifty Ways to Beat Your Lover

Every TV network in the US last week devoted time to the NFL (National Football League) player, Ray Rice, who, a few months back, knocked his wife unconscious in an elevator. The incident was caught on CCTV, and the NFL has just suspended the player indefinitely (the initial punishment was a two game suspension).
Debate has raged over who should be punished the most: the player, the NFL, or NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who, it seems, knew about the severity of the attack (from Rice himself), despite initially claiming relative ignorance.
The stark and terrifying high numbers of abuse victims, not only in the US, is appalling; but what is most disturbing is the number of women who don’t stand up to the domestic violence horror that it undoubtedly is. TV interviews with women wearing Rice’s number 27 shirt revealed a “He’s a good bloke who just made one mistake” mentality, with many claiming that what happens behind closed doors between a husband and wife should stay there.
These interviews appeared to be with not very bright women, blinded by the celebrity status of Rice. But there are many intelligent women propagating abuse who seem oblivious to the fact that they are doing so.
Take Fifty Shades of Grey, a book published and heavily publicised by Random House, run by a woman (Gail Rebuck). It is written by E L James, a woman. I have met them both and know them to be smart cookies. The book, however (I confess to having read only the first volume – that was enough), is not an entertaining romp; it is nothing less than a celebration of abuse heaped by a man upon a woman – and, moreover, abuse she contractually signs up for. Instead of thinking “What a weirdo”, she is turned on by the desires of this handsome, single man, and has relatively few qualms about being his piece of beaten up meat. She is, in essence, gagging for it – and not in a good way.
The book raced up the best-seller lists, attracting a huge female readership; there is a movie in the making – written by a woman (Kelly Marcel) and directed by a woman (Sam Taylor Johnson). Everyone is making a ton load of money from their efforts and everyone is ecstatic over the books’ success (a trilogy). I have no interest in whether the hero, Christian Grey, sees the error of his ways at the end of volume three (I have no idea if he does); what I care about is that Anastasia Steele is an abuse victim whose story tells women everywhere that abuse is a turn on; pain is good; men call the shots. Shame on all you professional women involved with this.
Did any of you take a moment to consider the irresponsibility of the message you are putting out there? Listen, I know that many people are into sado-masochism and that many men and women get off on pain. There are also many violent books out there, material that gets published on a weekly basis that is deeply disturbing. Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho was one of them; but that book was nowhere near as reprehensible as Fifty Shades, as it never suggested that any of the psycho’s victims got any degree of pleasure from the truly horrific ways they were killed. Indeed, the most sickening slow death was cut when the book was turned into a movie.
When women join other women to promote the idea that a woman enjoys violence on the scale of Fifty Shades, I seriously worry for our society. It makes them no better than the interviewees discussing Ray Rice; they, too, are in collusion with the side of society that turns a blind eye to one of the most important and unaddressed issues of our times.
I have been lucky with the men I have been involved one. Only once did a boyfriend push me around on the street; luckily, someone was there and instantly came to my aid. It heralded the end of the relationship, but not because I instigated it. He had been unfaithful, and it was my knowledge of the affair that ultimately brought things to an end.
Would I have kept seeing him, following that incident? Would his aggression have escalated? I have no way of knowing; but I know that my feelings for him overwhelmed any logical thought as to what he was actually doing or where it was going.
Ray Rice’s wife, Janay, is standing by her man because she loves him. It’s the main reason women who leave abusive men always go back (financial is another); the reason they forgive; and the reason they get beaten up again and again, and often get killed in the process – thousands upon thousands every year in the UK, and a heck of a lot more in the US, where it is claimed one in three women suffers abuse from their partners.
Men need to be punished for their violence; but women also need to get a grip and stop telling men that it’s okay for them to behave like this. Any woman who goes to see the movie Fifty Shades is financing abuse and putting another tick in the box that says it is all right for the abuse to continue, because, guess what: we love it, really.
I mean, REALLY?

I repeat: shame on you all.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Let There Be Light - Remembering 9/11

Like most people, I know exactly where I was when the Twin Towers came down. 

I was having lunch in the Groucho Club in London’s Soho with my best friend Elizabeth and the writer Keith Waterhouse. A waiter came over to tell us that we should go upstairs to watch the TV as a plane had just gone into one of the Towers.
I sat, in a crowded room, in complete silence, watching, with disbelief, the sight that has now become one of the most devastating in our lifetime.
Initial rumours were that 20,000 were feared dead, and in the French House, a local pub, a priest openly prayed in the bar.
It is 13 years today since the attacks took place, and time has not lessened the impact on the city. Among New Yorkers, there is bitterness that the tragedy has subsequently turned into a political argument over money; another dispute centres on the six minute film in the museum, which apparently fails to point out that the majority of Muslims are peace-loving, law-abiding citizens who do not run around blowing up buildings.
Others complain that the Freedom Tower that has gone up in the original Towers’ place is not tall enough. They wanted the biggest two-finger salute to Al Qaeda that it was possible to build.
But, for many New Yorkers, 9/11 is too painful to talk about, and they have no desire to visit the site, nor engage in any commemoration of it. As one said to me: “I lived through it. Why would I want to be reminded?”
I went to the site earlier this year - a perfect spring day in the Financial District, where the streets are eerily dark in the shadows of the buildings that stand sentry all around. Older buildings that look as if they could do with a good clean lend a grubbiness to the area, like poor relations who come to visit their better off cousins who long outstripped them in terms of wealth. In Liberty Square, the scent of tulips was overwhelming, the red and yellow adding some much needed colour among the greys and browns of stone and concrete.
And then there it is: an unostentatious tower of light like an angel that has descended unannounced, quietly, to restore order.
It is exquisitely beautiful. Most of my time here, since I arrived five months ago, has been spent photographing buildings rather than people, but the Freedom Tower is something else. Of course, its presence is loaded with the sadness of 9/11, which gives added poignancy to its place in New York history; but it also stands alone, both literally and metaphorically. It is the light of the future and, while the past will never be forgotten, it is a reminder that courage, fortitude and love remain at the heart of the human spirit.
When 9/11 happened, I wondered, if I had been a passenger on one of the planes, knowing it was the end, what my one regret in life would have been.
It was that I had never lived in Paris. The following week, I was on the Eurostar out of London to pick up the keys to an apartment in the 6th arrondissement, where I stayed for a joyous four years.
Ever since 9/11, I have tried not to live a Could’ve Would’ve Should’ve kind of existence. I cannot begin to imagine what it was like to live through the tragedy, nor to lose someone in such horrific circumstances.
But it taught me a lot about life: that it really is short, but it is also beautiful. 

Yes, there is darkness along the way, but it can turn on a dime.

You just need to look among the shadows for the angels.  


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Please, Cry for Me, Argentina

I’ve never been what you’d call a natural follower.

I’ve never been on a march or rally, and I don’t queue. Not since I hit 50, anyway. Life really is too short for queuing.
My natural instinct is to be the follow-ee, not least because I don’t trust anyone else enough to follow in their footsteps. However, this hasn’t always worked out well. On a recent flight to Spain, when we landed I purposefully set off in what I thought was the route to passport control. Not at a casual stroll but in a real “I KNOW where I am going, the rest of you can dawdle all you like” kind of way. When I came up against a security barrier and double-locked doors, I turned back, only to see 200 fellow passengers who had clearly been impressed by my leadership qualities.
This week, I decided to start Argentine tango classes, thinking that 40+ years of ballroom dancing would stand me in good stead.
There was one thing on the form that bothered me: I had to place a tick beside “Leader” or “Follower”, as the class was limited to seven of each.
Men tend to tick the former, women the latter: it’s just the way things are for most dances, particularly Latin American ones. But I knew, from my ballroom dancing years and some very weak “leading” males, that this did not bode well. I recall one partner who walked off the competition floor from me in Butlin’s annual championships in Minehead because I was moving my arms in a different direction from his during the Bambi Blues (What can I say? He was wrong; I was right. Why would I follow someone who was leading me down the “Doesn’t stand a snowball in hell’s chance of winning” route?).
Another partner was rushed to hospital for stitches when I flipped back a little too vigorously during a step called the Dead Man’s Drop in the Rumba. Let’s just say he dropped more than I did. Not my fault he couldn’t hold on. Weak leadership. See what I mean?
I tentatively ticked “Follower” for my tango class and arrived to find three leaders and three followers, but with the teacher (female) able to do both roles, she informed us that she would be a leader for the night.
The class started well, as we were required to do “warm-up walking”. So far, so good. Feet at an angle, sliding across the floor in my new dance shoes, torso straight, eyes ahead, and all accompanied by faint tango music playing in the corner. I was enjoying this.
Then, we had to partner up. Now, which part of “Right foot forward” is it so difficult for a so-called leader to understand? That was one man. The next was even more trouble. Having been told that we had to move anti-clockwise around the floor, he decided to set off on a collision course in the opposite direction.

“I’m the leader!” he informed me, when he came up against forceful resistance.

“But we’re going the wrong way!” I insisted, a little too loudly.

“I like to break rules,” was his response. Try that next time you’re in bloody Argentina, I wanted to scream.

Luckily, I then had to move on to man number three, whose technique involved stepping on each of my big toes every other step. Followers, we were told, have to go along with whatever the leader wants in tango. Really? Even if they want to send your feet off on a path in which the only outcome is certain amputation? I don’t think so.
His arm wasn’t helping. The teacher came along and told us that our arms were too low – “You’re pushing hers too hard,“ she began, before adding: “or she’s dropping it.”
Hang on a minute. I am NOT dropping my arm. Decades of ballroom dancing have ensured that I even go to sleep with my right arm in ballroom dancing hold. I am just trying to stop this dolt who is breaking every bone in my feet from dislocating my arm, too.
Ninety minutes is a long time in tango. It is an age if you are a follower dependent upon leaders intent on hospitalising you at the earliest opportunity.
All the followers (female), by the way, were picking everything up pretty quickly, but as with most things in life, men just can’t multi-task.

“I can’t talk and think,” said man number three, as he bulldozed my toe for the tenth time in two minutes.
Having signed up for the intensive course, I’m determined to see it through, although my bet is that the bone crusher won’t turn up for the second class. Whatever your views on Che Guevara, unlike these guys at least he knew how to lead.
So, I can’t wait to get past the basics and sign up for private lessons. Then, perhaps, I will set off for Argentina, where, knowing my luck, I will be robbed, kidnapped and sold into tango slavery.

It sure beats living limbless in New York City.   

Mistresses - Season Finale or Burial?

Who wears a bra under their pyjamas? And, what’s more, a bra so heavily constructed, it can pass for a couple of errant aircraft hangars.
In the Mistresses season finale, this was the fate of April (Rochelle Aytes) who, having been whisked away to a log cabin for her own safety by ex-FBI agent, Daniel (Ricky Whittle), unbuttoned her pyjama top to reveal all. Having put her daughter to bed, she decided that sleeping with Daniel, who was taking up residence on the couch, was what she wanted after all.
Well, what else was there to do? They had already played Monopoly in front of a roaring fire (when everyone else, not that far away, was suffering intense heat) and watched a film. So there was only sex left. But when that top slipped open, it was hard not to scream, and how Daniel managed to get anywhere near her without resorting to use of a pneumatic drill to break down the bra’s defences, is anybody’s guess.
The bra was soon forgotten because the camera, like viewers, was quickly drawn to the magnificent upper torso of Daniel, a man who appears to have not one shirt to his name – something for which we are all very grateful.
The season finale held high drama for the four friends. Karen (Yunjin Kim) was doing her usual staring into the middle distance while awaiting the results of her HIV test. There was one tiny sign of emotion when a tear rolled down her face, although one suspects that owed more to the power of glycerine from the make-up department. Honestly, I just want to shake the woman in the hope of rattling an expression out of her.
Savi (Alyssa Milano), who is morphing into Kathy Bates, with a wardrobe to match, decided that she wanted ex-husband Harry (Brett Tucker), after all. Well, she’s been through everyone else. Her plan was thwarted when he said that he was completely over her; it will be even more thwarted when she discovers that Harry is down on the beach, romping with her half-sister, Joss (Jes Macallan).
Ah, yes. Joss. The gorgeous, lively, fun-loving Joss, who was supposed to be at her own engagement party that her fiancé, Scott (Justin Scott), decided to turn into a wedding, complete with several hideous frocks for Joss to choose from. She selected a long white satin number, by the way, with a strange kind of neck decoration that made her look as if she was being garrotted.
It might have been a metaphor for how she was feeling, because when Harry turned up, having been drowning his sorrows in a bar, she wasted no time in doing a runner from the ceremony and throwing herself at Harry on the sands, where, we must presume, she had sex while still wearing her wedding dress. Little do they know that Savi, who has gone looking for Lucy (Corinne Massiah), is just feet away.
With a drop in the ratings, I suspect this finale might be the death knell, and we’ll know by the end of the month. I hope it’s re-commissioned, because although it’s nonsense, it’s hugely enjoyable nonsense that is everything great schlock TV ought to be.
Jes Macallan has at least brought some depth to a character list of people who are, for the most part, as deep as a contact a lens; Joss’s transformation from promiscuous party girl to someone upon whom real love has crept unnoticed, has been totally convincing. I confess to shedding a tear when she stood, all sad and Juliet-like on the balcony at the wedding, and stared down at Harry, who had just arrived. It’s a shame his hand was in plaster following his accident, as I suspect that might have hindered their beach activity later on, and which might be the reason why he couldn’t rip that damned dress off.
But then none of the show’s sex scenes have ever been convincing. There is always a hint of passion to come and, of course, Daniel’s bare, beautifully muscled torso (did I mention that?), but nothing to match the rumpy pumpy of Sex and the City’s four female friends. That’s because this is network ABC, not cable and satellite HBO. Heaven forbid that anyone should do anything to frighten the horses – although April’s bra came pretty close, I can tell you.
So, with Paul (Dondre T. Whitfield) dead (again), Lucy vowing never to speak to April after learning Paul wasn’t dead the first time around, and Karen hearing from the doctor that there is “something else”, there is plenty to look forward to in season three.
And if the show’s not picked up? Well, we will just have to invent our own endings. For me, it’ll be that Joss and Harry live happily ever after, Savi stops shopping for jackets at her local Fashion for Yetis store, Karen undergoes ECT in an effort to get her to smile, and April changes her underwear.
And, of course, that Daniel keeps getting his kit off for the girls.


Monday, September 1, 2014

A Labor of Loving Burgers

So, it’s Labor Day in New York and, as in LA, I have been invited to nothing. 

I had a burger at home last night – my single contribution to what is apparently the last summer barbecue weekend – although, technically, it was a beef “pattie”, which is not the same thing at all. Oh, dear me, no.

Can you believe I have not found one supermarket that sells burgers? Real burgers. None of your Angus reared stuff with 5% fat, but something juicy and overflowing with non-goodness. Something that I can, on the very occasions when I eat meat, smother in my own chillies, ketchup, onions, mushrooms, four cheeses and consume alone, with gristle hitting the walls.
You can get them everywhere else, of course – from trucks, fast food chains, restaurants, et al – but I want to do my own. I don’t really like eating in front of people, as I suffer from misophonia (literally, a hatred of sound) and, for me, eating with others creates so much stress, being subjected to their munching and scrunching, my own stomach tends to batten down its hatches.
So, all I wanted for Labor Day was a burger. A burger like Bird’s Eye in the UK make. Or a sausage. Like Walls’ sausages. Not a saveloy, which isn’t a hot dog at all in my book: it’s a flaccid…Well, I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate.
Anyway, enough about lack of meat and invitations; the thing that really fascinates me in the US is how different Bank Holidays are from those in the UK. Here, they build up to them for weeks – and I MEAN, weeks – because they have so few holidays. Americans really do work incredibly hard and most people I meet have just two weeks’ holiday a year (if they’re lucky); so, when an extra day arrives in their schedule, it’s like the Second Coming.
It’s astonishing, in the UK, that there are now two Bank Holidays in May and one in August, not to mention all the holidays in between. So blasé are the Brits about their time off, they do just two things on a Bank Holiday weekend: sit in the pub getting drunk, or sit in their car trying to get to somewhere they haven’t a hope in hell’s chance of reaching before the next Bank Holiday comes around (as I finished that sentence, by the way, a “Living Social Deal” arrived in my inbox, inviting me for a “Tandem Sky Dive”. I don’t even want a tandem Five Star dinner with most people, so why would I don a helmet and risk my life, all for a picture that makes me look as if I’m being rogered from behind by an air bag?).
At least there is decent Bank Holiday telly in the US, days that the UK usually decides to wheel out all the dross that couldn’t make it into the schedule the rest of the year. Tonight sees the season finale of Mistresses, a show so ridiculously OTT, silly and unbelievable, I love it. They’ve done what Sex and the City did with four friends – they have everyone talking about which one you think you might be. I am not Savi (boring, and I wouldn’t be so stupid as to get pregnant on a desk); nor April (I wouldn’t be so stupid as to mistake an FBI agent for a hot artist); and nor, definitely, Karen, the nymphomaniac, expressionless shrink, who might actually be dead, for all the enthusiasm she shows during hot sex.
I am so utterly Joss (in the same way that everyone wanted to be Carrie in Sex and the City), it’s uncanny. Never mind that she is tall, blonde and beautiful (hey, a dwarf can dream), our spirits are intertwined in the universe, I just know they are (but you really need to choose Harry over that dork of a fiancé, tonight, Joss).
It’s now 3.28pm and I’m going to sit down with my home-made spaghetti Bolognese and watch last night’s Masters of Sex. I’ve been up working since seven (that’s what I really call a Labor Day), so I think I deserve it.

Happy holidays, everyone. 

And it’s not too late to invite me to your barbecue.