Sweet Valley High: the rent-paying years

There comes a time in every girl’s life when she must grow tired of childish things and accept that she will never be part of a crowd featuring identical blonde twins, bitchy cheerleaders and geeky student journalists (actually, scratch that last one). But, apparently, that time is not quite upon us.

Because this April, the latest chapter in the romantic and dramatic lives of Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield will be unveiled.

Eliza, Jessi…who, you ask? Why, only the dream duo from the hit teen fiction series Sweet Valley High, which spawned several spin-off series, specials, a TV show, and a million crushes on Todd Wilkins.

“Sweet Valley Confidential”, which features the twins living in the Big Apple and California (guess which way round), complete with fabulous jobs, heels and (scandal) sex lives, has been written by the original creator, Francine Pascal.

According to the Washington Post: “Todd [is] with Jessica, and the rest of the book is a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards explaining exactly how that happened.

“Other “Sweet Valley” residents parade in and out, marrying and divorcing each other, dying in accidents, realizing they are gay, realizing they are gay and in love with their sister’s first boyfriends, and hanging out at the country club. The Unicorns have stopped wearing purple, which is tragic, but other things have remained the same.

Bruce Patman is here, and Caroline Pearce, and mild Enid Rollins, who has become an ultra-conservative alcoholic gynecologist having an affair with a shoe salesman.”

Obviously, now that I am a mature, serious-novel reading adult with an MA and rent to pay each month, I shouldn’t still care about the goings-on of the SVH gang.

And yet, I spent my early teenage years devouring these books – from the special where an evil stalker tried to physically steal Jessica’s identity and murder her (Margo, if I remember correctly), to the one with Lila’s date rape.

I discovered what homecoming, pep rallies, prom and all manner of other bizarre American traditions were from these books, long before even Joey Potter or Buffy Summers made it on to the scene.

I followed these grotesquely perfect genetic freaks from middle school to college and damn it, I want to find out what they did next.

Wonder if it will be available on Kindle?

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Pick and choose journalism and the Fogel murders

If you have a few spare hours, actually, make that days, you could fill them by reading the huge number of comments below MP Louise Bagshawe’s piece on the Fogel family massacre in Thursday’s Telegraph.

The piece has attracted quite a reaction – 1955 responses at the time of writing – and as well as the usual stream of frankly antisemitic bile, there’s a few more reasoned queries about why this murder should be different.

It’s a discussion I’ve had more than once since the murders. Yes, this was undoubtedly a tragedy (to refresh your memory, five members of the Fogel family including a three-month-old baby were slaughtered in the most gruesome way), but the world is a place where truly horrible things happen all the time.

Where is the coverage, say, of the five people killed by a Sudanese militia in Abyei, this week? Where in the British media is there any real sense of outrage at the million people displaced by fighting in the Ivory Coast?

I’d absolutely agree that I don’t read enough about these places. Yes, it’s nice to know what Cheryl Cole did this week, or just how skilled Kate Middleton is at flipping a pancake, but I’d be quite interested to hear more about the brutal violence perpetrated by the drug lords of Mexico.

We’ve heard plenty about the oppression in Libya, but why only now? Gaddafi has been doing such things for decades. And it’s happening all over the world, not just in places the UN decides to take an interest.

But the fact is, not every story can be covered. The British media simply doesn’t have the manpower, the British public simply doesn’t have the energy.

So, in the scale of things, with natural disasters in Japan and Libya escalating, why did the BBC need to devote space to one gruesome murder?

Firstly, because the BBC is not one newspaper, but a vast media conglomerate with several television stations, an enormous website and a vast reach. Maybe it was too busy a news day to keep the story central on the front of the web or even in the daily news bulletins on terrestrial channels.

But BBC News 24? Isn’t the whole point of rolling news to use it as a platform to cover more, and in more detail?

More than that though, is that the British media cannot on the one hand cover Israel with a fanatical, forensic zeal 99 per cent of the time, and then, when something of genuine public importance happens, take the day off.

I remember a few months ago the story, highlighted on the BBC website, of the IDF using Facebook to catch army-dodgers.

I’m not saying the BBC doesn’t have a case for covering human interest stories like that – I love to read them – but I’m saying, as a publicly-funded institution it shouldn’t get to pick and choose. If you make the commitment to have an enormous Middle East emphasis, with a concentration of staff and resources in and around Israel, then you have to use it.

The day after the murders, the BBC was happy to write about the Israeli government announcement about settlements. In my opinion, that should be reported, and good for the BBC for covering it. But it’s bad journalism to tell only a part of the story.

That’s why this was different, why it mattered. But beyond that, beyond the point about balanced journalism, bias, and whatnot, there’s another point that should be made.

On Friday March 11 2011, three young children were slaughtered in their beds, throats cut, a tiny baby decapitated – in cold blood. Whatever the politics, whatever else is happening in the world, I’d like to think that Britain’s national broadcaster could have found the time to mention that on the news.

I’d like to think we live in a world where such brutality still merits a headline.

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On board the 74 bus in Jerusalem, tomorrow

Just over five years ago, I was in Tel Aviv when a suicide bomber struck at the city’s old central bus station.

In the attack, about fifteen people were injured; a few months later, during the festival of Passover, 11 people were killed and some 60 wounded when another terrorist struck a schwarma restaurant crowded with people having lunch.

I was on my gap year then, when the intifada was winding down but bombs and blasts were still happening with a terrifying frequency.

What I remember most clearly is not looking at the gruesome photos of bloodied victims, or shuddering at the thought of those affected, but of almost immediately boarding another, similar, Tel Aviv bus.

You feel apprehensive, of course, but you think ‘it won’t happen to me’, and you take your seat.

Bus rides, streetside cafes, beachfront bars like Mike’s Place (hit by a bomber in 2003, three dead, 50 injured); those are all a part of life in Israel, as around the world.

Today the area around the central bus station in Jerusalem will be cordoned off, but tomorrow? The people who managed to escape a dreadful fate on the 74 bus? They’ll have to catch it tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

When terror becomes your reality, life has to go on. And it will in Jerusalem and across Israel, as it did throughout the last intifada.

But it shouldn’t have to, and we must hope and pray that this latest attack – a bomb of a scale not seen in the city since the early days of the security fence – will not be the start of another period when boarding a bus can mean endangering your life.



Gossip Girl recap: Empire of the Son

Oh, My, Gossip Girl.

They’ve done it, they’ve really done it. There’s no going back. Blair and Dan have locked lips. Things will never be the same again on the Upper East Side.

Whether or not Serena and Chuck walked in on the darling Dair clinch, (and my money is on not – they are going to draw this drama out for a good few more scenes at least) the basic balance of the Gossip Girl universe is no longer. Let’s refresh.

First, the boring stuff. Lily could be facing a spell in the pokey after confessing (valiantly, of course, to save Chuck’s empire – not because she has seen the error of her ways. As if) meaning Ben is off the hook, Rufus will be a house-husband without a wife at home and Daddy Van dW is back on the scene. His cryptic final comment to Rufus about CeeCee’s imminent arrival?

Basically rich person code for, this is gonna be one hell of a media shit storm, and you Mr Humphrey don’t even have the PR savvy of Charlie Sheen.

Theoretically, Lily’s confession means Serena is free to have her wicked way with the ex-con. Except, obviously, because there are now no obstacles in the way, she’d lost interest by the time he announced his departure to “open his eyes” and move on with his life, sans the blonde who screwed it up in the first place.

But I did enjoy the scene in the DA’s office when he and Lily waxed lyrical about Serena’s feelings for him.

Because, if you’re trying to wipe clean the record of a bloke accused of molesting a teenage student, you’d be totally open about their current relationship status.

And of course, now Ben is bye bye we’ve got time for Serena to be chock full of righteous indignation about Blair playing date the ex. She’ll get over it, but Chuck? Who has just learnt that his departed daddy wasn’t just a regular mendacious mastermind, but basically the guy Machiavelli got his theory of power from.

Reckon it’ll take him a little while to adjust to Blair and Dan “Brooklyn leper” Humphrey (you can just hear him, sneering it), so guess we’ve got an infamous Bass breakdown to look forwards to.

In other news, Nate’s role has basically been reduced to a) looking cute with dimples and b) looking pensive with dimples. Him with Raina is basically the equivalent of Hillary Clinton shacking up with one of the hotties of the Dolce and Gabbana ad campaign

I expect the relationship to implode when she realises he still thinks there’s a little man talking to you inside the television.

John Galliano: It is sad, but…

Remember when those charges against Roman Polanski were dredged up after all those years?

All of a sudden, hordes of ordinarily very rational stars were tripping over themselves to defend him. Never mind that he was an alleged rapist, he was so talented, so creative, they gushed.

Who cared that he fled the country rather than face the consequences of his actions? Not when his films were so wonderful.

Right. And maybe Ashley Cole was just having a tough day on the pitch when he fired at a work experience, and perhaps Charlie Sheen just got out of bed on the wrong side.

Maybe Mel Gibson’s drink was spiked that time he made those nasty comments about Jews.

I mean, such a fantastic [insert profession here] couldn’t possibly hold such filthy views or be responsible for such disgraceful behaviour. Could they?

Of course they could – as all those examples and countless more prove. Yet whatever happens with John Galliano’s design career (and it isn’t looking good), we can expect any number of similar tweets, blogs and comments wailing about how terribly sad it all is.

I can see them now – sentences running along the lines of: “I’m not excusing what he said or did, but what a shame…”. Or, “disgusting, but did you like Nicole Kidman’s dress at the Oscars?”

It is sad – sad that someone in this day and age can hold (and utter in public) such abhorrent things. It’s tragic that a nice meal in a bistro can be ruined by the incoherent ravings of an intoxicated man.

And it is depressing that France has a law criminalising hate-filled speech – depressing that it is still necessary.

But it isn’t sad when a bigot gets what they deserve.

I’m no fashion expert, and perhaps Galliano really is a rare talent. But if he holds the views he appears to, his abilities in the wardrobe department shouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference.