Archive for October, 2008

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One thing I both like and loathe about my job is that things can change in a second. One minute I can be sitting in London planning a story, the next I’m throwing my belongings into a bag and heading back home to Manchester to grab my passport and some zzz’s and head off to New York to produce a story from scratch. This is exactly what happened last Thursday, and it was exciting and terrifying in equal measures.

Except I have to tell you that it is NEVER New York. It was last week, but that was truly an anomoly at The Sausage Factory. Our show covers domestic stories only, on the whole. But apparently there’s an election happening in America or something… and I hear it’s kind of a big deal. So off I went. But usually it would be Newbury, or Milford Haven, or some unknown ex-industrial town in the arse end of the Midlands. Usually it’s a story about home repos, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or whatever is getting the masses talking. Which I love. But this…. was special.

Green laser beams of jealousy burned from the eyes of my colleagues into my flesh this week, as they asked nonchalantly “how was New York?”, before lugging their camera kit off to Wobbly Bottom to investigate crumbling mine shafts or similar. My reply was, I imagine, supremely irritating: “I wouldn’t call it a great time, but it was an experience”. Eyebrows were raised, internet. Curse words were muttered internally, I’m sure.

But it’s true. My New York adventure was challenging, exhilerating and fascinating. I thrilled at being in the big city, filming Central Park awash with autumn sunshine, and the tiny dogs and glamorous owners stalking the cobbles of the Meatpacking District. It was exciting to race across the Brooklyn bridge in the crew van, desperate to get to the Brooklyn Icecream Factory to film a piece-to-camera against the backdrop of sunset over Manhattan.I was gripped by the ever-unfolding narrative of the election and the sense of change in the air.

Yet, apart from a glorious five hours of free time on Monday morning (made longer because I woke up at 5am every day- what’s that all about?), which saw me making tracks like a greedy homing pigeon towards the Magnolia Bakery to kick a morning of shopping- apart from that, and my glam saturday night (followed by not-so-glam killer hangover), it was not in any way a “jolly”. It was really fecking hard work: overwhelming, challenging and utterly exhausting.

For every moment of New York magic, there were ten spent sitting in my hotel room trying and failing and finally succeeding to secure interviews, struggling with my script through drooping eyelids, wondering with more than a hint of desperation how I was supposed to pull this off with no help whatsoever (no assistant, no runner, no researcher- no budget, you see), asking myself whether it was really safe to entertain myself for an evening on my own in an area called Hell’s Kitchen and choosing instead to spend it sitting on my bed eating $15 room service noodle soup with a $20 glass of pinot g, marvelling at the strangely compelling circus act that is Fox News.

But life is about experiences, and an experience it certainly was. I wouldn’t have missed it, And now, three days and one 11pm finish in the edit later, it’s done. And so am I.  I’m glad to be back to life as usual: to home cooked food and a comfy sofa, to stories about cash-strapped pensioners in Dudley, to stomach crunches on a motorway bridge under a freezing Manchester sky. To friends, and family, and a visit to my Granny which I had to cancel last weekend, with a great deal of guilt and angst (on her part, she insisted I must go to New York, and dashed off to wiki the reporter). And to sleep: lovely, glorious sleep.

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Top of the Heap

Everybody knows that American service comes with a smile and a “have a nice day”. But I’ve noticed that in certain, trendy-leaning places- like the hotel I’m staying in which has a frankly baffling leafy canopy over the lobby and glass floors with lights underneath so you constantly feel like you’re about to fall into a shining precipice; and last night I went for a single drink before bed and found I was expected to recline on a chaise longue- customer service people have a special way of being polite. I think they practice it in front of a mirror. The trick is to

a) Look slightly uncomfortable, as though you have to be somewhere in two minutes, or as though you have cystitis.

b) Pretend you have just smelled something really bad, and it has taken you by surprise, so you look both alarmed and repulsed at the same time.

c) Act as if the bad smell is definitely coming from the customer you’re speaking to.

Then smile widely and say “hi how are you? How can I help you today?”

Bad attitude from tiny, beautiful service industry employees aside, I’m having a rather jolly time in New York. Every now and then I almost gag with excitement at the feeling that I’m living like the lead character in a chick lit novel or 20-something sitcom (today I wore knee high boots, a poufy skirt and a pussy bow blouse for filming outside in October- I think I’m getting a bit carried away with the journo-gal-about-town theme).

Some parts are truly fabulous: tonight after filming I’m going for dinner with my reporter who is something of a national treasure. We are having drinks in his 78th floor apartment overlooking Manhattan first.

Some parts are fascinating: yesterday in Borders I saw a mother reading a Barack Obama biography to her toddler; and these Americans sure do love pumpkins- they are everywhere!

However, a lot of the time it’s business as usual: lugging equipment through the lashing rain , locking horns with grouchy old camera men, ringing round desperately trying to set up interviews, forgetting mid-sentence what shot we’re supposed to be getting, and generally feeling a bit sick with worry about actually having something to show for my efforts.

Holy jetlag, batman

Just wanted to drop in and say hello, and thanks for the comments and messages this week. It’s much appreciated.

Madly enough, I am in New York, having been dispatched here at the last minute.

Huh. What time/day/meal is it?

It’s highly unlikely I’ll have any free time outside of filming, but if I do, I’ll be sure to be in touch with my peeps over here- oh and maybe I’ll manage to blog too. Who knows?

Normal biznazz will resume next week

x

I am not resigned

There is a pink balloon dancing at her grave, as there always is on her birthday or anniversary. Mum has had a message written on this balloon: Happy Birthday Beautiful. 

Her stone is unique and special- pinky granite inscribed with gold script designed by a calligrapher friend: “Bright and beautiful your touch in our lives”.  She has a tiny garden, with a small white rose bush and a fuschia. She has trinkets and a spinning windmill, and I clip a golden butterfly onto the lavender plant.

It’s a place of beauty. But today I feel angry. I don’t want this cold, dutiful pilgrimage. I don’t want to be part of this world of loss, whose inhabitants know which flowers will last the longest on a grave. I wish my mum didn’t know how to wrap cellophane around H’s birthday card and stick it down to stop the rain getting in. I don’t understand how a life just beginning to extend its branches and to blossom can be reduced to a metre square of flowers.

Standing stiffly here, sorrow driven like a stake through the core of me, looking at my boyfriend with his hands on the stone and tears on his cheek, I’m angry for all of us and our loss, but mostly for the 21 year old that she should be now.

We walk back to the car in silence, mud and grass clotting around the high heels of my boots. The evolution of our species is seriously flawed, I think, if such a person can be allowed to exist for such a short time, and if such horrible tragedy and distress can be a part of life.

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My words are clunky with sadness today, and I think a poem will better say how I feel:

Dirge Without Music (Edna St Vincent Millay)

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Bear With Me

No funnies from me I’m afraid.

I’ve always known (of course) that it is my sister’s birthday on Monday. But this morning it hit me like a punch in the stomach: she would be turning 21. Nobody should have been gone for four years before their 21st birthday arrives. Everybody should make it to 21. Surely?

The Big Double C

There are lots of articles in the news at the moment along the lines of: how is the financial crisis affecting you? What does the credit crunch mean for your family? And so on.

Well I can tell you how the credit crunch is affecting me: it is RULING MY  LIFE. And not because I can’t get a credit card, or because my mortgage has gone up, or because of fuel prices (£50+ for a tank of petrol is pretty dire, but I don’t drive to work, so I’m alright, Jack).

No, the credit crunch has taken over, because as a member of Her Majesty’s Press, those two words are all I hear, all I see, all I say, all day long.  On big screens here in The Sausage Factory, we see economics correspondants from various news channels blinking in their newly-found spotlight. As we write scripts we flagellate ourselves for once again using the phrase “as the credit crunch bites”, but do it anyway. In brainstorms and ideas meetings, the Big Double C is constantly on our lips. Great health story? Yes but what is the credit crunch angle? Brilliant exclusive access to Person X? Yes but what can they say about the financial crisis?

What does it mean for old people? Young people? Dead people? Dogs? (The last two examples are not jokes).

It’s a very puzzling chicken and egg scenario.

But can I tell you a secret? What fascinates me most about the economic meltdown are the photographs of traders from across the world, all egos and cufflinks and anguished fist-clenching and hernia-ravaged faces.

And their clothes! What hilarious fashion sense these financial types have. Waistcoats! Hoodies with diamond chanel earrings! Ties like huge salamis and funny jackets with faux fur panels! For people with so much money, it’s a surprise none of them have thought of hiring Gok Wan for the day with their ridonkulous bonuses.

There was something Shakespearianly (it is a word. I have an English degree) tragic about these images. But the pictures in the last couple of days, since Gordon Brown apparently saved the world, have changed. The same traders are now crowing, cheering, high-fiving, grins splitting their faces, hammy fists now punching the air instead of grinding temples.

I’d like to think they’re rejoicing because perhaps millions of people won’t be plunged into poverty , and smiling because they have seen the light and will cease taking risks with ole Joe Six-Pack’s money . But, as challenging as I am finding this new necessity to know economics and business inside out, I am not stupid.

Absolutely Fabulous?

I spent Tuesday night peeping into a world of semi-celebrity, first at an awards do and then at a Soho club, a haunt of the rich and famous which my well-connected work friend took me to. And I’ve been dying to blog about it since. It was like being David Attenborough, crouching in the undergrowth watching strange creatures in their natural habitat.

The awards were sprinkled with a strange and gaudy mix of footballers and their shiny wags and wannabe wags, Big Brother graduates, esteemed athletes and, oddly, Dame Helen Mirren (unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to confront her about daterapegate). I eyeballed ex-boyband members with thinly concealed intrigue- I’m a secret celeb spotter at heart. But I was befuddled by the necessity, it seemed, for everyone to greet everyone else in the VIP room . After a few minutes of thinking “wait, do I know you?” as another person came steaming up shrieking “hiii! How aaare you?”, I realised that this is just the modus operandi for such things, and went along with it. Soon my cheeks were aching from smiling blankly at people who had no intention of holding a conversation with me, that night or ever.

Later on, outside the club, baubled night owls argued with the club doormen to be let in, as we breezed past the queue. Inside, I couldn’t see what the fuss was about. To be honest, you could take the place out of Soho and plonk it in Magaluf, and it wouldn’t seem out of place- giant cocktails and all. But it obviously works hard at getting so-called “somebodies” to populate it’s slightly naff interior.

Alongside the dancefloor, where the civilians were free to mingle, the club also had half a dozen tables, which apparently were arranged according to some sort of hierarchy. The vvips sat at one particular table- the tightly drainpiped music boys and wispy models with hair bigger than hips. Now, I’m not a girl who gets to sit at the metaphorical vip table of life (and nor do I want to be, not for more than one night anyway), so it was rather novel to be sat at one in this club- which in reality, of course, was no different from any other table in the place. Talk about the emperor’s new skinny jeans.  Oh, except the drinks were free (grey goose vodka and a shared cocktail as tall as me, I am not joking).

I watched the vvip tables from my not-so-important table with a half horrified, half titillated, very much amused expression, as the beautiful people fell about in a studied fashion, clasped and kissed and danced in such as a way as to signify debauchery and fabulosity. I didn’t notice much actual communicating with each other going on. Every movement was coreographed as if they were being photographed, which by the way they were, by a man with huge hair and a salacious wink, who shrieked “nooo! Are you leaving?!” when I left, having not said no more than hello all evening. 

 On the way to the loos, a lithe little fellow in a sparkled grey jersey waistcoat and Henry Holland hair approached my friend with lips puckered for an air-kiss. Apparently he was the promoter of the night.

“Helloooo, gorgeous! You look fabulous!” he enthused.

They actually say fabulous. You’re fabulous, this is fabulous, fabulous shoes, fabulous friends. What they really mean is “I’m fabulous”.

As I followed my friend, he pounced on me in a similar, though less enthusiastic fashion (having not yet ascertained whether I “was” anyone, I suppose). “You look fabulous”.

“Thanks” I said, deadpan, channelling Darlene from Roseanne despite myself.

As we made our way through the bouffanted lollilop ladies, my friend told me that just the week before, the same guy had approached her and hissed: “Who are you and what are you doing on this table?”. When he found out she was pals with a genuine slebrity, he was suddenly all kisses and darlings. Sweetie.

There’s a very quick, very expert glance that is executed when the beautiful people meet someone new: up/down/face/hair/body. They want to establish if you matter or not. Do they recognise you? Should they know you? And if you’re not important, are you thin and gorgeous enough to decorate their table? And there’s also an unpleasant edge of cocaine, which sharpens a person so that if The Glance reveals that you’re nobody important or not sufficiently glamorous, they can’t conceal the impatience in their face as they rub the end of their nose and look over your shoulder for someone proper to talk to once you’ve introduced your tedious self.

Look, I get that it’s probably exhilerating and fun to be at the heart of the “in crowd” and to rock about the city being a beautiful person. And I’m sure the individuals themselves are perfectly lovely, if you made proper friends with them. But the “scene” itself seems so shallow. It just didn’t seem to be backed up by real affection and real enjoyment. There’s the restless, searching sense that the real It crowd must be elsewhere. At one point a guy in a suit, who clearly felt himself to be at the edges of something, well, fabulous, by being in the club, turned to me and said “so what are you? Fashion? Music?” You know, because what other world is there??? It stuck in my craw to reply “television”, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on.

I left at 1am. I’d had a good time with my friend, of course, because she is great fun and so were her pals.  And I’d found the whole experience somewhat hilarious if a little baffling. But I was grateful to kick off my high heels, order a plate of overpriced room service fish and chips (at the awards do, the champagne was free but the canapes were scarce), and look forward to getting back to my non-fabulous, fabulous life at home.