TEARS FOR TIERS

The race is on.

Amazon Alexa has just informed me that there are 83 days to December 31st. I have 720 Tier Points on Virgin Atlantic; I need 1,000 if I am to maintain my Gold status and keep the benefits of no change fees, extra Air Miles, and numerous other benefits I will never need, much less use.

I’m stressed. Last year, I went to Boston on Delta Airlines for dinner to garner the extra 80 points I needed. Delta is now a partner of Virgin, so it pays to travel internally to clock up the points (internal travel in the US is relatively cheap) and then use them on a transcontinental flight.

Feel free to stop reading now. Air Miles are my obsession and, specifically on Virgin Atlantic, Tier Points.

So, I’ve been to Vancouver (160 Tier Points) and Toronto (140 Tier Points) recently, just to boost my chances of staying Gold (and I really hate Canada – that’ll give you an indication of my desperation). Now, let me explain the discrepancy: I know you’re all on the edge of your seats about this.

There are different categories on Delta. Class ‘A’ gets me 20 points, class ‘P’ gets me 40. But is it worth paying the extra for ‘P’?

I also break my journey because that then classes as two flights. So, for example, breaking my journey to and from Vancouver was 40 x 4, whereas one of my Toronto journeys (also with a break) was an ‘A’ (keep up, people!) and three ‘P’.

If you book early enough, you can get 160 Tier Points for under $1000, whereas trying to clock them up on Virgin Atlantic will cost you over £3k to get 200.

Yes, those calculations are based on First/Upper – not because I can afford it but because I am very savvy with collecting Air Miles (I also need to have a bed on a long flight because of my ongoing rib and back problems, by the way). I have friends who travel in Economy who pay more than I do. I buy miles in the sale, and, until MBNA scrapped the Virgin Miles programme, I put everything on my credit card. Alas, that scheme has ended and I am now almost destitute of miles.

I know. Third World problems, right?

I’m heading back to the UK for my 60th birthday celebrations, but Christmas will have to be in the US. Virgin’s stupid new scheme re-sets my Tier points to zero on December 31st, and the Heathrow taxes (irrespective of what class you fly) are ludicrously expensive compared to internal airports).

Now my dilemma is how I get up to 1,000 Tier Points in 83 days. I have two flights booked to and from LA (out of New York) that will take me to 880 (‘P’ category, breaking journey at Minneapolis on the way out and Atlanta on the way back – still with me?); but I’m still left with a shortfall. Boston is by far the cheapest and closest, but even in ‘P’, that will get me only 80 as there are no breaks on the short flight.

This is now occupying my every waking hour. Las Vegas is always a good option because, out of LA, it’s cheap as chips on Delta, and only a 45 minute flight; in fact, I could do it three times in one day and still be home for dinner.

The Christmas sale of Air Miles will soon be upon us and I will hungrily purchase everything I can in order to fly to and from the UK relatively cheaply. But it’s these damn Tier Points that keep proving the problem. What I really need is Lifetime Gold Membership, but I need to fly another 823,199 miles to get that, or to have another seven years as a Gold Card member.

Gosh, my life is complicated.

The fabulous team in Swansea who chat to me nearly every day of life are like my closest friends; in fact, I speak to them more often than I do members of my own family. I’m thinking of inviting them all to New York for Christmas dinner.

Yesterday, I got Rob, who remembered having spoken to me before. He told me that when I come through on another line, he tells them that I’m lovely. I am. I specially like chatting to them after midnight Eastern Time, when they have more time to listen to me pontificate on my latest scheme for banking miles.

I also have to say that the Virgin Atlantic crews are the best of any airline I have ever flown with. They really cannot do enough for you, and if the plane went down, I’d be dying very happy (nevertheless, praying it doesn’t).

It’s only the website and Customer Service that let Virgin down and, since they installed their new system nearly two years ago, I’ve seriously considered switching to another airline/rewards programme.

But I’m hooked now. Tier Points are my drug of choice, and I would have to spend at least three months in Air Miles Rehab to wean me off the scheme. My only hope is that Sir Richard Branson might read this and, for the sake of my health, give me a Lifetime Gold Membership as a result of the acres of free publicity I continue to give him and his airline.

What a lovely 60th birthday present that would be for me, Sir.

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Not So Like a Virgin Anymore

This has not been a good week for Virgin Atlantic and me.

Having spent many years praising their Heathrow Upper Class lounge and cabin crews, it’s all come tumbling down. First, I discovered that the Virgin Atlantic credit card I have is no more and has been replaced by one that no longer gives me my treasured Air Miles for every £ spent (you have to re-apply for their new one, which they’ve already told me I can’t have).

Next, they have magically removed 20,000 Air Miles from my account (swearing that they haven’t, but their absurd website gives them different information from what it tells me). Now, I have discovered, on a forthcoming flight, I have been moved from seat 6A in the middle of the plane to 10A, right next to the bar and the toilet, because the aircraft has been changed.

Listen. I know that in the grand scale of things, these are not major life problems. But I spend a lot of money with the airline and, after my sixth unanswered e-mail addressed to Customer Service about many other matters, am mightily fed up with the time and energy I constantly have to waste trying to get even a modicum of service at ground level.

Let’s look at the seat situation. I actually spend time at the bar on Virgin Atlantic Transatlantic flights; I’ve met some really interesting people there and it breaks up the journey. But I don’t want to be sitting practically on top of it. The only place closer to the bar than 10A is floating in the bottle of vodka. And I bet your bottom dollar that the reason I’ve been dumped there is very simple: I’m by myself.

Travel continues to favour couples, married or otherwise. If you are by yourself, you are top of the list when it comes to being shunted to the bottom of the queue in terms of service. Everyone assumes you’ll go along with it because . . . well . . . who do you have to complain to?

On a recent Delta flight, I was seated in my beloved 1B (front of the plane, aisle seat) and the man next to me asked if I would swap with his girlfriend who was in the row behind next to the window. I said no. Heck, I’d booked it two months previous, I don’t like window seats, don’t want anyone in front of me and if you can’t survive a two-hour flight without your partner, you shouldn’t be allowed on a plane in the first place.

The incredulity from other passengers and his girlfriend was palpable (he actually seemed a bit relieved, to be honest). I was made to feel mean and spent the rest of the flight apologising and explaining about my choice of seats. But why didn’t his girlfriend ask the guy next to her to swap with her boyfriend? Easy. I’m female, and a lone woman is always an easy target.

Virgin’s excuse is that they’ve had to change the plane and that everybody gets re-seated in the process. I know. I travel all the time. But I bet that everyone travelling in pairs has managed to get seats together; in fact, I’m tempted to do a tour of the plane before take-off to prove my theory. The same happened on a recent Eurostar journey – and I did actually check on who was in my seat. Guess what? Man in a suit.

Last year, I started writing a blog, The Solo Pound, about travelling as a single person. I spoke about never being able to have the Chateaubriand or paella in restaurants (because they are always for two); the humiliation of sitting down and having the waiter immediately remove everything in front of you, including the chair for your non-companion; the difficulty of going to the rest room and returning to find all your belongings gone, or taking your belongings with you and returning to find your table has been given away.

I have plans to turn the blog into a website that I hope will be of use to solo travellers and also encourage companies to stop treating singles like second-class citizens.

It saddens me hugely to keep knocking Virgin Atlantic, but their standards have undoubtedly slipped. American Airlines, by comparison, have upped their game so much, I have to be dragged kicking and screaming off their amazing new planes, where the booths in First are bigger than my New York apartment. Their recently added Flagship lounges, at selected airports, are like Five Star restaurants (Bollinger champagne, no less!).

And before anyone starts screaming at me for the privilege of flying Upper or First, I can guarantee I have paid less than anyone travelling Economy. I buy Air Miles when they’re in the sale; I travel on the planes that get me the most miles; I break my journey between LA and New York to double my Tier points on Virgin Atlantic. Not that it’s anyone’s business – but I’m pre-empting the usual hysteria that accompanies my writing about anything that smacks of comfort.

In November, I will be 60 and it feels like a much bigger milestone than any before it, and I am undoubtedly more conscious of how people treat you differently with advancing years. This week, a 33 year-old man, who doubtless thought he was being kind, praised my ability to be texting. When I picked him up on it the following night, he apologised and said that it was only because he was comparing me to his 78 year-old grandmother (Mate! If you’re in a hole, stop digging!).

I’d just come off a Delta flight on which I was treated like an oversized, inconvenient piece of luggage. Delta, by the way, are now part of Virgin and, for the most part, have improved their service no end. However, I’ve learned that some of the smaller internal planes are for people not allowed on other flights – criminals, for example (and even traffic violations can instigate a travel ban) – and that the crews really resent having to man/woman them.

But I’m not a criminal; I’m actually a model passenger. As far as I’m concerned, the second I’m through that gate, I’m in their hands and reliant on staff’s professionalism and skill. I sit down, shut up, eat, drink, read, or watch movies, until landing.

Or sit at the bar.

Or go to investigate who the hell has stolen seat 6A.

 

Too Much Food for Thought

What are tournéed vegetables? What is a “green apple gastrique”? What’s fregola? A farro salad?

These and several other questions confronted me when I sat down to Delta’s Business Class menu on last week’s Los Angeles to New York flight. Now, before everyone gets worked up into their usual tizzy because I am even deigning to comment when not flying cattle class, I have thousands upon thousands of points acquired through daily living that enable me to travel this way. In fact, these flights invariably cost me less than Economy; and, anyway, #NYGB (Not Your Goddamned Business).

I always look forward to the meal: the laying of the cloth, the arrival of the tiny salt and pepper pots that house about eight grains between them, the wine cart that invariably gives you the choice of three different ranges of c**p.

Beverages and food are always a hit and miss affair. Virgin Atlantic currently has a terrific Spanish red onboard, while Delta has a selection of totally undrinkable wines. The Italian sparkling is drinkable enough, but even I, a huge Champagne/Cava/Prosecco lover, can’t manage a six-hour marathon of bubbles.

Virgin’s tomato and basil soup is my favourite starter, especially during my current vegetarian phase (although I’ve never been a big meat or fish fan). But, horror of horrors, on my UK to LA flight last week, there had been a catering mix-up and there was no soup. I know! Third World Problems, or what?

Luckily, the crew quickly spotted that my greed for Air Miles is far greater than my greed for two tablespoons of soup (I have eye baths bigger than Virgin’s soup bowls) and promised me a five-figure sum of miles as compensation. In future, I think I might enquire in advance, just to discover what’s not available and then ask for it.

I declined the alternative two cold starters. There were chicken skewers or a butternut squash salad. First, if I wanted bits of wood in my food, I’d go camping, not wait until I’m 30,000 feet in the air for that dubious luxury; second, squash looks like a slightly larger version of what you always throw up after a night on the tiles.

I can’t remember what I had as the main course, but I recall that it was a hot dish that arrived cold, as it always does. It was also on a plate barely bigger than a saucer and, at the first stabbing, I lost half of it as it journeyed across the aisle.

Delta, which is now a partner airline with Virgin Atlantic, has the same job lot of plates. Now, I know that space is limited on an airline, but if you are going to be serving “Herb-Crusted Lamb Chops with saffron quinoa, tournéed vegetables and green apple gastrique”, at least put it on a plate from which the lamb can’t escape before it hits the fork.

Unlike Virgin Atlantic, Delta doesn’t serve Port with its cheese plate, and the “acacia gourmet cream crackers” were even less appealing than a packet of Jacob’s cream crackers in the desert.

Here’s the other thing: the menu said the cheeses were “offered” with fresh fruit and the crackers. 

Hang on. “Offered” with? Does that mean I can take the stuff, or I can’t? There’s a bit of an “If you must, Madam, you greedy bitch” in the word “offered” there. In any case, there were only a few grapes. The cheeses were excellent, though: “Cyprus grove midnight moon” (don’t ask, I have no idea) together with “kaltbach gruyère and buttermilk blue affinée

Alas, my computer will not allow me to put any space or punctuation after the last word in the previous paragraph without removing the accent; suffice it to say that I learned more French from this menu than I have during the past 20 years of lessons.

Within the past two weeks, I have also flown on British Airways, as they threatened to take away all my points if I didn’t fly with them before June 3rd (they thought they had already done me a huge favour by giving me a three month extension). So, I took a flight that I didn’t want, to a place I had no need to go (Paris – much as I love it, it was an unnecessary trip), all in order to keep Air Miles on an airline I never wish to fly.

It was horrible. Despite being in Business, the knees of the man behind attacked my lower back throughout the flight. They ran out of the first food option after serving just two people and I had to take the afternoon tea, which consisted of stale sandwiches and a scone that looked more suited to a moon landing than an oral consumption.

I’m grounded (physically; emotionally will take a lot more work) for a while now, but am worried that I have become slightly obsessed with flying and collecting Air Miles. I always have to have one obsession in life – it used to be property or a man; now, it’s Air Miles. At least if I’m in the air, it keeps me away from putting deposits on my credit card for the former and pursuing the latter. Above clouds, I am safe.

Hang on . . . there’s WiFi on board and my credit card is in my hand luggage. And that guy in 14A is quite cute.

And I’ve just hit 300,000 Virgin Atlantic Air Miles. Triple whammy, or what?!

 

 

A Load of Hot Air

I think I am going to have to stop travelling; it’s just all too stressful.

Every day begins a new battle with an airline or hotel whose staff seem incapable of listening to, or correctly reading the simplest information.

The past week alone brought the promise of three hours’ hold on the phone to Delta, an ongoing British Airways situation, a problem with Accor Hotels, and numerous other things too tedious to mention. I am bored with hearing about my travel woes and feel genuinely sorry for anyone else who comes across them.

Let’s begin with Delta, who recently became a partner with Virgin Atlantic. I have very few quibbles with the latter. I love the airline, the crews, the Upper Class lounge at Heathrow, and it is only their dreadful new website that continues to let them down.

Delta are another matter altogether. I set my alarm for 5am while in the US to try to avoid the three hour wait, and even at that hour was on hold for 22 minutes. When I finally got through to change my flight, I was charged several hundred dollars to do so, event though I could see on the website that I was changing it for one of exactly the same value (the website wouldn’t let me change it myself). Exhausted, I paid – using my credit card’s old address, as Delta’s system still refuses to acknowledge the address I have had for four years.

The confirmation came through: wrong flight. I had been correct – there was no extra charge on the flight I had asked for. I rang again. Another 20 minute wait. I spoke to a lovely lady who was very sympathetic, booked me on the correct flight and spent half an hour trying to get hold of her supervisor to arrange for my refund, which was duly done. Hoo-flamin’-ray.

The new confirmation came through: right flight, wrong month. Booked now for April instead of May. I had to phone again. FINALLY, I have the right flight and the right day. Delta on Twitter said they would waive my original change fee of $200, but now they tell me I have to talk to Reservations to get that done. And so the whole terrible cycle begins again.

Now, to British Airways. I was booking to go to Kiev at the beginning of May and, when I tried to cancel, was told that my Avios Air Miles had expired – by eight days. I had received no notice that they were about to do so (and I have EVERY bit of correspondence from BA, going back two decades – they still haven’t responded to any of it) but was told that if I booked a flight within three months, I could keep my miles and would be refunded the outgoing part of the flight for which I was eligible, as I had paid full price. But where to go cheaply within three months? I enquired about a one way flight to Paris. After a lengthy phone call and a long e-mail they wrote, explaining my options (both Club Europe and Economy), I said that I would like to check out the Economy fare, thereby saving the bulk of my refund.

I will not bore you even more than I already have with what transpired through BA on Twitter, but they kept telling me that they could do nothing until the Fares department came back with their calculations. This morning, I went online, and not only are both Kiev flights still there, they have also booked me on the expensive Club Europe flight to Paris. I have not agreed to this. I did not confirm anything. All I have had are the very adamant BA Twitter people telling me that nothing can be arranged until Fares get back to them. So why the heck have they gone ahead and done it?

Let’s get to Accor. Since I stayed at the Francis Hotel in Bath last year, I have been trying to get my points accredited. I booked through my membership number, I checked the hotel had my number, I wrote to the hotel, I wrote to Accor – but still nothing. Now, this morning, they tell me I should have claimed my points within six months of my stay. AGGGHHHHHH! I DID! Several times!

I really am at the end of my tether. Travelling is stressful enough (just ask poor Dr Dao, dragged off a United Airlines flight this week), without having to jump through so many hoops. Virgin Atlantic will tell you that I am the calmest and nicest passenger. I get on with everyone and always give praise where praise is due. Contrary to what people believe, I do not use Twitter to complain all the time; mostly, I use it as a means to thank people for their service – and I always take names so that I can add a personal touch.

But Delta and BA, between them, have led me to the brink. I’m just going to have to stop travelling, because my blood pressure really can’t take it. Or I’ll just have to stick to going everywhere that Virgin Atlantic goes, which limits my options; but at least I get to talk to those lovely people in the Swansea centre for whom nothing is ever too much trouble. Yes, I love you Virgin Atlantic, with a passion that grows each day that every other airline screws up.

See you on the Psycho 7! Sorry, folks – in-joke. We know what we’re talking about though, eh, Virgin?

More Tales of Two Cities

“Why do you need two places?” It was an eminently sensible question from a great friend who was querying why I currently split my time between Los Angeles and New York. A little weary of the former, I was trying to decide where to base my second home when the lease expires in May.

I’ve lived in two places most of my adult life. At one point, four – London, Cardiff, Paris, Marbella (it’s a very long story that involved buying pine furniture when I was going to be living with a man and then holding on to it when we broke up. I finally chucked it all last year. It was a harder break-up than the one with him had been).

But back to the States. I don’t like Miami (expensive, too many thin people, noisy) or, come to that, anywhere else in Florida (mosquitoes, Trumpites and God lovers). I don’t want the UK (Brexiteers, hysterical – and not in a ho ho ho kind of way – anti-Trumpites); and despite Canada having a very cute president in Justin Trudeau, at the end of the day, it’s still Canada.

The sensible thing to do would be to bring the stuff I really want to keep to NY and sell the rest. As I already have a big storage unit in the UK, I don’t really want a second in the US (having a home plus two storage units is even more insane that having two homes – at least, according to my logic). However, my place in NY is not huge and even bringing the bare minimum would make it look like a storage unit. So then I’d have still have storage units but no home.

My answer, therefore, to my friend’s question was: “I need somewhere to put my sofas.” Logic, you may have realised by now, has never been my strong point. I’d make a terrible lawyer – unless it was one on Law and Order and I was forced to stick to the script.

The decision now is where the sofas are heading. I’d rather stay on the East Coast but want somewhere warm. Everyone has assured me I would love Charleston in South Carolina. I must admit, it looks rather pretty, but even the most cursory glance on Google at Top Ten Things to Do in Charleston doesn’t have me rushing for the airport.

Walking, biking, a bridge, a church, a swamp garden . . . I already feel rigor mortis setting in.

I’ve always loved Texans who, of all the Americans I’ve met, seem the most fun-loving, but I wouldn’t like the extreme weather or the even more extreme political views of middle America (then there’s that God problem again). I loathe Las Vegas with a passion (although I’ve booked to see Elton John’s show and am mega-excited), saw everything I needed to of Boston through the plane window coming in to land, and my little experience of New Jersey makes Charleston look like New Orleans on speed.

Los Angeles still seems like the obvious alternative. I love the West Coast weather and, as a place to escape the summer humidity and winter winds of New York, it’s a great contrast. The problem is that the things I love about it are the things I dislike, too. Film, TV, showbiz and media are my passions in a life that I am grateful every day to be a part of. But then there is the downside of all that – the people struggling to make it in those areas and, invariably, being disappointed: the scent of hope, the reek of failure.

It’s also a very noisy city – ironically, I find it far noisier than New York, where the undercurrent buzz of a city in permanent flow is strangely calming and comforting. In LA, there is permanent traffic noise, loud music in every shop and restaurant (still a blessed rarity in NY), and hordes of weed-smoking, rowdy young people in every apartment block, turning the places into undesirable frat houses.

Which brings me to the dreaded weed. The smell is everywhere and it’s gross. I’m not going to get into an argument about the pros and cons – everyone with an opinion is intransigent on the subject, I have discovered – but even the car fumes are suffocating under the stink of the stuff. It’s not just the offensiveness of the smell: I hear and see so many people, every day – actors, writers, directors – missing appointments because they were up until 4am smoking weed. If that’s your thing, fine; but don’t then whinge about not being able to make it in an industry where there are thousands at the top of their game, not wasting time talking bollocks with their mates until the early hours.

This leaves me in limbo, at least until May when I have more decisions to make. I think I could be happy in a Virgin Atlantic Upper Class cubicle, just travelling the world and coming and going at my leisure. Maybe Sir Richard will accommodate me.

I’d love to hear any other suggestions. Sending the men in white coats to lock me up on grounds of insanity is not an option, by the way.

 

Living at the Edge

When I’m in New York, I have simple rules that make life a lot easier: namely, never go anywhere involving the words “East” “upper”, or “shared”. The first ensures that when crossing from West 45th, where I live, I will be stuck in a taxi whose idea of a short cut is going via Missouri. The second always entails getting on the wrong subway train that is going in the opposite direction, while the third means . . . well, I’ve never found out, because anything involving another person’s plans inevitably involves missing the start of the movie, failing to find seats at the bar, or arguing over whose turn it is to pay the Uber.

In LA, I have just one rule: don’t go anywhere – at least, don’t go anywhere further than three miles away if you want to be back home this side of Christmas. And so, when my dear friend and brilliant food PR Bradley Tuck (could anyone’s name ever be better suited to his job?) suggested going to Silver Lake for brunch, the words struck me with horror. Anything with a metal in its title is never a good sign and screams distance – Australia’s Gold Coast, the Ironback Mountains of Collabria (prone to avalanches). Coupled with the word “lakes”, this could mean only one thing. Canada.

There was more to come: the restaurant is called Cliff’s Edge, which added fuel to the fire. Not only were we going to Canada, we were all going to die!

Thanks to Google Maps, I discovered that Silver Lake is only four miles from where I live and, at just a mile out of my comfort zone, I decided to risk all. Armed with my hiking boots, hip flask and ice pick (one can never be too careful heading east), Bradley enthused about the restaurant that, since it opened in June 2004, has garnered praise from critics, locals and its fair share of celebrity diners.

The huge outside space, shaded by foliage and created around a 60 year old Ficus tree at its heart does not disappoint. It’s hard to reconcile the blandness of the typical LA road that leads one to this place of magical, yet unostentatious splendour. Interior designer and urban developer Dana Hollister (one of three co-owners) has created a soulful space of colour, warmth and inviting elegance. The Ficus feels both like a shrine and an impartial observer: comfortable and happy in the shared joy it perceives all around (I love trees).

And joy it is. Champagne arrives in a carafe I mistakenly assume is a very unusual glass (over-enthusiasm for champagne at brunch is one of my many gastric faults). Then, when the champagne is poured into a large wine glass, I learn from Bradley that this is, in fact, the proper way to serve it, rather than in a flute or coupe. It is, after all, a wine, and needs to be swirled and aired just like any other. I decide that I need another carafe, just to make sure.

The oysters that accompany the champagne are the small, delicate kind, not the over-sized elephant ears that make me heave and think I am eating my nether bodily parts. They are beautifully chilled and in no need of the Tabasco sauce with which I normally suffocate oysters to disguise the often algae smell of those that have spent too long in transit.

My only bugbear in the US is that the oyster is loosened from its shell by the kitchen. I have no idea if this is because Americans are lazy, but when I lived in Paris, part of the pleasure of oyster eating was participating in the process: scooping the flesh with a tiny fork, enjoying that last rubbery break as it left its home; the anticipation of the next part of its journey as it heads towards your mouth (I feel another oyster feast coming on).

There are very few things I don’t eat or cook, but I am really bad at desserts (because I don’t have a sweet tooth, I have no interest in them) and eggs. The only time I get to eat eggs is when somebody else cooks them, and there is just something about the timing of brunch that makes eggs acceptable. I can’t eat them at breakfast, not least because I can’t stomach anything more than two cups of tea before 10am (who needs to look at a chicken foetus before you’re fully awake?); and I don’t want eggs at dinner because I’m not four years old. But give me 11am to 1pm, and I’ll down foetuses for Britain.

What I especially love about my goat’s cheese omelette is that the cherry tomatoes are on the side. So many omelettes are ruined by tomatoes being thrown into the mix, making the dish a river of thinned blood coursing through yellow flesh struggling against the tide. We discuss tomatoes and I learn that Bradley, like me, is not a fan of tomato juice; however, we draw the line at Bloody Marys, and Vartan Abgaryan (who used to be the chef at Cliff’s Edge) has one that looks perfect.

My request when ordering a Bloody Mary is always “Easy on the tomato juice”. I think that no matter what you add tomato juice to, it just ends up tasting like tomato juice, holding everything else hostage: it’s the kidnapper of all liquids.

I also learn from Vartan how to stop chicken tasting like anything other than chicken. No matter how I cook it – salt, lemon, barbecue sauce – it just tastes the same. I’m not going to give away his secrets, partly because when I move on to the Cotes de Rhone, I suffer a memory lapse. But if you want to sample his food, he now heads up the kitchen at 71Above, Downtown LA’s extraordinary new venture in the city’s tallest building.

The Corsican red I was hoping to try is unavailable, but Corsican co-owner Pierre Casanova (I so want to come back with that surname in my next life) enthuses about his country’s liquid assets. Pierre exudes energy and gratitude for the surroundings and a profession he clearly loves. I give him a smattering of my best French, and, after the red wine, I discover I am fluent in Russian, too. Again.

My hike over, but ice pick still intact, I return from Canada along the blandness of another LA highway, dreaming of oysters, champagne, and the knowledge that no experience beats the pleasure of eclectic surroundings, lovingly prepared food, the company of Bacchus and the laughter that grows from sharing.

You see? Sometimes, it’s good to share. Just not on New York’s Upper East Side.

   

Up in the (H)air – Another Close Shave

A funny thing happens to me when I’m flying. With my dark eyes, high hair and full make-up, I board looking like Elizabeth Taylor, but after 12 hours in the air, I emerge at Arrivals bearing a closer resemblance to Adolf Hitler.

First, there are the clothes. Virgin Atlantic’s Upper gives you a Sleeper Suit, a garment I collect like some kids collect Dinky toys (do they still exist by the way, or am I showing my age?). Upon landing, I can never be bothered to change and so head out in what appears to be something straight out of the wardrobe of Fascist sympathiser Oswald Mosley but without the boots. People awaiting departing flights hide under seats when I approach.

Then there’s my hair, which, not unlike like Hitler’s everyday look, comes to resemble a short-haired Chihuahua that has decided to take up residence uncomfortably on my scalp.

But here’s the worst of it. The moustache. And there the resemblance to the Fuhrer is truly worrying. Because, on any flight over two hours, my facial hair grows at such an alarming rate, people might assume I have undergone a Transgender transformation at 30,000 feet – at the very least, landed an audition in The Muppets as Fozzie Bear’s stand-in.

I’ve always had a problem with very wiry, bodily hair. I was born very dark and, from a very young age, my two big toes carried so much dark foliage, rubber ducks away swam away in terror when the twin triffids entered the bath.

My underarms could camouflage a battalion; I can’t see my toes because of the undergrowth on my lower legs; and the single hair that now grows on my chin could pass for a hangman’s noose.

But the moustache has always been the worst. I have to remove it with facial hair cream every day. People tell me to grow it in order to bleach it or have it lasered off, but that would mean my having to look like Hitler for at least six months.

I don’t know what it is about being airborne that makes the hair on my upper lips grow at double, or even triple the rate as it does on land; but all I know is that by the time I’ve finished my entrée and watched a movie, I look as if I’m about to deliver a speech at the Nuremberg Rally.

I’ve tried everything, including electrical items I see advertised on TV that offer “virtually no pain” when removing facial hair (that word “virtually” always worries me: it’s usually a thin line between nothing and waterboarding where “virtually” is concerned). I’ve even tried shaving with a razor, but I keep coming back to Veet. It used to be known as Neet in the 20s and, later Immac; I have no idea why they changed the name, although I enjoyed the advertising campaign “No more Bush” during one of the product’s more political phases (don’t even get me started on that part of the body: when the plane’s wheels touch down, I could pass for a pony trap).

But although Veet is reliable, I don’t want to be sitting on an aircraft looking as if I have just had a run-in with a soggy marshmallow; worse . . . no, you really don’t want to know the other comparisons. Also, sometimes, even the Veet for sensitive skin can make me look a little red for a couple of hours, as if I’ve been sucking icebergs for a dare.

I suspect Victoria Beckham, who always looks like a catwalk model when leaving a plane, doesn’t have this problem. However, I know that she always sits at the very front of First Class and maybe, when everyone’s asleep, she whips out that Veet in readiness for landing and looking more Ava Gardner than Hitler.

For the present, I’m just going to have to live with it and risk being arrested at airport terminals. There’s only so much beating around the facial bush a girl can do.