Benjamin Franklin spent his mornings naked. Patricia Highsmith ate only bacon and eggs. The path to greatness is paved with a thousand tiny rituals (and a fair bit of substance abuse) â but six key rules emerge, says Oliver Burkeman
This can’t be said enough
my new simile for everything
A few weeks ago, I was privileged to spend some time at the BBC, working on a show called ‘World Have Your Say’. Now, those familiar with the World Service will also be familiar with the ground breaking programme. For those that aren’t, here’s a brief. It pioneers collaborative journalism, gathering voices from around the world to comment and debate upon a topical story. These voices aren’t necessarily specialist or connoisseurs, but those who are affected or react to a world news event – as the show’s editor, Mark Sandell, told me, it has been criticised for not having enough experts on. He made the point that they are all experts, ordinary people with something to say.
WHYS “reacts” to the news, it doesn’t make it, and that’s what made the program so interesting to listen to, and to work on. In those few short days, it helped to broaden my world view, as I was surrounded by opinions that differed from my closeted, liberal English eyes. Why is there such a high culture of rape in India, for example? Not because Indian men are lawless animals, but, according to one speaker, the economical situation is so dire. People can’t afford to get married, so they get sex in other ways. Of course, I have my own opinions on the matter, but the point is there are a million others out there, and who am I to say which is right, which is wrong? People think what they think for a reason, and until you know those reasons, there’s no judgement here.
It was the topic of vigilante justice that led me to one of the most moving and illuminating conversations of my life. Given recent events in Mexico, with “Diana” the alleged bus driver hunter killing men in vengeance of those women raped and killed, we led with cases of vigilantism in general. Is it ever right to take the law into your own hands? In India, amongst the Pink Saris and Red Brigade, one woman who did was Suzette Jordan. I called Suzette to ask her whether she would like to appear on the program. She graciously accepted, and went on to tell me about her story.
Suzette had been enjoying a night out in Kolkata, when she became friendly with a man who started chatting with her. He offered her a lift home, and given they had got on well throughout the night, Suzette accepted. However, the night turned when he, instead of driving her home, took her to a hotel room. He was soon joined by several of his friends. They proceeded to torture and gang rape Suzette, before throwing her out on the street.
Feeling ashamed, she reported her ordeal to the police, where she was met with disrespect and humiliation. They didn’t believe her, and blamed her for the rape as she had agreed to accept a lift. Later, after encouragement from her aunt, Suzette approached the press, who helped publicise her story and went again to the police. She was then seen by a female officer, who listened and, after a long 13 months, two of her perpetrators were charged with gang rape.
This is not enough. Suzette’s point was that the authorities, there to protect and support women, do nothing of the sort. They ignore their pleas, and at worst, debase and disgrace them. Suzette was only taken seriously when another brutal rape case reignited the debate, and she revealed her identity to the media, something unheard of in India. Suzette stood up against the police, told the world she had no shame, and that women should not live in crippling fear. She stresses that there is a very long way to go, and a war to be fought – but it can be won.
Hearing Suzette’s story was transformative for me. Speaking to her from an office in the middle of London, we couldn’t be further apart, yet she shared with me an intimate and distressing experience. In the end, we are both women who want justice. I was so humbled by that twenty minute conversation, and whilst I know I’m pulling out all the clichés in the book, I felt changed – and I told her that. Perspective is a valuable thing, and I feel I gained plenty with my conversation with Suzette, and the others I had during my time at the BBC. I learned that broadening horizons is essential if you want to understand the world and fundamental if you want to change it. The more people who hear stories like Suzette’s the better. We spend most of our time in a solipsistic bubble, and while I get how that can sometimes be necessary to function in everyday life, it can lead to a selfish immunity. Now and again, listen to something you know you’re going to find hard. It’s the least we can do.
They beat women, Nancy. They hate women. The only reason they keep Qumari women alive is to make more Qumari men.
So what do you want me to do about it?
How about instead of suggesting that we sell the guns to them, suggesting that we shoot the guns at them? And by the way, not to change the subject, but how are we supposed to have any moral credibility when we talk about gun control and making sure that guns don't get in the hands of the wrong people? God, Nancy! What the hell are we defining as the *right* people?
This is the real world and we can't isolate our enemies.
I know about the real world and I'm not suggesting we isolate them.
You're suggesting we eliminate them
I have a briefing...
You're suggesting that...
I'm not suggesting anything. I don't suggest foreign policy around here.
You are right now.
It's the 21st Century, Nancy. The world's gotten smaller. I don't know how we can tolerate this kind of suffering anymore, particularly when all it does is continue the cycle of anti-American hatred. But that's not the point, either.
What's the point?
The point is that apartheid was an East Hampton clambake compared to what we laughingly refer to as the life these women lead. And if we had sold M1-A1's to South Africa fifteen years ago, you'd have set the building on fire. Thank God we never needed to refuel in Johannesburg!
[nods] It's a big world, C.J. And everybody has guns, and I'm doing the best I can.
They're beating the women, Nancy.
nearly nearly nearly
Oh, Claudia Jean. How we adore you. I am by no means the first to write an adoring panegyric to C.J Cregg (the inimitable Allison Janney) of The West Wing, and will definitely not be the last. For every viewer of Aaron Sorkin’s fantastic seven series epic with feminist tendencies will be instantly drawn to her charms. I’m a fairly recent convert to The West Wing, only finishing season seven a month ago, but it’s ending was bereavement. Seriously.
C.J. begins series one as the witty Press Secretary for President Bartlett’s White House. She’s the face of the Bartlett administration, and isn’t that administration lucky. C.J. is adroit, canny and hilarious, satiating the hungry journalists with just the right amount of news and batting down the overzealous with a careful quip; she manages Bartlett-dom with an incredible diplomacy. She’s the only woman to have served two terms as Press Secretary. All this and she manages to maintain an excellent relationship with the journos, earning respect in a way that gives her successors, the adorable Toby Zeigler and admonishable Will Bailey, huge shoes to fill. Her relationships with the journalists are in fact so good that she causes one in particular, jolly old Danny Concannon, to fall wildly in love with her.
The arc of CJ and Danny’s relationship is long and slow burning, spanning all seven series. It’s really quite beautiful (Danny gives her a goldfish – she prefers crackers, but at least he tried), and only the hugely cynical can refrain for rooting for Danny with his wildly romantic wooing. But what makes their relationship so good is the fact that Danny knows he needs to be a special guy to even tempt C.J. to relinquish even a little control in her rich life. For C.J. is in no way defined by her affiliation with Danny, and neither is he. They both put their conflicting careers first for most of The West Wing, naturally causing some difficulties, but they win out.
For, if you’re asking me, C.J. is the epitome of the “strong independent woman”. She’s literally awesome, and the West Wing would be nothing without her. Many of the best parts of the seasons revolve around CJ: the death threats in season 3, the Hoynes scandal, the bit where Big Bird sits next to her, when she gets rat-faced with the First Lady and pals…A particular highlight is her appointment as Chief of Staff in season six – there is nobody better for the job. One could say that CJ “grows” throughout the season, but I don’t think it’s true. She’s always the same, steadfast woman, and what changes are the people around her – they grow to understand exactly who they are dealing with. CJ’s story is both fantastic and tragic. She goes through a great deal of emotional trauma and comes out fighting – she ends the seventh series walking out of the White House for the last time, ready to begin her new life with Danny and her job as the manager of a $10 billion charitable organisation. It wasn’t the first time I cried.
Oh, and I almost forgot - the main reason I love CJ. In the episode “Six Meetings Before Lunch”, C.J. delivers a perfect lip-synch of Ronny Jordan’s ‘The Jackal’. And my god, this is what television is made of.
just finished watching Orange is the new Black and oooh my god I haven’t seen television like tha for a while, maybe even ever. I laughed I cried i descended into crazed hyperbole but it is so good well done Netflix 3 cheers
Ok, so, The Apprentice final: Leah Luisa blah cakes blah cosmetics blah Alex’s eyebrows …can I just say - FRANCESCA’S DANCING.
Oh my gosh.
This surely has to be the highlight of the show. The way she stormed onto that stage, clad in white lycra, twirling and whirling her streamers around to Enya – owned it. I cannot really put my reaction into words, so I’ll just leave you to conjure up that image in your mind. Better yet, revisit the iPlayer - everything else just pales in comparison.
Now that’s dealt with, we can get back to business (I’m making up for Lord Sugar’s significant lack of wordplay in this week’s episode). So, as the series goes, it’s been fairly unremarkable. None of the contestants particularly excited me, and I had no strong leanings as to who I wanted to win. The one exception was Mr. Alex Mills, who was the runaway success of the series: the Ricky Martin of 2013. His eyebrows brought gusto to every episode, conveying passion where else it lacked. Who could forget his sergeant role play in episode WHAT, or the ready meal episode where every other word was POP-DE=PING. Cos that’s why we watch, folks. For people like Alex. Then there was Jordan, that sickening individual, who makes me almost as embarrassed to go to Oxford as the likes of Thatcher and Murdoch. Fortunately, he was delightfully rumbled by the rancorous Claude at the interview stage.
The finalists, then. Luisa Zissman and Leah Totton battled it out in the first all female final since 2009. Zissman hates feminists, and Leah likes pumping chemicals into their faces. The final task was a business launch, where both candidates had to prepare their brand ready for sale. both ideas had a lot in common; both depend on nozzles, cream and a high concentration of vanity. Luisa fought for her baking wholesalers business, or ‘Bakers’ Toolkit’, by slapping her face all over the brand. She even had a cartoon picture of herself as the logo, complete with pink everything and a giant rolling pin. In her own words, she ‘really likes herself’. Leah was slightly less keen to be the brand of her cosmetic surgery business, hating Lord Sugar’s suggestion that she rename the business ‘Dr. Leah’ as opposed to the punny NIKS (skin backwards, for the less observant amongst you). Maybe she secretly has qualms about encouraging people to pay and arm and a leg for a forehead they can’t move.
Anyway, to realise this dream our femme finales had the awkward task of calling up their ex-colleagues to employ them. Luisa was all over Neil of course, but then she was left with sloppy seconds as all the decent ones ran off to Leah (personally, I liked Jason, but Lu feels differently). It’s hilarious watching all the old, forgettable faces turn up. You can just see the poignant mixture of half hearted hope and undisguisable bitterness in their eyes. Safe to say, they were just bursting with creativity when it came to branding the businesses. Leah ignored Alex’s attempts to divert from the implicative Niks (‘It’s like Mr Hewer has opened a wine bar’), but thankfully Luisa’s team ignored her attempt to call her product Masterbake. God.
With brand in place, they went on to prepare two excruciating plastic promo vids, and pitched their plan to the world experts, Leah professing her passion whilst sounding evermore robotic. The experts pretended to be impressed, scared to hurt Alan’s feelings, and after a boardroom fracas, Lord Sugar came to his decision.
So, who won? The most lucrative, of course.
The format is as predictable as ever, wheeling out the same old tricks and blunders, but it works. The Apprentice never intends to shock, because it knows that the candidates do that for themselves. Applications, are of course open for next series. No doubt Alan will be around for a lot longer yet, aided by his new partner’s skill for anti-aging treatments.