Friday, 27 February 2009

no fly zone

The news that Ryanair may start charging its customers for using the loo while on board is yet another reason not to fly with the 'low-cost' carrier. It is simply inhumane to expect people to fly without free and unlimited access to a loo - particularly if you're travelling with small children, you're pregnant, nervous or simply have a weak bladder. If Michael O'Leary is intending to drive customers away with this latest own goal then he's doing a sterling job. It is a PR disaster of Gerald Ratner proportions, and it's only a matter of time before Ryanair customers start voting with their wallets and choose to fly with another airline entirely.

The crying game

It started with Diana. That sea of bouquets outside Kensington Palace, the endless press coverage, the state funeral. It was as though the nation’s heart was broken.
One of my then colleagues spent three days crying and obsessively reading every column inch written about the late Princess, while the rest of us were working round the clock to pull together a tribute issue. When I suggested that, as we were on a weekly magazine with urgent deadlines to meet, it might be helpful if she could pitch in, she looked at me with genuine horror. ‘Liz, this is the most important thing that has ever happened to our country,’ she gasped, before returning to her tear-stained clippings.
Hmm. I suspect two World Wars had the upper hand there, but I could see from her reddened eyes that there was no point in arguing.
So much for that stiff upper lip. We have become a nation of mourners, sobbing over celebrities and the high profile, crying over people we are unlikely to have even met, and writing in condolence books that we know, from experience, are likely to end up on rubbish tips.
This is of course, largely due to the media, and yes, mea culpa. Grief sells newspapers and magazines. While death may still be the final taboo, it is as though as a nation we find it easier to grieve over strangers than to mourn the everyday tragedies in the world around us. For those struggling to survive in the credit crunch, or dealing with a personal crisis, it’s probably more tolerable to focus their energy on those they have never met than to face up to what is happening in their own lives. There is always someone worse off, and as anyone who has watched an episode of Gray’s Anatomy will testify, sobbing can be incredibly cathartic.
But there is something a little distasteful about this collective outpouring of grief. The recent tragic death of David Cameron’s son, six-year-old Ivan, is a case in point.

While everyone can sympathise with the Camerons’ sadness, unless you have a disabled child or have lost a child yourself, it’s unlikely you really understand what this quietly dignified couple are feeling. Empathy is all very well, but did the death of one – seriously ill - child really deserve quite so much press coverage? Great Ormond Street and the children’s hospices around the country have hundreds of similar stories.
It is as though we want to make it our tragedy, to ‘own’ it. But the horrible truth is that it is the Camerons’ loss and theirs alone to bear, and they and their family and friends will be left with their tears and memories long after we’ve moved on to grieve for another stranger.
Wendy Richard was a very watchable actress, a trouper who bravely fought breast cancer. But I am not sure her passing warranted a full-page splash on our best-selling newspaper. And yes, I too have shed tears over Jade Goody’s rapid decline – although I have at least met her on a few occasions. I know I will be upset when she dies, not least because it’s the waste of a young life, and will leave two little boys motherless. But I can’t even remember so much collective outpouring of grief over the Twin Towers or 7/7, and that, surely, means we’re getting things out of perspective.
Maybe it’s that when there’s so much tragedy in the world, it’s easier to sob over one individual than hundreds of lost lives. But the unpalatable truth is that all around us there are disasters happening on a daily basis. The death of young men in Afghanistan and Iraq. The victims of the Australian bush fires. The countless people who weren’t lucky enough to make it into an Oscar-winning movie, doomed to a life in the Indian slums. The continued abuse and neglect of children throughout the world. Global warming. The exploitation of animals. The senseless murders of teenagers on our streets.
Those are the real tragedies. It’s time to get a grip.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

There's something about Don...

Ah, the allure of the Toxic Married Mad Man. Don Draper may be fictious, but for the time being, at least, he’s simply the sexiest man to grace our smallish screens since Sawyer first stripped to his waist in Lost.
So what makes Don so attractive? Well, we know he’s a provider, the breadwinner, a reasonably (for the era) hands-on dad and fairly decent guy, which instantly makes him a ‘catch’, as Peggy would say. He’s a sharp-dresser, well-mannered – you just know he would never leave the loo seat up.
But more importantly, he’s a demon in the boardroom, and of course, the bedroom. In fact, had he been around today, rather than in the Sixties, Don would have been a Grade A Playa. He’s powerful, he knows how to cut a deal, and he only has to look at a woman for her knickers to drop. He’s also an enigma - not even his name is the one he was born with. And that combination of raw sex appeal, razor-sharp business acumen and dangerous air of mystery makes him irresistible.
The beauty of Mad Men is that you can enjoy his powers of seduction from a safe viewing distance, without ever having to fall prey to his deadly charms. In real life, of course, Don Drapers should be avoided at all costs.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

In praise of the nano break

This time last year - in other words, BCC (Before Credit Crunch) - I was winging my way to Berlin for the night. Just two and a half hours after leaving Heathrow, I was in my friend's apartment in Charlottenburg, enjoying kaffee und kuchen. That night, we went to one of the city's coolest new clubs, and the following day there was plenty of time for shopping and sightseeing before taking the early evening shuttle home. I had only been gone for 32 hours, but I'd experienced a different culture, atmosphere, and my batteries were fully recharged.
Apparently, thousands of us are now taking 'nano breaks'. No doubt this has more to do with economics than a desire for just one night away, but take it from me. Whether it's Berlin, Brighton, Bognor or Barcelona, sometimes one night is all you need.

He just wasn't into her

She had, you imagine, been planning her outfit for months. In the end, she chose a deliciously elegant Valentino gown, accessorised with Bulgari white gold and diamond jewellery. The effect was simply stunning.
But although she appeared composed as she took to the stage, inside she must have been shaking with nerves.
Yes, any woman who has had to come face to face with their ex and the woman who replaced her must surely have felt for Jennifer Aniston at the Oscars. It can't be easy to see the man you once thought loved you - and this is, after all, Brad Pitt we're talking about - in the company of a more beautiful, more famous and let's be honest, more talented A-lister. Let alone one he's fathered and adopted children with.
But that, surely, is the point. It's been four years since Brad and Jen split up. Four years. In that time, he's set up home with Angelina, embarked on raising a family with her, and still found time to make some great movies, earning an Oscar nomination.
Jen - well, she's dated Vince Vaughn. And Paul Sculfor. And John Mayer. And made The Break-Up, and He's Just Not That Into You. And given an interview where she declared Angelina's behaviour to be 'uncool'.
There's a wonderful line in When Harry Met Sally when Meg Ryan's character discovers her commitment-phobic ex has got engaged. 'All this time, I thought he didn't want to get married,' she sobs. 'But the truth is, he didn't want to marry me.'
Goddess-like though she is, it's unlikely Angelina bewitched Brad. He simply fell in love with her and decided she was the woman he wanted to start a family with.
If reports are to believed, Jen - now 40 - is planning to announce her engagement to John Mayer shortly. For her sake, I do hope that's true. If not, then maybe her next movie should be called Get Over It.

Too much too young

Last night, embroiled in yet another 'revision v XBox' row with my 15-year-old son, it suddenly hit me. It hit me again when he slammed the front door shut on his way out after I had got up at 6.45am and carefully prepared his packed lunch and breakfast to sustain him for the day ahead. Why am I bothering?

In three years time he will be 18, an adult. He is a bright boy, he will (hopefully) be going off to uni, before embarking on the career of his choice. Having wrapped him up in layers and layers of the softest cotton wool for most of his life, maybe it's time to let go and send him out to do battle with the wolf, Spartan style.

Or maybe I should simply abdicate all parental responsibility entirely. Which, apparently, was the decision made by little Alfie Patten's mum Nicola, because at 13, Alfie is a father, barely able to look after himself, let alone his offspring.

Being a good mum doesn't end when they are weaned and potty-trained. It doesn't end when they're old enough to get the bus on their own. It doesn't even end when they start shaving. Yes, you have to let them grow up, give them freedom to make their own decisions and find their own way. But letting them father a child when they're still a child themselves is not freedom. It's neglect.

As I look at my son's bedroom carpet, strewn with sweet wrappers, pyjamas and comics, it hits me again. He may be a man soon, but for the time being at least, he still needs his mum.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

We can all learn from Jade's dignity

The news that Jade Goody has months to live was the development that those of us who have met or worked with the 27-year-old mum of two were dreading.
It is the final chapter in what has become a DBC Pierre-style story of celebrity: a young girl drags herself up on a south east London estate, finds fame and fortune on a reality TV show, wins the heart of the British public, buys a big house in the country and designer clothes. After a disastrous return to the same TV show that made her a star, she is crucified by the public that once adored her. Then, as her career starts to crumble, she discovers she has cancer.
If she didn't exist, someone would surely have invented her. But Jade is so much more than a character in a 21st century cautionary tale.
She has never sought to portray herself as a victim. Indeed, her strength, her likeability factor has always been her fighting spirit, her refusal to give up or accept her fate. The drug-ridden deprived childhood, the name-calling, the media condemnation - she has risen above it all.
And then the final battle: cancer, which she has fought with breathtaking courage and dignity. Despite the detractors who dismissed, ridiculed and vilified her, this reality TV star-turned-celebrity will leave a lasting legacy: her very public demise, the so-called 'Jade Goody effect', is already encouraging other young women to have regular smear tests.
Even now there are those who are questioning her judgement for baring her soul for money at such a vulnerable time. But anyone who is a parent must surely identify with that big cat instinct to protect and provide for their young. Jade is the breadwinner in her household. Ensuring her sons are financially secure when they'll have to cope with so much - the loss of their mum at such a young age - is simply a last act of devotion.
A few years ago, before the Celebrity Big Brother debacle and when she was at the height of her success, I went for lunch with Jade, a colleague and her then agent. We were there to discuss business, and Jade was on top form - sharp, witty, charming, no 'East Angular' clangers. She spoke proudly about her family and what she had achieved, admitting she sometimes found it hard to believe her good fortune.
After two hours, she looked at her watch. 'Do you need to go?' I asked. 'Yes,' she smiled. 'I need to get back to my boys.'

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

My funny Valentines

Over the years I've had my fair share of Valentines, ranging from the cringe-inducing (the handmade, handpainted card, hand delivered by the sadly soon-to-be-dumped sender), the sublime (naughty weekend away at a chintzy Brighton B&B) to the faintly ridiculous (dinner at a restaurant so jam packed with the loved-up it was almost impossible to manoeuvre a knife and fork). One of my exes chose to wax lyrical about the commercialism of Cupid's busiest day while begrudgingly proferring hand-tied bouquets (anything for a quiet life), while another ignored it completely and soon found himself on the same pile as the long discarded cardmaker. Still, like all women raised on a syrup of fairytales and happy ever afters, I hanker after personal declarations of everlasting love - preferably in the shape of a gem from Tiffany & Co. The one thing I've always wanted - and not yet received - is one of those classic heart-shaped satin-covered boxes of chocolates, the kind you see in old b&w romantic comedies and Mad Men. Sadly this Valentine's Day my footpath is unlikely to be trodden by the postman unless it's to deliver another bill. Guys, if you're with someone special this Saturday, let them know it.