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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hang on. “Offered” with? Does that mean I can take the stuff, or I can’t? There’s a bit of an “If you must, Madam, you greedy bitch” in the word “offered”. In any case, there were only a few grapes.

The cheeses were excellent, though: “Cyprus grove midnight moon” (don’t ask, I have no idea) together with “kaltbach gruyère and buttermilk blue affinée

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

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

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

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

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

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




Going Solo on Valentine’s Day

Okay, it’s confession time.

I’ve never seen Game of Thrones, I don’t like Downton Abbey, and I’ve never listened to an episode of The Archers.

And, here’s the killer blow: I’ve never had a date on Valentine’s Day. No, not one. Ever. I almost had one when I was 16, when my 21 year old boyfriend bought me a huge satin card, but the evening came to nothing because I finished with him when he seemed about to propose.

My disastrous love life in the subsequent 41 years might well have been my punishment for that fateful non-romantic day. Surely Cupid couldn’t be that cruel? If he is, it means he’s been operating not with a bow and arrow but a veritable arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. All aimed at me.

I feel about Valentine’s Day the way Scrooge felt about Christmas. Bah humbug, I scream, when yet another card from Interflora pops through my door, asking me to send flowers to my loved one. Bah humbug to the red hearts, ribbons and grinning teddy bears in every shop window. And especially Bah humbug to the paella or the Chateaubriand “for two” (that restaurants bizarrely insist upon, making singletons feel alone on every other day of the year, too).

Like Scrooge and the visitations from his Christmas ghosts, this is the time of year when I am visited by the Ghosts of Men Past, the Ghosts of Men Present, and the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come.

Where do I begin with the Past? The older man who ruined 30 years of my life (and counting) and whose shadow still looms in an unconscious damaged by what I now know to be a disturbed and disturbing predator?

The broadcaster on a diet, who brought his Lean Cuisine for supper but decided to eat my food as well (no surprise he never lost any weight)? The journalist who was going to leave his girlfriend for me but decided to give it three months “so that she can lose enough weight to be attractive enough to meet someone else” (yes, at that point, I decided he wasn’t for me, after all).

My Australian Hungarian Jewish dentist who said “I’m falling for you in a big way”, then came out in a facial rash and dumped me? The ginger, boring graphic designer who once bought Bollinger for women he fancied at another table (on my tab) and left me for a nurse (that’s all over, too, and his life’s a mess. Karma)? The Liverpudlian who claimed to be in the SAS based in Hereford and robbed me (How was I to know? He had a one-way rail ticket from Hereford to London; that seemed good enough evidence for me)?

The Ghosts of Men Present don’t fare much better: the journalist I started seeing 30 years ago and still have the hots for (it’s just a pity his hots extended to so many other women); a writer in the US who promised “I’ll take you to a wonderful place and treat you to the best meal you’ve ever had”, which quickly became “Shall I pick up a salad and bring it to your apartment?”

My crush on yet another man I can’t have (married, and wouldn’t want me even if he were single). And, would you believe it, the graphic designer, who contacted me after 15 years, bemoaning his now terrible life on the grounds that I might “understand”.

Small wonder that I’m not optimistic about the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come. But that’s the thing about love: its inherent optimism continues to survive its own history, no matter how bad it might have been. It’s emotional childbirth: it might be tough when you’re going through it, but the memory of what love might be again resurrects itself and is what keeps us going.

At the end of every relationship, I always say: “I won’t make that mistake again.” I may not, but, being human, I’ll just make different mistakes.

And I’ve learnt from most of those mistakes. I say no to salads when I’m expecting Chateaubriand for two at the Ritz; I don’t lend men money; I also no longer believe anything that comes out of their mouths. Men are rotten liars, and I’ve learnt to trust my gut, which is what I should have done years ago. But hey, ho, hindsight and all that.

This, alas, is the problem with the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come. The Past is a wasteland of distrust and pain; the Present would be that, if I were not finding it all so hilarious; the Future, despite the survival of good memories, is inevitably tainted with everything that has gone before. Suspicion, doubt and insecurity are inseparable triplets.

But I love my life. I am surrounded by wonderful family and friends and there is never I day I wake up when I don’t love my work. I have always known I was a writer, and being what I actually am, rather than harbouring fantasies about what I wanted to be, is a blessing every day.

The Ghosts of Men Past have gone; the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come are unknown (just as well; who knows what monsters are lurking in the shadows). The present is all we really have, or can ever hope for. So we might as well live it and enjoy it while we can.

So, Happy Valentine’s Day to me.

Now, where’s that Chateaubriand?

Los Angeles Singles – A Singularly Bad Experience

Their website, Los Angeles Singles, claims they are “Los Angeles’s  #1 Dating Service for High-Calber, Sincere Singles”, claiming that the people on their books are “quite a catch”. They begin with a “personal consultation” and the offer of “quality singles” “you have always dreamed of dating”.

Several months on, I was well over $1000 down, had no match, and endured considerable upset dealing with people who not only did not deliver what they promised, but showed a breathtaking lack of understanding and sensitivity when my circumstances changed.

They came to me by accident. Having given up with dating agencies and having failed to meet even a halfway decent man on three continents, I inadvertently found Los Angeles Singles online. Having lived in LA for five years, I had toyed with the idea of meeting someone but, having had bad experiences, had not pursued this actively. Then, ads kept appearing on my Facebook page along the lines of: “Bill the fireman is just five miles down the road from you and really wants to meet”.

I managed to resist. Bill the fireman might look all right at the moment, but what would he be like after his next job? I didn’t want to be a fireman’s wife, swabbing Bill’s disfigured face over breakfast every morning. I didn’t want to be a fireman’s widow, either (although that might be preferable to the disfigurement scenario).

But once you click on any similar ads, they’ve got you, and somehow, this particular the matchmaker pursued me. I decided to fill out their form, but changed my mind halfway through. Then the phone-calls started. Non-stop. And so I found myself in Brentwood, in an office, being assured that there was a veritable plethora of men out there who would be “perfect” for me.

Talk about having a nose for the Solo Pound. These people, I quickly discovered, operate like Timeshare merchants. They shut you in a room to do the form-filling and then, when you get them face to face, they show you pictures of how your life could be if only you were to surrender everything about the old you and hand over everything to them – which, in this case, was $8000 for “the 12 man package”.

Pictures of overweight, smiling couples in hideous wedding gear adorned the room, and already I wanted to run. If Bill the fireman was going to be a pain in the arse, imagine being married to George the overweight salesman in a pink shirt for the rest of my life.

I was asked about my dating history and the type of man I liked. I specially stressed tall. Over six feet. Someone who would protect me from a bear. Apart from David the plump ginger cheat, I had never been out with a man under six feet in my life, nor did I intend to start (have you seen how many wild bears there are out there?). The interviewer tried to stress that sometimes life could take you by surprise and you might go for someone entirely different. This did not bode well. At this point, I knew they had absolutely no man over six feet who wanted a short, dark, clever, funny, successful, and not bad looking Welsh bird.

What about Danny DeVito, she asked. Wasn’t he an example of an attractive short man? Nooooooooo, I screamed. She pushed me on the subject. Wasn’t there ANYONE under six feet I might go for? At a stretch, I reckoned James Spader (Boston Legal – lawyer, albeit acting one). I could do Mark Harmon (NCIS – cop, albeit acting one), too. Or that lovely Latino bloke from Law and Order: SVU (cop – okay, another acting one).

She looked slightly relieved. Finally, she thought she was getting somewhere. But I still want Judge Alex, I wailed (TV courtroom show, but real life ex-cop, lawyer, Judge – and an ex-pilot, too. Uniform. Tick, tick, tick, tick). Tall, dark, handsome, clever, funny. TALL! Are you listening to me, woman? Her sigh shook the building.

I negotiated them down to $2000 for the 12 man package (don’t believe them when they say their rates are non-negotiable – they are; they whacked mine down in the hope of future publicity), although they told me that I could have more dates, should I need them (trust me, a dollar a man was not even going to come close to their finding me what I wanted – I could already see that).

I told the interviewer I had changed my mind. Then the pressure started. It would be such a shame if, having come so far, I were to leave now . . . I would be “so easy” to fix up with someone . . . I was so eligible . . . so funny . . . The flattery was piled on, quickly followed by a contract and a pen. Like I said, it’s like a Timeshare: they grab you at a moment of vulnerability. I even ended up crying when the key low points in my romantic history were repeated to me. So I ended up staying.

After several weeks (and many phone-calls from me), they sent me the details of an interested man. Five feet seven. FIVE FEET SEVEN! That’s not a man, it’s a hobbit. The bear could eat him for breakfast and still have room to consume an entire McDonald’s chain. Not only that, he was living in rented accommodation – at the age of 60 – and spent our phone-call moaning about how unhappy he was in his job (that’s another thing I can’t stand: people who hate what they do and do nothing to change it). He also told me that he didn’t like TV and didn’t watch it. Quite how they thought that putting him together with a TV writer was a good idea is anybody’s guess.

I complained. As a homeowner (one in the UK, one in Spain, plus a US rental), I at least expected someone who owned his own home. I’m not after anyone’s money, but “high caliber” carries a lot of expectations. They did not offer me anyone else – quite obviously, because they clearly had no one.

Then, my circumstances changed owing to a personal situation back home and I told them I might have to return to the UK. I was very distressed and was told there would be no problem with my having a refund.

None was forthcoming. Not only that, no one returned my calls. It was only when I left a voicemail with the threat of legal action that they got back to me; this was followed up by a letter telling me that I was entitled only to a partial refund, as I would be charged $1000 for the consultation and $125 for the one-man intro – a man I never even met because he did not fulfil even the most basic criteria. Yes, it’s in the contract – in very small print, of course – but to me the contract is null and void because they 100% could not and did not offer what they told me they could in that consultation. The additional clause, claiming that they will offer someone “close” to what you want is, of course, ridiculous, when what they offer is a million miles away from the essentials you stress.

So, I found myself, in my mid-Fifties, pursuing a company for having taken $1025 on the grounds of their having grossly misrepresented what they could offer me.

They were having none of it and, again, are ignoring my correspondence, the best I have ever been able to do is share my experience and warn others not to be taken in.

In my opinion, these people couldn’t match a match to its box.



La Compagnie – Singles Uninvited

La Compagnie. They are bugging me again. The relatively new, allegedly low-cost, business class airline between New York and Paris just can’t seem to get it right. When I tried to book back in June, I couldn’t, because the sign-up process offered me no option as a woman other than to tick “Mrs” (see earlier blog, Single Supplements Extra).

Now, ever since I mentioned them, their ads are taking priority on my Facebook page – and I realise, alas, that in mentioning them again, they are destined to be in my life forever.

So, their latest crime comes in the form of an advert announcing “Lovebirds offer for two”. It’s a special Valentine’s Day deal, return New York to Paris, Business Class, for $3000. “What’s not to like?” it perkily signs off.

Where do I start, Frantz Yvelin, hot-shot CEO and founder of the airline? First, you make me feel like a second-class citizen by refusing to allow me to be anything other than a “Mrs” (heaven forbid that a single woman would, or could, travel Business Class without a man on her arm), and now you compound it by offering a deal to couples only.

I wrote in my Singles blog about the things given to couples but not to solo travelers – the Chateaubriand or paella “for two” in restaurants – and the extra charges that singles are forced to pay. The response I have had has been phenomenal, and I sense a rising tide of anger and resentment towards companies who exploit and, inherently, criticise the single lifestyle.

Some people are single by choice; many are divorced; many are widowed. And when companies reinforce one’s feelings of aloneness with their advertising geared towards what they perceive is the “norm”, it can be not only upsetting but downright offensive.

Everyone is also missing a trick. Let’s call it The Solo Pound (and please, share your stories @TheSoloPound on Twitter as well as on here). Everyone has heard of The Pink Pound or, as it is called in the US, the Dorothy Dollar. It’s the name given to the enormous sums of money the gay community spends, estimated to be around £350 billion per annum. That’s an awful lot of Judy Garland CDs.

So, The Solo Pound works like this. It’s easy: single people who have never been married, don’t have kids and hold down good jobs have money to spend. Lots of people who are alone as a result of other circumstances also have money to spend. It’s not rocket science. In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the US reported that 124.6 million Americans aged 16+ were single – or 50.2% of the population, compared to 37.4% in 1976.

In the 1980s in Ohio, the National Single and Unmarried Americans Week was founded in recognition of singles’ contribution to society, and the celebrations continue to this day. So why, as the numbers of non-conformists become the norm, are single people still discriminated against and even made to feel guilty for their lifestyle choices or circumstances?

Let’s go back to La Compagnie. I happen to think they have the potential to provide a great service that could compete with the larger airlines providing TransAtlantic routes. I also have nothing against Valentine’s Day – any celebration of love between people is fine in my book. But it’s the exclusivity that is offensive. It screams “I have someone, you don’t!” Not only do you have no one with whom to share your Chateaubriand or paella, you have no one to share an exclusive bargain business flight with because, guess what, in the antithesis of the L’Oreal slogan, “You’re not worth it.”

I’ll be interested to see how many couples take up La Compagnie’s offer. To be honest, $3000 is still a heck of a lot of money, especially when travelling to what has become what seems to be one of the terrorist targets of the world. If you have that kind of money anyway, the chances are you’re going to spend it on a major airline, go First Class, and enjoy all the treats of the lounges each end. And if you don’t have that kind of money and decide to treat yourself on the airline, upon reaching Paris you’ll discover that your spare change won’t buy you more than a baguette and an espresso (between two – you can forget that Chateaubriand). Trust me. I lived there.

There are plenty of companies offering events for singles to enjoy on Valentine’s Day, but they are very much geared towards the younger market. La Compagnie had the perfect marketing opportunity to target the singles market and they blew it.

So, Mr Yvelin, as a single “Ms”, I won’t be able to take you up on your, er, enticing $3000 offer. Maybe, next time, you could throw in a man who could pay for me. That seems to be in keeping with the spirit of the airline.

Bon voyage!

Single Supplements Extra (Hassle)

Business travel at a fraction of the cost.

The French boutique airline, La Compagnie, which in June 2016 started operating flights between New York, London and Paris, appears to have it all – until you try to register on their site. As I travel between all three places and enjoy my creature comforts, when I tried to sign up I discovered I couldn’t, as there were just two options: Mr or Mrs.

As a single woman, I have always refused to tick the “Miss” box on any application form, for one simple reason: no man is ever asked to tick “Master” or “Mister” i.e. a man is never asked to declare whether he is married or not. While many sneer at “Ms”, it is, to me, entirely correct. The only reason women were ever required to declare their marital status was because, as singles, they were deemed unable to have the resources to pay their bills: having a man as an appendage made a woman reliable (allegedly. They’ll learn).

I had this argument with British Telecom some years back in the UK, when they asked if I was a Miss or a Mrs. I refused to tell them and questioned whether men were required to say if they were single or married. Of course, they were not.

La Compagnie also offers special deals, yet the current ones are all “for two” – check out their current Valentine’s Day special. I have no partner, I travel alone, yet always find myself excluded from the things I enjoy the most. I can’t, for example, have the Chateaubriand or the paella “for two” in a restaurant. I once ordered the latter and said I would pay the full price, but was refused on the grounds that it would be “too much for one person”. No amount of my arguing that I would just leave half of it would persuade the waiter to help me part with my money. I very much doubt they would have treated a man with the same gastronomic contempt. I ended up with a pork chop. For one.

Single women ,especially ones in the over 50s brack are still perceived as weirdos when out alone or, at best, second class citizens. In San Francisco one lunchtime last year, I was pointed to a really nice table in the middle of the restaurant, only to be bumped when the maitre d’ spotted a couple behind me in the queue. She then told me I could sit at the bar or outside. The bar was overcrowded; the outside seat had a great view of Alcatraz (possibly the only time anyone has wanted to escape to the prison). I left without eating and phoned to make a complaint.

“We really don’t treat women like that,” said the manager. “You just did,” I pointed out, adding that the couple who took my table probably had a green salad between them and a jug of tap water. I would have had champagne, wine, three courses, and probably still been in there when dinnertime came around, to begin the routine all over again.

It is hard enough being single in a world where travel companies continue to charge single supplements, tax breaks benefit couples, and society as a whole celebrates and fawns over marriage, without having to deal with the anti-singles and/or anti-ageist frustrations socially. I happen to be a big fan of marriage: I come from a very stable background and am lucky enough to have had a loving mother and father who could not have been better parents. It just hasn’t worked out that way for me. I’m not bitter about it; I don’t really think about it, unless I am asked. I have a wonderful family, incredible friends and, for all its obstacles, a better life than most people in the world. I am truly blessed.

But I still get treated like a social leper as a single, older woman. Most married couples don’t include you at their social functions unless they have a recently divorced/largely unmarketable/psycho man in their circle that they might be able to palm off on you. Then there are the practical difficulties to deal with when you are out. If you have to go to the toilet when you are in a restaurant, you have limited choices: leave your stuff at the table and return to find it removed by a waiter who thinks you have done a runner, or have it stolen by a passer-by.

The third option – asking the people at the next table to keep an eye on your things – attracts the kind of looks you might get had you handed them a rifle and asked them to commit armed robbery in your absence.

It’s not as if I haven’t tried to meet someone who will split the Chateaubriand with me, but it hasn’t gone well. I recently attended a gathering of singles, where a French hobbit grappled with my friend’s right breast in what appeared to be an attempt to secure her stick-on name badge. He was 103, if he was a day. Next, a walrus appeared at my side, claiming to be a criminal psychologist. The walrus was also in the early stages of dementia, because he asked me my name five times.

There was also an attempt to entertain us by a ‘close-up magician’, who tried to hypnotise us with non-existent snake oil. We had to imagine our hands were glued together with said oil and then try to pull them apart, the premise being that we wouldn’t be able to. Er, we did.

The truth is, that if a man is single and older, there is something wrong with him (all the good ones really are taken); but if a woman is single and older, the chances are that she has had the good sense and guts to ditch the men who have that something wrong with them. That’s not to say there aren’t strange women out there (heck, I know some guys who would categorise me as that) but, for the most part, there are far more bright, sharp, funny women on the market than there are men.

If a man is free, trust me, there’s something wrong with him, and unless you act fast to secure Windows 2018 by August (you have to look out early for those inevitable Christmas break-ups), you’re going to miss out on the good guys next time around, too.

So, as I sit contemplating my Chateaubriand and paella free lifestyle while planning my travel over the next few months, I’m going to suggest to you, Sir Richard Branson, entrepreneur, enabler and grand empowerer of people, that you get behind my campaign to get great deals for single, older women. I can’t think of anyone better to have on our side, and all it needs now is for me to sign off.

Yours, hopefully, Jaci Stephen (Ms).