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.

 

 

 

 

Richard Branson – Best Dick in the World

Everyone recommended melatonin to conquer jet-lag.

Unfortunately, I was so jet-lagged, I told everyone I had taken methadone, which isn’t the same thing at all, and I then had to make a lot of frantic phone-calls to explain that I was not coming off heroin, nor, indeed, had ever been on it.

Anyway, back to the melatonin. I read up a bit about it and gleaned that the only negative was that it made you dream. As my dreams are very vivid anyway, especially in relation to the US (weapons of mass personal destruction feature strongly in those), I couldn’t see the harm, and so downed one before my long haul flight back to the UK.

It wasn’t good. I dreamed I had killed someone and was heading for Death Row quicker than you could say “Last meal curry and chips”.

I also dreamed that a policeman found a gun just as Prince Charles was about to do a walkabout, and threw the weapon into a bush shortly before HRH’s arrival. I wasn’t happy about this lapse in security but luckily woke up before taking the officer to task.

I was flying Air New Zealand before deciding to transfer my allegiance back to Virgin Atlantic, which I had only left because it was more expensive; but then, I just couldn’t take the stress of the ANZ points. With Virgin, you accumulate points and then use them for a guaranteed upgrade or, as I do, use them to book an Upper Class flight. On ANZ, with the “complimentary upgrade” you acquire with points, you often don’t know until the minute before boarding whether you have it or not.

It can be all the difference between sitting for ten hours next to that fat bloke with BO standing next to you in the queue or having your own lovely pod and hibernating for the entire flight.

There’s also the Virgin lounge at Heathrow, which is like a holiday in itself – salon, spa, massage, great food and beverages. It went through a rough patch a few years back when, to avoid the possibility of the masseurs getting repetitive strain injury, they pummelled you with a wheat bag, which, quite frankly, is like being hit with a bag of Tesco shopping, although probably not as effective. The wine is still a bit hit and miss, although given that they change it often, that hardly matters.

On board, Virgin Business has a bar, which serves as a terrific networking venue; and the in-flight entertainment surpasses ANZ, whose content is not only much older, but comes to you via sets of headphones that enable you to hear everything that people in adjoining seats are listening to.

At least ANZ allows you to watch stuff until the last minute, though; the last hour of the Virgin flight once had the Branson clan advertising various charitable endeavours, followed by hideous music – not what you need after ten hours in the air.

I admired the Sir Richard’s altruism, but not when I’m knackered; they now have him appearing with a little chat before each show you watch on the in-flight system, and that’s not half as irritating.

Neither airline has ever come up to scratch on the food: a Virgin dining plate is so small, it could pass for an eye patch; and although ANZ boasts several great chefs, whose menus are fine, the food is ruined by being laden with way too much butter and so much salt you can’t help wondering if Lot’s wife has jumped into the pan along with the meat.

I was informed that salt is a good preservative, which I know of course; but when dehydration is one of the key discomforts about flying, surely the last thing you need is something that is going to exacerbate the problem.

So, I remain very loyal to Sir Richard, who, all things considered, delivers the better product. The newer airlines have replaced the ludicrously complicated Thunderbird 2 style controls of the in-flight system with touch-screens, and the food has improved tenfold (though is still served on an eye patch).

The Dreamliner’s new bar stools, however, barely accommodate one of my buttocks and have been fixed way too close to the bar; and as for the Dream Suite on the Airbus A330 fleet, it’s a disaster. Not only is the Upper Class cabin incredibly cramped, the semi- transparent screens mean that you get the flashing images from about five people around you when they are watching movies. They are now pulling it and bringing it into line with the 787 Dreamliner (for which the suite was originally intended).

But it’s the staff who really make Virgin Atlantic. Loyal and efficient, they are not only wonderful in the air, on land they (mostly) respond to complaints and enquiries with efficiency and kindness. Sir Richard also provides me with a credit card that enables me to acquire so many points, I am fast on the way to owning one of the aircraft.

I was really upset when his home burned down on Necker Island and wondered whether I could give him some points to help the rebuild, but figured I need them more than he does. In terms of flying, he pretty much gets it right, and ANZ’s super dooper planes with white leather in Premium Economy will still never make up for the fact that the reception staff at the Star Alliance lounge used by ANZ at Heathrow are about as friendly as the Gestapo with a hangover.

I haven’t been in their lounge in LA for a while, though I suspect they are still serving the butternut squash soup that wouldn’t look out of place in a urinal.

I still can’t quite believe that after ten years of refusing to fly anywhere, I am spending so much time in the air. It’s rather a good metaphor for where my life has been, but I’m writing a lot and hope to have several books as a result of my new experiences.

Maybe Sir Richard would like to buy them for people to read on his planes. They would sure beat the current reading matter on offer. Forget melatonin; the in-flight magazine will help you drop off even before take-off.

 

Tarmac Orphan

Twelve inches is a long way in travel. The world may be getting smaller, but when you’re standing at A, desperate to get to B, and only twelve inches separates you from your destination, B might as well be on the moon.

The weird thing is: you wait all your life for a man in uniform with a powerful weapon to turn up, and then three come along together.

The details of my European trip were eclipsed somewhat by the problems I had getting out of France and the subsequent problems I had getting back into the US. I feel as if I lived 48 hours as a sort of Tarmac orphan, passport at the ready but unable to go anywhere.

My crime? A heavy suitcase packed with books and a couple of bags of loose change.

Nothing about me, I am sure, indicated that I was going to be Semtex catch of the week, as I arrived at the Eurostar Customs. I was loaded up because each time I returned to the US, I ludicrously felt that I had to take a huge chunk of my home library – now somewhat diminished, with the sale of my house and the remainder lurking in storage. I suppose it was my comfort blanket.

I’ve been told by Eurostar that women travelling alone are targeted because they tend to be the biggest drug traffickers, but apart from smuggling in a box of Oxo vegetarian stock cubes last time I returned to the US, my activities in this area are rather limited.

Personally, I blame the Alsation. I am quite at ease with small dogs, but when a very large one starts leaping around when your stuff is coming through on the conveyor belt, it can be a bit unnerving.

My terror was that it was going to eat my MacBook Air laptop, without my having had chance to back up the book and screenplay I am writing, so I was not really paying attention to the Customs man when he asked: “What’s in your case?”

As I had, in total, five bags, I couldn’t remember what was in the specific case to which he referred, so I said: “Things”. Wrong answer! “What things?” “Er, books, clothes . . . “ (and can’t you get that damned dog’s nose away from my computer).

Now, in my Linguaphone French language learning course, the Customs man – le douanier – is rather a nice chap. There is a family travelling together and he takes a shine to the daughter, Valerie. “Le douanier,” it says, “Il admire Valerie” (translation: he wouldn’t mind giving her one, there and then, over the conveyor belt).

I’ve always thought it was a bit sexist, but whatever it was that old Valerie had, I wished I now had it; but “Le douanier . . . Il deteste Jaci” was clearer much nearer the mark.

He told me to lift my case and put it on a table that seemed like double my body height. Not only was it too heavy to lift, I have a longstanding shoulder injury that would have made it impossible to do so anyway, and I told him so.

“You don’t lift it, you don’t travel,” he insisted. I asked for help. “I’m not going to do it,” he said, and would not budge on the matter. I started to cry. “There is no point in crying, you are not going anywhere.” So, we were stuck: me, case, man with gun.

Eventually, a tiny female member of staff, even smaller than me, came over to lift the case, and I was almost on my way. The officer opened it, took out Dr Raj Persaud’s book, The Motivated Mind, threw it back, and told me I could go.

Maybe he thought that I was so motivated, it was not beyond the realms of possibility that I could grab his gun, shoot the lot of them, and still have time to eat the entire supply of croissants in the Frequent Traveller lounge.

I thought that would be an end to my day of Customs hell, but there was more to come when I reached the US some hours later. Although I have an I Visa that allows me to come and go freely, man number two with gun was having none of it.

They always ask you why you are entering the US, and they do so with such an air of “You so much as sniff our air without asking permission” that I am trembling so much, the paramedics almost have to be called in.

I was sent to another line, where man number three with gun awaited me. He wanted to see everything – and I mean everything – in both cases. Why were my cases so heavy? (There’s a dead Alsation in one of them; why do you think?). Why was I carrying so much loose change?

Was I carrying any food? Er, no. There were a couple of boxes of herbal tea for various digestive conditions that I thought best to keep to myself. Not that I would need them, as my bowels were now well and truly working without recourse to outside assistance.

But it was the books that really interested him. He too alighted upon The Motivated Mind, with Dr Raj Persaud’s picture on the cover. Now, Raj is a very handsome man, and someone I used to work with in TV, but suddenly he had the look of an accomplice about him. He is also of a non-white persuasion, which was something that had not even occurred to me before. Clearly, very dodgy indeed.

The official moved on to Save the Cat, Blake Snyder’s screenwriting book that is my Bible and that I carry everywhere while I am writing my movie. There is a very good picture of a cat clinging to a rope on the cover, the premise being that early in a movie, your hero should do something – such as saving a cat – that endears him or her to the audience.

But suddenly the cat didn’t look so clingy. In fact, it looked rather pained, as if someone had been trying to string it up two minutes before and it was in its last dying throes.

“If you want to write a movie it’s the best book,” I ventured. “It really is and most people do want to write one here don’t they and that’s why I came here and . . . “ Breathless, hopeless . . . If you’re in a hole, stop digging, but as if my spade were not doing an efficient enough job, I had brought in a JCB to help dig myself in still deeper.

Now, not only did I have a motivated mind, I tortured small animals. Quite clearly, it was going to be a small step from thereon in before I exercised my newly acquired killing skills on humans.

“Passport,” said my interrogator, and went off to a computer. All I could think of was the Little Britain sketch Computer Says No, as I awaited my fate. Had I done or said anything in the States that might warrant my not being allowed back in? I really didn’t think so. Apart from being born small and Welsh, of course, but it was only the English who ever had a problem with that.

Richard Curtis, the brilliant brain behind Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, had been on my flight, and he sailed through Customs. We had spent a brief time chatting on the plane, when I recalled a course he tutored many years ago, when he told me that all his movies were about the same thing: How do you find the right person to love?

Luckily for him, we had to return to our seats at the point where I had started to tell him that life wasn’t like the movies, that men suck, life sucks, Customs officials suck.

The last words he said to me as he left the plane were: “I’m sure you’ll find love eventually” (though you have to be honest: Love, Eventually as a movie title, as opposed to the movie he made – Love, Actually – doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

So, when I descended from the plane, I was dreaming of happy ever afters and Hugh Grant meeting me at the airport with a bunch of roses. Then the men with guns captured me. Like I said, Richard: life ain’t like the movies.

I finally arrived safely back in the US, but for several days could remember very little of my European trip. I did, however, recall visiting a friend’s house in Paris and walking up the Champs Elysees, where I saw an old man holding a very small penis, urinating beside a tree. I confess to knowing the size because I stopped briefly, just to remind myself what a penis looked like (we were talking a couple of years here, give or take a magazine or two).

It didn’t do much for me, I’m afraid. Twelve inches may be a long way in travel, but even a man with a gun couldn’t get me to hang around for two of his own.

American (Hot) Air

American Airlines rewarded me this week for the nice comments I made about their airline on Twitter.

Don’t get excited. It was a voucher for $25 which, given their exorbitant prices, is enough to buy me one inch of taxiing time on the runway before take-off.

I have a chequered history with the airline. A few years back, they were spectacularly unhelpful when my entire life’s worth of jewellery was stolen. AA had insisted I check in my hand baggage and I remembered, too late, that all my jewellery was in there as I was taking it away to be cleaned. The lot went. It was devastating – not just because of what it was worth, but because I lost so many pieces of huge sentimental value. AA could not have cared less. A deaf mute would have been more reassuring.

But I was willing to give them another chance (only thanks to their excellent Twitter staff), and my gift came as a result of Tweeting that the new planes, which fly East to West Coast, really are the best in the business. It’s the only airline that offers a truly First Class cabin: individual pods that are bigger than my bathroom, and gourmet food. The airline is also blessed with pilots who keep passengers well informed in advance of any turbulence that might be imminent. As a nervous flyer, the latter is particularly important.

Once airborne, however, it all goes horribly wrong. Maybe it’s because AA is a sister airline to snooty British Airways (don’t even get me started on them); maybe it’s because the staff training instructs them never to laugh; maybe it’s because they have all been in their jobs so long, they just resent every moment. Or maybe they’ve just watched too much Downton Abbey. I suspect the latter: what else could account for their behaving like airborne Lord Granthams and treating me like the scullery maid?

This trip started well. The Admirals Club lounge at JFK airport is outstanding. Does any other lounge have Bollinger champagne (probably Emirates, but that’s way out of my Air Miles range)? I treated myself to one glass (I don’t like to drink too much when flying – dehydration and jet-lag are not a good combination) and was in a good mood when I boarded.

Good, until I sat down and a metal panel by the side of my seat fell open and cut my foot because there was a screw that had not been tightened. The crew could not have been less interested but said they would report it.

The second crew member in First (I was lucky enough to have accumulated enough points for this) was pleasant enough, if a little obsequious (very BA style). Take-off went smoothly enough, but the first sign of resentment came when I asked for a set of headphones.

Clearly, I had breached some ludicrous etiquette that dictated headphones (Bose, no less) cannot be given out at an altitude below 30,000 feet, but the crew were up and about in the cabin, so it didn’t seem like a big deal. He (let’s call him Pete, to disguise his identity) practically threw them at me.

And so, to the TV system. It’s terrible. I was catching up on series four of House of Cards, and a  loud buzzing noise was more pronounced every time a character talked softly (which Robin Wright does. A lot). I mentioned it to Pete, who moved me to another seat, but the same problem occurred.

Then, during viewing, the system decided to rewind, fast forward, pause, and play up in all manner of ways. Pete could not hide his irritation but agreed to re-set it. This made no difference and I discovered that the handset had a mind of its own; although I was using the touch screen, the handset had other ideas and was in aggravating mode.

But let’s rewind (a bit like the handset). I had pre-ordered my main course but was given a choice of starters. I ordered the salad with “roasted beets”. Now, I’m not a huge beets fan but can manage them if they aren’t pickled or boiled. The salad, beautifully presented, arrived. The beets were boiled. Horrible. I politely asked to change it and explained why. “You didn’t read the menu properly, did you?” said an exasperated Pete. I said nothing and ate my smoked salmon replacement quietly. Fearfully. I actually hate smoked salmon.

The main course arrived almost without incident, but when it came to choosing the wine, I said that I didn’t like Californian. “I’m from California,” snapped Pete. I really don’t give a flying ferret where you’re from, Pete; I just want a glass of wine that is not going to require chloroform in order for me to get it down my neck.

That said, the meal (chicken, kale quinoa and roasted sprouts (yes, really roasted – talk to your beets guy) was delicious; I just wasn’t that hungry and had to leave some of it. “You really are stuffed,” said Pete, despondently taking it away.

When I asked for a second bottle of water, you’d think I had declared war. “Another one?” “Yes, I get dehydrated when I fly,” I (again) politely explained. Pete wanted to take my half full glass away, but I explained I hadn’t finished it yet. “It’s going to spill when we fly into LA,” he argued. We were, at this point, about two hours from landing. I like water. What can I say?

Earlier, I had gone to the rest room and, on my return, asked for another glass of Spanish wine. “You’ll have to sit down to drink it,” said an ever more exasperated Pete. “This isn’t a bar.” No shit, Sherlock! Do I look like someone who’s only ever flown on the back of a pigeon?

It’s not the first time I’ve had – or seen – problems with First Class (and Business) on American. I fly all the time, on many different airlines, but the superior attitude on both AA and BA is something to behold. Neither airline offers great deals, but when flying First, I expect to be treated with respect (as, indeed, every passenger should be, regardless of class of travel), not like an errant child who is too nervous to raise her hand for fear of causing offence.

I am the customer here, American, and I wish as much attention went into staff training as has gone into your fancy new designs.

By the way, the cut on my leg from said new design is healing nicely, should you be interested. No. I thought not.

Don’t Follow the Leader

I’ve always been a leader, not a follower.

That’s not because I believe I have any great leadership skills; I just don’t trust anyone else to take me to the right destination, either physically or metaphorically. It’s probably the reason I’ve never been married. If you can’t trust someone to walk you down the aisle, it doesn’t bode well for a future with what’s waiting at the altar.

People tend to follow me, though. Again, not because I possess any great skill, but because I carry my actions through with such conviction, everyone thinks I must be doing the right thing. That’s how 250 people, following me off a plane, landed up in a dead end in Malaga airport. Incredibly, upon reaching the dead end, they all followed me back the way we had come, as, despite my error, I marched forth once more with Alamo like conviction.

I was less lucky when landing at John F Kennedy airport recently, following a Virgin America internal flight from Los Angeles to New York. It’s my third least favourite airport in the world (after Charles de Gaulle and Miami) and I try to fly in and out of Newark, which is more accessible to where I live in New York.

But JFK was unavoidable on this occasion, and so, being the first to leave the plane (as per usual), I marched off forcefully, my troops (as per usual, again) scurrying up the rear in the belief that I knew where I was going.

That’s the last thing I remember before my hysteria was pressing a metal bar on a door and I found myself alone on the other side. My troops had deserted me. I went to carousel six, which is where the announcer had told us to go, but not only were there no people I recognised from my flight, there were no bags.

There were, however, lots of officials telling me I had to join a long queue, but then directing me to a tiny queue when I explained I had Global Entry (which enables you to cut all queuing at US airports – it’s a joy). Now the fun really began: I had a Domestic flight ticket but was, inexplicably, in the International Arrivals area, and so wasn’t allowed out. I wasn’t allowed anywhere, in fact. This was it. Groundhog Day: destined to roam the corridors of JFK for eternity.

What’s a girl to do? Cry. That’s what. And I did. Sobbed. Blubbed. Uncontrollably. I stopped anyone wearing a uniform to try to explain my fate. One female in security was unsympathetic and all but had me deported on the spot. But then there were men. Lovely, lovely men, who were a great deal more understanding. I fell upon their mercy and sobbed some more.

“My luggage, where’s my luggage?” I wailed, with the kind of escalating enthusiasm one would normally reserve for a lost child.

More hunky security and police gathered around, all incredibly solicitous and really, really kind. One had managed to obtain a film of what had happened and showed me. It transpired the fault had not been mine, but that of Virgin America, who, as the evidence clearly showed, had ushered us towards the wrong exit.

“What I don’t understand,” said Man with Film, pointing to my figure storming purposefully through the door, “is what happened to all these other people behind you.”

Me neither, mate. Me neither.

Now, they all got very excited. They said they would be fining Virgin America. I, too, was now very excited, and, out of gratitude, watched the movie for a third time. But now the concern was how my followers had vanished in the Narnia of JFK.

Still crying about my luggage, which, given my history, I was sure had been stolen, I was escorted back to Domestic Arrivals, where my red case stood outside the Virgin America office, a lone surviving soldier at the end of a long battle.

So, what did I learn from this?

  1. Stop being a control freak and follow someone who really does know where they are going.
  2. Men will rescue you if you cry long and hard enough.
  3. Tears don’t work on women.
  4. JFK now beats Charles de Gaulle and Miami as the worst airport in the world.
  5. Doors at airports are closed for a reason.
  6. Virgin America’s trolley service is better than its geographical landing procedure.
  7. There is nothing quite so lonely as an empty carousel.
  8. When the going gets tough, everyone will desert you.
  9. You can always find more tears, when necessary.
  10. I love men. Did I mention that?

My next flight was with Virgin Atlantic back to the UK. I was second off the plane. Follow that man!

The Cleanest Bottom in Hollywood

Wolfgang’s toilet.

They’re not two words I ever expected to write in the same sentence, but the receptacle of which I speak has to be one of the seven great wonders of modern technology (on a list that includes the Eurostar and the i-Pad).

Wolfgang’s Steakhouse is one of my favourite haunts in Beverly Hills: a large steak restaurant with a long bar down one side, and delightful staff that never make me feel less than hugely welcome.

It has delightful and soothing piano music, some really good European wines (difficult to find in LA, with its excess of California plonk, which I loathe), and a sociable clientele who make it easy to make friends if you’re sitting by yourself.

But the toilet. Oh, the toilet.

The first thing that strikes you is how warm the seat is. It’s like going back to the womb; that, in itself, makes you reluctant to get off.

But then there are the various dials to your right on the wall: the first two say “REAR CLEANSING”, with five small vertical dots under the one, and four dots and the word “SOFT” written under the second button.

Next comes “FRONT CLEANSING”, with two sets of four dots in a diamond shape underneath. Then you have “PRESSURE” and “POSITION”, with a plus at the top and a minus below. I tell you: the place is a veritable theatre.

I didn’t know which bits to wash first, nor (not having entertained myself in this manner before), how much pressure to go for.

Was it like an Indian restaurant, where you ordered the Vindaloo and then realised, too late, that you had over-estimated how strong your constitution was?

Then there was position to consider. Did you have to take the size of your rear end into consideration when deciding whether to sit more towards the front or back of the seat? Or did the position button take care of all that for you?

In the time it was taking me to weigh up my options, a lengthy queue was doubtless forming outside the door, impatient customers who had yet to discover what an adventure the emptying of one’s bladder and bowels could be.

In the end, I tried all options. I could take the Vindaloo force on front wash, but had to take it easy on non-soft rear wash, which, on full pressure, made me feel as if an elephant had decided to empty its trunk into my back passage.

Front cleansing was an easier and far more pleasurable operation altogether, but then that was something I had already learned long ago.

The only thing I didn’t manage to do was flush the damned thing. When I put the lid down, the array of lights and paraphernalia turned the bowl into the Star Ship Enterprise. I pressed, I tapped, I looked in vain for a flush, but nothing.

When I questioned the staff about this (adding my compliments to the plumber) upon my return to the restaurant (days later, it seemed, and a lot cleaner than when I had gone in), I was assured that even if you haven’t managed to work out the logistics, it flushed automatically once you left the cubicle.

It wasn’t until I got back to my seat that I realized I hadn’t actually done the very thing I had gone in there for – namely, the evacuation of my supper; there were just too many other things to do.

Quite what President Elect Donald Trump would think of it all is anybody’s guess. California is almost always suffering from a water shortage for some time now (so many Kardashians with grounds to sprinkle), and if the entertainment offered by Wolfgang’s toilet starts attracting bigger audiences than it already does, that shortage is only going to worsen.

I suppose they could try using the same water, recycling it and purifying it in some way, but I suspect that would probably negate the “cleaning” part of the operation.

I’m also curious as to what goes on in the men’s room at Wolfgang’s. Presumably, they have the same bowl and dials for longer performances, but I’m curious as to what their urinal is like.

Is there a small shower for testicle cleansing, a foreskin wash, added pressure for the less sensitive circumcised organ? Do men have to change position according to the size of their anatomy? Do very large penises have to be done in shifts?

There are so many unanswered questions about Wolfgang’s toilet, but at least I have information about the most important one – can I get one installed in my apartment?

Apparently, they cost only about $1500, which, when you compare it to the price of going to the theatre, is a really good deal, considering how many toilet performances you are going to attend in your lifetime.

I’m going to ask my landlords to look into it and try to convince them of the benefits of having the cleanest tenant on the block.

And, when it’s installed, I might invite my 25 year old Italian neighbour to the premier. Maybe we can share a Cornetto in the interval.

Ready for my close-up? You bet. I already feel flushed with success.