Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Don't Light My Fire...Really

The worst thing about owning a Kindle is the torrent of questions every time I get on public transport. Yes it's a Kindle, no it's not like reading a pooter, no my eyes don't hurt, now please go back to your Danielle Steele.

I need to disguise it with something appropriate.

Like a book perhaps.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Gone Phishing

A funny thing happened to me on the way back from my mum's memorial.

They're not really words I'd imagined I would ever write, but there they are. Funny thing and mum's memorial. Choice words for an opening sentence - mischievously winking back at me in all their shining inappropriate glory. I wrote them so I have no excuse. Actually not entirely true. I experienced them and then wrote them. So it's factual. I'm exonerated.

No excuse necessary.

To be fair they might not be that out of place. Mum's send off was no somber occasion. While the October wind and drizzle around the marquee mercifully prayed silence, we chuckled and giggled at her peccadillos; admired a life lead well and gave thanks for a friend, a confidante, a colleague a wife and a mother.

After we were done mum's old friend and sometime colleague, Oliver, took me aside and told me about the time he pitched up at Cathy's office somewhat anxious and exhausted. He proceeded to tell her how his son was misbehaving, in trouble at school and seemingly out of control. He felt at his wits end and was questioning his abilities as a parent.

"What did I do wrong Cathy?" He asked her. Without missing a beat, mum looked him in the eye and answered him.

"You called him James," she said.

We told and heard some fine anecdotes that day. We howled and wailed. Laughter, not tears. And while it maybe an over trodden cliche, the person who would have enjoyed it the most sadly wasn't there. She was otherwise engaged.

The potential histrionics of the occasion and a surplus of air miles convinced me my passage back from the UK to the US could only be achieved in First Class. If I was going to weep, at least I could do it into a half decent Bordeaux and a hunk of lobster. Cathy would have got it.

And I was in great company. The bus to aircraft held us back while a ream of limos pulled up and an entourage of men in full African outfits were escorted onto the plane. This was getting better. Now it was me, African dignitaries, bordeaux and a hunk of lobster. In the event only one of them sat upfront while the rest were relegated to cattle.

Plane takes off, hot towel, wine and said meal duly served. I settle back into a mediocre movie on demand which more often than not has Matthew McConaughey taking his shirt off. Eventually of course curiosity gets the better of me and I am compelled to summon a steward. You can do that in First Class. You don't bing bong a steward, you summon one.

"Out of interest," I ask him with a nod to the other side of the plane, "Is he a politician or royalty?"

"He's a Nigerian Prince," he proudly tells me.

That's nice I think and settle back into mediocre movie.

And then it dawns on me. Actually it was more theatrical than that. I bolt upright in my seat, whip my headphones off and jiggle around bursting at the seams.

FUCK ME! I mutter. I have the chance to do what no one has done before. I have the chance to make myself an internet hero. I'll get posters of me placed at Geek's bedsides and worshipped daily.

I have the chance to be the first person to say to a real life, Nigerian Prince,

"I've been looking for you everywhere! What happened?!?! I did as you told me! I sent you my bank account details and the money and I've not heard anything back! You must have been so busy! But I'm really excited and can't wait to receive the millions! When do you think it will arrive?"

It was too good an opportunity to miss. I had to do it since, let's face it how often was I going to run into flesh and blood Nigerian royalty despite him writing to me weekly. Goodbye Matthew McConaughey, I then spent the rest of the flight observing my prey waiting to pounce. Unfortunately Mr Prince, doubtlessly exhausted from another hard day's phishing, spent the entire flight asleep.

Hot towel, smoke salmon nibbly bits, plane comes into land. And then my chance occurs. As we shuffle up the gangplank I find myself alongside his highness.

"Excuse me, can I ask you a question?"

No response. I gulp but go for it anyway.

"What happened?! I sent you my bank acc..........."

And with that a powerful and determined arm reaches across my chest and ensures I can continue no further. A stern glare and a shaking of the head convinces me I should probably speak no further. Meanwhile Mr P disappears from view. Forever.

Only afterwards I realise I couldn't have been the first to try. In fact chances are every encounter he has with the great unwashed probably results in a smart arse like me making that joke. Chances are he dreads getting the emails almost as much as the rest of the us. But I like to think he must have smiled to himself the first time he read it.

I get back to my apartment still chuckling at my stupidity and pathetically proud of myself. But I find myself not entirely satisfied. It wasn't because I didn't complete the gag, it was something more than that. I needed to tell somebody to validate the moment. No I needed to tell someone.

But that someone sadly was otherwise engaged.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fear and Self Loathing in NYC

I’m in New York at a TV Promotion and Marketing Conference and awards. Three feet in front of me is the legendary artist Ralph Steadman clutching my mobile phone looking for a hammer. Three feet behind me, 2000 or so people are staring. At me. Bewildered. And I’m embarrassed. Very embarrassed.

This is not one of those dreams and I’m not naked. Nudity could not strip me of any more dignity.

It wasn’t always like this. A short while ago the room was enchanted. Ralph described moments from his career; told stories and showed personal photos of his close friend Hunter S Thompson; took us through the length and breadth of his work, the good and the bad. Some of it was garbled and incomprehensible but we didn’t care – we were laughing and being inspired. This was Ralph Steadman and he deserved our respect.

He walked onto the stage and his opening gambit was to pull out an Iphone, mutter something about it befuddling him and asking the packed crowd whether he should take an axe end of hammer to it. YES we all hollered, thrilled and excited. Yes Ralph, do it. A hammer was duly brought out and over a piece of wood he skewered the phone to the stump in a shower of tungsten lit lcd crystals. It was magnificent.

Next he projected a picture he had done of Marcel Duchamp and filmmaker Bunuel onto the giant screen and spoke of their influences on him and his book Doodaaa ( a play on Dada). And it was probably about here that it all started to go wrong with me.

‘Ralph likes Duchamp?’ I must have said to myself. ‘I like Duchamp! ‘No, I love Duchamp. Ralph and I are connected. Ralph and I are friends,’ I must have reasoned. I see so easily now how stalkers are born. My eyes drifted to the recently impacted iphone. It reminded me of Ralph’s ‘teacher hammers’ in Pink Floyd’s The Wall. A film, as a kid, I had had a bit part in. See! Ralph and I are connected, Ralph and I are friends.

In that instance I realised how beautiful that phone was. It wasn’t just a broken gadget. It was Dadaism. It was art and I had to have it. I played the scenario through my head. There was bound to be Q&A at the end. I would bound boldly up to the mic, express my in depth Dadaist knowledge and demand the phone. Flattered, Ralph would gladly hand it over, hammer and all - the audience would applause, albeit jealously that they didn’t think of it, and I’d return to my seat with a small piece of art history in my hand.

It didn’t quite go that way.

Ralph was running over and the conference President, Jonathan Block-Verk was duly dispatched to usher him off the stage. Regardless, Ralph called for questions and I dashed to the mic, doubtlessly pushing a few genuine questioners out of the way.

“Ralph, my name’s James” see we’re on first name terms now, “ In the spirit of Dadaism can I take the mobile and I promise to frame it and put it on display?”

So far so good. Ralph seemed down with it and the audience admired my chutzpah. Quick as a flash and with unequivocal determination, president Block-Verk stepped in, “No, I’m putting it in my office,” he said.

He didn’t say – “We’re keeping it in the archives,” or “ We’re auctioning it for Charity.” Oh no. Vert was putting it in his office. I knew, he knew, the crowd and probably even Ralph knew 6 hours later we’d see it on Ebay. I was humiliated and you could hear the audience turn.

“How about,” suggested Ralph, “I do it to your Iphone.” The audience turned again. Will he have the courage of his convictions or wimp out? I was cornered. I handed over my phone, albeit a dated one. What the hell, the insurance company will understand right?

All that was needed was another hammer. And there wasn’t another hammer. “I’ve got a mic,” suggested a stage hand but we all knew a microphone and a Nokia does not great art make. By which point time had passed, we’re all looking like lemons and the joke had lost what little zing it had left. The audience had turned for the final time, clearly not in my favour.

“I’m here in NY all week, come find me,” said Ralph and I was sent back to my seat as a lot of eyes averted there gaze.

Three hours later I was back on the same stage collecting an award for a short film. I resisted the taking-a-hammer-to-the-award gag, said my thank yous and got the hell off the stage, much to the audience’s relief.

“What would you have done with phone?” someone asked me as I sat back down.

Probably put it in my office I concluded.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cathy Smiles

Exactly one year to the day I attended the funeral of an old friend's father (see below), I found myself burying my own mother. Time and irony can be so cruel. My greatest counsel, my best friend and a source of so much love, laughter and joy, it's hard to picture this time next year. It was a beautiful, warm, soulful day surrounded by people we loved and people that loved her. Before we laid her to rest, here's what I said:

When my brother Adam and I were little we seemed to exist only to compete against each other. Not physically of course, I wouldn’t have stood a chance - but in every other endeavour, from hobbies to, who knew what, to getting each other in trouble - it was all about point scoring.

Despite my sister Carolyn's best efforts, it usually ended with an inevitable, “Muuuuuum Adam Hit me.”

But of course time and age did it’s mellowing and who was the better one became so much less important as we got older.

So on a long hot Spanish day a few summers ago, the family sat around the balcony and did as we’d always did. Howled with laughter. We’d rib each other mercilessly, gossiped about our friends and enemies and told joke after joke after joke that could never be repeated in a synagogue such as this.

It was then it struck me, Adam and I were still competing as much as we ever did – only now, it was about how much we could make Cathy laugh.

As most of you know, as well as Corrie and Tesco’s, there was nothing Cathy liked more than a good laugh and she had the most infectious laugh. There was no greater mark of her approval than seeing her eyes close, her shoulders hunch and hearing her breathless cackle.

Indeed after she retired some of you knew your sole role in her life was, having obtained a great joke or an hilarious anecdote, you immediately got on the phone and made her laugh. Job done. When I broke the sad news to her old friend Richard Evans yesterday, I think his second sentence was, “dammit I was going to call her next week with a great new Jewish joke I heard.”

If the line was witty enough, no subject was out of bounds, no language too taboo and no victim not fair game. She could also be very naughty. I once sat on a budget flight with her. Having discovered that the egg breakfast was congealed she turned it upside down and waved it over the unsuspecting head of the bald man in the seat in front.

There was no excitement like driving over to Gilbey towers for dinner, knowing you had a new joke and a truly captive audience. When this horrible disease first struck her, my opening words were, ‘The things you’ll do to get your kids to come over?!!!”

“I know” she replied, “I’ll have to think of something new next week.”

Last summer to celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary we all trouped off to her favourite place in the world, Kalkan Turkey. It was there that she almost finished US all off with her rendition of the Village People’s “YMCA”

See Cathy had never seen the dance move that went with it. You know, Y>M>C>A and being just slightly dyslexic she couldn’t quite get the letters in the right order. Or even the right letters for that matter. Henceforth, we shall always remember that song as Y>K>B>C>G>7!

Woody Allen once said that Comedy is tragedy plus time. My mum hated Woody Allen.

So I ask you, if you want to honour Cathy Gilbey’s memory today and I mean really honour it. Don’t be sad for too long. Make each other laugh, tell a great joke or anecdote and even rib me for my choice of shirt. But make it witty. Cathy’s watching.

In her final few days, we would still gather together bedside with her and have a good gossip and a giggle. Cathy stole the show of course, when she referred to the nurse as an Oxygen Nazi. Desperate to bring her some comfort it suddenly occurred to me that the other thing she loved, was having her feet tickled. And so I did, with a pen. The way she always liked.

I got then what any child couldn’t have wished more for. I got a smile.

Thank you for listening.

Incidentally do you want to know the joke Richard Evans was going to tell her. A Rabbi was asked, “How’s the recession affecting you?”

“It’s terrible,” he replied, “Women and Men are getting married for love!”

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Apple DOES Fall Far From the Tree

When I was 10 I had to do a project over the school holidays on London. My sister, ever the sucker for punishment and probably press ganged by my mother, took me on a two week tour of London's sights. St Paul's Cathedral (still have the picture of the transept I took); Oxford Circus (still disappointed there were no lions and clowns); the London museum (complete with authentic smells of Victoriana poo) and most importantly The National Gallery.

Now that was the coolest, ever.

Gigantic pictures of death and gore; naked women writhing around with lots of grapes; kings and queens with stupid poses; and colourful jungles in far away lands. The sculptures were dull but the paintings were another world, each one an opportunity to let imagination and silliness fly.

So this morning I was quietly excited to see my nephew's updated facebook status:
Dewy eyed and sentimental I wondered what tales he would tell, memories he would make and what pictures that might resonate - creating a lasting impression that he too would remember for ever. I made a note to call him later to discuss. A few hours later he updated his status:


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thems The Breaks

About three hours ago a doctor of osteology I had never met before looked at me gravely, made a faux dramatic pause and told me, “You may never straighten it again.”

No! Rewind doctor! This wasn’t how I pictured it. This wasn’t how it was meant to be. But it also wasn’t the worst fear realised, that I had always imagined it might be.

My worst fear isn’t injury. I kind of have a morbid self-indulgent fascination with that. No I’m more paralysed by the whole idea of permanence. I hate that word and all it, and its antonyms stand for. Permanent, eternal, forever, infinite. The very concept of them put the fear of god in me. They’re all just so, fixed, immutable inflexible. I’m terrified by the idea of anything being so committed for all life.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a commitment phobe, I hope. I tick the financial commitment box with a mortgage; I’ve had my share of steady relationships (steady and relationship – there’s two words that should never sit happily in a sentence) and happy to have kids. All fine. But also all reversible - except that kid thing of course.

Friends are always curious why I don’t have any tattoos. The presumptive request, “James, show me yours,” is one I’ve heard often. I assume they think I look like the sort of person who should have a snake emblazoned across their ass and after all, I've tried every other method to piss my parents off while growing up. So while I quietly concur that theirs indeed looks lovely, I may not want decorative barbed wire, blue and green dancing lizards or philosophical Chinese hieroglyphics staring back at me when I brush my teeth at 60. I may not even want it next week. When they invent the ever-changing tattoos - ones that cutely rotate like a Microsoft screen saver – I’m in. Until then, even the moles on my shoulder have outstayed their welcome. It’s just all so indelible.

So a month ago, at the hazy end of my brother’s stag night, drunken tomfoolery sent my full body weight on top of my elbow with only the pavement to break my fall. Oh how we laughed. Actually I didn’t. By all accounts I marched around in circles, gripped my arm like Quasimodo and let a full torrent of abuse loose on the perpetrator. Off to A&E we all trouped and by dawn the hospital cheerfully informed me I had a fractured elbow and a torn ligament.

My brother of course found it all highly amusing – until coincidence and karma conspired to find him back at the same hospital a week later with two fractured ribs. He did it in a kiddie’s sack race. Oh how I laughed. I suggested we had one of those park benches installed outside x-ray in our honour, with the engraving, ‘here sat the Gilbey brothers, clumsy fuckers.’

Two subsequent trips weeks later to the aforementioned x-ray booth and here I was in front of Dr Bones and his solemn dispatch,

“Elbows are strange things and I’m afraid you may never straighten it fully again.”

I looked at him expectantly. Is that it? IS THAT THE BEST YOU CAN DO? He was a Jewish doctor so at the very least I expected a punch line for chrisakes,

“You may never straighten it again… but hey the good news is there’s a guy in the next door booth who wants to buy your climbing equipment.”

Give me something here. Anything. I stepped in for him; “I guess the weight lifting career’s over then?” It was lame I admit, emphasised by him actually looking at my toned but hardly bulging biceps to see if I was for real.

“Keep going to physio and it will mostly straighten and probably only you will know it’s not entirely straight. Good luck.” And that was that.

This wasn’t how it was meant to be. In my morbid self-indulgent fantasy the family, friends, lovers, ex lovers were all gathered round the bed as drips and monitors dramatically clicked and beeped. Deep voice, “He may never straighten it again,” tears, wailing, roll credits.

All I got was a 6-month physio chit and a mildly gammy arm. Worse, this was final. Actually and utterly permanent.

But there’s something I kind of like about it. I have an arm that won’t straighten. I have a proper war wound. A real semi disability with a story behind it that will no doubt get embellished over the ages. They may even give me a blue car badge entitling me to legitimately park near the entrance of Tesco.

As I write this I’m now thinking of getting it tattooed to highlight my plight. Something along the lines of a dotted arrow half way down and the words, ‘Bend Here’.

I will of course change my mind tomorrow.

(Post Script - Click on comments below and read Mat's. Pure comedy gold.)

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Astronomer of Dizzying Caresses

I went back to the 'Duchamp Man Ray Picabia' exhibition at the Tate today. Actually, 'went back' masks the obsessive truth - it was my fourth time - and I'm acutely aware how mildly compulsive that is. To claim I wrote a thesis on Marcel Duchamp some years ago is probably a pathetic excuse. To make sense of it, the first three times I was stalking my prey, this time I went with a determined and somewhat deluded purpose.

It goes like this, bear with me.

Two years ago my roof started to cave in. There's nothing metaphorical in that, my roof did honestly start to cave in and I was now playing begrudging flat mate to a party of tuneless pigeons and tap dancing squirrels squatting in my attic. A succession of pest control and builders tramped through my house and in the midst of all the poison, bird traps and scaffolding I saw my Dadaist opportunity.

The Dadaists were the original punk rockers, sticking two fingers up at the predictable art salons of Europe and the prevailing fashions of the early twentieth century. To them it was not about technical artistry, aesthetic flicks of oil paint or pandering to those that financially herded the sheep. Duchamp and friends challenged the notion that art had to sit on canvas or marble; they moonied at the censors without them realising it; they laid bare the hypocrisy and joylessness of a world between two wars. And they were the first that dared to do it, long before Warhol, Pistols, Hurst or Banksy made it into an honest living.

And therein lay my chance. Artistic mischief has now become an honest wage and a fairly lucrative industry to a sizable digital audience. It's too easy to rebel and make a buck, but so rare to see it merely for the pleasure of an anarchic giggle.

So as the workmen up on the roof hacked slate back into place I hit upon an idea. We've all looked up the tops of our homes on Goggle Earth and a friend had told me that they refreshed the urban aerial pictures every three years. Over a cup of tea I asked the workmen to fulfill my Dadaist moment. Once the work was complete, in thick white paint would they write across my roof:


Not as subtle as Duchamp might have liked it, I grant you, but mischievous nevertheless. Keen to end the conversation quickly, they agreed and I hoped to bide my time chuckling until Google took a new photo.

Six months of British weather later and the statement was gone. Washed and battered away. My small tribute to Duchamp had failed.

Back at The Tate exhibition I searched for a way to revive my cause. Now the obvious thing to do would be to piss in Duchamp's 'Fountain' - a porcelain urinal that he displayed in 1917 to declare that anything could be art if the artist affords it that tribute. However I discovered that musician Brian Eno had beaten me to it in 1995 and if I was being honest I wasn't actually that brave. I didn't want to be called the bloke that wee wee'd on Duchamp. Moreover the Dadaists would have prefered something a little more, well, understated.

Like any gallery, beside each exhibit there is lettraset describing each work and the medium in which it was made. If you look closely on some you'll notice letters are missing - neatly scratched out. It couldn't have been easy to do and hard to mask from the guards in each room. Find them all, and they spell something. It's something understated, but extremely clear.

Go take a look. It's on until 26th May.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Not So High Windows

'The first of the summer sun is out," someone said to me bizarrely at a funeral earlier today. I recalled the phrase from something. I came home and did a search and found it was something quasi navel gazing I had written for friends just after returning from Los Angeles. I reprint it here merely because I can't think of anything more enlightening right now, and the sun is indeed, out...

We weren't a literary family. We liked books yes but there was never the pretentious intellectual jousting I imagined went on at other dinner tables among the families of my better speaking peers at school. Nevertheless, when I was 13 and had one of many obligatory screaming matches with my parents, my sister, Carolyn, reopened my slammed bedroom door, sat on the edge of my bed and read me Phillip Larkin’s 'High Windows':

“When I see a couple of kids
And guess he's fucking her and she's
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,
I know this is paradise”

I loved it. Not least because it was the first time I had heard a poet say “Fuck”. Till now poets said ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and wondered lonely somewhere. Fuck was cool, especially from a fucking poet, I thought.

As years went by and friends still had screaming matches with their parents, albeit more mature and articulate ones, I would still quote Larkin verbatim – “They Fuck you up your mum and dad.” Thanks to my sister I could still say fuck and sound educated. Fuck was still cool.

“Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.”

The first of the summer sun came out today and I watched my father in the garden taming nature. Flanked by his cats full of awe and admiration, he moved from shrub to patch to bed, commanding respect and beauty from this year’s chosen crop.

I stood at the window watching. The day’s work dutifully done, he pulls out a reclining chair in the shade, cats on the ready to warm his lap. I thought of Larkin, how he enviously looked on the younger generation at the brink of their new dawn, somewhat liberated, and somewhat high - believing they can change the world.

My generation knows better. Less idealistic, the novelty worn off, over tired on the comedown, we look up from our high windows, not down, envious and ready for a comfy chair in the shade.

I shout down, “Tea?”
“Love one, and a biccy and my paper.”
As I hand it to him, “I was watching you. You look totally at one.”
“I was.”
“Does it get much better than that,” I ask.

Fuck off Larkin, I thought. This must be paradise.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Notes and Learnings From a Solo Break in Morocco

Some mathematician or statistician or simply mere cynic once hypothesized that if you put enough monkeys in a room with enough typewriters, paper and of course time - they'll eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare. (They may have also written the complete works of Jeffrey Archer along the way but the Baboons ate it).

The Monkeys are chattering.

If you sit quietly, alone, at peace for long enough the random words, ideas and chaos theory in your head will form a few gems of their own. Not sonnets or three act history plays I grant you, but flickers of potential. There is order in that noise or at least there's the chance to make some sense of the noise that's always there. Enjoy that.

Never trust a city that's painted in one colour. Especially when that colour is orange salmon.

Look proudly back at the maitre ‘d when they question your table for one.
“Oui. Moi. Seulement.”
If you know the French for, ‘You got a problem with that?” use it.

Stray cats that join you for dinner are probably ordered to by the management.

Souks are designed to keep western white trash in there. When a teenager offers to lead you out of there PAY HIM.

It’s better to ride a horse on the beach at sundown than a camel. Some how, “I rode off into the sunset on a camel," doesn’t have the same anecdotal zing to it.


If you find yourself in a restaurant ‘annex’ with 15 elderly Norwegians all carrying copies of Mao’s Little Red Book you probably HAVE stepped into a David Lynch Movie.

Khallini is one of the most useful Arabic phrases you will ever learn.


Spending two hours genuinely looking for a hearing aid, to make the professional local hasslers think you are deaf, is a fruitless task. An Ipod kind of does the same trick. Apple should advertise it that way.


You wake up on the beach naturally with low blood sugar, dreaming of a Twix bar. A passing trader sells you what look like innocent sweet cakes. You should have read between the lines when he mysteriously called them, ‘sweet and spicy’. You quickly realise why you haven’t done this since college.

BBC World however is very funny for the following hour.


“Realtionship Chasm Spread Bet SMS” – A new game we can all play. Pick a couple at dinner who seemingly haven’t spoken for months. After a brief description friends SMS back guessing how long it takes before they have any meaningful conversation. “Mmm try this”, “Are you sure Gary” and “Desert dear?” Are not meaningful conversations.

Bad scripts from bad books can't be doctored no matter how hard you try. Sitting by the pool to work won't help.

One of the sweetest things you will ever observe. Two twenty something drunken Brits go late night skinny dipping, in a Muslim country, watched by a fairly disapproving group of local men. As the Brits pass the breakers one of the locals runs over to their clothes and bundles them up. The Brits come splashing back, resembling black cabs on speed ramps. The local dumps the clothes five feet back, saving them from the incoming tide.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Queen Bee(b)

I adore the BBC's occasional tendency towards pure unashamed self indulgence. This evening their Radio 4 announcer excitedly told us about two new documentaries next week. Both unsurprisingly about the BBC.

The first was a look at the BBC's homophobia in the 50's and 60's as told through a reporter who wanted to do a piece back then on lives of gay men. This was followed on Tuesday with a documentary about the BBC's secret nuclear bomb shelter.

I called them and suggested they give both night's a theme:-

"The BBC In The Closet."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Duchamp hugged trees

Washington DC on a snowy afternoon.
There is so much to say about this I'm not quite sure where to begin

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Soccer - The Game of Sluts

This is what the score looked like for the first 25 minutes or so of today's West Ham Vs Reading game.

The boys and girls behind the Quantel desk at Sky must have pissed themselves silly at this one. Happy Christmas VT.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dreams of Californication

"You're an analog guy in a digital world," a bikini clad minx said to David Duchovny on 'Californication' the other night. "Nope, but I'm gonna steal that line," he retorted.

It felt familiar. A few hours earlier I was caught in snarling traffic and as is my inclination, fell into a day dream, oblivious to the honking horns and the mediocre DJ patter on the radio around me. A brake light reverie. I too have a feeling I stole that last line.

For reasons inexplicable and unprompted I got nostalgic for crossed lines - those arbitary moments when your phone call got dropped into another's and you became the lucky unwitting voyeur. It was a GPO hiccup, the godfather of bugs in copperwire mire. You could never control when it happened but when it did it was was a telephonic treat and a truly guilty pleasure.

As I recall they were never juicy or lurid conversations. They were ladies discussing their families; workmen making arrangements and old people. Lots and lots of old people, talking about old people stuff. Very slowly. Come to think of it, it was the original reality television uncut. A glimpse into someone else's universe, however trivial but important to them. We would hang onto the line, hand over mouthpiece trying to control our breathing and desperate not to get caught. If another family member was in the room, we'd excitedly mouth "CROSSED LINE!!" and we'd huddle round the receiver hoping for something meaty. It never came of course. If it was your mate with you, you'd eventually give up, shout something offensive down the line and hang up in fits of hysterics. I was 10 then - but not entirely sure I wouldn't do the same now.

Our super modern crystal clear multi function digital phones have done away with crossed lines. We chatter and warble safe in the knowledge that our calls remain intrusion and voyeur free. Unless of course your name is Abdul, then every security wonk from here to the Pentagon still has their hands cupped over the mouthpiece.

And I can't say I've thought about them much. But for that brief fleeting moment in my car the other night, I missed them.

I came home this evening to find a stuffed envelope addressed in apelike hand to my home but clearly not to me. I wish it was me. The name's Lois Cudjoe and I think that's a wonderful name.

But it definitely wasn't for me. It was crossed mail.

Despite this, the mere fact that it was intended for my home, I felt, gave me the right to open it. I'm so glad I did. It contained a Jehovah's Witness 2008 diary complete with Theocratic Ministry School Schedules and space to annotate one's Bible Study Activity. Splendid.

On page one it reads:
"In case of emergency see durable power of attorney in wallet and contact:"

I have no idea what a durable power of attorney in wallet is nor do I ever want to. But the fact that Lois does know, and that's important to her, makes me feel once again that I've become an unwitting lucky voyeur.

I like this idea of crossed mail. At the very least it makes the dull mail drop far more entertaining. I think we should all occasionally throw open the phone book and send randomly chosen people glimpses of our own lives and things that are important to us.

So I'm going to anonymously return it back to the sender. Their address is right there on the front of the envelope. I'll send it back with something that is important to me.

A recipe for perfect spaghetti bolognese.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Seriously, what did they expect to happen?

Sony/Metrodome release, 'The Counterfeiters" gets a front of house release at The Screen on The Green. This is Islington for chrissakes. What did they honestly expect to happen?

Good film, though its namesake truly is one of 2007's hidden gems.

(Thank you Vicks, you made my day.)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I heard the news today, oh boy

When Heather Mills speaks, the world should listen. She claimed yesterday that since Cows produce an excess of Ozone depleting methane, we should switch to Rats milk for all our dairy needs.

If Heather says it then milking rats we must do.

After all, she's already milked a Beatle.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Fine Television

Some months back I was caught on camera making an illegal u-turn and, given the name of the camera, was perturbed to find I may well have been the 6 o'clock bulletin (see below). So this week Hammersmith and Fulham Council write to me again. I kinda feel like we're pen pals now.

This time they want 60 quid. Same camera, different offense. Driving in the bus lane apparently.

While initially aggrieved that in total they've had 110 pounds out of me, it then occurs to me that I risk hundreds of thousands of pounds every week trying to produce TV content. For a mere 110 pounds, I've technically got my own BBC series.

Tune in next week where I'll hilariously be mugging and happy slapping an old pensioner. Co-stars June Whitfield.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Virgin Guerillas

Poor Branson. Go head to head with Murdoch and look what you're reduced to.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Real Life of Brian

Oh, the lights that now burn brightest
Behind stained glass
Will cast the darkest shadows
Upon the human heart
- Matt Johnson

Religion again. For about a year now I've become quietly, but increasingly interested in the so called 'New Atheists'. I say quietly since to be vocal and evangelical about them, seems to me to be playing into the hands of the very people they're trying to negate.

While there doesn't appear to be any organised or conscious connection between their writings, most of the best selling ones do appear to be by and large saying the same thing - that we shouldn't be passive in our religious skepticism but have the balls to stand up and say stop, stop now.

I had this nagging feeling that if only the likes of Richard Dawkins ('The God Delusion') and co had a sense of humour, then they're message would convince a far larger congregation (pun intended).

Vanity Fair contributing editor, Christopher Hitchens has never shied away from taking on the Christian right. His book 'The Missionary Position' was an outstanding and well researched thorough indictment on the canonization of Mother Theresa and convincingly questioned her alleged good deeds. Ultimately it chastised all of us for elevating her to some kind of demi god on evidence we wanted to believe rather than the actual facts. Guilty as charged.

The night before my birthday I crawled into bed with his latest rant (dare I say crusade?) - 'God is Not Great' believing there was nothing really new to say on the subject. I didn't put it down until 4.30am the following morning. It is a wonderfully smart, accessible, systematic debunking of any argument the religious or their doctrines throw up to justify their often ludicrous teachings and actions.

But most importantly - it's funny. Really funny. Thank god for that.

To prove the point, by chance, later that morning I picked up September's Vanity Fair where Hitchens keeps a diary of his tour to publicize the book. Rather than do the usual book signings, he bravely choses to tour the American Southern States openly debating with the "spokesmen of the faithful."

He describes some incredible moments on the excursion, some of which are a real eye opener, while he concludes the article with this absolute gem which I reprint here without Conde Nast's permission. I'm sure they'll forgive me:

Great stuff. Whatever your convictions of faith, I cannot urge you enough to read this book. And if you want to see Hitchens in all his glory then this is somewhat entertaining:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Andrex Puppy in Toilet Raid Shocker...

Deepest, darkest Soho 12am... As you get older you see all sorts of things in all sorts of places chained up - some of which you swear never to speak of again. Come to think of it, the same goes for toilets. This nicely combines the two me thinks.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Goose on the Thames?

Alright I know this is completely silly and puerile and I'm probably suffering from delusions of Dennis Norden, but I caught this while watching Channel 4 News on Thursday and it just makes me laugh. I dumped it down from my Sky+ and stuck it on YouTube.

In the future all news will have such moments to keep us happy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This just in.....

Hammersmith and Fulham council have written to me which is nice of them. I like letters. Apparently I failed to comply with a sign and they want 50 quid. They even sent a photo . It's definitely me, I even appear to be smiling if you squint at it in the right way.

What's concerning me more is what's written in the top left of the screen.

Was this such a heinous a crime, that I made the 6pm bulletin? Was it a slow news day? Perhaps I was the '...and finally...' story along with a couple of cute pandas who can't get it on.

Either way, councillors, I know my rights. I used to be a member of Equity don't you know. I know what repeat payments and residuals are. You owe me 50 quid pal.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ignitus Orgyus

Like a 1/3 of the planet, I'm taking Harry Potter to bed tonight.

Does that make me a slut?

Showbiz Chocolate Hob Nob(ing)!

So last year Max at Smithereen and I made a short film called 'Truth in Ad Sales' that went through the Meeja industry, in the words of The Independent, 'Like a dose of bad Oysters.' It currently has over 1/4 million hits on You Tube and a fair amount of commentary.

It looks like this:

I get back from holiday last night to find a message from a well known biscuit company asking if I would help make a similar parody for them, "..we'd like you to help us show the real underbelly of this type of retail," they asked.

This has to be a windup. Either way I've laughed so much I've genuinely pulled a muscle in my shoulder.

And it hurts a lot.

I know, a nice cup of tea would do the trick.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

You May Kiss the Bride(s)

I'm off to Florence today to play best man at my dear friends Alison and Andrew's wedding. Set in a 'secret' castle high in the Florentine hills, I'm expecting the most romantic hitching I've ever seen. Accordingly I've put huge pressure on myself to get the speech right and fufill the best man duties diligently. Yet I find it achingly hard to write for people I love and care about so much. I think, I hope, I'm about there - managing to steer clear of cliche, bawdiness and false sentiment. I'll let you know.

Osama Bin Laden's son, it transpires in todays's press, has also tied the knot (ooops, there's the cliche) . To a 51 year old mum from Cheshire no less. Now there's a speech I would have loved to have written for Daddy:

" today I say, I have not so much as lost a son, but gained an infidel..."

Bet her parents are overjoyed.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Strike a pose there's nothing to it....

My nephew Ben was picked to be one of many kids singing behind Madonna at Live Earth today.

Accordingly I spend the whole day preying he's not caught on camera picking his nose.

My sister Caz 'facebooks' me saying Maddy is slagging the kids off on her blog, so as indignant uncle, I google it.

It reads: "I'm working with this huge choir and it seems everyone in the choir wants to sing louder than me. I want them to be loud, but there must be a balance! I told them not to forget that they are (there) to enhance my voice and they are BACKGROUND SINGERS! I think they finally got it."

On the contrary sister, that's ma boy!

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Monday night I meet Matt Regan in Clapham for some dinner and some speech writing.

Out pops a rainbow.

It happens everyday in South London apparently.

Now I know why people choose to live there.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A place in Sainsbury's that will always be forever England

I drag my flu addled semi-hallucinogenic self round to the Ladbroke Grove Sainsburys for more water and Vit C. They've just expanded the place, resplendent with a sock aisle and an ethnic section.

I notice a Kosher shelf sitting between the Italians and the Afro-Caribbeans.

I like that, my place in the world sits safely between the Italians and the Afro-Caribean. I took some comfort.

I also took some Matzos.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Sorry to add to the throng - but it's just occurred to me....Paris Hilton has served 23 days of a 45 day conviction.

Guess that's another sentence she's never managed to get to the end of.....

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Proust and the Facebook

I've been dreaming a lot lately. A lot more than normal. Dreams where the past distorts and melds and churns out strangely logical combinations of seemingly random memories. My time in Asia comes up a lot - the last one was where I was back in school (which was now a hotel for reasons I cannot fathom) but set in Singapore where I was studying for the job I once had there at Disney/Buena Vista.

It's Facebook of course that has done this. Like the thousands of others that sign up each day, I'm back in touch with old friends and colleagues with their attending memories of things past. Therefore I too have been trawling through old letters, photos and broken verse and clearly my imaginative subconscious has picked it up and run with it.

One of things I came across was this piece I wrote for the British Council magazine a few months after arriving in Singapore. March 1999 I reckon. I'm pleased to say the affliction described below has long since passed.....

Nose No Bounds
My sister wrote to me last week complaining that following my visit to her in South Africa, Ben had swapped ‘mum’ for the name ‘caz’ and the spare room had the lingering odour of my feet.

She’s right of course. Ben, her son, is now calling her Caz - a name given to her in school and one I’m still carrying the torch for. But she’s also right about my feet. They stink. They really stink. I have no doubt she’s cleaned every tile, board, mat and bed linen they’ve nakedly infected. Everything they touch is condemned and I bear no grudge for her reminding me of this. I am the King Midas of cheese.

Such an affliction was a by product of puberty and one that has unreservedly stuck around long after it’s sister pubescent symptoms of acne, hormones and rebellion etc. have passed into unfond memories. Not a lot I can do. I’ve tried every potion, lotion, treatment, consultation, wives tale, homeopathy, aromatherapy, and even surgery on offer. Useless. I am living consumer report that nothing works.

Even a reflexologist here in Singapore, who’s profession exposes him to every species of foot odour imaginable, couldn’t surpress a flinch on removing my shoes. If he’s retired since it will be perfectly understandable.

I’m embarrassed and I’m sorry. I am tactful and careful and I am proud to say that few others, intimately or not, are subjected to it.

Socks help, of which I go through plenty (at Christmas I’m probably the only one who’s overjoyed at receiving them) and shoes are suitably contained and quarantined accordingly. Leather soles mask it and trainers are the devil. Fortunately, in Singapore and I suspect the whole of Asia, this is made easier since it is customary to remove shoes before entering a home. Thus the first thing I bought when moving in to my apartment was a little wooden Ikea bench. It sits outside and is piled high with rancid pumps, trainers, plimsoles and sandals in the foolish hope that air and a light breeze might cure them. Every self respecting home has such a bench and not a shred of concern is wasted on theft, Patrick Cox’s or not.

Yet two weeks after moving in, a pair of black Chuck Taylor All Stars disappears. It took me a few days to notice since I’m careful to wear each piece of footwear I have in strict rotation, yet despite searching, they had unexplainably, gone. I don’t tell anybody for fear of being subjected to a pun about them sprouting legs and walking and I certainly don’t report it. How do you describe them to a copper? They’re black, they stink and if you see them, shoot to kill.

They’ve gone, no big deal. Yet if it was possible to have sentimental attachment to shoes, trainers even, then I had them for these. I bought them in Mexico, holidaying with an old girlfriend, and yes, I’m afraid to say, they reminded me of the good times.

So I was upset. Nay, I was pissed.

The Lonely Planet Guides describe the three extensively studied stages of Culture Shock - Enrapture, Disillusionment and Adaptation. The symptoms of ‘stage two’, disillusionment, are quoted as irritation, superiority and complaining bitterly about every petty thing. Having recently arrived in Singapore I was deep, very deep, in ‘stage two’. The missing trainers were, for me, a microcosm of this indescribable, aggravating, goddam illogical city. I cursed the trainers, the town, the population, and as usual, the cab drivers. It was a grudge that in one way or another was brought to bear on the odd Singaporean that had the misfortune to cross me.

So last weekend I’m in Hong Kong and over breakfast come across the following article, page 11, in the South China Morning Post, which I quote here verbatim:

Old Shoes Stolen for Sniffing
Barry Porter, Singapore.

A lorry driver has been jailed for 25 weeks because of his uncontrollable fetish for smelly shoes.

Zainal Mohamed Esa, 43, steals old, worn shoes from people’s doorsteps because of a “burning desire, akin to that of a drug addict, to sniff used pairs of shoes”, said his lawyer Rai Ratan Kumar.

Mr. Rai told the court Zainal kept the shoes until the smell ran out, and then either tried to return them or donated them to the Salvation Army.

Zainal pleaded guilty to two counts of theft and two counts of fraudulent possession.

Mr. Rai described Zainal’s obsession as a “psychological need” and appealed for leniency.

However, in handing down a jail sentence, Judge F.G. Remedios said he had taken into account two previous similar charges.

Last November, police found Zainal with 40 pairs of other people’s shoes when they raided his flat after someone reported a shoe theft. In January this year, he was found with another 28 pairs and a shopping trolley.

Just the mere thought of prosecuting counsel holding up as evidence, article 42, my reeking Chuck Taylor All Stars, made it all worth while. In one swift imperceptible moment I was over the trainers, the anger and ‘stage two’. Better - someone, somewhere, loved my feet.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A friend reminded me of something I wrote this time last year.....

The hottest English July day since records began was recorded yesterday when temperatures reached 36.5c(97.3f).

It didn't drop much below that throughout the night and if such things were recorded, it was probably the most sleepless night in British history as well. I tried every method to get there - book, shower, movie, shower, book in shower - all to no avail. I think I might have taken more Valium since my records began which I guess the sweat must have diluted because I sure wasn't going to sleep.

In a vague attempt to recreate a Coke ad I remember in the 80's where a sweltering New York bonds over an ice cool drink in the middle of the night, I went for a walk. As I suspected, I wasn't alone. Most of West London had also given up trying and were walking dogs, hanging out on front steps, watching late night quiz shows (check the ratings, I bet they went sky high) chatting across front fences and wandering, as I was, like an extra from Day of the Dead. Indeed there was something vaguely post-apocalyptic about it. In a cute kind of community way of course.

This was four in the morning.

I returned home to find the usual hoodies hanging out at the top of my road. We don't bother each other the hoodies and I. We have an unwritten, unspoken agreement - I don't shop them for dealing whatever they deal and they don't burgle my house. So far so good.

Whether it was the heat, the time in the morning or the brand of south American Montezuma they had selected this fine morning, their behaviour seemed somehow different. They were huddled closer and more intimately round my car than I would have liked. A flash decision was made, say nothing. I gave them the usual nod and grunt and they returned the compliment. What the hell, I'm insured to the eyeballs and a VW Golf 1.6 is so last year in the world of the joy-rider. I slept fine.

Waking this morning I peaked out the curtains first thing. Still hot, car fine.

Well, not exactly. A missing hub cap had inexplicably appeared on my car.

Let me be really clear on this. I lost a hub cap mounting a kerb about two months ago. I've lost a lot of hub caps mounting a lot of kerbs over the years, but this being a relatively new car, grated with me a little. I notice it everyday. The hub cap had undoubtedly been neatly and cleanly affixed to my car. I've run through all the options, possibilities and misunderstandings, but this I am sure on. No hub yesterday, hub today. I am bewildered, and refuse to believe that this was a direct result of Cameron's hug a hoodie speech. Various suggestions have been made, such as a hub cap is just the first step to get me to try crack, but I equally refuse to believe that as well.

They were just the goodwill hoodies who thought my hubless car was bringing down the neighbourhood. That, or the heat really did get to them. They say it'll be even hotter next week. I look forward to a new DVD player.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Case For the Opposition, daaaahhhling!

(Reposted from an article first written in 2004)

Some of my best friends are: (Black)(Gay)(Jewish)(Lesbian)(Chinese)(Indian)(Rabbits).

Please delete as appropriate according to how you’ve used it. And you have used it. Be honest.

It’s a caveat. And as a such it’s usually preceded with, “I’m not fascist/homophobic” and more often not followed with, “But….”

As a casual armchair anthropologist I am a big fan of the caveat. See caveats, on utterance, immediately reveal more about the caveat’s antonym than what the speaker is trying to qualify. “Some of my best friends are black,” usually means my plumber is black and that’s the only reason I let him in my house. “Some of my best friends are gay,” is a subtext for there’s a queen at work and he’s good for a camp comment but I get nervous if we’re in the bathroom together.

And herein lies my problem. Some of my best friends are gay. So it’s this very reason that gay marriage puts the fear of god in me.

Now before I send my liberal friends into apoplexy and send my conservative ones into elation (I didn’t know he was one of us, I hear them cry) - it’s no caveat – some of my best friends ARE gay. I’ve been around gay boys for as long as I can remember. From the un-outed ones at school who shared my disdain of sports on cold days to my current ones who share my cultural snobbery - gay company isn’t so much as tolerated but enthusiastically sought. If there’s a straight male fag hag then I qualify. I’m the original metro sexual.

The UK’s Sunday Times columnist AA Gill put it best. Would you rather queue for Streisand tickets than Motorhead? He asked. YES. Will you willingly shop for you’re your girlfriends new Blahniks let alone know what Blahnks are? YES. Does the mere sight of your male friends wearing trousers without a belt send you into histrionics? YES YES YES. Then, he proposed, you are the gayest straight man. This I am. (My girlfriend would contend that I’m the straightest gay man – but that’s another story.) I’m an out and proud straight gay man with an address book chock full of friends of Dorothy. Whoop de doo.

Thus my aforementioned conservative friends would conclude that with this specialist insight it must be my knowledge of gay lifestyle that raises my heckles at the prospect of homosexual union. Oh no, such is not the case. More of the single sex couples I know are in more committed relationships than the straight ones. And, as a an old fashioned romantic who secretly longs for the sanctity of marriage preserved, I fail to understand why the church doesn’t swing open it’s doors and book the village people themselves for our gay brethren. Just think of the rise in business.

No it’s a lot less moralistic than that.

I simply can’t afford it. Some of my best friends are gay, and as they clamber over each other to get to the altar my time will be sucked up with gift buying, suit selecting, cake schlepping and all the other trappings couples ‘guilt’ you with in the run up to the big day. We refer to our female friends before the wedding as Bridezilla – the thought of weeks of Fagzilla doesn’t even compare. When straight friends don’t like the gift, they politely tuck into the bottom draw or, and I have genuinely seen this, hawk it on Ebay. Imagine the grief when my taste lacks for my gay friends! Oh lordy.

As you age and become more independent, your elders warn you of the income pressures to come – pensions, school fees, mortgages, taxes, death duties etc. I curse them for keeping secret the whole engagement, marriage, baby drain. I have learnt the hard way, you have to plan for this. From age 25 to 45 and beyond you face this endless march from homeware to toddler shop. The girl who keeps Macy’s “list” probably knows me by name now. If she doesn’t she should and put me on her Christmas list– I’m putting her kids through college for chrissakes.

At least my straight friends give you a years notice for the hitching. As America enters the debate on gay union and States independently draw back the prejudicial and unconstitutional shackles that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, my gay friends have been slipping rings on fingers quicker than Tiffany’s can cope with. No notice, no slow progression, nothing. I didn’t plan for this. I had no idea. I avoid the phone for fear of the, “We’ve got something to tell you” announcement. I’m gonna be broke, destitute and exhausted.

So for this selfish and protective reason I declare my opposition to gay marriage. So go on Mr Bush change the constitution if that’s what you have to do.

I never thought I would ever say this. Some of best friends are Bushes.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Freaks, Geeks and Gefilte Fish

“She’s seen her fair share of devils in this, Angel Town”
- Shaun Mullins

If I had to sum up my first three months in Los Angeles, it’s been religious. Not in the metaphorical spiritual sense, that my forefathers felt after alighting the Mayflower and stepping into a grateful dead concert, but in the absolute biblical sense. It has, literally, been religious.

The United States as we know is riddled with religious shenanigans from zealots to spiritual goo goo gurus preaching whatever seems redeeming and magnetic for the moment and the attending hypocrisy has been oft noted. I don’t need to do the same. And if I was being honest with myself I was craving it. As a cultural Jew living in Asia I had been starved of the trappings of my faith. A cultural Jew is exactly that, they worship at the temple of the trappings of their faith, where faith itself is merely a by-product usually brought out to play at key religious festivals. In my case as a lone Jew in Singapore I would cherish, nay, covet, the odd box of Matzo Meal and kosher pickles tucked into a corner of an overpriced expat supermarket on the Orchard Road.

So I was craving the abundance of Judaism that Hollywood would bring with its wealth of deli diners, kiddish dinners and, well, Jews. And yes I was an opportunistic Jew there as well. Knowing full well the power of the Jewish mafia, or “Kosher Nostra” in my chosen profession, I was totally ready, willing and able to flash my paid up Jew membership card as and when it suited. If research and cunning was what it took to get seated next to David Geffen, Michael Eisner or Lew Goldstein at the Sabbath service then I had no shame. So sue me, already.

It was with this sentiment in mind that Rosie announced shortly after my arrival that we were to attend Kabbalah. Ka What? I would ask. Kabbalah she said, it’s where Madonna goes, she said enthusiastically. I didn’t exactly remember Madonna’s bah mitzvah. I did however remember her once running around with crucifixes in the mid eighties, but Kabbalah does SOUND Jewish, so why not.

So six o’clock Saturday we go hunting Kabbalah on La Brea, which, I later discover, is a long strip of Jewish temples of one denomination or another. In fact the one denomination we did accidentally walk into turned out to be Orthodox. What they must have made of a pasty Brit and a Chinese Woman eagerly looking for service doesn’t bear thinking about. They’ve probably tightened security since.

Much debate had been spent on what to wear. Rosie relied on my vast experience of such occasions (albeit annual high holy days in Edgware) and taking my sombre grey slacks and dark shirt as cue, dressed accordingly.

Everyone was dressed in white. Chief Rabbi, white. Madonna, Guy Ritchie, Lourdes, white. Everything white. At a guess, I would imagine such a uniform prevents the age old embarrassing problem of two Jews turning up to temple wearing the same thing, which as anyone knows, is a travesty comparable to a burning bush.

In a room of three hundred or so, in white, we were ushered to a white table, given a nice and simple Middle Eastern supper and a Kabbalah “teacher” (in white) was kindly asked to sit with us to explain. Kabbalah, I was to learn, predates any religion. Hebrew in origin yes, but less about religious history and the old testament but more about spiritual grounding and accessing ones inner spirit and strength through the universe. Naturally.

Madonna and Guy were there, as were the kids. Very normal, no bouncers, no special treatment, no jewellery, no pointy bras, dressed in white. And it wasn’t too far removed from what I knew. Hebrew text I couldn’t understand, jolly songs, kids running around screaming, men talking to me with bad breath who stank of egg and onion. This is what I know. Except for the white of course.

They were all very nice to each other. Men hugged shoulders to sing songs, everyone made a point to introduce themselves and we were both made to feel very, very welcome. It was at that point that it all stopped ringing true for me. Yes they were all very nice to each other but so probably are the Moonies, I thought. They all just seemed that bit too keen to have us on board. As the saying goes, I didn’t want to be a member of any religion that was that keen to have me even if it was MY religion for chrissakes.

Shortly after dinner they rushed me over to meet Marc, who they were overjoyed to point out, attended the same school as me, as if that would swing my vote. I didn’t remember Marc but he remembered me. He was in LA “doing property” which quashed any doubts I might have had over his authentic North London roots. Marc was also a Kabbalah teacher and therefore felt he had every right to get zealous on my ass. And zealous he did. The following statement I swear I repeat verbatim,
“I’ve tried many religions, see and none of them answered what I was looking for. Not Yoga, not nothing. Kabbalah finds your place in the universe. It answers the problems you seek. There’s no point in trying to find answers in the wrong religion. I mean you don’t go to the doctor if all you want is a video from blockbuster…..”

I tried to catch Madonna’s eye. If ever there was a time I needed her to holler, “Papa don’t preach,” it was now.

As Rosie and I beat a retreat he had one last attempt, with a knowing wink he said “There are lots of people from your profession who come here.” It simply wasn’t enough, I wanted Blockbuster and a stiff dirty Martini. Rosie said she wanted to come back. She hasn’t.

Tenuously on the religious theme, a few days later, national newspaper USA Today ran a front page of David Beckham saying this was the world’s greatest athlete America had never heard of. The movie “Bend it like Beckham” had been the surprise summer hit, leaving many yanks wondering, who? I was surprised it wasn’t up for a Stateside remake, but I guess ‘Jump it like Jordan’ or ‘Wood it like Woods’ just didn’t have the same ring to it. A few days after that the following appeared on the letters page which again I repeat verbatim,

“I read USA Today religiously. I enjoy the broad scope of news that can be obtained only from a national newspaper. To tap into the wealth of good news reporting that characterizes USA TODAY, I sometimes have to turn up my nose as an underlying liberal slant bleeds to the surface. The story on David Beckham was a perfect example. USA TODAY gushed over the athlete as though he were the perfect role model for America’s Youth. Implicit in the article was the question as to why America was not on board with the rest of the world. But is a man who is “in touch with his feminine side” and who has posed for a gay magazine, one we really want our sons to emulate? Even if Beckham is sympathetic to the gay cause, is this any way to express it? Do we want our daughters posing for Playboy? What is the difference? Is it asking too much to request a little sensitivity to readers who cling to a more traditional definition of family? How does Beckham stack up against the brave troops, fire-fighters and police officers in our post 9/11 world?”
– The Rev. Gary l. Bankson, Rosepine, La. (May 13th 2003)

I wondered whether ‘Beckham stacking up against brave troops, fire-fighters and police’ might have been his gay fantasy, but considered it best to keep that thought to myself.

Between apartments, Rosie and I “head back East”. All Americans head “back” East apparently, even if they are not from there. I assume it’s because that’s where they disembarked a few hundred years ago and marched West ever since. First we go to NY, then Washington DC and finally Charleston, South Carolina for the mother of all religious experiences. I say mother, because it was exactly that, Rosie’s mum, Tabitha was getting ordained as a minister in the Episcopal Church. Relishing the fact that I may now be dating the minister’s daughter (a quintessentially British pubescent fantasy that just wouldn’t go away), I willingly attend.

Charleston is “The South,” and like any other Brit talk of “The South” conjures a thousand preconceived images. With the limited knowledge I had - that I was attending a pious ceremony; would be staying at a Reverend’s assistant’s home in deepest Bible belt and the Klan’s HQ was just a hop skip and a jump down the road; my already overactive imagination went into overdrive. As we drifted into sleep on the overnight train, my dreams morphed into, ‘The Crucible II – the Director’s Cut - This Time it’s Personal’ where the Chinkie and the Jew greet the inevitable forces of damnation, confess to their multitude and myriad of sins and attend their first and last lynching.

I should have known. The night before in Washington, we called the reverend’s wife, Annie to announce we’re on our way.

“Haaaaya honey,” she said in a southern drawl so clichéd I wondered whether it was put on for our benefit, “ Aarm so excited y’all coming down here. Aaarm jus’ sittin’ here drinkin’ champagne in maa underwear an’ soapin the carpet.”

Oh yes I should have known.

I was expecting god fearing piety and the fires of hell, what I got was a reverend who stops service in time to watch the Simpsons, a wife who collects Disney memorabilia and a son who plays slide guitar numbers out on the porch. These were truly wonderful, lively, witty people who couldn’t have been more welcoming no matter who we were, and what our convictions of faith. And that other cliché, the one about Southern hospitality, couldn’t have been closer to the truth. We ate well, laughed well and slept well. Hell we even prayed well. They were what Christianity intended when they first proposed a power point tablet 2000 or so years ago.

And boy there were many of them. Episcopalians, see, don’t have quite the same stringent laws on marriage and divorce as their other Christian brethren, hence Rosie and I struggled to remember who was married to who, who was once married to who and whose child was who’s. I wasn’t even sure if they knew anymore. No matter.

Among all this religious gaiety and communal love the guns in the mix really took me by surprise. I guess it was naïve of me to think that the two were incompatible. But it was the mere pervasiveness of them, their being part of the very fabric of Charleston society and so shamelessly acceptable that I found so hard to reconcile.

I first knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore when we arrived at our hosts for the night, Jean and Jon (Jean being the aforementioned reverend’s assistant). Wealthy, self made, true god fearing people, their house sat across the water from Charleston among acres of their own luscious land. Sombrely but tastefully decorated, built with their own fair hands it was clearly their pride and joy and stood as proof that the good lord had blessed them. I counted the crucifixes at every turn. There were 46. They even had cute ones in the bedroom where Jesus dropped the whole blood and gore act in favour of a nice big colourful smile, “so as not to upset the children,” I assumed.

I’ve always judged people by their pooing material and their loo was stocked with back copies of “Young Hunter” where a tweenager adorned the cover in lumberjack suit and 12 bore shotgun. Nice. This became even harder to stomach when Tabitha told us in hushed tones that some years earlier Jean and Jon’s own 10 year old son had been shot in the back of the head and killed on a hunting expedition.


A few nights later at a Venison dinner (shot, skinned and grilled by themselves) they then proceeded to tell us, with pride, that their six-year-old grandson had just shot his first buck. Hurrah!


In an unrelated incident Rosie and I had to attend the local doctor’s surgery. Upon entry a bold notice on the door read, “No Smoking. No Soliciting. No Concealed Weapons.” So, like, if you can see my weapon then all is well, is it? And why do I need a weapon at the doc’s anyway? In case he tries to put his finger up my ass again, I’s gonna blow him away?

It wasn’t just ‘gun’ culture, it was THE culture. The altar window of the church depicted St Michael slaughtering the devil at the gates of heaven; the reverend gladly allowed snipers to use the church belfry when a member of the Noriega klan was tried in the courthouse opposite; even the first shot of the civil war came on Charleston soil. That civil war by the way is locally referred to as, “that recent unpleasantness”.

It all came together the first night. At a party held by the reverend we met David in a wheelchair. What happened we asked Annie, “Oh he was hunting deer some time back, climbed up a tree to stalk, fell asleep and fell from the tree. He’s paralysed from the waist down. They had to airlift him by helicopter to hospital,” pause, “…so how you two enjoying Charleston?”

Right. So let’s just summarise for a moment. If I’m not totally mistaken, in less than six hours I’ve heard stories of dead children and paralysed men. So, like, what’s the common denominator here? What connects these two stories? And why, if I may be so bold, don’t you people get it?

We return to Los Angeles – the city of angels – with Robbie Williams lyrics repeating over and over in my head,

“….the Holy Ghost and the whole East Coast are moving to L.A…….”

Our new apartment sits just below the famous “sign” - that modern day false idol that beckons all who believe in the gospel according-to-Hollywood to come, worship. And come they do. We did.

Is there a biblical metaphor for networking? Maybe not. But as rookie’s in this new temple, networking we must do. I get invited to my first breakfast network by Ken, a new media correspondent for the BBC who seems enthusiastic about literally everything.

“You’re gonna love it,” he says. Yes I say. “It’s a bunch of guys just like yourself and we meet every Saturday and get to know each other and see how we can help each other. You’re gonna love it.” Yes I say.

“But you gotta come every week,” he tells me, “It’s a religious commitment.”

Of course it is.