Shazia’s week

The news storming across America is Britney. She is bigger than that Iranian – literally.

I was awoken at three o’clock this morning in my hotel room, television still on and O J Simpson blaring out of it, shouting: “I didn’t do it!” I thought to myself, “Not again.”

I am in New York. Ten minutes ago I was standing at the taxi rank in Times Square when police started screaming, “Move along out of the street. Move, move.” A boisterous woman shouted back, “Why?” “Because we need to clean the streets. It’s the UN convention tomorrow,” replied the officer. “What’s the UN?” asked the woman. “It’s that place full of stupid presidents from here and there.”

I then got in a cab, where the driver, a black man from Haiti who called himself Matt, got very frustrated at the volume of noise being made by police cars, fire brigades and horses. He said: “It really is the most annoying thing when a cop is trying to protect an ambassador and a horse worms its way in between the cars and tries to dump its load.”

Matt had no time for pleasantries. As soon as I got in he went for the kill. This man was the Alan Sugar of cab driving. “Where are you from?” “London,” I replied. “Do you like Bush?”

He was so direct that I wondered if it was a trick question. “Um, um,” I said, “do you like him?” He got louder and said: “Are you crazy? What an idiot. I’d rather see Hillary Clinton run this country – I hate her, too, but not as much as him.” All this for $12. In New York you don’t just get a cab; you get entertainment, free political opinion and interrogation, all in 15 minutes flat. If you want to know what the people of America really think, just get in a cab.

It may be the UN convention and President Ahmadinejad may be speaking at Columbia University, but the news really storming across America has to be Britney Spears. She is bigger than Ahmadinejad – literally. She recently performed at the MTV Music Awards in Las Vegas dressed in black hot pants and a black bra. The debate on every channel in the past few days has been not whether she should have appeared nearly naked on stage, but whether she was too fat to be naked. A celebrity going from size 10 to size 12 is enough to start serious discussion on every news channel in America.

I myself have done nothing but eat strawberry cheesecake and cream cheese bagels since I’ve been here. I’m a size 10, and last night, after leaving a diner, I was immediately handed information on the street about “the Zone Diet”. I told the woman I’d never heard of it. She said: “Oh, it’s OK. Jennifer Aniston does it.”

But never mind Jennifer – I am pleased to announce that Oprah Winfrey still owns America. She has turned the book The Color Purple into a musical on Broadway. Whatever next? O J: the Musical? Obviously the producers would not consider using “Guilty” by the Bee Gees as the theme tune.

Amid the chaos of the city, I think I may have found the quietest place in America. It is the top of the Empire State Building. Last night, when I went up to the viewing floor, there must have been about a thousand people around at any one time, all standing and just watching in silence. They were mainly Americans from Ohio on holiday in New York. I had difficulty getting down to the bottom again without becoming completely out of breath, but I blame myself for that, as I’d just visited Dunkin’ Donuts for the third time in one day.

I am looking forward to coming back to Britain, where I know my discipline will return immediately, there will be cakes for me only on special occasions, I will not waste all day watching documentaries about celeb serial killers, and when I get in a cab the only questions I’ll ever be asked by the driver will be: “Would you like some coke? Would you like a hooker? And can you tell me how to get you to your house, mate?” Cheers.