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Archive for the ‘Opinion Pieces’ Category

The EuroFarce Song Contest

In Opinion Pieces on June 2, 2012 at 12:05 am

Load of old cobblers!

Let’s face it. Farce is British. It’s fantastically ridiculous. Curtain up, rich man in braces struts around stage , explains his complicated life, lovers and friends. Throw in a couple of vicars, two or three wardrobes, someone in underwear, calls off stage, people entering and exiting via various doors, awful timing and recipe for disaster. Hilarious, ridiculous and thoroughly entertaining!

Eurovision has become a farce. And not a good one! No vicar in sight and certainly no comedy.  It’s taken me a week to calm down and for my blood pressure to resume normal levels.

Last Saturday was the 2012 showcase. Watched by an audience of 125 million, making it the biggest non-sporting event in the World.

It’s a fantastic parody of itself. The premise is that it’s a singing competition and the songs are judged on merit. In reality it’s a political football where votes are cast according to political lines rather than on talent.

Let’s face it, the British entry this year was pretty shocking. We (or the BBC) exhumed Englebert Humperdinck who most people thought was dead (and at 897 he’s doing well to still be breathing), gave him a rubbish song and pushed him onto the stage. The theory was that he was popular in Europe.

3 problems with that theory.
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1 He was popular in 1754
2. Many of the countries in the competition can’t spell Europe let alone reside in it (this year was hosted in Baku, Azerbaijan (where?) )and
3. IT’S NOT ABOUT THE SONGS!
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I watched it with a Eurovision virgin. I tried to explain how the competition and the voting worked. But as the voting started, he thought that either I had an uncanny paranormal skill of knowing how each country would vote or some inside information? For every country jury, I guessed the results and voiced them out loud before they were announced. Macedonia….. How do you vote? And 12 points (top marks) go to Bosnia!
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Was that because Bosnia was a great song! Eat my shorts it was! It was because Bosnia is Macedonia’s neighbour and they used to be the same country!
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Predictable voting patterns, deeply political and incredibly sad.
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On top of all this, Europe doesn’t like the UK. For two main reasons.
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1 . We didn’t join the Euro and we are not about to see the destruction of our currency and
2. We are friends with America (who they despise)
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So why do I care? I don’t really apart from I hate injustice. And this is unjust. And I also hate that as a founder member of the EBU (European Broadcasting Corporation) , we pay for the blinking thing!
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I’m a showman which makes me a Eurovision freak, but even I am joining calls for us to boycott next years event. Once they realise there isn’t the money to fund it, the rules may change!
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Perhaps we should be more vocal and less subtle…. Allons y Europe!

Introducing the EU Tomatina!

In Opinion Pieces on April 26, 2012 at 1:23 pm
 La Tomatina
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The world of international finance isn’t one that I would claim as my specialist subject on Mastermind. But having watched the fiasco coming out of Brussels it’s clearly not the Euro politicians strength either.
What started as an exciting eccentric romp overseas has quickly descended into farce. Now I don’t want to say “I told you so” but really I did.
Whatever mind-numbing idiot ever thought a single currency for every country in Europe (oh and even some that appear not to be), all of which have different economies, working practices and standards of living, would ever work?
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In an attempt to keep this fantastically expensive project alive, member states have been subjected to the most shocking amounts of austerity, rendering millions of people impotent, unemployed, poor and very angry.
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Take Spain for example; a country I know a bit about. They have one of the highest levels of youth unemployment in the Western world, with a third of those under 30 unemployed. It’s criminal. And the reason? Well, when Spain joined the Euro there was extraordinary inflation, everyone pushed their prices up (often by as much as 50%) and people got wealthier. But guess what?! It was completely unsustainable.
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In the boom times, hotels shot up like fireworks, the construction industry exploded and holiday homes were thrown up. Everyone ran to snap up a piece of the action.
Holiday homes, sangria, donkeys and other accoutrements were inhaled by citizens of countries like the UK and Germany. But suddenly, almost overnight, all of these became expensive and unaffordable foibles.
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Now the cranes lie idle, the Brits and Germans have gone home, no-one is buying property and those that do still own them can’t afford to run them. The problem is that Spain is extraordinarily expensive.
How can a country which in many ways is still third world charge 25 Euros for two gin and tonics? And don’t even start me on Greece.
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Watching the great European leaders trying to deal with the crisis is like watching seals being dragged towards rotating propeller blades.
You know you shouldn’t watch but you just can’t help it. Any moment now, they will cease to exist having been chopped up into little bits.
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The politics are unravelling. The huge voting shift in France gave 17.9% to the Eurosceptic right wing nationalist anti-immigration party under Le Pen. It’s a massive protest vote and it should be taken seriously. The Dutch government has collapsed, Britain is struggling to justify why, given the extraordinary austerity measures it has imposed, it has just given another ten billion pounds to the IMF and the signs are the Spanish people want out of the EU completely.
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Someone needs to do something. The southern European countries like Greece and Spain need to have an ordered exit from the Euro and be allowed to devalue and rebuild their economies. The countries that keep the Euro will then be smaller in number and more similar to each other in economic terms which should mean they too can rebuild.
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But suggesting this in EU political circles is treason. We have to get these ardent Europhiles to see sense.
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The project is doomed.
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But how do you wake them from their deep slumber? Perhaps a new reality show is the thing to make them see sense.
We can stick the EU politicians in stocks and let the public vote to hurl rotten fruit (the only thing they can afford) at the ones they despise the most in a manner embodied by the crazy Valencian festival “La Tomatina
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It’s time we turned the tables, face the truth and make the politicians look stupid.
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Interestingly whilst writing this I am struck by the fact that my autocorrect feature doesn’t seem to recognise the word Europhiles and wants to replace it with Euro piles.
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Although strictly not accurate it’s a great summation of what the Euro has become. A huge great pain in the bum!

Welcome to la la land!

In Opinion Pieces on March 27, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Now I know I’m not entirely sane. I’ve got my quirks and foibles, but here in LA, I positively look like the bastion of normality.

If I’m ever feeling down, I only have to glance out of my window to see a man dressed as Jesus with a full beard and smock, a septagenarian in tight lycra on rollerskates or buffed up oiled torsos of the West Hollywood posse.

I’ve lived in London for 20 years. It’s a City where you just get on with things. Head down, focussed on our goals, we work hard and play hard. But we also conform to a certain normality. That just doesn’t exist here.

And it’s very infectious.

I’ve never been a fussy eater, mostly because I’m a pig and I love food. But I have always known that I probably have an intolerance to something or other but (a) I’ve been far too preoccupied with other things to ever see to it and (b) the UK doesn’t really do food intolerance very well and certainly doesn’t cater for people with a wide variety of food alternatives. We have the attitude that if it’s good enough for me, then it’s good enough for everyone else!

A year ago, armed with newfound enthusiasm, I did the LA thing and cut out cow’s milk, opting instead for Almond milk (since men shouldn’t drink soya unless you are particularly fond of man breasts! ). It’s actually rather good. And you can get it everywhere. Imagine trying to get that in a Little Chef in the UK. Or in most hotels!

And so given that I am in the land of the insane, I have now been tested to see what I’m intolerant to.

The results are not good.

So I am moderately intolerant to Wheat, Cashew and Shrimp and have to cut them out of my diet for six months!

WHAT!

I love breakfast and a G&T isn’t the same without Cashews. If that wasn’t enough of an insult I’ve also been told to cut out Gin! That’s akin to social death for me.

Then I am mildly intolerant to just a FEW more foods – Almond, Asparagus, Peppers, Black Pepper, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cherry, CHICKEN,Cinnamon, Clam, COW’S MILK, EGG YOLK, Aubergine, Fructose, Garlic, HALIBUT, LOBSTER, PEANUT, pear, plum, SALMON, SNAPPER, soybean, TUNA, TURKEY and Vanilla . These have to be excluded for four months. Oh well that’s alright then… . NOT!

I have another 200 substances I am waiting to find out about. So that’s going to really add to my pain.

So as I said to the dietician this morning, this is all very well and very purist but there appears to be one slight issue.

I CAN’T EAT ANYTHING!

Well not quite true but the list of foods I can eat is rather shorter than the list of those that I can’t.

But I’m a Brit and I’ve paid for these tests and I’m jolly well going to get my money’s worth. So out go all those nasty foods.

Oh apparently I also have to give up alcohol for six months.

The answer to that was NO.

Now I have no doubt that this diet (sorry healthy eating plan) will yield results. I’m sure that I will not get any symptoms and I am sure that I will lose weight and look super slim and la la like  but that’s mostly because I will be starving.

Who’s idea was this anyway? …it’s the insidious nature of LA which means you get sucked up into the latest health fad…..

Anyway I’d better go – I’ve got to prepare some Barley for my supper! If I’m feeling daring I might throw in a carrot!

After all, if you can’t beat them……..join them!

NHS – Crisis or Catharsis?

In Opinion Pieces on March 20, 2012 at 4:31 pm

So the news is in. Within the last hour, after more than 1000 amendments the contraversial NHS bill has finally made its tortuous way through Parliament. A final last ditch attempt to throw it out was overturned. And now the Health and Social Care Bill will receive Royal Assent and become law.

Much has been written about the changes and what it will mean for the NHS. Some commentators believe it is the final insult, marking the death of the sexagenarian; others believe the changes are (a) not as radical as first believed  (b) well overdue and (c) essential to modernise the service. Just because the professional bodies are stamping their feet doesn’t mean the reforms will be bad. After all the BMA was strongly against the formation of the NHS in the first place!

Only time will tell who is right.

What we do know is that the service which was formed in 1948 has seen enormous change. The NHS was never set up to provide the comprehensive service it now has to . In 1948 the treatment for a heart attack was bed rest. Those that survived were nursed back to health. Those that died (some 30%) were a usual side-effect. But have a heart attack now and before you can say ‘Myocardial Infarction’, you will have numerous ECG’s, an angiogram, an angioplasty or even a CABG (Coronary Artery Bypass Graft). Then placed on medication you will be discharged home. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that whilst this has been extraordinary in terms of survival, it comes at a cost.

And there lies the problem. The NHS budget has grown exponentially. When it was launched the NHS cost 437million pounds a year. We now spend 106 billion pounds. Yes BILLION! It is the world’s largest publicly funded health service. And the NHS employs more than 1.7million people. Only the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Walmart and Indian Railways employ more.

As a Brit in the US, I am so proud to say that the NHS offers care for everyone regardless of wealth and that the treatment is “free at the point of delivery”. It really is an extraordinary achievement. And no-where is that felt more starkly than here in America where you pay for everything. And it’s  not cheap. And that’s why there are something like 50 million Americans with no health care. A sad state of affairs for a developed country and arguably the most developed country in the World.

But having said that, the NHS isn’t all roses.

Of course there are some wonderful examples of care, but there are also far too many instances of poor if not neglectful care, shocking standards and substandard treatment. The way we treat elderly people is a case in point. Where you live also affects the treatment you get and your outcome (the so-called postcode lottery).

We also may spend billions on our healthcare but money isn’t everything. Higher spending on health care does not necessarily prolong lives. In 2008, the US spent 7,538 USD per capita (16% of GDP) whereas the UK spent just over 3,000 (9% of GDP). And yet life-expectancy in the two countries is similar. But the US data is skewed as they do not have a universal healthcare system.

So what of the reforms? Well in theory I really like the idea that the money follows the patient. In the British system, the GP acts as the “gatekeeper” and accesses services on behalf of the patient. But for far too long GPs have been seen as a rather poor relation to the grand hospital consultants who run their departments in a god-like manner. It’s not uncommon for GPs to plead with Consultants to see their patients or to be left completely in the dark as to what has happened with their patients when discharge letters fail to appear.

So it seems a good idea that the GP will now be king and decide where and who should see their flock. They are the ones closest to the patients after all. But this also means that GPs will have to raise their game. There are some wonderful GPs and some downright shockers. And then there’s the problem that actually not all doctors want to be business managers.

Here in the US, doctors are held in much higher regard and are masters of their destiny. I recently enrolled with a GP and even though there was nothing wrong with me, my initial ROUTINE medical screening included an ECG, Chest X ray and more blood tests than I have ever had in my life including tests for conditions which are as rare as hen’s teeth. I have never ever had anything like this in the UK. Come to think of it, as a 42 year old man, I really should have had some of those tests.

And that’s where we really do differ. They take preventative screening much more seriously here in the US. And that’s got to be smart. Their philosophy is that if you find it early you can treat it. An entirely appropriate sentiment. And more importantly it is much cheaper to do this than wait until some dreadful disease has taken hold of you and rendered you irritable, incontinent or  incapable.

Now that the bill has passed, the furore will of course settle down. I have a funny feeling that the changes that will be implemented won’t lead to the predicted destruction of the NHS. Above all we must ensure it doesn’t.

The NHS is an extraordinary institution and one we should be immensely proud of.

But now we need to equip it for the future, improve it and make it work for the next sixty years.

Driving me crazy!

In Opinion Pieces on March 8, 2012 at 8:08 pm

People in LA are really good at some things. Major movies, great TV shows, fantastic theme parks. Driving, however, is not one of them!

The standard of driving is not only terrible, it’s chaotic and unpredictable. A mum with a car load of kids will think nothing of pulling across 5 lanes of the freeway in one heroic gesture without giving any indication of what she is about to do.

Why bother to indicate when you can just veer sideways and watch as the other cars scuttle furiously across the many lanes to avoid the impending collision.

It also appears that pedestrian crossings – ie those dedicated crossings clearly demarcated with lines on the road and signs like the one below – do not quite hold the same sway as they do in the UK.

At best it seems that stopping is optional. At worst its a game of skittles. Everytime you cross one of these you take your life in your hands! I was crossing the road the other day to go to the gym and nearly lost both legs!

Then comes one of the favourites. See how many multitasking things you can do at once! I mean you have two hands after all. So one can stuff food in your face, the other clutches a mobile phone, whilst your elbow can hold a carton of soda whilst your knee controls the steering wheel.  I jest not!

And that brings me neatly to the cell phone. It’s really quite shocking how many people use their handheld cell phone whilst driving. And absolutely blatantly.

As a Brit it’s especially jarring as the UK police waged a major war on this many years ago with the result that most people now have hand-free car kits as standard.

And that’s what’s so surprising here. This is, after all, the land of the motor car and yet so few people seem to have hands-free kits, preferring to clutch their phone in their hot sweaty hand.

And if that wasn’t sufficiently cavalier, I am amazed at the number of people who drink and drive. I’ve been out with people who think nothing of having four or five cocktails (and boy are they strong) and then drive home. I know someone who was so drunk that he forgot to turn on his headlights and drove six miles through the city in the pitch dark. It’s amazing he didn’t get pulled over or run someone over.

Again, it must be so ingrained into us that if I’m drinking, the car stays at home. Actually if I’ve had a boozy night I won’t even drive the next day as I know I won’t be performing at my best and my reactions will be slower.

A sobering thought is that over 30,000 people die annually on US roads, at a rate of one every 16 minutes. Hitting someone and killing them not only ruins their life, it ruins yours too.

For goodness sake LA, ditch the cell phones, go hands-free, stop driving drunk and grab a cab.

No Judgemental Bullsh*t

In Opinion Pieces on February 25, 2012 at 1:56 am

One night, some four or so years ago, I was in Los Angeles and saw something that stopped me in my tracks. It was about 11pm and I had fallen out of a bar after a couple of cocktails and was heading to another.

As I crossed the road a young man approached me and asked me if I’d like an HIV test. I was dumbfounded . It seemed the most incongruous offer of the night! The last thing I expected mid-revelry!

The young man gestured to a van parked at the side of the road. Willing participants went into the van where they had a private discussion with a healthcare worker who then swabbed their mouth. Nothing invasive nor painful. They were then asked to wait and in ten minutes they were told whether they had tested positive for the antibodies to the HIV virus .
Shocking I thought. Shocking but brilliant. This was outreach work at its best. They were targeting a group of people in their own environment, people that otherwise may not seek medical help. And buoyed by Dutch courage from the alcohol, the test did not seem as onerous as in a doctors surgery in the cold light of day. Anyone who tested positive was then offered counselling and the all-important follow up.

The enormity of what they had achieved with such a simple programme stayed with me and lodged in my brain.

Then a year or so later I happened to be having a meeting with David Brindle, the owner of a gay magazine in the UK about sexual health. I told him what I had seen and suggested that it would be a great thing to do in the UK. All credit to him. He listened and responded. We both realized that Soho was a captive market and that this was an outreach service that was well overdue.David embraced the project wholeheartedly and launched a bus that parked in Soho and offered HIV tests on the spot, just as I’d witnessed in LA.

What might have been dismissed as a niche activity was not!  The Department of Health got behind it and the Secretary of State for Health even turned up.

So why am I telling you this ?

Well, contrary to popular belief, HIV has not gone away. In fact  in 2010, UNAIDS, WHO and UNICEF reported that there were over 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the world.

But the great news is that there have been significant advances in treatment which means that in the developed world where there is access to medication, HIV has changed from being a life-threatening condition to a life-changing one.
Positive people are living full and healthy lives.

But there is a real risk that coupled with this is a rise in a new found complacency which means that people don’t get tested and don’t practice safe sex.

So what’s this to do with you? Well. if you are having a sexual relationship, especially if you have multiple partners, then you should get an HIV test as a matter of course. I want to see it becoming such a normal test that it is no longer a big deal. The more people test, the more the disease will lose its stigma.

Many people are terrified of being tested and actively avoid it. This is a very rational decision but is ultimately self-destructive. Avoiding the test does not make you disease free.

The biggest fear is actually fear itself.

So my advice is don’t run away. You won’t be able to run away forever. Seize control of the situation and get tested.
It could be the most important thing you’ve done EVER.
 

Death of a legend

In Opinion Pieces on February 12, 2012 at 9:22 pm

You can never predict the future. We’re always told “Expect the unexpected” and last night was testament to that.

I was sitting at my desk in Los Angeles just a couple of miles from the Beverly Hilton when I received a text message from a friend telling me that Whitney Houston was dead.

I was absolutely stunned and immediately went on-line to check the veracity of the claim. There in black and white was confimation. Dead at the age of 48 . Found in her hotel room.

I never met Whitney Houston but for some reason I was really shocked and extremely saddened by the news. I’ve always admired her extraordinary talent. Just six years older than me, her music has defined my adult life. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say she was unbelivably gifted with an extraordinary vocal range. And she proved it by becoming one of the world’s best-selling artists.

Lots has been written about her; how she rose to fame and fortune and then crashed to Earth spiralling out of control in a cocktail of drink and drugs.

And yet recently it seemed that she had pulled herself through her darkest hours. Her first album in 7 years was critically acclaimed and went platinum, she was making a movie and had been rumoured to be a new judge on the X factor.

Last night that recovery ended.

The post-mortem has not revealed any suspicious cause but it will take six to eight weeks for the toxicology results to come through. Until then, her cause of death is pure speculation.

Her death has been playing on my mind all day. I keep wondering if she knew quite how much she had achieved and how fortunate she’d been. I also mused about whether she had enjoyed the journey to the top.

Fame brings with it incredible pressure. And many stars find it hard to cope turning to drugs and alcohol. She herself said that she was her own worst enemy.

Life is incredibly short and having had two near-death experiences myself, I can honestly say it changes your outlook forever. I am so grateful to still be alive and to be doing everything I love.

Every day is a blessing. We really do need to be grateful for everything we have – our families, friends, laughter and above all our good health.

And that’s the conclusion that I have come to about this tragic turn of events. Today shows once again that  despite amassing fame, fortune and fans – without your health you have nothing.

Brits in LA…..

In Opinion Pieces on January 26, 2012 at 11:19 am

There is something extraordinary about the British psyche. We are a fairly placid race and reasonably polite but when push comes to shove we are quietly determined, stoic, pig-headed and well.. .just get on with things.

And you don’t have to look far to see how much influence the Brits have had in world history. Even though our Empire is long gone, there remains a most extraordinary collection of 54 territories that are part of the British Commonwealth. It counts Queen Elizabeth II as its head and even though they may be thousands of miles away from blighty, many ooze Britishness. Take Barbados for example with its Parliamentary democracy and love of cricket!, India with its traditional British architecture and railways (hope they’re better than ours), and the Regency style architecture and the red telephone boxes in Malta and of course the fact that English is a national language. And a lot of people live in the Commonwealth. A lot…… more than 2 BILLION on six continents.

 

 

The British Commonwealth

 

Now the elephant in the room is the dear old USA.

The British did of course settle in the US early in the 1600s in Jamestown. Millions of British people emigrated after 1776. In the original 13 colonies, the law was founded on English Common law and most of the Founding Fathers were English including Samuel Adams. And most US presidents have had English ancestry.

Anyway, as you will no doubt recall from your history lessons, there was an almighty rumpus where tea was thrown from the tea clippers into the harbour as direct action against the British Government and the Tea Act which had been passed by the British Parliament in 1773. This outraged the colonists as they felt taxes should only be raised by their own representatives. This became known as the Boston Tea Party and was a key part of the American Revolution which escalated into War and in turn lead to the Declaration of Independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain on July 4th 1776.

So the US is not in the British Commonwealth but there are millions of people in the US with British Ancestry and there are over half a million British expats living in the US.

Now here in LA, Tuesdays are very important.

The reason? We, the Brits, congregate for breakfast in a British Restaurant and share stories, tales, advice and gossip over a full English Breakfast washed down with lashings of English Tea. (which actually comes from India but don’t say anything!)

It really is the most extraordinary sight!  A whole restaurant of Brits, their haughty vowels clearly audible bemoaning the shocking state of the US, how you can never find proper baked beans or marmite, how the Americans can’t drive and certainly don’t know how to use a knife and fork. And then of course comes the subject of the language they speak and how we do not share a common language and how many mistakes can be made by thinking so.

After an hour and a half of this “therapy”, having shared stories about how fantastic the UK is and how much we miss certain things and how America will never be Britain, we air-kiss, stride out into the Californian sunshine, don sunglasses and roar off into the distance in our convertibles.

Laughable?  Of course.  Inevitable? Absolutely. Would we change any of it?  NO!

You see the thing is that we actually love being in the US, we just can’t admit it!

And for the record you don’t have to be British to come to breakfast… you just have to like us!!  But remember, (as the recent song states so eloquently)……we no speak Americano!

He’s behind you!

In Opinion Pieces on December 4, 2011 at 7:17 pm

It’s panto season!  A peculiarly British institution. A time for grown ups to wear elf hats, heckle the performers and generally behave in an all together boisterous fashion.

And last night was no exception. Well apart from one big one!  This was was not the UK, this was LA!

You have to understand that the Americans have absolutely no idea what panto is all about. Half the fun of last night was watching people’s bemused faces when the audience chorused back “Hello Muddles” whenever the tongue tied narator-cum-jester appeared on stage. However, they soon got the hang of it and by the second half were heckling with aplomb!

This was the second year that the Lythgoe Family (as in Nasty Nigel – actually I don’t think he’s very nasty at all, but don’t tell anyone) have put on their quintessential British showcase and I have to say Kris and the team did a great job!  It was almost like being back at home.

I was trying to explain to my American friends what I wanted to drag them to. And in so doing, I realised that Pantomime is an extraordinarily difficult concept to explain.

Ok here we go….They are musical shows largely based on Fairytale stories which have been completely re-written so they bear almost no resemblence to the original. Often fairytales combine and characters appear from completely unrelated shows for no reason. The music tends to be comprised of current “chart” hits ie ones that the kids would know – so last night we had tributes to Lady Gaga, Huey Lewis, Britney Spears and so on. Then there’s the whole cross-dressing thing of men dressing up as ugly women (again for no apparent reason) and the lead boy often being played by a girl . What would normally raise eyebrows in the street seems perfectly normal in a panto. A complicated affair to say the least!

The funniest bit for me was that in the programme (or program if you’re American) they had to try to explain what on earth this fiasco was all about… There were even written instructions explaining to the audience that it is normal practice to shout and heckle and boo and hiss! It also explained that there was also an obligatory sing-a-long.

Instructions aside, it really was a great and talented cast. Neil Patrick Harris (he of “How I met your mother”) played a mirror (!),  Marina Sirtis (she of Star Trek) played the wicked Queen, Lindsay Pearce (Glee) was Snow White and Erich Bergen (Jersey Boys) was Prince Harry (see what they did there!) and Jonathan Meza was an outstanding Muddles.

It really was a family affair. Nigel Lythgoe’s son Kris wrote and produced it. Nigel’s former wife Bonnie directed it and Nigel even had a cameo!

The US audience loved it and the handful of Brits that were present lapped it all up proclaiming it to be a most excellent British export!

I really haven’t had such fun for ages. Oh no you didn’t!  Oh yes I did!!

My intimate night with Oprah!

In Opinion Pieces on November 4, 2011 at 11:40 am

Yes it’s true!  On Wednesday I spent an intimate evening with the Queen of Television.

Well sort of intimate. It was just me, Oprah and a hundred or so of my closest friends! And no we weren’t in Chicago!  Oprah came to Los Angeles! And I have to say it was quite a surprise as I had gone to this event not having the faintest clue that America’s version of royalty would be attending!

For those of you that don’t know (Martians amongst us), Oprah has had the most extraordinary broadcasting career. Starting out in her local area, she rose to fame with her eponymous talk show which ran until this year, exploring all aspects of human nature and emotion.

And if that wasn’t enough Oprah now has her own TV network. Yes that’s right. Her own. And as any self-respecting celebrity would do, she has named it after herself. So the TV channel is called quite simply OWN. (Oprah Winfrey Network). Despite her enormous celebrity presence and the cast of people she has made stars in their own right (Dr Phil, Dr Oz, Suzy Orman etc), OWN has had a difficult start. It’s very hard for any network to break through over here, quite simply because they have more TV channels that I’ve had gin and tonics! And that means the audience is extremely fragmented and you have to fight for every eyeball!

That being said, OWN seems to have turned a corner and it is now making some really good ground-breaking shows.

And that brings me back to Wednesday. We had gathered in Beverly Hills to watch an advance private screening of Lisa Ling’s documentary on PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It followed US war veterans who having returned from active service, were unable to reintegrate back into family life and had become shadows of their former selves.

PTSD is an extremely debilitating anxiety disorder which causes enormous psychological trauma. The Veterans featured showed all the classic signs of flashbacks, nightmares, withdrawal from society and overwhelming anger – which many of them took out on their children and partners. They were human shells devoid of their pre-morbid personalities, literally in a state of emotional lock-down.

After years of suffering, they were taken to a camp run by native Americans where they were exposed to many different things. One of the activities was incredibly symbolic as it showed the ranchers breaking in a new horse, learning to gain its trust so that it could be eventually saddled. And that was a great metaphor for what happened to these men and women. They were gradually broken, by kind people offering little more than listening, understanding and the warmth of human touch.

You could see the emotion which so many of them had suppressed for so long, bubbling up to the surface until they finally exploded with uncontrollable shaking and sobbing; their tears washing away all the repressed memories of horrific events seen in the theatre of war. They learnt to re-love themselves and to realise that the events they had witnessed were not their fault.

The transformation in them was truly miraculous. Where conventional medicines had failed, love and support had conquered. These brave servicemen and women and their long-suffering partners were re-born to start life anew.

The real concern is that tens of thousands of servicemen and women are about to return home from foreign countries scarred by the emotional events of war. And yet, Governments of all countries are ill-equipped to deal with the long-term emotional impact. There is little or no counselling and there are no cogent policies for reintegration. In my eyes, if Governments can send you to war, they should also provide for you when you return.

You can see the extraordinary emotional journey on Sunday night on OWN on Lisa Ling’s “Our America”.