Tuesday, 31 December 2013


At the Great Gatsby party at the Corinthia Hotel Malta. Lovely people and my hero Edward de Bono.  His tie said 'kiss me'.  So I did.  Lateral thinking for you.

Happy New Year everyone.


In Malta at the splendid Corinthia hotel (www.corintha.com) , going to a Great Gatsby ball.  I feel like Cinderella who may turn into a pumpkin at midnight but at the moment I feel more like me than I have all year.   My friends have had an incredibly challenging 2013.  My hiccups are small in comparison.     This year seems to have chosen the strongest to attack.  Women.  I mention this because I'm working and half watching Sky News and Andrew Wilson keeps telling me that women have 51% of the Honours in the Annual list.    They have 51% so only just. Does that mean that the role women play in society is treated equally to men at long last?  I don't think so. It's a political statement, nothing more.  And I bet they had to bleed that 1% out of some of the decision makers. Perhaps even the other fifty.

Women deserve 90%.   They are the rock, the roots, the foundation, the strength, the wisdom, the peace, the balance, the energy, even the earth is named after the mother.  And they are exhausted. I'm sure women have had more of a say this time because politicians have decided how much they owe to their wives, even grudgingly, even if they don't like or fancy them. The politicians wives are hauled out to the public to show that a) they support their husband b) despite what comes across about politicians they are human (normal?) and can sustain a relationship and  c) they are sexually active, although they may not be sexually active with them or someone of the opposite sex.   And they've got to perform that every single day. Sort of being Royal without the crown.

But women I have met this year in general want to explode like Etna, overwhelm like the tsunami, and only crack when under extreme pressure.   Thank God most are extremely strong.  When they need help, real help, they get it from other women, not their men.  Don't know if it's Men from Mars, Women Venus and communication, lack of emotional maturity (give me a boy at seven I will give you the man - ie that's as emotionally well developed as they get - if you are lucky), or what it is, but the nurturing ability of women never fails to amaze me.   And neither does the size of the male ego.


Buenos Aires is a fabulous wonderful exciting city. If Rome is the tease, Paris the foreplay, BA is the sex.  It's sophisticated, earthy, intelligent, passionate, emotional, hot (over 40 degrees when I visited), unexpected, rebellious..and oh yes, it respects women and gives them space, and allows them to come first, when they want to.

I've already written about the hotel La Faena (sexiest hotel I've ever visited), but stayed at Alvear Art Hotel (alveatart.com) on the way back from Antarctica (the ultimate male ego trip destination) and was given a tour of the city by the excellent guide Elizabeth Georges (elizabethgeorges@hotmail.com). Re Elizabeth, I strongly recommend you hire her when you go there for the half or full day.    After all the male testosterone puff puff of male daring do and conquering (both historically and on the ship), it was good to redress the balance.  BA started to do that.

She picked me up at the hotel which has incredibly friendly and charming staff and lovely bedrooms which are conducive to a brilliant night's sleep rather than the rooms at La Faena which are incredibly stylish in their red and mirrors and dark hues but so sexed up it's difficult to sleep in them unless you are exhausted or with a partner you utterly detest.    The hotel is situated close to the colonial architecture of San Telmo to the Plaza de Mayo, where the Casa Rosada (pink palace) is situated.  It's from the balcony Eva Peron told her people to not cry for her.   Learning more about her as I did on the trip, she did a lot for women.   Made abortion and divorce legal and was a strong role model. She didn't get to the top and ignore them, she got to the top and supported them but kept her sexy, telling women to look good because it makes a good impression the right one.    The stories she told were fascinating, none you will find in the guide book.  There were armed police there with barricades waiting for the daily protests.  I was told how they are sprayed with water which contains blue ink and 'collected up' later.  At the moment they are complaining about the lack of electricity and the regular cuts (they have one electricity company which has a monopoly, opposed to the UK which erm..doesn't have a monopoly, doesn't cut off the electricity but continues to put up the prices so you want to cut yourself off).   When Eva died (her spirit much stronger than her body), the military took over, and the laws on abortion and divorce revoked.   Divorce only came back in the 1960s, legalised abortion never did. She was before her time.  

In the churches there are images everywhere of the Madonna - not because the Virgin Mary rules and Jesus on the cross doesn't, but because when Columbus discovered the land, the natives they obliterated worshipped (respected?) the land, or as they saw it 'Mother Earth' so they built churches which focused on the image of the Mother.  I don't think they were convinced because they killed them, but anyway, women seem to rule in the Churches.  Elizabeth told me all the people of BA miss their Archbishop.   "Pope Francis, is a very modern, compassionate, intelligent, progressive, wise man and has views on abortion which the 'Church' does not.  He is a man for the people - women as much as men - in a staunchly Roman Catholic country". The city seems to nurture visionaries and try to keep them until God takes them literally or geographically..

In 2001, the currency pesos was seriously devalued (ie was 1 for 1 for the US dollar, became 1 for 6 overnight). Women had to go out to work and were respected for it (not sure the UK has done the same).   The very rich as all the very rich do in any country, knew of it before hand and kept all their money overseas. The poor didn't have money any way, so the middle classes were squeezed and are continuing to be done so. The gap between rich and poor in BA and Argentina is now vast, much wider than people realise she said.   There are so many parallels with the UK it's remarkable, not least the argument over the Falklands which is a neat trick governments play in detracting from domestic issues.    Focus on something that will increase patriotism, bring people together but most importantly stop them from focusing on what is really important.   Our politicians would never do that would they? Nahh.

There was dancing in the streets when I visited (not alas because I visited), which was wonderful to watch and even better to take part in. Originally, the men would dance the tango, their bodies stuck together. Originally a dance of the underground, an act of revolt against establishment, though not quite sure how, it didn't become 'public' until the Parisiens got hold of the dance and introduced women into the mix and made it mainstream. The BA wealthy then felt it was OK to dance tango and it went overground, but the intimacy is still there.   Strictly Come Dancing variations have nothing on it.   The real thing the man and woman are stuck together like glue. Some sex doesn't get that close.

We visited the Avenida de Mayo, the Place of Congress, the trendy neighbourhood of Palermo, the habour, which I'll cover in the articles, but it's a place I will definitely absolutely return to.   If you are using BA as a gateway, give it a week. You will need a week for the steak (best in world, sorry Texas, try it even if you are vege. I did, makes mouth water just thinking about it), San Isidro and Tigre, learning to Tango and watch the experts, buy leather bags and belts, drink Mate tea out of the pumpkin gourd and get one specially cut for you in the antique market held on a Sunday  in Palermo, go to Polo and admire the beautiful stallions and the wonderful horses they ride, and the football where you will find the best footballer in the world (my 15 year old told me that). Although like the UK, Elizabeth told me 'they all behave like prima donnas and don't team play.

Loved it, loved it, loved it. But there is a NB. The queues at BA airport customs and passport control are horrendous.  Please note before you travel there and on route back home.  Take computer games, soft drinks, light snacks, really good books and camping chair, and mini fan. Think refugee camp.

Saturday, 28 December 2013



It is not the journey of discovery about seeing new landscapes, it is seeing those landscapes with different eyes that is the journey of discovery.   Proust.

Wish I had said that.    I have a feeling looking back at Antarctica a week or month or year from now I will think of it more clearly, perhaps more intently than I am now, but it's good to write immediate thoughts too.  

I missed out chatting about the stay in Ushuaia before we boarded the boat.  We stayed at Hotel Los Cauquenes, which overlooked the Patagonian shore. Stunning views and I practiced warrior poses on the beach.  Not perfect but then who is.  Beautiful hotel, lovely service, wonderful rooms, if you do this trip (don't make it your 7th, just make it because it's 'there'), stay here.   They have a gym where the running machines over look an incredible view so you can gaze in awe and work out at the same time.  Or not. 

We had yoga on the boat as well, led by Liz Gifford, who organised 'gentle stretching' at 6ish most mornings although I was the only one who turned up on Christmas Day so we had what she called a Christmas Core.   This was nothing like gentle stretching but I felt virtuous and oh so sore.  

Some of the passengers chose to kayak the excursions rather than zodiac and land, getting a different perspective of the place.    I only heard when I returned a Russian ship had got stuck in the ice traveling from New Zealand to Antarctica on Christmas Day. I'm not surprised. There were more icebergs than they expected, according to the cruise leader, the commanding presence of Boris (another Canadian), who would every day tell us at breakfast, lunch and supper, what our schedule would be, adding that the schedule was only there to show what they would be detracting from, although as far as I know, that never happened on this trip.  Nothing was cancelled, shortened or amended.   Four years ago, the Vlavilov had to rescue the passengers from another cruise ship that had hit an iceberg.   

We were there over Christmas.  I mention this almost as an after thought.   Was there anything Christmassy about this trip?   I made paper chains. Haven't done that since I was six.   I decorated ginger biscuits with red, green and white icing. I don't think I've ever done that.   Didn't watch or miss any Christmas TV, although there were showings of Happy Feet One, Two and Elf.     There were two Christmas trees on board (neither real), we had turkey but no Christmas pudding, and I didn't get any presents because Santa is a North Pole kind-of-guy.   A couple on board (crew members) got married on Christmas Day, one couple got engaged on Christmas Eve (can't really be bettered can it? - I was also proposed to on a Christmas Eve, but it was in a car park in Weston Turvill which doesn't quite have the same ring to it).   The crew wore penguins on their heads (hats not real ones which wouldn't be very eco friendly), and we had apple hot toddy on our returns on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.   

This is the ultimate in experiential travel.   Following in the footsteps of explorers, it’s a privilege to be here.  It’s a place that should leave you cold. Think about it.   Loads of ice, blistering cold wind, mammals that may or may not appear, nothing can be fast tracked, ruddy faced hardened Russian sailors will tell you the weather can turn at a blink, birds that swoop by the boats that look small but are in fact of prehistoric size, and terrain that has defeated many men, (but not many women).  Nothing may turn up just because you have.  The weather may be foul and often is because it's the South Pole and anything can happen.   You can't manage expectations because nature doesn't play to deadlines and the penguins won't appear and waddle on command, nor will whales sound, nor seals peep their grey shiny heads above water and stare at you with those big brown watery eyes of theirs just because you have your camera lens at the ready.  To describe Antarctica is difficult.  Poets do not do it justice (I've read much of it).   Neither do superlatives. But I will try.     

It's like going to a performance at the Opera.  The landscape is melodramatic.   The space will either draw you in or it won't.  It may be your 7th continent to tick box. The ulimate white Christmas, something to say you’ve done.   Penguins seen. Icebergs climbed.  Whale watched. Water jumped into. Tick.   

Or you will ‘get it’.  You will take in everything, sound, sight, smell, touch and you will suffer emotion overload. And you will sob. Not cry, you will sob.  Try not to sob when you are out on deck as your tears will freeze.      The Iceberg backdrop, the whale; the large fat lady who sings, and the penguins; the perpetual chorus line of Charlie Chaplins, waddling and falling over and looking round to see if anyone is looking and then sliding on their bellies, swimming on their backs in the sea, the different species ignoring each other like suburban neighbours comparing wisteria but allowing each other into their space as long as they don't pinch their stones from the nest (they all do it). But I’m projecting personality onto them. They are penguins, fishy smelling noisy birds that call out and protect their stone nests with determined anality, continually looking at the egg to see if it’s still there every few minutes or so just like a mother does her first born in the cot.   New mothers, you know what I mean.   

That relentless wind and cold adds to the drama.  Antarctica packs a powerful punch to the stomach, winding you with emotion.  Imagine everything that stirs emotion in you all at once, that turns you from the antipathy of anal, relentless, small minded normality, safety, and fear.   Think of something that stirs you with passion, if you know what passion is.   Too many places around the world have been described as other worldly, awesome, phenomenal, stunning, incredible, brilliant, inspiring so to call Antarctica any of these things makes it equivalent, same as, equal to, as good as these places. Comparable to these places.  And as interesting as these places probably are in their own way, they are not in this way. 

Before I visited, I  thought the mountains of ski resorts would have the same or similar energy, or the wonders of the world, and yes they do lift you – in their own way. Any mountain energy and air lifts you, but it’s different here.    Think of it ladies as a man who tells you he loves you in ‘his own way’.   That, ladies as you know, is not love.   Now think how you feel when it's the real thing.   This is the real thing.


I have just disembarked from the Vavilov, a ship usually used for Scientific research but for the past eight days, hosted 92 passengers, ages seven to seventy, 15 nationalities across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic, or as many of the passengers referred to it 'the seventh continent' which they had 'done'.  I'm writing more fully about it for the magazines that have commissioned, but this is the off the record of days at sea and on ice that proved both exceptional and surreal.  

The first day we had 50 knot winds and most of the passengers stayed in their cabins dosed up on tablets provided by the young doctor (handsome Dr Matt).   The birders, an intriguing breed themselves, flocked together getting excited about albatross and terns and other winged creatures which hovered around the boat, ushering us on our way. The Russian captain detoured to miss the worst of the storm but it was all part of the adventure (none of us thought this while we were throwing up, only afterwards as one would).

Attenborough's Frozen Planet sort of prepares you for the first sight of Antarctica, icebergs like huge Henry Moore Sculptures in the ultimate wilderness gallery wait for our zodiacs (black boats where twelve of us sat each day on the edge trying to take photos, watch out for seals, whales, penguins, anything really and take photos without falling off or losing our hats.  

"If you fall in you will be yanked out by the butt and shoulders and dragged into the centre and then got back on the boat straight away, hot toddy and hot shower.  You will be cold, you will feel ill.    So don't fall in'.   Or words to that effect.   No one fell in.

All the crew were impossibly patient with even a few of the impossible to please passengers who had all travelled a lot, seen most of the world, some of them several times.    We had interesting outdoors experts, many of whom had their own adventure companies back home (in Canada usually), and one woman 'Sonny', who was part of the four woman team who twenty years ago trekked to the South Pole, skiing there all the way, carrying 200lb sleds.  She is one of the most self effacing people I have ever met.  She caught bronchitis, tendonitis, nearly died and didn't complain.   Man cold anyone?  The documentary 'Poles Apart' which was shown during the trip, showed how they were unable to get sponsorship from over 2000 corporate sponsors ('you're women why?  are you lesbians?  don't you have husbands to look after? you don't have the physical strength blah blah, sexist blah) and how an expedition at the same time led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes fared (corporate sponsorship no problem, no talk of dubious intent of sharing a tent with another man).    Sir Ranulph was trekking to focus on the effect of starvation on the human body.   I suppose if the women had used this reason for their trek the sponsors would have suggested they were doing it to loose weight for personal reasons rather than scientific research.   Fiennes liked the girls saying that as they were different sexes it was better as there wasn't a feeling of competitiveness.  That was twenty years ago but from experience I don't think attitudes have changed.

I admit I have never thought of men and women thinking of travel in a different way. The experience of travel or the intention of travel, but during this trip it became increasingly apparent the genders do think in different ways, one to tick box the other to experience, although I realise it's not always the case.

There was no internet on board the ship for eight days. Tom went into serious cold turkey but at least he had the computer games that didn't require internet and the distraction of incredible icebergs, seals, whales and penguins.

Ah, the penguins.  We saw about 24000 of them while we were there. There were a few biologists and eco scientists qualified up to their woolly hats in Phds and Masters, who were there to observe. We were there during the hatching season so saw chicks and various types, Adelie, Chinstraps to name two, none of whom tap danced but the way they waddle, they look as though they do.

Two excursions per day, each very different.    The most powerful being on Christmas morning when we landed on Deception Island at a former whaling station.   The weather while we had been there had been good, calm seas, easy crossings to land on the zodiacs, but on the morning of the 25th we had wind and heavy snow, almost a white out.  The conditions were fitting as we had learnt about the attempts of Scott and Shackleton and the appalling conditions they dealt with during their expeditions. This was nothing compared to what they had to experience.    But as each zodiac landed, on a volcanic beach now thick with snow, only three penguins there to greet us, the vast empty buildings of the former whaling station -  the only hint of colour in the monochrome landscape, it was the first time we got a taste of what the explorers experienced.  We were there for a few hours.   Twenty or so decided to skinny dip (mad wonderful mad people) but I didn't.   Should have done and if you go, do it, because it's mad and then so is bungey jumping.

There was a daily schedule punctuated by regular excellent meals, cookies, hot chocolate although the hot chocolate and diet coke ran out before Christmas because we had a group of twenty students on board.

More to follow...

Wednesday, 18 December 2013


This is without doubt the sexiest hotel I have ever stayed in.   At ten quid a toastie, it is also one of the most expensive, but as you enter you cannot stop to wow at the edgy drama of the Cathedral like hallway, reaching up to the sky draped in dark reds and maroon, uplights creating dramatic shadows as though there are stained glass windows although there are none.    I felt as though I had walked into a particularly funky remake of Masque of the Red Death and was about to dance for my life.  

A man in a short white cape, vampirish looking, tall, dark, handsome, with a white top hat, greets you and manages to not look out of place.  That’s a gift.  

Experience managers at the black lacquered tabled reception desks, help to improve your experience, whatever you want your experience to be.  Most who stay here choose not to leave the hotel itself, and I understand why.  Each overly high backed chair you sit on is designed to sink into and keep you there.  Even the air smells sexy in this hotel.   The location is central, so the excellent art gallery is within easy walking distance as is the flee market and local restaurants, but the outside comes to you.   You don’t even have to leave the hotel to meet the locals as the locals come to the hotel, congregating in the salon at tea and supper time, and the restaurant, which is an open kitchen, where the owner and his family also eat serves the most beautiful steak.   Eighty eight rooms which probably leave guests screaming with delight, a tango night each night with authentic dancers in an intimate space, so intimate you could touch the dancers, and a spa which is not just an add on but a holistic experience offering meditation and a spa manager who for once knows her chakras from her yamas.  They even do meditation breaks instead of coffee breaks for businessmen here who get to see their auras.   I am told they all convert to the light side in a hotel that is much more than fifty shades.

All rooms are dripping in red, mirrors and lighting is exquisite, edgy, perfect, creating drama instead of shadows.   Philip Starke collaborated in the design and the white unicorn heads with red eyes in the bistro restaurant jutting violently above each dining table to the huge gold crown in the middle of the swimming pool pretending to be a fountain, to the proliferation of mirrors absolutely everywhere and the dim lit darkness which makes everyone (even loud Americans) speak in hushed tones, show his mark. I am told they are planning similar in Miami where it will fit in perfectly, although tries hard to be sexy and anywhere that tries hard, isn’t.   Somehow the location of Buenos Ares where the locals are naturally sexy because they don’t try and they just are, is perfect for this type of hotel, which is a bit like walking into someone’s very stylish, exclusive, beautifully crafted home.  Faena is the place to be seen, or not be seen (it’s so dark you could easily slip away).   Gaga has stayed here, as has Bieber, as has a host of others who can’t be named – I am told they would have to kill me if they told me, and for once, I believe them.    

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


Just watched a programme on the writer Doris Lessing.   She was being interviewed by Alan Yentob.

I recognised so much of why she writes. A storyteller about her life, turning down the paths in the book she didn't in life.  She writes stories around her own life, making good the mistakes, the smudges and creating barriers where there should have been some and opening doors which were closed to her in life.    I thought she was interesting but didn't like her.

I didn't like the fact she left her two children when they were young.   I understood the logic of it, how it enabled her to live an interesting life, how she found the stifling life of South African existence and politics repugnant to her.  I just didn't understand the emotion. She said she would have become an alcoholic or have had a mental breakdown if she had stayed. She would have fitted in very well in Richmond Upon Thames!

It reminded me of the philosophy of the mother who walked away from her two children in Virginia Woolf's The Hours and how highly intelligent women were stifled in restrictive roles being housebound wife and mother.  Being a wife and a mother is rewarding but it can also be extremely dull.  We even find it dull in this generation, think how highly intelligent women felt in previous generations when they were genuinely housebound.  But they stayed mainly because they focused on their children and they couldn't afford to look after them without the husband. They stayed for financial reasons.  The suppression in those days was financial.   Today it comes under different and more subversive guises.

First of all there is judgement, from other women, forget the media, society, 'men'. from our own species.  The expectation of what constitutes a good mother is ridiculously high.  And the expectation of what constitutes a good father, so incredibly low.  Women are judged for their baking, the motherly skills, their looks?  What era are we in for goodness sake?!  

Of course we still have some things they didn't have in the fifties.   Women in the fifties had to do the cleaning, cooking, no dishwasher, clean their own steps.   Everyone judging them for anything and everything.  Their aim was to marry well, or if they had a dream (actress, artist, writer) to follow it but still get married all the same.     No wonder women of that generation wanted to live through their children, especially mothers with daughters because they weren't able to do it themselves. So women who wanted to travel encouraged their children to do so, those who always wondered where the next penny was coming from, encouraged them to make money or marry money. I can see where it all came from, evolving from fear - and how one generations fear reverberates onto the next if you let it.

Women have so much choice these days, just that it's fear not finance that restricts us.     Lessing writes about things like this but leaves the edges in.  As she put it bluntly to one reader who wrote to her 'if you chose to travel on this journey, you will learn lessons you may not want to learn in ways you won't want to learn them."

I also interviewed a woman today who decided to stay with her children. A mother of three who has a severely disabled child.  She is a single mother, and sole carer and it was incredibly humbling listening to her story, and what she and her family has had to go through.  Perhaps I am guilty of this judgement too because I admire this woman more.

Thursday, 5 December 2013


I never had the opportunity to interview Nelson Mandela, but I've interviewed those who have.    They have all in turn made observations about this iconic man, who like Gandhi became more much powerful by showing restraint, forgiveness, compassion where most would have expected and understood revenge and anger.

The most pertinent and poignant of comments came from the celebrated sculptor John Doubleday, who was commissioned to produce a bust of the man.  In order to do this work he has to shadow his muse four, five sometimes six times for a few hours, perhaps longer, but only if their busy schedule allows. He would observe each expression, mannerism and interaction.   He has worked with HRH Prince Philip, Sir Laurence Olivier amongst others, trying to get the real spirit of the person behind the mask they put on show to the public.    It was a fascinating interview.

John shadowed Mandela and told me it was a fine line he had to tread.    It was obvious his people absolutely adored him, and even those who didn't, revered him with a silent but deep rooted fear.   There is nothing more frightening to even the most Machiavellian of men (and women) than someone who is scared of nothing.   Mandela was aristocracy,  behaving more royal than most Royals by blood, not just in own country but around the world.   He was treated like a saint but he was still very much the common man.   He knew he must never lose touch with the people, not just say the words, but spiritually never lose touch. Never believe he was above law, God, anything.   I remember interviewing John Doubleday and out of all of those he shadowed, it was Mandela who cast the longest shadow, and John's greatest admiration.   Mandela, he told me, was unlike the rest.  He was able to walk that line of listening to the adoration but not being drawn in by it.    He was the only one who managed this fine line.