Sunday, 28 September 2014

Drama Queens and Castings Take Two

Last Saturday my daughter and I wept for England in the graveyard of a London church.  It was awful.  Really emotional.  Which is saying something when the funeral was nothing more than a bit of acting, and the ‘deceased’ was a carpet of fake turf and two bags of compost from B&Q.
          ‘Eleanor to Make-Up,’ came the call, as my daughter was chivvied onto a collapsible stool.  A make-up artist, tools strung around her torso in a multi-pocketed apron, began whizzing brushes all over my daughter’s naked face.  After three hours of standing around doing nothing, suddenly it was all go, go, go!
          ‘Sorry to do this,’ the make-up artist apologised as she turned Eleanor’s face grey, ‘but we need you looking really rough.’
          ‘I thought I looked rough already,’ Eleanor lamented, her complexion stripped of its usual glamourous cosmetic layers.
          ‘Not nearly rough enough, but don’t worry,’ the make-up artist assured as she added the appearance of tear-streaked mascara to Eleanor’s cheeks, ‘we’re getting there.’  Next a dab of pink powder to rim her eyes for that super-sore I’ve-been-crying-for-days look.  The whole thing was topped off with dabs of rose powder around the nostrils to give the appearance of a hooter that had recently seen more tissues than a Kleenex factory.  ‘Perfect,’ the make-up artist stood back, ‘you look absolutely dreadful.’
          ‘Awful,’ I agreed, standing from my viewing position, ‘but in the nicest possible way,’ I assured the make-up artist.
          ‘Eleanor to the graveside!’ came another shout.  ‘Now then,’ said a blonde director by the name of Jo, who I later found out worked for Saatchi and Saatchi.  She was surrounded by a crew of ‘gofers’, cameraman and a soundman. ‘I want you to look shocked, horrified, you name it, and to say, “We didn’t mean it…not like this.”  Others were directed to stand close to the grave...the distraught parents – who had only met that morning – along with a group of actor school friends (who were more interested in talking about the recent X-Factor auditions), and finally crowd people.  The director looked about.  ‘We need more crowd people.  Excuse me,’ she looked at me, ‘can I borrow you for a moment?’
          ‘Me?’ my mouth dropped open.
          From her position beside the grave, Eleanor’s red-rimmed eyeballs met mine.  She gave me a warning look.  Absolutely not!  Say no!
          ‘Well I’m not sure, I don’t have any acting exp–’
          ‘That’s fine,’ said Jo, ‘I just need you to look miserable for a couple of minutes.’
          ‘Oh, that’s easy,’ I smirked and took my position by a tree.  After all, my kids were always telling me my expression was one of either disgruntled or miserable.  I could sense Eleanor’s alarm.  Her embarrassing parent was now going to be in an advert.  Why couldn’t I have just remained on the other side of the camera being an embarrassment over there, well out of sight of the fake headstones?  I studied the props from my tree position.  They were very realistic.  Even from this short distance they looked like lichen-covered concrete slabs and polished granite.  The giveaway was behind them, wooden spoons and other gimmicks holding them upright and in place.  The inscriptions were very unique.  Whoever had been tasked to make them had amused themselves whilst toiling away.  1509-1979 ~ Here Lies a Goddess and I’ll be back…as Rain Man.
          And speaking of rain, a flurry of ominous looking clouds were gathering.  The morning had started off in a blaze of sunshine and I had optimistically worn a cotton dress.  As a stirring wind whipped through the fake graveyard, polystyrene headstones took off and my thin dress flapped about my bare legs.  I shivered and took solace knowing that the director had assured the scene wouldn’t take long.
          Forty-five minutes later I was still standing there and absolutely frozen.  The heavens had opened and a gofer had been dispatched for a dozen black umbrellas.  Crew members were now erecting what looked like a pop-up marquee to protect equipment.
          ‘Do not move,’ came the instruction, ‘we don’t want to lose position.’
          One by one, the actors turned blue.
          ‘We didn’t mean it…not like this,’ Eleanor sobbed.
          ‘Keep repeating it, leaving a gap of a few seconds.’
          ‘We didn’t mean it…not like this…we didn’t mean it…not like this…we didn’t mean it…not like this.’
          From my tree, I stifled a yawn, shivered and maintained an expression of abject misery.  Which was extremely easy by this point.
          ‘Excellent,’ said Jo.
          Thank God, I heaved a sigh, and made to move towards my bright pink coat laying under the pop-up marquee (which naturally I’d been banned from wearing as it was too cheerful in colour – the coat that is, not the marquee).
          ‘Nobody move!’ the director ordered.  ‘We’re now going to do close-ups on faces.  Eleanor, get ready to say your lines again.  Just keep repeating them over and over, as before.  And…action!’
          ‘We didn’t mean it…not like this…we didn’t mean it…not like this…we didn’t mean it…not like this.’
          ‘Sniff,’ said the director, ‘now shake your head.  More tears please!’  The make-up girl was summoned and blew crystal something-or-other in everybody’s faces.  There were howls of complaint as eyes stung and watered.  ‘Do NOT wipe those tears!  And…action!’
          ‘We didn’t mean it…not like this…we didn’t mean it…not like this…we didn’t mean it…not like this.’  Snort, sniff, shudder, shake.
          I clung to my tree for warmth and thought longingly of hot chocolate, jeans and a sweater.
          ‘Well done everybody,’ said the director, ‘the next bit will be shot in a house.’
          Everybody sighed with relief.  The house turned out to be the director’s own home, a beautiful revamped Victorian terrace in trendy Islington complete with an ecstatic young beagle to greet us all.  After hot cups of tea, everybody got into position.  Eleanor sat on the stairs with a laptop for a prop, appearing to pick up a stream of abuse from a cyber-bully.  From the depths of my handbag, I discreetly pulled out my iPad.  How exciting – I’d be able to show the family how it was all done! The sound man was hanging off the staircase with a vast fluffy microphone on a boom stick, and there were huge lights shining all over the place.
          I held my breath and started filming.
          Five minutes later Jo gave the thumbs up.  ‘That was wonderful.  Thank you very much for coming along today.’
          ‘Guess what, guess what!’ I said excitedly to Eleanor as we headed home in the car.
          ‘I managed to film a bit of you on my iPad.  Reach onto the back seat and grab my handbag.  Have a look and tell me what you think!’
          Eleanor made a long-arm and grabbed the iPad.  She leant back and pressed the play button.
          ‘Brilliant, Mum.’
          ‘Is it good?’ I grinned.
          ‘If you like that sort of thing.’
          We ground to a halt at some red traffic lights.  ‘Why, what’s wrong with my filming?’
          ‘Look,’ my daughter showed me.
          ‘Oh,’ I said in disappointment, ‘I didn’t press the red button properly.’
          ‘Mm,’ Eleanor agreed, ‘so consequently, when you thought you were pressing stop, you instead pressed start. 
          I stared in dismay at my epic piece of filming…peoples’ feet, flashing wooden floorboards, somebody’s handbag – ah, mine – the legs of a coffee table, and a beagle’s bottom.  Oh well.  Which reminds me.  Did you hear about the young lad who landed his first part in a play?  He was playing the part of a man who’d been married for thirty years.  ‘Keep at it, son,’ said the boy’s dad, ‘and maybe one day you’ll get a speaking part…’

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Eat Here Diet Home

Last Sunday Mr V had a mad moment.  It was ‘mad’ because it didn’t have anything to do with Manchester United, who had recently been signed by Manchester United, who was rumoured to be signed according to the Red CafĂ© forum, or anything to do with Alex Ferguson – the latter of whom my husband still sorely misses.  Nope, it had nothing to do with any of that at all.  Instead my husband turned to me and said, ‘Do you fancy me taking you out to lunch?’
          Mr V found himself talking to thin air – I was already in the car, engine turned over, revving expectantly, not daring to procrastinate in case the telly went back on and a sudden football match just happened to be playing somewhere in the country with a TV camera trained on the players.
          ‘Don’t you want to spruce yourself up a bit?’ my husband asked as he climbed into the passenger seat.
          ‘Nope,’ I said reversing the car smartly backwards and heading out to the main road.  ‘These shorts and tee are decent enough, and I have some lippy in my handbag.  I’ll put some on when we arrive at–’ I paused and glanced at my husband.  ‘Where exactly are we going?’
          ‘Ah, now that’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question,’ he smiled indulgently.
          ‘Ooh, is this some sort of fabulous last-minute surprise?’ I asked, suddenly anxious about the shorts and tee.  My brain did a quick check through which month we were in.  Was it our anniversary?  Or Mr V’s birthday?
          ‘No, I just fancy us having a drive out.  Let’s drive to the countryside.’
          I bulked.  My husband’s words reminded me of my grandparents many moons ago doing a similar thing on a Sunday afternoon.  I wasn’t quite ready to emulate my grandparents.  More and more recently I’ve noticed my husband slowing down somewhat.  The days of having a brisk walk have turned into an amble.  He’s exchanged powering down the ski slopes for strolling around a golf course.  And here we were suddenly tootling off for ‘a drive’.
          ‘We’ll go to Westerham,’ I said as the car steamed along the M25, ‘there are some nice restaurants there according to my sister.’
          ‘Oh no, not there, I really like the idea of getting lost in leafiness.  Come off at the next junction,’ said my husband.
          ‘But that’s Sevenoaks, I’m not sure how leafy–’
          ‘Yes, yes, quick, take a left before you drive past it.’
          So we took a left.  And drove, and drove, and drove a bit more.  There was indeed lots of leafiness but not a restaurant in sight.  As pavements disappeared and roads became little more than lanes thickly edged with trees, my stomach let out a huge rumble.  We’d been driving for about forty-five minutes now.
          ‘At this rate we’re going to miss lunch altogether,’ I complained.  ‘And look,’ I pointed to a sign, ‘we’re now heading towards Westerham.  I knew we should have stayed on the motorway.’
          ‘But isn’t this wonderful?’ said my husband contentedly.  ‘I just love driving out and getting lost.  It clears the mind.’
          I stared grimly through the windscreen concentrating on the meandering narrow road which was doing nothing for my mind whatsoever.  We were in the heart of National Trust walking land.  I’d much have preferred to be out there, hiking boots on, with pooch straining at her lead.
          ‘Fantastic houses round here,’ Mr V pointed towards an ancient low-slung building with higgledy-piggledy windows and a crooked slate roof.  ‘Full of English charm.  That place wouldn’t look remiss on a box of chocolates.’
          At the thought of chocolates, indeed any form of sustenance, my stomach let out another growl of hunger.
          ‘I’m stopping at the first restaurant we come across,’ I warned, as a pub swung into view.  Result!
          ‘It’s a pub,’ Mr V protested.
          ‘Yes, but with a bit of luck it will also have pub grub.  If we don’t stop and eat soon, I’ll faint.’
          I swung the car through a pair of rustic gates.  The wheels crunched over golden gravel, and I slotted the car into the last available parking space.  The place might be in the middle of nowhere, but it was clearly popular – the car park was packed.  To the side was a large woodland garden made all the more bucolic by a huge golden sun pouring its warm rays onto cream parasols dotted around wooden trestle tables.  Terracotta tubs exploded with geraniums, lavender and giant daisies while bees buzzed lazily around them.  I passed a sign that said ‘Dogs Welcome’ and was astounded to see a number of dogs sitting obediently at the feet of families who were tucking into Sunday lunch al fresco.  I offered a silent prayer of thanks heavenwards that we hadn’t brought the pooch along.  Glancing around, the doggy crew consisted of well-behaved Labradors and Retrievers.  There was absolutely no way the folk here were ready for an over-excited food-obsessed beagle hell-bent on mugging the waitress for a platter of roast beef and Yorkshire pud.
          Inside we were shown to a table-for-two and given menus which boasted all the produce was fresh and locally sourced.  With great gusto, we duly tucked in, which just goes to show that sometimes my husband’s mad moments are really quite delightfully sane and civilised.  Which reminds me.
          A husband and wife were dining out.  Having finished their mains, they decided to have ice-cream for dessert.  ‘What flavours of ice-cream do you have?’ asked the husband.  ‘Let me think,’ said the new waitress in a hoarse voice, ‘there’s vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate.’  Trying to be sympathetic, the husband asked, ‘Do you have laryngitis?’  ‘No,’ replied the new waitress with some effort, ‘just…um…vanilla, strawberry and chocolate…’

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Drama Queens and Castings

Recently my daughter attended an audition for an anti-bullying advert.  The pre-requisite was to look no older than a fifteen-year-old girl, and to look as plain as possible.
          ‘What?’ shrieked Eleanor.  ‘No make-up at all?  Not even a little bit?’
          Her angst was visible.  This was a teenager who carefully applied cosmetics to her skin like an artist using a palette of rainbow paints.  There is no beauty blog my daughter has not studied, and no cosmetic department store in our local shopping mall that Eleanor has not scrutinised.  When we recently visited Canada, the only bit of sight-seeing my daughter was passionate about was the inside of a MAC shop.  And for the uninitiated MAC is nothing to do with an Apple laptop and everything to do with eyes, lips, face, nails, skincare and ‘tools’.  Oh yes, didn’t you know there are umpteen different implements on the market to apply one’s make-up?  Gone are the days where you simply use a trowel, like me.  Anyway, I digress.
          ‘Do you want this casting or not?’ I asked irritably.
          ‘Oh yesss,’ Eleanor sighed and put her hands together in apparent prayer, ‘I want this casting more than anything.’
          ‘Then do as your agent advised.  The director doesn’t want the aggravation of licencing fees with genuine fifteen-year-olds, and why you’ve been chosen to audition.  You might be seventeen, but you don’t look it.  Just think, there is an upside to the continuous cycle of you being turfed out of Fifteen Certificate films at the cinema.’
          ‘Well I’m definitely wearing spot cover up,’ said my daughter defiantly.
          We left for London with my daughter wearing some ‘barely there’ concealer and the palest of pink lip glosses.  On arrival at the American Church on the Tottenham Court Road, we were shown to a waiting area.  There were a number of teens waiting, including a six-foot-tall willowy blonde.  We smiled and gave her the once over.  She glared back at us and did the same.  She looked about nineteen but had tied her hair into a ponytail to knock some years off.  She stomped off to do her audition looking as if she was chewing on a wasp.
          ‘The only thing that one has in common with a fifteen-year-old,’ said the assistant to us, ‘is bad attitude.’  She smiled kindly at Eleanor.  ‘You’re next.  Come with me.’
          Eleanor went off on rubber legs looking incredibly anxious.  Ten minutes later she was back, a big grin on her face.
          ‘How did it go?’ I asked, getting up and greeting her.
          ‘Okay, I think.’
          ‘Were you nervous?’  I asked, leading the way out of the building and back into late summer sunshine.
          ‘More than words can say.’
          ‘What did you have to do?’
          As we headed back to the car, Eleanor took me through the audition.
          ‘I was given a mobile phone and instructed to look like I was picking up a series of text messages, which I then had to read to camera.  There was no script.  It was all improvisation.  Having once been bullied myself at school, I found myself re-enacting a long-ago thread from a tormentor on Facebook.  It was quite surreal, and I found myself getting right into it.  I even filled up and did some rather embarrassing lip tremble.’
          ‘Sounds like you did a great job,’ I said.  As we got into the car, I slung an arm around her and gave her a hug.
          Forty-eight hours later the call came through to say the audition had been a success.  Now whether this good news went to my daughter’s head I just don’t know.  Let’s just say some very diva-like behaviour followed a few days later, so much so that my husband took her mobile phone away as a punishment.
          ‘Oh dear Lord,’ I muttered, crossing myself fervently, ‘not the mobile phone.’
          ‘You’ve cut me off from THE MOST IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN MY LIFE,’ Eleanor roared, ‘GIVE THAT BACK TO ME!’
          ‘When you apologise,’ said Mr V.
          It never fails to amaze me that such a small gadget has such power in teaching a stroppy teenager some manners.
          ‘I’m seventeen!  This is outrageous!  You can’t treat me like this!  In fact, if you don’t give it back to me,’ Eleanor warned, ‘I’ll–
          ‘Yes?’ my husband demanded.
          And with that Eleanor opened her mouth and screamed.  And screamed, and screamed.  I was reminded of an older version of Violet Elizabeth Bott who lived next door to William, hero of the books by Richmal Crompton and made into several televised series.  I clung on to the mobile phone for dear life as Eleanor’s reverberating tonsils threatened to shatter the mirror, several windows, and sent the cat and dog running for cover.  We were subjected to an amazing floor show.  From, ‘Somebody help me,’ accompanied by blood-curdling I’m being murdered screams, to heart-wrenching sobs of ‘Nobody understands me.’  I’ll say this, she’s an amazing actress, and I’ll eat my hat if she’s not on the red carpet one day.  As for the confiscated phone, it was returned twenty-four hours later when my daughter finally managed to squeeze out three little words between clenched teeth.
          ‘I am sorry.’
          Since then peace has reigned.  For how long is anybody’s guess.  Which reminds me.  What is a teenager?  Somebody who can never remember to walk the dog, but never forgets a phone number…

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Roundabouts and L-Plates

Two weeks ago my son couldn’t drive.  Today, he can.  I’ve just realised those first two sentences sound like an advert.  Two weeks ago my son couldn’t drive.  Today, he can, thanks to Loopy Laura’s Learners.  Or some such other similar name.  Actually, I’m tremendously grateful to the driving instructor who devoted five days of his life (not to mention risking his life) to take my son through a course of intensive six-hour driving sessions.  On the morning of the test, Robbie couldn’t face any breakfast and went to the front door shaking like a jelly.
          ‘This is madness,’ he said.  ‘I have thirty hours’ driving experience and am about to take my test.  I’m nowhere near ready for this.’
          ‘Stop being silly,’ I said bossily.  ‘In an hour’s time you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.  Tell you what, to give you some real incentive to pass, how about we buy a car afterwards – providing you pass, of course,’ I added.
          Excuse me? piped up my brain.  Why are you making wild promises like this?  I swatted the voice away.
          ‘Car shopping?’ Robbie looked amazed. ‘Do you mean it?’
          ‘Absolutely,’ I said firmly, while my brain politely told me I was off my rocker.  Your son spends ninety-per-cent of his time in London.  Where would he park a car?  And why would he even need one?  He lives two minutes around the corner from his uni! 
          ‘Fantastic,’ Rob beamed and perked up considerably.  ‘In that case, bring it on!’
          He went off to greet his instructor.  I watched anxiously from the window.  My son appeared to be shaking slightly and visibly veering between terror and determination.  Eventually he put the car into gear and carefully set off.
          An hour later the phone rang.
          ‘Hi, Mum,’ said my son in a miserable voice.
          ‘Oh, darling,’ I gripped the handset and braced myself for bad news.  ‘How did it go?’
          ‘Terrible,’ he croaked.  ‘I stalled going out the test centre, exited a roundabout too quickly, stalled at some traffic lights, and later I stalled at a junction.’
          My heart sank.  ‘Ah, well.  Never mind.’
          ‘But the good news is,’ said Robbie perking up, ‘somehow I passed.’
          ‘Yes!  I can’t believe it.’
          ‘Well done!’
          ‘I was so happy I asked my driving instructor if I could give her a hug.’
          ‘And what did she say?’
          ‘She said no.  But I hugged her anyway.  So did you mean what you said about going car shopping?’
          ‘Sure,’ I quavered, while one half of my brain started to do frantic sums, and the other half simply sneered.
          Which is how, two hours later, I found myself prowling around a second-hand Micra on a local dealer’s forecourt.
          ‘Lovely little runner,’ said the salesman, hoisting up his trousers.  A huge beer belly pushed against a tight shirt.  The last button was doing a sterling job trying to stay on the shirt, and pale flesh peeped through a gap in the material.  ‘Why don’t you take it for a test drive?’ he urged my son.
          ‘Thanks,’ Rob beamed.
          ‘I’ll have to sit with you,’ he said, ‘company policy.  But your mum and sister are welcome to come along too.’
          I gulped.  The thought of getting into a car with a newly qualified driver wasn’t something that appealed.  I looked at my daughter questioningly, but she was oblivious, busily texting a friend.
          The salesman produced a key to the car.  It was a two-door jobbie.  ‘After you,’ he pulled back the passenger seat for me to get in.
          ‘Oh, er, no.’
          ‘No?’  The salesman raised his eyebrows.
          ‘No?’ asked Robbie, looking hurt.
          ‘Um, only because I get car sick.  In the back,’ I added lamely.
          ‘Not a problem,’ said the salesman affably, and squeezed his bulk into the rear of the Micra.
          Eleanor, sylph-like, slipped in beside him.  The front seat clicked back into position.  Offering a silent prayer heavenwards, I got in.
          ‘So,’ said the salesman cheerily as he fought to do up his seat-belt, ‘exactly how long have you been driving, young man?’
          ‘I passed my test two hours ago,’ said Rob proudly.
          ‘Right,’ the salesman squeaked, ‘well take it steady.’
          I glanced into the wing mirror on my left and caught sight of the salesman’s face.  It had paled considerably, and sweat was beading on his forehead.
          Rob popped the gear into first, found the bite on the clutch, and slowly the Micra crept forward.  We were exiting the garage forecourt onto a very busy main road.
          ‘Take your time,’ I murmured to Rob.
          ‘I’m fine, Mum,’ Rob assured, ‘just so long as we don’t come to any roundabouts.  They’re really not my thing.’
          ‘Well I hate to be the one to point this out,’ said the salesman, ‘but there’s a roundabout coming up – a big one.’
          ‘Oh help,’ said Rob.  His complexion now matched the salesman’s and it was debatable who had the most sweat on their forehead.  As the roundabout loomed, my armpits broke into a gushing mess.  ‘What shall I do?’ Rob quaked.
          ‘Turn left,’ I commanded, sounding a whole lot more confident than I felt, ‘left lane, that’s it.  Don’t forget to indicate.  Slow down.  All clear.  Go. Yes, now.  Well done.’  My hands were clutching the sides of my seat as the Micra neatly flowed into the traffic and exited the roundabout.  There was an audible sound of three people exhaling with relief.  The fourth person was oblivious and still texting.
          ‘Where to now?’ asked Rob.
          ‘Keep going left,’ I said feeling quite weak.  I really wasn’t enjoying this experience at all, and the sooner we got back to the garage the better.
          ‘This isn’t going to be a very long test drive,’ said Rob in disappointment.
          ‘It’s enough to get the feel of the car,’ I assured, ‘and could you move over to your right a bit only,’ my voice rose an octave, ‘you’re about to knock the wing-mirror off a parked car.’  I shrank down into my seat as we sailed past a stationary vehicle with a millimetre to spare.
          ‘My instructor was always telling me to move over,’ said Rob with a smile.
          ‘Very often?’ asked the salesman.
          ‘All the time.’
          ‘Ha ha,’ the salesman laughed nervously.
          We returned to the garage with the Micra intact.  The salesman and myself got out, our shirts stuck to our damp backs.  Only Eleanor remained unaffected by the whole experience.  Done with texting, she wedged her mobile phone into the back pocket of her jeans.
          ‘You drive just like one of my friends,’ she informed her brother.
          ‘Really?’ asked Rob looking quite chuffed.
          ‘Yeah.  Really badly.  My friend had only been driving a week when she wrapped her car around the college gates.  The car was a write-off.’
          ‘Okay,’ I glared at Eleanor, ‘enough of that.’  I turned to the salesman.  ‘Thank you very much.  We’ll go away now and have a chat about it.’
          ‘Sure,’ said the salesman, pulling a large cotton handkerchief out of his trouser pocket and giving his forehead the once over.
          So we thought about it, and instead bought something else.  My son is now the proud owner of a Citroen C1.  Which reminds me.  A newly qualified driver was driving his car along the motorway, when his mobile rang.  Answering, he heard his mother’s voice urgently warning him to drive carefully.  ‘I just heard on the news that there’s a car going the wrong way on the M25.  Please be careful!’ said the mother.  ‘It’s not just the one car,’ said her son, ‘it’s hundreds of them…’